Home > Wings (Black City #3)(5)

Wings (Black City #3)(5)
Author: Elizabeth Richards

Just as we’re leaving, Father grips Garrick’s arm, holding him back. As I walk off, I hear my father say, “If that Bastet tries to escape, shoot him.” A shiver trickles down my spine at my father’s chilling words and I hurry after Elijah.

• • •

An hour later we’re chugging down the river in the Fogger—a covered steamboat, with paint peeling off its metal bodywork and a rusting chimney that spews clouds of soot into the resin-brown skies. The Fogger’s ugly, but we blend in perfectly with all the other boats on the busy waterway. I gaze down at the river, which is a vivid orange color—a by-product of decades of pollution being dumped into the water by the munitions factories.

The river cuts through the heart of Gallium and is the best way to get around the crowded city. We sail past towering skyscrapers. Their façades are covered in sheets of tarnished metal, creating a patchwork of dirty bronze, verdigris green and gunmetal gray, reminding me of a famous cubist painting that I once saw at Emissary Bradshaw’s home in Centrum. The cool spring air whips through the Fogger’s windows, and I hug my jacket closer around myself as I sit down on the long wooden seat.

Like many people in Gallium, I’m wearing a respirator mask, which covers my nose and mouth, obscuring the lower part of my face. As well as being a handy disguise, it’s also protecting my lungs from the noxious fumes belching out of the munitions factories all around the city. The fumes won’t kill you, but I’d still rather not breathe them in, as the air stinks. The mask is rather claustrophobic, though, and I adjust the strap, loosening it a little. In addition to the mask, I’m dressed in black leather slacks, with a tight gray vest and hooded tailcoat, which is hiding the gun holstered around my shoulder. Destiny and Elijah are similarly dressed, although his jacket is longer than ours, to conceal his tail.

Garrick and Sasha are in the cockpit, steering the vessel. They’re both wearing disguises like ours, even though they’re not in much danger. The Lupines are considered allies of Purian Rose, so they aren’t on his list of Impurities to be sent to the Tenth—a detention camp the size of a small state—unlike the Darklings, Bastets, Dacians or “race traitors” like me; it’s not uncommon to see them walking around the streets. Garrick and Sasha are risking a lot by helping out the Sentry rebels. It’s reassuring to know that not all the Lupines are blindly obedient to Purian Rose; some of them disagree with his One Faith, One Race, One Nation policy and want him out of power. It gives me hope.

I cross my legs, and something jabs into my thigh. It’s the gardening knife I stole from the UG this morning. I take it out, turning it over in my hands. The whole thing is about five inches long, with a sturdy wooden handle covered in yellow paint. I scratch a word into the paintwork with my thumbnail. When I’m finished, Destiny walks over to me, a little unsteady on her feet as the Fogger rocks slightly. She peers down at my handiwork.

“‘Polly?’” she says, reading the word I’ve scrawled into the handle. “Interesting name. My weapon’s called Mr. Shooty,” she says, patting her holster.

I chuckle, tucking the blade back into my pocket. I pull out the list of supplies that Dr. Craven asked us to get, since we were heading into the city. My parents were initially against us going to the shop, but I reminded them we’d be in disguise. Besides, I’ve been running a rebellion for the past few months. I can handle a shopping list.

“Where can we go to get all these supplies?” I ask.

“Babbage and Son’s in Flux Plaza,” Destiny says. “Scott’s a friend of mine.”

“I’ll go tell Garrick,” Elijah says.

I watch him as he strolls over to the cockpit, a crease between his brow, deep in thought. I wonder if he’s thinking about his mom.

“I hope Garrick’s men find Yolanda and the others,” I say.

“What good will it do?” Destiny says. “I doubt the Commander will agree to a rescue mission, hon. There’s nothing in it for him.”

“But they could lead us to the Ora,” I say. “We really ought to be looking for it. We can’t guarantee the Sentry rebels’ weapons will be enough; shouldn’t we have a backup?” The Sentry rebels have an impressive arsenal, but it’s still no match for Purian Rose’s forces.

“Look, you don’t need to convince me,” Destiny says. “My aunt always told me, ‘Have a plan B, Destiny. You never know when you might need it.’ But try to see it from the Commander’s point of view. If anything happened and the virus got released into the compound, a bunch of people could die. Not me, thankfully. I don’t have the V-gene,” she adds, laughing a little. “But a good fifteen percent of our soldiers do. So I get why he’s being cautious. I think he’s wrong—we should have every advantage possible—but I get it.”

I sigh, knowing it’s pointless to discuss it any further. Destiny can’t change the Commander’s mind any more than I can. The boat goes around a bend in the river, and Destiny peers out the window.

“Man, this city sucks,” she says. “I never thought I’d see this stinking place again.”

“Why did you come back?” I ask.

“My aunt begged me,” she replies. “Things were getting pretty crazy in Centrum. I got mixed up with a bad crowd a few months back, so my aunt persuaded me to come home and join Alpha Squad.”

“What sort of bad crowd?” I ask, curious to know more about her life in the capital, where she was working as a model. Polly wanted to do that as a career too. She and Destiny would have gotten on like a house on fire.

“I’d rather not think about it, hon. It’s all in the past.” Destiny gazes out the window again. “I miss Centrum.”

“Speaking of which, what’s Omega Squad doing there?” I ask, recalling everyone huddled around the com-desk in command central.

“You know I can’t tell you that,” she says.

“But—”

She silences me with a firm look. I let it slide, knowing when to push her and when not to.

• • •

The Fogger slows down as we approach Flux Plaza, the main city square where their Darkling ghetto is located. Or was located. The notorious brass gates leading into the ghetto dangle off their hinges, and the place is now empty, all the Darklings having been taken to the Tenth in accordance to Rose’s Law. Purian Rose’s forces have been sweeping across the country, systematically clearing out the ghettos, city by city. Gallium was targeted a few weeks ago while Ash, Elijah and I were on the run.

Garrick docks the boat beside the jetty next to Flux Plaza and we all climb out, making sure our hoods are up. The city square is jammed with Workboots setting up a wooden stage in the center of the plaza. I vaguely recall February Fields’s news report earlier, about a nationwide Cleansing ceremony taking place next week. It’s going to be a huge televised event, with millions of people attending ceremonies across the country. I’m guessing the stage is for that.

I watch a group of Pilgrims filtering into the church on the west side of Flux Plaza. They all have shaved heads and a rose tattoo above their left ears—the mark of a follower of the Purity faith, the religion that Purian Rose created years ago. Membership has exploded in the past few weeks, as people clamor to prove their devotion to Purian Rose for fear of being sent to the Tenth. Nothing encourages faith like fear, it seems.

“Babbage and Son’s is over there.” Destiny points to a shabby store next to the church.

The five of us head through the bustling town square toward the store. I tug my hood lower over my face as a group of Pilgrims walk past, handing out flyers to passersby about next week’s ceremony. One of the women thrusts a flyer in my hand and I quickly take it, stuffing it into my pocket as we approach the shop. A tarnished copper sign hangs over the doorway, reading BABBAGE AND SON’S APOTHECARY. A silvery bell rings as we step inside.

The shop is cramped and gloomy with an unpleasant sulfur smell in the air. Glass-fronted cabinets filled with colorful jars of potions and medicines line the side walls, and a large mirror hangs on the back wall behind the counter, giving the impression that the shop is bigger than it is. We head toward the counter. Garrick and Sasha have to bow their heads so they don’t bump them on the low metal beams overhead.

Standing behind the counter is a man in his midtwenties with unruly auburn hair and sleepy brown eyes. A brass watch dangles out of the breast pocket of his red waistcoat. I’m guessing this is “and Son’s” from Babbage and Son’s.

“Hey, Scott,” Destiny says, taking off her mask.

A wide grin spreads across his slim face. “Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!” He steps down from the platform and gives Destiny a quick hug. “I heard you’d gone on a spiritual retreat or something.”

Destiny gives a tight smile. “No. I was just living it up in Centrum.”

“I’m sorry about your aunt,” he says. “Things have gone to hell around here since she died. At least she could keep those fragging guards under control. Now they keep coming into my store, demanding free this, free that, like they own the joint.” Scott turns in my direction and I lower my head slightly, even though I’m wearing a hood and mask, so there’s little chance he’ll recognize me. “So what are you guys here for?”

“We just need a few supplies,” Destiny replies. “Can you put it on my tab?”

He arches a brow. “It’s a tab only if you intend to pay the bill someday, Des.”

She grins. “True, but isn’t it so much nicer for us to both pretend I’m going to do that?”

He chuckles. I raise a quizzical brow at Destiny.

“Scott’s father used to work for my aunt,” she explains. “During the last war, he let her enemies use the shop to host their cloak-and-dagger meetings so she could spy on them.”

Scott walks over to the large mirror hanging behind the counter and hooks his hand around the frame. There’s a click as a secret latch unlocks and the mirror swings forward to reveal a hidden room, big enough to comfortably fit one person, two at a push.

“It’s a spy room,” he explains. “The glass is half silvered, so you can watch what’s going on in the shop, but they can’t see you.”

“Neat,” Elijah says, unhooking his mask so it hangs loose around his face. I shoot an angry look at him—we’re supposed to be in disguise—and he grimaces apologetically. “Couldn’t breathe.” Scott’s eyes widen sightly as he notices the cheetah-like markings down the side of Elijah’s cheeks, realizing he’s a Bastet. He casts a curious look at Destiny, but says nothing as he quietly sets about getting our supplies. Destiny trusts Scott, so I probably can too, but even so, I keep my mask on. He places a jar of flaxseeds on the counter and unscrews the lid. The second he opens it, Elijah starts violently sneezing. Garrick and Sasha bark with amusement.

“Id’s nod funny,” Elijah says between sneezes. “I’m allergic do flaxseed.”

Scott puts the lid back on before Elijah has a fit, and starts weighing up the other ingredients. There’s a portable digital screen on his countertop, streaming the latest news from SBN. The sound is off, but it’s obvious from the pictures that the report is about the bridge that Omicron Squad bombed this morning. Ash’s image suddenly appears on the monitor, and I quickly reach across the counter and turn up the volume.

“. . . These latest attacks are being attributed to the terrorist organization Humans for Unity, led by wanted criminal Phoenix, whose whereabouts are unknown,” February Fields reports over the image of Ash. I stare at the picture. It’s been doctored to make Ash look more threatening—they’ve deepened the hollows in his cheeks, narrowed his black eyes into cruel slits and lengthened his fangs. That’s not who he is. That’s not my Ash. I reach out a hand to touch the screen, aching to be close to him, then snatch it back when I remember Scott is watching. But it’s too late.

He looks from me to Elijah, then to Destiny. “Are you guys with the rebellion?”

“We’re not here to answer questions,” Garrick growls, flashing his canines.

Scott holds his hands up. “Hey now, there’s no need for that. I’m on your side.” He points toward the Pilgrims outside his store. “Those freaks are scaring off my customers. It’s bad for busin—” He frowns. “Great, the Tin Men are coming. I hate these guys more than those weirdos outside.”

Tin Men? I turn. Marching across the square is a group of men dressed in metal-gray uniforms. They look like Trackers—the elite police force that specializes in hunting Darklings—but their uniforms are the wrong color. They head straight for the shop.

“Get into the spy room,” Destiny says, shoving me and Elijah into the crammed space.

Elijah grunts with pain as my elbow jabs into his stomach. I barely have time to turn around before Destiny slams the door, locking us in. The room is immediately plunged into darkness. It’s hotter than hell in here, making it hard to breathe, and I yank off my mask and take a few deep gulps of the musty air. Elijah fidgets behind me, his hand accidentally running up my back as he tries to get comfortable.

A bell tinkles.

Through the double-sided mirror, I watch five men enter the store. They all have shaved heads and are wearing dark gray garrison caps. The floorboards creak as they walk across the room in perfect unison. They ignore Garrick and Sasha, who are pretending to study the jars on the shelves. Destiny is by the counter with Scott. She stiffens when the squad leader approaches them. He’s a middle-aged man with pale skin and penetrating eyes that match the color of his uniform. Pinned to his chest is a silver butterfly medal. Who are these people?

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