I couldn’t tell much about him and didn’t see a gun, but depending on if he was bonded, he might not need one. He was trying on pairs of sunglasses which, conveniently, had him in front of a mirror. I imagined we were in his view if he was following us so I waved Andromeda over to feel the fabric on a series of floral sundresses.

Sure enough, as soon as she was out of range of the mirror, he shifted rows and started rummaging vaguely through jean shorts. I didn’t know if the building had a back exit and didn’t want to get trapped so I took Andromeda’s hand and pulled her to leave. As we approached the doors, Polo Shirt started in our direction.

Without large motions I stepped in front of the security guard, who immediately came to attention. I had that effect on people.

“Excuse me,” I said nervously. “That man has been watching us the whole time we’ve been here and it’s really freaking us out.”

The guard’s eyes darted past me to home in on his target and he nodded shortly. “I’m so sorry about that; I can’t detain him for long, but I’ll do what I can. If you visit another store, let them know when you go in, all right?”

“Thank you so much.” We left and hurried down the sidewalk. Andromeda kept twisting around to check, but we never saw him come back out.

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

“I’m not sure. How is someone already following us? Why is someone already following us?”

“Any updates in that email address?”

She pulled out her phone and shook her head. “Nothing.”

“Maybe he’s just a standard creep?”

“We could be so lucky…”

I led us to wait at the auto-bus stop and put a comforting arm around Andromeda. She was still looking around and, as much as I wanted to, I knew I’d attract more attention doing it.

“Shit,” she hissed. “He’s looking around.”

“Has he seen us?”

“No…”

I waited while tension built in my gut. If he came again, we’d have to stop him ourselves. That was fine, sort of; I’d taken people down at my various bodyguard and bouncer jobs before, but that was a little more predictable than this. It was hard when I wasn’t in uniform playing a role. Here, I was just me.

“Oh fuck,” Andromeda breathed as she leaned into me. “He’s heading this way.”

I gave her a squeeze. “He won’t do anything with witnesses around.”

“You mean like the lack of people waiting for this bus?”

“There will be some already on.”

The stalker didn’t join us at the stop but lounged at a tree nearby with his phone out. I hoped he wasn’t videoing us or something. Maybe checking in with his boss? Should we steal his phone? That’s what movies told me to do…

The bus took another couple of minutes and a few people exited. I sent Andromeda first and she stopped at the first seats. When I came up behind her, I saw why: no people. Figures. She moved forward when I gave her a nudge and settled in the second row. We’d be able to exit quickly if we needed to.

Polo came on board, glanced over us and sat down across the aisle. First row. Naturally. As the bus started rolling, I felt my heart speed up. Confrontation wasn’t my favorite, but I was good at it.

I patted Andromeda on the leg and stepped into the aisle. Polo was looking out the front window, avoiding us as naturally as he could so he didn’t see me until I was towering over him, arms planted on the back of his seat.

He jumped and stared up at me. I raised my chin in silent greeting.

“What?” he asked.

I shrugged.

His eyes were seeking answers. “What do you want?”

A slow, humorless smile twisted my lip.

“Fuck off, yeah?” He awkwardly turned away to try and ignore me.

I whispered, “Want to see a magic trick?” As he turned his head, I threw my elbow into his cheek. It hurt like hell but you can disorient just about anyone by hitting them in the face. Hands on his shirt, I dragged him out of his seat and threw him to the aisle to place a knee in his chest.

“You want to let me know why you’re following us?”

“No!”

“No you don’t want to tell me why you’re following us?”

“Get off me!” He tried to shift me, but my thighs were glorious in the way of the sequoias, so he wouldn’t be going anywhere soon.

“Who’s your boss?” Andromeda asked. She’d hopped over seats to get a better view and escape route.

“Fuck off!” He looked scared. I added weight into his sternum and he blanched.

“How long do you think you’ll last before I crush your ribs into your lungs?” I asked curiously.

“Was it Dr. Bjork?” Andromeda demanded.

“I don’t— I don’t know who that is!”

“You sure about that, hon?” More weight. He gasped and his eyes went wide. Limbs flailing, I could tell he didn’t have any kind of martial training.

“When we get off this bus, will you keep following us?”

He swallowed compulsively and shook his head.

Andromeda tapped me on the shoulder and I looked up. We were almost at a stop. I got off Polo and raised him to his feet by his shirt again and shoved him toward the door. When it opened, he hurried off and glared at us when the bus pulled away.

We both let out a heavy breath at the same time and sank into seats. “I guess we’ll see how that goes.”

“Are we riding to the end out the route?” Andromeda asked.

I shrugged. “We’re heading away from my place, so unless we want to risk running into Polo on another bus, we might as well.”

She chewed her lip.

“What?”

“I mean… if someone is following us… wouldn’t they know where you live? And me?”

I considered the question. “What’s our end goal? Are we going into hiding? Are we looking for a resistance group against the [acronym]? We don’t know anything.” I tugged on my earlobe. “I kind of wish we’d had a chance to talk to Polo for real.”

“Or steal his phone.”

“That’s what the movies say to do,” I agreed.

“By the time this bus reaches your place or mine, Mathis will be out of class and we’ll need to tell him what’s going on.”

“Poor guy.”

“Poor him? Poor us!”

“Everyone can be poor.”

“I wonder what his field is. We didn’t have even a minute to ask.”

Andromeda grinned. “I just want to do magic. I don’t care what kind.”

“Assuming we can do it with a Battery and two Channels.”

Her grin fell. “This sucks.”

I nodded. “Until we have more of a plan, wanna make out?”

The park near my apartment was wooded and had plenty of walking paths and seating options. Andromeda chose a table that was close to the trees and still had a decent view of the parking lot. Mathis saw us immediately and came striding over with a big grin plastered on his young face. The beads in his braids caught the light and when he was closer, I could hear them tinkling together sweetly. I loved it.

He took a moment to navigate his mech-legs around the bench and sat across from me. I waved and he laughed.

“So what’s your field?” Andromeda asked excitedly.

He put his hands out. “Probably Transport? My quirk is that I don’t sleep, but my small magic seems to be finding and losing stuff all the time. Could be it’s portaling someplace.”

“Neat!”

We’d all wondered what our Battery would give us access to. All fields had cool options and boring ones. Transport was definitely interesting.”

“Do we want to give it a try?” he asked excitedly. “Who’s the Channel?”

We glanced at each other and I said, “Mathis, we have to tell you something.”

“Okay?”

“We’re both Channels.”

He blinked. “Okay. How?”

I shrugged. “We only bonded a few days ago and we were both tested as Channels. We were at the school to ask Dr. Bjork about it.”

“I know Dr. Bjork. Did you ask her outright?” he asked.

“No, we tried to be more subtle in case we’re heading for a lab somewhere,” Andromeda answered. “And then earlier there was a guy following us.”

Mathis frowned. “Stalking you?”

“From the school to all over the shopping center. We confronted him on the bus and he didn’t admit anything but it has us nervous.”

Mathis’ face had taken on a scholarly reserve and I could see the wheels turning in his mind. “It’s impossible for two Channels to bond,” he said slowly. “Could they have tested one of you wrong? That has been known to happen on occasion.”

I looked at Andromeda. “It’s possible?”

“I’m not sure I want to try magic if it means we might end up in a coma or scattered all over the park,” she said.

“That wouldn’t be ideal,” Mathis agreed. “We’d want to be in a controlled environment where an unbonded Focus could take over in case of an overload…”

“What are you thinking?” I asked when he paused.

He waggled his hands. “How interested are you in experimentation?”

“Depending on risk factors,” Andromeda rolled her eyes. “If I die, I’m haunting you both.”

“Terms I can live with,” Mathis agreed. “Figures when I finally bond it would be abnormal.” He rolled his eyes but was grinning again. “Let’s go bribe some college students.”

April 17, 2021

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