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Chicago

Chicago spins around.

Tossing a dead man’s key from hand to hand, True contemplates tactics. He’s startled her; an advantage against a typical foe, but perhaps not the wisest choice when facing, say, a wolverine. She’s automatically half-crouched, and he knows she’s thinking about weapons first, speech second.

True knew Chicago’s mother: she used to teach his Sunday School class. He attended Sunday School, and Chicago didn’t. It’s never struck him until now how odd that is.

They really would look alike, he finds himself thinking. Those eyes, those freckles.

The curl of her lip.

The fall of her hair.

Chicago

Grainy film, but it has to be, trying to freeze motion in indoor lighting when a flash would give you away. Chicago flaps them dry under red Christmas lights. There are six keys to the darkroom; a dead man has one of them, and she’s got the other five.

Two prints: the beaker halfway up its bounce, intact. The beaker at its peak, exploding. She almost expected to see a bullet piercing it. Instead it’s the cap of a pen.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” she asks herself.

“Yeah,” says True, behind her. Chicago chomps her tongue to kill a yelp.

Chicago

The earthquake hits while Mrs. Gretten and Mr. Hill are engaged in a quickie in the chemistry supply closet. It’s just a normal California shiver and only a couple of things fall off the shelves behind them.

These comprise two packets of silver nitrate, a small cascade of instructional DVDs and a beaker of sulfuric acid. It’s a Pyrex beaker, and sealed; it bounces off that indestructible black resin countertop once without breaking.

Then Gretten and Hill scream, because the beaker bursts in midbounce. It’s been struck by something very small, moving very fast.

But not as fast as Chicago’s shutter.

Chicago

“And your income is, heh, not derived from any activity declared to be criminal,” says the county clerk with a twinkled eye. Chicago’s eyes are flat.

“Just enter the petition,” she says.

“Sweetie, we get a lot of kids in here,” he says reasonably. “I know life with Mom and Dad can be tough, but unless you have a signed form–”

“Here.”

“–and not in shaky cursive–”

“It’s notarized,” Chicago snaps.

“Emancipation isn’t for fun, Miss.” He’s flat-eyed now too. “You’ll be a legal adult and your decisions will have real weight, you understand that?”

Chicago’s heart pounds and pounds.

Chicago

With the exception of Photography and French, Chicago doesn’t do well with grades. She approaches homework as a seasonal accessory, to be used as a prop for the Innocent Sophomore guise, and she skips any given class two days out of five.

Her teachers rarely object to the latter, though. They keep passing her, or at least passing her off: nobody wants her twice.

She doesn’t do many afterschool activities either. She remembers why every time she walks down the third floor corridor, where True has somehow talked the Fellowship of Christian Athletes into protesting, via flier, the suffrage of women.

Chicago

“Napa,” Grand admits, embarrassed. “On vacation, at a wine tasting. Is it less trite if they were married to other people at the time?”

“Scandal!” says Chicago, delighted. “Am I really allowed to know that?”

“That’s off the record!”

“Yeah, fine,” she grumbles. “Anyway, mine met when… he was stationed in Germany during Gulf War One. No idea why. They went out dancing and he came back two years later to take her home.”

“My parents had the Death Talk with me after she–um,” mutters Grand.

“Killed herself?” says Chicago lightly. “They should have given you the Drama Talk instead.”

Chicago

Chicago’s mother’s sister’s boyfriend was her sitter, two or three times a month, while she was in first and second grade; and each of these times he hurt her. It ended when he moved away. For her tenth birthday he sent her his silver hip flask.

Over the course of her thirteenth year, remotely, she removed the foundations of his life. She left him bankrupt, disgraced, severely injured and finally arrested; still an amateur, she nearly blew her cover several times. She learned quickly. He died in prison.

She carries the flask, filled with gin, in the pocket of her jeans.

Chicago

Chicago’s hair has the curious trick of stopping abruptly, across a perfect horizontal line: she always looks like she’s just seen a barber with a ruler. This makes her look even younger, though less so when it’s short. She’s considered shaving her head.

At least that would provoke cold stares instead of simpers. “I need you to wait outside, young lady,” smiles RICHMOND, Administrative Assistant.

“I’m here to see the vice principal,” says Chicago.

“She’s a teensy bit busy–”

“Now,” says Chicago, “or I tattle about the low-quality joints taped under your desk,” and gets the cold stare after all.

Chicago

And here, at the heart of the whole thing (maybe below the heart; maybe the colon) there’s a dusty little black webcam trained on a picture of her.

Chicago realizes her mouth is actually hanging open. It’s too much. A recent picture, too; she only got that haircut last month, but then why is it yellowed and curling? She’s never worn that shirt–

Not her. Her mother. She reaches for it.

Later, skating like mad away from the machine’s defenses, she thinks about Jamaica. Grand’s family has a house there, right? Maybe she could borrow it, go sip mimosas and tan.

Chicago

EXERCA ANIMOS ET MANUS PAREBUNT
Teach Their Minds, And Their Hands Will Follow

is the motto of B. M. Gallows High, and Chicago’s seen it in the lobby every day for two years now. She guessed that the translation was a bit off after three weeks of badly-taught Latin; here, underground, a dingy sign confirms it:

EXERCA ANIMOS ET MANUS PAREBUNT
Tame Their Souls, And Their Hands Will Obey

Chicago’s lost her cynicism, her buzz, her weapon and her shield. It’s cold. She’s kind of sick. She never thought, until now, that her own methods were so close to theirs.

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