Previous Story: 21. Red Rose Rising
‘Any more planes this morning?’ asked Aunt Grace as she entered the kitchen.
Jenny was sitting at the window, an untouched mug of coffee in front of her. The ninth-floor apartment gave them a good view over San Lazaro and she had counted at least thirty different military aircraft during the previous day.
‘Not today. Quiet.’
‘Got to be a good sign,’ said Eve. Jenny’s younger sister was making scrambled eggs and – as usual – playing the optimist.
Eve and Jenny were very different. Eve had gone to college and had a lucrative job with Fortitude Insurance. She seemed sure that the crisis would pass swiftly and that her boyfriend David would arrive soon to rescue her.
‘How’d you figure that?’ countered Jenny. ‘Nixon in number 13 said he spotted something coming out of the planes. You saw those weird pods under the one that came close. Didn’t look good to me.’
‘My phone is still useless,’ said Aunt Grace as she sat down beside Jenny. She and Eve had lived together for years; ever since the girls’ mother – Grace’s sister – had died. Jenny had come to check on them three days earlier, just before the phone networks suddenly went dead.
‘Mine too,’ said Eve as she took three plates from a cupboard. ‘But I’m sure David will come today.’
Jenny and Aunt Grace exchanged a cynical look. It seemed to Jenny that her sister’s optimism was now verging on delusion.
Aunt Grace tied back her greying hair as Eve placed the three plates of eggs on the table. She then sat down herself and handed the others their forks.
‘That’s the last of them. Unless the store gets some more.’
‘From where?’ snapped Jenny. ‘No one can get in or out of S.L.’
Eve ignored this and noticed the full cup of cold coffee. ‘You have to eat and drink, Jen, keep your strength up. It’s not like you.’
Aunt Grace ate some eggs then put her fork down. ‘Remember that nice Miss Ellis from my needlepoint class? She found a lovely retirement home down in Miami – kept telling me to join her. Maybe I should have.’
Jenny looked out at the sky; it was a nice, clear day and if you kept your gaze upward you could convince yourself everything was okay. But then there were the numerous fires, the empty streets – and the occasional CyMS walking by. Jenny wondered about the aircraft – was whatever they released supposed to affect the CyMS? Or normal people? Or everyone?
‘Eat, Jenny,’ ordered Eve.
‘You have it,’ said Jenny, still looking out of the window.
‘I’ve got more things to worry about than you!’ said Eve suddenly. ‘My job, my boyfriend. And I’m still holding myself together!’
‘You sure about that?’
Eve stared at her sister across the small, square table. ‘You’re worried about your precious Rose, I expect.’
Jenny didn’t reply but of course her sister was right. Four days had passed since she’d seen her lifelong friend and superior in the Red Dragons. She’d been protecting Rose for as long as she could remember and hated the thought of them being apart. Rose had plenty of protection around her but in such unpredictable times things could change quickly; and they both knew that danger could come suddenly – and from any direction.
And then there was that empty feeling Jenny couldn’t shake when she was away from Rose. Jenny had always considered herself very average. Big – yes, tough – yes, and mean when she wanted to be. But Rose was something else. So small. So perfect.
Eve quickly downed the rest of her eggs then got up and dropped her plate noisily into the sink. ‘You know what, Jenny, this could actually be a good thing for you. A chance for a new start. A clean break. Leave Rose and that life behind. You could even get rid of those disgusting tattoos. Laser removal is pretty painless now, you know.’
‘I’ve told you before. Rose and the crew are my life.’
‘Crew – funny how you never say what they really are.’ Eve shook her head. ‘I will never understand you.’
As she walked out, Aunt Grace finished her eggs. ‘Maybe you should listen to your sister.’
Jenny couldn’t be bothered to argue.
Aunt Grace eyed her niece’s plate. ‘Are you going to …’
Jenny pushed the plate towards her.
She waited until they were both occupied before leaving. Eve and Aunt Grace were in the lounge, vainly trying to get their phones to work. Jenny grabbed the small pack she had brought with her and slipped out of the front door. She descended to the eighth floor before taking the elevator so that they wouldn’t hear.
Jenny had only come back to ensure they were okay and her sister and aunt were doing as well as anyone. The apartment building inhabitants were well-armed and guarded the barricaded entrance in shifts. They searched everyone who came in but let Jenny leave freely.
Also in her pack was her Tech 9 but she hoped not to have to use it. She looked down at her hands as she walked. She’d told Eve and Aunt Grace that the black coloring on her fists were tattoos. This was only half true; the ink covered the latest concussive force implants.
Jenny couldn’t be sure where Rose might be; the gang leader had been on the move, securing and acquiring new assets for the Red Dragons. She would start at the Gold Casino; it wasn’t far away and somebody there would probably have an idea where to find her. Jenny resolved that once she’d located Rose, she wouldn’t leave her side.
Several times during the previous day she had seen a man wandering the streets wearing a green hi-vis vest. A block from the apartment building, she found herself coming up behind him as he ambled along. Now closer, she could see he was a traffic cop. As she passed him, Jenny saw that he was caucasian, about thirty, and his eyes appeared blank. He didn’t seem a threat but Jenny kept watching him until she was well past.
But then she heard rushing footsteps. Turning, she saw that the cop’s expression had changed, that he was running at her with arms outstretched. Jenny didn’t move – she just concentrated on her timing.
Her right fist hit the enraged CyMS between the eyes and he struck the pavement several yards away.
‘Don’t get up, man.’
Next Story: 23. A Cage of One’s Own Making