Road construction blocks the way ahead.
“Oh, no!” Maya yells, looking out the back window.
Jack checks the rear-view mirror. Several black vehicles stream out of the ramp behind them.
He brakes, puts the car in reverse, and then reels back to the last intersection, jackknifing into traffic. A car behind them skids to a stop and lays on the horn.
“Don’t get us killed!” Maya says.
Jack puts the car in drive and hits the gas. They get less than a block before Jack sees the black cars rounding the same corner in fast pursuit.
“Jack, you’re not a very good driver,” Sabine says. Chris smiles.
“Yeah, well, I’m not used to being chased by a bunch of black-ops security guys either.”
Jack checks the rear-view mirror again. The row of black cars isn’t gaining on them. He wonders if maybe they’re giving the kids a wide berth because of their powers. Maybe they’re trying to stay close enough to seize any opportunity to intercept them, but not so close to put themselves at further risk. No more conventional tactics. The rules of engagement have changed.
“What do we have to do at the Pentagon? Is that where they launch the missiles?” Maya asks. Chris snickers. Maya slaps him in the shoulder. “What? I don’t know anything about this kind of thing.”
“No, see,” Jack starts, unable to stifle his own amusement. That he’s now the resident political and military expert strikes him as just as funny as Maya’s ignorance. Before he lifted the information from the doctor’s mind, he probably knew a lot less than she did much about government, and didn’t care about it either. “The president has this thing called the nuclear football.”
“I’ve heard of that,” Chris says.
“It’s a computer and communication system in a briefcase. They carry it wherever he goes. But he can’t launch nukes with just the football. Has to get the secretary of defense to second the command, and that’s where you have the eighteen-minute thing. The doctor’s team knew if they could reach the defense secretary, they’d have a chance to stop it.”
“You made the right decision, Jack,” Maya says.
“Yeah, we’re with you all the way.” Chris agrees.
Jack looks to Sabine. She looks back at him with trust in her eyes.
“Sabine, how many people can you hide from? At once, I mean?”
She shrugs. “I did very well in the hallway and the garage.”
“Yes you did. You were awesome.”
“We couldn’t have done it without you,” Maya adds.
“Thing is,” Jack says, “we’re going to need to count on you to get through what we’re about to do. It might be a lot more people.”
Jack spots blue and red lights spinning behind them among the agents’ cars.
“There’s police now,” he informs the others.
Jack makes a quick right turn onto a highway ramp and guns the engine. He turns his rear-view momentarily to Chris, who’s sweating, looking back at the cars from time to time, and trying to stay low.
“That was really something that you did back there in the parking structure, with the car.”
Chris shakes his head and his face takes on a sober expression.
“I almost can’t believe I did it,” he says.
“I can’t either,” Maya says. “I saw it, and it scared me, I have to say.”
Jack can’t tell if Chris is embarrassed, guilty, or something else. Jack’s just glad Sabine didn’t see it. He hopes she won’t fully understand what they’re talking about now. Jack wants to do what he can to protect her innocence.
“It scared me a little bit, too,” Chris says. “I didn’t mean to hurt them. I mean, I didn’t want to.” He rubs his mouth hurriedly as if he’s not sure what he’s saying. Then he shuts his eyes hard and tries to muscle out of a line of thought. “I don’t know. I mean, I guess I did want to, on some level. I just couldn’t let them catch us. I knew that would stop them. I don’t think any of them got killed.”
“Oh god, I hope not,” Maya says. “We can’t use these abilities to kill people. Ever.”
“I agree,” Jack says.
Chris sits back in the seat and nods. “Absolutely.”
Jack calculates the time they have. They spent at least five minutes getting out of the building. He knows from both the doctor and the guard that the Pentagon is another fifteen minutes away if he breaks every speed limit. If the president has launched any nukes, they’ll barely make it to the defense secretary in time, and that’s assuming they can elude the authorities.
“Jack,” Maya begins.
“There was something you couldn’t tell us before, about what you got from the doctor.”
“Right,” he sighs as he jerks the wheel to avoid a car pulling into his lane. “It’s big, guys. It’s really big.”
“So, tell us,” Chris says, scooting forward.
“The doctor didn’t want us to get involved and try to stop a nuclear attack, or anything else this terrorist might have made the president do. She wants to protect us, for one. And also, she doesn’t think we ready for it.”
“Well, that much is probably true,” Maya says.
Sabine also comes to the doctor’s defense. “She doesn’t want us to get hurt.”
“Yeah,” Jack says, “but, guys, she also, on some level, wants an attack to happen.”
“What?!” Maya exclaims.
“She knows that a big terrorist attack will help her program. She’ll get all the funding she needs. The last thing she wants us for us to risk our lives trying to stop it—that’s a lose-lose for her if we fail. The program gets cut, and she’s got nothing. If there’s a big attack, and we’re locked up safe where she can use us to show everybody she’s got the solution to the next attack. That’s a win-win.”
Maya sits back in her seat. “I don’t understand. How could you want that?”
“It would be like her Reichstag,” Chris muses.
“What’s that?” Sabine asks.
“Let me guess,” Maya jumps in. “You wrote a paper on it.”
Jack can now see the massive five-sided building from the highway. He checks his rear- and side-view mirrors and then takes the off-ramp to the Pentagon. As soon as he rounds a bend, he’s met with a police roadblock, a battery of black cars, squad cars, and barricades. He guns the engine and drives onto the grass.
“This is not the way I want to go!” he says as the car jostles them violently through thicket. Once back on the street, Jack finds them weaving into incoming traffic, and then gets turned around trying to find another route to the Pentagon. He comes out in an open utility area framed by the highway’s tree-lined border on one side and an open, reserved-parking area on the other, a block or two from the building’s entrance. It’s a restricted-traffic area. A few government cars line the street. What looks like an unmarked police or government vehicle moves past them as they reach the center of the block.
“Now we have to figure out a way in the building,” Jack says. “I know where the defense secretary’s office is, but there’s a lot of security.”
Jack notices a pedestrian walking from the Pentagon. The man steps into the street in front of them, and then stops. He turns to face Jack and then holds out his hand. He has long dark hair and piercing eyes, which seem to bore directly into Jack’s mind.
“Uh-oh,” Sabine says ominously.
“You guys feel that?” Chris asks.
“Watch out!” Maya yells, pointing at the man.
Before Jack hits the brakes, the car suddenly comes to a crashing halt, as if they’ve accordioned into a cement wall. The back end of the vehicle pops up several feet, rendering it near vertical. Each one of them is suddenly in zero gravity.