Rokia’s surprised when Selene calls. She maybe shouldn't be, but it's been a long time since she had anyone who'd call her for something other than work.
“Hi Rokia,” Selene says, casual. “I’ve got a day off tomorrow, do you want to go riding?”
Yes. Absolutely. Get her the fuck out of this city. Except she promised she'd finish the repairs she's working on by tomorrow, so… “Afternoon could work,” Rokia says. “I got some shit to get done first.”
“Sounds great,” Selene says. “I can stop by around one, if that works?”
Rokia thinks. “Yeah, should be good.”
“See you tomorrow,” Selene says.
Rokia hangs up and looks back at the hovercraft. Yeah, one should be doable. She quits a little after midnight, because for once things are actually going pretty smoothly, curls up on the battered office couch so people coming in will wake her up, and falls asleep.
Worrying about sleeping in is stupid, of course, because she's awake before six, fragments of dreams dissolving as soon as she opens her eyes, leaving nothing but the sick feeling in her stomach and the sore jaw she forces to unclench.
Her eyes are dry and burning, headache grumbling low against her skull. She wants to sleep. But when she tries, she just ends up antsy and miserable, so she drags herself up.
This is why there's no damn point going back to her apartment, because now she can just walk out and get to work, without having to brave early morning streets and who knows what crazy people are out today. She kicks the coffee machine, takes the cup it finally gives up, and gets to work.
When Selene gets there Rokia’s already moved on to a new job, and part of her wants to beg off, stay here and finish. But no, Selene’s grinning, practically vibrating with anticipation, and it'll be fun to get out.
“I found something,” Selene says, as they walk out. “There's an old lookout up on the ridge, hasn't been used in years. I think there’ll still be a road.”
Rokia feels her shoulders start to relax. “That sounds like fun,” she says, as they get to the bikes. “Lead on.”
She follows Selene out of the city, along one of the access roads they've used for rail line checks, until Selene slows down, glancing to her right, studying the underbrush. Sure enough, there's a track heading uphill. Half overgrown and almost invisible but there.
And this is why Selene’s fun, because even though she's gorgeous and put together she charges up this path regardless of the branches that reach out and snag in her jacket and pants.
It opens up as they get higher, grass and bushes giving way to scrub and rocks, and the trail’s easy enough to follow. So Selene speeds up, and Rokia matches pace, and they fly up the switchbacks, leaning into the curves. The air’s getting colder too, sharp against Rokia’s cheeks and hands.
Even as fast as they're going it takes an hour to get up to the decrepit buildings. Rock and concrete, narrow windows, a rusting fence around the whole thing— it was clearly military, but it's turning into little more than a pile of rubble. Selene pulls up outside a gate, secured with a rusty chain and padlock. She hops down, and Rokia follows.
Selene grabs the padlock. “This is rusted shut,” she says, rattling it. “Think you can make it over?”
Rokia snorts. “This? Of course.”
Selene gives her a sharp grin. “Excellent,” she says, scrambles up and drops down on the other side.
Rokia isn't as graceful, but she makes it without much trouble. Selene’s moved on ahead, ducking into a mostly intact doorway. There's stairs, and on her own Rokia wouldn't trust them not to crumble, but with Selene there she's not about to act chicken. She starts up, and Selene follows, up to a rooftop that overlooks the Capitol.
There's no weapons here, but Rokia can see signs from where they would've been. Selene comes up beside her, goes to lean on the edge of the roof, then thinks better of it. “Nice view,” Rokia says.
Selene looks thoughtful, sounds distracted when she says “Yeah, it is, isn't it?” Then she shrugs, looks over at Rokia. “Fun ride up here, too.”
Rokia smiles. “For sure,” she says.
It doesn't take too long for Rokia to start getting cold. Selene notices her shivering, says “C’mon, let’s head back.”
Rokia's grateful for the increasing temperature as they drop back down out of the mountains. The sun’s getting low when they stop at the checkpoint into the city. Selene looks over at her, speculative. “You want to grab something to eat?” she asks, in her easy, casual tone.
Rokia freezes for a second, but there's really no reason to be worried about it. “Sure,” she says. “I’ll follow you.”
Selene looks pleased, kicks the starter and heads out into Capitol streets.
They don't head for the center, the Games Complex and the fancy spots Rokia knows from before, and that's a relief. No, they go over near the cargo terminal and the Peacekeepers barracks, and Selene pulls in in front of a scruffy looking building that wouldn't look out of place in the nicer parts of Six.
“Look okay?” Selene asks, still casual but watching carefully.
“Sure,” Rokia says, and Selene nods and leads the way in.
There's a few guys at the bar, watching something on the TV, tables scattered around. Selene picks a spot in the back corner, out of the way, and waves a hand toward the bartender as she slides in. Rokia’s facing the room, looks around. It looks… comfortable.
“I didn't know they had spots like this in the Capitol,” she says.
Selene smiles. “Yeah, a friend showed me this place,” she says. Then she glances away, looks relieved to see the bartender coming over.
“You want a beer?” Selene asks. “I'm buying.”
Rokia shrugs. “Sure.”
“Hey,” Selene greets the bartender. “Bring us a couple beers, and what’ve you got for food?”
“We got burgers again finally, looks like they've got meat shipments coming in,” he says.
Selene glances over at Rokia, who nods. “Sure, two of those, too.”
The guy nods, walks away.
“You're welcome,” Rokia says. Selene looks confused. “We helped get that track on line,” Rokia says. “It's through flat desert, mostly, so not too many blown up bridges and what have you, that made it easier.”
The bartender brings their beers and Selene tilts hers toward Rokia. “Thanks,”she says, “here's to getting shit fixed for once.”
Rokia smiles at that, drinks. It's been a while since she did anything like this. Sitting in a dimly lit bar, hanging out with a friend, or something like. Matt’s probably the last person she just… got a beer with, and that’d be at least a year ago now.
She spins the cold glass between her palms, looks up at Selene. “Anything exciting happening out your way?” She asks. “Assuming it's not top secret.”
Selene laughs, runs a hand over her head, tucking back stray hairs. “Nah, not so much. I was down in Two trying to see if there's anything to salvage from the old Academy,” she says, a little wary.
Because most district folks aren't exactly happy about anything to do with Peacekeepers, Rokia assumes. But hey, new world, new rules, and Rokia finds she doesn't really have the space to care about that particular grudge. “Find much?” She asks, sipping at her drink.
Selene shrugs. “Some. And then Dash blew up the rest so nobody’d get ideas about going looking for who knows what in there.”
Rokia raises an eyebrow. “Dash?” She asks, and she meant it perfectly innocently, but Selene freezes, just slightly, so now she's curious.
“My partner, remember? The demolitions guy?”
“Oh, sure,” Rokia says. Grins. “Didn't see much of him, he was usually a good ways behind.”
Selene laughs, sits back against the seat. “Yeah, he said he wasn't going to race a vehicle he just learned to ride that day.”
“Pfff, that's a lousy excuse,” Rokia says. “First time I rode one was at an event, I had to race. And those bikes were way faster, too.”
Selene’s still smiling, but doesn't say anything. Everyone's so careful these days. “I didn't win that time,” Rokia goes on, “but by the next time they brought me around I did a hell of a lot better.”
Selene relaxes a little. “Man, wish I'd seen that, sounds fun.”
Rokia shrugs. “Would've been… 72? Maybe 73?”
Selene glances toward the bar. “I'd have been at the Academy probably,” she says, “not so much gossip channels there.”
She glances up like she's worried Rokia will be offended, but if that kind of thing bothered her Rokia’d never leave the house. (You don't leave the house much, the ghost of Phillips’ nagging voice reminds her. She ignores it.)
“I think that was on the sports channel,” Rokia says, loftily. “Much classier.”
“Oh, well in that case…” Selene starts, and is interrupted by their food.
It smells amazing. There hasn't been much meat around, mostly slightly-odd fakes or mixes of actual meat with who knows what fillers.
“Holy shit, this is actual dead cow,” Selene says, lifting up the bun. “I will buy you as much beer as you want for making this happen.”
Rokia laughs. “You're too kind,” she says, in a fancy accent, lifting her glass.
They don't talk much after that, because the food is good, and suddenly Rokia is starving. Selene finishes first, even so, leans back to drain her beer and hum in satisfaction.
“Oh man,” Rokia says, once she's done. “I forgot how good actual food tastes.”
Selene laughs. When the guy comes to pick up the plates she nods toward Rokia’s empty glass. “One more?”
Rokia shrugs. “Sure, I don't have to be back at the shop.”
Selene glances at the clock. “Do you usually work late shift?” she asks.
Rokia laughs, probably harder than she should. “I work all the shifts,” she says, and that's not quite right. “Well, whichever I need to. Just depends what we've got going on.”
Their beers show up then. “They're trying to get our schedules less fucked,” Selene says, settling back in. “I'm not sure what it'll end up being but right now it's about like that for us too.”
“Well, turns out when you blow up a whole fucking country, takes a while to put shit back together,” Rokia says, and it's a little bit joking and a lot not really at all, and Selene seems to get that too, one corner of her mouth curling in what isn't quite a smile.
“No kidding,” she says. “And then everybody thinks they know what’s best and…” she rolls her eyes.
“Oh yes,” Rokia says. “‘But why isn't that hovercraft fixed, I thought it just needed the fuel pump replaced?’” she rolls her eyes. “Because there's no fucking spare parts so we have to machine them one at a time,” she looks over at Selene, shrugs. “You wouldn't think mechanic work would get so damn political, and yet…” she trails off. Probably she should watch her mouth, but it's nice to say out loud to somebody.
Selene’s just shaking her head. “I mean, of course the Peacekeepers are political, or whatever they decide to call us now, but you can't take orders from everybody.”
“And yet,” Rokia guesses.
“Everybody thinks they should be giving them.” Selene finishes. “Yeah.”
They're quiet after that. Maybe Selene’s also thinking that's about as far down that road as they should go, even if Snow’s bugs aren't picking everything up anymore.
Something comes up on the TV about the Victor relocation, someone down in Four talking to people there.
Selene turns to look at the screen, looks back. “You didn't want to go lie on a beach out there?” She asks.
Rokia snorts. “Sure,” she says. “I think I'd get bored after about, oh, maybe an hour.”
Selene laughs at that, the tension Rokia’d only half noticed ratchets down. “Oh, me too,” Selene says. “It'd be fine to go visit or something, I guess.”
Rokia shrugs. Visiting other districts is still a pretty foreign concept, something for the Victory Tour. “Phillips wanted me to go to Nine,” she starts, then pauses, not sure if Selene knows who Phillips is. But Selene just looks incredulous.
“What the hell would you do in Nine?” she asks.
“He said I should learn to fix tractors,” Rokia says, trying to hide her grin with her glass.
Selene bursts out laughing. “I'm sorry,” she says, “just, what on earth?”
Rokia's laughing now, too, shakes her head. “Right?” She says, “can't you just imagine me, with, I don't know, the straw hat and overalls or whatever?”
Selene had almost stopped laughing, but that gets her started again. “Oh no,” she says. “The overalls and the hat and the pitchfork over your shoulder, you'd be a propo for the new Panem.”
“Victors tilling the soil,” Rokia continues, imitating Plutarch. “Working in harmony.”
Selene rolls her eyes. “And I thought the old ones were bad,” she says.
Rokia just shakes her head, drains her glass. Selene’s is already empty. “I should probably quit,” Rokia says, “before it gets too hard to ride home.”
Selene nods. “Probably smart,” she says, gets up. She stops at the counter, refuses to let Rokia pay for anything, and they walk out.
Rokia digs in her jacket pocket, finds the half pack of cigarettes she stashed there. She pulls one out, just to complete the illusion of a night out in District Six. Selene waits while she lights it and leans against the wall. “You don't have to wait,” Rokia says. “I can find my way out of here.”
Selene shrugs, perches half on her bike, one leg up. “No rush,” she says.
The lights are coming on. They're on a little rise, and Rokia can see down to the center of town, the Games Complex still rising up towards the sky.
“What're they calling the old Games Complex?” Rokia asks, suddenly curious. “Please tell me it's not ‘the hall of the people’ or some shit.”
Selene snorts. “I’m not sure, actually,” she says. “But you should totally suggest that, I'm sure they'd love it.”
Rokia shakes her head. “Weird world,” she says.
“No kidding,” Selene responds with feeling. “Kinda crazy still.”
Rokia finishes her cigarette, grinds it out under her heel, kicks it into the gutter. It's already half full of random shit, a little more won't hurt.
Selene straightens, climbs onto the bike properly. Rokia gets hers started, and they head out. Selene peels away before long, heading toward the barracks. Rokia rides home, a little more carefully than she usually would. She pulls the bike into the hangar and locks it, locks the shop door behind her, and heads for her apartment.
Some days just suck, and sometimes those days last into weeks, and there’s nothing to do but grit your teeth and get through them. There’s new census data from Six on Monday, and Rokia runs automatic searches for the girls, for grandma, for permutations of all of their names, and, when that doesn’t work, for kids the right ages with gaps in their records.
That pulls up a pretty long list. Rokia spends an entire night checking, names, what background is there, what’s missing, what can she dig up, sets up more searches for the files she’d need to eliminate everyone on the list, which run while she’s busy working with Demba on a damaged wing structure. When he heads home, she picks up where she left off, reading through files until her eyes burn and blur.
She falls asleep at some point, because she wakes up on the couch when the lights go on in the hangar, guys filing in and getting settled. She pushes herself up to sit, then stands, and her stomach roils but she’s lightheaded and shaky and her eyes won’t focus, and that means she has to go find some food. She shoves the heels of her hands into her eyes until she sees sparks, holds her breath, then blows it out through pursed lips. Right. Breakfast.
She waves vaguely at the guys coming in as she walks across the shop floor to the front door. Nobody comments on the fact she was here all night, again, the fact that she needs a shower and clean clothes and she probably looks like runover shit. There’d been a couple comments, right at the beginning, but they trailed off pretty quick. Now it’s just normal.
The sun outside is insultingly bright, stabbing through her eyeballs while she blinks and tries to get her eyes to adjust. She stays in the shade against the building as she walks, down the street to the little diner that’s managed to keep enough food in stock to stay open. Nobody says much to her here, either, she can just nod at the guy behind the counter, go sit at her usual spot in the corner, and they’ll come over with coffee and tell her what they have.
Eggs, real ones today, pancakes, with tesserae meal instead of white flour, but they’ll do. Margarine, not butter, and cloying sweet syrup that never tastes right. She eats slowly, but she eats it all, and her stomach feels heavy and tight and uneasy but her head clears a little, so it’s fine. She tries to think as she walks back, which jobs are due, what she has to do first and what can wait. When she gets back, she double checks against the orders on her desk and heads for the lathe. Four different craft need four different fuel intake nozzles, and she’d said she’d get them done today, so two of them can get shipped out to Thirteen, where they’re basing the supplier craft for the eastern districts.
It should be Six, the assholes in Thirteen know fuckall about Capitol-built hovercraft, but Six is too insecure, they say. Still. Months after the fighting ended everywhere else, there’s still criminal gangs and drug runners and who the fuck knows, setting fire to shit periodically and shooting people who get in their way.
Sal would have said I told you so, if he was alive. Would’ve been totally unsurprised and still totally disgusted at the way people behaved once the Peacekeepers all left. Magda, Rokia’s heard, is saying all the things Sal would’ve, and more besides.
No place like home. Ha.
It’s back to the census files once that’s done, and three hours after that Rokia’s crossed the last name off the list, a 10-year-old named Allie, short for Allison, as it turns out, who’s staying with her grandmother out near the smelters.
Rokia skims the datapad across the table. It thunks against the wall, stops. The screen goes blank after a minute. Rokia stares at it for a while, then scrubs her hands across her face and looks up.
She should go home. Sleep in a bed. Take a shower. Change clothes.
She manages to make it to the couch, and to take off her boots. Good enough.
And of course the next morning Selene decides to walk in as Rokia’s getting the lathe set up. Just strolls across the shop floor like she owns the place, comes over, parks her hip against the machine like it doesn’t matter she’s gonna get grease on a nice pair of jeans, and says hi.
Rokia puts down the chuck key, resists the urge to pull at her clothes as though somehow that’s going to make her look less terrible. “How’s it going?” she asks
Selene shrugs. “It’s alright.” She gives Rokia a funny little half-smile. “I was gonna ask if you wanted to go riding this afternoon, but it looks like what you really need is takeout and beer and really bad TV.”
“Is there any other kind of TV?” Rokia asks. It’s a dodge, but Selene takes it.
“Doubtful,” she says, shrugging. “You got someplace less grimy, or you wanna come by mine?”
Rokia considers. Her place is…fine, whatever, and it’s close, and there won’t be any other people. “I got commandeered an apartment,” she says. “Couple blocks from here.”
“Great,” Selene says. “I’ll stop by around five.”
Rokia looks at the lathe, thinks about her orders list. “Better make it six,” she says.
Selene nods. “Any kinda food in particular?” she asks. “Or beer?”
Rokia comes up blank. “Whatever,” she says.
“Okay,” Selene says. “See you later.”
It would be stupid to run home in the middle of the day for clean clothes. Selene would notice, Rokia would feel ridiculous, and there may or may not actually be clean clothes at the apartment, in any case. Still, Rokia thinks about it. And then forgets about the whole thing until Selene walks in as she’s cleaning up parts on the sander and showering herself in yet another layer of metal shavings.
Selene just stands there, waits for Rokia to finish what she’s doing and shut off the machine.
“Ready?” she asks, once it’s quiet enough she doesn’t have to yell.
Rokia looks around. “Lemme grab a couple things from the office,” she says, heads over with the part she’s just finished.
The desk is, as usual, a mess. Paper copies of work orders, blueprints, announcements, scribbled sketches. Rokia leaves all that because fuck knows which bits she should actually work on, but she does take her datapad.
“Okay,” she says, “let’s go.”
The sun’s setting as they leave. Rokia feels disoriented, not sure what time it feels like, or… “What day’s today?” she asks, absently.
“Thursday,” Selene says, amused. “You’re worse than my boss.”
“At what?” Rokia asks.
“Spending so many nights in the office you lose track,” Selene teases.
Rokia laughs. “My apartment’s… you’ll see,” she says. Shrugs.
Selene doesn’t comment when they get to the building, elaborate white facade that’s broken in places to reveal the cheap brick underneath. They take the stairs, because the elevator’s still roped off, up three flights until Rokia unlocks the door and shoves it open.
Selene laughs. Rokia tenses, until she looks over and realizes Selene isn’t making fun of her, really. And it is ridiculous, the elaborate furniture and heavy curtains and plush carpet. Selene walks over to the couch, drops into the corner and puts her feet up on the fabric, smirking. “This is fantastic,” she says, half-sarcastic, and Rokia just shakes her head.
“I need to shower,” she says, days worth of grime suddenly making her feel itchy and gross. “Be right there.”
“No problem,” Selene says, sitting up, reaching into one of the bags and pulling out a six-pack. “I’m just gonna stick these in the fridge.”
Rokia gestures toward the kitchen. “You’ll find it,” she says, and ducks into the bedroom.
There aren’t clean clothes exactly, but there are cleaner clothes than the ones she’s wearing now, so Rokia picks the best option and ducks into the bathroom. Which is the best thing about the damn apartment, because the water is hot and comes out in a stream that digs into the knots of muscle in her neck and shoulders so they unwind a little bit. She stands under the water for a while, scrubs off machine oil and grime, even washes her hair, and then feels a little bit guilty for leaving Selene out there waiting, so she gets out.
Selene’s back to sprawling on the couch, but now she’s kicked her shoes off and has a beer in one hand and the TV remote in the other. She looks up when Rokia comes out, laughs a little. “You really don’t have any other clothes, huh?”
Rokia shrugs, her face going hot. “Not like I know where to get any, even if I had time for shopping.”
Selene goes serious. Rokia hadn’t meant to snap like that, but well, it’s been a long week. “Yeah, guess you wouldn’t, not that it’s the same as before anyway,” she says. “I could take you sometime.”
Rokia shrugs, sour taste in her mouth. “Maybe,” she says. “Beer’s in the fridge?” she asks, heading for the kitchen.
“Yeah,” Selene calls after. “And I got everything else here.”
Rokia grabs a beer and heads out, curls into the wide chair in the back corner and takes a drink. Then looks at the TV. “What the fuck is this?” she asks, and Selene’s grin is all teeth.
“This is ‘Get to Know a District,’” she says. “They take people from the Capitol and plop them down someplace, make them do that district’s job.”
Rokia stares at her. “What.”
“It’s District Seven this week,” Selene goes on, “They’re heading out to a lumber camp.”
Rokia looks back at the screen. Two men, two women, in today’s version of Capitol styles, toned down from before but still. Gaudy colors and shiny fabric and the women’s boots have three-inch heels. “They’re going to a lumber camp?” Rokia asks, “Seriously?”
Selene nods. Rokia drinks. “I might need something stronger than beer for this,” she says. Selene just laughs, digs in the bag and hands Rokia a box and a fork.
“I got beef stew,” she says. “Everything else looked weird, I swear they’re putting sawdust in the noodles these days.”
Rokia opens it. The smell makes her mouth water. “This is fine,” she says, and digs in.
The Capitolians land at the lumber camp. One of the men tries to pick up a chainsaw and falls over.
Selene gets them more beer.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Rokia says, when one of the women cozies up to one of the bemused-looking Sevens and tries to get him to show her how to swing an axe.
“Oh, baby, please help me, I’ve never lifted anything heavier than a wineglass,” Selene simpers, and Rokia laughs.
By the time the show’s over they’ve finished the beer and Selene has Rokia practically in hysterics with her outrageous imitations.
“Oh shit,” Rokia says, gasping and clutching at her stomach. “You are a fucking menace,” she says. Selene gives her a shit-eating grin.
“I aim to please,” she says. She looks up at the clock. “I should get back,” she says, pulling her shoes on. “But we should do this again sometime.”
“For sure,” Rokia says, standing up and collecting the empty boxes and bottles. “Thanks for bringing all this, what do I owe you?”
Selene shrugs. “Don’t worry about it.”
Rokia scowls. She doesn’t need charity. Selene smiles, shakes her head. “You can get the next one, how’s that?”
“Fine,” Rokia says. She walks Selene to the door, lets her out.
“See you later, Rokia,” Selene calls, as she walks toward the stairs.
“Bye,” Rokia echoes.
She shuts the door, locks it, goes back to the living room. Her datapad is sitting on the side table. She ignores it. Turns the TV back on instead, stretches out on the couch, and falls asleep.
The next time Selene comes over, it's actually on a day where she slept, in a bed, for several hours consecutively the night before. It's also the middle of the afternoon, and Rokia has shit to do.
But Selene just saunters over and smirks up at where Rokia’s perched on the scaffolding. “How’s it going?” She asks.
Rokia pulls off her welding mask, drags an arm across her forehead and then grimaces, because that was stupid, now she's probably got gunk all over her face. “Oh, y’know,” she says, shrugs. “Trying to keep some kind of transportation running in this shithole.”
“You got a minute?”
Rokia sighs, starts climbing down until she drops onto the floor next to Selene. “What’s up?” She asks, leaning against the steel pipes, breathing the cooler air down here away from the hot metal.
“You need clothes,” Selene says. “Lets go get you some.”
Rokia's eyebrows go up. “What?”
“C’mon, it'll be fun. You had lunch yet?”
Rokia shakes her head.
“Okay, I'll buy you lunch and you'll humor me by getting some clothes that aren't gonna make me think of that fucking snake pit of a so-called District every time I see you.” It's joking. Mostly.
“I got a lot of work to do…” Rokia says.
Selene rolls her eyes. “When do you not?”
Fair point. “You know where to go?” Rokia asks.
Selene nods. “Yep.”
Rokia looks around and sighs. “Alright, fine,” she says, with bad grace. “Lemme drop off this stuff and wash up a little, I don't think they'll let me in anywhere like this.”
Selene shrugs one shoulder. “They're not so picky. But sure.”
Rokia drops the welding mask in a corner, goes to the little bathroom on the back wall. Yep, she's got black streaks across her whole face, and her hair’s sticking up everywhere but where the band for the mask’s pressed it flat. Lovely.
She does the best she can, and then gives up and goes back out. “Alright, let's get this over with,” she says, and follows Selene out the door.
Selene brings beer along with the sandwiches from the deli. It's warm out at the picnic tables, the sun bright against the stone walls everywhere.
Selene does most of the talking, through lunch and while they finish and walk out into the streets. Stuff about Dash and about jobs they're doing, and her friend Petra in Two, and there's something…odd, about that, beyond even the part where Petra’s the Victor after Rokia because of course Selene knows Victors, Selene knows everybody, seems like. Something odd about “friend,” mostly, and Rokia files that away for future reference.
The place Selene leads her to looks more like a warehouse than the fancy clothes stores downtown. It looks like one inside, too, boxes and pallets stacked in presumably some kind of order but not anything that makes sense to Rokia. And then a guy in Peacekeeper white, no helmet, comes over. Rokia freezes, but Selene just waves.
“Hey, this is my friend Rokia I told you about,” Selene says, and the guy nods. Then he looks Rokia up and down and one corner of his mouth quirks up. “Not sure how much will fit her,” he says, as though Rokia wasn't standing right there. “But the smaller sizes are back there.” He waves with one hand, and Selene just nods and starts walking.
“Your idea of better clothes is fucking Peacekeeper uniforms?” Rokia asks, incredulous. “I'm not fucking wearing that.”
Selene shakes her head. “Nah, not uniforms exactly. There’s training gear and stuff, it's durable.” She glances at Rokia’s stained coveralls. “And not white,” she adds.
Rokia punches her shoulder and glares, but Selene just gives her a sunny smile, until they get to an aisle of palettes with open boxes on either side. Selene rummages in a couple and comes up with what are, fine, basically ordinary work shirts and pants. She tosses stuff to Rokia, who unfolds a pair of pants and looks at them critically. They're gonna be too big, but so is what she's wearing now, she's got a belt. Sleeves can be rolled up as needed. Selene’s found sweats and t-shirts and who knows what all else, comes back with a pile. “See?” She says. “Not so bad.”
Rokia rolls her eyes. “Yes, fine, you win. Can I get back to work now?”
Selene’s smile turns sharp around the edges. “Oh no, this is just work clothes. You need something to go out in, because you're coming out with me and Dash tonight.
Selene takes clothes from Rokia’s hands, puts them in a paper bag she found somewhere, and walks off without bothering to answer. Rokia has to hurry to catch up.
“I can't— You're taking me where?” There's some genuine panic under the astonishment, and Selene seems to take pity.
“Nowhere too fancy,” she says. “They've got good music, it’s small, mostly not full of assholes.” She looks serious for a second. “And hey, if you hate it you can always leave. Just give it a shot though, it'll be fun.”
Rokia takes a deep breath, and nods. “Okay,” she says, a little shaky, and then she shrugs it off. “Lead on, where to next?”
There are some raised eyebrows at the next place, which is an actual store, but they turn into embarrassed glances when Selene glares.
“Here,” Selene says, diving into racks and coming up with jeans that do not look like the ones Rokia is used to wearing at the shop, and ditto on T-shirts that already look mostly worn out.
“These you gotta try on,” Selene says, because she's evil.
“Fine,” Rokia says, taking the lot. “Where?”
Selene leads her over to a dressing room and leaves her there.
And it's fucking bizarre. Rokia's never been clothes shopping like this. At home it was hand me downs and thrift stores, and then after she won…stuff just appeared. She bought new clothes for the girls, the occasional pair of work pants or a shirt here and there, but it wasn’t like this. And none of it was supposed to do anything but keep her warm or protected from flying metal. So this is completely alien.
She pulls a shirt over her head, slides into jeans and looks at herself in the mirror. Yep, that’s her.
“You wanna see?” she calls to Selene, because she doesn’t have a clue what she’s supposed to look like.
“Hell yeah,” Selene says.
So Rokia steps out, and Selene grins. “That’s better,” she says. Cocks her head to one side a little. “D’you like it?”
Rokia shrugs. “Sure?” It’s not like anything she’s worn before, but it’s not Capitol bullshit. It’ll do.
When she comes back out in her own clothes Selene hands her a couple more things and steers her toward the register. “Charge these to the reconstruction fund,” Selene tells the surprised woman behind the counter. “I’ll sign for it.”
The woman looks like she wants to say something, but Selene stares her down and she nods, pulls out a form, and Selene signs. “Thank you for your cooperation,” Selene says, with a smirk. “C’mon Rokia.”
Rokia trails out after her.
A shower and a change of clothes later, Selene’s hauling her back out to meet Dash, and Rokia trails in their slipstream through dinner and drinks and into a dim, underground room, where the music’s so loud Rokia feels it in her chest. Selene glances back at Rokia and grins, a little wild, pilots them to the bar.
Selene’s excitement is contagious, especially once she hands Rokia a glass and hops up onto the stool next to her, leans over so their shoulders knock. “See, told you it’d be fun,” she says.
Rokia glances up at Dash, standing behind Selene’s shoulder, raises an eyebrow. He shrugs. Selene, force of nature, just elbows him. She’s practically squirming in her seat, though, and Rokia laughs. “Go dance,” she says, “I’ll be fine.”
“You sure?” Selene asks, and Rokia nods. She doesn’t have to push after that, Selene just grabs Dash and moves into the crowd.
Rokia leans back against the bar and sips at her drink, watching. It’s been a long time since she went out like this. Since she won, really. After, well… She downs the rest of her drink and gets another. She’s not thinking about after.
Selene and Dash come back a little later, flushed and happy. Selene raises an eybrow at Rokia, who nods. She’s fine. It’s fun, watching everybody.
“You wanna dance?” Selene asks, mischief in her eyes.
Rokia laughs, startled. “Nah,” she says. Not tonight. Too strange.
They leave not long after, and Rokia gasps when the cold night air hits her skin. Summer’s over, and out here the nights get cold fast. Dash chuckles, but it’s Selene who pulls off her jacket for Rokia to pull on. It’s light, but it blocks the wind, keeps Rokia’s teeth from chattering. “I can get home on my own,” she starts, but Selene rolls her eyes.
“Sure you can,” Selene says, “But this way’s more fun.”
Rokia shrugs. “Alright.”
She gives Selene her jacket back at the door, climbs the stairs, fumbles a bit with her keys before she can get the door open. She pushes it closed, bolts it, leans back against the wood and can’t help but laugh, giggles bubbling up from her chest.
Every time she thinks her life can’t get any weirder.
They update the databases again. Peacekeeper records, decrypted and restored, and Rokia knew, she knew about Sal, and the guys from the shop, she knew, she heard, she saw on the TV, but those first days have the texture of nightmare, fear closing her throat, the world in flames, nothing solid under her feet.
It's different, seeing the names on a list with “Deceased—Executed” next to them.
And there's another name, and this one she didn't know, this one punches all the air out of her lungs and she has to put down the datapad because her hands are shaking.
Kadidia Diarra. Age 63. Grandma, not Kadi. “Taken into custody. Current status unknown.”
Rokia tastes bile in the back of her throat. If they found grandma, they might have found the girls, and the fact that their names aren't listed isn't really a comfort.
Her grandfather’s next on the list: Randall Diarra. “Questioned and released. Current status unknown.”
She sits there frozen for who knows how long, staring at nothing, her mind spinning, whining with no load behind it. There's no one here, she left this until the day’s work was finished so no one would know. It's illegal, probably, everyone’s looking for someone, and who is she to think she deserves to know, when so many others don't. Demba has sisters and cousins, back somewhere in Six. Joe’s not trying to find anyone, only because he knows they're dead. Because they broadcast those executions too.
So she would feel guilty, if it wasn't like a paper cut over a gunshot wound.
As is she keeps it to after hours, when the others go home and nobody will ask questions she doesn't want to answer.
Which means when she hauls herself up, forces her brain to let in the clutch so the gears engage, she's alone under the harsh shop lights, nobody to give her a job to do, nobody to tell her anything. That's how she wanted it, she thinks muzzily. It's better, like this. But what she wouldn't give to have Sal call her over and give her a job to do.
He's never going to do that again, and it's her fault. Oh, sure, you can spin it and twist it and justify it, but the plain truth is that she got him killed after he’d kept her alive for eight years. There's not a whole lot you can say about that.
But Rokia’s always managed, always kept going, always figured shit out, and even if there's nothing she can do to make things right, even if there's nobody who needs her anymore, there's still work that needs doing. So she might as well do it.
She starts a list. Spare parts for anything that moves, there's a priority list on the network she can just start working from. Fuel system overhaul on the craft in here, that's a one person job. Structural repairs, that’s better with a crew, that'll have to be normal hours. Avionics, once the craft with the fuel system issue is out of the way. Steering hydraulics, on one of the heavy lift craft.
It's a good list. Long. She knows how to do everything that's on it. It's all important.
She's never going to be worth getting all those people killed, but she might as well try to be worth something.
It's two days later when the call comes. Morning, the guys are starting to come in and Rokia is considering the fact that she should probably eat something before she starts getting dizzy again.
She doesn't know the number, but it's from Six. Probably more work.
“Hello, this is Rokia,” she says, preoccupied.
Which is probably why it takes her so long to process what's happening.
“You ungrateful, traitor whore,” a voice snarls. “He gave you everything, everything, and you—you killed him.”
Rokia’s shocked silent, standing stock-still on the hangar floor.
“You don't have anything to say for yourself?” the voice asks.
“Who is this?” Rokia grits out.
Laughter, screeching bitter peals crackling with static. “Don't even know your own family, of course you don't.”
“That's right, I finally tracked you down, and you're gonna pay.”
“I don't— what—”
“We'll start with you getting me and Jack all set up someplace nice, because they burned down our house. That might cover a few of those times I watched your grubby kids. After that, well I might just rather forget you exist, but we'll see.”
Rokia swallows. “I don't— They froze all the accounts, I don't hardly have anything,” she says, hoarse.
“Well, I'm sure you'll find some way to get it. You always did know how to get money out of people. I know what you are now, everybody knows, and I'm sure people always need whores.”
There isn't anything to say to that. “How am I supposed to send it?” Rokia asks.
“I got friends on the trains still. You take it down to the station and you ask for Sam. He knows you're coming.”
Rokia hears the click as Magda hangs up. She looks down at the phone in her hand, looks over at the office, up at the hovercraft she’d been working on.
Demba’s looking at her funny, but she can't find anything to say to him, or any of them. So she just walks over to the office and shuts the door.
She has cash, a little, stashed here and at home, because old habits die hard. All told it might be enough to pay a month’s rent on the kind of place Magda would demand. Rokia’ll get paid again end of the week, she'll be okay till then on whatever's in the cupboards at home.
She collects what's here, walks to her house. Hesitates, keeps a little back just in case, puts the rest in the envelope from an old work order, and writes “Magda Diarra, District 6” on the front.
It's a long walk to the station, but she’s not going to spend money on a car. Anyway it clears her head, a little, so by the time she gets there she can smile and ask for Sam without too much trouble.
He's a big guy, sullen and hulking. “Yeah, Magda told me you'd be coming,” he says, eyes narrowed. “Didn't expect…” he jerks his chin in her direction.
Rokia's not entirely sure what he means, but she can guess. She shrugs. “Give this to her,” she says. “I counted, so don't take anything.”
“Well ain't you polite,” he smirks. “No more playing the cute little Victor, huh? All that just for show?”
Rokia just shrugs again. Finally he yanks the envelope out of her hand. “Fine. I'll give this to Magda.”
“You do that,” Rokia says, and doesn't wait for him to respond, just walks away.
She gets more funny looks when she gets back to the shop. She ignores them, looks around. There's still work to do on the hydraulics, so she crawls into the access panel, away from all of them, and gets to work.
They call out as they're leaving, like usual, and she waits until she's heard all the voices leave, the last door slam shut.
Then she crawls out. And stands up too fast, so her vision tunnels and she sways, grabbing at the edge of the metal for support and cutting her hand.
She goes into the office. There's still a few ration bars stashed there, so she grabs one, heads over to the idiot coffee machine and manages to get a cup of something passable.
By the time she's finished both she feels a little steadier. She looks around.
In the harsh light, tired as she is, she could almost think it's Sal’s place. Sal's place the way she saw it as a kid, new and strange and full of possibilities. Not like later, when it was the one real place, the one constant, the one thing she knew would be there, more home than any place she slept.
Sidi used to joke she'd cut her way out of the womb with a torch and never put it down. Moussa used to say if you turned Rokia upside down and shook her, half her weight in scrap and tools would fall out of her pockets. Matt used to race her from school to get the best jobs. Sara—
Fuck this. She's got work to do.
Except when she goes back in she's so tired she stares stupidly at a cracked seal and can't figure out what to do about it.
Fine. She pulls her head out, back into the back cargo bay. She'll just close her eyes for a minute. Just nap. The benches along the sides are comfortable enough.
A snake crawls up her leg, slides over her chest and raises its head. When it opens its mouth it hisses “traitor, ungrateful whore,” and when it rears back to strike—
Rokia wakes up in the middle of falling off the bench, her heart racing, out of breath and terrified and sobbing. Her chest heaves as she gasps, shuddering breaths slowing toward normal as she manages to sit up.
She gets up on shaky lags, walks out to get a cup of water. She gulps down three cups and then has to fight down nausea, closing her eyes and trying to breathe.
“Shit,” she whispers, dragging a hand down her face. She doesn't want to go back in there. Which is stupid, nightmares aren't real, there's nothing to be afraid of in there, but she walks around to the other side anyway, goes into the office to make part files for whatever spare is next on the list.
She's still there when Selene shows up.
“Hey,” she says, leaning against the doorframe.
Rokia jumps. “Fuck, I didn't hear you come in,” she says, once she can breathe again.
Normally Selene would laugh at her, because that's what they do, they laugh at each other. But today Selene seems surprisingly subdued.
“What're you up to tonight?” she asks, “do you want to come get some food?”
Rokia shakes her head before Selene’s finished the question. She doesn't have the money and she isn't about to go out where people will see her. “Not today, I've got work to do,” she says, lifting the datapad a little.
Selene just looks at her, until Rokia looks away. “Are you okay?” Selene asks, reluctantly.
“Sure,” Rokia says, glancing back over toward Selene. “I just gotta get this done.”
Selene pauses a second before she replies. “Okay,” she says. “Another time, then.”
Rokia nods without looking up. “Yeah, sure,” she says.
When Rokia's phone rings again, her heart races and her throat closes, until she sees the number. It’s from District Two. And that’s just confusing.
“Hi, Rokia, it's Lyme.”
What? “Oh, hi, what can I do for you?” Rokia asks. Lyme’s name is on a lot of transport requests, food orders and whatever else someone's starving Two of to make an idiotic point. So Rokia assumes that's what this is about.
“Just checking in, thought you might want a break. Offer’s still open, you can come stay with me for a bit, get out of the city.”
Rokia blinks. “I'm supposed to take a vacation?” she asks, incredulous. “You know how much work I've got to do?”
“Sure, but a change of scenery’s always nice. Recharge your batteries.”
What the fuck? “Yeah, no, I'm good here,” Rokia says. “Thanks though,” she adds, belatedly.
“Sure thing,” Lyme says. “See you around.”
The line goes dead and Rokia stares at her phone.
Well that was bizarre.
(immediately precedes Lyme bringing Rokia to Two)