Astra sat outside the café with her feet on the bench, and with her knees up against her chest. Glen, Harold, and Leslie hung around like puppies for her attention. The driverless cars provided a summer breeze as they hummed by.
Glen sipped his drink straw and commented, “You should go out with me.”
Astra shook her head, looking across the street towards the fountained park. “I only go for tall, thin, emancipated men.”
Harold laughed and jabbed Glen. “She wants Leo.”
“Has his face cleared up?” Leslie asked. They scowled at him. Blemishes were a problem for all of them.
Astra reached across herself for some more tuber fries. Glen stared at her. Harold watched the streets for anyone interesting. Leslie was scrolling through something on his phone.
A huge bang sounded. Everyone stood up and looked down the street wondering if they should go towards it to see, or run away now. A large grey cloud of dust came their way. Leslie was looking at the dust settling on his arm. He rotated his arm inspecting the grey specks. He returned to keying into his phone to try to find news of the source of this event, which was still occurring in real time.
Glen was looking around to see how others were reacting. Astra was still on the café bench, but off her butt and perched now like a bird.
More sky-filling bangs and thunder were heard. Two vehicles were thrown into the sky. Far higher than they should have been able to hover. The vehicles were damaged with crushed and twisted front ends. A few of the cars had turned and were racing away from the noise and smoke. They must have had some sort of illegal override to be able to leave the scene of an accident.
Was it an accident?
“It’s an Gman.” Leslie announced reading off his phone.
“What kind?” Harold asked.
“It’s not going to be an army guy.” Glen said, guessing more than knowing. “It’ll be a gang guy. Army Gmen are not allowed in populated areas until they’re decommissioned. They have to get their enhancements nerfed before they can live with everyone else. It’s a gang guy. He’s over-juiced himself. Probably blew himself up.”
Police hovered past them, much higher than other vehicles were regulated to climb. The sirens hurt their ears. Once they passed, people began to move again along the streets. Cars horns sounded impatiently, as if the roads should be instantly cleared by the arrival of the police alone.
“Leo lives that way.” Astra said. She sat normally now. Her head down with worry. She pushed the tuber fries away from her.
Leslie was still looking at the dust on his arm and clothes. He sniffed the dust and then licked his arm as if the taste would help him identify it. “Weird. It’s like burnt, or something.”
Glen looked at him appalled. “It’s like burnt? It’s dust, Leslie. It’s burnt dust. You want me to get you a cup of hot water? You can make a tea out it.”
“They’re not saying much.” Leslie said, reading from his phone. “They haven’t identified the gang member at this time. He was like nine-two. Double jointed knees, double jointed elbows.”
“Gross.” Harold said. “I get freaked out by the ones who make themselves into giants.”
“Oh, remember Carterway?” Glen said. “He got bounced off that team when they found out he was enhanced. His career was over.”
A tall, thin, emancipated young man covered in grey dust came up the walkway. Astra ran to him and wrapped her arms around him almost in tears. Leo stood dumbly, looking down at her in surprise but also distracted at what he just walked away from.
“What happened?” Harold asked.
Leslie kept scrolling his phone not looking up. “Why ask him? Eyewitnesses have been proven, again and again, to be the most unreliable source of news.”
“It was an alien.” Leo announced.
“See? Brzzz!” Leslie said, making a noise like a game show buzzer. “Wrong answer, Leo. It was a Gman. That’s confirmed by the police. By the Army. And by Entertainment Six.” Leslie held up his phone as conclusive proof.
“No, no… this guy… this thing… was ten feet.”
“Nine foot two.” Glen corrected.
“Its arms and legs were torn. You could see veins, but they were blue and green. Some white stuff. And the limbs… you could see bones and veins… I saw them. They were veins, not plastic and piping.”
“The blue and green stuff are lubricants, and the white stuff is ointment.” Harold argued. “You know, your body rejects enhancements? People get all sorts of sores and stuff from them. Diseases, too. I knew this one guy in a gang who had to put cream on his knuckles every night. He had them plastic hard plated. He kept getting boils and skin separation.”
“When did you know someone in a gang?” Glen challenged.
“He spoke. It wasn’t a voice like us.”
Leslie interrupted, still staring into his phone, “It’s a speech box. They’ve been around forever. It’s just an implant.”
Astra got Leo to sit on the bench and then she seemed to wrap herself around his torso and shoulders. He was too stunned to enjoy the affection from her. Leo looked over his shoulder to Leslie who was scrolling away on his phone. “What’s it say?”
“It’s wasn’t an alien, Leo.” He held up his phone. “Everyone has one of these, and the police body cams are public. It would get recorded. And there never has been. Not once. There’s no aliens.”
“He’s shrooming.” Harold said, nodding wide-eyed.
Astra reached over the table to shove him. “He does micro doses for his anxiety. It doesn’t hallucinate him!”
“It was an alien. It wasn’t a person. I know it was.”
“Okay, don’t.” Astra held him. “Don’t say it anymore. It’s alright.
“How did it get here?” Glen challenged.
“I don’t know, I heard the bang and went to see what was happening. There was a lot of dust. Dust everywhere. Like there was a crash, or a landing. Part of the road was broken up and caved in where the thing was.”
“And were there pixies with that fairy dust?” Glen teased.
Astra looked daggers over Leo’s shoulder at Glen, who shut up red faced.
“Aww, they’re redacting it now.” Harold continued his play by play from his phone news feed. “All the articles are being pulled away. Section yadda yadda of the Secrecy Act, all inquiries directed to… and the Secrecy’s Act is disappearing, too. Entertainment Six is doing a ‘correction to our previous story’. You know what’s going on? I bet it was a soldier. An augmented genuine Gman. They don’t want people to think one of them is out of control so they say it’s a gang member. A basement surgery enhancement. They probably got so many questions about that, they decided to pull the whole story and cover it up under the secrecy act.”
“We could go down there.” Glen stood up and starting walking. Harold joined him, and Leslie followed with his phone almost attached to his nose.
Astra squeezed Leo and wiped the dust from his cheeks and petted his hair.
“I saw the police reach for him. It. It laughed when they called him a Gman. It said, ‘This is my form. I am not one of your experiments. But you wait… you keep trying... you will become us. It’s voice was all, like glass and metal.”
Astra slapped his shoulder. “That doesn’t even make sense. Don’t talk like that. You’re freaking me out.”
Leo nodded and wrapped an arm around her. He looked into her face and then kissed her. She unwrapped herself a bit and sat beside him holding his hand.
“Have you been taking your meds?” She asked.
Leo shrugged and looked away, annoyed.