I finally found the Distribution Office after several wrong turns and no small amount of backtracking. “Just follow the direction I go,” the estrie had said. That was all well and fine, but didn’t work so well when the street split off into a tangled maze of alleys and derelict buildings. Were there any buildings on this side that weren’t falling apart?
The Distribution Office was one, I supposed, though no more easy on the eyes than the abandoned buildings. It squatted, a concrete, two-story hunk that covered at least a city block (by living side standards), like a half-dead, drunken spider in a web of its own making.
Just past the big metal gates, I spotted the estrie and the zombie child in a sort of open courtyard. The girl sat on a bench, slurping a drink through a straw. The estrie stood next to a window like at a drive-through, talking to a man inside.
A moment later, she caught sight of me. “Margot!” the estrie called, gesturing me over.
“Margot Lucas?” the man in the window asked as I drew close enough to hear. “As in the new zombie who kept me late because she wouldn’t drink her brains, then got me stuck on distribution duty when that damn wraith reported me for not confirming her name?”
I winced. Now that I was close enough, I recognised the vampire who had taken me from the living side to the dead side.
“On the plus side, you can report Shirin right back for not giving Margot the proper orientation,” the estrie pointed out.
“Really?” the vampire asked, looking at me. I shrugged. “Sarai, you are a genius.”
“Of course, it won’t get you off distribution duty,” the estrie—so her name was Sarai—pointed out.
“Yeah, but I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing she’s stuck on the same shift. And she hates it more than I do.” The vampire wasn’t even trying to conceal his glee.
Just then the zombie girl marched up to the counter, slammed her empty cup down in front of the vampire, and demanded, “More.”
“Manners, Merry,” Sarai scolded.
“More please Vincent,” the child continued, in no less of a demanding tone.
“Yes ma’am,” the vampire muttered, spinning around and fiddling with some machine.
“You know this wouldn’t be a problem if you got your rations on time, right?” Sarai’s expression was stern as she looked down at the oblivious child. When her eyes flicked briefly over to me, I realised her lecture was as much for my benefit as for the girl’s. “You won’t get so hungry if you eat regularly.”
My own stomach rumbled in response to that. I twitched. No matter what they said, I would starve to death before I ate human brains. It was abhorrent. If that was all they would serve me here, I’d just have to find other ways.
“When was the last time she…ate?” I asked, grimacing at my own question.
“A few days.” Sarai was now watching me steadily, her expression inscrutable. She wouldn’t try to force me to eat brains, would she? “At the least. Maybe a week. That’s how it goes with children. Their bodies hold together for longer, but their minds deteriorate faster without regular rations.”
“And how long could someone my age go without rations?”
“Don’t be stupid,” the vampire interjected, handing the girl her refilled cup. “It can only hurt you and those with the misfortune of knowing you to not eat.”
“A week, maybe two,” Sarai answered, much more helpfully. “But you should know, zombies that show no inclination of eating their rations regularly and have gone brain crazy more than twice are subject to execution.”
I blanched. “But zombies are already dead,” I protested weakly.
“Yeah, and the brain crazy ones are a menace.” The vampire sounded appallingly cheerful. “There’s no few of us who are happy when we get a good zombie hunt.”