1998 – Classical High School
Zahara hated working security for teenage events. They didn’t need ex-soldiers whose skills and training kept them on top of current terrorist and counter-intelligence techniques. These events needed babysitters with stun guns.
She was also secretly annoyed that her Outré gift was being wasted.
Thanks to her Myrmidon bloodline’s powers, she could see the next few moves any combatant could make. If she was allowed to stand back and survey the battlefield, she could see tactical probabilities as they built up, dwindled, and changed. Put a weapon in her hand and her mind would instantly calculate all angles, speeds, trajectories, and resistance variables. She was one deadly fox and she knew it.
She sighed again. These weren’t just teenagers. These were band geeks.
There was no denying the necessity for gigs like this to pay the bills between the higher profile contracts. She just didn’t have to like it. The most action she’d seen so far was preventing a cherry bomb from reaching a toilet.
Scanning the room again, she picked up a faint sensation of death. Probably a baby Reaper. If it was teen Reaper, it was unlikely to have any real training. Assuming nobody died, the Reaper might not even be aware of his or her powers.
Zahara’s ability to detect auras sucked and she knew it. Unless supernatural things went down, it was unlikely she’d be able to pinpoint the other Outré in the auditorium. Not that it mattered. Her ability to assess and react to any combat situation seemed to subconsciously take into account the standard powers of the primary bloodlines even when she didn’t know they were present. Sure, more than once she had been blindsided by advanced abilities of older Outré, but once she saw them in action, her combat assessment adjusted quickly.
An hour into the clarinet kids trying to compose something Zahara dubbed the “Dying Duck Symphony No. 5” her cellular phone rang. She hated the thing, but it was crucial for clients being able to reach her. She was seldom in one place very long.
“Zahara, it’s Margaret…”
“Margaret! How have you been?”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Listen… the Sandmen just went after a Reaper family…”
“Gestur? Is he all right?”
“Curse them! I know they’re your bloodline, but you are the lone pearl among the swine. Margaret, if you’re calling for warriors, I’ll help. You know I will. What would you like me to do?”
“Just be careful and let people know.” Margaret hung up. Or the line went dead. It was so hard to tell with these infernal cellular devices.
The teen Reaper! Zahara’s mind went into overdrive and her heart rate kicked up a notch. If the Sandmen were out collecting, there was a young one here in danger. Zahara liked danger. It gave her something to do.
She made another assessment of everyone in the auditorium. The child was definitely in here. He or she was probably caffeined up and happily contributing to the dying duck cacophony. She circled the room. The taste of death was strongest back by the giant kettle drums. It had to be the thin boy with the glam-rock black hair and Jewel t-shirt. He was trying to look aloof, but he was very involved in the Quackophony. Zahara’s heart went out to him. She knew how hard it was to belong among other kids when you grew up in the world of the Outré.
Knowing who to keep an eye on, Zahara completed her circuit and followed her intuition out to the cafeteria and then toward the front doors.
The doors were supposed to be locked, but they were propped open. She felt her blood surge. A threat had already entered. Creating a mental map of the area, she instantly knew trouble was moving down a parallel hallway. Shifting direction, Zahara angled to intercept. Rounding the corner with her hand on her holstered revolver, she was not remotely surprised to see two adults. Black suits and smug attitudes. They had to be Sandmen.
Reacting to an unconscious twitch, Zahara ducked and rolled. The fffiiiiiiisssshhhhpppp of the dart clattering against the wall behind her confirmed what her supernatural reflexes had already known. They were ready to fight.
Zahara dodged backwards into the cafeteria. Staying low, she used a table as a half-wall while she plotted the battlefield. By the time the agents entered, she had her plan in motion. She kicked a lunch tray across the floor. The nearest agent saw it coming and half-jumped over it. The tray slid under him and caught the foot of the second agent, making her slip and crash to the floor. Instinctively, her partner reached out to help. While he was off-balance, Zahara threw a plastic tub of clean forks at him. He fell to one knee next to his partner.
Using the confusion as cover, she ran for a side door that would lead her to a back hall that connected with the auditorium. A good merc always knows the layout, whether it was a babysitting gig or a political coup.
A wail of sound hit her when she opened the last door. She tried to call to the kid, but there was no way he’d have heard anything less than a Siren’s scream. Everyone’s attention was focused forward on the student conductor. Zahara jogged the few steps to the Outré boy. With one hand she lightly tapped his shoulder, with the other she made a shushing motion. When she was sure he wouldn’t call out, she motioned him back.
He was loathe to leave his drums. She couldn’t understand why. Whatever they had going wasn’t what she’d call music. Reluctantly, he caved to the authority of her security outfit.
“I hope you understand me… Sandmen are here and they’re collecting Reapers. You need to come with me.”
He clearly understood. He also had no reason to believe she was any more trustworthy than the agents. He tried to retreat from Zahara and get back into the throng of kids.
They had less than two seconds to escape back into the hall, or a fight would break out here in the auditorium. She trusted the knowledge that flowed into her. If she hit two of his pressure points, it’d stun him long enough for her to drag him out of there. She risked his eternal distrust. Supernaturally strengthening her hands, she pinpointed his nerve clusters and scooped him up as he fell back into her arms. Luckily, all eyes were still forward.
Within a millisecond of her shadow retreating, the two Sandmen hurried into the auditorium. Zahara knew they’d waste precious seconds looking for the Outré aura. They were most likely extremely sensitive to such things, and wouldn’t waste much time with the normal children. Less so if they detected her aura as well.
Zahara ran up a dark stairwell. Alone, she could have easily leapt over the metal accordion gate at the top, but with the boy in her arms she couldn’t guarantee success. He was regaining mobility, and his possible reactions were an unknown parameter.
She needed to calm him down. “I’m a Myrmidon,” she began. “My name is Zahara. I know your father by reputation. A mutual acquaintance called me tonight and warned me the Sandmen were out hunting Reapers. Two of them have entered the school, and I am only trying to get you to safety.” She hoped he would listen to reason. She kept her voice as neutral as possible. “Once I get you out of here, you can go wherever you want. You have my word.”
“You hurt my neck. How do I know I can trust you?” He had his father’s Icelandic accent. He was rubbing the spot she had hit.
“If I was a Sandman, you’d be asleep right now.”
He looked like he was willing to give that logic a chance. Even in this tense moment, he was brooding. Zahara generally assumed all Reapers were world-class brooders, but she didn’t think they started so young. “Fine,” he said. “How do we get out of a lock in?”
She motioned to the gate, “Can you get over this?”
He looked it over for a second, and then started climbing where it met the wall, using the hinges instead of the slats for support. She was impressed. Being ready for a fight, her muscles were at their peak. Once he was safely over, she sprang, kicked off the wall once, and flipped over the gate. Landing lightly on her feet, she enjoyed his momentary look of astonishment.
“C’mon,” she pulled him up the rest of the stairs into the dark hallway. There was no immediate threat of combat up here, so the tactical layout in her mind was receding. “Have you learned to see in the dark yet?”
“Ya, that was the first thing I learned. Do you want me to lead you to the front stairs?”
“No, that’s where they came in, so that’s what they’ll be familiar with. The back doors will be locked and alarmed, but I’ll bet my pay nobody put alarms on the second floor window. Head to the back corner, there are a couple rooms that look out over a first floor addition. We’ll use one of those.”
The boy just nodded. He didn’t grab her hand, which she thought was odd. After a few stumbling moments, he said, “You have a lot to learn about helping people. Take my elbow.”
Zahara didn’t understand what he meant, but she obeyed. Navigating the dark hallways was his show. He didn’t waste time, nor did he try to converse. He just led her back where she’d indicated. They stopped at a locked door.
“These are probably all locked,” he pointed out.
The wrenching of a metal gate behind them cut the conversation short. Zahara knew better than to punch the old glass that had chicken wire in it. She moved the boy to the side and kicked hard. The door was never meant to withstand a Myrmidon on a mission and snapped back into the room, dangling from one hinge.
A combat plan was forming in her mind. Using the light from the windows, she threw open one that looked like it would serve their needs perfectly. “I don’t suppose you have any way to slow your fall?” She asked, wondering if any Reaper did.
“No. Those Anime leaps seem to be your thing, not mine.”
Zahara scooped him up, making him squawk a little. “Hold on around my chest, not my neck, and try to stay limber.” While he was trying to process those instructions and adjust, she leapt. He tensed a little, but it was a lot less than if she’d let him think about it any longer. The drop onto the roof below them jarred her knees enough to make them wobble, but she stayed upright.
“Run to that corner, there should be a dumpster or something to use for getting down.”
She had seen it on her initial tour around the grounds. Lucky for both of them, the lid was closed.
“Which way?” he asked.
She pointed, “That way. Skip cover or tricky corners, they can sense our auras. Run directly to the parking lot. Mine is the black Range Rover. Go!”
They ran. Zahara gave his parents a great deal of credit. He was at least aware that something like this could happen, and he was in shape to deal with it. She respected that.
Diving into her Rover, they locked the doors as she peeled out of there. In her rear view mirror, she saw the Sandman agents dropping off the roof onto the dumpster. Accelerating, she knew the only thing that would foil their aura detection was distance.
“Here’s my cellular phone. Call your family and see where they want us to go.”
He dialed, waited, listened, then hung up. “Nothing.”
“The mutual friend I mentioned may know more. We’ll go to her if you’re willing?”
He shrugged, “Sure. I guess.”
Zahara couldn’t tell if he was just uncomfortable with the language, or had retreated to Reaper broodiness. Content with silence, she merely said, “Let me know if you have questions.”
He didn’t ask any, so she made a few false jogs into the city, then snuck out the far side and began the loop back toward the One-Eyed Roe.