Winter’s Flight by Susan Jane Bigelow
A short story set in the Extrahuman Union universe, taking place after The Spark (book 3) and before the start of Extrahumans (book 4) by Susan Jane Bigelow.
New York had frozen. Penny Silverwing looked out over the city, her breath coming out in white puffs, as she hovered inches above the roof of the abandoned hotel on the Greenpoint waterfront where she lived. The sun was beginning to set; soon it would be gone entirely and another frigid night would begin.
The cold settled deep in her bones. When she’d first lived on the streets decades ago, the winters in New York had been much warmer. Now that climate controls had had finally cooled a dangerously chaotic, warming planet it was nearly unbearable.
Once the sun set she’d be able to fly. She had contraband to deliver: drugs, weapons, books, that sort of thing. There were people who paid good money for someone who could dart high above the clouds where no one was looking. They weren’t exactly good people, but the work kept her in food and battery charges for her tiny underpowered space heater.
The gig also let her stay in New York without running afoul of the CMP. Liesl Palekar and other people in that the government’s security services might still be out there looking for her. Penny couldn’t apply for a real job, or any kind of government assistance, without tripping a dozen alarms.
Most importantly, flying deliveries let her stay near her son, Amos.
Her eyes left the sun setting over the low buildings of Manhattan, just across the frozen East River, and focused on the skyscrapers of Queens rising to the northeast. Beyond that was Amos, living in a warm, friendly little house with his adoptive parents.
He would be getting home from school, now. He was fourteen, so close to being grown, and he looked more like his father, Sky Ranger, every day.
Penny had never worked up the courage to talk to him. She had no idea how to start. What could she possibly say that would make up for thirteen stolen years? She wasn’t even sure he knew he was adopted.
Penny sighed as the light dwindled and street lights flickered on below. She looked out at the western horizon again—
—and saw a human form flying high above the city.
“Hey!” she yelped, leaping into the air without stopping to think. She streaked after them, every muscle straining, every ounce of energy channeled into flight. Her long silver hair whipped out behind her and the wind tore at her face as she rocketed across the river and over the grid of Manhattan, eyes fixed on the point where she’d seen that single flying form.
But when she arrived, they were already gone. She looked wildly around, the icy air snatching at her breath.
“Hey!” she called again. “I saw you! It’s okay! I won’t hurt you! Come back!
“Come back, Sky!” she screamed into the wind. “Come back!”
She darted from building to building, taking extra care not to be seen. She’d been foolish to fly while it was still light out. People looked up, sometimes. Sensors couldn’t see her if she stayed below the line of the buildings, but people weren’t so easy to fool. There hadn’t been extrahumans over this city since Union Tower fell, they’d talk. That could bring the military down on her again. She wasn’t sure she could take them without Dee by her side.
Doubt crept in. Had it been a trick of the light? Maybe she’d seen what she wanted to see and nothing more.
She landed on a roof and sat, feeling inept and hopeless.
Somewhere in the past year, ever since she’d launched herself at a CMP chopper in First Landing and been blown into a million pieces, her confidence had shattered.
But she was so sure. She had seen someone soaring in the air above.
It couldn’t be… him. He was imprisoned on Tragela. Right?
The only other extrahumans she knew who were free and could fly were Emily, Torres, and Jill. Jill could barely get off the ground, so it wasn’t her. She couldn’t imagine Emily coming here; at least not anymore. Whatever little spark for adventure she had, the CMP bombing of Mandolia had extinguished it. Penny hoped it wasn’t for good.
Torres, then? Maybe.
If so, then something had to be wrong. The time and expense it would take for the Order of St. Val to covertly shuttle an extrahuman to Earth from Valen had been astronomical when they’d done it for Dee and Penny a year before.
Penny dared peek her head up above the line of the buildings and scanned the horizon. All she could see were the lights of the city and suburbs stretching off into the west.
Dee would know. Dee had connections to West Arve Temple, the Order, and that shit, Prelate Celeste. Penny ground her teeth. She hated to go hat in hand to the Order after they’d stolen her son away—no matter their reasons. She also wasn’t sure how she’d approach Dee after not having seen or spoken to her in a year. But she’d so it; otherwise she knew she would fixate on this and accomplish nothing.
But what do you have to do here in New York anyway?
Penny ignored the voice. She would finish her deliveries for the night, go back to the hotel, and sleep. Tomorrow she would find Dee and sort all this out.
Penny dreamed of flying with Sky Ranger, but not the Sky she’d known all those years ago. This Sky Ranger was older, his eyes full of nightmares she could only guess at, and no matter how fast she flew he was always just out of reach.
“Fine!” she shouted at his receding form. “Why did I bother chasing you anyway?”
But when she turned around to fly away, there he was. He was always there, no matter what she did.
When she woke to the stale air and darkness of the hotel room, she whimpered with relief. Please don’t let him be back, she thought. I don’t think I can stand it.
Penny’s contacts in the courier business had actually paid her, for once, so she went out and picked up a few things: food, a month’s charge for the space heater’s batteries, a new pair of shapeless sweatpants, and a warm pullover with a hood. Penny had never gotten out of the habit of living with as little as possible.
However, on impulse, she picked up a pair of binoculars. Maybe they’d do her some good.
She took the bus to the far side of Queens, not wanting to risk flying in daylight, and hung around on the corner near Amos’s house. She bought a coffee and sat on a bench outside the local Reform Party office, watching the members in their neatly-pressed uniforms and caps with black-and-white insignia come and go. The caps were new. When had they started doing that?
Their eyes slid right over her. She was just another unkempt middle-aged woman in a city full of them. She was no threat. She was nobody at all. Penny sighed, feeling all of her forty-eight years weighing her down.
And then Amos walked by.
She perked up, watching him with his friends; she didn’t know their names. Tall boy. Laughing boy. There was a girl this time, too—someone Penny had never seen. Amos was grinning, listening to some tale the tall boy was spinning.
He is so beautiful.
Amos’s gaze fell on her for an instant, and she froze in terror. His eyes reminded her of her own, and she opened her mouth, as if to speak. There was a question on his face. He recognized her, maybe. She’d been sitting here, watching him, for the better part of a year now.
Penny almost said something, but the words wouldn’t come. She couldn’t think of anything at all to say that could bridge this gap. She couldn’t think of a way to make him see her, really see her, instead of looking her way and seeing a wreck of a person sitting on concrete.
The moment passed. He looked back to his friends, and they laughed their way down the street, away from the Reform Party office, away from Penny on her bench.
She felt like a creep and a coward, just like every other time. Her heart froze, just a little bit more.
After a long while she finished the last of the coffee and made her slow, stumbling way towards the subway.
The little missionary outpost of the Order of St. Val was in one of the worst parts of the Upper East Side. It was in a neighborhood that Penny knew well from when she’d lived on the streets of New York.
She emerged from the subway onto achingly familiar streets and was twenty-five again: homeless again, hopeless again, Broken again. The place looked, felt, and smelled the same, even after all this time.
She looked around, thinking maybe she’d spot the place where Michael Forward had first found her, bearing a baby, a quest, and a prophecy. Her life had changed in that moment, though she had no idea of it then.
That place had to be near here, right? Would she even be able to tell? Those years were all a blur of sameness, sadness, terror, hunger, cold, and yearning. The streets were familiar, but she couldn’t remember exactly where she’d been. Was it… there? Or down there? Or…?
No. She couldn’t get lost in the past again. She knew herself too well; the past would drive its nails into her if she let it. Penny—not Broken—forced herself into the present, and hobbled down the avenue towards the building containing the mission.
“Yes, I know you,” the cheery-faced woman in blue at the front desk said. “I’m Bernice. I was on the flight here from Valen with you.”
“Sure, I remember,” said Penny, though she didn’t. “I’m looking for Dee. She around?”
“Ah,” said Bernice, frowning. “Well, unfortunately Dee is… no longer here, I’m afraid.”
“What?” said Penny, startled. “You’re kidding. She left? Where did she go?”
Bernice paused, giving Penny an appraising stare. It occurred to Penny that she hadn’t bothered to brush her hair in well over a week. “I remember that you were her friend. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you herself.”
“We’ve been out of touch,” Penny said, trying not to let herself sound too pathetic. “Do you know where she went or not?”
Bernice crossed her arms over her chest. “She’s not here. That’s all I can tell you.”
“Please,” insisted Penny. “It’s important. I think something’s wrong. I’m sorry I wasn’t in touch, but I need to talk to her. You know who I am, so please tell me: will she be coming back? Did anyone else come from Valen?”
Bernice pursed her lips, then relented. “Fine, then, if you must know Dee went to look for what’s left of her family in Connecticut. And then she was going to go back to Valen. That’s a tricky thing. But Prelate Celeste set it up, and… We will miss her. We already do, she was such a help to us.”
Celeste. Penny bristled at the name. Prelate Celeste of West Arve Temple back on Valen had been responsible for what had happened to Amos, and for so much more. “Helped? How?”
“Things have settled down a little in the past year,” said Bernice. “There’s something going on in the government and everything’s loosened up. Travel is becoming possible again. Dee won’t be coming back here, she has other places to be. And no, no one else has come.”
“As sure as I can be,” Bernice said. Worry passed across her face. “Penny? What’s this all about?”
But Penny was already out the door.
She sat atop her hotel roof again, staring out at the waning light of the day. She scanned the horizon near where she’d seen—or thought she’d seen—the other flyer yesterday.
The light was a lmost gone when she thought she spied a pinprick hovering above the southern part of Manhattan. She grabbed the binoculars and tried to zero in on it.
Yes. Yes. A human form, glimpsed only for an instant, darting between buildings.
A dark-skinned woman with short-cropped white hair.
Penny lowered the binoculars, heart pounding. She didn’t know her.
This was someone new.
She was in the air before she could think. Penny streaked over the East River and toward the heart of Manhattan. She didn’t care that it was still light. She didn’t care who saw. Let the Confederation come for her. They’d tried and failed so many times before.
Penny touched down on one of the buildings she’d seen the other flying woman and looked wildly around. “Where are you?” she cried into the wind and darkening sky. “Come out! I’m safe! I won’t—”
Penny caught herself in a sudden moment of clarity. Here she was, standing unsteadily atop a building in New York, New York of all places, hollering at the top of her lungs that she was safe.
There was a soft whooshing sound, and Penny looked up, thinking she might see police or CMP hoppers, but instead she saw a tiny, elderly woman floating above her, mouth drawn down into a frown.
“You should go away,” she said in lightly accented English. “Don’t ever come looking for me again. Leave this city before I can no longer cover for you.”
“Wait,” said Penny. “Who are you? You fly! So—so do I.”
The old woman crossed her arms over her slight chest. “I know. And?”
Penny was at a loss for what to say. “And… it’s been so long since I met someone new. There’s so few of us left.”
“That’s a good thing,” snapped the old woman. “Go. Don’t fly. Take the train like a regular person. Don’t fly again here. I know who you’re working for, those criminals who have you flying courier for them. They’re bad at keeping secrets. Got it?”
Penny felt about ten years old again, and on the business end of a dressing down by Triad or Brick, the two who took care of the children back at the old Union. But she held her ground. “You don’t even know who I am.”
“I know plenty. Silverwing. You were in the Union with him. I remember you.” She glowered at Penny. “Long time ago, you and the rest of your thugs came knocking at my door. If you’d caught me, I’d have gone to that jail you called a home, and I would have died with everyone else when it came down. Now go away and leave me in peace.”
With that, the woman turned and slipped into the shadows between darkened buildings, and was gone.
Penny rode the train home like a regular person. She sifted through the conversation again and again, trying to understand.
The old woman had obviously been an unregistered extrahuman, back during the old days when the Extrahuman Union was up and running and the Law Enforcement Division had hunted people like her down. That was depressingly clear.
Leave this city before I can no longer cover for you.
Penny didn’t want to think about what that meant, but rebellious understanding came anyway. People had seen her and reported it to the authorities, and this old woman had tried to cover it up somehow.
But why? More unsettlingly, how? Did she work for the government? Was she a Reformist, or, worse, a CMP agent?
That settled a few things, though. She wouldn’t be able to keep flying deliveries for her untrustworthy employers. For all she knew, they’d turned her in themselves. Maybe she could do something else.
Or maybe she should take the old woman’s advice and leave. Dee had already gone. What was there for her here, now, anyway? It had been a year and she still hadn’t even talked to her son. She had only ever watched him walk by.
And… if she was honest, this wasn’t her city anymore. She’d been off-planet for nearly two decades. The New York she’d known first as a child and young woman in the Extrahuman Union and then as a homeless escapee had sunk down into the mud of the rivers and the sea, and a new one had been built on top of the ruins.
Penny Silverwing felt old, then, for the first time in her life.
The next day she stayed by the window in her abandoned hotel, peering out at the buildings and streets below. People moved past, either alone, in pairs, or in groups. They all seemed to have somewhere to go, somewhere to be.
An awful, vicious, all-consuming sadness nipped at her—the old depression, she thought. Hello, my friend. It’s been a long time.
She was as good as homeless, again, in New York. She lived in an abandoned building, fending for herself, hiding out and alone and hated. Time had become a snake turning to sink its fangs in her. She sighed, and lay on the bed, the outside world forgotten.
Penny didn’t do any deliveries for her clients that night, and a few of them left some very angry messages. One or two made some not-so-veiled threats.
Let them come, she thought, still feeling the pull of depression. She could handle it. They could only kill her. She would just come back anyway.
But they didn’t come. Maybe they knew better. Maybe they’d been warned off. Or maybe she was just lucky, for once.
Penny dreamed of flying unfettered through empty skies that night, and woke felt a little better. The sun had come up after all, and her heart was filled with an unfamiliar sort of hope. Maybe today she could act.
She ate, pulled her hair into a ratty-looking bun, and jammed a wool cap over it. There. She looked different enough that someone looking for her probably wouldn’t recognize her at first glance.
She took the train to downtown Queens and made her way to the park where Union Tower had once stood. The last time she’d been here, CMP Captain Liesl Palekar had set up a trap for her and Dee. But this time there was no Palekar, no snipers, nothing. There was only a rush of crowds and the hum of electric vehicles whipping by.
There was a bench near where she was pretty certain the tower entrance had been. She sat in it, looking at the empty space where she’d spent her childhood. Where so many friends had died the day the Confederation had blown the tower up. She clenched her fists, trying to fight the wave of emotion.
“I thought I’d find you here,” a voice said. Penny started out of her reverie, expecting to see Palekar, come to find her at last, but it was the old woman instead. She looked smaller in daylight, and much frailer. On the ground she couldn’t be more than half Penny’s height.
“May I sit?” she asked.
Penny nodded mutely.
“Thank you.” She sat. “I was hard on you last night. I’m not sorry for it. What your people did long ago was… very, very wrong.”
“I know,” Penny said softly. “I’m sorry for it.”
The old woman waved her hand. “Sorry doesn’t change the past. But… what’s done is done. So. It was here. The prison.”
“It wasn’t a prison,” said Penny.
“That’s why you escaped it, then?” Penny gave the woman a hard look. “I read your file,” the old woman said with a humorless smile.
“My file,” Penny’s worst suspicions were right, then. “A CMP file?”
“No. Regular police. They have files on everybody.” The elderly woman shook her head. “For what it’s worth, I was sorry when this happened.” She gestured at the empty space where the tower had stood. “Despite all the evil this place produced.”
“They took us as children,” Penny said, trying not to let her sudden fury show. “They raised us. I was just a little girl when they took me. I didn’t remember my parents or even my own name for years!”
The old woman held up a hand. “I know. Forgive me. It’s hard to let go of an old fight.”
“We did what we had to do to survive.”
“Did you?” She arched an eyebrow at Penny. “Now you sound like him. Like your last Sky Ranger.”
“Maybe he had a point,” Penny shot back, trying not to think about Sky. “And you’re one to talk. How did you get to see police files anyway? How are you ‘covering’ for me? Who do you work for?”
The old woman grunted a laugh. “I don’t work for anyone. I… have an arrangement. I do services for the police. I track people. I give them some of my blood for testing. It lets me stay free and alive, and they leave me alone so I can help people who need it.” She glared at Penny. “Another of those services is letting them know if any of you ever returned.”
Penny started to say something, but the old woman held up her hand again.
“I didn’t,” she said. “Not this time. I should have, I know. But I didn’t.”
“Why not? You don’t know me.”
“Like I said,” the other extrahuman sighed. “I do know you. And maybe this is a way for me to make peace with the past.”
Penny nodded, thinking of Amos. “I get that.”
“Good. Now. Will you leave?”
Penny was about to agree when movement caught her eye. There were more police here than she’d expected.
A lot more. And some of those uniforms were CMP gray.
“You liar! You set me up!” Penny hissed. The old woman’s eyes went wide with shock.
“She spotted us! Fire, now!” a harsh male voice cried.
Penny leaped up into the air as guns exploded around her. Tranquilizer darts and bullets missed her by millimeters. She could hear people screaming on the ground as she rocketed into the gap between nearby buildings.
She looked back only long enough to see them tackle the old woman to the ground, handcuffs at the ready.
They’d sent hoppers, of course. Penny spent the rest of the day losing the light, maneuverable aircraft in the warren of the city. She blasted through subway tunnels, between buildings, and through the clouds. At last they gave up, and she could breathe again.
She didn’t dare return to the hotel, not after all this. She had no way of knowing whether they knew where she’d been holed up. She also couldn’t possibly know if they were tracking her in some other way, like through her transit card.
So she made her slow way through the city on foot—or, in her case, by moving her legs to approximate walking while she hovered a micron off the ground. It usually fooled people, and she had no energy to actually walk tonight.
At last she was too exhausted. She sat under a bridge, hunger rumbling in her belly and cold seeping into her bones.
She was grounded. She had nowhere to go. Dee was gone. The Order’s mission was far away, and the government was looking for her.
Penny burrowed into a hollow out of view of the street, wrapped her coat tight around her, jammed her freezing hands into her pockets, and slept.
The sun shone high above and Broken was picking through trash behind an apartment building. Food was here sometimes. She glanced skyward, thinking maybe she’d seen the shadow of someone flying up there. Sky Ranger? Someone else? What did it matter, though? Broken couldn’t fly. She hadn’t been able to fly for years. Her attention wandered, then she started picking through the trash again.
Penny watched her—maybe Broken felt Penny watching. Their eyes met.
“I hate you,” said Penny softly.
Broken shrugged. “You are me.”
There was a soft whoosh of air and Silverwyng deftly landed near them. “Hello!” she chirped. “Do… I know you?”
Broken winced and looked away.
“Get lost,” sighed Penny. “I don’t need another one of us here.”
“Are you sisters? I can’t tell you apart,” Silverwyng said.
Penny looked at herself through Silverwyng’s eyes and knew she looked very similar to her younger, homeless, broken self. But she also knew Silverwyng was lying.
“You know who we are,” said Penny.
Silverwyng shook her head, not wanting to believe. “It shouldn’t have been this way.”
“Leave me alone,” groused Broken. “I don’t want anything to do with any of you.”
“You’re over,” said Penny. “You don’t exist. Either of you! I outlived you both.”
“And yet here we are,” Broken laughed, but there was no joy in the sound.
“Don’t you have something to do?” Silverwyng asked Penny.
“Unfinished business,” mumbled Broken. “Gotta do the right thing when you can.”
Penny felt her mouth go dry. “I can’t.”
Broken sighed. Silverwyng shook her head.
“Crimson Cadet says you have to have a strong moral center,” Silverwyng said.
Broken paused. “Michael believes that, too,” she said softly.
Penny closed her eyes. “Damn it.”
When she opened her eyes again Silverwyng was gone. But Broken remained.
“Why didn’t you disappear with her?” Penny demanded. “Why don’t you just go away! I’m not you! Not anymore! I never want to think about you again! I don’t—I can’t be you anymore!”
Broken looked away, but there were tears on her face.
“Forgive me,” one, or both, of them whispered, and the dream fell apart.
She awoke to an unexpected thaw. The sun shone brightly above; the weather had shifted. The wind had died down to a pleasant breeze. It wasn’t warm, not exactly, but it wasn’t freezing either.
Spring? Maybe. She’d lost track of the seasons.
The dream returned to her in all its vividness, and she clenched her fists again.
She wasn’t Broken. And she wasn’t Silverwyng.
And yet… Penny was both of them, and more. The fresh air of Valen was still in her nostrils, the song of the fish and the light of the trees of Mandolia. She was Dee and Emily and Jill and Sky Ranger, she was James and Janeane and Renna, she was the possibility of Ban Delarian and the memory of Michael Forward.
Penny was herself.
She felt the fog of hopelessness lifting, and she could think clearly again.
They’d been taking the old extrahuman woman into custody as she left. It had been a trap for her as much as it had been for Penny. Maybe covering for her had been the last straw, who knew? They’d likely be holding her at the CMP regional office in a skyscraper in Queens.
Penny wasn’t Dee—she couldn’t just go in there and blast the place. She’d just have to do this her way.
She lifted off the ground, unafraid, and soared through the bright and sunny skies of Manhattan towards Queens.
The skyscraper with the CMP logo emblazoned on its side stretched up into the sky. Gray hoppers flew lazily past.
Penny thought of Jill, who used her limited flight powers to break into places she shouldn’t be. She’d studied this place all day, and she was pretty sure the prisoners would be on the nineteenth floor. The windows were reinforced.
But the twentieth floor… that was another story.
The Confederation Military Police were smart—they’d put high fences around the building. But even though they held an extrahuman in custody, they still didn’t think in three dimensions, and were lazily overconfident. Maybe Bernice was right, maybe things were slipping somehow.
And… there. Someone had left a window cracked to catch some of the lingering warmth of the first nice day in months. New Yorkers didn’t change.
Penny silently lifted off from the roof of the building across the street and crossed the gap in a swift instant, unseen by the hoppers. She opened the window, gently pushed the screen aside, and slipped in.
The office was empty. It looked like any other place, except for CMP regalia and memorabilia scattered around everywhere.
In fact, this looked like it might be some kind of medical section. There were anatomy diagrams on the wall, and what looked like some kind of medical tech on the desks. The CMP always had tech that was way ahead of the crap they let the general public have. But that also made them overconfident. Penny slipped out of the office into the darkened corridor.
There were rooms with patients in beds lining the corridor. Penny didn’t want to know what kinds of things they were hooked up to. The doors were all closed, except for one. Penny returned to the office and grabbed a heavy model of a CMP ship and crept up on the square of light from the open door.
A doctor was inside, making notes on a tablet. His back was turned. Penny floated as close as she dared, then brained him with the ship model. He went down easy, bleeding from a gash on the back of his head. She turned him over, placed her foot on his neck and pushed down.
“Don’t do anything,” she said softly as his eyes bugged out. “I need to get to the level below. Gotta friend there. I can kill you now if you’d rather. I’ve killed people before. I don’t mind doing it.”
He gurgled and she lifted the boot ever so slightly. “Two dozen soldiers down there,” he gasped. “They’ll shoot you on sight!”
“Then maybe you can help me,” she said icily. “This woman is old and she flies. Which cell is she in?” She ground her boot into his windpipe.
His eyes widened. “She’s here!” he gasped when she let up. “This-this level. I swear! I’ll take you!”
She rifled through his pockets and found his small sidearm. He seemed to wilt a little at that. She flew backwards and let him get to his feet. She pointed the weapon at him.
“You can’t get out of here,” he said, rubbing his throat. “There are cameras everywhere. They’ll see you.”
“Where is she?” demanded Penny.
“Two doors down,” he said.
“Show me.” As they left the room, she risked a glance at the patient in the bed.
It was Liesl Palekar, the CMP captain who had failed to capture her on Mandolia and then again here in New York. She was hooked up to dozens of wires, tubes, and what looked like… machine parts?
Liesel regarded Penny with eyes that weren’t human anymore.
Penny felt a chill go up her spine, and quickly left the room.
The doctor led her down the hall. “They’ll be here any minute,” he said.
“You said that a minute ago,” Penny snapped as he fumbled with the keypad. “Hurry.”
The door slid open. Inside, the old extrahuman lay in a medical bed. She looked groggy.
“You,” she whispered. “You…?”
Penny crossed the room to her in an instant, and began disconnecting her from the medical gear. “Can you fly?”
The old woman shook her head no. “Some sort of… medicine…”
“They got me with that one, too,” Penny said. “It sucks. Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
“You’ll have to ride me!” She grabbed the woman to a yelp of protest. Penny winced; she’d apologize later. “Get on my back!”
Alarms blared. Shit. She’d forgotten about the doctor; he’d made his escape and hit the panic button.
“We’re going!” cried Penny, grabbing on to the old woman and flying out of the room. “Stop!” cried voices at the end of the hall. Weapons fired, Penny zipped into the office with the window just in time.
But the window had closed. Some kind of automatic locking system.
“Head down!” ordered Penny, extending a fist. She built up speed and rocketed right at it.
The window shattered as she burst through it, tearing open her face and scalp, lacerating her hands and arms. She felt dizzy, and started plunging downward as the world faded to black static.
“Silverwing!” screamed the old woman. “Pull up! Now!”
Penny felt the pain of recovery as her wounds started to knit together, and braked. She pulled up just in time to avoid becoming street pizza and shot off into the night, pursued by hoppers.
They were on a beach somewhere on the northern shore of Long Island Sound. They’d lost the hoppers in a suburban subdivision with a conveniently abandoned underground shopping center, and now they were absolutely, utterly alone.
“I feel a little better now,” the old woman said. “Thank you.”
“Sure,” said Penny. She scratched her head where the blood had caked into her hair. “No trouble.”
“I didn’t know they were coming, you know. I had no idea.”
They sat in strained silence for a long moment.
“Sorry about all this,” Penny said. “It wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed careful.”
The old woman shrugged. “My agreement with them was bound to fail sooner or later. I’m getting too old to be of much use. And I don’t think they liked the idea of me helping you.”
“But you can’t go back, now. Can you?”
The old woman grinned. “To my city? My neighborhood? They won’t stop me. I have good friends who will help. I’ve done a lot of favors for people over the years. You’re not the only one who can be a hero, you know.”
“I don’t doubt it,” said Penny, grinning back.
“And what will you do?”
“I… have unfinished business here,” Penny said. “I may stay a little while longer.”
“Ah. Best we stay on our respective sides of the East River, then.”
The old woman stuck out a hand. “I’m Nena.”
They shook hands.
“You’re right,” Nena said. Her smile made the sun come out. “It’s nice to meet someone new.”
Penny found a different hotel to crash in; this one was only half-built and farther away, out in Nassau County, but it was something. She made some money fixing things for people; she was always good at tinkering. Other than that, she scavenged and foraged. She’d always been good at that, too.
She didn’t see much of the CMP after that, but she stayed away from her old haunts just in case.
Then, as spring turned to summer, she went back to Queens and sat on that same street corner to wait. She’d dressed in her nicest clothes, and her hair was as neat as she could make it.
There he came. He was alone, this time.
Before she could talk herself out of it, she fell in step beside him. She felt warm and bright today. Most of all, she felt human and real.
He stopped, and they looked at one another for a long moment.
Penny opened her mouth, and waited for the future to come tumbling out.
The story continues later this month in Extrahumans, the fourth and final novel in the Extrahuman Union series.
About the Novel
Being “The Sampler” isn’t easy. As the weakest member of the Extrahuman Union, Jill is overlooked by just about everyone. After all, no one cares about an Extrahuman who possesses every possible superpower, but can barely use any of them. Jill is a nobody, on the run and out of a job, with no home and barely any friends to her name.
To make ends meet, Jill turns back to one of her favorite jobs: stealing. When her latest job goes terribly wrong, Jill is left with a mysterious alien artifact—one that starts whispers to her, unlocks impossible powers, and shows her incredible things.
Now Jill is on a quest for answers that will take her from the high mountains of Valen to the depths of interstellar space; from a bizarre prison planet where old friends and enemies are held captive, to the roots of St. Val’s mysterious letters and decade-spanning plans. The fate of her friends, her world, a vanished alien species, and the entire Confederation will rest on Jill’s shoulders.
Extrahumans is a tale of superpowers and long-forgotten mysteries, and the fourth and final book in the critically acclaimed Extrahuman Union series
“Come for the superheroes, stay for the characters and world-building.” — A Fantastical Librarian
How to Get the Book
Extrahumans will be published officially on October 18, 2016. We will have print copies available soon and you can also buy the ebook directly from us this October. The print book contains the novel, two illustrations from Kirbi Fagan, and an excerpt/sneak peek at Daughter Star (a different series from Susan Jane Bigelow). The ebook edition will also contain this interstitial short story (“Winter’s Flight”), as well as an essay from the author and a Q&A with the artist.