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Oh. Oh this was bad. Now we had guys who weren’t even here in the courthouse who were about to go out and kill some innocent people somewhere completely different? Not to mention burn down their house. All just to send a message to some guy who tried to stop them.
We couldn’t let that happen, obviously. But that wasn’t our only problem. We also had those guys who were heading here right now with the laser thing. Which was undoubtedly going to lead to Theory and Praxis wanting to know if the doorway into the rest of the tunnel was open yet, and… yeah, complications. So many complications.
Even as we were all reacting to that, I had my phone out and was trying to call Amber. My first thought was to call Izzy, but given I was calling from the Paintball phone I didn’t want my parents to start wondering why she was my first thought. Even now, in this situation, I had to worry about that sort of thing.
I also half-expected (okay, more like three quarters-expected) to get no signal at all, considering how prevalent call blockers seemed to be. But, miracle of miracles, I immediately heard ringing. Apparently our friends upstairs weren’t concerned about people making phone calls. Probably because they thought they had them all together in that room. Also the fact that it didn’t matter how many calls they made if the authorities couldn’t actually come into the building, of course.
The phone rang three times before I heard Amber’s voice. Or rather, her That-A-Way voice. “Paintball? We just made it outside. Are you guys really in there? What’s going–”
“Way!” I interrupted, giving a quick, questioning look toward Paige before nodding to the stairs. She, in turn, shook her head to indicate that we weren’t about to have company yet. So I continued. “Yes, we’re here, but you have to go somewhere right now before innocent people get killed.” I quickly gave her an incredibly condensed version of what was happening and why she had to hurry, passing along the address as Paige recited it from memory for me. “So you have to get there first, you have to go now!” I wasn’t quite shouting, not wanting to draw attention just in case my voice carried too much. But I was definitely doing my level best to stress the urgency. Every second that this took made me more convinced that those other guys were gonna get there first.
“Damn it, that’s to the south-east!” came the response a second later after Way had looked up the address. Which meant neither her super-speed nor teleportation could work, given those were only available when she was moving west or north, respectively. “Hang on, just–Dynamic!” she shouted away from the phone, apparently flagging down the speedster/energy manipulator from the Conservators. I couldn’t hear the next few seconds of conversation aside from some muffled words, but she came back a moment later. “She’s going. She’s heading over there right now. It’s okay. I mean it’s really not okay, but she’s got it. What about you guys? What the hell is going on in there?”
Before I could respond to that, Paige waved her hand to get my attention and pointed to the stairs. So I quickly replied, “Call you back, gotta deal with something.”
With that, I disconnected the phone, and we all spread out to get out of sight, putting ourselves on either side of the stairwell entrance. Soon, I heard the footsteps approaching, and glanced over at Paige. She held up three fingers. Right, so we had a trio coming down here. We could deal with that, no problem. The real question would be how to handle what came next. Would the bad guys just keep sending a few people down at a time to see what was going on? Unlikely. But maybe we could set things up so that they only came down at a speed and quantity we could deal with. As long as the people upstairs didn’t get wind that their troops were being taken apart down here, at least.
Of course, we’d run into problems as soon as it was someone like Juice or Janus, anyone we couldn’t take down and get under control immediately. But that was a problem for later. One step at a time.
And speaking of steps, our three bad guys came off the last ones and went dashing through the doorway together. Two of them were carrying a four-foot long, one-foot wide tube thing that sort of looked like a grenade launcher. They came without even noticing Poise, Calvin, and me standing on one side of the doorway, or Style, Hobbes, and Alloy standing on the other. And they certainly didn’t notice Trevithick hovering in the air above them. She didn’t have her wing-pack right now, but apparently she had already upgraded her shoes and gloves to allow her to hover in the air without it.
In any case, the guys didn’t notice her either. They did, however, notice the stack of guns and radios piled up about halfway through the room. Coming to a sudden halt, the group stared that way uncomprehendingly. One of them reached for the radio on his hip, which was our cue. Raising both hands, I shot that guy with a mix of purple and black paint before activating it. The muting power of the black paint was expanded by the purple to encompass all of them. They had already started to twist around, eyes widening as they saw us. But now they couldn’t even communicate with each other, let alone call for help on their radios. And that was just about it for them. Within seconds, all three guys were down, their equipment secured, and Sierra and Peyton were escorting them to the room where their friends were already locked up.
Once that was taken care of, I picked up one of the radios those three had left behind. “Okay, now what’s going on up there?” I was looking toward the ceiling, where Wren was still hovering while keeping an eye on the view from her bee-drone. She’d had the audio playing through that mask of hers so she could hear it without giving us away to the new arrivals.
She, in turn, quickly returned to the floor so I could see the screen for myself. “That, umm, hostage guy, he’s begging them not to hurt his family.” Her voice caught a bit. “I muted it while he was… while he was doing that.” The kid audibly swallowed. “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t– He’s really sad.”
“It’s okay,” Paige put in while crouched over the tube thing those guys had dropped when we jumped them. “She let me connect to her equipment. I can hear what’s going on. It’s–they haven’t made him stop pleading yet. I think they like hearing it.”
Well, these guys were assholes. Not that that was a surprise. After all, they were the ones who had sent people to go murder an innocent family just because the father didn’t behave for them. At least they were consistent that way.
“Yeah,” I replied to both girls, “well Dynamic’s heading over there right now. She’ll save his family. We just have to focus on saving him, and the rest of those people up there. And we still don’t know where Theory and Praxis, Juice, or Janus are. And–”
“Hang on a second,” Paige interrupted. “Trevithick, do you see–”
“The girl!” Wren blurted, sounding both confused and excited.
“What girl?” That was Murphy. “Huh?”
So, Wren showed us on the screen, rewinding the footage. As we watched, the blonde gang woman from before with the mostly-buzz cut hair exchanged whispered words with Fogwalker. Then she stepped away and took out her cell phone before typing in a message. Wren must have moved the bee closer or zoomed in or something, because we quickly saw the screen a bit better. She was sending a message to… wait, she was sending a message to the Doephone app? It was a warning about two guys going to an address to–what the fuck? She was sending the authorities a warning about the two guys they had sent to the address of that guy’s house. She was telling the cops to stop the very guys she had sent to–huh?
My head was shaking even as I watched the woman give Fogwalker a nod to show it was done. “Wait. Hold on, was that whole thing an act? I mean, hold up, sending a couple guys to kill a woman and some kids and burn down their house just because a guy annoyed them must be further than the Ministry wants them to go. So was that whole ‘go kill them’ just to build their rep as dangerous, or convince the hostages not to try anything else, or… something like that?”
Sierra muttered a few curses. “But they don’t wanna go completely against the Ministry’s rules, so they alert the authorities and pretend it could’ve come from anyone’s phone in the building. I mean look, they’re practically begging someone in that room to secretly use their phone. They’re barely looking at them.”
Okay, well at least these guys weren’t so bad that they would actually kill a family like that. But still. “What the hell is their plan?” I demanded. “The real one, I mean. Theory said the tunnel down here is Part B, and that the whole thing only works if they get enough attention. So is the other part of the plan just… another escape tunnel or something? Maybe they want to draw attention to this tunnel so they can use a different one. One that might not be so well-covered?” I was already frowning throughout that. “No, that’s not it. Theory said they need ‘the tunnel,’ not ‘the other tunnel’ or ‘that tunnel.’ So it can’t just be that simple. But what then? They’re not just walking out the back door. What… the hell are they doing up there?”
“I’ll find them!” Wren declared, directing the bee drone out of the courtroom with a murmured apology to the man there. Things would be bad if Fogwalker and the others decided to kill some of those hostages after all. But we only had one drone and we still had to find the other Fell-Touched. The longer we went without knowing where those guys were or what they were up to, the worse my bad feeling got. Besides, after what we had just found out, I was pretty sure it would take an awful lot before they actually killed any of them.
Style spoke up in a flat voice while the drone was making its way through the building. “Right, brilliant, so as long as they keep sending a couple guys at a time, we’re good. No chance they mix it up, get creative, or just figure out we’re fucking with them, right?”
“We’ll deal with it,” Poise informed her while picking up the tube thing. “So this is the laser they were talking about. I checked, there’s no self-destruct on it, no listening devices, but there is a tracker. I can disable that whenever you want. They’ll know when I do it though.”
“They figured the laser was powerful enough to cut through a vault door,” I murmured, “so it’s gotta be pretty strong. Maybe we can use that for something. If nothing else, Wren can have it for spare parts and to examine.”
Wren, for her part, clapped while bouncing up and down in the air using her hover boots. “Yay, toys! I mean, not toys, dangerous weapon. But I can make it–I mean I can–”
“It’s okay, we get it,” I assured her. “And yeah, you can turn it into something useful. Or at least learn from it.” That said, I looked down at the screen on the phone she had handed me as the drone slowly made its way along the ceiling to check other rooms. “Now we just need to–” Quickly, I interrupted myself while hitting the button on the screen to stop the drone. Juice had just emerged from one of the doors, accompanied by Janus, Theory, and half a dozen armed guys. “Look, look,” I blurted, waving a hand while unmuting the thing so we could all hear instead of just Paige. The others gathered around while I held it up.
“–finally just get those cops to come through and get her ass back with the others so we can get out of here,” Juice was saying.
Wait, what? Get the cops to come through? Where–why–huh? Now I was even more confused, to say the least.
Theory shook his head, looking one way, then the other down the corridor. Thankfully, he didn’t look straight up at our tiny drone. Finally, he gestured for the others to follow as he went right, further away from the courtroom where the hostages and Fogwalker were. “Banneret knows what she’s doing. They’ll get those cops’ attention, make them think we’re fighting our way out through there so they pull in all the help they can get to reinforce. Which they obviously can’t pull off the doors they’re already covering, so they’ll have to pull it in from somewhere else.” He gave a low, dangerous chuckle then, sounding a lot like the mad scientist his outfit already seemed to be channeling. “And that’s when the real fun starts. So go grab troops and make sure everyone’s got their ducks in a row for it.”
Okay, I definitely didn’t like the sound of that. And from the way the others reacted, they didn’t either. I couldn’t see their faces, but from what I could pick out… yeah, they were all as worried as I was by that. Clearly, opening up that tunnel behind us was an integral part of the Trendscendents’ plan. So they weren’t just going to give up on it or only send a couple people. As soon as this took too long, they’d investigate. Probably in force this time. Plus, what was that about the real fun starting once they managed to lure reinforcements to the tunnel?
The group on screen split up at that point, with Juice and Janus moving back the way they had come while Theory continued down the hall. Wren gave me a quick look, asking, “Who’re we gonna follow?”
I had to think quickly before making the drone trail after Theory, watching the man from above. “He’s the one who was talking about the plan, whatever it is. I want to see what he’s doing now. If those other guys are getting the troops ready, he’s gotta be the one doing the actual work for whatever it is, right?”
“Works for me,” Sierra agreed, eating a piece of beef jerky. When we glanced at her, she shrugged. “One of those guys had it in his pocket. What’s he gonna do, complain about it?”
Before any of us could actually respond to that, Theory stepped into a small, clearly private elevator at the end of the hall. He had to put his hand on a fingerprint/palm scanner, which he did while wearing a glove. The scanner went over the glove and beeped an affirmative. So clearly, there was something special about that glove. Before the doors closed, I sent the bee drone inside and moved it to a corner, so it would be out of sight.
Hobbes was bouncing up and down on her toes, clearly anxious. “What do we say when he calls back and asks if they’ve got that wall open yet? I mean, if it’s that big of a part of their plan, he’s not exactly gonna be patient about it, right?”
I had to think about that for a moment. It wasn’t as though the guy wouldn’t notice if the people outside never summoned reinforcements. The longer this took, the more suspicious he was going to become. But we still had to know what they were doing, and why this whole thing was happening. This had to be about more than just breaking their people out of the courthouse. It was too complicated.
Besides, I had already been through one situation with these guys where what they were apparently doing was a lot different than what was actually going on. I didn’t trust this one to be straightforward either.
Finally, I sighed. “When he calls in to check, tell him we’re cutting through the wall and we can hear cops on the other side. Let them tell us what to do next. Maybe it’ll give us some idea what their full plan is. But obviously, act like we know what it is already.” I was looking toward Sierra, since she had been the one to talk to him before. “Think you can fake your way through another one of those as our friend in there?”
“I’ve been listening to every second of audio we have of her, here and from the news,” my doppelganger replied. “Trust me babe, as long as he doesn’t ask anything too personal, I can handle it.”
I still wasn’t sure how I felt about anyone calling me babe, let alone someone who looked exactly like me outside of a few minor cosmetic changes. But I couldn’t think about that right now. Instead, I focused on the screen as the elevator stopped and Theory stepped out. The drone followed the man, while he emerged into what turned out to be some sort of private judge’s office. And a pretty lavish one too. The room was as big as my dad’s main office at home, and almost as well furnished. Theory moved to the nearby bar and poured himself a glass of whiskey before heading for the desk. “Okay, shitface,” he announced aloud, “let’s see if you were lying about where the wardrobe to Narnia is.”
Oookay, I had no idea what that meant. Who was he talking about? Wait, he was inputting a password on the laptop, which it immediately accepted. Quickly, I made the bee drone turn, looking for some sort of answer as to whose office this was. There, on the desk. There was a nameplate for Honorable Horace Cavers. Wait, Horace Cavers? That was San’s dad. I’d known he was a judge of some sort, but didn’t realize he had an office like this.
“Guys,” I addressed Poise and Style quickly, “can you check on Judge Horace Cavers and find out where he is right now? I don’t know if there’s any way to–”
“He’s not in the building,” Paige interrupted. “I started checking as soon as you got that nameplate on screen. He called in sick this morning. And San–his son–” She added that for the benefit of the others. “–was supposed to be at baseball practice today and never showed up. His wife had a date to get drinks with a couple of her friends and called to cancel at the last minute.”
“They have them,” I realized. “These guys must have jumped the Cavers at their home before they came here. They got information out of the judge, his password and some sort of secret about a door, I think. What–”
By that point, Theory was already typing on the computer. He had some sort of program up that looked like blueprints. But before we could zoom in for more details, he triumphantly hit one last button. As he did so, there was a loud beep and part of the wall across the office slid aside.
“Hell yeah,” Theory announced, before picking up his radio. The message came through all the ones we had lying around us.
“Okay people, if you’re not working on that tunnel, pack your shit and get up here. Banneret, you better be ready to get those reinforcements called in right fucking now. Cuz I’ve got Switchshift’s backdoor open.
“And while Ten Towers is busy sending all their troops out to help the cops down there, it’s time for us to stroll into their own vault and grab everything that’s not nailed down.”