Last time we saw MICA… (click for recap)
While searching the Empty Places for the man healing Burners, Mica, Hannah, and Rebekah are attacked by two strange men. One man is damaged: he is missing an arm. Mica is taken aback by him. While there were more damaged in her hometown of West Six than in bigger cities, there weren’t many. And Mica knows what usually happens to someone that damaged: they’re taken in for Adjustment and never return. Hannah tells the men who attacked them that they are looking for the man healing Burners, Perseus. She says they are from the Unseen and want to ally with them. The men finally agree to take them to their camp to meet Perseus. The men are named Gabe and Zeke. While hiking through the Empty Places, Mica asks Gabe about his past, and Gabe tells his story. He used to be a soldier, but Perseus saved him and restored his memories. Once they reach the camp, they are taken to Perseus and witness him restore a Burner’s memories. However, Mica is shocked when she recognizes Perseus: Ben. The brother she thought was dead. But how did he end up here healing Burners…
At his name, all of Mica’s hope vanished like smoke on the wind. Too many emotions sprang up inside her. Joy, relief, love, but also something dark tinged her soul. Bitterness, a gaunt dog, too long neglected and hungry, raised his head.
Mica shoved her way past Gabe and Zeke and strode forward with fists clenched both in joy and fury. As soon as he’d spoken, she’d known him.
She wasn’t sure how she didn’t recognize him before. Maybe it was that his face was half-hidden in shadow. Maybe it was the beard, maybe the short hair covering his head, or the heavy cloak draped across his shoulders, or the fur collar—he never wore things like that before—or maybe it was just that she hadn’t expected to see him there. After all, he was supposed to be Burned. But as soon as he’d spoken, she had recognized him. Ben was alive! And if he was here, then Anda and Peter and Cassandra would be here too.
Yet beneath the joy was something else—something feral and dark and grasping. Anger. She was angry—angrier than she’d been in such an awfully long time. But why would she be angry? And bitterness stalked behind her with a loping stride.
“What the hell, Ben?” she said, her voice hard and gritty, choked by tears.
Ben’s gaze snapped towards her, and she saw so many emotions flicker over his face. “Mica!” he said and struggled to his feet, grabbing his crutch. It had lain unseen behind him in shadows. “You’re alive,” he said.
“You too,” she said and threw her arms around him. They stood like that for a moment, letting relief and a moment’s peace fill their reunion. He still smelled like Ben, but dirtier. Much dirtier.
“You smell terrible,” she said and shoved him away, but she was grinning.
“And you’re just as obnoxious as ever,” Ben said and smiled through his tangled beard. It was longer and wilder than she had ever seen it, and his hair was short and greasy. She wondered when he had cut it or if he had shaved it. It curled on his head like an overgrown raspberry bush.
“Where are Anda and Peter? And Cassandra?” she asked, looking over his shoulder at the tents surrounding them, searching for her family.
Ben’s smile fell, and a shadow passed over his face. “Mics, they didn’t make it.”
The wind shifted, and the snow flurried around her. Mica’s heart stopped for a moment. Her breath rushed out of her like someone had blown out a candle inside her. That last flicker of hope snuffed out. “What…” she said, and for a moment, there was no camp, no fires, no prying eyes, there was just Ben and their shared grief.
“Anda and Cassandra were Burned in West Six. Peter and I got out and made it as far as West Nine. We made it all the way to the factory, but Peter… Mics, he got shot. Peter’s gone.”
Her knees buckled, and her hands shook. And shame appeared out of the darkness. Mica had been so happy a moment ago, thinking she would see Anda and Peter and Cassandra stepping out of a tent, dirty and tired, but alive and warm and carrying bowls of food. She could almost see them now in the shadows of the tents, but they vanished with a rush of wind, and shame stood in their place, sneering.
She recalled that day so many months ago. The day Peter, Ben, and Cassandra had left her and run into the sunrise to West Six to save Anda. That was the last time she’d seen any of them. She’d known that Anda was gone, Burned, but that wound had scabbed over with the hope that she would find Anda and save her. Hearing Ben say he had failed to save her tore that wound open again. And Peter….
“Peter’s…” she couldn’t finish the question.
Snowflakes settled on her eyelashes, and she blinked to keep tears from falling. If Anda and Cassandra were Burned, at least they were still alive. But Peter was gone for good. Emotions swirled in her like a swarm of hornets, and they landed on Ben. Here he was saving everyone else, and he couldn’t even save his own family. Here was Ben healing Burners, his eyes glowing, claiming to be Perseus. Claiming to be Perseus—what was he thinking? He wasn’t Perseus–he was Ben from West Six. He was no savior. He couldn’t even save his own family.
“What the hell!” she said, shoving him. He staggered over his crutch but kept his balance. Zeke stepped forward, but Gabe held him back. The young woman who’d just been healed skittered away and was gone.
“Mica, please, calm yourself.”
“Calm myself? Really? That’s all you have to say to me?”
“I… I’m just so glad you’re alive. I thought you were… I saw the transport. I thought you were dead.”
“Well, I’m not. Thanks. And what is all this?” she said and gestured around her.
“This is Haven.”
“People just started calling it that, and the name stuck.”
“Yeah, well, it’s a sucky name if you ask me.”
“While I hate to interrupt this family reunion, I have a message for Perseus, which requires immediate attention,” Hannah said, stepping forward.
Ben looked her up and down. “These your friends?”
“Hannah and Rebekah. They’re from the Unseen City,” Mica said.
Ben’s face clouded, and Mica knew he was wary and angry, but it was so subtle she wondered if anyone else had noticed. She wondered why he would be so suspicious of them. They’d saved her life, and she trusted them, but Ben eyed them like they were snakes.
“This way,” Ben said and limped into the tent.
Gabe followed them all and stood close behind Ben. Inside, the tent was warm yet sparse. A mat lay piled with blankets in one corner and a packed bag in the other, ready in case he needed to flee. Everything was neatly folded and looked clean, and Mica wondered if he did his own laundry or not. She guessed not. Can’t have Perseus do his own laundry now, can we?
Ben lit a lantern and then turned to them. “What is this message?” he asked. Shadows like water spilled across his rocky face.
“You might have a spy,” Hannah said.
“We escaped the Unseen City some days ago to save your sister, so I don’t know if they are here already or not. We might have beaten them here, but even if we have, they are coming for you. You are not safe.”
Gabe took a step closer to Ben, but Ben studied Hannah and her white mask. “And who are you?”
“My name is Hannah. I am a Seer for the Unseen City.”
“A Seer? Doesn’t look like you’re seeing much of anything right now.”
Hannah smiled. “I see more than you know.”
“And how do you know we have a spy?”
“I was one of the original team sent to confirm your abilities, kidnap you, and return you to the Unseen City.”
“To study you.”
“Ben, they were going to experiment on you,” Mica said. “They’re already experimenting on a Watcher.”
Ben looked from Hannah to Rebekah to Mica. “Why should I trust you? You said yourself that you were part of the team sent to kidnap me.”
“That’s why we were sent, yes. But we are not with them, as you can see. Kidnapping you is not our goal. We want to ally with you. We want to help you and your people.”
“And you think you have the authority to do that? Your leaders sent you to kidnap me, not to talk. Why would your leaders change their minds? As you said, you’re not even with them anymore.”
Hannah raised her chin a bit higher. “Because sunlight and air change everything. Once we have an alliance, I will return to the Unseen and tell the city that we have seen Perseus and that the prophecy is true. My leaders might have been able to capture you in secret and then discredit the rumors of your abilities, but once I tell the people that you really are the savior of Nova, my leaders won’t be able to touch you without the entire city rioting. Faith in you is strong. People want hope.”
Mica watched Ben, wondering what he would do and how he would respond to such a proposal. Accepting help from Hannah and letting her tell an entire city that he was the savior of Nova was… ridiculous! Ben was just Ben. Like she was just some nobody from West Six. She had trusted Hannah, but her blind faith in Ben was unsettling. Wasn’t she thinking? Maybe he had some fancy trick and could really restore memories, but that was all just an illusion. Was a deception enough to designate Ben as the savior of an entire country?
Ben looked to Mica, his eyes sharp and questioning. “You trust them?” he asked.
She hesitated. She had trusted them, but this was crazy. Ben wasn’t Perseus, but maybe if she went along with it, for now, she could figure out what was really going on with Ben. Maybe she could reach him on her own. “They helped me escape and risked everything,” she finally said. Then she thought of Stephen on the ground, struggling to keep Alayla from reaching her. He risked everything too, and she hoped he was safe.
Ben eyed her. “Are you sure?”
“All right. How do we find this spy, if he’s even here?”
“The only one here who can tell you for sure is Rebekah. And she’s been Burned.”
Ben looked to Rebekah, and the tall woman looked back. Since getting Burned, she’d lost her ability to hide her thoughts and emotions, and they played openly across her face. As she stared at Ben, Mica could see the distrust and anxiety in the edges of her mouth and the corners of her eyes. But there was also hope flickering deep within her.
“Rebekah?” Ben said.
“That’s what they call me.”
“I can restore your memories. Would you like that?”
She hesitated but nodded.
Ben motioned her forward and knelt. She knelt awkwardly in front of him, tense and unsure. He put his hands gently on her face, just like he did with the other young woman, and Rebekah did not flinch or pull away. Ben closed his eyes and tilted his head back, and Rebekah continued to stare at him. After a few deep breaths, her eyes glowed blue. Blue like stormy skies, blue like inky nights.
Although Mica had already seen him restore a Burn, she didn’t quite believe it. Although she stood watching something strange and mystical and impossible, she still couldn’t make herself believe it. This was Ben. He wasn’t anything special. How was he doing this? But she couldn’t deny his glowing eyes, and she wondered: what if he could do this impossible and mythical thing, then what was he?
Rebekah did not cry out like the other young woman had. She didn’t shift or grimace or show any pain. But sweat began to slide down her forehead. After a few minutes, Ben pulled away, and Rebekah’s eyes returned to their natural state. She took a deep breath, and darkness and shaded reservation covered her face for an instant, but then she looked to Hannah and smiled. And her smile was rich and deep and cut all the lines carved into her face deeper and stronger. For the first time, Mica thought she was looking at the real Rebekah.
“You owe me money,” she said with a mischievous grin. “Gonna make me pay you, yah liar.”
Hannah smiled. “Welcome back, Becky.”
The sisters remembered each other, but Ben slumped to the side and collapsed.