'Vallis,' a voice, male, shouts through the metal door. 'Get your ass out here.' A pounding, impatient, echoes around the toilet's metallic cubicle, making my ears ring. I hurry to button the fly of my 'new' jeans, a pair I found in near-perfect condition while out scrounging—the highlight of the last six miserable months of my life.
I turn to flush the toilet, then decide against it. It's only piss after all. Better to conserve water. I shove my shoulder against the rusting door. Its one-remaining hinge creaks, high-pitched, dry, and abrasive. Every time, it sets my teeth on edge.
'Took you long enough,' Carney snaps, sliding a metallic toothpick between his lips. He gives me a push, rough, towards an open door further down the concrete corridor. 'Come on,' he says, moving off, 'Zee is waiting. You know he hates that.'
'He'll live,' I mutter, but keep it under my breath. 'Unfortunately.'
I go in, and leave the scar-faced, whippet-thin Carney to stand guard outside. I wait for the door to close, my heart tight. It doesn't. I let out a slow exhale of relief, a tremor of hope shimmering through me. If Zandiki doesn't want me for fun, he must need me for actual UFF work. He comes out from the toilet cubicle—his own private one, with a real porcelain toilet graced with a proper seat, one of the few perks of UFF command—fastening his belt.
'Vallis,' he says without looking up. He's not ugly, at least not on the outside, but he's angry about almost everything, particularly my not mirroring his bloodthirsty lust for the UFF's cause.
'Got orders from the higher-ups,' he says, strapping a pair of pistols to his belt. 'Pack your shit. We got a proper live one from Command looking for some fun. You're back on the job at the bar. We leave in five.'
My heart slams into my throat. Hope cripples me. Zee's eyes are on me, calculating, narrow, suspicious. I look away.
'Seriously?' Zee scoffs. 'If anyone should know Maddox is dead, it should be you, the Oracle.' He makes a mocking woo-woo noise and twirls his finger in the air by his head, his way of letting me know how much store he sets in my abilities. He turns his back to me to open his battered locker. His hand goes in and a flak jacket slides out; he throws it over his shaven head, quick, expert. 'It's not him,' he taunts, still facing away from me as he pulls the jacket's side straps tight. 'He's dead as fuck cause you didn't do your job.' He turns, and eyes me, a flicker of jealousy hardening the blue ice of his irises. 'You're such a little traitor,' he says, tight. He steps towards me, his muscled bulk intimidating, solid. I lift my chin and hold my ground, even though I know he's going to win like he always does. 'He was our goddamned enemy,' he whispers. Zee's close enough for me to catch the faint tang of his body odour. I hold my breath. 'Forty of my best men were taken out because of that bastard's last stand.'
I say nothing, but inside, I'm dying, I miss Maddox so much. Even after six months it still hurts as bad as the moment Zee told me we'd lost him. Zee's hand whips up, quick as a snake and catches hold of the back of my head. He pulls me towards him and presses his lips against mine, hard and possessive. A punishing kiss. 'You're mine,' he says as he pulls back. His eyes move over my face, searching, for something, anything. I feel nothing except emptiness. A hint of longing shears through his rugged features. 'Why don't you just let me in?' he asks, quiet, a flicker of vulnerability piercing the hardness of his exterior. 'Am I so bad? I mean, I let you keep the cat didn't I?'
I nod, thinking of poor Miro, left behind in my grotty apartment, alone and lonely. Zee's idea of letting me keep the cat meant no one could shoot her, and I was allowed to go back and check on her every now and again, although I had to feed her from my paltry rations. Her halcyon days of actual cat food were long gone. Once, I had hoped those days would never end. But they did and the bad days came back, harder than ever. Zee made me bunk with him, taking me every night, 'reclaiming his territory' as he called it, his deep thrusts harsh with jealousy, leaving me aching and sore.
'You're not bad,' I say, soft, my insides tightening, sickened by the lie. The hard edges of Zee's jaw soften. Hope taints his eyes.
'I just—' I shrug. 'I think I just need time, ok?'
He scoffs again. 'Yeah,' he nods, defensive, his armour slamming back up around him, bitterness shrouding him, 'take all the time you want while you're fucking information out of the new guy. Just, you know, try not to enjoy yourself so much this time. You know I have to watch everything for security purposes. I fucking hate it.' He backs away and nods at the open door, jealousy clawing at him so hard I almost feel sorry for him.
'Get your shit,' he snaps, tossing a sealed bag of R7 capsules to me, straight from the lab, the doses within each perfect for decanting into drinks. 'And this time, try to remember who butters your bread—' he shoves a full magazine into one of his pistols and locks it into place, meaningful, menacing,'—or Miro will be my dinner.'
I want to spit in his face, but instead I nod and leave, meek and mild, the way he likes it, letting him think he's won. I walk past Carney. His lips twist into a leer around the metal toothpick.
'Been missing that latex one piece, Vallis,' he says low enough for Zee not to hear.
I ignore his remark and walk away, along the dingy, damp corridor of London's ruined Underground to my bunk, willing for something, anything, to happen so me and Miro won't still be here, stuck in this hellhole when the bitter end comes.
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