Oh God. Oh no. No, no, no. Please, no. This couldn’t be happening. Hanging there from the ledge, I almost made a sound of disbelief, only to stop at the last second as the sound of footsteps on the roof nearby made me quickly jerk back down under the overhang. I heard the man above, probably one of the armed thugs, stop just over me. From the sound of things, he was leaning over to look down. But the overhang hid me just enough. Still, I used the black paint silencing power on my helmet to make sure I wouldn’t make any sound. Just in case.
My feet found purchase on the nearby decorative ledge so that I didn’t have to hang the whole time, and I glanced down. The party on the grounds had been interrupted too. I could see soldier-types down there, keeping everyone herded together. There were a lot of cops and Star-Touched there as well, but also a lot of hostages. And they’d probably been told about the children’s hospital too. Even more problems. Even more hostages. All the powers and guns arranged in this place and no one could do anything because if they made a move, all those kids would die. Because Pencil and his people… this wasn’t an idle threat. He would do it.
What was I supposed to do? What the hell was I supposed to do?! Yeah, they didn’t know that I was here, but I wasn’t exactly John God Damn McClane. Besides, the very second Pencil thought someone might be beating him here, he’d just go ahead and kill all those kids.
Kids. I had to save the kids, which meant getting over to the hospital. As soon as at least they were out of immediate danger, the people here could fight back. That was… that had to be it. In any case, it was the only thing I could think of. Get to the hospital and save the kids.
Of course, first I had to get there. Which meant going from where I was, aaaaaaaaaall the way across the street to the hospital without being seen by any of these guys who were probably very much on guard for any hero types that might try to interfere. Which should be… fun.
Perched there, I listened for sounds coming from above me while watching the ground far below intently. No one was looking up. Their attention was very much centered on the people pointing guns at them, in the case of the hostages, and on the hostages, in the case of the people pointing guns. They were all very thoroughly occupied. So that was a bonus, at least.
As soon as I heard the guy standing above me turn and walk away, I restored the black paint to my helmet to make sure I was completely covered, before using a bit of blue paint against the ledge my feet were on to fling myself out into open air. Even as I began to plummet, my eyes snapped toward one of the rapidly approaching power lines. My hand extended, shooting off a bit of red paint toward furthest utility pole I could hit. It was further down than I was, pulling me toward the ground even faster. But it was also clear out by the street, beyond the hotel grounds, so I was also yanked forward. By the time I was halfway to the ground, I’d also almost reached the sidewalk. Cancelling the power, I shot another bit of red to a billboard across the street and yanked myself that way before dropping onto it and falling flat.
I laid there, breathing hard while listening intently, just in case. Behind the mask and helmet, my mouth was moving rapidly as I prayed that I hadn’t been seen. There hadn’t been time to make absolutely sure while I was in mid-leap/fall. Not only was I sort of occupied at the time, but I also knew that I couldn’t be slow about this. I couldn’t be patient and methodical, because if I knew anything about Pencil’s reputation, he was just as likely (if not more so) to kill all the children as soon as he had what he wanted instead of letting them go. If he even waited that long. He was incredibly unpredictable, and fully capable of murdering a bunch of kids. Sometimes he would follow his word, other times… well, he wouldn’t. There was no way to tell what he might do as soon as all those rich people up there gave him what he wanted.
So, I had to get in that hospital and help those kids. That was all there was to it.
Finally reasonably certain no one had seen me, I picked myself up a bit and crawled over to the edge of the billboard. Crouching there, I watched the hospital below. There were plenty of cars in the lot, but no one visible. No one, that was, aside from the guy by the doors holding a rifle. He wasn’t looking at me, thank God. His attention was on the hotel across the street. A lookout, no doubt. If anything happened, he’d probably contact the people inside. Then the slaughter would start. A slaughter that I couldn’t let happen.
But I had no idea if he was in constant contact with people, or what would happen if they called for him and he didn’t answer. So, no taking him down. Not yet, anyway. I had to find out where the kids were and… and… do something. Do what, exactly I didn’t know. But… something.
Wait, my phone. Quickly, I checked to see if I could call for help. But there was still no signal. Either they were using a jammer of some kind over the whole block or neighborhood or whatever, or they’d done something to the cell towers. Or… I wasn’t sure, exactly. The point was, there was still no way for me to text or call anyone. Which was juuuust fantastic.
Then something bounced off my shoulder. At first I thought it was hail or something, but that wasn’t it. Blinking down in time to see a small pebble laying there just before another bounced off my helmet, I quickly snapped my gaze around, searching… there. Crouched on top of one of the nearby utility poles was That-A-Way. She waved, then disappeared, reappearing directly behind me. “Hey,” she whispered. “Sorry, didn’t want to pop up behind you without warning.”
“Uh, probably a good idea,” I whispered back. We probably didn’t need to whisper, given how far away we were from the hospital. But still, it felt right. “How’d you get away?”
“Oh, you mean from up there?” She gestured back that way, reminding me that as far as she knew, I wasn’t up on that roof. So I should probably stay vague about it. “Yeah, I was sort of… in the bathroom.” She made a face. “I really wanted to tell you about some cool spy shit I did, but that was it. I was using the toilet when they showed up. I– wait.” She frowned then, looking to me. “Are you… uhh, do you know who’s up there? What this is all about?”
Luckily, I’d spent the past few seconds quickly thinking up an explanation. “I was watching the party from that building over there.” My hand waved in a vague direction. “I saw Pencil show up and then dropped closer in time to hear… umm, what he said about the kids in the hospital.”
The other girl nodded. “Right, so you’re about as caught up as I am. And anyone else that knows anything about it is over there. Which means this is basically up to you and me.”
“What about Syndicate?” I pressed. “He could just switch to a different body, right? I mean, make another version of himself solid or… something. Wait, where are all his selves?”
I could see her flinch. “Yeah, about that… one of him is on the roof, another is in the dining hall, and a third is down on the grounds. One at each of the three parties. The fourth one is at the Minority base. I’m pretty sure he’s rounding people up, but it’ll still take time to get here.”
“Time we might not–scratch that, definitely don’t have,” I murmured. “Fantastic.”
She nodded. “Yup. Like I said, looks like it’s you and me. Or… me.” Her expression even behind that domino mask turned concerned. “If you don’t want to be… if you don’t want this kind of responsibility, I get it. I wouldn’t want to… I don’t want to make you… I–this is awkward.”
“I’m in,” I insisted, swallowing back the sudden lump that had formed in my throat at the thought of what we were doing, what I was agreeing to. If we fucked this up, even just a little bit, a lot of innocent people would die. A lot of innocent children would die. This was even worse than Blackjack’s daughter. The only thing that allowed me to push past the paralyzing terror of what would happen if I fucked up was the even greater terror of what would happen if I did nothing at all.
I actually thought That-A-Way looked relieved when I said that, and realized she was probably just as scared about fucking up this whole thing as I was. Somehow, that made me feel better.
“Okay,” she murmured. “So we have to get in there, deal with those guys, and free the hostages. Without letting them know what’s going on. We can do that, right?”
“Uh, between the two of us, you’re the professional hero,” I pointed out quietly after giving her a brief look. “I’m the amateur. You’re the one who’s supposed to reassure me.”
“Right.” Nodding, That-A-Way gave me a thumbs up. “We’ll be fine. We’ve got this.” Her head turned to look at the hospital once more. “We start on the top floor and make our way down. Quickly, but carefully and methodically to make sure we’re not leaving any problems behind us. We deal with the guys in there if we can, or identify the threats if they’re beyond what we can handle, so the cavalry knows what they’re dealing with and where the problems are. Good?”
“Good,” I agreed, trying to sound like I wasn’t about to pee myself. “I guess you can teleport over there?” The hospital was north of the billboard where we were crouching.
She nodded. “I’ll teleport us up to the top floor, far east end over there. That gives me the whole hallway to move west through with my speed to check to make sure we’re clear.”
That sounded like the best plan we were going to get. And honestly, I was mostly just glad that I wasn’t by myself here. As scary as this whole thing felt like, at least I had an actual official member of the Minority with me. She had a lot more experience than I did. Which might help explain why I felt more comfortable with the blonde girl so quickly, even though this was only the second time I’d ever even talked to her. And the first hadn’t exactly been under calm conditions. It was kind of funny how quickly I felt at ease with her, given all that.
“Hold on,” I started, giving a quick glance down to the guy in front of the hospital doors to make sure he hadn’t noticed us. It was clear, so I focused on my suit. First, I cancelled the black paint so I could work from the base white. Then I started by making black outlines of the images I wanted, like line art, filling in the lines with the colors as I went.
Over my chest, I made a knight with a raised shield and sword. The knight’s chest armor and helmet were orange, with a purple sword and orange shield. His leg armor down into his boots was green. Meanwhile, the dragon he was facing was mostly black, with purple highlights, eyes, talons, and a burst of orange and yellow fire that came from its mouth. The wings were green. On my back, I painted the image of a pair of angel wings in green. My legs were green with lines of purple, while my shoes were blue. My arms were covered in what looked like really spiffy purple and green mixed flames, ending with red gloves. In all, it took about ten seconds.
“Please,” the girl beside me started flatly, “tell me you did not just want to look good for this.”
“My paint can run out until I let it recharge,” I informed her. “But if I set myself up ahead of time, I don’t have to create as much as we go. The images are just to help me remember what I have and which to activate. Orange for protection, purple for strength, green for speed, and so on.”
Considering that for a second before nodding acceptingly, she replied, “Okay, just to be clear before we go in there, what else can you do? Orange makes a thing tough, purple makes it strong, green makes it fast…” She looked to me expectantly.
“Yellow makes them slow,” I continued for her. “Blue like… repels things, or makes them bounce. White makes a blinding flash, black silences things so they can’t make any sound. Red pulls toward other red. And uhh…” Shifting as a rush of embarrassment came over me, I admitted, “there’s pink too, but I haven’t figured out what it actually does.” How dumb was that? How many Touched just had random powers like that and had no idea what they did? I really needed to figure that out.
“Pink, huh?” The girl clearly considered before shaking her head. “Probably not the best time to experiment. But good, because you really had me worried there when I thought you were getting ready for the cameras or something.” She winked at me. “All good now?”
I nodded. “All good.” I even managed to make sure my voice didn’t squeak too much from terror.
Putting her hand on my shoulder, That-A-Way murmured, “Okay, here we go. Be ready, just in case. We don’t know who we might run into the second we appear.”
Taking her words to heart, and once again silently thanking whatever power might be out there that I wasn’t alone for this, I focused and tried to prepare myself to be teleported.
I wasn’t ready. It was still disorienting, suddenly finding myself crouching in a brightly lit corridor that smelled of antiseptic and ammonia. Between the sudden shift in location, the much brighter light, and that smell, I jerked backward and dry heaved, barely stopping myself from yacking.
Thankfully, the bright side of all this was that we didn’t teleport straight into any bad guys. The corridor looked empty. That-A-Way took the time to look at me just long enough to make sure I was okay before disappearing in a rush of motion. I saw the blur as she took off, checking each door in the hall within a couple seconds before stopping at the end.
Right, she couldn’t super speed back. West was speed. North was teleportation. East, back this way, was either invulnerability or intangibility. I couldn’t remember which, and neither helped her get back here any faster. So, I picked myself up and quietly jogged that way. She’d already checked all the doors and didn’t find anything, apparently, so I didn’t bother looking.
Reaching the end of the hall where That-A-Way was, I looked to her expectantly. The two of us were now standing by a nurse’s station. There was another hallway to the left (south), and elevators and a door that led to the stairwell to the right. Ahead was a blank wall.
“Nobody here,” she whispered. “Better check that hall, but I haven’t heard anything and I’m pretty sure they can’t keep a bunch of sick little kids that quiet. Unless–” In mid-sentence, she stopped talking and blanched. I felt my stomach turn over a bit, paling right alongside her.
“There’s probably nobody there,” I made myself say. “But we’ll check.”
So we did. Carefully and methodically despite everything in me screaming that we had to hurry, we checked that hall. It was clear. Which meant we had to go to the next floor. Which we did using the stairs rather than the elevator, for obvious reasons. Very quietly, we descended.
Okay, this was getting unnerving. There was no one on that floor either. We didn’t look in every single closet or anything, of course. There wasn’t time for that. But we did a quick sweep and didn’t find any groups of sick kids being held by armed thugs. Which would have been a good thing in any situation where we didn’t already know they were there.
Just as we were about to head down another floor, the ding of the elevator arriving made both of us jerk our heads that way for about… an instant. The doors were opening. Then I felt That-A-Way grab my arm, and we were suddenly in one of the other rooms. A room to the north of where we had been standing, apparently. It was a small patient room, and I could see an empty bed with a small pink rabbit lying next to the pillow. It made my heart seize up, just before the sound of voices and footsteps reached us. That-A-Way and I glanced to each other before quickly dropping down behind the bed. The footsteps got closer, as did the voices.
“–says we’re really taking in the cash tonight. None of those rich fucks wanna be the one who–” The footsteps and voices had continued out of our earshot. But That-A-Way grabbed my arm, pulling me to the nearby wall to follow them. We were apparently going whichever direction it was that let her turn intangible, because we went right through it into the next room, then on through that wall, keeping pace with the Scions of Typhon as they continued.
“Stop worrying about how much money we’re gonna get,” a new voice snapped. “The mission comes first. And right now, the mission is to set up those bombs.”
That made both of us look at each other once more, and I saw her mouth, ‘Bombs?’
“What about the kids downstairs?” a third, this time female, voice asked. “Just gonna let ‘em go up with the hospital when it blows?”
“Hell nah,” the second voice retorted, and I felt a very brief sense of relief before he went on. “Pencil wants to make damn sure those shits are dead. No heroic rescues or saves. He’s sending a message. We set those bombs to blow, then head back down.
“And right before we leave, we’ll put those sick fuckstains out of everyone’s misery.”