‘What is it?’
The kid was holding a kind of fuzzy tube, big enough that he had to hold it in both hands. Well, Warren called him ‘kid,’ but he must be out of his teens by now. And he was wiry, muscled and taut. He was short though, a consequence of the food shortages he’d lived through his whole life. You could almost tell how old someone was by their height nowadays, the older ones, the ones who’d lived a while before the fall, were a damned sight taller.
‘I think I remember those,’ said Warren, searching his memory, ‘they were… they were a kind of machine. You spoke to it and it did what it was told. They were called Alex or Sally or… something.’
Warren frowned. He felt like he should be able to remember more than that, but it had been so long, and so difficult. It was like the important stuff had stayed with him, while the way things were had faded. It had been another world, and he had been so young.
‘So, what, it made stuff?’ the kid asked.
‘No, no, played music, I think.’
The kid frowned at it. He was called Akori, and he had been very young when the fall came. Young enough that he’d never been to a school, would never remember a working world.
A flash of anger sprang through Warren. He looked around at the house they’d found, huge and crumbling, tucked into the rolling hills. It was enormous, cream and gilt paint peeling everywhere inside, making the walls look strangely shaggy and unkempt. But here and there you could see glimpses of the opulence it used to be. The stately entrance hall, and the elegant, spiralling stairs. The anger grew, an old anger that Warren had almost forgotten, a furnace of unfettered rage.
‘I mean Jesus fucking Christ, kid, do you know what these fuckers did?’ Warren screamed, tearing the device from Akori’s shocked hands and flinging it at the decaying walls hard enough to leave a dent and send gouts of rotting paint tumbling into the air.
The kid was silent, shocked, unused to Warren ever making noise.
‘They fucking… they ate the world,’ said Warren, his teeth clenched. ‘They just took, and took, and took. And when they were told the world was dying they did everything they could, everything, to make sure nothing was done. They might have had to give something up, see? They had more than anyone could ever need in a thousand lifetimes and they would kill a man for even hinting that they could do without a sliver of it.’
Warren stood panting, his eyes burning with hate at everything around him. A chandelier was splayed on the floor in front of him, and he kicked at it.
‘Why didn’t anyone stop them?’ asked Akori, after a little while.
‘We fucking tried! We tried again, and again. People took to the streets, they screamed about it from the rooftops, by the end they were even blowing up bridges and killing people. Nothing fucking worked. You don’t understand the power of these people. The power of the rich. They had so much, so fucking much, that they could do anything.’
Warren saw the kid frown, not comprehending but clearly frightened by his display.
‘They told us,’ said Warren, ‘that it was foreigners’ fault. Or people with less than us. Or that we could fix it all if we just scrubbed out the trash we were throwing away so someone else could reuse it. They kept us distracted with arguments about who to trade with or who should be our neighbour. By the time the power went out they were starting to say it was just natural, that the bees were gone because it was just their time or some bullshit. Anything. They would make any effort, say anything, watch thousands die, millions, anything they could to make sure they didn’t have to do without even a fraction of what they had. It didn’t matter to them that they wouldn’t miss it, everything they saw was theirs and if it wasn’t theirs they didn’t give a shit about it. Fuck. We used to say they hated us, but that wasn’t true, we just didn’t mean a fucking thing to them.’
‘Well shit,’ said Akori, ‘no wonder this house is so smashed up, everyone came and got them in the end then?’
Warren looked confused for a moment, then realised what the kid meant. How could he explain it to him? How could you tell someone that a few pampered thieves had killed the world long before he had a chance to live in it? And the kid thought he was just talking about this house? That the specific people who lived here, in this building, were responsible for it all?
Warren threw his head back and laughed like he hadn’t laughed in years. He laughed until his stomach hurt and his eyes watered. He laughed until Akori gave up trying to understand, until Akori left and returned with a trickle of water and a couple of cats to eat.
‘Wind’s picking up,’ said Akori, turning the cats on a makeshift spit over a fire made from a rotting bedframe.
‘Yeah,’ said Warren, ‘but it won’t bring rain.’
‘Storm season isn’t for months, we’ll be back underground by then. What happened to them, in the end? asked Akori.
‘Who?’ said Warren.
‘The people. The people who ate the world.’
‘I dunno,’ said Warren, ‘there were a lot of them,but not as many as you’d think. I’m sure some of them suffered and others lived ‘til they were old and some might even be alive now. It doesn’t matter, really. They never mattered, not as much as they thought they did. They had more than anyone could ever want or need. And now nobody will even remember their name.’