The bunker that Crawley had promised her certainly delivered. Terna glanced around, taking in all of the sights and smells of the place. Pulling off her new sneakers, and giving them an appreciative look despite their origin, she placed the shoes down in the corner and let her feet feel the lacquered hardwood floor beneath them.
It felt warm. And comfortable. The wood was soft — softer anyways than the bristly hay mounds she tended to sleep in back at the village.
A tear slipped down her cheek.
“Ondol heating!” Crawley’s voice boomed, the sound of his boots ringing out from the marble steps. She heard him pause, and she tried to stifle her sniffles, but to no avail.
“Hey,” she heard him say. He came in close, his arms out but hesitant as if she were a frightened animal that might bolt at any second. She heard Zell patter over as well and the two whispered.
“No, I’m wrong. Let it out. Take your time. But, maybe, you want to do it somewhere private and more comfortable? Something that’s yours?”
She sniffled and looked around herself. It was a foyer now, whatever it had been before. A place with a few benches, a corner full of shoes and boots, an actual ticking clock on the wall.
Where she came from, this was nothing short of a palace already. The shock that there might be more well–registered on her face and gave her pause.
Zell and Crawley shared a knowing look.
“Girls rule and boys drool, honey,” Zell said, her hobb dialect sounding refined and beautiful. She reached down and clasped Terna’s hand, pulling her up gently and leading her away.
“We’ll talk later, Terna. When you’re ready!” Crawley called out. Terna saw Zell give him a sour face at the words and almost giggled despite her grief. Crawley was gonna get an earful later. She’d seen her mother make the same face before.
There were more rooms and corridors and people here. They passed by gathering spaces with electronic boxes for games and videos. They rolled through a whole eating area that Terna hid her face away from completely out of mixed sorry, fear and shyness. And soon she heard the clank of a metal door and the feel of soft carpet under her bare feet.
The feeling startled her.
“My shoes!” she exclaimed.
“Are being taken care of, cleaned, and will be brought to you at a later time, little one.” Zell said. She turned Terna and faced her face on, looking her over for damage or illness.
“There is a private bathroom here with a shower. A clean jumpsuit for you to wear if you’d like us to clean these things up. And we’ve got food in the cafeteria.”
Terna’s eyes widened and her face began to blush. Zell nodded.
“Don’t worry about the cafeteria. Just give me a call and I’ll bring your food to your room.”
Terna’s blush began to fade. She walked over to the bed in the corner, investigating it with her eyes and probing it over with her fingers. It was soft, with a giant cushion and pillows. And cloth coverings instead of furs.
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She frowned at it. “Is this from the BuyMort?” Terna asked.
Zell shrugged. “Does it matter?” She walked passed plasti-wooden dressers and a full-length mirror, forcing Terna’s eyes to take in the entirety of the sky-blue room while simultaneously directing her vision towards the bathroom door.
“If you will follow me, I feel like there might be a lot of stuff that you don’t understand in here. Let me show you how it all works.”
Teran walked over and was introduced to the most foreign room she had ever seen. Every inch of it was coats in black and white ceramic tiles as if it were perhaps some great effigy to one to some unknown god. In the middle of it stood a basin over with hung two metal bars with turn wheels on their sides while above it hung a mirror.
A very dirty young woman stared out from the mirror at her with icy, matted hair and a face smudged with ruin dust and ground dirt.
Zell held up a toothbrush at her. “This is a toothbrush,” she intoned.
Terna rolled her eyes, grabbed it, and started rubbing at her teeth. Zell laughed.
“Right, okay. Well, we have some stuff to help you with that as well.” Zell grabbed a second toothbrush and some toothpaste, spreading it over the end and turning one of the flywheel to let loose a torrent of cool water overtop of the concoction.
Terna watched, open-mouthed, as the beautiful red-headed hobb woman leaned against the tiled wall, her right arm moving steadily as she brushed her teeth in a series of circular patterns. Her wickedly delightful hair swayed to and fro with her motions, and Terna found herself entranced.
Zell spit and gave her another long look. “You like my hair, don’t you? Tell ya what, brush your teeth, take a shower, brush your hair, get all of the outside off of you. And then I’ll show you how to get the same thing I’ve got. Sound good?”
Zell cackled, her air bouncing about as if endowed with their own will and sentience.
“Oh to be young again.” Then her face soured. “I keep forgetting. This is a time of mourning for you. I should go. All of the water, hot and cold, you can get it from the flywheels. Her and in the shower. I’m leaving you a comms unit on your bed. Just ask for callsign Fire Foxy and someone will get my ear if I don’t hear you myself.”
Terna nodded, looking again at the mirror and the dirty, sad girl that cowered within.
“I suck at this,” Zell said, and then she swept Terna up, lifting her into the air in a bear hug that signaled tremendous agility and strength. It would have been celebrated among the people of her village, a small voice noted in the back of her mind.
“There,” she finished. “That’s a lot more words than I know how to say. Terna, clean up, then lay down, rest, and live for your people.”
Zell set her down, gave her a final once over, then left the bathroom. Terna heard the clunk of her bedroom door a moment later.
For the first time since her she’d left to go hunting, she was truly alone. She pulled at her dirty tracksuit and figured out the zippers, snap-on buttons and clasps of it, stripping down for her shower. And she stared again at the mirror.
Gone. All of them.
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She swept it away mid-advertisement, tears blurring her vision. It was the BuyMort. Whatever this was all about, it would lead back to the BuyMort. Whatever Crawley had said, he was wrong. The BuyMort was a demon that took and took, handing out promises and demanding horrific payment in return.
“They’re dead and they aren’t ever coming back. Kaput. As meetable and huggable as the stars,” she told herself through the mirror.
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Another ad swept to the nether. Terna growled. Just a little, but it felt good. So she growled more, letting it rise and build into a scream. Pouring all of her heart out into one cataclysmic singularity, she sprayed all of the past 12 hours into one powerful ray of anger and heartbreak.
“Crawley said they took us because of the BuyMort. Because we are NoMorts. I will find the ones who take the NoMorts and I will make them NoHeads. I will take away their pieces and their tribes and I will rain vengeance upon all of the NoHeads over and over until they are all gone. That is my vow upon the grave of my ancestors, my parents, and my people.”
She glared into the mirror. A demonic and hellish figure glared back.
“And when the NoHeads are no more, I will challenge the BuyMort itself. I will hunt it, track it, find it’s lair. And then I will pierce its heart with the strongest of my weapons, and turn it into a NoHead too.”
And she smiled, a dirty-teethed rictus that promised a great deal of pain and violence. “I’m coming for all of you. And I’m going to look goddamned pretty when I do it!”
With that she padded into the shower, turned a knob, and screamed in fury at the icy coldness that followed.