“Oi, Nate,” Eliza said as we drove to the nearest city, “what’cha readin’?”
I looked up. “It’s PP99. It’s about this weird Psionic phenomena that happened in 1999. It came out last year because something similar happened.” We were driving down the road to the nearest city. I was surprised because Eliza almost never talked while driving. I think it was a consequence of how seriously Eliza took guard duty, her earlier bad experiences with driving, and the fact that we were driving her sister’s hundred-thousand dollar car. “You know how Psionic energy exists on a spectrum that’s parallel to electromagnetic energy?”
“Yeah,” Eliza said. “Just like that theoretical spectrum that Jumpers use to jump.” I noticed that her eyes rarely focused on just one thing and her ears were constantly rotating. It was weird how she was simultaneously relaxed and alert.
“Didn’t know about that one,” I said. “Where did you hear that?”
“Jen,” Eliza said. That made sense. Before Mayu, Jenifer Kagemoto was the only Jumper we had access to. “At least, at first. Then I Googled, and got a bunch of academic journals that said the same thing, just like complete chunguses.”
“Well,” I said, “I will have to check that out. Anyway, apparently in 1999, the background level of background Psionic energy just spiked.”
“So it doubled?” Eliza asked. “Like, just randomly?”
“You got the ‘just randomly’ part,” I said. “But…” I struggled to remember the exact phrase. I could tell that if Eliza wasn’t on guard mode, she would have turned to cock her head at me in curiosity. “The book says that the electromagnetic spectrum equivalent is like going to sleep in a place with abnormally low background radiation to waking up in the core of a nuclear reactor that’s in the process of melting down.”
“And… and where did this happen again?” Eliza asked, understandably worried.
“It was a worldwide phenomenon,” I said. “The interesting thing is how quickly people ignored it. This guy was a scientist studying it, and he had this anecdote about how quickly it was forgotten. This was in ninety-nine, and apparently there were only fifty places you could go to even measure ambient Psionic levels. He was being interviewed by someone at a cable news channel, and when they asked what all this meant. The author had no clue, so the anchor just listed a bunch of scenarios. Each and every time, the author either said he had no clue or dismissed it outright. Eventually, the anchor just got bored.”
“Was it an American one?” Eliza asked with a good deal of wide-eyed faux-innocence.
“Not sure,” I said, after failing to find a light-hearted way of reminding her about the existence of things like the Daily Mail or the Sun. “But he talked a lot about how most people seemed to lose interest. He was planning on releasing the book two years ago, but then there was another spike.”
“Does ‘e know about the Dragon’s Teeth?” Eliza asked.
“Ironically,” I said, “he did theorize that this new spike could be caused by a massive influx of new Psychics. He just never once mentions the possibility of an army of Psychic clones.”
“Oo’s the author?” Eliza asked.
“Doctor James Breyer,” I said.
“I’ll ‘ave to check ‘im out,” Eliza said. “Always loved non-fiction. Especially the sciencey stuff.”
“So, what about you?” I asked. “You read anything good?”
We were almost to the city. The trees, farms, and mountain roads had slowly turned into houses and small buildings. Now and then, we’d occasionally see areas that were more urban. If the architecture was different, I could almost think I was back home in New England. The only problem was it made Eliza even less focused on me.
“Oh, what?” she asked, somewhat distractedly. “Oh, yeah. Things I’m readin’. Well, this science bloke I follow’s been doin’ a lot of posts about the incomin’ spaceship. That distress signal it sent?”
“I remember John talking about it a bit,” I said. “I’m just not sure if I remember the gist. Something about it trying to translate its message and access the internet, I guess?” I paused. “Please tell me someone didn’t give it access to the internet.”
“God, no!” Eliza said. “As the guy said, ‘Everybody there has watched Terminator.’ You’d gotta be a complete idiot to do that.” She didn’t sound too convinced, though. “Anyway, they’ve been watching the ship, and it’s moving faster than they thought. The poor bastards break down from time to time, so we’ve no clue when to put the kettle on, so to speak.”
As Eliza pulled us into a parking space, I said, “Is it just me, or do I find the fact we’re being visited by an alien race extremely disturbing?”
“Suppose so,” Eliza said, “but it’d be kinda funny if we spent all our time actin’ like this place’s the most important place in the universe, then some… I dunno, feathered avian bastards just casually blow the entire planet up, wouldn’t it? Anyway, I think this is the place.”
“You know,” I said, as she parallel-parked outside a café, “you have a sick sense of humor.”
“Yeah,” Eliza said, turning off the engine and putting the car into park, “but it’s better’n bein’ mental, innit?”
“Yeah,” I said as we got out, “you may have a point.”
After I managed to get through enough Japanese to order our drinks and pastries, I sat down across from Eliza. The table itself was near enough to the window to see out, but at sort of an angle so that a shooter would have a terrible angle. “You didn’t tell me that this was a maid café,” I said nonchalantly.
“It isn’t a maid café,” Eliza said, an innocent expression on her face. “There’s also butlers.”
I tried to look stern. Then I broke into giggles. Eliza quickly joined in. “So,” I finally asked, “did you come here for the eye candy or to test me for secret fetishes?”
Eliza suddenly sobered up. “Actually…” she said, “I came ‘ere mostly ‘cause I wanted to get away from everyone else at the… at the room, y’know?”
“We’re going to be staying here a while aren’t we?” I asked.
Eliza nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Charlotte just says she wants to know what’s going to happen with Mayu an’ all, but if she doesn’t like what’s gonna happen to ‘er, well…” She trailed off, then looked at my face. “Nate?” she asked. “Is something wrong?”
I tried to keep my tone casual. “The maid I took my order from? She took a phone call recently. After that, she’s been staring at us, then at the road.” My Japanese course last semester might not have sunk in, but my counter-surveillance course had.
“D’you think it could be because…” Eliza said, pointing to her ears. Then she said, “No… she’d have to’ve been staring before the phone call for me to believe that.”
Pretending to focus on Eliza, I watched the maid in question duck back into the kitchen. She came back out with a butler. The butler had a tray with food and drinks on it. They would their way through the tables that were full of people. Despite my semester of Japanese, the only thing I was able to make out was “Bon appetite!”
“Thanks,” Eliza said. “But can we get this to go?”
Instantly, the maid and butler began hurriedly trying to convince us to stay. I suddenly realized why they weren’t making sense: they were speaking in English and butchering it so badly I couldn’t even recognize what they were saying. Eventually, I could make out that they were saying something along the lines of, “Your friend is coming!”
“Our… our friend?” I asked.
“Hai!” the maid said. “Yes! Your friendu is coming! Pureasu be patient!”
“And… which friend is this?” Eliza asked. “We have so many friends, especially in Japan.”
Our servers picked up on Eliza’s sarcasm and became even more flustered. “Kagemoto Jennifer-sama is your honored friend!” the butler said, bowing deeply. “She is coming! Pureasu wait for her!”
Jennifer Kagemoto. I never knew her reach extended outside of Massachusetts. That… was not what I wanted. How the fucking hell had she managed to track us? From the expression on Eliza’s face, I could tell she was wondering the same thing. Then horrific realization dawned on her face.
“We’ll wait for her,” I told our servers. They bowed and thanked us, then scurried their way back to the kitchen. I turned back to Eliza. “Do you have an idea how she managed to find out where we are?”
“Yes,” Eliza said. “When we parked in her bloody garage for ‘er bloody New Year’s party. She coulda gotten one of ‘er minions to get a GPS tracker on the Maybach. If she got it hooked up to an electrical cable, it could run as long as the car.”
“Surely…” I said, checking to make sure my Berretta and Sig were with me and I hadn’t forgotten them, “surely you had somebody look at the engine. How did they…” I didn’t think I’d need either of them, but with Jennifer I wasn’t confident I wouldn’t.
“I don’t know,” Eliza said, “but I’m going to bloody rip that shit apart when we get back.” She looked up. “‘Eads up, I think that’s ‘er.”
I looked out the window. Right behind the Maybach, a blue Cadillac Escalade was pulling in. When it was fully parked, four people got out. The two of them in the front were Asian, one a woman with a burned face, the other a burly man who was extremely intimidating except for what must have been a terrible case of acne in his youth. The two in the rear seemed less professional. The male was obviously black, the female could have been one of any number of ethnicities or a mix. They all wore suits and sunglasses.
The four scanned the area for a few moments. Finally, as if from some signal, three doors closed in unison. Simultaneously, the woman in the rear helped out someone from the rear seat while her fellow bodyguards watched for danger.
The person who emerged from the Escalade was a graceful woman about the same age as Eliza and I. She wore a blue Patriots hat, tightly-fitting Red Sox Matsuzaka shirt, dark blue jeans, and black thigh-high boots. Her gold eyes confidently surveyed her surroundings, pausing only to smile at us. Yup, I thought to myself, that’s Jennifer, all right.
“So,” Eliza said casually as the two females in Jennifer’s retinue followed her inside, “at least half of ‘er goons are professionals. D’you think she’s got any Paras?”
“She leads a team of supervillains,” I said. “Those guys are probably a mix of inventors and serious Paras. Those two that look like amateurs? There’s gotta be a reason she keeps them around.”
“Fuckin’ ‘ell…” Charlotte said. “Well, let’s just see what she wants.”
As Eliza said this, the door opened and Jennifer and her two female bodyguards walked in. The woman with the burned face leaned against the wall, gaining a commanding view of the entire café. She appeared perfectly still, but I could tell she was calmly scanning the room. The other woman (or maybe girl would be more appropriate, something about her screamed “teenager” to me) was taking in the entire room like she had never seen anything like this before.
“Lydia,” Jennifer said as she sat down between Eliza and me, her cold voice warming with amusement, “don’t gawp.”
“Sorry, Jen,” Lydia said, smiling awkwardly. “I’ll get back to… you know.” She then straightened up and tried her best to be intimidating. I didn’t need the theatrics. If she was on first-name terms with Jen, the chances were pretty high that she was on Jen’s supervillain squad.
Jen, meanwhile turned to us. “Nathan! Eliza!” she said to each of us, giving her predatory smile. “So nice to see you two! I had no idea you’d be here.”
“I’m not sure I buy that,” Eliza said. “Where’d you put the bloody tracker?”
“Really?” Jen said. “I’m surprised. And hurt. What would ever make you think such a thing of me?”
Eliza and I both raised our eyebrows in unison. “Weren’t you the one ‘oo pretty much bragged you were the slipperiest bastard I’d ever miss?”
“Sadly,” Jennifer said, “I’m definitely my father’s daughter and I have the DNA tests to prove it. But yes, I am slippery. And there is a bug in the steering column.”
“Just one?” I asked.
Jen laughed. “I’ll let you find that out for yourself,” she said. “It’ll be good for you and amusing for me. Lydia and Andrew made and placed them, so you might have to strip it down to the bolts. Hell, you may even have to dissect the bolts themselves.”
Eliza clutched her head in her hands and groaned at this news. I turned to Jennifer and asked, “So, may I ask why we’re meeting here? We were previously in Boston, you had ample opportunity to meet us there.”
“To be fair,” Jennifer said, “you didn’t seem to want anything to do with me.”
“That isn’t stopping you now,” Eliza said rather pointedly.
“Well,” Jennifer said, “Lydia happened to note that you were nearby. When I checked, your car seemed to have stopped in what I first thought to be the middle of nowhere. I then did some digging of local news, and found that you were staying at what appeared to be the base of operations for a British military search and rescue training exercise. We also noticed that several rental vehicles had parked there, most loaned out to fellow foreigners. This, understandably, has piqued my interest.”
“And you decided to just up and fly over ‘ere?” Eliza asked.
“No.” Jennifer said.
“Trust me,” I said, “this is not the kind of thing you want to get involved in. Hell, I’m busy trying to get out.”
Instantly, I realized my mistake. “Really?” Jennifer said brightly. “I can help with that, if you’re interested.”
“No thanks,” I said. “It’s… basically, it was kind of a treasure hunt, except no one seems to want it. We found the treasure, now people are arguing about what to do with it. We’re just hoping we can get permission to go home sooner rather than later. How about you?”
“Mmm.” Jen said. “My business here is… a bit more personal. My brother’s killers might have come from here and I’m looking to have a talk with them.”
“Well…” I said, “I guess everyone needs closure. I’d offer to help, but I kind of want to be able to come back here someday.”
Jen nodded. “Of course. In the meantime, let me show you some interesting spots. That is, assuming you have some free time?”
Eliza and I looked at each other. Finally, Eliza said, “I guess. Not like we’ve got anything else to do.”