Wendelin honestly wanted to look over another catalog full of useless things she knew she'd never consider buying, but apparently private jets were different than commercial planes. Honestly, this one looked more like the inside of a restaurant, run by excessively clean people without any sense of decoration beyond a few shades of beige and gray. Wendelin would have attributed it to the American trying to make her feel at-home, but Germany was actually so much more colorful than this. Besides, there were three other Americans here, and she'd been picked up on rather short notice. Not that she had an option to say 'no'--practically speaking, her hometown of Mittenwald didn't exist anymore.
She leaned up against the side of the jet's interior, looking out the window into the dark of night. She'd never seen Atlanta in person, and hadn't had the presence of mind to watch the ground when the previous plane was descending, so now she could watch it recede while the jet continued to climb. If only these flashes of light at the edge of her vision would stop. She'd been trying to block them out, along with the phantom clicks, and was mostly succeeding.
“You should get some sleep. Germany's, what, eight hours ahead?”
Wendelin glanced over. The muscular American man—she mentally pegged him as a 'skater', considering his youthful looks, pink t-shirt with some white-and-black splotches she guessed was a band loge, and large set of black headphones—leaned on a circular table from his seat, watching her with his hands propping up his chin. Wendelin smiled back at him with the minimum amount of politeness she figured she could get away with in this country.
“Six hours,” she answered, and looked back out the window.
“Ouch, that means it's like 4 o'clock in the morning over there. You're still up?”
“I can't sleep tonight because of what happened.”
The skater gave a sympathetic sigh, stood up, and shuffled over to sit next to her. He stopped short of actually doing though. Wendelin moved her moneypouch to her lap, to clear the seat.
“Nice purse,” The skater said as he sat down.
There were a few moments of relative silence. Wendelin didn't want to talk, and it seemed the skater respected that. Besides the noises of a rising plane, and quiet discussion between the two other Americans up towards the front of the jet, it was relatively quiet until Atlanta faded under the cloud cover.
“I hate Ejis,” Wendelin spoke, now looking at the crescent moon and the purple, discolored blotches upon it.
“Welcome to the club; we have free ice cream to cry in,” he answered. “Sorry, that was insensitive. Uh, did anyone tell you what was going on?”
Wendelin pulled away from the window again, and pulled down the cover. “Some of it.” She made eye contact with the skater again—he had a thin face with the earnest expression of a person who didn't know what they were doing but wanted to do it well. He'd “combed” his hair like a pop star. “The mages from Ejis wrote an insanity-circle around Mittenwald. I'm the only survivor I know. I almost became unconscious in the heat.” Wendelin looked down, prepared to cry, but finding that tears weren't coming. She didn't know what to feel. “The same thing happened to other towns in America.”
He gave a sympathetic smile, looked towards the two up front, and then scooted forward in his seat. “They say it's gonna be the end of the world if there's no way to fight them. Bombs don't work, guns don't work, they finally got done with the chemical warfare testing and it isn't all that great...but apparently they've got some new ideas, and they think we can help?” He shrugged. “I'm from Crown Point, Indiana. Same thing happened there...almost got struck by lightning eight or nine times, myself.” He gestured out towards the Americans in front, and Wendelin followed the pointing of his finger. “Tall black lady there is Laquisha Hampton. Dug herself out of some sand that she says just wasn't there before, way out in Alaska. And that guy is Joel Hunt; said he was from somewhere in Florida. Same stories, basically.” He leaned back. His hands fidgeted with each other.
“And you?” Wendelin asked.
“Tony. Pretty sure we're gonna have to get used to each other, so, last name Dawson.”
“Wendelin Zoeller,” she responded. “'Wendy' for my English name,” she added, figuring that she wouldn't be speaking much German while here. “Forgive me, I'm not completely fluent in English yet.”
“Could have fooled me.” Tony stretched his legs out forward. “So...you don't know Mr. Hunt's whole deal?”
“What he did.”
Tony stood up again. “Yo, Mr. Hunt! Are the guys in the black suits gonna way when we're high up enough, or what?”
Mr. Hunt, himself wearing a suit—although a gray one, and thoroughly scuffed—excused himself, and walked over to Tony. His eager face, beaming under styled blond hair, showed no disrespect. “It shouldn't be much longer.” He straightened his red tie. “They told me the surveillance blocker should filter out everything at cruising altitude. Which means...” He looked towards the sealed-off door to the cockpit. “A few minutes. I know you and Ms. Hampton are up to speed, but Ms...”
“Zoeller,” Tony supplied. Wendelin suddenly felt self-conscious, and brushed the remaining dirt off her jeans. The rips in her red sweater couldn't be helped, though, nor could the realization that she probably weighed more than either of these two. So much for the 'fat American' stereotype.
“...Ms. Zoeller only made it to Atlanta maybe an hour ago. Does she know about her...?”
“My what?” Wendelin asked.
“Then, no,” Mr. Hunt continued, and took a seat at the table that Tony had gotten up from, still smiling. “In short? Everyone in this section of the plane is Earth's last hope.”
Wendelin knew well enough that Ejis had proven unstoppable. For all practical purposes, everything from that 'secondary universe' ran on concepts. There were gods, mages, literal Power Of Love sorts of things, and no technology. Things like buildings and clothes were just part of how reality conceptually worked there. And with it leaking into the universe Earth inhabited—starting from the enemy base on the Moon—the world's governments seemed only to be delaying the inevitable. In this world, humanity was basically an incidental side effect of the universe with no inherent meaning; of course a more 'important' reality could sweep everyone up with no effort.
“I'm not interested in dying for no reason,” Wendelin said. “Only Ejis can fight Ejis. We don't have 'concept power'.”
“But what if we did?” Mr. Hunt asked, his grin widening. “They've put too much into fighting us for something not to leak out.” The intercom beeped. “And that's our cue,” he added.
And then he started floating.
Wendelin watched his tie flop in the air, stunned in disbelief.
Tony cleared his throat. “Long story short, Wendy, there's a million different magi attacking because Ejis has a million different concepts, but the universe only has four. And they just accidentally gave us them, which means we control them now, which means we can probably actually fight them.” He held out his hand, palm-up and in front of Wendelin. “Didn't take the government to long to figure it out.” In his hand, an orb of electricity sparked and crackled, emitting the sharp odor of ozone.
“What are you talking about?” Wendelin asked, her face pale and her voice quiet. “Be clear. I'm not good with English.” Confusion slowed her mind nearly to a stop.
Heavy strides from the front of the jet reached the three. Laquisha stood with her hands now folded under her chest. A stark opposite of Tony or Mr. Hunt—a heavyset black woman—Wendelin turned her attention towards her. “Are you really doin' this? You just gonna tell her what this is or not?”
Tony laughed nervously. “I thought we were.”
“You always talkin' in circles,” she commented, and Wendelin got the feeling she wasn't referring to Tony or Mr. Hunt specifically. Laquisha turned to Wendelin. “Four fundamental forces of the universe; Joel's got gravity, Tony's got electromagnetism, and I got the 'strong force',” she explained, “But I can't show you because then I'll be blowin' up the whole plane with fusion. And you got--”
“The weak force,” Wendelin finished. It had taken her a moment to remember her physics courses and translate names to English.
Wendelin watched Tony, Mr. Hunt, and Laquisha continue talking, but mentally tuned out the English. Things...suddenly made a lot more sense. The weird thoughts she'd been having, the hallucinatory sights and sounds at the edges of her perception..they came back to her. The sounds were...clicks...like a Geiger counter. Specks of light as gamma rays. A vague unease, an awareness of seemingly random objects...a tension in the air as if something would happen soon.
Wendelin closed her eyes and held the thought of the jet in her mind, with all of the traces of radiation therein. Almost everything was a little radioactive. The carbon-14 in the human body, the trace of radon gas in the air, a fraction of the potassium just about everywhere...
For this jet, it was going to be on hold until further notice. And so it stopped.
Wendelin didn't look forward to fighting, but she couldn't help but feel powerful.