Chapter 14:

Chapter 14: Settling Back In


“Welcome back, Slum Boy!”

Nyk was surprised to see Lulu waiting for him in the lounge. She was sprawled on a couch like she didn’t have a care in the world, calmly sipping her tea. It was like nothing had changed at all.

“You’re here? I thought… well, I mean…”

“What? Of course I was going to wait up for you!” Lulu chirped.

“No, it’s just… yeah, I guess,” he mumbled. “Look, I’m pretty exhausted, so if you’re going to make me do more training-“

“No, we can save that for tomorrow,” she interrupted him with a wave of her hand. “More importantly, I’ve gotta say, you really surprised me, Slum Boy.”

Surprised her? “What do you mean?”

“Well, you could have run off! But you didn’t. You came back, like a good little puppy!” She cooed. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure if you would. But you really are good for your word!”

If she thought he was going to run, then why the hell did she let him go in the first place? Well, not that it mattered now. “I didn’t even think about it,” he lied. “We have a deal, after all.”

She raised her eyebrow and flashed a knowing smirk. “…Right.” Setting down her teacup, she reached for a thin telescreen on the table and pressed a button.

The air shimmered beside him and, and like the wind blowing over the desert a ripple of metal panels revealed a floating ball the size of his head.

Nyk stumbled back, startled. “What the… that’s…?!”

“Number 11: Spy Eye,” Lulu explained, turning the telescreen to show Nyk an image of himself. He glanced closer at the drone.

“Is that a camera?!”

“Absolutely! Ever since we separated, I’ve had this little number following you, streaming your every move to my feed.” Lulu narrowed her eyes. “You didn’t really think I would just let my investment walk out the door without insurance, did you?”

Nyk was at a loss for words.

“So what was that you were lying, Slum Boy? Something about temptation, I believe?”

A wave of nausea rolled over him. Shit. If he was being recorded the entire time, then that meant…

Like she could see the guilt on his face, Lulu swiped left on her screen and pulled up a picture of Rowan and Dyna. A chill ran down his spine.

“Lulu, I can explain…”

“No need!” She chirped, her cheery demeanor returning. “I totally understand. They offered you quite a lot, huh? Warm meals, a soft bed… anyone in your… well, let’s call them ‘shoes’ would be tempted.”

She got up and walked over to him, patting him on the head.

“But you didn’t disappoint! You came back home to me, just like a loyal puppy should! Good boy!”

“Haha… yeah…” It was all he could say at this point.

“Now then! Let’s get you settled in, get you a nice bath started, because frankly, you stink,” Lulu said, pinching her nose. She walked past him without another look. “Rest up, Slum Boy! Big day tomorrow!”

Nyk felt the strength leave his body. He was back. For better or worse, he was back.

After a hot bath and a change of clothes he returned to his old room. But he wasn’t tired. Even if the bed was as soft as he remembered he couldn’t find it in him to relax.

It was strange. He was relieved that he’d made the decision to return. After all, who knows what Lulu would have done Dyna or Rowan or even Mysha if he hadn’t. But that didn’t mean he was happy about it.

It’s alright, he told himself as he tried to fall asleep. I can put up with that bitch if it means she’ll give me what I need.

Lulu watched Nyk sleep on the monitor from the comfort of her own lavish suite. Silk nightie and silk sheets, she felt as soft as could be as she stared gleefully at the telescreen.

“You see, Aud? It’s just as I told you, Slum Boy would come back.”

“I never doubted your wisdom for a moment, milady,” Aud nodded. She stood at the door as still as a statue.

Lulu glanced up from the screen and smirked. “Oh, now now, you can be honest. If I had doubts, then I’m certain you had doubts.”

Aud paused for a moment to consider her response. “…Indeed. There was always the possibility that he would simply flee once left to his own devices. If that were to happen, then we would have to… retrieve him. By force, if necessary. In that case, it would be difficult to maintain the current relationship between you two. It was a risk to the entire operation. An unnecessary risk, in my opinion.”

Lulu gave her servant a sly smirk. “Aud… are you… questioning my judgment?”

“I would never presume to do such a thing, milady,” was the automatic reply.

“No, no, please, I adore when you think for yourself!” She giggled. “And yes, there was always a risk. But the reward was certainly worth it.”

“As you say, milady.”

“…You’re not going to ask me what that reward was?” Lulu asked, slightly miffed.

“…What reward is that, milady?”

“There’s a good girl. Tell me something, Aud, what works best for catching flies?”


Lulu gave her a dead-eyed stare.

“…Honey, Aud. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It’s a saying that means if you’re nice to people, they’re more likely to do what you want.”

“I see. Forgive me, I’m not familiar with such a phrase,” Aud bowed in apology.

Lulu rolled her eyes. “Nah, forget it. Of course money works best of all, but in spite of his upbringing that boy isn’t the type to be swayed by material gain… how odd…” She tapped her lips, turning back to the telescreen.

“I’ve given him the finest foods, a warm bed, baths and other comforts at his leisure, and yet he still wanted more… that Mysha girl… I suppose, in spite of his appearance, he is still a boy down there…”

She sighed and turned over in bed. “How vexing! I was surprised that he avoided her, but then those other two had to come along… that little tramp and her slag of a mother, offering him… what? Sludge in a bowl? A stick with meat on it? And yet somehow, he was still tempted… Yes, I’ve made up my mind, we should take care of them.”

“As you wish, milady. I’ll head out immediately,” Aud said with a nod.

Lulu sprung up. “Wait, by take care of them did you think I meant, well…” She slashed her hand across her throat. “…For you to ‘take care of them’?”

Aud looked confused. “Apologies, milady, I have misunderstood.”

“Just… look into them. Make sure they’ll be safe. I’ll be able to better motivate the Slum Boy if I offer him more opportunities to see the two of them. And in the meantime, that other Scavenger, Mysha, keep tabs on her as well…”

Lulu dismissed Aud and returned to monitoring her little pet project. She had to make sure everything was perfect.

Back in the slums, Mysha walked the darkened streets with her rifle in her hands. She had to be on her guard. The only people out at this hour were Scavengers and criminals. And both could be a threat.

“You sure it’s good coming back this late?” She overheard one Scavenger say to his buddy as she passed by, glancing at their haul. They must have been out all day.

“You’re such a coward,” his friend laughed. “You don’t actually believe the rumors, do you? That Sentinels are leaving the Towers and coming to the slums to hunt?”

She clutched her gun tighter and sank back into the shadows. She believed the rumors. That’s why she was out this late.

“People wouldn’t be spreading those stories if they weren’t true, that’s all I’m saying!”

“It’s probably just some low-ranking Scavengers trying to scare people into coming back from expeditions early. They’re just trying to score the best loot for themselves! Come on, don’t be a gearhead and think!”

The rattle of fist against skull echoed across the dusky street.

“Yeah, but what if…”

“Come on, if there were really Sentinals patrolling the wasteland we’d have run into one on the way back, right? Stop worrying…”

Mysha nodded. Yeah, he was right. No way… besides, Sentinels had never left the towers. Not as long as she’d been a Scavenger, anyway, and she didn’t know anyone who had ever seen one outside.

The words “and lived to talk about it” popped into her mind unbidden.

Axel and the others would have laughed her off, and they were right to do so. But just as she made the decision to head back home and get some rest, the chilly night wind brushed against her face and her scar tingled.

She still remembered the last time she’d ignored her instincts.

Mysha grimly marched out of hiding and headed down the street, the gossipy voices of the Scavengers fading off in the distance.

The creak of metal growls caught her ear. She spun around and faced the crimson orbs burning towards her.