What looked like the entire population of the little village had gathered in a semi-circle. Nix led Andrew right toward them. Standing a few feet ahead of the crowd was a stern-looking young woman. She was tall, with a shaved head that showed off a slender neck and flawless, dark skin.
"My name's Etta," She had a strong, carrying voice with a slight rasp.
"Andrew," Andrew offered his hand, and Etta smiled as she shook it.
"I won't lie, Andrew. The next few weeks are gonna suck. You won't get half the answers you want, and the ones you do get won't make you feel any better. Welcome to Jamestown," She gestured to the mass of teenagers behind her, who flew into a frenzy of whoops and hollers. Feet were stomped and a chorus of voices shouted 'fresh meat' in unison.
"Shit," Andrew mumbled under his breath at the sudden uproar.
"It's been awhile since we had a newbie," Etta shrugged, "We're throwing a party in about an hour. 'Til then you're with me," She turned and started walking away. Andrew glanced at Nix nervously.
"Follow her," Nix chuckled, "She won't bite."
The crowd dispersed, everyone rushing in all different directions. Andrew waved goodbye to Nix and followed Etta.
"These buildings," She pointed to the long buildings making up either side of the square, "are housing. Left side is mostly bunks. Right side has bedrooms. We don't have enough bedrooms for everyone, so that's just for couples and kids with seniority. You'll be in the bunks. We've already got one set up for you. That big building," She pointed straight ahead to the sprawling structure with at least a dozen doors leading in and out, "That's everything. In there's the kitchen, the dining hall, some rec rooms with pool tables, even a damn library. We keep most of our supplies there as well. Any down time you have, you'll probably be in there. We call it Town Hall," She shook her head as if the name amused her, "That building over there's the closest thing we've got to a hospital," She pointed back the way they came, to the building without windows on the second floor.
"What about that one next to it?" Andrew pointed to the shack next to the hospital.
"That's off limits. Weapon storage. Mostly hunting stuff. I don't allow weapons loose in town," She gave him a serious stare, "Don't test me on that, Andrew."
"Wasn't planning on it," Andrew threw his arms up in surrender, deciding not to mention the large knife hanging from Etta's belt.
"Good. Being new here isn't fun. You'll be lost and confused, and some of the kids here love picking on newbies. After a little while, though, you'll get used to it," She shrugged as if talking about it was as boring as the weather, "Come on, let's get you some clean clothes and I'll show you to your bunk. The party's gonna start soon, and I promise you won't want to miss it."
Andrew was slightly surprised to see that 'bunk' was quite literal. Etta had brought him into a large room filled with bunk beds. It caused a half-memory of an old Army movie about boot camp, but he couldn't recall much more than an image of the barracks.
Etta scrounged through a large wooden trunk for some clothes that looked like they'd fit Andrew, then showed him to a bottom bunk in the corner nearest the exit.
"We don't have a lot of rules here," Etta leaned against the frame of the nearest bunk bed, "Don't hurt anyone, don't leave town alone, and listen to your captain."
"Captain?" Andrew asked.
"Everyone has a job here, Andrew. If we didn't work, we wouldn't survive. There's a captain for every job. You report to your captain, they report to me, and I report to all of you," She spoke the last words with an amused smile, "Meaning if you have problems with anyone or anything you come to me. I spend a lot of time helping at the hospital, or in the library at Town Hall. I'm not hard to find, and my job is keeping everyone safe and things running smooth."
Andrew nodded, giving Etta a smile. He'd felt something akin to dread when Nix had told him about a town of nothing but teenagers and kids, but Etta put him at ease. If she was in charge, he couldn't imagine the place being that bad.
"Lastly," Etta's voice took on the authoritative edge she'd used earlier, "No one leaves their bunks after curfew. This island has dangers you wouldn't believe, and if you go out at night you will die. No," She held up a hand to stop Andrew's questions before he could speak them, "Ask Nix about it tomorrow, he loves helping new kids out. Tonight just try to have some fun. Like I said, it's been months since we've gotten a new arrival and the people want to celebrate," She straightened and gave Andrew a half smile, "Starting tomorrow you'll spend at least a day at each different job in town so we can see what you're good at. I'll let you change out of your wet clothes now," She waved and left.
Andrew took his time getting changed. As grimy and soggy as his t-shirt and jeans were, they were all he had of his past. The shock was wearing off fast, replaced by the aching emptiness of his memory loss. Someone had scrubbed his brain clean and dumped him on an island with eighty other kids. It had been going on for years. A whole town of orphans.
At least his leg had stopped bleeding. He decided to inspect himself as best he could, hoping to find some clue about who he was. He was in decent shape, though a little on the skinny side. His hands were callused, with short nails. Maybe he'd worked with his hands? His left arm and side had a series of small scars that could have been anything from puncture wounds to chickenpox. His hair was short, and there wasn't any stubble on his chin. He had no piercings, and no tattoos he could see. He didn't know what he'd been looking for, but he felt disappointed.
Someone tapped out a quick shave-and-a-haircut from the other side of the door. Before Andrew could respond, the door cracked open and Nix's grinning face was peeking through.
"You dressed yet? The party's kicking off and you're missing it."
"I don't see anything worth celebrating," Andrew grumbled as he pulled on the clean shirt. The fabric felt scratchy and odd.
"C'mon, man!" Nix jumped into the room, "That's the point! Don't you see? We're stuck here to fend for ourselves, like freaking pilgrims or something. We make up any excuse possible for a party," He threw his arms out to the side excitedly, "New arrival parties are the best, though. Makes everyone remember we all went through the same shit, you know? By nightfall everyone's drunk and hugging. You'll see. It's fun."
"Drunk kids trying to hug me. Sounds fantastic," Andrew shook his head, feeling far from celebratory.
"You'll change your tune once you're out there. C'mon, man, half the girls in town want to meet you. A couple guys, too. You've only got about a week before your shiny new kid status wears off and they all ignore you."
"Yippee," Andrew rolled his eyes and followed Nix from the dorm.
"You better pep up, Andy. It's not so bad."
"How? How is it not so bad, Nix?" Andrew struggled not to shout. They were outside, weaving through small bands of people talking and shouting. One young man was playing an acoustic guitar. Andrew felt an intense need to scream at everyone, to tell them how wrong their situation was, "Everything about this is screwed up."
"Hey, at least you have your name," Nix swatted his arm, "At least you speak the same language as everyone else. Tienes suerte," He nodded forcefully, "We all know it sucks, but just for tonight look on the damn bright side. Bitch about it all tomorrow."
Andrew bit his lip, searching for the bright side, "... I didn't get blown up."
Nix laughed, "True. Though it didn't look good for a second, there. How's that leg?"
"It stopped bleeding," Andrew shrugged.
"Well, you should show it to the doctor just in case," Nix scanned the crowd around them, "But before that," He sped to one of the many picnic tables and grabbed two canteens. He handed one to Andrew, "Cheers," He waggled his eyebrows and took a deep swig.
"Cheers," Andrew tried to smile back as he sniffed the vile contents of his canteen.
"It's easier if you don't smell it," Nix warned, shaking himself like a wet dog as he took another sip, "Okay, let's see... Oh, introductions. See the redhead over there? Kinda grown looking? That's Rissa. Been here four years. She's chief of the farming types, and during harvest time that means she's everyone's boss. Everyone pitches in at the fields then."
Andrew looked at Rissa. She was a waifish girl with curly red hair and endless freckles running rampant over every visible part of her skin. She was one of very few people that looked early twenties instead of teenage.
"That's Denver," Nix carried right on pointing at people, "He's the youngest one here. We think he's ten. He's quick, though. Sometimes Etta lets him run messages for her. Most of the time he helps out in the Library. Easiest job here, so the whole place is run by the young kids," Nix smiled and waved at the child. Denver was small, even for a ten year old, with stringy brown hair and the uneven grin of someone still getting their adult teeth.
"Jeez," Andrew hissed, "How long's he been here?"
Nix sighed, "Eight months. Cried for a week straight when he landed. Good kid, though. Plucky," He chuckled as Denver sneaked a sip from an unattended glass, "Oh, that's Jason over there. One of the fishermen. He's an asshole."
Andrew spent the next hour listening to Nix's introductions, and shaking people's hands. Nix hadn't lied, at least one out of every five people had geographic names. As the evening wore on Nix's comments became louder and his face grew pink, but he wasn't nearly as bad as some of the kids around them. At least two people had puked, and the sun hadn't even set. A large bonfire was lit in the center of the clearing.
"Shit, she came," Nix ran a hand nervously through his curly hair, attempting to make it lay straighter.
"Who?" Andrew chuckled, feeling slightly buzzed.
"Lyn," Nix muttered, "She works at the hospital. Come on, let's go show her your leg."
Andrew followed Nix's gaze to a girl no older than fifteen. She had wavy black hair pulled into a messy braid that hung over one brown shoulder. She was pretty, with kind dark eyes, a soft smile, and an aquiline nose. She was talking to someone, and her hands gently swayed in front of her as she spoke.
"That your girlfriend?" Andrew teased.
"Shut up," Nix mumbled, "She's a nurse, and your leg is busted."
"Fine," Andrew conceded, but Nix was already halfway over.
"Good evening," Nix smiled as they approached.
The girl named Lyn nodded her head, "Hello," she gave Nix a cheerful smile before turning to Andrew, "Your name's Andrew, right?" Her voice was a soft soprano.
"Yeah. Nice to meet you. Nix said your name's Lyn?"
"Yeah. Short for Brooklyn," She shrugged, "It works. This is Jake."
"Hi," Jake, a pudgy blonde boy no older than twelve enthusiastically offered his hand.
"Hey, Jake," Andrew chuckled as he shook hands with the kid.
"These two keep the hospital running nice and smooth," Nix grinned as he spoke, but his eyes flickered nervously to the ground, "Lyn here taught me English."
"Well, 'taught' is an overstatement. You learned most of the basics from Torres before I stepped in," Lyn waved the compliment off.
"Don't remind me," Nix gave an exaggerated shiver, "I thought she was gonna slit my throat every time I messed up."
"I don't blame you," Jake nodded, his blue eyes wide and worried, "Torres is the only thing scarier than... you know... out there," He pointed toward the woods in the distance.
"What do you mean 'out there'?" Andrew watched as everyone began shifting about nervously.
"The woods," Nix replied quietly, "It's dangerous out there at night, but don't worry. The Guard keeps the danger away from town. Torres is Captain of the Guard."
Lyn shuddered, "Not a job you want, I promise. Half of my job is taking care of injured Guard members."
"But what's out there?" Andrew glanced at the woods, Etta's earlier warning running through his mind, "What are they guarding against?"
"You'll learn soon enough, man. For right now, just drink," Nix took his own advice and drained the last of his canteen, "Oh, and let Lyn take a peek at that leg."
Lyn sent Jake to grab a med kit from the hospital. She and Nix took turns telling Andrew stories about life on the island. Andrew's injured leg was cleaned and bandaged, and several people walked over to introduce themselves. Names and faces started swirling together in Andrew's mind. He knew he would only remember a small handful correctly.
The last vestiges of sunset slipped from the sky, leaving nothing but the bonfire and stars to see by. Almost in unison, the drunken teens began to hush. Before Andrew could question the sudden change, Etta's rasping voice cut through the quiet.
"Alright, everyone!" She jumped to stand on a picnic table, "Ten minutes until curfew. Get to the bunks."
The teenagers scattered, Nix pulled Andrew toward the bunks.
"You're right below me for now," Nix pulled himself to the top bunk above Andrew's with practiced ease, "People swap beds all the time here. New couples move to the other building, breakups bring people back here. Kids fight with their friends and wanna sleep away from them. All sorts of stuff. That, however," Nix kicked his leg over the side of his bed and swung it to gesture at Andrew's bunk, "That's the official newbie bunk. Etta says since I'm the first face people meet, that they'll feel more comfortable if I'm nearby. I think it's 'cause I talk too much and new kids are the only ones who can tolerate it 'cause they want as much information as they can get."
"It's the second option," A male voice from the bunk next to them called out.
"Shut up, Jason!" Nix made an obscene gesture with his hand and muttered Spanish curses as he kicked off his shoes and arranged himself under his blankets.
Andrew removed his shoes and sat on his bunk, not feeling ready to fall asleep, "I'm fine with you talking, Nix," He smiled, though he knew his new friend couldn't see it, "Listening to you gives me something to do other than freak out."
"Good," Nix replied, and Andrew could hear the smile in his voice, "But don't feel bad. A lot of people freak out their first week," Nix's voice started to fade into a murmur, and he yawned, "But you should get to sleep. Big day tomorrow."
"Goodnight," Andrew whispered and climbed under his blanket. He tried his best to get comfortable, but every time he started drifting off he got a sudden jolt of fear and the feeling that he'd forgotten something important. It was an understandable sensation, given the circumstances, but incredibly frustrating.
Eventually, the quiet discussions in the surrounding bunks died down and the only noises were the competing snores of every fourth person. Nix was one of those people, but somehow the rhythm of the sound helped calm Andrew's nerves until he too fell asleep.