Last time we saw MICA… (click for recap)
Ben cures Rebekah’s Burn, restoring her memories. As Rebekah and Gaben scour the camp for the spy, Mica questions Ben about his strange abilities. He tells her his story, ending with the death of Peter. He tells Mica that Peter distrusted the Unseen, and Mica wonders how much Peter knew about the Unseen’s operations. She asks him to go with her to find their sister and Cassandra, but Ben refuses, citing his path as Perseus. Frustrated with Ben, Mica questions his belief that he is Perseus, but Ben assures her that even Peter believed in his destiny. They are interrupted by Rebekah and Gabe, who have found the spy. Ben interrogates the young man, who admits that he is there to kidnap Ben and take him back to the Unseen so they can study him. The spy appeals to Ben as Perseus. And Ben agrees to return to the Unseen with him. But why would he go to the very people Peter didn’t even trust…
“Whoa, hold it!” Mica said and scrabbled to her feet and glaring at Ben. “No, no way you’re going to the Unseen. You know what they’ll do to you? He just told you what they’ll do to you!” she said, pointing at the spy, Leon.
Ben nodded. “They will study me and find a way to stop the Burn.”
“Yeah. Study. Experiment. Analyze. Dissect. As far as I know, the last guy they got to study almost died. Might be dead even now. Who knows.”
“No, she’s right,” Rebekah said. “You can’t go there.”
“I find myself agreeing with this wonderfully large woman again,” Gabe said, and Rebekah fidgeted like she was embarrassed. It was an odd movement on her, this stoic and boulder-like woman.
Ben got to his feet. “This is the only way. I can’t restore every single person in Nova, that’s absurd. It takes so much out of me just to restore a single person. The older they are, the worse it is. How can I restore the entire country? I physically can’t do it.”
Mica thought about him collapsing after he restored Rebekah. She thought about the new lines marking his face like he’d lived a thousand more lives than he should have. Too many years peeped out of his eyes now, far more than the almost twenty he’d lived. He really couldn’t restore the entire country, but she wouldn’t let him go to the Unseen either.
“They have to figure out how to replicate this,” Ben said, tapping the side of his head. “If they can do that, then we really might have a chance to save everyone, not just a few,” he said and looked to Mica. She knew he was thinking of Anda and Cassandra.
“But it’s not safe,” Rebekah said. The exasperation in her voice was almost pungent.
Ben adjusted his crutch under his arm. “No. But I’m not agreeing to this without some conditions. I will go to the Unseen to be studied, but I want food and water for the camp. Weapons to defend ourselves. And I want you to train us,” he said, looking at Rebekah and Hannah.
“Train you?” Hannah said.
“These people, they aren’t soldiers. They’re factory workers. Cooks. Field hands with only one hand. They’re too old and too young and untrained, but they will need to fight themselves. For what they’ve remembered. When it comes time, I need them to be ready and able to fight. All of them. And I need you to help me do that.”
“Perseus,” Gabe said and stepped forward. There was hurt in his voice and eyes and his outstretched hands. And Mica understood his pain. Gabe was a soldier. Trained from birth. And he was Ben’s most trusted friend. How could Ben ignore that and turn to someone else entirely? But Mica understood how Gabe felt because Ben had already done it to her.
“I know you could do it,” Ben said. “But Gabe, I’ll need you with me in the Unseen City. I need someone I trust to keep me safe. And we need people who understand how to be Unseen. Invisible. We need to train to be spies who fight in the dark, not just soldiers in the light.”
Gabe nodded, but Mica knew he wasn’t happy about it.
Hannah nodded. “We agree to these terms,” she said. “I will return to the Unseen with you, Leon, and Gabe. Rebekah will remain here and train your people.”
“We will need food and water as well,” Ben said. “Finding enough in the Empty Places has been difficult.”
Hannah tilted her head in assent. “Yes. We can send supplies. We should also discuss ways to contact each other in case….”
But Mica pushed her way out of the tent into the lightly falling snow and darkness. The frozen air filled her lungs. Zeke, stationed outside the tent as a guard, only glanced at her as she pushed past him. This wasn’t happening. Ben couldn’t go to the Unseen–they would tear him apart for science and eventually kill him. Even if Hannah did make it back and convinced them not to hurt Ben, she didn’t trust Alayla to keep her word or Aaron to show compassion. She felt sure that if Ben went there, he’d die.
“There you are,” Hannah said, suddenly appearing beside her.
“He can’t go there,” Mica said. “He just can’t. It’s crazy.”
Hannah lifted her white-blinded eyes to the sky. “Is it?”
“Because… because he’s not Perseus. Why doesn’t anyone see that?” Mica kicked at a clump of snowy grass. Hannah was silent. “What?”
“Look around you. Look at the people here.”
Mica raised her eyes and looked. “Yeah, a bunch of people,” she said without really looking.
Mica rolled her eyes but looked at the camp and its people. Slowly, little things began to stand out to her. A girl with a crutch and a missing leg. An old woman with an eye patch. A boy with a crippled hand. The people all around her were broken. Not all of them were missing limbs or walked with limps, but most.
“I don’t understand,” Mica said.
“These people are broken. Damaged. Some physically, some mentally from the Burn, but every single person here was someone Nova threw away and deemed unfit. Less than. Ben saved them. He gave them back themselves and a new purpose.”
“Not all of them,” Mica said under her breath to the stars above her.
Hannah went on. “He saved my sister’s memories, her past—her self. Who knows who she would have become without her memories and history? Without her family?”
Mica wondered who her sister was without her past. How had losing her mother, going hungry, and living in constant fear shaped her? She’d always been scared, timid, frightened of her own shadow. But without that past, those memories and hurts and history, who was she now? Would she even know her own sister?
“Sure,” Mica said. “He can do some crazy things, and he’s helped a lot of people. That’s great, but… but he didn’t even—” she cut her own words off, too angry to even say it out loud. He didn’t even bother saving his own sister. She turned her eyes up to the stars. If he wouldn’t save Anda, then she would.
“Here, food,” Ben said. He held out a bowl of something hot and earthy.
Mica sat by a fire, tossing frozen twigs into the red and blue flames. Shame sat next to her, warming her bare and dirty feet by the fire. Mica’s decision to leave and find Anda on her own had left her exhausted and thrilled and peaceful all at once, and she’d found a warm and quiet place to think and plan. She hadn’t figured out a way to find Anda yet, but she hadn’t given up. There was still time. She tossed one more twig into the fire, then took the bowl without looking at Ben. The stew was thick and hot and filling, and she ate quickly, burning the roof of her mouth. After days of protein packs and water, something warm was welcome, even if it was bland.
“You all right?” Ben asked, sinking to the ground beside her.
“You seemed upset in there.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“Nothing to talk about.”
Ben rubbed at his bad leg. “You don’t believe that I’m Perseus.”
“Sure, I do. That’s great. You go for it. You be you.”
“Mics. What’s going on?”
Mica scraped at the last of the gravy in her bowl and licked her spoon. “I said, nothing.”
“I’m leaving in the morning. You should come to the Unseen with me.”
“Not a chance. You go and have fun. I’ll stay here with Becky.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Why not? I trained with her too. I can help your little friends here.”
Ben scratched at his beard and glared at her. She’d seen that look before, but she’d seen it on Peter’s face. Her heart ached at the memory of Peter. Yet another person Ben should have saved but didn’t.
“Mica, we just found each other. Don’t leave.”
“No, you didn’t find me. I found you because I was looking. What were you doing? Playing pretend with your new friends. No, thank you. Leave me out of it. I’ll stay here,” she said and stared into the fire.
“Mica, we went over this. I thought you were dead, and I couldn’t just go looking for Anda and Cassandra. Where would I even start?”
“I don’t know, but you could have tried.”
“Mica, people need me here.”
“Do they? Do they really need Perseus? Do they really need someone who can’t even save their own family?” She looked at Ben. He seemed older in the flickering firelight, tired, sad. But she didn’t care. “I’m going to bed. Thanks for the food,” she said, handing him back the bowl. As she walked to her tent, she could feel Ben’s eyes on the back of her head, watching.
She slept well. A deep and dreamless sleep covered her like snow, and she awoke before well dawn. Time to go. She repacked, taking whatever she thought she’d need, rolling up the prickly, musty blanket, and stuffing it into her bag. At least she’d be a bit warmer. Outside the tent, everything was quiet. The fires had died out, and the darkness was deep, deeper than she’d felt in ages. Stars peeked out from behind clouds but vanished as the wind picked up, and the clouds rolled across them. Someone had left her a pair of boots by her tent, and she swapped them out with her ripped Unseen boots. It was nice to have dry feet again.
The camp was silent with dreamers tucked away beneath their blankets. Mica knew there would be a few guards patrolling the camp, but they weren’t anything she couldn’t handle. A gust of wind rolled across the camp, and Mica paused. She wanted to want to stay, to stay with Ben and not carry the burden of searching any longer. But she couldn’t do that. This whole place made her angry, disgusted, hurt, and she couldn’t wait to get out of it.
She hefted her pack onto her shoulder and slipped between the tents for the open wilderness and the east.
Mica whirled around as a shadow separated itself from the deepness behind a tent. Ben.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“Where are you going?”
“Where do you think? I’m going to find Anda. Since you won’t.”
The silence between them wavered in the wind. “All right, let’s go,” Ben said.
Then Mica saw the pack over his shoulder as he stepped out into the dimness.
“Oh, no. You’re not coming with me.”
He shrugged. “Can I stop you?”
“Then I’m going with you. Let’s go find Anda.”
“Why?” Mica asked, suspicious. She didn’t understand the game he was playing, and it made her wary.
“Because. Let’s go,” he said and pushed past her, limping on his crutch.
She eyed his lilting steps anxiously. She could sneak into anywhere by herself. She would walk all the way to Windrose and to the eastern oceans if she had to, but Ben couldn’t go far without needing a break. He couldn’t climb into open windows or fight off a soldier. “No, Ben, this is a bad idea. You have to go to the Unseen, remember?” she said, hoping that would convince him. “You have to let them understand how you restore Burners.”
“Mica, I’m not going to let you go running off to Windrose on your own, not after I just found you.”
Her cheeks went hot. “But… but your leg,” she finally said and instantly regretted it.
“What about my leg?” Ben asked.
She looked at him open-mouthed like a fish, unable to say all the things running through her mind. But… he limps. He can barely walk without help. They couldn’t outrun soldiers because he couldn’t even run. They’ll have to stop all the time, so it will take forever to get where ever it is they’re going. And, worst of all, she couldn’t both take care of them and look for Anda. All those thoughts and more surged through her, but what came out was: “well, it’s… you’re….” Her neck went hot.
Ben gave her a knowing look. “Don’t worry about me,” he said.
“Look, you didn’t want to do this, so I’m doing it. I don’t need your help. Stay here and help all these other people. That’s what you wanted to do in the first place. I’ll do this myself.” She adjusted her pack and walked off into the night.
Ben followed. “Nope. I’m going with you. We’re going to find Anda and Cassandra together.”
“Geez, Ben, just drop it. Go away.”
“Do you even know where you’re going? Or how to find Anda?”
“I’ll figure it out. Go back to your Haven.”
“Because I do. I know how to find her.”
That stopped her. She turned and waited for him to catch up. “How?”
Ben just shook his head. “Nope. We do this together.”
“But… but what about going to the Unseen?” she asked, and this time she was genuinely interested.
“Gabe will go with Hannah and Leon and negotiate supplies and training in return for my going to they Unseen to be studied. But not yet. Gabe will learn all he can and report back. By that time, we should have Anda and Cassandra safely home.”
Mica unclenched her fists, and they ached. “And how do we find them?”
“I’ve been talking with Hannah. She told me how to find some of their contacts in West One and Windrose. There’s a man there who can find anyone, but we have to get to him soon.”
Ben gave her another knowing smile. That expression was going to get annoying. “Because Aaron is on his way to Windrose right now. And once he gets there, he’s getting these people out of Nova for good.”
Mica’s mind flicked back to Aaron and Stephen and the mysterious doctor Aaron wanted to save. She wondered who these contacts were that they were so important to the Unseen, Alayla, and Aaron. Should they really trust them if Aaron did? Was this just the worst idea she’d ever had? Was she walking into a city full of Watchers and spies and mad doctors? She was, but that was what she had to do to find Anda, so that was what she was going to do.
“So we’ve got to get going,” Ben said and began limping off into the growing sunrise. “Come on, slowpoke.”