Her body snapped onto a very abrupt suspension, a sensation that was only really processed five to six seconds after it happened. Something had happened that she had never experienced and, as a result, those five or six seconds were lost to her. Every sense had been put on hold.
It took an extra few seconds for her to half-believe the contraption was indeed safe, after which she contemplated just how high she was and how fast she was falling.
She could not tell very well, seeing as it was night-time. Jamie could, however, hear the remarkable amount of silence around her.
There was air struggling against the chute, but nothing else was around. Jamie didn’t like it much, the Street Rat was most comfortable amidst noise, particularly of a crowd.
She then noticed the thing was taking her right down an alley – and for the first time in her life, that sentence had a literal meaning – but one that was very narrow. Looking up, Jamie regarded that the chute was going to hit one of the walls.
“Crap!” She yelled, concerned, “oh man.”
Luckily, her forward speed wasn’t at all high. The thing scraped against the building’s corner, sort of bouncing while starting a spin. Jamie held on for dear life, too out of it to notice her descending speed was still stable.
Going slightly dizzy, Jamie was still able to notice she was about to hit the ground. She breathed in and in a moment of revelation, remembered she was wounded in her leg. She lifted them both up in reaction and landed on her butt.
She bounced and scraped a few feet and then tumbled aggressively, while grunting complaints. She cursed loudly as the chute settled on the ground behind her.
“Ooooww…” She looked back at it in annoyance, and then up at the massive tower she had jumped out of. “Eesh. This is exactly the kinda thing I’m not cut out for.”
Jamie pulled the harness apart and massaged her butt, her right cheek was too sore to even stand properly. “Jumpin’ off buildings, fer cryin’ out loud.”
She stomped the left foot and swayed herself, trying to shake up that sore butt to a more amiable disposition. “I. Am. The. Street. Rat!”
The Lady of Light had known about that all along.
Jamie felt filthy. Her dress only compounded her haggard look, stretched and dirty and ripped here and there. Her leg was bleeding again, and she was sore, and her hair was a mess because of the fall, what little makeup she had used was smeared due to all the sweating. In summary, she looked like crap.
Jamie smirked. Like a street rat.
Jamie never cared about what she looked like, no Scavenger did, not really, they only cared about whether how they looked was counterproductive.
The Street Rat stood, obstinately and proudly. Jamie grabbed the letter Pointstree had been writing and widened her smirk.
She pocketed it and looked up at the building again.
Jamie turned her back to it and walked deeper into the alley to do another kind of make-up. The Street Rat found a half-empty bottle of whiskey, it had been broken over someone’s head. He poured it over his hair and used it to further clean what little make-up remained. He found a piece of blanket, which he wrapped around his shoulders like a cape.
Sighing, he finally gave the ground a good rubbing with his finger and then smudged his cheeks somewhat. After that, he was ready to return to the Scavengers.
People steered clear of him, ignoring a poor starving child took a lot of guilt-ridden effort, which was almost equal in measure to the sub-conscious effort to forget having seen him at all.
Jamie was now angry. Or upset. Or perhaps he felt weird that he was still wearing young maid’s clothes, even if nobody could tell.
Stubbornness, that was it.
He had many reasons to feel like he had failed but he was stubborn in his intention to feel victorious. The Street Rat was really not used to getting hurt, to getting physical, outside of a kick to a groin or a knee, followed by a quick run. He was certainly was not used to falling off buildings and walking around with a limp because a plane shot at him.
Crazy days, he thought to himself, scratching his butt which was still intent on letting him know it really didn’t appreciate catching his fall. Who’re these beasts, anyway? And why’re all these people making trouble? First the Anarchists and now these other guys?
The Street Rat planned as he walked home. A new organization changed things somewhat, could it be the one Falk had been tasked with uncovering? Most likely. Jamie kept thinking, working on the web of events that were unfolding, branching out from his possible decisions. So far, things had gone as he expected, or better, outside of the LBA planes actually fighting off—he held his thought, it was useless to think about that, he wanted to think about the future. The past is nothing but information to help future decisions and predictions.
It took him three or four hours to reach the edge of Scavenger territory, at which point, he smelled a familiar freshness to the air. It was going to rain soon.
Casey looked up at Jamie as he walked by, curiously, rummaging his mind for understanding. A minute later, he was walking up next to Jamie.
“Yeah,” he replied, involuntarily sounding snarky. “Casey.”
“You look like crap.”
“So do you, that’s the point.”
“No, I mean really–”
“I know what you mean,” she said icily. Jamie cleared his throat, regaining composure, “it got wild up there, I had to improvise.”
“Egh. Anyway, Andy said to take you to him soon as you returned.”
“That’s nice, I’ll meet him once I’ve–”
“Whatever it is, you’ll do it after you meet him.”
Jamie stopped and looked Casey in the eyes. His easy smile waned, and he stepped back in hesitation, not handling her glare all too well.
“You barely recognized me.”
“Well yeah, have you looked at yourself?”
“So let’s say you didn’t,” she squinted her eyes in challenge. “I know you and everyone else would like nothing more than for me to show up to a teen looking like this.” It would be a big blow to her reputation.
“It’s not about that,” he shook his head in concern, a concern Jamie could tell was false, “it’s just orders, I gotta do my job.”
“Go and do yer lyin’, Casey. About me showing up ragged and bleeding while wearing trash. I am going home, and I will meet Andy in the morning.”
“I’ll just tell him where you are then,” he shrugged, “he can see you himself.”
She smiled mischievously.
“He can’t move. And by the time he sends someone, I’ll be gone. I’ll meet him in the morning when I’m good and ready.”
“I can’t just–”
“You didn’t see me,” Jamie suggested, for his own good, roughly in the same manner a loan-shark suggests someone to not take their loan. “You wouldn’t be the first to be unable to spot the Street Rat.”
“But I was able,” he lifted an eyebrow.
Jamie looked around.
“Who’s to say ya did? We’re spread pretty thin, I don’t see anybody else here.”
“Well,” Jamie turned around and walked off, “good luck making other people believe that you saw me.”
Casey gave a heavy sigh, but soon ran off at full speed.
There was nothing about how the Street Rat looked that could be corroborated with what would be Jordan’s account. If Jamie were fast enough, no one would find out the truth. If they did, well, it was still better than simply fessing up to it.
Admitting the fact the Street Rat had, at last, not breezed through a challenge unscathed and untouched would be a hit. That reputation was important to Jamie, vital, even, in the Scavengers. More so in those crazy fluctuating times.
The Street Rat sped up his pace.
Finally. Proper shoes, thick socks, a proper shirt, and a bulgy scarf. Jamie really wanted to put on full-fledged pants, but the misshapen shorts were important to his haggard look. He didn’t have time to get the air to its voluminous state, but at least it wasn’t straight anymore, it was messy like he liked it.
The Street Rat took a look at himself, he once again looked like a boy, or at least close enough that you couldn’t tell for sure. He looked down and wiggled his leg, the replacement bandage, bound somewhat tightly beneath the loose clothing, had already improved the pain. Of note was also the fact that all the bruises were covered by the clothing.
He looked around at his home, a purposefully messy affair that was basically a bedroom with a small bathroom stall. He had spent years without one, it was a small luxury, but he was oh so thankful for it. Clothes and toys and trinkets cluttered over the bed, and the room itself looked patched up in many places.
One of those places was hiding a window.
He grabbed all the clothing he had brought over and left the house through the window that was blocked by a random sheet of metal on which cardboard was taped onto. Jamie climbed down to the ceiling of her neighbor and carried on to find a spent and untrustworthy-looking staircase.
The Street Rat climbed down and walked away. He’d like to imagine he had been close, that whoever was sent to check up on Casey’s claims was just then arriving at the house and knocking on the door.
Sometimes, however, one’s just too good to deal with narrative tensions.
Jamie dumped the stuff in a very big trashcan and put his hat on, pulling it down to help remind his head not to look so tall.
He walked around his territory, giving matters of the future further thinking while trying to keep himself unnoticed on his own turf for practice’s sake. And, secretly and subconsciously, to show himself he was still the Street Rat. The one and only, the best of the Scavengers.
For some reason, Jamie found himself thinking back to the Shadow Conclave meeting and thinking about how afraid he had been of the Mad Genius. That the man would snap and kill him. In the state he was in, he just felt upset he had been nervous in the first place.
The Street rat should be able to manipulate that fool. He should be able to manipulate everyone. Even the Holy Lady.
Jamie sighed. He was leaning on a wall near to some legitimate orphans who were heating themselves around a burning barrel. He was there for a while before moving on.
He overviewed the state of his home within his home. His city was his home, but so was that particular borough: that was where he was known and respected. Jamie really didn’t want that to change.
On top of that, he hoped never again to see it in that state. People were still hurt, so much of it was still shot up from the plane attacks.
By the time the sun rose, signaling it was time to meet with Andy, the Street Rat had a multi-layered gigantic tree of a plan, such was the branching he had visualized, and was overall more motivated than ever.
Andy was sitting at his desk when Jamie found him, sporting dark rings around his eyes from lack of sleep. His arm was now a handled stump, it had a growing blood stain that he seemed to be ignoring, his good arm was managing a newspaper. There had been no guards, of course, there had only been a few kids to tell him in advance of the Street Rat’s arrival.
“Jamie,” he greeted first, stating Jamie had fooled no one in his approach. That was fine, he had obviously not tried.
“I’m here to report before I move on to meet with the Conclave.”
“How’s the leg?”
“Fine,” Jamie squinted sarcastically, “you should maybe worry about yourself.”
“Hm,” he looked back at her with those compassionate eyes, they were so happy and relieved to see her. His expression was so dark, though, the contrast near made her shiver. “Casey claimed you’ve been here for half a day.”
“Ok?” Jamie raised an eyebrow, “that’s kinda weird but okay. When did he say I arrived? And did he maybe also tell you I said he should be a teen and that I’d follow him anywhere no matter what?”
Andy shook his head at her irony, not really interested in talking about Casey apparently. He looked back at his paper.
“We received a letter from the Holy Lady.”
That caught her off-guard. Why? What was on it? Should she feign knowledge? Teens were always testing them, Andy would want to–
“Who is the Street Rat, it reads.”
The fact he just flat-out told her was even more surprising. What was happening?
“She also writes that she was fooled. When she woke up, her husband told her about Sarah, how she had reacted and what she had said and she thought she had been wrong, that it wasn’t a Scavenger after all, only to then find Sarah absolutely gone. She made the connection between that and the thief who escaped after suspiciously stealing nothing from Lady Poinstree,” he side-glanced at Jamie, “whoever that is.”
Jamie whistled, impressed with himself.
“The Holy Lady has thus assumed it was none other than the Street Rat, and has asked to know your real name. She wants to meet the real you.”
She extended her hand to see the letter.
Andy absent-mindedly grabbed it off his desk, it was aside the newspaper, and flicked his wrist to throw it to her. She grabbed it.
So in the end, she had played the Holy Lady by playing her husband, when the plan all along had been to play her husband by playing her. By fainting, by sticking around, it had been something the Lady would never truly expect an impostor Sarah to do. In the end, the Street Rat had won, and now the Lady of Light wanted to exchange contact. A sign of mutual respect.
“Do I send a reply?” Andy asked, and there was the test, she knew from his tone of voice. “This is a specific case, I’ll let you decide what to do.”
The Holy Lady had helped Jamie a great deal. She had saved her and maybe saved her entire life with how she rescued Jamie from her first ball mishap. Jamie respected her and would indeed like to show her that, but never at the cost of her own ambitions.
So the Street Rat scoffed and shred the letter.
“What do you think?”
Andy’s lip twisted into a knowing half-smile and nodded in appreciation.
“So give your report.”
And like that, the Holy Lady was out of the conversation. Now that she had played her part in convincing the state to fight the beasts, she was no longer of any consequence to Andy or anyone.
“There’s another player, they tried to kill the Holy Lady.”
“Any idea why? They want to help the beasts, too?”
“No, that Lady Pointstree was there with them, and she was really trying to convince them to fight the beasts. If I was to take a wild guess, I’d say they have the successor to Amara in their pocket, so they just wanted to make sure.”
He rose his head, the thought only then occurring to him. Jamie called it a wild guess but the Street Rat very rarely made wild guesses. They weren’t even guesses, they were considered and informed opinions.
“So Lady Pointstree is a member?”
“I stole a letter she was writing to someone, her handler or maybe even the leader? I’m takin’ it back to the Shadow Conclave.”
That wasn’t up to discussion, of course. It was her achievement, it was her laurels to claim.
He nodded a few times, appraising himself of the situation.
“Great work again, Jamie, you just never disappoint. Go, and report back on what they’re doing and what we can do to help, I’ll work things on my end.”
Jamie smirked victoriously, Andy had just spoken like a partner, not a leader.
She had the approval of a teen. That was a big deal but then again, why would she be surprised? She was the Street Rat and that’s who the Street Rat was:
A big deal.