5.3 Escalation

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Somewhere near Lyon, France – Saturday, the 9th of June, 2012. 02:57 PM.
Dancer released the useless gun’s trigger. Mindbender turned and lashed out with her power at the same time, entering Dancer’s mind with the force of a thousand battering rams. There was only one thing Dancer could do defend herself.

She had to let Crybaby back in.

So, just as Mindbender’s power latched onto her consciousness, Dancer released the power she’d been holding onto and retreated back into the dark recesses of Sarina’s mind, taking her power with her. Sarina emerged once more, now wholly herself thanks to Snow’s earlier interference.

Sarina found herself staring wide-eyed at the gun in her hand, a sick feeling spreading through her gut. The gun felt heavy and wrong in her hand. She hadn’t meant to take it, and she couldn’t understand why she had. She hadn’t meant to use it, either.

Oh god, no, she thought. Her grip on the gun slipped and she nearly dropped it.

Sensing movement, Sarina tore her eyes from the gun to see gray metal tendrils sprout from one of the nearby pieces of machinery. Before she knew what was happening, the tentacles curled around her personal space, caging her in.

“It’s okay, Plenty,” Mindbender said in German. She was still standing a couple of meters away, now facing Sarina. “I’ve got her. She’s playing nice again.”

Sarina looked around helplessly, shellshocked and overwhelmed. The metal tentacles fenced her in on all sides, allowing only a few inches of wiggle room.

Oh god, no, her mind echoed, racing with panic.

Her eyes darted from Tess to Ace to Sunny. They sat on the floor next to one of Trashcan’s workbenches, looking happily unconcerned about their predicament. Finding no help there, she looked to Jasper, who smiled at her broadly from the other side of the workbench.

None of them looked hurt, and no one appeared to be in any immediate danger. Sarina calmed enough to turn her attention back to Mindbender. I almost killed her, Sarina recalled incredulously. The girl had to be almost the same age as she was, a few years older at most. The thought weighed heavy on Sarina’s soul. She struggled to hold back tears.

The mousy young woman met Sarina’s gaze, suspicion flashing in her eyes. “Wait a minute,” she muttered in German. “I can feel that she’s under my control, but something’s different about her.”

She knows, Sarina realized with a flash of terror. She knows there’s someone else in my head, someone rude and violent who makes me do bad things.

“I’m sorry,” she whimpered in German from her improvised cage.

“Sorry, huh?” Mindbender repeated, tilting her head inquiringly.

“Yes,” Sarina managed. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, I swear.”

“Mmm,” Mindbender murmured. Then she turned back to Trashcan, relaxing visibly. “False alarm. I think she’s safe after all.”

“How the fuck did she get out?” Plentiful snapped, glaring at Trashcan. “I thought you said you locked her in the storeroom.”

“I-I did,” Trashcan stammered, a perplexed look on his face.

Plentiful refocused her glare on Sarina, presumably to redirect her interrogation. But something else caught her attention. “What the hell happened to your hair, girl?” she demanded.

Something happened to my hair? Sarina thought, dumbfounded.

She reached up and pulled a fistful of it over her shoulder to check. And indeed, a couple of locks of her strawberry blonde mane had turned as white as Snow’s.

Her breath froze in her lungs as more memories flooded her awareness. Snow is outside. She let me out, then she let me into here…

“Who the fuck cares about her hair?” Trashcan barked. “What I want to know is, what the hell did she do with the door?” He jabbed a finger towards the gaping hole in the wall where the door used to be.

To Sarina’s horror, Snow chose that exact moment to poke her head through the empty doorway.

Trashcan’s neck snapped around in alarm. “Shit! There’s that freak girl!” he shouted, his eyes wide. “Mina! Get her!”

A millisecond later, the artificial arm attached to Trashcan’s workbench whirred to life. With a rapid series of clicks and snaps, the mini-gun it was wielding adjusted its aim towards the now empty door frame. Snow had already withdrawn from sight.

“Take cover, Plenty!” Trashcan shouted.

Sarina was completely restricted by the metal cage that had been woven around her, and the Nameless didn’t budge. But Trashcan, and Plentiful scattered around the room to dive for cover, shielding themselves from an attack that didn’t come. Mindbender edged along the wall to get a better view of the vacant doorframe.

She was looking in the wrong direction.

Ace straightened up from his position on the floor and reached one hand into his jacket, so quickly Sarina could barely register the movement. Half a second later, he flung something with a flick of the wrist, moving with the speed and reflexes of an Olympic athlete.

An Olympic athlete who cheated.

The object he’d thrown travelled too fast to keep track of, but Sarina heard a faint swish as it cut through the air and flew past her. All she saw was a brief flash of metal, then Mindbender gave a sharp gasp of pain. In an instant she was slumped over, her body sliding down the wall she’d been clinging to.

What the… Sarina stared, overwhelmed by the suddenness of it all. It took her a second to notice the knife hilt sticking out from one of Mindbender’s eyes. Oh, no. She immediately realized that the young woman was dead.

Then a single shot cut through the air, followed by the thunderous roar from the mechanical arm’s mini-gun as it unleashed a torrent of bullets. Sarina dropped to her knees in reflex, pressing her hands to her ears. She didn’t know where or what to focus her attention on. Everywhere was noise and chaos. She just wanted her friends to be safe, Sunny and Jasper most of all.

Especially Jasper. What if he needed her help?

Sarina pulled herself together enough to raise her head and take stock of the situation around her. Now that Mindbender was as lifeless as a doll, Tess, Ace, and Sunny stirred from their positions in front of the workbench. Someone groaned. Sarina caught a glimpse of Jasper crawling across the floor on his knees and elbows.

Oh god, not Jasper.

For the moment, it was her last thought of him. The stone floor bulged upwards and rose up in one massive, solid barrier that separated the workroom in two halves, blocking Sarina’s view of her companions and the exit. She was now stuck on the wrong side of the room with only Plentiful and Mindbender’s corpse for company.

“You bitch!” Plentiful hissed as she leapt out from her hiding place, her bleached hair hanging down in front of her face in a disheveled mess. The Transmuter’s eyes narrowed and focused on the contraption confining Sarina. Slowly, the metal tendrils began to contract.

Seeing the metal squeezing in around her snapped Sarina from her daze. Reflexively, she dropped down as low as she could, finding a gap between the lowermost cables. She hit the floor with a rolling dive and rotated free of the cage. Her somersault came to a jarring halt when her shoulder crashed into a toolbox, and a sharp pain shot through her body. The ensuing shock lasted just long enough for an animated metal tendril to curl around her leg. As she frantically tried to shake it off, she saw another cable tendril reshape itself with a pulsing ripple, its blunt end sharpening to a foot-long spike.

“Leave me alone!” Sarina yelled. With one dedicated kick, she freed her leg from the grasping metal.

She crab-walked backwards until her head bumped into a wall, stopping her short. She heard muffled shouts coming from beyond the artificially raised stone wall. Her companions were on the other side, embroiled in a battle of their own.

Don’t leave without me, she wanted to shout, but she couldn’t find her voice.

Plentiful made a sweeping motion with her hand, causing the metal tendrils to whip down in response.

Sarina rolled again, just out of their reach, then squeezed into a gap between two massive metal shelves. One of the cable tendrils walloped the metal shelf, creating a resounding clatter. Then the shelving unit itself began to twist and swayed violently, sending several boxes of junk crashing to the floor. Sarina desperately pushed against the side of the shelf to keep it from falling on top of her.

She turned her head, frantically searching for somewhere, anywhere, to find cover. But all possible exits were blocked with rippling, bloating metal. The terror caused her eyes to tear up. Everything became a blur. All she could see was the shelf’s massive frame bending towards her, inch by inch, straining to crush her at Plentiful’s will.

“I didn’t do anything,” Sarina whimpered. “I didn’t, I promise.”

Just as the words left her mouth, the vibrations stopped and the warping metal froze in mid-movement.

Emboldened, she shouted, “I never wanted anyone to die. Honest!” The words were shrill and half-choked in her throat.

The voice that came from the other side of the contorted shelf wasn’t Plentiful’s. “Sarina?”


“I’m here!” she shouted back.

“Leave the girl,” she heard Ace say, his voice low and threatening.

His words sounded loud and clear in her ears — definitely not muffled by a stone barrier. Realizing that her friends must have made it through the obstacle, Sarina let her tears brim over in relief. She sagged back down on the cold, hard floor, too exhausted to move.

“I didn’t kill Trashcan,” she heard Ace tell someone. Plentiful, probably. “Don’t make me change my mind.”

“Drop the peacemaker shit,” Plentiful snarled back. “You killed Mina.”

“He was going to give us the bullet,” Ace said. “And when we had our friendly little chat, you didn’t think our friends in Paris would find out what happened to us.”

“Fuck you,” Plentiful spat. “Mina deserved to live. That girl never hurt anyone in her life.”

Wrong, it all went so wrong, Sarina thought, squeezing her eyes shut.

“Shut up.” Ace’s voice frosted over. “I’m warning you. I really don’t wanna kill anyone else.”

“All we wanted was to be left alone by the Covenant,” Plentiful continued, her voice dripping with spite. “Your boy could have kept her safe, but you didn’t want to help. So what else were we supposed to do?”

The next thing she knew, the air was filled with the sound of a dull thud, then another one. Through the narrow gaps between the bottom shelves, Sarina could see a splay of platinum blonde hair fan out over the floor.

“I warned you,” Ace muttered.

Now that the euphoric effect of not dying was wearing off, the sick feeling returned to Sarina’s gut. Maybe if she concentrated hard enough, if her wish was strong enough, everything would turn out right.

“Dancing Queen! Are you okay?” Jasper’s voice called from somewhere. It was so hoarse, so filled with concern that she almost didn’t recognize it. The Jasper she knew was always so calm and reasonable.

I don’t want you to worry about me, she thought, her eyes overflowing with tears. I just want everything to be like it was before. Like it would have been if none of this had ever happened.

“I’m okay,” she croaked.

“Come on, Wondergirl,” Ace said, his voice kind for once. “Let’s get you out.”

Then Ace and Jasper each took a side of the heavy metal shelf and heaved it out of the way. Sarina winced at the nails-on-the-chalkboard sort of sound of the shelf scraping across the floor. When she opened her eyes, Ace was towering over her, his mouth a tight, grim line. He offered her a hand.

Sarina took it and managed to stand with his support. Her shoulder was still throbbing and her legs felt so wobbly that she had to cling to Ace’s arm to keep her balance.

“Thanks,” she whispered.

“No problem, girlie,” he replied. He removed his wide-brimmed hat, using a forearm to wipe the sweat off his brow.

It took her a few moments to register the fact that some of his hair had gone as white as hers. Snow, she realized. She must have kicked Mindbender from Ace’s head when she was looking through the doorway.

Sarina’s eyes drifted to the bulging stone wall that Plentiful had erected a few minutes ago. Or was it hours? It was all so hazy. Regardless, there was a gaping hole in the wall’s center roughly the size of a man.

Most likely erased by Snow’s power, Sarina pieced together. She vaguely remembered ordering the white-haired girl to erase a door.

Her thoughts were cut short when Jasper stepped up to her side. He wrapped an arm around her uninjured shoulder to offer some support. She leaned into him gratefully, and he bent forward to study her face from beneath furrowed brows.

His hair’s white, too, she noted.

Sarina wanted to say something, but no words came out. She still didn’t understand what had happened to her exactly, or why she had even touched that gun. It just didn’t make sense. She wanted to believe she’d hallucinated — that Mindbender had messed with her head and hijacked her memories somehow. But that didn’t quite feel right, either.

Her adoptive mother would have told her it was just the stress of the situation getting to her. All those changes in such a short period of time. Sarina could almost hear her mom’s voice now, telling her to have a tea and a hot water bottle and get a good night’s sleep. If only it was that simple.

Her eyes drifted over towards Mindbender’s slumped body, the knife sticking out of her eye socket. It wasn’t me who killed her, she tried to convince herself.

Her stomach twisted again, trying to heave. She steeled herself by taking a deep breath and forcing her mind to think in different directions. An amusement park at sunset, she tried to distract herself. Ice cream and a dance in a wooden pavilion. Now that was a good memory.

“The girl’s in shock,” Ace determined, running his hand through his hair.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” Jasper said. “Sarina, would you like to sit for a bit?”

She nodded, and he guided her through the hole in the makeshift metal wall, towards a bench beside the absent doorway. As she and Jasper stepped over Plentiful’s splayed-out body, Sarina couldn’t help but notice the purplish-red swelling on the rogue Transmuter’s eye and temple.

At least she’s still breathing, Sarina thought. And she’s not going to hurt anyone for a while.

“Sit,” Jasper instructed gently, guiding her down towards the bench.

As she gingerly lowered herself so as not to jostle her shoulder, her eyes landed on the assortment of cables and machines sitting idle nearby.

“Don’t be afraid of the tech,” Jasper assured her. “Ace used his powers to deactivate it all.”

Trying desperately to keep herself distracted, Sarina asked, “Oh, yeah? He can do that?”

Jasper nodded. “There’s always a small chance that any technology will fail or backfire, right? So he just amplifies that small chance and turns it into a big one.”

Sarina peered up at the mechanical arm jutting out towards her. All the lights on it had gone dead, and it was pointing its mini-gun at the floor at an odd, twisted angle. She turned her face away and regretted it almost immediately. On the other side of the worktable, previously blocked from view, was Trashcan’s sprawled-out body. His chest still heaved, but judging by the looks of him, he had to be hurting.

Jasper sat down beside Sarina, leaving the usual hand’s width of space between them. He looked at her for an awkwardly long, silent moment. And he wasn’t the only one. Sunny and Tess were both watching her from where they stood, their arms wrapped about one another in what looked like a comforting, almost mother-and-son embrace.

At least Sunny’s finally dropped his cool kid act.

“What?” Sarina asked, meeting Jasper’s eyes. “I’m fine. Really. Is everyone else okay?”

“Yeah, don’t worry. It’s just . . .” He stopped short, as if reconsidering his words.

She was starting to get weirded out. “It’s just what?” she asked.

“It’s your power, girl,” Tess spoke up, taking considerably less time to consider her words. “It makes you go bat-shit crazy.”

“I know I created that track for you,” Jasper spoke up quickly, trying to smooth over Tess’s contribution. “It’s for emergencies, and just now was definitely one of those. Just promise me you won’t use it again unless you have to.”

His eyes were so earnest, that she had to nod. She just hoped she could keep her promise.

Goodnight, bitch. The thought still drifted as an angry echo at the back of Sarina’s mind. She could still feel the press of the gun’s metal against her finger as she pulled the trigger.

“I promise,” she said, pushing the memory aside. “I don’t think I ever want to use my power anymore. Not after this.”

“But it’s good that you did, just now,” Ace said, stepping through the hole in the wall. “Probably saved all of us.”

“Yeah,” Jasper agreed. “Definitely. It’s just that you weren’t… you.”

“You noticed?” she asked, glancing up at him.

He nodded, a small frown fixed on his usually smiling lips. He seemed so sure about it, as if he knew something she didn’t. It wasn’t a pleasant thought. Friends should never keep secrets from one another.

Jasper must have misinterpreted her frown for something else, because he went on to explain. “Remember how I told you I have a good people sense?”

“Yeah,” she said, recalling their conversation in Gentleman’s Paris garden a couple of days ago.

He cleared his throat and continued. “Well, even when the girl had me under her control, it still worked. So I could still sense you. And you were almost like someone else.”

I certainly felt like someone else, she thought.

“I noticed the same thing when you danced at the Sun King’s court,” Jasper went on. “But it was different this time. More noticeable, maybe. It’s hard to explain.”

“You think my power might be getting stronger or something?” Sarina asked.

Jasper seemed to consider it. “Did you feel like you were actually in control of your power this time? Did it do what you wanted?” He studied her face intently, as if trying to read something from it.

“No,” Sarina admitted. Internally, she cringed at the thought of her power. It hadn’t done what she wanted. Not even a little bit.

Jasper raised his eyebrows enquiringly.

She tried to explain. “What I did… it didn’t feel like they were my ideas. Or my decisions. It worked out, I guess, but still…”

I almost shot that girl in the head, she could have finished. But she held in the words down, along with the contents of the stomach. Thinking too far in that direction made her nauseous.

Jasper didn’t respond, and she was grateful for that.

Sarina willed herself to think of something else. Anything else. Like the picturesque French villages they’d passed today. The fields and the castles.

Ace cleared his throat uncomfortably. The moment of mental respite was over.

“Aright, crew,” Ace announced, checking the chamber on one of his guns. “Tess is gonna salvage what parts she can from Trashcan’s projects. We’ll be out of here in half an hour.”

“Without the parts we came here for,” Tess pronounced somberly, as if the stupid car upgrade still mattered.

Ace bristled at her comment. “After what just happened here – do you really think they’ll make us something that won’t blow up in our faces? I don’t think so. We’re onto Plan B, mates.”

Tess had no rebuttal for that. She just crossed her arms over her overalls and pursed her lips together tightly.

“We’re just going to leave them here?” Sarina asked in a small voice.

“Yeah, but they’ll be fine,” Ace assured her. “They’ll have a couple of goose eggs is all, and maybe a shiner or two, but that’s it.”

Goose eggs? she thought, confused. She didn’t have the mental capacity to dwell on the subject, so she decided to trust Ace and drop it.

Ace looked up and met Tess’s icy glare. “I’ll keep an eye on these two while you do your thing,” he told her, gesturing towards Trashcan and Plentiful. “But get a wriggle on. I wanna be gone before they wake up.”

With that, Tess walked out of the room in a small huff.

“I’ll go with her,” Sunny said, heading for the door. “She might need some help finding parts.”

As he disappeared into the corridor, Sarina hoped they’d get whatever parts they could in a hurry. She didn’t want to stick around here for a second longer than necessary, and she doubted that Ace would let her venture above ground on her own. No one but her seemed to notice or care, but this place had a kind of stink that she couldn’t put into words. Maybe because of the dead girl and the violence that still hung heavy in the air. There were no good vibes down here. Never had been.

As if reading her mind, Jasper took a tarp off the workbench and placed it over Mindbender’s body. At least Sarina wouldn’t have to look at her anymore. She was tired of thinking about death and killing, but she just couldn’t seem to help it.

“Hey, Ace?” she began.

“Huh?” Ace grunted, fiddling with one of Trashcan’s contraptions.

Show Crybaby how to use a goddamn gun.

“Can you teach me how to use guns?” Sarina asked. The words poured from her mouth before she could process what she was saying. They sounded like a good idea, though. Something she could accept and live with. She wouldn’t need her powers if she could use a gun.

Jasper looked over at her and cocked his head, a frown rippling over his face.

“Sure,” Ace said with a grin. “We can do that, Wondergirl.”




Two hours later, the Nameless were making their way into Lyon to grab lunch at a nice little French bistro somewhere. Sarina hadn’t been in the mood to choose one, so she left the decision to Ace. She didn’t even know where exactly they were headed. Her teammates spent most of the drive talking, but the words drifted past her like water in a brook. Her attention was wholly invested in picking up and absorbing good vibes from her environment. Sightseeing tourists, mothers with babies. Normal people doing normal things.

They crossed a historic bridge that stretched over the river Saône, then left their car at the far edge of a nearly abandoned parking lot. Everyone else seemed to trust Sunny’s camouflage to keep it hidden, so Sarina tried to relax and do the same as they strolled through the historic district.

Under different circumstances, the immense Fourvière basilica with its elaborately carved statues might have inspired a vacation-like atmosphere, but the emotional fallout of the past few hours spoiled the effect. Sarina couldn’t manage to relax or enjoy the change of scenery. She couldn’t even bring herself to wonder what Ace and Tess had been plotting in hushed voices ever since they’d left the junkyard.

“How about here, Wondergirl?” Ace asked, pointing to a cozy-looking café bistro with a small outdoor patio shaded by an ancient juniper. The patio was deserted except for four Frenchmen sipping wine at one of the tiny tables. “I hear the food’s good.”

Sarina followed his finger with her eyes. “Yeah, sure. Whatever,” she said somberly.

The Nameless trouped past the small patio and towards the front entrance. Thanks to Sunny’s power, they Frenchmen didn’t pay any more attention to them than the locals and tourists had. Ace held the door open and Tess led them inside. The smell of freshly baked bread almost took Sarina’s mind off the day’s horrors. Almost, but not quite.

When her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, Sarina could see that the bistro’s interior was deserted. Tess claimed a table for them not far from the vine-covered front window. Through the foliage, she saw a few elementary-aged kids playing beside a nearby fountain, laughing and squealing as they splashed one another.

The carefree scene reminded her of how much she missed the ordinariness of her own life before powers. Her adopted family, her new home. Her second chance. If she’d been in Switzerland right then, she might have been sipping iced tea with her adoptive brother David, talking about random things while the neighbor’s kids played with their dog on the other side of the fence.

Someone gently nudged her arm. When she glanced up, Jasper was looking at her. “Do you know what you’d like? You must be starving,” he said, extending a leather-bound menu to her. Beside the table, a white-haired waiter was standing at the ready, a tightly wound bow tie about his neck.

Sarina reached for the offered menu. “Can he see me?” she whispered to Jasper, nudging her head in the waiter’s direction as she opened the menu.

The waiter’s white eyebrows raised a fraction of an inch in surprise, but other than that, his face remained stoic.

“Um, yeah,” Jasper whispered back.


She immediately felt awkward. It was the first time she’d been seen in days, except by the Nameless and those rogues at the junkyard. She smoothed a few flyaway hairs, wondering if he could see her strand of alabaster hair, too. If he knew something was wrong with her.

At least he can’t overhear us unless Sunny wants him to, she reminded herself.

Sarina let her eyes drift over the gold-embossed words. “I’ll have the salade lyonnaise, sil vous plait,” she told the waiter as she closed her menu. She didn’t want to keep looking at the listed prices; even a salad was twenty euros.

The waiter scribbled it down on his notepad, then took a few more orders before scurrying back to the kitchen.

Sarina’s eyes drifted through the window again, to the children by the fountain. Without realizing it, she began humming. It was a song that little girls sometimes skipped to, though she never did. She’d never had much of a childhood. Now, she never would.

“Hey, are you okay?” Jasper asked, nudging her. Concern flashed in his eyes.

She couldn’t find any words to answer him with. A single tear trailed across her cheek. She wiped it away, but more kept coming, stubborn as a thousand-year-old river.

“We’re all in the same boat, you know,” Sunny said from across the table. “None of us have ever seen anyone die. Not like that.” He squinted at Ace. “Although maybe you have, Ace. You never talk much about yourself.”

“Doesn’t matter how many times, mate. It doesn’t get any easier.” He looked over at Sarina. “But the world’s changing. We all gotta learn to swim before we sink,” he told her pointedly.

Sarina fixed her eyes on the table in front of her, watching as a teardrop fell down onto the white linen tablecloth.

“Sarina, look at me,” Ace said.

There was a gentle firmness to his voice that compelled her to meet his eyes.

“You don’t seem like you’re in a good place right now,” he said, worry lines creasing his face. “What happened today… you gotta leave that behind and move forward. If it takes a little while, that’s fine. But you gotta understand you didn’t do anything wrong.”

Tess was nodding. “Yeah, girl,” she agreed. “No one’s giving out, so there’s no need to give yourself a hard time. You made the right call.”

If I made the right call, then why do I feel so bad? Sarina wondered, gripping her silver fork.

“She’s right, Dancing Queen,” Jasper said. “None of us would be here without you. You saved us. You’re the heroine you always wanted to be.”

“A real one,” Sunny said, glowing with the same boyish admiration he’d shown after her dance at the Sun King’s court.

I’m not a heroine, she wanted to tell them all. And with this awful power, I never will be.

“I had my doubts about you, but that’s in the past now,” Tess added, breaking into her thoughts. Then the Irish woman slid a hand across the tablecloth to settle it beside Sarina’s elbow, stopping just short of making contact.

It was enough to brighten Sarina’s mood a little.

“If you’re worried about that white streak in your hair, I think it looks cute,” Jasper said, gently brushing some stray hairs from her cheek. “Reminds me of a certain movie heroine.” He smiled easily at her, giving the impression that he accepted her unconditionally, regardless of her flaws.

Despite herself, Sarina smiled back at him. She couldn’t wrap her head around why, but Jasper never seemed to doubt her. She wished she could see herself the way he did. Maybe then everything would finally make sense.

The waiter arrived with wine and sparkling water, then set down some fresh-baked baguette. Sunny dove into it voraciously.

“I want you to know that we’re gonna watch out for you,” Ace told her once the waiter had left. “We’re almost like a family here.”

If that’s true, why don’t you tell us about this thing you’re planning? Sarina thought.

She was about to let Ace’s comment slide when she remembered something Jasper had said in the car. Something that made sense. “If we’re family, we should all have the same information. About everything,” she said, reciting Jasper’s words.

“I agree,” Jasper said. “We can only work together if you fill us in.”

Ace shifted in his seat and pushed the hat up from his eyes. Stalling, he reached for his wine cup and bumped it with his large hand. Drops of blood red wine splashed across the white linen. “Crikey,” he cursed.

Then, before all their eyes, the red droplets disappeared.

“Thanks, Snow,” Ace said.

Sarina looked up at Snow in surprise. Once again, she’d almost forgotten the white-haired girl was there.

“Well?” Jasper pressed Ace, being uncharacteristically stringent.

Sarina had the feeling he was pressing the matter for her benefit, and she was grateful. She squeezed his hand under the table.

“Alright, here’s the deal,” Ace said. “The UNEOA’s planning to make some big announcement this coming Tuesday. Really big. They finally realized they’ve got some explaining to do.”

“About Shanti?” Tess asked.

“That, and then some. I doubt the UNEOA’s gonna tell the truth, though. And as long as they don’t, our living conditions are gonna get worse. We’re the world’s smallest minority. Most people will care about their personal safety before they care about us.”

Sarina felt her face fall. How can things possibly get any worse than this? she wondered.

“Gentleman told us the Covenant’s been informed about how the power feedback theory really works, but what are they gonna do with the truth? Who knows.”

There was a silence around the table as everyone let the possibilities sink in.

“And you guys’ve got a plan?” Jasper asked after a moment.

Ace nodded. “We get ourselves on television to spread the word. The truth. Maybe get people to start thinking before they blow someone else’s lights out.”

“Like they did to the Traveler,” Sarina muttered.

“Why can’t we just hack into some telecommunications systems and let the word spread that way?” Jasper asked. “It would be safer, and we know Tess has friends that can hack into pretty much anything. And Gentleman works with Data, the world’s most powerful Technician.”

“They call him the Ghost in the Machine, like some badass from an anime movie,” Sunny added, grabbing for the last piece of baguette.

Ace snatched the bread out of the boy’s hand. “Data’s not reliable,” he said firmly. “He’s been too busy doing his own thing lately. Gentleman doesn’t want him involved. And as to your idea about spreading the word through the ether,” their leader continued, pointing his butter knife at Jasper, “our first plan involved hacking into a satellite. But that’s off the table now, since Tess didn’t get the parts she needs to build an uplink.”

Since we abandoned Plentiful’s and Trashcan’s unconscious bodies in some underground hellhole after killing their friend, you mean. Sarina thought it better to keep quiet about the matter. But what Ace said about spreading the truth struck a chord with her. If the world became aware that Evolved deaths could cause power surges, then further ones could be prevented. And maybe, just maybe, everyone would finally calm down.

And then maybe I could go home.

“But isn’t television a little… nineteen-nineties?” Jasper asked Ace, who was easily twenty years his senior. “No offense,” he added quickly.

Before Ace could answer, the waiter arrived with the appetizers. Sarina gazed down at her plate of warm bacon and egg salad. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was. Her stomach rumbled.

Much better than gas station sandwiches. Sarina dug in, savoring the taste as she listened to Ace.

“So, here’s the thing. The internet’s not a reliable way to spread the word. Stuff gets removed by the authorities too easily. But the whole world’s gonna turn on their TVs on Tuesday to watch the UNEOA’s big announcement, right?” He paused to take a big bite of his chicken in creamy mushroom sauce. “Well, we’re gonna waltz into NBE Britain in Liverpool. Tess is gonna jack into their live program with our recording, she can prevent them from shutting it down before it’s done.”

With that, Ace sat back in his chair, a satisfied grin on his face.

“Why NBE Britain?” Jasper asked. “Won’t the UNEOA’s press conference be broadcasted from New York?”

“You wanna hijack a news studio right next to Covenant headquarters? Good luck, mate,” Ace laughed. “Security’s gonna be tighter than a bush rat’s ass. NBE Britain’s the next best thing, though. Since it’s a branch of ANBE news, they’re gonna be doing a live feature about the press conference, starting half an hour earlier. The whole world’s gonna be watching NBE Britain in the lead-up, and they’ll have little to no security there.”

“What makes you think we’ll be able to pull it off before anyone catches us?” Jasper asked.

“I’ll just need five, maybe ten minutes,” Tess explained. “Maybe a few more to make sure they don’t screw with my override.”

“And besides, even if the Covenant sent someone in, it would be Samael — who needs at least an hour to cross the Atlantic,” Ace added. “But what’s it matter, as long as we got our lil’ Wonderboy here?” He clapped a hand on Sunny’s thin shoulder, causing the boy to drop some ratatouille on the table.

“What about the EU heroes? And Radiant?” Sarina asked. As good as the intention of spreading the truth sounded, this whole plan didn’t quite jibe with her yet.

Ace flashed a knowing grin. “There’s no way Radiant’s showing up,” he said confidently. “At least not before we’re ready to get out. Just trust me on that one, Wondergirl.”

He knows something that he’s not sharing, Sarina thought, annoyed. So much for truth amongst friends.

“Is he going to die?” she asked, not bothering to hide her disapproval.

“Maaaan,” Sunny groaned. “It’s almost as if you have a crush on the guy or something.”

Sarina didn’t dignify that with a response. Still, despite all that had happened, she still had a soft spot in her heart for Radiant.

“Nah,” Ace assured her. “He’s just gonna be out of commission for a while.”

Seeing as they’d just saved each other’s lives, Sarina decided to give him some credit. Besides, Jasper thought these guys were okay, Ace included. He’d told her as much, and more than once.

“And the Euro heroes?” she asked.

“Their base is in Brussels,” Tess said. “It would take them even longer to arrive than Samael. And they’ve got no Revoker that could mess with our Wonderboy. They wouldn’t even see us.”

“You’re not planning on taking hostages or anything, are you?” Sarina asked. She’d had enough violence and coercion in the past few hours to last her a lifetime.

“Look,” Ace began, “I can’t guarantee anything, but—”

Sarina didn’t let him finish. “I don’t want to be a villain. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt.”

“Look, Wondergirl, none of us enjoyed what happened today. You get that?” Ace said, fixing her with a look.

To his left, Sunny gave a solemn nod. “Yeah, that sucked.”

Ace finished the last of his wine. “We just wanna get in, have Tess jack into their tech, and get out,” he told her.

“And no one will see or hear us,” Sunny added with boyish enthusiasm. “It’ll be easy.”

“But why do you even care?” Sarina probed, not yet satisfied with the answers. “Just because you owe Gentleman and his friends a favor?”

It still didn’t make total sense to her, especially since Ace didn’t seem all that friendly with the crew at the Sun King’s court. And some of those guys had given her bad vibes. Raven in particular.

“Sunny’s the only reason the Covenant’s off our backs,” Tess said, reaching out to pat the boy’s arm. “If anything happens to him, we’re screwed. Our message could end the persecution of him, of all power surged folks everywhere.” She was looking at Sarina now.

“And the thing is, if the world starts crumbling, we’re gonna need friends like Gentleman,” Ace added. “You know the first thing about anarchy, girl? It’s dog eat dog. Now imagine that with superpowers.”

“Anarchy?” Jasper echoed skeptically. “That’s a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?”

“It’s starting,” Ace said, his face dead serious. “India and maybe some other countries are gonna drop out of the UNEOA any day now. The Covenant’s losing its status, which is bad news since they’re the ones that have kept it all together since the Pulse.” He let out a long breath. “Mark my words—yesterday’s riots are nothing compared to what’s to come. People are getting real scared, and scared people don’t stay quiet and calm for long.”

Sarina shot a sideways glance to Jasper and saw that he was nodding. Even he was on board now. But still, something wasn’t sitting quite right with her.

“But why does it have to be us who does this?” she asked quietly. “Why can’t it be somebody else?”

“Simple,” Ace said. “We’re the only Evolved team in the world that could pull this off without getting caught. The Covenant doesn’t even know we’re alive.”

Except David, any anyone else who saw that last text I sent him. Sending word to her family before she’d taken off with the Nameless had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now Sarina wasn’t so sure.

“I would have thought that you of all people would want to get the truth out there,” Tess added pointedly, looking at Sarina. “If it helps to keep fewer execution orders from being given, good. If not, no regrets later.”

She couldn’t really argue with that. Besides, it seemed like it was already all decided. They were headed to Liverpool.

No regrets, Sarina decided.

Although even she knew it was already too late for that.

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6 thoughts on “5.3 Escalation

  1. Heads up: There’s now a ‘move to the latest chapter directly’ link at the top of the about page. I’ll try and figure out how to convince my WordPress theme to make the line spaces between links smaller.

    I ended up posting this one a few minutes after my deadline because I lost track of time after the last of my edits with a moment to spare. I feel a little bad about that, the deadline is there for a reason, I don’t want updates to be unpredictable.

    If you enjoyed the chapter and look forward to more, please consider dropping a vote, it helps me out a great deal: http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=anathema

    I won’t be able to do an update on Wednesday, and I’m sorry about that, because I really wanted to. The next chapter is one of my personal favourites. It’s just not finished yet, even though it has been sitting in my buffer for some time. I don’t ever want to publish a rushed, unfinished and poorly edited chapter I’m not satisfied with. And Monday will be an important day for me – one day of probationary work at a library that will determine whether or not I finally get a job in my field of study. I’ve been a little sick the past days and don’t feel nearly as prepared as I’d like.

    In short, the next update will happen on Sunday again. There’s going to be a bonus interlude at the end of the arc, though – the Samael interlude that Anthony requested. Cheers! I’m looking forward to it.

  2. Finally we’er getting to the good part where our heroes fight against the evil system and spread the truth.

    Also, why would the nameless think that Radiant would kill Sabrina if he could, he left the covenant and thus doesn’t have to follow their kill orders anymore.

    Love the pre apocolips feeling of this story so far. It feels like any day now the world’s going to end. Normally in these kind of stories its because of some villain or alien or monster attacking humanity and heroes uniting against it, but here its just normal people causing society to slowly implode on itself. It feels more realistic this way.

    Good luck on your new job and see you next week.

  3. Good to see “normal people” realistic reactions to a shootout, usually superheroes are all impossibily good with this stuff.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’m kinda picking up “kiddie crush” vibes from Sunny towards Dancer. It’s quite cute… aaand let’s hope he does not get into his head he has to impress her. Preteen boy’s “bright ideas” tend to be less than good at the best of times, if they’re trying to grandstand they usually end up in flames 🙂

    Out of curiosity (and feel free not to answer): do yo have children/are you taking inspiration from them? It’s not easy to write little kids and so far you’re doing a very good job of it.
    If I have to write a child character I usually think on the lines of “what would one of my nieces do in this situation?”. But they’re all little termagants, and I cannot really use them as inspiration for gentle characters like, say, Kid.

    • I don’t have kids (yet), but I like to believe I’m young enough to still feel some sort of connection to young people. Some people would disagree with you about Kid, they find her to be over the top cute. There’s a reason for that, though! It’s another one of the things I haven’t explicitly stated but implied. I’ll probably drop another hint in the next arc.

      I’m glad you figured Sunny out. I also believe he has a kiddie crush and is jealous of Radiant. 😉

      • Considering that I’ve know real-life kids (both boys and girls) that are as OTT cute as Kid, I do find her believable for good reasons 😀
        Besides I’d like to point out that the cutest of them was… umh, you really cannot use ‘bitch’ to define a seven year old… let’s go for “little snake with a very good grasp of social interactions” (she is still one of my favourite nieces, even if she has lost some venom with age.)

        And I do consider Sunny a realistically portrayed kid too. While he is very sly for his age, having superpowers and hanging with adults (who trust and depend on him to boot) a lot will likely do wonders for the self assurance of the right mindset.
        He was extremely sweet when he freaked out under pressure, and he acted his own age for a change.

        So: a real kid can have enough social awareness to understand that appearing cute its to her own advantage, and Kid is an empath… what’s strange is that she did not ping my paranoia radar 😀
        Guess it’s the better indication of a realistic portrait I can give.

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