Written by Erik Garkain 2017
When Mica woke up later, he was alone.
Broken by the occasional squawk of seabirds, the sound of lapping water was a constant yet soothing backdrop to his new environment. He remained still for a couple of minutes remembering the previous night and his new friend, but his bladder and the stench he was emanating ruined any hope he had of enjoying his new surrounds. Beams of early afternoon sunlight filtered in from a small skylight high in the ceiling but it wasn’t enough to lift the gloom from the small room. It sure did heat it up though. His clothes were dried stiff and reeking. He felt like a half-rotted carcass roasting in the middle of an oven.
Without Talon, he didn’t feel right remaining in his space. He found his backpack and heaved the heavy doors open. It took all he had to get them open enough far enough that he could edge out sideways. Once out, heat hit him like a wall. Mica groaned. He was sweating by the time he made it down several staircases and it was still a long drop to the ground when the stairs ended. He sat on the edge contemplating the likelihood of his death. Holding onto the last stair, he swung his body down and dangled. He let go, bent his knees to soften the impact onto the concrete, and rolled onto his back with a grunt. Still on the ground, he looked up. There was no way he was getting back up there on his own.
The heat bounced off the metal walls of the warehouse seeming to warp the wood around. Open water stretched before him, disappearing between pilings underneath the dock. A collapsed jetty reached out into the water where a large boat, still moored, was half sunk. It’s once white visage bled through with rust and years of sun damage. The jetty was in disrepair, planks broken, some collapsed into the water and others completely gone.
Mica climbed to his feet. He didn’t want to go far just in case Talon returned. He traversed the jetty, jumping from broken planks and skirting around large holes. He found a ladder leading down to a pontoon and descended the precarious steps towards the water.
Under the jetty, out of the biting sun he stripped off his outer layers and slid into the water. It was a cooling relief and a prime opportunity to soak the blood from the previous night’s nightmare away.
And he waited. He waited until his freshly washed clothes dried in the sun. He waited until the sun shifted across the sky. He waited until his growling stomach couldn’t stand the wait any longer. And still, Talon hadn’t returned.
So, he walked.
He returned to the warehouse, staring up towards Talon’s room turned home. Was he up there yet? ‘Talon!?’ He called before he could stop himself. There was no answer anyway.
It can’t have been that far into the town centre, but certainly longer than it had taken Talon to carry them out. By the time he approached, the sun had started its decline for the afternoon. Gradually people became more prevalent. People out walking dogs, cafes open and serving coffee, groups chatting amongst themselves… Mica dug into the depths of his backpack and found enough coins to get him a latte and a roll. Small pleasures. He sat outside and watched the people pass. It was a mixed crowd, those with mild mutations, and those without – none of them appeared bothered either way. This is how Mica had imagined things when picturing Adelaide on that bus journey out. He hoovered his chicken, lettuce and mayo on rye and sipped his coffee as this new world bustled around him. Only the niggling desire for Talon burst his bubble of contentment. Where was he?
A crowd started to assemble outside a Cash Converters, a still open relic of the way things once were. Mica studied them. There were Nats pressed against Jokers without a care. Was it just the city where the divide was so obvious? Out here in the Port, people just got along? On the TV that held everyone’s attention, a reporter with long blonde hair that didn’t move as she did spoke to the camera. Mica joined the crowd. On the screen, a news banner announced the release of a Joker cure.
Mica’s jaw dropped. A cure? He bustled closer to the window display as the folks around him murmured. Hadn’t there been cures before, and they’d never worked? Or bogus ‘cures’ that caused just as much havoc as the original virus? Could this one be for real?
A girl beside him touched a hypercolour hand against the window. Where her palm pressed against the glass her flesh turned a fluorescent yellow, gradually fading back into the regular forest green of her skin. ‘They’ve got a cure?’ She was young, perhaps just out of adolescence, her voice filled with all the hope forming in Mica’s chest. She busted him staring and her face flushed the same bright yellow before she fell back, disappearing into the crowd.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—’ He cursed himself but she was gone.
‘My name is Jessica Collins,’ the reporter snatched his attention back. ‘We’re live here at MedTech Industries with local Adelaide resident Ralph Hillemann, former CSIRO researcher and scientist. With his ground-breaking new discovery, first seen here on Channel 9 News, Ralph has become the saviour for his hometown population.’
The camera pulled wide as the reporter turned to a clean-cut young man, thick horn-rimmed glasses and a manicured moustache. ‘I think ‘saviour’ is a bit strong Jessica.’ He guffawed nervously. ‘The prevalence of Jokers and Aces has been growing because of those who were yet unaware of their status or those who show no signs. Locals, Peter ‘Repeat’ Aaron and Courtney ‘Evergreen’ McNeil are popular now, but not everyone is so fortunate. I would like to provide an option for those afflicted.’
‘How did you make this discovery, and are you aware just how important this is going to be for the people of Australia, around the world even? I mean, when the Wildcard virus hit New York in 1946, ninety per cent of those affected died. This is huge, Dr Hillemann.’
‘Extensive research has proven the virus is not contagious and suggests it’s more likely to be spread through genetic transmission than direct contact with original microbes, so we’ve been exploring the DNA of those afflicted since it found its way through our quarantine zones, Jessica. I have a dedicated team of scientists—’
Behind him, there was a whoosh of exploding glass and Mica cowered, covering his head. But it was happening on the screen, not in the crowd. Everything was out of focus, the camera on its side zooming in and out of shattered glass. The journalist screamed.
‘What the hell?’ said someone beside him and the crowd shuffled with excitement at the developing story. The camera was dragged back and shaky vision revealed a slight man dressed in black stepping into the lab. Static blasted through the speakers and the crowd gasped, the first few rows stepping away from the screen and clutching their ears. The on-screen screaming stopped short. Silence was even more terrifying.
The man in black grabbed Dr Hillemann and pulled him to his feet. He was limp in the intruder’s arms. If it wasn’t so terrifying it would have looked ridiculous. How could a small man command such strength?
‘Create a cure, will you? How dare you insult me?! Who do you think you are?’ The man’s mouth wasn’t moving but the static around them formed words. Mica couldn’t tell how he heard the words but he was sure everyone around him heard the same thing.
Dr Hillemann looked dazed, half there. He wasn’t doing anything to protect himself, even as the man pulled out a huge machete.
The camera jumped away from the action and the crowd shuffled impatiently. Someone cursed. Others gasped. Some moved off not wanting to witness anything they couldn’t un-see. Mica couldn’t drag himself away from the footage. The cameraman wavered. There was someone else in the room. A familiar shadow flittered over the screen and Mica’s heart stopped. Talon.
‘No!’ He pushed away the few people that were standing closer to the screen and pressed against the glass. ‘Oh, please, no.’
‘Back off!’ Someone else pulled him back.
‘We all want to see!’ Someone growled.
Mica settled, deflated, into the crowd again. What could he do but watch?
The cameraman attempted to track the fight. It was like watching the worst ‘found footage’ movie ever. Mica’s heart leapt every time a shadow crossed the camera, but the blurs were hard to distinguish.
‘Jack, are you getting this?!’ A hysterical voice pierced through the wavering static.
‘Yeah, yeah, Jessica!’ Came the gruff response.
The camera rose and steadied somewhat. It was sheltered behind a workbench, half the vision obscured with white laminate, the other half attempting to track two men in furious battle.
‘Is it a Joker?’ Jessica said. ‘Fighting an Ace! Is he crazy?’
Mica held his breath. He couldn’t work out the images. What was going on? His vision blurred. He fought the possibility that he was about to witness losing the one person he believed was meant for him. Fate. Whatever.
The small man fled as the shadow transformed. Talon. He stared at the camera, his black eyes intense, menacing wolfish features coming out of the darkness. He growled. Then, just like that, he was gone too.
The camera returned to Jessica. Her blue eyes wild. A few shards of glass must have struck her on the face because blood smeared her cheek. Her hair, still immaculate. ‘Where’s Ralph?’
She stood up and approached a fallen figure slumped across a benchtop. As the camera followed her approach, she adjusted the hem of her skirt. ‘Ralph?’ She looked back at the cameraman. ‘Jack, call an ambulance!’
The footage cut and returned to the studio where two news readers stared at the camera, taking long moments to compose themselves. ‘Umm,’ the man stumbled. ‘We’ll take a break before we check back in with Jessica. Stay with us on 9 News.’
As the commercials started the crowd erupted with activity, everyone talking at once, some scared, some elated. Mica watched them all. What would a cure mean to them? The young girl with the hypercolour skin – was she in school? Could she be? Perhaps she’d had dreams of being a doctor? A lawyer? What would it mean to her to be transformed again?
What would it mean to Talon? Would he want the cure? Did he? Could they leave here, go somewhere ‘normal’, be normal? Mica’s thoughts whirled.
When the news returned to the story, Dr Hildemann was being loaded into an ambulance. The reporter stood at his side. ‘This is Jessica Collins from 9 News. We’re here at MedTech Industries where we’ve just been attacked by two Wild Cards. Ralph Hillemann, creator of the newly announced cure is okay. Surely we need to question whether the cure should be mandatory? These people, as we’ve just witnessed, are violent, they’re unpredictable. Ralph, in the wake of all this destruction in the Wild Card community, it’s obvious someone is upset about your new discovery. Do you have anything to say about your cure?’
He was lost, his eyes wide in terror, but he gained composure under her fierce gaze. ‘I do Jessica, I do. I just want to let you all know that it’s here. We’ve tested this cure and I can confirm that it works. Don’t be afraid. I will start to distribute free samples to all major pharmacies. You don’t need a script, you don’t need a reason why, just go in and ask. Things can go back to the way they were. Trust me. It’s safe.’
‘There you have it,’ she stared down the camera. ‘Back to the studio.’
Mica withdrew, getting lost in the crowd of people. He was alright. He was okay. Talon wasn’t dead. He was fine. He’d survived the encounter. Talon was alright. Talon was okay.
Mica inhaled and tried to release the bad feelings with his exhale. He pushed his way out of the still gathering crowd – there had to be a hundred people at least – to the very fringes across the main street where abandoned shop fronts were overrun with ivy. He needed space. He collapsed against the door of an old record store left to gather dirt and graffiti.
A shadow crept over the street and chills ran down Mica’s neck. No one else noticed, but Mica’s head snapped up. He jumped to his feet. ‘Talon?!’ he asked the shadows.
‘Why aren’t you afraid?’ the shadows asked back, sounding exhausted.
Mica beamed, unable to control his excitement. ‘Those black eyes, terrifying,’ he said as he found his new friend in the darkness. ‘Your skin as liquid—’ He brushed a daring hand over Talon’s arm. ‘As if I could reach in and touch the abyss Nietzsche warned us about… Absolutely stunning.’ Mica curled in close to hug the shadow-come-man-creature. He felt Talon’s hard muscles stiffen at the touch but he didn’t flee. Mica had no doubt that if he wanted to, he could melt into nothing and leave him embracing only shadow. He didn’t. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked into Talon’s chest.
‘Thank you for protecting the man with the cure. This means so much to so many people. We need to help him, we should protect him. Do you think they might attack him again?’
‘I don’t know.’
Mica felt one of Talon’s arms come around him. He closed his eyes.
Mica felt one of Talon’s arms come around him. He closed his eyes.