Olivia gradually drifted awake to the sound of an ongoing conversation. This in and of itself was not unusual, though this was the first she’d heard of a state governor. Hang on. Something smells different and I don’t recognize one of those voices. Oh, right. Rob’s friend arrived while I was sleeping. Bri, I think. So many new people. Olivia got up and began to get dressed in her baggy and cut up clothes.
Once ready, she took a moment, with one hand hovering over the curtain separating her bed from the wider auto shop. What should I say? Just hi? Yeah, easy. It’ll be OK. She parted the curtain and walked out, eyebrows furrowing in concern when she realized that Rob sat in Amanda’s chair, twirling a pair of pliers in one hand and eating a bagel in the other. I’m not sure that’s smart, Rob. But food. Food is good. Is it breakfast for me because I just woke up, or dinner because of the time? Chris and Miya sat around the table with another girl Olivia didn’t recognize.
“Then Mike started freaking out because he heard on the police band they had caught on to us, so we had to book it out of there before Jimmy could grab anything else,” said the girl with her back to Olivia. Bri.
“So he had a radio in his head? That was his power?” asked Miya. Rob and Bri nodded in unison. “That must have sucked.”
“Nah, he could turn it off,” said Rob. “It wasn’t like he listened to static all the time.”
“OK, gotcha,” said Miya. She looked over Chris’ shoulder and called out, “Hey, Olivia.”
Olivia aborted grabbing box of old bagels as Chris and Bri turned around in their seats. “Um, hi,” said Olivia with a small wave in their direction. Bri gave a tiny start. Right, scaly hand. And claws. Sorry.
Chris waved her over, saying, “Bri, this is Olivia. Olivia, Bri.”
Olivia walked over and found a chair, saying, “Good morning. Or evening. You know.”
“G’mornin’,” said Rob, tossing the pliers carelessly to the side. Then he faced her with a grin and said, “Of course, I could possibly be Ben.”
Her head tilted a couple degrees to the side, puzzled. “No you’re not.”
“You sure?” he prodded her. Bri giggled.
“Dammit,” sighed Rob. “It’s fun to fuck with people on that.” He wore a pair of jeans and a light grey hoodie, and Olivia got the suspicion that Ben would be dressed the exact same way the next time she saw him.
She smiled slightly. “Um, alright.”
He took a large bite out of his bagel, then asked around it, “How’d you know?” Her smile vanished. Oh god, both you and Ben talk with food in your mouths. Why?
She began to reflexively look down, then stopped herself. No, stop it. Bad habit, bad. “Well, you two are kind of different.”
It was Rob’s turn to shoot her a questioning look. “Never heard that before. Ever.”
“No, no. I mean, you know.” This is going to be weird, just get it over with. “You two kind of smell different. That’s it,” she trailed off. She didn’t add how he talked marginally slower than Ben, or how he was slightly more muscular. Otherwise, the sheer volume of similarities she’d noticed over the past couple of days caught her off guard. Both had easy, if sharp, smiles and dark recessed eyes. They even both habitually leaned in whenever talking to someone, like cats playing with a toy.
He shrugged and said, “Oh, cool. How does that work, anyhow?”
“I don’t really know. There’s always a lot, and I kind of just tune most of it out.” Good job me. You didn’t say he smelled greasy and burnt, while Ben smells chemical-y and donut-y. Baby steps. Now I just need to figure out how to change the subject.
“So there was you, Rob, Mike, and Jimmy and Shawn?” Miya asked Bri after a silent moment. Thank you, Miya. I just needed to ask him a question.
“Hm? Oh, yeah. Jimmy was the magic guy, and Shawn was the mentalist guy. He could…” Bri trailed off and sighed. She turned to Rob, the tight braid of blonde hair at the back of her head swaying with the movement. “How would you explain it?”
“Voodoo witchcraft,” he said without hesitation.
“Wow. Saying the black dude with powers is a voodoo witch doctor. Good job,” said Bri, amused. Olivia pulled out her phone while keeping an ear on the conversation. Voodoo.
“OK, you go ahead an’ explain his power. Go on. Waitin’,” said Rob, equally amused.
Bri sighed. She held a hand to her forehead for a moment, then said, “He’s not quite precognizant. He can, like, read plans from body language. That’s the best way I can describe it.”
“Your confidence is astounding,” said Miya. Olivia fumbled with the small keys under the table. Half the letters have scratches through them already.
“Couldn’t have said it better myself, Bri,” said Rob. “If he said something, you believed it. Wasn’t wrong often.”
“So you were the only girl in the whole group?” asked Miya. Does that matter?
“Yep,” said Bri.
Voodoo. Blend of Christianity and African beliefs. Mainly in the Caribbean. Those are those islands to the south, right?
“It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and it’s not like they were my entire social life.”
“How did you all get together?” Everyone looked at Olivia. Oh, I said that aloud. She slipped her phone back into her pocket. “Um, I mean, when you first met.” There’s a lot of scratches on this table. Of course there are, this is where I usually sit.
“Well, lemme think. There’s no real good story behind it, actually,” said Rob. “Feel free to point out anything I miss, cuz I’m startin’ with my side of it,” he said to Bri.
“So I was drivin’ up north from Baltimore a couple years ago, no real goal in mind. I’d rob the occasional gas station or smash parkin’ meters an’ move on. This was before I got the BAT, so I could be a bit more low profile. Eventually, I got up to Pennsylvania an’ was knockin’ over this late night diner.”
Wait, he what? Olivia glanced at Chris, who simply leaned back in his chair, almost detached from the conversation. I shouldn’t say anything. It’s not as bad as killing people.
“Three dudes rushed me when my back was on ‘em for a moment. The gun I was threatenin’ with was fake, but the spring-loaded knives up my sleeves weren’t. Plus, I had some metal shin and arm guards under my clothes. Thieves on the streets gotta be wary of their mark in case they shoot lasers outta their eyes, an’ civilians gotta be wary of muggers who could melt their brain or whatever. But back on track. So I start fightin’ those three fellas, got one down but I was still fucked, when some other kid in a bandana smashes a chair over one of the other guys. After was a bit of a blur, but me an’ that kid hightailed it outta there together.”
“You trusted some kid you just met?” asked Miya.
“He kinda saved my sorry ass, an’ I might have kept him from gettin’ leveled at one point. Anyways, he was Mike. He’d been in there for a bit, workin’ up the courage to actually rob his boss when I barged in. We split the money, got to talkin’, an’ he tagged along. Funny, he’s pretty easy to push around, but he’s never once told any of us why.”
“And I’ve asked. Rob’s asked, Shawn’s asked, even Jimmy’s asked. Mike just won’t talk about his past,” pipped up Bri. “I mean, we weren’t asking for his whole life story, but even after two years he would just clam up whenever we asked.”
“Yeah,” said Rob. “So me an’ him kicked around for about a week, when I got contacted by some people at the Black Market. I’d met one of them, didn’t know that at the time, at the DC Techcon. They contacted me to be part of a job, an’ they were OK with Mike. There I met Jimmy, an’ Bri since she was datin’ him at the time.” Whoa. Black market? Techcon? What? Back to the phone.
Bri rolled her eyes and protested, “We weren’t technically dating.” Rob merely smirked. “Fine, whatever. Continue.”
“An’ Shawn was there too, also got hired by the Black Market guy. We had to steal some schematics out of some mine out in the west part of the state, right?”
OK. A black market is just an unofficial market. I guess it’s just for illegal stuff.
“No. Steel mill. It was close to a mine though,” said Bri. “You were lost in your own little world, that’s probably why you don’t remember.”
Rob jabbed a finger at her with a grin. “Don’t judge, that place was cool.” A steel mill? Really? You make steel there, right? That doesn’t sound fun.
“I am aware. That was your mantra through the whole damn job.” Rob grinned. Bri continued, “So we stole the papers, we’ll spare you the nitty gritty details, but afterwards we decided to stick together for a bit. We weren’t the biggest players, we mainly did contract work or robbery to make ends meet.”
The rumble of a car engine caught Olivia’s ear. It pulled up to the back of the shop and cut off. “Someone is here,” she announced.
The door to the shop squeaked open, and in walked Amanda with a bag slung over one shoulder. “Oh, hi everyone,” she said, walking over to her desk amid the chorus of greetings. She set her bag on her desk and started down at Rob with a suspiciously calm expression.
“Somethin’ wrong?” he asked, grin stretched to shit eating proportions.
“You’re in my spot.” Oh no. Do I have to talk with Rob and Amanda like I did with Ben and Amanda? Wait! Ask a question, change the subject.
“Um, where’s Ben? Didn’t he drive you?” asked Olivia.
Amanda blinked, attention torn between Rob and Olivia. “No, I just replaced my old car earlier today. It’s not the greatest in the world, but the Tesla’s a bit outside my price range, no matter how much I want it.”
“I kinda want one of those,” said Rob.
“Says the dude who drives a huge, gas guzzling monster of a truck,” joked an oblivious Bri. “And isn’t Tesla basically the techie god?”
Without hesitation, Amanda replied, “Yes.”
“That dude was awesome,” said Rob. Wow, both of them.
“The man invented half the stuff in the modern world, without powers, might I add,” said Amanda.
“He got dicked over by businesses an’ jackasses who valued profit over good engineerin’,” added Rob.
“The man was an unappreciated genius-” started Amanda.
“-an’ I will break the knees of anyone who says otherwise,” finished Rob. OK. Subject changed. That worked really well somehow.
Bri blinked, glancing between the two techies. “OK then, I learned something today.” She yawned as she twisted and stretched in her chair, setting off a chain reaction with the others. “It’s been nice meeting you all, but I’ve been sitting in a car all day. I think I’m going to pass out for the night. What is today? Thursday?” The metal legs of her chair scraped against the concrete floor as she pushed her chair back as she got up.
“All day. Your patch of concrete is right next to mine, over there,” said Rob, pointing.
Everyone started heading to bed, except for Olivia and Amanda, who immediately reclaimed her spot once Rob vacated it. I may as well fly around for a bit now. It’s fun, and I’ve got the whole night to kill if everyone else is going to sleep.
“Nice to meet you, Bri. See you tomorrow,” said Amanda. Yeah. What she said. “Do you have a full night of flying around and reading again?” Amanda asked Olivia.
“Alright. Have fun, stay out of trouble,” Amanda said as she waved her goodbye.
I don’t get in trouble. Much. Not on purpose. “Bye,” said Olivia, returning her wave.
She stepped out into the cool night, stretching her wings the moment she cleared the confines of the doorframe. The back lot was positively crowded, with Rob’s truck dwarfing a little red car and a bubbly hatchback. Which is Bri’s and which is Amanda’s? Wait, the license plates! The red one is Amanda’s.
With her focus on the cars, it took her a moment to realize an indistinct figure stood on a rooftop a few streets over. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She blinked, staring off into an empty night sky. What am I doing? Oh, right, flying.
She whiled away the hours until the sun began to come back up. The sun looks kind of cool when it comes up over the horizon that way. What did Chris say? ‘Eastern Colorado just an extension of Kansas.’ Whatever that means. I should fly that way tomorrow night and see what’s out there.
The next day, Olivia woke up much earlier than before, silenced her phone alarm, and went out into the lair again. Let’s try this whole socialization thing again. This time the whole gang, plus Bri, was gathered around the table, chatting in two small groups.
“Just in time, we’re gettin’ Thai food from a place we found while drivin’. Want some?” Ben called out to Olivia as she approached.
“Um, sure,” said Olivia, blinking the sleep from her eyes. I don’t know exactly what that means exactly, but food! Food is good.
“Alright, menu’s here.” He pointed to the laminated sheet of partially bluepaper with many colorful words written on it on the table. “Just tell Miya which you want, an’ the spiciness.”
“This place has a scale of one to seven, seven bein’ the highest,” explained Rob.
Olivia read the menu. I don’t recognize a good third of these words. Oh, explanations in English. That helps. There, that looks good enough, I guess. No clue what it is, but it looks like it has a bunch of pork. It might be a nice change of pace from beef. She motioned to what she wanted. Miya nodded as she held a phone to her ear, tapping her foot as the others relayed their orders to her.
“You’ll probably want to start with two or something for spiciness,” said Chris. Olivia nodded and held up two fingers for Miya.
Miya finished her order, thanked whoever was on the other end, then hung up. “They said around a half hour. Who’s driving?”
“Sure, I will,” said Chris. “Also, hello, Olivia.”
“Oh. Hi.” Olivia joined him at the table, between him and Ben.
“So, Olivia,” began Bri. Olivia glanced at her for a second. She’s just curious, this isn’t another police interrogation. “Where were you all today?”
“Um, just sleeping. Over there.” She gestured to her curtained off section.
“The whole day?” Look up, look up. Olivia nodded, bringing her gaze up as she did. “So you’re nocturnal?”
“Um, maybe? A few weeks ago, when we were first starting out, I was doing stuff during the day, but I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“Marcus, the MHU police chief here, has taken a particular dislike for her for some reason, so she’s trying to stay out of sight until something else major comes up to preoccupy him. It might take a while, we just did his job for him.” It’s quieter at night, too. Olivia glanced at Chris with a small smile. Thank you.
“Not sure, but he’s a complete dick,” said Amanda. “Trust me, me and Chris worked under him for a while. It really did suck.”
“That’s got to be super boring, nothing happens at night if you can’t got to, like a club or something,” said Bri.
“Not really. It’s not bad. I read. Fly.”
“Really? You can fly? Like, well?” Bri asked Olivia. Well? I think I’m good at flying. Or do you mean am I messed up, like that other feral?
“Um, kind of.” I liked just observing conversations more.
“Kinda?” blurted out Ben. “You flap your wings an’ off you go, an’ you keep pace with us in cars. You fly. The hell are you talkin’ ‘bout kinda?” Sorry.
“Sorry. Yes. Well, I don’t really flap my wings too much,” said Olivia. I can just address Miya, and Bri can still hear. This is actually quite easier. “That’s just to get off the ground. I usually just glide once I get high enough. Sometimes the air is going up, so I just use that instead of moving my wings too much. It’s quicker too. But yes, I fly. Sorry.”
“Oh, the updrafts keep you going?” asked Bri.
“Um…” From the way she said it, this is something I should know. “Sure?”
“An updraft is rising hot air,” said Amanda.
“Sure,” Olivia repeated. I did not know that, but OK. That seems right.
“Why this interest in flight?” Miya asked Bri.
“Oh, my dad’s a pilot. We actually own a small plane, and he used to take me and my brothers out for flights as a sort of bonding time when he had enough time off back home,” said Bri. “I’ve never had the opportunity to learn how, but it sounds like it’s fun.”
“It is,” said Olivia. Should I say something after that? I think I should say something after that. Everyone’s looking at me. Say something. “Yeah.” Stupid, stupid, stupid…
“I know what you guys need to keep you occupied,” said Bri suddenly with a smile.
“What is that?” asked Rob.
“A pet. Just a small kitten. Or a puppy. This place could use it, there’s no windows for plants or anything.”
“Kitty!” exclaimed Ben, bolting upright from his slouching position in his chair. Everyone looked at him. “Sorry, I had a moment. Please continue.”
“Y-,” began Bri.
“I want a kitten now. That’s my vote,” interrupted Ben.
Bri eyed him. He locked eyes with her but remained silent. “S-,” she began.
“I’m done now, please continue,” interrupted Ben with a mock innocent smile. Olivia nudged him with an elbow. Stop it. He took the hint.
“AS I WAS SAYING,” said Bri, eying Ben until she made sure he wouldn’t interrupt again. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have a pet. Like a kitten. Just look at how he reacted.”
Chris groaned and spoke up, “We’re not getting a pet, we can barely take care of ourselves.”
Bri sighed, still smiling. “Spoilsport. Just a joke, anyways.” Really?
“Alas, it is my duty,” said Chris. “I’m going to get some food now.” He pointed to Ben and Rob. “Don’t buy a kitten or something while I’m gone.”
“I make no promises,” said Ben.
Chris paused for a moment. Olivia could see the gears in his head turning as he debated with himself whether to take the argument bait with the brothers. Don’t do it, you know you’ll get nowhere. Chris seemed to agree with Olivia’s thoughts, exhaling heavily through his nose as he headed out without another word.
“How was your sightseeing day in Colorado?” Amanda asked Bri.
“I was the tour guide. Took ‘em hiking around Red Rocks for the morning,” said Ben before Bri could get a word in.
“Oh, is that close by?” asked Miya.
“Yeah, only twenty minutes away from here,” replied Ben.
“What’s that?” asked Olivia. Wait a minute. I hope the answer isn’t ‘a pile of red rocks’. Then I’ll feel stupid.
“It’s Red Rocks Amphitheater. It’s a concert venue carved into a giant wall of red rocks in the foothills,” explained Bri. “There’s also some light hiking around there.”
“Cool as shit, ain’t it?” asked Ben.
“That was everythin’ I was expectin’ from Colorado. Still gettin’ acclimized though, I could feel the lack of air in my fuckin’ lungs,” added Rob.
“You mean acclimatized?” asked Bri.
“An’ after lunch we hit the Seventy Seven museum.” OK, I have no idea what that is. Catching Olivia’s renewed confusion, Ben leaned in and explained, “In ‘77 the Gulmer started abducting tons of people all across the great plains. Shit, wait, the Gulmer were aliens. Grey guys, looked kind of like salamanders.”
“Oh, like the flying saucer kind?” asked Olivia. “Or the Siberian kind?”
“Flying saucer, but real. Their ships were more cigar shaped too. They hit all sorts of farms and little towns. Military couldn’t respond fast enough. A couple supers brought down one of their smaller ships when it wandered too close to Westward. After the feds cleared it out, the city built a full-scale model of the wreck where it landed as a memorial. Turned it into a museum and everything.”
“Why were they taking people?”
Rob shrugged. “Dunno. They weren’t blowin’ anythin’ up. Shields absorbed the worst of what we threw at ‘em. They got twenty thousand people an’ left.”
“I think we know why. My roommate in college was going for a degree in ecology. Or was it biology? I don’t remember, one of those squishy fields that’s barely science. Twenty thousand is about what you need for a viable population for humans,” said Amanda, her expression grim.
“What do you mean by viable?” asked Bri.
“It means you won’t have any inbreeding until way too many generations for it to matter.”
“What happened then?” asked Olivia in the hushed silence that followed.
“They left,” explained Amanda. “Once they had enough people they flew off into the stars with their captives. Not much the rest of humanity can do about it now.”
“Sucks to be them,” said Rob.
“That’s a little cold,” said Miya
“Like she said, not much to do. If I can’t do somethin’, I ain’t stressin’ it.” Still though… “Hey, can we have some music? You got some speakers sittin’ there,” he said to Amanda, gesturing to her main computer.
“Sure,” she replied, leaning over to dig through a box of cables. She pulled one out and said, “Plug in your phone here.”
Rob hopped out of his chair and complied. Something fast paced and upbeat, with drums and trumpets started playing. Only a few seconds in it cut off.
“We’re not listening to goddamn ska music,” said an irate Amanda. “I draw the line there.”
“It’s not that bad,” said Bri, nudging Rob. “It could be metal.”
“Hey, fuck you!” called out Ben and Rob.
They argued for the next ten minutes over what music to play until Chris got back with the food. After sorting out everyone’s orders, they dug in. This is different. I kind of like this food. A nice change from burgers, pizza, and donuts.
“Hmmm, this isn’t what I ordered,” said Miya after a few bites. “Too bland.”
They all smell different, but I can’t really tell which is which. “Uh, I think we all got it sorted out, everyone else has what they wanted, I think,” said Bri, double checking her own food. Everyone else nodded.
“What did you get, Olivia?” asked Chris.
“Um, this? I don’t know the name.”
“Let me try,” said Chris. He took a bite. After chewing for a moment, he said, “This is quite painful.” To be fair, I have no idea what I ordered.
“Come on, pussy,” said Ben. He also took a bite. He let out a muffled cry after a moment and shook his head. “Fuck! I regret everything.” Um, is he OK? Bri, Rob, and Amanda started laughing.
Are you guys exaggerating? “It wasn’t that spicy,” said Olivia.
“I think you got my thing, Olivia,” said Miya. “You take a couple bites?”
“Yeah.” She looked to Chris and Ben on either side. Chris threw back a bottle of water, while Ben still shook his head.
“Ow, ow, ow,” he muttered.
“Close your mouth, dumbass,” said Rob to Ben.
“Because the pain is comin’ from the peppers oxidizin’ with the air. Close your mouth an’ don’t talk an’ it won’t suck as bad.”
Miya looked between Chris and Ben. “You guys are both pussies.”
“How bad was yours?” asked Bri.
Miya gave the most sinister smile Olivia had ever laid eyes upon. “Seven. And the Thai cooks go easy on Americans, trust me.”
“Do you want to trade back?” asked Olivia.
“Sure. Thanks.” They exchanged Styrofoam trays across the table.
“Wait, so the short Mexican girl likes spicy food,” asked Ben with a grin, apparently recovered. Mexican? You called her Aztec before. I get the feeling it matters, but I can’t tell why.
“I like it, so you can fuck right off. I don’t care if it’s stereotypical or not,” said Miya, punctuating her words with a punch to his ribs. He laughed and held a hand to his ribs. Miya continued, shaking her head, “Pathetic, the lot of you.”
The music they had landed on with the arrival of Chris sounded very similar to what Rob originally started playing, though a little smoother and less choppy. I wish I knew how music worked. I think one of those things is kind of like a trumpet. How do I know what trumpet sounds like? I’ve heard drums before, but a trumpet? Whatever it was, it somehow met Amanda’s standards. It was even her playlist.
Chris returned from the fridge with a few drink refills for the table. As the beat to the song picked up, he tapped his toes against the floor and spun, keeping the glasses upright and preventing any spills. Unlike his usual slow and deliberate motions, this was fast, fluid, and precise.
“The hell was that?” asked Rob, sitting right next to Olivia and getting a full view of the sudden movement
“I’ve been swing dancing for years,” explained Chris, setting down Bri and Rob’s drinks. “This is pretty good dance music.”
Ben choked on his beer. “Swing dancing?” repeated Miya, an incredulous look on her face. What’s that? What’s wrong?
“Yeah,” replied Chris with a shrug. “I took it up in high school.”
After a heartbeat, Miya asked, “Not football?”
“That too. Get up, I’ll show you.”
She hesitated, a response aught in her throat. Bri jumped up, food forgotten. Chris called out a song for Amanda to find and took Bri through some basic steps. The brothers and Amanda even joined in, all fumbling through the same moves. They laughed, danced, joked, and drank deep into the night.
Thanks for the chapter as always and have a merry Christmas