Val woke up coughing, her throat scratchy and dry. Where was she? She opened her eyes—and nothing changed. The world was pitch black. Had she gone blind? Was she dead? She couldn’t be dead. She could only feel a few aches and pains up and down her body. Hell was bound to hurt a lot worse than this.
She was lying on her back atop something hard. A tile floor? She started to sit up—
Her forehead smacked something solid, and she fell back with a curse.
“Don’t move.” It was White Knight’s voice, strained and rasping right above her. “We probably shouldn’t talk, either. I don’t think we have much air.”
Hand clutched to her forehead, Val went very, very still. She opened her telepathic senses and found White Knight’s mind. The hard thing her forehead had hit had been his forehead. He was on his hands and knees over her, arms trembling and burning with the weight of…. Val took a sharp breath. The weight of the building on his back. The bomb. The courthouse had collapsed. They were in a small pocket under the rubble, something rough and concrete-feeling pressing down on White Knight’s back. A muffled grunt escaped his lips, and little bits of dust and debris fell around them.
How long can you hold it? Val asked.
As long as I need to, he replied.
Val didn’t buy that bravado for a minute. She spread out her senses as far as they would go. There had to be someone nearby. Yes! Police in the street. Her demand for help hit their minds so hard that several of them dropped to their knees. She paused, took a deep breath of the stuffy, dusty air, and slowly and calmly put the information into their heads that she and White Knight were trapped under the rubble.
I’ve told the cops we’re down here, she informed White Knight.
Can you sense Agent Lee anywhere?
He said the words “Agent Lee” in his mind, but they came alongside an image of the agent’s face and a gag-inducing feeling of friendship.
You want to let her know you’re all right? Val asked.
The sooner she knows I’m alive, the sooner she’ll get every bystander to start digging through the rubble, bully the mayor into lending resources, and locate the nearest construction site to commandeer equipment from.
Val had to admit that sounded pretty good. She searched for the agent’s mind. The woman shouldn’t be hard to recognize since Val had just been in her head a few minutes ago, but she couldn’t find her. Must be out of her range. She hopped around the minds of the people who were in her range, looking out through their eyes. Aha. There was the agent, wearing that baggy brown pantsuit that looked worse every time Val saw it. She was standing on the other side of the street away from the rubble, yelling at a very nervous-looking police captain.
“Agent Lee!” Val made the police officer whose eyes she was borrowing shout. “Agent Lee, over here!”
Agent Lee’s head spun around, a frown on her face when she didn’t recognize her caller. She probably wasn’t normally the type of person who ran when someone shouted, but she was desperate for good news, so she jogged across the street. The moment she entered Val’s range, Val downloaded a summary of the situation into her head. Agent Lee jerked to a halt, swearing, but then a bubbly feeling of relief filled her chest.
He won’t be for long if we don’t get out of here, Val prodded.
Agent Lee stiffened and said in a professional voice, “Leave it to me.”
Val withdrew her consciousness, leaving the minds of everyone in the chaotic, sunny streets and returning to her own body in the dark hole. I told her, she told White Knight.
Good, he replied.
Val had the sudden urge to go back into Agent Lee’s mind for an update even though it hadn’t been ten second yet, to check on the police out there, to do anything other than think about the hot, stuffy air she was breathing and wonder how long before she suffocated or White Knight collapsed under the weight of the rubble. She had to distract herself. She had to distract White Knight from how his arms were trembling and his back was practically numb.
So…she thought. Your name’s Dave.
With his knees touching her outer calf muscles, she could feel him shift slightly. What about it?
Nothing. You just don’t seem like a Dave, is all.
What’s a Dave supposed to seem like?
I don’t know. Not like you.
Silence. Something warm and wet dripped onto Val’s face, and she was pretty sure it was White Knight’s blood. Make that Dave’s blood. She tested the name out, getting a feel for it.
I’m Val, she said.
I know your name, Ms. Belmonte. Your criminal record is public.
You know, our corpses are going to be squashed together so tightly that they’ll have to bury us in the same coffin. I think we’ve reached a first-name basis.
We’re not going die. His thoughts were as solid and unshakable as a mountain. I won’t let it happen.
Fine, then. But we should still be on a first-name basis. Think of all we’ve been through together. Remember when I robbed that bank and you tried to stop me? Or when we fought Dr. Sweet? Or hey, what about five minutes ago when we beat Pretty Boy Jeffries? Those were good times.
You and I have very different definitions of the word ‘good.’
Val smiled. Then she sensed the first people beginning to pick their way over the rubble. Rescue workers. This way, she told them, guiding them to the right spot. They started shifting small chunks of concrete, broken plywood, and twisted beams of metal. But they didn’t have super-strength, and there was a lot of debris to move.
They’ve started digging, Val told Dave, figuring he could use some encouragement.
See? he thought. I told you we’re not going to die.
Val would have rolled her eyes, but eye rolling was something you did after the rescue when someone said “I told you we weren’t going to die.” It was too soon for that, way too soon. The floor seemed to sway beneath her like a boat atop waves, and she told herself the dizziness was from nerves and not a lack of oxygen. She squeezed shut her eyes, though it didn’t change anything. She didn’t want to die here. She wanted to die at the age of ninety-nine from a heart-attack brought on by overactive sex with at least two younger men. Getting crushed under a courthouse was not part of the plan.
A low rumbling started above them, and then something crashed. Dave gasped and dropped, and every muscle in Val’s body tensed. When crushing pain followed by death didn’t immediately happen, she cautiously expanded her senses. Dave had been driven from his hands to his elbows, but he hadn’t completely collapsed. He was so close to her now that his breath tickled her face.
Are you okay? he asked.
Me? Are you okay?
I’m fine. The rescue workers?
Val searched them out, feeling a lot of pounding hearts and panic but no agonizing pain. They’re good. Just startled. There was a bit of a landslide, but no one got caught in it.
But it was going to take them some time to calm down enough to start digging again, and once they did, they’d be going more slowly and carefully. Val didn’t have that kind of time. She sent a burst of determination to each of their minds, a subtle-enough form of mind-control to get them working. It was the only thing she could do, and she had the slimy suspicion that it wouldn’t be enough.
She would have laughed if she wasn’t afraid it would use up too much air—or that she’d end up crying. You know what the worst part of this is? she asked White Knight.
My driver. Old mob hand. He said going to fight the Monstro Gang was a needless risk. He’s probably going to carve ‘I told you so’ on my gravestone.
You’re not going to die.
That’ll be even worse. Every time we get into an argument, he’ll be like, ‘Remember the Monstro Gang? I told you not to go, and you ended up buried under an exploded building.’ He’ll never let me live it down.
I know you’re hoping for sympathy, but I’m going to have to side with Eddy. You shouldn’t have come.
Now Val really did roll her eyes. And what would you have done if I hadn’t?
Improvised. And while we’re on the subject, you shouldn’t have kidnapped the Prophet Kid, either.
Please. You were happy to see me. You were probably happy to see the Monstro Gang, too, since it meant you wouldn’t have to sit through the trial.
They’ll reschedule it. I just hope the what the Monstros did today doesn’t bias the jury against the kid.
Val wished she could see his face. You don’t think he should go to jail?
He’s a dumb teenager who made a mistake. He deserves a second chance.
Oh my God. What did you do?
You say that like you have experience. What stupid thing did you do when you were a teenager? Did you break the law? Was White Knight a juvenile delinquent?
Her squirmed, causing a slight shift in the rubble. That’s really not relevant.
Come on. We’re about to die together. You can tell me.
You’re not going to die, Val. I won’t let you.
Heat spread across Val’s face. Was that a blush? Nope. Couldn’t be. And if it was, it was only because he was so embarrassingly earnest. She became suddenly aware of how their bodies were touching in ways that usually only happened after Val and the man in question had shared a couple of drinks. Hm. If it wasn’t for the looming threat of getting crushed to death, there would be something weirdly erotic about the situation. But, you know, there was the looming threat of getting crushed to death. Kind of a mood-killer.
Do you hear that? Dave asked.
She did. A scraping noise, and it was close. She extended her senses and found someone much closer than she expected, tugging at a particularly stubborn piece of stone. Val grabbed the minds of three other people in her range and told them to help. Together, the group heaved—and sunlight streamed into the darkness, illuminating Dave’s face inches from hers. He turned his head, squinting as he looked out the hole above them. It wasn’t nearly big enough to crawl through, but it let in air. Hot, humid air filled with dust from the wreckage, but it felt as refreshing as if it had come from a cool, mountainside forest.
“We found them!” someone shouted from the other side. “Over here! We found them!”
Val exhaled, feeling as exhausted as if she’d been the one holding up the concrete rubble.
It looked like she wasn’t going to die today after all.
Sorry for the delay in getting this up. Work has me swamped. I hope the longer than usual update makes up for it.