“Where’s Olivia?” asked Miya. She, Amanda, and the brothers had scattered around the lair, waiting for Olivia to come back. She and the brothers had tapped into the various security cameras around where she had first woken up, while Miya and Amanda had gone up north of the city to check the family of a girl who might have been Olivia.
“Said she’d be flyin’ out an’ about for a bit,” replied Ben, balancing on the two back legs of his chair. I can’t blame her. It’s good to have something to focus on, thought Amanda.
“You know, we need a couch in here,” said Rob, fidgeting in the hard plastic folding chair.
“Kinda runnin’ outta room now, aren’t we?” replied Ben. “Can’t even park a car in here anymore.”
“We already have that beanbag,” said Amanda, nodding towards the massive dark blue lump between the table and the workshop. I can’t believe I completely passed out on that thing. “That thing is super comfortable.”
Just then, the back door opened, and Olivia ducked through. “Hi,” she said to the group at large with a small wave of her scaled hand.
“Hey!” said Rob. “Have fun?”
“Yeah!” She glanced between Rob and Amanda. “And, um…”
“We have something,” said Amanda, answering her unspoken question.
“We don’t think Maria is the one we’re looking for,” said Miya.
Olivia frowned as she took her seat with the sawn off backrest between Ben and Rob. “Why not?”
Miya leaned forward and said, “The main reason we thought Maria might be you is because she is the same age as you, roughly, and vanished a day before you showed up.”
“Her parents could barely speak any English,” said Amanda. “From what they told us it was the same with Maria. You don’t have that problem. Ferals have memories removed, not added.”
“Oh. Well, maybe that’s why other ferals can’t talk. They just forgot how,” said Olivia.
“Could be,” said Miya. “I mean, I don’t know. But that could be it.”
Amanda continued, “They had a couple family pictures of her as well. That one picture the police had must have just been a weird angle or lighting or something, because she and Olivia looked nothing at all like each other in the others.”
“Hold up,” said Ben. “If they couldn’t speak English how’d you talk to ‘em?”
Amanda tapped her phone on the table. “Real time translator. It’s not 100% perfect, but it gets the message across.” Maybe I could… no, not the time. Later.
Silence fell over the group as they mulled over the information. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have no idea what else to do now. “We can’t just leave her to die, wherever she is,” said Olivia.
“I hate to say it, but there’s a reason these kinds of cases go unsolved. There’s almost nothing to go on,” said Amanda. “We don’t have a police force. We have the five of us and whatever databases I manage to tap into.
“Findin’ her is gonna be real complicated,” said Ben, smile nowhere to be found. “Three reasons to kidnap a kid: ransom, labor, sex. I ain’t even countin’ just the straight up loony killers. She ain’t been ransomed, an’ she’s a she. I hate it, but she’s been gone two months. She’s long gone. Could be in fuckin’ Thailand for all we know. Hell, for all her kidnapper knows. Not like they’d keep tabs on her.”
“But we can’t just-” began Olivia.
“No,” said Ben. He paused for a moment before saying, “You seen a kid get shot before? Too small, too much blood. No. This is a real dark place we’re talkin’ ‘bout. This ain’t the time or place for it. Leave it.”
Amanda caught sight of Rob nudging Olivia in the ribs as she opened her mouth to argue. He shot her a warning look and mouthed, “Later.” What’s up with Ben? Olivia frowned and shut her mouth.
“The last thing we have then are the tapes you guys collected,” said Amanda, bringing the conversation back to its original purpose. “I’ll start going through those, see if I can find anything.”
“Hey, Ben, let’s go get some food,” said Rob. “I’ll drive.”
“Sure,” said Ben, still with a sour look on his face. We hit something personal.
The brothers left together, the deep rumble of Rob’s truck left the back of the lair. Miya and Olivia watched as Amanda turned her attention to two of her computers in her workshop. In the MHU, her last task had been to make a facial recognition program. The concept for cars was the same. Easier, in fact, cars couldn’t be packed as close together as a mob, which was what the old program was for.
“Do you need any help?” asked Olivia.
“No, I should be good. It’s mostly automated. If the computer sees anything, it’ll tell me. If we don’t find anything, then yes, help would be good,” replied Amanda.
“But we could get started early,” said Olivia.
“No need to rush it,” cautioned Amanda. “Whoever left you there did it two months ago. Another day or two isn’t going to hurt at this point. It’s best if we take out time and get it right.”
“Is Ben OK?” she asked. Oh, you picked up on that too.
“He’ll be fine,” said Miya.
Amanda nodded in agreement. “Rob didn’t seem that concerned. They’re not exactly reserved when it comes to saying what they’re thinking.”
“Speaking of which, it looks like you and Rob are a thing now,” said Miya, a sly smile playing on her face.
“What? No. We’re just going to dinner.”
“That’s called a date. He asked you on a date, and you said yes. You two are a thing.”
Oh shit she’s right. Oh shit. It’s been four years since I last went on a date. How do you date? “I don’t know. What does a guy want from a date anyways?” asked Amanda.
Well aren’t you helpful. Amanda rolled her eyes at Miya and said, “Oh please, we’re not taking it that fast. We’re not sixteen anymore.”
Miya raised an eyebrow. “Fast? You two are already practically glued to each other whenever you’re working on something together.”
“Because we’re working on something. It takes a lot of concentration to-” She cut herself off at Miya’s knowing look. “You know what? No. I’m not going to justify myself to you.” Miya smiled and said nothing. Amanda glanced at Olivia, who struggled to keep a smile off of her face. Not you too. “Do you have something to say?”
Olivia composed herself and said, “Sorry. But don’t worry. Just be you. Why else would he have asked you?”
“A date is so much different than just hanging out.” Right?
“You’re overthinking it,” said Miya with a laugh.
Olivia wrapped a wing around Amanda’s shoulders and said, “Relax. You two will do fine.”
Amanda took a deep breath. “Right. Right. Relax.”
“Besides, you two don’t even know where or when you’re going yet,” said Miya.
“Well, yeah. We’re just trying to find some free time, and figure out a good place to eat.” I mean, with a full menu there’s got to be at least something that won’t piss off my stomach.
The rumble of Rob’s truck returned. A moment later, he and Ben walked back into the lair, laughing about something with fast food bags in hand. There’s the Ben I know.
“What’s up, party people?” said Ben.
“We figured you’d be hungry, Little Bird,” said Rob, passing her a bag. No kidding, she’s always hungry. I have no idea where she puts it. “Triple burger for you.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Olivia with a smile, opening the top of the paper bag.
“Everything alright?” asked Miya.
Rob and Ben exchanged glances. “Yeah,” said Rob.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” asked Ben.
“No reason, just asking.
Olivia covered her mouth and let out a loud squeak as her whole body shook. What the… “Are you alright?” asked Miya.
She blinked a few times. “I was going to sneeze, but I also had to cough, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I’m OK now.” Ben and Rob burst into laughter.
The group dispersed not long after. Miya wandered off to bed, Rob following not long after, once he’d finished his food. Olivia paced restlessly for a while before laying out on her beanbag to read. Ben played around on his phone. Amanda went over her plans for improving her armor, while keeping half an eye on the computers running through the security footage. Two hours passed before it found anything, but it immediately commanded Amanda’s full attention.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” she said to Ben and Olivia. “This is something.”
“Define something,” said Ben.
“One moment. Here,” she said, pointing to the screen. “Truck drives by, bed covered in a tarp, heading for where Olivia woke up.” She fast forwarded the tape. “Here it is again, six minutes later, no tarp, heading in exactly the opposite direction.”
“Shit. You got the plate number?” asked Ben.
Amanda rewound until she got the best view of the truck’s plates possible. “It’s pretty blurry,” she said.
“I can read it,” said Olivia as she kneeled beside Amanda to get a better look at the screen. She read off the plate number for Amanda to search for.
Barely a minute later, with the whole group waiting in awkward silence, the search result returned. Amanda’s eyes flew over the screen. I think this is is. “Here we go. That truck belongs to a member of the Return to Christ Temple. They’re an anti-metahuman cult up in the mountains. One of their members, Judy, was on that short list of possible people for you.”
Olivia’s eyes widened. “Membrane,” she murmured.
“What about him?” asked Amanda.
“When I saw him. He started laughing, and asked if I’d read the Bible,” replied Olivia.
Amanda rested her hand on her forehead. I’m an idiot. “Holy shit. Holy shit, I totally forgot about that. That makes sense. How did I miss that?” Oh no, and it’s the anti-meta–human people, too.
“He was screaming, too,” murmured Olivia, just barely loud enough to be heard.
“I think this is it,” said Amanda.
“It’s worth checkin’ out,” said Ben. “Keep in mind, ‘liv’, these people ain’t gonna take you back with open arms?”
Olivia tilted her head to the side. “Why not? They’re family.” Oh honey…
“Were. Before you triggered,” said Ben. “These are pretty irrational folk. They’d murder the shit outta me if they could get away with it. Same with any of us here. Hell, Miya ain’t white. They probably hate her too.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I don’t,” he admitted. “Not for absolute certain. These kinda fuckers make the news every so often an’ it’s never pretty.” Olivia frowned, which Amanda began to recognize as her stubborn expression.
“He’s right,” said Amanda.
“I still want to try,” said Olivia, showing no sign of backing down. “They’re my family. I really think so. And I haven’t known who they are for so long. I can finally figure out who I am, really. I want to try.”
“I didn’t say we shouldn’t,” said Ben.
“We just want you to be prepared, mentally.” Amanda’s voice wavered. Are we just setting her up for heartbreak?
Olivia took a deep breath. “Thank you. And, well, um, well…” She trailed off.
“Go on,” urged Amanda.
“I… I guess I’ve known you guys the longest. And, um, I was… I was hoping you guys could come with me.”
“Of course,” said Amanda.
“Right behind you,” said Ben.
Olivia smiled and wrapped her arms around Amanda and Ben in a bear hug, lifting both off their feet. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
She released them after a moment and set them back on the ground. Amanda winced and asked, “When did you want to leave?”
“Right now! Is that OK?” replied Olivia. If I say yes will you try to break my spine again? Because I’d like to keep my spine intact.
Ben checked his phone. “That’d work. We’d get there sorta early, but that ain’t a huge problem.”
“Yeah! Let’s go,” said Olivia, leading the way to the back of the lair.
“You wanna drive or me?” Ben asked Amanda.
“You, I’m not really feeling up for a two hour drive.”
“Sounds good,” said Ben as he teleported to Rob’s desk to grab his keys.
Olivia flew overhead as they drove through the mountains. The road crews had finally cleared the rubble from I-70 from Freedom Fighter’s bombings. Amanda gave Ben directions, eventually leading off of the main highway and onto the twisting back roads of the mountains. Amanda looked out the window the whole drive, taking in the scenery. How long has it been since I came out here, just for fun? Oh, right, I had a job with the MHU. Fuck being an adult.
Eventually, the pavement stopped, replaced with the pale brown dirt of the valley they found themselves in. After another twenty minutes, they came to a beat up old wooden sign that arched above the road that read Return to Christ Temple. Here it is. They drove up the hill just beyond the sign, overlooking a large whitewashed ranch house. Amanda could make out the distant specks of cattle in the distance, on the sparse grassland of the mountain valley. Olivia landed beside them as Ben exited the truck.
“How you wanna play this?” asked Ben.
“Can you… can you guys stay here?” asked Olivia after a moment, eyes fixed on the ranch.
Amanda and Ben exchanged glances. She’s not dumb. If she can handle a legion of Overlord robots, she can handle some farmers. Even if they are basically cultists. “We’ll be right here,” said Amanda. Ben nodded in agreement.
“Thank you,” replied Olivia. She climbed down the hill, balancing on her clawed feet.
Amanda spotted a long gun in someone’s hands. Don’t you dare shoot her. After a moment, the two men stepped aside and let her into the ranch house. Then, silence beyond a few songbirds passed overhead, shrieking in hatred at the rising sun.
Twenty minutes passed, with no movement in the ranch below beyond a distant figure raking out the stables. “Maybe we shouldn’t have just let her walk in there on her own,” said Amanda.
“Gotta stop babysittin’ her,” said Ben, pacing back and forth beside her door. The loose dirt and rocks of the road crunched beneath his shoes. “It’ll hurt. We warned her. But she’s hopin’. She’s takin’ the chance. Can’t fault her for that. An’ hell, maybe it’ll work out. Did for Beth.”
Amanda chose not to respond, instead leaning back into her seat and taking in the surroundings. The Rocky Mountains loomed all around them, vast swathes of evergreens on their slopes brown from pine beetles. The untouched groves of aspens rustled in the light breeze. Come fall, they would explode in a riot of color, and Amanda would take her usual one self allotted day of vacation to enjoy them and the fresh mountain air. If my stomach is up for it, may as well go for a hike. My skin is only getting paler.
“Judy’s a shit name,” said Ben, breaking the silence. “Hope she sticks with Olivia.”
Amanda gave a quick laugh and said, “Yeah, no kidding.”
She jolted upright when the front door of the ranch house opened a minute later. The unmistakable figure of Olivia began trudging back up the hill, unaccompanied by anyone. A few people from the ranch watched her leave, guns in hand. Oh no. Olivia’s gaze was fixed firmly on the ground, even when she approached Ben and Amanda.
“Everythin’ alright?” asked Ben once she reached the truck.
Olivia gave a tiny shake of her head. She climbed into the back seats of the cab, rather than the bed or taking flight, and buried her face in her arms. “No place here,” she whispered.
Ben started the truck for the long drive back home.