Carter lunged for Aaron as he blurred out of view, but his hand closed around empty air. His brother had vanished, and Carter dashed toward the street, searching wildly for some glimpse of where he’d gone. But he halted at the curb, cursing in frustration. Even if he’d seen which way his brother had gone, he’d never be able to catch up. Lucia stopped a step behind him, fuming so hard he could feel it.
He pressed a finger to his ear. He took a deep breath, and managed to dial the anger back enough to keep his voice steady. “Farsight,” he said. “Answer me. Come on, I know you’re listening. Damn it, answer me!” Mingled with demands were three other voices alternatively shouting “Aaron” and “Farsight,” peppered with a few choice swearwords from Lucia.
A screech from the earbud made him wince. Lucia’s cursing took a distinctly different tone. Carter rubbed at his ear as the sound faded. He shouted one more futile: “Aaron!” before giving up.
“He swore he wouldn’t run off on his own,” Carter fumed. “What is he thinking?”
“I don’t think he is,” Lucia said. “Not clearly, anyway.”
“You’re still tracking him, aren’t you, Codex?” Carter asked.
“Yes” A ping of static punctuated the word. “I he took the earbud out, he’s still got it on him.
It’s blinking in and out—the GPS has trouble tracking him while he’s shifted. Looks like he went toward the school.”
“We can follow him, then.” Lucia touched her fingertips against the back of Carter’s hand. He felt a tingle of warmth and comfort flow through the contact.
“Stop,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I want to stay mad at him.”
“That’s not helpful,” she said. “We have to stay—”
A sudden tremor interrupted her. “Oh, not again,” she complained.
Carter steadied himself against a street lamp and reached an arm out for her to grab onto. The quake was worse than it had been out a the lake, and he had to clench his teeth to keep them from rattling as the intensity peaked. It took more than a little extra strength to keep him footing, and he clung tight to Lucia’s arm to keep her from falling. But as suddenly as it started, it subsided, followed by waves of shorter, smaller tremors, that kept them frozen in place for a long time after the world had gone still.
“You okay?” he asked, half-expecting another round of shaking to start up.
“Fine,” she said, although she didn’t quite let go of him.
“I’m fine,” she said, although she didn’t quite let go of him. “That came out of nowhere,” Lucia said. “Felt like it started right under us.”
“That’s because it did,” Selena said. “Or under the school, technically.”
Aaron was in there.
Heart hammering, Carter whirled toward the school. Long fissures ran up the side of the building, and the quake had shattered most of the windows, but the actual structure looked intact. “Can you pick up his signal? Is he okay?”
“I—I don’t know,” as the answer. “He blinked out when it hit, moved about fifteen or twenty paces toward the door, and then I lost the signal.”
How could she stay so calm? His brother was in there. Maybe trapped, maybe hurt, maybe even… He shook his head and started across the street at a jog. “What part of the building?”
“You need to be careful.” It was Molly’s voice this time, coming over the earbud. She sounded winded. “Even if the building looks fine on the outside, the structure could have been compromised. There was this earthquake in LA, and—”
“No one wants to hear about LA,” Lucia said. She’d hurried to catch up with him. “We’re going in.”
“Of course you are. I just meant…be careful.”
“Worry about yourself,” Carter muttered. Every cracked brick and busted window drew his eye as he dashed across the street, and he sped up, trying not to think of his brother trapped, or crushed, or—
Breathless, he skidded into the alley, searching for some sign of his brother. Apart from the a few dislodged bricks and broken glass, it looked like it always did. He halted in front of the side door, braced himself, and yanked the handle as hard as he could. It resisted for a second, and then there was a sound like
Without bothering to check if the door was open, he yanked the knob as hard as he could, busting it free of its hinges and breaking the lock.
“Carter!” Lucia yelled. “You can’t just—”
He tossed the ruined door aside and rushed in. Lucia bit back her protests and hurried after him.
They both stopped short.
It looked like the aftermath of an explosion. Huge chunks had fallen from the ceiling, and the cheap tile floor was cracked and cratered. Doors had been twisted off their hinges. And all down the hall, the walls had warped outward, the rows of locker doors crinkled like aluminum foil.
“I think we found ground zero,” Lucia whispered. Her hushed voice echoed in the silent hall.
Carter just nodded, too shaken to say anything at all.
The sound of shifting rubble startled him out of his daze. They both turned toward the sound, and Carter shifted his body into fighting mode as someone stumbled over one of the shattered doorways.
It was Aaron.
Covered in plaster dust but seemingly whole, he climbed over a pile of loose debris and sneezed violently.
“Aaron!” Carter dashed the length of the hall and pulled his brother into a fierce hug.
“Ow—ugh,” he said. “Crushing—me—”
Carter released him, grabbing his shoulders instead and resisting the urge to shake him. “Why didn’t you answer us?” he demanded. “I thought you were dead or something!”
“What?” he said, too loudly. “Sorry, I can’t really hear much anything.” He rubbed his palm over his ear. “Except this awful ringing. I think she punctured my eardrum.”
“She? She who?” Lucia asked.
“Never mind.” Lucia rolled her eyes. She took Aaron by the shoulder, ignoring his look of confusion, and felt over his ear for a minute. “He’ll be fine,” she aid. “And in the meantime, we can talk about him like he’s not here.”
“Come on,” Carter said, gesturing to make up for his brother’s temporary deafness. “We’ve got to get out of here before we get arrested for trespassing.”
* * * *
Selena leaned back in her chair and took a long swig of water. The chaos in town was starting to settle—the tremors had stopped and reinforcements from nearby towns and Lartech security had arrived. On the news, they were calling them “freak seismic ruptures” and clearly had no idea what had caused them.
And they weren’t likely to find out. Based on what Aaron had related, the girl he’d confronted in the school was likely responsible for all of the damage in town, a hypothesis pretty much confirmed by the patterns of Resson waves she’d mapped over the course of the disaster.
“You should all clear out of there,” Selena said. “EMS has got the situation in hand now. If you stay in town, you’re likely to get spotted or rounded up as victims.
“Should we regroup at base?” Brennan asked. “I’d like to go check on Ivy…”
“There’s not much we could do here,” Selena said, pressing her knuckles against the knot in her her back. She didn’t know when it had started hurting, or when she’d gotten so thirsty. That was the problem with zoning in. It made it hard to pay attention to her body. Her fingers tingled, too, a byproduct of channeling too much charge through her own body. She rubbed them irritably. “We should let the professionals take care of things, and go find our families. That’s what normal people are doing.”
“Besides,” Molly said with a sigh,” I think we’re all too exhausted to speculate. At least I am.”
“And Aaron’s still deaf as a rock,” Lucia noted.
“We can meet up after all the chaos has settled,” Selena said. “I’ll finish compiling what data I’ve got, and let you all know what I find.”
“Have you heard from your parents?” Carter asked.
“Not yet,” Selena said, trying to keep her voice calm. “I’m sure they’re just tied up at work.”
“Let us know when you hear anything,” Molly said.
“Yeah, sure,” Selena said.
One by one, they dropped off the network, and Selena was left alone. She sighed, and slumped back in her chair. Part of her still felt energized—thoughts and theories chased each other through her brain like stray sparks of electricity—but as she relaxed her body, more of her started to feel numb and isolated.
She closed her eyes and leaned back, trying to rid her system of the last of her charge in hopes it could quell this future restlessness. Sometimes she wished she slept more. That she could just lay down and nap when she felt tired…
The phone rang.
Startled, she jerked awake, blinking in surprise from the unexpected sound. The ringing was so ordinary and unexpected that it took her a few seconds before she recognized it as real, and fumbled across the desk to pick it up. She didn’t even look at the info before she answered.
“Hello?” she said through a yawn.
“Selena? Are you all right?” her mother’s voice, brisk as usual and tinted by her faint Colombian accent.
“Mom?” Relief rushed over her, so strong she was tempted to cry. Was I really that worried? “I’m fine. I wasn’t anywhere near town. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Sorry I didn’t call. I was down in the lab and we had to go through shutdown procedures, just to be safe. Ugh, you would not believe the day I’ve had. Are you sure you’re all right? Somewhere safe?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Is everyone else?”
“Yes, I’ve talked to your brothers and they’re fine. Your dad is still in a conference. I’m sure he’ll call when it’s over.”
“I’m sure,” Selena said, rolling her eyes. “We wouldn’t want to break up a board meeting for a silly little earthquake.” Her sarcasm seemed to glide right over her mother’s head.
“Glad you understand. If you—” A muted comment from the other side interrupted her, and she said: “Got to run. We lost a lot of time this afternoon. I’ll be home when I can. Be careful, okay?”
“Love you!” And she was gone.
Selena laid the phone on her desk and sighed up at her screens. The phone call seemed to have drained the last of her restless energy. “Well,” she said to the empty room. “There’s nothing left to do here. I guess I should clean up and head home.”
** * * *
It was barely three in the afternoon when Brennan finally got home, but it felt like he’d been gone for days. The driveway was empty, which meant his parents hadn’t made it home yet. It also meant Ivy had spent the last few hours alone. He trudged up to the porch, wiped mud off his shoes and opened the door, shoving hard to get it over the sticky spot on the threshold.
He shrugged off his jacket and kicked off his shoes. Warmth and weariness flooded over him, and he sighed. He hadn’t realized how sore and tense he was until just now. Or dirty. He grimaced and decided that the first thing on his list was to shower.
“Ivy?” he called, crossing the dark hall. “Ivy, where are you?”
He found her in the living room, bundled under Gran’s favorite afghan and surrounded by pillows and candy wrappers. Her face looked pale in the light of the TV, except for her eyes, which were puffy and red.
“Hey, Ives,” he said, plopping down on the couch to join her. Heat radiated off her—either from the mass of blankets or the hot tea she’d been chain drinking.
“Hi.” She leaned against him as he put an arm around her shoulder.
“You were there, weren’t you,” she said, nodding toward the images of destruction scrolling across the TV screen.
He sighed. “How did you know?”
Yawning, she said, “You smell like ashes.”
“Besides, I know you.” This drew a faint smile, the first glimpse of her old self he’d seen in a long time. She closed her eyes. “I’m glad you’re okay. I keep seeing places I know, people I know… waiting to hear if—if—”
“Sorry I left you alone.” She responded by squeezing his hand and nestling closer.
For a long time, they sat in silence together, watching footage of the disaster devolve into pointless speculation, peppered with more slow pans of the broken pieces of town. “You want to change the channel?” he asked after a while.
“God, yes,” she said quickly, reaching for the remote.
After a minute of flipping mindlessly through channels, she said, “So what were you guys up to? You know, before the earthquake.”
“Ugh.” He rubbed his eyes, frustrated. He’d almost forgotten about that “Don’t get me started.”
“Aaron seemed pretty angry,” Ivy pushed, raising an eyebrow. The glimmer of curiosity won him over.
“Selena built a lair,” he said. “Like, full-on bat cave. Well, low-budget bat cave.”
“Yeah. She’d built all these computers and monitoring equipment…Even a Resson detector. It was kind of scary.”
“Hmm.” Rather than be outraged like he’d expected, she just tapped her finger on her chin.
“I don’t know what she’s thinking,” he went on. “Like, maybe she gets off on the thrill or something. Molly says that when she was Azure—”
“It probably helps her feel safe,” Ivy said.
That threw him. “Safe? How?”
Ivy shrugged. “So if something happens, y’all will be prepared.”
Brennan frowned. That was eerily similar to what Selena herself had said. “I think the point is to not get involved in the first place.”
“Because that worked so well today.”
“That’s different. We couldn’t just stand by and do nothing…” He trailed off as he realized what he was saying. “Okay, I guess I get your point.”
“It may sound weird,” Ivy said, “but if kinda makes me feel better about the whole thing today. Knowing y’all were prepared this time.”
“Well, one of us was,” Brennan said.
“Next time all of you will be,” Ivy said.
“It doesn’t bother you? Thinking about being in danger again?”
Ivy closed her eyes and let out a long, exhausted sigh. “Not as long as you come home safe.”
As promised, chapter seven! Thank you again for the patience. This chapter turned out much better than it would have been two weeks ago (but I don’t plan for it to happen again!) Hope you enjoyed it, and lLook for the next chapter on October 1st!