The Frozen North Chapter 6

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The Frozen North Chapter 6

A.N. It's a long one, this one >.< and kind of a rambler, but I needed them to get settled in. There will be more erm . . . running, probably . . . happening soon, though.

Chapter 6

Their 'base', as they called it, was little more than a ghost town on the other side of the woods. We followed from a short distance behind them, and they made no effort to try and talk to us, although they stopped every now and then to check that we were still close by.
It was properly night time by the time we arrived, and they ushered us into a house at the end of the first road. It was dark and cold, but there were things lying around that wouldn't have been there when the original owners left it; a radio, first aid kits, toolboxes and rucksacks full of spare clothes and food.
The four of us stayed huddled in a corner while the strangers busied themselves barricading the door and digging out food. As the other woman vanished off to another room carrying several tins, the tough woman kicked off her boots and came to sit down before us.
“Hi,” she smiled gently at us, “I'm Electric Siren. You can call me Siren. We're Killjoys.”
“Wh-what?” I said.
“You don't know? Of course you wouldn't, this is all new. Well, we're . . . we're what you might call freedom fighters. Rebels, maybe. We're rebelling against Better Living Industries, they're the people that were in your town before. Those men with the masks, they're Draculoids, they're soldiers of a sort.”
“Pests, annoying little pests,” King cut in from the other side of the room as he messed with one of the radios and it emitted a loud crackle.
“What do they do? Better Living Industries, what are they?” I asked. I seemed to be the self-appointed spokesperson for our tiny group. Siren rummaged in her jacket pocket and drew out a small bottle, on which was a sticker with the smiling face on it. She unscrewed the lid and tipped out the contents, several white pills, onto her palm.
“They use these,” she said, “They medicate – no, they drug people. They believe that humans are broken, in a way. Our emotions, happiness, feeling connected to people, they think it makes us incomplete, that it stops us from being perfect, efficient. These drugs, they're like being temporarily lobotomised. They used them back home, until they got going in Battery City. That's when they started offering a more permanent version.”
I was replaying Ben over and over in my mind. Glassy-eyed, oblivious to the world around him, oblivious to his best friends being threatened with guns. I wondered if anyone else had made a run for it after we had, or if they thought we were just panicked little kids. Maybe there were too many of them already drugged up when we escaped for there to be any chance of people slipping away. I hadn't seen her through the people, but what if Mum had been in that crowd? Did they have her too? Was she worried about me, or was she just sat there, uncaring but 'perfect'? In a sick way, I thought that it was good for her; if she was under their control, she'd stay safe. Clearly those Better Living people didn't want anyone getting away alive. Actually -
“Why were they shooting at us?” I asked, “Why did they want us dead?”
Siren laughed mirthlessly and crushed the pills in her hand, sprinkling the dust on the ground.
“Perfection is a brutal process. Say you're painting a picture and it's gone kinda wrong. Some bits you can just paint over, adjust the colours and stuff, right? Then you notice the edges are all messy and ragged, so you cut them off. You're the ragged edges. They're worried you've got too much Killjoy spirit, that you'll struggle and cause problems amongst their already domesticated herds. It's the same with any drug, it doesn't work as well if you fight it. They're planning to be here long-term, and they'll want to 'breed out' any troublesome genes.”
Karin had a hurt look on her face, and I could see why. Just the mere association of her with causing trouble upset her, she hated having a fuss caused over her. The thought of her having troublesome genes was almost laughable – I could remember when she was seven and she broke her arm in the school playground but tried to tell everyone she'd just sprained it so they wouldn't worry, even though the lower half of her forearm was hardly hanging on. Dock and El, however, took it as a compliment. Dock loved teasing people, and El couldn't resist a good fight, partly because she usually won and partly because she loved a bit of violence.
The other woman came back in bearing a tray filled with chipped dishes. She set it down on the floor in the middle of the room, and I saw that each contained nothing more than a mixture of beans and some kind of sauce. I nearly turned my nose up at it. Fortunately, I remembered my manners. These people had taken us in, they'd rescued us. We could hardly complain that they didn't have a gourmet chef on hand.
“You know, I didn't catch your names,” said King as everyone gathered round and took a dish of beans – I noticed the adults simply looked bored, and held back a grimace at the thought of what looked to be a long and reluctant relationship with pulses and lentils.
“We didn't throw them,” shrugged Dock, and King grinned at him.
“Funny, kid. But what's your names?”
“Karin Tamworth.”
“Erica Lawson.”
“Murdock North.”
“Eloise Peak.” we sounded so boring – were all Americans called names like Electric Siren and Fever? We looked boring compared to them as well, with our dull, undyed hair and plain grey clothes.
“D'you have aliases yet?” asked the woman I didn't know the name of as she swallowed a large mouthful of beans. I blinked.
“What?” asked El.
“Aliases, your Killjoy names. If you're with us, you're going to need one.” explained Siren. “My real name's Davina, but real names get you in trouble these days.”
“I'm Canyon King. Back in the old days I visited the Grand Canyon about fifty times, I loved it.”
“The what?”
“Never mind. Anyway, Derek's name is Fever Flame, and these two are Sunshine Kid-” he pointed at the other woman, “- and Desert Sunset. They're married, so they picked their names to sound similar. There's no real rules for making one, though.”
“...Ok...” I nodded. Fever smirked at me.

Dock, El, Karin and I stayed silent for most of the rest of the meal as the adults discussed things I didn't understand. They kept poring over a map that I gathered was of a place called Battery City that was in California – wherever that was. As my eyelids began to feel itchy and weigh a ton, all I was really bothered about was finding somewhere to curl up and sleep. We'd been running all day, and my second wind had long since been used up. Now that the adrenaline had fizzled out, the tiredness hit me like running face-first into a wall. The dim lights were mysteriously bright, and the voices of the adults were tuning in and out, quiet and suddenly so loud they made me jump.

Next thing I knew, I was lying in a bed. I was warm, but wedged in tight. When my eyes fluttered open and I realised that I had absolutely no idea where I was, I panicked and tried to wriggle free of whatever had me trapped, and received a sharp dig in the ribs from what was definitely an elbow for my troubles. I rolled my head to the side and saw Karin's face inches away from mine, her mouth half open in sleep as she lay curled up in the foetal position. On my other side was Dock, lying face down against a pillow but still breathing somehow. El had somehow managed to work her way across us in the night, like some kind of starfish, and was sprawled across our bodies with her stomach across my legs.
The room took me a moment to work out, though, because it definitely wasn't mine, or Mum's, or any of the others'. Then I remembered the vampire men – the Dracs, they'd called them – and the woman, Better Living Industries and the Killjoys. Even then, I thought it was a dream and was trying to convince myself that the only reason I didn't recognise the room was because it was so dimly lit when the door opened and Siren stuck her head around it.
“Oh good, you're awake, Erica,” she smiled, “Get the others up, too. It's breakfast, then we'll have to get you disguised, which should be fun. Then it's training.” She vanished again, just as Karin – who, although gentle while awake, was an absolute demon when asleep – let out a loud, angry groan as Siren's words brought her round, and her grumbling in turn woke up Dock and El.

Forty minutes later, and we were all stood in the tiny bathroom, admiring our 'disguises'. Apparently King and Siren, who served as the leaders of the group, had decided that if we were going to get hunted, we should at least get hunted as Killjoys as opposed to the 'rebel children'. They'd said that people would recognise us if we stayed the way we were, and being recognised was the worst possible thing for our safety. They didn't have many clothes that would fit us, though (although Sunshine Kid did manage to find a bright purple snowboarding coat that was only just a little too long in the sleeves), so all that we could do was help ourselves to their extensive hair dye stores and get creative with the scissors.
The end results were varied. Dock and I, being second cousins and already looking very similar beforehand, now looked freakishly similar now that I'd cut off most of my long hair and it fell automatically into the same thick bob that his lay in – the only difference was that I'd bleached my hair white and he'd dyed exactly half of his a brilliant green colour that I knew he was going to regret later, especially since he managed to do his eyebrows by accident as well. Karin had shown some restraint and just added some barely visible red streaks into her wild hair, but it was El that I couldn't stop gawping at. She'd watched us for ten minutes looking lost, then gasped and run off holding several boxes of dye and muttering to herself about tigers. The tiger part was revealed when she returned with a head full of black and orange hair.
“Very good . . .” Siren smiled at us – for a scary-looking woman, she smiled a lot – her eyes widening slightly as she took in our hair and the multicoloured stains all over the bathroom floor. She led us down the stairs and into a spare room, and we passed Fever on the way. He took one look at us and burst out laughing. I turned up my nose, firm in my belief that the white hair made me look cool.
Siren sat us down on the floor and disappeared for a moment, before returning with Sunshine Kid and a folded map.
“I've got to go and plan with King and Desert, Sunshine here is going to train you all up, and – wait a sec,” she bobbed out of the room again and called out,
“Fever! Get your ass down here now, you're helping Sunshine!”
“Who are you, my mother?” he shouted back irritably from somewhere upstairs, “I'm busy!”
“Don't use that tone with me, Derek. Get down here and help Sunshine train the kids. Now.”
There was a muffled groan of indignation, followed by stamping footsteps. A moment later, Fever slouched in and threw himself into the far corner of the room where he sat leaning on the wall and giving the ceiling dirty looks. Siren tutted at him and went off to the living room.
Sunshine Kid was a pretty woman somewhere in her twenties, with naturally tick, bright red hair that still managed to surround her even though she had it tied back in a ponytail. She was tiny, only two inches taller than me, and very pale. She reminded me of a fairy or a pixie – or she would have if she didn't have an electric blue ray gun strapped to her side and a nose piercing.
“Right,” she clapped her hands together, “Let's get down to business.”

I hadn't been entirely sure what to expect from training, since I still wasn't sure what it was that being a Killjoy meant. I wasn't sure if I was one – I didn't feel very rebellious, just scared, confused and progressively more and more annoyed at Fever Flame for acting like we'd purposely requested his presence because we knew it'd piss him off. I had been expecting something more exciting than what it was, though; a long list of rules, the 'dos and don'ts' that we had to follow. Do make sure you never go outside without letting one of the adults know. Don't go further than the front garden without an adult. Don't class Fever as an adult (he shot Sunshine a nasty look at that, but she ignored him). Do make sure you get you sleep when you can, because you'll be working hard all day and you don't know when we're going to have to get up and run in the middle of the night. Do eat your beans and tinned chopped tomatoes. Don't touch the ray guns without permission.
There was a break for another meal of tamayda-beans (it was our little name for it, because Dock kept imitating an American accent under his breath), and then Sunshine joined the others for planning as well. She left Fever with some paper and a pen, and told him to 'write them out some sums or something, check they're educated'. Of course, he didn't do any of that.
“Like hell I'm gonna do that,” he muttered the moment she was gone.
“Well, what should we do, then?” asked El. There may have only been a few years age difference between us and him, but he looked and sounded like an adult. Actually, if his voice got any deeper there'd be a risk of seismic activity. Heaven forbid he ever hum while lying on the ground. He was pretty tall as well, and tanned from being outside all the time, and now that he was in just a t-shirt and trousers, I could see his arms and -
wait, what?
I very quickly shut down that line of thought and gazed out of the window to distract myself.
“Where d'you lot come from?” Dock asked as he snatched up the paper and pen and began to doodle something. It started out reasonably well, a picture of a person – until he changed the nose into a penis, that is. I sighed. He was fifteen in physical age, but had never gotten past the age of seven in his mind.
Fever watched us for a moment with disdain, but shrugged and replied,
“America. Different bits. King's from Arizona, and Sunshine and Desert are from somewhere west too, New Mexico, I think. Me and Siren are both from New York.”
“Is she your mum?”
“No!” Fever shook his head in overdone disgust at Karin's suggestion, “God no. She thinks she is, she just found me. My mom raised me in secret to keep us away from Blind-”
“Better Living Industries, B-L-slash-ind. And don't interrupt. She wasn't one of us, a Killjoy or anything, she just wanted to keep out of the way. When I was ten the Dracs found us and thought she was one, and they killed her. That's when me and Siren met, she saved me and we set off for California. We met the others on the way there.” Fever's voice was very relaxing to listen to. It made me feel – no. I started plaiting tiny braids into my short hair and focusing hard on twisting them together properly.
“Why were you going to California?” asked Dock, partly curious and partly asking because he could tell that it was annoying Fever, “What's there?”
“Oh my God, don't you guys ever listen? We were talking about it over dinner all last night. Battery City, the original Killjoys, it's where it all started!”
“Original Killjoys?” I cut in curiously. Fever's voice was drawing me in whether I liked it or not. He did look genuinely excited though, like when one of the older kids at school had come back from a long trip further North and had tried to explain the Northern Lights to us.
“Yeah, it had to start with some people. They're, like, at the top of the BL/ind Most Wanted list, there's posters of them up all over the place in all the colonised cities. Everyone knows about them, they're always causing trouble, sneaking into Battery City and stuff. There's Party Poison, Fun Ghoul, Jet Star and Kobra Kid. When I met them they had a little girl with them as well, but I don't remember her name. There's Dr. Death-Defying as well, and Show Pony, although they're not always in California. Death-Defying runs a pirate radio station and broadcasts stuff. We can't really get it over here, though. They've been trying to fix some radios so they can pick it up and maybe put some out in the towns around here.”
I had a brief feeling of deja-vu and realised I remembered some of the names. The old radio at home, sometimes – only once or twice that I could remember – when Mum was fiddling with it and trying to find a station to tune it into, had let out these long crackles like white noise, and there'd been a voice speaking in it. Party Poison, Jet Star, something about zones and a Route Guano . . . nothing comprehensible, I just remembered the names.
Fever was talking again, having gotten into his stride. I let myself pay attention, and he told us about the original Killjoys.