Tornado Girl smiled at me. “Good for you!”
“What?” I asked, surprised.
“You’re a traitor, too, aren’t you?” said Jem. “Who for?”
“Who are you?” asked TG, looking at the pile of sand perched on my chest.
“Jem,” she said. “Or don’t you recognize the girl Ni—your leader killed?”
“Oh! I’ve heard so much about you, Jem—Auntie’s really proud at the way you just kept on searching for Jessi, even without powers. But you apparently have those now.”
“So you work for Sir?” Jem said.
“Who?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said TG, ignoring me. “I have for a long time. Perhaps Shark spoke of me—her old teammate, Windy Mary?”
“You must have been mentioned once or twice…the name sounds familiar. Will you come with us?”
She sighed and shook her head. “No thanks. I really do help Sir more by staying here. But I think it would be best if you knocked me out on your way out. So they don’t suspect anything, you know.”
“Okay,” said Jem, sliding off my chest. The pile became more human, taking the shape of a crouching girl, and she stood. She and TG-Windy Mary- looked each other in the eyes. Then Jem shook her head. “I can’t. I can’t do it.”
“Look, Jem, you know how important this—ngh!”
The two girls collapsed to the ground, Jem fracturing into a cloud of sand as she fell. Jem reformed herself into a little pyramid and nodded her tip at Mary. “Don’t know how much longer I could have kept that form, but I managed it for long enough. She’ll be out for a while. Let’s go.”
“What did you do?” I asked, stepping over Mary.
“Snuck a tendril behind her and pressed a pressure point. It works better when you surprise them. That, and she had to have the right pose. Looks better this way.”
“Okay, so let’s go now.”
“Wait. Could you get a bag?” asked Jem. “I’m tired of sliding across this floor.”
“Why not just turn back into a human and walk? I feel awkward talking to a pile of sand anyways,” I said.
“Well, it might take a while. I just discovered I can do this, and I’m not very good at switching back and forth. That form I did for Mary was just a thin shell. That, and it’ll be easier to sneak out while they don’t know I’m here.”
“Right,” I said. I turned around and walked into the changing room. There was Peregrine’s backpack, but no other bags as far as I could tell. I’d never brought one, except on days I planned to wash my uniform. And this wasn’t one of those days.
I snatched his bag, then glanced around the room, and on an impulse, stuffed in my uniform, not the matching one, but the one I’d had made first, before the ISA decided to make us their primary (and only) team.
“What’s taking so long?”
I looked up. And then down. Jem had slid into the room and was swiveling her top half around. “Come on. Someone’s going to discover Mary.”
“Jem! You shouldn’t be in here! This is the boy’s changing room!”
“Yeah, well, it’s only you in here, and I wasn’t under the impression that you had to change.”
“You found a bag? Good! Put it on the floor so I can get in.”
I sighed and did as she said. She slithered inside and I zipped up the bag behind her. It wasn’t big enough to hold all of her, but she didn’t poke out too much. I hefted her over my shoulder and groaned. Although she was obviously lighter than she other would have been, she was still heavy.
I felt something soft on the back of my neck and reached back. Jem had pulled my uniform from the bottom of the bag and pushed it over her tip, so none of her was visible. I reached back and shoved down on my uniform, to make it a little less obvious, but Jem pushed back, seemingly ignorant of my concern. I gave up and left, hitching the drooping backpack up on my shoulders.
Nobody stopped me on my way out…but then again, why would they have? I was supposed to be here. They were used to me sneaking in and out.
However, I couldn’t help feeling a little worried when I noticed I was being followed by one of the soldiers. But it could just be normal precautions, I told myself. They did follow us sometimes. And maybe he wasn’t following me, and I just had the jitters from having an official enemy of the ISA in my backpack.
To test this theory, I took a quick left, then a fast right. The soldier took the same exact path, and then was joined by another. I slowed down to let them pass me and they slowed as well.
“Jem?” I whispered, hoping she could hear me, “I think we have trouble.”
I felt her shift a little against my back, most likely peering back. Then she whispered back. “Drop the backpack and run. I can take care of myself, but right now I’m just in the way.”
“No!” I muttered, peering over my shoulder. “I’ve got it covered. Just get ready to take off as soon as we get out.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
I didn’t reply. Picking up my speed, I swerved around corners quickly, apparently picking my route at random. The soldiers didn’t drop back much, but I didn’t need them to. Just a few seconds to myself would be enough.
I took one last right and grabbed at a door handle, pulling myself to a stop. I opened the door and jumped through, pushing it shut behind me. I dropped the bag holding Jem and my uniform on the ground and put my hands on the door. Frost spread out from my fingers, quickly hardening and thickening into ice. I gasped at the extreme cold I felt emanating from my core, chilling my chest and freezing my hands. The doorknob cracked as someone tried to turn it, but the door was frozen solidly into its frame.
“Nice job,” said Jem, “Now can we go?”
I pushed myself away from the door, gasping from the cold, and stuck my hands under my armpits to warm them. I’d never used my ice this much before. I was exhausted and freezing cold. “J-j-j-just a minute,” I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking and failing.
“We don’t have a minute!” she exclaimed. “There are guards out here too, you know!”
I didn’t say anything. Jem sighed and flowed over to me. “Can you turn into a bird?”
I nodded. I was pretty sure I had just enough energy to make a transformation.
“Okay. Do it, then. Even if it knocks you out. I just need you to be a bird.”
I closed my eyes and began the transformation. It happened slowly, as I was freezing cold and exhausted, but I managed to complete the change before the world went black.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to carry Nevermore and the bag at the same time, but when he was a bird, it didn’t even seem difficult anymore. I slid under his feet and flowed gently toward the bag. He flopped over onto his side when I started moving faster to escape before the alarm was truly raised, but since he just fell onto me, he wasn’t hurt too badly.
One of the soldiers might have noticed us leaving, but by the time he’d blinked and rubbed his eyes, we were gone. I’d slid under the storm drain across the street from the building. There, I left Nevermore and the backpack in the bundle of trash that had collected on its lip and looked over the edge of the hole. I could hear water rushing by underneath-apparently there had just been a storm. There was no way we were escaping down there. I pulled back, afraid I’d fall in.
An alarm sounded above me, from the direction of the building, high, shrill, and above all, loud. That was it-there was no getting out of here. We’d just have to hunker down and hope no one looked over here.
Like that soldier who had spotted us only seconds before…
I pushed the backpack under the bundle of twigs, plastic bottles, and other refuse that it had been sitting on, and shifted Nevermore to the back of the pile, where he’d blend in with the shadows. I just spread myself throughout the pile. It was pretty easy to be invisible when you were a pile of sand.
How had the alarm been triggered so quickly? Most likely, there had been a camera that had picked us up, or even a microphone that had recorded our conversation. I’d read about microphones that could pick up sounds from miles away. And I hadn’t even checked for cameras. What was really surprising, now that I thought about it, was that we hadn’t been caught earlier.
I need to work on that ‘criminal mastermind’ thing a little before I try to rob a bank, I decided, smiling to myself. And then I realized that I could smile… which could only mean one thing. I was myself again.
What a perfect time to turn back, I thought, curling up under the slimy pile of trash. If I was lucky, they wouldn’t look too critically at the storm drain. But really, they were almost guaranteed to notice an ordinary girl hiding in here, even if they only gave it the most casual glance. I tried to turn back into sand, but once again, I could do nothing.
Nevermore was shivering against my back, despite the heat. Apparently that ice trick had really taken it out of him. But it had more or less saved our butts, even if it now meant that we were trapped in a storm drain, so I couldn’t really complain. Okay, so I could, but I didn’t really think it would be justified.
The alarm cut off abruptly and another one started up, less annoyingly screechy but even louder than the first. Someone ran over the storm drain and knocked some dust down on top of us, and more followed after him. I peered out the edge of the storm drain and watched them run past, but quickly dropped back into the trash as a police car pulled in, right in front of the drain. The doors opened and closed, letting out a pair of shiny black shoes and well-ironed dark-blue pants. I couldn’t see the rest of the police officer, but I figured he was just an ordinary police officer, especially since he was generally ignored by the rest of the searchers, who continued to run past him. He tried to stop one of them but they just knocked him down. His face was suddenly level with mine and we both froze as we noticed one another. He opened his mouth…
And one of the men running past kicked his head by accident and his face went slack. I reached out tentatively and took off his sunglasses, but his eyes were closed. I put on the glasses and took his hat, as well, and then started to pull him into the drain. It was a snug fit, but with enough prodding, I managed to fit him in. I wasted no time in pulling off his shirt, leaving him in an undershirt, and put the starched blue shirt on over the clothes I was wearing. I left him his pants—there was no way they would ever fit me, anyways. The shirt was much too big as it was.
I picked up Nevermore and placed him under the cop car, then put on the backpack and followed him. A couple of the guards gave me a second glance, as if they weren’t so sure about this cop disguise either, but they ran past anyways. I reached Nevermore out from under the car and placed him on the passenger seat, then reached back into the drain and fished through the policeman’s pockets, coming up with a ring of keys. I started the car and pulled out, almost running over one of the straggling soldiers. He jumped out of the way and turned sharply to the left. I kept going straight down the road, not breathing until I was well out of sight of the buildings. Then I turned the car into the first alley I saw, pulled off the shirt and hat, and jumped out, taking Nevermore, the backpack, and the policeman’s sunglasses with me. I left the keys in the ignition but turned the engine off. No need to waste his gas.
This wasn’t a dead-end alley, luckily, but it didn’t have any side (escape) routes. I ran through it and burst out on the other side, almost running into someone. They grabbed for me but I pushed away and dashed off. Once I was far enough from the alley, I slowed and tried to blend in to the crowd. The backpack helped, but the large black bird on my arm did not. Nevermore didn’t seem interested in waking up any time soon, either, so I just smiled at the passerby and started walking faster.
Now to find Razo.
I had a vague idea of where he was working—I could remember having brought Jessi to an auto repair shop long, long ago, when this whole mess was just getting started. Hopefully he’d be there-I had no idea where he was living now. I stopped by a map and headed quickly in the right direction, luckily the opposite direction of the Action Safety HQ. I took the long way around just in case, avoiding major roads but trying not to get myself lost in the alleys. Once, when I was forced to take one of the more regular throughways, Nick flew overhead and I ducked, but he didn’t see me. Other than that, it was a fairly uneventful walk to Razo’s workplace. I’d seemed to have truly lost the soldiers who’d been following us.
I shook Nevermore awake in an alley opposite the auto repair shop. After a minute or two, I managed to make him understand that I needed him to become human again. He more or less fell off my arm and turned human midway to the ground, sprawling gracelessly across it. I knelt down next to him and turned his face upward. He was already asleep.
“Wake up, Nev! Come on! We’re almost there!” He ignored me. I sighed and resorted to the more tried-and-true method: slapping his face, gently at first but getting harder until his eyes finally opened. “Hang with me, Nev,” I said.
“Not Nev,” he muttered, “David.”
“Okay, David then. Wake up! You can sleep when we get to Razo.”
He took a deep breath and stood slowly. “That…ice thingy…really…really takes it…out of me.” He yawned and stepped forward, almost stumbling over his own feet, then stopped suddenly and stood straight up, as if he’d run into an invisible wall. “We got away?”
“Yeah, and now we’re calling in the cavalry. He works right over there,” I added pointing.
He blinked at me. “So you intend to break into the most secure prison on Earth with only three people?”
“Wow. Do you have some kind of amazing plan that’s guaranteed to work?”
“Nope. I was kinda hoping someone else would come up with that. Like you.”
“You know, I’m starting to have my doubts about switching sides. It looks like I chose the loosing team.”
“Yeah, well, we’re gonna win because we’re the underdogs. Everyone will underestimate us.”
“That’ll be tough,” muttered Nevermore, and I swatted him on the arm. “Come on, think positive,” I said.
“This friend of yours had better be good,” he replied.
“Better than you, at least, David. Better than me, too,” I added.
“How do you know my name?” he asked.
“You told me, remember? Now let’s go!”
I led the way out of the alleyway and into the street, quickly jumping back as a truck came out of nowhere and almost hit me. The drover honked angrily as he drove away, and I replied with a suitable gesture, then looked both ways and ran across the road, with David right behind me. He ran in a strange way, hunched over and slightly sideways, almost as if he were trying to hide in the nonexistent shadows. I thought it made him look really stupid, but I didn’t say anything. Maybe it looked better when he was wearing his fancy black outfit.
Razo must have seen us coming, because he was standing by the door of the garage, squinting a little against the sun. I waved at him as we ran over and he waved back.
“Who’s he?” asked Razo, frowning. “Is he a replacement for Rek?”
“No, he’s going to help us rescue Rek. And Shark. And Jessi. Razo, meet David, formerly Nevermore of Action Safety. David, this is Razo.”
“Nice to meet you,” said David, holding out his hand. Razo turned away, leaving him hanging.
“How are you going to get back to Florida? Do you need a ride or are you going to hijack a plane?”
“I think we’ll stick with cars for now,” I replied. “For one, we know how to drive them.”
“Well, that’s good, because I have one in the shop right now that’s just right. It just needed a little routine maintenance, nothing big. I’ve even got the keys,” he said, smiling.
“That sounds good. Let’s see it.”
It was a nice little car-a black sports car with golden racing stripes on the back. It had a twisted fender and a small dent in the back, but otherwise it was fine.
“Yeah, it’s fine, now can we go? David and I are kind of on the ‘Wanted’ list,” I reminded Razo.
“Wait. Are you guys going to steal that car? Just like that?” David asked.
“Kinda, yeah,” said Razo.
“I’m not riding in a stolen car!” he exclaimed.
“Too late for that,” I told him. “How do you think we got this far? I stole a police cruiser.”
“You did what?” he said. His voice was leaving surprised and getting closer to stupefied now.
“Yeah. How did you think I got these nifty glasses?”
“You did what?” he repeated.
I sighed. “Get in the car.”