Parked next to a janky food cart on the side of a bustling street, Roe sat squeezed between two of the empty algae tanks atop the hauler, munching on a freshly steamed bun, staring into nothing.
It was rush hour. The sun hung low in the sky, casting long shadows over the city’s many eclectic inhabitants, as people flooded the sidewalks and weaved between the countless cars, carts, and cabs packing the street. Two passengers squabbled in a driverless bus creeping ever so slowly forward in the jam. A shopkeeper, cigarette hanging precariously from his lips, sprayed down the sidewalk in front of his shop. A cargo ship rumbled loudly overhead, climbing steadily toward the unseen stars beyond.
But Roe registered none of it.
She stared ahead, a sense of dejection on her face, as she took another bite of the steaming bun.
“Come on, Roe, it’s not that bad,” a voice sounded through the bustling roar.
It belonged to a short, slightly plump middle-aged woman at the helm of the sidewalk food cart next to the hauler. She was stretching, filling, shaping, and steaming the buns so quickly and with such skill that she’d nearly finished a dozen before Roe finally replied.
“What am I gonna do, Ilona?” Roe said, eyes still fixed on nothing.
She had been to two supply stores, three pawn shops, and a flea market with no generator, the farm’s or otherwise, to show for it.
Ilona handed a customer a bag of buns through the rising steam billowing from her cart and shrugged, “Well, probably stop moaning and put together some kind of tech-solution-thing like you usually do.”
Roe sighed, “I don’t know.” W0RM hopped next to her trying to snag a bit of bun from her hand, but she shooed him away. “I think I’m out of ideas on this one,” she said thickly through a cheek-full of bun. She pulled up the map of the city with her rifle hovering above it. “It’s not even showing up now,” she said, staring at the empty map, the all-too-familiar “NO SIGNAL” flashing above it.
Ilona looked at her sympathetically while stuffing another half-dozen buns into a carton.
The map flickered out of view, and Roe scowled, her eyes burning with sudden purpose, “But I’m not going home empty-handed,” she said, stubbornly, as W0RM began frantically chirping beside her.
“Well, of course, you’re not,” Ilona said, stepping out from behind her cart and handing Roe two bundled cartons of buns with a kind smile.
Roe’s scowl melted into an appreciative simper. She hopped off of the hauler, taking the cartons from her, and hugged the woman, “Thanks, Ilona.”
“It’s nothing,” she blushed before motioning towards W0RM, who was flapping furiously on the side of the hauler, as she stepped back behind her cart, “Is, uh, he okay...?”
Roe looked to W0RM, bewildered. “What are you doing?”
He brattled a few times, looking between Roe and something across the busy street, flapping wildly.
“What is it--? she asked, glancing past the cars and crowd, confused. But then she saw her.
It was Ari.
Her grandfather’s assistant was sitting on the bench of a graffiti-covered bus stop, back against her bag and staff, reading a book. She absentmindedly twirled the end of her braided hair with her left hand, as her right, still gloved, rested under the book in her lap.
“Thank you,” Ilona said politely, handing a customer some change in exchange for a bun, before turning to Roe, “What is it?”
Roe studied Ari, who mouthed something to herself, dropped the braid, turned the page, then returned to the twirling once more.
After a moment, a look of remorse came over Roe’s face, her brow furrowing. “It’s that girl I told you about. From this morning. My grandfather’s assistant. Ari.”
Ilona squinted across the way then scoffed, “You yelled at her? She looks perfectly nice.”
Roe bristled, “Yeah, well, they’re all usually nice, aren’t they? I mean, she was just... annoying.”
Ilona gave her a knowing look.
“What, you’d trust someone showing up like that? With the prophecy and all that?” Roe glowered.
“You don’t trust anybody,” Ilona replied, pointedly.
Roe scoffed, offended. “That’s not--I trust you. And my grandmother. And W0RM...” she trailed off before deflecting, “But what does that even matter? She’s obviously crazy!”
Ilona gave an amused snort, filling some dough in her hand. “You’re out here searching the streets looking for the thieves that knocked you out and stole your gun and she’s crazy?” Ilona tossed the bun in the steamer and looked at her fondly, “Roe, love, you’ve been lost on the farm for too long.”
Roe went to respond but couldn’t. “I--“ she stared, “You don’t--” but she stopped. Her defensive frown faltered, and a conflicted hesitance slowly set in. The looked back across the street towards Ari, but she was gone.
The bus stop bench sat empty.
A weighted, sunken feeling flooded Roe’s chest.
She stared for a moment, unable to speak as if frozen by the sudden wave of emptiness.
The traffic before the stop began to clear, and Roe turned back to Ilona. But before she could speak, an alarm rang out from her multi-tool.
Roe’s eyes widened.
She immediately launched the map, and there it was: her rifle’s signal, steadily shining, only a few blocks away.
W0RM chirped excitedly from the hauler, as Roe looked back to Ilona, excitedly, who returned her gaze with apprehensive disbelief.
Roe smiled wide.