“The way you killed Barry?”
“I may have been more certain about Lynch than I was about Sydney. Barry was definitely, undeniably dead.”
“You told me you followed her. You told me you finished—”
“We’ll talk about this later,” he said. “I have to go kill Barry Lynch. Again.”
* * *
Serena let the phone slip through her fingers. It landed on the bed with a soft thud as she turned back to the hotel television, where the robbery coverage continued. Even though the action was happening within the bank, and the cameras were stuck on the street behind a thick border of yellow tape, the scene was causing quite a stir. After all, it had been in all the papers, the robbery last week at Smith & Lauder. The civilian hero had come out of the firefight unscathed. The robber had come out in a body bag.
No surprise that the public was disconcerted, then, to find the robber alive and well enough to rob another bank. His name ran in ticker-tape fashion along the bottom of the screen, the bold-lettered scrawl announcing Barry Lynch Alive Barry Lynch Alive Barry Lynch Alive...
And that meant Sydney was alive. Serena had no doubt that the strange and disquieting feat had somehow been her sister’s work.
She took a sip of too-hot coffee, and winced faintly when it burned her throat, but didn’t stop. She clung to the fact that inanimate objects weren’t subject to her power. They didn’t have minds or feelings. She couldn’t will the coffee not to burn her, couldn’t will knives not to cut her. The people holding the things were hers, but not the things themselves. She took another sip, eyes wandering back to the television where a photo of the previously deceased EO now filled the right half of the screen.
But why had Sydney done it?
Eli had promised Serena that her sister was dead. She’d warned him not to lie, and he’d looked her in the eyes and told her that he’d shot Sydney. And that hadn’t been a lie exactly, had it? She’d been standing right there when he pulled the trigger. Her jaw clenched. Eli was getting better at fighting back, finding little loopholes in her power. Redirections, omissions, evasions, delays. Not that she didn’t appreciate the small defiance—she did—but the thought of Sydney, alive and hurt and in the city, made it hard to breathe.
It was never supposed to go like this.
Serena closed her eyes, and the field and the body and her sister’s frightened face filled her vision. Sydney had done her best to look brave that day, but she couldn’t hide the fear, not from Serena, who knew every line on her sister’s face, who’d perched on the edge of her sister’s bed so many nights, smoothing those lines one by one with her thumb in the dark. Serena should never have turned back, never called her sister’s name. It had been a reflex, an echo of life before. She’d reminded herself over and over that the girl in the field wasn’t her sister, not really. Serena knew the girl who looked like Sydney wasn’t Sydney, the same way she knew that she wasn’t Serena. But it didn’t seem to matter the moment right before Eli pulled the trigger; Sydney had looked small and frightened and so very alive and Serena had forgotten that she wasn’t.
Her eyes drifted open, only to settle on the still-streaming headline—Barry Lynch Alive Barry Lynch Alive Barry Lynch Alive—before she snapped the TV off.
Eli said it best. He called EOs shadows, shaped like the people who made them but gray inside. Serena felt it. From the moment she woke up in the hospital, she felt as if something colorful and bright and vital was missing. Eli went on to say it was her soul; he claimed he was different and Serena let him think that because the only other option was to tell him otherwise, and then he’d believe it.
But what if he was right? The thought of having lost her soul made Serena sad in a distant way. And the thought of poor small Syd all hollowed out made her ache, and made it easier to believe Eli when he said it was mercy, returning EOs to the earth. It had been harder when Sydney was standing in her doorway, flushed from the cold and blue eyes bright, like the light was still in them. Serena had faltered, tripped over the what-ifs whispering in her head as they trudged into the field.
Sydney’s sin, Eli claimed, was double. Not only was she an EO, unnatural and wrong, but she also possessed the power to corrupt others, to poison them by filling their bodies with something that looked like life, but wasn’t. Maybe that was what Serena had seen in Sydney’s eyes, a false light she’d mistaken for her sister’s life. Her soul.
Whatever it was that made her pause, the fact was that Serena had faltered, and now her sister—the shadow in her shape—was alive, and apparently here in the city. Serena pulled on her coat, and went to look for Sydney.
THE ESQUIRE HOTEL
Victor savored the scalding water of the hotel shower as he rinsed the last of the grave dirt from his skin. Barry Lynch had been surprisingly receptive when he revisited the cemetery this morning. Victor had gone back just before dawn, scooped out the foot of dirt he’d put back on top of Lynch, to make the grave look empty if anyone chanced to walk by, and pried the lid off to find Barry’s terrified eyes staring up at him. Pain and fear are inextricable—a lesson that went back to Victor’s studies at Lockland—but pain has multiple forms. Victor might not be able to physically hurt Barry Lynch, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t make him suffer. Barry, for his part, seemed to get the message. Victor had smiled, and helped the once-dead man out of his coffin—even though he hated the way the man’s strangely nerveless skin felt against his own—and as he passed him the note and sent him on his way, Victor felt confident that Lynch would follow through. But just to be certain, he’d told him one last thing. He’d taken several steps back, and then turned toward Barry, and said it as an afterthought.
“The girl, Sydney, the one who brought you back. She can change her mind at any point. Snap her fingers, and drop you like a stone. Or rather, like a corpse. Do you want to see?” he asked, digging the phone from his pocket. He began to dial. “It’s really quite a clever trick.”
Barry had paled, and shaken his head, and Victor had sent him on his way.
“Hey, Vale!” Mitch’s voice reached him through the bathroom walls. “Get out here.”
He snapped the shower water off.
Mitch was still shouting his name when he stepped into the hall a minute later, toweling off his hair. Sun was streaming in through the tall windows, and he winced at the brightness. Late morning, at least. His message should be well on its way.
“What is it?” asked Victor, at first worried, but then he saw Mitch’s face, the broad, open smile. Whatever the man had done, he was proud of it. Sydney appeared, with Dol close behind, his tail wagging lazily.
“Come see this.” Mitch gestured to the profiles spread out on the kitchen counter. Victor sighed. There were more than a dozen now—and most of them dead-ends, he was sure. They couldn’t seem to get the search matrix exact enough. He’d spent the previous evening, and most of the night, looking over the pages, wondering how Eli did it, if he followed every lead, or if he knew something Victor didn’t, saw something Victor hadn’t. Now before his eyes, Mitch began turning papers facedown, eliminating profile after profile from the mix until only three were left. One was the blue-haired girl, and the second an older man he’d studied last night, but the third was new, it must have been freshly printed.
“This,” said Mitch, “this is Eli’s current list of targets.”
Victor’s cool eyes flicked up. He began to shift his weight from foot to foot. His fingers tapped out a beat. “How did you figure that out?”
“It’s a great story. Stand still and I’ll tell you.”
Victor forced himself to stop moving. “Go on,” he said, scanning the names and faces.
“So, I’m seeing this pattern,” said Mitch. “I keep ending up in police files. Merit police files. So I think, what if the cops are already working on their own database, right? Maybe we could compare it with ours. You mentioned, way back when, that one cop knowing about EOs. Or someone with the cops. And then I think, hey, maybe I can just borrow their data, instead of going through all the hassle—I mean it’s nothing beyond my reach, but it takes time—but what if they’ve done some of the work for me? So I start browsing in Merit PD’s ‘Persons of Interest’ database. And something catches my eye. I used to love those puzzles growing up where they ask you to spot the difference. I rocked that shit. Anyway—”
“They’re flagged,” said Victor, eyes skimming the profiles.
Mitch’s posture fell. “Man, you always ruin a punch line. But yeah... and I made it easy for you to see,” he said as he pouted. “I turned the pages down. Easy to see a pattern when it’s all that’s in front of you...”
“What do you mean, flagged?” asked Sydney, standing on her tiptoes to see the pages.
“Look,” Victor said, gesturing to the profiles. “What do all these people have in common?”
Syd squinted at the paper, but shook her head.
“The middle names,” said Victor.