“Followed?” I put Mr. Gold on speaker. “You’re on speaker. You’re sure?”
“Dead sure. I know the agents tailing you. They’ll find you by CCTV and their drones.”
“No, they won’t,” Drone says. “We’re already scrambling CCTV and we’ll break any drones.”
“They still have your van plates, color, and model. They’ll find you. We need to do a swap.”
“Where at?” Remise asks.
“Meet me at the underpass of 45 and Airport. There’s no CCTV cameras, so they won’t even know I was here. We’ll drop your van there and you can jump into my car. How soon can you get here?”
“Three minutes,” Remise says.
“Gabe,” Bedevil says. “About what Cynic said.”
I screw my eyelids shut. I was hoping this could wait.
She presses on anyway. “Is it true? About Doc?”
I nod. “He’s… I really should tell everyone the whole story.”
I catch a brief glimpse of fury on Bedevil’s face. A flashback to the angry woman I met on the rooftop fighting gangs. She places a fist against her chest, and grimaces, but after that her anger evaporates, and she says, “Okay. Please tell me.” She pauses, and adds, “When you can.”
“He regrets it,” Epione says.
Bedevil looks back at her. “You knew?”
Gosh dang it, Epione. “She was there when I found out. Remise, too, technically, though she didn’t hear the whole thing. I should tell everyone the whole thing.” Just the thought of it weighs on my skull like a bag of bricks. I still don’t know how I’ll ever forgive him, even though I owe him my life. “It’s…”
Ah, no, tears.
Bedevil squeezes my hand. She’s very touchy, I’ve noticed.
I wipe my eye with my free hand. “I didn’t want to hide it from you.”
“You don’t have to explain anything,” Bedevil says.
Over the speaker, Mr. Gold says, “Well, sorry to break this up, but are you almost here?”
“Fifteen seconds,” Remise says.
“Get ready to drop the car,” Mr. Gold says. “This should throw them off your trail. You have a safehouse?”
“We do,” Remise says.
The highway intersection only has a handful of cars driving through, not what I’d expect for this time of day. That’s probably because of the incident at the airport, since there was a shelter in place announcement over the radio. Mr. Gold’s black sedan waits for us. We’re really gonna have to crunch in there.
“Maisa gets shotgun,” I say, and at the same time, Drone says, “I call shotgun.” She scowls at me. “Man. Fine.”
“There’s room between the passenger and driver for someone small, if you like,” Mr. Gold says.
“I can sit there,” Maisa says.
Remise pulls up next to Mr. Gold’s car, and we dash out of the van. Drone lugs her laptop, Remise has her helmet and sword, and Bedevil helps Maisa and Epione out from the back of the van. Remise and Epione cram into the back seat of Mr. Gold’s sedan, and I sit next to them. Bedevil, the smallest of us four, sits on my lap.
Mr. Gold starts driving immediately. He has one eye on a police computer scrolling with hundreds of code words I don’t recognize, but this doesn’t seem to hamper his driving at all. We drive for a minute in tense silence, before he says, “Okay. They found the van. They don’t know where you went, they assume you’re on foot now.”
I heave a sigh into Bedevil’s shoulder. She shudders like that tickled her.
“Where are we headed?” Mr. Gold asks.
Remise gives him an address, and says, “The Bay Biters hideout.”
“Wait, did you talk to Echo?” I ask. “I thought she left town.”
“Yeah, just out to League City. Technically that’s outta town.” Remise grins at me. “She’s meeting us there. Wants to meet you already.”
I pull at my phone and call Saw Off. When she answers, I hear her cursing at someone.
“Fucking… just… get in the bag, get in the bag!” Saw Off shouts. “Hello?”
“Hey, we have an address for you. I’ll text it. Did you get Bedevil’s animals?” I ask.
Saw Off shrieks over the phone: “No, we’re not getting her stupid animals! They won’t-”
A scuffle on the other line cuts Saw Off mid-rant. After a few seconds, someone else recovers the phone, and Mil-dot says, “Yeah, we’ve got them. We’ll meet you wherever you want.”
I chuckle. “Okay. I’ll text it. Can you also bring my laptop?” I still have videos on there that I was hoping Drone could figure out.
“We got it. We’ll see you soon,” Mil-dot says.
I hang up, and send them the address to the hideout. After that, I slow down, and breathe. We’re alive. We’re okay.
Bedevil is tense, and I can feel her weight is supported by something else, probably her telekinesis. She’s avoiding fully sitting on me. Guess she’s still not that sure of us.
I’m not either.
“You actually killed it?” Mr. Gold asks.
I cough, and Bedevil shifts to let me talk from behind her shoulder. “I think. There’s no way to know for sure. But I think we stopped it.”
“The Director could hardly believe what she saw. She told Danger Close she’d never seen that happen before.”
“Then, it might be really dead,” Drone says.
“What about Tim Prince?” I ask.
“He’s in custody. I’m certain they’ll take him to a Rogue’s Gallery, but I think they’re going to interrogate him. He’s the only host to ever survive the Fear, and I’m guessing that’s thanks to you.”
I look out the window, at Houston rolling by. We’ve hit the part of town outside the shelter-in-place order, so the light traffic gives way to regular Houston traffic, and Mr. Gold’s black sedan is suddenly lost in a sea of mid-morning commuters. We drive in silence for a bit until we get off the highway and start turning down streets. The city sprawl gives way to small, suburban ramshackle, and then we hit back roads that aren’t paved well, and miles of densely packed swamp and woods.
I manage to work up some conversation. “They don’t suspect you, do they, Javier?”
“No,” Mr. Gold says. “We don’t usually track our agents’ cars, not unless we already suspect they’re dirty.”
“Javier,” Bedevil says, rolling the ‘R.’
“Your cars?” I ask.
“We track other cars, yes.”
“Getting that ‘I-can’t-trust-you-vibe,’ here,” Drone says.
“Well, our next stop is a detention center for powered people,” Mr. Gold says.
Everyone in the car shifts uncomfortably.
“A joke,” Mr. Gold adds.
I can feel Bedevil grumble. “Hilarious.” She rolls the ‘R’ again.
We drive for a while, not saying too much until we pull up to a small, iron gate. Remise gets out of her side of the car and opens it for us, and we drive in.
The bed and breakfast waits politely, peeking over short, densely packed thicket. A white picket fence separates the orange-red dirt road from a manicured lawn, where river-stone paths meander. The house is made of dull, brown wood and faded brick. An old fashioned chimney crests the second story, grabbing a little glimpse of us as we approach. A beautiful garden hides behind the house, allowing a flash of yellow, purple, and red flowers, and these same flowers wrap around the base of the B&B.
“It’s lovely,” Epione says.
Mr. Gold doesn’t follow us. “Okay. You lot, keep your head down.”
“What are ye doing now?” Remise asks. “Besides helping criminals?”
“Helping more criminals. You’re still missing your friend, Jason, right?” Mr. Gold asks. He taps the top of his sedan with his key. “I’m going to find a way into the Rogue’s Gallery. You’re going to need help getting in.”
“How long do you think it will take to find us a way in?” I ask.
Mr. Gold chews his lip, and looks down. “I won’t lie. It’s not going to be easy. Give me two weeks.”
“Two weeks,” I agree.
“I’ll call you. For now, keep your head down. Send people out that OPI hasn’t seen the face of.”
“Cynic’s a mind reader, she’s seen all of our faces. Maybe every face I’ve ever seen. You could be in trouble,” I say.
Mr. Gold thinks about that. “I’ll check over my shoulder. How long were you exposed to her?”
“About thirty seconds to a minute,” Bedevil says.
“Okay. I doubt she had enough time to dig through all your memories, but I’ll lay low a bit, too. I could be compromised as well.” Mr. Gold snaps his finger. “Damn.”
“I’m sorry.” I clench my fist. I should’ve been more vigilant.
“Not your fault. I still made the call to help you.” Mr. Gold rubs his chin in thought. “I’ve got ground to go to, and I can still figure out a way into the Gallery from there. It might slow me down, though. In the meantime, send people you haven’t had a huge amount of interaction with for food and toiletries, then.”
I debate sending Iso on a snack run. I chuckle. “Okay.”
“I’ll call,” Mr. Gold says, getting into his car. He starts the engine and drives off.
Remise opens the fence, and winces as she crosses into the lawn. “The house still reeks of blood.”
A jolt of guilt. “The Bay Biters.” Echo hasn’t had the chance to clean up yet. “Should we… take care of it? Are the bodies still there?”
“Doesn’t smell like corpse rot, just blood. Wait ‘til she gets here,” Remise says. “Let’s just hang out outside.”
We follow Remise into the lawn. There’s about half an acre reserved for the B&B, and once we enter that, I see there’s multiple buildings, not just the big ranch house. Three smaller cabins hang out on the edge of the lawn, halfway into the swampy woods that makes up the rest of the property. The buildings all ring around the little garden, treating it like a courtyard of sorts.
We stick together as we wander through this garden. Remise closes her eyes and grins, smelling the air around her. Bedevil stands close to me. Maisa and Epione crouch near the flowers, and Epione points out different species to Maisa. We’ve got the place to ourselves, for the moment.
There’s an iron bench outside the garden. I decide to sit there for a second and just breathe. “Hey, I’m gonna take a second.” I look at Bedevil specifically. “Alone, if that’s alright.”
“Of course.” Bedevil releases my hand.
I leave the girls to explore the garden, and go sit by myself, and think.
Cynic. I’ve made her my enemy by rejecting her offer. I’m still not sure if that was the right decision, but she’s done so many awful things. I’m not stupid. I know being a leader means you have to make hard decisions, and I’m sure she thought she was just doing what was right for the UWC. But Pandahead and Sledge both used that argument, so I’m not sure if I find it very compelling anymore. You can justify any number of evil things for the nation.
Like killing Megajoule. Just the thought of it boils my blood.
Or even like unloading those horrible weapons on those protesters. I almost understand why Tim Prince gave into the Fear because of that.
Why have I not heard of that before, though? I decide to open my phone and look the event up. I type in: Houston Protest Syria Wall Painter.
There’s a boatload of articles on the subject. I click the very top one: ACCUSATIONS OF CAPE BRUTALITY AT HOUSTON PROTEST.
The article is from 2078. The memory I got from Tim tracks with that; he’d observed that Megajoule died around a year before the protest.
From the article, though, the protest got violent. More violent than Tim remembered it, apparently. Some local Houston masks inspired looting and rioting (oh look, it’s my old friends, the Dresden crew) and there was a few thousand dollars of property damage. I thumb through the rest of the article, guessing that Tim only saw a little bit of the protest, or something.
I thumb through, and feel my heart stop:
‘The capes Starfall and Wall Painter were brought up on charges of brutality against citizenry by an OPI court. Their intervention left five protesters in the hospital, one paralyzed, and one woman killed. From their statement in court, they felt threatened by the presence of a few potentially Heavyweight presences in the crowd.’
I stare at those words. Wall Painter was a hero.
There’s a video below that paragraph, footage of the night. I watch as the Swordfish hovers over the crowd, just as I remembered, and two capes jump out from the side: the one I remember as Starfall, and another cape in bulky, gray armor. That same woman flies with purple light shooting from her hands and feet, and Starfall raises a rifle and fires into the crowd as he misses her.
Not good, but not FIS and OPI using weapons on their own people. Just a bad case of cape brutality.
I search for Wall Painter Device.
I get a lot of results from Home Depot.
But not a single one about any kind of weapon used in Syria.
I don’t know if I can really think about anything else right now. I put my phone back in my pocket, stand up, and take a few steps.
The girls have all wandered off to various parts of the estate. I see Bedevil, Epione, and Maisa walking around the cabins, and Remise and Drone standing by the back door of the ranch house.
I spin around toward the empty bench and find it occupied.
Megajoule sits and grins at me, and pats the bench.