Thin air howled past Olivia’s ears. Eddies buffeted against the bottom of her outstretched wings as the glow of the false dawn loomed over the plains to the East. She filled her lungs to capacity, yet still felt short of breath from exertion of keeping herself aloft. So, this is what they meant when they were talking about altitude, she thought to herself with a shiver. Mountains, so imposing from the ground, appeared as wrinkles in the fabric of the earth below her.
Her experiments in flying helped kill the time over the past month. The others drifted off, finding jobs or hobbies during the daytime when she kept hidden and asleep, leaving her with nights filled with nothing to do. The golden plains to the North, South, and East quickly became boring, but the mountains held a variety of forests and towns, even if only viwed from on high. She sometimes even spotted hikers at some ungodly early hour, getting a head start on some mountain or another.
Olivia drifted downwards, her brief frigid time at high altitude at an end, as she turned around and headed back towards the same repurposed auto-shop she had called home for over half of her current memory. The lights of Westward City drew closer and closer, a patchwork quilt spread out over the plains and foothills. She adjusted her course by a few degrees, going by the sight of a run down and abandoned factory, its three smokestacks jutting into the air acting as a convenient landmark.
Why is so much abandoned? There are tons of people in the city. I get that we want to be out of the way, but why do these places even exist in the first place? “Hey, Amanda?” Olivia asked over the comm on her collar, taking the chance that at least she might be awake. She only managed to catch Chris or Miya as they were falling asleep and she was waking up, or vice versa, but Amanda worked all hours. And then slept all hours as the lack of sleep caught up to her.
“Yeah?” responded Amanda after a minute, with little to no crackle in the earbud. Oh, good, I’m in range and she’s awake.
“Why is so much stuff in this city abandoned or something?” I think Ben mentioned a shantytown, too.
“The economy crashed hard a couple years ago. it happens every decade or so,” she replied, as if that answered everything. That just leaves more questions.
“But where did the people go?”
“Moved and found work somewhere else. Died. Toughed it out in the shantytown until things turn around again,” Amanda listed off.
“Every decade?” replied Olivia with a frown. She pulled up to bleed off speed as she approached the shop. “That seems like a lot to move in and out. Or frequent. Whatever, you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I got you. People like to blame supers for that. A great, unsustainable growth fueled by good people with good intentions, followed by a hard crash as reality catches up. Then new guys take over. It happens everywhere. Hell, if you get out of the US things are much worse right now.”
“Huh. I thought things would be better if people had superpowers.”
Amanda let out a quick laugh. “What, you think powers don’t make you human? Do you think they make you better? People are still heroic, greedy, selfless, murderous, and universally operate with a complete disregard to logic, even with powers. Powers only let people do whatever it is they do better.”
Olivia remained silent for a moment. “You guys make it kind of hard to maintain faith in humanity.”
“Why is that?” Amanda sounded amused.
“I don’t know. People seem awful when you put it like that.”
“You didn’t hear the part where I said people are heroic and selfless as well, did you? Humans would have wiped themselves out if there wasn’t any of that.” I guess. The silence stretched on for a moment, before Amanda groaned, “Oh god its almost the morning already. Are you coming back soon?”
“Yeah, I’m nearly there. See you in a few minutes.”
Olivia landed at the back of the shop with its brand-new garage doors. Chris had taken it as a personal project to repair as much of the damage from Sanchez’s assault as he could, in between his shifts as a handyman and wrestling with the MHU. The new windows out front beat the tarps they’d taped up to keep the cool evening drafts out. I don’t miss that crinkling and fluttering when I’m trying to sleep, that’s for sure. She hooked the key to the back door out of one of her cavernous pockets with a claw and headed inside.
As usual, there was no one awake to greet her but Amanda. Ben would if he drew the short straw and worked an early morning shift busing tables at a local diner, but she could hear him softly breathing behind his curtained off “room.” Amanda looked over her shoulder and gave her a wave.
Olivia smiled as she approached, looking over Amanda’s shoulder at some incomprehensible gadget. “So, what is it you’re working on?” She didn’t bother to ask who it was for. Amanda kept the clients she tinkered for close to the chest, though they clearly had money and didn’t ask questions.
“Right now, I’m working on thermals,” replied Amanda. She brushed aside a few empty cups of instant noodles, pulled out a plastic bin from a shelf to her side, and presented a pair of thick sunglasses to Olivia. A plastic case entwined the frame. “Try these on, they might be a little small. I’ve been meaning to test them on someone other than me. We’ll see how it works with your vision.” Olivia took them and put them on, making everything darker and not much else. “Now there’s a button on the frame, near the left lens. Press it.”
Olivia did so, and her left eye suddenly took in an entirely different picture. She saw the building, with several human shaped orange and yellow blobs adding color to the otherwise grainy grey picture. “Whoa.”
“Everything looks OK? Is this what you’re seeing with your left eye?” With a couple clicks, Amanda brought up a window displaying exactly what Olivia saw.
“That looks good,” announced Olivia.
“Great! Actually, you’re right eye dominant, right?” asked Amanda.
“Are you right or left-handed? It should be the same.”
“Oh! Then yes, right-handed. And eyed, I guess.”
“Good. Chris is a leftie, I forgot about them when I was making that prototype, I’ve got to add the functionality to both sides.” Olivia smiled and nodded as she handed the glasses back to Amanda. The technical details flew right over her head, but Amanda was happy and chatting instead of frowning at a computer, and that was good enough for her.
They sat around eating breakfast, or dinner in Olivia’s case, that morning when Chris said, “We’re going to have to figure out what we’re going to do now.”
Miya grunted, a glare in her half-opened eyes, “Can’t this wait? I’m still booting up.” She is not a morning person.
Olivia perched at the edge of the sturdiest folding chair they had, munching on a ham and cheese sandwich, if an entire ham steak with a single piece of cheese and two small pieces of bread to keep her hands clean could be called a sandwich. She rested a wing on Miya’s shoulder as she stomped over to join her at the table, a cup of coffee clutched tight in her hands. Chris, across from the two of them, ducked as Amanda tossed a muffin back at Ben with unnecessary force. The grin across Ben’s face never wavered, even if the muffin tagged him square in the nose with a crinkle of plastic wrapping. All is right in the world.
“No. I want to get this out of the way before everyone wanders off,” said Chris. He’d been dead silent for three days after his breakup but had finally worked back up to his normal taciturn self. He started shaving again last week. That blonde beard of his was almost clear, that was weird looking.
“Whash thr ou alk bou?” asked Ben around a mouthful oatmeal. Ew. Come on. I saw flecks of… gahhh. No.
“Want to try that again?” asked Chris.
Ben nodded as he swallowed. “Yeah,” he said, much clearer. “What’s there to talk about?”
“Where everyone is living. I’m guessing Olivia is staying here for the long haul, along with you, Miya, if you’re sticking around.” Wait, we’re all sticking together, right? Why would we be living somewhere else?
“Trying to get rid of me?” asked Miya with an arched eyebrow. What? No.
“Not at all,” replied Chris, in a calm voice that refused to rise to the bait. “You look like you’re recovering well, but none of us are mind readers and we can’t know what you want to do long term.” Miya folded her arms, the scars along her wrists close to fully healed and vanished, save for a pair of thin pink lines against her tan skin.
“I do need to get back to Phoenix at some point,” she said.
“Gettin’ back home?” asked Ben, teleporting to toss his empty paper bowl in the trash can they’d stolen from a curb a few blocks away.
Chris glanced at Ben and Amanda in the silence following her pronouncement. “Go on,” he prodded, making a spinning motion with his hand.
“Fuck off, I’m thinking.” She unfolded her arms and took a sip of her coffee. “Overlord isn’t psychic. I hope. He knew I was a mage when he had me kidnapped. And I only ever told one person I was a mage. So, maybe we can learn about Overlord from him. Maybe we can figure out what to do with Olivia’s tracker from him. I don’t care, I want Don dead for what he did.”
“And he is?” asked Amanda.
“He was my teacher.” Olivia frowned. But you’re away from him now. Why go back?
“Alright,” replied Chris. “We’ve got another couple of weeks of answering MHU questions.”
“Oh yeah, speakin’ of them. If we can figure out if they’re watchin’ my old apartment, I’d like to go check on it. I’m sure they figured it out from my old Jeep I had to leave behind, but I still got stuff,” added Ben.
“We can look into that. Hey, pass me one of the Cheerios?” Amanda, closest to the food, tossed a small box of Cheerios to Chris. He caught it and began to open the box. “I’m going to go back to my apartment in a bit to pick up my own stuff. I’m not sure if I’m going to find my own place or stay here. Now that I think about it, Amanda, do we owe you rent?” You too?
Amanda squinted as she stared off into the distance, brushing a lock of deep brown hair out of her face. Olivia glanced at everyone else in the room, looking for any sign of distress, finding none. Is everyone moving out? Why? We’re all here already. Why leave?
“I have a small house, on my own. Gear and equipment takes up most of my costs,” said Amanda. “Olivia and Miya don’t really have many options to pay, and you and Ben have been doing a good job of fixing this place up, I’d say don’t worry about rent for now.”
“Wait, you had this place, the workshop at the MHU, and your own house?” asked Chris.
“One: very small, very cheap house. Two: MHU provided all of that stuff at the workshop. Three: most of my stuff is actually at my house, this is just some basic tools and a bunch of computers. I’ve been keeping away for the same reason everyone else has, in case the MHU is watching.”
A ringtone cut off the conversation. “Oh fuck! My brother Rob is callin’,” said Ben. He put his phone to his ear and walked off to the other end of the shop with a grin. “Hey, you son of a bitch!”
Miya pointed out, “Sometimes the police would raid abandoned buildings for squatters in Arizona, don’t know if they do that here or not. Are we at risk of that here?”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Amanda dismissed her concern with a wave of her hand. “This building is in some weird bureaucratic limbo due to a clerical error. I made sure it stays that way, that’s why I took the keys in the first place.”
Simultaneously from Ben, Olivia heard, “So, yeah. It’s been a hell of a month, but things are settlin’ down now. How are the hills still treatin’ you?” What is he talking about?
“If you say so,” said Miya. “I appreciate the place to stay, but I am going back at some point. After, we’ll see. And since we’re not the MHU or the Watch, won’t the feds notice us at some point? Especially with her?” she asked, nudging Olivia beside her.
“Yeah, we will need to get you registered at the USMHD, Olivia. It’s just a form or two,” said Chris. “I think that got started when you were first arrested, I’ll check in next time they bring me in.”
“The what?” asked Olivia.
“The US Meta-Human Department. They keep tabs on the supers in the country. They’re connected with every other department. Immigration, NSA, FBI, Health and Services, and on and on. As far as you’ll be concerned it’s just a very general overview of your powers, nothing too specific. The rest is just any aliases you might use, state and town where you live, and I think that’s it.”
“Weren’t they talking about adding your social security number to it as well?” asked Miya. I don’t think I have one of those.
Ben, still at the other end of the building, exclaimed, “What?! The merry men are going their own ways?” Stop trying to keep track of two separate conversations. Talking, especially from someone like Ben who didn’t bother to keep his voice down, demanded attention and drowned out ambient noises
Olivia plucked at the hem of her shirt, saying, “Are you sure? I don’t think the government likes me.”
“Oh, please tell me you’ve still got the bat,” said Ben. After a moment he cackled, “I know!”
“I think that got shot down,” said Chris. “I’m not sure though.”
“Let me look it up,” said Amanda, wheeling over to a computer.
“So, yeah. It’s really easy, nothing to worry about, but they have some pretty severe penalties for not filling it out,” explained Chris over the clicks from Amanda’s keyboard.
“I thought you said I technically-” wasn’t human in the eyes of the law “-couldn’t go to court or something?” said Olivia.
“True, but we’re going for legitimacy here. You’re a bit of a special case, but it’s worth a shot just in case. Besides, the government will actually offer jobs based on your powers and depending on what you’re looking for they can be pretty good if this doesn’t pan out,” said Chris.
“Really? Even for me?” asked Olivia. But I don’t want to leave too.
“The government does not like bored and unemployed supers.”
Olivia shrugged, defeated. “OK.” I don’t know how to argue.
“Yeah, Chris, you were right. No social security needed,” said Amanda.
“Alright, I’ll call you back,” said Ben, off to the side. Just as Olivia was about to summon a protest, he walked back over and said, “Rob an’ a buddy of his might be drivin’ up here if that’s alright. His gang recently broke up, an’ he’s lookin’ for a change of scenery, as it were. Buddy is just drivin’ through. Also, what’re we talkin’ about?”
Chris sighed and said, “Alright, we were trying to figure out what to do with Olivia, but now I have some questions about your brother.”
“OK, his real name’s Rob, we’re identical triplets, an’ he goes by Gears in armor. He’s a techie, specializing in ol’ fashioned shit.” Didn’t he just say he was a techie? “His friend is a chick, name of Brianna. I think she’s got some sorta power, never asked.”
“Wait,” said Amanda, “Old fashioned shit? What the hell does that even mean?”
“Oh yeah. Plate armor, metallurgy, swords, gears, that kind of stuff. Your polar opposite, basically.”
“Yeah,” began Amanda, doubt written clear across her face.
Ben cut her protest off. He pointed to Chris, saying, “Not all liquids are water.” He pointed to Olivia. “Not all ferals are murderous. Not all technology is flashy shit. He made my mask an’ he’s got one of his own too. Don’t talk shit, a good knife can be worth a dozen good gizmos in the right place. Of course, you’ll have to ask the man himself for specifics. This is just what I know.”
“But what I’m concerned about is what they’re running from,” said Chris. “They’re not wanted for a bunch of murders, are they?”
“Nah, nah, nah. Nothin’ worse than what we’ve done, just longer. They spent three years givin’ the cops in Pennsylvania a run for their money with some other guys.” Running from the cops? What do they do? Wait. I guess that’s kind of a stupid point to complain about.
“How long does he intend to stay?”
“Dunno. ‘til the heat dies down, at least. Bri just needs to stay the night.”
“So, what do we all think?” asked Chris.
Amanda grimaced. Miya shrugged and nodded, indifferent. Ben hopped up and down slightly on his toes, a smile playing at the edges of his mouth. Sure, why not? I don’t see any problems with this. “OK,” said Olivia.
“Do you have something to say, Amanda?” asked Chris, watching the grimace deepen once she was called out.
She gave a drawn-out sigh. “Fine, I guess,” she said through gritted teeth. I guess she doesn’t want another Ben around. He did say they were identical triplets. Where’s the third one?
“Alright,” said Chris. He checked the time on his phone. “Everyone look into their housing, try to let me or Amanda know what you’re planning to do in a week. Ben, you get Rob and Bri’s accommodations put together. I’ll talk with the MHU, Olivia, see if I can get you squared away. If there’s nothing else…” he trailed off, opening up for someone else to fill the blank. No one did. “Meeting adjourned.”
Thanks for the chapter
Thanks for the chapter
I’m glad to see the reintroduction of the Trio and the USMHD, and it’s interesting to see the approach to laying down introductions to the Overlord arc and Olivia’s crush on Chris! I can’t wait to see where this goes, thank you syphax!