Julian lay at the bottom of the escalator. He would have been staring blindly up at the ceiling, if only he’d been able to stare.
“Julian!” thought Lee, rushing down to him, “are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” said Julian, sitting up, “just a couple of scratches is all.”
“How the hell?” Lee reached out a hand and helped Julian to his shaky feet, “you fell down an escalator!”
“I managed to levitate myself as I fell,” Julian brushed himself down, “I missed the worst of it, I think.”
Lee nodded and led Julian to the escalator. They went up slowly, Julian leaning on Lee’s shoulder and breathing heavily. He’d lied, his stomach hurt like hell and he thought there was something pretty badly wrong, but he didn’t want to worry the kid. He healed fast, he was sure he’d be fine.
When they reached the top the others were picking themselves up. Defeated, weary and covered in dirt and dust, they gathered together in the middle of the floor. Agent Price stood in the middle of them, arms limp. His brass-knuckles lay on the floor a little way away, and his fists were bruised.
“We need to phone the police,” he said, “this was stupid.”
There were nods and mumbles of assent. Francis fumbled in his pocket and pulled out his phone. He stepped forward and reached out his arm to give it to Price. Without warning Adelaide knocked the phone from his grip. Julian caught it with a thought before it could hit the ground and lowered it gently to the floor.
“What are you doing?” Francis turned to Adelaide.
“Stopping you doing something stupid,” Adelaide said, “there’s no way the police are going to be any help. By the time they get here Amadeus will be long gone.”
“So what?” Francis said, “What the hell else are we going to do?”
“We’re going to take him on,” Adelaide said, meeting his gaze.
“How’s that going to make any difference,” Price folded his arms.
“Amadeus is a cocky idiot,” Adelaide stepped up to him and turned to look around at the others, “if he hears the police coming he’ll scram: they’re a real threat. If we go for him he’ll think nothing more than to take us on again – he reckons he can win.”
“He can win,” the Knight said from the sidelines. She was sitting on a bench, breathing heavily. Smoke still rose from her jacket and she had a pained look in her eyes.
“No,” Adelaide said, “because things will be different next time. You see I thought about it, and we can beat Amadeus. We just need to change our approach.”
Price put his head to one side and raised an eyebrow. A shine had come into his eyes.
“Yeah okay, get out of the way first, old man.”
Price grunted and stepped to the side. Adelaide clapped and spread her arms wide. The others all drew in a little closer.
“So,” she said, “here’s the deal. We were pretty uncoordinated when we attacked Amadeus, and as a result he made total mincemeat of us. We can’t attack him all at once, though, because we get in each other’s way and mess stuff up. The key to defeating him is small groups working as teams.”
She paused and considered things for a few moments.
“Okay,” she said, “before we go any further I need to make one thing clear. Those of you who are not part of my team… That’s you Price, you Julian, you Knight and you… weird robot.”
“Rachel. I am sorry, but I am not a robot. I am a person.”
“Right, right, sorry,” Adelaide waved apologetically, “anyway, you lot are all honorary members of the team now.”
“Is this really necessary?” The Knight scowled.
“Hush,” Adelaide raised a finger, “your leader is speaking. That’s the first rule, my word is law. Got it? Right. So what we do to beat Amadeus is this. We get into small, workable groups then those groups take on Amadeus one by one. That’s how we’re going to take him down.”
There was a silence as the group took it in. Eventually Francis raised a hand. Adelaide nodded at him.
“So…” Francis said, “taking him down in little groups… little specialised groups. Does this mean that we get to use… combo moves?”
“Yes,” she said, “you get to use combo moves.”
Francis pumped the air and nodded.
“Alright,” he said, “I’m in. Let’s do this.”
He stepped over and gave Adelaide a high-five. Lydia tentatively followed him.
“We need to get to him before anything happens to Alexis,” she murmured. Emma joined her.
“And Anna,” she added, and patted Lydia on the back, “we can totally do this.”
“Sure we can,” Lee stepped up. Julian stepped with him.
“Count me in,” he added.
Adelaide looked over at Price. He rubbed the back of his neck and frowned. Then he nodded and allowed a smile to flicker across his face.
“Alright,” he said, “it’s worth a shot.”
All eyes turned to the Knight, who looked up and groaned.
“Fine,” she murmured, “but no-one… no-one gets in my way, right?”
She gave Julian a look that suggested that if he was the one to get in the way, he wouldn’t escape alive. His tentacles writhed. Adelaide saw their movements.
“Alright,” she interrupted, “how about you Rachel? You with us.”
“I do not know,” Rachel shuffled her feet, making a scraping, screeching cacophony on the tiles, “I am sorry. I have never fought anyone before. I was not very helpful earlier. I am…”
She stopped and looked at the ground.
“I am concerned that I cannot hurt another human being. That if I do I will stop being the human trapped within this shell. I will become this.”
She gestured to herself. Her eyes glowed dully like tiny embers in her head. Adelaide raised a hand, then dropped it. She looked at Francis, who shrugged and waggled his eyebrows at her. Eventually she nodded.
“Listen,” she said, “we haven’t really got to know each other yet, Francis knows you better but he’s just being unhelpful. This is what I think… Fighting doesn’t make you less human. Fighting for what you believe in is the most human thing in the world. If you believe that everyone should be equal, that super-humans shouldn’t be spurned or worshiped or anything other than normal, if you want to be treated as a human yourself which… which you seem to be, then fighting is your only option. I’m sure you’ll be an invaluable help to us, if you do decide to join us.”
Rachel clasped her hands together and nodded with a whirring and clicking sound.
“I also suppose it will be useful also to have a giant death cyborg on your team,” she said.
Opening her mouth to say something, Adelaide found that no words came out. Eventually she nodded.
“Yes,” she said, “yes it will.”