The biting cold of the cruel air stung her face with invisible barbs. The woman plodded forward on leaden feet, numb from the sudden brutality. Rick suffered similarly, his coat bundled about him like a second skin. Cat, however, stood like a bulwark against the onslaught, her rags billowing around her, a flag of conquest over the elements that assaulted the trio.
The cold had swept in without warning, taking them by surprise. The ghost-green glow of the undercity made the situation all the stranger, it’s unchanging, uncaring facade giving no indication of a change in the weather, which up until recently had been had been a swampy warmth, a cloying humid grip.
“Cat,” she chattered through clashing teeth, “why is it so cold? I’ve lived down here my whole life and never felt this before.”
“We know not why, my lady.” Her eyes sparkled, crackles of watery fire as tears fell down her cheeks. “All we know is that this passage is cold. We use it to keep us safer from the dangers down here.”
Rick gripped his coat tighter, the opening stubbornly refusing to keep out the implacable cold despite his best efforts. “This is from the energy cores from new Toronto. We’re directly underneath the cooling stations for the fusion bays that keep the city running.” He grit his teeth, breaking the icy pain upon his stony mind. “In short, we should be out of it s-soon.”
Now more than ever the woman wished she were back in familiar terrain, what could have been a warm feeling of familiarity in more ways than one. Looking ahead, just through the dull tears that welled in her eyes and threatened to freeze there, she saw a silhouette standing in the distance.
“Rick, do you see that?” She pointed, letting Rick’s eyes follow her finger to the shape in the distance.
“Yeah, I do,” He puffed into misty clouds, “who the hell would be out here?”
Cat squinted slightly, to see the shadow in the distance. In an instant, the woman noticed a change: Cat’s usually resolute way of carrying herself disappeared as she began to wave her hands above her head.
“Damien!” She shouted, jumped, a little girl in rags. “Damien is my little friend. I take care of him sometimes.” Cat then ran forward, as if the cold had no effect on her whatsoever.
The woman turned towards Rick. “For the record, seriously? Fuck your city for this alone.” Her voice contained very little of the anger she genuinely felt.
Rick chuckled, his new stubble catching the mist, coating itself in ice. “The feeling’s mutual. Trust me, this coat aint thick enough for this shit.” The woman laughed with him, and for the first time since they got out of the forest, she felt good around him. Rick might be a judgmental and naive, a bastard sometimes, but he forgave easily. He wasn’t so bad to have around after all.
All at once, the bitter cold vanished, as if the two wanderers had passed through a curtain and entered another world. The feeling returned back into the woman’s limbs, painfully reminding her that she was, in fact, not made of ice. Worse, the seam where her robotic limbs, and the area surrounding her throat, burning the nearby skin with the latent cold int he metal.
She hissed, or at least she meant to. Instead, her voice box hummed a beautiful note, pleasant to the ear. “Fucking damn this voice modulator. The things I would give to have my voice back…” She bitterly remembered what it was like to have a voice that could growl and menace, gasp and laugh, without it having to pass through… a politeness filter. She couldn’t describe how constricting it was otherwise, being bound by what was programmed to be acceptable.
“How did you sound like?” She turned to Rick, who’s icy facial hair was now slick with wet residue. “Like, did you sound like you drank acid or?”
A light smack on Rick’s shoulder shut him up, but his moronic grin stayed in place. “No. I sounded like a proper person. I could get angry at people, laugh with people, be careful, tender…” The woman frowned in introspection. She felt a small pit form in her stomach, a sense of emptiness that she had felt before, when she had found out her voice was gone. “This new voice, it’s not me Rick. It sounds so different. It’s so fake.”
Rick placed his hand on her shoulder. “I get that. I also get the… rage, you feel, towards the shit that took it away from you.” His green eyes warmed with empathy. “We’ll get them back. Once we deal with the problem here, we’ll deal with everything else.”
The pit in her stomach started to shrink. “We better. I’m not leaving here without ‘dealing’ with them properly.”
Rick smiled to himself. All things told, the cold hadn’t bothered him too much, but having at least a little look into what was going on in the woman’s head was reassuring. She was human, and that much he could count on at least. She lost it in the church, but at least he could count on her to have emotions other than fear and anger. In hindsight, she did spare Cat as well, despite almost killing her.
Thinking of Cat brought back feelings of unease. He couldn’t figure the girl out, which seemed to be something of a habit these days with the women around him, but Cat was genuinely confusing. She seemed unperturbed by the cold, had no scaring or bruising from the woman’s attack in the church, and just… she was too perfect. She can’t have been older than her late teens, at most, but her physical body and her keen mind were way too mature. There was something off about how she shrugged off the worst in little to no time at all.
Still, as she bounded back to the two of them with a little boy in tow, he couldn’t help but feel better for being in her presence. Cat was comforting, and since the incident in the church she radiated calm. It was unbelievable what just being around her did to his mind.
“My friends, this is Damien. Damien, meet my two new friends!” She pointed the boy towards Rick, who took a good look at him. Damien, he concluded, can’t be older than twelve. His brown hair fell to the side in rough, jagged edges, a sharp curtain that covered his eye. Damien smiled thinly, a smile that was altogether too familiar, but that Rick couldn’t quite place a source on.
“These two saved my life and showed me the truth.” Cat continued, completely oblivious to the charged air tensing between the boy and the man. “The man here is called Rick. The woman…” Cat paused, uncertain as to how to continue.
“Don’t worry about it. I like seeing what people come up with.” The woman rubbed her shoulder where the metal met flesh, the cold from the prosthetic still causing what must be a decent amount of pain. She extended her right hand to shake, but Damien made no such move. He shied away, hiding behind Cat’s rags like a toddler.
“They’re from the Overcity.” Damien didn’t ask; it was simply a statement of the things that were. “They can’t be trusted.”
Cat’s laugh tinkled, lingering in the air like a small bell, as the woman’s hand fell to her side and a glimpse of annoyance crossed the woman’s face. “Don’t be foolish Damien. These people saved me, and my soul. They have much to can do to help our community.”
Rick was keenly aware of something not being entirely correct with Damien. His smile from earlier was in complete contrast to the shy and frightened child he saw before. Still, maybe it was something in the woman that frightened him. She was intimidating, he thought, and it’s not every day a boy like him meets two people equipped with high tech weapons poking out from underneath their coats.
He bent down in a crouch, meeting Damien at eye level. “Hey bud. Cat tells me you have some trouble back home.”
Damien nodded. “Yeah.” He remained hidden behind his caretaker, as if the distance made it less like that Rick would stare at him. Rick, however, was not one to care about staring if he had a hunch.
Rick extended his hand. “I don’t bite kid. I’m here to help.” The boy looked at Rick’s hand before shaking it gingerly. “Good to meet ya. Now,” Rick stood up, bringing himself eye to eye with Cat once more, “shall we get going? We still have ground to cover. You two should talk a bit, Cat. See if anything’s changed since you left.”
Cat nodded, and walked off with Damien, hand in hand. Rick looked back at the woman, who had regained her calm composure. “Cute kid, huh?”
“Yeah,” she replied, “adorable. Remind me, Rick, when did we come down here to help out a bunch of kids? Seriously: Cat is practically angelic ever since I almost… well, since we met her, and this brat seems to be a fucking peach.”
“You’re not the only one who thinks something’s up with those kids.” Rick pondered how much he should tell the woman, but when he really thought about it, he didn’t see why she shouldn’t know his suspicions. “Listen, lady, I’ve been thinking about Cat lately. Something’s not right with this story of hers.”
The woman snorted. “What gave it away? The sudden change of heart?”
“Not really. Look at her neck.”
The woman looked at the back of Cat’s neck as they walked ahead. After a couple of moments, she shook her head. “I don’t get it Rick. What am I looking for?”
“That’s what I’m asking myself.” He hesitated a slight second before continuing. “Remember when you.. well, when you introduced yourself to Cat? Your robotic arm should have left something: I saw what it can do.”
“So did I, Rick. I’m past that, I hoped you were too.” Her face flashed annoyance.
“I am, but the problem is so has her neck. There’s nothing there.” He waiting a moment to let the information sink in. “There should be a bruise, markings, something to show that she was nearly strangled to death.”
The woman’s face began to blanch. “Holy shit, how didn’t I notice?”
“Don’t sweat it. Look, if shit hits the fan? Be ready for it.” Rick patted her on the shoulder and started following the two kids.
He heard the woman start walking, the sound of boots hitting the broken pavement reassuring him she was right behind him. Rick smiled inwardly. He honestly hoped he was wrong about the kids and his feeling of unease, but in case his gut was right?
The woman was a trump card no one was going to be ready to deal with, and by the sounds of who these Lamb people were, that was going to be a good thing if push came to shove.
End of Part 16