~Run. Run like I do,~ thinks Nan, and I do. Past the burned-out buildings, past the old factories of crumbling brick and bent, rusted steel that provide shade and shelter from the sulfur flats and the poisonous westward winds from the great chemical wastes beyond.
~Controlled breathing,~ thinks Nan, and I try to do as instructed. ~Through the noseâ€”don't gulp the air. Don't pant.~ The voice of Nan's mind, a steady metronome inside of mine.
~Metronome~ is Nan's word, not my own, but with the description comes a comforting thump-thumping inside my head, much steadier than anything I've ever heard or felt. More constant than the wind, even; it's the pulse of a relaxed heart. My heart. Trying not to slobber, I pull my wagging tongue back into my mouth. I take a deep breath through my nose, but it burns and I fly into a sneezing fit.
Nan stops running and turns to face me. He's laughing. "Hoooo, hoooo, hoooo...." Huge guffaws, but Nan is out of breath too. His stocky simian body rises with each burst of convulsive laughter, each gulp of acrid air.
~Simian.~ Nan's word for himself. ~Not an ape,~ he thinks, ~not a monkey.
Nan fingers the shiny piece of metal he found, the ~knife,~ he calls it. He juggles it carefully from palm to palm, touching its smooth, sharp edges. He'd seen it glittering in a pile of rubble, and stooped and snatched it out in mid-stride. Settling down now on his haunches, he inspects it closely, slashing at the air and holding it up to the sun. When he grips the knife tightly, it's almost entirely concealed in his huge fist.
He holds it close as he runs, pressed tightly to his side. The long hair on his back and arms hides its glimmer.
Running after him, I can barely keep up. Even though he runs as if he has a cramp or a stitch in his side, I fall behind. I do my best to follow, not breathing through my nose, but ~pacing myself.~
~Good,~ thinks Nan. ~Cardiovascular exercise.~
They all leap nervously into the air when they see us, frantically scrambling amongst their piles of hoarded junk for the highest, most threatening perch. When they spot me, they raise their arms high above their heads and begin to shriek. They bare their teeth at me and spitâ€”but remain safely atop their sacred dumpsters. It's only for show. They know enough to leave me be, at least when Nan is in sight. They know that I am with Nan, that I am his dog, his pet. His ~friend,~ he calls me.
They won't bother me as long as we're together, but I would never dare enter their territory alone.
They can be ferocious, and their aim is deadly.
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