The town wasn’t that big, but tonight it felt enormous. Carter shifted the girl further up his hip, and felt her wrap her arms tighter around his neck.
“You okay?” he whispered to her, and got a slight nod that he felt more than saw. Ethan panted beside him, doing his best to keep up.
They’d almost been caught twice, and Carter was pretty sure they’d circled back on themselves about a dozen times trying to avoid the patrols still cruising downtown. In the dark, Carter had to rely on memory more than sight—memory that was a little sketchier when it came to cutting through backlots and jumping fences.
“I think we lost them,” he said, pausing to get his bearings. They were in one of the less-trafficked parts of town, a good half-mile from the main strip and close to the edge of what he considered downtown. There was a combination grocery and bait store on the corner, a defunct video rental place and florist that had been there probably since the beginning of time. Across the street was an old playground—the kind with metal slides and climbing bars. Past that, they’d be moving into residential areas. He doubted the patrols would risk that.
He tilted his head to the side and pressed a finger against his ear. “Codex, what’s it look like out there?”
“A bit busy,” was the tense reply, followed by a grunt and a moment of hard breathing. “Pretty sure they’re all on my tail.”
Great. While Carter had every confidence that Selena could outdrive just about anyone, he also knew they had numbers on their side. Plus guns. Plus actual knowledge of what was going on. “Just be careful,” he said. He felt like he was saying that a lot recently. “How’s everyone else?”
“We’re clear,” Brennan said. “Hunkering down to make sure we weren’t spotted, then we’ll head to base.”
“Getting there,” Lucia muttered under her breath. She sounded winded. “Anyone heard from Farsight?”
Carter checked his phone, hoping he’d missed a message during their hectic dash through the city. “How long has it been since you left him?”
“Ten minutes? Fifteen? Long enough.”
“Maybe he’s still dodging patrols,” Molly said. “We can go look for him.”
“Wait till things are clear,” Carter said. “It won’t help if you get caught trying to find him.”
After a pause, Molly said, “We’ll wait ten more minutes. If he hasn’t checked in by then, I’m going back.”
“Hey.” It took a second to realize that the voice came from beside him rather than over his earpiece. Carter glanced over to see the two of them watching him. “You’re talking to your friends?”
It was pointless to pretend he wasn’t. “Yeah.”
“Is Maya safe?”
“They’re still moving.” His response was an irritated grunt. “How are you doing?” Carter asked.
“I’m fine, and I don’t need any help from you.”
Fine. That was fine. It wasn’t like he needed anyone to like him. “Didn’t mean to offend anyone. We used to think we were alone, you know. I get that it’s hard to trust people, but—”
“Yeah, I’m sure you’ve had a real hard life,” he said.
Carter bit back a hot response. It was taking a lot of effort not to worry about his brother—especially knowing how adept Aaron was at getting in trouble. “Yeah,” he said. “My stuff hasn’t been that bad. But some of my friends’ has. I don’t know what you’ve been through, but you aren’t the only ones with problems.” He checked the time again, and risked a glance toward the open part of the park, searching it for any sign of movement. When he looked back, Ethan was still staring at him. The boy’s expression was intense, but in the dark, Carter couldn’t make out whether it was anger or something else.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Ethan said, looking away quickly. After a minute, he said: “The…the water girl, um…Tempest?”
“What about her?”
“She’s the one, isn’t she? The one Avalon went to meet. Her daughter.”
Daughter, not granddaughter, Carter noted, and it made him wonder just how much these kids knew about their leader. He weighed his response for a second. On one hand, he’d made his allegiances pretty clear. On the other, Avalon already knew Molly was here. Confirming it wouldn’t tell them anything new.
He shrugged. “Why would you say that?”
“They look alike,” Ethan said.
“Why? Because they’re both blonde?” Carter said, annoyed.
“No. I don’t know. The build. The face, too, I guess. The same…I don’t know….intensity? And she—” He broke off, like he was debating whether he wanted to go on. Eventually, he did. “—She seemed angry. Like she took things personally. None of the rest of you do.”
Carter didn’t know how to respond to that, especially since he was kind of right. “So what?” he said.
“Just wondering,” he said, rubbing his arms. “She’s not bad,” he said. Carter didn’t have to guess which “she” he meant. “She just wants to help people. She—”
“People who want to help don’t hire killers,” Carter said. It came out angrier than he meant, and he found he wasn’t sorry about it. “She did a lot of damage around here, and my friends suffered for it. I’m not interested in making up. Now, let’s go. After we cross this park up here, we should be safe.” And then I can get rid of you.
To his surprise, no one complained, and they trudged across the narrow road toward the park. Carter felt a strange dissonance at the sight of it. He’d played here a million times as a kid, especially in the wooden playhouse. It was eerie being here at night, a fugitive with two strangers following behind him. It was smaller than he remembered, and someone had sprayed graffiti on the fences.
“What a crappy park,” Ethan said. “Hey, someone left a bike.” He stooped by the bike rack and checked the tires. “It’s not even chained up.”
“Are you serious? You aren’t stealing someone’s bike!” Carter said.
“Why not? They were stupid enough to leave it here, and I need it more. Sky and I can get out of here, and you can go back to wherever you came from.”
“But you can’t just—”
The girl spoke up. “Someone’s coming.” Light flashed across the grass. They all ducked behind the hedge as a sleek black sedan cruised around the corner, onto the street they just crossed.
“How do they keep finding us?” Carter said.
“They’re not tracking you, are they?”
Annoyed, Carter said, “I didn’t even know they existed until tonight. Sure they’re not tracking you?” The boy only glowered at him without answering. But another thought had occurred to him. “Unless…they can track our powers,” he said. “Codex thought it might be possible, but I hadn’t really taken it seriously…” He hadn’t done anything extreme, but he’d been using a little extra strength all night. If they really could track powers, it would be like a trail leading the suits right to them. He shook his head. “No use arguing about it now.” He glanced toward the playground. “We can hide in there.” he said, nodding toward the wooden playhouse that dominated the park.
Hoisting Sky up again, Carter started toward the playground, Ethan close behind. He cast as many glances back as he could, tracking the movement of the car as it neared the loop that ran through the park. Don’t turn in, he thought, keep going straight.
Headlights flashed as the car wheeled into the loop, illuminating them halfway across the grass.
“Oh, no,” Sky said, her voice trembling with dread, “No, they’re coming.”
“Run,” Carter said, pushing Ethan ahead of him. At least he was wearing that Kevlar vest Selena had given him. That would give him some protection if—
The car swerved off the road, veering over the grass to chase them. As they reached the edge of the playground, Ethan caught his foot on a rock and and tripped. By the time Carter had pulled him up, the car had come to a stop in front of them.
They were caught in the open, too far away from anything approaching shelter. He lowered Sky to the ground. “Get behind me,” he said, stepping in front of both of them. They backed away together as a dark shaped climbed out of the car, shouting at them to stop. The voice sounded familiar, but Carter couldn’t see anything past the glare of the headlights. He took a deep breath, drawing on as much of his strength as he could.
He had to find something he could use as a weapon, or a shield. The railing on that slide, maybe, or part of the seesaw if he could break it off—
fore he could act on that thought, Ethan stepped in front of him, stretching his blistered hand in front of him. He grimaced and gave a harsh, guttural shout. Carter felt a wave of vertigo, and heard a loud pop like an air rifle.
A ripple shot across the playground. Loose rocks and litter skittered across the ground like a wind had blown up, and the car began to slip sideways. It happened slowly, at first, and then the tires lifted up from the ground. Carter heard a panicked scream as the car toppled over, the sound of glass breaking and a metallic groan. It rolled twice before it smashed into a retaining wall and stopped upside down, one headlight still flashing toward them. Carter couldn’t see what happened to the passengers, but he doubted it was good.
Ethan took a few hard breaths and then started to reach out again, the same enraged determination on his face. Carter grabbed his arm. “No! You’ll kill them!”
“So I’m not going to watch you do that! Let’s go, now!”
Ethan hesitated like he was going to attack anyway, but gave a frustrated grunt, took Sky’s hand and started running.
But the attack had taken a toll on him. If he’d been tired before, now he was exhausted. Carter had to grip his arm to keep him standing, and when they reached the shelter of the playhouse, he collapsed completely.
“Can’t,” he said, crumpling against the wall. “Take Sky and go.”
“No,” she said, falling on her knees beside him and throwing her arms around him. “No, you can’t.”
“No way. I promised I’d get you out of here, and I will.” Carter said. “Get on my back; I can carry you both if I—”
“So they can track us again?” he said. “Maybe if they take me, they won’t follow the two of you.”
“He’s coming,” Skylar said, whipping her head around. Carter glanced back and saw a dark shape moving through the light. It seemed like the one who’d left the car had managed to avoid much injury.
“Okay, no arguing,” he said. “I’m going to carry both of you, and we’re going to run.”
He turned, reaching for Sky, but she wasn’t cowering anymore. The daydreamy gaze had hardened into concentration. She’d leaned forward on her knees, and held her hands in front of her, fingers interlocked, but loose. As she spread them apart, her fingers started to glow with a silvery light.
“No, Sky,” Ethan said, “you’re too weak.”
She just gave him a reassuring smile. The glow intensified.
“What is she—” Carter started. “We’ve got to go.”
“Get down,” Ethan said, tugging his sleeve. “Get as close to her as you can.”
“She’s not going to hurt anyone, is she?” Carter asked as he let himself be pulled down.
“No, she’s going to hide us.”
A ripple formed around her hands—a vague, translucent gleam like she was parting a stream with her fingers. As she spread her fingers, the ripple widened. Carter felt a weird flip in his stomach as it went through him, but apart from that it might have been light passing over him. As it widened, it seemed to reshape itself, forming a sphere of shifting light around them. Inside the sphere, it seemed even darker than it had before.“What—” Carter stopped suddenly. The air seemed to swallow his voice. “What is she doing?”
He tensed as the figure moved closer. The flashlight swept over the trail of kicked-up pebbles they’d left behind, until he was so close Carter could make out his face.
It was familiar too, although he couldn’t quite place where he’d seen it. He cast the light directly on them, then past them, searching the corners of the playhouse, inside the slide and under, before moving on.
Stunned, Carter could only stare. “What…just happened? What is this?”
“She calls it a pocket,” Ethan said, sinking back to the ground. His voice sounded muffled. “It hides whatever’s inside it—sight, sound, even powers. Avalon thinks she’s bending space around it, somehow.”
“A rock in the stream.” Skylar didn’t move, and her hands continued to glow. “The water goes around it, and rock stays still.”
It was kind of an answer. He’d have to run it by Aaron later; his brother was always up for a round of theoretical physics. Carter preferred things that were more solid. History. Geography. Baseball.
“So they can’t see us, or hear us, as long as she keeps that glowy orb thing around us?” Carter asked. He watched as the sentry move back past them, still searching. “Wow,” he said. “And I thought time control was cool.” Neither of them said anything else, but he caught a brief little smirk on Skylar’s face.
* * * * *
Molly slowed to a halt as they turned the corner. She braced her hands on her hips, trying to catch her breath. “Are you sure this is the right spot?” she asked, surveying the dark, empty lot.
Coming up beside her, Brennan could only nod. They’d run pretty much the whole way here, and he was even more out of breath than she was. Molly felt a stab of guilt as he clutched at his side—she shouldn’t have pushed him so hard. He acted so normally, she kept forgetting he was still healing.
“So he’s around here somewhere, or at least his phone is.” She glanced around again, hoping she’d see something she hadn’t before. “Aaron? Aaron! Where are you?” Her voice echoed off the brick and pavement.
“Tempest, what are you doing?” Brennan hissed. “What if one of them is still here?”
“Codex said they were clear,” she said, shrugging. “Who else is going to be out here?”
“I don’t know. Cops? More of Avalon’s henchmen?”
“We can deal with that,” Molly said. “I just want to find him. Anyway, shouldn’t you sense something?”
“I didn’t before,” he said. Frowning, he turned away from her and squinted across the parking lot. “Do you think he’s in one of the stores? Maybe he broke in and…had a seizure, or tripped and hit his head?”
Neither of them wanted to say what they were both thinking: that he hadn’t gotten away at all.
Molly crossed to the nearest door and rattled the knob. “Still locked.” She headed to the next one.
“He could have broken in from the front.”
“I dunno. The GPS had him turning the corner.” She yanked on another door. “Next one down is Dad’s, and he wouldn’t have risked going back in there. Let’s look around and see if we can find his phone. Maybe he dropped it.”
They spread out, searching the pavement for some sign of Aaron’s passage. Molly pretended not to notice that Brennan had to stop occasionally and lean against the chain-link fence, or that his hand kept drifting back to his side.
“Hey, look at this,” he said suddenly. Molly turned to see him angling his flashlight over the top of the fence, shining the beam through the tangled brush on the other side. “There’s a bunch of broken branches and it looks like the mud’s been stirred up.”
She joined him, adding her light to his to examine the trail he’d found. “Maybe he tried to climb it and fell and hit his head.”
Brennan snorted. “Sounds like him.”
“Either way, we ought to check.” She gripped her flashlight in her teeth and started to scale the fence. She dropped lightly to the other side and held out a hand to steady Brennan as he hopped down beside her. Together, they made their way down the hill, until they reached the edge of the narrow stream running through the bottom of the ditch.
“Aaron!” she called, flashing her light down the ditch. It gleamed on the metal edge of a storm drain. Big enough to hide in? She ran toward it, splashing through the frigid water with Brennan close on her heels. Heart pounding, she crouched down and shined her light into the open space.
It was empty. Molly sighed.
“Wait, look,” Brennan said, crouching down to pick something out of the ditch. “This is Aaron’s phone,” he said, wiping mud off a cracked screen. He turned it over, showing her the green and brown case. “This is why we lost the signal,” he said.
“So where is Aaron?” Molly wondered.
“Either he dropped this and he’s lost in town somewhere, or…” Brennan clenched the broken phone in his hand and glanced up the hill.
“Or he’s not lost,” Molly finished, “and someone took him.”