Boltigen, Switzerland – Wednesday, the 6th of June, 2012. 09:11 AM.
Sarina woke to a beeping noise coming from her computer. It wasn’t exactly loud, but it was persistent enough to worm its way into her consciousness. After a couple of minutes, she was irritated enough to sit up and rub her eyes.
Oh gosh, it’s probably those guys.
She remembered how they’d asked her to leave her computer on, and she had complied — though more thanks to her forgetfulness than anything else.
Yesterday had been a pretty shitty day, all in all. After talking to David a little bit more about the UNEOA’s feedback theory, she’d spent the rest of the evening watching online news videos about the worldwide riots taking place. Which hadn’t exactly helped to improve her mood.
Another computerized beep stirred her from her thoughts. She swung her legs over the side of the cot and stood, surveying the room. For a moment she was taken aback by the blue and purple wall décor, but then she remembered what had happened yesterday after she’d listened to Jasper’s SarinaTrack14.mp3 file. Still feeling pretty proud of herself, she scurried across the now lushly carpeted floor and sat down at the computer desk.
Looking at the monitor, she saw that it displayed the familiar black input console. There was a succession of messages that had come in over the last forty-five minutes or so, each showing more impatience than the last.
08:27:11 AM “Get ready, but let us know before you head outside. We’re waiting for you.”
08:48:08 AM “Did you have to cover your webcam?”
08:55:16 AM “Wake up, wake up!”
09:01:00 AM “Are you there?”
09:07:14 AM “Helloooooooooooo?”
09:11:23 AM “Dancer!!!”
She removed the socks from where she’d draped them over the webcam, then began to type a response.
“Sorry, just woke up. I can’t do the whole Paris thing. Sorry to make you come all this way for nothing. And since I’m not going to go with you, I don’t think there’s any point in us meeting today.”
But before she sent it, she paused. Her finger hovered undecidedly over the enter key.
She’d already come to the conclusion that Paris was out of the question. It sounded like the kind of stupid idea that would result in reproachful comments and weeks of regret. Sitting around in this prison-like basement was lame, yes. But Queenie’s visit to her parents gave her some hope that things were finally moving along. That they were about to put her into the game, so to speak.
However, the idea of permanently losing contact with Jasper bugged her. He was funny and cute and had a way of cheering her up when she needed it. He’d even got her power working again —something she’d thought impossible.
Why’d you have to run off with these guys, Jasper? I’m going to miss our chats.
Sarina deleted most of what she’d just written and replaced it with something more ambiguous and less decidedly negative.
“Sorry, just woke up. Not sure if I’m coming to Paris, but I might come out to talk to Jasper.”
She hit send.
A response didn’t appear as quickly as she would have expected, which gave her a minute to feel a fresh round of guilt. She’d encouraged these guys to come all this way — some abandoned mountain top, for goodness sake — only to tell them she wasn’t going to go with them. That classified as a jerk move in her book. And whether she meant to do it or not, she hated being a jerk.
Finally, the beep arrived.
“Might?!? Girl, we just spent fourteen hours driving from London. You at least have to come say hi.”
They drove all the way from London? So they didn’t have a Teleporter with them, then. Yep, she’d officially pulled off a complete jerk move. The least she could do to quench her guilt was to try and be nice about it.
Then again, she still didn’t feel totally more comfortable going out to meet a bunch of superpowered strangers who hacked into computers.
“Okay, I’ll come out. If you let me see Jasper alone first.” She couldn’t quite explain it, but she trusted the musical prodigy. If he told her that it was safe to meet the others, she’d probably believe him.
“Fine. He’ll walk up to meet you. Go out the back door and head towards the main road.”
This gave her pause. Wasn’t that a little obvious? But they said that nobody would even notice they were here. And Jasper would never do anything to get me in trouble . . .
After a moment of hesitation, she agreed. “Alright.”
A smiley face appeared immediately, followed by another message. “Just pretend you’re going for a walk as usual. We’re gonna see you before you see us. And hurry!”
See me before I see you? That sounded ominous. As far as Sarina knew, the whole area had been placed under lockdown. She assumed her visitors knew that they wouldn’t be able to get past the army without some kind of trick up their sleeve. She just hoped their tricks didn’t involve getting anyone hurt.
“Okay, I just need a few minutes!”
After hitting enter, Sarina jumped out of her chair to collect the pieces of clothing she’d laid out last night: a pair of jeans and an asymmetrical white cat-print shirt that left one shoulder bare. She got dressed and gathered her hair into a ponytail before stepping out into the hallway.
She barely noted the grayish stone corridor as she made her way to the stairs. Just what the heck was she going to say to Jasper? Assuming he really was waiting outside, after all.
Hi! Nice to meet you, if only for two minutes. Have a nice trip?
She shook her head, frustrated. He deserved better.
When she reached the facility’s main entrance, the nerves really began to take over. But whether they were due to breaking the rules or the prospect of meeting Jasper, she couldn’t be sure.
She stepped outside and looked around the grassy courtyard; nothing seemed unusual. The two young soldiers in their camouflage uniforms wished her a good morning from their post beside the door, then resumed smoking and chatting about the Shanti riots.
Huh. Nothing out of the ordinary about that . . .
She almost stopped to ask if they’d noticed any cars pull up, but caught herself at the last moment. She kept walking, feeling stupid.
About a minute and a half later, she reached the far edge of the grassy courtyard — the outer boundary of the area she’d been told to stay within. She paused and looked over her shoulder, back towards the guards. They weren’t even looking in her direction. She glanced towards the road out front, hoping to catch a glimpse of Jasper, but saw nothing. Was she in the right place?
We’ll see you before you see us. She recalled the messager’s words; were they in camo or something? She decided she’d have to keep walking to find out. She’d come this far, after all.
The first few steps beyond the courtyard were the hardest. She had to assemble all her courage just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. She felt shackled by the fear that someone would shout for her to turn back. Or worse, that the soldiers would come after her.
She looked around at the mountainous landscape with its sparse patches of conifer forest and snowy mountain peaks. It left her feeling dwarfed and empowered all at the same time.
As she took her first step onto the main road leading up to the facility, she glanced back over her shoulder again. The soldiers seemed totally uninterested in her. They just kept talking and occasionally lifting their cigarettes to their mouths. They didn’t seem to even notice that she’d gone well beyond the boundary. For trained army guards, they were being decidedly lax.
Those guys, whoever they are, must be doing something with their powers to cover me, she realized. Although she still wasn’t entirely convinced, more and more tension began to ease out of her shoulders with every step she took away from the army barracks. If they were going to catch her, they would have done it by now.
This is actually kind of cool, she realized.
The people she was going to meet actually used their powers, and seeing their effect in action filled Sarina with a sense of anticipation for what she might accomplish one day. She began to feel like a secret agent who’d managed to escape captivity and was on her way to becoming part of a secret mission that would change the fate of the world for the better.
The road wound its way down over the top of a hill, hugging the crest for about fifty meters until it finally descended towards some flatter terrain which served as the barracks’ main parking lot. A few army vehicles were parked beneath camouflaged tarps; the amount of dust on them suggested that they hadn’t been driven in a while. There were no civilian vehicles in sight.
She headed towards the parking lot to wait for her visitors. Knee-height grass was on either side of the road, and grasshoppers and butterflies were stirred by her movements. They were the only signs of life around her. After four days of complete surveillance, this relative freedom felt totally strange. She looked over her shoulder again, just to be sure.
When she turned back around, the figure of a person in mid-stride manifested itself on the path about a dozen meters ahead of her. It was as if her senses had been blocking him out before and suddenly decided to register that he was there.
As the figure took another step towards her, she took note of his tiny grin and friendly blue eyes.
She stopped in her tracks and let him walk the rest of the way towards her.
He wasn’t wearing the white headphones around his neck, but everything else looked pretty much exactly like the photo she’d seen the day before: the unruly brown hair, the ruggedly cute features. He had a slender but not quite athletic build that was partially concealed by a long-sleeved shirt and baggy cargo pants.
As he closed the final few meters between them, Sarina found herself at a complete loss for what to say. Unlike many of her peers, she’d never met an online friend before — although she doubted that anyone else had ever met an internet acquaintance under such circumstances, either.
This is awkward, she thought. Not really uncomfortable, just . . . strange. And kind of awesome.
“Hello there, Dancing Queen,” Jasper said in British-accented English, extending a hand to her.
She took it. “Hey you,” she replied as she limply jiggled his hand. She was suddenly self-conscious of her own crude Swiss accented English.
Luckily, his smile never faltered so she didn’t have a chance to feel lame. His eyes held a vivid sparkle of something she couldn’t define. Relief, perhaps?
Maybe he wasn’t sure what to expect from me, either.
“Kinda weird, isn’t it?” he said, acknowledging the elephant in the room.
The fact that he could relate made it better, somehow. “Yeah. Super weird.”
“What, you never evaded army surveillance in broad daylight before?”
Sarina laughed. “Nope, can’t say that I have.”
Jasper snorted a chuckle, too. Then they were left standing in silence.
Jasper sucked in a lungful of the intense, earthy smell of grass and herbs that surrounded them, looking down at the parking lot. “Well, thanks for meeting me,” he said after a few beats. “I know it couldn’t have been . . . comfortable for you.”
His words reminded Sarina of everything she was risking by even being there right now. Her smile slipped away and her heart began thrumming a little faster.
“Yeah, you’re right. It was pretty uncomfortable.” Then she asked the question that had been nagging at her since yesterday afternoon. “They didn’t kidnap you, did they?”
“Who, those guys?” The idea seemed funny to him. “Nah. They’re good people. I’ve known the Techie, Tess, for a few years. She’s pretty nice, once you get through her hard shell.”
“Techie?” Sarina repeated. She’d never heard the word before.
“Yeah, a Technician. She knows some talented people without powers, but lots of computer knowledge. They’re really good.”
Yeah, I’d say.
“And the others?”
“They aren’t so bad, either,” Jasper assured her. “You can trust them.”
She looked right into his friendly blue eyes. “Really? Can I?”
He was suddenly very serious. “Yeah, you can. I promise. Or else I wouldn’t tell you that I think you should come with us.”
The firmness in his voice surprised her. “You think I should go?”
She’d already decided that she wasn’t going to go to Paris with them, but she realized delivering that message to Jasper in person it might be harder than she’d anticipated.
“Yeah, I do. Actually, I’ve had to try pretty hard to convince them to even help you.” The humor was gone now, along with the playful grin.
Sarina wasn’t sure how to navigate the sudden change in tone. “Thanks, but I don’t think I need anyone’s help,” she said. “I mean, yeah, I’m bored out of my mind and everything, but I’m pretty sure that Queenie’s about to call me up to help out with some stuff. You know, to use my powers and such for official Covenant business.”
Jasper’s eyes took on a strange look.
“Come on,” he said, changing the subject. “Let’s go meet the others.” He gave her arm a little squeeze, then let go and started making his way down the path that led to the parking lot. “You coming?”
She hesitated, but a moment later she found herself catching up to him. Sure, her plan had been just to say a quick hello to Jasper, not meet the whole group. But then again, they had come all this way to meet her. And they’d been waiting for like twenty minutes already.
“So why’d you leave London all of a sudden?” Sarina broke the silence as they walked.
“I had to get out of there and actually do something,” he said, confirming what yesterday’s messages had suggested. “Sorry I didn’t mention anything earlier, but I figured your chats were all being monitored.”
She nodded. It made sense. “And why Paris?”
“We’re going there to meet up with some others like us — other Rogues who’ve been restricted from using their powers in any official capacity — to discuss what we can accomplish behind the scenes, without official hero status.”
Seconds before they stepped into the parking lot, her view suddenly . . . cleared. Or shifted. Or something. Formless blotches of color blended into one another to reshape within a fraction of an instant.
For the second time that morning, she was left breathless by seeing powers in action. When she looked again, she saw that one of the tarped-up army vehicles had transformed into a sizeable and considerably more luxurious-looking white station wagon. And it was surrounded by people.
None of them wore costumes. That seemed a little odd to her at first, but then she reminded herself that they were rogues. Costumes only really made sense for heroes who wanted to be famous and look good on TV — not for Evolved runaways who were trying to remain incognito.
Sarina’s attention was immediately drawn to the twenty-something man who was leaning against the rear end of the vehicle, holding himself with an easy confidence that bordered on smugness. His athletic frame towered a couple of inches over the others. Sarina could immediately sense that he was the kind of guy who didn’t need remarkable looks to dominate a room with his presence. He was wearing a pair of tight fitting black pants and a white shirt and a sleeveless dark jacket, and his wide-brimmed brown hat hinted at a point of origin overseas. She’d had enough experience with the variety of groups she’d interacted with in her life to know that she was looking at a leader.
As Sarina and Jasper approached the wagon, Sarina quickly surveyed the rest of the group. It consisted of a sturdy red-haired woman in her mid-twenties and boy with short, dirty-blond hair who looked to be in his early teens. That caught her off guard; she wasn’t sure what exactly she’d expected, but certainly not some kid.
The redhead didn’t look terribly impressed or enthusiastic about the newcomer. She couldn’t be more than a few years older than Sarina, but the loose beige sweater she wore in combination with jean overalls didn’t give the impression that she cared a whole lot about her looks.
That must be Tess, Jasper’s friend, Sarina thought, recalling a comment he’d made a few minutes before.
She took a closer look at the group’s young companion. The boy was smirking, nibbling on a blade of grass as he gave Sarina an extensive head-to-toe once-over. She felt immediately self-conscious at his attention and crossed her arms over her chest.
Wait a minute, she thought with a frown. I thought they said there were four of them. Five with Jasper . . .
But before she had a chance to give it more thought, the man with the hat stepped in front of her with a smile broad enough to show a hint of teeth. He seemed to be in a surprisingly cheery mood for someone who’d just driven fourteen hours for nothing.
“Nice magic trick, eh?” he drawled in Australian-accented English, referring to the group’s sudden appearance. “So . . . you’re that Wondergirl everyone’s talking about.”
Everyone’s talking about me? She hoped he was kidding. Surely nobody outside of her family cared one iota about what she did.
“I’m Ace,” the Aussie told her.
“Nice to meet you,” Sarina replied politely. “All of you,” she added, looking around at the others. Tess didn’t meet her gaze.
Ace gestured in the direction of the station wagon. “Alright! Now that that’s done, hop in! Let’s make some tracks! Three rows of seats, plenty of room!”
Sarina didn’t budge. “But you said I was just going to meet you today,” she reminded him. “Thanks for the offer and everything, but I’m not sure if . . .”
“We drove a long way to see you,” the red-head cut her off. Her English was accented with an Irish clang.
“I’m really sorry about that,” Sarina replied with some sincere remorse. “And I wish I could come with you, really. Paris sounds awesome! The Eiffel Tower and Versailles Castle and all those cozy little restaurants. And I hear they have some pretty great dance crews . . .”
She realized she was rambling and stopped herself before she came across as a complete idiot.
But it was too late. The red-haired woman was already rolling her eyes, making no attempt to fake geniality. And the boy was still looking her over.
Ace snapped his fingers to get the boy’s attention. “Yo, Sunny! Eyes up!”
“Yeah, you brat,” Tess told Sunny, giving his arm a pinch. Still, Sarina sensed a degree of tenderness there.
“I thought you said there were four of you,” she asked Ace as a way to change the subject.
The leader jerked a thumb towards the back of the wagon. “Snow’s back there. She’s not all that fond of strangers.”
Sarina tried to peer through the window, but the sun’s glare off the glass reflected in her eyes.
“But don’t worry,” Ace continued. “She’ll warm up to you once we hit the road.”
Yeah, about that . . .
Sarina turned to Jasper, who was standing just a little off to her side. He was oddly silent, somberly considering the empty space ahead of him.
He’s probably guessing we’ll part ways after, she figured, and the thought infected her with a feeling of guilt all over again. Guilt and a little bit of sadness at the thought of leaving him so soon after meeting him.
She took a deep breath. “I’m really sorry, but I just don’t think I can go with you,” she told Ace, casting a quick glance around at the others. “I have strong reasons for staying. Reasons that are important to me.”
“That right?” Ace said, raising a brow. Clearly this was not the message he’d expected to hear. “What reasons would those be?”
“My family, mainly. They’d worry to death if I just disappeared.”
She wasn’t going to reveal her hopes for the Covenant, and certainly not her reveries about dinner invitations from Radiant. She knew they’d just laugh at her.
“Family. I see.” Ace didn’t linger on the subject. Instead, he turned his attention to Jasper. “You better tell her, mate.”
Tell me what? Maybe it was just the wind, but the air temperature seemed to drop by a couple degrees. She turned her gaze towards the only person in the group she felt she could totally trust.
Jasper visibly composed himself, straightening his shoulders before he spoke. “The Covenant’s going to kill you, Sarina,” he said, struggling to get the words out.
Sarina’s mind went blank. She was utterly incapable of processing a single word of what Jasper had just said.
”What?” she finally managed.
“I’m sorry, but it’s true,” Jasper told her. He lowered his eyes to the ground.
The words slowly sank in. Her mother’s instincts last night had been right, after all. She wasn’t safe, even in Switzerland.
“This ain’t no joke,” Ace broke in, picking the conversation back up. “Someone we know hacked into some UNEOA computers yesterday morning and confirmed it. You’re right up there at the top of their hit list, next to the Sleepwalker.”
That left Sarina speechless. How could they possibly think she was as dangerous as the Sleepwalker? She looked over at Tess, who sullenly nodded. For a split second, Sarina thought she saw some compassion in the Redhead’s eyes.
“But . . . why?” Sarina asked no one in particular.
“The Covenant’s cracking down hard on powers that go off the charts. You haven’t even surged, right? And if we believe the information that leaked, well, your range is already about the same as Shanti’s.”
“And if they killed her, they wouldn’t think twice about killing anyone else,” the boy, Sunny, added with a similar but slightly weaker accent than the Redhead’s. He didn’t look so smug now, but dead serious.
Ace was nodding. “Powers go off the charts, they don’t even care if it’s a hero, a villain, or a bloody saint. They just . . .” He drew an index finger across his throat to finish his idea.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Sarina said, feeling totally overwhelmed. If she really was in danger, David surely would have told her. “I haven’t surged. And Queenie visited my family a couple of days ago to ask about me. Why would they be so interested in my life if they wanted to kill me?”
“They try to understand the power they’re culling before it’s too late to gather information,” Tess informed her matter-of-factly. “They’re still trying to look for patterns when it comes to who transitions and why.”
“But . . . my government’s neutral,” Sarina said weakly.
Ace snorted. “This thing’s bigger than any one government, kiddo. Your parliament might be able to stall ’em for a while, but at the end of the day, your number’s up,” he told her. “That’s why if you wanna do something for the world like Shanti did, you gotta be undercover.”
Could this actually be true?
Sarina cast a sidelong glance at Jasper. He nodded, his face grim, and her heart sank a little at the sight of it. Even if she could comfortably wrap herself in the assumption that these people were lying to her, she just couldn’t believe that he would.
“Take the offer, Sarina,” Jasper said softly. “I can’t promise you that we’ll save the world, but at least you’ll be safe.”
Sarina still wasn’t sure. If she was going to abandon her family, she had to be sure.
“How do you know the Covenant wouldn’t find me with you?”
“Because we’re off the grid, Wondergirl,” Ace replied with an audible tint of satisfaction. “You heard about all those cases gone missing without a trace in Europe? Most of those . . . are us.” A broad grin spread across his face. “Queenie can’t locate us. No one can. No one notices us unless we want ’em to.”
Sarina could believe that, having experienced the shift of vision first hand. But she had a harder time believing that anyone would just want to disappear from their own lives.
“Don’t you have families? Jobs?” she asked.
Sunny grimaced at the subject, and Tess said nothing.
“We’re gypsies, girl. Wild and free,” Ace told her. “We just do whatever feels right.”
Sarina tried to word her next question delicately. “And what do you do, exactly? I mean . . . when no one can see you?”
“We’re not the bad guys, if that’s what you’re asking about,” Ace said firmly. “We don’t go around murdering people or plotting how to end the world.”
Something about the way he said it made Sarina believe him. Hopefully they didn’t do anything more illegal than hacking into computers for a good cause.
“Ending the world is a pretty dumb idea, anyway,” Sunny added. “Totally uninspired.”
There was a pause, then everyone looked at her expectantly.
She hung her head, not sure what to say. She was running out of arguments; there was only one she could think of that still mattered.
“But my family . . .” she began, feeling like a broken record.
“Will be glad you’re safe. And devastated for life if anything ever happens to you,” Jasper finished for her.
He was right, and she knew it. “Okay,” she finally agreed.
Sunny pumped his fist, clearly pleased as punch. “Yes!” he exclaimed. “Finally a pretty girl who isn’t creepy like Snow!”
“But,” Sarina added firmly, interrupting his celebration, “I want to get some of my things first. I’ll be quick about it.”
Tess gave her an annoyed look.
“That’s a really big thing you’re asking, Wondergirl,” Ace said. “Too many ways that could go wrong.”
“You’re not gonna nark on us, are you?” Sunny asked her, giving her another once over.
“No, I’m not going to report you,” Sarina promised. The thought hadn’t even crossed her mind. “But I’m not coming if you don’t let me get my things.” It felt a bit strange digging in her heels, but she knew she had to. There was something she needed to do back in her room. “If you want me to trust you, you have to trust me.”
“I’ll vouch for her,” Jasper said.
“Is it doable?” Ace asked the kid.
“Yeah. Not too many guards. I can cover them when she goes back in and out,” Sunny said.
So he’s the one with the power to hide people, Sarina pieced together. She looked at the boy – who was still twirling a blade of grass between two fingers – with new eyes.
“How does this invisibility thing work, exactly?” she asked.
Ace answered for Sunny. “The kid senses everyone in his radius who could possibly notice you, then you get turned into background noise that gets filtered out by their brain. Just gets harder the more guys there are who gotta not notice you.”
“Can they hear me?”
“Nope. He can do the same thing for sounds. Blocks them out.”
“Oh,” Sarina said. “Cool.”
“Just try to avoid security cameras though, okay?” Ace added. “If they check the footage later, they’ll be able to see which direction you went in.”
“Okay,” Sarina said, reasonably convinced she was going to be fine. She started to turn back up the hill.
“And don’t say nothing to nobody,” Ace said, giving Sarina a hard look. “You do that, we got problems, you and me. And hurry. The moment Queenie checks on you and can’t find you, shit’s gonna go down. Radiant’s gonna show up in less than a friggin’ second.”
Sarina could believe that. She couldn’t remember the exact definition of the speed of light, but less than a second of travel time sounded about right.
“I’ll be quick, promise!” she said, then started jogging back up the road.
Sunny didn’t let her down. None of the guards even blinked as she returned to the building. They just stood there, looking as if they couldn’t see her. It was a pretty amazing feeling, flying under the radar like that.
She stayed close to the walls as she made her way to her room, trying to avoid the cameras where possible. Although if everything went well, they’d be long gone before anyone thought to check the footage.
Once back in her room, she swiftly packed a bag with some essentials: clothes, her winged shoes, some toiletries, her family pictures, and her purse.
She checked to make sure the webcam was still covered in socks, then picked up her phone to quickly type a message to David. Something that wouldn’t give anything away. She owed her family so much; she couldn’t just disappear on them without a trace.
“I’m not dead. Don’t worry. Going off grid with DJ and some others so as not to be useless. Love you guys! Sara.” She hit send, then tossed the phone on her computer desk.
She knew she was probably going to miss having her phone with her, especially her favorite music tracks, but she couldn’t risk having the whole group tracked down because of her phone.
Leaving the basement was the next logical step. She threw one last glance over the colorful walls and floor.
I’ve gone this far, she rationalized. Now I just have to go all the way.
With that, she left the facility behind. This time, she didn’t look back.
When she returned to the vehicle, everyone else was already waiting inside except for Tess, who climbed into the driver’s seat as she spotted the straggler cresting the hill.
Sarina jogged the last steps to the wagon and a rear door was thrown open for her.
“Hop in,” Ace said through the partially lowered passenger window.
Sarina hesitated for less than a second before climbing into the car’s middle row of seats beside Jasper. Only jerks let people wait if a door was held open for them. Besides, she’d crossed the threshold; there was no way back now.
“Welcome to the Nameless,” Sunny said from rearmost seat. He was grinning broadly at her.
“The Nameless? But you have names,” Sarina pointed out. Duh.
“Has more to do with being off the grid, actually,” Ace pointed out as Tess started the car engines and put the vehicle in gear.
No time for second thoughts. These were her people now, come what may.
As Sarina turned in her middle-row seat to say a proper thanks to Sunny for his help getting her back in and out of the barracks, she was stopped in her tracks by a pair of ashen gray eyes watching her intently.
“Oh, Dancer, meet Snow,” Jasper introduced them.
The girl was perched in the other rearmost seat beside Sunny, her hands folded neatly in her lap. Nearly everything about Snow was white. Fitting, perhaps, but she’d taken the theme to extremes. Even her long hair and eyebrows had an alabaster hue, which was especially startling next to her youthful Asian-looking features. A single dark teardrop tattoo adorned her cheek just beneath one eye. Sarina couldn’t even begin to guess at her age. Sixteen? Thirty? She had no idea.
“Hello,” Snow offered in English, with an accent Sarina didn’t recognize. And with that tiny offering, Snow’s gaze refocused on the seat in front of her.
So this is the fifth person.
“Hi,” Sarina replied uncertainly, still a little taken aback.
“She likes you,” Sunny said from his seat beside the surreally pale girl. “She just ignores most people.”
Sarina’s curiosity was peaked. “What’s your power?” she asked Snow.
The Asian girl didn’t respond.
“Don’t be offended,” Jasper explained. “She’s shy.”
“Oh, okay,” Sarina said. Even so, it still stung a little.
“Far as we understand it,” Ace said, answering her question, “she takes things away. Colors, objects, sound. Maybe her lack of talking is a side effect.”
“Takes them where?” Sarina asked.
“Who knows? They just . . . poof.” Ace wriggled his fingers in the air, then turned around and grinned back at her.
She must have made a face, because Jasper chuckled. “She doesn’t poof people, don’t worry,” he said.
At least he seems more at ease now, Sarina thought as she looked at him. He was reclined in his seat, one arm extended along the seat back while remaining mindful of Sarina’s space.
“And the rest of you? I know what Jasper does, and Sunny. And Jasper said that Tess is good with tech, like Athena?”
“Sorta, but not quite,” Ace explained. It seemed that he was doing all the talking for the front row while Tess drove. Not that Tess seemed all that interested in talking to her in the first place. “Athena does drones and communications, and Tess likes cars and tech gadgets.” Ace gave the window beside him a quick rap with a knuckle. “This baby here ain’t as boring as she seems.”
“What about you, Ace?” Sarina asked.
“Ace likes to cheat,” Tess said, her Irish brogue cutting through the warm June air. “Used to be a professional card shark, go figure. It seems he likes to play the odds,” she added pointedly. “Takes on risks no one else will take.”
Is she talking about me? Sarina wondered. Then the realization hit her. If the Covenant was after her, then the Covenant was after all of them now. And while she could relate to the idea of facing some personal risk to make sure a friend was safe, Jasper had pulled the entire group into a life and death situation to save her. She hadn’t even thought about it until now.
She looked at Jasper and managed a smile. He grinned reassuringly back at her and wriggled his eyebrows. It reminded her of something David would do.
Tess cranked the AC and white noise filled the space. Nobody said anything else.
Sarina peered through the window as the car advanced towards the small manned checkpoint meant to restrict access to the military compound. It rolled over the hard-packed dirt beside the barrier, unnoticed by the guards. Sunny smiled to himself.
After passing through the checkpoint, Tess reached for a heavily altered device that had probably been a cell phone at some point. She handed it to Ace.
“Don’t forget to text Gentleman,” Tess told him, her eyes never leaving the road. “Let ’em know the six of us are on the way.”