Aaron paced the hallway, trying furiously to think through the miasma in his brain. Despite the mental and physical fog left over from his vision, he knew he had to push through it, at least long enough to deal with Leveille and find Ivy.
He pressed the phone to his ear and leaned against the window, resting his forehead against the cool glass. “If he sees us coming, he might kill her,” Aaron said. “Especially if he’s realized she can’t help him. I can probably use my power to sneak past him, but not if I don’t know where she is. I can’t hold it forever.”
“Besides, he knows what you can do.” Over the phone, Selena had to shout to be heard over the noise of the rain and the car engine. She’d still been at the game, and by the sound of it was trying to set a speed record for crossing the distance btween the school and the dam. “He’ll be expecting you.”
“I know.” Aaron couldn’t predict what Leveille would do if he turned up, but he doubted it would be a friendly chat. Apart from Molly, none of them had experience fighting. Carter was strong, but he didn’t know how to fight and he couldn’t stop bullets. Lucia might be able to overpower him, but she’d have to get close enough to touch skin, and even then, her power wasn’t infallible. Brennan might be of some help, but with Ivy in danger, he wasn’t that reliable. And Selena…
“Can’t you just hack into the dam and—”
“I can’t hack into the dam from the outside,” Selena said. “It’s a closed system, like the lab was. I can get blueprints—those are common record. But I can’t get access to the security cameras. I mean, if I can get inside the powerhouse, sure. But if he needs a hacker, that’s where he’ll be. And it’s not like you can use your power to sneak me past him.”
“Okay,” Aaron said. “What if I got in, and you told me what to do—”
“No. I need direct access for my power to work.”
Aaron pinched his nose with both fingers. “So we can’t sneak in, we can’t hack in from outside…” An idea struck him. A terrible, terrible idea. “You’re going to hate this, Selena, but I think I know what to do,” he said.
* * * * *
Molly ran her hand through her damp hair, pulling into a tight ponytail at the back of her head, and let out a long, slow breath.
She glanced back at the bed, where she’d tossed her crumpled, stained blue jacket. Whatever the others had thought about Azure, she’d never dealt with anything more than petty criminals, and she’d never gone looking for trouble. But now a super-powered mercenary had her friend. What was she supposed to do against that?
Molly pulled the jacket off the bed and ran her fingers over the fabric. She’d never felt more conflicted. That voice was back in her head again, telling her not to be reckless, telling her to stay out of trouble.
But Ivy needed help now. Aaron was right—they didn’t have time to go to the police. Even if they managed to convince anyone of the danger, by the time they did, Ivy could be hurt or killed.
She smoothed her hands over her hair again, and reached down to grab her phone off the bed. Her thumb hesitated over the screen. She had a message from Dad. It wasn’t much, just a “Sorry I missed you. See you at dinner.”
Well, there was the guilt again. She sat down on the bed, and grabbed one of the old journals. She flipped to a blank page, tore it out, and started writing.
I hope you never read this. I’m going to tear it up when I get home, just to make sure. But if something happens, I want you to know why. I’m not going to disappear on you.
It took a couple of pages, but Molly got out everything: the other powers, the journals, what had happened to Ivy and what she was about to do.
I know you’d tell me it was too dangerous, and that’s why I’m not telling you where I’m going. Because I know it’s dangerous, but I have to do it anyway. I’m sorry. Love, M
Molly folded the paper twice and slid it onto the table beside her bed.
She pulled the jacket over her shoulders and adjusted the collar. As she turned away, she caught a glance of herself in the mirror. It was strange, but it almost looked like another person. Like dressing the part had changed her. The weird thing was, it made her feel different, too. Almost like she could hide behind the outfit and forget about being sixteen and insecure, forget about all the things that could go wrong, forget about being afraid.
She tucked her hands into her jacket, staring at her reflection for a minute. Then she took a deep breath, and headed downstairs.
* * * * *
“Okay, let me get this straight. You want to offer me in exchange for Ivy, so I can hack into the dam’s security system for the bad guy. Who definitely isn’t on our side and is probably planning something horrible.” Selena took a deep breath. “You’re right. I hate it.”
“It’s just to stall him,” Aaron said. “Once Ivy is safe, we can take him out.”
“Because that’s going to be so simple. Aaron, there are so many things that can go wrong with this, I’m not even going to bother listing them.”
“I know.” Aaron sighed. “I know. But we have to do something. Do you have a better plan?”
Selena was silent for a moment, and then let out an exasperated sigh. “I’ll be there in five minutes,” she said. “I’m not committing to anything yet.”
“Meet you there.” He hung up, and stared at the phone, thinking. It was a terrible plan. He didn’t know if they could pull it off, even if Leveille went for it. But the images from his vision kept playing over in his head: Ivy’s bruised face, the sensation of pain and fear. He opened the the text he’d gotten from her phone and stared at the words on the screen. DON’T INTERFERE.
Sorry, Sel. Maybe she’d forgive him later. It wasn’t like they had to follow through with it. He typed back a message, and sent it quickly, before he could think better of it.
She can’t do what you want her to, it said. I’ll bring you someone who can.
“Aaron?” Molly said.
He shoved the phone quickly in his pocket. “Yeah?” he said as he turned toward her.
Molly had dressed the part—blue military jacket, combat boots, hands wrapped in tape like a boxer. She’d halted in front of the door to the basement, carrying a wooden sword in one hand. That intensity was back, too. The focus, the confidence. If he hadn’t fully believed she was Azure before, he did now.
“Don’t stand there with your mouth open,” she said, shoving past him to the door. “Let’s go.”
* * * * *
They met on a spot above the dam— a rocky cliff that was a favorite spot of teenagers looking for somewhere to mess around. Everyone else was already there, crowded over Selena’s tablet. Brennan kept glancing toward the dam, his hands repetitively clenching up with agitation. Aaron kicked aside a crumpled can as he climbed up the boulder to join the rest of them.
“Hey,” he said. “Did you get the blueprints?”
“Yeah,” Selena said, tilting the tablet so he could see the schematics on its surface. “I—” She stopped short, staring past him. Her eyes went wide.
“Hi,” Molly said shortly.
Everyone else stared at her, too, with pretty much the same reaction he’d had.
Selena raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t say she was coming.”
Molly met her gaze coolly. “Of course I’m here. You’re about to do something incredibly dangerous, and I don’t want any of you to get killed.”
“So are you here as Azure, or as Tempest?” Lucia asked.
She took a minute to respond. In a quiet voice, she said: “I’ll be whoever you need me to be. But I’d prefer to be… just Molly. I never liked being Azure.”
She said nothing else, and for a long time, only silence met her. Then Lucia said, “Well, you saved our asses last time, so I guess we could use your help. Besides, huge freaking dam, water powers— kinda just make sense. As long as you keep things under control this time.”
“We’re wasting time talking about it,” Brennan said. “If she can help save my sister, why are you complaining?”
Selena shot him a short glare. “Fine,” she said. “Aaron, about your plan—”
“I made the offer,” he said. “He accepted.”
“What—I told you to wait—”
“Ivy doesn’t have time to wait!” Aaron shouted. “We don’t have to follow through with it, but I had to do something.”
She stared back at him. At first, he thought the gleam in her eyes was anger, but after a second, he realized it was fear. Selena was afraid. She’d waltzed into the high security server room at Lartech on a whim and hacked into the security during a quarantine without a ssecond thought, but now… Now the danger wasn’t getting caught. It was getting killed.
“Selena,” he said. “I’m doing the best I can. If you have another idea, I’m listening. But we’ve got to do something, and right now, you’re the only one who can.”
She took a deep breath.
“All right,” she said. “What’s the plan?”
“I offered to help, in exchange for letting Ivy go. He wants us to meet hm at the gate to the powerhouse, within an hour. That’s all I’ve got.”
“That’s not a plan, it’s a surrender,” Molly said.
“We can use it as a diversion,” Aaron said. “Selena and I can meet him. The rest of you can sneak in while we’re stalling him, and find Ivy. We’ll play along until you make sure she’s safe.”
“That puts you in a lot of danger,” Carter says. “With no one to protect you—”
“I’ll go with him,” Molly said.
Aaron shook his head. “If he sees anyone else, the deal’s off,” he said. “We can’t let him know anyone else is with us. He’ll expect me to try something, and I can’t guess what kind of precautions he’s taken. Besides, you’re more use out here. Inside the power house you’ll be cut off from the water supply.”
“Aaron—” she said, in a tone that implied she thought he was an idiot. “You can’t just walk in there. You know it’s a trap!”
“Right. And after we know what kind of trap it is, we’ve got you guys to come get us out of it.”
“You say that like it’s going to be easy,” she said. “But you don’t even know what we’re walking into. He could have a whole team of mercenaries in there—”
“He was working alone last time,” Aaron said.
“So what about security?” Carter said. “Last time we ended up hurting people by accident. I don’t want to hurt people on purpose.”
“There shouldn’t be much,” Selena said, but she looked uncertain. She shrugged. “It’s not a very big dam. It’s not like it’s a tourist attraction or anything. She bit her lip. “Actually, it looks like some of the security was shifted away from the dam, maybe because it’s a less likely target?”
“They closed down the construction,” Carter said. Everyone glanced at him. “What? I can’t know things?” He shrugged. “I overheard Dad talking about it. They were working on the concrete over the spillway, patching it or something? It is, like, fifty years old. They put it on hold until they’re done looking into the explosion at the lab. But I thought that would mean there would be more security.”
“Maybe that translates to more electronic security, not personnel,” Selena said. “Shutter down and restrict access. Less people means fewer chanced to infiltrate. Computers are more reliable than people. Well, usually. ”
Molly chewed her lip. “I don’t like this. You two are going in defenseless.”
“We can keep in contact,” Selena said. “I modified the earpieces to be concealable. That way if we get into trouble, you’ll know.”
“I still don’t like it,” Molly said.
“We don’t have time to argue about it,” Brennan said. “If you have a better plan, go ahead.”
Molly sighed. “All right,” she said. “But I’m right behind you.”
“We should use codenames again, and be more careful not to slip up. We don’t know who might be listening.” She offered one to Aaron.
“As soon as Ivy’s safe, you tell us,” Aaron said, wedging the earpiece deep into his ear. “Then we can take him out.”
“But he knows what you can do,” Carter said.
“Yeah, maybe, but how’s he going to stop me?”
Carter didn’t have an answer to that. But he didn’t look satisfied.
Molly bit her lip, staring intently at the schematic on the tablet. She glanced at Aaron. “Are you sure you’re okay for this?” she said. “That seizure you had earlier wiped you out. You haven’t had time to recover—”
“I’m okay,” he said. The truth was that he still felt exhausted, like he was running on fumes. “I can hang on long enough to see this through.”
“We need to go,” Brennan said. He was staring at the dam again, his fingers tapping against his hips in a rapid, nervous rhythm. “We’re wasting time.”
“Okay,” Selena said. She took another deep breath. “I’m ready.”
Aaron and Selena didn’t talk as they walked toward the entrance to the powerhouse. He could almost feel the nervousness radiating off her; she clutched her tablet to her chest like a protective shield. To be honest, he didn’t feel much better, and he secretly wished he’d brought Molly or Carter with him. But it was too late to change plans now.
The road that led to the dam was ordinary, winding, and a little narrower than he expected. Aaron couldn’t help glancing furtively toward the trees, like he expected someone to jump out and attack them. But nothing happened, and no one challenged them, even as they walked up to the high fence across the road and halted. The fence was dark, but he could see a shadowy figure inside. Aaron hesitated a moment, and then took a few steps toward it, trying to squint it into focus. The dark shape didn’t move, and it was only when he was right next to it that he could see it was a stack of boxes, shoved up against the fence. Aaron was about to step back when he heard Selena give a tiny yelp of surprise. He turned to see Leveille, twisting her arm behind her back. He held a gun to her head.
“I ask for a hacker and you bring me a cheerleader?”
That made her mad. A flurry of sparks ran down her arm, and he jolted back as they shocked him. Before she could yank free of him, he tightened his hold, pulling her arm up until she winced.
“Look at that,” he said with a soft laugh. “I guess you were telling me the truth after all. I owe an apology to your girlfriend. Oh, and in case you have any ideas about surprising me,” he said, “I’ve got miss loudmouth rigged up next to enough explosives to blow this entire dam into the river.”
Aaron swallowed. “If all you wanted was to blow it up, what did you need us for?”
“The plan is not to blow it up,” he said, easing his grip on Selena. “But I’ll settle for it if I don’t get what I need.” He shoved her forward, but didn’t holster the weapon.
“What about the guards?” Aaron asked. “I’m not going to watch you kill anyone.”
“I’ll worry about the guards,” he said. “You two worry about doing your part.” He gestured toward the building with a broad, sweeping motion. “After you.”