Predawn light seeped through the cracks in the window of the former REI outside Refuge Point. Phoebe, once known as Spirit Queen in another day and time, stared out into the shadows of a new day struggling to begin. Sleep had eluded her for most of the night but she wasn’t surprised by that. Before Destruction Day, she had battled insomnia regularly. Perhaps ironic that only after the world had been destroyed could she finally get regular sleep.
The sleepless night had been spent looking out into the dark and thinking about her options. Phoebe had been trying to avoid this situation by walking on the other side of the river. It wasn’t just that surviving Guardians might have ended up here (had she ended up here?). The reputation of the community that took survivors in had spread wider than they probably expected. She knew the citizens of this community might offer for her to stay and that could never happen. It might be named Refuge Point, but there was no refuge for someone like her here.
But the thought of things going back to the way they were before was almost unbearable. The thought of having to go back again, after almost two years of never seeing that foul place, sat in her head, a dark carnivore of thoughts that couldn’t be pushed away. She had met a few people over the last two years, times when social interaction couldn’t be avoided. Without fail, they always expressed concern about her wandering life. Isn’t it lonely? How do you manage by yourself? But what people didn’t understand was that even a mostly destroyed earth was better than the other side. Free of the fear that had gripped her for most of her life, she had a chance to truly experience the world, even if that world wasn’t the same as it had been. She had found peace in her own way. But now that chance was gone, peace ripped away from her by a random act of nature.
Phoebe heard someone coming into the building from the front door. Either coming in to invite her back or to tell her to leave. Either way, the end result was the same. Wandering a dead world, constantly afraid of being sent back to the only place worse than an apocalypse. Her hand trembled as she clutched on to the side of the window. “I assume it’s time,” she said, without looking back at whoever had come in.
“Phoebe? It’s Ang,” Ang announced, trying to hide the grogginess. After hours reporting had taken a while, but waiting up to make sure that her conversation with Phoebe was private and fighting the coma that the spent adrenalin wanted her to have left Ang weary.
Until Ang had heard the roar of Gigantor, she hadn’t realized how much she’d needed to see Phoebe again. Phoebe had been closer to her heart than most, and post-Destruction Day, those kinds of friendships were so tough to come by – and even harder to maintain. Ang did approach with trepidation, though. Being unable to train Spirit Queen to fully control her powers was Ang’s first failure as a leader. Although it wasn’t her biggest failure, it had hurt her worse, for reasons Ang didn’t fully comprehend. Still, she moved forward, and reached out to Phoebe like seeing a long-lost sister.
It felt surprisingly good to see Ang again. Phoebe hadn’t been sure how she was going to feel, but there was a moment of relief. She realized that it was because she could trust Ang to understand that staying wasn’t an option, that it wouldn’t do anyone any good. She wouldn’t have to argue with some well meaning Refuge Point member.
She hugged Ang gently, almost as if she was afraid one of the two of them would break. “Thank you for being the one,” she said quietly.
“Totally, Phee, of course,” Ang said quietly. The years melted away in the moments of the hug and it was like they were back on campus again. The rain outside was the only sound in the room for a while.
“I’ve missed you so much. I can’t describe how much. I’m so happy to know you’re alive,” And said.
“And, I don’t see any major injuries, so I guess things have been going okay for you,” Ang suppositioned, despite knowing that there were so many injuries possible in this new world that weren’t visible to a cursory inspection.
Phoebe just nodded slightly, any injuries external or otherwise not at the top of her mind. “Tell me who’s here? Tell me who made it?” As Ang began to talk a little about Refuge Point, Phoebe found herself drinking it all in, storing it all away somewhere in her head for pulling back out later. There would be so many quiet moments, the times where she would stand alone in the downpour amidst the ruins of the old world, the last person on the earth. She needed this now, this last chance to have human contact but she needed it more for those times. You never knew when it might be the last time.
For the next couple of hours or so, Ang began to describe what had happened since Kofi arrived. She didn’t hold anything back because she knew that, of all the people in the world other than probably Langston, no judgment would be forthcoming. Ang couldn’t remember the last time the truth flowed so easily.
“So, to wrap up, you can understand why it is I don’t want you to be here any longer than you have to be. I would’ve killed Gigantor had she made it to my gunline, as I promised I would if things ever got beyond your control. But I just can’t have you living in fear again. Hell, I should probably be fearing for the people here, but I honestly just want you to live with as much peace and solitude as you can.”
“Can you take away my powers again?” Because since D-Day was the first time Phoebe could remember having any true peace, any solitude at allâ€¦.any escape from the fear that strangled her all the time. “I know I can’t stay. I could never stay. But…” The thought of going back out there, knowing that she might lose control again, go back to that hideous place that Gigantor came fromâ€¦
It paralyzed her. She couldn’t find the words, couldn’t get her mouth to work the way it was supposed to. And she knew if she tried to walk away, she might not be able to find the ability. Can’t stay. Can’t go. What do I do?
Wait, what did Langston say? We’ve infested another world with the nanovirus? That would mean â€¦
“Phee, if you stay out of storms, I think I can guarantee you won’t ever go to that place again.”
Phoebe wanted to believe Ang, maybe more than she had ever wanted to believe anything in her life. But she didn’t understand.
“I don’tâ€¦.but I swapped. Only lightning that does it now?”
“Gigantor now has the same nanovirus as you do. Without something extraordinary, he’s just as restricted as you are. You have a double failsafe system.”
Ang wasn’t the scientist in this situation. She wasn’t going to get them involved. She was simply going to be the hope that Phoebe needed to survive this cruel world. And if she was wrong, she knew that Phoebe could at least clutch onto that hope.
For the first time in a long while, Phoebe could feel hope. Or at least that’s what she thought it was. It had been so long she wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, she still couldn’t stay at Refuge Point. Too much risk. She didn’t deserve it anyway. But maybe she could find a purpose for herself now. Or not. But at least she wouldn’t ever have to go back again.
“Iâ€¦” Phoebe struggled with what she needed to tell Ang. It felt too big and too small at the same time. “I don’t know how to thank you, Ang. You saved me from a lifetime on the other side. You don’t…you can’t understand what that means. You deserve better than just a few words. But I..” And she started crying softly, overwhelmed by the events of the last eight hours.
Ang reached out and hung onto her friend. She wanted this moment to last for much longer.
After a long while, which felt infinitesimal, Ang pulled back. This was where it got difficult. Maybe she could hold off for a while longer? Ask some meaningless questions? It was worth a shot.
“Has there been a place you’ve enjoyed? Since, well, you know â€¦”
Phoebe wiped her face clean of tears before nodding. “Now that there are no people, I could see all the natural places I always wanted to see but was afraid to.” She smiled unconsciously as she thought about all the sights she had seen, now free of the pollution of people. Nature had a way of taking back its own. “I spent a long time in Niagara Falls. So loud and yet so peaceful at the same time. And I spent some time in the Smoky Mountains. Lots of dangerous animals.” I have lots of experience working with dangerous animals though, Phoebe thought ironically.
“And did you make any friends?”
Ang’s thoughts drifted to convincing Refuge Point and Phoebe that she could stay. People listened to her, dammit. She’d stopped Geetha’s execution, and she damn near swayed the crowd to believing in the benefits of Powers earlier that evening. Having this friend with her, she could see her spirits lifted, and a smile on her face, after all these years of misery.
Ang looked at Phoebe, looking up at her. Keeping her here would be like caging a bird just to listen to its song. It just wasn’t right.
There was a longer pause before Phoebe responded, this time with a shake of her head. “I never really believed, you know. Or maybe I did, but not enough. I didn’t want to stay anywhere long enough to make friends and then have something happen.”
Another long pause. “I didn’t stay anywhere long enough to make new friends.” After what happened in Iowa, she didn’t deserve anything but the life she had, wandering alone. She didn’t deserve new friends.
“You’re still my only real friend, Ang.” A sad smile. “That’s why you have to let me go.”
“Will you promise me that you’ll come back here if you change your mind?” Ang asked, almost a beg.
This was the time for Phoebe to give Ang hope. Ang wanted it desperately.
“Maybe someday I’ll know for sure that he’s gone, that I’ll never go back again. I hopeâ€¦” And for the first time ever, she really meant it. Phoebe really did believe that day could come. What had been impossible was now just merely unlikely. And there were whole universes between those two words.
She clutched Ang’s hands tight. “When that day comes, there’s no place that I would rather be than than with you. You’ve always been there for me. Maybe that day will come when I can start repaying the favor.”
“Then let’s get you on the road, before someone tries to stop us,” Ang said.
“Will you walk with me a little before…you have to go back?” Phoebe was ready to go, but she wanted a little more time, something to file away in her memory for those nights alone in the dark.
“I know where the guards can’t see. We can have a very long walk,” Ang said, smiling from ear to ear.