“So,” I asked Scout a short while later, “how does it look?”
We had all been working on the spell that Tabbris had been teaching through me. There was nothing elegant about it, really, which was the only reason we could learn it that fast. Tabbris (or I, as far as Rudolph and Douglas were concerned) had basically taught us how to make a very simple spell that would block the jammer for about two seconds. That was it. For those bare couple of seconds, the jamming spell would essentially ‘hiccup’.
We just had to hope that it would be enough for Gaia and the others to make it in. Not only because we didn’t have time to learn anything more complicated, but also because none of us (even all together) had the kind of power needed to actually fully take down something like that.
Scout, who had finished making her spell already, was currently looking through the scope of her rifle seemingly at nothing. In response to my question, she set it down and shook her head at me, replying, “Too many.”
To demonstrate, the girl held up the back of the rifle and hit a button so that we could see what she had been looking at. The area in front of the elevators was swarming with enemies. Some of them were clearly mercenaries, while others had the Seosten uniform armor on.
“It’s that way at all of them,” Scout informed us quietly, once everyone had glanced that way.
Groaning a little while holding the spoon that he had been inscribing the jammer-hiccup spell on, Rudolph lamented, “There’s no way we can get through that many. Especially not before they get even more reinforcements.”
“Right,” I murmured. “Which means we can’t use the elevators or the stairwells to get up to where we need to be.”
“Make the spells,” Columbus advised from where he was sitting next to his sister. “Make the spells, then worry about getting there. One step at a time.”
“He’s right,” Sean agreed. “We should finish with this first.” He gestured to the half completed collection of the spell-hiccup grenades, or whatever they should have been called. “Some of us are a little slower than others. Let’s finish up, then decide how to get where we need to be to use them.”
Hey, I directed inwardly while waiting for the others to finish up. I know it’s been really busy and pretty chaotic so we haven’t really had much of a chance to go over it, but if I’ve picked up anything useful from these fights lately, now’s the time to let me know. Since we’ve got a second.
I sensed the other girl’s surprised realization. Wait, I never told you what you got when we were going to save Mama, did I?
Nope, but believe me, I understand the distraction.
Again, I felt her rising embarrassment while she hurriedly started, When you killed that big rock guy back on the ship you got the power to shape and move little rocks. Then from that green guy you got the ability to make this liquid come out of your skin that can make people dizzy and nauseous if it touches them. And another guy made it so you can turn handfuls of any liquid into a gel ball thing that turns back into a liquid a few seconds after you let it go. Those would probably work pretty well together.
Wait, I started then, blinking. Animate rocks? Okay, yeah, that’s definitely something I should know. Good, thanks.
Quickly, Tabbris continued. You got a couple more little strength and agility boosts, nothing to write home about, while you were going through Kushiel’s lab. Oh, and you can make your fingernails really hard. Like, steel hard. And when we were right outside of the prototype ship that Mama was on, you killed three more guys. One of them made you immune to most kinds of radiation, another one gave you a spell-power boost, and the third one made it so that any image you’re thinking of, if you touch a flat surface, you can sorta… make a picture of that appear there. It looks like a… a drawing, I guess?
Well, that all sounds useful, I replied thoughtfully, running through so many ideas in my head.
Uh huh, Tabbris agreed. And then there’s tonight. Um. Well, you got better regeneration from the werewolf. And just a minute ago back in the stairs, that big guy with the gun gave you the ability to make any non-living item you can hold in your hands that you spend at least a few hours with either shrink really tiny, or grow really big. Like, making a penny as big as a manhole cover, or making that big gun that guy had small enough to fit in a normal pocket. Or making anywhere in between. But before that, you killed those five guys by Avalon’s room and got the power to imitate any voice you’ve heard, make someone’s muscles spasm for a second when you touch them, that nausea liquid thing you got earlier is stronger, not that you ever saw it before, the ability to hold onto the energy you absorb for longer and to hold more of it, and you can make very small amounts of any material you can touch, like no more than a few pounds at a time, give off a lot of heat. Like, so much heat that it’ll burn through things.
Does that few pounds have to be all in one object, I asked, Or can it be a whole bunch of really, really tiny objects? Like, say, the size of a grain of sand.
There was a brief pause then before the other girl realized. Oh. Ohhh. Oh. Wow. Um, yeah, yeah. You can heat up a few pounds of sand at a time in separate grains. So instead of regular sand flying around, you can have really hot sand.
Wait, I started then, won’t it just turn to glass or something then? I’m not sure how that works.
Nuh uh, she replied, your power protects it from anything like that.
Grinning despite myself, I nodded. Good to know. Really, really good to know.
“Uhhh, Flick?” Sean was looking at me, and I realized that the others had been talking. “You okay?”
Coughing, I nodded. “Yeah, I’m good. Sorry. Just thinking about the look on Manakel’s face when we break his jamming spell and let the others in here.”
Avalon gave me a brief, discerning look before straightening a bit. “We still don’t know how to get to that jammer. The elevators and stairs are still…” She trailed off, glancing to Scout for confirmation. When the other girl nodded, she finished, “Yup, still blocked. So we need another way.”
Doug looked to Rudolph, still holding one of the small medical pamphlets he had plucked off a nearby table for his own jammer-hiccup spell. “Hey man,” he started, you know this place better than the rest of us. Can you think of any other way to get up there?”
The other boy started to shake his head with obvious frustration before abruptly stopping. Head tilting a little, he changed that shake to a nod. “Actually, yes. Yeah.” Now he was talking a little more excitedly. “I know a way to get us at least closer.”
Quickly, he explained. “In one of the specimen labs. They’ve got this little cubby elevator thing. It’s small, but they use it to run samples up and down between the floors. We’d have to go one at a time and scrunch in there. But I think we should all fit that way. It doesn’t run all the way to the top floor, so we have to find another way to get that far. But it’s close.”
Grinning at that, I leaned over to give the boy a quick hug. “Perfect, we’ll work from there. Do you know how to get to it from here?”
Blushing, Rudolph opened and shut his mouth a couple times before giving a quick nod. I was pretty sure he didn’t trust his voice right then.
“Okay,” Sean started with a tiny smirk. “If Flick’s done embarrassing our guide, maybe he can show us where we’re going.”
“You’re just jealous you didn’t get a hug this time,” I retorted with a sniff before winking at Rudolph. “But yeah, if everyone’s ready, let’s—wait.”
“Wait?” Avalon echoed with a glance my way. “Everyone wait?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “I just thought of something I want to do first. Just in case. Sorry, I should’ve done it earlier, but I just thought of it.”
It took a few minutes to do what I wanted to do, but eventually, it was ready. Giving a nod of satisfaction, I straightened up. “Okay, now we can go.”
I moved with the others, and we carefully emerged from that back lab. We were moving slowly and cautiously, all of us focusing on any power we had that could tell us if we were about to be attacked or run into anyone. So far, it was clear. But I didn’t expect that to last long.
Sure enough, before we even got all the way through the larger lab room again, I held up my hand to stop the others. Nearby, Sean, who had the same item-sense power I did, was doing the same.
As the others looked to us expectantly, we took a moment to focus on what we could feel on the other side of the door through my item sense. Then I looked to Sean for confirmation while holding up four fingers to show that there were four guards. Once the others had that, I held up two fingers and mimed shooting with a gun. Then I held up one finger and made an axe chopping motion. For the fourth finger, I pantomimed lighting up a lightsaber and cutting with it, making a quiet humming noise under my breath so they would get the point.
Sean gave a nod of confirmation each time. I had felt that right. Four guys, two with guns, one with some kind of axe, and the fourth with a laser sword. Plus, we had no idea what kind of powers they might have. Neither of our item-sense powers told us quite that much. We just knew what they were holding or wearing, and that they were on the other side of the door in that hallway.
Scout looked to me intently, mouthing the question, ‘Ambush?’ She already had her rifle unslung and was getting ready to set up a scope-portal to see what we were dealing with.
I started to shrug along with Sean, but Shiori and Avalon both shook their heads, the latter speaking in a voice that was so soft we could barely hear it even from that close. “They’re just talking about what to do with the reward if they find us. They don’t know how close they are.”
That was lucky for us, but we were still going to have to get past these guys as quickly and quietly as possible. The hospital had to be completely swarming with enemies by this point. The last thing we wanted to do was attract too much attention, or stay in one place for too long once anything started happening that might get people to come running.
With that in mind, I smiled. “Okay, I’ve got an idea. Scout, what are they doing out there? It feels like they’re moving now. Well, most of them anyway.”
In response, the other girl shifted her rifle to let us see what she was looking at. Sure enough, there were four figures in the corridor. One was standing somewhat close to the door. He was one of the gun guys, and he looked anxious, clearly ready for trouble. Meanwhile, the other three were patrolling up and down the hall. The big guy with the axe and the other gunman were walking together, while the one with the laser sword walked by himself. Basically, the two together would walk to one end of the hall, glancing into rooms as they went, while the one by himself walked in the opposite direction to the other end of the hall. Then they would turn and walk back toward each other, meeting the one guy standing in the middle near our room, before passing each other on their way to do the same at the opposite ends of the hall.
Which left the guy in the middle vulnerable for just a brief time, while the other three were walking in either direction away from him, before they turned back. It wasn’t long, especially if we were going to wait until they were far enough away that they (hopefully) wouldn’t hear him. But it was something to work with. Which Avalon apparently agreed with, because she looked to Scout after squinting at the projected image for a moment. “Think you can shoot one of them before they know what’s going on?”
Scout gave her a firm nod then before returning her gaze to the scope of her weapon, still watching the men out there.
“Right, okay.” Clearly thinking about that for a second, Avalon looked to me. “We don’t know how tough these guys are, or how fast they’ll be able to call for help. So we don’t take any chances. Scout shoots the guy there. As he’s falling, Porter and Gerardo step out to shoot the two at that end with their weapons. Parsons and Chambers, you’ve both got bows, so hit the other guy at the opposite end together. Shiori, follow up on that before he can recover. Frey and I will go after the two that Porter and Gerardo hit and make sure they stay down.”
So that’s what we did. As soon as there was an opening, with the pair and the single guy both at opposite ends of the corridor (but shortly before they would have turned back), Scout pulled the trigger three times in rapid succession. Each pull sent another bullet into the head of the man right near the doorway.
He was already collapsing as we went through that door. Rudolph and I had our bows up, and launched arrows that way even as the man there turned back with that laser sword drawn and ignited. Behind us, I could hear Vulcan in his gun-form open up, along with the sound of Columbus using the concussive blast from his goggles.
Knocked to the ground and thoroughly distracted by the arrows that Rudolph and I had sent at him, our guy had no chance to protect himself from Shiori. She was basically a blur of motion, throwing herself that way before flinging one of her discs at the last second. The thing embedded itself in the guy’s throat, a second before it electrocuted him. And as if that wasn’t enough, an instant later, Shiori planted her foot in the side of her disc to force it the rest of the way through his neck so his head came off.
He was down. As were the other two at the opposite end. They were all down, and the hallway was clear. Which meant it was time for us to move, before reinforcements showed up.
No words had to be exchanged for everyone to understand that. With unspoken agreement, we all immediately looked to Rudolph. He, in turn, started to run, and we followed him. As a group, we raced down that corridor.
A couple more troops tried to stop us on the way, but they were mostly alone and didn’t stand much of a chance. We tore through them, Columbus and Sean clearing the path with their own weapons as they took up positions on either side of Rudolph. Bullets and concussive blasts filled the corridor.
The boy took a wrong turn or two, and had to backtrack. Which was pretty understandable, given the stress he was under and the fact that he didn’t actually work here or anything. But for the most part, Rudolph did really well under the circumstances. Leading us through a maze of corridors, he finally stopped outside of a room, gesturing within while whispering, “Specimen lift is in there.”
The door was locked, but that didn’t last long. Breaking in, we closed it behind us as best as we could, before Rudolph led us over to a corner where something that looked like a glass version of one of those dumbwaiters in mansions or whatever. It was set in the middle of a counter, and I could see the glass tube running up into the ceiling as well as down into the floor. At the moment, the lift itself was parked where we were.
“This should take us all the way up to one floor below the executive offices?” Avalon asked with a look to our guide. When he nodded, she reached for the glass door on the lift.
Scout, however, stopped her with a hand. Shaking her head, she turned her rifle to show that she had sent another scope-portal up. “Top floor,” she informed us.
It was crazy. There had to be thirty guys there, just within sight. They weren’t all gathered around the specimen lift or anything, but it was obvious that they were on high alert. Clearly, Manakel had no intention of just letting us waltz all the way up there. We were out of luck, just like that. Getting around that many troops was a complete non-starter. The floor was just so heavily guarded, there was no way we’d just be able to slip up there on the dumbwaiter thing and make our way from there to the next floor without getting mobbed by everyone there.
No way, that was, unless….
“Chambers,” Avalon demanded while squinting at me. “Why exactly are you smiling right now?”
“Me?” I asked, innocently. “Am I smiling? Huh, so I am.” Shrugging, I looked over to Rudolph. “You said this was the specimen lab, right? So this lift would go to other specimen labs on the way up and down?”
The boy nodded curiously, and I grinned. “Right. Well, in that case, I guess I might be smiling because I have a plan.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I have a plan.”