No plan survived contact with the enemy, but I hoped it would at least be recognizable in the aftermath.
Phase two. Contain and besiege.
We staggered our retreat, with Capricorn walling off the path behind us before the group moved again. The Fallen sent some people our way, but I had the impression the people were scouts, figuring out where we were and then getting scared off by the razor-forcefields and antisonic booms.
Rain stuck with Narwhal’s group, and even contributed some of the suppressive fire. As I flew around the treetops to keep an eye on things from above, I saw the occasional tree topple, as Rain’s power and something else hit a tree around the same time.
Trees falling was good. It helped to cover our retreat in the same way Capricorn’s walls did.
He kept giving me looks. I couldn’t read his expression while his mask was on, but I could make assumptions. He hadn’t liked leaving, or even pretending to leave, and I knew he wanted to help Erin.
Mama Mathers was powerful. It wasn’t that she had the clout some other top tier capes did, but her existence created a blind spot where we couldn’t keep tabs on the Fallen’s side.
Another wall snapped into existence. Fluke gave the call to move on, and the group ventured further into the woods, away from the area where the Fallen camp was nestled. Narwhal’s offensive team followed behind the retreat, with Fluke staying back to report to her as she caught up with him. Weld was hurrying forward to stay near the front of the group, taking on a semi-leadership role.
With each phase in our retreat, Capricorn’s walls went up faster and bigger. Vista was sticking by him, and from what little I could see as I used my advantage of mobility to check on everything, they were getting along great.
Yeah. I needed to have a chat with her.
Sveta was sticking with Weld, even though they had different focuses in the moment. Weld was directing people and making sure the coast was clear, while Sveta had Weld’s phone in hand, a brick of a thing with push buttons that she needed two hands to hold. He would have dialed for her, or answered for her while Looksee called. Our kid tinker was on the other end.
My phone was in my pocket, the cord of my earphones running up beneath my armor and hair to my ear, where it was covered. I was looped into the conversation.
With the rain pattering down around us, cool but not cold, my setup meant I could keep my hands and face dry, without risking that my phone might get wet.
“I had my moment of heroism, I even caught some bad guys,” Looksee said. “It’s probably kind of lame compared to what you guys are doing, but it’s my first win!”
“Your first win,” Sveta said.
“Mine and mine alone, yes! I was keeping an eye on everything around the camp and the moment things started, a bunch of people in the town got in cars and raced off in your direction. I told my friends here and they told Narwhal and her group, but nobody was in a good spot. So I programmed like lightning, and repurposed the projector box.”
“Not too many details,” I jumped in, wincing at the offhand mention of the trap. “We don’t know who’s listening in.”
“Sorry. But I put up projections of police officers and vans and some heroes.”
“What I’m hearing in this is that you’ve taken the time to capture and keep images of police officers, vans, and some heroes,” Chris said.
He was in on the call too, apparently. I hadn’t known before he spoke up.
“I didn’t keep anyone’s faces or anything, and I changed up the hero costumes,” she defended herself. “I even asked most of them if I could take their picture.”
“Says the girl who could probably make a camera that steals literal souls if she tried. Totally innocent thing to ask, and they have no idea at all.”
“Could not. Souls are for God to handle, numbnuts.”
“Be nice, both of you,” I said. “Tell your story, Looksee.”
Capricorn was jogging along, with Vista at his side. He produced orange sparks, and she distorted the space around them. He shook his head, and the sparks winked out.
It was really, really weird to look at the pair and realize they were about the same age. I’d heard about Vista from Gallant before I ever even met her, and I’d tried my best to take her as a fellow hero first and a kid second, at his suggestion. But she was seventeen, now. Crazy.
“I finished picking out the code and put up my projections just before they came around the corner. They rolled up and stopped because they had a bunch of guns pointed at them. I called the guy Victoria mentioned-”
“Gilpatrick,” I said.
“Yes! I feel bad for forgetting his name. He’s nice. I really like him.”
“You like everyone,” Chris said.
“He’s likable,” I said. “One of my favorite people.”
I heard an audible increase in excitement when Looksee responded, simply from the fact I’d validated her impression. “I see why. They sent a van super quick and took all the people into custody. Fallen, hanging back in the town.”
“They would have been the ones keeping an eye on things,” Sveta said.
“Reinforcements,” Looksee said. “They had guns. The assholes.”
It was Chris who answered that. “We know about the guns. The Fallen and Hollow Point guys have been shooting them all over the place. Victoria got shot.”
“I’m fine. Already patched up,” I said, as I thought, I might need physiotherapy, and there’s a sensation in the center of this mess that makes it feel like the bullet is still in there, but I won’t die.
“I got shot too,” Chris said. “Not that anyone cares.”
“When?” Sveta asked.
“I was Dark Introspection. It didn’t do much of anything, but I still got shot.”
“Don’t talk like that, you guys,” I heard Looksee. “I’m teary eyed even thinking of you guys being seriously hurt.”
Okay, we needed a distraction. “Looksee. I’m thinking of a plan, beyond what we already talked about. You’re a key part of it.”
“What we just talked about, with our reinforcements?”
“Yes,” I said. Our reinforcements. Good to phrase it that way. Tattletale.
“I’m looking into it,” Looksee said.
“Good,” I said. “This is separate. If you’re up for it.”
“Reinforcements?” Sveta asked.
“Rain or I can fill you in after,” I said.
She didn’t respond immediately. Down on the ground, I saw her look up at me, her Brute-and-gauntlet-wearer class phone still held to her ear.
“Okay,” Sveta said.
“Looksee,” I said, hurrying to lay it out now that I’d cleared some of the obstacles and interpersonal issues. “You may have people coming down the road. It’s the easiest way for them to get out if they want to make a run for it.”
“I’ll be ready. With reinforcements, maybe. Depends. They’re not answering.”
“Okay,” I said. “How hard would it be to set something else up? Gilpatrick is wrangling an awful lot of people. What if those people were waiting elsewhere?”
“Elsewhere?” Looksee asked.
“Or… in as many places as you can manage. I’m thinking we put the evacuees in one place, or spread them out. They’re people the Fallen have some reason to care about. We put images of the evacuees in other places, or we fill out the groups. We give them a reason not to shoot the moment they come storming down that dirt road or out of the woods.”
“I’d need to grab images and write some code. I’d have to change the spectrum angle on the- thing. There’s a lot of stuff.”
“Can you?” I asked.
“I can try, but it’s going to be hard, and I’ll be distracted. I might have to hang up so I can focus. Um. Is there anything else I need to do or plan for?”
“No,” I said.
“I’m going to hang up then! Will call back soo-” she announced, hanging up before she’d even finished the sentence.
There was a pause.
“Is the world ending again, or did she really just say that?” Chris asked. “She decided of her own volition to hang up on friends.”
“She’s excited to help,” Sveta said.
She was, I suspected, but I wasn’t sure I’d heard excitement, exactly.
Hard to pin down.
Capricorn was building the next wall within Vista’s distortion. He turned blue, and the wall turned to water. There were shouts as people near the wall had to jump back to avoid getting sloshed. Some couldn’t avoid it and were soaked or partially soaked.
Narwhal raised her voice. I double checked what I could see of the woods, to make sure nobody was coming or passing by our flanks, then dropped from my lookout position.
I hung up my phone as I descended.
“-of you showing off?” Narwhal asked. I’d missed the start of the sentence.
“No,” Capricorn said. He was back to being Tristan, and he was drawing out the wall even as Narwhal grilled him.
“This is a serious mission. Your team posed it as such, and you were there- you saw how high the stakes are.”
“Absolutely,” Capricorn said.
“Yes ma’am,” Vista said.
“What were you doing?” Narwhal asked.
“Trying something,” Capricorn said. “Vista saved me time earlier, I thought we could afford to lose some to try this, because it could save us a lot of time.”
“Capricorn, I get the impression you’re a good cape, the walls are good, you’ve kept a level head. But the people back there- they’re the ones who can’t afford for us to screw up or let the Fallen catch up with us.”
Rain was standing a bit off to the side. He’d been with Narwhal before, and he’d approached, because Capricorn was his friend. He looked at me as Narwhal said the last bit.
Soon, I pledged mentally, without saying it out loud.
“Yes ma’am,” Capricorn said.
“What were you trying to do, powerwise?” I asked.
“Seeing what translates when I change out, if there’s a way to have her help make it bigger, not just move the sparks around faster, and keep it big even after she withdraws her space warping.”
“You were trying other stuff before,” I said.
“Yeah. Flubbed this one, I think something went wrong. The plan was to swap out, swap back a second later, so the wall mostly held… one second.”
He turned blue. Byron.
“Didn’t go according to plan,” I concluded.
“There was a resistance to swapping back,” Byron said. “Had to push in a way I never have.”
“Okay,” I said.
Back to Tristan.
“Scary,” Tristan noted. I was already listening for the sound difference between the pair of them, so I wasn’t relying on sight alone, and I didn’t miss that he’d said the word in a voice that didn’t sound like either of them. Or maybe it was the voice that fell in the venn-diagram overlap of how they were the same, in the middle of their case-seventy situation.
Narwhal gave me a long look. As if I was some kind of judge or voice for the weirdness of the team.
“It’s a tricky power,” I tried answering the look. “If they did figure out a way to save time and let them put up taller, thicker walls, I think you and I would be complimenting them on their ingenuity. This didn’t cost us much.”
Narwhal looked over in the direction of the biker and Fallen we’d collected. Afflicted by Mama, they were dealing with the worst she could deal with.
“We’re backing off anyway, and they aren’t pressing hard. We’ll figure out another angle,” I added, sounding as confident as I could. It felt strange to try to convince someone of Narwhal’s stature. “Maybe figure out how to help them.”
“We can try some things once we get far enough out, and that’s why I’m mindful of wasted time,” Narwhal said. “I miss having thinkers, but we couldn’t conscience bringing them with us, with the risk. They could crack this and help those people. It’s frustrating.”
“It is,” I said. I glanced at Rain.
And there’s Tattletale, ignoring Kenzie’s calls, doing something out there, I thought. I don’t know if she could crack this, but she doesn’t seem too interested in trying.
Narwhal turned to the Capricorn-Vista pair.
“Right now we need steady and reliable, with no surprises. Please,” Narwhal said, with emphasis on the please. “And no more small talk. Let’s stay focused on the mission. I overheard when I caught up to you two. We should save the… complex inter-cape interactions for later.”
Oh, so she’d noticed too.
“Got it, ma’am,” Capricorn said.
Vista didn’t voice her response, and from the way she held herself, I wondered if it was because she didn’t feel comfortable speaking in the moment. She only nodded.
“Vista,” Narwhal said. “Can you cover our flank?”
“Narwhal, ma’am,” Capricorn said. “She does help me put them up faster and better. I’d like her to keep helping. You don’t need to separate us. We’ll stick to what we know works, and we work well together.”
“Vista,” Narwhal spoke in a lower voice, not taking her eyes off of Capricorn. “From what I know of your power, you don’t need to be close to make it work.”
“No ma’am, but I have to put it between the trees and it helps if I’m not too far away, so I can see instead of only feeling.”
“I’ve been aligning the walls to work with her on that,” Capricorn said.
“No small talk,” Narwhal said. “You can stand further back and keep an eye on more of our flank while you work, Vista.”
“Yes ma’am,” Vista said.
Fluke grabbed Narwhal’s attention, and she reached up and over for a forcefield that appeared over her hand, gliding over to him.
“That sucked,” Capricorn said. He was working on the wall again. “I generally pride myself on being a kickass, professional cape, and I just got told off by someone global in stature.”
“I’m on the exact same page as you, Cap,” Vista said. “Except I was a Ward, not a shill, and that’s my actual boss.”
Capricorn didn’t give a visible reaction to being called a shill. Something they’d talked about earlier? A joke?
“I think she’s nervous,” I said. “This whole thing is worse than we thought it would be, and we thought it would be awful.”
“She’s very nervous,” Vista said. “We’re all nervous. So much going on at the borders between worlds and we find out there’s something this rotten this close to home? Things are supposed to be getting better and these guys seem really fucking committed to taking things in the other direction.”
“She’s looking,” Capricorn said, as he turned his head toward his wall. “And we’re still talking.”
“Vista, can we talk?” I asked.
She followed me off to the side.
“I’m going to be cringing about this for the next five years,” Vista said. “I goofed and got distracted, and everything went splat in front of my team leader, my team, my old team leader, you, Capricorn… and I think my boss knew why.”
I had been able to tell what was going on when I was a hundred feet in the air.
“First off,” I started.
“The bad moments? Never as bad as they are in your own head. You couldn’t predict that. Take it from the bystander and friend, don’t cringe for five years.”
She didn’t respond immediately, but then she nodded, sighing as she did it, like she was letting something free.
“Okay. What’s second off?”
“Second… do you want it blunt or do you want it gentle?”
“Blunt,” Vista said. “I’m a fighter. I can take it.”
“You have a problem,” I told her, quiet. “You have a thing for unattainable guys in heavy armor.”
I saw her react, like she’d been punched in the gut, before she steeled herself. I could even work out the thought process, as she noted that others were in a position to see us and her. She couldn’t react too visibly.
“Dead son of a cunt, I might actually,” she said, under her breath. “Unattainable why?”
“Can’t say. He’ll tell you soon, I think. He thinks you’re cool.”
“They always do,” she said. “When things are calmer, you need to help me with this.”
“I can try, but before we talk about that-”
“We should talk about it another day.”
“Okay. But on this, just to clear things up in a way I can explain, he has a twin brother. The one in blue-”
“Oh. That’s what that was.”
“It’s not a secret, but it’s not something we tell the bad guys either.”
“I won’t say go for it, because… messy.”
“We’re all messy.”
“Messy… in a way beyond the cape usual. I don’t think they can date, as it is. And a very different personality. Brace yourself for that.”
“I think he could use a friend, but again, being blunt-”
I stopped as my phone rang, the earphone still in my ear, cord hidden by hair and armor. I held up a finger for Vista.
“Yes?” I asked.
“It’s Looksee. So I’ve got a thing.”
“Talk,” Sveta said, on the other line.
“I’m getting footage of the Fallen evacuees, two cameras out there, one up close to get the people and one pulled back to track light sources and get another angle. My pulled-back is freaking out.”
“Freaking how?” Sveta asked.
“Literal ghost in the machine freaking?” I asked.
“Yes! Yes, exactly. I’ve never heard that term before but it fits exactly.”
“How has a tinker never heard-” Chris started.
“Don’t look at it, don’t dig into the code,” I talked over him.
“It’s Mama Mathers,” I said, loud enough for others to hear. “With Gilpatrick’s patrol squad.”
“She was approaching, not with them yet, I think,” Looksee said.
“Looksee, call Gilpatrick!” I warned. “I’m on my way.”
“I’m coming,” Sveta said.
I thought of the secret message to Kenzie. The plan. I’d pledged something to Rain, too. “Has Mama affected you at all?”
“Rain, how hurt are you?”
I moved the hand of my uninjured arm at my side, where only he was really in a position to see. A slash, side to side.
“Really hurt. Snag did a number on me,” he said.
With luck, he was lying, and he got my intent. We needed him as the one person who Mama couldn’t control, operating in a place she couldn’t see- away from those she’d infected.
“Situate yourself, cover us to our south,” I said. Again, I made the slash. “Be ready to join whoever, but stay put. Sveta, escort him, then come to us?”
“Okay,” Sveta said, looking at Rain. “Can do.”
“Rain? Fill her in on anything you can on the way.”
“Understood,” Rain said, with a slight emphasis. Rain jogged northward.
“C and I will follow, or we’ll hold down the fort. I’ll call when we can confirm,” Capricorn said.
“I’m pretty mama’ed up,” Chris said. “I’m dealing but it’s distracting.”
“Distracting?” Capricorn asked. He sounded slightly incredulous.
“Seeing the surface of everything peeling away to show the shrieking flesh beneath distracts me. Sue me.”
Capricorn turned his head. “Narwhal’s fighting. I think the Fallen coordinated things so they’d hit all sides at once.”
“She can do that,” I said. “Seeing what she sees.”
“You realize you’re going alone? Until Sveta catches up with you.”
“I realize,” I said, raising myself up off the ground a bit.
I flew, zig-zagging to avoid the worst of the branches, ducking my head and letting smaller ones graze my hood.
I had a view of the broader landscape, and I could see where the roads formed an almost hammer-and-sickle image, the half-circle of road with forest cupped in it, and the line stabbing through the southeast or east, leading to the Fallen camp. Gilpatrick’s group was to the northeast.
The wind blew at my hair and pulled my hood back as I flew. Something I’d need to fix. My arm throbbed with renewed pain, not because I’d moved it, but because I’d changed the angle of my body and that changed how the blood flowed through me.
“Are you with us, Looksee?” I asked.
“I am. I called Gilpatrick, told him. You sound windy.”
I sounded windy because I was flying. Looksee, though- she sounded quiet, and not nearly as talkative as before.
“Are you okay? No effect through your tinkering?”
“No effect,” she said.
I was especially aware of the fact that she hadn’t verified she was okay, and she didn’t sound okay.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Cut the others out of the call if you need to.”
“Already did. Victoria- Damsel is with Gilpatrick. She’s sitting in the back of a van.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“What did I miss? Don’t leave me out.”
“I’m not,” I said. “I haven’t talked with the others about it, they saw, but I don’t think Rain knows yet. We’re digesting.”
“She snapped, Looksee. Not quite like we’ve seen before. I think- she went there because she needed a time out. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“Okay,” she said.
I could see Gilpatrick’s trucks. I could imagine where we’d last seen Mama, and where she might have gone. I averted my eyes from the part of the forest where Mama might be.
“Did someone die?” Looksee asked.
“Someone died,” I said.
“She looks like someone died,” she said.
“I’m at Gilpatrick,” I said. “I’ve got to focus. Step back. Get away, phone her, or-”
“I want to help.”
“Then work on projections, or try again with our ‘reinforcements’. Throw yourself into this if the distraction helps. Just don’t look at Mama on camera, don’t dig into code she’s affected, and listen to the little voice inside you if it has doubts about doing something.”
“I’ve got your back,” she said.
Below me, a few people fired into the trees. There was no returning salvo.
I dropped out of the sky, landing more softly than I usually did, on account of my arm.
No Mama. The Fallen were remaining in the trees.
“Victoria,” Gilpatrick said. “Thank you for the warning.”
“We had a sudden influx of evacuees. No guns, no problems. We cut it off, told them to stay back.”
“And if Looksee is right, I think your problem cape thought she’d conceal herself among hostages and catch us by surprise.”
“If you hear or see her, she can affect you,” I said.
“Great,” Gilpatrick said. “Master-stranger! Noise protection, eyes down! Yellow for open fire, you better remember the rest!”
People scrambled to listen.
“Hey!” came a male voice from the woods.
“How fast does it take effect?” Gilpatrick asked.
“Fast, but limited exposure isn’t too bad. Hallucinations, auditory and visual.”
“I risk exposure, to know what’s going on?”
I nodded once. “I don’t see a better way. Unless you want me to deal with it alone.”
Gilpatrick looked like an entirely different man, with the tension in his face and neck. He’d ceased being the tough-but-fair teacher and had become the soldier who had fought real-as-shit monsters.
He held his gun in one hand and a small remote in the other. The active squad members who weren’t managing the Fallen that had already evacuated were standing with ear protection on, caps pulled down with brim blocking some of their fields of view, their heads bent so they stared at the ground a few feet in front of them, instead of looking forward.
Some of them looked pretty fucking scared.
In the background, I saw Ashley emerge from the back of one of the trucks parked on the road. Not repainted schoolbuses, but a heavy metal van that might have transported money once. She walked around to the side and leaned against it, one hand over the wound on her arm.
I nodded once. She nodded back.
Well, some sort of backup, in the event of a dire situation.
And the guy in the woods was still making noise. “Hey!”
“What!?” Gilpatrick called out.
“Don’t shoot!” the guy said. “I’m unarmed, she wants to talk. I’m talking for her.”
Gilpatrick looked at me. I wasn’t sure what response to give. I knew this might be safe in the technical sense, with emphasis on might. This guy could have powers and he could have powers from the same branch of the family, but odds were that he was unpowered and unarmed as he said.
“She might want to talk, but she’s going to use the chance to threaten to do something horrible to hostages,” I said. “And she’ll do those horrible things.”
“Better to open dialogue,” Gilpatrick said.
“You and you alone, come out!” Gilpatrick called out.
The Fallen was a skinny shirtless guy with a beard, tattoos up his neck and tattoos on the whites of his eyeballs. He stood at the edge of the woods. We stood on the road, a ditch with tall grass just in front of us, a hundred feet of uneven ground with rocks and weeds spanning the space between the ditch and the guy. Gilpatrick’s group had made a makeshift bridge with two stretchers side by side, for the evacuees to cross the ditch.
The bearded man paused. “She says her son needs medical attention.”
“We can negotiate,” I said.
“She says you need to think about the long term. You might not like her, but you want her in power.”
“I somehow doubt that,” I said.
“The Crowleys can’t and won’t accept peace. The guns were theirs. She only wants to be left alone with her congregation,” the man said. “They are attacking Advance Guard right this moment. If you stop her and you don’t stop them or wipe us out completely, they will gather up the remaining Fallen and go to war.”
“The hallucinations stop now, and they stay stopped,” I said. “We’ll take Valefor to a hospital.”
“She says he’s your leverage then. To keep the hallucinations gone.”
“Yeah,” I said. I glanced at Gilpatrick, and he nodded once.
“She says she expected to see Rain here.”
“Let’s stay focused on one topic at a time,” I said. “You want Valefor to get help.”
“Same topic, she says. We were talking about leverage.”
Erin stepped out of the woods. She moved slowly, and she stopped, standing just behind and to the right of the man with the beard. Her expression was drawn. She met my eyes, and I saw the recognition.
I saw her look at Ashley.
“Give us Rain, and we’ll give you her,” the man said. “Tell Rain, and he’ll agree to it.”
The trading of hostages, less valuable for the more valuable, maybe.
Rain had powers, so he counted as valuable, and he was immune to her powers, so he was a threat. Hopefully he was a threat who was operating in the background now.
Yeah, I wasn’t about to tell Rain.
The man continued, passing on Mama’s words, “Prancer’s group is done. They’re a non-threat now. They’ll leave with their tails between their legs if we let them, and we’re not ready to let them. Agree to leave us be, and we’ll call back the Crowleys.”
“And you keep your ‘congregation’,” I said.
“Even if you killed the leaders of each family, the congregation would remain,” the bearded man said. There was a feral look in his eyes. “We’re here to stay, unless you’re willing to kill us to the last man, woman, and child. Learn to deal with us. Negotiate. Do you want peace, or do you hate us so much you’d prefer a mindless war?”
“It’s not my place to make deals of that scale,” I said. “I’d have to pass it up to the people at the top.”
“There’s nobody at the top except God,” the bearded man pronounced. I wondered if he was a preacher, with that passion. He was a little less enthused as he went on to say, “No government, no law, no kings or queens. You can decide what happens to Rain and Erin here, you can decide the little things, and we’ll all keep your secret. That will be the shape of our negotiations today.”
“Hi, Erin,” I said.
“Time matters, ‘hero’,” the bearded man said.
“Back off,” I said. “We need to talk a minute.”
“Your loss. The Crowleys are winning. Our offer stands.”
I looked at Gilpatrick, and at the row of his soldiers that were ready to shoot. Erin was among the targets, and there were presumably others in the trees behind. Indiscriminate fire would be disastrous.
I looked back at Ashley, who leaned against the van, almost crushing her forearm in her grip, the grip was so tight.
“You’re right,” Gilpatrick said. “This isn’t our call to make.”
“They aren’t about to wait and let us call up Chevalier and wait for him to finish whatever he’s got scheduled today, and they aren’t going to let us try to track down someone in government who might have the clout to okay this.”
“No,” Gilpatrick said.
I wondered if this was even something we could possibly do. To compromise with a group that was uncompromising and unwilling to change its mind at its core.
“Tick tock,” the bearded man said. Using tactics to make us feel rushed to make a decision. My mom had employed that on me, once, as something illustrative. I’d been too young to appreciate the lesson, at the time. I’d mostly been pissed off.
“There’s no clock,” I said. “Advance Guard can hold their own. They’re good.”
Stupid on a macro scale, but I’d liked how they functioned in a scrap. I could trust that. I wouldn’t get pulled into their tempo.
“They’re good enough that doesn’t bother me,” I said.
“Tick tock,” the man said, again. It irritated, which might have been the point, but it irritated me because it was so stupid and unintuitive.
“Valefor has to be dying, with that wound. If anyone’s feeling the clock, it’s you guys,” I said. “No mother wants their child to die.”
“She says lots of mothers do, but they keep it to themselves,” the bearded man said. “We have time on our side in more than one way. He’s dying slowly, she says. Slowly.”
Slowly. The Speedrunners.
They were operating in the background and every time they intervened, they made this whole situation vastly more difficult.
The old side of myself wanted to kick their asses.
“Tick tock, last chance,” the man said.
Last chance? What was I missing? My eyes scanned the surroundings.
“And it’s done,” the bearded man said. He turned to walk back into the woods. Erin looked bewildered, but he motioned for her to stay.
“Stay put!” Gilpatrick called out.
The bearded man froze in his tracks, his back to us.
“I’m okay with dying, motherfuckers” the bearded man said, but he stayed put. “She’s telling me that one of our powered just got your Rain… and Rain wasn’t where you told him to be. He was coming up on us from behind. Secondhand caught him and now your girl in the armor is cornered. Four against her.”
I drew in a breath.
“Erin here has outlived her usefulness.”
Erin bolted and I flew. Nothing to lose. I flew to where Erin had been, and raised my forcefield. I felt it drop as a bullet hit it, and dropped to the ground.
It was because I was at a weird angle and because my peripheral vision was untouched that I saw it. Two streaks from above, straight down.
I heard the metal crash, and saw circuitry and metal housing scatter.
The gunman behind Erin had lost his rifle and he held his hand in an awkward way as he used the other one to reach down for the rifle. Gilpatrick shot him before he could claim his weapon.
The metal- pieces from Looksee’s camera.
One dropped from the sky to hit the gunman’s hand. The other-
Children and other unarmed individuals emerged from the trees. A wall of bodies. the woman behind them was supported by two Fallen.
The woman was bloody, a scrape down one edge of her forehead and a messy patch of skin and blood toward the top end, hair already matted into it. Blood streamed down her face.
The blood meant I hadn’t immediately recognized it as Mama Mathers. The moment meant I hadn’t even realized the hallucinations had stopped.
Kenzie had dropped one of her flying cameras on her.
And the Fallen – there had been a good number in the woods. Possibly the bulk of Mama Mathers’ faction.
They were charging forth, a wall of hostages goaded to stay in front of them, and they brimmed with all the fury and menace of the legions of hell.
Gilpatrick used the remote to flash. Two red flashes, bright enough that the people looking down at the ground would see the color change. I knew the code from my training with the patrol block.
Get the hell out.