Avalanche – Snippet 40

The cabin and the land were his bolt hole; a place to run when he had nowhere else to go. It had served him well in those early days on the run. He had had a lot of things to deal with; grief over what he had lost, guilt over what he had done, and how to reconcile all of it with what he had become. No longer a soldier. A criminal, a fugitive. And also a metahuman. There had been a lot of time spent trying to get his new “gifts” under control; harnessing his heightened senses without being overwhelmed, keeping his new strength and reflexes in check, and controlling his ability to produce and manipulate fire. The last had proved the hardest to master; it had always been a matter of maintaining concentration and stopping himself from completely letting go.

He hoped that Zach’s time here would help him as much as it had helped John. They didn’t fly in; even for John and Sera, it would’ve been a long haul, nevermind while carrying another person. Instead they opted to use a car that John had “procured” before they had gone to rescue Zach; with the war on, and many destruction corridors still scarring cities despite reconstruction efforts, there were plenty of abandoned cars. A set of fake plates and magiced papers from Vickie turned it into a completely forgettable vehicle; just another beat to hell plain white delivery van on the roads. A van was necessary; Sera’s wings took up space, and Zach’s green skin and blue-green hair drew attention. Both of them had to ride in the back.  So, John drove, taking back roads and staying away from anything that even resembled a traffic camera or license plate reader; Vickie plotted their route, and when they couldn’t avoid a situation where they might be recorded, she did her finger-waggling and futzed with whatever system might catch them. The entire trip took about a week; John drove through the night on several occasions, his enhancements, enough caffeine to kill a mule, and frequent telempathic “boosts” from Sera helping to keep him alert. Whenever that got to be too much, they would find somewhere to camp, away from prying eyes. Food was prepackaged and easy to heat up–no need to carry fuel or a stove with two fire-chuckers on hand.  Sera was getting very good at boiling water, cooking hot dogs, and even grilling steak…literally by hand. Zach’s appetite certainly hadn’t been affected by what he had gone through; John ate a lot due to his metabolism being so high combined with how much work he did, but Zach was a walking disposal. A crate of GammaBars kept him from grumbling in between meals.  Vickie arranged anonymous pickups of supplies from several camping stores along the way; prepaid, and needing only a name to be handed over. John handled the public stuff while Sera and Zach stayed in the van, out of sight.

When the trio finally arrived at John’s cabin, it was just after nine in the morning. The air was cool and dry, with all of the usual natural morning sounds filling it. It was one of the few places anymore where you didn’t hear anything mechanical.  They were too far out for highway noises, and planes flying overhead were too high for more than faint jet noise.  John peeled himself out of the cheap imitation leather driver’s seat of the van, stretching and groaning; he heard more pops and cracks than he thought was possible as his joints and muscles stretched out.

“Where are we?” Zach asked, climbing out of the van, which was now packed with supplies.

“Somewhere safe, kiddo. You won’t have to worry ’bout bein’ found out here. This is a place that I set up, years ago, after I got out of the Program. No one but us knows it even exists.”

Vickie had implanted Zach with the standard Overwatch 2 setup before they left Atlanta.  He had been wary, but it was the only foolproof way to make sure he was safe, and for him to get into contact with her.  Since it was all going through her “magic circuits” and wasn’t on any sort of broadcast or wired link, no one could use it to back-trace him or eavesdrop.

It also solved the problem of entertaining (and educating) a bored teenager with no wilderness experience, no internet, no cable, no broadcast TV and damned near no broadcast radio.  Anything he wanted could be piped right into his ears, and onto his HUD.  And anything he physically needed, Vickie could arrange to be delivered to the door by the absolutely incurious contact she had in Laramie.  Tim Rangle–one of Vic’s hacker “associates” with a habit of cooking up complicated plots in lieu of much simpler solutions–was used to delivering to people out in the middle of nowhere who didn’t want to answer to the door.  As long as he got paid, he didn’t care what happened to the boxes he dropped off.

“I don’t want to stay here. I want to go back with you two. I’m going to lose my mind out here, alone.” Zach paced around, looking at the property. The cabin itself was a simple affair; a single room divided up into kitchen (with wood-fired stove), den with couch and a collection of sun-faded books and magazines, bathtub, and a simple–albeit comfortable–bed.

They went outside to continue the tour.  The outhouse was slightly down the hill and off to the left. There was a large woodshed, stocked with several cords of seasoned wood, and an attached tool shed (which, coincidentally, housed John’s secret cache of weapons in a compartment beneath the floor.) What seemed to have most of Zach’s attention were the large rocks and boulders scattered behind the cabin. All of them were scorched and blackened; some bore deep gouges, were half-melted, or had holes burned through them. Melted rock was strewn about, little pools of used-to-be-lava, now hardened and looking like ponds in a range of gargantuan mountains.

“What happened here, anyways?” Zach turned back to the couple, shaking his head. John snapped his fingers, and his right hand became sheathed in flame.

“Practice makes perfect; took a long time for me to get it all down this small instead of startin’ a forest fire. Nice thing ’bout this place; no neighbors to come ’round, askin’ questions ’bout all the strange noise and lights.”

For a moment the teen looked impressed, but his expression quickly faded. “I’m not stupid. Or young enough to whine about how unfair things are. But I still don’t like this.”

John could feel the pleading desperation that Zach was experiencing; he knew it well enough himself. The boy wanted someone to talk to, someone to help him work through what he had gone through. What he had done to survive, and the people that he had lost.

He tried to look sympathetic.  “You won’t have to deal with it alone, kiddo. Remember what Vickie told you; y’ever need to talk to someone, you’ve got a line through the Overwatch system to her. Or me an’ Sera.”

“I know it feels as if you will be isolated, Zachary,” Sera said softly.  “But think how much danger you would be in if you were not.  And think how much danger you could put the others in if you were found.  Even if you do not know where they are now, you know their names and their powers, and that alone could be used to find them.”

He opened his mouth as if to say something, then thought better of it. Finally, he sighed. “I know you’re right. I don’t want you to be, but I know you are.” He kicked at the ground, chewing on his lip before he looked up at John and Sera again. “How long do I have to be out here, ‘communing with nature’ and all of that crap?”

John shrugged.  “That…we don’t know. Hopefully not for too long. But there’s no way to tell; whenever the war ends, or gets to the point where we’re not fightin’ for basic survival. One way or another, things are comin’ to a head.”

“And there’s no way I can come with you guys? Help with the fighting? Actually do something?”  There was no doubt in John’s mind that the kid was absolutely sincere and honest in his request.  He felt it, and presumably so did Sera. But every time he and Sera had delved into the Futures, it had been clear; they were needed elsewhere, and Zach was needed here. Before, John had figured that anywhere secure would do, but now that they had reached his old safehouse/cabin, he was certain that Zach needed to be here specifically. He couldn’t put it to words why, but he felt it in his bones.