The figure scrambled across the wreckage of what had once been an intersection between two freeways. The buckled and twisted metal rods protruded from the shattered and crumbling concrete, looking eerily like the writhing tentacles of the invaders that had caused this destruction. The mangled and rusted remains of vehicles, many still holding the skeletons of those who had attempted to flee the city, were strewn about, mute testimony to the wastefulness of an age swept away in violence. The smell of death and decay was long gone from this place. Grasses were beginning to reclaim the concrete desert, and with them, wild flowers, signs of new life, signs of a world, perhaps, recovering. Animals too. Rats, of course, were to be found. Rats were everywhere and were great survivors. Poison them, trap them, hunt them, they survive. Mice too, and other rodents. Birds, too. The figure spotted a small finch pecking at something in between two broken slabs of roadway. And with the rodents and birds come the predators. Foxes, feral cats and dogs, and hawks, mostly. Abandoned pets, left to fend for themselves, driven by hunger to eat whatever they could find. Breeding indiscriminately, evolution at work as the strongest and fittest survived and past their genes on. The figure drew closer to the edge of the blast crater, the left-overs of whatever device had wrought the massive destruction around. The figure paused and lifted a hand as though studying something, nodded and moved on. Close too, the figure could be made out to be a young woman, dressed mostly in rags, a hood over her head shadowing her features. A weapon slung on her back could easily be a sword, and a collection of fine leather pouches hung from her belt. Around her neck hung a pendant that sparkled a dull red when it caught the light. Pix was the name she was using. As good as any other in a world that no longer labelled its teaming billions with a plethora of different numbers as well as a given name and a surname. Pix turned away from the crater. It had clearly been a "clean" weapon. Most likely kinetic. A mass dropped from orbit, shielded against atmospheric entry, heated to the point where the outside surface was all but molten, hitting the surface of the world with the force of several tonnes of explosive. They should have listened... Pix thought, not for the first time. The doomsayers at the end of the twentieth century were right, and no-one listened. Then everyone got caught up with the idea of zombies, and that was that! She shrugged. It would almost have been funny if the consequences for the Human Race and Humanity's world had not been so dire. She walked on, occasionally pausing to examine the device strapped to the inside of her wrist, that she mostly kept concealed beneath her leather gauntlets. Close examination of the device would have aroused suspicion even before the invasion. Now, with the invaders finally beaten off - or at least convinced that this world was not worth the effort of conquest - and Earth's technology level reduced back to something approaching the middle ages, the shiny black box with it's glowing display would attract instant attention. Soon she reached the edge of the blast zone. Here the buildings were mostly still standing, although very few had windows left in. Looters had raided what had once been a jewellery store, and had been caught. It was clear from the skeletons that there had been a fight between the looters and the police. Human killing human, when the invaders were still landing their forces on the world. Even with the war at its height, with the Earth's armed forces finally united against a common enemy, she knew that there had been what the US euphemistically called "Blue on Blue" incidents between former adversaries. And now, with the enemy beaten, the world had reverted to savagery. Bands of survivors, armed and fortified, defending themselves and what little they had against the remnants of governments that had no remaining legitimacy, attempting to retake what had once been theirs. In some areas, forms of government had re-emerged, usually military in nature, where the last of Earth's military units had established control. Most places, however, had resorted to a sort of feudalism. One group of survivors Pix had encountered had been dangerously theocratic. But up ahead, just the other side of this ruined and abandoned city, her wrist unit was telling her that there was another group. So far, her opinion was bleak. Earth had once been a beautiful place. Maybe it could be so once more, but the race that had evolved as custodians of the world had almost ruined it, then had fought hard to keep it, doing almost irreparable damage in the process. And Pix had to wonder, frankly, if there was anything about the world that was worth saving. She was distracted from her musing by a soft bleep from her wrist unit. She didn't pause to glance at it, but instead pulled the shining blade from its sheath on her back. The sword resembled a cross between Japanese Katana and a Scottish Claymore, a metre and a half long with a slight curve to the tip of the blade and a wide crossbar protecting the two-handed grip. She whipped the sword around with clearly practised skill, just as a feral dog leapt at her. The blade shimmered and sliced cleanly through the animal. Blood sprayed and the dog fell to the ground in two halves. But the animal was not alone. Dogs are naturally pack animals, and just because she had killed one did not mean she was safe. These were not sharks, that would turn and devour one of their own. Oh they would eat the fallen animal if they were hungry enough, but first they would want to bring down their main prey. And that prey, Pix realised quickly, was herself. She looked around, and saw she was surrounded. Her proximity alarm had not warned her until the first animal was almost on her. She needed to recharge it, but the city was under a pall of dust and smoke, as were most cities still, and the weak sunlight couldn't reach the solar panels on her backpack. Pix backed slowly away from the ring of ravenous predators, towards a wall that was still standing. Her booted foot crunched on something but she didn't dare look down. The sword in her hands was a shining blur as it whirled around, keeping the dogs at bay. For now. They snarled and growled as they closed in, using the same tactics as the wolves they were descended from.