“Absolutely. He was the first of us. The first superhuman.”
“But I don’t get how he died. I mean, you kept saying he was immortal.”
Slaughter led him deeper into the building. Unlike the power plant in Midway, this one was fully furnished, equipped with the latest nuclear technology. “Immortal just means that he wasn’t ever going to die of old age. But he wasn’t completely invulnerable. Something got to him.”
“We don’t know that. But he might be able to tell us. It could have been another superhuman. He was the first superhuman born, but he was close to six hundred years old when he died—that’s plenty of time for another one to show up.” She stopped in front of a pair of sealed metal doors and looked at the boy. “What’s your real name? I can’t keep calling you Pyrokine.”
“Fabian,” the boy said. “I don’t know where the name Pyrokine came from.”
“It’s from the word
—the ability to start fires with the power of the mind.”
“But that’s not really what I do. I turn matter into energy.”
“I know that. That’s what makes you so powerful.” Slaughter keyed a code into the pad next to the doors, which slid open with a faint hiss. They stepped through into the heart of the power plant where dozens of men and women were checking readings and working at computer stations.
Slaughter pointed up to the eight-yard-diameter metal sphere. “And it’s what makes
so powerful. Controlled atomic decay releases energy in the form of heat, which . . .” She saw the glazed look in his eyes. “You don’t care about that, do you?”
“Not really. Where do I come into all this? I mean . . .” He sighed. “Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but . . . Well, everyone thinks that you’re one of the bad guys.”
“Good and bad are just points of view,” Slaughter said. “Look at any conflict and you’ll see that everyone on every side thinks
the good guy. There’s no doubt that what we’re doing here looks like evil to some people, but that’s a small price to pay for saving the world. You don’t see
as a villain, do you?”
He shook his head. “No. I never did anything wrong. Not deliberately.”
“Then why were you in prison?”
“They said I was too dangerous to be allowed to go free.”
“You know. The superheroes. Titan, Quantum, Max Dalton. . . . Those guys. I can see why they thought that. If I lost control I could destroy the world. Last year I met this girl and . . . We never really got that close—can’t even remember her name now—but that was just as well because I was putting her in danger just by being near her.”
“Those days are gone, Fabian. You are powerful, and that’s why we need you. But you don’t have complete control over your abilities, and that’s why
. That’s what this is about. You can transform matter into energy. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you applied that same process to energy itself?”
Abby and Roz drove in silence for the last five miles—from the moment they saw the domes of the power plant each was wrapped up in her own thoughts.
Even when they passed the six large trucks going in the opposite direction they exchanged only a glance.
Finally, Abby said, “Listen . . . If something happens to me . . .”
Roz glanced at her. “Don’t talk like that. That doesn’t do anyone any good.”
“My name is Abigail de Luyando. I live in Apartment 4C in 655 West Franklin, Midway. You’ll tell my mom everything, right?
“OK. But it won’t come to that.”
“And . . .” Inside, Abby cringed. This was harder to talk about than anything else. “I have an older sister and four younger brothers. My sister has a job but she doesn’t earn a lot. . . . Mom can’t work much. She’s in a wheelchair and my sister and me have to take care of her. So, uh . . .”
Roz reached out and patted Abby’s arm. “It’s all right. You don’t have to say any more.”
But Abby knew she had to say the words. “They’ll need money. But only if I don’t come back from this, OK? It’s not charity, it’s . . . Well, maybe it
charity, but . . .”
Roz nodded. “I understand.” After a moment, she added, “I have to say something to you too. Ever since our parents died, Max has been looking after me and Josh. He’s made a lot of money, more than we could ever spend. But I’m not trying to put on the ‘poor little rich girl’ act. . . . The moment Max found out about my powers he started training me. I was eleven. He took me out of school and I haven’t seen any of my friends since.” She gave Abby a thin-lipped smile. “Sometimes I worry that he might be using his mind control on me, making me
to train all the time.”
“God, that’s horrible!”
“I know. But there’s no way I can prove it. Or at least I don’t
I can prove it. For all I know, I’ve already found proof a dozen times and he’s just made me forget.”
“But . . . Max is a super
. He’s not one of the bad guys!”
“Yeah. Anyway. . . . The point is that because of the way things have been going for me the past few years, you and Thunder and Lance are pretty much the only friends I have.”
“But you’ve only known us since yesterday!”
Roz laughed. “Crazy, isn’t it?” She glanced upward—one of Brawn’s huge blue feet was sticking out over the edge of the roof. “And who knows? Before this is over
might be on the list too.”
“So . . . No boyfriend then?”
“Who has time?” Roz asked. “There was a guy I met a while back and he was, y’know, kinda . . .” She shrugged. “I can barely remember him now. You ever get that? Where you meet some guy and you’re absolutely crazy about him for, like, a couple of weeks, and then one day you realize that you haven’t even thought about him for ages?”
“Yeah, that’s happened to me a couple of times,” Abby said. “My sister says it’s the brain’s way of weeding out the dweebs.”
Minutes later they reached a narrow side road. A sign at the entrance read WINDFIELD NUCLEAR POWER PLANT. UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY PROHIBITED.
“Oh no—they have a
!” Abby said. “Well, better turn back, I suppose.”
Roz grinned, steered the van onto the dirt road, and floored the accelerator.
Then they heard Brawn’s voice bellow, “Incoming!”
Roz slammed on the brakes—the camper swerved and screeched to a halt. Brawn tumbled from the roof and landed on his feet.
“Take cover!” he yelled. “Now!”
Abby and Roz darted out of the camper—as she ran, Abby heard the sound of approaching helicopters. “Which way?”
Brawn pointed back the way they had come. “There! Man, I hate being such a big target! Look, I’ll hold them off for as long as I can—you two try to get past the guards.”
“I’m not sure we’ll even get past the
without your help.”
“Just go for it,” Brawn rumbled. “I’ll take care of the gate before you get there. And don’t get killed.”
Abby raced ahead with her sword drawn. She could hear Roz behind her, but the older girl couldn’t match her speed.
How many of these guys are we going to face . . . ?
A siren blared and Abby had her answer: The open wasteland in front of the gate was suddenly swarming with men in silver armor.
There were at least a hundred of them. Abby fought the urge to turn and run.
Slaughter reacted to the alarm by simply saying, “Well, they’re here.”
Pyrokine looked concerned. “We should get out there. We can stop them.”
“We certainly can. But that’s what the grunts are for. Let the heroes tire themselves out on the help, then we can go out and mop up later.”
“There’s a right time for everything, and this is not the right time for putting
in the line of fire. Now . . . Everything in the universe is either matter or energy or a combination of both. Unless you’re getting down to subatomic particles, matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, but they
be changed . . .” She noted his expression and let out a sigh. “You want me to dumb it down for you? OK. We’re going to feed you a very large—and very precise—burst of energy from the reactor. You’ll use your power to change that energy into . . . something else.”
Slaughter nodded toward a dozen people sitting at a cluster of workstations. “These guys here have figured it out to a thousand decimal places. You won’t have to do anything but work your magic on the energy, and the machines will do the rest. . . . Your power is going to punch a wormhole—a tunnel—through time and space. One end of the tunnel will be here, and the other end will open four thousand, four hundred and fifty-six years ago in the city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, exactly one second before the Fifth King died.”
“Why not do it earlier? If we’re late by a couple of seconds then we’ll just be bringing back a corpse.”
“There wasn’t a corpse—he was completely destroyed in a pillar of fire. If we took him, say, the week before he died, then all the decisions he made during that week would never have happened. Someone he ordered put to death would have lived. That person might have had children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. Everything in the present is built on the foundations of everything that has gone before.”
He nodded. “Got it. So we take him at the last possible second and there won’t be any changes.”
“That’s the theory.”
“How can you be so sure about the time? People back then didn’t have clocks!”
“No, but they did have the sun. He died at dawn, the instant the light of the sun hit him. We know exactly where he was standing, we know the sunrise time to the microsecond, and we know the heights of the other buildings in the city.”
“And you’re certain that it’s safe? The reactor isn’t going to go into meltdown or anything like that?”
“If there was even the slightest chance of that happening, we wouldn’t do it. The Helotry have been working on a way to get him back for four and a half thousand years. They haven’t gone to all this trouble just to risk everything at the end.”
The boy looked around the cavernous room. “OK then. I’m ready. Where does this all happen?”
Slaughter led him to a small side room lined with thick steel panels. In the center of the room was what looked like a metal dentist’s chair. Thick cables and tubes snaked from the chair and disappeared through holes cut into the walls.
“It’s like being inside a giant microwave oven,” Fabian said. He walked once around the chair, then sat down. “It’s not very comfortable.”
The radio on Slaughter’s belt beeped. She put it to her ear. “Yes?”
“Slaughter, we need you out here! It’s the girls—and they’ve got Brawn with them!”
“He’s completely bulletproof, and he’s already taken down two of the choppers! You’re the only one strong enough to take him on.”
“Do I have to think of everything for you? Sort out the girls first—shoot to kill—then go after Brawn.” She clicked off the radio. “Humans, eh?” she said to the boy. “Always worried that they’re going to be killed.”
Abby said to herself.
Maybe we’re going to make it!
There was still the gate to breach, but right now she wasn’t allowing herself to think about that. The armored men were rushing her in twos and threes.
Roz was somewhere behind her, using her telekinesis to trip the men up, knock their weapons out of their hands, pelt them with rocks.
Abby leapfrogged over one man, slashed at another with her sword—it sliced off the top of his helmet and gave him an instant crew cut.
She swiveled on one foot, jabbed the other into a third man’s midriff, slammed the hilt of her sword down on his head as he pitched forward. Abby felt a vague sense of shame to be using some of the same moves she’d seen Slaughter use.
Then the man started to get up again. Abby swung at him with her left fist: Just before the blow connected, his helmet was suddenly pulled up and off his head by an invisible force. Her fist slammed into his jaw and sent him staggering backward.
And then they were
losing their helmets, one by one. Abby took a moment to look back at Roz and give her a thumbs-up.
Without any protection on their heads, the guards were much less inclined to fight, especially since Roz was showering them with fast-moving rocks that followed them whichever way they dodged.
Farther down the dirt road, Brawn was still where they had left him. He was using an eight-foot-long wooden fence post as though it was a baseball bat. The Helotry’s men were being batted in every direction. The giant seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. As Abby watched, he knocked one straight into another twenty yards away, and shouted, “Yes! Home run!”
Abby shouted down to him. “Brawn! The gate!”
He nodded, dropped the fence post, grabbed hold of the camper van, and lifted it over his head. “Heads up!” he roared.
The three-ton vehicle soared through the air and demolished the heavy gate.
“Swish!” Brawn yelled.
The rest of the armored men scattered and ran.
Roz darted up to Abby. “How are we doing?”
“We’ve just got to . . .” She looked around. “I think that’s all of them.” On the ground at her feet, one of the fallen men stirred and moaned.
Abby put her foot on his chest, and lightly rested the edge of the sword against his throat. “You. Talk.”
“Wh-what do you want to know?”
“Slaughter. Where is she?”
“Inside. With the Pyrokine,” he stammered.
Roz asked, “How much time do we have before they try to bring back the Fifth King?”