A Vignette by Kittyluvver
“The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms”
-from The Hollow Men, by T.S. Eliot
You never forget your first time, no, and try as she might Rue Skyfire cannot forget the first time she fell in love; that moon-blue SeaWing with eyes like broken gems will stalk the dusty corners of her mind for far longer than she will ever admit aloud. Such is the way of the wasteland: everything that was once good is soon gone, like meat that goes rancid and spoils under the sun. But even after all these years, Rue has not forgotten. The fleeting memory of friendship, that most bittersweet drug of them all, lingers heavy in her mouth even and she seeks it, craves it the way she craves Med-X - oh, if only it was an easy as a needle in her vein! Even though she knows that the high will not last, that any friend she makes will be gone too soon and Rue will be left alone with nothing but loneliness and grim reality to keep her warm.
And so Rue walks on, wandering across the endless wastes until the world disappears into smoke and flame, until the hiss-crack of bullets striking flesh begins to feel like the echoing laughter of a former life. When did shooting another dragon become something so casual? Rue put on her boots, shot something. Ate a meal, shot something else. Shot something before going to sleep. Slept, shot something in the dead of the night, and slept no more.
In all her years, Rue had learned just one thing: guns and drugs make for poor company.
Rue’s thirtieth birthday comes, punctured by injections and punctuated by gunfire like any other day of her life. Thirty years - that was called an accomplishment in the wasteland. Thirty years of privation, radiation, starvation, endless mutant attack. Thirty years counted out in bottlecaps and bullet casings, the endless ticking of time bombs and Geiger counters. Thirty. Bloody moons. Thirty. Rue mouths the word, and it tastes like nothing at all. Somehow, thirty hardly feels like anything to celebrate.
Evening is falling across the blasted wastes as oily waves crash against the shores of what once was the SandWing kingdom, flecking Rue’s lips with salt. For once, for a moment, all is still; the grey of the sea and the grey of the sky becoming one, the world turning to ash - and Rue suddenly has the urge to run. To fly. To move. To fight. To shout, to break the dreadful silence. To do something, anything at all, to forget the terrible loneliness that boiled up from her lungs and made it so hard for her to breathe.
Rue was never one to dwell on such things, but even she had to admit that her life, though longer than that of most Wastelanders, had been an exceptionally miserable and pointless one, filled with starless nights and rotten mutant carcasses and tasteless meat scooped out of rusted cans. Was it enough, simply to survive? To buy time, to cheat the inevitable day after day? Who had she helped, influenced, protected, saved? If tomorrow her bones were scattered by a mutant pack, who would remember her name?
You’re getting old, answers a voice, unbidden from the dark recesses of her mind. And it is true. The Rue of ten or even five years ago wouldn’t have cared, would have laughed to see her now, so thoughtful, so afraid. And it was true - Rue is afraid, has been afraid for a very long time, and it had taken her thirty years to admit it even to herself. Not just because a certain NightWing with eyes like polished silver had ensured that she could never stop running, that if she rested or slept for too long the monsters of the wasteland would sniff her out and tear her limb from limb. Not just because of how the memory of friendship lost torments her, fills her with regret and anger and grief until she reaches for the needle’s sweet oblivion.
She is running, always running. She is running out of time.
At least, thinks Rue, in the moments before the narcotic empties her mind; at least, in thirty years, she had known what it felt like to have one moment of perfect joy.
I’ve spent thirty years running.
I can run a little more.