Olivia coasted through the air, ignoring the aching bruises on her chest from last night. The cool night air helped to clear her head and let her focus on something beyond the faint ringing in her ears that hadn’t dissipated fully. I hope those guys I hit are OK. After helping Skulker, she found herself with nothing to do but fly, sleep, and wait. There should be something I’m doing, right? I can’t just do this forever. Maybe when I figure out who I really am, than I can figure something out.
A familiar scent caught her attention as she approached her apartment building. She circled around a few times, catching sight of Ben walking the streets below in his normal clothes, mask nowhere to be seen. He waved up at her after she swooped down, then pointed to her building. A few minutes, later, they met in her apartment.
He snapped and pointed a finger at her the moment he barged in after her. “Hey! Quick question, do your organs feel alright?” he asked, just slow enough to be comprehensible.
“I’m sorry?” she asked in bewilderment, desperately searching for some sort of context clue to make sense of his question.
“Your insides, do they feel bad?”
She stared. I mean, my bruises hurt, but that’s just my skin. “No. I hope not.”
“Great! Just makin’ sure. I realized yesterday that gettin’ shot might lead to internal bleedin’. Sounds like your fine, though,” he said with a grin.
He strolled through her apartment, one hand tapping against his thigh in some unheard rhythm. He tried a light switch, getting no response out of the dark bulb above him. Should I do something? She spotted her box of donuts on the kitchen counter. Food. Food is good. Maybe I can offer him some. Oh, wait, it’s empty. Say something.
“What would happen if I did have internal bleeding?” she asked. That doesn’t sound that bad. Blood is supposed to be inside anyways, right?
He shrugged and said, “I’d probably wind up draggin’ you to a hospital.”
“I thought I was supposed to stay away from people.”
“Whatever would happen would be better than dyin’ slowly on the floor.” Oh, I guess it is bad.
“Are those drapes?” he asked, pointing to her makeshift bed on the couch.
“Yes.” I think that’s weird, though. “They’re warmer than nothing,” she added defensively.
He gave her apartment another look, eyebrow raised. “You sure you wanna do this?”
I don’t know. Everyone has a gun. But they’re bad, right? Ben is alone otherwise. And they kidnapped someone. And if I say no, maybe Ben wont help me. She nodded. “Yes. But have you figured out how to figure out who I am?”
“Yeah!” he said, leaning on the wall between the living room and the kitchen. Olivia sat on the couch, tossing the apparently offensive drapes off the side to make room for her tail.
“I have a plan,” he continued. “That’s actually what I was doin’ before you flew over. This is what I’m thinkin’. This is a skeevy area, but there’s a couple shops in the area. I’m willin’ to bet at least some have got security cameras. We take a look, see if they picked anythin’ suspicious up. Now before you say yes, this is gonna require breakin’ an’ enterin’. We ain’t gonna steal anythin’, but this is super not legal.”
If he’s willing, I guess it’s alright. “OK.”
“For this to work though, I need to know when you woke up. Do you know?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied with a shake of her head, getting a clump of hair in her way.
“You were outside, right?” He leaned forward, eyes locked with hers. “Where was the sun? Was it still up?”
“Yes. I think it was just setting.” Is that right? I think that’s right.
“Hold on.” He pulled out his phone. “No fuckin way,” he said with a grin. “You can fuckin’ search when sunset an’ sunrise were for any day. OK, some time around nine PM. That gives us a specific time to work with when we’re goin’ through the video records. This ain’t a guarantee, keep that in mind, but it’s a start.”
“Why do you think we’ll find something?” she asked.
“I’m thinkin’ someone dumped you there. You didn’t have anythin’. That seems like it’d be on purpose,” he said.
“I didn’t have any clothes,” she mumbled, eyes fixed firmly on the ground in front of her.
“That ain’t super surprisin’. There ain’t many seven foot chicks in the world. What is surprisin’ is you haven’t mentioned anythin’ near you. No torn clothes, no jewelry or bags nearby. It’s a rare day when someone walks down the street buck naked. Someone took all that off you after you turned.”
“I don’t know how long I was there.”
“Not long if no one reported you. Remember, the first time anyone knew you existed was when we ran into each other. An’ you’re pretty tough. Remember gettin’ shot? I bet you were up an’ runnin’ in no time.”
I wasn’t really up. I was super scared. She didn’t bother to correct him, instead asking, “So when are we going to do that?”
“Tomorrow. If tonight goes well. Don’t want to just break in an’ leave evidence of us everywhere. Need to plan that out a bit.”
“What are we doing tonight. Did you find something about the missing kid?”
“I did, but we got time. They’re movin’ someone early mornin’” He looked over her apartment, smile wavering. “If you don’t mind, you could come over to my place. It’s smaller, but it’s got runnin’ water, electricity, an’ a fridge with real food.”
“Wow, that didn’t take much convincin’.” Ben pushed off the wall and headed for the door. “I’m parked one street over. Unless you wanna hoof it for miles.”
“Oh.” I’ve never been in a car before. “I guess that’s OK,” she said, following after him. What’s wrong with flying though? Is it too far?
True to his word, his car was only one street over, parked next to a long broken parking meter. Lights flashed on an old forest green car that had seen better days. Olivia eyed the small door opposite of where Ben entered. Wing tip first, she agneld herself in, stopping halfway when she felt Ben’s hand on her side.
“Maybe try the back,” he said, leaning around her wing to look at her with a grin. “Can’t drive with a wing in my face.”
She wedged herself in the back, wings splayed to either side, head tucked nearly into her chest, and tail wrapped around her waist. Out from speakers in the front blasted a horrible noise which took her a moment to recognize as music. Oh god, it’s terrible. And angry. Why is he listening to this? Why would anyone listen to this?
To give her something else to hear, she leaned forward and said, “You mentioned a Mexican emperor before.” That sounded interesting.
“Yeah. You still hung up on that? It’s common fuckin’ knowledge. How do you not know that?”
Her shoulders slumped. “Because I’m stupid and don’t know anything,” she mumbled.
He laughed and said, “Welcome to the club.”
“Could you help?”
He cast her a sidelong glance over his shoulder and asked, “With what?”
“You know stuff. I need to know stuff”
“Stuff is a pretty big word. I don’t know all things.”
“No. How about just history?” she said, picking a subject at random.
“I really ain’t the best guy for this,” he said with a shake of his head.
“You know more than me.”
“OK, world history: Ben edition. Someone invented farmin’. People built cities. Egypt, uh, existed. Some goddess popped up in Germany. Then Greeks conquered a bunch of shit. Then Romans conquered a bunch of shit. And Persians conquered a bunch of shit. Not in that order though. Some dude teleported some poor fuckin’ Chinese people into the Mediterranean, an’ that was the Silk Road. Maybe that was earlier, I dunno. Rome collapsed and then knights did their thing. Europe discovered the rest of the world an’ decided they didn’t like it. Except the Glass City, everyone gets along fine with them. They fought everythin’ else, an’ invented factories. An’ kicked off a couple World Wars. Us an’ Russia decided we hated each other. That stopped when aliens crash landed an’ gave us other things to worry about. Overlord tore shit up when everybody was busy with the genocidal aliens. Some nukes were thrown, an’ here we are.”
That’s a lot to process. Maybe too much. “I don’t think that helped.”
Ben threw his hands up in exasperation, sending the car swerving before he regained control of the wheel. “What do you want from me? That was just random bullshit I remember from history class. I spent half of that asleep.”
“OK.” Smaller questions. “You’ve mentioned gods twice now. Who? What?”
“I did? Oh, yeah. So, the Mother is in smack dab the middle of Europe. She’s spent thousands of years dancin’ naked in the forest or some shit, I dunno. She tried purifyin’ all humans or somethin’, those were those World Wars I mentioned. She lost, an’ she ain’t done much lately, far as I know.”
“So she made a world war on her own?” asked Olivia.
“Two, an’ no, she made friends, an’ then they dragged in their friends. She didn’t tell them about her eugenics. Probably smart of her.”
“OK. The other guy?”
“Right. Cuauhtémoc, the Aztec emperor. Or Mexican, same thing. Remember when I said Europe fought everyone? Well, first thing that happened was Spain showed up an’ attacked Mexico outta nowhere. Or was it Portugal? I dunno, I think they had a bunch of succession wars or somethin’. Anyways, he said no.”
“That’s it?” You can just tell an invasion no? That works?
“No, he killed a whole bunch of people. I think the empire had two civil wars after that. Disease killed everyone he knew. He’s immortal, his people ain’t. Thank god.”
“So wait, you’re happy his people can die?” That can’t be right.
“Yeah,” he said.
Her jaw dropped. “That’s a horrible thing to say.”
“We’ve fought like three wars with the fucker. If it weren’t for that little fact we’d be gettin’ our hearts ripped out right now. I dunno if this is clear yet, but he ain’t a nice guy.”
“Why hasn’t he taken everything over?”
“Just cuz he’s immortal don’t mean he magically knows how taxes work. Or how to keep his toadies from gettin’ murdered by the locals the second he turns his back.”
“But he’s had all that time.” He said he was immortal, right?
“You’d think so. But Mexico is held together with tape an’ fear right now, an’ that’s cuz of him.”
“Are there any more gods I should know about?”
“Nope, just the two.” Oh, great. Two isn’t so bad. I thought he was going to say there were seven more.
“That was a lot of war you just mentioned,” she pointed out.
“Yeah, everyone thinks their superpowers are the best superpowers.”
Olivia shifted in her seat as the conversation lulled. Leaning to the side relieved some of the bend in her neck, though her left wing was shoved against the window.
“You mentioned a bunch of people being teleported led to the Silk Road. What does any of that mean?” she asked. That doesn’t sound like a war.
“Some Roman dude with powers got the emperor to give him a metric fuckton of drugs to make his powers better. Or was that some British guy? Whatever. He made a portal that connected Rome an’ China. Even after the portal closed, they still tried to trade. I guess that was important. Everyone kept sayin’ it was.” Ben finished with a shrug.
she opene“And the Glass City, what is that?” Maybe that will be cooler.
“A city made of glass.”
Olivia took a moment to bite back a mean retort and said, “I don’t think that’s very helpful.”
“You can’t fight in the city. Can’t use weapons, long range shit doesn’t work. Someone tried launchin’ a missile, it just swerved away. They set up the League of Nations there. It’s somewhere in Africa, I forget where.”
Olivia received a slapdash lesson in world history through the fifteen minute drive. Despite his protests, Ben seemed happy just talking as fast as possible, no matter the subject matter. The conversation came to a stop once they reached his building. They slipped into his the third floor without incident. The building reminded Olivia of her home, dilapidated, in bad repair, and otherwise worse for wear.
Whatever Olivia expected of Ben, the apartment wasn’t it. The walls were a light grey, adorned only with a mounted tomahawk. There was a couch across from a small TV, hooked up to a cable box on a table. A tiny, clean kitchen was off to the right. To their left were doors to the bedroom and bathroom.
“Don’t have to just stand there you know,” he said, beckoning her further inside. “Go on, grab a bite to eat. I gotta check on somethin’.” He teleported off to his bedroom.
Food. She lumbered over to the fridge in the kitchen, claws catching on the carpet. A delicious scent immediately caught her nose once she opened the door. A barely touched package of sliced ham lay at the bottom. She opened it up and ate the entire thing in two bites. This is his food. I shouldn’t take any more. She wandered after Ben.
As sparse as the living room was, Ben’s bedroom was chaotic. She saw three pistols on the ground the far corner. Two crowbars, a fire axe, and a sledgehammer leaned against each other in another. A couple movie and videogame posters covered the walls at odd angles, tacked onto with a thick grey tape. The closet was thrown open, clothes clean and dirty spilling out. This seems more like him. She approached the unmade bed next to Ben.
Do I just sit? She walked in and sat on the edge of his bed, tail dangling off the side. Ben spun in his chair to face her directly and said, “You always seem nervous. You still worryin’ about everythin’?”
“Yeah. I mean, I don’t know what I am. I hurt people when we went into that warehouse. I almost hurt you too, I think.”
He said, “Well, to be fair, I just walked up to you in the middle of a fight, that was a bad call on my part.”
“Yeah, but still, I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Yeah,” then he suddenly leaned over and jabbed her in the eye.
“Ow, why?” she asked, holding a hand over the poked eye. What did I do?
He considered her with a grin, stroking his chin in mock contemplation. “Interestin’. You see, if you were dumb monster thing, as you seem to think you are, you woulda bit me or attacked or somethin’. Instead, you’re makin’ me feel like I just kicked a puppy. Not a classic monster trait, I’ll tell you that for free. Also, I didn’t getcha too hard, did I?”
She blinked her eye a couple time and removed her hand, her eye was fine. “I’m fine, but please don’t do that again.” He smiled and nodded, holding his hands up to as if to say ‘I’m innocent’. She sighed. “Why?”
“Why did this have to happen? All of it, everything.”
“You want the short version or the long version? Never mind, I’ll tell you both.” He grinned and settled more comfortably in his chair, leaning forward. “The short reason is cuz fuck you. That’s why.”
She stared at him for a moment, then said, “That’s not a reason.” Why do I bother?
He burst into laughter. “OK, OK, OK. Lemme explain. Long version. You an’ I an’ everyone else are insignificant specks on a chunk of rock, which in turn is an insignificant speck, hurtlin’ through the icy screamin’ void of space. We mean nothin’. Everythin’ we do is ultimately meaningless. No matter what happens to you, trigger or no, means jack shit. Tha’s the truth. You with me so far?”
“But you can’t look at it like that. In spite of what I just said, people still do amazin’ shit. Moon landings, pyramids, you get the picture. You may be one in a billion, but you never know what’ll come outta what you do until you try. Ninety nine point nine repeating percent of all 9.7 billion people on Earth wouldn’t care if I died, so why do I continue? Because I want to. Because I’ve got my brothers, I’ve got friends an’ acquaintances, I’ve got stuff I wanna do before I kick the bucket. It matters what you do more than anythin’ else. So what are you gonna do? Mope about somethin’ outta your control, or do somethin’? I watched you eat bullets. Bullets. There’s a reason we use those to kill each other, an’ you just shrugged ‘em off. You can do a lot of shit if you put your mind to it.”
He leaned back and took a deep breath. Olivia barely heard him breathe during that entire tirade.
“I get what you’re saying. But I don’t know. I’ve been afraid of nearly everything for weeks now.” Ben started coughing at that. “What?”
“Nothin’. Continue.” He waved her off, hiding his smile with the other hand.
Olivia was getting tired of Ben treating everything like a joke. “What, you’ve never been afraid that some government agency is going to swoop in and dissect you? You’ve never been afraid that you were going insane because you didn’t even know your own name? Never been afraid of how you’re going to get by day to day, if you’re ever going to get a job or fit in anywhere?” Her voice was raised at that point.
Unfortunately, he still grinned. So help me, I’ll… I’ll do… something. Ben spoke up before she could think of something suitable, “You got a point. Several actually. Sorry ‘bout that. Never really thought about it. But let me tell you this: even without the whole dragon thing goin’ on, you look like you could break me in half, no problem. So it’s kinda funny when you get all scared and uncertain. Kinda jarring.” He caught her look. “Hey, hey, it’s a compliment. The breaking in half part at least.”
He did sound apologetic, as much as she had ever heard him before. As well, not lying seemed to be his thing. “Sorry, I kind of lost my temper.”
He looked incredulous. “What, you lost your temper? That sounded like a normal conversation with me. You’ve spent more time around me without snappin’ than anyone who’s not my brother. An’ what the hell are you saying sorry to me for anyways? I’m a jackass. My job is to hurt people. You saw me stab an’ shoot people. Guess what? No moral repercussions for me. None. They had it comin’.”
“What, you’re OK with killing other people?”
“How are you a good guy then?” she asked.
“I’m not. My brother Rob, he’s a techie, goes by Gears. He’s in Pennsylvania as a freelancin’ fixer. Sam never got powers, I don’t think. He joined up with Lock Corp. a couple years ago when we split. Haven’t heard from him in a while. But the thing is, Rob said he’d go into the crime business, Sam said he’d be a merc. I said I’d be a vigilante, which is basically a criminal who hurts other criminals.” He motioned around them to the room full of weapons. “Hell, I stole most of this from criminals, or bought it with money I stole from them. We do what we do because we said we would. I said nothin’ about bein’ a good guy.”
He kills people. How did I forget? “You were going to kill me if I was feral, weren’t you?”
Without hesitation, he said, “Yep. Wouldn’t have lost any sleep, either. But, you ain’t a standard feral, which I don’t think has been drilled into your skull quite enough yet. I’m thinkin’ you’re bein’ a bit hard on yourself. So I tell you what, we track down those kidnappers, an’ murder ‘em. Until they die, of course. How’s that sound?”
Olivia studied her knees instead of responding. One claw played with a worn hole on her pants. I think he wants me to say yes. I don’t know. That seems like something he wants to do. But what else can I do?
“I’ll take that as a maybe. God damn, we’ve been talking for hours,” said Ben, bringing her back to the real world. “It’s time to get movin’. Give me a minute to pack an’ get everythin’ to the car.”
“Do I have to be in the car?”
“It’s on the far end of town. Might save you some leg work. Or wing work, whatever.”
“OK,” she mumbled. But that car is so small and uncomfortable. I guess he knows what he’s saying.
Ben pulled out a duffel bag from under his bed with the butt of a long rifle sticking out of the side. “Just needs some ammo,” he said with a grin.