Eliza watched as I boiled the rice. “Is this all we’re going to ‘ave?” she asked. “Thought we’d get more stuff than this.”
“Actually, you’re kind of lucky,” I said. “I’ve been saving this hot meal for a special occasion. Apart from some cake mix I found, most of what we’re going to be eating is bread.”
“What kind of bread?” Eliza asked. “Please tell me it’s not that crusty stuff they fed us in prison.”
“The good news,” I said, “is that they’ve got the Wonderbread factory working again.” I opened a loaf and hander her a slice.
Eliza took it and nibbled on it. Her face slowly became more and more disgusted with each chew. “So they didn’t give us that awful stuff as punishment.” She took a few more chews. “You sure this is the bread and not the cake?”
“They kept the original recipe because it’s high in calories,” I said. “When you get a loaf of this stuff per person per bi-weekly period, you need every calorie you can. I’m an ‘important war asset,’ so I get two loaves per week. So I go around and trade my spare loaf with people for booze or give it away to people who really need it.”
Eliza looked at the loaf with dawning horror. “I got three slices a meal,” she said. She did some quick math. “I was eatin’ better’n you.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Probably. Almost everyone here is dying, as I said before.” There was a long, long pause. “Want to celebrate by getting totally drunk?”
“How drunk can we get?” Eliza asked.
“Well,” I said, “seeing as how paper currency is only used for kindling and toilet paper, that loaf of bread you’re holding is this brave new world’s version of gold.”
“This shite’s worth its weight in gold?” Eliza said incredulously.
“You’re thinking in pre-war terms,” I said. “Gold is fucking worthless now. Food, any kind of food, is one of the few things that are worth anything. Guns and other weapons are worth more. Medicine tops even that.”
The assembly line below had been rumbling the entire time, but as Eliza’s eyes drifted down, I could tell she was suddenly remembering that I was making all three. “So this’s a bloody diamond mine, innit?” she whispered. “Don’t that make you nervous? Bein’ ‘ere alone, with nothing but the three most valuable things in the world?”
“Come with me,” I said, motioning her to follow me. We walked down into the basement. Two things were obvious: the hole where the Dragon’s Teeth had blown their way into the basement and took the factory that was now patched up and the shelves and the nine shelves of liquor.
Eliza paused, wondering what was so interesting, then she realized. “How did you fill all those shelves?”
“Bread and Power Sludge,” I said. “People will eat it now.”
“Jesus Christ,” Eliza said, shaking her head, “this truly is the worst timeline, innit?” She walked over to it and picked up a bottle of American whiskey that wasn’t bourbon shaped like a hip flask. “How the hell did this even survive?”
“Dunno,” I said, “but these bottles end up in a pile over there, ‘cause I’ve got nowhere else to put it.”
Eliza stared at the bottle for a moment. “Never heard of this before,” she said, “but now’s a good time to find out what it’s like.” She popped off the cork and took a swig. “Gah, ‘s been a while. Forgot ‘ow much this shit burns.”
“That’s the spirit!” I said. “Ha. Spirit.” I walked over and took a random bottle. I gave it a quick look-over. It was potentially the last bottle of over-proof rum in the state. It was at least a gallon bottle. I unscrewed the top and took a swig. The swig turned into a gulp, and that nearly turned into a chug. I stopped. I wanted to get shit-faced, not choke on my own vomit. I’d almost done that enough times these past few months. “It’s ok,” I said, seeing Eliza’s look of shock and worry. It wasn’t, but she didn’t have to know that.
“If you say so,” she said, and took a pointedly ladylike sip from her bottle. “Anyway, the Final Prophecy-”
I took another swig from the jug. Eliza shot me a look. “Sorry,” I said, “but that prophecy bullshit just never ends well for me.” The Final Prophecy had already predicted Alma and Mubashir. And Eliza had always been a big believer in it, and so was Mayu. I’d been introduced to Mayu’s obsession because of Eliza’s near-religious belief, and also been shot in the lung during an ill-fated expedition to Japan. My chest still twinged thinking about it. Just like other parts of my body ached and twinged from the combat I’d been in.
Eliza shrugged. “Fair ‘nough. Any rate, it ain’t over.” I took another swig. Luckily, Eliza had taken a sip as well and couldn’t say anything. “We ‘aven’t seen the fiery angels come down from the ‘eavens to wreak vengeance upon us yet, and they aren’t fighting.”
A few years ago, I would have protested. I would have told her she couldn’t have known that, that all this was crazy. That prophecies were bullcrap. Instead, I took another swig and said, “If we’re lucky, they’ll kill enough of us so that the famine won’t be a problem anymore.”
“Bloody ‘ell,” Eliza said, “You’re drunk already.”
“No I’m not,” I said. Or at least not drunk enough yet. Depending on what I was drinking, sometimes I didn’t realize it until I had reached my goal of blacking out twice a week. Once or twice, I’d woken up with the circles from a gun barrel on my skin, or one of the pistols I’d designed still in my mouth. That had been less a bug and more a feature, so I upped the nights I got drunk to three.
Suddenly, the overproof rum hit me like a freight train. My thoughts became muddled, and I blinked. “Now I am,” I said as things started to darken. I took another swig.
The next of the night passed in bits and pieces. One point, I remember yelling “THE LAST THERAPIST I HAD WAS NAMED JACK FUCKING DANIELS AND I KILLED HIM!” to an empty room while waving a bottle around. The next scene was me lying at the bottom of a staircase, my leg at a funny angle and Eliza calling my name from somewhere far off in the factory. The final time, my vision was blurry and I was looking at a wall, wondering why my hand, face, and foot hurt, and why there was a red spot on the wall, and why it was slowly falling to the floor.
Finally, I woke up in an office, light streaming from the window. My leg was in a make-shift cast, my nose had a splint, and the fingers of my left hand were also in a cast and bandaged, with the bandage having some red leak through. My throat was also sore like I had been shouting for hours on end. Across from me, Eliza glowered, her eyes puffy.
“You,” she said, “‘ave a fuckin’ problem.”