“Okay, Sid, I know how much ya love wanderin’ ‘cross offbeat rags, but ya gotta put that scarf away. For cryin’ out loud, it’s too twenty-third century!”
“The SPACE Union flyer is timeless!” Sidney, sitting on a beanbag chair, reached up to her neck to adjust the fringed scarf. Embroidered on it was a conical spaceship with two glassy wings and six arcs of silvery-white light streaking above it.
“Dude, I don’t even know why Quentin’d wear such kitschy toggery.”
Penelope grunted a sigh. “Look who’s talking, Roosevelt. I’ve seen your cosplay.”
Cooper sharply guffawed. “Ha, you should see my latest work! Keeping lots of it behind the curtain for now — secrecy, ya know — but I’ll spill the four hundred smoochers I had to fork over to Lupus for a real-deal pack of bronzocast armor.”
“Speaking of Lupus Originals, they officially released the Double Zero comm collection in 2,388 stores across fifty-three world circuits three hours ago. Stirring, isn’t it? It even includes ocular tuners and gemaddium fibers! Oh, but if only Corbin and I had been fortunate enough to procure our own copies in the preorder phase.”
“If only, brother, if only,” Corbin said, spinning a hoop in his hand like a toy. “However, the supply should be available when we return from Lunatark.”
Drumming a hand on his thigh, Wyatt said, “If we return.”
Gene blanched and stared straight at him. Corbin had to calm him down by squeezing his arm and whispering to him. Penelope said through gritted teeth, “Thanks, Wyatt. Much cheerier this morning, aren’t you.”
“I’m being realistic. It’s unwise to delude ourselves into believing it’s impossible that this mission will leave us stranded in Lunatark or in some vaporous, inter-dimensional space.”
These words sunk into everyone’s minds as the vibrant aeroflora of Xavier’s office drifted over their heads. One of them brushed its crackled leaves past Cooper’s head, and he shooed it away. Then he spoke up, “Bladder’s emptier than usual this morn. Goody, huh?”
Just as Xavier strolled in with a light knock on the door, Dr. Fulbright in stride, Penelope said, “We don’t care one micron.”
“Don’t care one micron about what?” asked Xavier, swinging a briefcase onto his desk.
Gene instantly responded, “Cooper’s urological urges.”
Cooper motioned his hands at him as if to push him away. “Guh, fugeddaboudit.”
“How are you all today?” Dr. Fulbright said in a thin voice, pushing up his glasses, his eyes passing over the agents when they responded with okays and doing-wells. “The six of you embarking on this venture . . . Nothing like it in decades.”
Clearing his throat, Xavier produced a little bottle from his desk and drizzled a greenish-red juice over the aeroflora. “Accomplice finds space small/A crime to bare/Cosmic egg lies open/Hyperstrings grow too fast/Merciless time flies past,” he recited.
Corbin clapped his hands, then nudged his brother in the arm to encourage him to clap as well. Xavier bowed and swung out his arm, apologizing after he accidentally sprayed Wyatt in the face with some of the juice. Penelope gave Wyatt a wipe to clean it up.
Xavier made sure the agents had received the phones he sent this morning, and he showed them his own copy. It looked like an ultra-thin panel of flexible glass rimmed by a rectangle of matte white metal. “It’s a UCT, stands for Universal Communications Transmitter. Apt, since it transmits universal communications and will let us make calls between Cosmotic and Lunatark. We updated it from the devices used on the last inter-dimensional trip.”
“Not really a transmitter, is it?” Wyatt pointed out. “More of a transceiver.”
Xavier tried not to frown at his own UCT. “No, it uses a unique bandwidth to send and receive . . . Look, do I have to spend time validating the name? I had it laser-etched on the back.”
The agents turned over their UCTs, and Sidney said, “I like the bold font.”
Dr. Fulbright asked, “By the way, Gene, how’ve you been feeling since yesterday?”
“I feel wholly reinvigorated! Unfortunately, I have to wear this intraplug to flush any remaining traces of the poison from my body.” Gene rolled up his sleeve to reveal the blinking lump of metal and plastic snugly strapped to his upper arm.
Xavier said, “I spoke with the doctor to confirm that your intraplug can be combined with Quantax’s equi-meds. You need them to stabilize your systems when leaving the comforts of our reality. Depending on how sensitive you are, you can suffer from hallucinations, arrhythmia, loss of blood pressure, and so on. The equi-meds and, oh, what about the receivers?” The agents took out small foil packets and pointed out the oval devices on their belts or in their pockets. “Perfect, they’ll send Quantax the location alert so they’ll know where to teleport the extra rations of food, clothing, and weaponry. Did Janus call you this morning and explain?” When the agents said yes, Xavier removed six thin wristbands embossed with Web’s dragonfly insignia from his briefcase. “Try them on! They passed the prototype test. Designed them myself.”
They slipped on the wristbands. Within seconds a one-inch-thick skin of cool metal spread out from each agent’s device and seamlessly covered their entire body. The mask morphed into a white-tinted visor built out of two large diamonds whose downward points connected at the center, displaying the wearer’s eyes. Dim white light pulsed in circles around the neck.
Eyebrows lifting up his forehead, Wyatt tapped the armor on his wrists and said, “If I were to make a guesstimate, I’d say the suits are constructed from a polymole — ”
“Polymole material designed for the creation of molecularly-unstable solids.”
Xavier responded, “Wyatt, Gene, both of you are correct. More specifically, relkva, an artificial material borne out of Web. You’re being presented with the first official version of the Enviro-Exo, a suit that shields you from radiation, atmospheric pressure changes, radar transmissions. On your right arm is a computer to access your GPS and your comms channel.”
Cooper tapped the touchscreen to light it up. He held it up to his visor and squinted one eye. “Six teeny tiny dots inside the Foundation’s what I’m seein’.”
“Good, your computer works,” said Xavier as the other agents tapped their touchscreen monitors. “Now, you need to test out — ” He stopped when Corbin raised his hand. “Yes?”
“May you clarify the armor’s technological specifications for us?”
Dr. Fulbright answered, “The relkva belongs to a polymole class that’s similar to the one from which Sidney’s jumpsuit was built.”
“Grant, where’d you learn so much about the Enviro-Exos?” Xavier joked, turning back to the agents. Wyatt was rising inch by inch into the air at the same time as Gene, the others following them to varying heights, wobbling as they got used to the hovering. Xavier reared back and said, his voice dropping an octave, “Maybe you don’t even need me for these lessons!”
“Hepastes!” Corbin cried as he tipped too far forward and shot past a ducking Xavier. Throwing his arms backward, as if to halt his momentum, only made him whirl around and zoom just over Dr. Fulbright’s head. The resulting wind blew his hair forward.
“Corbin, Corbin!” Gene shouted, failing to catch his brother by the leg.
“You are so clumsy!” Penelope scolded, clamping a hand on Corbin’s elbow. But she was left to lurch aside when he swung around in a half-circle and smacked headfirst into Cooper. They screamed into a forcefield-shielded Wyatt, who released a small energy parachute to stop the three of them from rolling into Xavier’s desk. They were so tightly clumped together that it took some effort from the others, along with Penelope’s curses, to untangle their body parts.
Stretching out his shaky legs, Corbin retracted his mask and tried to catch his breath through rough coughs. “Advisor, these passed the prototype stage?”
“The flight system is balanced, I assure you.” Xavier stifled a laugh and looked off into space. “But what just happened reminds me of those early tests. Joyful times, joyful.”
Sidney tilted over to Wyatt and whispered, “Outdoes clunky pipes and bunchy straps.”
Xavier went on to explain that the Enviro-Exos ran off self-energizing power cores, and backup battery cells would kick in if they malfunction. He gave Holocloaks next, chains of little metal semicircles that clipped snugly around the neck. He smiled in approval as the agents apparently transformed into the muscle- and tendon-hewed bodies of Romuteli. “Oh, those’ll do you well. They have to if you want to retrieve the realidorr from one of the central towers.”
Still in his Romuteli form, Wyatt had a long, thick monobrow of tendons that appeared to shrivel up. “How do you know where it is?”
“I know you don’t want help, but I also knew Jeefa Village was one of the hiding spots, so I sent down one of our test drones. It disintegrated soon after entering the atmosphere. But it lasted enough to pick up realidorr-like signatures among the central towers. Keep in mind, the chief uses one of them as her office. Her name is Shemoaniir Mallig. If the realidorr — ”
“I believe we encountered a Romuteli with the very same name,” Gene broke in. “Ample build, domed leather helmet with a pair of horns, wields a club-like hook.”
Dr. Fulbright said, “The media was obsessed with her for trafficking Warbearer tech.”
Tapping his phone, Xavier said with an empty laugh, “She’s been a spike in our skin for years. It doesn’t surprise me if she has the realidorr in her tower. I’m sending the coordinates.”
Wyatt was the first to check the map of Jeefa on his phone and zoom in on the green flash circling the central towers. After he deactivated his Holocloak and his Enviro-Exo, and the others followed suit, he looked up at Xavier and nodded. “We’re ready now.”
“Before you go — ” Xavier paused to pick up the juice bottle and spritz a passing pot of bushy aeroflora. “This is no tiny feat. You know, I mentioned this to my husband last night, about how we Starsapiens, we boast about our love of exploration, our desire to map the unknown. But we’re naive at heart. Babies in our comfy universe. Few of us genuinely push for . . . for more.” Fiddling with the bottle’s nozzle, he drifted over to Sidney with a smile of unusually subdued warmth. “I’m glad I can count your parents as part of that exclusive list.”
Sidney nodded but said nothing, chewing on a mango-fudge spiral from her sweets case. Xavier continued, “Anyway, and Elmo told me that the six of you, could change that. Not only can you come back with the heylenorr, but you can prove that exploration is still in our hearts.” He stopped for a moment, then said, “That’s all I want to express. Now, let’s get you out there.”
As Xavier led everyone out of his office, they passed around lively chatter, including Penelope complaining about her bunchy underwear to Sidney. Wyatt was quiet for the most part until the group stepped out the elevator on the Foundation’s first floor, which was when he said, “Excuse me, but I’m gonna have to take a bathroom break.”
Cooper slapped him on the back. “Goody with that, geddit all out!”
“I’ll join you. I was thinking the same thing.”
Wyatt looked at Dr. Fulbright, then shrugged. “Okay.”
At the urinals in the men’s room, the sound of the steady trickling was broken by Dr. Fulbright saying, “You’ll always have a place at Rad-Bio, Wyatt, when you come back.”
Wyatt stared straight at the mirror in front of him. “Where would we be if the virus . . .”
“It would have been preferable for the project to keep moving forward on its tracks. This is nothing, though. It’s a temporary stop. We’re restocking supplies, coordinating a new route.”
“But it might not matter if we reach the end of the track and encounter Grimhet.”
Dr. Fulbright turned his head to look at Wyatt, absorb the furrows in his brow, and waited a couple seconds to zip up his pants and step back from the urinal. “You’ve remained unchanged, Wyatt. At least there’s that.” He started washing his hands. “Ever since your first day on the job.”
Wyatt didn’t say anything when he joined Dr. Fulbright at the sinks, staring too intently at the faucet. When they rejoined the group in the entrance lobby, Penelope said, “The two of you have, without a doubt, taken after Cooper’s irritating bathroom habits.” She made the word “irritating” sound like it had to claw its way out of a frothing muck pit.
“What can I say? My bladder’s contagious.”
Dr. Fulbright and Xavier wished the agents farewell on their mission, with Corbin noting how Xavier called them Stalwarts. “He likes the name,” Wyatt said, checking the map on his phone. “Now, let’s concentrate on sneaking the realidorr out of Alidiska Maj.” He strode ahead to the parking lot with such firm steps that they left a palpable resolution in his wake, something to encourage the others to catch up to him.
“Remember, don’t look up, don’t do anything to attract attention, and don’t piss off anyone with a knife. They tell you that in high school.”
“Define the last-mentioned requisite,” said Gene. “Is it ‘do not incite anyone with your knife’ or ‘do not incite anyone who possesses a knife’? The differences are slight but notable.”
Sidney scrunched her mouth into a sideways smile and said, “I’ll be generous, take both.” When Gene tugged at his curls with both hands and Corbin patted his shoulder, she said, “We already found all six realidorrs.” She turned to Wyatt. “What do you think?”
He took a few moments to simply answer, “Yes.”
“Oh Sid, oh Sid, why don’t we focus on what’s happenin’ in ol’ real life, that we’re diggin’ up a shiner smack in the center of Jeefa, where anyone up in those towers can spy on us?”
“Have a little more faith in her, Roosevelt,” Penelope scolded. “You wouldn’t believe how much she knows about import-export commerce, scavenging tally, and dark dealings under the full moon trade with scoundrels like the Riven Ring gang, and all by watching Nice Puppets and Grave Queen and all that other crime stuff, watching it way too much as a kid.”
“Penelope,” Sidney softly singsonged, like she wanted her to politely shut up.
“Sidney,” Penelope retorted in the same style.
“Let’s focus, agents,” Wyatt said, walking more briskly toward the stone walls and turrets up ahead, packed all around Jeefa’s border. Slots were carved every few feet to provide windows. Cables rose from the walls and were interwoven into a protective dome over Jeefa.
With the Romuteli settings of their Holocloaks, Gene, Corbin, and Cooper wore armored shirts and baggy pants and carried squarish backpacks; Penelope, Sidney, and Wyatt wore pocket-covered tank tops and striped kilts and carried clunky duffel bags. All of them looked hunched over and skinny, even Cooper.
“Our gaunt exteriors leave me extremely alerted,” Gene whined, itching the stubble of fibrous tissue hanging off his cheek. “What if this motivates Romuteli to torment and mock us?”
Penelope punched a fist into her open palm. “Then we’ll rip off their balls!”
“From what I read about Romuteli anatomy, they don’t have balls.”
Penelope’s eyes flared at Sidney. “They have groins, don’t they?”
Wyatt briefly smiled when he saw Sidney shrug, and then he turned to Gene, who was tapping his shoulder, holding up a five-inch gem that looked like fuchsia light solidified into a sphere. “Pardon me, but I packed this from Mr. Medanar’s abode. Do you favor owning it?”
Wyatt flicked his eyes down at the gem. “What is that?”
Gene’s hand pulled back. “I am uncertain as to the classification, but I did recognize it in one of Mr. Medanar’s textbooks. The sketch was untitled, unfortunately. It is pleasantly warm, and I feel more at ease with it in my pocket. A seemingly vacuous trinket, yes, but . . .” He held it out Wyatt again. “I have my own copy.”
“All right. Thanks.” Wyatt kept a steady face as he gently pinched his forefinger and
thumb around the gem and lifted it off Gene’s palm as if it were a dead bug. He used his other hand like a scale to weigh it and admitted, “You’re right. It is pleasantly warm.”
The agents stopped at the entrance, not because there were watchmen or a gate in the way, but because no watchmen were present and the thick wooden doors were swung out. A three-story turret of red, white, and gray stones stood on either side, decorated with pelts from ill-fated animals of all species and a few Starsapiens. More of them were scattered on Jeefa’s border walls. No Romuteli were looking out the slotted windows.
“Why aren’t there watchmen here? Wyatt said, scanning the activity close to the open entrance. Romuteli trooped in double file, drove leather-covered buggies, or laser-drilled wells into the ground. Siege towers, cannons, rams, spring-powered platforms, and other cumbersome war gear were being rolled across the courtyard on built-in wheels.
Whipping his head both ways, Cooper groaned, “Sid, ya told us on the gatekeepers keep things tight. But I’m not sensin’ those vibes at all. They’re lax, completes lax.”
Sidney colored. “Protocol must have changed since I last checked on them.”
“Unless this is a setup,” hissed Penelope, cupping a hand over her switchgun holster.
“What’re you doing out there?” yelled a Romuteli who was stomping up to the entrance.
“Egads,” Gene squeaked, itching his cheek stubble again.
“Get out of the way, we’re moving armaments!” The Romuteli waved in the disguised agents with one arm and motioned her other arm to the parade of cannons cla-chunking up to them. Cooper, Corbin, and Penelope rushed in so fast that dust flew up onto their shoes and legs. Wyatt, Sidney, and Gene lagged behind to stare at the Romuteli, who was adjusting her helmet and resting her oversized hook on the ground like a cane.
Wyatt was almost thrown off his feet when Cooper reached far back, grabbed his arm, and pulled him forward. “C’mon, ya snails!” Cooper hollered.
Sidney and Gene had to tear their eyes away from the Romuteli and sprint to avoid being clipped by an advancing cannon. Everyone was watching from the side as Romuteli pushed out the cannons, and then Sidney covered her mouth with a hand and said, “That’s Shemoaniir.”
Penelope said, “Who, the bulky one staring at us like we’re piles of rotten meat?”
Corbin corrected, “Actually, we are piles of rotten, living meat.”
“It’s her,” Wyatt confirmed, stuffing his hands into his vest pockets. He looked around at his team and silently guided them away from the entrance, away from Shemoaniir’s stare.
Corbin asked, “Are you sure it is her?”
Wyatt nodded, and Sidney said, “It is, I could never forget that hook of hers. And now, for some Teoönor-unknown reason, we snuck into Jeefa. With Shemoaniir away from the central towers, it will be that much easier to uncover the fifth realidorr. But we have to hurry.”
“Ya said it, Sid, cause we’re totally gonn’ pinch the next piece from their — ”
Wyatt made shushing noises, Sidney clapped a hand over Cooper’s mouth, and Penelope kicked his shin and growled at him to shut up. Corbin and Gene sucked in their breaths and shot their eyes from side to side. After a few moments, waiting to make sure the Romuteli were not paying them any attention, Wyatt made a subtle motion of his hand. The others followed him out of the entrance area, climbing a road where metallic clangs and screeches barely escaped the windowless buildings on either side. Thick green and yellow sparks popped out of vents near the edges of the rooftops, matching the colors of the lightning that silently streaked the dark sky. It provided quite the backdrop once the team spilled out of the road into Jeefa’s central sector, the towers standing high over them, casting jagged shadows in multiple directions.
Looking around once more for Romuteli, Wyatt put the portal disc and the realidorr together. He watched with great intent as the flash of green spun around and around the disc, then stopped to point directly at a tower on the left. It was stacked out of hundreds of mortared stones inlaid with gems in runic patterns, similarly to the other towers. But it was the only one to have five shields of grayed rib cages affixed to the entrance’s varnished archway and a purple flag nailed to the wall two feet above. The flag’s design was a dark gold hook in the center and a pair of narrow, ashy triangles in the upper-left corner.
“My oh my, what smells like feculent vegetation?” Gene said, pinching his nose.
Wyatt peeked through a barred window of a building to their right, his eyebrow twitching at what he saw. “Some sort of feculent vegetation.”
Gene didn’t get that good of a look at the mounds of plump fruit blotched with orange and yellow pustules before Wyatt hurried everyone up to the tower. “This is it,” he said, quietly but deeply, looking up from the spinning realidorr. “Gene, Penelope, Sidney, the three of you will stand guard outside. Call us if you see Shemoaniir.” He turned to Corbin and Cooper. “You’ll come with me.”
At the tower’s entrance Wyatt and Cooper gave Corbin space as he tapped the greasy computer screen built into the wall. The keypad flickered on. Snapping his fingers, he produced a small case from his pocket and opened it to reveal a keycube attached to a squarish phone with two transparent wires. Holding them close to the screen, he squeezed the keycube twice and tapped the phone. The whole keypad glowed brightly and then darkened with a double-beep.
Just as Corbin twisted the doorknob and pushed open the door, his left eye twitching, Penelope grunted, “Excuse me.” This made him, Wyatt, and Cooper whirl around in alarm.
“What the hell, Penny? Though’ you were a mussy there!” Cooper exclaimed.
“Mmm-hmm, sure, Mr. Whiner.” She rolled her eyes, then pointed straight at him, almost touching his nose. “Sid wants you to stay with us, for an interesting little plan she has in mind.”
Wyatt stuck out an arm between her and Cooper. “I’d rather keep the extra muscle. We don’t know what’s inside this tower. What is Sidney’s plan?”
Then someone drawled from inside the tower, “Who’s out there?”
Wyatt, Penelope, and Cooper realized that Corbin had already entered the vestibule, and they witnessed him using a pair of hoops to jerk a Romuteli to the floor when he emerged from a side door. A computer tablet flew from his hands and cracked on the floor. He tried to unlatch a club from his belt, but Cooper whooshed it away with a hammer head. Wyatt used his energy to tie up the Romuteli, gag him, and shove him into a sack. A second Romuteli dashed out from the same door with a stubby sword, but Penelope shot him down with her switchguns.
Wyatt told her after a moment of silence, “And this is why Cooper’s staying with me.”
“But Sid has a plan — ”
“That she can tweak according to the circumstances.” Wyatt projected a forcefield to guide Penelope out the door, practically pushing her. “Such a trait is called adaptability.”
When he closed the door to block out her glare, Cooper asked, “You okay, Com’dore?”
“As well as ever.” Wyatt pivoted on his heel and marched past him and Corbin. His gaze flickered over the desks covered with wooden racks that suspended beads and claws on leather strips. Using the disc-gem compass, he led Cooper and Corbin across the vestibule and up six flights of stairs, where they tried not to bump into the puffy curls of fur nailed to the walls.
On the top floor, three corridors spoked away from the stairs. The gem pointed directly at one doorway with a strip of glossy leather that bore the title Shemoaniir, Chief of Jeefa Village. “This must be her bureau,” said Corbin, wiggling a pointed doorknob of scratched wood.
Wyatt motioned him aside and inserted energy wisps into a hole below the knob, picking the lock with muted chi-chunks and then a click. The door opened with a surprisingly smooth and quiet swing. Right after entering the office, they had to take a backward step from the overwhelming amount of pelts, animal statues, and masks that filled the large office. Wyatt’s brow couldn’t furrow any more tightly when he laid eyes on a skinny potted tree with rusty red bones and dark pink flesh strung along the branches. As for a stuffed tigon that was posed to rear back and stretch its front paws a foot above its head as if to claw a Rampa, Corbin could not gaze at its orange-circled eyes for more than a couple seconds before he shuffled away to explore other parts of the disturbing room.
It was Cooper who, after looking out a semicircular window that overlooked Jeefa and the wasteland beyond, stopped near a conspicuously-empty spot in a display shelf of hooked clubs that resembled Shemoaniir’s weapon. It was as if a whole segment had been removed, leaving behind a panel of tarnished silver.
“Well, this is morbid,” Corbin commented, turning the switch of a lamp built from a soft, irregularly-grooved bone. The light shone a sickly white through the membraneous shade. The lamp itself stood on a small table refashioned from a long-snouted bear native to Utherwold.
At a large desk wrapped in grayish-brown leather, Wyatt waved his compass over the computer, the paperweights, and a framed picture of a skeletal Romuteli with matted hair styled into uneven curls and waves all around her head. The realidorr merely kept spinning around as if it detected the next piece coming from everywhere. He could only tear his eyes away from it when Cooper exclaimed, “Holy mudpies!”
“Let’s not announce our presence to the rest of this tower, please,” Corbin said as he and Wyatt joined Cooper at the safe he had just opened in between the shelves.
“How’d you find this?” Wyatt asked, his eyes flickering between Cooper and the glimmer of green embedded into the back of the safe.
“Oh man, the door was closed at first, but I pulled out a little handle in this empty space, clicked an’ clicked again an’ slid it side to side, an’ here we are!” Cooper drew in a huge breath, then loosely crossed his arms and stuck out a foot. “Ya know, all cahj.”
“I have half a head to let my Banshipp take you steaks for a lap around the village!”
“Of course,” mumbled Wyatt, looking over his shoulder at the large Romuteli scowling at them from the open door. She had her hook propped back on her shoulder in one hand and a rubbery flask in her other hand. The gash that Penelope’s switchgun left on her chin from the previous encounter had been sewn up, but it didn’t look much better swollen and blotted white, like a ridiculously giant whitehead.
“Why, hello, Shemoaniir,” greeted Corbin, putting his phone away, taking out four hoops. “We didn’t expect you to arrive — ”
“Because that was the plan.” Shenoaniir stomped two feet into her office and pointed her hook directly at Wyatt. “I know who you are, Wyatt Durrell. The Super Nex hero. The leader of your stalwarts. Naazang loathes you. He loathes you so much that I had to let you and your friends make this far into my village, even though I told him how much I hate it when intruders make it this far.” She scraped her hook along the stone floor with a skree-eeeep! that made the Starsapiens flinch. “But now I’ll take pleasure in killing you — ”
“We don’t have time for villainous ranting.” Wyatt projected a forcefield, then reached his arm deep into the safe. But he couldn’t pull out the realidorr; it was as if it had been fused with the recess in the back wall.
Shemoaniir flicked open the cap of her flask, clomped up to the forcefield, and sprayed it with a clear liquid that spread a foggy sheen across the cobalt energy. “You’re not leaving my village with my gem and ruining my plans!” Every further pump of her flask burned away layers of the forcefield, making Cooper and Corbin ready their hammers and hoops.
“Head for the window! Remember your suits!” Wyatt told them over the metallic whining of him carving a circle around the realidorr with an energy dagger.
Once he ripped out the chunk of metal with the realidorr still embedded in it, Shemoaniir shoved her flask into the forcefield, spurting the last drops of the corrosive liquid. A minor shockwave rippled through the energy. She tossed the flask away and reared back her hook in both hands, which was when Cooper virtually swallowed up Wyatt and Corbin in his beefy arms and leapt to the side. By the time the hook smashed into the forcefield and made it explode into thousands of shards, the agents were covered behind the large desk and in their Enviro-Exos.
When they jumped out the window, though, she bent over and rammed through Wyatt’s new forcefield with her helmet. She even clambered onto the windowsill and bounded after them, clutching Wyatt’s ankle, whacking her club at Corbin’s arm, spluttering Romutelian curses.
“What the hell are you morons doing up there?” Penelope screamed from six stories below, taking a short break from shooting and hacking at Romuteli.
“Swingin’ a sack a’ fun!” Cooper yelled back, clamping Shemoaniir’s leg to stop her from climbing up Wyatt. In spite of the leg-kicking and hook-thrashing, Corbin clipped a hoop to her belt and hurled a second hoop at her office’s open window. It struck the ledge and fell to the ground, pulling on the first hoop, dragging Shemoaniir off Wyatt, sending her into a plummet.
Dust and thin drops of oil scattered everywhere from her crash, which expanded into a fog that made the Romuteli exclaim in confusion and pause their battle with Penelope, Sidney, and Gene. Wyatt listened up for their quarreling after he, Cooper, and Corbin flew down into the fog, so they followed the noises and literally bumped into their teammates.
“It’s only us!” Corbin said in alarm, moving back from the Gelescent blobs, boomerangs, and switchguns aimed at him.
Sidney lowered her weapons and darted a wide-eyed look at Wyatt. “Come on, guys, we have to get to the vehicle shed.”
Wyatt started to ask why, but he stopped when a row of spiky yellow lights pierced the smoke overhead and targeted the team like searchlights. Without a speck of hesitance he domed a forcefield over them, rechecked the safe chunk in his satchel, and regarded Sidney. “Are you ready?”
“Okay, Sid, I know how much ya love wanderin’ ‘cross offbeat rags, but ya gotta put that scarf away. For cryin’ out loud, it’s too twenty-third century!”