“And then we got to smash it all to bits with hammers!” Wren enthusiastically informed me the next morning. “It was so fun. I got to break the glass windows, but Uncle Fred said I had to wear gloves and long pants and stuff, but it was still fun! We smashed everything and then drove it out in this U-Haul truck that Uncle Fred rented, and we dumped all the pieces out on the lake!”
It was just a little bit before lunchtime on Saturday, May 16th. Which meant I didn’t have to go to school. I did need to go see Inessa’s show that night, but for now, I was free. Well, Cassidy was free. Paintball had plenty to do. Starting with catching up with how everything had gone for the others the night before. I had just shown up at the shop a few minutes earlier, so Wren was excitedly telling me everything in between bites of a ham and cheese sandwich and chips. Her hand was waving around wildly, apparently to illustrate the way she had swung that hammer.
“Always fun to break things,” I agreed, boosting myself up with my hands to perch on the glass counter as I watched the girl with amusement. “Sorry I missed it. But you think it was convincing?” The important part was to make enough people who saw the pictures believe that it was the wreckage of a boat out on the ocean. I knew we wouldn’t fool everyone, and of course the people in charge of the island would know it was complete bullshit. But we just needed public opinion to believe that the wrecked boat was how Irelyn had gotten to the island.
“Uncle Fred!” Wren called, waving that half-eaten sandwich. “Can you show him–err, sorry, her the pictures?!”
“Him is fine,” I reminded her. “Let’s not get in the habit of calling me her too much. It’ll just confuse everything and risk making a mistake in public. I–” Hesitating as a weird feeling passed through me at the thought of telling someone it was okay to refer to me as a boy, I shook that off. “Whatever, it’s cool.” Talking about that made me think about the fact that Eits knew my secret, my full secret, now. And I knew his. Which was a whole complicated situation that I really couldn’t think about too much right now. Not when I really had to focus.
Fred, who had already finished eating his own lunch/breakfast, stepped over and handed me a digital camera. “The girls, Paige and Sierra, they said they could clean them up and do the editing to put an island in the pictures. This is just for the wreckage part.”
Looking through the images on the screen, I nodded slowly. They really had done a number on what had apparently been a pretty impressive boat at one point. I could tell that even from the shape it was in. It was barely recognizable as a boat at this point. Most of the thing was in a dozen or more different pieces, floating on water. They had taken the pictures with a drone of some sort, first from high enough up to make it clear that they weren’t being taken from another boat, and then up close enough to make out details. The base shape of the boat was still there, with the name visible in a couple of the pictures. Orcastra. Yeah, spelled like that. Totally hilarious.
“Well you guys sure put that thing through its paces. How did Paige feel about smashing it apart?” Something told me she wouldn’t be too bothered about it, considering the reason we were doing all this to begin with and where the money for the boat had come from. But on the other hand, maybe she had good memories involved with it.
“She did most of the damage,” Fred informed me. “Her and Sierra both, really. They really went to town on the thing. I think they were working through some stuff.”
Yeah, that made sense. I had a feeling they had probably been picturing Pittman’s face whenever they swung those hammers or whatever they used. I knew I would’ve.
“Right, so they’re probably busy with that over at the Banners house,” I murmured thoughtfully. “I’m sure they’re good at that sort of thing, but Paige is gonna want these to be perfect before we show them to anyone. I just… I wish we could talk to Irelyn or one of the others ourselves and make sure they’re okay. And uhh, you know, let them know someone’s working on getting them out of there.” I couldn’t even imagine how bad it must’ve been to be trapped there, realize the people in charge had to know you were there, and that they weren’t going to actually help.
Wilting a little, Wren sank back on her seat and gave a quick nod. “I’m sorry, I–I really wanna try to talk to them too, but I can’t figure out–”
“Oh, oh no, no, it wasn’t–it’s okay.” Scooting off the counter before moving that way, I sat next to the girl on another folding chair and reached out to take her hand. “I wasn’t saying you should’ve done something. You’ve done enough, Wren. You’ve done more than–more than anyone could’ve expected. You’re amazing, really. It’s not your fault Pittman got Irelyn’s phone.”
She nodded slowly, giving me a hesitant smile before it quickly blossomed into a more genuine one. “Oh! I have something for you!” While saying that, she hopped off the chair, shoving the last quarter of her sandwich into her mouth before darting off toward the elevator. She said something about being right back, but it was hard to make out through her full mouth.
Glancing toward Fred, I raised an eyebrow. Which just reminded me again about the fact that I was able to have my mask and helmet off in here so he could see my eyebrow. He, in turn, offered me a confused shrug. “Don’t look at me, the kid builds what she wants. I didn’t think she even had time to make anything else, considering how busy she’s been.”
Both of us sat there, waiting for a minute until Wren came back from the second floor. She used the stairs that time, bounding down them several at a time before literally using her wing-pack to fly off the last one. There was something in one of her hands, but I couldn’t make it out yet. “I made it when I was fixing the teleporting thingie for Murphy and Roald!”
With that, she landed in front of me, grinning widely while holding up what looked like a small leather bag with a drawstring. It was like one of those bags to hold a marble or dice collection. “Open it, look inside!” The kid was practically vibrating with excitement. “I fixed the last parts last night after I helped beat up the boat! Look, look, look! Er, I mean, please look.”
Well, okay then. Taking the bag, I pulled the drawstrings apart and peeked inside. Then I blinked. “Uh, I don’t know how to tell you this, Wren, but the bag’s empty.” I held it out for her to see too.
Rather than seeming distressed or confused by that, the girl giggled. “Pull it shut again and then push the little button thing on the end of the string for three seconds.” She was definitely vibrating with excitement, her eyes eagerly snapping back and forth between the bag and me.
As instructed, I pulled the drawstrings to shut the bag. Then I inspected them more closely. Sure enough, what I had thought was a simple bead on the end of one of the strings had a tiny button on it. I pressed that in and held it. “What’s supposed t–oof!”
That last part was because the bag was suddenly larger, and heavier. Not dramatically heavier, but still. It went from being completely empty and maybe five by seven inches, to being a couple feet and clearly not empty.
“It stretches!” the kid helpfully informed me. “I uhh, I didn’t make that, I bought some material from somebody else for it. But the other part is me. The stuff is inside the fabric, I sewed it in! You can probably find it if you pull it apart. Uhh, don’t pull it apart, please.” She added the last bit quickly. “Then I’d have to fix it.”
While she was saying all that, I squinted at the larger bag and pulled it open. Inside was… a pair of pants, a shirt, two old mismatched shoes, and a baseball cap. “Hold on, is this–”
Clearly unable to hold it in anymore, Wren clapped happily. “It’s a teleport bag! I made the basic parts when I was testing the teleport system on the suits for Murphy and Roald. It’s easier to teleport stuff that isn’t alive, especially if one of the locations is always the same!” Her hands waved wildly as she almost tripped over her own words in her rush to explain. “There’s two bags, they’re connected. When you hold the button like that, it swaps contents. See, you can leave your costume in one bag so you don’t have to carry it around with you. Take the empty bag in your pocket. When you need your costume, you hold the button, and poof! Your costume shows up. You can change, then put your normal clothes in the bag and hold the button again, and they’ll show up in the other bag until you’re ready to change back into them!”
Okay… okay, wow. My eyes widened a bit as I took all that in, staring at the random clothes in the bag before looking back to Wren. She was staring at me so excitedly, so proudly, that I couldn’t help but giggle as I grinned right back at her. “Dude, that’s awesome. That would’ve been so useful when… well, a few times. Now I don’t have to try to finagle a way to go home to get it, or carry it around in my backpack.” And boy was that a load off my mind. The fear I’d felt whenever I carried the costume with me, that someone would look in my bag, never really went away. But if I had this thing and anyone looked at it, they wouldn’t think anything about it. This was amazing.
“I’ll make some for the others too,” Wren quickly put in. “That was just the first one, and I thought you should have it. Cuz, you know…” She squirmed a bit on her feet. “It’d be really bad if your family found your costume. Worse than it would be for the others.”
“Well, I’m not sure Peyton would survive her mom finding out what she does,” I pointed out mildly. “But she kind of manifests her own costume with her powers anyway.”
I went into the bathroom to change from my costume, which I was still wearing aside from the mask and helmet, into my street clothes. Then Wren showed me where the other bag was, up in a safe area in her lab. We put the costume inside that one, and I spent a couple minutes practicing with moving it back and forth between the two bags. Well, I guess it wasn’t really practice after the first time. It was more playing with it. But hey, it was really cool.
Tucking the currently-empty bag into the pocket of my jeans (seriously, the thing could just fold up very small when it didn’t have anything inside), I gave the kid a thumbs up. “Seriously dude, that’s amazing. I can’t even–thanks.”
Now Wren looked self-conscious, shaking her head. “I-it’s no big deal. I just wanna help and that was–it was sort of extra. Like I said, I was mostly just working on making the suits teleport with people inside them and I had to practice with things that weren’t alive. I umm, I thought it’d be useful for this sort of thing.”
“It definitely is,” I confirmed with a smile as I patted my pocket. “But I guess I should head out for now. Paige just texted to say they’re gonna be at that for the rest of the day before they’ll be satisfied that it’ll pass inspection.
“And apparently That-A-Way wants to tell me something pretty important.”
“Somebody tried to kill Fragile.”
Absorbing the ‘pretty important’ thing Amber had wanted to tell me as the two of us sat in the back of a diner, far from anyone who could overhear, I stared at the other girl. “I–what?” I couldn’t have heard her right. Unless–my eyes widened. “One of the Scion–”
“We’re not sure,” she admitted in a quiet voice. There were dark circles under her eyes. “All we do know is that someone convinced the guy who was hired to drive her home to plant some sort of device in the car that…. uhh, let’s just say it got really, really hot in there. Industrial grade furnace-level hot.”
That made me gape some more, barely comprehending what she was saying. “You mean someone was trying to melt her?” The shock of that made me physically reel backward a bit.
Amber grimaced, glancing away. “We don’t know if it would’ve worked, but yeah. They tried. And something tells me it wasn’t just idle curiosity about her defenses.”
“They were literally trying to kill her,” I managed. “What–that has to be Pencil and Cup, or one of their auditions. No way would the Ministry okay something like that. Never.” I flat out refused to believe that my parents would give the go-ahead for Fragile to potentially be burned to death in a furnace. That absolutely had to be someone operating without their permission, and the Scions were the only ones I could think of like that. Besides, it just sounded like their sort of thing.
“That’s definitely what we’re thinking,” Amber confirmed with a heavy sigh. For a moment, she started to say something else, then seemed to catch herself. Instead, she shook her head and muttered a curse. “There was another attempted attack, this one on Carousel and Syndicate. We weren’t sure if it was intentional or not, but considering this attack…”
“Whoever’s behind this, the Scions or wannabe Scions, they’re targeting the Minority.” Finishing that for her, I dropped my gaze to stare at the half-eaten food on my plate. “That’s bad.”
“Tell me about it,” the other girl muttered before adding, “But I’m also supposed to tell you to be careful. Well, you and everyone on your team. They don’t know if this is someone targeting the Minority or someone targeting juvenile Touched. Either way, just… watch out, okay?”
My head bobbed before something else occurred to me. “I’ll add it to the list of things I’m paranoid about. But wait, you said they tried to kill Fragile in an impromptu car furnace. How’d she get out of it, blind luck?”
Coughing, Amber shook her head. She couldn’t respond yet, however, as the waitress came by to ask if we needed anything and to refill our drinks. Only once the lady was gone and we were sufficiently alone did Amber meet my gaze and whisper, “Deicide saved her.”
Okay, that made me do a double-take, shifting in my seat before hissing, “Did you just say–”
“Deicide, yeah,” Amber confirmed. “Apparently they were like… talking or something before that. Somehow Deicide figured out what was going on and stopped Fragile from getting in the car.”
“Uh, does that sound suspicious or am I just paranoid?” I pointed out a bit weakly.
Amber’s head shook. “No, you’re right, it probably would be suspicious. But we know Deicide is on the good side of the Ministry. She plays by the rules. No way would she risk that by pretending to put Fragile in mortal danger. For what purpose? What would be the point?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But she has to be pretty pissed off right now about what happened with her own people betraying her right when they were about to beat Cuélebre. She really seems to have it out for that guy. Maybe that pushed her over the edge?”
Amber considered that before shaking her head. “I don’t think so. What does putting Fragile in danger and then saving her get her, really? Maybe the Ministry would forgive her for overstepping a little if she goes after her traitors, but… I’m pretty sure they’d already do that, and they’ve okayed her war against Oscuro.”
“Fair,” I agreed thoughtfully. “Maybe I am just a little too paranoid. But how did she figure out Fragile was in danger?”
“Apparently the guy had a note in his pocket about it,” Amber informed me. “Seems like Deicide… read it before she could see it?”
Absorbing that, I made a face. “That would fit with her making books talk, but if that means she can read things around her from a distance, I… we probably shouldn’t keep anything written down when we’re around her.”
“I don’t plan on being around her at all if I can help it,” Amber pointed out. “But yeah. That could be dangerous.”
Great, another thing for me to worry about. With a sigh, I poked at my food. “Okay so she just talked to Fragile for some reason, noticed the attempted attack, and saved her. That still leaves the problem of who started targeting the Minority and knows enough about them to do something like that. If it’s one of the Scion wannabes, does that mean they’re someone with connections into the Minority base? Like one of the cops or security people, or an officer worker, or–”
“There’s a few options, yeah,” Amber muttered, looking out the nearby window with a frown. “They’re working on figuring that out. And I’m pretty sure your parents are throwing their own stuff at it. This can’t be good for their business.”
We talked a bit more about that, though she seemed a little distracted, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t just the Scions/Deicide/Fragile thing. Finally, I asked, “Are you okay? I mean, besides all this stuff.”
Looking up from her phone, Amber flushed guiltily before nodding. “No, yeah, no, I’m good. I’m fine. I just–I uhh, it was a long night. Long day. Long everything. I…” She shifted in her seat. “It feels like I’m keeping a lot of secrets lately.”
Wincing, I gestured. “I’m sorry. I mean, you’ve gotta keep the whole Ministry thing away from the rest of your team. That’s gotta be hard.” And speaking of secrets, I was keeping the one about who Ryder was from her and everyone else.
“Yeah, it…” Amber looked away, swallowing visibly before turning back to me. “Let’s talk about something else. You’re going to that Inessa show tonight at the park, right?”
My head bobbed. “Yup. I promised Izzy I’d take her with. Should be pretty cool, as long as we don’t get stuck near Arleigh again.
“And hey, speaking of cool, wait til I show you the bag Wren gave me…”