Darrion's motorcycle veered into an alley and came to a halt across from a towering building marked with the purple, spotted toad logo of Interestoad Incorporated, and the name of the company in big, bold, silver capital letters.
Lennox dismounted the vehicle, glad to no longer have his arms tightly gripped around Rosa. However, he was glad that the form-fitting nano-neurofiber jumpsuit she'd supplied him with wasn't as cold as it looked. It was as black as charcoal and as smooth as water.
Then she, too, got off the bike and let it rest on its stand behind a recycling dumpster.
In his hand, Lennox held a touchscreen display their proximity to the two GPS signals. He double-checked it. "Looks like the main tracker says it's here. But as I said earlier, the folder containing the secondary tracker is apparently downtown."
"This big building here?" Rosa asked, leaning towards the building beside them.
"No, that one, there," said Lenny, directing her attention to the one across the street.
"Do you have your pills ready?" Rosa asked.
"I'm not taking them unless I need to," he said, having known what she was thinking about before she even asked about it. "I want to be able to function in an hour. If I crash while I'm in there, it's a liability."
"Right," she said. "You keep watch. I need to transform."
"Mmm... y'know, this will be my first time seeing you in action," he told her.
"Oh please," Rosa scoffed. "I'm in action when I'm on stage."
"A different kind."
"Ahhh! Urrghh," Rosa lurched about. Her eyes bulged and she gripped her head.
The horns came fast, piercing out of her red bangs. She had ditched the black wig of Shiki's hair back outside The Pan.
"Vanity," remarked Lennox, unfazed by the sudden emergence of crooked violet spikes from her head.
"Intimidation d-does wonders," she told him, with her face wincing. A ripping noise could be heard.
Lennox couldn't see it at first.
It rose out of her tailbone, glistening with poison and a steely exoskeleton. It was segmented into rounded joints, like armour. And they gained length, elongating. It was a scorpion's tale at large. It was a dark navy blue, veined with a lighter, more electric blue.
"To keep such resources stocked in your body," he remarked, "That's quite a spin on your steadfast regeneration."
Rosa tried to smile against the growing pains she was putting herself through.
"But I guess the real genius is how they re-engineered your cells."
She laughed, or tried to, but it sounded in part like a snort. "I was on life support, out cold, for that process. The itty bitty nanocells did their microsurgical work." Then her back arched, and her limbs strained against their tendons as bones dug out of her back. Up and out, they stretched thin and bore budding purple pinions. Rosa swung her arm in front of her mouth and clenched down against her bicep to muffle the screams she knew would come. Opening, those quills became feathers. And as more feathers emerged, a full wingspan of pale, purple feathers filled the alleyway.
"Oh, your last album cover had you decked out like this!" exclaimed Lenny, offering no tangible sympathy for the self-inflicted pain she was going through. He knew it too, in his own way, as an inevitable part of what they did. "Awesome. Wait... the claws."
Breathing hard, blood pumping and heart raging, Rosa let her arm out of her face and spread her fingers, palms open before her. The light blue scales bumped out of her skin, tearing outward across her forearms, halfway up her biceps. Her nails became shining, sharp claws. She spat blood upon the pavement. Her forehead was coated in sweat. Her hair was a mess. Self-consciously, she combed through it carefully with a clawed hand, as if it were something she did daily.
Lenny rolled his eyes at that gesture.
"I've got a few more stored away, but there's a beast for every burden. This should suit me fine tonight," she said in a voice that was not hers. It was resonant and triple pitched with extra voices, one higher and one lower.
This sent a shiver down Lennox's spine. "Human feet will suit you adequately?"
Rosa nodded, folding her wings. "You ready to infiltrate this building with me?"
"I told you, I'm not taking those pills," he told her. "Now let's get you across the street quick, hoping nobody sees you."
"The tabloids wouldn't know what to do with this story," Rosa said with a laugh. And she ran forth, wings tight against her back.
Lenny chased after her, tracking map in hand. As he did so, he cast his mental awareness about like a net. It sweeped about like the wake of a bomb, outward and then in on itself. And he sensed them before he saw them, beyond the walls of the entranceway.
Lennox opened the door.
There was a security desk with a receptionist and a security guard seated beside him.
The receptionist stood up to greet them, immediately on alert from seeing a partially masked Lennox in black. "Excuse me, can I help you?"
The security officer kept looking at the monitors in front of her. She paid Lennox no attention.
"How many fingers am I holding up?" Lennox asked the man, as Rosa strode in behind him, keeping her arms, tail and wings behind her back. Lenny raised one arm with no fingers held up. Then he closed his eyes.
He found it in the other's mind like a thread and pulled it limp.
"Sir, you aren't holding up any--" In mid-sentence, the receptionist dropped back into his chair, asleep.
"That one was tired," said Lennox. "His shift was almost over. Lucky."
The security guard at the desk looked up and recognized Rosa instantly, "Hey, I know you! You're that pop sensation who's --"
In a split-second, Rosa's tail had pricked the woman's neck. Her eyes rolled back into her head.
"I get that a lot," said Rosa.
The woman's body began to convulse. But her hand pressed a big red button, sounding an alarm.
"Shit," said Rosa. "Will we be getting cops?"
Lennox stared blankly at the woman for a moment as she finished convulsing. When he'd finished extracting the information, he answered, "No. Private, homegrown security. Expect tranquilizers, no bullets."
A radio hummed at the hips of the fallen security agent, "This is The Blue Doorman. The fire is lit. I repeat, the fire is lit. Over."
Rosa grimaced. "Shall I grow my shield?"
Lenny shrugged. And then leaned to the side in a swift movement that sent a dart whizzing past his neck. Lenny's brow stiffened in concentration.
"Ahhhh!" screamed a man's voice. "G-get out of my head!"
Lennox smiled to himself.
And then the radio spoke again, "This is The Eagle. Secure The Mouse! I repeat, secure The Mouse!"
Rosa rushed toward the man's voice.
Lenny ducked out of sight, casting his awareness about.
"Get away from me, you freak!" the sniper blurted at Rosa. Then he reached for a pistol. She snatched it from his grip as it fired on her. It left a hole clean through the palm of her reptillean claw. But the hole quickly closed itself and the scales grew back.
"I am an angel of the Lord!" said Rosa, spreading her wings wide and moving an arm over her forehead to block her horns from his view.
The man trembled, and tried to crawl backwards threw the doorway he'd fired from.
"Thou hath sinned your last sin!" she hissed in her resonant voice. "Beg for mercy!"
"P-please, please, angel lady," said the man, almost in hysterics. "I don't want to die! I don't want to go to Hell!"
"Do you promise to live a righteous life hereafter if I spare you my divine wrath?" she asked him.
"Oh, anything! I'll do anything!" said the man.
"Devote yourself to charity and the fight against global warming!" commanded Rosa. "There, you shall find redemption."
"I will! I will!" said the man, prostrating himself before her. And then he fainted.
"C'mon," said Lennox. "Let's get moving. I think there's a stairwell that way. I can faintly sense many people mobilizing down the stairs."
Rosa handed him the pistol. "The stairs will be crowded. They'll have the advantage. I suggest we do something unexpected."
"I'm going to fly you up the elevator shaft until that tracker you've got says we're level with the documents. Then we can search for Vivian."
"Ah, good. Less bodies behind us that way," said Lennox, as he lead her through the lobby toward the disabled elevators. He stood back as Rosa used her claws to pry open the elevator doors. When it came open, he followed her in.
"Your turn," she said, as she took a firm stance. "Step onto my arms, I'll hoist you up."
Lennox stepped up into her arms, and was raised up to the top of the elevator carriage where he began to dismantle the panels, trying to find a maintenance hatch.
"Locked," he told her. But then he saw the images on her mind. "Great idea," he said, as he raised the pistol against the locked opening mechanism for the hatch. Lenny fired, and it loosened. Turning the latch, he pushed open the door. She lifted him up, and then he pulled her up, and the two of them stood in near-darkness in the shaft of the elevator.
"Well, you've got enough room to fly. Are you sure you can carry us both though?"
"Yes, they made these wings to be useful. It'll be tiring, and we may have to stop and rest on the ladders every so often. But we can do this!"
"All right!" said Lennox. "Climb onto my back and tuck your legs around me."
"Okay," said Rosa.
"Wow," he muttered to himself.
"What?" asked Rosa.
"You're really not who I wanted to say that to tonight," he chuckled.
"Pfffft!" Rosa was glad her friend could crack a joke at such a moment. "Not the shaft you wanted to climb, eh?" She wrapped her arms around him and locked her claws in one another's grip. Then she gently tucked her feet around his torso. "Ready?"
"Go for it," Lennox said with a sigh, still clutching the tracking device.
And so it began with inhuman strength and a steady push of air. Rosa flapped and flapped. And as they rose higher, Lennox pursed his lips and tried to focus on the screen.