Carter was angry. Angrier, in fact, than Aaron had ever seen him. Of course, all his twin did was frown and cross his arms as they walked toward the cabin, but he could tell. It had been late afternoon before they could all manage to sneak out at the same time, so Aaron had filled Carter in beforehand. It didn’t go over well.
“I’m sorry, okay?” he said, for the twelfth time.
Carter glanced at him, eyebrows knit together like a second frown. “I just can’t believe you went out looking for her without telling me.” Steam puffed out of his mouth as he sighed. “I really can’t.”
“I know, I’m sorry.” Aaron kicked a pebble in his path and watched it skitter down the hill. “I was kind of pressed for time.”
“That’s a lousy excuse,” Carter said. He gave Aaron another sideways glance and stomped onto the porch. “I thought we were over this martyr complex of yours.” He opened the door and stormed inside without another word.
“I said I’m sorry,” Aaron muttered one more time. He sighed and hurried after his brother.
The rest of the gang was already inside, gathered around Selena’s workstation. Brennan and Lucia looked like they’d just finished the same argument he and Carter had, and Molly looked desperate for an intervention. Selena had avoided the problem by shoving headphones in to drown out their voices . The faint sound of metal seeped out around her ears. One of the screens above her workstation showed the blue map with the “likely incidents” of Resson waves. Laid over it was the map showing earthquake damage, shaded to indicate the severity of the quake in each area. Aaron pored over it, fascinated by how closely the impact areas matched the Resson waves.
I can’t believe one person did that, he thought. It made him grateful all over again that they’d had each other and managed to control their powers. But if just Tara could cause this destruction by accident, he didn’t want to think about how much Avalon could cause.
“What did we miss?” Carter asked.
“Oh, you know,” Selena said, pulling the buds out of her ears, “we were discussing how these two went out and confronted a dangerous unknown, after lecturing me about running off alone.”
“I wasn’t alone, I was with Lucia,” Aaron said. “Besides, I tried to call you, and you didn’t answer.”
“That doesn’t make it okay—”
“You went after her in the graveyard—”
“I didn’t know she was there! Anyway, I did call everyone.”
Molly stepped in between them. “You two can fight about it later,” she said. “We have more important problems to solve. Like my crazy grandmother? Or the fact that there’s a girl running around who can make earthquakes, who’s probably not stable, and Avalon is after her. Can we focus on that, please?”
“Hate to say it, but Aquagirl is right,” Lucia muttered.
“Don’t call me that.”
“The problem is,” Aaron said, “without my power telling me where she is, we have no idea where to look. She could be anywhere in town. She could have left town.”
“I don’t think she did,” Lucia said. “She was in full flight mode when we ran into her. If she was going to leave town, she’d have done it already. For some reason, she’s staying here.”
“Why is she even here in the first place?” Brennan wondered. “Where did she come from?”
“I didn’t have time to get a lot from her,” Lucia said.
“So we need to find this girl before she causes any more trouble,” Brennan said.
“That’s not fair,” Lucia said. “She’s scared.”
“She may be scared, but she’s still dangerous,” Brennan insisted. “So how are we going to find her?”
“I might be able to help with that,” Selena said, swiveling toward her desk. “Since the quake, I’ve been running some analyses on the data. Look at this.” She gestured at the map overhead. “These bright waves are where the earthquakes hit, matched to the Resson waves I recorded right before it,” she said. “See? They match.”
“Right,” Aaron said, leaning forward to scrutinize the map. “We saw that before.”
“Yes. But it’s not just the earthquake that causes ripples in the Resson field. After you found earthquake girl in the school, I did some more intensive checking. It looks like every time we use our powers, there’s a ripple in the field.”
A pause greeted this news.
“Every time?” Aaron asked. The thought made him feel strangely exposed.
“Yeah. I looked over all the data during the quakes and the aftermath. They registered at the church where Molly and Brennan put out the fire, at the cafe, in little spurts all down the path Lucia and Carter walked. Even at the school when Aaron used his power to run across the street. That was a separate incident from the quake that followed. I think somehow our powers interact with the field.”
“What does that even mean?” Brennan said. “I thought the field was something that was created by quantum particles interacting or something, not necessarily something stable.”
“That’s what I thought, too, based on what Dr. Haley told Aaron back in September. But I’m revising that opinion. I think the field is always there, just the way there’s always a gravitational field, and it’s only measurable when things interact with it. And our powers affect it.”
“So…that’s…good?” Lucia asked.
“It depends,” Selena said. “It means I can probably come up with a way to track our earthquake friend Tara. But it also means…”
“It means that Avalon probably knows this too,” Molly finished. “As long as she’s been studying our powers and the Resson field, she has to know about this.”
“And if we can track other supers,” Aaron said, “then other people can track us, too.”
“Exactly,” Selena said.
“But wait a second,” Aaron said, thinking through the implications. “If Avalon can track other people with powers, why hasn’t she taken Tara in already?”
“I don’t know,” Selena said. “Maybe she doesn’t have the firepower.”
“Maybe she’s tried,” Lucia said. “She was—Tara, I mean—she was definitely running from someone. I think the earthquakes happened because they got close.”
“So the earthquakes weren’t just a result of her losing control of her powers,” Carter said. “They were battlegrounds.”
“Maybe so,” Aaron said. “This is really not good.”
“I can’t stand this,” Molly said, a disgusted look on her face. “Acting all benevolent with her ‘I’m the only one who can help her.’ Then, when we’re not looking, she’s chasing the girl down.”
“It may not be Avalon,” Aaron said.
“Who else would it be?”
“Well…your grandmother told you she’d been trying to contain the fallout from the Avalon projects, right?Things got out of hand, some of the data escaped, and at least part of her blood wasn’t destroyed. Supposedly that’s where all of our powers came from. Except Molly, I guess. And if there’s more, it means that other parts of her research went missing too. That’s what she means. These people stole her blood, and have been experimenting with it in secret. So if Avalon’s searching for Tara, they probably are too.”
“Who? The government or something?” Carter looked skeptical. “That’s a little paranoid, isn’t it?”
“Not the government,” Molly said. “Lartech. That’s what she’s afraid of. Someone inside Lartech.”
“No way is my dad involved,” Brennan said fiercely. “He’d never be part of something like this.”
“How do you know?” Selena said. “How much do any of us really know about what our parents do there? But you’re right. I doubt Dr. Haley is involved, anyway. He’s a physicist, and he didn’t seem to have any idea what the Resson waves really are. Lartech is a big place.”
“But… all this sounds like some kind of conspiracy theory,” Carter said. “Like the genetic experiments in the sewers. That stuff is just urban legends. It’s not real.”
“Except that we have evidence it might be,” Aaron said. “I mean, the six of us have superpowers that came from a lab accident. And Avalon, at least, thinks someone there is trying to recreate them.”
“And you trust her?” Molly said. Her fists were clenched around the lip of the table. He hoped she had herself under control.
“Of course I don’t trust her. But I don’t see why she’d go through all this effort to recruit us unless she really needed us.”
Molly huffed angrily and slipped off the table, pacing around the room. “I hate her,” she said. “She just manipulates people. She doesn’t care about me, doesn’t care about any of us. She probably doesn’t even care that…” She halted, swallowing against a choked back sob. Lucia reached out to touch the back of her hand. To Aaron’s surprise, Molly grasped it, clutching at Lucia’s hand like it would save her from drowning.
“If she’s been gathering people with powers,” Brennan said, “then she could have dozens of supers working for her. I wonder how many of them really know what she’s like.”
“What I want to know is whether she really can track people with powers. If she can, we need to find Tara as soon as we can. I don’t want to know what will happen to her when Avalon finds her.”
“Wait, wait,” Brennan said. “If our abilities are what causes these fluctuations in the field, then the tracking will only work when we use them. If she’s hiding, she’s not going to be doing that.”
“She’ll be back,” Lucia said quietly. She looked troubled.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“Because she’s starving,” Lucia said. “And she’s living rough. We interrupted her last night and she didn’t get away with much last night, so she’ll have to scavenge again tonight.”
“The question is,” Aaron said. “How do we find her? After getting caught last night, she’ll be extra careful tonight.”
Selena leaned back in her chair, tapping her chin with her stylus. Her eyes moved in rapid, tiny motions, like she was reading some screen only she could see. Then she sat bolt upright and scooted in toward her desk. “Ah, I think I’ve got it!” she said. “I may be able to pick up her signature even if she’s only using her powers passively.”
“How do you use earthquake powers passively?” Brennan asked.
“We all use our powers a little bit, even when we’re not thinking about it.”
“It’s not earth powers exactly. She uses sonic vibrations.” Lucia crossed her arms and stared thoughtfully at some point just above Selena’s head. “When Aaron bent time around her, she acted like a siren had gone off. So, the way I can sense people’s emotions, or Molly can sense nearby water, she can sense vibrations in the air.” She glanced at Selena. “That’s what you mean, right?”
“Yeah,” Selena said. She looked surprised at Lucia’s insight. “I don’t know if something that passive would be traceable, but…” She worked without thinking, letting one part of her mind run away with her theory while the verbal part explained it. “If she’s scared of getting caught, she’ll have to rely on her power more. If she has to heighten her senses to watch for danger, or use her power to break open locks or something, that may be enough of a burst to track it. If I can fine tune it enough. The data from last night will probably help.”
“I’m not sure I’m okay with you being able to track all of us so easily,” Lucia said.
“Oh, please,” Selena said. “You carry your cell phones everywhere. You think I can’t already track you?”
No one really had a response to this, so Selena just kept working through the long silence. “Ha! Got it!” she declared, pulling up her Resson map. Here.” She pointed at a small burst of waves in the center of town. This is a still from your little adventure at the pharmacy last night. I just have to isolate which ones were her, and write an algorithm to track it. I can probably have something done by tonight.”
“Great,” Aaron said. “So what do we do, canvass the town?”
“Yeah, I’m not liking this idea,” Brennan said. “If someone’s after her, this could be dangerous. Don’t know if you’ve forgotten, Sel, but last time we got mixed up in something like this, some of us got hurt.”
“How do you think I could forget something like that?” Angry, she turned on him. “Do you really think I don’t care? That I?m not scared? I haven’t forgotten anything, Brennan. Not what happened to you, or Ivy, not having a gun stuck in my face, or seeing Aaron—” she clamped her mouth shut and swallowed. When she spoke again, her voice was calm, even though Aaron heard an undertone of anger underneath. “You don’t have to go,” she said.
“I didn’t say I wasn’t going,” he said defensively. “Just that we need some way to protect ourselves.”
“Oh.” Selena blinked. “Well, in that case, I guess I should finish showing you around.” She pushed out of her chair and walked briskly toward the table on the far side of the room, stacked with unopened packages and battered plastic bins full of scrap. She hauled out a heavy cardboard box. “I had to reroute these through a couple of fake accounts and drive a few towns over to get these,” she said, ripping the tape open. “But I think it was worth it.” She pulled out the topmost item and tossed it to Brennan. He held it up and let it unfold, blinking at the heavy black vests.
“Kevlar?” Carter asked. “You were expecting for us to get shot at again?”
“Not expecting,” she said. “Just preparing for the possibility. They’re really good ones, too, and not as bulky as some, so we should be able to conceal them as long as we’re wearing jackets. I have something for you, too.”
Selena reached across the table and heaved a smaller box out of the stack. “I thought it would make sense,” she said, handing it to Carter. He opened the box and pulled out a hard shell. Much like the gauntlet she’d made for Brennan, it was designed to fit over his wrist and forearm, but it was made of a flexible, tough fabric not dissimilar to the Kevlar vests, reinforced with hard plates of resin over the forearm, hand and knuckles.
“Your weakness has always been that you aren’t as tough as you are strong,” she said. “Now you can punch things without tearing up your hands.”
Carter turned the armor over in his hands. “What’s it made of?”
“Kevlar and hardened carbon resin. The underside is cushioned with ballistic gel. Your bones will crack before this stuff will.”
“That’s what you were printing? That night at the university?” Aaron had taken the other gauntlet and was inspecting it from every angle. “I wouldn’t mind one of these for myself.”
“You don’t need help to do damage,” Selena said. “You’re a walking bullet.”
“How did you have time for all this?” Molly asked. “How do you do this, and still have time for a social life, and school, and—”
“I don’t really sleep much,” Selena said. “You’d be amazed how much you can get done with an extra five hours a day. I’ve been working on some ideas for you, but nothing I’ve had the opportunity to make.”
“It’s cool. Take your time.”
“Are you sure?” Selena said, disappointed. “But there are so many possibilities—”
“I’ve picked up a couple tricks. Anyway, I like hand-to-hand more than anything, and I’ve got plenty of gear for that.”
“I’m still going to make you stuff.”
“I can’t believe you did all this,” Lucia said, running her fingers over the bulletproof vest. “All on your own. I mean—”
“I just don’t want you guys getting hurt,” she said. “Besides, do you have any idea how cool that printer is? I’d take any excuse to play with that all night.”
Lucia rolled her eyes.
Selena turned to Brennan. “About the heat glove,” she said. “If you give it back, I can finish—”
“Oh,” Brennan said. “I didn’t thank you for that.”
“You don’t have to.”
“It came in super handy,” he said, pulling back his sleeve so she could see the gloves he was wearing weren’t just ordinary gloves. “It kept slipping off my arm, so I made a cover for it. ”
“You…made that,” Selena said dubiously. “By yourself?”
“Yeah. Sewing’s not hard,” he said, yanking his jacket sleeve back over the glove.
Selena shrugged. “Well, I have another one if you want it.”
“So what’s the plan?” Lucia said.
“I need a few hours to work out the tracker,” Selena said. “But I should have it ready by tonight. I can’t promise results, but it’s better than nothing.”
“We can patrol in groups,” Aaron said. “Keep an eye on likely places she might show up.”
“And look out for whoever’s after her,” Molly added.
“Yes, that too.”
Carter sighed. “I’m going with Aaron.”
“Fine,” Aaron said. “You and Lucia and me can go together. She has the best chance of picking up if Tara’s close. Are you two okay together?” he said to Molly and Brennan.
“Yeah, sure,” Brennan said. “Our powers work pretty well together.”
“Great,” Selena said. “Everyone be on the earbuds by nine and we can coordinate from there. I’ve got to get home before my parents or I’ll get another lecture.” She started collecting her things.
“Yeah, I’m going, too,” Molly said. “If anyone wants to train, I’m going to go home and hit things until I feel better. Might as well be one of you.”