Logan Rie Webster
Kris tried to imagine what Philadelphia would have looked like Before. Her parents had barely survived the cataclysm, and had told her stories from Before, but she could never picture it in her mind’s eye. All she could see was what this place had become, trees that had lined the streets had taken over, tearing up the asphalt in great chunks. Those skyscrapers that had managed to stay upright sprouted all manner of greenery from their dilapidated windows though, more often than not, they were the barest shells of their former selves. They were twisted husks of steel and glass rising from the sea of undulating green. Worst of all, this new breed of greenery was vicious, and craved flesh. Kris’s parents had survived it, for a time, and had dedicated their lives to identifying, categorizing, and combating the new breeds of carnivorous plants that sprung up over the years after The War. Their passions for botany, the very thing that had brought the two young scientists together, became their living hell.
Kris held out a hand blocking her rookie's forward progress before they stumbled onto a dead man, silently chastising herself for her lapse in attention. Kris laughed to herself, thinking that she probably shouldn’t have thought of the rookie as “young.” Indeed, there likely wasn’t much more than five years between them in age: it was just that Kris had started as a Scavenger earlier than most thanks to her parents’ tutelage. She realized she hadn’t bothered to learn the young woman's name either. Then again, Kris rarely did for those who hadn’t even survived their first mission.
The pair retreated and crouched a short distance away, trying to assess what had killed the man first: the neurotoxin from the hawthorn spur lodged in his throat, or the carnivorous mile-a-minute vine that was busy leaching away the nutrients from his body. Either way, it didn’t really matter what had killed him; the man had been wearing a pack when he died and their need for the supplies necessitated a quick and dirty assessment, not an in depth study.
“The mile-a-minute might be sluggish,” suggested the rookie thoughtfully, “since it's already feasting on two.” She absently slapped a probing tendril of kudzu off of her arm while taking in the rest of their surroundings for potential hazards. She slid her Pulaski, a combination axe and adze, from where it was strapped on her bag and hefted it while thinking.
Kris was impressed, despite herself. The rookie had noted the dead fox by the human body before she had, and was already clearing a safe zone from any plant material in case they needed to beat a hasty retreat from the vines. The mile-a-minute was a writhing mass of greenery as it fed; releasing various acids to help break down the corpses for quicker absorption.
“Keep the mile-a-minute off my back and keep your eyes sharp for anything else,” Kris ordered the rookie as she observed the scene. She didn't trust the woman, but it was their best bet. At the rookie's nod of acknowledgement, Kris dashed in. She tugged the hawthorn spur from the dead man's neck and slid it into a pocket before drawing her knife to slice through the offending plants. The mile-a-minute was thick and strong, and Kris gritted her teeth to keep from vomiting when she cut skin along with plant fiber when her knife slipped.
So much for respect for the dead.
The mile-a-minute started grasping at her gloves, looking for some purchase on their surface to grab a hold of, already leaving acidic pockmarks. Kris could hear her rookie hacking it back away from her as she worked. Kris scraped the tendrils away with her knife between strokes around the bag, the rasp of metal on leather a strange contrast to the hiss of the moving vines. She said some rather rude comments to the plants while she worked, much to the amusement of the rookie.
“Would you talk to your mother with a mouth like that?” teased the rookie, a waiver in her voice the only indication of the nerves that must have been coursing through her. She hissed as a rogue vine caught the exposed skin of her cheek, letting out a colorful curse of her own.
Kris rolled her eyes but grinned internally. “I learned it from my mother,” she countered. Scavengers risked life and limb daily, and many developed a casual attitude towards death as a means of coping.
A shout from the rookie warned Kris of the unforeseen kudzu plant snaking up her ankle. By the time Kris freed herself from its grasp her work on the mile-a-minute was nearly undone. She forced herself to move faster, to break the pack free a second time, her care waning with as her desperation increased. Again, a warning from the rookie gave Kris a chance to avoid another grab by the kudzu.
At some point in her scramble to push back the vines around Kris and the corpse, the rookie had closed the man’s vacant, staring eyes, Kris realized. Kris was not sure exactly when, as it seemed to have been an unconscious gesture. She found it comforting to not have to face the accusations of the corpse each time she looked at his bloated face. What did the dead have need for supplies? As she cut, she overheard the rookie offering up quiet prayers for the man, while she hacked back the mile-a-minute and kudzu so they wouldn’t resprout on top of them. Kris took some small comfort from the prayer, and, surprising as it was, in the back of her mind hoped that someone would pray over her when she died.
“Do you reckon it does anything?” she asked. “The praying,” she clarified when her question was met with silence.
“I reckon it can’t hurt any,” replied the rookie quietly. “My folks figure Judgement Day is at hand, but I don’t think it matters either way. We live the life we’re dealt. I just want someone to mark my passing when I go, you know? So I figure praying for the dead is the least I can do.”