Mercenary – Steel

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. What was I thinking? That everything would just magically work? Ben took a sharp right to get back on the highway, squishing Olivia’s wing between herself and the car door. ‘No place here.’ Some of those people wanted to shoot me. My own mother wouldn’t even look at me. Stupid, stupid, stupid monster thing.

Amanda and Ben were both quiet, even the radio of the truck was turned off. The only sounds Olivia heard, beyond the roar of the engine and the whooshes of other cars passing them on the road, were Amanda’s fingers tapping on her phone. So stupid. My own family doesn’t want me. Stupid wing, stupid claws, stupid tail. Stupid. The whole drive back to the lair passed without a word spoken between the three of them.

They pulled into the gravel lot behind the lair. “Sorry for dragging you two out there,” mumbled Olivia as they climbed out of the truck. Her head bumped against the roof of the cab as she angled herself and her wings out. Leave me alone.

“No need to apologize,” said Ben.

Amanda nodded in agreement and said, “If you need to talk, we’re here.” They both watched for Olivia’s reaction, concern all over their faces. Sorry. I’ll get out of your way.

Olivia mutely nodded trudged over to her curtained off bed, her tail scraping along the concrete floor. Her heel claw left a small gouge when she walked over an oil stain in the floor. She pulled the curtains shut behind her and collapsed face first onto her bed. Her claws dug into the mattress as she buried her face in it. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The others, Rob and Miya included, left her alone for a few hours. Olivia tried to tune out the sounds of them going about their day. Miya and Ben left for the gym, while Amanda typed away at a keyboard. Olivia only realized she’d drifted off to sleep when Rob dropped a wrench, the loud metallic clatter waking her up again.

She couldn’t think of a reason to get out of bed. I could probably just stay here. No one would notice. Not hungry. Don’t feel like reading. Flying is too much of a pain. Footsteps approached. A small figure plopped down beside her on the mattress. Go away. Something plastic pulled on her hair with a thousand tiny fingers. Olivia turned her head, looking up at Miya sitting beside her, hairbrush in hand. What do you want?

“Jesus,” said Miya in a matter of fact tone. “This is so tangled. When is the last time you brushed your hair?” What? Where did this come from? After waiting a few silent moments for a response, she continued, “And it’s matted in a couple places. I know flying makes your hair all messed up, but this is basic cleanliness. If you want to keep it neat, just use a ponytail. Here, watch.” Miya put the brush aside and pulled a hair tie out of her pocket. In a flurry of hand motions and flicking hair, she pulled her long black hair back into a ponytail. “See? Ponytails are great. You can do anything with them without your hair getting all tangled up.”

“OK. Um, thanks” said Olivia.

Miya returned to brushing her hair. “We’ll get into braids and stuff later. Or you could just do what Amanda does and keep it cut really short.”

Olivia shrugged and said, “I like my hair, I guess.” I haven’t had a reason to complain about it, at least.

“Alright, once I’m done here,” said Miya, pausing to pull on a particularly tangled bit of hair, “I’ll give you a couple hair ties and clips.”

They beat Olivia’s hair into some semblance of organization, though it was mostly Miya. She had Olivia sit up and show her that she could get her own hair under control before leaving her with the brush and some hair ties. She dangled one from a claw.

I guess if it keeps everything neat. It does feel better now, actually. I’m sure it looks better, too. Miya kept muttering something about a crazy cat lady. I didn’t look crazy though, did I? I guess I did. My parents sure thought so. She sighed. Maybe if I’d just… I don’t know. Maybe if I’d called them on the phone instead. They wouldn’t have had to see me. Maybe that would have worked. I bet Chris would have known what to do.

“Hey, Olivia, got a sec?” called out Rob from across the lair, breaking her train of thought. “I need a hand.”

She climbed to her feet and brushed the curtain surrounding her bed aside. “What?”

Rob waved her over to his armor stand. “Hold this. I’m makin’ part of Amanda’s new armor, need to adjust the stand.”

“Oh, um, OK.”

Together, they lifted Rob’s suit of armor off of its stand. “Hold up a sec,” he said. “Need to fix up somethin’ real quick.”

He left Olivia standing with a massive set of metal slabs that constituted his armor while he darted over to his desk to grab a screwdriver. He knelt down in front of Olivia and the armor and opened up a plate.

“How you doin’?” he asked, head halfway into the torso of his armor. “Is it heavy?”

Olivia readjusted her grip on the back plates and said, “Kind of. It’s not bad.”

“Alright, now we should hear a click.” There are a lot of clicks. You mean a louder one? “There it is. We’re good. Set it down gently.”

“Where?”

“Any open space on the floor. There’s good,” he said, pointing to a patch of floor by the end of his workbench. As she set it down, he said, “Thanks. It’s a pain in the ass to move it on my own without gettin’ in an’ out of it.”

Olivia nodded. “Yeah, it’s big.”

“Gotta make sure Amanda’s armor fits an’ all. That’s somethin’ you want fittin’ perfect, but she ain’t Ben, so she’s got different measurements than me. She’s also goin’ for a less bulky design than mine. Sleeker, more techie lookin’ that that monstrosity,” he said, jerking his head towards his own armor. “I wish she’d been around when I was makin’ mine. Hell, been thinkin’ about tonin’ it down once we get her armor done. It’d be nice to have reflexes an’ shit. She can probably put in a couple cool things to. Think she can put in a kickass lightin’ gun on my wrist?”

Olivia had been nodding mutely along.  “Oh, um, I don’t know. Probably. I mean, why not?”

Rob laughed. “Ain’ that the real question. ‘Why not?’” He set his tools aside and

“Do you need any more help?” she asked.

“I’m good here. Thanks,” replied Rob.

Olivia nodded and turned to walk away. “Hey, ‘liv’, got a favor to ask,” called out Ben, just before she could return to her bed.

“What?” she asked as she walked over to where he was cleaning his rifle. Why does everyone need something from me all of a sudden?

“Can you go check on Red? Make sure she ain’t been abducted or somethin’.”

“Oh. Does she need something?”

Ben shrugged. “I dunno. Ask her. An’ you might wanna talk to her, too. She’s all alone out there, gets kinda borin’.”

“OK. I can do that.” What time is it?

Ben grinned and said, “Thanks. Don’t wanna spend any more on gas for the BAT. She’s still in your old apartment. Just knock, she’ll know you.”

“OK, I’ll go.” I haven’t talked to Red in a while. Olivia poked her head out into the night. Wow, I slept all day. She slipped out and took flight, circling a few times to get up high enough to get out of view, in case someone on the street happened to look up. She headed back to her old apartment building, a couple miles to the southeast of the lair.

Familiar rough roofing scratched against her clawed feet as she landed on the roof of the apartment building. She sniffed the air before heading for the stairs. Smells like her now. I never thought I’d be here again. Eventually, she came to her old home. Red, however, had added some touches of her own. Intricate flowing patterns, carved by claw, covered the entire wooden door.

“Whoa,” said Olivia, leaning in to get a better look. The richly detailed carvings didn’t depict anything specific, though they swirled together beautifully, even making up for where the paint on the door had chipped off. Right, I’m here for Red, not the door. She tapped the door with the back of her hand, not willing to put her claws anywhere near the carvings.

She heard a couple heavy footsteps beyond the door, then Red opened it. “Hey,” she said, resting her shoulder against the door frame.

“Um, hi,” said Olivia. “I’m just stopping by, making sure you’re OK.”

“I’m good for now.”

Olivia fidgeted. I’m just standing here being weird. “I like these carvings,” she said, more to fill the silence than anything else.

Red shrugged. “I was bored. It looked cool.”

“So you don’t need anything?”

Red shook her head and stepped away from the door. Olivia followed her into the apartment. “I’ll probably need some more water soon, but I’ve got enough food for the next month,” said Red, gesturing to the kitchen as she passed.

“How are you doing, though?” It’s just you here.

“I’m bored. Don’t get me wrong, I love having this whole building to myself. It’s way better than being cooped up in that little auto shop. But there’s no one else here.

“It’s quieter. That’s nice.” Ben, Amanda, everyone, I love you but you guys are always making noise.

“That is a definite plus,” said Red, her expression thawing. She crashed onto the old couch in the living room. “I’m kind of surprised, a lot of the stuff in here was untouched. Didn’t you live here for a couple weeks?”

“I didn’t spend that much time in here. I was flying around and stuff,” said Olivia. She sat beside Red, twisting her tail away from her.

“Yeah, I’ve been flying around too. I’m starting to think I’m not very good at it. I hate falling. And just taking off is a pain.”

“I can give you some pointers if you’d like.”

“Like what?” asked Red, a slight tilt to her head.

“Well, if you’re ever falling, don’t panic,” said Olivia. “That’s the first thing I learned.”

“That’s not exactly reassuring,” said Red, doubt written all over her face.

“It’s worth it. The first time I flew, I panicked and folded a wing. I fell a long way. But once you get used to it it’s so much better than walking around.”

“I can’t argue with that,” said Red. She crossed her legs and flexed her long, clawed toes. “This claw where my heel should be is a real pain in the ass.”

“I know, right! Getting down stairs is the worst.”

Red pointed to her and said, “Yeah! When you can’t tell if the stair is wide enough to get your whole foot on it or if your heel is going to catch.” Red smiled and said, “Last week, a day after I moved in here, I was heading for the roof. I’d forgotten something, it was probably my phone, back here, so I spun around and just tripped over my own tail. Did a total face plant.” She rubbed her jaw, a rueful smile on her face. “I’m just lucky no one saw that.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. The first time I ever sat in this couch, I’d forgotten about my wings. So I sat, and it twisted my wing in,” said Olivia, bending the wing as far as she could in demonstration.

Red winced. “That sucks.”

“It was just surprising. I think I jumped halfway across the room. That was the first day I’d, you know, woken up. I just wasn’t used to everything.”

Red laughed. They settled into silence for a moment. She hit her face on the ground? That can’t be fun. “Where the hell did you get food?” asked Red.

“What?”

“When you first woke up, where did you get your food from? I’m kind of sick of just waiting for deliveries.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asked Olivia. “It’s better than stuff from dumpsters.” Anything is better than food from a dumpster, trust me.

“I know. But it’d be nice to be self-sufficient, you know?”

Olivia frowned and ran a hand through her hair, thinking. “You know the Rocky Mountain Shopping Center?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied Red.

“Um, it smells like donuts?” Maybe we could get some donuts! Well, have one of the others get some donuts. Still!

Red’s face lit up in recognition. She knows what I’m talking about. They smell so good. “Right, that one. What about it?”

“The drug store there. If you go there when they get a delivery, there’s only one guy unloading the stuff, and he’s super slow. And they don’t have any cameras either. You know, if you want to get food on your own.”

“How do you know that?” asked Red.

“Because I got a lot of my food from there,” explained Olivia. “Before, you know, I met the others.”

“What, you just took it?” Olivia nodded. “Damn, advocating robbery. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“Food is food.”

“True, true,” said Red. Her wings relaxed, spreading out a bit.

“Have you heard anything from Hank?” asked Olivia.

“That asshole? No. Why?” He wasn’t… OK, he was kind of mean.

“We haven’t heard anything from him, and I just wanted to make sure he was OK. I was just wondering if you’d heard from him.”

“Nope, sorry.” Red pulled the tabled Amanda had given her out from under the couch. She fumbled with the screen for a moment before saying, “And no, still nothing. You have one of these too, right?” Olivia nodded. “How do you use it without scratching it up?”

“Oh, Amanda explained this to me once.” Olivia leaned in to get a better look at the tablet. “The touch screen of this detects heat, not touch. So if you used the eraser end of a pencil, it wouldn’t work. It’s meant for, you know, people with fingertips. I use my knuckles.”

Red examined her own fist for a moment. “Really?”

“No, not like that. Extend a finger, then bend the first two little bones until your claw almost touches your palm. Yeah, like that. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.”

Red smiled as she tapped on her tablet. “Alright. This is a lot better than what I was doing.”

“What was that?” asked Olivia.

“I was just using the side of my finger. It was a huge pain in the ass. I think I can finally use this without the urge to break it in half.”

“Amanda would kill you.”

“And it would be worth it.”

Olivia laughed. A few minutes passed, Red engrossed in her newfound tablet prowess. I missed this couch. But I could be getting donuts right now. Olivia stood up and said, “I’m heading home now. You just needed water, right?”

Red looked up from the screen. “Yeah, and no rush on that. See you later.”

Olivia nodded in goodbye and left the apartment, heading straight back to the lair. Donuts! She landed between Rob’s truck and Amanda’s car.

Ben waved to her as she entered the lair. “How’s Red?” he asked.

“Good. She said she needs more water. But I think she’s bored.”

“Yeah, I’d recommend she get a job or a hobby or somethin’, but I ain’t sure what for her.”

“She’s carving a lot.” She looked around the lair. By the soft, slow sounds of three other peoples’ breathing, the others were asleep. She sat at her chair at the table, a few seats over from Ben.

“We’ll that’s somethin’ to do. You got any plans for tonight?”

Olivia shook her head. Wait a minute. “Why do you guys all suddenly have stuff for me to do? Are you just trying to distract me?”

“Yep.” As Olivia frowned, he said, “Hey, don’t give me that look. Better up an’ movin’ than sittin’ an’ wallowin’. Amanda said you get all quiet when you’re sad, an’ I never see you try an’ avoid people like you did all today.”

You guys were just tricking me? All the sorrow and self-loathing she’d forgotten about for the last hour or two came crashing back. “I don’t know. I just wish it’d worked, you know?”

“Hey, hey, listen. Fuck ‘em,” said Ben. “You did absolutely nothin’ wrong. If they don’t want you ‘round, they ain’t worth havin’ ‘round. You choose to be a feral? No, course not. If you’d chosen to, I dunno, eat twenty heartwarmin’ orphans, then yeah, I’d see where they were comin’ from. But you didn’t. You wanna get mad, get mad at them, not yourself.”

“But they’re family.”

“Family? Same deal. Can’t choose who you’re related to. But you can choose who you hang out with. Beatin’ yourself up over somethin’ completely outta your control is a real good way to make yourself miserable.” He moved over to the chair next to her and nudged her in the ribs. “It’s up to you. But you heard Amanda. We’re here for you.”

“Thanks,” she mumbled.

Ben just laughed. “Don’t mention it.”

After a moment, she asked, “Do you want to get some donuts?”

“I got no idea where we’re gonna find ’em this time of night, but you’re goddamn right I do.”

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2 thoughts on “Mercenary – Steel

  1. Oh come on! Something as important as Olivia meeting her family and we skip that? Seriously its been played up for how long now and all we get is her walking into a damn house? How much of this series has been about her bloody identity, and when we finally get that, the one perspective that matters we’re denied. Bull, first the crap with the other dragons and now we don’t even get to read what the duck happened. Just some bullshit after the fact garbage for something we’ve been waiting for… common this story should be better than this.

  2. Why spend so much time on her wanting to know who she is and only a fucking paragraph is what we get… frigging garbage.

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