Sam held herself up by a hand posted on a table while Kendra remained on the phone, relaying everything said to her. First came the indecipherable mumbling from the phone, then the clearly enunciated echo from Kendra. "They have stopped multiple times to ask directions." More phone buzzing. "A group of neo-nazis." Kendra oozed professionalism. "Can you tell us how many there are? No? How about an estimate? Four or five. Thank you for that. What abilities have they shown? Can they move things, are they influencing people, have any of them survived impossible injuries like gun shots or knife stabs? That's unknown? Are they readily identifiable at least? Short haircuts, wearing swastika and confederate flag emblems. And very important, how far away are they? Last reported downtown near the point. How long ago was that?"
Kendra pulled the phone away from her ear. "Ten minutes. Start snapping out orders to deal with this emergency, Sam."
"I . . . what should we . . . does anyone have a suggestion?"
Kendra ended the call. "Get to the roof. Whittaker and Sam, you're our only kinetics, so get in front and fend off any hostile coronas. Srinivas and Jimmy, use the meme blasts whenever you see an opening. McGreary is going to hang back as our medic. I guess I'm going to stand somewhere in the middle and call the shots. Let's get moving."
Before they had even reached the open door of the room, a rail-thin man with leathery skin and a piercing gaze swept into the room. A powerful corona came with him, pushing everyone back as it struggled to grasp them. Sam immediately began to corona wrestle, sliding clockwise to get upwise of him and then pressing downwise.
In the time it took to do that, the room sprang into motion. A truly monstrous meme blast erupted from Jimmy, sending everyone lacking noetic talent stumbling around in a stupefied shock. Jimmy followed that up by leaping forward to land a punch on the man's nose, then he bent sideways in a truly impressive display of flexibility to launch his shin into the temple of the man, who collapsed to the ground as everyone else remained in motion, either swaying like drunks or retreating in a panic. When Jimmy cut his meme blast off, Whittaker's staggering ceased in a moment. He squinted down at the man. "His brain is mush now."
"That's one down," Kendra said, "we have to take the fight to them now. Get moving. Sam, you're in front."
The words had the effect of unsticking Sam's feet, and she moved forward, pushing her corona out.
"I'm starting to think maybe I should ignite," Whittaker mumbled to himself. "Losing twenty years of talent is better than losing a fight for my life."
In the hall outside, a second man fired a gun the moment Sam reached the hall. Time slowed as she pushed her mindvasting to the extreme. Options blossomed in her head like a flow chart. Dodge to the side? No, the people behind her were more vulnerable to physical damage than her. Catch the bullet with her corona? Most likely she could not locate it and stop its momentum in the sliver of time she had. That left hardening herself and hoping for the best. Sam squeezed her eyes shut as she made the skin covering the front of her body into an unbreakable barrier.
Three rounds pounded into her in rapid succession. Then Sam reached out and gave a firm push to the man's brainstem. He collapsed. Sam rubbed her chest and let out a curse. "Ow, that really hurt. I think I have a bruise on my boob."
"There are still two to three terrorists to go," Kendra said. "Get me that gun."
Sam reached out with her corona and pulled the weapon into her hand, then held it over her head for someone to take. Kemdra seized it from her with an exclamation. "Watch where you point that thing!"
McGreary pushed past them. "Where are the rest of them?"
"Careful," Kendra said.
"I'm hardening at the moment."
Sam opened her mouth for the obvious response, then closed it in the interest of professionalism.
"I know we're in a life-or-death situation right here," Jimmy said, "but you have to know how that sounded."
"I didn't want to say anything, but I noticed it too," Sam said.
"In the middle of a battle here," McGreary growled.
"Save it for later," Kendra added.
Sam crept forward to check the length of the hall for any other intruders. Through the door to the rooftop, she saw four figures emerging from the public section of their headquarters. "Kendra? Four terrorists outside."
"Sam and Whittaker, go kill them. Everyone else, find cover and try to provide whatever support you can."
Strange how the thought of attacking a group of terrorists is slightly less terrifying than making decisions, Sam thought as she marched forward, her corona reaching out. The first man in line opened the door, a grin on his skeletally thin face. With his approach, Sam's purposeful movement faltered. What was she doing? She couldn't do this. Maybe if they surrendered the terrorists wouldn't hurt them . . . .
Sam shook her head to clear the cloud of memes assaulting her mind. With her corona, she felt the group behind her shrinking down on themselves, their postures breaking under the relentless wave of self-doubt emanating from Mr. Skull Face. Come to think of it, her posture wasn't much better. Vasting her mind to its limit so soon after her last flaring of nous introduced a harsh pressure on her precursor intake as resistance mounted. With all of her recent practice using the talents, she had not made time to clear. Now she was paying for her laziness.
Her corona twitched and the emaciated skinhead collapsed to the ground dead. The final three enemies paused on the threshold of the door. In wordless agreement they levitated into the air and stared down at them. Fred Whittaker seized her shoulder as he walked forward. "Come on, Sam. We're going to war."