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The beige wall said ATM Bakery Deli. The wall was corrugated metal, and the letters were hand-painted. Next, the wall said Market in fancier, much larger hand-painted letters. Then it said Super in smaller letters, slanting upwards. Finally it said Westcliffe.

Snow didn't need anything from Westcliffe Super Market's ATM. The Deli and Bakery sounded good, though. She rounded the corner. Westcliffe Super Market was built on a concrete pad that took up the whole block. The Super Market itself occupied about a quarter of the pad. The rest was marked out in yellow for parking, to the front and left side of the building. The roof had a very slight peak. Otherwise the main building was basically square. The front entrance was covered by a brown stucco extension. The extension had automatic single sliding doors on either side. They were set at a 45-degree angle to the main building. The rest of the Westcliffe Super Market's front wall was shaded by a roof, supported by one steel pillar on either side of the entrance extension. The roof and the pillars were painted a brownish orange.

Snow stopped to let the automatic door slide open. She stepped inside and felt a lot better. A lot of Colorado was flat from what she'd seen. The part of Colorado served by Westcliffe Super Market was definitely flat, but Snow had crossed over top a long mountain to get here. There was another long mountain out to the west a few miles. It ran parallel to the one she'd crossed to get here. The wind was constant, and chilly. Snow's leather cafe racer jacket was designed to keep the wind off, but her jeans seemed like they just let it through. And of course it blew right through her short hair. Snow had stopped shivering a while back. She kept wondering if that was bad.

Westcliffe Super Market's front extension had two rows of shopping carts, done in red wire. Snow looked at them, but she didn't take one. The main entrance was an automatic double sliding door. It whooshed open when she stopped in front of it. The air that met her from inside the store felt warm. Snow walked inside and stopped, soaking it up. It probably wasn't actually all that warm—the back and left walls had open refrigerated shelves—but the constant wind outside stripped away heat.

The interior of Westcliffe Super Market was a warehouse done up to look friendly. It had polished cement floors and an open ceiling. The back wall of the store had some kind of design with cows and fried eggs. To the right of the entrance, there were a bunch of tables with baked goods on display. Snow looked at them, but she turned and went left. There were four checkout aisles, but only one of them had a cashier. The front left corner of Westcliffe Super Market was walled off into a small office with a customer service window. Around the window were ads for different kinds of lottery tickets, and also for cigarettes. An old man in a red-and-black plaid jacket and a John Deere mesh baseball cap was at the window. Snow stood behind him. He had bought a ticket that said Cash Wanted in letters like an old Western movie title. He was scratching off different parts of the ticket.

The woman on the other side of the customer service window was wearing a red polo shirt. There was a lanyard around her neck, but whatever hung on it was below the level of the counter. The woman leaned forward to see the man's ticket. She said, "Anything good, Clyde?"

Clyde said, "Nah. Shitty luck today, Darlene." He put the ticket in his pocket. "Gimme a Cash 5. Same numbers."

Darlene asked, "You want the EZ Match?"

Clyde asked, "Do I ever?"

Darlene shrugged and said, "I gotta ask." She did something behind the counter, waited, and then gave Clyde a ticket. Clyde glanced at it to check the numbers and then put it in his pocket, alongside the worthless Cash Wanted ticket. He turned around and almost bumped into Snow.

"Ma'am." Clyde touched the bill of his hat as she stepped around Snow. Snow turned to watch him. Clyde was headed for the entrance, zipping up his plaid jacket.

"Can I help you, ma'am?" Darlene was resting her elbows on her side of the counter, so she could look out the customer service window more easily. "Lotto tickets or smokes, honey?"

Snow said, "Are you the manager?"

Darlene straightened up a little bit. "No, honey. You want me to get him?"

Snow said, "Yes, please." Darlene moved to the side and picked up a phone. Snow looked up at the front wall. It had a pine forest design.

"Can I help you, ma'am?" Snow turned around to see a roundish man in a white shirt and a red vest. He wore a name tag on a lanyard, which said his name was William. It also said he was the General Manager. Snow thought that would make this a lot easier. She'd worried that she'd have to deal with an assistant manager.

"There's something wrong with the carts," Snow said. "I'll show you." She turned and walked towards the entrance. Her boots clunked on the polished cement floor. She heard William follow her after a moment.

There was nobody else in the entrance extension with the carts. Nobody unloading their cart, nobody grabbing one to head inside for grocery shopping. Outside it was late afternoon, but it wasn't so dark that Snow couldn't see through brightly-lit interior reflection on the windows. There wasn't anybody in the parking lot, just parked cars. Nobody pulling in.

Snow turned and said, "William?"

William said, "Bill, please. What's wrong with the carts?" Bill looked up and down the row. All the carts were in order.

Snow pulled one of the carts out. It was made of heavy-gauge wire, covered in bright enamel. She said, "Bill, watch this."

"Um, okay?" Bill was looking a bit confused. His face went blank when Snow picked up the cart with one hand. She didn't haul it into the air, leaning to one side to use her body as a counterweight. She didn't grunt and yank it. She just picked it up.

Bill looked like he knew what those carts weighed. He probably worked with them a lot, pushing rows of them up from the parking lot when the stockboys were all busy. They were nice, fairly new carts, with wheels that didn't squeak or rattle, so if you were just pushing one around it might seem pretty light. But if you picked one up, you'd find that all that heavy gauge wire and wheel mounts and bars added up to around seventy pounds. Most adults could pick one up if they had to, but they would probably huff and puff and stagger a bit, partly because of the weight but partly because it was a big, awkward burden. They wouldn't hold it in one hand like a toy, turn their palm up with the cart still in it, and waggle it from side to side a little.

"Ah, ma'am, you shouldn't be doing that," Bill said. Bill seemed like he had a long history in customer service. He had politeness ingrained into him, so he didn't say things like "What the fuck are you doing" or "How the hell are you doing that." But he backed up a little, with his hands out in front of him a bit. So he was probably thinking those things.

Snow was holding the cart in her right hand. She turned it so that she could reach the front of th cart with her left hand. She scrunched the front of the cart. The heavy gauge wire squealed as it deformed. It was loud enough that it might have been heard inside the store, so when Snow shifted her grip to scrunch the cart some more, she scrunched it a little slower.

Snow said, "Not here hurt anybody, Bill." The cart kind of sighed as the front and back collapsed towards each other. The plastic handle on the pushbar cracked and fell off, but it didn't make too much noise. "I'm just gonna take some stuff. I want you to make sure people leave me alone."

Bill was watching the cart. His face had turned a bit red and shiny, but he didn't look panicky.

"We, um." Bill's eyes flicked down and up, watching Snow's hands deform different parts of the cart. "There's not a lot of money. I can't open the safe for you." He did something with his mouth, like he was going to say something. Then he said, "Maybe you can open it. Nobody will try to stop you."

Snow wondered if anybody had ever robbed Westcliffe Super Market. It was a small town, so maybe not. If this was Bill's first robbery, he was handling it pretty well. Snow said, "I don't want your safe. Or your cash drawers. But I also don't want somebody to call the cops." Snow turned the cart in her hands. It was about half its original volume, now. She grabbed one of the wheels and started pushing it in.

"They wouldn't be able to stop me, okay? And somebody might get hurt." The wheel broke in half. Snow dropped it, and continued pushing on the wheel mount. "Not on purpose. I don't want to hurt anyone." Snow got the second wheel where she wanted it and started on the third. "But they'd probably shoot me." Snow grabbed the fourth wheel by the base and started squeezing. "Bullets don't work on me. But they might hit somebody else." She pushed and twisted some more, and then she was done. The cart had been scrunched into a ball a few inches bigger than a basketball. She held it out to Bill. He took it and staggered and bent his knees. It really did weigh about seventy pounds.

"I just want to grab some stuff." Snow reached out and took the balled-up cart back. It was pretty warm from the friction of all that wire being bent. She set it down next to a garbage bin. Bill didn't seem to have much else to say, so Snow walked back inside.

She stopped next to the stack of hand-held shopping baskets. Balling up the cart had taken a lot out of her. The way Snow's body worked, doing it hadn't been hard. But if she tried to do another one before she ate, she'd probably pass out. And maybe not wake up again.

Snow remembered the wall outside had said Bakery. She picked up a hand basket and cut over to the right. She picked up a clear plastic clamshell container that held six glazed doughnuts. The label on the top of the clamshell said the Donuts were Maple Glazed. Snow thought about putting a big, soft, sticky Maple Glazed Donut into her mouth. Her stomach felt twisty and her mouth went dry. She put the Maple Glazed Donuts back on the table. Next to them were a four-pack of muffins. She thought about how they would taste. Her stomach twisted again, but a little less, so she put the muffins in her basket. The sticker said they were bran. Snow walked towards the back of the store, with the refrigerated shelves.

When she was aware of herself again, she found she was walking slowly down an aisle with mops and light bulbs. There was a display rack of batteries hanging off one shelf. Snow didn't own anything that used batteries. She looked in her basket and found a loaf of wheat bread and a jar of peanut butter. She thought about it for a moment, then picked up a box full of plastic spoons, knives, and forks. Then she found the aisle for drinks, and picked up two gallons of water in plastic jugs. Then she went back to the mop aisle and took a tube of generic isopropyl alcohol wipes.

She walked up front. Bill was standing behind register 2. The cashier at register 1 was playing a game on her phone. Bill spotted Snow and waved. He had a bright, stiff smile. Snow walked over to the register.

Bill said, "Hello, ma'am!" His voice was too loud. "Did you find everything you were looking for?" The cashier at register 1 looked up. She saw Snow and looked around for any other customers ready to check out. There weren't any, so the girl went back to her game.

"Yeah," said Snow.

"Here, let's get your stuff on the counter," Bill said, making a beckoning motion with his hand. More quietly—too quietly—he said, "I thought it might be best if we go ahead and bag up your, em, purchases, just like your were. You know, making a normal purchase. So nobody will notice anything out of, you know, the ordinary?" Snow looked at him. His expression was brittle. He looked terrified. The thing with the cart had been way, way overboard. He was afraid she'd do the cart thing to him. But he was more afraid that she'd do it to somebody else in the store. So here he was right here behind the cash register, keeping Snow's attention on himself.

Snow's stomach twisted, worse than when she'd thought about eating Maple Glazed Donuts.

"Okay," she said. The word barely got past her lips. She felt empty. She watched Bill put her groceries into white plastic bags. For some reason, the bags said Lowes on them, in a yellow diamond with a tomato, some bananas, and some grapes. Snow wondered why the name outside was different from the name on the bags. It was better than thinking about how she'd scared Bill half out of his mind.

"There you go, ma'am! All paid up!" Bill was too loud again. Snow took the two white plastic bags in one hand, and the two jugs of water in the other. She thought about saying something, but there wasn't anything to say. So she walked out to the entrance extension. She walked around the corner and down the street, past Westcliffe, then Super, then Market, then ATM Deli Bakery. Behind the building was an unpaved lane and an empty lot. Beyond the lot there were a bunch of open fields, and beyond that the mountain.

Snow set down her bags and her water. She dug into the bags and opened up the carton of muffins. Each muffin was larger than her fist, almost as large as both her fists together. She smelled them. They smelled a little sweet and a little earthy. She wanted to close them back up, but she made herself pick one up. She broke off a piece and put it in her mouth. It was awful, moist and chewy and crumbly, with flakes of oatmeal on top and a hint of cinnamon throughout. Snow made a noise in her throat, but she swallowed. She broke the rest of the muffin in half, and pushed one of the halves into her mouth. Her throat kept trying to heave. She swallowed, swallowed again, and then went to work on the last piece.

When she was done, she stood with her hands on her knees for a while. Once the sugar hit her system, her stomach started to settle. After a few minutes, she straightened up.

Then she rose into the air with her groceries and her water. She turned left, which she thought was probably south, and flew away.

 

Chapter Text

Snow rubbed her eyes. She didn't think she'd slept. She couldn't remember sleeping since... before she'd left Seoul. She thought she must have slept at some point, a few minutes or hours here and there. She remembered reading that you can go crazy if you don't sleep. Snow didn't think she was crazy.

The light coming through the gap between the roll-up door and the cement floor was blue-white instead of street light orange. Snow used it to find her wipes. She undressed and wiped herself down. It had occurred to her somewhere over Ohio that she probably didn't smell very good. She'd taken to stealing travel packs of baby wipes from gas stations. They seemed to do a good enough job. None of the people she'd run into so far, during her infrequent trips to the ground, had acted like she smelled bad, anyway. Though she hadn't run into all that many people. Snow held her jeans to her nose and sniffed. They weren't stained or even dirty. Maybe getting a little threadbare. Snow wondered if maybe it was just too chilly, out here in the countryside, to sweat. That didn't really seem right. But she couldn't hold onto her thoughts long enough to think about it much.

She'd run out of bread the day before yesterday. The loaf had lasted about a week, and the jar was still half-full of peanut butter. She couldn't remember if she'd been here for five days or six. At first she'd made sandwiches with two slices of bread. She wasn't able to finish any of them, so she started just making half sandwiches on a single slice. She was usually able to finish them before her stomach threatened to send it all back up. At least she didn't have any problems drinking water. She'd refilled her gallon jugs three times, landing in strangers' yards in the early morning and using their spigots. Once, a light in the house had come on. She'd taken her single half-full jug and flown away.

Snow put her clothes back on and sat down to strap up her boots. She thought her boots and her jacket were the two things she really had going for her. The boots were heavy, scuffed, black leather tanker boots. She'd found them at a thrift store, back in New York. They'd fit perfectly. The clerk had said they were military surplus. Snow hadn't thought five-foot-nothing girls who weighed maybe ninety pounds could be soldiers. The military boots had made her feel like a badass. That had been a new experience.

She rolled up the door and looked outside. She was in an empty ten-by-ten storage unit. Wet Mountain Storage had a dirt lot, with two rows of larger storage units and one row of smaller units at the back of the lot. She'd picked one of the smaller units that didn't have a lock on it, and didn't have any neighbors with locks. The latch handle at the bottom of the door had a keyhole, but Snow just twisted it till the mechanism snapped. The lot was well-lit at night, and there were security cameras on each building. Snow hadn't thought she'd get more than a single night before someone came and bothered her, but nothing had happened yet.

That was good. She hadn't decided whether she'd leave and find someplace else, or force whoever owned the lot to let her stay. Both options seemed impossibly complex. Talking to someone, finding something to destroy so they'd know not to mess with her, warning them about what would happen if they called the cops... or flying around, looking for a new place, trying to balance the long list of necessary features: dry, private, enough room to lie down, close to someplace out of view so she could fly away and land without people noticing and getting upset. Just thinking about juggling it all was exhausting.

Snow made a deal with herself. She'd go to Westcliffe Super Market, which might also be Lowes. If Bill was there, she'd get another loaf of bread. Otherwise, she'd put it off. The muffins hadn't worked out very well, after the first one. She hadn't been able to force herself to eat another. She'd eventually thrown them out. Her water, she could keep refilling. And she still had a bunch of the plastic forks, spoons, and knives left, for spreading peanut butter on the bread. And plenty of wipes. Snow tried to think if there was anything else she needed, but her brain felt cloudy. The clouds in her brain were so thick, she could almost see them at the edges of her vision. They didn't let many thoughts get through.

There was a chain link fence running around Wet Mountain Storage. Snow flew over it. Behind Wet Mountain Storage was a barn with a gigantic tin roof, surrounded by a bunch of different farm vehicles and trucks. She turned to her left. Across several fields and roads, she could see the market's beige wall. She was a little too far away to make out Westcliffe Super Market ATM Deli Bakery. She started walking across the field. She walked parallel to the long dirt driveway that fed the barn with the gigantic tin roof. She had to fly over a couple low barbed-wire fences. The end of the driveway ran into one of the town's bigger roads. It was only two lanes, but the lanes were wider, and the road had double yellow lines and white lane lines. Most of the roads in Westcliffe were narrower and largely unmarked.

Westcliffe Super Market was at the western edge of town, before it gave way to wide, open fields. Westcliffe spread out mostly to her left, to the east. There were more fields that way, too, before they ran up against the mountain ridge Snow had flown over on her way into town. She hadn't known there was a town here when she'd flown over the mountain. She'd just seen the mountain and decided to fly over it. She'd never flown over a mountain before. There were a lot of mountains she'd flown past, but she'd mostly just meandered through the valleys. She'd seen the mountain, realized she'd never seen the top of one, and decided to fly up.

At the top, she'd seen another ridge in the distance, and the lights of a small town in the wide valley between them. The lights looked warm. The top of the mountain was colder than Snow had expected. She'd flown down and seen sparse rows of low houses, mostly on dirt roads in rectangular grids. There was an area that had the dirt road grid, but no houses. After that there were grids of paved roads with nicer houses, and then there was a street that had bars and restaurants on it.

Snow had tried one called Mountain View Bar and Grill. It had a sign inside that warned Cowboys to Wipe The Shit Off their Boots Before they Came In Here. The bartender had a neat man bun. Snow had asked the him for a water and said she was waiting for someone. Mountain View Bar and Grill had a steady stream of customers without getting very crowded. Some of the people coming in or leaving had nodded to her. The bartender kept her water filled but didn't bother her, even after she'd been there for almost an hour. Nobody spoke to her, but people didn't ignore her.

She'd stepped outside when the bartender was busy with someone else. She'd looked around and decided maybe she could find a place to try and sleep, here. It was the first place she'd been since New York that didn't feel either overcrowded or completely empty.

Snow walked past a nice brick house on the curve of a road that bent like a narrow boomerang. A cross street a few hundred feet up turned the boomerang into a big A. The cross street didn't have any houses on it. There were one or two houses on the two cross streets further down. The houses were all very nice, some of them with two stories. Snow thought it must be some kind of planned neighborhood, but the plan was maybe taking a long time to come together.

Ahead was a row of double-wides. Snow flew over the fence. She heard a car door slam, but it was behind one of the other mobile homes, out of sight. She'd forgotten to look. She should have gone out for food yesterday.

Across the street from the row of mobile homes was some kind of fenced-in park. The fence was some kind of reddish wood, tall, and didn't have any weeds growing around it. Snow detoured behind it. Any place that took that much care of their fence would probably notice someone flying over it. Cowering one or two people into submission so she could get food was one thing. Getting on the local news... Snow's brain couldn't focus long enough to tally up all the ways that would be bad.

After the fenced-in park was a huge yard with a tiny cabin. The cabin had a sign on it advertising HISTORIC REPLICA CABINS. And across the street from the HISTORIC REPLICA CABIN, finally, was Westcliffe Super Market. Or Lowes.

Snow walked through the single sliding door on this side of the entrance extension, and then through the double doors of the main entrance. She looked around. Bill had been standing at register 1. There was a cashier at the register itself. Bill, the general manager of the entire store, had been standing ready to bag. Now he was hurrying over to Snow.

"Welcome back, miss!" At least he wasn't overly loud, this time. The cashier was watching him with a confused expression. "Is there anything I can help you find today?" Bill asked brightly. "You can come right over to register 2 as soon as you're ready," he added before Snow could answer.

When Snow was sure he was done talking, she said, "I'm just going to get some more bread." She rubbed her mouth.

"Alright, ma'am!" Bill said. "That sounds great! I'll see you at register 2!" He folded his hands in front of himself, and then turned to head back to the registers. He started to go to register 2, then changed his mind and went back to the bagging station at register 1. The cashier looked at him, looked at Snow, and shrugged.

Snow walked around to the bread aisle. She started looking for the wheat bread she'd gotten before. She lost some time staring at the shelves. Her brain kept doing that, lately. It was like she took a nap or something, but her body kept going, and then she woke up. She was at the far end of the bread aisle, where there was an endcap that had a bunch of Gatorade energy bars. She was staring at the Gatorade lightning bolt. Someone else was in the aisle, a few feet away. They weren't faced towards the bread, they were faced towards Snow.

Snow looked up and saw a woman in a thick brown jacket. Her hair was almost as short as Snow's, but a dark brown where Snow's was closer to black. There was a silver and gold badge on her jacket. Snow couldn't quite figure the badge out, it had pointy parts that stuck out and round parts. The woman also had a heavy belt with a walkie-talkie on one side and a pistol on the other. The woman's hands were hooked on her belt buckle.

The woman said, "Hey, there. I'm Sheriff Mills." Sheriff Mills's face wasn't angry or scared. "I was wondering if we could have a talk, after you finish shopping?" When Snow didn't say anything right away, Sheriff Mills raised her fingers in sort of a 'be cool' gesture and said, "Not if you don't want to. Bill showed me his shopping cart, I'm not trying to push you." She smiled like she and Snow were sharing a little joke together.

Snow thought about it. Sheriff Mills didn't seem to want to make things hard, at least not right away. She seemed pretty clear on the idea that she couldn't make Snow do anything. She didn't seem scared, either. Snow thought everybody should be scared of her. She didn't want them to be scared of her. But it would be healthier for them if they were.

Snow looked at the bread selection. There were too, too many to choose from. She said, "I can finish shopping later. We can talk, I guess."

"Alright. Can I buy you breakfast? There's a great little diner down the street." Back in New York, there had been a little diner under the El near 72nd. Snow remembered getting eggs there, over easy, fried in grease from the bacon that came with.

Snow covered her mouth with the back of her hand and said "Uhm." Her stomach didn't have anything to bring up, though. She said, "I'm not really hungry." Her voice was a little shaky. Sheriff Mills was looking at her with an expression that Snow couldn't figure out. Snow said, "We can find a bench or something. Or your car. I don't care." Snow wanted to sleep. She wanted to lay down on the floor right there and close her eyes. But if she did that, she'd end up just staring at nothing until she got up again, like always. And Sheriff Mills might have some additional questions.

"Come on, we'll sit in my truck," Sheriff Mills said after a pause. "I'll crank the heat up." She turned and walked towards the front of the store. Snow put her hands in the pockets of her jacket and followed. She mostly watched the floor. Thinking about the eggs and bacon had made her a little dizzy. She glanced up as they passed the registers. Bill gave her a smile and a little wave. Snow looked at the floor again.

Sheriff Mills's truck was a big, white SUV with lights on top. It had a thick green stripe and a thin yellow one on the side. It had a big black and red star-shaped badge, and it said SHERIFF in big letters across the door. Sheriff Mills opened the front passenger's side door for Snow, then walked around to the driver's side. She started up the truck with a rumble, turned the fan knob all the way to the right, and cracked her window.

"So Bill never told me your name," Sheriff Mills said. The air blasting out of the vents was the stuff of life itself. Snow held her hands up to the heat and felt her whole body sag in relief. She hadn't realized how cold she was. After a while, she'd just stopped feeling it.

Sheriff Mills had asked a question. Snow thought back a bit, trying to remember. "Snow," she finally said. "I'm Snow."

"Yeah?" Sheriff Mills was amused. "Like Madonna? Or Beyonce?"

Snow turned that over in her mind a few times. "It's my last name," she said. "Don't like my first name." Snow thought her bones might be melting away in the heat. She sat back in the bucket seat. The seat was thickly cushioned, so much that it almost swallowed her. Snow wondered if she might be able to finally sleep, here. She decided to let it happen, if it was going to. That was a bad idea, but Snow couldn't remember why.

"Snow," Sheriff Mills said thoughtfully. "Where're you from, Snow?"

"Brooklyn," Snow's mouth said. She was right on the edge of drifting off. She could feel her mind trying to evaporate in the warmth.

"Never been to New York," Sheriff Mills said. "Lot of trouble there, recently." Snow heard the words, knew they should be jabbing her with memories. But the seat cushion absorbed it all. Yes, there had been trouble in New York. But that was a thousand miles away from here.

"Yeah," said Snow's mouth. Snow listened to herself speak. She wasn't telling her mouth what to say, it was just saying it. Snow didn't have to worry about it. Her mouth could run itself while she drifted away. "Why I left," her mouth said.

"Not a fan of trouble, I guess," Sheriff Mills said approvingly. There was something behind her words, but that was Snow's mouth's problem to deal with. Snow just wanted to sleep. She could feel it, like a wave just about to hit the shore. She waited for it to roll in. "That's good. Trouble... well, it's trouble. We're not really keen on trouble around here, either."

Snow opened her eyes. Sleep wasn't there. She'd reached for it, welcomed it, but like always, just as it got close it turned around and left.

Snow said, "I don't want any trouble, sheriff." She had to lift each word out of her mouth like an iron weight. "I really just want to be left alone."

"I think we can do that," Sheriff Mills said. "It might be easier if we work on it together, if that makes sense. Do you know how often you'll want to come down and get some groceries?" Snow looked over at her. "Bill wanted me to ask," Sheriff Mills said. "If he knows when you're coming, he can be there to get you through the checkout line."

"Maybe in the mornings," Snow said after thinking about it. "Every, like, five days. I don't really keep track of days." Snow rubbed her eyes. "If I come in, I won't come in again for at least three days." She was pretty sure she could keep track of three days. More than that and they blurred together too much.

"I think Bill can work with that just fine," Sheriff Mills said. "You know..." She paused. "I don't want to nose in where I don't belong," Sheriff Mills said. "But I'm really curious. How did—"

The truck shook with a roaring sound. Sheriff Mills startled, and slapped her hip. Snow jerked her knees up to her chest and hugged herself. The roar outside continued to build. Sheriff Mills slowly took her hand away from her holster. She ducked to crane her neck, so she could see up in the sky.

"Hey. Hey! It's one of those—things!" Sheriff Mills got out of the truck, still looking up. Snow stayed in the truck and hugged her knees. Out here in Colorado, they'd have only seen them on TV.

Snow had heard it in person. It was the sound of multiple large-scale repulsor engines operating at peak output. A helicarrier was landing in Westcliffe, Colorado.

 

Chapter Text

Sheriff Mills got back in the truck. Snow still had her knees pulled up. She was looking straight out the front window. Sheriff Mills opened her mouth, then closed it, then said, "Damn thing's headed west. Looks like it might come down somewhere around Round Mountain." Snow didn't say anything, or move. Sheriff Mills watched her, then started the truck.

The roar had leveled off. It didn't hurt to hear, anymore. The helicarrier had passed over town. It was far enough out that after Sheriff Mills got the truck turned around, Snow could see it. It had four repulsor engines, spewing blue-white plasma that was so bright it hurt to look at. This was one of the smaller ones, like she'd seen over DC. At the time she hadn't been in much of a state to remember details. But she'd seen them on the news, later, and she remembered they'd had a row of big, ground-facing gun turrets down either side. The guns had stood out to her. The big helicarrier, the one that had hovered over New York for a few weeks after the Incident, hadn't had them. The one flying over Westcliffe now didn't have them, either.

Sheriff Mills pushed a button. The truck's siren whooped a few times while she blew through a red light. Snow watched Mountain View Bar and Grill zip by. The bartender with the man bun was standing in the doorway, looking up.

Outside of town, Snow could see a big hill. The helicarrier was flying towards it. It kept getting smaller. Snow realized the "hill" was a lot further away than she'd thought. It was a couple miles away, and it rose probably five hundred feet or more off the plain. Big enough that it was probably a mountain rather than a hill. The helicarrier's repulsors flared. Five or six seconds later, the roar went back up. Sheriff Mills maintained her speed as they passed a school on the left. Then she flipped the sirens back on. Snow was pushed back into the bucket seat as the truck sped up.

The helicarrier was landing. Snow thought it was landing in front of the mountain, but it was landing on top. The mountain was topped by a ridge running north to south, maybe a quarter mile long. The helicarrier was coming down right on the ridge. Snow could tell because the repulsor exhaust was setting the underbrush on fire. The helicarrier was almost as long as the entire ridge.

Sheriff Mills picked up her radio mic. "Dispatch, this is Mills. I need a ten thirty-nine on Dan Carpenter or whoever's on desk up at the station, over." The radio crackled something back. Sheriff Mills held onto the mic.

Snow had wondered how the helicarrier was going to balance on the ridge. She saw something like a big sideways folding gate expanding down from under the front part of the helicarrier's hull. As the framework expanded, the bottom edge of it unfolded into what looked like random shapes. It finished expanding just as the belly of the helicarrier touched down. The random shapes seated perfectly on the ridge's protrusions and dips. The repulsor engines dimmed, and a few seconds later the roar died down to almost nothing.

The radio crackled again. "Sheriff, this is Carpenter, over."

"Dan, I don't want you boys up on that hill, over." There was a lot of black smoke coming from the mountain, now. It mostly hid the fires.

"Sheriff, we wait for those fires to come to us, we're gonna have a hard time putting them out. Over."

"Can't put out a fire if you get blown up by alien ray guns, Dan. Or whatever's gonna come out of that thing. Over." The radio was quiet for a bit. Snow looked in the mirror. There were flashing lights somewhere down the road behind them. If they had their sirens on, Snow couldn't hear them over the truck's own siren.

"We'll try and dig a break between there and the road, Sheriff. But it's a lot of dirt to move. We could use some extra backs. Over."

"Roger, Danny. Break, dispatch." Sheriff Mills sounded like she was ordering breakfast. So had Dan Carpenter. "Route all available units and volunteers to the Main Highway Roadhouse. Dan Carpenter's in charge of them until I say otherwise. Dan, you copy, over?"

"Ten four, over."

"Okay. Let me make it clear, and dispatch you make sure everybody knows. Round Mountain is code six. Keep the fires contained and away from town, otherwise stay the hell back. Over?" The radio gabbled a bunch of people saying "Ten four" and "Roger". Sheriff Mills said, "Mills out," and hung up the mic.

She and Snow rode in silence, aside from the siren and the truck's engine. They drove past a restaurant that looked like a big log cabin, with a dirt lot. An ambulance was parking in the lot, no siren.

Snow said, "I saw a couple of those in DC." She was looking at the helicarrier.

Sheriff Mills thought about that. "Last year?" she asked. "When they were up in the air, with the Hydra thing?" Snow nodded.

"Saw the big one in New York, too," Snow said. Sheriff Mills thought about that as well. She didn't ask about when that had been.

"I am beginning to appreciate your aversion to trouble," Sheriff Mills said. They were silent again for a while.

"The ones I saw didn't have that extending scaffold thing."

"The thing they put down to keep it from tipping over?" Sheriff Mills asked. Snow nodded. "It didn't look to me like it would have worked anywhere else but that exact spot," Sheriff Mills said. Snow nodded again.

A fork split off from the road, going north past Round Mountain. Sheriff Mills took the turn. Snow would have slammed into the door, but she levitated herself a little bit. Her control with flying wasn't all that good. She went up off the seat a few inches before she got settled again. Sheriff Mills didn't notice, or didn't comment. There was a dirt road on the right, almost immediately after the turn. It didn't really go towards the mountain, but Sheriff Mills took it anyway. The rough terrain ate a lot of the truck's speed. The road went up at a slight rise. It went past some cabins and then curved left, towards the mountain.

The helicarrier's landing had shaken loose some big rocks. They tumbled down the mountain. They left visible tracks in the scrub grass that covered most of it. Snow thought there were a lot of those rocks. And that they were pretty big.

Sheriff Mills said, "Shit." The truck accelerated, and Sheriff Mills turned the wheel hard. Snow levitated to keep from crashing into the door again. When Sheriff Mills stepped on the brake, Snow didn't slow down fast enough. Her head smacked into the windshield, and she fell back into the bucket seat. A boulder about twice the size of the truck rolled past in front of them. There was some loud crashing behind them. Snow turned to look and saw an even larger boulder had just missed them.

"Honey, your head!" Sheriff Mills reached towards Snow. Snow recoiled into the door hard enough to shake the truck. Sheriff Mill's face had been concerned. Now she had on the same blandly pleasant half-smile she'd given Snow in the bread aisle of Westcliffe Super Market. Snow wondered how long it took to learn to respond to panic by becoming extra polite. Instead of trying to bash your way out of a car.

"Sorry," Snow said.

"I guess I didn't need to worry," Sheriff Mills said. The windshield in front of Snow was dished outwards. It was a maze of cracks. Snow's head was fine, of course.

Snow said, "Sorry" again. Sheriff Mills shrugged as she opened up her door.

There were noises in the sky. The helicarrier was loud, but these were separate noises. Snow got out and looked up. There were six people in the air, falling towards them. Their feet were on fire. They had rifles. Two of the people stopped falling. They just hovered about sixty feet up. The other four landed. One of them was close enough to Snow that she heard him say "Labor two, dismount" just before his foot rockets turned off. All four of the men that landed had some kind of hard armor pieces on their legs and chest. The armor looked skeletal and robotic. It was made out of dark-colored metal pieces that reflected faintly green. It encased their feet and knees completely. Under it, Snow could see Army uniforms. She knew the grey-green digital pattern from New York and DC.

"This is federal land, off-limits to civilians. Gonna ask you ladies to leave real prompt-like," one of the men said. New York had been almost like an Army base, for months after the Incident. None of the thousands of soldiers helping with the clean-up had worn a full mustache and goatee, like this guy did.

"Last I checked this land was private property," Sheriff Mills said. She was using her polite voice again. "Anyone let my friend Paige know her mountain's been federalized?"

"Guess she figured it out when we landed a fucking helicarrier on it," one of the other men said. He had a long, full beard. He wasn't wearing a helmet. His hair was undercut. The top was combed to the right. It was so long that the tips of his hair covered his right ear.

"Still," Sheriff Mills said, "she'll be asking me about it. There any paperwork I can show her? To put her mind at ease?"

"This is kind of a fluid situation," said Mustache And Goatee. Most of the soldiers in New York hadn't had guns. The ones that did were mostly around Central Park. They were guarding, or going to and from, the big field base they'd set up in the North Woods. Their rifles didn't look anything like the ones these guys were carrying. These rifles were bigger and bulkier. And instead of black, they were tan all over. "You tell your friend Paige to sit tight."

"A helicarrier on your lawn is pretty convincing," Sheriff Mills said. The way Mustache And Goatee was standing, Snow could see his right shoulder. All the soldiers in New York had worn an American flag there. Mustache And Goatee didn't have one. "It'd be good to have something official, though."

"Situation's fluid," said Undercut And Beard. He said it loud and slow. Snow was looking at the helicarrier. On the side, sort of where a mascot might be painted if the helicarrier were a bomber from World War II, there was a strong man wrestling a horse.

Snow stepped around Undercut And Beard to get a better look. She said, "Hey, what's—" Something hit her in the back. She wasn't expecting it, so it knocked her down. There was a lot of very loud shouting. Snow rolled over and saw Sheriff Mills standing completely still. She had a hand on her holster. Three of the four guys were pointing their big, tan guns at her. The fourth was pointing his gun at Snow.

Mustache And Goatee yelled, "With two fingers! Unsnap your holster!" Sheriff Mills did that. Mustache And Goatee yelled, "With two fingers! Grip the butt of your pistol! And slowly! Lift it from the holster!" Sheriff Mills did that too. Her expression was extremely polite. She looked like she was waiting for someone to order breakfast from her. Mustache And Goatee said, "Willard! Get that fucking gun!" Willard was Undercut And Beard. He was on Sheriff Mill's right side. He had his rifle socketed in her ear. He was grinning really wide. He held his rifle in place with one hand and took her pistol with the other. He dropped the pistol into a cargo pocket on his pants.

"Place your hands! Behind your head!" Mustache And Goatee yelled. Sheriff Mills did that. Snow thought about doing something. But she couldn't stop them from shooting Sheriff Mills, and Sheriff Mills had been okay so far. And if she did something, she'd probably have to leave.

One of the men was holding Sheriff Mills's wrists while Mustache And Goatee yelled at her to lie face down on the ground, spread her legs, remain still, and not resist. While he yelled at her, Willard searched her. He was pretty thorough about searching her butt and breasts. Sheriff Mills was definitely not hiding a weapon in either location.

"Get up." Mustache And Goatee was standing over Snow. Snow had lost some time while she watched them search Sheriff Mills. She stood up. Willard was right behind Mustache And Goatee. They were both looking Snow up and down.

Willard said, "She reminds me of that shepherd kid outside Fayzabad. He didn't have any meat on his ass, either." Snow hadn't looked at Mustache And Goatee very closely before. She noticed now that he had a kind face. Something about the shape of his eyebrows, and the blue color of his eyes, made him look like he was about to smile all the time.

Mustache And Goatee said, "Brass might want to question the sheriff, so don't pop her yet. Willard, get this skinny bitch secured. We'll take turns on her after the shelters are set up." Behind her, Sheriff Mills made a wheezing sound.

Snow looked at Willard and said, "If you touch me, I'll pull your arms off." Willard smiled and reached towards her.

Mustache And Goatee said, "Wait one." Willard turned, still smiling. Mustache And Goatee was looking at the ground. He didn't say anything.

Willard said, "What's up, cap?" Snow's stomach felt twisty. The other two guys were behind her, and they probably still had their guns pointed at Sheriff Mills.

Mustache And Goatee said, "Orders. We need to expand the perimeter temporarily while the fire suppression unit deploys." Over on the other side of the hill, Snow could see smoke. It seemed like a few months had passed since she'd watched the helicarrier set the brush on fire.

"Well what about these two, man?" Willard wasn't smiling anymore. His voice was kind of whiny.

"Brass says don't stir up trouble with the locals yet," said Mustache And Goatee. "Pat 'em on the head and send 'em on their way."

"This is bullshit," Willard said. He walked away. Snow turned around. Sheriff Mills was standing up. She had dirt on her face. Her face was just blank. Her eyes tracked Mustache And Goatee as he walked up to her.

"We're real sorry about any inconvenience that you or your little town might experience over the next while," Mustache And Goatee said. "But as we discussed previously, this mountain is now federal property." He half-turned and pointed up at the helicarrier. "My superiors wish to impress upon you the dire, dire consequences that can be brought to bear on anybody caught trespassing on federal land. Especially when such trespassing threatens the security of this great nation. D'you think you are now cognizant of the general nature of those consequences?"

"I feel I have been sufficiently educated," Sheriff Mills said. Her voice trembled. Snow's stomach twisted again.

"Outstanding!" Mustache And Goatee said. "Perhaps you'd do us the favor of educating your subordinates, your peers, and everybody else in your little pisshole." He pointed at the helicarrier again. "Anybody who comes within twenty-five hundred feet of that big flying death machine there," he said, "will not be coming back. Ever. Starting a hundred twenty seconds from..." Mustache And Goatee looked at his wrist. He wasn't wearing a watch. "Now. Not for nothing," he said, "but I am currently standing one thousand six hundred and fifty-eight feet from that big flying death machine. Approximately. Willard?"

Willard threw something underhand. Sheriff Mills's keys hit her in the chest. She stooped to pick them up, and then she looked at Snow. She asked, "You coming?" Snow thought about it.

"Yeah," Snow said.

She opened up the door and climbed into the truck.

 

Chapter Text

Sheriff Mills turned the truck off. The parking lot of the Main Highway Roadhouse was about half-full. There were a lot of trucks. One of them was another sheriff's vehicle, white with green and yellow stripes down the sides. Snow looked at the trucks through the partly-smashed windshield.

Sheriff Mills asked, "Are you okay?"

Snow looked down at her hands. "My head's a lot harder than a window," she said.

"I wasn't talking about the windshield," Sheriff Mills said. Snow stared at her. Sheriff Mills's face still had some smudges of dirt. Her holster was empty. There were a couple buttons missing from her uniform shirt. There were smudges of dirt there, too.

Snow got out of the truck and flew into the sky. She heard someone shouting, down on the ground. She didn't know if it was Sheriff Mills or not. Snow kept flying upwards.

She flew until the air hurt almost too much to breath. This high up, she could see the curvature of the Earth. She could see Westcliffe below her. It was some khaki scratches in the brownish-green valley. There were some green squares here and there, like big stuck pixels. She could see Round Mountain. There was a faint haze of smoke around it. The helicarrier looked like a little toy. She thought about picking it up and smashing it on the ground. She thought about Sheriff Mills on the ground, struggling against men with guns because she thought Snow was going to be hurt.

Snow tried to cry. It felt like she was crying. The corners of her mouth stretched the right way. Her eyes balled up. Her breath came out in rattling sobs. But there weren't any tears. Her nose didn't even get runny. She wanted to cry more than she wanted to sleep. But every time she tried to let herself, it felt like she was faking it. After a while she gave up.

She looked out to the west, over the far mountain beyond Westcliffe Super Market. There were more mountains and more valleys, that way. More states, more towns. An ocean, if she wanted to cross it. Or try to drown in it.

She looked down at Westcliffe again. She had a place here. It was a crappy place. It was literally a five-by-ten metal shed bolted to unfinished concrete. And it wasn't even hers. But it was more of a place than she'd had since she left Seoul. And she could get food.

She really needed food. As a matter of fact, flying over the far mountain beyond Westcliffe Super Market probably wasn't an option right now. Snow could feel her own slight weight. Usually when she flew she didn't feel like she weighed anything. Like gravity had just kind of forgotten about her. But she had to push a little to stay up here, right now. Snow started to descend.

She lost some time. When she came back, she was sprawled on the ground. She was curled forward, one leg bent underneath her butt, and her face was in the grass. She wondered if she'd made it to the ground and collapsed, or passed out in mid-air. If she had fallen, it must not have been from very high up. The ground wasn't broken or disturbed.

Snow stood up. In front of her, far away, there were mountains. Behind her, other mountains, also far away. To her left was the unbroken horizon. To her right, she could see some bumps and shapes that might be trees and houses. She started walking that way. She didn't try to fly. She felt too heavy.

It was a long, long walk. The bumps and shapes slowly turned into trees and houses. The sun was pretty high in the sky, but Snow still felt chilly. Walking didn't seem to build up any body heat. She wasn't walking very quickly, though. Too tired.

The bumps and shapes were a small neighborhood with narrow roads. Some of the roads were paved, most were dirt. She looked around. There was the helicarrier, on top of Round Mountain. It was pretty far away. Snow followed the roads going away from Round Mountain. When she couldn't see any more houses in front of her, just fields, she turned right. She walked on the road, until there was a sidewalk. Eventually she found a store she recognized, called Grannie's House. It was at a four-way intersection. She turned left.

She was walking pretty slowly now. She had to pause for a heartbeat between steps. A few blocks ahead, she could see the corner of a beige building. She could see writing on the wall facing the street. The angle was too steep to read it. But she passed the last house and she could see the sign on the front. It read Westcliffe Super Market.

She walked past the parking lot. There were cars in the lot, and navigating through them seemed like it might be more than she could manage right now. There was a bench near the entrance made of slats of wood. Each slat was a different color. They each had a business's name and phone number. Snow sat on the bench and just breathed. Her body felt heavy. She felt like she was made out of metal. Just a lump of solid metal left to rust on a bench.

"Miss?" Snow looked up. It took a little effort.

"Bill," Snow said. The manager looked worried. He didn't need to be. Snow didn't think she'd be ruining any shopping carts today.

"Are you... alright? Miss?" Snow wondered if the poor guy had been on his way home. First her, then the helicarrier, and now her again.

"Snow," said Snow. "Call me Snow, Bill."

"Okay," said Bill. "Snow, are you alright? You're, um, looking a bit peaked." He pronounced it 'peekt'.

"I'm really hungry," Snow said. "And tired. Can you bring me some of that bread I got last time?"

"Ah, ah sure!" said Bill. "Sure, ah, Snow! I'll be right back!" Bill hurried off. Snow watched the sparse traffic pass. It wasn't just Bill. The whole town of Westcliffe was having kind of a bad week. A few days ago, a supervillain had robbed their grocery store with her superpowers. Snow wasn't going to lie to herself. The only difference between her and that Loki guy was, Loki wouldn't be satisfied with a couple sandwiches and some water. And some cleaning wipes.

Now Westcliffe had these Iron Man rejects and their helicarrier. They'd talked about murdering a cop, right out in the open. They wouldn't be satisfied with a couple of sandwiches. Snow wondered if Westcliffe really needed to deal with the helicarrier and a sandwich villain. Hell, people would probably assume she was connected to the helicarrier.

Snow wondered if she might actually be connected. Something about her powers, or how she'd gotten them. Snow thought about Seoul again. There hadn't been any power armor guys there. No helicarriers. And anyway, if they'd wanted her, they'd have tried to take her when she was right there in front of them. Snow couldn't be connected to the helicarrier. Probably.

"Snow?" Snow looked up again. Bill had reappeared. He was holding a white plastic shopping bag that said Lowes on it. "If you're hungry, ah, now, I put in some granola bars." Bill held out the bag. Snow took it from him and looked inside. There was a loaf of bread and a handful of Nature Valley bars. Snow thought about eating one of the bars. It would be crunchy and sweet. Pieces of it would crumble as she bit into it. Snow's stomach didn't make much of a fuss. She took out one of the bars and opened it. Her fingers were shaking. It wasn't easy. If she just yanked at the wrapper she'd crush the bar to crumbs. That would be annoying and messy to eat. So she took the time to open it carefully.

The granola bar was crunchy and sweet and it crumbled. Snow got most of it into her mouth and down into her stomach. She had to work to swallow each bite, but her stomach didn't try to send anything back up. She ate the other bar in the wrapper and put the empty wrapper back in the shopping bag.

"Miss, ah, Snow?" Bill was still there. Snow had forgotten about him. While she was eating, she'd forgotten about everything but the granola bar. Snow looked up at Bill. She didn't feel the weight of her own head anymore when she tried to turn it. "You don't, ah, seem to eat much?" Bill asked.

Snow stood up. She looked down and saw some stray crumbs on her shirt. She said, "I've been sick." Snow brushed the crumbs off her shirt. She said, "Thanks for the bread. And the granola. I'll see you in a few days." The street was empty, so Snow walked across it. On the other side was HISTORIC REPLICA CABIN. Then the nice wooden fence around the pine copse. And behind that trailer park.

There was a shallow ditch between the road and HISTORIC REPLICA CABIN. Snow flew over it. She could fly again. The Nature Valley bars had given her a pretty big boost. Snow didn't think that could really be right. Something about the energy density of carbohydrates and... gravity. Or something. Her body needed more food, even though her stomach said she'd had enough. She stopped and dug around in the bag. She found another Nature Valley bar and opened the wrapper. Her fingers weren't shaking now.

She ate it as she walked. Each swallow was almost painful. Her stomach was feeling well enough to try to make her puke. She chewed and chewed each bite, working up her nerve. Then she swallowed as hard as she could. She got through the first of the two bars in the wrapper. On her first bite of the second bar, she choked when she flew over a fence and tried to swallow at the same time. Sometimes she wondered if she could actually choke to death. Or suffocate or drown or something. Her mouth had gone dry and she couldn't work up any more spit. So she wrapped the second bar up and put it back in her bag. She'd make herself finish it once she got back to her water jugs at Wet Mountain Storage.

Snow could see Round Mountain as she crossed the last road between her and the storage units. There was a haze around it, brown instead of black. It seemed like the fires were out. Snow wondered how much of a firebreak Dan Carpenter had managed to dig. The mountain was mostly green-grey instead of grey-black. The fire suppression unit that Mustache And Goatee had been ordered to escort must have done a good job.

She thought about Mustache And Goatee, and Willard. Plus the other two Iron Man rejects. Plus the two more Iron Man rejects hovering overhead. Those guys hadn't just put their rocket boots on this morning. It seemed like they had plans and tactics and stuff all worked out. The soldiers in New York, from what Snow had seen, their biggest real advantage was that they knew how to work together and take orders. When their sergeant or whatever said to do something, the soldiers did it. They bitched and complained all the time, but they didn't try to do things one way if they were told to do it another.

Mustache And Goatee's squad was different. They didn't just work together. They worked like they were all one guy. They never got in each other's way. As a squad they had guns pointed in all kinds of different directions, but never at each other even for a second. Snow didn't know how many cops Westcliffe had. She hoped they wouldn't try to do anything against the helicarrier. She thought Mustache And Goatee's squad could probably kill them all.

Snow flew over the fence behind Wet Mountain Storage. She walked around to the front side of the back row of containers. She bent down and turned the handle of the one she'd been using. There was a snap inside the handle, like when she'd first broken the lock. Somebody had replaced the handle while she was away. She lifted the door. Her jugs of water, her wipes, and her peanut butter were gone.

Somebody behind her yelled, "Hey!" Snow turned around. There was a guy there. His flannel sleeves were rolled up. He had a beard like Willard. He was wearing a red baseball cap. He yelled, "Hey!" again. He was holding a big gun with a wooden stock. The gun was pointed at Snow. "This is private property! You're trespassing."

The granola bars must have really worked. Snow knew she'd have to find someplace else to crash out, but the idea didn't seem impossibly complex anymore. She'd seen another storage lot on the other side of town. There were also a couple of houses that looked like they might be abandoned. Plus some old sheds here and there. If she could get her stuff back from this guy, she wouldn't even have to bother Bill again.

Snow took a step forward and asked, "Can I—"

The guy shot her. He shot her right in the chest. Snow was so surprised she stumbled back. She looked down. There was a big hole in her shirt, right at the top of her chest. It had been a really cool t-shirt. She'd gotten it from a girlfriend back in New York, before the Incident. It had said Metallica in big metal-looking letters. Now it just said M ca.

Snow said "What the ass, man!" She stepped towards the guy again. He shot her again, this time in the stomach. Snow said, "Fucking stop that! This is my—" He shot her in the stomach again. Snow flew up to him and grabbed the gun. He tried to hold onto it but she spun it away from him. It went off. The nearby shed went BWANG and and couple of small holes appeared in it. The guy yelled something as Snow twisted the gun until it broke.

"This is my only shirt, man!" Snow yelled. "This is—" she looked down and opened her jacket. There was a hole on the jacket's left rib. The guy had used a shotgun, and one of the little shot balls must have bounced sideways and gone through her jacket. "You ruined my jacket, man!" The guy was on the ground, holding his hand to his chest. His hat had fallen off. His hair was short on the sides, kind of longish on top. It was a reddish sort of brown. There was some blood on the guy's shirt. He wasn't saying anything or fighting back. He was just sitting on the ground with his knees pulled up, clutching his hand and staring at Snow with huge eyes.

"You ruined my damn jacket, man," Snow muttered. She looked down again and zipped her jacket up. She was already the flying sandwich-stealing supervillain of Westcliffe. She didn't want to be the flying sandwich-stealing villain that flashed her titties all over town. She flew over and picked up her bag of bread and granola. She looked at the guy again. His good hand was covering up his injured one. She didn't see more blood though. So she hadn't accidentally broken his finger off or something.

Snow tied her plastic Lowes bag shut. Then she flew up into the sky.

 

Chapter Text

Snow could see the tractor from the side of the road. It was in the middle of a big, open field. She didn't know much about farming but she thought it must be a hayfield. There was grass piled up in long rows, up and down the field. The tractor looked like it should have been in a picture on the wall at Cracker Barrel. It had some kind of cart hitched to the back. Snow could hear the tractor's engine rumbling, but it wasn't moving. It hadn't moved since she'd first spotted it. That had been maybe ten minutes ago. There wasn't anybody sitting on the tractor.

Snow was walking so that she wouldn't just lay in her shed. After she'd scared the guy at Wet Mountain Storage, she'd flown around for a while. She'd found a shed that looked abandoned, on the other side of town. It was kind of close to Round Mountain, but she didn't care. There had been some old tools inside, covered in dust and webs. Snow had sat down and leaned back against the tools, and tried to cry again. Then she'd curled up on her side and stopped moving. She hadn't moved for two days, that she remembered.

When she'd finally sat up again, she'd barely had the strength to do it. She wasn't able to manage the wrapper on one of her remaining granola bars. She couldn't work the twist tie on the bread, either, but she had finally stretched a hole in the side of the bag and gotten a slice out. It had gone down okay, but she hadn't been able to eat a second one until a few hours later. After that, she'd made herself eat a slice of bread at least three times a day. She'd kept that up for the past three days.

She'd have to go to Westcliffe Super Market soon to get more bread, and maybe some more peanut butter, and plastic utensils, and wipes. For now though, she was just walking. Every morning when she got up, she'd pick a road and follow it. She'd walk it until the sun was past its zenith, then turn around. She could have flown, but that took more energy than walking. She could always feel her own weight, now. Whatever reserves she'd had when she'd ended up back in New York were gone.

There was someone next to the tractor. They were on the other side of the tractor from Snow, so she couldn't see much of them. Just a hand, holding onto the tractor's seat. Snow had been watching the tractor since she first spotted it. There wasn't anything else to look at, just fields stretching all the way to the mountains. Whoever was on the other side of the tractor hadn't moved, that Snow had seen. Just standing in the same spot for over ten minutes, now.

Snow left the road and walked up to the fence that surrounded the field. All of the grass rows between the far side of the field and the tractor were gone. In their place there were small rolls. Snow had thought that bales of hay were bigger. These bales were only as big around as Snow's torso.

There was definitely someone on the other side of the tractor. They were kneeling. Snow could see their knee and shin when she bent over to see under the tractor. It was a little far away, but Snow thought she saw the knee and shin wiggle around a bit. Like maybe the person was trying to stand up, or something.

Snow flew over the fence and walked to the tractor. The tractor looked really old. It had two really close-together front tires. Snow walked around the front. The person was a woman wearing a straw cowboy hat and denim overalls. She was sort of stretched out along the left side of the tractor. Her right foot was right next to the big rear tire, and she was reaching forward with her left hand. Her other arm was wrapped around the seat. Snow could hear the woman panting.

"Hey, um." Snow walked a bit closer. The woman turned her head a little bit, but she didn't turn all the way around to see who was talking. "You okay?" Snow asked.

The woman didn't say anything. Then she said, "Help," in a breathy voice. The woman's right foot wasn't next to the big rear tire, it was most of the way under the big rear tire. Her left hand was holding down a foot pedal. Her foot didn't look twisted, and it probably wasn't far enough under the tire to be crushed. But she wasn't going anywhere.

"What—what do I do?" Snow had never actually been this close to a tractor before.

"Turn the." The woman had to pant for air before she could finish her sentence. "Damn thing off." Snow looked at the tractor, but she didn't see a key ignition or anything. Instead she leaned over and wrapped her hand around the big rear tire's hub. With that grip, she was able to tip the tractor sideways a bit so the tire wasn't on the woman's foot anymore. Without the weight on her foot, the woman stumbled. Her hand slipped off the foot pedal. The tractor jumped forward almost two yards.

Snow was already braced from lifting the tire. The tractor spun her but didn't knock her down. The rear wheel rode up her calf a bit, turning the tractor as it continued forward. The trailer connected to the tractor whacked into Snow from behind. Snow didn't let it push her. She held the trailer in place. The tractor chugged and then died.

"Holy shit," the woman on the ground gasped. She rolled over. She'd fallen on her front, so she hadn't seen Snow hold the tractor in place. The woman had warm brown skin and shaggy black hair. She looked about as short as Snow. Her body was thick but not obese. When she sat up, Snow could see a lot of real muscle under her all-over layer of fat. She had pretty eyes. She said, "You really saved my ass." She had a light Hispanic accent.

"What happened?" Snow looked down at herself. The tractor's tire had rubbed dirt all up the right leg of her jeans.

"Baler got stuck," the woman said. She pointed at the trailer. "Wouldn't finish the bale. Happens sometimes. I have to get off the tractor and throw hay at the wire till it catches. But this shitty tractor," she said, "fell back into gear. Almost ran me over, pinned my damn boot. I managed to get my hand on the clutch." She rubbed her arms. She'd be holding a sort of T-pose for way over an hour. Snow had gone to one yoga class back in New York, before the Incident. She'd held a sort of similar pose for almost a minute. At the end her arms had been so shaky she hadn't been able to lift them. "Couldn't reach the ignition to turn the damn thing off," the woman said.

"Are you okay?" Snow asked.

"Are you?" the woman asked back. "The tractor must've smacked you good when I let go of the clutch."

"I'm okay," Snow said. "It just startled me, mostly. I didn't expect it to drive off on its own."

"I'm glad as hell you came along," the woman said. "I figured I'd have to hold the clutch down till the damn thing ran out of gas. Which would be sometime tomorrow morning. Hey, I'm Camila." Camila held out her hand.

"I'm Snow," Snow said. She shook Camila's hand. She kept her eyes above Camila's shoulders. Camila was wearing a blue triangle top under her overalls. The triangles had a lot of acreage to cover. They were trying their best.

Camila looked at the sky. The sun had hit its highest point and was just starting to come back down. "You want a beer?" Camila asked. "Too dry to keep baling." She looked out at the field. "Really wanted this all done today," she said.

"My stomach is a little off," Snow said. "I could use some water, though."

"Come on, I got a cooler in my van." Camila scooped her hat up off the ground. She brushed her bangs out of the way and settled the hat on her head. There was a two-lane track that ran parallel to the road, but on the other side of the hayfield. Beyond the track was another hayfield. That field hadn't been mowed yet. Camila's van was parked on the track. The van was a relic. It was dull red, and dented. Camila pulled open the sliding door on the driver's side. The back of the van had boxes and a cooler. There weren't any windows in the back doors. There weren't any seats. The floor was bare metal.

Camila opened up the cooler. She tossed a bottle of water to Snow. Camila pulled up a brown bottle with a gold foil cap. The cap had a big red A printed on it. Camila tore it off and tossed it into the van. Snow opened the water bottle and sipped. The water was ice cold. Camila was shiny with sweat. Snow kept having to repress shivers.

"You don't need to bring the tractor in?" Snow asked. "Put it in a barn or something?"

"I should," Camila said. "Not gonna. Second time this week the damn thing's tried to kill me." Camila took a long pull from her bottle. "So like, what are you doing out here? Don't mean to pry," she said, "but you obviously ain't from around these here parts." She said the last bit in a twangy fake cowboy voice. Snow laughed.

"I'm just walking," Snow said. "There's not much to see out here, but I like to see it. I've never been someplace this... big." She waved a hand towards the open fields.

"It's good country," Camila agreed. "When I was a kid I lived in Guatemala for a while. It was kinda like this, but more hills."

"I'm from Brooklyn," Snow said. "I only saw stuff like this in pictures."

"Yeah? You don't have the accent. I mean I guess I hear it a little."

"Nobody does anymore," Snow said. "Not nobody, but you know. Not everybody. Different parts of Brooklyn, it's a big place." Camila nodded and sipped her beer. They both looked at the fields for a while.

"You heard anything new about the helicarrier?" Camila asked. Snow looked at her.

"Have they done anything?" Snow asked.

"Nah," Camila said. "Lots of weird noises. Sometimes you see those rocket guys flying around."

"I was worried they'd shoot somebody," Snow said. "Or do something bad. But after the first day I kind of forgot about them."

"Yeah," Camila said. "None of the people there even come into town to like, eat or anything."

Snow was about to ask about Sheriff Mills. She hadn't seen the Sheriff since the day the helicarrier had landed. But there was a sound from the unmowed hayfield. It sounded a lot like a dog growling.

"This day, man." Camila set her beer down and stood up. "Just keeps getting better."

Snow stood up too. She said, "That's like a motorcycle or something, right?" There was another growl, and then two more. The first two growls were from the left, in front of the van. The third growl was to the right, behind the van.

"Probably, yeah," Camila said. "A couple of big ol' four-legged, furry motorcycles."

Snow said, "We didn't have wolves in New York." Guns and bullets didn't scare her anymore. A wolf shouldn't, either. Snow kept reminding herself of that.

"You had coyotes though." Camila sounded pretty calm. She pronounced it kai-oats instead of kai-oat-ees. "Haven't been wolves in Colorado for like a hundred years. I mean, not like a lot of wolves. You hear about sightings now and again."

"We should get in the van," Snow said. The tall grass growled again.

"Well," Camila said, "the door sticks. And we don't want to act like prey. Coyotes chase prey." Snow figured wolves probably chased prey too. Not that a wolf could hurt her.

Snow said, "I bet I could get it closed."

"Yeah?" Camila sounded like she couldn't decide between doubtful and hopeful.

"I can definitely get it closed," Snow said. "You get in and get it started, and I'll get the door closed."

"Okay," said Camila. "I'm gonna get in all casual. Like I'm not worried." Camila still sounded calm. But her voice wavered about when she said 'not worried'.

Camila turned a bit and started to climb into the van. There was another growl. Camila said "Fuck that" and scrambled into the driver's seat. Snow jumped into the back of the van, kicking a box of tools out of the way. The box of tools hit the far wall of the van and broke, scattering tools. Snow grabbed the sliding door handle and pulled it shut. The door screeched really loudly as it slid. The van's engine buzzed twice and then turned over. Camila pulled on the shift lever and the van immediately lurched backwards.

Camila was navigating by her mirrors, since there weren't any back windows. Snow said, "Don't coyotes chase prey?"

Camila said, "Prey ain't got eight cylinders," and hauled on the steering wheel. The van suddenly bounced around and spun. It surprised Snow into levitating a little bit. Instead of Snow tumbling around inside the van, the van swung around and smacked her in the face. When she rolled over to her knees, the van was driving forwards in the same direction Camila had been reversing it.

"Sorry," Camila yelled. "You okay?"

Snow said "I'm—" and the van lurched again. Camila was holding the steering wheel, not turning it.

Camila yelled, "What the hell was that?" The back left corner of the van suddenly crumpled. The van swung sharply left, into the unmowed hayfield. Camila yelled, "Fuck!" She tried to steer back onto the track. She also kept trying to look into the driver's side mirror to see what was grabbing the van from behind. From what Snow could see, the mirrors weren't going to show anything except hay.

"Just drive!" Snow shouted. She levitated herself back to the rear doors. The engine was revving, but the van was definitely slowing down. Snow found the left rear door's latch. She took a breath. Snow had seen killer robots. She'd seen the rubble of a collapsed highway underpass from the inside. Nothing in Westcliffe, Colorado could be worse than that.

Snow slammed open the left rear door. The door in turn slammed into something heavy, and dislodged it. Snow saw the hay thrash where the heavy thing landed. It was gone too fast and the hay was too thick for her to see what it was. She pulled the door shut.

"Did you see it?" Camila had the van back on the track. Up ahead, Snow could see the T-intersection where the track met the road she had been walking down ten minutes ago. Snow got into the passenger's seat and buckled her seatbelt. Camila wasn't slowing down.

"No," said Snow. "Did you?" She braced herself against the door and the dashboard. Camila spun the steering wheel and stomped on the pedals. The van slid out onto the road sideways and then vaulted forward.

"No," said Camila. There didn't seem to be much else to say. It had taken about an hour and a half for Snow to walk to Camila's hayfield. Camila drove the route back to town in about four minutes. As they approached the baseball field, an old pickup pulled out ahead of them.

Camila slowed down. Snow asked, "What are you going to do?" Camila didn't answer for a bit. Then she slowed down some more and pulled off to the side of the road.

"I'm gonna see what the hell just happened to my van," she said. She turned the van off and got out. Snow unbuckled herself and got out as well. When she got to the rear of the van, Camila was bent over, looking at the back left corner.

Snow didn't know a lot about animals except that you had to scoop your cat's litterbox once a day, or it would smell. The only animal bites she'd seen were a few nicks and cuts where a neighbor's dog had played too rough. There were parallel six-inch-long gashes in the van's body, on either side of the corner. Between them the frame of the van was actually compressed and twisted. She couldn't visualize how big an animal would have to be to make a bite mark like that.

She said, "That is one big coyote." She didn't know what else to say.

Camila didn't say anything. She wiped a finger down the corner just below the bite. All around the bite, there was white stuff. Snow thought it was dust or something. But when Camila ran her finger across it, it softened and started to drip. The whole back left side of the van was covered in a layer of frost that was only just starting to melt.

 

Chapter Text

"Well..." Sheriff Mills said. She had two fingers on the bite mark, each in a different indentation. "How much ice?" The corner of the van was dry, now.

"Enough you'd have to scrape it off your windshield in the morning. Maybe a litte thicker." Camila was squatting next to the sheriff. Snow was standing next to a chainlink fence. The fence surrounded the cylinder that fed gas to the Custer County Sheriff's Office. If she looked out around the corner of the van, Snow could see the green roofs of the school she and Sheriff Mills had passed on the way to the helicarrier, almost a week ago.

"Any idea how it got there?" Sheriff Mills looked up at Snow.

Snow shrugged and let her hands flap against her thighs. "It's just a name. It's not, like, you know." She shrugged again. Camila pursed her lips and looked at Snow, then at the sheriff.

"If you made me try to explain it," Camila said, "I'd say that somehow my cooler got jammed up against the corner from the inside. And this," she said, rubbing a hand across the bite mark, "is just where I accidentally tagged a fencepost. The fence wire somehow got caught up and, I dunno." She shrugged. "I don't want people thinking I'm crazy. But I don't really think it was my cooler and a fencepost."

Sheriff Mills said, "I don't," but her radio chirped. She unclipped it from her belt and said, "This is Mills."

"Sheriff, Hassim," the radio said. "The greenshoes have some equipment coming out. Looks like a drill. Paige is out here with a shotgun, over."

Sheriff Mills said "Fuck" in a conversational tone. Then she held down the push-to-talk button and said, "I'm on my way. Paige, you try anything before I get there, I will press charges, over."

"Roger, Sheriff," said the radio. There was a woman's voice in the background. "Hassim out."

Sheriff Mills stood up. She said, "I have to head down to Round Mountain for a bit."

Snow said, "I'll come."

Sheriff Mills looked at her, then said "As you like."

"You're going up to see the helicarrier?" Camila stood up. "Hell, I'm coming too!" Sheriff Mills opened her mouth. Then she closed it. She looked at Snow again.

Snow said, "Um, unless we shouldn't." Sheriff Mills would probably be okay.

"You should not," said Sheriff Mills. She got into her truck. The tires chirped as she pulled out of the lot.

"So... we're going, right?" Camila asked. "I mean, I'm gonna go up there and tourist-gawk at the greenshoes. You coming?" Snow could see the helicarrier from here, over the roofs of the east side of town. She still couldn't think of an excuse to keep Camila away.

"Yeah, totally," said Snow.

The Sheriff's office was off the main road. Instead of taking the paved street, Camila went out the back of the lot and turned onto a dirt connector. There were a lot of those in Westcliffe. They were sort of like alleys, Snow thought. Alleys in Brooklyn were maintained at least a little bit, though.

"Does this thing have any shocks left?" Snow yelled. The engine was loud, and the creaks and slams as the van went from pothole to pothole were almost louder.

"Nope!" Camila called cheerfully. The seat slapped Snow in the butt so hard her head almost hit the ceiling. She thought about levitating. That hadn't gone well the last two times she'd tried it. Plus Camila was right next to her. Snow pulled on the seatbelt and buckled herself in.

The main road had a little more traffic than usual. The Main Highway Roadhouse had a lot of cars in the lot. None of them were ambulances or sheriff's vehicles. Just people out getting an early dinner. Camila took the left fork, towards Round Mountain. Snow saw a street sign. The fork was called Oak Creek Grade, and also Road 255. The main road was called Main Street.

There were a lot more cars parked on the margin. Camila slowed down and cruised. There was an open spot, and she pulled in. Snow could see the dirt track that she and Sheriff Mills had taken when the helicarrier first landed. There was a loose crowd of people a few hundred feet up the track. They were looking at some kind of big truck that was parked on the open grassland. The truck had some pipes sticking up vertically from the back. There was a tarp shelter set up between the truck and the crowd.

Mustache And Goatee was there. Snow heard his voice and then saw him. He was standing in front of the crowd. He had his big tan gun but he wasn't pointing it at anyone.

"...ordered to disperse," said Mustache And Goatee. Snow couldn't hear the first part. Some kind of loudspeaker kicked in halfway through.

A woman said, "You know damn well you can't disperse me from my own land!"

As Snow and Camila got to the rear of the crowd, Mustache And Goatee said, "Ma'am, you have already been informed that—"

"I got your information right here, Mister Russell!" So that was Mustache And Goatee's name. The woman was at the front of the crowd. Snow could see that she was holding some papers in her hand. "And this easement contract don't cover utilities!"

Snow spotted Sheriff Mills. She was standing next to another man in a sheriff's uniform. She also saw the man that had shot her at Wet Mountain Storage.

"Look, lady," Russell boomed. The woman yelled something Snow didn't catch.

"Hey," Snow said. She nudged Camila. "Who's that guy? With the red hat and beard." She nodded towards the guy that had shot her. She couldn't see his hands. He didn't look like he was in pain, though.

"Who? Oh, Sean? That's Sean Eldred. He's a property guy. Why, you like him?" Camila's quick grin was very large.

"Not really," Snow said. She looked at the truck. Here at the back of the crowd she could see it around the side of the tarp. It would be hidden from pretty much everybody else. It had some kind of big mast sticking up from the back. The mast had an arm at the top, and the arm was holding a long six-inch tube. The tube was spinning. "What are they yelling about?"

"I think the greenshoes want to dig a well," said Camila. "That's a drill." She pointed at the big truck with its spinning tube.

"This whole mountain used to belong to... Paige?" Snow asked.

"Paige Shute," Camila agreed. "They took the mountain but they didn't take all the land around it. Including this part right here."

Snow watched Russell. She looked around but she didn't see Willard. There were a few other Iron Man rejects, and a few guys in dark navy blue SHIELD uniforms. They were all bunched up around Russell. Snow was a little surprised Russell hadn't just started shooting, either into the air or even into the crowd. When they'd first landed, Russell seemed like he'd thought he could kill anybody he wanted. Or do whatever he wanted to them.

Camila edged forward into the crowd, trying to hear. Snow stepped back and walked away. She circled a little wide and came around to the drilling truck. Nobody paid attention to her. From here, almost nobody could see her if they looked. Most of them were looking at the shouting match.

Snow looked at the truck. There was a big tube with threading at the end, maybe five feet long, hanging down from the arm at the top of the mast. Snow figured that tube was sort of like a drill bit. There were hoses running up the mast. They connected to the arm that held the drill bit. There was another tube sticking up out of the ground, directly below the one attached to the arm. The inside of that top had threading, too. Snow guessed that the drill bit screwed itself into the ground tube and spun it to drill the tube into the earth. There were more tubes in a kind of rotating bundle, sticking up from the back of the truck. The arm had a rotating part on it. The drill bit could probably be spun over to grab a new tube when the previous tube had been drilled all the way in.

The bottom of the drill bit was about a foot higher than Snow's head. Snow reached up and grabbed it with her left hand. She squeezed it as hard as she could. The drill bit spun twice more with a loud whining sound. Then something in the arm went BANG and one of the hoses connected to the arm flew off. The hose sprayed water everywhere. Snow ducked away.

"What the fuck did you do?" Russell had come around the edge of the tarp and stopped. He lifted his big tan gun and pointed it at Snow. Whatever he was using to amplify his voice was still on. "What the fuck did you do?" he boomed.

"I grabbed the drill and broke it with my super strength," Snow said. She gestured at the truck with her right hand. Snow saw Sheriff Mills behind Russell.

Russell snorted and walked up to the truck. The drill bit was hanging askew from the arm. Some of the SHIELD guys ran up to look, too. One of them said, "Must've been a clog in the hydraulic line, maybe?" Snow backed away. Nobody paid attention to her so she walked back to the crowd.

"Hey!" Camila said. "What happened?"

"The drill broke," Snow said.

"Are you okay?" Camila stepped back and looked Snow up and down.

"What? Yeah, I'm fine." Snow used her right hand to wipe some mud droplets off her jacket. "I just got sprayed a little when the hoses exploded," she said.

"Did you see what did it?" Camila asked. Snow shrugged with her right shoulder.

The crowd was thinning. People weren't leaving but they were spreading out to talk in little groups.

"Snow?" Snow turned. Sheriff Mills was walking up to her and Camila.

"We're in trouble now," Camila stage-whispered. Sheriff Mills gave her an annoyed glance.

"Hi, Sheriff," Snow said. "I wanted to ask you a favor."

Sheriff Mills stopped short. She said, "Oh?" Then she said, "Well, you want to ride back to town with me and we can talk about it?"

Snow turned to Camila and said, "She's, um, helping me get settled. I should go with her, and um." She shifted her weight. "Thanks. For the ride."

"Hey, man!" Camila laughed. She hopped forward and wrapped her arms around Snow. "Thanks for saving my ass!" Snow thought she might blush, but it was too chilly. Camila stepped back and started away towards her van before Snow could think of something to say.

Sheriff Mills watched her go. "What's up?" she asked.

"Ah, in the truck. I can wait if you have stuff to do here." The small crowd really was dispersing by now. Snow spotted Sean Eldred. He didn't have any bandages on his hands.

"I think we can go," Sheriff Mills said. "Hassim can make sure everybody gets out okay." She led the way to her truck. It was parked a bit further up the track than most of the cars. She and Snow pulled out onto Oak Creek Grade about the time Camila reached her van. Snow waved back at Camila with her right hand. Sheriff Mills said, "So what exactly happened with that drill?"

"I grabbed it," Snow said, "and broke it with my super strength." Sheriff Mills slowed down and looked at Snow. Snow shrugged with her right shoulder.

"And this favor?" Sheriff Mills finally asked.

"I think it messed up my arm," Snow said. She started to unzip her jacket with her right hand. She stopped and thought about her shirt. She'd started wearing it backwards, so the hole between M and ca wouldn't be visible. She finished unzipping the jacket and started pulling it off her left arm.

"What—" The truck tires screeched. Snow levitated a bit to keep from flying into the windshield again. She suddenly realized the windshield had been replaced.

Sheriff Mills put a hand over her mouth and made a noise. She was staring at Snow's left arm. A car honked behind them. Sheriff Mills glanced in the mirror, then pulled across the street to park in the Main Highway Roadhouse's lot.

The point of Snow's left elbow was facing forward. The shapes of the bones in her forearm were visible, crossed over one another. Her wrist was twisted so much that her hand was almost facing the right way.

"The fffffuck," Sheriff Mills said.

Snow said, "The drill spun harder than I thought. It twisted me up before I realized what was happening. Then it broke."

"It doesn't—" Sheriff Mills searched for a word. "Hurt?" she asked.

"It's not comfortable," Snow said. "I think, like. My tendons or whatever. They're just as stretchy as they were before, I mean, when I was regular?" She gestured with her right hand. "Only now they don't break. I think if I can just pop it all back into place it will be fine."

Sheriff Mills thought about that for a while. Then she said, "A winch?" Snow nodded.

"Yeah, just kind of, like. Stretch it all out. Right now everything's kind of locked together."

"A winch," Sheriff Mills said again. Snow nodded again.

Sheriff Mills said, "I... have one on my truck at home."

 

Chapter Text

There was a pop. Bones moved under the skin of Snow's forearm.

"A little more," Snow called. She floated into the air and straightened out. Her shoulder and elbow were both facing the right way, now. Snow couldn't quite get her fingers to hold onto the loop in the winch's steel cable. Instead, Sheriff Mills had pushed the cable through its own built-in loop, forming a smaller running loop. Pulled taut, it couldn't get over the base of Snow's thumb.

Sheriff Mill's personal truck was a pickup with gigantic tires. It had a row of lights along the roof. Her personal truck was a lot bigger than her sheriff truck. It was brown with a light brown design on the hood. She had pulled it out and turned it around. Her sheriff truck was parked next to it. The two of them mostly hid Snow from the street.

There was another pop. Snow's left hand whipped in a sudden half-circle. Snow stopped pulling and felt her wrist joint snap itself back together. She loosened the running loop and took it off her arm.

"Everything, uh, back the way it should be?" Sheriff Mills had turned her truck's engine off. She was staring at Snow's left arm as she walked up.

"Yeah, almost," Snow said. She gripped her thumb and pulled. Once she got it loose from the joint, it spun the right way around on its own. Sheriff Mills bent over and said "urg" a few times. Snow said, "Sorry."

"That's damn awful to see," Sheriff Mills said after a while.

Snow said, "I guess I got used to it. The first time I woke up, after I became like this—" She gestured towards her body. "—one of my legs was completely out of the socket and folded up next to my head. And the foot was on sideways."

Sheriff Mills thought about that, then said, "I'm sorry you had to go through that." Snow opened her mouth, then shut it. At the time, the state of her legs had been a pretty minor concern. Relatively speaking.

"Hey, um." Snow put her hands in her jacket pockets. "Do you, uh, have a shirt that I can, like, borrow? Mine's getting a bit threadbare."

The sheriff grinned. "Any idea when I'd be getting it back?"

Snow wondered if there might a black hole nearby that she could jump into. "I guess I mean if there's a shirt I can have," she said in a small voice. Sheriff Mills's grin went away.

"Yeah, Snow. I can get you a shirt," she said. "Come on inside for a second." Snow followed the sheriff to her front door. Sheriff Mills's house was a dark green cottage. It had white trim and a side-gabled roof. The front door was on the corner of the house. It faced the driveway rather than the road.

Snow didn't see much furniture when she stepped inside. The living room had a nice couch, a table and a lamp. The dark wooden floors were very clean.

Sheriff Mills came back from her bedroom and tossed a small bundle to Snow. She said, "Bathroom's in there if you want to change."

Snow unfolded the shirt and looked at it. It was black. It had a dark grey spade on the front. In a ring around the spade, it said Motörhead - Born to Lose - Live to Sin. Snow looked at Sheriff Mills.

"What? You got a problem with Lemmy?" Sheriff Mills asked.

"I kinda thought you'd be more of a Garth Brooks fan."

Sheriff Mills put her hands over her chest. "I'm hurt, Snow. I'm really hurt." Snow smiled a little and went into the bathroom to change.

Her M ca shirt was so worn and stretched that the neck didn't rub her throat even though she was wearing the shirt backwards. She pulled it off and looked at it. She thought about the girl who'd given it to her. She thought about the girl she'd been with when she'd last changed into it. She wiped her cheeks with the shirt and set it on the sink. The shirt was dry, of course.

She looked at herself in the mirror. It had been a long time since she'd stood in front of a mirror and really looked at herself. She hadn't changed at all, that she could see. Her hair was the same length. Snow leaned forward and looked closely. She'd never liked a lot of makeup. The last time she'd put on makeup had been in Seoul, the morning of the highway attack. She usually just had a bit of liner to make her upper lashes look fuller. Plus a little bit of blush on her cheeks.

The eyeliner was still there. So was the faint blush. Snow stared at herself. She'd messed up her eyeliner, that morning in Seoul. The right eye had been a bit thicker than her left eye. It was still thicker. Snow rubbed at her right eyelid. It didn't smudge.

Snow had left Seoul six months ago.

There was a knock. "Hey, you okay in there?" Sheriff Mills's voice was muffled by the door.

Snow tried to get her sobs under control. After some deep breaths she was able to call, "I'm okay." She took another deep breath, through her nose, and pulled the spade shirt over her head. She opened the door and said, "Sorry, I got lost."

"I need to run up to the fire station," Sheriff Mills said. "You want a ride into town?"

"Yeah, I need to, um." Snow balled up her M ca shirt. "I need to go to the store," she said more quietly.

"Alright," Sheriff Mills said easily. She led the way out of the house, and shut the door behind them. She didn't lock it. Snow thought about saying something. She didn't want to look like a city slicker. Even more like a city slicker. She wondered if people around here really said stuff like 'city slicker'.

Sheriff Mills turned to Snow and said, "Hey, let's SHIT!" The sheriff had her gun out, and she fired three times. Snow had instinctively stumbled back. Now she looked down at herself, to see if her new shirt was ruined, too. There weren't any holes in it.

Something hit Snow from behind and knocked her down. Sheriff Mill's gun popped three more times. Something clamped down on either side of Snow's head and pulled. Snow pushed herself into the air and did a flip. The thing let go of her head and landed on its back. It was a wolf.

It was a big wolf. It was about as long as Sheriff Mill's sheriff truck. It was so tall it could have stuck its head into the sheriff truck's windows without getting on its hind legs. Its undercoat was white, and its outer coat was a bluish grey. When it stood up, Snow saw that it had pairs of oversized upper and lower fangs. When the wolf's mouth was closed, the upper and lower fangs locked together. Another wolf came around the corner of the house. It looked a lot like the first wolf, but its upper right fang was missing and its outer coat was a paler grey.

"Snow!" Sheriff Mills shouted. She was backing down the driveway with her gun pointed at the first wolf. "Get in the fucking truck! Get behind me! Shit!" She turned and fired at Left Fang when it started to run at her. Left Fang leapt towards the sheriff. Snow slammed into the wolf sideways and knocked it down.

Blue Grey jumped on Snow when she tried to get up. Its nails stuck out almost an inch from its paws. They scraped on Snow's jacket but didn't puncture it. Snow pushed at Blue Grey, and Blue Grey chomped down on her hand. She realized she was sitting on Left Fang. Left Fang tried to bite her but couldn't reach. Blue Grey's mouth was icy, icy cold. Snow could see fog streaming out of it. She almost couldn't feel her hand.

Snow screamed "Get off me!" and slammed her fist down on the ridge of Blue Grey's nose. The impact drove its teeth in between her knuckles, but Blue Grey didn't let go. She slammed it two more times. Blue Grey let go and jumped backwards with a whine. Without Blue Grey's weight on her, Left Fang stood up and threw Snow off. Sheriff Mills's sheriff truck slammed into Left Fang and knocked it into the wall of her house. The siding splintered. Snow got up and ran towards the truck. A wolf tackled her and got its jaws under her chin. Snow couldn't see the wolf very well. She could see Blue Grey and Left Fang out of corners of her eye. The fur of the wolf on top of her was black.

The black wolf's fangs were locked on Snow's neck. She couldn't breathe. She could feel the fangs clicking on her vertebrae. She hadn't thought anything could puncture her skin. Snow wondered if she'd see Nadine again, or if it would just be blackness.

There was a gunshot, very loud and very close. The black wolf yelped and let go. Snow couldn't see where the wolf went. She couldn't see where the other wolves were. She saw that the sky was very blue, and it didn't have any clouds. The sky spun and bounced. Snow was being dragged. She looked down and saw hands under her armpits. She didn't see any blood. Sheriff Mills dropped her. Snow sat up. Sheriff Mills was firing her pistol. Snow felt at her neck and didn't find any holes. The black wolf hadn't bitten through her throat. It had just bitten so hard that its teeth could poke her spine through the compressed sheet of her skin and muscles.

Sheriff Mills said something. She was shouting something. She shouted, "Snow! Get me the thirty aught! In my truck!" Sheriff Mills did something, and the clip fell out of her gun. She slapped another one in and shot some more. Left Fang yelped and put its head under its paw. The black wolf was lying on the ground, rubbing the side of its head against the grass. Blue Grey stood up. Sheriff Mills turned and shot. Blue Grey barked and backed up.

Snow opened up the sheriff truck. She didn't know what a 'thirty aught' was. But there were two guns in a rack across the back window. One of the rifles was black. It looked like the ones the soldiers in New York had used. The other looked like a hunting rifle, with a wooden stock. Snow grabbed the black one.

Sheriff Mills grabbed it when Snow gave it to her. She shouldered it and fired at Blue Grey again. The black rifle was much louder than the pistol. Blue Grey barked, but it didn't back down. The black wolf was up. Its left eye was gone. It had blood all down that side of its face. But it was standing up. Sheriff Mills yelled, "No! Get me the thirty aught six, the other one!" Left Fang was standing, too.

Snow went back to the sheriff truck. She heard Sheriff Mills yell, "Fuck! Get in!" and fire off a bunch of shots. Snow turned around and Sheriff Mills ran into her backwards, still shooting. One Eye was in mid-air. Snow stuck her arm out past Sheriff Mills. One Eye engulfed Snow's arm up the the shoulder. The wolf whipped its head and Snow tumbled through the air. She could hear Sheriff Mills shooting as Snow tried to right herself.

She got herself right side up, and Blue Grey grabbed her in mid-air. Snow was twenty feet in the air, and Blue Grey clamped its jaws on her belly. They fell. When they landed, Left Fang jumped on her. Left Fang pulled the sleeve off her jacket, then bit down on her right arm. Snow slammed the top of Blue Grey's nose again. Blue Grey whined but didn't let go. She felt Left Fang pull her arm out of its socket. She reached over and put her thumb into Left Fang's left eye. Left Fang twisted its head away but didn't let go. Snow kept pressing. Whatever Left Fang's eye was made of was a lot tougher than a shopping cart. Snow reared back and chopped at Left Fang's eye as hard as she could. Left Fang cried out and jumped away.

Snow stood up. Blue Grey was strong, and he weighed a lot more than Snow. But Snow stood up anyway with Blue Grey hanging off her hip. Blue Grey growled and thrashed, but Snow dragged him across the yard. She dragged him up to a tree. She twisted her torso, then swung her whole body. Blue Grey slammed into the tree. Snow slammed him again, and again, and the wolf finally dropped off. Blue Grey limped away, whining. Snow was breathing heavily. Her legs didn't work very well.

One Eye was circling Sheriff Mills's sheriff truck. Sheriff Mills was inside. The truck suddenly started again, and drove at One Eye. One Eye leapt aside, and Sheriff Mills drove the truck through her yard towards Snow. Left Fang hit the truck from the driver's side and knocked it off course. The truck slammed into a tree. Left Fang was still on the truck, bracing her legs against the side and chewing at the top of the door. The door pulled away with a shriek and Left Fang backed away with it. Sheriff Mills shot One Eye, but the black wolf bit the end off her gun. Sheriff Mills shouted something as One Eye pushed herself into the truck after her. The passenger's side door was pinned against the tree.

Snow punched One Eye in the ribs as hard as she could. Her right foot was forward, and she drove with her left fist. She put her hips and torso into it. Her boxing coach back in Brooklyn would have been really proud of that cross. One Eye slammed into the frame of the truck. The truck bounced a few feet back from the tree. Sheriff Mills got the passenger's side door open and fell out.

The edges of Snow's vision were grey and blurry. She couldn't seem to catch her breath. She walked up and punched One Eye again. The wolf yelped and scrambled out of the truck.

Something yanked Snow's leg and she hit the ground. Blue Grey was on her again. He had her by the thigh, and he thrashed her around. One Eye jumped on her. She got her arm up and jammed it in One Eye's mouth. Left Fang leapt over them both and landed on the roof of the sheriff truck. One Eye pushed Snow's arm out of the way. Snow heard Sheriff Mills yell something. One Eye's mouth filled Snow's entire vision, and then it was all black. One of One Eye's fangs was jammed into Snow's eye, and it kind of hurt. Mostly, it was freezing cold inside One Eye's mouth. Snow couldn't feel her cheeks or lips. She banged her left fist on One Eye's side. The pressure on Snow's skull kept increasing. She could hear Sheriff Mills yelling, still. Then it was quiet except for Blue Grey's growling.

Snow couldn't move her arm much anymore. She couldn't feel her leg. She was cold all the way through. She thought about Blue Grey's nose. And his ribs. It was weird but she hoped Blue Grey wasn't hurt too badly. She thought, wolves are basically just big dogs.

There was a thunderclap. The ground slapped Snow in the back and flipped her over. One Eye tumbled away. Snow got her arms underneath her and looked around. Blue Grey was getting to his feet.

The ground exploded nearby. Someone had just dropped out of the sky. There was more thunder. One Eye barked decisively and ran away. Snow tried to stand, but her left leg wouldn't move the right way. At least it was still attached.

Left Fang and Blue Grey followed. Snow watched them go. A sudden wind swept the area, and the wolves were gone. The wind carried a flurry of snow.

Someone took Snow's arm and pulled her to her feet. Her left leg still didn't work. The man who had picked her up was gigantic. Snow recognized him from the last time he'd pulled her to her feet. She stared.

Thor said, "Well met, maiden! Are you in need of a healer?"

 

Chapter Text

Snow said, "Sheriff Mills." She tried to take a step but her leg slid out from under her. Her thigh was still dislocated. Thor's grip on her arm kept her standing.

"Maiden, I fear you may be injured more than you know," Thor said. Snow grabbed his wrist and wrenched her arm free from his hand. Thor said something as she flew over to Sheriff Mills's sheriff truck. Her face felt like she was crying.

Sheriff Mills said, "God. Damn." She wasn't missing any pieces. There wasn't any blood. She was lying on her back, with her legs still inside the truck. Snow landed beside her. Her leg gave way and she fell against the truck.

Snow yelled, "Fuck!" and hammered the top of her thigh with her clenched fist. The bone inside bounced away from the blow and rebounded into place. Sheriff Mill's right leg was pinned by the door. The door was blocked from opening further by the tree.

"Ah, another brave warrior!" Thor said. He'd landed on top of the truck. "Ladies, shall I—" Snow stood over the sheriff and pushed on the door. The door, and the tree, groaned. There were muffled popping sounds from under the earth, and the tree tilted away a bit. Sheriff Mills fell the rest of the way out.

"I can—" Sheriff Mills said. She was bracing herself to stand up. Snow put an arm under her back, and one under her hips, and gently lifted her away from the truck. Sheriff Mills said, "Whoah!"

"Hospital," Snow said.

"Snow, I'm—"

Snow said, "Hospital."

"The maiden speaks true," Thor said. "Both of you would do well to put yourselves under a healer's care."

"Fine, fine." said Sheriff Mills. Then she said, "Mary mother of Jesus you're Thor."

"I am!" Thor agreed. He seemed pretty happy to be Thor.

"Hospital," said Snow.

"It's near the sheriff's offIIIAAAAH SHIT. Shit." Sheriff Mills threw her arms around Snow's neck.

Snow said, "Where?"

"Christ our savior be with me—" Sheriff Mills looked down. "Be with me shit!" She pointed at a building directly south of the sheriff's office. From this height, the building was a bit larger than a postage stamp. "There, it's ohhhhhhh." The building got bigger. Sheriff Mills buried her face in Snow's shoulder.

Snow landed as gently as she could. Thor landed beside her and cracked the cement. Sheriff Mills said, "Jesus, Jesus." The hospital was a light brown one-story building with brick trim. The driveway ran under a wide porch roof. Under the roof, there was a set of automatic doors. Snow walked up and waited for them to open. Then she turned sideways and stepped inside.

"I need help," Snow said. The lobby wasn't busy. Snow had expected it to be overflowing. Every hospital she'd ever been in had been overflowing.

Someone said, "Oh my god, that's Thor!" Snow turned. A woman in green scrubs with a flower pattern had dropped her clipboard. There was a hallway on each side of the lobby. Down both, people poked their heads out of doors.

Sheriff Mills said, "Snow, I'm fine, you—"

Thor said, "Ladies, won't you please—"

Snow said, "I need help." She was trying to be calm. The nurse flinched when Snow spoke, though. "She was, we were, attacked by... dogs. Some big dogs."

"Really big dogs," Sheriff Mills muttered. "I can walk on my own, Snow."

"Set her down here!" Snow turned. There was a gurney, with a nurse pushing it. Snow hadn't heard it roll up. She wondered if she'd lost some time. There were two other nurses, and they helped lower Sheriff Mills onto the mattress.

"Anne, I'm fine," Sheriff Mills said.

"Then it won't take long to check you out," the nurse pushing the gurney said. "Let's get her to Observation One," she directed. "I want a saline bag ready. Pull her charts, I'm giving her to Bernie." Snow watched them roll the sheriff away.

"A healer's care yourself," said Thor. Snow turned. She'd definitely lost a few seconds, there. She realized she could feel her weight. She could feel the weight of her arms. Her head was pretty heavy.

Snow opened her mouth to say something, but she forgot what she'd wanted to say. The world tilted away.

When she woke up, she was in a hospital bed. For a second she thought she was in DC.

Sheriff Mills said, "Snow? Snow! Hey!" She grabbed Snow's shoulders. "Hey! You're okay! Slow down, you're—"

Snow woke up again. She hadn't lost much time, this time. And she knew where she was. Sheriff Mills was still holding her. The sheriff was getting her arms under Snow to pick her up. Snow's legs were tangled in the sheets. The tile floor felt freezing cold against her ribs.

"You're okay, you're safe," Sheriff Mills said.

Snow let the sheriff lift her. She wasn't sure she could stand. She definitely couldn't fly.

Snow said, "Cold."

"Got just the thing for that," Sheriff Mills said. She got Snow settled in the bed and arranged the sheet. Then she picked up a big blanket and unfolded it. She spread that over Snow and tucked it up under her chin. "There. You look like you're ready for some cocoa and a bedtime story."

"Maybe I. Finally sleep," Snow said. She thought about a cup of hot chocolate. Thick, sweet, and hot enough to burn her tongue. Snow's stomach squirmed weakly. Beside her bed was a monitor screen on a rolling stand. It was turned off.

Sheriff Mills saw her looking at it and said, "Apparently that thing can't read you. Bit of a kerfluffle when they hooked you up and the flatline alarm went off. Anne said she couldn't find your pulse the old fashioned way, either, at first." Snow didn't say anything. She had a suspicion that her heart sometimes didn't bother beating. When she'd first woken up in New York, after Seoul, there had been a guard. He'd certainly seemed to think Snow was supposed to be dead. Snow smiled a little bit. That was when she'd figured out guns didn't work on her.

"Couldn't pop you for a rabies shot, either," Sheriff Mills said. She rubbed her shoulder. "Though I'd hazard to say that's not really a problem, in this case."

Snow's smile ran out. She said, "I guess people know. About. Me." She thought about what that would mean. People would think she was dangerous. She was dangerous. They'd want her to leave, maybe try to arrest her.

"Well." Sheriff Mills tilted her head. "You mean from bopping around in the sky in broad daylight? Most people I've heard are talking about seeing Thor. Some of 'em seem to think there might have been another, what are they called, Asgardites? Asgarders?"

"Asgardians," Snow said. "Or Aesir." Every New Yorker was up on their Norse mythology.

"Asgardians. Some people think there might've been two Asgardians up there. Anne, the head nurse here, has some ideas, but I talked to her. She's a good one. I, uh, we know you like your privacy."

Snow said, "Thank you," in a small voice.

Sheriff Mills rubbed her knuckles against her chin. "We're a... little worried, Snow. About you." Her smile went tight. "Bill says you haven't been by the grocery much. So we figure you're not eating all that often." Snow looked at her feet, two little bumps in the covers. "We kinda figure that's why you passed out. You were going pretty hard there, for a while. And after things calmed down, your body just didn't have anything left."

"Yeah." Snow nodded. "That sounds right." She wiggled her feet a bit. Sheriff Mills didn't say anything.

After a while, Snow said "I, I can't. Eat, very much." She bunched her toes and released them. "I can feel my body getting weak from not eating. But I never get hungry." She looked out the window. It was getting dark. "Everything makes me feel sick. All the food I've tried, I feel like I want to throw up. After a few bites, I just. I can't."

Sheriff Mills didn't say anything for a bit. Then she said, "This started when you, when you got—" She made a vague gesture at Snow's body. Snow nodded.

"I woke up and my leg was all twisted up, and I felt sick. I didn't think about it at first. I mean, I was in a morgue." Sheriff Mills's eyebrows went up a bit, at that. "Other stuff was happening. But I went almost a week before I realized I hadn't eaten."

The sheriff mulled that over. "You still get thirsty?" Snow nodded again.

"Not as much. And only for water. Soda, or juice or anything, it makes me." Snow made a face.

"Well, I don't drink much besides water and coffee myself," Sheriff Mills said. "We can try a few things, see what you can stomach the most of." Snow pursed her lips. She tried to think of the question she wanted to ask.

Finally, Snow said, "Um?"

"You're coming home with me, Snow," Sheriff Mills said. "I'm not gonna have you living on the street anymore. Or in somebody's shed or wherever."

Snow reached for words. She looked around as if she'd misplaced them somewhere. All she could find was, "Uh."

"You saved my butt, you know that?" Sheriff Mills sat forward and folded her hands together. "I'm, you know. I'm trying not to think too hard about what all happened. I got a lot on my plate, I don't have time to be sitting in a corner rocking back and forth." The sheriff laughed so that she could pretend she was joking. "But I'm real clear on this one thing." She looked at Snow. "If you hadn't done everything you did, I'd be wolf poop right now."

There was something very wrong about that. Snow couldn't get her brain to focus enough to figure out what. She concentrated as hard as she could, but her thoughts kept falling apart. One thought did occur to her. She lifted her blanket and sheet to look.

"I guess I ruined your shirt," Snow said. She was wearing a white hospital gown. It had the same flower pattern as the nurses' scrubs. She realized that the gown was why she'd thought she was back in DC, earlier. She'd worn a hospital gown for several weeks, right after the Hydra thing. That thought in turn reminded her of something else. Snow said, "My jacket."

"Oh," said Sheriff Mills, "yeah. Wasn't much left, I'm afraid." Snow put her hands to the sides of her head. "Snow?"

Snow remembered how the jacket had smelled at first. It had stunk like shit. Tanning byproducts had still been soaked into the leather.

Snow said, "It was." She remembered the tiny shop in Itaewon, getting measured for it. She remembered her hands on Nadine's as they worked baking soda into the jacket's surface. She remembered Nadine laying down a stack of 10,000 won bills when they went to the shop to pick it up.

She remembered kissing Nadine against the dirty brick storefront. She remembered them both laughing at the way the jacket squeaked between them.

She said, "It was all I had left." Snow cried and cried, but she couldn't shed a single tear. 

Chapter Text

"Varger," said Mayor Ewer. Snow clapped her hands, too softly to make any noise. The sleeves of her oversized hoodie flopped together, miming her clap.

"Vargar," Thor said. "if there are many. Vargr, if there is only one." Snow kicked her feet. She felt vulnerable without her big boots. Like she might stub her toe if she weren't careful. The boots were covered in mud, though. So were her jeans. The boots could be wiped off pretty easily, but they'd look weird with the flannel pants she was wearing. It's like, you can either do the girlfriend look, with flannel pants and a big hoodie, or you can do the badass leather look. Snow didn't think they mixed very well. And anyway, her badass leather look was short one badass leather jacket.

"Vargar," said Mayor Ewer. "And they're... wolves?" The meeting room was stuffy. The sign on the front of the building had said Silver Cliff — Town Hall. Snow wondered why it didn't say Westcliffe. The building had some offices and a nice meeting room on the first floor. This room was on the second floor. It didn't have any windows. Everybody else was starting to sweat. Snow felt almost comfortable.

"Quite like your wolves here on Midgard," Thor agreed. "Bigger, obviously. Stronger. Much tougher. Their breath can freeze a man solid before—"

"Okay," said Mayor Ewer. "How did they get here? I mean I've lived in this county for fifty-five years and I've never seen a, a vargar before."

Snow leaned over to Sheriff Mills. She whispered, "Jotunheim." Sheriff Mills looked at her.

"They hail from Jotunheim, the world of mist," said Thor. "Mist, but also ice, snow, bitingly cold winds. And vargar. And frost giants."

"Frost giants," Mayor Ewer said weakly.

"Indeed!" Thor seemed really happy to be sharing all this. He seemed happy about everything, all the time. Just being around him made Snow feel exhausted. "The frost giants sometimes tame vargar as pets and hunting companions. There was one time when a frost giant—"

"But how," said Mayor Ewer, "did they get here?"

"Ah yes." Thor put a finger to his chin. "The interesting thing about that is... I don't know. They really shouldn't be loose on Midgard. Someone could be hurt!"

"How did you find out they were here?" Sheriff Mills asked. "On, uh, Midgard. How'd you know where they were?"

"Heimdall spotted them," Thor said. Snow nodded to herself. "Ever since my brother Loki ravaged New York, wise Heimdall has kept a weather eye on Midgard, watchful for incursions from other realms."

Snow was bored. Sheriff Mills had wanted her to stay at the hospital. The Custer County Medical Center, actually. Probably you needed more than one floor to be a hospital. Nurse Anne had been nice, but there wasn't really anything she could do for Snow. This meeting was almost as bad as sitting in bed wishing for sleep, though. Snow walked to the back of the room. There was a coffee table set up by entrance. There was a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts on it. Snow opened it and looked inside.

The door opened. Snow looked up and saw the guy who'd shot her. Camila had said his name was Sean something. He looked really surprised to see her. He dropped his traveler mug. The conversation at the front of the room stopped.

"Uh, sorry," Sean said. Thor went back to talking about the time he'd fought two vargar at the same time. Sean picked up his mug. It seemed intact. Sean looked at Snow. Then he stepped all the way inside and shut the door behind him.

He turned and faced Snow. He started to say something, but he stopped and took off his hat. He straightened up like the soldiers in New York sometimes would when a more important soldier was talking to them. Then he said, "Ma'am. I am truly sorry for, uh." He kept his voice low enough that they wouldn't hear him up front. "For shooting you, ma'am. A couple of times. I have no excuse." He stayed in that stiff pose.

Snow looked down. "Is, um. Is your hand? Okay? From when I. You know." Somehow it seemed really rude to bring up breaking a man's shotgun into pieces.

"My hand? Oh." He held his hands up and showed them front and back. "Just a scrape. I'm glad you're not, uh, hurt. I saw you flying around on my security cameras, and popping the locks with your bare hands... I kinda panicked. Got myself all worked up, sitting there in my truck, waiting for you. Convinced myself it was another invasion. Like in New York City."

"Huh," Snow said. The Incident must have seemed a lot different out here. "Well, um. Sorry about breaking your gun."

"Eh," Sean said. He shrugged. "Fair's fair. You shoot somebody and they don't die, they're allowed to break your gun with their superhero powers. It's a law."

Snow snorted. "Well, thanks for, y'know. You didn't tell anybody about me."

"Who woulda believed me?" Sean asked. "Actually, well, I did try to warn Sheriff Mills." He nodded towards where the sheriff was standing. Thor was using the corners of his cloak to simulate the vargars attacking him. "I'm the LEO Liaison for the Board of Trustees, so I figured I ought to. Guess she'd already met you, by then. She told me to keep it quiet, so." He shrugged again. "Was that her, though? I heard something on the scanner about wolves? Then I get a text from Jerry to show up here ASAP." Snow turned, following Sean's eyeline. 'Jerry' was apparently Mayor Ewer. "Hey, um. Is that Thor?"

"Yeah," Snow said. "The wolves are from Jotunheim. Thor came here to, um. I guess he came here to tell stories about them. It's all he's done so far." Sean didn't say anything. He seemed really impressed by Thor. Well, Thor hadn't punched a damn alien space dragon into his apartment complex.

"Woken hine," Sean said to himself. Snow let it go.

The door opened again. Mustache And Goatee walked in. Willard was with him. They didn't have their big tan rifles. They did have thigh holsters with pistols, though. Sheriff Mills stood up and faced the door. She stood in front of Mayor Ewer.

"Ladies, gentlemen," said Mustache And Goatee. Snow remembered that his name was Russell. "Assorted gods and demigods."

"Well met," Thor said. He crossed his arms.

"What's going on?" asked Mayor Ewer. Sheriff Mills didn't say anything. Her face was totally blank. Her eyes went back and forth between Russell and Willard. Russell raised his hands, palms out.

"Just a friendly chat," said Russell. "I'm Captain Matt Russell, with the Detached Logistics Unit. That's our boat parked outside." Willard smiled at Snow. Snow remembered the sound Sheriff Mills had made, back at the helicarrier the first time. "We got a call from the governor's office. Seems someone suggested calling in a National Guard unit. Now, our remit's federal. But we offered our cooperation, and the governor deputized us to act in the Guard's place." Snow's eyes hurt. For once, she was glad they didn't make tears anymore.

"Well I, I did not realize that was an option," Mayor Ewer said. He kept looking between Russell and Sheriff Mills. Snow guessed the sheriff had left out a lot of details about her first meeting with Russell. "When Mister, ah, Sir Thor appeared in our small town, "I did contact the governor's office and suggest that a Guard unit could be placed on standby."

Thor nodded. "It's sadly true, rarely am I able to spend my days on Midgard except in times of trouble. Having your warriors ready to meet that trouble was a wise thought, master Ewer."

"That's exactly what we're here for," Russell said. "Based on our intercepts of local communication channels, we understand that you fine folks are having some trouble with some wolves."

"Vargar," Mayor Ewer supplied.

"That's the ones," said Russell. "Big suckers, supernatural resilience and strength, supernaturally low body temperature. And I guess they can turn into snow when they want to."

Mayor Ewer said, "They can what."

"Yes, it's quite a devious trick they have!" Thor said. "Whenever an icy wind crosses their hide, a vargr can disappear into a handful of snowflakes and let that wind carry them where it will. Vargar are masters of the ambush for that very reason!"

There was silence after that. "Well," Mayor Ewer said. "Captain Russell, let me extend a warm welcome to you and your men, from Silver Cliff, Colorado."

Snow leaned over. "I thought this was Westcliffe." Sean looked at her.

"This part is Silver Cliff. Westcliffe is over, y'know, west. It's basically one town, but don't tell Jerry or Ronda that. Uh, Ronda Pallister. She's Westcliffe's mayor. She'll be pissed she didn't show up for this."

"Everything around here has two names," Snow muttered.

"So, Sheriff... Mills, was it?" Russell said. Nurse Anne wouldn't have had any any problem hearing Snow's heart, right then. Sheriff Mills hadn't moved from her stance since Russell and Willard came in. She lifted her chin a little bit. "Mind telling us about your encounter with the vargar?" Sheriff Mills didn't look at Snow.

"I heard them before I saw them," Sheriff Mills said. She talked like she was reading the side of a box of cereal. "They chased me to my truck. Chased me into my truck. Fit to make a meal out of me, when Thor showed up and saw 'em off." Thor smiled and waved.

Most people tightened up a bit when they looked at Thor. Russell looked like it reminded him of something funny. The man's face was hard to read, though. Russell said, "Well, there's some good fortune for all of us. Thor, I've been given to understand that you're friends with a man who has remarkably good eyesight."

"Yes," Thor laughed. "The vision of Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge, has a reach that passes beyond the boundaries of realms. Anything he looks to find is his to see."

"Seems to me a man like that might be the perfect candidate to help find wolves that might be snowflakes," Russell said.

Thor said, "Heimdall's worth to Asgard, and all the nine realms, is beyond compare." He shrugged. "Any single crisis could be solved more quickly by his presence... but the nine realms are in constant peril. The wisdom of Odin is such that Heimdall remains at the center, in Asgard, where his eye can be cast on any crisis, in any realm."

"Well, I thought it couldn't hurt to ask," Russell said.

"What, ah, what does... the Detached Logistical Unit? Is that right? What do you men plan to do?" Mayor Ewing asked.

"Detached Logistics Unit," Russell said. "First priority is intel. I think me and some of the boys might sit down and buy a few beers for Mr. Odinson," he said, nodding towards Thor. "Find out all we can about these vargar. Feeding habits, range, where they might like to set up a den, all that. Seems to me we're basically mounting a hunting expedition."

"A great hunt!" Thor said. "Well said, master Russell!"

Russell said, "Unless there's something else, why don't we go find those beers?" He looked around. Sheriff Mills's face was closed. Mayor Ewer looked at his phone.

"Perhaps you and your warriors could mount an advance guard," Thor said. "Prepare the battlefield! Many draughts of fine ale will be laid low this night! I have some minor dealings with the sheriff, and then I will join you."

Willard scowled. Russell didn't react for a moment. Then he nodded. "Outstanding. We'll head down to the Mountain View, right down the street. Get some rounds set up."

"The Mountain View!" Thor agreed. He kept that bright smile up until Willard shut the door behind himself and Russell. When it clicked, Snow breathed.

Thor turned and showed his smile to Mayor Ewer and Sean. After a beat, Mayor Ewer said, "Well! I should, ah, roll out my own self. Got to fill in Ronda, I guess."

Sean's brow was creased, watching the mayor. Then he looked surprised. "Uh. Suppose I ought to get going, too." He stood awkwardly and gave a small wave to Snow. She gave a small wave back. The door closed behind them.

Thor's smile was different when he turned to Sheriff Mills. It wasn't as wide. And it didn't get up to his eyes. "So, Sheriff Mills. I would know more of this man, Russell."

Sheriff Mills's jaw clenched. She didn't say anything. Then she said, "What do you want to know?"

Thor thought about that. His smile didn't even reach his mouth anymore. It had gone away completely. He said, "I have known warriors who tire of leaving the battlefield. I say warriors, but a true warrior fights for a cause. For his home, or his honor. Or nothing more than to test himself against a worthy foe. Whatever the cause, he fights for something worthy. But these men, these unworthy warriors. These marauders." Thor's eyes were still pointed towards Sheriff Mills. He wasn't looking at her, though. "They fight for the joy of slaughter. They fight for blood, for spoils, they fight because making others suffer allows them to feel strong."

Thor took a breath. He was looking at Sheriff Mills again. He said, "Is this master Russell of a fellowship with those marauders I have known?"

Sheriff Mills breathed a few times. She breathed in, then out. Then in and out again. She said, "First time I met Captain Russell, he threatened to rape Snow, there." Snow remembered that sound Sheriff Mills had made. It was a wheeze, sort of. The kind of sound you make when you're pushing something heavy. Like when you're a hundred or so pounds of woman trying to stand up under maybe four hundred pounds of men and guns. Because the dumb idiot you were with hadn't taken the men and the guns seriously.

Snow had heard some pretty awful things, along the way. She'd heard the sound someone's head makes, when they land on it from three stories up. She'd heard the sound a bone makes under your own skin when it's shattered by a bullet. She'd heard the sound a person makes when a monster rips them apart. The sound Sheriff Mills made while men with guns stood on her back was as bad as anything Snow had ever heard.

There was a man standing in front of Snow. Snow thought it was Willard. She had lost some time. It wasn't Willard, it was Thor, but her body was already reacting. Before she understood what she was doing well enough to stop doing it, she'd squared up and thrown her whole body into a hard right hook.

Snow punched Thor in the mouth so hard he fell flat on his butt.

 

Chapter Text

Thor's feet actually went up in the air a bit when he went down. Sheriff Mills yelled, "Snow! What the hell!" She jumped in front of Snow with her arms spread.

Snow covered her mouth with her hands and said, "Oh shit!" She went to go help Thor up, but Sheriff Mills was still standing in front of her. The sheriff's eyes were really wide, but she didn't get out of the way. Snow held her hands up in front of her chest and said, "I'm okay, I'm not gonna, I won't hit him again. I just, I'm really sorry, man!"

Thor got up okay on his own. He rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. He said, "Well struck, young warrior. I believe the sheriff called you Snow?"

"Yeah, I'm Snow, I'm really sorry," Snow said. "Are you okay? I mean, you're okay right?" She knotted her fingers in her hair. "Jesus man, I'm really sorry." She didn't look at Sheriff Mills.

"I may yet pull through," Thor said. "Though for a moment, my life did flash before my eyes. But truly, Snow. That blow was well struck." Snow didn't say anything. He said, "I don't wish to pry into private affairs. But if we are to be siblings on the battlefield...?"

"I don't." Snow rubbed the back of her neck. "I don't really want to be on any battlefields, man."

"You have a wise heart, then," Thor said. Snow looked at him. He laughed. "It is not a heart I share," he said. "But there is wisdom in it. Do you intend to leave this place and its troubles?"

"No," Snow said. She stopped and thought about that. She really should leave. A shed wasn't worth all this. Neither was a couch, or wherever Sheriff Mills had planned to put Snow up.

Snow didn't say anything else. Thor said, "Then it seems, young warrior, that you may find yourself on battlefields yet. Because there are fields of battle to be found in this valley. And probably there will be for some time."

"You think there's more vargar?" Sheriff Mills asked. The sheriff had put her hands down, and she wasn't physically putting herself between Snow and Thor. She kept looking at Snow, though.

"Mayhap," Thor said. "The greater problem is how they arrived here to begin with. To cross the realms is no small thing."

Sheriff Mills thought about that. She asked, "Somebody brought them here?"

Thor turned his palm up. "I find it unwise to try to tell the tale before the tale is told. How the vargar came to travel the path to Midgard remains to be seen. But they did not forge the path themselves. When it is discovered whose hands did forge that path..." He looked at Snow. "There, we will find our battlefield."

He watched Snow. He didn't look impatient. He had the same kind of look Snow's therapist back in DC used to get. Jeanine would look at Snow and just wait. Not like she was waiting for Snow to talk. Waiting to see what Snow would say when she did talk.

Sheriff Mills looked at Snow, and looked at Thor. She opened her mouth like she was going to say something. She did that twice. But she didn't say anything.

"I can, like, fly," Snow blurted. "Like maybe as fast as a car. I don't have a speedometer or anything. I've never tried to see how fast I can go." She turned around and faced the wall. It was easier to talk that way. She said, "I can move heavy stuff. Like your truck." She glanced in Sheriff Mills's direction without actually looking at the sheriff. "I could have like, flipped it into the air. Maybe thrown it across the street. I don't know how much I can pick up or whatever." Snow shrugged at the wall.

Thor didn't say anything. Neither did Sheriff Mills. Snow snuck a quick peek. Thor still had on the therapist expression. Sheriff Mill was rubbing her chin with a knuckle. She didn't look scared. Part of Snow wished Sheriff Mills would have the common sense to be afraid.

"And stuff doesn't hurt me," Snow said. "Bullets don't. That vargr had me pretty good, but I don't know if it could have. Done anything to me." Snow went quiet. She'd been pretty sure One Eye was going to eventually get through her skull. Maybe not, though.

She heard Thor shift a little. He said, "How did you acquire these gifts, if I may ask?" Snow heard Sheriff Mills shift a little, too.

Snow laughed. She'd laughed a few times earlier today, with Camila. It had been her first laugh in a long while. She'd smiled a little, with Sean, a few minutes ago. It had felt good. This laugh felt like it was cutting her up inside. Like it was ripping out stitches.

"What fuckin' gifts, man?" Snow asked. "If I could like, heal people or something. That would be a gift. Or if I could like, like, talk in a bunch of different languages all of the sudden. Shit man, if I could like find a cab whenever I wanted. That would be a gift. When the fuck would I want to pick up a truck? Do I like getting shot so much, I wanna be able to do it over and over? Why do I need to fly somewhere, when I can." She took a breath. She'd gotten a little shouty at the end, there. "I mean. I guess flying's okay."

Sheriff Mills looked like she had something to say, but Thor talked first. He said, "Fairly spoken, Snow. For one such as I, violence is ever close at hand. So I see the advantages your new abilities grant you, and I think it good. But you," he said, "do not have your heart set on battle. So we will speak no more of gifts. Instead, let me ask this: when did the number of trucks you are able to lift... rise above zero?"

Snow snorted. She felt a little better, though. She said, "I dunno, man." She looked at her feet. The flannel pants were too big, so she could only see the toes of her borrowed slippers. "I mean I know when it happened, I guess. But I don't know, like, what really happened or anything." Snow kept staring at her toes. She chewed her lip.

Finally, she said, "There was a bridge that collapsed on me. Like a big overpass. I woke up inside all the rubble. I couldn't move. I guess I panicked for a while in there." Snow remembered the sound of her own voice. It hadn't sounded human. She hadn't realized it was her making those noises, at first.

Thor asked, "Where was this?" His voice was quiet. Snow stared at her toes some more.

"Seoul. Last year."

Thor paused. "Just before the... events in Novi Grad."

"I guess." Snow shrugged. "It definitely wasn't before then. I only found out about that stuff after I woke up. There was one of those Ultron guys, though. It, um. It. Brought the bridge down. And. It." Snow breathed. Her breaths were shuddery. She said, "It killed my. She, uh. Her name was. Nadine. It, um."

Snow felt a hand on her shoulder. She breathed some more.

"After I. Woke up in the rubble. I guess I, like. Passed out again. For a long time, like a couple days. Or weeks. I woke up, I was in this bodybag. I didn't know what it was until I ripped a hole in it to get out." Snow looked at her hands. Her fists were clenched. She stretched her fingers. "It was in New York. I guess they bagged me up and shipped me back. There was a guy with a gun who came in. He was, you know, a little freaked out. He shot me right in the forehead." Snow rubbed her head at the memory. "Like I was a zombie or something. I ran outside and just. Like, I was over the Hudson. So I jumped off the roof and, like." She shrugged. "I didn't fall."

The room was quiet. Snow thought about walking out the door. Or just flying through the wall. She thought about the ocean again. Crossing it. Or sinking in it. If she remembered her geography right, New York was roughly even with the top of South Korea. A bit higher latitude. But Snow had moved a bit south, while she travelled east. If she followed the same line, she'd end up pretty close to Seoul.

Thor said, "You are... a uniquely strong young warrior, Snow. Regardless of how many trucks you are able to lift."

Snow kind of wanted to laugh at that. It would have been another stitches-ripper. But she couldn't summon it up. Instead, she focused on Sheriff Mills's hand. She suddenly wondered she'd last gotten a hug from anybody. She used to be a big hugger.

"Before you, uh. Go making any big plans?" Sheriff Mills wrapped her arm around Snow's shoulders, but she was talking to Thor. "Snow's abilities, they've got a downside." She looked at Snow. Snow had been debating whether to bring it up. She nodded.

"Snow can't eat right," Sheriff Mills said. "When she fell out, at the medical center?" Thor nodded. "We think it was a drop in blood sugar. We think she all but ran out of blood sugar, because she can't keep a meal down. Or get it down in the first place, really. I think the only reason she's upright now is, we managed to jam half a turkey sandwich into her." She looked at Snow and quirked a grin. "Damn near took a crowbar."

"Hm," Thor said. "This makes sense. You have become something more than simply Midgardian, so you require something more than simply Midgardian fare on your dinnerplate. Some might view this state of affairs as a problem that thwarts us. How I choose to see it is this: young Snow held off three vargar even while her body was ravaged by privation. And she refused privation its due until her friends were safe." He nodded at Snow. "Any Asgardian would be proud to stand beside such a warrior."

"Damn straight," Sheriff Mills said. She squeezed Snow's shoulder. Snow smiled a little. She'd gotten her hug, and a Norse god had just told her she was a badass. Snow thought almost getting eaten by wolves might have been worth it.

"In truth," Thor said, "Perhaps we should give a careful thought to what might happen if we do discover what Snow's dinnerplate is now lacking." He did one of his big cloud-scattering smiles. "A well-fed Snow might flatten this entire village with one thoughtless stomp of her mighty foot!"

Sheriff Mills laughed. Snow froze.

"I guess you ought to head out for those beers," Sheriff Mills said. "Speaking of danger to the whole damn town." Her smile soured.

"Yes," Thor said. "Thank you for your warning. I shall be keeping close watch of master Russell. Captain Russell, I suppose I should call him. What I will be interested to discover is, what is it that Captain Russell believes he can learn from me? I hardly think the man is truly interested in vargr dens."

"I wanna know what jerked his chain, after that first day. That man was fit to order cold-blooded murder, and put hands on Snow besides. Now he's playing all nice-nice?" Sheriff Mills shook her head.

Snow said, "I would never knock down a building." She said it a little loud. Thor and Sheriff Mills both looked at her.

Thor hesitated. He said, "Ah—"

"I have to go," Snow said. She turned and walked out of the room. She remembered to use the door handle. The door banged against the wall, though. She made herself walk down the stairs instead of flying. If she flew, she wouldn't stop to open the front doors.

She opened the front doors and took off into the sky. The sun had set. The stars over Westcliffe were really bright. Or over Silver Cliff, whatever. Snow had never seen stars like that, before coming here. She'd noticed them on other nights, since she arrived. But now she really looked at them.

There were billions of them. She knew a few constellations. One of the dippers was over there. She found the three stars of Orion's belt. She found the Pleiades. There were supposed to be seven of them, but she could see more than that.

Snow could knock a building down. It would be easy. Any of the buildings below her, she wouldn't even have to try. She'd have to try not to. If she'd picked up one of those wolves, she could have thrown it straight through Sheriff Mills's house. Just a big, vargr-shaped hole all the way through it. Like something out of Bugs Bunny.

If she could do that, she could probably knock down a big apartment tower. Crack its major supports. Let the thing collapse with everybody inside. All that dust and cement and blood mixing together. People trying to crawl out, or dig in further for the people who couldn't crawl out.

Snow said, "Fuck." Floating in the air, maybe a mile up, she curled her knees up to her chest. The wind was really damn cold up here. The hoodie didn't cut it the way her leather jacket had.

Snow said, "Fuck, fuck, fuck." She buried her face against her knees and thought about trying to cry.

 

Chapter Text

When Snow walked into the Mountain View Bar and Grill, Thor yelled, "Another!"

The entire restaurant shouted and cheered. The place was really full. Thor had been sitting at the head of one of the big tables. Snow couldn't see him anymore. Everybody had stood up when they shouted and cheered. Russell and Willard hadn't been sitting at the table.

Snow carefully walked into the crowd. A big guy immediately bumped her and stumbled back into his friends. He shouted, "Whoah, sorry girl! You okay?" Snow gave him a thumbs up.

People were starting to sit back down. At least the ones who had seats did. There were a lot of people just milling around. They pretty much all had a glass. Some were empty, some had some beer left. Waiters and waitresses were going around with pitchers to top everyone off. Snow spotted the bartender with the topknot.

"Here, honey!" There was a waitress next to Snow. She pushed a glass into Snow's hand and filled it from her pitcher. Snow started to thank her, but she'd already moved on.

Nobody was paying. Snow didn't see any of the staff marking down tabs or anything. Snow pushed into the crowd. She was careful, she didn't actually push anyone. She just tapped them on the shoulder and waited for them to move. The crowd thinned as she got further from the bar. She got out of the thickest part and looked around. The table she wanted was up against the back wall, near the corner.

Russell had been watching her walk up. Willard looked up when she sat down. He smiled like he had on the mountain.

Snow said, "So. Captain Matt Russell. And Willard." She took a big slurp of her beer. Her stomach didn't squirm as much as she thought it would.

Willard said, "You can call me Jason, baby." He had a hand on his beer. He and Russell both had an empty shot glass next to them.

Snow pointed at Russell's shot glass and said, "You should get us some more of those."

Russell looked at her. As usual, he looked like he was on the verge of smiling. After a bit, he actually did smile a little. He raised his shot glass into the air and waggled it. He must have gotten the waitress's attention, because he held up three fingers and set the glass down. He said, "Gonna be a bit. Every time things start to settle, our boy buys the whole restaurant and bar another round." He flicked his eyes over Snow's shoulder. Snow turned around. Russell was looking at Thor.

Snow asked, "What's he paying with?"

Willard said, "Big ol' gold coins, baby. I like gold. It's got a nice, high value to volume ratio. Makes it easy to transport a lotta money in a little space." He nodded like he'd said something wise.

Russell said, "Now I believe I've overheard the fine folks of this town referring to yourself as 'Snow'. That right?" Snow nodded. "You got a last name, Snow?"

"That is my last name." Snow took another gulp of beer. Her stomach seemed mostly okay with it. "I don't like my first name." Willard laughed. Russell gave him a look. Willard raised his hands in a 'calm down' motion.

"Well, what brings you by our table, Snow? Not that we mind the company." Russell stayed deadpan. Willard sniggered.

Snow said, "I'm just, like, wondering what your deal is, man."

"Men such as ourselves are usually engaged in any number of deals at any given time, miss." Russell was just on this side of smiling.

"Well," Snow said, "First you're all just about to kill Sheriff Mills and take turns raping me. Now you're all friendly and helpful." The table went quiet.

Russell turned his beer glass a few degrees, then back. Willard said, "Well ma'am, I'm sure I don't know what you're referring to."

Snow looked at Willard and said, "Don't fuckin' lie to me, man." She held his eyes. He dropped his smile and looked angry.

Russell said, "Operational parameters change."

"Yeah?" Snow said. She thought back to how the soldiers she'd hung out with in New York had talked. "Your CO suddenly remember that rape and pillage is something you're only supposed to do in the desert?"

"Ha, that's right, Snow." Russell rotated his empty beer glass a few degrees again. "Our CO updated the mission."

"How's that work, exactly?" Snow asked. She leaned forward. "In the private sector, do you still have that weird commissioned and non-commissioned thing? Officers and enlisted?"

Russell's beer stopped rotating. Willard looked at him. After a moment, Russell said, "Similar, yeah."

Willard said, "Fuck do you care? We got our remit, all signed and legal. Fuck with the DLU, we'll drill your ass and then invoice you for the bullet." Russell made a tiny cutting motion with his hand. Willard sat back. A few seconds later, the waitress appeared. She set down three shot glasses and three glasses of beer. She picked up the empties and melted back into the crowd. Snow wondered if Russell had set up a tab, or if Thor's gold coins was covering this, too.

Russell said, "So, what are we drink—" Snow picked up her shot glass and downed the whole thing in one gulp. It was straight whiskey. She wiped her mouth. Russell said, "Well."

Snow had kind of expected to cough the whiskey right back up. She'd tried hard liquor her first few weeks at Tandon. She'd quickly moved on to sipping fruity cocktails with lower alcohol content. Straight shots had made her throat scratchy. This whiskey went right down, though.

Russell said, "I guess—" Snow reached out and took his shot. She downed it. Then she grabbed Willard's shot and downed that, too. Willard and Russell stared at her. Their faces were both neutral masks.

"Sorry," Snow said. "I was thirsty. Been a long day." She picked her beer up and swallowed a few gulps. Her stomach felt warm. For once, it didn't feel like it wanted her to throw up.

"There's days like that," Russell said.

"You have long days? I gotta say I kinda doubt that," Snow said. "You don't seem like the type to have long days. You seem like the type that makes sure all your days are nice and short."

"I seen longer days than you can even think of, little girl." Willard was leaned back. He sounded relaxed. Snow could see in his eyes, he was still angry. Angry that he hadn't gotten to have his fun, maybe. Or angry that she wasn't acting scared. But these questions didn't bother him.

"Yeah?" Snow asked. She looked at Russell. "How many times have you been shot?"

"A time or two," Russell said. He grinned a little and looked at Willard. "Never did find my toe, did we?"

Willard laughed. "Gonna go back to Chardara someday and find it. I expect it'll have grown up into a full-blown toe tree by now. Harvest toes by the handful right off the branches." He and Russell laughed together.

"I only got shot one time," Snow said. Russell and Willard quieted down. "I mean I got shot like four times, actually. But it was all just one, like, shooting."

Willard's eyes flicked up and down at her. He said, "Seems like you came through alright."

"I lived," Snow said. "Can't have any kids, though. I mean I never wanted any kids. But it messed me up for a while, finding out I couldn't."

"Buddy of mine got his balls shot off, up on Sawtalo Sar," Russell said. "Had to start taking supplements so he wouldn't grow tits. Got the rest of himself shot off a few years later, trying to be a hero in Marjah."

"You know what really messed me up?" Snow turned her palms up. "The anger, man. I was angry all the time. All through rehab, I was just a bitch to everybody. I was a bitch to the nurses, my girlfriend, everybody. I had so much anger, it just came out in everything I did. I ate angrily, y'know? I crapped angrily." She picked up her beer. "And one day I, like, stood back and looked at myself. I looked at how I was treating people. And I just really didn't like it." She took a drink.

Willard said, "You got a point to this tale of woe?" He looked bored. Russell was looking at her like he'd heard every word she'd said. There wasn't any smile in his eyes. His eyes were dead and flat.

Russell leaned forward and said, "Fuck you, you sanctimonious little cunt." He didn't yell or anything. He said it in a normal speaking voice. But he enunciated every syllable.

Snow leaned forward, too. She said, "Fuck me, huh?"

"You pissant civvies," Russell said. "You lose some friends, some family, you think you know sacrifice. Your government puts some buildings back together, you think you know strength." He snorted. "You think you know what a hero is, because you saw some blond prettyboy throw a fucking lightning bolt. You want a fucking hero?" He reached out and slapped Willard on the chest, hard. "This man's down in Waziristan. Little village called Kalosha. You don't know where Kalosha is, you don't know where Waziristan is, you don't give a fuck. But this man, he gives a fuck. He volunteered to attach to a Pakistani op. A little international cooperation. They're out there tracking these ex-Soviet hajis, the IMU. IMU is starting to set up a force down there. Pakistan wants to keep tabs, so do we."

Russell too a long pull from his glass. Willard was looking into his beer. Russell said, "Turns out those Paki boys were holed up right across the street from a school. IMU doesn't like schools. All of the sudden, there's fifteen or twenty hajis running towards this school. Willard's Paki buddies, they just fucking melt. Out the back, into the Toyota, off they run. But Willard, here, he's not with 'em. He's set up in a window with a view on the school. And he starts popping hajis. Stops that charge dead. Kills half of 'em, the other half go for cover instead of going for the school."

Snow looked at Willard. He had a little smile. It was a different smile than the ones he'd given her so far. Russell said, "He pins those fuckers down while the kids and teachers crawl out the windows in the back. Makes sure the hajis can't get any sightlines on the back of the school. Takes three hours for all the kids and teachers to get out, get on a bus, and roll out. Takes three days for us to get a ride out there to pick him up. Ended up with one or two holes in every limb, plus two in his chest and one in his neck. And he's laying there in the Blackhawk, blood everywhere, we're all thinking he's going home in a bag, and he says to me, 'Are the kids okay?'"

Snow thought about that. She took a sip of her beer and thought some more. Then she asked, "How many of those kids did you take turns on?"

For a second, Snow thought Russell might pull out his pistol and shoot her. Snow was pretty sure that, for a second, Russell thought he might do that too. Then Willard laughed. Russell looked at him. He laughed, too.

Russell said, "A gun's a real simple thing, Snow." He locked his eyes on hers and said, "You're either on one end of it, or you're on the other. You want to talk to the man who decides which, that man is elsewhere." He finished the beer. Then he raised his hand and held up two fingers. "Now why don't you run along and give thanks to your pretty blond god that for now, we're all on the same side of the trigger."

Snow sat there for a bit. The whiskey hadn't hit her like she thought it would. She felt warm inside for the first time in a long time. She felt like she could see clearly for the first time in a while, too. The way she felt when she looked at herself made her wish the whiskey had hit her harder. She stood up and walked away from the table. She heard Russell say something, and Willard laugh.

She wasn't watching where she was going. She didn't know where she was going. She almost ran over the person coming in the door.

"Hey! Snow!" It was Camila. She was wearing much tighter jeans than she'd had on this afternoon. She had on a multicolor flannel that was unbuttoned pretty low. The shirt underneath it was cut pretty low, too.

Snow said, "Hi, Camila."

"I was wondering how to track you down," Camila said. "I never got your number." Her smile was nice.

"Don't have a phone," Snow said. "Hey, um." Camila was obviously here to get a drink. Snow decided to ask anyway. "You want to go somewhere?"

Camila's smile showed a lot of teeth, but she didn't answer. She looked over Snow's shoulder. She said, "Kinda crowded in there."

"Yeah," Snow said. "It's super loud."

"Where'd you want to go?" Before Snow could say anything, Camila said, "Crap, come on." She grabbed Snow's hand and pulled her outside. Snow looked back and saw a couple waiting to get out the door. The woman was Paige something. The one who had been yelling at Russell, back by the drilling truck.

"So," Camila said. She was still holding Snow's hand. "Where'd you want to go?"

"Wherever," Snow said. "Your place. Your van. We can stay right here on the sidewalk if you want. Or, you know. Fly to Paris." Snow was pretty sure she could make it to Paris.

"We can do Paris on the second date," Camila laughed. "Come on, my van's parked down here. We can figure out where to go from there."

Every parking space in the area was full. The van was parked parallel, three blocks down. When they got to the it, Camila turned around. She was still holding Snow's hand. Snow kissed her.

After a bit, Camila broke it off and said, "We should go somewhere. Or at least get in the van."

"Yeah," Snow said. "Don't want the neighbors trying to stone us."

Camila laughed as she pulled open the sliding door. "It's not that bad around here. First offense, they'd just put us in stocks for a while." Snow giggled as she followed Camila into the van. She slid the door shut. It didn't screech, this time.

They kissed some more. Camila cupped Snow's face while they kissed. Her thumb gently stroked Snow's cheek. Her other hand wandered. Snow's hands did, too. Snow reached down and tugged at the button on Camila's jeans.

Camila giggled and pulled at Snow's wrist. She said, "Slow down there, sailor." Snow could feel Camila smiling against her lips. For a second, Snow resisted. Her fingers were still pulling at the button.

Snow sat straight up and scooted away from Camila. She covered her mouth with her hands.

"Snow?" Camila sat up, too. Her voice sounded worried. Snow's mind kept going back to Camila's hand pulling on her wrist. Pulling, and not being able to move it.

Snow said, "Oh my god."

Camila said, "Snow? What's wrong?"

Snow said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She pulled the van door open and got out. She shut the door before Camila could follow her. As she walked away, she heard Camila open the door and call her name. Snow didn't turn around.

In her mind, Camila's hand pulled on her wrist, harder and harder.

 

Chapter Text

Outside, an engine rumbled and then died. Feet scrunched on the grass. Snow listened to them walk up and pause. There was a rustle, and the feet walked away. The truck started up, ran for a while, and then faded into the distance.

Snow stared at the wall for another three days. The truck and the feet came back at least twice. They went away again each time.

She wasn't sleeping. She knew now that she hadn't slept since she woke up in the morgue. The closest she came was when she lost time. But that wasn't like sleeping. It was more accidentally hitting next on a playlist. The current song stopped, and the next one started.

Snow stared at the wall of the shed and wished she could die. She didn't wish very hard. She didn't have enough emotion left for that. It was just that she didn't want anything. And she didn't want to want anything. She didn't want to remember. She didn't want to eat, or be hungry. She didn't want to see the sun go up and down, over and over and over. She didn't even want to sit in her shed and be left alone. But there wasn't anything else that she wanted more.

So she sat in her shed. And then her shed fell down.

It started with a low kind of shaking in the ground. Snow didn't know when she first noticed it. But she watched the sunlight coming through the slats in the shed walls quiver for a while. Then, all of the sudden, the ground kicked her in the butt, and the roof fell on her head.

Snow pushed the roof off of her face. The roof was made of corrugated metal. It shrieked and folded when Snow pushed it. She sat up and pushed it again, to get it off her legs. It shrieked and folded when she did that, too. She stood up and kicked the roof. The edge split her slipper and whacked into the web between her big toe and her second toe. She recoiled a little, before she remembered that it didn't hurt. She walked over to the roof and kicked it again, for making her think she'd hurt her foot. Then she stomped on it for looking at her funny. Then she picked it up and slammed it into the ground again and again. At some point, she started yelling.

By the time she finished, there wasn't much of the roof left. She sat down on the ground. Her cotton pants were filthy. Her slippers were entirely gone, except for a loop of fabric around her left ankle. There was a plastic Lowe's bag next to the collapse shed. Snow got up and wandered over to it. Inside, there was a loaf of wheat bread and a handful of granola bars. Snow looked at them for a while. Then she picked up one of the granolas, opened the wrapper, and ate one of the two bars inside.

She started on the second. She managed a few bites, then had to stop until her stomach settled. She put her hands on her knees and waited for it to pass. But she fell over. She fell over when she tried to get up, too. Finally she just floated into the air. It wasn't her that was having a problem. The ground was moving. Snow floated a bit higher and saw trees waving around like something was yanking them around by the roots.

There was a roar behind her. Snow spun around and saw the helicarrier's repulsor engines flaring. She watched, but the helicarrier didn't seem to be going anywhere. Snow turned around again and saw a plume of dust or smoke. She rose a little higher. The dust or smoke was coming from the very far west end of town. Just before the town gave way to miles of open fields.

The ground's rumbling disappeared under the sound of wind in Snow's ears. Aside from that, she heard someone saying, "No, no, no," over and over. She thought it might be her voice. The town rushed past below her.

Westcliffe Super Market, or Lowes, was tilted forward. It looked like the building was peering down at the parking lot. It had to peer down because most of the parking lot had fallen at least ten feet. The center was deeper than the edges. It had cracked apart into a big star-shaped fissure. One of the fissure's arms reached all the way across the road. On the other side of the road, HISTORICAL REPLICA CABINS had partially collapsed. The center of the fissure was twenty or thirty feet wide. Most of the branches and arms of the fissure were five or ten feet at the base.

There were cars sticking out of the fissure. All of the cars that had been in the lot had slid down the sudden slope towards the fissure. Some of them had fallen in, or been parked where the fissure opened up. Snow could hear the sounds people made when the world fell apart around them. Yelling for help. Grunting with exertion. Very few outright screams. The screams would start when people started finding parts of other people.

Snow was still saying, "No, no, no." Her hands were over her ears. She thought her face might be trying to cry but she wasn't sure. She might be one of the ones whose faces went slack with shock. Her brain was definitely in shock. She could tell because of the way she was calmly analyzing what her face might be doing. She analyzed the way she was analyzing, while her eyes watched a man slide feet first into the fissure. He was wearing a tie, which flapped over his shoulder. Snow thought he might disappear, swallowed by the earth. But the fissure was only a few feet deep. The man braced himself on a chunk of parking lot and tugged at the door of a car. It was a silver car, and the window was rolled down a little bit. Someone's hand was reaching out of the window.

Snow yelled something. She picked up the man with the tie and set him out of the way. Then she pulled the car door off. Inside there was an old man in a denim jacket. The car had kind of folded, just behind the front wheel. The man was laying across the front seats. He was trapped between the seats and the dashboard. There was blood on his face. Snow bent over to look at the passenger's side seat. She could tear it out, but she didn't know if the man was caught in it or something.

The man with the tie crowded Snow out of the way. He was Bill. He knelt and worked the little lever that adjusted the seat, and the seat slid back. The old guy pulled himself out of the driver's side with one hand. His other arm was bent in the wrong spot, and he was cradling it. Bill helped him out.

Bill leaned close to Snow and yelled, "I'll get him out. Next car." He pointed over the silver car and turned to start climbing out of the fissure.

Snow hopped up to the silver car's hood. There was a Ford Focus that had slid into the fissure sideways. She stepped off the silver car and looked inside. There wasn't anybody in it. She looked on both sides, and she saw a bare foot sticking up from just in front of the rear passenger's side wheel. Snow screamed and picked the back of the Focus up. There was another man underneath it. He looked young. He did not look okay. Snow knelt with the back of the car held over her head. She reached down and tried to find a pulse in the man's neck. He had one. Snow said, "Fuck, fuck!"

She turned to yell for Bill, but he was already behind her. Bill said, "I don't think we can move him. There could be spine injuries."

Snow said, "We can't leave him here, man!" From the way her voice sounded, she was definitely trying to cry.

Bill said, "If you can, ah, set the car down somewhere that it won't, um, where it will be out of the way? I'll stay here. I'll make sure the paramedics get to him. Okay?"

Snow nodded. "Okay." She took a breath. "Okay." She lifted the back of the Focus a little further, then flew around to turn the whole car perpendicular to the bank of the fissure. She set it down and took another breath.

"Try to find more people who need helping getting out. Can you do that?" Bill said. His tone was like he was talking to a little kid. Snow found it weirdly reassuring. If Bill had time to sound kinda patronizing, things couldn't be all that bad. "If you find anyone else you're afraid to move, come back and let me know. We'll work it out."

Snow nodded again, and said "Okay" again. She looked at the Focus. Its back tires, up on the bank of the fissure, were pretty well set in the dirt. Its hood was jammed into the angle at the bottom. The car wasn't going to slide anywhere. Snow hopped up on its hood and looked around.

There was an SUV upside down. Snow jumped over and knelt to look inside. It was empty. If anybody was underneath the roof, they didn't need help anymore. Snow got up on the SUV's undercarriage. Way up ahead, there was a cluster of cars that had skidded towards the center of the fissure but hadn't gone over. They were on a big slab of the parking lot that had cracked away from the rest and tilted. Closer, there was a woman trying to climb up the side of the fissure. She was carrying a toddler.

As Snow walked up, the woman slid back down the side and fell to her knees. The walls of the fissure were wet earth. They turned into mud pretty quickly. The woman's jeans were coated up to her thighs. Snow looked down. Her flannel pants needed a wash.

Snow didn't want to freak the woman out. She walked a few steps up the side of the fissure. She wasn't floating, but she was lifting against gravity enough that she wasn't putting her full weight on the mud. Snow held out her hand and said, "Here, I can pull you up."

The woman panted. Her toddler was a little boy. He looked like he was thinking about crying. The woman shifted the toddler around so she could look at him.

She brushed his hair with her fingers and said, "Noah, this nice lady is going to carry you for a little bit, okay?" Noah looked at Snow and did that thing little kids do, where they fold the back of their hand against their cheek. He nodded. The woman looked at Snow, and Snow nodded too. Snow reached out and lifted Noah by his armpits.

Snow said, "Oof, what a big boy!" She supported him with a forearm under his bottom. Noah leaned back to look at Snow's face. Snow said, "My name is Snow. What's your name?" She started walking up the slope of the fissure. Part of the parking lot was sticking out over the lip. The concrete was about a foot thick.

"Noah Pallister," said Noah. "I live at one oh five Yucca Lane."

"Cool," Snow said. She walked around the part of the parking lot that was sticking out. There was a sort of smaller fissure in the wall of the big fissure, which led up to another piece of the parking lot. "What's your mom's name, Noah?" She looked back. The woman was pulling herself up the slope, kicking footholds in the mud.

"Mommy," said Noah. Snow snorted at that. Keeping Noah calm was helping her calm down, too. Bill had seemed pretty calm, like his store collapsing was right on schedule. Maybe he'd been panicking inside just like Snow.

Noah said, "Mommy!" again. Snow turned around. Mommy's foot had slipped. She slid all the way back down to the bottom of the fissure.

Snow said, "Mommy's okay, Noah." She thought about just flying down and picking Mommy up. Another woman clambered over a twisted Bronco. She was coming from another branch of the fissure. She was wearing some kind of coverall. The top was folded down, with the arms tied around her waist.

Coveralls said, "Here, I've got boots on." She stomped her way up the slope. It was hard to tell under the mud, but Snow thought her boots might be the ones the Army used, that looked like Timbs. Coveralls reached up and grabbed the ledge of the parking lot, then held out her other hand to Mommy. "Come on," she said. Mommy stayed with her hands on her knees for a moment, then came at the slope with a running start. She got her toes into the footholds Coveralls had stomped. She slipped at the top, but Coveralls caught her by the wrist.

"There's a way up over here," Snow called. "See?" she said to Noah. "Mommy's just fine." Nobody was looking, so Snow hopped three feet up onto the surface of the parking lot. "Let's go watch Mommy climb up," she said. She thought about setting Noah down. She didn't want to have to stop and pick him up again if something happened. She walked over to where Coveralls was holding onto the edge of the concrete. She had her other arm crooked up to her chest. Mommy was using it as a support, trying to find her own grip on the concrete.

Snow shifted Noah to her hip and knelt down. She caught Mommy's wrist. She lifted carefully. She didn't want to dislodge Coveralls. Mommy kicked and got a foot on the concrete. From there she was able to haul her hips up over the top. Mommy rolled away from the edge. She looked too blown to stand up. Snow shuffled over to help Coveralls, but Coveralls had already chinned herself. She got herself up over the edge in one movement.

Mommy sat up enough to support herself on her elbows. She looked around and saw Noah holding onto Snow. Mommy caught as much of her breath as she could and said, "How's my cowboy?"

Noah said, "Cospastetic, Mommy." Snow glanced around. There wasn't anything right nearby that might fall on them or run them over.

Snow said, "Let's go see Mommy." She set Noah down and took his hand. Coveralls was sitting on the concrete with her feet spread. She didn't look too out of breath.

"Come here, kiddo," Mommy said. She hugged Noah and looked up at Snow. She said, "Thank you. Thank you so much." She looked at Coveralls and said, "Thank you" again.

"I'm Snow," Snow said. Mommy said, "Ronnie," and Coveralls said, "Dee."

Ronnie stroked Noah's head and said, "This is Noah. Thank you both, so much. Thank you." She wiped her cheeks with her wrist. "Do either of you have a cellphone? I have to get the emergency response started. My phone was in the Rover. God, I have to remember all these numbers."

Snow shook her head. Dee patted herself, then dug into her coveralls. She came up with a flip phone. She said, "Who are you calling?"

"Kim Mills to start," Ronnie said. "Most of the emergency response plan is coordinated through the sheriff's office." She wiped her hands on her shirt, then took the phone Dee offered her. She shut her eyes, nodded her head, and tapped her forehead with one knuckle. Then she opened the phone and dialed a number. Then she sat there for a while.

Snow looked at Dee. She said, "I'm gonna see if anybody else needs help." Dee stood up.

"I'll come," Dee said. She looked at Ronnie. They nodded at each other. Dee went up to the edge of the fissure.

"See you later, Noah," Snow said. Noah raised his hand in a little wave. The parking lot dropped six inches. Ronnie rolled and curled her body over Noah's. There was shouting from the far end of the lot, and crunching metal. Snow waited on all fours. Maybe half a minute passed.

"You should get Noah out of here," Dee called. Snow sat up on her knees. Dee was getting up.

"Where is it," Ronnie said. Noah had his arms and legs wrapped around her. She had a hand on his back, but he was pretty much supporting himself.

"Come on," Snow said. She stood next to Ronnie and held out a hand.

"Where is it," Ronnie said again. She was crawling across the parking lot. Snow wondered if she'd hurt her head or something. But then Ronnie said, "Ah!" and stood up. She had Dee's flip phone. She held it up to her ear. "Still ringing. Come on, Kimmy."

"Out by the road," Dee said. She pointed. Aside from the fissure line that had run across to wreck HISTORIC REPLICA CABINS, the road seemed pretty okay.

"Yeah," Ronnie said. She had to raise her voice to be heard over Noah. "Ah! Kimmy, it's Ronnie. Are you okay?" She waved at Dee and Snow and turned to jog towards the road. Snow heard her say, into the phone, "We're okay. I'm at Lowes, it's pretty bad here."

Dee said, "I heard something crash over there." She pointed across the center of the fissure, towards the far corner of the lot.

Snow said, "Can you get across?"

"Yeah," Dee said. She looked Snow up and down. "Can you?" Snow looked down at herself. She was kind of a mess.

"I can get across," Snow said. "Come on." She let Dee lead. Dee jogged counterclockwise around the center of the fissure. She went towards the store, where the parking lot sloped up and the fissures narrowed a little. Without pausing, she jumped over a six-foot gap in the concrete. Snow went up to the edge and jumped, too. She gave herself a levitation boost, but overdid it a little. She landed next to Dee.

Dee said, "I guess you can get across." She turned and jogged towards the next fissure gap. Snow grimaced at herself. Part of her didn't want to get outed unless she had to be. Part of her was disgusted that she was worried about that right now.

The concrete dropped another inch. Snow saw a red pickup truck skid towards the center of the fissure. Somebody in the fissure shouted something.

Snow ran towards the center of the fissure. The center of the fissure was a pit, deeply sloped and very muddy. There was somebody trying to climb out of it. Anything that landed in the pit would slide right to the center. Snow leapt and flew into the front of the truck, shoulder-first. It crumpled and bent around her.

The truck was heavy. Snow could feel it, and she could feel her own body. She kicked her legs, trying to stay in the air. She twisted around as best she could with the truck balanced on her shoulder. The whole truck creaked. Snow was afraid if she tried to move it, it would roll out of her grip and slide into the fissure. She said, "Go! Get—"

She felt a shift somewhere. There was a blue station wagon rolling off the edge of the concrete. It was on the other side of the fissure, thirty feet away. Snow screamed and reached one hand towards the station wagon. The station wagon stopped short, more than halfway off the edge. Its entire frame flexed with a squeal. Snow's vision strobed. There was a crash. Another truck had slipped, and crashed into the station wagon. The station wagon still didn't fall the rest of the way over the edge. Instead, the front half of the car twisted almost twenty degrees. The hood bulged as if the engine were trying to push its way out.

Snow's lungs squeezed out the last of her air, and kept squeezing. She held everything in place for several seconds. Then something inside her snapped. Her body stopped working, and she fell. The red pickup fell with her. She saw the blue station wagon start to fall, too. Then the mud pit swung up in front of her.

 

Chapter Text

Snow couldn't feel her limbs. She couldn't feel anything, actually. She could still see, but she couldn't look at anything because she couldn't make her body move at all. Not even her eyes.

The world bounced and spun. The red pickup truck whipped past her. Its hood had come off, and it looked like the whole back part of the truck might come off, too. Snow saw the sky, then the horizon, then the truck's engine block. Then she couldn't see much of anything. She was pretty sure she'd landed on the engine.

Snow lay there for what seemed like a long time. She wondered if the person in the pit had gotten out. The pit had looked empty when Snow had first collapsed, but she hadn't gotten a very good look.

Eventually, she felt her face starting to get warm. Something clicked, and she could feel her body again. Something was on top of her. She shrugged at it, trying to get it off her shoulders. It rolled a bit with a metal-on-metal scrape. Snow lifted her head and looked around. She'd fallen into the engine compartment of the red truck. The blue station wagon was laying across her hips and legs. Dee was crouched on top of the red truck.

Snow said, "Hi, Dee."

Dee didn't say anything. Then she said, "Hi, Snow. Can you get out?"

Snow said, "Yeah." She humped her hips sideways. The station wagon stayed put under its own weight. Snow wriggled her way out from under it. Her right pants leg tore off, though. She tried to sit up on the edge of the truck's front quarter panel, but she overbalanced and fell into the muddy slope.

"Snow?" Dee called.

Snow sat up and said, "Man, come on." She shook mud off her arms and hands, then floated up and landed on the truck's roof, next to Dee. She looked at herself. Her whole back and arms were smeared with mud. It coated the back of her head, too, and some had splashed onto her face. She sat down and waited for Dee to say something.

Dee said, "You've got a little something. Right here." She pointed at her own cheek.

Snow rubbed at her own face in the same spot, smearing more mud. She said, "Did I get it?"

"Yeah, you got it," Dee said. She grinned a little. Snow looked at the truck. She and Dee were on the cab. The bed had ripped and twisted away. It was folded up against the station wagon. The station wagon was pretty twisted, too.

"They're down here!" Someone yelled. "Are you okay? They're down here!" There was a kid on one of the fingers of concrete that hadn't collapsed into the fissure. He was jumping up and down and waving his arms.

"Jerome, you come away from there!" Ronnie appeared and grabbed the kid by the shoulder, pulling him away from the lip. Noah was on her hip. Ronnie shifted him and looked down into the pit. She had Dee's flip phone at her ear. She held the mouthpiece against her shoulder and called, "You girls in one piece?"

Dee waved. Snow called, "I'm okay." She said in a quieter voice, "I think I'm just gonna sit here for a while, though."

"Well, it's a great view," Dee said.

"Did the guy get out?" Snow asked. She said, "From," and gestured downwards.

"That was the kid up there," Dee said. She nodded towards where Jerome had been jumping up and down. "You did good."

Snow drew up a knee and leaned her forehead against it. She took a few deep breaths. She said, "I thought." She felt Dee bump her shoulder with a fist.

"You did good," Dee said again.

"Drop the line right here," Ronnie said.

Willard said, "I know what I'm doing, lady." Snow looked up. Willard was next to Ronnie. Snow stood.

"We've got a rope to get you out," Ronnie called. Willard was doing something with his back to the fissure. He turned around and tossed a coil of rope. It uncoiled down the slope. He held the rope at his lip and turned around again. He leaned backwards, then came down the slope in a series of smooth hops. The rope was feeding through some kind of complicated strap setup around his hips.

"Crewman Johnson," he said when he got to the truck. Snow took a step back. There wasn't much room, so she ended up standing on the windshield.

Dee said, "Nice to see a friendly face, El Tee."

"Upstanding young citizen Snow," Willard said. "Follow my instructions, and we'll get you out of here. Ready?" Snow looked at him. He wasn't smiling. He didn't seem angry, either.

Snow said, "Sure."

Willard said, "We didn't have time to locate a full rescue rig. We were, however, able to locate plentiful supplies of both rope and can-do attitude. Upstanding young citizen Snow, Crewman Johnson and I are going to secure your person in a field expedient safety harness. I will then attach aforementioned harness to my person, in order to carry your person to a place more conducive to the continued existence of persons in general. Crewman Johnson, please secure your fellow female in a field expedient safety harness." He held out a coil of rope to Dee. It was yellow, with a black candy cane stripe.

Dee took the rope. Snow looked at Willard, and then she looked at Dee. She didn't want to be that close to Willard. She thought about flying away.

"It's cool," Dee said. She held the rope, instead of uncoiling it. "With the harness, Willard can keep his hands on his rope, for climbing. You'll be hanging off his back." She put a hand on Snow's forearm. "It'll be okay," Dee said. Snow looked at her, then nodded. Dee unwound some of the rope and ran it around the back of Snow's neck. She evened out the ends, and ran them down between Snow's legs, up around her butt, then back around to her hips. Then she took the part behind Snow's neck up over her head and ran the ends through it. Then she tightened everything and ran the ends back around Snow's hips again, and tied it off in a big knot.

Dee said, "Field expedient harness, civilian rescue type! Awaiting orders, sir lieutenant sir!" Snow couldn't tell if Dee was serious or not. The Army guys in New York had been like that, too. They'd talk normal, and then suddenly they'd start talking in choppy shouts that ended in sir or ma'am. You didn't know if they were using strict military discipline for some reason, or just deadpan joking.

"Upright young citizen Snow," Willard said. "Place your hands on the collars of my vest and grasp firmly." Dee ran another rope up through Snow's harness and clicked something on Willard's back. Snow stepped forward and grabbed Willard's vest at arm's length.

"Upstanding young citizen Snow, are you ready?" Willard called.

"Uh," Snow said. "Yeah." Willard began to mount the slope. He was standing almost perpendicular, pulling himself up the rope. Dee had snapped a hook onto Snow's harness. The hook was tied to Willard's vest. The harness lifted Snow by her thigh joints. She held onto the vest, but that only kept her upright. The harness carried all of her weight. Every step, Willard clicked some kind of attachment he had on the rope. In about a minute, he reached the top. Ronnie grabbed Snow's wrist and helped pull her up. Snow hold her arms out, and Ronnie pulled harness's knot until it came apart and turned into a rope again. She gave the rope back to Willard.

Willard coiled it and tossed it down into the pit. He called, "Crewman Johnson! Prepare your body for rescue!" He turned and hopped back and down.

Ronnie said, "Are you okay, Snow?" She looked worried.

Snow looked down at herself. She said, "I'm gonna ruin somebody's bathtub after this." Ronnie laughed.

Dee tied the rope around herself and called back, "This body is prepared and ready! Sir!" Snow still couldn't tell if they were being serious or not. Willard landed on the roof of the red truck, and Dee snapped her harness onto the hook. Willard started climbing back up the rope.

The ground vibrated. Ronnie said, "Oh, shit."

When it stopped, Willard started climbing again. He didn't say anything. Neither did Dee. Snow turned around. The surface of the fissure, the shattered cement that used to be a parking lot, was now almost twenty feet down from ground level. The whole parking lot and some of the field the lot had been set in was a big, cracked bowl. The fissure was at the bottom of the bowl. Willard's climbing rope was tied off on the trailer hitch of a big Jeep that had tipped over into one of the fissure's branches. The Jeep was wedged hood-first into the big crack between two multi-ton shards of the parking lot. One of the shards settled a bit. The Jeep groaned. Snow turned back around as Willard reached the lip of the fissure. He got one foot onto the surface and started to pull himself up.

Metal scraped loudly against cement, and the rope went slack. Willard windmilled one arm and said, "Motherfuck" in a conversational tone. Dee's eyes went big. Snow grabbed the rope instead of turning around. She pulled Willard and Dee up onto the cement. The scraping sound was really loud. Willard dove into Snow and tackled her to the ground. Snow's mind went entirely white.

Snow said, "Geh, geh." Willard had rolled off of her. Dee was helping her sit up. She could see Ronnie nearby, kneeling. Ronnie's arms were wrapped around Noah like he was a life preserver.

"You're okay," Dee said. She didn't sound convincing. "You're okay. Just breathe." Snow tried to breathe.

"Goddamn that was some close shit!" Willard was laughing. Snow didn't look at him. It sounded like he was on the ground. Snow heard his boots scrape against the cement, and his head rose into the corner of her vision. She didn't look at him, or away from him. She looked at Dee's chin. She could see Willard walk up to where she was laying. He laughed.

"You got some real balls on you, girl," he said. He walked away.

Dee said, "You're okay. He's not going to hurt you, you're okay."

Snow didn't lose time. But she stopped paying attention for a while. She knew what was going on around her. She knew Dee and Ronnie helped her climb up out of the bowl where the parking lot had been. She knew there were a few more aftershocks. She knew she was sitting in some kind of tent. She knew somebody was wiping at her face. She knew it wasn't Willard. Or Russell.

It was Bill. He had a nasty bruise on his forehead. He wasn't wearing his glasses. He tipped Snow's chin up with two fingers, and wiped the side of her head.

Snow said, "Hi, Bill."

Bill said, "Hello, Snow. Feeling okay?" He swabbed around her ear. Snow thought about what to say. She kept feeling Willard's chest squish her nose.

"What happened?" Snow asked after a while.

"They're calling it an earthquake," Bill said. "From what I've overheard, it wasn't much of a quake. Barely registered in Denver. Almost entirely confined... to the area right underneath my store." The way Bill sounded, an earthquake destroying his store had been some kind of clever little prank. "Are you hungry, Snow? Well. Do you need food?"

Snow tried to decide how she was feeling, or at least what she felt. She couldn't feel her weight, right now.

She said, "I think I'm okay. I don't feel weak. But I didn't eat for. Like, a while."

Bill said, "Mmm." He turned her head and started wiping the other side of her face. He was using a baby wipe. He had a cylinder of them, but it looked like he was just using the same one. He was scraping off big clods of mud and shaking them of on the ground. Snow looked around with her eyes. She was in a canvas tent. It was a lot like the kinds the Army had set up in Central Park. The front flap was open. She saw Main Street. She was looking east, down Main Street. Westcliffe Super Market, or Lowes, would be off to her right. She could see some cracks in the sidewalk and the street. The fissure's arms and branches hadn't reached this far, though.

Someone poked their head into the tent. It was Sheriff Mills. She stepped inside. She was looking at Snow. She didn't say anything.

Snow said, "Thanks. For the granola bars. And bread."

Sheriff Mills stepped up and put a hand on Snow's head. She still didn't say anything. Then she said, "Ronnie tells me you were a real help out there." Snow thought about that. She felt a little stupid. Ronnie had called 'Kim Mills'. Snow hadn't put it together. There had been some other things going on, of course.

Snow said, "How, uh, does, um." She looked for words. She was embarrassed to even ask.

Sheriff Mills grinned. "You're safe, Clark Kent. If Ronnie saw anything, she didn't mention it to me."

Snow let Bill use his fingers to try to comb dried mud off the back of her head.

"I did, uh, something," Snow said. Sheriff Mills waited. "There was, in the middle of the cracks, there was a kid, I guess?"

"Jerome Young," Sheriff Mills said. "Ronnie says you and some greenshoe jumped in and got him out."

"There were some cars," Snow said. "Two cars, and I couldn't get them both. So I, like." She bit her lip. "I grabbed one. With, like. My. Mind or something. I don't know. I wasn't touching it. But I was holding it up, I could feel it."

Sheriff Mills thought about that. Bill kept brushing at Snow's head. Sheriff Mills said, "You don't know how you did it?" Snow shook her head. "Never done anything like that before?" Snow shook her head again.

"Sounds like a blessing to me," Bill said mildly.

"Sounds like that to me, too," said Sheriff Mills. "We'll figure it out. I got stuff to wrap up here," she said. Snow wondered how you 'wrapped up' an earthquake eating your town's grocery store. "After that, we'll get you back to my place and sit you under a hot shower for a few days."

Snow's jaw felt tight, and her throat hurt. She said, "I can't."

Sheriff Mills shifted her weight. She asked, "Why not, Snow?"

Snow pressed her lips together. She said, "I hit Thor." She could almost feel Bill's eyebrows go up at that. She didn't look at him, or Sheriff Mills.

"Well," Sheriff Mills said, "I think Thor has probably forgiven you." She said it like a joke. Snow could hear her trying not to sound worried. She knew what Snow meant, but she was pretending it didn't matter.

Snow hiccuped, and hiccuped again. Bill put his arm around her shoulder and said, "Shh, shh."

"What if," Snow said, and hiccuped. It was hard to get the words out, and she couldn't see. "It had been you." She leaned forward and put her hands over her eyes.

Snow said, "There wouldn't have been anything left of you." Her chest hitched over and over. Sheriff Mills didn't say anything. That hurt worse than anything else.

Chapter Text

Snow watched muddy water stream down her chest and arms. There was a lot more mud in her hair than seemed physically possible. She'd been standing under the shower for several minutes. The water still felt scalding hot. Sheriff Mills's house had pretty good water pressure. Snow tipped her head forward and let the shower blast the top of her skull.

She had to rinse the washcloth out four times. She scrubbed herself clean, then soaped up and scrubbed herself again. Sheriff Mills had a loofa sponge. Snow scrubbed herself a third time with that. She shampooed twice.

When she ran out of ways to clean herself, she got out with the water still running. Not all of the dirt she'd washed off had gone down the drain. It was left in swirls and shapes on the floor of the tub. Snow used the washcloth to swoosh as much of it towards the drain as she could. Then she turned the water off and toweled herself dry. Sheriff Mills's towels were gigantic. They were ridiculously thick.

Clothes were folded on the toilet. Snow picked up a pair of boy's Fruit of the Loom underwear, size 12, but they weren't hers. Hers were plain tighty whities. These were soft green with white borders. They looked brand new. She pulled them on. Next was a pair of jeans. Those were hers. She hugged them and jumped up and down a few times. Then she put them on. Next was a t-shirt with a sort of cyberpunk psychedelic design, with Def Leppard printed across the top. Snow pulled that on. She thought Sheriff Mills probably had a nice collection of vinyl somewhere. She thought she might have to raid it some time. There was a pair of white ankle socks, too. On the floor there was a pair of Adidas sneakers. They weren't new. Snow wondered if they were Sheriff Mills's. Maybe she'd gotten them at Goodwill or something. Snow put on the socks and carried the sneakers with her.

The wood floor was cool through the socks. It felt nice. The shower had been too much. She'd needed too much, though. Snow looked out the window by the front door. Sheriff Mills's new sheriff truck was gone. Sheriff Mills's new sheriff truck wasn't really new. She'd just told Deputy Hassim to start driving his personal truck to work. Sheriff Mills's personal truck was still in the yard. The passenger's side door had a huge dent in it. The whole door was folded a little bit and it didn't look like the window had survived. Snow wondered when that had happened. She didn't remember Sheriff Mills's personal truck having anything to do with the vargar fight.

It looked like someone had tried to fill in or smooth the tracks where Sheriff Mills's sheriff truck had torn up her yard. The tracks wouldn't start filling in with grass till at least spring, of course. Snow hoped that seeing the yard and the truck didn't bother Sheriff Mills like it did Snow herself.

Snow had promised she'd try to eat, so she went into the kitchen. There was a kettle on the stove, and a ceramic bowl with packet of something in it. Snow picked the packet up. It was instant oatmeal, plain flavor. She thought about it, then looked at the stove. It was a gas stove. Snow twiddled the knob for the burner under the kettle. It hissed quietly but didn't spark, so Snow quickly turned it off. She looked around, then looked in the bowl. Under the oatmeal packet had been a box of matches.

Snow tried to work out the best way to light the stove without burning the house down. She hadn't lit a match since she'd stopped smoking, after high school. She ended up leaving the gas on too long before she got the match lit. The burner caught in a big whoosh of flame that licked Snow's hand. Once she remembered it didn't hurt, she put the kettle on the burner. She watched the blue flames bend against the metal for a while.

The house bonged. Snow looked around. She went back to the window by the front door. Dee was outside. She was wearing a puffy jacket and jeans. Snow peeked to the side. There was nobody else out there. Snow opened the door.

"Hey," said Dee.

"Hey," said Snow.

Dee said, "Sheriff Mills said you might still be here."

"Oh," said Snow. There was a whistle from the kitchen. "Uh, come in?" Snow hurried back to the kitchen. She ripped open the oatmeal packet and dumped it in the bowl. Then she turned off the stove and slopped a little water from the kettle into the bowl. She looked around. Dee had taken her jacket off. She was wearing a plain t-shirt underneath. The Army guys in New York had all worn plain t-shirts under their uniforms. Theirs had been a kind of desert tan. Dee's t-shirt was navy blue.

"I need a spoon," Snow said. She opened a drawer. It seemed like the kitchen had a lot of drawers. This one had a hammer and some paper pamphlets. The pamphlet on top was for a KitchenAid blender. She went to the next drawer. That one had a bunch of different size knives.

"Here," said Dee. She held up a spoon from a drawer on the other side of the kitchen.

"Thanks," said Snow. "Um, do you want some oatmeal?"

Dee said, "Nah, I had lunch already. Thanks."

Snow stirred up her oatmeal. She blew on it a little, then sniffed it. It smelled like oatmeal. She put a spoonful of it in her mouth. It was still almost boiling hot. Her stomach didn't do much, so she swallowed.

"I wanted to see how you were, after all that," Dee said. "Sheriff Mills said she took you to her place to clean up."

"I think I might have clogged her shower drain," Snow said. Dee laughed. "I scraped some of it off outside. There were, like, rocks stuck to me." She held up her fingers a little bit apart. "Like, big ones. Stuck to me. I've never been that dirty."

"You were a sight," Dee said. "Some kind of mud monster or something. You're good, though?"

"Yeah," Snow said. "I kind of, passed out. From all the stuff with the truck falling." She ate another bite of oatmeal. It went down really easy. She didn't have to chew it or anything, so she got it down before her stomach could start to fuss.

"That was kinda scary," Dee agreed. "After that was kind scary, too. With Willard." Snow didn't say anything. "I've heard stuff about Willard," Dee said. "Stories. So I wanted to see if you were okay."

Snow thought about that. She at another bite of oatmeal, and swallowed. Finally, she said, "I just didn't expect it."

Dee was quiet. Then she asked, "Has he hurt you? Before?"

Snow huffed air out her nose. "He can't hurt me. He got lucky. The other day I panicked, and, ah." She ate another spoonful of oatmeal so she wouldn't have to finish that sentence. "He's lucky I froze up," she said.

"Yeah, I was gonna ask about that. I guess most people around here don't know you can do that stuff?"

Snow froze. She'd been thinking of Dee as the person who she'd helped help people.

Snow said, "I try not to let it get around. Do, uh." She rubbed her neck. She'd never been any good at keeping her thoughts off her face. "Do your, um, people, know about? Me?"

"I really don't think so," Dee said. "Command Section doesn't tell us very much, but it's hard to keep a secret on the Tub. We're all packed in like sardines, so everybody's always in everybody else's business."

Snow scraped the last bite of oatmeal together and ate it. Dee was one of the people on 'the Tub'. Whether Dee was spying or not, she already knew the main thing Snow wanted to keep quiet.

"Command Section?" Snow asked. "Is that, like, officers?"

"It's... like a separate unit, I guess," Dee said. "A carrier complement is split up into a bunch of different departments, like Maintenance and Navigation and Supply. The department heads report to the CO. Crewmen like me report to the department heads. Everybody knows the chain of command. Command Section is, like, outside all that. It's the CO and the XO and all the department heads, but every department also has a Command Element that handles stuff they won't tell the rest of us about. And nobody says it out loud, but anybody in Command Section basically outranks anybody who isn't. Doesn't matter what their actual ranks are."

Snow was pretty happy with herself. Back in New York, she'd quickly discovered that it didn't take much to get a soldier to bore you to death with endless, detailed bitching about everything wrong with their unit and the Army in general. It apparently worked the same way with helicarrier crewmen. Snow asked, "So like, what does the Command Section *do?"*

"Get in the way, mostly," Dee said. "For a while they had teams running big drills under the hull. Digging or something."

Snow almost dropped her bowl. "Really?"

"I mean, they stopped like two weeks ago," Dee said quickly. "It was only for four days, right after we landed." She looked at the wall. "I don't... *think* we could have caused that—earthquake. Sinkhole. I mean it was two miles away, right?"

Snow chewed her lower lip. "There's just been so... so much weird stuff going on. Since, like."

"Since the Tub landed here?" Dee asked.

"Since *I* landed here," Snow said.

"When was that?"

"Two weeks, I think. Before you got here."

"Hm," Dee said. She didn't say anything else.

"Does that—I mean, is there, I mean." Snow set her bowl on the counter. "Why'd your helicarrier come here?" she asked.

Dee looked up. "I really don't know. I got hired at a job fair as a network tech. I didn't know I'd be working on a decommissioned helicarrier until they day we lifted off. But I, ah." Dee was leaning against the kitchen wall. She idly thumped her palm against it. "I've heard rumors about. Different groups, looking for people with. Abilities, you know?" She looked at Snow.

"I thought about that," Snow said. "Willard. And Russell. They're, like, Command Section?"

"Yeah. They run the Reaction Force. Like, shipboard police. Or shipboard SWAT, I guess."

"I don't think they know about me. I mean they know me. They fuckin'." Snow breathed. "On the first day, when you landed, they were. Assholes." Snow's hands were shaking. She rubbed them on her thighs. "If I'd been. Stronger. I could have, like. Done something to them." She heard Sheriff Mills wheeze again. She took another deep breath. "So I don't think they know about me. Because they didn't seem, like. Worried that I'd hurt them."

Dee nodded slowly. She was watching Snow. Something hit Snow in the side of the head, and she heard glass breaking.

"What the *ass*!" Snow yelled. Her voice sounded extra loud. Dee knocked Snow down and landed on top of her. She said something Snow didn't understand. Snow said, "Get off me, man!"

"Blah blah at us," Dee said into Snow's ear. Snow didn't catch the first part. "We have to stay down, they're still out there." Over Dee's shoulder, Snow could see the window over Sheriff Mills's kitchen sink. There was a hole in it.

"Did somebody *shoot* at us?" Snow asked. Her voice still sounded really loud.

"We got lucky," Dee breathed. "They whiffed the first blah. Blah blah another chance."

"Whiffed what? The first shot?" Snow asked. "I don't think they whiffed, man." Dee startled, then pushed herself up on her knees and started pawing at Snow's body. Snow said, "Hey!"

"I don't blah blah blood!" Dee said. "Does it hurt anywhere?"

Snow sat up. "There's not gonna be any blood, man. Bullets don't work on me." She stood up and peeked out the window. Dee grabbed her hips and tried to drag her back down.

"They're still blah blah!" Dee said. Snow was braced for another shot, so Dee didn't move her at all. Snow stepped back out of view anyway.

"Well," Snow said, "if they shoot me again, we'll know where they are. I mean who the hell is shooting at—wait, are they shooting at you or me?"

Dee was on her flip phone. She looked up and said, "You're the one they hit. If you're sure blah blah you? Hi, I'd like blah blah blah shooting." She was talking into the phone. "It's at 412 Ohio St. Nobody's hurt." Snow rubbed her ear. She thought the bullet might have hit her there. It had felt like a big, hard shove across the whole side of her head.

Snow stepped up to look out the window. Behind Sheriff Mills's house was a dirt track, then some more yards, then a paved street. One of the yards had a fence made out of six-inch beams, painted a sort of reddish brown. There was an old-looking grey minivan parked on the street. The sliding door on the minivan was open. There was someone inside it.

Something punched Snow in the eye. She thought she felt something hit her cheek, too. Glass sprayed across her face.

"Aw!" Snow yelled. She turned and put a hand over her eye. "They shot me in the *eye*, man!" She hopped up on the counter and used her socked foot to kick out the window. A lot of it had been shattered anyway. She heard Dee say something, but she didn't understand it. She tilted back and flew feet-first out the window.

The ground was frozen. It crunched under Snow's socks when she landed. She ran in long strides, not really flying but not just running. She jumped a little early, trying to hurdle the beam fence. She gave herself another boost in mid-air and landed running. The minivan's door slid shut. It rocked from side to side as Snow ran towards it. Then the engine started and it took off.

Snow hit the minivan in the side rear with her shoulder, just in front of the tail lights. The minivan spun around, and the front almost whacked into Snow from behind. Snow stomped sideways on the front right hubcap. The tire exploded, and the whole wheel got smushed into the engine compartment.

Snow looked through the windshield. It was cracked pretty badly. The driver was sprawled between the front bucket seats. Snow could see some blonde hair, some boots, and camo. She hoped they were still alive. She didn't want to find out they weren't, so she decided not to check. In the back of the van, Snow could see a pile of shelving that had fallen over. She could see a couple of rifles sticking out of the pile.

"Oh my god, are you blah? What happened? Should I blah blah sheriff?" Snow turned around. A lady was coming out of the house whose fence Snow had jumped over. She had her phone at her ear. "Are you okay?"

"I'm okay," said Snow. "I heard the crash," she said. She looked down at her feet. Her socks were muddy, and she'd ripped a hole in them.

"Wow!" said the woman. Snow looked around. There was another house, across the street. A man was standing in the doorway, poking his head out. Other than that, there was a house at either end of the block. Nothing seemed to be happening in either of them. Dee was standing at the back corner of the house with the beam fence. She made a little wave to Snow. She didn't come out, though.

Snow heard big engines getting closer. She looked inside the minivan. The blonde person was trying to sit up. It was a thin woman. Snow couldn't tell how old she was.

A big red truck came around a corner a few blocks down. Its tires skidded on the dirt roads. The woman in the minivan hadn't sat up all the way yet. Snow stepped to the side of the road. The red truck roared down the road. Then it screeched to a halt. The door popped open and Deputy Hassim leaned out. He stayed behind his door.

Deputy Hassim called, "Everybody okay? Mike, you blah blah that bangstick pointed at the ground?" Snow looked around. Mike was the guy from the other house. He was in his yard. He had a rifle, pointed at the ground. He didn't look at Deputy Hassim, he kept his eyes on the minivan.

Mike said, "Watch that van, deputy. Somebody inside it was blah blah. Looked like they was shooting at Kimmie's place."

Deputy Hassim aimed his pistol out from the gap between the truck and the door. Snow took a few more steps back. Deputy Hassim said, "Blah blah, I got the van covered. Karen, why don't you and your friend walk around behind me? Mike, I don't want you shooting blah blah can't, you hear me?"

Mike said, "I hear you, deputy." The woman with the phone, Karen, came up and put her hand on Snow's shoulder. Snow realized she was the friend. She looked around. Dee wasn't anywhere Snow could see. Snow walked with Karen in a wide arc towards Deputy Hassim's truck.

"Sheriff's sixty seconds out," Deputy Hassim said. "Anybody see what happened?"

"Damndest thing," Mike said. "Van took off, didn't get thirty blah blah the tire blew out. Rolled all the way over and came up right there." Snow looked at Mike. Mike kept watching the van. He said, "Garbage Chinese manufacture, be my guess."

Deputy Hassim yelled, "Don't you move! Put your hands blah the window!" Snow peeked over his shoulder. The blonde woman had gotten her head over the dashboard. Mike had his rifle up. A block behind the van, a sheriff's truck came around the corner. It sped down the road and then stopped at an angle to the van. Sheriff Mills opened her door and leaned around it with her pistol. Deputy Hassim said, "Mike, I'm coming around!"

The blonde woman put her hands out of the window. Sheriff Mills and Deputy Hassim seemed to know what to do without having to talk about it. Deputy Hassim circled around until he was close to Mike. He kept his pistol on the blonde woman the whole time.

Deputy Hassim said, "Me and Kimmie got this. You hear me, Mike?"

Mike said, "I hear you, deputy." Deputy Hassim nodded without looking at Mike. Then he walked towards the van. He stopped about ten feet away. Then Sheriff Mills came out from behind her door and walked up to the van, too.

Sheriff Mills said, "All yours, Ron."

Deputy Hassim and Sheriff Mills did a little dance with the blonde woman. First Deputy Hassim put his pistol back in its holster. Then he took out handcuffs from a pouch on his belt. He put the cuffs on the blonde woman's wrists, sticking out from her window. Then he took his pistol back out and opened her door. He told her to step out slowly, and she did that. He told her to kneel down on the ground, and she did that too. Sheriff Mills made little quarter circles, back and forth around Deputy Hassim and the blonde woman. She kept moving so that Deputy Hassim wasn't directly in front of her gun. Deputy Hassim put his pistol away again and uncuffed her wrists, then cuffed them again behind her back. He took out his pistol again.

Snow watched the blonde woman. The blonde woman looked skinny and a little tall. She looked like a runner. She had on some camouflage military pants. They were tucked into her boots. The camouflage wasn't the new kind of digital stuff that the Army wore now. It was the old kind, with big, round blotches of black, green, and brown. Her boots were black. She had on a vest with a bunch of pockets. It was the same sort of green as in the camouflage on her pants. Snow looked at her face. She could see the woman's features pretty clearly, even from this distance. Snow was pretty sure she'd never seen the woman before in her life.

Snow looked around. She didn't see Dee anywhere. She watched Sheriff Mills and Deputy Hassim shepherd the blonde woman into the back of Sheriff Mills's sheriff truck.

 

Chapter Text

"Blah," Sheriff Mills said. "Blah blah before?"

Snow said, "What?" She turned her head. It seemed like it was harder to hear out of her left ear.

"I said, have you ever seen this woman before?" She had turned her screen around on the desk so Snow could see it. There was a picture of the blonde woman on the screen. She was facing the camera and holding up a tablet-sized whiteboard. The whiteboard had a long number written on it.

Snow said, "No." She rubbed her ear.

"You alright?" Sheriff Mills asked. She turned her screen back around. Her desk had a lot of paperwork on it. The paperwork was separated into stacks. The stacks weren't sloppy. The weren't perfectly neat, either. Outside the window of Sheriff Mills's office, Snow could see the first stars coming out.

"I think there's something stuck in my ear. Like, deep." Snow worked her jaw. She could definitely feel something in there.

"Huh," said Sheriff Mills. She pulled out her phone and thumbed some buttons. She read the screen and then put the phone away. "Well, I've got half an hour blah blah I have to blah blah the mayors. Blah blah if we can dig it out."

Snow said, "Okay. I haven't been able to hear right all day."

Sheriff Mills got up. Snow followed her out of the office and down the hall. The Adidas sneakers squeaked. Sheriff Mills had driven Snow back to the house for the shoes and a fresh pair of socks. Snow could feel the squeaking in her feet, but she couldn't hear it.

"Do you know who she is? The blonde woman?"

"Nope," said Sheriff Mills. "She's not blah blah."

"Oh," said Snow. The sheriff led her into a small room with a bunch of lockers and cabinets. "I guess, are you like, checking her fingerprints?"

"Nope," said Sheriff Mills. She stopped with her hand on the handle of a cupboard. She didn't say anything. Then she said, "Blah blah have any fingerprints. They've been scraped off or something."

Snow thought about that. She said, "Um, what the fuck?"

Sheriff Mills opened the cupboard. "That's what Ron blah blah he tried to print her. Exact quote. Let's go to the break blah." She took out some stuff and nodded at the door. Snow stepped out and waited for Sheriff Mills. Sheriff Mills led her down the hall, into a room with a big window, some snack machines, and a table. Sheriff Mills nodded at the table.

"Like, with a knife or something?" Snow asked. She sat down in one of the plastic chairs.

"Blah your head down," said Sheriff Mills. Snow laid her head down with her left ear up. Sheriff Mills leaned over her. She said, "They weren't scarred or blah blah, didn't seem. Just smooth. Blah blah blah she took an emery board to 'em. Something like that. Stay still." Snow felt Sheriff Mill's fingers probe her ear. She heard the sheriff click a flashlight on. She could feel warmth from the flashlight's beam on her face. It felt nice.

Snow said, "She had a lot of guns in her van."

"Mm," Sheriff Mills said. The flashlight moved around. "That she did. Tryin' to trace the blah blah blah blah. Probably won't find anything. Doubt she bought 'em blah blah retailer." The flashlight clicked off. "But you do what you can," Sheriff Mills said. "You got something in blah blah, way down in. Hold still, I'm gonna put some oil blah blah." Snow held still. She heard the sheriff twist off a twist cap. Then there was a pause. Then cool liquid dripped into her ear. All sound went underwater.

"Wub wub wub," said Sheriff Mills. "Wub wub, wub wub wub." The liquid in Snow's ear shifted. Something poked the inside of her ear canal. It scraped around a little. She felt it tap something solid, that wasn't a part of her body. She felt it and heard it scrape against the hard thing. It clicked against the hard thing and nudged it a little. Then it went away.

"Wub wub wub wub," said Sheriff Mills. The sheriff came around and crouched so that Snow could see her. She said, "Wub wub wub." She was holding a big pair of tweezers.

Snow said, "Just jam them in there and pull whatever it is out." She talked loud enough that she could hear herself. Sheriff Mills startled a little bit. Snow said a little quieter, "Whatever you were doing with those tweezers didn't even tickle, okay? Just dig in there. My safe word is 'Ow ow stop that hurts'." She saw Sheriff Mills laugh, but didn't hear it.

Sheriff Mills leaned over her again and said, "Wub wub." Snow felt the tweezers go back in. They clicked against the hard thing, then pushed at the sides of her ear canal. Sheriff Mills said, "Wub wub wub?"

"If you're asking if it hurts," Snow said, "it doesn't."

Sheriff Mills said, "Wub wub," and the tweezers pushed harder. Snow wondered if she really was invulnerable all the way through. Maybe it was only her outsides. Maybe Sheriff Mills's tweezers would slip through Snow's eardrum and punch right into her brain, and Snow would just blink out.

The hard thing shifted, and then the tweezers slipped off it with a clink. Sheriff Mills said, "Wub wub," and the tweezers went in again. They grabbed the hard thing and rocked it back and forth. Then there was a sort of pop, and Snow could mostly hear again.

"Got it!" Sheriff Mills said. Then she said, "Whoah." Her voice was a little muffled by the oil still in Snow's ear. There was a napkin dispenser on the table. Snow reached out blindly and found it. She pulled out two or three napkins, put them over her ear, and sat up. Sheriff Mills was holding a bullet in the tweezers.

Snow tipped her head so that her ear would drain into the napkins. She was pretty sure it was a bullet, anyway. It was the bullet part of the bullet, not the whole thing with the outside casing. It was oddly squished, here and there.

"Is that a bullet?" Snow asked.

"Five five six," Sheriff Mills said. The bullet was maybe half an inch long.

Snow said, "What?"

"It's a bullet," Sheriff Mills said.

Snow looked at the bullet. She muttered, "Nonsense, I did not shave your wife."

Sheriff Mills said, "What?"

"Dumb joke," Snow said. "I guess it's from finger scrapy lady?"

The sheriff quirked a grin. "Unless you tell me you put it in there yourself."

"I wouldn't use a gun," Snow said. She couldn't take her eyes off the bullet. She hadn't wanted to see the ones from DC. Now she wondered if she'd missed out. "I already know they don't work on me." Sheriff Mills didn't say anything. Snow looked up. Sheriff Mills was looking at her. Snow said, "What?"

"I... put in a request for a facial recognition scan," Sheriff Mills said. She looked away from Snow. "Might get something, might not. Either way, probably take a few weeks."

"Cool," Snow said. "Is that, like, evidence?"

"Hm," Sheriff Mills said. "Guess so." They both looked at the bullet again. "Let's go get a kit." She scraped her chair back. Snow grabbed another napkin and wiped her ear some more. She used her pinky to push it way down inside her ear.

The kits were in the same room the oil and tweezers had been. Different cupboard, opposite side of the room. Sheriff Mills opened it up and stepped back.

"Grab one of those envelopes," she said. Snow looked in the cupboard and found a box of clear baggies about the size of her palm. She separated one and pulled it out. Sheriff Mills held up the bullet in the tweezers. Snow pinched the edges of the envelope to hold it open. Sheriff Mills dropped the bullet in. She took the envelope and laid it on a counter. She took out her phone and carefully took a few pictures. She put her phone away and picked up the envelope.

"You think she meant to hit me in the ear?" Snow asked. She followed Sheriff Mills back to her desk. Sheriff Mills looked at Snow as she sat down.

"Might have," Sheriff Mills said. She set the envelope by the keyboard and started mousing.

"I think she hit me in the eye, too," Snow said. Sheriff Mills's mouse stopped for a second.

"Did she, now," Sheriff Mills said.

"Pretty sure," Snow said. "Maybe in the cheek, too." Sheriff Mills clicked around and started typing.

"So she shot you three times?" Sheriff Mills asked.

"Pretty sure," Snow said again. Sheriff Mills typed some more. She could type pretty fast.

"You wanna tell me the whole tale?" Sheriff Mills asked. "Get it off your chest?"

Snow thought about it. Dee had disappeared as soon as she saw Snow was okay. Snow thought she probably didn't want any official involvement. She didn't know what Dee's deal was, but she wasn't just a crewman. And she wasn't with Russell and the Command Section or whatever. Probably.

Snow opened her mouth, then closed it. She wasn't good at lying. She'd never wanted to be. She said, "I don't know if you should write all this down."

"That so?" Sheriff Mills said.

"Do you know about Command Section?" Snow asked. Sheriff Mills looked up.

"I do not," Sheriff Mills said. So Snow told her everything Dee had said about it.

"Okay," said Sheriff Mills when Snow was done. She hadn't typed anything.

"The person who told me about all that," Snow said, "was Dee. From the, from the supermarket." Sheriff Mills tilted her head slightly. "The one who helped me with, with the. Kid? That we, like."

"Sure," said Sheriff Mills.

"She came by your house while I was there," Snow said. Sheriff Mills didn't react. "She said you told her where I was. Which I guess you didn't."

"I did not," Sheriff Mills said.

"So I don't know what to think," Snow said. "When the shooting happened, she tried to save me. So I don't she's, like, with the. Fingerprints McNope in there."

Sheriff Mills grunted. "Fingerprints McNope," she said. She looked at her screen and typed something. She looked at her screen some more. Then she said, "Go ahead and tell me the whole thing, Snow. We'll leave Miss Dee out of it for now."

Snow nodded. She told Sheriff Mills everything she remembered. Sheriff Mills just typed while Snow talked. Then she had Snow tell the story again, but she stopped Snow a few times to ask about some details. Then she had Snow tell it one more time, all the way through.

"Okay," said Sheriff Mills. She scrolled her mouse up, then down, then up. She typed in something else. She said, "Okay," again. Snow looked at the clock.

"Aren't you late for the mayors?" Snow asked.

"I texted them," Sheriff Mills said. "I'll head out in a bit." She seemed sort of happy. "Figured this was a bit more pressing. Don't like my citizens getting shot at. Even the ones who don't mind it."

"I definitely mind getting bullets stuck in my stupid ear," Snow said. Sheriff Mills laughed. Then her eyebrows went up.

"Oh, hell, Snow, I forgot." She bent under her desk. Snow heard her say, "All this with the earthquake, and then all this, I just forgot." When she straightened up, she was holding Snow's boots.

Snow said, "My boots!" They were clean. They'd been polished to a mirror shine. They smelled like they had when Snow had first gotten them. Snow leaned over and pulled off the Adidas sneakers. She set the sneakers aside and pulled on her right boot. She tucked the cuff of her jeans in and folded them on the inside of her leg to take up the slack. The boot's main strap went over the top of the foot, then around the ankle, then up around the bottom of her calf. The strap had holes like a belt at the end. She pulled the second-to-last hole down over the buckle's prong and tugged it tight. Then she did the same thing with her left boot.

Snow sat up and held her feet out to look at them. She tapped her toes together. She looked up at Sheriff Mills and said, "Thanks!"

"Sorry it took so long," Sheriff Mills said. "Anne lost track of them for a bit, and then, well." Snow nodded. And then Snow had hidden in an abandoned shed and sulked for a couple of days.

"So what, uh, what's the story with, like. The earthquake?" Sheriff Mills clicked around her screen and sat back.

"Well, it wasn't an earthquake like we're used to," Sheriff Mills said. "Plates slipping around, bumping into each other. I was on the horn with the NEIC, just before this silliness came over the wire." She jerked her head towards the lockup area. "Based on their sensors and chicken entrails and whatnot, they said it seems like there was God's biggest sinkhole sitting a quarter mile down. Not directly underneath Lowes, but close enough. And it collapsed. And then the stuff above it collapsed, and the stuff above that, until finally the parking lot had itself a lie-down."

"Huh," said Snow. She thought about that for a while. Then she thought about how to say what she wanted to say next. She looked at the near edge of Sheriff Mills's desk and said, "Any, uh, theories? About how." She wanted to swallow, but her mouth felt dry. "About how I could have. Caused that." Sheriff Mills didn't move. Then she slowly sat up.

Sheriff Mills said, "No, Snow. Thought never occurred to me." She looked directly at Snow. She stayed staring at Snow until Snow looked up. "I don't expect I'll be occupied by such thoughts in the near future. And I wouldn't recommend anybody else spend much time entertaining them, either."

Snow's throat hurt. She looked back down at the desk and didn't say anything.

"Here," Sheriff Mills said. She dug into her pocket and came up with a silver key. It was a housekey, one of the ones with a head shaped like a wide, pixelated octagon. She put it on the desk. Snow looked up at her.

"I can't," Snow said.

Sheriff Mills said, "It's not—"

"I can't," Snow said again. She said, "For me, okay?" She put her fists on the desk. "It's not for you, man. It's for me."

Sheriff Mills looked at her for a while. She nodded slowly. "Well. Take it anyway. So I can say I tried. You don't have to use it. Just keep it."

Snow looked at the key. Eventually she stood up, took it, and put it in her pocket.

 

Chapter Text

Snow followed the signs. The sheriff's office wasn't very big, so there was only one sign. It read Lockup. Snow thought it might have said something fancier.

There were only two cells, down a short hallway. At the end of the hallway there was a toilet. and a curtain. Snow expected thick black bars, but these had more like heavy-gauge chicken wire. The wire was painted off-white. Snow looked inside the first cell. It was closed. It was empty. It had a bench inside, nothing else. There wasn't much room inside.

Snow heard someone talking on the radio from the radio room. She looked back. It sounded like Sheriff Mills, maybe. Snow turned back around and stepped in front of the other cell. The blonde woman was inside. She was sitting on the bench. Her back was against the wall, and her hands were in her lap. She didn't have the vest she'd been wearing in the van. Her boots didn't have any laces in them. She'd tucked the cuffs of her pants back inside the boots.

The woman was looking at Snow. She didn't have any expression on her face. It wasn't like she was keeping her face blank. More like there just wasn't anything going on in her head that would make her face do anything. She wasn't studying Snow, just looking at her. Looking towards her.

She was old, maybe forty. She didn't have any makeup on. No foundation to hide her pores, no eyeliner to make her eyes pop. Definitely no lipstick.

Snow said, "So, it's my powers, right?" The woman focused on Snow but didn't say anything. Snow said, "I mean I'm assuming you're not just racist against basic-ass white girls." The woman's lower eyelids crinkled a bit. Funny, but not enough for a laugh. Snow said, "It's not because I like girls, right? You're not, like, the Westboro Special Forces or something." Slight frown. Snow took that as a no.

Snow leaned against the wall opposite the cell. She said, "I guess you followed me from news reports? Or police reports? I stole food and stuff from a couple of places. I figure I made the blotter here and there. I don't think I let anybody see me fly, or do anything like that." Snow rubbed her lips. "I guess you must have picked me up in New York. And just followed the trail from there."

The blonde woman's shoulders moved. Not enough to be a shrug, but enough to indicate one.

Snow said, "You hit me right in the eye, you know?" The woman's eyelids crinkled again, and the corner of her mouth hooked up a little. "And the ear. Like, into my ear. Had to dig it out with baby oil and tweezers. Really not cool." Snow rubbed her ear at the memory. She looked at the woman's boots again. They didn't have a mirror polish. They had a lot of seams where the leather had worn in. They didn't have any scuffs, though. They were black all over, even the toes. Snow had noticed the toes of her boots needed a lot of work to stay black.

Snow said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but. Was that all you had? I mean, I didn't see any bigger guns in your van. I feel like... I don't know what could, like, get through me? But it'd have to be significantly bigger, you know?" The woman's head tilted very slightly. Snow said, "I mean, like, did you have any big bombs, or like, anything? Something that might work a little better?"

The woman studied Snow. Then she slowly sat forward and leaned her elbows on her knees. Her eyes looked hard.

She said, "Little girl thinks she's too tough to hurt."

Snow folded her arms over her chest. She said, "I hope not."

The woman tilted her head a bit. She said, "You hope not, huh?" Snow looked at the floor.

Snow said, "Not that it's any of your business, man."

The woman said, "Poor thing. Must be awful, being better than everybody else. Thinking you're better, anyway."

Snow looked at the woman and said, "I mean, I'm definitely better than some people."

The woman's mouth hooked up again. She said, "It really blows your mind, doesn't it? That somebody might have a problem with you."

Snow said, "When I have a problem with somebody, I keep it between me and them." The woman's mouth went flat again.

Someone walked into the hallway. It was Russell. Snow backed down the hall until she was up against the end of it. Russell's eyes passed over her and stopped on the woman. He walked up to her cell.

Russell said, "Major Jesse Richardson." It took Snow a few seconds to understand what he'd said. By the time she put the words together, he was saying, "Your jacket says you took your pension. Looks like you kept in shape." The woman, Richardson, looked at Snow. Richardson was standing. Her eyes were hard again. She looked back at Russell and didn't say anything.

Russell studied her. Then he said, "Heard you been taking potshots at my civilians, major. I guess in the Chair Force, they don't teach you to hit your target. The sheriff wasn't even at home, by the by. So it wouldn't've meant much if you had shot straight."

Richardson stared at him. Her eyes went down to his chest. He had two black bars on a tab there. Richardson smiled a little and said, "Captain...?"

"Russell, ma'am," said Russell. His eyes looked like he was on the verge of smiling back. "Captain Matt Russell."

"Captain Russell," said Richardson. Her hands were folded behind her back. Her posture was stiff. "My experience, the Air Force never hit what needed hitting. Why I left."

Russell said, "Doesn't seem to me like the Air Force was holding you back all that much. Though I guess that windowpane will never threaten our freedom again. Thank you for your service, major." Richardson's head tilted back a little bit. She didn't look at Snow.

Richardson said, "Maybe I should be thanking you for your service, captain. Swanning around in your little flying boats. And those cute little jumpsuits."

Russell's eyebrows went up. He said, "You know SHIELD was disbanded, right?"

Richardson shrugged with one shoulder. She said, "Whatever you're calling yourselves these days."

Russell looked at her and opened his mouth. He didn't say anything. Then he laughed. Then he bent forward, put his hand against the chicken wire, and laughed some more. Richardson's face went still. Then it went blank.

"Oh, man," Russell said. He wiped one of his eye with a knuckle. Snow thought that was probably for show. "I guess that answers one of my questions. Let's go ahead and get to the rest of them." He turned sideways and leaned his shoulder against the cell. "If you and your people weren't making a move against the DLU, we gotta figure out what you were after."

Richardson kept her eyes forward. She didn't say anything.

Russell said, "Come on, major. You don't answer my questions, you're gonna make you ask you a second time. I promise you, whatever you're getting paid ain't worth that."

Richardson rolled her eyes. She didn't move aside from that.

"Ah," Russell said. "You're not getting paid. So this is personal, maybe ideological." Richardson's lips thinned. "I know you've got a team running around my town, so probably not personal." Russell's eyes glittered as he stared at her. He said, "Unless you're running the team. That it, major? How well you think your boys'll do without your command presence?"

Snow watched Richardson's face. She didn't see anything. The woman was keeping her face blank. Her whole body was really stiff.

Russell grunted. "So you are in charge," he said. He must have caught some tiny signal Snow missed. He grinned and said, "Really, Major? All that seniority and you're out in the field alone? What's the matter, the rest of your recruits not quite up to the Air Force standard?" He shook his head. "Well, thank-you, irregardless. Really wasn't sure if you had a team or not. Your van had that strong 'lone wolf' vibe. Now, let's talk about what that team you're not in charge of is doing." He grinned again. "You just keep on singing for me, songbird."

Richardson's jaw clenched in a spasm. The she smiled and looked deliberately at Russell.

She said, "Hey, captain. You got the time?"

Russell went still. He looked at Richardson for a while. Then he lifted his left hand. He had a watch on that wrist. It was turned with the face on the inside. He looked at it and said, "Eighteen-thirteen."

Richardson said, "Good. Hit my head pretty hard, in the van. Worried I might have lost track." She looked at the ceiling and started mouthing something. Snow couldn't read lips, but it looked like maybe she was counting. Russell pulled out his pistol and backed down the hall towards the entrance. He held the pistol up at his chest but pointed it at the ground. He leaned to peek out the door. Richardson ignored him.

Snow took a deep breath. It had been hard to breathe with Russell so close. She thought about trying to leave. That would mean walking past Russell. So close, they might touch. Snow stayed where she was.

The ground vibrated. Snow sat down in her corner with her knees curled up. She covered her head with her arms. The vibration only lasted a second or two, though. It wasn't an earthquake. The building wasn't going to collapse.

When Snow looked up, Russell was back in front of Richardson's cell. They looked like they'd traded faces. Russell's face was hard and blank. Richardson looked like she could break out laughing any second.

Russell said, "Let's have it, major. You left me no time to be nice."

Richardson's smile went a bit plastic. She didn't say anything, though. Russell stared at her hard. Then he straightened up. He checked the entrance, then put his pistol back into its holster.

Russell's face relaxed until he was back to almost-smiling. He said, "No problem, major. Tell you what, I'm gonna go clean up whatever mess your people stirred up." He shifted his weight. "When I get back, I'm gonna have a special room set up for you. Out somewhere private. You and me, we're gonna go over those questions I wanted to ask." Russell's face was right up close to the chicken wire. He said, "Then I'll let my boys go over those question with you. For as long as they need to. Until they're satisfied with the answers. Maybe I'll come back with some follow-up questions. It'll be a productive couple of weeks."

Richardson's face sort of shriveled while Russell talked. She was staring at Russell with an expression Snow had never seen from the outside.

Russell said, "Then we'll drop you off with your team. Some quiet spot where nobody's likely to bother you." His eyes flicked down, then back up to Richardson's face. Then he turned walked out of the lockup.

Snow stayed where she was for a while. Then she stood up. Richardson was still standing in front of her cell door. She looked up and saw Snow. She stepped back and sat down on the bench. She didn't say anything. Snow looked at the door Russell had walked out of.

Snow said, "I keep thinking I've seen how bad it can be."

Richardson blew air between her lips. "Yeah? What are you worried about?" Snow looked at her.

Snow said, "You think if I was like that? If I was like you? Would you be here, telling me how to live my life?" Richardson didn't say anything. Snow felt a little better. After a while, she said, "So do you have anything bigger or not? Bigger guns or whatever."

Richardson looked at the ceiling for a bit. Then she said, "Tell me this, Beavers. You—"

Snow banged the cell door with the outside of her fist. It didn't clang so much as it clunked really loudly. Snow said, "My name. Is Snow." Richardson slowly put her hands back at her sides. Then she carefully sat back down on her bench. The bar Snow had punched was dented.

"Alright," Richardson said. Her voice was that fake kind of calm people used sometimes. Usually when they were scared. Snow's stomach twisted a little. "Guess that detail didn't make it into all the records. So. Snow, then. Officially?" Snow leaned back against the wall again. She nodded. Richardson said, "Well, I guess, good for you." She was quiet. Then she said, "That does fill in some gaps."

Snow said, "Well, good for you." She tried to say it sarcastically. She thought it just sounded tired.

Richardson said, "You weren't hiding, were you. After you escaped the facility in New York. You were just... drifting." Snow thought about when she'd woken up. There had been other bodybags on rows of other tables.

Snow said, "I thought it was a morgue."

Richardson touched her chin with a knuckle. She said, "We haven't been able to find any records of what they were doing in there. But we can guess. They'd probably need a morgue in there, yeah."

The guard had shot Snow in the head. He'd yelled, "Oh fuck!" and shot her right between the eyes. She didn't blame him. She thought if something gets up out of a bodybag and starts walking around, shooting it in the head is a pretty good policy.

What Snow wondered now, is, why did a morgue need an armed guard?

Snow said, "What. What were they. What do you think they."

Richardson stood up and hooked her fingers in the chicken wire. She said, "They were trying to make more of you. Obviously. They were running human experiments. For all we know, SHIELD gave you those powers."

Snow's head suddenly throbbed. She fell down on the floor.

 

Chapter Text

Snow's head felt spinny. She couldn't see very well. Snow wondered if she'd had a stroke or something. She thought that would actually be pretty funny. Gunshots, bridges landing on her, alien invasions, and what finally did her in was high blood pressure.

The air was dusty. It was thick with cement dust. Snow hadn't had a stroke, she'd been pushed off-balance by a pressure wave. Somebody had blown something up. Snow stood.

Richardson was standing flat against the side wall of her cell. She looked at Snow and grinned. She said, "Don't worry. When we get ahold of you, no experiments. We'll just put a bullet in your head."

Snow looked at Richardson's cell door. Where most doors had a latch, this one just had a sort of bulge with a keyhole cylinder in the middle. Snow pressed her thumb against the keyhole and pushed sideways. The metal squeaked and deformed. When Snow let go, the keyhole was just a bumpy seam in the metal. Snow said, "Maybe you can experiment with finding a key that'll open that."

Richardson said, "Hey, fuck you!" to Snow's back as Snow walked out.

Three guys walked into the central office area as Snow came in. They all shot her in the face. Snow picked up a desk and threw across the room at them. They all dove out of the way, then got up and ran out the way they'd come in. Snow rubbed her face.

They'd been wearing old-style camouflage, like Richardson. They weren't carrying hunting rifles. They were carrying some kind of assault rifle, but smaller. Snow rubbed her face again. One of them had shot her in the mouth. She'd felt it hit her teeth.

There were more gunshots from the front area. Snow ran up front and got shot in the side of the neck. She turned to see one of the camo guys right next to her. He looked surprised, but her shot her again. He fired like five or six times before Snow could slap the gun away from him. He screamed and fell over, and started scrambling away. Snow saw blood, but she didn't know where it was coming from.

More gunshots, behind her. Nothing hit her. Snow turned around and saw the dispatch lady crawling out of the door to the radio room. She made it halfway out and laid her head on the floor. Snow ran up next to her. The radio room was small, like a big closet. There were a bunch of holes and chunks punched through one of the walls. Snow grabbed the dispatch lady's collar and dragged her around the corner. The lady was holding onto a big police belt, with all kinds of pouches and stuff. It dragged through the smear of blood the lady left behind her.

Snow rolled the lady over. She was alive, and awake. Snow thought about the first aid stuff Nadine had drilled into her. She said, "Do you know where you're hit?"

"Mmm side," the lady said. Her whole face was tight and sweaty. She had her left elbow clamped to her ribs. Snow could see a little bit of blood starting to spread into her uniform shirt.

"Okay," Snow said. "Let me see if it came out anywhere." She grasped the lady by her shoulders and rolled her a little bit. There hadn't been any wounds in her back, and Snow didn't see any in her right side, either. There also weren't any on her belly or chest that Snow could see. Just the rapidly spreading wetness on her right side.

Snow said, "Can you breathe okay?"

The lady hugged Snow with her bloody right hand. Something whacked Snow in the back of the head, and she heard gunshots. There were more gunshots right next to Snow. Snow wrapped her arms around the dispatch lady and stood up. She hobbled towards the far exit of the office area. The dispatch lady had partly drawn her pistol from her police belt. She was firing behind Snow, with the belt hanging off the end of her gun. Snow felt another punch or two in her back. Then she got herself and the dispatch lady through the door and around the corner.

The dispatch lady said, "Keep going, they—" The wall next to them burst with a bunch of hole. Cement dust went everywhere, and the dispatch lady groaned. Snow flew them both down the hall. She heard more gunshots and cement being chopped through by bullets, behind them.

The dispatch lady said, "Here, right here." Snow stopped next to a big metal door. The lady said, "Hold me up." She pulled out a big set of keys. Snow looked at her. She was almost as short as Snow, but heavy instead of skinny. She didn't look fat, really. She just looked like her perfect weight was a hundred pounds more than average. Her makeup was absolutely flawless. Sweating and being shot and dragged around hadn't smudged it much at all. She looked a little older than Snow. Snow thought she was probably eight or ten years older than she looked.

The door clicked and swung open. There were racks and racks of guns inside. Snow heard something down the hall, where they'd come from. She pulled the dispatch lady into the armory. The lady grabbed hold of one of the racks and shook her pistol until the belt fell off of it. She held it out to Snow and said, "Six rounds left. Safetey's off. Stick your hand out the door and fire them off, once per second."

Snow said, "I don't—" The lady pushed the pistol against Snow's chest and let go. Snow fumbled and caught it. She seated it her hand and walked outside. There were four or five camo guys coming down the hallway. They stopped and shot her.

Dispatch lady yelled, "Hey!" Snow raised the pistol and fired it. She felt bullets hit her knee, thighs, chest, throat, and jaw. She fired again, and again. The pistol jumped in her hand every time. The camo guys backed away, still shooting. They didn't hit Snow much. Snow didn't think she hit them, either. She squeezed the trigger three more times. Then the top part of the pistol slid back and stayed there.

The dispatch lady grabbed Snow's shoulder. She said, "What are you doing, come on!"

The camo guys saw Snow wasn't shooting anymore. Snow said, "Shit!" and wrapped her arm around the dispatch lady. She flew them further down the hall until they could go around the corner at the end. She felt a few bullets hit her in the back. Other cracked against the walls.

Dispatch lady said, "We flew! Oh my god are you okay? Were we just flying? Let me see if you're bleeding!" She tried to lean back and get a look at Snow's body. She was holding a big, military-looking shotgun by the handle.

"I'm okay," Snow said. "You need a hospital."

Dispatch lady said, "Probably, yeah. Son of a beh." Her eyes rolled back, and she sagged.

Snow said, "Hey! Hey!" She laid the lady down. The lady was really, really pale. There was better light, here. Snow could see the lady's makeup standing out from her skin. Snow said, "Hey!" and felt the lady's neck. Snow said, "No, no no!" The lady was completely still. Snow couldn't feel anything in her throat.

She rolled the lady onto her back. She knelt beside her and put the heel of her palm against the lady's breastbone. Keeping her arms straight, Snow pushed down and released. Down, and release. Down, and release. Snow said, "Come on!"

Snow felt a bunch of thumps against her shoulder and the side her head. Dispatch lady's outstretched arm jerked, and a little hole appeared in it. Another hole appeared in her cheek, just off to the side of her lips. It made her whole face wobble.

Snow stood up and turned around. The camo guys were there, peeking around the corner to shoot at her. A noise came out of Snow's throat. She walked towards them. They backed off out of sight. Snow went around the corner and got shot some more. One of them tossed something underhand at her. Snow instinctively slapped it down. It bounced off the floor hard enough to crack the tile, and sailed back past the guy who'd thrown it. Then it exploded.

Snow turned around and fell to her hands and knees. Her stomach was trying to jump out through her throat. She said, "Urk, urk, urk, urk," but nothing came up. She sat back on her shins, put her hands over her face, and screamed. And screamed again. It didn't help. When she took her hands away, she saw they were covered in blood. So were her arms, and her chest, and everything. She screamed some more after that. She lost track of how many times.

After a while she stopped wanting to scream so much. She stood up and didn't look behind her. She didn't need to see where all the pieces had landed. She went back to the dispatch lady. The lady's eyes were open. Snow knelt next to her and tried to push the lady's eyelids shut, but they wouldn't stay down. Snow stayed there for a while. She apologized to the dispatch lady, over and over. The dispatch lady didn't accept any of them.

There were chunks of cinderblock and dust everywhere. Snow stood up and realized there was a big hole in the wall, halfway down the hall. It led outside. The camo guys had blown a hole in the wall to get in. Snow walked down the hallway and out of the hole. She looked around. It was full-on night out. There were a lot, a lot of stars in the sky. Every one of them blazed down at Snow with hatred.

Snow turned around and went back inside. She went through the break room to get to the office area, instead of going down the hallway. The office area had a lot of loose paperwork, all over. Snow had a memory flash of a bunch of papers flying off the desk she'd picked up.

She crossed the office area and went into the lockup. Richardson's cell was open. The lock end was dented and hammered. Snow wondered how the camo guys had gotten it open. Snow looked into the empty cell for a while. Then she went back outside and flew into the sky.

The helicarrier's turbines were running. The sound of it filled the night. Snow wondered how she hadn't noticed before now. She looked and saw smoke and fire around it. It wasn't moving. It looked like some of the support scaffolding was gone. Under the turbines, Snow could hear faint popcorn. She looked up and down the length of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff. She could see some headlights around. None of them looked especially like they belonged to a car driven by a bunch of guys in camo with guns.

Russell had said Richardson was part of a team. Snow wondered how big the team was. Some guys to get Richardson out of the sheriff's office. Some more to stay behind and shoot everybody. Or maybe to get the guns out of the armory. And probably a bunch of guys for whatever they'd done at the helicarrier. Or were doing.

The helicarrier and its fire and popcorn got closer and louder. As Snow looked it over, something exploded and threw fire everywhere. The fire was sticky. It stuck to the side of the helicarrier, it stuck to rocks, it stuck some person who'd been running away. They stopped running and started rolling around.

Snow thought about where Sheriff Mills would be at a time like this.

She flew down. The person was screaming. He sounded like a guy. With screaming, it could be hard to tell sometimes. Snow knelt down and pushed her hands into the ground. She came up with great big handfuls of dirt. She dumped the dirt on the guy. She scooped the ground and threw dirt all over him. She quickly covered him in a pile. He thrashed around in it until Snow couldn't see anymore fire.

Snow got her arms under him and stood up. She flew up and looked around to orient herself. The guy was making these thin whining sounds now. He wasn't moving as much. Snow figured out where the medical center was. It expanded rapidly. Snow landed at a run. When the automatic doors didn't open fast enough, she kicked one of them out of its tracks.

Snow yelled, "Help! Help! Help!" There were people and rolling beds everywhere. One of the nurses rolled an empty bed towards Snow. Snow met her halfway and laid the guy down. He wasn't making any sounds. The nurse leaned over him. Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out a bunch of playing cards. She flipped through them and laid down the nine of clubs.

The nurse said, "I'm sorry, honey." She blinked at Snow, and straightened up. She said, "Hey, are you okay?"

Snow turned around and walked outside.

Dee was waiting for her. Dee's eyes got a little wide when she got a good look.

Dee just said, "Hey, Snow."

Snow studied Dee. She said, "Hey, Dee." Dee's expression was a little too bright.

Dee said, "Things are moving kinda fast around here." Snow didn't say anything. Dee chewed her lip. Then she said, "I guess you don't really trust me right now." Snow still didn't say anything. Dee put her hands in her pockets.

They looked at each other for a while. Dee's face got tighter and tighter.

Finally, Dee said, "Snow, I swear I'm here to help you. To help, like, regular people. These towns. Sheriff Mills. There are people around here who want to hurt them, and I'm here to stop those guys."

Snow felt a shiver run up her ribs. She said, "They came to the sheriff's office."

Dee nodded. She said, "Are you okay?"

Snow's jaw clamped. She said, "I'm always. Okay." She said, "They. Shot." She forced her mouth to open. She took a few breaths through her open mouth. "I don't. Know her name." She drew a full breath, all the way in, through her mouth.

Dee's shoulders hunched. She said, "Snow, we. We have to go. Please, please come with me." Her eyes looked a little like how Snow felt.

Snow said, "Okay." There were headlights coming down the road.

Dee said, "We've got a car, over around the—"

The headlights were coming fast. They screeched to a stop. It was a big, beat-up SUV. All the doors opened, and camo guys got out. They all had little assault rifles.

They pointed them at Snow and Dee and started shooting.

Chapter Text

Snow hugged Dee and turned around. It felt like there was a thunderstorm on her back. Snow hunched over Dee.

The thunderstorm ended after three or four seconds. Snow turned to look. The camo guys were all reloading.

Dee leaned around Snow and said, "Wow, you guys really messed up." She blasted them with some kind of beam from her hand. They all went flying. They bounced into the SUV, and the SUV rolled over onto its side. Dee's hand beam looked like shaky air. Like the exhaust from a jet engine or something, only narrow and focused. And strong enough to knock the hell out of a big truck.

Snow wondered out loud, "What the fuck?"

The camo guys were moving, but they didn't seem ready to get up yet. They got a little more excited when Dee shot one of them. She shot the next and the next and the next, all in a quick line. Then she put her pistol in its holster right above her butt. She turned back to Snow. Snow was staring at her.

"ICER rounds!" Dee said. She held her hands up a bit. "Just ICER rounds! Stun rounds! Autoregulated dendrotoxin dose to keep them out without, you know, taking anybody out.

Snow thought about what to say. She said, "I know what ICER rounds are."

"Yeah," Dee said. "Your file said you were close with an agent?"

"Yeah," said Snow. "Close." She stared at Dee some more. "You're. SHIELD."

"Yeah," said Dee. Snow lifted into the air. Dee called, "Wait-Snow! Please!" Snow kept going until she couldn't hear Dee anymore.

Snow looked and listened. She heard popcorn, here and there. She didn't see many lights on the road. Police and ambulance lights in a couple places. A lot of windows were lit up in the residential area. The wreck of the grocery store was lit up by portable floodlights. There were a lot of cars on the streets around it. Snow didn't see much movement there, though. Wet Mountain Storage didn't have any cars around it. The sheriff's office was still lit up, but no cars there either. The high school had two cars in the parking lot. They weren't going anywhere, just sitting there with their lights on.

Snow looked at the two pairs of headlights at the high school. All the other headlights she could see were going somewhere. The headlights at the school got closer. It was a pickup truck and a car. They were parked at the edge of the lot nearest to the school itself. The headlights were pointed at two people doing something next to one of the entrances. There was a big barrel next to them. As Snow watched, they opened one of the entrance's double doors.

Snow landed on the sidewalk between the entrance and the lot. Her gigantic, blurry shadow spread across the school. The two people at the entrance turned around. They were camo guys. Well, a camo guy and a camo girl. They held their hands up to shield their eyes. Snow walked towards them.

"You shouldn't be here," said the camo girl.

"Get out of here, kid," said the camo guy. Snow didn't say anything. She kept walking.

"Warned, you, dumbass," said the camo girl. She drew a pistol out of the holster on her hip. She shot Snow in the chest. Snow walked up and tried to slap the gun. She accidentally slapped camo girl's hand. Camo girl screamed. Camo guy shot Snow in the side of her cheek. Snow grabbed his pistol and squeezed it. It shattered to pieces with a really loud bang.

"Ah fuck ah fuck!" yelled camo guy. He turned and started to run. Snow flew up and grabbed his arm before he could go very far. Camo girl was grunting. She'd gotten her pistol into her other hand. She shot Snow in the stomach a few times. She was holding her right arm up to her chest. Her wrist was flopped to the side.

"Stop shooting me, idiot," Snow said. Camo girl shot her in the throat. The top of her gun went back and stayed back. Snow dragged camo guy over. She grabbed camo girl by the collar of her shirt. Camo girl grunted some more and hit Snow's arm with the empty pistol. Snow said, "Really?"

Camo girl said, "Earth is for humans!" and spat in Snow's face.

Snow said, "Aw, gross!" She let camo girl go and wiped her face. "What is wrong with you?" When she looked up, the girl was trying to reload the pistol with her good hand. She had the pistol clamped against her ribs with her other arm. Snow grabbed her good wrist and said, "I swear to God I'll break this one too." Camo girl dropped the pistol.

Snow said, "Come here," and walked over to the barrel they'd been setting up. It was a big metal barrel, with old blue paint. There was a big plug in lid. The barrel smelled like gasoline. There was a tablet on top of the barrel.

Camo guy and camo girl were being quiet. Camo guy looked pale. Camo girl looked like she was thinking about spitting at Snow again. Snow didn't know what to do with them. She thought about interrogating them. She was pretty sure they wouldn't tell her anything. They might try to erase the tablet, if Snow tried to make them show her how to use it. She thought about killing them. She remembered the dispatch lady. She thought about the way her whole head had jiggled when a bullet went into it. She thought about how the dispatch lady had kept so calm. How getting shot hadn't even mussed her makeup. How she'd been bleeding and dying, and how her only thought was to get a gun and fight back. Snow looked at camo guy and camo girl and thought about how their faces would look when she squeezed their necks.

Snow said, "Take off your boots." She let go of them. Camo guy dropped to the ground. Camo girl thought about running. Snow stared at her. Camo girl sat down on the ground and started untying her laces. Camo guy was still looking up at Snow. "Go on," Snow said. "Boots. Off." He drew his legs up and started untying his laces.

Camo girl got her boots off first. She stayed sitting, with her broken arm cradled in her lap. When camo guy got his boots off, Snow picked one of them up. She ripped it in half. The leather made a sound like tearing paper, only lower and louder. She picked up his other boot and ripped that one in half. She picked up one of camo girl's boots and ripped it in half. The rubber sole parted with a loud pop. She picked up camo girl's other boot and ripped it in half, too. She dropped the pieces on the little pile of torn boots she'd built between them.

"Go away," Snow said.

Camo girl said, "What?"

Snow said, "Go away," again. "Turn yourselves in, if you're smart. Or don't. Keep fighting, with no shoes and no guns. Die like your friends at the sheriff's office." Snow thought about killing them again. She thought about stepping on their faces, one at a time.

Camo girl got up and started running. When she got to the parking lot, her steps got shorter, but she kept running. Camo guy watched her for a second. Then he got up and ran after her.

Snow picked up the tablet from the barrel. It didn't have a screenlock. The app filling the screen had a street map, done in green lines on a black screen. There were red circles in some places. Snow recognized the map. She'd seen it from above. It was Westcliffe and Silver Cliff. There was a red circle at the school. Snow tapped it. It popped up a dialogue box. The box said, |Enter arming code|.

Snow said, "Oh shit!" and tapped |cancel|. She wondered what the hell to do. The app the tablet was running could probably run on almost any tablet or phone. Anybody who had the app and knew the right code could arm this barrel, or any of the others on the map. Snow thought about the explosion she'd seen near the helicarrier. How the fire had stuck to everything. The whistling sounds that came from the guy's throat. The smell of cooked meat.

Snow wrapped her arms around the barrel and tried to pick it up. It was too big to get a good grip on. She tried squeezing it to get a better hold, but the metal started to deform. She didn't know how firmly the cap was in place. She could picture squeezing too hard, the cap popping out, gasoline or whatever hosing all over the place.

Finally she tipped the barrel forward, got her toes underneath it, and leaned back. She could lift it easily, supporting it with the whole length of her legs and torso. She pushed herself carefully into the air. It was difficult Not physically, but mentally. She'd always flown around Superman-style. Now she was trying to fly almost feet-first, on her back. It was almost like trying to jog backwards. She could feel parts of herself where the lift seemed to be centered. One was high in her chest. She could feel it holding her up. She had two more, one in each foot. She normally had to kind of push with her feet, to move. Now she had to do it backwards. Pulling with her feet, sorta.

She got up about twice as high as the treeline and looked around. She twisted a little over ninety degrees, then started moving. Silver Cliff and Westcliffe passed beneath her. She wasn't sure where the border was.

The wreck of the Westcliffe Super Market was a mix of deep shadow and blinding light. All of the streetlight poles were pointing in crazy directions. None of them were on. Around the edge, there were pole-mounted floodlights. They were powered by noisy gas generators. The area smelled sort of like a dead refrigerator. Despite all the lights and cars and trucks, there wasn't anybody around. Snow guessed they had all found more important things to do.

The sinkhole crater had broken up most of the parking lot directly in front of the store. It had pulled the store itself partway down. But the part of the pad next to the store, to the left, was mostly in one piece. Snow landed carefully and levered the barrel off her feet. She looked around. If it went off, there wasn't anything to burn. And if it spilled, most of it would stay on the cement. Snow wasn't sure how bad it would be if barrels of gasoline or whatever soaked into the earth. She was pretty positive it wouldn't be a good thing.

Snow picked up the tablet. The school circle was now the Lowes circle. There was a circle next to the sheriff's office. There was one that she thought was by the Silver Cliff Town Hall. There were two in the middle of Sheriff Mills's neighborhood, about five blocks apart. There was also a cluster of three or four circles, all together. The cluster was a bit west of Sheriff Mills's neighborhood.

Snow thought about it. The barrels weren't hard to move, but they took time. She couldn't move more than one or two at a time. It would take two or three trips to get rid of the cluster. Until then, if the barrels went off, the destruction around the cluster would probably be about the same no matter how many barrels were there.

She pushed herself into the air and headed towards Sheriff Mills's neighborhood. She got to the block where the barrel was. She looked around. No camo guys visible. She put two fingers on the tablet screen and spread them. The map zoomed in. She studied it and looked around some more. Then she flew down into somebody's backyard. She could smell gasoline. It got really dark at night, here. In New York, DC, and Seoul, the night was always lit up by the city. This backyard was almost pitch black.

Snow fiddled with the tablet and turned on the flash. She shone it around. She found the barrel next to a big plastic play castle with a pink slide. Snow set the tablet on the barrel. She got her toes under the barrel, tipped back, and flew up into the sky. She dropped it off next to the first one, then went back to Sheriff Mill's neighborhood.

She checked the tablet again. The cluster had moved south and east. One of the circles had been dropped off, a little bit south of town.

The other one was in between two houses. She got lucky, she spotted it without even having to zoom in on the map. One of the houses had a light on the side of it. The barrel was almost directly beneath the light. Snow flew down, put the tablet on the barrel, and got her feet under the barrel. She accidentally scraped the barrel against the house as she flew it away.

Halfway to the parking lot, the tablet beeped.

Snow checked it when she landed. All of the circles were mostly filled in. They were all little pie charts. The empty slice was widening. It looked like a bunch of Pac-Mans opening their mouths. Snow said, "Fuck fuck fuck" under her breath.

The parking lot shrunk, then the sheriff's office grew. Snow landed hard enough that the pavement shattered. She looked around. The barrel was next to the front door. Snow walked up to it, got one foot underneath, and boosted it into the air. She slapped her hand underneath and gripped the bottom rim. She leaned back so the barrel fell against her shoulder. She steadied the barrel with her other hand as she lifted into the air again. The sheriff's office shrunk. Silver Cliff shrunk. About halfway, she started pulling with her feet, the way she'd learned to do carrying one barrel at a time. The southern edge of Silver Cliff grew. She checked the tablet as she arced down. She looked around. There was a gas station down there. Snow aimed for it.

She landed at a run so she wouldn't break the pavement again. The barrel she was carrying joggled, but she held onto it. Snow looked around the gas station parking lot. The gas station was closed. There were some security lights on, so it wasn't pitch black. There were trash cans next to all of the pumps. Snow checked them. The one closest to the road had two trash cans. One of them was a barrel. Snow checked the tablet again. The cluster was moving north again. It was about three blocks east, and a few blocks north. She dropped the tablet on the ground.

Snow did her hoist-and-grab move again, with her other hand. The barrels went bong once or twice while she got them balanced. Holding two of them like this, they completely blocked her view ahead. Snow lifted into the air and flew sort of diagonally. Forward enough that acceleration pushed the barrels against her face, sideways enough that she could see a little bit. She went three blocks east, following the road. Then she turned northeast and flew north. She stayed a bit off to the side of the road. She stayed pretty high up, but low enough to clearly see individual cars. There weren't many cars on the road anymore.

One of the cars that was on the road wasn't a car. It was a big truck with a fenced-in bed. It had some barrels in the back.

Snow landed in the back. The truck jounced hard. Snow tipped her barrels forward and let them clangclangclang into the others. Then the truck shrank. Then the truck grew again. The hood came up and hit her feet.

The windshield exploded, and the hood folded and tore. The engine block dropped to the ground scraped against the street. All the tubes and pans and stuff connected to the engine screamed and twisted and sprang apart. The engine jammed against the undercarriage and skidded. Snow stood on it. The walls of the engine compartment came up to her hips. It was like a wading pool. She kept the truck from tipping over as it swerved and squealed to a stop.

When it stopped, Snow tore her way out of the side of the truck. She accidentally booted a wheel across the street. A camo guy was getting out of the driver's side. Snow kicked the door into him. He bounced off the side of the truck and fell to the ground. Snow picked him up and tossed him into somebody's yard.

The passenger's side door was open. Snow didn't see whoever had been in the passenger's seat. She got down on her hands and knees and crawled under the truck. The truck was leaning catty-corner because of the missing wheel. Snow centered herself as best she could figure. She pushed her back into the truck's undercarriage. She spread her arms to the side to distribute the weight more. Carefully, she got her feet underneath herself. She kept her torso curled forward. She wanted as much of her back against the truck as possible. Snow stood up.

The truck was heavy. Her legs didn't want to straighten. She made them do it anyway. She locked her knees so she could stop and catch her breath. She wasn't really out of breath. Her muscles didn't ache, either. She didn't feel tired, the way being tired usually felt. But she could feel something inside her, that kept her going. She didn't have much of it left.

Snow pushed. She pushed harder. She centered herself in her chest. She focused on her feet. She pushed with everything and got up into the air. It didn't get easier. She kept pushing. Silver Cliff slowly got smaller. Snow didn't waste energy turning. She just shifted something in her feet slightly. She sort of pushed a little less with one foot, and a littler harder with the other. She started drifting west. She drifted faster and faster.

The Lowes parking lot slid under her feet. Snow had kept the same altitude the whole way. She didn't want to lengthen the trip by trying to descend before she got to the parking lot. Now she loosened her chest a little. The parking lot got bigger. She was having trouble thinking straight. She wasn't sure exactly where she'd set down the rest of the barrels.

She was still trying to find them when the truck exploded.