Took everything we had to escape. Bad news was the Body of Christ maintained no crashsites in Ward Four. We headed for the deepest, quickest hole topside of a sewer pipe: the famous double-decker Wacker Drive, running along the Chicago River’s south side. Lower Wacker’s wide sidewalks had become a shanty town for thousands of the Metroplex’ homeless. Perfect camouflage for enemies of the State.
Four members of my BoC muscle-cell walked in pairs ahead of me. Tinker’s many tools clinked in his overalls’ pockets as he argued conspiracy with the pink haired e-girl, our hack. Lightfast, inventor of mindware, discussed sensory-projection scopes with our sniper, in Vex’s own native Jalisco Spanish dialect. They meandered refrigerator boxes, support pillars, trash piles, I-beams, and fiberglass insulation-wrapped squatters who attempted sleep on bare October concrete next to traffic that echoed down the nearly enclosed street.
I’d taken rearguard. My mindware-enhanced senses scanned for peacekeeper Hummers, gunboats, and drones. I tuned out debate and tech talk best I could. Just needed rest.
My companions finally settled along a short stretch of bare wall. They sat close to conserve body heat, their insulated dusters wrapped tight. I joined them and crouched to cozy up—muscles cramped solid as the steel girders around me.
Just as I offered to take first watch, the nearest pile of tattered blankets rolled closer. “De spiritwalkers, no?” said a woman's voice in thick Cajun accent.
Homeless are used to talking to themselves, so I let her.
“You are one who’s not anymore having fun, chèr. Why is dat you tink?”
By now she had the attention of my whole crew. She seemed to be talking to me, and I didn’t want to seem rude. “Cold down here, ain't it?”
Still cloaked, she stiffly propped what must have been her head atop an elbowed palm. “When again you will be having the fun, tings be better. Me, I been waiting you. De boss, he tell me to give you someting.”
I looked to Tinker beside me. “This one’s hearing voices,” I muttered.
Tinker angled his mouth and furrowed his brow disapprovingly. He leaned around me, ZZ-Top beard brushing his lap. “Gift, Ma’am?”
The woman pushed slowly to her feet, and wrapped blankets like a squaw, revealing her face. Her ageless skin was very dark. She shook out ratty shoulder length dredlocks, and with effort, settled before us. Moments after, the cloth on her lap moved on its own. A half-grown kitten’s head emerged. A caramel, gold, and brown splotched tabby stepped onto the sidewalk and inspected us. Its facial markings gave it a perpetually miffed expression.
e-girl rose to a crouch. “Oh, a kitten!”
“No, no! Sit please. She must be allowed to choose of you. Dis is important, said de Boss.”
The small cat strode cement, sniffing our shoes, inspecting each of us, tail at twelve o’clock.
“Where did you get her?” rumbled Lightfast when the kitten hopped over his long legs.
“Ahh, sunglasses on dis dark street. All your eyes, show dem to me.”
Lightfast spoke as we obediently slid our com-shades down. “Don't be afraid, gold eyes are a side effect of our re-formation. We’re . . .”
“I know, chèr, I know. Where you tink cats get de gold eyes?” She smiled gap-toothed and cornered her own deep brown eyes upward.
The kitten walked up Tinker’s legs, sat and kneaded his coat’s fabric. He reached out and gently scratched her neck and jaw.
“Ah, God made de cat dat man may touch de lion, chèr. Her choice is made, I tink.”
She nosed inside Tink’s coat. He rested his head on the wall behind him, and tension’s creases left his eyes for the first time in days.
“What’s her name?”
“Mavis, but she likes dat I call her Bébé.”
Tinker opened his lapel and peeked in. “Baby?”
A tiny paw swiped at his beard. Tinker eased into a rare smile.
“No chèr, not Baby, Bébé.”
“Oh, Bébé.” The purring was louder than traffic.
The woman covered her head, deliberately rose, and hobbled off. Blankets dragged and she muttered. “Dis one is a gift, spiritwalkers, you will see. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”*
We slept, and Mavis took first watch.
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