Chapter Four: Echoes

Aaron was still watching her.

Glowering at her, to be honest, although it was hard to tell with the glare off his glasses. Besides, Aaron’s face was kind of stuck in a permanent glower anyway, so how was she even supposed to tell?

Brennan’s departure had left an intensely uncomfortable silence behind. Selena knew if she said anything, they’d just argue, and Aaron had apparently come to the same conclusion. He’d been half a breath away from starting in on her again, but had stalked off instead, cleaning his glasses on his shirt and muttering under his breath. She did her best to pretend she didn’t notice, and busied herself playing with the map on the screen.

“How did you afford all this, anyway?” Aaron asked. Selena glanced back to see him fiddling with a box of burnt-out circuitboards. “I mean, I know your parents are rich, but—”

“They didn’t pay for any of it,” she said. “I’ve been…well, moonlighting.”

“You stole it?”

“Not that kind of moonlighting,” she said, affronted. “Come on, I’m not a complete delinquent.” She bent back to the table and started lining her screwdrivers up along the table.  “I meant I’ve been, you know, working. My cousin owns that computer repair shop, and he gives me work sometimes.”

“You make that much fixing computers?” Aaron said doubtfully.

“Well, I fix them fast,” she said. “And he gives me a discount on parts, sometimes free ones if he doesn’t want them. Besides, you’d be surprised what people throw out. Half the parts for that stereo I found on the side of the road.”

“Yeah, okay. But what about the speakers? The flat screens? The—”

“I sold my car, all right?” Selena’s voice broke at the end of the sentence. She tried to pretend it hadn’t. That she was just annoyed. But it was a few long seconds before she could manage to clear her throat and say, “I didn’t get what it was worth, but it helped.”

It hung between them for a long minute.

“You sold your car?”

“I already said that, didn’t I?”

“But you loved that car.”

Selena was silent for a few seconds. In a quick, embarrassed motion, she wiped her arm across her face. “Yeah,” she said. “Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s done. Anyway, I like the bike. It’s convenient, and people don’t ask you for rides.”

“How did you get everything up here?”

“Borrowed Diego’s truck.”

“He didn’t ask what it was for?”

“He was kind of stoned at the time, so I’m not sure he cared.” She shrugged. Her fingers moved rapidly over the keyboard, in mindless, familiar patterns.

“So all that activity, that’s Resson waves?” Aaron frowned at the screen, arms crossed over his chest. She blinked at him, and then back at the screen. “All that?” he said, nodding at the screen.

“Yes,” she said. “At least I think so. Like I said, I’m still figuring this out. But based on what I got from the journals and what was in the Lartech files I borrowed—” His mouth twitched, but he didn’t say anything. She went on. “—I put together an algorithm that suggests…well… likely incidents.”

“Based on?”

“Measured effects,” she said. “Fluctuations in weather patterns, sudden drops in temperature, magnetic anomalies.” She shrugged. “Like I said, it’s mostly guesswork.”

“It’s just surprising,” he said. “I didn’t think there’d be that much. Dr. Haley made it seem like it was a pretty rare occurrence.”

“Oh, this isn’t live,” Selena said. “No, this is a simulation.”

“Of?”

“Of the last time Resson waves were recorded at Lartech. Five years ago.” She leaned back in her seat, and pointed at the most intense ring. It was on the outer edges of the map—not quite in town. Selena had triangulated that point as the origin for the rest of the waves. “It lasted for about five minutes, peaking somewhere toward the end and shutting down abruptly. The rest of these are…like, echoes. Waves bouncing off something else and making their own little ripply whirlpools.”

Aaron leaned in, frowning at the map. “This was after we discovered our powers,” he said.

“I know. I do remember things pretty well.”

“Then why bother?” Aaron asked. “I mean, what do you expect to get from all this?”

A million responses fluttered through her head, but none of them were exactly simple, or even cohesive. “I don’t know,” she said. “I mean, Leveille said they don’t cause our powers, but they amplify them, right? And you don’t think he had any reason to be lying about it. So I think it would be good to know more about them. I did a similar work-up for the incident in September, and I’m working on one for the original experiments. That one’s been harder, because the data is severely limited.”

“So what do things look like now?”

“Well, I’ll show you.” She sent a few commands through the network, and the map refreshed. “It’s going to be a little behind, because it has to access satellite data and then compile it, so… oh, that’s weird.”

“What?”

“I… uh… “ She singled out a section of the map and zoomed in. Whereas most of the map was a dull, flat color with only a few dim resonances, this section had bloomed with a rapid, intense waveform. “Resson waves,” she said, staring at it. “In the middle of town. What—” She broke off as a tremor ran through the floor. “What?” she said again, in a different voice. The tremor grew, intense enough to rattle the loose screws on the desk. “What the hell is going on?”

“I don’t know,” Aaron said, steadying himself as another tremor rippled through. “But I think—” He broke off, and his whole body went rigid. Selena started out of her chair, in case she needed to catch him. But it was a short one— a second later he let out a long gasp and caught himself on the desk.  “Oh,” he said. “That’s not good.”

* * * * *

Brennan held his hand over the open flame. Heat rose up against his fingers and he drew it in,  warming his hands against the winter chill. It helped dim the panic as well as the cold, but it hadn’t quite dislodged the hard feeling in the pit of his stomach. Part of him wanted to go back inside—the part of him that hated not knowing what was going on. Another part of him wanted to stay clear.

He wasn’t sure yet which part was stronger.

Idly, he pulled out the wrist guard Selena had given him and turned it over in his hands. It wasn’t a solid piece of plastic, like he’d initially thought. The outside seemed to be some kind of ceramic—smooth and thin, with a flexible band under the wrist. An insulator, he guessed. Sandwiched between them was a different material. As he experimented with it, he found he could push heat into it well past what he expected. The outer layers barely grew any warmer, even after he’d pulled enough heat from the fire to leave it sputtering.

“Oh, oops,” he said, funneling enough energy back into it to keep it from going out. He tugged his jacket sleeve back and held out his arm, watching the light bounce off the white ceramic. How much heat could he store in this thing? All he knew was that it was far from capacity.

And if he wanted to release it… He held up his hand and let loose a tiny portion of it, pulling it into his skin. It wormed his way down his fingers, warming them much better than the fire had.

4012.jpgFighting a wild grin of anticipation, he pointed his hand toward the fire and pushed heat toward the crackling logs. They crackled in response, and the flames leapt higher. He funneled more into it, feeding all the heat he’d collected in one massive burst. The fire roared with a blast of blue and white flame, surging over his hand and leaping a good three feet in the air.

Okay.

As much as he hated to admit it, Selena had actually made something pretty cool.

He experimented a few minutes more, but before long, he heard the grinding cacophony that signaled Carter’s car laboring down the hill. He slid his sleeve down quickly, hiding the ceramic plate around his wrist before they parked.

“Nice fire,” Lucia said. She settled beside him, leaning into his shoulder with a yawn. “I thought you’d be inside where it’s warm.”

“A little too warm in there,” Brennan said, glancing toward the cabin. “Heated, even.”

“They’re fighting again?” Carter asked, hefting the big black bag slung over his shoulder.

Molly came up behind him, carrying a couple of smaller bags in either hand. “Do they ever do anything else?” She set the bags down and ran her hands through her hair. “Should I get the rest or should we go in and see what this call to arms is all about?”

“You’re not going to like it,” Brennan warned.

“What did she do?” Lucia asked with a grin. “Hack the NSA again? Oo, we should get her to…I mean, that would be wrong.”

“Nothing quite that bad,” Brennan said. “This time. But I wouldn’t put it past her.”

Molly stumbled suddenly, grasping at Carter’s shoulder to keep from falling.

“Whoa, are you okay?” he said, steadying her with one hand.

“Can’t you feel it?” she said. “The shaking?”

“What shak—” He broke off mid-sentence, about the same time Brennan felt a sudden tremor run through the ground.

Molly had half of Carter’s sleeve in her fist. She looked like she was going to be sick. “Earthquake,” she said, squeezing her eyes shut. “We used to have them in LA and they…um.” She swallowed. “The water moving underground makes me…Ugh. I gotta throw up…” She lurched toward the nearest tree.

“Earthquake?” Lucia said. “But we don’t get earthquakes.”

Another tremor shook the ground, hard enough to rattle the cabin windows.

“Feels like one to me,” Brennan said. “But feel free to take it up with the bureaucracy.” He stood and started putting out the fire. Something told him an earthquake was a less than ideal time for open flames in a forest.

“You okay over there?” Lucia called to Molly.

Molly was still kneeling on the ground. “Mrrrgh. It’s getting… a little…better…No. No, it’s starting again..”

“Never thought I’d see her seasick,” Lucia said. “Yuck.”

“I’ll help her,” Carter said, and nodded toward the cabin. “You two check on Aaron and Selena.”

“On it,” Brennan said. He slipped the wrist guard under his jacket and held out his hand to help Lucia up.

The quake had stopped by the time they got to the cabin, but he could see the effects. Some of the smaller boxes had fallen off the desks, spilling nails and circuitboards across the floor, and larger ones looked like they’s shifted. Selena was at her desk, but held onto both arms of her chair, like she was waiting for the next tremor. Aaron leaned against the wall with a hand pressed against his head.

“Are you okay?” Brennan said as he stepped over a fallen broom. “You didn’t hit your head or something, did you?”

“Huh? No,” he said, adjusting his glasses. “I’m okay. Are you?”

“Fine,” Lucia reported. “Molly’s busy puking her guts out, but no one’s hurt. It was just a little shaking.”

“Yeah, well, I think we were on the edge of it,” Aaron said.

“Did you see something?” Lucia asked.

“It wasn’t much. But I saw a lot of damage. Smoke and screaming. So what we felt was just an echo.”

“Come look at this,” Selena said brusquely. Her fingers barely touched the keyboard, but sparks flickered between her and the interface. Windows popped across the screen, showing seismographs, numbers and several news channels, none of which had started reporting the event.

Centermost was a map of the town. As they watched, five bright spots formed over the town, so close the edges washed over each other. “There,” she said, resting her wrists against the desk and frowning up at the map. “It looks like it hit several places, all a few minutes apart. We didn’t feel the first couple because they were too far away.”

“It hit the middle of town,” Brennan said. “Right in the middle.” He could make out the shape of the park in front of the courthouse. The school. The line of shops near Molly’s bakery. He felt heat rising off his skin.

Lucia frowned. “This wasn’t natural,” she concluded.

“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Selena said. “Hang on, I’m going to find the police band.”

Behind them, the door opened and the others walked in. At least, Carter walked, one arm hovering over Molly’s shoulder as she stumbled through the door and sagged gratefully into the first table she reached.

“What happened to you?” Aaron said.

“Nothing. I’m fine. I’m okay,” she said, twisting the top of her water bottle. As pale as she was, she looked steadier. “Shaking stopped.”

Static flared from the speakers, and resolved a moment later into hectic voices. “…fire reported at…on the corner of Maybird and Sumpter… requesting help from Station 2 in Smithston…collapsed, people reported inside…”

“We only have one fire station,” Brennan said. “They can’t possibly deal with all this.” The wrist-guard seemed to burn under his shirtsleeve. “We’ve got to do something.”

Everyone looked at him.

“What?”

“Just surprised it’s coming from you,” Lucia said. “Are you sure you want to get involved?”

“There’s a difference between looking for trouble and helping people who are in it,” Brennan said. “I don’t really see a choice here.”

“I was going to go whether the rest of you were or not,” Carter admitted.

“Something else,” Aaron said, in a distant voice. His eyes searched empty space in front of him for a second. Then he blinked and shook his head. “I’ll figure it out later. We’ll have to split up. Molly and Brennan can help put out fires. Discreetly, Molly. We don’t want sightings of Azure popping up.”

“Hey, I can do subtle.” She crossed her arms. “Anyway, it’s not like I was ever caught.”

“Carter and Lucia can do search and rescue.” He looked at the map. “I’ll do recon. See if I can get a glimpse of whoever did this. I won’t confront them,” he said as Carter gave him a startled glance.

Yes, you will, Brennan thought, but he said nothing. They didn’t have time for an argument.

“I’ll come with you,” Selena said reaching for her tablet.

“No,” Aaron said. “You need to stay here. You’ve got everything you need set up already; you can tell us where we need to go and keep an eye out for trouble.”

Selena looked like she might argue, but after a second, she sank back in her chair. “I can’t stand it when you’re right,” she muttered. “You better get going.”

 

 

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