Chris checked his phone again, his free hand fiddling with the napkin on his lap. The waitress of the diner arrived with his cup of coffee. He thanked her and took a sip, mind wandering. Maybe I should stop showing up so early to these things.
He leaned back in the booth. How in the hell am I going to patch this up? Can I even patch this up? They probably thought their foster child died at the feral place after getting him a job there. And now I just show up out of the blue, alive. I fucked this up.
“Hello, Chris,” he heard over his shoulder. It took him a moment to match the voice with the person he knew, but when he did make the connection he practically jumped out of his seat and spun around to face his foster parents.
Patricia and Frank Collins were both tall even in their early fifties, though they still stood a couple inches shorter than Chris. But that was where the similarities between the two ended. Frank’s skin was pale from long hours in an accounting office. Patricia, a retired MHU officer, probably could have snapped him in half. Chris’s eyes wandered over the scar on the side of her neck. They stood side by side, waiting for him to make the next move.
“Hello,” Chris managed. Handshake is too formal, they don’t look like they’re in the mood for hugs. What do I do? He offered them a seat in the booth across the table from him. They all sat, not bothering with the menus.
Frank had a nervous smiled on his face. Someone isn’t looking forward to this either. “So, kiddo, how’ve you been? What’d you wanna talk about?” This was your idea.
Chris blinked and said, “Well, what do you want to know?”
“The truth, please,” said Patricia, her voice icy.
Chris explained as much as he dared. He ran through Olivia’s capture and their efforts to break her out of the research facility in Houston. “So Miya had some family business to take care of in Phoenix. We wrapped that up and got back about a week ago,” he fnished.
They digested this in silence. Then Patricia said, “What were you thinking?”
He took a deep breath. “I was thinking I was helping the people who rely on me, and who I rely on.”
“We thought you were dead. Dead. Shall we list everything?” asked Patricia, locking eyes with Chris. “You call us to say Alice had been killed in the riots, and then went silent for a month.” Under the table, Chris’ hands clenched into fists.
“We thought you needed some space,” added Frank.
“And then, then, you called us asking to help you get a job in Houston. Not a week later we saw the news and thought you were dead in a mass feral breakout. We called some people and they said you’d just vanished. Just gone.”
Frank’s smile had vanished now, replaced by a serious frown. Chris felt himself shrinking under their gazes. I’m an idiot.
“We had our suspicions, especially when they said a certain feral was missing and you vanished from their systems. And you just confirmed those suspicions. You used us to break it out. So explain. Go on. Explain,” finished Patricia. She leaned back in the booth with folded arms.
“You were in the MHU,” he replied. “What would you have done for your squad mates?”
Patricia’s face darkened. “Don’t try to turn this around like that. This is about you, not me,” she exclaimed, her voice rising.
“Dear,” Frank murmured in warning. The loud and busy diner was filled with people, people with
“I can and will,” said Chris. “They’re my friends. We’ve kept each other alive when supers were trying to kill us. You think I should just throw that away? Just cut and run at the first sign of trouble?”
“Excuse me?” said the waitress as she approached, cutting him off. “Hi. Is there anything I can get you two?” she asked his foster parents.
“No thank you,” said Patricia, her voice curt.
“I’ll take a glass of orange juice,” said Frank with a smile for the waitress as he handed her the menus.
“Can do. That will be out in just a moment.”
“That’s your excuse?” Patricia continued when she left.
“Come on. You know she’d never see the light of day again if we didn’t get her out.”
“She?” asked Frank, eyebrows drawn together.
They both sighed. Patricia massaged her forehead and said, “We thought you’d grown out of doing dumb things.”
“You didn’t think to tell us any of this,” added Frank.
“I thought you’d disapprove. And obviously you do.” I’m butchering this, aren’t I?
“Then why lie to us? Why?”
“I did what I thought was right.”
“For who? A feral and a couple crooks?”
“The feral’s name is Olivia. She’s a sweet girl who’d rather curl up with a good book than anything else. Two of those crooks? Rob and Ben. They’re worried about their brother, deployed overseas. They try to hide it but they’re always gobbling up news about Iraq. Or Miya. She’s always angry, lashing out. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Doesn’t that sound exactly like me when I first moved in with you?” He took a moment to gather his thoughts. “Please don’t talk about them like they’re irredeemable thugs.”
Frank considered Chris. He placed a hand on Patricia’s arm when she opened her mouth. “And so your best idea was to lie to us to get into that research place,” he said.
Chris nodded. “It was the only way we could think of to get in. Otherwise we would just be reduced to beating our heads on the walls. I’m sorry. We made sure they couldn’t trace us back to you, but I didn’t think about what it would look like to you when the news broke. I’m so sorry.”
Just then, the power in the diner went out. Now what? Conversation in the diner faltered as everyone looked around at the now dimmed lights. Plenty of light came in through the large windows in the walls.
“Here you go. Sorry about all this,” said the waitress as she hurried up with Frank’s glass of orange juice. “We’ll try and get everything back up and running as soon as possible.”
“No problem. Thank you,” said Frank, accepting the glass. He took a long drink then asked, “You really want to stick with those people?” I guess we don’t need lights to have a conversation.
“Well, I agree with your intentions, if not your execution.” He nudged Patricia, who nodded.
“You need to consider your friends carefully. Very carefully,” she added.
“It’s your decision and we will respect it,” said Frank. His tentative smile vanished. “But don’t do anything like that ever again.”
“We’re not going to keep this a secret, but we’re not going to go around telling everyone either,” added Patricia. Frank nodded in agreement.
That’s probably as best as I could have hoped for. “Thank you.”
“Sorry folks. Everything in the kitchen’s gone out,” announced a manager in the center of the diner. “If you didn’t get your food, it won’t be coming out unless your waiter says otherwise. Don’t worry about paying.”
“Just in the nick of time,” said Frank, his smile returning as he took another drink.
Chris took a sip of his now lukewarm coffee. A silence overtook their table. Not a hostile, glare ridden silence, or the silence of a lull in a friendly conversation, but a sort of awkward silence between people who don’t know what to say next.
Once they’d finished their drinks, Frank broke the silence. “Well, it was good to see you again, Chris,” he said as he got up. Chris and Patricia followed suit.
Chris shook his hand and said, “You too.” Frank moved aside for Patricia.
She wrapped an arm around Chris. “Don’t do anything else stupid.”
“I’ll try.” She released him, they said their goodbyes, and they went their separate ways. Chris headed back to the bus stop. That… that was good to get off my chest.
Bus is twenty minutes late. Wonder what’s going on. He leaned on the bus stop sign. I miss owning a car already. Around him, several other people also waited for the bus. He pulled out his phone. Whoa, no bars.
“What’s taking so long?” a woman said to herself aloud.
“Power went out. Probably messed with the lights,” replied the man between Chris and her in a gravelly voice. God damn it. Another power outage? I thought that had been fixed.
Finally, the bus trundled into view. Chris climbed on behind the man once it came to a stop. He managed to claim an empty seat. The bus lurched from stop to stop. Someone mentioned Overlord.
“Thank god. Finally,” said Gravel Voice, in the row ahead of Chris.
That caught the attention of the couple talking across the row from him.
“Did you just say thank god Overlord is here?” asked the young man. Chris turned his attention from the window to the conversation. This can’t be good.
The man grinned. “Maybe. Whatcha gonna do about it, punk?”
“What is wrong with you? He’s evil,” said the young woman.
“What did you just say, you little bitch?” Gravel Voice stood up from his seat. The young man shot up right after him. I can almost smell the testosterone.
“Hey, sit down back there,” called out the driver from the front.
“Shut up,” Gravel barked back.
“What did you just say to my girlfriend?”
Chris stood up. Alright, you two have had your fun. “Hey, pack it in-”
Flames shot out of Gravel Voice at Chris, cutting him off. He took a cautious step back. Why is it always fire?
“You know what Overlord means? Do you know?” asked Gravel, his voice low. The young couple also backed away, eyes wide.
“What are you on about?” asked someone from the back of the bus. Chris realized that the driver had pulled over, and spoke quickly and quietly into a two way radio.
“Order, that’s what. He won’t put up with bullshit like this.”
“And what are the police for?” asked a woman towards the front.
“The cops are band of well-meaning idiots too blind to see the truth.”
“And what truth is that?” asked Chris.
“That they’re protecting a corrupt and complacent society.”
“You’re an idiot,” said the bus driver, hanging up his radio.
“Shut up, you little faggots,” barked Gravel. He pulled out a pistol from his belt, flames shooting off of him. Guardsman? The vigilante? “You think he’s just going to go away like a bump in the night? He’s here to put an end to this bullshit,” he roared.
He won’t burn up everything in here. That would destroy his own oxygen supply. He’ll either use it small scale or try to get out so he can go hog wild. Or…
The temperature in the bus dropped several degrees. I hope he can’t go below my freezing point. Chris shifted into liquid and slammed into Guardsman’s arm. Someone screamed. The temperature around him plummeted, though Chris remained liquid. He slammed Guardsman’s arm into the ground. It went off. Shit.
Chris ripped it from Guardsman’s grasp and whisked it away within his liquid body. All the while, the temperature dropped further and further. Pain spiked at Chris through the usual numbness. Bad. He flowed off of Guardsman, and the pain died off.
Frost had accumulated on any exposed metal in the bus. The breath of the other passengers who hadn’t already escaped clouded in the air, despite the fact it was mid-June and eighty degrees outside.
Guardsman climbed to his feet with a shaky grin. “That all you got?”
I can’t spend too long around him. I think that pain was me freezing. Chris flowed between the seats to the right as Guardsman sent a blast of cold down the aisle and towards the back of the bus. A couple people in the back who hadn’t gotten out collapsed, shivering.
Chris burst up from behind a seat and rushed towards Guardsman. Guardsman dodged to the left, taking only a glancing blow to the shoulder. Chris readjusted, sending the middle part of his liquid body directly into Guardsman’s chest and punching him through a window.
A massive spike of pain arced through Chris. He forced the gun and random debris out of himself and reverted back to normal. It took a moment for him to recover, but he grabbed the gun and peeked out of the new hole in the bus.
A bloody Guardsman staggered to his feet, away from bus. He managed to pick up to jogging pace, crossing the street. Chris fired the magazine at the retreating figure until the magazine was empty. None hit.
“Fuck.” Chris cursed to himself and threw the now useless gun to the ground. Fucking lunatic. Fucking vigilantes.
He heard something from the back of the bus. A man curled on the floor, shivering. The young couple tended to someone else who had been hit by the cold.
Chris knelt by him. “Hey, listen to me. We’ll get you out of here and warmed up.” He looked up to the young couple, who nodded back.
Chris hauled the man to his feet and helped him walk down the aisle. He heard the couple behind him do the same. Everyone outside stared at him once he got out. He heard sirens in the distance approaching. Why can’t I have nice things? He passed the man to a bystander. “He’s super cold. Just let him warm up.”
With that, he shifted to liquid and flowed away, trying to put as much distance between himself and the bus that would soon be crawling with police. Once he gone a respectable way, he came to a stop behind a grocery store and half collapsed against a wall.
Once he’d caught his breath, he took stock. Well shit, I don’t have a way home now. Maybe I could walk to… where? He pulled out his phone to call a cab. Still no reception. Damn it. Lightrail? I have no idea where the nearest station is. I guess if I’m not too attached to my kidneys I could hitchhike. I should probably avoid public places, though. He sighed. Walking it is.
Hours later, several dodged police checkpoints, and a close run in with a tank, Chris found himself back in familiar territory. A few minutes later he slipped in into a lair completely devoid of people. This can’t be good.
He searched for a note, or any kind of indication as to where everyone else could be. Some yellow white flakes on the table caught his eye. These… these are bone. He spotted a half carved bone on the floor, along with a knife. Never seen Miya leave stuff like this lying around.
The work area was in more chaos than normal. Scattered tools. Par for the course. What is this? He spotted several opened gun cases strewn about. They armed themselves. Why? I don’t see any casings on the floor. No bullet marks on the walls, either.
He threw up his hands. It’s just one thing after another. He collapsed on a nearby chair and peeled off his shoes, letting them do something besides carry him for the first time all day.
A familiar rumbling came from the back lot of the lair. He pulled his shoes back on and rushed out back to the sight of the whole team, plus an armored man with an axe, climbing out of the battered and bullet ridden truck.
“What happened? Are you…”
“Purifier. You must be Nomad,” said the armored man as he climbed out of the back of the truck.
“Yeah,” answered Chris.
“Me an ‘liv’ were scoutin’ around. Ran afoul of some Overlord bots.”
Amanda and Rob got out of the cab and staggered towards the back.
“Olivia’s hurt. She got knocked out,” added Miya, next to Ben.
Together they bent down and lifted Olivia up. Shit. Chris helped them carry her into the lair. They set her face down on her beanbag. Olivia twitched occasionally, though her face remained relaxed.
“Where the fuck have you been all day?” asked Ben as everyone crashed around the table. “‘liv’s been stressin’ out over ya.”
“I’ve been trying to get back here this whole time. I… may have wrecked the bus I was on.”
“Why’d you do that?” asked Rob with a grin. Ben laughed behind him
“Because it turns out Guardsman is a big fan of Overlord. He got really violent and pulled a gun on some people.”
Purifier sighed. “I was afraid of that.”
“Had a bit of a reputation,” added Ben. He knelt down in front of Olivia and pulled up one of her eyelids. “Anyone know how to deal with reptile eyes? They any different than human ones? Can’t tell if she’s brain dead or somethin’.”
Right as Chris opened his mouth to ask what exactly had happened to them, Olivia shot upright with a snarl and grabbed Ben by the throat.