“Guys, I’m really not in the mood,” I say, rubbing my forehead. The beef sandwiches they’ve given us for lunch are dry and tough, the bread is pasty, and this apple juice is basically sugar water.
“Come on, just once more!” Sue urges. “It’s badass, man!”
“Seriously. In the cafeteria?”
“No-one’s watching,” Dolphin says. “We’ve got you covered. Just try for one more inch.”
I sigh and focus on my hand. A little flickering butter knife of flame materializes in my hand. It extends barely four inches past my thumb.
The others deflate. “Come on, you’re not even trying,” Ball Buster says.
“Of course I’m not.” I stab the flaming butter knife into my beef sandwich and saw it back and forth. “I’ve been doing this all morning. Can we stop with it already?”
“That dagger you were slinging at Sue was at least double that long.” Dolphin frowns, sitting back. “And you said you had some sort of machete when you were fighting. That’s … what … a foot and a half?”
“I don’t know what to tell you.” I change the butter knife to a bread knife. The jagged teeth catch on the bread and start to cut it apart. “Adrenaline, maybe. Can we just accept that none of us know how our powers really work?”
“Mouse seems to have a pretty good handle on his,” Dolphin says, looking over at his roommate.
“He’s got a consistent handle on his,” Ball Buster says. “There’s a difference. He hasn’t had a huge dramatic flare-up of his power. It’s just always been consistently low-key.”
Sue watches me cut the bread. “Still, you can make toast. That’s pretty dope.”
“Hey guys.” A shadow falls over the table. I move aside to make room for Sidewinder, and the other guys reluctantly do the same.
“Everything okay?” he asks.
“Eh,” I shrug. “What’d you tell Jackhammer?”
He shrugs back. “What was I supposed to tell him? I asked him if he thought Val was seeing other guys. He punched me in the face.”
Whatever. I don’t much care if Jackhammer knows or not. He can have her.
Mouse pats me on the shoulder. “Cheer up. If you wave your hand, fifty more will come.”
I don’t even bother to ask about the phrase.
Ball Buster’s eyes get round. “Shit. One of the fifty’s coming now.”
Faith, the tan-skinned pixie cut, is walking straight towards our table, her face set in its perpetually bland expression. She walks up and nods at me. “Hey, Square,” she says.
“Hey, Faith.” I really hope she doesn’t notice Dolphin’s eyes.
Faith slaps Dolphin on the arm. “Move,” she says. “I need to sit down.” Dolphin looks startled, but he moves. “So,” she says to me, sitting down. “Heard you and Val broke up.”
“Something like that.”
“Hm. I did tell you she was nuts.”
“You did,” I agree.
“Nuts how?” Ball Buster asks.
“Just the way she views things. First night we roomed together, she had this long rant about how men were all about sex and how you needed to ‘work’ them.”
“And that’s totally not a thing you girls ever talk about, I’m sure,” Bally says.
“First time I’d heard it,” Faith says. “I hadn’t even asked. She just started talking. And she gets weirdly into those hyper-violent movies she watches. I mean, I’m her roommate, and I still avoid her. Especially after she started that fight.”
“She what?” Mouse asks.
“Oh, right. That was you guys who had the first fight.” Faith nods. “Grace said Val had had her run a message over to Jack telling him about some guys at the rec center.”
“I told you that was fishy,” Ball Buster says. We ignore him.
“You only lettin’ Square know about his messed-up ex now?” Sue says.
“I just said I tried to warn him.” Faith turns a level gaze at Sue. “Did you not get that?” She then looks at me. “What: did you just think I was being catty or something? Or do you just get delusional with this stuff?”
“Everybody gets like that,” Mouse protests.
“I sure don’t,” Faith says. “Dunno if Val does or not. Actually, I thought she was pretty loopy for you. Yeah, she was dating Jackhammer, but she couldn’t shut up about you.”
This isn’t helping. “Did you want something?” I ask.
Faith doesn’t answer right away. She tilts her head as she looks at me. “Just checking something out,” she says. “Val’s crazy, but she didn’t deserve to get beaten and left in the snow. And you were one of the guys she was cheating on.”
I stare at her as I realize what she’s saying.
“But you’d be either a lot more bitter or a lot more regretful if it was you.” She gives a decisive nod and stands. “Sorry to bother you.” She glances at Sidewinder. “Do you know where Jackhammer is?”
Sidewinder shrugs. “Over there. But what…”
“Thank you.” Faith moves off.
We exchange glances around the circle. “It wasn’t Jackhammer,” Sidewinder says. “I can tell you that.”
“What do you think she meant by ‘one’ of the guys…” I start to ask.
“Holy shit, Square, that should not be your main concern right now,” Ball-Buster says. “You’ve got a lying girlfriend who was beaten up recently and who is apparently trying to kill you. What do you think she told Wolfe?”
There’s a hush over the table.
“They would have arrested me already.” I manage. The hollow feeling in my chest has been replaced by something like cold lead.
“Doesn’t mean they won’t. That Faith girl can’t be the only person looking hard at you right now,” Ball Buster says. He glances toward the cafeteria door. “Those guards’ll be here any minute, I’ll bet.”
I swallow. Slowly. The world seems to be closing in around me.
“I can vouch for—” Sidewinder starts to say.
“Isn’t going to matter,” Ball Buster says. “Besides, what’s your story? ‘He’s innocent, because he tried to kill me?’”
“Also, that’s not the time Val would have been attacked,” Mouse says. “Probably closer to when we were at the rec center. People saw us.”
“Red Spruce saw us.” Sue’s gaze is dark. “And who knows what she gonna say. Shit, man, we don’t even know when it happened. Could be when we were out walking around.”
“Wolfe’s going to want to at least talk to him,” Dolphin says. “And even if she just finds out you two were dating, that’d be enough for Detention.” He pauses. “But … we could use this.”
“Use how?” I ask.
He wets his lips and looks around. “Guys,” he says. “Bally can make tanks float. I can make them hear things that aren’t there. Sue’s bulletproof. Mouse can keep people from realizing anything’s wrong. Square just found out he can make fiery daggers, and Sidewinder here is basically Black Lightning.”
“I’m Asian, man,” Sidewinder says.
“Raci-i-i-i-ist,” Ball Buster whispers.
“Guys.” I cannot believe they’re doing this right now.
“We’ve got a chance,” Dolphin says. “We’ve been talking about grabbing the helicopter, right? If they grab Square and bring him up there … what if we use that?”
Again, a pause. “No,” says Ball Buster, in a disbelieving tone.
“You’ve caught a cold in your head, my friend,” Mouse says.
“You mean, like now?” Sue asks Dolphin.
“You guys have been planning an escape?” says Sidewinder, looking around the table.
“‘Planning’ is a bit generous,” I say. “And never with the helicopter. We wouldn’t even know what to do with one.”
“We’ll work it out,” Dolphin says. “Maybe I can radio my dad. I dunno. But we’re never going to have a chance like this again!”
“What, you mean, one of us getting arrested and being brought up to the Tower?” Ball Buster says, shaking his head. “She’s practically inventing reasons at this point.”
“Next time,” Dolphin says, “she might not bother with the Tower. Next time, Square might not be here to help.”
“Stop being so dramatic,” I say, even though the cold lead in my stomach is getting heavier. “What could I possibly even do up in the Tower? They’d have guards all over me.”
“Or the rest of us?” Ball Buster says. “We’d still …” He freezes. “Shit.”
Four guards in camo are standing at the entrance to the diner. They see us almost as soon as we see them, and they come right up to the table. “Camper 981? Dickson?” asks the lead guard. Sergeant Grim Goatee. Of course it is.
I try to make my swallow inconspicuous. “Yeah?” I say, keeping my voice level.
“You need to come with us to the Tower,” he says.
My heart is dropping into my shoes. “What, am I eating breakfast wrong?”
His lip curls. “Listen, pun—”
That’s when Dolphin throws his plate of eggs at him.
It’s so quick, and it’s only in the corner of my eye, so I only get the barest idea of Dolphin picking up his plate and launching it, like some slapstick comedy pie, straight into Sergeant Grim Goatee’s face. The plate literally cracks apart on the helmet, sending bits of egg and sauce splattering everywhere.
The guards’ silver guns are up and out, pointing at Dolphin.
The entire cafeteria is dead quiet. Nobody at our table so much as breathes. Dolphin himself looks a bit shocked at how fast the guards drew their guns, but there’s a strangely defiant twist to his mouth.
Sergeant Grim Goatee wipes a bit of egg-yolk off his face. “Right, dipstick,” he says. “You’re coming too.”
I hardly even notice the trip to and up the Tower. I’m too busy watching Dolphin.
I don’t even know what to think. Are we doing this now? Are the others going to back us up? What am I even supposed to do? What the fuck can I do? We don’t have an actual plan, and this is fucking insane …
We’re wearing sort of handcuffs. They’re a lot thicker and bulkier than any handcuffs I’ve seen before, and they’ve got a strange sort of energy to them—a tingle, almost—so I expect they do actually do a good job of keeping our strength in check. Seems a bad time to check.
Dolphin doesn’t look at me. He doesn’t seem to really be looking around at the elevator, either, but he must be. His fingers are pressed together. I wonder if he’s doing his “sense” thing. Can he? Just with his fingers like that? Maybe he’s contacting the others.
I have no fucking clue about what’s going on.
We get up to the office, and there’s Doc Schaefer, sitting in one of Wolfe’s steel desk chairs, coughing into a handkerchief. There’s Sergeant Red Spruce, too, standing at attention, looking very worried. Wolfe herself is at the window, staring out over the camp.
She turns as we come in and frowns at Dolphin. “Who is this, Sergeant?”
“He attacked me,” Grim Goatee says, defensively.
“But why …” Wolfe sighs. “Never mind. It’ll have to wait. Dickson, do you know why you’re here?”
I wonder exactly how dumb I should play. “Is it about me talking with Val at the hospital?”
“Partly.” Wolfe gives a curt nod. “The nurse informed me you’d been the one to drop her off, and that you went back to see her.” Wolfe’s grey eyes burn into me. “That raises a number of questions, but they can wait. What I want to know is how you broke into the Downstairs.”
I freeze. I’m pretty sure I feel Dolphin doing the same. “Downstairs?” I ask. What even is that?
Wolfe’s eyes get even harder. “We don’t have time for this, Dickson. You’re only the second person in the history of this facility to have managed it. I want to know how, and what you saw.”
I lick my lips. “Listen,” I say. My thoughts are flying and I seize, stupidly, on the speech I was practicing all the way up the Tower. “I didn’t attack Val. You’ve got to believe me.”
I almost wince when the words come out of my mouth, but Wolfe just waves her hand. “We know all about that,” she says. “We’ve just heard testimony that you were with a base resident at the time of the attack.” Sergeant Red Spruce meets my eyes. “At this point, you’re no longer under suspicion.”
I let out a breath. “Oh,” I say.
“Now.” Wolfe steps closer to me. “Downstairs. Was it through the clinic or—”
A screeching reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee fills the air, and the walls of glass on either side shatter. I’ve got my hands over my ears, and I’m screaming in pain—the sound is cutting into my skull. Beside me, I get a dim impression of others, toppling to the ground.
And then the sound’s gone, and Dolphin’s grabbing my arm. “Come on!” he’s shouting. “The helo pad’s gotta be up this way!”
“Wha—” But he’s already pulling me. I trip and stumble over a body. Sergeant Red Spruce. Her helmet is … strangely deformed. And red. Wolfe’s lying in a crumpled heap on the far side of the room, her desk caved on top of her, shards of glass sticking from her face. Doc’s struggling to lift the desk off of her. He gives me a strange look.
“Dolphin!” I have to shout. With the windows gone, the cold air is absolutely wailing around us at this point. “How’re we going to get to the others?”
“We’ll come back for them!” he shouts back, already running across the office floor. “Come on!”
What? I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing. “You said we were going to leave together!” I shout, running after him.
“I didn’t realize how much fucking security was down there!” he shouts, slamming open the door to the stairs. “Look, we’ll … I don’t know. We’ll get the pilot to land the helicopter in the camp. But we need to go!”
“You know that won’t work!” I shout, as we dash up the stairs. “The watchtowers down there have guns!”
“The copter’s got missile launchers!”
That, at least, makes sense. But I can’t help feeling uneasy. This can’t have been the plan. Do the others even know? What if they’re attacking downstairs right now? What if they’re riding up the elevator?
The helmet was deformed. And red.
Dolphin slams open the door to the top, and we run out on the roof. There’s a silver-white helicopter there, lit from below by the helipad lights. A few guards turn to look at us as we emerge. Dolphin launches himself into the air. For a minute, I’m afraid he’s overshot and is going to sail over the edge, but instead he crashes into one of the guards. The others turn to look at him, bringing up their silver guns.
I don’t like it, but my body acts before I can even think. I jump on top of one of the guards. He’s out cold in three hits. The other one turns around, a gun in his hands. A six-inch bowie knife comes out of my hands, clanging against the barrel, knocking it up and away. He’s already abandoning it as I come in striking range. He blocks me left, right. His leg goes for a roundhouse kick, and I duck underneath.
Dolphin picks the man up bodily and throws him off the roof. “Come on!” he shouts at me again, running for the helicopter.
“Holy shit, man!” I say, staring at where the man fell past the pad. My mind is racing. Did we just kill a guy? Did we just kill three guys?
A pilot is getting out of the helicopter, fumbling with a gun. Dolphin is on him in five seconds, slamming the pilot’s frame against the helicopter’s white shell.
“Right,” Dolphin says, splaying his fingers out on the man’s helmet. “You know how to fly this, right? You’re going to take me and my friend here on a little trip.”
The pilot grabs at his belt for his pistol. Dolphin narrows his eyes, and the guard screams, dropping the pistol.
“I control vibrations, you know,” Dolphin says. “Those headphones in your helmet? Marvelous things.”
Shit. It’s that thing he did to me earlier.
“I’m guessing you need your arms and legs to fly this thing,” Dolphin continues, “but your ears are pretty secondary.”
“Fuck, Dolphin, stop this already!” I shout.
“You got any other ideas?” he shouts back. “There’s no way back down that staircase! It’s do or die time!” He looks at the pilot again. “Let’s go. In the helicopter.”
The pilot’s jaw’s clenched, blood’s trickling out of his mouth, but he manages to shake his head. “Go t-to hell,” he snarls.
Dolphin narrows his eyes again, and the pilot really screams. “This is only going to get worse,” he tells him.
“Dolphin, let him go!” I shout, grabbing his arm.
Dolphin shrugs me off. “Do you want a ride or don’t you?”
Blood is leaking out from under the helmet. The pilot is still screaming, but now he’s laughing, too. “F-f-f-fuck you!” he spits out. “You’re n-nev-never getting out of here!”
“We’re just trying to stay alive,” I tell him. Maybe I can convince him to stop this. “We need to find a cure—”
“Y-you’ll never escape!” he shouts at me, his blood-stained mouth grimacing. “We’ll never l-l-let you! We won’t let you de-destroy the world!”
Dolphin and I both squint at him. “What?” I say.
That’s when we notice that the pilot’s pressed a button on his radio. Inside the helicopter, something lights up on the console.
Dolphin feels it before I do. “Shi—”
The helicopter doesn’t exactly explode, at least not in a giant fireball. But the back blows out in spectacular fashion, the rotor breaks apart in a staccato-burst series of explosions, and the whole thing gives this massive shake that sends Dolphin and I stumbling back.
“Fuuuuccck!” Dolphin shouts, taking in the whole scene of destruction. He jumps up and runs at the pilot, who’s laughing through the blood. “You miserable little—”
“Dolphin!” I tackle him before I know what I’m doing. The two of us go rolling on the helicopter pad. “Forget it, man!” I shout. “It’s over!”
He shoves me aside, but the pilot already has his gun out. Not pointed at us.
We both look on as the body slumps to the pad. “Damnit,” says Dolphin.
“Sh-shit.” I swallow. The back of the helmet is all blown apart, and there’s bits of pink and pasty white on the landing pad. But what’s sticking in my head is the image of the gun under the man’s chin, the mad smile. I take a deep breath. “You’re some sort of psycho, man.”
“Yeah, and you’re some sort of pansy,” he says. He looks around. “Shit. Need a new hostage now.” He’s headed for one of the guards—a live one, who’s groaning as he gets to his feet. Oh, that’s the one I punched out.
And Dolphin’s grabbing him by the helmet.
Enough of this shit. I jump at Dolphin and bowl him over. “That’s not helping!” I shout.
“Let me at him!” he shouts, scrambling to get out of my grip. “We need him for assurances!”
I don’t know why I ever thought this guy was funny. I punch him once, twice. The third time, he punches me. While I’m winded, he slams me with a roundhouse kick. I slip on some ice and go sliding back, slamming against the hard floor of the helipad.
I get up slowly. The wind is really strong up here. I see, in the grey clouds overhead, a flame dancing. Much closer, in front of my face, there’s a piece of paper, fluttering down in the breeze. I pick it out of the air. An index card, covered in strange markings, ripped in half. My Code.
The stairwell door bangs open and there’s Wolfe, surrounded by a troop of guards with silver guns. Her hair’s tousled, her suit’s ripped, and her glasses are cracked. One of her eyes is bloody and dead-looking. But there’s nothing unsteady about the way she levels the pistol in her hands at us. “Nice run, you two,” she says. “Well done.”
Directly behind her, I see Doc. His hands are cuffed behind his back, and he’s being held by two guards. He looks at me and grimaces.
“Shit!” Dolphin grabs the helipad guard and hoists him up, like a body shield. Doesn’t really work, since Dolphin’s about six inches taller than his ‘shield’. “Get back!” he shouts.
“There’s no way this ends well for you,” Wolfe says. “Accept that.”
“There’s no way anything at this camp was going to end well for me!” Dolphin shouts back. He grabs at the silver gun on the man’s holster.
The minute he does that, I wonder why we never picked up the guns before. And then I’m glad we didn’t, because he drops it, screaming, pressing his hand to his mouth.
“Cold-iron coating.” Wolfe’s mouth is twisted into a smile. “I imagine it’s like holding red hot metal for your kind. You really thought we hadn’t thought of that?”
“Mmfff … u cntssskkng bcch,” says Dolphin, sucking on his hand. His eyes get narrow again, and I see his other hand reach for the man’s helmet.
“Fuck it, man!” I yell, and I charge at him.
I’m not sure why the soldiers don’t shoot at me. Maybe it actually is the hostage, or maybe they think it’s best to let the two Nephilim punch it out. Maybe they’re just shocked.
Dolphin whirls around to face me, his one arm still around the hostage, his other up in a jiu jitsu pose. I know the stance, and I know what he’s expecting me to do.
Or at least, I’m relatively sure he isn’t expecting me to rip the hostage out of his grip and toss the guy towards Wolfe. Dolphin’s eyes grow wide as his kick sails over my head. But I’m overextended—I can’t get back into the defensive position fast enough. My best hope is that Dolphin just lets it go.
Dolphin pivots on his back leg and this time, kicks me full in the chest.
My chest makes a cracking noise, bending in a place where it really hasn’t before. The kick sends me hurtling across the pad to smash into the helicopter.
I hit it, full force. My head snaps back and slams into the metal. Pain bursts across my brain, and I’m out.