A sharp crack rang through Baracus a couple of hours before dawn. Alice sat up and looked around. She saw how dark it was and frowned.
“Not another time!”
Most people in Baracus were used to the occasional loud noise and, more often than not, the noise was caused by Drake, a resident Worker and also one of the King’s agents.
The first time Alice had heard the sharp crash of metal, she had jumped about in confusion and wonder. It had been during the day, and Jithin had explained it all to her in order to calm her down. He told her that Workers were field leaders for new Solune inventions, and that they used a lot of metal and springs. Occasionally, he had said, something would go wrong, and the combination of heavy springs and iron would result in noises like what she had heard. And, he’d added, usually it was Drake; especially if it happened after dark, since Drake liked to work into the night.
This time the sound echoed across the early morning. Most of the town had gone back to sleep. Both Alice and Jithin, on the other hand, had difficulties falling asleep again this close to sunrise. Thus, Alice knew that Jithin would be awake, so she put on some pants and went down her ladder into the confined living room. Jithin was already there, thinking out loud.
“Hmm… Drake must be working on something important. If I had to guess, I would say whatever went wrong happened because he’s tired.” Then he looked up and saw his visitor. He cried out, “Alice, will you put on a shirt!”
She shrugged. Due to her Plainkind sensibilities, Alice was unconcerned with such things. Oritha had told them both as much, and Jithin was about as unhappy to hear it as Alice was happy. It was especially frustrating, of course, since Alice was slowly becoming an adult. And so, Alice retorted.
“We ere not outside! I like it like this, I feel free,” she made a spin, singing the word.
Jithin pointed, “You are outside your room! That counts as outside.”
Alice stuck her tongue out. She knew that this was their arrangement. She looked around and then took one of the shirts off the ground. (The house was not clean.) They sat, Jithin on the old couch, and Alice on a chair that used to live in the kitchen.
Jithin asked her, “Are there any times when you aren’t strange?”
“Oh, I think so,” Alice replied.
“I remember when you first got here. How long ago was that?”
“Almost an entire single year!”
“And, how difficult you were back then? Who did you bite again?”
“I did not bite any person!”
Jithin laughed, “Right, you bit through the wood of the Keeper’s bartable. I wonder if that’s why he gives you free drinks?”
Alice pouted, remembering her past emotional impulsivity. Then, she opened her mouth and touched her chest, “No! He said it’s because I’m nice!”
“And I’m not?”
“Well,” she said, “also I’m just little.”
“Not for long, look at you, you’re almost as strong as me now, and you’re what?”
“Fifteen,” she said proudly, “And also even more days after that!”
“And how did a young girl like you make it here alone anyway? Didn’t you say you came from the capital?”
Alice smiled, and picked at one of her finger-long canines.
“Seriously,” Jithin continued, “I would really like to know what happened here. Murdock is not close, and you came alone. I don’t know why you would bother; isn’t it nicer there?”
“Yes!” Alice leapt out of her chair, shaking the apartment.
“Alice! Sit down.”
“Fine,” she sat down, “Murdock is where I landed with my mom, but she’s not over the ground anymore, and so then I just lived in an alley and then also, I was playing with everyone, you know there aren’t enough kids here!” She took a breath.
Jithin replied, “Wait wait, so your father is outside the wall, and your mother is dead? And you were homeless?”
“Sure! Anyway, like I was saying, there were more kids than here, and we would play all sorts of games in the streets. Artur had a lot of things he wanted to play, and he would even made up some new ones, and those were also fun as well. And there was an older girl who would boss around people sometimes, but not me, because I’m not a bad boy.”
“Is that so?”
Alice got excited and fidgeted in her chair, “Yes! But also, she didn’t talk a lot, except that I would talk to her all the time because she looked really bored or sad or both of those, if that’s allowed. And everyone called her Jutt, but her name was Alexandre, and also she looks like Finch but bigger, and not a boy. And so Finch didn’t come out to the streets until I found his books and then also I found him! And after we were already friends very quick by after that, and also a lot.”
Jithin shook his head, trying to keep up. She had talked about Finch a few times before, he could remember. He must be important.
“And there is a castle there too! Jithin, look, it was this tall,” She stretched, “but even more high than that! And a follower of Conflict would gave me meat, and also I even attacked a friend, it was Finch’s friend, and then that’s why I had to go away,” she mumbled.
Alice said, “Well, the guards don’t like me very much, and so then now they have an excuse and Finch said that they wanted to lock me in one jail, except it was for ten years! And then Finch was like ‘Oh! That’s real bad! You have to go away for a few years.’ And then so after I walked here, and it took a some days.”
Alice’s smile returned, as if her babbling was entirely coherent.
“Alice,” Jithin said, “you’re going to have to learn how to talk like an adult you know. It’s hard to figure what you’re saying. And, are you telling me that you were going to be imprisoned for attacking someone?”
“And that the guard didn’t like you? Why?”
“Well, actually, no one liked me except if they were also small like just like me. Even Finch’s dad! They don’t like me because,” she widened her dark red, vertically slit eyes, “I’m too scary!”
Jithin laughed, but Alice just pressed her argument, “Look!”
She brandished her curved, hardened fingernails, and her smile widened as tendons in her cheeks pulled back, revealing a row of sharp teeth. “Look,” she said, “Look, I’m made for eating meat! And guess what! What about if I was made for eating Solune’s meat? Then I would be super scary!” Her mouth opened even more, in surprise at her own thought.
Jithin’s laugh only grew louder, “Oh, a super duper scary creature indeed! Alice, if I had so much as a knife I would be more dangerous than you.”
That was his initial though, but looking at how she was built physically, her tooth and nail, and developing muscle, he wasn’t so sure. Her physique might explain how she managed to walk all the way to Baracus on her own.
Alice put her teeth away, and shrugged, “I don’t think I’m scary.”
He could remember seeing her for the first time almost a year ago. She was thin, just muscle and bones. And she was small. But truly, she looked like a creature.
He had been working with his team, repairing a roof on the main street. When she had jogged through from the east in the morning, he hadn’t paid much attention. It was when she had came back at the end of the work day, strolling and dejected, that he got confused. There was nothing east of Baracus except the wall, he’d thought. He and his workers passed her on their way home. The others just gawked and well around her, but she didn’t notice. He remembered that she was walking with her head down. She could see only the ground.
Jithin, on the other hand, stopped, letting the others go on without him. He knew something was wrong. It was hard to tell, because she looked okay when she stood on her two feet, but whenever she took a step, whenever only one leg was tasked with supporting her weight, it trembled and shook. And on top of it she was starved. Maybe to his team, she did look scary, and that’s why they avoided her. But Jithin looked past the eyes and teeth. He saw the human world for its similarities first, and differences second.
“It’s good that you don’t think you’re scary,” Jithin said. “Do you remember when we first met?”
Alice brightened, “Yes! Oh yes, and then you gave me food! I remember! The first thing I rememeber is bumping into you on the road! On because I was looking only at the ground.”
“Right, and then what?” He urged her on.
“Then… I fell on the ground.”
“And I pulled you up and took you to the Keeper to get you something to eat.”
“Yes!” Alice stood, “Yes, you took me into a building and I- I-”
“You got panicky, which added to your previous frustration, and then you bit into the Keeper’s table.”
Alice sat back down, “It wasn’t on purpose!”
“And then, when you calmed down, and finally took a seat, you started crying. And I had to figure out what to do because the people in the cafe were looking at me and the strange child who had left teeth marks in the counter.”
Alice, in her memory, was sent back to that time. She was so distraught leaving Murdock, and she had clung to her one idea, to return to her father, a man she barely remembered. And then after days of truding down roads, that too was denied to her. And in her hunger and thirst, in a burst of fatigue and emotion she attacked something… she made sure that this time, that thing wasn’t alive.
Alice rubbed her eyes.
Jithin saw her tears, and decided it was time to lighten the mood. He said, “And then you ate twenty Solune worth of food!”
Alice sniffed and said, “Well that part was on purpose.”
“What about after!”
At this Alice laughed, “I didn’t know that bread would make me throw up! I never ate it before!”
“Then you ate twice that amount more!”
“Well, not the bread!”
Then they both laughed.
After a comfortable and remeniscent silence, Jithin decided to ask about Finch, since he seemed to come up a lot.
“So, who is Finch? Haven’t you spoken of him before?”
“Oh no! I never even told you! Finch is my first teacher, and he’s also a Riley, and there aren’t a lot of them, and he’s the smartest person because he reads the library, and he showed me what a letter-shape is, and I have it in my room too! It’s on the wall! So Finch is also my friend, and we were friends more, and faster than my other friends, but I don’t know why.”
“Oh,” He replied, nodding as if he had some sort of information that she didn’t. He stood up and said, “Well Alice, It’s getting bright you know, bright enough to start making breakfast. What do you want to eat today?”
“Good choice,” Jithin grinned, “I don’t like the mess.”
This is part of the Alice and Finch novel-in-progress. Currently it’s placed directly after the Work Horse chapter, although the chronology remains undecided. Seemingly it’s independent enough that it can stand alone (that’s why I didn’t put this note at the beginning of the post), but it’s also fairly necessary in the overall story. Likely it will have to be lengthened to include how Jithin and Alice met, unless I put that somewhere else. (So much editing!!) Until then, here you go.
Note to self.
Justifying this chapter’s existence:
– Introduces Drake Aisticht properly.
– Recapitulates Alice’s adventure thus far.
– Gives pieces of Alice’s perspective on certain events in Murdock
– Explains how Alice actually got to Baracus.
– Explains how Alice met Jithin