Chapter 18, Part 2
Doctor Braxton was indeed taken with Cassie’s thought behind their abilities.
“That’s brilliant, Cassandra!” he exclaimed, still honoring her with her full name. “You and Declan’s fathers were pilots so you have wings. Come to think of it, Luke’s parents were both medical, and he has regenerative capabilities and the ability to heal with touch. How did we miss this?” He proceeded to jot down notes on any spare scrap of paper he found.
Cassie felt compelled to point out that in the years since her wings had first popped out, she’d never thought of it either. He simply brushed that aside and called for a convention of his fellow scientists. Cassie allowed herself a smile at the excitable doctor and excused herself from the lab.
She didn’t have much to do at the moment. The others were training, and she wasn’t exactly sure where Declan was. He usually disappeared in the afternoons when the training room was full. She did want to talk to him a bit more after their conversation that morning. She still wanted some pointers on flying. But that could wait. She pushed out the door and into the searing New Mexican summer heat. She blinked at the sudden brightness of the outdoors and headed towards the command center. Time for her nearly daily visit to Captain Santos to see if they had any new information. Not likely. Apparently Dr. Amelli was a hard man to find, despite being incredibly wealthy and well known in the engineering and genetic fields.
Everyone in the building knew her by now, and she knew most of them by name. Exposure to Luke and Josh had dulled the wonder of their abilities, so it hadn’t taken long for the soldiers to see her not as some freak, but as a semi-normal teenage girl with wings.
She knocked on Captain Santos’ open door and he held up a hand until he finished a phone call. Cassie couldn’t help but listen to the bits she could hear. It appeared he was giving an informal report to someone. Probably an important someone. Once again, she was struck with a sense of doubt. Did we really made the right choice coming here? We’re all being trained. Sure we volunteered, but how easy would it be for them to make us into weapons?
“Cassie, come on in,” Captain Santos jerked her from her thoughts. She slid into the armchair across from him.
“Any news?” she asked, already sure of the answer.
“Actually, I think we’re getting closer.” He surprised her. “We managed to pick up some activity in Arkansas, in a remote location in the Boston Mountains. We’re looking into it now.”
“Do you think that’s where Mariah is?” she asked.
“We don’t know anything for sure yet. Like I said, we’re looking into it now. We’ve got to get everything in place legally before we do anything.”
Cassie nodded. “Can I tell the others?”
“If you want. We’ll have something more concrete in a few days.” He offered her an understanding smile.
“Thanks.” She stood to go.
“Yes, sir?” She turned in sudden concern at the tone of his voice.
“Have you had much contact with the new arrival, Declan?” he asked.
“Not much, sir. I talked with him for a bit this morning. He mostly keeps to himself.”
Captain Santos nodded, rubbing his chin.
“Why do you ask, sir?” She tried to mask her alarm. Were they in danger from the Irishman? They were on an army base, so there were plenty of people around that could take care of him. She just needed to know if he posed an immediate threat to her family.
“Nothing in particular yet. But I promise, you’ll be the first to know if there’s a problem.”
Cassie dipped her head in a nod of thanks. At least the Captain understood how concerned she was for her family, and how after losing Mariah, she’d do anything to keep the rest of them safe.
Despite another reassurance from the Captain, a faint unease dogged her for the rest of the day. It was not alleviated by the sight of Declan joining in the banter around the dinner table. He was charming and easy going enough, but as Abby had observed the day he arrived, he wasn’t telling them everything.
After dinner they adjourned to the roof. Abby had discovered that she had almost everyone on the base wrapped around her slender pinkie and had obtained marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers to be delivered on the latest supply trucks. Sam had the fire pit blazing in short order and a glorious mess of s’mores followed.
“This is a genius idea,” Declan skewered another marshmallow.
“Toast one for me, too,” Abby handed one over.
“Anything for you, darlin’,” he winked and Abby giggled.
“Cook it longer! Make it burned!” she commanded and of course, he complied. Cassie sat back, content to nibble on chocolate instead. Abby would have told her if there was a problem with Declan. But it was easy to forget that Abby was only eleven and not really experienced with the greater world. It might be easy for her to miss a sign or a tell and not be able to run an accurate algorithm in her head.
The sky was flaming orange and red with the sunset and a cooling breeze swept the rooftop, dulling the residual heat from the day. Declan stood and stretched, taking in the brilliant wash of color before him.
“Amazing.” Cassie caught his murmur. “Perfect conditions for flying. Want to give it a go?” he turned to her.
“Oh, I’m not sure…” she automatically started. The others apparently hadn’t heard him.
“Can I be honest with you?” he asked, still in a low enough voice so the others wouldn’t hear. She gestured for him to continue. “You’re scared. I’ve seen you train with the sergeant. You’re strong enough, but you don’t trust yourself.”
Cassie curled her fingers, almost angry at him for figuring it out.
“Look, I know you don’t trust me yet. But I know what I’m talking about. Sometimes you’ve just got to jump.”
Maybe he’s right, she thought. She stood with a shuddering breath.
“Ok, how do I do this?” she asked. She’d changed into a clean tank top after her training session that afternoon. The more she used her wings, the more they seemed to complain about being stuffed under a shirt. He slid out of his jacket, wearing another modified shirt like that morning.
The others had started to notice by now, looking up with murmurs of interest.
“Are you going to fly, Cas?” Abby asked.
She smiled tightly. “I’m going to try.”
“You’ll be awesome!” Caleb beamed.
Cassie only wished she had his confidence.
Declan led her to the edge of the roof and turned to face the opposite side.
“Running starts are easier,” he said. “Don’t think of your wings as things that don’t belong. Stop trying to hide. They’re part of you.” He rolled his shoulders a few times.
Her mouth went dry. “Great pep talk, but I’m not sure I can do this…”
“Hey.” He nudged her shoulder. “Don’t think. Just do what I do and you’ll be fine. Trust yourself.”
Before she could protest again, he took off in a sprint across the roof to the edge. As soon as his foot hit the edge, glossy black wings exploded from his back, carrying him up into the air. Cassie watched him gain altitude along with the others then turned her gaze back to the edge of the roof.
She couldn’t back down now. She shook her head as she realized that was probably his plan all along. Trust yourself. Sometimes you’ve just got to jump.
Her feet propelled her into a run, slamming against the roof. She buried a flash of doubt by running even faster. She made the jump onto the low ledge and hurled herself into space. Her wings caught the air, powering her upward.
“That’s it!” Declan flew by, turning around her. “Come on. You’ll know what to do.”
He took off on a wide sweep of the compound. Cassie leveled out, hours of strengthening paying off as her body held steady between the golden supports. She dimly heard the cheers from the rooftop following her. Her wings worked effortlessly now that she let them. She wanted to turn, so she turned. A little too sharply and she wobbled, her arms jerking out as if that could help her regain her balance. The next turn went easier as she mimicked Declan’s wide angling sweep.
“Ready to head back?” he shouted.
“I’m terrible at landings!” she shouted back. He only shook his head.
“Remember, trust yourself!” he swooped back to the roof, bringing his feet down and running a few steps as he made contact and his wings disappeared. Cassie took a deep breath and headed in. She stumbled a little on contact but Sam was there to steady her before she got mobbed by Luke, Caleb, and Abby.
Declan, already back in his jacket, gave her a little nod over their heads. She still didn’t know if she could trust him, but it might be a start.
Y’all got a really long one today. I’ve been wanting to write this little scene for a long long time, so here you go! 🙂 What do you think of Declan? And obviously Cassie’s big moment?