This field trip with the Tuatha de Danann seemed like a great way to learn, but they were probably regretting the decision to bring me along when Conner showed up at my door in armor. My grand costume for battle involved a saree.
“Is that what you’re wearing?”
I shrugged. “I suppose. I think they give me leftovers and lost and found, because I have no idea where my clothes come from.”
“You fight like that?” He asked, looking me over.
“Why not? I fuck wearing less.” And out the door I went, to be led to the cafeteria where the Tuatha de Danann were readying their equipment and drinking a few last beers. Cleaning swords and armor. Polishing spears. Posing with shields and spears, taking photos with cell phones.
The photographer gave a thumbs up. “Awesome. That’s going to be my new wallpaper.”
“My man, you’re not even in it,” said one of the guys in the picture. He winked at the one with the phone. “Get one of me on my own, flexin’ my guns.”
Some of the Tuatha walked around in armor, breaking it in, and moved with a clear grace that showed lots of practice. They walked with the kind of smooth practice of those who had done a lot of sweaty stuff in armor. Except Conner. Poor fellow was a jingly mess.
A fellow with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail stepped forward. “The lady who broke Lugh’s jaw. You need armor or axe?”
“I’ll wing it,” I told him.
“This is your crew?” asked a voice behind us. I turned to see Apollo, whose eyes drifted down. “Tripura, what a surprise.”
“Good Apollo, I’m burning to do something with myself besides walk around bored without knowing or learning or doing anything.”
“We’re busy, but I’ll send someone around tomorrow. I’m sorry. There is so much to do and our leadership focuses on bigger issues, like the mission for these fine people,” He pointed to the Tuatha.
“And this fine lady,” said Finn. “We’re short one. Lugh broke his face on her fist. Iff she could do that to Lugh in a wee brawl, she could handle taking his place.”
“She’s tougher than she looks,” Apollo said, looking into my eyes. “Here, there’s one last part of us reclaiming you I hadn’t gotten to yet.” He raised his hand and I felt my skin crawl. That’s all there was to it, too, and a look down revealed it had changed color. I had dark brown skin.
“Am I black now?” I asked, wondering if we were going to the United States. This could be a threat against my life.
“You look Indian,” said Conner. Ah, right. I’m supposed to be some sort of Indian goddess. Plus, Apollo wouldn’t want me being recognized as Gecko if we’re going to encounter any of my own guys. It’s not proof that he suspects me, though.
“Oh, ok. Then I guess I’m ready to go beat some people up. Now who are they and where are they?”
“We don’t know who they are,” Apollo said. “Until recently, the forces of Ricca were aimed against us. We have dealt with that issue.” He scratched at his nose. “We believe there were more working with Psychopomp Gecko. We are too busy moving everyone and covering the havens. Thank you for meeting the call. We need help in North America.”
For fuck’s sake, and after he gave me brown skin.
“What kind of help do you need from the Tuatha de Danann?” asked Finn. “We’re not a moving crew.”
Apollo looked him in the eyes specifically. “No, you’re the old gods of Ireland, strong protectors. Our brothers in North America need your aid. Communes have disappeared from the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Shephard them to safety.”
So we got put on escort duty. I can only assume from my inherent dislike of the assignment that I hated it with such a passion before my memory loss that the loathing remained after everything else was taken from me.
Which kinda faded when we all walked through a magic doorway opened by Baron Samedi and I found myself looking at the smiling face of a dark-skinned beauty with feathers tied in her hair. We were at a dusty old gas station. The GPS put me in Arizona. And wow, some shit was going down in Ricca. So much was happening everywhere, in fact. It was a mess. Even just expanding my consciousness that far created so much angry buzzing in my head. It had been so much more peaceful back underground.
That caused a bit of puzzlement, even as I looked out at a set of buses. Three of ’em, and nice ones. Tour buses. I think the one in the rear had a pool. Son of a bitch, they stuck me in and a bunch of other people in a hole to get drunk, but these guys are riding around in style.
“This is a step up from the hole we were just in, isn’t it?” I asked, elbowing Conner in his chainmail-clad gut.
“Volunteering has its benefits,” he told me, then nodded to tanned beauty in front of us who was speaking with Finn.
I turned to him, “Please tell me you know how to pronounce some of those Aztec and Incan names. I’ve seen those things.”
Finn turned to us. “Men, and woman, this is Rachel, the second in command of this convoy. She wants to distribute us among the buses so none of them could be isolated, and so some wouldn’t be left unprotected.”
Easy for him to say. If I even have eggs. I’m not saying I do. In fact, I almost certainly don’t, no matter what that god said.
Finn continued, “Everyone, stow your arms quickly. Do your best to blend and look like regular people. Remember, this land is under civil war. There may be threats all around us as we speak.”
He’s right, we were in the middle of the Arizona desert. Days past, wannabe-soldiers with Punisher skulls would come out to shoot at women fleeing domestic violence. Just like the Punisher does in those comic books. With all the local violence and economic woes due to trade wars, it’s possible some of them have been stuck at home, having to abuse their own wives and then threaten them with guns instead. Just one of the many ways the United States has changed lately.
Luckily, I was perfectly situated to be discrete. As a brown-skinned woman in clothing associated with the Middle East, I was guaranteed to fly under the radar in the American southwest. Especially with the extra pair of arms. Dresses that hid my arms were easy enough to come by, at least. Add on a jacket, and I’m uncomfortable, but not flapping my arms everywhere. I’m starting to wonder why I even bothered with these things.
They stuck me on the third bus, looking after a bunch of people who didn’t seem all that threatening. I still couldn’t figure out how me from before the Unity missed all thee people, all these hiding spots. All the resources. These are just regular people. I had a pretty low opinion of regular people, but the point I used to emphasize about the difficulty of keeping them quiet still stands. It seemed futile to theorize on it without my memories and expertise.
I had a nice collection of things to read and watch, but I noticed this older, dark-skinned guy sitting across the aisle from me. He spent a lot of time staring into a mirror. It was a smaller one on a stand, set on a table in front of his seat because these are some nice fucking buses. From some of the knocking I’ve heard, calling it a fucking bus is entirely appropriate. Conner noticed it too and, red-faced, move more toward the front. No clue why they brought him along, unless they thought it’d be a good assignment to start him on. The other one with us sat looking at photos of the group picture, and then on the one who posed just for him.
So that left just myself to notice the guy with the mirror. Then he pulled out a handful of dice and tossed them around. One kept going over the edge of his table, bounced off the seat on the other side, and rolled over toward me. I reached over to pick it up. He held up his hands to catch it, so I tossed it over. “Pardon me, young lady. I should have known better than to try this in a moving vehicle,” he said.
I nodded toward the mirror. “What are you doing, anyway?”
“Scrying and divination,” came the answer.
I’ve read that my HUD is supposed to give me a warning over magical phenomena, but I don’t believe anything showed. So I asked, “Any luck?”
He frowned at that. “No, and that’s the problem.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Maybe not. Isn’t that stuff a lot of bullshit anyway?”
He clamped his mouth in a soft smile. “This isn’t the divination used by charlatans who rip off the gullible humans.” He spoke like he wanted to spit on someone. “The visitors believe my powers operate on the quantum level, perhaps relating to string theory. Do you understand quantum mechanics?”
I shook my head.
“Me neither,” he said, then coughed. “I can feel certain particles that shouldn’t be felt. It’s like… what did she tell me? She said that on the plane of time, everything is fixed from the perspective of a normal traveler. The future must happen, and that means that something already exists where I am in a place, and others are in that place with me. There already exists a point in time when I am dead. My powers learn this and warn me.”
I leaned forward. “That’s confusing. And if you can’t alter it, what good is a warning?”
“That’s why I don’t believe the visitor doctor who tried to explain it. My warnings have changed things. I think because I know the future, I can alter what is in my influence to change. If I’m going hiking and I feel like a tree is going to fall on me, I can decide not to go. The tree will still fall. The visitors tried to pass on some babble about quantum temporal distortions, but it’s a ruse. They’re brilliant, but I know they aren’t as brilliant as they want us to believe. But we have our secrets from them as well.”
“That’s nifty stuff to know… so no luck… that mean bad luck, or does that mean something’s interfering with you sensing anything?”
“Bad luck. I’ve had a bad feeling growing for almost two weeks.”
It was six hours later that I awoke from a hazy, passed-out sleep because of a screaming explosion. The bus screeched, but so did metal in a different tone as something ahead of us collided. Then our bus turned so suddenly, it felt like it would tip on its right side. I threw myself at the opposite wall on instinct. It probably didn’t help, but I’m calling that one a win because we didn’t overturn. Unfortunately, we did stop.
My ally, the smiling man in denim, appeared to me. “So good to see you unharmed.” I heard whirring noises from outside, but the denim dude seemed unconcerned. “Don’t worry. You are going to be fine. Just let this play out.”
From further back, the Tuatha de Danann warrior with the gay crush ran for the front of the bus in gleaming plate, a spear in hand. He roared his battle cry until it ended amid more whirring and a wet “Hork!” sound.
Conner came running back and found me. “Tripura, it’s time to fight.”
I shook my head. “They’ve already won. It’s time to get these folks out through the back and get out of here before they can surround us.” I pointed to the rear of the bus.
“But if we don’t fight…” he said.
I stood up and slapped him across the face. “Wake up, dammit! This is a trap. The others are already dead. You can’t win here, so focus on surviving.”
That got through to him. “Everyone, to the emergency escape!” He began herding everyone on there. Women, children, and men who had some weird connection to a group and were being slaughtered for it. Sure, a group that opposed me. I mean, I know it opposed me, but I couldn’t feel that then. I just knew someone wanted to shoot that mother with her kid, or kill that young couple in love, or murder that awkward fat Irish guy who jingled in his chainmail. What the fuck, man?
“Does anyone have wine or rum? Any alcohol?” asked Conner as he ran along. He picked up half a bottle of something off a table and started shoving folks aside to get to the rear ahead of them. “Let me through. Don’t open that exit!”
He’d be trying to call up Baron Samedi to make it a doorway to another site. It flickered across my mind how much they use him for stuff, plus whatever he does on his own time. It was the middle of the night, too, and the guy might just be sleeping. No wonder they tried to have other ways of moving people.
I stopped, looking at them all, and got a really dumb idea. And I knew it. My entire way back to the front of the bus, I kept thinking about how supremely stupid it was. Grabbing the empty bottle of tequila off the bus’s bar didn’t make me feel any smarter. But then, when does an empty bottle of tequila ever mean anyone made a good decision?
The door ripped open before I got there and a hulking black robot pushed its way inside, climbing the stairs and looking at me. It pointed an arm with some sort of energy cannon on it at me, then raised it over my head to aim at the people in the back. My swing shattered the bottle and knocked its aim high enough that the blue burst of light melted the ceiling of the bus along the mid-section. It looked down at me, then froze like that as the denim guy appeared again.
“What are you doing?! They’re with me. Let it happen and let’s get you out of here,” he said.
“No,” I said.
His face shifted to pink as shook his head and did a doubletake. “What?”
“These aren’t like Apollo or that wolf or any of the others who fought me. They probably don’t know anything about any of the virus or the collars. Shoot Apollo or whoever’s in charge instead.”
“I can’t, and I can’t believe you, of all people… the Unity must have done a lot more to you than I thought. They did this to your baby girl.” Behind the one robot, another pushed in as far as it could and adjusted its aim over the top of the seats on the my right, but held its fire.
That one had a bit of an impact on me. I’ve seen pictures video, but it was like watching someone else’s home movies. As far as I was concerned after the Unity hit me, I had never met Qiang. I had no reason to think any more of her than the kids behind me now. I know I loved her. The real me, that I wanted back with all my memories. I felt like shit that I didn’t care about her, but that’s what the Unity did. “The leaders who are nowhere on this bus did that. They’re the ones you and I need to kill.”
He just looked at me, but the robot raised its arm. I grabbed the lip of its cannon and jerked it upward again.
The good news is the wound was cauterized instantly, and I have more fingers to spare than I used to. The bad news is I have fewer than when I went on that trip. I stumbled back from the pain, screaming myself out of breath, then heard someone call my name from the back.
I turned and saw Conner ushering in the last of the refugees through the door and calling for me. “Tripura!”
“Get the fuck out of here, tosser!” I yelled.
His face instantly fell, and that was before the blue burst caught him right on the belly. He fell through the door and into the darkness beyond. A boney, black-skinned hand reached in and grabbed the emergency exit and slammed it shut.
I looked up to see the Denim dude tsking and the robots backing out the doorway. “You need to get right in the head. You’re free. Follow the road you were headed along and you’ll find a small town, but try not to let the cops see you. And Gecko? Get some fucking nanites in you. You’ll come around once you get your memories back.”