…. EPISODE 36…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
Draven and I are only in the physics lab for a minute when, suddenly, the room is bathed in light.
We both turn toward the door, where a man in uniform is leveling a weapon at us. It might be a Taser, or it might be a real gun. Neither of us are willing to take the chance.
“What are you doing in here?” he demands.
Draven moves forward like he’s going to take the lead. But I stop him. I’m not sure if his powers are recharged enough yet, and I don’t want him to drain them even more by trying.
“It’s my fault,” I explain. “I have a huge quantum physics report due tomorrow, and I left some of my research at my station.”
The guard narrows his eyes. “So you thought that made it okay to break and enter?”
“We didn’t break. We just entered,” Draven argues. “The door was unlocked.” But the guard isn’t buying it. “Nice try. You aren’t the first kids I’ve caught trying to steal equipment for a meth lab.”
Meth lab? Seriously? Photoshopped poster aside, do we actually look like tweakers? Sure, Draven and I may be a little wrung out. But I like to think it would take a lot more than a few days of missed sleep to make us look like aspiring meth heads.
Secondly, you don’t need a vacuum chamber to make meth. As Walter White taught us, you only need the right chemicals, a steady heat source, and a way to extract the precipitate. And, oh yeah, a well-ventilated space. Pretty much the opposite of a vacuum chamber.
“Look, I’m sorry, okay?” I say as Draven inches a little closer to the guard. “I’m on scholarship, and if I blow my GPA, I’ll be on academic probation and then—” “Hold it right there!” the guard shouts as Draven gets a little too close for comfort. Draven stops. I stop with him.
“I’m not strong enough,” Draven says, not bothering to try to keep the guard from hearing. “I can’t use my powers from this distance.”
“It’s okay,” I tell him at the same time the guard asks, “Powers?”
Then he shakes his head and backs away, clearly trying to put distance between us and him. “Oh shit,” he says. “I know you. You’re on that APB the CBI sent around. Don’t. Move.”
He reaches for the small black microphone attached to the shoulder of his uniform. “This is Officer Pulaski,” the guard says, keeping his eyes and his gun on us, which means he doesn’t see or sense the movement behind him. “I’m in Physics 127 with two intruders from the CBI alert. Repeat, I have two of the wanted criminals cornered in the—”
The guard slumps to the ground. I guess a chop to the neck from V will do that to a guy.
“You’re out of my sight for ten minutes,” she says, pushing the guard out of the way so she and Jeremy can get in the room, “and you’re caught by a freaking campus security guard.” She shakes her head. “It’s embarrassing.”
The radio on the guard’s hip crackles. “Pulaski? Pulaski! Are you there?” When there’s no answer, the voice on the radio says, “I’ve called in your report.” “Damn it,” V mutters. “We need to put space between us and here. Right now.” “Just give me a sec,” I tell her.
“You get your gear. I’ll take care of this guy.” She squats down next to the unconscious guard and grabs him under the arms.
While she drags him out into the hall, I hurry to the end of the counter where the vacuum chamber I need is sitting out in plain sight. When I try to lift it, my arms strain against the weight. It barely budges.
Draven steps in. “Here, let me—damn! How much does this thing weigh?” “And more importantly, how the hell are we supposed to carry it out of here?” Jeremy asks.
I spin in a circle, looking for something—anything—that can help. I spot our salvation by the storage room door.
I race across the room, grab the lab cart, and wheel it back to the vacuum pump.
“Help me slide it on,” I tell Draven.
Jeremy hurries over to help, but I think we both know that I have more upper body strength than he does. He ends up moving to the back of the cart and holding it in place as Draven and I struggle to pull the equipment off the counter. It takes more effort than I’d like to admit, but we get it on.
Draven quickly shoves all the chemicals onto the bottom shelf, and Jeremy does the same with his haul from the biology lab.
By the time we’re wheeling it to the door, V is back.
“All taken care of,” she says.
“What does that mean?” I ask. “Did you…?”
“What? Kill him?” She laughs as if that’s the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard.
As if it’s such a stretch for me to think that the villain girl who shot up our van might not think twice about taking out a human guard. Especially one who is an actual threat.
“Tell your conscience to take a break, good girl,” she says. “I locked him in a closet.”
I nod in relief, not even caring about her “good girl” comment.
“Let’s move,” she says, “before the—”
She twists her head to one side, like she’s listening for some far-off noise. “Now!” She puts a hand behind my back and propels me into the hall. “We need to be gone now.”
We run down the hall to the accessible exit at the far end, the one with a ramp instead of stairs. No way can we get this cart outside otherwise.
As soon as we’re at the base of the ramp, I start to turn in the direction of the parking lot. V stops me with a hand clamped to the cart.
“There are a dozen cop and government cars converging on the campus right now.” She closes her eyes for a second, listening. “Head north. There’s a circle drive behind the theater building. I’ll get the car and meet you there.”
My heart is pounding as we race across campus—Draven and I pushing the cart, and Jeremy pulling out his smartphone. Head down, he starts punching at the screen with his thumbs. I’m amazed he doesn’t run into a tree. Coordination isn’t exactly his strong suit at the best of times.
A few seconds later, there’s a loud squelch and then a voice coming from his phone.
“Repeat, we have two suspects from the CBI alert confirmed on the campus of FCU. Last seen leaving the physics building.”
Jeremy holds down a button. “Copy that,” he says in a voice that sounds way more like a cop than a hacker. “They were just seen heading southwest. Must be making for the main entrance.”
“Copy that,” the voice says. “Units seventeen and eighty-one, head to the entrance gate.”
I smile. Leave it to Jeremy to find a way to hack police-band radio.
The people looking for us might be heading in the opposite direction for the moment, but they won’t be for long. We run faster, push harder. We steer around
the theater building and, just as V said, find a circle drive out back that leads to a loading dock.
We’re just reaching the base of the driveway when our car squeals around the corner, skidding to a stop right in front of us.
No one wastes time talking. V pops out of the car. She and Draven heft the vacuum chamber into the trunk—I know better than to think I have any upper body strength on her—while Jeremy and I pack in the supplies from the bottom shelf. When the cart is empty, I send it rolling toward the loading dock.
Within seconds, we’re all in the car and speeding away. Just as a small army of cars with flashing lights round the corner in front of us.
“Hold on!” V shouts.
She cuts the wheel sharply to the right, sending the car into a fishtail and me crashing into Draven’s side. He puts his arm around my shoulder and holds me tight as V spins us back the other way.
Everything is a blur. I can’t really see what happens or how she does it, but soon we’re speeding down a street with the flashing lights in the rearview mirror. “That was close,” I say.
For an instant, a strange image fills my mind. A gray map showing the buildings around us and a convoy of cars that is hot on our tail. Then, just as quickly, it’s gone.
That was weird.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” V replies.
Jeremy groans as he looks up from his phone. “Not by a long shot. They just called in the FBI.”
“The FBI?” I choke out.
Jeremy twists around to show us his phone screen. “It seems we’ve made it onto the national Most Wanted list.”
How is this possible? “Rex hates asking for help almost as much as he hates villains,” I say.
Draven shakes his head. “He hates us more than he loves his pride.” “Rex must really want you all dead.” V’s eyes don’t leave the road. “This can’t be right,” Jeremy says, staring at his phone. “What?” we all ask.
“They’re tracking us.” He types furiously on his phone. “They know exactly where we are.”
“How is that possible?” I ask. “Are they tracking your phone?”
“No way.” Jeremy sounds insulted. “This is a ShadowPhone. Completely untraceable. It hijacks private cell signals, clones nearby phone profiles, reconfigures its mobile ID number every five seconds—”
“Okay, okay,” Draven interrupts. “We get it, geek boy. Not your phone.” “Did anyone else bring a phone?” Jeremy asks. “I told you to leave them at the cabin.”
We all quickly confirm that we didn’t bring our phones.
Jeremy presses a few more buttons, his phone emits a series of sonar-like pings, and then a computerized voice says, “No surveillance devices detected.”
He leans forward over the dashboard, looking around outside as if he might find a drone following us or a cop sitting on our roof. As if one could have held on with V’s crazy driving.
Jeremy curses and punches the dashboard. “Traffic cameras. I should have thought of that.”
“They’re tracking us on video?” V asks.
Jeremy nods. “Following us from one camera to the next. Normally that would require algorithm-heavy software or manual scan-and-click. But if Rex has a technopath involved…”
If he has a technopath involved, then we are totally screwed. Panic slides down my spine. Not for me so much, but for my friends. For Draven.
“How do we beat it, Jeremy?” I demand, my voice going shrill.
Even if they can only trace us to the edge of town, it’ll narrow their search window. They’ll find us at the cabin that much faster.
“I’m going to lead them off the scent,” V says, taking a sharp left. “Let me know when they’re off our tail.”
Jeremy turns around in the passenger seat. “We’re moving too fast for me to locate, access, and disable the cameras before they spot us on them. Not to mention, that will give them another kind of trail to follow.”
“Then what?” Draven squeezes me tighter. “There has to be a way to lose them.” “Kenna,” Jeremy says. “You have to do it. Use your power to cut the cameras before we’re on screen. And if you can, blow them all at once.”
“Is that all?” I ask a little sarcastically as I start to focus my energy.
“Actually, no.” Jeremy stops me with a hand on my arm. “You have to restrict it to outside the car. If you blow the circuits in the car’s electronics systems, we’ll stall out.”
Which means we’ll be sitting ducks waiting for the cops, the feds, and the heroes to descend on us. Not to mention that we all might get electrocuted in the process.
No pressure or anything. I haven’t had to be this precise before. I’m not sure I can be.
Draven takes my hand. “You can do this.” “I guess we’re about to find out.”
“Don’t screw up,” V advises. She certainly knows how to coddle a girl. Shoving the fear of everything that could go wrong out of my mind, I close my eyes and try to focus, using some of the techniques the others have been teaching me since I learned about my power. But they’ve had whole lifetimes to learn control. I’ve only had a couple weeks.
That doesn’t matter, I tell myself. I’ve totally got this. And if I don’t, well… No, I’ve totally got this. It all comes down to visualization.
I picture the car in a bubble. A big, shiny sphere of protection, like Glinda’s in The Wizard of Oz. It’s a shield nothing can get through.
Then I start to manipulate the energy, to pull the electricity from the air. Within seconds, sparks tingle around the bubble, crackling at the surface. Pushing at it a little, trying to find a way in.
I push them back and build up the bubble a little more. Make it a little stronger. Then, when I feel like the sphere is as secure as I can make it, I take a deep breath and release the energy.
With my eyes closed, I can’t see it. But the bright sparks of electricity, the flash of streetlights blowing out, the sizzling streams of lightning cutting through the air, glow through my eyelids.
And—on another positive note—the car keeps moving.
“You’re doing it,” Draven whispers.
Jeremy whoops at my success.
“Are we good?” V asks.
“Oh yeah,” Jeremy answers. “We are so good. It’ll be a long time before they ever track anyone again.”
I smile, but keep my eyes closed. I don’t want to lose control now.
After what feels like an eternity of sharp turns, fishtails, and the distant echo of sirens, the tension in the car finally releases.
“You can stop,” Jeremy tells me. “We’re in the canyon.”
“Are you sure?” I ask.
“Positive,” Draven says.
With a huge sigh of relief, I relax my power. Release the bubble. Open my eyes. We’re back on the narrow canyon road, city and government surveillance disappearing behind us.
“Stellar driving, V,” Draven says, patting her on the shoulder.
“I’ve driven the getaway car tons of times. No one ever tells me ‘good job,’” Jeremy complains. “I could have done that.”
“Sure you could have,” Draven agrees with a laugh.
I want to laugh too, but I am suddenly so exhausted I can’t keep my eyes open.
Using my power so intensely for that long has really drained me, and for a moment
I can’t help wondering if this is how Draven feels. Wondering how much hell Rex
must have put him through—and for how long—for his powers to still be so
exhausted that he can barely use them.
It’s too awful to think about.
I’m so tired I can’t keep my brain focused. Instead, soothed by the gentle swirl of the car on the winding canyon road, I let my head fall against Draven’s shoulder. I let myself forget, just for a little while, that nothing is ever going to be the same again.