“Your power is wrong, and it makes you a danger to—”
“I’m not the one holding a gun.”
“No,” said Eli, “but your weapon is worse. Your power is unnatural. Do you understand, Sydney? It goes against nature. Against God. And this,” he said, taking aim, “this is for the greater good.”
“Wait!” said Serena, suddenly turning back. “Maybe we don’t have to—”
It happened fast.
Shock and pain hit Sydney in one loud blast.
Serena’s voice had stolen her a moment, a fraction of a moment, and as soon as she saw Eli’s fingers tighten on the trigger Sydney had cut to the side, lunging for a branch as the gun fired. She had the broad stick in her grip and swung into Eli before she even felt the blood running down her arm. The branch knocked the gun to the ground and Sydney spun, and ran for her life. She reached the edge of the forest before the shots started again. As she tumbled through the trees, she thought she heard her sister calling her name, but this time she knew better than to look back.
THE ESQUIRE HOTEL
Victor stood very, very still, as he listened to Sydney’s story.
“Is that everything?” he asked when she was done, even though he could tell it wasn’t, that by the time the account left Sydney’s lips, it had bites taken out. He had watched her pause to filter out the specific nature of her power every time she opened her mouth. In the end she’d only conceded that she had an ability, and that her sister’s new boyfriend, Eli, had demanded a demonstration, and then tried to execute her for it—execute, that was the word she used—but that was all. Executing EOs, Victor’s mind spun. What was Eli playing at? Had there been others? There had to have been. The stunt in the bank with Barry Lynch, how did that tie in? Had he contrived a scene to kill the man in broad daylight?
A hero? Victor now scoffed at the word. That’s what the paper had been so eager to call Eli. And for a moment, Victor had believed the headline. He had been willing to play the villain when he thought Eli was actually a hero; now that the truth of his old friend was proving itself to be much darker, Victor would relish the role as opposition, adversary, foe.
“That’s all,” lied Sydney, and Victor didn’t get mad. He didn’t feel the need to hurt her, to pry the final truths loose—he couldn’t blame her for hesitating; after all, the last time she revealed her powers to someone, she’d nearly died for it—because even if she wasn’t telling him everything, she’d told him something vital. Eli wasn’t just close. He was here. In Merit. Or at least, he had been a day and a half before. Victor propped his elbows on the counter and took in the small girl whose path had crossed his own.
He had never believed in fate, in destiny. Those things lurked too close to divinity for Victor’s taste, higher powers and the dispensation of agency. No, he chose to see the world in terms of probability, acknowledging the role of chance while taking control wherever it was possible. But even he had to admit that if there was a Fate, it was smiling on him. The newspaper, the girl, the city. If he’d possessed even a fraction of Eli’s religious zeal, he might think God was pointing him on a path, a mission. He wasn’t willing to go that far, to buy in, but he still appreciated the show of support.
“Sydney...” He tried to suppress his excitement, forcing a calm he didn’t feel into his voice. “Your sister’s college, what is it called?”
“It’s U of Merit. On the other side of the city. It’s huge.”
“And the school apartment, the one your sister was staying in. Do you remember how to get there?”
Sydney hesitated, picking at the bagel still in her lap.
Victor gripped the counter. “This is important.”
When Sydney didn’t move, Victor took her by the arm, curling his fingers over the place she’d been shot. He’d taken away the pain, but he wanted her to remember, both what Eli had done, and what he could do. She froze beneath his touch as with his free hand, he tugged the collar of his shirt down so she could see the first of the three scars made by Eli’s gun.
“That’s two of us he’s tried to kill.” He let go of her arm and his shirt collar. “We got lucky. How many other EOs haven’t? And if we don’t stop him, how many other EOs won’t?”
Sydney’s blue eyes were wide, unblinking.
“Do you remember where your sister lives?”
For the first time, Mitch spoke up. “We won’t let Eli hurt you again,” he said over his glass of chocolate milk. “Just so you know.” Victor had opened Mitch’s laptop, and pulled up a campus map. He turned the screen toward her.
“Do you remember?”
After a long moment, Sydney nodded. “I know the way.”
* * *
Sydney couldn’t stop shaking.
It had nothing to do with the cold March morning and everything to do with fear. She sat in the front seat and navigated. Mitch drove. Victor sat in the back and fiddled with something sharp. It looked to Sydney, who’d glanced back once or twice, like a fancy knife that could be flicked open or closed. She turned forward and hugged her knees as the streets went by. The same streets that slid past the taxicab window a few days before as it took her to Serena. The same streets that slid past the window of Serena’s car as she drove them to the field.
“Turn right,” said Sydney, making a concerted effort to stop her teeth from chattering. Her fingers wandered to the spot on her arm where the bullet had passed through. She closed her eyes but saw her sister, felt her arms around her, the soda can cold in her hand and Eli’s eyes on her when Serena said Show us. The field and the body and the gunshot and the woods and—
She decided to keep her eyes open.
“Turn right again,” she said. In the backseat, Victor opened and closed the knife. Sydney remembered hating it when Eli sat behind her, the weight of his eyes on the back of her seat, on her. She didn’t mind it now with Victor there.
“Here,” she said. The car slowed, and stopped along the curb. Sydney looked out the window at the apartment buildings that hugged the eastern edge of campus. Everything looked the same, and that felt wrong, like the world should have registered the events of the last few days, should have changed the way she had changed. Cool air blew against her face and Sydney blinked and realized Victor was holding the car door open for her. Mitch was standing on the path to the apartment, kicking a loose piece of concrete.
“Coming?” asked Victor.
She couldn’t will her feet to move.
“Sydney, look at me.” He rested his hands on the car roof and leaned in. “No one is going to hurt you. Do you know why?” She shook her head, and Victor smiled. “Because I’ll hurt them first.”
He held the door open wide for her. “Now get out.”
And Sydney did.
* * *
They made an odd picture, knocking on the door to 3A: Mitch, towering and tattooed; Victor in head-to-toe black—less like a thief and more like a Parisian, groomed and elegant—and Sydney, sandwiched between them, in blue leggings and a large red coat. These clothes had appeared this morning, and still felt dryer-warm. They even fit a little better. She particularly liked the coat.
After several rounds of polite knocking, Mitch removed a set of picks from his coat pocket, and was busy saying something about how easy these school locks were in a way that made Sydney wonder more about his preprison life, when the door swung open.
A girl in pink and green pajamas looked at them, and her expression confirmed the oddness of the trio’s collective appearance.
The girl, however, was not Serena. Sydney’s heart fell.
“You selling cookies?” she asked. Mitch laughed.
“Do you know Serena Clarke?” asked Victor.
“Yeah, sure thing,” said the girl. “She gave me the apartment, like, yesterday. Said she didn’t need it anymore, and my roommate was driving me up the wall so Serena told me to take this one until the end of the year. I’m about to graduate anyway, thank God, I’m so done with this fucking school.”
Sydney cleared her throat. “Do you know where she went?”
“Probably with that boyfriend of hers. He’s a hottie, but kind of a dick, to be honest. He’s one of those time-suck guys that always wants to be with her—”
“Do you know where he lives?” asked Victor.
The girl in the pink and green pajamas shook her head and shrugged. “Nope. Ever since they started dating last fall she’s been so weird. I’ve hardly seen her. And we used to be tight! Like movies-and-chocolate-on-menstrual-time tight. And then he showed up and bam, it’s Eli this and Eli that—”
Sydney and Victor both tensed at the name.
“No idea then,” he cut in, “where we might find them?”
She shrugged again. “Merit’s a big city, but I saw Serena in class yesterday—that’s when she gave me the keys—so she can’t have gone far.” Her eyes flicked between them, and seemed to land on Sydney. “You look so much like her. You her little sister? Shelly?”
Sydney opened her mouth but Victor was already turning her away.