We’re driving along the bay as we head north to San Francisco. The water sparkles like a field of diamonds waiting to be picked if only you could reach in with magic hands and grab them.
The wind picks up, floating leaves and trash by the side of the road. I don’t remember seeing trash by the freeway in the World Before, but a lot has changed since then.
My eyes lazily follow a piece of paper as it flitters across the road. It dances in the breeze, floating up and down, then pirouetting on the wind. It lands in the water, causing a ripple of sparkles around it.
In my half-dreaming state, it looks like one of the twins’ talent show flyers.
‘Come one, come all to the greatest show of all.’ Isn’t that what the flyer says?
I can see the twins standing on an apple crate, wearing striped suits and hats like barkers at a carnival. They’re calling to the ragged refugees. ‘Step right up, folks. This will be the biggest fireworks show in history. There’ll be bangs, there’ll be screams, there’ll be popcorn! This is your last chance – your last chance to show off your amazing talents.’
Then it all comes together.
I sit up, as wide awake as if I’d been zapped by my mother’s cattle prod. I blink twice, tuning back in to the conversation. Sanjay is saying something about wishing he knew more about the angels’ physiology.
‘The talent show.’ I look at the twins with wide eyes. ‘Who could resist a talent show?’
Everyone looks at me as if I’m nuts. That puts a slow grin on my face.
By the time we arrive at Golden Gate, it’s noon. We have about six hours until sunset.
The famous bridge is in shambles like all the other bridges around the bay. Several of the suspension cables swing in the air, tethered only at the top. It’s broken in four sections, with a big chunk missing just past the middle. One of the sections leans precariously, and I wonder how long it’ll be before it falls.
The last time I saw the Golden Gate, I was flying in Raffe’s arms.
The wind chills me as I get out of our SUV, the salty air tasting like tears.
A meager group of people mill about by the water’s edge beneath the bridge, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. I didn’t expect thousands of people, but I was hoping that more would be here.
‘We’re the ones who rescued the people off Alcatraz,’ Dee shouts. He acts as if there are hundreds of people here. ‘You’ve heard of that, right? Those same boats are coming here. When they arrive, do what you can to help. It’s the nice thing to do.’
‘If you’re not inclined to do the nice thing,’ says Dum, ‘then meet us at Bay Bridge. Let’s show the angels what we’re made of!’
I look around and see that there are more people here than I realized. Small movements of clothes, hats, bags, and weapons shift all around us in the trees, the cars, and the wreckage of ships washed up on shore.
People are hiding nearby, listening, watching, ready to disappear at the slightest sign. A few yell questions out to us from their hiding places.
‘Is it true that the dead are rising?’
‘Are there really demon monsters coming after us?’
I answer the questions as best I can.
‘Are you Penryn?’ someone yells from behind some trees. ‘Are you really an angel killer?’
‘Hell, yeah!’ says Dum. ‘Come see for yourself tonight. You too can be an angel killer.’
Dum nods his head toward the car. ‘Go on,’ he says to us. ‘I’ll spread the gospel about the talent show here and catch up.’
Dee grins. ‘Do you have any idea what the betting pool will be like tonight?’
‘It’s gonna be epic,’ says Dum as he struts into the crowd.
I follow Dee back into the car. The woman from Apple and the Colonel stay to oversee the evacuation while the rest of us go to the Bay Bridge to prepare for battle.
‘What are the chances that our men just grabbed the boats and took off?’ I ask. My stomach turns at the thought as we drive through the city.
‘I’m guessing at least half of them will do us right. We picked guys who had family among this crowd.’ He nods at the people standing by the water where Dum is already circulating in the crowd, getting the word out about the talent show.
‘By random luck,’ says Dee as he drives around a fallen electrical pole, ‘we happen to have stowed away the grand prize on the other side of the Golden Gate.’
‘What grand prize?’
‘For the talent show.’
‘Duh,’ says Sanjay in a good impression of Dum.
‘We wanted it away from people who knew about it,’ says Dee. ‘But in the end, we couldn’t have planned it any better if we had known what was about to go down.’
‘What’s the grand prize?’
‘You haven’t heard?’ says Dee.
‘It’s an RV,’ says Sanjay, sounding bored.
‘What?’ Dee glares at Sanjay through his rearview mirror. ‘It’s not just an RV. It’s a custom-made, bulletproof, luxury recreational vehicle. And that doesn’t even describe it all.’
I raise my eyebrows and try to look interested.
‘Fear not, my little padawan. You will understand the awesomeness of the Tweedle Twins when the time comes.’
‘Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll at least be entertaining.’ This time, rather than sounding like Obi, I sound like a patient mom. I crinkle my nose at that.
Dee holds up a set of keys. ‘Of course, the winner has to survive the talent show and then tear the keys out of my cold dead hands.’ He grips the keys and makes them disappear.
‘But there’s no doubt it’ll be worth it,’ I say.
‘See?’ says Dee. ‘That’s why she’s the leader. The girl knows what she’s talking about.’
But I don’t. When we reach the East Bay Bridge, there’s nobody there.
My shoulders sink as I see the abandoned streets and empty waters. My announcement is looping throughout the peninsula, and everyone who was at the Resistance camp knows to come here if they’re willing to fight. I didn’t expect a large group, but I’m devastated that no one has shown.
‘No time to stand around,’ says Dee as he gets out of the car. ‘The guys have already started dropping off the supplies.’
I look to where he points. There’s a pile of lumber waiting by the water. ‘And that must be our ride now.’