Oasis

By Jane Jacobs

I wonder how people sleep in the city.

What with all the honking and yelling and who-knows-what else, the sleeping pill industry must be booming.

So here I am, perched on a gargoyle, probably looking like an angel of death. On the streets below, the hovercars look just like blood in someone's veins. You know, if blood had weensie little headlights. They light up the dark along with the holo-pics, a second day before the sunrise.

A warm breeze blows past me, lightly ruffling my feathers. Shouldering my bag, I stand up and leap off of the gargoyle, enjoying an adrenaline induced moment of 'Oh my goodness, what am I doing, I'm gonna die, die DIE!' before I whip out my jet-black wings. A few pedestrians scream, probably thinking that I'm some suicidal loser.

I chuckle as I soar over the skyscrapers with a few strong wing beats. Some personal crafts zoom past, the people inside giving me quizzical looks. 'What's this hybrid doing flying free?' they're probably wondering. Their hybrids give me envious stares. 'I wish I was allowed to roam free.'

I tap down on one of the buildings in the rich neighborhood; a shimmering building covered with moving holo-pics of manga-style girls in tiny outfits. From below the building looks all pretty and sparkly, but the rooftop is dirty and littered with broken syringes left by druggies.

"Terry?"

From behind the generator steps a shadow. Leo seems almost human, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, a jacket tied around his middle and his blond hair in the latest style.

But then you get close enough to see the faint leopard spots on his arms, his cat-like green eyes and most noticeable of all, his long leopard tail.

So not human.

"How're you doing?" he asks, grinning.

"Great," I say. I briefly tuck in my wings so that I can take off my bag. I dump out the contents; a tube filled with beige powder, a bundle of clothes, and an oil-stained package reeking of something acidic. "There. Your order." I hand him the tube.

Leo's grin gets a wider. He opens the tube, dips in his pinky and tastes the powder. "Terry," he says, chuckling, "you rule."

"I try," I say, shrugging modestly. "Hurry up. I want to get to the party and get Nell."

Leo stuffs the tube in his pocket. "Ready."

He opens a trapdoor hidden in a corner of the rooftop and climbs down the ladder. I put my bag by the generator along with the clothes.

I stuff the package in my pocket and follow him. The city noises fade away and are replaced by the dings of appliances and the sound of voices.

"Come on," Leo calls from the elevator. "You're the one who's dragging me into this. You may as well hurry up."

I tap in a few commands into the touch-screen of the elevator, and the doors close silently. Leo and I stand in silence, listening to the music from the speakers.

Awkward.

.......

I can't get over how not-normal Terry looks.

Her windswept hair is now…well, it's still windswept, but now it looks more on purpose. Her leather attire has become way girly; a blue skirt over her jeans, brown velvet boots, and a purple shirt with a holo-pic of a kitten.

And it doesn't help that the elevator music is all sappy and about how some guy was a jerk to his girlfriend and how he sucks.

Ding.

The plastic doors open. I make sure that my tail is tucked in and my jacket is obscuring my spots. Terry asks me to check her wings; tucked in as tight as they are it must hurt, but she looks perfectly normal.

The Auditorium is a huge, airy room below the first floor of the building, filled with densely packed teenagers. The music is loud and funky and the air is filled with lights of different colours and the scent of perfume and sweat.

Terry and I are immediately ambushed by drones. "Do you need a drink?" they ask. "Do you need a snack?" I accept the fizzy green liquid that they give me, but reject the strangely shaped foods. The drink tastes fruity and sour.

"Come on," Terry says, grabbing my arm. She leads me through the crowd, dodging guys with purple hair and girls in teeny little dresses.

I feel the tube of powder in my pocket and hope it doesn't fall out. Powder is hard to find in the cities, and I don't know Terry's suppliers. The sharp, warm happiness from the taste earlier is fading.

At the back of the Auditorium the crowd is sparser. Mostly that's because it's where the hybrids are; kids with tails, wings, fangs, and more.

They carry refills or food for the drones, but all of them have a hopeless look in their eyes; I'm a slave. I'll never be human. I'll never be free.

.......

Stop whining, you hopeless failure!

The words ring in my ears as I look at the hybrids. Leo has a glazed look in his eyes and clenches his hand into a fist.

One of the hybrids taps me on my shoulder. "Are you Terry?" he whispers, totally unnecessary because of the loud music. "The guy that you're supposed to see is over there." He looks over his shoulder, as if someone is peeking over it, and scurries away.

'The guy' is a man in a classy suit; totally out of place next to the colourful outfits of the partygoers. He's probably a renter; a rich guys with twenty 'brids who he rents out like cars.

"You looking for someone?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.

Leo looks at me, and slightly pulls up one of his pant legs. Surprisingly, the man doesn't react at the sight of Leo's ungainly paw jammed into his leather boot.

"So you're Terry? Looking for Nell?" he asks nonchalantly. "'cause if you are, I want my payment."

"I know," I say, handing him the package. He sniffs it and grins. Yep, drugs; the universal currency.

"You bring good stuff, kid," he says, stuffing it into his jacket. "Nell's over there. She's a good kid; I got a lot of cash with her. Nell!" He catches the attention of a small girl in a dress. "Someone here for you."

The girl looks confused for a second. She sees me, and her eyes widen. The man beckons her over and she comes, looking wary.

"Here." He hands Nell to Leo like a towel, and I bristle with rage. But the second that my little sister clutches my and buries her face in my shirt, it evaporates.

.......

I've known Terry for five years, and I know I've never seen her happier. No one was crying tears of joy or anything, but you could see that she was happy.

"I said that I'd come, right?" she says gently. "It's all okay." Nell sniffles, rubbing her eyes. She looks completely normal in a pair of leggings and a shirt, and not at all like an escaped hybrid; the power of polyester.

I tap some powder into my mouth, grimacing at the bitter taste. "So where are you going now?" I ask Terry. "With your sis you have to be extra careful."

"We'll manage," Terry says stubbornly, shouldering her bag. "When we fly… well, we'll just have to go higher than the personal crafts."

She extends and stretches her jet-black wings. With the sun rising on the horizon she looks like an avenging angel.

When ell extends her wings, I can see that the primary feathers are clipped to prevent her from flying straight. Terry's probably bristling, seeing that.

"Just...be careful," I say, blushing. I'm not good with awkward moments. "Tell me if you need any help." I won't need it. No one cares about a runaway as long as he keeps out of trouble. I'll be fine.

"Thanks for getting me," Nell says shyly. She clutches her big sister's hand and smiles at me.

Without warning, Terry leaps off of the building with Nell, falling for a few stories before catching the breeze. They flap their wings and disappear into the pollution.

Facing one way, you would be captivated by the hills covered by green grass and trees. You'd run down the dirt tracks, feeling free from the confined space of the city as the sun rises over the hills.

But the second you face the other way you'd find the city; a place belching pollutants so strong that they bleach the grass white.

You want to hide, to get away from this monster. It looks beautiful at night; the hovercars, the people, the holo-pics climbing up and down the skyscrapers. But it looks too cold, even in the warm morning sunlight.

Two birds fly away from the city. At first you want to follow, but you look closer. They're bird hybrids, with smiles on their faces.

They make you want to smile too.

Did You Know

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