Sadie returned a few minutes later with a beer and sat down. She drank and belched and then noticed Finny staring at her.
Finny just continued to stare, pent up anger making her lips a thin line across her blood speckled face. Sadie grinned.
"Awww cheer up kid. It ain't so bad. In a few years, you and your little friends'll be adopted by the gang, and you'll get to live the high life.
" She drank again and then delved inside her shirt and rooted around until her fingers reappeared with the bloody remains of what had been sucking her blood.
"You take Justin now. He was a whiney little kid just like you when he was first brung here. Now, look at him." She stood up and addressed all four of them.
"You all behave yourselves and mind your Ps and Qs with your new..." She belched again. "...parents and you'll get to be just like him." Sadie drained the bottle and tossed it.
"Then, yous gets to have fun."
Finny and Casper exchanged looks. Something Sadie had just said had an ominous ring to it. It was the 'in a few years' the Sadie had casually thrown in.
It was a pretty good guess that those intervening years with their 'new parents' weren't going to be fun.
The turnover rate in the wilderness gangs was pretty high. Raids, inter-gang wars and regular attacks by regular law enforcement agencies...
not to mention the psycho clones who turned up every now and then, meant that the birth rate could barely keep up.
Consequently, young kids taken on raids would often be 'adopted' into the gang, usually around the age of fourteen or so.
At that age they would accompany a raiding party and, to prove themselves to the group,
they would be expected to kill an enemy and then return to present the decapitated head to the gang's leader, chief, warlord or whatever he or she wanted to call themselves.
But to get these captives from 'frightened child' to 'savage killer' in as short a time as possible meant a life of constant,
deliberate brutality and abuse designed to destroy whatever they had been before being taken and mould them into the warriors that the gang needed.
Sadie went back into the tent.
The crowd gathering around Justin and Sadie's yurt slowly grew.
By the time Justin returned some fifteen minutes later, there must have been over twenty adults all watching and carefully considering the four newcomers.
Justin cursed under his breath and poked his head into the entrance to the yurt.
"I thought I telt you to watch these kids!"
The voice from inside was slurred.
"They don't need watching, not with half the damn camp gawping over them."
"Shit woman, get your ass out here and get them cleaned up."
"You get them cleaned up! It was your fucking idea to take 'em!"
Still muttering unpleasant thoughts to himself, and to the amusement of the potential buyers,
Justin grabbed a ragged shirt off a neighbour's makeshift washing line and dunked it in a bucket of brown water.
Finny was the first object of his attention. He grabbed a handful of red hair and tilted her face upwards.
Rough scrubbing with the dripping cloth cleaned her face of the collected blood and grime this awful day had deposited there.
Then he moved on to Casper and so on down the line, never once letting up with the mumbled invective.
The object of his criticism appeared from the yurt and stood swaying as she watched her partner's efforts.
From her attempts at focusing, it was apparent to all around that beer had given way to something considerably stronger.
And for those who needed less subtle evidence, the loosened belt still dangling from her wrist did the trick.
Way across the valley another yurt opened up, and a short, tired-looking woman emerged into the lengthening shadows of late afternoon. A dark-haired teenage girl followed her.
The woman lifted her head as laughter carried across the natural amphitheatre of the valley.
"Lonely?" The girl looked up to her mentor. The woman nodded in the direction of the small crowd on the far slope. "What's going on over there?"
The fact that Lonely looked away and murmured that she didn't know made Tukiko immediately suspicious.
She looked again at the far-away scene and concentrated on it in a way that was becoming more and more comfortable ever since the birth of Ichiro.
The scene zoomed into focus and Tukiko was taken aback when she saw the familiar face of the red-haired girl from the factory, one of the four Joe was teaching to read and write.
She surmised that the three boys who sat beside her must most likely be the other three members of the reading group.
"Shittitty shit shit." Tukiko snapped her attention back to Lonely and grabbed the girl by the arm. "Take me to Long Hands."
There were three gangs of Devil's Own in close proximity to Hope Springs. Over the years an 'understanding' had grown up between them and Hope's less than conventional mayor.
Since her return to Hope a couple of years ago, Dr Tukiko Troy had become part of that understanding.
So much so that now it was even possible for injured Devil's Own, under the watchful eye of vigilant Hope Springs residents of course, to get treatment at the town's small clinic.
Usually, however, Dr Troy visited each of the three camps on set days to deal with anything from fevers to childbirth.
At each camp, she was given an 'assistant', a drudge - someone who had once been taken on a raid but had never been adopted by the gang.
Where she was now, in the north camp, Tukiko's assistant was Lonely and Tukiko was patiently teaching her and the other two drudges the basics of field medicine.
It had been agreed with the gang leaders of each camp that, once trained, the status of the assistant would be elevated to gang member and so escape the abuse common to all captives.
Tukiko had not told Hyle Troy, her mother and the mayor of Hope, of this situation as Tukiko wasn't sure how Hyle would take the knowledge that her daughter basically owned three people...
However temporary that situation might be.
Long Hands was the gang leader of the northern camp. He was also the most amenable to change and had discouraged the practice of taking young children for later adoption.
However, 'discouraged' was a long way from banned, but he was Tukiko's best hope of interceding on behalf of the four orphans about to auctioned off as drudges.
By the time Lonely and Tukiko had found Long Hands, appraised him of the situation and arrived on the scene, Justin was well into his sales pitch.
"... 'E's a bit feisty as you can see..." Justin was holding Onetooth at arm's length as the little boy swung and kicked and swore in response to Justin's goading. "...
but a swift back-hander will soon sort that out..." Justin demonstrated by viciously back-hand slapping Onetooth across the face and then letting him drop to the ground. "...As you can see."
Justin moved to stand behind Casper, who was visibly shaking and staring straight ahead with wide, terrified eyes.
"Now then, this one..."