Annie looked up from her work. “Rescued another?”
“Yeah,” Paul nodded, and the cowering girl stepped out from behind him.
Annie’s eyes opened wide, and a gasp escaped her, but she recovered quickly and managed a nervous grin. “Well, hi! You’re Mariah, aren’t you? It’s so nice to meet you!”
The child nodded, and returned an equally unconvincing smile.
“My name’s Annie. I know I look like a mess; it’s because of the work I do. I need to talk to Paul real quick; I’ll be right back to show you around, okay?” Without waiting for a response, she dragged Paul by the elbow to an adjoining room, and shut the door behind them.
Mariah sat at Annie’s workbench, looking at the reddish filings in the bin. She touched the pile and examined the powder on her fingertip, fascinated. Then her attention turned to the muffled voices in the next room.
“… the fuck were you thinking…?”
“… couldn’t just leave…”
“… so what happens when…?”
“… just have to be careful…”
Eventually they returned. Annie’s face was a bit grim, but Paul’s smile seemed genuine enough, and Mariah knew that she was in no immediate trouble. Paul hugged her and pecked her cheek, and promised to come visit soon. Then, she was alone with Annie, and nervous.
“You don’t want me here,” Mariah said accusingly. “I heard you.”
Annie cringed. “No, honey, it’s not you.” She knelt and held the girl’s hands. “Things are just scary right now; that’s all. We need to keep you hidden from the outside for awhile. ‘Til you’re a little less… famous, you know?”
“I’m famous?” she brightened, then it dawned on her why. “It’s the fat man. He was the famous one, wasn’t he?”
Annie nodded. “One of those people inside. One of the ones who can do anything they want.”
“You were like me, weren’t you?” Mariah asked, the epiphany visible in her eyes. “Did Paul rescue you, too?”
Annie turned her head aside and fought back a tear. “It was some years ago,” she eventually choked. “At the time… there wasn’t anyone to rescue me.”
Mariah rushed Annie and wrapped her arms around her neck, and there they sat for awhile as Annie sniffled. Soon she stood and took a deep breath, forcing a smile.
“Well,” she tried to chuckle, “are you ready to meet your new sisters?”
Mariah nodded enthusiastically, and Annie led her out of the workshop.
“Annie? The fat man’s dead, isn’t he? That’s why there’s trouble?”
“Yes, honey,” she sighed. “He’s dead.”