Tessa couldn’t run a mile without winding up hopeless out of breath. If she was being honest with herself, she couldn’t even run a hundred dash without feeling like her lungs were going to implode. The hospital she currently stood in front of was 1.2 miles from the deli where they’d encounter the Void Walker. Tessa wasn’t sure how she knew that, but was more confused to discover that not only had they covered the distance in, at most, a half a minute, she also felt ready to do it again at a moment’s notice.
The man holding the shotgun aimed squarely at her center of mass seemed to prefer that she not act on that particular impulse though.
“Who the hell….,” he started to ask.
“I’ve got another incoming air drop,” Fari, the blue hologram woman, cut him off to say.
“More Void Walkers?” Mel asked.
“Don’t think so,” Fari said. “This one’s bigger.”
“Void anima based?” Darius asked.
“Yep. I’m only seeing them from the disturbance in the air currents,” Fari said.
“How long?” Mel asked.
“Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen…” Fari began to count down.
“Inside the building,” Mel said. “Reinforce it.”
“I can’t let…” the man with the gun started to say but was cutoff by Mel stepping up to him, taking his gun away, and swinging him around so she could send him stumbling towards the hospital’s entrance. That all took about a quarter of a second.
Time seemed to slow again as Darius refreshed the spell he’d cast on them. Ten seconds was far too short an interval of time for people to react, must less run inside the building. Whatever his spell did though, it seemed to accelerate their thoughts as much as it hastened their running speed.
Mel was led, but Tessa made sure to follow, and pull the others along with her, including the gun guy since whatever ‘bigger’ was, it was probably a gift from Byron and that wasn’t something he deserved was ready to face.
“We need to regroup somewhere,” Lisa whispered to her.
“I know. Azma’s got a plan, and she needs to share it with us, like about an hour ago,” Tessa whispered back.
The lobby of the hospital wasn’t a large area but Tessa saw there were plenty of people waiting for them inside. Plenty of people who weren’t reacting much yet. Or at all. The reason was fairly clear though. Time seemed to be ticking far slower than it should have.
At Mel’s gestures, her squad spread out, each placing a hand on a wall and joining in a chant that was not translated for Tessa’s ears. She didn’t need to understand the words to work out that they were responsible for the glow which began to emanate from the walls.
Darius joined their effort and his hastening spell unwound, decelerating Tessa’s team back into normal time. That let them feel the the rumble that passed through the floor as the tectonic scale rattle that it was.
Outside, Tessa saw that the world had gone dark, a thick cloud of dust and debris obscuring everything beyond the hospital’s terribly fragile seeming glass front doors.
“What was that?” Rose asked, her body as tense as a violin string.
“Earthquake?” Claire asked. “Are we in California?”
They were. Again Tessa wasn’t sure how she knew that? Some residual gift of Darius’s mind enhancing spell? It didn’t really matter, except that getting home was going to cost her more than she had on any of her credit cards.
She shook her head.
Seriously? That’s what came into her head first?
Feeling a little scrambled from that spell, Pillowcase said. But maybe for the better?
Uh, what? Tessa asked.
That spell felt familiar, Pillowcase said. I’ll let you know if I can work anything out. Or if we’ve already worked something out? Don’t worry about it for now.
“I think we are in California,” Lisa said. “But that wasn’t an earthquake.”
“Correct,” Fari said. “That was our new arrival landing.”
“He hit us with a comet?” Jamal asked.
“Comets can’t get back up onto their feet after they land,” Mel said. “Our new friend out there seems to doing just that.” She paused for a moment. “And of course he’s heading right towards us.”
“Boss, why do you sound surprised by that?” one her squad members asked.
“Because it’s fun to complain,” Mel said.
“How do you want to handle guarding this place and fighting that thing?” Darius asked.
“Easy…” Mel began.
“Nope. Don’t say it. Don’t you dare…” Darius interrupted her.
“Sorry Darius,” Fari said. “She’s right. This thing’s power level is reading at Jewel level. Mel’s the only other one here who can handle that.”
“Other one?” Rose asked, but no one seemed to be listening to her.
“We’ve got this covered,” Mel said. “You and the Black squad stay here to find out what we’re dealing with okay?”
“Just make sure you come back to me, or I will sic your mother on you,” Darius said.
Mel offered him a quick kiss of reassurance before vanishing away as though she was stepping into her own shadow.
“What…what’s going on here?” gun guy asked, abject bewilderment filling his eyes.
“Your world is under attack Mr. Findley,” Darius said. “We’re here to help with that.”
“He’s definitely psychic,” Lisa whispered to Tessa.
“I kinda miss that,” Tessa said, thinking fondly back to their private telepathic channel.
She turned to give Lisa a warm smile only to find that in the mad rush inside the hospital they’d somehow gotten separated. Lisa wasn’t right behind her like Tessa had thought she was. She over near the door farthest from Tessa, staring out into the rapidly clearing cloud of dust.
“Hey, you can hear me still, right?” Tessa asked, subvocalizing the words so that it should have been impossible for them to carry to Lisa’s position.
“Yeah, of course” Lisa said, fondness wrapping the words like a hug. She turned as well, clearly expecting to see Tessa standing right behind her. When she didn’t, her gaze darted around the room until a moment later she met Tessa’s gaze. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” Tessa said on their private channel. Her mind swam with the implications of what they were doing for several seconds before the next obvious question occurred to her to test. “Hey, group meeting everyone. Can you hear me?” she asked, picturing the party channel she’d used to speak to the rest of her team.
“Oh my god! Tessa? You got your powers back?” Rose said, her voice as clear as if she was standing right beside Tessa.
“Not all of them,” Tessa said. “Just this. I think we all did. Unless there’s someone who can’t hear us?”
“I can,” chimed in Jamal, Starchild, and Claire. Hailey, Yawlorna and Azma seemed to be left out of the chat channel though.
Because they hadn’t been part of Tessa’s team.
Is this what you were looking into? Tessa asked Pillowcase.
No, but I probably should have been, Pillowcase said.
“Who are you all?” Mr. Findley asked. Tessa gathered from his uniform that he’d been part of the security crew assigned to the hospital. She wondered what he’d planned to do against one of the Void Walker mechs if it showed up. Probably run, but that would at least have given the staff some warning, assuming he ran in the right direction.
“My name is Darius. My team is from the Empress’s ship the Horizon Breaker. My wife out there is one of her Crystal Guardians. Trust me that you could not be in better hands,” Darius said.
“The Empress? Crystal Guardians?” Findley said, his confusion was mirrored in the faces of the rest of the staff.
Tessa had to admit she had no more idea what Darius was talking about than the hospital staff did, but her psyche had been so thoroughly wrenched out of its familiar comfort zone that the ambiguity didn’t bother her in the slightest.
“There’s a lot going on here that’s going to take a ton of time to explain,” she said, to Findley and an older woman, Deborah McDaniels, the lead trauma surgeon on duty. She was also the hospital’s, and the city’s, disaster coordinator after the official ones were…consumed by the Void Walker? Suborned to Byron’s cause? Away from home and coordinating efforts in Peoria, Illinois and Spokane, Washington? All of the above? Yeah, all of the above.
Tessa blinked and shook her head.
Where the hell had all that information come from?
That you? she asked Pillowcase again.
Nope, and wow, I think we picked up a lot more about Debs and the other disaster coordinators than just that. Pillowcase said. Tell you what. I’m going to stop looking my stuff for a moment and see if I can figure out where we’re getting this meta-information from, okay?
Sounds good. I’d be afraid I’m losing my mind, but this feels like the opposite of that. Like I’m finding other people’s minds too or something.
“I’m afraid we don’t have a lot of time,” Darius said. “Fortunately I’ve got a spell that can help with that. It’s a mind reading effect though, so I’d like your permission before I use it.”
“Are there any dangers to it?” Lisa asked, returning to Tessa’s side.
“For me? Yes. Lots of dangers and Mel and Fari will scold me for using it, but they’re not here, so that’s what they get. For you? Also yes, but only minor ones. Worst case scenario if I really botch the casting is you’ll have a migraine for a couple hours, and it will need to heal naturally,” Darius said.
“Go for it,” Tessa said. “Be aware though, you’ll find two minds up here.” She tapped her head. “My other self is named Pillowcase. If you read her memories, they won’t line up with mine at all if you go back farther than about a week.”
It was Darius’s turn raise an eyebrow in surprise, but he seemed used to a high level of general weirdness too, and shrugged it off.
Tessa saw his eyes fill with a shifting field of lights and then she felt a feather light touch inside between her eyes.
Darius’s head rocked back the moment Tessa felt the mental contact and blood burst from his nose. He stumbled a few steps back before recovering himself and putting up his hand in a placating gesture, which held his squad from leaping to support him.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Just wasn’t expecting that.”
“What? What happened?” Tessa asked.
“You have some exciting mental anima defenses,” Darius said. “I’m guessing you’ve been psychically assaulted fairly often? Like everyday?”
“No,” Tessa said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been…”
She cut herself off and amended her statement.
“The entity that’s responsible for the attacks we’re seeing? We met him when he was something a lot more dangerous but less refined. It tried to basically erase us from reality, and we fought back. That gave me a power that left me more or less immune to him. It might have been that, since it I think it works without any conscious input from me.”
She expected to see confusion and disbelief in her audiences faces but Debs McDaniels simply nodded along in understanding.
“If you know what’s causing all this, we’ll need to get the message out on how to fight it,” McDaniel said.
“We’re still working on that part,” Tessa said.
“Give us what you can,” McDaniels said. “It’ll be more than we’ve got now.”
“Has someone begun coordinating a resistance effort?” Azma asked, joining the ever widening circle.
“There’s not just one resistance effort,” McDaniels said. “We’ve got disasters all over the world. Thank god the internet’s still up though.”
“It is?” Lisa asked. “Our phones can’t get any service!”
“Oh yeah, cell towers are shot. Analog voice lines are down too. VOIP and digital lines are fine though. Better than fine. We’re getting ridiculous download rates.”
“We’ll need to inspect those,” Azma said.
“You think Byron’s corrupted them?” Lisa asked.
“No. I’m sure he hasn’t,” Azma said. “This world would have fallen already if he had. I have a suspicion I know what stopped him but I want to confirm it. Quickly if we can.”
“If you’re here to help, we’ve got plenty of computers you can use,” McDaniels said.
The ground shook again and through the clearing dust cloud, Tessa watched a building down the street collapsing in seeming slow motion.
“Go,” Tessa said to Azma and Hailey. “Find us a key to winning this. We’ll deal with whatever new problem’s coming.”
McDaniels nodded and drew Azma and Hailey with her in a brisk trot past the gathered hospital staff and through the doors that let to the office areas.
“We’re going to deal with this? Got any ideas on how?” Lisa asked on their private channel.
“I think I might,” Pillowcase said as Tessa watched a familiar heads up display settle over her vision.