MERcURY OUT CoLD
Not Gdansk, not Paris, and definitely not San Camillo.
Dominic had beamed us to Drake City. In New England. In December. Outside.
Good news was, we were in the same place he’d landed us when we came here in the fall, trying to establish first contact with Airfoil for our showdown against Arkwright and his evil, sentient relic, the Hedron of Orbits. And being Christmas break, the grounds of Gunnison State College were deserted.
So there weren’t any witnesses as we trudged through the four inches of snow covering the walking path winding around the edge of campus.
“We’d better make contact with Procyon.” Dominic spoke through clenched teeth, I assumed because if he tried normal talking, the chattering from the cold would knock out so many chompers he’d need dentures. “They need to know what’s happened.”
“Yeah, I get that. Wasn’t planning to dial 9-1-1.” I used my fingers as an imaginary phone. “Hello, Emergency? Your local superhero’s been brainwashed by a villain—oh, and so has a warrior from another dimension and a California city cop. Sure, I’ll hold.”
“Will you stop it?” Dominic snapped. “This is serious.”
“No kidding.” I willed the pulsar stave to life and separated its halves. One went into the custom holster under my shirt. Warmth trickled between my ribs. “Here, want one?”
“That’s not a toy.”
“You’re right, it’s a powerful weapon capable of dismembering monsters. It’s also a source of heat when used properly.” Like on lukewarm slices of pizza. Probably best if I didn’t share that thought. “We’re stuck together. Let’s not freeze to death before we hit the first marker, okay?”
Dominic glared at me, but he took the half of the pulsar stave and stuck it in his waistband, between his shirts. “Thanks.”
We trudged on, our classy dress shoes poor snow boots. Their crunching through the icy top layer was the only sound nearby. Drake City’s roar of traffic, broken by the occasional siren, surrounded campus.
“Empire Strikes Back?” Dominic asked.
“Reaching the first marker. That’s from Empire. Those space horses—”
“Oh. I thought they rode horses—”
I held up a hand. “Look, I appreciate the attempt, but please don’t mess up the reference.”
“Right.” Dominic made a face. “Why haven’t you called Procyon yet?”
“Me? I thought the we in ‘We need to call Procyon’ meant you.”
“I…” Dominic sighed.
“What, are you out of battery?”
“No. We do need to talk about it, though.”
“About… your phone? Look, I’m not in the mood for word games.”
Dominic pulled his phone from his pocket. Typical smartphone, except for the module attached to the back. It was a slender, black oval with a white triple outline. Gold lights flickered in a triple curve along one side.
“Tachyon dowser,” Dominic said. “Liz designed it a few months ago, during the ongoing inventory of items lost after the destruction of Procyon head-quarters revealed that Crux’s sword was missing.”
“A tachyon dowser. Like, for tracking down relics that emit a tachyon signature. For tracking the sword.” A pounding sensation grew in my head, right behind my eyeballs. It matched my heart’s acceleration. “Handy thing to have on a bachelor party night, isn’t it?”
“Intelligence put down a few possible sightings.”
“Lemme guess—Paris and Gdansk.”
“Those were the first two on my list.”
I glowered at the asphalt patches in the snow. We were at a sidewalk on the edge of the campus. Only question was, where to next? “Did the guys know about this?”
“About my bachelor party being a front for a secret mission to nab Serena and the sword that I wasn’t told about!” A couple of pigeons sprang off the sidewalk. I wanted to whip out the pulsar stave and blast them, ala Duck Hunt.
“They didn’t. I hate to use the phrase, but it was a need-to-know kind of operation.”
“As in, Operations. Loredana’s branch of Procyon. Speaking of …”
“No. This was Alvarez’s play. Loredana’s just as unaware as you.”
Dominic cleared his throat. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“It’s just that, given your relation to Crux … He was family, after all, even if he was estranged. Alvarez felt that connection was too close to risk the operation.”
“I said, don’t worry about it. Which is Mercury-speak for, ‘Please shut up.’ We’ll worry about not telling each other things later.” I closed my eyes. This was a bad dream, right? I was gonna wake up on my couch—or even in a chair in a Parisian restaurant. I peeked. No such luck.
“At least you know why I had a pocket full of ski masks,” Dominic said brightly.
“Yeah. Good planning on your part. But Brandon—”
“I really think he carries one at all times.”
“Right.” I shivered. Pulsar stave or no pulsar stave, the wind off Sculpin Bay was knifing right through my bones. “We need to get indoors and get a change of clothes. And something to eat.”
“We’ve already had lunch and dinner.”
I checked my watch. Late afternoon? Jet lag slammed into me, and my tiredness exploded into full-blown exhaustion. Daytime then late night then daytime again … My head swam. “First thing’s first.”
I dialed home.
Two rings and Liz was right on it. Her sigh was so long I thought she’d deflate. “Mercury? Again? It’s only been a few hours. There’s really nothing—”
“Can it. Dom—Gemini and I are stranded in Drake City. We ran into Serena Cyr in Paris and she found a person with Medan genetic code to activate Crux’s sword so they could wrangle ancient evil nanites and then brainwashed Brandon, Teget, and Ramos into fighting us.”
“I—oh. Oh. That’d bad.”
“Yeah, you think? Extraction would be nice.”
“I better call Ms. Lark first. And Manager Alvarez—”
“Whoa, whoa, Alvarez?” No way I wanted to deal with that condescending paper-pusher after this mess. He’d probably ask me to sign a couple of forms before I concocted a new plan. “Forget about him. Get me a plane. Our allies-turned-bad guys are stuck in Dominic’s apartment.”
“At the entrance to the Transect?”
I stared at the phone a moment, lost for a reply.
“Gateway and tunnel from this Earth to an alternate one,” Dominic said. “Home to my doppelganger.”
“The evil doppelganger?”
“Super.” I shook my head. “Liz, you get all that?”
“Okay, um, yes, but they shouldn’t be able to gain access to that portal. Except Teget has the ax, right? He could activate the Transect like he’s done before to travel to the Interstice. Maybe …”
“Fine. So, get ahold of Procyon in Rampart. Have them send their security over to, uh, secure the apartment.”
“On it.” Her fingers clattered on a keyboard. “What else do you need?”
“Snow pants,” Dominic murmured.
“Friendly contacts here.”
“One sec …” Liz hummed. “Messaging you a number. Tyrone Thomas, Operations supervisor of the Drake City office.”
“What about Ms. Lark? Did you guys call her?”
“No, don’t worry about it. I don’t think she was in on this operation.” I glared at Dominic.
“Oh. Okay. I’ll contact Procyon in Rampart and see what they’ve picked up with their sensing equipment. Maybe they can give us some hints about what Serena’s up to.”
“What’re the odds Alvarez won’t find out?”
“If I ask the right people, we should be okay. Alvarez is still new and, um, sometimes he’s not very nice.”
“There’s an understatement. No, don’t worry about that part. We’ll take care of it. Thanks, Liz.”
I ended the call and handed Dominic back his phone. “Here. You call the Drake City office. Tell this Tyrone guy he’d better be the one to contact the Rampart people and have them send in security,”
“Sure.” Dominic punched up the number Liz provided. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, but you’re not going to like it.”
“If there wasn’t something I objected to, Mercury, I’d wonder about you.”
Guess he was getting to know me better. “Brandon’s son. The little punk who hung up on me when we were fighting that fiery fiend this fall? He knows about Airfoil. Called himself a partner when I labeled him a sidekick.”
“I’m sorry, are you wanting us to reach out to a teenager for support?” Dominic frowned. Fortunately, his lips weren’t turning blue.
“We don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. This isn’t like finding out an astral fiend’s gonna come charging out of a rip. We’ve seen Airfoil in action in a big way—he held up the entire San Camillo Bay in midair, for crying out loud! You think Procyon can handle him? I’m not sure the Air Force could.”
“But someone close might be able to get through to him, if we can pierce his powers.”
“Bingo. We already know the stave and your Echo Watches can do the trick. Of course, he’ll be harder to distract with Ramos and Teget …” I lost the rest of the sentence, and the idea that created it, as I pictured my brother and the guy who was closer to me than any dad I’d ever had.
“I’m sure they’re okay,” Dominic said.
“Yeah. I know. I’m not looking forward to fighting them. Teget’s a warrior; he can handle a beating. But Ramos is a regular guy, even with his training and whatever the symmachite creatures have done to him. This kid, dumb as it seems, could give us a psychological advantage.” I indicated our surroundings. “At this point, I’ll take all the help we can get.”
Dominic nodded and placed the call to Procyon’s Drake City office. I texted the number Brandon had provided. <Sean, it’s Mercury Hale. Your dad’s in trouble. The bad guys have him under their control. We escaped but need help beyond the usual. And a place to warm up.>
We kept walking. No way I was gonna have Dominic fire up his portals again, because we’d have to zap back to his loft.
And I didn’t want to face who or what could be waiting. Not yet.
The address came through, without any personal greetings. “Nine Square.”
“It’s a neighborhood not far from here, northeast. Quiet. Between Hull district and Gunnison.”
“Super. More Millennials and college kids.”
Dominic sighed. “You could easily fit both categories.”
“So could you.”
“Of the two of us, who has a steady, normal, job, a wife, a house, and a nice car?”
“Don’t forget the dog.”
“What about Sammy?”
I plucked a blond hair from his shirt. “Unless your wife’s taken to dyeing her black locks, Sammy’s a Golden Retriever. Also, I have a steady job. Probably pays better than yours.”
“I did say normal.”
“Okay, Gemini, the portal-producer who’s been tracking down evil doppelgangers from an alternate Earth.”
“I mean the architectural consulting I do for Procyon—”
“Fine, yes. You’re stable, I’m not.” I tapped my chest. “But I’m in charge.”
Dominic chuckled. “That’s great. Not all your jokes are funny, you know.”
I just shook my head. We made the rest of the walk in a gloomy silence, which got more sullen every block. It wasn’t until I rang the buzzer to the tidy brick apartment complex on Twelfth Street that Dominic piped up with, “I have seniority.”
“Of course. My position as an operative—”
“Is at least a year behind mine, maybe two. And if you’re gonna argue that you have a direct line to Loredana, I got news: Mine’s way more direct.”
“I didn’t mean … Not like that.”
“Geez, you two.” The voice crackling out of the speaker by the front door sounded as exasperated as the two of us put together. “You’re as bad as the old guys whining about their property taxes after church.”
“Sean? It’s Mercury.”
“Duh. I can read text messages. Unlike old people.”
“Uh, okay. I was serious. There’s—” We were out in the open. A guy walked his dog by, earbuds in place, scrolling through images. The terrier yipped at Dominic. “There’s a problem with your dad. As in, he’s not himself.”
The speaker went staticky. A sigh? A pensive silence? Maybe muffled profanity? My guess was some combo of the three. “Dad said he was going out to a party with you guys. Bachelor stuff.”
“Turns out there was a secret mission behind it. Not everybody was telling the truth.”
“There’s a shocker. Okay.”
For a minute I thought he’d blown us off but then the door unlocked.
“See? Piece of cake?” I grinned at Dominic.
He pushed past me and headed upstairs.
Sean met us at the apartment door. Tall, skinny, like all teenage boys are at one point. A lot of resemblance to his dad in and around the eyes, right down to the freckles, but the air was brown, an unruly mop. He chewed on his lip. “Hey.”
“Hey, kid. Mercury Hale.” I offered a hand.
“Borrow some of Dad’s clothes.” He turned away and started typing on his phone. “Then we gotta go. I’m calling an Uber.”
“Go? We just got here. And we’re supposed to meet with some … allies here in the city.”
“Then tell them to wait or something. I told Frank we’d be at his place in like fifteen minutes once he gave me directions.”
“Frank. A friend of your dad’s?”
“Sort of. Like a cranky uncle. But he trained dad.”
“Look, no offense, but last thing we need right now is the Obi-wan type.”
“Yeah?” Sean held up his phone. It played a YouTube video from a few months ago. I recognized the date. It was around the time Airfoil had singlehandedly stopped a gang of terrorists lead by the local supervillain from turning Drake City into his personal kingdom.
But Sean showed us an armored scout car blasting apart a convoy of SUVs.
“Frank,” he said.
“Okay.” I nodded. “Lead the way.”