Last time we saw MICA… (click for recap)
Safe for the moment, Mica and Ben get some much needed rest under Paul’s antique store. But Mica’s rest is cut short when Aaron arrives. He is upset with her for coming and endangering his city and his family. But Mica is not to be chastised for protecting herself. She tells him that she knows they were going to execute her for theft, but Aaron is confused and says that was never the case. If that’s true, why did Rebekah and Stephen feel that Mica was in danger? But Aaron isn’t just upset with Mica. He is skeptical of Ben and his claimed abilities. he says Ben isn’t Perseus for one simple reason: Perseus would never be so selfish…
Some dreams leave nothing histories and memories and emotions like discarded coats and clothes smelling of forgotten people. Some leave behind nothing. Mica’s dreams recently had left nothing, not even rest.
Mica awoke to Aaron gently shaking her shoulder. “What is…?” she asked groggily, wondering what time it was and how long she had been asleep.
“Hermes is back.”
Mica rolled over, her heart pounding, and found Hermes looking down at her. He stood in the center of the room, watching her with wide eyes. Mica got up and kicked Ben. He grunted but opened his eyes. Aaron leaned against a stack of boxes with his arms crossed and watched them silently.
“Where is she?” Mica demanded.
Hermes held out a small device about the size of his thumb. “Here,” he said. With his other hand, he pushed his hair out of his face and stared at her. Something about his movement startled Mica. Gold flecks glittered in his iris’s, but fear reflected in the black of his eyes. “This is all I could find.”
“Does that mean you found her?” Mica asked, suspicious of his steady eyes. She took the small device and turned it over in her hands, examining it. The plastic was warm from being in his pocket.
“What really happened in West Six?” he asked quietly. His soft tone made Mica look up at him. He looked at her with large eyes.
“What did you find?”
Hermes swallowed and looked over at the Blind. The little blue-green light glowed steadily. “What happened?” he asked again.
“It was Burned,” Ben said, standing up and limping over. Mica recognized the sleepy lilt to his voice. He was still exhausted.
“Not just Burned,” Hermes said. “Everything—every name, every ID number, every scrap of information about West Six is gone.”
Mica felt her stomach drop like she was falling to earth, falling towards something painful and solid and real and completely unavoidable. She looked at Ben. He had gone pale. “What do you mean?” she asked, looking back to Hermes.
“I mean it’s not gone, but it’s been hidden, encrypted or something. I can’t find anything about West Six or anyone who ever lived there. Nothing. Everything has been removed from the public records and classified. And there’s no way I can get to those records short of waltzing into the Capital Building and asking Loraine herself.”
“So….” Mica tried to finish her thought, but fear tightened a white fist around her throat.
“I’m sorry,” Hermes said, breaking eye contact and looking down at his shoes. “I can’t find anything on your sister or Cassie.”
“Why would they do that?” Ben asked. “Why would they erase everything? Who cares about one little village?”
“You tell me. No, nevermind. I don’t want to know. Just take your info and go,” Hermes said, shrugging his backpack higher up onto his shoulders. “Before we all get Burned for this.”
Mica stared off into space. That was it. Anda was really gone….
“But if Loraine removed all the records of West Six, what does that mean?” Ben asked.
“It means she wants you all dead or Burned, and I don’t know why,” Hermes said. “You should leave. Today. Now, if you can.”
“Wait, what about the factory?” Ben asked. “Did you find anything on that?”
“It’s on there,” Hermes nodded to the device in Mica’s hand. “All I could find was some surveillance footage. I wasn’t sure if I should even give you that. It was a miracle I found it. I encrypted it, so it might take your Unseen techs a while. That’s the best I can do.” But he lingered, shifting from foot to foot. “So? What do you got?”
“Oh,” Mica said, remembering her end of the deal. She stepped aside and gestured to Ben. “Fire away.”
Hermes looked at Ben. “Who’s this?”
“My brother, Ben. And… and Perseus.” The words were cold on her tongue, numbing. She could see Aaron watching them from behind his shining glasses. The single bulb reflected a single point of light on each lens. That thing, that cold and calculating thing, peeped out from deep inside Aaron, and Mica shivered.
“You’re Perseus?” Hermes asked.
To his credit, Hermes didn’t laugh or get angry or leave. He just asked, “how do I know you’re really him?”
Ben closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them, they glowed bright blue-green. Hermes eyes glowed blue-green for a moment, then returned to their natural color. When the glow had faded, Hermes began to shake.
“Don’t be afraid,” Ben said.
“You’re really him.”
“The prophecies are true. Juliette saw you.”
“You’re going to restore the Burners?”
“All of them?”
“All of them.”
Hermes gripped the straps on his backpack and fidgeted like he wanted to say something. Ben just waited. “What if someone didn’t want to be restored?” Hermes finally asked.
“Why would they not?” Ben took a limping step forward.
Dark hair fell across Hermes’s eye. “What if they weren’t a good person before they were Burned, and the Burn gave them a second chance. Would you still restore them? Force them?”
Second chances didn’t come along very often, or that’s what she had believed. What if the Burn was a second chance for someone?
“Who are you talking about? Yourself?”
“No,” Hermes said. “My parents. They’re not good people. But if they got Burned after Loraine was overthrown, could they stay Burned?”
And Mica understood why Hermes wouldn’t leave Windrose. The same reason she had come.
“Are they Burned now?” Ben asked.
“You’re going to Burn them.”
Hermes shook his hair out of his face and looked at Ben with both eyes. “Yes.”
“You would take away their choice?”
“Choice to what?”
“Atone. To be better people. What if they did get Burned and became good people, then what?”
“Then they’d be better people. They wouldn’t know all the horrible things they’ve done.”
“But they wouldn’t have that choice. And they wouldn’t know you.”
Hermes shifted. “But maybe they’re really good people, deep down.”
“Our actions prove who we are. We are our actions, and our actions show our character.”
“But that can’t be it. Our choices change us, make us into who we are. You can start out good and then be forced to make bad choices and become bad because of your choices. Those choices change you.”
“Yes, they do. But the ability to choose is important. If they’re Burned, they can’t choose.”
Hermes flinched. “So you’d restore them if they were Burned?”
“I’d give them the choice, and it would be their choice, Hermes. Just like it is your choice to Burn them or not.”
He nodded. “I guess.” He took a long look at Ben. “You’re not what I was expecting.”
“You weren’t what I was expecting either,” Ben said. “When they said a contact able to find anyone….”
Hermes smirked. “What were you expecting?”
“I wasn’t expecting a cripple.”
Ben laughed. “I like you, Hermes. I hope to see you on the other side of all this.”
“Yeah. Same. Don’t forget about me,” he added. “When everything goes down, remember that I helped you.”
“I never forget.”
“I’ve got to go, but… I’m sorry about your sister,” he added, looking to Mica, then climbed the stairs to the shop. He looked down at them, his eyes focused on Mica for a moment, and then he was gone.
As he disappeared into the early morning light, he took something with him that Mica didn’t know she’d been carrying, a flicker of something small and bright and fragile.
Aaron closed the hatch above them, and as he did, Mica felt herself slam into the painful and solid and real and completely unavoidable reality that Anda was gone forever, and it was all her fault. Like waking up from a deep sleep filled with dreams so real that they left memories and whole histories behind, Mica realized that her world was entirely different from what she had believed. As long as Anda was out there, she could atone, but now that Anda was gone…. She tried to grasp her new reality, and it was sharp and cold and broken.
Anda was gone for good, and it was all her fault. Shame, that dirty child who was never really gone, wrapped a tiny hand around her finger.
Mica held the little device Hermes had given her to Ben.
“No, you hold on to it,” Ben said, waving her hand aside.
She shook her head. “Take it. Please.”
“I’m sorry, Mica,” Ben said and put it in his pocket. “I wanted to find her too. You know that, right?”
But Mica sat down on her pile of blankets, her back against the dusty wall, and stared at the Blind. She focused on its little light like it was the only star left in the sky. She had come so far to find Anda, and now she really was gone. Mica felt like a broken pot. All her determination and perseverance filtered out through the soles of her feet, her leaving her empty and shattered. She sat, running her thumb over her lighter.
“As soon as Paul gets back, we’ll go. Eat up,” Aaron said and tossed her a protein bar. It landed next to her on the woolly blanket.
“Where is he?” Ben asked. Mica could hear the sadness in his voice.
“He went to get the doctor. As soon as he gets back, we have to leave. Mica,” he said softly. “I’m sorry about Anda. Truly, I am.”
But Mica put her lighter in the box next to her, laid down, and rolled over to face the wall.