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RAY GUN

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The first time Grace sees one, she doesn't know what it is, although she can figure out the gist of it by the way the thing is pointed threateningly at her face. Then someone says, "Jesus, Ghoul, it's a fuckin' kid, slow ya turbines," and then there are far more interesting things to pay attention to.

Later, she finds out what it is. It's an exciting moment for her. She never knew what to make of her cause of death, and no one would ever explain it to her back home.

Back in the city. She's got to stop thinking of places as "home."

*

She makes it to adulthood, to her mild surprise. She's not confident about reaching her thirties, but then it took two months after her eighteenth birthday before she bumped into someone who still bothered to keep track of dates and realized that it had come and gone. Age doesn't mean too much in the zones. If you can shoot straight and you don't jump behind your buddies when the laser blasts start coming in, you'll find a gang no matter if you're six or ninety-four. Zonerunners gotta stick together, 'cause there's nothing else to stick to.

Grace has a gang. It's not as good as her first one, but nobody in it has ever abandoned her to a lifelong guilt complex and a bitter old DJ, so that's something.

She's determined to outlive Battery City, or at least go toe-to-toe with it. She's okay with dying in the middle of the revolution, as long as it's sure to go on without her. As long as there's some purpose to it. Dying for the sake of one person, a mostly useless person who doesn't even know how to hotwire a motorcycle yet, that's just fucking stupid.

*

The paper says RAY GUN. Grace slowly sounds out the words. They don't make any sense.

"The Killjoys," says her father, hushed like he thinks she can't hear.

"We'll just have to keep her away from the city walls as much as we can," says her mother. She takes the paper away from Grace.

"What's a ray gun?" asks Grace.

"Don't worry about it," says her father. "Just stay close to grownups when you're outside, and never go out of the city. There's lots of scary things out there."

Grace likes scary things. She likes the swooping feeling she gets in her stomach when she's scared. It's like the feeling she used to get when she tied a rope to the chimney and swung from it, before they caught her and took it away. They always take away the stuff she likes.

*

Ray guns don't only exist in the desert, Grace learns the first time the dracs attack. She's seen dracs before, although they never called them that in the city. The kids called them "guards," and the adults didn't talk about them.

She never saw them with guns. They probably had them, hidden.

They don't hide them when they attack the Killjoys. They're shooting the second their cover is blown, and the Killjoys shoot back, all standing tightly in a line in front of Grace so she can't see anything.

After that fight, she tells them she wants to learn to shoot. They teach her, but they tell her it's just for emergencies, only if she needs to defend herself. She's not allowed to shoot dracs if they're there to shoot them for her.

Grace thought getting out of Battery City meant the end of being not allowed to do things. All grownups are the same, apparently.

*

After they all die because the bastards think she's too incompetent to escape from the city, like she already did once, Grace makes a rule. Anyone she runs with has to promise not to do reckless stupid shit to save her. There's a difference between having a pal's back in a tight spot and essentially committing suicide like a dumbass, and she doesn't appreciate the survivor's guilt.

This rule takes a while to formulate. When it first happens, all she knows is that she feels awful and angry and like it's her fault even though she knows it's not. It takes a few years and a few life lessons for her to be able to articulate why she's pissed at them. Dr. Death Defying never understands why she's not just grateful, and that's why she doesn't stay with him long.

*

"What's that?"

Ghoul twirls it around his finger. "Ray gun. They don't have those where you come from?"

Jet grabs the end of it. "Knock it off, you're gonna shoot somebody."

Grace stares at it, beaming. "I'm going to get killed by one of those," she announces.

Party Poison snorts. "Yeah, out here that's a good bet. Don't go jumping in front of them."

She tries to explain, but they don't really listen. They never really listened.

*

It doesn't make much of a difference in her life. She's always known that every fight could be her last.