Aaron stared through the broken window and tried to think. Lit by red emergency lights, the whole picture was mildly terrifying. Most of the glass along the wall had shattered, and he could see directly into the lab. Only one turbine had exploded, but it had flung shrapnel everywhere. A few figures lay on the ground, and he couldn’t tell if they had been killed or only knocked unconscious.
The doors along the hallway had all locked when the quarantine hit, so the only way down was through the busted window. It was a good twelve feet from the bottom of the window to the lab’s floor, and he wasn’t sure he could get down without injuring himself.
“Hey!” he called. “Hey, anyone awake down there?”
No one responded.
“Figures,” he said. “Kind of wish I was unconscious, too, now.” He inched toward the window “Well, here goes.” He kicked at the glass along the bottom frame and swept away shards with his shoe. With a guilty glance back at his mother—nothing I can do for her, not now—he crouched at the edge of the window, took a deep breath, and jumped.
There was a terrible half a second where he felt nothing but air around him. As soon as his feet hit, he rolled to the side. Well, that was the idea. It was more awkward than he expected, and it ended in a kind of freewheeling tumble that twisted his ankle under his leg.
“Ow,” he said, limping to his feet. The first body lay a couple of yards away, a dim shape at the base of the ruined turbine.
Luckily, he was still alive, and so was a second person he found not far away. Neither one was in great shape, but they were breathing. The third person Aaron found was conscious, barely. When Aaron touched her, she groaned and blinked around the dimly lit room.
“Hey, can you hear me?” Aaron asked.
The woman’s eyes focused on his face, shifting from confusion to…slightly more focused confusion. “Who are you? Why are you…?”
“I was in the hallway when the turbine exploded,” he said. “I climbed down to see if I could help.”
“Is everyone else okay?” she asked.
“They’re alive, but you’re the first one who’s responded. Can you—Are you—” He didn’t know what to ask. “Just stay still.”
“Not here yet,” Aaron said. “We’re still on lockdown. Do you, um, do you know if there’s a first aid kit…?”
“Closet…by the door…”
“Okay, all right,” he said. “Just try to relax. They’ll be here soon.”
It was a thin promise, but she nodded and closed her eyes. Aaron stood, glancing around for the closet. It took some searching. A cart thrown by the explosion had blocked the door. Luckily, it wasn’t too heavy to shove aside.
But the first aid kit was a joke: little more than a standard kit with bandages, ointment and antiseptics. Well, he’d do what he could. He went back to the first engineer, and did a sloppy job wrapping the grisly wound in his leg. A detached part of him thought he should probably feel more panicked about the situation, and probably grossed out by the smell of blood and burnt skin. But he just kept thinking through the details of his vision, and wondering why Selena hadn’t called him back. Maybe he was in a little shock himself.
And there was that awful, nagging feeling in the back of his mind, like he was still missing the important piece of the puzzle. It wasn’t just that he was worried about his mother, or feeling claustrophobic from being trapped.
He thought back on his vision, trying to sort through the jumble of images fo some clue to what he’d missed.
This would be a great time, he thought, for another vision.
He’d always thought of the visions as a side effect of his power. Messing with the flow of time left him vulnerable. But it did usually seem like something triggered them: an event, or a thought, or a person. The way that the hallway and the proximity to danger had triggered his vision upstairs.
He took off his glasses and set them carefully aside. After using his power so much recently, he would be especially susceptible. So maybe it was only a matter of focusing on the right thing. He took a steadying breath, stared hard at the busted turbines, and thought about three things.
The turbine exploding. Security quarantine. People hurt and dying.
He called up the images in his mind, focused on the sight and sound of it, the smell of burning oil and the shatter of glass overhead.
The explosion. The quarantine. People hurt.
Pain speared his temples, and he let his breath out slowly. He had to push through it.
The explosion. People dying.
He felt dizziness and a sudden, sharp pain, and then the images exploded in his head
* * * * *
As the building came into sight, Molly’s misgivings multiplied. The whole place was on lockdown. Spectators and evacuees milled through the parking lot, accompanied by a news crew and a whole legion of police cars. They’d barricaded the entrance, lighting up the bronze Lartech sign with blue and red flashes.
“They’re not letting anyone in that building,” she said, eying the line of policemen. The only good thing about the scene was that she didn’t see any smoke.
“Aaron’s in there,” Carter said, as if that settled the matter.
“The police can handle it,” Molly said. The words felt kind of weird in her mouth, but she stuck to them. “We aren’t—I’m supposed to be staying out of this kind of thing.”
Carter shrugged. “You don’t have to come.”
Selena spoke up from inside the car. “I can handle getting you in the building, and I can probably backdoor you into the quarantined area.” On the ride over, she’d set up an impressive display of electronics: half a dozen laptops, a headset, and a ton of other gadgets that Molly couldn’t identify. “I’ve been studying the blueprints, and I got a line in the security system last time.”
“Last time?” Molly said.
Carter and Selena exchanged a look. Clearly, they hadn’t told her everything. “Long story,” Carter said and glanced back at the building. “Did you get him yet?”
“No, but I’ll keep trying. As soon as I get him, I’ll let you know. Oh, that reminds me. “I’ve been working on a few other things that will make this a whole lot easier.” She rummaged in her bag. “Hang on, I think I put them down at the bottom.”
While she was looking, Brennan’s car pulled up beside them. “What are you doing here?” Lucia demanded.
“I wanted to help,” Molly said. “Aaron’s my friend, too.”
“We can use all the help we can get,” Selena said, nodding toward her laptop. The various screens showed camera footage form inside the building, but Molly couldn’t make out much more than fast-moving people. “Aaron was right about one thing—they don’t look like they’ve got this in hand.”
Lucia gave Molly a long, suspicious look, but slowly nodded. Then she shrugged, like she didn’t even care. “I guess if we’ve got a plumbing emergency, you’ve got that covered.”
The comment bothered her, but it was better than open hostility. From Lucia, it was almost a gesture of friendship.
“Okay,” Selena said, wriggling of the car. “After our last… um… trip….” She glanced at Molly. “I thought we should have a better way to keep in touch. I modified these to network with my Black Box. Keep them on and I’ll be able to talk to all of you.” She handed each of them a bluetooth earpiece.
Brennan examined it doubtfully. “Is this secure? I mean, if someone hears us talking over this…”
“It should be,” Selena said. “But I’ve never done this before. I mean, I’m good, but I’m not perfect.”
“We shouldn’t use names, then,” Molly said, fastening the device to her ear. It felt heavy and awkward.
“That’ll get confusing fast,” Carter said. He tilted his head back and forth, pressing on the earpiece with one finger.
“I thought about that,” Selena said. “I, um… I thought we could use, um… our codenames.”
“Codenames,” Brennan said flatly.
Lucia rolled her eyes.
“Like…Ivy’s codenames?” Carter said.
“Well, we all know them, and they’d be easy to remember…If you have a better idea, share it. But we’ve got to move fast. Every minute we spent out here is less time we have to help Aaron.”
“Okay,” Lucia said, “so we use our lame-ass superhero names. What about Aquagirl here? She hasn’t picked one.”
“Uh, well,” Molly said, with an embarrassed shrug. “I’ve kind of been thinking about it. Um.”
“Yeah?” Selena prompted.
“I kind of like, um, Tempest.”
“Really?” Lucia smirked. “Kind of obvious, isn’t it?”
“Remember when you were Psyche?” Brennan said.
“Yeah, shut up,” Lucia said, reddening. “Tempest is great. Let’s get this over with.”
“Okay,” Selena said.“According to the blueprints, I’ve found a side entrance that you should be able to get to. It’s locked, but it shouldn’t be a problem for me. Aaron—I mean, Farsight—said he was in the Arwell wing, which is over….here.” She showed them a diagram. “This entrance is north of there.”
“This side entrance…isn’t it going to be guarded?” Molly said.
“It’s a service entrance next to a loading dock. Lots of mundane operative stuff goes on over there. I doubt it will be a high priority right now. I’ll be able to guide you through using the blueprints and security feeds.”
“As long as you get the power back on,” Molly said.
“Yeah, there’s that,” Selena said. “I think I can do it, though.”
“You aren’t coming?” asked Carter.
“I have to be in contact with the system constantly, and with Aaron. The best way to do that is from here.”
“So long as no one get suspicious about you sitting out here in the parking lot,” Brennan said.
“I think they have bigger things to worry about,” Selena said, nodding at the barricade.
“We need to get moving,” Molly said again, glancing toward the building. The familiar rush of anticipation had already seeped through her, and Molly hoped she could keep it under control. “You can keep feeding us information as we go.”
* * * * *
Aaron was still reeling from his vision when he realized his phone was ringing. Still dazed, he fumbled for a second before managing to answer it. “Hey.”
“Finally,” Selena said. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he said, rubbing at his forehead. “What do you mean, finally?”
“I’ve been calling you for ten minutes. What happened?”
“I, uh, I had another vision. Where are you?”
“In the Lartech parking lot. The others are in their way inside. Hang on, I’ve gotta let Carter know you’re okay.” She fell silent, and he spent a moment reassessing his surroundings. Nothing seemed to have changed: everything was deathly quiet except for a distant hum that he hoped was the air conditioning.
His head felt like someone had been banging a mallet on it for the whole time he’d been out. He swallowed back a mild nausea as he stood.
“Hey,” Selena said suddenly. “Aaron?”
“I’m here,” he said, surveying the room again. Before, he thought he’d seen—there it was. “Listen, can you get the power on in here?”
“Maybe. Why? The emergency lights are on, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, they are. But I think I see a door I can get to. It’s not a security door: it’s a normal door with a keypad.”
“It’s probably to a stairwell. It won’t get you out of the quarantine.”
“I know,” he said. “I just need to get out of this room. Maybe find some help.” He didn’t like lying to her, but she might not help him if she knew what he was trying to do.
“I may not be able to get access. The security system is—”
“Okay, but I want to try. How long until you get the power on?”
“I don’t know. I’m working on it, but it’s not a simple problem. It looks like at least one the generators may have been damaged. Besides having to give the others directions every six seconds—”
“The generators are damaged? Intentionally?”
“I don’t know. Why would you say that?”
“Because—wait, did you say the others are inside?”
“Yeah. You said—”
“I didn’t tell you to break in! Tell them to get out, now.”
“What—Aaron, you said… Is there something radioactive or—”
“No,” he said. “No, nothing like that, but…” He pressed his fingers into his temples and tried to sort out what he had seen. “The accident—it wasn’t an accident. It was sabotage.”
A long silence. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“Pretty sure,” Aaron said. “The first vision I had…you remember I said there was a man in a suit…It seemed like a random detail at the time, but…I saw him on the way in. That’s what was bothering me before. But now I think he caused it. There might be more of them. I saw…gunfire, a man in a labcoat with….” He took a deep breath, and shut his eyes. “Warn them. Now.”
* * * *
Molly walked through Lartech’s basement, trying to ignore the feeling that something awful was about to happen. It had been to easy to get in, and too quiet since they had. Maybe it was that inner voice making her paranoid, but she couldn’t shake it. Selena had navigated them down into a series of sub-basement corridors, full of cement and heavy steel pipes. Molly couldn’t help but think of Lucia’s quip about plumbing.
Supposedly, this hallway connected to basement of the Arwell wing, where the quarantine was. Provided Selena could get the power on and that they could get past the security shut-offs and that there was something they could actually do once they got there…
She kind of hoped there wasn’t. The more involved she got in this, the more likely she was to escalate, and get herself—and probably the rest of them—in more trouble than she could get out of. Still, she wished she had her blue jacket and her combat boots. Feeling like Azure again might have given her a little more confidence.
“The hallway splits up here,” Carter said, peeking around the corner. “Big door on the left side and another hallway down the right. Se—uh—Codex? Which way do we go?”
“Umm….left. This corridor junctions with the Arwell wing. You’ll have to get through the security door at the end.” A silence and a brief rustling of motion. “I figured out why the power went out—it shut down automatically when the turbine exploded. Should still function; I just have to get into the system and override whatever bit of code shut it off.”
Carter had already started around the corner. The rest of them followed.
The security door was solid steel, and looked like it belonged in a bank vault, or a FBI base. An intercom and keypad lock were mounted beside the handle, but the lights above them were dark. Carter tried the door. “Locked,” he said. He took a deep breath, planted his feet, and grunted as he pushed. Metal groaned, and Molly heard a grinding and a snap as something gave away. As the door swung open, she could see the thick steel bolts that had held it shut, split apart like limbs in a storm.
“That’s not going to give us away,” Lucia said. “Wow, I wonder how that massive steel lock just happened to break open. Must have been a complete accident!”
“I can melt part of it,” Brennan said. “Make it look like explosives. Lu—I mean, ‘Fury’s right, by the way. You can’t just go around breaking stuff.”
“My family’s in there,” Carter said, shoving the door the rest of the way open. “I’m not wasting time waiting for computer magic that may not come.”
“We’ll get to them,” Lucia said, laying a hand on his arm. “We care about them, too.”
“You aren’t the only one with family in there,” Brennan said, laying his hand on the torn bolts. The metal around his fingers glowed red with heat, and warped as he poured enough heat to melt it. When he dropped his hand, it was deformed and blackened like it had been torched. “Best I can do,” he said, rubbing his arms with a shiver.
“It will have to be good enough,” Molly said, slipping into the dark room beyond. She pulled her flashlight out of her pocket and switched it on. The narrow beam showed little except concrete and plumbing. “Pretty dark in here,” she said. “Any guidance, Codex?”
The response was an abrupt: “Hang on.”
Carter and Lucia joined her, both peering down the corridor to either side. Brennan hung back, surveilling the hallway behind them.
“Finally got through,” Selena said suddenly.
“You got him? Is he okay?”
“What about …uh…I forgot his name,” Molly said.
“Farsight,” said Brennan. “What did he tell you?”
“Nothing yet, I switched over to tell you he’s okay. I’ll update you in a minute.” There was a click and silence.
They all stared into the black corridor for a long minute.
”Come on,” Carter said, pushing past them. “We can’t wait around here forever.”
Molly bit her lip. “Okay,” she said. “Slowly, though.” They crowded together behind the light, moving as a group through the narrow corridor. As they walked, Molly became aware of a new sound: a deep, rhythmic humming distinct from the sound of the pipeworks. With it came a prickling sensation, like all the hairs on her arms and legs standing up at once.
“Do you guys feel that?”
“That weird humming?” Brennan said. “I thought I was just paranoid.”
“I feel it, too,” Lucia said, rubbing her arms. “I thought I was picking up echoes or something.”
“Feels like the ground’s moving under me,” Carter murmured. “Do you think—”
“Shh—” Lucia stopped dead, her eyes wide. She pushed Molly’s flashlight aside. “There’s someone ahead,” she whispered. “Turn it off.””
Molly switched off the light hurriedly, leaving them alone in the dark. She felt a brief panic at the sudden blackness, and took a few calming breaths. It’s okay, she told herself. She couldn’t see, but she could still sense the water moving through the pipes. Molly laid her hand against one, and found the cold metal oddly reassuring.
“How many?” whispered Brennan.
“Three or four,” Lucia said. She fell silent for a moment. Molly either saw or imagined flashes of light down the hall. “Working on something, I think, but I can’t pick up much from this far away. Don’t sense any panic. Maintenance, maybe, trying to get the power on?”
“Can we move around them?” Brennan asked.
“Probably. But we can’t see them, so—” It was too dark to see her shrug, but Molly could imagine it.
Molly thought for a minute. “Heatseeker,” she said. “You can sense heat,” she said. “Can you kind of….use it as an infrared?”
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “Technically. I’ve never tried it. I’m not sure how precise it’ll be.”
“I can sense the water in the pipes,” Molly said, “but I don’t want to touch one full of steam by accident. Maybe we could lead together?”
“If we can’t do this, we have to turn back. There’s no other way to get through here in the dark.”
“All right,” he said. After a moment, she felt hands touching her arms and gripping the back of her shirt. It was a little creepy. Together, they started forward.
It was eerie, moving through the dim, damp hallways with no sounds except the scuffling of their feet against the concrete and the occasional drip of water. Occasionally, she caught the glimpse of light shining ahead.
The narrow corridor opened into a bigger room, and Brennan guided them to the side of it. “I can see them,” he whispered. “Body heat.”
“Try to move us around them,” Molly said. They skirted the edge of the room, keeping track of the unknown men by the sight of flashlights, and by Brennan and Lucia’s senses.
Then, Selena came back on. “Guys, you’ve got to get out of there. Now.”
“We’re almost through,” Carter whispered. “Some kind of maintenance crew down here, but—”
“They’re not a maintenance crew,” Selena said. “It’s— that’s not good. Guys, hide.”
Barely a second after she said the word, a low, electrical hum sounded around them. Molly couldn’t quite place the sound, until Brennan whispered, “generator.”
The lights were coming back on.
“Hide now!” Selena shouted, and they scattered. Molly grabbed someone’s arm and ducked behind the biggest clump of pipes she could find and hunkered down. The damp floor pressed cold into her knees. She heard scuffling behind her, and a very sudden, very loud clang, followed by a curse.
“Lucia,” Brennan whispered, and Molly felt someone move beside her.
“Wait!” She pulled him back, just as the lights overhead flickered to life. She, Carter and Brennan had all made it behind the cluster of pipes, but Lucia lay sprawled across the concrete floor, right under a bright fluorescent lamp.
Shouts of alarm sounded down the hall, followed by a flurry of heavy, booted feet. Before she could pick herself up, she was surrounded by a circle of soldiers dressed in black combat fatigues. Three men, one woman. All of them were armed.
Definitely not a maintenance crew.
“Hey,” one of them said. “You aren’t supposed to be here.”
* * * * *
Aaron returned to the woman he’d roused before, and shook her gently. Her eyes opened.
“Help?” she murmured.
“Not yet,” Aaron said. “Listen, do you know the code for the door over there? For the stairs?”
She just stared at him, and for a second he didn’t think she’d understood the question. Then she shook her head. “Classified.”
“I know,” he said. “But there are injured people in here. I need to go find help.”
Her eyes closed, and for a long time, she said nothing. Then: “331..68…9.”
She grabbed his shirt as he got up to leave. “You can’t go downstairs,” she said. “Not safe.”
“Okay,” he said, prying her fingers loose. “Just lie still. I’ll bring back help.”
Gently, he laid her hand over her stomach and rose to his feet, facing the door. He pressed his phone to his ear. “Selena,” he said, hoping she was still listening. “Is everyone okay? How’s the power coming?”
“Busy, Aaron,” she said, with a note of panic. “Just hang on a second!”
“Is the door going to open on emergency power?”
“What? Maybe? Wait, Aaron, what are you thinking?”
Aaron reached the door and punched the code into the keypad. A green light flashed and the door clicked open. “There’s someone downstairs about to blow a hole in Dr. Haley’s lab,” he said as he stepped into the stairwell. “And I’m going to stop him.”