The first thing that happened when I got back was George crushed me in a bear hug.
I tapped him on his massive shoulder a few times. It took a minute to get his attention, but he finally realized what I was trying to say. “Oh! Sorry about that!” He released me, but kept his hands on my shoulders, grinning broadly. “I just thought I’d never see you again!”
Kelly nodded. “Good to have you back, Kat.”
I nodded as well, a little weakly, and signed out a question.
She frowned. “Really? That’s your first question?”
She sighed. “Okay, fine. Your rifle is in lockup. We can go get it right now, if you like.”
Another quick nod. It was silly, but I felt naked without it. All I had to defend myself right now was my claws and gymnastic agility.
“All right then,” George said. “Let’s go grab that for you, then maybe—”
“Actually, I already did that,” Jarasax interrupted from his bunk. We were in the ‘sarian barracks near South Gate, where technically we were all supposed to be sleeping when we off duty. But none of us slept, so we mostly just used it to store stuff we didn’t need in the van.
Though we didn’t feel too bad about using it as a glorified storage space, since everyone else did the exact same thing. Right now, the place looked even worse than usual due to the chaos of the Rampage, but Jarasax seemed insistent on making sure his personal space was neat and tidy. He was even folding his sheets with a surprising amount of vigor.
“Why’d you do that?” George asked, regarding my rifle.
Jarasax shrugged. “Why not? I wasn’t sure where we were going to meet her, so I put it in the van.” He smiled at me. “I didn’t really consider that you’d come straight here after being freed.”
I had been turned into a screamer on September 3rd, almost exactly two months ago. I had spent the intervening time in custody, trapped in a hastily-made prison in South Central, where I was dumped with the rest of the victims of that particular attack.
Then, two days ago, the entire city got turned. And yesterday, Adam Anders freed us.
All of us.
Every single screamer Elizabeth ever converted in her run of the city suddenly had their minds returned to them. A few biters, over a hundred burners, four or five hundred bats, nearly a thousand bleeders, a couple hundred skins, and about a thousand lasers. I didn’t know what half of those guys could do, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
But I’d find out. Because we, like the rest of the city, had retained our powers when we were cured. Once people started to realize that there was no way anyone could stop them from using their powers for their own gain, we’d have chaos the likes the city hadn’t seen since the fall of Eden.
“Well, it’s not like it really matters either way,” Kelly noted. She scratched the fixer on her arm, wincing at the wounds that she had incurred during the MEE, when she tried to rip it off in her animalistic state. It was a miracle she hadn’t succeeded. “Let’s get lunch or something.”
Alex strode up. “I think at this point, we’re looking at an early dinner.”
“Whatever. I need meat. I haven’t been in this area in a while. What’s good?”
“South Gate is just a few blocks away,” Alex pointed out. “Tourist area, so lots of food and such in the square. I’m sure we can find something for everyone.”
“Should we drive?”
Jarasax snorted at Kelly’s question. “South Gate in the middle of the day? Hardly. We’d be lucky to get parking this close. Just give me five more minutes to finish making my bed, and we can walk.”
“We don’t even sleep,” Kelly noted.
“It’s the principle of the thing.”
About half an hour later, after we had sorted everything out and I had collected my rifle from the van, we strode into South Gate Square, a large… well, it wasn’t actually a square. It was just a wide street, servicing one of the four gates out of the city, with plenty of restaurants and shops on both sides.
It was crowded, as usual, with the streets themselves crammed with vendors and temporary stalls to service the milling throngs, buzzing with a thousand conversations. The only vehicles that drove through here were the buses to pick up the new residents from the boat, and that was only once or twice a week, at most.
“It’s nice to see this place populated again,” Kelly murmured appreciatively, looking around in something almost like wide-eyed wonder. “I think I had forgotten what it looked like with a healthy amount of people here.”
I frowned at her, tapped on her shoulder to get her attention, and signed quickly.
She blinked in surprise. “Right, of course, you wouldn’t know. Well, for the past couple weeks, this place has been like a ghost town.”
“The whole city,” George corrected. “No one wanted to go outside, for fear of the Composer.”
But that didn’t make sense. I signed as much quickly with both hands.
George waved me off with a sigh. “Yes, yes, we know that, and Necessarius released multiple public service announcements pointing it out, but it takes a lot to break human herd instinct. We’re used to banding together when in danger, not of dealing with something that can turn everyone in a building into zombies with the PA system.”
“Let’s stop talking about this,” Alex insisted. “Look, there’s a pizza place right over there.”
“We might have to put a hold on that,” Kelly murmured, looking at her phone with a frown. “Text from MC. There’s been some weird attack about a mile north along the wall. No detail, but it looks like it could be Ling.” She pocketed the device. “Even if it’s not, we’re the closest fireteam, with the most experience with powers.”
I signed quickly—
Kelly blinked, then laughed. “Gone rogue!? Ling? No, of course not!” She sobered quickly, though. “I’m afraid that’s not it. Rather, she got kidnapped by the aves a while back, and then Soaring Eagle went missing…” she sighed. “If we’re lucky, this is her, but I really doubt she’s still alive.”
“All right, all right,” Alex muttered, disappointed. “We get the picture. Let’s go, before we get a chance to smell anything too delicious.”
Then South Gate opened.
It ground open on decades-old gears, sending rumbling vibrations throughout the entire street. Everyone within sight turned to the hundred foot-tall mass of metal, trying to figure out why it was opening outside of schedule.
And then she walked through the gate.
As easy as you please, as if she did it every day.
It was… a woman. A drop-dead gorgeous woman, at that. She strode down the street like she owned the place, her high heels clicking on the pavement. Her bronze skin sparkled in the light of day, and her golden eyes glittered like stars. In the right light, she looked like a shining statue made from gold.
The entire crowd recoiled away from her like a wave, leaving a massive circular open space in the street around her.
She smiled, amused, as every single person within a hundred yards stared, and flipped her long, caramel-colored hair over her shoulder, which drew attention to her silk dress.
And what a dress. Black as midnight, with a short skirt ending just above the knees, a lacy corset that did incredible things to her chest, and long matching black opera gloves that went all the way up to her elbows.
I recognized her. We all did. How could we not?
There were only two small differences, other than the clothes: Her mouth and her eyes. Yes, her full lips were the same cherry red, her eyes were the same breathtaking gold.
But her lips were curved upwards, ever so slightly, in the tiniest of smiles, and her eyes twinkled at some hidden joke.
“Hello,” the woman who looked exactly like Elizabeth Greene said, in a calm and friendly tone. “I am here to negotiate the release of my sister.”
She smiled a little wider, and raised her hands in surrender.
“Take me to your leader.”
END BOOK TWO