Travels Of A Hunter
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A thud echoed through the abandoned theater as the slime that encased dozens of human bones hit the floor backstage. The skulls within it whirled around, trying to identify the thing that just hit it with an electrical shot. It could only make out a tall, lumbering, shadow before it was disintegrated by a rifle-mounted flame thrower.

Rachael MacHarvey stared down at the smoldering pile of goo and bones, wincing at the sickly sweet burning smell. She retrieved an acid-proof bag from her backpack and scooped the pile into it. It was a small kill, the kind of thing most hunters started with. But cash was tight and Rachael was going to take every cent she could get. She swung the bag over her shoulder and headed to the New Ottowa Disturbances and Irregularities Office. The name was rather ironic, considering that few things could be considered irregular in the new world. She approached the man at the desk, whose Compensation was teleportation, and dropped the bag onto it. He grabbed a pen and poked at it before looking up at her. She must have had about a foot on him.

“From the old theater, right?” he inquired. Rachael nodded. The man picked up the bag and disappeared before her eyes. A moment later he reappeared with a bundle of Ottowain bills. He counted out ten and handed them to her, “You’d think we would’ve gotten those things out of the city by now. It’s like you get rid of one and three more pop up.”

“I think they come from the sewers,” Rachael said in an unintendedly blunt tone as she pocketed the bills.

“Shit,” he chuckled a bit, “No pun intended.”

Rachael smiled for a moment before finding it awkward, “Any more bounties?”

“No, not right now,” the man replied, “Doubt we’ll have any for a while. Management is trying to put a strike team together to take care of this stuff so we don’t have to keep hiring hunters. I expect that to go to shit pretty quickly.”

Rachael nodded again before turning to leave the office. It was just as well that the bounties in New Ottawa were running dry. She’d have to be on the road again soon. She estimated that she had just enough money to get her to the Del Rio-Canadian Highway. From there, it would just be a matter of finding a caravan to hitch a ride on, likely in exchange for providing it protection. But before many days of traveling, all she wanted was at least one full night of sleep.

Her hotel room was cramped, but she’d slept in worse places. She planted her equipment in the corner and fell onto the bed. She stared at the ceiling and let her mind wander as she tried to fall asleep.

She thought back to who she was before the Singularity, as she imagined many people did in their downtime. It was a thought that had to cross everyone’s mind at least once: Who would I be if it didn’t happen?
A veterinarian, she thought. She would have gone back to college to get her doctorate and opened up her own clinic. That was her dream since she was a child. But no, she couldn’t let her dreams of an old world distract her from reality. The Singularity did happen, and now she was here, hunting down beasts with prices on their heads. She did have to admit that it was a more exciting life.

The next morning she awoke, and immediately began preparing for her journey. After strapping her rifle to her backpack, she hoisted it onto her back and carefully opened the room’s door. Not for fear that there would be someone on the other side, but for fear that she would rip it off of its hinges if she pulled it open too hard. While her Compensation had helped her a great many times during her hunts, it was rather cumbersome when it came to daily life. She could never decide if it was a blessing or a curse. Many people would kill to have super-human strength, and she’d seen some with nightmarish abilities, a man who was made entirely out of bugs, for example. But on the other hand, she walked on eggshells wherever she went, the slightest miscalculation of her strength could be deadly. Good when hunting beasts, bad when making friends.

A makeshift bus with armor plating pulled up to its stop. The whole thing shook and the breaks screamed as it came to a halt. The driver, who was fused with the bus, slid the door open. Rachael boarded and shoved two bills into the box next to the driver. She took her seat as a few more people boarded. After a minute, the driver slid the door closed and the rickety bus started moving. Rachael watched as a snow-covered New Ottawa slowly disappeared into the horizon. It looked like another snowstorm would be coming in soon. Odd, considering it was well into May. Perhaps even the Seasons had stopped keeping count of the days.

Her next destination was Detroit. A city that, by most accounts, had remained mostly similar to its pre-Singularity self. Still, though, it was ripe with creatures that most people couldn’t, or wouldn’t, deal with. Work was beginning to dry up in most of the habitant parts of Canada, so Rachael hoped to find it in what was left of the U.S. She grew up in Atlanta but hadn’t left Canada since the singularity. She wondered if there was anything left of her hometown.

The bus arrived at its last stop. Rachael fixed her coat and stood. She nodded to the driver as she got off. The broken and cracked road of the highway lay before her. Without a single soul in sight, She began her trek South. Her first day of walking was largely uneventful, she came across a Jo-bot that told of a tragedy in New Houston, but that was it. She could feel eyes on her as she set up her tent on the side of the highway, she kept her rifle close to her that night.

The next day was more of the same. But as day sank into the evening, she finally happened upon a fellow traveler. A tall man, about as tall as Rachael, walked along the road. His clothes were rather inappropriate for his situation. He was dressed for the cold, yes, with a large backpack and all, but they were far too formal. He looked like he just walked out of a cocktail party in Greenland. He noticed Rachael and was taken aback by her stature for a moment.

“Hello, stranger,” he said as he waved. His voice was formal as well. He had a heavy ‘high society’ accent. Rachael grunted in greeting, “May I ask where you’re headed?”

“Detroit,” Rachael answered. The man smiled.

“Well, I myself am making my way to Toronto. May I join you for this leg of the journey?” he asked in a far too meditated way. Normally, Rachael would refuse such a request. But something wouldn’t let her.

“Sure,” she answered, “The more the merrier.”

The two trotted along. It was a half hour before another word was spoken, “So, what is your name, my new companion?” the man asked, practically bouncing as he did. Rachael stared at him from the corner of her eye. With each passing moment, he seemed to grow stranger, from his clothing, to his walk, to his constant questions. Though Rachael couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong with this man, she felt she would be breaking some unspoken rule if she answered this question truthfully.

“Sam,” she replied, keeping her blunt tone on purpose this time, “You?”

The man nodded as he folded his hands behind his back, “Sam, Sam, Sam. I once knew someone named Sam. Dead now. Or… No. Are they?” He scratched his chin and looked off into the distance. He was seemingly trying to file through his memories. He never gave Rachael his name. The rest of the day was littered with small talk and odd personal questions, Where are you from? What’s your favorite color? Who was your childhood best friend? Rachael answered all of these questions falsely or vaguely. Which was better than the man, who dodged every question he was asked.

The day ended soon. And as they set up their tents, Rachael was thankful that Toronto was only a day's walk away. She and the strange man would part soon. Rachael slept better than she usually did that night. She woke up in time to watch the sunrise on the frozen desert that surrounded her. She was not given many quiet moments, so she did her best to appreciate them when she did. The man awoke soon after and emerged from his tent.

“Good morning, Sam!” he said cheerfully, “Ahh, I can feel it, can’t you? Today is going to be a good day.”

Rachael thought of Toronto, “Indeed, it is.”

It was two hours into the walk when the man decided to strike up a conversation, “Do you remember what it was like?”

“What what was like?” Rachael asked, confused.

“The Singularity,” he explained, “The moment it happened, do you remember that feeling?”

“I suppose so,” she answered.

“God, it was like freedom, a whole new world of possibilities, created right before my very eyes. And I must say, it did not disappoint,” he said, gesturing to a spiral of wrinkled spacetime that was beginning to take shape in the distance. Rachael had a very different memory of the Singularity. To her, it was fear and grief as she clutched her best friend's withering corpse in her arms. He went on, “The Singularity. You know what I think it was? Divine intervention. Yes, some higher power must have seen that we were going the wrong way, so it pushed us onto the right path.” Rachael said nothing, she only thought of priests screaming about the Lord’s work as she sat on an uncomfortable pew in an Atlanta cathedral.

“I’d rather it hadn’t happened,” Rachael said, mostly to herself.

“Shame,” he started talking before Rachael finished her sentence, “I suppose not everyone can see it like me.” Silence befell them again. An hour passed. Most animals died in the singularity, not all, but a majority. So, seeing a perfectly normal dog trot down the Del Rio-Canadian Highway was not an impossible sight, but a rare one indeed. Rachael watched the dog as she passed it. It looked familiar. “I haven’t seen one of those in a while,” the man’s voice startled her.

“Me neither,” she said with phony disinterest. Why did that dog seem so familiar? Rachael tried to push this thought out of her mind. The rest of the day was mostly peaceful. Save for the man humming strange tunes that Rachael could swear she’d heard, but couldn’t put a name to. They walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. Rachael stopped. She looked up at the green-hued sun. How far had it moved across the sky? How long had they been walking?

“Is something wrong?” the man asked. His tone sounded ungenuine. Rachael looked around. There was nothing but the tundra for miles and miles. Where was Toronto?

“We should-” her thought was interrupted by a painfully familiar sight, the dog, Brick the dog, her best friend, withering on the side of the highway. She forgot where she was at that moment. All that existed was her and Brick, and Brick was dying. She ran over to him and scooped him up, “Brick! Buddy, it’s ok, buddy, I got you, I-” He grew older in her arms. His fur dampened with her tears as she rocked him back and forth on her bed. Something was happening outside of the apartment. Screaming, and explosions, it sounded like the sky was cracking open. None of that mattered, Brick was dying. He was dying and she couldn’t help him. Brick whimpered as he turned to ash and bone in her arms.

“We must understand that our souls are spiritual,” the priest spoke loudly from behind his podium, “That’s what separates us from animals, the fact that we go to Heaven. And these scientists now say that we came from monkeys. Heh, do I look like a monkey to you?” The crowd reverberated with various ways to say ‘no.’ The priest ran his hands down his robe as he continued, “I thought so! I thought so! God made us in his image, not the monkeys. That’s why we’re at the top of the food chain.”

Rachael stared at her feet that were dangling off the pew and pinched a crease into her dress. She was just beginning to watch a spider crawl across the floor beneath her when her mother smacked her in the back of the head.

“Sam, pay attention!”

“Sorry, mom,” Rachael said as she turned her gaze to the priest. Her mother’s words repeated in her memory, “Wait, my name’s not-”

Rachael’s eyes jolted open. Her tent was dark, but even in the dim moonlight, she could see the man above her. No, not a man. His face was twisted beyond that of a man. His hand hovered above her face. He was taking something from her. Out of pure reaction, she punched him in the gut. She felt his ribs crack and his organs rupture beneath her fist before the impact of the blow sent him flying out of the tent.

She heard coughing followed by an inhuman screech come from outside. As she sat up on her cot, she realized that she was incredibly dizzy. She held her head and steadied herself before rising to her feet. Outside, the thing that was not a man had just coughed up a pool of purple liquid. It was trying to crawl away while yelling incomprehensible insults. It didn’t get far before Rachael grabbed it by the ankle. In one swift motion, she swung it above her head and onto the highway. Its head exploded upon contact with the asphalt, covering it with that purple liquid.

Rachael stared down at the corpse. A Memory Leech, she wanted to kick herself for not realizing sooner. She tried her best to recall as much of her life as possible. She was unable to remember her mother’s face nor the moment that her dog, Brick, died, though she knew that he was dead. The loss of the memory of her mother saddened her, but maybe it was for the best. In fact, maybe she should have let the Leech eat all of her memories of the old world, perhaps it would have made living in the new one easier. She looked around, she was still no more than a day’s walk from Toronto.

The sun started to rise. Rachael prepared the morning’s rations and watched the sunrise. She was not given many quiet moments, so she did her best to appreciate them when she did.

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