If in the middle of a fight for your life, an unknown presence offers you the power to survive, the pragmatic choice might be to say yes now and deal with the consequences later. The cautious and maybe wisest choice might be to say no and concentrate on surviving because some favors come at too high a price.
As for myself, I pushed the rockets as much as I could to give myself more time and thought back, “Who are you?”
I felt an answer as much as I saw it in my mind, a vast host of translucent humanoid forms that reminded me a little of angels and even more of the Cosmic Ghosts I’d seen pictures of in the Xiniti implant’s recordings.
That wasn’t all. Among the unnumbered army, I saw my sister Rachel, short, dark hair and wry expression standing out amid the faceless horde. “I can’t get to you, but asked them to help. Listen to them. They know what they’re doing.”
In a quieter voice, as if from a distance, Lee said, “She’s right.”
Another that seemed to come from just as far away said, “You trusted them before. Trust them now. And tell Marcus I miss him.”
That was Kee. Kals had said they’d been to Hideaway together.
After glancing back toward the horizon, Rachel turned toward me. “They’re not normally here. Like you, they’re on a guest pass. Don’t get used to it. And be careful.”
I’d have asked more, but if I could trust that it wasn’t an illusion I needed the help now. I thought, “Go ahead.”
The sea of Ghosts faded away, leaving only a warm feeling, followed by a blur of information that I now understood. When I’d created the sword, I’d drawn on Lee’s power and Lee’s power was loud. Now I knew better how to draw on my own. There wasn’t much of it, but I’d have more by the time I was a thousand years old, the Ghost told me.
Even more important, she could show me how to hide it.
I let her, noting that my species rarely lived a hundred years, much less one thousand.
All she said was, “We’ll see.”
Technically, she may not have said words, but passed on a combination of feelings and vague impressions that were best translated as, “We’ll see.”
With that, I found myself fully aware of being in the Rocket suit with the accompanying warm weight around my body flying through the darkness at more than four hundred miles per hour. The woods flew past below me. The stars winked above me. The Hardwick Industries’ buildings stood only a little behind me because all that had happened had taken only seconds.
It may even have taken less than a second.
I couldn’t see Jared through my helmet’s wraparound screen, but I could feel him. As I’d suspected earlier, he was behind me but gaining. He’d be on me in less than ten seconds if I did nothing.
I jinked left, feeling him shoot past me, adjust, and then turn left to follow me. Then I leaned over to the right, turning in that direction and forcing him to adjust to follow me again. That was interesting. He or his suit might react slower than I did.
I repeated the moves again, hoping he’d be thinking that I couldn’t see him, but was only guessing that he was still behind me. Even better, I was giving him the impression that I thought in two dimensions instead of three.
He did better at following me but still flew past. For all his experience, I might still have more time spent in the air—or maybe the Abominator device taxed him in ways I didn’t know.
Either way, I didn’t jink right or left after that. I turned upward and flipped over so that he flew under me. I ended up above him but not parallel. I was over the lower half of his body.
Not giving him time to respond, I gave the rockets everything I could, putting myself over where his rockets should be and then I punched them.
What should have happened was that I missed, punching empty air while Jared existed just to the left of reality. It didn’t go that way. As I punched, I pulled at something with my mind, maybe a part of me that didn’t physically exist here, willing myself to extend elsewhere, to be solid.
My punch hit, crushing one of the two rockets in his pack. I didn’t know exactly how the Abominator artifact worked but I understood that even if it altered how fast Jared’s suit could fly, the suit’s rocket pack affected how fast it could go and now it definitely flew slower.
For all that, it didn’t instantly slow down. For a moment, it still traveled at the speed it had been at before and in that moment Jared spun in the air, aiming his long knife at me.
He must have decided invisibility wasn’t worth it because he flickered into view as the knife flashed toward my gut, hitting the Rocket suit, and failing to go through.