Drea robotically cleared her reports queue. Submit. Now came the hard part, the company cafeteria. Managers had to make an appearance. The Directors occasionally dined there and when they did, they noted which Managers had team spirit.
The meal is a nutritional paste, supposedly tailored to her tastes. It smelled like french fries and ice cream. She took her usual spot at the corner table by the exit. The employees eating here were a mix of artists, criminals, musicians and the altered capacity crowd. Drea found a seat next to Skloss.
"Hey, Skloss. Seen any good shows?" Drea asked.
Skloss liked music. He had attended over 1,000 performances in the Dream. He cleared his throat and smiled. Drea caught on. Why didn't she notice the ominous silence?
"Ah, Manager Drea! Good of you to join us" smiled her boss from across the table. "Progress?"
"Director Chloe!" chirped Drea enthusiastically. "Yes, ma'am. Program has the submission data."
Director Chloe looked less than pleased. She wanted a report before submission to Program. Probably to take some credit. Oops, thought Drea gulping her paste. Director Chloe was the one who stuck her with Kade. Nice enough guy but also a pain in her report queue. For one thing, Directors demanded data on that blue orb of his. The DAB. But they didn't even know what DAB meant. They only knew it called itself Steve.
Drea wiped her mouth, smiled and excused herself. She hurried back to her room. She wanted her Town status offline. Her screen knew her tastes so she just hit one.
The Dream began.
A bathroom stall and the small blade of a pocket knife. She dips the shiny, metal beak into the bag for a scoop. Up to her nose, sniff. And stars burn behind her eyes...a swooning, rush. She flushes the toilet to cover her guttural snorts and blinks madly for a moment. When her brain stops vibrating, she seals the bag, closes the knife and slips both in her jeans. She opens the stall door.
Drea sees the Dream in the mirror and pauses to look. Boyish but also cute, she thinks. Ripped jeans, black Converse high-tops and a shirt that says: 'Oasis > Beatles'. Her dyed black bob frames dark eyes. Mixed in the muddy brown irises are hues of sorrow. Green flecks of fear. A violent, self-consciousness that avoids eye contact.
But the cocaine does it's magic. Her mood is lifted, the frown blows away. Drea checks her nose for powder and exits to the mall.
She had those spooky, far away combat eyes. No one ever saw her smile. She was a sixteen year old escaped slave. She called herself Pepsi.
Though Pepsi's face looked vacant, it still held the soft glow of youth. People in camp stared. But not at the girl. At the warrior. When she joined Unit 138 as a sniper, word got out fast. Only two months in the field and forty-six confirmed kills. It was rumored Pepsi was transferred because of a million dollar bounty on her head. Kade didn't know about a bounty, but he did read her file. Three dead partners. One transferred. Now she was his problem.
They had little in common. A teen girl. An old man. Anyone over thirty remembered peace. Kade was a child at summer camp when Red nuked the first city. When the machines rebelled and took the war tools offline, Kade's parents still believed in voting. But Pepsi was a war kid. Born in the storm. Slavery and survival. War kids knew kill or be killed. Some killed for Red. Some killed for Blue.
Kade and Pepsi killed for Blue. This was what they had in common.
The crawler raced through a maze of fire trails towards the drop. The driver would get them close without using roads. They'll hike the rest. Scout, sync satellite maps and report back to the armored column behind them. Until then, six silent hours with the teen. Neither had spoken. Kade thought of topics but dismissed them as quickly as they came up.
'Your nose is crooked. Who broke it?'
'What was your slave name?'
'Those scars on your face...Knife?'
So they checked their gear or stared out the gun holes. They were getting close. You could tell by the debris. Sometimes they looked like rotting logs. Some big. Many small. There were flashes of color. Dresses, jackets, pants. Or hair. Dead slaves littered the roads near the drop. Tossed from the meat trucks. The town was taken in winter. Unheated trucks, sorrow and sickness lined the trail with discarded corpses. Kade and Pepsi stopped looking out the gun holes.
Drea looks across the floor. Faceless shoppers wander aimlessly past potted palms and storefronts. She looks at her watch. Work starts at 6pm. Beneath the coke rush, Drea knows she's exhausted. Maybe four hours of sleep after a double shift. She should be home, napping with the cat. But no. She's in a fucking mall, on a fucking bench in front of fucking Nordstrom. Exactly where Madison said they'd meet.
I'm being stood up, Drea thinks. Again.
She looks around one more time and feels foolish. Sadness returns. The heavy, dark spirit that weighs down her days. But beneath the mall is the Powell station. Home is just two stops away. She reaches into her jacket to feel the BART ticket. Waiting any longer just makes it hurt more.
"Kiiiira!" comes the voice. The voice she's been waiting for.
And her heart quickens.
Drea turns around and dies. The sadness darkens to rage. Silently, she stands up to leave.
"Hey!" screeches Madison grabbing her arm. "Hey wait!"
Every part of her soul wants to take Madison's hand and press it against her face. But Drea see's the surly, defensive glare of the boy. She rips her arm free and faces him. He's about Madison's age. Backward GAP hat, sagging jeans and shiny San Jose Sharks jacket. He pretends to study his phone but when he looks up, Drea's still staring.
Little boy, Drea thinks.
"Kira!" fake laughs Madison. "Jeff's just my ride!"
Drea looks at Madison. Drug skinny blond wrapped in a fake fur coat. High heels and too much makeup. Madison's silvery cocktail dress is rumpled and looks slept in. The twelve year age difference screams in Drea's skull. They both know Madison steals her cash tips when she sleeps over. They both know Drea could get fired, possibly even deported for letting a nineteen year old drink at the Lexington Club.
"C'mon Maddy. We gotta jet," gripes Jeff. "Just ask!"
Drea looks back at the boy. Maddy? The boy is taller than Drea but has rabbit eyes. If she had a bottle or a chair she could smash his fucking face in. Madison grabs her hand.
"Um, can you get me some blow?" blurts Madison. "Like a 8ball?"
Drea stares at the pretty, little fool in disbelief. Is beauty worth going to jail? Madison squeezes Drea's arm.
"Hope you're not mad! I know it's like a secret hushhush bartender thing" she grins. "But Jeff's cool. You understand, right?"
She understands. She understands she's a fool to take in another stray experimenting with her sexuality. And she's a damn fool to give her heart and home to another skinny, bleached blonde that only wants to party.
"Eight barl? Dunt nu what you mean" says Drea. Then she leans into Madison and growls, "Tell me another feckin' spoof an I'll kek your feckin' teeth in!"
And Madison laughs. A musical sound. Pure and beautiful. She slips into Drea's arms and reaches up to caress her face. "Oh, my sweet Kira-Mae," Madison sighs. "Your accent drives me crazy. Mmm...the way you say 'fuck.'"
Drea can smell sunlight in Madison's hair. Beneath the silvery dress are the warm curves of her body. Everything dissolves. The boy, the mall, her job, her life. Drea closes her eyes. Only Madison. My Madison.
"But I gotta go Kira-Mae" Madison whispers.
Drea opens her eyes and waits for the next blow. Madison brushes her lips against her neck.
"Can I see you?" asks Madison. A soft whisper on Drea's neck. "Tonight? At the Lex?"
Drea remains still. She knows what Madison wants. She knows what to say, but the words lay strangled in her heart.
Madison's fingertips brush across her hip. Drea's heart becomes thunder. Screaming desire eclipses sanity. What is right? What is wrong? For one insane moment, Drea is happy.
Drea hears herself sigh, "Yes."
"Thank you, Kira-Mae."
Then Drea wakes up to her life. The mall. Madison presses a quick kiss against her lips. And she watches them leave.
I will go to Hell for this one, she thinks.
The Dream ends.
They crawl through a crumble of rocks. Near the top, Kade signals, Stop. They assemble their rifles. Pepsi smears eye-black across her face. Kade touches his broken watch for luck. They go over the top and slip into a corridor of summer grass. Below are the ruins of a bombed out gas station and hardware store.
"Hear that?" breaths Pepsi.
Talk is taboo. But he hears it. Pulsing, thumping music. Rap music.
"Fuck" whispers Pepsi. "Look at this fuckin' green scene."
In the shade of the bombed out hardware store, four Red soldiers lounge on wooden chairs and play cards. Between them is a pile of money. Assault rifles lay on the ground next to beer cans. To the west, an empty lot. A soldier sits in the bushes, reading a magazine. Probably taking a shit. The unmanned support vehicle with light cannon has two speakers in the back. And the supply truck is propped up on jacks. Flat tire.
There should be more, thinks Kade. At least a sergeant. Maybe an officer. Kade clicks the info to the platoon behind them. When they respond, Kade agrees. He hand signals to Pepsi; Split up and destroy. But Pepsi's not paying attention. She's studying her scope. Maybe she sees something with those young eyes? Kade reaches over to tap her helmet. He feels the recoil of her rifle the same instant he hears the Fwoomp!
Kade rolls back to position as chaotic thoughts fly through his head. Fuck! Sight threats! Shit! Ignoring my order! She has a silencer! Firing positions not optimal! But as Kade processes the scene, he is surprised at what he sees.
A soldier windmilling his arms, falling. He must have been leaning backwards when Pepsi shot the chair leg out from underneath him. He lands hard on his ass. His friends are silent, stunned. Then they start laughing. One points while the other two double over. Then a new guy walks into view. He looks at the scene and joins in the laughter.
"Truck. Rear, left" whispers Pepsi. "I got chairs."
She's baiting them, thinks Kade. Like shooting ground squirrels. Wound one. As it rolls around in the dirt, screaming, the agony attracts more squirrels. For hunting humans, Pepsi's using humor. Kade sights the truck. An officer in shiny boots climbs down from the cab. He looks to see what's going on.
"I got shots" murmurs Pepsi.
"Go" urges Kade squeezing his trigger. The officer's face vanishes in a puff of pink.
Four rapid shots from Pepsi. One, two, three bodies drop. Before they hit the ground, the guy on the broken chair dives backwards. She missed? But when he stops moving, half his head is gone. Just weird combat physics. Pepsi's accuracy is good but her speed is incredible. Motion. The guy sitting in the field dives. Kade recovers and hits him.
Head? Torso? No movement.
"Gonna see" says Pepsi drawing her sidearm. A Red officer's gun she looted from a kill.
Kade nods and wide scopes her movement. Pepsi lopes forward, crouched in a shooting stance. Her gun covers each body but she heads straight to the field. Smart. The only unconfirmed kill. She stops. Gun pointed where Kade can't see. Her lips are moving but the thumping party music still plays. Kade starts down the hill. When he sees the soldier, he lowers his rifle. The shot yanked out some guts when it blew the hip apart. But the soldier's alive. His wide eyes follow Pepsi as she looms over him. Her arms are spread out. A gun in one hand and a knife in the other. As he gets closer, Kade can hear her ranting.
"-and the Darkness comes!" Pepsi screams to the sky. "Sons and daughters of Nyx! The Oneiroi!"
She drops. Both knees slam into the mangled guts. He screams blood and feebly struggles. Pepsi shows him her knife and then savagely carves into the wound. She yanks out pink meat, gray coils and purple chunks. Blaring rap music, the soldier crying for his mother and Pepsi's incoherent howling swirl together like a drowning madness.
"Pepsi!" yells Kade.
Her handgun points at him. She moves so fast. The .50 caliber roars and Kade feels the recoil slice past his face. When he looks up in shock, Pepsi is watching him. Same vacant look. Same empty eyes. Gore is splattered all over her face and hands. She brings up the knife and sniffs. Kade frowns when she tastes the blood.
"You ok?" she casually asks.
Outrage blinds him as he moves towards the monster. But Pepsi gestures behind him with her knife. Kade turns and see's a soldier. Pepsi's shot caught him in the chest. A ragged hole from sternum to neck. The head faces the wrong way and looks surprised.
He opens his eyes. Pepsi strolls towards him and unhooks the canteen from her belt. She unscrews the top and takes a sip. Her face freezes, she grimaces and spits.
"Eggnog?!" she gasps in disbelief. "Fucking eggnog! Are you kidding me?!"
Kade looks at her. Pepsi's new voice and exaggerated mannerisms are way off.
"Program can't do water?" she complains. Then she looks at Kade. Slowly, a big, blood covered smile spreads across her face. "It's the details that make the Dream, right?"
The Dream ends.