Being considered ‘unnamed’ didn’t mean the same thing in VILE as it did in the outside world. Out there it meant a person without worth. Here it simply meant you were a member of the support corps; a grunt, or a shirt, who hadn’t taken on a named, solo henchman status.
Blue shirts made up the bulk of these; custodians, mechanics, cooks, pilots, all the vital roles needed to keep this stateless state running. Some groups gave themselves their own colours. The cooks chose white, the IT chose grey, but overall they were lumped together as blue, except one faction.
Carmen’s security, the black shirts.
Neb exhaled a stream of warm breath into the chilled, impromptu morgue at the back of the MAMBA. When she’d first gotten on board she’d been tempted to hole up in her room and punch her bed until the anger subsided, but more pressing duties took precedence. Now her work was done and she was here, trying to make sense of the night.
“You okay?” came a voice behind her, and the small woman turned to find the guard she’d just tended to had come in behind her.
Neb looked back with a grim smile and nodded. “Yeah, just...you know. Sending them off.”
Ara Chung stood beside her, one hand on hip, a bottle of beer in the other. “Same.”
For a long moment they said nothing, the puffs of steam drifting from their lips the only movement in the room until Neb wiped her nose. “Did you know them?”
“Well enough,” Ara replied. “Wu is from the states, came here after he got mixed up in some cartel stuff. Jing Lan is from Vietnam I think. I just met him on this mission.” Her voice dropped and she took a sip from the bottle she was carrying. “Said he just got married to someone else here. Fucking sucks, but I mean… it comes with the job.”
The girl half turned. “You guys are black shirts, right?”
The taller woman cocked a brow. “Yeah, aren’t you?”
Neb shook her head as she leaned against the wall of the hull. “Nah… Always wanted to be one, though, be what kept her safe. I tried to get in when I was a blue, but I couldn’t pass the physical. I’ve always looked up to you guys.”
“Could have fooled me. You saved my ass out there,” the Korean replied, then took another sip before offering the bottle. “I brought this to pour one out, but I don’t think the boss would like that, so I’m drinking it instead. Want to help?”
The girl usually didn’t drink beer, but for whatever reason the taste didn’t matter. “How did you get here?”
Ara’s eyes clouded. “My parents and I escaped North Korea when I was really young. Maybe it’s just paranoia, but I’m always afraid I’ll get taken back. Can’t get me if I’m here, right? Silly, but still.”
Neb shook her head solemnly. “Not silly at all. Not at all…”
Another long pause, another long sip by the far more athletic woman. “This place keeps the beer cold at least…. So wait, are you still a blue or did you get named?”
“Used to be a blue shirt in the UK. Mechanic. Those were good times…. But then I filed for a name so I could do my own stuff.”
The guard cracked a smile. “Love it. Not everyone does the pun name.”
“Pun names are classic. It was pun or nothing.”
The two bumped fists, then settled back into reflective silence, occasionally passing the bottle back and forth.
“I miss it though, being a shirt,” Neb said after a time. “I miss the group. Being named is for people that really like doing the thief thing. I was never into that.”
“Then why get named?”
“To be a doctor, mostly. Other stuff too, but a lot that.”
At that Ara flexed her arm. “Neb, maybe it’s the pain meds or whatever you put on here, but feels like there’s nothing wrong under these stitches. And I’ve been cut up a lot. You’re going to be a great doc. You should doc with the black shirts, you know? I bet you could talk the boss into it.”
The girl smiled gently at the mouth of the bottle in her hand. There was nothing wrong under Ara’s stitches, not anymore, but no one needed to know that. “You really think Carmen would let me work with you guys?”
The Korean stretched and took back the now nearly empty bottle, then gave her a heavy pat on the shoulder. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re already one of us.”
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