The others arrived after a short wait, everyone patched up and refreshed. TG pushed a wheelchair in for Mathis and he looked it over with a practiced eye, lifting himself into the seat and giving it some experimental rolls.

Bitch Queen entered the room with a tablet in hand, swiping around before she set it aside. “Originally, we were going to offer non-disclosure agreements to each of you, but that offer has been revoked. Temporarily. You can still sign one, but until we find out how this enemy found us, we’re going to need to keep everyone where we can find them.”

“So now one of us is a mole?” Andromeda asked. “You bring us here without choice, keep us locked up, we get attacked, you bring us here, and…? What? Do we just never get to leave?”

“Effective recruiting tactic,” I pointed out. She made a sour face at me.

“There are ways to track Instruments,” Mathis pointed out.

Bitch Queen nodded. “That’s true, but no one can track Nodes.” Everyone looked at me.

“What’s a Node?” he asked. He sounded exhausted, but still curious.

“I’m a Node, and so is she,” Tower Goddess said. “We can bond with anyone, create and destroy bonds between anyone, basically access and combine any power that we want. And exert a measure of control over it.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Andromeda snapped. “New magic doesn’t just show up after thousands of years of human existence.”

“You’re right,” Tower Goddess agreed. “Nodes have existed forever, but they’re just rare. It’s theorized that most prophets were Nodes, for example.”

“So people want to control them?” Mathis asked.

“There have been a couple of instances in history when someone did,” Bitch Queen said.

“Like the Holocaust,” I said softly. She nodded. “What happened to stop it?”

No one answered until Brent Spinter’s Sister said, “Operatives were sent to kill them when no other plan was effective. For what it’s worth, they were forced into the act.”

“So what do I do?” I asked. “I’m this rare commodity that people kill and die for?” I looked at Tower Goddess, but she didn’t meet my eyes.

“You two and one other are the only living Nodes we’re currently aware of. There might be more, but it’s hard to know.”

“Who’s the third?”

“We’re hoping the prisoner you captured will give us an idea.”

“Oh, goody,” Andromeda said. “Torture and whatnot. That’ll go over well. Unless you want to tell us you’ve discovered another super-secret, impossible new magic that lets your read minds or something.”

Bitch Queen smirked. “If only.”

June, the tech I’d met before everything went to hell, spoke up, “If this group knew where to find us, what’s the risk they can locate our families?”

“Very low,” Brent Spiner’s Sister assured her. The other techs looked relieved. “They found the base somehow, but there are no records of your names listed and nothing to attach you there.”

“Good funding, huh?” I added. Bitch Queen smirked again but Tower Goddess still wouldn’t meet my eyes.

They explained a few more specifics for living in this base and we were dismissed until meeting in the canteen. I jumped up to follow TG before she got too far. I could tell she was used to her long legs out-pacing anyone else, but we left the others behind before she stopped and spun.

“What?” she asked.

“What yourself,” I brilliantly countered.

“I can’t tell you anything else; I’m still learning it all myself.”

“Why do you work here, though?”

She hesitated. “Because it’s safer than anywhere else.”

“Is it? Honestly?” I put my hands out. “I don’t know what I’m doing. Apparently you don’t either, but you still know a hell of a lot more than me so help me. If you say this is the best option, I’ll go with that. If you have regrets, I’ll figure out how to get out but don’t leave me hanging here.”

She ran a firm finger over her cheek and chin. “I’ve been here helping with experiments for a year.”

“Okay?”

“It’s just like any other job, but occasionally… occasionally I have to look for people and when we find them, we recruit them. I don’t like it; I’m not a sales person, but that’s my job.”

“Look for people?”

“The government watches everything and we have access to some of their systems so if it looks like anyone is onto the idea of Nodes or other discoveries, we don’t want that going public. There are plenty of warlords out there who don’t know and we certainly don’t want them to get the idea.”

“But if Nodes are rare anyway, and you said they can’t be tracked—”

“Any kind of anomaly would be suspicious and instead of becoming a celebrity who can make shadow puppets or mess with time, they’d be hunted down and questioned and tortured or whatever, okay? It’s not a world we want to see.”

“But how do you know that’s how it would be?”

“Because it’s what happened to my brother.”

I stared at her.

“Once he bonded, his trio had some kind of sound specialty that people thought let him read minds, or manipulate minds or something, but it wasn’t exactly that. I didn’t get the details before he and his trio were thrown into a black van and when they found the bodies, they were… they were hard to identify. A week later I bonded and I figured out I could bond outside my trio and then,” she gestured, ‘this. After Ron, I was happy enough to sign up.”

“I’m so sorry.” She nodded.

“Do we know anything about these people that attacked?”

“There’s a Node involved somehow, maybe heading the operation, maybe not. Occasionally we see anomalies popping up and we track them as best we can, monitor and all that, but no.”

“Where does [acronym] coming into all this?”

“We’re a secret branch on their tree. They’ve been tracking down Nodes for centuries. Used to be stuff like the Inquisition, but thankfully those times have passed.”

“Yeah, thankfully.”

“I know you don’t want this. I don’t either.” She shrugged. “Gotta make the most of it, I guess.”

May 08, 2021

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