For a place buried underground, the ceilings were high and arched, covered with carved friezes and dusty fixtures. The central chamber led off into separate areas, each divided by thin concrete walls, high arches leading into and out of dozens of tunnels. The light was faint, flickering, but determined. It had been nearly a decade since the switches were turned on, and the electricity was doggedly doing its job.
People bustled through the buried terminal. Hundreds talked in dozens of languages, huddling together as they waited, clumped in groups scattered across the main open area. There was a vibrant energy in the air – one of cautious hope. It had been so long since any of them felt the tantalizing possibility of a new life beckoning. But they had made it, all of them, to this meeting point. They were all there, all still alive. They chose to believe.
In one of the side chambers, another group stood quietly, circled together tightly as they exchanged worried glances.
“But she’s never late, Amma.”
“Now you’re believing the myths they say about her,” Araceli retorted.
“But Ara, what if somethin’ happened?” asked Lorcan.
The other man stood there quietly, his brow furrowed as if he was lost in thought. He raised his head to add to the conversation.
A childish laugh distracted them and the four turned as one to look down at the small child playing on a carpet, her glossy curls a dark halo around her as she played with her worn doll.
“Tasoula, tha prépei na válete óti makriá kai na periménoun í̱sycha.”
Immediately, the girl folded the faded toy and placed it in her small bag of belongings. When she finished, she looked up expectantly. Amma nodded and turned back to the others.
“Ye know, there won’t be many that speak Greek.”
“True, young Lorcan, but I live, so my language live. Her language live.”
“She’s got more than one language now,” he snorted.
“Lorcan, enough. We can discuss that later,” Araceli cut in with exasperation. Farnoud smiled slightly and nodded in agreement.
“We need to consider sending out a reconnaissance party,” she added.
Farnoud’s smile faded, replaced by a look of worry echoed on Lorcan and Araceli’s faces. Amma, however, remained calm.
“The Evrískon be here soon.”
“How can ye be so sure?” asked Lorcan.
“Because that who she is. She find a way.”
Before Lorcan could interject again, a loud murmuring filled the hall behind them. As one, the four turned towards the commotion.
“It’s her,” breathed Lorcan in relief, a full smile creasing his face for the first time that day.
Araceli, however, was slightly more observant. The crowds near the entrance didn’t look relieved to see their leader.
“I stay with Tasoula. Go see what news she bring,” ordered Amma, her age-roughened voice still serene.
Farnoud nodded instantly, followed by Araceli. Both took off for the front. Lorcan, however, paused, glanced down at Tasoula, and gave Amma a questioning look. She nodded and gave him a tiny smile.
“I keep her in place. We hold the node.”
Lorcan nodded and turned away, jogging to catch up with Araceli and Farnoud, who were halfway to the front of the long hall. As they passed beneath the dusty arches nearly hidden in the dim lighting, the crowd before them began thinning, people returning to scattered, deliberately spaced areas throughout the various halls.
Araceli looked at the moving groups, satisfied with the arrangement, while Farnoud calculated again the amount of people that could successfully fit in there – maybe ten-thousand. The second wave, true, but still… so few.
Lorcan bounded forward eagerly, his young face searching for hers, the woman he adored beyond all others, who’d saved his life more times than he cared to count. His vow to do the same echoed in his head as he at last caught sight of her. They were rarely separated – he could only count a handful of times in the last nine years that they’d been apart for any length of time. But she’d needed to prepare the node on Out, and it was easier to transport herself than take the time to gather both their energies and take him along. Besides, it was only two days. What could’ve gone wrong?
Only now, she was hurrying towards them, not quite running, but moving with a deliberate urgency that spoke more eloquently than if she had actually screamed a warning.
At that moment, a subsonic drone hit Lorcan’s ears. He missed a step, faltering as he realized what that meant. He looked up and met Dena’s gaze. She nodded at him.
He pulled out both his guns.
I made it to the entrance, just minutes ahead of pursuit. A crowd met me at the gate, voices asking for news in a dozen languages, wanting to know where I’d been, begging for hope, bowing in unnecessary deference.
Despite my urgency, I stopped briefly to reassure them, trying not to feel overwhelmed by their endless needing. I was just another person, with only one unusual gift. They needed to believe in themselves.
Focus. You don’t have a lot of time.
“I am sorry to be late,” I told the waiting crowd in a measured, confident voice. “And I am sorry to have worried you. But you must listen carefully, then go spread the news to everyone here. But you must not panic.”
I took a deep breath before looking squarely around me.
“I was followed back.”
Before anyone could react, I continued hurriedly.
“We haven’t much time. I have a plan. Just know that when the light flashes – and you will know which one – you will all have one minute to return to your nodes, because we begin this jump now.”
Unable to take any more time, I pushed through the crowd, which had thankfully already begun to disperse around me. As it thinned, I caught sight of my three lieutenants.
I knew the exact instant Lorcan heard them, for his eyes widened and his step faltered as he cocked his head sideways. He met my gaze, and even as I nodded, his guns appeared in his hands.
When the four of us met in the center of the large terminal, Lorcan anticipated my question.
“Five minutes, tops. Not enough time to get everyone out.”
“But enough time to jump.”
If my words surprised any of them, they didn’t react.
“What’s the plan?” asked Farnoud quietly, seeing as always through to the heart of my actions.
“My node opened up near a large group of hybrids. I tried to evade them, but I couldn’t shake pursuit. Many are following, maybe a hundred. Lots of weaponry. They’re specifically hunting me.”
“So you need to get out,” Lorcan confirmed. Araceli nodded in agreement.
“No. I plan to give them exactly what they want.”
“What do you mean? We can survive without you. Tasoula is not ready yet, and she’s the only other – ”
I cut off Araceli.
“I’m going to use a spell.”
They waited, silently.
“Be ready. Because as soon as I activate it, I’m activating the nodes. And we’ll have one minute to make sure we’re in the right places.”
“Will you be strong enough to do both?” Farnoud asked quietly, his voice cutting through the growing noise around us effortlessly.
Lorcan and Ara stopped midturn and looked back at me. They knew I’d returned from a jump, and how weak that left me. But I’d only transported myself and managed to rest a little, so I answered with more confidence than I really had.
“I’ll have to be.”
Farnoud shared an intimate look with Ara before jogging off, heading towards the contingent he was in charge of. Araceli did the same, while Lorcan hesitated.
“Oy’ll be by yer side. Ye know that.”
“I know that. But right now, I need you at the node. Waiting. We still never figured out whether or not they know what you can do. Stay and guard Amma and Tasoula.”
“Ye’re the most valuable of us all, Evy.”
As usual, I rolled my eyes at the nickname before responding.
“How much time.”
He cocked his head.
“Less than two minutes.”
He took off at a run, but I remained still. My eyes closed and I focused inward, feeling for that faint electrical buzz surrounding my body. I fed it my intent, readying myself for the coming confrontation. What I did, I had yet to truly understand. It was, to me, some unexplored dimension of physics, previously undefined. Others called it magic. That didn’t matter. I only knew that it worked.
Behind, screams started as the doors blew inwards. Reaching into my pocket, I felt the lodestone, steady and cold.
The mechanically enhanced voice rang throughout the terminal, silence falling almost immediately in its wake.
The hybrids had come.
“WE REQUIRE THE HUMAN KNOWN AS DENA EVRÍSKON, LEADER OF THE ESCAPIST MOVEMENT AND CONVICTED SABOTEUR. SURRENDER HER, AND YOU WILL COME TO NO HARM.”
I turned around to see the hybrids fanning out, their faces covered by helmets except for the leader. Yet his passive face was somehow even more coldly inhuman. I slowly let out my breath, releasing my first spell.
It was time.
“I am here.”