Kendra gulped. The silence persisted as Nef continued to watch her, the black woman’s hands pressed – palm down – on the table. The sentence hanging between them – the bit about killing a lot of people – seemed to turn the air to ice in Kendra’s lungs, despite the fact that the rising sun was already starting to bring in the Californian warmth that she was so used too.
“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Kendra said. She was immediately embarrassed by how her voice sounded: Weak, childish, whiny. She should have been able to say such an obviously moral thing with strength and conviction: ‘No, I will not kill anyone, for killing is wrong!’
She should have. But she didn’t.
Nef sighed, her breath misting in the air. “It is kill or be killed.”
“And that makes it BETTER!?” Kendra winced at the way her own voice squeaked and popped, moving from tense to out and out hysterical.
“No.” Nef shook her head. “No it does not. But it is the truth, and it is one that you will have to become accustomed too.”
“I don’t…I won't…I…” Kendra held her hands up. “I have to get to school. I have a life! I have friends!”
Nef stood. “If you leave my presence, Crichton will come back and kill you. And if not him, then the others might attack. Some of them are less scrupulous than Mr. Crichton.”
“He came after an unarmed teenager with a sword!” Kendra put her hands over her mouth to stop herself from screaming. The panic that she kept trying to nail down threatened to spiral up and out of control every time she opened her mouth.
“He didn’t capture your family and hold them for ransom,” Nef said.
Kendra stopped before she said what she was thinking – you people are monsters! – but it was a close one. She closed her eyes, turned around, and then opened her eyes. She looked at the parking lot of the foot court – empty, save for a few employee cars, or people parking to get the early bird deal at the local Couches and Quills – and she tried to imagine life with people like Crichton ready to pop out and stab her at any moment. She tried to imagine what it would be like: Paranoia, hiding, being armed all the time…she’d have to have a gun, for one thing. Or did guns not work on Immortals?
“It’d…” She paused, then turned back to face Nef. “It’d be easier if you were less honest, you know?”
“If you didn’t let on about the whole killing people, life of violence thing, then I’d have been sold on the magic and the immortality.” Kendra smiled. “I…I might still freak out at any second, but for now, I am going to try and treat this as a comic book.”
Nef looked a little non-plussed at that. Shaking her head, she stood and then gestured towards the exit of the food court.
“Come on. I have some people you need to meet.”
“Wait, what about school? I can’t just skip school.”
Nef smiled as Kendra hurried up to her side, the two women walking out of the food court and onto the sidewalk that looped around the side of the court. She inclined her head in the direction of the school.
“By the time tomorrow morning comes by, this day will have not happened. You did not plan to do anything majorly eventful this day, correct? Nothing that will alter the history of the country or the world if it does not happen, hmm?”
“Um, not to my knowledge.” Kendra pursed her lips, blowing air through them like a whickering horse as she thought. It had been a habit she had picked up from…somewhere. She wasn’t entirely sure, and thinking about that would just send her off on another irrelevant thought train. “Why?”
Nef sighed and then stopped as they came to another traffic light. She gestured.
“What would happen if you went left, as opposed to right?”
Kendra leaned forward, putting her hand on the chilly traffic light pole to brace herself as she looked down the street.
“I’d end up at the library,” she said, nodding after a moment.
“And if you went right?”
Kendra looked right.
“I’d get on the highway, eventually. Or I’d go over the overpass and get to the mall.” She grinned. “I could get new shoes.”
Nef nodded. The lights changed and – rather than going left or right, they went straight. “Now, you would say that life is full of such choices. Go left or right. Wear this or that. Say this or that. Correct?”
Nef stepped forward – so that she was a pace or two ahead of Kendra, an easy task with her long legs – and then turned on her heel. She started to walk backwards, without a care in the world.
“What if you could re-make a decision? What if, after going left, you could decide to then go right instead?”
Kendra thought about it for a moment.
“Life would be like a video game, I guess.” Kendra grinned. “You can redo decisions that you don’t like. What did Bryant call it…” She rubbed her chin.
Nef nodded, solemnly. As she did so, Kendra snapped her fingers.
“Save scumming!” She beamed. “The only way to beat X-Com.”
Nef smiled. “Exactly. You reload the game whenever one of your favorite soldiers dies unfairly. You reload and reload until the enemy either misses him or until he survives being shot. That is the essence of immortality.”
Kendra stopped, as if she had run straight into one of the traffic signs that dotted the sidewalk – the ones indicating where cars could park, and where buses would stop to pick people up. She held her hand up, palm flat to Nef.
“Did…did you just reference X-Com?”
Nef smiled. “I was born in 1988, Kendra.”
“But…you…said you were an Ancient Egyptian!” Kendra said as Nef turned around – she had apparently reached her destination, as she turned into a side street that looked like it led straight to a gate for a gated community. Kendra hurried after the black woman – who started to tap buttons on a small intercom box that hung near the front of the gate.
Nef grinned as the gate started to open. “I am. I was born in the year 1032 BC. But I was also born in 1988 AD. And last year, I was born in 1987. And in the year before that, I was born in 1986.”
The gate had fully opened, revealing the normal façade of a gated community – a small garage, with an awning to protect the cars from sun and rain, a collection of apartments connected to one another by balconies and stairwells. Sitting before one of the apartments was a grindstone, where a man with a welding mask was grinding a sword against the stone – producing a flare of sparks.
“Come,” Nef said, stepping into the gates. “You should meet your other allies and teachers.”
And with more questions than answers, Kendra entered the Immortal’s refuge.
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