part V

Before Ilona could utter a single word in protest, Roe had dropped the bundled carton of buns on top of the steaming food cart and bolted down the street towards her rifle’s blinking signal.

“I’ll be back for those! You’re the best!” Roe yelled back, sprinting, as she weaved through the busy sidewalk. W0RM followed from above, gliding over the heads of the crowd.

“Be careful!” Ilona shouted, shoving the cartons into a compartment below, before handing a bewildered man his bun. She sighed and grumbled to herself, “...Gonna get yourself killed,” as the man awkwardly backed away.

In between many bumped shoulders and hastily excused pardons of “Sorry!” and “Excuse me!” Roe glanced furiously between the map and the street ahead. She was gaining on the signal, adrenaline pumping through her veins, but the voice in her head asked, what was that? Back at the bus stop?

As she dodged a pedestrian and rounded the block, she had no answers. For any of it. For the empty, sunken feeling in her chest after seeing Ari disappear from the bus stop. For yelling at her earlier that morning. Hell, even for doing this--rushing headlong toward the bastard who stole her rifle and, more importantly, the farm’s generator with no plan of action whatsoever.

But was she lost?

She felt fine most of the time. Fixing things in the garage. Tending to the ponds. Helping Bell around the house. It wasn’t a particularly exhilarating life, but it was enough. But, wait, was it enough?

Had she been on autopilot? Just crawling along, correcting only what was necessary, only when necessary, like their old hauler or something?

No, she thought, fighting the nagging tug of truth in the back of her mind. Grandma Bell needs the help. She needs me. She couldn’t abandon Bell like her grandfather did. She wouldn’t. Bell was all she had this life, no matter how simple or mundane or whatever as it was. She was needed.

And, right now, Roe needed that generator back.

She skidded to a halt after turning the next corner, pushing her conflicted thoughts from her mind and refocusing the blip which had slowed after turning down what looked like a small roadway.

W0RM landed on her shoulder, as she peered across the crowded road to see where the thief, or whoever he’d sold the rifle to, had went. The small roadway turned out to be a narrow alleyway tucked beneath the shadows of the quickly setting sun.

“Of course,” Roe grumbled under her breath.

After slipping through the cross traffic, Roe hunched beside a dumpster near the alleyway’s entrance, out of sight, and referenced the map one last time. The blip had stopped some distance in from the street. Roe stood for a moment, thinking, and then it hit her.

She turned to W0RM, “Fly up ahead and stay out of sight.” And with that, the metal bird chirped in the affirmative and darted into the air. Roe quickly typed on her multi-tool. The projection of the map disappeared and in its place floated a live, streaming feed from W0RM’s point-of-view.

The alleyway and its surrounding buildings few by, as W0RM soared through the air above and between them. He quickly came to rest, perched on a window ledge, overlooking what appeared to be the dead end of the alley.

Roe gestured with her hand, and the image pushed in, giving her a closer look at the scene. Two men stood talking to a third outside of an open garage. Roe zoomed again, closer on the men, and, sure enough, there it was. Her rifle. In its retracted, compact form. Strapped to the back of the thief with the red multi-tool. The man who had stolen their generator and given her her black eye.

Roe’s eyes narrowed angrily.

“Stay there and wait for my signal,” she said to W0RM, through clenched teeth. She waved away his POV footage and quickly peered out from behind the dumpster. She took a deep breath in an attempt to calm her nerves.

“Okay,” she said, assuring herself, “I can do this.”

She tapped on her multi-tool, and, in an instant, a shimmering wave of light crackled over her, reflecting her surroundings in a dazzling display of infinitely mirrored fractals, and she disappeared from sight.