Theo scuffed his shoes on the sidewalk, a grim expression on his face. He wouldn’t tell Noel this, but she was special to him. It had been Noel who erased the sickness he’d gotten after contracting the whatever-it-was that Yvette was after, so she obviously had significance. Noel was his go-to victim, but also the person he trusted most.
He ran both hands through his black hair and yelled into the car-filled parking lot. Then he readjusted his glasses and shut himself in the car to keep tabs on Noel.
The back of his mind had been considerably reconfigured since losing Carrie’s signal. One desk with three computers stood alone in a dark room. A leather swiveling chair was tucked under the table, just where Noel would have wanted it. Theo pulled out the chair and swung into it before scooting in to watch through Noel’s senses.
She was already inside the building, so the reception was fuzzy, but she was unharmed. Theo had accounted for any injuries she might have gotten, so the bones she broke kicking in the door were already healed. Too bad super-healing required the usage of her reserves, so there was only so much she could do before collapsing from exhaustion.
He cursed himself for not bringing food on this excursion.
Noel was sneaking about the place, wary of everything that moved. She couldn’t hear any loud noises because breaking down the main door had set off the alarms, but it didn’t seem like too many people were in the underground lab to begin with. The cement walls and ceilings echoed the ringing, and Noel had her hands cupped over her ears.
It seemed that Noel already knew a bit about the place. Thoughts about what was where raced through her mind while she ran aimlessly through the first-floor halls.
I can’t remember where it was! she was thinking. There was supposed to be a door with clearance that Dad couldn’t get into, and that was the only place we didn’t see…
She spotted it, a door with heavier scanning equipment than the usual badge-checker. For a few moments, she examined its workings, trying to see a way to break it all at once. Theo had found a way to break the lock and was about the think it at her when the visual screen in his mind jerked.
Her head had banged against the door. You dumbo, he thought at her, teasingly, I can’t believe you’re bonking your head against doors now.
But Noel’s physical functions screen proved him wrong. And her thoughts were all centered on finding whoever it was lifting her into the air. She was losing oxygen too.
Break their fingers! Theo ordered.
Noel heard him a moment later and wretched her hands between her attacker’s and her neck. She squeezed, and a sickening crack filled her ears. The girl whipped around, only to see Mr. Wills.
“You!” she yelled, “What did you do to Carrie and Yvette, and everyone else?”
The man smiled, stroking his white beard. Theo thought Noel had broken his fingers, so how was he already using them again? “Oh, I’m only keeping them under lock and key. Yvette is being tortured so we can send her back to be tried for treason, but she won’t say a word.”
Theo read Noel’s thoughts, which were jumbled and crazed. She wasn’t thinking clearly. The alien business was keeping her from forming a plan.
Try to pin him down, Theo thought, Maybe you can get something from him if you torture him back.
Noel was reluctant, since she wasn’t a big fan of fighting, but she lunged forward to punch him anyway.
Mr. Wills grabbed her arm and lifted her into the air, but he was forgetting Noel’s specialty, the one boys feared everywhere. Even Theo had suffered that fate before.
Using Mr. Wills’s arm to steady herself, Noel kicked at his groin and was promptly dropped as the man lurched over in pain.
Were you actually aiming there this time? Theo asked.
Yes, Theo, I was. And I’m sorry about that time in seventh grade. I really had been trying to get your shins.
I don’t doubt that.
Mr. Wills was quick to recover. He was already up, cursing the weaknesses of a human body. He shot forward, grabbing Noel’s head and smashing it into the metal door behind her.
The screens in Theo’s mind went blank. She read as unconscious. And moments later, the computers on Theo’s desk disappeared entirely. He felt sick.
When Yvette was tossed, bleeding and battered, onto the not-so-scary side of the glass, everyone gathered around her to make sure their friend was alright. Carrie was still unconscious, so she didn’t, but at least her face was worried.
“Yvette! Are you alright?” Lillian asked.
The girl struggled to sit upright. And she avoided anyone’s gaze, her short blonde hair making her look awkward instead of ashamed. “I’m sorry, everyone,” she said, “I wasn’t able to- to- save Carrie.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Lillian scolded, “Carrie’s just unconscious.”
Dieter and Doug expressed their concerns, but Yvette was quick to begin explanations. She must have seen their shock as they watched her heal so quickly. Lillian had tried to avoid thinking of Yvette as scary, but it couldn’t be helped.
“So, what was that all about?” Dieter asked.
Yvette sighed and looked at Carrie for a moment. “They thought I was hiding the host from you all. They know that none of you have the quantum computer we’re looking for, so they’ve kidnapped you in order to draw out whoever does have it. I mean, they do know that you’re all well-acquainted.”
“Yeah, okay, and what exactly do they think will happen?”
“Well, the operation is gambling on the premise that the host has fused far enough with the quantum computer that he or she will be worried over your disappearances from their mind.”
Lillian glanced at the two boys, but they were as clueless as she. Both shrugged, and Dieter even gave a nervous flick at his rubix cube.
Yvette saw the confusion and jumped in again. “I suppose I ought to start from the beginning, huh?”
“Well yeah,” Lillian said, “but we should probably wait for Carrie to get up. You don't want to tell the story twice, right?”
Everyone glanced at the unconscious Carrie, wishing she would awaken already. But on the other side of the glass, commotion was stirring once again.
Noel, her glasses removed and her waist-length hair loose, was flung onto the torture side of the glass.
Lillian could hear Yvette muttering, her face completely aghast. “So that’s why they stopped.”