Brussels, Belgium – Sunday, the 24th of June 2012. 12:22 PM.
Someday, someone will take a good look at me, she thought. And they’ll know. I won’t be able to hide it forever.
A small tear trailed down Emily’s cheek as she gazed out the window. It was a rainy day in Brussels, a fitting backdrop to all the tragedies – large and small – that played out in the young Empath’s head. The shrouded gray sky made the city’s beautiful historical buildings look colorless and dirty, and the steady downpour weighed heavily on the trio of chestnut trees that were right outside Emily’s second story window, causing their branches to sag low. A flag depicting the European Union’s ring of stars hung at half-mast from a tall pole that stood in front of the building, too wet to sway in the wind. The NATO and UN flags that flanked it flew at half-mast as well.
Emily wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, but the tears didn’t stop. She wanted to believe that the UN staff had lowered the flags in remembrance of Snow. They hadn’t, though. The quiet, sad girl had died the day before, all alone in a big white bed in some French hospital, and only a handful of people cared. Half of those did so only because they’d meant to interrogate her first.
None of them knew who she was. That she came all the way from Korea, had a baby, and cried for him until something broke inside of her. Emily was rubbing her cheeks angrily now. And now no one’s ever gonna know. Not even her poor Korean dad.
At one point or another the Empath had considered calling the dad because poor Snow no longer could. Snow knew the number, so Emily did as well. Emily had the number written down on a wrinkly piece of paper that she tucked away in her pants pocket. But actually making the call would have taken more courage than calling her own parents did. Besides, she didn’t speak a word of Korean.
Everyone’s dying now. Even Radiant.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Emily leaned forward until her forehead touched the cold glass window. She had learned about Radiant’s death the last time she called up Chris’s memories. The news rattled her as much as Snow’s passing did, but there was an added level of despair; an ice cold conviction that if Emily herself failed to save the world, there would be no one else left to do it. Sarina wasn’t reliable. She always got too angry and had to be told what to do.
“Radiant. You can’t go to heaven yet.” Emily directed her words at the sky beyond the window. “We need you, okay? You have to burn Legion with your lasers. Or cut all his heads off. Or… something.” Her sigh formed a circle of mist on the cool glass window. Her next words were a low murmur, intended for no one’s ears but her own. “They’re going to kill me too when they find out my SECRET. It’s so big and scary, it’s leaking out through my eyes and ears. Someone’s going to find out before long.”
Emily had accidentally – okay, it wasn’t really an accident – imprinted one of the boss men in suits who sometimes visited this semi abandoned NATO office building. She didn’t think she was supposed to see him, but she had peeked through the open window when a murmur of important sounding voices disrupted her sleep and imprinted him just in case. The man’s memories revealed a plan to put Sarina to sleep and lock her away somewhere. This was part of some kind of pre-determined emergency plan that came into effect after the Covenant fell apart for good. Apparently, some guys who put themselves to be in charge of world peace still thought Sarina was too dangerous to use her powers freely.
You have no idea. I’m more dangerous than her. It was a scary thought, but also a little satisfying. I’m the world’s most powerful Evolved.
After hours of racking her brains about how to warn Sarina without getting caught, Emily found out that she could no longer make calls from the phone that was in the small office that had been designated as her bedroom. Lifting the handset resulted in nothing but an infinite beep. Her cell phone had been taken away from her long ago, and if she requested to call her parents there was always someone watching and making sure she didn’t do anything wrong. Other phones in the office building were either off limits or didn’t work. She wasn’t giving up, though. She only needed the right opportunity to make that call.
Don’t worry, Sarina. I’m not going to let them lock you in a freezer. That would be mean.
Suddenly, the door to her room swung open and she jerked up from the window. Upon recognizing the intruder, she relaxed slightly. It was Mrs. Bishop, the plump, mild-mannered UN secretary who’d been transferred to this building to ensure the Empath’s well-being. She spoke fluent English with a British accent and always delivered the meals to Emily’s room.
Mrs. Bishop was nice and loved children, but that wasn’t why she’d been picked for the job. It was because she was a ditz and didn’t know anything about anything.
Regardless, Emily assembled a bright smile for the woman and the food tray she was carrying. “Hi, Mrs. Bishop. Is it lunchtime already?”
A brief scan of the tray revealed a pair of toast sandwiches, a dessert plate with a thick slice of chocolate cake on it, and a soda bottle with a pink drinking straw in it. A handful of colorfully wrapped chocolates were arranged around the cake slice. If Emily didn’t know she was being held captive, she’d have nothing to complain about.
Of course Mrs. Bishop didn’t know the truth. She honestly believed that Emily would be flown back to the States to be reunited with her family and that the boss men who were scheduled to come see her the next morning only had a few questions before sending her on her way.
Like so often, Emily hid her true feelings behind a smile. “Thank you, Mrs. Bishop. Are these cheese toast sandwiches? I love cheese toast sandwiches. My mom always makes me one for lunch.”
“Anything for our little princess.” Mrs. Bishop set down the tray on the modern glass desk that was next to the small folding bed, and then gently pinched Emily’s cheek with her thumb and index finger. “Rest up well, all right? You have a long flight ahead of you tomorrow.”
Even though she hated being mothered by anyone other than her mom, Emily’s smile didn’t falter. “Mrs. Bishop, do you have a cellphone? I’d like to call my parents, but I don’t want to bother the office guys right now. They look real busy.” The words were supplemented by her best puppy dog eyes.
The woman’s round face fell. “I wish I did, dearie, but my phone’s in that office, too. I can’t make private calls while I work here.”
“Oh.” Emily lips drooped into a pouty frown and she twirled one of her auburn pigtails around a finger. “That’s sad. I really wanted to call so they don’t have to worry.”
“There’s nothing to worry about. All those security protocols are for your protection, and none of the bad guys are going to find you here. Pinky promise.”
So much for that. Emily maintained her frown while she considered her options. Obviously Mrs. Bishop was a pawn in the local hierarchy; she lacked any sort of authority and had been selected to watch over the Empath for that reason. The woman’s options were so limited that she was no help whatsoever. Even if Emily used her power to make Mrs. Bishop act against the rules and look for a phone or a way out, the secretary was bound to be stopped by someone with more authority. Questions would be asked, and Emily would be in real trouble.
The people who did have the means – and the influence – to help her out were sitting in locked rooms and moved through the building in ways that were inaccessible to Emily. Everyone here knew how her power worked. They wouldn’t offer her an opportunity to imprint someone who mattered. A stroke of incredible luck enabled her to sneakily imprint the boss man who knew about the plans regarding Sarina; she couldn’t rely on getting lucky again.
She did have a failsafe option for escape. There was no way a building like this could hold the world’s most powerful Evolved, but using that option meant to cross a line she hadn’t yet dared to cross. It would change her forever. Her existence would never be the same again.
“Thank you, Mrs. Bishop. I’m going to lie back down after eating, I’m kind of sleepy today.” Emily took one of the sandwiches from the tray and took a big bite to demonstrate her goodwill.
“Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” the plump woman cooed. She gave the little girl’s head a pat, then turned to step out of the room and pull the door closed behind her.
Emily continued chewing her sandwich while her mind drifted back to the two issues she was facing. The main problem was that she didn’t know the layout of the building or where anything was. Apart from the big empty office adjoining her room and the restroom that was directly across from it, all the stairs, hallways and rooms had been blocked off, locked, or were under heavy surveillance.
If Samael was still around, I could make him help me. Emily’s frown deepened. He was a sleazebag to other people, but he was nice to me.
A sudden succession of shrill rings cut the silence of her room. She jumped, nearly dropping her half-eaten sandwich, and stared at the phone in startled disbelief. How was this possible? When she tried to make an outgoing call, the phone was dead, and she refused to believe someone had fixed it for her sake. She couldn’t shake the feeling that this was some sort of trap.
But even after a long, tense moment of waiting, the ringing didn’t stop.
It could be my friends, a more optimistic part of her rationalized. Radiant promised he’d try to get me sent home, right? Her small heart was pounding so hard, it felt like it was trying to escape her chest. But Radiant is dead. He can’t make phone calls anymore.
She finally gave in, telling herself that she’d only lift the handset to cut off that shrill sound. But curiosity won out, and she brought the receiver to her ear. “Hello?” she asked with a tiny voice.
“Hello, Emily,” a man replied from the other end of the line. She didn’t recognize the voice. He sounded young, though, and his English carried a faint accent. “I’m as scared as you are, so please don’t hang up on me.”
“Who are you?” And how do you know I’m scared?
“My name wouldn’t tell you anything. You don’t play chess, do you?”
Even though she was far from trusting the mysterious caller, his gentle, pleasant tone eased her anxiety a little. “Nope. Chess is boring.”
He sounded amused now. “And that’s the reason you wouldn’t recognize my name.”
“You’re not Kasparov, are you?” Emily ventured.
“No. But you can call me Kasparov if you like. Because your friend Chris granted the Oracle’s last wish, her Visionary powers passed on to me. I can help you save the world, Emily.”
She blinked, her fingers squeezing the phone handset tight. It took her a moment to find her voice again. “You know Chris?”
“We haven’t met, so I don’t know her as well as you do. But I know a thing or two about her.”
Emily thought he would say more, but he didn’t. The silence on the line seemed like a void she was supposed to fill, and numerous questions materialized in her head. Was this man really who he claimed to be – a new Oracle? Could she trust him? And how on earth was he able to phone her here, on a phone she thought was deactivated, without triggering any security alerts?
Ever since she gained her Empath powers, phone conversations with people she didn’t know and hadn’t imprinted felt weird and a little scary. They were dead to her super senses and didn’t radiate any emotions for her to pick up. For that reason, she couldn’t tell if the mystery caller was lying or not. She had nothing to go by except her gut feeling.
He sounds nice. Like he really cares and wants to help.
After a moment’s hesitation, she fired the first question from her arsenal. “Why do you want to help me save the world?”
“Because you have the best chance of success. You know why, don’t you?”
Emily squeezed her eyes shut, her fingers trembling. Oh poop, he knows about the SECRET.
The self-proclaimed Visionary went on without waiting for her response. “The previous Oracle was bed bound and could only speak in whispers. But even in her comatose state, she realized that if she didn’t wrap her prophecies in riddles, they would cause mass panic and undo the world before its time. She was right. But now the end time is here, and I need your help, Emily. Everyone does. Your friends most of all.”
One hand pressed to her chest to keep her pounding heart from leaping out, Emily cleared her throat. “Uh huh. Okay.”
“Don’t be afraid. We’re going to treat this like a game, all right? It’s the Endgame, so anything is allowed. We can make our own rules. Besides, I’m quite good at playing games.”
“I need to get out of here first,” she said. “I know they’re not planning to send me home. They want to make me imprint… him.” The name was too scary to roll off her tongue easily. “Legion.”
“I know,” Kasparov told her in a reassuring tone. “Your escape is going to be our first move. I need you to sneak into the office next door and open the locker that’s next to the window.”
By now Emily’s head was so full of questions that they tumbled out of her mouth in quick succession. “How do you know about the locker? How am I going to open the lock on it… and hey, why are you able to call me? The phone didn’t work when I tried to use it.”
A throaty chuckle came through the receiver. “Only outgoing calls are blocked. You’re able to receive calls, though of course I shouldn’t know the number.”
The explanation sounded plausible enough. She didn’t ask how he got the phone number; what Kasparov said about Chris and the Oracle convinced her that he really was a Visionary. He must have dreamed about the office and the locker or something.
“The combination for the locker is 9700. Make sure you don’t forget it, all right? If you don’t enter the numbers correctly the first time, or you’ll set off an alarm.”
Emily gulped. She memorized the code using the visualization method she’d learned about at school: the 9 appeared as a white number drawn on the chalkboard of her mind’s eye. The 7 was a fat green plush snake dangling next to the 9, and the two zeroes appeared as a pair of balloons that floated in midair.
“When you open the locker, you’re going to see two black cell phones on the second shelf from the bottom. These are special burner phones that can’t be traced. Take the one on the right, then turn it on and take one of the chargers Close the locker and wait for my call on the phone you claimed.”
“Okay. I’m going right now.”
Instead of hanging up, Emily set the handset down on the desk and took a deep breath to ignite her scared little heart with courage. 9700. She still saw the numbers in her mind’s eye. She opened the door – all slow and quiet – and took ten sneaky steps along the right side of the carpeted office room. She had to climb onto a chair to see the combination lock properly, and her trembling fingers made it difficult to enter the code, but eventually she was rewarded with a faint click. The locker opened almost on its own.
She found the phones and chargers exactly where Kasparov said they would be. After she took one of the phones and figured out how to turn it on, it rang after about three seconds. It was almost a little suspicious. She couldn’t resist looking around the room to check for cameras.
You’re good, Kasparov. You’re really good.
“Well done,” his voice told her through the new phone. “If you have the charger, you’re almost ready to leave. All that’s left is to hang up the phone in the other room.”
After grabbing the charger, Emily turned around to do as instructed. Her anxiety was starting to fade and change into excitement. But she still kept her voice low. “Wait, before I do anything else… you have to promise me something.”
“We have to warn my friend Sarina. They’re going to–”
“Emily.” He gently cut her off. “I’m going to tell you something. You have to try and trust me no matter what it is. All right?”
Even though he couldn’t see her, she gave a hesitant nod. She didn’t like the sound of this. Her newfound excitement was already wearing off. When he finished talking, she was left speechless, her eyes filling with tears again.
“Don’t be afraid. We’re not going to win every battle, but I know that no matter how often we fail, the world will be much better off than it would be if we didn’t try. And you’re not playing this game alone. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
Emily suppressed a sniffle. “Okay.”
“Let’s go, then. I know this won’t be easy for you, but it’s necessary in order to get out of there without drawing attention. No one will know where you disappeared to or why.”
So this is it. I’m crossing the line.
She had no response for him. She turned to gaze out the window and focused her eyes on a distant point that looked like a suitable destination. Then, she called up her power and tapped her fingers against her thigh in a steady rhythm, submerging herself deep in a foreign consciousness.
She could have picked any of the Evolved she’d imprinted so far, but for reasons of inconspicuousness it had to be her.
A surge of foreign memories and emotions filled her mind, and with them came a whole new set of powers. An incredible range and a profound awareness of every living being in a radius of three hundred feet around her.
Kid-Dancer smiled to herself before teleporting out through the window, ready to face the world… and the endgame.