“Run, Sarah!” Quinn shouted.
But Sarah stood her ground. She had travelled to the Cariboo to confront the Posse, and stop Harpminster Abbott from hurting and harassing Quessnell Raft: it was time to match her powers against her uncle’s. He put his arms overhead, and whirled them furiously. Loose objects, pens, remote controls, clipboards, and cups, rose up and went into orbit, like a galaxy around his head. Quinn rushed forward, brandishing a knife. Harpminster Abbott nodded in his direction and Quinn cried out, and crumpled. The maelstrom whirled. Projectiles struck people indiscriminately. White-suited nuclear technicians ducked for cover, and a tin cup glanced off Levvy’s head. Harpminster Abbott’s eyes were fiery red as he called more objects into the spinning vortex, computer mice, keyboards, electrical cords, and paperclips. A pair of scissors whipped past Sarah’s left shoulder, and she whirled to avoid them. A pen struck her point-first, and she felt a wave of hopelessness—her uncle’s barrage of hate was slowing her reflexes. How could she use her powers?
“Deep down, you wish you had friends!” Sarah yelled in desperation. Her uncle rewarded her with a look of shocked recognition. Encouraged, she kept empathizing with the man who had just threatened to kill her. “You wish you’d been a better brother, and a better friend! Wielding your powers brings you no pleasure—it leaves you feeling lonely and unloved! You would be happier if—”
“Shut up, stupid girl!” screamed Harpminster Abbott.
Orbiting objects clattered to the ground. Sarah looked at her friends, and jerked her head toward the exit. Quinn and Levvy dropped to the floor, and rolled out the doorway.
“If my grandparents were closer,” Sarah began.
“You don’t even KNOW your grandparents!” her uncle shrieked. More objects fell.
“I didn’t know I HAD grandparents,” Sarah corrected, backing up one step at a time, inching toward the exit. Aides in jumpsuits looked hesitantly between her and her uncle, unsure if they should intervene. “I didn’t know I had an uncle,” Sarah added.
“Excuse me, Sir,” said an aide. “Does this mean the startup is delayed?”
Harpminster Abbott whirled to confront the person who had dared to speak, and while his rage was directed elsewhere, Sarah bolted out of the reactor core building.
A wild-eyed Charlie was in the compound, riding Splotch! Geronimo, Puff and Jubilee were there too, eyes bulging with fear, mouths foaming, and flanks wet with sweat. Quinn leapt into Geronimo’s saddle, and Levvy mounted Puff.
“Take Jubilee, Sarah—Fern’s coming on foot!” Charlie yelled.
Sarah hesitated. Compared to Merrylegs, Jubilee was a wild beast, but in the urgency of the moment she swung into Jubilee’s saddle, and grasped the reins firmly. Jubilee whinnied, and the horses galloped toward the twisting mine road. Partway, they were cut off by the Parleyment Army, swarming out of an archway! Ichamus was among the soldiers, brandishing a shovel; rivulets of blood striped his face, and his head was wrapped in white bandages.
Soldiers blocked the road, and raised loaded slingshots—then looked beyond Sarah, and lowered their weapons. A tingle of fear ran down Sarah’s spine. Her uncle was behind her; negative feelings preceded him, like the smell of rain before a storm. She brought Jubilee around and beheld a strange sight: Harpminster Abbott was juggling.
Five poison green rocks were suspended above her uncle’s hands, pulsing with inner light, alive with atomic energy. With smooth, casual movements he sent lumps of uranium through the air in precise parabolas. His hateful grin was wide and deranged—the corners of his mouth stretched almost to his ears.
“Do you know what this is, Sarah?” hissed Harpminster Abbott.
“I’m not scared,” Sarah lied.
“Ah, perhaps not—but you should be. It’s because of rocks like these that you and I are Deevies, and the amount of radiation that made us Deevies was much less than what I have here. In quantities like this, Sarah, radiation is lethal. I could put you and these rocks together, and you would die. Slowly and painfully, of a dozen cancers.”
“She’s your niece!” Levvy said, disgusted. “What kind of monster—”
“It’s okay,” said Sarah. Her hexagon was heating up, and the burn on her chest was painful, but she didn’t cry out. “He’s just sad, and confused, aren’t you Uncle? Those rocks are like you—they just want to go back where they came from, and be welcomed home.“
“You know nothing about me,” said Harpminster Abbott.
He flung the rocks at Sarah.
Jubilee went stiff with terror. Easy, Sarah whispered. She opened her arms, as if to receive the glowing rocks like old friends, and they slowed, then hovered. Hugging the air, Sarah gathered the rocks into a single mass, a pulsing green and black boulder. She twirled her index finger, and the boulder spun, slowly at first, then faster and faster. Like rolled-out dough the boulder elongated, and sharpened at the ends.
Harpminster Abbott contorted his hands in mad gesticulations, but Sarah was in control. Changing tactics, he delivered a wave of misery. Sarah felt sadness, but she also felt joy and confidence, a happy certainty about her powers that acted like a shield. She rolled the boulder until it was long, narrow, and etched with a spiral pattern—a drill.
Sarah oriented the enormous tool to a vertical position, and sent it whizzing downward. The drill bit into rocky ground and sent up a hurricane of gravel. Spattered with rock chips, Jubilee galloped away from the source of the shrapnel. Sarah clamped her thighs to the saddle and held on tight. As Jubilee ran away, she pictured the rock burrowing into the earth, rotating at high speed, and continuing its journey underground.
While Sarah battled her uncle, the Parleyment Army mustered an offensive. A burst of pain exploded on her right shoulder, and Sarah’s eyes widened in shock. Arrows and slingshot pellets rained down around her.
But a cloud of white dust was barrelling down the road, and inside it were a dozen Rafters on horseback, weapons at the ready! Jubilee whinnied in distress. The Rafters, their expressions grim and determined, rode directly toward the Parleyment Army offensive. Sarah glimpsed Jimbo’s unusual features, Paolo’s shock of white hair, and Ionia’s scowl. Arrows and pellets flew. The Rafters returned fire, and the mine pit filled with the anguished cries of wounded people.
“Sarah—follow me!” Charlie bellowed.
Splotch charged up the mine road, Geronimo and Puff at her tail, Quinn and Levvy standing in their stirrups and riding for their lives. Jubilee joined them, and hooves thundered on rock. Worried for the Rafters, Sarah craned her neck to see the nuclear reactor compound—it was gone, swallowed by a storm of dust and dirt. Around and up the horses galloped, until at last they left the mine, and gained green pasture. Colour poured back into the world.
The horses tore across grassland as if pursued. Sarah was in shock. Her back was hot and sticky with blood. Jubilee streaked across the hillside, gained the foot of the cliff, and halted.
Sarah slid from the saddle, and collapsed on the ground.
She woke in darkness. She was cold, and her shoulder hurt.
Someone was crying.
A fire crackled and spit, and she smelled the aroma of fresh roasted meat. A comforting hand rested on the small of her back, and she groaned.
“We’re safe now,” said Quinn. “You can rest.”
“The Posse will come after us,” Sarah murmured.
“The Posse have surrendered, and the Rafters are keeping Parleyment busy at the mine,” Quinn said grimly.
Sarah sat up, and peered into the night. “Who’s that crying?” she asked.
Two figures were hunched by a small campfire, weeping.
“Lots of people got injured—now that you’re awake, you can heal them.” Quinn cleared his throat. When he spoke again, his voice cracked. “There was one fatality.”
Sarah stiffened. “Someone is dead—who died?”
“Charlie’s brother, Jimbo,” Quinn said. “That’s Levvy and Charlie by the fire.”
“Jimbo is dead?” Sarah swallowed hard. “How?”
“An arrow through his neck. It was really fast, Sarah—you couldn’t have done anything.”
Jimbo’s crooked smile, funny face, big ears, and friendly demeanour were snuffed out forever. Ma had lost a son. Charlie had lost a brother and a friend. Sarah wanted to wind back the clock, and bring Jimbo back to life. She blinked, trying to absorb the news.
“Fern got the prisoners out unharmed,” Quinn said. “And the Cariboo Posse are defecting to live at Quessnell Raft.”
Sarah wasn’t heartened by these tidings. Jimbo’s death was like a wall she couldn’t climb. She could hear Charlie sobbing by the campfire, and Levvy crying with him.
“Take me to the injured,” said Sarah.
Bodies lay around the campfire like spokes on a wheel. Sarah knelt beside a young woman with a bloodied bandage tied around her arm. Unwinding the bandage, Sarah found a jagged cut, rimmed with grit and swollen with infection—but her hexagon necklace had fused with her skin. “Get this off me,” she ordered Quinn. He hesitated. “I can’t use my powers until you do,” Sarah snapped.
Quinn clenched his teeth, grabbed the leather thong, and ripped the hexagon from Sarah’s flesh. She welcomed the bright pain; it was punishment she deserved, for failing to save Jimbo’s life. She flipped the hexagon outside her clothes, ignoring the patch of raw, bloody skin on her chest, and for the next two hours Sarah extracted pellets, forced dirt to abandon wounds, and knitted torn skin back together. She came to an older man with a slingshot pellet embedded in his knee. As she prepared to heal him, he clutched her wrist.
“My name’s Slim. I joined the Cariboo Posse,” he confessed in a gravelly voice. “Gatherin’ fuel didn’t sound so bad, but I shoulda quit when we started stealin’ from honest folks. I’m right sorry, Miss Spellings.”
“Are you going to live at Quessnell Raft?” Sarah asked Slim. He lowered his head, and whispered yes—if they’ll have me. “Then today’s your lucky day,” said Sarah. “You can make up for your crimes with kindness and hard work.”
Slim nodded, wiping tears from his bloodshot eyes.
A thin, grey dawn was breaking when Sarah finished helping the last injured warrior. Around the smouldering campfire, everyone but Quinn was fast asleep. Gusts of wind scattered yellow leaves in bunchgrass. Stretching her back, Sarah noticed the ridge where she’d spent the night.
“I can’t sleep,” said Sarah. “Come for a walk?”
Quinn said yes, and they hiked up the cliff under a low, silver sky. Sarah found the opening where she’d slept, her refuge from the storm. She was surprised to see a much larger fissure, wide enough to walk through, a short distance away. “I can’t believe I missed a whole cave,” said Sarah, but Quinn wasn’t listening; he had turned his shoulders sideways to fit through the gap, and entered the crack in the cliff. Sarah followed him into a dank cave. She cringed at a strong, unpleasant odour.
“Bat guano,” said Quinn.
From a belt pouch he produced matches and a candle stub, and lit the candle. A tiny, flickering flame revealed a deep, wide cavern. Taking small, awkward steps, Sarah groped for a back wall. She shuffled her feet, stubbed her toe, lurched, and fell. Quinn rushed to her side.
“I’m fine,” said Sarah, embarrassed. She sat up, rubbing bruised toes.
“There’s something sticking out of the dirt,” said Quinn.
Sarah was exhausted. Her left shoulder ached; she remembered a flash of pain during the escape from the mine. But she didn’t care about her injury, or what she’d tripped over; Sarah just wanted to fall asleep. Quinn was scrabbling at the ground, loosening soil.
“This thing has a straight edge,” said Quinn, sounding perplexed. “It’s a box,” he said excitedly. He unearthed a large rectangular object, and brushed it clean.
“Huh,” said Sarah wearily. In spite of being tired, she was curious. Quinn inserted a length of wire into the rusted keyhole in the front panel of the box. Sarah’s breath caught—but the wire wouldn’t turn. Quinn fiddled with the lock, spat into the keyhole, and tried again; this time, with a tiny squeak, the lock mechanism yielded to the bent wire.
“It’s unlocked!” Quinn breathed.
“We should take it outside,” said Sarah.
“Good idea,” Quinn said eagerly. “It has handles—you push, and I’ll pull.”
Together they shoved the metal box through the cave, turned it on its end, and maneuvered it through the narrow entrance. On the hillside below, Rafters were saddling horses, preparing to ride out. “We have to go,” said Sarah. “It looks like they’re ready to ride south.”
Quinn wasn’t listening. He had pried the box open, and he was lifting packets of paper, and hefting leather drawstring bags. Lifting something solid and glittering, he looked up at Sarah in awe.
“This is Billy Miner’s lost treasure. We found it!”