Perched on her ledge, Finny watched as late afternoon turned into early evening. Below her, the population of the square was beginning to change.
Storekeepers and vendors were starting to pack away while still keeping an eye out for late customers.
The auctioneer drummed his fingers on his podium, checked his watch and wondering what would be 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, people were building bonfires.
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, mostly clones who had escaped the drudgery they had been created for.
Huge men and women with incredible looking weaponry and armour that clanked and hissed. Though not all of them paraded around like that.
Some preferred to lurk 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... Finny's freckled face scrunched up. ...took her stuff.
She pressed her forehead against her knees and hated the tears that came.
It was dark when she raised her head again. After sniffing back her runny nose and wiping what remained onto wet knees, Finny sat back against the wall and dried her eyes on 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 long over and even if she went back now there would only be cold scraps left.
And if perpetually hungry orphans left scraps, you sure as hell wouldn't want to eat them.
She looked out over the square where the reflections of the bonfires made it look like the whole pond ablaze. People danced and drank or sang and drank, or just simply drank.
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 now -- nothing to do with her. Finny was back in the real world. She would go to Joe tomorrow and...
She stopped, and her face tightened into a mask of determination. No. No, she would go now. She would go to Joe's house, She would go right now because Kirsten would be there. Kirsten was nice.
Finny might suffer for it forever afterwards, but if she could get 'the Mrs Joe' on her side, then Joe would have to give her locket back.
The eight-year-old leapt to her feet. 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 to where she could safely climb down.
Joe Spivey lived in a part of town that was regularly patrolled by professionally unpleasant people 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 needed to do was tell them 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 made her way through the steadily less horrible streets to the road where everyone 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 dead in the gutter. Just a quiet street of big houses with no broken windows and nice curtains.
What impressed Finny most, though, was the light. The windows shone with bright electric light.
Not candles or oil lamps or the dim bulbs like they had in the orphanage, but lots of bright, high wattage,
money-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.
Remembering that the man she had just talked with was standing watching her, Finny climbed the stairs.
Not knowing about doorbells, she reached up as high as she could and, with her fingertips, just managed to flip the shiny doorknocker 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 brightness, unable at first to make out the person who had answered her feeble knocking.
It took a few moments before the puzzled looking woman with dreadlocks resolved itself into a figure of pure legend amongst Joe's juvenile factory 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 mythological Outsiders that had been hired by Joe as a killer-ninja-assassin-bodyguard.
Outsiders could infect you with the deadly Manbites just by touching you, and the Manbites would eat you up from the inside and turn you into black dust.
Worms had a friend who had a cousin who swore that his dad's drinking buddy had once seen a man fall down after being shot and then his body was 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 had seemed pretty convincing to the gaggle of seven and eight-year-olds.
Finny's eyes grew to saucers as she stared at the legendary assassin, currently leaning on the doorpost 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. The killer bodyguard sighed dramatically.
"Hurry. Wot you want? My dinner is getting to frizz cold."
"I... um..." The door started to close and Finny found her voice. "I... Talk to Joe!"
The door swung inwards again and Silja waved Finny in with the chicken leg.
Finny stepped carefully past the ninja nanny and through the doorway into a new world.
The front door closed behind her, and Finny was suddenly cocooned in nicer smells and more warmth than she was used to, or ever had been used to.
Silja strode silently past her down the carpeted hallway.
"Stay here. Don't be touching with dirty liller fingers, okay?"
Sounds, too, seemed muffled and Finny waggled a finger in her ear to make sure it wasn't her.
"Okay." Even her own voice had taken on a softer quality as the carpeting and furnishings soaked up the harsher squeaks.
Finny watched Silja go towards one of the doors at the far end of the hallway, casually sticking the meaty end of the chicken leg into her mouth before reaching for the doorknob.
Finny's eyes, experienced by necessity, took in every detail of the hallway. The fresh, clean paintwork. The polished furniture. The spotless walls.
The toys dropped carelessly and forgotten onto the thick carpet. Finny's gaze lingered on a doll, and the doll's eyes stared back into her own.
Inside Finny, Resentment rose up and tried to goad Anger but something Finny had yet to learn a name for, slapped Resentment down hard. Resentment sulked.
Silja opened the door and poked her head into what, by the mouth-watering smell that wafted down the hall, was probably the dining room.
"Ermm... Joe, issa woss summa liller girly wanna you." As an afterthought, she added, "She smellerings a bit."
Finny frowned. Pulling the neck of her top away from her body, she poked her nose into the gap between cloth and skin and sniffed. She couldn't smell anything bad.
Lifting her head, she scowled at the back of Anneka's so-called nanny.
Joe's voice, his mouth obviously full, floated through the gap in the doorway.
"What? What girl? Fer fu..."
Finny's scowl turned into a smirk. That had been Kirsten. There was a pause during which it appeared that Joe had swallowed whatever it was he had been chewing on.
"Fudge. I was going to say fudge. Silja, put her in the study, will you? I'll see to her after I've finished eating."
Kirsten's voice again.
"Joe, don't be rude. Silja, please show her in."
Finny's heart raced. Yes! Perfect. But then Joe's voice again.
"Never mind. It's probably business, well, it better be business because I was enjoying that. I'll go see what she wants."
"Poor Joesy. Never mind, I have a special dessert for you. Hmmm?"
Silja snorted and withdrew her head from the doorway.
"Pfft, Like I is needings to be hearings all off dis. Imma goings to kitcherings iffa yous iss wantings me." Silja headed for the door at the far end of the hall.
She called back over her shoulder. "Don't be wantings me, okay!"
Suddenly it had all gone wrong. Finny started to run for the still partly open dining room door.
She could see Kirsten through the gap; leaning over and cutting up little Anneka's food as the child watched from her highchair. All Finny had to do was get to the door before...
The door opened fully, and suddenly Joe filled the gap. Finny stopped abruptly only a metre in front of him. It was hard to tell who looked more surprised.