First time reading? Start at the beginning here.
The fire alarm screwed with Val’s focus. The grating siren was so overpoweringly loud that it made it hard to pay attention to anything else. One of the security guards had set it off to evacuate everyone from the building, and Val wanted to murder him for the assault on her eardrums. She didn’t have time, though. She rushed down the hallway after Blueblood, scanning telepathically for threats. The alarm’s wailing couldn’t quite cover the sound of Blueblood cussing out Leo, and Val caught the words “dumbass” and “—get himself killed.”
Leo had run off to deal with some DSA agents they’d come across, which hadn’t been part of the plan. He was supposed to stick close to her and Blueblood. Blueblood’s plan to use him as a puppet to control the Tsubaki Syndicate wouldn’t work if he got himself killed. But Leo didn’t know that. When he’d dashed off, his thoughts had been of how much he’d impress everyone with his badassery, and his heart had pounded in anticipation. Val could have used mind-control to stop him right then, but she hadn’t bothered. Blueblood might need him alive, but whether he lived or died made no difference to her plan.
“Stop!” she shouted, before one of Blueblood’s men opened the door to the stairwell.
She could sense a handful of agents coming down the stairs, alert for any sign of what had caused the alarm. Since they hadn’t spotted her, Val could take her time in dealing with them. She went into the first one’s head and rendered him unconscious. His mind disappeared from her senses, but she could feel the panic of the others as he collapsed and fell down the stairs. So she jumped into the next one’s head and did the same thing. She took them out one by one, and by the time she reached the last man, he was bolting back up the stairs and holding in a scream. A supervillain throwing fireballs at your friends was scary, but at least it was comprehensible. Watching them drop to the ground one by one for no discernible reason pushed the limits of horrifying.
“Okay, go,” Val said, once she’d knocked him out.
Blueblood looked over his shoulder one last time to check if Leo was catching up with them (He wasn’t.), and took the lead.
The sound of the alarm was even worse in the stairwell, echoing off the smooth walls and multiplying into a never-ending cacophony. Val wished she could switch off her ears and made an effort to focus on her telepathy. She sensed fewer minds around them. Most of the non-combatants seemed to have left the building.
They hurried up the stairs, stepping over the unconscious DSA agents. Val sensed a few stragglers approaching the stairwell from the fourth floor, and she put the thought in their heads that the stairs were out of order, making them turn around and find another way out of the building. Later, they’d wonder what they’d been thinking, but for now, nobody questioned the incongruity of it. Val preferred to keep people out of her way rather than get pulled into another shootout. She couldn’t believe she and Blueblood had made it this far into DSA headquarters without getting gunned down. At some point, their luck was bound to run out.
After five flights of stairs, her thighs were starting to twinge, and Blueblood took them back into the main building. The seventh floor looked exactly like the second: gray doors inter-spaced along gray walls, shiny plaques labeling otherwise indistinguishable rooms. The carpet, at least, while plain gray in the center, had a patterned, geometrical border that gave the hall a bit of color. Val sensed someone approaching, tried to redirect them, and felt a flare of anger as they kept coming.
“Somebody with strong mental shields is incoming,” Val warned. For a split-second, she’d hoped it was Dave, but she would have recognized him even from a brief touch against his mind.
A DSA agent came around the corner, gun in hand, but Val’s group was ready for her. Instantly, one of Blueblood’s men shot the woman, and she dropped. Val’s group filed briskly past her body, and Val kept her gaze ahead, not looking down as they passed. They continued down the hallway until Blueblood walked smoothly through a door on the right. Its plaque stated “Records.”
The room was bigger than Val would have expected from the outside. Massive gray filing cabinets lined the walls, five drawers tall and an uncountable number wide. Each drawer was labelled with abbreviations she didn’t recognize scrawled in someone’s messy handwriting. Rows of shelves took up most of the floor space, reminiscent of a library, except instead of books, they held binders crammed so tightly together that there wasn’t enough space to slip a penny between them. A few desks were set up near the door, looking as if the shelves were edging them out of the room. Blueblood strode up to the computer on top of one.
He didn’t sit down but leaned close to the screen and grabbed the mouse. Whoever used the computer had a picture of a bright red Ferrari as the desktop background, an image that was quickly covered by a white window asking for an ID and password. Blueblood pulled a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket, carefully unfolded it, and set it next to the keyboard. Eyes on the paper, he began to type.
Val moved closer to look over his shoulder. The paper held typed instructions on how to access a secured database, and Blueblood was following it to the letter. A gift from his mole in the DSA, presumably. At some point, Val was going to have to find out just who that person was.
“And here we are,” Blueblood said in a low, throaty voice, like someone after a particularly satisfying round of sex.
The screen showed rows of personal information sorted alphabetically by surname. There were columns for codenames, dates of birth, addresses, medical conditions, and much more. The screen couldn’t fit all the info. It was a veritable treasure trove. Blueblood reached into his suit jacket again, and this time he removed a CD in a plastic case. He put it in the computer’s disc drive and looked back to the paper for instructions on saving a copy of the info.
On the edge of Val’s telepathic range, she sensed tenseness as someone—make that multiple someones—crept as silently as they could down the hallway, approaching an unknown number of supervillains.
“Company,” she announced.
“Take care of them.” Blueblood didn’t look up from the screen, where a progress bar showed the save as only thirteen percent complete.
Val signaled Joey, who moved to where Blueblood’s men were guarding the door. They readied their guns and waited for the DSA agents to come into view. The progress bar inched slowly up to twenty-eight percent.
“You’re still here,” Blueblood said.
Val thought longingly of taking the letter opener sitting on the desk and stabbing him with it in the jugular. “I don’t need to be over there to use my powers.”
Blueblood straightened up, taking his eyes off the screen. (Thirty-three percent.) “One would think,” he said, “that seeing as I hold your life in my hands, you’d make more of an effort to please me.”
“And one would think,” Val countered in the same tone, “that seeing as I’ve been absolutely invaluable since we walked into this building, you’d trust me to do my part in the plan. I’m not an idiot like Leo. You don’t have to micromanage me.”
“Oh, but I think I do.” He stepped into her personal space and drew himself up. “You’re laboring under a misconception, Val, still treating me like an equal partner. That’s not how this relationship works anymore.”
“I understand this relationship perfectly. Leo is God knows where, so there goes your plan to control the Tsubaki Syndicate. If you want to control the Belmontes, you need me alive.”
“Not true.” His blue lips curved into a grin. “You have two sisters. That’s two chances for me to try again.”
The wailing of the alarm faded into the background, overpowered by the roar of Val’s anger in her ears. Blueblood could play games with her all he wanted, but not with her sisters. Not a chance in hell. Val would kill him before—
Gunshots went off behind her. Val turned to see Joey and the others shooting around the doorframe. The DSA agents were right down the hall, and Val cursed Blueblood for distracting her from keeping tabs on them telepathically.
“We need more time.” Blueblood was looking at the computer. The progress bar had barely passed the fifty percent mark. “Hold them off.”
Val turned on her heel and strode to the door, reaching for the agents’ minds. She wasn’t kowtowing to Blueblood; she was doing the only sensible thing. They needed to buy more time to get the List, and despite having to put up with Blueblood for it, Val wanted the List. High-profile, heavily guarded, and immensely valuable, it called to her like a perfect diamond or priceless piece of art.
Scanning the DSA agents, she found one of them aiming at the spot Joey had last leaned around the doorframe, waiting for him to reappear. Val took control of his body and made him chuck his gun down the hall. Then, for good measure, she made him tackle the agent next to him. Leaving him to deal with the consequences, she slipped into another agent’s mind.
Through the agent’s eyes, Val saw a beefy older man stalk up from behind them. “Everybody get back and grab masks.”
Masks? Wait. The man had something in his hand.
A canister of tear gas.
Val instantly went for his mind, but she slammed into his shields like running into a glass door. She could sense his thoughts but couldn’t reach them.
The older man jerked. “Telepath!” he barked. “Everyone with shields below a seven get the hell out of here!”
Val couldn’t stop him. She grabbed the body of another agent, momentarily dizzied by the change in perspective. She fumbled with the agent’s unfamiliar hands as she pointed his gun at the older man. The older man saw it and raised the tear gas canister.
Val fired, but she wasn’t fast enough. The man flung the canister down the hallway, and white gas billowed out. A few seconds later, the agent’s eyes began to sting.
Val left his body, returning to her own in the records room. A ghostly stinging sensation lingered in her own eyes, though the gas hadn’t reached her yet. But it would get here soon enough.
She raced over to Blueblood. “We need to go. Now.”
“Not yet,” he said. The progress bar showed eighty-nine percent.
Val glanced at the door and swore she could smell the acrid tear gas coming.
Their time was up.
Bit of a longer update today. Hope you guys like it.
And in case you forgot that this serial is set in the 90s, Blueblood is downloading info to a disc. Remember those?