With the hard drive in his hand like that, there was no way he wouldn’t notice if she teleported it. Teleporting it would be too overt, anyway. If Michael was already working against her and Creed, he would know instantly who she was if she did that.
It would need to be taken through force. With the element of surprise on her side, Cameron felt confident she could knock him to the ground and rip the hard drive from his hands. That would draw the attention of everybody here and she wouldn’t be able to escape without teleporting, which again, wasn’t good for the secret identity.
Cameron stayed back, watched him. Tyler came to stand by her, shaking his head.
“Yeah,” Cameron said. “And I know where it is too. Over there, boot guy.” She titled her head in the direction of Michael.
Tyler turned. “I see it. Any ideas?”
She thought about it. “Not any smart ones,” she admitted.
He took too long to respond. “Your unsmart plan might be all we got. It’s reckless but not that bad,” he said, as if it pained him to say it.
Tyler had looked into the future to when she had explained her idea, saving her from having to explain it. At least he wasn’t trying to claim credit for this one. It wasn’t a good enough plan to steal, anyway.
“Executing it is going to be a bitch,” she said. “Unless you’re hiding something in that jacket of yours.”
He shook his head. “I didn’t see this happening, couldn’t plan for it.” The idea had barely formed in her head when he rubbed his chin, the cloth covering his chin anyway, and nodded. “Don’t think it’ll work out as well as we want but yeah, let’s do it.”
Her plan was a pretty simple one. They would wait until Michael decided to leave and then they’d go after him, attack him, and take the hard drive. As long as they didn’t start the fight here, inside where the Automatons and everybody else would be obligated to stop them, they might have a chance.
Michael knew how to take care of himself but his power wasn’t really combat-focused. He created illusions, which would have been useful if she wasn’t capable of seeing through them. He would have brought protection with him, and they would have powers good in a fight.
She wished she had her laser gun with her.
“If it comes down to it, how helpful are you going to be?” Cameron asked, quiet.
“Barely any. I’m not a fighter,” he answered.
Cameron would have laughed, if it didn’t draw attention from those nearby. It was the answer she expected but still, she had hoped he wouldn’t be completely useless. As confident as she tended to be – used to be? – going up against an unknown number of superhumans with unknown powers would be hard enough already, without thinking about how she was going to do that without any obvious uses of her power.
A challenge. Challengers were fun, in their own way, if it hit the middle ground of being hard enough to take some effort to solve but not too much effort. She doubted this challenge would.
“How’s the future look?” she said.
This close up, she saw his mask shift, a grin. “I don’t think I can without wreaking whatever chance we have.”
“It’s already wrecked, though. I mean, the other side has a precog, probably.”
“Very possible but telling you what I saw won’t help you, or me,” Tyler said. “We’ve got a good amount of time before he leaves. Why don’t you go chat to that friend of yours?”
“And lose the enjoyment of your company? Never.” Cameron grinned.
“Okay, let me be less subtle. Go talk to him. I’ll keep an eye on things.” He was pushing this pretty hard. Was it a future thing or did he need a minute to think by himself? Either way, there was no point in sticking around if she wasn’t wanted. She gave him a sloppy salute and headed off to find where Creed went.
It wasn’t hard to find him in a space like this. He was talking to the silver and gold Automaton. They parted ways just as Cameron reached him, the Automaton going off to chat with more guests.
“Did you sort everything out with the gentleman you were looking for?” Creed asked. Everything, from the way he stood and talked, made it seem casual. She would have been fooled if she didn’t know him as well as she did. He was the curious type, liked to know things. Something out of the ordinary like this? Yeah, he’d be dying to know. Not that he would ever admit to anything of the sort.
“Not yet. We’re thinking of talking to him later, privately,” she replied.
He nodded, knowingly. “I would advise you to talk to the shortest one first. Element of surprise will be key. He’s not so good when caught unaware. Everything will go a lot smoother if you convince him early on.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Cameron said. “Hey, earlier, you said you wanted to get in touch with the Detective?”
“I did, yes. I think I understand what you’re about to ask. The answer would be yes.”
His power really made conversations go faster. She smiled. That was useful information to have. Maybe not right this moment, but it was a clue. There had to be a reason beyond what Tyler had said for picking her to help him and for him getting her to come with him in some alternate universe where he didn’t know about the hard drive. “Okay.”
Tyler came up to her, then. He gave Creed a glance and a nod. Creed returned it. “We should get going, now.”
“Sorry, looks like I’ve got to run off again,” Cameron said, to Creed.
“Best of luck in your endeavor.”
Cameron saw Michael holding some kind of miniature cannon on their way out. Once they got settled into the car, she turned to Tyler. “So?”
“He should be out in a few minutes,” he said. He buckled his seat belt. Cameron didn’t. “I wasn’t joking earlier, when I said these outfits are tougher than they look, but I wouldn’t rely too much on them.” Tyler paused. “And… thanks.”
She pulled out her gun and flicked off the safety. “I’m going to take that as a sign that things go really fucking badly.”
“Maybe. Having second thoughts?”
“No.” She had already went to the trouble of agreeing and coming here with him, might as well go all the way. “But just tell me one thing, since you and I might die and all. Why do you even care so much about what happens? What makes you do this?” She gestured at the building they had just left. “What’s worth risking your life for?”
He didn’t think about it. “People.”
“Do you really care more about the lives of strangers than your own?”
“I do. We were given these powers and it’s our duty to do something with them. To do something good with them, because most can’t do what we can.” It was odd to see him so passionate, sincere. Most of the time he seemed to hover between being smug or annoyed.
“Most people wouldn’t if they could.”
“You don’t know that,” Tyler said. “They – He’s coming out.”
Cameron whipped her head around to the entrance. Michael and three other guys walked out the door. Michael seemed to be in a good mood, his hands moving rapidly as he spoke. The shortest one in their group was in the lead, his head turned as he looked over all the other cars, settling on theirs for a brief second.
They kept walking, hopping into a nondescript white van and driving off, fast. The short one and Michael had sat in the back. The other two sat in the front.
Tyler waited a moment before going after them. There was no other traffic at this time of night, in this part of town. It was pretty damn obvious they were following Michael’s group. They were waiting for Tyler and her to make the first move, she was betting. When they did, Michael would order his goons to take out their guns and demolish Tyler and his car.
“Is this car bulletproof?” she asked.
“Not as much as I’d like it to be,” Tyler answered.
“You don’t have to stick around, you know. You’re not going to be much help either way.”
“I’ll stay,” he said. “I’ll be more help than you think. The headset works as a comm unit too. I’ll talk to you through it, tell you anything important I see.”
She frowned. Did that mean he heard everything she said to Creed? It would explain why he wanted her to talk with Creed so badly. Irritating to get outplayed like that, she should have realized it sooner.
“Whatever you’re doing, do it now, I think we’re far enough away from everyone else,” Tyler said, interrupting her train of thought.
Cameron pulled out her knife, holding it in a reverse grip, held tightly at a spot below her knee. She aimed her gun at the floor. “Try not to die.” She swore she saw him smile in the briefest moment before she teleported onto the roof of the white van.
Her hat fell off and flew away.
In its new location, the knife cut into the roof. Her grip on it sufficient to keep her from flying off and hitting the pavement. Cameron had appeared above where she remembered the short guy sitting. She squeezed the trigger, twice. The bullets made a dent but didn’t go through.
Stupid, to think their van wasn’t bulletproof.
She teleported the gun so the barrel went through the roof, displacing the material already there. Another two shots and she was gone, crouching above the driver’s seat, knife and gun both poking through the roof. This time, when she pulled the trigger, she knew she had hit her target.
Flecks of blood hit the windows.
She had killed before but it was different this time. It energized her, a rush of adrenaline that made her feel unstoppable, a force of nature.
Cameron took out the driver’s friend in the same manner.
She pulled the gun out, carelessly tossing it back into a pocket, and inched toward the door on the driver’s side. It was dangerous to move around at the speed the van was going. One wrong move and bye bye Cameron Pierce. She stuck her hand in the hole her knife made earlier and then pulled the knife out, putting it away too. The gloves helped, stopped the material of the van from digging and cutting into her skin.
She got into position and slammed her feet against the window. She broke it on her first try. She felt something sharp and pointy press against her legs but it didn’t cut her. Tyler hadn’t been lying, after all.
Her foot fumbled around a bit until she got them securely under the body of the driver, using his weight to help hold her in place. She let go and climbed inside.
It was cramped, between her and the body. She hit her head more than once on her way in.
She barely felt it.
Cameron teleported driver onto his buddy, to get him out of the way. She slammed the brakes. Once the van came to a complete stop, she hopped out.
Tyler was a keeping a safe distance away. It’d take him maybe half a minute to close the distance, at the rate he was going.
Cameron retrieved the gun and knife. Only one person would have gotten hit, and there was no guarantee she actually got them. She didn’t hear any movement inside as she walked to the back of the van. She shot the tires on her way, to get rid of their only mode of transportation.
Tyler skidded to stop just as Cameron reached the back.
The door swung open, smacking her in the face and off her feet.
This she felt perfectly fine. Her head throbbed where it hit the road and her vision blurred. There was something wet on her lips. Blood. Broken nose, she was pretty sure.
The short guy hopped out of the van and immediately took aim and fired at Tyler with a machine gun. Cracks appeared in the windshield.
Still lying on the ground, Cameron raised her arm and shot at the short guy. Either she missed or the form-fitting armor he wore was a lot tougher than it looked. He stopped firing and turned to face her. She teleported just as he pulled the trigger and sent a barrage of bullets where she laid less than a second ago.
Some teleporters were capable of perfect, split-second teleports. Cameron was not one of them.
She landed on the ground, her back joining a growing list of body parts in pain.
Cameron climbed to her feet. It took her a second to realize where she had ended up. She was behind him, on the sidewalk beside the road. She dropped the gun, whipping out the baton instead. She charged at him.
By the time he spun around, she had closed the distance, and knocked the weapon out of his hand. He caught her second swing and lashed out with his foot, kicking her in the stomach. She stumbled backwards, hunched over, the wind knocked out of her. He moved to get closer and she swung the knife to ward him off.
He backed up, her baton held in his hand, not any worse off than he was at the start.
The laser gun would have been real fucking useful in this situation.
He didn’t try and attack, giving Cameron time to recover. The hand that had the baton was red, covered in blood. Fingerless gloves, the guy was actually wearing fingerless gloves. Unbelievable, she was getting her ass kicked by a guy wearing fingerless gloves.
“I’ll give you a chance to leave, while you still can,” he said. His voice carried a different kind of chill than Allison with her helmet on, than Gladwell when she killed, than Cameron‘s when she first saw her mother’s body in the bathtub, motionless. It was laced with grim finality. The odd thing about it though, was she got the distinct impression he was pleading with her, begging her to leave so he wouldn’t be forced to kill her.
He hadn’t extended the same mercy to Tyler.
And Cameron Pierce didn’t run from anybody or anything.
“You got a name? Or a codename?” Cameron asked, standing up straight.
“Well, Phantom, since you were so nice, I’m going to give you the same option. Get the fuck out of here.”
He tossed the baton to her and she caught it. Phantom pulled out a pair of metal escrima sticks. He twirled them with casual ease. He sighed so hard his shoulders slumped. “Go ahead, I’ll let you make the first move.”
Very polite of him.
Cameron wished she could take off the mask and wipe some of the blood off her face. It was starting to irritate by flowing into her mouth.
So far, Phantom hadn’t done anything that was obviously beyond human capability. His power had to be good if he was so sure of his victory. She shouldn’t use her teleportation abilities more than she already had. At this point, Phantom hadn’t seen enough for him to confidently say she was a teleporter. She wanted it to stay that way but when it came to close combat, she was pretty sure he was better than her. It might her only option if she wanted to win and if she was going to do it anyway, might as well do it now.
Cameron could always kill Phantom and Michael, to protect her identity.
It was the smart thing to do, wasn’t it? Saved her the trouble of having to kill Michael later, if and when Creed succeeded in taking over the True Gods.
Had she always been so quick to go straight to killing or was this the result of Gladwell messing with her head?
Phantom stood by all the while, patiently watching her, relaxed. As if he would be comfortable standing here all night as she figured out what to do next. What the hell was up with him? It was hard for her to get a good read on the guy.
Fuck it, she wouldn’t let Gladwell win.
“Nice of you to offer but I’ll pass,” Cameron said, knife and baton at the ready. There wasn’t really any good move for her to make in this situation. Despite being shorter than everyone else in his group, he was still taller and bigger than her, probably stronger and more experienced. Might as well let him make the first move and see if he made a mistake.
He shrugged then threw the stick in his left hand at her. She stepped to the side, out of the way, instead of swatting it out of the air. Before it could land on the ground, it went into reverse, pulled back into Phantom’s hand.
Keeping his distance. It was smart tactic, with her gun on the ground somewhere behind her and two close ranged weapons in her hands.
She avoided the next five throws and he retrieved them in the same way. They were walking in a circle.
Phantom threw both sticks at the same time and charged. Taking time to get out of the way gave him time to get close. She swung at him and he took a step back, fell into a crouch, and spun, one leg out to hit both of hers. Seamless. The thought went through her mind as she was swept off her feet.
He tried to follow up with a kick to the face but she rolled out away and back into a standing position.
He threw his stick again and this time, when it moved back towards him after she dodged, she caught it mid-air. She had to drop the baton to do it. The force pulling on the stick wasn’t too strong. Cameron threw the knife and let go of the stick at the same time. It wasn’t meant to hurt but to distract.
She went for the machine gun he dropped earlier.
No bullets came out when she pulled the trigger. Out of ammo, great.
He came at her, swinging his escrima stick at her, aiming for her face. She ducked under it.
The telltale sound of gunshots. The timing of it was too good, he had to have been waiting for it this entire time.
Phantom stumbled backwards. His armor was tough enough to handle a few bullets but it still hurt like a bitch, apparently. Using the gun as a club, Cameron hit him over the head.
Tyler came running up to them, a gun in his hand. He stood a good distance away with his gun aimed at the fallen Phantom.
“You couldn’t tell me?” Cameron asked, between pants.
Always the worst part, the pain and exhaustion that came when the adrenaline started wearing off.
“Nope,” Tyler said, looking fresh as a daisy. “Go get it and let’s get out of here.”
Cameron jogged to the van and hopped in. There was a lot of blood on the inside, smeared on the floor. Michael was lying on the ground, his shirt had been torn open, a blood-stained bandage covered his shoulder. Phantom must have patched him up after Cameron shot him.
It took her a second to find the hard drive, tucked away under the seat.
Tyler was already in the car when Cameron stepped out of the van, headlights on, engine revving. Cameron joined him, hard drive in hand. Phantom didn’t try to get up as they drove off.
“There’s a laptop and wire in the backseat,” he said.
“Aren’t you an eager beaver,” Cameron commented. It was kind of hard to see a black laptop on a black seat at night but she manage to find it. The USB wire was already attached. It was on so they didn’t have to wait for it to load up.
She plugged the other end of the wire into the hard drive.
A window popped up almost instantly. Some non-English language. Russian, maybe? Cameron didn’t need to read it to know what the blinking line and empty white box meant.
It made a lot of sense, honestly, for the hard drive to be password protected.