Wora sat on her bed inspecting the package she received that morning, its wrapping removed by inspection officers. She could hardly believe she was holding one of the game's products again after all these years; she was glad to see that the artwork had improved considerably, and wondered if any new mechanics had been added. She finally gave in to temptation and went to open it when she heard footsteps coming up the corridor, and she hurriedly hid her package for fear of judgement. Her tension was eased when she saw who the footsteps belonged to. <"Hey girl.">
said Behn as she stepped into her cell, stretching as she padded across the floor and sat heavily on her bed. <"Hey. How's the thumb?">
Wora stepped up to the gate between cells, the closest she could get without leaving her relatively stimulus-free room.
Behn joined her by the gate and displayed her reattached thumb. All that could be seen of the operation was a thin, bald ring where the newly weaved flesh resided and where new fur was to grow in the coming months, and a tiny scar in the middle of the interdigital fold between her thumb and forefinger. <"All seems well and good, especially for how roughly it was chewed... off.">
Behn took a moment to keep herself from retching at the thought. <"The doctors had me run some tests, and I'll admit it hurt a bit, but that's standard. So long as I keep activity light, it should return to normal within the week.">
Wora chuckled. <"To think, the impromptu amputation is quicker to treat than a knock to the head. What a time to be alive.">
Behn smiled briefly. <"So, I asked the docs about concussions, because believe it or not, I care, and I heard you gotta stay shut in for a few days. That's rough, man.">
Wora brightened, she couldn't ask for a better segue. <"Eh, it's not gonna be so bad, especially if you're willing to help a bit.">
she said coyly.
Behn clicked her tongue. <"Shoot."> <"I need a second player.">
At this, Behn gave a confused look. Wora smirked and turned to retrieve the package from her bed. As she unpacked it, she asked: <"Which sounds better to you: Urban or Wild?">
Confused, but willing to play along, Behn replied. <"Wild.">
She had seen more than enough urban in far too many ways.
Wora walked to the door to her cell, and with one hand holding half the package behind her back, slid the other half across the floor toward Behn's cell door. It barely made it halfway, so in the hallway, Behn picked it up and studied the packaging. Upon it was a beast the likes of which Behn had never heard of, appearing as a spindly, multi-limbed skeleton wearing a large flap of leathery skin draped loosely over its back, with brimstone burning in the gap between its grit teeth as it shoved aside the trees at the edge of a dense wood. Behn read the product's name emblazoned above the creature. <"More Than a Myth?">
Wora displayed her own package, its artwork depicting a creature of urban folklore: a truck, smeared with dry blood that still appeared to drip, with countless shrieking souls attempting in vain to claw their way out of every possible exit; a spectre born of a modern tale of a murderous truck driver. <"It was my favourite game as a kid, and I just learned they're still making it. So I thought, why not?">
Behn looked at Wora, then the package in her hand, then Wora's package, then Wora. She shrugged. <"So, how do I play?">
<"I equip my Tootwhipper with a Petal Mantle, increasing its might by 1 for each plant-type nexus I own. Then I pay 3 life to activate its ability, hitting your Wailing Wall for lethal."> <"I reveal Rebuke Fate, sacrificing my Clawing Lamplight and paying nine thunder energy to counter your previous three actions."> <"I cast Shielding Light with X equaling five, countering Rebuke Fate unless you pay five life.">
The two women battled back and forth, drawing and playing card after card depicting folkloric events, locations, and characters of all shapes and kinds. Strategies were formed and adjusted on the fly and Behn quickly grasped the basic rules outlined in a small pamphlet that came with each prepackaged deck. Despite Behn's best efforts, however, Wora's long-dormant skills and impeccable luck of the draw hadn't left her. <"I don't need to. I cast From Beyond the Grave, sacrificing two of my thunder-type nexuses to resurrect my Frozen Screamer, countering your Shielding Light and returning it to your hand.">
stated Wora triumphantly.
Seeing as she lacked the resources to respond to Wora's most recent card, Behn conceded, and undid her previous actions. Wora internally sighed with relief that her Wailing Wall, the one minion of hers keeping her in the game, was safe. From there, it was a simple matter of summoning a set of weak minions to overrun Behn's own, draining the last of her life points. She resisted the urge to dance.
Defeated, Behn scooped up her cards and shuffled her deck. She was surprised to find that the depictions of gruesome acts and monsters on the cards didn't turn her stomach as the equivalent sights would in reality, and made the assumption that their folkloric nature kept her just detached enough to withstand the gruesome and spectacular artwork. Still, despite her efforts bringing the game to the closest end yet, Behn still hadn't won a game. Regardless, she found joy not only in the game's cerebrally-engaging gameplay, but in the almost childlike fun Wora was having. <"Gods, I missed this game!">
said Wora enthusiastically, shuffling her deck. <"You wanna swap again or?"> <"Nah, I think that's enough for now. Besides, I don't want to be caught up in a game when it's time to go to work.">
Behn placed her deck back in its box and passed it back to Wora; she wouldn't want to be caught with another prisoner's property.
Wora laid the game's box on her bookshelf and lamented that the next few days would be quite boring spent cooped up in her cell, but she couldn't complain too much, she could instead be relegated to enforced lockdown like Behn's assailants. And she certainly wasn't going to complain about getting off work for half a week. As the clock ticked down to the usual work alarm, Wora shut her headphones tight over her ears. Even with this, the alarm's electronic buzz stung in her ears and made her head throb. Luckily for her, the doctors planned for this, scheduling her medication to be delivered just before each of the day's many alarms were to blare.
Wora turned to Behn, her head pounding. <"Alright, seeya in a few."> <"Back at ya, sis.">
She waved casually as she walked down the hall.
Wora watched her leave, then went to take her medication.
Laundry duty was boring, but easy, and best of all was that it didn't require much use of one's thumb. The women working with her had asked about the ordeal, and Behn relayed it truthfully, even her squeamishness that most onlookers mistook as a result of having a dumbbell slammed into her stomach. Some laughed, some cringed at the memory, and Behn kept her breakfast down. After folding more clothing than she was ever going to wear, Behn sat down for lunch and the day's episode of MarkWatch. By the time the episode ended, she was torn between marveling at the alien's strength and feeling a smidgeon inadequate, and her brain telling her to be freaked out because it was a damned alien. She managed to push it out of her mind by the time she was out doing laps of the exercise yard. She chose lighter weights than normal for the sake of her thumb and watched the women on the joffur court as the did reps. Once again she returned to the laundromat, inspecting clothes for foreign objects, folding clothes that passed, raising alarms for those that didn't, and tossing clothes that didn't wash right into a pile to be washed again. Part of her was upset that she never found anything.
Dinner with an almost imperceptible drop in its usual terrible quality was had, and Behn retreated to her cell, slumping onto her bed. <"Hey, girl buddy. I missed ya.">
said Wora casually as she leafed through the info booklet that came with the More Than a Myth box, detailing the folk stories each card depicted. <"Missed ya too.">
Behn replied, her face buried in her pillow.
They both smiled.
The air was chill as Mark walked the city streets, stores and restaurants and markets passing by his vision as he went. A pack was slung over his shoulder, containing a small snack and a bottle of water. He remembered this street from one of his many bus trips, with each helping him map the city in his mind. He pulled around a corner where a street performer danced, his body twisting and rolling in smooth, elegant arcs as he twirled the loose sashes winding around his torso in rhythmic swirls, all the while serenaded by choir music playing on his phone. Only x'erren didn't call it music, they called it wah'diseou,
beautiful speech, singing. Mark learned quickly that music as would be heard on human radio stations or in the soundtrack to a film were abundant, save for their lack of instruments. Curiosity at this trend brought about the Flow search that told Mark the history of x'erren music, and he was disappointed at his own lack of surprise when he learned that the overwhelming prevalence of a cappella had deep roots in religious ceremony. Prevalence, however, didn't mean monopoly, and Mark soon tracked down an underground scene that had remained such for centuries - tracing back to the tundras of X'eti - revolving round the use of instruments. People tuned to this underground called it quik'diseou,
beautiful tools. Mark soon took to listening to a variety of these artists as he trained or went about his day when he had nothing to do but hang out in his room and watch television. He lacked music on the street however, as he hadn't yet finished his custom headphones, and he wasn't about to submit other pedestrians to his evidently off-beat taste in music. This issue wouldn't deter him, though, because his love for experimental, jazzy tunes was far outweighed by his longing to once more go for a run around a lake.
Another corner and there it was: Kapari Park. Trees of all shape and colour stood in thick clumps upon a vast blue lawn that flowed like ocean waves in the cool breeze; stones large and small dotted the grass, either placed there by professional landscapers or embedded in the earth as remnants of a world long eroded; a river one hundred yards thick cut through the entire length of the park - at least four miles long by Mark's estimation - spanned by bridges thronged with myriad people. Mark watched a trio of fleshy julu perch on a nearby street lamp as he waited to cross the busy street, crossing soon after, and beginning his journey down one of the multitudes of brick pathways winding their way through the park like a tangle of snakes.
Passing by too many people to count, following periodic maps to find his way to the park's southern lake, Mark found his gaze lingering on the occasional family enjoying themselves. Be they with pet, with relatives, or simply parent and child, they all brought him back to the days when things were simpler: Fresh out of high school, he moved to Cocoa West and into a house paid for by Anne's parents; it helped that she came from old money. Soon after, once Mark had unpacked the essentials Anne too would arrive with the two-year-old Finn in tow, suckling at her breast. Mark and Anne laughed then. He thought they would get to laugh more than they did.
Before long, Mark finally came to the lake. Its surface shimmered in the afternoon light, disturbed only by fallen leaves and small schools of aquatic creatures Mark was hesitant to call fish; its intermittently stony and sandy shores were populated by flocks of julu stabbing the dirt in search of grubs, and groups of a small subspecies of rukwa, their wings adapted to scooping fish-things from just below the water's surface. Seeing no reason to dally with nature watching, Mark turned to face the paved path that encircled the lake, and ran.
Mark was in the minority among his peers back on Earth, in that he found a cool, breezy afternoon of the early winter a preferable alternative to one of cloudless sunshine for the purposes of running, the chill air kept him from getting uncomfortably sweaty. His pace was measured and even, those more inclined to running as exercise would perhaps point it out as slow, but that didn't matter to Mark. From day one, he learned that above speed and distance traveled, was technique and duration. This was well suited to his endurance-focused training regimen. It also helped keep his mind active. 'Focus. One two one two one - there's a lot of people staring - breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth, nice and even - I hope people stay away from me so I don't accidentally run into them - let all else leave your mind, focus on yourself, and the road.'
And focus he did, for despite the occasional jogging-in-place stop to let some julu waddle past or a pedestrian saunter across the path and onto a platform overlooking the lake, he remained strong for seven laps of the water, a distance that Mark estimated to be at least three and a half miles. His stamina though, however honed, was not infinite, and he eased himself, worn out, onto a bench, adjusting his sitting position when he heard the seat creak beneath his weight. The soles of his feet throbbed with heat, and he was relieved to find that despite a few tiny stones finding themselves stuck to his heels, they were otherwise fine. He pulled out his water bottle and sipped a few, refreshingly cool mouthfuls.
Minutes passed on that bench as Mark regained his stamina. People stared as they passed; one young boy wanted to take a picture with 'the naked alien monster' but his mother pulled him along despite his complaints, not sparing Mark so much as a glance. Nothing more of note happened until a curious julu hopped up beside him on the bench, tilting its head this way and that so its beady black eyes could take in this literally alien sight. Mark watched it waddle closer, slowing as it approached. It stuck out its wing, and jabbed at his thigh. It stabbed again and again, doing little but puncture small holes in the fabric; Mark was glad he decided to leave his suit pants back at X'rtani House. He slowly extended a hand down to the creature, where, after eyeing the appendage warily, it jumped on. It was little larger than a sparrow in Mark's hand, and its tiny footsteps felt no heavier than a leaf landing on his palm. The julu made experimental jabs with its proboscis. <"Hey!">
The julu darted off.
Mark looked up at the cause for the disturbance: a X'ercan man wearing a sporty vest and shorts, his mouth was a wide grin. "Can I help you?"
The man took out an earbud. <"I was watching you run and I'll say, I'm impressed with your stamina. I wouldn't be surprised if you could run the Migration Circuit!"> "High praise."
said Mark as though he knew what the Migration Circuit was. <"Your stamina's definitely better than mine, but I have a different question: How's your speed?">
Mark knew where this was going. "I'm built for endurance, not speed."
he admitted truthfully. <"Hey, don't sell yourself short. I've seen you run in that leaked footage, and what I saw today was nothing compared to what you pulled on that running wheel. You ran around the lake; you sprinted on that wheel.">
Mark felt the runner building him up, making him out to be a powerhouse that could take on the world if he let it all out. Part of him felt that there was some measure of truth in that. It didn't help that his words of encouragement were definitely working. "Alright. I take it you want to race?"
The X'ercan stood up straight, smiling. <"You read my mind. I was thinking something short, like, from here to that park map over there.">
He pointed to Mark's right, where the stand in question sat by the roadside, it couldn't have been more than one hundred and twenty yards from where he sat.
Mark was glad the man didn't ask for anything longer. "Alright, just give me a
minute to breathe and I'll race you."
Mark's challenger didn't know what a minute was, but he nodded anyway.
The minute passed and Mark stood from his seat, stretching. "We'll start at that crack in the pavement."
he said, pointing to the jagged wound in the path just ahead of him, appearing as a dark bolt of lightning in the stone. <"Heh. Fine by me. I'm just happy that I'll be the first x'erren to race an alien.">
the man proclaimed, planting his foot on the crack. He bent low and hunched his shoulders, ready to pounce; Mark could almost see the muscles in his legs tense in anticipation. Mark, however, walked to a nearby spectator, and asked if they would be their starter. The X'rtani man, just now showing signs of age, accepted.
Back at the starting crack, Mark lowered himself into a sprinter's crouch, one that he hadn't adopted since his days of high school gym. He ignored the stares of confused onlookers and focused on steadying his breathing. Mark could feel that his opponent knew what Mark was doing, that after years spent on the track honing himself, he could recognize even the most alien sprinter's crouch. "Ready.">
they said in unison.
The starter walked up to the side of the path and raised an arm. <"Prepare!">
said the man. Mark and the runner shoved all distractions from their minds. <"Hold!">
Mark and the runner primed themselves, each determined to win. <"Begin!">
The two racers leapt from the line like greyhounds let off their leashes, the rabbit that was the map, all their hearts and bodies desired. Their feet slammed into the pavement again and again, hard enough that Mark would have feared he was damaging the path were his mind and body not bent to victory. Faces passed by in a blur as the map neared, but try as Mark might, the X'ercan's perfected technique and lengthy stride slowly and inexorably pulled him ahead. Not daring to lose if he didn't put everything into it, Mark demanded that his body push itself to its limit, and it did, driving his feet to crack the stone beneath him as his leg muscles burned.
But it wasn't enough, and in the short span of fourteen seconds, the X'ercan passed by the map stand in a mahogany blur, leaping into the air in victory.
It was a close thing, and only half a second later, Mark, breathing heavily and with calves aflame, leaned against the stand to catch his breath. He was sore, and in defeat, but he was happy. Not since before he left for that fateful trip to Pluto had he felt so much that he was back home again, simply existing with other people, one more face in the crowd. The crowd in the moment, though, was cheering the runner's victory, a throng of joyous faces.
As Mark straightened, though, the cheer dampened, and he knew the tension they felt in their hearts. Feel as he may to be yet another of the crowd, he was still an alien. "So,"
he asked, his voice raspy with lingering strain. He breathed. "how does it feel to be the first person to race an alien and win?"
The runner walked up to him, extending a hand that Mark took. <"Pretty good, I'd say! Honestly, if you had my stride, you probably would've beaten me.">
he said, with a slight tone of disappointment at the challenge he was denied. He looked over Mark's shoulder. <"You might want to contact the park staff about that">
Mark followed the man's pointed finger to the series of small, weblike cracks in the path leading up to the stand. "Yeah." Mark agreed. He made a brief call to the park staff, in which the situation was explained and means of reimbursement were established. Mark flip-flopped on whether he should enlist T'aro's aid in paying for repairs while he ate his packed lunch. He was still undecided when he finished, returned the empty packaging to his bag, and began the walk back to X'rtani House.
Roads of flagstones led him on a winding path past innumerable trees, countless curious faces, and scores of tiny critters he could neither name nor accurately describe with the short glimpses he caught of them before they skittered back up into the leaves. He checked his data pad at a notification he got; his race with the man he now knew as Ju'le'ress, a professional track runner, was already trending on social media, with the unflattering video showing his scruffy face scrunched with exhaustion. He wondered whether setting up that auto-notifier for mentions of his name were a good thing, he also wondered where on a planet whose population consisted of nothing but fuzzballs he would find a barber. "I'm not that
gray already, am I?" he asked concernedly, running a hand through his hair.
The paths were long, but he eventually the treeline gave way, and Mark was blasted in the face with the cacophony of a busy city street; the honk of car horns, the chatter of pedestrians, the low hum of engines pooling together into an overpowering drone. The city. Mark took in a breath of the surprisingly clean city air, and turned to his left, when a powerful gust blew down the street, staggering pedestrians as it passed. Naturally, Mark weathered the wind, shivering in its chill, and watched the people around him right themselves. He went over to lend a hand to an older woman who was knocked to the ground. "Are you okay?"
he asked. <"I'll live.">
the woman replied as she straightened herself, massaging her hip. "Are winds like that normal around here?" <"Pre-Chill Breaths, yes, but I haven't felt a gust as strong as that for decades at least.">
She gathered her bag that slipped off her shoulder. <"Thanks for the assistance... young man?"> "Not anymore, unfortunately."
Mark chuckled. <"Well, thanks in any case.">
she waved him goodbye and went on her way.
Mark turned and started on his way back to the mountain. He wouldn't have noticed what was hurtling toward him if the old woman didn't cry out.
Arnd idly stabbed at her lunch. She initially considered it a lucky thing that Mark had already done a measure of research on the day's topic: musical history. Mark's prior knowledge helped the lesson fly by, and they were both free long before lunchtime. It was only after Arnd took a breath of the now Mark-free air of her room did she realize that she had nothing planned for the day, nor could plan much given her incarceration. She tidied her room, watched that week's episode of Lende's Will, and shored up on future lesson topics. After that, considering that no films that came to mind - that didn't feature her uncle - struck her, she decided that the next best thing to do was to browse The Flow and see what happened. Of course all people seemed to want to talk about was yesterday's sighting of Mark at a local gym, so Arnd quickly found herself tiring of that too.
Time crawled along until lunchtime, where the constant drone of the cafeteria was the perfect accompaniment to lukewarm food Arnd recognized as coming from a supermarket uptown. She groaned, but ate anyway. Her flat lunch was made somewhat engaging by the arrival of a pair of engineers. <"... He was alright, he hit deep but his technique was shallow.">
said Uns'la as though nobody else was in earshot. <"Only you could make one liners out of rating your one night stands.">
observed Rilk'r, his tone equal parts accustomed to Uns'la's tales of raunch and ashamed that she thought a public cafeteria was a good place for them.
Uns'la beamed at her companion's words. <"Look, you do something enough, and you learn to make an art of it.">
She then tore into her stacked tray like she hadn't eaten in weeks. Rilk'r sighed and joined her.
Arnd continued flipping a chesker strip over again and again with her utensil, and tried not to imagine the scenario that led to Uns'la's quip. She failed, and decided that the sounds her food made when played with didn't help her imagination.
When she returned from emptying her tray, she heard something she never thought she would hear again. <"Hey captain!">
Arnd didn't need to look over to know Uns'la was waving at her. <"What's up?">
she asked, moving to Arnd's table. <"Nothing.">
Arnd replied. For once, she meant it, and part of her hoped it would stay like that. <"Well that's no fun, is it? Something's gotta be up or else what's the point?">
Arnd's look of annoyance deepened at Uns'la's outlook.
Rilk'r joined them. <"I have experience dealing with you, she doesn't, lay off her.">
he chided. <"Arnd.">
he said respectfully. <"Rilk'r.">
replied Arnd in turn. <"How's your project? I overheard you talking about
Mark's cockpit the other day.">
Anything was better than mindlessly browsing The Flow for the rest of the day.
Rilk'r finished another mouthful of his lunch. <"Well, we've gone over the circuitry, peeked at the operating system and schematics - it's in
human, go figure.">
<"English."> Arnd corrected. <"Whatever. The material the seat's made up of is actually quite nice... and that's really it. Everything else is either in
englass or is too tough to study; did you know that the hull of that thing is one solid piece?">
he asked with incredulity.
Arnd made a sound of dull surprise. <"Figures, I didn't see any seams when I saw it in the cargo hold. Though, to my credit, it had been mostly charred black.">
She wouldn't soon forget the sight. <"Yeah, it took us something like a week to power wash it clean.">
interjected Uns'la. <"But once all the gunk was off, we found that its external markings were printed directly onto the metal, you can't wash it off."> <"Not that you'd want to disturb it too badly. Going off what
Mark told us, the eggheads figured that alloy's only stable when in range of one of their
G-Dampers or whatever he called them. They apparently emit a field that effectively eliminates gravity within their radius, how it does that is beyond me, but its effective results are that one: the alloy that makes up the pod becomes comparatively stable in the absence of constant pressure, and two: it severely reduces its weight. Without those
G Whatevers, not only would it sink through the planet's crust and come to rest around the lower mantle, but it would begin to leak crazy amounts of radiation. We've begun wearing anti-rad suits in the lab out of precaution, and have put in a request for it to be moved to a zero-g facility.">
As Arnd took in the insanity of what Rilk'r was telling her, the engineer shook his head. <"As if sending a guy in to pilot their first slipspace test flight wasn't enough. Fucking
humans, man; insane, the lot of 'em.">
A thought came to Arnd's mind. <"Did
Mark know about all this before he agreed to pilot that thing? Did he agree to pilot that thing?">
Rilk'r raised an eyebrow. <"Yeah, he did. Said the suits wanted to 'prove that it was safe for regular people to use'. How anyone could consider sitting in a ball just waiting to melt every organic thing for se'rcs around safe, I don't know."> <"It didn't even work anyway. Well, not properly, at least.">
Uns'la added unhelpfully. <"If they were smart, they'd scrap the whole thing and start figuring out slipspace drives. We do just fine with se'teken and it's not even a fraction as tough as that
human alloy. It's like they were just trying to brute force their way through space.">
Arnd chuckled. <"Knowing a
human, I wouldn't be-">
She was cut off by a notification chime. It was a message from Jan'u.
Check the news. It's Mark.
Arnd scoffed at this, she had already seen the video of Mark's race against that cute looking X'ercan, but she ultimately didn't have the heart to refuse Jan'u. She pulled up the news, paused, and began shaking in a mix of shock and disbelief. <"He did WHAT?!">
It was a tortuous hour's wait, but K'ul finally returned to X'rtani House, parking in the usual spot beneath the carved canopy. He walked around to the other side of the limousine to let out T'aro. <"Are you sure you're okay?">
he said into the shade of the limo's back room. "I'm sure. I just need some rest and to stay off my feet as much as I can."
Slowly, wincing, Mark climbed out of the vehicle. His feet were bandaged, their soles stained red. He stepped through the entrance and into the foyer, stepping lightly to avoid as much pain as possible. Employees watched as he hobbled across the floor and into an elevator, T'aro at his heels. Mark stood flat-footed and refrained from moving too much as the box rose, he still hadn't quite gotten over his fear of the floor shattering beneath him. Upon reaching floor 16, he made to limp his way back to his room, but was immediately confronted by an incensed Arnd.
Mark looked at her as she stood, unmoving. "You're mad."
he stated nonchalantly. <"Yes. I'm mad.">
Arnd clarified. <"Wh-"> "Your fur stands on end when you're-"
Arnd exploded. <"WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING?!">
T'aro flinched. <"Now, Miss Kolr, I think this is quite uncalled for.">
Mark stepped forward. "I didn't have time to think, and if I did, I probably would've made the same decision."
His tone was final, definite.
Arnd nearly staggered at the human's gall. <"YOU WOULD HAVE WILLINGLY LET YOURSELF GET HIT BY A CRUISER?!">
It hadn't been long enough for the details to muddy in Mark's memory.
He turned, and saw a dark shape quickly grow bigger. A cruiser, slowly falling out of the sky. In the blink of an eye, Mark realized three things: The cruiser's pilot was desperately trying to pull up, and the people behind Mark didn't have time to scatter before they were rendered as yellow smears on the windshield. The third thing he realized, was that he was the only thing standing between the vehicle and the people.
He knew he had to make that choice, the problem was how to go about it. 'I'm too small to stop that thing dead, it'll just barrel right through me and into them.' he thought. 'Decelerate.'
In the instant before the cruiser would have collided with him, Mark extended his arms toward the vehicle and leapt back. The vehicle slammed into him hard enough to knock the wind out of him, burying his arms up to the elbow. But Mark was ultimately fine, and fine enough to bring his feet down to the pavement. He pushed against the cruiser, forcing it to crumple further against him, feeling the stone slide away beneath his feet like sandpaper on his soles. People dived out of the way as the vehicle-human thing screamed past. The car was already slowing against Mark's heft, but when its wheels finally touched the ground, it was only a matter of moments before Mark brought it steadily to a stop.
Mark thanked his luck that oncoming traffic at the intersection he came to a stop at was waiting for the light to turn blue. Now that things had slowed down, Mark took a moment to assess the situation. The cruiser his arms were buried in was a bright sunflower yellow, its hood crushed against Mark's body. The windshield was cracked. "Is everyone okay?!"
Mark bellowed over the din of the city. He was relieved when nearby drivers confirmed that nobody was hurt.
Feeling the metal and plastic pinch him as he pulled, he wrenched his arms free; the strap to his bag snapped as he pulled. He immediately went to the driver's side door and knocked softly on the glass. The driver wound it down, he looked equal parts stunned and terrified. "Are you okay?"
Mark asked earnestly.
The driver nodded after a few moments of bewildered silence. He swallowed. <"My cruiser's old. I hit some turbulence and my lifters stalled. I tried to pull up but they just wouldn't start up again until it was too late.">
He sounded as though he couldn't believe what he was saying.
Mark relaxed after the man confirmed his safety, he was quickly reminded of the earlier gust of wind. "Alright listen, I get it. Back home, we hear new stories of engines failing mid-flight, and the poor sucker flying their
car lands in a roadside ditch. It's nothing new to me. I'd get her serviced-"
Then he remembered the two human-arm-shaped holes reaching directly into the engine block. "... if you could drive it there in the first place... Look, do you mind if I just get you off the road?"
The man nodded.
Compared to stopping a runaway car, simply rolling it into an empty parking space by the roadside was as easy as movies made it out to be. Said car being one of the lightest vehicles Mark had ever known helped in that. When the cruiser was at last parked, Mark retrieved his bag, and the driver stepped out and assessed the damage. He breathed heavily, then went to sit down on a nearby bench. Mark looked back to the sidewalk and saw the thick black skid marks left by the vehicle's tires mar the path, and nearing their end, two subtle streaks of red. He hurriedly checked his soles and sure enough, the top layer of skin had been sanded off, leaving raw, red patches on his toes and the balls of his feet. He decided to join the man on the bench, keeping his feet elevated until response teams could arrive. He quietly grumbled, he was due to retrieve his shoes from the factory tomorrow. [Continued in comments]