Feathers, Fights and Friendships

Prologue

When the virus hit the city, the old and the weak died quickly. Younger adults took longer to die, but they too eventually passed out of the old world and their children passed on to a new world: a world where, if you were alone, you were as good as dead.

In a street in city centre, two girls stood at the locked entrance of the mall where they had once worked. A great metal peacock on the roof cast his shadow across the fa├žade of the opposite building. There were three front doors to this mall; all were blocked off by locked and alarmed metal grills. There were also two shops, between these doors, and a third on the far side of the third door, which would give access to the mall, if they had not also been locked up and their grills locked in place. The only other entrances to the mall were round the back through one door and another store. They would also be locked up in the same fashion. The two girls shifted the weight of their packs and looked around uneasily.

"She'll be here," said the younger girl.

"I know, I'm just wondering when!" the older girl answered, "We agreed to be here at sunrise, before the other kids in the city started moving around. It's an hour after that already!"

"You know what Cat's like, Say. She'll have got three paces out the door then gone back several times because she thinks she's forgotten something!"

"It just better not be her key: we'll need both of ours to reset the master alarm."

"NooooooOOOOOOOO BRAAAAAAAAAAaaaakkkessssss!" cried a figure on an old bicycle, travelling downhill with rather a lot of baggage and at an alarming speed.

"That'll be her," Say said, dryly, rolling her eyes, then flinching as she watched the bike skid to a halt some way further down the hill, "I said travel light!"

"You said "only take what you can carry", if my memory is right," the younger girl commented, "That doesn't mean "light" to Cat!"

"Sorry I'm late," Cat replied, wheeling her bike back up the hill, "I thought I'd forgot something."

"Do you have your key?" Say asked, avoiding her companion's amused grin.

"Yeah," Cat fished around in a multitude of pockets before extracting from one a large bunch of keys and key rings, "Got it here."

"Right, let's get inside then," Say replied and turned to open the grill of one door with her key, "Ready for the alarm?"

"Ready," Cat replied, slipping in the now unlocked door without her baggage and facing the alarm box on one side as Say faced the one on the opposite wall.

"Three. Two. One. NOW!"

Silence

"Class!" Cat said appreciatively.

"You've still got to get your stuff in!" Say told her, "Anni and I are not helping you carry it in!"

"Fine," Cat shrugged, apathetically, "I got it here, didn't I."

Say and Anni took their bags inside and turned to watch Cat manoeuvring her bike and bags in through the door. Turning back to the door, she shut the grill and locked it, then did the same with the door.

"What did you bring?" Say asked, "Your whole apartment?"

"You said to bring what I could carry," Cat replied, walking up to join them, "So I did."

Say sighed and looked at her friend. A large rucksack was strapped to Cat's back, with a bed roll tied to the top of it and another, smaller rucksack strapped on over it. Over one shoulder, Cat carried a large holdall with a pair of knee-high boots strapped on top of it and a pair of ankle boots tied to one side of it; over the other shoulder, she carried a satchel and a handbag with a long coat folded over the satchel. Cat was dressed in her Khaki trousers, t-shirt and shirt, with a three-quarter-length black leather jacket over the top of them.

Say watched as Cat and Anni headed off up the still escalator to their stores. Anni ran the small, yet permanent, chocolate stall on the first level, while Cat worked in the Illuminati shop that looked out to Anni's stall. In comparison to Cat, Anni only carried two bags: one large, camping rucksack, with a bedroll attached, and one satchel slung over her shoulders and neck. She wore grey track trousers with sneakers and a white vest top and a grey hooded fleece top: easy clothes to move around in and work in, Say thought, and this would take a lot of work.

Say's place of work wasn't a store, but a restaurant on the lower ground level. She was a trainee there. She lifted up her single rucksack and headed down the escalator to her restaurant. Unlocking the grill on the restaurant entrance, Say considered what work there was to be done. The generators would have to be started up again: there had been solar panels installed in the roof to be used with the generators only a few months before the virus had started to spread. The mall owners had intended to run the entire place off of the solar panels when sufficient money presented to allow them to finish the job. They had enough solar panels, as well as enough generators, but they were yet to be linked up.

Once they got the electricity back on, there should be enough to run some, limited facilities, Say thought, at least until they figured out how to connect up the remaining panels. The biggest electricity drains were the lifts and escalators and they were easily done without. Once they had got themselves settled into some stores to use as rooms, and had got their food supplies sorted out, they could look at that problem in more detail.

The mall was small in comparison to its nearby rivals at either end of the street on which most of the larger shops in the city centre stood, but it was a big place for only three girls. Anni had left messages for her flatmates, who had both gone to nurse Bobbi's mother when she became ill. Say had left messages for two of her friends to join them, but had had no reply. Cat had done the same, but had also had no reply. Maybe they would come, maybe they wouldn't.

Say looked around the empty kitchen. The cold store was in one corner: it would have been freshly stocked at the start of the month, about two weeks ago, and she doubted if much had been used since then. Fresh food was kept in the walk in refrigerator next to the cold store. Say had always thought that the walk in refrigerator was cold enough, then she had been sent for something out of the cold store! That was the home of all the frozen food: meats, vegetables, pre-prepared desserts, ice creams and other odds and ends. There should be enough food in those two rooms to last them a while anyway, to say nothing of what could be found in the other stores and restaurants.

Meanwhile, Anni and Cat were gossiping upstairs as they worked. Anni had unlocked the chocolate store and left her two bags there while Cat had unlocked Illuminati and dropped her bags outside the door, before going inside.

"Aren't you taking your bags in, Cat?" Anni asked.

"Not until I've got some stuff out of here," her friend called from the other end of the small store, "I'll clear out the card stands first, then that'll give us room to put the three bed rolls down if we don't get the other stores open today."

"What did you bring with you? This can't be all clothes!"

"Nah, it's mostly personal stuff, like photos, books that I thought might be useful and just general stuff that I thought might come in handy. My clothes are in the holdall, with some of the larger books."

"Did you bring your tool-kit?"

"Well, we're not gonna get far without it! Once I've got these stands out of the way, we can leave our stuff in here and I'll get it and we can go round opening the locks."

The first of the card stands came out of the tunnel-like entrance to the store. About five minutes later, the other stand followed it and the two girls took their bags inside. Cat fished about in her smaller rucksack for a minute, then produced a boxed set of screwdrivers with a compartment underneath containing a number of other small tools. This, slightly eclectic, collection included numerous rubber bands, an assortment of screws, picture hooks and nails and, most importantly, a set of skeleton keys: Cat's pride and joy! The two friends headed off around the other stores on that level, stopping for a few minutes at each one to unlock and raise the grills denying them entry.