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18

5

A Day of Faces

Cover:

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Target audience: Lovers of subversive fiction which plays with genre, mixed in with an exciting science fiction adventure. Likely to appeal to readers of Brian K Vaughan's SAGA comic and fans of TV series GRIMM.

Blurb: Girls with tentacle dreads. A ruling class of flying angels. Guys who can see heat signatures through walls. 1950s American diner culture mashed into a tense sci-fi thriller. This all made sense to Kay until she met someone who broke all the rules.

Sample:

generation
dʒɛnəˈreɪʃ(ə)n/
noun
all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively.

The straight guy on the opposite side of the lecture hall winked at me. He was so straight it was unbelievable: black hair, green eyes, archly curving nose, slightly tipped and furred ears, tusks protruding out of his mouth and tilted up and out. Just like the guy next to him, except he'd at least gone to the effort of carving those tusks to points and shaving his head. In fact, he was kinda hot, at least by 1943 standards. You could always tell a '43er by the upward-pointing tusks, though it looked like these two morons were February babies, which wasn't really my thing.

I was born in '44 and so had a natural, inevitable and tedious attraction to guys from the same year. Everybody felt that same pull and most people just gave in to it, knowing that they'd at least share the same pop culture references and appendages. Or, in our case, resistances. So boring.

"Consider this," the professor said. Oh, yeah. I forgot I was in class. "If we ever manage to depart Locque, as a species, and venture out into the cosmos, what then? Would the generation clock keep ticking according to the moon's trajectory, and our position around the sun, or would we find ourselves subject to other, as yet unknown, criteria?"

I eyed the clock and scribbled into my notebook, sketching out a scene at my favourite diner, complete with extravagant wheels out the front and a rotating neon sign above. Then I slid it over the desk to Rachel, who was sat next to to me chewing gum and twirling her fingers through her tentacle dreads. She looked disdainfully at me then picked up her own pen and added to the sketch before sliding it back.
She'd added a huge spaceship floating above the diner, which was firing a laser beam. Scribbles all over the cars I assumed were meant to indicate they were exploding. There wasn't much of my drawing left. I stuck my tongue out, then quickly retracted it when I saw the professor glancing in my direction. He literally had eyes in the back of his head. A lot of 360-sights had become teachers, or police officers. Sports worked well for them.

The afternoon drifted by at a tediously leisurely pace until, finally, the bell rang the end of the day and we all tipped out onto the streets. It was Friday, it was warm and there was no way in hell I was going home. My folks would either not give a shit or give me hassle, so - staying out, it was. I ducked into the restroom before leaving school, switching out my uniform for something a little more enticing and tidying up my face. I emerged looking about five years older.

As I headed out I could see the wings already dotting the sky overhead, flocking together and wheeling about in douchey arcs. Just because they happened to be able to fly they thought they ruled the planet. Of course, the wings basically did rule the planet, but that was still no excuse for being asshats.

The air smelled good, tasted good. My tongue shivered and I let out an involuntary hiss.

It was going to be a good night.

survival of the fittest
phrase of survival
BIOLOGY: the continued existence of organisms which are best adapted to their environment, with the extinction of others

As far as bars went, The Black Jasmine was aces. Relaxed, verging on incompetent, age checks, proper indie music and an anybody-goes attitude. You'd get horns, fire-breathers, camos, stretchers and even wings all mixing up, with their egos and status left at the door. Everyone knew that, so the crowd was about as non-dickish as you could get.

I was talking to a thermal. His vision was tuned primarily to infrared, so he could literally see how hot I was. That alone made me feel like I was about to start sweating. His name was Marv and he was OK. Red eyes (obviously), sharp jaw and nose that looked like they could cut me, kinda tall and wiry, with great tufts of thick hair full of wax rising up above his head like an open torch.

"You going to join the military, then, Kaysaleen Rodata?" He thought I was graduating. Outfit was doing the job. He also kept saying my full name, which was really starting to get old.

I shook my head and nictitated at him coyly. I couldn't see heat signatures but I could tell it had an effect. "I'm not really a fighter kind of girl," I said. "Want to do my own thing, you know?"

"Right, right," he said, shouting above the music. "Don't you get a lot of, like, pressure, though?"

"You mean because of this?" I opened my mouth a little wider and let my tongue fork out, extending it almost all the way and nearly touching his face before pulling it back. "And these?" I grinned, revealing my fangs.

"I was thinking more that you look like you can handle yourself," he said, grinning back.

"I can," I said, nodding appreciatively. "But hey, I can do other stuff, too!"

"No kidding! Like what?"

I leaned in closer and flicked my tongue. "Stick around and maybe I'll show you later," I said, then scampered away into the crowd, sniffing out Rachel and homing in on her scent. She was already high, drifting around the dance floor and spinning gently while others caressed and licked her dreads, all trying to absorb some of the juice she was involuntarily secreting. It was kind of gross but, boy, did it makes you feel good. Sometimes we just stayed home at her place and she smoked weed while I took in as much of her stuff as possible. It was meant to be a poison to be used offensively, but that was a quirk in her generation - her venom didn't kill people, it just gave them a good time. Us squamata were a funny lot.

She was busy and I wasn't really in the mood, so I danced alone in the crowd, losing myself to the guitars and the drums and the singer. The dance floor was a maelstrom of shapes and sizes but I ignored it all and moved, letting the beat work its magic.

All the lights in the place flicked on at the same time, everybody simultaneously flinging their hands up to shield their eyes. A second later the music abruptly cut out and we became aware of something going down over by the entrance. As the boos escalated a squad of police bustled into view, pushing people aside as they scoured the venue.

"We're here for a very specific personage," one of the cops intoned. "If that's not you, then just stay where you are and you'll be fine. Get in our way, you won't be fine. And if you're our guy, it'd be easier for everyone if you just give yourself up right now."

prey
preɪ/
noun
an animal that is hunted and killed by another for food.

Cops busting into somewhere like The Black Jasmine? That was never going to fly. For about five seconds it seemed like everyone was going to be cool, standing there looking nonplussed and glistening with sweat. Then somebody shouted "swivelhead!", a can went flying through the air and it all kicked off.

The cop targeted by the optimistic drink hurler reached out and caught it perfectly without even turning towards it. Like I said, a lot of cops these days had eyes in the back of their heads. Even people with half a brain knew that.

It was my cue to get the hell out. I couldn't see Rachel anywhere so I headed straight for the stairwell, which I knew led out onto the fire escape having spent too many evenings on it with boys I was far too good for. The club was on the second floor of an old converted factory and climbing down to the ground and slinking away shouldn't prove too tricksy.

The fire door had barely closed when it banged open again and a pile of bodies tipped out, shrieking and laughing and swearing. One of them saw me and waved, grinning - it was Marv, his hair not nearly as coiffured as earlier.

"Thought that was you out here," he said. "We should keep moving." He stared intently at the wall of the club for a moment, then started moving me forcibly down the stairs. "Hurry, the cops'll be out here in twenty seconds."

As we leapt two steps at a time towards the alleyway I wondered what could be so bad the police would close down a nightclub. "Police suck," I said, "don't they have worse gigs to crash? Nothing super bad goes down at the Jasmine."

Marv laughed. "You don’t see what's going on in those back rooms," he said with a wink. He pointed back up the fire escape. "Here they come."

Half a second later the fire door banged open again and five cops barrelled out, one by one, each of them scanning the area. Three descended, coming after us and the rest of the clubbers who had come out this way. The other two went in the opposite direction, heading up towards the roof. One of them was older and had wings, which was unusual. You didn’t see wings come down from their ivory towers too often. Everyone on the staircase scattered: a stretcher bridged his way to the adjacent roof and scampered away, I saw a camo attempt to blend into the brickwork only to be easily spotted by an unimpressed thermal cop, and one tusker actually thought it was a good idea to become his own one-man army. That didn’t last long.

We’d found a welcome committee at the bottom of the stairs and were sitting cross-legged on the wet tarmac while we were processed. Not exactly the evening I’d had in mind.

“How come you didn’t see the goons waiting for us, then, Marv?” That was from somebody else, a girl with too much eyeliner, hair like a spider’s web and gills on the side of her neck.

He shrugged. “I was looking the wrong way. How come you didn’t see ‘em, Lottie?”

There were two cops pacing around us, looking pretty nervy. Didn’t really make any sense. “Hey,” I said to the nearest, “you going to charge us with something or what? You can’t just keep us here all night.”

The cop stopped and pointed a gloved finger at me. “You keep that forked tongue of yours in your mouth, and maybe we won’t have ourselves a problem here.”

“You know it’s against the law to stop and search based on phenotype, right?”

“Well, I got a law right here against you using big words, so shut it up.” The cop smirked at his own joke and continued pacing. They were heavily armed and armoured, far more than just a standard beat patrol. Neck-guards, riot helmets, tasers, extinguishers, anti-knife and projectile vests. It looked like they were ready for just about anyone.

“My dad still talks about when this kind of thing happened all the time, man,” Marv said. “Just par for the course back then. Maybe it ain’t such distant past no more, right?”

The first sign that something was happening on the roof was when a policeman fell out of the sky and collided with the ground. It wasn’t like in the movies, when people faceplant like they just tripped and fell. This guy hit the floor then kept going, spreading out horizontally in a big red mess. We all stared for about three seconds, then I broke the tension by vomiting all over my shoes.

A gunshot echoed off the roof of the club. Marv was on his feet, straining his eyes to see what was happening, parsing through the noise of five floors of brick and mortar filled with bodies.

“Ah, crap,” he said.

There was movement on the roof’s edge and a figure stood there momentarily, only barely visible in the spill from the streetlights, then he dove off the edge, spreading wings and arcing out into a glide. His motion was unstable, like he’d never done it before. One of the cops next to us came to his senses and let off a shot, which clipped the guy’s wing but didn’t bring him down. A moment later he’d flown around the side of the building and out of sight, into the darkness.

The same cop grabbed Marv. “You’re a thermal, right? Where’d he go? Can you see where he went?”

Marv brushed his hands down his chest, knocking away the cop. “Get off me, man,” he said. He stared into the distance. “He’s gone. Can’t see him. Looks like you missed your chance.”

Blood from the fallen cop had trickled out, seeping into every pothole and crack in the road. One rivulet had found its way over to me, where it had pooled around my shoes.

I’d never felt sorry for a cop before. That was a feeling I didn’t want to get used to.

(The on-going serial can be read over on Wattpad)

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