I was telling the whole truth in my last blog post. Not only the burying my dog part, but the sudden crash of writing desire and the determination to not let that sink in. Sadly (or not … I’m not sure how I feel about this), that loss of my companion for a decade gave me a sudden surge of clarity and inspiration on a major plot point of Incorruptible.
To keep up my personal momentum, let me present another sneek peak, the third chapter of the third book in The Push Chronicles:
Chapter 3 Strange
I glanced the man up and down once. The facts were that he had saved my life right then, knew who I was, and wasn’t Pushed. No, in fact, I could have sworn … well … I wouldn’t know for sure until I saw him in action. Average height, wiry frame, but all of his features were concealed behind the paramilitary-style uniform and face mask. Considering the bad straits I was in, I would have to take a leap of faith.
“I don’t -” I tried to say, but he cut me off.
“Nothing to do for it,” he said with a surprisingly upbeat tone. “Improvisation is the finest quality of any cook.” He turned on a heel and began a jog down the corridor from whence he came. The guard at my feet groaned and shifted, but was safe enough to leave behind. Summoning my own waning strength, I took off after my unknown ally.
“What about the others?” I called after him. It was obvious he was taking it slow to account for my condition.
“Don’t worry, the cavalry is on the way.” More boots were marching in our direction and, just as the hall my own cell had been on, this one was the same simple white-washed cinder block, just with a distinct lack of doorways.
“I don’t mean help, I mean my -” I didn’t appreciate being cut off again, but the shudder of chills kept my anger at bay. I was already starting to loose focus, which could be quite deadly.
There was no time to lodge a protest immediately. Up ahead, at the base of a flight of stairs, a small cadre of guards had set up a short firing line. They were mostly silent … I assumed throat microphones and silent alarms at this point … but the guns would speak plenty once they steadied their aim. With no cover, well, there was only one option.
I tried to will my legs to work like they used to, but I couldn’t work a miracle. Yes, my surge of speed was still impressive, but it wouldn’t be enough this time, not in the state I was in. It was only a mild surprise that the mystery man surged past me. It looked like Rachel had found another Natural somewhere.
It wasn’t jealousy but honest appraisal that noted that he wasn’t as fast as I was at my peak. Maybe Mackenzie had known about this man too, it would have explained why he had known so much about our particular brand of oddity before he disappeared. Still, it was more than fast enough to close in before the gunmen had a chance to open fire.
What did take me completely off guard was the fact that, instead of taking advantage of the moment to fire his own rifle to disperse the guards, Mr. Mystery hurled something produced from a vest pocket. It looked very much like a nine-volt battery, probably because that’s what it was. It landed with a clunk in the middle of the confused guards.
“You’re up, Vee!” the man said and shielded his eyes. There was something wrong about that battery, that much I could tell for the split-second before the air split with a flash of raw electricity, the sudden clap of thunder, and, more importantly to me, the sudden flood of unreality caused by the sudden appearance of a Pushed.
It was all over as my eyes cleared. All of the guards were laid out, twitching from the residual charge running through their muscles, as if they had all been shocked by one giant taser, an experience I was intimately familiar with. Through the wisps of smoke and the acrid waft of ozone, a roughly humanoid shape hovered above them, a coherent form of dancing sparks and lightning. In the middle of that corona was an all-too human form, clean-cut with close cropped hair … ex-military maybe? Just trying to make the two images, unreal and real, synch up made my eyes hurt even more.
“Hell yes! I am so glad to be out of that thing!” the figure buzzed, his voice sounding more like the hum of a power line than a human. If I hadn’t heard the echo of his real voice behind it, I would have been lost in my somewhat addled state.
“Change of plans,” the mystery figure said. “Dr. Roman broke out early.”
“How did she -“
“One of you guys gave me the key somehow.” There was a blank look on the lightning man’s face and the Natural stared in my direction, unreadable behind the mask. “Right?”
Shocked silence was their only answer. They didn’t know about the key either? I didn’t like it. Not one bit. My growing circle of allies continued to stare, despite our precarious situation.
“Don’t stand there and gape. We can’t have much time.” The world spun for a moment … all of the sudden exertion on top of a sudden turn of my stomach forced me to lean against the wall.
“Right, sorry, ma’am,” the electric man replied and spun in the air to face the stairs. “I’m hitting the wires. I’ll blow all the alarms and electronic locks on the exit and the rest of this floor, then meet back up with you. Should keep the guards down here busy.”
“It’s up one flight and through the main yard and we’re out,” the Natural in black assured me. “You can hold it together a bit longer, right?” There wasn’t a hint of doubt in the man’s voice. If anything, he seemed a bit … awed to be talking to me. Damn reputation.
I could only grit my teeth and nod as the one called Vee broke into so many separate sparks of electricity, disappearing into the walls. I had to close my eyes to stave off another bout of illness at watching his natural form broken up into so many shadowy images. Fortunately, yesterday’s meal, such as it was, stayed inside and, with a steadying hand from Mr. Mysterious, I stood up.
“Yes, but we can’t run. Not yet.” I pointed back down the way we came, where the other vault doors were. “There have to be more -“
“No, Doc, there aren’t.” There was something going on, I could read it in his voice. “Doesn’t matter anyway. You’re the most important person here anyway. We have to go.”
I wanted to argue. The idea that I was so special pissed me off to no end and I had been forced to deal with it every day since Washington. Still, I had the sinking feeling that he was right. Not about me, but that we had no choice. Whatever plan these people may have had was shot now and there was sure to be more trouble the longer we stayed.
” … fine.” I couldn’t hide the venom in my voice. Even if I had been able to, I wouldn’t have. I hated this whole set-up, but there were no chances of freedom any more but this one.
If anything, the man in black looked a little hurt, but responded with a quick nod. Without another word, we broke for the stairs.
I had imagined by his use of the word ‘yard’ that we would be coming out into the middle of a prison exercise yard, surrounded by walls and guard towers. What we came out onto after two flights of stairs and a now-unlocked hatch didn’t match what I had seen in all those movies at all. It just was an abandoned lot by a train yard. The patchy grass was strewn with bits of trash and debris and a cheap electric fence wrapped around the irregular perimeter.
Two things immediately caught my attention, scattered as it was. The first and largest thing was the skyline. To see the buildings of good old Atlanta all around me was a great relief but that relief was greatly tempered by the semi-transparent golden glow that encompassed the sky in all directions. I couldn’t tell if it was something physical like a dome of some kind or if the sky itself had changed. Either could be possible in the twisted reality we all lived in now.
As disturbing as the unnatural glow above was, the second thing presented a more immediate concern. Waiting for us were four figures, all immediately recognizable to me. There was a split-second of joy, but it was gone quickly.
They were my friends, my family. The Atlanta Five, well, minus one. Hexagon, the towering six-armed powerhouse with the manners of a Southern gentleman; the Human Tank, the hyperactive cyborg teen with a super-powered tank body; Medusa, my best friend and snake-woman with the power of petrification; and Extinguisher, ice-manipulating firefighter and, well, my other ex-boyfriend. My first impulse was to rush up and start hugging them.
Before I could move, the man in black put a warding arm in my way. I didn’t need it, because I could see what had happened with my own two eyes. There were tight metal cowls fitted to each of their heads, though in Meds’ case it was a mesh of metal to accommodate the writhing snakes on her head. To my eyes, they were simply metal and plastic, simple hats, but they were Pushtech and who knew what it was doing to them. From the naked aggression in their eyes, it couldn’t be good.
“Indy, you need to step away from the criminal and surrender yourself to us,” Ex said mechanically, riding a stable platform of ice. “We don’t want to hurt you.”
“You can trusssst usss, Irene,” Meds hissed. “Thingsss have changed in wayss you can’t -“
I didn’t want to hear this anymore. What had been shock and pain turned into sweet, hot rage and that rage sang in my heart. I didn’t feel that sickness or weakness as I ducked past Mr. Mystery and ran forward. No one on the team could ever match my quickness and that fact hadn’t changed as I was in the midst of the group before they could react.
Medusa was the least immediately dangerous to me and thus the one I could have the best chance of saving, assuming what I was about to do would save her. I grabbed her around the sinewy waist and bulled through the center of the team’s formation. Scaled fingers snaked around my throat, but I ignored them even as they began to squeeze. Hoping to get at the apparent source of the problem, I hurled us both down as hard as I could to the ground, confident in Meds’ Pushed durability to prevent permanent harm.
As we slammed into the packed earth, Medusa’s grip loosed slightly, enough for me to breathe freely. From behind, I heard the air torn by burning plasma and freezing air. God, Irene, did you just leave the man that helped save you, even if he was a Natural, to get torn apart by three of your friends? I ignored that nagging in my mind as I pinned Medusa down with a forearm.
“Thisss iss a misstake, Irene!”
“I don’t know what the hell he did to you but I’m going to fix it.” She tried to block my reaching hand with her arm, clutching it by the wrist, but I was stronger and my willpower was steady. My fingertips touched the crown of metal bands. Just another inch.
“Doc!” came the hurried shout. “We have to go!” The sounds of struggle and unnatural energies echoed through the open field. At least he wasn’t dead yet.
“No, I can do this!” I had the lip of the gizmo with the cuff of two fingers now. Medusa hissed and thrashed but there wasn’t anything she could do at this point to stop me. Her gaze had no effect at all on me. It would just take a few more seconds.
“VEE!” The mystery man’s cry for help was pained. Having been on the wrong end of the Five early on, they were dangerous even for a Natural like the two of us. It didn’t help that they knew how to fight someone like me. The smell of ozone heralded blinding light radiating from behind me amid cries of surprise and pain. My hand clutched around the metal band across Meds’ forehead now as several of her hissing snakes chomped down into my arm.
“Ma’am, we have to go.” Vee’s static voice was all military. “Damn, Quentin, where’s Frost?” I ignored him and the pain in my arm. I had it now and I wasn’t leaving without at least one of my friends.
The scream of agony ripped through my ears as I twisted the steel and plastic in my grip. Meds’ entire body spasmed for a moment before going entirely limp. With a final cry I tore the rest of the headdress loose and tossed it aside like a cheap piece of trash. Now, I could go.
Assuming that I would live through the next five minutes. I saw a familiar blue light in my eyes and everything became very cold. Ex … Extinguisher … knew intimately my strengths and weaknesses. Sure, he couldn’t freeze me solid, but he could freeze the air around me. Specifically my head.
Cloudy ice obscured my vision as the horrific sensation of imminent suffocation came over me. There had been no chance to hold my breath and already things were starting to go gray. Understandably, I thought I might have been delusional when I saw the massive dragon woman swoop down under a nearby underpass, sweeping over my head as I collapsed. My knuckles broke as I beat on the ice, but my fists just weren’t hard enough to crack it. Maybe if I had been in better shape … not that it was going to matter in a few moments.
I was right, but not in the way I had thought. Just as everything turned a uniform black, the splitting of ice filled my ears and the cold went away. I didn’t care how or why, I just pulled in a deep breath, happy to be alive. For obvious reasons, I didn’t struggle as I felt myself being hoisted by powerful arms.
“I can’t leave you boys alone for a minute, can I?” the resonating voice next to me said as wings beat the wind. Mr. Mystery’s pain-tinged voice cried out against the growing wind from somewhere beside me.
“Probably not, Frost, probably not.”
” …. did you get her? …” It was a gasping wheeze of a question and I doubted anyone heard me, but the dragon woman did.
“Voltage took her,” Frost, I assumed her name was, said through the wind as we flew off to who-knew-where. “I only hope they too got away.”
As weak as I felt, I could feel my fists clench. I promised myself, as we made our escape, that I was not only going to free my family but I was going to make the Crusaders pay for what they did, no matter what it took.