Olivia flexed her wings as she paced back and forth in her apartment. I’m never getting into a car again. I’m just going to fly everywhere from now on. The ache in her neck had only partially receded over the course of the day, though her gunshot bruises from the warehouse had healed over. What else do I have to do? Ben’s question echoed in her mind, What do I do?
As was becoming her ritual, she thought, I’ve been stuck in the same apartment forever so no one accidentally sees me. I just sleep away the day and only come out at night. At least I’m not under a microscope in some lab. She sighed. That seems like a low bar, though.
With soft hiss as her aching joints protested, Olivia wandered over to the window. Outside, a faint brown haze hung over Westward City. In the waning daylight, the constant hum of cars from a major road reached her from two streets over. Down below, a handful of people walked along the street, all on the opposite side of where Olivia’s building stood, a far cry from the near ghost town the city turned into at night.
What if someone looks in the window? Ben said I should keep out of sight. She shied away, then paused. Am I just going to keep doing this? Just never leaving my room because someone might see me? I can just go up to the roof, nothing is stopping me. No one can see up there. Besides, the sun is nice and warm, I should enjoy it before it goes down.
She headed to the rooftop, stretching out her wings to catch the sun. The city had so much more color during the day. The leaves of half of the trees along the sidewalks were budding, now that winter had ended. The other half seemed dead, brittle branches blowing stiffly in the breeze.
A car with “Police” emblazoned on its side and a set of lights affixed to the roof pulled up to a dinghy computer repair store across the street. Olivia pulled back from the edge of the roof. The doors opened, and out of the squad car came two figures, one a bulky man, the other a short haired woman. Both wore rough and baggy grey camo pants and jackets, with pistols strapped to their belts. They walked with purpose to the storefront.
Minutes passed, with Olivia hunched over at the edge of the roof, torn between fear and curiosity. Why are they here? They don’t have a computer to fix, and they don’t look like normal police officers. The ones I’ve seen always wear blue. The sun hung low in the sky by the time they came out, both looking unhappy. The male officer stared at Olivia’s building, his eyes climbing higher and higher. She ducked down, holding her breath until she heard the sounds of car doors opening and closing. When she poked her head back up, she found the two talking for a few minutes. Finally, the woman started the car and drove off towards the skyscrapers to the north.
Olivia smiled, wings slumped in relief. They’re gone! They didn’t see me! She gazed at the snow capped mountains in the distance, a handful of clouds cresting over their peaks. I could just go there. I can fly, I could just do that. Why am I just sitting here? Maybe I’ll like mountains. Wait, I’m not supposed to fly. Ben said so. But he also said I should know stuff and like stuff. And people only found us when we were driving. I won’t be in a car. I’ll fly really high. And it’s almost night time. I’ll be fine. The police didn’t see me.
She took off during a lull in the nearby foot traffic, heading west. The air grew thin and cold as she flew higher than she’d ever flown before. She passed over the sounds of construction crews working on a stretch of road covered in rubble, the clinks and engine noises still reaching her high above. A handful of geese flew in a lopsided V pattern far above her, heading south. Barely half an hour of flight passed before the city gave way to the spread out houses and lawns of a suburb, and suburb to hills covered in brown grasses and scrub brush. As she passed into the mountains, she could still see a small handful of roads and trails, winding and twisting through the mountain valleys.
Before her rose a severe mountain, one of several along the range, the trees clinging to its sides giving way to grey stone a few hundred feet below the peak. Unlike some others she’d passed over, she saw no hiking trails carved into its side. She landed on a particularly large boulder, facing away from the slope. Up close, the mountain resembled more of a massive pile of rocks, rather than one of the monolithic entities they appeared to be from afar. It was quieter here. No cars or people talking or AC humming or any other one of the thousand things she constantly had to blot out in the city. A gust of wind swept by her perch, tugging at her partially folded wings.
I’m tired. Tired of not knowing what to do. Tired of being weird. Tired of being afraid. Tired of being cooped up in the same building for days. What am I doing? I still don’t know who I really am. I don’t know anything about where I am, or what to do. Ben is the only one helping me, but we haven’t gotten anywhere yet.
She looked out from her vantage point. Just over a tall hill, the city she’d fled stood under the clear blue sky. From a distance, it looked almost pretty, dozens of silver and glass towers rising from the brown plains. Mile upon mile of housing stretched out from downtown, broken up by trees.
Maybe I should save him the trouble. I could just live out here like a normal feral. He wouldn’t mind. Right? It’s not like anyone else knows or cares about me. It wouldn’t be that bad. But where would I get food? And what if it rains?
She perched on her rock until the sun finally set behind her. What am I doing?
Nearly empty streets greeted Olivia’s return, night having fallen. A familiar scent caught her nose as she stomped down the stairs back to her apartment. Oh no. Ben. He’s going to know I was flying around. She froze on the staircase, unable to take the last few steps down to her floor. The claws of her feet clenched, digging into the concrete steps. What if he gets mad? He’s going to know I was flying around. She cast a look over her shoulder, back up towards the roof. Maybe I should go fly somewhere else, and just wait until he leaves. But I’m not supposed to fly. I should just get this over with. He’s here for a reason.
She took the last few steps down and reached the door to her apartment, taking a deep breath. Here it goes. She found Skulker lounging on the couch, boots slung over the edge of the armrest. Both his rifle and pistol were absent, and his mask rested on his chest as he drummed his fingers along its forehead.
“Hey!” he said with a wave. “Perfect timin’. Just got here a couple minutes ago.” She nodded, mute. He swung his legs and jumped upright. “Why you lookin’ so scared?”
“I thought you’d be mad,” she mumbled in response, still halfway through the door. “I was flying, you know, before the sun set.”
He shrugged. “You do you. I ain’t gonna tell you it was a good idea, but I ain’t gonna tell you how to live your life. What were you doin’?”
“I was just in the mountains.” He isn’t mad?
“You never been up there before?” he asked.
“No,” she replied with a small shake of her head.
With a laugh he said, “You’re a real Coloradan now. Coloradoan? However the fuck you say that.”
An awkward silence filled the room. I should say something. “What do you know about?” she asked.
Skulker started at her for a moment. I’m stupid, I should have said that better. “What? About what?” he replied.
“What do you know about so I know what to ask you about?” I hope that made more sense.
“Donuts. Metal,” he said, holding up a finger for each thing he listed. “I’m a big fan of action movies. Guns an’ stuff. American Military history. Yeah. That’s pretty much what I got.” Olivia’s head tilted at the specificity of the last topic, but before she could ask about it Skulker pushed on and said, “We’re gettin’ off topic. I was thinkin’ it’s high time to figure out where the fuck you came from.”
“OK! We were just going to look at security cameras around here, right?”
In stores, right? Isn’t that what he said? “Oh, yeah, I saw some police officers earlier this morning. No, afternoon. Sorry. It was when I woke up. They went to one of the stores nearby”
The moment she mentioned the police his smile faded, and he seemed to tune out her following babbling. She flinched.
“What were they wearin’?” he asked, voice serious.
“I don’t know. Police stuff?” she replied, eyes fixed on the ground.
“What color? Grey, black, blue, tan?”
“OK. Those were MHU cops. That’s bad.”
“What are those other colors?”
“Blue an’ tan is your standard cop or state patrol guy. Black is when they’re there for killin’. Grey is MHU, an’ they ain’t fuckin’ around. Where did you see them at?”
“That one store over there,” she replied, pointing to the computer repair shop through the window.
“OK. They weren’t wearin’ armor or anythin’?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“That’s a no. You’d know it if you saw it,” he said, nodding to himself. “What did they do?”
“They went in for a little bit, then came out and left,” she stammered in reply.
“I don’t know,” she replied reflexively. “Maybe ten minutes.”
“You just fly around, right? No walkin’? No chance they coulda spotted you?”
“I don’t really walk around here,” she replied. “Because, you know, I can just glide off the roof.”
He breathed a sigh of relief. “Great! We might have just dodged a bullet there. It don’t sound like they found anythin’. I’m gonna take a look around, see if there’s any MHU guys waitin’ to bust in. You stay put. They’re lookin’ for you, not me. You hear more than one person comin’ in, you get the fuck out, any way you can.”
“OK,” she replied, folding her wings tight against her back. But if there’s bad people out there, he’ll be all alone.
Skulker teleported out without another word, leaving Olivia alone in her apartment once more. Far from the window, she paced back and forth, keeping an ear out for anyone in the building. The minutes stretched on as she thought, What if the police are here right now? Could I just get out through the window? Is Ben OK? She tensed as she heard footsteps, before realizing it was just one set. With a few teleports, Skulker jumped back in
“We’re good. They wouldn’t have fucked around if they thought you were here,” said Skulker with a grin, flashing her a thumbs up. “Damn near gave me a heart attack. Wouldn’t be able to do much else but run. I ain’t shootin’ a cop.”
Olivia nodded, mute.
“It sounds like they’re searchin’ the area for you,” he explained. “Maybe they were lookin’ into somethin’ else, but I don’t think we should rely on a coincidence like that. I don’t think I can shove you away in my apartment, too many eyes around. Keep an ear out, just in case.”
Skulker teleported over to the couch and plopped down. Olivia remained standing, keeping her wings behind her and out of the way. She cast a sidelong glance at the barren walls and empty rooms. His apartment had so much stuff in it. Mine just has a couch and a pile of clothes.
Skulker drummed his hands on his thighs as he said, “I took a couple hours to scout out what’s in the area this mornin’. There’s nothin’ right next to us, but there’s a couple shops that look like their security is iron bars, rather than a dude with a shotgun. We’ll wanna go there, avoid murderin’ anyone. Not all had cameras, either. That computer place was one of them, but if the cops came through I don’t wanna go anywhere near it. If they come back they might notice somethin’ wrong.”
Olivia nodded. I guess that makes sense.
“Once we’re in, we take a look at their camera footage. They all got a place to watch an’ review it, so we don’t gotta drag equipment around, but we gotta be fast. We’re lookin’ for any big cargo car in the minutes leadin’ up to you wakin’ up. Or anythin’ suspicious.”
He shrugged. “I dunno. We’ll know it when we see it. Now, to be clear, this ain’t legal. We’re breakin’ an’ enterin’. You OK with this?”
I don’t know. He seems to be OK with it. And we’re not hurting anyone. “I’m OK.”
“Let’s get goin’.”
Skulker waved to Olivia from the roof across the road from her. She took the cue and glided over, landing on the gravel of the roof with a crunch. Skulker jumped and teleported down to the fifth store they’d hit that night. She suppress a yawn as she followed. The sun should be up soon.
Without a word, they slipped into their roles. Skulker pulled out a bit of wire, and after ten minutes and many muttered curses, finally forced the door to the shop open, while Olivia pretended like she knew how to keep watch behind him. I don’t see anyone. I guess that’s good enough.
Once inside, they swiftly tracked down a dingy little room towards the back, away from where customers would be. Skulker rifled through poorly organized tapes labeled with black marker while Olivia stood behind him, pretending she knew what to look for. Sure, that tape seems right.
Olivia bent over double behind Skulker as they watched tape after grainy tape, cars moving past on the screen in slow motion. And just like the previous four stores, they found nothing that stuck out. They watched for a half hour before she woke up, and watched the same handful of nondescript cars pass by.
“Mostly the same fuckin’ cars. The church van, two motorcycles,” Skulker muttered under his breath, listing off the vehicles as they paraded past on screen. “Two black cars, the one missin’ a bumper. Fuck.”
“I don’t see anything,” whispered Olivia.
“Neither do I. Maybe we need to check if any stick around for too long, but that’d mean we gotta steal a bunch of tapes. If there’s cops sniffin’ around we’ll have the hammer of God comin’ down on us real quick if there’s missin tapes. Come on, let’s get outta here. Meet me outside the donut shop”
They left, Skulker doing his best to lock the door behind them, and split up, heading for the donut shop. She passed far over the neighborhood on the way. She’d never walked through the area since she figured out the whole flying thing. There was precious little food to be found, and the power lines throughout the neighborhood didn’t have any lights. She couldn’t dodge every single one if she flew too low, though the lack of wind that night made it easier.
She found the roof of her favorite building to overlook the donut mall. After a minute and some hollow metallic echoing sounds, Skulker climbed and teleported up to join her.
“That didn’t go great, not gonna lie. Hear any sirens out there?” he said once he got within normal speaking distance.
She paused. Nothing that really stands out. There’s a weird little ringing sound. I can’t tell where that’s from, but no sirens. “No.”
“Cool.” Skulker pulled out the wallet. “Do I have cash?” he muttered to himself. “I do! Wanna get some food?”
“OK!” she replied, standing up straighter immediately. I will never say no to food.
“You can read the drive thru menu from here, right?”
“Yeah.” Of course I can. Those giant, bright panels outside with all the colorful pictures and words on them? How could you not?
“So read it. Make a decision. What do you want?”
She leaned forward and read through a dozen similar sounding names for the same basic cheeseburger. “The bacon burger thing. Triple? There’s one that says double and another that says triple and the triple has more meat on it.” And bacon is meat, too, right?
“Anythin’ else? Want a shake?”
I think that’s food. “Sure.”
Olivia glanced at the menu again, finding the bright desert menu in the lower right corner. “Vanilla,” she said, picking the first option on the list.
“Really? The most borin’ shake flavor?”
Boring is great. Nothing is shooting at you when things are boring. “Why not?”
“Fair enough.” With that, he teleported off, walking once he got close enough to the restaurant. He came out of the building a few minutes later carrying a large bag of food with one hand and a couple drinks in the other.
After a minute, he rejoined her at on the rooftop. “Jumpy little fry cook in there. Your plain-ass shake,” he said, offering her a large cup with a straw sticking out of the lid. He joined her in sitting on the edge of the roof and lifted his mask to eat, leaving it resting on the top of his head. They divided the burgers and ate.
“What do you have against vanilla?” asked Olivia after a moment, eyeing the shake in her hands. Did I mess up? Is it bad? Or does he just think it’s boring?
“Nothin’s wrong with it, I’m just givin’ you shit,” he said.
“There’s nothing wrong with boring,” she whispered to herself, taking a sip. Shakes are good! It tastes like that cinnamon thing I had earlier. But without the cinnamon. I think. I want more.
They finished their food in silence, Olivia finishing off her food far before Skulker. At some point the light of the drive thru menu started dimming over the course of a few seconds then flickering fully back to life in a regular pattern.
Skulker crumpled the last of his three value menu burger wrappers and threw it in the bag. “I’ve had just as much fast food in the past month than the rest of the year combined,” he commented.
She nodded in agreement, still drinking. I can’t remember ever having much healthy stuff. I guess water is healthy.
“No complaints? From a chick?” asked Skulker.
What? She shrugged. I don’t really mind. I mean, it’s better fresh. “You don’t care?” asked Olivia.
“Nope. Me an’ my brothers are some of those infuriatin’ fucks who don’t gain weight no matter how much we eat.”
All the streetlights died. Olivia looked around. A tiny handful of lights twinkled off in the distance; nothing near them. This is strange. She shot a look at Skulker, who just sighed. Or not?
“Come on, people!” he exclaimed to the sky, throwing a balled up wrapper at the half moon. “I thought we got this shit sorted out last year!”
“The power’s been spotty since forever. But they said they got their shit together. Hell, that was part of the mayor’s campaign. Or was it governor’s? Whatever.”
“That doesn’t seem very good.”
“Well, they say if New York goes four months without a blackout, the US economy is back on track. We got like a fraction of the people in New York, you’d think it’d be easier to keep the lights on, but no. Anythin’ you wanna do while we’re out?”
“No. Not that I can think of. And thank you. For, you know, coming.”
He laughed as he put his mask back into place. “No problem. See you tomorrow, we’ll keep huntin’.”
“OK.” It’s too quiet out right now. Kind of dark now, too.
He jumped and teleported down to the ground, and Olivia took flight back to her apartment. The lack of wind made the air noticeably hotter. Is that tapping I hear? She checked over her shoulder to find nothing but empty air and lights on the horizon. Weird.
Relatively mundane chapter, but as always, the chemistry between Ben and Olivia remains great.
Yay, a chapter!
As said above, kind of mundane, though it has a bit of an ominous feel to it in the background, I feel.
WOOOooo!! It lives! Like a sweet arse frankensteinian monster with chainsaw arms and a flamethrower mouth!