Mercenary – Innocence

Olivia stretched her tail out behind her, leaving it hanging off the side of her dark blue beanbag. Beside her, Beth giggled at the video playing on the tablet. “She just keeps chasing her tail!”

“It’s been an hour. Ain’t makin’ those little squealin’ sounds gettin’ old? Wanna, you know, preserve your dignity or somethin’?” called out Ben from across the lair. The pieces of his pistol lay in front of him on Rob’s desk as he scrubbed them down with an oily rag.

“Shut up, these are great,” shot back Beth with a smile.

“Let’s watch another!” said Olivia, before Ben could say anything else.

“That one,” said Beth, pointing with a clawed finger. “It’s got three puppies instead of one.”

Olivia nodded in agreement and tapped her knuckle against the video’s thumbnail on the screen. Just as it began to buffer, a critically low battery warning flashed over the screen.

She looked around at the bare, oil stained concrete surrounding them. “Darn it, there’s no outlet.”

Beth sighed and said, “It’s OK. I should probably get going.” They both stretched their wings as they rose from the beanbag. “Do you know what time it is?”

Olivia checked the dimmed tablet. “Seven thirty, almost.”

Beth’s eyes widened in alarm. “Oh crap, I’m super late,” she said. She rushed over to the back door and opened it a few inches. Morning sunlight streamed inside. “I’m not going to be able to fly home now.”

Beth took a deep breath and paced a few steps in either direction. Why are you freaking out so much? “Are you OK?” asked Olivia.

Beth nodded. “Let me think. Oh! I’ll just ask my parents to stay over today. If that’s OK,” she said.

“Sure!” replied Olivia with a smile.

“Let me text them.” She fished a cell phone, different than the one Amanda had given her, from her pocket and fumbled with the keys for a moment. After a moment, she said, “There. Forgiveness is easier than permission.”

“Forgiveness? What’s wrong with you staying here?” asked Olivia as they headed for the center table. Olivia took her seat with the backrest sawn off, while Beth spun a normal seat around to make room for her own wings and tail.

Beth’s smile vanished. She shrugged and said, “They don’t really want me leaving their sight. But they’ll be mad and I’ll get over it. It’s not like I can just fly around in broad daylight.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“It’s alright. Your parents sounded way worse,” said Beth.

“It’s OK. At least I know now,” said Olivia, voice subdued. At least I know.

“I’m sorry they were assholes.”

It was Olivia’s turn to shrug. “I don’t know. I only saw them for a couple minutes. I guess I can’t blame them.”

“Hey! Don’t say that,” broke in Beth with a frown. “They had a posse point guns at you and told you to get out. That’s bullshit.”

Olivia studied the tabletop. It was dumb. I was dumb. They were dumb. It’s done now. Her tail curled around the leg of the chair. “Well, how is everything at home for you?” she asked.

“It’s OK. I’m figuring stuff out. My little brother is nice! He’s been patient and helping me relearn stuff. Apparently we went to England a couple years ago. The pictures were pretty cool.” Beth laughed. “There was one with me and my brother, next to this guard guy with this huge fuzzy hat. It looked great.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it was huge. It stuck up another foot or two in the air. It was great. I kind of want one.”

“That sounds cool,” replied Olivia. Why hats? They don’t stay on when you fly. I guess if you’re not flying they make sense.

“I found out I have a couple other fun hats hiding in my closet. I have this big pirate hat and a fez with this little tassel hanging off of it. They’re great. But there are some other things I found where I just have to ask myself ‘what I was thinking?’”

“Buyin’ shit, an’ a week later wonderin’ why you ever did?” called out Ben.

“Kind of, yeah.”

“Happens to everyone, don’t worry.”

“OK, good.” She turned back to Olivia and said, “Apparently I have these white shoes with the most obnoxious bright green stripes on them you’ve ever seen. It’s not the fact I can’t wear shoes, they’re just hideous. So hideous.”

“I’m kind of glad I don’t have to worry about shoes,” said Olivia. “They just sound annoying.” I guess if you have to worry about rocks and stuff cutting up your feet they make sense. But flying is so much better.

Beth flexed her wings. “We already have enough annoying things. I swear I’m going to hit my head on a doorframe and break it soon.”

Olivia laughed. “You’re telling me.” I have a whole two extra months of experience on you.

Beth’s smile wavered for a moment. “The spike things on your back. Is that going to happen to me?”

“Has your back been itching and stuff?” Beth considered for a moment, then nodded. “That’s how it started for me.”

Beth groaned as she hung her head. “It’s like some terrible version of puberty.”

“I know, I’m sorry.” I think mine have finally stopped itching, at least.

Beth managed a smile as she raised her head again. “It’s not like backrests weren’t already the worst thing in the world.”

“I know, right?”

“Backrests are great,” called out Ben as he leaned back in his chair.

“Shut up, they’re not,” shot back Beth.

At that moment, Olivia heard an exasperated sigh from the sleeping area. She and Beth turned towards Miya, knowing smiles on their faces, as her small form wrestled with her sheets for a moment before she stomped out into the rest of the lair.

“Good morning!” said Olivia with a small wave.

In response, Miya grumbled, “Why are you talking so much? I thought you guys wanted to kill each other.” You know, it’s not that hard to wake up in the mornings.

“Well, not anymore,” replied Beth.

“I think we just needed space,” added Olivia. And Red and Hank aren’t here. I need to check on him and make sure he’s OK with Cyrus.

Miya grunted in response. With bleary eyes, she scanned the rest of the lair. “Where are the nerds? They’re the ones that usually wake me up.”

“I don’t know.” Olivia’s eyes widened. “Oh no, where are they? What if-”

“Relax. They probably just got a hotel room or somethin’,” said Ben. He finished reassembling his pistol and teleported over to the food cupboards. Beth cast a worried eye at the metallic sounds. Miya, in the meantime, stumbled over to the central table and collapsed on a chair next to Beth, head resting on the tabletop.

“Why would they do that?” she asked. Don’t you have to pay for hotel rooms? What’s wrong with here?

“Ain’t a lot of privacy in here,” he said, grabbing a slice of pizza out of the fridge. He shut the door and leaned against it, facing the rest of the group.

“So?”

“They’re boning,” said Miya. What… oh. Oh.

Ben snorted and said, “Yeah, that.”

They both watched Olivia carefully, fighting back smiles. “Well, as long as they’re happy,” said Olivia. But bad things always happen to us. “You don’t want to give them a call, make sure they’re OK?”

“No,” replied Ben.

“Does that mean no, you don’t want to? Or no, that statement is wrong and you do want to?” asked Beth.

“That second one,” replied Ben.

“Don’t worry, English is weird,” said Miya.

“OK, you’re Aztec, you don’t get to talk about language weirdness,” said Ben with a grin.

“Bitch please. Nahua isn’t that hard.”

Olivia blinked. I’ve heard you speak Aztec before. I had no idea what any of it was. Ben burst into laughter and said, “Sure about that? Say your name. Full name.”

Miya rolled her eyes and said, “Miyahuatl.” Oh, yeah, I totally forgot about that. Cool.

“Miya-waddle?” repeated Ben.

“Close.”

“OK. Now spell it out.” Once she spelled her full name, he said, “You see, to me that’d be Miya-who-ah-tell. There’s no w in there. An’ you got that crazy tl thing goin’ on at the end.”

“Why do you think I just go by Miya? Damn yankee. And there’s a rule about the w thing, I’m trying to think of what it is,” said Miya.

“You don’t just, you know, know what the rule is?” asked Olivia.

“No, I don’t have to think about it, I just look and know. That’s like looking at a silent e. You just don’t think about it. Nahua just has different little rules like that.”

“OK, is it Nahua, Aztec, or Nahuatl?” asked Beth. “I’ve heard it as all three now and I have no idea which is which.”

Miya bit her lip, then said, “Technically Nahuatl is the language, Nahua is the people, like European or Asian, and Aztec is a group of people, like English. The thing is with Nahuatl, the Aztecs the last major speakers of it because genocide isn’t just the white man’s game. All three work, but Nahua is easier to say.” Miya’s eyes lit up. “I remember that rule now. I think if there’s a hu followed by a vowel, the hu is a w. So Nahua is like n-a-w-a. Jesus, that was bugging me.” I learned something today!

“The fuck is Aztec? Who came up with that shit?” asked Ben with a grin.

“It’s just spelled weird and dumb because Europeans tried to take a completely different language and hammer it into their alphabet.

“Sounds like they fucked up real bad,” said Ben as his phone began vibrating in his pocket. He stood up straight and took a few steps away from the fridge as he raised it to his ear. “Hello? Who’s this?” Olivia couldn’t hear the exact response on the other end. Stupid guns.

“Hey, Rob. The hell happened to your phone…” Ben’s smile slipped from his face. “Oh shit. Where are you?” Olivia frowned. I knew it, I knew it. Something bad happened. Something bad always happens.

“Yeah, combo is 02641, keys are in the second drawer. Got it. See you in a few.”

Miya had finally wiped the sleepy expression from her face, now sitting up straight and alert. She and Olivia exchanged glances.

“Amanda an’ Rob ran into some trouble last night, need a pickup. Sounded spooked, too,” announced Ben as he teleported back into the workshop.

Olivia felt her claws uncurl. “Where are they?” she asked as she stood.

Ben raised a hand. “Don’t worry about that, I’m takin’ Amanda’s car to get ‘em.” he said as he punched a code into a keypad on Amanda’s desk. He tore open the second drawer and rifled through it for a moment before Olivia heard the jangle of keys.

“Should we come?” asked Miya, brushing her bangs out of her eyes.

Ben shook his head as he teleported to the door. “You guys sit tight, keep an eye out. It sounded like someone was after ‘em, they might come here.” Out of the corner of Olivia’s eye, she saw Beth’s wings spread out a few inches, face tinged with fear. Why can’t people just leave us alone?

Ben left, leaving Miya, Olivia, and Beth in apprehensive silence.

***

Olivia paced back and forth by the head of the table, ears tuned to any movement outside. Plenty of cars had driven by in the half hour since Ben had left, none of them Amanda’s. Miya scarfed down breakfast nearby, gun close at hand. Beth tried to go to sleep in the meantime, though Olivia could hear her tossing and turning.

She perked up the moment she heard Amanda’s car return. “They’re here!” she announced.

Miya dropped her spoon into her bowl of cereal and stood, heading for the door. She shot a look at Olivia. “You sure? Not just their car.”

Olivia sniffed the air. “It’s them,” she said. From the curtained off section, she heard Beth stir.

The door opened not long after, Amanda and Rob stumbling in after a relieved looking Ben.

“No problems?” asked Miya as she set her pistol aside.

“Nothin’,” replied Ben. Behind him, Rob and Amanda collapsed at the chairs at their workshop, dark bags under their eyes and clothes in disarray. Oh no. Olivia hurried over, nose wrinkling at the reek of sweat.

“Are you guys OK?” she asked.

Amanda nodded as she massaged her forehead. “We’ve been hidin’ all night, tryin’ to get back here,” explained Rob, running a hand through his hair.

“Do you know how hard it is to break into a landline payphone and use it? Super fucking hard,” said Amanda.

“Who kidnapped you? Where are they?” asked Olivia.

“Don’t know,” replied Rob. “Probably gone by now. They were in panic mode, tryin’ not to get arrested. Cops were lookin’ hard for ‘em.” The police are being helpful for once?

“Hold on. What exactly happened?” asked Miya.

“Sure. Pass me a water bottle,” said Rob.

“Me too,” added Amanda.

Beth joined the group as Amanda and Rob explained what had happened, from the kidnapping in the parking lot, the car chase, and their eventual escape.

“So the door opens, an’ I’m thinkin’ ‘fuck, we’re dead,’” explained Rob. “These two bots come in, rifles pointed right at me. I thought for sure we were gonna die, but Amanda pulled some fuckin’ black magic in that fuckin’ box thing just in time, an’ the bots just froze.”

“That’s it, they just froze?” asked Ben in the silence that followed. Nothing else?

Amanda and Rob nodded. “Yep.”

“It was a slightly educated guess. There were so many redundant systems in that thing,” added Amanda.

“How did they know you were there?” asked Beth.

“I must have triggered some sort of alarm for the robots when I got into the brain in a box,” said Amanda. “They didn’t bother to tell the mercenaries anything. We literally just walked out the doors once the robots were taken care of. I couldn’t believe it.” Why are all our parents so mean? Only Beth has nice parents.

“Hey, Ben. There was a little more,” said Rob, voice low. “Mercenary leader guy. He knew Sam.”

Ben’s eyes widened. “Shit. What’d he say?”

“That the unit he was with in Iraq was wiped out. He said he’s probably dead.”

“That ain’t right,” Ben said with a frown. “He sent us a text right after that freaky guy, Taauth showed up. Guy wearin’ our fuckin’ masks an’ everythin’.”

Rob shrugged and said, “That’s just what he told me. He didn’t know for sure.”

“Well, when we got some free time, we gotta figure this out,” said Ben.

“Yeah, yeah, absolutely,” said Rob. Olivia wrapped a wing around Ben’s shoulders. I’ll help.

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