“Corey, can you fly us all out of here?” I asked as we ran down the hall.
“No, my shoulder is still busted. Besides, you two are too heavy for us to make far it without getting caught, er- no offence,” He said.
“Then I hope one of you knows how to fly those dropships,” I said, rounding a corner.
“That’s another no, but don’t worry, I’m not stupid enough to break you out without a plan,” Whitney said.
“I’m all ears,” I said as we passed a hallway full of soldiers charging towards us. Whitney turned and quickly put her palm on the wall. The resulting explosion partially collapsed the roof, making it more difficult for our pursuers to chase us.
“We’re going to hitch a ride on the Torus,” Whitney said.
“The Regent’s ship?” I asked in alarm.
“That’s the bitch,” Whitney said, stopping in front of a heavy metal security barrier. Ironically, a security measure meant to be resistant to explosives was turned to rubble by becoming its own explosive.
“That’s a terrible idea!” I said as we crawled through the smoldering hole.
Shit. The three of us came to a stop when we saw who was blocking our path.
“Erin, let us through,” Whitney said, smoke drifting down from her hands and hair.
“Last time I checked, I gave the orders,” Erin said, already glowing green. Adam stood next to her holding one of the rifles I saw the Argus soldiers carrying earlier.
“You’re our leader, not our dictator. Come on, you know Nate isn’t a bad guy!” Whitney said, putting herself between me and the Nordic warrior.
“It’s not that simple, he betrayed us,” Erin said, keeping her voice calm and steady.
“To protect his family!” Corey said.
Conflict flashed across Erin’s face, but she managed to regain her composure. “It’s best for the team that we obey orders. He’s a doub-”
“-Listen to yourself, Erin! Are you a hero or just another fucking Argus agent?” That seemed to get through to Erin, at least on some level.
“That was a low blow, Whit.”
“Yeah, but you know she’s right,” Corey added.
“I have to save my family,” I said, letting the energy pull away from my face.
“What are we doing?” Adam asked Erin, who seemed to be struggling with what to do.
“Go,” She finally said, letting her glow fade. “But we won’t give you another chance.”
“Thank you,” I said as we ran past. I was so relieved we didn’t have to fight Erin. Whitney was powerful, but Erin could still probably take all of us on and come out fine.
We hurried through the maze-like halls of the building, managing to blast our way through a few more doors of security. It seemed like we were making progress at first, but then I realized we weren’t going to end up anywhere near an exit.
“How are we going to make it to the Torus from here?” I asked as we came to a dead end.
“Have a little faith,” Whitney said with a grin. “And maybe stand back a little,” She said with a wink.
She put her hands against the wall and lines began to race out from her contact. “Guys, we have company,” Corey said, looking down the hall. Several Argus soldiers were storming towards us, weapons drawn.
“Hold them off, I need more time!” Whitney said.
“Any ideas?” Corey asked me, turning his wings to their metal form.
“I’m thinking,” I said, but nothing was really coming to mind. I didn’t want to hurt any of them, but I wasn’t sure they had the same hesitation. I reached out to my power and focused the energy to my right hand. Shooting them directly would probably get someone hurt, so I fired a blast along the ground in front of the closest soldier.
They flinched away from the blast, causing the soldiers behind him to stumble over their comrade. The soldiers on the flanks of the formation weren’t affected by the fuck up in the middle and took aim. Now it was Corey’s turn to save our asses.
He flared out his wings and wrapped one around me, using the other to shield himself. They weren’t firing bullets; it was more like darts or non-lethal rounds.
“Guys, I’m ready!” Whitney shouted from her position at the wall.
“Try not to breathe too deeply in the smoke,” Corey whispered. What? I thought to myself, but then I realized just how close Corey was. He looked flushed from the exertion, but he shifted his wings again as we were showered by smoldering rubble from the wall.
“C-come on, let’s go!” Corey said, pushing me towards the hole. As he unwrapped his wings, I realized what Whitney had done. She had used her other power too, creating a thick smokescreen. “You’re going to have to carry her, making this much smoke exhausts her,” Corey said as he started to become obscured by the smoke.
“Alright,” I called back, scooping Whitney up as I ran past her.
“Thanks,” she said softly, focusing on pouring more jet-black smoke from her hands. I was amazed at how fast she was making it. In a matter of seconds, I couldn’t see anything.
“Don’t worry, it’s me,” Corey said as he put a hand on my shoulder. “Climb on my back, I can run us out of here,” I said.
“No, we need to go slow and give my smoke time to expand,” Whitney said.
“That makes sense,” I said, realizing that if we ran faster than the cloud expanded, Argus could still clearly see where we were going.
“Duh, I came up with it,” Whitney said with a tinge of humor in her voice despite sounding exhausted. “Turn right and walk as straight as you can,” she ordered.
I listened, and Corey followed behind, his arm on my shoulder. We walked in silence for what seemed an eternity. At any second, I was worried we were going to be swarmed with soldiers and hauled off to another cell. In reality, at the speeds we were going, we probably walked a few hundred feet around the outside of the main building.
“Stop, I hear something!” Corey frantically whispered, pulling me to a stop. At first, I didn’t know what Corey was talking about, but then I heard booted footsteps getting closer. We froze and crouched low to the ground. A flashlight beam swept the area from an unseen source, searching for us. My heart didn’t know if it wanted to beat frantically or freeze in fear.
Go away, I pleaded silently. Eventually the footsteps became more distant, enough that we thought it okay to move again. As slowly as before, we started walking again.
“Watch your step, we’re getting close,” Whitney whispered. The smoke seemed to be getting thinner the further we went, and then I realized Whitney had stopped using her powers. I almost tripped over one of the concrete walkways, but we were going slow enough I managed to catch myself.
“I said watch your step,” Whitney muttered.
Despite the tension, I let out a short laugh. “My bad,” I whispered before slamming my head against something hard.
“Are you okay?” Corey asked.
“Yeah, I think I found the Torus, though.”
Corey chuckled as we moved around the rear of the aircraft. “The door’s open, so what, we just go inside?”
“It’s called stowing away,” Whitney feebly said.
“She needs to rest,” Corey said, looing around the surprisingly large cargo area. “Over there,” I said, spotting a couple of crates strapped down in one of the corners. There was just enough space for us to all crouch down and stay hopefully hidden from the Regents when they came back.
“Are you comfortable enough?” I asked Whitney as I propped her up against the crates.
“This isn’t a hotel, Nate. I’ll be fine.”
I grinned, but the sound of footsteps made us all tense up.
“Peregrine, get us airborne!”
Cypher’s voice was easy to pick out as he yelled up to the cockpit. Immediately, the Torus’ engines roared to life as the rear ramp started to close.
“You three, strap in,” Cypher called out.
What? I asked myself. Corey and I exchanged an equally shocked glance, was he talking about us?
“Nate, Corey, get Whitney strapped in so she doesn’t get knocked around while she rests.”
Well, no use pretending now. I stood up and Cypher was looking right at us. Animus stood slightly behind him, his face hinting a faint smile.
“How did I know you were here?” Cypher mimicked me as if it were obvious.
“Please, I just happen to show up and leave the rear ramp lowered exactly when you need an exit?”
I swallowed hard. “Now that you mention it, it does seem convenient.”
“Wait, you planned this?” Corey asked as I remembered to help Whitney up.
“I’m Cypher; I plan everything.”
“But- but how did you know we would try and use your ship to escape?” Corey asked.
“It was the mostly likely plan you would formulate based on the extenuating circumstances,” Cypher said off-handedly as he took one of the seats along the wall.
“Just roll with it,” I told Corey as I got Whitney situated and strapped in myself.
Cypher held up two vials full of a black liquid and tossed them to me and Corey. “What’s this?” Corey asked, looking at the liquid suspiciously.
“Is it your blood?” I asked Animus.
“His blood?” Corey asked in alarm, looking reluctant to hold on to the vial any more.
Animus nodded, “Your injuries are both minor enough that it should put you in fighting condition by the time we get to Chicago.”
As unpleasant as the thought was, I remembered how much it had helped after the hospital. Granted, Asclepius was the one who did the brunt of the healing, but Animus’ second-hand regeneration worked wonders too. I looked at the vial a little more, and realized one side had a button, probably to inject its contents.
“Well, here goes nothing,” I said, pressing the vial against my shoulder and pressing the button. I felt my skin crawl as the blood was injected. Now that I knew it was Animus’ blood it was more unsettling, but It was something that had to be done.
Corey seemed more hesitant, but he was still psyching himself up. “Fuck it!” He said before slamming the vial near his damaged shoulder and injecting the contents. For a second, he seemed like he would hold it together, then he practically turned green and looked like he was about to hurl.
“Bathroom is through there,” Animus said, pointing to a door towards the front of the aircraft.
“I’m fine,” Corey said, focused on not being sick.
“So, if you’re really helping us, what’s the plan?” I asked Cypher.
“We save your parents.”
“The Gold Diggers are really going to try and kill my parents?” I asked. There was a part of me that still hoped it was all just a bluff, but if Cypher thought they were serious, there wasn’t any more doubt in my mind.
“Not exactly,” Cypher said. Something in Cypher’s tone of voice struck me as odd. He’d always spoken with confidence, but now he seemed…uncertain.
“I’ve been following your missions, along with my own leads, and I think everything: the attack on Chicago, the Gold Diggers blackmailing Nate and driving him towards me, and everything that has happened to you all since is due to one individual.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused. “Are my parents in danger or not?”
“Indirectly, yes,” Cypher said, frustratingly.
“Spit it out!” I said.
“Easy, Nate,” Corey said softly. I snapped to look at him and saw the concern in his eyes.
“Sorry,” I said, to Cypher as much as Corey. “This is my family we’re talking about; I’m trying not to freak out.”
“It’s understandable, but so we’re clear, your parents are in danger until this is all over.”
I could feel myself tense up, that was exactly what I was afraid of.
“But,” Cypher said, getting my attention, “I am going to do whatever it takes to keep them safe.”
I nodded. Hearing the best hero in the world say that brought me some measure of relief, but he wasn’t a god; there wasn’t any certainty he could keep them from being hurt.
“What about this…’mystery individual’?” Corey asked, focusing on the matter at hand.
“Right. I’ve noticed something strange in the global patterns; irregularities that didn’t add up. It’s like they were creating a bread crumb trail for me to follow. Nothing anyone would notice: distorted patterns in social media posts, unusual purchases across the globe, stock market fluctuations. All things too subtle for any normal person to detect or care about, but someone is making waves.”
“Wait…you think someone is pulling strings because of…what? Weird posts on the internet? Are you serious?” Corey asked.
Cypher tilted his head slightly to the side in what I was starting to figure out was a sign of frustration, “The collective of the human population operates at an astounding level of consciousness; unaware that it is capable of extrapolating the smallest shifts in the social fabric. I can interpret shifts in the collective.”
Corey looked lost, but just shook his head and stayed quiet.
“So, what? Are we taking the fight to this mystery person?” I asked.
“No need. They’re bringing the fight to us.”
The Torus touched down and I felt like a balloon lying on a bed of tacks; one wrong move from bursting. We weren’t anywhere near the nice parts of Chicago. The part of the city where Cypher decided to make our stand was an old industrial district to the south. Everything looked run-down. Windows were crossed over with boards with doors nailed shut. I remembered it from when I was younger; The Regents had squared off against some dangerous metas that tried to gain some glory by taking down a hero. In the end, all it did was mark the beginning of Cypher’s reputation for ruthlessness.
Even though the fights were years ago, most of the district was still abandoned. For some reason or another, no one had moved back in. Peregrine had landed the Torus in the middle of a wide street near a warehouse that looked newer than the buildings around it.
“So, my parents are in there?” I asked, looking over at Cypher.
He nodded, “I own all the property a few blocks in every direction. We can minimize potential casualties and focus on protecting your parents.”
“So, you think they know where we are, because of this Anarchist chick’s link with Nate?” Corey asked.
“Precisely. That is how they used Nate as a double agent,” Cypher said.
“But I thought you said that was all a ruse?”
Cypher audibly sighed, “Yes, I did.” He didn’t seem keen to elaborate any further, and Corey seemed to decide it best not to annoy the hero.
“What about Ana?” I asked, wanting to make sure Cypher hadn’t forgotten about her.
“Ghost and Quatermain are making sure she’s safe.”
“You mean she’s not here? Where is she?” I asked, panicked.
“Safe as long as you, ergo the Anarchist, doesn’t know where she is,” Cypher said, pushing open the door of the cavernous building.
“Keeping up?” I asked, looking back at Whitney.
“Yeah, that nap did me some good,” She said, still sounding tired.
“I wouldn’t exactly call a transatlantic flight a nap,” Corey said, rolling his shoulders and stretching his wings.
“You seem chipper bird-brains,” She muttered as Cypher led us through several more layers of security.
“Yeah, Animus gave us some of his…blood…and I actually feel pretty good.”
“Wait, what?” Whitney asked, looking disgusted.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” I said.
Whitney looked like she was about to argue, but when Cypher opened the last reinforced steel door something grabbed all our attention. Wrath and Vindicator were sitting on an old sofa watching a small television sporting the classic bunny ear antennas, but what was odd was the massive white cube sitting on the ground behind them.
“Are my parents in that…cube?” I asked, not knowing anything else to call it.
“Yes. Nothing is getting inside that containment unit until I deem it safe,” Cypher answered.
“Can I see them?” I asked. “You know, make sure they’re okay?”
“I mean it when I say nothing gets inside. Our enemies could capitalize on any lapse in security.”
“Trust me,” he added.
“Don’t worry,” Animus said, clapping me on the shoulder. “We’ll keep them safe.”
“What’s our plan again?” Whitney asked, shaking of the last of her drowsiness.
“We only have a few minutes left until our enemies arrive. Hopefully Argus will get here before that,” Cypher said, drawing one of his pistols from their holsters and looking it over.
“You called in Argus reinforcements?” Corey asked, worry written plainly on his face.
“I can explain everything to them. There is a likely chance they’ll let you back on the team with minimum punitive measures,” Cypher said.
“Seventy-eight-point-two percent,” Cypher said nonchalantly, still mostly focused on his weapon checks.
Argus was the least of my worries. They could throw me in the deepest cell of Site III, and I wouldn’t bat an eye if it meant my family would be safe. Still, I thought to myself looking at the two people who risked their life and their freedom to help save my parents, maybe being part of a team isn’t so bad.