Somewhere near Paris, France – Friday, the 22nd of June 2012. 05:10 PM.
So that’s it, Sarina thought as she watched another road sign to Paris flash past the car window. We’re almost there, and then it’s goodbye.
That last road sign had indicated a drive of fifty kilometers, which meant that she had less than thirty minutes of time left with her brother – and this time, it might very well be goodbye forever. He’d agreed to abandon his home and his phone in order to drive them to Paris, but one evening with the Nameless hadn’t been enough for him to get accustomed to the idea of joining them.
She turned her head to watch the back of David’s head nod along to the French pop music that came from the car radio. Patrick had insisted on claiming the passenger seat for the last leg of their journey, which meant that she sat tucked away in the back, unable to see her brother’s expression.
And maybe that was for the best. Seeing that sad puppy look he sometimes got on his face might have provoked tears.
The last evening had been nice, without any drama or unpleasant surprises. Emily had been thrilled to learn that her friend Overdrive had been among the Smolensk liberators, and they’d had all watched the following report together, sharing their thoughts on Radiant’s newly established hero group – and his open invitation for all of the world’s heroes and rogues to join him.
Unsurprisingly, David and Emily had shown the most interest in the suggestion, but neither Sarina nor Patrick were particularly thrilled by it; Paris remained their number one plan of action. Emily still had Radiant’s contact number stored on her phone, though. Maybe it would prove useful one day.
Go on, heroes, Sarina thought. Go and save the world. I tried, and look how that turned out.
Emily stirred against Sarina’s arm and opened her mouth in a wide baby bird yawn, reminding Sarina of her own priorities. With the exception of Jasper, everyone she truly cared for was here in the car with her. She didn’t know her brother’s priorities and plans for the future, though, which made her wonder if he had any.
David had been oddly quiet about subjects that touched him on a personal level – his hopes and dreams, how he felt about everything that was going on – and she knew what that meant. He didn’t want to upset her. The avoidance strategy hadn’t worked very well for him in the past, though, and she certainly wasn’t going to let him get away with it now. There was still enough time to win him over.
“Hey, David,” she said, leaning forward to slide her arms over the driver’s seat. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us? I mean, really, really sure?”
“You should come with us because we’re awesome,” Patrick added. He pulled his knees up against the glove department, radiating some of that fake teenage coolness that had been momentarily lost after Tess’ death.
It seemed that meeting David had lifted Patrick’s spirits, as well. It could be that a warm meal and a couch to sleep on made all the difference, but Sarina knew from experience that David had a way of mending the soul. If he hadn’t taught her to focus on the here and now instead of dwelling on the past, she might not have made it through the first couple of weeks after rehab.
David shifted in his seat, not taking his eyes off the road. “We talked about this, Sarina,” he said gently.
“We did,” she admitted. “I was just hoping you’d change your mind. I mean, we only just found each other again, and I know you hate goodbyes as much as I do.”
And I really wish you could meet Jasper, she added silently.
He turned his head just enough to let her see the faint smile that was on his lips. It made him look incredibly sad. “An unpowered nerd hanging out with heroes who go up against the likes of Legion? Name any book or movie where that went well.”
“That’s not fair,” Sarina protested. “You know I don’t read much.” She leaned back and sank into her seat, deflating a little.
“I read hero stuff,” Emily piped up. She was tucked in between Sarina and Snow, sticking her twiggy legs through the gap that was between the front seats. “And I know heroes just do what’s right, they don’t always have powers. The flashy and explodey scenes in the movies are just meant to make the heroes look good on television.”
“Te – le – vision,” Snow murmured. She dissected the word as if she was tasting the sound of it, but her eyes were cloudy and distant.
David acknowledged Emily’s argument with a nod, but his response was directed at Sarina. “But I’ll just be a burden to you, Sarina. And somewhere deep down, you know I’m right. I’m near blind without my contacts, prone to accidents, and obviously close to you. Someone would eventually try to take advantage of our family relationship. You’re already dealing with more complicated problems than anyone should have to.”
“But what if Legion shows up again and comes after you?” Patrick asked, his face thoughtful and serious. “My power’s like the world’s best camo sheet. No one ever will ever find us if we don’t want them to.”
“If Legion was after me,” David said somberly, “I wouldn’t be here with you, driving this car.”
The silence that followed blew away the last of Sarina’s arguments, and, apparently, Patrick’s arguments as well. The car was once again filled only by a trickle of French pop and the steady hum of the engine.
Sarina averted her gaze from David and looked out the window, seeing the first of Paris’ outlying suburbs draw ever closer. Some of the town names on the passing road sign were familiar to her. She had made this same trip almost exactly two weeks before, though it seemed much longer to her.
I couldn’t even say my goodbyes then, she mused. And it was the last chance I had to see my parents. I just didn’t know. I didn’t know shit about anything.
Two weeks before, she’d been at a point where reality hadn’t slapped her in the face just yet. Getting powers had still been a fresh, exciting adventure.
Today, everything was different – even the view of the distant city she glimpsed through gap between the front seats. The road ahead looked cracked and worn down, as if it had recently been exposed to more than just harsh weather conditions. One of the villages they’d passed had completely burned down, and only a few minutes ago, Sarina had spotted the half-melted remains of a car that had been left on the roadside.
Now that they were getting close to Paris, some of the road signs were so damaged that the lettering was flaking off, and even the weather was turning ominous with dark clouds rolling in from the north.
Almost no one else was driving in the same direction they were. People were fleeing Paris in droves; the Swiss border had been hopelessly congested with long lines of refugee vehicles. The night before, David had mentioned that France was on the brink of a civil war over Evolved rights, but witnessing the mass exodus first hand made the threat seem all the more real.
“At least the Eiffel tower is still standing,” Patrick said. He had twisted in his seat to face the window and was looking out at the scenery beyond. “That’s a good sign, right? Isn’t it a symbol of hope or something?”
“It stands for the French people’s victory in the revolution,” David said. “The previous revolution. The one that ended in the late eighteenth century.”
Sarina only spared the distant iron construct a passing glance. Her attention was drawn to the sky above the cityscape of Paris, which had turned into a black cauldron of clouds and rain. She wished she’d had the presence of mind to bring umbrellas. The last thing she wanted was for Snow or the kids to get sick.
Thanks to David’s foresight, they had at least brought long-sleeved jackets.
A tug on her sleeve pulled her attention to Emily, who was snuggling up against the jean jacket Sarina had borrowed from David. The girl’s chin was resting against Sarina’s arm, and her big blue eyes twinkled with conspiratorial mischief.
Emily’s face was a much more pleasant sight than the darkening sky, and it significantly brightened Sarnia’s mood. A cat-eared black cap sat top of her auburn-locked head, a trophy she’d borrowed from one of David’s flatmates.
It made her look adorable.
“What is it?” Sarina asked.
“Don’t worry,” Emily whispered, putting a finger to Sarina’s lips in a shushing motion. “We’re probably gonna get wet, but we’ll be okay, and David too. I think he has an idea.”
What kind of plot are you hatching now? Sarina almost wanted to ask, but the small girl’s finger that was resting on her lips kept her silent.
“What’s all the girl talk about?” Patrick asked, turning away from the window to get a better view of the three girls in the back.
“Be okay,” Snow said dreamily. “David has idea.”
“Figured me out,” David said with a chuckle. “I’ve been thinking about something for a little while. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, we might as well talk about it.” He cleared his throat, then added, “We have ten more minutes until Passy.”
“Now I’m curious, too,” Patrick said. “Out with it.”
“I consider taking Radiant up on his offer,” David said. “His island refuge is open to hero relatives, so I should classify. I need someplace to go now that I’ve made my own sudden and dramatic exit from Switzerland.”
“What about your flowers?” Sarina asked, still undecided whether or not she liked his idea.
“I’ll let someone know,” David replied. “I’m less worried about the lilies and tulips than I am about you.”
“So you’re going to call that number he was broadcasting on television?” Patrick asked. “Dude, you don’t have a phone anymore.”
“Right. That’s the number one problem with my plan,” David said. “At any rate, I wouldn’t make that call until I’m a reasonable distance away from Paris, and I won’t let the heroes know where you are. Unless you want me to?”
“No, I don’t,” Sarina said quickly. “Our chances of success are much better if we stay off everyone’s radar. But David, are you sure this is a good idea? We don’t know if that hero island really is as safe as Radiant claims.”
“In theory, if I had a phone, I’d talk to Radiant before making a decision,” David said.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Emily said. “David needs to go someplace that’s safe from Legion. Besides, if he goes there, he could help us figure out if it’s a good idea for Sarina to talk to the heroes, too. He can have my phone, I don’t really need it anyway.”
“Radiant help,” Snow said. She had her cheek pressed to the car window and was looking out at the distant sky, eyes cast upward as if there was more to the sky than just angry black clouds. Then, the first raindrops fell, prompting David to turn on the windshield wiper.
Does the autist know something I don’t? Sarina wondered, then dismissed the idea to address Emily instead.
“But why do you think this is a good idea?” she asked. “Everything we know about Radiant and his island is from the news. We decided not to trust the news anymore. You remember that, right?”
Emily rubbed her snub nose, squinting a little. “Oh. Um. I kinda like, maybe peeked a little more into Samael’s head? Okay, I did. And he really hates Radiant. You know the saying about the enemy of your enemy, right?”
Sarina wanted to disagree, but something about Emily’s honest little face made the words dissolve in her mouth. She was such a little angel, so well-intentioned and…
No, Sarina absently corrected herself. I’m her guardian angel.
“Are they like mortal enemies or something?” Patrick interjected. “Man, I’d like to see them duke it out sometime. From really far away though. Through a looking glass or something.”
“I’d want neither of them near you guys, and certainly not both at the same time,” Sarina said, giving Patrick’s knee a nudge to push him out of that comic book reality he had drifted off into.
“Well, we’re almost there,” David said. “If we’re going to decide anything, we need to do it now.”
“Hey Emily, can’t you peek into the head of your old friends and tell us more about this hero island deal?” Patrick asked. “I mean, they were your friends, but you never tell us anything about them.” He sounded slightly reproachful.
Emily fell back into her seat, pulling the cat-eared cap down over her face. “I don’t wanna look into their heads,” she said defensively. “Chris was really, really mad when I disappeared, and the message I sent wasn’t really helping.”
“But they’re your friends,” Patrick insisted. “Samael’s head has to be worse than that.”
“But it’s my fault that they’re all angry and sad,” Emily said in a small, unhappy voice that was muffled by her cap. “Because I decided to stay with you guys and couldn’t tell them anything else.”
“Emily.” Sarina reached for the girl’s cap, gently pushing it up from her face. “I understand that you feel bad about your friends, but do you understand how important this is? If your friends know anything about Paris, or about Radiant’s island, it could make all the difference for us.”
“I know,” Emily said, squinting up at Sarina. “Oookay, I’m gonna try. Maybe Chris isn’t even mad anymore, and maybe she knows where Gentleman is. She always figures stuff out.”
“Thank you, Emily,” Sarina said. “We all appreciate it. You can stop if it makes you really uncomfortable, okay?”
The girl nodded, then squeezed her eyes shut and brought a hand to her thigh to do that finger-dance she always did when using her powers. Everyone else, Sarina included, waited silently and with bated breath.
After a few seconds, Emily’s face twitched and her eyes flew wide open. “Jeepers!” she said, sounding as startled as she looked. “I think Chris is in Gentleman’s hidey-hole! She talked to Jasper, and Gentleman’s gonna send her somewhere and make her do bad stuff.”
In the front, Patrick shouted “Wait, WHAT?” voicing the very question that had flashed through Sarina’s mind.
“I know,” Emily said. “This is really bad.”
“Does she know where that hidey-hole is?” Sarina asked. That particular point seemed more important than anything else.
“Nope. She’s a prisoner, and Gentleman doesn’t tell her anything,” Emily said. Her eyes were tearing up a little, and she now looked so miserable that Sarina felt guilty for asking.
“Emily, I’m sorry,” David said sadly. “I’ll let the heroes know if I can. I’m sure they’ll be able to do something for your friend.”
“Sorry,” Snow echoed quietly.
“Yeah, that sucks,” Patrick added. “But if we find out where Gentleman is, maybe we can help Chris, too.”
Sarina briefly brushed Emily’s cheek with a finger. “Don’t worry about using your power on her if it’s too hard on you. If you can, just let us know about anything you think might help.”
Emily furiously rubbed at her nose with one sleeve, avoiding eye contact. “She’s only listening to Gentleman because the villains have Ryan,” she said angrily.
Who is Ryan? Sarina wondered. She might have asked, but the car pulled to a sudden stop before she could.
“Looks like this is as far as we can go,” David said flatly.
Sarina dipped sideways to look out through the windshield and see what David was seeing.
Emily piped up before Sarina found words to speak. “Owie,” the girl said. “Was Legion here? He wasn’t, right?”
The car had stopped on the western bank of the Seine, right in front of a bridge whose name Sarina couldn’t remember. The bridge was still in one piece, but the same wasn’t true for the large park that had once been beyond the river. All that remained of it was a sparse row of trees that had been near the river. Beyond it was a gigantic mess of discarded treetops and fallen leaves, interspersed by splintered stumps and bundles of uprooted, dislocated shrubbery.
The area of destruction was so large that it could have been a meteor crash site, but to Sarina’s knowledge, there wasn’t a single Evolved in the world who had that kind of power.
Yes there is, she corrected herself after a second of consideration. Samael. Paris went up in flames, and the President called the Covenant in.
Once she had absorbed enough of the depressing scenery, she saw that the road across the bridge was impassable, completely blocked off by tree trunks that had been stacked in a way that looked very deliberate. It didn’t look like anyone was nearby, but it was easy assume that someone – or several someones – didn’t feel like welcoming visitors to Paris.
“Did the Covenant do this?” Patrick asked.
Instead of answering, David changed gears and pulled a few meters back from the bridge, then turned the car until it was no longer on the impassable road. He slowly let it roll onto the grass, then stopped. The sound of an angry car horn from behind them hinted at other drivers encountering the same dead end.
The rain was now falling in big, heavy drops that produced a steady patter against the car’s roof and windows.
“I think it might have been the Covenant, yes,” David said over the hum of the idling car engine. “The news talked about Evolved troublemakers setting up shop in this park, but they never said what happened to them. I’m sorry. I thought the approach from the northwest would be the safest route into Passy.”
“I wonder how many people actually died here,” Patrick said angrily.
“I don’t know,” David admitted. “No one, hopefully.”
You don’t actually believe that, do you? Sarina could feel her own temper flaring and made an effort to keep it from leaking into her voice. “Is Samael still around?” she asked.
“No,” Emily said. “The heroes are done in Paris, and they think we’re still somewhere in Switzerland. But some of the powered guys here are gonna report us if they see us. The Covenant sent people to talk to them. They get a lot of money and stuff if they see us, too.”
“Do you know their names and where they are in the city?” Patrick asked.
Emily’s small face scrunched up unhappily. “Samael doesn’t remember them that well. Can I take a break for a little while?”
“That’s fine, Emily,” Sarina said before anyone could suggest something different. The girl had just found out her friend had been captured and probably wasn’t in the mood for any more mind-digging. “You’ve already done more than anyone should expect from you. Just let us know if the heroes are headed our way, okay?”
“Okay,” Emily echoed, sounding relieved.
Snow glanced at the Empath with a knowing expression. “Radiant help,” she said.
“Radiant isn’t here,” Patrick said. “He’s probably on his island, jerking off to the sound of the news whenever his name comes up.” He suddenly remembered Emily’s presence after the words were already out and glanced at her with a subdued “sorry”.
Sarina frowned at him, but decided not to comment. Instead, she leaned into the front seat to bring her face next to her brother’s and deliver a one-armed hug. His eyes looked watery from up close, and she could tell he was struggling with the decision he’d made.
“Hey, David,” she said. “Thanks for everything. Look after yourself now, okay?”
He nodded slowly. “Do you have a phone that’s safe to use? If you do, and Emily wants to pass me hers, we could stay in touch.”
“Sure,” Emily said. She spent a moment digging through her kitten-printed Kitchener bag, eyes watery and downcast, then produced the cell phone Tess had modified for her just before the group’s departure from England. “Tess made it so it’s safe for us to call each other. Other people can’t listen in, and there’s some tech stuff built in,” Emily explained quietly, the words punctuated by a faint sniffle.
“Emily, do you know more about that phone tech stuff?” Sarina asked.
The girl just shook her head and rubbed her eyes with the back of one hand. Sarina didn’t want to prod her more, so she just accepted the phone from Emily’s hand, then passed it to David. “Thank you, Emily,” she and her brother said at the same time.
Emily just nodded and turned to the window, watching the rain whip into the devastated landscape.
“Sarina. You still have a phone, right?” David asked.
“Both me and Patrick do,” Sarina told him. “We only used them once, but I think they’re safe to use. Just… don’t tell the heroes, okay? We don’t want any of them contacting us.”
David’s gaze swiveled over the destroyed park, and the calm expression slipped from his face, replaced by deep worry lines. “I respect your space,” he said. “But promise me that if you’re backed into a corner, you’ll swallow your pride and call Radiant.”
The promise was easy enough to make; Sarina had no intention of getting backed into a corner. She was so powerful that reality itself bent to her will. Dead ends didn’t exist for her.
“I promise,” she answered honestly.
David studied her face for a second, then nodded. “Alright. And if you want to do some good that the rest of the world is going to know about… maybe you can do something about the Sleepwalker before he has that world-ending power surge everyone used to worry about. You just might be powerful enough to succeed where all those heroes failed.” His lips curled into something that wasn’t quite a smile. “Doing the impossible worked for Radiant, didn’t it?”
“You think killing the Sleepwalker would keep the heroes from persecuting us?” Sarina asked.
“Given enough witnesses, they wouldn’t have a choice,” David said. “The world loves heroes. You just need to show them who you really are.”
“That could actually work,” Patrick said. “I wouldn’t mind trying, if you’re up for it.”
“Jasper first,” Sarina said, decidedly pushing the car door open. “The world can wait a little longer. We don’t know if he can.”
Cut short by the heavy rain, the sendoff was a saddening, uncomfortable affair that lasted for less than a minute. Sarina and Emily both enveloped David in a long, affectionate hug, Patrick shook his hand, and Snow flashed him one of her rare smiles. Even after Sarina and the others had walked away, David stood by the side of the road, keeping watch while the pounding rain soaked them through.
When Sarina looked back over her shoulder one last time, she was almost relieved to see that David and his ugly white car were gone from the road. He had to be on his way, too, had to find shelter and the safety he’d been hoping for.
His voice still rang in her head while she was navigating the uprooted shrubbery and crushed trees with Snow’s fingers entwined in hers. Show the world who you really are, he’d told her.
Family makes us who we are. It was something their mother had told her once, something she used to firmly believe in. In a way, she still did. And her family was right here with her.
“Are you feeling okay, Emily?” Sarina asked with a glance down at the oddly silent little girl. They had crossed three quarters of the destroyed park without encountering a soul, but she knew that was about to change. The district of Passy’s outskirts loomed just ahead, its historical buildings mingling with modern architecture that looked more downtrodden than she remembered.
Emily nodded without lifting her eyes from her wet little sneakers. “I’m just a little cold,” she said. “Maybe we can find someplace warm and dry for just a little while?”
“I’d be up for some of that, too,” Patrick added. He had withdrawn his head so far into the collar of his jacket that he appeared to be missing a neck.
“We have to do a little scouting –first,” Sarina tried, doing her best to sound optimistic and encouraging. “Figure out what people around here know. Where it’s safe, and where it’s not. Can you help me with that, Emily?”
“I’ll try,” the girl replied with a small voice.
“Doesn’t look like there are very many people left in Paris,” Patrick observed. “I guess most of the normal people are gone by…”
As if to defy him, a blood-curling scream cut through the air, inhumanely loud and distorted. It echoed in empty space and seemed to sound from every direction at once, reinforcing itself until Sarina’s head felt as if it was being poked with red-hot needles.
And then dead birds fell from the sky.