The last goya was irradiated. This was the end he realized. For two years he'd put all his efforts into the gardens, having promised Jessica they'd never go back. In this post-world wasteland going back meant being predator or prey, but not human. Not as it used to be understood. Billy, as he'd been known before the collapse, and as he'd been known to Jessica, the woman who'd given him back his humanity, realized that the gardens would never bear fruit again. Of course, there had always been that risk. The reason, it seemed, that the gardens were a safe haven from raiders and reavers in the first place was because of the radiation. You didn't need a geiger counter to feel that something was wrong here, you could see it in the melted buildings, the tortured undergrowth. Hell, you could feel it in your scrotum. He and Jessica had arrived following a stream, they'd only been traveling together for ten days, but that was all it took for him to want to be human again, to want to be himself, Billy again.
No one in the post-world could blame him for adapting as he had, everyone that was still alive after the collapse had adapted. That is to say, had done horrible things to their fellow man to survive. Humans had been talking survival of the fittest for almost 200 years, but for the past twelve they meant it, and there was no legislation to slow it down because there weren't legislators, just predators and prey. Just wasteland. Billy, the likable accountant and avid outdoorsman was uniquely suited to survival. Survival had been his hobby before the collapse, in those days it was simply man versus nature. But when the rules changed, when it was kill or be killed, Billy had become Sick Bill, ranger turned reaver turned gang boss, turned mass-murderer, turned reaver again. In the wastelands maintaining your humanity simply meant letting other people kill you. Carrion-eater or carrion, there wasn't neutral. Neutral was simply tomorrow's carrion.
But then there was Jessica. What kind of woman traveled alone? Carrion to Sick Bill, who'd sized her up like he'd sized up so many others, like a shark sizing up a baby harp seal. But she'd only smiled, and asked his name. No fear in those green eyes of hers, no hate. No defiance. So he'd given her his name, Billy Crawford, CPA. Then she asked him if he'd go with her. Ten days later they arrived at the plant, and Billy understood. This place would kill you within ten years, but no one could expect to live half that long in the wastelands. There was always a bigger fish. And when you died here, you died disease ravaged, but humans could die like that. No one wanted to die gutted for their shoes or some moldy potatoes. Or for fun. If you wanted to survive in the wasteland it meant sacrificing your humanity, evolving as it were. Here at the plant you could be whatever you wanted for as long as your body could stand the radiation. Jessica believed the price was right, and being with Jessica made him believe it was too. In a fit of conscience Billy had tried to tell Jessica that he didn't deserve this peaceful life, the things that he'd, that Sick Bill had done, but she'd covered his mouth with her hand.
"I know what it's like out there, and that's no excuse for the things that are done in the darkness. Here it's different. Here we offer our lives to keep our souls, out there it's the opposite. You've chosen who you are Billy, and I love you for it." And that was all that was said.
So they'd planted a garden. Life at the plant had given them all kinds of symptoms, migraines, nose and ear bleeds, vertigo, but they accepted all knowing that they weren't in danger of contact with other people. With wasteland people. Eight months later the child was born. Small and sick, her mother being nurtured on irradiated vegetables, but not deathly sick. When the child was born Billy began having second thoughts about staying at the plant. He and Jessica argued over it almost daily, Jessica firmly believing the child was better off dying than being taken to the wasteland. Billy believed so to, he knew what the wastelands were. But he couldn't stand the thought of the child dying of radiation sickness. Every nosebleed, every lost fingernail, every high fever, and Billy began to think about nearby water sources, natural caves he'd, no, Sick Bill had used in the past.
And then Jessica died. She must have known it was coming. Billy had thought her increased downtime was due to exhaustion after childbirth, and then, as the months went by, due to her weakened state. Then he found the tumor. A baseball sized protruberance near her navel, discolored, and spreading it's tentacles in all directions. To her ribs. Her hips. Her knees.
Panic spread in Billy as he realized the truth. But Jessica only smiled again.
"This is the price Billy, and I'll pay it knowing what we are. There may not be anymore out there like us." The child was crying. Billy looked up.
"It's okay, Billy. It breaks my heart seeing her like that too. But she this is her world, her eden. The outside is just an early ticket to Hell." Tears ran down Billy's cheeks, but his jaw set. Jessica saw it.
"Don't do it Billy, you belong here with us, not out there killing and stealing. You and I, and the child, we belong here." She'd said, coughing up blood. "Sure it's a little rough on the body, but it's chicken soup for the soul."
"Jess, I love you. I need you to love me, and I need you to understand." He said choking back tears. "I can't let this happen to our child..."
Jessica grabbed his face roughly, nails digging into his cheek and ears. She was shaking. "It's not our child, Billy. It's my child! All this time, you really thought you were the father?! Don't take her out there Bill!" Jessica's eyes were beginning to lose focus as she began to rave. "Promise me you won't take her away from here! You have no right, no claim! She's mine! She won't turn into an animal or be killed like one! Promise me!!"
So he'd promised her.
And now, looking at the neon orange goya, he realized he would break his promise. For two years he'd kept the child, Eve, alive. He'd kept his promise to the only person whom he hadn't betrayed since the Collapse. The only person who saw him as he wanted to be seen. Eve's nosebleeds were getting worse, but they'd been able to manage. But the gardens were changing, and the last fruit had turned into a quivering mass of corruption. It took three weeks to starve to death, but the wastelands could kill you much quicker, or make you wish they had.
Billy knew that sooner or later he'd regret leaving. That dying with Eve in the same place Jessica had died would be better than whatever death would take them, or whatever life would force on them outside. But looking down at the sickly child, Billy couldn't make the decision to kill her. So he made the decision to kill his humanity to try to save her. shouldering the few things he could use in a pack, and carrying the sleeping Eve in the other, Bill headed upstream, away from the plant.