Imerswil, Switzerland – Thursday, the 21st of June 2012. 07:13 PM.
Switzerland never changes much, Sarina thought as she was lying in the grass on her stomach, letting her eyes wander over the small town beyond the base of the hill she had chosen as a vantage point.
She hadn’t ever visited this particular place before, but the clutter of beautifully designed single family homes and bland looking apartment buildings had a familiar look to it. All of the towns in the region did.
Imerswil belonged to the suburb of Bern and wasn’t too far from her adoptive family’s former townhouse. According to the information Emily had retrieved from Samael’s memory, David now lived here, in a small house that was under constant surveillance by Interpol and the media. As much as Sarina wanted to just teleport there and take her brother someplace safe, she knew she couldn’t risk it. Too much hinged on her reaching Paris quietly.
But she knew there was a reason David had chosen this particular town, and it was one they could take advantage of. His soccer club held their weekly practice here. It wasn’t something he was likely to miss, and if he did show up, then she’d figure a way to make contact.
“What are you going to do if he doesn’t show up?” Patrick asked, echoing the question that had played over and over in Sarina’s head for the past day and a half.
“I don’t know,” she replied absently, her attention focused on the local high school’s soccer field. It was almost directly below them. The small forest that sheltered her and her companions cast long shadows across the white line markings that crisscrossed the turf.
The playing field was almost completely deserted. On a Thursday past seven, it shouldn’t have been. David’s soccer club consisted of three dozen students and commercial trainees at least some of whom should have been doing their weekly routines just about now.
But instead, Sarina only spotted a pair of grade school kids flipping a diabolo on the outer ring surrounding the field, right where David should be doing his warmup laps.
She checked the time again, hoping against all odds that she’d gotten the timezone conversion wrong. But even after adjusting her smartphone’s location to ‘Bern’, the digital clock didn’t change. It mocked her by ticking over to 07:15 while she was staring at it.
David doesn’t change his routines, Sarina thought, swallowing against the burning sensation in her throat. He’s a creature of habit, never even a second late.
She did realize that the absence of a whole soccer club hinted at a more profound problem than just a change in her brother’s personal schedule. She couldn’t imagine that the whole team had ceased to exist, though. Switzerland was less affected by villain activity and political mass hysteria than Austria had been. For the most part, people still went about their daily lives here, keeping their heads down and hoping for the best.
Her companions had nothing to say on the matter of the soccer club’s absence, but Sarina could tell from their long faces that they’d been looking forward to the family reunion nearly as much as she had. Paris was a long way off, and there was no guarantee that they’d find Jasper or discover any hints about his location there.
David had been the idea that sustained the group over the past two days. His name came up whenever their spirits sagged, and the discussions of how they’d rescue him from potential abuse by the authorities had revitalized the team whenever someone felt like they couldn’t go on. Patrick, in particular, could relate to the looming threat of the Covenant’s iron fist.
The past few days had been tougher than any of them cared to admit. They had crossed long distances on foot, avoiding large cities and the most travelled routes for fear of getting caught on camera. Cargo vans and bus lines weren’t usually headed in the direction they needed to go, so their means of transportation changed every hour or so. Their brief resting periods in between changing modes of transportation had never allowed for real sleep. They constantly had to be on the lookout for people with smartphone and tablet cameras.
Now that she’d reminded herself of how tired she was, Sarina dropped her chin onto one hand and let her eyes rest while her mind kept racing. There really wasn’t anything she could do but wait. Or, she supposed, she could give up and leave. But that option just wasn’t acceptable.
She could have tried to reach for David with her powers, but she wasn’t sure how he’d react to being forcefully yanked from his location. She wanted to be face him as the sister who’d left, not that creepy Evolved the press couldn’t shut up about. Plus, any witnesses to his sudden disappearance would surely alert the authorities.
“I don’t want to leave without you,” she murmured into the tuft of grass that was tickling her face. “Come on over. Do your Thursday thing.”
“Hey Sara,” Patrick said to her right. “Your brother has brown hair and a beard, right?”
“Why?” she asked, snapping her eyes open in a fit of rash hope.
But it wasn’t rash. Before Patrick could say another word, she spotted the lone figure who was slowly ambling across the lawn, approaching the reserve player bench with a styrofoam box in hand. He was facing away from her. The young man’s features were barely visible beneath the red knit beanie that covered his head, but she immediately recognized the victory handprint on the back of his black shirt. Sarina had talked their mother into buying it during one of the Saturday shopping sprees they used to have.
She saw that the three-day stubble she’d noted on television had developed into a short beard that partly disguised his youthful features and cast the look of a stranger about him. She recognized him, of course, but someone who hadn’t been part of their immediate family might not make the connection to the David Baumann.
Maybe that was his intention. Maybe he doesn’t want to be recognized.
“It’s David,” Sarina whispered. “It’s actually him.”
“Yaaaay!” Emily whooped.
Everyone except Snow started talking at once, but Sarina paid them no mind. She scrambled to her feet and made a few steps down the grassy hill, then stopped. She couldn’t just run down there like an idiot. David was likely under observation by the government, like she had been a couple weeks ago. And even if he wasn’t, no one could guarantee her that the soccer field was free of cameras.
Suddenly she wasn’t sure if this was a good idea anymore. She wanted to go to him, she really did. But there were just so many things that could go wrong, and she had a responsibility to Snow and the kids.
“I can’t go down there,” she said as she slowly turned back to the others, her face burning with frustration.
Patrick was studying her with a thoughtful frown on his face, his arms draped over his knees. Snow stared down at the playing field silently. Emily was smiling brightly, though. Her feet tapped against the ground, as if she couldn’t wait to reveal a secret the rest of them hadn’t figured out.
“You gotta send him a message!” Emily suggested. “Make him come up to meet you all sneaky like.”
“Just how would Sara send him a message?” Patrick asked, squinting at the young Empath. “He’s under surveillance, right?”
“Probably,” Sarina admitted. “We don’t know for sure. Or do we?”
“He is, but I don’t think there are people following him around or anything like that,” Emily said. “Creepo-Hero wishes there were.”
Hell’s going to freeze over before you get your way, Samael.
Sarina looked down at the playing field to check on David, who was getting settled on the reserve player’s bench seemingly without a care in the world. He put the styrofoam box on his lap and opened it to retrieve what looked to be a burger or a sandwich.
I’m right here and he doesn’t even know. Sarina smiled sadly to herself. After watching him be interviewed on television, she could pretty much guess what his reaction to seeing her would be like. Assuming he hadn’t lied for the cameras, of course. But she couldn’t imagine he had. He wasn’t the type.
“I could imprint him if that’s okay,” Emily said. “Maybe he knows something that’s gonna help us contact him?”
Sarina considered the idea briefly, then shook her head. David was someone she’d known in a past life, back when her existence had been carefree and normal. The thought of another Evolved scouring him through and through made her more than just a little uncomfortable. She still valued him as much today as she had then.
“Don’t,” she said without tearing her gaze from David on the bench. He didn’t do anything special beyond taking a bite from his dinner, but she felt suddenly comforted as if he’d just hugged her. She could tell from the way he stared at the vacant lawn that he’d hoped to meet someone here – his missing team, most likely.
What if he doesn’t actually miss me? Sarnia shook her head and banished the unwelcome thought.
“Okay, but we gotta do something,” Emily insisted.
“Message,” a soft voice said.
Sarina glanced over in that direction to see Snow clasp a dandelion flower in her delicate hands. When their eyes met, Snow raised the flower to her lips and sent the tiny parachute seeds on their way. They whirled through the air lazily, drifting off in all directions. But a few of them seemed to be heading straight for David.
That was when the idea struck.
“Snow, you’re the best,” Sarina called out with a laugh.
She knelt down by the small backpack that contained her assorted belongings and turned it upside down, letting the contents pour out. She spotted the fountain pen easily enough; its striking orange cartouche made it stand out against the clutter of other items that had spilled onto the grass. She just couldn’t find a single sheet of paper. There was an unused picture postcard she’d bought in Paris, but she couldn’t use that. Card stock wasn’t meant to be folded.
“What are you doing?” Patrick asked with a puzzled glance at her backpack.
“Sending a message,” Sarina said. She opened her bag of toiletries in the hopes of discovering some paper tissues, but there were none. She vaguely remembered using up the last of them in England after discovering the truth about her powers.
“Oooh, I know!” Emily cried, clapping her hands excitedly. “That’s a real good idea. I think it’s actually gonna work.”
“I need a sheet of paper for it to work,” Sarina said. “What are the odds that you picked up a newspaper along the way?”
“What for?” Patrick asked, reaching for his own drawstring bag. “I still got the map of Bratislava… pretty sure we don’t need that anymore.”
“You’ll see,” Sarina said. She waited for him to retrieve the map, then gently plucked it from his fingers to gauge its usefulness for her plan.
The actual map had too much color to write on, but the backside was mostly white, with just some keys and a few lines of small print. She ripped a quarter section off and pinned it against her leg to scribble the words she’d already prepared in her mind.
David, if you want to talk, walk up the hill and meet me by the first row of trees. Don’t draw any attention to yourself. Please give a signal if you’re being observed. Love, S.
When she had finished, she quickly folded the map piece into a paper plane. The thick, sturdy paper was too heavy to float on the air currents, but it didn’t matter. She was going to resort to Ace’s trusty methods and cheat.
When she stood with the map plane in hand, understanding finally dawned on Patrick’s face, and he flicked her a thumbs up. Sarina stepped to where the hill began to slope downward and released her makeshift plane to the warm summer breeze. Just as it threatened to fall, she grasped her power, infusing the air with her will to push the plane across the playing field.
It continued moving in an almost perfectly straight line, as if it was pulled along a tautly-drawn string. No one could have mistaken it for an actual paper plane’s flight, but fortunately, no one seemed to be paying attention. The kids down on the field were thoroughly occupied with their game. A young woman stood on the sidewalk by the mesh wire fence, fussing with her smartphone when the small plane’s shadow flicked across her face. And David had just finished his meal when the folded paper message hit him square in the chest. He winced in surprise, dropping the tissue he’d used to wipe his hands.
Sarina watched anxiously, holding her breath while her brother bent down to pick up the folded map piece along with the tissue. Her companions gathered around her in silent anticipation.
David didn’t read the message. His eyes scanned the playing field and the mesh wire fence that surrounded it, looking for the source of the attack. When he didn’t spot anything, he walked to the pair of kids on the outer ring, holding the paper plane in his hand.
Sarina was almost too nervous to watch. This was it – her one chance to draw her brother’s attention. If this didn’t work, then she didn’t know what to do. Her only other options would be to reveal herself and risk drawing the attention of the wrong people.
Come on, she pleaded silently. Just look at it. For once, she didn’t feel powerful at all. She felt like she was fifteen again, a sickly teenage girl urging her older brother to pick her up from rehab because she couldn’t take it anymore.
As if joined to her by a telepathic link, David stopped and gave the paper plane another look. He tugged at the one of the wings, then pulled it apart, unfurling the whole map piece and the message that was scribbled on it.
For a few endless seconds, nothing happened. David just stood there, staring at the map with what might have been a puzzled frown, though it was hard to tell from the distance. Then he turned back around and made his way to the bench where he’d sat before, crumpling the paper in his fist. His face was unreadable in the bright evening light.
“Uh oh,” Patrick said.
“Wait!” Emily interjected. “I don’t think he’s gonna call the police or anything. Watch.”
Sarina opened her mouth to ask whether Emily had imprinted her brother’s memories – and possibly to yell at her about it – but she found that she was too anxious to say anything at all. She watched as David pulled a smartphone from his pocket and put it on the bench alongside the empty styrofoam box. Then, he began ambling towards the hill at a casual pace, shoulders drawn in and hands buried in his jeans pockets along with the crumpled map piece.
“He’s coming up!” Emily cheered, pumping her small fist. “See, I told you!”
Sarina wasn’t convinced that David actually wanted to meet her. She knew him well enough to tell that his body language didn’t exactly express joy at seeing her again.
But he’s okay, and he’s coming to see me, she told herself. We’ll talk. I can explain everything.
She gathered her two stray wisps of white hair and tucked them away behind her ear, where they weren’t quite so apparent and could be concealed by the rest of her strawberry-blonde hair.
Emily stood, brushing the grass from her oversized clothes in an attempt to make herself presentable. Patrick followed suit with considerably less effort. Snow didn’t budge. With the layers of her skirt spread out around her, she almost looked like another flower blooming in the grass.
“He hasn’t given us a signal that he’s being watched, has he?” Sarina asked as she straightened to stand. David was now walking alongside the mesh wire fence and would reach the base of the small hill in moments. His eyes flicked along the edge of the forest, unaware of her position.
“He isn’t worried about being watched,” Emily said. “I think there’s some reason he left his phone, though.”
“Are you ready?” Patrick asked.
“Yeah,” Sarina replied. David looked much calmer than she felt; she could only hope that he was at least a little excited about their reunion. If nothing else, he must have questions for her. She had plenty for him.
Patrick didn’t signal the moment he dropped the cloaking effect for David, but Sarina could see her brother’s eyes go wide. He stopped halfway up the hill to look at each and every one of them, as if he needed time to determine whether they were real. Then, his eyes settled on Sarina, and he looked her up and down, his expression unreadable.
I don’t look like the monster everyone says I am, do I? For the most part, she hadn’t cared what anyone thought of her. But now, right this moment, she very much cared what her brother thought.
“Hey, David,” she managed, her voice wavering a little. “Thanks for coming. I… I really wanted to see you.”
When he opened his mouth, the words that came out weren’t anything like what she’d hoped for.
“Do you have any idea how dangerous this is?” he snapped in his Swiss-accented English, pulling the crumpled map from his pocket to present it like a piece of incriminating evidence. “The only reason I can leave my apartment without being tailed by special forces is because our parents are dead, and because I threatened the national security agency with the press if they didn’t let me have some peace. But even now, they’re still using my phone to track me.”
Sarina wanted to say something, but no words came out. The mention of their parents opened old wounds, and she struggled to contain the emotions that had been building up over the past few days.
The others remained silent as well. Patrick stood with his shoulders drawn in and his hands jammed into his pockets, his face turned from everyone else. Snow tilted her head to the side as if she was listening to voices from her past. And Emily wordlessly slipped her hand into Sarina’s, providing a small boost of reassurance.
David sucked in a breath, his gaze trailing off. “Our parents are dead because that… thing is looking for you. It could be watching me for all I know.”
“What do you know about Legion?” Sarina blurted. “I mean, who told you? I didn’t know a thing about any of this until… a short while ago.” She didn’t want to elaborate.
“Only what the heroes told me,” David said. “Which isn’t much. I’m serious, Sara. You shouldn’t be here. Keep moving and never stop. It’s the only way for all of you to make it through all this.” He was looking down at Emily now, his eyes filled with the same pained look they’d had during the television interview.
“It’s gonna be okay!” Emily assured him. “Patrick here is really good at keeping the bad guys away, so being near him is totally safe.”
Sarina was relieved to see David’s face light up at the words, though the change was so sudden and so noticeable that it almost seemed a little odd. Part of her wondered if Emily might have something to do with it. Then again, the Empath was a little sunshine; the sight of her would have melted icicles.
“Is that so?” David asked. “In that case, I should thank you for taking care of my sister, Patrick.” He extended a hand, forcing the teen to return the favor and shake it.
“It’s nothing special,” Patrick replied. “Just, you know. Superpowers.”
David didn’t laugh at the joke. Instead, he gave Sarina a long look, the smile falling from his face. The mood change made her aware of just how awkward this whole situation was.
Back before her transition, her brother had been her best friend, the person who understood her best and knew exactly how to help her overcome the struggles of her daily life. Now it seemed like there was a wall between them. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected from their reunion but definitely something more than this.
“So really, it’s safe to talk for a little while,” Emily went on, cheerily pushing the point home.
David gaze flicked between Emily and Sarina. Then he exhaled a long breath, his slender body sagging as some of the tension eased out of it. “Alright,” he said. “But we can’t keep this up for too long. I could receive a call any minute. If I don’t pick it up, hell’s going to break loose.”
Sarina bit her lip. You could just come with us, she wanted to say, but she was too afraid. She recognized that ‘stubborn older brother’ look on his face; it meant that she didn’t stand a chance of changing his mind. Not under the current circumstances, anyway.
“Little while, hello,” Snow sing-songed.
David smiled faintly at that. “Are you going to introduce your other friends to me?” he asked, eyes settling on Snow’s almond eyed face.
“That’s Snow,” Sarina said. “She saved all of us once, and now I’m looking out for her.”
David hesitated briefly, then stepped through the grass to where the white-dressed girl was sitting. He bent down to offer a hand without reserve. “Hello, Snow,” he said. “I should thank you as well.”
Snow smiled and accepted the offered hand but didn’t say anything. After a brief brush of fingers, she pulled her hand away.
David glanced to the little girl next.
“I’m Emily! But you already know that, right?” Emily piped up. “I was on television and stuff.”
David nodded. “Your family is worried about you. But you know that as well… right?”
“Yep,” she admitted unhappily. “But it’s gonna be okay. Being here is more important than sitting at home. And Patrick keeps all the villains away.”
“So, you want to be here, then?” David asked Emily. He wasn’t looking at her, though. He was looking at Sarina.
I had nothing to do with her being here, Sarina wanted to say. But that would have been a lie. And she didn’t want to lie to him.
“Um, it’s a looong story,” Emily said.
David just shook his head. “I don’t doubt it. But you don’t seem to understand the danger you’re in. Sarina, why are you really here? You’re old enough to know better, and something tells me you didn’t come to ask my brotherly advice.”
Sarina assembled her courage and met his gaze. “Because I want you to come with us,” she said.