She looks young. Twenty-three, maybe? I’m biased, of course-- she reminds me of my youngest sister a bit. It’s the hair, I think, or maybe the clothes-- nice enough, but a little poorly fitting, like she’d gone out with her mother before starting the job and bought anything that seemed business casual enough to wear in a government building.
She shrugs, as if she isn’t sure. She’s still shaking. “You can call me Annie, I guess. Everyone does.”
“Alright, then, Annie, why don’t you have a seat.” I tried to pick a room that didn’t look like an interrogation room-- after all, it’s not like she did anything wrong. She does listen to me, although it looks like she still might be in shock. I wish they’d let her go home before this, but I guess I get it-- they don’t want to give her the chance to forget anything. “Do you need anything to drink? I could get you water, a coffee…”
“No, I don’t think so.” She bites her lip and itches her arm. “I mean, no thank you. I’m alright.”
“Okay.” I sit across from her, and open my laptop, although I put it to the side so that I can still make eye contact. “Do you want to start, then?”
“Sure.” She’s still looking down. I can’t blame her. I really can’t blame her for any of this.
“Maybe start at the beginning? What did you do when you first got to work?”
Annie looks down, as if she can’t remember very well.
“When you first walked through the doors, what did you see?” It’s hard to coax her.
“I saw… one of the councilmen. He used to be the senator, I think. Councilman Howards. He was bothering the girl at the front desk. Jessie.”
Jessie. I try to type without breaking Annie’s concentration. Jessica Londerson. She got out. “And then what did you do?”
“I went through security. It took a little bit. They don’t like my keychains. I knew the big meeting was today.” Annie’s fingers drum the surface of the table. I hope it doesn’t show up on the recording.
“The big meeting?” I prompt.
“Yeah. Everyone was there. All the councilmen for the capital city, the govenors from everywhere in a fifty mile radius. There was… a representative that happened to be back, and a senator. Actually, both of them were supposed to be back but Senator Johnson got held up in Washington…” She trails off, so she doesn’t have to finish her thought. He must be counting his lucky stars right now. “They usually don’t have them with everyone like that. It was a special occasion.”
“Were they going to discuss anything important?”
Annie almost laughs. Almost. “Do they ever?”
I chuckle a little. Maybe that’ll break the tension. Maybe it’ll make her feel worse. “I suppose not.”
“I honestly think they were mostly just going to have a get together. A lot of them are friends, you know? But technically it was business, so they wanted me there. To take notes.”
“You were the stenographer?”
She shrugs. “I took notes, really. I mean, I’m just an intern, I do whatever they ask. Wrote down anything they said that seemed like it was business, so we could report that a big meeting happened, you know? More of a glorified secretary than anything. I would… what’s the word? Keep… something?” She looks right through me and I get the sense that I’m losing her.
“You took notes?” I say as gently as I can.
“I took notes. Everything went normal for like twenty minutes. They didn’t get much done, but I still took notes. They talked about the budget, and about spending more on security. It was normal.”
“When was that?”
“Um, I don’t know.” She fumfers a bit. “Two? I think? Yeah, that sounds right. Because I remember looking at the clock and it said about three when the first kid came in.”
Now we’re getting to the meat. “The first kid? There was only one?”
Annie nods. “At first. Just the one.”
“Describe them to me.”
“She was tall, but young, you know? Like you could tell by her face that she was a kid, but she was probably like… 5’10”? Tall. She was tall. And she had short hair-- cropped like she cut it herself.”
I glance back over at my computer screen. Based on that description, that was Sandy Jimenez, age 14, currently missing. “And she just… walked in?”
Annie shrugs. “I guess so. I don’t know how she got past security, but since she did, I assumed it was okay. Nobody really paid attention when she walked in. I think they assumed that she was there for coffee or something. They already had coffee, but you know. I could tell she was a kid, but I’m sure they didn’t know. You know?” She bit her lip. “They noticed her only when she got right up on the table next to me. She had to get up on a chair to get up to the table in the first place, but really they all looked at her when she was on the table and she started yelling.”
“What did she yell?”
Annie presses her fist to her head. “I don’t… I don’t remember, exactly. She yelled about how Governor Richmond killed her uncle or something, and then she yelled something about the Earth Mother, about Mother Earth…” She looks down. “The room didn’t even go completely quiet.”
“So, she came into the room, stood on the table, and started yelling.” I glance at my laptop. That part was caught on surveillance. It was fifty-six seconds after that I was interested in.
“Yeah. They didn’t listen though, until the boys showed up.
“Boys plural? Describe them.”
“They were both shortish. I don’t know, normal height? Medium? One had tan skin and dark hair, I guess, and one was… he was black with dyed green hair. They were both shorter than the girl though. I remember that, ‘cause when they arrived, she put her hands on their heads.”
Rafael Denton and Jay Finne, sixteen and thirteen. Both missing. “And when you say arrived, you mean they came through the door unnoticed too?”.
Annie shakes her head. “No, that wasn’t it. It was like they weren’t there, and then they were.”
I can’t help but frown. That’s what the video shows too, and it doesn’t explain it any better.
“It was like they appeared from nowhere, like out of the air.” Annie twists the ring on her right hand. “Then the last one, the little one. She was little, short, probably… twelve? I don’t know-- it was windy.”
“It was windy?”
She nods. “I can’t… explain it. I don’t know. It was windy, though, and so loud. Nobody else seemed to notice but me-- they were too busy looking at the kids. They were all yelling.”
“Yelling?” The camera cuts out right after Macy Bernal, the last kid, arrives.
“Yeah. They all joined hands-- well, sort of. Like I said the girl-- the first girl, not the little girl-- she had her hands on the boys’ heads, but the little girl grabbed their hands-- the boys’ hands.” Annie starts to breathe heavily. “And it just got windier and windier, but since they were right by me, I could kind of hear them. They yelled… something about ‘These powers from the Earth, from the Earth they… return’, I think? And then, they were gone-- like they dissolved into air.”
“All of them?”
Annie shakes her head. “No, just the first three. The little one, she stayed at first. She bent near me and told me not to move.” She looks at me with wide, horrified eyes. “I mean, I wasn’t going to anyway! And she told me to close my eyes, and I meant to, but I couldn’t-- there only wasn’t wind where I was. She said that I didn’t deserve this like the others, and then she sort of dissolved. I know it seems crazy,” she starts, holding her hands out in front of her, like I’m accusing her of something, “but I swear that’s what she did. She just disappeared into the air, and suddenly there was just too much wind around me, but not… on me. It was like…” she purses her lips. “It was like standing in the eye of a tornado.”
I try and stifle my sigh. That’s exactly what it was. “Okay. Then what happened?”
Annie looks down at her hands again. “Not much. It was roaring-- I mostly remember how loud it was-- and then it was nothing, like nothing had ever happened, except that the whole conference room was destroyed and the building was gone. I don’t know at what point I realized that I could see the sky. The kids were gone too. I don’t know what happened to them, I’m sorry. They were just… gone.”
“Don’t worry.” I can tell what she’s getting at. “The kids are alright.”
“You found them?” Her eyes light up, which is unfortunate. I shouldn’t have phrased it like that.
“No, not exactly.” I rub my hands along my temple. “It’s… it’s hard to explain.”
Annie looks at me so innocently. She really does remind me of my sister. “Please? I don’t know-- I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t-- please?”
She deserves it. And at this point, it would be stupid not to give her clearence. “Okay. It’ll sound… outlandish at first, but please, hear me out.”
“Do you remember the Green Wonders?” She might be too young.
Like I suspected, she furrows her brow. “Maybe? Like, the old show from the eighties, with the superhero kids?”
“Yeah. Did you know it was based on a true story?”
Annie blinks at me, and I can almost hear the gears turning in her head. I know she wants to call me out on this, to tell me I’m being ridiculous. “But-- their powers--”
I bite my lip. “I can’t… explain everything. Not because I don’t want to, no, but because we still don’t understand it. All we know is that every twenty-five years, give or take, the Earth… or the Earth’s soul, or something along those lines seems to give elemental superpowers to a few kids. The Green Wonders used them to, to put out forest fires and save people in avalanches, much like in the show. The last group helped-- well, they tried to help with Katrina. They saved a lot of lives, but they didn’t all make it out. Those who were left-- well, they gave up the mantle pretty quick.”
“The Green Wonders…” Annie repeats, as if the rest of what I said never clicked. “But they were… water, fire, stone…”
“Well, we talked to the survivors of their group and the last gang, and they wouldn’t give us much, but one did let slip that the kids got to choose what element they each got.”
“So, what does that have to do with this? They didn’t turn into fire beings or anything, no water powers. There was just wind.”
“This is the newest group she-- the Earth-- chose, I guess. And I guess almost all of them chose wind. We’ve suspected for a while--”
Annie cuts me off. “Wait, the kids all turned into wind? Why?”
“To do what you just saw. They turn into wind-- well, our theory right now is that three of them turn into wind and the fourth turns into water vapor, but we don’t know anything for sure. Do you remember learning about weather patterns in school?”
Annie shakes her head.
“With the right air pressure, the right amount of moisture, and the right… well, honestly, I don’t know what all else, but these kids seem to-- with the right everything, they’re able to create tornados.”
“But why would they do that?”
“To do what you just saw, to destroy. The other kids-- fire, stone, liquid water-- they were powerful, but they weren’t meant for destruction. These kids did this on purpose. They wanted to destroy these politicians.”
She gapes. “But… I just don’t get it. They-- I saw the blood-- they killed--”
I pull up the children’s files again on my laptop. “You remember the hurricane last year?”
“Of course. Worst one we’ve ever seen here, yeah?”
“Yeah. Well, these kids… they all lost someone.”
Annie looks up suddenly. “The girl, the first one, she mentioned that the Governor killed her uncle.”
“Well, sort of. He did die, as a result of that hurricane, and she and her mother were struggling to make ends meet.”
“But I thought that everyone who had a family member who died in the hurricane got money to help out.”
“He didn’t die in the hurricane. He died because his restaurant went bankrupt and he had to choose between food and insulin.”
“Oh.” Annie’s face goes sheet white.
“There wasn’t any protection for small businesses-- it was suggested, but Governor Richmond--”
Of course she does. She was probably there in the room when he made the declaration. “The other kids lost things too-- houses, livelihoods, family. When Rafael’s mother got laid off, she couldn’t make house payments and they lived in their car. The police got called when she had to leave them at home for a few days to go to a job interview the town over, and it didn’t end well. The others have similar sob stories. They all lost something and blamed the government for how they handled the aftermath of the hurricane.”
“But… Jessie was innocent! Cara-- she’s the lady who cleans on Thursdays-- she was innocent!”
“They got them out.” I wince. I probably should have told Annie that first-- the relief is visible in her eyes, in her shoulders. “They just couldn’t get you out, so they put you in the eye.”
“Oh.” Annie deflates. “Oh. But they still… I mean they still killed--”
“They did.” I nod. “About fifteen people, all of whom had a hand in the way the aftermath was handled.”
Annie purses her lips. “But that’s… I mean, that’s not right, is it?”
“Well, I--” I don’t know what to tell her. “I don’t think it’s up to us.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re air. They can be air, be water vapor, anytime they want. We’ve suspected their existence for a while, based on small areas of destruction, mini-tornados that weather can’t explain. This was their debut.”
“Tornados aren’t meant to destroy a small area. Tornados are meant to be in the open air. I fear this was only the beginning.”
“But, can’t you stop them? Can’t--”
“How do you stop air?”
“But I just don’t think killing people is right.”
“It’s not up to me.” I angle my laptop towards her and pause the video right before it all goes black, right as the four children hold onto each other. “It’s up to them.”
“But they’re-- I mean, they’re kids.”
“Angry kids, with the power of gods. Kids who have every right to be angry.”
“So nobody can stop them?”
I nod. “Nobody can stop them now.”
Annie looks at the screen and if I look closely at her eyes, I can see the reflections of all four children. “But they chose to save me.”
“I know.” It is not easy to reconcile, I must admit.
“Do you think they’ll travel? Do this other places than here, I mean?”
“I think this is just the beginning.” I turn my laptop back towards me and click play. It’s quick, but I can just see the righteous smiles, smiles of both anger and friendship, as the children blink from the screen and the video goes blank.