Eddie watched as the blue dot above the clouds below grew closer. It was a mile off before he heard the engine. A minute later, it soared over his head, landing next to the observatory.
Ruby didn't even acknowledge Eddie as she jumped out of the car. Her expression was hard, her eyes rimmed red. She pulled the seat forward, and a familiar young woman stepped out after her. It took a moment for Eddie to place her. It was Chandra, the woman Devick had tied up out in the woods only a couple days before.
"What's going on," Eddie asked, approaching Bryce. "Did the Simps get into the city?"
Bryce shook his head. "What city? It's all zombieville now."
Eddie dropped his eyes. "Crap."
"Just another day in this brave new world."
Eddie looked up. Bryce was glaring at him.
"You think I wanted this?"
"Of course not. I know you didn't expect of this. I can't blame you, except part of me blames you anyway."
Eddie sighed. "You think I don't blame myself?"
Bryce looked away. Ruby and Chandra had already run into the observatory.
"What are they up to," Eddie asked.
"That woman, Chandra, thinks there might be a way to undo the Simp plague."
"Is she crazy?" Eddie followed the others.
Inside, Chandra glared at Basha, who grinning uncomfortably.
"What are you doing here?"
"Uh, it's good to see you too, Chandra."
"The whole city is infected with a techno-plague, and of all the people to be spared..."
Kevin watched them from his platform above. He held his phone up, an earbud propped in one ear. "Techno-what?" he repeated in English.
"Kevin," Ruby said, "Do you have a microscope?"
He shook his head. "No. Why?"
"Any lab equipment? Anything we can use to analyze blood?"
"I've got a magnifying glass." When Ruby sighed, he added, "This is an observatory. I look at the sky. I'm not looking for microbes."
"Does he have a microscope?" Chandra asked.
"You need a translator," Basha said, approaching her. He reached into his pocket. "I have a—"
"You stay away from me!"
"He doesn't have any lab equipment," Ruby said.
"Okay. Can he track a signal?" She held up the scrap of fabric.
* * *
Over the next few hours, Kevin, Chandra and Basha worked on a device they could use to analyze the Simp tracker. It was an odd grouping. Chandra clearly hated Basha and wouldn't look him in the eye, scowling whenever he spoke. She was kinder to Kevin, but, although he was smart and they all had translation devices, he didn't share the cultural history with the others and stumbled over their instructions.
Skylar pitched in, constructing parts by raiding old circuit boards and Kevin's stereo, re-fashioning and welding to create new circuits and coils. She appeared to understand Basha's requests without translation.
Bryce, Ruby and Eddie watched, useless on the sidelines. As the sun set, Ruby wandered out to gaze down on the city. Eddie followed her.
For a while, they said nothing. Ruby stared down, tears running down her cheeks, biting her lip.
"I'm sorry," Eddie said.
"It wasn't your fault."
"I know. It's just... I'm sorry this happened. I'm sorry you had to see it. I'm sorry for everyone that was lost."
She didn't reply. They continued to watch the city. As daylight faded, no street lights came on. The city of Cavaheim would be in darkness tonight.
"I had a dream," Eddie said.
"Another dream of Tim?"
"No, this was different. I think it was from someone who wants to help us."
"Help us do what?"
"I'm not sure. The dog in the dream didn't say she would actually help—"
"It was a weird dream. But the dog gave me a hint about what Tim can see."
"Tim," Ruby repeated. She looked around. "Can he see us now?"
"No. But only because we're in an impossible place."
"I think he meant anomalies. Tim can see anywhere in the world where the laws of physics make sense, but in the places where physics are bent, like this warm island high up in the atmosphere, he's blind."
"We saw him in the city," Ruby said.
"Really? What happened?"
"He killed all the Ord. But before that..." She thought. "He said he wasn't able to see us until... until we got out of the car. He must be blind to us there, too."
"What did he want from you?"
"He was looking for you."
Eddie frowned. "Why?"
"I don't know."
They continued to stare down at the city. Ruby reached out and grabbed Eddie's hand. He gripped it, then pulled her closer. He put his arm around her, and she leaned against him.
He focused on her warmth beside him. For the moment, he pushed out all other cares and fears. She was here with him, and they could comfort each other.
"Hey, guys," Bryce called. "They've got something."
Ruby and Eddie held hands as they walked back to the observatory. Ruby let her fingers loosen and trail away as they walked through the door.
Kevin sat at his laptop, a mess of wires, circuits and coils laid out on the desk beside it. The big screen showed a series of diagrams and live waveforms. "I don't know how far from here," he said to the others. "We can make a portable tracker. If we head west—"
"What's going on," Ruby asked.
"It's definitely a tracking device," Chandra said. "And it works two ways. Our guess is that whoever created this wanted to keep track of the Simp, but they also wanted to provide a return address in case anyone found it wandering off."
"Where? What's it pointing at?"
"Some place west," Kevin said. "We don't know how far, but it will be easy to track it back to its source."
"You're going to look for the source?"
"If someone was tracking Simps," Basha said, "There may be someone there who knows about these things. They might have a lab we can use to study them."
"The CDC studied them," Eddie said. "Some of the smartest people in the world—well, a world, couldn't figure out how to stop it."
"Well, we're the smartest people in our world," Basha said. "And I bet we're better at it than they were. We'll go west and sort it out."
"West," Eddie repeated. He thought back to a time forever ago, running from a troll in the desert. They'd come to a fenced off area. Simp Free Zone . Would the signal take them that far back into the wasteland? And south of there, a gas station, all by itself. Fuel Fast .
"Can I come with you?" Eddie asked. "There's somewhere I think I need to go."