In the wake of several near-cataclysmic events, humanity created the Cure, a DNA-altering antidote to death by disease and old age. But all cures come with side effects: a small percentage of the population develops a wide range of powers, some lethal to others and some lethal to the wielder.
These people are called the Estranged, hunted and shunned, safe only on the Island of Exile. It is here that Kaeva and Eddie meet ... and where they set a prophecy in motion, quite possibly sealing their own demise, and even the end of Exile.
Kaeva had spent ten years being a nomad on the mainland. He'd met a woman who could make someone orgasm with a single touch, but every time she did it, she visibly aged. When Kaeva had met her, she wore a full body suit and beneath her mask, she appeared to be about six hundred years old, plus or minus a few centuries. Kaeva had also met a man who could make smoke take shape and send the beasts out to do things for him. They always fulfilled their tasks and reported back to the guy like soldiers. Then they tried their best to kill their master. So far, the guy had been able to slay all his literal demon spawn, but he had scars not even the Cure could fix.
Those two were just a minor sample of the weirder Estrangements Kaeva had come across, and he'd not ventured off the North American continent. Who knew what they were growing in Asia or Africa or wherever the hell? The populations had taken a massive beating, sure, but those who were left had to be tough as nails. And angry, scared and occasionally starving in darkness, just like the rest of the world. The plagues had crippled civilization into a bizarre second Stone Age full of misguided magic and littered with technology that rusted without the manpower to run it. Even with the Cure, everybody was scrambling and wanted to be the one to rise out of the ashes new and powerful. There were plenty of rumors that the American government was finding and keeping Estranged to see if their powers could be enhanced, hence the nightmare of boosters. It wouldn't surprise Kaeva if another country had gotten ahead of the curve. If somebody like that had escaped or, hell, been sent to destroy Exile on government orders…
"I gotta ask again," Kaeva said. "Why tell me all this?"
"Several reasons," Oberon answered. "One, it was a comfort to know you are in the vision. You survived for years in mainland hell. You know more about the world than many living in it. You're tough, smart, and strong. You're a planner. You can foresee possibilities and the consequences of actions. If trouble is coming, then I hope the vision means you will foresee it and choose to fight it.
"Two, you're a part of Exile, no matter how dysfunctional a role you feel you play. Your Estrangement excuses you, and rightly so, from many political and City matters, but not this one. Every citizen of Exile has proven himself worthy of it and will be ready to provide that worth whenever it is called upon.
"Three, I know you." Oberon stepped closer. His gaze was completely without fear. "You're a good man. You deserve a warning of what is to come if it involves you. You deserve our help and our support if you need it. I know some of what you've been through in your life, Kaeva. I know asking you to look after another person is asking most people to affect the Earth's rotation. So while I will not excuse you from this duty, I will tell you I am by your side in it."
"As am I," Lake added. "I know exactly how it feels to be picked for tasks by fate in which you want no part. You have my sympathy and empathy, for what those are worth."
Kaeva studied his boots and the sandy dock. He remembered the day he'd decided to find Exile. He'd been in a shelter, one much poorer than the one Lake and Oberon had once run. Kaeva had drawn numbers like the rest of the urban homeless in some mid-Western city, and his number had been picked, which meant he'd had food and a cot for the night.
His cot had been next to a young boy's. The kid's parents were nowhere to be found, dead mostly likely, and the boy was Cure sick. The boy had been Cure sick for months. Maybe years. The boy didn't remember. He didn't even know how he'd gotten to the shelter, but he'd been there, shivering under his blankets, pale and thin with sunken eyes and white, chapped lips. Kaeva had covered the kid up with his own blanket, tucked in the boy as much as he dared, and Kaeva had tried to get the kid to talk. The boy hadn't been interested. He had a scrap of paper covered in phrases that Kaeva had seen sprayed on the sides of abandoned buildings and carved into subway tunnels but had never taken seriously.
Over and over, the kid had used a stubby pencil to trace the words: Believe. Seek. Prove.
"I'm gonna go there," the kid had said to Kaeva, teeth chattering. "When I get better, I'm gonna go there."
"Sure you will," Kaeva had answered, scared to touch the boy's face, but dying to wipe away the sweat and grime. Instead, Kaeva had stayed up with the kid, sacrificing a night of sleep to offer a little comfort.
The boy had died the next morning, and Kaeva had set off for the southeastern coast.
"Orders received," Kaeva said. His head throbbed. His body ached. The world spun too fast. "Where do I need to be?"