Last time we saw MARA… (click for recap)
After discovering that Zoe has been taken in for Adjustment, Mara turns to the only person who can help her: Jason. She goes to his apartment, but he is not there. She discovers a secret compartment with files, files on her, Zoe, and a strange woman from nowhere. Mara realizes that Jason is an Analyst. Terrified at her revelation, she decides the only person now who can help her and save Zoe is the Nowhere Woman…
Anyone else would have heard silence. Complete and overwhelming silence. But to Mara, the silence shrieked.
After they had realized that Watchers and soldiers were coming, Amelia, the Nowhere Woman, had wrapped her eyes in white, gripped the splintered wood, and pointed to the closet. “Stay in there. And don’t come out until I tell you.”
So Mara had led Jason, his eyes squeezed shut against the Watcher peeping out of his eyes, to the little, dusty closet. They hid and waited in more than silence. They waited in rolling, echoing thunder. Mara listened, straining to hear above the pounding of her heartbeat, the shallow in and out of her breath, and that screaming, shrieking whine in her ears. She’d never noticed it before, but the more she tried to tune it out, the louder and louder and louder—
A crack of wood.
Someone was trying to break the front door in.
Mara squeezed her eyes shut and squeezed her flower pendant in her fist, and the little metal petals bit into her skin. She could feel Jason beside her. She could smell his blood spilling from his nose from where Amelia punched him, and she shivered. Silence filled the closet.
Another crack against the wood.
Mara twisted her hands together and tried not to listen to her wild and beating heart.
A loud crash. Wood shattering and splintering and breaking.
Mara covered her ears and squeezed her eyes tighter, waiting to be found. Through her hands, she could hear the sounds of fighting, yelling, flesh connecting with flesh, gunshots in short bursts. Bullets ripped through the wood over Mara’s head, sending splinters and chunks of wood and plaster falling around her, and she crouched even lower to keep herself from being hit.
Mara opened her eyes and strained to hear and pleaded with white-faced fear for Amelia to be all right. But fear only smiled. A single set of footsteps padded quietly around the apartment. Mara and Jason sat shivering and shaking and breathing too hard and too loud.
“It’s safe,” Amelia called.
Relief warmed Mara’s stomach. She looked at Jason. His eyes no longer glowed: the Watcher was gone. He clutched a small device in a bloody hand, a small black thing with two metal prongs on the end. She wondered what it was, but the thought was gone as soon as she did, replaced by other more pressing terrors.
They scrambled out of the closet, Mara being careful not to touch Jason, but stopped just outside the door. Amelia stood in the center of the little room. Her head, still covered with the white curtain, was splattered with red like dark tears. The shattered chair legs still in her hands dripped with blood. Jason wiped his hand over his face, smearing the blood across his mouth and chin, and took a step into the room.
Six soldiers lay scattered around the room at Amelia’s feet. Mara had never seen a dead man before. Her stomach churned, and she threw up in the corner, leaning one hand against the wall. There was a bullet hole under her palm.
“You did this?” she asked Amelia, her eyes closed tight against the dead and the vomit.
“I don’t know. It was like my body just knew what to do.”
Mara stood up and wiped her mouth. She’d taste vomit for the rest of the day. She turned to find Jason and Amelia facing each other like two strange and wild animals. Amelia with white-blinded eyes, and Jason with blood-soaked mouth. And Mara was afraid.
“Come on, we don’t have time for this,” Amelia said, pulling the stained white curtain from off her head. And just like that, the feral tension dissipated. She dropped the wooden chair legs with a clatter. Mara sighed with relief as she saw that Amelia’s eyes were clear. Jason nodded and slipped the little device into his pocket, and again Mara wondered what it was, but Amelia spoke, and she forgot to ask.
“We have to go, but we can’t as long as they’re tracking us. Can you get these damn transmitters out?” Amelia asked Jason, holding her wrist out to him.
He nodded. “Kitchen?”
Amelia pointed, and he disappeared. He returned a moment later with a small and sharp knife. After a few quick and painful minutes, Jason had extracted all three of their implants and had wrapped their wrists in the thin white curtains. The little chips lay in puddles on the floor. Amelia stomped on them with a dull, soft crack.
“Good. Let’s go,” Amelia said. She grabbed Mara roughly by the arm and pulled her to the door, past the dead and the soldiers. As she passed a soldier, a boy no older than Mara, his helmet covering most of his face, Amelia swept up the dead soldier’s gun, turned, and pointed the weapon at Jason. Mara stumbled, but Amelia’s grip on her arm was vicious, and she did not fall.
“Not you,” Amelia said to Jason, aiming the weapon at him.
“They’re after me too,” Jason said, his hands up in defense.
“Then they can have you. Don’t you have a deal with them?”
“Our deal is obviously off.”
“Obviously. But that’s not my problem.”
“Maybe not, but we’re better off together.”
Mara wondered what his deal had been. Whatever it was, she and Zoe and Amelia had been currency.
“No,” Amelia said. “You traded us, didn’t you? You traded me and that other girl. And you brought soldiers here. You’re not coming with us.”
“It was an accident, I’m not dangerous.”
“And that’s what makes it so bad. You don’t even know what you’ve done.”
Jason’s bloody mouth curved into a broad smile. “Fine. Leave me here to die. But where do you think you’ll go? Maybe I am dangerous, but I’m not stupid. I have an escape plan, just in case Loraine didn’t keep her end of our deal. I have a ship, and I can get you both out of Windrose. Out of the country. Can you do that?” he asked.
Amelia’s eyes flickered, but only for a moment. “Yeah, I think I can handle that.”
“No, he’s coming with us,” Mara said. She wiped her hand across her mouth. Her breath still tasted like acid and vomit.
“No,” Amelia said.
“We need him. He’s… important,” she said.
And he was, although she didn’t know why. He was there in her visions, whether as a protector or antagonist, she wasn’t sure. But her visions were most important, so Jason was important, even if he did frighten her. Despite the fear that filled her throat, she knew that they needed him, and they had to get him out of Windrose if she was ever going to save the dying man.
She looked at Jason and his bloody face and flushed. She hated that she had to save someone like him, but here she was.
“We’ll get out by ourselves. Thanks though,” Amelia said.
“How?” Mara asked, bitter than she was advocating for Jason, but unsure what else to do.
“We’ll figure it out. Now, get moving.”
“I have an airship,” he said. At that, Amelia hesitated. “You’ll never make it out of the city on foot. Not after this,” he said and gestured to the soldiers lying dead around them.
“You know he’s right,” Mara said softly. But she felt Jason watching her, and she looked down at her feet.
Amelia shook her head. “Fine. Where is your ship?”
Their race through the city was a nightmare. Chaos, with his read and wild hair, shrieked at them from around every corner and surprised them at every turn. Mara kept close to Amelia as they dodged patrols and sprinted down stinking alleyways, her body moving and following on its own while her mind couldn’t tear itself away from the image of the dead soldier.
He was dead because of her, and Zoe was gone because of her.
Even as her mind was split between that dead soldier and keeping up with Jason and Amelia, she could feel golden, glowing eyes following them through the crowd as they pushed past.
She blinked and breathed, and they were at a deserted fence. Jason led them through it, and they ran through silent and deserted streets. They ducked under another chain link fence and continued running, but everything had changed.
The city around her transformed to a broken shadow of itself, something burned and ruined. It felt like another world. Mara had never seen the city streets so deserted. No, not just deserted, completely empty. No one lived here anymore. The massive buildings on either side stood like empty shells, totally lifeless. The morning sun hovered over the rooftops, and they ran for the light.
“Where are we?” Mara asked.
“The Ruins of When,” Amelia said, and her voice was bitter and thick.
“This way,” Jason said and waved them into a large rusted building.
“Where are you taking us? The Ruins are off limits.”
“Old hanger for airships. I found it a while back.”
Soon Jason turned into a building, and they stepped into a vast space. Mara paused, struck by a sight she had never seen before. A dozen old airships, red and orange and gold, stood veiled in dust. They lay like ancient, russet beasts sleeping and dreaming and waiting to be awoken. Each ship had four large propellers laying horizontal on its four corners to lift the ship upwards and forwards. They reminded Mara of giant, sleepy frogs. The hanger’s far end was open to the light and the wind and the air—their escape.
“Can you fly it?” Mara asked.
Jason nodded. “Yeah, let’s go,” he said and ran for a smaller ship far end of the hanger. He opened a hatch on the side between two of the propellers and climbed inside. Mara noted that this ship had been cleaned recently and paused.
She wondered how long he had been planning this escape. How many times had he come here in preparation for Zoe’s death?
Amelia stopped beside her. “If he flies us to the capitol building, I’m shooting him,” she said, and then climbed in after him. Mara followed and closed the hatch behind her.
Inside, the ship was larger than Mara had anticipated. This was a passenger ship with a few rows of seats. Up front, the cockpit held two seats and two control panels. Jason sat at one, and Amelia sat in the other, her gun trained on him.
“This is a bit hard to do with you pointing that thing at me,” he said as he flipped switches and pushed buttons.
“Tough. Strap in, kid,” she said looked back at Mara. Mara climbed into a seat on the first row and strapped herself in. She had never flown in an airship before, and she wondered how high they would fly. Her stomach swirled with the thought of heights and falling, and she wondered if she was afraid or excited, but she thought she was probably both.
A loud crack startled them. Gunshots.
Mara put her hands over her ears, and cowardice held them there with his too soft, too fat hands.
“Shit,” Jason said and frantically began flipping switches. The propellers began to spin, engulfing the ship in sound and vibration.
“Let’s go, get this tub moving,” Amelia said.
“I’m going as fast as I can. It’s not easy.”
Bullets peppered the airship, and Mara scrunched down even further into her seat.
“We don’t have time! Go!” Amelia screamed as more gunshots battered the ship with metallic twangs.
“Come on, come on, come on—yes!” Jason cried. The ship jerked and trembled, but it rose off the ground and hovered in the air. Mara opened her eyes and looked out the window, soldiers had surrounded the ship, and they screamed to each other over the thunder of the airship engine. As the ship lurched forward with a jolting motion, the soldiers fired again. Mara’s window cracked but did not shatter. Then the ship was off—flying out of the hanger and into the morning sun.
Amelia howled with pleasure and then screamed a long line of obscenities at the soldiers below them. Mara smiled even as her stomach dropped and lurched. She clutched the arms of her seat and stared out the window in awe. The city flashed below them, shining white with silver and glass. Coppery rooftops glistened red in the sun. Mara gasped at the beauty that distance and height had brought to Windrose. Like the day she had climbed the tower to see the stars, and the city had stretched below in a new and startling beauty. The perspective of height seemed to change the city to something innocent and sleepy and old.
“How’s it going, kid?” Amelia said. Mara turned to her with a smile, but Amelia’s face fell. “Watchers.”
Mara’s stomach went queasy. “What?”
“Here, take this,” Jason dug something out of his pocket and tossed it to Amelia. She caught it and turned it over in her hands. It was the little device Mara had seen him holding.
“What the hell is this?” Amelia asked.
“That delivers an electrical shock. It will destroy the Watcher. Flip that switch and jam the prongs into her for five seconds.”
Mara squeezed her eyes shut. “No! I can just close my eyes, I’ll just close my eyes,” she said.
“We’ve got to get it out, or it’ll track us once you open your eyes,” Jason said.
“Hey, Mara, it’ll be all right, hear me?” Amelia said, her voice suddenly so close to Mara’s ear that she jumped. Amelia must have climbed back to the seat next to her.
She shook her head. “No—don’t do it, please.”
“Look at me, Mara,” Amelia said. Her voice was calm and low, and Mara instinctively opened her eyes. Amelia blinked in surprise. “It’s gone.”
Mara stared into the Nowhere Woman’s clear dark eyes. The Watcher was also not in Amelia.
They looked back at Jason. “Ah, shit,” he said. “It’s me, isn’t it?”
“What do we do?” Mara asked as Amelia climbed back to the cockpit.
“You’ve got to do it,” he said. “You’ve got to get the Watcher out. We won’t make it with a Watcher.”
“But who’s going to fly the ship?” Mara asked.
“There’s got to be autopilot or something,” Amelia said, scanning the display, knobs, and control wheel in front of her copilot’s seat.
“No autopilot,” he said. “Too old. But it doesn’t matter. Amelia will fly it.”
“I’m betting that with your Unseen training, you know how to fly.”
“I told you I’m not… I don’t—I don’t know how to fly!”
“Oh no? Then how did you take down ten Windrose soldiers with a curtain and a broken chair?” he asked. “Huh? How did you do that if you’re not an Unseen spy?”
Amelia wiped sweat off her forehead. “You sure?”
“Well, we could land, if you’d prefer?”
“Don’t mess with me,” Amelia said, her voice rising.
“You get this thing out, or this Watcher gets us shot down. Ships are on their way right now. Our only chance is now. Do it, then take over if I can’t fly,” he said. He turned to look at Amelia with glowing eyes. “Do it!”
With an angry snarl, Amelia jammed the device into his side. As Jason wailed and convulsed, Mara covered her ears. After five seconds of eternity, Amelia released the device, and Jason lay back in his seat, limp.
Amelia strapped herself into her seat and took control.
“Did it work? Can you fly this?” Mara asked.
Amelia looked frantically around the cockpit, scanning the many knobs and switches. “Shit. Sorry kid, I got nothing.”
“But you can fly this, right? You can fly?” Mara asked. As if in answer to her question, something exploded out the window in a flash of white and red and smoke. The ship lurched and began to fall. Mara’s stomach dropped, and she stifled a scream. She looked out the window as they dropped beneath the clouds. The river flashed below them, and the sun flared out the window. They flew, fell, north up the river past the Wall circling the city.
“That is not good,” Amelia said, struggling with the controls. A beeping sound began. Then another joined it. Shrill warning sounds whistled and shrieked from the cockpit.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, shut up!” Amelia screamed at the controls in front of her.
“What is that?” Mara asked as still another beeping began.
Mara barely had time to turn her head and look out the window when something exploded behind her in the back of the ship, tearing a gash in the end of the hull. Light and smoke and heat flashed behind her. The back left propeller failed, and the ship tilted and fell. The earth swirled in and out of view.
Blue sky flashing earth black smoke blue sky flashing earth black smoke….
Another explosion took out their back right propeller, and they dropped straight for the river. Mara wondered that some decisions were permanent, irrevocable, forever. How do you change an unchangeable choice? How do you fix the unfixable? Her decisions had led her here, to the forever and final consequences that cannot be changed. And she would die here.
The water rushed towards them and flooded Mara’s vision with green and gold.
A fountain covered in snow….
“Hold on, Mara!” Amelia covered her head with her arms and ducked. Mara did the same just as they hit the water.