5.1 Escalation

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Outside Lyon, France – Saturday, the 9th of June, 2012. 01:59 PM.
As they neared Lyon, Sarina pressed her cheek against the car window, watching the landscape as it rolled past. She could easily lose herself in the lush green hills, the picturesque villages, and the graceful chateaus they passed. If she let her mind drift, she could even pretend to be a tourist on a fun summer road trip with friends.

She knew better, of course. The Nameless weren’t on the road for sightseeing. From the bits and pieces she’d picked up from one of Ace and Tess’s more heated discussions, she knew they expected trouble. Right now, Ace was sitting low on the passenger with his wide-brimmed hat drawn over his face. What little she could see of his gloomy expression told her more than she wanted to know about his expectations for their mission.

Sarina understood the reason behind his doubts. She could see how asking a favor from another team of rogues could go all kinds of wrong, especially a team the Nameless weren’t on particularly good terms with. Ace and his crew had met the rogues in question in the past, back before Sarina and Jasper had become part of the team. Apparently that encounter had left everyone feeling sour. And now, for reasons that Sarina didn’t fully grasp, they were on the way back to the rogue team’s hideout.

“Are we almost there?” Ace asked, drumming his fingers against the dashboard.

“Ten minutes,” Tess said. Then she turned up the volume on the radio as a newscaster’s voice began reading the hourly news.

“Hey!” Sunny protested from the bench seat in front of her, where he was sitting next to the ever-silent Snow. “You said we could listen to One Direction!”

“Quiet,” Tess said. “This is important.”

Disturbed by the quarreling, Sarina straightened up in her rearmost seat and pulled her eyes away from the passing landscape. As she shifted, her knee bumped against Jasper’s. He murmured a shy apology, then closed his eyes and focused on the tunes that trickled from his earphones.

Sarina felt a tiny smile form on her lips. Zoned out again? Typical DJ.

She crossed her legs and shifted her attention to the newsreader on the radio. The smile withered on her lips as she caught the gist of what he was saying.

“ . . . body was found near the entrance of the British Museum in London early this morning. The exact time of his death remains unclear. According to the Metropolitan police, the Traveler’s cause of death was a single gunshot to the head. No information on the suspect or suspects has been released . . .”

Sarina’s eyes went wide at the mention of the Traveler. The famous Australian rogue had always been in the top three list of Evolved she envied the most — because seriously, who wouldn’t want long-range teleportation?

Too bad he didn’t teleport himself away before they had a chance to kill him, Sarina thought sadly.

As the seconds passed and the news sank in, a sense of discomfort rooted in the pit of her stomach. Evolved didn’t just get randomly murdered like this. Execution orders were in the Covenant’s domain, and she couldn’t imagine any normal criminals committing the crime. Normal people tended to have a healthy respect for superpowers.

“Man, that sucks,” Sunny said. “I really liked the Traveler. He did the coolest live streaming.”

“Yeah, it totally sucks,” Jasper agreed, drawn from his half-lidded daze. “Harmless Evolved getting shot makes you wonder what’s wrong with normal people.”

“Maybe someone hoped they’d get his teleportation powers if they offed him,” Sunny suggested, picking up on what Gentleman had told them a couple of days ago: that powers transferred to a new random host after an Evolved’s death.

“Regular people don’t know about powers bouncing back yet,” Ace said. “For now, Gentleman’s keeping Data’s analysis of transitions and surges under his hat. The rest of the world needs to know, but the timing’s gotta be right. We have to make sure the news goes to everyone at the same time.”

Sarina stayed out of the discussion. She didn’t really feel like talking about murders right now. She sank back in her seat and resumed gazing out the window, wishing they could just pull over at some quaint roadside stand to buy some ice cream. Forget about the perils of Evolved life, if only just for a few minutes. It would have been so nice to just be a teenager on vacation for a little while.

“Hey, Ace,” she began, tucking a strand of reddish blonde hair behind her ear. “Do we have time for lunch before we meet up with those rogues?”

“What we’re doing is way more important than lunching, Wondergirl,” he said.

“And did you forget we just ate?” Tess sternly reminded her.

Sandwiches from some gas station don’t count, she pouted, drawing her knees up against the back of Sunny’s seat.

“We’ll see about grabbing a bite to eat after the meeting,” Ace assured her, obviously trying to make up for Tess’s brash tone. “It shouldn’t take long. We’ll just go in there, have a real nice chat, and hopefully get Tess the parts she needs from their scrapyard. Then we can go eat or whatever else you kiddies wanna do.”

“What I want to do is listen to One Direction,” Sunny grumbled.

Beside Sarina, Jasper removed the earphones he’d been wearing and leaned over the back of Snow’s seat. “Here,” he said, offering the player to Sunny. “It’s not One Direction, but track forty-nine should be something Irish.”

“Techno?” Sunny asked, bemused. He peered down at the offered player before accepting it. “All your stuff is Techno. Don’t you ever listen to real music?”

“Sometimes,” Jasper said with a small smile.

There were a few moments of silence filled only by the weatherman’s voice droning over the radio. Compared to reports of Evolved murder, even a rainy forecast was welcome news.

“Why do we need those parts again?” Sarina asked, projecting the question to the front of the station wagon. “I know that Tess wants to upgrade the car, but why’s that so important, exactly?”

“Because we owe Gentleman a favor — a big one,” Tess said from the driver’s seat. “And repaying that favor requires a little upgrade to this old girl,” she added, lovingly patting the steering wheel.

“What kind of upgrade?” Sarina asked. She hoped it involved better air conditioning.

“We might need a satellite uplink,” Ace told her.

Tess shot her Australian team leader a look. “But we’re not sharing any more details yet,” she cut him off firmly. “We don’t want you bending our ears about it for the next twenty kilometers, little Miss Worrymuch.”

Sarina frowned at the back of Sunny’s seat, pressing her knees up against its soft brown leather. I wish I could be carefree, she mused for what must have been the millionth time in the seventeen years of her life. Her junkie mother and a string of bad foster homes had sucked the carefree right out of her.

Jasper looked over at her and caught her eye, then flashed her a small peace sign. The gesture, so simple and innocent, made her smile.

At least I haven’t fallen down the cynical rabbit hole like so many others, she thought, recalling the dozens of addicts and dealers she’d met who seemed constantly pissed off about something or other. She was still rolling Tess’s words over in her mind.

“But,” she began after a moment, “if we’re about to do some big favor for someone, shouldn’t we all get to hear the details so we can decide together?”

“We’re owing Gentleman a favor, Missy. We don’t have much choice,” Ace said.

“And you can feel free to leave if you don’t like it,” Tess grumbled just loud enough for Sarina to hear. “It’s not like you’re helping much or anything.”

Sarina opened her mouth to point out that she’d never asked to be dragged to France. But before she could form the words, she saw Ace shoot Tess a hard look. And that was the end of the squabbling.

Sarina decided to keep her mouth shut. What’s that saying mom’s always repeating? The wiser head gives in.

The thought of her adoptive mother made her turn her face to the window. Think about something else, she willed herself, trying to stave off the homesickness. Anything else.

From the corner of her eye, she watched the back of Sunny’s head sway to the beat coming from the music player Jasper had lent him.

She felt a hand squeeze her forearm. She glanced over at Jasper, whose eyes were now clouded over with questions.

Sarina flashed him a lame smile, hoping that he knew they still had an understanding. If it ever seems that you’re in danger here, I’ll pack my bag, too, he’d told her when they were back in Paris.

“I’ve never been to a French scrapyard before,” she said lightly, trying to ease the tension in the back seat.

“You should wear the player I gave you,” he said, pointing a finger to his ear. “Just in case. If you believe the British comedy shows, people who live at scrapyards are crazy.” He twirled his finger beside his ear and crossed his eyes.

Sarina forced a smile. You don’t have to look out for me, she thought. I’m a big girl. She dug out the player anyway, just to do him a favor because he was a nice guy.

“Remember, the last track is the powered one,” Jasper told her. “Number seven.”

“I know,” she said.

It was too important to forget. After all, the last track on her player was the one that had brought out her powers in the basement of the military barracks, her temporary home after her transition. And try as she might, Jasper’s music was the only way she’d been able to arouse her powers since then.

“Thanks, Jasper,” she said quietly, flashing him a genuine smile this time.

“No problem,” he mumbled. Then he cleared his throat and addressed the front of the wagon. “She’s right, Ace. We need to keep the group on the same page. Otherwise, we’re not much of a team.”

“Don’t worry, we’re all gonna have a chat later, mate,” Ace assured Jasper breezily. “Besides, we’re here.”

True enough, Tess was pulling the station wagon to a stop in front of what looked to be an abandoned scrapyard. She gazed towards the boxy, run-down office building surrounded by mountainous heaps of junk and a three-meter wire fence intended to ward off intruders. Several of the building’s front windows had been smashed, leaving countless shards of glass strewn across the gravel parking lot.

Does someone actually live here? Sarina was incredulous.

“You guys have been here before, right?” Jasper asked, almost as if he’d read her mind.

“Yeah, a month or so ago,” Sunny said. He was pulling the earbuds from his ears. “But I don’t remember any windows being broken back then.”

“It looks kinda . . . rough,” Sarina said, searching for the nicest description possible.

“They don’t care what it looks like up here,” Tess told her. “The real lair’s underground. Come on.” She yanked the car key from the ignition and opened the door. Her other hand grabbed a small metal suitcase from the gap between the front seats. It looked compact, heavy, and expensive. The kind of suitcase jewelers used to bring samples to valued clients.

Sarina opened the rear door and caught a whiff of the scrapyard’s distinct smell before she even got out of the vehicle. The warm summer air was ripe with various flavors of decomposition mingling with old oil and a faint trace of something chemical. There was clearly more than just scrap metal here. Considering the state the office was in, Sarina wouldn’t have been surprised if people dumped all kinds of hazardous waste on the yard. She cupped a hand over her mouth and nose, then immediately lowered it. She really didn’t want to stand out as the snooty princess.

“Now let’s see where Trashcan and Plentiful are hiding,” Tess said. She and Ace closed the wagon’s front car doors in unison.

“Who?” Sarina asked.

“Trashcan and Plentiful,” Sunny told her as he emerged from the car to stand beside her. “One is a Technician, and the other is a lady Transmuter who can multiply and reshape any kind of material.”

“They sound like a perfect match,” Jasper joked from overtop the wagon’s roof.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Tess said curtly as she began to stride across the small parking lot.

“Aye aye, captain,” Ace mocked. Regardless, he fell into step behind the team Technician. Sarina followed, as did Jasper and Sunny.

“I stay,” said a young female voice Sarina didn’t immediately recognize. The five Nameless stopped in their tracks, heads turning. Sarina was caught so off guard that she tensed up at the sound.

It’s only that other girl, she realized after a moment, feeling stupid for not remembering her name. She was just so hard to remember sometimes, and so easy to overlook. The white-haired girl hadn’t said a word during the whole trip, and Sarina had almost forgotten she existed. Must be something about her power.

“Can’t stay behind this time, Snow,” Ace said. “We need everyone with Sunny. We’re travelling incognito, remember?”

Sunny shrugged. “Does it really matter? No one even knows she transitioned. Well, um, no one but us.”

“The boy’s got a point,” Tess agreed. “No one’s gonna be checking up on her, and I don’t think this place sees any tourists.”

“You really wanna stay, Snow?” Sunny asked the alabaster girl.

Snow nodded.

“We’re gonna be in there awhile,” Ace grumbled. “We’re asking a favor from a couple of rogues who don’t need anything we can offer, betting the farm on the hope that they’ll give in to Tess’s charm.” He cast an irritated glance at Tess while making his point.

The red-head stared back at him impassively, shifting her metal suitcase from one hand to the other. “You’ll just have to get over it already,” she muttered in a tone that made it clear she didn’t care if he got over it or not.

“I stay,” Snow said in her jolting Asian accent, a distant look in her eyes. “Is better here. Safer.” The wind flapped the fringes of her white doll’s dress about her ankles. Those six words were the most Sarina had heard her speak in the entire three days she’d known her.

She’s really shy. Sarina remembered the first thing she’d been told about Snow: that the Revoker wasn’t fond of strangers.

“If she wants to stay, let her,” Tess told Ace. “Better chances of pulling this off smoothly.”

After a moment of consideration, Ace nodded. “Alright, Snow. But you’re staying in the car, is that clear? Doors locked, windows up.”

In regular Snow fashion, the girl didn’t respond — not even a nod. She just pulled on one of the station wagon’s door handles and disappeared inside the vehicle. A moment later, the car’s door locking mechanism clicked shut.

“Alright, let’s move,” Tess said impatiently. She took the lead in marching towards the ramshackle office.

The others followed wordlessly.

After a few steps, Ace cast a glance over his shoulder. “Pick anything up yet, kid?” he asked Sunny.

“Nope,” the boy chirped. “Not a peep, not even a butt scratch.”

Ace turned his head to glare at Sunny from beneath the wide brim of his hat.

Sarina suppressed a smile. Note to self, she thought. This is no time for bum jokes.

“Kidding,” Sunny backtracked, holding up his hands. “They’re moving. I think there’s three of them, all underground, but I’m not sure yet. Something about the place makes it hard to hear.”

“Roger that,” Ace said. With a couple of long-legged strides he caught up to Tess and said something to her under his breath. She nodded, promoting the group to get moving.

When the Nameless arrived at the rundown office building, Ace was first to step up to the main entrance. He lifted the door off the one hinge it was still partially attached to, then tossed it aside. The door landed on the ground with a clatter, stirring up a small cloud of dust. He stepped over the threshold and motioned for the others to follow him.

Waving away the dust in front of her face, Sarina took a tentative step inside the small space, which had clearly been deserted for some time. Multiple layers of artless graffiti covered the cement walls. There was one small section where it looked like someone had tried to scrub the paint off, but had given up halfway through.

Sarina took another step inside and inadvertently knocked over a beer bottle that had been left by the door. Tess shot her an irritated look as it skittered across the floor with a clamor.

Sarina winced. “Sorry,” she whispered.

Dozens of empty bottles and beer cans littered the small office space, and cigarette butts covered the floor. A length of pink-colored latex that suspiciously resembled a used condom was stuck to the side of the reception desk.

Sarina quickly looked away from it. Whoever lives here, I don’t think I want to meet them.

“Not a great first impression, huh?” Jasper joked as he came up beside her.

Wrinkling her nose, she gave a nod of agreement.

“Up there,” Tess told Ace with a flick of her fingers.

Sarina followed the indicated direction with her eyes and spotted a small camera on top of a dirty, empty shelf. Its lens was pointed towards the vacant doorframe they’d just stepped through.

“Come on, Trashcan,” Ace said to the camera. “Been a long drive. Don’t keep us waiting.”

Sarina held her breath, not sure what to expect. She turned her eyes to the doorway in anticipation, but no one appeared. Thirty seconds passed. A minute. Still, nothing happened.

“See?” Ace muttered to Tess. “Wild goose chase.”

Can we leave, then? I don’t like it here.

Sarina turned to Ace. She was about to voice her thoughts when she noticed a ripple on the oddly colored wall section. It originated from the center, where the graffiti had been warped beyond recognition, spreading outward as if the concrete had been liquefied.

What was that? Sarina instinctively took a step back from the wall.

A wet bubbling sound filled the air, punctuated by dry rasps that sounded almost like a hacking cough. Then the blurred colors parted to reveal a gaping hole at the center of the wall.

“Whoa, cool,” Jasper murmured.

Through the portal came a grungy looking woman with platinum blonde hair cropped just above her ears. She wore a stained jeans overall coupled with a camouflage tank top. Sarina estimated that the woman had to be in her thirties – her face was still smooth, but with a mature edge to it. Her skin had the pasty pallor of someone who isn’t eating well.

“Hi, Plentiful,” Sunny greeted the woman.

The Transmuter ignored him, fixing her eyes instead on Sarina and Jasper. The look she gave them was hard and appraising. It wasn’t exactly hostile, but halfway there.

“So these are the new recruits,” the woman drawled in German-accented English. “I don’t know them. Why should I trust them?”

Ace’s eyes narrowed. “I trust them. What kind of outfit do you think I’m running?” he seethed.

“Well, if they don’t behave… we got guns,” Plentiful countered.

“As do we,” Ace said. He adjusted the drape of his jacket to reveal the two gun holsters attached to his belt.

The German rogue shrugged. Her nose piercing glinted in the sunlight that streamed through the open doorway. “Well, we’ll know soon enough. Come on down,” she said, gesturing towards the rippling gap in the wall.

Can’t everyone just talk this through like normal people? Sarina glanced to the open doorway wistfully. She had absolutely no desire to follow that woman anywhere, but Tess was already stepping through the wall portal with Sunny at her heels.

Ace gestured for Sarina to go next. She hesitated, her eyes seeking Jasper for reassurance. How do we know we can trust these people? she wanted to ask him, but she didn’t. It would have been too rude to ask where everyone could overhear.

Noticing her hesitation, Jasper gave her an encouraging nod.

If Jasper thinks it’s alright, it must be fine, she decided. Then, bracing herself for whatever awaited her on the other side, she stepped through the gap in the wall.

On the other side was a gloomy, windowless antechamber. Sarina found herself standing next to Sunny, Tess and a hole in the floor. A set of stone steps was leading down to some underground level. At least the steps were illuminated by a light source from below, Sarina noted.

“This is some hideout,” Jasper mused as he caught up with her.

“Yeah,” Sarina replied. ”It’s safe, I guess. You wouldn’t even find the entrance if you didn’t know where to look.”

A few seconds later, Plentiful climbed through the gap in the wall and closed it with a wave of her hand. Then she gestured for the Nameless to head down the stairs.

“Right,” Ace muttered, leading the way down. Tess followed, with Sarina, Jasper, and Sunny bringing up the rear.

“Go on, I’ll be right there,” Plentiful told them. She hung behind, perhaps to seal the gap in the floor.

We can’t get out unless they let us. Sarina suppressed her flight instinct and kept going, slowly descending the stone steps into a corridor lined with rutted and uneven metal walls. A few naked light bulbs hung from the low ceiling, flooding the corridor with their bright, yellowish light.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Ace and Tess marched onward through the corridor, prompting Sarina to follow. Unlike her, they seemed to know where they were going. She noted how the floors and ceiling were lined with the same grey metal. It caused the group’s footsteps to echo hollowly throughout the length of corridor.

“Aluminum,” Tess murmured, trailing a finger along the length of the hallway. “Explains why Sunny couldn’t hear well.”

“I can now,” the boy’s voice informed from the rear. “And yeah, there’s a third person down here. And they’re nervous.”

“Aren’t we all,” Ace said, dry as sawdust.

After a couple dozen steps and two nondescript doors, the Nameless found themselves gathered in front of a couple of heavy metal doors. Ace raised a fist to give the one on the right a solid rap.

At least you’ve been here before and know what to expect, Sarina thought nervously.

Desperate for some kind of reassurance, she reached into her pants pocket and pulled out her music player. It wasn’t a gun, of course, but the mere act of holding it helped calm her nerves. She quickly slipped an earbud underneath her hair and into one ear, then passed the player beneath her t-shirt to hide the wire before slipping the device back into her pocket.

She was now armed. In some fashion, anyway.

But she still winced when the door ahead of her opened with a metallic screech.

“Come on in!” a male voice boomed from the other side.

Ace gave the heavy steel door a shove and passed through, trailed by Tess and Sunny. Knowing that Jasper was right behind her gave Sarina the courage she needed to follow.

The room they entered was about the size of an average living room. Instead of aluminum, the walls were constructed of haphazard globs of grey stone unlike anything Sarina had ever encountered in nature. The damp space was harshly illuminated by a bare fluorescent bulb hanging from the ceiling, and thousands of bits and pieces of plastic, electronic, and metal junk overflowed the shelves that lined the walls. The center of the room was dominated by a huge wooden work table that was also overflowing with junk. An assortment of mismatched chairs surrounded it. They had the rugged, dirty look of something most people would throw away.

Positioned at one end of the table, next to a high-backed padded captain’s chair, was an imposing man with a chubby build. Chin-length black curls stuck out from beneath his black skull cap in an unruly mass, and his dark, bushy eyebrows hinted at Middle Eastern ethnicity. His pale skin, however, didn’t match the look. Sarina couldn’t imagine that he’d seen much sunlight lately.

Seeing no one else in the room, Sarina looked over at Sunny questioningly. I thought you said there were three of them?

The boy caught her glance and shrugged.

“Ace, you fucker, how you been?” the skull-capped man barked in choppy English. His German accent was as thick as Plentiful’s, but had an undertone of something else.

“Trashcan,” Ace replied, tapping the brim of his hat with exaggerated courtesy. “Been a while.”

The chubby man’s small eyes were immediately drawn to Sarina. He parted his lips in a smile that was a little too wide for her comfort. It reminded her of the lusty old men who’d occasionally settled next to her on the train, stubbornly ignoring the numerous vacant seats elsewhere.

Jasper took a protective step towards her, momentarily breaking the German rogue’s stare.

“And your new members, huh? Very good. Sit if you like,” Trashcan beckoned them, gesturing towards the table. His eyes settled on Sunny as he spoke, and that too-wide grin appeared again.

Ace and Tess exchanged a glance.

They’re worried, Sarina realized. She fingered the music player in her pocket absentmindedly.

“You know why we’re here,” Tess said impatiently, making no move towards the table. “So let’s just get on with it.”

She heaved her metallic suitcase onto the table and snapped it open. The raised lid revealed an assortment of small pieces of metal, each one resting within its own velvet-padded indentation.

“I can see you’ve got plenty of aluminum and steel,” Tess said. “But what I got ain’t cheap like that. Iridium and rhodium. Platinum too, if you’re wondering. Not to mention a bunch of alloys you’d never be able to create.”

Plentiful can multiply and reshape any kind of material if she has just a little, Sarina remembered. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Plentiful and Trashcan had tunneled out an underground hideout. Sarina could imagine that all kinds of criminals would just love to have a ‘chat’ with them.

“If it’s money you want, we can talk about that, too,” Tess added.

Just then, Plentiful stepped into the room and let the heavy door slam behind her. The sound resonated with a finality that sent a shiver down Sarina’s spine.

“You already know what we want,” Trashcan replied, the feigned geniality gone from his voice. “We want to join you. You let us join, you get the parts you need. Simple.”

“And tell me why, exactly, you think I’d let you join us?” Ace challenged. “We already have a Technician, remember?”

“The Covenant comes down hard on rogues now. We are all dangerous, they say,” Trashcan spat. “Unless we register so we can be watched, they bring trouble on us. We have talked about this before, you and I. But it is worse now than last time. Everything gets worse for us. Unlike you, we have no freedom. We can’t even leave our home without fear of an attack.”

Beside her, Sarina felt Sunny shift uncomfortably. Poor guy, she thought. Everyone wants a piece of him.

“You wanna hide, huh?” Ace challenged. “Just like you’re hiding your friend over there?” He glared at something towards the back of the room. “Not really a show of good faith, is it?”

Sarina followed Ace’s gaze to a closed door along the back wall. She hadn’t noticed it before; it was partially concealed by a heap of the same junk that cluttered nearly every surface of the room.

“Our friend is hiding like your Snow is hiding,” Plentiful countered.

“Yeah, Snow’s just waiting outside,” Ace said. “She’s a shy lil’ thing, you know that.”

“Maybe our friend is shy, too,” Trashcan said, shrugging. “She is why you need to listen. Why we need to join you.”

“Oh, yeah? And how’s that?” Ace asked, sounding unimpressed.

“She is in danger. The Covenant will hunt her soon,” Plentiful said simply.

Join the club, Sarina thought.

“What did she do?” Ace asked, his face hardening a little. “Kill somebody?”

“No more than your boy killed somebody,” Plentiful replied impassively. She jerked her chin at Sunny.

Ace clacked his tongue. “Power surge?”

Trashcan’s lack of a response was answer enough.

“What’s her power?” Ace asked.

“We won’t tell,” Trashcan said, drumming his fingers anxiously against the back of a chair. “Not until there is a deal.”

Ace exchanged a glance with Tess, who shook her head.

Ace turned back to Trashcan. “Friendly people make deals. You’re not being friendly,” he said. “You’re hiding someone back there. That makes no sense unless you’re planning to backstab us.”

Sarina could feel the tension building all around her. Jasper shuffled half a step backwards towards the wall, tugging on her sleeve. Tess moved closer to Sunny, while Ace clenched and unclenched one of his fists.

I knew it. Let’s just get out of here, please. Sarina slid a hand into her pocket and closed her fingers around her Mp3 player. She ran her thumb across the play switch, ready to press the trigger if necessary.

“Look, even if we wanted to help you, we can’t,” Ace said, affecting a calm tone. “We ain’t got no room. Besides, things are more complicated than they used to be. We’re not working on our own anymore, and we’ve got some business we have to take care of. Right after we conclude this meeting.”

“What business?” Trashcan asked. “Maybe we can help.”

Please, no, Sarina thought. If the two groups weren’t getting along now, there would be no end to the bickering if they were on the road together. And she couldn’t get Trashcan’s creepy smile out of her head.

“You can help by makin’ those parts I need,” Tess said firmly. “I’ve seen how good you are with schematics. It shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours if you can keep focused.”

“We’ll make the parts, sure. If you take us with you.” Plentiful’s tone made it clear that she wasn’t going to budge from her stance.

“I already told you, we can’t—” Ace began.

Trashcan interrupted before he could finish. “How much effort to hide three more people?” the scrapyard Technician asked, wagging his fingers in Sunny’s direction. “Just a little extra, no?”

“And we have our own car,” Plentiful added. “We can follow behind, take different rooms for work and sleep. Make you all the parts and materials you need.”

They’re desperate, Sarina realized. They’re not going to give in.

“Introduce the girl and we might consider,” Ace said after a moment.

Tess snapped her head around as if she was going to protest, giving Sarina a scrap of hope that everyone could just part ways before this escalated further. But instead of speaking up, Tess kept her lips pursed tight, as if having reconsidered.

“Very well. Mina!” Trashcan shouted.

All eyes turned to the door at the back of the room. After a few moments, the doorknob began to turn very slowly. The door slid open just far enough to allow for a single eye to peer through. Sarina braced herself, prepared to face whatever monster had been hidden away in the back room.

Trashcan said something in a language Sarina didn’t understand. Then the door opened fully, revealing a mousy, frail looking young woman in a baggy, oversized sweater that hung nearly to the knees of her flower-printed leggings. Tufts of soft dark hair were sticking out from under the scarf she’d tied around her head. Overall, she looked startlingly normal.

Sarina let out the breath she’d been holding. Why all the efforts to keep her hidden? she wondered. She’s just a regular girl, like me.

Trashcan turned back to the Nameless. “Mina is a very sweet girl,” he said, revealing a thin smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “She had much trouble before she found us. Bad people treated her badly.”

“So what’s her power?” Ace asked coldly, revealing no emotion.

Trashcan ignored the question, following his previous train of thought instead. “It’s very sad that you do not help her. Very sad.”

“That’s not what I said—” Ace began.

But before he could finish, a gurgling sound came from Sunny’s throat. The boy stumbled forward, crashing into the nearest chair.

“Fuck!” Ace hissed.

Before Sarina could register what was happening, Ace reached for the gun holsters on his belt and drew a weapon with each hand. Tess grabbed something the size of an apple from her own belt and ducked beneath the table’s edge, extending her arm upwards. The ball-shaped item floated up and out of her hand, crackling as it charged.

Then Sarina’s vision blurred and the colors of the background bled together. Her vision cleared almost immediately, but the two German rogues disappeared as suddenly as if they had never been there. A fraction of a second later, Sunny and the mousy young woman vanished as well. There was no sound and no visual effect. They were simply gone.

Sarina recognized the power that was at work, here. She had experienced it before – back in Switzerland, when Jasper materialized out of thin air to greet her.

That’s Sunny’s power.

The instant her mind made the connection, her stomach tightened to a small knot.

“Mina’s other name is Mindbender,” Trashcan’s disembodied voice boomed, echoing from every corner of the room.

Then the heaps of junk around the room shifted and came apart to reveal a half dozen mini-guns.

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7 thoughts on “5.1 Escalation

  1. Somehow, I ended up commenting on the table of contents instead of here.

    It’s been over four months since I launched this serial. Seeing how many of you are still around (according to site stats) is kind of amazing. Thanks for reading and checking back. As always, votes and comments are highly appreciated.

    I seem to have lost some of the readers who stuck around during the first months, and I hope to see them again at some point. Anthony is probably my most faithful long time reader and commenter, and for that reason I’d like to let him pick a character to be featured in an interlude. Anyone who is at least slightly relevant to the story is fair game, with the exception of Athena and Legion, the bogeyman of the previous arc. I’m planning interludes for them, but the timing has to be right. There is going to be a Pulse interlude as well, but I don’t want to reveal this much just yet.

    I kind of miss Charly R. Charly, I hope you’ve just gone quiet and are still reading!

    There won’t be a Wednesday update this week. I need to bring my buffer of pre-written chapters back up to 10 – it’s currently at 8.5. Having such a large buffer is a huge advantage. I can let those chapters sit for awhile and review them with a fresh perspective (and with knowledge of upcoming twists) before posting. Just yesterday, I spontaneously decided to add a new upcoming fifth arc chapter that I feel really adds to the whole arc.

    Anthony, please let me know in a comment which character you’ve picked. 🙂 I should be able to attach their interlude at the end of the arc.

    Next week, I’ll look into creating a character cast page. It had been requested a few times.

    • I think I like Chris the most. Radiant is pretty awesome but he is also a very… I don’t know how to say it. And Sabrina is a little to worrisome for my liking (being careful is ok but worrying every second of the chapter gets old) but I really like this Serial!!

  2. All right a cast page, woo hoo! Also, I’m flattered that apparently I’m the most faithful reader. I’m glad that my comments helped you.

    Out of the three main characters I think Radiant is my favorite. Nothing against Chris and Sabrina but I personally like proactive characters over reactive ones. Chris spent half her introductory arc aimlessly wondering threw town and having inner monologs until the villain fight/covenant recruitment at the end of the arc. And while I found the Dancer arc a little faster(and better) paced, she still mostly reacted to events around her. Andrey was the only one who’s actions in his intro arc were entirely his own.He left the Covenent, he helped with the newly transition Evolved, he spoke with Preacher without outside guidance from others. (Maybe the fact that he was an adult while the others were teens had something to do with him being more proactive).

    Anyway, for an interlude i’d like something related to Radiant, and since Athena’s off the table, I’d like either Preacher or Samuel. Preacher interests me because in superhero stories religion rarely gets brought up, even though it really should if you think about it. People with superpowers and divine figures are similar enough that the emergence of superheroes and its effect on religion would be an interesting topic to explore.

    As for Samuel, he seems like a ‘you’re either with me or against me’ extremist. That and the fact that he’s willing to kill Evolved who don’t join up with a government team makes him look like a super villain honestly. I’m curious to see how he got that way, what drives this man.

    Sorry for the rather long post just a lot of thoughts on this story. I hope this story gets more views as you go along. There aren’t a lot of superhero stories that explore the effects of superheroes on government, society, religion, history, technology levels, etc. Most of them just focus on cool fights and the superhero’s personal problems and don’t think of the larger ramifications of what living in an age of superheroes really means. Off the top of my head there’s only your story Anathema, Wildbow’s Worm and Alan Moore’s Watchmen that do that so I look forward to reading these types of stories whenever I can.

    See you next time.

    • I’m a little surprised, and so is Gentleman. He suspected you’d pick him.

      I should be able to complete a Samael or Preacher interlude in time to add it at the end of this arc. Looking forward to it!

  3. “If it’s money ya want, we can talk about that, too,” Tess was saying, a hint of desperation now showing through her tough exterior.

    What an awful negotiator… Why is she the one negotiating if she starts the negotiation showing desperation? Surely Ace or even Jasper could’ve handled that better? Not really important though… seeing how it went…

    • Your comment made me wonder if I have any characters with negotiation boosting superpowers. And I do, actually! Prophet, the world’s first Evolved. 🙂 (not to be confused with Preacher…)

      Prophet is going to get some spotlight later in the story.

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