Morning broke with the sound of shattering glass. Steve groaned and flailed at the noise before realizing it was coming from the next room. The girl must be awake.
Still dressed, it didn’t take him long to get to the door.
She was shouting something, pounding on the inside of the door. Steve grabbed his phone and sent a message to Blaithe.
When the door swung open she jumped back.
“It’s you! You…guy!”
“You remember me, that’s good. My name is Steve. Last night you were pretty out of it, falling asleep in the hallway. I brought you here because…well it’s safer than leaving you there. What’s your name?”
“Let me out of here. I want to go home.”
“Okay, do you have a bus pass, or cab money?”
She looked even more unsure than before, thinking hard about it.
“I don’t know.”
“That’s alright, I can give you a ride. You didn’t have a bag or anything with you when I saw you last night, did you lose your purse?”
“If you want we can go back to the warehouse and look for it later. I’m about to make some breakfast now, are you hungry?”
She looked like she was, very much so by her violent nod.
“There’s a washroom and showers down the hall on the right if you want to get cleaned up. There’s…something in your hair. Should be some spare clothes in there as well, if you wanted to get out of whatever it is you’re wearing. Is that a wetsuit?”
She rubbed a finger on the fabric over her stomach, “No.”
“Okay. Down the hall, on the right. I’m going to go put some food together. Come down the stairs when you’re ready.”
Slowly he backed away from the door. When he was out of the way she darted past and ran into the bathroom.
“I’m going downstairs. Okay?” She didn’t answer, so Steve left.
He went down to the kitchen and started to make some toast. After a moment’s consideration he also put on a pot of oatmeal and a pan of bacon and eggs. Probably best to cover all bases here. His phone chimed, showing a message from Blaithe.
“On my way, keep her busy.”
A few minutes later Lucky came walking down the stairs.
“So, uh. Apparently there’s naked girl in the shower.”
“Yes. I probably should have mentioned that.”
“You completely forgot I was here, didn’t you?”
“A little. I’m not used to having people around.”
“I figured that out, what with you being down here and her up there. Naked.”
“So why’d you come down here if you saw her in there?”
“That makes sense, I suppose. So why did you go into the bathroom if you didn’t know she was in there? Did you think I was in there?”
Lucky didn’t have a chance to respond before the girl came down the stairs. She was wearing one of the grey and black uniforms, her hair slick with water. In the baggy clothes she looked even younger than before, definitely teens.
“I didn’t say I didn’t know she was in there.” Lucky said and grabbed a piece of bacon. He stood up and pulled out a chair for her.
“Hi!” He said enthusiastically.
She echoed the greeting but sounded rather less confident about it.
“I wasn’t sure what you’d like so I’ve got a bit of everything here. Just grab what you want.” Steve set the dishes on the countertop.
She took a piece of toast and nibbled at it, sitting at the stool farthest away.
“So, I’m Lucky. What’s your name?”
“Yeah, on account of me being so lucky. Well my name’s actually Shui, but that just confuses everyone since I’m not Chinese.”
An awkward silence stretched on, until Steve finally broke it.
“So, what do you remember from last night? I don’t think I’d seen you around the Pits before.”
“I heard the noise. It was so loud. Bright. Everything was dizzy.” She was unsure, hesitant.
“Did you take something? Did someone give you a drink? You looked like someone had slipped you a roofie.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I’m sorry to badger you like this, but I don’t like seeing girls in trouble. Last night could have gone very wrong. I’ll stop asking now, but you can let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”
“So, what’s your name?” Lucky asked while nibbling from a crisp piece of bacon.
“Mhh…” She murmured indecisively as she contemplated the countertop. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean? What do you remember?”
“Lights and sounds. Then the cold dark. People, crowds. You.”
“Do you know where you are? What city? What year? When you were born? Your parents?”
“I don’t know!” She shouted, then sank against the countertop. “I should know, but I don’t.”
“I suppose it could be an aftereffect of whatever drug you were on last night. Give it some time and everything might come back to you.” Steve said, trying to be reassuring.
“Well, we should start with the important things first.” Lucky said, holding up a piece of bacon. “Do you know what this is?”
“Bacon. I’m not an idiot.”
“But what is it made of?”
“It’s…meat. Yeah, it’s…” She trailed off, eyes wide”It’s made of people!”
Lucky was stunned into silence. He looked at Steve for support. The girl snorted, head buried in her arms. Steve laughed.
“What?” Lucky asked.
“It’s a joke. Soylent Green. Old movie about people getting turned into food pills?”
“I must have missed that movie while I was growing up in an apocalyptic wasteland where even the gods fear to enter. I was right, though. She does remember something, if she remembers some old movie.”
“You’re right. Good thinking.”
“Well anyways we need a name for you until you remember your real one. What do you want to pick?”
“That’s not the worst name I’ve ever heard of. I suppose it will have to do.”
She glared at him but didn’t lift her head from where it rested on her arms on the countertop.
“You got something better in mind?”
“As a matter of fact I do. Lien.” He pronounced it as two distinct syllables
“What kind of name is that supposed to be? I’m not Chinese.”
Lucky wordlessly got up and walked away, headed for the stairs.
She stared after him, “What?” Then she looked at Steve, “I’m not Chinese. Am I?”
“A little. I dunno?”
Some time later they finished eating and Steve started clearing away the dishes.
“So what is this place?” Lien asked, with a curious look around.
“Our office. Well, Lucky and I live here. The guy who owns the building, our boss, lives at his own house.”
“What do you do.”
“Private security, more or less. Do you know what Contractors do? The Corporation?”
“Well, basically it’s slavery with benefits. We sign up for specific jobs, and in return we get exemption from normal laws when doing those jobs. The downside is that we don’t get to claim the protection of certain laws that “people” can. We’re corporate property.”
“Is it worth it?”
Just then the basement door opened and Blaithe arrived.
“Good morning. I see our guest is awake. How are you feeling?”
“Good to hear. Any good news for me, Steve?”
“Not really. She doesn’t remember much , whatever happened last night really took it’s toll.”
“Well, miss, I’d be happy to give you any help I can. You’re welcome to stay here for as long as you like. My name is Blaithe Baggwell.”
“Thanks. I’m, uh, Lien, I guess.”
“You don’t sound very sure of that.”
“I’m not very sure of anything.”
“If you would like, I could get my doctor to run some tests and see if they can figure out what happened to you. If it was a drug, there could be other people in the same situation right now. Except they might not have anyone helping them.”
“I’m going to run upstairs for a minute. Are you going to be okay with him?” Steve asked Lien.
As he headed for the stairs the Blaithe started talking about his doctor friend. Lucky was up in his room, sitting in the corner. Steve walked over and sat down beside him.
“Go away.” The boy said.
“In a minute. Give it time. She’s confused and I’m sure she didn’t mean any insult.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The name you chose, Lien. It’s like your name, Shui, because she’s like you. She doesn’t remember who her parents were, she doesn’t know what name they picked for her. It was a very nice thing to do, but it’s a bit above her head at the moment.”
Lucky picked at his sleeve. Steve continued.
“There’s going to be someone coming over, today or tomorrow. A new member of the group. Her name’s Katherine Red, a pit fighter if you haven’t heard of her. She’s generally a decent person, but she’s got some control issues, so don’t get too worked up if she starts getting in your face.
“Tomorrow night I’d like to go talk to another prospective member. She’s sixteen, a bit closer to your age. Goes by the name of Andree Nichelle. I’m going to be honest here, it sounds like she’s dangerous. We don’t know exactly what she does or how she does it, but people have died near her. I’m not going to force you to come. If you want to stay here with Lien that’s fine.”
“What’s her deal?”
“Things around her tend to get damaged, people tend to get hurt. There’s a lot that’s not clear. According to psychiatrist’s reports she’s got an imaginary friend of the violent sort, but we aren’t quite sure if she’s crazy, or haunted, or if that’s her ability. Or all of the above at the same time, that’s possible too. Maybe she doesn’t have powers but some secret admirer is following her around attacking things they think threaten her. The key point is that approximately two dozen people have died near her in the last few years under suspicious circumstances.”
“So why aren’t we leaving her alone?
“Blaithe feels the need to stack his deck. You’re just about invulnerable from what I’ve seen, but we need offence. If Andree does what it says on the tin, she has the potential to be the stuff of nightmares. Her therapist was torn apart while she was in a different city, and she has a perfect alibi with a handful of people to say she never left, but she knew exactly how the scene looked. That’s what is making me suspect that it’s not her with the power, maybe she’s got an evil fairy godmother, but if she can do that I want her on my side.”
“How many people are getting invited to the team?”
“Well, Blaithe gave me about ten nominations, but there’s only five spots on the team. So, the two of us plus Katherine, plus two others. You want to take a look at the files?”
“Nah.” Lucky stood up and stretched. “You know, you’re not so bad at this. I’m going to take a walk.”
Steve stayed sitting for a while longer, pondering. After a few minutes he pulled out his phone and called Kat.
“Do you want me to drop your car off at your house?”
“Oh. So, where do you want me to leave it?”
“I’ll come by in a few hours.”
“Do you want to meet for lunch? I can tell you about the rest of this job?” By the end of the sentence he was talking to a dead line after she hung up on him.
Blaithe and Lien were gone by the time he went downstairs, so he just went back upstairs to read through the other files.
Since it was the first one he looked at, he started reading the file for the soldier.
Richard Dunn had been 18 when the Red Spring started on January 11th, 2001. That afternoon he went to his local army recruiting station and enlisted in the infantry. After basic training he was selected for Red Company, which was being specifically trained to combat the infected. He was front line during the First Incursion, and for the next fourteen years he was among the first in and last out during all major combat operations against the Infected in Canada.
Much of the exact details were redacted, but the general gist was there. Through the riots, the relocations, the sieges, the counter offences, Dunn was there for it all and he got it done. Regardless of his personal skill, there’s only so many times you can jump into a fire without getting burned, and his entire left leg had to be amputated as well as his third, forth, and fifth fingers on his right hand.
In 2015 he was honourably discharged, and spent a few months in rehab. From there he spent some years in university and in 2020 he opened his own business, travelling around and hosting training courses relating to first aid, marksmanship, survivalism, and combat.
Steve set the file aside. Altogether, Dunn looked like a solid candidate, it didn’t sound like losing parts of himself had slowed him down much, and his experience training others would more than pay for itself. The real question would be if he willing to actually sign on to the team, or if he’d only be available for certain occasions to conduct training sessions.
Suddenly in the mood, Steve went down to the armory to get a proper idea of exactly what Blaithe already had in stock.