“Do it, and hurry,” I said. “The guy in the van could be anywhere by now.”
And maybe I shouldn’t have said that because Sam didn’t look quite so happy afterward. I need to remember to think before talking. She’d have hurried even if I didn’t say anything.
On the other hand, she didn’t argue with me.
She pulled a foot wide, metal basin out of a pants pocket, followed by a canteen of water. The pocket could never have fit the basin, warping and bending as she pulled it out, but appearing completely normal by the time it was out of her pocket.
It went the same with the canteen.
After she poured the water into the basin, she said a few words over the bit of plastic. I didn’t recognize the language. She could have been making the words up.
As she said the last one, the water in the basin bubbled, turning into an office building even if it did look odd. Brick, and at least seven stories high, it slanted away from the highway.
Under the darkening sky, hazy images of cars, and their glowing headlights left a strange glow on the alley’s walls.
“There?” Rod stood, leaning over us. “That’s Georgetown. It’s not that far from here.”
Sam said, “Just a second, I still haven’t found the van.”
The image changed, going through the building in a flash of brick, desks, potted plants, motivational posters, and gleaming floors, and ending in an almost empty parking garage.
The van sat alone, the back doors closed.
“That’s it,” I said. “That’s the same van, but where’s the guy?”
Sam shook her head. “I don’t know. I can’t find him. If I had piece of his clothes, or hair, I could.”
“If I’d known you could do this, maybe I’d have tried.”
Sam frowned and the image disappeared.
Oops. Shut up, Cassie. Just shut up.
* * *
Fifteen minutes we were riding in Rod’s old, green Ford Focus. Sam looked overweight and white again. Rod, of course, was not in troll form. He wouldn’t have been able to fit into the car, much less drive.
“Since we missed the concert,” he’d said, and popped a CD into the CD player.
It wasn’t bad. It sounded like something Vaughn might listen to—a little bit of an Arcade Fire sound maybe.
I sat in the back, watching as we passed brick houses, other cars, people standing and talking outside, feeling the breeze from the open windows.
“So which is the real you? What I’m seeing right now, or what I saw back there?”
Sounding a little surprised, Sam said, “Not this. It’s an illusion. Normally I look more like I do when I’m Red Hex.”
“So you’re Indian or something?”
“I was born here. My parents grew up in Pakistan.”
“Okay. Why don’t you look normal now?”
Rod said, “Oh, don’t get her started on that.”
“My secret identity. There’s no reason for Rod and I to know each other. We went to different high schools and never met until running into each other on a Stapledon weekend.”
“And we found out we were both from DC. I’m at Catholic University of America. She’s at Duke, but we could have met each other hundreds of times.”
“But we didn’t,” Sam said, “and none of my friends would recognize you, and none of your friends would recognize me, and if anybody went asking around they’d learn we met this year when we couldn’t possibly have met.”
“We could have met this summer somehow.”
“We don’t have any common interests.”
“Got it,” I said. “Sorry. I wasn’t trying to start an argument.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Rod said. “She’s just paranoid.”
“I’m not. Cassie, what does your team do?”
“We try to be careful where we change, but we’ve already had people figure out our real names.”
Sam drew in a breath. “What did you do?”
“The Mystic’s a telepath. He fixed it.”
Sam began to say something else, but sirens started going—not police either. To me they sounded like tornado sirens. Did D.C. have tornadoes?
“Hey,” I started.
“Crap,” Rod said. “Do you see anything?”
“See what?” I asked. Sam was already staring out into the twilight outside the car.
People walking on the sidewalks stopped and looked up, or got closer to buildings. A few started to run.
“Heroes, villains, monsters, explosions, whatever. I’m betting whatever they were fighting downtown’s got to be heading this way.”
“It could be something else,” Sam said.
“Let’s hope not.” Rod said, turning off the CD, and switching to the radio.
“Shouldn’t we be going somewhere? Don’t you get alerts through your phone or something?”
“The Liberators and the Young Liberators get alerts. We’re not in the Young Liberators.” Rod pulled his hand away from the radio.
A man’s voice coming out of the speakers said, “—urge anyone out tonight to get inside immediately, and to turn on the lights. This is especially true for anyone near the Potomac river—”
“What does that mean?”
Sam said, “I… don’t know.”
“Yeah well,” Rod said, “you know what sucks?”
I looked over at Rod—at the back of his head at least. “What?”
“That building the van’s in is just off the Potomac.”