We’re out! Shandi sent. Kerra, the sky is so much… more than I ever could have imagined. Kerra felt Shandi trying to transmit a visual over the connection, but it wasn’t clear enough for Kerra to understand it. She did, however, feel Shandi’s sense of amazement and child-like wonder.
It was bittersweet. Knowing that Shandi and the gang had made it out safely was a load off Kerra’s mind, and hearing Shandi’s pure excitement about being on the surface was good. But these things were weighed down with the knowledge that she might not see her ever again, as well as the fact that the surface was not safe.
Are you safe? Kerra asked anyway.
Of course. The propaganda they feed everyone in Abyssia to keep them contained doesn’t reflect reality. I mean… I guess that I’d probably fry up or at least get immediate-death radiation poisoning. But like, as long as I stay in the pod we built, it should be good. Don’t worry. Okay, I’m busy. I don’t got time to chat. Later.
Bye. Kerra sighed. Despite Shandi’s affirmations that everything would be fine, she worried anyway. It had been a long day. She’d had to relay to the Council that one of the politicians on Everen’s ship had been murdered with no sign of a killer. The Council had been in a bad mood for the rest of their meeting, sometimes taking it out on Kerra, though she’d done nothing but be the bearer of bad news.
And now Shandi was gone, and all her gang with her. Kerra wandered around her apartment aimlessly. What had gotten into her? She usually enjoyed her alone time, but now she just wanted to be with people, and now 75% of her friends were gone. At least Maru and Drigg were still here. Before she even noticed she’d been walking, Kerra found herself at the stairs. Normally she’d go back in to slip on her usual outfit for going outside, but Kerra was too hot and emotionally drained to care if people saw her skin today.
She descended the stairs. She reached the Drowned Goliath, empty now of patrons. Zak was sitting at the bar, drawing in a sketchbook. He raised an eyebrow at her shorts and tanktop but didn’t say a word. Kerra felt herself grow a little hotter, and decided that maybe she did care, at least a little. But not enough to climb back upstairs.
“How you doing?” she asked.
Zak grunted as an answer.
“What are you drawing?” she tried.
He held up the sketchbook for her to see. It was the face of a handsome young man. His eyes were closed and there was a crow sitting on his shoulder. The sketch was skillfully done, even though the shading was only half finished. The man looked extremely familiar, but Kerra couldn’t place him.
“Who is he?” Kerra asked.
Zak grunted, but when Kerra gave him a hard look, he sighed. “Jak.” He put the sketchbook back on the bar and continued shading in the crow’s feathers.
Suddenly, it clicked for Kerra. Jak was one of the regulars at the Drowned Goliath. She’d only talked to him once or twice, and always in passing, but it seemed like he was always there whenever the place was open for business. Of course his face would seem familiar.
“What’s with the crow?”
“None of your business,” Zak muttered. He started shading harder. “Thanks for stopping by.”
“Well, it looks really good! Are you gonna show him? Actually, that’s definitely none of my business. But if you did, he’d love it, I’m sure.”
Zak said nothing, but he paused shading for a moment, and a small smile crept over his face.
Kerra smiled too, and slipped out of the pub, leaving Zak to his sketching. She made her way across the black metal walkways to Dark Lake.
When she walked in, she saw that Drigg was on a ladder. He was rearranging the books on the top shelf of the historical cookbook section. Those recipes—usually either very posh or very folksy—included many ingredients that were now extinct. Only the most popular foods were saved, so things like rattlesnake and cinnamon-vines and irish moss were now the things of legends. The cookbooks listed ingredients that Kerra could only imagine.
Drigg looked down at Kerra. He must have heard the bell above the door ring. It was strange, seeing a real bell there. Kerra had never actually seen another bell in real life. Most stores just had a button that beeped, if the door made any noise at all when you came in. Many shop owners wore a ring or bracelet that would alert them to arriving customers. But no, in Dark Lake, everything was old school.
“Well, hello Kerra,” Drigg said, already descending the ladder. “You’re looking… uh…”
“Good to see you too,” Kerra said, trying to save Drigg from feeling obligated to comment on her clothes. Shandi and her gang were all used to seeing Kerra dressed (or rather, undressed) like this, and it suddenly felt odd that Drigg wasn’t the same.
“Hot,” He finally finished, with a flirty wink.
Kerra groaned internally. Oh right. That was why. Still, it was nice to know that he wasn’t repulsed at her glowing circuitry that spread across her whole body. Maybe she shouldn’t worry as much about going out in public without her trench coat and long pants and hat.
“To what do I owe this delightful pleasure?” He crossed to his stool behind the counter.
“I’m just here to find some good company,” Kerra said. She cleared a space at the edge of the table nearest the register and sat.
“That is something I can indeed provide. It’s been a slow day.”
“Isn’t it always a slow day here?” Kerra said with a laugh in her voice.
Drigg grinned. “Well, you know how it is when a w–”
Suddenly, a searing pain shot through Kerra’s head and chest. She gasped and fell off the table, landing hard on her hands and knees. This, in turn, shot pain through her limbs. Usually nothing hurt as much as falling or banging something against a hard surface. That was the worst pain she’d felt since she’d gotten her skin replaced. But this was something else. Something in her head, something in her heart… something was deeply wrong. Her vision was going dark. Kerra screamed.