A couple days later, Olivia gradually drifted out of sleep to the sounds of an ongoing conversation. This in and of itself was not unusual, though this was the first she’d heard of a state governor. Hang on. Something smells different. I don’t recognize one of those voices. Who… oh right. Rob’s friend arrived today. Bri, I think. Olivia got up and began to get dressed. Don’t mess up, don’t mess up.
Now ready, she paused at the curtain. What should I say? Just hi? Or should I- no. Just get out there, don’t be weird. Easy. She parted the curtain and walked out. Rob, Ben, and Miya sat around the table with another girl Olivia didn’t recognize. Um… food. She went to the food pile, now with a small refrigerator to give the illusion of organization. Is it breakfast, because I just woke up, or dinner, because of the time?
“-and then he rubbed some peanut butter in his ears,” said Rob. Ben and Miya doubled over laughing.
“Then Michael started freaking out because he heard the police band had caught on to us, so we had to leave before Jimmy could do anything else,” said the smiling girl next to Rob with her back to Olivia. Bri.
“So he had a radio in his head? That was his power?” asked Miya. Rob and Bri nodded. “Ow. That must have sucked.”
“Nah, he could turn it off,” said Rob. “It wasn’t like he listened to static at all times.”
“OK, gotcha,” said Miya. She noticed Olivia. “Hey, Olivia.”
Olivia aborted grabbing the last box of donuts as Rob and Bri turned around in their seats. “Um, hi,” said Olivia with a small wave in their direction. Bri gave a tiny start. Right, scaly hand. And claws. Sorry.
Ben waved her over, saying, “Bri, this is Olivia. Olivia, Bri.”
Olivia walked over and found her chair, saying, “Hello.”
“So there was you, Rob, Michael, and… Jimmy and Sean?” Miya asked Bri after a silent moment. Thank you, Miya.
“Hm? Oh, yeah. Jimmy was the magic guy, and Sean was the mentalist guy. He could…” Bri trailed off and sighed. She turned to Rob. “How would you explain it?”
“Voodoo witchcraft,” he said without hesitation.
“Wow. Saying the black dude with powers is a voodoo witch doctor. Good job,” said Bri, amused. Olivia pulled out her phone while paying attention to the conversation. Voodoo.
“OK, you go ahead an’ explain his power. Go on. Waitin’,” said Rob, equally amused.
Bri sighed. She held a hand to her forehead for a moment, then said, “He’s not quite a precog. He can read plans from body language, sorta.” Well that was kind of vague.
“Your confidence is astounding,” said Miya. Olivia fumbled with the small keys under the table. Half the letters have scratches through them already.
“Couldn’t ‘ave said it better myself, Bri,” said Rob. “I just know if he said something, you believed it. Wasn’t wrong often.”
“So you were the only girl in the whole group,” said Miya. Does that matter?
“Yep,” said Bri.
“I’m sorry.” Voodoo. Blend of Christianity and African beliefs. Mainly in the Caribbean. Those are those islands to the south, right?
“It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and it’s not like they were my only source of social interaction.”
“How did you all get together?” Everyone looked at Olivia. Oh, I said that aloud. She slipped her phone back into her pocket. “Um, I mean, when you first… met.” There’s a lot of scratches on this table. Of course there are, this is where I usually sit.
“Well, lemme think. There’s no real good story behind it, actually,” said Rob. “Feel free to point out anything I miss, cuz I’m startin’ with my side of it,” he said to Bri.
“So I was drivin’ up north from Baltimore a couple years ago, no real goal in mind. I’d rob the occasional gas station or smash parkin’ meters, then move on. This was before I got the BAT, so I could be more low profile ‘bout this, an’ I covered my face up, rather than the mask. Eventually, I got up to Pennsylvania an’ was knockin’ over this late night dinner.” Well, he hasn’t done anything like that here. I hope.
“Three dudes, one an off duty cop, rushed me. The gun I was threatenin’ with was fake, but the spring loaded knives up my sleeves weren’t. Plus, I had some metal shin and arm guards under my clothes. Ya see, thieves on the streets gotta be wary of their mark in case they shoot lasers outta their eyes, an’ civilians gotta be wary of muggers who could melt their brain or whatever.”
“Back on track. So I start fightin’ those three fellas, got one down, when some other kid in a bandana smashes a chair over one of the other guys. Afterwards was a bit of a blur, but me an’ that kid hightailed it outta there together.”
“You trusted some kid you just met?” asked Miya.
“He kinda saved my sorry ass, an’ I might have kept him from gettin’ leveled at one point. Anyways, he was Michael. He’d been in there for a bit, workin’ up the courage to actually rob the place when I barged in. We split the money, got to talkin’, an’ he tagged along. Funny, he’s always been kind of an easily pressured fella, but he’s never once told any of us why he decided to start.” I was wondering why people would do stuff like that. Because if they’re asking about motivation it’s not automatically money.
“And I’ve asked. Rob’s asked, Sean’s asked, even Jimmy’s asked. Michael just won’t say why,” added Bri. “I mean, that’s not something you’d be comfortable answering right after you meet someone, but even after two years he would just clam up whenever we asked.”
“Yeah,” said Rob. “I kind of stopped askin’. So me an’ him kicked around for about a week, when I got contacted by some people at The Company. I’d met one of them, didn’t know that at the time, at the DC Techcon. They contacted me to be part of a job, an’ they were OK with Michael. There I met Jimmy, an’ Bri since she was datin’ him at the time-”
Bri rolled her eyes. “We weren’t technically dating.” Rob merely smirked. “Fine, whatever. Continue,” she said.
“An’ Sean was there too. We had to steal some schematics out of… some mine out west in the state, right?”
“No. Steel mill. It was close to a mine though,” said Bri. “You were lost in your own little world, that’s probably why you don’t remember too well.”
“Don’t judge, that place was cool.” A steel mill? Really? You make steel there, right? That doesn’t sound that fun.
“I am aware. That was your mantra through the whole damn job.” Rob grinned. Bri continued, “So we stole the papers, we’ll spare you the nitty gritty details, but afterwards we decided to stick together for a bit. We weren’t the biggest players, we mainly did contract work and the occasional store robbery or home invasion.”
“I’m still wonderin’ exactly how you lot broke up,” said Ben. “Ya say you’ll be a team, ya stick with it.”
“Hey,” said Rob, throwing up his hands. “I tried. I did what I said I’d do, but I ain’t the one who fucked things up.”
Bri sighed. “He’s right. It wasn’t the most stable arrangement.”
“We did have some moments,” said Rob. “But I am glad I ain’t the heavy guy anymore. That’s what Nomad an’ Olivia are for. No more ‘please shoot me’ distractions for me.” He waved his hands to the side as he said this. Olivia scratched the back of her head. Heavy? Well, yeah, I’m kind of tall. I wouldn’t describe myself as heavy, though.
“Your team does seem more up close and personal, rather than hit-and-run or stealthy,” commented Bri.
“It’s a nice change of pace, actually,” said Rob. “Go here, thrash people, get paid. No fencing, no dodging around the super heavy people cuz we don’t got some of our own, a lot less backstabbin’, so far nothin’ to complain about.” OK, I don’t think heavy in this context means weight.
The door to the lair opened, and in walked Amanda. “Oh, hi everyone,” she said, walking over to her desk. Something inside the box she grabbed rattled as she stuffed it in her pocket.
After introduction were made, and Ben and Rob annoyed her with identical-ness, Amanda took a seat. “Um, where’s Chris? Didn’t he drive you?” asked Olivia.
“No, I just replaced my old car earlier today. It’s not the greatest in the world, but the Tesla’s a bit outside my price range, no matter how much I want it.”
“I will be honest, I kinda want one of those,” said Rob, leaning forward on the table.
“Says the dude who drives a huge, gas guzzling monster of a truck,” joked Bri.
“Isn’t Tesla basically the techie god?” asked Ben.
Olivia thought Amanda might refute that statement, she hadn’t gotten religious vibe from her, but to her surprise she said, “Yes.”
“That dude was awesome,” said Rob. Wow, both of them.
“The man invented half the stuff in the modern world, without powers, might I add,” said Amanda.
“He got dicked over by businesses an’ jackasses who valued profit over good engineerin’ an’ science,” added Rob.
“The man was an unappreciated genius-” started Amanda
“-an’ I will break the knees of anyone who says otherwise,” finished Rob. Did they just finish each others sentences there?
“OK then,” said Bri with a knowing smile. Miya glanced between the two of them, brow furrowed. Am I missing something? They were pretty fervent there. I guess that was it. Bri continued, twisting and stretching in her chair, “Alright, it’s been nice meeting you all, but I’ve been sitting in a car all day. I think I’m going to pass out for the night.” The metal legs of her chair scrapped against the concrete floor as she pushed her chair back as she got up.
“Gotcha. Your patch of concrete is right next to mine, over there,” said Rob, pointing.
Everyone started getting up, including Olivia. I may as well fly around for a bit now. It’s fun. And I’ve got the whole night to kill.
“Exactly how tall are you, Olivia?” asked Bri, breaking Olivia’s train of thought.
“I, um, I don’t… really know.” I know, I’m weird.
“Hang on,” said Ben, standing next to her. “I’m five foot nine, aaaan’…” He held a hand up to the top of her head. “I’m guessin’ from this ya got a full foot on me, so six foot nine or ten.”
“A little over two meters,” muttered Amanda. Rob snickered a bit. What’s this about meters?
“That’s really tall,” said Bri.
“I’m… I’m not that tall,” Olivia protested.
“Your tail is about as long as I am tall,” said Miya. “Your head is almost two feet above mine. Yes, you’re very tall, and that’s OK. No need to freak out.”
“Sorry.” I’m not freaking out. Can I leave now? “I… um… I’m going to… go now.”
“Alright, same here. It was nice to meet you, Bri. See you tomorrow,” said Amanda. Yeah. What she said.
They left together as the others wandered off to their beds.
“Just going to fly around and read again?” asked Amanda.
“Alright, have fun. Stay out of trouble,” Amanda said as she waved and got into her car.
I don’t get in trouble. Much. Not on purpose. “Bye,” said Olivia, returning her wave.
Olivia took off as Amanda started driving. She whiled away the hours until the sun began to come back up. The sun looks kind of cool when it comes up over the horizon that way. What did Ben say? ‘Eastern Colorado is but an extension of Kansas’ I think. Whatever that means. I wonder what it’s like at sunset.
The next day, Olivia woke up much earlier than before (so I don’t wake up just in time to say goodnight to everyone again), silenced her phone alarm, and went out into the lair again. Let’s try this whole socialization thing again. No need to be antisocial.
“Jus’ in time. We’re gettin’ Thai food. Want some?” Ben asked Olivia before anyone could say anything.
“Um, sure,” said Olivia, blinking the sleep from her eyes. I don’t know exactly what that means exactly, but food! Food is good.
“Alright, menu’s here.” He pointed to the partially blue laminated sheet of paper with many colorful words written on it on the table. “Jus’ tell Miya which you want, an’ the spiciness of it.”
Miya currently held a phone to her ear, tapping her foot in the meantime. Everyone else sat around the table, including Amanda and Chris. Bri relayed her order to Miya.
Olivia walked over. “Spiciness?”
“This place has a scale of one to seven, seven bein’ the highest,” explained Rob.
Olivia read the menu. I don’t recognize a good third of these words. Oh, explanations in English. That helps. There, that looks good enough, I guess. No clue what it is. She motioned to what she wanted.
“You’ll probably want to start with two or something for spiciness,” said Chris. Olivia nodded and held up two fingers for Miya.
Miya finished her order, thanked whoever was on the other end, then hung up. “They said around a half hour. Someone with a car want to go drive there in about twenty minutes or so?”
“Sure, I will,” said Chris. “Also, hello, Olivia.”
“Oh. Hi.” Olivia joined him at the table, between him and Ben.
“So, Olivia,” began Bri. Olivia glanced at her for a second. She’s just curious, this isn’t another interrogation. “Where were you all of today?”
“Um, just sleeping. Over there.” She gestured to her section.
“The whole day?” Olivia nodded. Look up, look up. She glanced at Bri again. “So you’re nocturnal?”
“I, um, maybe? I could… um… a couple weeks ago, when we were first starting out, I was doing… stuff during the day… but… I don’t know.”
“Marcus, the MHU police chief here, has taken a particular disliking for her for some reason, so she’s trying to stay out of sight until something else major comes up to preoccupy him.” It’s quieter at night, too. Olivia glanced at Chris with a small smile. Thank you.
“Not sure, but he’s a complete dick,” said Amanda. “Trust me, me and Chris worked under him for a while. It really did suck.”
“That’s got to be super boring, nothing happens at night,” said Bri.
“Not really. It’s not… you know… like I can go… anywhere.”
“So what do you do instead?”
“Read. Fly. Stuff, I guess.”
“Really? You can fly? Like, well?” Bri asked Olivia. Well? I think I’m good at flying. Or do you mean am I messed up, like that other feral?
“Um, kind of.” I liked just observing the conversation more.
“Kinda?” blurted out Ben. “You flap your wings an’ off ya go, an’ ya keep pace with us in cars. You fly. The hell are you talkin’ ‘bout kinda?” Sorry.
“Sorry. Yes. Well, I don’t really flap my wings too much,” said Olivia. I can just address Miya, and Bri can still hear. This is actually quite easier. “That’s just… to get off the ground. I usually just glide once I get high enough. Sometimes the air is going up, so I just use that instead of moving my wings too much. It’s quicker too. But yes, I fly. Sorry.”
“Oh, the updraft keeps you going?” asked Bri.
“Um…” From the way she said it, this is something I should know. “Sure?”
“Updraft is rising hot air,” said Amanda.
“Sure,” Olivia repeated. I did not know that, but OK.
“Why this interest in flight?” Miya asked Bri.
“Oh, my dad’s a pilot. We actually own a small plane, and he used to take me and my brothers out for flights as a sort bonding time when he had enough time off back home,” said Bri. “I’ve never had the opportunity to learn how, but it sounds like it’s fun.”
“It is,” said Olivia. Should I say something after that? I think I should say something after that. Everyone’s looking at me. Say something. “Yeah.” Stupid, stupid, stupid…
“I know what you guys need,” said Bri suddenly with a smile.
“What is that?” asked Rob.
“A pet. Just a small kitten. Or a puppy. This place could use it, there’s no windows for plants or anything.”
“Kitty!” exclaimed Ben, bolting upright from his slouching position in his chair. Everyone looked at him. “Sorry, I had a moment. Please continue.”
“Y-,” began Bri.
“I want a kitten now. Tha’s my vote,” interrupted Ben. I wouldn’t complain.
Bri eyed him. He met her eyes but remained silent. “S-,” she began.
“I’m done now, please continue,” interrupted Ben with a smile of innocence. Olivia nudged him. Stop it. He took the hint.
“AS I WAS saying,” said Bri, still eying Ben until she made sure he wouldn’t interrupt again. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have a pet. Like a kitten. Just look at how he reacted.” She tilted her head towards Ben.
“The jaguars were kind of cute,” said Olivia to herself. Those are cats too.
“What was that?” asked Chris with a hint of confusion.
“I, um… nothing,” muttered Olivia.
“Tha’s a lie. Ya said the jaguars were kinda cute,” said Ben with a grin.
“This again, Olivia?” asked Miya, loud enough for everyone to hear. All the flecks in the plastic of this table have only two colors, red and blue. Never really noticed that before.
“What is this?” asked Rob and Bri.
“You know what? I’m just going to repeat what I said earlier. She called a two hundred pound jungle cat cute,” said Miya. Sorry.
“90 kg, people,” Olivia hear Amanda mutter under her breath.
“It wasn’t… that big,” managed Olivia.
“It was two hundred pounds, easily!”
“What is this?” repeated everyone else. I’ve run out of interesting things about this table. It’s quite boring.
“I found her sticking her hand and half her arm in a jaguar cage back at that smuggling place. She was petting it. The jaguar. The living, two hundred pound killing machine. Petting it. Then she called it cute.”
Everyone laughed, even Chris cracked a smile. My ears are warm. Inordinately so.
“I’m with Olivia on this one,” began Ben.
“-a pet jaguar would be badass,” finished Rob.
I wasn’t… that was just me talking out loud.
“I don’t think that’s legal, and I know I don’t want to deal with a pet. And between six people, everyone is going to assume someone else is going to take care of it,” said Chris.
Bri sighed, still smiling. “Spoilsport. Just a joke, anyways.” Really?
“Alas, it is my duty,” said Chris. “I’m going to get some food now.” He pointed to Ben. “Don’t… don’t buy a kitten while I’m gone or something.”
They filled in the next ten minutes with irrelevant, uninformative small talk until Chris got back with the food. After sorting out everyone’s orders, they dug in. This is different. I kind of like this food. A nice change from cheeseburgers, pizza, donuts, and the occasional fruit or vegetable. And those last ones are kind of annoying to eat.
“Hrm, this isn’t what I ordered,” said Miya after a few bites. “Too bland.”
They all smell different but I can’t really tell which is which. “Uh, I think we all got it sorted out, everyone else has what they wanted, I think,” said Bri, double checking her own food. Everyone else nodded.
“What did you get, Olivia?” asked Chris.
“Um, this? I don’t know the name.”
“Let me try,” said Chris. He took a bite. After chewing for a moment, he said, “This is quite painful.” To be fair, I have no idea what I ordered.
“Come on, pussy,” said Ben. He also took a bit. He let out a muffled cry after a moment and shook his head. “Fuck! I regret everything.” Um, is he OK? Bri, Rob, and Amanda started laughing.
Are you guys exaggerating? “It wasn’t that spicy,” said Olivia.
“I think you got my thing, Olivia,” said Miya. “You take a couple bites?”
“Yeah.” She looked to Chris and Ben on either side. Chris threw back a bottle of water, one of the ones the government distributed while they got the water place fixed, while Ben still shook his head.
“Ow, ow, ow,” he muttered.
“Close your mouth, dumbass,” said Rob to Ben.
“Because the pain is comin’ from the peppers oxidizin’ from the air. Close your mouth an’ it won’t suck as bad. Also, don’t talk.”
Miya looked between Chris and Ben. “You guys are both pussies.”
“How bad was yours?” asked Bri.
Miya gave the most sinister smile Olivia had ever laid eyes upon. “Seven. And the Thai cooks are going easy on you Americans, trust me.”
“Do you want to trade back?” asked Olivia.
“Sure. Thanks.” Miya slid Olivia’s styrofoam food tray across the table as Olivia passed Miya’s to her.
“Wait, so the short Mexican girl likes spicy food,” asked Ben with a grin, apparently recovered. Mexican? You called her Aztec before. I get the feeling it matters, but I can’t tell why.
“I like it, so you can fuck right off. I don’t care if it’s stereotypical or not,” said Miya, punctuating her words with a punch to his ribs. He laughed and held a hand to his ribs. Miya continued, shaking her head, “Pathetic, the lot of you. Olivia’s the only one who’s eaten anything that doesn’t lack the kick of paint thinner so far as I’ve seen.” Paint thinner? Why would you eat… or drink… or ingest that?
The conversation trailed off, as everyone focused on eating. Wait, what time is it? After checking the time, Olivia finished off her food and excused herself, heading to the roof.
Rob climbed the ladder a few minutes later.
“Hey,” he said, sitting next to her on the rooftop, beer in hand.
“Whatcha doin’? Bri was worried she scared you off.”
She pointed west. The sun dipped behind the darkened mountains, the occasional dark blue cloud breaking up the orange sky. “Just watching the sunset, I guess. I’ve noticed it, but never paid attention to it before.”
Rob nodded and took a sip. “It’s alright,” he said.
“Oh.” Am I weird for liking this?
He raised an eyebrow. After a silent moment he said, “I half expected a sorry there, once the words left my mouth.” I’m sorry? I don’t say that that much. “Ignore what I said. What do you think of it?”
“It’s pretty, I guess.” I have an amazing way with words, don’t I? I can sound completely and totally stupid no matter the situation.
“I’m not a fan, but to each their own.”
“What do you mean? Not a fan?” asked Olivia.
“Natural shit like that, there’s no spark, you know? It’s just the result of nature doing what it does. There was no intelligence, no will behind it. A book, someone had ideas, put those down into words competently, and other people read it. A painting, someone saw somethin’ either in the real world or in their mind, an’ painted that into reality. A cathedral, enough people believed enough to finance the whole thing, put in the labor, engineer the thing, an’ get the resources from wherever. A canyon, with all the pretty layers of earth, is just a hole dug by a river.”
Olivia digested this in silence. That kind of makes sense, I guess. I’ve never had a discussion on aesthetics before. And how do I remember a word like aesthetics? Olivia sighed. I know, I’m weird.
Rob continued after a while, “Don’t take my word as gospel. That was my own opinion on the matter. You gotta come up your own. There’s a lot of cool shit in the world, an’ you should go into it with an open mind if you want it to be worthwhile.”
Olivia returned her attention to the mountains, with the sun now a faint orange smudge behind them. Night time. I don’t mind this. It’s nice outside right now. Rob threw his head back, finishing off his beer. He tossed it into the street. The glass shattered, and would probably join the rest of the random trash accumulated on the edges of the road.
“Whatcha out here for, anyway? Other than that? You’re kinda avoidin’ everyone with this,” he asked.
“Just wanted to clear my head, I guess.”
“Somethin’ on your mind?” She sighed, repressing the initial urge to say no. Remember what Amanda said.
“That other feral, the one me and Ben found, just seemed… wrong. And I keep thinking that could have been me. Like, had anything changed or been different, I’d have been like that. And from everyone’s reactions, it’s like I’m supposed to be like that. I don’t want that, but I don’t really know what I want to be, or… whatever. I mean, I know I’m… I’m not fully human… anymore, but… still.”
“I don’t know, but whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”
“Again, I can’t answer that question. That’s your own thing. But regardless of however you want to define it, the others care ‘bout you. You know that, right?”
“Well, yeah. I do too. Care. About them. Too. Yeah.” Stupid, stupid, stupid…
“From what I hear, the only time Chris’s gotten angry is during the whole kidnappin’ thing. Miya gets angry on your behalf, Amanda seems to have taken a liking to you, even Ben’s protective in his own way.”
“Hm?” His own way.
“We’re weird, don’t know if you’ve noticed.”
“Well, you guys aren’t that bad.” Have you met me?
Rob just snickered. “Why thank you.”
“I don’t know. I guess there’s always the possibility that I just stop, you know. Just something goes wrong because biology or whatever, and I just stop. Because I’m, you know-”
He cut her off. “Don’t finish that statement.” He sighed and asked, “Olivia?”
“Do you need a hug?”
“I’m OK.” Sorry, I’m just being weird.
“Olivia,” he repeated.
“Do you want a hug?” She didn’t have a response to that, so she just didn’t respond. Rob laughed. “Come here, you.” He wrapped an arm around her.
After a minute, Olivia broke the silence. “Thank you,” she whispered. For listening, I guess. Rob just chuckled a bit.