by Minerva Zimmerman
Edited by Brian J. White
I hunched forward against the whipping wind, my climate hood blowing back over and over, face coated by spitting rain. It slithered down my neck as I walked down dark streets. Reflected neon shattered like stained glass in every puddle I stepped in.
“Display last known address for Daniel Alden.”
Nothing happened. I looked down at the status screen for my devices. I had plenty of power, why weren’t they responding? I put a hand to where the throat mic and conduction headphones should sit under my jaw. The dripping rain had caused them to lose skin adhesion and slip out of place.
I ducked into a nearby transit shelter, and bumped into someone already inside.
“Sorry.” I jumped aside, unsure how I’d failed to see them, and hurried to the far bench.
“No worries,” trilled a female voice.
It was the voice that caught my attention as I sat down and slipped off my devices — wrist, mask, mic, and headphones. “You live around here?” I wasn’t expecting a response.
She turned toward me, dark eyes, brown hair — layered and pixie short. No devices. Nothing obscured her face at all. She wore layers of brown Tokyo-chic asymmetrical clothing, but no greatcoat or any kind of climate hood.
“I live in the city.”
That voice again. Short staccato bursts of melody that left me wanting to hear more of the song.
“I’m looking for someone. Guy named Daniel Alden.”
“Names mean little to me.” She moved away, hovering at the entrance of the shelter. Her gaze following the curtain of blowing rain, made visible in a nearby streetlight.
I rummaged in my satchel. “I’ve got an umbrella you could take.” I produced a cheap one, the kind they always have buckets of at the entrance of civic buildings. This one was emblazoned with the city logo and the slogan “Home of Tomorrow’s Energy Needs.” I must have had it awhile.
She laughed. The lilting sound echoed and banged off the transparent shelter walls, caressing my ears.
“The rain always stops,” she said, smiling.
Until that moment, I’d always thought falling in love was something that happens gradually.
“I’m Koi,” I said, turning to face her.
“Like the fish?”
She smiled. My heart swelled.
“It’s a pretty name.” I wanted to move closer, but she held her body in tension, ready to swoop away.
“It is a plain name, but it is mine.”
She moved like a bird. All fluttering of fingers and small furtive movements. I wanted to cup her in my hands and feel her heartbeat against my skin. She was a wild thing.
“Did you pick your name?” I asked.
She shook her head. Her short hair was so fine that the movement caused it to resettle in a new pattern of layers. “You chose yours?”
“When I remade myself, I needed to change my fortune. Koi Kersey has been a much luckier name for me.”
Sparrow took a step toward me, her hand fluttering to the level of my hair. “It must take a lot of work to keep your hair the colors of a fortune fish.”
I held still as she moved close enough to touch. “Not so much trouble. The long bits aren’t very long, and the short bits require almost no dye. I like playing with different patterns of white, orange, and black.”
She moved even closer and I could smell her now. Earthy and crisp. I imagined the crook of her neck smelled like my childhood camping trips, far from the human stench of the city.
“Why are you looking for someone?” her breath skimmed along my jaw.
I swallowed, reminding my fingers not to touch. “I’m a detective. I specialize in finding people who don’t want to be found.”
She hummed, and it sounded like the flutter of wings in her throat. “I see. Perhaps that explains why you found me.”
“Were you really hiding?” I asked with a smile.
“Have you ever seen a city without sparrows?”
My smile faded as I tried to make sense of her words.
Sparrow reached out. The barest hint of her fingertip traced the curve of my face.
I closed my eyes.
“Pretty fish, have you never wondered what happens to the birds when it rains?”
There was a rush of air, a flapping of cloth, and when I opened my eyes — I was alone.
The rain had stopped.