With a gait that was graceful and strong, but not quite human, Haley crossed the distance to the doorway, stopping next to the doorframe.
Amy’s wards made it appear that no one was in the room, but Haley had let the wall block their vision of her. She, in turn, didn’t try to look out the doorway. She closed her eyes, turned her nose slightly upward and sniffed.
At moments like that, I wished that Daniel were around. He’d be able to tell me what she’d smelled without risking asking her aloud.
I stood up. It was a risk, but if someone did walk through the doorway I wanted to be in the Rocket suit.
Haley turned and glared at me, holding up her hand, palm in my direction.
I stopped moving.
Outside, the heavy footsteps began moving away from us, heading for the common room’s far exit. After a minute, I couldn’t hear them anymore.
A little bit after that, Haley looked me in the eyes. “What were you doing?”
“Going for the full suit. I’m not that noisy.” I wasn’t. Lee had taught me the basics of walking quietly.
Haley frowned, taking a step away from the wall. “You’re not, but it wasn’t worth the risk. You remember the Cabal kids in my class? The three you fought at the beginning of year? They were outside.”
Even in the full suit, I couldn’t take one of the Cabal’s reservists in a straight fight. Those kids were obviously related to the reservists. In Lee’s demonstration, we’d defeated them by getting them into the air where they had no way to use their strength.
Using Vaughn to do that underground had obvious problems. All the air in the complex would be affected. If anyone thought about it, it’d be a beacon saying, “Here’s Vaughn!”
Samita looked from Haley to me. “I heard about the Cabal on the news of course. How bad were they?”
“Terrifying,” Haley said, clenching her right hand. Muscle rippled under the gray skin of her forearm. “They were strong enough to damage the Rocket suit, practically impossible to hurt, and regenerated.”
“Lasers punched right through their skin,” I added, “and the new suit’s got lasers, but I obviously can’t use them.”
As I said it, I knew that Lee would be telling me, “Better them than you.” If there was no other way to survive, he’d want me to kill them, fellow students or not. I wanted to avoid that.
“Sean?” I said. He turned his head toward me. His mouth twitched. “We’ve got a supply room, and I know for a fact that there are steel ball bearings there. If we’ve got to fight somebody, you can—“
“Hold them in the air. Got it.” Sean stood up. “I remember your demo.”
As rude as that might have been, he’d been ruder. I led him out of the lab, and we walked in silence, passing the two labs to the left of mine. The Cabal kids had left the lights on.
When we neared the third doorway I said, “This one,” and we walked around the corner and inside. The lights went on as we did. It was about three times the size of my lab and all shelves. Brown, cardboard boxes filled the shelves. Bigger cardboard boxes filled the middle of the room.
We walked through the aisles between the middle boxes and the shelves. I noticed the boxes of ball bearings on the far end of the shelf we were passing. They’d been ordered with someone in mind, and I doubted that person would be able to use them after this. On the other hand, if using them avoided our deaths or anyone else’s, it was worth it.
I pointed the boxes out to Sean, and watched as the boxes floated off the shelves. Sean barely appeared to be concentrating. He turned to me, asking, “Do you think there’s a backpack around here somewhere?”
I thought about it, realized where one might be, and walked around the end, and saw an already open box of backpacks. I grabbed one and brought it back to Sean.
He’d already gotten a lot of the ball bearings out of their plastic packaging. They floated in the air, hundreds of thick metal circles waiting for the right machine.
Sean held one in his hand and appeared to be looking through the partially open side—probably at the steel balls inside. “You know,” he said, “when you said ball bearings, I was thinking about the balls.”
I shrugged. “We probably have a box of balls for ball bearings somewhere.”
“Don’t worry about it. These things are good enough.” He frowned, then sighed.
I handed him the backpack and he opened it, letting ball bearings stream inside.
When he’d filled it enough, the zipper zipped itself shut.
Sean looked up from the backpack. “Hey, dude. I thanked you for getting my sister healed.”
“Yeah,” I said, wondering where this was going.
“I don’t think I ever apologized for everything before I knew who you were.”
“You don’t have to.” I waited as he put the backpack on his back, floating it upward and sticking his hands through the straps.
“I do.” He said. “I was being an ass. I didn’t have to.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. The last time Sean had tried to talk about this, I’d hung up on him. I hadn’t wanted to deal with it. I couldn’t say I wanted to deal with it now either. Back then he was on the verge of being thrown out because he’d attacked me. Now, wanting to apologize for what he’d done before he knew who I was, made it sound as if the Rocket were the real me instead of a mask I wore.
More to the point, it sounded almost as if he were apologizing because here at Stapledon, unlike high school, I was known and generally liked.
On the other hand, whatever his motivation, apologizing was better than not apologizing. I felt sure my dad would be telling me to take the apology—if I could ever tell him about it.
“Thanks,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”