Summary: The world has gone straight to hell, and the Cooks are falling with it. Andi and her younger brother, Will, have been on their own since the beginning of the war against the psychics, working for an infamous crook just to get by and keep Will's powers a secret. Andi discovers her own powers, and in that moment, everything changes. Andi and Will are captured, and Andi is offered a deal that could save or break them.
Notes: This is the first chapter of my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel. I'm not sure how long it's going to take me to get the next one up - I'm just getting this one posted to force myself to continue fixing the rest up, at this point. Any edits, comments, and critiques would be loved immensely.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
- Dylan Thomas
Years later, Andrea Cook would look back on everything and realize where it all started. It began with fish floating over her head, dark shadows darting above her in the clouded water, mimicking the shadows dancing at the edges of her vision. It began the same way that it ended: With the crushing sensation that she could not breathe, and that the next time she tried would certainly end in failure. It began and ended with the same fierce determination to prove that certainty wrong.
Two meaty hands were clasped down around her slender neck, applying just enough pressure to keep her under the water, but not enough to completely disable her from breathing. The hands drug her back up through the water, and a gasping, ragged breath tore through her body before she felt her back hit the water again, felt the water rush to fill the space her body had punched through it. She shut her eyes tightly against the grimy water.
She was fighting as much as her situation would allow for and then some. Her hands flew out, clawing and slapping at whatever she could reach, and her feet scrabbled for some sort of purchase on the murky, dirty shore. She was pulled out of the water again, and over her coughs, she could hear the hoarse shouting of the man assaulting her. “You think you could get away with this? You think that you could just keep a cut on the side and I wouldn’t notice? Look at where thinking got you, huh, Andi?”
There was a hint of madness in his eyes—not just anger, but sheer insanity. This was a man who would not hesitate to kill her over a couple hundred dollars. She struggled to suck in another breath, but he tightened his grip, cutting off her oxygen supply completely.
And then it was back under the water, back with the fish.
Will Cook put a hand to his forehead, wincing at the pressure building behind his temples. Something was coming on soon, and it wouldn’t help him to have it happen here—surrounded by a group of thugs that worked for Kurt Huntsdale. You’re one of those thugs, he thought. You and Andi. It wasn’t… completely true. They hadn’t exactly asked for this lifestyle.
Will excused himself, ignoring the jeers of the other boys, and headed back to the cubicle that he and Andi shared in the barracks. They weren’t officially called the barracks—they were mostly referred to as lodgings or hell on earth, depending on who you spoke to—but Andi had labeled them the barracks on their first night in the place, and the name had stuck.
The barracks were housed in a building that had been a large warehouse at one point—a store, maybe, based on the shelving that was used to section off cubicle-like rooms. Andi and Will were stationed in one of the back corners on the opposite side of the warehouse from the bathrooms, far down from what had at one point been a kitchen. It was one of the best positions to be in, mostly because no one had reason to go back there. They’d earned it by working here since they were kids. Andi had fought tooth and nail to get a more secluded area of the warehouse—mostly for moments like this, moments that they’d managed to pass off as epilepsy to the few people who had witnessed them.
After a brief check to make sure that no one was around, Will slumped down on his cot, knees nearly folding under him, and cradled his head in his hands. This was something big. Nothing else would push forward with so much intensity; nothing small would cause black spots to dance around his eyes. This was not a vision of someone making toast, or of one of the other kids grabbing something from their room. That was the problem with his ability—there was no rhyme or reason to what sort of visions he got. They could be helpful, or they could be completely useless. Either way, they all hurt, ranging from twinges in his head to full on seizures and black outs.
Will leaned back on the cot, covering his face with a pillow—partly to avoid the flickering of the broken fluorescent lights above him and partly to muffle any noise he might make. The vision finally reached up and pulled him under in an explosion of pain that started in his head and quickly made its way to his neck and his lungs, constricting them and limiting his air supply, leaving him gasping uselessly into the pillow.
And then, with the pain and the blackness, came what he was waiting for: A stunning moment of clarity.
He felt hands around his neck, looked up through the murky water through his sister’s eyes—he could see the rage in Huntsdale’s eyes, the utter and unrepentant knowledge that Huntsdale was going to finish what he started.
He shoved the pillow out of the way and sat bolt upright, air flooding back into his body.
Andi was in trouble.
Andi flung her arm out and felt a deep pull resonating from her core and building until it shoved out from her palm. The hands around her neck disappeared, and Andi fell to her hands and knees in the dirty water, gasping and choking so loudly that it took her a moment to realize that the high, keening noise she heard was more than just a ringing in her ears.
Andi looked up through strands of soaking wet red hair, still gasping wildly, in time to see Kurt Huntsdale dive into the river ten feet away, screaming as flames licked up and down his body. Andi gave a ragged cough as she looked down at her hand, willing her eyes to focus long enough to see what she needed: A star-shaped mark glowing on her palm.
She stumbled to her feet and ran, stumbling as she went. She needed to stop. She needed to calm down and get her breath back and figure out just how disoriented she was.
But there wasn’t enough time to do anything smart like that. There wasn’t much time at all. She had to get back to Will and get the hell out of dodge. She could only hope that her brother was ready to go.
Will threw on his backpack and grabbed Andi’s satchel from her bed. He didn’t have time to get anything more than the essentials before he was ducking out the back door and walking quickly through what had at one point been loading ports. There was a dirt path somewhere around this area that led down to the river, but that was not where he was headed—he was going to an abandoned fast food restaurant. The kind that still had an indoor playground.
It was a ten-minute walk, and Will made it there in four. Time wasn’t something that he could spare. He ducked into the building through a door that had long ago been blown off its hinges, and headed toward the indoor playground.
The playground loomed, its former colorful glory faded by years of exposure to the sun and to neglect. It was a dark monstrosity that nearly blocked out the moon from Will’s vantage point. He quickly walked to the closest entrance and climbed into the tunnel before he could be spotted by anyone who happened to be walking past outside.
Generally, by the age of sixteen, people were too broad to get through the tunnels of the playground, but growing up on the streets with a limited amount of food had ended up having at least one benefit—Will was still slender enough to easily maneuver his way into a small chamber in the heart of the playground, shoving the backpack ahead of him to give him more room between himself and the tunnels. Even then, the only thing that kept Will’s breathing even was the fact that he could see the exit at the end of the tunnel. It was only a short trek, but the first couple of times he’d done it, Andi had practically needed to drag him to one end or the other because he’d started to panic at the idea of the walls closing in.
He shoved the backpack through the entrance to the chamber and tumbled out after it. He picked himself up, standing. The ceilings were just high enough that he and Andi could both stand without hitting them. It was better in here: There was air around him. It still wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t a tube he couldn’t even sit up in.
Andi was there already, sitting on the pink plastic floor, soaking wet and shivering. She didn’t look surprised to see him. “Did you get the bear?” she asked through chattering teeth.
Will tossed Andi her satchel and watched as she tore through it and pulled out a stuffed panda bear. She reached with shaking hands for a small zipper in the back of its neck and yanked it open. Inside, there was nearly a thousand dollars, with bills in varying sizes. She nearly wilted with relief. “He didn’t find it,” she said, mostly to herself. “He figured out that we’d been keeping a cut, somehow—probably from that bastard Hodges.”
John Hodges was a smarmy nineteen-year-old kleptomaniac who had been planted in the barracks to narc on anyone he possibly could. Will knew for a fact that Hodges wasn’t the only narc, but he was the only one vocal and proud about it. It wouldn’t surprise Will at all if it had been Hodges to figure everything out, though Will didn’t have a clue as to how he would’ve done so.
He pulled a change of clothes out of the backpack and tossed them to Andi. She picked them up and her fingers clenched suddenly.
“There is s-something else,” Andi said, looking up at him.
Will kneeled down beside her, frowning—there were marks on her neck that were rapidly darkening, and in the moonlight, he could see that her pupils were far more dilated than they should have been. He’d seen what had happened to her, but watching it in his mind and seeing the effects of it were vastly different things. You need a hospital, he thought, but he knew it wouldn’t make a difference. They’d be lucky to make it through the front doors.
“I shot fire out of my hand,” Andi said, holding up her palm for inspection. Her eyes held the same look that his did—crap, this is bad. He ran a thumb over the wound, wincing, and realized that it was both warm and dry. He shook his head and stepped back.
The general response time for an instance of psychic activity was twenty-four minutes. They’d been here for four, and Andi’s incident had happened… “Seven minutes ago,” she said, seeing the question on his face. “I got here as soon as I could, but they’ll find us if we don’t get moving.”
She was in no shape to be running. Will was amazed that she’d made it as far as she had. Her breathing was thin and ragged, and her hand kept drifting up to the marks on her neck. “You know how to get to the Revolutionaries, right?” she asked, brown eyes beseeching and pupils so, so dangerously large. Will only nodded in response. “We can both go now,” Andi continued. “That’s our only option now.”
The Revolutionaries didn’t allow normal, non-psychic humans to enter their headquarters. It was a safety risk, a hazard that Will could understand, but it was the reason that the two of them were in the current situation. Andi had begged and pleaded Will to go to the Revolutionaries for sanctuary, but he couldn’t leave her. She was the only family he had left. And honestly, he’d often gotten the feeling that if he left her alone, she wouldn’t keep going. Not that Andi was suicidal, but he knew that there was a part of her that only kept fighting because she knew that he was there to fight for. He didn’t want to see that part of her take over.
Will had only escaped detection because his own power didn’t send off a lot of energy, didn’t pick up on the radar for some reason or another. Their father always thought that it was because the energy was reflected inward. It showed up as physical pain instead of as an outward spike of energy that could be detected on radars. The explanation made sense, but Will still didn’t know how the government had found out that one of their family members was psychic if no energy had been going out.
And then there was Andi. If she’d truly discovered elemental powers, then that would’ve sent a huge spike onto the Exterminator’s radar. Crews would have been sent out to pick her up as soon as humanly possible. Psychics were considered an uncontrollable risk to society. They weren’t even treated as humans in their punishments: They were taken to Pinewood, a facility equipped with cells and labs. They were questioned, tested, and eventually put to death. The time between being captured and being killed always depended on how useful their powers ended up being. And now… now they were coming for Andi.
They only had fifteen minutes to get to the Revolutionaries. Twenty, twenty-five if they managed to avoid detection—not likely, as Will had serious doubts as to whether or not Andi could run. It was strange, seeing his unbreakable older sister like this—disoriented… almost weak, but weak wasn’t an adjective he would readily use to describe her.
He took her by the arm and pulled her to her feet. They had to leave, and they had to leave now, or they would never get going. They were too close to the river here—if the police made it there, it wouldn’t be hard to track them here.
Andi’s mind was fogged, and it wasn’t a pleasant sensation. The lack of control over herself made her angry, and getting angry only made it harder to focus, and focus was something that she needed now, as she weaved along behind her younger brother, following him step-for-step through alleys and abandoned buildings.
She resisted the childish urge to ask, “Are we there yet?” She knew the response it would be met with: A curt shake of the head, a frown, a roll of the eyes. No words. Never words. She hadn’t heard Will’s voice in almost seven years. She didn’t know what he would sound like now, at sixteen instead of nine. Sometimes she wondered if he was physically mute, or just chose not to speak. It was something that, years ago, a psychologist would have been called in to deal with. Now, what had once been a dangerous cry for help was a tool of survival. If you kept your mouth shut, people tended to like you a lot more. It was a lot harder to get caught in a lie if you never said anything to begin with.
She swallowed hard, wincing as her neck throbbed in protest. She could still feel Huntsdale’s meaty hands around her neck, and she had a feeling that the sensation would not soon leave her. Post-traumatic stress disorder was another thing that she was sure she could add to the list of dysfunctions that could be attributed to the two of them. She didn’t think the side effects would be as bad for her as they would be for people in normal situations. Post-traumatic stress disorder was like living in a constant state of fear. It was what happened when you couldn’t shut down your coping mechanisms, when fear became such a constant state of living that you physically and psychologically could not remember what it felt like not to be afraid.
She’d been living that life for seven years. A little bit more paranoia would do nothing but make her harder to catch.
Will turned to her, eyes wide. She had gotten caught up in her thoughts and fallen behind. She was stumbling. She couldn’t breathe well enough to keep pace with him, and the weakness was killing her. She shook her head, forcing herself to keep up, to push through and let adrenaline take over where her body could not. But Will threw out an arm and shook his head fervently, mouthing something. He shoved down on her shoulder, but it was too late—something sharp flew at her, striking her in the sore flesh of her neck. The effect was instantaneous—blackness once again played at the edges of her vision.
The last thing she saw was Will, mouthing a solitary word even as a dart hit his shoulder.