Perched on her ledge Finny watched as late afternoon turned into early evening. Below her the population of the square was beginning to change. Store keepers and vendors were starting to pack away, while still keeping an eye out for late customers. The auctioneer was drumming his fingers on his podium, checking his watch and wondering what was for dinner tonight. At the vaults, scavengers, merchants and criminals of every kind were putting away their daily gains, ill-gotten or otherwise. Around the pond bonfires were starting to be built. Soon it would be party time.
Party time, yeah right.
Finny hugged her knees against the growing chill. No bonfire for her. The heating in the orphanage was turned off at sunset, after that it was just you and your blanket. No party time either. You can’t have much of a party if all you and your friends can muster together is a few boiled sweets and a half bottle of flat yellow liquid that you hoped was soda.
It wasn’t fair.
She watched the gun toting class meet and greet each other. They were all kinds of strange people. Huge men and women with incredible looking weaponry and armour that clanked and hissed. Though not all of them. Some lurked in the shadows, dressed in black or feathers or wore outrageous masks. Not all of them were huge and muscled either. Finny had once seen a girl not much bigger than herself walking around with an enormous shotgun. She was part of them, one of the party people. Finny bet that nobody messed with her, nobody made her do reading… took her stuff. Finny’s freckled face scrunched up. She pressed her forehead against her knees and could no longer stop the tears.
It was dark when she raised her head again. After sniffing back her runny nose and wiping what was left on wet knees Finny sat back against the concrete wall and dried her cheeks with her sleeves. She felt better. Finny didn’t cry very often. None of the kids did. You just didn’t.
She was hungry. Dinner, though, was probably over and even if she went back now and the servery was still open there would just be cold scraps left. And if perpetually hungry orphans left scraps, you sure didn’t want to eat them. She looked out over the square where the reflections of lots of bonfires made it look like the whole pond was on fire. People danced and drank or sang and drank and the smell of cooking meat drifted across the tired grass and up the sun-cracked concrete to Finny’s nose.
But it was all just background stuff now. Nothing to do with her. Finny was back in the real world again. She would go to Joe tomorrow and… She stopped. No, she would go now. She would go to Joe’s house, now. Kirsten would be there. Kirsten was nice. Finny might pay for it for ever afterwards, but if she could get ‘the Mrs. Joe’ on her side then Joe would have to give her locket back.
Finny leapt up. Forgetting she was standing on a ledge only about twenty centimetres wide, she very nearly pitched forward onto the vaults below. Five metres up was bone breaking territory. After the cold chill of fear had finished with her, Finny edged her way back to where she could safely climb down.
Joe lived in a part of town that was regularly patrolled by unpleasant thugs who were overpaid to keep people like Finny away. But Finny knew the magic words that would get her past them. Crunchy had bragged one night that all you had to do as tell them that Joe sent for you or that you had a message for Joe or something like that.
And it worked. Finny was stopped four times as she worked her way through the steadily less horrible streets to the road where she knew Joe lived. The last time though was a bit of a risk because she had to ask the guy which house was Joe’s. He had looked at her funny until she had a brainwave.
“I’m new.” She had said, and the man had pointed to a house in the middle of the row.
And now here she was.
Finny stood on the sidewalk looking up the iron rail fenced steps that led up to a shiny black front door. Behind her the street was quiet. No fights going on. No crying babies behind dimly lit dirty windows. Nobody retching in the gutter. Just a quiet street lined with big houses with no broken windows and nice curtains. What actually impressed her most, though, was the light. The windows of the houses shone with bright electric light. Not candles or oil lamps or the dim low wattage bulbs like they had in the orphanage, but lots of bright, high wattage, chip burning bulbs sucking on the expensively produced electricity that the vast majority of New Flagstaff’s inhabitants could never afford. Finny knew Joe was rich, but… wow.
Suddenly aware that the man she had just talked with was still standing in the middle of the street watching her, Finny climbed the stairs. Not knowing about the doorbell, she reached up as high as she could and, with her finger tips, just managed to flip the shiny door knocker enough for it to fall back against the brass plate. She did this several times before there was noise on the other side of the door. Finny stepped back, her heart pounding.
The big front door swung open and Finny squinted against the light, unable at first to make out the person who had answered her feeble knocking. It only took a few moments though for the puzzled looking figure with dreadlocks to resolve itself into a figure of pure legend amongst Joe’s juvenile workers.
It was common knowledge amongst them that Silja, the 'teenage girl' who looked after Joe and Kirsten’s daughter Anneka, was not really a nanny at all. It was accepted lore that Silja, because she spoke funny and acted weird, was probably one of the mysterious Outsiders that had been hired by Joe as a killer ninja assassin bodyguard who could infect you with the deadly Manbites just by touching you and that they would eat you up from the inside and turn you into black dust.
Worms had a friend who had a brother who swore that his dad’s drinking buddy had once seen a man fall down after being shot and that his body was then eaten by the Manbites until there was just black dust left. Worms wasn’t too clear on what happened to the man’s clothes but the rest of the story seemed pretty convincing.
Finny’s eyes grew to saucers as she stared at the fabled assassin, who was leaning on the door post and chewing on a chicken leg. Silja took the meaty bone from her mouth and waved it.
“Well? Wot you want?”
Finny managed to open her mouth but the words weren’t quite making it from her brain to her throat. The killer bodyguard sighed dramatically, making the blond dreadlocks wobble.
“Hurry. Wot you want? My dinner is starting to frizz cold.”
“I... um…” The door started to close and Finny found her voice. “I need to talk to Joe!”
The door swung inwards again and the murderous Outsider waved Finny in with the chicken leg.
Finny stepped carefully past the ninja nanny and through the doorway into a new world.