The Downpour

BY MISFIRE ANON

Saren looks up from the equilateral triangle he’s been scratching into the ground.

“It’s going to rain,” he says.

Oh, you have no idea how hard. Saren’s seen rain, but never from a sky like this.

“Do they hurry up if it’s going to rain?”

“Nah, I don’t think so. Look, there’s a schedule right there. They’re not going to show up for at least fifteen minutes.” Desolas tucks his chin in, thinking hard about why that might be so. “One must’ve just left,” he deduces.

“We came out too early, then.”

“We’re fine. It’s actually quite nice out.”

It isn’t. An oppressive chill lies over the courtyard, so different from the warmth and the sunshine of five hours ago. The sky is a ghastly yellow above their heads. Or perhaps more of a deep ochre, since by his cheap plastic watch it won’t be long before nightfall and the sun can’t ignite the clouds from behind quite like it used to. He hasn’t seen a sky this bad since the time the river flooded and took out the footbridge. It’s going to rain. It’s going to pour. And he’s short an umbrella.

“I don’t like it.” Saren tugs on his sleeve, accidentally hitting a button on his watch and turning on the flashlight. The thin white beam hits the ground exactly where one of the vertices of the triangle would have been, had Saren somehow managed to mark the concrete. “I want to go back inside.”

“Only a couple of minutes left. Just wait with me.”

“It’s really…wet. My nose feels stuffy.”

“I see. It’s kind of uncomfortable for me, too.” He sniffs the air. Not too bad, really. Casually pats his brother’s collar. “The last time it rained this hard, you were smaller than that stuffed varren we saw back in the store.”

“I know.” His mandible twitches. Yeah, annoyed all right. “You told me.”

“Heh, yeah.”

“It was here, too, right?” He gestures toward the hospital’s doors.

“That’s right.” Desolas pats him again. Today, he feels especially small and fragile for some strange reason. “But you were inside.”

“Can we go inside again, then?”

Sneaky little thing. “No.”

“I shouldn’t have made you buy this.” Saren shoves the box towards him, rattling all the little metal pieces inside. He can hear the noise even through the unopened wrapping. “Let’s give it back.”

“Why would you want to give it back?”

“So we can take the skycar.”

Desolas sighs. “Look, only ten more minutes to go. Way too much bother to go and refund it. Let’s just wait.”

“Mama said to take the skycar.”

No, she said to get something we like. Or take the skycar. You’ve already picked.”

“But you haven’t.”

Saren’s quiet for a little while. Desolas takes the time to look around. A few grown-ups are out and about, but they seem to be in a hurry—every last one of them. He thinks about getting an umbrella from the store, real quick, but decides against it. The checkout might be really long.

Saren pipes up again. “It’s not fair that I got to pick for you.”

“I want to play, too,” he lies.

“You don’t want to go home sooner?”

“No.” He pulls a face. “What’ll we do there? It’ll be too wet for anything. The quad’ll be all muddy and disgusting. Why would you want to go home?”

“I don’t know,” he admits, a little reluctantly. His voice is very small; his feet are fidgeting. “I don’t like waiting.”

“Don’t like it much, either.” He looks up at the steadily darkening sky. “I want to be back quickly. I’ve actually got a lot of homework to do.”

“What if we miss their call because we don’t get back fast enough? What’s going to happen?” Saren’s grabbing his arm again, tiny, bare talons digging into his thin sleeve.

“Huh? Nothing’s going to happen. They wouldn’t call us so soon. They said a day, at least. And only if there’s an emer… emerg… a big hurry.” Desolas frowns. “You don’t have to worry, okay?”

Saren’s definitely worrying. His face is buried against Desolas’ ribs. He’s shivering—should it be this cold, even in the last throes of summer? He’s dropped the box, too wide for one hand to hold. Desolas can see a dented corner in the previously pristine packaging, the paper rippled and torn.

Desolas holds his brother tight.

“I don’t want to wait.” Saren’s muffled voices issues from somewhere around his keel.

“Nothing else we can do.” He thinks about picking up the box, but decides to rub his brother’s back in small circles instead. It seems to make him feel better when mama does it, at least. “Well, we can try calling her in the morning.”

“Still be worried all night.”

Desolas sighs. Aptly put, Saren. He thinks hard. “I know! We can game. Mama won’t be there to tell us to go to bed.” He puts on his best wicked grin. “Any game.”

Saren shakes his head, facial plates bumping into his ribs. He can’t help but start to laugh, a few small chortles turning into guffaws before Saren pulls away, confused.

“That tickles.”

Saren continues to shake his head. “Don’t want to game.”

“We can look through mama’s old schematics.” Both of them liked to do that when their mother wasn’t around; the weapons schematics are infinitely fascinating—and completely incomprehensible. It’s never stopped them.

Saren’s face is scrunched up in that expression again. The one he wears when he’s taking needles in the upper arm, needles that they say might give him a chance. A chance at what, Desolas doesn’t know. Only that the alternative is frightening, even to mother.

“That’s not what you want, either?”

“I want mama to explain them. I don’t think that tube launches knives.”

“Of course it does. Don’t be thick.”

Saren looks unconvinced.

A gust of wind picks itself up from the shadowed alleyways and sprints by, sending the tail of Desolas’ jacket flapping and a fresh bout of shivers through Saren’s small frame. The box topples onto its broad side. He can’t hear the clattering of the metal pieces this time. He can, however, feel the clattering of Saren’s mandibles; his own are doing the same thing. The sky is the colour of old vatgrown.

“You know what, let’s call them tomorrow morning, before they can call us. She’ll be awake by then. They’d be done with the first part of the operation.”

“I think I should stay.”

“You?” He smirks. “You’ll just get around their spurs.” He finally picks up the box and props it against his hip, forming a makeshift wind barrier for the both of them. Saren nuzzles him, perhaps in thanks. He begins to rub Saren’s fingertips, hoping the friction will keep them warm.

“You’ll see,” he continues. “Mama will bring lots of sweets when she comes home, just like she always does. We’re all good. Except for getting soaked.” He glances skyward, as if his eyes can hold back the downpour. “I can’t believe it hasn’t been fifteen minutes yet.”

Saren sniffles mournfully.

“Well, we’ll just have to wait. Nothing to it.” He stomps his feet, toes curling in his shoes. The weather is getting too cold, even for him. The clouds seem positively pregnant with raindrops. That RT better show up soon.

But in the end, both the rain and the hospital call found them first.

EXTRA SCENE – Schema

He’s finally had enough.

“Stop.”

Nihlus’ hands stop dead over the scope he was just about to pick up. “What?”

“That’s not the proper layout.”

He elbows Nihlus out of the way and gets to work.

“This is.”

From the top left. The exchangeable magnetic strip for special adherence. The magnifier and scope–Nihlus almost touched that with his dirty glove. The electronics module containing the majority of firing correction algorithms and hardsuit syncing capabilities. The ammunition blocks, in order of tungsten content (the order is important. Your hands remember; makes it easier.)

Then the upgrades to ammunition. They are choosing between several, so the order is by price. Kinetic coils and heat sinks below that, beside the body of the rifle itself. Rail extensions. The mass effect core, fragile by comparison, lies dead centre on the table. A recent purchase that cost no small amount. And finally, the combat scanner.

Nihlus immediately sticks his hand in and snatches one of the rail extensions. “I’ve never seen this one before.” Underneath all the rest? What a surprise. “What are the specs? Do you know?”

It launches knives.

“It’s a recent invention,” he says.

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