The Noot Suit had been Plan B, just in case the Dread-bots weren't enough to dissuade Epoch. It was a piece of incredibly pricey military tech that my mother had managed to acquire from the government via less-than-scrupulous means. It worked as a low-grade teleporter; you could only teleport a short distance, and only to a preset spot. Apparently, Arsenal had a version with way more kick--he used it to teleport his power armor into one of his orbital satellites, then loaded himself into a rail-gun and fired himself back down to the earth.
Me, I just wanted to get to the parking lot. Fast.
The dazzling light show going on around me peaked, then faded. A wave of nausea swept through me; then, slowly, I started to examine my surroundings.
I was on a rooftop overlooking the parking lot. The small unfolded device that the Noot Suit set as the teleportation target was on the ground; threads of smoke were rising from my costume. I could smell the distinct odor of burnt ozone--some of the circuitry had probably fried during the teleport.
I shook off the vertigo and leapt off the roof, letting the micro-shocks in my boots absorb the bulk of the fall. I started running through the lot--feet pounding against asphalt--as my helmet adjusted to the darkness.
I stopped at the edge of the crater.
The ground had been ruptured by some tremendous force--concrete had cracked and splintered, exposing a maze of pipes and wires. A thick spray of water was surging up from one of the cracks, gradually filling the 30 yard wide crater with a thick, murky sludge. At the hole's center was the shattered remains of the Tank.
Sumerset had turned the 'armor' mode on, but it hadn't made much difference--just meant the car was black instead of white when it got hit. The front end had buckled in, the engine block smashed nearly flat; the windows had shattered, and one of the doors had been torn off.
Cold terror squeezed my heart into its fist and refused to let go. I leapt into the hole, landing on top of the car--and then I reached my hands down into the canopy and gripped it. My fingers made dents in the metal.
Straining, I pulled up--and felt steel give way to muscle and bone.
The car's interior was a discombobulated rubik's cube of color and mismatched right angles. I saw what looked like blood on the dashboard, but no sign of Sumerset.
But I did see a small innocuous tape-player on the front seat.
I snapped it up and hit play without another thought. Instantly, I heard a voice--a voice I did not recognize.
"Good evening, Miss Daysdale," he said. "At this point I imagine you are wondering where Mr. Sumerset is. I assure you that he is alive and well, in my custody--although this status is wholly conditional on your behavior in the next 24 hours."
I slowly made my way up and out of the hole, crawling to its edge. Scourge continued to talk.
"My terms are simple. Tomorrow, you will attend school as if nothing is wrong. Immediately thereafter, instead of going home, you will take a bus to downtown Metro--to the train station. In your backpack, you will be carrying what I want. A single sample of the Skull Formula. Once you arrive, we will make the trade."
As I made it to the parking lot, I could see Epoch approaching. Paladin was charging on a set of immense, ridiculous glowing white stilts, allowing him to cover incredible distance with each step; Mulligan, Brick, and Woot were pulling up the rear. In just a few moments, they'd be in earshot.
"If you involve anyone else in this--the Society, Epoch, the police, the BPA--then I will send Sumerset to you. Piece by piece, in small installments, over a period of several weeks."
Paladin fell back to the earth, engulfing himself in armor as he slammed into the ground; concrete cracked beneath his feet as he charged toward me. The others soon followed.
"Give me what I want and I will return Sumerset to you. Refuse, and I will kill him--and take what I want from your corpse. Goodnight, Miss Daysdale. Have a pleasant evening."
"Skull!" Paladin said. "What happened?"
I held the tape-recorder behind my back. My fingers squeezed--crushing plastic. I let the remains clatter down into the hole behind me.
Under my mask, I felt a warm flood of tears slipping down my cheek.
"I don't know," I said. "He took him without leaving a clue."