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Wait… that’s what these guys were really up to? Under this whole cover about being here to get their people out of custody, they were actually looking for this apparent back door to transport directly to Ten Towers so they could steal shit? Switchshift was the Tech-Touched who created things like the connected rooms that allowed the Minority to reach their secret headquarters from multiple doors all across the city (which I had only recently learned about from Izzy). So it made sense that he would have other things like that. Which, in this case, apparently included a door from the courthouse to a sensitive area of Ten Towers.
While the others were reacting to that, I quickly called Way back. As soon as she answered, I gave her a rushed explanation of what we had just heard, and told her to warn Caishen and her people. And that she should get someone who could find the Cavers family to make sure they were okay. I was still worried about San Francisco and his parents considering these guys had apparently extracted information about this Switchshift door from them, but there wasn’t enough time to focus on that. Way promised to do all that immediately before signing off.
With that done, I made another quick call. This one was to Fred back at the store. Needless to say, he was a bit… worried about everything that was happening. Especially when it came to Wren. But I promised him we were looking after her, and that we could do that even better if he did something for us. Namely, taking Roald and Murphy’s Tech-Touched guns as well as one of the prototype versions Wren had been working on, and putting them in the special bag where my clothes currently were. The one I’d left at the store that was linked to the one in my pocket. After a quick back and forth, he did just that.
So now Calvin and Hobbes had their weapons, which was useful. And we had the prototype. Which, in this case, was essentially a long, wand-like cylinder with a couple buttons on it. It could pick things up and move them around with a beam of energy. Or, in this case, hold them in place. Yeah, we set it up to help hold Banneret so Alloy could have her marble back, since it seemed like she’d need it. We’d have to leave the prototype in this room so it could continue projecting the energy beam that held Banneret off the floor and stopped her from touching anything, but like most of Wren’s equipment, any unauthorized person touching it for too long would make the thing melt into goo anyway. So we weren’t worried about someone taking it.
With Calvin and Hobbes sufficiently armed and Alloy reunited with her marble, my mouth opened to say something to the others, but before I could, Wren raised a hand and pointed at her screen. “Wait, wait, look!”
So we looked. Theory was on a video call on his phone, holding it out in front of himself. From that position, our bee-drone could see the screen. It was a view of the courtroom where the hostages were waiting. Fogwalker was perched on top of the judge’s podium, desk, or whatever it was called. Apparently one of their people was holding a phone up for him to talk to his partner with. Which he did in a low, snarling voice. “We’re getting a bit anxious down here, Genius-boy. Are we ready to go or what?”
Theory nodded. “Yeah, bring ‘em all up. Whoever’s left at Towers once this goes down gets to decide how many hostage deaths they wanna be responsible for.”
With that, he disconnected before picking up his radio, sending a message to Banneret for her to ‘do the thing.’ Without waiting for a response, he stood, waving for the line of Prev troops who had been waiting for his go ahead to start moving through the special door he had unlocked. The invasion of Ten Towers was underway. Worse, they were apparently going to be bringing those hostages in there with them to use against the security forces there.
I froze for a moment, my panicked mind seizing up. What were we supposed to do now? What–how–the hostages. We had to focus on the hostages. If they took those people into Ten Towers, that whole situation was going to be a hell of a lot worse.
“Pack and the others?” I blurted, even as I started to move toward the stairs. The others were right behind me.
“No sign of them,” Sierra replied. “Not since that first bit when they were heading into the records room. You want someone to go down there and check on them?”
My head shook, sprinting up the stairs two at a time. “No, leave it, we’ve gotta get those hostages. No more playing around.” Maybe the authorities would end up being upset about us, leaving the basement and interfering, but I really didn’t care at that moment. Not when those guys were about to start dragging innocent people into the middle of a fight to use as human shields.
“Paintball,” Paige interrupted my thoughts, “you and Alloy should go help Ten Towers.” When I turned that way in mid-step to argue, she insisted. “It’s Fogwalker and some guys with guns. The rest of us can handle that. Trust me–trust us. We’ve got it, Paintball. But Ten Towers is about to be under threat from the inside where they’re not expecting it. You know how dangerous people like Juice and Janus are. That’s where Lightning Bug lives. Even with That-A-Way warning them, it might not be enough. We need to split our attention.”
“I’ll go too!” That was Wren, hovering up ahead of us along the stairs with her special boots. “I can help, I promise!”
Part of me wanted to argue even more, but there wasn’t time. And Paige was right anyway. They could handle the hostage situation. The real threat was the rest of the Fell-Touched and their army heading into the middle of Ten Towers. We had to get over there and help.
So, reaching the top of the stairs and emerging into the courthouse proper, we split up. Poise, Style, Calvin, and Hobbes sprinted toward the lobby. I could hear the guards there react, but they wouldn’t be enough to stop Paige and the others.
Meanwhile, Trevithick, Alloy, and I looked toward the ceiling together. Reaching out, I sent a wide shot of pink paint that way, before all three of us were lifted up on a platform one of Alloy’s marbles turned into. Reaching the pink-paint, I activated it, then used a bit of purple strength to tear through quickly. Soon, we were moving through the ceiling and into the upper floor. It was one of the other judge’s private quarters, not the one we needed. But we were getting closer. A quick glance toward Wren’s phone as she held it up revealed that there was still a line of Prev troops heading through the doorway. And all of them were heavily armed. They had come loaded for what looked like a full scale war. Worse, Janus, Juice, and Devil’s Due were heading through as well. Whatever the situation on the other side of that door was right then, I doubted ‘pleasant’ was anywhere near the list of adjectives. Yeah, assuming the others stopped Fogwalker and his group they at least wouldn’t have a bunch of hostages to use, but still. We had to get in there and help.
Thankfully, with my paint, we could get there quickly. We didn’t bother trying to go through the hallways or anything like that. We just picked the right direction and used pink paint to go through the walls, racing from room to room like that, one after another. Maybe the authorities would complain about that, too, but we’d worry about it later. Right now, all that mattered was getting there before this whole situation became completely unsalvageable.
And as we were going, I sent a quick text to Way to let her know what was going on and what we were doing. Then I put the phone away just as we went through the last wall. There were only a couple more guys left, including one standing next to the computer. As soon as he saw the three of us Kool-Aid Man our way into the room, he lunged for the keyboard, apparently intent on closing the doorway. Fortunately, Alloy was faster, sending a fist-shaped marble to slam into the man and knock him to the floor.
The other guy took one look at us before turning to dive through that doorway in order to warn the rest. But I was faster too, sending a shot of red paint that hit his back and yanked him away from it to crash into the wall next to me where I had sent a second shot of paint.
“Hey, hope we didn’t miss the party!” I blurted. “We would’ve RSVP’d, but I’m pretty sure crashing is fashionable these days.”
Without wasting another second, Alloy and I both grabbed handcuffs that the men themselves had on their belts, and secured them to a metal pole along the wall. Doing that plus grabbing the keys from their pockets and their guns before tossing the latter out of the way took precious seconds, but we didn’t want them coming after us.
Finally, we exchanged quick looks between ourselves and Wren, nodded to one another, and went straight for the special doorway. I just hoped that we could handle whatever was on the other side, and that Paige and the others were doing okay with their part of this whole thing. But hey, at least I had a team to worry about now.
I had absolutely no idea what I would’ve done if I was by myself right then.
Alloy and I went first, passing through the doorway together before emerging into what looked like another office similar to the one we had just left. Which made sense, I supposed. If the judge guy was working both at the courthouse and here in Ten Towers, he’d probably need a similar space.
Whatever the specific reasoning, we came out on the far side of the room from the doorway leading into the building proper. I could hear a bunch of alarms going off already, and there were several of the armed gang troops in front of us, facing the exit as they fired a few shots out into the hallway. Apparently they were in the middle of an ongoing fight. From that quick glance, I didn’t see any of the Fell-Touched, just these few guys. They had probably been left behind to guard this exit or something.
One of the guys noticed our presence behind them and turned to look. Before he could shout, I hit him with black paint to mute the man. At the same time, the two of us leapt that way. He and his partners went down quickly, the others never knowing what hit them until they were on the ground. They struggled, obviously, but Alloy kept them in place with one of her marbles shaped like a long metal band, trapping the three against the floor while we took their weapons away.
Trevithick appeared through the doorway a moment later, and I held up a hand for her to wait there before looking toward the opposite exit. The Ten Towers guards were still out there, and I didn’t trust them not to open fire the second they saw movement.
I could have protected myself with orange paint, but instead, I pointed my hand and shot a bit of red paint out into the hallway beyond. Not to pull anything, in this case. Instead, I painted words on the floor in as large of letters as I could manage, reading, ‘Paintball Here. Bad Guys Down. Don’t Shoot.’
Was it weird that I was able to paint that in perfectly legible script while shooting a stream of paint out of a doorway to write it essentially upside down and sideways from my perspective?
After doing that, I glanced toward Wren. She had the laptop from the judge’s office. As I looked at her, she gave me a thumbs up before hitting a couple keys on it. Immediately, the door behind her closed and I heard it lock. “Now nobody else can come through! Unless Poise and the others wanna come, then I can unlock it again!”
Giving her a thumbs up, I turned back to the other doorway, just as a shout filled the air. “This is Towers Security! If you’re really there, Paintball, show yourself and prove it!”
It could have been a trick, or something, of course. But something told me it wasn’t. Theory and the others were here for a reason and it wasn’t to hang out around this room. They’d probably taken off running for their target as soon as they came through. Still, I gave myself some orange paint for protection before carefully stepping out. I had my hands raised as I looked around.
It was, obviously, the middle of an office building. This particular room was in the corner, with a wide corridor extending in both directions away from it, leading to (presumably) more offices. A dozen or so armed and uniformed security guards were using those other doorways for cover as they kept their weapons raised and pointed at me.
“Prove you are who you say!” the man who was apparently in charge called. “And tell us what the hell is going on!”
Right, that was fair. Carefully, moving my hands to either side, I shot paint at the walls. Then I put a big blue smiley face in the middle of my chest. Once they had a chance to see that much, I spoke up again. “Those guys attacked the courthouse. But it was a trick. They just wanted to use Switchshift’s door back in that office over there to come through and attack this place. The rest of my team and I were there to make some reports and got caught up in this whole thing. We heard what they were doing over here, so a few of us came to help.” As I said that, I gestured for the other two to come out. Soon, Trevithick and Alloy were on either side of me.
Finally assured that this wasn’t some sort of trick, the security guards lowered their weapons and approached. The leader glanced into the office and saw the still-pinned guys there before ordering a couple of his guys to cuff them. Alloy promptly removed the bar so they could do that.
“Any more trouble gonna come through there?” the leader asked, nodding toward the inner door.
My head shook as I gestured to the laptop that Trevithick was holding up. “We’ve got the computer for that. She locked it down, but if you guys want to post guards, I think we’d understand. What’s the situation around here?” Even as those words came out, I was already bouncing up and down on my toes, looking around quickly just in case we ended up with unwanted company. There were still alarms going off, and I could hear gunshots echoing throughout the building occasionally. This whole thing wasn’t anywhere near contained yet.
The security guy exchanged a look with his companions before sighing. “All of our communications are cut off inside the building. We can’t coordinate with the rest of our teams. They shut down most of our security measures. We’re not even sure how they knew about it, let alone how to turn it off. Worse, they’ve locked down the building. No one can get in. Except through that door, apparently.” He added that bit with a nod to the room behind me. “As for the bad guys, they’re everywhere, it seems like. But the biggest force seems to be heading for our weapons vaults, where we keep all the big stuff.” His expression sobered as he met my gaze. “I don’t think I have to tell you how bad it would be if they got all that stuff. The boss and the rest of our Touched who were in the building before it got locked down are holding them off down there. Our job was to stem the tide and make sure no more reinforcements could come through. And cut off their escape from this end.”
For a second I just took all that in. “Okay, Fogwalker’s in the other building still. Our uhh, teammates are dealing with him. And we already caught Banneret. Which means the ones attacking your vault must be Theory and Praxis, Juice, Janus, and Devil’s Due. Honestly, that last guy is probably one of the biggest threats when it comes to getting into places you don’t want him. But assuming Skip is here, she’d be immune to him, so that probably helps. I–”
“Pardon,” the security head interrupted. “That’s only four Touched. Well, four and a half. We’ve got seven in the building, at least. Two-Step and Lastword are here too, and they’ve got someone else with them. Some woman with what looks like liquid metal powers, like the T-1000 from that old Terminator movie.”
Two-Step and Lastword? Jeez, how long had it been since I thought about them? And apparently they had more help with a third member of their little group? That made things even more complicated and difficult than they already were. I had thought that we only had the four known bad guys to deal with, which already would have been bad enough, considering how dangerous they could be. But now we had to add three more Touched into the equation. One of whom could have basically any power since Lastword’s abilities changed based on the… well, last word he spoke. And the new girl was almost a complete unknown. T-1000 powers? How far could she stretch that? What else was she capable of? We had no idea. Yeah, this just kept getting worse the more I thought about it. And we hadn’t even come here with the whole team. It was just Trevithick, Alloy, and me.
“They hired mercenaries to help,” Alloy muttered while I was processing that. “Just great. What do we do now?”
Grimacing under the helmet and mask, I replied, “We stop them. Caishen and her people need help down there. But then again–” I winced, looking toward the security guy. “You said they’ve got more troops spread through the rest of the building?”
“Buildings,” he corrected. “And yeah, it’s bad. But trust me, it’ll be a hell of a lot worse if they get into that vault. We can deal with the rest of it. If you can help the boss, we’d appreciate it.”
Yeah, he had a point. If all of the Fell-Touched were focused on getting into the vault, Caishen and her people wouldn’t be able to hold them off forever. We had to get down there and help, or this whole situation was going to get a hell of a lot worse. Both in the short and long term. But if something else happened while we were busy with that, or if one of those Fell-Touched managed to…
“Okay,” I finally managed, shaking off as much of the doubt and uncertainty as I could. This was what we had to deal with. There was no point in worrying or wondering about what-ifs. “Just point us in the right direction. We’ll get down there and help Caishen kick these guys out of your offices.
“But we better be invited to the next Christmas party for this.”