Tag looked up at him with eyes full of that strange, animal intelligence, and Hiram realized that she expected him to produce something edible on that very spot.
Well, she was going to be disappointed then. But hopefully not for long.
“Yes.” He confirmed, placing a hand on her shoulder. He wondered, in silence, if she’d notice that he was – just very lightly – bracing himself upon her. Or if she’d care. “I think I might require something to eat soon, too.”
Ignoring the complaints from his ribcage, he lead them towards the cluster of refugees hurrying about the outside of the temple. Most of them hadn’t stopped moving since the shooting died down, men and women scrabbling to hoard up their few remaining possessions from inside the temple and into a sad little pile of black bin-bags clustered around its entrance. As they got closer, he realized that the six armed boy was jabbing one of the many, many fingers at his command in their direction, another of his limbs branching off at an odd angle to tug on the hem of a much older man’s coat.
He stopped. Somewhat because the man was trudging out to meet them, but primarily because he noticed that the guy had a rifle slung under his arm. He glanced down at Tag.
“Don’t do anything. We don’t need to hurt these people.”
Perhaps that hadn’t been necessary. But, while Hiram had grown somewhat used to his companion’s hyper-rational behaviour, there were still some chances he wasn’t taking with her.
The man was probably in his mid-forties, and if the thick tangle of hair infesting the lower half of his face was any indication, he’d been on the road for some time. Hiram couldn’t put a nationality on him at a glance, but he certainly hadn’t crossed over from India, or any of the other westerly borders, so he was going to assume Tibetan and work from there. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about him was that, though his hands were near it at all times, he hadn’t yet raised his weapon. That was a surprise. Hiram could see the strange, abject horror of what he was hanging over the man like a cloud of tiny whispers – see it being weighed against his apparent altruism in the man’s mind. Eventually, the logical portion of the man’s brain won its battle and he barked out something.
Hiram paused, decoding the stream of Tibetan, until he realized that it wasn’t Tibetan at all. This man was from Vietnam.
After a second or two, he managed to coax out what he hoped was a coherent answer to the man’s question. Some of the movement in the background was dying down – people were stopping to watch, a few of them cradling sturdy bits of wood or loose stones from the temple wall. Eventually he got his reply; a thank-you, it sounded like. He haltingly attempted to turn the semi-conversation towards food.
The man turned the words over in his head and eventually nodded, motioning for them to come closer and muttering something – it sounded like they were making a fire – to the six-armed boy.
Soon they were stooped at the side of one of the broad steps leading up to the temple, watching a pot of beans bubbling over a small fire. Most of the refugees had huddled together in small groups to do the same. It seemed that they were preparing for a long march.
The man and the mutant child, it turned out, were father and son. He spoke a little English, and a fair bit of Chinese, so between them he and Hiram almost had the equivalent of a common language. He and his family had started moving about shortly after the troubles began – in a way, he was thankful for the hatred that had been aimed at him and his family when his son had manifested the x-gene. It had given them a reason to leave before it was too late. He mentioned that his wife had been with them when they started travelling, but as he went on, any reference to her faded. Hiram didn’t press the issue. They’d met up with other refugees; some from China, some from Thailand, a few from India, and over the years their little band had grown into a group of thirty. They’d scrounged together what they could – supplies, clothes, a rifle (Hiram was quick to note that they now had seven rifles) – and kept moving, picking up what they needed where they could. This was apparently the first time they’d gone so far west.
Eventually, Hiram asked him where they were going. In response, the man bit his lip, raising his hands as if trying to catch the proper words, until he eventually settled on one.
Hiram blinked and, finding that the word meant seemingly nothing, asked again.
“Dhome. Ah…” The man excavated a frayed map from the inner reaches of his coat and flattened it out over his lap – Hiram noted the thick, red line scrawled across it, cutting straight through Russia and dividing the Middle Eastern nations from Europe. He pointed at a tiny speck of land nestled between Hungary and Serbia.
“Doom.” He corrected. “You mean Doom.”