When Ching's satellite radio starts making noises, he excuses himself from the table and ducks out the back door of the Hornpiper. There's a short set of steps leading down to the car park at the rear. He sits down and turns on the speaker, expecting to talk to Arika.
Instead, it is his wife Susie, who is close to hysteria. It takes some effort for Ching to get the story from her. He eventually figures out that Arika came to see Susie at the house like he asked. Instead of telling Susie anything, Arika simply said that she had been told to go home for the day, on account of an experiment going wrong. They had some lunch and watched some television. A few hours later, somebody knocked on the door. From the description, Ching decides it was probably Moxon.
At this point, Arika, without explanation, scooped Susie Kuang up in her arms and flew her out of town. They are now both standing in a deserted patch of scrub on a low clifftop overlooking the highway leading into Brooksburg from the south.
Arika is being sullen and unresponsive, and Susie is, quite understandably, freaking out.
"She's a superhuman," says Ching. "Arika's a superhuman. And she's not the only superhuman. This is my job, studying superhumans. Finding out what makes them tick. Nobody knows where they come from. And, obviously, the United States wants control of them. I couldn't tell you any of this. I'm sorry I had to keep secrets, but I explained all of this US Espionage Act stuff. I had to keep quiet by law. And-- you said it was okay."
"It's magic!" cries Susie Kuang.
"It's not magic. It's-- it's just as if all the rules of the world just changed. Like someone added an extra rule book," says Ching. "It doesn't work like your astrology or your Tarot or your water-into-wine. It's not miraculous. It has rules like everything else and it can be studied but it's as if a thousand years of scientific history were just cut out and now we're looking at the end results. Of course it all looks impossible. Nobody can fly. But a picture can't talk. And-- and-- lumps of metal with wheels can't push themselves uphill. And a building can't be half a kilometre high. This is my job."
"But she's flying," says Susie. "How is she flying?"
"I don't know," says Ching. "I don't know anything, yet. But I met a man today who might be connected in with all of this. So we're learning. That's what's important. Now you have to listen. They killed one today, on the air base, while I was watching. A superhuman. It was a guy from Malaysia. They drugged him and then they killed him."
"They killed him because they were scared of what he could do. And they didn't listen to me."
"I know. So I had Jason and Arika help me escape. You know Jason Chilton who I keep mentioning? He's a superhuman too. He's brought me to England. Where I'll be safe."
"Are they trying to kill you too?"
Ching switches ears on the satellite radio. "I don't know. I don't know what they might try to do to me. And I don't know what they think I might try to do to them. But you don't get to be the world's most powerful country by letting people walk away with military secrets. So I've come home. And-- This is the hard part. You're Involved now. With a capital I. I was worried they might try to use you to get to me, and Moxon came to your door, and that's what he was going to try to do. So you need to come back to England too. You need to grab as much as you can and move back home. Today."
"What? No. No, it's my house. It's our house. I can't just move out at five seconds' notice. Are you mad?"
"It feels like a dream to me, if that's what you mean," says Ching. "But I just keep taking it five minutes at a time and somehow I'm managing. I can't say the same for tomorrow. All I know is it's not safe for you where you are now. Even with Arika protecting you."
"And another thing! She's--" Susie stops and looks around. Arika's looking off towards the road, but she's not out of earshot and she is almost certainly listening in. "She hasn't said more than ten words in the last few hours. I feel like I don't know her. I never really did know her."
"She's had some tragedy in her life," explains Ching. "It wasn't her fault, but she blames herself, she's messed up and needs help, and nobody can make her accept any. So basically, just treat her like a normal teenager. A friend-slash-bodyguard." Ching doesn't add: and maybe she won't start thinking like a god.
"Ching, I'm not leaving our home! It's our home! We just decorated!"
"I know," says Ching. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I got involved with all this mega-science, and at the same time I got all involved with you, and I never saw a conflict coming up. But I just don't think it's safe for you to stay in that country."
"And what if they come after us in England?"
"England is not America. The United States government is not omnipotent over here. And if bad stuff does come up..." Ching breathes in, breathes out... "We can always go back to China."
China. "This is ridiculous."
"This is a humanity test. An adaptability test. Get a few bags of stuff, get to an airport, and get out of there. Please. And be safe."
"Be safe. Put Arika on, will you? I love you."
"I love you too."
A moment passes while Susie hands Arika's satellite radio back to her.
"Yup," says Arika.
"Arika, I need you to take care of my wife," says Ching. "Just take care of her, okay? You're her guardian angel. You're basically indestructible and can fly. There are no anti-Power weapons. But Susie's not properly part of our universe yet. She's delicate."
Arika glances over at Susie, who is shuffling about distractedly, occasionally shooing insects. "I'll keep an eye on her," says Arika.
"Thanks. Sorry to put all this on you at once. Are you okay?"
"Arika, you're eighteen, right?"
"Okay. Just asking. Call me when Susie's made her decision."
Mitch has come out of the pub and is waiting behind Ching when he turns off the satellite radio.
Ching looks up. "I suppose you heard most of that."
"I don't even know what I heard. What are you, a government agent? You can tell me. I would believe anything at this point."
"I don't want to tell you," says Ching. "And you really wouldn't believe me. Just leave it at 'I have confidential information in my head'. And a smart government treats confidential information like a virus."
"You said 'flying people', inside."
Ching looks off into space for a little while. The stars are coming out. "The information was waiting up there for us to find it. Like an electrical charge in a thundercloud. You raised a conductor up into hyperspace, and the information earthed itself in us. That makes sense. I think I believe your story. And I think we can help each other."
"You can help me get home?"
"I have a complete listing of this universe's source code," says Ching. "I'm theoretically omnipotent. It's just a matter of time. How much time do you have?"
"I don't know," says Mitchell Calrus. "The rest of my life, in theory."
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