DISCLAIMER: It belongs not to me.
A/N: This story is going to be a dumping ground for my 5 + 1s, of which I shall do several because I find them easier to write when I've got the writer's block.
(Dedicated to Schizo zee Techie)
(five times snippy lied and one time he told the truth)
"Where do babies come from?"
Snippy choked on the rat he was eating and broke into a coughing fit. For a horrible moment he thought he was going to suffocate. Death-by-flame-grilled-rat-drumstick. Hardly the most epic way to kick the bucket.
Fortunately Engie, out of the kindness of his heart, deigned to lean over and thump him on the back – rather harder than necessary, but it got the job done.
"What?" Snippy croaked when he was finally able to breathe again.
Pilot tilted his head innocently. "Where do babies come from?" he repeated, glancing around at the other three.
Snippy eyed him suspiciously. The fact that Pilot had waited until dinner time suggested he might just be trolling Snippy. On the other hand, Pilot probably wasn't cunning enough to think of that. But on the other other hand – no, people only have two hands... on the other foot, Pilot could be cunning when he wanted to be. Take the whale incident, for example. On the other other foot-
"Why do you want to know?" Engie asked, jerking Snippy out of his reverie.
"I'll show you!" Pilot jumped to his feet and jogged off towards a nearby shed currently serving as their base. A few moments later he returned pushing a pram.
"It's a stroller. What of it?" Snippy asked, placing his food aside. He was too nervous to eat it again. That rat was dangerous, man. It had nearly lodged itself in his throat.
"It's a pram! It needs a baby inside!" Pilot declared. "So where should we get a baby from? Captain?"
Captain ignored him, staring off into the distance while his mug of tea grew cold in his hands. Snippy was pretty sure he was deliberately pretending to be lost in thought while secretly listening in on this increasingly awkward conversation.
"You need women to make babies," Engie said bluntly. "And since none of us are female, babies are out of the question."
"Why do we need girls?"
"How do you seriously not know this?" Snippy asked in exasperation. "Did you never get the talk?"
"What talk?" Pilot sat down on the pram and it creaked ominously under his weight.
"You know... the talk talk. About where babies come from." Snippy suddenly recalled Engie saying something about Pilot losing bits of his long term memory. It seemed this unfortunate piece of information had also been lost.
"I don't know where babies come from." Pilot scratched his head. "That's why I asked you, silly."
Engie turned to Snippy expectantly. The sniper shot him an unimpressed look.
"What? You're the scientist, you explain to him," Snippy snapped.
Engie sighed. "Fine." He turned to Pilot, paused as though about to speak... and then froze.
"Well?" Snippy demanded.
"...I never got the talk either!" Engie announced.
Snippy face-palmed. "Oh for God's sake, please don't tell me I have to explain it to both of you!"
Engie snorted. "You don't have to explain anything to me. I know exactly how reproduction works. All I'm saying is, my parents never sat down and went through it with me, so I don't think I'm the best person to tell Pilot. Someone needs to break it to him gently."
He then patted Snippy on the shoulder, not-so-subtly hinting that he should be that someone.
"I hate my life," Snippy murmured.
"Well? Well?" Pilot asked impatiently. He bounced up and down and the pram rattled alarmingly. "Get on with it, you slugs!"
"Okay." Snippy took a deep breath. "Okay. So." He awkwardly raised one finger and formed his other hand into an 'O'. "Right. This represents, the, uh... and this is meant to be, uh..."
He could feel Engie shaking with laughter next to him and silently resolved to place thumbtacks on his chair the next time he got a chance.
"Go on, go on!" Pilot urged.
Snippy stared at his hands for a moment and then said: "They grow on trees."
There was a moment of stunned silence.
"What?" Pilot and Engie asked at the same time. Captain stirred, looking up from his tea.
"Babies. They grow on trees," Snippy said flatly. "And since there are no trees left... there are no babies."
"Ohh," Pilot said sadly. "Are you sure they don't grow in the ground, like potatoes?"
"No, only on trees."
"So why did Engie say we needed girls to have babies?" Pilot questioned.
"Don't call me Engie," Engie muttered, more out of habit than anything.
"Because... only girls can plant the baby-growing-trees," Snippy said quickly. "Sorry Pilot, no babies."
Pilot sighed, resting his chin in his hands. "Surely the awesome Captain will be able to plant a baby tree!" he said hopefully.
"I have enough minions for now," Captain replied. He poured the rest of his tea on their campfire and it fizzled out with a sad hissing noise. "Come now! It is past your bedtime."
"Since when did we have a bedtime?" Snippy muttered as he stood and stretched.
Engie elbowed him in the side and he flinched.
"What was that for?"
"'They grow on trees'? Seriously?" the engineer asked.
Snippy flushed. "I wasn't about to explain the nasty details to him," he hissed. "Ignorance is bliss and all that. Besides, he's hardly going to be reproducing any time soon."
Engie just shook his head. "You're unbelievable," he said, and went inside.
Snippy spluttered indignantly. Unbelievable? Why? I just-
"Mr Snippy!" Captain materialised next to him, his hands descending on Snippy's shoulders suddenly enough to make him jump. "I have a new mission for you!"
"It's the middle of the night-"
"You must find me one of these baby trees," Captain continued. "I wish to see one."
Snippy stared. "But they don't-"
Captain swept off, ignoring his protests. Snippy sighed.
Great. Now look what I've gotten myself into.
The frantic yells echoed ominously throughout the empty streets. Snippy looked up from where he'd been sitting on the edge of the footpath, cleaning his rifle.
"What?" he hollered back, getting to his feet. He heard an alarmingly loud crash from a nearby building. Hefting his gun, he hurried towards the source of the noise.
"Captain? Are you okay in there?"
"Get in here, Sniper!" the wild yell came back from behind a closed door on one side of the room. Snippy hurried over, fearing the worst.
The sight that greeted him through the doorway was not what he had expected. Several chairs were strewn about the room, having been knocked over by some unknown force. The tattered drapes covering the broken windows were rent with deep, ragged rips, as if from the claws of some violent creature.
Captain was standing in the centre of the destruction, holding his scarf up in front of him. The garment looked as though it had been put through a paper shredder. He looked up when he saw Snippy.
"Ah! There you are."
"What happened here?" Snippy asked cautiously. He glanced around the room for booby traps before stepping inside. "Who killed your scarf?"
"My new pet did this! But it is of no consequence." Captain threw the scarf at Snippy and it hit him in the face, obscuring his vision. "Go find me a new one! It must be trendy. Captain is on the cutting edge!"
"Your new pet?" Snippy gingerly plucked the scarf off his visor and shoved it in his pocket. He looked around. "What sort of pet?" Please don't be another Photoshop... one is already far too much to deal with.
"My new pet!" Captain repeated. He glanced about. "Where has he gone? Gladwrap! Where are you?"
There was a low growl from behind a couch at one end of the room. Snippy watched incredulously as a strange animal stalked into the open. It seemed to have once been a cat of some sort – but, like Photoshop, was horribly mutated. It was incredibly fat, nearly spherical in shape, and covered in thick grey fur that stuck out every which way as though it had just had a nasty electric shock. Three beady red eyes glinted on its forehead, and its sharp claws scraped along the ground as it walked.
"Captain," Snippy said slowly, "Where did you find this thing?"
"Gladwrap is not a thing," Captain said indignantly. "He is the mascot of Captainia."
"It looks dangerous-" Snippy broke off as 'Gladwrap' let out an infernal screech and sprang towards him. He ducked out of the way, the creature's claws narrowly missing his leg.
"Bad kitty!" Captain scolded. "Do not attack my minions!"
"Captain, we can't keep this thing!" Snippy protested. He snatched up one of the nearby chairs and tried to fend off Gladwrap, who seemed determined to use him as a scratching post. "It's dangerous! Look at its teeth!" This last as Gladwrap opened his mouth to reveal two rows of fangs, much like a shark. "It could probably take your head off!"
Captain waved a hand dismissively. "Gladwrap would never harm zee Captain."
"Look what it did to your scarf!" Snippy pointed out.
Captain perked up. "Ah yes! My scarf! Didn't I ask you to fetch me a new one? Why are you still here?"
Grumbling under his breath, Snippy put down the chair and hurried out. He hoped Gladwrap would stay behind for the Captain to deal with, but the mutated cat followed him out of the room, hissing menacingly.
Snippy tried to ignore the creature, striding off down the road towards a nearby thrift shop that probably had some intact clothes in it. As he turned the corner, however, he felt a searing pain in his leg.
Letting out a word unfit to be repeated, he looked down to see the confounded beast attempting to turn his shin into shredded meat.
"Get off me!" he spat, kicking at it. Gladwrap screeched angrily, opening its mouth wide. Its teeth glinted ominously.
"Oh, for the love of..." Snippy raised his gun. He had no qualms about putting the thing down – it was obviously feral and would probably eat them alive as soon as they turned their backs. Honestly, it was for his own safety... and Captain's. Whatever the commanding officer said, Snippy was sure Gladwrap wouldn't hesitate to take a chomp out of him either.
One swift bullet to the head later, and Gladwrap was lying dead on the pavement. Snippy fetched the scarf and returned to find Captain sprawled on the sofa drinking tea.
"Mr Snippy, you have no sense of fashion," Captain announced, examining the scarf critically. "It does not match my complexion at all!"
"Sorry," Snippy mumbled.
Captain looked around. "Where is Gladwrap?"
Snippy paused. "...he ran away," he said finally, not wanting to upset him.
"Oh," Captain replied. "Go fetch him back for me!"
"No, he ran away and was... hit by... a car," Snippy lied awkwardly. Snap, there are no cars. "The car rolled down a hill and... ran him over," he continued. "I buried him," he added. Yep, because dropping the body down a pothole counts as burying it.
Captain sighed heavily. "Really? They used to be more durable in the old days," he said despondently. "Honestly, they don't make them like they used to. It's all this mass production. Consumerism is evil, Mr Snippy."
"Well. I suppose there's always Photoshop." Captain tilted his head, studying the scarf again before winding it around his neck. Snippy blinked – the bright blue plaid contrasted garishly against the black trench coat, but Captain somehow managed to pull it off.
"Yeah. Photoshop," Snippy agreed nonchalantly.
They stood in silence for a moment.
Captain put a hand on Snippy's shoulder and leaned in close to his ear.
"I have thought of an exciting new game, Mr Snippy," he whispered enthusiastically. "We shall roll cars down hills and see how many things we can hit!"
"Is this the last of them?" Snippy puffed as he set down one of the heavy cardboard boxes.
Engie glanced around appraisingly and nodded. They'd managed to salvage several cartons of supplies from the bunker and brought them back to their current base. Sitting down on a nearby stool, Engie took off his mask and wiped his forehead. Snippy glanced at him and smirked. The guy'd probably been doing more manual labour in the last few days than in the entirety of his life (seriously, why did Captain even need a shoe collection?).
Snippy sat on the floor and rummaged through one of the boxes. He was hoping for food, but his fingers closed around something rather more interesting.
"What's this?" he asked, pulling the magazine out.
Engie glanced down and snatched it out of Snippy's hands. "Excuse me? Who gave you permission to look through my stuff?"
"Well sorry," Snippy replied grumpily. "Seriously, though, where did you get that?"
"It doesn't matter." With a level of maturity akin to that of a twelve year old girl, Engie sat on the magazine. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say.
Not out of Snippy's mind.
"Come on! I'm not making fun of you... I just want to look at it." He held out a hand beseechingly.
Engie faltered, then grudgingly handed it over. "Just be mature about it," he grumbled.
"When am I ever immature?" Snippy asked distractedly.
There was a moment of silence as they looked through the pictures, Engie leaning over Snippy's shoulder and commenting every now and then.
"I would repopulate the world with that," he murmured.
"She has blue hair. Blue hair," Snippy replied incredulously. He sighed and snapped the magazine shut. "I'm going to stop now. Wishful thinking isn't going to get us anywhere."
"Poor Charles," Engie mocked. "He's never going to get laid again."
"Poor Alex," Snippy snarked back. "He's never getting laid again either. Not that he ever got laid in the first place."
"Excuse me?" Engie asked indignantly. "I take offence to that."
"Well, you were so consumed with your ANNET project," Snippy pointed out. "In love with a machine- pfah!"
"Just what are you implying?" Engie growled, jabbing a finger at Snippy's chest. "I'll have you know that I was quite the ladies' man."
Snippy guffawed at that. "Oh, don't make me laugh."
Engie folded his arms. "You know what; forget it. It's not like I even care what you think of me. Trumped up tour guide."
Snippy bristled. "Calling me names now, are you? Mature, Gromov."
Engie stuffed the magazine back into the box and slammed the cardboard flaps shut. "Whatever."
There was a moment of silence.
Snippy sighed. "Look... we're in the same boat here. Let's just face the fact that, unless our luck changes extraordinarily in the near future, right now a magazine's as good as it's going to get."
Engie nodded. "I concur."
"So were you really 'quite the ladies' man'?" Snippy questioned.
Engie chuckled. "Before I started focusing on ANNET? Naturally." He paused, then asked in an uncomfortably gentle tone, "Did you have a woman?"
Snippy closed his eyes, stifled memories rising to the surface.
He waited two minutes after the knock on the door. It wouldn't do to look to eager. After all, what sort of pathetic loner lies around on the couch waiting for his girlfriend to arrive; like a sad dog waiting for its master?
Kelly smiled at him when he opened the door. A slightly overweight blonde, she had an unattractively broad forehead and an unnaturally pointy chin, giving her face the general appearance of an upside-down triangle.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi," he replied a bit awkwardly.
There was a strained pause.
"Sorry, I haven't shaved," he found himself saying, one hand rising to scratch at the stubble on his chin.
Kelly laughed. "It's fine. It's sort of... rugged and manly."
"Cavemanly, more like." More confident now that they were falling back into their usual banter, he held the door open wider. "Come in."
They settled on the couch.
"You look tired," Kelly commented softly.
He looked down. "I haven't been sleeping that well."
"Just..." he trailed off. Responding with 'nightmares' would only sound childish. "Just stressed about stuff."
"I haven't seen you in a while," he found himself saying.
She nodded, having the decency to look embarrassed. "I've been really busy... this whole neural network thing is amazing!" One hand rose to tap at her headset. Her eyes were shining. "It's so convenient. I can mind-text anyone at any moment... it's extraordinary. It was overwhelming at first but I'm used to it now."
So you couldn't take the time to come and see me? He thought a bit sourly.
"Have they said anything about your... problem?" she asked cautiously.
He shook his head. "I'm just part of the 1%. We're not a big enough problem for them to bother fixing." He knew he sounded angry and bitter, but couldn't bring himself to care. "So I guess I'm stuck like this."
"Oh." There was something off about her tone – something off about her in general.
He wasn't an idiot. It didn't take long for him to figure it out. "You're breaking up with me."
She glanced over at him. "Charles, I-"
"It's fine," he replied stiffly. "I can see how it would be too difficult being with someone who can't connect to the network. It would be... inconvenient."
"It's not you, it's me," he interrupted. "I get it."
Kelly glared at him. "There's no need to be an ass about it," she snapped.
His eyes widened angrily. Excuse me? I'm being the ass? He wanted to say, but instead just stood up.
"It's fine," he repeated. With effort, he added: "You deserve someone who can keep up with you."
She smiled at him, seemingly pacified. "I hope we can stay friends."
"I'm unable to connect to the mental facebook," he replied drily, but she wasn't listening – just staring blankly off into space.
"Sorry, what was that?" she asked finally, seeming to jerk back into wakefulness.
"What was that?" he countered.
She blinked. "Oh. Uh, someone texted me."
Ouch. He shook his head. "...I think you should go now."
And that was possibly the most awkward breakup he'd ever had. He sighed as he shut the door behind her.
This neural network is going to ruin my life, he thought miserably, before heading off to find himself a stiff drink.
Snippy blinked. Gromov was staring at him expectantly. He shook his head.
"No," he replied, because it was easier than saying yeah but she dumped me because of your neural network. Nice one, mate. You ruined my relationship.
"No, I didn't."
Engie nodded. "What about Pilot?" he asked curiously. "And Captain?"
"Pilot just loves Captain," Snippy said, glad that their dynamic was back to normal. "And Captain has this... billboard."
"Yeah." Snippy chuckled, shaking his head. "Trust me, that's not the worst of his eccentricities."
"I wish I could say I look forward to seeing what other crazy things he does, but I really don't," Engie muttered. He clapped Snippy on the shoulder. "We should unpack these boxes."
"You gonna keep that magazine?"
Engie gave him a quizzical stare. "Yeah. Why?"
"Maybe you should get rid of it. If Pilot or Captain got hold of it..." Snippy trailed off. He had no idea how they'd react, but whatever they did was sure to be even more insane and embarrassing than usual.
Engie nodded. "Fair enough. I'll burn it later."
Snippy was pretty sure Engie was lying, but didn't pursue the issue. After all, he'd lied too.
They were just about even.
Without Captain and Pilot around to stuff up his tallies, Snippy had managed to keep track of the time.
It had been almost a month since he went out for supplies, ran into another group of survivors, and joined up with them. A month without being sent on stupid missions or being roused in the night by irritating sounds or waking up to find himself wearing some sort of embarrassing costume.
He hadn't seen hide nor hair of his former companions. They were presumably wandering around in another part of the wasteland. He couldn't say he missed them, but he did worry sometimes.
"You guys would be screwed without me," he'd said once, after he found that Pilot had fed all of their food to Photoshop. "Seriously, you'd starve to death within the week."
Every now and then Snippy would feel bad about leaving without any warning, but then he'd remember that he was currently enjoying the company of reasonably friendly, sane people, and he'd decide to count his blessings.
As it was, the other group of survivors were well equipped to take care of themselves. There were four of them; three men and one who was either a very mannish woman or a very womanly man. Their self-proclaimed leader, a large Scottish fellow who called himself "Tank", was the most talkative of the lot and had welcomed Snippy into the group readily enough.
"Pull your weight and don't get in our way and you're more than welcome to stay," he'd said. "...I didn't intend for that to rhyme."
Snippy had chuckled and nodded and proven himself useful with his good aim and proficiency at finding supplies. And so he had stayed with them.
For twenty-eight days.
On the twenty-ninth day they rounded a hill and saw a campfire burning down below. Tank raised a hand, signalling them to stop.
"What is it?" one of the others grunted.
Tank produced a pair of cracked binoculars and peered down at them. "There's two of 'em," he whispered. "One guy one girl. They don't seem to be armed. They've got a sack though, and they're boiling a billy – I'd bet they've got food."
Snippy shrugged. "I doubt they're willing to share," he said. "Let's just move on."
Tank gave him an odd look. "Move on? From this goldmine?" He put the binoculars down and held out a hand. "Give me your gun."
"What?" Snippy took a step back, one hand going to his rifle. "Why?"
Tank tapped his foot impatiently. "So we can take their stuff, that's why," he said grimly. "Unless you think you've got better aim. In which case, be my guest." He flung his arm out as though inviting Snippy to take a shot at the two people huddled around the fire.
As a wise Jedi once said: I have a bad feeling about this.
"Clock's ticking, mate," Tank prompted.
"You can't just shoot them!" Snippy protested. "They haven't done anything to you."
There was a strained pause.
Tank stared at him, then let out a scoff. "You're joking, right?"
"I've never been more serious in my life," Snippy snapped. "You're seriously going to just shoot these people and steal their food?"
"Well, yeah," Tank replied, as though it should obvious. He turned to the others incredulously. "Can you believe this guy? I have no idea how he survived before this if all he does is pansy around being nice to people."
Snippy glared at him.
Tank sighed and slung an arm around Snippy's shoulders. "Listen up pal, the world's changed," he said, his tone still friendly enough but his hand gripping Snippy's arm painfully tightly. "You don't get anywhere being nice. Karma? It's out the window from now on. Eat or be eaten. Kill or be killed. Survival of the fittest, you know? You see an opportunity like this, you grab it. Me, I take care of my own. As long as you're part of this gang, we'll get along just fine. But them," here he jabbed a thumb towards the people around the campfire. "They're fair game. And trust me, they wouldn't hesitate to do the same to us."
"That doesn't make it right," Snippy couldn't help protesting.
Tank laughed. "Oh ho ho, he's a right saint, this one. Look, the integrity of humanity went down with the bombs. You don't want to shoot them, fine. I'll do it. Give me the gun."
Snippy shook his head.
Tank let out a low huff of breath.
"I said: Give. Me. The. Gun," he said slowly, his tone now icy cold.
"I said: no." Snippy jerked his arm out of Tank's grip and took a step back, but he bumped into the thug of questionable gender. They grabbed his wrist and yanked the rifle from his grasp, tossing it to Tank.
"Thank you," Tank said frostily, then took aim and fired two shots. There was a distant scream and Snippy winced as he saw the figures at the bottom of the hill keel over.
Tank dusted his hands off. "That wasn't so hard, now was it?" he uttered, then turned and aimed the gun at Snippy.
"Guess what? You're fair game as well now," he said pleasantly. "But I'll be nice and give you a ten second head start."
Snippy turned and started running. He heard a few half-hearted shots behind him, but they quickly faded away. He crossed his fingers and thanked the powers-that-be that he wasn't worth enough for Tank to waste ammo on.
It only took him a few days to find Captain. All he had to do was follow the trail of destruction and bright pink paint through the city.
The sun had just risen when he saw the familiar figure standing up on the roof of a nearby building. Snippy climbed the fire escape, feeling inexplicably nervous.
What am I meant to tell him? That I up and vanished for a month because I got a better offer which turned out to be not-so-much-better after all? Hah, I can just see that going down well.
Captain didn't turn around, forcing Snippy to come up right next to him and stand there waiting to be noticed.
"Mr Snippy," Captain said finally. "Explain your absence."
Snippy opened his mouth. His mind chose that moment to draw a complete blank.
"I got lost," was what finally came out, surprising even himself.
Mother of all porkies, Snippy thought wildly. Why did I just say that?
Captain tilted his head.
"You got lost," he repeated slowly.
Snippy nodded. "...yeah."
"...where is your gun?"
"I... lost it." Well that was partially true, at least.
"Well." Captain clapped him on the shoulder. "Are you happy to be back in the presence of your glorious leader?"
Snippy practically sagged in relief. "I never thought I'd say this, but yeah, I am."
"Good! Then you won't mind being my Captainmobile for the rest of the day. I appear to have stubbed my toe." Captain stared down mournfully at his foot for a moment before holding out his arms expectantly. "Well?"
Snippy gave his usual long suffering sigh and hoisted the other onto his back, then proceeded to carry him around for the next few hours. Despite being kicked in the side a few times and having tea spilt on the back of his head, he was almost glad to be back in the familiar routine.
Captain didn't ask any more questions about how he'd mysteriously gotten 'lost' for a month, and the topic never came up again.
Nights in the Dead City were Dark. Dark enough to deserve a capital "D".
Once the sun – weak enough during the day – sank down below the horizon, the whole city was plunged into complete blackness.
Snippy squinted into the shadows and took a tentative step forward. Something crunched under his feet and he suppressed a shudder at the thought of the skeletons surrounding them in the darkness.
Someone clutched at his arm and he nearly jumped out of his skin.
"Relax, it's me," Engie's voice hissed in his ear. His voice was slightly strained. "Let's get out of here."
"If I could see anything in front of me, I would," Snippy retorted. "It's too dark. We won't make it back. Better to hole up here and wait until morning."
"Sit here in the dark all night?" Engie's voice trembled slightly and his grip on Snippy's arm tightened. The sniper didn't shake him off – the human contact was reassuring, especially since he couldn't even see Engie despite standing right next to him.
"If you want to stumble around blind, be my guest. With our luck you'll probably fall into a pit or walk right into the mouth of some sort of mutated monster." Snippy sat down on the ground and the cardboard box he was carrying rattled slightly. Fabric rustled as Engie sat down beside him, their legs just touching.
The supply run had gone well for once, with minimum attacks by monsters and hostiles and whatnot. They had managed to find several containers of canned food – in good condition, the tins smooth and not bloated with bacteria.
Their good luck couldn't last long, however, as on the way back they had managed to get lost in the winding maze of ruined buildings. As it got darker and darker, things seemed to shift in the shadows around them until finally they wound up sitting in pitch blackness in a building some place in the middle of the city.
"Have you got your gun?" Engie asked.
Snippy nodded, then realised the other couldn't see him. "Yeah, fat lot of good that it is. I'm hardly going to fire it when I'm just as likely to hit you, or my foot, as whatever I'm aiming at."
"Well." Engie gulped audibly. "Just in case."
"Just in case."
Engie was nervous. Snippy didn't blame him. The city was dangerous enough during the day time. They were sitting ducks here, though he didn't like to admit it.
"So..." Engie cleared his throat, obviously unable to stand the silence for very long. "Are we just going to sit here, then?"
"You can sleep if you want," Snippy offered. "I'll keep watch." Not that I can even see anything.
"I doubt I'll get any sleep. Not sitting here in the open like this." Engie shifted around a bit and his knee bumped against Snippy's leg.
"Would you stop moving around?"
There was a frigid pause. Snippy thought he heard a noise somewhere out in the city, but put it down to his imagination. He bit his lip and tried to relax. While it was important to be on the watch for danger, staying high-strung and tense the entire night would only leave him exhausted.
"It's so quiet," Engie whispered. "It's hard to believe that this used to be one of the busiest cities in the world."
"Technically it still is," Snippy pointed out. "Two people in one city counts as busy nowadays."
Engie snorted. "Technically."
Snippy shifted to get more comfortable. He braced his hand on the ground next to him and grimaced as he felt bones under his fingers. There were bits of skeletons scattered all over the floor – they were literally sitting on the dead. It was a disconcerting thought.
"Seven million people," Engie said quietly. "And that's just this one city."
"Why are we talking about this?" Snippy asked, trying to change the subject. "If you want to go off into a depressing mope, leave me out of it."
He could sense Engie staring in his direction.
"Did you have family?" the engineer asked.
"No one I was close to," Snippy replied curtly. This is not a conversation I want to have... especially not with Gromov.
"Do you ever wonder if maybe it would be better to have gone down with the rest of them?"
Snippy nearly choked on his own spit. "No! Why would you say that?"
There was a rustle as Engie shrugged. "It's just a question. Is life worth living if you're the only human left in existence?"
Snippy stared in the engineer's general direction, wondering what had brought on these sobering thoughts. He didn't know Gromov well at all – knew of him, yes, had worked under him for years. The only impression he had of the man was that he was a genius and a coward. Deep philosophical thoughts didn't really come into things much.
"Better to be alive than dead," he said finally.
Engie let out a huff of breath. "That doesn't answer the question."
Snippy thought about it. Life right now wasn't exactly spectacular – he spent all his time running around after Captain and hadn't had a decent meal in God knows how long. But on the other hand, life before the fallout hadn't been that great either. A groundhog-day cycle of dead end workdays and sleepless nights wasn't something he'd much like to go back to.
But still. Would it have been better to have died with everyone else? Snippy turned the bones on the ground over between his fingers. The skeletons around him lay peaceful, blissfully unaware of the mutated monsters and nuclear winter and disgusting canned food.
Engie was still waiting expectantly.
"It's still better to be alive," he said finally, because he knew that was what Engie needed to hear. A coward at heart, if he thought it was easier to give up than to keep going, he'd probably do just that. "It's still better."
"Thank you," Engie said softly, in a tone unlike any the sniper had heard from him before.
"Whatever," Snippy replied quickly before the situation could get any more sappy and embarrassing. He turned away, flicking the bones across the ground and clenching his fists.
Still better to be alive... huh. Not likely.
But Engie didn't need to know that.
"You're too nice for your own good."
Snippy glanced up from his efforts to clean the gooey, questionable substance from his shoes. Photoshop had thrown up on him. Again. Pilot claimed she was going to explode some time in the near future. Snippy was pretty sure she was about to spin a cocoon and turn into a butterfly. Hopefully she'd fly away and they'd never see her again.
"What do you mean?" he asked as Engie sat down next to him. Truth be told, he was a bit offended. Nice? He was most certainly not nice. He was a tough guy. A manly man. That's what you needed to be to survive in a world like this.
"I mean," Engie explained, "You just can't say no to Captain. Even when he tells you to do stupid things. Like clean Photoshop's teeth."
Snippy frowned. "I have tried in the past to refuse Captain's orders. It didn't end very well."
"So why do you stick with him?" Engie asked. "You have a gun. You know how to find food. You could break off and go your own way."
"It's safer in a group."
Engie laughed. "Nice try, but you know one day his insane missions are going to get you killed."
"Is there a point to this conversation?" Snippy turned back to his shoes, deliberately flicking some of the caterpillar puke in Engie's direction. "If you have nothing important to say, go do something productive... like find food."
"You already found us enough food," Engie countered smugly. "You could, you know."
"Go your own way."
Snippy sighed. "If you're so determined about this, you go and start up your own little tribe of survivors. I'm staying here."
Engie tilted his head. "You must be some masochist, then, if you're willing to continue putting yourself through these inane tasks."
Snippy glanced up. "I'm not a masochist," he said slowly. "He's my friend."
The snort Engie released would put a pig to shame. "Your friend?"
"Yes," Snippy replied. Saying it aloud made him consider it, and he knew it to be true. Yes, Captain could be an annoying bossy drama-queen at the best of times, but he'd come through for Snippy more than once.
Hovering nearby, Captain stirred. His back was turned, but Snippy didn't doubt he had heard their conversation.
"Well," Engie said finally. "...good for you, I guess."
"Whatever." Feeling inexplicably embarrassed, Snippy turned away and scrubbed vigorously at his left boot.
After a few moments, Engie rose and moved to sit somewhere else. Snippy looked up to find Captain staring at him from across the room.
Despite the gas mask concealing all expression, he got the impression that the commanding officer was smiling.
And for the first time in a while, Snippy smiled back.
Reviews and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated. Be brutally honest with me, folks. I shan't be offended.
A/N: Not overly happy with this one because it seems a little bit disjointed... and slightly OOC. I'll try use less OCs next time. XP
Suggestions for other 5 + 1s for subsequent chapters are more than welcome... if left to my own devices I'm likely to do something boring. xD
Thanks for reading :)