Monday, the 22nd of October. Normally, I’d be in class on a day like this. Or in bed, skipping class. But yesterday, Ling had gone missing. So instead, I was flying around G’Hanir, the ave domain, to see if I could spot any sign of her.
“I spent five hours scouting out this stupid ‘scraper yesterday,” I reminded Adam through my headset. He was in a nice warm van with the retinue while I was flying around in the cold winter air. Never hurt to remind him that I was the one doing all the work here. “If there was anything to find here, I would have already.”
“Keep it up,” Jarasax insisted over the line. “Trust me on this: Persistence is the key. You need to learn their schedules. Then you’ll be able to spot any deviations from those schedules, and investigate.”
“All I see are a bunch of people hunched over keyboards, and a couple maintenance men installing speakers and stuff,” I muttered. “Other than some of those people having feathers, it doesn’t seem any different from any other ‘scraper.”
In order to let my reservoir recharge, I landed on one of the building’s balconies, a simple plaster chin jutting out from the rest of the structure. The entire ‘scraper was covered in the same tan plaster, except for the windows of course, probably in attempt to make it look like natural stone.
The first thing I had done when Adam called me yesterday was peer at the building from a distance through a pair of binoculars, to see if there was any surveillance I’d need to avoid. Exterior cameras, guards, that sort of thing.
There was nothing. All the cameras were pointing at the street and the first couple floors, and the only live guards were on floors ten and below. For a culture trying as hard as they could to get wings, the aves weren’t exactly prepared for flying enemies.
“The anthros are the ones to watch,” Kelly mused. “They’ll be the ones who are higher up in the organization.”
“Speaking of which, have you spotted Turgay?” Adam cut in. “Bald eagle anthro. He’d definitely be willing to help if we can get him alone.”
“I haven’t seen any anthros. Do you think that means anything?”
“It could mean they really have abandoned this as their headquarters,” Alex noted. “If none of their more important members are here. Kel, what’s your take?”
“Well, I’ll admit I have some experience with subcultures that are being hunted, but I’m not sure I can help much more. The aves and the Belians are just too different. But the anthros thing might be the key. Sax, you have stats on the ratio of anthros to non?”
“I think I can help with that,” MC chirped over the radio. The real one, of course. I barely even heard the fake ones any more, since I didn’t need directions or anything and the real one had always been happy to return my calls. “The aves have approximately a 1-200 ratio of anthros to non-anthros. That means their anthros are significantly more rare than those of other kemo cultures, even before accounting for their smaller overall numbers.”
Huh. “I guess…that means it’s not weird that I haven’t seen any?”
“It means that Kelly is right—the only ave anthros are Soaring Eagle’s personal guard and other high-ranking members of the culture. If you don’t see any, it’s doubtful she’s nearby.”
I blew out a breath, watching it frost in the cold air. I was high enough that I should probably put on my oxygen mask, but I didn’t want to deal with that right now. It had been a gift from Elizabeth, and it had been hard enough for me to not throw it away when I found everything out.
“How high can you fly?” Adam asked suddenly.
“Uh…well, I think my power works by gravity, so maybe to the edge of the atmosphere. I’m not sure, exactly. It gets too cold up there.”
“But can you reach the top of Gaho…Gehin—”
“G’Hanir,” I corrected him. I looked up, frowning. “…maybe. MC, how tall is it?”
“One-hundred and thirty floors,” she answered with what almost sounded like a yawn. “One sec, lemme…that’s six-hundred and fifty meters and some spare change. You sure you can make it that high?”
Actually, no, I wasn’t. I hadn’t paid too much attention to how high I normally went, but that certainly sounded pretty damn high.
My heart skipped a beat as I had a thought. “Wait, are there any balconies up there? I don’t see any.”
“Uh…not sure. Blueprints aren’t on file.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” Adam asked. “I’m pretty sure builders have to give a copy to the city for inspections and so on.”
George just laughed. “Inspections? Remind me to tell you the story of how Odin bought a hotel for a couple hundred bucks after faking a rat infestation.”
The retinue laughed at Adam’s expense, but I couldn’t bring myself to share in their mirth. I had a big lump in my throat that was making it hard to breathe.
“Robyn?” MC asked gently, the first to notice something was wrong. “What is it?”
“I’m…just a little worried about not having any place to rest. What if my reservoir runs out?”
“Then you fall and die,” Adam cut in coldly.
“Anders,” Kelly warned.
“And so does Ling,” Adam continued, ignoring the Belian. “You’re the only one who can do this. We can’t, Derek and Laura can’t. Now, you can either fly up to the top of that building, or I’ll call Akane and see if she can run up it.”
We all knew that wouldn’t end well. I had seen her pull of that trick a couple times, but only up a few stories. She just didn’t have a deep enough reservoir to pull off much more than that.
“Fine,” I growled into the headset. “You win. Radio silence, I have to put on this stupid mask.” I should have just gotten one with an integrated radio; cost less than a hundred bucks, and Uncle Art would have given one to me for free if I asked.
Adam said something in reply, but I was already tearing off the headset, and didn’t care enough to ask him to repeat it. I slipped on the mask, took a deep breath to make sure it was working, and then…
Another deep breath.
Red dusk, I could do this! There was no fighting, no blood, just flying, my favorite activity! I should be jumping at the chance!
The chance to fly higher than I ever had before.
To where it was cold enough that if I took off my mask, I might having to worry about the moisture in my lungs freezing.
And if something went wrong with the mask, I’d pass out from oxygen deprivation and fall hundreds of feet to my death.
Yeah. Even if my jack-hammering heart didn’t pop in the next five minutes or so, this still wasn’t happening. This was a job for like, Lily, or those guys on tv who stress-test the newest toys. I wasn’t built for putting myself in danger. I just…couldn’t.
But Ling was in trouble.
She wasn’t at the top of this building, I’d bet anything on that, but something up there might lead us to her.
I’m not Derek. I can’t jump in every time I see a fire, on the off chance that there’s someone who needs to be rescued.
But if I know there is someone who needs rescue…I can do it. I can. It just…takes me a second to get psyched up, that’s all.
I took one last deep breath, crouched down, and jumped straight up.
I activated my power as soon as my feet left the ground, altering the way gravity affected me and letting myself ‘fall’ towards the top floor. Some distant corner of my brain altered my equilibrium as well, so I wasn’t falling feet first.
The wind whistled past my face, the cold nipping at my uncovered ears, but thankfully I had invested in a decent pair of goggles recently, so at least my vision remained clear. The cold, tan side of the building zipped by a few feet away, broken up every second or so by something bright and shining. The windows, going by too fast to get more than even a general idea of them.
I flew as fast as I could, trying desperately to reach the top of the tower before I could think too hard about what a horrible idea this was. I was going faster than I ever had before, fast enough that I was losing track of myself. My reservoir was already almost three quarters empty, what if—
And then there was no more building. Just blank sky, with a sea of clouds stretching in every direction.
I was this high already? I had been going faster than I thought! And—
And my reservoir ran out.
Almost a hundred feet above the top of G’Hanir.
No. No no no no…
Gravity slowly remembered I was under its thrall, a lazy hand stretching upward to take hold of me again…
And then I was falling.
My sense of balance was all out of whack from the flight. I didn’t even know which way was up any more. My reservoir was already replenishing, but not as fast as Akane’s or Derek’s would have. I only had one small burst of power, enough to get me onto the roof. If I aimed wrong…
I just wouldn’t aim wrong.
Even with my mouth as dry as a desert and my heart hammering like a machine gun on full auto, I felt a strange sort of calm. It wasn’t courage, not exactly. It was just a simple, desperate knowledge.
This would either work, or it wouldn’t. But I had to try.
Fear exists for a reason, and not just to keep you out of danger. Once you’re in danger, fear is often what gets you out.
Right now, my heart was pumping enough adrenaline into my bloodstream that time seemed almost to slow. The chemical shut down the higher functions of my brain, keeping me from wasting time thinking about anything beyond the immediate task of survival. My eyes were as wide as saucers, giving me a good view of the wheeling horizon.
Ah, I was spinning as I fell. No wonder I couldn’t find my balance.
The smartest thing to do would have been to tap into my reservoir, just a hair, to stop my wild tumble and orient myself to get a better look at my surroundings, but that was the double-edged sword of adrenaline. I was operating on pure instinct, and couldn’t come up with a complicated plan like that on the spot.
Instead, I simply judged the moment as best I could even with the spinning, waited a heartbeat…
And then altered my personal gravity again, throwing myself ten feet to the side.
The inertia of the sudden shift threw my stomach into my throat, but I immediately had other things to worry about as I hit the roof at ten or twenty miles an hour.
That might not sound like a lot, but don’t be fooled. Baseline humans were never designed to go much faster than that; even Olympic sprinters can only get a little better than twenty miles an hour. Falling at that speed hurts, even in the best of circumstances.
When you’re landed roughly on a gravel roof at a roll, only to have your progress halted swiftly by some sort of large metal air conditioner, it’s a little bit worse.
Despite being the daughter of Isaac Clarke, I’m pretty much baseline. I changed my hair and eye color, sure, got a couple minor buffs for sight and so on, but nothing to lessen the gross impact of this kind of fall.
I coughed once, then twice. No blood came up, so I probably didn’t have any internal damage. I felt around my side with my hand, but didn’t feel anything poking up where it shouldn’t.
With a groan of effort, I struggled to my feet, brushing sharp and bloody pebbles out of my knees and elbows. I winced, but I’d be fine. I was finally thankful for that clotting buff my dad had gotten me a few years back. I wouldn’t bleed out from little cuts like these.
My cell phone had been smashed in the tumble. Figured. I kept the pieces in the hopes that MC could get the data off it later, but for now, that wasn’t the important part.
The important part was that I was on my own.
First thing I noticed was that this wasn’t like a normal roof. Most roofs in Domina were completely flat, with the exception of the stairwell and a few machines. It made life easier for the inevitable roofhoppers. G’Hanir had two tiers, which was the style from about twenty years ago, with the part I was on only being a small walkway that wrapped around the taller floors in a right-angle ‘C’ shape.
I tried the nearest door, but it was locked, and I didn’t have my picks. I walked to the other side of the ‘C,’ with no more luck on that door.
Great. I get all the way up here, only to find myself stuck on a stupid maintenance ring for a bunch of air conditioners. What was the point of being able to fly—
Oh. Right. I could fly.
The center tier of the building wasn’t too much taller than the one I had been on, only four or five stories, so I felt confident floating up even though my reservoir wasn’t fully replenished. That roof looked more like what I felt was a normal roof, with a short lip to serve as a railing and a single door leading down inside.
This door was not locked. Probably because the birds liked to come out and get a taste of what they were missing, and someone had forgotten to lock it behind them. I walked down white-walled stairwell for maybe a dozen floors, until I was sure I was well below where I had landed. Then I slipped out of the dingy little access area as quietly as I could.
And immediately came to face to face with an ave.
Other than his too-large eyes, it would have been impossible to identify him as one of the birds. Dark skin, short hair, strong build…even with the eyes, I wouldn’t have pegged him for an ave. It was only in G’Hanir that it was obvious he was trying to mimic some type of owl.
“Could you move, please?” he said after a moment. “I was trying to get up there.”
“Oh, of course.” I stepped to the side, and he brushed past. He hadn’t seen my wounds, or hadn’t seen fit to comment on them, and I had hidden my mask the second I was past the cheap airlock at the top.
Okay. I was in the enemy stronghold. Now I just had to find information, avoid confrontation, and get out.
All things I was good at.
Behind the Scenes (scene 191)
“Those guys on tv who stress-test the newest toys” who Robyn is referring to is a documentary tv show called Ready or Not. It started about seven years ago, when some toy engineers needed a way to get more money for their research. Think Deadliest Catch meets Mythbusters, with more jumping off buildings and drinking poison.
Also, the reason Robyn burned through her reservoir so fast is precisely because she was flying at top speed. Like how you get the worst gas mileage in your car while flooring the accelerator.