I had been living on the streets for 2 months now.
My parents were dead.
My older brother killed them. Then himself.
I wasn’t home when it happened, I had been at the arcade just playing my favourite gun games.
As to why it happened – I… in truth, I didn’t like to think about it too much.
In fact, I didn’t think about it at all.
I opened the door to our – my – family house, saw the remains, turned around immediately and never returned, then blanked out the images.
What was the point? To think about it? I hadn’t grieved, fuck that. I didn’t believe in thinking about the fact they were gone.
I mean… if I did think about it, I might just… I might just…
I do a little dance down the sidewalk of FC’s most night lit city street, while listening to some Junk Pop through my stolen headphones.
I’m beyond starving, aside from food I’ve eaten out of the bins – and most of it made me sick. I’m a little desperate for my homelessness to end, but I don’t trust anyone.
But, I did remember one adult I had a lot of respect for. I knew her briefly, and she had a business down this strip of shops.
It’s the first time I’m going to look for someone to confide in about what happened.
I had to choose who to trust very carefully in Frankincense City.
But this feels like the right choice.
I decide to check on the private independent combat academy.
It’s up a steep stair case off the wet sidewalk.
Getting up the stairs almost exhausts my last bit of energy, but I make it.
I go to knock – when I see the lease.
I look through the window, the place… abandoned…. vacated. My old teacher of defence had left her business? Why?! Viola had taught me a lot for those free lessons I had attended a year back.
I’m disappointed it’s vacated, but there is a recruiting note on the door that catches my eye.
I read it, since I have nothing better to do except die slowly out here anyway.
FC Military ULTRA Special Operations ; No experience required. Contract for Death. Training pass – 3 years. WARNING: Death expectancy is extremely high from bodily injury or accident. Over 30% death rate for year 1. Over 50 % year 2. Over 85% year 3. Anyone who survives gets a life salary and housing benefits thereafter. Out of every 10 who apply, 1.5 will survive. No interview. No resume. We just need bodies.
Geez. A job I could apply for?
I don’t mind that!
Considering the amount of times I had just barely escaped getting mugged or assaulted while living in the gutter on my own?
This was better chances of survival than out here.
But… then the fine print.
If under 18, parent’s approval is required.
I was 16.
And my parents were dead.
I rip the note from the wall and I wander how I can prove my age.
Just lie? Yes. I wasn’t a very good liar but – I would for this. An opportunity to forget what happened to me. An opportunity to talk to people in a job environment. Free food.
Okay. I’d lie about everything.
First… I’d show up to the Military with a fake name.
I couldn’t be Wendy so…
I’d say my name was Viola, and lie about the rest, my age, my family, everything!
“I’m 18 and my name is Viola, I’m from the Quarter Gate community and I enjoy gaming and – ”
“You’re in, just sign your death waiver here,” the nurse at the FC Military Hospital waits for me to sign on a dotted line. I see the ancient paper contract and pick up an ink pen. I sign with a fake signature and smile as the nurse takes the paper – clearly a little shocked at my willingness to sign my life away, “…you’re our first successful applicant to apply for ULTRA training, Viola, congratulations. Wait one moment,” she informs me as she picks up a phone and calls in for me, “…mmhmm… yes… great, I’ll send her up, Mr. President.”
My eyes widen – oOo, the President?
As she hangs up the phone, I ask, “Dale is working at this late hour of the night?”
“Not exactly – but you’re welcome to meet your boss, he wants to meet you, uh,” she looks me over, “…anymore questions?”
“Do you think I’ll live?” I lean over the counter and ask her seriously, in a crazy whisper, “I think I will.”
“Are you sure you’re psychologically sound?” the nurses asks, sweating a little at my crazy eyes. I was just playin’…!
“Are you kidding me? Janet. I don’t think the ‘Mr. President’ is looking for psychologically sound people – who want to sign up to an almost guaranteed death,” I state, leaning back.
“Hmm. You do look familiar… have I –” Janet murmurs to herself but I quickly turn and walk myself off.
I shoudn’t have lingered.
I was a missing person on the media – the main suspect in my familiar’s murder.
Of course, I didn’t do it!
My brother did.
I walk to the President’s lift – navy blue and sparkling.
I step into the waiting box from the quiet hospital lobby, and as the doors shut, I stare at my reflection.
Don’t. Break. Character.
I wasn’t Wendy – I was Viola. I fix my straight black hair and stare at my freckles – and my screwed up pouty mouth because I was always planning how to scare someone off.
I try to relax my muscles – but this lift doesn’t waste time taking me to the highest level, before moving horizontally – to the other end of the hospital. Straight into the FC Military Homebase.
When the doors open, I walk into an open plain executive corridor, leading to the presidential office – the door’s already ajar for me to enter. Great. Easy.
I curl my fists under my too long sleeves and I hold my chin high – I didn’t want to act 16.
Although it was too late now, I was already in!
I walk into the office, trying not to hesitate – so I’ve barged right in instead. That should work to impress them with confidence, right?
Dale is alone in his spacious office – oh, actually… aside from one familair figure lurking on a couch, smoking a cigarette and reading through a tablet with a pen in his ear, as white blonde curls are styled in place. Ah – that’s the Shadow Mayor of FC. I don’t stare too long at the gigantic handsome beast.
The President seated is still lurking like a menacing beast in that chair – and I know to hold my tongue with this one.
Dale hasn’t welcomed me in but I make my way to the lush chair opposite.
I sink into it and smile brightly, “Hello! Do I get free food?” I try to make it a funny joke about why I’ve joined but… it comes off as ultra cringe.
“Tell me about yourself… Viola?” Dale holds my eye, leaning back in his leather chair, looking bored as he assesses my every facial twitch.
I hear the couch behind me move as the Shadow Mayor stands up abruptly… ooo, Casey’s coming over! I’m too shy to look.
“Not much to know about me – I’m a nobody,” I state. Dale already looks impatient by that vague response – almost about to snap, so I quickly change tactic, “Kidding – I’m kidding. I… I owned a combat acadmy in FC. I recently went… bankrupt… so, this was my last resort.”
Dale’s eyes are skimming past my head to the thumping Shadow Mayor coming up to my side.
Dale holds out a hand – halting Casey.
I look over my shoulder at him, and Casey is glaring down at me like he wants to kill me.
Ooo… I like his intense stare.
Gulping, I lose my smile and face Dale, “…what…?”
“You can find out why she’s lying but don’t kill her – she’s just a kid,” Dale speaks softly.
“I’m 18!” I immediately retort, “I swear it!”
“Viola is my very dead girlfriend,” Casey tells me my mistake – a note of death in his tone sours my confidence.
“Oh, shit, oh shit!” I blurt, “On second thoughts, I’ll be on my way,” I try to stand up in a flurry.
This was turning out to be a bad life decision.
“No, you won’t be going anywhere,” Dale interrupts me, as I try to stand – Casey pushes me back down into the seat, his hand on the top of my head, keeping me still and in place for this lecture from the smug President eyeing off my foolish behaviour, as he drawls, “You wanted to be ULTRA – you wanted to disappear. Fine by me. I’m sure you have a good reason. But first we’ll get the truth out,” Dale makes it sound like stopping by for tea. Not so scary. I guess I just had to comply.
“Okay, I’ll tell the truth,” I concede.
“I’m running the taskforce, talk to me,” Casey lets me stand, and I stand back to hold up both my arms in a shrug as I glance between both of them. I had to think of a convincing lie this time.
Until… I feel Casey’s black eyed stare, looking down at me – eating my mind… delving into the matter… consuming it’s way deeper into my young brain.
I stare back at him, as he asks me straight, “Who are you? Tell me what you’re hiding.”
I have to answer. I feel there is no choice. It’s like I’ve lost my will.
“I’m just a street orphan,” I blurt out, my tone robotic in nature, “I lied about my name because I’m scared – and I wasn’t old enough to join on my own, but my whole family is dead. My name is Wendy. I’m 16. I’m the only one left. Please don’t hurt me. I’m just hungry. I haven’t eaten a proper meal in 61 days.”
Casey slowly raises both brows – but he doesn’t dismiss me.
He glances to Dale... who seems interested now? What? Dale looks pleased almost.
The President explains, “Lucky for you, Wendy – we like to take in orphans and give them a bed and food and safety,” Dale winks at Casey, who’s lost his sharp dangerous edge of authority.
“Hey, I’m sorry for snapping on you, kid – I was an orphan too,” Casey holds out his hand, “Come on, let’s get you some food.”
I’m gaping, speechless – as I take his offered hand.