Illumination: 5.2: Being Useful

Kwan, who seemed to have developed grey streaks in his dark hair overnight, dropped a huge stack of newspapers on one of the classroom tables. Jehane was back in class again today; it had become the path of least resistance. And everywhere she looked outside of the classroom, she saw Laurel.

Perspective, that’s what it was. She felt bad about Elian and Rohan, but it just didn’t compare to what had happened to Aya and Slade, and Laurel’s grief.

“Today, we’re going to go through newspapers and see what we can put together from them. You all know that the Earth media is a good resource for us—”

“We need to figure out a way to get a constant internet hookup,” grumbled Jolie. “Print is dead, you know? What are we going to do when all these papers go out of business?”

Amusement flickered in Kwan’s eyes as he passed around the newspapers, matching them up to the languages people had been studying or grown up with. Jehane got three French papers. “I think by the time we have to worry about that, clever kids like you will have worked that out for us. A craving for Facebook must be good for something, after all.” Jolie looked embarrassed and buried her nose in a Russian paper. Kwan went on. “The media has already put together a pretty good timeline of attacks in various cities. What we’re looking for is information in details they can’t possibly know enough to correlate. Unusually armed men. Unexplained violent murders. Vigilante activity.”

“Thefts?” asked Natalie.

Kwan nodded. “Thefts. Animal attacks.” Natalie tore a page out of her paper and put it aside.

Jehane looked down at her own papers. Her eyes followed the pictures more than the words, and in irritation she flipped to deeper in the paper, the stories with the smaller headlines. A police blotter. Aya wasn’t described anywhere.

“Is this bioweapon really a weapon?” asked Rohan. “I thought it just made people sleepy.”

“And made Nightlights really powerful,” said another boy with red hair, around Jehane’s age. “It must be a lot easier to fight Awakened when the effect is active. Seems like a useful tool to me, they’re just using it at the wrong time. If we had it and only turned it on when people were already asleep, whoosh! Wow!” The boy swung an imaginary sword around. “It could be a big help.”

Kwan’s gaze ran over Jehane to Ajax, then to Natalie. “For their own good, eh? That’s an old argument, Sean.” Natalie shifted uncomfortably beside Jehane, but Jehane kept her gaze fixed on Kwan. When he turned to her again, she wasn’t surprised. “What do you think of that idea, Jehane? Being sedated for your own good?”

“Um, no one likes it, sir. But I can’t say it’s never useful.” Kwan raised his eyebrows at her and she ducked her head. “Sometimes things go wrong,” she mumbled, and smoothed the paper in front of her. “But this isn’t that,” she said suddenly and raised the paper. “It isn’t hypothetical. This is happening, and there are people in cars, there are pilots in airplanes, there are people who can’t afford to suddenly lose focus or fall asleep.” She glared at the red-headed Sean and he boggled at her.

She pushed the papers across the table and stood up. Then she caught a glimpse of Laurel through the window in the classroom door and sank back into her seat again.

Natalie followed her gaze, then whispered, “Has Laurel been bothering you?”

Jehane slouched back in her chair. “She thinks I can find Aya.”

Natalie frowned. “I can explain to her that it doesn’t work that way.”

“It could.” Jehane stuck out her lower lip. “It seems like it’d be as useful as going through newspapers and trying to assemble a ridiculous dossier of details. We’re not going to notice anything a hundred thousand frightened media consultants haven’t. We’re not going to find the important thing, like where they are now.”

Natalie gave her a worried look. “It seems like it would be very dangerous. Especially given that various authorities are on the alert now.”

“It’s true, and nobody trusts me not to lose it at the first sign of trouble. But dogs are useful for tracking things down. Sometimes you need a dog. Just keep me on a leash.” The Prowlers had real dogs. She was probably insulting them; they were cute. Cute and useful.

Natalie closed her fingers around Jehane’s arm, but didn’t shake her. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. Look at Kwan. If anybody else gets hurt, what do you think he’ll do?”

“Other people are going to get hurt before this is over.” Jehane wrapped her hand around Natalie’s. “I can’t stand the way she looks at me, Natalie. You’d look for me if I vanished, wouldn’t you?”

Natalie’s fingers tightened on hers. “Of course.” And truly, Jehane didn’t even need to hear Natalie’s answer. Seth might push her when she needed to be pushed, but Natalie would always come for her.

“Then I have to do it for her. We can’t just leave Aya in the dark, and Laurel falling after her.”

Natalie looked down. “Well, at least we have starting places now.” And she picked up one of the newspapers, which had, alongside a list of previous attack sites, possible future ones that fit the same profiles.

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