Chapter Twenty-Five: Dangerous Ground

“A bridge?” Molly asked, still leaning over the spillway. Brennan stepped up  beside her, .

“You can shape the water, and I can freeze it.”

Molly looked back out over the dam. Right here, they were only an arm-span above the spill of water coming through the open gate. From her vantage on the edge of scaffolding, the fog-obscured shape of the platform where Ivy was trapped seemed even further away than it was.

“That’s going to be a ton of water,” she said, imagining the strain of holding enough water to span thirty or forty feet. “Like, literally a ton.”

“Too much to move?”

Molly shrugged. “Power’s never been my problem. Control is. I couldn’t do it for long.”

“I only need a few seconds,” Brennan said.

“What about you?” Lucia asked, looking at Brennan. “Can you pull that much heat? You always say water is—”

“I think so,” he said. “I can sink the extra heat back into the reservoir.” A nervous grin flickered across his face, and faded just as fast. “Our powers have all gotten stronger, right? Guess it’s time to see how much.”

“I still think it’s a bad idea,” Lucia said. “Even if you can make the bridge, it will be seriously dangerous. Who’s going to cross? Molly?”

“I’ll do it,” Carter said. He stared out at the spray like he was thinking about a play on the field. But despite his outward calm, his shoulders had tensed up, and his voice wasn’t completely under control when he said, “I can use my agility to cross. I should be able to keep it up, even if I have to carry her back.”

“I can’t catch you if you fall,” Molly said.

Carter swallowed. “Still better odds than jumping.”

I should be the one to go, Molly thought.  I have the best chance of not drowning if something goes wrong. And she didn’t like hanging back when someone else was in danger. She was supposed to be the hero. She was supposed to be the one jumping into danger…As much as she’d tried to deny it, that’s who she was. That was what she wanted. The adrenaline and the water only amplified that.

But she knew she wasn’t strong enough to carry Ivy back across the bridge, even with the water helping her. Carter was.

“Make sure there’s enough ice across the scaffolding to support the weight,” Brennan said, “or it will just crack apart when it freezes.” He settled beside her, crouching on the edge of the scaffolding.

“Okay,” Molly said. She planted her feet and spread her hands out toward the water, sinking into her sense of it.

For the first time she could remember, it seemed to fight back. Trying to wrestle control over the flood of water was like trying to mold a hurricane. Molly almost lost herself in the rush, but she had Lucia behind her, feeding her a steady stream of reassurance, anchoring her.

Ivy, she reminded herself. Focus on Ivy. She looked up at the dim shape of the scaffolding, barely visible through the spray, and took a deep breath. Focus on Ivy.

2501She reached toward the water spilling out of the gate, and diverted it. Instead of tumbling
down into the river, it arced up and over, spanning the distance between the two scaffolds. Once the bridge was formed, she separated it from the flow, holding the massive weight of water with her power.

“Do it now,” she said, gritting her teeth against the strain. The water wanted to move, and it went against all her instincts to hold it back. “Hurry.”

Beside her, Brennan reached out and placed both hands against the foot of her bridge. Molly felt a rush of heat around her ankles, and ice formed over the water. It spread fast, crystallizing the bridge in seconds. It was a strange feeling for Molly, as her control of the structure abruptly dissolved. She staggered back with relief.

Brennan radiated warmth as heat channeled through him into the rush of runoff cascading out of the reservoir. The he let out a grunt and said, “Go. Before it melts and I have to do that all over again.”

Cater stepped up between them, bracing himself on Brennan’s shoulder.

“I’ll try to keep as much water off you as I can,” Molly said. She laid a hand against his back. “Good luck.”

He nodded, probably too scared to speak, and started across the bridge.

* * * * *

“Are you serious?” Selena said, throwing Aaron a look of utter incredulity. “I can’t—”

“Do what you have to,” he said, deliberately. “To keep Ivy safe.”

She glowered at him a long minute, and he wasn’t sure if she’d gotten the hint or not. “Fine.” she said, “But whatever happens, it’s not my fault.” She tossed her hair back and turned toward the screen. Slowly, she started picking her way through the system. Leveille watched her, but he kept Aaron in his sight, too, the gun pressed up against his shoulder. Come on, guys, he thought. We’re running out of time.

“Stop stalling,” Leveille said. “I don’t have much patience tonight.”

“I can’t do it from here,” Selena said, frowning at the screen like she was working a difficult math problem. She tilted her head, stringing a long strand of hair through her fingers. “I’ll have to go the generator directly, look at the mechanism. Let me shut them down, and we can go—”

He grabbed her hand halfway to the keyboard.

“And draw attention when this plant stops generating power?” he said. “Sweetheart, if you’re messing with me—”

“Look, if you wanted an engineer, you should have brought one. I’m figuring this out as I go!” she said again. “But I can’t mess around with one while it’s still spinning.”

The obvious fear in her voice must have convinced him.  He dropped her arm. “Shut one down,” he said, “and we’ll go have a look.”

She turned back to control panel. After a few seconds, Aaron heard a whine from outside the room that must have been the generator winding down. “All right,” she said, scooting the chair away from the console. “I’ll have to get a good look at it before I know what to do.” She met Aaron’s eyes as she turned around, trying to give him some kind of message. What had she done? Some kind of sabotage? Or was she telling him to act?

“After you,” Leveille said, yanking Aaron through the door of the powerhouse. As Selena brushed past him, she pressed something small into his hand. A thumb drive, from the shape and weight of it. He slipped it into his pocket as he went through the door.

Selena started down the stairs to the lower floor. “You know,” she said, “If all you wanted was to sabotage these generators, I think you could have managed it with explosives. You definitely didn’t need my help getting access to the station or the control room, or getting the data you wanted. I’m starting to think you didn’t really need a hacker at all.”

Leveille didn’t respond, but Aaron thought he caught a glimpse of smugness in the mercenary’s face.

“It’s us,” Aaron said, as the revelation hit him. “Isn’t it? You did all this to get at us.”

“Right, kid. ‘Cause it’s always about you.”

“This is way too elaborate just to be… terrorism or sabotage or whatever you’re trying to do. What kind of mercenary needs to kidnap a teenage girl to do his work for him?” Maybe the disdain in his voice was finally enough to break through Leveille’s careful calm.

The mercenary eyed him coldly, and shrugged. “I was curious about what she could do. I was hoping this little stunt would draw you out, but I’d have settled for the girl, if she was what I’d thought.”

“So why the dam?” Aaron asked. “What does Avalon get out of all this?”

Leveille didn’t answer.

“Does it have to do with Lartech? With the Resson generator? You’re sabotaging it to get back at them…to hurt or discredit them… Or is this just about killing people?”

The mercenary gave him a little shove as they reached the bottom step, and Aaron glimpsed the threat of genuine anger on his composed face. “I told you, kid. You get answers after you meet her.”

“You seem pretty sure we’re coming with you,” Aaron said. “The deal was—”

“I was hoping you’d come voluntarily, but… well, one way or another, you’re going to end up meeting her.”

Selena halted in front of the idle generator and pursed her lips. “I’m not sure that’s going to contribute much to my motivation,” she said.

“You still need motivation?” he asked. Aaron felt the gun press against the base of his neck. “Stop stalling and finish the job. You have two minutes. After that, I’ll either shoot one of you or blow your sweet little friend into the river. Maybe both.”

Out of time, Aaron thought. Coming off the bottom step, he pretended to stumble. Midway into catching himself, he reached for his power, and twisted.

But even as time started to slow, a sudden, awful pain jolted through him. Every muscle in his body seized up, and his feet fell out from under him. Distantly, he heard Selena screaming something, but he couldn’t make out what.

Eventually, the pain stopped.

Aaron blinked up while the room spun around him. He was on his back, and there was something that looked like a gun pointed at his chest. No, not a gun. A taser. Leveille held it with a smirk on his face.

“Did you really think I wasn’t prepared for you?” he asked. “Guess what, kid? You telegraph.”

“Had to try,” he said. It hurt his jaw to talk, and he wondered if he’d hit it when he fell. Aaron forced his muscles to relax, despite the lingering pain from the shock trying to clench them up again. If I have a seizure right now, he might kill me.

“Yes, you did,” he said. “Which is why I didn’t kill you for it.” He tapped the taser against Aaron’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine in an hour. As long as you don’t cause trouble, I won’t hurt you again. But if you even flinch—” he rapped his knuckles against the taser. “Full strength.”

“Thought you didn’t want to kill us,” Aaron said.

“It won’t kill you,” he said. “Probably. Anyway, I still have her.” He glanced aside—at Selena, probably, but Aaron couldn’t see her.

“If you kill him, you won’t get my help,” Selena said. He didn’t hear her over the earpiece. Did that mean it was fried? He couldn’t hear any of the others, either. Was Molly coming? What would Leveille do if she burst in suddenly? He couldn’t imagine her doing it subtly. Besides, he had a gun and she had a wooden stick.

He had to get the upper hand, somehow. And fast.

“I don’t really need your help, sweetheart,” Leveille said. “As you’ve made clear. So I would advise you to cooperate.”

A long pause. Then, a very shaky, “No.”

Leveille shoved the taser into Aaron’s leg. Another wave of pain ran over him—not as bad as the first one, but bad enough. Through the ringing in his ears, he heard Selena’s panicked, “Okay! Okay!” followed by the clang of the metal panel coming open.

If I could use my power without him noticing… without clenching up, without flinching… He breathed in and out, trying to relax his muscles one at a time. Focus on breathing. He imagined the sunny afternoon in Molly’s backyard, laying in the grass and listening to her breathe. Just relax

* * * *

As much as she hated watching Carter walk into danger while she stayed behind, at least she’d do what she could to make his job easier. While Brennan concentrated on keeping the bridge as cold as he could, Molly pushed the spray and rain away from it, forming a bubble of relatively dry space around him while he walked.

At first, he inched along the bridge, holding both arms out like he was balancing on a—well, a slippery, dangerous surface, she guessed. But with each step, his movements became more confident, more agile, until he was moving along it like he was walking across a flat field of grass.

“Don’t get overconfident,” Lucia said. “You can still slip.”

“I’m okay,” Carter said back, but he slowed down.

He was halfway there, now, and it was getting much harder for her to hold back the rain from this distance. She could tell Brennan was straining, too, and despite the cold and the rain, he was actually sweating, and breathing so hard she kind of worried he was going to pass out. “A little further,” Lucia whispered, leaning in between them. “Almost there…”

“Fury,” Brennan said, gritting his teeth.

“Yeah?”

“Could you stop pushing all that anxiety on me, please? It’s kind of hard to concentrate through.”

“Oh,” Quickly, Lucia released the death grip she’d had on both their shoulders. “Sorry.”

Molly could barely see him by the time he reached the other side, but she heard his feet hit the metal, accompanied by a heavy sigh of relief. And then… “Ivy!” There was a lot of scuffling, and then a very slight, high-pitched groan. “Hey, Ivy! I’ve got her, guys. She’s here.”

“Carter?” Ivy sounded a little dazed, and her voice shook. “Carter? How did you—?”

“It’s okay,” he was saying. “I’ve got you.”

“Is she okay?” Brennan asked. “Is she—”

“She doesn’t look hurt.” More movement. “He wasn’t kidding about the explosives, though.”

“Are they armed?” Molly asked.

“I guess? I don’t know how to tell.”

“Pull out the wires,” Selena murmured. “It’s just C4.”

“You could tell that from a camera phone?” Carter asked.

“And chuck them in the river,” Lucia said. “Way, way downstream. You know, in case.”

Molly squinted across the bridge at them, like she’d be able to see what was going on. But all she got was a shadowy sense of movement, and a series of grunts over the earpiece. Then a heavier grunt, and “Hold on tight. We’re coming back across.” Soon, Molly could see them—a dark shape inching along the bridge.

2502.jpg

“Careful not to go too fast,” Molly said. “The ice is starting to melt.”

“Hold onto Ivy,” Brennan said. “She’s probably weak from—”

“I’ve got it,” Carter said. “Everyone just stop giving me advice, please.”

Molly clamped her mouth shut, even though she wanted to keep talking, to at least pretend she was helping him climb back down the bridge. She knew Carter had to sacrifice some of his agility to carry Ivy, and even with Brennan refreezing the water across the bridge, it would be wet and slippery. Carter halted as a strong gust of wind battered against them, crouching with both his hands down against the ice. On his back, Ivy clutched tighter, burying her face against his shoulder.

“You’re almost here,” Lucia said. “Just take it slow.”

Carter took another step, testing the ice, and then another, surer one. Then he slipped—skidding along the ice while he fought to hang onto Ivy and regain his balance at the same time. Ivy shrieked. On instinct, Molly flung water around the bridge, building walls like she could catch him. Luckily, Brennan recognized what she was doing—as soon as she moved, he reached out, pulling heat so fast she felt it sear her cheek.

The water froze, just in time to catch Carter as his foot slipped toward the edge. He managed to regain his balance enough to stay upright, and half-skated, half-fell the rest of the way down the bridge. Brennan and Molly caught his shoulders as he tumbled off the ice.

Brennan grabbed Ivy and pulled her into a bear hug. “Ivy,” he said. “You’re such an idiot! I told you to be careful where you looked at that stuff!”

Through a burst of hysterical tears, she managed to say, “Sorry,” and he hugged her tighter.

“You’re freezing,” he said. “Let me warm you up.”

She closed her eyes and leaned into him. “You know, when I said I was the sidekick who got kidnapped, I wasn’t being serious.”

“I know,” he said.

Lucia clapped a hand against her shoulder. “Hey, at least you got kidnapped because the bad guy thought you were useful.”

“Thanks. That’s comforting.”

Molly pressed a finger against her ear. “She’s safe,” she said. “I’m coming to back you up.”

“Molly?”

She looked back to see Ivy—looking like a half-drowned puppy in Carter’s windbreaker—staring at her with her mouth open.

“It’s Tempest tonight,” Molly said. “You all right?”

“Uh…Uh huh.” She kept staring. “Is…Is that a sword?

“It’s made of wood. Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill anyone.”

“Uh…huh.”

“She’s all right,” Lucia said. “No injuries. Mostly it’s shock and hypothermia.”

Molly squinted up the thirty feet of ladder between their platform and the top of the dam. “You go first,” Molly said. “Get her out of here. I can head back down to the station and help the others.”

“I’ll come with you,” Carter said. “You can’t fight this guy on your own.”

Molly hesitated. She knew he was right. Trying to fight a professional mercenary was insane. But Carter didn’t know how to fight, and it had every possibility of being more than a help. “Maybe you should—”

They were interrupted by a shout of pain, and Selena screaming.

“Hang on!” Molly shouted. “I’m coming.” She had to get down there, and fast. She took a quick look at the long, curved wall of the spillway. The cascade spilling through the open gates flooded into a cauldron at the bottom of the dam. Even from here, she could feel the power of it—a soup of churning, crushing runoff. Well, there was plenty of water for her to use, and it wasn’t like it was a straight drop…

Carter grabbed her arm. “No,” he said. “Don’t even think about It.”

“You don’t know what I was…”

“You were going to jump into the spillway,” he said.

Had it been that obvious? “I’ve got to get down there!”

With a glance toward the churning cauldron below, he said: “I know your powers have gotten stronger, but I think even you would drown in that.”

“I’ve got to get down there!” Molly said. “They’re running out of time. One wrong move and that psychopath will kill them both!”

“We don’t want you to die either!” Carter said. His grip on her jacket tightened. Molly glanced back at him, surprised. He looked genuinely worried. “Come on,” he said. “I’ll give you a boost.”

“A…what?”

He nodded toward the ladder. “A boost,” he said, folding his hands together and mimicking tossing something up.

Molly glanced up the wall. “That’s thirty feet,” she said.

“You’ll have to grab on as soon as you start to fall,” he said. “It’ll be wet—”

“Not a problem.” She adjusted the sword at her back and positioned herself at the foot of the ladder. “Hurry up. We’re wasting time.”

Hesitantly, he set both hands on her waist. “Ready?” When she nodded, he gave a big grunt, and hoisted her into the air.

Wind whistled by Molly’s face as she flew upward. Even the familiar presence of water all around her did nothing to lessen the sudden, instinctual panic as the rungs of the ladder hurtled past her. Focus, Molly, she told herself, keeping the top of the spillway in sight. She kept her arms tucked into her body, afraid she’d bash them into the ladder on the ascent, and focused on the top of the spillway, waiting for the moment.

Carter’s aim had been surprisingly good. A few feet from the top, she started to slow. Before she could fall, she reached out and grabbed the ladder with both arms. Her elbow hit the rung hard, and her knees slammed against the wall, but she managed to hang on. “Ow.”

“You okay?” Carter sounded genuinely worried.

“Yeah,” she said, hauling herself the last few feet up the ladder. “Good throw.” She hauled herself over the concrete wall. “Hang in there, guys. I’m on the way.”

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4 thoughts on “Chapter Twenty-Five: Dangerous Ground

  1. “as his foot slipped over the edge”
    … was about to slip over the edge? Molly built walls on the bridge, so how could his foot slip of the edge? Or do I not understand what she did?

    Thanks for the chapter! ^_^

    • I think that’s a case of my writing being imprecise. Maybe “toward” is more accurate? That’s the nice thing about being able to go back and edit, though! Thanks for reading!

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