It’s rare to see Wulfen pups outside their packs protection, but apparently there are a few in the slums of Victoryville. This kid can’t be older than nine, though Max knows that hunger and hardship can stunt a child’s growth, so this one’s true age could be anyone’s guess. They’re ribs are visible through the shredded tatters of a Winnie The Pooh t-shirt as they rummage through a midden heap behind a ramshackle tavern.
Max can smell it from all the way down the alley, but that’s not surprising, the slums just smell bad.
The child lets out an excited shout and emerges, triumphant, from the trash pile with a handful of maggots. They hold the larvae up to the sun, as if to give thanks for this bounty, only to cry out in pain as a larger human child strikes them in the eye with a closed fist, and takes the food.
Max rushes over, worried that the older child will continue beating the smaller one, and the thief scampers off. He reaches down to helps the pup to their feet, but the child skitters to the other side of the alley, puts their back against the wall and eyes Max warily.
Victoryville is not a good place.
The slums formed up around the outskirts of town, without any planning or centralized structure. As such there is no order here, narrow alleys and streets choked by refuse and human waste must be crossed with caution, but at least there isn’t a bandit problem.
Well. The bandits are a problem, for sure, but not a violent one.
Max reaches into his pocket to pull out a bit of the food Hank made earlier, and offers it, but the child doesn’t move. So he grabs a shred of cloth, lays it on the ground, and places a little bit of food on it before backing away.
The kid snags the food and runs.
This would be a difficult place to raise children. Max wonders if the child’s parents worked in the industry, and whether or not they were still alive.
So many people in this part of SoKal look to Victoryville as a haven, or an example to strive for. But Max disagrees, hopefully one day he can build something better. Hell, with just a little bit more planning this place would be so much more efficient.
For today, feeding a kid can be a small victory. There have been a lot of those lately.
Getting to Victoryville after that ordeal was important, but he can’t stay here forever, and neither can his friends. The place has been picked clean, the only salvage here is shit that murderers barter away for a good time. Soon enough he and his friends will have to move on.
Max looks up at the sun, and picks his way out of the alley with a smile.
He has no idea where they are going to move on to, but he hasn’t felt this empowered in years. When enough people put their heads together the impossible becomes possible.
As he walks, he thinks about his parents, and about the terror that ended their first settlement. He thinks about the hope his mother and father held for community, and he wonders whether or not any of the other brothers got out alive. If they did, do they wander the wastes as well? Do they search for a new home?
If they do, he will find them, or they will find him.
He finds a corner to take an inventory of his salvage, placing all of his items on a towel, and categorizing them by part type and quality. The servos on his arm wurr as he works, and he wonders what his father would think about the events of the past few days. Would he have been proud?
Some of these new friends will help him. Many people have told him that his plans to rebuild The Builders, and to create a settlement are foolish. That his goals are impossible to achieve. But many of those same people would have told him that fighting off a war band from the Atom Bombz with nothing but a crew of former captives was impossible too.
They had done that, and they’d made it to Victoryville.
Inventory done, he picks up his possessions and secures them in the proper pockets and pouches. Soon enough he will build something with them; a weapon, new ware, or some tape to hold things together. In either case he will make something new from the remains.
It is his way.
And one day he will pick up the broken pieces of his parents dreams and build his own. One day he will make their sacrifice worthwhile.