Snap Decisions about Who Is Friend and Foe Are A Key Element of Leadership
“So what’s the deal with you and Lillian?” Cal asked Mick, sitting in his lap in the cell, tapping on his leg.
“There’s no deal with us,” Mick said. He had an arm idly around Cal’s waist and was fiddling with the tablet Nadya had given Cal. He couldn’t read any of the text on it, but he’d figured out how to find pornography with it and was watching one of Earth’s moving drawings called an anime about some lady whose tits got bigger every time someone fucked her. It had sound, which Cal had been translating for him, but the talking had mostly stopped a while ago.
“Uh-huh,” Cal teased, still tapping. “You guys are always hanging out and conspiring. Which, you know, I’d assume was magic stuff except for the sex.”
“We don’t have that much sex,” Mick disagreed. “She’s not into men and I’m not into women.”
Cal raised an eyebrow, and though Mick couldn’t see it, he still looked a little chagrined as he watched the anime girl’s tits get so big they tore her clothes off. “I mean. Sometimes she wants to have sex because she’s into, uh. Nonstandard bodies?”
“Uh-huh,” Cal said, privately pleased that Mick didn’t seem bothered about that description of himself. “It takes at least two people to have sex, usually.”
“Yeah, yeah. Sometimes she pretends that I’m her teacher.”
He was muttering so much Cal could barely hear him over the anime girl whimpering. Her tits were so big they were the only things visible now.
“Oh yeah?” Cal asked, nudging him, tapping out another few words on Mick’s leg. “You’re into that, are you, professor?” He’d already known that Mick had a thing for pretending, but they’d never done a lot with it.
“Shut up,” Mick muttered. “But yes.”
“Okay,” Cal said, snuggling a little closer. He was almost finished telling Mick everything he thought about Nadya, just tapping out one more thought about her knowing where Kozna was before he was done. “I’m glad you two get along, I was just curious. Wait, that’s the end?”
“Uh, I guess so?” The anime had ended with the girl’s tits being so big they covered the whole world and that was just it.
“Wild,” Cal said.
Mick nodded, handing Cal the tablet. “Find one we can actually jerk off to?”
“Sure.” Cal flicked through the options, the beetle reading them for him. “This one’s about a little boy with cat ears getting fucked by a bunch of adult men.”
Mick kissed his neck. “Let’s save that one to all watch together.”
Cal nodded. Ray would be into it. They’d see Ray again soon. “This one’s about some guy who gets cursed to have to suck a dick every day or else he’ll die.”
“Huh,” said Mick. “That one’s at least realistic. Remember that guy in Soarhaven?”
“Yeah,” said Cal. His name had been Chuck. “I let him suck my dick after.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Cal looked up at him. “Wait a minute, we were only there for one night.”
“I hope you’re not suggesting that the guy with the blowjob curse was lying.” Mick stuck out his tongue. “Wes got a blowjob from him too.”
“Okay, well, I’m glad his curse wasn’t weighing too heavily on him.” They both giggled. “Oh, this one’s famous, Bob told me about it,” Cal said, looking at the tablet. “It’s about this kid who works in a restaurant, and…”
The lights went out, and a loud sound blared through the air. “What the fuck?” Mick asked.
“I think…” Cal stood up. He almost had to shout for Mick to hear him. “I think that might be an alarm.”
“Is it?” Mick asked. He shook his head. “They don’t even have real bells here?”
“Guess not. There’s only one reason to ring an alarm bell in a prison, right?”
Mick stood up as well, hand on Cal’s shoulder. “Yeah.”
There was no way to know who it was, but Cal knew who it was. “Let’s go, then.” He pulled on the door, which didn’t open. If the lights were out and electricity here worked like it did on the version of Earth Cal had been to, that meant that whatever listening or watching devices they were using shouldn’t be working either.
So he tapped his wrist, materialized Bob’s gun. He turned a small dial on the side and aimed it where the latch should be, firing once. The metal melted and the door lurched open. “Really should have gotten Bob to give everyone one of these guys,” Cal muttered. Bob had claimed Cal had access to his whole armoury, and also claimed that everyone else did too, but he’d never shown Cal how to get to it. This one weapon would have to do. “Stay behind me.”
They went out into the hallway, which was lit just by the low strips of lighting on the floor. Cal had seen the guards close the other cells after supper last night, so he went up to one and shot the door open, then did the same for the next one.
Joey, Travis and Sully came out of one room, and Lillian and Juniper the other. “What the fuck?” Sully demanded.
“We’re leaving,” Cal told them. “Or rather, we’re being rescued.”
“Don’t see any rescue,” Travis said, looking around.
“They’re here, trust me.” Cal just knew. He took a breath. “The big door in the canteen must lead to the outside.”
“What’s down this hallway?” Juniper asked, pointing in the other direction.
“Don’t know. More cells, I think.” Cal shook his head. “When I got interviewed, they took me through the canteen and through another door. I think that’s the central hub of the building.”
“Calm down,” Travis told Juniper, hand on his arm. “Let’s follow Cal.”
Juniper sighed, rubbing his eyes. “Right. Sorry. Okay, let’s go.”
Cal led them to the canteen, which wasn’t locked. He really hoped he was right. The canteen was empty. The guards must have all gone to deal with the intruders. That was stupid. If Cal ran a prison, he’d make sure that at least a few of them had gone to make sure the prisoners were in place.
Why had the door to the canteen been unlocked?
He approached the door, held the gun aimed at it and fired. Nothing happened, so he turned the dial all the way up and fired again. There was a small disfiguration of the metal. “They’re blast proof,” Juniper muttered. “Shit.”
It sounded like he was panicking, but Cal was calm. “It’s okay,” he said. “They’re coming to get us.”
“How do you know?”
“Because someone in the prison is helping them.” Cal looked around, thinking. There was the door they’d come through. The door that led to the showers, the door that led to Nadya’s office and probably the other people in charge, the door that led to the kitchen, one more door that Cal had never seen anyone open. He went over in the direction of that door.
“How do you know?” Lillian asked. She didn’t sound quite as scared as Juniper. “Cal. We all accept that you know, but we’d also feel better if you’d explain yourself.”
Oh. Right. Cal nodded. “Sorry. The door leading here was unlocked. There aren’t any guards coming to take us back to our cells. This has been going on for about five minutes now and we haven’t seen anything. Someone inside the prison is helping us. Probably Nadya. She’s sketchy and I think she wants our help with time travel stuff.”
The new door was locked, so Cal blasted it open. It was another hallway with more cells. “Joey, try that door over there.”
Joey went over to the door leading to Nadya’s office, which opened for him. “So…we shouldn’t go this way, right?”
“Right,” Cal agreed. He’d learned well. “She wants us to go see her.”
“There is an argument to be made for letting her help us,” Juniper pointed out.
“Not when it’s probably her fault we’re here in the first place, there isn’t,” Mick disagreed. “Cal?”
“I want to see if there’s anyone in these cells,” Cal said. He had a weird feeling. They all followed him into the hallway, and Cal started shooting doors open.
The fourth door he opened revealed Bob, sitting on the bed. “Cal!”
Shit, Cal thought. Relief and fear flooded him together, but for the moment he let relief win and hurried into the room. “Hi,” he said, pulling him into a tight hug. “Who else is here with you?”
“Nobody,” Bob said, looking beyond Cal. “I’ve been here by myself for two weeks. I’m so glad you’re not hurt.”
“I’m glad you’re okay too,” Cal said, pulling him out into the hallway. “The person running this place.”
“Nadya Ovenbrook, yeah,” Bob said, nodding. “She’s been trying to interview me. She’s up to something.”
“Right now she’s running us through a maze and I don’t like it,” Cal told Bob. He didn’t think anyone was coming for them. Nadya had done this on her own. “I’d love it if you could give the rest of us some weapons.”
“Sure,” Bob said, tapping his chest. “Everyone come here.”
While he did that, Cal thought about Nadya. She’d had Bob the whole time and she’d known to keep him isolated, which meant she knew way more than she’d been letting on. It also meant she’d been mistreating one of Cal’s teammates, so Cal was going to kill her.
No, shit. That wasn’t Cal’s thought, it was Nathen’s, and he imagined Travis kicking him in the balls and pushed the murderous thought down because he didn’t fucking have time for Nathen right now. “The door leading out of here is blast proof,” he told Bob. That had meant something to Juniper, so it would to Bob as well.
“Yeah…nothing is actually blast proof,” Bob promised with a smile. “Let’s go. Once we’re out of here I can use my tracking nodes to find the others.”
“Great. I’ll fill you in on the rest of the details after we’re…”
“You don’t follow instructions very well, do you?”
Cal turned around, saw Nadya standing there, no weapon in hand. He smiled at her. “You don’t give them very well.”
“And here I’d thought you smart enough to follow the path I laid out for you.” Nadya was scowling, mostly looking at Bob.
“I was smart enough not to follow it, yeah,” Cal agreed. “Why’d you lie to me?”
“Why did you lie to me?” Nadya asked, cocking an eyebrow. “We all lie to each other to get what we want. I mean you no harm.”
“Okay, we’re not doing this.” Cal pointed his gun at her, turning the dial down with one finger as he did. “Get out of the way.”
“You aren’t going to kill me. You’re not stupid and I’m the only one who knows how to…”
Cal shot her. “Let’s go,” he said, as she fell down.
“Woah!” said Joey, hopping from foot to foot. He had a gun now too, and Cal couldn’t help but feel that was a terrible combination. “I can’t believe you didn’t even let her give her evil speech!”
“She’ll give it later,” Cal promised. He wasn’t sure Nadya was evil. “She wants us for something, which means she’ll try and find us after we get out of here. We’re not negotiating with her in her home base when she’s calling all the shots. Let’s go.”
“Fuck,” Bob whispered, following after Cal as he stepped over Nadya’s unconscious body and entered the canteen again.
“Yeah,” said Mick, patting Bob’s back. “I know, he’s hot.”
“It’s actually kind of not fair.”
“It helps to remember that he’s a complete idiot when there’s not a crisis.”
“Can I just say,” said Juniper, as Cal approached the conditionally blast proof door again. “You don’t know that she couldn’t have helped us.”
“I believe she could have,” Cal agreed. “But as long as we’re her prisoners, we’re just a resource for her. Don’t worry, I got a good sense of her the other day, she’s not the type to go all evil overlord and have us all murdered for this.”
“You sound so sure.”
Juniper sighed. “Okay. You know this is not how jailbreaks usually go?”
“Yeah, well.” Cal shrugged. Beside him, Bob rapped on the door, frowning. Then he pulled something out of nowhere and attached it to the door, waving them all back. “Nothing can ever be straightforward with us. It’s kind of a problem.”
The doors evaporated, which was cool even if it failed to prove Bob’s argument about blast proof things. Beyond them was another long hallway, but Cal had a good feeling about this one. A few guards came at them now, but the team shot them down pretty quickly. Another set of doors also needed to be evaporated, and then they were outside, in amidst all the tall building of the city called Royal Valley. The alarms screaming inside were quiet out here, as if not to alarm ordinary people about problems in their local time prison. They were on a flat surface called a parking lot, where a bunch of driverless carriages called cars—well, they’d been called cars on Earth, who knew what they were called here—were waiting.
Including a big square one that dropped out of the sky and landed right in front of them. Cal held out a hand, not letting anyone approach it.
Until a door opened on the side and revealed Ray’s smiling face. He was wearing a black vest and pants with a lot of pockets. “Hey! Wendell was right! Guys, get in, quickly!”
Cal didn’t hesitate, because he trusted Ray. “In, let’s go.” He waved them all in, waiting until he’d counted them all off before climbing in himself, Mick lending him a hand. The door slid shut, and Cal felt the slightest sensation of movement, but it didn’t matter.
Wes and Beatrice and Arky were here too, and so were a few people Cal didn’t know and didn’t yet care about. “Hi,” Cal said, pulling all his people into a huge hug, grabbing them one by one until they were all there. “Hi,” he said again.
“Hi, Cal,” Wes said, and Cal could feel his heart pounding. “We got you.”
“Yeah,” Cal said. “We’re going to be okay.”
And they would be, now that they were all together again. If nothing else, they’d at least be okay.