The window at the far end was still propped open but the sight outside called for a new plan. The whole place was lit up. A caravan of shiny cars had driven up the entrance driveway and parked all over the front lawn and along the row of buildings. Men in business suits were standing all around waiting expectantly for the last car to pull in. When it did, three of them rushed to the door, stood to either side and reached into their breast pockets for their weapons. They scanned the whole area around them one last time and gave the driver a nod. Out from the rear right door came an older man, white-haired and rather short, an unassuming presence, except for the effect his mere gaze had on his men.
“The people that Tanner has been dealing with constitute the biggest ring of organized crime in Serena.” As Zeta finished those words, she saw Vinier, the gunman from the office, walk out across the lawn to the assembled cars and approach the old man. A few whispers were exchanged in a loveless embrace. A nod from the old man told his people to wait and he and his nephew entered the building.
Tanner received them at the front door. In a confident and controlled voice, he started extolling the immense value that an invisible army of henchmen would have for someone in Camarin’s line of work. He himself would lead them to the girl but they had to promise to give him more time to work with her, to perfect the talent and to learn how to pass it on to others.
Camarin was a man of few words. Tanner cursed himself inwardly. He was ill-prepared. Too much had happened, too suddenly. His whole chest still ached from the attack of that green-eyed witch. And he couldn’t read this Camarin.
His guards joined them at the stairs and led the way to the sub-level. Twenty seconds later, Zeta and Leona heard their shout. “They are gone!” The severed cuffs clanked noisily on the floor of the corridor.
The only way out now was invisible. And invisible they stood, still, at the corner of the corridor, as the guards raced past them several times, trying to decide which way their prisoners had gone. Zeta’s ears were starting to ring. She could keep Leona’s heart beating properly but that rate was too inefficient for her own body. And the strange gestalt was focusing the cost of holding the bubble on her own body; it was literally draining her life away.
Had it been winter back home she would have had her body’s full stores of fat to supply the leeching field. Now, as it was, proteins were starting to get consumed. They had to move and they did so, slowly, away from the voices and up the stairs. The only plan now was to get to Tanner’s office and call for help. After that, if they could hide or delay long enough, it would be all over.
They had to wait forever by the door at the top of the stairs. Guards and other men were pouring down to the lower level. After the last one they stepped onto that corridor and started counting doors with Zeta’s near-field, until they reached the office. And then a shuffle at the front end of that corridor, and the sound of a metal click, like the cocking of a gun, made Zeta ramp her field out to its farthest range.
The echo made her wrap her body around Leona and drop. An instant later a rifle shot rang like thunder throughout that wooden hallway. They came out of the blackness. The man at the door re-cocked his sniper rifle; its IR scope centered on Zeta’s head.
“No, you fool!” Tanner cried out. He was running up the corridor. A smiling Camarin behind him, kept his sauntering pace.
The ringing stopped. Zeta caught her breath and Leona erased the gunman’s head. In the sudden blindness the gunman dropped the rifle. Zeta picked up Leona and dashed into Tanner’s office. The lock would be no good in a few seconds, but it was long enough to throw a chair through the window and jump out together. They needed time; she had to draw their fire. She left Leona crouched down in the shadow of the building and she ran out to the middle of the grass.
“They are back here!”
Leona enshrouded her in blackness momentarily. That effort, without Zeta to stabilize her, almost blacked her out. But it worked. Only two shots even came close. Their firing flash was perfectly clear to Leona. Three spears of red turned those three rifles into fiery balls of plasma, and three men fell screaming to the ground.
“Laser rifle!” Someone cried, and the rest of the men dove for cover behind their vehicles.
“Get IR scopes!”
The office’s door came down, and Leona ran out from the building’s side onto Zeta’s arms.
“The lights, get the lights!”
Zeta renewed the support of Leona’s body, and the girl fanned a rainbow of pencil beams across the rooftops. Every searchlight exploded into darkness. Together, they ran for the back of the building, and crouched in the darkness for a moment’s breath.
“There’s the gate,” Leona gasped.
“We have to go invisible.”
“I, I don’t know if I—”
The sound of a car, rumbling around the other corner of the building left no room for choice. They were in absolute darkness again. Zeta lifted Leona onto her back, whispered to her to hold on around her neck, and she held her legs to her sides for stability and a connection point.
She walked straight forward. But with every step she took, the girls’ pulse got one more beat out of phase with her own. Zeta focused her whole mind on each successive step; shutting out the noises behind, the shouts, the electric images darting to and fro. She had to concentrate on the fence.
They had to get to it before more IR-sighted rifles were brought out. The ringing in her ears started again. Then Leona’s muscle spikes started distorting. “Hold on, child; we are almost to the fence… hold on…”
The car must have driven past them. The noises, the shouts, the continuing confusion behind them meant there was hope. The electric image of the metal fence got larger and larger and somewhere down beyond it, she could hear the faint murmur of other cars; the highway. Touching the fence strengthened her hope but it blinded her electric sense. She used her memory to move to the left until she found the gate, the hinges and the lock. She crouched and brought Leona’s hand to it; and with a sigh the child focused the last remaining bit of yellow at the cold metal between her fingers.
The faint rusty creak of the yielding hinges made them both smile.
“There, by the fence!” A cry behind.
“No.” Zeta shoved the gate open and threw Leona onto the sloping field on the other side. “Ru-“. The rifle fired twice. The impact flung Zeta over the child, sending waves of pain radiating into her body from waist and left thigh… like ripples of ice.
Pain cutting like ice. Cold stark shock, like diving into icy waters. Dive. Survive! She plunged her body into its diving instinct… blood flow rushing to the brain, lungs and heart amassing huge supplies of oxygen, all other paths shutting down.
The child, the child.
Leona, out of the darkness, clung to her; her eyes filled with tears and panic at the growing puddle of blood.
Quiet child, quiet.
Focus. The gun, coming this way. Men running. A car, behind. The gun, the gun with the IR scope — she found it with her field, she could feel it. There’s just one – a rifle in the hand of the gunman. Five meters away, on the grass to the right of the car.
And from below, down the sloping field, the sound of a truck, crunching from pavement to dirt. “Run, child, run”. She shoved her downhill.
Turn. Crouch. NOW!
Leg muscles, torn and intact, flexed at the savage command of her brain. One step up and forward; the ball of that foot stabbed into the ground, anchoring, pulling, thrusting, and she sprung like a panther to its prey, five meters through the air. And the claws at the end of the arc discharged one thousand volts. The gunman and the man beside him crumbled under her, and the rifle’s scope shattered under their combined fall.
Run, Leona, run.
The child’s image moved, hesitated, turned. She started to, and then Tanner’s voice called out. “I’ll kill her! If you disappear, I swear I’ll kill her.”
A hand, his hand, yanked Zeta’s head up from the ground by her hair. The cold metal of a gun pressing into her temple restored a measure of reality to the delirium of blood loss.
No, Leona, go, go. But she didn’t. Her sobs came closer. The truck down below whined into four-wheel drive.
“That’s it,” Tanner’s voice. “That’s it, child… come back. We won’t hurt you.”
“Let her go. You got me. Let her go.” Leona hobbled onto the brightness of the car’s headlights.
Camarin rubbed his hands in triumph. “You will come with us, child.”
“No.” Tanner protested. He dropped Zeta to the ground.
Two guns were raised at his face. Tanner clenched his gun but he knew he didn’t have a chance.
“You had your fun, Doctor. I’ve waited long enough. Don’t worry; you will be well paid. I take care of my long-term investments.”
Long term? That phrase echoed inside Leona’s mind. Long term. How long? All along?
Camarin read the expression in Leona’s face. His smile became crueler still. “Oh, didn’t you know, child? I paid for you already. You are my prize.”
“But believe me, you are better off with me anyway. Tanner here – he had your parents killed.”
She heard him laugh once, the rest got drowned out by the screams… in her heart and mind.
Her heartbeat halved.
Bubble shrinking down to nothingness. Murderer. Down, down, down beyond atom or light. Murderer. Down to one electron… down, down, collapsing onto the singularity. DOWN, until her mind clenched the fabric of space at the core and ripped it open – Murderer – leaving the singularity naked… completely naked. “MURDERER!”
Zeta’s body was the first to feel it. A million coulombs in a second, a trillion in two. Charge beyond measure. Infinity — Infinite charge laid bare, pulling in every positive charge around it. Infinite charge, sucking in with infinite force. Infinite divergence devouring every shred of polarizable matter within its grasp — its ever-growing grasp.
Zeta rolled herself away along the grass, away from the searing image. A second later, the gun in Tanner’s hand melted in a radial sheet of lightning and was swallowed by the dimensionless void. Lightning ripped upwards from the ground, sideways from the bodies, downwards from the air, all to converge into that single point of space, to fill the insatiable beast.
But nothing could fill that vacuum, that growing, snarling void, howling with the voice of a hurricane. Someone shoved Camarin to the ground. Tanner turned and jumped for the car, managed to grab the door’s handle but the storm screamed louder. Tornadic winds lifted him up and clawed at his clothes, his legs… his flesh… pulling, pulling, man and car into the infinite funnel.
“MURDERER, MURDERER —” His right foot touched the core. In a flash of blue fire it disappeared to the ankle; and his scream matched the screams in her memory – the screams in the fire – the ball of fire in the sky over Farasan.
“LEONA, Leona. No, no… don’t”
The hands on her knee were kin, the perfume like myrrh; the voice… Zeta? Zeta had crawled to her.
“BUT HE KILLED THEM!”
“DON’T. You can’t… Child, you can’t.”
The terror in Tanner’s face almost made her stop but there were other faces, faces she would never see again. The ground heaved, the car jarred inwards, and the blue fire swallowed up to a knee. VENGEANCE, Vengeance; the tornado screamed for vengeance. But the hands, the touch, the heart, prevailed.
And she let it go.
The singularity collapsed, into itself, becoming an impossibly massive particle, suddenly subject to space and gravity again; and gravity pulled it down, through the ground, to the center of the planet.
The murderer fell to that ground, writhing in pain at the missing limb. The truck from below finally reached the top of the hill and burst through the metal fence. Two men scrambled to their feet and lifted Camarin off the ground. Before they could shield him behind their bodies, the door swung open, the floodlight came on and the voice of Quill Mnasen called out. “Don’t make a move!” His handgun, firmly in both hands, was trained on Camarin’s head. He made his way slowly to Zeta and the child.
The outworlder’s face was nearly colorless, the girl didn’t look much better; and a line of gunmen was starting to approach from around the building. “You are under arrest, Camarin; tell your men to drop their weapons.”
The criminal shoved his two bodyguards aside and stepped forward boldly. “I like your sense of humor policeman. How do you plan to survive?”
Three successive sonic booms roared through the night. “There,” Mnasen tilted his head up to the sky, “should be your answer.” A second later, two enormous wind blasts filled the air with dust. In their wake, a flurry of deafening castanets, like the falling of five-hundred-pound hail, shook the ground. And then came the hover field, immense, standing everyone’s hair on end, and ringing into iridescence every piece of metal in that field.
The blinding flash of white light from the ship floating overhead confirmed what the violet light of the hover field had momentarily shown. They were surrounded by marines, in full battle armor. A targeting laser swept down from the ship and tagged every one of Camarin’s men in one circuit. And plasma rifles locked onto their targets.
“This is Lieutenant De Broglie, Space Force, D’nari detachment. You have exactly one second to drop your weapons.” The amplified command was instantly obeyed.
“Lieutenant,” Mnasen called into his comm unit, “I need a medic team down here, on the double.”
He held a tourniquet on Zeta’s thigh until the Space Force medics took her away. Two others took Tanner. The marines herded Camarin and his men into a transport shuttle.
“Will she be okay?” Leona knew she couldn’t go with Zeta.
Mnasen knelt down to bring his face out of the overhead glare. “They’ll take good care of her.”
She nodded and held onto his hand tightly.
She spun at the call of her name.
The man in the gray and blue uniform smiled as he stepped forward.
“You have haven, child; you have haven.”
She ran to him and hugged him and poured out all her fear and pain and sorrow and hope into a flood of tears.