The guide led them on up the ramp and into the stadium. The vast bowl of the auditorium was impressive, and would be even more so when filled with people roaring their support for the competitors. He’d love to see it for himself but he would be back home by then. Maybe he should think about extending his trip?
A plane rumbled overhead. Yves looked up to trace the vapour trail and catch the glint of sunlight bouncing from the fuselage.
And then couldn’t move.
Time stopped—vapour drifting. This wasn’t right. The only thing shifting was the line in the sky, going from sharp score to puffy cloud. Yves’ brain was whirring like a bike freewheeling downhill. He’d been at the receiving end of too many of Victor’s mental incursions not to recognize the attack from a savant with mind-control powers, but this was nothing like his brother’s skill. Disconnected—this had to be how someone felt emerging from a coma, aware but not able to communicate.
A tug at his shoulder. Someone had slipped off his backpack and was now going through his belongings. With immense difficulty, Yves made his gaze shift from the sky to look down. The thin girl he’d noticed as being out of place was taking his iPad and iPhone and relocating them to her bag. He was in the grip of a savant thief. Fury burned inside, driving out her power with its consuming heat. Give it another second and he’d be free.
Then the thief sensed his resistance. Their eyes met: his gaze latched onto her shocked brown irises.
Yeah, you didn’t expect me to be conscious of you, did you, little thief?
The strain in her face told its own story: she was struggling to hold him and the others in her time freeze.
She broke away and bolted for the exit. As she passed the ramp, her power vanished, freeing them all.
A boy sneezed.
‘Someone’s stolen my stuff!’ shouted Yves, setting off in pursuit, ignoring the confused voices raised behind him. He reached the top of the ramp but she’d already gone to ground. He swept the field with his gaze. There were just too many places she could hide: parked machines, pallets of building materials, the long grass. A shoe with a broken lace lay on the ground.
‘OK, Cinderella, where are you?’ Yves murmured. She had to have been put up to the steal by someone wanting to get the new Apple technology. He pushed aside any qualm that she might be desperate; it was a professional job, not one driven by hunger, as she’d left his wallet. He wouldn’t have minded so much if she’d taken that.
The long grass waved in a motion not caused by the breeze.
There you are.
Visualizing the bag containing his things, Yves sent out his power. With practice he had learned to do this over distance, picturing his brain as heating the components like a magnifying glass concentrating sunbeams to make a flame. A puff of smoke signalled success. He wasn’t part Ute for nothing. He grinned. Caution vanishing, the girl abandoned her smouldering bag and ran. Yves rolled his shoulders. Success. He wasn’t interested in getting involved with chasing her and handing her over to the police, not if it meant answering questions about how his belongings ended up on fire. He’d better go put out the blaze before he was responsible for ruining the Olympics by burning down the stadium this close to opening ceremony.
Yves told the story that night at supper with his brothers, the melted remains of the iPad and phone taking pride of place on the sideboard in the lounge.
‘Did you get a good look at the thief?’ asked Victor. ‘If you can give me a good enough description, I could check if she’s on any of our suspect lists.’
‘Young—about my age, I’d guess. Dark shoulder-length hair. Slim build.’ Actually, he’d remembered thinking she was more than slim; she looked like she’d missed a few too many meals. Guilt nibbled away at his sense of triumph at having thwarted her. Had he got her motives wrong? ‘Neglected looking. I remember thinking she was more the sort of girl you’d see on a poster for a homeless shelter than at a science conference. Big eyes, soulful.’
Xav cut a second helping of lasagne for himself. ‘And now I’m picturing some kind of Manga heroine.’
‘And I’m thinking through our “Most Wanted” files.’ Victor topped up his wine.
Xav pointed his fork at Victor. ‘That, my brother, is the difference between us right there.’
Victor shook his head. ‘No matches with time-freezing control that I can call to mind. Maybe she’s too young, just starting out in the business?’
‘She could be a loner, working on contract. She’s not doing well from her craft if her shoe is anything to go by.’ Yves had brought the worn plimsoll home with him in case he had a chance to ask Trace to track her with it. He had felt ridiculous, though, leaning down to pick it up, with her being the opposite to Cinderella and him no Prince Charming. Xav had predictably joked along those lines non-stop since Yves had produced it from his backpack.
‘If she targeted you, then it looks as though our presence is noted. We must have a leak somewhere, or be under very good surveillance,’ mused Victor. ‘I’ll look into it.’
Xav sighed. ‘You guys have all the fun working hard while I just get to go on sightseeing trips. Such is life.’
‘You could always come to my session on Ecosystem Impacts tomorrow instead.’ Yves scraped the crispy bits of the cheese sauce off the side of the foil container and ate them with relish. ‘If you’re feeling lonely.’
‘It’s OK, little brother, I think I’ll survive. Hey, Vick, are you sure Yves is really one of us, actually liking the prospect of a session on, what was it, ecosystems?’
Victor pushed his plate aside. ‘Mom and Dad swear he is so I suppose we have to believe them.’
The academic part of the conference got properly underway the next morning. After visiting the photographic exhibition in the library with Jo and Ingrid, Yves then settled down to some serious listening in the big auditorium at Queen Mary College. He thought the introductory lecture by two world experts was excellent, summing up the challenges facing scientists in a world that would be dominated by climate-change impacts for the foreseeable future. Exiting the hall, they chatted about the messages and how they would affect their career choices.
‘I’m going to Scientific Evidence,’ said Jo. ‘How about you guys? Ingrid?’
‘I’m thinking of Human Impacts.’ Ingrid looked up at him hopefully.
Yves had begun to feel a little awkward, finding the girls always making a bee-line for him at each session. It had started off as flattering but he was beginning to think they acted like they owned him. He had come to meet as many other young scientists as he could and they were making that more difficult, freezing out any approaches by other girls. It was a relief, therefore, to find he had a genuine reason to part company from them for a while. ‘I’m down for Ecosystem Impact, so see you both later, OK?’ He walked off quickly before they could deselect themselves from their seminar groups.
Yves chose a seat on the far side of the classroom and smiled at his nifty escape. The window looked out over the front quad of the college to a white clock tower and road beyond. Thanks to the double glazing, the noise of busy East London was muted in here. Yves flicked through his programme to the list of participants, waiting for the room to fill. There were lots of conference goers he was yet to meet. He noted that a couple of them were due to attend his college in the fall. It would be cool to make contact with them here. He’d have to make an effort to socialize.
He turned round to make a start with the girl who had sat down behind him. He wasn’t sure what her clothing signalled—she was wearing a scarf a little like a hijab or even a novice nun. Nun seemed more likely as the rest of her clothes looked like convent issue: white shirt, cardigan and thick-framed glasses. Her eyes were fixed on the table in front of her, forehead wrinkled in a frown.
‘Hi, um … Wendy.’ Her label was handwritten. ‘You just arrived today, am I right?’
The poor girl spoke in a whisper. Yves immediately felt sorry for her; he knew what crippling shyness felt like, having gone through a couple of years after the Woodrow disaster when he found it difficult to meet people’s eyes. He wondered if he could get her to relax.
He pointed his pencil to her name badge. ‘To J. M. Barrie. You know,
Peter Pan and Wendy
Her eyes flicked up briefly to his face, mouth open in surprise. Yves supposed science majors weren’t supposed to know about Edwardian British literature. ‘Er … no. I wish.’
Yves felt a nagging sensation at the back of his mind, recalling yesterday’s events. But this girl was nothing like his brief glimpse of that street kid. From the thickness of her waist she was a good few pounds heavier and her face looked very different, no thick make-up outlining doe eyes. Maybe they’d met somewhere before? ‘What school are you from?’
‘Newcastle … um … School for Girls.’
He placed it on his mental map of England. ‘Newcastle. That’s in northern England, isn’t it?’
, not far from the border with Scotland.’
‘Never been there. Going to college up there too?’
‘Um … yes. Aberdeen.’
Wendy was beginning to make sense now. ‘Oh, cool. They have a great Geoscience department which is doing cutting-edge stuff on petroleum extraction. Have you read their recent paper on CO
‘Well of course. That’s why I applied.’ Her voice sounded false, strained. ‘Me, Miss Geoscience. Petroleum … um … attraction is so fascinating.’ This girl was winging it. How did she get on the course? he wondered.
, you mean.’
‘Sorry, slip of the tongue. Extraction.’
‘So what’s your course?’
‘Yeah, but within that you have to specialize, don’t you?’
‘Well, I thought I’d concentrate on the Geo bit to start with. I mean, Geography.’
Yves smiled, not entirely sure if she knew she was making a joke, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. ‘I’m taking Environmental Sciences at Berkeley in the fall, but I’ll be dipping into the Geography programme, too. So we have lots in common, then.’ He decided to give the girl a break and turned back to the front as the lecturer had just entered.
‘Er … yes, that’s really interesting. Berkeley.’
It was plain she had no idea what that meant. ‘California.’
‘Absolutely. I’ve heard of it. Of course I have.’
She hadn’t. Yves decided he had finally met someone who was much less sophisticated than him. Poor girl: she had ‘loser’ written all over her. He made a mental note to be kind to her during the conference but not get stuck with her company more than necessary to be polite.
When Yves tuned back into the events at the front of the class he found that Dr Sharma, the lecturer, was asking them to introduce themselves. Odd though: he was finding it hard to concentrate, even though he’d been looking forward to the seminar and read up for it; the weight on his brain felt like he was trying to pedal his bike with the brakes applied. Then, realizing what was going on, he swore under his breath; the girl had to be here somewhere.
‘Girl at the back—sorry, I don’t know your name—are you all right?’ Dr Sharma rapped the table.
Wendy must have signalled that she was as the doctor continued. ‘Good, because I usually expect to send my students to sleep after I’ve spoken for a bit, not before I even get started.’
All but Yves and the girl laughed. He knew, oh he knew—she was right behind him.
‘Yes … er … sorry,’ muttered Wendy.
‘Shall we begin then? Perhaps the student in the seat in front of you would like to introduce himself?’
There was time for a showdown with Wendy, but first he had to get through this class. ‘Yes, Dr Sharma, I’d be happy to.’
Yves opened his mouth to begin sketching his background when he found the time freeze fall on the room again.
Not this time
. Pushing back with all of his might, he heard rather than saw the girl spring from her seat, grab his bag and bolt for the exit.
How could you!
he thundered, using telepathy to register his protest.
The girl’s control broke and everyone snapped out of their daze to find Wendy over by the door. She wasn’t going to escape, no way. Yves vaulted over his desk and set off in pursuit of the thief. He caught sight of her disappearing into an empty classroom a few doors down. She was part-way out of the window when he grabbed her ankle.
Who are you? What do you want from me?
Go away! Just go away!
Her voice in his head—so unexpected, like triggering the hidden infrared on a burglar alarm. Bells rang inside; he couldn’t decide if they were painful or pleasurable. It was like nothing he’d ever heard before.
This is important—understand it, Yves
, he told himself. He tightened his grip as she tried to squirm free.
How do you do that? You … you’re different. Speak to me again.
An insult but suddenly it sounded like the most wonderful thing ever said to him. There was only one explanation for this instant closeness, this wake-up call to his whole world.
It’s you—I know it’s you.
She tried kicking him with her heavy-soled shoes. He arched clear, taking only minor damage to his stomach.
Uh-uh, none of that, Wendy.
Knowing she was his other half, his soulfinder, made his right to deal with her much clearer. Careful not to hurt her, he tumbled her to the floor, sat on her back and unlooped his bag from her shoulder, throwing it out of reach. ‘I’ll take that, thanks.’
She went limp, but he wasn’t fooled that she was defeated. ‘Please let me steal something from you.’
She didn’t give up. What was it she had with his stuff? She’d already ruined his most valuable belongings already—there wasn’t much left. ‘We’ll get to that later.’ Unable to resist a first gentle touch of his soulfinder, he cupped the back of her head, reminded how small she was, how breakable. He had to be careful with her. ‘Who would think that my soulfinder turns out to be a thief?’ From her utter stillness, he knew she had heard and understood him. ‘You know what that means, then? I thought maybe you didn’t. My brother’s soulfinder didn’t know.’ They could both hear the noise of their classmates coming to find them, reminding them that their discovery of each other would shortly be interrupted. ‘If I let you up, shall we tell them it was a joke?’