I haven’t played with my looters for a few days now, and they’re getting despondent. I gave them board games and playing cards and books and toys, but I can tell they feel neglected. Jack’s right, I should never have taken them in. I’m responsible for them now; even if they are first degree arseholes who were going to shoot me and take my store, I can’t just look the other way while they starve or suffocate in their fridge. So I take their food down and open the door for them every six or seven hours, but I haven’t set them a challenge in days and I don’t even look at the screens that much anymore. When I do, they’re usually just sitting there, sometimes exercising, sometimes poking at a tin of spam or dog food, and they have that blank look of tired anxiety on their faces, and I know what they’re thinking.
They’re wondering the same thing I’m wondering: how am I going to end this? How do I get them out of here without risking retribution? Cause Trigger Bright worked out before I’d even thought about it that my safest, my only really sensible option was to turn off the cameras and let them rot. That’s why his game from the start has been Trigger Sensible, Trigger Calm, Trigger Reassuring. He needs to persuade me that he’s Trigger Trustworthy. I’m not convinced. He’s tried the Man About the House line on me again, the skunk. I said he should note, from his current situation, that I’m clearly able to defend myself from the likes of Trigger Happy and his creative threats, and he actually said not to “mind him”, because “he’s harmless really, but you can’t expect the kind of deference you might’ve got in the old world.”
He was trying to push my buttons, I know that now. He gets me angry, I drop the Big Sister routine to yell at him, and before I know it we’re having a conversation.
“I don’t want deference, you arsehole. I want to know that if I open the door and let you fuckers loose, some woman’s dead, raped body isn’t going to show up in the parking lot the next day. Your mate threatened like as not it’d be mine. How am I supposed to trust you?”
“How are you supposed to trust anyone?”
“Luckily, I don’t have to.”
“Not just yet. It’s a big store, but it won’t last a lifetime. Neither will your security setup – batteries stop keeping charge, parts go. Or you’ll get a bigger gang at your door, and they won’t all fall into your traps. Who’re you gonna trust, them or me?”
“I’ll have to find myself some other options.”
As it happens, I’ve got a few precautionary measures in place for those eventualities, but no point in showing all my cards. He waits – I can see him, but he can’t see me. His hands are resting on his knees as he sits stock still on the beanbag I gave them from the staff lounge. His scraggly beard doesn’t quite conceal a smirk, and his eyes are always searching, calculating. I’m calculating how much to say, too. I shouldn’t be talking to him about this stuff at all.
“I can move on, when I want to,” I tell him.
“Move on where?”
“Why would I tell you? But I know where there are places it didn’t all fall apart; people pulled together, built communities.”
He scoffs. “Don’t give me that Dreamtime Town shit.”
I was really just trying to lead the topic away from the store, because I honestly have no intention of leaving this place or any idea where else I could go. So this was new.
“I was thinking of the Beijing students. What’s Dreamtime Town?”
He paused, but not long enough to look like he was making it up, shrugged and snorted.
“Bunch of fucking hippies starving in the desert, if it exists at all. Nobody who’s gone looking ever came back.”
“Maybe they found it.”
“Maybe they walked into a gang of bandits with a nice line in web design and some stock footage from a nineties commune, and their bodies were eaten by dingos.”
I’ve got to admit, I’m growing a fondness for Trigger Cynical. But I’m not about to let him join me.
I looked up Dreamtime Town – there’s a vid of crops growing and kids doing lessons and people sitting in circles having civilised meetings where they all vote on what to build next and whether to go looking for more people and what colour to paint the fence. If you want to go there, you’re supposed to send them a vid of yourself saying who you are, what skills you can bring, and answering a load of questions designed to find out if you’re about to take a hatchet to them in the night – they’re not majorly subtle. Trigger Cynical’s probably right – they’ve been gunned down by now and there’s a gang of Unsavouries meeting each newcomer with a hail of bullets and living off the spoils. Then again, they don’t say you have to bring anything except a willingness to learn, so if they are bandits they’re missing a trick – unless they really like to see people learn not to trust vids they find on the internet.
I think I’m going to have to let the Trigger Brothers go. I can’t keep giving them my food and water, and I’m sick of slopping their buckets out. And I can’t leave them to die. I’ve been practicing my shooting in case they try and come back, but I don’t think they will, even if they can find more guns from somewhere. They’ve talked about it, quietly, when they reckon I won’t be listening, and the consensus is there’s got to be easier places to raid. I’ll take Trigger Happy first, call him into the diary room in the early morning and then open the door and lead him out at gunpoint. I’ll take him a few blocks away and make him padlock himself to a lamppost with a bike chain, then I’ll come back and let the others out. Grumpy’ll scarper – I don’t believe his shit about never wanting to join them, but I believe he’ll keep up the pretence as long as I’ve got the loaded pistol. I’ll give the padlock key to Frank – that’s his actual name, Trigger Changeable is a Frank – and I’ll tell him where Trigger Happy is and let him decide what to do about it. And I’ll lock the doors behind them, and go back to my Inner Sanctum, and watch my security screens and wait for them to never come back. I’ll do it tomorrow.