What I Have Done Part 2

Will paced outside the girl’s cell. He idly flipped his combat knife end over end in the air. It was enjoyable, watching the blade catch the light and feeling the heft of the weapon in his palm. It was about the only enjoyable thing about this job.

His eyes slid inexplicably toward where the girl knelt in her cell. She was still in the straitjacket, leg shackles, and gag. She had been for the past three hours. At least now she was quiet, but her animal stare raised the hair on the back of his neck. Unnatural. She was feral, animal eyes staring out from a human face. Empty eyes. Will was glad she was behind bars, bound, gagged, incapacitated. He paced further down the hall, out of her line of sight. She was quiet now, no longer beating herself against the bars of the cell, but he couldn’t help feeling that it was a brooding quiet, a planning quiet. He couldn’t help feeling that she was sizing him up as he walked into and out of her view, getting ready to tear out his beating heart. And eat it. Still beating as he screamed.

“Get a grip Will. This is only till you can find something else.” Anything else. Will flipped his knife and hurriedly slammed it back into his side sheath at the sound of footsteps. The girl cocked her head toward the sound, then turned back to study him. Will took an unconscious step away from the cell.

The footsteps turned the corner and an orderly came into view, bearing a tray of food. Will relaxed his stance.

“Good, the beast is quiet. I was afraid they’d messed with the dosage again and she’d still be raging,” the orderly said.

“All quiet,” Will replied. The orderly slid the tray through the slot on the floor. Keys jangled as he pulled a hefty ring from his belt and began sorting through it.

“Ready for this?” the orderly asked.

“What?” Will watched the girl, but she didn’t move. She didn’t take her eyes off of him.

“Removing the bonds idiot. You ever try eating in a gag and a straitjacket?” The orderly found the key and slipped it into the lock. Will stepped back.

“I’m not going in there.”

“You’re safe. The Rose hasn’t killed a guard in at least, oh, three months.” The orderly turned the key. “Harrison isn’t nearly so merciful.”

Will briefly toyed with the idea of running, then realized that he wouldn’t make it ten paces outside the building before being shot. At least if the girl killed him his family would get his benefits.

“Just undo the buckles?” Will asked. He loosened his knife in its sheath and strode toward the cell door.

“Yup. Make sure to bring the stuff out with you, Harrison gets ticked at destroyed equipment.” He swung the door open and Will stepped inside before he could lose his nerve. The orderly slammed the door behind him. Will spun around just in time to see him lock the door.

“No worries pal, I’ll let you out soon as the job’s done.” The orderly stepped away, out of arm’s reach of the door. Will gulped and turned back to the girl.

She was standing now, staring at him blankly, although he could see flashes of cunning. And something else… Will moved forward and reached for the buckle on the gag. She inclined her head toward him, wincing slightly as her skin was pinched and hair pulled as he struggled to release the cruel contraption. It didn’t help that the leather was stiff and his hands were slick with nervous sweat. He stopped and wiped his hands on his pants before trying again. This time he managed to release the heavy strap and ease the padded metal frame from her jaw. She yawned, stretching the muscles. Will took an unconscious step back at the sudden movement.

“Yea, got one down,” the orderly sneered. Will ignored him and stepped forward to start unbuckling the straitjacket. That was harder, mostly because it took him time to find all the buckles. Finally the thing slipped off her shoulders and to the ground. Alright, now for the shackles and he could get away from this empty killer.

Thirty seconds later the girl was free to move and Will was already moving back toward the door. She shook herself all over, then started stretching, lazily, like a cat, her eyes still fixed on Will. He lost all sense of decorum and ran the last few steps to crash into the door. The orderly opened it and he scrambled out, clutching the straitjacket, shackle, and gag.

“See, you didn’t die. I’ll take that now,” the orderly said. Will gladly handed over the equipment. The orderly gathered it up and left. Will stumbled to the nearest wall and leaned against it, fighting to get his heart rate back under control.

What I Have Done pt. 1

The wind whipped my raven-black hair around my face, making it hard to see. I took a moment to try and get the unruly mass at least on one side of my face, but quickly gave up as the wind swirled faster. I didn’t need my eyes anyway. One foot forward, find the edge. balance, fighting the wind, the rain that suddenly begins beating down. Lift my hind foot and swing it forward. There’s just enough room for my feet on this ledge. On one side, a step down to the broad expanse of roof. On the other side, a thousand foot drop to the street below. On one side, the promise of punishment and slow death, on the other, one sweet moment of freedom. The wind howls, the rain lashes down. I spread my arms, waiting for the elements to decide my fate.

Harrison watched the readouts on the screen, the flashes of light as synapsis processed the dream the Rose was in.

“Pull her out,” he growled.

“But Sir, if she comes out now there could be brain damage…” a frightened techie trailed away as the full force of Harrison’s glare fell on him. Harrison slowly released the top of the techie’s computer screen. Newbie. They were all newbies, nobody lasted longer than a year on this project. What they were doing, it was unnatural, more unnatural than any other project Management had running. Unnatural and glorious. If it worked.

“Techie, when I say to pull her out, you pull her out, no questions asked. Capiche?”

“Understood sir,” the techie said. With a sweating hand, he keyed in the code that would flood a potent mixture of drugs through the system of the slender girl strapped to the chair. Harrison could understand the hesitation. The Rose was a rare beauty, it was hard to watch her suffer. It was hard to believe that she was the most lethal killer Management had ever created. Harrison knew though. He’d been with the project almost since the beginning. He knew that there wasn’t much of the girl Therese left underneath the drugs. There was just the Rose, deadly, wild, needing to be forced to obey before the next assignment. And if she was even considering suicide… It was a shame really, Harrison had hoped she’d be stronger than that.

The Rose started thrashing in her restraints, coming out of the dream with a vengeance. Her eyes rolled, snapped open, focused. She fought the chair, but the restraints were secure. A moment, then she relaxed back, panting. She rolled her eyes toward Harrison, then around the room, calculating. To an untrained observer, she seemed panicked now, weak, vulnerable. Harrison knew the signs though – the subtle tensing of muscles, the way her eyes would rest just briefly on anything that could be used as a weapon, the way she seemed to soften whenever any of the newer handlers looked her way.

“Get her in the jacket and get her out of here folks,” Harrison said. A couple of grunts came forward with a straight jacket. They at least had been put through a couple of months of training, they didn’t hesitate shifting her from the chair restraints to the jacket. Still, Harrison took the time to check the buckles himself before he motioned them to release her legs. The shackles went on – a chain that reduced her normally long stride to a shuffle.

“Hurts. Why do you hurt me?” Rose asked. Even her voice was musical – calculated to produce pity in the hearer. She looked so small, sitting with her legs dangling in what seemed a torturer’s chair, her hair cascading around her shoulders, a classic beauty hunched to look vulnerable. Moments like this, it was hard to believe she was a cold-blooded killer. Harrison shook his head and picked up the gag from where it lay on the table.

“We’re running out of new blood to pull in for you. I don’t need your siren song now,” he said. He made a move to put the gag in. She twisted around like a fish and clamped his hand between her teeth, hard enough to draw blood. He slapped her across the face with his free hand and she let go. Ignoring the pain in his hand, he shoved the gag on her face and buckled it down tight. She grimaced in pain. Served her right, the minx.

“Get her out of here.” Harrison said. The guards hustled her off, down halls to her cell. Harrison nursed his injured hand. It had been awhile since she’d been able to nail him like that. He was getting too old for this.

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 2

James Bartle had died that day. The doctor was unsure if it was alcohol poisoning or a heart-attack or both. But he was buried in consecrated ground with the services of the church. Anastasia looked about at the few faces found about her: most were free from tears. In fact, the only real mourner was Mary Ann.

But her mourning was not long. Within three months she had married again, this time to Michael Bulfinch. He was an uninteresting merchant who made a good salary- which was his only redeeming quality. He kept himself unattached and distant. His aloofness was beneficial as it allowed Mary Ann to discipline Jemima and George somewhat. She also had complete control over expenditures as he did not care to interfere “with a woman’s work” as he called household needs.

Since his work required him to be nearer a larger town, the family was uprooted in order to move to London. Actually, not London proper, for they were resettled just up river from London where all the rich folk have their country houses and all the poor folk work to keep the rich folk from leaving. Yet it was a pleasant community, full of its gossips and scandals, ready to take more upon itself.

Now that the income of money made it affordable, the children were promptly enrolled in the local academy. Jemima and George were ahead of their peers, but poor Anastasia was behind two grades. She would not have minded much, except the other children teased her unmercifully- instigated by her own siblings. Often she would return home late, having fled school only to cry in the field outside of town.

One day, Anastasia stood quiet and shy leaning against the school’s bricks. The sun flickered bright inbetween the passing clouds. Its warmth embraced her as if it said, “Don’t be distressed. You have yourself.” Empty comfort it was. The other students chased each other round the yard, shrieking and boisterous. A few of the older girls sedately walked round the perimeter, arms linked as they chatted and coyly watched the older boys.

Jemima sauntered along with her friends. Giggling, they passed the lonely girl. Ignoring their snooty glances, Anastasia continued to watch the swiftly changing sky in her melancholy mood. Her thoughts slipped back to the Rev. Doubleday and his wife. They had always been so kind. Would she ever see them again?

The girls passed by on their loop again. Pretending to be ignorant, they purposefully raised their voices so she could hear. “I wish I was in your class, Jane and Karen,” Jemima said, “instead of my sister. I’ll finish and you’ll still have two more years.”

One of the girls thus addressed tossed her golden curls, replying, “It’s not your fault your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.”

“You’re right, Karen,” the other dark haired girl chimed. “Jemima, you can’t blame yourself for being better than Anastasia. When we are all married, we’ll have to remember to invite her over sometimes.”

Anastasia glared at them as they purposefully continued in this fashion. Her eyes smarted with the tears she refused to display. Why was she an old maid, when she was only thirteen? Most girls were not considered of age for courting until sixteen. She was still young! Was she really so ugly as to have her peers doubt her marriageability? Jemima, Karen and Jane were all impeccably beautiful. Perhaps no one would ever love her. But that was alright, because love meant getting hurt and forgotten anyway.

The school bell rang. As the rest of the children lolligaged trying to keep outside in the cool air for a little longer, Anastasia quickly mounted the steps after the teacher. Someone called, “That’s right, Stacy, go find a book. That’s all your good for!” It was George’s voice. All the school yard erupted into mocking laughter.

The remark stung. Anastasia left trying to make friends and being popular to her brother and sister. To waste the solitary hours she began to read, slowly at first- the taunt jeering at her, then faster, devouring any book she could lay her hands upon. Forgetting people, she became fascinated with the black and white words scrawled across the pages. The dead pages were better company. They did not jeer at her or torture her; no, they left her alone to enjoy the story, to become one with it.

Years passed. Anastasia grew more and more reserved around her spoiled siblings and the bullies at school. She had no friends, except the books that she was perpetually reading. She smiled infrequently and never laughed. In short, she was grave. And this gravity made her appear older and harsh, although she was gentle and extremely sensitive by nature.

One day she was walking back from school. Her books were tucked under her arm and her mind far away on Shakespeare’s Henry V. Cutting the corner quickly, she suddenly found that there was something resisting her presence in that particular spot. Before she had fully grasped the happenstance, she was falling backwards. But she did not quite fall; someone caught her. Then she heard the flap of pages in the wind as her homework and books tumbled to the pavement. With a sharp cry, she scurried here and there collecting the flying leaves and gathering the beloved texts from the damp road.

“I’m terribly sorry,” she heard someone say.

“Oh, my books!” was all she could exclaim.

“If any are damaged I will pay for new ones, I promise. How clumsy of me. I do hope you’ll accept my apology?”

“Oh no!” she gasped. “My collection of poems is missing.” She furtively glanced around.

“Here it is,” said the someone. For the first time she actually looked at the young man. He was tall and handsome, like one of the characters from her novels. He was holding the little blue book in his gloved hand along with a good number of her other precious possessions. It was a nice glove, leather and practically new; her own hand was clothed in a faded knit mitten. She could not help feeling poor and shabby next to his elegance. She just wanted to get away as quickly as possible.

“Thank you,” she whispered, extending her hand to receive the lot.

“If there are any damaged, I’ll accommodate your loss.” He made a slight bow.

“No, no. I’m sure they’re fine. Good day.” She brushed past.

“Is there anyone to walk you home?” He stepped beside her.

“No, but I’ll be alright.”

“Please, may I escort you home? I would like to see that you are safe if you won’t let me make restitution.”

She paused. Well, could it hurt? Why not? She was walking latter today than normal. Not that there was much crime in her little country town, but it could not hurt to be careful. And it would be mean to deny him some sense of requital. “If you are sure it is no trouble?”

“None at all,” he smiled. “My name is Gerard Thomas.”

“I’m Anastasia Bartle.”

“Very pleased to make your acquaintance, although I do say, I wish I had made it in a less violent manner.” He laughed. It was a merry, hearty laugh. It took some of the fear from her. “You must forgive my recklessness. I walk about and forget to pay attention to where I am going. Rather clumsy of me, wouldn’t you say?”

“I was doing the same. So you’re no clumsier than I.” That sounded silly, she thought. Of course I am clumsy. But he’s a fine gentleman, nothing clumsy about him!

He laughed again. “My dear Ms. Bartle, as a lady, there’s nothing clumsy about you.”

Anastasia flushed. She had never been called miss before, and she had most certainly never been called a lady. It was her very first complement as a matter of fact. “How very silly of me to blush!”

He laughed once more. “No, miss. Blushing is a sign of genteelness. It is not silly.” And then as if he guessed her inability to respond, he continued, “May I carry your books? I would be most obliged if you would allow me.”

Not entirely certain why she did, Anastasia handed him her beloved collection. He gave a courteous bow and ‘thank you’. Then he studied the titles as if his life depended upon it. “Ah, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Great Britain. So you love tales of great deeds and bold chevaliers and swooning damsels?”

Anastasia wrinkled her brow. Somehow it sounded like a drama as he said it. “No,” she puzzled. “I like it because… I don’t know exactly why. Perhaps it is the nobility of the characters more than the greatness of the tales; perhaps the strength to do right more than the wish to be great; perhaps it is the fear that there are fewer men and women like King Arthur’s court now.” What am I saying? He doesn’t need to know all that!

If she had looked up at him rather than blushing down at her feet, she would have seen a look of intense interest and understanding as the blue eyes gazed at her. But she did not look, nor could she have guessed how she had won his utmost respect. Within his heart, although even he was unaware of the happening, Gerard Thomas desired to be worthy of her.

Anastasia stopped at the gate of her home. “Thank you for your trouble.” She held out her hands for the various books he held.

But he held them still close. “Please let me replace the damaged ones. I feel despairingly bass to permit this offense to yourself and literature without rectification.”

“Oh no,” she interjected, blushing as awareness of Jemima’s face in the window entered her mind. “Please, sir, if you want to be of service, don’t mention the matter. What will my family think? It was an accident for which you are not responsible.”

Sighing, he relinquished the precious load to the owner. “Then I must submit to your will, Miss Bartle.” Removing the elegant hat, he bowed. “Good evening.”

“Good evening,” Anastasia whispered. As nonchalantly as her pacing heart would allow, she opened the gate and proceeded up the lane. Once the great green door closed behind her, she took a deep breath. What happened?

“Anastasia!” Jemima bounded down the stairs. Snatching her sister’s books, she exclaimed, “Who is he? What did he want? Why was he carrying your books? George! Stacy has a beau!”

“I do not!” the poor girl cried pulling off her grey mittens and scarf. “There was an accident and he helped me home. That’s all.”

“Really?” George entered the room. “So someone actually thinks you pretty? What a surprise!”

“Oh, I’m sure he’s not that serious,” Jemima said, her face plastered to the window pane. “He hasn’t looked back once.”

Anastasia stamped her foot. “I fell and he helped me home.   That’s all.”

“Oh!” her siblings simultaneously sneered. “What’s his name, then?”

“Gerard Thomas.”

“She knows his name!” Jemima danced.

“It’s nothing, you bullies. Nothing!” And Anastasia bounded upstairs on the verge of tears. She would probably never see him again, so why did they make such a big deal of it? Oh, but she wanted to hear his courteous comments and his gentle voice again. Nothing had sounded so sweet to her before.

At dinner that evening, there was an endless questioning first by her siblings, then her mother, and several knowing smirks from the two servants. Mr. Bulfinch ate his meal in his customary silence as if he was ignorant of the whole matter. But Anastasia barely swallowed anything, for the more she persisted there was nothing to be excited about, the more everyone was certain there was, and the more she felt sick inside.

Singing in the Rain: the Question of Love

Lisa pulled off the black polo shirt and tossed it into the bin.  Another day of work finished.  With a sigh she picked up her bag.  Just 14 more weeks of summer before school started, just another $4000 that needed to be earned so she could return to school, just more time to wait with life becoming more tangled.  But she wasn’t going to think of it.  Absently, she pulled her pony tail holder out, but it slipped and disappeared in the gravel and shadows.  Whatever.  It was Friday night.  She was going to watch a movie with friends, and then tomorrow was Saturday- no work.  She would dress nice and be a princess all day.  She sighed again.

Life changed so fast.  Just a year ago she was a new college student, completely under her parents, hopelessly dreaming of a Prince Charming.  Now she was a young woman, out on her own in the world.  She still dreamed of her prince, but was it realistic? Was it practical?  Everything seemed lost and confused, like her hair was as the wind blew it around her face.  Not really knowing why, she started to hum “Let it Go” from the new movie Frozen.  The song had been oddly comforting the past few months.  There was something about taking life into your own hands and steering it where you wanted that strengthened her.  Perhaps it was her practical side.  She had always disliked talk of ‘falling in love’ and ‘love at first sight’.  Such nonsense!  Love was more than an emotion.  And she was not going to be taken in by such idiotic ideology.

A rain drop fell onto her head.  She smiled: she had said it would rain after she had finished work.  Here she was walking down Main Street at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday in the rain.  Somehow it soothed her.  True, she thought, I don’t have to follow conventional standards and ‘fall in love’, I can be my own person.  And yet there was something true to ‘falling in love’.  It was like the rain soaking into her hair and clothing: gentle and rough, pleasant and painful, surprising and certain.  Love wasn’t always easy, but it was always beautiful.  And she wanted to love.

There had been that one guy who had asked to date her.  Why had she refused?  She didn’t know.  Or was it she refused to admit why?  There had been a little nagging voice inside her saying, “You’re scared.”  Yes, she was.  She was afraid of hurting and being hurt, afraid of loving and giving love.  But more than all that she questioned what it even meant to love.  Her mother loved her; her friends loved her; that boy loved her.  What made it love?

A movie she had watched as a child flickered in her mind: Yours, Mine and Ours.  Towards the end there was one scene where a daughter asked the same thing.  Henry Fonda as Mr. Beardsley said love was not some great feeling, but the practical things like making breakfast or cleaning up or taking your mother to the hospital for another baby’s birth.  Somehow these things displayed more love than receiving a diamond ring or a honeymoon trip to Europe.  It pleased Lisa.  And she knew that although she wanted to question it and continue seeking, she had to let it be.  Sometimes there were no answers; other times the answers were there before the question, just unseen.  Yes, love was within her.  She just had to trust that she knew it.

The rain came down in a heavy torrent, drenching her completely.  Suddenly another tune popped into her head: I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain! What a glorious feeling. I’m happy again. I waltz down the lane with a smile on my face and I’m ready for love.  Bursting out into the full throat-ed melody, she waltz down the street toward her apartment.  Let the stormy clouds chase, everyone from the place. I’m happy again!  

Life changes so fast- like the rain.

A Beginning in the End pt. 11

Arabella                                                                                                         2020/1/9

I woke to the sun streaming through a clear window. I couldn’t hear the moans or smell the rotting flesh. It took me a long moment to remember where I was. I wondered why I was in a bed with warm, although old, blankets covering my weary body.

When I realized where I was I rose slowly and just took in my surroundings. It was so strange not to hear the moans, the shuffling, and for the smell of walking death not to be in the air.

I didn’t feel imminently threatened for once and the feeling was so incredibly strange that I wondered if I wasn’t dreaming. My mind flashed back to the days of my childhood when I would sleep safe at home, secure in the knowledge that I was loved and that nothing could touch me. My father and God would protect me and nothing in the world could harm me.

I wandered into the house’s kitchen. There was still plenty of food stashed away, enough to feed me for close to an entire year. I could only imagine how much the other houses might have  held.

For the first time in forever I made myself a real breakfast, or as close to one as I could manage. I couldn’t use the stove for fear of the smell attracting the monsters but i made do with what I found to eat more heartily than I had in months. I let my worries about having enough to eat float away for a time.

I’ll go explore the town soon and see what I can find.

 

Logan                                                                                                           2020/1/10

They’re still down there. The sun is up and I’m going to have to find a way to fight them. It’s a good thing my knowledge is so vast. Here I go.

Later

I wasn’t easy getting out of there today but I made it against all odds. I never appreciated grenades back in more peaceful times but I was thankful for one today. I’ll probably never get the image of those rotting bodies flung everywhere in tiny pieces out of my mind but it was worth it. I’m alive and that’s what matters.

I’m out in the open tonight sleeping in this imposing semi-truck that I found. I’ll know if they find me and be able to fight them off in here. Sometimes my powers feel more like a curse than any blessing. I survive but sometimes I wish I had an excuse to die. I am so lonely.

I can still faintly smell the man who once slept here years ago. I wonder what he felt out here on the road and what happened to him in the end. Did his truck die, did he simply fall prey to the virus, or was he attacked by other people?

I’ll never know what happened to the truck driver. I’m grateful to him all the same, even though he had no idea I would ever find his truck. I know that God’s will is all that keeps me alive anymore despite my abilities. I should have been dead a long time ago, I know that. I don’t deserve to be alive, I-

 

Dymphna

Death of Icarus

More of a character concept than a complete story, but now I need to get back into this character.

Her name is Veritas, and she’s pretty sure it’s a joke. Her code name is Hunting Hawk, or just Hawk, and that seems to be closer to the truth. Her boyfriend calls her V and she can’t help thinking V for victory, and that seems the cruelest of all. There was no victory in the war she’s fighting, because she’s fighting against terror, and terror never really ends. As part of the Angel division – twenty or so flyers who’s only job was to take out suspected terrorists – she’s ever on the front lines – as if there are any lines at all. She fights because she was created – bred – to use the wings, and she can’t survive without the power of flight. She is half hawk – the only experiment to have survived to maturity – and it’s noticeable in her deep-set golden eyes, her hooked nose, the feathers throughout her close-cropped red-brown hair, her slightness and her lightness. Hollow bones means she just pushes the scale at 87 pounds, but it also means that they are prone to shattering on impact. For this reason an exoskeleton was developed, ultra-light electro-cloth that responded to brain impulses and environmental readings so that it hardened to protect the body inside. She was never without the mottled brown suit, which led some to give her the nickname Birdbrain. A few well-placed punches ended that pretty quickly. It may have been true that she had a birdbrain – that certainly accounted for her instinctual familiarity with the air – but she didn’t like to be reminded of the fact. Of all the names she had, the one she liked the most was the one no one ever knew. Veera. She liked the sound of it, the quickness, like a hawk diving on some unsuspecting prey. In her own mind, she was Veera.

Veera flew above the city in a search pattern, all but invisible in the setting sun. She couldn’t really see it though, not with the filters her helmet had which reduced the world to a network of lines. One of the earlier flyers had gotten freaked out when he’d realized that the people he’d killed were actually people, so Cromwell, the man in charge of Veera’s division, insisted that everyone wear the helmets and keep the filters up. Veera hated it, but it was better than a quick shock with the bracelet she was forced to wear.

The DNA scanner wasn’t picking her target up like it was supposed to. Veera dropped a few hundred feet – almost brushing the rooftops now – and repeated her pattern. Nothing, nothing, nothing…. There! The red dot blipped reassuringly in Veera’s screen. She course corrected, taking the turn a little sharper than she needed to simply to feel the air across her wings. That was the one thing they still couldn’t take away – the joy of flying – because without it she couldn’t fly at all.

Veera dove lower, swooping between windowless skyscrapers, wings tucked tight against her body for speed. The red blip grew closer, until there was only a wall separating Veera from it. She swooped, braked, and flung herself into the wall, where the magnets in her suit kept her. It took less than half a second for her to yank out her pulse ray. It was already calibrated – the guys back at HQ took care of that – so all she had to do was point and shoot. The red blip disappeared. Veera released her magnets and dropped, angling away from the building and twisting in midair. One flap, two, and her wings caught the air, lifting her clear of the city.

Veera opened up a channel to back home. “It’s done.”

“One hour of free fly, as promised,” the bored voice came back. Veera flapped hard, gaining altitude.

“Two. Your scanners didn’t pick him up the first run.”

“One and a half. The shock bracelet gets used if you’re not back in that time.” The channel shut down. Veera shook her head. Money didn’t matter to her as she only left the complex for missions, but her pay – fly time – was still getting more stingy. Veera angled, half-folding her wings and initiating the turbo boost. If she hurried, she could make a Grand Canyon run before time ran out.

She turned off the filters as soon as she was outside the habituated zones. Not technically allowable, but she hadn’t gotten reprimanded for it yet. The canyon came into view, only the reds and the deepest shadows visible in the quickly failing light. She let out a whoop and dove into it, flying hard, wingtips brushing rock chips from the wall.

A weight hit her left wing, sending her spinning into a wall before she could regain control. Josh, nearly invisible in his dark outfit. Veera flew into him, grabbing his hands and spinning, falling, locked together as they embraced, only letting go when the canyon floor was too close for comfort. Veera climbed, spiraling, a hawk staying just ahead of the heavier eagle’s talons. They played in the moonlight, testing themselves, testing each other.

Veera spun at the top of a climb, diving down onto Josh’s back and forcing him down, down, down. He spun around, grabbing her hands and flinging her onto a grass-covered ledge. Veera curled her wings around her, tumbling head over heels until she came to a stop on her back on the ledge. Josh landed in front of her, tossing his helmet to the side. Veera sat up on her elbows, her own helmet coming off.

“I was afraid I wouldn’t see you this time out,” she said. Josh flopped down beside her, his wings enclosing them both in an impenetrable fortress.

“You know me better than that V.” He rolled over and kissed her. She pushed him off and rolled him onto his back, pinning him.

“Oh? And how much pay did you give up this time?”

“Two weeks for an hour. I don’t buy anything anyway.”

“I should yell at you but I’m too happy to see you.” She reached up and buried her face in Josh’s neck. He pulled away, gripping her arms.

“There was a reason I chose tonight. I found a man, he can get us away. We don’t have to go back, we can keep running, keep flying together forever, with no one to tell us what to do.” His eyes were intense in the moonlight, dark and fully human. Veera felt her heart speed up, thrilling at the possibility. But…

“What about the angel squad? What about our job?” she asked. Josh ran his hand down her jawline.

“What if what we’re doing is wrong?” he asked. Veera turned away.

“I know it’s wrong. I know they can’t all be traitors and terrorists. But I have to hunt. You’re human, you can’t understand what bloodlust drives me. Don’t tempt me, please.”

“V…”

Veera pulled away, leaping off the edge, flapping hard, losing herself in the night. She felt the current of Josh taking off after her. She stayed ahead of him, twisting and turning through the canyons, going where his larger wingspan wouldn’t allow. But she had to leave the canyon eventually, and Josh was waiting for her when she did. He flew over her, grabbing her shoulders. They both locked their wings up so they wouldn’t fall. Josh opened his visor.

“I’m sorry V,” Josh whispered – shouted over the roar of the wind. Veera shifted her weight, sliding to the left and breaking clear. She didn’t run though, instead barrel rolling around him, her wingtips brushing his, until she was underneath him. She grabbed his hands, intertwining her fingers through his, for an instant before letting go.

C. Angelina