“Focus on the inside of the bubble,” I murmured. It had been almost ten minutes since I’d felt the need to stress it and felt reasonably confident we could whisper without being overheard. “Not the bubble itself.”
“I can feel them,” Rain responded.
I nodded, holding my finger to my lips.
It was hard to converse, because a patrol walked a route around the rooftop. The group that had been out prior had liked holding the high ground, there was a box-shaped section on the roof that was higher than the rest, encompassing the top of the stairs and the door that led from the building interior to the roof itself. The old group had liked to camp out up there for the view it gave of the surrounding fields and the road that our team was on.
The new squad was more prone to walking the perimeter of the roof. The tension of it had me feeling nauseous, because some of them liked to shine their flashlights down. I had to maintain a state of combat readiness. Anticipating the next person, then making a mental note of any habits or things to look out for. By the time I was done that, the next person was on the approach.
The squad that was up on the roof now had ten people, but only seven walked the rooftop. Two more smoked up a storm, and a third fiddled with a boom box or something, the volume barely audible. When they had everything balanced right, it played a sports match, which didn’t seem to make a lot of sense given where we were, or when the teams were listed as Brazil or South Africa. A recording of a game from years ago, possibly. I halfways suspected the interest was in fixing the machine and the recorded match was just to be a constant source of sound that told them if it was working or not.
From the snippets of conversation I caught, one of the smokers was the squad leader, the other his friend. The guy who fiddled with the machine had been injured in a combat a while back, so he didn’t patrol.
Much of the conversation came from two soldiers who walked as a pair. Constant complaining. Eins and Zwei, as I thought of them. Their chatter was usually a good advance warning.
Then there was Drei, a woman who smoked, who scared the shit out of me every time she shone her flashlight around. The smoke and the light of the constant beam flicking around the corner of the building and onto the ground at the base were the closest things I had to a warning to get Rain and I down and into a position by the base of the wall where empty cans of fuel for the generator were stacked. Sometimes the wind didn’t let me smell the cigarette, or she wasn’t smoking, I couldn’t be sure which. Sometimes she didn’t aim the flashlight down until she was at our section of roof. Usually one of the two things was true. Still spooky, because the flashlight was mounted on her gun, and there would be a mere instant between the second we were illuminated and when she pulled the trigger. Would I manage? Maybe. Would Rain? Probably not.
Four and five – I’d wracked my brain for Chinese numerals, to change it up and serve as a mnemonic, then settled on the English ones instead. They were a pair who were mostly engaged in a back and forth, the English speaker was an ex-gang member, based on things he’d said, and half the time he’d be rattling off words in one language, while his Chinese buddy answered in another, or vice versa.
Sechs was a guy who had urinated off the edge of the roof twice in the last twenty minutes. His heavy footfalls were tell enough that he was coming, but sounds were unreliable, because the radio static or louder voices of others would drown things out. He was also most likely to change up the schedule or approach from another direction.
Sieben was the one to watch out for. Alone, so nobody to chat with. Not even a whiff of cigarette smoke or alcohol. She -I’d had enough of a glimpse of her to know she was an apparent she, tall, skinny, black, with only nose, eyes, and precariously high cheekbones visible behind her scarf and hat, a gas mask pulled off and set aside- was prone to walk on the lip of the roof rather than on the actual shingle-like pads. She didn’t make a sound, as a consequence, and she didn’t give her location away with a flashlight like Drei did.
We’d been on our way back from hiding from Drei’s flashlight when I’d first seen Sieben crouched at the edge of the roof, looking down. If she’d been three or four paces further down the roof, she would have seen us.
No exact patrol order. I could only feel out the gaps in between appearances and imagine that Sieben was filling in those gaps, I could pay attention to the details, and try to visualize the routes they preferred.
“Ta ma de.”
Four and Five weren’t even that close to the roof’s edge as they passed by. I allowed myself to relax. If I could’ve heard the intonations or accents on certain sounds, I would’ve been getting an education. Distance played with it, and I didn’t have the ear for it.
I leaned back. The heat that radiated away from us was affecting the frost on the window. The effect was small, but I worried what would be apparent if people inside or outside noticed a pair of blotches on the glass that were shaped like a pair of heads and shoulders, where we were close to the glass.
I tugged on Rain’s arm, having him shift his weight over to me, and we adjusted our location. A little closer to our hiding spot by the cans. Further from the spot where the three who weren’t patrolling were, so the intermittent buzz and blare of the radio wouldn’t put my nerves on edge or obscure other sounds.
“Can you see what you need to see?” I asked, my voice a whisper.
Rain nodded. The space under his hood was dark. He’d turned off the illuminated lines on his mask.
He motioned, a tiny and mostly broken mechanical hand indicating from his mouth to the roof. I nodded.
“Ninety-five percent,” I whispered. “Keep it to essentials.”
“What I was saying before,” he whispered. “I can feel who’s inside, I think. I push out and I feel the resistance. Lets me see silhouettes. Tattletale is in the bubble, along with three people.”
I felt my heart sink. The moment he’d said he could feel who was inside, I’d kind of hoped Cradle was inside the mech itself. If he was, there was a chance we could get him. Take him away, then do what we’d done to Rain, using Chastity’s power.
“I have to be careful with the soldiers,” Rain whispered. He pointed at the glass. “They get restless when I hit ’em, and when they get restless they head out toward the door. Then I have to hit them harder. It makes them rethink it.”
“Some. Have to find the right people.”
I heard a scuff. Immediately, my hand went to Rain’s face, sliding between mask and mouth. I heard more noise, and in the next instant, was dropping out of the air, Rain’s sudden, silent exhalation filtering through my fingers as we went from stationary to a twenty foot drop. I pushed him into the corner between cans and a part of the wall that jutted out.
Drei. Flashlight not aimed down or at any angle I could see, no cigarette.
The gun moved, light shining down around us. It stopped a short distance away. It moved to the cans, a few feet from us.
She moved on.
“That-” Rain started. My hand went back to his mouth.
After the blinding, focused light, it was hard to make out details. Sieben walked at the roof’s edge, a matter of ten feet behind Drei. She had company. A figure loomed tall enough that it was five feet taller than Sieben. A human shape topped it, and about ten feet of tail followed after, lumpy and faintly sour smelling. Like rancid garbage. The height was simply the parahuman raising themselves up. I could see the shape of him move as he dropped down, almost falling. His upper body traced the wall as he flowed down it at a diagonal, a caterpillar body of trash bags and cardboard boxes following after him.
He gathered the body under them, all coiled up, reshuffled, then launched off the wall. His upper body stuck out at the top, while legs and hips were lost in an amorphous blob of detritus. The bags and boxes contained gas, and hoses trailed beneath, each hose producing puffs of that same gas. He took a course that put him some distance from the building and his squad.
Chugalug. Trash changer. He gathered garbage and sewage as a body he could configure into a few different forms. That trash was slowly consumed and turned into a material that would be, as required, solid, gas, or liquid, typically in quantities far greater than what was reasonable for what he’d absorbed. His namesake technique was from how he ‘gathered’ raw sewage to fill out his body. Moose had covered that.
Guy didn’t really associate with his squad, or his squad didn’t want to associate with him.
I withdrew my hand from Precipice’s face. He made a face as he inhaled.
It smelled bad. Like shit that had been eaten, puked out, eaten again, and laced with sour garbage smells and other general human smells. There was something perfumey in it, too. Like air freshener or a shampoo, but cloying, seemingly designed to trick the nose and tastebuds into thinking that there was no need to shut down or ignore things anymore, just so they involuntarily opened up to the greater odor.
A trace of something minty or fruity followed by a punch of a smell like old man diaper soaked in month-old tuna water. And we weren’t even close to the source. He had passed thirty feet over us in a form that apparently wasn’t about the gas or the stench, and that was it.
“A lot of activity,” Rain managed, his own hand over his lower face now.
“Last patrol before shift change. We stay here.”
Next part is going to be hard. Adapting to new schedules and patterns.
“It’s worth it?”
“I think so,” Rain said. He ran his hand between hood and head, over his shorn head. “I’m getting Love Lost and Cradle, at least. I feel it hitting home, when I push to full strength. I feel it if I touch Tattletale by mistake. I don’t feel it with others. Tristan, kind of. I think it’s Tristan. Except they only took his midsection.”
“Emotions are rooted in all kinds of places,” I said. I thought of how many times I’d felt bad feelings start in my gut, or end up there.
Rain clenched his fists, tiny mechanical hand squeaking. “Damn it. I’m going to lose track of people, moving away like this. There are a lot who don’t react. But some do. I try to find them, gradually increase the pressure.”
“I did say to go easy on the soldiers.”
“I don’t have the patience to go that easy,” he said. “If we get caught we’re going to have to fight, or you’re going to have to fight. If I haven’t gotten anything done by then, then this is all for nothing.”
“Let me worry about us getting caught. You focus on what’s indoors. Be patient.”
“Turning the screws is getting to some people. One keeps talking to their superior, pointing at the orb. They might up and leave.”
“Okay. But I know emotion powers. People react in different ways. This isn’t us hitting one billiard ball with another and calculating the trajectory. They’re people. Every person is built differently.”
“There’s a guy who sits apart from the rest of his squad. Brought a hunk of wood with him.”
“The lumberjack. I saw him.”
“Whittles this round of wood with branches sticking out. Gets more agitated the more I work on him. Like you said. Different reactions to the same things.”
“Go easy,” I murmured.
“Imagine if he got pissed off enough to pick a fight,” Rain said. “There are people who are ready to leave.”
“What happens if they do?” I whispered back. “They leave, they run into our guys.”
The door opened upstairs. We fell silent by mutual understanding.
I heard Five say something in Chinese. He got a response from someone else. More fluent than Four.
“Our guys can handle it.”
I shushed him. I wished I didn’t have to.
There was more mingled conversation. There hadn’t been many squads that were outright mingling like this. I had a bad feeling. The squad on the roof right now was Chugalug’s- they’d gone on a patrol of the general area a while ago, spent a shift inside, then went to the roof. I had to imagine it was because Chug stank and people didn’t want him indoors.
Chugalug’s friend was…
I saw Barfbat take flight. Tumor-ridden wings and a head with pustules and fluid-filled sacs ringing his neck. They had to insulate him, because it was chilly and they made for a lot of exposed skin.
He flew straight in the direction of Chugalug.
Because they were friends. Fuck.
A solid minute passed as Rain and I remained silent, crammed into a corner with metal barrels around us.
Chugalug’s squad wasn’t leaving. They were staying where they were, and Barfbat’s squad was joining them. Complicating factors that made the pain in the ass people into even bigger issues. Schedules in disarray…
“Moose-” Rain started, barely audible. I tensed at his voice, looking up. I motioned for him to continue. “Moose said Barfbat has enhanced hearing and smell.”
I nodded. I was aware.
“What do we do?”
“You stay. I’m putting Foil and Sveta on it. I think this is the final leg of the journey. We won’t have long to do our thing.”
“Shh. It’s fine. Try to focus on the rooftop, stay quiet and still.”
“I’ve been keeping my head down for all my life, why stop now?” Rain asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer that, so I nodded.
Foil first. I made my way around the building, and saw light from above. Drei and her flashlight again. She walked with the end of the gun resting against the lip of the roof, the flashlight beam extending down, but not flush to the wall. She had company, now, going by the murmurs I heard.
Two squads patrolling the fields and woods around us, twenty in total with two capes. Two squads above us, another twenty. Two capes who are flying around, due back any minute.
I let the beam pass me by, then rounded the corner. Two guys sat on the roof’s edge, feet dangling. Sieben was with them, her back to the space below.
Tense, to pass so close by, to see a flick of white dart through my peripheral vision- a loogie, bit of spit, or a fleck of ice that had been knocked free of the roof.
But they seemed to be looking out, not down.
Foil was up the wall, having used spikes to ascend. She spotted me, and made her way down, stepping on inch-long protrusions.
I approached her, and with secrecy in mind, we put personal space aside, our toes almost touching, my mouth by her ear. “Barfbat and Chugalug. They can’t come back.”
“You sure? When they don’t return-”
“I’m sure. Be careful, Bat has enhanced hearing and smell.”
“I’m short on darts.”
I winced. I drew the extra decorations from my costume out of my pocket, and held it between us as I used a bit of strength to pull one free. I didn’t want a telltale glint to give us away.
“Give me the entire thing? I can cut the rest off if you give me one.”
I didn’t want to give her the entire thing. I liked my costume and Weld had gone to some effort to make the decorations.
But need won out. Others needed this. I pressed the decorations into her hand.
She jogged off, keeping low to the ground, not running along the base of the building as I’d been doing, but a distance away, because that distance gave her the ability to see which way heads were turned and a better idea of where people were. I watched the soldiers above, nervous, but I didn’t hear any cries of alarm.
She made a break for it, quick and quiet, across a dark field dusted faintly with snow.
We had a time limit.
I circled the building, floating instead of walking, and slowed as I heard whispering. I peered around the corner, and heard the whispering stop.
Something slapped my hip. A tendril. I approached, and I saw the general shape that was my mom. Wrapped in a dark blanket, the blanket held tight by tendrils. Sveta’s face was tucked between ball and wall.
“Fight might start soon. They just sent out the guy with enhanced senses. I sent Foil after him. If there’s trouble, I’ll pulse with my aura. There’s a group-”
I drew a rough outline of the roof on the ground, then an ‘x’.
“Right there. Should I go over the pineapple seven-ten?”
“I remember the great pineapple debate,” Sveta said. “No need.”
“You’re awesome,” I said. “Hit ’em, and if there’s any gunfire after, feel free to do what you need to do.”
“They hurt Tristan,” Sveta murmured. “Kenzie. Ashley.”
“I might have to throw them off the building. I just don’t want to.”
“I know. I don’t want to hurt them either. Gonna go check on Rain.”
I made my way back, wary of the periodic flashlight, or people leaning over the edge of the roof. Mr. Sechs was taking another leak.
When I got to where I’d left Rain, I found him gone.
I looked for him, and I found him halfway up the building. He’d scaled the darts Foil had embedded in the wall, and he’d returned to his former spot.
I flew to him, shooting him a furious look. Because, for one thing, that was pretty precarious footing for anyone who wasn’t Foil, and a fall would have outed all of us. For another, what the hell was he thinking?
He touched the window with his right hand and the tiny mechanical right hand, and I could see the strain in those extremities. He wasn’t about to bust through the glass, but he was pressing hard.
The Lumberjack was shouting loudly enough that I could hear the lowest sounds through the window, from the other side of the building.
‘The Lumberjack’, as I’d termed the guy, was a burly guy with a big red beard, wearing the standard mercenary outfit, part of Red’s squad, and Red was a woman I’d named as such because she had the same mercenary uniform on, but instead of black and gray camo or just plain black, she had red and black and black, with a metal mask. She had broad shoulders and broad hips, black hair in a lick of a ponytail I could have gripped in one hand.
She was one to watch out for, but it was the little cues that made me think that. People paid attention to her, and she seemed to have at least three of the people other mercenaries were avoiding inside her orbit. The Lumberjack, a scrawny guy who I hadn’t seen without a knife in his hand, and another big guy that had gotten up to go to the bathroom ten minutes ago, with people actively getting out of his way.
If she had the fear or respect of a bunch of guys who demanded fear and respect, that was worth paying attention to.
She’d stood, and she held a gear in her hand. It flipped over and rolled across the back of her hand before she caught it. The thing probably weighed three pounds.
It fell, after a purposeful movement, like she was aiming to bounce a ball. It plunged into the floor, and there was a ‘splash’ of pistons, larger gears, sheet metal and metal springs thicker than my leg, rising out of the concrete floor and sinking back in to leave the floor unblemished. A piston knocked a smaller, narrower gear into the air, which she caught.
It served to get the attention of the others. Shouting and conversation had stopped.
Rain pressed another hand to the window. People were getting restless now. They actively stood, shuffling feet, looking uncomfortable.
“There’s time to roll this out slower,” I whispered. “Until Barfbat and Chugalug’s squads notice they haven’t come back. You don’t have to finish this in five seconds. Go easy.”
“I am,” Rain hissed, and I could hear the tension in his voice. “There’s only so long I can look at that ball they’ve made and not think about how people we care about are in there. Tristan backed me up when it counted. Kenzie!”
I saw him twist his head to one side, like he had to wrench himself away to avoid ranting.
End of his rope? We all had our limits, but those limits depended heavily on what we were talking about. Rain, I had to imagine, had an intolerance for institutionalized evil. For the cult mentalities and gatherings of people who overlooked serious wrongs, like these soldiers and villains were doing.
And this was after days of stress, and months, a year of seeing his cluster every night. What we’d done to force him out of the room was screwing with the way his power had been distributed.
The Lumberjack threw the piece of wood he had been whittling, straight for Red. Red made a movement of her hand, and there was a small splash of gears and pistons, of cranks and pipes, some red hot, barely larger across than a dinner plate. It was followed by another splash, hotter and larger, like a stone was being skipped, and a third, even larger, massive, with a piece of machinery taller than Red was lunging out of the ground. A mechanical claw seized the piece of wood, destroying it, before disappearing into the ground with another ‘splash’.
People backed away from the droplets of molten metal that had been thrown out.
“Remember your power educates them,” I said.
“I remember,” Rain said. “I disabled it just as he did the stupid thing.”
He’d been loud as he said it.
Worrying we’d been heard, I was mindful of the group on the roof, and flew up, leaving Rain where he was. None were close enough to hear Rain. They’d heard the commotion and headed to the door, where they now gathered.
Still fifteen or so on the roof. The captains were at one spot where boxes had been set out for sitting on. I saw the player, and guns set against walls, in easy arm’s reach. Nobody had abandoned their weapon.
I watched and waited, trying to get a sense of them. As they started to turn back around, situation assessed, I dropped back down.
Sveta was there, at the corner of the building. Her tendril reached out to its maximum range, slapping my shoulder. Scared the hell out of Rain, who almost lost his perch.
I motioned for him to stay, then followed. Sveta was careful to pull back, to move away as I moved forward, keeping a healthy distance.
Sieben. The woman who’d been the biggest pain, and Drei, the woman with the flashlight and bad smoking habit. My mother stood over both, a blanket over her and them, shielding the glow of the blades she held to their throats.
“They saw us,” Sveta murmured. “There was a noise, and that one did a weird thing where she didn’t look toward the noise, she focused down on us. She called the one with the flashlight.”
“Power?” I asked. “Answer. Quiet.”
“No,” Sieben said. “Good habits.”
“I have bandages, belt, back pouch” my mom said. “Use them for a gag. Left pouch for-”
“For wrist-ties,” I guessed.
I got the bandages and cuffs. Gags around the mouth. We set them back to back, wrists behind them around around the stomach of the other.
“If you make a commotion, we can reach you before they do,” I said. “No fumbling around, no shuffling, kicking, or banging.”
“I’ll watch them,” Sveta said. “Kill them if I have to.”
“You,” my mom said. She pointed at Sveta. “I’m not impressed.”
“What the hell?”
“It’s fine,” Sveta said.
“What the hell?” I whispered.
“It’s fine. Go. Rain needs you. We’ll do what we have to. They’ll notice two of theirs are missing as soon as they do a head count.”
I looked between her and my mom, and I saw something weird and dark in my mom’s expression. Like she was bothered.
She went ball form before I could study it any further.
My cue to go back to Rain. Before I was even there, I heard more of a commotion inside.
I reached the window, supporting Rain’s balance, and peered past the frost.
The Lumberjack had been mangled. Red stood over his body. The other two members of her group that I’d deemed scary, plus one more, had all risen to their feet, standing spread out. Nobody was stopping them, helping them, or intervening.
“I have to wonder, and this feels shitty and scary to articulate-,” Rain said the words through grit teeth, emotional.
“Shh,” I urged him. Did he have zero volume control? That had almost been speaking level.
The skinny guy with the knife pointed it at Red. The one guy I hadn’t expected to be in that mix, because he’d been so quiet, said something.
Red acted. A movement, which immediately saw two members of the group drawing their weapons. Too late. The splashes occurred around them. Small splash, medium splash, giant drill spearing out of the ground, catching a guy in one butt cheek and shredding everything from there to cranium. One had backed out of the way of a tightly arranged set of metal rollers, but missed the piston that struck a roller and, accelerated, speared the ceiling. The piston splashed, and it became a hydraulic hammer, slamming from the high ceiling to the floor. Pulp.
The last guy, the quiet guy, hadn’t drawn a gun. He was thrust into the air by an uneven set of pistons, so he flipped head over heel. He landed on one shoulder, and collapsed in a way that didn’t let him fall flat- his feet were left above him for two or so seconds, before he twisted and flopped into a more or less relaxed position.
The machinery around him receded. As it did, metal machinery splashed up and out, with white hot metal in the midst of it. About a half-full bathtub’s worth of hot metal landed on or in the immediate vicinity of the third guy.
He thrashed and screamed, his clothes igniting from the heat alone, while Red sat back down. She said something, and a lot of heads shook, in her squad in particular.
“Jesus Christ,” Rain muttered.
He’d been using a lot more religious swears since waking up.
“Yeah,” I said. I was caught between saying ‘that’s not on you’, and ‘I did fucking tell you to go easy’.
I left it at ‘yeah’.
“That bad feeling I had? I’m identifying the buttons to press. Not just in one person, but in a group, so the group acts like you want it to,” Rain was barely audible. “Like cult leaders do.”
“It’s different,” I said, though I was a little spooked at just how that had unfolded.
“It’s like how they say bullies feel,” Rain whispered. “Powerful, big, better. Not better as in like I’m a better person, because I’m definitely not, but better like I’ve unloaded something I’ve been carrying for a long time. I feel all those things, and I feel worse, I feel sick.”
“The danger, I think, isn’t in feeling powerful, big, or venting,” I whispered, my eyes locked on the scene. “That’s reality. Trust me. I’ve been there. We face off against shitty people and it feels good to see them get what they deserve, whether they’re racists, people who deal to kids, fanatics, or monsters. If we didn’t feel satisfaction then we wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Rain grunted in the affirmative. Someone approached Red, indicating the man who was being put out with stomps and a shiny blanket thrown over him. Red waved them off, and they went to the burned man. Medical care, it looked like.
“What you watch out for is if it stops feeling shitty, or if you get used to it,” I said.
Rain’s hand shook as he pulled it away from the glass.
“I feel pretty damn shitty, having played a part in three people dying and a fourth getting burned half to death, so we’re good there,” he murmured. “We’re good.”
His finger touched glass, then drew out a line, indicating someone specific. One of the younger mercenaries. The one who had spoken up a few times.
“But I’d feel worse if I didn’t do anything,” he said, hand moving from fingertip on glass to being flat against it.
“That’s the way it goes,” I whispered.
The young mercenary raised his voice, and he was close enough I could hear. “Are you going to off me if I try to leave?”
Red said something. Too far away, not loud enough.
The young mercenary’s squad leader said something as well. The guy was a cape called Mukade, his squad had a centipede motif stenciled on their body armor.
I knew Mukade. Moose had known him too. The guy who had wanted a group or organization to stick to.
With the word from their squad leader, the young cape strode toward the door.
Rain moved his hand.
And Mukade said something else.
“That you?” I asked, a murmur. “Puppeteering?”
“Creepy to put it that way.”
“Creepy’s good,” I murmured.
“I don’t know what he said,” Rain replied, matching my volume for once. “I just thought if he was giving the merc a pass to leave, wasn’t that too goddamn easy? None of them should feel okay about this. Not puppeteering. Nudging.”
“If you don’t let the ones who hate this go, we either have to-”
I fell silent as I heard heavy footsteps. I’d kind of hoped the people had headed downstairs to investigate. I’d really hoped that with people crowding to one end of the roof, they weren’t noticing the absence of two of their members. Some of their people had gone downstairs, some were up, and discrepancies were easy to miss.
But Sechs, the pisser, the clomper, the one with the most unreliable and careless patrol route, was still patrolling the roof’s edge.
If we don’t let the ones with consciences go, we either have to take them all out, or we let some of the worst ones slip through our fingers.
Sechs stood on the roof’s edge.
He looked down. I wasted no time in going up.
“Oh!” he raised his voice, guttural.
My hand hit his gun, pushing it to one side. My knee hit his chin. Others were reacting and I used my aura. The range I measured out, so it caught those on the roof, and it caught Rain. With luck, it caught Sveta.
Multiple people with guns. The door was shut, and I had to stop them before they opened it and shouted the alarm.
There was barely a need. Sveta was reacting. The ball came free of cloth, and it was hurled across the roof. Sveta’s face appeared and the same tendrils that had thrown the ball now caught three soldiers, snatching them from where they stood.
The ball rolled, people scrambled to move.
My dad and my adolescent self had maintained some very different opinions on what we called some maneuvers. The pineapple had been my terminology. I wasn’t sure why I’d chosen that in retrospect, especially considering I’d since learned that grenades could be termed ‘pineapples’ in jargon, and my dad didn’t have a role in this one. But I had and I still maintained the opinion that ‘bowling seven-ten’ was a mouthful and an artifact of my dork of a dad really liking bowling. A name that didn’t fit was better than a name that wasn’t practical, as I argued it.
People got out of the way of the ball. They didn’t anticipate it becoming a woman, armed with two blades. As fast as the ball had been moving, she was utterly still, blades extended -to the seven and ten o’clock positions, as my dad would protest- Two people held hostage. Both were the squad leaders. Not captains- the capes were the captains. But squad leaders.
Bowling for hostages.
One leader moved his hand, motioning for others to put guns down. Everyone stood down. Silence reigned, but for shouting from in the building below us.
Foil had returned, and had ascended to the rooftop in a flash. I hadn’t even seen her making the approach. She held darts -my spikes- in one hand, all bunched together.
“I had to back off. I pinned them, but then a squad headed my way,” Foil said.
“Got it. We should be expecting them?”
Ushering them one way with her energy blades, my mom had the two squad leaders stand with arms raised over their heads, backs to the door that led down.
Foil and I relieved the other nine soldiers of their weapons. Foil touched the excess weapons and inserted them so they intersected boots and rooftop, embedding them there.
Below, the commotion hadn’t stopped. Upset, dissent, doubts.
Then, all at once, something approximating silence.
“Vic,” I heard Rain.
I flew to his side.
“Cradle’s awake early.”
The egg was opening, the configuration shifting. Cradle was pulling tubes away from him. He was wet with blood. Love Lost and Colt were lying on the floor of the orb, more tubes in them.
He moved slowly, as if in pain. He wiped at his face, to get the blood out of his eyes. There was enough of it that his features were obscured. Even with the frost at the window, he was raised up high enough that I could see the tears in his eyes, the wet tracks. His hand clutched at his chest, then reached for a pocket. Eyeglass case.
He stopped, not putting them on.
Mask, instead, at his hip. He started pulling that on, and stopped partway once again.
He screamed, a roar.
There it was. That satisfaction, that didn’t feel as awful as it needed to.