Sarah Fernandez was falling. Fast. From high in the troposphere, she plummeted through the clouds, racing toward the earth at terminal velocity. The coast of British Columbia took shape below her, growing steadily larger as she zeroed in on the western shore of Vancouver Island. Bordered by the Pacific, the spires of Victory City rose up toward her like a bed of nails, and stopped.
She hovered over the city, her feet dangling just inches from the roof of the tallest building. She pitched forward and plunged fifty storeys toward the street below. She glided over the roofs of cars along a busy stretch of traffic and then rocketed back up to a long balcony on the tenth floor of an Art Deco office tower.
Pulling her gloves off with her teeth, she opened the sliding glass door and headed inside. She drifted over the hardwood floor to the reception desk of a small but important law firm. The receptionist, an older woman with blonde hair, smiled and handed Sarah a mailing box weighing about a kilogram and labelled with the address of another law firm on the other side of town.
“Cheers,” Sarah said, sliding the box into her messenger bag.
As she headed back to the exit, she dug her PDA from her jacket and pressed a button labelled “PICKED UP” in the job tracker app. She entered the destination into the built-in GPS as she floated over the balcony ledge and up to the roof of the building. Once she found her bearings, she put the device away and took to the skies again.
Her destination had no balconies so she drifted up to a third floor window and knocked on the glass. A young associate with that wide-eyed “new in town” look on his face opened the window and stared mutely at her. She held out her PDA and handed him the stylus so he could sign for the package.
No sooner had she confirmed the delivery than another job popped up on her screen. She pressed “ACCEPT” and received the address of a bakery downtown. She smiled sadly; it was time.
Sarah floated carefully up to the roof of Kincaid Delivery Service carrying a large, pink box in front of her. She swiped her keycard by the stairwell door and headed down, drifting to the main floor and peering into the open office space. She caught the eye of Jean, the dispatcher, who nodded and motioned her in.
“Go fetch Sonny,” Jean said, taking the box.
Sarah drifted to the far side of the room and knocked on a frosted glass door. The door flung open and a wind whipped past her, pulling the door shut behind it. Jean screamed.
“Christ, Sonny, it was supposed to be a surprise,” she said.
“It’s your own fault for thinking you could pull a fast one on me,” Sonny replied, leaning over Jean’s shoulder as she tried to conceal the contents of the box.
“You know what?” she said. “I’m glad you’re retiring. Here, have your damn cake.”
She set the box down on a desk and opened it, revealing a rectangular cake covered in white icing with a stick figure drawing of Sonny running out the door with speed lines trailing behind him. Above the drawing was a message in stylized lettering that read, “Retirement Man, Issue #1.”
“Cute,” Sonny said with a chuckle.
Jean thrust a knife at him, handle first, and said, “Hurry up and cut. We’re hungry and you’re not getting any younger.”
“I still have a few hours left here, you know,” Sonny replied, crossing his arms. “Plenty of time to fire you.”
“Your son will just hire me right back the minute you step out the door,” Jean said.
“Not if I put someone else in charge instead,” Sonny replied. “Sarah, for instance.”
“Don’t drag me into this,” Sarah said.
“Are you harassing my employees again, Dad?” said Samuel Kincaid, stepping in from the hallway.
“No,” Sonny replied. “I’m harassing my employees. Your turn’s not until tomorrow.”
Samuel shook his head. “I prefer a different approach to management,” he said. “One based on mutual respect and civility.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Sonny said, winking at Sarah.
Samuel rolled his eyes and said, “In any case, perhaps we should just get on with the festivities.”
“Oh, fine,” Sonny replied.
Sonny sliced up the cake in the blink of an eye, and Sarah descended to take a piece. She mingled as her coworkers gathered to wish Sonny a happy retirement and other such tidings.
When the crowd began to disperse, Sonny looked up at Sarah and said, “Can I have a word with you in what is, for the moment, still my office?”
A Sonny-shaped blur streaked across the room and into the office in a fraction of a second. Sarah drifted after him and closed the door behind her. Sonny was already seated behind his desk.
“Do you remember your first delivery?” he asked.
“Blueprints,” she replied. “From an interior design firm to a construction site.”
“A nice, easy job,” he said. “Mine wasn’t so simple.”
He reached out to a framed photo on the desk and turned it toward Sarah. It was a black-and-white image of a teenage boy standing with an older man vaguely resembling Sonny.
“I was fourteen,” he said. “My father decided I’d been a child for long enough, it was time he put me to work. So I show up here bright and early on the first day of summer, and right off the bat, we get a call. Pickup at the docks. I hop on my bike and head down. They give me this heavy box and send me to an apartment building on the other side of town. Now here’s the catch: this was 1956. You know what happened here that summer, don’t you?”
Sarah nodded. “The Death of Captain Victorious.”
“Exactly,” Sonny said. “So, I’m pedalling my way across the city when the Venusian Armada comes pouring out of the sky, raining fire down on our heads. Victorious swoops in and does his thing, while I find shelter and wait for the whole mess to blow over. By the time the dust settles, Victorious is dead, the aliens are defeated, and half the city’s in ruins. I’m sure you can guess where this is heading.”
“The package’s destination was destroyed,” Sarah replied.
“Bingo,” Sonny said, standing from his seat. “All that’s left is smoking pile of rubble. I ask around but it turns out the name on the package was a fake. And since the apartment’s rental records went down with the building, the guy’s basically a ghost, whether he survived the invasion or not.”
“So how did you find him?” Sarah asked, floating closer.
Sonny smiled sadly and said, “I didn’t.”
He leaned toward a painting on the office wall and appeared in front of it a moment later. The frame swung away to reveal a safe behind it, and his fingers blurred on the dial. The safe opened with a deep, metallic groan, and he reached inside.
“I’ve tried now and again to pick up the trail,” he said, and stepped back carrying a tattered cardboard box about a foot in width, wrapped in badly-frayed twine, “but this baby has remained undelivered for fifty-six years. You might say that it’s my white whale.”
He handed her the box, and she tentatively took it. She tilted forward, surprised by the weight of the package.
“What the hell’s in this thing?” she asked, righting herself.
“No idea,” he replied. “Could never bring myself to open it. It’d feel too much like a surrender, you know?”
“I suppose,” she said. “But why are you telling me this?”
“I want you to pick up where I left off,” he said. “You don’t have to actually find the guy; I just can’t end my career in good conscience without making sure someone’s still looking.”
She looked down at the label affixed to the top of the box, yellowed with age and bearing the address of one Neal Siegel. She doubted anyone would be able to track him down, short of a psychic (and that would be cheating). But still….
“I’ll do it,” she said.
The strap of Sarah’s messenger bag dug into her shoulder as she soared over the city, keeping an eye out for the address indicated by her GPS. A restaurant stood in the lot now; Sarah hovered in the air above it roughly where the sixth floor would have been.
She tried to imagine herself in a 1950s apartment, looking out the window at a much different city. Many of the buildings below her were new or had been rebuilt since the invasion, but a few originals remained. One stood out in particular, a large church a few blocks away.
She flew down to the ornate wooden doors on the face of the building and slipped inside. The interior of the church was spacious but only sparsely candlelit. She drifted up the aisle, past the rows of pews, and stopped at the altar. Off to the left, a young man in a black shirt with a white collar entered from an adjoining doorway and paused, glancing at the gap below Sarah’s feet.
“Can I… help you?” he asked.
“Maybe,” Sarah replied, drifting toward him. “What can you tell me about the Venusian invasion of 1956?”
“Well,” he said, straightening his back, “the official Church position is—”
“I’m not interested in theology,” she said. “Just history. What happened to this neighborhood on that day? Many homes were destroyed; where did those people go?”
“Ah, I see what you mean,” he said. “They came here, mostly. Our doors have always been open to the public for shelter in times of crisis. You are… looking for someone in particular?”
“Yeah,” she said. “You wouldn’t happen to have records of the evacuees who stayed here, would you?”
“Follow me,” he said.
He led her out of the chapel and into a cramped old office. He stepped around the desk and opened a creaky file cabinet. Thumbing through it, he retrieved a dusty file folder and returned to the desk, sitting in the big leather chair behind it.
“Have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the chair opposite him.
She floated toward the desk but did not sit. He shrugged and opened the folder, flipping through page after page of yellowed paper. Finally he stopped and handed Sarah several sheets bound by a single rusty staple.
“This should be what you’re looking for,” he said. “If his name isn’t on this list, he wasn’t here.”
She took the papers and scanned over the names for any sign of “Neal Siegel” or “N. Siegel” or even “Neal S.” Ten pages later, she sighed and handed them back to the priest.
“Well, this was a dead end,” she said. “Thanks any—”
She snatched the papers back and stared at a name halfway down the first page: Lane Geisel. She found a pen and paper on the priest’s desk and rewrote the name, rearranging the letters into Neal Siegel. She chuckled and smacked herself upside the head.
“You shifty son of a bitch,” she muttered, and smiled sheepishly at the priest. “Sorry.”
“You found something?” he asked.
“I think so,” she replied. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a forwarding address somewhere in that folder, do you?”
“Not quite,” the priest said, “but it looks like many of the refugees ended up in a public housing project not too far from here that the church donated money to. Might be a good place to start.”
He scribbled for a moment and handed her a post-it note. She entered the address into her GPS.
“Thanks,” she said. “You’ve been a huge help.”
“Happy to oblige,” he replied, rising from his seat. “Is there anything else I can help you with? Any sins you’d like to confess?”
She laughed. “Nothing you haven’t heard before,” she said, drifting to the exit. “Cheers, Padre.”
She floated up to the chapel rafters and soared over the pews on her way out into the chill winter afternoon.
The phrase “has seen better days” came to mind as Sarah floated over the housing project, but she had a feeling even that was too generous a description. As she descended down twenty storeys of peeling paint and cracked stone, she wondered how anyone could stand to live here. Not that they had any choice in the matter.
The building’s superintendent was a tired-looking man in his forties who seemed reluctant to open his apartment door more than a few inches. He looked Sarah up and down and yawned.
“Yeah?” he said groggily.
“This is probably a weird request,” she said, “but I’m looking for someone who may have moved here in 1956. I don’t suppose I could take a look at your rental records from that year?”
The man blinked and stared at her as if he wasn’t sure she were real, and then said, “That shit’s been in storage for decades.”
“Can you show me where?” she asked. “I don’t mind getting my hands dirty.”
“It’s not here,” he said. “They keep it in some government building downtown and it’s a pain in the ass to get in there.”
“Oh,” she said. “Is there anyone living here now who’s been around long enough to have known the guy I’m looking for?”
“Um,” he said, scratching is forehead, “you could try Cecilia Garza on seven, apartment twelve. She’s been here longer than anyone.”
“Thanks,” Sarah said, “I—”
He shut the door in her face and turned the deadbolt. She gave the peephole the finger and headed down the hall to the door marked “STAIRS.” She floated up through the middle of the staircase until she reached the seventh floor, and knocked on the sixth door down the hall on the right.
As she waited, she noted the conditions of the hallway; mould on the carpet, rot in the wood, a pool of water by the window at the end of the hall. For all the prosperity in Victory City, poverty was just as prevalent.
“Are you a superhero?” a small voice asked.
Sarah looked down to see a pigtailed little girl in a pink dress dangling from the doorknob, her big brown eyes staring at Sarah’s boots.
“Nope,” Sarah said. “I’m looking for Cecilia Garza. Is this her apartment?”
The girl swung backward on the doorknob and let go, landing on the tips of her toes a few feet away with her arms out. She giggled and ran off into the apartment.
“Grandma Cissy!” she shouted. “A superhero wants to see you!”
A grey-haired woman in her sixties appeared in the doorway with the girl at her side and looked Sarah up and down.
“Well, come on in,” Cecilia said.
The old woman led the way to a small living room and sat on a dilapidated green couch facing a television set older than Sarah. The little girl watched in awe as Sarah floated across the shag carpet several inches above the floor.
“What’s your hero name?” the little girl asked, inching closer on her knees.
“I don’t have one,” Sarah replied. “I’m just Sarah.”
“That’s boring,” the girl pouted.
“Hush, Piper,” Cecilia said softly. “So, ‘just Sarah,’ what brings you to my home?”
“I’m looking for someone who may have lived in this building a little over fifty years ago,” Sarah said, “and the super tells me you’ve been here longer than anyone else. I know it was ages ago, but I was wondering if you might remember ever meeting a man who went by either Neal Siegel or Lane Geisel.”
Cecilia leaned back and pushed her bifocals up the bridge of her nose.
“Is he in some kind of trouble?” she asked.
“No, not at all,” Sarah replied. “I’m a courier and I have a package for him. It’s… long overdue.”
“All right,” Cecilia said, tenting her fingers. “Mr. Geisel lived here just a short while, but I got to know him well. He watched over me sometimes when my parents were away. He would often read to me, he always had a new book waiting whenever I visited. As a matter of fact….”
Cecilia lifted herself from the couch and hobbled across the room to a tall bookshelf set into the wall. As she scanned over the titles, her granddaughter crouched low to the floor and started tentatively waving her hands through the space between the floor and the bottoms of Sarah’s boots.
“Why do you fly all the time?” Piper asked.
“Because I can,” Sarah replied.
“How does it work?” the girl asked.
Sarah shrugged and said, “It just does.”
“Can I have powers too?” Piper asked, hopping to her feet.
“Uh, maybe?” Sarah replied. “There’s really no way to—”
“I’m going to fly!” Piper shouted, and climbed up onto the couch. “Watch!”
She hopped from the couch to a leather armchair and then back to the couch. She repeated the leap with her arms flapping beside her like wings.
“Piper,” her grandmother said sternly, “what have I told you about jumping on the furniture?”
The little girl sighed and said, “Only at Mommy’s house.”
“That’s a good girl,” Cecilia said as Piper slumped onto the couch and crossed her arms. “Now, Sarah, take a look at this.”
She handed Sarah a copy of The Little Engine That Could.
“This was my favorite,” Cecilia said. “He gave it to me one evening, when I was about Piper’s age, and I never saw him again.”
“No idea where he might have gone?” Sarah asked, carefully turning the pages of the tattered old book.
Cecilia shook her head. “He always seemed so sad,” she said. “Like a part of him was missing. I think deep down I’ve always suspected that he took his own life and nobody had the heart to tell me. I… hope that’s not the case.”
“I hope so too,” Sarah said, as she reached the end of the book. “Otherwise, I….”
She trailed off, her eyes fixed on a little slip of paper tucked into an envelope glued to the inside back cover. It read “Victory City Public Library” at the top, followed by a list of names. The most recent entry, dated March 8, 1957, belonged to someone named Egan Leslie. She closed her eyes and visualized the letters: another anagram!
Sarah shut the book and said, “Do you mind if I take this with me?”
“I don’t know,” Cecilia replied, rubbing her chin. “It’s all I have to remember him by.”
“I’ll bring it back,” Sarah said. “I promise.”
“Well… okay,” Cecilia said. “But if you do manage to find Mr. Geisel, be sure to tell him Cissy said hi.”
“Will do,” Sarah replied. “I’ll be back soon. Bye, Piper.”
The little girl hopped off the couch and followed Sarah to the door. Sarah did a barrel roll on the way to the stairwell and departed to the sound of the child’s laughter.
The library was an imposing stone building lined with pillars, adjacent to a quiet public park. The interior was equally austere, opening up into a two-storey-high foyer with stairs running along the left and right to balconies overhead.
The front desk sat between the two stairs, staffed by an attractive man in thick-framed glasses and a polo shirt. He eyed Sarah uninterestedly as she floated up to the desk.
“Hi there,” she said, taking the book from her bag. “I was wondering if you might be able to help me. I’m trying to find some information on the last person who borrowed this book and—”
“Borrowing records are strictly confidential,” the man said.
“Can’t you make an exception for family?” Sarah asked. “It’s my grandfather, see. He’s… not doing so well and we’re trying to put his affairs in order. He’s adamant that I have to return this book and make sure he doesn’t have any others overdue or else he won’t be able to… to die with a clear conscience.”
The librarian tapped his fingers on the desk for a moment before finally taking the book from Sarah. He found the call number on the spine and typed it into his computer.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “Gramps’ll be so relieved.”
“Not so fast,” the librarian said. “There’s a substantial fine on his account. We’ll need to deal with that first.”
“How substantial?” she asked hesitantly.
“Two thousand three hundred sixty-eight dollars,” he replied, “and eighty cents.”
“That’s one hell of a fine,” Sarah said.
“Fifty-five years adds up,” the librarian said. “I haven’t even adjusted for inflation. Shall I? It’ll only take a moment.”
“No, that… won’t be necessary,” she replied, digging her credit card out of her wallet. “Just got this damn thing paid off.”
She paid the fine and the librarian let loose a flurry of clicking and typing. Finally, he turned back to Sarah and smiled.
“Your grandfather has one other item outstanding,” the librarian said. “I’ve taken the liberty of renewing it. If you return it within the next twenty-one days, you will incur no further fines. The book is Victorious, by Evelyn Edwards.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep an eye out,” Sarah said. “Can you tell me anything about the book that might help me find it?”
The librarian glanced over his screen. “It’s a biography of Captain Victorious, written by his girlfriend shortly after his death, I believe. It was published locally by Triumphant Press in 1957. It’s currently out of print, so we’ll definitely be needing it back.”
“All right,” Sarah said. “I’ll go home now and look through the old man’s bookshelf for it.”
The librarian nodded and said, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Actually, yeah,” she said, and pointed at The Little Engine That Could. “I’d like to borrow that book.”
Sarah found Triumphant Press in a small brick building out in Victory City’s industrial district. The receptionist, a girl in her early twenties, was busy updating her Facebook, so Sarah drifted past the front desk and all the way back to an open door marked “Joel Senate, Editor-in-Chief.”
She peered inside at a man, around Sonny’s age if not a bit older, hunched over a cluttered desk scribbling notes in red ink on a printed manuscript. Sarah knocked on the door frame and the man looked up with an annoyed expression on his face.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I’m looking for someone,” Sarah replied, floating inside, “and my only lead at the moment is a book this company published by an author named Evelyn Edwards. I don’t suppose you’d have any current contact information for her, would you?”
Joel glared for a moment and then his expression softened. He set the manuscript aside and opened a drawer in the desk. Rooting around for a moment, he produced a yellowed newspaper clipping and handed it to Sarah.
“Evelyn Edwards-Agnee – 42, of Victory City, passed away suddenly on January 13, 1964. Born August 9, 1922 in Victory City, she was the daughter of Eleanor and Everett Edwards. She will be greatly missed by her family, by the staff at Triumphant Press where she worked as an editor and a writer, and by her many avid readers. Evelyn is survived by her mother, Eleanor Edwards, her sister, Emily (John) Brent, and her husband, Ellis Agnee….”
Sarah paused and stared at the name: another anagram.
She returned the clipping and said, “What can you tell me about her husband?”
“Ellis?” Joel asked. “Hell, I haven’t seen him since… well, since Evelyn’s funeral. We never really did warm up to him, the way he just showed up out of the blue and started courting Evelyn, barely a year after Victorious died. At the time, it just seemed so… wrong. But they really did love each other, and Ellis was utterly devastated when she died.”
“Do you have any idea where he is now?” Sarah asked.
“Not exactly,” Joel said, “but every time I’ve visited her grave over the years, there’s been a fresh bouquet of her favorite flowers set out for her. I’ve always suspected it was Ellis bringing them, but I haven’t run into him there. But if you’re dead set on finding him, that’s the place you ought to be looking.”
“I’ll do that,” she said. “Thank you.”
He scribbled the address of the graveyard on a scrap of paper and handed it to Sarah. She typed the address into her GPS.
“If you do find him,” Joel said, “tell him that, whatever our differences, he made Evelyn happy, and that makes him a good man in my books.”
Sarah nodded and headed for the door. As she touched the knob, she felt the printing press downstairs reverberating through the building like a massive heart, still beating after all these years.
Hopefully the same could be said for Ellis Agnee.
Sarah floated through the gates of the cemetery and over row after row of headstones maintaining an altitude of six feet at all times. She wasn’t a particularly superstitious person, but graveyards still gave her the creeps and she preferred to keep her distance.
Evelyn Edwards-Agnee’s grave was overshadowed by a massive memorial to Captain Victorious, reproducing him ten feet tall in bronze atop a stone pedestal. Her headstone was simple marble carved with her name, dates of birth and death, and the words “Beloved of gods and mortals alike.” A bouquet of violets leaned against it.
“Who brings these flowers?” Sarah asked a groundskeeper.
He stood beside her and looked down at the grave.
“Lady from a local flower shop,” he said. “Comes by once a month.”
Sarah grabbed the man by the shoulders and said, “Which shop?”
The flower shop was called The Scarlet Pimpernel and was filled to the brim with a vast array of flowering plants. The interior of the building was so warm and humid that Sarah had to take her jacket off while waiting in line to talk to the pale, redheaded woman at the counter.
“What can I get you?” the woman said without looking up.
She was staring down at a small potted plant on the counter. As she waved her hand back and forth over the plant, its leaves turned and swayed to follow her movements.
“Uh, just information,” Sarah said. “I’m trying to track down one of your customers. He sends flowers every month to the grave of Evelyn Edwards-Agnee. I was hoping you might have an address on file for him.”
“I probably shouldn’t give that out,” the woman said, still playing with the plant. “You might be a stalker.”
“I’m a courier,” Sarah said. “This guy’s been waiting for a package for half a century and I just want to deliver it so my boss can retire happy. So can you help me? Please?”
The woman turned her hand palm-up over the plant and spread her fingers out. A bright red flower bloomed spontaneously.
“If I give you the information, will you leave?” she asked.
“Yes,” Sarah replied.
The woman grabbed a laptop from under the counter and typed several keys.
“Okay, here we go,” she said. “Eli Angeles?”
“That sounds about right,” Sarah replied, and took down the address. “Thanks.”
The woman shrugged and returned her gaze to the plant. Sarah floated back outside and put her jacket back on. She plugged her next address into the GPS and hoped it would be the last.
“This is getting ridiculous,” Sarah said to herself as she stared at the rundown façade of Bradbury’s Boats & Bait. “Seriously.”
She was starting to wonder if this whole wild goose chase was just a practical joke on Sonny’s part, an elaborate ruse to get some laughs on his last day. It seemed unlikely, but still, she wouldn’t have been surprised to find Sonny waiting at the end of the trail. Nevertheless, she headed inside.
The interior of the shop was densely packed with everything from lifejackets to fishing rods to live bait. Sarah rose above all the shelves and racks and floated directly to the counter, where a teenage boy watched her with his mouth agape.
“Hi,” she said brightly. “I’d like to speak with Eli. Is he in today?”
“Uh, there’s nobody here by that name,” the boy said.
“Are you sure?” Sarah asked. “I was told this was where I would find him.”
“Sorry, can’t help you,” the boy replied.
“What seems to be the problem?” a heavy-set man with a receding hairline asked as he emerged from the back room.
“She’s looking for someone named Eli, Dad,” the boy said. “I told her I didn’t—”
“What’s your business with Mr. Angeles?” the man asked, ignoring the boy.
“I have a package for him,” Sarah replied.
“Leave it here,” the man said. “I’ll be sure he gets it.”
“I’m afraid that’s not good enough,” Sarah said. “I really must give this to him in person. He’s been waiting a long time.”
“Look, Miss, I’m sorry,” the man said. “Mr. Angeles is a very private person. If he even knew I was talking to you about him at all, he’d fire me on the spot.”
“Come on, just point me in the right direction,” Sarah said. “I’m begging you. I won’t tell him it was you, I swear.”
The man sighed and rubbed his temples.
“Okay, fine,” he said, and scribbled down a series of numbers on a piece of paper. “But if he asks, I’m telling him you broke into my office.”
He handed her the paper and she stared at the numbers for a long moment, not quite understanding.
“This isn’t an address,” she said.
“Of course not,” he replied. “No streets on the water.”
She stared blankly at him and hoped he was joking.
The freezing wind lashed at Sarah’s face as she soared over the Pacific toward the latitude and longitude coordinates provided to her by Mr. Bradbury. The map on her GPS showed only an empty stretch of water, but Bradbury insisted she would find what she was looking for there. She hoped he was telling the truth, for his sake.
She was just about ready to pack it in and head home when she saw it: an island. Small, rocky, and densely forested, she might not even have noticed it had she not been looking for something in those specific coordinates.
As she descended to the tree line, she noticed a faint orange glow beneath the foliage at the centremost point on the island. Strange, winged animals took flight as she made her way through the leaves toward the light. She pushed through and found herself at the gates of a wrought iron fence surrounding a tiny Cape Cod house sitting in the middle of the wilderness.
Sarah floated over the fence and along a cobblestone path to the front step. She straightened her hair, took the package from her bag, and knocked on the door.
After a few minutes passed with no answer, she raised her hand to knock again and caught movement in the corner of her eye. She drifted over to an adjacent window, covered with a gently swaying curtain, and knocked lightly.
“Hello?” she said. “I have a package here for a Neal Siegel. It’s a bit late.”
She heard a click, and the door opened. She returned to the front step and floated into a darkened kitchen. Orange light spilled across the checkerboard floor tiles from beneath a door to her left. She turned the knob and headed inside.
The living room was small but cozy; a sofa against the wall beneath the window, a chair by the fireplace, no television or computer or any electronics save an old radio on the mantelpiece.
An old man sat in the chair, wearing a grey wool sweater, trousers, and a pair of slippers. His white hair was thin and wispy, his face long and gaunt. He stared at her with piercing green eyes.
“How did you find me?” he asked, his voice deep but soft.
“Anagrams,” she replied.
He smiled faintly.
“I should have known they would catch up with me one of these days,” he said, and nodded at the heavy weight in her hands. “Is that for me?”
Sarah nodded and handed him the bundle along with her PDA. He scribbled a name on the screen and set the package on his lap. The twine disintegrated as he tugged at it, and the cardboard fell away just as easily, revealing a rusty metal box coated in peeling black paint. The old man turned a latch and opened the lid.
“It’s beautiful,” he muttered, tears beading in the corners of his eyes.
He reached into the box and held up a chunk of purple rock about the size of his fist. It shimmered faintly in the firelight.
“What is it?” Sarah asked. “Amethyst?”
He shook his head. “Something far more precious.”
He stood from the chair and carried the stone to the fireplace, standing with his back to Sarah.
“A century ago, a doorway made of this material appeared in the mountains outside Victory City,” he said. “It was a portal between this world and Fifth Earth, and through it crawled a small boy, barely a toddler. The doorway crumbled behind him, leaving in its place a pile of purple rocks that soon disappeared into various collections around the world. The child… well, I’m sure you’ve heard this story before.”
“Captain Victorious,” she said. “Are you…?”
“Him?” the man asked, doubling over with laughter. “You really don’t know who I am, do you?”
“I know quite a few names,” she said, “but I don’t know which is real.”
“If you’d found the real one,” he said, “I doubt you’d be here now.” He turned to face her with his back to the fire. “My name is Elias Engel.”
“The Angel of Death?” she muttered, backing away.
He nodded, smiling. “We were all so theatrical back then,” he said. “Codenames and costumes and archenemies. It’s rather embarrassing now.”
“But… I thought you died,” she said. “You were fighting Captain Victorious and there was… an explosion or something. I learned about it in school.”
“Yes, well, the textbooks don’t always have the whole story,” Elias said. “Hell, I’m not even sure of it, myself. Maybe I died and came back. Maybe I survived and crawled out of the burning wreckage of my lair through the sheer force of will. The important thing is that I was alive. I went underground, assumed a new name and a new face, and bided my time. I became obsessed with finding a way to defeat my nemesis once and for all. And I came up with this.”
He held the stone out on the palm of his hand.
“It was a beautiful irony,” he said. “The very material that brought Victorious to this world was the one thing that could strip him of his powers and allow him to be killed.”
He closed his fingers around the stone.
“Of course, it didn’t matter, in the end,” he said. “I spent my remaining wealth trying to get my hands on this little rock and what happened? He died before I had the chance to kill him. How’s that for irony?”
Elias sighed and returned to his seat.
“I continued keeping a low profile,” he said. “I thought, maybe it was all a ruse. Maybe he was coming back. Maybe the aliens killed a clone, or a robot, or… something. Whatever had really happened, I was determined to find out.”
He nodded to a book on the coffee table, a tattered hardcover edition of Victorious by Evelyn Edwards. On the cover was a photograph of the hero pulling children from a burning building, his cape flapping in the wind.
“I read it cover to cover again and again,” Elias said, “and when it offered no hints about Victorious’s survival, I went to see Evelyn. I’d tried to kill her on countless occasions in my previous existence, but I looked so different now that she didn’t even recognize me. I entered her life under false pretenses but, before I knew it, we’d fallen in love. So I put aside my original goal and focused instead on making a life with her. When she died in a car accident several years later, I knew for sure that Captain Victorious was really gone. I grieved for them both.”
He gestured around the room.
“And then I came here,” he said. “There was nothing left for me in Victory City, so it seemed like a fitting fate. An evil old man, alone and forgotten.”
“That’s not true,” Sarah said, drifting toward him. “Joel Senate remembers Ellis Agnee, a good man who made a dear friend happy in a time of great sadness. Cecilia Garza remembers Lane Geisel, a neighbor who read to her and treated her kindly. And Sonny Kincaid remembers Neal Siegel, the man he’s been trying to deliver a package to for the past fifty-six years. You were never forgotten. And you don’t have to be alone, either.”
Elias looked down at the stone in his hand.
“After all I’ve done,” he said, “I deserve to be.”
“I don’t think you actually believe that,” Sarah said. “I think you want forgiveness, but you’re too afraid to ask for it. It’s just easier this way.”
Elias leaned back in the chair, rolling the stone back and forth from one hand to the other.
“It’s been so long,” he said, staring off into the fire. “Isn’t it best to leave old wounds closed?”
“That’s not for me to decide,” she replied with a shrug. “In any case, I’ve had a really long day, and I need to get some rest, so I should let you get back to… whatever it is you’ve been doing for the past fifty years.”
He nodded and stood from the chair.
“I’ll see you out,” he said.
He placed the rock on the mantel above the fireplace and headed for the door. Sarah followed, descending to his eye level and bristling as her foot brushed the floor. He flicked on the kitchen light and led the way to the door, opening it for her.
“Oh!” she said, reaching into her bag. “I borrowed this from Cecilia while I was trying to track you down and I promised I’d return it. You’ll make sure she gets it back, won’t you? Thanks, I really appreciate it!”
She shoved The Little Engine That Could into the old man’s hands and flew up into the trees before he could protest. She watched from above as he stared at the book for a long moment, flipping through the pages, before finally stepping back inside and shutting the door.
When Sarah floated back down into the office, she found Sonny standing over Jean’s shoulder, jabbing his index finger at her computer screen.
“Why’d you send that job to Bill?” he demanded. “Ellen’s closer. And Kevin hasn’t made a pickup in almost twenty minutes.”
“Just let me do my job,” Jean pleaded, and glanced at Sarah. “Help me out here, please.”
Sarah drifted over and placed her hand on Sonny’s back.
“Come on, old man,” she said. “Let’s —”
He was back in his office before she could finish the sentence. Sarah joined him there and shut the door behind her. Sonny was sitting in his chair with his arms crossed, grinning ear to ear.
“Gave up already, huh?” he asked.
“Nope,” she replied, and slid her PDA across the desk.
His eyes widened.
“You didn’t,” he said, leaning forward.
“I did,” she replied.
He looked down at the screen.
“Hold on,” he said. “This says ‘Elias Engel’.”
“The Angel of Death?”
“Boss,” she said, “have I got a story for you.”
When Sarah had finished recounting the events of the day, Sonny leaned back in his chair and linked his hands behind his head.
“Why are you still working here?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” she replied.
“With your talent, you could work anywhere,” he said. “Purolator or FedEx would hire you in a heartbeat and pay you a hell of a lot more than I’ve been able to give you these past few years. So what’re you still doing in a rinky-dink operation like this?”
“This place has character,” she said. “Sure, the boss can be a jackass from time to time, but at least he’s not some faceless corporate drone. The wages aren’t the greatest, but I make more than enough to get by. Also, there’s no dress code and you let me fly in the office. Why wouldn’t I stay?”
“Fair enough,” he said, chuckling. “I just hope you’re as comfortable working under my son. I know he can be quite the stuffed shirt at times.”
“That’s only when you’re around,” Sarah replied. “He wants to impress you, so he acts all uptight because he thinks it makes him look more professional. But he’s really a lot more like you than you think.”
Sonny smiled to himself faintly and then said, “That’s good to hear. I’d hate to think I was leaving this place in the hands of a businessman.”
Behind Sarah, someone knocked on the door and opened it. Sonny cleared the smile from his face.
“Well, speak of the devil,” Sonny said. “What’s up, son?”
“We’ve got a customer,” Samuel said. “He’s asked to speak to you personally.”
“This customer have a name?” Sonny asked.
“Uh, I think he said ‘Siegel’,” Samuel replied.
Sonny stood and left the office in the blink of an eye. Sarah turned and followed Samuel out to the main office, where Sonny stood face-to-face with Elias Engel, who was looking rather dapper in an old trench coat and fedora.
“Good evening,” Elias said. “I hope I haven’t arrived too late to enlist your services today. I have a somewhat urgent delivery to make.”
“Well, we’ll certainly see what we can do,” Sonny replied. “What’s the package?”
Elias reached into a bag and produced the metal box Sarah had given him earlier. Sonny’s eyes widened.
“Is that…?” he muttered.
“It is,” Elias replied. “I’ve made arrangements with a local science lab to have this placed inside their particle incinerator when they switch it on tonight, but the lab out in the mountains and I won’t be able to make the journey in time. Is there any possible way you could help me?”
Sonny looked down at the box for a long moment, and then said, “Jean, turn your computer back on. Sarah, you up for one more job?”
“Sure thing, boss,” Sarah replied, floating closer.
“Actually,” Elias said, “I would prefer that you deliver it personally, Mr. Kincaid.”
He held the box out to Sonny, who just stared down at it as if it were something hazardous. He looked at Jean, at his son, and finally at Sarah. She nodded and tossed her PDA to him. He caught it, poked around the interface for a moment, and then tucked it into his shirt pocket.
“Sonny Kincaid is at your service,” he said, and took the package.
He grinned at Sarah and disappeared in a blur. The door flung open and sonic booms trailed down the street away from the building. Sarah drifted over to Elias and smiled.
“For an evil old man, that was an awfully nice thing you just did,” she said.
“I’m having an off day,” he replied.
“Fair enough,” she said. “You know, when I left, I wasn’t sure I’d gotten through to you. I certainly didn’t expect you to come around so quickly.”
“I considered sleeping on it,” he said, “but at my age, there’s always the chance I won’t wake up. I figure I’ve waited long enough. Luckily Bradbury was kind enough to make a trip out to the island on short notice. He was very obliging, but he seemed quite startled to be hearing from me. I wonder why.”
“I wouldn’t know,” she said, chuckling. “So, what’s your next move?”
“Well, now that I’ve tied off one loose end,” he said, “I suppose I should go visit some old friends. It’s about time I make amends. After that… well, I guess I’ll see what this modern world has to offer.”
“A lot’s changed while you’ve been gone,” Sarah said. “Can you handle being a part of society again?”
He smiled and said, “I think I can.”