Blood is Vic’s telepathic dog. Vic and Blood have been together for three years, each helping the other survive in post-apocalypse America. Blood is a “skirmisher,” which is a dog that is bred for intelligence, telepathic ability, and an acute sense of smell. He is descended from a German shepherd named Ginger, who detected drugs for the Los Angeles Police Department, and a puli named Ahbhu, who was the product of an experiment to develop telepathy in dogs. Crossbreeding such dogs resulted in skirmishers, who were used in the iast world war for their telepathy and their ability to smell trace amounts of fuel, poison gas, and radiation. Although Blood can sense the presence of certain kinds of people (especially women and dangerous gang members), he is a typical skirmisher in that he has lost his ability to hunt. As a result, he must rely on Vic to find food for him.
Blood is highly intelligent and well-educated. He teaches Vic reading, history, math, and culture. He and Vic often tease each other, as old friends do. At the same time, he is a product of his harsh environment, and thus can be fierce and violent. His relationship with Vic is important, and he is threatened by and suspicious of outsiders like Quilla June.
Quilla June Holmes
Quilla June is the girl sent to the surface to lure a young man back to Topeka. She is a teenager who is described as having a pretty face, thin build, medium height, long reddish hair, blue eyes, and a soft voice. Her family originally came from Oklahoma before the war, but now they live underground in Topeka. She is brave because she agrees to go to the surface alone, knowing that “downunders” like herself are routinely raped and killed.
Quilla June seems timid and gentle at first, but her true nature soon becomes clear. Once she and Vic have sex, she is insatiable. Her capacity for violence is first revealed when she knocks Vic unconscious with a gun. When Vic kills her father and another man in front of her, she cries and vomits, but then she recovers and laughs as she shoots at and kills her fellow townspeople. Before she and Vic make their final escape to the surface, she even tries to kill her mother.
Despite her violent streak, Quilla June desperately wants to be loved. When she escapes Topeka with Vic, she tells him she loves him and repeatedly asks him if he loves her. She seems satisfied when he says yes and then assumes that she will be Vic’s top priority. Her naivete about devotion leads to her demise. She insists that Vic leave Blood behind while they seek safety, but Vic kills her in order to feed Blood.
Lew is the head of the group of aging men who use Quilla June to lure Vic underground to Topeka. He is set in his ways but also sees the necessity of getting someone to help repopulate the city. Lew is not intimidated by Vic’s rough ways and profane language, but he insists that Vic behave properly while he is in Topeka. His fundamental inability to understand Vic, however, is evident when he is surprised by Vic’s violent escape from Topeka to return to the surface of the Earth.
Vic is the narrator of the story, a teenage survivor of the apocalypse, who bands together with Blood to survive the violent world in which he lives. He is a “solo,” a person who is not a member of a roverpak. Because of the realities of his environment, Vic is violent, unfeeling, and impulsive.
Vic knows that Blood is more intelligent than he is, and he accepts Blood’s role as a teacher. Although he claims that their relationship is fair and balanced, he maintains his role as the leader of their twosome and insists on being obeyed. He dismisses Blood’s sound advice, such as when Blood warns him not to follow Quilla June underground. Instead, Vic allows his rage to dictate his actions. This decision is not surprising, because Vic is guided by his base needs and feelings; when he feels the desire for sex, he follows that impulse, and when he is threatened, he follows his violent impulse.
In the end, the only human emotion Vic seems capable of feeling is loyalty, and he feels this toward Blood. Despite his violent tendencies, he tells the reader that he has never hit Blood. He has no context for understanding (and thus for giving or receiving) human love, and he feels little tenderness toward Quilla June. When faced with a situation in which Blood needs to be fed, Vic makes a practical decision and kills Quilla June to feed him.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Harlan Ellison – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.