Teardrop, страница 1часть #1 серии Teardrop
So this was it:
Dusky amber sunset. Humidity tugging on lazy sky. Lone car hauling up the Seven Mile Bridge, toward the airport in Miami, toward a flight that wouldn’t be caught. Rogue wave rising in the water east of the Keys, churning into a monster that would baffle oceanographers on the evening news. Traffic stopped at the mouth of the bridge by construction-suited men staging a temporary roadblock.
And him: the boy in the stolen fishing boat a hundred yards west of the bridge. His anchor was down. His gaze hung on the last car allowed to cross. He had been there for an hour, would wait only moments more to watch—no, to oversee the coming tragedy, to make sure that this time everything went right.
The men posing as construction workers called themselves the Seedbearers. The boy in the boat was a Seedbearer, too, the youngest in the family line. The car on the bridge was a champagne-colored 1988 Chrysler K-car with two hundred thousand on the odometer and a duct-taped rearview mirror. The driver was an archaeologist, a redhead, a mother. The passenger was her daughter, a seventeen-year-old from New Iberia, Louisiana, and the focus of the Seedbearers’ plans. Girl and mother would be dead in minutes … if the boy didn’t mess anything up.
His name was Ander. He was sweating.
He was in love with the girl in the car. So here, now, in the soft heat of a late Florida spring, with blue herons chasing white egrets through a black opal sky, and the stillness of the water all around him, Ander had a choice: fulfill his obligations to his family, or—
The choice was simpler than that:
Save the world, or save the girl.
The car passed the first mile marker out of seven on the long bridge to the city of Marathon in the central Florida Keys. The Seedbearers’ wave was aimed at mile four, just past the midpoint of the bridge. Anything from a slight dip in temperature to the velocity of the wind to the texture of the seafloor could alter the wave’s dynamic. The Seedbearers had to be ready to adapt. They could do this: craft a wave out of the ocean using antediluvian breath, then drop the beast on a precise location, like a needle on a turntable, letting hellish music loose. They could even get away with it. No one could prosecute a crime he didn’t know had been committed.
Wave crafting was an element of the Seedbearers’ cultivated power, the Zephyr. It wasn’t dominance over water, but rather an ability to manipulate the wind, whose currents were a mighty force upon the ocean. Ander had been raised to revere the Zephyr as divinity, though its origins were murky: it had been born in a time and place about which the elder Seedbearers no longer spoke.
For months they had spoken only of their certainty that the right wind under the right water would be powerful enough to kill the right girl.
The speed limit was thirty-five. The Chrysler was going sixty. Ander wiped sweat from his brow.
Pale blue light shone within the car. Standing in his boat, Ander couldn’t see their faces. He could see just two crowns of hair, dark orbs against the headrests. He imagined the girl on her phone, texting a friend about her vacation with her mother, making plans to see the neighbor with the splash of freckles across her cheeks, or that boy she spent time with, the one Ander could not stand.
The whole week, he’d watched her reading on the beach from the same faded paperback, The Old Man and the Sea. He’d watched her turn the pages with the slow aggression of the terrifically bored. She was going to be a senior that fall. He knew she’d signed up for three honors classes; he’d once stood an aisle over at a grocery store and listened through the cereal as she talked about it with her father. He knew how much she dreaded calculus.
Ander didn’t go to school. He studied the girl. The Seedbearers made him do it, stalk her. By now, he was an expert.
She loved pecans and clear nights when she could see the stars. She had horrible posture at the dinner table, but when she ran, she seemed to fly. She plucked her eyebrows with bejeweled tweezers; she dressed up in her mother’s old Cleopatra costume every year for Halloween. She doused all her food with Tabasco, ran a mile in under six minutes, played her grandfather’s Gibson guitar with no skill but plenty of soul. She painted polka dots on her fingernails and her bedroom walls. She dreamed of leaving the bayou for a big city like Dallas or Memphis, playing songs at open mikes in darkened clubs. She loved her mother with a fierce, unbreakable passion that Ander envied and struggled to understand. She wore tank tops in winter, sweatshirts to the beach, feared heights yet adored roller coasters, and planned on never getting married. She didn’t cry. When she laughed, she closed her eyes.
He knew everything about her. He would ace any exam on her complexities. He had been watching her since the leap day she was born. All of the Seedbearers had. He had been watching her since before he or she could speak. They had never spoken.
She was his life.
He had to kill her.
The girl and her mother had their windows rolled down. The Seedbearers wouldn’t like that. He was certain one of his uncles had been charged with jamming their windows while mother and daughter played gin rummy at a blue-awninged café.
But Ander had once seen the girl’s mother shove a stick in the voltage regulator of a car with a dead battery and start it up again. He’d seen the girl change a tire at the side of the road in hundred-degree weather and barely break a sweat. They could do things, these women. More reason to kill her, his uncles would say, shepherding him always toward defending his Seedbearer line. But nothing Ander saw in the girl frightened him; everything deepened his fascination.
Tan forearms dangled out both car windows as they passed mile marker two. Like mother, like daughter—wrists twisting in time to something on the radio that Ander wished he could hear.
He wondered how the salt would smell on her skin. The idea of being close enough to breathe her in gripped him in a wave of dizzy pleasure that crested into nausea.
One thing was certain: he would never have her.
He sank to his knees on the bench. The boat rocked under his weight, shattering the reflection of the rising moon. Then it rocked again, harder, signaling a disturbance somewhere in the water.
The wave was building.
All he had to do was watch. His family had made that very clear. The wave would strike; the car would flow with it over the bridge like a blossom spilling over a fountain’s rim. They would be swept to the depths of the sea. That was all.
When his family had schemed in their shabby Key West vacation rental with the “garden view” of a weedy alley, no one had spoken of subsequent waves that would wash mother and daughter into nonexistence. No one mentioned how slowly a corpse decomposed in cold water. But Ander had been having nightmares all week about the girl’s body’s afterlife.
His family said that after the wave it would be over and Ander could begin a normal life. Wasn’t that what he said he wanted?
He simply had to ensure that the car stayed under the sea long enough for the girl to die. If by some chance—here the uncles began to bicker—mother and daughter somehow freed themselves and rose to the surface, then Ander would have to—
No, his aunt Chora said loudly enough to silence the roomful of men. She was the closest thing Ander had to a mother. He loved her, but he did not like her. It wouldn’t happen, she said. The wave Chora would produce would be strong enough. Ander would not have to drown the girl with his hands. The Seedbearers weren’t murderers. They were stewards of humanity, preventers of apocalypse. They were generating an act of God.
But it was murder. At this moment the girl was alive. She had friends and a family who loved her. She had a life before her, possibilities fanning out like oak branches into infinite sky. She had a
Whether she might someday do what the Seedbearers feared she would do was not something Ander liked thinking about. Doubt consumed him. As the wave rolled closer, he considered letting it take him, too.
If he wanted to die, he would have to get out of the boat. He would have to let go of the handles at the end of the chain welded to his anchor. No matter how strong the wave was, Ander’s chain would not break; his anchor would not be wrested from the sea floor. They were made of orichalcum, an ancient metal considered mythological by modern archaeologists. The anchor on its chain was one of five relics made of the substance that the Seedbearers preserved. The girl’s mother—a rare scientist who believed in things she could not prove existed—would have traded her entire career to uncover just one.
Anchor, spear and atlatl, lachrymatory vial, and the small carved chest that glowed unnatural green—these were what remained of his lineage, of the world no one spoke of, of the past the Seedbearers made it their sole mission to repress.
The girl knew nothing of the Seedbearers. But did she know where she had come from? Could she trace her line backward as swiftly as he could trace his, to the world lost in the flood, to the secret to which both he and she were inextricably linked?
It was time. The car approached the marker for mile four. Ander watched the wave emerge against the darkening sky until its white crest could no longer be mistaken for cloud. He watched it rise in slow motion, twenty feet, thirty feet, a wall of water moving toward them, black as night.
Its roar almost drowned out the scream that came from the car. The cry didn’t sound like hers, more like her mother’s. Ander shuddered. The sound signaled that they had seen the wave at last. Brake lights flashed. Then the engine gunned. Too late.
Aunt Chora was as good as her word; she’d built her wave perfectly. It carried the whiff of citronella—Chora’s touch to mask the burnt-metal odor that accompanied Zephyr sorcery. Compact in width, the wave was taller than a three-story building, with a concentrated vortex in its deep belly and a foaming lip that would dash the bridge in half but leave the land on either side intact. It would do its work cleanly and, more importantly, quickly. There would hardly be time for the tourists stopped at the mouth of the bridge to pull out their phones and hit record.
When the wave broke, its barrel stretched across the bridge, then doubled back to crash into the highway divider ten feet ahead of the car, precisely as planned. The bridge groaned. The road buckled. The car swirled into the whirlpool center. Its undercarriage flooded. It was picked up by the wave and rode the crest, then shot off the bridge on a slide made of roiling sea.
Ander watched the Chrysler somersault into the face of the wave. As it teetered down, he was appalled by a view through the windshield. There she was: dirty-blond hair splayed out and up. Soft profile, like a shadow cast by candlelight. Arms reaching for her mother, whose head knocked the steering wheel. Her scream cut Ander like glass.
If this hadn’t happened, everything might have been different. But it did:
For the first time in his life, she looked at him.
His hands slipped from the handles of the orichalcum anchor. His feet lifted off the floor of the fishing boat. By the time the car splashed into the water, Ander was swimming toward her open window, fighting the wave, drawing on every ounce of ancient strength that flowed through his blood.
It was war, Ander versus the wave. It bashed into him, thrusting him against the shoal bottom of the Gulf, pummeling his ribs, turning his body into bruise. He gritted his teeth and swam through pain, through coral reef that slashed his skin, through shards of glass and splintered fender, through thick curtains of algae and weeds. His head shot above the surface and he gasped for air. He saw the twisted silhouette of the car—then it vanished beneath a world of foam. He nearly wept at the thought of not getting there in time.