Previous: Chapter Five
Ana woke in the night and lay in the darkness fretting about ARK. It hadn’t taken them long to find her, despite switching off her phone. Jack had said it wouldn’t stop them, and he was right. ARK had become her shadow.
She had spent the evening searching for Michael, to no avail. She had pushed her mind to its limit until she was exhausted and in danger of crying again, so Jack had ordered her to bed. She listened to him sleeping now so peacefully, as if the world wasn’t ending around him, as if it was just another day.
Unable to sleep, she got up and checked the street. The Lexus was still there, its huge mesh grill glinting in the moonlight like the yawning mouth of a demon. She perched on a stool and watched through a gap in the curtains. She could do it with her eyes closed, but it didn’t seem right to use her powers for such a trivial reason. A cigarette glowed intermittently in the heart of the car. She watched until it burnt out, shivering in one of Jack’s T-shirts and wondering why ARK hadn’t come for her yet.
Jack stirred in the bed and found her gone. She felt his momentary anxiety and turned to smile at him through the darkness.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ she said.
‘We need to disappear.’
‘Is that one of your superpowers?’ he said sleepily.
Ana got back into bed. ‘Don’t be silly.’ She snuggled close to Jack, knotting her cold limbs with his until she felt the warmth returning. He began sinking into sleep, so she ran her fingers over his skin until he responded and almost pushed the plan from her mind.
She sat up, ignoring his protests. ‘And we need to watch Michael’s film.’
‘I agree, now come here.’
They made their escape plan over breakfast. They would retrieve Michael’s backup discs and then slip under ARK’s radar and away. Jack said they must do everything exactly as if it were a normal day so ARK wouldn’t be alerted to their plan. He would go for his usual early morning run, and then they would leave.
Ana waited in the hallway, anxious to get going. Footsteps sounded on the path outside and she grabbed her coat from the hook. Jack stumbled through the door fiddling with his phone. It looked like he was changing the SIM, and he startled when he saw her. ‘Oh, hey, ready to go already?’
‘Got a problem with your phone?’
‘Nah, just dropped it. Back came off, stupid thing. Give me a sec.’
He vanished up the stairs and after a moment Ana heard the shower running. She pulled on her coat and resisted the urge to read his mind. She had promised to stay out of her friend’s heads as a matter of courtesy, but she didn’t have to be psychic to know something was wrong. Simple instinct told her Jack had lied. The frozen look on his face, like he was caught doing something he knew he shouldn’t. But what?
Half an hour later they emerged from the lift outside Ana’s flat, grateful the power had been restored. She slipped her key into the lock, but Jack stepped ahead of her. ‘Wait here,’ he said, and went inside.
Ana surveyed the chaos from the doorway while Jack moved from room to room like a cop in a detective film, checking for uninvited guests. She inched over the threshold. He reappeared from her bedroom and motioned for her to stop. She froze, and he slipped onto the balcony.
This was absurd. She knew there was nobody else present. She had scanned the flat with her mind, but Jack was Being A Man. She waited while he satisfied himself they were alone.
He reappeared. ‘Nothing but a pigeon.’
Ana smiled. ‘She’s still here.’
‘Probably not the same bird, babes.’ He ran his eyes over the wreckage and whistled. ‘Quite a fight.’ He pulled his phone from his leather satchel and started taking photographs.
‘What are you doing?’ said Ana. ‘We have to find the discs.’
‘Evidence,’ he said, taking another snap. ‘Need to make a record.’
Ana went to the desk to search the drawers while Jack finished documenting the mess. She knew the discs were here somewhere; she had seen Michael using them earlier in the week.
‘Try the wardrobe,’ said Jack, distractedly. ‘It’s where people usually hide stuff.’
Ana crossed the flat and made a mental note to check Jack’s wardrobe for a stash of secrets before they left the city for good.
Michael’s room was eerily tidy. She stared at the neat pile of books and the freshly made bed and felt nothing but confusion. Michael never made his bed, and he was usually too busy reading to keep his shelves in order. His glasses lay on the bedside table, unused and unneeded since the superstorm. Ana stood with her hand on the doorknob, the horrible scenes of last night playing in her mind, and forced herself to believe he was safe.
She had met him in the playground at school when they were eleven. Michael had been curled in a defensive ball against the missiles of dirt and daffodil bulbs exploding over his back. Ana had put herself between Michael and the pack of runts tormenting him and screamed in a fury so righteous that two of the boys had burst into tears before running away. They hated Michael because he was Nigerian, but they hated him more because he was sensitive and the girls liked him.
As Jack had predicted, the plastic box filled with DVD backups was hidden under a pile of old jeans at the back of the wardrobe. She took it into the living room and sat on the sofa to check the contents. She was flicking through the discs when her scalp began to prickle, as if the air in the room had become electrically charged. She scratched her head absently until a shift in the light made her look up.
A woman with spiky hair and dove earrings stepped from the balcony looking as striking as she had on the Metro yesterday.
Jack stared at her as if she were a ghost. ‘Where did you spring from?’
‘The balcony,’ said the woman, laughter dancing in her eyes.
‘But I, I looked, I…there was no one there,’ spluttered Jack.
The woman smiled at Ana and took her hand. She raised it to her lips and kissed the inside of her wrist.
‘It is an honour to meet you at last, Anastasia.’
‘Um…likewise,’ said Ana, bewildered.
The woman turned to Jack, who looked like he wanted to run from the room. She went through the same routine and pressed a kiss to the inside of his left wrist. She let go and he clutched at his hand, his mouth working with the avalanche of questions filling his head.
‘Who are you?’ he managed.
‘You may call me Beatrice,’ she said, and held out her hand. ‘Give me your computer.’
The commanding note in her voice made him obey without thinking. He opened his satchel and produced his laptop. It contained vital information about ARK so he always carried it with him. Beatrice took it, placed her hand on the closed screen and waited. After a moment, she handed it back.
Jack looked at it with suspicion, and then switched it on. ‘What did you do?’ The computer booted and seemed fine. He checked his document folder. It was empty. He searched his other folders. All his files were gone. All his research. All his work. She had wiped his hard drive. ‘What the fuck?’
‘Do you have data stored anywhere else?’ said Beatrice.
‘No,’ he said, clutching his laptop like a life raft.
‘Don’t lie to me Jack.’
She gave him the same look his mum used when he was trying to pretend it wasn’t him who had broken his bike or lost his school books or eaten all the biscuits. He decided to reason with her.
‘Look, there’s no point in wiping my data. I can download it from the server at work, and you can’t wipe that so you’re wasting your time. You’re not going to stop me posting this story.’
Beatrice watched Jack as if she was deciding whether to let him live, and he realised there wasn’t a thing he could do if she decided against it. He shivered involuntarily, but held her gaze.
‘I see,’ said Beatrice. ‘Then you must make me a promise.’
‘Don’t post the story.’
‘Are you working for ARK?’ said Jack, his temper rising. ‘That’s it, isn’t it?’
‘I do not work for ARK.’
‘Why should I believe you?’
‘If you are not willing to believe me, why did you ask the question?’
Jack frowned at her and tried to speak but found he didn’t know what to say. His mind was going in slow motion and he was having trouble thinking.
Ana touched his arm and spoke to him as if he were a child. ‘Jack, it’s all right. I told you what happened. Think about it. She was the pigeon. She stopped ARK from finding me last night. She’s here to protect us.’
Beatrice smiled and the room brightened. Jack felt lightheaded and tried to blink away the extra light. The mysterious woman appeared to have translucent skin, as if it shone with its own light, and it seemed fresh, like she was newly born. But her eyes held depths of wisdom and knowledge only achieved after eons of existence. He doubted anything could surprise her.
Since the storm Jack thought he had got used to strange things happening, but this situation had slipped out of his control so fast. He wanted to sit down and put his head between his knees, but didn’t want to look weak. He needed more information.
‘Why can’t I post this story?’ he said.
‘For your protection,’ said Beatrice. ‘Timing is everything. If this story, as you call it, were to be told too soon, it could jeopardise everything we’ve worked-’
‘Did you take Michael’s film down?’ interrupted Jack.
Ana gasped as the truth dawned. ‘You were trying to protect him from ARK.’
Beatrice nodded and smiled sadly. ‘Too late.’
‘But that’s why we should expose them,’ said Jack. ‘If we keep this hidden, it leaves ARK free to operate from the shadows, and when they’re ready with whatever it is they’re planning, it’ll be too late for us to fight back. We need to get ahead of them.’
‘You would attack the Hydra with nothing but a candle?’ said Beatrice.
‘What?’ said Jack testily.
‘What you say is true,’ continued Beatrice. ‘ARK cannot be trusted with the future. That is why I am here. I know you understand the power of truth, Jack. And the power of lies. You must act only when you understand the difference.’
‘The difference is obvious.’
Beatrice smiled as if Jack had told a bad joke. ‘Gather the information, by all means. I applaud your desire to understand. But you must not go public. Not yet.’
Jack shoved his laptop into his satchel. ‘It would be harder for ARK to snatch people from their homes and experiment on them if the world knew what they were doing.’
‘The world would not believe what they are doing,’ said Beatrice. ‘Michael was given a choice to reveal the truth or not. I asked him to wait. He knew the consequences of not doing so and acted anyway.’
‘Where is he?’ said Ana. ‘Is he all right?’
Beatrice placed her hand on Ana’s shoulder. ‘Do not concern yourself. You must not worry about Michael. Do you understand?’
‘He is with ARK, as you know. He is impatient for the future. He sees more than most and it is painful for him, I think.’
‘Could you bring him back?’ said Ana. ‘Find him and, I don’t know, take him somewhere safe?’
Beatrice took Ana’s hands in hers. ‘It is as it should be.’
‘So you won’t help him.’
‘He has help,’ said Beatrice gently. ‘You are my concern, Ana.’
‘Will you take me to Linnunrata?’
Beatrice gazed deep into her eyes. ‘Michael told you to ask?’
‘We will take you there at the earliest opportunity, but you must be patient. The timing is most important.’
‘If you want to keep me safe, surely that’s the best place,’ said Ana. ‘Why don’t you just take me there now?’
Beatrice glanced at Jack. ‘It is not time. But your instinct is good. I see your plan. You must hide. Keep yourself safe, Ana. I will come when needed.’
With that, she walked to the balcony and beamed at them over her shoulder. In a flash of ice blue light, Beatrice transformed into a pigeon. She fluttered briefly, as if saying goodbye, and then was gone.
Next: Chapter Seven
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