“You are an AB” Harrison said. We went a crowded way that thinned out. “People will ask more of you because you have an advantage. We will probably rely on you heavily. You are immune. We can get you scratched and bit and you won’t turn or die. I warn caution. I want you to meet someone before I take you to Rascal. I know what it feels like to be new here. I want you to know that you can trust me. It may not feel like it but you always have a choice. They might just not be good ones.” We came to another bunking area. Along the walls nooks were carved out and covered with shower curtains or cloth. He knocked on the wall beside one curtain. A woman drew it open. She had straight blonde hair, striking brown eyes under long lashes. Most noticeably she had pink scar tissue up her left arm. She had a toddler in her lap with blonde curls spurting each way and brown eyes to match.
“Are you new? My name is Richelle” she extended a hand as she bounced the child on her knee. “Most of Rascals original crew bunks here. We dug these holes out in the very beginning. As we grew we had to switch to a less private bunking solution.” I looked to Harrison hoping to explain why I was meeting this woman. He didn’t. He chatted with her about Sadie’s event next Friday. The conversation picked up my attention again here:
“He’s an AB like you” Harrison reached out and Richelle handed him Leah. The toddler looked very small in his arms.
“Oh, Has Rascal met him? He looks like Rascal would like him. Strong” I tensed up. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be liked by Rascal. I was leaning towards I didn’t. A small chicken was going the other way. I remembered that Sadie said they had gotten a bit out of control.
“I used to be one of his favorites. I still go on raids with him sometimes.” She looked to the toddler who Harrison held”Leah here kind of kept me from being too available to him. Do a lot of kitchen duty now. Things I can do with her on my back.” Harrison and her teased me about different chores I would get to experience. After a bit Harrison stammered about being late for something and passed Leah back to her mother. We continued down the VIP rooms hallway.
“Remember Gidget?” he asked quietly keeping a very slow walk. He was stalling, we must have almost been there. “He was in the room when you woke up. Richelle was his fiance’. She was on the raid team with Gidget and me. They got to liking each other see?” he scratched at his beard. Determined to break my quiet impression of him he kept speaking. “There was also a man called Steven on the team. He liked her too. About that time we found out that AB’s only lose their memories when they get bit and scratched. Next raid we lost track of her and Steven. She called him over to open a door and they were just gone.” I leaned in because he was getting quieter the further we went. “He got her scratched on purpose. They were out on their own for about two months. He told her Gidget’s engagement ring was her wedding ring and she was his wife of two years or something like that. She came back pregnant with Leah.” Needless to say I was shocked.
“What did you do to him when he returned?”
“Nothing. Doing anything would have been bad for Leah and Richelle. We all play along with it. Even Gidget. I guess my point is, you are AB. We will ask you to take risks. Being lucky ain’t always lucky Lucky. Make sure to weigh each request carefully. Not everyone will ask with a pure heart. Keep that in mind.”
I saw Vyra ahead now. She sat outside a curtain that covered the rest of the tunnel in a folding chair with an old blanket over it. Across her lap sat a gun with an open book over it. “You took your time” she said without looking up.
“Sure did” Harrison said and she closed her book folding the corner to keep her page. Her hair was light brown and braided back and her eyes were the same confusing flashes of color. They aimed towards matching the seafoamy color of her book spine. She was tall and slender in grey shorts and an embellished maroon tanktop with a brown cardigan and brown boots. She pushed back the beach scene shower curtain to reveal what resembled a waiting room with a fire pit and well worn couches. This was the only room with carpet I had seen.
Rascal was half asleep by his lunch rations on the sofa. It was kind of nice to know he had the same gruel I did for lunch. Before him was a map of the compound and lists of names and chores and several books filled with just numbers. At our entrance he woke up a bit and stretched his limbs. Most leaders you meet are attractive, with good speaking skills. Rascal was that and what you would expect the leader of a ragtag group of cave dwellers in a zombie infested universe to look like. He had commanding features that were well defined and softened only by the scruff of an early five ‘o’ clock shadow. His bottom lip sported a a scar and his ear look cauliflowered like a boxers. That was mostly hidden by unruly hardwood colored locks. He was younger than I had expected. Not much older than me. He wore a thick coat with sleeves rolled up to his elbow, camo pants and a stained wife beater. He looked at me like a cat looks at a mouse. Anticipation, excitement and about to pounce. He had an easy and unnerving presence. No wonder Vyra hung out with him.
Vyra sat down next to Rascal and started to sort papers. “Have you recovered Lucky?” it made me nervous how she just plopped her weapon on the floor. Did these people have gun safety? Gidget came over with a teapot that was steaming. I bit back a tea party joke. It helped when I realized that we were being offered hot water. There were no tea bags to speak of. Harrison took a lumpy chair by the sofa Vyra and Rascal were on and I took another sofa. Gidget sat down next to me. He set his tea cup on a map of the surface.
“Since you saw me last?” I asked. “No” no time or opportunity had been granted to me rest and heal since I woke up. I ached with scratches still and I also felt the weight of doing chores all day. None of the events would have been that straining if not for the fact that breathless had very recently nearly been torn apart. How recently? “How long was I even in that room?” I never got a lot of answers. I wanted them now. From the source. From Rascal. Rascal rubbed his chin with a grin before his lips got moving.
“Well. Let’s see. On last Saturdays’s raid we lost Tory. A group of breathless migrated to the store we ran through. Came about while we were inside. Gunfire drew them away. We checked it out too once it was safe. We found an empty camp and you on the roof. Freaked out, covered in scratches and near unconsciousness. Tory got bit by one that was behind a van on the groups way over. He was a good kid. About your size. We took you back. We saw your name tag was A+. But then we noticed you weren’t a female and the tag was for a girl. In case you were AB we waited for you to die and change. You didn’t so we brought you back and monitored you. It’s Friday now.” I don’t know why Rascal hadn’t been the one to explain things to me instead of Vyra. Facts were nice to deal with.
“Oh” I said.
“We didn’t see evidence your group had been anywhere close recently at all” he went on. “But we are now a man short for the raid tomorrow and I want you to join us. Vyra is going to show you a breathless before you decide.”
Gidget spoke up “Glory and honor come to raiders. We are the milk and honey of the place.” I wondered if he ever stopped to talk to Richelle on the way down. I was a bit sad for him for a moment. I wondered if I would ever run into Steven. Is it the right thing to do to tell Richelle what happened?
Rascal’s hazel eyes lingered on me only a moment longer. He probably knew more of what I looked like than I did now. He then gave me a thumbs up. “Go up to the surface and come back.”
We sipped hot water for a bit more and then Harrison, Gidget and Rascal went back to scratching their scruff and staring at the papers on the coffee table. Vyra stood up and put back on her lavender cloak covering her long hair and legs. “C’mon.” Vyra smiled and nodded and even stopped to hug several people on the way up. She seemed more sociable than Sadie. If that were possible. Funny, she felt isolating to me. We went past the gardens and kept going up. When the tunnel started to slope up I saw natural light for the first time that I could remember. The air was not fresh and I pulled my shirt over my face to breath. Many of the guards past this part had masks.
“Are you ready?” She was now taller than me. I had noticed she was tall today but not this tall. That was odd. I towered over most people and had to duck in certain hallways. Before I answered she was pulling me along like a child “Let me show you something.” The sound and smell got worse. I wanted to cry, vomit and call out for my mother. I bit my bottom lip to keep from doing so. I would get used to the heavy feeling of dread sitting like a rock in my gut. The dread was paired with a heavy feeling of depression. I wanted to plummet into the pits of the earth. Melt, and sink into the cracks in the dirt. We waited for a big thick metal door to slide open. I heard gears shifting. This was the surface. Behind this. After the wall of metal moved a wall was revealed with a blue metal door. She went over to it and rummaged in her shirt pulling at a chain about her neck. She waved a card at a panel by the door. There was a beep, a green light and she pushed it open. I saw vehicles first. Jeeps, two doors, a tank and even a small farm plane.
We went up past the vehicles that had returned. Some looked alien and others like the ones from the old calendars with woman draped over them from before the Atoma; the kind that used fuel. She took me to an impressive fence I could not see over. It was more of a wall to be honest. It was fifty feet tall and it bowed outward. It was made of scrap metal elegantly fused into one solid peace reaching around an area big enough to park the vehicles and the entrance to Rascal’s last stand.
“We have met before you know. I was in my true form.” The wall began to slide open “You were a youth.” She was shorter than me again. I think at that moment her hair was blue and her eyes red. It was a trick of light surely. It was all too much. I watched the big outer wall slide open and she turned the safety of her gun off.
The wall was gone now. A sea of moaning breathless filled my vision. The smell was overwhelming and I tried to move back behind the other wall back inside. Instead I ended up freezing Their skin was void of human color and replaced with pale skin that you could see veins and organs through. Their eyes were dull and sunken in. Their mouths in a constant moan. Some had green gunk growing over them. Only after I threw up and recovered from a small panic attack did I notice the thick chain fence that still held them away from me. “Soulless and without reason” her voice boomed sounding cold and distant. “You will have to be careful not to join them. You cannot become a breathless by the breathless. Still they can tear you to pieces or the Odious can take your soul. Peril lies ahead.” I stared at her a moment. Was this a scare tactic? Did she really know me from before today? I concluded then she must be insane.
“Join our raiding team?”
“What-“ was the only intelligent response I could muster.
“Raiding or laundry duty… raiding lets you go out. Maybe you can find Aimee. Maybe you have a family. But you won’t be safe like here.” She snarled her teeth and muttered at the fence and a few breathless took a step back. “Lucky, I want to add you to the raid. I can tell by your build you are used to tough jobs. Besides it’s safer to recruit you than a more common blood type. Rascal wants you to know what faces you” she dangled her key pass in front of me “It comes with a better Cot and access to the all the Library.”
“Can I think on it?” I asked.
“Have to do your thinking on your feet.”
“How long is on my feet?”
“Did you really know me?”
“You have six seconds are you certain?”
“Good. Sadie thought you would choose that. Harrison will be coming with us.” She smiled. She had managed to get my agreement. I did not approve of the tactics. “Lets get you a gold pass. Lets you into weapon closets.” I resented her. But I was also excited.