Florida. He was going to Florida.
The military base first, though.
I could… when I was ready, I could go and retrace his steps. Try to figure out what happened. I was… I was a scientist. It’d be right if I could figure it all out.
Do something for humans.
Leaning back,. Jay realized I’d come out of it. “Was the message any good?”
“Like always,” I said, sighing. “Isaac went and stuck me with the bill.” Breathed out, nudging a curl of my own hair out of my face, and curled my arms around myself. Cold, despite the summer heat. Shock.
Wanted me to do the dirty business and tie up all the loose ends left behind.
I could save them.
“And the other file?” Jay asked.
I downloaded it. Omoi updated the map with a flurry of locations, marked for significance. Places to bury artifacts. Places to avoid. And from Isaac’s note, the military base to the east, marked with cryopods.
And a brief dossier of the artifact the crows had used. Necklace of the Swarm. Cult artifact of great significance; used to lock people together under thrall. Extracted with great difficulty.
Don’t touch it.
Bury it in the ground.
Leave it to the worms to figure out.
That’s what we chased after.
Then a final look at the dossier revealed lines at the bottom.
“We can make the world a better place. We really can. There’s a world out there worth fighting for, we just need to get there. We can’t stop, because to stop is to let that world die.”
Breathed out. Whistled it through my teeth.
It was a different world now. A different place. I was asked harsh things. But.
I was USEC. We’d been asked to do harsh things before. Who was I to turn down the call to duty? See what I could save. See what world I could make.
“She looks abysmal,” Tane said, eyeing me. “Let’s get her to a bed and plan from there.”
With death in the air at the outpost, it was wrong to stay there. The scouts entered, leaving just Jay and I, staring at the city around us. Mostly I, really. So quiet without the sound of other birds.
“Where’d they go?”
“Where did who go?” Jay replied.
“The other birds,” I clarified. “The city’s so silent.”
“Chased off,” Jay said, vaguely. “They’re dirty, stupid creatures. Even our attempts to create Crows from them never worked. Mindless predators, scavengers… even crows, our pieces, have a noble lilt to them, you understand. But other birds…”
“So they’re gone?”
“Good riddance,” Jay grumbled. “More food for us here.”
It didn’t ring right that they could just chase off all of the birds. But perhaps, with coordination and control of all of the Crows in the city, they could manage it.
Another curiosity to think about. Another bridge above a boiling pot of despair.
After another few minutes of staring at the alien world, the scouts returned, carrying the limp bodies of the crows.
“Do you think they got Lani?” Jay asked. “Like, for real?”
“Lani had a decent swarm to her,” Tane replied, looking at the other two scouts. Mostly silent, since they were carrying the bodies. “She’ll reform in a few days… maybe weeks. Depends on whether or not she finds any crows she likes.”
Interesting process; the idea of communicating the entirety of a person among fragmented parts, let along continuing that person after the parts were damaged; it reeked of anomalies. In another world, I might’ve found a crow in front of me, being studied to see how they communicated information silently.
But now they were just the closest thing I had to colleagues.
“We’ll take the bodies to Morrigan,” Jay decided.
“I don’t think it’s quite up to you to decide what to do,” Tane said. “But- considering you did your best to avenge her scattering… I’ll let it slide this time, outcast.”
“You’d best,” Jay said, annoyed. “I’ve never done anything to harm this place.”
“Your existence harms it enough,” Tane cut in. “Call it what you will, but carrying memories like that… it’s disgusting. And you declined to have them removed.”
“Any logical creature will resist it’s own destruction,” Jay replied, smoothly. Curt. Steel buried in it like the bullet buried into the bug’s neck. “You’d do the same.”
Tane puffed up and took a step forward. “I know my place, Outcast,” she hissed. “Do not deign to demand what I’d do in your shitty positions.”
“I know what I did,” Jay said, stepping forward. “And I’d do it again. In a heartbeat. There’s no ideal worth dying for.”
“And yet you protect the Warden,” Tane said.
“They are more pure than any of us will ever be!” Jay hissed, baring his talons in front of him.
I wanted to hear the rest. But I also didn’t want any more fighting. Anymore violence, at least that day.
I stepped in between them and shoved them back, hands on their chests. They were light enough that it jostled them. “Enough.”
Tane clicked her beak sourly, and looked away. “The Warden has a point. We should be at ease with one another. We are fighting for the same causes.”
“And you’ll forget that in a heartbeat, given the opportunity,” Jay snipped.
“I may,” Tane agreed.
I took a step past them. “Let’s get to the elder,” I said.
They followed. It was the high rise again.