“You go on ahead,” I grunted, summoning all of my strength to toss her across the room. She crashed through the fire stairs door. Close enough. “I’ll take care of this clown, then catch up with you!”
She didn’t respond to that. Just took off. That was fine. Wasn’t exactly in the mood for conversation.
Electrified spikes? Not a bad tactic, I had to admit. Might have even worked, if he hadn’t already played his hand by equipping street thugs with a similar design. Should’ve been more creative. I’d already made sure my body could channel excess electricity into a safe outlet.
The poor boy twitching at my feet clearly didn’t have the same advantage. He was already done. Not that it mattered, the temporary boost he got from Zoe’s blood would burn up within minutes. They couldn’t have collected that much, and I doubted they’d waste it all on an untrained brat like him.
Still, it had gotten rid of Sabrina, and that was what I needed. By the time she got all the way up to his office, he’d be long gone. There’d probably be a trap waiting for Sabrina. Not my concern.
I’d already done the math. His only escape from that office was with Miss Murder’s blinking. Her range was limited, and she needed to reorient herself before teleporting again. Given the limited time frame before her needing to be back to ambush Sabrina, she’d only be able to get him a short distance away. There was only one building that made sense.
I left the boy twitching and convulsing on the floor. He might follow later, but he’d already proven he wasn’t a threat. No instinct, no fighting experience. Not a problem.
The second I left the building, I felt a dozen weapons pointed at me. Reinforcements. God, but he was annoying.
“I don’t have time for this,” I muttered.
A dozen thugs, all armed. I had approximately zero time for their shit, but they weren’t exactly going to let me just walk away. Time to weigh up the risks.
My clothing would protect most of my body from bullets. There’d be bruising, but nothing I couldn’t handle. The only place I was vulnerable was my head. Even there, bullets would rip up the skin and muscle, but wouldn’t penetrate bone. Unless they hit my eyes, the damage would only be cosmetic.
I could cover my face with my arm and run, but I didn’t want them on my tail when I confronted him. The damned floor spikes had ruined the propulsion systems in my boots, so that wasn’t an option.
Had to take them out.
Killing them would be so much easier. Physically, at least. Emotionally, I wasn’t comfortable with it. They didn’t deserve to die. But disabling them was a lot more work.
Inventory. I had a flashbang, two foam grenades, my shock baton, a shock gauntlet, a pistol with non-lethal rounds, a small supply of plastic ties, Miss Murder’s knife and an untested venom dart gun. Theoretically, that one would induce a process that mimicked that of Zoe’s blood, but in reverse, making them weak and close to useless, temporarily. Unfortunately, my abilities as a tinker were limited when it came to biochemistry, and I wasn’t entirely certain how accurate my formula was.
One arm in front of my face, I ran into the nearest cluster of thugs. I had very little time to put them all down. No pulling punches.
Stun baton to the throat. One down. Draw the pistol, two headshots. Probable concussions, but they’ll live. Three down. Trip the next up with the baton, kick them in the side of the head. Four down.
Drop the baton, throw a foam grenade. Two more headshots, then the grenade explodes, catching three in the blast. Nine down.
A hail of bullets hits me in the back, staggers me. Drop the pistol, vault over cover. Punch to the sternum, enough force to crack ribs. Ten down. Grab their gun, snap it in half. Twist their arms behind their back, tie their wrists. Eleven down. Shove them into the last remaining thug, gauntlet to the face, deliver a strong charge.
No time to waste.
I ran towards the building I’d marked off beforehand. Motion sensors I’d planted confirmed something was happening there, but that was as much as I’d been able to set up. It was enough.
It was possible he’d set another trap, but paranoid as he was, I didn’t think he was that prepared. Not for this.
I crashed through the entrance, disregarding subtlety entirely. He was no threat to me, and he had nowhere to go. Better to intimidate than to surprise.
He was waiting for me, still in his chair, a pained expression on his face. Haylie was nowhere to be seen. It was annoying that he’d already found time to stash her, but I could beat the information out of him if I had to. I wouldn’t torture his thugs, but him? He deserved it.
“It’s good to see you again, Rachel.”
“You’re awfully chipper for someone who’s about to get flayed alive,” I snapped. “Where’s Haylie?”
“Right behind you,” he said, smirking.
I whirled around, and clichéd as it was, she really was standing right behind me. How long had he been waiting to pull that trick?
More importantly, she was awake. That changed everything.
She was beautiful, with long, wavy red hair, fair skin, and a smattering of freckles. Her eyes were yellow, almost luminescent, and just slightly vacant. She was taller than me, but not by much. Dark jeans, combat boots, a white shirt, all kind of worn and dirty.
Just one look at her set my mind ablaze. Concepts, ideas, schematics and blueprints formed in my head, distracting, disrupting. Stop.
“You’re awake,” I said, nearly stumbling over my words.
“I’m alive,” she corrected, though I didn’t understand the distinction. Surprisingly, her accent sounded American. Gabriel and Zoe had British accents, Ami’s was… surprisingly neutral. I could never pick it.
I didn’t know anything about her. I didn’t know what she wanted, or who she was. I knew she was dangerous, but not if she was a threat.
“I’m honoured to meet you,” I said carefully.
“Are you,” she replied, no question in her tone.
“A lot of people have been looking for you, you know.”
“I don’t. And I don’t particularly care.”
There was no life in her. She seemed half-baked, distant, unfocussed. It was disappointing, but it also seemed wrong. Like she wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not that I had any idea what she was supposed to be like…
“What do you care about?”
“I haven’t worked that out yet,” she said. “I might have a better idea after killing you.”
“Why do you want to kill me?” I asked, feeling a pang of genuine fear. She was an unknown, a potential enemy I knew nothing about. The small fragments of data I did have suggested I probably didn’t stand a chance.
“Because he wants you dead.”
I glanced back over my shoulder. The satisfied, smug look on his face made it really difficult to resist the urge to punch him.
I had to resist, though. Haylie seemed to have latched onto him, and I needed to know why if there was any chance of detaching her from him. Until then, if she was protecting him, he was far less vulnerable than I thought.
“You should have joined me when you had the chance, Rachel,” he said.
Haylie reacted to that. Her fists clenched, and her body weight shifted. Crap. Did I upset her-
She hit me before I had a chance to brace myself. The impact sent me flying across the room, right over the Celestial’s head. I slammed against the wall, and she was already right there in front of me, her expression still completely blank.
Her next hit threw me sideways, the shock resonating through my entire body. If not for my reinforced skeleton, I’d have been borderline liquefied by that. She hit harder than Zoe or Sabrina could. And she was every bit as fast. That was intimidating.
I was ready for the next blow. I managed to block it, absorbing the force of it and counterattacking with Miss Murder’s knife. The blade didn’t even pierce her skin. Her fingers wrapped around my throat, and she tossed me across the room again.
“Stop playing with her, Haylie,” the Celestial ordered. “Just kill her.”
“Your wish is my command,” she replied.
She began walking towards me, her expression completely neutral. Her right arm stretched out, and the air beyond her hand began to shimmer and warp, forming the shape of a blade, barely visible.
Panic flooded my system. My tinker brain was already analysing what I was seeing, and though I didn’t fully understand it, I knew that blade was dangerous.
She swung at me, and I hurled myself sideways, out of the way. I wasn’t fast enough. The blade sliced right through my left arm, completely severing it at the elbow. Even my reinforced skeleton didn’t offer any resistance.
I screamed, and scrambled backwards, holding the stump of my elbow. She attacked again, but something knocked her out of the air, throwing her backwards. She recovered quickly, but her assailant was already dashing towards me.
Zoe picked me up with one arm, and carried me out of the room. She moved quickly, bouncing between buildings, staying away from street level. Haylie didn’t follow.
We didn’t slow down until we reached her base, our home. She dropped me gently onto a bed, took one look at my arm, and swore.
I glanced down. The wound had cauterised, which was probably good for me, but it was a horrific sight.
“Thank you,” I said, looking up at her.
“Any time,” she replied.
“Where’s Sabrina?” I asked.
“Here,” Sabrina said, entering the room. She looked a little shell-shocked, but her expression turned soft when she saw my arm. “What happened?”
“Haylie’s awake,” I said.
“We’re in a lot of trouble,” Zoe said.
Next Week: She Was The First Voice I Ever Heard