It’s so comfy! Olivia snuggled further into her vast beanbag. My feet aren’t hanging off the edge, either. Where did Ben and Rob find this? She used the back of her claw to hit the next page button on her new tablet thing.
Amanda, asleep under her wing, twitched and mumbled something incoherent before quieting down again. I always forget how quiet it gets in here when everyone’s asleep. It’s nice. Something smells funky though. Not in here, but somewhere. Olivia lay her head down on her plushy jaguar, tilted the tablet accordingly, and resumed reading.
Blankets rustled from Rob’s section. After a moment, he staggered out from behind the curtain and headed straight for the makeshift cupboards by the table.
“Hi Rob. Up already?” she said, her voice low.
“Bwah?” he mumbled, spinning around. “Oh, there you are. Good morning,” he replied.
It’s morning? Olivia grabbed her phone from beneath the jaguar’s tail and checked it. Oh, wow. Seven already. I wish there were windows in here.
“Yeah, woke up a bit ago, figured I wasn’t gonna get back to sleep,” continued Rob. Plastic wrapping crinkled as he opened something he’d grabbed from the cupboard. Ew, smells like one of those granola bar things. “Amanda awake yet?”
“No.” She extended her wing enough for Rob to see the top of Amanda’s head underneath. “Just you and me.”
He took a seat facing Olivia. “Have you two been like this all night?” he asked between mouthfuls of his breakfast bar thing. Stop eating with your mouth open. You and Ben both. It’s so gross.
“Well, I didn’t want to wake up Amanda or anything. And I was reading.” She held up the tablet to show him.
He leaned in closer. “Is that… oh, gotcha.” He grinned. “You’ll be wavin’ around a wand an’ speakin’ Britishisms soon enough.”
Olivia blinked. OK? “Yeah, Chris gave me a bunch of recommendations.” There are so many books out there!
“Find anythin’ in particular?”
“No. Well, yes. I’ve liked everything so far. There was also that other one, I think it had game in the title or something.”
“Oh man, that one. A dystopian young adult book with a female protagonist fightin’ against the government. The originality is staggerin’.”
“What?” I have no idea what you’re talking about.
“Nothin’. You just ain’t jaded yet. Likin’ the bean bag?” he asked, before she could say anything.
“Yes!” said Olivia with a smile. “Thank you guys so much, again. It’s so comfy.” Why did they do that? I guess that sounds kind of ungrateful, though. Maybe… oh! “You guys didn’t know if it was my actual birthday though, right?”
“No, not at all.” He finished off his granola bar and got up from his chair.
“Oh.” Darn it. “Yesterday wasn’t actually my birthday, then.”
“So?” he asked over his shoulder as he reached the trash can beside the fridge.
“Well, why yesterday?”
“We thought it’d be fun.” He grinned again, sitting back down on the chair and balancing on two of its legs. “Just tryin’ to be nice.”
That question came out wrong. “No, no. I just… um… sorry.”
“What the?” came a muffled voice beside Olivia. She withdrew her wing. Amanda rolled away blinked at the light overhead.
“Good morning, Amanda,” said Olivia. Rob just laughed.
Amanda winced as she flipped over and propped herself up on her elbows. “Oh, good morning, you two.” She rubbed her eyes. “When did I fall asleep?”
“Um, I think at around eleven last night,” replied Olivia.
Amanda nodded. “Wait, was I literally under your wing this whole time?”
“Yeah, you showed me the option menu thing, then kind of fell asleep. I didn’t want to wake you up or anything.”
Amanda flopped back down on the bean bag. “This thing is pretty comfortable.”
“I know!” It doesn’t have a backrest or anything.
“Thank Miya, she’s the one who found it,” said Rob. “Oh, Amanda, when you’re ready to leave the land of comfort, I made some progress on a couple of those projects.”
Amanda raised her head. “Oh, what?”
“I almost got the rails ready, give me an hour and they’ll be ready for testing. I carved out some space in my armor for those sensors an’ comms you got. Oh, an’ I’ll need your measurements for makin’ the plates for your own armor, too.”
“All of that already? Awesome! Oh, did you get all that wiring finished?”
“Who the fuck do you think I am? Of course I did. Took maybe an hour. Oh yeah, did you get around to insulating my armor yesterday?”
“Yep, in that you should be safe from any electrical attack short of a lightning bolt now. You may want to check on the right arm gears, though. I had to pull a couple things out of place and didn’t want to mess up anything else trying to put them back in.” I wish I could do stuff like that.
Rob frowned for a moment. “Oh, that’s an easy fix. No worries.”
“Cool. Excuse me, Olivia,” said Amanda, half covered by Olivia’s wing again.
Right. Olivia got up, curling her hands to keep her claws from slashing up the bean bag. She offered a hand to Amanda.
“I’m not made of glass, you know,” she grumbled, accepting Olivia’s help. She bit her lip as she got to her feet.
“You OK?” asked Rob.
Amanda nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She started for her own section. “Just give me five minutes. Still waking up.”
It’s only been two weeks. She seems skinnier. Or is it just me?
“Sure, I’ll be over by the workshop,” said Rob as Amanda nodded and disappeared behind a curtain. Olivia heard something hard and plastic rattle.
“Doin’ anythin’ fun, ‘liv?” asked Rob.
“I’m actually thinking of going to sleep.”
“Readin’ all night take it outta you?”
“A little.” She stretched all her limbs, having been in roughly the same position for ten hours.
“Oh yeah, what’s up with your back?”
She blinked. “What?”
“Your shirt was sticking up in weird places on your back when you were layin’ down.” What… oh no, the spikes.
“I, um, it’s nothing,” she stammered, walking backwards to her section. “It’s, um, it’s just, you know, um, nothing.” She reached the curtain and dodged behind it.
“Um, OK?” said Rob.
A moment passed, then Rob walked over to another part of the lair. Darn it, they’re getting obvious? She scratched at the inch long spikes. Please stop growing. Please?
She sighed and collapsed onto her bed. I don’t need to be any weirder.
Olivia woke up to an intense conversation between Amanda and Rob. I don’t know what shear stress is, but that sounds really technical. She lay in bed, eyes closed. I should get up and do something. I just sat around all of yesterday. What’s everyone else doing?
The only other set of lungs drawing breath in the room was Miya, at the table. Olivia couldn’t hear or smell anything else. Maybe she’s setting up for another lesson thing. It’d be great if I can get something besides flickering green stuff from my fingertips. Or claws, whatever. Olivia cracked her eyes open and glanced at the green scales of her hands. Of course the magic stuff had to be green, too. Whatever, I should get up.
After a couple more minutes of repeating ‘I should get up’ to herself in her head, she finally dragged herself out of bed. She stopped at the curtain. I’ve wore this shirt since all of yesterday. I should probably change. She zipped open the black duffel bag next to her bed, and rifled through the clothes within.
A plain blue shirt with a penguin caught her eye. Why not? She frowned the instant she pulled on the shirt. When did this one get so tight? She rolled her shoulders, trying to find some extra room. This is kind of annoying. What about the others?
She pulled the too small shirt off. The spikes on her back caught on the shirt fabric in the process, ripping the shirt in half. Her hand jerked in surprise, and her claws tore through more fabric.
“No, no, no. Darn it,” she muttered under her breath, wrestling with the shirt. Get off.
“Olivia, you OK in there?” asked Miya. Olivia froze, arms tangled in the shirt, as Miya pulled aside the curtain behind her. “Whoa. Sorry, sorry. I’m an idiot,” she said, retreating behind the curtain.
She didn’t… she didn’t see the spikes, did she? Olivia kept still for another moment. I guess not. She’d have said something. Olivia grabbed another shirt and threw it on, this time careful not to demolish it.
“Sorry about that,” said Miya as Olivia joined her at the table.
“No, it’s OK.” Olivia twisted around a chair and sat, backrest in front of her.
“What was all that I heard?”
“The… the shirt was too small.” Miya sighed. “Sorry,” mumbled Olivia.
“No, it’s not that. Just thinking. Me and Amanda went through the big and tall store at the mall. I guess they might have some bigger sizes we could get. Anything you want in particular?”
“I don’t know. Um, I like what I have now.” Does that count?
“All you wear are cargo pants, which are too short for you, and t shirts, which are also too short for you. We can get other things. In fact we did. We bought other things besides t shirts and cargo pants, you know.”
“Yeah, but a lot of it was too thin. Like, when I cut the back, they kind of just disintegrated. Oh, and the tank tops didn’t work at all.” I couldn’t figure out how to get those on around the wings.
“You didn’t think to tell us this?”
“I didn’t want to make a fuss.”
“Just tell us. That way you don’t have to cycle through the exact same clothes every couple days.” It’s not that bad.
“OK,” said Olivia.
“Also, what were those things on your back?” No, no.
Miya raised an eyebrow. “I’m not an idiot. I saw a bunch of dark grey things on your back.”
She saw. Just… just get it over with. “I, um, spikes.”
“Spikes,” Miya repeated.
“Yeah,” said Olivia, looking at the claws of her feet digging into the concrete. I know, I’m weird.
“What? Why are you looking like I’m about to hit you? You have wings and a tail. You really think spikes make any actual difference?”
“I… I don’t… I don’t know.” Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Olivia heard a sharp crack from where Rob and Amanda were working. Something small and metal clattered on the concrete floor.
“Fuck yeah!” exclaimed Rob.
“I think we have a winner,” said Amanda. They slapped their hands together in a high five.
“Hang on, that gives me an idea” Miya walked off to where Amanda and Rob worked. “Hey, guys, do you have a tape measure I could borrow?” A what?
“Uh, yeah. One sec,” replied Rob. Olivia heard a cabinet drawer open.
Miya returned with a small black box looking thing. She grabbed a small tab sticking out of a corner and pulled out a length of bright yellow tape.
“Here, keep this under your toe,” she said, crouching down. Olivia pinned the end of the tape down with a claw. Miya looked up at her for a moment. “Yeah, I’m not tall enough. Pull this until it reaches the top of your head, then hit this little lever,” she said with a tap to the side of the tape measure.
Is it some kind of ruler? Olivia took the tape measure and did as Miya instructed. Oh, yeah, there are a bunch of lines and numbers. I think Dr. Ruskov used something similar. She passed it back to Miya, who read the tape closes to the little black box.
“Yeah, you’ve over seven feet tall now. Just short of seven foot one.”
Olivia hung her head. No. Please no. I don’t want to get any taller. I’m already smacking my head on door frames. Please no.
The door to the lair opened. “God damn gas is expensive,” proclaimed Ben as he walked in, ammunition box in hand.
“You’re surprised?” asked Miya.
“Fuckin’ five dollars per gallon?”
“Well, about half the world’s oil is being invaded. Well, not the oil, the land. Whatever, you get what I’m saying.” Why is there always so much bad stuff going on?
“Venezuela, yeah, I get that.”
“There’s a warlord in the Middle East. He’s moved on to Kurdistan from Iraq.” Olivia heard the door open again.
Ben shrugged as he set the ammo down against the wall behind Miya. “I guess.” He tilted his head as he looked at Olivia. “Why you lookin’ so sad?”
Olivia tucked her wings in tighter. “I, um, nothing.”
“She’s taller,” said Miya.
“Better than the alternative.” He wrapped an arm around Miya’s waist and lifted her off the ground, chair and all. “This is a Miya. See how small it is?” he said, dodging Miya’s surprised flails.
“Hey, don’t call her ‘it’.” That’s not nice.
“Yeah, fuck you,” said Miya, elbowing Ben in the collarbone. He set her back down on the ground.
“Think of it this way,” he said as he walked around the table. “Miya, how many times you needed a stool or ladder to reach somethin’ high up?”
She glared. Ben just smiled as he sat. “A lot,” she conceded with a sigh.
“I think you’re underestimating how awkward it is to be the tallest person in the room,” said Chris from the fridge. Thank you! You’re not that tall, though. I guess you’re taller than everyone else, but you’re not that tall. Right?
“Oh, hey there, Chris,” said Ben with a wave. “Also, what’d ya say?”
“Being tall is not all fun and games,” repeated Chris. Seriously?
“You’re tall?” asked Olivia. Everyone burst into laughter. She just blinked. I’m serious.
Ben composed himself enough to say, “Olivia, I’d consider Amanda tall for a chick. An’ I’d consider Chris tall for a guy. You’re super tall, your view is kinda skewed.”
“Yes, I’m tall,” added Chris, taking a seat next to Olivia. “I’m six foot five, and I stopped really growing sometime around freshman year of high school. Trust me, I know the struggle.”
“Wait, six foot five as a freshman?” asked Miya, eyes wide. “Jesus Christ.”
“Yeah, height wise. I filled out later,” said Chris, holding his hands out and spreading them apart. Oh. I guess growing isn’t that weird. Olivia glanced down at the top of Miya’s head. Still, though…
“Where have you been all day?” asked Miya.
“I just got done talking with my roommate. He had my stuff moved to storage. Because, you know, I was gone for two or three months and didn’t pay my share of rent.”
“Wouldn’t the cops be watchin’ that place, then?” asked Ben.
“Oh, yeah. Of course. Hell, we’ll be on the feds’ radar if we keep up all the public mayhem. Still good to know. I might have to get that stuff back eventually,” said Chris with a sigh.
“What was that sigh for?” asked Miya.
“‘bout what?” Yeah, what Ben said. What’s wrong?
Chris shrugged. “What I want to do with my life, I guess.”
“I hear ya,” agreed Ben.
“But what about what we’re doing now?” asked Olivia.
“This?” He waved an arm around, gesturing to the rest of the lair. “This isn’t exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
“What’s wrong with us?” she asked.
“What? No, not you guys. Just the whole getting hounded by the cops, not having any clear idea of what to do, living in a place with no running water. That kind of stuff.”
“It’s not as though we’d never see each other ever again if we got other jobs,” added Miya. But… we wouldn’t be together and stuff.
“I gotcha. I’m missin’ two fuckin’ fingers. Havin’ a hard time grippin’ stuff. I can’t really fight with this hand anymore,” said Ben, wiggling the three remaining fingers on his maimed hand. “Thing is, I don’t know what else to do. The more I think about it, the more I don’t wanna do this for the rest of my life.”
“I don’t know either. I was thinking about going back to college.”
“And study what?” asked Miya.
“That’s the thing. I have no idea.”
“What’d ya do when you first went?” asked Ben.
“MHU training. That was two years of basic and classes.”
“Basic?” asked Olivia. Basic classes? Then why would he say it like they were two separate things?
“Basic training. We basically had the Army’s training with some modifications to it. It was focused on taking care of all kinds of powers. But that’s the only skill I have, and I’ve soured on that career path. And I know what they could do,” Chris said, jerking his towards Rob and Amanda. “Techies can get a job anywhere. What are the rest of you thinking about doing?”
I… I don’t know. I don’t really like hurting people, but what else can I do? I don’t… I can’t go to school or anything. Can I?
“I got no idea,” said Ben. “No high school diploma. All my experience is in food, an’ I’m sure as hell I don’t wanna do that shit. Hell, worked as a line cook one summer. That shit sucked.”
“Really, just making food?” asked Miya. Food? Is anyone else hungry?
“Jus’ makin’ food? Jus’ makin’ food? I worked twelve fuckin’ hour shifts. I had to juggle a dozen orders on two grills for twelve fuckin’ hours, no fuckin’ breaks. Got a ton of nasty burns on my arms, nearly sliced off the tip of my finger once, watched a guy spill boilin’ fry oil on his leg on my second day on the job.”
“Twelve hours? Why would you do that to yourself?”
“Cuz that guy spilled oil on himself an’ they needed me to take the slack. I was healin’ up from a big fight then, had nothin’ else to do, an’ I’m a fuckin’ idiot sometimes. What about you, Pokey? Any retirement plans?”
Miya shrugged. “I don’t really have any complaints right now. I’ve been in worse places.” Olivia wrapped a wing around her.
“Well, aren’t we an indecisive lot?” said Ben with a grin. How is that funny?
“Here, let me make a decision: I’m gonna go to sleep now,” said Miya, rising from her chair.
“Yeah, same here,” said Chris. “I need to meet with my old foster parents tomorrow.”
“What for?” asked Ben.
“Well, they work for the Freeman Company, the same company that was in charge of that feral place in Houston. They helped me get a position there.”
“You didn’t think that through, did you?” asked Miya.
“Yeah, I was an idiot. Amanda wiped all records of me from their databases, but they could still put two and two together when they saw the news of the breakout.” Chris shrugged, a frown on his face. “We’ll see. Anyways, good night.”
“Oh yeah, Olivia. Found a firin’ range we could use for target practice,” said Ben, pointing to her as Miya and Chris left.
“Oh, well, um, do I really need to?” Guns are just… I don’t know, violent. She glanced down at her claws.
“Come on, don’t tell me knowin’ how to shoot wouldn’t have been better than runnin’ up to someone, gettin’ shot the whole way.” Getting shot is annoying. But… I don’t know. He’s just going to keep asking.
“Lemme give you the directions.”
Olivia landed in the woods in the foothills of the mountains. The only light besides the moon and stars was a small lightbulb on a large pavilion looking structure. Behind her, Ben drove up the dirt road. She sighed. Do I have to do this?
Olivia helped him unpack the box of ammo he’d bought and a few gun cases. Ben flicked on a few more floodlights, illuminating the general area. He set up a few bottles on a log a short distance away.
“Before I hand you a gun, a couple things,” he began. “Keep it pointed at the ground until you’re ready to shoot. An’ if there’s people ‘round, never, ever, ever, ever point this at someone unless you mean to shoot ‘em. Second thing. Keep you finger off the trigger at all times, unless you’re ‘bout to shoot. Good so far?”
“I think so.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Ya think so? OK. Repeat what I said.”
“Um, keep it pointed at the ground, and keep my finger off the trigger unless I’m ready to shoot.”
He nodded. “Good. Now, second thing: Respect the gun. Don’t fear the gun. Don’t pussyfoot around with it. Keep a firm hold on it. Don’t try an’ crush it. Now, I figure size an’ recoil ain’t much of a problem for ya, but we’re still gonna start with somethin’ smaller. Glock for ya,” he said, passing her a small, black plastic pistol.
She held it, keeping it pointed towards the ground. It’s kind of small.
“Safety for a glock is a bit weird. We won’t worry ’bout that for now. Again, keep it on until you’re ready to start firin’, like the trigger.” He produced a large set of orange earmuffs. “Tilt your head down. These’ll help with the noise.” He put the earmuffs over her ears.
He showed her how to stand, feet apart and leaning slightly forward. So, now I shoot. Ben nodded. OK. Just pull the trigger. She squeezed the trigger. The resultant bang still broke through the earmuffs, but didn’t sting her ears like they did most of the time. What was he saying about recoil? I didn’t feel any.
“Alright, try an’ hit the middle bottle now,” he said, loud enough to be heard through the earmuffs.
She held up the gun again. OK. Just pull the trigger. Nothing happened.
“Hold up. Gun down. You seem to have removed the trigger. Uh, where’d it go?”
It fell somewhere? Olivia searched the floor. “Oh, there it is,” she said, reaching down and pinching the small bit of metal between her claws. She held it up for Ben to see.
He tilted his head. “Well, let’s try somethin’ else.”
Ben called it a night after three more broken triggers. Two more had been completely cut off, the last Olivia had accidentally bent it and the firing mechanism completely out of shape. Oh thank god.
They packed everything back up to Ben’s car. He returned to the lair. Olivia spent hours flying around in the mountains. Well, at least this got me out in this area again. There’s a lot less power lines here.
Once morning returned, Olivia returned to the lair as well. Rob and Amanda hadn’t moved much, fully engrossed as they were with something in Rob’s armor. Chris was gone, and Miya and Ben ate breakfast. Olivia sat down to join them. Is it breakfast for me, or is it dinner because it’s the last meal before I go to sleep?
“Guys, guys,” said Miya, breaking the comfortable silence. “Look.”
“What?” asked Ben.
Miya shoved the phone in his face. His smile vanished. “Call Chris.” To Amanda and Rob he yelled, “Quit what you’re doin’ an’ grab a gun, now.”