“Smells like shit down here,” Cheryl said, standing in the basement under Bart’s florist shop, covering her nose.
“There’s sacks of composted manure in the corner,” said Bart, “I cleared off a few workbenches for you to set up on.”
“It’s great,” Sophie offered, “We’ll adjust.”
Cheryl dumped some of her perfume onto a bandana and wrapped it around her face, “Yeah, fine.”
“I can’t fit,” Carl called from the sidewalk down the cellar door.
“Hang on,” Bart called back and lifted a wide, rolling steel door that opened to wide entrance with a ramp leading to the basement, along the alley side of the shop, “I had this installed to facilitate the movement of oversized items. I believe you qualify.”
Carl had to duck to clear the dock door. Upon entering the basement his face twisted in disgust.
Cheryl raced in and out of lanes on the Ben Franklin bridge into Philadelphia, Carl’s trailer wagging behind. Plumes of grey and white smoke could be seen rising between the buildings in the skyline. She roared past a police car that slipped out of its lane and flashed its sirens.
“Great,” she shouted.
The police car changed lanes again and zipped past Cheryl.
“Great,” she laughed.
“Can you tell me why we’re storming back into the lion’s den?” Ian poked his head into the front seat. “We cross this bridge we’re in Vyx-controlled territory. He has the whole city in his pocket.”
“That thing is running amok on my software,” Cheryl barked.
“And,” Sophie chimed in, “We can’t just let it hurt a bunch of people if we can help it.”
“I guess that’s the positive upshot,” Cheryl mumbled. “And our stray dog back there needs his fix.”
Hunter put his hand out to Ian, “Hunter Yeager.”
“Ian Roland,” he sai, returning the gesture.
“Your name is ‘Hunter Hunter’?” Cheryl quipped.
“I never considered that,” Hunter replied.
All My Friends Are Strangers
Cheryl drove down a narrow, unlit highway through the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. Sophie leaned her head on the passenger side window and stared at the reflection of the dashboard display in the glass. Hunter was splayed out on the back seat, asleep. Cheryl turned and pulled down a thin, ill defined dirt road lined tight on both sides with towering cedars and pulled up to a small house in minor disrepair. Behind it was a barn with light pouring out of the open doors.
Leaving on a Midnight Train
Ian Roland slouched against the window of the train car, his head bobbing against the glass when the train rattled. He had his face pointed toward his tablet, his eyes dead. The object of his fixation was a blog he had found three nights before after falling down an internet hole. Conspiracy theory was always an amusing plaything for Ian, but this one had him hooked. He read every inch of it before his alarm went off like an existential jackhammer. He continued to read through shower and breakfast time, slapped on the suit from the day before and made for the train, dumping himself in the first seat, in whichever car was in front of him when it stopped, pulling his tablet out of his satchel and tended to his new obsession.
Knee Deep in the Hoopla
Sophie and Hunter stood with Vyx security on either side blocking any routes of escape. The agents had their rifles trained on them. The most forward officer pulled up his balaclava.
“Take the girl alive,” he said, “Shoot the other one.”
One of the men stepped forward and took a shot at Hunter. Hunter twirled his katana and the bullet returned to the security agent and struck him between the eyes. The other agents watched the his body drop to the ground, their eyes darting between them. Sophie produced and antique, silver hand mirror from a pouch slung across her shoulder and held it up high.
“Close your eyes,” she whispered to Hunter.