Last time we saw MICA… (click for recap)
While attempting to escape the Unseen City, Mica, Rebekah, and Stephen are discovered and attacked by Alayla and her soldiers. During the fight, a Seer with a Burn gun, and surprisingly good aim, comes to their aid. Mica, Rebekah, and the unknown Seer make it onto the transport but not before Rebekah is shot with the Burn gun. Rebekah, now Burned, is driving the transport. While hurtling down the mountainside, Mica calms the freshly Burned and anxious Rebekah and tends to the Seer’s wounds. Once they are safe at the bottom of the mountain, Mica learns that the wounded Seer is Hannah, Rebekah’s sister. Mica convinces Hannah to take off her mask so that she can help them find their way to the man healing Burners, but as she does, they discover that Hannah really is blind. Lost in the Empty Places with a blind woman and a Burner, Mica wonders how they will ever find their way to the man healing Burners…
Nothing. Just… nothing.
Mica turned in a slow circle. The Empty Places stretched all around her. To the east stretched almost five hundred miles of nothing. To the West lay the White Mountains and Unseen City. To the north and south, the Empty Places stretched for over two thousand miles of barren wasteland. And somewhere in that great, vast nothing was one man she needed to find.
She sank down to the cold ground and sat staring at the wasteland before her. Shame and her good friend despair joined her. They pulled at grass, tossing the broken blades into the wind.
Mica had grown up in a place like this. Wide and wild with grass bent back against the frozen wind. This was where she belonged, she thought, in a place with nothing because she was nothing. Without knowing where to go, they could wander this emptiness forever and never see a soul. Well, no one except the soldiers who used the roads to run supplies up and down the country. If she was lucky, she might run into them and get Burned. Wouldn’t that be a way to go? Turn to nothing in the great nothing…
“Mica…” Hannah’s voice rang out, caught in the wind, and disappeared into the emptiness. The edge to her vanished voice sent cold through Mica’s veins, and she scrabbled to her feet and ran back to the transport.
She threw the doors to the transport open and staggered back. Inside the transport’s metal and cold, Rebekah seemed to pulse with anger and rage, her eyes wide and red and white.
“There’s nothing. Nothing before the mountain,” Rebekah said, her voice filling the transport like ash spinning in the air.
“I told you,” Hannah said, “your memories were taken, but we’re going to find a way to get them back—I promise.”
“Rebekah—” Mica started, but the large woman wheeled on her.
“Don’t call me that, that’s not my name,” Rebekah said. “I don’t know who that is. I don’t know who that is.” Her fist shot out and slammed into the transport with a dull, aching thud, like distant thunder. “There’s nothing, nothing….” she said, slamming her fist into the transport over and over again. “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.“
Mica approached the transport with her hand out like she was nearing a wild animal. Fear and death held hands and stepped closer. Death wears the face of a long-forgotten friend, but his mouth is filled with mold and rot.
“Hey, Rebekah, just calm down—”
“Calm down? I don’t know who I am, I don’t even remember my own name, and you tell me to calm down? There’s… there’s nothing. Nothing.” She slammed the transport harder and harder and harder—this side, then that side, then right over Hannah’s head.
“Stop! Stop it!” Mica jumped up into the transport, unsure of what she was going to do, but sure she should do something.
“But there’s nothing!” Rebekah screamed, her face coming inches from Mica’s, her breath hot and cold and smelling of coffee she didn’t remember drinking. Her eyes were filled with such grief, and Mica could see terror perched on her shoulder, a white creature with yellow eyes.
Mica put her fists up for a fight, but Rebekah reached out and grabbed her neck and squeezed. Mica tried to stop her, but it was like Rebekah didn’t even notice the small hands scrabbling at her forearms.
“Tell me, tell me who did this to me?” Rebekah said.
Mica struggled to breathe, but there was nothing.
“Tell me!” Rebekah said again but then froze. Her eyes went dreamy, and her jaw slack, then the large woman released Mica and fell to the floor. Hannah stood in her wake, holding a needle.
“Thanks,” Mica said, but she was shaking, and her voice rasped. She could still feel Rebekah’s hand around her throat, squeezing and squeezing. Rebekah was twice her size, and Mica had never seen her angry before. It was not something she’d like to see again.
“Now, if we’re all done feeling sorry for ourselves,” Hannah said, “we should be going.”
With Rebekah sleeping soundly in the back of the transport, Mica climbed into the driver’s seat. Hannah sat in the co-pilot’s seat with a medical kit, ready if the massive woman still felt unstable when she woke up.
Mica ran her hands over her face. “Well, shit.”
“Yes. And now you’re going to figure out how to drive,” Hannah said.
After some false starts and experimentation, and some mild outbursts of barely concealed terror from Hannah, Mica got the hang of the transport, and they headed off into the sunrise to find the man healing Burners.
“So, how do we find him?” Mica asked, trying to sound positive, but her heart was heavy. How did you find one man in a wilderness of nothing?
“We drive east until our transport stops, then we walk south, south-east.”
“And… that’s it?” Mica said. “We walk? We’ll never find him that way.”
But Hannah tilted her head. “I believe we will.”
“Why? It’s ridiculous! There’s nothing out here, that’s why it’s called the Empty Places, remember? Because of nothing.”
“It’s getting colder. Winter is coming. Where would you go if you had to live in the Empty Places during winter? Would you go north? Or might you migrate south in hopes that it will be warmer for longer, and maybe less snow?”
Mica shifted in her seat. She had not thought of it that way.
“And he’ll be close to the eastern edge of the Empty Places.”
“He helps Burners, doesn’t he? He’ll stay close to where he can grab Burners unnoticed. Probably little towns and villages where people can go missing, and no one notices.”
“He might try a larger agricultural city. More Burners, more people to help.”
Hannah shook her head. “Too many soldiers. And if someone misses a shift, it’s noticed. If a farmer isn’t seen for a few days, well, that happens all the time. No one cares. No, he’ll stay close to smaller cities and villages. We’ll head east until we get close to the eastern border, then we’ll start south. With any luck, we’ll find him and his restored Burners before Alayla does. We can’t let that happen. Not now.”
“What happens when Alayla finds him?”
Hannah hesitated. “Our mission was not to make peace with Perseus.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why do you think Rebekah was chosen for this mission?”
Mica looked back at the sleeping woman. She was a force to be reckoned with, for sure. “I don’t know,” Mica said. “To keep you safe?”
Hannah smiled. “I can keep myself safe. We were never going to talk to Perseus,” she said. “We were going to kidnap him.”
They drove until nightfall. Rebekah woke up with a headache, but she was calmer. Quiet, and pensive, but calm. They set up a little fire to warm themselves under the stars and ate packs of protein supplements and vitamins for dinner. The transport had been well stocked for a hike through the wilderness, so they wouldn’t go hungry anytime soon. But they would eventually run out of packaged food. Mica decided not to think about that yet.
Rebekah sat examining a tattoo on her arm in the flickering firelight.
“That one means strength,” Hannah said.
“What?” Rebekah looked up.
“The bear on your right arm? Strength. And the butterfly means transformation.”
“How do you know that? You’re blind.”
“I’m your sister, stupid,” Hannah said, but she was smiling.
“And just so you know, you owe me fifty dollars.”
Rebekah scowled at her. “Do not.”
Hannah lifted a hand in question. “I knew about the bear, didn’t I?”
“That’s not the same.”
“I’m blind, how else would I know?”
“She could have told you,” Rebekah said, pointing a muscled hand at Mica.
“Nope. Not getting in the middle of that,” Mica said and turned back to her protein pack. It was chalky and thick, and it tasted like beans or lentils, something earthy and warm. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad.
“She didn’t tell me,” Hannah said. “And trust me, you owe me money.”
“I do not.”
“All right, if you want to be a thief, that’s fine. You go ahead and do that.”
“I am not a thief,” Rebekah said, her voice going thin and high for a moment. Quiet in the wilderness. The smoke from their fire swirled up to the stars.
“You’re right. You’re not a thief,” Hannah said.
Mica rolled over and stared up at the stars. Perseus stared back, and Mica doubted.
They awoke before dawn and drove straight into the sun. When the transport finally ran out of gas and rolled to a gentle stop, they pulled on packs filled with food and water and started hiking south-east. Mica went first, followed by Hannah tapping the earth with her staff, and then Rebekah with the largest of the packs strapped to her back.
They hiked for days and saw nothing.
Rebekah kept Hannah from falling, and Hannah kept telling her stories of who she was. Rebekah didn’t object, but she didn’t encourage the tales of her past either. Mica wondered what was going through the large woman’s mind. What emotions and thoughts birthed themselves when there was nothing from her past to create them? There was just the emptiness of the wilderness before them.
She was Rebekah but not. Her voice was the same, but the words and the tones and even the cadence were different. Her face was the same, but her eyes lacked their keen observance and held suspicion instead. And she didn’t know her own strength. She could lift Mica’s pack, with Mica attached to it, off the ground, and laugh at how light they were.
Mica wondered if she ever found her family if this was what it would be like—convincing someone that you knew them and loved them while they watched you with suspicion and questions and laughed at you. The question rubbed at the back of her mind and, not only that, but her boot had a hole in it. She should have taken the Seer boots.
Days glowed warm and bright, and nights cold and black. Inside their little tent, Mica shivered and wondered how far they would have to walk before they gave up, before Mica ventured off into Nova alone to find a family who had surely forgotten her. And she wondered where she could find new boots. She wondered as she drifted off to sleep and nothing.
A hand over her mouth.
Mica awoke with a jolt of adrenaline as a hand clamped over her mouth, and she thrashed. Rebekah, her hand pressed over Mica’s mouth, stared down at her with a finger to her lips. Hannah sat upright, her face towards the shadows on the tent. She pointed.
Mica nodded to Rebekah. She would be quiet. Rebekah nodded back, dropped her hand from Mica’s mouth, and picked up her tonfa. Mica reached for the short sticks, the Burn gun being out of darts was useless, and followed Rebekah outside into the early and the morning and the gray.
Out in the growing gray dawn, Rebekah lay flat against the ground, peering up over the low hill hiding their tent. Mica joined her and pressed herself into the cold and frosty dirt. The cold seeped through her coat and into her very bones. Life on the plains was always cold. In front of her, not far away, strode a flock of deer silhouetted in the almost sunrise. Mica caught her breath. Something about their long legs casting spindly shadows and their twitching tails filled her with warmth.
“There, see? It’s nothing,” Rebekah said. But Mica caught something sad in her voice.
“No. Not nothing.”
Rebekah motioned to them. “Just stupid deer. They don’t know anything.”
“Doesn’t make them nothing.”
A single gunshot filled the gray sky and sent blood speeding through Mica’s veins. The deer scattered, but one fell.
“Back to the tent, get Hannah,” Rebekah said.
“Soldiers?” Mica asked. She looked around for the hunter, but couldn’t see anyone.
“I don’t know,” Rebekah said, “but go get Hannah. We’ve got to move.”
Mica slid down the little hill and got to her feet, cold and dirt filling her right boot through the hole in the heel. Then light exploded in her vision as something slammed into her forehead. She dropped her short sticks and fell back, clutching her head, still seeing bright and dark and eclipses.
Rebekah, a gray ghost streak in the dawn, was already moving past her with tonfa raised.
Her vision cleared, but the pain remained.
Someone was screaming. Something fell at her feet.
Mica reached for her short sticks in the tall grass but found nothing. She swore and stumbled to her feet, but stars shot across her vision. As they faded into golden dust, she saw Rebekah beating a soldier and screaming at her to grab the gun and go find Hannah. Her fists moved in crisp and precise movements faster than Mica thought possible. Despite her Burn, it seemed that Rebekah remembered how to use her well-trained muscles.
Mica stared and fought to focus through the fading stars. A soldier, a young man no older than herself, a Burner with a shaved head just beginning to sprout new and soft hairs. He cowered from the massive woman and her fists. He had one arm.
A soldier with one arm.
Why didn’t he have an arm? The missing limb sent coldness through Mica. Something about the missing limb was wrong, very wrong. Yet there was something else unsettling about him. As he looked at her, Mica understood: his eyes weren’t hazy. He looked at her as if he was really seeing her. It was unsettling, looking at a soldier and not seeing the glaze over his eyes and the distant expression on his face. But there was no time to wonder what the clear eyes and missing arm meant.
Mica tore her gaze from the soldier and searched for the gun. The thing that had fallen to her feet–the soldier’s gun. She found it and grabbed it, and ran to the tent, yelling for Hannah. Shadows played on the canvas in the early morning light. Hannah appeared, but she wasn’t alone. A second soldier, older, thinner, stronger than the young, one-armed man, had Hannah’s hair in one fist and a gun in the other. He pointed the weapon at Hannah and dragged her forward.
“Drop it,” the old soldier said to Mica, nodding to the gun in her hands.
Mica glanced back at Rebekah, who gave one final kick to the young soldier, then backed away, glowering at the weathered soldier holding Hannah. The old soldier stared at Mica, and his gaze unnerved her. It was steady, piercing, thoughtful. This soldier was not a soldier. A not-soldier.
He nodded to Mica again, and she dropped the gun and backed up to Rebekah and her bloody fists.
The not-soldier with the thinning hair and gaunt face shoved Hannah to her knees as the young one picked up his weapon with his one arm and pointed it at Mica and Rebekah. His empty sleeve had come loose and waved in the breeze, and his eye was almost closed, bruised and purple. Despite their martial look and thin frames, they did not wear the Novan uniforms but simple jumpsuits, jackets, and winter boots. She’d never seen a soldier out of uniform before.
“Now,” the not-soldier said. “Who the hell are you?”