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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Chapter 1 - The Hunt

It was a perfect day for Jude. The sky was blue, clouds were frequent in the sky but not constantly blotting the sun, and the temperature was warm. The only care on Jude’s mind was that of the health of his mentor, an elderly man called Survivor.

Survivor had lived through the war against the kryons, of which Jude was born after. Survivor had accumulated much radiation poisoning from the bombs set off, and was dying from it. It was a matter of weeks until the last known survivor was dead.

Of course, Jude wasn’t thinking only of his mentor and surrogate father’s health, but of two other things: food and Tyra, and probably not in that order.

Food was important because without it, the village would starve. And Jude was a hunter, and so, on a day like today, he went out hunting in the glass fields of the Old City. With his favorite gun slung over his back (an old SC-17 human pistol he had found), and a few extra battery cartridges for it, Jude was on the hunt – preferably for wolves or similarly large game, as it would bring much more food to the village than rabbits or squirrels.

The other thing on Jude’s mind was his girlfriend, Tyra. He had known Tyra his whole life, and they had grown up together as if they were brother and sister. And recently they had fallen in love, and were soon to live together, as independent people. Or at least, as independent as one could be after the war.

And so Jude walked through the fields, still covered with shards of formerly molten glass, and of the skeletons of hundreds of people. The smell of burning still filled the air, and buildings were slowly sinking towards Earth.

Jude noted that it was beginning to get dark, he would have to find shelter soon. Hunts frequently lasted for days on end, though Survivor had implemented a rule – “If you don’t return in five days, we treat you as if you were dead until you return. You will not receive food allotments.”

Jude wandered into what appeared to have been the center of the city (Survivor claimed it was once called the Square of Time, or something similar). One tower had collapsed upon it, but otherwise, the square was intact.

A motion several hundred feet caught Jude’s eyes. Ducking behind an overturned and rusted vehicle, Jude peered around the corner.

His eyes had not deceived him – there was indeed a fox in the square. Jude’s grip tightened on the gun as he pulled a single lever and was greeted with the warm sound of the gun preparing a charge.

Jude waited several more moments, listening to the sound of the fox as it moved about the glass, looking for its own meal. His finger tensing on the trigger, Jude spun around the corner, and shot the gun.

An explosion of heat and light and glass appeared where he had shot the gun. But much to Jude’s dismay, the fox had survived – and was now fleeing for its life.

Not wishing to lose his prey, Jude leapt to his feet and charged through the glass. Flicking the reload button, Jude kept both eyes on the fox.

Winding through the former streets, past cars, bodies, and buildings, Jude maintained his pursuit of the animal. But the animal was no fool, and soon had hidden in a vast collection of glass and metal shrapnel. He knew the creature was there, but Jude did not see it enter.

Closing his eyes and focusing his mind, he heard a sound of shattering glass from where the fox was, and the cry of a wounded animal. Aiming off from the animal, in the hopes of simply killing it and not incinerating it, Jude fired again. A second explosion rocked the air. And there, lying some feet from the crater, a dead fox.

Satisfied, Jude slung his weapon around his back again. He wandered over, and found the body of the fox. Picking it up, he observed that he had burnt a bit of meat to the side, though it was a larger fox, so more meat could be found on it.

He picked up the fox and put it over his shoulders, then looked at the sky and frowned. In the time the hunt had taken, it had nearly grown dark, and the lights of aurora shown brightly above. Seeing a vehicle with only punctured tires, Jude decided to spend his night there. Climbing into the back seat and putting the fox in the trunk, he fell asleep.

When he awoke in the morning, his first thoughts were that he had slept in particularly long. Climbing out of the van, he looked to the sky. Sure enough, the sun was high in the sky – it was midday.

Cursing, Jude opened up the trunk of the van and lifted the fox back onto his back.
The journey back was long and hard. Jude had lost his sense of location during the hunt, after barreling down unknown streets in pursuit of the fox. And so he wandered through the streets of the city, looking for a landmark – to no avail.

Hunger overtook him in the afternoon. Finding what was once an apartment building, Jude was pleased to see that the apartment still had a small, unbroken container of honey. He opened it, and placed a small amount on the tip of his tongue. It was not often he found food that would not spoil, and even rarer that he could indulge in a treat such as honey.

Jude ate half the bottle of honey before he became thirsty. This was generally a larger problem than hunger, as the water of the city was very dangerous to drink. After searching more buildings, he found three unopened bottles of water – another good omen. Yes, this day should be good, and his return to the village should go well.

Jude, after drinking a bottle of water, put the fox back over his shoulders and wandered. He wandered through alleyways, passing overturned cars, shattered construction vehicles, and collapsed buildings. He eventually found the square again, and followed the route home.

He was surprised to find that a car he was used to being parked along the side of the road was now lying on the ground, its hood smashed in and the windows shattered. Walking to the other side of the car, he saw why.

He refused to believe what was lying on the other side of the car. He blinked several times, before looking again. But his eyes were not deceiving him.

There, before him, where his village should have been, was a blast crater.


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