Profile picture
Abi Normal Jones 🎃 @jonesabi
, 89 tweets, 13 min read Read on Twitter
"Wind's bad tonight" said the driver. He nodded at the mountains.

At what should have been mountains, but were now a yellow haze.

"How long do we have?" Casey asked.

"It's just the drift." A screen near his elbow flashed and his eyes shifted. "We have an hour. Maybe two."
Casey hesitated, reviewing how she'd left everything at the house. Could it stand alone for a day? A week?

The last evac had been five days. She'd returned home to find a family of raccoons had taken up residence in her bathroom.

She walked through her last moments at home.
"You coming?" his eyebrows raised above thick goggles.

An alarm sounded in the distance. The fire buoys.

Casey climbed into the last empty seat.
Her eyes burned. More from embarrassment than smoke. She'd get a new mask at the evac center. But it wouldn't be as good as the one sitting on her bedside table next to a half-drunk glass of water and a half-read book.
Behind her the other riders discussed fires in low voices.

"Branscombe is at 4,000 acres."

"I heard Solano's at 48."

"50-mile-an-hour gusts, they say."

Casey leaned against the window, eyes shut. Then she tapped her wrist twice and closed her mind.
Casey woke in the dark, neck sore from sleeping upright, throat aching from the smoke she'd inhaled that day.

The transport was empty.

She looked out the window and saw they'd parked near a low-slung government building.

Passengers lined up outside, hunched in the dim.
She scrambled off the bus, in a hurry for the 3rd time that day. Casey walked to the end of the line, avoiding eye contact.

"Miss,"

Casey looked up at the gray-haired man addressing her.

"You forgot your bag." He held out a well-worn brown canvas pack.
Casey thanked him and took the bag, slinging it on to her back as she walked to the end of the line.

Slowly waking, she surveyed the people ahead of her. Most carried backpacks like hers, emergency kits stored in closets or garages. Pulled out for evacs.

Bags like hers? But…
Casey hadn't brought her bag.

She pulled the kit off her back and looked at it with suspicion, then held it at arms length and walked back up the line to find the man who'd handed it to her
"Ma'am, I need you to get back in the line."
The command came in a twang that was out of place in Santa Cruz.

Casey squinted into the darkness to her left. Next to the transport a slight young man in heavy gear stood ready, feet shoulder-width apart, one hand near his weapon. His pale face shone.

The moon was out.
Casey opened her mouth, thought better, and closed it, leaving her question unsaid.

Who are you to tell me to get back in line?

She stepped back in to the line, unsure if he was carrying a weapon or just used to carrying one.

His hand stayed near his hip.

He didn't relax.
Ada tapped her on the wrist. Three short, sure pulses that reminded Casey to stop and breathe.
She let the pack drop to her side, then shrugged it back on, wondering what it held.

It was probably someone's e-kit: copies of documents, a battery, an emergency blanket, a pair of socks, and a tiny bottle of water purification pills.

That's what Casey had in hers. At home.
The line shuffled forward.
Ada would tell me to ignore him, Casey thought as the line moved past the pale-faced boy.

She counted the people ahead of her, just nine or ten left. The man who'd handed her the pack was already inside.

The pack.

Casey slipped it off and tried to look inside.
The moon illuminated the guard, the dusty transport, the gravel lot. But it was the wrong angle for looking in the pack.

She reached inside and felt clothes, plastic-wrapped ration bars, and a zippered pouch.

She shook the pouch and heard the clink of pills in a glass jar.
C'mon, stranger, she thought to herself. Tell me you packed a battery.
She opened the front compartment of the bag.

Just a few people ahead of her in line now and nowhere to chuck contraband if she found something illegal.

The front pocket held the most valuable items: a set of vapes, two battery bricks, a first aid kit, and a roll of twenties.
Casey zipped the backpack closed and let out a long, slow breath. Nothing illegal, but no papers either. And not a charity pack. A charity pack would be half food and half useless junk that'd be binned at the evac.
"Name?"

The check-in table was staffed by two women in navy blue sweatshirts. No insignia, but the matching shirts made them seem official, somehow. They wore alert but friendly faces, like the off-duty firefighters who shopped at her grocer.

They were never really off-duty.
"Cesaria Ysabel-spelled-with-a-y Cortez. Date of birth: 6-16-2014. Current address: 145 Hagar Court, Santa Cruz, California." Casey handed over her ID as she recited the information.
The screen on the table flickered from red to green as it confirmed Casey's data and voiceprint. Woman 1 scanned Casey's ID as Woman 2 continued the questions.

"Place of birth?"

"Watsonville"

"Last series?"

"2054B"

"Really?" Woman 2 broke from the protocol, frowning.
"I'm at UCSC. We got series B a week before the students showed up."

"Series B is for at-risk populations." Woman 2 was still frowning, but just with her eyes.

"I teach freshman classes and live on campus. My vector score was 66.8"

"Response?"

"Just a sore arm"

"Step aside"
Step aside where? Casey wondered, since she was the last one in line and everybody else was inside, eating dinner and finding a cot.

Woman 1 motioned her to the side of the table. Away from the door and closer to the guard.

Ada tapped Casey's wrist again.

Breathe, Case.
Standing, she had 6 inches and 30 pounds on Casey. And muscles. Even I'm the dim, Casey could see broad shoulders underneath the sweatshirt.

She swims, thought Casey, holding out her left hand, palm down, fingers loosely spread.

Ready for testing.
The jab hurt for a moment.

A drop of Casey's blood was assessed on the spot.

She already knew what they'd see.

The 2022 flu
Chkungunya
A brush with TB

All of then written into her blood.

But they wouldn't see Ada. Ada knew how to avoid needles, air syringes, random scans.
Ada knew Casey was thinking of her. She smoothed Casey's brow.

Calm now, they'll let you in.

The reader chimed and Casey was nodded into the light.
The evac center was an old fire camp that had been converted to an office space. Now it held about 50 cots.

People slept near their families, neighbors, people they knew.

Casey didn't have anyone nearby. Her family would be in a South County center. If they got out at all.
Her parents would go to the fields and camp among berry rows. A desal kit would keep them in water until the return order came in.
She chose a cot along the wall, facing the door. A good defensive position.

Then she sat down and wiggled her toes in her boots. No sense in settling in. Evac usually included a hot meal and there weren't kitchen facilities in this room. There'd be a mess somewhere in the camp.
Casey needed something to mark the cot as hers while they went to eat.

She wanted to keep the pack with her, so she opened it up and took out the clothes she'd felt earlier. A t-shirt and a pair of leggings.

Women's clothes.

Maybe a girl's, but that wouldn't explain the cash.
It was lightweight, cheap gear that didn't give her any other clues about the pack's owner.
"Dinner's ready in the mess hall." One of the sweatshirted women had popped her head inside the room.

The family groups and elders turned toward her and moved to the door in a tide of hunger and tired.
Casey slumped a bit, pretending to be more tired than she really was. She watch the group form into singles, twos, and threes as people headed for the door.

Nobody in the room looked like the man who'd handed her the pack.
The old men were too old. The young men were too tall. The boys… Well, they were just kids. Nobody had gray enough, bushy enough hair. The guys in hats had the stiff upright posture of men who think they should be in charge. Regardless of the expertise of the sweatshirt twins.
Casey kicked herself for lumping the women together.

Pay attention, she told herself. Everyone here is an individual. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. Needs. Insecurities.

And you need to know how to exploit them.
She stood from the cot, made a show of stretching so she could surveil the room, and followed the group out into the night.
Sweatshirt 1 followed her while the guard locked the sleeping room from the outside.

Casey listened for a key handoff during their walk to the mess hall, but the guard jingled with each step.

Ah, she thought. You need to show you're in charge, you're the one with the keys.
She tucked that weakness away for later use.
Casey took a deep breath. No smoke here. Just dirt and distant woods. Defensible space. Fire-safe.
Casey looked down at her watch. It was only 8:15 PM, but it felt much later. She rolled her shoulders under the pack, ready to run, but at the same time knowing that there was no way she'd run, not with an unknown weapon at her back.
If there was a weapon.

She'd need to check on that when they got into the light.

If he came inside.

Can you remind me? She asked. Of course, said Ada, reminder set.

Casey wiped the conversation from her face and attempted a tired-but-friendly look. A little dazed. Alone.
The mess hall ahead was well-lit and the line outside held more than the 40-odd people in her building.

The camp had other buildings. Other guards. She'd have to wait it out. Trying to leave now, regardless of what was in the pack, would be suspect.

They'd come for her.
Everyone else must have felt the same degree of tired and grimy. There was little small talk in the line. The loudest voices were kids, followed by hushes from parents. Couples leaned in each other, but mostly there was quiet.

And hope.
Casey noticed others eyeing the moon, the smokeless sky. They took deep breaths of the fresh air.

They had the same thought Casey did: there'd be a meal, a restless night, and tomorrow they'd pack up early, head down the mountain in a blackout van, and hike home from the depot.
The guard's radio crackled.

"872 to base. We're at 70% containment. Got a flare along the Solano ridge, but we should have this wrapped up by morning."
Everyone in earshot of the radio visibly relaxed. Another fire mostly contained. They just needed to do the things humans we're good at: eating, sleeping, and practicing the distinct kindness required of people trapped anywhere, whether it was a fire camp or a long-haul flight.
The meal was soup, served from village-sized vats by local men and women.

The women wore long gray center-parted hair, their own aprons, and mended clothes.

Casey scanned the men, and though they had gray hair they were all the wrong size to the the guy who handed her the bag.
Stop looking for him. Ada whispered. He's gone.

When?

There's another exit from the camp room. He could have gone out there.

But the staff…

They're not always paying attention.
Casey took a bowl of soup and a slice of bread. She sat at a table with other solo evacuees and ate the soup mechanically.

This could use some garlic, she thought.

Your wish is my command, replied Ada, lighting up Casey's truncated glutemate receptors.
The sensation lasted long enough for Casey to finish the soup. She ate quickly, feeling guilty for using Ada's capabilities on something as unimportant as food.

Food's more important than you think, said Ada. It tells us a lot. For example, nobody here tried to poison you.
Casey blushed. She hadn't considered being poisoned.
It's okay, said Ada. You're not trained for that.

Casey looked around the room, taking in everything so that Ada could analyze it later.
Others in the room stood up, bussed their dishes, and gave another round of thanks to the volunteers.

Once outside, Casey lifted her eyes to the sky. It was clear enough now to see the stars.

And the moon had moved.

That should be enough for Ada to locate me, she thought.
It happened sooner than she expected.

35.4° lattitude, Ada said. Given the terrain and vegetation, this is the North End of Los Padres, near San Luis Obispo.

Three hours from home by bike. Five by transport.
Casey thanked the moon.

It's the stars, actually, Ada said, in the same matter-of-fact, a-little-too-smart way she said everything. I'll teach you how to do it when we get home.

Casey sighed. Sometimes it was hard, having someone a smarter than you inside your own head.
Ada went silent.

As they got closer to the bunk house, Casey took a few more breaths of the mountain air. She dreaded a night in the shared exhalation of 50 other evacuees.
The guard made a show of unlocking the doors and they entered single-file, heading immediately for their cots.

Sweatshirt 1 addressed the group. "You have ten minutes to get organized, then we'll take bio breaks in groups of ten. If you have questions, I'm Wilder."
The family groups went first, broke the "10 people at a time" rule right away, and left the bunk room quieter in their absence.

Wilder stayed with them in the bunk room. Casey assumed Sweatshirt 2 was outside, shepherding strays.
Casey opened the backpack and took out the pouch. Plain canvas, just like the bag. She unzipped it, trying to look like a person who already knew what would be inside.
A bottle of aquatabs, matches, first aid gear, a solar charger.

The basics.

Nothing feminine. Unless you counted the first aid kit. Men never packed a first aid kit.
Casey felt along the interior of the pouch, looking for a hidden pocket, a place to stash a card or a bit of cash.

Nothing.
"Next ten!" Casey stood up, ready to use the bathroom and get a better idea of the camp's layout.

She took the bag with her, even though she hadn't found a toothbrush.

Not that she wanted to use a stranger's toothbrush. She just wanted to feel clean.
They headed downhill to the toilets. It made sense. The place was on septic and you didn't want that kind of thing uphill from you.

The guard was tired. Casey weighed an escape that night versus the risk of being more thoroughly tested tomorrow.
No, it made more sense to stay put. Act as normal as possible.

The mirrors were sheets of heavy duty stainless steel, unbreakable and barely reflective. Casey washed her hands with the process soap, then wet her face, careful to keep the water away from her eyes and mouth.
The walk back up the hill gave her a better view of the camp layout. Six low buildings like the one she slept in. All lit, all with a guard and staff. No cover for two hundred yards beyond the outbuildings.

That was a long way to run.
Casey was a lot of things. But she wasn't fast.
Back in the bunk she inspected the pack. The initials JBI were stitched into the flap.

Can you help? She asked Ada.

I can't get a standard line out. It's all radio here.

Alternatives?

If you can get close enough to an electrical outlet…and if they're not on a generator…
Why didn't we train in remote locations? Places without service? Cold rooms? Casey's questions shot across her mindspace.

Whoa, whoa.

Before Ada's words could flash into being, Casey felt herself changing. Her anger, the ready rebellion, it all disappeared.

Instant zen.
I don't. like it. when you. do that. It took all of Casey's will to talk back.
You're going to survive. Ada relaxed her grip, but didn't let Casey speak. Most of the people in this room are going to die. You'll survive.

My family?

They'll live. If you're around to help them.

Ada let the implication sit while she worked through Casey's extremities.
While you've been arguing with me, the couple in the next row figured out that the outlets in the room aren't working. If you can find a non-chalant way to keep your hand on a light, I can get more information.

Human beings don't go around putting their hands on lights.
Casey would have rolled her eyes if she'd had control of her face.
Ada's sigh tingled in her ears.

I'm going to let go now. Finish checking the bag and then get some sleep.

Will you watch out for me?

When you sleep, I sleep. We both need rest.

Casey felt Ada loosen her grip. She looked around. Nobody had noticed. They had their own worries.
Casey unpacked the bag completely, laying out the contents in a grid on her cot. There were useful surprises (face mask, solar array, sewing kit) and less-useful surprises (lip gloss, condoms).

Should I dump this stuff?

Keep it all. Could be good to trade if we're here long.
The interior of the bag revealed little. It was worn and faded, but clean. Someone had patched and mended it over time. They'd had access to scraps that were the same original material as the bag, but the thread was lighter weight, 2-ply nylon instead of 4-ply.
Casey ran her fingers along the insides of the bag, checked the outer seams, the zippers.

To everyone less she was another small brown woman in long, dusty coat, carefully checking her bag, making repairs to previous goods.

Not a killer.

You're not a killer.

Not yet.
Casey repacked the bag and only then took off her jacket and boots, her outer shell, and inner shell.

Like most of the room, she dressed in layers. If you were never sure when you'd leave or when you'd get back, you wore a lot more clothes.

You also carried a lot more supplies.
At 14, Casey got her first period during a geovac. The bunkhouse women pooled supplies for her, but when she got home she begged her mom for the shot.

Was that the first time?



Can you stay out of my memories?

We're sorry. It's hard to know sometimes…what to respond to.
Try not responding. Try giving me the illusion that I have my head to myself. Try to let me be…

Ada was quiet.

…human. Casey finished the sentence herself, then put her shells back on and waited for the lights to go out.
Chapter 2
Casey woke while it was still dark. She shook her watch once, twice.

Good morning, Ada whispered.

What time is it?

6:13 AM, California time. Dawn in 30. Sunrise in an hour.

Casey closed her eyes and listened to her bunkmates, tried listening beyond them to the guards outside.
Just birds.

Her shoulders ached from the curled-up sides of the old cot, but everyone in the room slept on. Casey thought through her options.

Ada was quiet.

Can I go back to sleep? Casey asked.

I'll wake you in twenty.

Ada set a timer, then hummed Casey back to sleep.
The next wakeup was faster, triggered by a surge of cortisol and accompanied by the sounds of others waking around her.

Get in the first bathroom line. Ada instructed her. We can be ready faster.

Casey obliged, pulling on her boots and pack before looking up at the door.
Sweatshir-er-Wilder was at the door, unlocking it from the outside.

Casey gave her an almost smile and got in the quickly-forming line. She looked over Wilder's shoulder into the dawn-lit preserve.
A gravel lot full of transports waited to charge in the rising sun.
The bathroom trip was faster this time. Ada gave her space until they got back outside.

A girl went missing yesterday.

Casey misstepped, kicking up dust before she caught herself.

When?

Right before we got here.

A kid?

No. Young, but not a kid.

Was she…?

Like us? Yes.
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to Abi Normal Jones 🎃
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!


This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member and get exclusive features!

Premium member ($30.00/year)

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!