I was half-dead when they pulled me from the water, frozen and pneumonic, my mind delirious in among its fading vital signs. Apparently I had been rambling about wizards and magic dust and so-on which probably didn’t give my rescuers the best impression, but I was grateful nonetheless that they hadn’t just decided to dump me back in and let the current wash me out to sea.
‘They’ were a ragtag clan of people who hadn’t managed to get out, and hadn’t sided with either of the armies busy fighting. The youngest was a girl of 17 with a shock of bright pink pixie-cut hair, who had apparently been running a small scale trading operation from Platform since she was 15. The oldest was a grizzled army vet with PTSD and everyone knew he was a ticking time bomb. The flipside of that coin was that he was a damn good shot regardless of what weapon you handed him.
The rest were… survivors. Two thirds male to one third female, and a lot of them told stories about getting their significant others, kids, families out of the way but not managing to save a seat for themselves. Others told stories about giving up their ticket out for a small child or a disabled person or something equally white-knight. Still, it was better than my story; why didn’t I get out? Because, I got drunk and made some bad decisions. Whoop-de-doo.
It took a more than a good few days for me to get back on my feet again, and it wasn’t just because the resident nurse had me heavily medicated. Apparently when I’d hit the water I’d fractured quite a few bones; nothing intensely bad but enough to stop me walking, which only seemed to make me frustrated and depressed.
I’d missed my ticket out of that goddamn warzone, I’d fucked up more times than I thought was humanly possible, and the people who rescued me didn’t trust me as far as they could throw me because of all my thinly-veiled blathering about drug running. The second week in, the pink haired girl brought me coffee, and I finally felt like I could relax a little.
“Thought you could use some company.” The cup was a cheap plastic one meant for cold drinks at picnics, but it did the job. I took it gratefully and tried not to spit the syrupy brown liquid back into the cup when I tasted it. There’s coffee, there’s good coffee and then there’s reconstituted motor oil mixed with caffeinated mud. This was the latter.
Gingerly, I set the cup down on the floor. My ribs ached to the point of tears as I leant over the camp bed, but I held back. “Thanks, I guess. Your name is…?”
“Wynona; my friends call me Wynn,” she said, although the statement was indirectly one of disenchantment. A flick of the neck, and her pastel fringe sat away from her eye for a moment before sidling back. “You don’t remember my introduction from before?”
I scratched at the bandage on my arm and looked away. ‘Out of it’ didn’t even cut what I was before, but it was clear I’d hurt her feelings. “I uh… wasn’t exactly very coherent when you introduced yourself before. Sorry.”
The right corner of her mouth pulled up in a smirk that expressed the words, ‘oh well’ with a disappointed sigh. She leaned forward, her eyes expectant. Something clicked, and I realised that it was likely I hadn’t introduced myself.
“I’m Darke, Daniel Darke. My friends call me… well, any variation on ‘Daniel’, I guess… or just ‘Darke’.” I offered a bruised hand, the palm open. She took it and shook it gently, her eyes fixed on me as if I were going to try something. “I lived over in West Haverfield, until this whole skirmish kicked off. I think it was one of the first places the shells started falling.”
She shrugged. “I was over in Beaconsfield when it started, but my girlfriend lives over this direction. There’s a chance that she made it out, but with her being in the Army Logistics Corps… I dunno, she might still be around.”
The girl’s eyes were distant. Whatever hope had stirred her into heading this far had begun to fade. On her nails, the black lacquer was chipped, the crescent moon tips cracked. It was an odd thing to notice, but it was difficult not to notice anything about her. She stood out – and that made me worry; it was girls like her who either were the first to die or the first to be taken. I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen.
Wynona stood up and sighed. “Anyway, I’ve spent too long. I gotta go on a supply run.”
I swilled down the awful beverage she’d brought and passed the cup back to her. With some effort, I mustered up a weak smile to spite the acid in my throat. “Thanks for the coffee.”
“Someone’s gotta drink this shit,” she said with a grin, “Might as well be you, pretty boy.”
The teenager left the room and I lay back in my bed, content in spite of the urge to vomit in order to save my kidneys from the torture they were about to endure. I’d made an acquaintance at the very least, so perhaps that was enough to stop the rest of them from killing me. Or so I thought.