Yellowjakket knocked on the front door of the orphanage. Gewrly was right at the door. The troll opened the door, and sniffed. “Yer early, Ms Jak. Spot of trouble brewing?” Yellowjakket shook her head. “Nothing that affects this.” She handed Gewrly the pillowcase of tinned food. “Add that to the pantry. It won’t do me any good tonight. Gewrly gave Yellowjakket a sinister looking smile. “Ae, ah can do that. Won’t you be needin’ a meal?” “After I get back, and a bed if there’s one available.” Gewrly nodded, and moved with a ponderous silence to a door just short of the cafeteria. She disappeared into it for a few moments, then returned with the same silent padding she had left by.
“Go tha’ way. There’s a bed, second door on your right. Take a nap and I will wake ye when ’tis time.”
Yellowjakket nodded. “I’ll do that.” She trotted to the door, opened and went inside. She located the bed, and was asleep before she hit the mattress.
Some time later, she was roused by Gewrly, who had grabbed the headboard and shaken the whole bed to wake her. “Them boys is near ready. I put some porridge out for them as it might be a long walk to the next station.” Yellowjakket nodded, and kept quiet. As a guide, she knew where the station was. It was up to her to keep the link secret. That way if the mages actually did find Gewlry and the orphanage, they couldn’t track past that as no one knew anything past where they were. It was a hard way to do things, but for their own survival, it was necessary.
Yellowjakket walked up to the cafeteria doors, and strode through them. Twelve boys were at the near table, spooning up the last of their meals. All of them looked to be in the fourteen to sixteen range except one, who was a head shorter than all the others. Unlike the others, he seemed to show no nervousness, and didn’t talk to anyone while he ate. The other boys seemed to avoid him, as if unnerved by his outward demeanor. He sat, blonde haired and blue eyed, his slightly pudgy frame much different than the lean, beanpoles the other boys looked like. This was the boy that unnerved Gewrly so much.
Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, she walked over to the boy and offered her hand. She saw children’s eyes widen in recognition. They knew her. Correction. They didn’t know her, they knew the costume, and what it represented. She’d gotten a lot of press. A lot of folks talked about her exploits back in the small sewer community she’d just left. The children obviously had heard the stories too. “Oh coo!” “Yellowjakket!” “Wicked!” “Have you been giving the mages more fits?” “What are you doing here?” “Are you the ‘conductor’?” “We’re moving out.” “When do we leave?” The children began chattering and shouting all at once. As Yellowjakket observed them, they all seemed to be excited at whatever adventure was coming. Some were notably relieved to be getting out of London, and a few seemed worried about leaving.
She could empathize with them. It would seem a grand adventure, or a romantic story of themselves escaping the clutches of the evil organization Control. Most she knew, had already seen the reality behind the romance. Siblings and family killed, or kidnapped. Their eagerness for the adventure was a show of how resilient youth was. They hadn’t forgotten, it had just been shuttled to the back, out of mind until it could force it’s way back out front. Some would handle it, some would get devoured by it. It wasn’t her job to try and fix any of it. Her job tonight was to get them to a place where they could live to find their own way through the loss.
She had to find a way to stop the mages. Or find other who could. There were a number of rogue Metas still loose, but as far as her own knowledge went, she was really the only one operating in the open in costume. She remembered how the world changed a little bit at a time. Science started working on smaller and smaller scales, to quantum physics. To quantum spin, and to, as the great physicist Einstein had called quantum entanglement, ‘spooky action at a distance’. It was found that with a deeper link in the entanglement, electron states could be shifted, much like spin. So heat an electron to a higher orbit in one place, the corresponding electron would also step to that higher orbit.
That discovery created the link people could describe as magic, or as super-powers. For the super-rich, small computers could be worn on a wrist to control this power to an extent. Just enough power to make the air around a person glow, or lighten an object. The smaller the mass, the more of it that could be canceled, or manipulated, by the wrist comp. This changed as it was also found that some people had an innate sense of connection to this quantum level. With practice and effort, some few of these with the innate sense could actually manipulate down at the quantum level without any artificial help.
Those with the strongest connections seemed to be those with the greatest imagination. It was not enough to be smart. There needed to be the vision and the desire to create. Artists, one might think, would rank high in this, but such seemed not to be the case. People especially those with thwarted desires, seemed strongest. Which made for a number of upheavals in society. Some Metas stayed in the hierarchy. Business didn’t suffer as did those in political power. Thwarted dreams given power created some very horrific retrebutions.
For a short while, costumed heroes suddenly filled the sky, springing from the comic books into real life, all through the new instinctual understanding of the manipulation of quantum entanglement. Villains also rose up, power filling them to offer the chance of making their own ambitions real. Wizards, as the ones who showed an affinity for using quantum effects in nature around them, began to band together to fight the worst of these new villains. They were joined by more of the metas, people who manipulated the quantum effects within themselves. These villains and sorcerers were captured, or killed.
In one signal instance, everything changed. One villain, aware that the change in time, and remembering the original past, gambled that another shift in time, the right way, would make him more powerful than his enemies. He gambled, and for three days, turned the world into a monument to his dream. A world subservient to him. The heroes were hurled back in time by the change, and the wizards realized that a second time change would strip this reality for another. This effort broke the overlord’s hold, and returned the world to a more or less balanced state.
When it was proven time could be treated in a similar manner, changes to time began. The final culmination was this current world, with this political system in place. Control, that arm of the Wizard’s council, was formed a result of those suddenly given power realizing that anyone who could influence time enough, could change the present, and the ability for them to retain their power. If time was changed enough, it might be the old oligarchs would suddenly were the ones with the power once more.
The wizards decided that the best answer was for them to remain in power. To that end they cast their own spell, tailored to stop other wizards or Metas going back in time. The trouble is that the spell stopped all other spells, but not Meta abilities, that were internally powered.
For whatever reason, Metas could still travel in time, though none could do it reliably. The Wizard Council decided that if the spell couldn’t control the Metas, they would have to, and started tracking down and rounding up any Meta that they could find, just in case that Meta could time-travel. Yellowjakket was overlooked initially, lost amongst the other colorful characters. But as the numbers of Metas were whittled down, her continued escapes brought more of the Council’s attention to her.
Worse, some wizards objected to these actions, and willingly joined the developing resistance. This pushed the remaining wizards into sterner measures, and they began rounding up those who showed an aptitude for wizardry, the ability to affect the world around them. The adults were taken first, as a number had begun to practice on their own, diluting the power of the Council. Later, children were added to the collection as their minds were easy to brainwash, and control.
Thus the reason for moving children out of Londinium. The Council’s power was greatest nearest their center. In places like Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, their power was opposed by others, and by other things that seem to have returned from legend and myth. Creatures like fairies, trolls, will-o-wisps were being sighted. They had their own reason for opposing the Council, and especially Control.
Tonight’s excursion was going to be almost wholly underground. The children would move to Charing Cross and enter the tube. If they were lucky, they could take the subway tunnel all the way to their exit point. More likely, they’d have to abandon it before halfway. It all depended on how much the wizards’ press gangs were canvassing the area. She’d hoped her actions last night would keep them south of Charing Cross. If not, this whole enterprise could end very badly. The children were oblivious to all this. All they knew was that they were being smuggled away from the bad guys to a place where they would be safe.
The children continued ask questions as she held her hand out to the young boy in front of her. He looked at her, then her hand and slowly took it. “Ronald”, he said without prompting. “Yellowjakket”, she replied with a smile and looked at the children around her. “But then you knew that from the way your mates have been carrying on.” The boy nodded slowly, his hand felt soft, like there was no effort to shake her hand at all. She kept herself from shivering as he looked up at her. She could see why Gewrly seemed spooked. His eyes seemed to have no life to them. His orbs were a dull brown, like there was nothing behind them.
“You’re the gel that’s moving us out then?” His voice matched his eyes, sounding lifeless, or completely beaten down. She found herself wondering what had happened to Ronald that would turn him into an apparent vegetable. All she could think was that something terribly traumatic had occurred, and that he’d stopped paying attention to the outside world as a way of either coping, or ignoring the truth. The children had settled down once she’d started talking to Ronald. Their faces were varied between, expectant, and fearful. It was time to tell them what was going to happen.
“All right, gather up, and sit. I’m here as your ‘conductor’ tonight. Which means we’re leaving soon. Get your food, and your packs. Leave anything not essential here. If you’re already packed, sit and catch a little rest. I want everyone who’s not packed to get it done in a half-hour. We’re on a tight schedule tonight.” Her wait was less than ten minutes. All the children had been told by Gewlry to be ready, and ready they were.
“Our first stop is going to be the Charing Cross Underground. There’s no easy way to it from here underground, so we’ll be walking. Go in groups of two and three. Go down, to the Northern entrance. We’ll gather on the platform, and I’ll take to the next stop.” She took a deep breath. And let it out slowly. She noticed a few of the older lads watching her, their faces flushing red. “You all know where the entry is? You will need to get a ticket. Last thing we want is someone becoming curious.”
She dug into her own backpack, and pulled out a handful of tokens. “These will get you on. Each of you take one.” She handed out twelve tokens. “I’ll not be with you on the underground. I’ll meet you at the next destination. The costume attracts attention, so I’ll be using that to draw press gangs away. Take the tube to Camden town and wait on the platform there. I’ll be along.”
The boys nodded and Yellowjakket shouldered her backpack, and trotted out to the front door. “Any movement, Gewlry?”, she asked. Gewlry shook her head. “Nobbut’s around. I’d feel them if there were. The troll looked at the children. “Off wi’ you. Do as yer tol’ and be careful.” She waved a thick finger. “I’ll make sure yer mates are safe.”