Hard Candy

Many of the stores around the Spire were still closed, locked up tight with paper signs that hung with tape from the windows. “SICK” one simply proclaimed in red marker. “RED DEATH” said another. There were signs that containment crews had been there as well, albeit likely not as fast as they showed at the Spire. Hazardous material tape and signs littered the streets, while bright orange tents were set up around sewage drains, and warnings of what to do if you or a loved one showed signs of contamination were posted on every AR tag, but Piper was spending the majority of time absorbing information while Romeo picked out flavors like Butterscotch, peppermint, cherry and lemon. No one had claimed the terrorist act yet, but it may be linked to a She Ying scientist who was found killed. The number of people sick was on the rise, the number of survivors was not. In lighter news, Orlock’s reality show was canceled after it was reported that he finally checked himself into a rehab center off-world. With purchases made, Piper opened the store’s automatic door long before they arrived just to stretch her Neo dexterity in a harmless way.

She felt ‘off’ once they’d stepped outside of the store,” Romey, my stomach feels -- “

Her voice trailed off as the sounds of the streets grew hazy and muffled, the jumble of the grid slipping into a silence she wasn’t used to, a silence that made the Neo shudder. She stepped off the curb, her eyes growing suspicious, staring not into the distance, but at something, someone nearby. He was tall, with a striking silhouette when he turned enough to see his profile it nearly knocked the wind out of the Neo.

“What the -- How?” She asked cryptically in a lowered voice, raising her eyes to his in confusion. His face was unmistakable, especially the copper eyes.

“Wait!”

Her ear was filled with the pounding of boot steps but if she slowed down, if she stopped and looked away she would lose him. His familiar laugh echoed as he gained ground. ‘Stupid!’ Piper chided. Trying to outrun an Alpha what was I thinking. She hadn’t, that was the problem!

The street got tighter and the corners sharper as things turned more maze-like. By now she was hardly able to keep up only catching glimpses of him as he ran from her.

“ZULU!!” Piper yelled. “COME BACK!” She said desperately. “Rome- …” She turned expecting him to be right there. He wasn’t. “...-o” She finished startled by this revelation.

Spinning around to nothing but walls higher than she could see, she called for her Alpha again. He was always right there, right by her side, right behind her. That itself was the most frightening part. Jogging forward, she came to a dead-end, this maze, it was just like the gauntlet. “Romeo?” She called one more time, slowing down.. “Romey?” Alone. No, no no no no-- Piper gritted her teeth. She wasn’t some helpless, give up hope Neo waiting to be rescued, a Neo in distress. She was 457’s Neo, and come hell or red water, he made sure she was well trained for any situation. Maze. She held her right hand out to the wall on her right and followed it, just like they practiced for the gauntlet. Follow one wall. Like her Alpha taught her. After a few twists and turns, it led her out into a tunnel which ended in the cheers of a stadium. A few more steps and she could see the inside, the trampolines on the field, the high goal posts. “Blitzball?” There were whoops and hollers as half dozen Alphas came barreling through, including her own! “Romeo!” But she couldn’t utter a sound, he couldn’t hear, and the Alphas charged right past, bootsteps fading to silence. Everything, in fact, was now silent. She looked up in the stands, trying to connect with someone, anyone, no one was responding, no one was linked.

From behind her came a bright light, bright enough to catch her attention, blocked by a shadow. An alpha? Hers? No, Mountain? Piper backed off ready to run onto the field, but her back hit a wall.. The shadow opened its mouth, it’s giant jaw unhinging and letting out a piercing scream while behind it numbers, a countdown, flashed. 3. 2. 1.

“WAIT!” The flash of light, the blast, flying backward and --” Piper gasped a long deep breath as if thrown back inside her own body the minute they stepped into the Spire.

“Feeling better?” Romeo asked with genuine concern.

“What?” She asked, shooting a confused glance around until her eyes settled on her Alpha, instantly placating any panic she felt. The comforting voices of the Neo started to fill her head. “What Happened?”

“You got a little queasy after we got the hard candy.” Romeo said with a raised eyebrow. “You think it might be something you had for lunch?” Not that he thought the MRE was BAD however it could happen. Piper may not have the iron belly of an Alpha and it sometimes easy to forget that.

Piper grabbed his arm and shook her head vigorously “No. It was the vision! I guess it was strong, I don’t remember walking back, I don’t remember getting back. I saw Zulu, and a maze, and I got out like you showed me, and then I saw Blitzball and you and then-- then the blast -- did we just get here?”

“Just now,” he assured his Neo, glancing her over. “Are you still sure you’re up for visiting?”

Piper nodded. “I can sort it out after. I really want to see our friend, and we did get her hard candy. Dove’s Alpha said that outsiders really like that when they’re sick. Plus Dr. Cody says we can’t stay more than five minutes anyway.” Romeo extended his arm to let her lead the way.

JP with Blitzen and Winters

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