I freeze. We stand and stare at each other across the street. My hand has gone automatically to the gun stuck in my belt, but I don't draw it. Scenarios are playing out in my head in graphic detail. The moment one of us raises a weapon it's all over, one way or another. I want to delay that moment as long as I possibly can.
Strange, I think, after everything, this might be the closest you've been to dying since the day the meteors came.
He's tall, bearded, dressed in a ragged assortment of clothes. Had this been before the Creatures came I would have thought he was a homeless man. He's wearing a backpack. The slick black rifle slung across his shoulders is held only loosely, almost but not quite at ease. Our eyes meet. The seconds stretch into minutes and neither of us move. Both of us are waiting, watching the other to see what move will be made.
The man stirs first. Slowly, ever so slowly, he raises his hands off the rifle and holds them up in the air. "Peace?" he says, his voice carrying like a shout in the tense silence.
Is this a trick? Can I trust him? I force myself to remove my hand from the pistol. I stand up a little straighter. I feel like a wound spring, ready to jump at any moment.
"Peace," I say, the word feeling heavy in my throat. I hold up my hands. The man's eyes search mine.
"Who are you, stranger?" he says. "You alone?"
"Name's David." I'm keen not to let him know that I'm alone, and so I add: "The others are off that way, scavenging. What about you?"
"Sven," says the man. "It's just me. And for what it's worth, I'm one of the good guys."
"Yeah?" I lick my lips. "And who exactly are the good guys, these days?"
"Give me an hour of your time and I'll tell you everything you need to know," says Sven. "It's news you'll want to hear. Trust me."
"I can't," I say. "You know I can't. I've seen people in the city--hell, I've been chased by people who--"
"I ain't one of them," says Sven. He frowns, considering. "Let me prove it."
I watch, poised, as Sven slowly lifts the rifle off his shoulders by the strap. He takes hold of it by the barrel and places it on the ground, pointing away from both of us. Then he walks away from it, motioning as he does so for me to come forward. I do. The distance between us remains, and I end up standing over the rifle. Sven shrugs off his backpack, hefts it up and throws it so that it lands a good way out of his reach. Then he opens his coat and turns left and right to show me he's not carrying anything. Finally, he sits down on the concrete and puts his hands on his head.
"There," he says. "You can draw your piece if you want. Keep it pointed at me and if I make a move feel free to shoot. All I want to do is talk to you for half an hour, then I'll go my way and you go yours and we'll both be the richer for it. Deal?"
I flash back to me meeting Lisa. How I handed her the gun and asked her to trust me. So long ago now, it seems. How could I have known then how things would turn out?
I don't know whether to trust him. But I know that I'll have to trust sometime. Now is as good as any time to start.
"All right," I say. "Deal."
"Okay," says Sven. "Okay. Let me tell you what's happening in the world."