My first job with Recursion went incredibly smoothly. Devin and Xiang were efficient in a way I had never seen before, allowing me to focus on what I did best. I was grateful as field work was still new to me, and I remember being full of trepidation.
First I need to go back slightly further, to when I met Milly.
“Line, if we’re going to work together Milly has to clear you first” said Devin. I looked to Xiang but he just smiled warmly, a smile I’d come to know all too well.
“Who is she? Your boss?” I asked. Devin laughed at that with the deep throated tones only a Dwarf can muster.
“I haven’t had a boss for decades’ son” he replied, “Only ever mutual co-operation. I guess you could say Milly and I co-operate with each other”
Milly’s place, it turned out, was an orphanage. Memories of my childhood returned, crystallised visions of isolation and the chaotic, desperate communities these represented. Reluctance would have slowed me if not for the fact I didn’t want to fuck this up, or give away anything about my past.
Entering, my fears were put to rest – this was nothing like the places from my youth. Immediately striking were the colours; reds, greens, yellows, blues, those deep purples and shining turquoise tones that spoke of mystery and beauty.
Children’s paintings and drawings were present everywhere, fairy lights and wall hangings, ceiling hosting banners and decorations. Contrasted with the grey streets we had left this was entering another world, a realm beyond the mundane. Gazing over Devin looked focused, but Xiang’s face lit up as if it were Christmas.
As we walked further inward several children appeared from a side door, running and playing. Most recognised Devin and Xiang, some coming over to hug the two mercenaries. Xiang hung back to play with the kids, whilst Devin ushered me into a room at the back.
The door had barely opened before we heard;
“What is it? I’m busy”
“I could come back later” replied Devin, grinning. The room was a wide office space and a small, middle aged human woman sat in a chair behind a heavy looking wooden desk. She peered up over her glasses without smiling back. The moment hung wordlessly before Devin spoke again.
“Okay Milly, I’ll get to it. This is a new recruit, just give him a look over will you?”. I suddenly felt self-aware, like I was about to be assessed. Milly barely moved, flicking her gaze to me briefly, then back down to her work.
“He’s fine” she replied, resuming the task she had been focused on before our arrival. Devin’s jovial tone switched, a sternness descending.
“Milly” he said again, flatly. She looked up once more and locked eyes with Devin, responding to the challenge. Silence whilst a tension gripped the air, and I felt out of place. Eventually with a heavy sigh, Milly stood up properly, walking around the desk toward me.
I stood still, unsure of what to expect. Milly stopped in front of me and stared, eyes scanning my body from top to bottom. Her expression switched from disinterest to a frown, from a frown to curiousity, and finally what seemed to be earnest surprise. Over those few seconds I remember feeling exposed, almost naked under the penetrating gaze of this woman.
“You have lost so much” she finally said, staring into my eyes, “I am sorry”.
Looking back objectively there’s no shame in what happened next, but at the time I recall wanting to turn and run. The shock at her understanding, the compassion in her eyes and the immediate wave of feeling, as if her words had opened a door I kept tightly shut.
I cried after she said it without control, stomach tensing as the tears shook me. Through blurred vision I saw Devin fold his arms at my side, and Milly reach out to place a single finger on my chest. Immediately I felt comforted, relaxing and regaining some measure of composure.
“Will you let them take it again?”, she suddenly asked.
An immediate reply without thought as anger flared, matching her gaze once more. Something burned in me then, something I’d never felt before, something absolute and all-consuming in the energy it imbued me with.
Milly smiled, took her finger from my chest, turned and walked back to her chair.
“This is your man Devin” she said, sitting down gently again to resume her work.