Illumination 2.10: Lifesaving Techniques

“Can you help?” Natalie demanded of the little knot of people. “If you can’t help me, get out of here!”

The people stared at her, looking dazed. She didn’t interact much with ordinary people, but this cluster seemed particularly out of it. They were mostly young and fashionably dressed, but one of them, white, distinguished and dressed in a rumpled business suit, seemed like he should be doing more than staring at her like a traumatized cow.

Then she remembered how slowly the cops had moved, and how unprepared they’d been for Tainter’s assault. He could come back again. She’d hurt him, but what could these people do to him? They were slower, not faster.

Natalie grabbed the businessman by the lapel. “You have to get them out of here.” She shook him, harder than she meant to, and he gaped at her and tried to push her off, no stronger than her baby siblings.

“All right,” said a woman quietly, standing behind the others. She was smaller than Natalie and dressed in a shabby blue dress. She dropped the scrubbing brush she’d still been holding and took hold of the businessman’s elbow, and another girl’s hand. “Come on now.”

Satisfied that they wouldn’t stand around waiting to be slaughtered, Natalie turned back to Linc. His chest was moving up and down, but barely. She knew basic first aid, and she did what she could for him, but he needed intensive medical care as soon as possible. She suspected he was only alive because of the same strength that had infused both her and Tainter; he had to be sharing in a part of that. But even with that strength, how long could he last?

She used her latchkey on the window, hopelessly and in vain, and tried to weigh the risks of calling for mundane help.

“The transmitter…” whispered Linc. His eyes were still closed. She threw herself on her knees beside him.

“What about it?”

“There should be a transmitter above the emergence. Can’t be broken, that wouldn’t stop latchkeys. Modified?”

The emergence point was three blocks away. “Do I just leave you here?” asked Natalie, agonized.

A smile ghosted across Linc’s face. “I’ll play dead.”

Natalie nodded and ran down the street. She could feel the strange strength surging through her legs, the same strength Tainter had, that he’d used to murder at least two men. It made her feel sick, but she had no time for such indulgences.

At the emergence point, in the miniature hilltop park, she stared intently at the portal arch. The arch was at least twice as tall as she was. If the transmitter was up there, somebody had needed a ladder to place it.

But one of the stone blocks framing the arch jutted out just a centimeter more than the others.

She looked around for a trash can or something else to stand on, but she saw nothing that wasn’t cemented to the ground. For a moment she wondered if she could tear the trash can from the ground like Tainter had torn off a car bumper.

Then she shook her head at herself, bent her legs and pushed hard. Easily, she caught the top of the arch with one hand and pulled out the loose block with the other. Behind it was the pale ridged cube of the transmitter, with something unfamiliar attached to it. She dropped the brick and pulled it out.

A small metal ring surrounded a soft plastic cup containing shards of glass. Wires led from the ring to a circuit board, a battery pack, and the transmitter, and a metal rod connected the ring to the transmitter as well.

She roughly yanked the makeshift device away from the transmitter, then tucked the device in her pocket and the transmitter back in its niche. Then she fell to the ground again.

Landing was less magical than jumping. But she didn’t break an ankle and that was what mattered. She dashed back down the street to where Linc still lay. After confirming his breathing, she smacked the latchkey against the window.

The window gave off that clear, wonderful tone and her faint reflection rippled. “Yes!” She grabbed Linc by the ankles and dragged him through the portal curtain.

As soon as she emerged on the other side, dizziness swept over her. The preternatural strength vanished. Her father said, “Natalie!” Bewildered, she tried to scramble to her feet to finish pulling Linc through, and fell over again. Her muscles felt watery and limp.

Then Linc was laying beside her, and Ajax was kneeling beside her head. He stared at her with such intensity that she wondered if he was dying. It was nice, though. Even when she inflicted herself on him in class, he refused to look at her if he could avoid it. Now it seemed like he was trying to memorize her face.

He had a nice face, too. Nice eyes. A nice smell. She wanted to push his hair out of his face, and tell him he didn’t need to look so serious.

Natalie blinked, and realized her mind was as exhausted as her body. Her father hovered just beyond Ajax’s shoulder. He’d asked a question.

She fumbled in her pocket and pulled out the device. “This was attached to the transmitter,” she managed to say. Her father’s eyes widened.

Then Dr. Pepperman appeared with two assistants and two wheeled stretchers. Was she going to be confined to the infirmary again? God, she hoped not.

Ajax helped to lift her onto a stretcher, his fingers lingering on her shoulders. Others pulled her away from him. She was wheeled away, while the doctor and his assistants did more work on Linc.

As she passed through the Portalry door, Kentigern said, “Vancouver emergence lock-on reacquired.” There was the hiss and rush of a portal opening.

Then, right before the Portalry door closed, there was the sound of a deep, rumbling growl.

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