Author's note: In a sense, this chapter is the main reason I wrote this story. I had the idea of Lindsay, strapped to a chair, being told about a vast international conspiracy, and her responding that they don't have near the amount of power they claim. The idea of secret organizations controlling the world is a common one in superhero stories, so I wanted to play with that a bit. The end of this chapter was also something I wanted to do. All feedback is appreciated.
The man was blond, and handsome for an older man. He wore a fine suit and a confident smile, and he spoke English with a slight European accent. "So, I hear you children are friends of Jihad. Is that right? I suppose I should apologize for you being dragged into all this, but we have certain plans we don't want to see disrupted."
"Who are you?" Lindsay asked.
"Who I am is of no importance," he waved his hand dismissively. "Suffice it to say, I represent an organization with interests in the region. Jihad's presence didn't serve those interests, so we were forced to remove him from the equation."
"What's your end game?" Lindsay asked. "War?"
"What's that expression?" he said. "Money, dear girl. We are out to make money. So we manipulate situations to our benefit. Sometimes, that means pushing towards peace. Sometimes, it means pushing towards war. Whichever would be more profitable at any given moment."
Lindsay studied him. "Bullshit," she spat. "You're lying. You don't have anywhere near the influence you're claiming, do you?"
The man laughed. "Oh, I like you!" he said. "You're smart. No, you're right, of course. We do have some influence, but not as much as we'd like. But we make do. In any event, Jihad was a problem we had to do something about."
"So who makes up your group?" David asked. "Where are you from?"
"I'm from Belgium, actually. But we come from all over. English, Germans, French, Americans, Russians, Chinese – we have Israelis and Arabs in our group. We're quite the little United Nations. But we're united in secrecy, and in the name of profits."
"You won't get away with this," Kevin said.
"Really? You heroes actually say stuff like that? Huh. I thought that was just a movie thing. Well, I'm no cliched movie villain. I'm not going to give some sort of line to be ironically echoed before I fall to my doom."
"Where would you fall from?" Stephen asked. "We're underground, aren't we?"
"I was joking," the man rolled his eyes.
"So what are you planning on doing with us?" David asked.
"I haven't completely decided yet. Probably kill you, though it seems a shame to waste potential resources. Still, you're superheroes. It would probably be more bother than it's worth trying to brainwash you or anything. So, odds are good we'll line you up and shoot you." He glanced at Rika, who'd had her head down since she was brought in. "Don't worry, we'll make it quick. I know this must be upsetting to you. I sincerely apologize for all this."
"I'm not upset," Rika said quietly. "I'm concentrating."
"What? Concentrating? What do you mean?"
The damper collar suddenly split right in half and flew off her neck. She snapped the ropes holding her, punched the man, then erected her force field around all her friends. Stephen snapped his own ropes, then worked on freeing the others. "How did you do this?!" the man demanded.
"I'm curious about that, myself," Kevin said.
"I actually know a bit about these kinds of dampers," Rika replied. "They're designed to work through brute force. A little subtlety goes a long way. And that's what I did. I focused on creating my force field in a very specific spot. Piece of cake, given all the hours I'd spent training on doing exactly what I just did."
"And my strength can only be brought down a certain amount," Stephen said. "So I was still strong enough to snap these ropes."
"You still can't win," the man said. "You may have your force field, but you can't protect your friends forever."
"I doubt she'll need to," David said. "One of our group is missing, and I'm betting she's not back in her cell."
The man turned to the guards. "Who's missing? What's that kid talking about?"
"Don't worry about it," Lindsay said. She'd also been quietly concentrating. "You're going to have bigger problems in a minute."
A few minutes earlier.
After her friends were strapped down, Zelda sneaked off, looking for Jihad's cell. She found it quickly. There was a guard outside it, but he was easily dealt with. She chopped him in the throat, kneed him in the groin, and slammed his head into the wall. She grabbed the key off his body and opened the cell door. "Who are you?" Faizal asked.
"A friend," Zelda replied as she closed the door behind her. "Or, well, a friend of a friend. Or a friend of a group of friends."
"I understand," Faizal said. "Can you get this collar off me?"
"Yes. It'll just take a couple minutes."
"Is . . ." Faizal started to ask, but then stopped.
"Is Lindsay OK?" he asked.
"She was a couple minutes ago. So she means a lot to you, huh?"
"Yes," he answered simply. He kept thinking of her, and then he felt her mind touch his. He felt a sense of relief from her. She didn't seem to be able to communicate, but he tried to let her know he was OK, and that he would soon be on his way. He heard some commotion in the hall. "You need to work faster," he told Zelda.
"I'm almost done," she replied.
"Down on the ground!" a guard yelled. "Or we'll shoot you! You have until the count of three!"
"Now would be good," Faizal said.
"I know, I know," Zelda hissed.
"Got it!" Zelda said triumphantly as the collar unlocked.
"Three!" the guard outside shouted.
Faizal immediately threw a fireball at the cell window. He didn't have time to get his heat up, so it wasn't a powerful fireball, but it did scare the guard away from the window. This gave Faizal a chance to gather more strength. He threw another fireball out the window, and he heard an agonized scream. It made him smile, even as Zelda flinched. His anger let his heat build up quickly, and he melted through the door. Zelda guided him back to where she'd left the others, and he burned anyone who got in his way. The flames covered most of his arms.
"Faizal!" Lindsay cried when he came in. She ran over and hugged him. He damped down his body heat to avoid hurting her.
"I'm glad to see you're OK," Faizal said.
She looked at him. "To Hell with it," she said. She planted a big kiss on his mouth. He was startled, but then returned it gladly.
Zelda moved close to Rika. "He killed some guards," she whispered. "I've never seen anyone die before."
"Are you going to be all right?" Rika asked.
"I'll try to keep it together until we're out."
"Good. We still need to get the collars off the others."
"I'll do it quickly," Zelda nodded.
She started with Kevin. This allowed him to take over force field duty from Rika, so Rika could fight guards. Zelda then removed the collar from Lindsay, then Stephen, and finished with David. "Now that we're all free," Lindsay said, "let's get out of here. We need to get back into Israel, so we can get back to our plane and head home."
"I need to get back to my people," Faizal said.
"You're coming with us," Lindsay said firmly. "You've been beaten badly, and we made a promise to take you to America."
Faizal hesitated, then let out a grumble. "Fine," he said. "I'll go. But first, I will kill everyone in this place."
"Do we know which way to go?" Zelda asked.
"They've got that telepathic scrambler up," Lindsay said. "I can keep all of us in communication, but I can't read any of the thugs. So I don't know where to go."
"This way," David pointed down a hallway. "I can feel a breeze."
Zelda stood beside him. "I don't feel anything," she said.
"I tend to be a little more sensitive to air currents," David explained. "I'd say we're maybe a quarter-mile from an exit."
"Then lead on," Lindsay gestured.
"Lead on, Macduff," Kevin said. Everyone looked at him. "Um, I read it in some old comics. I guess it must have been a pretty common expression a while ago."
"Let's just go," Faizal said. He walked down the hall.
"Wait," Rika said. "I'll take the lead, in case there's any guys with guns." She ran ahead and went around the corner, and saw a group of men with a pair of RPGs. "Oh, son of a bitch."
They fired. As she did in the town, she caught the grenades inside her force field, smothering the explosion. Faizal stepped beside her and fired a stream of flame down the hall. The screams of the men were short. The others shuddered. "Let's go," he said coldly.
They moved through the tunnels, following David's directions. They would occasionally find guards, who would be dispatched quickly. Finally, they saw the exit. "They're going to have their forces grouped outside," Rika said. "Given how well-organized they seem to be, I'd bet on a lot of dangerous weapons. It may even end up being too much for us."
"I'll scout ahead," Zelda said. "See what we're up against, maybe see if I can find anything that might help us. I'll be back soon."
She walked out the doors. She saw dozens of soldiers, a few armed with grenade launcher, and even a rocket launcher. There were two trucks with big machine guns on top. The odds were definitely stacked against the kids. They'd need an edge. She had an idea, but it was going to be insanely dangerous. She returned to the others and explained it. They didn't like it, but they agreed to let her try. She went back outside, and grabbed a couple of grenades. She went beside one of the shacks scattered around the camp, then pulled the pin on one of the grenades and threw it at the nearest grenade. The explosion startled the whole camp. The man with the rocket launcher fired it at the tunnel entrance, collapsing it. Zelda smiled; that actually worked to her side's advantage. She moved around to get close to a second grenade launcher, and threw her second grenade.
That explosion acted as a signal to the others. The rocks blocking off the entrance shot in all directions, care of Kevin's telekinesis. He got lucky, and one of the larger rocks knocked down the third man with a grenade launcher. The rest of the heroes rushed out after the rocks. The camp was in enough confusion to prevent an organized counter-attack, but they still had a huge numbers advantage, and plenty of powerful weaponry left.
Rika and Stephen rushed one of the trucks, Rika using her force field to keep the bullets from hitting Stephen. He lifted the truck above his head, then hurled it at the other one, taking both out. Kevin used his telekinetic force field to protect Faizal as he shot his flames at everyone he could see. David launched into the air, trying to draw fire. No one noticed him, so he chose instead to get into the fight. He swooped down and grabbed a grenade off an unconscious soldier, then he threw it at an unmanned truck. He saw Zelda hot-wiring another truck and relayed it to Lindsay.
"Zelda's getting our escape vehicle!" she told the others. "We just have to hold out for another couple minutes."
Stephen smashed into one of the shacks, and saw an odd device. He wasn't sure what it did. So he picked it up and tossed it through the wall, scattering more soldiers.
"Hey, the static's clearing!" Lindsay said. "Great!" She got a psi-flash warning from David. "Rocket launcher! Kevin!"
Kevin looked, and saw the rocket fired. It was a strain, but he hoped he could throw it another direction before it exploded. It turned out he couldn't. It exploded before he got the chance, and the feedback was too much for him. He passed out, and his force field dropped. David flew in and grabbed the rocket launcher to make sure it couldn't be used again.
"They're vulnerable!" the big soldier in charge shouted. "Shoot to kill!"
Rika got to them just in time to get her own force field around them. "Dammit!" she shouted. "I can't keep this up much longer, guys! We need to get to cover until Zelda gets here!"
"The tunnel's not going to work, they can just collapse it with grenades," Lindsay said. "We'll make a run for the shack Stephen's in."
"Fine, sure," Rika said. "I'll carry Kevin. You follow close."
They ran towards the shack. Lindsay tripped on a rock, and fell outside Rika's force field. Before Rika could expand it to cover her again, Lindsay took a bullet in the leg. "Lindsay!" Faizal shouted. "You animals!" You will pay for hurting her!"
His flames got more intense, and spread over more of his body. Rika and Lindsay were forced to avert their eyes. He threw fireballs everywhere. Screams filled the air, but it wasn't enough for him, and he kept burning hotter. "Faizal!" Rika shouted. "It's too much! You're hurting us!"
"Then get to cover!" he shouted. His voice sounded distorted. It crackled and hissed. "I am leaving none of these bastards alive!"
Lindsay opened her mouth to argue, but she could see in his mind that he was serious. She lifted herself up and leaned on Rika for support. "Come on," she said. "He's not going to back down."
David watched the fight from above. Fire spread through the compound. It was awesome, but he also felt sick at the amount of death. Down in the shack, Lindsay watched through David's eyes, and cried. She could feel the hate in Faizal's mind, and through David, she could see the results. She feared for Faizal's future.
Finally, even his anger had to burn itself out, and his flames faded with it. He doubled over, panting with exhaustion, but with a grimly satisfied smile. He was certain he'd killed them all. He didn't notice the bit of movement behind him. Mikael was injured badly, but he was still alive. He managed to crawl over to the assault rifle laying nearby. Faizal turned around, and their eyes locked. Before Faizal could react, Mikael opened fire. A bullet hit him in the gut, another in the chest, before Rika got her force field around him.
"No!" Lindsay shrieked. She turned to Mikael and attacked him with her mind. She'd never tried it before, but her anger gave her strength, and she fried his brain. He seized up, then collapsed, a blank expression on his face. Lindsay ran over to Faizal, laying on the ground. "Oh God. Oh God. Please don't die."
"I feel cold," Faizal said. "I haven't felt cold in years. Since my powers developed."
"No no no no," Lindsay said. "We're getting you out of here. Back to America, where you can have a second chance at happiness."
"With you? That might have been nice. But Palestine is my home. Make sure this is where I'm buried. Don't let my body rest outside my home. Promise!"
"Try not dying!" Lindsay shouted.
"Zelda brought a truck around," Rika said. "Dave's signalling that someone's coming. We need to get out of here now." Lindsay didn't respond, but she nodded. "Steve, put Faizal in the back. Lindsay, I'll help you in. Zelda, follow Dave. He can see a long way off, so he'll lead us to safety."
Once everyone was in, Zelda drove off. Lindsay sat next to Faizal, holding his hand and stroking his forehead. She formed a psi-link with him, letting their thoughts blend together. She could feel how close he was to death, but she was also able to keep him from feeling pain, by feeling it for him. His emotions were jumbled up. He was angry, as he always was. He was scared of dying, and felt guilty that his faith wasn't stronger. He though Lindsay's thoughts were lovely, and that she shouldn't be exposed to his own. She assured him it was OK.
And then, finally, he was gone. She felt him pass on. One moment, they were re-living a dance they'd shared. The next, he was empty. Tears streamed down Lindsay's face. "He's dead," she said quietly. Rika put a hand on her shoulder, then pulled her into a hug.
"I promised we'd save him," Lindsay said. "I failed."