â€œThis place is a dump,â€ Headley muttered, for what must have been the thousandth time. Foxworth rolled her eyes.
â€œOf course itâ€™s a dump. Itâ€™s our job. If it wasnâ€™t a dump, we wouldnâ€™t be here.â€
â€œYeah, I know,â€ Headley replied, â€œBut look at this place. I mean, really look at it. One guy canâ€™t make buildings rot like that, even if he is a zapper.â€
Foxworthâ€™s eyes took in the crumbling foundations, the sagging walls, the rust, the dirt, the mess. Her hand drifted to the triple-cycling proton gun in her side holster. It was there for her protection, but how could she protect herself against time?
â€œWell, this is a class 15 if I ever saw one. Definitely uninhabitable. No clue where anybody could be hiding in all this mess, though. Even zappers gotta eat.â€
Foxworth nodded her silent agreement. Sometimes a mutant like this would turn tail and run off after it had killed so many people, attacked by some parody of conscience. Theyâ€™d have to file a pink form, and while Foxworth hated that, it was better than sticking around this dump any longer.
â€œAll right,â€ she said at last, turning towards Headley. â€œLetâ€™s pack up and get out ofâ€”â€
â€œWhat are you doing here?â€
Both partners turned towards the new voice, wide-eyed. Foxworthâ€™s hand went immediately to her gun, though she noticed that Headleyâ€™s did not. He frowned instead, kneeling down to speak to the boy, no more than seven or eight, who faced them solemnly from the rubble.
â€œWeâ€™re here to help,â€ Headley assured him. â€œAre you hurt? Did you lose your parents?â€
A cat meowed and Foxworth jumped back, her hand clenching around her gun before she registered the source of the noise. The animal drifted out from behind the pile of debris, making it only the second living thing theyâ€™d seen today, and rubbed against the boyâ€™s legs. He picked it up, still frowning at the two government workers.
â€œYou shouldnâ€™t be here. Go away.â€
â€œWe just want to make sure youâ€™re okay,â€ Headley told the boy in that maddeningly reasonable tone, the one that adults used on children and men used on women when they were feeling particularly superior.
â€œGo away,â€ the boy repeated, holding the cat close to his chest.
â€œLook, kid, youâ€™re gonna have to come with us.â€ Hadley was frowning now. He didnâ€™t like being contradicted or disobeyed.
â€œI said go away!â€ The childâ€™s face contorted at the same instant that the cat hissed, flattening its ears back against the top of its head. The veins in Headleyâ€™s forehead exploded like overripe grapes, spattering blood everywhere, just like the rest of the corpses theyâ€™d seen in this wreckage. He barely had time for a yell of pain before he collapsed, lifeless.
Foxworth was frozen solid. She knew she should be drawing her gun, yelling, crying, running away, doing anything but standing dumbly in the rubble, but she couldnâ€™t bring herself to move.
â€œCome on, Bugaboo.â€ The child held out his arms and the cat, after a last look at Foxworth, ambled back and jumped into them. The child frowned at her. â€œGo away,â€ he repeated. â€œDonâ€™t ever come back here again.â€ Then he turned away.
The catâ€™s green eyes were mesmerizing, and Foxworth caught her breath. For one irrational moment she thought she could get lost in those eyes, like a labyrinth, and never come out.