Children In Winter
Griselda "Mouse" Jones
Sniper, rogue, heroine
Growing up, Mouse had never expected her life would be anything like it turned out. Her childhood had been typical enough, in most ways, and though she knew global tensions had been increasing, knew the weather was different than her parents remembered, she’d been more worried about turning in her homework and getting good enough grades to please her teachers.
The only shooting she’d ever done had been in video games, and a single chance at target practice with her uncle—her mother had expressly forbidden another session, when she found out about the first. She was good, when she played, and had hit the target with the actual gun, but hadn’t thought much about it.
When the new energy weapons came into use, she got the game for the xbox, and played along with all her friends, usually picking sniper for herself.
But then disaster struck. And at the worst possible time, as far as she was concerned.
Mouse’s Uncle Karl was considered a bit of an eccentric by his brother, but they’d been incredibly close as kids, and still kept ties as adults. Still, Mouse’s father had dismissed his worries over coming conflict, assured that the military would take care of it, if they had to. And in the meantime, he was busy working overtime, trying to keep the family fed.
Karl, on the other hand, had built himself a radiation shelter and stockpiled enough to get through the first, and worst, period of fallout.
As it turned out, David should’ve listened to his brother. Mouse had the luck to have fallen ill, just before the family’s traditional post Christmas trip down to Disneyland, and had stayed behind with her uncle, too physically miserable from pneumonia to even be properly disappointed she was missing the fun. She didn’t even really remember Karl carrying her down into the shelter, or the door closing behind them.
But waking fully to the sounds of sirens, to the television announcing the bombs heading toward them…that she would remember as long as she lived.
They watched until the TV went out, and then listened to the radio, searching for stations long after it’d faded to a crackle. What was certain was that multiple cities had suffered direct hits, Los Angeles among them.
Mouse’s family wouldn’t have made it. She’d known that even then, even as a kid. She’d known she’d never see them again, never hug her mother, never have her brother tease her, never hear her dad say he was proud. Nine years old, and she’d been left with only her uncle, in a world that was nothing like the one she’d known.
Karl kept them safe, kept them sane, through the long hours spent underground, waiting for the radiation to clear, for it to be safe again. Through the long months of extended winter, snows piling ever deeper outside as the climate shifted in response to damage.
And finally, when travel could be risked, they’d set out, searching for other survivors, searching for a new place in a land that was no longer really America. Where there were no laws, no lawmakers, no communications, there was no country. Only the scorched remains.
But a frontier town of sorts had built up, not far from where they’d sheltered. There, Karl was able to easily find work, and Mouse applied herself to her lessons. Instead of games, she learned to shoot real guns, showing just as much aptitude for it in real life as she had virtually. And instead of learning history and algebra, she learned how to hunt, how to track. How to build and survive in their new life.
Karl formed the Frost Ravens when Mouse was still a teenager. She didn’t join them at first, staying behind and looking after the house—and then later the base—when Karl left on assignments. There’d been several members of the band that she could remember, but Axe had been there nearly from the first, almost as good a friend as her uncle.
And Will…Will they had rescued, not long after Mouse had joined the band herself. They’d been escorting a caravan after reports of slaving in the area, and had caught the slavers in their own ambush. It hadn’t taken much persuading to get one to lead them back to the slaver’s camp, and they’d found Will there. An early catch, they’d kept him around because of his medical skills.
After being freed from the place, Will offered his services to the Ravens instead, and had become a member of the band. Though he didn’t accompany them on missions, he was always there to patch them up after, always there keeping the stronghold a home, not just a place to sleep between jobs.
He and Mouse had quickly become close, first because they were the same age, remembered many of the same things from Before. And then, as their friendship deepened, because of the mutual attraction they couldn’t deny. Mouse had never expected she’d fall in love with the shy doctor, but she had, so slowly and naturally she almost hadn’t even noticed.
Until Will kissed her the first time. Then she’d caught on.
They’d been together ever since, though it wasn’t always easy. The life they led wasn’t a safe one, and Mouse had never been one to shrink from the risks associated with it. In fact, if it meant protecting her new family, small though it was, she’d rather take the risks than let anyone else put themselves in danger.
It was the one thing they’d argued over the most, and the one thing that threatened to break them apart.
Sometimes, Mouse wondered what it would’ve been like, if she were still Griselda Jones, if she had grown up, gone to college, if the world she’d expected had come to pass. Other times, she wondered what might have been different if she’d gone to LA with her family that fateful week. Would she have died? Had they? She still didn’t know, not with so few modes of communication open. She’d put her name in the survivor register, hoping they’d eventually show up in it, too, but no word ever came.
So the Griselda who might have grown up to work in a cubicle, who might have been an artist, who might have designed the games she loved so much…that Griselda instead lay under the ash of Los Angeles with her family, dead for over fifteen years.
And Mouse, the girl born in her place, Mouse was a sniper, an infiltrator, a crack-shot with any ranged weapon put in her hands. She’d killed to protect, more than once, and she’d do it again. Over and over, if it meant Will could keep his hands clean, if it meant children like Genesis had a chance.
If it meant that the chaos the world had descended into could be shaped to form a better a world, a stronger world, one free of the greed and fear and anger that’d led to the day fire rained down from the sky.
That, Mouse knew, was worth going to hell herself.