Hurt. Everything hurt. Many people, too many people, kept shooting Olivia from across the street. The two other times she’d tried to get closer had just ended with many bullets. She hissed and overturned a car between her and them. Several bullets hit the roof of the car. A man with a rifle rushed up to her.
She nearly grabbed his neck before she caught his scent. Oh, right. Rob. Another man, Ben, teleported to her side and grabbed her hand.
“Olivia, wait!” he shouted. “It’s us.”
She nodded. A couple more bullets hitting the side of the overturned car made her duck her head.
“We gotta pull back,” yelled Rob.
Ben took a moment to hold his rifle above the side of the car and fire a couple shots before responding, “Too many of ‘em. They’ll tear us to shreds the second they can.”
Something solid and metal hit the concrete to their right.
“Grenade!” screamed Ben, tackling Rob out of the way.
Olivia raised a hand to her face and backed away. The explosion still staggered her. She roared in pain as the insides of her ears burned in pain. Stop. She dug her hands into the overturned car, then hefted it above her head and lobbed it in the direction the grenade had come from.
The car slammed into the ground just shy of the gunmen but kept rolling, leaving a trail of twisted metal and shattered glass on the street. Something tugged on her wing in the brief, calm moment that followed.
What? She whirled around, her tail coming within inches of taking out Rob’s knees as Ben helped him up. Ben yelled something, pointing to an abandoned apartment building behind him with his free hand. But the gunmen are behind us.
Rob and Ben ran, Ben waving at her to follow. Fine. She hissed as a couple bullets hit her back, but she kept up. Flashing lights began to appear; massive armored MHU vans thundered down the street.
They passed a couple bodies on the way to the apartment building. A scattered pile of reddish ash caught Olivia’s attention. Every bone in her body screamed danger. She skirted around it as far as possible while still reaching the wrecked door.
Within, Chris in liquid form battled two robots. One looked heavily damaged, only one leg and one arm pulling it along the floor as it attempted to crawl away. The other seemed in far better shape, a thin bit of metal emerged from its wrist with a jet of flame spewing out. It held a long steel knife in the other hand to keep human Chris at bay. Olivia charged.
Ben teleported and slashed at the shoulder joint of the robot’s lighter hand. He turned and teleported out of the way before the robot could twist and bring its knife down on him. Rob followed Ben’s attack with his rifle, forcing the robot to duck and roll out of the way.
Chris was right behind the robot, lunging to shove it to Olivia. She swung a hand down on its shoulder, carving straight through its chest. The robot collapsed. Go away.
Rob said something else, Olivia couldn’t hear him over the high pitched ringing in her ears. She couldn’t hear Chris’s response either, once he shifted back to human. But they motioned to her to follow them to through the building, which was good enough for her. Ben teleported off after the second robot, who’d managed to vanish in the meantime. I smell Miya and Quarrel in here, where are they?
Rob stopped at the door to a maintenance room. Different gadgets and guns, all made of the same dark grey metal as the robots, covered the walls. On the floor lay the shredded remains of the damaged robot, Ben’s knife sticking out of its back. Ben grabbed his sniper rifle off the wall, then teleported to the robot to retrieve his knife, a wide smile on his face. The Overlord robots kept the Overlord gun? Well, I guess that makes sense.
Ben teleported out of the room, and soon they reached the back of the building. I still smell them. They’re close. Olivia skidded to a stop and looked up to see Miya and Quarrel climbing down a fire escape.
“Wait,” said Olivia to the others, not hearing herself over the tinnitus in her ears.
Ben and Rob kept their eyes on the surroundings as Quarrel and Miya sprinted to join them. Everyone is here. OK. Right as she readied herself to take flight, Chris grabbed her arm. He said something to her, his voice too muffled and distant for her to comprehend. What?
“I can’t hear you,” she said. Please heal, ears.
He pointed to the cloudless, sunny sky. Then he spun his finger around like a helicopter. Oh, they’ll see me. OK.
They began running down some side streets and alleys, following Quarrel’s lead. Olivia struggled to keep up, her heel claws not used to taking so much punishment. I hate running.
They’d spent an hour dodging police patrols. Quarrel called Roach several times, trying to figure out whether he’d managed to talk down the police. On the plus side, they almost never had to duck out of sight of any possible passers-by. The city still had a meta-human fight warning ongoing, advising people to stay indoors.
Olivia’s ears had healed to the point that she could at least understand spoken words again. Of course, most of what she heard was now just panting and the occasional directions from Quarrel, but it beat being deaf.
They rested behind a couple makeshift shacks. The residents of the shantytown had made and abandoned them for some unknown reason in the back parking lot of some closed strip mall. Quarrel stood a distance away, on her phone again. Olivia put her hand into her pocket, making sure the two bits of gold were still there.
Quarrel walked back to them, putting her phone away. “Roach couldn’t get anywhere with the police, they’re out for blood and looking for someone to blame for all of this. He managed to get out to help us before they could arrest him. He’s on the way here, about five, ten minutes out.”
“Will he have enough room for all of us?” asked Chris.
Quarrel glanced at Olivia. I know, I’m weird, sorry. “He should. He drives an enormous SUV thing he uses for his day job. He works in construction.”
“Alright, sounds good. Where are we going to go?” Great. A car. I can’t fly? Olivia looked to the clear blue skies again. I guess not. It’s only noon.
“We have a couple safe houses. The nearest one is the basement of a church. We helped the priest there with a mutant rat infestation, long story, and he’s been a good friend ever since. Roach called him and he’s willing to let us crash there for a couple days while we get this sorted out.”
“How are you going to explain all this to the police, anyways?” asked Miya, leaning against the green Tzontli tag on the wall.
“The Watch National has an… agreement with the police,” said Quarrel. “We’ll be talked to death and interrogated for the next week or two, but we’ll be able to smooth this over unless they’ve lost all reason. The thing is though, that’ll only cover us, just me and Roach now. You guys will probably want to skip town unless facing some jail time sounds appealing.”
Olivia frowned. No, not going back to that cell. Dr. Ruskov and Dr. Sullivan were nice, but I’m not being stuck in that cell again. I hope they’re OK, the news said stuff about people being hurt when I escaped.
“Any news on Amanda?” asked Rob, sitting on the curb of the parking lot alongside Ben, who cradled his rifle.
“I think her parents arrived last night. Roach… wasn’t a fan of them.”
Rob shrugged. “Never met ‘em. Never heard anythin’ ‘bout them, actually.”
Quarrel nodded. “Other than that, nothing. I guess no news is good news in this case.”
Rob just shrugged again, not saying anything else. Olivia joined him and Ben on the curb. She stretched her feet out, her long toes spread out. The tension in her back claw especially eased as she stretched. Ow. I really hate running now.
“Escaping that firefight was easy. Too easy,” said Chris after a moment. “The number one rule that they taught us for situations like that was to never ever let up or give a meta a chance to think or regroup.”
“Had their hands full?” ventured Ben. “There were ton of Tzontli fellas there, an’ I’m guessin’ they ain’t fans of the cops either.
“I guess,” said Chris, a doubting frown still on his face.
“They ain’t all powerful. Hell, the ones here probably ain’t good at their jobs. The Tzonli’s ruled half the city if ya listen to rumors,” said Ben.
Chris nodded and let the conversation drop. A few uneventful minutes later, a massive forest green car pulled into the parking lot.
“That’s Roach, come on,” said Quarrel, jogging to the shotgun seat.
“It’s like a smaller BAT,” commented Ben, following. Bat? Oh, right, Rob’s truck. What was it they called it, the Big Ass Truck? Yeah, that’s it. I can remember stuff.
“That it is,” said Rob, opening the back door. Olivia stared at the open door. I’m fine with flying. Really. I don’t think my wings will fit through that.
Roach rolled down his window. “Trunk” he rasped, jerking his head towards the back of the car. Olivia sighed.
They pulled into a nearly empty church parking lot fifteen minutes later. An elderly man stood in a doorway. Who is that?
Roach parked, putting the church between the road and the car, and got out. The others followed suit, Ben running to the back to let Olivia out.
“Thank you,” she said, stretching wings that had been twisted inward to fit in the car. I hate tight spaces. “Wait, is he… um… OK with me?” she asked Ben, motioning towards the man in the church.
Ben shrugged. “I dunno. We’ll see.”
Um, OK. No one is freaking out, so I guess this is OK. She looked around, seeing nothing but an empty field and an elementary school behind them. She jogged as best she could to keep up with the others.
“Come, come,” said the priest at the door, ushering them in. He didn’t spare Olivia a second glance, which she appreciated. The door shut behind her. “This way please,” he said, moving to the head of the group and leading them into the church.
“Sure this is alright?” asked Roach as they headed past rows of pews. Olivia looked around. There’s a lot of crosses and a sad looking guy everywhere. Even that woman with the baby over there looks sad.
“It’s one thirty. There is no mass right now. There is an evening mass tonight, but there aren’t any activities planned that require the basement, so I’ll give you a set of keys. That way you can lock the doors after me so no one can walk in on you,” he replied, stopping at a door and handing Roach a set of keys.
Roach accepted them and smiled. “Thank you, Father John.”
“Please, call me John.”
“No one else work here?” asked Ben.
“No, we’re a small parish. There is a deacon and a secretary, but one I sent home, and the other is on vacation.” Father John opened the door to a staircase and motioned for them to enter the basement.
They descended the stairs and found themselves in the windowless basement of the church. A couple couches formed a rough semicircle around a large blank whiteboard on the wall. Some second hand rugs added some color to the otherwise beige environment. The small kitchen lay tucked in the corner behind a wall, the fridge humming.
“Feel free to help yourself to anything here, it’s the least I can do. I only ask that you refrain from violence. The bathrooms are over there on the far side, though I’m afraid we don’t have any showers for you,” said John, coming in last down the stairs. Yeah, everyone is starting to smell kind of bad.
“That reminds me. Those boxes we carted in, are they still well hidden?” asked Quarrel.
“Yes,” said John, his voice curt. Why does he sound mad all of a sudden? What’s wrong with boxes?
“Don’t worry. We’ll take those with us when we leave.”
“Thank you. And… my condolences for your loss. Preacher was a good man, even if we didn’t always see eye to eye.”
Quarrel bit her lip as Roach bowed his head. “Thank you, Father,” said Roach.
The others had spread out, Miya and Ben both crashing on separate couches. Chris examined an emergency exit door with paper taped over the window, and Rob sat on the arm of another couch, observing the conversation.
“Will you all be alright? I am holding confession in a half hour, and I’ll need to get ready,” said Father John.
“Yes, we’re fine. Thank you again,” said Roach.
“Not a problem. Stay safe everyone,” said Father John, inclining his head. And with that, he left.
“Food?” asked Roach once the door closed. Food! Ben and Miya both popped their heads up from behind their couches.
“What do we want to eat?” asked Quarrel. “There are some good burger places near-”
“No!” exclaimed Rob, jumping to his feet. Everyone’s attention snapped to him. “I refuse! No more fast food. No more. I am gonna fuckin’ cook somethin’, an’ it’ll be fuckin’ delicious.” He stormed into the kitchen.
Quarrel followed him. “We’re not going to have much. We didn’t want to intrude on Father John’s goodwill.” Olivia and the others exchanged looks, then followed. Rob can cook?
“Well, what do you have?” he asked as he searched the cupboards.
“I don’t know. MREs in the boxes, ramen, pasta, frozen dinners. I think there’s some pork chops in the freezer, too. Oh, we have a bag of rice in the back.”
“Does salt and pepper count?”
Rob closed his eyes and rested his head on a cupboard. “Heathens,” he muttered under his breath.
“We don’t have to cook-” ventured Chris.
“Yes! I haven’t cooked anythin’ for months. It’s all been junk food and chemical crap.” He opened the fridge and the freezer on top. “Damn, this is a lot of pork. Why?”
“Wholesale stores are great. All of that cost almost nothing,” said Quarrel.
“Fuck it. Pork curry it is. Fuckin’ tired of cow. You,” he said, pointing to Ben. “Get a thing of curry powder, worcestershire sauce, garlic, and a bunch of onions.” He leaned over, checking the fridge again. “Let’s see, there’s butter and milk here, and some salad makin’s for whatever reason. Oh, and beef broth. Get that, I think that’ll work.”
“And how do you propose he gets that?” asked Quarrel. “Security surveillance, and a bunch of witnesses, caught sight of you guys at the hospital. People will be looking for you all.”
Rob just shrugged. “OK, you go get it. You’ve been wearin’ a mask this whole time. Besides, how else would we get those burgers you were ‘bout to suggest?”
Quarrel sighed. “Fine. Where’s a note pad?” After a moment, Rob came across a blank one. “Write down the list of what you need, I’ll run to a store and get it.”
Roach coughed. “I’ll be fine,” said Quarrel. She smiled slightly. “I can take care of myself, you know, even without a crossbow.” Roach nodded and tossed her the keys.
Rob passed her his list, and Quarrel jogged up the stairs.
“Now, where’s the biggest pot you have?” he asked Roach.
Roach shrugged. “Don’t know. Not my place. Bad cook.”
“Fuck it, I’ll figure it out myself. Out, all of you,” he said, shooing them out.
Everyone collapsed on the various couches again, Olivia electing to take a seat on the floor between Miya and Ben. Stupid backrests. Everyone except Roach and Olivia pulled out phones. Roach just glanced at everyone and raised an eyebrow before leaning back and closing his eyes.
Sleepy? Olivia closed her eyes and rested her head against the padded armrest of Miya’s couch, enjoying the fact that no one was shooting or hunting them at the moment. The ringing had finally subsided to manageable levels. That fridge is kind of loud, but I like it here. It’s quiet otherwise. It doesn’t even smell bad.
Sizzles filled the air as Rob slapped the pork onto a hot pan. Oh, that smells good.
“You alright there, Olivia?” asked Miya.
Olivia looked at Miya and tilted her head. What? Why wouldn’t I be? “I’m fine. Why?”
“Because you jumped up just now.”
“Did you fall asleep?” she asked.
“No?” I was just resting my eyes.
“Is Quarrel here?”
“No,” Olivia began to say. I hear another person breathing. And… yeah, that’s Quarrel I smell. “Wait, yes. When did she get back?” She looked around for Quarrel, sitting next to Roach to Olivia’s right. Quarrel gave her a small wave.
“Like a minute ago. Don’t worry, you missed nothing,” said Miya.
“Yeah, it’s borin’, just lettin’ Rob cook,” said Ben. He grinned wide. “I’mma go fuck with him.” He scampered off to the kitchen.
Chris and Miya just rolled their eyes. What does Ben mean by that?
Soon, she heard Rob say, “No, don’t touch that.”
Miya sighed and rubbed her temples.
A moment later, “Don’t lick that. Give it back.”
Lick? Ew. That’s our food in there, Ben.
“I said don’t touch that.”
“I give him ten seconds,” said Chris, checking the time on his phone. Quarrel laughed.
“Twenty,” countered Miya.
“You’re on.” I… whatever. I don’t know, and I’ve come to accept that. I just can’t care enough anymore.
Another moment. “Out! OUT!” shouted Rob. Ben fled the kitchen.
“Suck it,” Miya said, sticking her tongue out at Chris.
A moment later Rob chucked a knife that embedded itself in the wall behind Ben, who just laughed. Olivia’s eyes widened. Something in the air made them tingle as they did.
“What the hell was that?” asked Chris, pointing to the knife.
“A family tradition. He wasn’t aimin’ for me,” said Ben, plopping down on the couch.
Quarrel got up and pulled the knife out of the drywall. After examining the hole, she said, “You’re going to fix this.” Roach frowned at Ben to back her up.
Ben shrugged. “Sure. I’ll get Rob in on it when he ain’t busy. Unless, of course, you wanna talk to him right now. There are still got a couple more knives in that kitchen.”
“Olivia, are you crying?” asked Miya.
She shook her head. “No. Something… in the air.” She blinked a couple times, trying to the the water out. Gah! What is that? Smells… gah.
“Rob’s choppin’ up a lotta onions in there. Maybe tha’s it,” said Ben.
Olivia nodded and spent the next ten minutes trying desperately to ignore the stinging and sneezing. She pulled out her own phone just to try to take her mind off it. Ignore it. Just ignore it. But the rest of that stuff smells good. Really good.
Finally, Rob came in and asked, “Alright, it’s in the pot now. Should be a half hour now. Who wants rice with it?” A half hour? It smells so good. But… but…
“There’s a rice cooker thing in there?” asked Quarrel.
“Nah, I jury rigged somethin’. An’… wait, why did you put a bag of rice in here if you didn’t have a way to make it?”
“I… don’t… know,” said Quarrel. Roach laughed as her face turned red. “Shut up. It must have been an oversight on our part.”
Rob just smiled. “Rice?” he repeated.
“Yes, thank you,” said Quarrel.
After everyone gave their orders, Rob returned to the kitchen. Olivia heard a chopping noise from there a few minutes later. What? You don’t chop rice, do you?
He called out, “Alright, salads while we wait. Gettin’ close now.”
Roach nudged Quarrel, and they got up off their couch and walked over to a closet of some kind. They pulled a folding table out. After everyone grabbed some chairs and set everything up, Rob walked out with a large bowl of salad and a stack of plates.
Olivia spun her chair so that the back faced the table and sat down. She had a clear view of the pot. Food.
“Salad, Olivia?” asked Rob, breaking her out of her reverie. He held tongs with a bunch of salad in them.
“No thank you. Vegetables are what food eats,” said Olivia.
Miya froze, forkful of salad halfway to her mouth. Ben, Quarrel, and Chris just laughed.
“You’re not gonna go carnivore master race on us, are you?” asked Rob.
Olivia’s eyes widened. Oh. “No! Sorry, it was a joke. Sorry.” I didn’t mean to be weird or anything. I’m so sorry.
Rob grinned. “So that’s a no on the salad?”
“No thank you,” repeated Olivia, hunching over in her seat. Why is my face so hot?
Miya nudged her. “Don’t worry.” Olivia just nodded.
At long last, Rob took the pot off the stove as Ben and Roach poured drinks into red plastic cups.
Right as Olivia grabbed her clear plastic fork and stabbed a piece of pork, Rob said, “I wanna say somethin’ real quick.”
Everyone stopped. But… Olivia glanced at the food, so tantalizingly close. She suppressed a sigh and put her fork down.
Rob continued, “We’re not fuckin’ dead, an’ we’re not in jail or some shit. Can’t thank you two enough for that.” He nodded to Quarrel and Roach. “So this meal should taste damn good. I’m done, dig in.”