By the looks of it, Chief Moustafa was one of the unfortunate souls who had been too close to one of the blasts. He was missing a nose and half of his face looked scarred and a little melted. It continued down his neck and to his arm. He had floppy black hair on the unmarred side of his face, while the other side was bald.
And I felt guilty, so guilty. It wasn’t like he could help his disfigurement. That sort of reaction wasn’t in me—for all of my flaws, people couldn’t say I wasn’t compassionate. But on top of the scarring, he had green eyes and a scowl that automatically set me on edge.
I coughed and looked at the ground for a moment before giving a sloppy salute. “Chief Moustafa.”
“Private Fraser,” he rumbled, eyeing me carefully, making me feel sheepish and like an idiot. Then, to Commander Stokes, “Is this the best we can do? Her? Her hair is pink, not regulation, and she’s clearly a rookie, a former civilian who needed to know how to shoot. Or does she even know how to shoot?”
“I can get the job done,” I threw in, growing annoyed that I wasn’t being addressed even though I was right there. “And you’re hair isn’t exactly regulation either,” I petulantly added. He just stopped for a moment and looked at me blankly. “Well it isn’t. If we’re going to be criticizing each other without knowing each other at all, I might as well get that in.”
Moustafa looked at the Commander before slowly lifting one corner of his mouth. “She’ll work,” he said.
He waved behind him at me, and I looked at the Commander before trudging after the angry giant. I was allowed to kiss my parents goodbye before hurriedly packing and meeting Moustafa at the gate. I slipped a tiny makeup back in my pack along with a change of clothes and other supplies out of spite—that and it might come in handy with first impressions later, who knew?
We couldn’t take one of the vehicles because the city needed to save fuel. So we strode out, odd pair that we were. Me in my giant steel-blue parka with thick goggles on my face and a gas mask swinging from the bottom of my pack, an M4 carbine slung across my shoulders; him in head to toe black, his black hood down low like an executioner, Win Mag in hand. His pack looked tiny compared to the one taking up half of my body, even though they were the same size. Our geiger counters clicked slowly in sync.
He made long strides making it difficult for me to keep pace, especially in the snow. Not that I would mention it. I held my head as high as I could and tried to gracefully jog to catch up to him. I had my pride, and he had doubted my abilities—even though I doubted my own abilities myself and had no idea what I was doing. I was scared. And cold. And missed Netflix like so bad. Season 2 of Stranger Things, RIP. But I couldn’t let him know these thoughts. As far as he should know, I loved things like guns and pushups and MREs and whatever else I was supposed to like to be a survival goddess. I’m Bearetta Grills, I’ll drink my own urine. Ew. No, no I won’t. There is a line.
“My name’s Blurryface, and I care what you think,” I sang softly to myself to keep from boredom. We were walking along what used to be the main avenue. Giant oak trees used to cover the road with their branches and old Southern mansions sat back from the road. Now there were trees all over the road and grey, charred branches pointed at the sky. The old mansions had been looted, vandalized, and left in disarray. “My name’s Blurryface, and I care what you think. Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days—“
“Please, something else,” Moustafa groused over his shoulder. “Less emo and depressing.”
I glared at his immense back. You could show a movie on the thing. Who was he to boss me around about singing to myself? Ugh. Fineeeee. He made me feel like a 17 year old rather than an almost 27 year old.
I growled a bit to myself. And then, “Uh, yo’ don’t get it twisted. This rap shit, is mine, motherf—“
His hand clamped over my mouth. And then I heard voices.