Opening a comm connection to Red Hex, I asked, “How long will the invisibility last?”
Samita took a breath. A quick check of her position showed that she’d been running. That was smart. “Five minutes.”
“Thanks,” I said, and cut off the connection. Five minutes was enough. By that time we’d be where we needed to be or we’d be dead—possibly both.
Burning light from the space ship continued to incinerate everything around the building including the aliens’ own dead.
Meanwhile, transparent forms disappeared into Portal’s gates bare instants before they would have been destroyed. I was pretty sure the people in the ship weren’t targeting them. They were targeting everything.
Opening up a comm connection to Travis, Jaclyn, Izzy, and Rachel, I said, “I’ll carry Accelerando, and Izzy can take Night Wolf. Ghost can grab onto whoever she wants, I guess. We’re going to enter by way of the engine’s exhaust port.”
A few feet away, Travis, big, but as transparent as the rest of us, lifted his head toward the spaceship.
“You’ve worked out how we’ll do this without getting burned to death?” His deep voice stayed level.
“Pretty much. Izzy’s invulnerability comes partially from a force field. If we get close enough, we’ll be protected too.”
Izzy turned toward me. Her mask covered the upper half of her face, but I could see that she was frowning. “I’ve never pulled four people into it.”
“Remember when you lifted that boat during practice last fall? It should have broken in two. I’m betting you can surround more than you think.”
“I hope you’re—“ Izzy began, but then the grass near us began to burn. At the edge of the clearing, trees exploded into fire while Tara kept up a constant stream of directions.
I turned on the rockets and flew toward Jaclyn, grabbing her with one arm, and flying upward. My HUD showed where the air was hot, and I swung out to avoid a beam that was aiming for the woods.
Moments later Jaclyn and I were above the ship, staring down at the darker than black shields that surrounded it. It made for a strangely compelling picture. White light and the fire burning the grass below silhouetted the black, shielded ship.
The engine’s exhaust ports glowed softly on the far end as the spaceship slowly moved closer to the building.
Izzy’s voice came over the comm. “Did you change your mind? I’m close to the exhaust ports, and you’re um… not.”
“Sorry, I was concentrating more on avoiding getting burned. I’ll join you now.” I dove for her.
Jaclyn laughed. “I wondered what you were doing.”
“Sorry,” I said, controlling the suit with my right hand, aiming toward Izzy’s position.
“No apologies needed. I don’t want to get hit again.” She shouted through the wind.
I slowed down, and pushed the button that changed the suit’s orientation from horizontal to vertical.
For a moment it felt like my stomach wouldn’t be turning with me, but then I found myself floating in the air near Izzy and Travis, neither of them standing out much from the air around them.
The red glow of the engines’ exhaust seemed to be dimming.
“Now,” Jaclyn said, and she was right. They seemed to be planning to come to a complete stop over Blue Sky Labs.
I aimed for Izzy as she turned toward the ship. As I caught up, she pulled me in, and we all hung on to each other as she flew directly into the glow.
I turned the rockets off by tapping the backup controls in the helmet’s mouthpiece. At same time, fire surrounded us and I waited for the suit to throw up error messages, followed shortly by pain and death.
It didn’t. I didn’t even feel warm as flame blocked my view of everything else.
After a little while the glow disappeared, and Rachel’s voice came over the comm. “Time for a group hug?”
She faded in, floating in the air inside a glossy white tube. We floated only a few feet away, all of us hanging on to Izzy.
Travis laughed, and said, “You’re missing out.”
Rachel grinned, and said, “Thanks, but no. I’ll scout ahead and find you in the ship.”
Then she floated through the wall to her right.
Jaclyn let go first. “Not that I don’t like you people,” she said, dropping to the floor, “but I think we should get moving.”
“Are you sure it’s safe,” I started to ask, and then I caught a glimpse of the outside in my HUD. By the outside, I mean where the exhaust port opened to the sky behind us.
I couldn’t see anything. Light eating darkness covered the end. Now the only way out was further in.
I looked down. The floor’s temperature was around ninety degrees.
“Rocket,” Travis asked as the both of us dropped to the floor, “you know how these engines are designed, should we go left or right?”
Izzy turned her head from the left side to the right. My passive sonar made it clear that she was sweeping the area.
Turning her head toward Travis, she said, “There’s nothing but more hull to the left, and there’s space to the right.”
“Thanks,” Travis said, and walked across from one side of the tube to the other, regrowing claws on his hands and feet as he did it.
Then he sank his hands into the glossy material (ceramic, maybe?), and ripped a hole in it. It crumbled as he pulled, breaking into chunks both small and large. Jaclyn spread out her hands, and gave a solid push at a section near his. A three foot wide piece broke away, cracks running out to join with Travis’ section.
It fell, hitting something metal with a ringing crash.
Alarmed shouts came through the hole.