My implant handled the call and Kals and Katuk appeared in my vision, standing against a background of beige cubicles. No longer wearing the green spacesuit she’d been in earlier, Kals wore a black dress made of a material that added overtones of colors that slowly formed shapes that then turned into landscapes or animals. The movement was subtle enough that you wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t think about it, but obvious when you did.
I’d seen similar clothing on her mother and other people who were dressing formally in the Human Ascendancy.
My implant offered me a history of fashion trends in the Human Ascendancy and I slapped it down. I didn’t need to know that right now.
Katuk still wore his silver, form-fitting powered armor. Alien powered armor was always appropriate when no one dared to tell you to take it off. His big black eyes were obvious through the overlay of his suit.
Kals grinned at me, “We’re finally free. Do you mind if we visit? We won’t be able to stay for long, but I’m curious about where you come from.”
“Sure,” I said, “but I should warn you that we may be beginning a fight for our lives. There are people literally targeting our families, starting with mine, it looks like.”
Kals’ grin disappeared and her mouth twisted, “Now I want to stay. You did everything you could for us on Hideaway. I… We… in the resistance owe you everything. The problem is that we’ve got something going back home and I can’t skip it.”
“You don’t have to. We can handle this. It’s challenging, but I don’t think it’s impossible. We’re just at the beginning of it now. We’ll figure it out.”
She gave a half-smile, “I’m sure you will, but I want to help. I’ll do what I can while I’m here.”
I tried to think of a way to say that she didn’t have to, but she interrupted before I could come up with a way to say it.
“Guardian’s going to open a portal to you. He says he won’t have any trouble sending us, but he wants to make sure you’ve turned off any anti-teleportation protection you’ve set up first. He says he’ll wait ten minutes from when this call is over. Bye!”
She closed the connection before I had time to argue or respond in any way.
I came back to the real world to hear the group discussing Prentkos and noticed that more than half of the group had dropped off the call.
Daniel thought at me, We noticed you were talking. Haley and Kayla are working out a system for keeping people close enough to respond in case any parents get attacked. Vaughn, Cassie, and Amy are talking with Hal to see if it’s found any immortals to pester. Travis cut out so he could get back here. Rod and Samita left. Everyone left is just talking.
I looked around, noticing Sydney, Julie, Camille, and Marcus talking.
Tara looked over at me, “I thought we’d done enough talking and too little planning. We need to come up with plans in small groups—not everybody all at once.”
“True,” I said, thinking about who was running the small groups. I wished I could be with Haley, but she had a gift for assigning people where they’d do the most good. Meanwhile, Cassie, Vaughn, and Amy were the best group to handle the immortals.
Marcus waved at me from the screen. With less than half the group around, everybody that was left had much bigger faces. Marcus’ rented room near Grand Lake University looked just as cheap in better detail. Next to the X-Men poster on the wall, a splotch of spackle covered the remains of a hole.
Marcus leaned in, his dark face filling more of the screen, “Were you talking to? Kals?”
“How’d you guess?”
He rolled his eyes, “She’s here. Of course, she’s calling you. I’m pretty sure she had a crush on you on Hideaway. She didn’t do anything because she knew that you were taken, but she’s still going to want to hang out.”
All other conversations had stopped by then and everybody was watching this. I wanted to deny it if only to avoid starting rumors, but it was too late for that. Also, I couldn’t argue he was wrong about Kals having a crush on me when I knew he was right.
“Guardian’s porting her and Katuk in less than ten minutes,” I tapped through the menu on the nearest computer in order to turn off our anti-teleportation protections.
Marcus blinked, “Katuk? Whoa. Is he her bodyguard?”
“I think so,” I said, finishing the last tap and setting the devices to inactive for the next twenty minutes. That ought to be enough time for the most powerful teleporter on the planet to send two people to a location he knew.
“Nick?” Julie waved for my attention. Between her light blond hair, red lipstick, and shoulder-baring shirt, her look reminded me for a moment of the popular, mean girl she’d been in high school. What I hadn’t known then was that her mother had been killed by the Cabal and that she’d basically grown up hiding from them.
It might not excuse her, but four years of Stapledon and an internship had made her into a different person than she’d been when she’d ordered Haley and I out of a coffee shop years ago. Hopefully, she’d been put on another track than the alternate version of her that Rachel met in Infinity City. That one used her powers to enslave and sell people.
“What?” I asked her.
Julie paused, took a breath, and said, “Kals has the same powers I do. Stapledon didn’t have anyone like me. Do you think she’d be willing to teach me what she can while she’s here?”