Nomi and her other selves were all a little bit unreal. They were so much more, so much bigger than a single person that looking at her now was like looking right into the sun. But Amanita had her own power and strength, she didn't feel insignificant in Nomi's orbit.
She felt like a twin sun.
And even though she didn't have magical telepathy, she had other skills. Costumes and the internet went a long way to being a super hero.
The problem wasn't that Amanita felt lesser than the weirdo collective, it's that the weirdo collective went collectively missing and that was scary shit. Whispers had been her first thought, because when your magical hacker girlfriend went missing, the creepy shadow government agency that hunted people like her was the obvious conclusion.
“Where are they? Where is Nomi Marks?” Amanita could small Whispers' breath, like almonds and sour coffee. He grabbed her chin, trying to force her to look into his eyes. She had no idea if his powers of control would work on her, if he could see through her once she let him, but she wasn't going to find out.
He hit her then, because the truth about Whispers was simple. He was a small man, a pathetic little boy who had never grown up to become a real person. He threw tantrums and lashed out at anyone who would dare to disagree with his view of the world.
They left empty-handed, left her alive and that was a sign of how fucked up their thinking was because Amanita knew two things: they thought she was completely insignificant, not a threat to anything they could do – and they understood she was the only one who could lead them to Nomi. She was at once their most powerful asset and completely meaningless in Whispers' mind and that gave her a chance.
A chance to protect Nomi.
As cool as it was to talk to people in your head, there were other ways. Like the telephone.
Amanita had all the numbers she needed – and when a phone rang in Mexico City, she knew exactly who would pick up, had listened to and cherished ever single detail Nomi had told her about the other seven parts of herself.
The man who picked up the phone and said something dismissive in Spanish could only be Hernando. “Wait,” she said, a little frantic, “just wait.”
Hernando hesitated. His English was actually better than Lito's and she knew he had understood her. “What do you want?” His voice was clipped, barely containing the rage and fear that had to have a hold on him. Amanita knew the exact feeling.
“I know that Lito is gone,” she said. “And I can help you find him.” It was a bit of a white lie because Amanita needed his help as much as he needed hers. Only together did they have a chance. To find a missing person, one needed all the pieces of their lives.
Daniela kept staring at her hair. Amanita had grown used to the feeling long ago and the honest, almost childish interest was a lot easier to bear than some other gazes she'd had to endure.
“I still don't believe you,” Hernando said, and his stare was just as honest – distrust and anger.
Amanita sighed. “Look, I know it's hard to believe. I know you were so busy with your own problems that Lito's voices probably didn't even register. But there must have been moments when he was acting weird. I mean, weirder than normal. Getting distracted. Talking about strange experiences. Looking lost in his own head.”
And there, just there, was a spark of recognition. “Perhaps,” Lito allowed.
“Good,” Amanita said, “that's great. Now here's the deal. We have to find them before Whispers does or we may never see them again.”
Daniela perked up. “This Whispers, he is the bad guy?”
Amanita smiled, all teeth and rage. “Yes, very bad.”
Will's partner was an easier sell – he'd seen Will go off the deep end, been there during the investigation. Daniela flirted with him outrageously and got him to help in under fifteen minutes.
The conference calls were getting a little crowded by the time they got to Korea, but that one was the most important. The old man barely spoke any English. The dog kept barking his obvious distress. They both seemed to know, in their own way, that Sun was no longer in prison. And that was the biggest mystery, because indeed Sun had been the safest and the hardest to simply disappear.
Amanita groaned in frustration when it became obvious that over half the sensates had never even spoken about their troubles. “What is it with you people and sharing? Don't you talk to each other?”
Kala's father sighed. “Would you have believed it?”
“I did,” Amanita said, a little proud. “Nomi was in the hospital, they gave us a perfectly scientific sounding explanation – and when she spoke of these experiences, about how they felt real, I believed her.”
There was noise then, so many people trying to justify their clinging to a simpler concept of reality.
Away from the computer, in the quiet of her own world where Nomi fit in like the last, most vital piece of a large puzzle, Amanita allowed herself to be weak, just for a moment. Crying felt cathartic and necessary. A few minutes, just a few minutes. That was all she needed to put herself back together.
Sun had been broken out of prison. Someone had taken her, though they had no evidence either way to suggest whether it was Whispers or the other sensates. They found travel arrangements though, Riley and Will on a train, Lito checking into a hotel with one of his aliased credit cards. Nomi was impossible to find, a complete ghost, but Amanita expected nothing less from a superhero hacker.
They'd gone willingly, that seemed to be the consensus. And maybe Sun had simply decided that her time in prison was done and she was needed elsewhere. It was not like simple walls could stop her.
There were two distinct possibilities to hide a group like the sensates. A bustling hive of human activity like the biggest, most vibrant cities of the world – or the wilderness. If they had gone to ground somewhere with no cell reception, no civilization to speak of, no one would ever find them.
“Nomi would try to find a blackout spot, somewhere that has no surveillance, no cloud, nothing.”
And there were still a lot of places like that in the world, but only a few that weren't accessible to satellites.
“Yeah, but Will would try to bring the fight back to the people who are hunting them. He'd not be satisfied with running away.”
“Neither would my daughter.”
In the end, they were too late to do much more than extraction. The weirdo collective had gone and done their superhero thing and Amanita and her crew came to pick up the pieces. It was not entirely an unpleasant arrangement – Amanita could be a cool sidekick and that still involved a lot of costume opportunities.
Nomi smiled at her across the burning wasteland of a secret research facility. There were people screaming and hugging and crying everywhere, evil little scientists running for their lives, some explosions in the distance.
But all that didn't matter, because in a crowded room, a crowded mind, a crowded life, Nomi still only had eyes for her.