San Francisco, USA – Friday, the 8th of June, 2012. 11:37 AM.
The Counselor’s announcement didn’t come as a surprise to Chris, but she was curious to see how the other Wardens would react to the news that they were finally expected to get their hands dirty. Up until now, their agendas had been filled with ribbon cuttings and photo shoots — not exactly the ‘saving the world’ type of events.
Emily was frowning at the blank projector screen, as if there was something there only she could see. Noire had settled back in her chair, her arms crossed over her chest and her frown deepening. Only Overdrive looked particularly moved by the news, as evidenced by the smile of satisfaction that had spread across his face.
He’s actually looking forward to this, Chris realized as she watched him from her seat. He’s probably the only one of us here who actually wants to be a hero.
For the briefest of instances, her heart went out to the guy. Did he actually believe that the Counselor and the others had come all this way to ask for their help just to solve some missing person cases?
Yeah, right. As if Evolved lives mattered that much to anyone here. Chris had witnessed enough of Evolved politics to know that the North American authorities were probably just relieved to have fewer Evolved – and thus fewer security risks – on their books.
So what did they want?
She looked to Mrs. Clarence for a clue, but the therapist was clearly avoiding her gaze, focusing her attention on picking lint off her blouse instead. Chris would just have to wait for the other shoe to drop.
The Counselor tapped a key on his laptop, and the projector screen lit up to display a mug shot of a shiny haired young man whose skin tone and eye shape suggested Native American heritage.
“Chayton Wallace, also known as Burrower,” the Counselor said, his voice solemn. “The first off-grid disappearance, reported on April seventeenth of this year. The most notable feature of his powerset was, you guessed it, his quick underground movement.”
The Counselor tapped the keyboard and the image on the screen changed to a map of the US, marked with a red dot near the southeastern border of North Dakota.
“Chayton was a member of a Dakota Sioux tribe living independently outside the reservation.”
Another keystroke brought up a picture of a plain, middle-aged woman with a freckled face.
“Sarah Atkins, listed as Morpher,” the Counselor continued. “Her disappearance was reported on April twenty-ninth. Her body transformed seemingly at random, making a normal life impossible for her. At first it was assumed that she’d disappeared from her special care home and committed suicide, but her body was never found and some evidence suggests otherwise. I’ll get to that in a moment.”
Nothing clearly points to a serial killer so far, Chris mused as she watched the projector screen.
The screen brought up the map again, this time with a second dot somewhere over Iowa.
Chris sank into her chair, hoping this wouldn’t be the kind of presentation that dragged on for hours. The overwhelming, oppressive feeling of authority in the room would probably choke her before long.
The next picture showed an extremely obese teenage boy whose eyes had sunk deep into his red, swollen face.
“Timothy Valentine, also known as Newal. His powerset involved rapid healing and recovery from injury and disease, but with serious mutations as a side effect,” the Counselor continued, his voice void of emotion.
It’s like he’s on autopilot or something, Chris thought. It must have been all his experience working with the FBI.
“Timothy was reported missing on the sixteenth of May. Disappeared somewhere in the state of Arkansas. Neighbors reported seeing him leaving his home for the first time in a week, but then he was never seen again.”
A touch of the keyboard brought up the map again, with a third red dot. Another photograph appeared.
“Paul Bobeck, or Dreamcatcher. Classified as a Visionary with the ability to project hallucinations into the minds of others. He was reported missing by the state of Texas on May twenty-third.”
This time, when the map appeared, a red line was connecting all four dots. It revealed a pattern of steady movement southwards with a bend towards the east.
Maybe it really is a serial killer, Chris deduced, staring at the path being revealed on the screen.
Personally, she wasn’t sure she had the skills and experience for this kind of task. Murder investigations were the FBI’s domain; they had the tools and experience to find the killers. She and the other Wardens had no training, no skills in this area, nothing.
She looked over at Overdrive, who was leaning forward in his chair eagerly. He didn’t seem to share her concerns. He probably just wanted to pose for photographs with some hero groupies.
“The last two disappearances were recent,” the Counselor continued. He was bent over his laptop, which made his face glow with an eerie blue sheen. “On the twenty-ninth of May and the fifth of June. A Technician and a Wildcard, missing from Central and South America, respectively.”
Two photographs flicked across the screen in quick succession, an attractive middle-aged woman and a smiling, twenty-something male.
“Note that the killer’s trail keeps extending further south,” the Counselor noted, straightening up to face the audience. “I should add that the last case, Duende, was an applicant to the South American hero team. He was a Teleporter, but notably, he could only teleport himself to a few locations in or near his home town.”
The Counselor switched to the next map slide. This time, the red line traveled down towards Uruguay.
“Six cases in total,” the Counselor said, directing his observation towards the Secretary of Evolved Affairs.
Damn. That’s almost a third of all Evolved in the Americas. Chris could see how the higher-ups and the Covenant would be concerned enough to make an appeal to the President.
“As you may have noticed,” the Counselor continued, addressing the whole group now, “the time span between each disappearance became shorter and shorter. At the same time, our perpetrator’s movement appears to have sped up dramatically.”
Chris examined the map. Indeed, the killer’s speed seemed to be increasing by a factor of four.
“And we’re sure that these disappearances aren’t linked to the ones in Europe?” one of the government officials asked, leafing through her briefing book.
The Counselor nodded. “We’re certain. They follow completely different patterns.”
“If I may ask a question,” another one of the suits whose name Chris couldn’t remember spoke up, raising a hand. “I’m sure these disappearances are an issue of great concern for the Department of Evolved Affairs, but I’d like to understand why the DTRA and CSA were asked to attend this briefing. I don’t see why the Army would be involved.”
Good question, Chris thought. It doesn’t look like there’s any indication of weapons of mass destruction. But if this guy’s going international, it’s out of the FBI jurisdiction.
“I understand that Evolved individuals can be quite . . . destructive,” the suit was saying, briefly glancing at the row of assembled Wardens. “But nobody seems to know enough about the killer to be sure they’re not just an average citizen with a gun.”
Chris felt her face warming. It looked like prejudice was just as alive and well here as it had been in her old high school. She considered saying something, but clenched her jaw shut instead. She wasn’t keen on appearing on anyone’s radar.
“That’s a valid question,” the Counselor agreed, interrupting her thoughts. “And one I was just about to get to.” He pressed a key on his laptop and the map disappeared, replaced by the green and gold UNEOA logo. Two phrases had been superimposed over the lightning bolt emblem — the first in a language that Chris couldn’t even guess at, and the second one in English, presumably the translation.
THE MARTYR RISES IN THE WEST, REMEMBERING ALL WRONGDOINGS. HE TRAVELS FROM NORTH TO SOUTH, GROWING AS HE DEVOURS.
“You may remember this,” the Counselor said. “It’s one of the Oracle’s older prophecies, translated from Palestinian Arabic.”
That caught Chris’s attention. She read the translation again and her mind immediately went back to the map of the Americas, its red line slowly bleeding from north to south. Holy shit, she thought. So the serial killer thinks he’s some kind of martyr. It was an uncomfortable thought.
Beside her, Emily reached for her hand and squeezed.
“This particular prophecy was never fully understood until recently,” the Counselor continued, gesturing towards the screen, “because the off-grid disappearances weren’t interpreted as murders right away. Instead, it was suspected that someone — or something — may have simply been blocking Queenie’s tracking powers. It’s happened before.”
“But if the world’s second most powerful Visionary can’t track them,” one of the representatives said, referring to Queenie, “then wouldn’t that give away the fact that they had died?”
“There was no reason to suspect murder at first. No bodies, no blood, no signs of a struggle,” the Counselor said simply.
“And no proof that they’re linked to some cockamamie prophecy, either,” came a speculative female voice. The President’s assistant, Chris remembered.
The Counselor lifted his hands, palms up. “Perhaps. But if these cases are linked to the Oracle’s prophecy, then we might be looking at something like a super-surge in the future. The shortened intervals between kills and the increased movement speed could hint at power growth.”
He travels from north to south, growing as he devours, Chris replayed the phrase in her mind. A silence descended over the room as the assembled representatives finally began to make the connection for themselves.
“Then why has he, or she, or it not revealed itself?” the President’s plump assistant asked after a moment. “With that kind of power, why live in hiding?”
“May I respond to this one?” Mr. Turner chimed in, turning to the Counselor. It was the first time the Secretary of Evolved Affairs had spoken since the introductions.
The Counselor gave a nod, looking relieved, then settled back in his chair.
“We don’t have an answer to your question at present, Mrs. Myers,” Mr. Turner said, directing his response to the President’s assistant. “But I assure you that finding an answer is high priority. The UN and the Covenant have passed everything of relevance to me, and I have personally filled the Counselor in on the details. For now, I can only assure you that the Counselor will have all the resources he needs to lead this investigation to a successful end, and as quickly as possible.”
And by resources, I’m guessing that he’s talking about us, Chris realized, bemused. Her thoughts drifted to the packet of cigarettes in her pocket. It was so close, yet so far. There was nothing else available to distract her from the pressure building up inside her chest. The expectations would be great, as would be the repercussions if she somehow screwed this up. Even the world’s most powerful hero team apparently hadn’t been able to resolve this on their own.
“And how often have these ‘prophecies’ been reliable?” one of the suits on Chris’s right-hand side interjected.
“As we all know, the wording of some of these prophecies can be ambiguous,” the Counselor replied from his chair, ignoring the bureaucrat’s caustic tone. “As we all know, Saint is considered a martyr by some. That parallel sparked some confusion, and then all attempts at interpretation were abandoned. Perhaps that’s why this one’s remained off our radar for so long. But to answer your question, all of the prophecies that could be interpreted with some degree of certainty have turned out to be true so far.”
Chris hoped the Oracle was wrong at least some of the time.
“Is there a prophecy about the identity of the killer?” asked a pale, balding man with thick glasses. If Chris had to guess, she’d pin him as an accountant. “If not, why doesn’t someone just ask the Oracle?”
A few snickers came from the assembled group.
“The Oracle isn’t able to respond or react to anyone,” the Counselor said, passing his eyes over the assembly without batting an eye. “She has been comatose since her transition, and she utters her prophecies at unpredictable intervals.”
The DTRA representative raised his hand again.
“The documents we received made mention of some kind of . . . um . . .” he rifled through his briefing book, looking for the word. “Some antithesis,” he finally supplied. “I assume that’s some kind of . . . end bringer? Could this”— he indicated the projection screen with a ruffle of his fingers— “be related?”
God, I sure hope not, Chris thought. The pressure was building. This couldn’t all be on her shoulders, could it?
“We can’t rule the possibility out,” the Counselor said.
Chris reached for the cigarette packet, wondering if she could find an excuse to sneak out for just five minutes. But Noire sent her a sharp look, and Chris put her hand back on the table.
“But I don’t believe that to be the case in this instance,” the Counselor added.
Chris felt herself relax slightly.
No one raised any more questions, though no one looked satisfied, either. As far as Chris could tell, they suits were all brooding silently, looking through their notes or exchanging whispers with neighbors. Maybe they were trying to assess how much this whole situation affected their job security and potential for promotion.
Must be nice to just worry about a promotion bonus rather than about fighting this thing, Chris mused. This was one of the exact reasons she preferred not to deal with authorities and bureaucracy. Too much talk, not enough action.
The Counselor triggered another slide change and a darkish, non-descript image appeared on the screen. Chairs creaked as attendees shifted to take a closer look.
Huh? Chris squinted at the vague image. It was . . . a hole in the ground, pretty much, with some half-submerged pieces of clothing sticking out. A dirty sleeve, part of a red bandana, the heel section of a shoe.
I don’t get it, she thought.
Beneath the table, Emily’s small hand grasped at Chris’s fingers. The girl’s small face was wearing the same perpetual frown she’d had since the start of the meeting.
“Hey, it’s alright,” Chris whispered, brushing her thumb across the back of Emily’s hand.
The girl looked up, startled, almost as if she’d been drawn from some kind of daze. “Oh, poop. Sorry,” she whispered apologetically. She pulled her tiny hand back onto her lap and diverted her gaze.
Chris wanted to ask what she was scared of, but the Counselor’s voice drew her attention back to the front of the room.
“What we’re looking at are the only remains of Paul Bobeck. His clothing, his boots, his wallet . . . Everything except his body. Not a single hair was found.”
That’s more like absorption than devouring, Chris thought as she took in the arrangement of items in the hole on-screen. She shuddered, then shot a sideways glance at Emily. The girl had her eyes squeezed shut.
The Counselor flicked to the next picture, then the next. No more holes, just a bunch of clothing and personal items strewn across two different wooded and grassy areas with similar azure skies.
“The Technician and the Wildcard,” someone murmured.
The Counselor nodded. “Yep. Those are our south-of-the-border disappearances.”
“What about the others?” came a voice. It was the presidential assistant, but all trace of impudence was gone from her voice.
“Sarah Atkins couldn’t wear clothing due to her mutations. And Timothy’s belongings were never found, most likely because the local police weren’t aware of his disappearance until it was too late for the dogs to find a trail.”
That leaves the first guy in line. The Burrower, Chris deduced. Which would explain how the killer travels undetected and why some of the clothing was found underground.
As if reading her mind, the Counselor clicked all the way back to the photograph of the man who’d accompanied the first red dot in North Dakota. “Some of you might have guessed that we’re looking into the Burrower as our primary person of interest,” he stated. “But it doesn’t fit, not completely. As of Queenie’s last reconnaissance, the Burrower wasn’t capable of doing anything like this.”
“And how did he find his victims?” Mrs. Myers asked, her eyes on her notepad. “I’ve been informed that the locations of some of these Evolved weren’t made public. Should we be concerned about a security leak?”
The Counselor rubbed his forehead. “We can’t rule that out,” he admitted. “But personally I believe the killer may have Visionary powers. If he actually does travel below ground, access to electronics would be an issue. Now, I should point out something else.”
He glanced over his shoulder at the screen, then pressed a keyboard key a few times to flip through slides until the screen displayed a list of locations. Each one included a note on how far from the victim’s homes the tracker dogs lost their trace.
“The clothes were always found at a distance of at least a quarter mile outside the victims’ communities. Always in the woods, or a field, or — in the case of Texas — the desert. And we have reason to believe they went to those places on their own volition. For instance, neighbors recollected seeing Timothy Valentine leaving his home and walking in the direction of the woods before he disappeared. He rarely even left his room, so, this was unusual behavior for him.” The Counselor paused, letting the information sink in. “This could mean we’re dealing with . . .”
“Some kind of psychic lure power,” Chris murmured before she could stop herself.
The Counselor looked over at her. “Yes,” he said, eying her austerely. “Perhaps similar to the rogue Serene’s song, but more selective.”
Overdrive shot her a sour look. Chris pursed her lips and pretended not to notice. She sank down in her chair, fixing her eyes on the table in front of her.
“We’ll provide the Wardens with every possible safeguard,” Mr. Turner said, diffusing the attention that was on Chris by turning his pale eyes on all four Wardens equally. “We’ve received confirmation that Saint will fly into San Francisco tomorrow morning to extend his protection to all of you for the duration of this mission.”
The idea of meeting another Guardian intrigued Chris. It was said that members of the same classification could sense each other’s presence and feel a tingling sensation if they touched. The last time she’d felt any sort of personal connection with anyone had been with Ryan, which now felt like an eternity ago.
She forced that memory from her mind and focused on the implications of being granted Saint’s protection. The poor guy had drawn the short straw in regards to powers. The pain he kept his wards from experiencing was transferred over to him.
Being everyone’s punching bag has got to suck.
But clearly, the Wardens were playing in the big leagues for this mission at least. Saint’s power covered several international top-level politicians and every single member of the Covenant, granting them something close to immortality.
But why get Saint involved if the killer’s already moved on to South America? Chris wondered. Something smelled fishy to her.
“Are safeguards in place for the other American Evolved, too?” a woman asked, interrupting Chris’s thoughts. The State Secretary of Evolved Affairs, Chris remembered. Probably the woman one step above Mr. Turner.
“Yes. All the rogues are being informed of the threat and offered safe lodging in various cities across the country.”
The woman looked pleased. “That should prevent any more deaths, particularly if the killer is prone to targeting loners.”
It didn’t escape Chris that the government probably didn’t mind having an excuse to keep tabs on all the rogues in the country. To keep a thumb on all the poor bastards with powers who just wanted to be left alone.
She almost spoke up again, but bit her tongue instead. The last thing she wanted was more trouble, and she’d already drawn more attention than she’d intended.
“That concludes what we have so far,” the Counselor said, shutting down the screen. “Unless anyone has anything else to add?”
Mr. Turner, the Wardens’ overseer, rubbed his chin and looked out over the assembled faces. None of the officials looked particularly happy, but no one spoke up either.
“No, that’s all, thanks,” Mr. Turner told the Counselor. “Now better take your team to discuss the schedule and plans for tomorrow. You’ll need to get them ready.”
Chris had no objections whatsoever to calling this meeting to a close. If there were more plans to discuss, fine. She just hoped she wouldn’t need to socialize.
Let’s just get this over with, she thought, eager to get away from all these prying eyes and their personal agendas. Maybe she’d even have some time to herself to check out the area for any decent jogging routes or parkour courses.
Besides, she’d gone far too long without a smoke.
After the conclusion of the briefing, Chris, Emily, Noire, Overdrive, and the Counselor gathered in their top-floor apartment. The new Wardens team, alone for the first time. And they had a lot to discuss.
Overdrive flopped down in the largest bean bag chair before anyone else had the chance and laced his fingers behind his head. Noire claimed her spot on one end of the couch by the window, and the Counselor sat down on the other. Emily grabbed a pillow and set herself down on the second couch beside Chris.
“Let’s start with the basics,” the Counselor began, leaning forward to let his hands hang from his knees. “I’m Joshua Whitfield, but just call me Josh,” he said, eyes on Chris. “I don’t care much for those Evolved tags.”
Chris liked the sound of that. “I’m Chris,” she offered in a low voice.
Josh nodded and then pointed at Noire, Emily, and Overdrive in turn. “Nora, Emily, and Peter,” he introduced.
“You can call me Monster Momma,” Nora told her icily. Then, jerking a thumb in Peter’s direction, she added, “And just call him Pimp. He likes that.”
Peter gave her the finger, but smirked at the same time, clearly unoffended.
Josh ignored the childish banter. “I’m here to tell you about the game plan. We’re all going to fly into Ellendale tomorrow morning, and then we’ll make the half-hour drive to the town of Cowley, North Dakota.”
The first victim’s home town, Chris thought, recalling the map.
“We’re flying across the country? Cool,” Peter said, already squirming with anticipation. “Are we gonna take one of those supersonic aircrafts like the Special Ops forces —”
Josh cut him off before their debriefing session got derailed any further. “We’ll be taking a regular passenger aircraft provided by the Army,” he said with a schoolmaster’s patience. His forty-something years were evident in the lines around his eyes. “Once in Cowley, we’ll suit up in our costumes and head over to the residence of Chayton Wallace, the Burrower.”
“You mean the killer,” Nora pointed out.
“That’s unlikely, but yes, we’ll have a look at the space to see what might have been missed earlier.”
Chris couldn’t hold her tongue any longer. Even after the briefing session, some of the puzzle pieces were still missing.
“And what are we supposed to do there, exactly?” she said, indicating to herself and the other young Wardens. “I mean, you’re the only one with any crime solving experience.”
“I’ve worked with the FBI for long enough to know that two heads are better than one. This is a serious case, and we need all the help we can get. Besides, it might help if Emily was there if we talk to any more witnesses.”
“There are witnesses?” Chris asked, surprised. This was a fact that hadn’t been mentioned at the briefing session.
“One or two people said they saw something, but they weren’t very helpful,” Josh replied. “But depending on where any new leads take us, we might need to pay them a visit again.”
His response did little to answer Chris’s question. Something wasn’t right here.
“Okay,” Chris said. “But I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. They’re sending a nine-year-old girl after something so dangerous that they need to fly Saint in for protection? And the rest of us are just supposed to stand by, in costume, and maybe talk to unhelpful witnesses?” Chris crossed her arms across her chest, bemused. “It all sounds like some sort of twisted photo op to me.”
Joshua Whitfield gave a slight smile and looked out the window for an extended moment. When he finally spoke, there was a degree of satisfaction in his voice. “They told me you were smart,” he said. “I think they were right.”
Chris just stared at him, waiting for an answer.
“This is as much about showing the Wardens in action as it is about tracking down a serial killer,” the team’s leader finally conceded. “Public opinion of Evolved is starting to plummet in America, with everything negative that’s been happening lately. And Mr. Turner is hoping to do something about that before pressure from the taxpayers axes the Wardens program entirely.”
“So you admit that it’s a PR stunt,” Chris challenged bluntly.
“Not quite,” Josh said, pushing back just a little. “The threat is very real, don’t kid yourself. And so far nobody’s been able to stop it. You’re correct in saying that they wouldn’t fly Saint in without a reason.”
So this isn’t just an excuse to pen up all the rogues, Chris decided with a glance to Emily. If she has to go, I’m not leaving her side.
“But, yes,” Josh continued, answering her question at last, “they’d also like to show the Wardens in action, doing something for the greater good.”
Well, that’s a shitty reason to get a kid involved, especially if you acknowledge the danger.
Emily’s attention seemed to be elsewhere. The girl was staring out the window, hugging a pillow to her chest and frowning at nothing in particular. All of her usual bubbliness had been missing ever since the meeting. It made Chris uncomfortable in a way she couldn’t put her finger on. It just felt . . . wrong.
She’s just a little girl. She should be out building sandcastles or something, not risking her life to improve some government approval ratings.
Chris nudged her. “You okay?” she asked the girl.
“This is bad, isn’t it?” Emily mumbled into the pillow’s stuffing. “It’s, like, a boogeyman or something.”
“Maybe it’s a bogeywoman,” Nora joked darkly, toying idly with the African-style braids that spilled freely over her shoulders and reached almost to her waist.
Josh shot Nora a stern glare.
“Emily has been having bad dreams lately,” Peter explained to Josh. “All this crap’s really been rubbing off on her, probably because she’s an Empath.”
Not to mention the fact that she’s just a little girl. Chris bit back the obvious.
“You don’t have to do this if you’re scared,” she told Emily quietly. “And if they try to force you into it, I’ll beat them up.”
She was only half joking. Though she wasn’t keen on the idea of beating people up, she knew she’d do it anyways if anyone knowingly put that little girl in danger. It’s why she’d agreed to come to HQ in the first place; her allegiance was with Emily, not the suits who’d put her in this apartment. Period.
“No, I wanna help,” Emily insisted, meeting Chris’s eyes and forcing a small smile. “And if anything goes wrong, you can protect me. That’s your role. It’s why you like dolphins – because they save people, too.”
Chris hoped that the girl wasn’t just putting on a brave face.
“If you’re sure . . .”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Super duper sure. Sure as eggs is eggs.”
Chris couldn’t help but smile.
“Okay. Glad that’s finally settled,” Noire said, feigning boredom. But Chris could tell that she had a soft spot for the little Empath, too.
Emily looked at Nora with a stern little face. “Can you keep Mr. Black inside this time?”
Chris was about to ask about the reference when she realized Emily was probably talking about Noire’s shadow. Yeah, I’d appreciate if that thing stays tucked away, too.
“Sure,” Nora agreed, shrugging her broad shoulders. “But don’t cha piss me off by stealing my cheese crackers.”
“No cheese crackers,” Emily agreed.
All of a sudden, the tension was gone from the apartment.
“I can just see it,” Peter quipped. “Kid’s gonna be the star of the show. The rest of us are just extras.”
“On that note, I’ll leave you to it,” said Josh, getting to his feet. “But before you enjoy the rest of the day off, I’ll just let you know that the plane’s leaving at seven o’clock AM sharp. Don’t be late; we don’t want to piss the Army off. And don’t forget your Wardens cell phones and your uniforms,” he added sternly.
“What about Chris?” Emily piped up.
“I’ll get admin to send up her phone before the end of the day,” Josh said, making a note in his own mobile.
“Is her new costume gonna be ready, too?” the girl pressed.
Peter smirked. “Oh man, I feel kinda sorry for you,” he said to Chris, his huge grin defying his words. “One lady with a kid on a train posts a picture of Mascot online, and now you’re stuck with that stupid character forever.”
Chris resisted the urge to smack him, hard. “Don’t really care,” she said instead.
Josh ignored the squabbling. “I’ll make sure it’s ready first thing tomorrow morning,” he told her. “It’ll be a day of firsts for both of us,” he added thoughtfully, as if trying to put her at ease. “It’s the first time there’re making a music track available for me. I’ve been cleared to receive power boosters in advance of our mission. I don’t see old connections as clearly, and in this case, it’s very important that we’re on the top of our games.”
He shot a grave look at Emily, who averted her eyes to her pillow.
“Cool,” Peter said, oblivious to the moment. “One of DJ’s tracks?”
Josh nodded. “They’re sending samples that were originally developed for Queenie, but they should work fine for me, since I’m a Visionary as well.”
“Why don’t cha request something custom?” Nora asked.
“Because DJ was among the latest off-grid disappearances in Europe,” Peter answered gravely.
“Oh, yeah, that’s right. I forgot. He disappeared along with your girlfriend,” Nora teased, drawing out the word ‘girlfriend’ with a playful cock of her head.
“Shut up,” he grumbled.
Chris didn’t ask, opting to avoid feeding the flames of teenage drama, but Emily sent her a knowing look.
“O liked the Euro-girl who disappeared from Cheeseland,” she divulged in a stage whisper. “They were chatting on the Interweb.”
Josh clapped his hands, drawing the others’ attention. “Okay, I’m outta here.”
“Aw, you’re not staying here tonight?” Nora drawled, clearly not upset by the idea.
Josh ignored her tone. “You guys stay up too late for me,” he joked as he walked towards the apartment entrance. “I’ll be at my usual hotel. But in case you need me later, my cell number’s on the fridge.”
He probably just wants to avoid the teenage drama, Chris mused.
“And don’t forget – seven o’clock sharp,” the Wardens’ leader added just before the door closed behind him.
“Bye bye boss,” Nora called after him sarcastically. Then she turned to the others. “I’m gonna go call mah Momma on the house phone, so keep it down in here, alright?”
“Wait,” Emily piped up in her small voice. “Maybe we should let Chris call her folks first. You know, since it’s her first day here and all.”
Chris was surprised. “Um, no thanks,” she told the little girl. “I’m not really a phone talker, especially with my parents. Besides,” she added, getting to her feet, “I’m going for a run.”
She needed a breather before being thrown into whatever craziness the coming day had in store for her.