The stars crashed into the atmosphere in a flash of light. It started as one, then two, and now it looked as if angels skipped stones across the sky. Atop the RV, I couldn’t help but feel insignificant in the endless depths of space. In Chicago, the lights at night drowned out all but the brightest stars. Here, parked in the middle of a field away from the road, I tried to imagine the number I’d have to count to account for each one.
I imagined there were thousands if not millions of people staring up at the sky right now. Even knowing I partook in a shared experience, I was alone. No, that wasn’t correct. I had an unconscious Lilith and a cyber stalker. I had Pill-R and perhaps even Halo. My band of misfits grew, but despite having more allies than when I started, I felt nothing more than a temporary partnership. Even Lilith sleeping off her power hangover, I didn’t know if I could trust her.
I wrapped a discarded blanket around my shoulders. It smelled of dust and dampness, but it held the cold of the night at bay. I laughed as I thought of Michael. Since I left Chicago, the man hadn’t crossed my mind. Escaping police, fleeing for my life, and facing off against synthetics changed your priorities. He’d find all of this amusing, not the danger of it, but the fact I was enduring it. I don’t think Michael considered me brave. I don’t know if I considered myself brave.
A light blinked in the sky, moving at a quick pace. It could be a satellite, or even a drone, but I wanted to believe it was the space station. While the Free Republic fell into shambles, the rest of the world took notice and stood up. Overseas the world changed for the better. Russian, China, and Japan had constructed a high orbit station that housed almost two hundred people. They were the last stop before the biospheres on the Moon. Was somebody looking out a window, staring down at the Earth, wishing they could feel the wind again?
Did Nostradamus see this? Did he see me sitting here questioning my existence? Or was he too busy sifting through world altering events? He predicted the end of mankind as they knew it. Eleanor predicted an evil descended upon the planet. I assumed neither psychic had time to see me or my destination.
I lay back on the roof. I hoped a sign would present itself, a flash of light perhaps. I felt her stir inside the vehicle before the door cracked open. She had been out for the last day. I had feared she needed medical treatment. I could perform CPR or bandage a burn, but could a historian and data construction specialist heal a Child of Nostradamus?
Even her voice sounded weak. “Up here.”
Lilith could probably jump this high in a single bound. Did she have any enhancements or was everything I believed wrong? I knew they were strong, tough, and some had extraordinary abilities. Lilith fell into the latter category. What did you call the ability to make shields? I wanted to ask her why she waited until we almost died before she used them? I wanted to think I’d be subtle, but truth be told, I’d be showing off on the corner of the street if I were her.
The RV shook as Lilith climbed the ladder at the back. She paused as her head came level to the roof. “Solar panels, smart girl.” The woman’s snarky attitude couldn’t overcome the fatigue. She sounded as if she closed her eyes sleep would find her again.
“You should be rest. I think.” My bedside manners needed a refresher course. “Honestly, I don’t know what the hell you should be doing.”
Lilith ignored me as she stared at the sky. Her jaw dropped when another barrage of comets struck the Earth’s atmosphere. “Did you see that?” I had never seen a shooting star before, but my father had said they were lucky.
“Make a wish.”
“A wish. When you see a shooting star, you’re supposed to make a wish.”
“Says the woman capable of generating force fields.”
She didn’t reply as she continued taking in the spectacle. It took a moment, but I thought I could see her lips moving. Did she make a wish? What could a woman like Lilith possibly wish for? I was about to ask when she broke the silence.
“Plasma restrained by an electromagnetic field.”
She scooted along the roof until she was close enough to talk low. The way she held her head and even her struggling breaths, I knew she wasn’t at the top of her performance. Wherever we were, it was less likely that synthetics would be patrolling. From here we could run toward the woods and lose them in the trees. At least that’s what I told myself. I prayed I wouldn’t need to run from killer machines for the next twenty-four hours.
“They’re not shields. Plasma is the fourth state of matter. Think of it as liquid fire. The electromagnetic fields hold it in place, making it durable.”
“I just heard you say shield.”
“Fine, I make shields.”
Was I speaking to Lilith the killer? Lilith the assassin? Or was this the Lilith who had a modicum of normalcy about her? I tested my luck.
“Are we going to talk about it?”
She lay down next to me, sharing my vantage point of the sky. People say that the sky is black at night and that the stars are little white dots that break through. However, the trees in the distance were dark, almost black. The sky had a dark blue tint to it, and the stars were all distinct shades of yellow. If I described it, I’d say rich, not black.
“What is there to talk about?”
I propped myself up on my elbows and stared at her. If she had optic enhancements, she’d see the scowl plastered across my face. “The part where you forgot to mention you’re a Child of Nostradamus? That you can make shields, I mean, plasma appear? None of that strikes you as conversation worthy?”
“How’d we get away?”
“I dragged you to a car, taught myself how to drive and outran synthetic patrol cars.”
I laid back for fear of trying to strangle her. “If you don’t want to talk about it, just say so. This cryptic thing you have going, I’m not—”
“They manifested when I was twelve.” Score one for me and my new assertive superpowers. “My parents were devout members of the Church. When the test came back positive, they enrolled me in an academy. At first, I thought my ability was to make electronics go on the fritz. Then one night while showing off, I cut through the bed in my room. I went from an oddity to a danger.”
“It doesn’t sound so bad.”
“For a while, they manifested on their own. My teacher doused me in flame retardant. They were scared of me, and rightfully so. I’m not as strong as some, but I’m faster than most. I couldn’t run track anymore. I couldn’t participate in any sports. The library became my second home. Nobody at puberty wants to be different. I was alone.”
It was the most she had spoken of her childhood. Questions about the Church and how she became involved with the Network came to mind, but I held my tongue. I needed Lilith to be human. I needed to see an actual person so I could establish some amount of faith in her again.
“What happened next?”
“I didn’t finish school before they recruited me to be part of the Network. My parents agreed and I wanted to belong to something.”
There was a lengthy pause before she spoke again. “We should get some rest. Tomorrow I think we can make it to the Outlands.”
“The Outlands? Are you sure?”
I didn’t want to admit it, but it terrified me to travel into the forbidden land. It was inevitable that we would need to enter the Outlands to reach Boston. I just hadn’t imagined it would happen so quickly. I knew almost nothing about it, and I hated being ignorant. Before she could respond, I added, “Have you been there before?”
Lilith’s head turned, eyes staring at me. I knew whatever was about to come out of her mouth would be mind blowing. She had a tendency of dropping bombs.
Great, just great. We were returning to the place Lilith called home. I could only imagine… Troy. I almost spit it out, but swallowed the word. We were returning to Troy, to the homestead of the Children of Nostradamus. Except, if the reports were correct, they’d kill me on sight. I hope she had connections, a family member, anybody who could sneak us through the front door.
Home. Staring up at the stars, I questioned the word. Chicago had been where I grew up, where I lived. But it was never home. Somewhere in Boston, my father hid. I’d find him, and then I’d start thinking about where I might call home.