Klosterneuburg, Austria – Tuesday, the 19th of June 2012. 11:18 AM.
Perhaps Sarina shouldn’t have been surprised to hear her brother’s name from Samael’s mouth, but after days and even weeks of everyone freaking out about her, she was. David didn’t even have powers. He was a biology student who just so happened to be part of the family that had adopted her two and a half years ago.
David Baumann certainly wasn’t a threat to himself or to anyone else. There was no reason for the authorities – and especially not the heroes – to meddle with his life.
But after one look at the sneer beneath Samael’s winged mask, everything made sense. There was nothing heroic about these heroes. They didn’t flinch from employing villain methods to bait her.
For a moment, Sarina’s mind blanked out as she tried to control her emotions. Without conscious thought, she opened herself to her power. She could sense reality flicker at the edges of her current range.
But she held it back. And listened.
“You think the Assembly would approve it?” Velocity asked. “The brother isn’t even in custody. And the UN gave him witness immunity.”
“They’ll approve it after I talk to Overseer Vega,” Samael replied without a trace of doubt. “He usually listens to me.”
He can’t listen to you if you’re dead. Sarina felt her jaw harden, and her fingers reached for the grip of Ace’s gun that was beneath her oversized shirt. Her power wasn’t reliable enough for this particular situation, and the kids deserved to continue their journey in peace and without a storm of media attention at their heels.
The gun was a common man’s weapon. It would keep the authorities guessing.
“And what would you do with him – put him on television?” Velocity asked, oblivious to Sarina’s presence and the gun that was being drawn a short distance above them. The Covenant heroine brought a green-gloved fist to her chin and cocked her head to the side, watching Samael through the tinted visor of her racing helmet.
“I don’t know yet,” Samael admitted. “But I’ll figure something out. I always do.”
The gray robed man wasn’t taking part in the conversation, Sarina saw. He stood a bit off to the side with his eyes closed, surrounding himself with an air of meditative detachedness.
Feeling invincible, are you? Sarina thought, leveling the gun at him. He didn’t flinch or open his eyes. Not all-powerful, then. You’re just a costumed poser like everyone else.
She didn’t fire the gun, though. As she hung in the air, contemplating the Asian man’s bald head while her finger rested on the trigger, she discovered that she didn’t hate him nearly enough to blow a hole into him. He wasn’t her primary target, and she wasn’t quite ready to lower her standards to villain levels.
I’m not like you, Gentleman.
Instead, she swiveled the gun towards Samael. The way he stood, how he moved his hands, everything about his false hero appearance expressed asshole levels of self-satisfaction. Sarina’s finger slowly pressed down against the trigger.
Do it, she seethed. Say my brother’s name one more time and it’s goodbye for you.
Samael didn’t mention David, though. And while she watched and waited for the moment he would, her thoughts drifted back to the television interview she’d seen less than fifteen minutes ago. To David’s sad eyes and the hobo stubble that changed his familiar appearance so much.
My sister couldn’t hurt a fly, he’d said. He still remembered her as the girl she used to be, and she could imagine that he needed that memory to ward off all accusations that he and the rest of her remaining family had been confronted with. He couldn’t possibly know what she was doing now, but still, with her finger on the trigger of the gun, she couldn’t help but feel that she was betraying him.
Little by little, her finger slid back from the trigger until the gun was nothing but a dead weight in her hands. Down below, Velocity asked the Asian man a question Sarina hadn’t heard, and he shook his head.
You can’t find us. But you know where David is.
Sarina lowered the gun until it was no longer pointed at anyone. Part of her was still angry at the heroes, still determined to end the hero threat before it could haunt her in the future. But somewhere deep down, she knew the persecution of her, the kids and her remaining family wasn’t going to end with a bullet. Not here and not today. Too many government level authorities were honed in on her, and she had gotten a good impression of just how riled up the international press was.
Besides, Emily wanted to imprint Samael.
Sarina secured the gun and slid it back into its holster. The heroes were still talking below, but Sarina didn’t have time to listen. She teleported herself back to flat roof and the chimney she’d previously used as cover. She switched to her life sense and performed a single dance move that extended her range well beyond the clocktower. Then another.
Once her senses reached far enough to see the monastery, the life lights of her companions popped into her field of view. Emily and Snow appeared as tiny, colorful stars in a sea of gray, but they were easily outshone by the sheer power of Patrick’s miniature sun. She grasped Emily’s presence and pulled it towards herself. Then she quickly changed back to her mundane senses to see the girl stand next to her, behind the chimney that provided cover for the both of them.
Emily grasped Sarina’s arm to steady herself. “Is he here?” she whispered.
Sarina gave the Empath’s skinny shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Down at the center of the square.”
Emily nodded, then took Sarina’s hand into her own. “I’ll let you know when I’m done, then you take us away from here real quick, okay?”
“Yes,” Sarina assured her. “Don’t be afraid. They can’t see us.”
The voices that drifted from below now had an impatient edge to them. Sarina didn’t need to understand the words to know that the heroes were beginning to feel restless, and it wasn’t hard to imagine they’d come up with new ideas to find her soon.
Emily turned to face the edge of the roof, not letting go of Sarina’s hand. She shuffled two small steps forward, then leaned forward to take a peek down at the square. The fingers of Emily’s left hand did a silent tap dance against her pant leg, like they usually did when she used her deep empathy powers.
After all the time she’d spent in Emily’s company, Sarina still couldn’t make sense of the pattern. It seemed like some strange kind of Morse code that only consisted of short taps with breaks in between.
After a few uncomfortably long seconds, Emily tugged on Sarina’s hand. “Now,” she said.
Sarina’s eyes flicked to the clock tower that had been her vantage point minutes before. There, she thought, infusing reality with her wish. Her vision blacked out for a split second. Then she was facing the tower’s heavy brass bell alongside the girl who still holding her hand in a tight, anxious grip.
“Are you feeling okay?” Sarina asked.
As if to demonstrate how okay she was, Emily let go of her hand. “Everything’s peachy,” she said. “Didn’t really, um, look around in Samael’s head. Can we just leave?”
If you didn’t look around, why the finger dance? Sarina tilted her head inquiringly. Suspicion blossomed at the back of her mind, but one look at the Empath’s snub-nosed face banished the thought. I’m her guardian angel, Sarina remembered.
Emily walked to the low wooden banister that framed the edges of the vestibule and peered out, forming the shape of a looking glass with her fingers. “I think there’s a train coming into the town,” Emily reported. “Look! Maybe we can take it?”
From this high up, the train station was a tiny grayish-white block at the other end of the small town, but the long red train that approached it was easy enough to see. Sarina’s heart made a small leap when she realized that it was slowing down. Considering the small size of the town, she assumed this was a regional train that most likely wasn’t headed in the direction of Paris, but getting on it would take considerably less time than finding another cargo van would.
“Let’s get the others before it’s gone,” she said, closing her fingers around Emily’s twiggy arm again.
Getting back to the monastery was a matter of moments. When Sarina and Emily appeared in the small, dark room, Patrick jumped up from the sheet-covered chair he’d been sitting on. For once, his freckled face was gleaming with relief.
“How did it go?” he blurted.
“We go?” Snow chimed in.
“We’re going to the station,” Sarina said. “We have maybe a minute to board the train. Get close to me.”
“You don’t think anyone is watching the station?” Patrick asked doubtfully. “That would make sense if they’re still looking for us.”
Sarina hesitated, considering. She couldn’t deny the fact that Patrick had a point.
“Yeah. Okay. I’ll take us somewhere nearby,” she said.
No one insisted on discussing the subject further. They quickly collected their grocery bags and gathered around Sarina. A brief moment later, they were back outside and the monastery loomed behind them, as abandoned as it had been before their visit.
Remembering the general direction of the tracks, Sarina took herself and her companions to the other side of the town with a few additional leaps. After the last one, they found themselves on a meadow almost directly next to the tracks, with the station far to the right and nothing but the lush Austrian landscape ahead. The train wasn’t moving now. It had stopped at the station, but as far as Sarina could see, all of the doors were closed tight.
“We’re too far from the station,” Patrick said. “Now how do we get in?”
Good question. Sarina didn’t have an answer for him. If they moved closer to the train, they risked an encounter with the Covenant’s drone swarm. But without at least a window to look through, a group teleport into one of the cars would be just as dangerous. Train cars were neither spacious nor free of obstacles.
Loudspeakers blared from the small, white-walled station building. Sarina didn’t understand the announcer’s voice, but she didn’t need to. The train was jerking into motion now.
“We’re going to get aboard,” she said with a glance up at the sky. There still wasn’t a hint of heroes or drone swarms closing in on them, but that could change in an instant.
“How? It’s already leaving,” Emily said unhappily.
“Just trust me and get as close to me as you can,” Sarina replied. A few minutes before, she’d realized that she could keep herself suspended in midair, something she had never tried before. She felt quite confident that she wasn’t even close to discovering the limits of her power; she could do this. No one was going to get hurt.
“That’s crazy,” Patrick said. “The train’s too fast. We’re all going to die, like Tess. And Ace.” He made it sound like the possibility of their deaths didn’t even matter, but he shifted his bags so he could grab Sarina’s arm and hold on tight.
The others said nothing. Emily stepped to Sarina and wrapped her skinny little arms around Sarina’s waist, then squeezed her eyes shut as if she was on a rollercoaster ride she wasn’t sure she could handle.
Snow didn’t say anything. She draped one arm about Sarina, watching the approaching train with a faint smile on her lips.
The locomotive was still a good thirty meters away, accelerating slowly. Sarina closed her eyes to shut out distractions and tap into her new well of confidence.
It’s going to be alright, Crybaby, she told herself. You know why? Because I want it to be. She drew in a breath, then exhaled slowly, cleansing herself of doubt. She didn’t need to see the train to find the right timing for her leap through reality; its noisy approach provided all the clues she needed.
Just before the rattling increased to a crescendo, the air stirred, and the following warm draft swept her hair into her face. She was acutely aware of the bodies that pressed against hers. Their position, the breath they exhaled, their aliveness.
She opened her eyes to see a long column of train windows dart past her, large enough to give her a glimpse of the train’s interior. She reached out with her will, and her power responded, altering the fabric of reality where she touched it. Her own body shuddered in response.
Then the train, the meadow and the town dwindled away, replaced by a quartet of green padded seats and the narrow space between them.
Before she could take in the details of her new location, the train continued moving forward. Sarina felt the pressure of the arms and hands that were still holding on to her. Then they dropped, caught within the momentum of the cabin that was around them.
Just before her feet hit the vibrating floor, Sarina reached out once more to anchor herself and her companions in this new location. The fraction of a second it took her to make the necessary changes to their physical reality sent Patrick crashing against a green-padded passenger seat, and Emily onto the one opposite it. Their hands slipped away from her.
Emily gave a startled yelp. Patrick gasped and lost his balance, dropping his bags and nearly dropping off the seat Sarina felt a jolt of pain shoot through her knees as she toppled over and half fell, half sat on the padded bench beside Patrick, her legs still straight and stiffened by the memory of standing.
Somehow, Snow was still standing. Her pristine dress didn’t even look ruffled.
The only other passenger Sarina could see – a teenager sitting who sat next to the window on the other side of the train – had headphones in his ears and a smartphone in his hands. He never even glanced up from it.
“Patrick? Emmy? Is everyone okay?” Sarina asked. She looked over at Emily, who was just now sitting up.
Apart from her shell-shocked expression, the girl looked okay. She pushed her hair away from her face, then rubbed her elbow, peering at her surroundings with a scrutinizing frown. Patrick sat up as well. He had a sullen look about him, but Sarina could live with that. It wasn’t exactly unusual for him.
“Everyone okay,” Snow said with her quiet voice. She gathered her skirts gingerly and settled on the very edge of Patrick’s seat.
No one got hurt, Sarina concluded. She exhaled a breath she must have been holding for some time, and allowed herself to sink back against the padded backrest and take some of the strain off her knees. They still hurt, but not so much that she expected to have trouble walking.
“Good job keeping your power through all this, Patrick,” she said with a deliberately gentle voice. “I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
“It’s not exactly hard to keep it up,” he said, sounding slightly less angry than he looked. “You did notice I keep it active in my sleep, right?”
“Right,” Sarina said, feeling a little stupid. At least she had succeeded in saying something nice to the kid whose protests she’d been ignoring for the past thirty minutes or so.
“That was scary,” Emily said. “Can we stop teleporting for a while? Walking is really nice, too.”
“We have to get out of this train,” Sarina said. “It’s probably not going in the right direction. But it’s just going to be a short jump, and I’ll make it be not scary.”
Truthfully, Sarina was almost as fed up with teleporting as Emily was; it was the most fault-prone aspect of her powers, and she hated screwing up. It would be nice to just… walk again. This just now had been a close call, she knew. A half second delay in her timing could have crushed them all.
She remembered crushing some people in a related fashion. But she didn’t want to think about them or the details of what had happened in Bratislava.
Let’s hope the heroes didn’t pay attention to the train. Sarina would have liked to know what was going on in Samael’s head right now, but considering that he was a psychotic, UN-sanctioned mass murderer, it wasn’t a favor she wanted to ask from Emily. Not if she didn’t absolutely need to.
Patrick’s eyes settled on Sarina. “So, what happened back there?” he asked. “Did you kill anyone?”
He looked perfectly serious, so much so that she wondered if she’d misheard or misunderstood him. He couldn’t possibly know what had passed through her head during the couple of minutes she’d spent watching the Covenant. And coming from a boy who was barely fourteen, the question was outright disturbing.
Sarina stared at Patrick for a few seconds before forming a response. “No. But I could have. Is that what you want to hear?”
He shrugged, finally averting his eyes. “Maybe. So… no one is chasing after us right now?”
“I don’t think so,” Emily replied before Sarina got the chance to. “Let’s look!” Emily turned in her seat to look out the window.
Sarina followed the girl’s example. As far as she could see with one cheek pressed against the cool glass, the sky above the tracks was filled with hazy, elongated clouds, but no flying Covenant members.
If anyone was going to panic over the Antithesis’ migration, they hadn’t gotten started. At least not yet.
David isn’t afraid of me, she thought. She wasn’t entirely sure of what cardinal direction she was looking at through the window, but she knew that Switzerland was about three to four hundred miles to the West, maybe just beyond the mountains she could glimpse on the horizon.
Not that far at all.
It doesn’t matter, she told herself. Jasper is even further away, and I don’t even know where. Her fingers clasped her music player through the fabric of her shirt, squeezing it tight. She let go of it when she realized what she was doing. The feel of the smooth, hard plastic in her hand didn’t give her the reassurance she’d hoped for.
“So, really, what happened?” Patrick asked again, challenging Sarina with a hard stare.
Sarina turned away from the window to face him. He sat with his arms crossed over his scrawny teenage chest, radiating teenage attitude. She paid it no mind. She could cope with Patrick’s angry mode; it was preferable to some of the other moods he’d gone through of late. And she knew it was a mask he wore in order to cope with everything else.
“You don’t know?” She asked. “I thought you’d listen to everything they said. Your hearing reaches as far as the cloaking power, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Patrick admitted. “But there was other stuff going on too, and I can’t listen to everything at once.”
“The Covenant showed up,” Sarina said. “With Samael, Velocity, and someone I didn’t recognize. An Asian man in a Grey Robe costume. Do you know anything about him?”
Patrick scrunched up his face and rolled his eyes upward, considering. “Uh, nope,” he said after a moment. “What about him?”
“He’s creepy,” Emily interposed. “I didn’t imprint him, so don’t ask! Only Samael, and I haven’t checked on him yet. Um, should I do it now?” she asked in a small voice that suggested she wasn’t looking forward to the task.
“Right now, we only need to know if they’re aware that we are on the train,” Sarina said. “Grey Robe is a Technician of some kind. He controlled a swarm of drones that probably work like cameras, but they’re really small.” She drew thumb and index finger together to indicate a size equal to half a fingernail.
“Shit,” Patrick said. “How many of them? Were they fast?”
“Could you be quiet for a moment? Emily needs to do something important,” Sarina said in a firm tone.
“Important,” Snow echoed from her seat. She was gazing out the window, giving no indication whether she’d actually understood or had just latched on to a random word that caught her interest.
Patrick dropped the angry teenager act and shrank a little. “Okay, sure. Do your thing, Emily.”
The Empath didn’t seem to mind. Her eyes had already glazed over, and the fingers of her left hand tapped rhythmically against her thigh.
Everyone kept quiet as they waited for Emily to finish. During that moment of silence, all the background noise Sarina hadn’t been paying attention to became much more noticeable. A trickle of laughter and distant voices came from somewhere behind her and the perpetual motion produced a low hum that might have been relaxing under different circumstances.
But right that moment, the atmosphere only succeeded in making her feel like she didn’t belong. She was a fare dodger on the way to the next uncomfortable night spent in someone else’s backyard.
But even if we take twists and turns, every moment brings me closer to Paris.
Emily’s voice snapped Sarina from her thoughts. “He’s really mad. Like, really mad. They think we probably left the city, but they don’t know how.” She squinted sidelong at Sarina, as if there was more she didn’t want to talk about.
Sarina nodded, she had assumed as much. “What else? I know you don’t enjoy doing this, but this part is important.”
“Well…” Emily scratched her nose, averting her eyes. “He really wants to kill you, so let’s not run into the Covenant any more, okay?”
Sarina wasn’t even shocked. At this point, she would have been surprised if there was any hero left on the planet who didn’t want to kill her.
“That’s the plan, right?” Patrick asked. “I’m okay with avoiding those guys.”
“Plan,” Snow said dreamily. “Plan is Jasper.”
Right you are. Sarina flashed the white-haired girl a smile, and for a second, their eyes met. Then Snow’s attention drifted elsewhere, as it usually did. You liked him too, didn’t you?
Thinking back to the time they had spent at the British mansion, Sarina could still see Jasper in her mind’s eye, playing the piano while Snow listened. It had been one of the rare occasions where she’d been fully present in there and then. Jasper was the kind of guy who made everyone feel like they belonged.
“Hey, Snow. You should eat something,” Sarina said as she reached for one of the grocery bags they had brought back from the store. There were some plastic-wrapped salami sandwiches near the top, slightly smushed by the six-pack of Coca Cola cans that sat on top of them. Sarina peeled out one of each, barely aware of how the plastic wrappings shriveled away beneath her fingers.
“I’m still hungry too,” Emily said. “That ice cream has already gone all the way through my tummy. But we got enough food for everyone, right?”
“We better,” Patrick said. “Those bags were damn heavy.”
“Enough for three or four days,” Sarina concluded after quickly checking the contents of two bags. “That’s long enough to reach Paris if we make good progress.”
She passed the sandwich and Coke can to Snow, then dug out one each for Patrick and Emily.
“We could stop in Switzerland,” Emily piped up, squinting sidelong at Sarina as she accepted the sandwich. “Find your brother and make him come along. The Covenant can’t bother him if he’s with us, right?”
Emily had dropped the suggestion casually, speaking with the same cheery lilt she used when she was joking, but the words wormed deep into Sarina’s consciousness. They made so much sense. Sarina wanted David to be safe and in good health as much as she longed to see Jasper again, she just didn’t think she’d be able to find them both in time. And her brother was in a slightly more comfortable position than Jasper was.
Emily’s words brought back the reason Sarina had very nearly pulled the trigger on a Covenant hero. If they can’t find me, they might go after David.
“Stop by Switzerland?” Patrick echoed, touching the offered sandwich without taking it. “What’s this about the Covenant and your brother?”
“”We’re going to find him and take him along,” Sarina said. She wasn’t sure when she’d made that decision, but apparently she had. “The Covenant wants to use him against me. I’m not going to let anyone hurt him. No one.”
“Wait. Did you actually eavesdrop on the heroes?” Patrick asked, eyeing Sarina. “We agreed that you were only going to take a look because anything else was too dangerous. Listening isn’t looking.”
“If I hadn’t listened, would you have told me what they said about my brother?” she countered, sharper than intended.
Patrick slumped a little. “Probably not,” he admitted. “He doesn’t have powers or anything, right? He’s probably fine.”
“Probably isn’t good enough,” Sarina said. “He’s my brother, for fuck’s sake. The last of my folks who wasn’t eaten by Legion, which you didn’t tell me about. Emily did.”
Talking about it pulled her mind back to Bratislava, to the phone she’d clutched in her hand, and to Emily’s voice that had come through it. The memories of what had come afterward were an angry-red haze, but that haze was so thoroughly infused with her power that she could feel the potential stir in response.
This time, no one had anything to add. Sarina’s words hung heavily in the air, and she could see Patrick tense up. His body language didn’t change even after she’d made the effort to fold the power back into herself and tuck it safely away. He still sat across from her like a pillar of salt, fingers clasped about the edge of his seat.
Emily leaped from her seat to throw both arms around Sarina and squeeze her tight. “Cooldown hug!” the girl called in a bright, cheery voice.
It worked. Sarina felt the anger drain out of her until there was nothing left but a vaguely guilty feeling. She hadn’t meant to scare anyone, least of all the kids. She returned Emily’s hug as gently as she could, then let her arms drop away, mouthing a soft “sorry” for Patrick.
He gave her another long look before relaxing. “Okay,” he said, much more subdued than he had been just a moment ago. “Let’s go see your brother. No problem.”
“We gotta be real careful, though,” Emily said. “He’s your brother, so he’s probably under observation, right? The police always do that with witnesses.”
“Do you actually know where he is?” Patrick asked, eyeing Sarina cautiously. “Do you think he still lives in the same place after… uh, you know what I mean.”
Sarina wanted to say no, but Emily chimed in before she could. “I know where he is,” she said. “Because Samael knows.”