Skulker waved to Olivia from the other roof. She took the cue and glided over, landing on the gravel of the roof with a crunch. Skulker yanked open the door to the interior of the apartment building and led the way inside.
“No cameras or anythin’ that I found. They were here, an’ there’s a good chance there’s listinin’ devices that I missed, so watch what ya say,” he explained as they walked down the familiar staircase.
“Should we be in here then?” she asked.
“We’re fine. Can’t dawdle too long, though.” They reached the third floor of the building, exiting the stairwell and entering the building proper.
They came to Olivia’s old apartment, the one she’d used for the first couple weeks. “Fair warnin’, Johnny Law went through everythin’,” said Skulker as he stood off to the side of the door, making room for her to enter and passing her a small duffel bag.
She went in through the broken down door, passing her scratched-in tallies by the door and reached the old blue couch she’d used as a bed. Skulker waited by the front door, keeping watch. Smells different. Other people have been here, just not recently.
Scuffs near the feet of the couch further marred the old, shoddy carpet. A scavenged chair leaned against the wall of one of the bedrooms she never used. Stupid backrest. The shattered leg was new, though. She checked the hallway closet where she’d kept most of her old clothes. I remember there being more in here.
Oh, hey, that alarm clock’s still here. If I remember right, it just needs some batteries. She grabbed that and shoved it in the bag. Food’s gone, water’s gone. Not much here besides some trash I never got to cleaning up. The blankets are way old, and dusty. Not much else I need from here. My backpack was at Ben’s old apartment, and that’s the only other thing I can think of.
She grabbed the last pair of pants and the two shirts that didn’t smell too funny and stuffed them in the small bag Skulker had loaned her. Nothing else. She still paused at the hallway leading to the apartment’s front door, looking back over her shoulder. I don’t really miss this place.
“We good?” asked Skulker.
“Yeah,” said Olivia, leaving the apartment.
“Meet ya at the strip mall thingy?” Donut mall. Does Skulker still work there?
Olivia passed the bag to him (flying with a bag usually just got in the way) and they parted ways. Her to the roof, him going to the ground floor. Running and teleporting on the ground meant he didn’t have to worry about gaps or differing roof heights when he was in a hurry. There was no one on the streets, like a large mob out for blood, so there was no need to use the rooftops.
Bri had left yesterday, and now everyone else was busy with other things. Amanda had vanished into her work, Chris and Rob were working on Company stuff, and Miya seemed distracted when she wasn’t practicing out back with all those bones.
She took flight once she reached the roof. That was… I don’t know. What did I even want from that? Didn’t really have any closure. I don’t know. Oh well, there’s no reason to go back anymore. Kind of afraid there’d be rotting food in there, actually.
She passed over the neighborhood. She’d never actually walked in this area since she figured out the whole flying thing. Nothing but old houses, nothing food-wise that she would feel comfortable with taking. Even flying, the power lines throughout the neighborhood didn’t have any lights, and she couldn’t catch every single one. Though the lack of wind that night made it easier.
She found the roof of her favorite building to overlook the donut mall. After a minute and some hollow metallic echoing sounds, Skulker climbed and teleported up to join her, bag slung over his shoulder instead of his rifle.
“Well tha’ went well. Hear any sirens or some such?” he said once he got within normal speaking distance.
She paused. Nothing that really stands out. That ringing sound is starting to get irritating. Actually, other than that, there’s not much at all. Isn’t it a Friday night? “No.”
Skulker pulled out the wallet, the one that said “Bad Motherfucker” in red block letters on the outside. This one only had cash in it, no immediate form of identification.
“Do I have cash?” he muttered to himself. “I do! Wanna get some food?”
“OK.” I can’t ever think of a reason to turn down food, actually.
He started for the fast food joint below them. He didn’t take off the mask or anything.
“Wait,” said Olivia.
“You’re going in just like that?”
He stopped, spreading his arms apart and looking down at himself. “Wha’s wrong with me?” There’s nothing…
“What? No. Sorry. Not you. You’re just… you know. The mask. Sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“Eh? Oh, ya can’t pay a fast food worker enough to give a shit. So long as they know I’m payin’ an’ not shootin’, they don’ care. This ain’t too outta the ordinary. Supers ’ve still gotta eat.”
“I still don’t think I should walk in there. Because, you know…” she trailed off.
“You can read the drive thru menu from here, right?”
“Yeah.” Of course I can. Those giant, bright panels outside with all the colorful pictures and words on them? How could you not?
“So read it. I’ll call ya, an’ ya tell me what ya want.”
Skulker dropped the bag and went back down the way he came. Olivia watched as he blatantly teleported up to the store and walked through the door, mask and black clothes and all. I really hope the worker guy in there doesn’t shoot lasers or something. Her phone rang maybe twenty seconds later.
She picked up. “Wadja wan’?” he asked in a hurry. That barely qualified as English.
“Um, the bacon burger thing. Oh, yeah, the meal. As a meal.” However you say that.
Some muffled talking over the phone. “Anythin’ else? Wan’ a shake?”
“Sure.” Why not? I don’t think I’ve had one before. Or can remember having one, whatever.
Olivia glanced at the menu again, finding the bright desert menu in the lower right corner. Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. The cake they’d bought a while back, the white cake with white vanilla icing that Ben insisted was called a Nathan Bedford Forrest cake, tasted good. “Vanilla,” said Olivia.
A figure caught her eye on a distant rooftop. The moment she focused on it, it vanished. I keep thinking I’m seeing that, but I’m not sure
More muffled talking as he ordered. Then he asked her, “Really? The borin’ Superman of shake flavors?”
Boring is great! Nothing is shooting at you when things are boring. “Why not?”
He didn’t answer immediately. Instead more muffled talking came from his end. “I’m headin’ yer way. See ya in a sec.” He came out of the building as he said this, carrying a large bag of food and a drink with one hand, returning his phone to his pocket with the other. That looks kind of difficult.
After a minute, he rejoined her at on the rooftop. “Jumpy little fry cook. Yer plain-ass shake,” he said, offering the cup with a straw sticking out of the lid. He joined her in sitting on the edge of the roof and lifted his mask to eat, leaving it resting on the top of his head. They divided the burgers and ate.
“What do you have against vanilla?” asked Olivia after a moment.
“Nothin’s wrong with it, it’s jus’ borin’. Kinda wonderin’ why, actually.”
“Well, I liked that vanilla cake we got earlier.”
“Oh, yeah. The Nathan Bedford Forrest cake. An’ no one got the joke, either. Disappointin’,” he said around a mouthful of chicken sandwich. Please stop that. Please?
She pushed on. “Do you need to explain the joke then? Because, you know, only you and Rob laughed at that.”
“Nathan Bedford Forrest was a founder of the KKK.”
“You don’ understand the significance of callin’ a pure white cake with pure white icin’ after a KKK dude, do you?”
“Nope.” Because of course not.
“White supremacist group.” He paused. Go on. “They don’t like people who ain’t white. They’ll word it differently, so that they ain’t soundin’ like the bad guys, but the core of the matter is they hate anyone who ain’t white, or jus’ anyone who ain’t them. Despicable fellas.” That’s kind of depressing. “So if ya put colorful sprinkles on a white cake, it’s a desegregation cake. Now, speakin’ as a white dude, I don’ think I’m really qualified to speak on race an’ stuff. Jus’ sayin’.”
They finished their food in silence after that. Mmmm. Shake good. Burger tasted a bit off, though. At some point the light of the drive thru menu started dimming over the course of a few seconds then flickering fully back to life in a regular pattern.
Skulker crumpled the last of his three value menu burger wrappers and threw it in the bag. “Had jus’ as much fast food in the past month than the rest of the year combined,” he commented.
She nodded in agreement, still drinking. I can’t remember ever having much healthy stuff.
“No complaints? From a chick?” asked Skulker. What? “The others, minus Rob, were all moanin’ ‘bout that earlier.”
She shrugged. I don’t really mind. I mean, it’s better fresh… “You don’t care?” asked Olivia.
“Nah. I’m, an’ Rob,‘re some of those infuriatin’ fucks who don’ gain weight no matter how much they eat. Within reason, of course.”
She nodded and passed the trash to Skulker, who threw it in the bag. He got up and said, “So, vigilante-in’? You got anythin’ in mind?” She’d asked him about how to vigilante (not a verb) before they’d left.
She followed him, getting to her feet. “What do you mean?”
“Stoppin’ all the crime is a lofty goal, an’ completely unobtainable. You gotta focus on somethin’. Trade of a specific drug or two, or forced prostitution, or some organization. Tha’ kinda stuff. Gotta have a hobby, after all. Though I think you could do street level stuff better than most. Might wanna focus on an area, but I’m jus’ comin’ up with ideas right now.”
“Focus? Just on one thing and only one thing?” That sounds kind of narrow minded.
“Well, if I witness a bank robbery in progress while patrolin’, I’m not gonna ignore that because they ain’t kidnappers. But focusin’ yer efforts on somethin’ more concrete will actually get ya results. An’ there’s the usual makin’ enemies, yadda yadda yadda.” He started walking on the roof, in the direction of the lair. She followed.
“So, you mentioned patrolling…” Speaking of which, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a car drive by.
“Eh. Tha’ won’t get ya too much. Though yer power continues to refute my every point. But for the rest of us, it’s not really expected you run into a crime in progress. Patrolin’s more for gettin’ the lay of the land. Odds are pretty small for actually findin’ somethin’. When I first met ya, I wasn’t seriously lookin’ for a fight, I was jus’ tryin’ to get some exercise an’ practice my roof hoppin’ skills.” Hey! I remember that!
He continued, “This is Vigilante 101, so we’ll get into other stuff later. Might be able to get Cinder on board with a bit of sparrin’ or somethin’, he probably needs a partner, too. Give ya someone more in yer bruiser range. Also, need to talk’ to Rob later ‘bout gettin’ you some action clothes tha’ will actually stay intact with ya-”
All the streetlights died. Olivia looked around. Some lights twinkled off in the distance; nothing near them. This is strange. Skulker just sighed. Or not?
“Come on, people!” he exclaimed to the sky. “I thought we got this shit sorted out last year!”
Um… “What?” I am just full of clarification questions today, aren’t I?
“The power’s been spotty since… well, forever. But they said they got their shit together. Hell, that was part of the mayor’s campaign. Or was it governor’s? Whatever.”
“That… doesn’t seem very good.”
“Well, they say once New York goes four month without a blackout, the recession slash depression thing we’ve been in will be over. Still, we’ve got a fraction of the population of what New York’s got, so fuck us, I guess. Anythin’ you wanna do while we’re out?”
“No. Not that I can think of. And thank you. For, you know, coming.”
He laughed as he put his mask back into place. “No problem. See ya back at the lair?”
“Sure.” It’s too quiet out right now. Kind of dark now, too.
He started jumping down to the ground, and Olivia took flight back to the lair. The lack of wind made the air noticeably hotter, and thickened the pollution. Is that… tapping I hear? She looked to behind her. Nothing but empty air and lights on the horizon. Weird.
She landed at the lair, ahead of Skulker, in front of the side entrance, out of view of the main street. Not that it matters, the whole city’s still tonight. She went in, closing the door behind her. Almost exactly where we left them. Except… where’s Miya?
There was Amanda, hunched over her desk. Rob flicked a lever of a gear contraption thing, a small model trebuchet which swung, then returned to its original position with rattles and clanks from within. Rob and Chris talked. Well, Chris talked and Rob maintained a sort of glazed expression. They haven’t moved. At all. But no Miya. She alright? I didn’t hear any movement from out back.
Olivia poked her head out back. Nothing but a pile of bones. Weren’t those moving around on their own before? Olivia walked up to Rob and Chris. “Hi guys. Um… Do you know where Miya is?”
“Erm…” began Rob. “She came in to borrow a chisel maybe three minutes ago.”
“Did she come back in?”
“No, why?” asked Chris knitting his eyebrows together.
“She’s not out back, and the bones are just sitting there.”
“Anything else weird back there? There’s no reason to wander off at this hour on foot, and she doesn’t have a car.”
“Not that I could see. Or smell. Or anything. The bones didn’t look like they’d gone through any fighting.”
Rob and Chris exchanged glances. Uh oh. It’s never good when people do that. They got up. “Hey, Amanda, you’ve got cameras all around this place, right?” said Chris as Rob jogged up to a large metal box.
“Yeah, why?” responded Amanda, not looking up from her tablet thing.
“Miya’s missing. Olivia didn’t see or smell anything,” responded Chris.
Rob yanked on a small lever on the front of the box. Well-oiled machinery worked within, and the lid popped open. He keeps weapons in there, right?
Amanda shoved the tablet along the desk off to her right and clicked on a mouse to get the central computer’s monitor running. “Out back, right? Also, hi, Olivia.”
“Oh, hi.” said Olivia as Amanda opened the feeds for the cameras. Let’s not get distracted now.
Amanda re-winded the camera footage. “Just a couple minutes back,” said Chris.
Olivia looked over her shoulder to Rob. Keeping his eyes on the nearest door, he strapped a knife to his right forearm. She caught a glimpse of some wires extending towards his hand. A crowbar rested on the box beside him.
Olivia returned her attention to Amanda’s screen. “The fuck?” said Amanda. Well that can’t be good.
Static. That’s all that was on the screen. The static moved around in a vaguely humanoid shape, but that was somewhat less helpful than the real picture would have been. Amanda re-winded back a minute, and everything became clear. On the video; Olivia still had no clue what was going on.
Miya sat cross legged with a large bone in hand. She didn’t move an inch, just concentrated on the bone. Over the course of the minute, the edges of the feed became blurrier and blurrier, gradually swallowing up their whole view. Then movement happened.
“What’s it look like now?” asked Chris.
Wait, when did the lights get so dim?
“WH-” Something cut off Rob’s shout.
Olivia spun around, her tail nearly taking out Chris. Nothing. Nothing by the box, or in the lair, or by the doors. The crowbar hadn’t moved. Where’d he go? Still smells like he’s here. I didn’t hear anything or anyone else.
“Amanda,” barked Chris.
“On it- where the fuck did my phone go,” she said, jumping to her feet and whipping her head from side to side, searching her desk.
Olivia took a cautious step forward. Nothing happened. She stalked over to where Rob had been. Still nothing. Where’d he go?
“Something’s got it out for us. Stay here or run for it outside?” Amanda asked Chris from under the desk where she’d continued her search. Ben.
“Where’s Ben?” asked Olivia.
“What?” asked Chris.
“Ben?” Something caught the corner of Olivia’s eye. She spun in that direction, only to find a whole lot of nothing, at least nothing out of the ordinary.
“Don’t know, but he can take care of himself,” said Chris from behind Olivia. “Amanda, is there any way…” He trailed off. Amanda was gone. I did not notice that. How did I not notice that? Who’s doing this? What is going on?
Chris ducked his head under the desk as Olivia scanned the lair for a target, any target at all. Where are they?
“Shit, shit, shit” Chris muttered under his breath in rapid succession. To Olivia he said, “You see anything?”
She didn’t respond, instead preferring to continue her search of the lair for any clues at all. I’m hissing, aren’t I? Doesn’t matter. Give me back my friends.
“Olivia? You still with me?”
Right. Threatening. Sorry. She turned her head and nodded to him over her shoulder. Then something blurry and dark caught her eye again. Come here, you. She slashed at where she estimated the blur would be, moving at that speed. Harder to do when there were no accompanying sounds she’d grown used to taking advantage of. She hit nothing.
She growled in frustration. “What was that?” asked Chris.
She shot him a questioning look. You didn’t see that? He wasn’t looking at her, instead observing his surroundings. “I saw something. Couldn’t make it out at all, though.”
Right. Focus. “Need to get out of here,” he said, backing up towards the nearest door.
She followed watching wherever he wasn’t. This is frustrating, not knowing what to hit. The oppressive and absolute silence, beyond her and Chris’s breathing, started to grate. Hate not knowing what’s going on. He turned around to open the door once he reached it. Olivia took a moment to look around at the lair. Looking exactly like home, just devoid of people.
“F-” Whatever Chris said was cut off. No. The door remained closed. Olivia roared. Get out here. Something dark came from overhead.