“Hey,” Francis said suddenly, “where’s Rachel?”
It was getting dark around them as they hurried through the streets, Amadeus clutching the notes in one hand and the Source in its plastic bag in the other. He looked over at Francis.
“I don’t know,” he said, “I think she might have just wandered off.”
“Who’s Rachel?” Adelaide asked.
“She’s…” Francis paused, “wait, you didn’t notice her? I mean, she’s kind of hard to miss…”
“Sorry,” Adelaide shrugged, “wasn’t really paying any attention to that, I guess.”
Francis frowned and rolled his eyes. Then he turned away and smiled to himself.
“We don’t need her,” Sam said. They had shifted to a form that Francis assumed was their preferred shape and had been busy glaring around at the streets they passed through, as though attackers might spring out at any moment from behind the ornamental hedges.
“I’m sure she’ll find us,” Amadeus said. He seemed absent, as though he were contemplating something. He hadn’t told them where they were going yet.
Francis nodded. A vague worry settled in the pit of his stomach.
Rachel was lost. All the streets looked the same to her as the shadows gathered around her. She’d stopped a moment to look at the stars, and when she’d looked back the others had vanished. Now she didn’t know where she was or how to find her way back to somebody she knew.
It didn’t bother her much though. Being… here, in the open, in the world again, was amazing. It had been so long since she’d last looked at the stars, seen houses and cars parked in drives.
Or had it? She’d lost track of time in the Director’s facility. She could have been in there for years, or months, or just days even. Her memory of the time before, when she had been human and not… whatever the hell she was now, was faint and fading. She clung on to the few things she did know: that her name was Rachel, that she had once been human and her favourite food had been pineapple and ham pizza.
Oh yes, and there was the incredibly clear memory she had of a face, with enormous eyes as black as liquid night and teeth as sharp as needles in a lipless mouth. She tried not to dwell on that.
A couple of teenagers in hoodies and jeans turned the corner of the street she was walking down. They froze when they saw her walking towards them.
“Hello,” she said, “can you tell me where I am?”
“What…” one of them said, “the hell…”
Had Rachel had eyes, she would have gazed heavenwards in frustration.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” she cut him off, “I just want to know where I am.”
“Please don’t kill us,” said another of them, doing a sort of shuffle in an attempt to get behind one of the others, “we don’t want any trouble.”
“Oh sure,” Rachel felt like sighing, “because killing you will absolutely make you tell me where we are.”
They ran. Rachel watched them go, heard their terrified yelps as they turned the corner and were gone. She sunk down into a sitting position and put her head in her hands.
Damn her stupid voice! What was supposed to be sarcasm had come out as a threat. You didn’t notice the ability to show emotion until it was gone. When it was, it hurt.
“What have I become?” She murmured to herself.
The sound of footsteps behind her made her turn. Two shapes were moving towards her, walking hurriedly. Evidently they weren’t paying much attention to where they were going, as one of them nearly tripped over her.
“Sorry,” she said, standing up, “sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.”
Rachel paused, aware that they were staring at her. Uh oh. No, keep calm. She could do this, she could do this. She just had to think before she said anything.
“Hello,” she said slowly, “please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I am not a monster, I am a human like you. Or I was… no. No. I am a human. I am like you. I just… don’t have the body I used to, that’s all. My name is Rachel.”
She stopped, not sure how to continue.
“Uh, hi,” said one of them. She was wearing a hoodie that put most of her face in shadow. It looked as though her skin was covered in tattoos, “Rachel. I’m Lydia. This is Emma.”
The other one hadn’t moved an inch. A vein in her temple was throbbing oddly.
“Can we help you?” Lydia said cautiously.
“Yes please,” Rachel nodded, “I was with some… friends… just now but I’ve lost them. Have you seen them?”
“What do they look like?”
“Well,” Rachel said, “let me see. There is Francis, he is short, with curly ginger hair and…”
“Did you say Francis?” Lydia said suddenly, “With ginger hair you said?”
“That’s weird,” Lydia looked over at Emma, who hadn’t taken her eyes off Rachel, “we were looking for Francis as well. Where has he been?”
For a second Rachel wondered whether she should tell them about the facility. The Director had once told her that it was a massive secret and that if she ever did escape she was to tell absolutely nobody, understand? Then again, the Director had been sort of taunting her at the time.
“He was at the facility,” she said, “the… Department for Extra-Normal Relations I think? He was helping Amadeus to steal the Source. As in the Source of Super-Human powers. Oh Amadeus is…”
“We know who Amadeus is,” Emma spoke for the first time, her voice low. “Listen, do you know where they’re going now?”
“No,” Rachel shook her head, “I am sorry.”
“Don’t worry,” Lydia smiled encouragingly, “it’s fine.”
Emma tapped Lydia on the shoulder and motioned that she wanted to say something in private. They withdrew and muttered to each other. Rachel, who wasn’t deaf, heard Emma say something like ‘what even is that thing.’ Lydia at least seemed nice. After a few moments discussion Lydia looked up.
“Look… Rachel,” she said, “do you have a place to go? I mean, it’s getting late.”
“No,” Rachel replied.
“Do you want to come with us?” Lydia said, “I’m sure you can stay with one of us. Then tomorrow we can go try find your friends. How does that sound?”
“That sounds great,” Rachel said.
Words suddenly failed her, her voice catching as she tried to continue. Bending forward she wrapped her arms around Lydia as gently as she could. Emma took a hurried step back, her hands bursting into flame.
“It’s okay Emma, calm down,” Lydia said quickly, “I’m fine.” She looked at Rachel, “are you alright?”
“Yes,” Rachel said, letting go and straightening up, “I am fine.”
For the first time for as long as she could remember, she really meant it.