To complete the illusion of dropping off the prisoners somewhere near the cauldren they returned in the late evening, and flew in from the west. Night flying was something that Angel generally avoided, but he had managed to coax his onboard radar to life for the short, circuitous flight from the airport to the city.
She was quiet during the flight and just enjoyed the darkness in the air. It was a new experience being up in the machine at night. With no light coming from anywhere it was like floating in nothingness, an almost nonexistence experience. She tried to let the day fall away, to meditate in a way. It was a welcome escape from the conflicting feelings that were to come.
The hum of the engines filled her body and clouded her mind with white noise. She breathed. Bumps and shudders buffeted their journey and served to reset her thoughts when they started to wander. With her desires sated earlier that day, she had nothing but peace on the flight to the city.
* * *
Landing was also tricky without an illuminated pad to drop down on. Once down he festidiously brushed down the booms and checked over his machine as he always did. The new bird had a couple of extra filters and the fluid lines were less stock than his previous machine. He had to borrow a lot of parts to get this one up in the air, so things were odd. It worked fine, and in fact had greater range than his old one. Still, he missed the old bird. It had served him well, as it served everyone in his life now.
Hope, still quiet, went on ahead to the bar. The idea of walking in with Angel gave her a weird sensation that she wasn’t entirely clear about. Side by side with this man, this brother that she just bedded not a few hours ago brought on some sort of guilt or thought of an obviousness that would be apparent to everyone looking on. They wouldn’t know, of course, but did they suspect, had they always? She didn’t know, and didn’t want to enter the room alongside him. They were not together, they shouldn’t be seen as such.
She wondered about him anyway, on the walk to the building. If they were together, would that be normal, could she be normal, was there a point to being normal in the afterworld? She felt as though she was more useful the way she was, a passionate killer. Briefly she was disgusted with herself as she thought about executing the men that day, but that feeling was quickly subdued with the strange, erotic tingle that had accompanied the event. Her thoughts shifted to the sex with Angel and how complete it made her feel.
Making a deal with herself, she decided that she was going to stop killing, stop fucking, just stop. It was just too weird. Celibacy, this, she decided, was her normal. She would work in the garden, or the hospital, training herself to gain pleasure from those things. Maybe it wouldn’t bring her the same joy, but she wouldn’t have to think about being looked at in that way that made her think they knew. She wouldn’t have to live thinking she was a freak who gets off on killing. The message in the sand, that wasn’t just a message to The Dragon. It was something she was trying to tell herself. NO MORE.
* * *
Jim and Cindy were waiting at a table off to the side when Hope entered the bar. She was met with cheers and applaus that she begrudgingly accepted. These people, they didn’t know what happened, they didn’t know she had defied their orders and her mother’s wishes. The accolades only served to bombard her with guilt and she sulked over to the table to get out of the spotlight.
Her hands were shaking a little. Jim settled one of them with his and said, “Hey, thank you for carrying out their sentence. You don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s done.” Jim had no doubt that she had killed the men, but chose his words in an effort to maintain the appearance that she had simply sent them into exile.
Hope now wished she had waited for Angel so that he could deflect some of the attention away from her. The odd sensation of walking in with him would have been miles better than standing alone before her mother with a monumental lie buried deep in the pit of her stomach. Maybe he would have pulled out the asshole version of himself and taken the brunt of the attention that she felt now centered on her from every corner of the bar. Most of the women would have nothing but praise for her having killed those men, but she still felt their stares as if they knew the truth, but were still angry that she betrayed her own mother. It was compounded by the guilt of taking such pleasure in the act. Was she out of control? Did her bloodlust drive her to kill them, or was it enough that it was the logical thing to do. Both sides of her were aligned to do it, but to take such pleasure made the lie all the more horrific.
“Thank you, Jim. I was the logical choice,” she said with a little quiver in her voice. “Do you actually serve drinks here?” She wondered if a real drink would settle her nerves and conflicted emotions.
“Of course!” Jim laughed, and went to the bar to fetch a bottle.
Hope couldn’t bring herself to look at her mother. She stared down at her hands on the table, not knowing what to say, if anything.
Cindy wasn’t sure how to let her daughter off the hook. She knew that her wishes were not carried out, but she also knew that Hope did the right thing, the logical thing, the best thing she could have done for everyone, including her. In a way, Hope was the one who let her mother off the hook. She did her the greatest favor, letting her maintain her principles.
“Daughter,” Cindy said, “you will always be that to me. I will love you no matter what,” and smiled. She placed her hands over Hope’s.
“Mother, I –” Hope couldn’t think of anything to say. Her stomach was full of conflict.
“You don’t have to think about it anymore, like Jim said. It’s all done, they’re gone.”
In her mind Hope went back to flying in the darkened sky to recapture anything of that peace that she could. Her mother’s words hadn’t yet struck her, but the tone was enough to settle her a little. She breathed a deep breath and closed her eyes, nodding as she exhaled having subconciously heard her mother’s intent.
Jim returned with a bottle of bourbon and four shot glasses. “I assume the other kid is showing up soon,” he said.
“He was polishing his bird when I left him,” Hope blushed, not intending to make a euphemism wiht her attempt to lighten her own mood. Her body warmed rapidly as her thoughts reached back to the hangar and she feared that her mother could somehow read her mind. Her heart sank.
She tried to grin it off to her mother and Jim and just when she had the sense of her regained composure, the man himself walked through the door. Cheers and applause greeted him, just as they had greeted her. He gave a modest nod toward the crowd of women gathered around the bar and made his way directly to the table.
“What did I miss?” He asked.
“Nothing yet,” Jim said, not really wanting to rehash any of the conversation to that point. Hope was grateful for that.
He poured out four glasses of unmodified Louisville bourbon, grabbed one and raised it into the air just below eye level. Taking a deep breath, he paused to search for the words.
“You three,” he stopped again and choked up.
Hope was grateful that the attention was off of her, however, she could see that Jim was really struck by something he was trying to say. She grabbed her glass and raised it up to meet his. Angel and Cindy did the same.
Jim’s eyes welled up with tears.
Cindy stepped in to finish Jim’s thought for him, “To family.”
* * *