Overcome with relief that she’s alive, I say, “Oh, my God, Maisa! I’m so sorry I didn’t get you. I’m sorry. Tell me where you are, and I’ll come now. I promise.”
“I’m in the back of a van. He’s taking me somewhere.”
I start back toward the apartment. I need to suit up. The others chase after me as I dash up the stairs. “Do you know where?”
Maisa is quiet for a moment. Then, “I don’t know, we’re on a weird highway.”
“What do you mean? Weird how?” I ask. “Can you see anything?”
“No.” Maisa chokes up. “Gabe, he killed everyone.”
My blood runs cold. “What do you mean?”
“Those people that came to help him. The warping lady, the machine man, and the one that can fly. He just killed them. That’s where I got the ear piece from.” Her voice grows frantic. “Gabe, he’s wrong. He’s not the same.”
“How?” I make it to my floor. Bedevil floats in behind me, and the other three come running up the stairs.
Maisa pauses. I hear her breathing, steady, slow, but ragged. A second or two passes, and she says, “He wouldn’t shut up before. He spoke about everything he saw. He has not said a word since you tried to rescue me. His eyes don’t focus on anything, and he doesn’t look at people when they talk to him. He always makes this expression like he’s fighting or in pain.”
“Maisa, I’m coming to get you.” Those other Fear entities – I shudder at the thought of their being more than one – latched on to people. If they feed off fear, then I don’t want Maisa to turn into this thing’s food or become some kind of host to it. “Maisa, I know this sucks, but you need to be brave. This thing that’s taken over Pandahead, it feeds off your fear. If you’re brave, it’ll be like you smelling bad to it. Can you tell me anything else about what you see?”
I open the door to my apartment. Mr. Gold leans on the counter, looking at his phone, and Saw Off leans on the fridge door, staring at him like she just saw the latest piece from Smith & Wesson.
An airport. Holy shit, he’s trying to take her out of the country. “Do you see any signs?”
Maisa pauses and let’s out a little ‘Ah,’ as she searches. “It says, ‘Thank you for flying HSA.’”
“Houston South Airport,” I say before my breath escapes me.
“Holy fuck,” Remise says. “He’s going rogue!”
Mr. Gold snaps up from the counter, and pockets his phone. “That’s going to turn into an incident. No way is Tim Prince going to get through security. We have to go now.”
“Hang on, Maisa, we’re coming. Just stay brave, okay?”
“I’ll be on this comm the whole time, I promise.” I point at Bedevil. “Are you okay to go?”
“Epione, you too. You’ve fought this thing.” I look at Saw Off, Remise, and Drone. “You three, I don’t think you’re equipped to fight this thing, but we’ll need you for a getaway. I doubt OPI and FIS will just let us fight this thing by ourselves. They’ll send heroes and fish.”
Mr. Gold pulls another, smaller phone from his pocket and hands it to me. “Burner. I can keep you updated on our side of things. You’ll want to know who they’re sending.”
I take the phone. “Thanks. Let’s move!”
The apartment becomes a flurry of action. I draw a bit of heat from the air, prompting Saw Off to hiss from the chill, and warp to my room. I dash inside, for my closet, and grab my last spare jacket and mask. I’ll need to make another.
Remise’s words echo through my head. Your mask is holding you back.
I put the mask in my pocket. “Maisa, you okay?”
“Yes. We’re in a garage. I won’t be able to talk when he gets me out of the car,” she says.
Bedevil runs into the room, digging through the duffel bag of clothes I recovered from her apartment. She grabs her vigilante hoodie, but not the mask.
“You’re not masking up?” I ask.
Bedevil dons the red hoodie and slips one of her sneakers on. “No point. Besides, if this thing really does use people’s fear against them, it might help to have a famous hero inspire them.” She floats in the air as she fits the other sneaker to her foot. “Not like OPI doesn’t already know about me, anyway.”
“True,” I say. “Okay, Maisa, talk to me as long as you can, alright?”
Maisa doesn’t respond. Shit. She must already be out of the car.
“Gabe.” Bedevil flies over to me. “Come on. She needs us.” She reaches her hand out to me.
I take her offered hand and squeeze. “You go on ahead. I’ll be right behind you. Need to finish prepping.”
Bedevil nods, pauses for a moment, and then plants a kiss on my cheek. “I’m looking forward to that date. Don’t let me down.” She leaves me with that.
I sneak into my bathroom real quick. I’ve got an idea. I grab the old package of contacts I rarely use, tear it open, and put them in. I blink, letting the film connect with my eyes, and then put my glasses back on. The contacts adjust to the change in perception automatically, simulating my nearsightedness again. I take off my glasses to test them, and they restore me to 20-20 in half a second. Nifty little things. Thirty bucks at your local pharmacy.
If the Fear feeds off… well… fear, how do you stop people from being afraid? Bedevil just gave me the key. You have a famous hero show up and tell them it’s going to be okay. Like I did with Maisa and the girls when I first rescued them. Like I did with Mr. Gold.
But I’m not sure if I should, yet.
The others are waiting by the door, ready to go. When they see me coming, we all exit en masse, and rush down to the garage, no time for words. Mr. Gold takes his own car, and we jump in the van, and Remise drives us off to the airport.
I turn on the radio, waiting for any emergency broadcasts.
“I’m going to take us to a neighborhood that runs near the east side of the airport,” Remise says. “Has a view of the landin’ strip and all.”
Bedevil squeezes my hand with telekinesis, and intertwines her tendrils with my fingers. It’s an odd feeling, an invisible hand that feels more like a wriggling mass of snakes, but I like it.
Ten minutes into our trip, the popular song of the week cuts off to an alarm tone. An automated voice says: “This is the Emergency Broadcast System. If you’re currently on the road or out, please return home or shelter indoors as soon as possible.”
“It’s started,” Drone says. “Feeds are going crazy right now, there are a bunch of people near the airport wondering what’s going on.”
“Anything from inside?” I ask.
“Nothing yet,” Drone says.
My pocket buzzes. The burner phone is ringing, so I answer.
“Gabe. Rorschach went off,” Mr. Gold says. “It’s taken over a terminal in the airport. Multiple hostages, reports of injured and dead already.”
“What’s the plan?” I ask.
“OPI is sending in a team of heroes specialized in fighting bigger threats like this, plus heroes that might have some edge in this particular fight. The roster is Krater, Danger Close, Tachikaze, Snow Owl, Empyreal, and Jettison. I’m not sure what the plan is for dealing with the Blot. I’m guessing they have orders to kill Tim Prince. They have dozens of teams outside, ready to go. Lots of heroes, lots of agents.”
“Okay.” My top priority is Maisa. That said, something doesn’t sit right about letting them kill Tim Prince. I know he’s a slaver, but I can’t help but think the Fear might have corrupted him. The Thermos had Megajoule on it. Maybe he needs to believe in something, too. “We’re close.”
“Two minutes,” Remise says.
“One other thing,” Mr. Gold says. “Cynic is here. Director Myers herself.”
Wow. The Head Director of all OPI. This is monumental, then. “Okay. Let us know if anything changes.”
“Copy. Good luck, Gabe.” Mr. Gold hangs up.
I put the burner back in my pocket.
“Almost there.” Remise looks over at me. “Your ear piece is squealing.”
“Huh?” I ask, but right after, I hear what she’s talking about. The ear piece rings, a tiny tone I couldn’t hear over the car until just now. The tone stays steady for a second, and then shrieks into a high pitch whine. I rip the ear piece out.
Maisa screams: “GAAAAAAAYYYYYEEEEEEEEBBBBBAAAAAAAAAAA! EEEEEEEENEEEEEEEEEEMMMMMYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!”
The ear piece hisses and pops in my lap, rupturing like a jolt of electricity went through the plastic.
“The fuck was that?” Saw Off makes a disturbed face.
“It said ‘enemy,’” Epione says.
Unnerved, I push the pieces of the comm off my lap to the floor of the van, just as Remise stops. Epione, Bedevil, and I rush out the doors.
“Give ‘em hell!” Remise shouts. “We’ll be right here!”
Drone’s voice comes in over my watch. “You’ve got this.”
We sprint across the huge cement pavilion, and I draw in heat from the ground and above me the entire way over. The huge planes are parked away from the airport building. Forklifts and cargo cars cower beside them, and confused staff watch the three of us approach without moving a muscle. Faces press against the glass windows of the planes.
The airport building is modern steel, glass, and columns painted red and white. Drone buzzes in my ear. “Terminal C.”
I slow my pace for a second. “Got it! Bedevil, latch on. Epione, on my back!”
Epione jumps on me piggy back style, and Bedevil wraps tendrils around both of us. I use the heat I’ve gathered and bound toward Terminal C. There are tons of jet bridges.
“Okay,” Drone says. “Got into the surveillance feeds. Rorschach is in the terminal directly above you. But I don’t think you should go in from the bridges right in there, Rorschach will hit you hard.”
“How soon until the heroes get there?” Krater can take one of Rorschach’s punches head on. I’ll let him get first in.
“On the way now. The terminal entrance is on lock-down, but they’re about to breach.”
“What’s Rorschach doing?” I ask.
“I’ve got it on the feed. It’s… not moving. At all. Just floating there. There are about a dozen people inside with it, and they aren’t moving.”
“Which bridge should we go in?” Bedevil asks.
“Two over to your left. That will get you in Terminal D. Gabe, you can get through one inch walls, right?” Drone asks.
“Yeah.” I bound up to the jet bridge Drone pointed out, and warp down the hall until we make it to the gate. I grab the handle and draw in as much heat as I can, freezing the lock to dust. I return that heat to my hand, and shove it through the metal, ripping the bridge gate right open.
I set Epione down. “You good?”
“Yes,” Epione says. “Just nervous. This thing remembers us.”
“I won’t let you get hurt,” Bedevil says. “Stick with me.”
Terminal D is empty, and the doors are open. There are rows of blue benches for waiting fliers, posters about flight safety adorn the walls, and abandoned purses and carry-ons litter the room. I can feel that finger digging in the back of my head again, and with it I hear the long wail of the Fear. Bedevil shudders. “God,” she says. “This is…”
“Awful, I know.” I listen against the wall. No fighting yet, they haven’t breached the doors.
I notice that a family cowers between one row near us.
“Hey!” I call. “You need to get out of here!”
The father looks up, and shakes his head frantically. The mother huddles with her arms around her two, younger girls. They’re too afraid to move.
They need a reason to be brave. I approach, my hands out. “It’s okay. I’m here.”
The father extends his arm in front of his wife and children, rising to his knees so that he’s between me and them. “Stay back!”
“It’s gonna be okay.” Remise is right. My mask is holding me back, and I can’t spend my whole life being afraid of my own face. It’s not Megajoule’s, even if I’m about to pretend it is. “Promise.”
I take off my mask.
The father stares at me for a moment. “You’re-”
Bedevil gasps, and slings through the air, landing next to me. “What are you doing?”
“Megajoule and Bedevil,” the father says. “You’re gonna save us.”
“Yeah, we are,” I say. “I need you to get your family out of here. Get them to safety.”
Drone buzzes on my watch. “If they go to the main entrance, FIS has a blockade set up.”
“Get to the lobby,” I say. “Go!”
The father heeds my advice, and runs for it, shepherding his family out of the terminal.
Bedevil and Epione stare at me, their eyes wide.
“You’re right, having a famous hero does help.” I toss the mask aside.
Just as I do, there’s a loud crunching sound from the other side of the wall, the sound of metal collapsing. They’ve breached the doors. Rorschach’s finger in my mind turns into an ice pick, and the tone squeals in my head. Bedevil winces with me.
“Let’s go!” I press my foot against the wall, summon as much energy as I can, and kick my way through the metal and brick.