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So, we had Cavalcade on our side. Or at least willing to do work for us and not take jobs from the bad guys while she was on retainer. Assuming she kept to her word, and I had no reason to think she wouldn’t after what I had seen and read about her, that was one thing off my mind. Sure, there would be other Sell-Touched who would cause problems. Even Paige and I couldn’t afford to pay all of them, especially not without attracting more attention than we were ready to deal with. But still, it was something. And it was becoming more and more obvious that the city’s authorities were going to need as much help as they could get before this was over.
Once that was safely dealt with, I went home to find Izzy. Obviously, she wasn’t too sure about the new plan. But she also knew as well as I did that we didn’t have much in the way of choices. Someone had to get down to that place in Utah and bring back that teleportation machine so we could get answers out of that son of a bitch. And since sending two biolems into a place he’d had had all the time he needed to have guarded against them was a bad idea and we didn’t have time for Wren to program a new teleportation thing, I was the only choice. Wren had set up the way out of the city with my body in mind. Or Sierra’s body, as it was. We didn’t have any other options. Either I went with Paige, or we had to wait even longer for the girl to change the teleportation parameters. And who would we change them to anyways? If I didn’t go, it would be one of the others. Murphy, Roald, Fred, or Peyton. I wasn’t willing to let any of them run off to do what I wouldn’t. Besides, they didn’t have someone here who looked exactly like them and could cover for their absence, even if we did have the time to waste. And I was pretty sure we didn’t. No, this was the right–only move, no matter how much Izzy and I both hated it.
For about an hour, we went over the details of that, including how she was going to help Sierra continue to pose as me for as long as possible. Our major saving grace, as sick as it was to think, was the fact that both of our parents wouldn’t be home, or coherent. Honestly, if they’d been here and in their right mind, I wasn’t sure Sierra could pull off being me. At least not for the several days this was going to take. Which, of course, didn’t help the rush of guilt I felt when the thought occurred to me.
Still, I shoved that away as firmly as possible. We didn’t have time for those feelings. Instead, the two of us made all the plans and arrangements we could, including a few potential emergency measures. If everything completely went to hell and Simon figured out Sierra wasn’t me, there were a couple ways Izzy could potentially react, depending on how it happened. None were all that good, of course. But at least we had something resembling a plan.
Promising my new sister that I would keep her updated about everything that was going on, and extracting the same promise from her, I gave the girl a tight hug as we stood in my room. Then I chuckled softly. “Well, at least you won’t get bored while I’m gone.” There was no actual humor in my chuckle or the words themselves. I was doing my best to make her feel better, and myself. But it didn’t really work. All I could focus on was seeing our parents in that hospital room and thinking about what would happen if they never came out of it.
No, they would. That was why I was doing this. Paige and I were going to go down there and get the machine, and then we would get answers out of Pittman, no matter what it took.
Izzy, for her part, clearly read my expression and offered a weak smile. “You do what you need to. We’ll hold down the fort here. I promise there’ll still be a city when you get back.” After another moment, she added, “What’s it gonna be like, going with Paige?”
After a brief hesitation, I shrugged. “Not so long ago, I probably would’ve gagged at the thought. But now… I’m not sure. It could be worse.” I sighed heavily. “I still wish I had my memories back, at least then it might help me know exactly how I should feel about her. It’s all just confusing, you know?”
She gave a quick nod. “I know.” Her voice was solemn. “Just be careful, okay? Get the thing and come back together. We need both of you if we’re gonna get through this.”
Putting one hand on the other girl’s head, I smiled despite myself. No matter how awful I felt, or how scared I was about everything that was going on, at least I had Izzy. This whole situation would’ve been completely impossible to get through without her. It was hard to believe I’d only met her so relatively recently. She was, in absolutely every important way, my sister. “You be careful here too,” I reminded her. “No unnecessary risks. If they try to overwork you, tell them to back off. You don’t have to do everything. Even if they are understaffed.”
Snorting, Izzy retorted, “Understaffed is one way to put it. A really underwhelming way.”
So, we embraced once more. Then we headed out. We were going to visit our parents together and then she was going to come over to Wren’s shop with me so she could see us off, and make sure everyone who was staying behind knew they could contact her for help while we were gone. And she wasn’t the only one. Amber was going to meet us over there too, since I’d sent a text that way letting her know what was going on. I needed to know my team–my friends–were going to have backup while Paige and I were on our little trip.
Simon was still gone on whatever Ministry business he was doing right now, so we didn’t have to explain anything about where we were going. I also took an exact match of the same outfit I was wearing with us, so Sierra could wear it when she and Izzy came back together. Maybe the staff wouldn’t have noticed if ‘I’ came back wearing a different outfit than I had left with but we weren’t willing to take that chance. Passing Sierra off as me was already going to be dangerous enough as it was without pushing our luck right off the bat.
There was nothing new with Mom and Dad. They hadn’t gotten any better, but they weren’t worse either. I just had to hope nothing bad would happen while I was gone. Please, Mom… Dad… just hang on. I was going to go punch Pittman in the face a few dozen times and get the cure for them, for everyone.
After about half an hour there, I couldn’t wait anymore. So the two of us said goodbye to them through the intercom that had been set up, not that they could understand us, and headed out. We took a moment to change into our costumes a few blocks away from the shop, then made our way to the back door and into the main room where everyone else was already waiting. As soon as she saw me, Amber (dressed as That-A-Way of course) approached as I was headed for the restroom, handing me a small sack from the store while whispering, “Are you sure about this?”
Coughing, I shook my head while stepping into the restroom to take the stuff out of the bag. “Sure about it working? Absolutely not. Sure that it’s the best choice we’ve got? Yeah. We don’t exactly have a lot of good options here. And considering I can see how exhausted you are even with that mask on? I don’t think your people have anything better either.”
My words made her wince. “Yeah, you’re right, we’re just barely treading water right now. And the big bads haven’t even made any real moves yet. They’re waiting until we’re too worn out to put up much of a fight. But we can’t just not step in when the Prev gangs make trouble. It’s not just the Star-Touched that were hit with that attack, you know. There were a bunch of important cops in that building too. The police leadership has been practically crippled. Which doesn’t help their communication and organization issues. It’s… it’s not good.”
That pretty much matched what I had heard before, but still made the knot in my stomach worsen. “That’s why we have to do this. He’s the guy who did this, so he’ll know how to stop it. We can’t play into his hands by telling the authorities to get him out of there. We’ll get the machine and figure out where to go from there, how to… you know, get answers out of that bastard.”
As we were talking, I used the hair dye to make my hair blonde, then used the special tanning spray on the exposed skin of my hands, arms, face, and neck. As a final touch, I added the colored contacts, and then accepted the glasses that Amber handed me. When I put them on and looked in the mirror, I was… well, I was Sierra. Which meant I still looked a lot like myself, but there were just enough differences that if someone didn’t know me that well, they probably wouldn’t immediately recognize me. Normally this wouldn’t even have been necessary, but my picture had been shown on the news a couple times in relation to my parents being affected by this whole thing, and I couldn’t swear that someone during our road trip wouldn’t recognize me. Which was really annoying, but we just had to deal with that.
We continued talking for another moment before Amber accepted that this was the only real choice. She still didn’t seem like she liked it very much, which was fair. Still, the two of us returned to the group, and I got my first look at the new Sierra. Or rather, the old Sierra. She had basically done the same thing I just did, only in reverse. She took out the blonde dye, and fixed her hair to have the same pink streaks in front as I did. Aside from her clothes, she looked completely identical to me again–no, she looked identical to how I had looked five minutes earlier. Which was still a bit of a trip.
As our gazes met, she offered me a very faint smirk. “Have a good trip out there, twin-babe. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, but try to do a few things I would, huh?”
“I shudder to think about what your suggestions would be,” I shot back, my voice cracking just a little. Yeah, I was nervous. Still, I pushed that feeling away just like I had been clamping down on everything else, and added, “Please do everything I would do and nothing I wouldn’t.”
“Well, I don’t know how many tall buildings I can skateboard off the side of,” she noted, “but I’ll do my best to keep it interesting.”
Peyton quickly spoke up. “You guys be careful, okay? You’re just going out there by yourselves, and–and we don’t know what sort of defenses that prick set up, or how many people he has helping him, or–or anything.” Her marbles were flying in an agitated halo around her head. “Seriously, I just wish more of us could go with you.”
“We need you here.” That was Amber, her voice firm as she looked that way. “Losing Paintball and Poise, even just for a bit, is gonna be hard enough on top of everything else. We’re gonna need all the help we can get.”
“We’ll be back as soon as we can,” Paige assured her, and the others. “But seriously, just take care of yourselves, okay? Don’t–” She grimaced visibly. “Don’t do anything crazy while we’re gone.”
Sierra made a clear point of rolling her eyes. “Relax, Mother. Just worry about yourselves and what you’re doing. We’ve got this. Right, guys?”
Murphy and Roald exchanged glances before nodding to one another, the latter speaking up. “Yeah.” His voice didn’t sound completely confident, but at least he was trying. “We’ll keep it together.”
“Damn straight we will,” Murphy confirmed. “You guys just get down there, get that machine, and come back so we can teach that cocksucker what a bad idea this was.”
Wren, hovering in the background, bobbed her head up and down. “Yeah! I mean, I can’t say that word or Uncle Fred won’t let me have ice cream tonight, but get that thing so we can stop him and help everybody! And… and be careful, okay?” Her voice cracked just a little at the last bit, betraying just how hard it was for the girl to contain her emotions about this whole situation.
“Oh don’t worry, we’ll do our part,” I promised. “You guys just listen to Sierra. She’s in charge in the field while we’re gone.” That was a bit of a hard choice, of course. But out of everyone here who was part of Avant-Guard, Sierra had the most experience and training. No matter how she had started out, I trusted her now. She would keep Peyton, Murphy, and Roald safe out there.
“Well, no time to waste,” Paige put in after we all fell silent for a second. “Let’s go do this thing. I wanna get on the road before traffic gets too nuts.
“And make absolutely sure you pee before we leave, because I don’t want to stop for awhile.”
So, after just a bit more talking, we all left the shop together and piled into a van that Fred had waiting. It looked like a completely normal, average green van from the outside, but apparently had a few tricks under the hood just in case we ran into trouble on our way to the… launching point. Not that we expected to, but considering the condition the city was in, better to be safe than sorry. Our luck, if we went out there expecting nothing to happen, we’d run right into an army full of every Fell-Touched who hated our guts.
Thankfully, we didn’t. We could hear lots of calls going out over the police scanner that was installed in the dash, along with sirens that kept filling the air. But things were quieter where we were. Probably because we took as many back streets as possible, avoiding major intersections. Between that and the fact that most of the city was still hunkered down, these particular roads were almost entirely empty. The whole thing was pretty eerie, to be honest. We knew there was a lot of bad stuff going on all over the city, but because we were avoiding major areas like that, it made the city seem almost empty despite all the sirens and calls over the scanner. Yeah, this wasn’t good. Hearing the cops, ambulances, and firefighters doing their level best to reach the worst of the emergencies, and hearing about the ones they had to push to the bottom of the line, just reinforced that for me. As if it actually needed to be.
Paige and I exchanged looks while hearing all that, and I nodded once. We both thought the same thing. We had to get to Utah, find that machine, and deal with this right now.
There was no more discussion about whether this was the right thing to do or not. No one was going to question it after spending 15 minutes listening to all that. Finally, Fred pulled the van over in an old parking lot next to a print shop. This was the best place we’d been able to find while looking at the maps app and comparing it to some scouting the others had done while I was busy. There was a freeway in the distance, with a checkpoint and a roving patrol making sure no one got past. Well, that was their goal anyway. The temporary tower with its floodlights that had been set up was just barely too far away for the guards to notice our arrival in the parking lot. Especially since Fred had doused the lights for the last couple blocks.
We all piled out and said our goodbyes one more time. I spent a couple minutes with Sierra, telling her everything I could about what she needed to know to imitate me. Not that it was necessary after all the time I had spent earlier writing message after message for her with the same information, but still. It felt like this whole thing was going so quickly. Just that morning the plan had been for those two to leave the city while I stayed here with the others, but now I was the one going. I knew it was the right thing, the only choice really. And I knew we didn’t have any time to waste. It may have felt to me like this was all happening too quickly, but every minute we wasted, the city was put in even more danger. More people would get hurt and die if we stalled around too much.
Sierra and I changed phones, and recorded a few extra numbers in each just in case. Of course I also said a few last minute things to Izzy and Amber, promising that Paige and I would be back as soon as possible. They, in turn, promised to help cover for me and take care of things here. I gave both of them a hug, then shrugged and did the same for the others.
“Bring us back something nice,” Murphy urged with a small, worried smile. “Like a way to beat the living shit out of that son of a bitch until he coughs up the cure to all this.”
“Oh, I think we can handle that,” I assured her, trying to feel as confident as I sounded. Or at least as confident as I thought I sounded. From the look on their faces, I might have needed to work on that a little bit.
Either way, Sierra took the special rifle as Wren handed it out from the van, while Paige and I hooked the harnesses on. They basically looked like a combination belt and suspenders with a silver and blue circle in the middle of the chest area that was a few inches across. We got them all hooked on with a little help, and then Sierra raised the rifle and looked through the scope. She focused on the watchtower first, then shifted a bit to aim past it and off into the fields beyond the patrolled area. The rifle had an active range of a couple miles, and it didn’t have to be completely precise. All that really mattered was getting past the patrols.
While I was silently wishing I’d had another family dinner with my parents before all this went down, Sierra pulled the trigger. Then she shifted her aim just a tiny bit and fired again, each shot sending one of the teleportation beacons that way.
Wren quickly moved to hug me tightly once more. “Be careful, please? Come back, as soon as you can. Just call and we’ll teleport you back across.”
Returning the hug, I promised we would. Then Paige and I each touched that circle on the harness, looked at one another, and shoved the button on that inward.
Instantly, the world spun around me. I felt like I was flying through the wildest roller coaster I’d ever been on. And, to be honest, I’d been on quite a few. I was spinning head over heels, falling, flying up, all of it all at once. It seemed to last for ages, even though it was over in just a couple seconds.
And just like that, I was lying in the dirt about two miles away from where I’d started. I could see the freeway a hundred yards or so to the left, and the lights from Detroit were far behind me. We were officially on our way, outside Detroit.
Normally, the freeway would be incredibly busy, even at this time of night. But now, it was dark and empty aside from a few roving trucks. I saw Paige take herself up out of the dirt as well, both of us moving to join each other while waving back in the direction of the others since Sierra would be watching through the scope. “You said you arranged a ride?” I asked after making sure the backpack I brought with everything I thought I’d need was still intact.
She nodded and pointed. “There’ll be a truck waiting for us, but we’ve gotta walk another couple miles first. They wouldn’t bring it any closer.”
“Well then,” I managed, “guess we better get moving.
“I really don’t think we want to be out here once that sun comes up and lets those guys see us.”