So wasn't this just absolutely fantastic? Paige and I had come all this way to get this machine so we could force Pittman to tell us how to save her sister, my parents, and all the others. And now it turned out we were going to have to fight a bunch of people from the very same prison that had been meant to stop that son of a bitch from doing this sort of thing in the first place. Granted, I had fantasized about punching those people repeatedly for their complete and utter failure to do their jobs, but not quite like this. Somehow, I wasn't sure I would actually get any satisfaction this way. For one thing, the people I really wanted to punch were those in charge, not the grunts they sent to clean up their mess. Something told me the people out there weren't making the real decisions. They were just going to get kicked in the head for them. Which seemed to be about typical.
While I was processing that, Robert was still looking at the video feed on his phone to check what the people out there were doing as they evacuated everyone from the neighborhood and surrounded the house. He checked his pistol and then glanced at us, his voice flat. “I'd say stay here, but they’re coming from the back too and I can't be everywhere at once. I've seen how both of you move, and I’ve seen how good you are. If they get to this machine it’s over. You got this?”
Oh right, that was another thing. I needed to do all of this without openly and obviously using my powers. Not only because I didn't want Robert to realize I was Paintball, since that would open a whole can of worms about being a girl, but also because I didn't want the people out there to realize that Paintball had left Detroit. Yeah, this was even more complicated than I’d thought.
Still, at least these people weren’t expecting to run into us. We had the element of surprise. Plus, just because I couldn't openly use my powers didn't mean I couldn't find sneaky ways of doing so. That whole thing at the fast food place had shown us that much. I could work with this.
Pushing all those thoughts out of my head, I gave the man a nod. A dozen things to say came to mind, but most of them were jokes and I still didn't trust how much I could say in front of him without giving away my identity. Was it weird to think that if I said more than a few sentences around Robert then he would immediately know exactly who I was? He hadn’t even been around me or talked to me or anything for like half a decade. And even when he had been, I was just some kid he was playing bodyguard and driver for. There was no way he’d recognize me.
And just why in the hell did that thought make me sad?
There was too much going on for me to spend any time dwelling on stupid and confusing things like that. So I pushed them out of my head while Paige answered for us. “Yes, we’ll handle the ones coming in from the back. That is, if you can take the front.”
Starting toward the steps, Robert replied in a soft voice. “I suggest you use whatever toy that one has that let her make a hole in that ceiling to go out the back.” He nodded to me, making me belatedly realize that he hadn’t actually seen the pink paint, which explained why he didn’t have any questions on that front. All he knew was that I’d made a hole in the floor above.
“Watch your backs,” the man continued. “If you need help, shout.” He paused at the bottom of the staircase and looked back at us with a clearly reluctant frown. It was obvious that he really didn't like the idea of sending us out there, but couldn't come up with anything better given the situation. “Just be careful,” he reminded us after a brief moment. “These people aren't playing around. They're here to cover up something incredibly embarrassing for their employers, which could potentially cost them billions of dollars. They're not going to stop for anything. You can’t negotiate with them unless you can outbid Breakwater. And they’re not quite that bad off yet.”
Yeah, my allowance wasn’t that big, even if I had been comfortable exposing who my family was. Even combined with Paige, that might be a problem. So, the two of us just nodded and watched as he went up the stairs with an added warning to wait until we heard his signal before making our own move.
Once he was gone, Paige looked down at her own phone, and I realized she had tapped into the same video feed Robert was watching, the one showing all the Breakwater agents gathering up around the house. Did he know she'd done that?
Looking over at me, Paige spoke quietly. “Looks like they’re about to move. You ready?”
I knew what she was really asking. She wanted to know if I was actually going to do this without openly using my powers. I could hear the warning in her voice, as well as the promise that if things went wrong and I had to use them, had to expose that much, she would have my back.
How exactly I read that much in just a couple words like that was a mystery, but there we were.
“Yeah,” I replied simply, looking up toward the hole in the ceiling. “Let’s do this.” Activating the blue paint I’d put on the bottom of my shoes while simultaneously leaping, I flew right up through the opening, landing back in that bedroom that was on the other side of the stairs. Paige leapt up right after me, and the two of us glanced carefully out the window there overlooking the backyard. Sure enough, what appeared to be a fully armed and armored SWAT team was carefully approaching the building. It looked like they were doing the same thing I had been, checking for traps. Which had at least bought us some time.
“I’m surprised they don’t know we’re in here,” I murmured. “You’d think they’d have heat sensors and stuff in those helmets, considering what they’re supposed to deal with.”
“The house is shielded,” Paige informed me, speaking just as quietly. “None of that sort of tech can see into it. Trust me, I tried.”
Yeah, that made sense, now that I thought about it. Of course Pittman wouldn't want it to be that easy for the place holding his ticket out of Breakwater to be raided. But really, that also just raised the question of why there weren't actual Biolem defen-- oh, Robert had dealt with them, of course. Honestly now I was just wondering what he’d done with them.
But now wasn't the time to think about that. Fortunately, I was able to multitask and had been covering every bit of the inside of my clothes with as much paint as I could. At the same time, I put a hand on Paige’s sleeve, then the side of her leg to give her some paint under her clothes as well, just in case. The two of us peeked out either side of the window once more and compared that with the camera feed on her phone. I hoped Robert was ready on his side, because we were already cutting it close. Those guys were halfway across the yard. We had to get out there right now if we were going to stop them from getting in the house. Otherwise it would become even harder to keep them away from the machine.
Of course, we weren't just going to go barging out the back door. We weren't that stupid. Instead, I used pink paint on the ceiling of that room and we went up to the second floor, then again to get onto the roof. By the time we were up there, the troops outside were approaching the back patio. There were a dozen of them, and they all had their guns raised and pointed at the building. One guy in the back kept checking some sort of wristwatch he was wearing, calling out whenever they got anywhere near any of the traps buried in the ground so they could step around them. But even more than that, any time he called out, a little laser pointer thing shot out of the watch, hit the part of the ground where the trap was, and made a sort of small, one foot high glowing flag marker thing on it so they’d know where they couldn’t step. Which made me briefly consider the idea of setting them off intentionally to stop those guys, but I wasn't sure how lethal the traps would be. Besides, there was always the chance that something could happen to the machine if it detected those traps going off. After all, it was a teleportation machine. Maybe it would just disappear. Then this whole situation would be for nothing.
So, unfortunately, I had to put that brief thought out of my mind. From the hard stare Paige was giving the marked spots, I was pretty sure she was going through a similar process. We both exchanged glances while simultaneously realizing the same thing. It wasn’t just that we couldn’t use the traps to make taking these guys out easier. We also had to avoid accidentally setting them off at all during this fight for the same reason. If we hit someone and they fell on a trap, that could screw this whole thing up and make the machine disappear too. But we also couldn’t risk letting them get into the house because the machine could even end up being damaged that way.
All of which meant this was going to be even trickier than I’d thought. We had to keep them out of the house, we couldn’t let them hit any of the traps (or hit any ourselves), and I had to do all of it while handicapped by not using my powers to their full extent. And without giving away that I was Paintball in any other way.
On the plus side, I didn’t have time to worry about that too much. Because right as I was wondering just how badly this was going to go, the gunfire started out front. Which I was going to go out on a limb and guess was the signal from Robert. A signal that gave us a quick opening as the guys on the grass below reflexively looked toward the sound of those gunshots. So every doubt and uncertainty I had was shoved aside. Whatever we were going to do had to happen right now, before the Breakwater troops recovered.
Slapping a hand against Paige’s back, I activated one of the orange boosts I’d given her and blurted, “Go!”
She went. Taking a few steps back to give herself a running start, the blonde girl hurled herself off the roof. Her leap was belatedly followed by more gunshots. Only these ones came from right below us. Yeah, we definitely had their attention.
My first instinct was to throw myself right after Paige, but I stopped myself and waited for two seconds first. I wanted to give the guys down there time to turn toward the spot where she landed instead of jumping right into view while they still had their guns raised at that same spot. That seemed like a good way to get shot about a dozen times. Which, orange paint or not, wouldn’t be much fun.
On the other hand, letting Paige get hurt wouldn’t be fun either. So, after two seconds that felt like thirty, I launched myself off the roof as well, activating a bit of orange and green paint as I went, while also activating blue paint on my shoes at the last second just to get even more momentum.
Paige was already on the ground in the middle of the yard, ripping one of the rifles out of a man’s grip while simultaneously kicking another man in the stomach with enough force to make his body fold in on itself as he fell over. And sure enough, the other troops scattered across the yard had pivoted that way, already taking aim. Which meant the two directly below the roof had their backs to me, a fact they would quickly regret as I slammed into both of them from behind. They were standing close enough together that I hit one with both knees while slamming my arms into the guy next to him. Thanks to my green speed combined with being launched by the blue paint on my shoes, I crashed into the two hard enough to knock them down despite my frankly diminutive height. And thanks to the orange protection, I didn’t break half the bones in my body doing so. They, on the other hand, weren’t about to get up in a hurry. I might’ve only weighed like a hundred pounds, but taking a hundred pound cannonball to the back, even with body armor, was probably enough to make most normal people have to lay down for a minute.
Twelve troops to start and I had just knocked two of them down, right after Paige had already kicked a third while ripping the gun away from a fourth. And while I had taken these two guys to the ground, she had flipped that gun around to slam the butt of it into the faceplate on the helmet of the man she took it from. That guy started to stumble backward before Paige caught his arm, yanking him away from the trap he had been about to step on. She hauled him forward, throwing his rifle overhand to hit another guy’s gun while he was lining up a shot.
A bullet hit my shoulder from the far side of the porch even as I was picking myself up. The guy there had adjusted faster than I’d expected. Fortunately, the orange paint meant it felt like getting hit with a thrown rock instead of a bullet, but still. I managed to restrain my yelp while pivoting that way. My foot lashed out, kicking the rifle that one of the men had dropped. It went flying that way, making the guy who had shot me recoil reflexively as it crashed into him.
At the same time, another guy was coming up behind me. I heard him approach, the way his heavy boots sank into the grass and dirt, the way his clothing and body armor rustled in the air, his grunt as he reached out to grab me. But I wasn’t there anymore. Even as my foot came down from kicking the rifle into the other guy, I pivoted on it to twist away from this guy’s grasp. My hands caught his outstretched arm, and I activated hidden purple paint to give myself enough strength to yank him off balance. He stumbled forward and I brought my right foot into the back of his leg to knock him down to his knees right in front of me.
Before he could recover, I hopped up, planted my left foot against the back of his neck, and kicked off him to send myself right into the guy who had been a few steps over, sighting in on me with his weapon. He dropped his gun and caught me in reflexive surprise, just before I brought both arms down on his shoulders with all the purple-enhanced strength I could muster. That was enough to make the man fall to one knee, allowing my feet to touch the ground so I could grab the front of his helmet, yanking the thing with enough force to pull it off his head. Which meant his face was exposed to my rising knee.
Blood. There was blood on my knee from where I’d hit the guy’s nose. It was probably broken. Which I felt a little guilty about, but not too much. He recoiled as I released him. But again, before he could fall, I yanked him away from the nearby trap. It wasn’t marked by their laser thing, but I knew it was there.
Activating another set of purple, green, and orange paint, I stepped aside while shoving the guy over to land on top of the one I had kicked off of to throw myself into this one’s arms. The two of them got tangled up with each other, buying me a couple seconds. Which I used to glance quickly toward Paige so I could activate the same trio of paints for her.
By that point, the other girl had already put three more guys down. That meant, of the twelve we started with, she’d dealt with five of them. Meanwhile, the two guys I had crashed into weren’t going to be getting up any time soon. And as for the two who were now tangled up and scrambling to separate themselves, I took three quick steps that way and snapped my right foot out, kicking the guy who still had his helmet in the back of it hard enough to knock it into the face of the one who didn’t. Given that guy already had a broken nose, it probably wasn’t much fun. Both of them were definitely cursing up a storm, but weren’t about to jump up again. Nine down, three left.
One of those three was the guy who had shot me, just now recovering from the gun I had kicked at him. He was already taking aim to shoot me again, but I dove forward and threw myself into a roll while he shot right over my head. As I came out of it barely a foot from one of the trap markers, I was hurling the helmet I’d taken from the other guy that way. It collided with the gunman’s own helmet, and by the time he’d recovered from that, I had already launched myself off the ground, over the trap, and collided with him. He fell against the wall of the house while I ripped the gun out of his hands, pivoted, and slammed the thing into the side of his helmet. That was enough to knock him down, and the follow-up smack into the back of his head from his own weapon made sure he stayed there.
Two left, and we had thus far managed to avoid setting off any of the traps. I kept hearing gunshots from out front, but all I could do on that was hope Robert was okay. There wasn’t time to focus on anything more than that, considering one of those two remaining guys was coming straight at me.
He wasn’t using his gun. Instead, he had some sort of electrified baton, snarling a nasty curse as he lunged in to swing at my throat. I still had a bit of time left on my green, enough to barely lean back and turn my head so the baton went right past my cheek. He tried to snap it back to crash into my neck from that side, but I ducked and let it sail over the back of my head. Then my right arm went up, catching his wrist as he brought the baton back for a third swing. Even with my purple-strength, the guy very nearly knocked my arm out of the way and hit me with the baton anyway. It was all I could do to keep myself in place. But I managed it before quickly driving my left fist as hard as I could into his elbow. It was enough to make him drop the baton. Which I caught with my right hand and drove up into his exposed armpit, a spot that wasn’t covered by armor. There was a trigger thing on the handle of the baton, so I pushed it down, sending a jolt of electricity into the man. He scream-cursed at me while spasming a bit before hitting the ground.
And just like that, it was over. Well, close enough. Not all these guys were knocked out or anything, but they weren’t going to be jumping up to do jumping jacks (or run into the house to blow up the machine) anytime soon. Paige had already put the last one down, leaving the guy holding his stomach and groaning painfully.
The two of us looked at each other for a second, took in the sight of these guys, then turned quickly to the back door of the house just as it slammed open. But it was just Robert. He came into view, looking a bit bruised and covered in blood that wasn’t his. “Go get your van and pull it in as close as you can.” Without waiting for any objections, he added, “We need to grab that machine downstairs and get out of here. These guys have reinforcements coming. Some of which are probably Touched.
“And we really don’t want to be here when they show up.”