The crisp evening air gave instant relief from the stuffy confines of Max’s fortress. Valerie kept silent pace with Major as she had been instructed to earlier in the day during battle drills. Hyka stayed a moderate distance behind them with Jack at a similar distance ahead. Griff had gone far ahead with a can of spray paint. Every thirty minutes, Valerie spotted a green mark on a tree or an abandoned vehicle notifying the group of safe passage. Twice Jack forgot to stay clear of the street lights and walked so close they flickered. Major yelled curses at him both times, making Valerie laugh. But the moon was high and bright, and she could see her footing without the use of any artificial lighting. After three hours of walking, they caught up to Griff leaning against a sign for Dirty Woman Park.
“You’re home, Hyka!” Jack yelled back, laughing.
Aside from a huff, her expression never changed. Hyka shoulder-checked Jack as she walked by, then dropped her bag at a picnic table. Valerie found an empty table away from the group.
“Look,” Major announced, “we are stopping for twenty minutes. Eat, do your business, and we are back on the road.” He and Jack stood together and unpacked their MREs. They spoke just low enough Valerie could not hear.
Griff sat down with Hyka and asked her questions about her medical background. Without a word, Hyka stood up, collected her meal, and walked away. As she approached, Valerie moved the items on her table to make room for the scary woman to join her. She sat opposite of Valerie on the picnic table. Valerie did not dare speak first.
“Figure out how to work your magic yet?” Hyka asked, referring to the tall order everyone anticipated Valerie could deliver.
Had they not witnessed her panic attack, they would not have believed she had any abilities at all.
“No. The moon is so bright out here I’d forgotten about the headlamp. I guess now would be a good time, huh?” Valerie started to dig in her bag.
“No worries. Griff has his lamp on. You’re not a monkey, you know.”
Valerie was caught off guard by the statement. She knew well she was a human. Hyka blew her bangs off her forehead and rolled her eyes.
“I meant you don’t have to sit here and do every trick they tell you. Yeah, you got super powers or whatever, but having magic doesn’t mean you have to jump when they say jump. Keep your voodoo to yourself. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. It’s not dark out here, anyway.” Hyka took a bite of a mystery food from an unlabeled green plastic wrapper and proceeded to talk with a full mouth. “You did good playing cool, though. What did the geneticist have to say? Why didn’t they come to pick us all up from Max’s? That creep. I never trusted the guy, even before all this went down.”
“Dr. Lucas Jarrett is in charge of research for the entire country. He works in Denver. The CDC must already have a DiaZem because I couldn’t tell how old he was.” Valerie took a bite. She mulled over how much she should share with the group. Hyka still scared her, and she had a strong gut sense Major did not like her at all. Griff represented a lie from someone she had allowed in her home and had trusted with her son. She had just met Jack. She went along with the group out of necessity.
“I got to see my dad and Kevin,” Valerie said into a substance labeled Chili Mac.
Hyka looked up and stopped chewing. “They alright?”
“Yeah. Dad said they were fine and the conductors are not in danger. He also said the CDC couldn’t find Caleb, but once I do, Gia would know something. I didn’t hear the rest because that prick cut the feed.”
“What else did you find out?” Hyka continued eating what looked like a compressed piece of bread that she covered with cheese with a strong odor of jalapeno, which she squeezed from another green plastic pouch.
“They think we are genetically superior to everyone else and are pieces of a giant electrical circuit. Ridiculous. The CDC is developing some way to harness the electricity absorbed by conductors, but the facility requires two DiaZem to power the entire Midwest.” Valerie tried to play down what Lucas told her.
“Sounds like Atlantis.” Hyka studied Valerie’s face for acknowledgment.
Valerie had no idea where Hyka was going with her statement.
“The lost city of Atlantis? They were a self-sustaining, advanced technological civilization without explanation. Could be we are just descendants of them. When the gene went dormant, the city sank. Makes sense to me.” She shrugged.
“Oh,” Valerie nodded. She decided not to tell Hyka much more. She was also going to keep her conversation with Max to herself. Despite her animosity toward him, she did not want to complicate things further.
Their time was almost up, and Valerie realized she had not eaten much. She took bites of what she could identify. The mystery food did not deter Hyka, and she finished all but a couple of green pouches.
“I heard your mom died.”
Valerie stopped chewing and looked up at Hyka, who continued without reverence for her comment.
“I never knew my mom. My dad was in love with her. She left us when I was two. He still hasn’t gotten over her leaving. We stay close with her family because knowing my Native heritage is important to my dad, but sometimes I wish she had died so he could move on.” Hyka gathered her things and walked away.
Valerie sat with a blank expression on her face, unable to chew. Shocked, she tried to process what Hyka meant, but Jack walked up and snapped her out of her reflection.
“How are you holding up, kid? Ready to move?”
“Could be better. You know the CDC recruited Scott? He’s driving transport trains for them, helping them collect conductors. I saw him on video during my conference call. He’s not a conductor. Well, he’s a train conductor, but he’s not like us. He doesn’t have the gene.” Saying the words out loud brought another realization to her mind. They would try to kill him. If she wanted this ever to end, she would need to figure out her abilities to save her husband and every other person within a five-hundred-mile radius. Grief rolled over her, and she tried to think about anything else. She did not want to risk throwing herself into another episode and giving away their location.
“Valerie, look at me,” Jack said in a stern tone. “You are losing focus. Stop thinking about what-ifs and t...