The ride didn’t seem long, but for all I knew Julie’s voice might have messed with my sense of time. She kept talking the whole time—when she wasn’t questioning us.
She talked to Samita first. “Tell me your name and what you can do that got you into the program. Be quick.”
Samita and Rod sat in the seats behind the driver. Julie had put herself in the third row with Tara and told Travis and I to sit in the fourth.
Samita cleared her throat. “I’m Samita Nanda. I’m being trained as a wizard, and specialize in creating objects with magical powers.”
Julie leaned her head back. I could only guess at her expression. “You do magic? What have you got?”
“Got? A ring. It protects me against being hurt. They told us not to bring anything obvious.”
“How does it work? Like a force field?”
Samita shook her head. “No. It’s just luck, but a very specific kind of luck.”
Julie leaned forward. “It isn’t doing you much good now.”
Samita frowned for a moment. “Technically, I haven’t been hurt.”
Turning her head to the right toward Rod, she said, “Not yet. Anyway, everyone, as I said before, don’t move. Now you tell me your name and your powers.”
Rod nodded. “Normally people call me Rod, but I’m Rodolfo—“
Julie laughed. “Seriously, Rodolfo? Where did you get that?”
Mostly hidden under his beard, Rod’s mouth twitched. “My adopted father is a knight. He was born in the Middle Ages and rescued my mother—”
“Oh, come on…” Julie sounded like she was going to start laughing again. “OK. Powers. What are they?”
“I don’t have powers. I’m half-troll. When I want to, I allow the troll side of my nature to appear.”
Julie did start laughing then. “Sorry, but that’s just too weird. I’m trying to imagine explaining you to a buyer.”
She turned around toward Travis and I. “Rachel, what are your powers?”
“Intangibility and invisibility.” I managed not to go into detail. That was good. Sure, she’d said to be concise, but I could have told her more. Part of me desperately wanted to.
Then, a little more slowly than normal, she asked, “What do you call yourself when you’re in costume?”
Julie held her hands over her ears, and leaned forward as if she were about to throw up. “Oh God, that hurts.”
She said it a couple more times, and then she sat up. Taking a breath, she said, “What did you call your—“
She doubled over again. When she sat up, she turned toward Travis. “Your powers?” It was as if she didn’t even remember what happened.
Travis said, “Strength, heightened senses, agility, and I can regenerate a little. Plus I’ve got poisoned claws when I transform.”
Julie nodded, and paused. It seemed like she was about to ask him something, but then she didn’t.
Soon after that, the driver stopped the van. Julie got out of her seat, opened the side door, and said, “Everybody out. Follow me. If you think you need to do something I haven’t told you to do, ask me first, and don’t do it unless I say you can.”
I stepped out first, and found myself in front of an old building. It might have been a shop once, but it didn’t have a sign any more. The windows had long since been boarded up, and by this time even the plywood covering the windows looked worn and gray.
The rest of the building matched the gray—except it was made of stone.
Fast food wrappers, old newspapers, and rotting food lay next to an overturned trashcan on the sidewalk. Julie led us down the alley next to the building, and we went in the side door.
Travis stepped inside, and as I followed, I noticed that while plywood covered the outside of the door, the inside was very thick metal.
Julie led us into the basement. I’d expected it to be old concrete, but it was all new—not exactly nice, but new.
It wasn’t a model for interior design—unless you really liked wood paneling and linoleum. Except for a bucket in one of the corners, the room was empty. The linoleum had a wood grain design, and the wood paneling also looked like fake wood.
The combination couldn’t have been chosen for looks.
Julie directed us to stand in the middle of the room. We did.
She stood in the doorway—on the first step of the stairs.
“In a little while I’m going to leave you here. While I’m gone, I’m going to need you to understand something—you can’t escape. I had this room rigged for keeping people with powers. I call it the ‘Boom Room’. If you push too hard on the walls, floor, or ceiling, it goes boom. If you try to call up energy, it goes boom. If you try to teleport out, it goes boom. If you try to float through the walls, it goes boom… Do you get that? You’ll kill your friends even if you survive yourself.”
Then she shut the door, and turned off the lights.