City lights sparkle, reflecting in puddle mirrors just minutes after a storm’s dying gust. On a neighborhood street amid newly gentrified housing, a 2020s sedan – post hybrid – sits exquisitely out of place. It’s just odd enough to notice, yet eccentric enough to forget.
“I learned how to play the guitar today,” says Deel, a 30-something in the driver’s seat.
“Huh,” grumbles the codger riding shotgun. “I could have sworn I’ve seen you play before.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I really don’t.”
The younger man turns his athletic physique toward the heavyset other.
“Fine. Okay. Do I know an impressive number of songs? Sure. Do I impress an impressive number of women with my sweet licks and my lyrical prowess? Of course. But I’m telling you, Franks, I learned all of those songs note by note, rote by rote, and never once did it ever occur to me to learn a scale!”
“A scale?” Franks asks.
“Where all the notes actually are?” Deel says.
“No shit,” Deel says, and turns his attention back to the street.
“And just how long have you been avoiding these scale things?” Franks asks.
Deel thinks. “Fif-no. Sixty years? That sounds right.”
Franks nods, contemplating. “There are a lot of trees in the forest, I guess.”
Franks’s old analogue wristwatch interrupts with a trio of beeps. Deel leans forward and wipes fog from the windshield.
“I see her.”
Franks grunts a nod.
“You want to take her now?”
“Nah,” Franks answers. “It’s easier when they think they’ve gotten away with it.”
Rose Somethingorother, dressed in black from head to toe, strides with confidence down the wet sidewalk. She makes sticking to the shadows look natural, slinking between pools of fluorescent street light, her gaze alert and appraising. A quick shimmy of her hips is the only warning before she disappears into the inkwell of a recently refurbished brownstone.
“Yeah?” Deel poses.
The men exit the vehicle, Franks with a groan and Deel with a curse.
“These damn steering wheels,” Deel complains once he’s untangled his legs.
“Facing forward the whole time,” Franks adds with a huff.
Deel steps into the street.
“I’m glad I was born later.”
“Aren’t we all,” Franks replies.
They make haste to the building entrance, weapons drawn and ready. Franks points to the hedge row. Deel nods and pulls on the hood of his jacket. He crouches among the shrubbery, and his torso begins to change color. Soon, he is nearly imperceptible in the foliage.
Franks takes point just out of sight from the door. He lazily checks his watch.
“90 seconds,” he says softly.
Deel’s hand shoots from the bushes giving a thumb up.
Franks almost misses it. He tries to focus on the black hole of a doorway, but his eyes keep sliding toward the light. Rose’s form leaks out of the shadow and merges with the night. She’s halfway down the stoop, nearly lost to the darkness, before his brain registers the motion.
“Rose!” Franks calls cheerily. “Fancy seeing- STOP!”
She’s already down the steps, passing directly under a lamp in her haste to escape.
“I’m pointing a stunner,” Franks warns her well lit back. “I don’t miss.”
She catches herself, and in her hesitation, Franks gains ground.
Franks pulls a metal tube from his belt, flicks it, and a strand of blue material whips toward her upstretched left wrist. It coils around, synching into place when Franks pulls it tight.
Rose cries out in surprise, adrenaline taking over. She yanks her arm down and spins to meet her attacker.
Franks, pulled off balance, squeezes the stunner’s trigger and fires a ball of lightning into the street. Rose kicks him in the chest. The restraint flies from his grip, zipping up and close to her arm. She whips around to make a break for it, but Deel is there, his jacket now reflecting the street scene. The blue glow of his stunner is aimed dead center.
“Stop!” he commands.
Rose slows to a stuttered halt in the street.
“They say no one here,” she mutters to fate.
She’s too calm.
Franks groans as he makes it back to his feet, distracting Deel for a split second – plenty of time for Rose. When his eyes snap back his target, she’s crouching with one hand on the asphalt.
“Don’t, Rose. Don’t make me-“
She jumps. Deel fires.
The speed of Rose’s movements baffle him, and his shot misses its mark, the bolt catching her hip instead of her torso. Rose cries from the jolt as she flies into the air.
“What the hell,” Deel demands.
“Mods,” Franks replies, finally catching up. “Keep an eye on her.” He hustles toward the car.
Deel can hear Rose cursing her wound, but he cannot see her. He can only assume that she’s atop the nearest building. He’s proven correct when he catches her shadow leaping to the adjacent roof, heading in the direction from which she’d come.
“She’s running!” Deel calls.
He chases her streaking shadow.
Franks pulls the whispering Sedan to a screeching stop next to a hunched over Deel trying to catch his breath. He’s pointing up, and Franks’ gaze follows just in time.
The block ends with a wide intersection before moving onto another row of housing. Rose doesn’t take this leap lightly, and Franks can see her flittering from end to end of that last building. Is she judging her distance and required velocity?
Suddenly, she’s flying again, off of her building and high over the intersection. A trail of sparks pour from her damaged mechanics.
And she bursts into flames.
The fleshy meteor falls out of the sky and makes a wet thud in the middle of Main Street.
“And then we put her out and called for backup,” Franks says, adjusting his sore back in the uncomfortable office chair.
“She just burst into flames,” Marjory Dunning says coldly from behind her desk. She’s reading the official account from a thin sheet of smartform.
“Yes, Ma’am,” answers Deel. “We believe that the power required for all that jumping-“
“Catastrophic systems failure,” Franks finishes.
“You had to shoot her in the hip?” Marjory asks Deel.
He shrugs an apology.
“Who was the Historian on the ground?” she demands.
The men look to each other.
“Which one, Ma’am?” Franks asks.
Marjory scowls. She snatches up the smartform, crumples it, and tosses it into the recyclobin. Her features settle closer to serenity as the microbots whir to life and claim their meal.
“That’s better,” she sighs. “You,” she points to Deel, “Go away.” She turns to Franks. “I need a minute.”