Ash – Family Matters

Can I do a roll like this? Olivia tucked in her right wing and rolled, relaxing her left wing. Wheee!

She rotated as she plummeted, the city of Phoenix spread out below her. The lights of the city twinkled. After reaching a decent speed, she snapped her wings back out and righted herself. Woohoo! It’s been forever since I could do stuff like this. I haven’t flown this long before, either. I love fresh air. She circled over where she’d last seen the others on their drive to wherever Miya led them.

She searched for a small red car with a black X of tape on the roof. Last she’d seen, Chris had been in the lead. All three cars they drove had the X on them, an easy way for Olivia to find and keep track of them from the air. I still want to go home at some point. I kind of liked Westward.

After a couple minutes, she spotted three cars with X’s on them, parked between the little squares and rectangles of the buildings below. The spread out buildings in the area stopped at about that point near the cars. Beyond the building closest to the cars, heaps of twisted cars and other scrap lay in piles in a large stretch of dirt and gravel.

I wonder how fast I can stop. She tucked in her wings fully and dove headfirst towards the ground. The wind rushed past her face as she picked up speed. Once she got close to the ground, she snapped her wings back out as far as they could reach.

Her wings yanked on her back once opened, and her neck jerked at the sudden deceleration. The wing joints in her back screamed in protest. Ow. No doing that again. She drifted down, flapping her wings as she landed close to the cars and Chris. Ow, leg still doesn’t like that. At least it’s getting better. Miya said it should only take a couple more days to heal.

“Hi, Olivia,” said Chris as he tugged a large cardboard box out of the back of Amanda’s car.

“Hi Chris! Need any help?” asked Olivia, limping over.

“Nah, this is the last thing. Amanda could yell at me to get more of her stuff later, but let’s ignore that. Oh, I think this last bag in here is yours. How was your flight?” he asked as he carried the box towards the nearby warehouse looking building.

She grabbed the suitcase of her things they had packed before leaving Westward and followed Chris inside. “It was nice.”

“No trouble?”

“No.” The first night after they’d left Houston, she’d turned down the offer to stuff herself into a tiny car to get from point A to point B. They’d since discovered she couldn’t fly quite as fast as a car on the highway, after she’d shown up at the hotel two hours after the others had arrived. No, no more tight spaces. And flying is so much more fun than just sitting in a car.

They walked into the warehouse that doubled as the scrap yard’s office, back when it was operational. Olivia ducked under the doorframe after Chris. She blinked as the stale air hit her. No one’s been here for a while besides us. So many cobwebs. Miya and Ben set up cots in the center of the vast, otherwise empty room as Amanda opened her third laptop on a battered old desk.

“Where’s Rob?” Olivia asked.

“Out back,” said Chris, dropping the box off next to Amanda, who looked up and nodded in thanks.

Olivia found the door in the back of the building, leading to the yard itself. I know he’s here, but I don’t see him. A rasping sound of metal grinding on metal came from the other side of a nearby pile of cars for a moment.

Olivia poked her head around the hulk of an old minivan. Rob leaned forward against another car, one hand bracing against the car roof, the other holding a bit of metallic dust on his fingertip for him to examine.

“Excellent. It’s all comin’ together,” he murmured to himself. He had a toolbox at his feet, and from it he withdrew a hack saw. He does a lot with metals, and he’s a techie. I guess this is fun for him.

“Hi, Rob,” said Olivia, walking around the corner.

“Hm? Oh, hey,” he said as he leaned through a window and into the remains of a car with his saw.

A sawing noise started. “Um, what are you doing?” she asked.

“There’s a big aluminum part in here. Need it,” he said over the sound of his saw. OK. Why?

After he failed to elaborate, she asked, “Why?”

“Aluminum dust in air is pretty explosive. I can mix it with a couple of other chemicals and a certain alloy of mine and make even more explodey.”

“Explodey?” I don’t think that’s a real word.

“Explodey,” confirmed Rob.

“Do you want some help?” she asked.

“Hang on.” The sawing noise stopped. “Come on, little bastard,” muttered Rob. He jerked a couple times, and something metal in the car snapped. “Haha!” He tossed the metal bit onto a small pile behind him. “Nah, I’m good. No time for a metallurgy lecture anyways.”

“Oh, OK. Um, not going to sleep?”

“Slept on the way here.” He put his saw back down and dusted off his hands. “Oh yeah, can you do somethin’ for me?

“Sure.”

“Tell Amanda I need four propane tanks. It’s for meltin’ shit down.”

“OK.” Propane is… something hot? I’ll figure it out later.

“Thanks,” said Rob.

Olivia went back inside the warehouse and relayed Rob’s message to Amanda. She sighed. “What? Smelting? Why?” I don’t know. Before Olivia could answer, Amanda said, “I’m not sure about that, but whatever. We’ve both got a list of stuff we need going and propane tanks are stupid easy to find. I think it’s my turn to go shopping anyways.”

Olivia nodded and scratched her back, her hands automatically seeking the beginnings of the spike in her back. Stupid things. I’d just look weird if I told everyone about them. Well, weirder.

Over the next hour, the group got settled in. The building had been one of the hideouts for Miya’s old gang, complete with the cots and some nonperishable food. As the sun came up, Olivia fell asleep on her cot.

***

“Hey Olivia,” said Amanda the next morning, waving her over.

Olivia finished off the last bite of her sandwich. “Yes?” she answered.

The only other person in the building at the moment was Miya. While Olivia would have normally avoided disturbing Miya’s sleep, she’d heard her grumbling for the past ten minutes. Rob was still out back, and Chris and Ben had driven to a local gym to take advantage of the free memberships Amanda had gotten them, more for the showers than a workout.

“Got something for you to see.”

“What is it?” asked Olivia, walking over to where Amanda had her laptops set up. She kneeled down next to her to get on eye level with the computer screens.

“I got all of that data they had on you in the research labs organized.”

“Oh. Wow. So, um…” Nothing bad, I hope. No tumors or anything, right?

“That includes the stuff on where you came from. They’ve got two lists. Missing persons and people off the grid.”

“Aren’t those, you know, the same thing?” Am I missing something?

“No, but there is overlap. Missing persons are people reported as missing. Off the grid means that the government doesn’t know their whereabouts. A couple girls on the off the grid list are from survivalist families or cult members. Those kinds of people wouldn’t tell the government that one of their own was missing.”

“So, who are they? I mean, the people on the lists.”

“There’s… there are a lot. About twenty, and that’s just in the state of Colorado. They also considered people in neighboring states, though they are lower on the priority list. Other than that, I’m not quite sure on how they’ve assigned priorities.”

“What do you mean?”

“Hang on, let me pull up a random one from the missing persons,” said Amanda.

She scrolled through a list of files, then opened a folder. After taking a moment to look through the files within, she opened a picture. The girl in the picture glared back at Olivia and Amanda. She kind of looks like me. I guess. A little bit. But I don’t think so. From what Olivia could tell, the girl had short, greasy brown hair and some acne scarring on her cheeks. On another laptop, Amanda opened a document.

“This is Samantha Weiss. Runaway. Fifteen years old. Left home for a month before you woke up. Last seen four days before, reported missing by a friend the day of,” said Amanda, reading off of the second screen. “Mentalists said the friend checked out, no hidden motives or anything. Haven’t had any trace of her since. Not quite sure why she’s number two, that seems pretty indicative.”

Olivia reconsidered the picture. She looks so angry. Kind of reminds me of Miya, actually. She could be me. But, maybe she’s not.

“So, um, why is she number two? She, well, she doesn’t really look a lot like me.”

“Time frame fits rather well. Near perfect, actually. As for the physical thing, that can change, right? I almost guarantee you weren’t seven feet tall before. That, and hair color and eye color can change for anyone. Eye color is a bit irrelevant for you, and hair isn’t really meaningful in any way. My hair used to be lighter when I was a kid, for example.”

Olivia blinked and stared at the picture of Samantha. Eye color? Oh right, mine are silver. I know, I’m weird.

Amanda continued. “Her nose is long. You’ve got more of a button nose. And…” Amanda leaned in towards the screen. “Pull back your bangs, let me see your hairline,” she said, motioning towards her own forehead.

Um, OK. Where are you going with this? Olivia pulled back her hair.

Amanda took one look and said, “She’s got a distinct widow’s peak. You don’t. OK, I see what they’re doing now.” And that is?

Amanda returned her attention to her computer and typed something. After a moment, Olivia said, “So, um, what? Widow’s peak?”

“Hm?” said Amanda. She took her eyes off the screen to face Olivia. “Oh, that’s just an accentuated pointy bit in the middle of a hairline. But look at this.”

Amanda tapped the other screen. Olivia thought she was looking into a mirror for a second. The girl looked like she’d just finished a basketball game, if the uniform she wore, court behind her, and teammates in matching jerseys were anything to go by.

“This is Jaime Alsworth. Cops have her pegged as number one on the could-be-you list.”

Olivia opened her mouth, trying to think of something to say. She found her words after a moment. “She looks… she looks a lot like me.”

Amanda nodded. “Not a perfect match, but really close. She’s fifteen, and tall too. She’s a basketball player, in case you didn’t notice, just over six feet. Kidnapped, hrm, kidnapped four months before you popped up, a couple weeks before Christmas. No ransom demands or anything. Hadn’t been acting strangely before, remarkably little evidence as to what happened to her.”

“Four months? That’s a long time.”

Amanda pursed her lips for a moment. “Could have triggered because of captivity. Wouldn’t be the first time that’d happen. Kidnappers may have dumped you on the streets rather than deal with you.”

Olivia nodded. Wait, just thought of something. “I thought appearance wouldn’t be a good indicator. Because, you know…” I’m a big monster thing.

“The odds of taking someone’s face, adding dragon, and getting someone else’s face, to that extent?” Amanda pointed to the picture. “That’s rather unlikely. And she’s not an exact match. Her cheekbones are less pronounced, her face shape as a whole is a bit more round, and those are some substantial eyebrows she’s got. Little differences. And there are two others they’ve got flagged as possible matches.” But she could be me! Wow, that’s kind of weird to think about.

The first was a small, mousy girl. The picture of her was from when she was eight, but they didn’t have a more up to date picture. Her parents had joined an anti metahuman cult in the mountains, and she hadn’t been seen since. However, the aging estimate the police had used also looked similar enough to warrant her being on the list. Amusingly enough, such cults were usually run by powerful mentalists, so there was a chance they’d kept Olivia under with no visible markings.

“Her name is Judy? Fuck those parents. That’s an old lady name,” commented Amanda.

The final girl was with an undocumented migrant family. She had black hair instead of Olivia’s brown, but Amanda repeated that didn’t matter. She’d stopped appearing at the farms the family worked right before Olivia had woken up.

“So we’ve got four names to go off of for now. Samantha, Jaime, Judy, and Maria was the last one,” said Amanda. “Once we get back, we can start whittling down the list.”

“Wow. Um, thanks! Thank you so much, Amanda!” She wrapped an arm around Amanda’s shoulders.

Amanda grunted as Olivia hugged. “No problem.” I didn’t come close to breaking any bones. See? I’m learning.

Olivia heard an insistent grumble from Miya. Eventually, the grumbling clarified into intelligible words. “Too early for cheery-ness. What time is it?”

“Six o’clock,” answered Amanda.

“Fuck that. Be quiet,” said Miya, raising a middle finger in their general direction. Someone is grumpy.

“PM,” added Amanda.

“Oh.” Miya sighed. “Damn it.” She rolled out of her cot.

“Twelve hours of sleep will really put you down,” said Amanda. How do you sleep for that long? We went to sleep at the same time, and I was awake two hours ago.

Miya grunted and ran a hand through her black hair. “Need haircut,” she said. “Getting too long.”

“I don’t know how you two stand it,” said Amanda. You two? “That much hair would drive me insane.”

“You shove your head in that helmet. Of course it would,” said Miya.

“That, and burning hair smells awful,” said Amanda.

Olivia and Miya looked at her. “Um,” began Olivia. Why would your hair light on fire? That’s not a good thing.

“What? I kept it long once, and it always got caught in soldering irons whenever I was trying to concentrate when I was working. That’s why I keep it to a couple inches now. And besides, why is your hair always messed up?” Amanda asked Olivia. “Don’t you ever do anything with it?”

I like my hair. I guess. I never really pay attention to it. “Do what?” asked Olivia.

“Style it. Or at least comb it.”

“Well, why? It will just get messed up when I fly.”

“But doesn’t it get in the way?”

“Um, maybe? I never noticed it before.”

“So no, it doesn’t get in the way,” said Miya. Sure.

The front door opened, and Chris and Ben walked in. Chris nodded to the three of them. Ben waved and said, “Hola.” They tossed their towels and bags to their own cots and joined the girls around Amanda’s setup.

“Anyone seen Rob? He come back in at all?” asked Ben.

Amanda rolled her eyes. “Let me go check on him,” she said as she got up from her chair with exaggerated effort.

“What’d we miss?” asked Ben once the door shut behind Amanda.

“Girly girl talk. Hair and boys and stuff,” grunted Miya.

“So nothing,” said Ben.

“Yes,” confirmed Miya. She looked longingly at her cot. But… we did talk about stuff. Not nothing.

“Ya jus’ wake up?” asked Ben.

“Yes. Fuck mornings. You guys got it easy.”

“Damn it, that reminds me, forgot to shave,” said Chris, running a hand over the stubble on his face.

“Sucks to suck. I shave maybe once a week,” said Ben.

Miya smiled. “I don’t have to shave. Sucks to suck.”

Chris sighed. “I hate you all. I have to shave. Even this stubble is too itchy.”

Ben snickered.

“I had a beard once,” Chris continued. “Didn’t take that long to grow.”

Olivia, Ben, and Miya all blinked simultaneously. “You? The boy scout? Really?” said Miya, first to recover. Ben grinned at Chris as Olivia tilted her head to the side a little. I’m with Miya. Really?

Chris smiled. “Yeah. I lost a bet with a couple of my buddies. I couldn’t shave or trim it for two months, no matter how stupid or scraggly it turned out. I’d never grown it out before so we had no idea. The color of my beard was brown for some reason,” he said, motioning towards his blond hair. “But the best part was in the last week before the bet ended, my barber, some Vietnamese lady, messed up my order and just shaved my head. I looked like a psycho murderer for that whole week.”

“Please tell me you got a picture of that,” said Ben, bouncing in his seat in anticipation.

Chris sighed, the smile still on his face. He leaned back in his chair and dug out his phone. “Yeah, give me a second.” He tapped a couple buttons. “Here it is.”

He passed around the phone. Miya and Ben snorted in laughter when they saw it. Olivia looked. In the picture, Chris smiled at the camera. He had about half an inch of hair on his head, maybe half the length of the thick brown hair on his face. Olivia smiled. He looks kind of funny. I barely recognize him. Olivia passed Chris’s phone back to him.

“Academy let you get away with that?” asked Ben, still with an incredulous grin. The what?

“No. God no.” Chris shuddered. “Instructors would have beat the shit out of me for that. No, that was in high school.”

“Um, excuse me? Academy?” asked Olivia. Is this a dumb question?

“School for powered kids,” explained Ben. “Expensive, but I’ve heard it’s good.”

“Yeah, basically,” said Chris. “They help you figure out what your power does and how well it would fit in a field of your choosing. It’s basically a less militaristic ROTC. Find one in almost any college. I went through the MHU training course they run. Full year of modified basic training, really. Power is fucking with your vision, here’s what you do. Golem attacking? Here’s what you do. Had to take a couple classes too.”

“Amanda do that too?” asked Miya.

“I… I don’t know. But I don’t think so. I know she has a bachelor’s in computer science and a master’s in physics. She mentioned wanting to get a PhD in something, I think. Probably physics, but I don’t know what subfield,” said Chris. He says it like that should be hard. And what’s that about bachelors?

Ben whistled. “Well that’s not fair, her power is basically electrical engineering on crack, right?” asked Miya.

Chris shrugged. “I don’t pretend to understand, I just shoot things.”

“I didn’t think they’d have stuff to help powered kids like that,” said Olivia. That sounds really cool, actually.

“Powers don’ matter. Gotta help people. Supers’ve been ‘round since the dawn of time,” said Ben.

“Yeah,” said Chris. “You go to the old places of the world, like Egypt or Turkey or Iraq, there’s some strange, strange stuff there. And when I say old, I mean when humans were first figuring out putting seeds in the ground makes plants grow kind of old.”

“Like what?”

“In Turkey, there’s this strange time warp thing. Throw something through and it comes out five thousand years older on the other side. No one knows where it came from, but archaeologists and historians say it’s been shrinking, thank god. In Pakistan they found a perfect sculpture of a human brain carved sometime before the Pyramids were built.”

“Oh yeah, like Stonehenge?” said Ben.

“Um,” began Olivia. I’ve seen the Pyramids mentioned in other places. Never heard of Stonehenge though.

“Stonehenge is a sort of stone circle,” explained Chris. “It’s been untouched for thousands of years. Anyone who goes in the outer circle freaks out for at least a week. The rocks aren’t weathered, they practically look brand new, and the altar in the center glows during certain celestial events. There’s two others in France, right?”

Miya and Ben shrugged. “Hell if I know. How do you know so much about this stuff?” asked Miya.

“I took some history of meta-humans classes in the Academy. I thought it was interesting, at least.”

The conversation trailed off. After a moment, Ben said, “We have stuff to do today?”

“We should probably get everyone together. Miya, you know the lay of the land better than anyone else, you have an idea of what we need to do?”

“Yeah.”

“Um, Rob and Amanda aren’t here,” said Olivia.

“What have they been up to? Amanda said she was going to bring him in,” said Chris.

“Let’s go check,” said Ben, jumping out of his seat. He went out back. After a moment, Olivia heard him say, “The fuck?” What’s wrong?

Miya, Olivia, and Chris joined him. They stared. Amanda and Rob had driven Amanda’s car to the middle of the yard. Two of the doors had been removed, and a large pile of scrap that Rob had been collecting lay against one of rear tires. Wires emerged from under the hood to connect to what appeared to be two car batteries on the ground up front.

Olivia heard a zapping noise from the shotgun seat where Amanda worked in the torn up dashboard of her car. “Shit,” Amanda muttered.

A moment later, Rob’s legs, sticking out from under the car, twitched. He muttered, “Ow, motherfucker…” Silence reigned once more.

“My god, they’re communicatin’,” said Ben with a grin.

The speakers of the car buzzed. Then, music started playing. “Finally!” yelled Amanda.

“Good job,” yelled Rob, still under the car.

Olivia tapped her toe with the song. Hey, I recognize this!

“Wha’cha doin’?” asked Ben, kneeling down next to Rob.

“Stuff,” replied Rob.

“What kinda stuff,” asked Ben, a wide grin forming on his face.

“You know what shear stress is?”

“No.”

“Then it’s beyond your comprehension. Fuck off.”

“We left you an’ Amanda alone for ten minutes and you’ve already dismantled her car. The hell?” said Ben.

“We’re doin’ stuff. Cool stuff. There!” Rob slid out from under the car, two smears of grease on his face. “Mission accomplished,” he said, sitting upright.

“We might need this car working,” said Chris.

“Yeah, it’ll work better than before. At some point,” said Rob with a grin. Ben helped him to his feet. “Amanda, how’s the wirin’ goin?”

“Good.”

“Others are out here.”

“So?”

“They’re confused.”

“So?”

“I don’t know what you’re doin’ in there. Save me.”

Amanda sighed. She slapped a tool Olivia didn’t recognize on the dashboard and got out of the car. She grabbed something on her way out, and the music stopped.

“Oh.” said Olivia. I liked that song. The guitars sounded cool.

“What, ya liked that?” asked Ben, noticing Olivia’s reaction.

“Um, yeah.”

“What? That stuff? Not rock or anythin’?”

“Is that the loud stuff? I didn’t like the loud stuff.”

“Wait, I haven’t even seen you listen to so much as a radio,” said Chris.

“They gave her a music player in her cell, remember?” said Amanda.

Olivia nodded in agreement. “Oh, right, forgot,” said Chris.

“The loud stuff? You gotta narrow it down,” Ben said to her.

“The, um, the thing didn’t have a screen. Just a next button, a play button, and stuff like that.”

“Not a fan of ska? Did they even have ska songs on there?” jumped in Rob. What?

“Of course not,” said Amanda, before Olivia could ask what he was talking about. “No one listens to ska music.”

“Hey, I listen to ska music.”

“Yeah. Like I said, no one listens to ska music,” said Amanda, fighting to keep a deadpan expression.

“Oh, OK. I see how it is.”

Olivia glanced at Miya. She stood off to the side, frowning at the darkening sky. Olivia left the others as Rob and Amanda  started arguing to join her. “Are you OK?” asked Olivia.

“Just thinking. I should probably visit my family here, see if they know anything. Touch bases. Not looking forward to it.” Why not? Or is that a bad question?

“Do you want someone to come with you?”

Miya shrugged. “If you want. Probably won’t take long. Hell, I more want to talk to Janice and Andrea than anyone else.”

“Who?”

“Nice lesbian couple, lived in the apartment above mine. Let me stay over sometimes if I needed a place to go.”

“Oh. I’ll come with you if you want.”

Miya shrugged again. “Sure. If you want.”

***

Chris’s car came to a stop in a small parking lot in front of a set of apartment buildings. Olivia, following overhead, landed, this time not dive bombing.

“This is the place. See if they’re still there,” said Miya as she and Chris got out of the car. Olivia joined them.

“How long has it been?” asked Chris.

“Six months now. They might have moved, but I doubt it.” Someone had spray painted a bright green skull with a wide tongue sticking out of its mouth on the brick wall of the apartment building. That’s kind of creepy.

“What do you want to do?” asked Chris.

“Just wait here,” said Miya, her mouth set in a hard line.

“You sure?” asked Chris. Why? That’s her family, right?

Miya just rolled her eyes and walked off. She jogged up a couple flights of stairs on the exterior and disappeared around a corner.

“So, we just wait out here?” asked Olivia.

Chris shrugged as he leaned against the door of his car. “Her family, her call. I’m just her ride.”

“Oh.” Olivia paced, waiting for Miya to return. Why am I so nervous? She’s just visiting family. She should be fine. But she didn’t look happy at all. Thirty minutes passed.

Miya came out with a trickle of blood from her nose. She wiped it off with the back of her hand as she returned to the car. What happened?

“Olivia,” said Chris as Miya walked back.

She blinked. “What?”

“You’re hissing.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Something wrong?” he asked.

“Um, Miya had some blood on her nose. That’s not… that’s not good, right?”

Chris frowned. “We’ll see.”

What? How could that be good? Maybe there’s something I’m missing. Miya waved to them once she got close. “We’re good to go,” she called out.

“What happened?” asked Olivia.

“Family argument, nothing more,” said Miya as Chris leaned down to start the car.

“But… you came back. They, um, they didn’t-”

Miya cut her off. “Olivia, please drop it. See you back at the hideout.”

“Sorry,” said Olivia. Miya slammed the car door shut behind her. Stupid. I said something stupid, didn’t I?

Chris met Olivia’s eyes. He silently mouthed “Later” and got in the car. Olivia backed off the car as he shut the door. The car drove off as Olivia took flight. Family is supposed to take care of each other, right?

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4 thoughts on “Ash – Family Matters

  1. Hey don’t be too sorry RL always comes first. Also sorry to hear how it went. And while we are at it thanks for sharing this story with us.
    About the chapter:
    I liked the discussion about music. And the bit about Jaime being kidnapped without any demands is worth investigating even if it should turn out its not her.

    Lastly:
    Who is Bon?

    Please me you got a picture of that
    Please tell me

    what you power does
    your right?

    I more want to talk to Janice and Andrea.
    sounds weird to me

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