Chapter 148

The night was strangely bright as Nick, Alice, and Vince stood on the dusty road. It was still used by the locals during the day, but by this time of night the only ones traveling its worn lengths were the local wildlife and the occasional tourist who got lost. There were some lights scattered about; however, if not for the moonlight, the visibility would have been greatly reduced. Nick wasn’t sure if that suited their purposes well or hurt them. He suspected he wouldn’t know for sure until this whole affair had concluded.

“We’re sure they’re coming down this route?” Alice asked, yet again.

Nick nodded. “Mr. Numbers said his coworker could tell they were moving fifty miles an hour down this highway. It’s off the beaten path so if we’d launched a manhunt they wouldn’t easily be spotted, but the inverse is that there aren’t exits to the highway between where they were and us. They’re coming this way, presumably doing the speed limit so as not to get pulled over, which means we have a couple more minutes by my calculations.”

“I know, I just... what if they stop for the night? Or get a teleporter to help them? Or if wherever they’re going is on this road and they’ve already reached it?”

“Relax,” Nick ordered her. “If they had a teleporter they could use then they wouldn’t be taking a truck. As for stopping, Mr. Numbers will contact us if his source senses any dramatic change in their movement. They’re coming, Alice.”

“Okay,” Alice said, vainly willing her heart to cease its mad pounding. “Okay.”

“You’ll be fine,” Vince assured her. “Just stick to the plan.”

“Right. Get Hershel whiskey and get Mary away,” Alice said.

“Bingo,” Nick said. “I’ll help you if I can, but my main goal is to provide Vince with cover while he fights the coaches. Hopefully, however they’re holding Hershel is something Roy can easily overcome. Mary will definitely be unconscious, though.”

“Why are you so sure about that?” Alice asked.

“Because if she was awake they’d be no way to stop her from trashing the vehicle. Even Persephone’s nerve twitch pheromone didn’t stop me from thinking. If she can think then she can kick ass.”

“All you have to do is get her clear,” Vince reiterated. “We’ll meet up with you down the road. If for any reason we’re delayed, call Mr. Transport after five minutes for pickup.”

“But you won’t be delayed, right? You’re going to get away.”

“Of course we will,” Vince assured her. “But it never hurts to have a backup plan.”

Alice looked away from him, staring down the dark road instead. She didn’t think Vince was lying: just believing in the happiest possible scenario. Alice didn’t quite feel the optimism welling up in herself; her mind kept dwelling on all the ways this could go to shit.

“Heh.” A nervous giggle escaped Alice’s lips. “This sort of feels wrong, doing it at night. Shouldn’t we be having our showdown at high noon?”

“Personally speaking, I prefer poor lighting and shadow when facing overwhelming forces,” Nick replied.

“Don’t count on a whole lot of that,” Vince said.

Nick shot his friend a curious glance. The boy had obviously done something to prep for this fight, but he hadn’t shared it with his comrades. In fact, Vince hadn’t contributed much to any of their hurried planning process. His eyes had been sharp and focused, but not on anything the others could see. For as lunatic a situation as they were in, Vince had been calm and detached nearly the entire time. This was another variable that Nick wasn’t sure if he found comforting or terrifying.

As it would ultimately turn out, the answer was both.

*          *          *

The man wore a grey silk shirt, black pants, and an expression of extreme derision as he paced in front of Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport.

“So I’m expected to believe that two of our top operatives were surprised and overpowered by a group of children?”

“Teens, actually, all of them old enough to be counted as adults. Except with drinking,” Mr. Transport pointed out.

The man stopped and delivered a withering glare. “This is not the time for semantics or splitting hairs. What you are telling me indicates tremendous incompetence at best and full-out betrayal at worst. I trust I don’t need to explain to you what happens if it’s determined to be the latter?”

Both men would have gulped if they’d had more control over their bodies. However, Mr. Move was not notorious for his mercy or kindness, so as soon as he had heard the bad news, Mr. Move had taken over control of everything in their bodies except for speech.

“I have to tell you, I‘ve very disappointed in you two,” Mr. Move said, taking a seat on the table in front of them.

“I am certain that our supervisors will find our actions both understandable and non-traitorous. We were taken by surprise and bested. No one is perfect, after all,” Mr. Numbers defended.

“Maybe they will,” Mr. Move agreed. “But we’ll be finding out soon. Mr. Transport is going to take us to the home office so that you two can explain things in person.”

Mr. Transport and Mr. Numbers would have shared a look of concern, had they been capable. They’d known this reaction was within the realm of possibility and had tried to take action to mitigate it. Unfortunately, they had yet to see the results they were hoping for, which could prove detrimental to the plan. If they went to the head office they wouldn’t have their phones, and that would result in no one being on hand to retrieve their charges once the mission was complete.

“An excellent idea,” Mr. Transport said. “Won’t you need to give them advanced notice, though? It is a late hour, after all.”

“No need,” Mr. Move replied. “They were already assembled to decide how to react to the initial kidnapping. I was given full authorization to move personnel to their location should a need arise.”

“Well then... excellent,” Mr. Transport said, unable to think of an alternative argument. He could refuse to use his power: Mr. Move only overtook their bodies, not the abilities that they wielded. That move would end the game, though, labeling him and Mr. Numbers as traitors and moving their own safety far higher on their immediate concerns list. Still, it was a viable strategy, and one he might have to employ.

Mr. Transport was saved from his decision by a loud, authoritative knock on the door. Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport couldn’t see one another from the way their heads were positioned. If they had been able to, they would have known they were both smiling quite unprofessionally.

Mitigating factors had arrived.