“Here’s my idea,” Cassie whispered to Haley, “you find the hostages while Nick and I attack the guys in front. If you can free them, get them out. If you can’t, at least you’ll probably get a chance to surprise the guy watching them.”
Haley nodded, transforming her hands and feet to grayish claws with long, sharp nails.
I found myself a little curious if her teeth had transformed into fangs as well, but it didn’t seem like the time to ask. She seemed a little sensitive about that.
“Good luck,” she said, and slipped inside, crawling upside down between the roof and the ceiling.
I caught a glimpse of her teeth as she’d talked. Fangs. She could definitely take a chunk out of somebody.
“Let’s give her a little while,” Cassie said. “Then we’ll jump through the ceiling.”
“And onto what?”
“I’ll move this and look. Just a second.”
She leaned in, pulled one end of tile out of the slot, and moved it a little to the left. From what I could see, we were just above an aisle.
Good. Stumbling on canned corn and landing on cereal boxes full of Captain Crunch wouldn’t exactly promote a feeling of inevitable justice.
She moved the tile back.
“I’ll chop a hole before we jump,” she said, and pulled herself out. “This is going to be fun.”
That wasn’t quite my perspective. Just at that moment, I’d been reflecting on the fact that if we screwed up, people might die.
From down below a scratchy voice said, “The lady cop called again. She said we can still surrender. I’m thinking we should.”
A deeper voice said, “Bullshit. They can’t do a thing to us while we’ve still got hostages. Did they say anything about giving us the money and a car?”
“You know they’re never going to give us anything. A few minutes from now they’re going to call in Mindstryke and we’re all going to fall asleep and wake up in jail.”
“Stuff it. Call her back. Remind her what happened to the cop and remind her that we’ve still got 7 people. If she doesn’t jump for it, call what’s his face — Phillips — the store owner. See if he’ll deal.”
“You think Phillips can call off the cops? I don’t. If we’re not going to surrender, let’s go out the back way and run.”
“Right. They got the place surrounded. Where are we going to go?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want to stay in here.”
“Dumbass. You’re the one who made us stay.”
“Yeah, well. They shot me. You think I’m going to want to run away right after I got shot in the leg?”
“Well, it’s too fucking late to leave now.”
“It’s stupid to stay in here.”
A third voice shouted from another corner of the store, “Will you both cut it out?”
Cassie turned to me. “Do you think she’s in position yet?”
“I hope so. They’ve been snapping at each other for forever.”
“Then I’d say it’s time to shut them up.”
She leaned into the hole and cut a circle in the ceiling, the sword moving through the metal and the tiles quickly and without resistance.
As it fell with a clatter, she jumped through. I followed, waiting a second so that I wouldn’t land on her. I shouldn’t have bothered. She moved immediately to the left and out of my way.
I got shot twice on the way down and not just anywhere. Both of them hit the eye-holes — well, where holes would have been if the whole helmet hadn’t been made of a substance my Grandpa created. I thought of it as “plasteel” in homage to Dune. The eye-holes were just transparent plasteel. The shots didn’t hurt, but the force knocked me sideways.
I hit a rack of paper products. Paper towels, toilet paper, and kleenex boxes rained down on me.
“That was smooth.” Cassie crouched next to me, sword ready.
“He shot me in the face,” I said. “Totally dead on. No way that could have been luck.”
She stopped smiling for a second — a good thing.
If one of these guys shot her in the head, the brain tissue would grow back, but I doubted that the knowledge would.
I pulled myself up, knocking off a couple boxes of tissues. “I’ll go first.”
“Go for it. Soak up the bullets, I’ll finish them off,” Cassie said.
I stepped out of our aisle and into the aisle that ran against a wall of coolers holding pop, beer, and other drinks.
The second I became visible, bullets hit me, starting with the face and moving down the center of my body.
I didn’t fall that time. I ran and leaped toward my attacker.
He stood at the end of the aisle, next the checkout counter, and a life-sized cardboard cutout of an extremely busty woman wearing a Budweiser t-shirt.
He had to be in his fifties — unshaven with greasy, graying hair and a blue winter jacket that looked like it hadn’t been washed in a couple presidential administrations. His lower right leg had been sloppily wrapped in bandages.
He popped out a magazine from his nine millimeter and replaced it with a new one while I was still in the air.
It didn’t matter.
Normal bullets don’t make it past the Rocket suit, and these were as normal as they came. He managed to fire off a few shots at near point blank range as I landed in front of him, and punched him in the face.
He went down on his back, unconscious, landing on the black mat in front of the exit. The door hummed and swung open.
By the time I wondered where his partner had gone, it was too late. A fist hit my chest, knocking me backwards into a row of groceries. Cans of green beans and bottles of ketchup burst from the force of my landing.
In front of me stood a fat, bearded man in a worn, black, leather jacket. He had to be at least three hundred pounds and in his late forties at youngest.
“Don’t move,” he said, “or I’ll beat your ass.”