CHAPTER SIX

part VI

“Look out!” Ari yelled, diving back toward Roe, just as a great burst of energy exploded from the man’s glowing fist. The green wave tossed them down the aisle and upended the seats nearest him before dissipating into thin air.

“Ugh--holy--” Roe grumbled, as she pulled herself off the compartment floor, the dust settling around them, “I told you!”

Ari groaned, “How was I supposed to know?!” as she did the same.

They glanced back toward the door past the bent and blasted seats to find it empty, only a group of startled and bewildered passengers from the next car stared back at them through the exchange.

Roe cursed to herself, as Ari looked around, “Wait, where’s W0RM?”

Panic flooded Roe’s face, as she scanned the room before frantically typing her multi-tool. Seconds later, a steady feed following behind the man as he ran through one of the train cars projected into the air: W0RM’s POV. Roe’s concern faded into a beaming grin, “Good boy,” and she took off.

“Roe!” Ari yelled after her, “Wait!”

But she was already halfway through the next compartment shoving past the ogling passengers, grumbling under her breath, as she glanced between W0RM’s POV feed and the compartment ahead, waiting for the man to come into sight. But a gruff voice sounded behind her, “Stop where you are!”

Roe glanced behind her without slowing to see a schlubby Federal security officer trudging up the aisle after her. “Dammit,” she groaned, blowing through another exchange into the next compartment. And, for a split second up ahead, there was the man, sprinting and waving W0RM away, as the metal bird circled and squawked over his head. But, as quickly as he was there, he disappeared into the compartment ahead. Waving away W0RM’s POV feed, Roe sprinted flat out.

“W0RM!” she shouted, as she burst into the next car. The man and bird were nearly through the next door, but W0RM immediately chirped and glided to her. “Distract the Fed,” Roe shouted, motioning to the guard trailing in the car behind, and, with a whistle, W0RM darted over the heads of the confused passengers toward the schlubby guard.

As Roe entered the next compartment, she was surprised to find no signs of commotion or surprise. Only a few passengers turned to give her odd looks, while she stood breathlessly near the bathroom doors at the rear of the car. “Did anyone see--” but, before she could finish, the man burst out of the bathroom and tackled her against the wall. The two grappled furiously on the ground, the red desert a whipping past them in the windows above.

“You--son of a--who--are--you,” Roe managed to grunt out, as she slammed and kicked him furiously as they tangled, thwarting his attempts to drag her into the cramped bathroom beside them. “Who--” she started again, but the hiss of the adjoining exchange door sounded, and the man stopped, quickly ducking into the open bathroom with an annoyed growl. And in the split-second that the Federal guard stepped into the compartment, the man grasped his glowing amulet and vanished into thin air.

“Did you just--” Roe pointed into the tiny empty bathroom, as she scrambled to her feet.

“You’re...under...arrest...” the guard gasped for air, holding a pair of glowing energy-field handcuffs, as W0RM frantically flapped his wings around his head.

“What?!”

“For...the damage...and destruction...of Federal property.”

“I didn’t--it was the--he was just there!” Roe rambled. “They all saw it,” she pointed at the onlookers who said nothing, "Look at the security footage!"

“Come on,” the guard barked, still trying to wave W0RM away, “And tell this--thing--to stop squawking or I’ll have it destroyed.” He reached for Roe's hand but was interrupted by a voice behind him.

“Officer, wait!” Ari exclaimed. Seeing her, W0RM glided onto her shoulder, and she ducked past the rotund guard and grabbed Roe’s arm, “I can explain.”

And in an instant, all went black.

And then red, as Roe and Ari slammed into the ground with a painful thud.

The whirring of the train grew faint, as Roe groaned, “Ugh, what the hell was--” but her words were cut short by an involuntary bout of vomiting. After wiping her mouth and pulling herself to her feet, she found herself standing in the vast, red desert with the maglev train tracks stretching into the distance behind them. "What the--did you just--” she looked to Ari who was white as a ghost and struggling to stand, as W0RM hopped excitedly around her.

And with the utmost effort, she spoke, “Yeah...teleported...” before collapsing into the rusted dirt of the desert floor.


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