Just want to give a heads-up: This was originally the work of one of my friends, who left it for me to finish. Everything up to chapter 7 was written by her, but everything afterwards has been done by me.
Valerie Bay Joel-Radar.
I made that name for myself the day I stopped looking back. It's based on Spanish, but the people I'mhiding from speak Spanish, so I have to sort of code it.
The origina phrase was "Volar bajo el radar", which translates to "Flying under the radar". I thought it was a fitting name, as flying under the radar is what I do best. Every day, I live a lie, pretending to be someone else for the sake of protecting my true identity, my freedom. I am the sheep in wolves' clothing, the rose among thorns, the liar and theif.
I am a Jumper, living among Paladins.
It wasn't always a case of life or death for me, though. Most Jumpers are hunted by Paladins from the moment they make their secret public. I was lucky to grow up alone, because neither of my parents were really there. Dad was a gambler, and Mum had three jobs she worked to pay off the mortgage. I was always left to my own devices, and I liked my solitude. I was good at being alone.
I made my first jump when I was five, and y senses went into overload for some reason. I collapsed, and nearly passed out. I learnt later that it was an extra sense, like a natural instinct, telling me when someone jumped. The same instinct that Paladins share.
I became something of a paradox. But I enjoyed it. I taught myself to shut off the sense when I jumped, and by the time I was ten, I could jump with only a faint twinge in the back of my mind. Of course, I could still sense other jumps, just not my own.
Before we lost all the money, Mum would take me everywhere. I knew Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne well, and we even went to Perth once. Everywhere I went, I took photos, and I returned there even after we got home. It was incredible, the freedom I had. But I knew, from my extra sense, that there had to be people hunting Jumpers.
Most Jumpers are dead by the age of twenty. Only a lucky handful survive to see the other side of twenty-five, and no one has ever heard of a thirty-year-old Jumper. But it's sort of the same for Paladins. Most are between twenty and thirty-five, with only the highest-ranking officials in their mid-fifties. There's a small handful in their late teens, mostly seventeen, eighteen and nineteen, the children of other Paladins, who are dedicated to the cause.
Any Jumper's natural instinct is to jump away when they encounter a Paladin. A crazy few hunt Paladins, making a sport of it, but they never survive for long. The others try to run, and die quickly. Not me, though. Like I said, the sheep in wolves' clothing. I call myself the sheep, because if a sheep were discovered among a pack of wolves, it would be torn apart within seconds. Same for me.
My sense is a lot stronger than most Paladins, and I have a special talent for finding Jumpers. So, the Paladins welcomed me into their ranks with open arms when I was fifteen. I kept my jumping a secret, though. Hiding in plain sight.
Darling Harbour on a January evening is beautiful.
I say that with a certain degree of bias, though. Sydney, after all, is my home, and Darling Harbour was one of my favourite escape places.
'So, to clarify, we're not even going to look for trouble,' Liam Hargreaves stated, 'If they provoke us, we'll defend, but we're not hunting. Not tonight.'
'All we're hunting for is a good time,' Junior stated, flicking a long strand of hair out of his brilliant blue eyes, 'We're in Sydney, it's seven pm and still hot, and we're admiring one of the most beautiful areas of scenery in the world.'
We were here with a larger group, most of them adults, and we were staying in a flashy steel-and-glass apartment building close to the Harbour, but the adults were holding a special meeting and we, being underage, weren't allowed to attend.
"Adults" classified anyone over the age of twenty, with enough experience. Liam was a little sour that he'd missed out by two months, but Junior and I had punched him lightly on the shoulders, and dragged him off to a flashy Italian restaurant on the waterfront. A full plate of tortellini and some garlic bread and mud cake later, he was okay about missing out.
Junior and I were both eighteen, soon to be nineteen. Junior had dark brown, floppy hair that reached his ears, and he was fun-loving and had a certain liking for bending the rules. He had that I'm-the-one-your-mum-warned-you-about look about him, with a grin that was more of a smirk, mischievous, sparkling blue eyes, and stray strands of hair that never stayed with the rest of his hair, no matter how much gel was used. He barely looked sixteen, but he was five-eleven. His youthful features, and the fact he had only been with us for a year, had earned him his nickname.
Liam, on the other hand, looked like a British punk. He had shaved his head, and a silver earring dangled from his left ear. He almost always wore a black trench coat and a pair of round, dark sunglasses, even if it wasn't sunny. He looked sort of scary, but he had a half-decent heart. Liam had greeted me when I'd gone to LA the first time, about two years back, and we'd kept in contact until we no longer needed partners, when we could go out alone. Junior had shown up a year later, at the London agency. I met the Brit in California and the Californian in Britain.
'So, what to do now?' Junior asked. Around this time of night, he was always thinking with his stomach, no matter how large his dinner had been.
'We could check out a cafe and get some cake,' I suggested, but he shook his head.
'The girls there are always so desperate, and I don't have that much money on me.'
Liam chuckled, 'Okay Handsome, maybe we can find a fish and chips shop somewhere, get a few serves of chips or something.'
'We're near water,' I stated drily, 'An unwritten Australian law: If there's water, there's a fish and chips store within five hundred metres.' I was considered the local expert, as I'd spent sixteen years of my life here, full-time. Liam had only ever been to Britain and the US, and Junior the same.
Two huge serves of chips were paid for and quickly destroyed. We washed it down with coke and watched a street performance.
'What now?' Liam asked as we turned away from a fire-eating man.
'Legal age here's eighteen,' I grinned, 'And I've had my eye on some of the clubs here since I understood what clubbing was.'
The music was loud and blaring with a strong bass line that made the window panes rattle, and the fluorescent blue, green, yellow, orange and purple lights flashed everywhere. The only fixed lighting was at the bar, where traditional fluorescent tubes lit up the counter.
'Another round?' Liam yelled over the music, and Junior and I nodded. We had chosen to sit up at the bar, until we'd had enough drinks to affect our sense of self-consciousness. Everyone here was wearing tiny denim skirts, skimpy tops with spaghetti straps, and stiletto heels.
'What are you watching for?' Junior asked, leaning in closer so I would hear him.
'The peroxide blonde over there,' I pointed, 'I'm waiting for those heels to snap.'
The girl was wearing five-inch heels that were barely thicker than a pencil, and the way she was bouncing around on them meant they would gove way soon enough.
Sure enough, as Liam handed us our drinks, the left heel snapped and the girl fell, probably rolling an ankle. I smirked, shook my head, and turned back to the bar.
'Gt any Resch?' a British voice asked the bargirl. I turned to my right to see a guy with a tangled mess of brown hair and a leather jacket. He turned to me, and I realised his face seemed so serious, as if he was worried, or thinking. Or being cautious.
'Not from around here?' I asked, and the guy surveyed me carefully, his eyes sweeping over the shoulder-length black bob, the black tee shirt and the jeans. Nothing showed in his eyes, though, which sort of annoyed me. I was pretty good at reading eyes, and I didn't see anything in his.
'Just here for a bit, heading home soon.' The barmaid handed him a long neck of the New Zealand beer, and I gestured.
'If you want Kiwi alcohol, you should go to New Zealand,' I pointed to my own, a toohey's dry, 'Australia serves Aussie beer best. It's like asking for a Bud in Britain. Totally out of place.'
Leather Jacket arched an eyebrow as he raised the bottle to his mouth. I smiled and looked away.
'I'm guessing you're a local, then?' he was still looking at me, as if cautious, like the way a bird will watch you when you throw some crumbs; they want the crumbs, but instinct tells them to fly.
I grinned, taking a swig, 'Been away for a bit, but yeah, I call Sydney home.'
'You travel a lot?'
'Part of my job.' It was the standard lie; if we ever met anyone in a bar, or somewhere, we always said we travelled for a living, either hunting old artefacts or collecting things, like a museum curator. Except we didn't bring back the item we were hunting, we just kill it. 'What about you? A business trip, or pleasure trip?'
'More for fun this time around,' Leather Jacket grinned, 'But My job does necessitate some travelling. A lot of travelling.'
'Oh? What do you do?'
The guy hesitated, and I knew that whatever he said next would be a half-truth, probably, or maybe even a lie. 'I hunt down lost things,' he replied.
Was that the bass line making my stomach feel strange, or had it just done a somersault? Was he another Paladin, a lone ranger?
'What a coincidence,' I smirked, 'We collect things,'
I indicated Junior and Liam, who were deeply involved in a discussion hat had something to do with different clubs in different countries. Leather Jacket understood.
'I'm Radar,' I extended my hand, 'That's what everyone calls me, anyway.'
'What's that short for?' he asked, shaking my hand.
'Valerie Bay Joel-Radar,' I replied, pronouncing the j correctly, as a soft h.
'Strange name,' the guy replied. Was it just me or was he avoiding telling me his name? Oh well, he looked about twenty-one, maybe older, anyway. Maybe a little too old for me.
'Valerie for my grandmother, Bay for my other grandmother, Dad's surname was Joel – he was Spanish – and Mum's surname was Radar.'
'Complicated,' Leather Jacket grinned as he took another sip. 'I suppose you want to know my name, too.' It was a statement, not a question.
'I told you mine, you tell me yours.'
He ginned at me, and was about to answer when Junior grabbed my arm.
'Dance?' he asked, his eyes sparkling. If he'd turned that gaze on any other girl, they would have melted completely. Junior was a good friend, so I never got the weak-kneed feeling you get when a guy like him looks at you like that.
I nodded, and left my drink on the counter. Liam owed me another few rounds, anyway, after that bar in Chiswick last month.
We danced through three songs, until Liam decided he wanted to go home.
'Fine,' Junior waved him off, still fairly straight-headed. I was feeling slightly dizzy, but it wasn't anything too bad; I'd had worse in New York when someone had tried to spike my drink. Drew, another of the guys, had knocked the guy out cold, though. I doubted Mark Kobold was going to be slipping anything into other girls' drinks anytime soon.
'Maybe we should head off soon, too,' I suggested, but Junior waved a hand vaguely.
'The night is young,' he stated, signalling the barmaid for another round.
'It's nearly midnight. This place closes at two,'
'I haven't gotten any numbers,' Junior stated simply, and I gave up. Junior never went home without a phone number or two. He obviously wasn't trying hard enough tonight.
'Your friend's enjoying himself,' a British voice stated beside me as I watched Junior dancing with another girl later. I started slightly, and turned to see Leather Jacket beside me.
'Yeah, but I really shouldn't go without him,' I suppressed a shudder, 'Our job doesn't make us popular with...certain types.'
'What, people who don't like collectors?'
'It's a cut-throat business,' Literally. Last time we'd left one of our guys to get home on his own...well, they found the remains two weeks later, in coyote territory near Mexico. Not pleasant.
'So, how long are you in Sydney?' he asked. I shrugged.
'Couple of weeks, until we track down what we're looking for and...' I trailed off, and glanced at my drink. Maybe I'd had a little too much; I'd almost said "killed it". What a way to blow cover, especially if this was another Paladin. He could report me, get me in strife.
Think about it, though, my mind was blurry, trying to fight through the alcohol, You didn't see him arrive. You haven't been "tuned in" all night, so you might not have even sensed him. He said he was a hunter...
Nah, couldn't be.
'You all right?' he asked, looking at me. I looked up at him, and grinned.
'Think I might've had too much,' I stated, and Leather jacket grinned.
'I haven't even had a chance to buy you a drink, though,' he stated, and I blinked at the thought. A complete stranger, buying me a drink.
Don't trust him. Even if he's just a normal guy, he could spike it.
'Yeah, whatever,' I showed him the bottle. I'd switched, over the course of the night, from toohey's to strongbow, preferring the lighter drink, in case I had to carry Junior home again. Hey, it had happened before.
I didn't hear him order the drinks, but the barmaid handed the bottle straight to me, popping the lid off as she did. At least he couldn't spike it, then.
'How long are you here for?' I asked him.
'Might leave tomorrow, actually.'
'You mean later today,' I pointed out. It was already one in the morning, which made it Sunday, the Sabbath Day, the day of rest.
'Yeah, later today.' He raised the bottle, 'To a safe trip home, for both of us.'
'Safe trip home,' I repeated, and the bottles clinked together.
I was probably going to be lucky o get back to the apartment safely, considering the state I was in.