Remembering back to when I’d taken Cassie’s gun to rescue her from being kidnapped by Rook, I supposed that a being that had been sitting unused for thousands of years before Cassie found it could handle some delayed gratification.
You could also argue that it might be desperate enough to do anything to avoid being alone again.
“Huh,” I said, “I guess that’s good. Time to go damage our ears?”
“Your ears,” Cassie put the gun back into her purse. “Mine regenerate.”
I hadn’t forgotten that, but I hadn’t been thinking it through either. Whatever. An hour later we were in the Metafight Games arena trying to impersonate the idle rich. I hadn’t been born yet when Larry fought there in the 80s, but maps showed that it was three times the size it had been then. It felt less like an arena and more like an upscale mall that happened to have arenas inside.
It didn’t stop with arenas either. Showing our tickets let us into a small garden surrounded by stores. Though there were people, the crowds weren’t overwhelming and a lot of them were around our age. We fit in—in more ways than one. Beyond being twenty-somethings, we weren’t the only ones wearing the anti-camera powder that obscured faces in photographs.
We’d been introduced to it at Stapledon, but it wasn’t a surprise that it had made it into the hands of the rich and famous. I hadn’t seen any paparazzi, but maybe that was how the good ones caught you?
As we moved out of a clot of people, Cassie muttered, “Wasn’t he on the Disney channel?”
I glanced back toward a tall, shirtless, blond guy in the middle of a group of equally attractive and underdressed men and women, “Maybe, but if that’s who I’m thinking of, he had fewer tattoos then.”
Daniel nodded, “It’s him. He had them. He just didn’t take off his shirt for the cameras.”
Cassie raised an eyebrow at Daniel who told us, He was literally thinking about being free to take his shirt off in public now.
She laughed and looked closer at the group, nodding toward one of the women, “I think I follow her videos online. This is going to get weird.”
Daniel shrugged, “They’re not paying any attention to us.”
Thinking into what amounted to Daniel’s self-hosted group chat, I said, What about those guys? Are you getting anything interesting?
A man and a woman in form-fitting powered armor that appeared to be barely more than one of my stealth suits stood next to the entrance. Despite the minimal protection, it did appear to have the multi-layered joint design that made anyone in the powered armor community think of Armory.
I felt Daniel’s attention turn in their direction, a brief sense of resistance, and then images of a room full of similar armor, some of it much heavier as Daniel responded, No question that we’re facing Armory or one of his students.
Images of an older man flashed through my head. Balding with white hair, a wrinkled face, and a potbelly, I didn’t recognize the man, but he looked old enough to retire in the 1980s. From the images Daniel showed me, he appeared to be directing others in maintaining the armor.
I shook my head, We’re going to be punching senior citizens again.
Cassie’s amusement flowed through our connection as she grinned, It looks like it.
I felt mild irritation from outside myself—from Daniel. Sorry, give me a few seconds.
We walked a little further and he continued, Okay, I think I may have something. As we thought, Armory’s here. He seems to be one of the people in charge and his center of power is under the arenas. I’m not sure how we get in there. Grabbing passwords is a little hard from a surface scan and I need time to do a deep dive into their heads. The bigger problem is that even if we had passwords, I’m getting the impression that whatever gets them into the secured areas is part of the armor.
I considered that. There’s got to be someone who gets back there without wearing armor, but if they’re not obvious, maybe we have to mug a security guard? It seems like there’s got to be a more subtle way in than that. I mean, honestly, if we have to do that it seems like the kind of thing that we’ll have to do while we’re sneaking in.
Cassie walked up to a bed of flowers and leaned in to sniff one, Maybe not. Maybe Daniel does something sneaky like finding out what in the costume gets people in and then we take it from someone—except Daniel wipes their memory.
Stepping forward to stand next to her, Daniel tilted his head down as if he were looking at the flowers. That might work. I’ve got a feeling it would be more difficult than it sounds. I’m getting the impression we’d need the entire costume or that Nick would need time to take it apart. On the other hand, if I implanted a need to get us inside into someone on the security team, that might be enough.
Then Daniel blinked, looking up from the flower bed, staring at another group of concert-goers, one that clustered around a man in a bluish-purple costume webbed with silver veins. It left his mouth uncovered and didn’t hide his blond hair. I’d spent more time than I wanted to with him a few years back—Kid Biohack.