I wake up, but not in the dark alleyway. It’s cooler in here, but there’s still a lingering humidity in the air. Something soft is under me. I realize it’s a blanket. I sit up and look around, noticing, for one, that my hands and feet aren’t tied, which is significant in whoever found me.
A white curtain surrounds my area, which contains two blankets and a pillow for sleeping, a lamp by my “bed,” and, in the corner, a small basket filled with a variety of things. A paper is clipped to the basket.
I stand up and go to crouch by the basket. The note reads, “These are some gifts for your stay here. Come out when you are ready. -Friends”
Friends. I doubt that, but I search the basket anyway. It has a steel water thermos and a simple leather bag.
Searching the bag, which is rather heavy, I find a map of Antiford in a special leather case, and I decide to keep it, though I know that I won’t refer to it often. I also find several large books, which I ignore. Books are of no use to me, whether I’d want to read them or not. They go back in the basket.
I find a smaller leather bag that seems to be specially designed for food. Inside is a small pouch which has napkins in it—they really went all out—and another pouch built into the bag has a set of metal silverware—one knife, one spoon, one fork, and one mini set of tongs.
The bag has some mini pans in it, wooden skewers, matches, and I finally find actual food—a dinner roll and some beef jerky.
After eating the dinner roll and jerky, I put the steel water thermos in the bag and sling the bag over my shoulder. I walk out of the curtained area into a hallway filled with them.
Both ends are open, so I choose a side and walk to the end of the hallway in that direction. I find a woman standing there. She has dark, curly hair, and is dressed in clothes that had been patched many times over, a swirl of different colors and stitches and many different textures.
“Follow me and I’ll lead you to the main area,” she says with only a nod for greeting, and starts walking. I don’t take a step.
“Who are you and what do you want? I appreciate your gifts, but I need to know who you are,” I say.
She turns and shrugs. “Very well. We are a small group that have heard of you and support you. We want to use our technology to enhance people, like your father—was it?—did to you. We rescued you from the Mayberry District center and brought you to its outskirts, where our warehouse is located. We were hoping you'd become our ally, and help us with our studies," she says. Her face is strangely passive and emotionless; I don't believe a word she says.
I nod slowly, giving her a skeptical look. Her face doesn't change; instead, she turns and walks down the hallways lined with curtains. I follow a safe distance behind.
We emerge into a large warehouse-like room. The heat is almost stifling, though I see several industrial fans scattered about the room. A high, sloped ceiling rises above me, with dark wooden beams crisscrossing it. The noise in the room is similar to that of a school cafeteria; a low drone. People mill about dozens of tables scattered everywhere across the concrete floor, with tables and cabinets lining the walls with extra supplies. Machines are placed haphazardly across the room.
"This is our main room," the woman says, pausing for just a brief second before she keeps walking. We walk straight through the clutter of tables, machines, people, and noise, and I feel the people's eyes on me as I walk past.
I don't notice it until we reach the end of the clutter and face several doors in gaps between the tables of supplies, and the woman turns me around to face the tables.
Everyone is standing in a crowd facing me. One man in the front bows his head only slightly and then looks back up at me, meeting my eyes.
The gesture ripples through the crowd like a wave, and I watch them with half-disbelief as they all return back to work as if nothing happened, but I notice the glances thrown my way--mostly admiring--as I turn back around.
"Do you see now?" the woman says as we slowly walk towards one of the doors. I nod, still feeling a surreal sense of fantasy in it all, but I feel a small tug on the tip of my wing and I am jerked back to reality--it really did happen.
I turn around and see a small girl standing before me. She barely reaches above my waist, and I know what she wants; it's not hard to guess, with the obvious admiration in her eyes.
The woman stands behind me, and as I bend down and unintentionally conceal the girl from view, her face changes into that of knowledge, and sadness.
She leans up to my ear, cupping her hands around it.
"Don't trust them," she says. Before I can ask what she means, an older man comes rushing up.
"Aliya! Leave her be--she has things to do. I know you want to talk to her, but she has to do things. Come help me build, Aliya. We can make you another toy later, if you want," he says. I straighten and he flashes an apologetic look at me as he takes Aliya's hand and walks her away. I smile, trying to show that it's okay, but he's already disappearing into the crowd with the little girl.
Aliya's face looks back at me at the last second and gives a slight nod.
Don't trust them.