Home > The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2)(16)

The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2)(16)
Author: Isaac Marion

Ella watches him, her throat slowly constricting. Then a sharp, wet cough erupts from her lungs and she hunches over, inhaling, coughing, inhaling, coughing. Rosso rubs her back. “Where’s your medicine, El?”

The fit subsides and she straightens, wheezing like she’s just run a marathon. “Left it at home.”

Rosso glances to the lobby door, then to me, then to Julie and Nora. “Will you girls take her home and make sure she gets her pills? I need to get to the gate.”

The girls nod and take Ella by the elbows. I move to follow them.

“R,” Rosso says. “I’d like you to come with me.”

I look at Julie, then at Rosso, thinking I must have misheard him. “Come with you?”

“Yes. To the gate.”

I pause. “Why?”

“I’m not sure I know why. But I want you to be there.”

I shoot Julie a desperate look. “There” is the last place I want to be. I want to be back at our house, patching holes and scrubbing floors, sitting next to her on the ratty old couch reading children’s books while she helps me sound out the syllables, watching her cook an omelette and then attempting to eat it, telling myself this is food, this is food, people aren’t food, this is food.

I want to be alone with her, not in this swarm of fraught and noisy people debating military operations. I’ve just rejoined humanity. Curious George is above my reading level. I’m not ready for this.

“Go on,” Julie says, her eyes tight with worry. “I’ll find you later.”

Rosso waits patiently. He knows my fears. We’ve spent many an evening discussing them in his library as he counsels me through my recovery. But there is no sympathy in his eyes today, no comfort, only the steady resolve of a man telling a man what must be done and trusting him to do it.

I wanted to be human. I wanted to be part of the world. Well, this is the world. Not a cosy cottage—a battlefield. I thought I’d have more time to brace myself, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short residency here it’s that nothing ever happens when you’re ready for it. You tell life, “On the count of three!” and it goes on two.

I pull myself away from Julie and nod to Rosso. We walk toward the gate.

IT’S LATE JULY, and the average temperature hovers around 120 degrees. Humanity has had a few generations to adapt to the new climate, but everyone in the stadium still drips miserably. My ravaged body has been too busy relearning the more essential functions to bother with sweating, so the heat bakes my unmarinated meat. For once I’m grateful for the crush of the stadium’s slum towers. The five-storey apartments of mouldy plywood and rusty sheet metal bathe most of the enclave in shade, which turns the oven down to a more livable 100.

“I wish I could be clearer with you,” Rosso says as our boots slap and peel away from the melting asphalt. The “street” is really no more than a crudely paved footpath, too narrow for us to walk abreast, so I follow behind him and can only guess at his expression. “All I can say is that I believe you’re important.”

I say nothing.

“That is to say you represent something important. You and the others like you. And I’m very interested to find out what it is.”

I remain silent. He glances back at me. “Am I overwhelming you?”

I nod.

He smiles and turns back to the path. “Sorry. I’m sure you’re going through enough right now without me dumping some half-baked hero’s journey in your lap.”

“I’m not important,” I say to the back of his head. “I’m … impotent.”

“Why do you say that, R?”

I hadn’t intended to elaborate, but something in the soft sincerity of his tone makes it bubble out of me. “I can’t read. I can’t speak. My fingers don’t work. My kids won’t stop eating people. I don’t have a job. I can’t make love. Most people want to kill me.”

He chuckles. “No one said life is easy.”

“Does it ever get easier?”

“No.” He looks back at me again. “Well, in your case, maybe a little. But I wouldn’t wait around for it. The day you solve your last problem is the day you die.”

We pass the Agriculture building, a cluster of hothouses rising five stories high with hazy clouds of green visible through the translucent walls. A steady procession of workers pours out from the bottom floors, their backs bent under sacks of fresh vegetables. All this effort manages to supply about a third of the stadium’s food needs. A nice little organic supplement to the steady diet of Carbtein cubes. What will these people do when the old world’s leftovers run out? The medicine? The bullets? No one here knows how these things were made or has the resources to make them. The enclave works hard to build an illusion of self-sufficiency, but like all enclaves—and the cities and countries that preceded them—it relies on a thousand veins pumping lifeblood from the world outside. What happens when the heart finally stops?

“I believe in hard truths,” Rosso says after a few blocks of silence. “But I have to confess I’m doubting my advice right now.”

“Why?”

We pass a block of foster homes and he looks up into the windows. Nearly half of them frame a child’s forlorn face, chins buried in folded arms, eyes scanning the streets for any hint that their lives might change. “I had a similar conversation with another young man not long ago.”

   
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