I wasn’t worried. Not in the slightest.
The sleepers were…something to think about, but Laura had that all under control. That wasn’t our job, we were just here to make sure nothing went wrong.
No, the thing I wasn’t worried about was Flynn.
“You can’t just run off on your own like that,” Derek insisted. “There was an emergency and you were nowhere to be found.”
Ling tried to meet his gaze and failed. “I was busy helping a friend.”
“Doing what?” She tried to answer, but Derek just cut her off. “I don’t care. You should have answered your phone, explained the situation.”
She planted her feet firmly. “I’m not a ‘sarian, and I’m not Akane. I’m not a soldier, I didn’t volunteer for any of this.”
Flynn had already proven willing to follow friends into dangerous areas. The fact that today’s screamers were relatively harmless was nothing short of a miracle, but probably not one that would be repeated.
He shouldn’t be doing that. It didn’t matter that he could handle himself in a fight; he wasn’t immune to infection, so he was always at risk. That’s why we always went in first. Was it really so hard to understand?
“Sometimes you don’t get a choice,” Derek retorted. “You’ve been recruited. Stand up and do your duty.”
Ling snorted and shook her head. “Seriously? That’s the best you can come up with?”
I needed a way to keep him out of danger, but nothing was coming to mind. Flynn might not have the stupidly unconquerable heroic spirit Derek did, but he still wasn’t one to let others get hurt when he could stop it.
I glanced over at him. He was taking a nap in a small folding chair, his sword held close. Adam was doing the same, though he had managed to secure a slightly more comfortable seat. Both of them had been up for too long. The rest of us should probably be sleeping too (except for the retinue, but they don’t sleep), but…well, Ling and Derek were yelling at each other.
Derek sighed. “You’ve been fine the past few weeks. What changed all of a sudden?”
Ling started looking distinctly uncomfortable. “Nothing, really. I just don’t like being tied down.”
He noticed the discrepancy instantly. “You’ve also never been afraid to share what’s on your mind. What aren’t you telling me?”
“I…I…” she floundered for a minute or two, but then her expression shifted, almost scary fast. She grinned, and took a step closer. “I’m hiding several things from you.” She stepped directly into his reach and put her arms around him. “Which I’d be more than happy to…reveal.”
“This is no joking matter,” he insisted, frowning. “If you don’t give me a half-decent explanation, Butler’s going to ask for your security pass back.”
She sniffed and laid her head on his chest. “Like I care.”
Derek pushed her away. “You should care. What do you think will happen if Butler writes you off as a loss?”
The little delinquent shrugged. “I get a black mark in the Necessarius books. So what?”
Maybe I should talk with that Canian, Guland. He was Flynn’s roommate, after all, he might be willing to help a little. He was off in the cell block talking to the Romanian that got hypnotized, but he’d be back.
Even if I could get Guland on board, that still left the problem of getting Flynn to listen. I suppose I could ask Derek or Laura for help…
No. Out of the question. This wasn’t their concern. I needed to handle this on my own.
“A black mark from Necessarius is a little more than a ‘so what,’” Derek said with a snort. “You won’t be able to get a job with anyone respectable. Unless you’re planning to join up with the Nessians? The Satanists?”
Maybe that was the answer. Convince him to get a job, something that would tie him behind a desk for as long as this stupid zombie apocalypse was still going on. Not a literal desk job, of course. He had too much energy to stay sane doing that. Maybe training? He had said he liked kids, maybe he could act as an instructor for one of the Necessarius junior classes. They taught kenjutsu at that level, which he could definitely help with. I had started learning iaido at about that age, but I’m not sure if that’s normal curriculum.
Ling just huffed. “Of course not. But there are plenty of options. The Belians would take me. They’ve never had a good relationship with the ‘sarians. Then there’s the Jotuun, the goblins, and the angels. I’ve also got some friends in the aves.”
“The Belians are just a bunch of chem-heads,” Kelly said from the door without even turning around, scratching the skin around her fixer slightly. “Stay away from them.”
Ling waved her hand. “That’s still four good options for me.”
“The angels require a level of devotion far greater than Necessarius,” Alex pointed out. “If you chafe under Butler’s command, the Saints will be infinitely worse.”
She scowled. “Fine. The goblins and the aves are perfect.”
Derek shrugged. “Even if you’re willing to go through the extensive modification required—which I doubt—neither of them has much power. You’ll be trapped in dead-end jobs for the rest of your life. Didn’t you want to be a director? That will never happen with them.”
Ling grinned. “The aves might surprise you soon,” she said cryptically. But then her smile faded. “Of course, I probably wouldn’t look good with feathers…”
“That’s one reason,” Derek deadpanned. He rubbed his head again. “Look, if you can’t make it because there’s an emergency, that’s fine. You’re only human, and its not like these things are happening on a schedule. Just call and explain it as best you can.”
She threw up her hands. “And I don’t think I should have to. This is a voluntary outfit.”
Derek took a deep breath, and I could tell her was counting to ten. “I know. I am just asking you to extend some common courtesies. Let us know when we’re going to be a man down, and why.”
Alex had some pull with the teachers, right? He had mentioned something about his friend being a Necessarian Lucifer. I should ask him. Maybe he could get Flynn a job. Of course, I still needed to ask Flynn, but I’d wait for Guland to come back. Present a united front.
Ling shook her head again. “You military types and your rules. Whatever.” She turned to leave.
Derek blocked her way with a barrier.
She cursed as she bumped into it. “Derek, what the hell—”
Without the slightest sign of hesitation or anger showing on his face, he grabbed the small girl by the neck with one hand, lifted her up, and slammed her back against his still-glowing barrier. The rest of us all scrambled back, knocking over our chairs in our haste to get as far from what was about to happen as possible—while still staying close enough to watch.
“In combat,” he said calmly, as if nothing was amiss. “A lack of intelligence can get a lot of people killed. Something as simple as not knowing what kind of shops are in the area can mean the difference between life and death.”
Ling struggled, but she just wasn’t strong enough. She wasn’t wearing her armor, and she had to be touching stone in order to move it. She also couldn’t talk; Derek knew just how to press on the throat to prevent someone from speaking without killing them. It’s harder than it sounds.
“One of the biggest causes of casualties in combat is reinforcements,” he continued. “Either the enemy has backup you don’t know about, or you don’t have the backup you thought you did.” He gave Ling a level gaze. “So I’m sure you can see why you always need to know when one of your soldiers is otherwise engaged.”
Ling tried to meet his eyes, but broke the gaze after a few seconds. That wasn’t so shameful; there weren’t many people who could do better.
Derek dropped her as he let the shield fade into wisps of azure. She gasped, sucking in as much air as she could. After a moment she calmed down, but she didn’t rise from the floor.
“I’m glad we had this talk,” Derek said, and left without another word.
Just as our fearless leader stepped out, Guland stepped into the room with a plate of doughnuts in his arms. He looked around at us all quizzically. “What’d I miss?”
Behind the Scenes (scene 71)
Ling’s power is slightly different from other kineticists’, in that she has a limitation called a “control radius.” Basically, when she’s touching some sort of stone (it doesn’t have to be directly, but close), she can control any stone connected to it within a certain radius—currently, about ten feet. So, for example, if she’s standing on the street, she can mold the asphalt within ten feet of her, but she can’t do anything to the rock sitting on the mailbox three feet away.
This limitation is one of the reasons she started with so much power; it’s what gamers call “min-maxing.” Taking small, unimportant flaws in order to gain more benefits. Of course, these decisions were all subconscious, which is why the stupid anime fan ended up with a better build than the team genius (that would be Laura).