CHAPTER ONE

part IV

Roe winced at the dinner table in a fresh set of clothes and a clean face, as Bell stood over her, sealing the gash above her brow with the compound sealer from their well-used med kit. “Almost...,” Bell said, steadying Roe’s head with one hand and sealing with the other, “There.”

“Thanks,” Roe said, taking the damp bath towel hanging on the back of her chair to blot her wavy, wet hair. Bell returned the sealer to its dust-smudged case, as Roe shook her head in quiet frustration. “I should’ve just--”

“--It’s okay,” Bell assured her, “The report’s been filed, and, more importantly, you’re okay. Just--maybe next time, call the Feds first and then test your new disrupters on the armed robbers.”

Roe sighed, “Yeah...” then shrugged with the smallest pained smile, “They did work though so...”

Bell scoffed and grinned, as she sat down at the table, “Yes, well, at least there’s that.” She looked at Roe tenderly, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”

Roe shook her head, “Don’t be, come on. I might be able to throw something together to use temporarily. Maybe.” A familiar and intense focus filled Roe’s eyes. “And I’ll message Zaur in the morning and tell him to keep an eye out for it if they didn’t already offload it tonight. And I might be able to boost the rifle’s--”

Bell put her hand on Roe’s, “I’m sure we’ll be fine. We’ve done more with less.”

Roe’s intensity calmed. She nodded. “I know.” She set her towel down on the table. “So how did it go, anyway?”

“Huh? Oh...” Bell smiled sheepishly, “Umm, it went well. He’s a very nice man.”

Roe shook her head expectantly, “And...? You’re going to introduce me, you guys are getting serious? I mean, you were out until two in the morning, you gotta give me more than that.” She quickly reassessed those last words and panicked, “Or wait, never mind, don’t tell me.”

Bell laughed. Roe snickered at herself as well, and, after a moment, Bell responded, “We’re seeing where it goes, but, yeah, he might come to the party.”

“Wow,” Roe impressed, “I mean, that’s something, yeah? You only turn 100 once, so this must be getting serious.”

Bell played coy, “We’ll see.”

Roe gave her a playfully suspicious look and nodded her head, “Yeah, we’ll see...”

Bell glanced at the clock on the fridge and yawned, as it blinked “3:09.” She stood up, “Ooof, I’m too old to be up this late. I’m going to bed, sweetie,” and kissed Roe on the head.

“I’m just gonna check the signal again, see what I can do,” Roe responded.

Bell smiled, “At least try to get a little sleep, okay?” then pointed to Roe’s head, “And keep an eye on that swelling.”

“I will. Promise.”

Bell kissed Roe on the forehead and assured her, “If you don’t find it, the Feds will, okay? Don’t worry.”

Roe nodded with a small smile, they said their goodnights, and Bell stepped out of the room. Roe sat under the dim light in the quiet, alone with her thoughts, the sense of playfulness in her eyes fading into disappointment.

After a long moment, she grabbed a snack from the fridge and returned to the garage to find W0RM curled up in her chair. She made a small chirping sound, and he perked up and fluttered on to the back of the chair, as she flopped into it. She activated the display, typed and tapped, and the rifle’s schematic appeared once again. And again, “NO SIGNAL” flashed across the screen. She sighed, leaning back in the chair, and munched on a bit of the food. W0RM, sensing her frustration, nuzzled and preened her damp hair. She smirked, begrudgingly, “Okay, alright--” She took a breath. Thought. Then nodded her head, as something came to her. “Okay,” she said leaning forward, “Let’s see if...” W0RM gave a little squeak and flap, and she got to work.


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