"Do you see anything?" Ruby asked, her face against the passenger window.
"Nothing," Bryce complained. "Eddie's directions were vague enough. We're supposed to find him on the coast somewhere southeast of the spires? There's hundreds of miles of coastline here."
The day was cold and overcast. The clouds hung low, forcing Bryce to fly low over the coastline. Gray ocean waters crashed on the rocky, inhospitable shore below. A thin drizzle of rain made it difficult to see far.
"I see plenty," said Skylar, standing on the center of the dashboard, her palms pressed against the windshield. "If he's out there, I'll know." She turned to Ruby. "Who are we looking for again?"
"Which one is he?"
Bryce scoffed. "He's the messy-haired one. Blond."
"Is he white or black... or orange?"
"How many black guys have you seen with messy blond hair? And how many orange people have you seen at all?"
"We passed an orange human three miles back."
"What?" Ruby turned back. "I didn't see anyone."
"Inferior engineering," Skylar said, her attention fixed forward. "Don't worry if your eyesight is lacking. I'm sure you have your good points."
"Is that how you see us?" Ruby asked. "Are we all poorly constructed machines?"
"You're the boss. Beyond that, I don't think about it."
"I'm not used to you being able to talk. You're a lot snarkier than I would have guessed."
"That's why the Series-400 upgrade isn't very popular."
"No, I'm glad you can talk. It's just weird is all."
"We're not looking for Eddie," Bryce said. "We're looking for a house. He called us from a blue house. Have you seen any of those?"
"I've seen dozens of houses, none of them blue."
Ruby threw up her hands. "I haven't seen any houses. How are you—"
"Wait. Up there on that cliff." Skylar pointed. "A house. Definitely blue."
"Where?" Bryce asked.
Skylar frowned at him. "Seriously? It's right up ahead."
"How far ahead?"
"About five miles."
"Bullshit. We can barely see a hundred yards. It's too cloudy."
"Wait and see, disbeliever."
A minute later, a high cliff materialized out of the fog. A blue house stood at its top with broad windows overlooking the sea.
"How did you see that?" Bryce asked as he slowed to circle over the house.
"With my eyes," Skylar replied. "How do you see it?"
"But is it the right one?" Ruby asked. "He said he could see the spires from there. I can't see anything."
As if on cue, Eddie slid a door open on the sea side of the house. A blanket hung over his shoulders. He waved his left hand, his bandaged right hand held protectively against his chest.
"What happened to him?" Ruby wondered as they landed on the lawn. The moment they were down, Ruby threw her door open and ran to him. "Eddie? What's wrong?"
Eddie's face was ashen. He held the door open but said nothing.
"Eddie, seriously. What happened to you?"
He muttered something.
"Never travel by duck."
"What does that mean?"
Ruby frowned but stepped past him into the house. The interior was inviting and warm, but with a faint smell of mold. A fire blazed in the fireplace.
Bryce followed Eddie in and closed the door. An immediate tapping on the windows caused them all to turn. Skylar hovered outside, her arms folded, looking furious.
Bryce opened the door. "Sorry."
She zipped past him. "What goes around comes around, skin bag."
"I'm glad you found me," Eddie said. He pulled the blanket around himself and collapsed on a couch. "How'd it go with your search for a Simp cure?"
"Fine," Ruby said, sitting across from him. "We can tell you all about it. But first, what did you learn, and what's wrong with your hand?"
He pulled the blanket tighter around himself. "I can't tell you much. I've learned about Tim—about a lot of things. But I can't discuss most of them. All I really know is that Tim has to be stopped immediately and I may be the only one who can do it."
"There's a kind of polarity between us. I'm matter and he's antimatter. If we touch..."
"What? You both die?"
Eddie looked away.
Bryce remained standing. "That's a shitty plan, Ed."
"It may be the only way."
"Why don't we just shoot the bastard."
"Sure. That can be our Plan A. Plan B is that I shake his hand. Except..." He looked down where his hand hid.
"You still haven't told us what happened to your hand," Ruby said.
Eddie sighed. "I was a passenger. I was taken far from here. The cost of passage was one finger, each way."
"What?" Ruby jumped from her chair and crouched in front of him. "You've lost a finger?"
"Two." Eddie pulled the blanket tighter.
"That's messed up," Bryce said, sitting down.
"You should let Skylar look at it," Ruby suggested. "She's good with this kind of thing."
"Maybe later. Are you guys hungry?"
"Now that you mention it..." Bryce said.
"All the bread and fruit here went moldy, but there's canned food. I had chili earlier."
"Where are the people who lived here?" Ruby asked.
Eddie shrugged. "Just like most people from the real world. Gone."
As Bryce left to fix food, Ruby told Eddie about their experience with the Simp plague. "Chandra is still there at the CDC, working with the researchers to come up with a strategy for wiping out the Aeterna Storm for good."
"And what about Basha?"
"We left him in Cavaheim. We were there when you called. Bryce dropped Basha and me off in the town square. The infected people all came at us, and when they detected the upgrade... well..."
"What?" Eddie sat forward.
"Basha kissed them. All of them. Men and women, and he wasn't modest about it. He enjoyed it."
"He looked happy. Well, good for him. He's finally using his pervy nature for a good cause."
"I suspect a few social disease might break out as a side-effect," Eddie said.
"Appetizing thought," Bryce said as he sat plates down on the coffee table.
"What is it?" Ruby asked, scrutinizing the food.
"Corned beef hash, peas and carrots. There's a ton of soup if you'd prefer."
"So the people of Cavaheim are recovering?" Eddie asked.
"I was there long enough to make sure Hera, Farook, Mai, and the colonel got the upgrade," Ruby said. "Others took over after that."
"Jane's cured too," Bryce added.
Eddie sat up. "Jane? She was infected?"
"She was right there in the middle of it. She was dehydrated and malnourished when I found her. When we got your call, she wanted to come with us, but she was in no shape to travel."
"Did you sleep?" Eddie asked.
"Last night," Ruby said. "In the palace. The people of Cavaheim see Hera as their leader once again, and she insisted we stay close to her."
"I'm glad you slept," Eddie said. "We've got a long way to go before we can deal with..."
"With what," Bryce interrupted. "Tim? You want to go after him now? Ed, you look like hell. Can't you at least wait to heal before we take off."
"There's no time to waste. I mean, he could come in here at any minute. If he finds me with you..."
"I don't think that will be a problem," Ruby said.
"What do you mean?"
"I saw him, Eddie."
"Me too," Bryce said. "That guy is creepy."
"But why do you think he won't come here?" Eddie asked. "He said he'd need me."
"Yeah, and he asked all about you," Ruby said. "But the last time I saw him was just before we left the CDC. He said he didn't need us anymore. He'd found someone who could answer all his questions. So you see, he may need to be stopped, but—"
"Who did he say he'd found?"
Ruby shrugged. "I'd never heard of her. What was her name? Gretchen something?"
Eddie's face turned white. "Gretchen Atwater?"
Eddie struggled to stand up. He swayed for a moment, then stood resolved and threw the blanket off. "We've got to get out of here now."