Erik reflexively put up an ineffectual hand as if to stop the blast from twenty feet away, shouting as he did. Dom froze in horror beside him.
The shopkeeper stared in stunned disbelief, dropping the gun to the blacktop.
The woman he'd shot in the face staggered back, caught her balance, and stuck a finger in her ear. “You dick,” she said, the words cutting across the now-silent street. “Do you have any idea how loud that was?”
Erik's brain caught up a second later. He hadn't seen bone and brain flying, not even a drop of blood. This tiny woman took a shotgun blast to the face and barely flinched. “Lady, are you okay?” he heard himself ask, his own voice booming.
She looked over at him, an opportunity the shop owner took to turn tail and escape. It seemed he wasn't interested in dealing with an angry woman unfazed by buckshot.
“I'm fine,” she said. There were streaks of gray and black on her face, the burned residue of gunpowder. “You two should probably get out of here, though. I have no idea if this is gonna work.”
Before Erik could ask what she was talking about, the world turned blue.
The source of the sudden blue light was Ms. Kadege. The willowy woman hadn't moved, but she was now radiating a fierce blue light in every direction. The strain was evident in her body, arms shaking and muscles flexed to their limit. Her face contorted in a grimace of incredible effort.
Trying to understand what was going on, Erik looked around for some kind of context clue. In the distance he could see the massive swell of the Atlantic, the wave nearly ready to crash. It was enormous, though the exact size was impossible to gauge from so far away. The sight knocked the wind out of him.
“Oh my god,” he breathed. Next to Erik, Dom saw the awestruck expression and whipped his head around to see.
Just as he did, the wave hit.
What it hit was harder to describe.
Though the wall of water overtook the distant docks, easily visible down the incline their street sat on, and though it wiped away works of men like buildings and boats in an instant, the wave didn't hit the heart of the city.
Instead it slammed against something invisible—something blue, Erik guessed—and filled the world with the sound of a thousand miles of crashing tides focused down to one spot. The impact wasn't only deafening, but actually physical. The ground shook and buckled as what Erik correctly guessed was a giant force field was driven into the earth by the sheer weight of water.
All of this happened in a span of five seconds. The water impacted the invisible dome surrounding Baltimore, but the wave front was not the wave, merely its leading edge. The impossibly large volume of water behind that front piled up and pushed in that span of seconds, and the strain was too much.
Ms. Kadege collapsed in a boneless heap. The blue light winked away, and in the next second the tattooed man, Agent Cassidy, and Ms. Kadege were gone. Erik barely had time to process this information when the teleporter reappeared, this time next to the Indian woman, who put up a hand.
“Grab them, too,” she said, nodding at Erik.
He absorbed this as background noise, the rest of his attention fixed on the disastrous consequences of the vanished force field.
The water that had been pushed up its broad slope began to fall in a long, curved sheet. Erik's memory flashed to a time last summer when Dom caught him with a water bucket prank. The few gallons had hit him like a punch. The weight of the stuff was one of many facts Erik had filed away in school—more than eight pounds per gallon.
This errata was front of mind as he witnessed tens of billions of gallons rush toward the ground. Some of it was pushed by the continuing surge of water, which Erik estimated at a glance to be more than a hundred feet high.
The first buildings were crushed by the falling sea, and then he was somewhere else.
“What?” Erik said as he found himself in a brand new location. The sudden change of scenery wrenched his stomach out of whack, as if he'd just jumped off a merry-go-round onto solid land. “Where am I?”
“Where are we?” said Dom from next to him. Then, “This is the weirdest fucking day.”
“About ten miles east of the city,” said a voice from behind them. It was only then that Erik noticed someone had a hand on his shoulder and was moving it away. The tattooed man stepped around them and joined other figures standing nearby.
“You boys will be safe here,” the Indian woman said. “I'm sorry, but it was the best we could do. I'm going to radio one of the relief units to let them know to give you a ride back into the city if you want.”
Erik took a half-step forward. “Wait, you're not staying?”
The small woman shook her head, clumps of short black hair catching in the light breeze. “Can't. I've got to start helping with disaster relief. We've never seen anything this bad.”
At first, the gentle tone of her voice made no sense to him. She spoke as if trying to comfort a child, but Erik was fifteen. He was clearly old enough to handle being left alone. But as he looked at her, the distant shapes of buildings at the other end of the field they stood in sparked something inside him. The truth, suppressed by the adrenaline rush of their run and the strange appearance of these people, bloomed in his mind fully all at once.
“My parents,” he whispered.
Dom's hand went to his mouth. “Oh. The whole city, Erik. My god.”
The woman nodded. “I'm sorry, guys. I really am. We tried, but there was just no time to know if it would work.”
Erik nodded numbly and forced himself to meet her gaze. Now that he was looking at her, really looking at her, she seemed familiar. “You saved our lives, and I don't even know your name.”
She smiled wryly, an expression which transformed her face. The lean, muscular frame, short hair, utilitarian clothing, and lack of makeup gave the impression that this was a woman who didn't fuck around and with whom you did not want to fuck. But the smile brought a little sunshine to her, a warmth that was truly lovely. “I'm Kit. Kit Singh,” she said, offering her hand.
Erik shook it limply. “Erik. I knew I recognized you. You're in charge of that task force. The one going after that supervillain scientist.”
Nearly everyone but Erik and Dom groaned. Kit shot them a dirty look. “Yeah, I'm a director in the OSA and the task force is my baby, but please for the love of Zeus don't call him a supervillain. We already deal with enough assholes putting on tights. It only encourages them.”
“Uh, sure,” Erik said. “Sorry.”
“No big deal,” Kit assured him. “We've got to go, but James over there has your coordinates. We'll have someone scoop you up. It might take a few hours.”
The teleporter pulled out a phone and tapped the screen, which Erik assumed was him logging their location. He raised an eyebrow at the boys. “You guys need anything before we run? Or will you be okay here?”
The field bordered what looked like a mall, a highway humming with the sound of many speeding wheels beyond a screen of trees. Spotting a low retaining wall, Erik shook his head. “We'll just sit over there and wait, I guess.” The familiarity of it sent a pang of loss through him. “I have money if we get hungry or anything.”
Kit nodded. “I'll need your names so for my people when they head in this way.”
“Erik Bell and Dom Janowski, ma'am,” Erik said.
Kit blinked and looked at Dom. “Really?”
Dom sighed. “Granddad was Polish.”
Kit flashed another of those sly smiles. “You two stay safe, okay? It shouldn't be long before OSA teams start coming through. We've gotten really good at responding to these things, which now that I think about it is kind of depressing.”
As the four adults readied themselves to leave, Cassidy split off and stepped close to Erik. “Listen, I know it might be tempting, but don't use your powers to help unless you have someone from the OSA overseeing you. We're trained for this stuff, and it might do more harm than good.”
Erik stared at him in confusion. “Powers? What are you talking about, man? I don't have any powers. I'm human.”
“Oh,” Cassidy said, eyes flicking down Erik's form and back up in an instant. “That's my fault. I thought I recognized you from our index. Forget it.”
“Sure, no problem,” Erik said. “Take care.”
And then they were alone.
Suddenly too weary to move even the hundred yards to the short wall, Erik slumped to the ground and sat. Images of his parents flashed through his mind, joined by an overwhelming sense of dread. Johns Hopkins wasn't on the water, but who knew how much damage the wave had done?
If they were alive, they would surely be making the call to the land line at the house, frantic to know if he was okay. At the thought of the antiquated way of making sure Erik was physically at home, he remembered the phone in his pocket.
He had just swiped the screen into life when Dom plopped to the ground across from him. “Weird how that dude thought you were a Next, right?”
Erik nodded. Despite the madness over the last half hour, even the surreal experiences gave him no reason to believe Cassidy's words anything but an honest mistake.
Smart as he was, Erik was wrong. He had no way of knowing that Ray Cassidy possessed the rare and powerful gift of seeing the Surge, the omnipresent energy upon which all Next drew to fuel their abilities. When using this talent, the world became a mass of seething green energy, but normal human beings were mute, black shapes within it. The Surge did not touch them.
Erik, however, had blazed like an emerald sun.