Lori was mostly back to herself by the time they reached the downtown docks and abandoned their stolen boat. She looked at her phone to check the time. It was only a little past noon.
“Give me a minute,” she said to the others, and pointed across the canal to a large water-level shop whose logo was a big friendly manta ray. “I’ll meet you guys in there.”
Without waiting for a reply, she stalked off, then dialed Ben’s day care.
“Sandee Day Care, this is Maura,” came the voice of an older lady. Maura was a genial woman who didn’t give Lori grief when she had to bring Ben late after he missed the ferry.
“Hi, Maura, this is Lori, Ben’s sister. I got a missed call?”
“Oh, hello, Lori. Let me give you to Mister Barkin,” Maura said.
Argh, Lori thought. “Thanks,” Lori said.
“Hello, Miss Fisher.” Mister Barkin was a big man who, as far as Lori could tell, was pretty sure everyone was raising children wrong. “We’ve had some trouble with Ben today.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Lori kept her teeth ungritted. She was pretty sure Barkin could hear when she grit them. “What’s wrong?”
“He’s been very disruptive and has had a hard time following directions.”
“Okay, so he’s seven,” Lori said, and immediately knew it was the wrong thing to say.
“When we invited Ben to share with us why he was so upset, he said that you had yelled at him this morning.”
I am going to kill that little jerk, Lori thought. “Ben sometimes has trouble getting ready on time in the mornings,” she said instead. “It’s honestly a challenge for both of us, and I’m sure Ben read my . . .” Her phone buzzed, and she pulled it away to look.
“. . . attempt to set a schedule to develop a routine,” Lori finished, “as being grumpy with him.”
“Ben also said that you didn’t give him his ADHD pill this morning,” Barkin went on, and Lori winced and swore silently at the phone. “An important part of children’s development is establishing a routine, including regular and appropriate medication.”
“No, of course.” Lori didn’t care if he could hear the gritted teeth this time. “I completely understand. I was trying to get Ben out the door, and it completely slipped my mind. Since it’s summer, we haven’t been worrying about his medicine unless he’s going on a field trip.” This was true-ish.
“We at Sandee Day Care can’t give any medication ourselves without authorization, and if you don’t think that you can commit to giving Ben his medication when he needs it—”
“If he’s becoming disruptive without it, then of course, I’d be happy to see that he has it every morning,” Lori added. “Ben’s doctor wanted us to avoid overmedicating him, you understand.” Because she’d had a lousy morning, she added, “Especially during the summer, the doctor really assumed he’d be getting enough exercise at day care that he wouldn’t need medication. Does Sandee still have outdoor playtime? Because I’ve heard horror stories about those day cares that just put the kids in front of the TV all day.”
After a thoughtful pause, during which Lori remembered why Mister Barkin made her nervous, he said, “We’ll keep an eye on him this afternoon. Based on his behavior—”
“I’ll be by in a little while to pick him up, anyway,” Lori added. “My work has finished up early for the day. Thanks so much for calling. I really appreciate you keeping me up to date on how Ben is doing.”
“We’ll see you soon, Miss Fisher,” Barkin said, and hung up on her.
Lori sighed, took a breath, and then dialed again. A moment later Jenn picked up. “Lemme guess.”
“I’m sorry,” Lori said. “Go without me.”
“We were supposed to figure out a plan for which guy you were gonna get this year!”
Lori sighed and gently head-butted her phone. “I can’t even manage a trip to the mall, Jenn. I think dating is going to be a stretch.”
Her phone buzzed, and she glanced at it.
Lori glared, even as Jenn said, “Come on, Fisher. That stuff might fly freshman and sophomore year, but it’s time to make a play.”
“I know. I’ll, um . . . I don’t know. This consult might run a couple of days. I’m sorry.”
“Okay, Career Woman, but if I get you something, will you try it on?”
Lori found herself smiling despite everything. “Sure.”
“Oooh, this could work. I can pick out something so much hotter than anything I’d’ve been able to talk you into buying in person!”
“Good-bye, Jenn,” Lori said, and hung up and went inside PortManta, smiling a little bit now.
Part coffee shop, part juice bar, and part general hangout, PortManta was where Lori spent a lot of her summer afternoons when Handler didn’t have a job for her. The walls were painted in various eye-searing pastels, and the manta-ray logo smiled and waved in old photographs to which it had been digitally added. Sometimes she was there with Jenn, gossiping about classmates and checking out new bands on their phones over PortManta’s Wi-Fi. Other times she would hang out on her own and just enjoy the silence.
Anna, a tiny little red-haired girl with a face full of freckles, smiled from behind the register as Lori came in. “Hey, Lori! Nice outfit. Work day, huh?”
“Yep. Early one.”
“Be glad you don’t work here,” Anna said, rolling her eyes. “Six a.m. opening. You want your usual?”
“Please.” Lori used her phone to pay while Anna rang in the fruit smoothie order. “Hey, did a new group come in? One skinny black guy with locks, one short guy, pretty blond girl, and a green-haired girl in a wheelchair?”
“Um . . .” Lori felt herself starting to blush, and Anna laughed out loud.
“You probably could have led with the green-haired girl in a wheelchair,” Anna said, and pointed at the service elevator. “They’re on the roof. Or at least most of them are. The green-haired girl came back down and said she’d be right back.”
“Thanks. Guess there aren’t too many wheelchair users here in Santa Dymphna.” Lori glanced outside. “The city’s still a few years away from having access ramps everywhere after the water rose.”
“Guess it was just one of those things,” Anna said without missing a beat, and Lori winced. She hadn’t meant to trigger it that time. She hated doing it to people she liked. It made them seem like things, which was unfair to them. She was the weird one, after all.
A moment later Lori’s juice came up. She grabbed it and shoved a straw in. “Have a good one,” she said to the now-silent Anna, and went up to the roof to get some answers.
Iara rolled into the electronics store and smiled at the balding shopkeeper who looked down at her with undisguised surprise.
“Don’t get a lot of handicapped in Santa Dymphna,” he said thoughtfully.
“The sidewalks are very well maintained,” Iara said, still smiling, because he was an old man, and she had been brought up to respect her elders.
“Gotta be hard getting into the boats and all,” the shopkeeper added. “Can you swim?”
“Yes,” Iara said, still keeping the smile. “I wished to buy a new phone.”
The shopkeeper was now beginning to vex her, but as he was one of the innocents that she would be protecting in her new role as Fighter of Eel Monsters, Iara simply gave a tiny sigh and said, “Unless you operate them with your feet.” As she said the words, she added a tiny little click from the back of her throat.
The shopkeeper looked at her feet. “Your feet don’t look different,” he said, and his gaze trailed up her legs to the hem of the formfitting black skirt she wore.
“I am pleased that you noticed,” Iara said, and wheeled herself a few meters forward and clicked again, looking back at the shopkeeper as she did.
She shut her eyes and let out a long breath.
“Are you all right?” the shopkeeper demanded, coming around the counter to her. “Listen, I can call a doctor if you need help.”
“I need a phone,” she said, eyes still closed.
She felt the words bounce off him, sensed the vibration and the echoes forming a pattern that her mind turned into the shape of the room. Past that—
It was not sight, although that was how her mind processed this new sense. Instead, it was as though her sense of balance, the tiny little reactions to movement that let her body know when she was upside down or leaning to the left, had been made a thousand times more sensitive and then somehow tangled up with her sense of touch. She could feel the electric hum of the machines in the shop, the laptops and tablets and phones and fitness trackers, all of them buzzing against her skin. She could feel the wires running through the walls, power cables and Internet lines and security feeds.
She could feel the electromagnetic field buzzing around the ignorant and prejudiced shopkeeper’s body, and with her two little triangulating clicks, she had a picture of his brain.
“You have five new phones for me, already paid for,” she said, and hummed underneath the words, a subsonic vibration that took her words and carried them through the air and into the shopkeeper’s brain. The right frequency, keyed to the shopkeeper’s distance from her and his own natural electric field, kicked it into a different part of his brain.
With that little hum, Iara turned it from a thing he was hearing into a thing he was remembering.
Her words, no matter how beautifully phrased, could not create a memory from whole cloth, but she didn’t really have to. The human mind, Iara had learned, liked to correct errors. Given a false positive for a memory of her buying the phones, the shopkeeper’s mind was busily cobbling one together from the view he had of her now and a thousand past transactions.
“Oh, right!” the shopkeeper said. “Just be a minute. Sorry, I should have boxed them up for you earlier.”
It was not the power Iara would have asked for, but then, most of her heroes had been the same way. Peter Parker had wished for popularity, not spider powers, but fate had given him what he had needed, not what he had wanted, and she assumed that the same was true for her. She might have wished for Captain Marvel, but she got Professor X.
Iara smiled as he scanned the phones, bagged them, and passed them down to her. “Thank you.”
“You know how to use them?” he asked. Bless him, he sounded honestly concerned.
She smiled and patted the bag. “Since I cannot walk, I have had much time to get very good with electronics.”
She wheeled out of the shop and back to the juice bar with the manta ray logo.
“So you can like Jedi mind meld people?” Hawk asked as he sipped his strawberry-acai-matcha smoothie with soy protein and watched his new phone sync up his apps. They’d all gotten each others’ contact information when Iara had passed out the phones, and all that was left now was to download old app info over PortManta’s Wi-Fi.
“Mind trick,” Tapper muttered, more to himself than Hawk. Whatever he was drinking had many shots of espresso in it. The guy’s jeans and T-shirt had dried off really fast too, which Hawk thought might be because Tapper was always kind of vibrating.
“Not quite,” Iara said, blushing prettily and running slender fingers through her wavy green hair. “I only plant memories. I cannot force them to do anything.”
“Jedi mind trick, Vulcan mind meld, that’s basic information . . .” Tapper thumbed his phone, glaring intently at the glowing screen.
“And you can swim,” Maya added. “You and Shawn were really good swimmers.”
“Were,” Tapper muttered. “We even sure he’s dead? All we have is Lori’s word on that.”
“And mine,” Iara said, and looked away and sipped the apple-berry smoothie she had said reminded her of some kind of soda they had back in Brazil. She had really pretty lips, and Hawk realized he was staring at them like a doofus and looked away instead.
They were up on the roof, which had a little patio. Hawk had visited family on the cluster of high-rise islands that was all that was left of Houston after the water rose, and they’d had the same kind of thing there. No room to grow out, so people grew up instead. PortManta had chairs and tables, all made from the same grayish-pink plastic that came from miracoral oil.
Across the canal, Hawk saw little gardens, barbecues, and even tents made from plastic sheeting. In Santa Dymphna, the poor moved up, not down. A narrow woven-plastic footbridge connected PortManta’s rooftop to the building next door. The bridge swayed in the breeze. The Santa Dymphna locals walked across them without a second thought, but they creeped Hawk out. Partly the height, even though being indestructible now probably shouldn’t make that a thing, and partly the way the braided ropes of gray-pink plastic looked like a spider’s webbing.
“What happened to him?” Hawk asked. “Iara, you saw it?”
“I heard it,” Iara said, and put her drink down. “I do not know. I could not hear its shape, but it was very large.”
“How very large?” Tapper asked.
“Larger than the Hulk,” Iara said thoughtfully, “but smaller than Galactus.” She grimaced. “Shawn had no chance.”
Tapper grunted. “Locked in a stupid crate with all of you, and now one of us is dead, and we still don’t know what’s going on.”
“He helped save us,” Iara said, lowering her eyes. “He carried me.”
“We’ll make it right,” Hawk said, and sipped his smoothie. “After we figure this out, we’ll make it right.”
“Hawk?” Lori asked, and Hawk looked over at her. “It was your turn.” She was apparently only sixteen, like him? She’d looked older in her nice blouse and slacks. She was pacing around the edge of the table while the rest of them sat. Iara looked comfortable in her wheelchair, Maya was kind of splayed sideways across the chair like it was a very small resting couch, and Tapper was hunched over like he’d rather be anywhere else.
“Turn?” he asked, and saw that Lori looked older when she glared. She could probably use a smoothie. Something chill, anyway.
“We were sharing our stories of how we all ended up in the cargo container,” Maya said, “like how I got a scholarship from the Lake Foundation, and then when I came out here, I got drugged during my interview and then woke up in the cargo container.” She sipped her smoothie, which was only technically a smoothie instead of a chocolate shake because she’d let them throw in some whey protein. “That’s actually pretty much my whole story.”
“Probably call it a Force nerve pinch . . .” Tapper glared at his phone. “Aw, that is some garbage.”
“Well, I mean, I was giving the TL;DR version,” Maya said, “like, I mean, also they asked about doing wrestling and football and swim team and what I thought about rising sea levels and a time in my life where I had to overcome adversity, but I thought the part where my drink tasted funny and then I could taste my own happiness and then I lay down under the table to hug the floor was the part we cared about . . .”
“Not that.” Tapper waved his phone. “TidePool suspended my posting privileges again. Said my account is locked.”
Iara raised an eyebrow. “Do you believe it is tied to what happened to us?”
“I don’t think so,” Maya said. “I just reposted a kitten video!”
Hawk had just finished installing the TidePool app on his phone. “Mine’s okay too.” He reached over for Tapper’s phone, and the other guy jerked his hand back faster than Hawk could follow, then glared and flipped his screen around so that Hawk could see. “The following post was flagged as . . .” He squinted at the quoted post. “Oh, dude, you can’t write that! That’s somebody’s mom!”
“Somebody’s mom should’ve raised a guy with smarter opinions about whether anime is better subbed or dubbed,” Tapper said grimly.
“So they haven’t locked your social media accounts,” Lori said. She hadn’t looked at her own phone. “That’s something. So, Hawk?”
Hawk grinned at her. “Yeah?”
She did not grin back. “Your story. About ending up in the cargo container.”
“Oh, right, yeah. So it’s basically same as Maya’s. I’ve lived in Austin for about eighteen months—after the water rose and Houston was underwater, the military moved their big base there, and my dad got transferred.”
“Where are you from originally?” Iara asked, taking another sip of her drink.
“Born on a base in the Philippines,” Hawk said, “but we moved around a lot, but because of the navy moving my dad around, I’ve lived in pretty much every US state that has a naval base.”
“You can’t be Filipino,” Tapper cut in. “Filipino guys are big. Like the Rock.”
“The Rock is Samoan,” Iara said. “He did a Samoan dance for his grandmother out of respect on her birthday.”
“Oh yeah, I remember that!” Maya said, tapping on her phone. “I reposted the picture and everything, and I mean, I don’t do guys, but that grin plus him doing it for his nana, that was hot.”
“Superhot,” Iara added. “Gostoso.”
“Right? Anyway, Filipino guys are like tiny.” Maya looked over at Hawk. “Wait, sorry, no offense!”
“My feelings are also mostly invulnerable,” Hawk said, grinning back at her, because at five foot three, he couldn’t exactly argue about it, and also she might not go for guys, but she was still a very cute blond girl.
“And then?” Lori asked Hawk, and Hawk almost asked and then what? and then saw the look in Lori’s eyes and realized that she might actually kill him and remembered what they’d been talking about.
“And then it was the same as Maya’s story, with a scholarship offer from the Lake Foundation. I flew out and did the questions and all. The poison didn’t work on me, so they used a net and then hit me with a stun gun or something.” Hawk shrugged. “That’s it.”
Lori frowned. “Tapper?”
“Hang on, I’m making a new account.” The guy’s thumbs were moving faster than Hawk had ever seen anyone’s thumbs move. He hadn’t even known the phone could keep up.
“You know, you can unlock your account if you apologize and remove the offending post,” Maya said.
“I will delete that post when a dubbed anime carries the same level of story and voice performance as a sub,” Tapper said, thumbs blurring, “which will be never.”
“What about Avatar: The Last Airbender?” Maya asked. “That was pretty good.”
“That wasn’t even—” Tapper stopped as his phone made a little click, and then he sat back slowly, leaving his phone on the table in front of him. The screen had a long crack running along the bottom right-hand corner. “I’m not talking to you. I do not acknowledge your opinions.” He looked up at Lori. “Same story, ’cept I’m from Vegas.” He gulped down his espresso-whatever-it-was.
“Dude, do you really need more caffeine?” Hawk asked.
“Bite me, Pint-Size.”
“My story is also similar,” Iara said. “The Lake Foundation said the scholarship was for international students with disabilities.”
“And they flew you all out here, to Santa Dymphna,” Lori said, tapping her phone on her leg as she thought. “And drugged you.” Her phone buzzed, and she glanced at it. “Hm. But they didn’t drug you right away. They interviewed you.” She looked at Hawk. “Did they do anything to you first? A medical procedure? Something that could’ve given you . . .” She paused, shook her head.
“Our superpowers?” Iara asked.
“They’re not superpowers,” Tapper snapped. “They’re mutations.”
“The X-Men gain superpowers through mutation,” Iara pointed out, “unless you believe that our origin is tied to superscience, like the Flash or Spider-Man.” She smiled. “Or unless you believe we are all children of Krypton or Asgard.”
“Or Tír na nÓg, or however you say it with the accents and stuff,” Maya said. “That’s where fae come from, and they sometimes swap babies with humans, so I think we’re maybe changelings.”
“You also think Princess Mononoke was better with Claire Danes,” Tapper muttered. “You’ve forfeited the right to an opinion.”
“I was kind of hoping we were angels,” Hawk said, and he said it quietly, just in case it sounded really dumb once it came out of his head, but Tapper was still ranting about anime, or possibly manga now, and nobody caught it.
“Regardless of what they are,” Lori snapped, “none of you . . .” She paused. “None of us are normal. Did the people at the Lake Foundation do something to you all that made you like this?”
“No. My powers came almost a year ago,” Iara said. “I do not know why. Nothing happened that would mark it. One day my senses were stronger, and while my legs were no different, my arms could pull me through the water faster than ever before.”
“So they didn’t give you powers,” Lori said. “Or at least not then. Why not drug you as soon as you arrived, then? Why the interview?”
“They had to be sure,” Iara said softly.
“Like about a time when I faced adversity?” Maya asked.
“It’s obvious.” Tapper finished his drink. “Their questions were to confirm that we had powers, that we were the right targets.”
“Because I just made up a thing about stealing bread to save my starving family,” Maya added, “and then turning myself in to save an innocent man my parole officer mistook for me, and I’m not positive, but I think I got that from a movie.”
“Could you . . .” Tapper placed his hands on the armrests of the chair. Hawk saw that the guy’s fingers were tapping a furious little rhythm on the plastic. “Could you please stop talking?”
“Tapper, do not be rude,” Iara said, and then smiled at Hawk. “What questions did they ask you?”
“Same as you guys, I guess.” Hawk sipped his smoothie and thought. It had been yesterday, but yesterday was a kidnapping and several weird monsters ago. “Influences, what I wanted to be when I grew up, what Maya said about adversity . . . ?”
Maya’s hand shot up, and she fidgeted in her seat.
Lori sighed. “Yes, Maya?”
Maya looked over at Tapper, who rolled his eyes and waved at her to go. “Plus sea levels.”
“Hunh.” Hawk nodded at the blond girl. “Yeah, they asked me that too.”
“Why they rose,” Tapper added. “Why all the coasts were underwater now.”
Lori was standing very still. “And what did all of you say?” she asked quietly.
“I said I thought it was global warming,” Hawk said.
“Ah yes, I suggested soil erosion.” Iara sipped her smoothie.
“That’s stupid.” Tapper shook his head. “Neither of those would account for the sea level rising this much in just a few years. I told them it had to be a chemical attack.”
“I said that I guessed it was just one of those things,” Maya said, “right? Because that’s what everyone says whenever I ask about it, so I thought that was what I was supposed to say, but then the interview lady got disappointed, so I added some stuff about how it could be the same crustal displacement that sank Atlantis, and she seemed happier.”
“Maya’s right,” Hawk said.
“What? No.” Tapper glared. “Crustal displacement is pseudoscience—”
“About that being what everyone says,” Lori said. She stepped toward them, and Hawk hadn’t realized until then how she’d put herself a little ways apart from the group. “Guess it was just one of those things. Those exact words, every time, no matter who it is.”
“Or how many times you ask,” Iara added.
“Their eyes always stop moving too,” Tapper said, fingers clicking a staccato rhythm on the plastic. “It’s like they go blank. Like they were programmed.” He pointed at Iara. “Like one of the Girl from Ipanema’s Jedi mind melds shoved the answer into their brain.”
“I thought it was a Jedi mind trick,” Maya said. Tapper glared at her.
“That’s what the feeders—the things I hunt—that’s what they do,” Lori said, frowning. “They change people’s minds, and people act like that when their mind hits something artificial that the feeder put in. But none of you acted like that. You showed them you weren’t . . .”
“Controlled?” Iara asked.
Lori nodded. “That’s when they decided to take you.”
Hawk’s phone chirped, and he looked down at it, then let out a big sigh, tension he hadn’t known he’d been carrying melting from his body. “It’s finally hooked up to the voice lines,” he said, and began dialing. “My parents can get us, and then we can go to the cops—”
“What?” Lori said, seeming more alarmed than pleased.
“Do you think the police will be able to deal with creatures like the eels?” Iara asked.
“Dunno,” Hawk said, “but my dad’s military. Maybe they’ve heard of these things.”
He heard the phone ring, and a moment later, his mother picked up. “Hello?”
“Mom,” Hawk said, and realized as he said it that she must have been wondering where he’d been for most of a day. He pictured her calling the Lake Foundation and the hotel frantically, worried out of her mind. “Mom, I’m sorry, it’s me, they got me, but I got free—”
“Oh, hello, dear,” his mother said. “I hope you’re having a good time at the Lake Foundation.”
“No, Mom, I’m not.” Hawk found himself fumbling for the words. “They’re, like, bad guys. They’re trying to do experiments or something on us . . .”
“I hope you’re having a good time at the Lake Foundation,” his mother said again.
Hawk’s mouth worked for a moment, but nothing came out. He looked over to see the others staring at him sadly. “M-mom?”
“I hope you’re having a good time at the Lake Foundation.”
“I’m . . . yeah.” Hawk shut his eyes. “I’ll see you soon.” He hung up the phone and looked at Lori.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, and he blinked and shook his head.
“Can I get her back? Like . . .” He gripped the arm of his chair. “Like if something is messing with her head, and we kill it, she’s okay, right?”
“It’s impossible to . . .” Lori’s phone buzzed, and she glanced down at it. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, if it’s one of those eels, and we get it out of her soon, she should be fine.”
Hawk looked over as Tapper said, “Mom?” and realized he was calling his family as well. “Mom, it’s me. If you were worried about . . . No. No, yeah, I’m having a good time. I am. I’ll call you back.” He hung up, scowling at the ground, and shook his head.
“What are these things?” Hawk grimaced, and the chair squeaked. He looked down and saw that the plastic had curled in where he’d gripped it too hard. “The eels, the feeders, whatever you call them?” He looked at Lori, realized he was almost shouting but didn’t care. “Whatever killed Shawn? How do they do this to people’s minds?”
“I don’t . . .” Lori looked down at her phone like she was waiting for a text. “It’s hard to explain. But maybe I can show you.” She looked around at all of them. “If you want to know what they are, I know something that can sort of explain it.”
“Not like we have anywhere else to go,” Tapper muttered. “Blondie, Ipanema, you gonna call home?”
“I do not wish to hear that my family has been affected by these creatures,” Iara said grimly.
“My parents aren’t, uh . . .” Maya shook her head. “If they got yours, they probably got mine, right?”
“Right.” Hawk shoved himself to his feet. “If you’ve got something to show us, show us.”
Lori took them out of PortManta and along the sidewalk. It was busy at this time of day, and people bumped into Iara’s wheelchair as she rolled along with the group.
No one ever bumped into Professor X’s chair in the comic books. Sometimes he even had a chair that levitated. She would not have minded that.
She grimaced as a man jostled her, and then smiled as Hawk moved him out of the way with a little “Scuse me.”
“Oh, sorry,” the man who’d bumped into her chair muttered, and went back to looking at his phone.
“Is it always this bad?” Hawk asked her.
“It is an annoyance,” Iara said. “At least here in Santa Dymphna, they apologize.”
“Where are you from in Brazil?” Hawk asked. “Rio, São Paulo?”
“Rio,” Iara said, and smiled at him. “I do not know many Americans who could name more than one city in Brasil.”
“The navy sent my dad all over the world to help with relief efforts after the water rose,” Hawk said. “When we weren’t with him, I liked to read up on wherever he was.”
“So many areas flooded.” Iara loved to swim in the rivers, but some of her friends had swum in the lakes that had once been parts of the city. They liked the clear water and the glow of the miracoral, but to her, it had seemed like swimming over a graveyard, looking down at the drowned buildings below. “How could the world forget? Or not notice?”
“No idea,” Hawk said. “Guess Lori’s gonna show us.” He looked up ahead, and Iara saw that Lori and the others were heading up a ramp that led to an overpass made from the gray plastic of the miracoral. “Hey, you need a push?”
Iara could push herself, but Hawk had a nice smile, small and a little uncertain but honest, and Iara smiled back and shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, if someone with superstrength wishes to volunteer . . .” and then sat back contentedly in her chair as the nice boy pushed her up the ramp.
They headed up and over the canal, and Iara pretended not to notice Hawk glancing down anxiously as they crossed the bridge, because he was being chivalrous. On the far side, Lori and the others headed down a ramp. Iara reached up gently behind her and said, “I have it from here.” Looking back over her shoulder and up at Hawk from under her lashes, she added, “But I am most grateful.” He flushed and stammered a bit, and Iara grinned as she wheeled down the ramp, letting herself whoosh past Lori and Maya and Tapper and catching a breathless laugh in her throat as her chair bounced at the bottom of the ramp. It likely looked uncontrolled to the others, but compared to the streets of Rio, this was nothing.
Lori had taken them to a large plaza. A sign guiding tourists read REEF SQUARE. One side of the square was a dock for ferries and personal boats that bobbed safely behind shiny white railings. The other three sides were high-end stores, glittering in the pale late-summer sun that was the best they were able to get this far north.
In the center of Reef Square, behind a little waist-high railing . . . Iara stared.
At first her eyes refused to make sense of it, and she shook her head to clear a sudden dizziness as she looked at the mass of metal. A pyramid of steel that shone with a different light, or no, a cone, no, a . . . In annoyance, she shut her eyes and clicked, and felt the echo, and when she opened them again, she could make sense of it.
It was a train car, or part of one. It had been whole once, a local line that carried people around this city. But something had caught it, and now half of it was not simply gone but going, stretched like taffy and pulled to a tapering point of infinite thinness, so that the overall shape was of a pyramid lying on its side.
“Will it ever disappear?” Iara asked.
“What is . . . I can’t . . .” Hawk rubbed his eyes. “Why’s the corner all red and stuff?”
“It’s not,” Tapper snapped. “That end is being pulled somewhere else. The light waves bouncing off it are pulled too. They take longer to reach you, and the frequency—”
“Dude, I just got a solid A-minus in physics,” Hawk said. “I know what a Doppler shift is.”
“Is that the one where a trumpet player on a train sounds one way coming toward you and another way going away?” Maya asked.
“Yyyysorta,” Hawk said as Tapper snorted and shook his head. “I just didn’t expect to see it, you know, right here.”
“Walk around it,” Lori said quietly. “It looks that way from every side.”
“That can’t be right,” Hawk said, starting to walk. “If you go to the other side, it should be blue, because it’s coming toward . . . hunh.”
“It’s being pulled away from us from every angle,” Tapper said impatiently, “because it’s being pulled into another dimension.”
Iara cocked her head and wheeled forward, thinking about that.
“So, like, space?” Hawk asked.
“No,” said Tapper.
“Sort of,” Lori said. “That’s what the feeders are. They come from someplace we can’t understand, someplace outside of the universe as we know it.”
“Someplace wrong,” Tapper added.
“But how could this be in plain sight, and the world not alarmed?” Iara demanded. “This is proof of a world beyond our own, of dangers we must fight!”
Lori gestured, and Iara followed it. A mother wheeled her daughter past in a stroller. Behind them, two young men laughed at a joke together, holding hands and sharing a pair of earbuds. An older man in khakis and a button-up shirt talked in annoyance into a headset microphone, gesturing angrily with a croissant held in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.
None of them looked at the train being pulled into a place that could not be.
“Some of it might be on purpose,” Lori said, walking toward the train car. Iara wheeled along beside her. “Some feeders can affect people’s minds. But I think we . . .” She grimaced. “I think the feeders are just too different for this world, and so sometimes, when a big one changes things, the world just sort of flops into a new shape around whatever they do, and then the whole universe tries to pretend nothing happened.”
“People are good at seeing what they expect to see,” Maya said from beside them, and then added, “except who put up the railing?”
Iara looked over at the blond girl in surprise. “Excellent question, Maya.”
“There’s a plaque.” Hawk stepped to the little square of metal on the ground before the railing. “Invisible Changes: An art piece donated by the Lake Foundation.”
“Like they weren’t creepy enough before they drugged and kidnapped us,” Tapper said, glaring at the plaque.
“And put monsters inside our families.” Iara’s fingers ached, and she realized she was clenching the armrests of her wheelchair too hard.
“This is what feeders are,” Lori said. “This is what I hunt and kill, and this is what they do to the world, what they’ll do to people if we don’t stop them. They will destroy it and kill people, and no one will ever even realize what they’ve done.”
“Then we will stop them,” Iara declared. “Even if no one thanks us, even if no one but us can see what has gone wrong in this world, we will fight—”
“Hey,” Maya said suddenly, “those two people can see it.”
Everyone stopped and looked where Maya gestured. A little ways away, on the other side of the train car, an old man stood looking at the train car, with a younger man behind him, arms draped over the old man’s shoulders.
The old man’s lips were moving, and Iara focused and listened as only she could.
“What made the water rise?” the young man was saying.
“Guess it was just one of those things,” the old man murmured.
And again, “What made the water rise?”
“Guess it was just one of those things.”
And still again, “What made the water rise?”
“Guess it was just one of those things,” the old man repeated, and Iara realized that the arms draped over his shoulders ended in frilly little claws.
“It’s a feeder,” Lori said sharply.
Maya wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting, but it wasn’t for Iara to suddenly wheel forward with a yell of, “For humanity!”
She was maybe halfway to the old man and the feeder when a whoosh of air zipped past her, and then Tapper was by the old man and the feeder, and the feeder was falling away from the old man, who looked . . . wet or something? His clothes were glistening, and there was something around him that she hadn’t seen before, a bubble that drew back toward the feeder as the man fell away from it.
Tapper’s arms were a blur, and the feeder sort of danced in place. Maya realized a moment later that Tapper was hitting it a whole bunch of times really quickly. “Where am I supposed to hit it?” he shouted.
“Head usually works!” Hawk yelled back. He and Iara were almost to the creature.
“It doesn’t have a head!” Tapper shouted, and Maya, who was still beside Lori, blinked and cocked her head, because, well, the feeder did seem to have a head.
“He can see it,” Lori murmured, and then it clicked for Maya, that if she could see the train car going down a black hole but normal people couldn’t, maybe Tapper could see something the rest of them couldn’t, and Maya squinted as she jogged forward, trying to let it come to her like one of those 3-D-staring things she had never been able to make work.
The feeder looked like a normal man, pale and with brown hair, wearing a white dress shirt and a brown suit that hung on him loosely, with baggy pant legs and flowing sleeves. And then Maya thought, It doesn’t have a head, because that was what Tapper had said, and let her eyes unfocus—
five brown limbs splayed out in all directions from a white maw in the center of the body, and on the underside of the limbs, little wriggling spines, and it curled forward even as Tapper kept punching, the spines grabbing hold
And Maya saw the normal-looking man fall onto Tapper, who shouted and yelled as the man hugged him with both arms and one leg, slowly but unstoppably.
At least, it seemed unstoppable until Hawk got there, grabbed ahold of the feeder, and then tore one of its arms off.
“Hey,” said the feeder, “what made the water rise?” The arm Hawk had torn off flopped on the ground.
“Shut up!” Tapper shouted.
“What made the water rise?” the feeder asked again. “Do you know? Think about it.”
“Get off of him!” Hawk added, and tore off another arm. It flopped on the ground next to the first one.
“This usually works,” said the feeder. “Look at the train car. Look at it and think about the water rising.”
“Ow!” Tapper yelled. “It’s got something on it, acid or something!” He was a blur of motion under the feeder, and that same bubble of wetness that Maya had seen before around the old man was forming around Tapper now.
Maya looked at the feeder. Iara had reached it now and was punching one of the arms on the ground, which kept moving and was trying to grab her wheelchair.
Lori was there as well. She looked like she was about to grab it, but then she stopped and flinched, looking anxious. “What do I do?” she yelled.
“Hey, guys!” Maya called. “I think it’s a starfish!”
In the sudden silence, the feeder added, “Okay, but have you thought about what made the water rise?”
“Like Starro?” Iara yelled.
Maya had no idea who Starro was. “I think more like the one on SpongeBob!” She ran forward. “Look, it doesn’t have a head, and its arms still work if they’re torn off, and when I went to the aquarium they talked about how starfish find stuff that can’t move, and then they grab it and, um, shoot out their stomachs and digest stuff and then suck it into them.”
“It’s digesting me?” Tapper yelled. “Get it off!” He blurred harder.
“Hang on!” Wincing, Lori worked her hands in toward the watery fluid that bubbled around Tapper. “I think I’ve got it. Hawk, pull!”
Lori pulled one way, hugging the water around her, and Hawk pulled another way, wrenching back on the main body of the creature, and Tapper whooshed out and was suddenly standing next to Maya, his clothes stained and in some places eaten through.
With a horrible splortch noise, the feeder came apart, the watery guts ripping away in one direction and the body going in another, and Lori and Tapper both flung away the parts they were holding.
“You tasted different,” said the body from the ground. “You’re from home. That’s why thinking about the water didn’t work. I forgot . . . how . . . delish . . .”
Then it melted away, hissing into a stain on the ground. All of it, all at once, seemed to just sort of give up on existing, and it flickered like it was falling away even though it was already on the ground, and then all the different pieces were gone.
“Touchdown, monster hunters! Are you okay?” Maya asked Tapper. He was still blurry, and she realized it was because he was moving fast.
“Had to get the acid off me,” he said. “It hurts.”
“It even hurts me,” Hawk said, wiping his hands on his pants, “and I’m kind of indestructible. Lori, you all right?”
“Yeah.” She held up her hands, which were unmarked. “I’m mostly immune to things like that. Sorry, Tapper. I couldn’t get it without . . . The way I kill them would have hurt you, too.”
“Yeah, well.” Tapper sniffed. “Good thing Blondie was there to save my butt with SpongeBob.”
“Indeed,” said Iara, and Maya looked over to see that she was smiling broadly. “Now, shall we go fight Lake and banish her from our dimension as well?”
Maya looked down at the old man on the ground. He was breathing, but he still had slime on him from the feeder. “Wait, we need to help him first.”
“I don’t . . .” The old man was trembling. “It hurts.”
“It’s okay.” Maya knelt down, careful not to touch him. “We’re going to take care of you.”
“It had me, and I couldn’t . . . I couldn’t . . .” The old man began to make a little noise in his throat.
“Um, it’s okay, I think you’re just confused,” Maya said, and looked up at Iara. “I think you maaaaaaaaybe remember getting dizzy?”
“Aha!” Iara nodded and then did a little thing with her throat that Maya couldn’t hear, but watching the muscles in her jaw and neck work was a little cute and distracting.
“Then you fell into the water by the docks,” Tapper added. Everyone looked at him, and he patted his acid-stained clothes and glared. “Into all that nice clean salt water, where someone will come rescue him right away and give him medical attention?”
“Oh, dude, yeah, good.” Hawk gently picked up the old man. People in the area were still not looking at them, caught in whatever field of not-seeing the feeder or the train car put around them. “Okay, hang on, sir.” He looked over at Iara. “We chill?”
Iara wheeled alongside him. “One moment,” she said, and then firmly said to the old man, “There was no monster. You got dizzy and fell into the water.”
Hawk jogged over and very gently dropped the man into the water while everyone else followed.
After a second, since nobody else was doing it, Maya yelled, “Oh gosh, I think that man got dizzy and fell into the water!”
As if a spell had been broken, people looked down and began shouting and pointing at the man. Everyone still ignored the acid-stained ground behind them.
“That was a small one,” Lori said quietly as they all looked down at the confused man splashing in the water. “The bigger ones don’t just eat. They do things to people, or their bodies. Using dead bodies as shells or using living people like puppets, as they . . .” She trailed off.
“As they did to our parents,” Tapper finished.
“I’m sorry.” Lori shook her head. “I’ve dealt with that before. If we can kill whatever is controlling the eels soon . . .”
“The beast in the water,” Iara said. “We should have fought it. Perhaps we could have saved Shawn.”
“Wrong, Ipanema.” Tapper shook his head. “We nearly got beat fighting SpongeBob just now.”
“It would actually be SpongeBob’s friend Patrick,” Maya chimed in, since Tapper was the kind of person who liked specificity.
“Or Starro,” Iara added.
“Tapper’s point,” Lori said sharply, “is that if we’d stayed, we’d have died.” Tapper nodded. “Tia Lake is tied to the thing controlling the eels somehow—maybe a puppet, or maybe she’s . . .” Lori swallowed and lowered her voice. “Maybe she’s a fake person that the monster is creating like camouflage.” Her phone buzzed, and she ignored it. “Before we do anything, we should try to get back into the Lake Foundation headquarters and find some answers.”
“Tomorrow morning,” Iara said, looking down at her phone, “Tia Lake is doing a live radio interview about new advances with the miracoral. It is very early, around six in the morning.”
“Good.” Lori nodded. “So Lake will be away, and the building will be mostly deserted. How about if you all meet me back at PortManta around five thirty tomorrow morning?”
“That is superearly,” Hawk said.
“You can catch up on beauty sleep once the bad guys aren’t trying to catch us and kill us,” Tapper said.
“Are you okay to get new clothes and a hotel?” Lori asked. “I have to go pick up my brother from day care.”
“Your brother?” Maya asked.
“Ben.” Lori’s lips curled into a little smile. “He’s seven, and he’s normal. He doesn’t know anything about all this. I promised I’d get him today if my work finished early.”
“I can ensure that the group is taken care of,” Iara said confidently. “Go get your brother. And Lori . . . thank you. Thanks to you, we are free, and we have a chance to save our families.”
“And it was nice to meet you too, even, you know, without all that,” Maya added, smiling at Lori, who blushed a little and shifted her weight around.
“See you tomorrow,” she blurted, and headed off without a backward look.
“She’s a little odd,” Hawk said, “right?”
“She fights monsters to protect the innocent,” Iara declared, “just as we will.”
Tapper snorted. “She’s not like us. Not that we even know what we are yet.”
Maya sighed. “What if the angels were also fae?”
Subject: Obnoxious favor
Tried to call you but couldn’t get through. The consult job needs me superearly tomorrow, before Ben’s day care is open. I can’t find a sitter. Is there any chance you could watch him for a couple of hours before day care?
I’d need you here at 5:15. Yeah, I know.
If you can, let me know. Stupid job.
Ben was delighted to have Lori come pick him up early from day care.
She held him tight as they rode the ferry back home, half listening to what he’d built out of Legos and what his Pokémon had done to his friend Josh’s Pokémon in what was either their card game or them acting out the battle or some excited seven-year-old combination of the two.
She got him back home and into the small kitchen with the garbage under the sink that she’d forgotten to take out because it was a monster-hunting day. She got him pretzels and cheese as a snack, took his lunch bag out of his backpack, took back the pretzels and cheese upon seeing his blueberry applesauce sitting entirely untouched in the lunch bag, had a short argument about whether Ben had or had not said that he liked blueberry applesauce at some point in the past, and eventually came to a mutually agreeable compromise of Lori swapping the terrible blueberry applesauce for normal applesauce that Ben would eat while watching streams of people playing video games, with pretzels and cheese to follow upon completion of this arduous task. She threw in some chocolate milk to seal the deal.
Only then, only when Ben had settled in front of the computer, happily listening to a stream of a man with a loud and dubiously British voice, did Lori look at her phone. She had e-mails, including one from her personal account, and she opened that first.
Subject: re: Obnoxious favor
That is way too early, and you owe me big.
Seriously, no worries. See you there.
Lori breathed out a sigh of relief for friendship. Then she went over and set up the coffee machine on a timer for tomorrow morning, so she wouldn’t forget.
Then, and only then, did she look at the texts from Handler.
Lori looked over at her brother as he laughed and shouted, “Oh no!” at something the possibly British game streamer was doing to an enormous pile of TNT.
“You okay over there, little guy?” she asked.
“Yep!” he called back without turning around.
Handler always seemed reasonable. It was so easy to forget that it also used her as a lure to catch and eat things. She wondered why it bothered.
Lori glared at the incredibly helpful message on her phone screen. She thought about pretty blond Maya seeing the giant teeth come out of nowhere, of realizing what Lori really was.
Lori blushed and coughed and put her phone facedown on the table.
So what was she supposed to do? If Handler ate another feeder while the others were watching, they would see. Maya would see.
No, that was dumb. Forget Maya. Maya deserved to be with a real person.
What really mattered was that if she refused, they wouldn’t be able to stop Lake.
And they only had until Thursday.
Could she even refuse to do what it wanted? She’d never tried to stop Handler from eating a feeder before. It would be like Lori’s hand telling her not to eat a sandwich. Could she, when it actually mattered and wasn’t just banter over text messages, actually do anything, even have an opinion, that Handler didn’t agree with?
Lori hadn’t asked permission to open the container that the kids had been in, though. The phone had buzzed, but she hadn’t looked. The message, whatever Handler had said as Lori had walked toward that container, would still be there if she scrolled up high enough. She could read it and know for certain whether she was actually allowed to do things that Handler didn’t like.
She’d know for certain whether she was a real person.
She pushed the phone aside. Right now it didn’t matter. She and Handler both needed to stop the Lake Foundation, her because of Ben and Handler because Lake was a threat to it. That was enough for now.
“Hey, little guy,” she called, “when you’re done with that video, I have a question about Pokémon.”
That covered the hour until dinner nicely.
“What do you think, Iara?” Maya held up the lime-green T-shirt with the smiley face on it, squinting and trying to imagine what it would look like in normal light and not the glare of department-store fluorescents. She wasn’t good at trying on clothes. There was too much people-looking-at-Maya for it to be fun. “Also, am I getting your name right?” The others seemed to have gotten it okay, but Maya wasn’t good with other languages.
“You are fine, alemã,” Iara said, smiling. “You say it very well, and with more care than most.”
“I just want to make sure I’m not calling you the donkey from Winnie-the-Pooh.” Maya held up a dark red blouse with a little sweetheart neckline. “It matters what people call themselves.” She sighed. “And I don’t know which to get.”
Iara had a blue sundress with pretty purple flowers sitting in her lap, and she grabbed both shirts from Maya and added them to her pile. “You will get both,” she said firmly. “The green is fun and very pretty with your hair, and the red blouse will break the hearts of the ladies.”
“Oh? Oh!” Maya went hot and guessed she was probably the same color as the blouse now. “I, um, I was thinking more for breaking into the building and looking harmless, right? Something that fitted in so that nobody would get suspicious of us.”
She didn’t think Iara was entirely listening, because she had wheeled over to a rack with jeans. She held up a baggy pair, held them out in front of Maya, squinted, and then tossed them aside with a sniff. “You have very pretty legs. You deserve pants that do them justice. Maya?” Iara’s voice took on a concerned tone. “Maya, what are you doing?”
Maya looked down and realized she had inadvertently blended into a clothing rack of tan slacks, camouflaging perfectly. “Um, nothing, sorry.” She slipped back to normal colors before anyone in the store noticed, although since most people were trying hard to look anywhere but at Iara, she was probably safe.
“You do not like shopping for clothes?” Iara asked. “Or did I give offense? When I shop with my girlfriends, we try to tell the truth about what will look good on each of us.”
“I, um . . .” Maya ran her fingers back and forth across a soft blouse. “I didn’t have girlfriends to go shopping with back home.”
“Hmph.” Iara grabbed a pair of very tight jeans, held them up in front of Maya, and added them to the pile. “You do now, alemã.”
“Well, um, thanks. That sundress is good, then. It’s, uh . . . it’s a full-blitz sundress.”
“It means seeing it is going to knock some boy senseless,” Maya said, grinning at Iara.
Iara smiled back and rolled out her shoulders, pleased with herself. “Good. It is good to hear that.”
Maya looked at a little kiosk near the clothes and saw a pretty jeweled keychain that also had a USB drive and a flashlight all built into it. She’d had a keychain with Sailor Neptune on it once. A bunch of guys had taken it away from her, and she’d never gotten it back. This one was at least sparkly. “Um, if it’s not too much trouble, we might want this to like copy data from the Lake Foundation tomorrow . . . ?”
“Of course!” Iara grabbed one. “Now come, we will pay before the boys arrive.” She smiled. “I think I would like to surprise Hawk with what I wear tomorrow.”
“Awww . . .” Maya followed Iara as she wheeled to the register, then hung back a bit of a distance to watch. Iara talked to the cashier, and then, after a minute, the cashier took the tags off everything, bagged everything, and passed Iara a receipt.
“Still messed up,” Tapper muttered, and Maya squeaked and jumped a little and then tried to pretend she had realized he had come up beside her.
“Yes! Right. It is.” Maya looked over at Tapper and saw that Hawk was there as well. “Wait. What is?”
“Her messing with people’s minds.” Tapper grimaced, his eyes glittering as he watched Iara wheel toward them. “Not much different from what the feeders do.” He was tapping his fingers against the plastic of a clothing rack, fast little clicks.
“Can I help you find anything?” asked a smiling sales guy, a slender white man with short brown hair that flopped over half his face. Maya started to respond, and then realized that the sales guy was talking to Tapper.
“Just let me know if you change your mind,” the sales guy said, still smiling, and wandered off.
“It’s totally different,” Maya said when he was out of earshot. “Deception is when the other team fakes a handoff. Strategy is when we fake a handoff.”
“Maya’s right,” Hawk said, and then added, “and also more into football than I expected. Anyway, feeders do it to eat people. Iara’s just getting us clothes.”
“This time.” Tapper shook his head, and the clicking noise became kind of a crackle as his fingers moved fast enough to blur. “What if she decides to do a bank next? What if she decides to make you remember kissing her?”
“Totally okay with that,” Maya said.
“I would not do that,” Iara said as she came over, and Tapper started, clearly having thought she was out of earshot, “because it would be wrong. With great power comes great responsibility.”
“But you could do a bank if you wanted to, Uncle Ben,” Tapper insisted.
Iara sighed. “I could,” she said slowly, enunciating her words carefully like Tapper was being dumb, “but at the end of the day, when the bank did not have the right amount of money, the security cameras would show a green-haired girl in a wheelchair taking the missing amount, and I would be very easy to track, no? So I use it only for little things, when needed, and not when it will hurt people. You, though? You move very fast. You could run into the store, grab the clothes, and run out without the cameras seeing you.”
“It makes a shock wave if I do it for too long,” Tapper said irritably. “I’d probably break the windows.”
“But you could,” Iara said, looking up at him with a hard smile, “just like me. So we are not so different, you and I.”
Tapper just glared, but Hawk was thinking. “What about plane tickets?” he asked. “Could you get us flights? I mean, we could all just fly home again and get away from the Lake people, right?”
“I could.” Iara nodded. “But do you not wish to know what has happened to us? Do you not wish to save our parents?”
Maya still hadn’t called her parents. She looked down and realized she was blending into the clothing rack again, and made herself go back to normal.
“Yeah, no, totally,” Hawk said, stammering a little. “I just . . . I always like to sit facing the exit, you know? So if tomorrow goes wrong . . .”
“If we do not find what we seek tomorrow, I will ensure you get home,” Iara said, and smiled up at him, her hair tumbling down to frame her face. “But for now, let us hope for good things instead.”
Hawk blushed and grinned, and Maya smiled to herself. He wouldn’t stand a chance against the full-blitz sundress tomorrow.
Tia Lake, a tall woman with perfectly curled dark hair falling to the neck of her black silk blouse, sat in a black leather office chair and tapped at the polished mahogany desk with nails painted the same blood red as her lips.
“Four of them escaped,” she said.
Tap, tap, tap went her nails on the hardwood.
“They haven’t returned to their rooms at the office,” she said, “and it’s doubtful that they will. They’re smarter than that.”
Tap, tap, tap.
On the ground next to the desk, what was left of Diane Tucker twitched. She didn’t do much more than that—nobody with that many eels attached to them could do much more than that—and her eyes were glazed, but there was enough of her left in there to twitch, still.
“This is just for information, Diane. You’d be surprised what can happen when it’s for punishment.”
Tap, tap, tap. Her nails gouged little crescents of white into the desk.
“Ah, there we go,” she said a moment later, and the pile of eels flexed and writhed and bit in and took the right parts out. “Thanks so much, Diane. Now how about that thing calling itself a girl who worked for Angler Consulting? How did you get ahold of that number?”
Diane twitched again. This time her eyes darted to the ceiling. Diane had been a feisty one.
Tia let out a long sigh, and a pair of eels wriggled toward Diane Tucker’s eyes.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Finally Tia smiled. “You really don’t remember, do you, Diane? Oh, that’s helpful, even so. Here’s why you don’t remember, right here, and . . . ah yes, what a clever thing. So gentle.” The eels began to take out what they needed, carefully this time, since Tia would want a closer look.
“The payment information is probably fake, but we should follow up just to be sure, don’t you think, Diane?”
No twitch from under the eels this time.
Tap, tap, tap.
Tia Lake cocked her head. “I guess I took out your name with that last bit. You don’t even remember yourself, do you?” She smiled down fondly at the pile. “Lucky thing.”
Maya wasn’t expecting to have to be the motivating force getting everyone outside PortManta at five thirty in the morning. In Maya’s experience, timeliness was something that happened to other people. Her dad had always gotten her up for morning football practice. He’d even woken her for swim practice after she left football, and he wouldn’t talk to her much beyond that.
So when Tapper banged on the door to her hotel room at four forty-five (once she had looked through the peephole to verify that it was him and not some kind of horrible monster like the ones she’d been dreaming about all night, and then opened the door with the locking chain still on just in case it was a monster that could disguise itself) and said, “Nobody else is up. We can’t be late on this,” she was somewhat confused.
“Wurrrwha?” Maya said, squinting and blinking at the greasy light in the hallway. “It’s not even five yet.”
“Thought you’d wanna shower,” Tapper said. He was wearing the new outfit that Iara had gotten—well, stolen—for him, black cargo pants and a dark red sweater. “Girls take longer to shower. Before you hop in, get the other two up.”
Maya started to wake up a little. “Why do I have to do that? You’re already awake.”
“I don’t motivate,” Tapper said. “When I talk, it just pisses people off.”
“You’re talking to me, though.”
“Offending you is like punching a pillow.” Tapper turned away. “I’m gonna break into the snack machine down the hall. Get Pint-Size and the Girl from Ipanema up.”
And so Maya motivated Iara into wakefulness and pounded on Hawk’s door until the half-asleep “Dude” responses turned to begrudgingly awake “Dude” responses. Then, because she was one of the girls who took longer showers, she hopped in and got cleaned up.
Forty-five minutes later, they stood outside the coffee-and-juice place, waiting in the darkness.
“It is way too early to be awake,” Hawk muttered. He wore baggy board shorts and a gray button-up shirt left open to show a thin white T-shirt underneath, an outfit that would have probably left him cold in the chilly pre-dawn wind had he not been immune to everything except electricity. He was eating one of the snack bars Tapper had stolen.
“Today we take the fight to our enemies,” Iara said. Her hair still somehow managed to look vibrant and bouncy (and green) despite it being way too early, and she rocked her chair back and forth. “Today the Lake Foundation learns to fear us!” She wore a nice black leather jacket, because she probably would be cold just wearing a long blue sundress with little purple flowers on it.
Maya was starting to think she’d played it a little safe with the green shirt with the smiley face, but she had at least gone for the skinny jeans Iara had picked out.
She watched the few ferries pass by in the canals, the gentle hum and the rushing of the water so much quieter than the gasoline-powered cars that were still all over the place back home in Nebraska. “Maybe the Lake Foundation could just forget us instead?”
“She said she’d be here at five thirty.” Tapper glared at his cracked phone.
“She is,” came a voice, and everyone looked as Lori came around the corner. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she wore a long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans today. It made her look much more like someone Maya’s age. “Sorry. Had to get a sitter for my brother. Come on, let’s grab a ferry.”
At five forty-five, they stood outside the Lake Foundation’s main headquarters, a tall building whose windowed walls gleamed in the predawn half-light, looking at the well-lit front lobby and the security guards inside.
“I thought they’d be closed,” Maya said. “I mean, I thought we might have to sneak past janitors or something, but I didn’t think we’d have to deal with security guys, and do they have guns?”
“Yes,” Tapper said. He glanced over at Lori, his eyes shining. “You’re Miss B and E. What do we do?”
Lori glared at him. “We don’t stand out here looking suspicious. Come on.”
She started walking, and they fell in behind her, giving her time to think. Her phone buzzed, and she glanced down at it with the sudden thought that something had happened with Ben, that Jenn needed Lori to come back home.
“I don’t break into places,” Lori said. The Lake Foundation headquarters took up the whole block, and she started down the sidewalk, glancing up from time to time at the chain-link fence topped with barbed wire that seemed to ring the entire place.
“Did you not break into the docks?” Iara asked as she wheeled herself along with them. Lori had expected her to need help getting her chair onto the ferry, but she’d navigated the narrow gangplank with amazing ease.
“I was invited to the docks,” Lori said. “People hire me to hunt feeders.” They don’t remember how they found me, she didn’t add, and they probably don’t remember me after I’m gone, because the thing that uses me alters their minds, just like every other feeder.
“You know much about these feeders,” Iara said, and smiled. “This is good. I look forward to destroying whatever commands these eels.”
“Hey, why did we go with eels?” Hawk asked. “I mean, are they eels or snakes or . . . ?”
“No idea,” Maya said, “but Iara lived near rivers, so she probably knows what eels look like better than we do.”
“Also Ursula’s minions in The Little Mermaid,” Iara added.
“The eels,” Lori went on doggedly, “are little bits that the bigger feeders have. Sometimes they’re like larvae—its children. Sometimes they’re more like extensions of the feeder, like it’s . . . like it’s this thing sitting in another dimension, and it just kind of pokes part of itself in, right?”
“Like space?” Hawk asked.
“No. Like . . .” She looked back and saw everyone staring at her. “So say we’re all fish in a lake, and some guy is looking down into the lake, and none of us can see him, because we’re the fish, and we never think to look up. He puts his fingers into the water, and we all look up, and as far as we can tell, it’s like ten different creatures, like little worms, just came into the water, but really it’s all one creature. You see?”
They continued to look at her blankly.
Lori looked away and kept walking. “Anyway, that’s how it works.”
“And the man whose fingers are the eels,” Iara said, “he is the creature that killed Shawn.” She was still rolling beside Lori, her hands flicking the wheels with tireless strength. “And he uses the Lake Foundation as his villainous lair?”
“Maybe. Tia Lake isn’t human. Whatever the feeder is, it’s using her and her company.” Lori kept walking. As they reached a corner, it became clear that the Lake Foundation was more of a complex than a single building, large enough to fill most of the block with shiny gray structures.
“If this were Austin,” Hawk said, “I’d say we try the parking lot. Tech companies always have weaker security by the parking lot, because that’s where most of the normal folks come in.”
“No parking lots in a canal city.” Tapper ran fingers through his dreadlocks.
“Are they a tech company?” Maya asked. “I didn’t really look at their website when they offered the scholarship. I mostly just went, ‘Oooh, cool!’ because when I switched to swim team, there weren’t a whole lot of scholarships for that.”
“They are the ones who harnessed the power of the miracoral,” Iara said, and made a clicking noise. Lori looked over and saw that Iara’s phone, sitting faceup in her lap, was loading a page. “They learned to extract oil from the reef, and they learned how to capture the electrical discharges the coral generates.”
“You can make your phone work by clicking at it?” Maya asked, eyes wide. “That is supercool.”
Iara shrugged and continued wheeling herself forward along with the rest of them. “I needed my hands free.” As her phone loaded its page, she added, “I have their office map.”
“Nice job, Oracle,” Tapper said.
Iara made a face. “I liked that she got to punch villains even in her chair, but then they made her get better for no reason. The office has no parking lot, but one of their buildings faces out onto the generator pool.” She clicked at her phone again.
“The what now?” Maya asked.
“Big shallow pool with a bunch of miracoral growing along the bottom that supplies electrical power, like a wind or solar farm,” Tapper snapped. “Did you do any homework in school?”
“The pool is open to viewing from the other side.” Lori chewed on her lip, thinking. “I’ve been. The building side didn’t look guarded, or at least not as heavily. People wouldn’t expect anyone to swim across.”
“Right, ’cause anyone who jumps into the water gets electrocuted,” Hawk pointed out. “And guys, I’m pretty tough, but I hate getting electrocuted.”
“You will not be in danger just from swimming,” Iara said, smiling and shaking her head. “I have swum near little reefs in my home. The miracoral only shocks fish that get close enough to touch it.”
“It could work,” Lori said, and nodded to Iara. “Good thinking.”
“Spent most of yesterday sloshing around,” Hawk said, “and now the new outfit’s gonna get wet too.”
“I will get you more,” Iara said, and smiled at him. “Perhaps a nice jacket. You need a nice jacket.” Hawk grinned back and swaggered a bit as he walked.
They turned the corner and started down the sidewalk. The canal traffic on their left was light, just sporadic personal boats passing by quietly and the occasional ferry chugging from one stop to the next. The cool morning air smelled of diesel and vanilla.
On their right, the huge generator pool caught the streetlights and cast them back as pale orange reflections, while below, the miracoral’s own natural radiance lit the water with gold. Locked off from the canals, the surface was smooth as a mirror, a massive stillness that had always seemed strange to Lori in the middle of the canal city. A ten-foot chain-link fence ran the length of the pool, with razor wire at the top to stop anyone dumb enough to try to climb over. On the far side of the pool, there was only a waist-high railing, and the Lake Foundation had a little patio with tables and chairs.
“Bet it was the parking lot before the water rose,” Hawk said.
Tapper was glaring at the pool. “Problem. They’ve got motion sensors on the pool. We swim across, we’ll trip an alarm.”
“Where are the sensors?” Iara asked. Tapper pointed, and Iara squinted, then shut her eyes and cocked her head. “Ah, there they are,” she said a moment later. “How did you know where they were?”
Tapper looked over at the rest of them, his eyes sparkling in the predawn twilight. “I can see the beams.”
Lori’s phone buzzed, and she looked down at it.
“Yes,” Lori muttered, “I was getting there.”
A moment later, she became aware of everyone looking at her.
“Tapper,” she said, trying to ignore the looks, “if you can see the beams, can you tell us how to avoid them?”
He jerked his head back to the pool. “Yeah. It’s a grid. None near the wall on either side. If we go in without a big splash, we could swim across.” He looked back at all of them, glaring a challenge. “Can you all hold your breath that long?”
“No,” said Maya, “but I can breathe underwater, if that works?” Tapper rolled his eyes.
“That’s even better, Maya,” Hawk said. “I can do it for about an hour. How about you, Iara?”
She smiled. “Fifteen or twenty minutes. That should be enough time.” She held up her phone. “It is good I got the waterproofing package for the phones, yes?”
“Pretty much a necessity in Santa Dymphna,” Lori said, smiling back at her.
“How about you, Lori?” Maya asked. “Do you breathe underwater, or can you hold your breath, or are you gonna just teleport across?”
“It’s probably best if I . . .” Lori’s phone buzzed, and she glanced down at it.
“. . . swim with you,” she finished. “I can breathe underwater.” Apparently, she added in the silence of her mind.
“Great!” Maya beamed. “So you and me are water-breathing partners, and Iara and Hawk can be breath-holding partners, and Tapper can show us where to go.” She looked over at the chain-link fence. “Once we figure out how to get through that.”
“Any motion sensors or beams or anything on it?” Hawk asked Tapper. Tapper shook his head. “Sweet.”
He stepped over, looked either way down the sidewalk, grabbed the chain-link fence with both hands, and pulled without any appreciable effort. With a squeal of protesting metal, the links tore apart in his grasp, and in moments, he had a gap large enough for a person to fit through at about waist height. “All right, that should . . .” He paused, looked over at Iara in her wheelchair, and then frowned back at the fence. “Hang on.” He tore down and opened the gap to the ground, then pulled the edges away and curled them back gently. “That gonna be okay for you?”
“Let us find out.” Iara smiled at him and held out her phone. “Do you mind? This dress does not have pockets.” As Hawk took it, she wheeled forward to the gap Hawk had torn, shrugged out of her leather jacket to reveal deeply tanned shoulders left bare by her sundress, and then hunched forward and dove cleanly through the gap and into the pool, knifing into the water with barely a ripple.
In the light cast by the miracoral below, Iara was a dark silhouette twisting nimbly until she was looking back at them from under the water. She waved, her green hair fanning out like a halo around her head, and then tumbled back around and darted through the water with long powerful strokes of her arms.
“Daaang,” Hawk said, watching her go.
“Right?” Maya said beside him. “I mean, I’ve liked mermaids ever since Ariel looked sad doing the song where she didn’t know what forks were, but—”
“Can we go?” Tapper muttered.
“You guys first. I’ll pull the chain links back together once we’re through, so it’s less obvious.” Hawk gestured for them to go ahead.
Tapper went first, shoving the links aside and dropping into the water quietly. He hovered under the water and pointed at where they should drop in to avoid the beams. Maya followed a moment later, slipping through the gap in the fence with a twist of her shoulders that didn’t seem entirely natural to Lori.
Lori slipped through the fence, then looked down at her phone. “I can breathe underwater?”
Lori jerked her head up from her phone and looked into the pool. Tapper had swum off, but Maya was treading water a few feet below the surface, her short blond hair glowing in the water. She waved as Lori looked.
Lori felt herself blushing, and shoved her phone into her pocket.
“You okay?” Hawk called softly from back by the fence. He’d slipped through and was carefully pulling the chain links back together.
Then she slipped into the water, which apparently she could breathe.
It was going to be a day full of new things.
Maya wasn’t sure what people who knew they could breathe underwater looked like, but Lori wasn’t one of them. She slid into the water holding her breath, and Maya watched the little bubbles spray away from where Lori’s feet kicked as she scrambled against the wall to stop herself from floating back to the surface. After a moment, she let out a long bubbly breath, then inhaled with a kind of full-body shiver before settling down. Her long black hair, still in its ponytail, bobbed behind her as she shook her head.
Finally she waved back to Maya with a smile that looked forced, although it was hard to tell underwater.
Maya gave her an encouraging thumbs-up, then looked back to where Iara circled Hawk, who had splashed in after Lori, while Tapper hung in the water up ahead. Neither of them could swim like Iara could, but they were doing all right. Maya checked to make sure Lori wasn’t going to die or anything—she was still flailing around a little bit like someone who didn’t do a lot of swimming—and then Maya kicked her legs and headed after them.
Maya had done swim team back in Nebraska, which had been so much better than wrestling or football, and she’d known she could breathe water right after the change. She didn’t know how she’d known. It had just been there, another skill she hadn’t had before but was now available and as natural as anything else as a problem-solving response. Make people laugh. Run away. Camouflage self. Go bendy. Breathe underwater.
She had never gotten to swim in the ocean, though. And, well, the canals weren’t exactly the open water, but they were seawater, at least. The pool was even more of, well, a pool than the canals were, but it was seawater as well. It felt different, feeling salt water in her lungs—it was like the difference between being in an air-conditioned room and being outside with the wind in her face. The water felt cool and thick and right sliding through her fingers.
Now that she thought about it, she thought she remembered that some fish could survive in only salt water or freshwater, but not both, and that would probably have been a good thing to think about earlier, but it wasn’t killing Maya now, so she decided not to worry about it.
It was the first time she’d been in the water close to miracoral too, and as she swam in a nice lazy breaststroke, arms and legs flowing easily and maybe just a tiny bit more flexibly than they had before the change, she looked down at the stuff that was replacing oil all over the world.
Her first thought was that the miracoral looked like a brain. Maybe not what an actual brain looked like, but whenever you saw a movie with aliens who had creepy big heads and oversized brains visible, that kind of brain. Each of the brains was the size of a backpack, and there were clusters of them all along the floor of the pool, along with seaweed and little fish that were probably what the coral ate.
The miracoral itself gave off the golden glow. Maya had expected it to be like one of the old night-lights she’d had as a kid, like it was translucent plastic with a cheap bulb behind it, but it was sharper and clearer than that, as though the light was coming from the skin of the miracoral itself. It was bright enough that it should have hurt Maya’s eyes, but instead the light felt warm and soft and kind, somehow.
The pool was around twenty feet deep, and Maya was swimming near the midpoint, deep enough that she wouldn’t make big waves on the surface but still safely away from the miracoral itself, since everyone had been superserious about it giving you an electrical shock. Again, though, it didn’t look like something that would shock her. The same feeling that had told her she could squeeze between the bars of the gate to get away from the guys at school was telling her that the miracoral was safe.
She looked back at Lori, who was catching up finally. Lori paused and raised her hands in a what is it? motion.
Lori’s long-sleeved shirt was superclingy underwater, and Maya stared for probably just a bit longer than she had to, hoping the water hid her blush. Then she remembered about the miracoral and pointed down at it.
Lori gave Maya a blank look.
Maya decided to go with it.
Turning over in the water—and wow, the best part about being able to breathe underwater was not having to worry about water going up your nose when you did that—Maya kicked down toward the bottom of the pool. Behind her Lori made a warbly bubbly noise that was probably something about this not being a good idea, and darn, it was a shame that Maya couldn’t hear it.
The glow was even brighter as she drew closer to one of the bunches of miracoral, bright enough that if it were any other kind of light, Maya would be squinting, unable to see anything, but here it was still just natural. If anything, she could see even more clearly, the little ripples and ridges along the outside of the coral that gave it the brainy look, the tiny motes in the water that caught the light, all of it. In fact, the light was changing on the patch she was approaching, moving from the steady gold into a friendly pink as Maya drew closer. Little fish darted out of her way as she eased down toward it.
Then a hand clamped down around her ankle.
Maya looked back—well, up—and saw Lori grabbing her.
“Wharbrrryoodoing?” Lori yelled. Even under the water, Maya picked that up.
“I think it’s like us,” Maya said, or tried to. It came out mostly as bubbles. She gave Lori a reassuring smile. “Look!” She grabbed Lori’s hand and pulled her down. “It’s okay!”
Lori flailed for a moment, but then she saw Maya’s look, and after a long stare, during which Maya realized that Lori had really strong hands, Lori stopped struggling. Squinting against the light, she let Maya pull her down.
Hands linked, they moved toward the miracoral.
“See?” Maya said, or tried to, anyway, as they closed to within a few feet of it. “I think it knows what we are!”
Then the water went cold and sharp around her as the miracoral’s glowing light went an angry red, and dozens of tiny lobster-scorpion things with angry-looking claws began to pour out of the ridges of the coral.
Hawk didn’t swim a whole lot faster than he had before whatever had happened to him, but now he really liked cruising. Back in Austin, he had loved to swim, and when his abilities had come to him, he’d started going through the reefs that had once been the southern edge of town. The cold hadn’t bothered him—honestly, swimming in the gulf was barely what you’d call cold anyway—and the water hadn’t stung his eyes anymore, and for like an hour, he could just drift under the water in silence.
That had been cool, but there hadn’t been a hot green-haired girl swimming alongside him, either, so even though he was still a little nervous about the miracoral glowing down below him, he was counting this as a step up.
Iara was literally swimming circles around him, her arms pulling her through the water in an effortless glide. When she saw him look her way, she paused and waved. Her hair swirled around her sweet curving smile, and then she darted away to swim another loop.
Up ahead Tapper had reached the far wall already and was treading water and glaring Hawk’s way. Hawk jerked his head to convey sup, bro in a way that was universal between dudes, but Tapper didn’t seem to speak dude.
Maybe Tapper was into Iara and was one of those guys who had no chill when he had it bad for a girl. That might explain why he was always glaring at Hawk. Hawk, who had grown up with sisters at home, could at least kinda talk to girls like they were people, even if he did spend a lot of that time wondering what their necks would smell like right at that part where they met the shoulder. He looked over at Iara again as she swam by, grinning his way.
Her neck probably smelled really good.
Up ahead Tapper climbed out of the pool. Iara flitted forward, then circled back and waved for Hawk to go first. He nodded, reached the wall, and surfaced as close to it as he could.
“About two feet of clearance from the beams,” Tapper muttered. He was already on the other side of the railing, and his cargo pants and sweater already looked dry. How the heck did he do that? “Security by the door, so try not to make noise.”
Hawk pulled himself up, nearly slipped on the side of the pool, grabbed the railing, and splashed over awkwardly. “Sorry, dude,” he said as Tapper shook his head in disgust. The guy’s clothes were already dry. The sweater even looked fluffy, like it had just come out of the dryer.
“At least you won’t be as bad as her,” Tapper said, jerking his head toward Iara, who was circling in the water below.
“Dude,” Hawk said, “uncool. She can’t help needing a wheelchair, and she’s better in the water than any of us.” He waved down at her. “Also, just ’cause you’ve got it bad for her doesn’t mean you’ve gotta be rude. Pulling the pigtails is, like, middle-school stuff.”
“You think I—” Tapper started, and then Iara leaped from the water in a glistening arc, jackknifed over the railing, twisted in midair, and landed like a ballet dancer in Hawk’s frantically outflung arms.
“Thank you for catching me,” she said, wiping her hair back out of her face with one hand as she put the other arm around his neck. “Without my ride, I am afraid I may need a little assistance.”
“Hey, no worries.” Hawk grinned. “Superstrength, right?” Tapper snorted, and Hawk realized what that sounded like and added, “Uh, but I mean, not that you’re like heavy or—”
“Excuse me,” came a call from over by the Lake Foundation building, and Hawk breathed a sigh of relief even as he turned around and saw a security guard coming toward them. He was a big black dude, and his outfit was about as close to cop as a security uniform could get. “What’s going on?”
“I am very sorry,” Iara said, shifting her weight in Hawk’s arms in some kind of secret girl way that turned her from awkward hunched-up cold wet person into innocently seductive lounging babe like when Princess Leia is lying on the bed in the white dress right before Luke comes into the cell to rescue her in A New Hope, but specifically the white dress, not the gold slave bikini, because that one is sexist.“I fell over the railing, and this brave man rescued me.”
“You fell over the railing?” The security guard frowned. “Into the generator pool? This is a private area. How did you even get in here?”
“We were invited,” Iara said, still smiling, and leaned in against Hawk. In a tiny voice, she added, “Get me close to him, please.”
“Right,” Hawk said, and then, as the security guard looked at him, Hawk said, “Right!” again in a more believable voice. “We were invited.” He stepped forward. “Plus if we could get inside, I think she needs a doctor to look at her, uh, ankle.”
Iara shifted again in Hawk’s arms and did something that didn’t make a noise Hawk could hear, but kind of made her throat vibrate a little against his chest, and that wasn’t distracting at all.
“So yeah,” Hawk added, “you should have a thing saying we can come in without a badge or a pass or, you know, whatever, one of those things that . . .” Still moving forward, he looked over at Tapper, who was standing there with his arms crossed, looking at Hawk in utter disdain. “Dude, did you wanna . . . no? Nothing?”
“You’re the smooth one,” Tapper said, and it was still pretty dark, but Hawk thought there might have been the ghost of a smile on his face now.
“Whatever is going on here,” the guard said, “none of you are going anywhere.”
Iara’s throat did its weird thing again, and then she said, “You were told to let us in with no official record,” and her voice made Hawk’s whole body tingle.
The guard blinked. “Oh, you’re the ones I was told about! I’m so sorry, miss, are you all right?”
Iara shifted again in Hawk’s arms, and he couldn’t see whether she was smiling, but he guessed it was pretty good, whatever it was. “The instructions were for five of us in total.”
The guard blinked again. “If I remember right, there should be another two of you, shouldn’t . . .” He broke off, looking past Iara. “What’s happening to the pool?”
Hawk turned around and looked at the pool, which had begun bubbling. The light coming from the glowing miracoral on the bottom had been a pretty gold when Hawk had been swimming in there, but now the light was an angry red, and it was definitely an angry red, hitting Hawk’s eyes in a way that made him want to pull back with the same instinctual fear gripping his muscles as he’d have gotten from seeing a bright-colored spider crawling toward him on the table.
A moment later, Lori and Maya uncoiled from empty air and collapsed onto the pavement in a boneless wet heap.
“What is that?” the guard shouted.
“You gonna make him think this is normal?” Tapper asked Iara.
“Ahhh . . .”
“Didn’t think so.” In a flash Tapper was beside the guard, fist extended, and the guard was on the ground unconscious.
“What happened?” Hawk demanded.
“Cold and big, cold and big,” Maya was saying over and over again, which Hawk thought was probably a bad sign.
Lori was already back on her feet, and while there was water on the ground around her, she seemed entirely dry. “Something went wrong with the miracoral. We had to change the plan.” She looked at the guard. Her face didn’t have any expression in it. “Tapper, drag him someplace less obvious.”
“Like where?” Tapper asked, but Lori was already walking briskly toward the door.
Hawk hurried after her, shifting his grip so that Iara would be more comfortable. It would have been easier to do a fireman’s carry, but Hawk figured that would be rude.
“What happened to the miracoral? Did it zap you?” he asked Lori.
“When we got close, it moved to defend itself,” Lori said. Then she paused, winced, and shook her head, the first real expression she’d had. “Listen, Maya is a little shaken up. Can you . . .” She looked over at Hawk and seemed to realize for the first time that he was carrying Iara. “Okay. I’ll see if she’s all right.”
“I’ve got her,” Tapper growled, and Hawk saw that Maya was back on her feet, holding his hand as they came to join Hawk and Iara and Lori. “She doesn’t need you doing anything else weird to her right now.”
Lori opened her mouth, but whatever super-rude thing she would have said was cut off as Iara said, “Another guard.”
This guard was a heavyset white guy with a big mustache. Hawk turned to him and cleared his throat as the guard pushed the door open and looked their way.
“Everything okay?” he called over in a casual relaxed voice that was not at all the voice Hawk had been expecting. He was looking past Hawk, and Hawk glanced back over his shoulder.
The big security guard, the black guy that Tapper had just knocked unconscious, was somehow standing next to Tapper where Maya had been. He nodded and gave the heavyset guard in the doorway a jerk of the head that conveyed all good, bro, in universal dude language, and the guard in the doorway nodded and stepped back inside, letting the door close behind him.
“Tapper, did you by any chance get the guard’s security card?” the big guy said in Maya’s voice. Tapper held up a thin slip of white plastic between two fingers.
“Dude, Maya, that is awesome,” Hawk said. “Also, you speak dude really well for a girl.”
“Yes, nicely done,” Iara said. “How do you make your clothing change its appearance?”
“Oh, I can’t,” Maya said.
“Wait.” Lori blinked. “So what are you actually wearing right now?”
“Umm, we should get moving. Thanks.” Maya took the security card from Tapper.
“You did, and it was supernice of you, and it gave me a lot of great ideas!” Maya said brightly.
“Good to know,” Hawk said, and felt Iara laughing silently against his chest as they headed inside.