Updated: Mar 2, 2020
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Chapter 8: She must have looked terrified because even the security guard with the very pleasant voice asked her if it was her first time flying. If he was flirting with her, she had no idea, nor could she bring herself to care. She did manage to give him a nod and an attempt at a brave smile when he assured that she’d be fine.
Well before she wanted to admit it, they were stepping on board the plane to be greeted by an English man and woman who smiled with grating abandonment. Perhaps they were ready to meet their maker, or maybe they were insane. Either way, Sabrina regarded them with severe distrust while she said her dutiful “hello” and “thank you.”
She took some small comfort in the little screens each seat was equipped with, telling herself that sitting there watching movies would just feel like a lazy Saturday afternoon instead of a trip miles high into the air. Yet she still clutched her armrests tightly, not happy at all that Deanda insisted on taking the middle seat for security purposes.
That left Sabrina at the window in their three-seat row.
“So the fae –” She started out, mostly just to distract herself. But she caught herself when her friend shot a warning look her way. “The people you were talking to at the pool. How did they get waylaid? Mr. Smiley didn’t get them, did he?”
“No.” Deanda assured.
Her eyes never left the aisle, assessing each person who filed past them. Few of them were wearing suits, and none had on any sunglasses. There was nothing immediately suspicious about any of them as they chattered to their companions, grumbled to themselves, and generally tried to get past each other with minimal contact.
“They wouldn’t have been able to call me if they’d been caught,” Deanda explained without any bite. “And I texted them before just to let them know we were safe and what was going on. They’re going to have someone meet us at Glasgow.”
“Why not Heathrow?”
Deanda cast a glance at the adolescent boy who took the aisle seat next to her, but he was too busy listening to his headphones to pay them any attention. “We typically have two wingless agents at Heathrow, but one is in the hospital with severe food poisoning and the other just happened to disappear last week.”
Sabrina’s eyebrows rose. “Coincidence?”
“Doubtful,” she replied with a grim shake of her head. “I’d say it’s a pretty sure bet he was compromised.”
Not wanting to contemplate the exact meaning of that ominous word choice, Sabrina moved on. “How are they wingless agents?”
Judging by the look on Deanda’s face and the careful way she annunciated her reply, that was apparently a stupid question. “They don’t have wings.”
“Oh.” Sabrina paused to think, unwilling to end the conversation so fast, since that would mean leaving herself alone with her own neuroses. “So they just have two agents at that whole huge airport?”
“It isn’t easy getting us to agree to lose our wings.” Deanda shrugged.
The co-pilot’s accented voice interrupted them then to welcome everyone aboard, review the flight itinerary and inform them that they would be taking off shortly. While he spoke, Sabrina gazed out the window, staring at the stretch of pavement below. And what beautiful pavement it was too: so solid and tangible.
The plane rumbled beneath them like an isolated earthquake.
Sabrina gulped, feeling every heartbeat thud inside her chest while the aircraft backed up onto the runway, then eased forward into the lineup. She scrunched her toes together, tensing every part of her body without consciously trying.
“Aren’t faeries supposed to enjoy flying by their very nature?” She hissed at Deanda despite their previous discussion on the subject.
“Calm down. Flying is safer than –”
“Driving,” Sabrina interrupted. “So I’ve heard.”
The flight attendants lined up to begin reviewing the safety information, which she didn’t particularly want to hear. She kept them in the corner of her vision just in case they explained anything more brilliant than how to fasten her seatbelt. As for knowing where the flotation devices were, she really didn’t want to think about that possibility.
The plane turned and came to a stop, giving Sabrina the briefest of hopes that they’d decided to cancel the flight after all. But the engines rumbled again and the plane shuddered forward. Then it was rolling faster and faster, picking up speed at an alarming pace.
Three seconds passed. Five seconds. Nine. Thirteen. And then, with a smooth tilt that she barely even felt, Sabrina was looking out the window at the black-topped runway shrinking in size below her.
They climbed higher so that the view panned out onto the entire airport. She could see beams from itty-bitty cars circling around it like ants with flashlights. Sabrina found herself so entranced with her new perspective that she completely forgot to be afraid, her hands loosening their death grip on her seat and her body relaxing.
That blissful state didn’t last very long though, easily muscled out by boredom in the first hour. She tried to combat it by accessing the plethora of movies listed on her screen, but none of them could capture her attention for more than twenty minutes at a time. Five flicks in, she gave up and closed her eyes. Dozing off a few times, Sabrina might have slept for a total of three hours before the “fasten seatbelts” light came back on, and the co-pilot announced that they would be beginning their final descent to London Heathrow Airport.
A thrill of utter expectation ran through her. It was an automatic excitement at knowing she would be stepping out to a whole different country than she’d left behind. That enthusiasm didn’t fade while she waited to exit the plane, or even when she stood with her fellow sleepy flyers in the customs line. But by the time she and Deanda had rechecked their luggage for the Glasgow flight, Sabrina no longer cared one bit that she was in England. All she wanted was to find a proper bed she could curl up onto for a twenty-four hour stretch. At the very least.
Since that wasn’t an option for another several hours, they went to get hot coffee and muffins instead, despite how neither of them were actually thirsty or hungry after being so well fed on their long flight. It was just something to do.
“So I might be starting to believe in you-know-whats,” Sabrina offered after they had sat down at one of the airport’s little cafés. Turning her thick, paper cup around and around on the table in front of her, she made the comment more for conversation’s sake than for any kind of real reconciliation on the matter.
“Oh, really?” Deanda asked with an attitude-laden raise of her eyebrows. She took a sip of her coffee. “And what makes you say that? Mr. Smiley and his goons? How I made them vanish before your eyes? Or the way I let you see them again?”
“No need to get smug there, missy,” Sabrina replied without a trace of bite. Even if she had wanted to take offense, she wasn’t sure she could muster up the energy for it. “I didn’t say they do exist, just that suddenly there are little hints as to the possibility.”
“Very academic reply for someone so deep in denial.” Deanda yawned hugely.
Sabrina decided it was time to change the subject. “So what was that stuff you used anyway?”
“Very confidential.” Deanda covered her mouth and squinted her eyes again as another sign of lethargy escaped her. “Meant only for true believers.”
“Stop yawning,” Sabrina demanded. “You’re making me feel even more tired. And how can I become a true believer if you don’t tell me?”
Deanda took the time to first slouch in her seat before deigning to respond. “It’s a hormone called Faetenin that our bodies produce. It’s how most humans remain unaware of our existence. Ask them and they’ll claim it’s supernatural, but it’s just a biological cloaking system. We might have the physical additions of wings on our persons, but usually they can’t see them.”
“Some people are less susceptible to the effects of Faetenin than the rest. It doesn’t happen very often. Maybe one out of every hundred thousand people. But that’s how the HPAC exists. At least, that’s how it got started.”
“Okay,” Sabrina said, taking in the information. “So then faeries can’t be seen at all? We’re invisible?”
“No,” Deanda corrected, pausing for another sip and eyeing an arguing couple who walked by. “They just can’t see our wings. Everything else is perfectly visible.”
“How is that even possible?” Sabrina questioned.
“If you want detailed answers, you’re going to have to ask someone who studies these things.” She grimaced. “I struggled to get a B in biology, but the way I understand it is that the hormone is just found in our wings. It’s like why your hair is a different color and texture from the rest of your body, I suppose.”
“Fair enough, I guess. But after you put the stuff on those guys, I couldn’t see them at all.”
“Sabrina, think,” Deanda pointed out, though not meanly. “I dumped it in concentrated form on them.”
Sabrina paused to digest the information, feeling rather foolish for not making the connection on her own. To regain her cynical composure, she resorted to a deliberate stalling tactic and let her gaze wander to the people around.
The range of accents and languages were fascinating enough to have captured her interest even if she wasn’t looking out for a distraction. Eastern European men in designer jeans, the agitated nanny trying to corral two energetic children, an Indian family chattering amongst themselves in twice-accented British English: They all unknowingly begged for her full attention. Entranced especially by the vivid colors of the matriarch’s sari, Sabrina watched the group until they disappeared from sight.
“So if I am what you say I am,” she began again slowly. “Why couldn’t I see them until you put that other stuff on my eyes?”
“Your scientific terminology is breathtaking.” Deanda shook her head at the realization that Sabrina wasn’t following her train of thought. “Using the word ‘stuff’ to describe everything?”
“Oh.” Sabrina thought about it for perhaps one minute too long. “First of all, I haven’t gotten much sleep, even after a near-death experience. And second of all, I wasn’t brought up on any of this. So give me a break.”
Deanda gave a small shrug of acknowledgement and downed the last few drops of her coffee. “It’s another genetic anomaly called Leschius-3, which gives us what you might call a sixth sense. Really, what it comes down to is that we have more powerful eyesight than most humans could ever dream of having. And you, my dear, have been taking those dulling vitamins for very nearly your entire life, so you’re just about as human as a faerie can get.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Sabrina had to admit. “Does that mean now that I’ve stopped taking those vitamins, I’ll be able to see everything?”
“I would assume. In a few days or so. Your physicals have all come out normal, and you haven’t registered for any deficiencies.”
“You’ve done physicals on me?” Sabrina asked warily, leaning away from her friend. “Without me knowing?”
“No, stupid.” Deanda rubbed at her eyes. “I’m not a doctor, and I have no desire to get that up close and personal with you anyway.”
Unoffended by the snippy reply, Sabrina would have gone back to ignoring her roommate in favor of people watching. But that wasn’t a viable option.
Stretching out as far back as she could without tipping over, Deanda jerked to attention. The reason became very obvious very quickly: Four men in black suits and dark sunglasses were stepping their way. How Mr. Smiley and his gang had made it over so fast, Sabrina had no idea. And she didn’t want to stick around to find out.
“Damn,” Deanda muttered under her breath. “What in the world do they think they’re going to do this side of security?”
The closer they got, the easier it became to tell that it wasn’t Mr. Smiley’s evil troupe after all, but a similarly dressed set of men. Instead of a single blond and three brunettes, this group had the opposite. Otherwise, even coming nearer, they looked similar to an eerie degree. And they were still HPAC without a shadow of a doubt.
Desperately wishing she had a hat or a bandana or even a bucket to put over her own, very distinctively colored hair, Sabrina looked to Deanda for guidance. She was completely unsure whether she should slouch into the chair or get up and run.
“How would they know we were going to Scotland?” She hissed to the side, unable to take her eyes off the four predators. “Are they clairvoyant or something?”
“No.” Deanda shook her head, looking pensive. “They know your brother is in the U.K. It’s a logical guess that, if we were going to fly to him, we’d have to go through Heathrow. If they have people here, you’d better believe they’ll have more goons at Glasgow and possibly even Dublin. The good news is that I don’t think these guys are going to try anything with so many guards around.”
The unspoken but still stated “I hope” hung in the air between them.
It felt entirely wrong sitting there, especially when the one blond-haired goon pointed at the girls and said something to his companions. None of them changed their pace, neither speeding up nor slowing down. What they did do was stare. A lot. If they blinked, Sabrina couldn’t tell, but she could feel their eyes on her all the same.
Airport security personnel, present though they were, wasn’t much of a comfort. “Can’t you make us invisible or something?”
“It won’t do any good,” Deanda replied. “Why do you think they wear those tacky sunglasses everywhere? They’re Faetenin-resistant.”
“Don’t tell me the suits do something too?”
The men stopped across from the café, crossing their arms behind their backs, their mouths set in permanent scowls.
“No, those are just proof they take themselves way too seriously.” Deanda reached into her purse for a hairclip. “But look at it this way, it makes them that much more obvious. So there’s that.” She wound her long hair up into a loose bun, ready for action should it come down to that. “We know they’re here. They know we’re here. Let’s just stay calm and sit tight. Our plane should be boarding soon anyway.”
They got up to find seats at their gate.
Of course, the men followed.
That left the two women with nothing to do but wait again. Though this time, the bad guys weren’t trussed up. They had stopped only a few yards away by another stand of chairs, taking up the same creepy stances as before. Behind their dark sunglasses, Sabrina knew they were staring at her.
She wanted to cry.
“I don’t get it.” Sabrina had to sniffle a few times to keep herself together. “Why are they just standing there watching us? It makes no sense whatsoever.”
Deanda had apparently had time to think it over though. “If I had to guess, I’d say they’re checking to see which flight we board. That way, they can get additional agents over to our destination airport and take things from there.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better.”
“It should though.” Deanda’s entire face twisted into a sneer. “They might know exactly where we’re going now, but they also gave themselves away. They’ve lost the element of surprise, which means we can better avoid them.”
A woman’s voice chose that moment to announce that their flight would begin boarding. First class could line up.
A few painful minutes passed. Then groups two and three were allowed to step forward.
Sabrina was out of her chair before the announcer had finished her last syllable, and Deanda was a fraction of a second behind her. They weren’t quite the first people in line, but they were close. Only a well-dressed Japanese couple and an equally chic mother-daughter pair stood in front of them.
The lively blond ticket taker with the rosebud lips scanned the gentleman’s boarding pass and waved him on to the security guard, who read over his maroon passport one last time. Next up was his wife, and then came the model-like woman with her grey pencil skirt and shapely legs.
Sabrina glanced backward at the HPAC thugs. They still hadn’t moved.
She took a step forward, clutching her identification in one hand and her carry-on luggage in the other.
“Thank you so much. Enjoy your flight,” the British blond chirped cheerfully, handing the ticket back to its owner and turning seamlessly to the next person in line.
Another maroon passport changed hands up at the security guard. Another cheerful chirping.
Sabrina’s hands were shaking by the time it was her turn to hear the rote dismissal, her nerves overwhelmed with the thought that the suited men might still try something. She hoped the trembling wasn’t too obvious as she shuffled forward again to hand her own little blue booklet to the tall, scrappy redhead with his white shirt, black tie and expressionless gaze.
He gave her a close, unreadable look before handing her passport back with a nod. Sabrina gave him a weak smile, then stepped onto the covered boarding ramp, pausing to wait for Deanda to make it through.
She didn’t feel even a little safe until the plane was soaring up into the air.
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