Last time we saw MICA… (click for recap)
Ben decides to go to the Unseen City, to Mica’s dismay. Hurt and angry, she decides to leave the Haven and Ben and go find Anda by herself. As she sneaks out into the dark before morning, Ben surprises her. He says he’s coming with her. She argues, but he claims to know how to find Anda. So they set off east into the morning sun…
“So now what?” Mica asked. “We just walk until we get to Windrose?” The sarcasm almost dripped from her words. Ben didn’t seem to notice. She and Ben left Haven, his camp of restored Burners, and walked east into the rising sun. They’d walked silently for a while, but now Mica couldn’t take it anymore.
“There’s a little village a few miles in. West 9,976,” Ben said without looking at her.
“Another West Six, huh?” Mica said.
“It’s pretty similar. There are a few farms out this way, so we should be able to find a transport.”
“By find, you mean steal?”
“I mean… we’re going to find a transport that’s… looking for a new home.”
Mica made a face at him and kicked a clump of dirt in his general direction.
They walked on slowly. Mica slowed her steps and took pauses and breaks so that Ben could keep up, but their slow pace left her nervous. He had always walked slowly because of his limp, but he seemed to be walking even slower than she remembered. And they should have been there by now. Maybe not actually there, but a lot closer than they were. They should be going faster. If they had to beat Aaron to Windrose to meet his contacts before they left Windrose forever, they should be running across these open fields into the rising sun. But here they were limping along. She tried to keep her frustration to herself, but she knew Ben noticed.
It was late afternoon, almost evening, by the time the farm came into view through the trees. It was so similar to their own farm that Mica stopped in her tracks. A farmhouse, a barn, a garden, and a chicken coop. There was even a cow in the back field.
“Yeah. I know,” Ben said.
“You think we’ll ever see it again?”
She turned to find Ben looking at her with a strange expression on his face. “Mics, the farm is gone. Peter Burned it, remember?”
She had forgotten about that. “But why?”
“I went back to see what was in the basement.”
Images flashed through Mica’s mind, things she hadn’t thought about in years. A staircase. A splinter in her big toe. Blue light in the basement. Her father picking her up and carrying her up the stairs, shutting the door behind them.
“I went down the stairs once, but I didn’t make it all the way,” she said. “I got a splinter in my foot, and I stopped and cried. Dad came and picked me up and carried me back upstairs. Then after mom died… you nailed the door shut. Put a table with flowers in front of the door, so we’d forget.”
He shook his head. “I didn’t nail it shut. She did.”
The hammer in her mother’s hand. The last time she saw her mother, she’d been standing on the porch watching Ben drag her and Anda to safety in the woods. The hammer wasn’t to fight off soldiers after all.
“There was a man down there,” Ben said and limped towards the farm.
Her heart skipped. The whole world tilted, jittering for a moment as she tried to take in what Ben had said. “Hold up,” she said and hopped to catch up to him. “What do you mean there was a man down there?”
“In the basement, where dad worked, and we weren’t allowed to go, was a kiln and a man who looked just like dad.”
Her father’s face had faded in her mind over the years, like a photo bleached by the sun. She knew what he looked like in theory. He was tall, brown hair, a beard, strong and old looking hands. But she only knew that because from time to time, she told herself those things, not because she could actually remember them. Yet she remembered how he smelled. Like soap and sweat and dirt. Sometimes that scent would float in on a summer breeze, and he was with her again, his face blurred in the sunshine, his voice laughing and singing, and then the wind would carry him away again into the bright.
“And?” she asked when Ben didn’t say anything more.
“And soldiers came, so Peter burned the house and the lab to keep them from getting to the man in the kiln. We couldn’t have gotten him out of the kiln anyway. He was too old.”
“So, who was he? And why did dad have a kiln and a lab in our basement? They’re used for transferring the Eternals and observing Watchers.”
Remembrance walked through Mica’s memories of the farmhouse, touching doors and peeking through windows, changing the walls and the light and the creaks on the floorboards. The safety Mica had always felt at home vanished as remembrance touched it with her delicate fingers.
“I don’t know. But that lab was old, very old. And the kiln, who knows how he got it or what he was doing with it.”
Mica let his words run over her like water. Her father had a kiln, one of Loraine’s Transfer kilns, in their basement. How was that even possible? And did that mean her father was connected with Loraine and the Watchers?
“Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” she asked.
“Because I still don’t know what it means. But I will. Hey, there’s the transport,” Ben said, crouching behind a pine tree and pointing.
“Think anyone’s home?” Mica asked.
“Probably. You ready?”
Mica made a face. “We can’t go now. It’s just before dinner. Whoever lives there is probably inside making food. We should wait until nightfall.”
“We don’t have time, remember? We have to beat Aaron to Windrose, or this will all be for nothing. Let’s go.”
“No, wait, Ben!” But Ben was already limping across the field towards the farmhouse. Mica hurried after him, swearing under her breath. “You’re nuts, you know that? What are you going to do if someone sees you?”
“I’ll take care of it. You just worry about jumping into that transport and driving us east, got it?”
Mica swore more colorfully under her breath but followed Ben. Together they crept towards the farmhouse. Lights flickered in the windows, and the chimney smoked and puffed. She wondered who was home, what they were making for dinner, and whose life they were sneaking past. Ben motioned to the barn, and they slipped past a garden, dry and bare for winter.
Behind the barn stood an old transport: a truck with a rusting bumper and peeling paint. They crouched close to the barn, watching, waiting, looking for whoever owned it to come and stop them. They saw no one.
“Ready? You’re driving,” Ben said.
“Fine. But if we die in a fiery crash, I’m blaming you.”
“Fair enough. Now get in the cab. Go.”
Her heart racing, Mica ran up to the truck and reached out for the handle. She froze.
From the other side of the barn strode a little boy in shabby clothes and dirty boots. He stopped when he saw Mica, and they stared at each other. Mica was struck by how big his head was, too large for his frame, too wide. The little boy opened his mouth as if to scream, but Ben snapped his fingers, and the boy turned to him. Instantly, the boy’s eyes glowed bright blue, like the brightest, blue-green sky, and he froze.
Mica wasn’t sure what she was seeing. His eyes weren’t the deep, dark blue she’d seen when Ben restored Rebekah’s memories. This was something different. She turned to Ben, and his eyes glowed bright blue as well.
“Wills?” a voice called. “Y’all right?”
“Mica, get in the truck,” Ben said softly.
“What are you doing to him?”
“Wills?” the voice called again, closer, more insistent, urgent.
Ben’s eyes flicked to her. “Get in the truck.”
“No, wait, what’s—”
A young woman not much older than Mica came running around the side of the barn, a rifle in her hands. She wore men’s clothes, pants too big and stiff from dirt, an overcoat too large and rolled at the cuffs, but the bright, red scarf wrapped around her throat looked like it had just been knitted moments before. When she saw Ben and Mica, her eyes went wild.
Mica opened her mouth to scream, but the woman skidded to a halt in front of the child with the glimmering blue eyes and raised her weapon at Mica.
“Stop,” Ben said, and he only said it. He didn’t yell it, cry out, scream, or even raise his voice. The young woman’s eyes flicked to Ben, and as they did, they turned bright-water blue. She stood still as a statue.
“Drop it,” Ben said.
The woman obeyed.
“We’re not going to hurt you. We just need to borrow your truck.”
The woman only watched him with bright glowing eyes.
“Perseus has need of it,” Ben said, his voice richer and deeper than Mica had ever heard it before. “Mica, get in the truck. Now.”
She obeyed this time, her hands shaking and sweating as she climbed into the cab. Ben circled the truck, keeping his eyes locked with the red scarved woman. She and the boy only watched. Ben tossed his pack and crutch into the back seat, hefted himself into the cab, and slammed the door shut, his eyes still locked with the woman’s. Mica found the keys and started the engine. Lessons with Hannah had taught her that much.
“Thank you,” he said to the woman and boy. “We won’t forget this. That puts it in reverse or forward,” he said to Mica, gesturing without looking at her. “That’s gas, that’s break.”
“I know how to drive,” she said.
“Good. ‘Bout time you learned.”
Then everything happened at once.
Someone yelled. A gunshot ripped through the silence.
Mica ducked and covered her head.
The little boy started screaming and crying and shrieking.
When Mica looked, Ben was crouched in his seat, swearing, but unhurt. His eyes no longer glowed blue-green.
The woman yelled to whoever had fired the first shot. Running footsteps. More gunshots and bullets.
“Mica, get us out of here, go, go!” Ben screamed.
And she did. With a prayer barely out of her mouth, Mica put the transport in reverse, slammed her foot onto the gas, and the transport flew backward into the gathering darkness. The more Ben screamed at her to not hit something, the more likely she was to hit it.
“Watch it! Watch where you’re driving,” Ben yelled.
“Kinda hard to do that under gunfire!” she yelled back as more bullets riddled the back of the truck. She wasn’t sure if she went over the entire garden or not, but she got most of it.
Ben screamed at her to slow down, turn around, get on the road, what the hell was she doing going over the grass like that, don’t hit the fence. Mica screamed back she didn’t know, she’d just learned how to drive yesterday and had never had to drive backward before, sorry about the garden, how did she put it in forward again?
The woman with the red scarf wasn’t a great shot, but she did hit the transport several times and took out their back window. Mica’s yelling argument with Ben devolved into screaming, but she finally spun the transport around and got it going forward. She could barely see over the steering wheel as she slumped to avoid any bullets that might find their mark, but she aimed for the road and stomped on the gas pedal. The transport lurched forward and up and down as she hit every single divot and molehill on the field, but she made it to the road, turned east, and they flew into the gathering dark.
“Wow,” Ben said after a few minutes of silence.
Then they drove in quiet.
Her heart refused to quiet itself as she tried to decipher what she had just seen. What had Ben done to the young woman and the boy? His eyes had glowed a different color, not Watcher gold, not the deep, dark, shadowed blue of restoration, but blue-green like water in sunshine.
“What the hell was that?” Mica finally asked.
“That was you hitting every single thing in our path. Really, did you mean to destroy their garden as well as the chicken coop?”
“I hit the chicken coop?” she asked, suddenly mortified. Chickens had always been Anda’s special project, and part of her was horrified to think that she had hit the coop. “Did I kill any chickens?” she asked.
“I don’t think so. You just nicked it, so I think it’s still standing. But you were going so fast I didn’t get a good look. We’ll have to work on your driving skills.”
“Wait, wait. Don’t change the subject. Go back to you and the freaky eyes. What did you do to them? What are you?” she asked, suddenly afraid of him. Fear smiled at her from the back seat and broken glass.
Ben was quiet for a moment, and Mica wondered if he was just going to ignore her. She opened her mouth, ready for a fight, but Ben said softly: “I already told you what I am, and you didn’t believe me.”
Mica felt her neck go red with anger. “Perseus. Right, I forgot. Sorry. But… but really, Ben, what was that?”
“If I make eye contact with someone, I can control them.”
“Like… like you can make them do things they don’t want to do?” The thought unnerved her.
They sat in silence. The road slipped away underneath them.
“Have you ever used that on me?”
“What? No, of course not. What do you think I am?”
“Well, I don’t know. I just saw you mind control two people back there like it was nothing. What am I supposed to think?”
“Look, I don’t just go around controlling people. I only do that if it’s an emergency.”
“Who else knows?”
“Gabe and Zeke, and now you. That’s it. I don’t trust anyone else with this secret.”
Mica watched the trees flash by in the lights of the transport. “Where did you find them?” she asked, but she really wanted to know why Ben trusted them so much. The not-soldiers unsettled her, and she wasn’t sure why.
“Gabe and Zeke were the first ones I saved. They wanted to help me find and restore others, so I let them. They found food and shelter for us. Without them, I would have died in the wilderness. Zeke made my crutch,” he said, motioning to it. Mica glanced at it. It was a beautiful thing with carvings scrolled down the side. But she had more important things on her mind than woodwork.
“How does it work, the mind control?” Mica asked, horrified, and fascinated by her brother’s strange ability.
“If I make eye contact with someone, I can control them. For a while, and if their mind isn’t too active. It’s easier when someone’s on the Calm. They don’t really fight back. Someone really present and alert does. That woman back there, she fought hard. It was that first gunshot that broke my concentration…”
Mica wondered what she could do with a power like that—how she could go anywhere and do anything without fear. She could walk this entire country from one end to the other looking for Anda, and no one could stop her. And here Ben had this incredible ability, and he was hiding in the Empty Places. It almost made her sick.
“…I didn’t know I had this ability until Peter,” Ben said. Mica hadn’t realized he was still talking.
Thoughts of Peter filled her head. Ben had so much power, but the only thing that mattered he had failed to do. Now Peter was dead, and Anda was lost and Burned.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked. She could feel Ben watching her.
“Would you have believed me? I had already restored two people, and you still didn’t believe that I’m—”
“Don’t say it,” she said. A strong breeze rolled leaves across the road and through the broken transport windows, trees dipped and danced and shook dead leaves from their skeletal fingers like drops of water. Despite what she had seen, she knew that Ben would say his strange abilities, whatever they were, were because he was Perseus. But he was wrong, and she still hated that word.
Ben sighed. “That’s what I thought. I’m going to get some sleep. Wake me when you want to switch, and I’ll drive,” Ben said. With that, he leaned his seat all the way back and turned his face away from Mica.
She settled down into her seat for a long drive and wondered what had just happened.
Soon his breath became even and deep. And as Ben slept and Mica drove, she turned things over in her mind. What if Ben really was Perseus? The thought sent something bitter and metallic and hot rising in her. She still couldn’t believe that he was Perseus, but his strange abilities left plenty of questions in her mind. She didn’t possess any abilities. Why did Ben? But if he wasn’t going to use his abilities to save Anda, then he didn’t deserve them. He might be here with her now, but he hadn’t wanted to come—he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. He would never have tried to save Anda without her.
If he was Perseus, he didn’t deserve to be. If anyone deserved it, it was her. But that was beside the point—there was no Perseus. But if there was no Perseus, then what was Ben?
Mica drove until the sun rose high, and the shadows stretched short and dark. As she drove, she came up with fantastical ideas of what Ben was, but each idea was stranger than the last. Maybe their father had done something to him in the lab under the house. Maybe Ben was some sort of anomaly, like the Watchers, but different. Maybe Ben had found some strange technology in that lab under the house, and it was all just a hoax for some unfathomable reason.
Soon the light began to play tricks on her eyes, so she stopped and woke Ben so that he could drive. He took the wheel and drove while Mica curled up in the passenger seat. But she couldn’t sleep, no matter how tired her eyelids were. She stared out the window and considered their situation.
They were heading to beg for help from a stranger. They were heading for a Wall, and a city, and countless unremembered memories. On top of all that, Mica still couldn’t figure out if she was frightened of Ben or impressed. Or jealous. Probably some of each. As they drove down the dark road towards uncertainty, Mica’s thoughts turned back to Anda.
She decided that trying to save Anda and failing would be less painful than never trying and spending the rest of her life wondering. Soon, without her even realizing it, the motion of the transport rocked her to sleep.
She dreamed of Anda. In the forest back home. By the stream. Mica ran towards her, but a flock of little yellow birds called to Anda. She looked from Mica to the little yellow birds, and her eyes turned gold. Then the birds covered her in a shimmering cloud of feathers and beady black eyes. Anda’s gold eyes peeked out from the flickering yellow.
Mica jerked awake. Sun and shadows filled her eyes. She sat upright and remembered where she was, in a transport heading straight for Windrose, the home of the Watchers.
Behind them, the sunset in a burst of red and gold and deep violets. She had slept all day. “You really think we can find her?” Mica asked, her voice dry and rasping.
Ben looked at her for a moment and then turned back to the road ahead of him. “I hope so.”
She stared into the vast plain ahead of them, darkness settled over the horizon, stars glinted above them, and Mica felt fear.