“A bit rude of you to keep us waiting,” said Ian Innis, looking down at Naomi. “But I suppose you can’t just come back whenever you want to, eh? It’s got to be the full six minutes and change, doesn’t it?”
“Nice of you to keep these two out of the way for us, though,” continued Innis, gesturing to Francis and Officer Diggins. “Not that we couldn’t have handled them along with the others, I suppose, but no need to put ourselves at any greater risk than we already were. Somebody might’ve gotten hurt.”
Someone grunted half a laugh, and Naomi lifted her head to see three people standing behind Innis. One was Sky, arms folded across her chest as she stared contemptuously down at Naomi and the two cops. The other two seemed familiar somehow, but… Oh, right: she’d seen them this morning, after the raid on the safe house. They’d been the ones wearing the handcuffs, the ones she’d helped Innis break out. The tall, pale one with the ponytail was grimly chewing the inside of his cheek while the bright-eyed, short-haired one was scowling away down the street, as if daring a car to come driving by to interrupt them.
Then Naomi saw past Innis’s gaggle of followers and had to suppress a gasp.
There’d been a massacre. Cops in body armour were strewn across the lawn and sidewalk, limbs crazily askew or, in a few cases, simply missing, helmets scattered, discarded and shattered weapons littering the ground. It was horrible; Naomi closed her eyes and laid her head back down, choking on bile. How had they done this? What kinds of specials were these men?
“Shocking, isn’t it?” said Innis. “And such a waste.” He looked at Francis and repeated the words: “Such a waste.”
Naomi felt Francis stir.
“Life is precious,” said Innis, slowly savouring the words, as if they amused him. Even with her eyes closed, Naomi could picture that half-a-grin playing across his lips. He added, “Some lives are more precious than others, I suppose, but we’ve all felt that sense of loss at some point, haven’t we?”
Francis was grinding her teeth now, so hard Naomi could hear it. Naomi looked over and saw fire burning in the Specials Unit officer’s eyes.
Innis wasn’t finished yet, apparently. Naomi had never realized before just how grating the man’s voice could be, despite its smoothness.
“You know what losses like that make me realize?” he said. “Those of us left alive are just that much more valuable. And that’s why I’ve got a message for you, Ms. Francis Petzschner: stay alive. Keep your sister’s memory going. If you don’t, no one else will, right? So: leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.” Innis flicked his eyes to Officer Diggins. “That goes for the rest of you, too, by the way.”
With that declaration, Innis turned on his heel to leave.
In the same moment, Francis yanked her arm out from under Naomi, pointed her pistol right at the middle of Innis’s back, and fired, again and again.
The tall, pale escapee from the safe house moved far more quickly than Naomi would have expected he could, throwing himself between Innis and the bullets, and Naomi’s ears were assaulted with a clamouring pang! pang! pang! pang! pang! that gave way to the chk chk of an empty gun.
The pale man was still standing there, but an incredible change had come over him. His whole body had been covered in some kind of reflective, metallic coating. In five places across his chest, the metal had been dented inwards, where the bullets had struck him.
Diggins sat up and put his hand on his forehead in shock. “What the…?”
The man’s metal covering twisted, shifted, and absorbed back into his skin. He shook his head, whipping his ponytail back and forth, and rubbed his chest. “Ow.”
“Thank you, Mr. Martel,” said Innis, turning back to look at Francis, who was still almost absentmindedly pulling the trigger of her gun, as if more bullets might magically appear in its clip. “Ms. Petzschner, I’m sorry you didn’t listen to my warning.” Innis reached his hand out, and the other escapee pulled a gun out of his belt and gave it to him.
Francis dropped the pistol and snapped her eyes shut.
Mr. Martel sniffed. “Nice trick. Completely invisible, just like that, huh? I guess that’s how you and the boy got away from us on the highway.”
“It is a good trick,” Innis agreed, “and it was even better when there were two of them to cycle it back and forth between them. They kept you two gentlemen hidden away from me for a long time before I was able to figure it out… While she’s maintaining this invisibility, we can’t put our hands on any of them, unless she happens to lose her concentration somehow. The moment we enter the field she’s projecting we’ll forget what we’re doing and immediately turn around and leave. But here’s a secret, Ms. Petzschner: bullets can’t turn around.”
He aimed the gun down at them and swung it casually to the left, then the right. He shrugged. “Can’t tell where I’m aiming, exactly, but I’ve got to hit one of you, right?” He fired.
Diggins gasped and fell backwards, clutching his chest and rolling over, away from the two women. Naomi saw the eyes of Innis, Martel, and the others move to follow Diggins: he had rolled beyond the field of invisibility.
Innis adjusted his aim. “So you’re a little further this way, Ms. Petzschner? Or were you over this way?” The gun moved to point at Naomi. “I just can’t quite remember… It would be a shame to shoot Naomi by accident, don’t you think? She’s been victimized enough over the past couple of days.” He waved the gun side to side again.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Why doesn’t Naomi just reach her hand out, and I’ll pull her free? I’m not going to hurt you, Naomi. I quite like you.”
“You burned my house down!” snarled Naomi.
“Your house burned down?” Innis sighed. “That must’ve been Miguel getting carried away. I told him not to do anything like that, but he’s always been a bit hard to control.”
“Liar!” choked Francis between her teeth, fighting to hold her concentration.
“You made him do it,” said Naomi “He told me!”
“Of course he would say that, once you’d caught him,” suggested Innis. “He’s a slippery little man.”
“I don’t believe you…”
“You have the right not to trust me, Naomi,” admitted Innis, “but I want you to know that my intentions towards you are entirely good. Come with me and I’ll prove it. I’ll make sure your family is taken care of. Just reach your hand out.”
“Don’t listen,” whispered Francis, her voice shaking. “Don’t go with him. There are worse things than being dead…”
That was when the seed of a thought deep in Naomi’s mind burst into bloom. She slowly, carefully, got up onto her knees, staying low beside Francis.
“What do you mean by taking care of my family?” she said.
“Whatever you want it to mean,” said Innis, grinning. “Financially, of course, and that’ll just be the start. Anything they need, you can just ask.”
“No strings attached?”
Innis shrugged. “I’m a businessman, Naomi. Nothing is free, but I’m always fair.”
Naomi paused for a few moments, as if considering his offer. She took a deep breath to steel her nerves and tried to calm the shaking in her hands.
“I’m coming out,” she said.
“Naomi, don’t!” urged Francis, gripping Naomi’s elbow.
“Let go of me,” snapped Naomi, shoving Francis’s hand violently away. Don’t try to grab me again, she urged silently, for your own good!
Then she stood up, leaned forward, and reached out, just far enough that she could tell they were seeing her hand extend outside of the invisibility field.
“Smart girl,” said Innis, his grin rolling from one side of his mouth to the other. He lowered the gun slightly, extending his left hand, and took hold of Naomi by the wrist.
The moment his fingers closed on her, she skipped.