The Eight-Pointed Star, Part VII


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Also Featuring:

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Scene Title The Eight-Pointed Star, Part VII
Synopsis In the skies over Montana, Adam Monroe writes fiction in blood.
Date February 27, 2020

A bell-alarm rings incessantly, a shrill and terrible noise that reverberates down long hallways and around blind corners. A half dozen men and women in black suits with crisp white undershirts lay dismembered in pools of their own blood on the tile floor. Lines of arterial spray arc up the walls. Spent shell casings glitter coppery amid the blood.

Footprints wind through the crimson pools, a single pair, snaking purposefully down hallways painted in duotone. The lower half of the walls are painted forest green, the upper half an eggshell white. It feels like a hospital, though no practical medicine is performed at the Hartsdale facility. This is a place of science and research, a place of understanding and envisioning of the future.

At the moment it is also a charnel house.

The footprints end when the screaming begins, blood worn too thin to track any further. “Please, stop!” A woman cries out, and through an open doorway a redhead woman can be seen, backed up against a medical refrigerator with a cracked glass door. Tears streaked with eyeliner stream down her cheeks. Her chest rises and falls in steady rhythm, blue eyes wide in terror. There is a sword at her throat.

“I don’t want to kill you, Victoria.” Adam Monroe means those words. There is conviction in his steady hand, in the way the Kensei sword bites gently into her neck, enough to make the threat real but not firm enough to kill her. “I want you to unlock the cabinet and get it for me. That’s all. It’s simple.”

No.” Victoria Pratt is a woman of her convictions, but it isn’t conviction that has her pleading for her life at the end of a sword, it’s desperation. “Adam, please. You can’t do this.” He steps closer, angling the blade along the front of her throat, so he can lean in close to her.

“There’s no other way,” Adam hisses. “When it comes back — and trust me, Victoria, it will come back — there won’t be a thing you or anyone else will be able to do to stop it. It’ll be too late.” Victoria sobs uncontrollably, staring wide-eyed at Adam. “I understand what has to be done now,” he insists, looking past her to the refrigerator and back again. “Now unlock the cabinet…”

“…and give me the Shanti virus.”

Thirty-Six Years Later

Somewhere over Montana
Praxis Heavy Industries Z-12 Qingniao

February 27th
10h 47m In Flight
6:22 pm Local Time

It feels at once like it’s been weeks and merely minutes since a flight of Z-12 Qingniao aircraft took off from the island of Praxia, since Claudia Zimmerman and Alice Shaw were butchered, since Violet Sharp died a horrific death. The dull roar of four propeller engines hums through the hold of the Z-12, metal clasps on nylon cords rattle against the walls. Outside the narrow windows, the skyline has turned to darkness. There are no city lights here, just darkness.

Alix and Ivy have been asleep for the last two hours, seated on the floor beside one-another rather than in one of the seats lining the walls of the cargo hold. They are covered in a thick yellow blanket, slouched against one another, holding hands. Both Alix and Ivy’s eyes are puffy from crying. A thing that occupied most of their time since they left Praxia.

Jolene sits in one of the stiff, leather seats, her right knee bouncing up and down nervously. There is a vest of Raytech-made AEGIS armor sitting in her lap, and every so often she nervously pulls apart the velcro straps with a brrrrrip sound, only to reapply them a moment later. Her backpack sits between her feet, untouched. Ten hours in the air, nearly eleven now, and still no answers. Not to where they’re going, not to what the plan is, not to anything.

Ten hours, and no idea how many more lay ahead.

On the far end of the hold, a quiet conversation is taking place between two women who share the same voice.

The same body.

Having been sitting with only herself for company, Niki is tired. Exhausted both physically and emotionally. There are no mirrors here. Nowhere to hide the shifting personalities vying for control.

“We don’t have to do this,” Jessica insists, her voice kept low enough to discourage anyone else from thinking she’s talking to them.

Her head turns to the side, expression anguished. “I have to. Otherwise it’ll be for nothing. What happened to Mo—”

Now that blonde head swivels back the other way, features hardened again. “Your mother? Abandoned you. She could have had you taken from Hal any time, and she left you there.”

Niki tips her head down and lets out a thin sound from the back of her throat. “No. That was the past. It—”

Her demeanor shifts again, this time with a cruel breath of laughter. “Doesn’t matter? Then get over your son.

Niki doesn’t have a response for that but to cry softly.

With tears still streaming down her face, but no trace of sorrow on her features, Jessica lifts her head and leans back in her rigid seat. “It’s settled then. As soon as we get boots on the ground, I’m getting you out of here. This isn’t your fight, and I’m not going to let you martyr yourself.”

Jessica scoffs, wiping away the tears from Niki’s face with one hand. “You’re not a Petrelli.” Her gaze drifts across the hold to where Jolene sits opposite and a few chairs down from her.


In the seat to Lene’s left is where Jac is currently seated. She's migrated throughout the flight so far, pacing when not sitting, taking over a chair when not pacing. This, nearly eleven hours into the flight, is the first where the girl has actually sat directly next to anyone rather than a chair or more separate. She's turned sideways, with feet up on the seat and knees hugged beneath her chest. Her upper back brushes against Jolene’s shoulder in brief and infrequent contact.

Her cheek rests against the back of the seat, blue eyes distant as they stare through the narrow window. She's been quiet, reserved almost to the point of seeming withdrawn. The source of such introspection is as much a mystery as is their destination.

A small sigh escapes her in the sort of measured breath that holds anxious energy at bay. Jac allows her eyes to close, there's nothing outside but dark and directionless void. But the calmness sought there is as elusive as understanding. Where are they going and why is it taking so long? Her eyes open again after a moment, head lifting like a pup alerted to a new noise, attention briefly going to the front of the craft. The temptation to go to the pilots is real. But she isn't supposed to know all of the parts of the plan, only hers.

Jac’s head slowly lowers after a few seconds, blue eyes returning to the darkness outside the transport.

It’s been a long flight. Gillian has probably reread the same ten pages twenty times, having actually fallen asleep for an hour or two at one point, head leaned back against the wall of the hold. It hadn’t been restful, though, just a moment to catch up while listening to the sound of the jets. Now, though, she’s been rereading the same sentence multiple times, but not quite reading it. Which is why she’s not turned the page in the last five minutes.

That and because Niki’s talking to herself(?) and she can’t help but wonder what was going on with the woman. She knew that her mother had just died, so that could be a big part of it. She bites her lower lip for a moment and avoids staring, right up until ‘a Petrelli’ is mentioned. Then her eyes whip up and meet Niki’s for a moment, before following toward Lene. The one Petrelli on the plane.

Everyone’s on edge, and she notices Squeaks looking toward the front of the plane and makes an assumption, “I really don’t like not knowing the plan, either.” Cause she doesn’t. She hates it. She’s afraid that they were being used, led into a trap that would force her youngest daughter to choose between a father she just met and a mother she’d only known for a few years.

And the whole fucking world too.

It wasn’t something that should be placed on a young girl’s shoulders. “We’re in this together, though. Forever, remember?” She adds, reaching across to hold out a hand. “The three of us.” Cause she includes Lene, of course. Her daughters are one of the only things keeping her going right now.

Chess sits a little apart from each of what might be considered a family unit — even if Niki shares one body with Jessica. The tears have dried on her cheeks and her throat is husky from whispering a hundred urgent ‘I’m sorries’ to Alix and Ivy.

Now it’s hard to tell when she’s sleeping or awake. She drifted off at some point, but woke with a cry, tears in her eyes from whatever ghost was haunting her dream.

She hasn’t spoken since. That was a few hours ago.

Her joints protest as she shifts in the uncomfortable seat, leaning her head one way and then the other to stretch it, the motion punctuated by a quiet click from each side. Niki’s tears don’t go unnoticed but she doesn’t interrupt that conversation. Chess looks toward the front of the plane for any sense of time or place, then settles back in the seat, finding a place in the plane to stare at that doesn’t put another human being in her sightline.

The droning hum of the aircraft’s engines changes pitch when the door to the cabin opens, and Adam — decked out in his black tactical gear — steps in slowly. He shuts the door behind himself and makes a slow, purposeful progression over toward the passengers he’s collected here. He doesn’t speak up, not immediately. The gravity and solemnity of the situation is not lost on him, but his face is an impassive mask unlike many others. Adam takes a seat on the corner of a long, gray container unmarked save for serial numbers, then hunches forward with elbows on his knees, folding his hands in front of himself.

“We have another fifteen hours ahead of us…” Adam says with a slow bob of his head, eyes averted to the floor. “We’ve weaving a slow, low path through mountains to stay off of radar and avoid populated areas. It’s a circuitous route, but it’s the best we have.” He finally looks up, first to Niki, then Jac, then back down to the floor.

“I wanted to go over some of the plan, get you all in a position where you can prepare accordingly.” Adam says, but he is too full of nervous energy to stay seated. He rises, wringing his hands together with anxious energy, carefully choosing his words. “Niki,” he says, motioning to the crate he was just seated on, “if you wouldn’t mind opening this. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with what’s inside for your role to play.”

Adam slowly begins to pace the floor, then turns his attention to six tall black plastic cases standing some seven feet tall at the back of the aircraft. They are lined up like high school lockers, but each of them is at least three feet wide and hinged to unfold and open up like a gull-wing door. “I’ll need you all to pay especially close attention.”

Jessica’s eyes snap to the doors the moment the pressure in the cabin and pitch of the engines begins to shift. She follows Adam’s movements without overt wariness. They’re on the same team, after all, and there are much neater ways for a man like him to dispose of a woman like her if that had been his goal. This would be excessively elaborate for him. For anybody.

When he starts to explain what’s going on, she relaxes a fraction, less alert. They aren’t going to need to drop immediately, so she has time to think and plan. Bracing her hands on the edges of the seats on either side of her, she pushes up to stand and makes her way to the crate at a leisurely pace. Jessica smirks faintly at Adam before turning her attention to the container.

Latches are popped one by one until she can slide the lid open. Jessica looks down into the crate and lets a slow grin creep across her face as she reaches down to run her hands over the contents. Whatever’s inside that the others can’t yet see, she’s impressed.

“My birthday isn’t even until August,” Jessica tells Adam with maybe just a bit too much dark glee as she wraps her fingers around cool metal and lifts the Lei-Gong out of the crate.

So this is what happened to that high profile shipment hijacked from Miller Airfield. Maybe… Maybe Jessica might stick around. For a bit. And then she can take her new toy — this glorious railgun that’s going to absolutely cut people in half — and get the fuck out of Dodge.

A grin that's more just a motion and less an actual feeling is given in response to her mom’s words. Jac has reflected often on forever, what seemed like a never ending thing six months ago now feels like it might have an end. For Gillian though, is the teen’s grin and, soon after, fingertips that extend and lightly touch the proffered hand.

The physical acknowledgment is short lived, interrupted by the opening door, by Adam’s arrival. Jac’s head comes up as the man crosses the length of the hold, blue eyes fixed on him in silent observation.

Her brows knit when Adam finally begins speaking. Another fifteen hours feels like a lifetime, after the one they've already spent inside the transport craft. While it makes sense, she adolescently wilts at the idea of being cooped up for even longer. She starts to sit back, settling to return her attention to the empty darkness outside.

But the offer of knowing some more of the plan keeps her from checking out.

Curiosity piqued, Jac sits up straighter. Her feet find the floor and she leans forward as Niki opens the case. Her attention divides between watching Adam and her half-sister, anticipation tugging at her to get a closer look. The girl gives in once the weapon is liberated from its case, and she picks her way around the pair asleep on the floor to join Adam and Niki and get a better look.

At the weapon that gets pulled out, Gillian can’t help but go, “What, the actual fuck, is that.” She tries not to swear as much as she used to, but it feels like Adam has some way to bring that out in her. “And why do we need that?” Cause this doesn’t sound at all like the minimal plan that she had been given. What would a weapon like that even do against the thing they were supposed to be stopping? That looked like something they would use on another plane, or an armored vehicle. She wasn’t even sure she’d seen something like that when she fought with the resistance in the war.

She is starting to really not like this supposedly plan that they can only know pieces of. Not at all.

Getting up from her seat, she follows Jac, but doesn’t physically stop her from looking at the object that Jessica holds. Or Niki. Or both. This whole thing was very confusing, for sure. Running her hand through her hair, now darker than it had been when Jac first met her, but still highlighted with honey tones, she shakes her head and turns a gaze over at Adam, as if warning him once again silently with her mind. Nothing better happen to her daughters.

“Sounds like we have fifteen whole hours to pay close attention.” Cause she definitely intends to.

Chess is a little slow to rouse out of her thousand-yard stare. She watches Niki pull the Lei-Gong out of the case it’s in, lifting a brow at the heavy weaponry. Dark eyes track Adam in his pacing, and she grimaces a little when he stops in front of the cases. Six of them.

And six of them.

It’s not lost on her that there’s six women in this plane.

Her eyes return to Niki, and she juts her chin in the direction of the Lei-Gong. God of thunder.

“We never really talked about what my ability can do besides the obvious.” Chess’ voice is quiet, kept carefully neutral. She keeps her eyes on Adam’s face, high above the forms of her sleeping sisters.

“I can also just charge something so it goes faster and farther than it would normally. About three times as fast. I never tried it with something like that,” her head tips in Niki’s direction, “but it might lengthen our range if we need it.”

There’s another jut of her chin to the locker-like things. “Are we getting in those?” She’ll try not to think about the fact they look like coffins crossed with a Delorean.

Adam angles a look over to Niki, watching her in a moment of silence following Chess’ question. He doesn’t answer it, so much as direct his attention to her in a pointed manner, suggesting that he and Chess were of one mind on the topic. His smile of appreciation in her cleverness is irrepressible.

“You won’t be getting in the cases, no.” Adam admits quietly, walking over to the first in the row and opening a keypad panel on the front of the tall case. “In truth, it’s what’s in the cases that’s important. I’ve been waiting to show these to you, because I wanted to minimize the number of eyes who even knew we had them.” Adam deftly keys in a six-digit code into the pad, then turns a plunger handle and steps back as the case opens, revealing a black vinyl and foam padded interior containing what at first looks like a person, until it becomes much more clear that it’s a suit of armor.

The armor is matte black from head to toe, covered in angular plates with a fine hexagon print pattern across them. The helmet looks like it would be impossible to see out of, angular and sharp looking with six diamond-shaped camera lenses on the exterior, each sparking to life with a fiery orange glow as Adam activates the suit.

“This armor comes from somewhere else,” Adam explains, stepping to the side so the women he’s gathered can see it. “Another time, not ours. Praxis Heavy Engineering obtained a severely damaged copy of one of these suits last year, and I had them put these into production.” He looks up to the armor, then back. “It’s called ANCILIA. It’s a… forked developmental path of the old Horizon powered armor Frontline used to use here, but intended for a different battlefield.”

Adam steps away from the suit. “There’s one for each of you here, except for Jac. The suit’s heightened strength and armor wouldn’t give her any benefit, and it would just restrict her movement and her teleportation would likely fry the internal systems. Alix, I also don’t intend on putting you on the front lines, so the last of these suits is mine.” He looks across each person in the aircraft hold. “They’re tailored to your height and specifications, within estimations. The rest of the tailoring they do themselves on the fly.”

Jessica looks up from her new toy to eye the cases along the wall with mild interest. When they’re opened, however, that really gets her attention. Turning bodily to face the row of armor, she gives the ANCILIA suits an up and down look with a thoughtful frown. “Well. That ought to even some of the odds.”

Her gaze stays steady on the fiery eyes of the suit. There’s no spark in the eyes that stare back at her in multiple miniature, only resignation. “Don’t worry,” she murmurs for her other half’s benefit. “This is exactly what we need in order to get the job done.”

“Primal,” Jac murmurs at the armor’s reveal. She starts to take a step closer, hesitates when she's not included in those who'll be dressed for battle. True, she doesn't exactly need the ANCILIA — her abilities, like Adam said, are better without it — and there's something a little adolescent about the prick of disappointment that she's left out of looking really rad going into battle, but relief is quick to follow. Her family will be safer.

Without looking at the others, the girl sidles aside. Her hands clasp behind her back and she moves nearer to the one of the hold walls with its seats. Out of habit, Jac looks out the window, even though it's still dark and without form. A second later, blue eyes slide to her seat, to the few belongings she'd collected before leaving stowed under the seat, to the one long object wrapped in a simple cloth. She really doesn't need guns or armor.

With a shift of her shoulders, a small breath, Jac’s attention returns to Adam.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” GIllian murmurs under her breath as she looks toward the otherworldly from the future suits that have apparently been custom made for them. She won’t ask how he got their measurements, cause she doesn’t want to know. Then again, she did have to buy new clothes in the Ziggurat, so perhaps he had used them as a basis. She will hope for that. “Just so you know, my hand to hand combat skills are pretty much limited to kicking someone where it hurts.” And they hadn’t really been training her for that. Still, she glances at Jolene and is relieved that they will have some additional protection, before she looks back at Jac.

The youngest member of her little makeshift family won’t have that protection, but she probably doesn’t need it.

“Looks like we may not need those ear plugs after all,” she offers some reassurance, cause while she’s still not exactly pleased at the arsenal that they are carrying, she actually is glad that it looks as if they won’t be relying entirely on Jac to do the fighting.

The smile from Adam surprises Chess, but her gaze drops down again; waves of guilt and regret still washing over her, just when she thinks she’s grown a little more numb. She pushes the emotions away to focus on what he’s showing them, her dark eyes widening a little when he reveals the futuristic ANCILIA suits.

The words ‘Another time’ don’t seem to heighten her surprise any, given she knows that there are time travelers, courtesy of Lene’s revelations, and other-dimensional travellers, courtesy of Miles.

She gives Adam her own nod of appreciation for their safety. “I guess that makes up for 25 years of no Christmas or birthday presents,” she quips, before adding, ““What, no jet packs?”

Adam flashes a smile at Chess, then laughs with a shake of his head. It’s an earnest thing that rings true, rather than something done as an affectation. All this time around his estranged family has changed Adam, has changed all of the Adams in their networked consciousness. One man with a single heart and mind, distributed across multiple bodies. It’s only when he seriously considers the years that have gone by that his smile fades. The consequences of so many actions. Adam know that even if he survives what’s coming… they’ll never have a moment like this again.

“I don’t need you to fight, Gillian.” Adam says to break the silence. “But I know the range of your ability is limited, which means to help the others you’ll need to be in close proximity. Which brings me to our strategy…” Adam leans his back up against the interior hull, crossing his arms over his chest. “We’re heading to Detroit, Michigan. Second largest population center in the United States, but far less defended than Kansas City.”

Adam can’t stay still, he leans off of the wall and starts to pace. “The Entity — Uluru — is going to be there.” He says with confidence, but not how he knows it to be so. “When she shows herself, you’re the only line of defense between that thing and every person in the city. Niki,” he says with a look over to her, “I’m going to have you positioned on a rooftop once we have the engagement area defined. Val will take you down from here once she’s done getting the others into position.”

“Alix,” Adam shifts his attention to her, and she sits up slowly, looking around a little bleary eyed. “You’re going to stay here in the aircraft. I’m going to need you mobile and able to keep an eye out for a specific target. I’ll give you details when we’re closer.” Alix nods once, wordlessly, then looks over to Ivy, who likewise has been watching Adam in silence for a little while.

“Ivy, you and Chess will be going down to engage the Entity as a pair. I need you to keep her corralled, draw her attention, keep her from being able to have time to think. Niki, if it looks like they’re in trouble I’m going to need you to call out to Ivy that you’re going to shoot her. Ivy will handle the rest. She’s tougher than she looks.” Adam smiles at Ivy, reluctantly, but she is more eager to return the gesture.

“That leaves Jac, Gillian, and Jolene.” Adam breathes in deeply. “The three of you will be the primary targets going after the Entity. Jac will be engaging her directly, making sure she doesn’t escape the city or find a place to hide. Gillian, I need you to alternate between augmenting Jac and augmenting Jolene, depending on the situation.”

“Wait, me?” Jolene asks with a gesture to herself.

“Your synchronized negation, it might be powerful enough to suppress the Entity, even if you can’t negate her outright. But it’ll be a battle of wills, and you’ll be better off with your mother’s support.” Adam paces back and forth across the floor, one hand at his chin. “Joy and I will be assisting when we can,” which makes it sound like they’re going to be up to something entirely otherwise. “Ryans as well, once we’re done with a different stage of the plan.”

As Adam begins to lay out the plan, Jessica sets her new prize back in its case with great care. She smirks down at it faintly. I’ll be back for you. Movement out of the corner of her eye catches her attention, and she isn’t sure at first if it was just Monroe pacing, or something else.

Her expression is more sober as she acknowledges the order to fire on Ivy if it looks like she’s in trouble. Instead of displaying amusement, Jessica just nods. Niki, she realizes, is invested in the survival of her half-sisters. Even the ones that look just like the one who murdered her mother. There’s a grudging acceptance that she might have to protect them in order to protect her, and it annoys her.

“What the hell is in Detroit that this Uluru wants?” Jessica asks finally, leveling a flat stare on Adam. “The government didn’t even give a shit about Detroit. Why would some cosmic being?”

Jac already has a nod ready when her assignment is explained. She'd prepared for that, to a point, but knowing exactly what Adam had in mind for Lene’s part is a relief of some sort. Negation on Uluru is going to be crucial, somehow she understands that even without knowing much about the entity. The girl returns to her seat beside her sister, perches on the edge of it. Her attention stays pretty fixed on Adam, following the conversation, questions, reactions, without offering thoughts of her own. Jolene, though, gets a small bump with her shoulder, from one sister to another.

Gillian frowns as Detroit is mentioned. There were few things that she knew about the city other than that it had actually recovered very well when the war ended, and that it was where Raytech and many other industries had their headquarters located. It wasn’t Praxia or Yamagato, but it was what the US actually had to work with. The question from the blonde woman of many names earns a nod of agreement, because… why. “I admit I’m surprised it wasn’t New York again. But good for New York.”

For a change.

Jolene gets a concerned glance, but she nods. She wasn’t entirely sure how well her ability would work with Jolene’s, but he was right. She needed to stay close. And since it apparently had factored into his plan, and sounds like for a legitimate reason, she will ignore that tinge of anger that he knew what her ability had changed to.

But perhaps Joy had known.

“Can I have a gun? I know how to use those, at least.” She might also be able to help Jolene negate if needed— her lightning wasn’t the same but it could drain energy. And she might need to recharge in the middle of the battle if she kept dividing between her two daughters.

As the plan is revealed, Chess wraps her arms around her middle, her dark eyes moving from person to person when Adam explains the part they’re all going to play.

That Ivy and she will be partners isn’t lost on her. They’ve come quite a long distance — literally and metaphorically — since the assault in the Park Slope Armory. Chess has seen Ivy’s ability firsthand, and knows she can recover from what might devastate another. Still, her brows draw together as she considers what a gun like Lei-Gong might do.

“Are you sure you can recover from that?” she murmurs to Ivy, then back at Adam. She isn’t prepared to see another sister die today.

Chess has never apologized for trying to explode her sister with William Shakespeare’s greatest hits, but then, she doesn’t really think she should have to, either. After all, Ivy was trying to murder her.

She glances from Niki to Gillian on their comments about it being Detroit and not New York, then back to Adam for the answer.

Ivy looks down to the floor, then up to Chess. “My upper limits were extensively tested,” she says in a somewhat detached tone of voice, “I think there’s a… sixty or seventy percent chance of survival from a munition with that much kinetic force behind it. Maybe it’s more.” She looks back down to the floor. “It’ll be okay, this is what we were born for.”

Alix looks less than convinced, resting a hand against Ivy’s back and leveling a brief but worried look to Chess.

Adam seems to take that statement of Ivy’s well-being at face value, pivoting to Gillian with a slow motion of one hand as if directing to an ephemeral point between them. “I’ll be sure you have an appropriate firearm, but be mindful unless you’re using it to protect yourself against civilian law enforcement there likely won’t be much point to it. Ordinary bullets will only make this thing angry.”

It’s then that Adam turns to Niki. “There’s nothing in Detroit,” he says with that sort of smug confidence she’s more familiar with. “Except me.” Therein lies the crux of his plan, Adam using himself as bait. How it all comes together is less clear. “Once it becomes unavoidably clear that I’m in Detroit, she’ll come to us.”

“As for the others…” Adam pauses, brows knit together. “We’re going to have an entirely different prob— ” The blare of an alarm from the cockpit cuts Adam off. He straightens and without hesitation rushes to the front of the aircraft and throws the cockpit door open.

“Shit,” Adam hisses. “Shit!” Tugging an earpiece out of his pocket, he curls it around his ear and tugs a slim microphone out of it to cradle his cheek. “Air Command,” he calls over the radio, “picking up four incoming hostiles, bearing 10.5!”

«This is Air Command, we affirm. Two A-10 Warthogs inbound from Kansas City have demanded our surrender and to land immediately.»

Adam slams his fist against the console.

«Orders, Director?»

Sliding his tongue over his teeth, Adam looks back over his shoulder into the cabin.

Even Jessica can see how messed up the situation with Alix, Chess, Ivy, and Val is. While Alix lays a hand on Ivy’s back, Jessica rests her own on her shoulder, looking down at her and assuring, “Only as an absolute last resort.” Her fingers curl a moment, a gentle squeeze, then her hand drops away again. Catching Chess’ eye, she gives the barest of nods. Yes, she’ll do what she can to look after them all. It’s upsetting, but this is the family Niki has left. She’ll keep them safe the way she tried to keep Micah safe.

And if Niki had only let her keep control, maybe she would have succeeded. She can’t fail this time.

The alarm breaks Jessica from her thoughts, pivoting toward the cockpit with sharp focus as Adam makes his way there. When it becomes clear what they’re up against, she starts striding after, head high and shoulders square. She’s not afraid. “Open a channel. Tell them I’m on board. They don’t know Zimmerman’s dead yet and nobody’s going to want to be responsible for fragging her daughter.” Jessica huffs a single mirthless chuckle. “Put me on the radio if you have to. I can try and talk them down.”

A grin cuts across her face. “Unless you can get me sights on them and a clear shot.” Jessica hasn’t met a gun yet that she couldn’t handle.

Straightening at the sound of the alarm, Jac’s head swivels to the front of the plane. Her eyes tick to Aadam when he enters her field of view, then briefly slide past when the cockpit door is opened. She stands to join him and Niki, who finally earns a strongly dubious side eye thanks to Jessica’s claims and offers to shoot the other crafts down. That seems a little on the extreme side, and her disapproval of it might not be vocalized but it isn't masked from her expression either.

Taking a familiar position at Adam’s side, the teenager looks to the others. Chess, Alix, and Ivy are all unknowns — except for short conversation, her interactions with any of them have been lacking. Lene and Gillian, obviously, she knows a lot better.

And so does most of the world.

“If you're dropping names.” Jac doesn't finish the sentence, but the suggestion is obvious. Her mom and sister’s presence carry some weight too.

She looks at Niki — Jessica — blue eyes searching for anything that's reminiscent of the woman from the counsel, knowing war makes people act strange at times. The silent query lasts maybe a second, then the girl looks past to the controls and instrument panels. Without a close look there's no way to tell what knob or button might do what, and her flight capabilities are limited to the skipping trick of her teleportation. But still, “Are these crafts equipped with decoys? Chafes and things?” If they broke formation, each craft dropping flares and jammers, they'd stand a better chance.

Jac looks up, lifting the suggestion to Adam.

At the sudden change in— well— everything, Gillian looks around at her two daughters and then focuses on Squeaks, “If we come under attack, I want you to teleport out of here with Jolene, okay?” She doesn’t know how many her daughter can take with her, but she hopes that she can at least get her other daughter out of here too. “I’ll augment you if you need it, but get the two of you out of here to somewhere safe.” She had planned to tell her the same thing once the fighting started. If it went south and it looked like they would lose, to take Jolene and go home. Home would be safe.

For a little while.

She would have friends who could support her, who could help them regroup. And she wanted her two daughters to be safe for a while, if no one else would be.

After she says that she can’t help but look over at Niki, cause she didn’t quite understand the sudden change still, and frowns, lips pressing together. She just knew she wasn’t acting like the woman she knew. The sudden death of her newfound mother could explain only so much of the personality shift.

Sixty or seventy percent. Chess stares at Ivy for a long moment before she shakes her head, whirling around to face Adam just as the alarms start to blare. The protest dies on her lips, as she knows he has to deal with that first, so she turns back to Alix and Ivy.

“That’s not okay,” she says sharply, vehemently. “I don’t care what you were designed for. Your life is worth more than that, Ivy! You don’t have to be a fucking martyr!”

They’re all putting their lives on the line in this fight. Whatever the odds are they’ll survive it, Chess doesn’t know, but this is different.

“Don’t.” The demand, short and blunt, is delivered to Niki. “We’ll find another way. I can’t…” Chess swallows hard, her eyes swimming with tears as she glances over at Alix, “we can’t lose another one. Not like this. Not from our own.”

She shoots an angry look at the director before looking back to Ivy. “Just say no.” Please.

Ivy furrows her brows, but the chaos of the noise coming over the radios is enough to distract her from an answer. She locks eyes with Chess, nodding in wordless affirmation of something, but it isn’t clear whether she agreed with her sibling’s request or merely acknowledged it.

“Even if we negotiate with hostages,” Adam says with a motion to Niki, “they’ll escort us. We’ll be unable to mobilize once we get to Detroit. This was the line I was hoping we wouldn’t have to hit until— ” a slithering like of inky darkness pushes its way into the aircraft through the seams of the rear bay doors, the energy attenuated form soon coalescing into the shape of Joy in a slim black suit and crisp white undershirt.

“Ben is spitting fire,” Joy says with a rise of one brow. “Not literally but, you should get out of the cockpit in the other aircraft.” She is quick to cross the floor with steady beats of her heels, looking over to Jac as she does before fixing a dark-eyed look on Adam.

“No, we can’t run,” Adam says to himself with a shakiness to his voice, running a hand through his hair. As if he hadn’t heard Gillian at all, he turns to Jac. “We need to take the aircraft out. You and Joy are the two most mobile fighters we have, I need you to go outside the aircraft with her and disable those jets.”

Joy lifts one brow, looking from Adam to Jac, then to Gillian.

“So… No guns, then?” Jessica angles a look back toward the Lei-Gong and then back to Adam with one brow lifted. “You’re going to send the kid?” She gestures to Jac, as though she needed to illustrate which one. Joy’s appearance is unremarked upon, but she does receive an appraising look. She can clearly do some damage. The same appraisal is leveled again at Jac, who has the audacity to stand there and talk like she’s one of them. Someone who’s seen and understands conflict the way the rest of them have.

The shift in her demeanor is abrupt. Niki grabs Adam by the shoulders and roughly turns him toward her. “She is not going out there. She shouldn’t even be here! What are you doing?!

The teenager hesitates to agree with Gillian’s request. Her eyes dart from Adam to her mom then back again, unable to readily agree to teleporting anyone anywhere just because things might get dangerous. For all Jac knows, Lene would be more likely to survive licking the posts of a car battery than being transported anywhere by her. Thankfully a familiar inky shape arrives, and Joy’s following report overrides her need to explain why teleporting might be a bad idea.

For a moment, her attention is on Joy, her blue eyes meeting the woman’s dark colored ones. Jac continues to watch Joy as Adam voices a third option, then shifts that openly observant gaze to Niki when she speaks up.

A slight frown forms, drawing creases along her brow. What the crazy is going on with Niki? The question is fleeting, there are more pressing matters.

Niki, and whatever is going on with her is dismissed without a word. This is why she's here, to make sure they save the world. Jac turns a glance to Adam, silently understanding the need and accepting the risk. Her mom is given a similar look — it's going to be okay, she can do this. Jac’s feet follow the next turn of her focus, moving to Joy's side. A deep breath does little to still a sudden surge of anxious fear in her stomach, but, “We can do this,” she states quietly.

For a moment, Gillian is speechless. She doesn’t know what to think about what Adam has asked, and Niki stalls her from yelling herself by taking it up. Yes, she trusts Niki. They have a few things in common, and caring about the teen on board was one of them. Neither of them wanted her in the line of fire. But then … There’s Jac.

Being Jac. Being all heroic and brave and…


It’s harsh, and rough, her voice raspier than usual as if she wants to scream but can’t because she’s screamed her voice raw. “No.” She shakes her head, stepping forward to get between Jac and Joy and Adam. “I agreed she could stay with you to fight a monster from another world, not the fucking US Army. Those aren’t monsters out there, Jac, they are people. Soldiers. With families.” But if they shot them down they couldn’t actually save the world?

And they’d probably all be dead and that too would not be a good thing.

There’s a moment where she looks off at nothing, and then turns her eyes to Joy. “Can you disable the ships without killing anyone?”

Pulling herself from her anger and fear about shooting Ivy, Chess listens to the dispute over what to do about the inbound warcraft coming for them. She breathes out a short huff of an unamused laugh, and scrubs a hand over her face.


She has them.

Gillian’s words of people and lives is met with a nod, and Chess looks to Adam. There’s no trace of the humor of just minutes ago, but instead only anger, fear, and grief.

“Those are single seaters, yeah?” she asks, before turning to Jac.

“Can you teleport the pilots out somewhere instead? Or Val?” Her gaze darts back to Adam when she mentions her sister’s name. “Then we can explode the jets up here in the air where they’re unlikely to do too much damage to anything below,” she suggests, eyes darting to Gillian, back to Adam, then finally Joy. There’s a silent please that is unspoken, held in her gaze for the last of the three.

Joy and Adam exchange a look, momentary in their silence. Joy is the one who approaches Gillian. “Jac is stronger than almost all of us,” she reminds her. But then in almost the same breath also says, “I’ve never tried to teleport someone moving at that speed. The way I do doesn’t arrest momentum, I don’t know if there’s a way to do it safely. And Jac— Jac needs physical contact. So does Val.”

There’s a klaxon that begins to blare in the cockpit, a proximity alert. Adam clenches his teeth and looks ahead toward the sound as Joy continues, then looks back. “They’re A-10 Warthogs, single-seaters. I’ve flown one before.”

Joy considers the situation, looking to Niki for a long and thoughtful moment, then back to Gillian. “We can try to spare them, maybe— pull them out of the planes with brute force…” Joy doesn’t sound so sure of herself, but it also sounds like she’s willing to try. “I can fly, but I… I don’t know if I can fly that fast.” She breathes in deeply through her nose.

«Director!» A voice calls over the comms from the cockpit. «They’ve given us a thirty second order to begin descending or they’ll open fire! Do we deploy the— » Adam pulls away from Niki and storms to the cockpit and yanks the receiver off the hook.

“No!” Adam shouts. “We can’t lose one of them or we’ll be blind when we reach our destination! We’ll handle this!” Joy looks ahead to Adam, then back to the others.

The clock was ticking.

Niki relinquishes her hold on Adam when he pulls away. Being summarily ignored by seemingly all parties involved — save for Gillian and Chess — is enough to set her blood boiling in a way that makes her grateful she doesn’t have her most recent ability anymore. No doubt the radiation would be pouring off of her.

“Don’t you have something in your bag of tricks that can knock them off course or something?” But Niki suspects if that were the case, Joy would have suggested it by now. There’s a sigh of resignation. “Look, if we’re going to… If those pilots are going to be casualties of war, then let me do it. I won’t lose sleep.” Not more than she already does, at any rate.

Something twists strangely, uncomfortably, inside Jac's core at the first of the yelling, reactive to voices raised in anger. But she doesn't react. Fear doesn't control her response as it would have a year ago, or even a month ago. Her body remains loose, seeming relaxed, and the sounds of arguments airing the risks and worries flow around her like wind through trees with their springtime foliage, ruffled but unmoved.

While the adults debate about her role, demand for other options, lay out questions she has no answers for, the teen slides her focus from the controls to the window. Within the doorway of the cockpit, the view outside isn't terribly different. It's dark, nearly impossible to see anything except shadows and deeper shadows — the nighttime sky has swallowed all the details that ever existed. Yet in her observations she picks up the smallest difference, the slightest detail. The faint illumination from the controls of the oncoming crafts draws her attention like a moth to a flame.

It's all Jac needs.

Adam shouts and Jac takes a step forward, slipping past the grown-ups to stand at the pilot’s shoulder. She knows, somehow, that this is the way. Even if it's going to hurt people and her mom is going to be pissed. Niki insists on finding other options and fine, jagged lines of electricity pop and snap around the teen’s small frame. In less than a second, she's no longer listening, no longer standing among the group.

The girl is no longer on the craft. A crack and arcing forks of lightning announce her sudden departure.

“Jac, no!” is said too late. Gillian stands there for a moment then rounds on Adam with fury and hate and possibly even murder in her eyes. “You didn’t even fucking plan for this, did you? Or even worse, THIS was your fucking plan.” No one has brought this many fucks out of her in ages, but Adam seems to do it just by being in the same room sometimes.

“You are flying weapon ships through US Airspace and knew they would send someone after you and you planned for my daughter to fight your wars for you as a weapon. You didn’t fucking care about their lives at all. They aren’t even our fucking enemy. Fuck you.”

She is seething.

More than seething, really. She probably hasn’t been this angry in years.

“If she is forced to kill those men, then when this is over, I will personally make sure that you never see her again.”

“You have to try!” Chess shouts at Joy when Joy refutes her suggestion. “Those aren’t just some assholes from 2012. These people probably fought for us, with us…” With me, goes unspoken.

Niki’s — Jessica’s — offer to do the dirty work earns the elder sister of the Adam Daughter’s Club a glare. “No one should-”

The crackle and disappearance of Jac shuts Chess up, and she whirls around, eyes wide. Before she can speak, Gillian puts into words all that the stunned Chess can only grasp at, emotionally exhausted as she is after everything that’s happened.

She can still smell the copper from the blood spilled in Adam’s office.

“Maybe she’s trying to save them,” she murmurs to no one in particular, voice flat, defeated, as she slumps back down onto the jumpseat, neck craned toward the cockpit.

Adam is a statue in the face of Gillian’s anger. It isn’t that he doesn’t hear her, or that her words don’t affect him, but something else altogether. She can see the way his jaw tenses, throat works up and down, and then he finally takes a breath.

Joy,” is all Adam needs to say before Joy breaks apart into slithering tendrils of inky darkness and bounces across the ground, moving like a tumbling mass of shadow in the way only Wu-Long Zhang once did. She forces her way through the gaps by the rear door and vanishes from sight.


2,000 Feet Over Montana

Joy once said, flying is a lot like falling. Jac never fully understood that until now.

The teenager appears in a flash of electrical energy too high to catch the oncoming A-10 Warthog and it rips past her at a clip of close to 300 miles per hour, a slow cruising speed for that kind of jet. She immediately begins to freefall, seeing two more aircraft of the same kind buzz by her.

Before she can keep falling, before she considers a new point in space to teleport to, she feels a pair of arms around her waist. Joy pulls Jac up against her chest, hovering in the air like a weightless balloon, the high-altitude winds whipping her hair around. “Easier going than coming!” Joy shouts, and Jac is able to follow her eyeline to the afterburners of the jets.


“Niki,” Adam says with a strained voice, not looking away from Gillian. “Copilot’s seat, right control, mans anti-aircraft artillery, targeting reticule will be on the heads-up display on the windscreen. If Jac can’t get them disabled in time, do what you have to do.”

Adam swallows tensely, looking at Gillian with an unblinking stare. But it is Jolene, who hasn’t said a word through this entire altercation, that comes to stand beside her mother and take her hand. There is a knowing look she exchanges with Gillian, a firm squeeze given to her mother’s palm, and then a steady look back at Adam in united anger against his choices. But unlike her mother, she doesn’t vocalize them.

“They’re flying,” comes from the back of the group, where Alix is seated with her head down and eyes closed. “Joy has her, they’re… it’s all moving so fast. But I can see them. They’re— they’re only going to get one shot at this.


2,000 Feet Over Montana

The combination of rushing air and jet create a disorienting sensation. For a split second, Jac knows she's made a terrible miscalculation. But she doesn't fight the outcome, panic is kept at arm’s length. She can find a new point and teleport safely. Joy’s instruction for such strategy echoes in her mind as the woman manifests in the same free fall and wraps arms around the girl's middle.

“There's three,” she shouts to be heard over the roar of everything. Without the need to guess her next target, Jac focuses on formulating a plan. She looks from the lead plane, to the next two, brows furrowed. The weight of how little time they have to maneuver is dauntingly heavy. The teen doesn't even pause to consider how many chances they'll have to try and pull anything off.

The girl takes a breath and then chirps, a single blast of sonar sound to gauge the range of the planes.

Jac tilts her head as the sounds bounce back to her. Blue eyes search through the shadows to Joy. “If I can get them with my sounds, I can maybe disorient them,” she calls out. “Maybe make them spin or something so they have to eject.” She's short on ideas and she's never used her sounds against more than one person before. But she plays that card to Joy.

Fight the battles you can win, Joy projects into Squeaks’ mind. It’s easier than trying to shout over the wind. Stopping two is better than stopping none. Joy holds out a hand, manifesting from thin air Jac’s sword, swinging it around and handing it grip-first to her. For leverage, she adds, before transforming both herself and Jac into a seething form of intertwined black energy and matter that streaks through the air like a missile.

Joy’s energy-attenuated form trails smoke behind it as she catches up to the cruising A-10’s, splitting into two that fork off into separate aircraft. Jac peels out of the energy attenuation with enough screaming momentum to land flat on the back of the aircraft and stay on thanks to a superhumanly strong grip. Her indestructible skin keeps the wind sheer from tearing her apart at these speeds.

Joy lands on the middle jet, then slithers inside the cockpit like squid ink. She expands herself inside the cockpit, transforming into a swirling cloud of choking smoke that fills the space and blinds the pilot. The middle aircraft wobbles, pitches, and then begins to nosedive toward the ground. The cockpit blasts off as the pilot ejects, spilling the smoke form of Joy out in a vapor trail that is very quickly lost behind the jets.

That first A-10 collides with the forest floor some two thousand feet below in a brilliant ball of fire, while the pilot in her seat is shuttled to the ground by a rapidly-expanded chute. The third A-10, the one neither woman went after, breaks away and begins free-firing on the Praxis aircraft. Machine gun fire peppers the side of the vehicle carrying Gillian and the others, flashing with streaks of tracer rounds.

One hand stays wrapped tightly around her sword, and Jac holds herself to the back of the plane with the other. Her eyes, narrowed against the biting wind, follow the spine of the A-10 to the canopy. Her body follows as her eyes reach the pilot’s form.

A crack of electrical discharge takes her from battling the roar and push of wind to filling space not entirely meant for passengers. Lucky for Jac, she's still small enough to fit into most places without needing to be a contortionist. She crouches behind the pilot's seat but doesn't remain still or silent for longer than it takes the sizzle of her teleportation to diminish.

The sword cuts through the cramped space first. It's thrust horizontally past the pilot's shoulder to stab into the instrument panel. The teen’s empty hand fills itself with the emergency eject handle. It dawns in her then that there is only one shot at this gamble, but she doesn't hesitate.

Fingers tighten around the hilt of the sword, bracing in anticipation. Her eyes are already seeking the next target, the next location to teleport to. The third plane. If it's going to happen, then it's going to happen fast. She needs to move as soon as the pilot is clear. In the same instant, Jac pulls hard on the lever that will blast the canopy and pilot from the cockpit.

Squeaks is thrown from the A-10 when she pulls the ejection lever, blown into the sky like a piece of trash thrown from a moving car. She is flung from the rear of the pilot’s seat, spinning end over end in a spiral of uncontrolled falling. First up, then as gravity reasserts itself, down.

Joy, spotting Jac in freefall and knowing her teleportation requires a clear line of sight — of which she has none as her world spins wildly out of control — breaks away from the third jet and shoots like a missile down through the air, flying at a 45 degree angle down toward Jac’s rapidly descending form. As she does, the third jet circles into firing range of the rear aircraft, whose undercarriage anti-aircraft weapons all begin to arm themselves. The A-10 is too fast for the pilots to lock on, though the heavy report of machine gun fire and the flash of tracer rounds fills the air.

Joy hits Jac in mid-air like a tackle, wrapping her arms around the teleporter and converting them both to attenuated energy again. Joy’s weightless form of slithering, ink-like blackness rockets back through the air, unable to see too far away from herself in this form. She angles her ascent up, rockets past the quad-rotor aircraft, and then stalls into a hover, unraveling herself and Jac from the attenuated form. They were high now, higher than all the aircraft, and both could see the A-10 strafing the aircraft with Jac’s family on board.

Moments Earlier

Inside the Z-12 Qingniao

Joy,” is all Adam needs to say before Joy breaks apart into slithering tendrils of inky darkness and bounces across the ground, moving like a tumbling mass of shadow in the way only Wu-Long Zhang once did. She forces her way through the gaps by the rear door and vanishes from sight.

Fuck,” Adam hisses, turning his attention to the cockpit. “Keep us steady!” He orders, then turns to Niki. “The guns!” Then, back to the others. “Gillian, are they in your range? Can you amplify them?”

“They’re moving too fast for me to follow!” Alix cries, her brows knit together, fingers curled into fists in her lap as she tries to keep up with what’s happening outside the aircraft.

“Shit, shit,” Ivy hisses, looking helplessly at Chess.

Niki doesn’t need to be told twice. But she does not have the same confidence her counterpart does. She is in a panic, whether or not she’s showing it. This situation is beyond what she expected, even if it shouldn’t be. But she hadn’t expected Jac to go teleporting out of the moving aircraft and whatever the hell else is happening out there right now. For all she knows, given Alix can’t keep eyes on Jac or Joy, the teenager’s about to become a red smear on the landscape below.

So when she drops into the co-pilot’s seat like a lead weight, Niki lifts her head skyward and lays out the ground rules: “Just this once.”

A smirk creeps on to Jessica’s face as she wraps her fingers around the indicated controls on the right side of the craft, turning her attention to the reticule. She works the stick this way and that, testing its responsiveness before she starts lining up sights in earnest. And she is earnest once that last craft starts firing on them. Niki and her half-sisters may want to spare as much life as possible, but Jessica isn’t about to let all of them die to spare one little fighter pilot.

If it were Niki, she’d have fired a warning shot. Hit the wing or the side of the craft. Something to let the A-10 and its pilot know that she means business, but doesn’t want it to come to this.

But this isn’t Niki.

Jessica chuckles darkly to herself as she lines up her shot and starts firing.

If it wasn’t for the hand on her, Gillian might have kept screaming at Adam even as he tried to give orders. She believed that Jac could take care of herself, that she would survive, but she hated the idea of what she might be forced to do for that. It was different with Niki on the guns. Niki was an adult. Niki could handle the mental consequences of what she had to do to protect them. With a calming exhale despite the horrifying situation, Gillian stretches out her senses— she can feel everyone on the plane that had that little spark under the surface, but no. No one outside.

She shakes her head. “They’re too far away.” And they were now getting shot at. She braces herself, and tightens her grip on Jolene’s hand, before starting to move toward the seats once again. They were going to need to get strapped in if the craft needed to make any maneuvers.

And she couldn’t do anything except wait now. And trust that Squeaks could manage to get back to them in one piece.

Chess meets Ivy’s look, her own almost a mirror. Their powers are useless within the plane’s hold; their bodies can’t survive outside like Jac’s or Joy’s.

She heaves a sigh and rises again, this time to help Alix to one of the jump seats as the clairvoyant tries to track the movements of Joy and Jac as they deal with the jets at hundreds of miles per hour.

“Strap in,” she says, sotto voce, to Ivy, with a nod to the seat beside Alix, reaching to squeeze both her hand and Alix’s before she finishes buckling Alix in. The two-word directive, coupled with the look Chess gives her sisters, speaks more than those two words hold: Love, regret, fear, apology and forgiveness.

Chess turns to look at Adam, her expression tired, resigned. “You should, too,” she murmurs, before taking the seat next to Alix.

Adam fixes Chess with a look, angling his head to the side as Niki tracks for her shot, trailing the A-10 by just a little. The turrets aren’t as snappy as she’d hope. “I’ll be fine,” Adam says, turning to look back to Niki when a roar of gunfire peppers along the side of the aircraft.

Lene lets out a shriek of terror as she grabs her mother and drags her to the floor. High-caliber machine gun rounds punch through the side of of the Z-12-Qingniao with buzzing report and terrifying intensity. Adam drops the second the strafe of gunfire punches through the hull. Bullets ricochet around through the cabin, and Adam lays on his side on the floor, clutching his stomach with one hand. “Fuck,” he hisses, pulling a red palm away. “Son of a— fff-fuck.” He rolls onto his back, looking up at the ceiling.

Adam!” Ivy screams, leaping out of her seat and dropping onto her knees at Adam’s side, looking at the rather massive wound in his abdomen and the prodigious amount of blood already on the floor.

“It’s fine,” Adam says without much panic, mostly frustration. He lays a bloody hand on one of Ivy’s. “It’s fine, plenty more of me t’go around… this one’s— bloody proper fucked. Can’t feel m’legs.” There’s a crashing sound outside, shearing metal, but no more gunfire.

Alix grabs Chess by the arm, tight, and no longer is focused on the air battle outside. Adam pushes Ivy away. “Go help them,” he says, then uses his shoulders and arms to twist and roll onto his side, grabbing his radio from his belt. Ivy rises, then moves over to Chess and Alix, beckoning Lene and Gillian over.

“Gillian, boost me. I can extend my kinetic absorption field,” Ivy says confidently, like she’s done this before. Cover us all.” Except Niki, who is at the moment too far away in the cockpit.

Jessica is preoccupied tracking the A-10’s through the air. One ejected a pilot a moment ago; the shearing sound she heard. Another looks to have filled with smoke and ejected. But a third is coming around. This time she has the lead on the jet, this time if she’s lucky

Fuck!” That trigger’s not nearly as snappy as she’d like it to be. Jessica curls her lip, no more fun and games now that there’s bullets cutting through their hull and—

A glance over her shoulder confirms that things are proper fucked back there, as Niki’s father so eloquently put it.

I’m working on it!” Jessica calls back, turning her attention back to the screen in front of her as the third jet comes into view. Now she knows what to expect. She aims ahead of the A-10.

Niki stares back in the reflection from the windscreen, eyes wide with horror at what she can see at Jessica’s back. “Please, God,” she begs of whatever higher power might exist, praying for the safety of her remaining family. That Ivy’s protection will be enough.

“Who needs God when you have me?” Jessica finds her grin again, in spite of her grim determination. When she fires again, her aim is much improved now that she knows what to expect from the controls. The bullets will intersect her target, this time, as they both continue to surge forward.

That gunfire was so much closer than she thought. Gillian hits the metal floor with a grunt and part of her desperately wants to panic. Being in a fight was the last thing she had ever wanted to do when the war ended. She wanted to be done. She wanted to be safe. But that wasn’t going to be, it would seem. With gritted teeth, she lets that knot in her head unravel, bleeding energy out into the immediate area, then she gathers all of it back up again, forcing it into a mental fist of energy.

She can’t tell the difference between the sisters who all look alike very well, especially under stress. She wasn’t sure what her name even was. She knew which one spoke, and she had to trust that that one knew what she was asking for. A glow appears around Gillian’s body, in her eyes as she looks up at the woman. It’s a light violet, not the dark purple of the past, something closer to white, more washed out and pure.

And all of it slams into Ivy.

Chess opens her mouth to retort to Adam’s I’ll be fine when the fates intervene and ensure he isn’t. She covers her head and drops to the floor.

The sound of gunfire brings with it a hundred unwanted memories of the war, but mostly of the white-hot pain of a bullet searing the flesh of the back of her leg, juxtaposed by the feeling of warm arms and warmer blood belonging to Miles, still smiling because he saved her.

When she brings her stricken eyes up to see Adam on the floor, her brows draw together and she lurches in his direction to help him, to get him to safety, even as he makes it clear it’s pointless. Alix grabs her and this time it’s Chess that lets herself be guided into the protective embrace of her sister. Sisters, this time, as Ivy envelopes them all in her kinetic aura.

Watching with wonder as Gillian begins to glow, Chess’ dark eyes like mirrors reflect the lavender light as it transfers to Ivy.

The amplification of power couldn’t come a second too late. A rippling heat mirage of crackling force extends outward from Ivy once she’s augmented, immediately before a second strafing run tears through the aircraft. The ammunition comes right through the hull of the aircraft with a gleam of sparks and heat and comes to a dead stop in the air a few inches away from each potential target. One massive round hovers near Lene’s back, another near Chess’ leg, two more rounds are floating in the air near Gillian’s shoulder and throat. Four are centered on Ivy, and one very likely about to hit Alix.

Each round suspended in the air is buzzing with potential kinetic energy. The noise is like an angry bee, threatening impending death. Lene stares wide-eyed at the rounds that would have torn through her, and only after a moment of transfixed horror does she see those bullets — and all the others — clatter to the ground harmlessly. In the same moment, the rippling field of kinetic energy collapses back down on Ivy into each of her hands. Light swells in her palms, her veins glow under her skin and that vibration now seems to come from inside of her.

Ivy buckles to her knees and exhales a shaky breath, but slowly the light in her arms fades and the throbbing sound reverberating from her bones subsides. She struggles to stay alight, leaning back against Alix.

Nearby, Adam looks up at her while clutching his bleeding wound. There is a momentary look of pride in his eyes, shortly before that focus shifts to Chess in wordless thanks painted across his expressive face.

The roar of gunfire breaks that exchange as Jessica finds her target maneuvering into the on-screen targeting reticle. She grips the control tighter, squeezes the trigger, and the turret guns tear through the aircraft. The A-10 takes a straight volley of artillery fire along its side, banks away from the Z-12 with smoke billowing from it, but manages to stay in the fucking air. A moment later as one of the engines catches fire, the cockpit blasts off and a pilot ejects from within, just barely out of Jessica’s line of sight, quickly sucked up into the air and out of view from the targeting systems.

An electrical crackle-snap fills the cabin as Jac materializes in a crouched position in line of sight of the cockpit windscreen. A moment later, Joy extends out from Jac’s shadow as a shadow of her own, soon transubstantiating from the umbral form that looks remarkably like Richard’s ability. She’s out of breath, but uninjured. Same with Jac.

“You’re hurt,” is the first thing Joy says when she sees Adam. He raises a bloody hand, a warding gesture.

“I’ll live,” Adam says with a bloody smile. “I mean I won’t but, it’s just meat.” Joy understands, even though there’s a part of her that can’t. She moves over to kneel down beside Adam and looks back to Jac, proud.

“She was amazing,” Joy says, making certain to catch Gillian’s eye as she makes that affirmation.

Jessica exhales a breath after her shots hit and the pilot ejects. So, they both won this one. She got to use the guns, and Schrödinger’s pilot remains alive, unobserved. Shoulders sag with relief as Niki gets up from the co-pilot’s seat and turns to head back to check on the others. The breath leaves her lungs at the sight of what nearly happened here.

She makes her way toward her sisters, resting a hand on Chess’ shoulder reassuringly briefly, before reaching out to wrap her arms around Ivy. “I’ve got her,” she promises. The others have been through enough now. She’ll take her turn supporting.

Carefully guiding the drained woman back to a seat, she fixes Adam with a look, then Joy. “So was she.”

Fear is etched into the teen’s expression when she first reappears. Blue eyes wide and drawn from her concern take in the bullets littering the floor, the holes that have punched through the sides like a terrible attempt at a homemade planetarium, the ones she'd left behind. Her gaze lingers for a second on Gillian and Jolene, touches Niki with Chess and Ivy, then glances aside to Adam and Joy. Almost no one is hurt. The worried look on Jac’s face fades but doesn't disappear and she doesn't show pride for Joy’s compliment. It doesn't feel deserved now.

She exhales a deep, slow breath and looks aside. Fingers relax around the hilt of her sword without releasing it. Everyone is still alive. Mostly. Uncertainty about Adam’s fate feels like lead in her stomach, but the rest — half sisters and adopted family, they're safe.

Jac's feet carry her with purposeful steps to one side, giving her collection of siblings and her parents all more space. One of the seats along the wall of the hold is taken. After a beat, she folds her legs criss-cross, tucks her arms over her chest, sword resting against a shoulder and hip. The girl finds a good vantage point from there, she can watch over all the passengers. But a minute later, her eyes have turned away to the darkness outside.

Almost no one was hurt, except the man who had led them all there. Gillian would accept it, as she slowly pushed up off of the floor where she had landed with Jolene. She wasn’t hurt really, but she looked exhausted. The energy she had thrown out had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere was her. She had thrown out all of it. She looks at the woman who probably saved their life with a nod of respect. Cause she had. With Gillian’s help, sure, but still. Those rounds that ripped through the hull easily would have ripped through them even more easily.

Maybe they should put on that armor now.

“Should we be expecting another round of that?” she asks with a grumble, before she looked toward Squeaks. There’s relief in her tired expression, glad to see the girl was in one piece. She watches as Jac moves away and seats herself in a protective stance and sighs a little, but doesn’t approach her immediately, “Of course she was amazing.” She says to Joy instead. “But she shouldn’t have had to be.” That last bit was toward Adam. As far as she was concerned, this was all his fault—

So she wasn’t disappointed at the idea that this Adam might not survive it. Just flesh, he says.

But it had nearly been all of their flesh.

Chess stares with wide eyes at the bullets that come so close to striking them, holding her breath as if that might somehow help keep them at bay, keep Ivy’s power up. She only exhales when Ivy slumps and that power fades, as she reaches over to keep her from slipping when she leans against Alix.

“Thank you,” she murmurs, breathless, her eyes moving from Ivy to include Gillian in the sentiment. And also to Niki when she arrives to help sit Ivy down to rest.

Her expression is worried when it returns to Adam, and she’s about to speak when Joy and Squeaks return. Her brows knit together at the word meat.

“No one is expendable,” Chess says, voice softly, not unkindly. She doesn’t voice the rest of what she’s thinking — that the more bodies he loses, maybe he’ll learn this. Her gaze flickers to Ivy, and back to Adam, that ‘sixty or seventy percent’ still weighing on her mind.

“We can’t endure more of that.” Her voice is louder, clearer, this time. “This scenic route thing isn’t working. What’s the plan?”

“No,” Adam says with a hitch in his voice again, a breathless gasp following. “No it’s— it’s working fine.” It doesn’t sound like his normal glib sense of humor. But he also doesn’t clarify further, because Chess can see the distant look in his eyes. The vacancy of death taking him over from the horrific wound he endured.

Joy breathes in sharply, clenching her jaw. She works her right hand open and closed, fingers trembling. Only Jac knows what happened in that moment.

It is only an instant later that Adam’s death i sundercut by a haze of rainbow light flooding the back of the aircraft, followed by the emergence of Val and Adam into the plane. “Val!” Ivy says with relief, and the pink-haired teleporter rushes to her sister, throwing her arms around her.

Alix watches their reunion, and leans back slowly against her seat, massaging the side of her head to try and dull the headache she’s experiencing. She then looks at Chess, smiling reassuringly. A part of her believes Chess needs that reinforcement.

“Niki,” Adam says as if nothing unusual has happened and he isn’t also laying dead on the floor nearby, “stay in the cockpit for now, in case there’s a follow up.” He then turns to Joy, who slowly looks up from corpse to living man. “Head back to the rear craft, help Ben prepare the xiezhi for deployment.”

Joy nods in acknowledgement, but doesn’t yet move from Jac’s side.

“As for the aircraft, we shouldn’t run into them again. We’d gone up into radar detection elevation for a moment.” Adam phrases that in a way where it’s hard to determine if it was intentional or not, though he’s unlikely to explain either way.

“For now, we keep our heads down. Stay the course. We’ll be at our destination soon…” Adam then turns to look briefly at Gillian, as if considering something, before returning to address the larger group. “Once we arrive…”

“…I just need you to trust me.”

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