For biscuits and gravy, bats,
and mushrooms. Daffodils,
Elvis, and stockings. Or rather,
loyalty, strength, and love.
My sandal is intent on destruction. It slides off my foot and drops eighteen stories. Maybe it longs to be lethal, kill a pedestrian. Add another death to the family tally. Nine instead of ten.
Rack ’em up.
The museum roof is ringed in a high stone wall for leaning against. Or standing upon. It’s warm underfoot, wide and sturdy. Too sturdy. Too safe.
I lean into the dark.
Below, the city pulses. It has a heartbeat. Groaning hoverbuses, sporadic horns, skytower ad-screens blitzing neon. The Galton House capital in all its glory. A planet of city, continents of steel. It’s long after midnight, or one, or even two, but the air still sweats—beads my neck and shoulders—thick as the haze that swallows the sky.
Yonni, my gran, used to talk about stars. How she’d lie in the grass on some backwater planet, and count the glow-dotted infinity. She’d lose her place after a solid thousand or two.
Ain’t nothin’ like ’em, Kit. You can see God up there.
Here, there’s only smog.
No, excuse me, a soft, hazy shimmer. This is Low South, heart of the historic district. Lordlings kill to live in the surrounding cloudsuites towers—where air is mountain fresh and pure as spring.
Not that any of them know what mountains look like, or spring, unless they channel their money into off-planet travel—or grew up somewhere else. Yonni had seen mountains. She had a hidden fund for the day when she would show me, too. She promised.
Like she swore she was feeling better a whole hour before she died.
A breeze curls past my ankles to kiss the distant street. Catches a napkin or cup and tumbles it end over end. The walkway is empty of people and bodies. My sandal didn’t kill anyone. The tally stands at nine.
Mom would be so disappointed.
I kick off my other shoe. The ledge is cracked, the stone rough, and I slide my toes over its cragged lip. Close my eyes. There is nothing beyond the pads of my feet, the press of the air. Distant traffic fading out.
You understand why I can’t keep you on, Mr. Remmings said hours ago, after eviscerating me in front of the entire staff. I thought that’d be the end of it, but no, he had to follow me to my locker. Spell it out. The museum cannot be associated with hack-bombers or threats, and your mother—
Kills people. Killed people.
Humidity coats my skin. My arms hang and I let them float apart, lift a little. Except I don’t have wings and I don’t want to fly.
Mom would always pull my hands together when I was small, cup my palms between her big ones. You’ve the whole world right here, she’d say, what will you do with it?
I dunno, give it back?
My hands were empty then. They still are.
Nine is useless as a tally. I hated being nine. By nine, Mom had been gone a year and Dad a month before the landlord figured out I was alone.
Ten is better.
On my tenth birthday, Yonni found me.
I lower my arms. The world shrinks to the crags in my chest and the stone underfoot. Everything is quiet—my heart, the city. The world open, beckoning. Silence. So much space.
I step forward.
A steel arm grabs my waist and yanks me back onto the rooftop. I ram my elbow into a hard chest, someone grunts and the hold breaks.
I sprint five steps and spin, fists raised and blood pumping backward.
A man stands where I was, pale and old—forty maybe—with thick arms and stubby fingers that catch the light.
“What the hell was that?” he yells. “You trying to get yourself killed?”
My lungs race with my gasping heart, and I don’t say a word.
He shouldn’t be here; no one should be here. The rooftop door is locked, and maybe I know how to pop it, but no one else ever has.
Except the man doesn’t wear the green museum uniform, but the near-black stripes of a power technician. The city has been rife with power-outs lately, and we’ve even had to cancel tours. Mr. Remmings probably called him in.
The man steps forward, head high and finger pointing. “This area is off-limits, you can’t—” He pauses, close now, and squints. “Wait, I know you.”
My breath stops.
Of course. Even here, somebody knows me. And it’s not even me, it’s the straight black hair and bony arms, the sharp nose and chin. Chiseled: the girl version.
You used to look more like Ricky, you know, Mom said once, when she took me out for coffee to try mothering on for size. Now we could be sisters.
The man is in my face, taller, but not by much. “You were on the feeds. You’re the daughter.”
Not whose daughter. Mom bombed the House Archive tower and destroyed half a city block. Quantifiers aren’t needed.
I don’t answer. I don’t look away, either.
His mouth flatlines under grim eyes. He moves back to the ledge and looks down, as if a flightwing waited to catch me. “You meeting her or something? She here?”