I stare at the coin, standing on edge.
Summer flipped it to “settle” the question of whether Adam was an agent of the Concordance. Which is both obviously true and patently false, and, yes, that does create a massive headache to consider, let alone to say.
Someone is playing with reality, creating two competing contra-positives that are impossible to fully consider, let alone even flip a coin over.
Or … is it actually reality being manipulated? What if it’s mind control, making someone …
Who here can flip a coin on its edge?
Summer is a robot. She can do it. She has the precision of body control. Thus, so can Aria.
Harry can do it. Superspeed implies a preternatural control of body reflexes. Hell, he ca fix it on landing faster than we could see.
I can do it. I have done it. Spatial analysis, training, hyper-genius …
If I can do it, so possibly can Leo. Or Jason.
Which is pretty much everyone in the room. So, what, haul in a random student from the hallway? How would they know the actual answer to the question at –
Aria catches my eye, gestures back to the coin. I look.
The coin is vibrating, on its own, twisting on its balance point.
I immediately reject the mental control hypothesis. Reality is being challenged, the coin itself demonstrating the conflict. Whether the challenge is to the answer, or even just reality rebelling against the question being asked …
Shit. Mind control can be fought against. Trust me. Reality control …
So we need to find Adam. Who’s at the cemetery. So we need to find Charlotte, too.
But that leaves us at two active members – Harry and me.
“I want to come, too,” says Summer. “I want to be of use.”
Since I’ve been encouraging her to be a part of the team, I can hardly object – but before I can say anything, she stands, holds out her arms …
… and a burst of glowing butterflies swirl around her …
… and when they recede, she’s in … um … costume.
It’s some mad combination of schoolgirl outfit, Renaissance Dutchman, and butterfly princess costume, complete with medieval tabard and – of course – tiara.
And her face … her skin … looks more mechanical, more robotic, than normal.
The effect is conflicting. Confusing. Garish.
Lakshmi guide me, how do I tell her that? How do I not tell her that?
I try to draw my eyeballs back into my skull. “That is … amazingly … you.”
She smiles, taking it as a complement. And I suppose it is, in a backhanded way. The whole thing is gaudy and saccharine-sweet and trying so hard. It really is her in a nutshell.
I would have mocked her with a snarky comment not too long ago. It’s curious I have no desire to do so now. I am going to have to talk with her about the outfit some time – but now, here in front of everyone – especially Leo and Jason – is not that time.
“If you want,” she says, “I can fly you over to the cemetery.”
“No!” I blurt. not wanting to be seen any closer to that outfit than necessary. Then, with more forced calm, “I need to be wearing a mask first. I mean, to protect my secret identity! So I’ll just suit up, and, well, I have my bike here. Go ahead, I won’t be far behind.”
This is really the first time we’ve had the opportunity to go into action (whatever that action is) since the dance. I glance over at Leo, and can see the tension in his pose. He wants to come. He really wants to come. But he says nothing, just a head-jerk of farewell. Aria’s hand is on his arm – perhaps ready to hold if he loses control.
His loss to the team – and hers – that’s going to be huge. I know they feel they have a higher duty, and I don’t know if I can argue they are wrong. But this is going to hurt us.
Jason says, “I’ll make sure the ops team is online. Give a call if you need anything.”
I give him a nod, wonder if I should say something sappy to him, and instead turn and hightail it. The others are going to beat me, and I want to make it by as short an interval as possible.
* * *
Yeah, I’m last to get there. Harry had been first, of course, but Summer wasn’t far behind. They were faster than my bike, even without the jiggery-pokery of costume changing and calling the bike from the lot.
(At the very least I’m able to ride it to school now. I’ve found, and enhanced, another mode on the bike to deploy its fans vertically as wheels, and the compact down the size of whole thing to something that appears to be a “normal” hypertech motorcycle – one that, with the camouflage field, looks pretty dirty and beat up. Since a good ten percent of the motorbikes in the school lot are hypertech of one sort or another – Welcome to Gardner Academy! – mine doesn’t stand out for closer, more intrusive investigation.)
As I pull up, Mercury and Radiance are in full investigative mode. I guess. Harry has a couple of glowing butterflies (!) on his hand (presumably from Summer), and is zipping about the graveyard with them. Summer has thrown up a series of holographic displays in mid- oooh bright and shiny and full of data and graphic analysis and –
_Okay, this is odd.
I’m processing the infostream Summer is projecting, with data that Harry has already collected and continues to pull together (the butterflies apparently provide video feeds, something very interesting to consider), and the results are becoming more and more disturbing.
1. The graveyard has far more headstones in it than it should. Visually, I can tell that in just a few moments. There are far more than there have been, and their density would only work if you assumed bodies laid out in layers.
2. Many of the deceased dates on the headstones – the dates of death – are for this year. The past few weeks, in fact. The birth dates are all over the place, some quite old, but the death dates are in a small period, and in clusters: a 89 from the 13th of last month, 147 from the 14th, and so forth. And all of them have the same type of epithet, all referring to other cities … “Gave up their life on behalf of Boston,” or “Passed in the Service of Atlanta.”
3. The effect seems centered on Charlotte’s tomb, and envelopes the Wound in the Worlds here … except that if the butterflies are working, is the Wound gone?
I’m assimilating the data, cross-hashing it for patterns and clusters, but I’m still baffled. Harry, though, proves he can think as fast as he moves, at least in this case.
“Hey, Alycia – in the AltFuture Sepiaverse, remember all the ghosts that had been pulled together by the Charlotte there to close Wounds around the world? What if our Charlotte has been closing the Wounds here – and these are the graves of the spirits who were destroyed in doing so?”
I stare at him for a moment. Part of me wonders how something like that would possibly work. I mean, I believe in spirits and the like (hell, I saw them), and accept that there are Mysteries whose answers are as yet unknown, perhaps unknowable from our limited perspective … but I try not to handwave too many outrageous things away by calling them “magic.” So how would the destruction of a spirit (and what precisely does that _mean?) _lead to a magic headstone being created here?
That’s part of me. Part of me is still correlating data, and realizes that Harry’s suggestion must be so. And, if so … “That … is bad. Really, seriously not good.”
I run over to Charlotte’s headstone. It, too, has a date … from three days ago. But her stone simply says, “Perished.”
“Man,” Harry says, looking over my shoulder, “this is either the creepiest suicide note ever, or a five hundred yard wide cry for help.”
Suddenly, the entire graveyard shudders. I remind myself for the thirtieth time that Halcyon City does not have earthquakes …
And then the sod tears, and the grave markers rise up on pillars of earth and slime, all around us, undulating, drawing back from us – then lunging in –
And I’m in Harry’s arms and he’s carrying me out of the danger zone almost faster than I can see because what the fuck, a pity carry, you think I can’t --?
I see the grave fingers reaching toward us, then veering off to sweep after Summer, who flies out of the way to distract them from us, even as the ground undulates and twists – _Wait, she’s trying to protect me, too, goddammit –
– morphing, protruding, and my damn spatial awareness finally gets enough perspective and processing time to clue me into what I’m seeing, and that realization washes through my anger like a wave across a sand castle, and makes me wish Harry were running faster.
A giant face, a hundred yards wide or more, surging mounds of earth and grass and graves … gluttonous in its desire to feed … and smiling.
author: *** Dave H.