Due to complications with the jet, it took over twelve hours from when we finally got in touch with MC to just get on the plane. Factoring in travel time and an incident with the Air Force, it was eight in the morning, November 3rd, when we finally landed in Domina City again.
I didn’t wait until the tiny private jet had finished slowing down; I ripped open the cabin door and jumped as we were taxiing to a stop, ducking into a roll to absorb the impact of my body hitting the tarmac.
It hurt, but I’d had worse. I literally could not wait another second.
“Akane,” I ordered as she helped me to my feet. She, of course, was completely unharmed due to her super speed. “Run on ahead, see if you can find my parents. We’ll meet you at NHQ later.”
She nodded, and was gone.
By the time I had reached the edge of the city’s tiny airfield and found the sleek black car with the Necessarian red band painted on the side, Laura and Robyn had caught up with me.
“What was that?” my oldest friend nearly shrieked. “You could have been killed!”
“Later,” I snapped as I slipped into the car. “Right now we have work to do.”
She ground her teeth as she followed me inside, scooting close to me as Robyn pushed her over to make room for herself as well. Once the door was shut, the driver took off, knowing exactly where to take us without anyone saying a word.
The city looked about the same as when we left. Maybe a few more broken windows, but that could have just been what I expected to see. The more obvious—and surprising—difference was actually that more people were on the streets.
After all the other times Elizabeth had been captured and escaped, I assumed they would treat her as a time bomb ready to go off again at any moment even though she was on ice, but everyone seemed… unworried. Obviously, it was hard to read individual expressions from inside a speeding car, but the large numbers of people loitering outside, just like it had been before she was first outed, was certainly telling.
After a few minutes of silence, Laura spoke up. “Derek, this was not your fault.”
“I never said it was.”
“If you lie to me, I’m going to break your legs.”
“That wasn’t a lie.”
“It wasn’t the truth, either.”
I sighed, and finally turned away from the window to regard my friend.
It had been far too long since I had done that. Lizzy’s—Elizabeth’s hypnotism had screwed up my brain for too long, I hadn’t even noticed how beautiful Laura had become when she returned to South Central after seven years.
I closed my eyes as a headache flared up again. It happened every time I thought about Laura too much in that direction. As far as I could tell, it was the only remnant of the hypnotism. Silver and gold, why would the Composer specifically program my brain to react that way to Laura, and only Laura?
Even though I didn’t want to, I allowed myself to push my feelings and questions to the back of my mind. The headache subsided, and I was able to give Laura an honest answer to her question.
“This wouldn’t have happened if I was here,” I insisted. “You heard MC; Elizabeth escaped minutes after we left, and hit the city with her… ” I waved my hand. “Super song soon after that.”
“Mass Empowering Event,” Robyn chirped. “MEE. That’s what MC said they’re calling it.”
I arched my eyebrow. “Who came up with that? Your dad?”
“He apparently wanted to go with ‘Mass Urban Zombification Event,’ but the kids on Fundie came up with MEE on their own.”
Laura smiled slightly. “He wanted to call it MUZE?”
Robyn smiled back. “Yeah. He was never good with names.”
I turned serious again, and focused back to Laura. “But the point stands. We would have been immune to her song. We could have done something about it. This happened because we left the city.”
That elicited a sigh. “What would you have done if you had known? Stayed in the city the rest of your life?”
“Yes, actually. Didn’t leave for eighteen years, and that worked out pretty well.”
“What?” I snapped. “What do you want me to say? This was all our fault.”
“No, this was all her fault,” Laura said with exaggerated patience. “You need to understand that. None of this had anything to do with us. She infiltrated a city as a kid for giggles, and then gave five people relatively close to her superpowers—again, for giggles.”
“I should have seen it,” I muttered, not looking at her. “Realized what she was doing to me. There were… oddities, gaps in my memory that I just dismissed, that I never questioned. I should have.”
She grabbed me by the chin and forced me to look at her. “This was not your fault. If you had never been born, it would have just been some other poor bastard in your position. And countless people would be dead.”
I batted away her hand and looked out the window again. “Countless people are dead.”
“But less than there would be without Derek Huntsman.”
“We’re here,” I noted as we reached the first ‘sarian checkpoint, glad for any excuse—even an obvious one—to change the subject. “Passes out, people.”
Twenty minutes later, we were finally through the last checkpoint, and I hurried out of the car before Laura could restart the conversation. I grabbed the first ‘sarian I saw, a goblin girl. “Hi.” I flashed my security pass. “You know where they’re keeping a kid named Adam? If not, then Clarke—”
“Master Anders is with Doctor Clarke,” the girl answered promptly. “In the main med lab, last I checked.” She indicated the direction. “Follow the signs to ‘bio hazard waste processing.’”
I smiled. “Yes, thank you, I’ve been here before. I know how the Big Boss likes to label things.” I never had been able to figure out if he genuinely believed that changing all the room names on the signs would actually confuse intruders, or if he just thought it was funny.
Either way, I found Clarke’s lab easily enough, with Laura and Robyn a few steps behind me. By the time we reached the cluttered chamber, with test tubes and beakers and all sorts of equipment from forgotten experiments scattered everywhere, Akane was already there waiting with Adam and Lily.
I frowned at the swordswoman. “What about my parents?”
I nodded. “Good. Then—”
Before I could finish my thought, Lily rushed past me and tackle-hugged Robyn so hard the taller girl was nearly knocked off her feet.
“Red dusk,” Robyn managed, barely able to get the words out. “Don’t squeeze so hard, I think I’m gonna burst.”
Her ‘sister,’ for lack of a better term, didn’t let up. “Mother of fire… I thought we’d lost you.”
The red-haired flier smiled down at the girl burying her face in her chest. “Me? I was just involved in some petty thievery. You’re the ones who got zombified by a crazy immortal witch.”
“Don’t remind her,” Adam groaned from the examination chair in the center of the room. “She nearly killed me when she found me, before they could get me into the toy box. Broke like three ribs or something.”
“And judging from the look of your hand, she might have sprained some of your fingers once you got out,” MC commented dryly from a wall speaker. “I guess the rest of us should just be thankful all she wanted was to hold your hand.”
Lily finally released Robyn, and returned to Adam’s side—his other side, I noted. She didn’t want to damage his hand any worse than it already was.
“What did happen, Adam?” I asked, stepping next to the examination chair. “MC didn’t go into too much detail.” As far as I could tell, he was not wounded, but that didn’t mean much with the toy box. Sure, he was a clay, but that just meant it was far more expensive than it normally would be. Higher-level toys were out of reach for him no matter who was footing the bill, but basic healing was easy enough.
Mostly, he just looked tired. Like he hadn’t slept a wink since we left the city. Which for all I knew, he hadn’t. I knew I wouldn’t have in his position.
He smiled weakly. “Simple enough. I was on the phone with MC when the thing hit, so I had more warning than everyone else. I stabbed out my eardrums, ran around the city hiding from screamers for a few days, until I ended up at Zero Forge. Pushed Elizabeth into a vat of liquid nitrogen MC had opened, and… poof.” He mimed small explosions with his hands. “Problem solved.”
There was a long pause.
“That,” I said slowly. “Is one of the most compressed explanations I have ever heard.” I turned my attention to one of the wall speakers. “MC, what really happened?”
“That’s about it. He’s just downplaying the fact that he was fighting through an entire city of superpowered zombies by himself.”
I grinned, patting my friend on the shoulder. “Well, I heard that.” I shook my head in wonder. “Seriously though, I do want to hear how you survived alone in a city of zombies for two whole days. Silver and gold, it’s a good thing you carry those guns everywhere, right?”
“Actually, he didn’t have any guns for a while,” MC corrected. “He left them at the dorm, and had to go get them. Stole some other ones on the way.”
“But still…” I murmured, looking at my roommate with renewed respect. He seemed a bit embarrassed by all the attention, but didn’t say anything. “Plus, you were deaf for the whole thing. Even with MC helping you, that’s pretty awesome.”
Laura finally stepped forward. “How are the new eardrums, anyway?”
He latched onto a relatively normal subject with zeal. “Well, you know. Things still sound a bit weird. Doctor Clarke says I’ll get used to it, though.”
The sharp-faced European girl nodded. “Good. What about damage to city infrastructure?”
I frowned. “Laura, this isn’t the time—”
“It’s okay,” Adam waved me off. “It’s fine.” He turned back to Laura. “Minimal damage to the infrastructure. I collapsed a couple roof-bridges behind me, barricaded myself inside a couple stores… MC has the full details.”
“Any damage to Zero Forge?”
“Elizabeth ripped up north side a bit when I eluded her. Nothing too bad, though.”
Laura nodded. “Right, Elizabeth. Tell me about the fight.”
“Laura,” I hissed.
But she just silenced me with a glare, before returning her attention to Adam and waiting for a response.
He paused for a good, long moment, trying to consider what to say.
“…I only glanced over the camera footage,” he said finally. “And it was all a rush at the time. But I think, more than anything, she underestimated me, from start to finish.” He shrugged. “She’s immortal, and I don’t even have a power. What could I do against her?”
“I suspected as much,” Laura murmured. “That’s similar to how you beat her, Robyn, in the alley.”
“I’m still worried about her trying this again,” I warned. “I like the idea of keeping her frozen forever, but I have a feeling she’s going to get out sooner or later, and just do the exact same thing as before. And this time, she might make the whole city commit suicide instead of just petty acts of vandalism.”
Lily, Adam, and Laura all stared at me.
I looked between them. “…what?”
“Derek,” Laura said slowly. “Have you not… thought about what happened?”
“She turned the entire city into screamers,” I snapped, annoyed. “And she can do it again.”
“No. She can’t.”
I glared, frustrated that I was missing the obvious. “Why not?”
Lily smiled broadly. “Because now, every single person in the city has a power. And thus, we are all immune to the Composer’s song.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 227)
I’ve been waiting for the MEE for a long time.