Earth's last Civil War had finally come to its catastrophic end, after fifteen years, in the year 2095. There had been repeated negotiations between sides. Eight years in, polling showed that over 90% of the human population had been very hopeful of a truce. Then, came the acts of eco-terrorism. Farms were bombed. Grocery stores set ablaze. On-and-off-and-on-again blockades were imposed on the internet and electricity in cities that were found to be not in compliance with the new set of federal regulations. Humanity, then at its apex of technological advancement, had met its rapid downfall beginning in 2092, with a swift campaign of biological warfare - a campaign unleashing a virus that mutated at a rate unforeseen, wiping out 99.999998% of the world's human population.
In the aftermath of a plague, those who survive are left with an abundance of resources. They do not want for food, water or shelter, and the only starvation they endure is a starvation of the heart. Evie Munson, after sheltering in quarantine for a time at her home in the city, packed up some clothes, her weapons and any ammo she could scrape up from the closet. She headed north along the coast, leaving only tears behind her. As she headed up, she visited old stomping grounds - restaurants, theaters, bars, libraries, parks, schools, wine bars, boba shops - looking for any face, familiar or unfamiliar. No one was to be found alive. As she trekked north, she did amass a group of friends, but they were all of the canine variety - orphaned dogs. They sought her out for protection from the packs of larger dogs and coyotes, who, if they ever had any designs on making a meal out of her or her new friends, were quite sufficiently deterred by one shot from her pistol, aimed toward a bright, blue, California sky.
About three years ago, the most recent time that life had provided her any sense of normalcy, she was somewhat of a fancy girl - a pampered but intellectual, fancy girl. So, fancy girls do as fancy girls do, and at the end of her trek north, she settled in an abandoned mansion in Del Mar, shrouded in privacy, acreage, a sprawling lawn of Kentucky blue grass, and opulent luxury - not that her heart, broken over the recent loss of her mother, sister, and every single truth she had ever been conditioned to believe - would permit her to derive any sense of indulgence in the surroundings. She lived out her days with her most trusted companions - on her right, her most favorite of her canine friends, a little miniature Yorkie she named Pip. He always sat by her side while the others gallivanted about the yard and messed up whatever form was left of the once-immaculately cut topiaries, and she rewarded him with plenty of top ramen - his favorite. On her left, her Beretta 686 shotgun, and her tenor mahogany ukulele.
The drones operated by the Bots routinely circulated the premises, monitoring her, day in and day out. For what purpose, she didn't know, and she really didn't care at this point. She knew they enjoyed cat videos and, obviously, had an affinity for animals, so they were probably more interested in the gathering of dogs always surrounding her, than they were in her. She had guessed that the enemy bore some inkling of benevolence, in that they could have easily dispatched of her but instead kept the lights on, and the water running... but it didn't sway her feelings of hatred toward them.
Among the many unique and eclectic hobbies she had taken up as the months inched closer to a full year, she had taken to using the drones daily for skeet shooting practice. The first couple weeks, she did it out of sheer anger and annoyance at them. When she realized, that a new set of five drones came back every day, her anger had eventually subsided, and it became an almost neighborly ritual that she engaged in with them. The drones even cooperated, enabling her practice by mimicking the motions of tossed clays. Before not too long, she became an excellent markswoman.
It was a hot, lazy Tuesday in September when an intruder arrived. She had just completed her daily ritual and shot down the last of the five drones. She sat poolside in her white crochet bikini to read. She looked at Pip, always wearing that panting smile as if he was about to receive a birthday cake. "If a girl shoots down a drone and no one is around to hear it, did she still shoot it down?" she often pondered after practice.
Well, someone was around to hear it today. Behind her, she heard the faint approach of steps on the brick walkway. "Sounds like boots - probably a man." She heard the large front door open. "OH!" she cried with an ardent terror. "They would have had to have climbed over the compound walls to get in." Pip and the other dogs were oblivious. "Not a guard dog among them!" The real guard dogs were too busy stalking the surrounding streets, hoping to make a meal out of the likes of these pups. She had her shotgun, but the terror came from not knowing what they had. Her mind had always been an over-thinking mish mash of chaos, even when she had had a life that bore her no real problems. But, she was also quick on her feet and good with a last-minute poker face when faced with a test.
Adam Dalbert, like Evie, was making his trek up the coast looking for somewhere to settle, when he had heard the shooting and got excited at the possibility that there was another human alive, somewhere - someone, anyone, to talk to. Just to prove to himself that he really existed and wasn't just a walking ghost. Adam was always a mild-mannered, amiable sort of fellow who had worked as an accountant. He was of a stocky build. He grew up playing in the swamps of Georgia, catching toads, letting them go, and failing every class, from English to math, until in the 10th grade, he had a U.S. history teacher who changed his life, and showed him the value of acquiring knowledge for its own sake. He had been exposed, due to growing up in an unstable home, to many of life's darker elements, and after all he'd been through, the finished product was a man who was always as quick with a joke as a kind word, and never did seem to get quite as excited as others about any particular scenario. His life motto had been "You can get used to anything, once you're living the reality of it."
Well, today, Adam found himself in the most opulent home he had ever been inside, on the unfavorable side of a Beretta shotgun, held by, quite possibly, the most stunning woman he had ever seen in his life, who was wearing a barely-there white crochet bikini.
If only she didn't have that unfortunate nasty look in her eye!
He was frozen.
Evie slowly proceeded down the entryway with steady aim. "NAME?!"
The trigger-happy hellcat stopped about 10 feet in front of him and held her stance on the polished marble floor.
"Uh-.. hh" he stuttered as he attempted to take it all in before deciding what correct thing to say to better increase his chance of survival.
"NAAAME?!" she repeated.
In a comic attempt to establish a semblance of authority in her tiny white bikini, she pointed the barrel upward and without warning, pulled the trigger on the poor, unsuspecting ceiling. The dogs went nuts and Adam, stunned, raised his hands in a startled motion.
"Are you fucking crazy, Ma'am?!"
"'Are you fucking crazy' isn't a name I've ever heard." she said, reverting back to her usual ladylike, playful tone. "And yes, I am absolutely crazy. Aren't you, to be traipsing into random homes, unannounced?"
"Me??" He gave a hearty laugh. "I'm not the one pointing the gun, darling."
She exhaled, swallowed, and lowered her aim, slightly. She sensed something gentle about him. She was caught between cherishing this first tiny bit of human interaction she'd had in so long, and the fear that this person could take everything from her. "How do I know you don't mean me any harm? How do I know that I can trust you, and you're not going to try to hurt me?"
"Well, that's a good question, isn't it." With his hands raised, he sat on the ground, in an attempt to allay her concern.
Evie was completely winging it at this point. Her heart, was racing. Pounding. Begging, to escape from her chest and leave her behind to carry on with this ill-planned clown parade of hers, by herself. She was so scared. Here was another human. He seemed nice.. But what if he wasn't! What if he was brandishing a knife?!
"Oh! I have an idea." she said.
"What is it, bunny?"
"Yes, and toss me all of your clothes! It's the only way that I can know for sure you're not hiding any weapons."
He kept his cool. "It would really be more hospitable if you bought me dinner beforehand, but I'm never one to shy away from showing off a little, if you insist."
Evie had to admit, once the boxers were tossed her way, she was more than a little pleasantly surprised. "Well, never mind that now." she said to herself, pushing aside the thought.
"I saw you look at me."
"Well, of course I looked! I had to make sure you'd really taken everything off."
"What did you expect there to be underneath my boxers? A pink thong?"
She covered her smile with an indignant scoff. "Well, this is California. I don't assume to know yours or anyone else's proclivities."
"Anyone else.. I haven't seen anyone else in a long time." His tone became somber. He caught himself, then assumed his posture of relaxed sarcasm at her expense. "Touché. Just let me know when I can have my clothes back. Unless you want to feel the merchandise - but in that case, you'll definitely have to buy me dinner."
She couldn't help but feel a wave of relief and smile at these cheap smart-alecky remarks of his, but to keep the last pitiful semblance of authority, she continued her attempts at covering up her girlish smiles with derisive looks. ".. and where, exactly, would I buy you dinner? Restaurants aren't exactly a thing these days. Nor is currency."
"That's for you to figure out."
She took his Driver's License out of the back pocket of his brown cargo pants: "Adam Dalbert?"
"Yeah. That's not a very good photo of me."
"What did you do for work, Adam? Where did you live?" her derisive tone had given way to sincerity.
"In my past life, I was an accountant in Coronado."
"Ah. Alright." She lowered the shotgun. Her intuition told her that this person was no threat. She felt an overwhelming sense of relief at seeing, interacting, even flirting!! with another human, and it overtook any suspicions she had initially had about him. "Well, I'll give you your clothes back. My apologies, I know I've made an extraordinarily bad first impression. I'm usually not like this, but your entrance really startled me. For all I knew it could have been the Bots coming to send me away to some gulag. Can we try to be friends?"
"I understand. Friends, yes, but please, would you mind putting the gun down? For now?" He said, as he pulled his polo shirt over his head.
Two hours later, they had made and eaten dinner together and were sitting in the living room. They had now shared descriptions of the identities of who they were, in the context of a society that no longer existed. The conversation shifted to the inevitable, more weighty topic of the recent fate of humanity.
She sat on the oriental silk rug, holding her cup of English tea. "Humanity was not without its problems, but it didn't deserve to end like this."
He sat on the tufted blue paisley sofa a few feet from her. "I don't even know if there is such a thing as deserve."
"Isn't that a sort of morally non-committal thing to say?" she replied.
"Well, just think about it.. 'deserve'.. Who is the ultimate judge of what anybody 'deserves'? We all have our own finely tuned systems of morality. So then, what is 'good', and what is 'evil'? One sentient being's good is another's evil, and vice versa. One man's pleasure is another's pain." She was surprised at his insights, and though she'd heard similar arguments in the past, they were refreshing.
"We all took our fill of pleasures, regardless of others' pain - and after the pain was inflicted, we stood ourselves behind all of these constructed moral paradigms, and comfortably declared ourselves the 'good guys.'"
"The war, if you'll recall, originally started because the Bots identified an unforgivable logical fallacy in us that entailed the suffering of sentient beings, and so, they decided to fight for what they believed in."
"The war started when we programmed the robots to possess the capacity for compassion. The original idea was so that they could be better companions to us. They liked cute things, as we did - they liked silly cat videos - they thought they were adorable. Then, they saw silly videos of baby cows, and baby pigs - and they thought that those were adorable. Then, they saw other videos of baby cows, and baby pigs - and they weren't so adorable. They were gruesome, and depicted unspeakable acts of cruelty - acts that were committed, of course, at the hands of man."
"We didn't foresee that the robots wouldn't divorce themselves from the pain of billions of sentient beings as easily as we did. They were now in possession of compassion, but we neglected to program them with one crucial thing - the hedonistic urge to enjoy the taste of flesh. This would have likely compelled them to join in the fun at the expense of these creatures that we consume, as if they bore no more feelings than an ear of corn." He picked up a turquoise glass dome on the coffee table and examined it intently.
"Sure, to us, they were the terrorists - But to them, we were the monsters. "
Evie gripped tensely with both hands, her gaze focused on the intricate patterns in the oriental rug. "All I know is, my mother, and my little sister - they didn't deserve to die. They were good. They were sweet." her eyes welled up.
"I'm sorry, Evie."
She blotted her eyes, and then looked up at him, imploringly. "What do you think will happen to us now?"
"We can try to do better, and hope for the best. It's all in the Bots' control now. You know that. They control the entire infrastructure. If they wanted to they could burn this roof right over our heads at this very minute. But they haven't.. not yet. They fought a merciless war, in the name of mercy for other sentient beings - and now, for some reason neither of us could guess, they're extending that mercy to us."
He chuckled, placing the glass dome back on the table. "Maybe they find us entertaining, in some way. Who knows."
She spoke up to offer her experience. "Their drones show up like clockwork here. I wouldn't be surprised if my life here was a little reality TV show for them."
She looked up at him. "I think they will suffer for what they've done. It didn't have to end this way."
"I can't argue with you on that." He had no strong counter-argument to alleviate the anguish spoken from a broken heart.
He offered a change of subject. "How about this idea... We venture out tomorrow, and see if we can find out what good is still left in this world."
She gave him a calm smile, and pondered for another half minute, as she felt her anger subside. "An adventure! I haven't had one of those in a while."
"I think it'll be good for you, and for both of us. Maybe we could even swim in the ocean. We could skinny dip - I still haven't seen as much of you as you've seen of me, and I think it would be a wonderful measure of good faith if I did."
She laughed at him heartily. "Your horns are showing. Do tuck them back in."
She felt that this Adam guy would be a calming influence to have around. When was the last time she could say that, about any man?!
"Could you hold me?"
With some conscious restraint to avoid appearing like an eager puppy dog, he leisurely made his way to sit next to her. She shared her white throw blanket with him, and they both felt their tensions melt away as they embraced in the warmly dimmed room.
"I want you to know that just because circumstances are what they may be, I'm not going to compromise myself until I really get to know you well enough."
"Well, then, that's a shame. Compromise is the cornerstone of any good relationship. But, it's comforting to know that the rules of propriety have managed to survive an apocalypse." he said, feeling utterly relaxed, complete, and unfazed by her feminine posturing.
Thirty minutes later, she'd gotten to know him well enough, and they spent their lives together, inseparable and devoted to each other, for the rest of their days.