19: Hide and Seek

“Keep an eye out, it’d be real funny if we get busted by a patrol car or somethin’. I’ll be back in a sec.”

Ben teleported out before anyone could respond, leaving Olivia, Amanda, and Nomad clustered around his old forest green Jeep. Olivia spotted the other two squint as they peered out into the night, only a bare handful of the surrounding streetlights functioning. They weren’t missing much. Three old buildings walled off the isolated back lot Ben had parked them in. The last side of the lot faced a tall retaining wall, with no one walking on the sidewalk above. Olivia splayed her wings and leaned back against the Jeep, careful not to squish the base of her tail against it. 

“He just runs off. We’re so fucked,” Delta grumbled under her breath from the other side of the car.

“Do you have a better option?” Nomad asked her, voice low. “I’m being dead serious. I’d love to hear one that isn’t just running away.”

“We’re following the word of a murdering lunatic. Or vigilante, same thing,” replied Amanda. 

“You think I don’t know that? Do you have a better option?” Nomad repeated. They’re not going to leave, are they?

“No,” she admitted after a moment.

Ben teleported back with two hops, cutting off their conversation. “Spotted him. Chattin’ with the lady out front. Puttin’ his jacket on, about ready to leave.”

“Olivia, are you ready?” asked Nomad.

“Yeah,” said Olivia, trundling in from around his car.

“Like we talked about,” said Ben, just slow enough to be intelligible. “If he’s watchin’ for cars followin’ him, an’ he should, we can’t be too obvious. He ain’t gonna look up into the night an’ see you. We’ll follow outta sight.”


“You’ll do fine,” added Amanda for encouragement. Olivia gave her a small smile and took off into the cloudless night sky with a leap and a pump of her wings. I get to fly again!

The cool breeze blew into her face as she gained altitude. She found going into the wind better if she needed to go up instead of fast, and the massage parlor their target loitered in was only separated from them by a building and a two lane street. Soon enough, the front door opened and Olivia tracked a mop of blond hair to a blue car.

How does this work again? I just press the little button in my pocket, right? Or was it on the microphone? No, pocket. She looked up from her aerial fumbling and realized she’d lost the car, now no longer parked. After a long moment, heart pounding, she caught sight of him again, further ahead than where she expected. “There he is,” she said, a little louder and faster than she intended, into the little mic on her shirt collar. “Uh, it’s blue. It went west.”

“Stay calm. Let us know when he starts moving,” said Nomad. Olivia had to keep herself from jumping at the sound of a voice in her ear.

“OK,” she replied. I guess I sounded panicked. I definitely was. 

She climbed to get a better view, directing the others as best she could on the turns. At their ungodly hour of the night, she only had a tiny number of cars to filter out to keep track of their target. I don’t think I could do this early on a Friday night. They only had a short drive, maybe fifteen minutes, before they pulled into a residential zone of small houses. Eventually, he pulled up onto a driveway of a house. On Olivia’s signal, Ben parked them a ways down the street to take stock. 

“No garage, no other cars. Looks like it’s just him. Olivia, anythin’ out back?” asked Ben. I can hear him grinning. 

She wheeled around, getting a view of the back of the little house. Aside from a patchy lawn and a dead tree in the corner, she couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary from her vantage on high.  “No. I mean, there’s nothing there. You know…” Why am I so stupid?

“We’re bringing up the car. Olivia, stay up there and keep an eye out. Let us know if there’s anyone approaching,” came the far more reserved voice of Nomad. 

“OK.” I can do that. Hang on. “What if someone does?”

“Just let us know. We’ll figure it out from there.”

Olivia circled as they parked a few doors down across the street. No lights came on in the surrounding houses. They hustled through the fence and over to the back door. Olivia couldn’t catch what they did from her angle, but the next pass the backyard lay empty. This isn’t so bad. Everyone is asleep. It’s just like before.

“Could use your help in here,” said Ben over the comms, breaking Olivia’s train of thought. His head poked out the back door.

She dove, pulling up with a pump of her wings to keep from slamming her legs into the ground. “What do you need?” she asked. 

Ben reached up to pat her on the shoulder. “Come in. Just gotta look scary. Got nothin’ to be afraid of with this guy.”

He led her through the screen door in the back of the house, passing through a small dining table with a single chair. The claws of her feet clicked as they hit the grimy linoleum floor with every step. Olivia glanced at a few pictures hung up on the walls as they headed to the basement, as well as a flag she didn’t recognize. The ambient sounds of the city dimmed when they reached the unfinished basement, impassive concrete making up all the floors and walls. Delta leaned against a few rugged plastic boxes shoved into a corner. 

A familiar scent caught her nose, strong enough now she could place it. Does he have a gun? Is he going to attack again? Olivia spread her wings halfway out and let out a low hiss. Concrete cracked as she dug her feet in, ready to push forward.

“Jesus! What the fuck?” They had a blond man tied up in the center of the basement, tied tight to a chair that matched the one in the kitchen. He struggled against the cords holding him, heavily favoring one arm. 

“You see what I’m sayin’?” said Ben with a laugh. “She wants to walk over here, not much you or I can do about it. I might be able to persuade her, but you gotta give me a reason to.” 

“Easy, easy.” It took her a moment to realize Nomad had joined her at the base of the steps, and was talking to her instead of Michael. Oh, yeah, I was supposed to look scary, she thought, taking a deep breath to calm herself. Was I angry instead?

“Well, how about it? Not askin’ for everythin’ you know. Just keep in mind she ain’t exactly your friend,” said Ben, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at Olivia. She kept her eyes locked on him, making absolutely certain he wouldn’t try to attack any of them.

“You can stop growling under your breath,” Nomad murmured to her as Ben leaned in, demanding Michael’s attention.

“What?” Olivia replied. 

“He got the message. You might make him panic and do something dumb.”

“Sorry,” she mumbled. She pulled her wings back and hid her clawed hands behind her back.  

“I don’t know much, I’m just a delivery guy,” said Michael to Ben.

“Yeah, yeah,” prodded Ben. “Spit it out.”

“The Arena. You might catch someone important there.”

“Where’s that?”

“I dunno,” replied Michael, before Ben even finished his question.

Ben looked over his shoulder to Olivia. “I think he’s lyin’ to you.” Olivia frowned. What? We’re all here. Why me specifically?

Michael twisted in his chair. “Wait, wait. It’s under a fancy steakhouse outside the shantytown. I’ve only been there a couple times for a show myself.”

Once he spat out the address, Ben ruffled his hair. “Thank you very much. Gimme a sec.”

He teleported over and motioned everyone out of the room, save Nomad who kept watch. Are we done?

“Need anythin’ else outta him? I don’t think he’ll give up much else,” Ben asked under his breath.

“That location looks promising,” said Delta, her voice masked by her helmet. “I’m looking at it now, something is off about it.”

“Good. You two wanna get the car ready?”

“Alright,” replied Delta. She led Olivia out and to their car, Nomad and Ben following soon after. She saw no sign of Michael inside the house as they left.


They pulled back into their auto shop and climbed out of Ben’s car. Olivia stretched her wings and tail the moment she got free. Stupid chairs. And cars, for having chairs. Amanda unlocked the back door for them, the heavy lock letting out a metallic clunk as it withdrew. They spread out once inside, stripping off holsters and shoes.

“Arena. You two know what he was talkin’ about, right?” asked Ben, continuing the conversation that had started during their drive.

“We’ve heard of it,” replied Nomad, laying down his belt on top of a faded plastic box lid.

“We have?” muttered Amanda beside him.

“Yeah. Did you pay attention to the briefings?”

“I guess not,” she replied with a shrug.

“The basement of a restaurant seems a bit small for what the Arena should be. At least, what we’ve heard of it,” said Nomad with a shake of his head. Wait, what exactly is it? “Is he sending us on a wild goose chase?”

Ben shrugged. “Probably not. Seemed too scared for that. They coulda expanded the basement. Or maybe it’s just a tunnel to somewhere else. Maybe it’s just a bunch of TV’s and hot chicks serving drinks.”

“If I can keep us hidden, other people can do the same for whatever they’re doing,” Amanda pointed out. “It’s not completely ridiculous.”

“I don’t think it’s TV’s. That seems less visceral than its reputation would suggest,” said Nomad.

“Just throwin’ out ideas.”

“That’s good. Delta, is there any way to scan into the ground in some way, figure out what we’ll be dealing with?” asked Nomad.

She stared at him for a moment, as if he suggested she sprout wings and fly. “No.”

“Alright, sorry I asked,” replied Nomad, holding his hands up in mock surrender at her tone.

“Let me rephrase. I could get it set up in a month, not a day. I’ve been meaning to get a GPR system up and running for the challenge of it, but most of the time people just want above ground stuff.”

Olivia took a seat on an empty section of table as they talked, tail hanging off the side. Amanda took a chair near her, opening up the laptop set up beside her. 

“GPR?” Olivia leaned over and whispered. I hope that’s not a dumb question.

“Ground penetrating radar,” replied Amanda.

“It’s gonna be guarded no matter what. It’s close to the shantytown. Any place expensive is gonna need security. I’m thinkin’ I’ll take a drive or two past, get some eyes on it.”

“Could I come with you?” asked Amanda, after a moment’s hesitation. Hey! You asked Ben a question without being mean! Will he also not be mean? “I want to see what my gear can pick up.” 

“Sure” he replied. “Wanna wait for mornin’ so there’s other cars on the road to blend in with?” Yay!

“Makes sense. That sounds good.”

“We’ve got to move fast,” explained Nomad. “If they figure out what happened to Michael we might be walking into an ambush. We’re not the cops, they won’t be afraid of overwhelming force from us.”

“Tomorrow?” asked Amanda. “We probably don’t have enough time before sun up tonight.”

Nomad nodded in agreement. “Tomorrow night.”

Four hours passed by in a blur for Olivia. She found herself unable to take a moment to herself. With three other people around instead of just herself, there was always something. Talking, clicking, breathing, all around her constantly. The effort to keep herself from doing something stupid at all times weighed her down more and more as the hours ticked by. 

Sitting and doing nothing while everyone else worked struck her as wrong on a moral, fundamental level, so she found herself pacing in an out of the way corner of the abandoned auto shop they now called home. Her breath caught in her throat when she spotted Ben loading a few magazines for his pistol. We’re just going to keep doing this, aren’t we? If I’m going to help, I might as well do it more on my terms. Something stopped her. What if this is a stupid question though? I don’t want to waste his time. But I can’t just keep sitting here. She forced herself to walk up to him after a few minutes of gathering her courage.

“Um, Ben?” she asked.

“Yeah?” he replied, popping out another bullet from its cardboard box. 

“How do you deal with someone?”

“Deal with? You mean killin’ ‘em? Guns work,” he replied with a shrug. He smacked the last bullet into the magazine with the palm of his hand.

“No! No, not kill. Just, you know, stop them.” Am I not making sense?

“Killin’ stops.”

Amanda, across the room and hunched over her work, called out, “That’s not what she means, jackass. She wants to help.” Thank you. You could not be mean though.

“I don’t know how to fight,” Olivia mumbled.

He grinned. “You got claws. Those’ll work. Fuck, you already use ‘em just fine.”

“I don’t want to claw people. There’s a better way, right?”

“Alright, I think I got’cha. Help me clear this out,” he said, gesturing to a few boxes around a clearing in the workshop. 

See? I listened, Amanda. Amanda met her eyes, gave her a quick thumbs up, then returned to routing cables. Ben and Olivia shoved a half full pallet covered in boxes out of the way, and cleaned up a few old, rusty tools Nomad had left scattered. Apparently one of the toilets didn’t work, despite Amanda doing her voodoo magic to ensure the building was connected to the city’s utility grid. Ben squared up, undaunted by the fact he only came up to her shoulder. Olivia copied his stance as best she could without putting too much weight on her heel claws.

“Know anythin’ at all about fightin’?”


“Alright, let’s get started!” he said with a laugh. “Basics first. Gotta get control. Pain is a fantastic way to do that if you want someone down. Works on you, too, keep that in mind. Throwin’ a punch an’ breakin’ your hand is a bad way to fight.”

Ben walked her through where to hit, and how. Elbows didn’t feel as much as palms, as he demonstrated by smacking hers. Notions of mercy or fair play were tossed aside before she could voice them. 

“Good. Now twist. Like that,” said Ben as Olivia held his arm in a joint lock. “Keep twisting until-yeah! There!”

Oops. “Sorry,” said Olivia, letting his arm go. 

“No, don’t let go,” said Ben. “You gotta learn how far you can go before serious shit starts to break, not stop when they yell out or somethin’. Let’s try again.” 

I don’t want to hurt you though. “Maybe I’m not good at this,” Olivia mumbled.

He said, “The hell you talkin’ about? You got reach, an’ are faster than you look. You can use that. Also, you could treat someone hittin’ you like a light breeze, so that’s good too. We’ve been doin’ this for about twenty minutes, just gotta practice.”

“Sorry. OK.”

“‘liv’, if they throw a punch, they mean it. What you do to ‘em, they’ll happily do to you,” said Ben. “Hey, you wanna know how to get someone down without killin’ ‘em, you gotta have self-control. Remember, it’s all about control. You coulda ripped my arm off if you wanted to there. But I think you need to learn to shoot.”

“Why?” asked Olivia. 

Ben replied, “Cuz they’re gonna be shootin’ at you. I would, if I had to fight you for real. The reason we use guns is cuz you can kill somethin’ without gettin’ next to it. Any person, alien, or animal can fight up close. I say it’d be good if you knew how, instead of just sittin’ there lookin’ sad an’ scared. Pity will only get you so far.”

“OK,” said Olivia quietly. I’m still not OK with it.

They continued for a while, until Amanda called Ben over to help load and hide her equipment in the back of his car. Nomad waved Olivia over as they seperated. “Skulker giving you a hard time?” he asked.

“No. And why do you call him Skulker? His real name is Ben, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. I don’t know him that well though. It seems professional.”

“You guys are the only people I know. What’s your name?” I don’t want to keep calling you Nomad. That just seems impersonal.

“Chris. And if you know him, are you sure Skulker’s not just putting you through some song and dance routine?”

“No. I asked him to show me stuff.” She leaned up against the wall next to him. Her wings pushed into her back, though standing right back up would look weird. 

“Stuff?” he asked, the corner of his mouth twitching into the beginnings of a smile.

“You know,” she replied. “I was hoping there was a way to stop people. But without killing them.”

He nodded. “That’s good to learn. That’s very good. It takes a bigger person to go with the harder route.”

“Big?” I know I’m kind of tall. What does that have to do with it?

“Let me think of how to put that.” He paused, staring off into the distance. Olivia tracked his gaze only to find an unadorned wall on the other side of the room. The silence stretched on, until Olivia considered saying something to break it. “My foster father taught me that to be a big man,” he cut himself off again. “Well, I guess that works for you too. Big isn’t just physical, though it’s part of it.”

“What do you mean?”

“If you tell someone to fuck off, you have the means to make that happen. You are bigger and stronger than almost everyone else. Like Skulker said, you have a hundred pounds and over a foot of reach on him. If you want him gone, you can make him gone, and there’s not much he can do about it. People will know this. Don’t throw around threats idly, or people will hate you for it.”

“But I don’t do that!” Olivia protested.

“I’m not saying you do, or should. It’s an example. I guess I’m not wording this right. Don’t throw obvious power around? For us at least. Don’t let that little episode with Michael fool you, being intimidating is rarely the way to go.”

“For them too?” asked Olivia, motioning to Amanda and Ben across the shop.

“They’re different. Amanda is too clever for her own good. I’ve only known Skulker for a day but I can already tell you he’s weird. The point I’m trying to make here is if you say something, be able and willing to back it up. And if you tell someone to fuck off, and the only way you have to do that at your disposal is to rip their throat out…” He trailed off, letting her fill in the blank.

“Choice is good.”


 Footsteps caught Olivia’s attention as Amanda approached Chris. Their conversation trailed off.

“If you really need to make a call, use this,” she said without preamble. Call? What call? Is this something they both knew about? She passed Chris an old brick of a phone. He flipped it open with a hefty click. “The feds will be able to hear this conversation. It’s not a question of if. They will.”

“OK. Thank you.” With a nod, Amanda returned to her station. 

“Who are you calling?” asked Olivia.

“My girlfriend.” Chris let out a mirthless laugh. “Maybe ex. I’m about to find out. If you don’t mind, I’d rather not have an audience for this. Go get some sleep, we’ll need everyone at the top of their game tonight.”


3 thoughts on “19: Hide and Seek

  1. Although I don’t thank you often enough or well enough, and like many of the of the Lazy Lurkers here, you are thanked from the bottom of our hearts.

    You are indeed, a Master Story Teller, with a Grand Story to tell.

    Also, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New year.

  2. The juxtaposition between Olivia’s kind-hearted nature and just how terrifying she looks from anyone else’s point of view is just as good as it always has been. It makes Olivia such a fun character to follow.

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