Sequel to No Man's Land. Dexter Roubold has plenty enough to deal with on a daily basis, the least expected of which happens to be someone new, intent on understanding his reserved nature.
"This is the Undersector..."
"Good one, sleuth. Welcome--grab a seat, have some tea." Another retorted, words dripping with sarcasm.
The second, a brown bull, fiddled with all sorts of mechanical parts and doohickeys completely abstract to the lynx at his right, who stood about with obvious curiosity. The large, run-down room, containing hints of the unmistakable scent of garbage, would be pitch black were it not for the gaps of varying sizes in the concrete ceiling above. The massive roar of activity above could be heard even through its thickness.
The lynx girl's eyes were affixed on his muscled arms, standing akin to an unnoticeable phantom at his back. "So..." She began. Upon finding she had been unsuccessful in grasping his attention, she resumed. "Do you work out?" He let out an exasperated sigh and dropped the leaden pipe he had in one hand, causing her to cringe.
"What do you think the answer to that is?" His voice was beginning to rise. The lynx only swished her tail to the right nervously.
"I'm not interested in whatever your thought process might lead you to ask next." He stated knowingly. "There is just too much work to do. You understand what we're here for, don't you?" Her blank expression was accompanied begrudgingly by a slow, uncertain shake of her head. He finally turned to meet her.
Though she was possessed by average looks, the lynx appeared to be the least weathered of the two. Rather than the plain white t-shirt and ripped swamp-green shorts worn by the other, she opted a bright pink-and-white striped shirt and old blue jeans--as though she had hardly known toil. Wherever she came from, it was obvious she had lived a normal late-teenage life.
Her sapphire eyes shone with a natural keenness, but belied an otherwise highly prevalent cordial and anxious air. The meekness of her presence was matched only by that of her thin body, which captured the very essence of innocence in the form of an orange cat.
"Shit, you're like a firefly in that get-up. Tell me you won't go out in the open by yourself. What's your name, anyway?"
"...Alice Walker," she murmured, barely audible. The bull took a deep breath before continuing.
"Well, Alice, we're scavenging what we can to help improve our lives down here--that much should be obvious. Right now, I'm trying to see if I can't get some kind of automobile to work out." He kicked some nondescript thing on the ground. "But I'm not really an expert on car design. This is more frustrating than you could possibly imagine." Alice uttered a soft agreement but did not move.
"And in the meanwhile, we got some others trying to compromise with the giants above here, in Scotton, to validate some more rights in this shitty place--proper homes, for one, not that we should have to earn what we already had." He continued again, whirling his wrist around.
"...So like I said, this isn't the time for chat. If you're here to help out, great. If not, keep moving," he finished bluntly, turning back to his work. Alice swallowed, but after a few moments of quiet summoned up her courage.
"I can try. Is that okay?" He passively motioned her over without a glance.
"'Course it is. Start by sorting out all the junk in this pile, alright?" She seemed eager to assist, beginning to make neat sections for bolts, screws, wires, and all sorts of other parts.
"Remember, just because it's made from the same material doesn't mean it should go in the same group. They all do different things." Alice stopped to look at him as she knelt, seeming a bit surprised at his sudden friendliness, then acknowledged his statement with a smile.
"You're Dex, right?" He didn't seem at all surprised at the question, instead uttering a nonchalant "Yep."
The two were hard at work for a solid half hour--and yet, Dex had made little progress toward any sort of innovation, and Alice hadn't even completed sorting half of the mountain of trash.
"This really is tough stuff," Alice started suddenly. Dex wiped his brow and turned to his feline companion.
"Be happy you aren't in charge of it all."
"Yeah. But I'm usually the only one that actually does this kind of work."
"Nobody else helps you out?" Her light voice rang with genuine interest.
"...Not often, no. One or two others come around every now and then and we all collaborate on some important project, but they are usually out getting food." Alice nodded.
"Sorry for all the questions...I'm new, if it wasn't obvious already." She said sheepishly. Dex chuckled retrospectively.
"Heh, I figured. Where are you from?"
"Wardston, it's up north. The whole place--"
"Caught fire, I heard," he intervened quickly. "Did they ever find out why?" At this, Alice shook her head left and right.
"No. Most of us made it out alright, though. My friend--Reymont Tolst--he told me to come here, to Scotton. He said it was probably my best bet." Dex's tiny ears perked. He hadn't heard that name in a while.
"Rey? You're a friend of his? Huh. Small world." He cringed at his own double entendre.
"You know him too, then? That's great!"
"Oh yeah, long childhood friends. He's a brother to me." He stopped and blinked thoughtfully. "But anyway, it's good to hear that the Wardston incident wasn't complete chaos."
"I agree, though it's still odd. Say, where is Reymont anyway?" Dex furrowed his thick brow in thought.
"Oh. He left yesterday; called it a 'fool's quest.' Should be back by tomorrow."
"What's foolish about it?" Dex laughed shortly, more to his own thoughts than to her question.
"Just about everything." Alice held a paw as though to continue, but lowered it as his mean to dodge the answer became evident.
Minutes of silence passed, the lynx absently taking note of the differing sounds of various parts Dex moved about. She slid her orange paw around on the ground for a moment and seemed hesitant, as though wanting to ask something.
"You know, um...about the stories about you, right?"
"Which ones?" He seemed to regret that statement immediately. "I--I've heard plenty of them, yes." Alice cocked her head in wonder.
"The ones about you taking on a giant. Did you really?" Dex sighed quietly with impatience and a hint of relief; she certainly wasn't the first to inquire on such a matter.
"Is this sort of thing really that important to you?" He said with a sneer, forcing a quiet whimper out of Alice. She feverishly shook her head.
"N-no, of course not! But...it's not like I can ask anyone else. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked." Dex suddenly felt a twinge of guilt.
"...I did," he said anyway. Alice gasped.
"I did. But don't treat me like I'm some war hero, alright? I'm not gonna go beat up some giant because they looked at you funny, nothing like that. And don't you go telling anyone else, either." He spat. Rightfully, Alice seemed quite confused.
"I wasn't going to. I just wanted to know if it was true..." she said, beginning to trail off. "But why would you not want anyone to know?" He laughed at what could only have been disbelief.
"Look, I can see you're a smart girl. Look at me in the eyes and tell me you don't know why I wouldn't want to tell anyone about getting into a scrap with an individual member of the collective oppression here." She couldn't bring herself to do so, her eyes seeming to flee from his own.
"I...I guess that wouldn't help their view of tinies in general..." She mumbled.
"Right you are. Furthermore, it's safe to assume that if people see me as the one making it difficult to start being treated equally, then they'll likely not think very highly of me. And when I say 'not think very highly,' I mean more along the lines of 'want me dead.'"
It took a moment to let the impact of his words truly sink in. Dex breathed in and out deeply and brushed a hand over his mane.
"Sorry for the harshness. I just hate talking about it--and in hindsight, I really shouldn't have mentioned it. But there's no doubt in my mind that I shouldn't have done what has been done.
"It's not an accomplishment, it's not impressive. I have to cover some serious ground if we're going to ever get where we might've been with the giants without me." Alice felt out of place more than anything else, but couldn't will herself to do anything but listen until he was finished.
"It's alright, Dex--"
"I don't think it is, though. And--don't call me Dex anymore. It just feels funny. My name's Dexter Roubold." His voice seemed to regain a semblance of calm as he spoke. He then sighed again and put his fingers to his temples.
"Dexter," she started, feeling the full name roll off her tongue, "You don't just beat someone up for no reason. I bet whoever it was must have done something awful to deserve it." She stopped and the two shared a few moments in thought. "Besides, this wasn't necessarily your fault. The giants didn't tolerate us before that anyway, right?"
Dexter tilted his head, eyes rolling skyward. "No...I suppose they didn't." Alice laughed nervously, taking advantage of the sudden level temperament.
"And you're doing your best to help out, right? From what you told me, not many others are being as productive as you."
"Protestors aside, I suppose that's true as well." He said, voice sounding a little higher. Alice smirked, feeling brave.
"I don't think you hate talking about it, Dexter. I think you needed to talk about it." Surprisingly, the massive bull only shrugged.
"Maybe. But it still doesn't make anything right." He finished with a huff, crossing his arms. The lynx sighed at something and was motionless as Dexter stood cold and brooding, then pooled what courage she could.
Suddenly, Dexter felt a force almost push him backwards, accompanied by a warm pressure around his chest, looping around his shoulders. He could feel his face grow slightly warmer as he looked down to meet the gaze of Alice, who had thrown herself at him in a sudden embrace.
"It's alright. Stop worrying." Her words were softer than cotton and at last managed to pierce the husk of toughness he carried around with him as a suit of armor. He returned the gesture, leaning slightly to reach her height but opting to stay silent. The two became lost in the flow of time, seeming to forget the world around them.
For the first time in a great while, Dexter felt...at ease. His muscles weren't tense, his thoughts were on anything but his work. For the duration of the temporal anomaly, he didn't have to worry about what others thought of him--it was obvious that there was at least someone who cared. And that's all he needed.
"...Thanks." He seemed surprisingly at a loss for words. He found that the beating in his chest alternated between slow and fast.
"Do you think it's best if..." she trailed off, only to let the other catch onto it.
"We don't tell anyone? ...No. Got an image to keep." He said, almost shakily. She gave a warm smile.
"Back to work, then?" The two broke the embrace simultaneously, looking each other in the eyes for but a scant few seconds.