Oh, this was not good.
Temperance gingerly felt the canine tooth with her tongue. The root was sore but it wasn't broken – thankfully. Dental surgery was going to be next to impossible in the new era, and although she was probably more qualified than most, did it mean she wanted to operate on herself, with a crude set up of mirrors, in an unsanitary environment and potentially give herself an abscess, or septicaemia, or worse? Or was she obsessing about a hypothetical future in lieu of concentrating on the soon to be even more objectionable present?
She felt the tooth again, and her cut lip stung as she licked it. There was the sound of crying all around her, and the terrified non-sound of waiting. She couldn't argue with any of it, as she was doing exactly the same. She wanted to make notes on the automatic response, the shutting down of civilized impulses, the terrified numb calm that was their only defence against apparent despair. There must be a dozen of them crammed into this tiny warehouse. Only young women, Temperance noted with the analytical part of her mind, many restrained, some beaten, and at least some of whom had been here for days to judge from the smell. She was glad that she was still able to think logically, even if her mouth was silenced. For now, she reminded herself. Only for now.
So. Locked in a warehouse with a dozen other nubile women and girls, having been captured by an aggressive group of young to mature males, none of whom were interested in seeing them as thinking beings, or in interacting with them in a social context. It did not bode well.
Temperance wondered indeed if there had been others, before her and her current fellow prisoners. The pandemic had started months ago, after all. This group could have… run through quite a few by now.
Did everything come down to this? The breakdown of so-called civilized values, the return to a more primitive state? Although, even this was civilization after its fashion. The aggressive sowing of seed, the outlet of frustration and anger upon weaker members of the society. The rape and pillage of a defeated enemy's women and possessions was the classic model for young men like these to adhere to – and the fact that there had been no enemy to fight, no actual outlet for such impulses, probably only made it worse.
She cursed her slowness. She'd broken the arm of at least one of them, but there had been too many. Bad diet, caused by the lack of available fresh fruits and vegetables over the last months, had caused her to lose her readiness, her edge. And, of course, there was the emotional toll. Temperance pushed her head up, sighting blindly into darkness, blinking her dry eyes. Even Dr Temperance Brennan had been touched by the death of millions all over the world. She wondered if Booth, watching from the supposed heaven his belief system promoted, could sense how deeply she felt it, the way he had always wanted her to. A disaster on such a grand scale was inherently unimaginable, but she had tried.
Then Temperance put her head back down onto her folded knees and didn't scream. She licked her cut lip again, aggressively this time, the small sharp pain a reminder of what she already knew. This was all there was. She mustn't forget it. The pleasures and pains, and the life that you made of it, that was all there was. Talking to anthropomorphised ghosts would change nothing, would help no-one.
No-one but herself. She smiled a little into her knees. Imagination was a powerful tool and surely she should be the last person to deny someone their support mechanisms in a time of need? Even if that survival mechanism involved fantasising Booth grinning at her, even now, with his thumbs tucked into his belt buckle.
Survival was the key. It always was – particularly if there was nothing else. If death really was the end, which logic indicated to be the case, then everything must be geared towards survival, as indeed base instinct dictated. But in nature adaptability was often the key to survival – both as a species and for an individual. For example, growing up in foster care with some degree of self intact had meant distancing herself, and in this new world, she suspected that it was even more important. But in the foster home, her separateness, her very sense of herself as a modern educated female, had come under attack. She had not actually been liked very much.
For some reason, memories of Russ popped into her mind. Such simple things – his smile, the way he'd chug a beer, his hairy belly button that was so ticklish. He'd been liked by everyone. She wished she had closure. But there was no easy way to know for sure what had happened to either of them. He and Dad could have been anywhere when the pandemic hit, but the thought that this lack of knowledge would always torment her, gave her a peculiar sense of gratitude. She'd never forget him. Either of them.
There was a noise outside, and then a lot of them. Shouts, and the sound of smashing glass. The distinctive whine of bullets, heavy calibre – probably a .45 or a Magnum, Temperance classified it automatically. Then another, lighter, an automatic. The women huddled closer to the ground, the fear response causing an urge to hide, to make a smaller target, since flight/fight was impossible.
Zach would have found it interesting, if incomprehensible. But he was also long gone. Was that another silly thing to be grateful for? If she was having trouble deciphering this new dangerous reality, how much more difficult would Zach have found it? He hadn't coped very well with normal social interactions; a war zone, with all its attendant cruelties, and explosive dynamics, would have been beyond him. Was it cruel of her to be glad that he had died with all his family around him, loved and safe, in the very first few days?
But things were different for her. She'd seen this breakdown in societal norms more than once, or their aftermaths, at least. The traumas of genocides and civil wars were not unfamiliar to Temperance Brennan. It would not be remiss to, in fact, call them old friends – or at least allies. Because while the inherent unpredictability of the individual still held sway, the overall patterns... They fitted into comfortable grooves in her mind, familiar and safe, in a changing world, where nothing else was.
She should have recognised the signs much sooner. Society was being remoulded by the pandemic into older, more primitive patterns. Band societies were starting to emerge from the chaos. Small, mobile social formations, with fluid leadership, and even potentially Acephalous societies, with no leader at all, although the old adage about might making right certainly applied here too. This group of dangerous males fitted the model. But they were also a perfect illustration of the weak nature of this leadership – judging from the sounds of internal power struggles she could still hear.
Temperance dug her nails into her leg, another grounding mechanism. Think. What was next? Tribal society was the most likely development. A group of interlinked families or communities sharing a common culture and dialect, with an associated seat of traditional authority with whom the representatives of external powers interact. Or in other words, a strong leader.
She found herself smiling, and realised she'd thought of Booth again. Not Dr Saroyan or Dr Goodman, or anyone else who had actually been in charge of her, but of Seeley Booth. Despite his strange obsession with modern cultural phenomena, and his frankly ridiculous socks, Temperance couldn't imagine a leader she would rather follow into a post-apocalyptic world. Her eyes pricked, like needles were scratching her eyeballs, but they stayed dry. There was absolutely no chance of that. She wasn't fooling herself. After all, she'd watched him die.
The sounds of fighting had faded away, and Temperance found herself shivering slightly. A perfectly acceptable response to the available stimuli, after all. She doubted if she was the only one who found the silence ominous.
The padlock on the warehouse door rattled, and the key turned. Even the women who had been crying were now quiet; Temperance imagined they were all thinking the same thoughts, please, don't let it be me, not me, not this time, not ever... She found a sourness in her mouth that must be disappointment, nothing more, disappointment that she had allowed herself to get into this position.
The dimness of twilight meant that the man who threw wide the door was only a silhouette, the last fingers of a heavy orange sun throwing his outline into sharp relief. There was a gun in his hand. Then he moved forward and resolved into a nondescript plaid-clad figure with a scruffy beard, peering into the darkness of the shed.
"Hey, is everyone ok?"
There was only silence. The man tucked his gun away, and held his hands out-stretched in front of him.
"We won't hurt you. Umm. The bastards who did this to you are all dead. Come on now, we're here to rescue you."
He sounded... almost plaintive, Temperance decided. Uncertain. As though this kind of heroic gesture was unfamiliar to him, as indeed it probably was.
She looked at him; his blue eyes were watery, but his chin was firm. He was probably a realtor or an accountant, before. Something like that. He had none of Booth's charm, or his natural confidence, but that hardly mattered. Booth wasn't here.
Come on now, sweetie, Angela whispered, so clearly, that Temperance knew she could turn her head and she'd be right there, crouched beside her. Not spirited away in Hodgins private jet to who knew what fate. Not pushed up the plane's steps protesting all the way, while Temperance refused to join them for some noble reason she doesn't quite remember.
Come on now, whispered Angela again, what have you got to lose? You've got to show them your stuff, honey.
In this new world, Temperance thought, there are other skills that matter. Being able to tell what the darkening on the occipital bone means in a ten year old mummy doesn't matter any more. But being part of a tribe, becoming the shaper of the societal values of this new incipient grouping?
She thought about how tribal societies worked. About how such structures traditionally adapted to situations that provided plentiful yet unpredictable resources. How they usually proved flexible enough to co-ordinate production and distribution of food in times of scarcity too, without limiting or constraining people during times of surplus. They made an ideal base from which to rebuild.
And the strong leader, while usually a dominant male, sometimes an elderly one, was always advised by his partner, his wife, the tribal mother. Temperance made a small face of distaste, and then threw her shoulders back, shaking out her hair. With deliberate action she brought her hands up to her blouse and undid one, two buttons.
This man must be basically decent to have rescued them at all, thought Temperance, remorselessly. He is a good choice. Although the value of young nubile breeding stock to a newly formed tribe should not be overlooked. But the fate of the Sabine women, while an object lesson, could still be used.
She pushed herself to her feet and made herself hobble, although it wasn't far from the truth. "Here, over here! Thank you so much, those animals deserved all they got – were any of you hurt, can I help? My job used be in... medical work."
Her voice was breathy and vulnerable. She felt her shoulders rounding, her eyes opening wider. Temperance remembered Las Vegas, how easy it had been to pretend to be something she wasn't. Don't hurt me, protect me. I'm useful to you. Stare at my cleavage, I'm young and grateful.
The women who were huddled at her feet were stirring. Temperance ignored them, concentrating on the man. The leader. She pretended to trip, just a little, and he caught her. His body felt solid and strong, that was good. She tried not to despise her own survival techniques.
Because where her forensic training stood for nothing, she had other skills to fall back on. She would always have skills to fall back on, she must believe that. Anthropology was infinitely adaptable, like the people it studied.
"Are you all right, ma'am?" His arm moved protectively around her shoulder.
Infinitely adaptable, like Temperance would be. Would always be.
"Call me Joy," she said, "What's your name?"