“How are you feeling?”
Eli drank the cup of water her was handed.
“Better,” he replied.
“I’m glad to hear that.”
He turned to the person who was speaking to him. She was dressed in a bright green shirt, and leather vest, with brown pants, tucked into boots.
“Who are you?” Eli asked.
“I’m Alanna,” she replied.
Looking at her face, he thought at first glance she was old. She had white hair, her skin was tanned with lines at her eyes and, on her forehead. But she didn’t give off an old-person vibe. It was… Unusual.
“What can I call you?” she asked.
Eli paused. If the corporate mainframe found him, that would be the end of him.
“Call me Luis.”
Luis was his best friend when they both were in the orphanarium. One day they were out scrounging when Luis, who was fearless, got caught by the Regulators. That was that.
“A pleasure to meet you, Luis,” said Alanna, “If you’re feeling up to it, I brought you something to eat.”
Stomach grumbling, Eli nodded. Alanna produced a tray with a mug of something hot and a dish of irregular crackers. It smelled delicious. He slipped what was in the mug and his eyes went wide. It didn’t taste like nothing! Every soup he’d been fed as a kid had a slightly medicinal flavor with an aftertaste that he was told was chicken. But this! This tasted good. He didn’t know food could do that. He drank it as fast as he could, despite it being hot.
“Whoa! Slow down there, you’re still on the mend,” said Alanna with a smile.
Eli stopped guzzling the broth and tried one of the crackers. They were all rectangular with bits of stuff on them. He sniffed one and since it didn’t smell rancid, he took a small bite. It was salty and had a bunch of other flavors he couldn’t identify but it was amazing.
“Where did you get this stuff,” Eli asked with his mouth full.
“It was made in our kitchen.”
“It’s really, really good!”
Alanna smiled, “I’ll pass your compliments to the chefs. Let me give you some water. You’re still dehydrated.”
She poured water from a dark red pitcher into a blue-green cup and handed it to him. Before lifting it to his lips, he asked, “This is filtered, right?”
“Yes, of course. We have a very good filtration system.”
He took a sip. Like the broth and the crackers, this water was the best water he had ever drank. He emptied the cup.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“You’re safe, I promise,” assure Alanna.
Eli started to get up but his leg, the one that had the shard of metal in it was still weak. He was about to fall on the floor when Alanna caught him and helped him lie down.
“Slow down there Luis! You need to rest some more. You have a nasty wound on that leg.”
“I’m fine,” he lied.
“Okay, tough guy.”
Eli suddenly found himself worn out like he’d been scrounging all day. He lay back, closed his eyes, and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
When he awoke, Eli was alone. The shadows in the room were long and the light had an odd quality. He had only seen that once before. When the clouds had broken for a brief moment and the high towers of the City were cast in a golden glow. It lasted only a moment then the rain started again. It was always raining in the City.
Swinging his legs out of bed, he took in the room where he was. It was irregular. No, that wasn’t quite right. It lacked symmetry, but not in a crazy way. It was subtle.
His coveralls, boots, and underthings were folded on a bench at the foot of the bed. Each one was cleaned and in the case of his coveralls, a small worn spot had been mended. His satchel was there too. He checked the contents. Nothing was missing. He was relieved and suspicious. He had never met anyone who would help him and wanted nothing in return.
“Up and about, eh?”
Eli whirled about and saw Alanna. She was holding a pile of clothes.
“If you want to wear something less bulky, I brought you something to wear.”
“What do you want for that?” Eli asked guardedly.
Eli did not reply but stared at Alanna, waiting for the trick.
“Okay then, I’ll just leave these here on the bed. If you want options. The bathroom is through there,” she said pointing at a doorway behind Eli, “You can take a shower if you like. When you’re finished and dressed, I’ll take you on the grand tour.”
She left him to get ready. There was a bathroom. A clean bathroom with a large tub and a shower head. The tub was made of iron with a worn enamel coating and was held up by what looked like clawed feet. Was it mobile? No, the enamel encased the claws. Eli tested the water quality with his multitool. Safe. Huh.
He stripped down and took a shower. There was a dish with soap and a bottle of shampoo. It was unnerving to take a shower without having all his belonging sealed in a plastic bag with him. He wasn’t sure he trusted Alanna but if she was going to do something to him, she could’ve done it while he was asleep.
Drying off, he wiped the mirror. He looked like pounded shit, which was his usual state. Or at least that’s what he told himself. After dragging a comb through his hair, he tried on the clothes Alanna left him. They were loose-fitting and comfortable. A brick red shirt and dark yellow pants. Not City gear. At least not for the City he knew. Rich people might dress like this.
He kept his own boots. The shoes left for him seemed too soft. Eli needed hard rubber under his feet. He opened the door and Alanna was sitting in a chair in the hallway. She was reading a book. A printed book. On paper. He had seen images of them but never in real life.
Alanna smiled and put down the book.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Here, take this,” said Alanna as she handed him what looked like a very long truncheon
“Will we be attacked?” he asked, glancing about.
“What? No!” she smiled, “It’s a walking stick. I figured your leg might still be stiff.”
Eli’s left hand touched the spot where he had been stabbed. It ached, much duller than it had in the truck. He took it. Was this made of wood? Looking around, much of this place was made of wood. The walls were a pale, tan stone, but the ceiling and floors were wood. Actual wood.
“How can you afford real wood? Is this a Corp retreat?” he asked, panic rising in his chest.
Alanna smiled and said, “The farthest thing from it Luis. Let me show you.”
He took the walking stick and followed her outside.
Author’s Note: As I indicated last week, I am not to be trusted. This is not a two-part story. How long will it be? Three. But again, I am clearly an unreliable narrator.