The last survivor. And he's pissed!

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It was just what he wanted at the moment, a dark, filthy hole. It was nowhere.

When he first stumbled across it, desperate and lost, he found it empty, void of human contamination. He discovered it in the back corner of a back alley, a crevasse in the city of the sort formed by endless rounds of construction and destruction, a forgotten place of concrete, steel, sewer pipes, electric conduits and refuse. It saved his life.

Had he not managed to crawl into it quite by mistake, they would have scanned him. Scanning him, they would have killed him. Yet, he evaded them by worming his way into this hole. Evading them, he lived.

Later, much later, days later, perhaps, he wakened to the feel and sounds of soft, eager feet scampering over his armor. Revolted, he started upright, flinging the rat into the darkness, before a blinding surge of pain reminded him of the reason he had sought the refuge of the hole.

Gasping, he suffered the agony until he could open his eyes again, whereupon he noticed a dim light flickering within its volume. This, he soon learned, was the sooty light of a flame.

His hiding space stretched the length of a city block. It ran crookedly, sometimes wider, sometimes narrower. Sometimes, expanded metal screens stretched across its upper reaches, and sometimes concrete. Only here, at this forgotten point in this forgotten space, the conduit opened onto the city, unobstructed.

Hastily, he fetched his weapons, drawing them both on the naked flame. He squeezed the triggers, whereupon tiny sound emitters fixed inside his skull relayed the pistols' electronic warnings: 'RECHARGE! RECHARGE! RECHARGE!'

Somebody cackled crazily. "Ha! Empty! Whaddya know!"

His legs worked weakly to push his spine up against the concrete barricade at his back. His tongue, cheeks and throat worked to shape words that refused to form properly. After a stiff swallow and a dull shake of his head, he demanded, "Who are you?" Ragged and coarse, his voice spoke of dehydration and raging infection. He holstered his pistols to fetch up an ancient sort of weapon, this a long, ever-sharp blade of hardened alloy. "Answer me!"

"I'm me, of course," returned the other fearlessly. "No need to shout, neither, ya damned fool! The place is crawlin' with 'em! Just 'cause they ain't found us yet, don't mean they won't, if you go 'round hollerin' for 'em!"

"Crawling? With who?" he demanded obtusely, holding the flashing blade before him, so it shone menacingly in the light.

The old woman cackled again, softer this time. "Shhhh," she admonished him. "Be quiet! Can't ya hear 'em? Them that would gut us both, if they found us here!"

He held his tongue for a moment. He stared at her meager light, which she husbanded carefully. She added a few twigs and shards of wooden debris to the large tin can that formed her brazier, and the flames grew greedily. Held over the charred stack of the can, she slowly turned the roasting carcass of a large, fat rat. Upon sight of this grotesque food, his stomach churned painfully. His mouth watered. Despite her warning, he asked, "Do you have more? Do you have water?"

She glared at him, and her silence forced his attention to focus on her wrinkled, grizzled face. Her expression fallen, and her toothless, senseless grin collapsed into a scowl, she hissed and spat. "Ya want some, don't ya? Some water, yeah? Some four-legged squab, yeah?" Nimbly, her fingers spun the roasting rodent. Its fat sizzled and popped. Its bones and flesh steamed.

"Where'd they hit ya?"

He licked his lips, and felt his slack pulse throb painfully. His mind refused to consider the monstrous wound in his gut. "Water, please," he begged, his vision blurring around the starkly lit features of the hag's wracked face.

"Maybe I shouldn't," she hedged. "Judgin' from the blood an' all, it looks like a gut shot, alright. Looks like you damned near bled to death, and that's what saved ya, too. Ya bled s'much, you couldn't bleed n'more. If I was to fill your belly with water, you might spring another leak or two. You might actually die, next time."

Pondering the alternatives with hot, fiery thoughts, his rasping tongue worked inside his mouth like sandpaper against the rough planks of a pine chest. "Just a little, please," he begged.

The old woman sucked her own tongue, her eyes angry and her expression reflective. "I dunno," she hedged, "that there pig-sticker scares me. You look like you could use it, too. You look like one o' them ghost-fellahs they's always shinin' up in the 'casts. That right? You one o' them kind?"

Though it might cost him his life, he licked his lips and lowered his weapon, returning the blade to its armored scabbard with deliberate, tortured movements of his arms and torso. He nodded. "Yes. I am. Ghost-Striker Six-One-Nine, Alpha Company, Seventh Regiment, First Division-"

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