“Ready to go?” Selena asked, pulling on her glove. Extra charge crackled through her skin as she flexed her hand. The fit was better, but the reinforced leather still felt bulky under the cuff of her jacket. She’d also strapped guards around her shins, plated with armor similar to what she’d made for Carter. She knew what happened to squishy things in fights.
Carter hesitated before climbing on behind her. “Mom would kill me if she knew I was riding this,” he said.
“Don’t be a baby. It’s perfectly safe,” she said, tossing him her extra helmet.
“Yeah, I’ve heard enough horror stories from the emergency room to know that’s not true.”
“Fine. It’s perfectly safe while I’m driving.” The motor roared to life underneath her. “Besides, you’re wearing armor.”
Carter frowned at the helmet in his hands.
“Look, you really don’t get to complain about this,” she said. “You’re the one who insisted on coming with me.”
“Only because you were going to ride around by yourself. And for the record, I wanted to go with Aaron.”
“No you didn’t. You wanted to go with Molly, so you two could flirt pointlessly at each other all night.”
He glowered at her, but didn’t argue the point. “I still don’t get why you couldn’t stay at headquarters.”
They’d had this discussion earlier, and Selena wasn’t keen on reliving it. Maybe she was being selfish, but she couldn’t stand the thought of being left behind again while everyone else was in danger. She stalled her response by taking a minute to pull her helmet over her head. At a thought, the inside lit up, laying a stream of data over the visor. This one had taken some work—she had to get maximum efficiency out of it while not impairing her vision. But she could stay connected to her info stream without having to stop and look at her wrists. She’d rigged up a simplistic way to get data from her Resson tracking device—itself a somewhat cobbled-together system. Time constraints made it less perfect than she’d have liked, but it was at least functional.
“We can cover more ground this way,” she said. “Especially with the bike. Besides, I’m still connected to everything remotely. Think of it as a mobile lab.”
“Isn’t that going to distract you from driving?”
She gave him a withering glance before realizing he couldn’t see it through her visor. “Can you walk and talk at the same time?” she asked him.
Carter only sighed.
“Cheer up.” She grinned and revved up the bike. “This will be fun.”
* * * * *
“Well, this seems oddly familiar,” Lucia said as they wandered the streets. “It seems like we’ve done this whole thing before.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Aaron said. They’d taken the east part of town, close to where Tara had come before. After a lot of discussion, they’d decided that this was the most likely place for her to show up again.
“Wait, where are your glasses?” Lucia said, peering at him suddenly. “They didn’t get broken again, did they?”
“Huh? Oh, no. I’m wearing contacts,” he said, touching his face where his usual black frames should have rested. “I got tired of losing and breaking them all the time.” Then he frowned at her. “You just now noticed? We’ve been together for like an hour now.”
“Well… yeah… I’ve been preoccupied, okay?”
“What’s got you in such a bad mood?”
“This isn’t a bad mood. I’m always sarcastic and grumpy.”
“I don’t have to be an empath to read you, Lu,” he said.
Lucia shoved her hands in her pockets with a sigh. It was a few moments before she responded. “You saw her yesterday,” Lucia said. “She threw that knife with intent to kill. I’m not saying I blame her,” she said before Aaron could protest. “But Brennan was right earlier. The girl is desperate like you can’t even imagine. If she thinks she’s in danger, she won’t hesitate.”
“But this time—”
“This time you’ve already scared her twice. What makes you think she won’t bolt on sight? She’s not going to trust me to touch her again, so I can’t count on using my power. And I don’t want to know what will happen if one of the others find her. She’s spooked. She’s going to react badly.”
“I know what you mean,” Aaron said. “I’ve been worrying about that, too. But if we don’t find her—”
“You’re right,” Lucia said. “We have to find her. I’m just worried about what will happen when we do.”
Aaron didn’t have an answer for that, so they walked in silence for a minute, until it was broken by Brennan’s voice over the earpiece.
“Codex, we may have something where we are. Near the corner where that gas station is. Have you picked anything up with the tracker?”
“Not yet,” Selena answered. “Still scouring the residential areas. Be careful.”
Lucia tensed and turned toward that part of town, like he could see them from here. Aaron gripped her shoulder and shook his head. “Seeker and Tempest can take care of themselves,” he said, emphasizing their codenames.
“I know,” she said. “But…” She clenched her fist, still staring across the silent town like she could sense them if she tried hard enough. “I know.”
“We’re almost to the drugstore,” Aaron said, letting his gaze drift the other way. “It’s a good place to start. At the very least, we can look for evidence we might have missed last night. Maybe she left something behind, or—”
He broke off as Lucia gripped his jacket suddenly. “Car coming,” she said, pushing him toward cover. Glancing back, he saw the flash of headlights coming up the road. Together, they scrambled to duck behind an abandoned truck, hiding out of sight while the vehicle made slow progress over the broken, hazard-strewn road.
It struck him as strange that someone would be driving through here at night—not because it was all that late, but because this road wasn’t a direct route to anywhere. In fact, he was pretty sure this part of town was still closed to road traffic. He risked a glance down the road to get a better look at it. The car was an ordinary sedan—white and not particularly new—but Aaron couldn’t shake the feeling there was something ominous about its appearance.
“Suspicious?” he asked Lucia.
“As hell,” was her answer.
Aaron pulled his phone out of his pocket and crept toward the front of the car. “Codex, do you have access to traffic cams or anything over here?” he said over the earbud, bracing his arm against the bumper to hold the phone camera steady.
“I can check later,” she said. “I think power’s still down there.”
As the car came into view, Aaron took as many rapid pictures as he could, hoping at least one of them wouldn’t be completely useless.
“I’m going to get a closer look,” he said as he stowed the phone in his pocket. Then he took a deep breath and twisted.
Time slowed around him, and he swallowed against the familiar feeling that he’d left part of his stomach behind. He hurried toward the van in a crouch, hoping no one would notice a strange shadow or blur as he crept up to the car’s rear bumper. He wished he’d put a pen in his pocket—as much as he’d like to use his phone, it didn’t move as fast as he did. Instead, he’d have to memorize the plate, something he’d never been terribly adept at.
He took the earbud out of his ear and turned it in his fingers, contemplating his choices.
It wasn’t the best idea, but he didn’t know what else he could do. Like everything else, it had slowed to a near-halt, although he could still make out the gradual friction of the tires against the pavement and the shifting of shadows under the headlights. It would have been great if he could have gotten it in the car, but without manifesting the ability to phase through solid matter, he’d have to settle for what he could. At least Selena would be able to track it.
He wedged the earpiece under the license plate, taking the opportunity to repeat the numbers to himself a few more time while he made sure it was secure. Then, with an instinctive glance toward the interior of the car—the shadows from the tail lights made it hard to see more than a few indistinct shapes—he crept away again, and hurried back toward the abandoned truck where he and Lucia had hidden.
He let his power go with a gasp of relief, and leaned against the truck wheel, breathing hard.
Lucia glanced at him as he reappeared beside her, her face grim with concern. “What did you do?” she asked. But as he started to answer him, she shook her head and pressed her finger against her ear.
“You can’t just leave them there,” she said. “What if they get caught by someone else. If—” She broke off, frowning. “Yeah, probably, but—”
“Lucia, what’s going on?”
She glanced at him and tapped her ear as if to say, “Listen in, stupid.”
“I can’t. I left my bud on the car.”
She blinked at him, incredulous. “Yeah, he did,” she said to someone over the earpiece. “Hang on a sec. You did what? Why?”
“So we could track it. It was too weird to do nothing. Ask her if she can track the car.”
Lucia gave him a dirty look, cleared her throat and said; “Captain Dumbass dumped his earbud on the car so you can track it. Yep, I’ll tell him.” She leveled her gaze at Aaron. “Codex says you owe her 300 bucks.”
“What? That’s crazy! They can’t possibly cost—ugh, fine. Can she track it, at least?”
“Yeah, she can. But listen, we’re going to have to move. It looks like we’re not the only ones after little miss earthshaker.” She offered him a hand and helped him to his feet. “Let’s go.”
* * * * *
The bike’s tires crunched over loose stones and dirt as Selena urged it up the narrow dirt road. It was barely wide enough to even qualify as a road, and judging by the mud-filled ruts and scattered limbs, in much need of maintenance. But she wanted to get a better vantage point, and at its height this road overlooked the whole town. Despite her assurances, it took more concentration than she really could spare to keep the map of the town in her mind in sync with the data coming through her headset. Carter hadn’t asked where she was going yet, and she didn’t know whether it was because he trusted her or because he was too busy fending off low-hanging branches. But he sighed with relief when the broke through to the top of the hill and Selena brought the bike to a halt.
Below, she could see town—was it really that small?—the quiet, dark buildings illuminated by islands of streetlights that hadn’t lost power. The beams of headlights patrolling the streets were like beacons in the darkness.
“That’s not good,” Carter said.
“No,” Selena murmured. “It’s not.” Blue lines and numbers flickered over her interface, detailing the data streaming through her link. She could still see the echoes from Molly and Brennan’s encounter with the other supers. “Listen, guys. I see…three cars driving through town. No, four.”
“Yeah, that’s definitely not a coincidence,” Lucia said. “Any sign of our girl?”
Selena searched the data again. “A few blips, nothing definitive…Wait, there’s something—light bloomed on the right side of her visor, and she shifted her attention toward it. “Fury, there’s a burst of Resson energy northwest of you. Close to the bakery.”
“On it,” Fury said.
“We’ll head that way, too,” Tempest said.
“No,” Selena said. “There’s at least one car between you and them. And another south of your position. You two need to stay under cover.”
“Wait,” Brennan said. “What about the other kids? Maya and Ethan? We left them back there and they weren’t in great shape. I don’t know who these people are, but those kids seemed pretty scared of them.”
“Do you want to go back for them?” Molly sounded angry. “After they attacked us?”
“You can’t,” Selena said, checking the map. “The cars are between you and them.” She leaned forward on her bike, shifting through the data.
Carter rested an arm on her shoulder. “We can get there,” he said quietly. He pointed toward the town. “We can cut through Adler Lane and intercept them.”
Selena frowned, tracing the route in her mind. “It’ll be close.”
“Then let’s get going,” he said, settling into his seat behind her.
“All right,” she said, starting up the bike. “Hang on.”