In the end, we’d earned the hospitality shown us, not through hard work but by the books that I’d been given. Homesteader’s Chemistry had how to make more than just chemicals, and had tips on how to keep one alive and healthy. The two homesteading books and the cookbook also provided a host of ways to help them. As it turned out, the reason why most crops they tried to grow failed was probably because of the pH of the soil.
John and Kathy took the lead on explaining things to folks, but most of the people 40 or older picked up on what they were saying pretty quickly. I took a group further inland to show them where to find stinging nettles. Until they could get some seed, that alone should help them keep their vitamin C levels up higher, since Franklin wasn’t growing enough cabbage to be able to feed everyone.
Emi helped in her own way, coming up with foods that she’d used to keep herself alive when she’d been stuck in the wild and asking me what their nutritional benefits were. I explained as best I could, and people seemed to take note of everything that we discussed.
Brenda… napped a lot. To be honest, I was envious.
It wasn’t their fault that they weren’t educated in this sort of thing. A lot of people had experienced difficulties like these. Folks could keep a garden before Gold Morning, but most people had no idea how much food was really needed to keep someone comfortable throughout the winter, where the right places to plant what crops were, how to live off the land.
They hadn’t been prepared for the hardships that such a thing offered. All that they’d known was that their urban lives were shattered, and they needed to look for something new. I’d never really understood it, but St. Louis had opened my eyes a little. People had been soft because the world that they lived in allowed it, encouraged it. The stores all over the place granted them the ability to not worry about things that we had to.
The people who were teens and adults during Gold Morning weren’t to blame for their ignorance. But how many had died as they relearned those necessary skills?
We’d left Horizon four days ago. They didn’t have much to give us as thanks for what we’d given them, but that was fine. Cool, even. It gave me a better feeling about my new companions; they hadn’t asked for anything, didn’t seem disappointed in us not getting a reward. We’d helped because people needed it, and now were moving on.
We’d spent another day at Hope, the village that Haven traded with, before we finally were able to catch a carriage to a proper city of a couple thousand people. Even more importantly, we were able to buy electricity, enough to completely recharge my teleporter.
“I’m going to miss hot showers,” Brenda said wistfully as we exited the gate.
“We’ll have them again soon,” Kathy said happily. She waited a few minutes for us to pull away from the gate before looking to me. “Are you sure that you can get s there?”
“Cranston was one of the destinations in the manual,” I said with a nod. “I memorized all of the coordinates.” I paused a moment. “But it should get us there.”
“Should,” John repeated, looking at me.
“Yeah, well. See, it’s Tinker tech. I’d like to get it looked at regularly, checked out, see if it needs any maintenance. The more you use Tinker tech, the more that it can mess up on you. You gotta do regular maintenance to it, to make sure it doesn’t do something funky to you.”
“Huh.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Okay, then after this job, I have a suggestion as to where we should go.”
“And I’m right with you on that one,” Kathy cut in. “Hit up Habib?”
John’s face split into a grin. “You read my mind.”
“Hey,” Emi said indignantly. “Aren’t we gonna vote on this?”
Kathy shook her head. “Normally? Yeah, I’d totally open us up to a vote.” She looked at me. “You said you used that teleporter a few times before we met up with you.”
“Yeah, three. Plus, I spent months without getting a tune up.”
“Exactly.” She looked back at Kathy. “Habib works with a fence that we’ve used on occasion, and we never shit where we sleep. He also hired us once to get some designs from another Tinker. We’ve got a good relationship, and if we’re going to use that thing two more times, I’d rather get it looked at ASAP.”
“It’s a good idea,” I added. “Remember what happened to me with Agamemnon?”
Emi frowned. “You… cut a huge-ass chunk out of it?”
Oh, right. They didn’t know. “My teleporter malfunctioned and cut me into a bunch of pieces before it took that chunk out.”
“Suddenly not feeling so confident about the Tinker tech,” Brenda said quietly.
“It’s fine,” I said reassuringly. “Two more won’t hurt.” I wasn’t completely sure about that, though, but I was willing to fake it. “Anyway, I’ll teleport us a good distance away from Cranston, but I can’t be sure where we’ll end up. Might be in a field, it might be in a river, or even underground. I don’t know the exact elevation of the countryside.”
“Do we have to use the thing that might kill us?” Brenda asked.
“It’s fine,” Emi said. “If he’s confident, I’m confident.” As if to emphasize it, she gave me a gentle shove.
“So,” I said slowly, “what’s the plan?”
Kathy spoke slowly. “You’ll put on your helmet before we teleport. I didn’t see any pictures of you with a helmet on, so that should help. We’ll keep up the routine of you being Emi’s brother.”
“Takada,” I said with a nod.
“We’ll use that name again, yeah. We usually change what names we go by from place to place, because it helps keep heat off of us, but at least once more should be good. Anyway, I wish that we could do something to hide your halberd. It’d make things easier.”
“Oh.” I quickly disconnected the lower portion, sliding it through my belt loop. After a moment, I disconnected the second section. Tucking that section under my arm, I carefully grabbed the head by the blunt back where the hammer or spike would be in normal halberds.
“Hold this a sec,” I said, offering the section that could be used as a grip to John. He grabbed it and tugged, but I didn’t let go. “Say thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I let go of the weapon before turning my attention to the shaft section. I brought it around my back so that I could grip it, one hand above the pack and one below. It took a couple of tries, but I finally felt it snap into place.
I’d noticed that the pack had a different design from my last one, and had spent the couple of nights we’d had in the wilderness to study it while I was pulling the night shift. I was glad that none of them knew to ask how long it had taken me to figure it out. It was kind of embarrassing.
The shaft put the balance off a little bit, and it would be awkward if I tried to keep it during a fight, but it was handy. Good for if I needed my hands, too. I motioned to John, and he offered me weapon head, blunt side up. I forced myself to relax before wrapping my hand around it. “Thank—”
He let go immediately, almost making me drop it. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“Uh…” When I opened my eyes back up, everyone had given me a little clearance. “Did I do something wrong?”
Crap. “Sorry,” I said with a sigh. “I’m kind of anal about that sort of thing.” Except when I forgot, which was known to happen. “When you hand someone a weapon, always wait for them to say ‘thank you.’ Full words. That’s to let you know that they have the weapon. The proper reply is ‘you’re welcome,’ to let them know that you’re letting go.
“My halberd blade and the knife on my chest are both sharp enough that you won’t feel a cut when if happens. You have to be extra careful with them. For your own safety, and mine, please. Thank you, and you’re welcome.”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding slowly. “I getcha.”
“Wait,” Kathy said, squinting at me. “How does that work? When I get cut, I sure as fuck feel it.”
“Sharpness,” Brenda said, making us all look at her. “All metal has barbs on it on some levels. Most cuts actually tear the flesh. Only some things, like obsidian, are sharp enough to actually cut. True cuts are painless. You might feel the pressure, but not the cut until air hits it. Depending on the cut, maybe not even then.”
We all stared at her in silence. Even with her eyes covered by a strip of black cloth, she must have known as her face broke into a smile. “The cult that I was part of was big on education. There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t know, but I did pick up a lot of things.”
“Huh,” John said softly.
“Your blade must be Tinker tech,” Brenda continued. “Like your armor.”
“They aren’t,” I clarified. “I mean, that’s the theory, anyway. Otherwise, Emi wouldn’t have been able to help sew my armor together. No, it’s the process to make them that’s Tinker tech. The stuff that Chris makes isn’t nearly as sensitive or hard to repair as Tinker tech.”
“Anyway,” Kathy interrupted, an exasperated tone to her voice. “Yeah, that works a lot better. I’m guessing that you can’t attach it to your belt or anything?”
“No,” I admitted. “And I wouldn’t want to. Heck, even like this, I wish I had some way to make sure that I don’t accidentally hurt one of you.”
“Something for us to look into,” she said. “Anyway. When we get to where we’re going, we set up shop at a hotel. Jordan, you and Brenda stay at your rooms, keep each other company. John, Emi and I will do a bit of scouting, try to find a little more information on our marks. We have some walkie talkies we’ll use to keep in contact.”
“Wait,” I said quickly. “Walkie talkies?”
“Yeah, the kind with ear buds and a mic.”
I rubbed at my armored neck. “I… don’t think that’ll work. Once I put my helmet on, that seal is pretty tight.”
“You didn’t notice that jack on your belt?” Emi asked with a cheshire grin. The small metal hole right above where my belt rested? My hand went to it, and she nodded. “I talked Chris into putting that in. Plug a walkie talkie in, and it ties directly into your helmet. I told him that if he was planning on selling the armor to the Dragon’s Teeth some day, he needed to think about stuff that they’d need. And if they could find a use for it, well, you could too.”
“Huh,” I said, nodding slowly. “That’s… actually really good thinking. Good job!”
She positively beamed at that.
John interrupted. “We’re out of sight of the village. Why don’t you get your helmet on now, then get us there?”
“There’s lots of kinds of cons. There’s the slow kind, which takes a lot of time. Usually, those have the biggest payoffs, but also the greatest risks when the gig is up. There’s super quick ones, simple misdirections that let you nab your target’s wallet or something. Little reward, but you don’t get too familiar with your mark. When they only see you for a moment, your features don’t stand out as well, giving you a chance to get away.
“There’s the Kansas City Shuffle, which goes by so many names now it isn’t funny. Your mark is aware that they’re going to be scammed somehow, but you use their own confidence in that knowledge to maniuplate them. They’re look right while you go left, so to speak.”
“Please, just… Just listen to me. I have money, as much as you want, but please, I need to leave, right now.”
I stared at the door, my suit’s cooling element kicking into effect. It wasn’t even that hot out.
“Then there’s the pig in a poke. Offer someone something for sale that they can’t see right then and there, get their money from them, when in reality you’re selling them something worthless. It’s a classic con, old as time, but it’s a great way to get a broken nose, or worse.
“Faking an injury in a situation, like getting hit by a car but rolling with it so you don’t get hurt, could often get a good deal of money back in the day. The mark doesn’t want to deal with the insurance, or maybe the hit on their reputation, and will gladly fork over cash to keep the person silent. Or they’d let it go to insurance, sometimes with the help of a doctor, for a nice fat settlement.
“Not as common or popular these days, for obvious reasons.”
“No, no. They say you can move anything at a moment’s notice. I need that. Right here, right now.”
I really, really wanted to throw up. Somehow, my gut managed to both feel churning and like a lead ball had settled into it at the same time. My pits felt damp, and I couldn’t grip my halberd tight enough.
John sighed in my ear. “I’ve salted mines for folks. Get my mitts on on some precious gems or raw metal ores to make a mine seem valuable when it isn’t. I’m really not proud of that. And black money? More trouble than it’s worth in the end. Especially in areas that only use coins.
“I’ve even done the badger game, putting people in compromising positions and then demanding money for their silence. Both sides of it. Don’t ask. It’s harder for me than it used to be, especially with photos being harder to come by these days.
“But the thing is, once you understand a con, how it works, it becomes increasingly easier to modify and adapt. With but a little thought, you can quickly adapt them in new ways.”
“Oh, God, I didn’t even know back then. He was just… so cool, so calm, but… It’s all an act, right? It’s… It’s just an act, and now I have to get gone. As far away as possible!”
“Almost the only people with the money to scam, though, fall into two groups. The people of position within a city and the criminals. The people of position, while they may live lives of luxury that those in a city can only dream bitterly of, they have the ability to make those same people suffer in order to regain their wealth. And it makes it harder to return to that same city.
“Fortunately, we have the solution now. Just remember, stick to the script, just like we practiced, and everything will be fine. We’ll support you the entire time. We got this.”
“The Butcher’s coming for me, please! Jordan wants me!”
“That’s our cue,” Kathy said next to me as her fist melodically rapped on the door.
I tapped my helmet, but I couldn’t see any difference like this. From the inside, there was no difference as it became invisible. It didn’t matter, though. I just had to stick to the plan. That thought felt horribly familiar.
Footsteps on the other side. I took a half-step back, tightening my muscles as I focused on the door handle. The moment that the slide in the door started to move so that the person behind it could peek out, I lunged forward, the heel of my foot connecting just next to the lock with all of my force and momentum. The doorframe splintered as the door slammed into the person behind it, sending him sprawling.
If anybody else was looking, they would have seen me stumble and nearly fall on my face. I wasn’t expecting the doorframe to be that weak. Slamming into it with my shoulder might have looked cooler, but was an excellent way to dislocate my shoulder. That was significantly less cool and manly than a stumble.
The man on the ground had a gun in his hand, but I had my halberd in his face faster than he could recover. It only took a moment of looking at the spear point of the weapon to let go of his, raising his hands slightly in defeat. Kathy moved quickly, taking the pistol from the ground and pointing it at him.
Ugh, her form was terrible. One-handed, cocked to the side like that. I’d have to teach her how to properly use one.
As I began to move further into the building, Brenda’s voice whispered from the earpiece in my helmet. “Gunshots in five.”
“I wouldn’t shoot if I were you!” My voice was a little deeper than normal, more aggressive. I wasn’t worried about volume — from what the three of them told me, locals ignored any noises that came from this building.
“Or you can take the ones that don’t,” Brenda said hastily. “That’s fine.”
By the time that I rounded the corner, there were three guns trained on me. Two women, two men, plus Emi. One of the women was dressed in a skirt and top that… well, it was really impractical for pretty much anything. It wasn’t that it exposed too much flesh, it was that it hampered her mobility. She was sitting on an elevated chair in the back of the room, looking down at everyone.
The other three were dressed more plainly. Thugs, goons. They were the people who did things for the woman in the back. Worth paying attention to, in case they did something stupid, but the woman was my main concern. John and Kathy had told me her name, but I couldn’t recall it offhand.
Emi was standing between the two men. Standard intimidation tactic. They were taller, bigger, more imposing. Not that it mattered.
The room was far more ornate than the outside or shoddy door suggested. Finely crafted tables, rich tapestries, and even thick carpet adorned the room. All of them had an Asian touch, by the arrangement of the characters on one of the tapestries, Chinese. The woman had turned it into her den, where she could lord her money and power over those that came to her, while still being close to where the drugs were made.
It all locked into my head in less than a second. I didn’t need any more than that. Tables for Emi and Kathy to use as cover if need be, but I could take out these three easy enough if they were relying on guns. A Beretta 92F, a SIG-Sauer P226, and the woman had what looked like a kitbashed SMG. My guess was that the plastics had degraded through poor handling and had been shoddily replaced with metal. Still, if I had to guess, I’d say that it was probably a MP9 variant of some sort. 9x19mm ammunition for all of the weapons that I could see — with how thick the oak tables were, they’d provide adequate cover.
“Pet,” I barked, pointing next to me. Immediately Emi appeared by my side, making the two men stagger a little. Good.
The woman in the chair shifted slightly, staring at us. Acting like she was in control of the situation. “I don’t remember inviting you…” Her accent was odd. It sounded Asian, but there was something off about it.
I ignored her, turning to Emi. “Explain.”
“Th-they were m-making me an offer,” she stammered quickly. “I was gonna tell you, let you know. Honest! I swear!”
“Curious,” John’s voice whispered in my ear.
“Curious,” I repeated, trying to get the tone right. I turned to look at the seated woman. “And why were you making her an offer, specifically? Trying to rat me out?”
The woman wasn’t trying to lounge so intently now. We’d rattled her a little. “I’m afraid that your little… pet… is lying to you. I don’t even know who you are.”
“Insulted,” John said. “You don’t believe it.”
I let out a bark of laughter, looking from Emi, then back to the woman. “Oh, she wouldn’t be that stupid. Who are you, anyway?”
There was a pause before she spoke. “You can call me Jade.”
Right, that was it. Jade Liu, parahuman whose powers made her effective at the production of drugs. Striker, but they didn’t have details. Just in case, I’d better not let her touch me. According to John, she played herself up like she was a former member of the CIU, but she was Chinese American from… I forgot what Earth.
“And I’m Jordan.”
That got a sudden bark of laughter out of her. “Do you really expect me to believe that? Oh, you can have the armor, have the weapon, but… Really. Jordan?”
“Play it cool,” John said. I tilted my head to the side, raising an eyebrow. “Keep to the script, just like we practiced.”
Not that it was helping my gut calm down any. I really didn’t want to vomit into my helmet.
“So, Pet here says that you’re making an offer. You say that she’s lying.” I paused for a moment, trying to look thoughtful. “I think I’m going to go with her story.”
“Right,” she said, drawing the word out. She wasn’t buying it. “Well, then, you have her back. Why don’t you just run along now?”
Nothing from John. Dang. “I don’t think so. You tried to take from me what’s mine, and I don’t like that very much.”
“Two down,” Brenda whispered over the communications. “Some of the workers tried coming out the back. Got their guns.”
“Use it,” John said. “Comment on their weapons.”
I between the goons, nodding a little. “9mm parabellum, all three. Smart, keeps the need for different kinds of ammo down. Not so handy against most wildlings; but many pistols aren’t. Worthless against many Brutes, too. Still, it’s a good round against most human targets.
“Though, that one-handed thing? Pathetic.” I looked up at Jade. “The three that we’ve already collected are ours now. Tax for not opening the door, and for your people trying to run.”
That got a reaction out of her. She rose from her chair, trying to look dignified. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. They tried to run, so my girl at the back door had to teach them manners. You don’t leave without excusing yourself.” Was I the only one who heard that tremble in my voice? I was messing this up, wasn’t I? “It can start to repay my time being wasted like this.”
“Good. You’re doing good. Keep it up.”
Jade’s face formed into a hard frown. “What do you want?”
“Go grand, like we talked about. Gusto is better than what’s actually said.”
I took a breath. Here goes nothing…
“You know, you have one bad day. One! Things go sour fast, and then the next thing that you know, you’re up to your groin in corpses. I don’t even know why they let me into Fairfax, seriously. We had a few drinks, we had some fun, and one thing leads to another, and everyone’s dead. Every man, every woman. Dead. The people I liked, the people who disrespected me, it doesn’t matter, they’re dead.”
I spread my arms. “And you know, it opened my eyes! All of this? All of it! It’s a farce! Scion’s already killed us all, we just don’t know it yet! That’s the nature of the beast, see? So long as one person has been to Bet, picked up a passenger, eventually everyone in that reality is gonna be killed some day. Oh, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. Passengers don’t bring peace, they bring nothing but death.
“Here we are, plodding along, saying to ourselves, we’re gonna make it. Tomorrow actually means something. How pathetic is that?”
“So what?” one of the goons asked. “Are you becoming the next Jack Slash or some-”
He didn’t have time to finish. His gun went off as I slammed into him, my armor hardening for a brief second as I was draging him to the ground. One of my hands pinned it to the carpet as my other began slamming into his face repeatedly. It wasn’t for a few moments that my rage cleared enough that I could hear the words coming out of my mouth.
“Say it again! Say it! Open your big fat mouth and say it!” I wrenched the gun free from his hand and tossed it away. The fucker was still struggling beneath me, one hand bouncing off my helmet, so I put my hands on either side of his head. My middle fingers dug into the hollow under his ears, and my thumbs pressed against his eyes.
“Say it! Give me one reason to string you up and burn this whole town down! Let you watch the flame come to you! Compare me to that pathetic waste again! I dare you! Do it!”
“I’m sorry!” the goon howled in pain. “I’m… I’m sorry! I’m stupid! My mouth says shit and I don’t know what I’m saying half the time! I… I didn’t mean it! I swear, I’m sorry!”
His nose was bleeding. Funny how that brought some sanity back to my head. It made my breathing slow as I took in more. There was a tooth missing in his mouth, and red was staining the rest. Right. Right.
“Don’t get up,” I seethed. “Dong ma?”
The man didn’t say anything, only making pained noises as I forced my hands off of his head and slowly lifted my knee out of his groin. When had I done that? And where was my halberd?
It didn’t matter. I was way off script. I’d so screwed this up. “Don’t curl up,” I said softly, as he ignored my advice. “Breathe from the gut. It helps.”
Slowly, I made my way to my feet, looking at the others as I found my calm again. The goons were putting on a brave face, ready to empty their guns into me. The woman seemed more hesitant, though, eying me suspiciously.
“Sorry,” I said, taking a deep breath. “I forgot what I was saying. My weapon, please.”
Emi hurried, grabbing it from where I’d dropped it and handing it to me. The two goons were reacting, though; they wanted to be anywhere but here.
“Jordan,” Jade said softly, drawing my attention. That, apparently rattled her. “You’ll have to forgive me for not believing it was you.”
“Accept her apology,” John whispered.
I offered her a smile, surprised by how easily it came after that outburst. “I can understand that. How are you to know? I don’t have the scars any more, so it’s understandable.”
“Tell her how you lost the scars,” came Brenda’s voice over the radio.
“You do look different,” Jade said cautiously.
“Bonesaw worked on me after Agamemnon.” I paused, and it hit me exactly what Brenda had wanted me to say. “The whole works. New skin, new organs, implants all over the place… I was apparently under the knife for quite some time. I think she enjoyed it.”
The best part was that it was all the truth. Well, I hoped she enjoyed it. Riley deserved a little happiness now and then with how hard she worked.
“Okay,” John said quickly. “This is good, very good.” Jade was saying something, but I couldn’t make it out over John’s talking. “Here’s what you do. Demand reparations.”
Reparations? How was I supposed to do that?
“Listen,” I said, raising a hand to silence Jade, closing my eyes. I had a moment. What to do? What to say? If I were a scary and dangerous guy, what would I do? What would someone like that in one of Sarah’s stories say?
“When I came here, I just wanted what belonged to me back. I still want what’s mine. When I walked in here, I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I was willing to listen. Even if you were trying to steal her away from me, I could work with that.”
“All the cookers are taken care of,” Brenda said over the mic. “Stall, I’ll get the safe.”
Stall? Safe? Weren’t we…? No, don’t think, keep talking. Say anything, no matter how stupid it sounded.
“I mean, in… In the end, I can’t blame you for trying to steal her. Everyone wants quality people working for them. And I have spent all winter training her. She’s not as good as her…” I looked over my shoulder at Kathy, then back to Jade. “But still. Quality goods.”
Jade gave me a wide smile. “Thank you, Jordan. I’m glad to see that you’re a rational man.”
I chuckled a little. “Rational. I’ve always found it odd when people say that. There’s nothing rational about the life that I lead. People don’t seek out violence because it’s rational. If humans were rational creatures, there wouldn’t be a need for violence. We would talk our way through conflict. I never would have become a mercenary, because there wouldn’t be a need.”
I looked her in the eyes. “People wouldn’t need drugs, either.”
Jade shrugged a little. “It’s only rational that people want to feel good. And if their circumstances won’t allow that normally, they’ll have to seek it out from another source. And it’s only rational that someone would have to provide those sources.”
Oh, good counter. My mind raced, but the only philosophy that I was good at involved fighting. I still disagreed, but if I couldn’t argue it, it wouldn’t make for good stalling. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it is rational, in a way.
“But, like I said, the life that I lead isn’t rational. The drugs I’m told are here don’t interest me. They’re… a distraction, and I get my kicks from a more…” I looked down at the man on the ground who was finally starting to get himself sorted. “…physical persuasion.” I looked back to Emi, then to Jade.
Now she was smiling widely. “I can understand that.”
“Can you? Can you understand being completely surrounded by wildlings, plotting out each action in the span of a single breath, so that if they rip out your throat, you can still take it down? The thrill of the fight, the rush of victory? Or is there a part of you, deep down that you don’t dare to admit to, that’s restless. You have your meager little empire, but there’s a part of you that longs for more.”
Jade’s smile faded a little. “Don’t psychoanalyze me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” I smiled broadly. Just keep smiling, act like you have the slightest idea what you’re saying. “But I didn’t come here to be insulted. By him, by you, by everyone here. Including the idiots who are still pointing guns at me!” Why was I suddenly shouting?
The two goons, thankfully, took the hint and lowered their weapons.
“Got it,” Brenda said quickly in my earpiece. “Enough to keep us happy for at least a week.”
John’s voice was transmitted quickly behind her. “Good. Destroy the drugs that you can and get out. Jordan, you’re doing great, keep it up.”
“Thank you,” I said, both to the goons and to John.
“I’m very sorry about that,” Jade said. “I’ll have to teach them some manners.”
“Yeah, you will. But that’s besides the point. I’m going to take what’s owed, and you’re going to repay me for my kindness.” Jade said nothing, so with a shrug, I continued. “You’re going to pass along the word, to anyone who will listen. I’m active. I’m looking for something in particular. If people don’t cross me, don’t jerk me around, I have no problems playing nice. But if people cross me, I’ll tear them limb from limb.
“Are we copacetic?”
“Yeah,” she said quietly. “I’ve got you.”
“Cool.” I flashed her a bright smile as I moved to where I’d tossed the pistol. Picking it up, I tested the heft. It wasn’t the best, but it’d do. “I’m going to keep—”
“I’m out,” Brenda said over the radio.
“—what I’ve taken. And if you come after me…”
I turned on my heel and marched for the hallway leading out. Wordlessly, Kathy and Emi followed. There was no sign of the guy that I’d busted up on the way in. He’d probably run the moment we’d given him the chance. Really, that might have been the best for him.
We paused outside, looking up. It didn’t take John long to climb down from the roof — my guess was that he’d lowered his density to help. That was fine, whatever. As soon as he was on the ground, the four or us headed for the park in town. The entire way, we were all silent. Unlike me and might rigidly straight back, though, the others had a bounce in their step and grins on their faces.
Brenda was leaning against a tree, the cloth covering her eyes once again. By how her shoulders were hunched and she was leaning her head forward, it must have been killing her. I’d have to do something nice to make up for it.
Kathy hurried ahead to help her to the spot we’d chosen — plenty of grass, no trees or buildings. I’d insisted on it. We’d already stashed our bags there, and John hurried to grab them, then slowly lumbered back towards us. I waited until I was absolutely sure that he was close enough before opening the control panel on the teleporter and hitting the button.
Almost immediately, Emi let out a whoop and jumped into the air. “That was awesome! Quick, direct, and did you see the look on their faces when you smiled at them?”
Slowly, I moved a hand to push up my faceplate.
“Gotta admit, Jordan.” John reached out and clapped me on the shoulder…
And I threw up.