Imerswil, Switzerland – Thursday, the 21st of June 2012. 07:29 PM.
Sarina’s words hung in the air like visible objects, and David silently contemplated them as if he was trying to solve some kind of mystery. He didn’t look at Sarina or her companions. He was looking at the empty air ahead of him, his face scrunched up in thought.
Sarina recognized that look on his face; he’d often worn while helping her with a particularly tedious piece of homework. She just didn’t understand why her suggestion was that difficult to comprehend. It was a simple request that would benefit all of them and keep them out of trouble. Besides, she wanted to spend more time with him.
Don’t you want to spend more time with me, too?
“I mean it,” she said to fill the uncomfortable silence. “If you come with us, you’ll never have to deal with the heroes or the government again. Not even Legion would be able to find you.” She glanced to her companions, all of whom had their eyes on her. “You guys would enjoy having him along, wouldn’t you?”
“Yep!” Emily chimed brightly. “And it would help Sarina, too. I think sometimes she doesn’t remember what it’s like to have family.”
“You can drive, right?” Patrick asked David, eyes wide with eagerness. “None of us can. Having a driver would really help us get to Paris faster. It would be safer for all of us, too,” he added with a hopeful glance at David.
David’s frown deepened. “If you need me to keep you out of trouble, then maybe your powers aren’t as failsafe as you believe them to be.”
“They are,” Sarina argued. “We just need to stay away from cameras. Patrick has a point, though. Driving would be less risky than trying to find a train or bus that’s headed in the right direction.”
“Yeah,” Patrick said. “Do you have any idea how many people use their stupid smartphone cameras everywhere?”
“No,” David admitted. “But I can imagine.”
He’s hesitating, Sarina observed unhappily. She had been mentally prepared to deal with almost any kind of reaction – denial, accusations, even anger. But she’d never considered the possibility that he simply might not want to come along. David had always been open to reason, more so than she was, and every argument she could think of supported her idea. His reluctance just didn’t make any sense.
Unless he’s in cahoots with the Covenant, a leery part of her sub-conscious whispered at the back of her mind. Maybe that’s why they’re letting him walk around without supervision.
“Why wouldn’t you want to come along?” Sarina asked, watching him carefully to gauge his reaction. “There’s nothing left for you here. Not even your soccer club.”
“No, there isn’t,” he said, his voice subdued and distant. Then he shook his head and glanced up to look straight at her face. “Do you even have a plan for what you’re going to do in Paris?” he asked. “Planning ahead has never been a strength of yours, Sarina.”
“Do we need a plan if we’ve got superpowers?” Patrick countered.
“Yes,” David replied. “Have you been keeping up with the news? The latest French revolution turned Paris into a theater of war.”
That bit of news caught Sarina off guard, and, judging by the startled looks on her companions’ faces, they shared the same sentiment. “Another French revolution? When did that happen?” she asked.
“A short while ago,” David said. He was still strangely calm. “Here’s what I can promise you. I’ll grab a car and meet you in two hours. We’ll have a bite to eat, talk everything through, and if by the end you’re still convinced that Paris is where you need to go, I’ll drive you there.”
“And you’ll tell us what you know about Paris?” Sarina asked.
“Yes. I promise.”
“You’re going to grab a car?” Patrick asked. “You got more than one?”
“No,” David said. “But mine’s too conspicuous, I’m fairly sure that the security agency put a tracker on it. I got the keys to a friend’s car. I’ll get that one and meet you on the parking lot behind the train station as soon as it’s safe to do so. After dark would be best.”
“Is your friend trustworthy?” Sarina asked to avoid asking the underlying question that bothered her on a more fundamental level: could she trust David?
She wanted to, and under normal circumstances, she would have. But nothing about this situation could be considered normal. He hadn’t hugged her or expressed his appreciation for the fact that she was doing more or less okay. In short, he wasn’t acting very brotherly at all.
Then again, she supposed she wasn’t being very sisterly either. There was an invisible wall between them, and she didn’t know why it was there or what she could do to break it down. Knowing for sure that she could still trust him would have helped, though.
“Yes, my friend is trustworthy,” David replied, looking steadily into her eyes. “It’s Roland. You remember Roland, right? He was your go-to man whenever you needed a ride home from school and I wasn’t available.”
“I guess,” Sarina replied vaguely. Her memories of David’s friends were beginning to fray. It seemed like an eternity ago that she’d socialized with normal people, and she’d been a different person then, living a different life.
David shook his head and broke eye contact, as if he’d looked into her soul and found a stranger living there. “If you want to talk to me and figure this out together, let me know,” he said. “I really should get going. Someone’s bound to notice if I stick around for too long.”
“Wait,” Sarina blurted, discovering that she couldn’t just let him walk away. “Let’s talk. We’ll meet behind the train station after dark, like you said, and we’ll talk everything through. But not for long. We don’t know how much time Jasper has.”
“Jasper is… that other friend of yours?” David asked. “Did something happen to him?”
“It’s a long story,” Sarina replied, crossing her arms over her chest.
“If David drives us to Paris, we save a lot of time, right?” Patrick said. “Maybe we could even get some sleep. In a real bed. Man, I’d kill for a real bed.”
“We haven’t decided anything,” Sarina said, before the idea of feather beds and soft pillows threatened to override their priorities. “But we’ll talk if we can do it someplace safe.”
“We can,” David assured her. “I can’t take you to my own place. It’s under surveillance. But I can take you to the apartment I shared with my study group. It’s only twenty minutes away from here, and I doubt anyone but my nerd circle knows about it.”
He sounds genuine, Sarina concluded. Regardless of the fact that she could barely recall the names of his friends, she knew David well enough to tell that he was being open with her. It still wasn’t enough to shake off that lingering sense of wariness that had been accompanying her for the past few days, but she could feel herself relax a bit.
“I guess we can do that,” Sarina said.
“Is there any food in Nerdville?” Emily asked. “I dunno about you guys, but I could eat a bear. With applesauce and cranberries on top.”
“Gummy bear,” Snow chimed in, reminding everyone that she was still there. She was clutching the family pack of gummy bears that Emily gifted her after the mall escape. Even now, more than two days later, it was somehow still unopened.
Everyone turned to look at Snow, but when it became clear that the white-haired girl had nothing more to add, the group’s collective attention turned back to David.
“Food would be great,” Sarina finally agreed. She was as hungry as Emily was, and she didn’t know if she’d ever get the chance to talk to her brother again. But she also didn’t know how much time Jasper had. She felt like she was being pulled in two directions at once.
David flashed the first smile she’d seen from him today. “We always keep a stash of frozen pizza,” he said. “It’s staple food for nerdy students. I’ll see you in two hours, then?”
Patrick glanced at Sarina, imploring her with his eyes.
“We’ll be there,” Sarina said.
“And now you hug!” Emily commanded with stern-faced earnest. “Because you’re family, and you just found each other again, and you don’t know if you can stay together.”
A moment of awkward silence hung in the air while everyone watched Sarina and David, waiting for something to happen. David made one step forward, Sarina made two, and then she found herself enveloped in a warm brotherly embrace.
She’d known she missed having her family around, but until that moment, she hadn’t been aware of how much. The familiar scent of her David’s aftershave took her back to the best part of her life, back before superpowers came along and turned everything upside down.
The invisible wall shattered to the sound David murmuring at Sarina’s ear. “Now I know,” he said. “You’re still the same. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.”
“I don’t look different, do I?” she whispered back, wondering why she’d waited so long to embrace him.
“You do, actually,” he said, pulling back a little to look at her. “Your hair is the most obvious change, but there’s something else I can’t put into words. Let’s not dwell on it, Sarina. It doesn’t matter.”
I’ve grown up a little bit, I guess.
Sarina pulled at the single wisp of white hair that hung over her shoulder, a stark contrast to the strands of strawberry blonde that surrounded it. “That’s a long story,” she said. “You look different, too. When did you stop shaving?”
If Dad was around, he’d so make fun of your hobo look, she almost added, but bit back the remark. David probably didn’t want to talk about their parents any more than she did, and the thought was enough to make her eyes burn. She didn’t want to burst into tears, especially not in front of her brother. He’d never agree to drive her to Paris if she appeared vulnerable.
He shrugged. “I don’t remember. And if any of you want pizza, I should get going.”
“Right,” Sarina said, pulling back reluctantly. “We do want pizza.”
“Gummy bear pizza,” Snow added with a smile of anticipation on her lips.
“Ew,” Patrick said. “That sounds gross. But yeah. See you soon, David. And thanks.”
David flicked a thumbs up, then began a descent downhill that was considerably faster than his uphill march had been, as if their brief conversation had invigorated him somehow.
“If David comes with us, it’s gonna change everything,” Emily said, tugging on Sarina’s hand. “You know that, right?”
“Right,” Sarina said. “Trust me, I know.”
The two hours until meeting were some of the longest of Sarina’s life, but once they had passed, all of the concerns she had about David’s well-being were banished by the sound of a car horn.
Their ride was a small white Toyota Corolla, and when it rolled across the train station’s abandoned parking lot, Sarina could see why David’s friend had handed the keys over so readily. It was an ugly car with a dim tail light and hood that had been marred by a poorly done paint job. But David was inside, and hopefully he was alone.
“I haven’t heard anything,” he said. “And he’s not breathing nervously. I think we’re good.”
“Alright,” Sarina said. “Let’s go.”
They quickly skittered across the darkened pavement, and when they reached the white car, David pushed the passenger door open for Sarina to climb in. In the dim glow of the dome light, his now cleanly shaven face appeared softer and more relaxed, and his short, messy tufts of dishwater blonde hair were no longer hidden away under a beanie hat.
He looked happier. It was as if their reunion had transformed him back into the David from a few weeks ago, and it was good to see him like this.
“Hello sister,” he said, lovingly drawling out each syllable. “Are you and your friends up for some pizza?”
They very much were. Patrick, Snow and Emily climbed onto the backseat, and within seconds the doors were closed, and they were on their way. Sarina peered out the window with narrowed eyes, waiting for the moment where the peaceful atmosphere would be broken and everything would go wrong. But it never came.
“No one is going to come after us, Sarina,” David gently assured her, not taking his eyes off the darkened road. “I left my phone at home, and I’m sure no one saw me leave. The surveillance was toned down quite a bit since I reminded the security of my basic human rights.”
“What about your phone?” she asked, recalling what he’d told them earlier about the phone being tracked.
“It’s too late in the evening for any more check-up calls from Big Brother. I have to sleep sometime, after all.”
“Okay,” Sarina said, allowing herself to relax a little.
“Are we going to meet any of your study friends where we’re going?” Emily asked excitedly.
“No more people,” Sarina said before the idea of meeting anyone else could take hold. She still had to convince David that he needed to come with her, and getting more strangers involved would only complicate this whole mess they were in. They had to go to Paris, with David, and soon. Period.
“No one is going to be there,” David assured her. “The University is on summer break, and the only other person with a key to our hideout is working in Spain until August.”
At that point, Patrick discovered the packet of potato chips that had been tucked away beneath his seat. The rustle of torn plastic, along with the crunchy sounds of chips being eaten, brought their conversation to a momentary stop. David turned on the car’s CD player with his free hand. A second later, upbeat dance music that was strangely familiar came from the speakers.
“Is that one of the CDs we had at home?” Sarina asked with a glance at David’s faintly illuminated face.
He met her eyes, a shadow of a grin on his lips. “Yes,” he said. “In your room. I actually had this one in my car because I was driving you around so much, and I figured I’d surprise you with it.”
“You listen to Blümchen? Seriously, you? That stuff is from the nineties,” Patrick said. He had picked up the CD case from the small compartment that was between the front seats and was inspecting it critically.
Sarina pointedly looked out the window. “That was my very first CD as a little kid,” she said. “But another girl from my dorm stole it.”
Then I set her bed on fire during the next lunch break, she added to herself. Maybe I was meant to be a villain all along.
“You were in a dorm?” Patrick asked, a puzzled look on his face.
“She was in a children’s home,” Emily said. “But she probably doesn’t want to talk about that.”
David interjected before the pause that followed could develop into awkward silence. “I bought her that CD when she moved in with us,” he said. “The first couple of weeks, she only left her room to eat. But the music let us know that she was okay in there.”
Without taking her eyes off the window, Sarina put her left hand on David’s arm, resting it there while the car drifted through the nocturnal landscape. The countryside began to yield to urban sprawl, and she recognized many of the landmarks along the way. She was returning to the town that had been her home for one and a half years.
Sarina noticed that someone was humming along to the music, but it took her a few seconds to realize it was Snow. The Asian girl was the quietest, most inconspicuous of her companions, but whenever there was music playing, Snow woke from her dozy state of semi-consciousness to listen or sing along. She always got all of the words wrong, but her singing voice was very pleasant to listen to.
“Are you enjoying the music, Snow?” Sarina asked.
“Yes,” Snow’s heavily accented voice came from behind. “Is happy music. Like music in Korea, but words different.”
“Wait. You’re from Korea?” Patrick asked.
“Yes,” Snow whispered, barely audible over the steady hum of the car engine.
“How?” Sarina asked, turning as far back on her seat as her seat belt allowed. “Didn’t Patrick and the others meet you somewhere in Europe?”
No answer came. Snow had withdrawn from the world and was shrouding herself in silence once more.
“Maaan, you never tell us anything about yourself,” Patrick moaned. “Emily, do you know how Snow ended up in Denmark?”
“I could tell you, but that would be mean,” Emily said. “If she wanted to tell us, she would. She’s really sad and doesn’t want to remember, so we shouldn’t make her.”
She erases colors, metal doors and powers. Did she erase her own memories, too? Sarina wondered. If such an ability did exist, then there were a few people and places she would have liked to erase from her own mind.
“We can talk more about you and your friends once we get inside,” David said. “You’re not off the hook, sis. I got a boatload of questions, and you’re going to answer them.”
“Sure,” Sarina said. She didn’t mind David’s questions, but she could already tell that the night was going to be a short one. Sleep was a commodity they could scarcely afford.
He pulled the car into a narrow side road that meandered between a number of apartment blocks and single family homes, then decelerated to claim one of the parking spaces that was lined up in front of a five story brick building.
“And here we are,” David said. “Welcome to the flower shop.”
There was no actual shop inside the apartment building, but the reason behind the name became clear soon enough. The instant David unlocked the apartment and pushed the door open, the Nameless were hit by the sweet, heavy scent of flowers that wafted through the air. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant, just intense.
“I’ve been trying to create a new kind of tulip hybrid for an applied genetics class,” David explained as he stepped into the apartment’s vestibule and took his shoes off. “Most of the other guys are also keeping their projects here. I hope you don’t mind the smell.”
“I hope your flowers don’t mind pizza smell,” Emily replied.
David smiled at her. “I’ll see about that right away. In the meantime, make yourselves at home.” Then some of the humor faded from his face, and he said, “while you’re at it, turn the news on. It’s about time you get caught up.”
“I’m on it,” Sarina mumbled, putting her shoes down with the other pairs that were already lined up against the vestibule wall.
She did want to know what was going on in Paris, but at the same time, David’s mention of Paris being a theater of war did not bode well for her plans. She needed the Sun King to still be alive and in his old home; it was the only place she knew where to find him.
Her companions had other priorities for the moment. They were too intrigued by David’s hidden food stashes not to follow him into the kitchen.
The living room was through the first door to the left. It was a white-walled, airy room of about twenty-five square meters, so piled up with books, empty pizza boxes and potted plants that Sarina wondered how David and his flat mates found space to live in there.
Everywhere she looked, she saw tulips, lilies and cacti of varying size and color. The plants were beneath the wall-mounted flatscreen television, on the small coffee table and even on the upholstered suite that adjoined it. And as far as she could see through the large glass sliding door that was at the other end of the room, even the balcony had been turned into a makeshift garden.
The plants filled the room with a serene atmosphere that Sarina had last felt in her Swiss home. As she made her way to a white and pink tulip that sat atop the coffee table, she could almost picture how David had lovingly tended to his study project here, nerding out over seeds and soil types while the world’s troubles remained outside.
“Hello, girlfriend,” she said to the lily flower. “My brother never introduced you to me, but I can tell you’re good for him.”
Having paid her respects to the other girl in her brother’s life, Sarina removed a couple of empty pizza boxes from the faux leather couch and sat down on it. For a moment, she simply enjoyed sitting there among the flowers, staring at the lifeless television screen that had nothing to say to her. Not just yet.
She closed her eyes to indulge in the normalcy of the moment and hold on to it. For as long as she kept her eyes closed, she could imagine that the television screen didn’t exist and that the news didn’t concern her. She was just another Swiss teenage girl on a visit to her older brother.
But she couldn’t shut Jasper from her mind. She could picture him sitting next to her on the couch, playing a guitar with that faraway he always got about him when he was zoning out to his music. And even though he wasn’t actually here, she could feel with all her heart how much he would have enjoyed sharing the family reunion with her. Jasper and David had so much in common that it seemed like they were destined to meet.
Someday, I’m going to introduce you to each other. It should have been a happy thought, but it wasn’t. It stung hard enough that the peaceful atmosphere burst like a bubble.
Sarina opened her eyes and snatched the remote from the coffee table that was in front of her, then turned on the television to do what had to be done: get caught up on the news.
Patrick stepped into the living room while she was zapping through the channels. He a spoon in one hand and a tub of ice cream in the other, proudly presenting it to her as he dropped down next to her on the couch.
“Chocolate fudge brownie,” he informed her. “Careful I don’t steal your brother, he’s awesome and has good food taste. Besides, I always wanted an older brother. But guess what, I got a bunch of little sisters instead.”
“They’re back in Ireland still, right?” Sarina asked. “Do you ever wonder how they’re doing?”
“I hope so,” Patrick replied. “And yeah, all the time.”
Sarina watched him sidelong while her fingers flipped through the channels absently. Even Patrick looks a little happier now, she observed. Something is going right for once, for all of us.
While she was watching Patrick’s face, his expression of contentment began to slip, and he jerked up a bit, his eyes growing wide at the television screen. “Stop!” he commanded. “Go back one channel… no, not that one. One more.”
His reaction compelled Sarina to turn her attention back to the television, and when she did, she instantly identified the channel he was talking about. The screen was showing her a large city square where a massive throng of people had gathered in front of a cathedral. Some had glow sticks, others were holding signs or banners depicting Radiant’s name and face over their heads. The information line at the bottom read ‘Locals celebrating the Hero victory on Moscow’s Red Square’.
“Holy shit,” Patrick said. “Looks like the anti-hero is becoming popular again.”