Lucia buried her face in her hands, sobbing. “Oh, th—thank God you found me,” she said. “I’ve been all alone in the dark.” She reached up and grasped one of the men’s arms, slipping her fingers under his sleeve. “Please help me.”
The man’s eyes glazed over. His hand, which had started to reach for his sidearm, slackened. The others seemed confused too, as if they were catching the echo of her command. Or maybe just convinced by her performance.
Molly doubted Lucia could handle all of them on her own. One, maybe two, but four? She had to touch them to really push them very far didn’t she? Beside her, Brennan and Carter had tensed, ready to leap out of hiding the moment things went wrong. Molly could imagine how well that was likely to go. “Selena,” she whispered, “Can you shut the power back off?” she murmured.
“Codex,” was the reply. “And no. Something locked me out. I’m working on getting into the security system.” She sounded panicked, and it made Molly realize that she felt… calm. Focused. Which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
“Why did the lights go out?” Lucia was saying. “What’s going on?”
The push wasn’t quite strong enough. “You don’t need to know that,” the woman said, shoving her arm away. She rested one hand on the gun at her belt. “Mitchell, can you deal with this?”
“Me? Why don’t you make Lee do it?”
Molly thought desperately. Four armed professionals were too many for her to take down. She was used to fighting untrained opponents, with the rain to help her. Here, she didn’t even have that advantage. Unless…
“Carter, can you break one of these pipes open? Kick it or something?”
“Okay, when I say so, break this big one here. There’s a lot of pressure in it, so the spray should go pretty far. Brennan, when it hits them, turn it to steam.”
“But, Molly, that much heat—” Brennan said.
“It will distract them long enough for you to grab Lucia. Just leave me some water to work with, and try not to cook the two of us in the process.”
“Molly, these guys are—” Carter started.
“Trust me. I know what I’m doing. Ready?” She crouched down, preparing to run. “Now.”
She thought they would argue, but Carter only gave her a short-tempered glare, reared back, and kicked the pipe hard. The joint ruptured with enough force to send it hurtling into the opposite wall. Water burst free, spraying across the room with more violence than Molly had expected.
But she didn’t waste time. She shoved away the last of her doubts and vaulted over the pipe, ready to fight.
* * * * *
Aaron burst into the lab to find a gun pointed at his chest.
“Stop right there.” It was the man in the suit, the one who’d bumped into him in the lobby. The one he’d seen in his vision, Aaron realized suddenly. It had been a brief image, an ordinary moment hidden under moments of terror and violence, and he hadn’t given it much weight.
“I don’t want to shoot a kid,” he said, “but I will.”
Aaron believed him. Not far from where he stood, he could see a lab tech, sprawled across the floor in a pool of blood. He’d been shot in the chest. Aaron tried hard not to look at him.
“I’m not moving,” he said, raising his hands carefully above his head. He wondered if he could warp time faster than a bullet could hit him. “What are you doing in here?”
“You don’t need to know that.” The man stood in front of the massive, cylindrical machine that dominated the room. The access panel had been torn off, and wires and loose machinery dangled out of it like entrails.
“What is that thing? What does it do?”
“Do you think this is a comic book, kid?” He sounded amused. “I’m not telling you anything.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Natural curiosity.”
“You should keep that in check more often. Curiosity is dangerous.” He kept the gun leveled at Aaron, and went back to the machine, fiddling one-handed with something inside the casing. “But I gotta admit, I’m a little impressed. Most people panic when they’re facing a gun.”
“I’m panicking on the inside,” Aaron said, and that earned a brief, amused smirk before the man turned back to his work. The sudden terror he’d felt walking in had faded to a low, constant throb, but he still felt it, churning deep inside. He felt like if he moved too suddenly he might throw up.
He needed information. Right now, all he really knew was that this guy was a killer. He’d probably been responsible for the explosion and the quarantine, and it all had something to do with this lab and what was in it. If he could slow time without getting shot, he could disarm the man and find a way to disable him. But he didn’t know how to shut off the machine, and he didn’t know what had been done to sabotage it. If he took care of the guy and it still exploded—well, that wouldn’t solve any problems.
Aaron glanced around, taking stock of the room. It was much smaller than the hangar upstairs, but still pretty big. The ceiling was easily twenty feet above him, mostly to make room for the machinery, whatever it was. Most of it was hidden by metal casing, but he felt sure the strange vibrations were coming from inside it. What is actually was, Aaron had no idea. Something secret and possibly dangerous. Something worth killing over.
The man kept working. He moved back and forth between the machine and the row of computers against the wall, but even though he seemed focused on his task, the gun stayed aimed at Aaron’s chest. After a while, he seemed satisfied with what he’d done. He entered a few commands into the computer. A weird whistling pierced his ears, and as it died down, he noticed that the trembling hum had started to fade. The quiet in its absence was kind of unsettling.
“All right,” the man said. “If you want to live, this is what you do.” He met Aaron’s eyes. “Go stand by that door, hands on your head. When I say run, you run. You’ll have about a minute to get up that stairwell. Move fast enough, and you’ll be fine.”
“You’re going to blow it up?” Aaron said, pressing his back against the wall. “Why?”
“Because, kid, I’m getting paid.” He left the machine and strode to the wall, checking a brick of something stuck to the surface. Aaron saw several of them, placed evenly around the room. Explosives.
All the awful things he’d seen in the last few minutes flashed through his brain. Anger rushed through him. “People are dead, and all you care about is money?”
“A lot of money, kid. Plus benefits.” He shrugged. “But that doesn’t concern you. Turn around.”
This was the best chance he was going to get. Aaron took a deep breath, took a step like he was going to comply, and twisted.
Time slowed, and he didn’t waste any of it. He ducked as he ran, instinctively wary of the gun despite the fact that he was probably moving faster than any bullet.
The mercenary was still staring at the wall, although he’d started to register surprise. Aaron wrenched the gun from his hand, fast enough that a couple of fingers popped. Before his arm had even stopped moving, Aaron pressed the heels of his hands against the man’s chest and shoved. The relative force would send him flying across the room: hard enough to hurt him, but not kill him. Probably. He couldn’t spare much time to worry about it right now.
He gave the gun half a glance, wiped it clean on his shirt, and threw it aside.
Now for the explosives.
Aaron did a quick survey of the room, looking for some kind of detonator. Nothing turned up. Either it was on the mercenary, or it was somewhere else. He stopped in front of one of the bricks, looking it over. It looked like C4, at least from what he’d seen in movies and stuff. Was it safe to just pull out the wires? That would stop it from exploding, right?
He let go of his power, and time flooded back to normal. Aaron took a couple breaths of normal air, and pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Selena, are you still there?”
“Aaron! Aaron, you idiot! That was the dumbest thing—”
“Do you know anything about C4?”
“You don’t have time to—Watch out! He’s—”
Aaron heard a soft footfall behind him, but didn’t have time to turn before something slammed into the side of his head, and everything went black.
* * * * * *
Molly hit the floor at speed, skating across the floor on the current. In front if her, the spray erupted into steam. She managed to push away most of the water vapor, but the heat still hit her hard enough to make her gasp.
Around her, chaos happened: white mist and heat, the hiss of vaporizing water punctuated by shouts of surprise and pain. She spun on the water, using the momentum to swing her foot into the woman’s knee. The soldier fell hard, and Molly slammed a fist into her face to keep her down.
Through the mist, she saw Brennan wrap his arms around Lucia and haul her out of danger. Molly hoped the steam hadn’t hurt her too much. She had limited control over the it—not as much as she did with pure liquid, but enough to manipulate the water in the air. It gave her an edge: she could keep the worst of the heat from scalding her, and she wrapped the vapor around her like armor, making her hard to see and harder to grab.
But fighting three men wasn’t easy, especially since she had good reason to believe they would kill her if they could. It quickly turned into a game of dodge, with her fending off their attacks until she could get a strike in. Then she got lucky—they’d forgotten about Lucia and hadn’t noticed boys. Carter came behind them, swinging a piece of the wrecked pipe into the biggest one’s back. It flung him to the side, and Molly caught a glimpse of fear on Carter’s face as they turned on him.
“Run!” Molly shouted, and he bolted, dodging pipes with incredible speed. One of them chased after him, but Molly caught the second one with a kick to the ankle, making him stumble. She was about to close in on him when someone grabbed her from behind and threw her into the ground. Apparently, Carter hadn’t hit him hard enough.
On instinct, she went defensive, curling up as both of them came at her. One of them got a kick in anyway, and she felt a sharp pain in her side. She shoved the water at him, sending a stream of it into his mouth and up his nose. He jerked back, choking, and she shoved him away.
The last guy was on her now, trying to grapple her into submission. Had he given up on his gun? Lost it in the steam? Molly gave him a short, sharp kick, designed to push him backward more than incapacitate him. Then she rolled to her feet, drawing the water from the floor and the gushing pipe. The water surged around her like a hurricane. Her opponent backed away, staring at her in awe and fear. His hand fumbled over his holster.
Molly didn’t give him a chance to draw it. She threw the water at him, full force. With the burst pipe still flooding the basement, she had plenty of ammunition. As the water rushed around her, she felt a familiar, powerful euphoria. Until she heard that nagging voice in her head. You don’t want to do this, M. You need to stop. The water makes you… “Reckless, I know,” she said through gritted teeth.
It took effort, but she managed to release the water. As the torrent died down, she fell to her knees, swamped with a numb kind of exhaustion. Fear wriggled through it, growing as she realized just how far she’d lost herself.
Focus, she told herself. Fight’s not over.
But that wasn’t exactly true. Lucia had taken care of the one she’d choked earlier; she had him on the ground, both hands pressed to his face. Brennan jumped the other one as soon as Molly stopped drowning him, putting him in a surprisingly effective chokehold. It might have been her imagination, but she heard a faint sizzling sound as Brennan tightened his grip around the man’s neck.The woman was still out, and when Molly turned to look for Carter, she saw him trudging back through the tangle of pipes, the last guy slung over one shoulder. “I didn’t even have to do anything,” Carter said. “He slipped on the water and hit his head.” He laid his burden on the ground by the other mercenaries, and gave Molly a nervous look. “The guy I hit—is he—okay?”
“Well enough to throw me down and kick me a few times,” Molly said, rubbing at her side. Somehow her voice stayed steady, and she tried to pretend she wasn’t shaken by what she’d just done.
“Sorry I ran,” Carter said. “I didn’t know how to—”
“It’s okay,” Molly said. “You couldn’t have fought all three of them on your own.”
“Well, you look fine,” Carter said.
Molly’s short laugh was like a sudden, sharp knife against her ribs. It turned into a groan halfway through, and she slumped to the ground as all the pain she’d been suppressing flooded over her. Heat prickled up her arms, and her ribs ached where she’d been kicked. Her arm, too, for some reason. She clutched her arms with both hands, and found herself shaking.
“Here.” Brennan laid his hands over the reddening skin on her arms. His fingers were ice cold, and soon she felt the heat drain out her arms until they were almost numb.
She nodded, still shaking. Brennan rubbed at his arms; she noticed the pallor in his face—his lips were almost blue. “Are you okay?”
“Just cold,” he said, shrugging deeper into his leather jacket. “Not used to moving that much heat. And now I’m wet.”
“I can help with that,” Molly said. “Just give me a minute to recover.”
“I’m fine, too,” Lucia said. She was kneeling by the one Carter had dropped. Despite what she said, her skin was mottled with angry red patches. “Not that anyone cares.” She creased her brow, concentrating on something.
“What are you doing?”
“Making them forget,” Lucia said. “Unless you want these guys remembering what we look like and what we can do. Well, what you can do, since you’re the only one dumb enough to show off. Thanks for making my job harder, Captain Subtlety.”
Molly stared at her. “You can make people forget things?”
“Yeah, when I have time to concentrate,” she said, taking a second to glare at Molly before returning to the helpless soldier.
“She gets bitchy when she overuses her power,” Brennan murmured, low enough that Lucia probably couldn’t hear him. “Don’t push her.”
“We need to get going,” Carter said. “Aaron’s still trapped up there somewhere, and there could be more of these guys.”
“We’ll get there,” Molly said. She leaned heavily on Brennan’s arm as she stood, wincing. She started streaming the water from her clothes into the ankle-deep pool filling the basement.
“Okay, we should be good,” Lucia said. She wiped her wet hair back from her face. “That was pretty brutal,” she said, looking at Molly. “The way you took out those guys.”
“I told you—”
“Yeah, yeah. But—”
“Guys!” Selena’s voice exploded over her earpiece. “You’ve got to get upstairs, fast! Aaron’s about to get himself killed!”
* * * * *
Aaron woke up with a sudden panic and an absolutely horrific headache. He stumbled to his feet, both hands balling into fists, and immediately fell again, swallowing back a wave of nausea.
“Hey, calm down, Aaron, it’s just us.” He felt a cool hand against his neck, and some of the pain subsided. But the world was still spinning like crazy, and everything was out of focus. He felt at his face and found his glasses missing.
“Lucia?” he asked, squinting at her. “What… how did… what happened?”
“Dude nailed you from behind while you were staring at the wall,” Lucia said. “Luckily, Sel finally got into the security system. She got it the whole thing on tape, so we can watch it over, and over…”
“Here are your glasses,” Carter said, kneeling beside him. “They got a little…smashed.”
He held up a pair of bent frames with very little glass left in them. Aaron looked them over, and shoved them into his pocket with a sigh. “What happened? Where did he… the explosives!” He started to his feet, but Lucia shoved him down again.
“Not yet,” she said. “He hit you pretty hard. I’m trying to minimize the damage, so stay still.”
Reluctantly, he sat back and let her work. “But what about the explosives?” he asked, with more confusion than panic this time.
“It’s fine,” Brennan said from somewhere behind him. “He didn’t set them off. They’re disarmed now.”
“Brennan? What, did everyone come? Is Ivy here somewhere, too?”
Carter and Lucia shared a look. “Uh…about that—”
“Okay I think I’ve got everything clean,” Molly said.
Aaron whirled around. She was standing by the machine, a torn shirt in one hand. “Molly?”
“Hey, Aaron,” she said absently. “Did he touch anything else?”
“Uh…” He stared at her.
She tilted her head, and after a long moment—thanks, concussion—he realized she had a bluetooth piece on her ear. They all did. “So… seriously, what happened? He just left? After all that?”
“He wrecked the lab first,” Carter said. The computers are wiped, and he did some serious damage to this… thing, whatever it is.”
“We can talk about it later,” Molly said. “I’ve wiped your prints off everything you touched. Now you’ve got to get upstairs before they cancel the lockdown and find you missing.”
“The security cameras—”
“Selena says she’s offended by the question,” Carter said. “Hurry up. We’re running out of time.”
“Right,” Aaron said, letting a little laugh escape. “Time.” For some reason, he found that hilarious. “I think I might have a concussion,” he said.
“Yeah, you might,” Carter said, offering him an arm to lean on. “Come on. I can get you up the stairs at least. Try not to pass out on the way.”