Kol Maros stared at the darkened ceiling. He’d spent hours drifting between abstract, nonsensical dreams and futile, fearful wakefulness. He hadn’t had a single moment of relief since his failed mission, chasing the Aesir. Max and Duncan kept him preparing, studying, reading. And if it wasn’t the constant burden of endless preparation, it was the nightmares, most of which he forgot.
He rolled onto his side on the air mattress. He checked his watch, still only 9:15 P.M. They needed to catch the first train the next morning at 5:00 A.M. to arrive in time for his hearing. Kol feared the next six hours would be spent desperately awake, before he could finally, reasonably get up and start getting ready.
Kol tried to return his watch to the floor without making noise. Duncan had always been a light sleeper, and his friend slept on a second air mattress at the far side of Max’s living room.
Kol heard a sound from the hallway. Max maintained his wheelchair with the same diligent consistency he displayed in every aspect of his life, but Kol could still hear the slight sound of the wheels in the carpet. His brother had left his room.
Kol couldn’t stand the silence or his own thoughts, so he rolled out of bed. He listened for some sign that Duncan was now awake too, but his friend still breathed deeply.
Kol found his brother in the small hall that led back to the module’s bedroom. Max offered him a smile. He lifted a folder from one of the boxes of files they’d left in the hallway, one that would make the journey with them back to Philadelphia. Max motioned for him to join him in the bedroom.
“You can’t sleep either?” Kol asked his brother, once the door was closed. He sat on the end of Max’s bed.
“No,” Max said. “Not until this is over, I can’t rest. I haven’t felt this way since Tanarest.”
“This isn’t like Tanarest,” Kol said. “How can a disciplinary hearing compare to dozens of innocent lives saved?”
“I had the opportunity to save a lot of people, when I served,” Max said. “But now is just as important. I have the chance to save you. I couldn’t save you, in the collapse, and I didn’t succeed in saving you from that Liberty Corps recruiter. But now I have a chance to make it right.”
“Save me?” Kol said. “So much of what I do and what I’m trying to do is to make things right. I’ve told you this before. I’m ambitious because I’m trying to help you and fix…”
“Don’t put that on me!” Max said, unusually loud, unusually harsh. Kol recoiled away from him and fell silent, but Max patted his brother on the shoulder. “It’s been a long week, and it’s a difficult time in the world. Sleep would do us both some good, take us away from our stress, for a while.”
“Yes,” Kol said, though his own sleep had been dominated by the endless stream of forgotten, but disorienting thoughts. “We don’t have long to sleep.”
“No,” Max chuckled. “We better sleep fast.”
“Right,” Kol said. “Goodnight.”
Kol tried not to think about his brother’s anger, about their history, about their injuries, about the Liberty Corps. There wasn’t much he could safely think about. Every facet of his life brought him pain.
But Kol would try to sleep. He crept back to the air mattress and stared at the ceiling, once more.
* * *
“Alright, ladies,” the archer said. “I’m gonna need you both to come out of the elevator. I’m not going to hurt you, but I am going to bind your hands. If you don’t fight with me, I can make the restraints pretty loose, even though my boss told me not to do that.”
“Stay away from me! Stay away from me!” The technical supervisor backed against the wall of the freight elevator. She’d given up on the elevator’s buttons and now seemed to be trying to stall and be loud enough to get attention.
Enoa tried to find the Dreamside Road. She tried to find the place of magic possibility, tried to force her mind to leave her mundane, but dangerous, present. There wasn’t much she’d learned to do, but she had a better chance with her Shaping than she did with her bare fists.
“Seriously, lady,” the archer said. “Tonight they’re using like three things I invented, and I need to see how that all goes. C’mon, like I said. I’m not going to hurt you. Why are you so afraid? We never hurt anybody.”
“Back, back, back,” the supervisor shouted. The archer was hesitant to approach the elevator, but he put his bow and arrow up at his shoulder and drew two zip ties from his pocket. From below, crashes and shouts could be heard.
“Don’t move! Don’t speak!” Someone yelled.
“See,” the archer said. “It’s starting. Seriously. I’ve been working on this aaaall week. I’ve even got something to stop Captain Gregory’s sword.”
Enoa was snapped out of her half-trance. She was only in the elevator, only threatened by this archer, this very young-sounding man.
Did she fear for Orson? She didn’t know. He was so resourceful and had done so much, but he was still just one person. And if something did happen to him, what would Enoa do? She couldn’t fly the Aesir. She couldn’t find the Dreamside Road artifacts. She couldn’t find the island. Without Orson, she would be totally lost, alone in the wild world.
She had faith in Orson, but she needed to be more than a passenger. It was past time she took real command in her life, on this adventure. She and Orson had a partnership, and she needed to be an equal partner. If he faced a fight on the floor below, she would fight this archer, too.
Enoa forced her mind in half. She stood in the elevator, facing the archer, but she also stood in the mental glade, the magic place, in the Nimauk of her memory. Anything was possible there. She could do anything.
Enoa reached her hand into her pocket and found the stun box. She had a plan, a bad one, but a plan.
She set about causing a flood. Enoa imagined herself beside the little stream, but the glade was in a great rainstorm. No. No, the glade was full of snow, a blizzard of snow, and the snow was melting. The snow was melting and the stream was flooding, turning everything to mud, as water grew and grew and grew outward.
“Oh damn.” The archer looked at Enoa and her intense expression. “You’re his partner, right? Well, I’m sure they won’t hurt Captain Gregory, unless he does something totally crazy, but I mean, that sword is a major problem. Who’s ready to go toe-to-toe with Jedi Master Snark, down there?” He eyed Enoa. “Hey, are you alright?” He wiped at his forehead. “They really have the heat up high in that elevator. Don’t you two wanna come out of there?” The supervisor had stopped flailing and tugged at her collar.
But Enoa didn’t stop. In the real world, she advanced out of the elevator, toward the archer, like she was surrendering. But mentally, she stood beside the stream and felt the water, the cold, just-melted water. She felt the water overflow and wash over the land, until it was deep. She felt it rising up her calves. She slipped further and further away from the real world, feeling the water rising, feeling the flood, making the flood real.
“See, she’s being reasonable,” the archer said, as Enoa approached. “Why are your eyes closed? You’re gonna… AHH!”
The archer yelled when the foot of water splashed down on the two of them. Enoa gasped. The water was cold, and it drenched her to the skin. The supervisor screamed too, as the water splashed out in all directions, back into the elevator, creeping down into the elevator shaft, and under the catwalk’s glass railing.
“What the hell?” The archer looked up, like he expected to see a leak from the ceiling. He stopped looking around when he saw Enoa draw out the stun box.
“What’s that?” He stowed the ties aside, redrew his arrow, and aimed it in her direction.
“If you don’t want a nasty shock,” Enoa said. “You’ll let us go. I’m no one’s hostage.”
“You did this?” he said. “How?” He slid his feet along the wet floor. “This is nowhere near enough water to cause the kind of conduction you’re thinking of.”
“It won’t be comfortable for us,” Enoa said.
“What are you doing?” the supervisor said. “You’re crazy too.”
“I’m not crazy,” Enoa said. “But I have a lot on my mind, so I think our friend should realize he’s better off letting us leave.”
“Why would you hurt yourself?” the archer asked. “I said I’m not going to hurt you, and you decide, ‘hey, I’m gonna electrocute myself so I can’t leave anyway’?” He shook his head. “You’re bluffing.”
“Are you sure?” Enoa asked. She pressed the activation on the stun box and held it, emitter outward. She held the box between her thumb and index finger and dangled it toward the wet floor.
* * *
“You’re wasting your time,” Orson said. “Commodore Augustin caught a flight to Chicago this morning.” He tried to mentally follow all of the archers. They’d prepared an odd choreography, where they could keep the assorted guests and employees in range of their bows, but also keep moving and weaving through the room.
“Liar,” one of the archers yelled.
Orson took a longer look at the archers. He was surprised by the variety of people he saw. Their concealing attire didn’t show much skin, but Orson noticed the diverse people present in the Archers’ ranks. Many skin tones were visible above their masks, and many colors of hair, even gray, peeked out from beneath the Archers’ skullcaps.
“She hasn’t left this crawler since it went online, last year,” the Archers’ main speaker said. “There’s no way.”
“There’s one way,” Orson said. “I expected you were coming.”
“This is a trap!” One of the archers moved their bow away from the crowd and toward Orson. “Get out the fire extinguisher, Ty!” Orson watched as another of the archers drew out a long metal pole with cylindrical holes along its length. Arcs of electricity danced between these holes.
“Please,” Orson said. “This is probably your last, best chance to be heard and solve this without bloodshed.”
“What are you doing?” One of the women in the donor crowd shouted. “You’re here to protect us! Why are you talking to them?”
“Quiet!” One of the archers brandished an arrow at the woman.
“Just show us your evidence if you’ve really got it,” Arnold Chambers, the equipment supplier, shouted.
“We can resolve all of this,” Orson said. “But, like I said, this is our last chance. If you put your bows down, I will put my sword away. You won’t need to try to jab me with that clothesline thing.” He looked at the archers. Some of them met his gaze. Most did not. “What do you say?”
“Begin broadcast!” the speaker yelled. “Planned Pattern Zeta. Go now.” The archers sprang into motion. Several of them blatantly charged back out of the restaurant, but others fanned out through the crowd, aiming their arrows at the remaining security, workers, and guests. The speaker and Ty with the ‘fire extinguisher’ kept their eyes on Orson.
“I can’t let you play your video,” Orson pulled down his visor. “You could be as crazy and dangerous as everyone thinks. Last chance to shut this down.” He advanced toward the archers.
An arrow flew at Orson, but his HUD showed him its trajectory and it met the fire sword’s blade. Most of the arrow burned away, but the tail fell, smoking, to the floor. Another archer tried to come at him from the back, but even without the HUD Orson would have heard his footfall. The archer tried to bring a club into the back of Orson’s unarmored leg, but he twisted out of reach. Orson drove his repulsor into this archer’s chest armor and fired a burst that sent his attacker flying back onto one of the restaurant tables.
“So much for nonviolent. Or am I so scary you’re making an exception?” Orson saw that more of the archers had raced back out of the Domicile so he ran too. He couldn’t let them escape. This wasn’t just the archer’s last chance, it was his – his last chance to fix this situation without the nature of his work changing. Before this night, Orson could seek information, but afterward, he’d need to decide who was the real threat, the Archers or Sabres Unlimited. Maybe both. Orson saw the archer speaker talk into a radio or some other communication device, before running out of the room.
Before Orson could go very far, the archer named Ty stepped in his way and brandished the makeshift electrical weapon, spinning it around in the air, in a complicated flourish. “You’re not going anywhere.”
* * *
“I’m just gonna back away,” the archer said. “I’m going to back away and take a look at what’s going on downstairs.”
“Just let us go!” Some shouts were audible from the lower level, people yelling loudly enough to be heard, even without any electronic amplification. Enoa didn’t know how seriously the archer took her threat, but she could see that his attention was divided. Every shout he heard from the restaurant below sent him fidgeting. He was itching to take a look over the railing, to see his work in action.
“If you reset the elevator,” Enoa said. “You can watch all you want.”
“If you knock him out, he can’t let us go!” The tech supervisor hadn’t taken her eyes from Enoa’s stun box.
“I’m going to need you to talk less, please.” Enoa didn’t even spare the woman a glance. It was taking every ounce of her mental strength to maintain the water on the floor. She was nowhere near strong enough to keep the water from obeying gravity. Very soon, it would all dissipate, flow away, wasted.
She struggled and fought to hold it in place, to command the molecules she’d transmuted and rearranged, the way she’d seen Aunt Sucora do dozens of times in the films. But she had no mental metaphor for holding the water, the way she did for most of her other basic Shaping techniques. She was sure much of the water slipped free of her control.
Enoa was losing herself too, losing her sense of reality. The danger had abated somewhat with the archer. He seemed much more concerned with the success of his inventions downstairs than he did with Enoa or his job at the elevator. And without that omnipresent danger, without that constant adrenaline, Enoa was losing the biological fuel that kept her mind split in two.
“Both of you, just let me go!” the supervisor yelled. The archer did not reply. He was too consumed by the shouts from below.
“This is a trap!” a woman yelled in the restaurant. “Get out the fire extinguisher, Ty!”
The archer turned fully away from Enoa. He glanced back over the railing.
Enoa ran. She ran and directed more of the water to pool at the archer’s feet, to limit his mobility.
Her mind released the rest of the water. She had to. She couldn’t help it. It flowed freely in all directions, but she had only moments to act.
The archer spun around, but she was already too close. She seized his bow and wrenched it out of the way. He loosed the arrow, an odd arrow with a glowing end, instead of a standard arrow head. The arrow flew toward the floor and sizzled in the water.
Before the archer could do any more, Enoa jabbed the stun box into his side. She pressed it through his clothing, between the layers of armor he wore.
The archer convulsed when she stunned him. Enoa didn’t know whether the shock was worse from the water, but she released the stun box and pulled it away, much faster than she’d done for the Liberty Corps trooper she’d zapped.
But the archer still went mostly limp. He groaned and almost slid into the water. Enoa tried to guide him back against the railing. Now that her mind had released all of the water, it fully dispersed, raining down onto the floor below. There wasn’t much volume to the water anywhere, but she still didn’t want to let the young man fall and injure himself.
Enoa managed to soften his fall, though not by much. He outweighed her by at least fifty or sixty pounds, but once against the thick glass railing, the inert young man slid down to the wet floor. She fell against the railing too and also slid into a sitting position
The elevator doors began to close. The supervisor, terrified of everything, made the final decision to step out onto the balcony. The doors halted for her, but shut immediately afterward.
Enoa didn’t think knocking out the archer had somehow magically made the elevator work again. She wondered what or how it had been fixed or who had fixed it.
“Did you make the elevator leave?” The supervisor had lost all sense of herself. Enoa could see the panic in the woman’s wide eyes. “What’s happening?”
“I don’t know what’s happening,” Enoa said. “But I’m sure it will be over soon. This archer is my prisoner, but I need some way of transporting him. Do you have anything wheeled I could sit him in?”
“What?” the supervisor asked. “Sit him in? Where are you taking him?”
Enoa didn’t truly know. She was just support for Orson. He’d been supposed to do the catching, not her. All she knew was she wanted to keep the Archers clear of those Sabre people.
“I was undercover, working for Captain Orson Gregory. I’m taking this archer away from here,” she said, finally. “Can you think of any way to move him?”
“I have an electronics cart that should be able to hold him,” the supervisor said. “But I’d need it back. It was very expensive. And it will need to be dry when it’s returned.” She eyed the wet floor.
“That’s great,” Enoa said. “Can you please go get it?”
But before the supervisor did anything, the elevator let out a sound. Someone was returning. The woman backed away from the elevator, until she stood against the walkway’s railing too. Enoa, for her part, could not go anywhere until she could move her prisoner.
The elevator opened and an armored person stepped out. The person was concealed head to toe in shining, bulky armor, their face and head covered by an oversized helmet. They held a large rifle in their hands. Enoa looked at the feet of the armor. She’d seen boots like those before, or at least one of them.
“Did you do this?” The armored warrior turned his attention toward Enoa, her right hand on the archer’s shoulder. “Good job, girl. I’ll be taking the prisoner from here.”