A Great and Sudden Change

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by DotCom, Mar 9, 2014.

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  1. [​IMG]
    Loosely based on the PS3 game, The Last of Us, by Naughty Dog

    “Nothing is so painful to the human mind
    as a great and sudden change.
    Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
    The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you.
    You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.

    Bob Marley

    Lucy Porter looked twelve. Well, twelve-ish. Sometimes, she could pass for younger. Most of the time, even. But these days passing younger was only good until you were ten. After that, innocence was nothing more than make-believe, and you had hope to hell you passed as sixteen, because a twelve-year-old had nothing to offer. Or nothing that could be given more then once.

    So. Lucy Porter looked twelve. She acted twelve. If she had a birth certificate, it would probably say she was twelve -- twelve years, nine months, and sixteen days, to be precise. Lucy Porter looked twelve. But she most certainly was not.

    She'd been living in the Tacoma safe zone for almost nine years now, having arrived just before her fifth birthday, winter a little over ten years after everything had gone to hell. She only vaguely remembered the woman who'd brought her here. To hear the orphanage tell it, both she and her maybe-mother had been pretty fucking sick, enough so that Lucy's memories of the journey were all distorted technicolor, nightmarish dreams or a reality too awful to want to remember. Lucy had reached the camp with the woman and fallen asleep for a really, really long time. Way too long for any toddler to come back from. She had, anyway, waking in the early spring, beanpole skinny and on her own. The woman had died two days after leaving Lucy at the orphanage.

    And she'd learned, like every kid born after the Outbreak, that even the safe zones weren't so nice. Maybe not as bad as the outside -- not that Lucy knew -- but not great. Everything inside the quarantine zones was all food rations, curfews and militia made up of former cops and soldiers. Five years ago, the last of the Coast Guard had had a decent say, at least at what went on inside Tacoma. But once the Trojans sprung up, control had become veneer thin, a word grown-ups used to scare other grown-ups into giving up booze and guns before someone got hurt.

    And usually, those people ended up getting hurt, anyway.

    But Lucy was twelve now, almost thirteen. Older, if anyone asked, younger if they didn't. She'd left the orphanage a little under a year ago after it had changed hands. The couple who owned it were high more often than not, and got a kick out of beating the shit out of the older kids ('older' now meant fourteen, as they'd decided everyone aged out at fifteen, earlier if they had it in them to talk back, like Lucy did). They'd just as soon trade a five-year-old for a fifth, and while it sounded like a shitty thing to do, it was just sort of the norm.

    So, Lucy had ditched, gotten a job running small-ticket black market items between warring factions. After a while, you got to know which jobs worked best. Not everyone could run stealth-ops anymore. Lucy wasn't very strong, but she was fast and and small and smart, and she had a wicked shot with Harry, her pride and joy, her most prized possession, a refurbished bb gun, a real 'vintage' shooter, one of the last made before the Outbreak, that had been hacked to take everything from marble to pebbles to pieces of glass. It wasn't deadly by any stretch of the imagination. But from far away it looked like a gun. And anyone who got close enough to try and take would be half-blind in an instant, thanks to Harrison.

    It was how she'd gotten a decent position as a mouse for the Eclipse. They were one of the bigger gangs in Tacoma. Not as Big as the Black Suns, but a hell of a lot more forgiving. More generous with their food stamps, too, and no one ever asked Lucy how old she was. That was a plus. If she couldn't land a job with them, she could always try the Yakuza, or the Blue Dogs. Not the Trojans. Never the Trojans. You had to be stupid or crazy to mess with them.

    So, really, she probably could have known she was in trouble when Georgie came to find her that day. It would have saved her a hell of a lot of trouble in the long run.
    #1 DotCom, Mar 9, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2014
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  2. The world was a mess, and there was no denying it anymore, not even for a long time government employee. Harrison Broden was just one of many officials who attempted to help maintain order in the United States, or what was left of it anyway. He had fought through pain and more pain in order to keep his life in order. Why he even bothered anymore was truly beyond him. Perhaps he hated looking weak in the face of adversity, or maybe he still wanted to prove something to himself. Whatever the reason, there was no turning back anymore. He had brought his life this far after ten years of uncertainty, and there was no turning back now.

    As far as Harrison knew, he had never been the luckiest of men. Everything was a struggle, even before his time in the military. His family life had been less than stellar right from the beginning. His father, Robert, had left without a word when Harrison was less than a year old. That left his mother, Anya, to look after three sons by herself. The eldest brother, Tom, was already ten by the time Harrison was born. According to Anya, Tom was a playful and happy child until Robert had walked out on them. Harrison never knew that side of him. All he knew was the cold, seemingly emotionless brother who rarely spoke to anyone. Sometimes he wondered if Tom was still alive. Not that it would matter anyway, given his blatant disregard for the rest of his family. He disappeared immediately after his sixteenth birthday.

    Vernon, the second brother, was only two when Harrison was born. Needless to say, he was far more enjoyable to be around than Tom. It made sense though, as Vernon was too young to really understand what had happened during the time that Robert had left them. He and Harrison became closer than either of them had been to anyone. And that had only made his passing all the more difficult.

    The outbreak that had hit the world about fifteen years ago caused more pain and suffering than anything the world had seen before. Many people who had believed in the Bible thought there would be ten plagues throughout human history. But there was only one real plague. And it was still among them now. Vernon had been hit early on when it occurred, and he had died within a short two weeks. Harrison was still in uniform at the time and was unfortunately unable to see his brother before he passed. Anya passed away a few months later. The last thing she saw was Harrison's grief-stricken face.

    But Vernon and Anya were not the only ones he had lost. About a year after his recruitment into the Coast Guard, Harrison met the woman he thought had changed his life for the better: Ashley Ann Williams. She sympathized with Harrison, for her father had also left her when she was young. They listened to each other, they trusted each other. She was by his side after the death of Vernon. And after eight months, they were married. Harrison was only twenty at the time, and Ashley was nineteen, but they were more than certain that they had both found the right person. After they had finished their time in the Coast Guard, they settled down permanently, both of them finding permanent jobs for the government. They had two daughters as well, Jenna and Leslie.

    Then the outbreak began to spread like wildfire throughout the continent, and eventually the world. Many of the experts said that the virus, whatever it was, was quickly adapting to the environment, making vaccines and other potential cures difficult to work with. That was when the panic reached heights not seen since the black plague. And then it surpassed even that. People fought and killed each other for access to the quarantine zones. Children were left on the streets. Families and friendships were torn apart everywhere.

    Because they worked for the government, Harrison and his family were of primary candidacy for placement in quarantine. That did not sit well with many people. He blamed himself for his stupidity in the end. He had told Ashley and the girls to go on ahead to safety while he stayed at home to make sure all of their possessions were secure. He found out mere hours later that all three of them had been killed by a mob of angry protesters, claiming that government officials should not have priority over everyone else.

    That was almost ten years ago. Now he lived alone, still working for the government. His work was the last thing he had left other than his pride. But there was more to it now. The new Congress had issued a top secret mission to obtain stealthy, deadly recruits for a new branch of their specialized forces to be trained in Houston. And he was more than certain he had found a girl for the job.
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  3. "Who are you, and what have you done with my friend Georgie?"

    "First of all, it's Geo now, I told you that. Second, c'mon, Luce, don't be like that."

    "Don't be like what? Not fucking crazy?"

    Sixteen-year-old "Geo" scoffed. "Don't swear, Lucy, until you're at least fourteen, it'll just backfire and make you sound younger."

    Lucy was doing her best to ignore said 'friend' as she picked around the half-rotted penthouse of what had once been a decent apartment complex in downtown Tacoma. It had been scheduled for demolition three years ago, until the militia realized its time and energy were better spent demolishing things that actually moved, instead of just threatening to fall on people. It was dangerous, full of sinkhole and probably asbestos, whatever that was, at best. But that was just fine for Lucy. It meant only crazy people and other mice, like herself, went there now. And the crazies didn't know what to look for.

    "Well, excuse me for not trusting your advice since you also think joining up the with Trojans is a good idea."

    "It is a good idea! Just hear me out."

    "I'm trying not to."

    That much was only about half true. Lucy knew from 'experience', which she took to mean 'listening to oldsters in the ration lines talk about the good ol' days' that 'penthouses' were traditionally the most stocked. That, coupled with the fact that they were no longer so accessible, like the cars parked on streets and rutted in years worth of debris and fallen ash, made them the perfect place to go hunting for things to sell for or to the Eclipse. No one had any use for antiques any more, of which there were an abundance, old lamps and vases and paintings. Now, people wanted weapons, medicine, booze, and drugs. Even money was going down the drain lately, though Lucy knew better than to pass over the folds of leather she still found tucked away in safes sometimes.

    Now, she was picking her way across moldy carpet and rotted floor board, ankle deep in drywall and soot, her shirt pulled up over her mouth. Infected in the safe zones were rare nowadays, and there was no way they'd have been able to get up fifteen flights of rotted stairs and to the far side of the pent house, but she wasn't about to risk calling them by coughing up a lung hacking up dust and pollution from the streets below.

    Still. Even with only half her concentration on her job, she had an ear out for Georgie. He was one of her oldest friends, if she could call him that. He'd been a mouse with her, up until two years ago when he'd hit puberty, which was about the worst thing that could happen to a gang runner, or at least the boys. People told Lucy she'd always be small and young-looking enough to pass, but guys like Georgie, who sprang up over night were SOL, whatever that meant. She could understand him joining up with the Trojans if he were desperate. They were never very popular, but they were powerful, and always looking for new recruits. If they liked you, you were golden. Or fucked. Definitely one of the two.

    And Lucy knew better than to do anything out of desperation. That had gotten her in trouble more than once.
  4. While crossing the seemingly empty road, Harrison whistled an old tune to himself. He could not remember the words to it, but it was song is mother used to sing to him when he was just an infant. It brought him memories of a better time, even if that time wasn't all that great. At least it was a period in which people were not fleeing from every other person they saw on an empty road in a restricted part of the zone. Of course he could not blame them for running even if they knew who he was. Nowadays people seemed to trust government workers even less than they trusted the rogue militias around the country.

    Harrison found himself standing in front of a large, abandoned building. From the looks of it, this had once been an apartment complex, though now it was mostly an empty pile of stones. He had been told to meet the legion representative here. The Eclipse was notorious throughout the country for its black market stocks, and that in itself was a reason why he should not be doing business with them. He did not even want to think about how dangerous they were. And yet here he was, about to make a deal with Eclipse for a girl that would undoubtedly thrive in Houston's training facility.

    A pile of rubble moved slightly as another man stepped forward. He was wearing a mask that displayed a dark circle on the right cheek, the insignia of Eclipse. The rest of it was a plain yellow color. He was armed with an assault rifle while Harrison was armed only with a small handgun. But should this go as planned, neither of them would need to use their weapons.

    "State your name and your business," came a voice from behind the mask. It was not a harsh voice, nor was it friendly either.

    "Harrison Broden. I am hear to negotiate with your leader for a government recruit."

    The man lowered his rifle and motioned for Harrison to follow him. He did so without question, trekking carefully over the dirt and rubble of the ruins.
  5. Like all children born after the Outbreak, Lucy didn't live according to the rules of what had been standard society. She'd had no parents to teach her how to brush her teeth, no teachers to tell her to look both ways before crossing the street, no older siblings, friendly policemen, or after school specials to tell her not to take candy from strangers. Lucy didn't live her life according to a single moral code. There was no religion or semblance of omnipotent authority.

    There was only survival, and the list of rules Lucy kept to remain on the right side of the line.

    Some of the rules were simple, mundane. Littles hints of common sense everyone kept:

    Rule number 15: The safe zones were the only places on earth there were no Infected. Inside, you took your chances against other types of monsters.

    Rule number 6: Sleep with one eye open.

    Rule number 8: Always lie about your age.

    Others were hard won and hard learned. The sort of thing that would have broken a different child, or the heart of anyone left who had one, as long as they remembered a world before the Outbreak.

    Rule number 7: Never be the first one to drop your weapon.

    Rule number 5: Unless you know where your next meal if coming from, plan on going to bed hungry. In other words, if you have food, save it.

    Rule number 3: In most cases, you can choose between survival, or happiness. You can't live on happiness.

    So, really, this whole thing was her fault. She'd been with the Eclipse too long. She'd gotten comfortable, maybe even cocky. She was, after all, good at her job. Very good. She made certain to keep her head low. She'd seen the sort of trafficking that started up when a gang got wind of a good deal, whether that deal was a weapon, a cache of drugs, or just a twelve-year-old girl.

    But she should known she couldn't hide forever. That was rule number four. And rule number eight was to keep your guard up, avoid staying too long in one place. By the time she was creeping back toward the stairs with Georgie, the sun was turning that tangerine-red that meant it was getting late. She'd never cared much about curfew, but even Lucy knew it was best for a girl her age to be locked down before the lights went out in a safe zone. "Safe" zone.

    Maybe it was the sun that made her hurry. Or maybe it was just the fact that Georgie had been distracting her, and she hadn't gotten as good a run as she normally did. Maybe she was nervous about turning over her haul to the Eclipse sniffers. Or maybe she was more intuitive than she thought.

    Either way, she could feel herself getting jumpy, anxious, as she picked her way carefully around the sink hole in the center of the penthouse floor, Georgie still picking his way along behind her, still trying to make her see it his way. Which she wouldn't. Not joining the Trojans was rule number ten.

    "...and they've heard of you, Lucy. I'm telling you, you get in with them, there'll be no more waiting in lines for food only to get there and see they've run out. No more finding a new place to sleep every third night because some hobo chases you off -- "

    "That happened once," Lucy snapped, feeling her knapsack bounce against her back. Too light. An old wallet, a couple batteries, and a switch blade. Hardly enough to get enough food stamps for the week.

    "Twice," Georgie amended. "Two more times than you'll ever have to -- "

    "Look, George, I'm out, okay? I gotta good thing with the Eclipse, and you know how they are when people ditch."

    "The Trojans would keep you safe -- "

    "I'd rather keep myself safe, thanks."

    "But -- "

    Lucy turned on him, blue eyes flashing. She was tired -- she'd spent the night squatting in an old apartment shared by a young couple mourning the loss of their toddler with drugs and loud sex -- and hungry -- it'd been three days since she'd had anything more than half a sawdust cracker and a few sips of water -- and more than a little annoyed by Georgie's apparent betrayal. Which, again, was her fault. Betrayal implied trust.

    "Look, George," she snapped finally, turning to face him -- and freezing. Georgie was holding a Tranq. One of the weapons made and used exclusively by the Trojans. Heavily modified pistols hacked to shoot Stun Ejectors -- more modified ballistics that combined tranquilizer darts with all the punch of a stun gun. They jumped, then slowed your heart rate to incapacitate you, then knock you out. The tranquilizer kept you out for hours or days depending on how much the shooter needed you alive.

    And Georgie really, really needed Lucy.

    To his credit, he looked kind of sorry.

    "Georgie..." Lucy said, somewhere between disappointment and a warning. She hooked her thumbs through the loops of her backpack and began stepping backwards carefully. She had her bb gun, strapped to her backpack as per usual. But she couldn't reach it before Georgie pulled the trigger. Stupid. She always kept it ready. Always. Unless...unless...

    Rule number one: Don't trust anyone. Ever.

    "I'm sorry, Luce," he said sadly, advancing toward her. He held the gun out straight, unshaking. His absence over the last few weeks was suddenly explained. He'd been training with the Trojans.

    "You just don't know what you're worth. Don't make me use this, Lucy. I don't want to shoot you."

    "Then don't," Lucy barked, and her voice betrayed none of her fear. That was rule number two: Never let them know you're afraid.

    Georgie shook his head slowly, still advancing toward her. "That's what you don't get, Lucy. If I don't, someone else will. The Trojan...they don't make mistakes."

    Lucy stared at Georgie a while longer, her expression inscrutable, haunting on the face of someone so young. Then, imperceptibly, her stance change, her face tightened.

    "They made one," she said quietly, and bolted for the stairs.

    Georgie leapt after her predictably. But Georgie had joined up with the Trojans because he was too big to mouse anymore. And this penthouse was old. She watched his booted feet come down precisely where she'd guessed they would, finding a moment's purchase there before sinking through the rotted wood.

    Georgie was gone with little more than a surprised gasp, and Lucy stood there, frozen, her heart pounding.

    "Go," she whispered coldly too herself, staring at the place Georgie had fallen through the floor as the dust settled. Her hands held a white-knuckle grip on the straps of her backpack. "Leave him. Run! He was going to turn you in. Run, Lucy. Go!"

    "Lucy! Help!"

    And then Lucy was running, not away, but toward Georgie, breaking her own first rule again. She figured this time, at least, she got what she deserved.
  6. The ruins of the old building were not the same type of ruins people used to visit during the old days. They were not cleaned regularly, and no one would ever pay money to visit them if they were sane. No, these ruins were just dirty and looked like lumps of ruck thrown together. There was probably a busy town here at one point, but when people begin panicking there are few things that don't fall. Not even the government could say that it had remained upright during so much devastation.

    The armed man had not turned back at all to look at Harrison. He simply led him through the bland and crippled area of nothingness without a word. That was okay with Harrison. He was not very fond of small talk with strangers, or anyone for that matter. Silence, while cold and dull, was still calm and predictable. It was easier to think with silence surrounding him than noise of any sort.

    Finally they stopped before a small building that appeared as old an uninhabited as any other place they had just walked through. It was probably once a small shop of some sort. The Eclipse recruit was looking at Harrison now, tilting his head towards the opening that used to be a door.

    As Harrison stepped through, the man followed in behind him. Surely they wouldn't be going very far inside, for how could they expect him to know exactly where to go once he was standing up against the back wall.

    To his surprise though, there was another opening in the back wall. It was another used-to-be door, and inside was a staircase that led down into what was probably a cellar of some sort. "Of course," he thought. Some underground militias actually took the word "underground" literally when it came to their hideouts.

    The stairs were lit with a torches that were separated by about ten steps from each other. Behind him, Harrison could hear the footsteps of his silent escort echoing faintly against the thin walls.

    The stairs went farther down then he had expected, but they finally reached the bottom, finding a dimly lit room with nothing in side but a small table. However, there were four dark tunnels that extended from it, none of them lit by anything except the dim light from this room. These were clearly made well after the outbreak, as a shop keeper would have had little use for so many tunnels. Even if he had been a drug cartel, one or two would have sufficed.

    "Which tunnel?" he asked, turning to the man behind him.

    But he did not answer his question. Instead he walked past him, turning briefly to say, "Wait here," before disappearing into the tunnel that was at the far left.

    Harrison was not quite sure what to do at this point other than simply stand there. There was nothing to look at besides the empty walls and the poorly made wooden table. All he had now were his own thoughts to entertain him.

    As he stood there, he thought about exploring one of the other tunnels. But perhaps this escort of his would be returning with someone more important, someone he could talk to about the matter at hand. And it would not be great for him if he were caught snooping around the hideout of an underground militia he was trying to do business with.

    His job hinged on making this work. He was already on thin ice after failing to locate the Wolverine center of operation even when he was sure his source of knowledge was both accurate and reliable. Both assumptions were mistakes, and nearly a hundred state soldiers had lost their lives in an gassing, a big blow to an already thin unit of armed forces.

    Harrison was lucky to not have lost his job after that. Of course sending him out to make a deal with an illegal group like Eclipse was almost like a death sentence in itself. But he was not about to let that do him in. He was smart enough to have survived this long, which meant that making a few negotiations should be no trouble at all.

    Finally, footsteps echoed from the same tunnel that his escort had disappeared in. He quickly estimated about five based on the sounds alone. Though when they appeared in the room, he noted that he was off by one. Six men entered, all wearing the same mask as the first man and carrying the same rifles. All except one. The only unarmed man stood slightly in front of the rest, only about six feet away from Harrison. He was actually fairly short compared to most men, but his posture revealed a pride that insisted he was used to being respected.

    There was a long moment of silence until finally the forward-most man raised his right fist. Two of the men immediately brought the table towards middle of the room, setting it directly in front of their leader. The lead man then removed his mask. His skin was a light brown color, and his eyes were a deep dark brown, almost black in this poor light. He was bald and had multiple scars all over his face.

    "Let's begin then. It's not every day we get to negotiate with the government," he stated in a calm, deep voice. Harrison nodded in agreement and approached the opposite end of the table. This was either going to go extremely well, or horribly wrong.
  7. If Lucy had known she was being bought and sold again, traded like an animal of some inexplicable value, she might never have gone after Georgie. But she'd already broken her first rule, and after that, the others went tumbling down like dominos in a line. Don't trust Georgie. Don't show him you're afraid. Don't put yourself first. Don't turn your back, don't go back for a lost cause, don't let that lost cause hand you over to the single most dangerous guerrilla group in the country.

    That was the only reason Georgie was there at all. He didn't know it, and Lucy wouldn't find out until much later, but Georgie was nothing but a pawn. True enough, he'd been a decent runner as a kid, and he wasn't half bad with a Tranq, either. But the Trojan's needed better odds than half, for whatever veiled goal they worked toward with ruthless pragmatism. It was Lucy they wanted, and even she wouldn't know why until it was almost too late.

    But the Trojan's reach was impressive. They'd heard three weeks ago the rickety government that remained wanted the girl just as badly as they did, if not more, which, in truth, just put that much higher a price tag on her head. Suddenly, it was less about tracking the girl and more about absorbing her into their number. If they could do that and keep her alive, it was a perk. Otherwise...


    "Just wait!" Lucy snapped, equal parts angry and afraid. She should have left. She should have run. Or else, she never should have let Georgie come up here with her. He was too heavy for the rotted trellis under the floor to support his weight. Hell, even Lucy wouldn't have come up if she hadn't been half starving. Her jobs with Eclipse had become more and more scarce over the last couple weeks, for whatever reason. It was why she'd wanted to come up today. She needed to impress them, needed to remind them they needed her.

    And now this.

    Something splintered and cracked and the entire floor moved. Georgie yelped. "Lucy!"

    "I'm coming," she muttered, then cursed under her breath, dropping to her hands and knees. She'd wanted to find something to secure herself, or at least to lower down to Georgie. She wouldn't be able to pull him up, he was almost twice her weight. But he could climb up, and she'd never have to go near the edge of that hole in the middle of the floor. But she was out of time now. And she was small for her age. This could work. If she was careful. This was what she did for an almost-living. She could save Georgie, and then beat the hell out of him for joining the Trojans.


    "I'm coming..." she said again, though mostly to herself. She had a penlight clutched between her teeth, and was now almost regretting the decision not to leave her backpack behind. But she knew better than that. Rule number nine: Always be prepared.

    She edged forward as quickly as she could, pancaking to elbow and thighs as she neared the edge of the hole. Glass and splinters of wood cut into her arms and knees. The dust made her throat itch. She was counting the ways in which she'd berate Georgie once she got him out of this.

    Suddenly, the floor shuddered again and a high groaning came from the hole, like a thick plank of wood about to give. Georgie wailed. "Lu -- "


    She leapt forward and wrapped her hands around one wrist just as Georgie's grip gave. It was a miracle he didn't pull her over with him, but she could already feel her grip slipping.

    "Geo," she grunted, eyes squeezed shut. "You....you have to climb up, I can't hold you -- "

    "I'm trying."

    "Try harder! You're slipping! I'm slipping!" It was true. Georgie's weight was slowly drawing her over the edge.

    "Can you swing me?"


    "I just need to reach a little higher, Luce. C'mon!"

    "W-where's the gun?" Her shoulders were screaming. Her body ached from the effort of fighting against gravity. Her palms felt slippery. But Georgie had pulled a Tranq on her.

    And now it was his turn to be incredulous. "What? You're worried about the Tranq? Lucy if we don't move, we're going to die!"

    "And if we do, you might shoot me! Where's the Tranq!"

    There was a split second's hesitation, then she felt Georgie twitch in her grasp, and something landed beside her head. She would have kicked it away if she could, but for now, she was happy enough with Georgie's metaphorical leaving of the Trojans. Now all she had to do was save his stupid life.

    "Swing...swing yourself," she grunted, bracing herself against the pain. If he dislocated her shoulders, she was going to kill him. Fortunately, he had a better grip on her than she did on him, or he'd be dead already.

    He complied. Lucy weighted, hardly even aware of what was happening. Her world had shrunk to a dull haze of pain and breathlessness and the mantra 'don't let go'.

    When she heard Goergie land a hand on a rope of carpet by her ear, she was almost surprised.

    When she heard the gunshot, she was.

    She opened her eyes. "Georgie?"

    Georgie didn't respond. His eyes had gone vacant. His mouth hung open. The rest of his body was rigid, twitching like...

    Like he'd been hit with a Tranq.

    She heard the footsteps behind her half a moment later and swore again as she tried to tighten her grip on Georgie's wrist. "No! Georgie, wake up! C'mon, you gotta wake up or you're gonna fall!"

    A pair of slender arms wrapped around her waist a second later. She didn't even have time to blink before she was being yanked backwards. Her strength was no match for Georgie's conscious weight.

    Lucy never screamed. She'd learned not to a long time ago.

    Still, it would have been nice days like this. Maybe it would have drowned out the sound of Georgie's body crashing through another three stories before stopping somewhere far below them.

    As it were, she could only stare dumbly at the hole while the other members of the Eclipse bound her for transport.

    "Sorry, kid," said a somewhat familiar voice. "Been a good run. But you're worth a hell of a lot more to someone else than you are to us, and the Eclipse don't tangle with the Trojan. C'mon, we got someone for you to meet."
  8. "You must be Captain Davidson." He really didn't need to say it, but confirming to himself that this was indeed the man he was talking to eased his discomfort a little. He would hate to be speaking to the wrong person. His instructions were clearly given. He was to negotiate with the leader of Eclipse and no other member.

    Captain Davidson placed a cigarette in his mouth and took a moment to light it before acknowledging Harrison's statement. "Yes, that would be my formal name for your lot. Most just call me Polaris. I am sure you can guess why. Now enough with the introductions. I know who you are, and you know who I am. So let's cut to the chase and talk about what we both came here for."

    Around them the other Eclipse members that were present stood stock still, holding their rifles angled towards the ground but keeping their attention firmly on Harrison in case he tried to make a single suspicious move. He did not blame them for mistrusting him given the terrible relationship the government had with Eclipse and every other group like them. Even so, he had expected them to be a little more relaxed in knowing that the discussion they were about to have would likely make Eclipse the most fearsome of all the militias, even more than the Trojans.

    Harrison placed his hands flat on the table, though still somewhat relaxed. "Very well then. Let's get to it. First thing's first, we want the girl."

    "We already know you want the girl," Polaris interrupted. "You can have her as long as you provide us with the items we require."

    Harrison withdrew a small piece of paper from his pocket. It had a bunch of numbers scribbled on it and a few words of agreement from his side of the bargain. Hopefully they would accept the terms without any fuss.

    "Here you will find a numerical list of the supplies the state is willing to offer should you accept. We will also provide you with state troops when you are in need of military support, except in the case of attacking any government sanctioned areas." He took a moment to pause and think about the heftiness of that price. The state was really throwing out a lot at them for this. "In exchange, we require Eclipse to be a source of information and executive force in areas not sanctioned by the government. That includes everything outside of safe zones, quarantine zones, and radiation plants. And of course, you must hand over the girl."

    Polarise crossed his arms with intrigue, his frown deepening and revealing a series of wrinkles on his forehead. "So you are telling me that you want me to send my men out as a police force into areas in which they might die from getting sick? That seems a little pointless in terms of the rest of the deal."

    Harrison frowned in return. "Look at that list again. You will see that we are providing you with special suits and equipment that will allow you to sustain normal health for limited time while in these areas. Your men will be fine as long as they do not remain in red areas beyond that limit."

    At first he was afraid that Polaris would continue his skepticism. However, it was difficult to turn down receiving this much assistance from the government, especially for a group that was technically considered illegal by all federal laws.

    Finally, Polaris leaned to his right and whispered to one of his men. "Have they brought her in yet?" The man nodded and disappeared into the tunnel second from the left.

    The captain then returned his attention to Harrison. "You understand that if the government violates any part of this agreement and it ends up costing us lives, we will not hesitate to bring the fight to you all once again." The look of determination in his eyes betrayed no sign of fear.

    Harrison nodded slowly, though he kept his front strong. "Of course, just as you understand the same with us. We would hate to have bad blood with Eclipse again." He left the slightest tone of sarcasm in the last sentence simply to display some confidence on his part. It would not due to have Eclipse believe its power was greater than the federal power.

    Polaris said nothing as he simply returned the nod, turning his head to see three men dragging in a young girl. Her hands were tied at the wrists, a gag was in her mouth, and a blindfold covered her eyes. And she was struggling mightily. Harrison wondered how long they had kept her like this, and for a moment he almost pitied her. He then realized he would probably pity her far more when she finally experienced a federal training ground.

    He approached them from the around the table, examining her closely from head to toe. Finally, when he reached them, he removed the blindfold covering her eyes and half-smiled at her, raising his eyebrows with interest. "You're a lot smaller than I expected," he stated with a hint of mocking in his tone.
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  9. Lucy had 'cooperated' for an entire ten minutes before the minor Eclipse muscle had to zip-tie her wrists behind back. Of course, 'cooperated' was the relative term; 'been shocked into silence' was more apt. Like all children born after the Outbreak -- or at least the orphaned ones -- Lucy was smart. She had to be. She could reason and plan and think on her feet. But none of what had just happened had made any sense.

    Georgie had joined the Trojans. Georgie had joined the Trojans and betrayed her. Georgie had joined the Trojans and betrayed her and pulled a Tranq on her to bring her in, and now he was dead. But why? The Eclipse were harsh, but they weren't killers. And Georgie wasn't a traitor. And Lucy wasn't worth a killing match between two militia groups. Right?

    But Georgie was dead. The Trojans were out a man. And the Eclipse had crawled into a dangerous abandoned building to find her, and now she was blindfolded and they were taking her somewhere cold and far away, and Georgie was dead.

    That was all she could think. Over and over again, the sound of the Tranq humming in her ears. Georgie's eerily blank stare as he'd teetered on that ledge between life and death. The memory of his body plummeting through three floors to land somewhere. If anyone found him, it would be the Infected. And it wouldn't be for a long, long time.

    It was mostly okay. Lucy didn't have friends. Those were a luxury ill-afforded, even in the safe zones. But still. Georgie.

    She shuddered and fought the urge to puke, because then they'd know they'd hurt her. One of the voices behind her, vaguely familiar asked if she was cold. Maybe mocking, maybe not. It was then she remembered where she was, who she was with. And Georgie was dead.

    She'd stopped walking abruptly, and a body hit her, swearing. She would have toppled forward, down more of the endless stairs they'd been leading her down for almost fifteen minutes, but an arm wrapped around her waist, and a voice growled, "Keeping walking, kid," and Lucy leaned back and forced the heal of her kid-sized boot into the top of his foot. He'd sworn and bucked away, and she'd started running, not even caring that she was blind.

    They'd caught up with her, panting and laughing and swearing, just two minutes later while she lay dazed and sore at the bottom of a flight of stairs she hadn't seen. Someone had hauled her to her feet, and her head had still been spinning too much for her to put up much of a fight. Someone else had bound her hands behind her back while whistling in quiet admiration.

    "Well, shit, you're a little bullet, aintcha, kid? Guess you gotta be for the feds to want you bad enough to come out here."

    "Shut up, Nix," growled another voice. "She's not supposed to know."

    "Why the hell not?" laughed the man, who would have sounded good-natured, if he wasn't tying Lucy's wrists together. "She ain't ours no more. What's she gonna do, run and trip again?"

    "You killed Georgie," Lucy spat venomously. She couldn't even see where her captors was, but awareness was swimming back to her. "You killed him!"

    "Damn fucking straight," snarled a third voice, and she recognized this one as the voice of the man she'd tried to hit. "And you try that shit again, we'll end you, too, you little bitch."

    Lucy lunged toward the voice automatically, spurring more boisterous laughter from the one called Nix.

    "Look at her!" he said, delighted with Lucy's 'antics'. "Kid's got spunk, I like that. 'Nd here I thought I hated kids! You best watch out, Gabe, or she'll give you somethin' worse than an ugly limp. And you gotta be the one to tell Boss Man this eighty pound thing near broke your foot."

    'Gabe' grunted, but backed off, and Lucy felt herself relax. A little.

    "I'm fine," said Gabe. "C'mon, we're already running late thanks to that little stunt she pulled."

    "I'll do it again," Lucy warned, though she was strained against her bounds now. She'd have worse luck if she tried to run this time. No balance and no sight? No, she'd have to wait for another break. "Where's my stuff?"

    "Got it right here, sweetheart. We're just gonna comb it through, make sure you ain't got no Eclipse property here, alright?" There was a pause, then another appreciate whistle. "What's a tiny thing like you doin' with a gun this big?"

    "That's mine!" hissed Lucy, straining forward uselessly again. She didn't get far. Her shoulders already ached from her futile effort to rescue Georgie. Georgie. First him, now Harry.

    "Sure it is, honey," said Nix in a would-be soothing tone. "Don't worry, we won't touch it until Boss says otherwise."

    They went another thirty minutes in near silence, save for Lucy's grunts and threats and swears, her fighting the whole way, before Gabe "got a headache" and opted to gag her, too. She bit his hand when he got to close, and Nix laughed uproariously. She thought she might have almost liked him in any other situation.

    She'd almost exhausted her reserves of energy by the time they reached the strange echoey cavern. She could hear water dripping and low voices, but it wasn't until her blindfold came off that she could see the room.

    She didn't immediately recognize it...but that might have just been because most of her view was obscured by an unfamiliar face. Which proceeded to mock her immediately.

    Lucy scowled and lunged at the man, unthinking. She didn't care who he was, or where she was. She wanted her gun. She wanted to get out of here. And then she wanted to find Georgie. Her work for the Eclipse was done and over, starting now.

    But Nix yanked her back with another bout of laughter.

    "You'd be surprised," he told the feds man in front of him. "Hell, she near maimed Gabe on the way down here, didn't she, Gabe?"

    From a farther corner of the dark room, Gabe swore. "Fuck you, Nix." Then, turning away, "We got the girl. Can we get rid of her now?"
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  10. Polaris did not seem at all phased by her aggressiveness. It was difficult to tell if he was pleased to see her leaving them or if he was regretting the decision. Harrison guessed that he was likely apathetic towards her situation. To him she was just a minor recruit that had worked a few jobs for them but nothing big outside of smuggling. That would change, however, in just a matter of years. Soon she would be among the most elite fighters in the world... so long as the training did not break her.

    But her aggressiveness was somewhat disturbing. She would not likely get along well with other students in the academy, especially if she jumped so easily at something as simple as calling her small. Of course they had ways of putting her in her place, but he was not going to mention that to her anytime soon. He did not even want to think about those methods himself.

    He size itself was a different concern altogether. Sure, she was being recruited because of the excellent speed and quickness she possessed, and much of that was certainly attributed to her minute figure. But should she for some reason be incapable of escaping danger, it is unlikely she would put up a worthy fight. She would have to build a lot more muscle, but that would also be taken care of at the academy. The key was making sure she did not lose her unique agility. How that would be managed was beyond him, but then again that was not really his concern. All he had to worry about was making sure she was brought to Houston unharmed.

    Harrison stepped back slightly, mostly to ensure a safer distance from the belligerent young child. He turned to Polaris, though the captain did not return the look. He was still focused on the girl, and Harrison realized that he was actually unhappy to have to send her off. He understood the skills she possessed and knew they would be valuable to Eclipse. But with such an offer from the government, he would have looked foolish in turning it down. But it was the better option for him anyway. The time it would take to develop into a full recruit was not worth the same price as receiving the type of aid they would soon have.

    He then looked at the men who brought her in. "Can you explain why she is bound and gagged right now? Was it really necessary for three grown men to carry in a child like this?"

    Nix shot him a dark look. "You clearly don't know how crafty this one can be. If she weren't bound and forced like this she would have run away at every opportunity she got. Even with the blindfold on she tried to escape. Of course that got her nowhere fast, but she is not easy to hold down for long."

    That would make things more difficult for him, unfortunately. She was not going to come quietly with him by any means. If only he had a few men of his own with him to ensure she did not escape. But of course he was forced into this mission alone as a punishment for his prior failures. And he was determined to prove his reliability.

    The only useful method he had now was to calm her down to the point in which she would come willingly. Once they reached the transport at the edge of the safe zone it would be a piece of cake. But that was miles away, and he was not going to carry her that far. If he made her believe he was a friend, perhaps she would be more accepting. But some ideas were easier said than done.

    He put on his fake smile again and returned his attention to the youngling in front of him. "Do not be alarmed, child. I am here to give you a life better than what you currently have. What is your name?"

    Nix removed the gag from her mouth, and Harrison edged forward a little closer.
  11. It had taken her all of fifteen seconds to realize something big was going down here. She didn't recognize many of the Eclipse men around her, nor did she recognize the room they were in. They'd blindfolded her coming down, which meant it was at least a little secret, and they'd send three adult men after her, which meant they couldn't risk her getting away.

    And they'd killed a Trojan for her, which meant she either had something that was very, very, very valuable...or she was that something.

    What was it Nix had said in the tunnels? Something about the feds finding their way into deep Eclipse territory? Why? For what? For her? A twelve-year-old girl whose entire life fit into a canvas bad?

    Not possible.

    But she knew how the adult world worked. The darker it was, the more unstable things became. All she had to do was find the right link, the domino at the head of the chain, and everything around her would fold, and she would disappear. She was good at that.

    So, she stood and listened. And when Nix finally pulled the blindfold from her eyes, she watched. She counted sixteen total in her first sweep, including herself and the three men who'd escorted her in. Beyond that, there was one man waiting at the entrance she'd apparently come through, and another across the small room, this one with a rifle pointed at the floor. Eight men stood in various positions about the room, in front of windows and what would be called 'choke points' if Lucy had gone any farther in her Eclipse training. These men also held guns, real ones, pointed at the ground. None of them looked at her or even acknowledged she was there.

    There were two other men in the room. She couldn't tell if they were armed, and she was smart enough to know that meant something important. Armed men were dangerous because they were armed. Unarmed men were dangerous because they didn't need to be.

    The first stood behind a large, unnecessarily ornate table that probably weighed about three times as much as Lucy did. He watched her with cold, impassive eyes, and when she glared, he didn't flinch or look away or change his expression in any way at all that said he wasn't just staring right through her.

    The second was crouched before her, the man who'd called her little, she man she'd tried to hurt for no real reason other than the fact that she was tired and hungry and scared, and Georgie was dead, and she didn't know where Harry was.

    She watched his man closely, intimately aware that he didn't have the Eclipse insignia branded into the web of flesh between his left forefinger and thumb. That didn't mean anything on its own -- neither did she -- but then she wasn't an official recruit, and she'd never seen this man before. If he wasn't marked, he was either a low level grunt she'd have at least seen before, or he was from the outside.

    The feds?

    Lucy scowled and continued to rake her eyes over the stranger as he talked to the man behind the table. More about her. Why was she bound and gagged? Lucy felt her eyes narrow. Why the hell did he care whether she was bound or not? Was he trying to earn her sympathy? She might have been small, but she wouldn't be won over so easily.

    The man gave her a chance to demonstrate this a moment later as he knelt before. She took a step back as he moved closer, though her hands were still bound behind her back, and she had even less of a chance of running here than she had before. She kept her eyes on the man in front of her though, reading everything in him as best he could. His tone, his sincerity. His own agility.

    "You don't know anything about my life," she said evenly. "And I'm not going with you."

    Then, turning to Nix. "I want my gun, and then I want out," she demanded, trying to sound as undaunted as she could. No good would come from fighting back here. She'd have to try and win with logic. These men were from higher up in the Eclipse, and while she didn't think they would shoot her -- something about her was too valuable for that -- she was sure she could buy her freedom if she was careful.

    "I did the work you wanted. In the outer case of my backpack, it's everything I found today. I was never contracted, so I can go when I want. I want to go now. Give me my stuff. Give me my gun, and let me go. Or...or I'll tell the Trojans you killed one of theirs."
  12. There was no questioning why Eclipse had been so interested in this girl. She certainly had a confidence that was unparalleled by most children of her age, and she knew what she wanted. But she was not the best at negotiating, and Harrison could see in her eyes that she did not want to have anything to do with the Trojans at all.

    Polaris seemed to notice as well. He spoke up at her threat, though he did not seem as amused as everyone else. "Careful, girl. You're a bit young to be gambling, and I know a bluff when I see one. You fear the Trojans because you're not a stupid jackass. Now listen to what the damn fed has to say. It's rare to be given an opportunity like this. I wouldn't fuck it up before you even have a chance to learn what it is." Everyone's faces went serious upon hearing their captain speak. He was making it abundantly clear that he was not in the mood to hear her complain, and he wanted this deal to be brokered as soon as possible.

    Harrison took this as his cue to try again. Nix forced her to face him again, though she still looked at him with contempt and mistrust. There was no surprise there, but then he didn't necessarily need her trust to make this work.

    "Forgive me for intruding," he began again, speaking as calmly and genuinely as he could, "but we know more about you than you think. The members of Eclipse took great notice of your skills, and they have told me much about you. And we know how much you have struggled to live in these conditions. But we can change that. The government can change that. We can make you stronger, we can give you proper food, and we can give you a place to live."

    He let that hang in the air for a moment so she could digest it. Surely she was more than ready to be able to eat proper meals every day after living off the land for so long. "Every year, the government recruits talented kids like yourself to train as specialized forces. You already have the quickness and the aggressiveness. We can make you even better. Not only would you be living a better life, but you would be respected as well. No more being kicked out of restricted areas, no more people looking down on you, and no one would dare try to hurt you."

    Perhaps she would take his words to heart, or perhaps she would not. But she was going to leave with him from this sorry excuse for a base one way or another. He had a job to do, and he intended to see it through before the day was done. If he could not complete this deal, there was no point in going to Houston. Hell, there was no point of him even returning to his job.

    Before she could say anything, Gabe muttered from the corner of the room, still looking rather displeased. "Just piss off and go, kid. You're not needed here anymore. Only the feds would be interested in a little braggart like you."

    Polaris shot him a look that would have caused a weaker man to faint. But he said nothing and returned his gaze to the child in question. "You don't have a say in this. Now take your items and go. We all have lives to get on with."
  13. Even if she hadn't known who he was by his tone, by his speech, everyone else's reactions would have cleared up the mysterious man's identity right away. Lucy was a lot of things, and a lot of those things were stupid and deadly. But she was intuitive, too, and she knew right then she was in bigger trouble than she could ever have guessed.

    She wished now more than ever that she had Harry in her hands.

    But she did everything in her power to keep that sudden streak of fear and desperation off her face as she turned slowly to regard the man called Polaris. She wanted, needed to bite back, to show him she wasn't afraid, that she knew she was being bartered, and if anyone at all was going to benefit from this trade, it sure as hell wouldn't be her. The Eclipse were nothing if not pragmatic, notorious, and while they were nowhere near as cruelly ruthless as the Trojans, they weren't known for playing nice, either. They'd trade her to a traveling band of murderous rapists in a heartbeat if they thought it would be good for them. And these weren't rapists. These were the fucking feds.

    So, yeah. She was screwed.

    It was the only reason she reluctantly agreed to silence, sacrificing her right to save face. Because she needed to find a way out of this deal fast, and it wouldn't be here. If she ran, they wouldn't kill her. They'd punish her. Abuse, torture, starvation. Whatever it took. And then she'd end up going with the fed, anyway. No, her chances were better off on the road with him. If she could ditch somewhere between here and the next federal outpost, she might be okay. She'd have to go into hiding, sure. Maybe resurface at one of the smaller safe zones, somewhere in the frozen midwest. It would be shit out there, probably worse than here. But it was better that than try to avoid the Eclipse after having shorted them on a deal.

    Nix made her face the fed again and she scowled up at him, indifferent. Now was the time to play nice. She might not have another chance to escape until they got out of here, so if she could trick him into thinking she was on his side, then so be it.

    Still, there was a difference between friendliness and cooperation. And Lucy wasn't very good at either.

    She listened quietly as he explained this 'opportunity', pitching it like he was sending her to space camp for the summer, whatever that was. She wasn't stupid. The only people more merciless than the Eclipse and the Trojans were the feds. They had that whole 'for the greater good' mentality that went hand in hand with triage and creating five-year-old soldiers to win a war against a species that thrived on death and decay. She'd always thought that last piece was a threat, a story told to get new militia recruits to stay in line.

    Apparently not.

    She wasn't stupid. She knew she was staring into the mouth of a dragon.

    But he mentioned food. And her stomach betrayed her at the worst possible moment. Lucy went bright red as her belly growled about its three-day fast loud enough to send both Gabe and Nix into vindictive chuckles. But her gaze at the fed only hardened becoming singular. He had her now. They both knew it. And hell if he thought she was going to make it easy on him.

    "Whatever," she said finally, bitterly recognizing her own defeat. She was hungry. And situations here were shit, and growing shittier by the day. If she didn't stay with the Eclipse -- and after this, how could she? -- she'd either be hunted down by the Trojans or be forced to join the City Regulation Board as a foot soldier, training in the morning, maybe sleeping in the evening, being threatened and berated in between. Whatever the Fed was, he was right. He may have been buttering up the military position only to cover up how bad it would really be. But the idea of safety, or respect, of being able to defend herself with more than a bb gun and a sharp tongue...of being able to eat real food, the stuff the government only gave recruits?

    Well. Right now, at least, it was better than being left behind under the mercy of the Eclipse.

    "Give me my gun and my shit, and I walk."

    Nix chuckled and patted her head condescendingly. "Good choice, kid." She resisted the urge to kick him between the legs. But when Gabe spoke, she turned sharply to him momentarily tearing herself from Nix's grasp.

    "Jealous they don't have any use for a guy who let a little girl take him down?" she snarled. And Gabe lurched up off the wall and started toward her before Nix grabbed her again and Polaris put a permanent end to their discussion.

    Nix untied her hands, shoved her backpack and Harry -- thank God -- into her hands.

    "She's all yours."

    And Lucy thought, The hell I am.
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  14. The food card was almost always the final ticket in ensuring that the potential recruit would not refuse. It was cruel to have to seemingly taunt these children with something that was so scarce nowadays, but it was necessary if they were going to be useful to their cause. Although Harrison knew deep down, despite his loyalty to the government, that this cause was not for the greater good, regardless of how much it was preached. It was really just a show put on so the few rich bourgeoisie could have some form of order and protection. Then again that was not very different from the times before the plague hit. Harrison often wondered why he agreed to work for them, but would soon remember there were few options beyond that, none of them very appealing.

    The look on the girl's face combined with the audible groan from her stomach gave away her position. She was hungry, just like every other child in this forsaken world. No one with even the smallest wits about them would refuse an offer to be well fed. And he had the added bonus of knowing that she was a feisty one, meaning that combat training as a payment for her rations would not be something she would oppose.

    And she was clearly not afraid to let everyone know exactly what she wanted and what was on her mind. Harrison did not find it as amusing as Nix, however. She was likely going to meet the nasty ends of a lot of disciplinary action if she continued to talk like this. One thing the government would not tolerate was a troublemaker among the ranks. Her words against Gabe did little to ease his weariness. If she was going to act like this throughout their journey there would be more than a few headaches for him.

    Thankfully Polaris ended any possible violent confrontations by slamming his fist on the table, sending a resounding thud that echoed around the fairly empty room. "Give her the fucking bag and get them out of here. This has already taken longer than it should have." He spoke firmly, his voice unwavering and stern. He obviously disliked having a fed present in his bunker.

    Harrison nodded with a smile and extended a hand to the captain. "Pleasure doing business with you. I'm sure this will benefit both of our parties before long."

    Polaris shook the offered hand hastily before motioning for one of his men to lead them out. "Darnell, get them out. Once they're above ground again they're on their own."

    The same man that led Harrison down on the way in stepped forward and indicated for the two of them to follow. Harrison turned to the young girl behind him and put on a smile again. "It's time to leave, Lucy. I trust you have everything you need?"

    He didn't really wait for an answer as he turned to follow Darnell out of the room. The scruffy man led them back out through the same passage that they had entered through, and Harrison was more than ready to be out of there. He disliked negotiating with militants like this, especially without any backup.
  15. Lucy only hid the impulse to jump when the man -- Polaris, she recalled gravely -- slammed a meaty fist down on his table on through years of practice. She'd made her meager living sneaking. Starting at every little sound was the quickest way she knew to get killed, even if it just meant starving to death.

    Still. she hadn't realized until then how on edge she'd been, riding and adrenaline high from the time Georgie had first fallen through the floor, for all the good it had done her. Now she was coming down off the buzz, she was sore and tired and hungry and...scared. Yeah. Scared. As much as she hated to admit it. Admitting fear, at least for Lucy, was no better than a death sentence these days. But then so was being recruited by the government.

    Most of the world had fallen away to martial law -- or worse -- well before Lucy was born. She'd grown up watching the people who had (allegedly) once routinely given their lives for service and protection rip into civilians on the streets, leaving blood and bullets behind where people, actual people, not even the Infected had once stood. Not that she didn't understand. There were days when people, civilians, militia, gangs and all, got so bad she wanted to leave them all behind. It hadn't been the former Coast Guard who'd dropped a fifteen year old boy three stories to his death.

    But the difference between the remaining fragmented branches of government and the gangs that ran everything else behind the scenes -- the Trojans, the Eclipse, the Black Dogs, local and national groups -- was the PR they received. The Trojans were notoriously ruthless. They claimed to be fighting the Infected, but more often than not, their attacks seemed leveled more directly at the government. They'd just blown up an old food ration station on the west side of the city not two weeks ago. The place had taken to turning down anyone under the age of sixteen, saying those kids ought to be in orphanages, boarding schools, or under the care of their parents and guardians, who'd be getting food for them, according to their legal, mandated jobs. Lucy had been pissed, too. It was part of the reason she was in this shit position now. But she hadn't blown anything up. Fifteen people had died in the explosion. Lucy had known some of them, including one half blind wino who'd just wandered in for a bowl of soup.

    So, yeah, the Trojans were rough. Getting on their bad side was right up there with signing away your life to them. But at least they owned up to it. The government had a 'responsibility' to 'protect' its 'people'. They blasted the same propaganda over the city-wide intercom every day. About curfew, food rations, every citizen carrying their ID (Lucy had ditched hers about a year ago, around the same time she dropped out of the orphanage classes where kids her age were already training to join as semi-deputized members of a more violent neighborhood watch. They told the same lies -- about the Infected being kept exclusively outside the safe zones, about how no one got Infected anymore unless they ventured into those prohibited parts of the city, how there was plenty of food for those who stuck to whatever scraps of the law remained -- Lucy was no anarchist, but she knew better than to believe the lies the government told.

    So, when a fed showed up out of the blue, playing nice and offering a olive branch, she knew better, too, than to buy a single word of what he was saying. Oh, she didn't doubt she was getting shipped to some underground training camp somewhere, assuming they could get out of the city. (He was a fed, it shouldn't be too hard to get past militia check points. But the gangs here didn't take too kind to any feds, especially the kind that apparently traveled alone. The Trojans would be wanting restitution. And her.) But she was too smart to think it would be the sunshine-and-lollipops bootcamp the man in front of her was pitching.

    The Trojans were ruthless, yeah. But the government? The government was just cruel.

    She kept all this from showing on her face as she accepted her bag and her gun and turned her back on the gang that had turned its back on her. The only way they could help her at this point would be to shoot her before she could get out the door.

    But as she followed the fed out of the room and into the beginning of a very new life, she realized that wasn't going to happen. Just her dumb luck.

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  16. She didn't look happy about her situation, but that was to be expected. In fact she was going to be even less happy on their trek to the outer circle of the zone, and he did not even bother to think about how unhappy the training facilities would make her. But what was that to him? He had a life that desperately needed repairing, and he was not going to let his past struggles get in the way of future success. He had nothing else to lose at this point besides his job, so there was certainly more room to move up than down.

    As Darnell led the pair up and out of the underground bunker, the musty smell of the ruins finally began to fade, though not by much. They would have to be at least a hundred feet away from this place to relieve themselves of the bland odor. Of course the surrounding areas did not smell much better. In fact the only place that smelled even remotely pleasant was the center of Houston where all of the high-end politicians lived now. It disgusted Harrison to know that all of three percent, if that much, of the entire country's population was enjoying the life of luxury while the rest scrambled for food and less than stellar living conditions. But if he did not work for them, he too would have to live in even more horrid conditions.

    Once they were finally above ground again, Darnell turned back and headed down into the bunker again, not bothering to give either of them an extended look before taking his leave. Harrison was glad to be away from the Eclipse for now. No doubt they would see a few other militias along the way to the border, but as long as there were no Trojans in their path everything would go fairly smoothly.

    Harrison walked, beginning what would likely be a three day trek to the zone border where the transport awaited them. Had he not been on such thin ice, he would have been given a transport to take him all the way to his destination. But alas, the government was cruel, even to its employees.

    As he walked, Harrison looked over to the girl walking next to him, smiling curiously. "You never told me your name." He knew exactly what her name was. Eclipse had been feeding information about her to to the feds ever since the incident that ended up costing three government recruiters their lived, though whether she knew of the results her actions had caused was unknown to him. He asked for her name as a route to make her feel a little more comfortable. It was clear she trusted him no more than she trusted Eclipse. And he would not do with her running off at the first chance she got. He had to keep her on a leash by making sure she believed there were no other options open.

    "You're awfully quiet, except when you're angry. Tell me, what do you like to do for fun?"
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  17. Lucy stalked along in silence, half her mind and awareness dedicated to scouting her surroundings, though that was more out of habit than necessity. That tendency, that second nature desire to see where she was, find her fasted route of escape, the nearest thing to a hostile object or person, all of it was natural as breathing, to everyone living in the world post-Outbreak. The older ones had learned it, but kids like Lucy had grown up doing it. Those who didn't know it immediately never got the chance to learn. It was one of a hundred things twelve-year-olds living in the early 21st century had never had to worry about, the sort of thing the older generation might have called sad, if they had any empathy left. As for Lucy, she didn't really know what she was missing. Would she have liked the promise of a bed each night? The peace of being able to sleep without a knife clutched in her hand? Even just the idea of three meals a day? Sure. But they were miracles. Improbably and impractical as the wish of sprouting wings or breathing under water. Lucy had more important things to do than waste her time on daydreams.

    She was pissed. She was confused, and hungry, and tired, and maybe even scared -- hell if she'd let onto that one, though. She had never put her trust in the Eclipse, but she still couldn't help but feel a little betrayed. Not surprised, though, or at least not by the fact they'd sold her up the river. She was probably their 'youngest' member, and hadn't even really been inducted, so loyalty accounted for nothing. In fact, loyalty didn't mean much to or for anyone, save perhaps the Trojans. And even then, it was more of a threat than a promise. For newer members, like Georgie, they'd be less likely to break into a government prison for you (you had to be pretty hot shit to get into a prison at all, instead of just being shot point blank), than, say, kill you for even an inkling of treason.

    Whatever. The point was it wasn't like Lucy had ever expected anything beyond base compensation for her work, and even that had been slipping lately. But being recruited by the government? The least surprising part of the whole situations was that Polaris had decided to work with the feds at all. How had they found her? What did they want with her? She didn't doubt there were a couple dozen skeezy underground training facilities left for the Federal Militia. But she'd have guessed they were safe zone-specific. She hadn't known any branches of the government stilled ruled over the states as a whole, let alone spying on kids like Lucy.

    These days, a kid over the age of five with one or both parents still alive was kind of a miracle. Hell, you hardly even saw kids that age anymore. No one wanted to get pregnant when showing a couple months meant hunters would single you out for an easy kill. Something like morning sickness could trip you up, even without the Infected sensing a two-for-one special. Besides, kids were expensive, and basically worthless until four or five years old. Most of the time, if people got pregnant, it was an accident (or worse), and you went through whatever measure you had to to rectify things quick. It was rare you saw any parent-and-child teams any more, but those were typically the law abiding families living in cramped duplexes at close to the center of major cities as they could afford. Parents worked shit jobs, usually as perimeter patrols, turning nurses, teachers, doctors, into killers for hire. Kids stayed home until they couldn't, making sure whatever meager fare families managed didn't vanish via kids like Lucy.

    For everyone else, there were the orphanages, which funneled kids old enough (eighteen first, then sixteen, then fourteen) into military training programs. Lucy figured that's where she was headed. She'd finally been caught skipping "classes", daily drills that taught ten-year-olds the best way to kill an Infected. Some of the lucky ones got shunted into research. They were called 'lucky', because it meant they didn't have to go into combat trainings. Then again, no one ever saw them again.

    The way most orphanages were run, Lucy wasn't surprised Georgie had joined up with the Trojans. It was why she'd gone in with the Eclipse, for all the good it had done her. Now she was headed to some boarding school, sharing squeaky cots with kids twice her size. Unless she could lose this fed before they reached it. She'd have to bide her time. Running now would only mean going into hiding. She'd thought she was hidden before, and the feds had found her. She'd have to be careful this time.

    That did not, however, mean playing nice. She wasn't stupid. Food or no, no one was kind anymore, and the fact that he was trying to pretend could only mean bad news. She rolled her eyes and quietly refused to take the bait.

    "You never told me your name."

    "I know," Lucy said tersely. She didn't really care whether he knew it or not. It wouldn't help either of them, and anyway she suspected if he knew what she was capable of, and where to find her, he probably knew far more than her name.

    "You're awfully quiet, except when you're angry. Tell me, what do you like to do for fun?"

    Did he think she was stupid? Did he really think she didn't know he was leading her into some kind of fucked up trap?

    Lucy's scowl deepened, and she felt herself reach for something that she hoped would sound intimidating, or at least make her sound older than she was. Then again, he'd probably know she was lying either way. The thought only further soured her mood.

    "Oh, you know, the usual stuff. Playing with dolls, riding bikes with my friends after school. What the fuck do you think I do?" She stopped walking and turned to face him, tilting her chin up imperiously.

    "Look, congrats on tracking me down or whatever, but if you think I'm going to play along just because you ask my name, you're wrong. Make this easy on both of us and save your breath for the hike."
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  18. Harrison was obviously not going to get through to her by attempting to be friendly. It should not have come as a surprise though. She had been living her entire young life without many real friends, and her former employers had likely just killed one of the few she had. And then they turned her over to him, further enforcing the fact they were not her friends either. It was a sad life to live for a young girl. But then it was also the only life she knew. It would be that much worse had she experienced a happy life before this... the way he had.

    But she was growing restless and he had to find another way to make her a little more relaxed. The likelihood of her running off in search of an escape was still a danger, especially in areas like this. There were other militias all over the zone, and few of them were friendly to strangers. He could not return to Houston without her in one piece, which meant that if she were accidentally he killed, he would likely lose more than just his job.

    Lucy's words were bold and direct, two traits that were more than appreciated in training facilities. But now it was just annoying. It was like talking to Beatrice when she was in one of her moods. The head of Institutional Recruitment was probably the most unpleasant woman Harrison had ever found himself working with. Any attempt to make a friendly conversation with her was always thwarted back without hesitation. And she despised all men that were not ranked above her. How she even got her current position was a mystery to Harrison, but it was something he had to live with ever since he was transferred to her department.

    This young protege was beginning to remind him too much of Beatrice. The one positive aspect of this trip he had looked forward to was not having to be around that insane woman, and now he was being forced to deal with some child who could probably pass as her daughter for all her shit-talk. All she needed was to darken her hair, darken her skin, and grow a few inches.

    Eyeing Lucy coldly now, the smile completely wiped from his face, Harrison gazed at her hard. "You are too reckless for your own good. A talent like your's should not be wasted on meaningless taunts and insults. If you are going to become the successful fighter you have the capability of becoming, then it's time you used your ears more than your mouth."

    If being nice had the least effect then maybe being harsh would have the greatest. He was not used to giving stern lectures. In fact the last time he had to reprimand a child was when Jenna refused to apologize for hitting some neighborhood with a bat after he called her ugly. In his mind Harrison thought the little shit deserved it, but he couldn't tell her that. The last thing he wanted was to have kids who patrolled around like they owned the world. Of course this was long before he ever thought he might lose his children completely.

    More could have been said, but he decided to let Lucy contemplate just that much for a while. If it calmed her down a little then perhaps could wait to say the rest. If not, there were always other options. All she was armed with was the makeshift gun that shot little pellets that might hurt him but would do no real damage. He himself still only had the one pistol, but it would do far more damage than her little toy. Of course he was not going to shoot her, but a threat here and there might be enough to get her to behave.

    Harrison turned on his heal immediately after his short spiel and continued to walk. While he knew it was immature, he could not wait to hear what she would say in response. Maybe she wouldn't even say anything. As if.
  19. Lucy had to stop short to keep from walking into the man when he turned to face her, and she braced on instinct to fight or run. Most likely run. If Lucy had any 'special abilities', any reason she was still alive, it was because she was fast and small. It was her very last saving grace, and it had been the reason she'd been allowed to "join up" with the Eclipse in the first place, though apparently it hadn't bought her any loyalty or respect.

    Besides, kids her age, or at least the girls, got used to running. There was something to be said about those who tried to stick around and fight, to make a name for themselves. Most of them never heard it. They died quick and stupid. Lucy was rash and hard-headed as they came, but she recognized the clear handicap against a man -- a Fed, even -- three times her size. He was taller. He was stronger. And he'd probably eaten more recently than she had. Physical reprimands were common as air nowadays, but it didn't mean you had to stick around for them. If he tried to hit her, she'd dodge. Maybe run. Maybe keep running.

    When he just started talking, she was...surprised. Surprised enough that it might have even shown on her face for a moment, in her stance when she fell out of defensive mode into stunned suspicion, just waiting for him to hit her. Only he never did.

    She quickly righted this strangeness in her mind by remembering he was trying to be 'nice'. He was lying through his teeth about this program -- if it existed, it sure as hell wasn't going to be anything pretty. But if he started hitting her now, she'd be near feral by the time they reached the base. At the very least, he was worried about her running, which is exactly what she would have done if he'd tried. So, maybe he was learning. So what.

    So, while he spoke -- scolded, she stared at him impassively. She listened. She always listened. Or at least, she always tried. It wasn't like she was going anywhere, and even if she was pissed, she wasn't stupid. You didn't just ignore information people so willingly gave out. Even if it turned out to be a lie, it was something.

    It was clear from the way he spoke, he thought he was being very severe. Lucy thought that was funny, and even sort of adorably misguided, in a strange way, but this time, she was careful to hide her thoughts from her face. It was clear this was a man far out of touch with reality, for him to think this scolding was the worst thing she'd ever heard. Young recruits to the Trojans were often Tranq'd for the kind of attitude Lucy showed. It was part of the reason she'd never even looked in their direction.

    For a moment, she almost felt bad for the guy. If scolding her bothered him, he was gonna have a hell of a time picking up any other recruits. Sure, Lucy had a mouth on her, and he had one part right -- she was far too reckless for her own good. But what about the ones who weren't hungry? Fed he may be, but he was nowhere near prepared enough to --

    The thought of hunger set off her stomach again, and Lucy was so suddenly angry, she bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood. The Fed had only just turned away to walk ahead of her again -- had he heard? She hoped not. She was hungry, but she wasn't stupid. She moment he realized he had such an easy advantage over her, she trip was going to get a lot harder.

    She folded her hands over her stomach and stomped after him, staring at the ground to keep the flush that had crept up her face as secret as she could.
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