Lou heard it first. Scuffling on the other side of the door. Sounds like a struggle. The sounds stopped.
“Did you hear that?“ Izzy said.
“Yeah, it sounded like a fight.“ Lou replied, moving towards the door.
“Hear what? I didn't hear anything!“ Winston griped.
“Hush! Listen!“ Lou said, inching closer to the door. Before she got much closer, the door began to swing open. Lou flung herself away from the door, not wanting to be an easy target. Silly considering the size of the room. Lou saw the last thing she expected to see, the very last.
“Helen?“ Lou said, almost a whisper. "Myth?“
Winston sidled up behind her, “Tate?“ Lou's eyes flew over Helen and Myth. There was the fat Willow Prep teacher hanging back, down the hall, a drawn gun in his hand, aimed as if he knew exactly how to use it. Tate didn't look fat and useless anymore, he looked angry and powerful, despite the flaking skin on his ears, food in his beard, and the massive gut shaking slightly before him. Looking at him Lou saw some of what he must have been when he was still an NSA field agent.
Helen's voluminous skirt billowed in the air-conditioning currents as she moved into the doorway and waved them out of the room and into the anteroom where Alexander had been stationed before rows of monitor. The older woman tipped her beret and made a curtsy at the three teens, her face alight with pleasant mischief. Tate sneered and rolled his eyes. “At your service, my pets.“ Helen snickered, arms spread wide. It was perhaps the most welcoming thing Lou had ever seen. Gathered into a hug, Lou responded with fierceness. I'm not going to cry! Lou tried to pull back, they were in public after all, but Helen hung on and Lou let her. Danger and their situation momentarily forgotten, Lou basked in Helen's minty, sharp scent. It felt incredibly good, drained most of her anxiety, making Lou feel light and strong again. She even smiled, openly. Helen patted Lou's cheek affectionately as she pulled back, the papery skin of Helen's hands trailed down Lou's face and neck until they rested on Lou's shoulders. “You scared me, Miss Lou.“ Helen said quietly, so only she and Lou heard. Lou had to blink hard and fast not to tear up.
She was saved by Winston. “How. Did. You. Two. Get. Here?“
Izzy said at the same time, “What happened to Alexander?“
Lou was too stunned for words. She stood, staring. “No time!“ Myth said urgently. “Tori knows how long we have before they're on to us, we have to go!“ She started to turn and run out. Helen smiled one more time at Lou and pulled her towards the door. Tate had already mostly turned the corner and was looking around the hallway, his gun disappeared around the corner. Lou said, “Come on, we'll figure it out later.“
Outside the room Lou saw the reason for the struggle. Alexander was unconscious on the floor, near the corner leading away. A very large, purple mark was on her face. Tate was stood over her, protectively, glumly staring down at Alexander. One of the security guards stood down the hallway, looking completely void, blank-faced and slack-jawed, shoulders slumped. The guard's mirrored sunglasses were gone, his face showed marks from a fight, blood trickled down from a cut on his forehead, but he gave no signs of pain. Another guard walked in and stood next to him, in about the same shape, only his cut was across his cheek. Lou wanted to scream, thinking they were here to recapture them, lock them back in the room. She prepared to throw herself at them. I'm not going back. Somehow she hoped she could distract them long enough for the others to get away. Myth put herself between Lou and the guards and Lou managed to pull herself up short at the last second.
“NO! Lou! They're wiped! They're working for us!“ Myth said. Lou blinked at Myth and Helen. Her mind reeled in confusion. It must have shown on her face. Everyone stared at her. Winston said, “Geez, Lou, you're really feeling stuff today, aren't you?“ His tone was kind so she just smiled, very briefly, at him.
“You have the wiper!“ Izzy exclaimed. She pointed at Myth's hand, which did indeed have the wiper. “How?“
A sheepish snicker covered the diminutive girl's face. She cast a glance at Tate and Helen, shrugged slightly and said, very seriously: “Really, you guys need to stop asking me stuff like that. I know it's hard to believe I could do anything this cool, but accept it. I'm cooler than you. I've rescued you! Because I'm tha man. But if you don't stop asking me how, we're never gonna to get out of here!“ Myth said, giggling. Lou wanted, for a moment, to strangle her friend, but instead she hugged her, quickly, but fiercely, uncontrollably.
“Thanks, Myth. OK. Let's find William and get out of here!“ Lou said. The others nodded. “Does anyone know if Taylor's OK? Where he's at? We need to make the alarm go off!“
No one responded and Tate looked up from staring at Alexander. He looked haggard. “Where is Taylor?“ Tate asked.
No one answered him.
“Where is William?“ Myth asked. Helen looked around, seemingly oblivious to where she was or why or how.
“This carpet is just tacky. “ Helen said, running the tip of a black shoe against the grayish flooring. Winston snickered.
“William!“ Izzy exclaimed. “He's here!“ She was leaning over the bank of monitors Alexander had been watching. The other rushed too see. Izzy pointed to a boxed-in image of a little boy huddled against a wall, sitting on a narrow bed in one of the rooms. She exclaimed again, “Taylor! That's Taylor! He's here too! “
Her hands hovered over the lone keyboard before the monitors, shaking, like she desperately wanted to do something but had no idea what. “Winston? Come do this, please?“ Izzy begged.
Winston typed away, then he was began touching the screens. Windows zipped into being, enlarged, and moved. Myth said, “And don't you steroid cases get any ideas. I mean, get ideas! I don't want you not to think, shit! Just don't attack us, OK?“
Helen said, shaking a finger at the guards, “You boys ought to be ashamed of yourselves! Do your mothers know what you do for a living, young men?“ One of the guards mumble something but Lou couldn't make out what it was. Helen barked in response, “Don't mumble, sonny, it's rude.“ Lou stifled a laugh.
Had these men agreed, willingly, to be guards here? Or were they being used against their will? Slaves to technology they can't understand, much less guard against? Her reverie ended when Winston shouted.
“Got it!“ And the other doors in the room, both of them, popped open with loud clicks. As soon as they did, Taylor bolted open out of one, fists raised. He stopped short when he saw all his friends, his mouth working but no words came out. Taylor had the most hilarious, sheepish, and silly expression Lou had ever seen on him. This time she really couldn't help it, she laughed. Taylor looked confused, wounded.
“Sorry. It's just... you looked so funny right then and Helen with that beret and I couldn't...“ Lou giggled again. Maybe it was the sight of Lou giggling, but everyone else chuckled as well. The laughing continued until a small, squeaky, and sore sounding voice interrupted, screaming.
William nearly tackled his brother. It was quite sweet.
“So we've got to get out of here. Quick.“ Myth said, looking around anxiously as though she expected guards to swarm any second.
“You kids really know how to show an old broad a good time...“ Helen said snickering.
“We have to move.” Tate ordered.