Quinn searches for their sister in the city that never dies
|Author's note: protagonist Quinn is a nonbinary (enby) character. The use of they/them pronouns is intentional as Quinn does not identify as male or female. Please refer to: https://www.dnbryn.com/2020/01/04/how-to-write-non-binary-characters-a-three-par...
Quiver and Arrow
The city’s skyline glowed against a violet and magenta backdrop, the colors exaggerated by the UV protection in Quinn’s helmet visor. The road opened up underneath them, their motorcycle so fast that the wheels looked as if they floated on the blacktop of the road. The highway was largely empty in the twilight and they weaved through the few cars that drove toward the glimmering city. Above them was the hum and thrum of the cars from the aerial highway. Occasionally, they would see the blot of a vehicle break through the skyline.
“Approaching Lict Steinn.” The cool, metallic and feminine voice echoed in their ears, breaking the monotony of the growl of their motorcycle’s wheels on pavement. “Commence scan?”
Quinn took a deep breath. Their fingers were numb from the vibrations in the handlebars. It was a feeling they relished. They clenched their hands, just as a reminder that the hands did, in fact, exist. Their shoulders were stiff, partly from the long travel, partly from the stress, and partly from the anticipation. They tensed those muscles too, as a reminder they were alive.
“Yes, thank you, Bow,” they answered. They could hear the AI whirring through the helmet. The minutes stretched out as the city grew closer, a pulsating beast of lights and buildings.
“Sensors indicate Quartz is within range.”
Quinn’s heart skipped a beat.
“Can you tell where?”
“Subject is too far for Quartz to be triangulated.” The AI paused, and Quinn thought it almost sounded amused. “However, I will be able to figure out exact location once subject is within range.”
They gripped the handlebars to their motorcycle tightly. The machine woke up beneath them as they pumped the gas and the engine growled, long and hard. Quinn could feel the wind beat against their leather jacket, whip across their helmet. The motorcycle picked up speed, the city growing in the darkening sky.
After a few streets, they were in the deeper part of the city. The traffic here was greater and people walked amongst the stationary cars. Advertisements blinked in and out of existence, changing for whoever they happened to scan on the street below. Quinn kept their gaze averted.
“Bow, park the bike.”
Quinn got off their bike and wove their way through the crowd. Their AI scanned each face that it caught a glimpse of and calculated threats or allies. It found neither. On varying levels above them, cars drove along in less congested traffic and people walked on simulated, pleasant paths.
Occasionally litter from Above would come floating down. Some of it would be disintegrated by cleaning bots before it reached the streets below. Most of it did not.
“To the left. There is a man that was investigated in your sister’s disappearance.”
Quinn followed the glowing target that had appeared along their visor. The man sat in an alcove of the street. He seemed to be waiting for something. He caught them looking and smiled. He motioned with a hand.
“What do we know about him?” Quinn glanced along the roads, letting the AI scan the faces and corners of the streets. As far as they could tell, he was alone.
“Large police record of aggravated assault, robberies and more serious charges.”
“Ah. Never stays with the police long. Sounds like someone Arial would have been in touch with.”
“I take it that you’re Quiver?” he said once Quinn had made it within earshot. “Arrow spoke highly of you, and often.”
Quinn hesitated for a moment before they waved their fingertips along the visor of their helmet and the visor pixelated away. “You talk about her in past tense.”
Something crossed his expression, but Quinn couldn’t read it. “You’re her twin, aren’t you? Supposed to have that twin ESP? You tell me. I’ve been looking for her since she didn’t come back from the last job she had.”
“Twins don’t have ESP.” Quinn rolled their eyes. “But we do have Quartz.”
“Damn. That’s some high end shit.”
Quinn bit their lip and didn’t say anything else except, “If the Quartz still lights, she’s alive.”
“Look, I’ll take you to where I was going. Maybe you can figure something out.” He leaned away from the wall to walk away. Quinn grabbed his arm before he could move.
“Who are you to her that I should trust you?”
He glanced at the hand that held his elbow before looking back up at them. They noticed one of his eyes wasn’t real, the green unnatural and sparking red occasionally. He had an AI. “Arial said I should find you, Quinn, if she disappeared, but that proved damn near impossible until now.”
The use of their names was enough. Quinn let his arm go and stepped away. “Where are we going?”
“We'll call our motorcycles to this address.” He handed them a piece of paper. “We'll find her if she's there, but then after that, you two will need to get out of here.”
“I’ll…” he hesitated. “Let’s just say I owe her. If things go right, I’ll find you two and meet up at another time. But, you focus on getting Arrow out.”
Quinn understood what he meant. They just nodded and started walking. “What happened those six months ago,” they asked, “when Arrow just disappeared?”
“The job that got sent your way was bigger than you were paid. Someone, somewhere was focused on getting Arrow--or you, maybe--and used some no name hit to lure either one of you out. Guards were down. Mistakes were made. Something tells me you two are a bit bigger on the foodchain than a couple of hitmen.”
Quinn looked away and shrugged.
“The police don’t go searching for a single Level One citizen.” The man left it alone after that statement and they walked in silence. Quinn waved their hand in front of their visor and it blinked back into existence.
He stopped in front of a large building, one of the few that started on the first level of the city and expended to the upper levels. They looked up, but the top of the building was obscured by clouds. They had seen this building in the skyline, a behemoth that glowed in violet and magenta.
“What is this place?”
“In simplest terms, it’s the center of…” he hesitated “...entertainment. There are a lot of businesses in this building. Some innocent. Some legal. Most not. Most cruel.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out a cloth to tie over the eye that housed his AI. “It can read things through this, but can’t be scanned,” he explained when he caught their expression.
Quinn hummed acquiescence. They ran a finger down their helmet and it folded in on itself, etching its way through their short hair in circuits and wires that sparked blue. The AI bound its way through their cornrows, the bright cerulean lights casting a glow against their dark skin.
“You are definitely not Level One material. Just so you know, your sister hides it better.”
Quiver rolled their eyes. “I’m not usually the one out on the street. Now, what should I call you when we go in there?”
He grinned, stretching a scar along his cheek. “Call me Patch. Get it? Eyepatch?”
Quinn didn’t dignify his joke with a response and shouldered their way into the building. Patch walked past them and they followed the man’s shoulders through the crowd that pulsated in time with loud, thrumming music. Lights flashed in sickeningly bright colors and patterns.
“Quartz within range. Subject two floors above.” Bow’s words whispered in their ear. They grabbed Patch’s arm.
“Two floors above.”
The inner room was several stories tall, with a stairway that climbed to open hallways above them. He shook his head. “There are rooms off to the side. I’ll get you up the stairs and you can figure out which room.” He stared at them. “No matter what happens. You need to trust me, and you’re going to have to leave me.”
Quinn didn’t hesitate before nodding. All that mattered was their sister.
“You have a weapon?”
“One will do for now.”
With barely a thought the AI resting on their head woke up in a flurry of cerulean sparks. Each of the circuits that had woven into their cornrows now detached themselves from their scalp, contorting and stretching into longer, metallic tentacles that arched in an aura around their head. Each tip crackled in electricity.
“Jesus christ,” Patch said.
“Get me up there,” Quinn said. Bow ran more wires down the length of their body, connecting each fingertip with metal. The metal stretched out past their fingertips and curved into silver claws.
The music continued around them in that continuous heartbeat, but those around them were no longer dancing. Throngs of people screamed and ran past them, shouldering in mass of panicked fear. Patch nodded. “Lose yourself in that panic when you find Arrow.”
The stairs were at the end of the building and there were several people standing on it by the time they reached it.
“Scanners indicate residue of Quartz energy. These individuals have been in the same room as subject.”
Patch drew a gun and shot one, grappling with several others as Quinn climbed up the side of the stairs, using the claws as anchors. In their ear, they could hear the Quartz pulsating in time with their sister’s heartbeat, growing louder as they grew closer.
“Bow, the door.”
The tentacles that quivered above them twisted in time, pulsating with a violent light. Quinn barely had time to shield their eyes and cover their ears. The percussion of the laser threw them backwards.
“Warning next time, Bow,” they muttered as they stood and brushed away debris.
The room was bathed in a emerald light, making the shadows on their sister’s face exaggerated. They could already tell they’d lost a lot of weight. Her dark skin was pallid and ashen. Quinn ran past the debris of the fallen door and into the room where their sister slumped against the ropes that tied her against a chair.
“Subject has two ribs broken but I detect no internal bleeding. Subject is dehydrated and malnourished.”
“Will she be able to move?”
“Subject will be able to move and drive until we reach safe distance for medical care.”
Quinn focused on cutting the rope binding their sister, using Bow’s tentacles. They heard a shot behind them and a body crumpled a foot from them. Patch stood in the doorway of the room, hunched over and pale. “Your sister really is better at this than you. You have a hell of an AI and you still nearly got killed by Level One goons.”
“Thank you, Patch.”
Arial’s eyes fluttered opened. “Quinn?”
Tears burned at the edge of their eyes. They kissed her cheek. “We’ve got to go, Arial. We’ve got a motorcycle waiting outside. We’ll explain when we’re safe.” They looked at Patch. “Looks like you’ll get to come with us after all.”
He had a sad look. “You think Level One people were able to get all this together and overtake Arrow?” He looked over his shoulder and cocked his gun. “There are more coming. Get her down to the motorcycle.”
Their sister cleared her voice. “No. Patch…”
“Quiver promised me. Now go.”
Quinn grabbed her hand and pulled her along, falling in line with the crowd of people still trying to leave. Bow broke through the crowd of people for them and their motorcycles were waiting in the street. Quinn waved a hand over their skull and Bow reformed as a helmet.
Arial was staring at the building they left. Quinn squeezed her shoulder. “We got to go. He made me promise.”
She took the helmet from the other bike and got on. After another moment, they both started their bikes. After they navigated the traffic of the city, they put the skyline in the rearview
Word Count: 1,999,
Initially Submitted to: Short Shots: Official WDC Contest https://www.writing.com/main/handler/first_in/1/item_id/1221635-Short-Shots-Offi...