Well, this was distressing.
The first thing Max noticed was the dizzying state of his vision. The range was too wide, and things disappeared straight in front of him. He shook his head and blinked his eyes. It didn't help.
The second thing he noticed was the feathers. Instead of his ratty clothes, all he saw as he looked down at himself were dusty, black feathers. He reached to touch them, and his arms wouldn't move quite right.
Were those… Those were wings. He had wings.
Hm. That wasn't right.
He looked down again, and lifted one clawed foot, then the other. He stretched his wings and examined them almost fearfully. Okay, so he was a bird now. Weird, but not the end of the world, he tried to convince himself, trying very hard not to panic at this point.
He looked up at the old woman who had just a moment ago been spouting an array of fairytale-sounding curses at him. She was smiling now. This was all very confusing to Max. He wasn’t sure what he had done to offend her other than refuse to drive her around to whatever place it was she had asked about. He had never even heard of the place before, and he certainly wasn’t a taxi service to every wastelander who asked. He was a little rude, maybe, but he didn’t think that was quite worthy of being turned into a bird. Or maybe drugged with hallucinogens. That actually seemed like a more likely scenario right now, he realized.
She laughed down at him, not cruelly, but genuinely amused. “Only your littlest sister can save you now, scav.”
Max looked up at her like she was crazy and took a few steps back.
“And good luck with that, loner that you are,” she chuckled, taking a step forward and easily negating Max’s scramble backward. “Seven days of silence,” she said like a warning, leaning down and giving him a tap on the beak. “That’ll be your freedom.”
Max turned and half ran, half hopped, nearly tripping over his own feet just to get away. He glanced over his shoulder, but the woman wasn’t following. She watched him with a smirk, then turned and left. Max made his way back to his car, his legs shaking.
He didn’t actually feel drugged. Everything was clear and stable, and he still felt like he had as much control of his mind as he ever did these days. It was just that he was a bird. He walked in slow circles around his camp, hoping to wake up from this weird dream. But dream or not, the best thing to do was to deal with the problem. Not that he knew how, but he couldn’t just wait around for it to somehow fix itself out here. As the sun beat down unusually harshly on his black feathers, he eyed the open window of his Interceptor.
It turned out flying wasn’t as easy as birds made it look. It took him a while just to get off the ground, and even then, he rammed into the door more than a few times before he finally got himself up high enough to reach the window and stay up there without falling back to the ground. He opened his beak and panted in the heat, realizing his body wasn’t cooling the way his human body would. He peered in the side mirror, but found it uncomfortably strange to see a large raven staring back and mimicking all his movements, and he had to look away quickly.
Eventually he accepted that he had to leave his Interceptor behind. It was a struggle to open his canteens for water, he couldn’t get to most of his supplies of food, and certainly couldn’t drive the car. Reluctantly, he flapped away, knowing he had a long flight ahead of him. He crashed to the ground more times than he would admit, but eventually got the hang of flying and made his way across the wastes.
It was days later by the time he reached the Citadel, exhausted, hungry, and desperately thirsty. He nearly crash landed at the foot of the largest tower, where the water distribution tanks sat, free for anybody to use as they needed.
He hopped under one of the tanks, hiding in the shadows, and eyed the spigot thirstily. He watched people come and go, filling jugs and bottles, but each was careful not to spill a drop. He had no way to turn on the spouts himself, and was beginning to lose hope that he’d be able to get water here when a girl approached, carrying a pail in each hand.
He watched her fill one, and he inched forward slowly. She put the full bucket down and started filling the second one, and Max swooped in. He perched on the edge, quickly scooped some water into his beak, and tipped it back toward his throat. It wasn’t a particularly quick or satisfying way to drink, but he took in as much as he could, beakful by beakful until the girl finally finished filling the second pail and noticed him as she turned.
“Hey! No! Get away!” She waved her arms and Max scrambled back with a startled caw. She continued after him until he flew up to the top of one of the tanks and perched, watching her cautiously. The girl eyed him just as cautiously, then picked up her pails of water and left. Max croaked to himself. That would have to be enough for now. Filling his stomach with water had helped his almost painful hunger some, but he knew it wouldn’t last, so he turned his attention to finding food, hopefully before he collapsed from exhaustion.
Max could hardly fly anymore, worn out and weak with hunger, so he walked cautiously among the people at the foot of the Citadel (running or hopping away occasionally if someone made a move toward him), looking for something - anything - he could steal. He saw a number of people eating ration squares, or bowls of soup, or the occasional piece of fruit or vegetable, but they all kept their food close. Finally, as the sun sunk lower on the horizon, he found a man sitting on a rock, munching on what looked like some kind of biscuit, another one sitting on the rock beside him. Max snuck up behind him, snatched the second biscuit and hopped away like his life depended on it.
He found a safe place to perch, and pecked at the biscuit hungrily. It was tough, and he ended up having to pin it down with one foot as he bit pieces off, but even that didn’t work very well. He learned quickly that big bites didn’t work, and attempting to chew his food just ended up with more food falling out of his beak than staying in it. He quickly pecked up the crumbs he had spilled everywhere, then took smaller bites off of the biscuit, ones that he could swallow down with minimal fuss.
The biscuit was half gone by the time he finally felt his hunger subside, and he peered down at it, feeling a little guilty for stealing it from someone who certainly didn’t deserve to be stolen from. He picked up what was left and headed back toward where he had found it. The man was still sitting there, slouching, looking a little forlorn. Max carefully placed the half-biscuit next to him and hurried away again.
He settled into the tight space under the water tanks again as the sun set, and his exhaustion quickly set in, dragging him into the depths of sleep within minutes.
In the morning, a young boy took pity on him as Max eyed the water spigots again and stretched his sore wings. The boy scraped the last of his breakfast out of the bowl he was holding and stretched to reach the spigot, pouring a little bit of water in it and setting it down for Max. Max approached cautiously, well aware that it could be a trap to lure him within reach, but the boy crouched unmoving, watching with wonderment as Max started to drink, tipping mouthfuls of water down his throat until he finally felt satisfied. He gave the boy a nod in thanks, then flew up to the safety of the top of the water tanks. His wings hurt but he only had a little farther to fly. He turned to the spire across from him, took a deep breath, and leapt off the tank. He had no idea what he was going to do. He just didn’t know where else to go.