The ‘joints’ of the spider’s limbs were higher off the ground than I was, the body headless and featureless, an uneven, almost potato-like form in the center. It was all black, and it moved with a fluidness that stood in stark contrast to the jerky, twitchy way that spiders normally moved.
It flowed more than it walked as it moved to the base of a building, found purchase on windowsills and gutter. As it carried itself off the ground, Foil skipped up, stepping onto one of the eight limbs, walking up to the next. She had no handholds, not even the ones another person might have if they were there, because both of her hands were full carrying her crossbow- an entirely different make and model than the one I’d known her to use, once upon a time. Bigger, heavier, and it would have to be mounted on a surface to be set up and then fired.
Spider legs appeared and disappeared beneath her feet, in what should have been something a third of the way to being stairs and a third of the way to being a ladder, not all of the way to being anything. The distance between Foil and the ground grew.
“You’re hesitating,” Foil called out. “If you pause I’m going to miss a step and fall!”
“You’re making me nervous!” Parian called back. “Talking about you falling makes it worse, not better!”
“Trust me!” Foil replied.
“I trust you! I don’t trust powers! Not mine, not yours,” Parian answered, but the third utterance wasn’t at a volume meant to reach Foil.
Foil ascended to the roof of a three-story building ducking as the cloth-and-knots spider passed over her head. Parian visibly relaxed as soon as Foil was on solid ground again. Past the eyehole of the cracked doll mask, Parian’s eye focused on the spider as it restricted its movements to the visible edge of the building. What little focus wasn’t for the spider was for Foil.
“The funny thing is, you guys got off easy,” Candy said. “For trustable powers.”
“None of us got off easy,” Parian said. “Powers are meant to hurt, cause harm, and foment chaos, according to Tattletale. The things that handed out the powers wanted to put us in situations where we’d have to use them on each other. Even the tamer sets, like Foil’s.”
Shots that could penetrate anything, enhanced accuracy, and enhanced timing.
“Foil’s powers did come with a March attached,” I remarked.
Parian nodded, pausing to look around before returning her focus to the rooftop. “It’s never easy. There’s always complications.”
“Some got off easier than others, though,” Precipice said.
“True. Undeniably true,” Parian said. “But easier still isn’t easy.”
“I like that distinction,” I said.
“If you want easy, you don’t have to look any further than my sister,” Candy said. “I mean it in the most affectionate way possible.”
“So long as it’s coming from a place of sisterly love,” Chastity said, reaching out for Candy’s cheek to pinch it. Candy fended her off.
We were walking at a brisk pace. We’d broken up the groups, and the reasoning for why we’d broken it up had me thinking about my early thoughts in the days of Breakthrough. Wolves, corn, and chickens. A man who needed to take all three things across the river, but the wolves couldn’t be left alone with the chickens and the chickens couldn’t be left with the corn.
We’d had concerns that the Undersiders would act in good faith. Having some of our team in each group meant we could keep an eye on everything. Breakthrough was a six member team, and we had three bases to cover. Two Breakthrough members were assigned to each team.
The Heartbroken were more volatile as more of them were gathered into a single unit. Heartbroken were thus split into three groups, and family dynamics seemed to factor in there. Siblings were separated and kept together, depending.
From there, it was a series of rules and complicating factors. Tattletale was insistent that Chicken Little was grounded and shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy hanging out with his new friend Lookout. That meant Lookout was assigned to another team. Swansong went with Lookout by apparent default, and the feral child Florence went with Swansong. Imp went with Florence, because she was the best at handling her, and initial attempts at negotiating this had met with stubbornness.
It was a team with far too many wolves, but those wolves seemed content with the status quo. That was despite the fact that Swansong was on a team with Imp and pretty goddamn resentful of the fact that her nice home now smelled like gasoline – a smell had soaked into floorboards and furniture.
They’d wanted to go after Love Lost, working on the assumptions that Love Lost didn’t like hurting kids and it was a squad with a lot of kids on it. Swansong knew the people Love Lost liked to associate with, and Imp had the ability to resolve problems before they started. The problem was that when things went wrong, they stood to go very wrong. A single rage scream that hit Swansong was too much of a problem. Cradle was too much of an unknown, and the Undersiders had wanted Tattletale on that particular unknown, for her limited involvement.
I had a projector disc with me. I brought it up, tapping on the side. A group of small holographic figures appeared above the disc, tinted yellow from head to toe. An arrow at the disc’s edge indicated the direction to them, with a number showing distance. They were gathered in vehicles, but the vehicles weren’t drawn as thoroughly as the people who sat in them, much like the mercenaries that accompanied them. Three heartbroken, Chicken Little, Sveta, and Capricorn, with Tattletale along to gather some intel and make sure the kids were alright. They were tracking down Cradle.
They were mostly silhouettes, but I could make out details like how one of the Heartbroken was resting a head on Chicken Little’s shoulder, apparently asleep. Chicken Little was moving his hands like there was something in them. A bird, I assumed.
I ran my finger along the disc’s edge. The image shifted, and the group of people were tinted red. Many of them were small. Imp, ‘Florence’, two heartbroken, Lookout, and Swansong. They’d watch March, gather surveillance and maybe have Imp take action but they wouldn’t take any direct moves until Hellhound caught up with them.
“They okay?” Parian asked.
“Looks like it,” I said. The images were stable. Different groups were talking. “Calm, no fighting.”
“If you’re talking about my cousins, they’re never ‘okay’,” Chastity said. She was seventeen or so, with wavy black hair and makeup fully on point. I’d noticed Precipice noticing her cleavage. It seemed wholly intentional with her wardrobe choices, a low-cut top worn with a scarf and coat, unzipped enough that a strategic triangle was visible.
Had to be cold, but she endured with an unwavering, teasing smile that made me uncomfortable.
“Relatively,” Parian said, still watching Foil and the spider.
“Relatively? It’s because they’re relatives that I know they aren’t okay,” Chastity said.
“Such a dork,” Candy said, before switching to French to better articulate that lameness. Candy was a smaller version of her older sister. She had a similar teasing demeanor, from what I could tell, but without the flirting aspect.
Chastity retorted with something else, so rapid-fire that I couldn’t even tell where the words started or stopped.
The Kenzie-aged Candy’s response was sharp, and sounded weirdly religious- I wasn’t sure if my mind was seeing faces in clouds, putting meanings to foreign words that weren’t there.
There was enough violence in the words and enough of a glittering look in the young girl’s eye that I felt the need to say something. “Do we need to step in?”
“Don’t even try,” Parian muttered under her breath.
“No,” Chastity said. “Not unless you want to wash my sister’s mouth out with soap.”
“Please do,” Aroa said, from the sidelines. She was similar in appearance to the others, but her hair was straight, and there was no smile on her face- no particular frowning or coldness either. Her eyes were animated, her glances always sidelong, never direct. “It would be funny.”
“You can help,” Candy said. “My dork of a sister needs to get laid.”
“Can’t help you there,” I said, trying not to sound as uncomfortable as I felt.
“Your teammate can. Precipice!” Candy raised her voice.
“Please. She gets more annoying and immature every minute she doesn’t have anyone, and I’m the one who has to deal with it.”
“Uh,” Precipice said, again. He looked at Chastity. “Sorry.”
“No need to say sorry,” Chastity said, touching his arm. “My sister put you on the spot. But if you did want to say yes, you could count on my discretion and a complete lack of any strings.”
“Just don’t fall in love with her,” Candy said.
“Yeah, don’t fall in love with me,” Chastity said.
“It’s… weird, getting this offer,” Precipice said. “Knowing who you guys are.”
“I would have thought you were sympathetic, coming from a bad place,” Candy said.
I looked down at Candy. “Tattletale told you?”
“That’s not great,” I said.
“We don’t mingle with society or have a lot of civilian friends,” Aroa said. “We aren’t going to leak your secrets because we stick to our own.”
“You haven’t even seen my face,” Precipice was telling Chastity.
“Back out, Precipice,” Parian said. “Drop the topic, walk away.”
“If she has advice, it’s good to take it,” I advised him, giving him an elbow to the arm. I bumped the metal under his sleeve.
“I get a sense of people around me,” Chastity told him. “It’s clear enough for me to know proportions, and I like your proportions.”
I sighed, loud enough to be sure he heard it. My breath fogged in front of my face.
“Now it’s weirder. I’m flattered, I think, but also very weirded out,” Precipice said.
“Okay,” Chastity said, sounding like she was having fun, even while being turned down. “I can tell how flattered you are, same way. It even makes me stronger. So this teasing, it’s good battle strategy, you know.”
“Maybe, but just so you know, I have someone I like,” Precipice said.
“Precipice,” Parian said, warning. She started to turn around, then her spider slipped. She twisted around and caught it at the building’s edge.
“Someone you like?” Chastity asked, edging in closer, her arm touching his. They were wearing jackets, but still.
“Love. I think.”
“Precipice,” I said. “Don’t tell them that. Don’t share that information. Especially when Parian is warning you.”
“Trying to keep my partner from falling off a building,” Parian said, absently. “You might be in more danger, Precipice.”
“What if I said that made me more interested?” Chastity asked Precipice, nudging him. “What if I said I was intrigued, now that you already have someone you like?”
“Sorry,” he said, in a vain attempt to disengage.
“Does that mean sorry, no, or does it mean something completely different?” Chastity asked.
“Can you leave him alone?” I asked her.
“I could, but I’m going to wonder what he meant, and I’m going to end up assuming the worst.”
“Safest bet,” Aroa said. “Men.”
Precipice, against all sense and sanity, opened his mouth to explain, “I’m flattered, but even if it wasn’t really weird, even though she and I aren’t together and might never be-”
“Stop sharing information about your love life with people who call themselves Heartbroken,” I said. I turned to the younger Heartbroken. “No offense.”
“No, no. You’re totally right,” Candy said.
“-Yeah,” Precipice said. He managed to stay silent for two fucking seconds before telling Chastity, “I can’t mess around. At least for now, I’m not doing anything in that neighborhood.”
“Oh.” Chastity squared her shoulders, eyes forward, in the direction we were walking.
“If you’d given me another answer, saying you were willing to betray her or betray those feelings you have for her, then I would have found a way for you to be hurt in any upcoming fights,” Chastity said, her tone still light. “Really badly hurt.”
I looked at Parian. She shrugged and nodded.
“Good to know,” Precipice said, awkwardly.
I fucking told you not to engage.
“Now I’m disappointed,” Aroa said. “Chastity’s one of the last family members on my bucket list to see go all out.”
Candy poked her cousin. “You’re such a Juliette. Wanting our mouths washed out with soap, wanting poor Precipice to get all four arms and both legs mangled, or whatever it is Chastity has in mind…”
“Juliette wouldn’t want anyone’s mouth washed out with soap. She’d want your mouth washed out with bleach,” Aroa said.
“I don’t think that’s as big a difference as you’re pretending.”
“It’s the biggest difference,” Aroa said, with maximum condescension. “On and off. What’s the fun in kicking someone in the tits, pushing them down or setting them on fire if they‘re cold and dead, or if you kill them and that’s the end of it with no potential for the future?”
“True,” Candy responded.
“I’ve got your back,” Chastity was telling Precipice. “Whatever happens, I’m going to protect you and protect those feelings, now. We’ll get you back to this girl you like.”
“I don’t know if anything’s going to happen there. It’s complicated.”
I rolled my eyes. Maybe he needed to get stuff off his chest, and for some reason was deciding on this venue.
“Unrequited or complicated sorts of love are still love and love is the most important thing,” Chastity said. “Without it there’s no point to anything.”
It was dawning on me just why Tattletale had looked so damn exhausted when I’d seen her, the last few times.
Above us, Foil whistled. Parian was making the spider form a bridge. Foil was halfway across that bridge. Very deliberately, she put the folded-up crossbow down on top of the spider. She pointed at it.
The crossbow disappeared as cloth wrapped around it. Attaching it to the spider.
Foil bowed, flourishing, before skipping up the spider-bridge to the next rooftop.
“She’s such a ham sometimes,” Parian said.
“Ham can be nice,” I said. I was glad to get away from the other discussion. “Ham can work.”
“I think she’s happy, hanging around with heroes again. Old teammates.”
“Good,” I said.
“We need to do this more often.”
“Why not always? What keeps you with the Undersiders?”
“Resources. I still have family who need medical attention,” Parian said, quieter.
“Ah. I remember. I’m sorry.”
“Sometimes you make deals with the devil because the alternative is not dealing at all,” Parian said.
“You’ve been with them for how many years, now?”
“Four and a half.”
“And you still refer to them as the devil, huh?” I asked.
Parian snorted or sniffed behind her mask – the material distorted the sound and I couldn’t see her face to know which it was.
“Don’t try to convert me,” she said. “Life’s too complicated as it is.”
“Okay. No conversion.”
We walked in silence for a minute. Chastity was still engaging with Precipice, but it seemed a bit safer than before now. More normal than I’d seen her act, now that she wasn’t aggressively teasing and flirting.
“I like your costume,” Parian said.
“High praise, considering who it’s coming from.”
“I’m nobody special. Who made it?” she asked.
“Me, teammates. Weld did the metal decorations.”
There was a pause. Her head turned, caught between watching out for Foil on the rooftops, managing her spider, and looking at the metalwork.
“Do you think he’d do work for pay?”
“I can always pass on a message if you want to ask.”
“I might. It would be nice to stay in touch. Look how much fun she’s having.”
I couldn’t quite read into body language or see what Parian meant. Maybe if I’d known Foil for longer, I could have seen a difference. As it was, Foil crouched on the corner of a rooftop. She held her hand out.
“Stop,” Parian said, quiet.
We collectively stopped.
Foil moved her hand, sweeping motions. Directing us to one side of the street, until we were at the base of one building, Foil one building ahead of us and five stories up, barely visible in the gloom.
We weren’t that far from Lyme. In the midst of a criss-crossing of new roads and multiple buildings in progress, there was an area that wasn’t accessible by car. This was the result putting together the reports we had from other heroes and Tattletale’s knowledge to hone in on the area Love Lost was working from.
“I’m going to talk to Foil,” I said. When Parian nodded, I flew up to the roof.
“Are the Heartbroken behaving?” Foil asked me.
“Precipice is getting a lot of attention,” I said. “He can’t keep his mouth shut. Is that a power one of them is using?”
“Yeah,” Foil said.
“Fuck,” I said.
“Chastity’s pretty,” Foil said. “He’s red blooded. That’s the power I mean.”
“Seemed like more than that,” I said. When that didn’t get me much of a response from Foil, who was scanning the area with her eyes, I asked, “Why did we stop?”
“No man’s land,” Foil indicated. “See what I mean?”
I did. We were inside the perimeter where ongoing construction, parked vehicles, and unfinished roads were limiting our access, and within that vague territory, there was a swathe where the buildings were girder and beam, surrounded by fenced-in lots.
“It’s all open space,” I said. There wasn’t much in the way of cover. No way to get from A to B without being seen from a block away. Even the scant lighting to illuminate the road seemed more like it was meant to help highlight any incoming cars or catch people trying to sneak across the road in one of the five to ten times they’d need to do so, to get to the center.
“Three… maybe four buildings that they could be camping out in.”
Foil indicated, a dart in hand, the gleaming point serving to point.
“Do any of the Heartbroken here have the ability to sense emotions?”
“No. Chastity senses bodies, but not at a distance that helps us. Aroa has to engage. Candy doesn’t get anything.”
“Keep an eye out? I’ll be right back.”
Foil nodded. I had a glimpse of her face in profile, as she surveyed the area, and I could see an enviable kind of focus and calm there. Jaw set, eyes slightly narrowed and alert as she looked for hints in a collection of half-built neighborhoods.
I dropped to the ground.
The others were very still and somber, except for Aroa, who looked pleased, and Chastity, who had a hand firmly on Aroa’s shoulder.
“Aroa happened,” Chastity said.
“I told the truth. It’s not fair if you’re getting only half the picture. Love is the most important thing.”
I looked at Precipice, then at Parian.
It was Parian who supplied the details. “She said the reason Love Lost is so upset is because Precipice killed someone she loved.”
Fuck me. These girls were such nightmares to wrangle. I was now in full agreement that having all of the Heartbroken in one place would have been too much.
“It eats me up inside,” Precipice said. “I didn’t kill them by acting. I killed them by not acting.”
“Growing up with Fallen?” Chastity asked. “Do you think that absolves you?”
“Good,” she said. “It doesn’t. I’ve killed someone by not acting too. I think.”
“A lot of people, probably,” Candy said.
“The one I’m thinking about is when you were young. Too young to remember,” Chastity said.
Chastity nodded. “Daddy was tired of her, and he thought I was old enough to look after you and Revere. He pushed feelings into her head. He didn’t want her sharing evidence, so he made her scared of people. Any people at all, she wouldn’t be able to speak because she was so freaked out. He said he made it so she’d be happy so long as she was totally alone and there was no civilization nearby. I’m not sure if Daddy was saying it to get us to stop crying.”
“Probably,” Aroa said.
“Yeah, and you wouldn’t just say that, right?” Chastity asked Aroa. “I’ve told you, if you want to nettle people, you have to give them hope once in a while.”
“He probably wasn’t lying,” Candy said. “He didn’t need to go that far to make us stop crying. He’d just… make us stop.”
“Yeah,” Chastity said. To Precipice, she said, “I could have said something or stopped it, I think. To save my mom from being sent away like some dog in the movies that’s driven out to the wilderness and then left behind while the car speeds off.”
“I remember that day,” Candy said. “It wasn’t like that.”
“It’s a simile, little sister.”
“My thing was different,” Precipice said. “I was older, and it was a lot of-”
“Don’t,” I interrupted him. “Don’t work to convince them to hate you.”
He folded all four of his arms. Two flesh, and two mechanical. Was he so reflexive in trying to own up for his mistakes that he’d make enemies by admitting to them?
I wasn’t even sure what the right decision to make there was.
“We’ve got a wide area out there that we won’t be able to cross without being spotted. Not if we go across.”
“Over?” Precipice guessed.
“Or under,” I said. “If you look, you can see where the piping is being laid out where the road doesn’t cover it all yet.”
“I see it,” Precipice said. “I’ll make a hole, then.”
Silver blades appeared in his hands.
“Wait. We should coordinate,” I said. “Call first.”
Precipice checked his phone.
I checked the disc with representations of each team. Tattletale’s team was hunkered down, apparently working on tracking down Cradle. Tattletale was also supposed to be able to keep an eye out for any pointed dangers or incoming attacks, which meant Capricorn and Sveta should be safe or safer for as long as that activity took.
I really wished I knew the particulars of her power.
A glint caught my eye.
Foil’s dart, embedded on a piece of paper. There wasn’t anything on the side of the paper I could see, but it was yellow.
“Danger,” Parian said.
“Aroa, Candy,” Chastity said. “Get back. Be good until you absolutely need to step in.
Another dart, another slip of paper. This one was red, so close to the first dart that the two squares of paper that were embedded on the dart seemed to line up.
No need to clarify.
I flew up. The others dashed to where there was cover nearby- we were only at the fringes of the no-man’s-land, and the buildings here had fences, backyards, and piles of broken-down crating tied together with twine. The crates had packaged food from offworld.
Below, headlights illuminated the street. The noise the car’s tires made changed as it shifted from squeaking on contact with snow to grinding against salt and gravel, then near-silence as it touched ice, moving smoothly over the surface the winter tires gripped.
They paused in the street and people inside the car shone flashlights out the windows.
Here we were. The patrol.
On the rooftop, ten feet from where I floated, Foil was at the spider’s side, setting up the large crossbow so it was mounted on the spider’s back.
“Did they spot us?” she asked.
“Looks like a routine patrol.”
Foil was silent, leaving the crossbow where it was, and heading to the edge of the rooftop to look down.
Below, the car went on its way.
I drew my phone from my pocket. “I’m going to have them go underground, approach the buildings you pointed. Give me a minute to text them.”
“Wait,” Foil said.
The car that had passed returned. It stopped somewhere close to where it had the first time. Again, flashlights shone out the windows. I could see someone leaning out.
“That’s not a patrol,” Foil said. “Most people who are doing a perimeter check don’t check and recheck themselves. They do the bare minimum and then they get on with their nights. Applies to some heroes that patrol. Learned that when I overheard some villains, a year back.”
“Doing a single loop, so as soon as the hero has come and gone, the criminals can come out of the woodwork? That’s really dumb,” I said.
“It really is,” Foil said. “Back when I was with the New York Wards, we’d mix it up every night, doubling back, doing loops… it helped that we had the bikes and it was an excuse to ride down subway tunnels and around any place without cars.”
I smiled. “I fly, so… same idea. It’s easy to cover the same ground if you move fast.”
“Gonna give my spider a pet, so Parian knows I’m alright,” Foil said, backing away from the rooftop’s edge.
I kept an eye out. Keeping my arm and the glowing projections out of sight of the ground, I checked the others.
Both of the other teams were staying put and doing things, but it didn’t look like they were fighting.
Below, a shift in the light’s movement caught my eye. I let my fingers drop away from the projection disc and focused on what was happening. Or in this case, what wasn’t happening. One beam had stopped moving.
I heard raised voices.
Fuck. They got caught.
“What’s going on?” Foil whispered.
I mimed for silence.
A car door opened. A man stood on the seat of the car to better look over the top of the vehicle and into the avenue between two buildings- one of which was the building Foil and I were standing on. He added the light of his own flashlight.
A woman, the driver, was saying something. I tried to hear, and I couldn’t make it out. I could have flown down, but I didn’t want to risk being spotted.
I tapped one ear, while glancing at Foil. She shook her head.
Below, the car drove away. The man who was standing on the seat swung back inside. I could see the gun he held as he did. The door shut as the car rounded a corner.
The spider helped Foil drop to the street level. I watched to ensure the coast was clear while she started, then dropped down, getting to the group’s hiding spot at the same time she did.
“He saw Candy,” Precipice said.
“I thought the coast was clear. Why did they come back?” Candy asked.
“They had some sense that we were here already. It could be a device or power,” I said. “Love Lost can detect emotions, but it’s not that long a range, I don’t think.”
“And if he saw me, why didn’t he do something about it then?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “He could have decided to play it safe. For now, let’s do the same. We didn’t plan to pick a fight this soon. The other teams need intel and time to get where they’re going.”
“We run,” Precipice said. “We can stick to the same plan. I make a hole, we use the drains and sewers.”
“Ew,” Candy said.
“Once we’re down there, we can decide if we want to go to one of those houses to investigate and see if we can’t spy on Love Lost,” Precipice said.
“Hurry,” I said.
Precipice created silver blades, and drew out a five-sided hole in the ground. I flew up to make sure there weren’t any more cars full of armed men and women, then flew down, slamming into the pentagon. Water splashed below.
“Ew,” Candy said.
In the distance, I heard a thud, then a laugh.
“Hurry,” I told them. I had a sense of who that thud belonged to. “They were willing to pass the buck because they have enforcers. They’re coming after us with powers.”
They hopped down into the tunnel, Chastity and Precipice helping.
A jovial bellow.
“That’s not Love Lost’s group,” I said, keeping my voice quiet as I talked to the others in the hole. I moved aside so the spider could slip down beneath.
“Mercenaries,” Precipice said. “Villains banding together because the heroes are.”
High above us, a shape moved through the air with enough force that it made the air shudder and cheap windows rattle in their frames.
“Lord of Loss,” I said.
I ducked down into the hole. The Heartbroken already had their phones out, screens glowing and flashes on. Foil and Parian had flashights they could clip to their costumes.
Precipice’s mask glowed, the red illuminating to become pink.
“That does not work nearly as well as I hoped it would,” he said, and he sounded pissed. The glow died and he pulled out his phone, doing what the Heartbroken were doing.
Behind us, Parian’s cloth snake slipped into the hole.
“Come on,” I urged. “Toward the houses.”
To find us, Lord of Loss would have to spot the hole in between two house lots- not impossible, not easy either, given the lighting and the glare of snow contrasted with dark pavement everywhere. Then he would have to find which way we’d gone. I was betting he would assume we’d headed away, not deeper into the territory in question, toward Love Lost.
The cloth spider and my flight kept the group from having to wade in freezing, ankle deep drainwater. We covered good ground too. There were surprising amounts of materials and piece of construction material to trip up anyone who moved fast enough that they couldn’t react to the fleeting glimpses of whatever the flashlight illuminated. There weren’t many things that got in our way or that the spider had to slow down for. A wheelbarrow with a broken handle, a collection of what looked like curtain rods or wooden poles.
I checked the disc.
No whole figures. Body parts everywhere. Scattered into air, into terrain. All tinted yellow. Tattletale, Sveta, Tristan, Chicken Little.
“What?” I breathed the word.
I checked the other team.
More scattered parts. Suspended in air, unmoving, flickering like the hologram couldn’t track them. Imp. Ashley. Lookout.
No, it wasn’t possible like that.
Not two teams at once, not so easily or instantaneously.
I checked my phone. The display was flickering slightly. I thumbed for a message to Precipice, the alarming picture on the disc still hanging off of the disc at my forearm, mounted like a buckler.
“Check your phone,” I told Precipice.
“A text?” he asked.
“From me,” I said.
He shook his head.
I tried two more times. I heard the one go through.
He held it up for me. Gibberish.
“We’re being scrambled.”
“Shit,” he muttered. Even with the word being scarcely a whisper, the drain carried the sound. “Could be tinkertech defenses. Keeping Lookout’s cameras out of it.”
“Maybe,” I said.
Candy’s phone flickered, and then both screen and flash went dark. The other two phones died simultaneously, plunging us into the darkness.
It was only because of that darkness that we could see the faint hue of pink. A glow, like light through a curtain, and the sides of the drain were curtains.
In the silence, as none of us spoke, I could hear a dull sound, a hum with no source, and I could hear chiming, discordant, struggling to find its rhythm.
The images on the disc were getting scattered further, blinking in and out, each reiteration putting body parts further and further from the source. The mode switched, and I could see that there were symbols, large and blunt, that Lookout was trying to transmit.
The noises of Nursery’s power effect were getting louder, and they reverberated down the drain. The effect was taking hold too, distorting the tunnel.
No slurps and wet noises yet.
On the disc, there was one last projected image I could make out. Three large arrows, pointing at a single dot.
Three forces converging on one? I had the impression that it wasn’t the signal to mount our coordinated attack. No, this was too ’emergency alert’ with the big bold symbols.
The humming and chiming swelled, the chiming finding it stride with more coordination, less discordant, now more disconcerting because the off-notes were spaced far enough away to catch the ear off guard.
One of our teams was being attacked, and we were stuck against a brute strong enough he wouldn’t go down unless he was permanently put down, and a shaker-master nightmare I most definitely did not want to fight on her turf.
The disc was flickering to the point that it was off nine seconds out of every ten, and nonsense the last second. Even with that, the broken-up models that put heads twenty feet from the associated bodies were an ominous warning of what was at stake. I had to assume the worst hadn’t happened, because the distorted images I was getting from the disc put body parts in mid-air, and had a computer-glitch kind of logic or arrangement to them.
They knew we were here, they had prepared with stalling tactics and organized assault against one of our groups, they had the device responsible for the Navigators incident, and they had the willingness to use it.