“So here you can check the weather for the next week; daily highs and lows, chance of precipitation, et cetera,” said Amanda, explaining Olivia’s new cell phone. She pressed a few other buttons. “You can set an alarm here, change the time, and use it as a stopwatch.” Why would I need a stopwatch? Olivia left this question unasked. A few more clicks. “This is the default browser, an internet assessor thingy. If you feel like getting another one from the app store, they should be compatible.” Why would I need another one? And listening to you over the ringing is starting to get annoying.
The ringing in Olivia’s ears had lessened somewhat. It normally oscillated between ignorable and obnoxious. I haven’t been sleeping well now, actually. Can’t fall asleep. During her flights her range of hearing didn’t seem to extend quite as far, though she could just have been misremembering. At least it doesn’t hurt anymore.
Amanda slid the phone closed and passed it to Olivia. “That should be all. Oh.” She spun in her chair, grabbing a cord from her desk and spinning around to face Olivia again. “Here’s the charger. Kind of important.” Olivia took both.
“No problem. Ask me if you have any questions. And you might want to go through the settings and change it how you like.”
“OK.” Cool. Olivia slipped it into her pocket for later. Wait. “Is this what you’ve been working on all last night? Or tonight? Um, however you say it.”
“Not all. Me and Rob worked on the base thing earlier.” Olivia glanced to Rob’s portion of the room, where he had passed out snoring before Olivia came back. Everyone’s usually asleep when I’m awake, or vice versa. “What did you do last night?” asked Amanda.
“I don’t know. I flew around a bit, read a book or two.” I may or may not have been looking for something to do. Though there was this one guy I saw… maybe? It was kind of hard to tell.
Amanda smiled. “Oh? Which ones?”
“Well, I read a bit of the Bible, because of the whole Membrane thing. It’s… dense, I guess. I kind of stopped at that one chapter with all the laws, because it said I was… was an abomination or something.” That one was kind of rough.
“Oh, yeah. You might want to skip that one, only extreme cult-esque Christians really acknowledge anything in that one. And, because the Bible’s religious and therefore super contradictory, my understanding of powers as stated in the Bible is that they’re derived from God when used for good, and not when used for evil. Trust me, that’ll clear up a lot later on. What was the other one? You said there were two,” said Amanda.
“The Calvin and Hobbes book Ben loaned me.”
“That’s… that’s a bit of a tone shift right there.”
Olivia shrugged. “I liked it. The book, I mean. I got the humor, so that was a plus.”
“If you want, I could probably put an audiobook on your phone or something, too. There’s actually a neat little trick I use to boost the memory of a computer. For your phone it’s all on the sim chip, so…” You lost me there. Sim chip? Amanda picked up on her confusion.
“Hold on, can I see your phone?” asked Amanda.
“Sure.” She passed it to Amanda, who flipped it over and opened it. She pulled a small white chip out.
“Sim chip. The rest of your phone itself is dumb. This is the brain of it, so to speak. I take the company’s phone, yours is an old CTC phone, and put it through the wringer. It can store more than the average phone, basically. It’s a conglomerate of a smartphone and a dumb phone, so you might have some compatibility issues with some apps, but audio if nothing else should be good.” Amanda began putting it back together.
“OK. Um, one more question,” said Olivia. It’s probably dumb, but I’ll just have to get over that.
“Yeah?” said Amanda, passing the phone to Olivia again.
“The Congo Telecommunication Company. They have a different name in Africa, but translated here in the states it’s just the CTC. Had a big patent war with Apple a couple years ago over rounded edged phones or something stupid like that. Stuff like that is probably why I’m not working in industry right now.” Olivia heard someone (Ben, I think) waking up, clothes rustling as he got dressed.
“So do I owe you anything for it?” I really don’t like just taking stuff from other people. I did that enough before. I mean, she’s not a homeless shelter, but it’s the principle of the matter.
Amanda sighed, closing her eyes. Sorry. Before Olivia could say anything, Amanda said, “If it will make you feel better, let’s make it twenty bucks, whenever you can.”
At that moment Ben walked out from his curtain/room thing. He blinked the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes and said, “Hey.”
“Good morning,” said Olivia. Amanda studiously ignored him. He joined them anyway.
“Got a phone now?” he asked Olivia.
“Yes,” she answered, showing him.
“Is that an old Iroko phone? Haven’t seen one of those in a while.” Iroko? Where did that come from?
“Flip it over,” he said, making a flipping motion with his hand. “It’ll say on the back, for any phone, really.”
She did so. “Um… yes, it says Iroko. What… what does Iroko mean?”
“It’s a kind of African tree, I think,” said Amanda.
“Yeah. Their namin’ theme is trees. Never figured out why, they’re not that environmentally friendly,” said Ben.
“Hey, the military names their helicopters after Native American tribes, and they haven’t exactly been the crusaders for Native American rights in the past. Or present.”
Ben shrugged. “Eh, true. Still though, I like my iPhone.” I keep hearing these iNouns everywhere.
“What? Why? Apple is Nazis,” asked Amanda with disgust.
“Now tha’s a bit of a harsh comparison,” said Ben.
“Hyperbole. It’s the best thing ever,” said Amanda. Ben started laughing. Um… what?
“Hyperbole?” asked Olivia.
“Another word for exaggeration,” said Amanda.
“Wait,” said Ben. “Ya know what Apple is?”
“It’s a big technology company, I think. Right?” said Olivia. I can figure stuff out. Sometimes.
“But ya don’ remember words like hyperbole?”
“I don’t know. I just forgot random stuff, I guess. Not everything. Just a lot.”
“Oh, speakin’ of which, almost forgot myself. A friend of Rob’s, Bri, is thinkin’ about visitin’, an’ stayin’ for the night. You alright for this?” asked Ben.
“Um, sure.” I don’t know exactly what you mean by that, but sure. Wait, someone else?
“Cool,” said Ben.
“So they, um, we don’t…” Hold on, what’s the question? “Sorry. So, she’s just going to be here for a day or something?
“Yep. She’s jus’ sayin’ hi, sleepin’ here for the night or two, her an’ Rob’ll probably go around town for a bit. We don’ ‘ave to dance for her amusement or anythin’,” said Ben.
“As funny as it would be to watch you dance,” said Amanda to Ben.
“Hey, I’ll have you know I’m a thoroughly mediocre dancer, which very probably gives me a one up on you,” said Ben.
Please stop snarking at each other. “OK, um, thank you,” said Olivia. I didn’t know if there was anything we were expected to do. Like clean up or something. This place could probably use it.
“Hey, hon. Ya ever wonder when we’re gonna get money from what we’ve been doin’ over the last couple days? I know I need a new car or somethin’. Actually, a lot of my stuff needs replacin’,” said Ben.
“Chris should be here any time so we can figure out how everyone’s getting paid. Ah, speak of the devil,” said Amanda. Chris walked in.
“So, I might have found us another job,” was the first thing he said. Wait, what? When did this come up?
“Really?” asked Ben.
“Fuck yeah! What is it?”
“Already? How?” asked Miya.
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s a story. I’d rather wait until everyone’s here.”
“Oh come on. Ya can’t jus’ say somethin’ like that an’ leave us hangin’,” whined Ben.
“As much as I hate to say it, I’ve got to agree with Ben. Come on,” said Amanda
“Just trust me on this one. It’s long and I don’t want to have to tell it twice to the same group of people.” You just mean us, right? Just a group of people? Not you guys or anything?
“You absolutely, one hundred percent positive ya aren’t gonna give us a sneak preview or anythin’.”
“Fiiiiiine. I guess I can wait,” said Ben.
“…so I gave him back the zebra pelt, we swept up the glass and got to talking, and he eventually offered me this job.” You get into some interesting things. Everyone had eventually woken up and gathered around the table, now paying attention to Chris.
“Ya saw the velociraptor, right? You can independently confirm its existence?” said Ben excitedly.
“Yes. It took me a second, but yes, it was a velociraptor next to him. Living, and staring right at me.”
“Fuck yeah! Fuck you both!” He flipped off both Miya and Amanda, half out of his seat. “I am vindicated!” I didn’t find it that unbelievable. I mean, I’ve already seen some weird stuff in the last month. Miya’s golem, a mass of bone connected by red stuff, is walking around for some reason outside. I met a guy who can fly, just by levitating or whatever. I think normalcy took a nice long sleep and never woke up here in this city.
“I’m done,” said Ben, sitting back down. “Please continue.”
“Why thank you,” said Chris. “Anyways, PETA’s logic is to make smuggling less profitable for the smugglers by going after these kinds of operations. Now the smugglers are catching on, and getting some real security. This job’s a nice one, PETA know a lot already, they just need the muscle, us, to back them up. Dr. Olin kindly contacted his compatriots, and they agreed.”
“So, the actual job. There’s this illegal animal smuggling ring that goes through the city. Exotic pets for rich folk, mostly. I think they mentioned an animal fighting ring, pitting a jaguar against a leopard or something similar. This cell specializes in stuff from the Americas. They have some jaguars, four separate species of tropical birds, a good half dozen ocelots, don’t know where they got all those, a huge secure box our client thinks holds a tiger, for whatever reason they have some cuttlefish tanks-” Hey, I recognized all those names for some reason! And I don’t care what that reason is. Except for the ocelot, but I guess I could just search that on my new phone.
“Fuck yeah!” interrupted Ben.
“What, cuttlefish?” asked Miya. “What’s so special about them?”
“Are you kiddin’? Those things are the best. Cuttlefucks give no fish,” said Ben. What?
After a long moment where everyone just stared at him, Miya asked, “What?”
Ben grinned. “Wait, wha’d I say?”
“You said cuttlefucks give no fish,” said Rob.
“Ah, well, yes. I can see how tha’d be confusin’. Cuttlefish give no fucks. There we go,” said Ben with the exact same grin.
“Good job, dumbass,” said Rob. That’s kind of mean. He’s your brother.
“So what are we looking at?” asked Amanda. Yeah. I think we got a bit off track with the cuttlefish. Olivia surreptitiously typed on her phone under the desk as they talked, finding a picture of a colorful squid thing that was apparently a cuttlefish. Ok, I lied earlier, I had no idea what that was either. This phone is so cool! Now what’s an ocelot… no, pay attention. Later.
She looked back up. Chris said, “Basic security, more or less. Nothing too bad. No supers, so far as they can tell.” He produced a flashdrive and passed it to her. “This should be everything you need.” Amanda grabbed a laptop and plugged in the flashdrive as Chris continued, “They need us to secure the area, then they can come in.” This isn’t sounding so bad.
“An’ they ain’t goin’ to the cops cuz…” asked Rob.
“They want to be the ones the news reports as the animal saviors, not the police. And no need to mention us, we’re independent,” said Chris. “Anything, Amanda?”
“Oh, this isn’t bad. They’re just a small stop off, not a huge fish in the grand scheme of things. Maybe ten security people, twelve max. Standard cameras, nothing too fancy. How did People Eating Tasty Animals get all this?” Miya, Ben, and Rob snickered. What? How is eating animals funny? I mean, I guess I do a lot. But that’s meat, not the animal when it’s an animal, I mean, wow, that sounded stupid. I don’t know, probably some context I’m missing.
“He wouldn’t say, but I’d guess they have someone on the inside. That’s usually how they do stuff like this anyways. But that means we can’t just shoot everything and everyone inside and call it a day.” Why would we do that anyways? I know that’s a dumb question, but still, our default should not be ‘kill everything’.
“This is just going to be a simple go in, knock out, get out kind of job. How much is it paying?” said Amanda.
“Not as much. But this is a one off kind of thing, rather than the long term effort contract we had before. It’s also not nearly as dangerous, if what I gathered was correct.”
“An’ when are we gettin’ paid for the last one?” asked Rob.
“Yeah, let me bring that up real quick,” said Amanda, moving to computer hooked up to the larger monitor.
After several minutes of financial stuff Olivia couldn’t wrap her head around, complete with all sorts of numbers that probably meant something important, Amanda closed with, “So Chris gets the small extra percentage for negotiating the deal in the first place, and me and Rob get extra for materials, and I get a flat one thousand to compensate for the complete and utter destruction of my car. Are we in agreement?” Sure… I guess. I don’t really want to bog everyone down with questions that may or may not help anyway.
Various noddings and agreements. Amanda continued, “So, that means that the pay for about a week’s worth of work comes to thirty five hundred each.” That’s… that’s a lot. Why is no one enthusiastic about that? I mean, a bit is going to general expenses towards ammo and gas, but that’s not a bad thing. Right? “So shoot me your account infos whenever you feel like getting paid, and I’ll make the transfers.” I’ll figure that out later.
“OK. Now when are we doing this new job?” asked Miya.
“They’re good to go as soon as we say yes,” said Chris. “We probably shouldn’t keep them waiting longer than we have to, but it’s not a ‘we have to do this tonight’ kind of job.”
“Is there anything stopping us from gettin’ this over with tonight?” asked Ben.
“Depends if we can come up with a good plan so we don’t get shot. If we can over the course of today, I have no problems with that. Anyone else?” said Chris.
Everyone else seemed fine with it. I really hope I don’t accidentally kill someone. Again. Stupid me. I should have had better control, better something. I didn’t want to kill those two guys. Do better next time.
“We cool?” asked Gears on the ground with Miya, her golem, and Nomad.
“Yeah, we cool,” responded Skulker, on the rooftop opposite Olivia and Delta.
Olivia looked down on the building. Surrounded by a chain link fence with barbed wire coiled on the top, the large, windowless building blended in perfectly with the surrounding city. The old office building (are we ever going to a nice place for once?) served as a front for the people they currently needed to take out. Two men patrolled the roof, another by each main door in the front and back on the ground level.
“Alright, Olivia. Start us off,” said Nomad.
“OK.” Deep breath. She took flight, out of sight of the target, and climbed into the air.
“Comin’ in from the north side, right?” asked Skulker.
“Yeah…” We established this earlier.
“Cool. I got the south one.”
Olivia climbed high, too high for anyone on that roof to see her until too late. At least my eyes are still working just fine. Silver linings, I guess. Are there three guys down there? No, just two. “OK. Go.” She flicked the switch on the spike Delta had given her, the one that cut all transmissions in a small area. I need to ask why it’s a spike at some point.
She tucked in her wings and dived. Meanwhile, Delta jammed the cameras and other security features, and Gears, Nomad, and Miya began cutting a hole in the fence to go though. Skulker took aim and fired the rubber bullet into the diaphragm of the other man on the roof. At the last moment, Olivia snapped her wings out, cutting her fall. She let her feet carry forward, landing behind the man. She spotted the radio on one hip, gun at the other. Before he turned around at the sound of her hitting the roof, she wrapped one arm around his neck, her free hand ripping the pistol and holster from his belt. She heard a distant muffled gunshot. The other man across the roof dropped from Skulker’s shot.
The man thrashed momentarily, then drove an elbow into her rib while grabbing at her arm. She blinked. Wait, how do you knock someone unconscious like this? Is it the air or the blood you cut off? He tugged more urgently at her arm, gasping out something incomprehensible. Um… blood. I think the windpipe can be… crushed was it? Don’t want to do that. She applied pressure to the side of the man’s neck until he stopped thrashing. Still breathing? Yes. Good.
She took his radio. The other man began retching, still trying to get his pistol out and pressing buttons on his radio. No. Stop it. She took that as well, tossing the guns over the side of the roof, then driving a claw through the center of each radio. She flicked the switch to off on Delta’s spike thing.
“-stayin’ away from windows, I’m gonna move to my plan B,” said Skulker as her comm picked up signals once again. That called for him to join Olivia at the top of the building and work their way down. Delta, back at the building Olivia had started at, would monitor everyone and direct them where people were.
“Go,” said Nomad. “Miya, your golem leads.”
“Gotcha,” she said.
“Someone just tried to set off an alarm. Don’t worry, got it under control,” said Delta. “Olivia, door to your right. Skulker will be there in a half a minute.”
“OK.” She reached the door in question as Skulker scrambled up the side of the building. Glass shattered below as the others started.
Skulker ran up to join her. “How did you get up here?” she asked. You can teleport that far up?
“I grabbed ledges and windows. This ain’t a new, all glass kinda buildin’. We good to go, hon?” he asked Delta.
“Yep. Go in and down a flight, there’ll be two patrolling to your right.”
“Gotcha,” said Skulker. “Well…” He opened the door. “Unlocked? Hell yeah. Let’s go.” He pulled out his pistol and led the way before Olivia could say anything. You’d better not get shot because of this.
They made their way down the stairs, exiting the stairwell at the top floor. I hear water moving. Some machine is humming, too. Any room with a window simply looked abandoned, then they made for the center of the building. Muffled urgent talking reached her from beyond her line of sight, along with footsteps.
“Skulker, up ahead. They’re going downstairs, away from us.” I think.
Suddenly, the footsteps reversed course, heading back towards Skulker and Olivia.
“Wait, no, sorry. They’re coming back.”
“Got those two headed your way,” said Delta.
“What? Who’s not responding? … Got it, boss. Wait, you just said…” she heard a man say. The footsteps stopped. They’re trying to figure out what’s going on.
“Never mind, they’re right there,” she pointed to the door.
Skulker shrugged. “Let’s do this.” They rounded the corner
The expansive room had several large aquariums, taking up the whole wall. In them swam three small cuttlefish. On the other side stood the two guards. Too far to run without getting shot a lot. And I don’t think Skulker can teleport quite that far. One guard had his head down, hand to his ear. The other looked around nervously, Olivia could see sweat bead on his forehead. His head snapped to them as he caught them in his peripherals. Uh oh.
“Fuck, intruders,” he yelled. His fellow guard jumped.
He reached for his pistol, the other doing likewise. Skulker fired a few shots, hitting one. The other guard ducked into the hallway on his side. Olivia pulled Skulker back the same way as return fire began chewing up their door. Glass shattered. Ow. Ringing is back. Very loud ringing. Ow.
“NO!” screamed Skulker to the world at large. “Ya shot the cuttlefish tanks! You damn, dirty apes, why?!”