Disclaimer: While I claim all work in this story is original, it is inspired by my love of Yu Aida's Gunslinger Girl manga.
Daughters of Icarus Volume 1: Prologue
In spite of the tension evident in everyone, the mall looked the same as Before. People walked hand in hand. The food court was aglow with conversation. Shoppers exited shops, most more laden than when they entered. Everyone lived their lives with purpose, with determination. Everyone lived as if this was the last day, and they strove to enjoy it to the fullest.
Cali was only eight when Before ended, when the Change thrust itself upon the world. Her memories, muted and hazy, still were sufficient to see how the Change affected everyone. She saw the strides were faster, shorter. Conversation was animated, but with a sharper edge to the words, more animation to the gestures. More of the shops sold practical goods, not the jewelry, fancy clothing, nor the whims of life in Metro West Coast as it was Before the Change.
Cali studied the bright and wide outdoor goods store, remembering when it was once full of toys and smiles. Bright pastels were replaced by sterile white walls, while black, ominous firearms stood in stark contrast. She tried to find in the store where the wooden cars play-table one sat, where she spent many happy times after being jostled as she trailed her mother, hand-in-hand.
It was gone.
Much of Before was gone. Clothing could still to be found, but the practical sort: generous pockets everywhere, colours drab and earth tone in hue. Shoe stores now offered ugly, sturdy, lugged boots, not those of shiny patent leather with inverted spires for heels. Other stores marketed wares reflecting the Change: medical packs, static foodstuffs, and comm-units.
To Cali, these changes over the past three years seemed natural, given the scenes of post-Hellgate carnage she saw on her PangeaNet Access Device. To her mother, these changes were the sign of a cancer progressing to the terminal stage.
Antigone Ramsey-Reynolds gave her daughter's hand a reassuring squeeze, more to comfort her own spirit than Cali's. She disliked crowds. Parkview Mall had strong security - eye-scanners to enter the complex, armed and uniformed security pairs performing passing eye-checks at random. Nevertheless, dense crowds were prime Reaper hunting grounds.
She held up her own PAD and scanned the shopping list. With her OverEye, she navigated down to "water purification tablets," tightened her jaw, and blinked twice. A check-mark appeared next to the list item. That was the last item. She knew Metro West Coast took care to ensure all infrastructure was secure and pristine, including the water system.
However, the fact weighed heavily on her mind that no one knew why people, normal, ordinary people would change into Hive Kings and Queens. The rumour it was the water caused a shortage of carbon and osmotic filters, iodine purification tabs, and anything else that claimed to cleanse the water. It took almost half a year for the panic to subside.
The tablets were easily purchased now. As a physician, Antigone realized the water was as valid a vector as anything else. Whatever the pathogen that made people start building Hellgates, the best researchers worldwide could not isolate it.
"Okay, honey. We're all done. Let's head home."
"Yes, Momma. Can we go to the park instead?"
Antigone contemplated the risks, then glanced at her daughter. Calliope has been so down lately. Besides, there's no one home to go home to. Banishing that echo from her mind, she willed a grin to her lips. "All right. To the park it is!"
She took a step, but the little hand didn't move.
"What's wrong, Cali?"
"Uh, Momma?" Cali pouted and let her forehead crinkle slightly.
Antigone smiled wider. She knew this look. "Yes, love?"
"Could we go for some ice cream?"
"Is your bunk clean?"
"Really? I don't want to see dirty clothes hanging over my face tonight."
"Yes, Momma. It's clean."
"All right. Ice cream, then the park!"
Sullivan's Ice Cream was as good as Cali remembered, even though it was fudge this time. Sullivan's managed to always have a handful of flavours, no matter how tight supplies were. Cali liked the chocolate chip ice cream best, but it was victim of yet another shortage.
As they neared the doors to Metro Transit, they found themselves facing a small crowd. Antigone conferred with one of the nearby people, then crouched and said to Cali, "They're trying to get some eye scanners in here, but it's stuck. I'm afraid we'll just have to wait, love."
Cali nodded, but her neck tightened somewhat. Why does that sound wrong? This question helped her wait quietly. Thinking of reasons, especially ridiculous ones, reduced the knot in her neck down to but a tingle.
The crowd cheered.
Cali tugged at her mother's hand.
Antigone crouched again and said, "Okay, I think they got it through. Now, hold on tight, I don't want to lose you."
"Yes, Momma. But..."
"If we get separated, you know what to do, right?"
"Yes, Momma. Meet you at the Public Safety station on this floor. But, Momma?'
The crowd groaned.
"Hold that thought, sweetie. I'll go see what's wrong now." She rose from her crouch.
As Antigone conversed with another shopper, Cali tugged at her hand again. "Momma? It's important. Momma, please!"
Antigone lowered herself again and sighed. "Great. Now they're going to make us wait until they set it up. All that for one single scanner. I guess they're going to scan us coming and going now."
That alleviated Cali's fear somewhat. She nodded.
"Now, what was it that was so important?"
"I was going to say that we get eye-scanned before we enter the mall, not after. Sorry, Momma."
"That's all right. It's good thinking, too. Keep sharp, right?"
"Uh-huh!" Cali gave a nod.
Still, something bothered her. She thought back to how she and her mother came in this morning.
We waited for the eye-scanner at our Metro Transit stop, got on the transit, got eye-scanned by MT Security, got off the transit, walked through the one-way skybridge to the mall, and waited for the eye-scanner here.
Over and over again, she made the journey. Over and over, she imagined herself at each phase: the queues to enter the station, the tube-like Metro Transit car, the one-way tube, and the queues to enter the mall.
Cali's question was drowned out by the cheers.
"Hold on tight now, okay?"
"Yes, Momma. But, why are they only setting up one scanner? Don't they always set them up four at a time?"
The crowd bunched tighter, trying to form a queue where once was a flock.
"I don't know, little love. Maybe this one is a new one, and can scan us four times as fast?"
From the front someone shouted, "It's not an eye-scanner, it's a Hellgate! It's a Hellgate! Run!"