Sorry, but I’m swamped with getting ready for the holiday. I’m taking a break this week in order to get everything ready for Thursday.
Will watched Slipstream darting back and forth across the sky. He had been flying for nearly an hour now, buzzing the rooftops to find the chem signature that the group hoped would lead them to Unimportant.
He took his eyes off his old comrade and looked around him. The rest of the group had come back one by one, and if he wasn’t mistaken, they were talking with Mach through their phones.
“You’re smiling.” A voice came from behind him.
If he had been, it was already gone. “Adamant. I thought you were going to sit this out. Like usual.”
The silver-skinned man’s arms were crossed and his eyebrow was twitching.
“Oh right. You aren’t much used if you’re not punching something. So of course you can’t help out when there’s no one to hit. Which makes me wonder what you’re doing here at all.”
“I’m here in case you fail. Whatever comes from that child’s actions, I am here to stop it.”
Will grimaced, and turned away from Adamant.
“Stop acting so dignified. Wasn’t it you who taught me to always expect the worst? I think I was only a little older than him then.”
Will scoffed. “You’re twisting my words. Don’t pretend you based you’re whole life off that night. You were a fucked up kid and you’re no better now. We don’t need you here. ”
Adamant walked around and shoved a finger in Will’s chest. “You. Don’t. Tell. Me. What. To. Do. You never made it to the Council; you ran away. You left the rest of us to fight alone, and wallowed in your selfish pity for over a year. Do you even know what happened because of you? Do you know what you put us through?”
Will stayed silent.
“Of course you do. You know everything don’t you? You always know exactly what to say and exactly what to do. Even now, you have most of the Council wrapped around your little finger. Even Sigurd’s coming around to your side. But I’m not going to forget.”
Will didn’t say anything as Adamant hopped away, bouncing from rooftop to rooftop.
“I found something,” Slipstream reported. “There’s a warehouse leaking that signature 12 blocks to the Northeast.”
Will looked to the group, who were all staring at him strangely. “Let’s go.”
Slipstream landed lightly on the roof as they all moved for the warehouse. If necessary, he could have kept flying for hours more, but his suit would need to recharge before he’d be any use in a fight. He stared at their backs as they moved towards the warehouse. He hoped they could succeed, because he knew what would have to be done if they failed.
Just before they were out of earshot, Will heard him speaking.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Will.”
Will did his best to ignore what those words really meant. The worry in Slipstream’s voice filled him with a heaviness that he hadn’t had to experience in years.
“We need to hurry,” Will said. “It’s going to be nearly impossible to find him with the sliders still keeping an eye on the other warehouses. We have to hope he’ll be able to give us a sign.”
“We don’t even know if he’ll be here tonight,” Hawthorne said. “You seem oddly eager.”
“It has to be tonight-ight,” Red Racer said. “They said they’d only give us the one night.”
“So what happens if we fail?” Burnout asked.
Allspades was the one who answered. “Blood Moon Protocol.”
“You’ve heard of it,” Will said.
Allspades nodded. “As far as I know, they’ve only ever had to do it twice, but it was one of the situations we had to be taught. If a large enough amount of a specific rift radiation gathers in one spot, then it will become stuck between universes. In order to stop it, a large group of sliders will work together to lock out that frequency. It prevents it from ever entering our universe again.”
“And Unimportant with it-it. Apparently, it easier to do the close it is to dawn, and they aren’t going to let him run around like this any longer.”
Will nodded. The warehouse was just ahead of him.
“We can’t go inside,” he said. “If we’ve already taken it out, then there’s a good chance he’ll pass it up.”
“We need to keep an eye on what’s happening inside,” Hawthorne said. “We should split up to make sure we don’t miss anything.”
The others nodded and the group immediately split off. Will sat down on the roof and waited.
He waited because there was nothing else he could do. He waited because he had to put his faith in the only plan that had a real chance of working. He waited because he wanted to believe that everything would be all right. He waited until the sun’s rays were peaking over the horizon, and then he knew he’d waited too long.
The group had started wandering over as sunrise drew nearer.
And then they felt it; as one they turned towards the south. Only Will understood what the familiar feeling really meant. It kept building higher and higher until they could see the rift reaching for the sky.
“What happens next?” Burnout asked.
“All the rift radiation that Unimportant’s been leaving around town will be drawn into it. With so many sliders working together, it’ll be spread across who knows how many universes and the threat will be gone. At first, Unimportant will be drawn to it, but he could ignore it if he knew what it was. Soon enough, it’ll start to physically pull him through its center, and he’ll either end up locked out of this universe or stuck drifting between them forever.”
Red Racer walked towards the rift until he was standing near the edge of the roof. His eyes were wide and his breath came up short.
If his sister were there, she’d be holding him tightly and telling him that he’d done everything he could to help his friend. But his sister wasn’t there; she was patrolling the skies as a part of the deal they’d made to get so much help in trying to find Unimportant.
Allspades came up behind him and rested a hand on his shoulder.
Red Racer turned and looked him in the eye, and there was a hint of a tear about to fall.
Allspades turned back to the rest of the group. He looked each of them in the eye, and when he met Will’s, Will knew what he was going to say.
A part of him hoped he wouldn’t say it. Allspades didn’t know what failure would cost in this case, but Will did. He’d seen brave people, good people trying to do the right thing, forced to hang up their capes forever because they went against the best interests of the world. Even if the Council understood, they couldn’t afford to let heroes like that poison their kind in the public’s eye.
Another part couldn’t have been happier than if Allspades followed through. After Confluence, he’d been worried that Allspades would sink into the shell that the group had barely gotten him out of before he left. If the look on Red Racer’s face was enough to sway him, then maybe he’d be the kind of hero Will wished all of them could be.
“How do we stop it?”
In spite of himself, in spite of the pain that Will knew they might end up with, in spite of his instincts telling him to stop them right now, Will smiled.
“You’ll only have one chance.”
“This isn’t working.” Allspades said over the support group’s radio frequency. He was standing on the far side of the roof rom Porticus, his accompanying slider, and talking quietly enough to avoid being heard.
“Maybe,” Hawthorne said, speaking just as quietly. “But what other option is there? We can’t track him, and we can’t contact him. We know he’s still after Asclepios’ warehouses, so this is all we can do.”
“But we don’t even know where half of them are. And we can only cover half the one’s we know about. It could be weeks before he hits one of the ones that we’re patrolling”
“Then we have to draw him out somehow,” Burnout said.
“Will talked about that-at, but none of us know enough about him to find a way to signal him. I’m still the only one who remembers him, and I don’t remember him saying much about himself, or much of anything at all, really.”
“Which is what put us here in the first place,” Allspades said. He sighed and looked over at Porticus. The slider hadn’t said a word to him all night. Even the way he breathed was annoyingly quiet, and it was driving Allspades up a wall.
“Don’t worry about him. We just need to find your friend.”
Friend? If Red Racer was right, then even before he disappeared, Unimportant hadn’t been particularly close to any of them. Not that any of them were particularly close anyway. Burnout was the only one who’d even known Mach was a girl before she was paralyzed.
For all the talking they’d done, for as much as they’d complained about how their powers and lives weren’t mixing, Allspades couldn’t honestly say he knew anything about any of them.
“You called me blonde chick for the first year we knew each other.”
Allspades shrugged at the voice in his head. After Stalker told him that she was real, that Page was actually talking to him, her words had started making a lot more sense. Nowadays they could have actual conversations that didn’t dissolve into headaches and nonsensical ramblings.
“I’m a brunette, Mason.”
Allspades sighed. He had to admit, for as little as he knew about the others, he had grown to look forward to the meetings. When he learned that Mach wasn’t going to be able to be a hero, that the choice they’d all come to make had been stolen from her, he’d been angry and hurt. It hadn’t been as bad as losing his old team, but it was a different kind of pain, one he didn’t quite understand. He honestly didn’t know what would happen if one of the others vanished like she had.
“See? That sounds like friendship to me.”
He honestly didn’t know how they would have felt when they found out he left. Hawthorne had obviously cared enough to go after him. If he had known that losing Mach would make the room feel so empty, would he have been so willing to leave? Had revenge clouded his mind so badly that he hadn’t even considered what leaving would do?
“Well, to be fair, you also thought you were going crazy. I’m pretty sure I was keeping you from sleeping too.”
But even that wasn’t an excuse. With or without Page in his head, he’d chosen to become Knight again, he’d decided that his old life was more important than his new one. He was almost certain that he wouldn’t have made the same choice again, but there was still a doubt lingering in the back of his mind.
Maybe they needed a chance to talk, outside of the meetings, away from walkers and heroes and villains.
“Red, what do you remember about Unimportant?” He asked. “Is there anything you can think of that doesn’t have to do with his powers? Why does he hate Asclepios so much?”
“I don’t remember too much-uch,” Red Racer said. “But I think he said someone close to him had died. His friend overdosed on Asclepios’s drugs.”
“I might be able to narrow it down then,” a new voice joined in the group, one all of them recognized. Allspades felt his heart lighten at its sound.
“Mach!” Burnout and Red Racer shouted excitedly. “What are you doing here-ere?”
“I gave you all this frequency, remember? I noticed a lot of chatter going on and decided to take a look. Do you mind catching me up on everything?”
Red Racer hurriedly told her everything that had happened that day. In a little less than ten minutes, she was caught up to speed on Unimportant’s existence.
“That’s…a lot to take in, but I think I might be able to help,” Mach said. “Let me check something.” They heard the clacking of a keyboard over the line. “It looks like there are only two of Asclepios’s drugs that can actually cause an overdose; he tends to avoid it to make more money. If we can figure out what warehouses are holding them, we might be able narrow it down.”
“How can we do that?” Hawthorne asked. “Do you have some kind of chemical scanner we can pick up?”
“Yes,” Mach said. “Sort of. Do you remember the chem trails that I used to track the cars from Asclepios’ gas attack? If we can get a mecher the right chemical signatures, then they should be able to figure out what warehouses have that drug.”
“On it-it.” There was a sudden rush of wind coming from Red Racer’s microphone. Their radios picked up on it and quickly cancelled it out, but they had an idea of his goal.
“Will!” They heard him shout before he turned off his radio.
Allspades and the others waited for Red Racer’s voice to come back on the line. Allspades caught his foot tapping along with the breaths of the others.
He glanced over at Porticus, who was staring at him strangely, but the other hero never said a word.
“I got to Will-ill.” Allspades barely kept himself from jumping at Red Racer’s sudden return. “He said he’d tell Slipstream and see if anyone else could join in.”
“Glad to help,” Mach said. “But I should probably get going.”
“Wait.” With the silence that followed the one word, Allspades was pretty certain everyone was a little surprised at his interruption.
“I mean, it’s not like we’re going to be off the radio; at least not until we hear back. There’s no reason you can’t stick around, Mach.”
There were sounds of general agreement from the rest of the group.
“Okay,” Mach said. “I can’t say I don’t miss being able to talk with you all. But we’re going to have to think of something else to call me. Mach just doesn’t feel right anymore.”
“Don’t worry,” Hawthorne said. “I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to think about it.”
Light and shadows danced independently through the room. More magic had been cast within the space than the physics within the room could hold against.
The Court floated in the center of the room. The rest of The Council sat in their seas, staring at the shapes taking form on the floor. The dancing lights began to still onto the floor, forming buildings and streets, until a perfect map of the city took shape.
The Court began to chant, and a single spot of light began dancing across the city. It spiraled inwards, and then outwards, and then inwards again. Every inch of the map was covered a dozen times over, but it never stilled.
The map faded and the Court floated to the ground. He tried to get to his feet but immediately dropped to his knees. Zero and Lux went down to help him up, but he waved them away.
“He’s not in the city, not this version.” He looked to Janus. “I can’t track him outside of it without a focus.”
“He’s been leaving trails everywhere,” Janus said. “But he’s always long gone before anyone can get to him. We’ve had people scouring everywhere he’s been, but there’s never any trace. It’s like he doesn’t exist. We need another option.”
Meister continued to stare at the empty floor. It was days like today that he hated being in charge. Most of the time, it meant that he just had to sit there and tally votes, but this wasn’t the time for democracy. They needed a goal, and it was his job to decide what it was.
He looked around the room. “Slipstream, do you know anyone who’s succeeded in tracking Sliders?”
Slipstream shook his head. “Everyone’s worked on it on and off for years. Rift radiation fades in a few feet from their gates. We can detect it if we get close enough, but unless we have drones patrolling along every street, we’re never going to find him before he’s gone.”
Meister bit back a sigh. “What’s the worst case scenario? He hasn’t done anything malicious so far.”
He already knew the answer, but sometimes people needed to hear it out loud.
“If the radiation continues to permeate the city, it’ll weaken the borders between universes,” Janus said. “It’ll become easier and easier to slide through until anyone who has come in contact with a different frequency of radiation will start sliding uncontrollably. Some of us will be able to anchor ourselves, but half the sliders, and anyone they’ve been in close contact with, will start waking up in other worlds. If it goes on for longer than that…then I don’t know. It could start making everyone slip through.”
“How long do we have?”
“Months; days. I can’t say for sure. Whoever this slider is, his frequency is…off. It’s across a wider spectrum than I’ve seen from almost anyone. It could delay the process indefinitely, or it could reduce the time until convergence. We can’t risk letting him walk around.”
Meister nodded. “Does anyone have a plan?”
“I’m glad you asked.”
Everyone turned towards the door in time to see it open with a loud crash.
Will walked in with Red Racer and Miss Mirror following close behind him.
“Will,” Meister said. “I do hope you have a good reason for interrupting us. We don’t appreciate civilians interrupting our meetings, even if they’re towing two heroes behind them. One of whom we don’t even know.”
“He’s my brother,” Miss Mirror said. She stared Meister in the eye. “He needs to be here.”
Will smiled. “I wasn’t interrupting anything. You’ve spent the last three hours trying to track down someone who you’ll never find. You’ve been going about it the entirely wrong way.”
“Just tell us your plan,” Sigurd said. “I really don’t want to listen to any more politics today.”
Will’s smile faded slightly, but he kept it on his face. “Okay. I suppose we should start with this. The slider is one of mine. In fact, about half of you have met or seen him at least once. The problem is, none of us can remember him.”
Meister raised an eyebrow.
“None of our minds were altered,” Will continued. “According to Red here, his powers prevent us from actively recalling him, or seeing him, or recognizing his existence in any way.”
“Why is he leaving these trails then?” Janus asked “Why hasn’t he turned his power off?”
“I don’t think he can. I think something scared him, and he’s stuck. He’d probably been wandering around town for weeks before the radiation built up and anyone noticed him. If he can’t turn his powers off, then he needs to know that someone still remembers him, before he gives up completely.”
“The issues you were having,” Lux said. “He was the absence.”
Will nodded. “Exactly. I never could have figured it out without Red Racer’s help, because it’s impossible for most people to remember him. The only reason Red can is because he’s a runner.”
Adamant stared at Red Racer, then looked between the other members of the Council. “Are we going to talk about-“
“No.” Will, Mirror, and Zero said at the same time.
“Talk about what?” Red Racer asked. The others ignored him.
“How does this help us find him?” Janus asked.
“You’re focusing too much on where he’s been,” Will said. “Red here is probably the only person alive who can remember him. We can help you figure out where he’s going to be.”
Will nodded at Red Racer.
Red stepped forward. His eyes kept darting between the Council members. “Unimportant-ant became a hero to stop Asclepios-os. He spent most of the last year taking out his resources,a nd he’s the one who warned us about the gas bombs-ombs.
“I think we can find him if we stake out a few of his warehouses-ouses.”
“We’d need a slider at each one,” Will said. “And someone he knows with them.”
“You have a suggestion?” Meister said.
“I know just the people.”