Wilde seemed bewildered by my tale, but she remained stoic in manner all the same. I could see her eyes measuring my words, testing me like one might test an untrodden bridge. Jackson entered the room with a look of grim expectancy on his face.
“Well, welcome aboard Will.” Jackson’s jaw dropped like a sack of bricks. Even Quincy’s beady eyes seemed wide behind his round spectacles.
I stammered. “But…”
Wilde cut the words from my mouth. “But what? Do you intend to deny my hospitality? You crawled into my home, my fortress, like a rat through a crack in the wall! You’re on my turf! Your wretched presence eked out of my tunnel! You do not get a choice, and you shouldn’t need one anyways.” She was roaring. “You are now one of us. Whether you like it or not, you need us and you can’t deny it! So welcome to the ranks Private Will! STAND AT ATTENTION!”
I flew to my feet, scattering Quincy’s instruments across the floor. He cursed, diving clumsily for them. My legs snapped together as if magnetised, my shoulders squared, my body drew itself into a very straight line and became statuesque. Beaten, shirtless, with half a length of wiry twine sticking from my shoulder awkwardly, I stood before my new commanding officer in the first safe place I had known in an eternity. And I had never been so afraid in my life.
“Once you’re patched up, we’ll have to test out your combat skills. Obviously you have some, or you’d certainly be dead now!”
Jackson was still stunned, clamoring for words.
Wilde gazed at him with a fire in her eyes only definable as terrifying. Jackson shrunk.
“Did I speak to you Corporal?” Jackson stood tall at attention, swaying slightly. “We’ll speak later. Now Private Gaynes!”
I jumped, and in a stressed tone responded. “Yes Ma’am… Sir!”
The intensity upon her face subsided, she instantly became very calm. “I believe this is rightfully yours.” She handed me the sleevegun. “Now let Quincy finish his work on you.” She turned to Quincy. “I apologize for interrupting. Carry on! And Jackson, you’re coming with me.” She grinned devilishly, and Jackson, still at attention, let out a soft whimper. It looked as if he was going to burst into tears.
they left the room, and Quincy unblinkingly restrung his needle and continued his patchwork, muttering to himself in a silent tone. I was now a Private of the Rebel Army. It had been a long day.