Okay, I am horribly embarrassed by this. I mean, it is crack. Crack, I tell you. Crack-in-progress, even. The kind of thing that will make certain people on my FList who know me and my proclivities roll their eyes and smirk knowingly. (Oh, don't even pretend you're not doing it.)
And yet I am still posting it! Masochism, you ask? Well, um, maybe. But really it's because the prompt this week was "Flat", which made me think of this post by miscellanny, who is just awesome.
Doesn't it look like the poor snowperson was shoved out of an airplane? It does, doesn't it? Go look again.
And that got me thinking of, um, other
Anyway, for those of you who have actually read this far, this is set in my Gills 'verse (scroll down for the fiction entries). Some of the aspects of this might not jibe with the two earlier pieces, but that's because I'm still working out the details.
And now I'll shut up.
Edit: I forgot the link to brigits_flame. Here it is.
Elise Saaven carefully wedged her car into the space right at the mouth of the alley, trying to ignore the automatic guilt because she was parking illegally. It was barely five-thirty in the morning, and she was only stopping long enough to get a take-out breakfast-that-was-really-dinner at the one place that was open at this hour, and then she was going right home like a good citizen and park in the perfectly legal garage of her building. She sincerely doubted any cops would be around this particular alley in the particular part of town at the moment anyway, and if they were then maybe the government badge stuck to the windshield of her car would keep her from getting a ticket. Elise was more than happy to use whatever few perks her job actually provided, especially at five thirty in the morning after doing a shitty night shift at the Transition Facility.
Not that she was going to think about her shitty night shift at the Transition Facility when she was finally going home. She was going to think about bagels and cream cheese and probably hot chocolate and something sweet that she really shouldn't be eating. And nothing else until she could get into a shower and bed. Nothing else at all.
"The beatings will continue until morale improves," Elise said to the reflection of her tired eyes in the rear-view mirror. They were a little bloodshot, she noted grimly, the dull brown intersected by red lines. She tried not to notice the heavy, almost-purple bags underneath them, or the black hair that had been ripped out of the nice, neat bun she'd labored over by the screaming kid with the claws. It hung frizzy and limp around her face, looking as dispirited as the rest of her. At least the girl hadn't gotten Elise's eyes.
"Right. Hot chocolate," Elise said. Everything would be better after that, and some sleep. And she would just keep telling herself that as many times as she needed to.
She thrust open the car door and was gingerly levering herself upright while trying to avoid the scattered paper cups and food wrappers before she realized that she was hearing shouting, at least three voices, and banging, coming from the dark end of the alleyway. It sounded like a fight.
For a moment she froze, hand still on the handle of her open car door, unsure of what she should do. She reached blindly into the pocket in the door, fingers closing over the taser gun she'd been issued when she'd started working at the TransFac. She was about to lean back inside the car to turn on her phone when she heard the scream. It sounded like an animal, and that's what decided her. Elise slammed the door behind her and ran into the alley.
"Hey!" she hollered. "Hey! Hey! Stop it! Police!" The last part was a total lie, but her government I.D. badge was still hanging around her neck, and she knew from this distance it would be impossible to tell that the bronze-colored seal was completely different. She held the I.D. up in one hand, the taser in the other, ready to fire. She'd been assured it could drop two adult men at once up to eight meters away. She really hoped she wouldn't have to test it.
The alley was almost completely in shadow this early in the morning. The light from the openings to the streets on each end seemed to stop like a wall, barely penetrating the darkness. It reeked of gasoline. She could still make out the kids--four of them, with the hoods of their shirts pulled over their heads. None of them looked over fourteen. One was standing leaning against a dumpster, hands clapped over his face. The other three were kicking someone lying on the ground. Stomping on what looked like wings.
The kid with the broken face jerked his head up to stare at her over his hands. "Cutter! Cutter!" he yelled.
Like one body, all four of the kids took off like rabbits, racing to the opening at the far end of the alley and out to the adjoining street.
Elise didn't try to run after them. Instead she went to where their victim was. She made sure not to run, because avans tended to startle easily and this one had plenty of reason to attack. He was slowly hauling himself onto his hands and knees. She hadn't been wrong about the wings. They were stretched out, enormous. Elise guessed that their full span had to be over six meters. It was impossible to tell what color they were other than dark, just like it was impossible to tell what color the man's hair was, or even his skin. Lighter than hers, anyway, but that wasn't uncommon in the altered. He was shirtless, and in the space between his wings Elise thought she could see the darker shadows of scars. He was too thin, like so many of the altered at the TransFac, bones overly visible.
Wincing internally at what it would do to her prim and beautifully-tailored pants, Elise knelt near him, making sure not to accidentally put her knees on a wing. Immediately something started soaking into the cloth. She grit her teeth and ignored it.
"Hey, it's all right. You're okay, you're okay now. They're gone," she said, a little breathless with adrenaline. She tried to make her voice crooning and quiet, knowing the tone would matter far more than the words did, since she doubted he could understand what she was saying. She repeated the same words with her hands, in case he'd been taught ASL.
Then, "I know," he said. He pushed himself onto his knees while Elise blinked at him in surprise. His wings shifted and he gasped in pain.
"Oh no, you're hurt." Elise grabbed for him automatically, remembering the scream she'd heard. She touched his wing and he jerked it back with a grunt. "I'm sorry," she said immediately, snatching her hands back. They were wet. "I'm sorry."
He shook his head. "Not your fault." She could see his wince as he slowly folded his wings. They shook like leaves in a soft wind. The left wing hung awkwardly, obviously injured, maybe broken. He swallowed. "It's an old injury--they just made it worse." He was clutching his ribs as well; they were likely bruised or broken. Bruises were already blossoming like poisonous flowers on his face and arms. His knuckles were bloody, and Elise thought of the kid clutching his face with vicious satisfaction.
"What happened?" Elise asked him. "Do you need an ambulance?" She'd have to contact the Special Medical Services branch, but she was fairly sure they'd have a transport free at this hour. Only, the one medical facility in the city that could treat altered was at the TransFac. And she wouldn't wish that on anybody, especially not an altered with no apparent neurological defects.
"That's classified," the avan said, making Elise blink again until she realized he'd thought she asked about the original injury, not the kids attacking him. "And I'm fine, thank you." He tried to stand, but just crashed back to his knees. He hissed in pain again. His whole body was shaking now.
"I can see that," Elise said. "And I meant with the kids, what the kids did to you. Hang on." She stood and moved around so she could grab his nearer arm. His skin was cold. "Here. Let me help." The stench of gasoline got worse when she moved, and Elise realized all at once that it was coming from the avan. He was soaked with it, dripping down his wings and from his hair. It was all over her suit now as well, all over her hands.
"Oh my God," she said. "They were going to burn you?"
"Seems like it," he said. He wiped his forehead with the side of his hand. "I was in torpor, or I would've heard them coming."
"Right," Elise said, only half-listening. They were going to burn him. She imagined roaring orange flames, the avan screaming in agony, unable to escape it, his beautiful wings curling into ash and smoke. The idea that those children, that anyone could want to do that, was sick beyond comprehension. "Let's get you up." She tugged on his arm. He grimaced, but then nodded. "Ready? One…two…" On 'three' she hauled him up as he stood, trying not to overbalance and send them both tumbling back to the pavement. It was obvious that it hurt, but he didn't say anything. The avan was surprisingly light, considering he was at least a head taller than she was. "Do you really have hollow bones?"
"That's kind of personal." He said it so flatly Elise had no idea if he meant it or not. The avan was leaning on her more heavily than he probably wanted to, she was certain, and the word torpor slid back into her head. Some avans could go into short-term hibernation, like real birds did. It kept them from starving to death when they couldn't get enough food to support their metabolism. That certainly explained how cold he was, considering most avans ran hot.
The sun was fully up now, and Elise had no problem seeing that the avan's hair had been cut military style--short at the sides, a bit longer at the top, though it was fuzzy like it had been growing out for awhile. And there were dog tags hanging around his neck. "Could you go back to base?" Elise asked him gently, even though she was almost sure of the answer. No one would sleep in an alley if they didn't have to.
"No," he said, and she could hear the bitterness that bled out with the single word. "Medical discharge. I've been staying at the Morgan street shelter, but it was full." He was swaying a little on his feet, his arms wrapped around his battered torso, still shivering as his body tried to get his core temperature up. Elise doubted he had the energy reserves for it.
She thought about the TransFac hospital again. They'd be able to give him a glucose I.V. and warm him up until he was at least able to function, provided he didn't catch Coccidiosis or a staph infection, either of which would probably kill him in about two minutes. Elise took a breath, thinking longingly of hot chocolate and bagels.
"All right," she said. "You're coming with me, then." She pointed with her chin, since her arms were occupied with holding him up. "My car's over there."
He didn't move. "You don't have to do this," he said. He was looking at her car like it was going to eat him. "I'm fine. I'll be all right."
"Your face looks like a topographical map," Elise said. "And your ribs are either bruised or busted, and you need to get your wings looked at." And he was starving to death in an alley but she didn't mention that, figuring it might be a sore spot. She looked up at him with her eyebrows raised. "Not to mention that you smell like a refinery. I think you could use some help."
He looked away from her. "I can take care of myself."
"I'm sure you can," Elise said. He reminded her of her brother suddenly; It made her wonder how old he was. "But the point is that you don't have to. Come on." She gestured at the car again. "You can at least use my shower and get something to eat, all right? Please," she added, because he was just looking at her, and it was still too dark in the alley to really see his expression. "A bunch of kids were going to burn you to death. Please let me help you."
"Your shower's probably not big enough," he said.
Elise was very careful not to smile. "You'd be surprised," she said solemnly.
"I don't think I can fit in your car," he said.
"You can lie down on the back seat," Elise said quickly. "And I've got a blanket, before you tell me you'll ruin my upholstery." She started walking again, gratified when this time he came with her.
The brightness of the daylight made her squint when they finally emerged from the alley, but at least details were visible again. She'd known that the avan's wings were dark, but in the sun she could see they were red-brown. His hair was the same color, and so were his eyes. They were only slightly larger than normal, and his hands looked perfectly human. His feet where hidden in his military-issue boots, but Elise guessed by how he was walking that they were normal as well.
"Whoever designed you did a fantastic job," she said.
He surprised her by laughing, though it made him wince. "I think that's the first real compliment anyone's ever given me."
"Well, it wasn't really for you," Elise said, horribly embarrassed. The avan just laughed again.