As Lance wiped his face Paragon took him by the arm and steered him to the freeway’s median. “What did you think you were doing?” He held up the jetpack. “Where did you even
Lance swallowed. “The guy you were chasing earlier, the guy in the car? He had a briefcase. There was an address and a keycard. It was a warehouse. I, uh . . .” Lance looked down at his feet. He had never felt so ashamed. “I thought there might be something there I could sell. I broke in, found the jetpack. But they came back. I made a run for it, but they shot at me.” He pointed to the bullet-hole in the back of the jetpack. “I was on the bike when it happened. I couldn’t turn it off.”
Paragon shook his head slowly. “Unbelievable.”
“Oh, I can see that it’s true. What’s unbelievable is that these people—whoever they are—have managed to duplicate the jetpack.” He thrust it back into Lance’s hands. “You hold on to that.”
Lance’s eyes grew wide. “I can
“No. You’re coming with me and I’ll be carrying you, so you need to carry that.”
“What about my backpack? It was on the handlebars.”
“You have twenty seconds to find it.”
Lance found his backpack—still attached to the handlebars—wedged into the framework of the car his bike had hit. Two police officers glowered at him as he struggled to pull it free. “Sorry about this. Really.”
“Got it?” Paragon asked. “Then strap the jetpack on, and hold tight to your bag. We’ve got a long way to go.”
“Are you taking me back home?”
“Not yet. I’ve got too many questions and I don’t trust you not to run away. There’s a situation up north and they need my help.” Then he added, “I’d be there by now if it wasn’t for you.”
“Yeah, well if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t know about those guys duplicating your jetpack.” As soon as he said that, Lance felt a surge of guilt. “Sorry. I . . . Thanks for saving my life.”
“You’re welcome. Now prepare yourself. You thought you were traveling fast before? That was a Sunday stroll.” He stepped behind Lance, grabbed hold of the jetpack’s shoulder straps, and suddenly they were rocketing into the night sky.
Half a mile from the power plant Abby and Thunder stood to one side trying to look innocent as they listened in on Agent Rosenfield’s conversation with Colonel Morgan. Thunder was using his sound-manipulating ability to channel the conversation from almost a hundred yards away.
“So who are these people?” Morgan asked.
“We honestly don’t know much.” Rosenfield glanced back over toward Thunder. “Kid says they used the word
a couple of times to describe themselves.”
Morgan said, “A helot is a slave, right?”
“So I’m told. And a helotry is a bunch of slaves. Slaves to what, we don’t know.”
“You trust those kids, Agent Rosenfield?”
“Doesn’t look like we have much choice. The girl is very strong, very fast. I don’t know if the boy has any physical powers, but his ability to muffle sounds will be a great boon in getting in. The doors and walls are strong enough to withstand a standard charge, and anything stronger will attract the terrorists’ attention. We’re going to have to use shaped explosives to take out the superstructure. That means ripping out pretty much the entire wall.”
Abby turned to Thunder. “How
you doing that, exactly?”
He put up his hand. “Shh. They’re still talking.”
Rosenfield said, “Paragon’s on the way, but I don’t think we can wait much longer. Thunder says the hostages are really suffering.” He blew his nose. “Hope I’m not coming down with it too. Your men up to the task, Colonel?”
“I trained them myself, Agent Rosenfield. They can handle anything.” The colonel sounded almost offended that the FBI agent was questioning his men’s abilities.
Thunder said to Abby, “That’s it. Are
ready for this?”
She nodded. “The sooner the better. I’ve still got to get back to work. And after that I’ve got to go home and fake doing my homework for an hour.”
Thunder frowned. “Fake it?”
Colonel Morgan approached Thunder carrying a flak jacket and two helmets. “Put these on. You’re going in with the troops. Do you understand what that means? We don’t like putting civilians in harm’s way, but we’re running out of time. Ordinarily we’d just wait out a situation like this, but if the hostages are sick, we can’t take that chance.”
Abby nodded, and turned her helmet over in her hands. “I can’t wear this. You’d see my face!”
“It’s dark. No one will recognize you. And that motorcycle helmet won’t stop a bullet.” He rapped the army helmet with his knuckles. “This will.”
Abby pulled off her motorbike helmet and lowered the army helmet onto her head. “Have you got one in a smaller size?”
Five minutes later a Sikorsky S-70 copter plummeted from three thousand feet straight toward the roof of the power plant’s largest building.
Abby was securely strapped in and holding so tight on to the edge of her seat that her fingers left impressions in the metal. Beside her, Thunder seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. He was leaning past her and staring out through the open hatch, a wide grin spread across his face.
Colonel Morgan stood in front of them, hanging out of a strap fixed to the ceiling and swaying gently from side to side. “Thunder, when I give the word I want the noise of this craft blocked out. You sure you can do that?”
“Yeah,” Thunder said, not taking his eyes off the rapidly approaching scenery. “Only . . . It’ll block out
the sounds. We won’t be able to hear each other.”
“We understand that. When we get inside, you two keep to the rear at all times, got it?” Morgan looked over to a lieutenant standing next to the pilot, who held up his hand with his fingers splayed. The lieutenant dropped one finger, then another.
“Ready . . . ,” Morgan said. “Now!”
Abby saw Thunder close his eyes and frown in concentration, then suddenly she was completely deaf. She couldn’t even hear her own breathing.
Thunder smiled and gave her a thumbs-up.
Colonel Morgan moved over to the open hatch and leaned out for a few seconds, then Abby felt the copter lurch and sway. Morgan turned back to his men and nodded, then pointed to Abby’s seat harness and mouthed the words, “Let’s go.”
She unclipped the seat harness and stood up, holding on to Thunder’s shoulder to steady herself.
OK. Here we go. First-ever mission.
She wondered whether it would have been a good idea to tell Agent Rosenfield her name, just in case something happened.
The seven soldiers had already leaped out of the copter, then it was Thunder’s turn. Abby felt a little resentful that he didn’t seem to be even the slightest bit worried, whereas she was almost shaking with fear.
Thunder jumped out, and Abby stepped over to the hatch. The copter was hovering two yards above the flat roof. She knew that she could cover that distance with no problem if they were on the ground, but now she hesitated.
Do it! Jump!
Then she felt the colonel’s hand in the small of her back gently pushing her forward. She jumped, landed heavily on the roof next to Thunder. He mouthed, “You OK?”
Abby nodded. A queasy excitement churned her insides.
Colonel Morgan dropped down, withdrew a handgun from the holster on his hip, and led his men toward the edge of the roof. The copter’s ferocious downdraft eased as it rose another twenty yards.
Two of the soldiers quickly fixed black nylon ropes from the copter to their chest harnesses and dropped themselves over the edge. Abby cautiously stepped forward and looked down. Ten yards below the two soldiers were attaching something to the wide double doors. One of them gave Colonel Morgan a thumbs-up, and he relayed the signal to the copter’s pilot. The ropes began to reel in, dragging the men back up the side of the building.
Then Morgan put his hand on Abby’s shoulder and hauled her back from the edge, shaking his head.
For a second she didn’t know what he meant, then there was a brief flash, the roof trembled slightly, and a strong, acrid smell reached her nostrils. The colonel let go and gestured for her to look.
Thunder joined her as she peered over the edge again. The building’s entire front wall was gone, shattered into a pile of bricks, glass, and wood. Colonel Morgan allowed them a few seconds, then pulled them back and signaled to his men.
Abby could guess what that meant: Begin.
Roz Dalton realized she’d been dozing and lifted her head.
What woke me?
She looked toward the gray-clad men, but they seemed to be as stoic as ever. Beside her, Max coughed silently.
He’s getting worse. They all are. I can’t even hear their breathing.
Then she realized she couldn’t hear anything at all. Even the low hum of the building’s air conditioner had stopped. She scraped her boot heel on the concrete floor. Nothing.
She gently pulled at the handcuffs, knowing that they should make a clicking sound as they opened. Still nothing. The cuffs noiselessly dropped to the concrete floor.
Either I’ve gone deaf, or something’s blocking out all the sound.
Then a movement caught her eye: A door behind one of the gray men silently burst open—the man didn’t even notice. A pair of U.S. Army soldiers rushed at him, slammed him to the ground. The other gray men had seen this—they dived for cover.
There was a flash from somewhere behind Roz, then another.
Muzzle flare! They’re shooting!
She ripped the cuffs from her feet as the room erupted in noiseless gunfire.
She scrambled over to her brother, grabbed hold of his legs, and kept low as she dragged him to the side. She was about to go back for one of the Rangers when more soldiers spilled into the room, all with their rifles firing. Roz saw one of the gray men hit in the shoulder, another in the abdomen.
The remaining two had knocked over the large wooden desk and taken refuge behind it. Their weapons protruded from the top and sides, firing blindly.
Roz jumped as a small crater appeared in the floor only inches away from her left foot. To her right, she could see that the soldiers had spread out, but there was no other cover on their side of the room.
We’re sitting ducks here! Maybe I can use my telekinesis to create a sort of shield. . . . I can move only one thing at a time, but if I can figure out when they’re going to fire I can—
She realized that there was a much simpler approach: She concentrated on the heavy desk. It wobbled, then toppled forward, exposing the gray men. They immediately dropped their weapons.
A U.S. colonel strode into the room, gesturing to his men to take care of Max and the Rangers. He was followed by two teenagers, a boy and a girl. The boy appeared to be wearing a flak jacket over a wet suit. The girl was wearing what looked like a leather jacket covered in coins. The colonel saluted Roz and pointed toward the door.
He wants me to go with the others
. Roz shook her head and said, “No way,” but no sound came out.
He nodded as though he’d been expecting this, and turned to the teenage boy. He ran his finger across his throat. Instantly, Roz could hear again.
The boy said, “I’ve released only this room, is that right? The rest of the building is still muffled.”
“Perfect. Ms. Dalton, I’m Colonel Morgan. My men are going to take the rest of your team to the infirmary. Is there anything you can tell us that might help us free the other hostages?”
“I don’t even know where they’re being kept.”
“We do. All right, I want you to stick to the rear with these two, but don’t be embarrassed to use your power if you think it might save lives. Thunder, has anyone else noticed the attack?”
“I can’t tell—I’m blocking the sounds.”
“All right. We’ll play it safe. By the numbers, people. Morales and Goodman, take point. Thunder, let’s bring on the silence.”
The sound evaporated once more.
Colonel Morgan signaled to his men, and they rushed forward. The other doors to the room were locked—one of the men shot out the lock and kicked open the door.
The corridor was dark and empty. Moving in twos, the soldiers cautiously approached each room, burst open the door, and rushed in, one marine crouched low and moving left, his colleague standing and moving right. All of the rooms were empty.
Roz watched from behind with the other teenagers. The boy seemed confident and calm, but the girl with the sword on her back looked nervous.
She briefly wondered if they were brother and sister: They were both—presumably—superhuman, and they were both African-American. Aside from her own family, she’d never heard of any other superhuman siblings.
The soldiers slowed and spread out as they approached a set of steel double doors at the end of the corridor. Two of them dashed forward and crouched down in front of the lock. A minute later they turned back. Roz saw one of them mouth the words, “Can’t open it.”