We escape from the island with no incidents. Heather, who was smart enough to wait at the boat, starts it up the moment we’re in sight. There are some mines in the water, but Ball Buster hangs me over the side, and I sense out where they are. Sidewinder zaps them. Amidst all the explosions, I doubt anyone even notices.
The sea is rougher than I could have imagined. Like I’ve been out on lakes before when it was storming, but this—the waves crash right over the bow. We’re speeding into waves larger than our boat. The water that splashes over us is dark and freezing cold. It’s almost awesome enough to make me forget the scene back at camp.
“There’s not a lot of fuel, but it should be enough to get us to Bering Island,” Heather says, from the steering wheel. “So long as we don’t run into any major problems.”
“Any things to worry about for the next couple hours?” I ask her.
“Weather patterns? I mean, it’s a straight shot, there are no islands in the way, but if we hit a storm, things could get dicey fast.” She fumbles with an item on her belt. “The weather monitor doesn’t show any major issues.”
“Weather monitor? Can they track us with that?” I ask.
“There’s not a GPS device in it. It gets updates via radio wave. We might lose the signal, but tracking it would be tricky.” She frowns ahead at the ocean. “Still. We won’t really even be able to see with darkness like this.”
“You’d better get some rest,” I say. “Bally, you too. I’m the only one who’s slept recently. The rest of you should bed down for the night.”
“Makes sense,” says Ball Buster.
The boat’s not as big as a fishing vessel. There’s barely room for the seven of us, especially given how big most of us are. But I guess when you’re tired enough, anything works. Heather seems a bit nervous at first, but even she drops off eventually, her back resting against Ball Buster.
I keep an eye on the compass. With everything so dark and the sky so cloudy, if I lose the heading, we could get completely lost. Sidewinder actually looked to see if there was a GPS locator before the rest of us reminded him that would ruin the entire damn point. I remember Doc mentioning something about using the stars to steer, but the details are vague.
The waves crash and crash against the boat. It’s lulling in a way. I think back to the island. What happened back there? Did anyone get killed? Did everyone? Did Wolfe kill the campers? Did the campers kill Wolfe? Are they going to nuke the island? Should we have offered to take the others? I see the flaming wrecks and the figures jumping at the guards. We couldn’t possibly have taken any more. And Wolfe was ready to kill them anyway. They were dead men. We couldn’t have stopped to help them.
So why does it make me feel uncomfortable?
Because they’re probably dead, and that makes me feel bad. Obviously. I don’t like thinking of Big Bear and the others being dead. Or Faith. All the girls are back there too. All the reasons in the world won’t change that. I don’t think I could argue myself into not feeling bad about it, or that I would if I could.
I even feel sort of bad about Sergeant Grim Goatee. It’s weird. The guy was an absolute a-hole, and I’m not even remotely responsible for how he died. Maybe just something about the way it was done disturbs me. Just to shoot a guy in cold blood like that. Even if he did try to kill me.
It’s not even like he was the only one. J’son, Jackhammer … even Val, apparently. That still bugs me. Why Val? Was she planning that all along? All those times we spent watching movies, playing pool…. I don’t think I told anyone else how I felt about the J’son thing. I wonder if she told Jackhammer about it. I wonder if they laughed about it.
A super-sharp wave hits the boat, and it knocks me from my thoughts. Sue stirs and wakes up. “How much longer?”
I shrug. Heather’s the navigator. “Rest of the night, I guess.” I hear, far off, the sound of a helicopter. I tense up, but the sound soon fades.
“Well, it’s gotta be around 4 a.m.,” Sue says, settling against the gunwale. “Two more hours?”
“Three, at least.” The sun won’t be up till 10. What does morning even mean out here?
Sue doesn’t say anything for a while. I don’t feel much like talking either. There’s not a lot to say, really. For a few moments I even think he’s gone back to sleep.
Then he pipes up. “Man. You know, last year, around this time, I was on the couch at my buddy’s place, yelling at his momma about how I’d take out the trash when I felt like it.”
“You were couch surfing?” I ask.
“Had some beef going with my stepdad. Whole other story. It just … this here is as weird as shit, you know? Like we riding in a real-ass black ops boat in the ocean just off of Alaska, looking to meet up with some bitches from some Middle Ages order.”
“Yeah. Weird stuff. I think I was making plans for high school: how I was going to style a whole new me and get noticed.”
“Heh,” Sue says, grinning. “Got to show off for those girls, right?”
“Shut it, man,” I say. I almost turn to Dolphin to stop him before he says something even worse, but Dolphin’s gone.
Again there’s a stretch of silence.
“Dolphin was a piece of work, wasn’t he?” Sue says. He got it.
“You think he was actually coming down to pick us up?”
“No,” I say. “He was kind of a prick when you think about it. All about himself. I don’t think he would have taken me if I hadn’t been up there.”
“Real talk, right there,” Sue says. “Man didn’t have no real regard for his friends. Gotta respect his independence, though.”
“Pretty sure you call that selfishness.”
“Man more or less could have escaped on his own,” he says. “Mighta been an asshole, but he had ability. Respect ability.”
“I don’t think I do. Anyway, clearly, he couldn’t escape on his own, because he didn’t. His plan mostly consisted of ‘threaten the pilot and hope he agrees.’ Everyone told him that wouldn’t work, and then he didn’t have any backup for when it didn’t. Just ended up as a lot of desperate running around.”
Sue makes a non-committal noise.
“The guy …” I feel a bit warm as I expand on this. “I mean, he didn’t stick with things long enough to have a plan. He was always going with whatever stupid impulse he had. He barely planned at all. He thought of his whole escape plan seconds before deciding to do it.”
“He committed, though,” Sue insists. “Like once he was in, he was in all the way. Ruthless.”
“Fat lot of good that did.” A thought occurs to me. “Heck, that was probably the problem. No shit a pilot’s going to commit suicide rather than chauffeur the psychopathic world-builder who’s torturing him off the island. Probably would have flown us into the ocean if he’d had the chance. Dolphin just expected him to fold because that’s what Dolphin would have done. Sell out his friends to save his life. How the fuck do you respect someone like that?”
“Whoah.” Sue holds up his hands. “Got some feelings bottled up there, huh Square?”
“He’s the reason all this went to shit. If he hadn’t been a dick, I wouldn’t have been almost killed by the guards, the camp wouldn’t have been destroyed, Doc Schaefer wouldn’t …” I bite the rest off.
“Doc huh?” Sue muses on this. “Wonder where they took him.
I sigh. “I don’t know.”
“You know, they took that Code thing he made. Those little index cards? Took them from all of us.”
“Yeah. Mine too.”
“Looks like you got a shiny new one, though.” He points at the glowing necklace.
“Yeah.” I hadn’t thought about it, but the glowing red gem at the center does look like one of those Orbs Doc showed me.
“That’s what they call an Soulclasp.” Destro’s voice speaks up from the bow. “It lets your body run off the Orb inside without fully implanting it in place. It’s not as powerful as if you implanted it, but it is a good training aid for a novice. Good training it is. There are most likely some abilities encoded into it also. Have you tried flying? Does it have that? Do you know?”
“We can do that?” I look at him. I think of the way the Templars leapt into the air.
“I don’t know. We are angels, though, are we not?”
“Okay, f’real, man, you gotta level with us here,” Sue says. “What the shit is your deal? You one of these Templar shits?”
“Oh, no.” Destro scratches his neck. “Nothing quite like that. I know this from my father and mother.”
“Your folks taught you about being a Nephil?” I ask. “Orbs and Codes and stuff?”
“They were both Nephilim, my father and my mother.” Destro says. “I think I told you, we lived in a secluded part of the country. That is because they were hiding. That is where they taught me about Soulclasps and Codes and all sorts of things.”
“About how to be sneaky and how to play dumb, too?” Sue asks.
Destro smiles. “They taught me many things They taught me English so that I could blend in better without using our gifts. They taught me to stay secret and hidden.” His grin fades. “And then, I wanted to see the world. So I took a day trip to Italy.”
“And you got pulled for a random search.” Sue shakes his head. “That’s some shitty luck right there.”
“What’s your power, exactly?” I ask. “You can manipulate computers, yeah?”
He nods. “Some sort of electricity-based power, I imagine, but it only seems to work on electronics. It is most useful for confusing tracking beacons or for accessing records.”
“Or for erasing yourself from surveillance records,” I say.
“Hm? Oh, no. I just don’t appear on cameras. That’s not a unique Aptitude. That’s something from the Code my parents tattooed on my chest when I was young. That’s what that was.”
“Wouldn’t that be, like, brainwashing?” I ask.
He yawns. “Perhaps.”
“There some way you could give us that power?” Sue asks.
Destro looks a bit embarrassed. “I am no ancient wise man, my friend. I’m simply a teenager. I’m afraid I did not pay the best of attention to my parents, always. Even my parents were simply copying a Code passed down through the family. Creating a Code is a … most extremely rare skill amongst Nephilim. I cannot even imagine what such a Nephil was doing in such a dangerous place.” He settles back against the gunwale and opens his eyes. “Do you remember what your Code amulets said?”
“No, but I don’t think I’d want to keep it anyway,” I say, while watching the compass. “It was centered around love, and that kinda steered me wrong both with Val and Dolphin.”
“Ah, Dolphin. You know why we called him Dolphin?” Destro asks.
“I’m guessing it wasn’t because dolphins are smart and adorable,” I say.
“No. It is because dolphins are assholes. That’s what they are. They routinely murder each other. Even rape each other. We called him that because Fish suggested it. One should not bully someone who’s enthusiastic about marine biology.”
Sue goes back to sleep, eventually. Destro does too presumably, but I’m learning not to take anything for granted with that guy. I keep an eye on the compass and another eye on the oceans.
Weirdly, I find myself thinking about the Code amulets. I guess I got into the habit. Whenever my old ones ripped up, I’d have to ask Doc for a new one, so I’m thinking now about how I would replace it.
So what would my Code be? Be honest—I always liked that one. Don’t bully, though I guess that’s framed as a negative statement. Protect weak people? Help weak people? They’d work. Don’t desert your friends? Stand by your friends? I think of Dolphin and grimace. Stand by your friends so long as said friends aren’t being assholes. Bit of a mouthful. Probably not specific enough. But it feels like something I can agree with.
Why did I let Jackhammer out? That feels like a Code thing. Who would leave someone to die in a dump like this? Jackhammer was an asshole too, but I didn’t think he deserved … whatever Wolfe was planning. Probably what happened to Street Rat and the others. So what would that look like in a Code? Help people who deserve it? Sounds wrong. Help people who need help?
This is hard. I wish Doc was still here.
Eventually, it’s time to change shifts, and that’s when we learn that Ball Buster’s sick.
“Bally? Bally, wake up man. Come on. You’re starting to scare me, here.” I give his cheek a little slap. Not a hard one, but enough that he should definitely get up.
He groans but otherwise doesn’t move.
“Holy crap. His skin is like ice!” Sidewinder passes a hand over his forehead. “What the hell is wrong with him? He was fine when we left the base!”
“It’s like he’s overrun his Active limit,” I say, standing back. “That one time at the fight when he passed out, he was like this. But he hasn’t been doing anything … why now?”
Sue looks at me. “That Nephilic Rot gets worse, right?”
Right. Especially since none of us have those implants anymore. “Shit,” I say and I look around, but obviously, it’s just ocean on all sides. At the fight, there was Doc.
Doc. Codes. I say to Destro, “You said these Soulclasp things are like Orbs, right?”
He looks puzzled. “Yes, but…”
I pull the Soulclasp off and loop it around Bally’s neck. As the glowing stone touches his chest, his whole body seems to … firm up somehow, and he gasps. “Oh! Shit!” He looks around at us. He’s panting. “What … what the hell happened?”
“Dunno,” I say. “You alright?”
He touches his chest. “I think so … now … I think …” His eyes go up to the sky and widen. “Whoah.”
I look up, too, and can’t help my intake of breath.
The clouds have finally cleared, and there are more stars glittering in the sky then I ever knew existed. I guess at camp there were always the lights of the towers and buildings, and even on the night runs, I never much bothered to look up. But the sky … looks so big. And bright. And that’s not even what I’m gasping at.
High in the darkness above us, a serpent-like pattern of shifting greens is dancing. Whites, purples, and blues fade in and out in the night sky. The colors just hang in the air. Spreading across the sky, the northern lights fade in and out.
“Trippy,” Sue says. Sidewinder, beside him, is looking with intense interest. Destro’s face is lit with wonder as he stares from horizon to horizon.
“The sky dwellers,” Heather announces. She has a serene look as she gazes upwards. “The Aleut said the northern lights were lanterns lit by the sky dwellers to show virtuous spirits the path out of the abyss to the true heavens.”
“Seriously?” Ball Buster asks, looking back at the sky.
“Well, it was one story,” she says. “Over on Nunavuk Island, apparently, they say the lights are dead walrus spirits kicking around a human skull.”
“Please tell me you’re joking,” I say.
“Aleut myths are a mess,” she says. “What can I say? Go a little bit south, and the stories are of dead human spirits kicking around a walrus skull.”
And yet, messy or not, every one of us loses ourselves in the magic of what we’re seeing. We fall into silence. Even Ball Buster.
We make Bering Island early the next day before the sun rises. There’s a cluster of abandoned prefab buildings on the shore. Heather says they’re the remnants of the Aleut fishing village that used to be here. (Apparently, the island is a now a wildlife refuge, which pisses Ball Buster off no end.) We push the boat into one of the buildings by the coast, then look around for the Templars.
Unfortunately, they’re not there.
“What the shit, Square? You said they’d be here!” Bally says, as we search along the coastline. “Did we miss them?”
“They said they’d be here.” I bend to the ground and touch the soil. “For a week. We’ve got at least three days left—four, I’d say.”
Sidewinder drops down from a jump. “Maybe Wolfe got the navy to chase them off?”
“You didn’t see these guys,” I say. “They could’ve taken down an aircraft carrier. Hang on. There’s something in the boathouse.”
We hear the sound of a helicopter.
“Shit!” Ball Buster looks at the ocean. Sure enough, three choppers are visible as faint outlines on the horizon.
“You think they’ve seen us already?” Sidewinder says.
“Doesn’t matter!” I shout, waving toward the buildings. “We need to get inside!”
“Won’t be enough,” Destro says. “Thermal imaging. We need to go in the water.” He points to the dock.
“Oh … fuck,” says Bally, but none of us disagree. We know Destro’s right.
We dive into the water, one after the other. Mouse hesitates for just a second, but he gets a wild look in his eyes and dives in anyway. We surface under the dock. There’s just enough space under it for us to breathe.
“Ooohhhhhh, this is cold,” Heather says. “This is going to suck. This is going to suck, so, so bad—”
“Sh!” Destro hisses. We all fall quiet as the helicopter’s rotors become truly thunderous. I’m almost peeking out, so I get a better view than the rest.
It’s three helicopters, actually. Two Apache gunships and a Blackhawk. Clearly used for transporting troops. I see the blue camo and the red goggles—they’re flying very low. Must be searching with a fine-tooth comb. I only hope they’re not low enough to see through the planks on the dock.
The helicopters hover over the beach for a moment, and I have a second of fear that they’ve seen through the ruse. But then the lead copter starts to turn, and the others follow. Just as they’re accelerating away, I see someone lean out of the Blackhawk and have a last look at the beach.
I can’t be sure it’s her. It’s a long distance, and of course she’s wearing the red goggles. But the small body, the bobbed hair, the olive skin …
“Guys,” I say, as the copters disappear from view. “I think Coach is hunting us.”