Strange Reality, 2

Last time, Alina was woken up in the middle of the night by her arm smacking her across the face and ordering her to jump out the window. Turns out the arm may have been right.


This wasn’t the night Alina expected. Obviously. If she thought she was going to get smacked awake in the middle of the night by a malfunctioning arm and then told to escape out a window before a bunch of darkhats blew down her door she wouldn’t have had been drinking so hard on her way home. Or at least put on pants.

She had gotten halfway down the alley and dropped behind a collection of reeking, sticky garbage cans. When she dared to peek around, her apartment was easy to find. The only one with the window shield up. Lights pouring out, flashing like there was a party.

Someone leaned out the window. She fell back and immediately regretted it. The smell overwhelmed her.

“What the phlox,” Alina muttered.

Her left arm moved again, waving around so high above her head she had to pull it back down.

“They’ll see!” she hissed.

Can this thing even hear me?

Whoever had been leaning out of her window was gone, and Alina made a run for it. She didn’t know where she was going, but anywhere had to be better than sitting next to gross garbage cans that her runaway arm could swing into and knock over any minute.

It must have been closer to morning than she thought. The alley dumped onto Kazm and already some of the stalls had interior lights on and banging sounds coming from inside as someone set up their dreg. She kept behind the stalls, trying to find the small pools of darkness, the blank spots where the lights from the ads and boards and holograms didn’t reach. They were small, and if anyone else had been on the street at that moment they would have seen her shuffling around in her thin shirt and short-shorts, arm waving around like some sort of bizarre, slutty crab.

She crossed the Kazm and went down the next alley. Leaning against the wall, hands on her knees, she listened. The constant droning of the city from above and below, almost like breathing. The bips and squeaks and boops and cutesy talk from the billboards and holograms. Nothing out of the ordinary, there. What she didn’t hear was the sound of boots. Of shouting. Of energy weapons charging. They either weren’t coming for her, or were so silent running didn’t matter.

The arm shook again. It was this stupid thing’s fault she was out here on the street in her underwear, her tiny apartment being tossed. It had to be. What had she done? She went to work. She drank on the train. Got her updates when they came out. She went out with friends. Used to do that, anyway. They could search every inch of that room and not find a single piece of contraband. Her life was quiet. Her life was nothing. There was no way they were there for here.

Something had happened to her arm.

It hit the wall a few times and she finally guided it so it was holding the eyeliner against the glass wall.

“Why are they after you?”

WALLFLOWER BAR

“Wall…what, you want a drink?”

18475 QUINN STREET WALLFLOWER BAR

“Who are you? How are you controlling my arm? What did you do to it? Why are they after it?”

WALLFLOWER BAR ERASE THIS

Maybe I should just go back. Explain this to whoever is in there. Probably the police, right? Yeah, they’ll understand. I don’t know what’s going on, I can tell them that and they’ll leave me alone. Maybe take my arm. I can get a new one, I’ve got the chains for at least a dreggy one until I can save up. Yeah, they’ll believe me. This is all a misunderstanding.

Echoes of stomping boots came to her from the alleyways. They didn’t sound like they belonged to reasonable people. People who would understand she was nothing more than a dock worker with a malfunctioning (hacked?) arm. No, those boots had the distinct tread of the type of person who would shoot first and never ask questions unless instructed to. Alina didn’t know what any of this was, but she knew the cops weren’t the answer.

She smudged the words written on the glass and started to run.

Wallflower Bar. Quinn Street. Where the fuck is Quinn street? No, wait, I’ve seen it before. Where, though? Was I…or maybe…ooh, pants.

The alley had taken her out to Reyo. One of the stalls getting ready to open was selling racks of clothes, already in a line next to their little glowing hut. No one seemed to be around. Whoever was opening the stall was inside, or gone off to get food, maybe. Barely pausing, she pulled the first things she could off a couple of racks – a pair of black pants and a pink shirt with a purple teddy bear in sunglasses on the front.

“Hey!”

The stall owner must have come out at the exact right moment to see her.

“You can’t take that!”

Alina took off, wincing as her feet slapped the pavement.

“Stop. Hey, officers, over here! Thief! Running!”

Officers?

The ones from her apartment. Must be. Police didn’t free-roam the Boiler. They only came here when they had a reason to. Someone to snatch. Someone to beat. Someone to kill.

What are they going to do to you?

Alina could hear them behind her. Boots. If they yelled at her, or said anything at all, she didn’t hear it.

I’m too hungover for this.

Her soupy brain told her she shouldn’t be running in a straight line. Two seconds after she jerked left into the street an energy pulse whizzed through the space her head had previously been. If there was a later, she’d be very proud she hadn’t screamed. Her running became like a rat down at the dock. Here, there, one direction, then other, behind a stall, around a parked motor, halfway up the stairs to the elevo before jumping over the railing. The alley in front of her had a foodstuffs place on one side and a porn shop on the other. The boots were close behind her. They were yelling. The pulses were singeing her hair.

Alina had a chance.

A little more than halfway down the alley, next to the back door of the noodle place, was an ancient towncar. Mrs. Tanaka’s son Romeo worked on it in what little free time he had. After two years it didn’t even have maglev. It didn’t even have tires. It did have a ‘blitzing’ stereo.

Alina didn’t need tires. The car was such a piece of shit and going nowhere everyone knew Romeo didn’t lock it. The truck opened easily and she flung herself in, slamming it behind her.

Tucked in the fetal position, clutching the clothes she had stolen like the teddy on the shirt was real, Alina tried desperately to slow her breathing. And her heart. And her mind.

What if they’ve got the tacmets on? They’ll have heat vision, yeah? Infrared. Dreg. Phlox. Dregging phlox. What is happening? Why is happening? I swear to God if this arms moves.

The arm, for once, was quiet. She squeezed the fist to test control. At least there was that.

Boots.

Boots coming.

Boots going.

No yelling. No fanfare. They probably didn’t even register the car. Just ran right past it, silent, the only sound those infernal boots.

Alina knew she couldn’t wait. She had to get out of the Boiler. Toward…Quill? Quentin? No, Quinn, Quinn. The Wallflower Bar. She didn’t know what was waiting for her there, but it had to be better than this.

Right?

The arm didn’t answer her. Alina popped the trunk a couple of inches. When she was sure it was clear she got out. Threw on her stolen clothes. Like an eddy in the water she floated to the street.


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