Over the next several days, things returned to a semblance of normalcy. Miya, Amanda, and the twins drove out once some stores had reopened to restock on food for themselves and Red. Cyrus flew in a couple days after Red had left. He exchanged pleasantries with the others, then flew off with Hank. Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief once they were gone. Thank god, so much less hissing now, thought Amanda.
Olivia stood beside Amanda in the middle of the street, watching the night sky. Above them drifted Beth, gliding towards them on unsteady wings.
“Have a nice nap?” asked Olivia.
“It was wonderful,” replied Amanda with a smile. “You find your tablet’s charger?”
“Yes. Thank you. It died and I nearly panicked and, oh, hang on.”
Olivia smiled and gave Beth a thumbs up as she came in for the landing. Let’s see if this goes better than last time. Amanda stepped to the side, putting more of Olivia between her and the incoming Beth. She pulled up as she approached, aiming her feet towards the ground. Her clawed toes scratched against the road as she fought against her own momentum. After a couple paces, she tripped, falling headlong to the ground. Too fast.
“That was good!” said Olivia, walking up and offering her a hand. “You almost stayed upright this time!”
“Yeah, I tried. Asphalt doesn’t taste too great,” grumbled Beth as she stood with Olivia’s help. She rubbed her cheek with her free hand as if there was still dirt on it from her first attempt at landing.
“Give it time,” said Amanda, suppressing a smile. It’s like watching a puppy trying to walk for the first time. Nothing but big feet and awkward stumbling.
“Yeah, yeah,” grumbled Beth, flexing her wings as she headed back towards the lair.
“Done for tonight?” asked Amanda, Olivia and her following after.
“No more. Unless you want to take a shot at it,” said Beth with a mischievous smile. “I’d stick around to watch that.”
Amanda let out a snort and said, “No thanks. I’ll leave any and all flying to you two.”
“You wouldn’t want to fly?” asked Olivia.
Amanda shook her head. “Sorry, I don’t have the build for it. And I’m not a huge fan of heights, either.” It’s not really the height, it’s the falling.
They filed into the lair as Olivia said, “But it’s so fun.”
“Speak for yourself,” muttered Beth.
“I take it you’re not enjoying it,” replied Amanda.
“No, it’s fun. Until I have to land, then I look like an idiot,” said Beth.
Rob was still passed out at his desk. Before him was their disassembled railgun prototype, one of the rails his his limp fingers. He can sleep a bit more, I need a break from that thing. Miya had her eyes glued to her phone. They spread out once inside the lair, Amanda heading for her workspace. She opened up a laptop. May as well run another couple simulations on that railgun. Maybe see what kind of hits the battery can take.
Ben barged into the lair a few minutes later and tossed Amanda’s keys to her. “Everything go alright?” she asked once she caught them. “Red hiss at you when you brought her food?”
“No hissin’. Seemed happy about that bag of jerky, too.”
“Is Red OK?” asked Olivia.
“Yeah, fine. Tried flyin’ on her own a bit. I’m guessin’ she’s a bit bored. Makin’ these cool carvin’s on the walls with her claws.”
“Huh,” said Beth.
Ben looked around. “Oh, Rob’s still sleepin’,” he said with an evil smile. “Where’s a water bottle.”
“Oh, right, forgot,” announced Miya from halfway across the room. “Magic time, if you two are up to it.”
Oh, magic. How do you teach magic, anyways? Amanda put away her laptop and joined Olivia and Beth at the table. Ben grinned to himself and hunted
“Now, the trick is to get it up and keep it up,” explained Miya. Did she just say that? Olivia seemed unfazed, but Beth stared at her. Miya’s eyes widened as she realized what she had said. “That was really poor phrasing, but we’re just going to ignore that. Now, try to-”
Amanda and Beth burst into laughter, cutting her off. “I can’t, I’m sorry,” managed Beth.
“What?” asked Olivia, lost.
“I’ll explain when you’re older,” said Amanda, prompting more laughter.
They settled down, as Olivia and Beth concentrated on what appeared to Amanda as absolutely nothing. Wow. No diagrams. No explaining, nothing. Just staring into space.
“Oh, is this something?” asked Beth, holding her hand up.
Beth shot Amanda a questioning look. “I can’t see anything,” said Amanda in response.
“Non-mages can’t see magic. And I didn’t want to ask but what are you here for?” asked Miya.
“Something might explode? Maybe something cool and magical? They don’t teach you much about magic in normal schools,” replied Amanda.
“You’re in for a disappointment,” said Miya.
“Hey,” said Olivia with a small frown. “We’re trying.”
“Now,” began Miya, “I don’t want to say you two are bad at this, but you’re bad at this.”
“It kind of hurts,” said Beth.
“Hurts?” repeated Miya. That’s some thin skin there. “I wasn’t that mean.”
“No, the magic, not your attempt at an insult,” replied Beth, sticking her forked tongue out at Miya.
Miya frowned. “Magic doesn’t hurt. Not this super easy stuff.”
“I don’t know. Not hurts. Aches,” clarified Olivia. “Wrong, kind of.”
“That…” began Miya, trailing off. “What?” Amanda leaned back in her seat. That doesn’t sound good.
“Why didn’t you say anything before?” Amanda asked Olivia.
“I’ve never used magic before, I didn’t know if I should bring it up. And it wasn’t the most painful thing I’ve felt, I didn’t really think about it,” Amanda sighed and massaged her forehead. What did I say about communicating? You should try it some time.
“Magic is its own thing, like a sixth sense,” said Miya. “But you can definitely classify it as normal, physical pain?” Beth and Olivia nodded. “OK, that’s bad. How about we stop for today until we can figure out what the mysterious pain is. I need to look up what that could be.”
“Motherfucker!” shouted Rob. Their heads whipped around to see him scramble after a madly laughing Ben, half his face drenched in water.
Ben teleported away every time Rob came close to catching him, until Rob came to a stop and said, “Fine. You win.” A similar grin spread across his face. “But you gotta sleep sometime, you little bastard.” Ben just laughed.
“Get that out of your system, you two?” asked Miya. Rob plopped down next to Amanda, breathing heavily. Hey you.
“For now, yeah,” they said in stereo.
“So, Amanda,” said Beth. “Did you, you know, find anything? About me?”
“Give me a moment. I had something for you.” Amanda retrieved her laptop and opened it up. “I found their address and phone number. Here they are,” said Amanda, pulling up a picture of a smiling blond family on the screen.
“Could I have, like, a physical one?” mumbled Beth, after a long moment.
“Yeah, sure,” said Amanda. She passed her the picture once it had printed.
“Can we call them now?” asked Beth, eyes fixed on the photo.
“Hold on,” said Amanda, raising her hand. “Yours is a suspected abduction case. If we call, they’re going to alert the police. We’d rather not get arrested.”
“So how are we going to do talk to them?” asked Beth.
“Just knock on their door?” asked Rob.
“Think they’re freak out?” asked Ben. “Could just send Miya.”
“What?” she asked, suddenly dragged into the conversation.
“Of all the people here, who looks the least threatenin’? I’m not talkin’ who’s actually threatenin’, but who looks it?” Miya glared at him, biting her lip. “You’re tiny,” he continued.
“OK, fine. What do I say?”
Everyone looked at Beth. She mumbled, “I don’t know.”
“How about, ‘Hey, I saw your daughter. She’s…’” Amanda trailed off. She shot a glance at Olivia and Beth. “How would you put it?”
“Um…” began Olivia. “Different? I don’t know either.” None of us do, it looks like.
“Anythin’ comin’ back?” Ben asked Beth. “Any inspiration?”
“No,” said Beth, not taking her eyes off the picture. She tapped the center of the photo with a claw, where she stood between her parents and an older brother. “That’s me. But I don’t recognize anyone else. Just say I’m different. A lot different.”
“Maybe lead with the memory thing,” said Rob.
“Alright, I’ll knock on the door, but then it’s up to you, Beth. This is family shit. Unless you want me along I’ll stay out of it,” said Miya, expression stormy.
“They both work,” explained Amanda. “And keep in mind, you stick out now. There’s no getting around that. We should wait until nighttime. That might give you and your family some privacy.”
“Can we go now, then?”
“It’s three in the morning,” replied Amanda.
“Yeah, they’re gonna be jumpy. And tired as fuck,” said Miya.
“Let’s wait. That’ll give you some time, figure out what to say,” said Ben.
“But I have no idea what to say,” replied Beth.
“Well, let’s stay calm. We got a full day to figure it out,” said Amanda. Panicking is the worst thing to do, always.
“Figure out their names, who they are. Maybe somethin’ comes back, maybe nothin’. But you ain’t gonna wanna meet ‘em as strangers,” said Rob.
Beth nodded silently, eyes fixed on the photo once again.
The next evening found everyone gathered around the table, waiting for a good time to head to Beth’s family. I think a crowd would be the worst thing possible for this.
“I need to head to the gym at some point. My metabolism isn’t what it used to be,” said Miya as she passed a pizza box across the table to the others.
“Yeah, same here,” agreed Amanda with a sigh. “I’m getting too old for this shit.” Olivia tilted her head at her in confusion.
“We usually just find a basketball game,” said Rob with a grin, taking a slice.
“Or just go for a run,” added Ben. “Pretty cheap,”
“I hate running, and envy men their comfort.” Miya laughed. She gets it.
The twins exchanged glances. “What?” they asked.
“You don’t have hips or boobs,” said Miya, before Amanda could answer. That’s one way of putting it, yes.
“But those are the best,” said Ben in a quiet voice, he and Rob sharing an identical lost and confused expression.
Amanda’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, OK. Then tell me, when is the last time you worried about going out without a bra on?”
“Never,” replied Rob.
“But boobs,” said Ben.
Miya frowned. “Yes, boobs are great. But you do realize that women have brains, too, right? And opinions? Not just boobs.”
“Yeah,” replied Rob.
“But boobs,” said Ben. “An’ hips. An’ hair. An’ legs.” Rob nodded in agreement. Oh, I see, letting your twin do the talking when I’m right here. “Women are smooth an’ curvy an’ great. Men are just borin’ bricks.”
“We’re just talkin’ physically. When’s the last time we’ve been leerin’ at some chick?” said Rob.
“Never that I know of,” replied Amanda. “But-”
“Oh! An’ butts,” cut in Ben. Oh, I see. Miya narrowed her eyes at him. Beth watched on, gaze darting between the different speakers.
“But that kind of talk, ‘hurr hurr boobs,’ is very much not appreciated,” finished Amanda.
Miya nudged Olivia beside her with a smirk. “You OK there?”
“I’m not here right now,” Olivia muttered to her knees, face buried in her arms on the table. Her pizza lay forgotten on a paper plate in front of her.
“It’s only awkward if you make it awkward,” said Amanda.
“Fun fact, Olivia,” added Ben. “Everyone in this room has a penis or vagina. Everyone.”
Amanda shot him a look. “Don’t be crude.” You’re right, but come on, there’s better ways to say that.
Ben shrugged and said, “All we’re sayin’ is that women, physically, are great. How’s that controversial?”
“Because that kind of thinking can very easily turn into objectification,” said Miya.
Amanda nodded in agreement. “I got enough of that in college, there’s not a lot of women in engineering,” she said. “If I see it here I’m going to strangle someone.”
Rob cast a glance towards Amanda. She kept her expression neutral. “That ain’t what we’re doin’,” he said.
“Not intentionally,” said Miya.
The twins exchanged glances again. “Yeah, tryin’ to think of how to word this,” said Rob. “We ain’t sayin’ this right.”
“I guess. How ‘bout this?” Ben pointed to Amanda and Miya. Amanda leaned back in her chair. This should be good. “I’m willin’ to bet the statement ‘women’s sexuality should be oppressed’ would get you pissed.”
“Yes, a lot,” said Miya, arms folded.
“But at the same time you’re tellin’ me an’ Rob to suppress our own. See what I’m gettin’ at here?”
“No, no, no, that’s not what we’re saying,” said Miya. “Sex is wonderful and I’d recommend it to everyone. But the healthy kind. Not the ‘it’s all about the man’ bullshit from the last goddamn century.”
“We don’t do that an’ we ain’t tryin’!” burst out Rob. “That’s what we’ve been sayin’. Women are great, we’re makin’ our opinions known. You’re readin’ way more into that than we ever did.”
“OK, it sounded like something much worse at first,” said Miya.
“We know that’s not what you were going for,” said Amanda as the twins opened their mouths. “You’ve made that clear.”
The conversation trailed off, everyone remembering the pizza in front of them getting colder. After a few minutes as everyone finished, Rob checked his watch and asked, “Is it time?”
“Yep.” Amanda turned to Beth. “You ready?”
Beth took a deep breath. “Yes. Let’s go.”
Ben patted her on the shoulder as he rose from the table. “Alright,” said Amanda. “Relax. We’ll be right behind you.”
They pulled up to the apartment complex in the eastern part of the city, passing by nighttime crews cleaning up the last of the wreckage from Overlord’s invasion. Amanda stopped beside Rob’s truck. The whole group, plus Beth, piled out of the cars. Olivia landed just beside Amanda’s door.
“You two ready?” Ben asked Beth and Miya.
“Ready when you are,” said Miya. Beth nodded, and they headed off to Beth’s family’s apartment.
“Can you hear them?” Amanda asked after a moment.
Olivia closed her eyes. “They’re talking. The mom said, ‘What do you mean, she can’t remember?’ Dad is angry. He told her to explain. And… they gasped. I… couldn’t hear what that was. I think Beth is crying. And the mom. They closed the door. Miya went in with them.” She reopened her eyes. “I can’t hear them well anymore.”
Amanda took a deep breath. Rob and Ben exchanged grins. “That’s promisin’,” said Ben.
“No screamin’,” added Rob.
They loitered in the parking lot, waiting. Waiting is the worst part. I don’t think they can hurt Miya or Beth physically, at least. Or maybe the wife can melt flesh with her mind. You never fucking know. Whatever. If they let them into their house, that’s very promising. It must be nice to not have sociopaths for parents.
“The door opened,” announced Olivia. They watched as Miya approached, alone.
She bit her lip as she approached. “Well?” asked Amanda once she was close.
“There’s a lot of crying and stuff.”
“So…” said Rob, trailing off to let her finish the statement.
“They just seemed happy to have their daughter back. I’d give it a day or two.”
“They’re not angry? About, you know, the wings and stuff,” said Olivia.
“The dad might have been. They weren’t happy, but she’s not a raving murderer, so they seemed willing to give her a chance. Again, we’ll see.”
“Alright,” said Rob.
“That worked out,” added Ben. “We good here?”
“Yeah, they were talking about opening up her old room. They didn’t say much when I told ‘em I was heading out.”
“So, she’s OK?” asked Olivia.
“Yes. Let’s give her and her family time. And if something goes wrong, I gave her a phone,” said Amanda.
“Cool, let’s get outta here,” said Ben.
As the others began packing back into the cars, Olivia tapped Amanda on the shoulder and said, “I was hoping we could find my family, too. Before, you know, anything else bad happens.”
“Yeah, we can do that.” Amanda’s back straightened as an idea hit her. “Where did you wake up again? And when?”