The next morning, the teens met in the lobby.
"Wow, that was awesome! I want to spend more nights in hotels like that!" cheered Mycayla after walking into the plaza. She turned around and noticed Allen. "By the way, where'd you go last night?"
Allen looked up from his daze of thought. "Oh, uh..."
"I found him on the roof," offered Dallas. "It sounded like he was talking to someone."
"...Who?" said all students simultaneously.
"Better not be another of those spies... I've had almost enough of you guys," muttered Annie.
"No... well, sort of... I'm not sure," thought Allen allowed. "He's... Artemis' brother."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute- doesn't that make him our brother, too??" Said Mycayla.
"...Not really. Remember you were all adopted into different families. He was the oldest son born to the family she was adopted to."
"oooookay...." Saia muttered. "But what's he got to do with anything?"
"A few years ago, he was caught in a radiation accident. I'm not sure exactly what happened but Ii do know that he's similar to someone caught in limbo- he doesn't live the same time path as the rest of us. He flits in and out of reality. His path is irregular but what I know is that he can never materialize within ten miles of Artemis, which hurts him. They weren't the typical brother-sister relationship."
"Aw, lovely," groaned Dallas. "That means that if he was here last night... Artemis is ten or more miles away."
"Road trip! I call shotgun!" Josh laughed.
The rest of the group glared at him.
"I have arranged transportation already," Allen said as Aro walked into the room, "This is an old friend of mine, Aro. He has been kind enough to get us another helicopter."
Dallas chuckled. "Two helicopters down and out. And now a third? " He actually laughed. "Hopefully Aro is flying this time."
"Well technically, the driving the helicopter wasnt the problem, it was landing and getting captured." Jack said. "But another helicopter? Do you really think that thats such a good idea? Helicopters arent the most inconspicuous things on the planet."
"No kidding." Aro said, with a small laugh. "The one I brought is build specially for high altitude flights, and yes, I will be flying this time."
"Yay! Profess-eeonall!" Mycayla cheered, exaggerating the word.
"I wish," Aro sighed. "But, I can fly, so don't worry." He put a reassuring hand on Mycayla's shoulder.
"I'm not worried," Mycayla skipped away.
The group boarded the helicopter, preparing to lift off. Annie, however, stood on the side.
"Well, come on," urged Saia, "Aren't you coming?"
Annie sniffed. "I'm... I'm sorry, guys, but... I just can't deal with this danger any more. I... I want to go home. Tell Artemis and Alex that I'm sorry but I just want to go home and continue the normal life I left behind."
Josh groaned in the corner of the helicopter.
"Alright," sighed Allen, a hint of sadness in his voice as well. "I'll call you a cab or something." He left the helicopter for a moment, then returned. "Well, it appears most of the country is looking for us because our parents got worried. Annie, there's a cab coming to pick you up, it's one of my partners. He'll give you a story you can give to your parents when you go home, but you must not tell anyone about anything that has happened these past..." he blinked, then looked at the crowd in the helicopter. "How long has this journey been going?"
"Couple weeks, I think... I'm not really sure," pondered Saia.
"A month?" guessed Josh.
"Feels like two. Maybe even three," thought Mycayla.
"Well, anyway," continued Allen, "I hope you'll be happier at home. Don't tell anyone about our operations."
"I wouldn't dare," she promised.
The group waved goodbye as the helicopter slowly lifted. After it was steadily aloft, Aro turned around. "Alright, head count! Who all have we got, and what's your names?"
"And you already know me, Aro."
"...Golly, is that it? I thought there were more of you," muttered Aro, scratching his chin.
"Preston double-crossed us. Artemis and Alex were kidnapped. Xavier didn't even leave, he just kind of stayed at the school and made a distraction. And Annie just left."
"Well, I guess that makes up for the small numbers..." he started to mess with an electronic system, and Dallas walked over in curiosity. Mycayla just stood still for a minute, watching the cab with Annie inside, drive away far below.
"Where do we even look for them this time?" Josh asked, groaning as he awoke from sleeping in an odd position.
"They're still on the move." Dallas answered, the lack of sleep etching lines under his eyes.
Aro nodded from the pilot seat, the controls held lithely in his hand. "We'll be needing to stop for fuel soon." He called back.
Allen was pacing back and forth close to Aro, constantly glancing at a scanner.
"Would you calm down? We'll find her," sighed Aro.
"Them. I believe you mean them," Saia pointed out.
Allen scratched his head and continued pacing.
"What is that monitor you keep staring at anyway, Allen?" Jack asked, finally standing up and seeing for herself. "What's that dot mean?"
"Artemis. Or at least, I hope it does. It's always possible the kidnappers could have found the tracker and separated it from her."
"Tracker?? You stuck a tracker on her??? When was that????" shot Mycayla.
"Actually, you have one, too, Mycayla," Allen stated. Mycayla began fidgeting and involuntarily scratching herself. "And same with you, Saia. My agency has known about the powerful bloodline you all share since your birth. You all were practically born with the trackers."
"Well, where the heck are they?????" Mycayla groaned, still scratching at herself to attempt dislodging the awkward stalking device.
Allen stopped pacing and turned to find amusement in her fidgeting. "Nowhere you'll be able to find it just by scratching. It's implanted within your earway."
Mycayla stopped fidgeting and stared at him in disgust. "Well then, why are you worrying about the kidnappers finding Artemis's and throwing it away?"
He resumed pacing. "They could have drugged her and removed it...." he bit his knuckle.
"What about Alex?" Saia moaned. "You're always worrying about Artemis but never Alex. We at least know that they want Artemis alive, but for all we know, Alex could have been killed within two minutes of being kidnapped."
Allen's expression was unchanged. "I would save him if I could. But this is a strictly business mission. I can't be emotionally distracted. Artemis' blood is the most fiery, the most explosive of all three of you... if they get just one small sample of it, theoretically they could produce an explosion as potent as Hiroshima."
"EMOTIONALLY DISTRACTED??????" shouted Jack. "STRICTLY BUSINESS???????" she stomped her foot. "Then why are you even tagging along with us? Why not just drop all of us back at home and leave?"
He resumed pacing.
"Can't be emotionally distracted, huh? Then why were you on top of that hotel all alone? Why do you act so concerned about all of this if the only problem is how big an explosion her blood could make??"
Allen stopped pacing and turned to her, a few small tears flowing down his cheek. "I said I can't be. Not that I wasn't."
Jack sat down, slightly stupefied.
Allen wiped his eyes and glanced at the monitor. "Go ahead and set down the helicopter. They're nearby."
Aro nodded and grabbed a couple of levers.
Dallas programmed the monitor to work without being attached to the dashboard, and he turned to Allen who was now facing the wall. "You really care about her, don't you?"
"I said set down the helicopter."
He resumed pacing.
Dallas's eyes glinted red for a moment as he snuck a look through the helicopters infrared camera. His throat cracked and popped with static. "Allen. I can see them. Artemis, Alex and...her."
Allen stopped pacing. "Where."
Dallas hissed in frustration as the helicopter began to descend quicker than he could compensate for. "North West, maybe a quarter to a half mile from here. Wait."
His red iris's dilated for a second before they flashed dark. He looked around, briefly. His fist came down on knee. "There's something else down there." He muttered.
"Like what?" asked Aro, calm as ever.
"Obviously not something good." Josh replied.
"It's big. Not monstrously huge, but big, like a pro heavyweight boxer, and it was...hot. Like red-iron hot." Dallas explained, rubbing his eyes.
"An experiment." Allen summed up.
"Or the results of one." Dallas added ominously. "But it wasn't exactly red-hot... it was hot, but... not like the usual perception of hot... it's hard to describe, I've never seen anything like it." The helicopter slowly settled towards the ground, then landed as quietly as a helicopter can land.
Allen, now curious, looked into the infrared camera. "Hm. I see."
"See what?" asked Mycayla, curiously.
"Its odd, it doesnt match up with any earthly thermal readings, I'm going to need to do some experiments of my own I think..." he pondered aloud.
Josh coughed uneasily in the back of the helicopter.
"...But of course I won't," finished Allen. "I wouldn't lay a hand on her without her permission."
Josh coughed again, although with a little bit of humor.
Allen glared, and it was enough to temporarily shut Josh up.
Aro jumped gleefully out of his seat. "Alright, finally my turn to participate in some of this action!"
"So what are we waiting for?" Jack sprang to her feet. "Lets get moving." She jumped out the helicopter door and began to sneak towards the spot up ahead. Sure enough, there were Artemis and Alex, and nearby there was a woman and a--was it a person? That must've been the abnormality showing up on the scanner, it was much taller than your average human, it towered over the two captives, and from the way it had looked on the scan, it was hotter too. Artemis's arm was bandaged, but otherwise seemed unhurt and, as the hidden girl watched, she seemed to be becoming increasingly frustrated. Alex, for once, sat almost quietly, He was struggling furiously, but silently, against the ropes binding him.
Aro muttered a curse under his breath as he and the others caught up with Jack. "That is big. Lightining strike me down if that's not the tallest experiment I have ever seen."
KABOOM!" Mycayla imitated a lightning strike
"Guys keep it down." Jack hissed. "We gotta figure out who--or what-- that thing is and how we can sneak past it to get Art and Alex, stay focused." But it was too late, and the experiment turned towards where the friends were hiding. It started walking, languidly and smoothly towards the group. The kids just stared at the slowly moving figure. It stopped about ten feet away.
"I know. You are here." The Experiment said. It's voice was soft and musical sounding but it spoke like the words were choking it. "Come out. At once."
"you know... That voice sounds kinda familiar... Is that weird?" Mycayla was staring at the Experiment. "like, um... Preston, but musical-er."
"How much like Preston?" Dallas asked, his eyes narrowing at the monstrous figure.
"Tone, and the shape of it's head."
"Oh my gosh! It is Preston!" Jack put in. "What in the world did they do to him?"
"Some kind of augmentation to his body..." Aro answered, just before a rock the size of a bowling ball hurtled through the foliage. "You know you have to come out. Some time." The Preston/Experiment bellowed in it's crisp key and tone voice.
"But augmenting...Preston to that degree..." Dallas tacked on.
"Should have killed him." Allen finished.
"Exactly." Aro and Dallas said at the same time.
"Will you three cut it out." Jack whispered, then started to crawl towards the clearing.
"There's no point staying here thinking." Mycayla added, getting ahead of Jack and leading the way. "Not unless you want to get squished."
"Aro, you can keep an eye on everyone right? I'd be more help providing air support." Dallas said, looking back at the chopper.
Aro nodded, and another heavy rock drilled through the air and into a tree close by. "Yeah, go, But keep out of Preston's range."
"Will do." And without another word, Dallas dashed back to the empty helicopter, while Aro seized the opportunity to move forward.
"Lets go. Quickly, but stay quiet." He whispered.
Their footsteps ghosted through the foliage, making Aro and Allen wince with evey snap of a twig or crunch of forest matter underfoot. Though they stayed utterly silent, keeping their mouths closed and ears open as they made their way around the experiment. A high whine came from behind them, and the thumping of rotor bladed made the air pulse. A crimson red light rose into the sky and tapered away. Flying away. "HA." The Preston thing bellowed in laughter. "See them run. They run away from me."
Aro's earpiece came to life just then. "Did he buy it?"
The static cracking in the voice was unmistakable. Aro motioned for the group to pause, and snuck for a closer look. The experiment had both huge fists in the air, shouting victory to high heaven. The other woman, however, was not so optimistic.
"They should be braver then that, they've been chasing us for months. Be quiet! Let me listen."
The next morning, the teens met in the lobby.