Thane glanced up at the mention of her name. The sleepy-eyed woman behind the tall, polished counter turned her gaze all around the waiting room, lips pursed. Thane stopped picking at the stray thread on her black and red striped knee high stockings and rose to her feet. She straightened her flared, black skirt and clopped across the room on heavy black boots.
The clerk’s chest expanded as she prepared to call out again, but Thane stepped up to the counter before she had a chance. The woman behind it glared at her with flinty eyes, though a faux smile was plastered across her flabby face. Thane tried not to take it personally. Looking at herself, she figured the clerk had good reason to be suspicious.
Her clothing was in a state of ruin, holes and loose threads prevalent all over her form. Snapping her black dreadlocks out of her alabaster face, she tried to grin reassuringly at the clerk. However, due to the stained appearance of her teeth it was ineffectual at best. The clerk folded her hands on top of the counter and arched her gray eyebrows.
“How can I help you, miss?”
“Yeah, hi.” Thane dug inside her tattered black purse. “I’m trying to get access to the New York adoption registry. The website told me I had to come here and fill out some paperwork.”
The clerk spun an about face in her wheeled office chair and plucked out a stapled bundle of papers from a nearby filing cabinet. She laid the packet on the counter and dropped an ink pen on top of it.
“Here you go, honey.”
Thane started to take the stack of papers, but the Clerk prevented her by laying a meaty palm across their surface.
“Hang on, now. I need at least two forms of identification for our records. One of them HAS to have a picture, I’m afraid.”
Thane cursed inwardly.
“Uh, I don’t have any identification, ma’am.”
The clerk’s nose twitched.
“Well, then there’s no point in you filling out the forms. Without an ID on file I can’t help you.”
Thane’s face fell, and her bottom lip quivered.
“C’mon, lady. Cut me some slack here, huh? I’m just trying to find my parents.”
The clerk’s stony stare softened just a bit, but she still shook her shaggy head.
“Nope. No can do. I’m so sorry, sweetie, but there’s nothing I can do for you without some ID.”
Thane stood on her tiptoes so she could lean her elbows on the counter. Her unsettling gray eyes bored into the clerk, slightly upturned nose twitching.
“No, you look!” The clerk’s smile melted away, and her eyes grew narrow. “Without any way to prove your identity, I can’t release those records. PERIOD. You’ll have to go to the DMV and get a driver’s license—you are old enough to drive, I assume—or a state ID card, and then come back.”
“Come back?” Thane crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you mean, come back? Your damn office is closed the next three days!”
The clerk smiled, though it was strained.
“I’m sorry, but that’s where we’re at.”
Thane huffed, stepping from foot to foot.
“Why do I even have to have an ID anyway? Are you afraid some pedophile is going to hit up the foster homes and troll for little buttholes to diddle?”
The clerk’s mouth fell open.
“You can’t say things like that in here!”
Thane’s eyes narrowed to slits.
“I just did.”
“You need to leave, Ma’am.”
“Why are you busting my ass? I’m just trying to find out where I come from. Do you have any idea what it’s like, not knowing who you really are?”
The clerk’s gaze remained hard, and she placed her hand on top of a LAN line phone.
“If you don’t leave, I’m going to call the police.”
“And tell them what? That you’re a total bitch?”
The clerk picked up the phone and made good on her threat. Thane made a break for the glass double doors that let out on 106th street. She was unable to push them open, and turned a sharp gaze on the clerk.
“I locked those doors, honey! You’re going to wait right here for the police.”
Thane rolled her eyes.
“Aw, c’mon, first you want me to leave, then you want me to stay...do you think I’m cute?”
“Judging from the way you look, I think you’re a junkie. Probably just trying to find some poor unsuspecting people to mooch off of.”
Thane rolled her eyes to the ceiling and let out a mirthless laugh.
“Yeah, because there’s so many rich people who give their kids up for adoption. Look, unlock the doors or I’m busting them out.”
“Ha!” The clerk sneered across the counter. “Three hundred pound men have tried that, honey, and all they got for their trouble was that they went to jail tired.”
Thane shook her head, a small smile playing at her lips.
She faced the double doors and took a few steps back. Crossing her arms over her face, she charged hard toward the street. Thane felt the impact as a dull thud, even though she struck with tremendous force. The glass shattered, spilling her and hundreds of crystal shards onto the sidewalk. They flashed like facets of a jewel in the sun as they tumbled through the air. Thane shook glittering fragments of glass from her hair and clothing and got to her feet.
She blinked, swiveling her head about as she sought for police cruisers. Seeing none present, she walked as quickly as she could without seeming suspicious and crossed the street. She could see the verdant green of Central Park peeking between gaps in the glass towers looming overhead. Deciding that the park would be a good place to lie low, she headed in that direction.
Thane crossed Madison Avenue, trying to ignore the stares she received from pedestrians and motorists alike. Not everyone was peering intently at her, however. She let her gaze linger upon a woman driving a Prius and her young son. The driver smiled softly at the child, used her fingers to stroke his cheek.
Thane cursed as she tripped over the curb. She walked south for another block and then turned a corner. Soon her booted feet trod on the soft green grass of North Meadow, and she relaxed.
Sighing, she sat on a long wooden bench sheltered beneath the limbs of an oak tree. She hung her head and held it in her hands and tried to bite back tears.
She was uncertain how long she remained in that state. However, the shadows had grown long when she heard a construction crew setting up shop nearby. They were trying to move a granite boulder the size of an SUV using a crane. With mild interest, she watched their labors.
One of the workers tossed a heavy chain across the top of the boulder and secured it on the other side. Two more chains were arranged around the side, forming a basket of sorts. Slowly, the massive stone ascended, workers cautiously circling around it.
There was a loud snap, a panicked shout, and the boulder dropped to the earth with a dull heavy thud. The men scrambled around, focusing on the side of the boulder she could not see. Their voices were thick with desperation as they struggled to lift the heavy object using their bare hands.
Thane bit her bottom lip and stared at the sidewalk. Then, she rose and walked purposefully towards the crew. When she walked around to the other side of the boulder, she was not surprised by what she saw.
Lying with most of his body under the boulder was a worker, his eyes staring at the azure sky but not seeing anything. A trail of blood ran out of his mouth, and she felt the urge to reach out and wipe it clean. Though it was obvious that the man was dead, his friends kept frantically trying to get the rock lifted off of him. When they were at last able to drag him free, he left his ruined lower half pressed into the mud. His fellows stared at the trail of blood and viscera that was strung out between the two halves of his body in shock. Then one of them bent over and noisily voided the contents of his stomach.
Thane figured it was a good thing that bad smells did not bother her, because the worker was not the only one overcome. Two other men in orange vests vomited colorful streams, spattering the grass with their last meals. Another worker was weeping silently, while the crane driver fainted dead away.
She stared down at the corpse, feeling sympathy but not overwhelmed by the sight. A slight movement behind her caused her to turn, and she let out a deep sigh. Another construction worker stood staring blankly at the torn body. His forlorn face looked identical to the man crushed beneath the boulder.
Where is the tunnel?
Thane craned her neck and looked at the sky until she spotted her quarry. A golden shaft of sunlight, impossibly bright and focused, was shining down from the heavens. Even on a bright, sunny day, it seemed almost blinding. Thane looked at the worker, and then at the beam of light. Shrugging, she approached him.
“Hey, buddy.” The man looked up at her silently, and then returned his gaze to the bloody carcass on the ground. Thane rolled her eyes and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Look, man, do I have to spell it out? Don’t you get it? There’s nothing here for you anymore.”
She pointed at the golden light, which was casting a pool of radiance on the grassy turf.
“That’s for you, and you’re lucky you got the gold light and not...not the other one.”
The man still stared at his body on the ground, oblivious.
Thane let out a frustrated grunt and took the man by his hand. He allowed himself to be tugged along, eyes still staring at himself.
“C’mon, let’s go!” Thane pulled him towards the radiance until it just brushed his hand. The man’s terrified, confused stare became an exultant smile, and his eyes stared upwards into the light. Thane released his hand as he began to rise slowly into the sky, arms outstretched toward something Thane could only guess at.
The sound of approaching sirens turned her attention away from the amazing spectacle. She saw an ambulance rolling over the concrete path, making a beeline for the boulder. When she turned back to the sky, the man and the light were gone.
Thane turned her gaze toward the man’s crew. Most of them had somewhat recovered. Someone had tossed a canvas tarp over the gruesome remains. The crane driver just sat on the ground, hands covering his face. She wanted to go to them, say that their friend was happy, wherever he went, but she had long ago learned that no one could see the recently dead but her. No one she had ever met, or even heard of, could do such things.
She cursed silently as a police cruiser joined the ambulance. If she left the scene now, she would appear suspicious. Thane had dealt with the law enough to know how they thought. So, she just folded her arms over her chest and tried to look like just another gawker. She rolled her eyes at the park patrons who had come to see the ruckus. Most of them were taking photos with their cell phones.
Patiently, she waited as the two policemen spoke with each of the workers in turn. Slowly, she began to wander away, trying to appear as if she were in no hurry. She had nearly reached a flowering bush that would have hidden her from sight when she heard a voice behind her.
“Wait up, lady!”
Thane gritted her teeth and clenched her hands into fists, but she tried to keep her face blank as she turned around. One of the cops was a short distance away, hands holding onto his belt.
“You talking to me?”
“Yes, I am. I’d like to ask you some questions, if you don’t mind.”
Thane’s eyes narrowed. The cop didn’t seem suspicious, but...
“Yeah, I do mind. I’m running late, and I didn’t see it happen.”
“Well,” said the cop, walking toward her “why don’t you tell me what you did see? It won’t take more than a few minutes, I promise.”
Sighing, Thane approached the officer and met him half way.
“Fine. I was sitting on that bench over there, and then I heard a ruckus and went to check it out. When I got there one guy was dead, pinned under a boulder.”
The cop nodded, stroking his chin with one hand.
“That’s it. That’s all I saw. Can I go now?”
“In a minute.” The cop whipped out a notepad and pen. “Can I get your full name, please?”
“Jessica Alba Simpson.”
The officer scribbled about half the name, then his brow furrowed and he glanced up at her.
“Is that your real name?”
“As real as any other.”
The cop stared at her for a long moment, eyes hard as stone.
“How old are you?”
“You should have said eighteen. I might have believed that. Are you on the outs?”
“Yeah, as if you care.”
The cop nodded. It was subtle, but she noticed his mouth twitching slightly as he considered her.
“Why don’t you come over to my squad car? I have some hot coffee I haven’t even touched yet, and a couple of powdered donuts. Maybe I can help you out?”
Thane’s lips became a thin line. Why did she have to come across the one cop in NY that gave a shit?
“No, I’m fine. I just need to get where I’m going.”
Thane moved to leave, but a firm grip on her shoulder made her pause.
“And just where are you going?”
“None of your damn business.”
“It is my business. We may need to collect further statements from you.”
Thane jerked her shoulder out of his grip.
“I only have two questions. Am I being detained, and am I free to leave?”
The cop’s eyes narrowed, and his jaw worked silently.
“That’s something an experienced convict would say.”
“Or somebody who follows the Libertarian threads on the web.”
“I need to see some ID.”
“Am I being detained?”
“Let’s not worry about that yet. Let’s just see your ID-”
Thane dug in her purse, panic rising in her chest. A sudden, desperate thought blazed across her brain, and she looked up as if in alarm.
“Uh, I don’t know if you care, but it looks like somebody’s messing with the body.”
The cop turned his head to look at the unmolested corpse, and Thane turned on her heel and began running hard. He shouted a moment later when he realized the ruse and she could hear his feet pounding the turf behind her.
Not only is he caring, he’s fast too! This is not turning out to be my day...
Thane poured on the speed, pale legs flashing across the grass. She did not dare to look behind her and break stride, but it seemed like the officer’s footsteps were growing more distant. Though she was running full out, her chest rose and fell normally.
Thane’s feet hit a patch of wet grass and she tumbled hard to the ground. She caught a brief glance of the cop closing the gap before she leaped to her feet and started running again. Jackie Kennedy reservoir loomed ahead of her, reflecting sunlight off of its calm waters.
She did not slow her pace, and dashed right into the water. A family of geese honked wildly as she splashed them with a deluge. Their wings beat hard as they flew into the blue sky. The water was up to Thane’s waist, and then her chest. She did not stop until the murky water slipped over her head. Turning her gaze behind her, she could not see anything due to the silt she had stirred up. Figuring that she had given the cop the slip at least for the moment, she walked for what she hoped was the opposite end of the lake. When her boots sank deeply in the mud, she took to swimming instead, careful to keep herself submerged.
Soon she trudged out of the water, shaking droplets off of herself like a dog. Staring across the lake, she saw that the cop was still standing on the bank. He was speaking into his radio, though she could not hear what he said.
Too prissy to get wet, she thought with glee.
Then she was moving again. Thane kept off of the paths and moved through the brush and overgrowth, snagging her hair on bare branches and getting burrs all over her stockings. It was slow going, and by the time she made her way to the Eastern end of the park the sun had sunk behind the skyscrapers.
Trying to look casual, she walked down Columbus, ears straining to pick up any signs of pursuit. Two times in one day she had caused a scene. Two times. They were sure to be looking for her now...
Thane rounded a corner and nearly stopped dead in her tracks. There, next to a hot dog cart, stood two of New York’s finest. They were making small talk with the vendor around mouthfuls of processed meat. She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
No problem. They haven’t seen me yet, and they’re on lunch besides. I’ll just walk right by them...
Thane came abreast of the cart, trying to will herself to stop shaking. With each step, she expected doom. Slowly, hope rose in her breast as she put distance between herself and the cart. It was not until she rounded the corner and stepped onto 11th avenue that she truly relaxed.
That was when she heard the electronic screech of a police cruiser’s horn. Gritting her teeth, she kept walking until it pulled up right next to the sidewalk ahead of her. Two grim-faced officers exited the car, leaving their doors open, and dashed to block her path.
“Stay where you are and get down on the ground!”
The cops put their hands on their billy clubs, but did not draw them.
“What? Why are you hassling-”
“Get down on the ground NOW!”
They approached, one cop breaking away to try and outflank her. Thane backpedaled, hands going up defensively.
“Leave me alone! I haven’t done anything wrong!”
The cop that remained in front of her did finally pull his truncheon free. Thane’s eyes narrowed as she took in the jet black instrument. His partner had went into the street and was dashing around a parked car to get behind her. Thane made a split second decision.
I’m not going to jail today!
“I said, get on the-”
Thane blasted him with a right hook to the jaw. The cop—who was not a small man—spun in a half circle and landed face first on the sidewalk. Ignoring the shout of alarm from his fellow, she ran hard for the open door of the police cruiser.
She jumped in the driver’s side and slammed the door. The cop was getting to his feet, and his partner dashed right by him without even displaying the slightest concern. Realizing that she did not have the time to shut the other door, Thane turned the engine on and put the car in reverse. Slamming her foot down on the gas pedal, she lurched backward and barreled down the road. Horns honked, tires screeched as other motorists frantically got out of her way. She felt the car shudder as a pickup sheared the still-open door off.
Her booted foot slammed down hard on the brakes. She threw the cruiser in drive and it launched itself forward. Thane was shocked by the amazing horsepower. One of the cops actually tried to grab her door handle as she zipped past, but his hand only closed on empty air.
The cruiser’s lights were flashing, having been left on by the cops. Most of the cars ahead of her quickly pulled over to the shoulder where they could, but the dense traffic made for agonizingly slow progress. Thane jumped when the radio crackled, calling all units to be on the lookout for a stolen police car.
The entrance to the Lincoln tunnel loomed before her. She was grateful that she was on the Manhattan end and did not have to pay a toll. She merged with the rest of the Jersey bound traffic, hands tight on the wheel.
Once she had slipped beneath the surface, she relaxed slightly. It was an absurd situation, rolling along in a cop car with a busted door, but despite her fears there seemed to be no signs of pursuit.
Encouraged by the cars that pulled out of her way, she pushed her foot to the floor. The cruiser responded vigorously, and she felt a wave of awe at its performance. She glanced down at the speedometer, astounded to find the cruiser was doing nearly seventy.
I wonder how fast I can-
The cruiser slammed into the rear bumper of a brown UPS truck, shooting Thane forward. She sundered the windshield with her forehead and kept going like a missile. She crashed against the rear door of the truck, leaving a sizable dent, then landed in a crumpled heap. Her head was twisted at a horrific angle, shards of glass protruding from her ivory face.
Thane rolled over onto her stomach and tried to get onto her hands and knees, but her broken body had trouble responding. She heard the slam of a car door, the squeal of tires as traffic backed up behind her. The driver of the UPS truck came around the back, holding the back of his neck with one hand. He took one look at Thane’s head twisted around backwards and turned white as a sheet.
“Oh my god!”
Thane’s eyes narrowed.
“Not sure there is one, buddy.”
She reached up with both hands and grabbed firmly on either side of her head. With a grunt and a sick snap, she adjusted her head into the correct position. The driver fell over backward, staring at her with wide eyes.
Ignoring the bits of glass she could just see jutting from her face with her peripheral vision, Thane looked at her stolen police cruiser. One glance told her it would not be running anytime soon, judging from the crumpled hood and steaming radiator.
“Miss, you need to lie down! You might have internal bleeding!”
Thane turned a wry sneer on the driver, and then circled around to the front of his truck.
“Hey! Where you going? You just can’t leave the scene of an accident!”
He became truly spastic when she climbed into the driver’s side of his vehicle. Thane let out a scream of frustration. The lanes ahead of her were blocked for as far as she could see.
“Get out of my truck you crazy bitch!”
Thane yelped as the driver grabbed her by the sleeve and yanked her out of the truck. She spilled onto the concrete, breaking a shard of glass in her cheek so it was flush with her skin.
The driver stood over her, nose wrinkled.
“What is that smell? Did you crap yourself?”
Thane did not respond, just rose to her feet. She weaved in and out of stalled cars and their angry motorists, intent on getting to the other side. The angry shouts of the UPS driver faded behind her. In time, she came upon what was holding up traffic. A semi had jackknifed, blocking both lanes.
Thane passed through a throng of onlookers, many of whom were taking photos of the wreck. No one challenged her as she ducked under the semi’s trailer and emerged on the other side. She spotted a minivan parked just on the other side, free of occupants. Hoping beyond hope that the keys would still be inside, she quickly yanked the door open and slid into the driver’s seat.
Thane gleefully turned the key and the engine came to life. Carefully, she pulled fully onto the pavement and sped towards Jersey. With all the traffic backed up behind her, she had a clear path. When the telltale flash of sunlight came into view, she let out a childish whoop.
Her jubilation was short lived. Suddenly, someone stepped into the road directly in her path. At first the sun hid his features, and he appeared only as a burly man-shaped silhouette. Thane laid on the horn repeatedly, screaming out of the window.
“HEY! Get out of the damn way!”
As she got closer, the figure resolved and she could make out more detail. He was a black man, with what looked like a patch over his left eye. From his garb, she guessed he was military. He was dressed in gray and black urban camouflage. It was the object in his hand that truly captured her attention, however.
The man raised the long metal tube in his hands and pointed it right at her. With a start, she realized it was a weapon of some kind, and the flash of fire and smoke from the barrel did not belie her. There was a heavy thumping sound, and then something too fast to follow darted through the air and impacted the van. Thane’s world briefly became an orange fireball as she was buffeted by flying glass and twisted metal. The van flipped end over end more times than she could count, finally landing on its roof in a mangled ruin.
Thick smoke rolled into Thane’s face and lungs, but she did not so much as blink. Frantically, she tried to extricate herself from the prison of the wreck. Her leg was wedged between the flattened dashboard and what was left of her seat. She could hear footsteps coming closer as she used her hands to pry herself free. His deep baritone carried inside the van.
“Patch to Blue Mountain.” There was a brief pause, and the sound of radio static. “Patch to Blue Mountain, do you read?”
The man’s radio crackled with a voice she could not quite make out.
“Yes, the subject is down but still ambulatory. I need support units. Repeat, I need support units.”
Thane at last freed herself and crawled for the shattered rear window. She saw the soldier’s black boot stomp down not six inches from her face. Shooting out her gory right hand, she gripped his ankle in a vice like grip. With a hard yank, she pulled him off of his feet and scrambled out into the sunlight.
The man was only taken aback for a moment. Nimbly, he rolled backwards and got to his feet in one smooth motion. His bald pate reflected the sun, his beret having been left on the street. Thane took him in. He was tall and muscular with handsome features and hands that looked capable of crushing walnuts. His wide nostrils flared as he adopted a defensive posture. The cold brown eyes on his face flickered between Thane and his fallen weapon a few feet away. Thane shook her head.
She stepped between him and the gun and bent low to retrieve it. It was surprisingly heavy, but she wielded it adroitly enough. Curling her finger around what she hoped was the trigger, she pointed it at him and sneered.
“You blew up my car with me still inside! Are your freaking nuts?”
The man’s solitary eye twitched just slightly.
“Some say it is so.”
Thane was taken aback by the man’s stoicism. Cocking her head, she glared at him fiercely.
“You, you blew me up! Over a stupid glass door, you blew me up!”
A smile played on his lips, but his eye remained wary.
“This isn’t about the door. Besides, you aren’t much the worse for wear. Seems like that time you got run over by a Semi on the Oklahoma Turnpike was worse.”
The gun barrel lowered until it was pointing at the ground. Thane licked her lips before speaking.
“How do you know about that?”
The man smiled, showing off twin rows of impeccably white teeth.
“We know a great deal about you, Ma’am. Possibly more than you do.”
Thane raised the strange gun until it was leveled at him once more.
“Yeah, I doubt that. Why is the military after me? This isn’t about the credit cards, is it, because I threw them-”
“Why don’t you put that down so we can talk?”
Thane glanced at the gun in her hands, then up at him.
The man twitched a smile.
“It won’t do you any good anyway. You have to load another round into the MK8 Vehicle Stopper after every shot.”
Thane’s eyes narrowed.
With a curse, she dropped the heavy weapon to the pavement. Behind her, she could hear sirens approaching.
“I don’t need a gun to get past you.”
“I know you don’t.”
Thane blanched, mouth falling open silently. Then she closed it and her jaw was set hard.
“Okay, you seem to know some things. Whatever. Don’t follow me.”
The man looked past her and grinned.
Though she figured it was a trick, Thane risked a quick glance behind herself.
Rapelling down the steep concrete walls of the tunnel entrance, a team of no less than six soldiers dropped to the ground. They were free of their gear and approaching her in an instant, leveling square-barreled guns. Thane backed away, swiveling her gaze all around. There was another team of soldiers approaching from behind her, and she noticed for the first time that a brace of black Humvess were blocking egress from the Jersey side of the tunnel. The new arrivals had the same strange looking weapons in their hands.
“Do it,” said the man with the eye patch.
They pulled their triggers, but instead of harsh retorts there was a clicking sound. Tiny metal barbs trailing wires zipped through the air and buried themselves in Thane’s tattered skin. She convulsed as electricity arced through the wires and inundated her body. Gritting her teeth, she managed to keep her feet.
“Squad two, fire!”
Thane felt her back light up with a half dozen barbs, and again she was hit with a massive charge. Her hair was smoking, tiny fires blazing all along her clothing, but still she kept her feet.
This time the soldiers kept the charge going longer, and she dropped to one knee. Her teeth were clenched so tight she had gouged her lip, and syrupy red blood oozed from her face.
Thane lurched forward and fell on her face. She tried to get back up, to grab the wires and pull the barbs from her skin, but her body would not respond. Limbs twitching helplessly, she was rolled over by a boot. Staring up at the black man who she took to be in charge, she tried to form an epithet but her jaw wasn’t working either. The man pulled his foot back and glared down at her.
“Welcome to the family.”
With shuddering force, his boot drove into her face and at last sent her into dreamless oblivion.