Ryan muttered, “Huh?” He followed it up with, “Shit. Someone broke in and went through the—”
He stopped talking and then I heard a series of electronic clicking noises. He had to be calling someone.
Over the communicator, I told everyone, “They found the broken drawer and Ryan’s calling someone for help. I don’t know who, but we need to get out before they come this way.”
“What do you think we should do,” Vaughn asked, “Run?”
Both he and Stephanie looked back at me and then past me down the hall. I said, “I don’t know, but they’re still in the office talking. It seems like that would make more noise than doing what we’re doing.”
Over the comms, Haley took a breath. “I’m floating down toward the parking lot in front of the building. Run for it if you have to, but I think that you’re going to have to fight.”
Vaughn whispered, “Why?” into his communicator. I ignored the question in favor of paying attention to my bugs. On the surface, it might have been rude, but Haley could explain it as well as I could. Besides, Vaughn should have figured it out for himself.
If Haley caught our scent in the same situation, she could sprint upwards of fifty miles per hour—may be faster. Except for me, our small group of infiltrators couldn’t hit that kind of speed. Art and Zola could.
Ignoring Haley’s answer, I opened up the video of the scene. Ryan and Hardwick stood alone in the office. Ryan had opened the drawer and bent over it, looking through the folders.
Stopping and turning his head toward where Hardwick stood on the other side of the desk, Ryan said, “They got your flash drive. It’s not here. Fuck. I’m going to have them killed.”
In a level voice, Hardwick said, “Leave that to your people and the Nine for now. In the future, never say that out loud and especially never say it in my hearing. We need plausible deniability.”
I let go of the picture, deciding I didn’t need the distraction. As I did, I heard something through the suit’s speakers, followed by movement from behind me.
I whipped around, activating the sonics at levels that could blow eardrums, hoping that Vaughn and Stephanie’s costumes would keep their ears safe and that the property damage wouldn’t be too bad.
That was a nice thought that didn’t survive the sound of shattering glass that came from the ceiling as the hall’s light bulbs shattered. It wasn’t all of them—only the nearest in the direction I faced.
That section of the hall darkened as Art dropped to the ground, hands over his ears. Zola did better. By luck or wisdom, she didn’t happen to be directly in front of me when I released the initial blast of sound.
Instead, she’d jumped to the top of the hallway, using her claws to stay up near the top of the wall and then push off, twisting in the air to grab and then push off from the other side of the hallway. It was a technique I’d seen Haley use and one that required skill in addition to agility and power.
Zola had been working on it. I wasn’t sure whether to think of that as a good or bad sign.
When she leaped off the wall, aiming at me, I couldn’t help but feel that “bad sign” seemed more likely. She didn’t hit me, but it was nothing I did. I couldn’t move. My ability to process information was far above the human norm, but my reaction time wasn’t.
All the same, I wasn’t alone, a truth made more obvious by the lightning bolt that left Vaughn’s hands to hit and burn the ceiling along with the peal of thunder that sounded at the same time.
Zola avoided most of the blast, eyes going wide and giving a yelp as she dropped to the carpeted floor. There she caught part, but not all of the sonic attack I continued to aim in that direction.
Instead of falling down and lying helplessly on the ground, she jumped, claws outstretched, mouth open and a full set of sharp teeth in view.
I wasn’t sure if she was aiming for me, but I threw myself to the right side, hitting the wall. Zola continued past me, landing in front of Vaughn and Stephanie, but directly in front of Stephanie.
Out of the peripheral vision that my helmet gave me, I saw Zola draw back her hand, raking at Stephanie only to be met with a glowing symbol that appeared on Stephanie’s chest.
My HUD blocked the character with a black shape that obscured the details in my sight and though I couldn’t know it for sure, also Vaughn’s. After training with Stephanie as well as fighting her at Stapledon, I’d developed a program that blocked her brain hacks—most of the time.
Zola didn’t have the benefit of my research. She froze and crumpled to the ground, but not before one of her claws penetrated Stephanie’s uniform. A line of blood ran down Stephanie’s right bicep.
“Oh God.” She stared down at her arm.