Udzir frowned. "Then what exactly are you doing?"
"He's just airsick," Aya said.
"I'm not airsick!" Frizz's voice was choked. "I'm trying not to tell you everything!"
"What the ... ?" Shay began.
"What are you trying not to tell us?" Udzir said sharply.
Aya saw Frizz's willpower failing, and she reached out to try and stop him. But one of her hands was clenched in his, the other tangled in cargo webbing.
"That this is Tally Youngblood!" Frizz burst out. "And she's here to take you down!"
For a moment no one said anything.
Then Shay broke the silence, yelling at Frizz, "You bogus little moron!"
Tally launched herself across the cargo hold, flying beneath Udzir and into the woman hovering at the door. As she flew, her face seemed to explode, the smart-plastic disguise vanishing in an angry puff.
The woman swung her needle-tipped fingers, but Tally snatched her wrists and propelled a shoulder into the woman's stomach. She crumpled instantly, and Tally rolled past her into the drivers'
Across the hold, Shay rose almost casually to punch Udzir in the face. As he spun in midair, she slipped past his flailing limbs and after Tally.
Fausto stood up, his mask bursting from his face to reveal cruel-pretty features.
"I don't want to hurt you," he announced. "But nobody move."
"We're not moving!" Hiro said.
Aya turned to Frizz, whose face was pale. "Are you okay?"
"I'm sorry," he said. "I couldn't stop myself."
Suddenly the hovercar banked, twisting into a violent turn. Udzir's unconscious body crashed against the ceiling, then bounced back into the middle of the hold, spinning in midair. As Aya gripped the cargo webbing, her stomach lurching toward her mouth, she realized that he wasn't really spinning - he was steady in the air, the hovercar spinning around him...
Shay appeared at the drivers' cabin door, shoving the crumpled inhuman woman out of her way.
"A quick question," she said, bracing herself in the frame. "Do any of you bubbleheads know how to fly a hovercar?"
"What?" Aya cried. "Don't you?"
Shay spread her hands. "What are we supposed to be? Magic?"
The car pitched into a wild climb, and the two weightless inhumans went tumbling again, their limbs flopping like rag dolls. The needle-tipped fingers of the woman whizzed past Aya's face, missing her by a few centimeters.
"Someone grab her!" Aya shouted.
Frizz reached out and snagged the woman's leg, which snapped her body down against the cabin floor with a sickening thud.
"Oops, sorry," he said.
"You'd think Tally would have asked before she knocked out the drivers," Shay said from the doorway. "But that's Tally for you."
"Get in here and help me!" called Tally's voice. Shay turned and disappeared as the hovercar went into another series of wild spins, dropping again.
Fausto leaped across the hold, grabbing the unconscious woman. He guided her into the cargo webbing, making sure her needle fingers weren't exposed.
The car dipped and twisted, the hold spinning all the way around every few seconds. But Fausto gathered and secured Udzir's body easily. He darted across the tumbling surfaces, stepping from wall to floor to ceiling, like a littlie playing in a funhouse.
The lifting fans shrieked unhappily, drowning out the howl of the wind. Aya clutched the cargo webbing with white knuckles, barely keeping her grip. Gravity twisted around her, like some wild animal trying to pry her from the wall.
Then suddenly the car leveled out, the scream of the lifting fans settling into a steady roar. At last the floor of the cargo hold felt like down again.
Shay appeared in the doorway. "Everyone okay?"
"More or less," Fausto said. "Took you long enough to find the autopilot."
"I wish we hadn't," Shay said. "It's programmed to take us straight into their hoverport. And it looks like the drivers got off a warning, so they'll be expecting us. We have to jump. Everyone's got crash bracelets, right?"
"Sure, but are we still over their city?" Fausto asked.
"After all that craziness?" Shay said. "Kilometers away. But there's plenty of Rusty metal down there, as far as we can tell."
Fausto's eyes widened. "Are you kidding? Isn't that a little risky?"
Shay shrugged. "Safer than staying in here."
"At this speed, we'll need more than crash bracelets." Fausto knelt and stripped the forearm lifter pads from Udzir, tossing them to Shay.
She strapped them on, turning to Ren. "Come on, you and me first."
"We're jumping out into a storm, with only ruins to catch us?" he cried. "But that's brain-missing!"
She laughed. "You'd rather wind up with a bunch of insane surge-monkeys? Are you thinking of joining them?"
Ren groaned, then started to unwind himself from the cargo webbing.
"Open the side door!" Shay called to Tally. "And we'll see you at the usual place!"
The wall behind Aya and Frizz began to move. They scrambled away, suddenly doused by driving rain, the wind tearing at their clothes and hair. As the door opened, the hovercar lost its stability again, shivers passing through its frame, the storm rushing greedily inside.
In the hard gray light that spilled into the cargo hold, Aya saw how close they'd come to crashing - the tops of storm-tossed trees were shooting past, their highest branches whipping the underside of the car.
"Ready?" Shay yelled against the wind.
Ren nodded, and she wrapped her arms around him, jumping through the sliding door with a wild and wordless cry.
"Our turn, Hiro!" Fausto said as he stood up, the inhuman woman's lifter pads hastily strapped onto his forearms.
"This better work!" Hiro cried, then turned to Aya. "Good luck, and don't forget Moggle."
Fausto grabbed Hiro and yanked him out of the hovercar, the two of them disappearing into the driving rain without a sound.
"But there's two of us left," Frizz said. "And only..."
"Me," Tally said. She stood in the doorway of the drivers' cabin, slipping on a hoverball shin pad.
"Lucky those freaks all wear these things. I think they can't walk on those feet of theirs."
"You can carry us both?" Aya asked.
Tally scowled. "Why should we take this moron? He betrayed us!"
"But he can't help it!" Aya cried.
"What is he, brain-missing?"
"No," Frizz said. "I just have to tell the truth."
"You have to do what?"
"Radical Honesty," Frizz said. "It's a kind of brain surge."
Tally's eyes narrowed. "Wow. Your city is officially the weirdest place on Earth. Why would they do something like that to you?"
Aya tried to think of something distracting to say, but Frizz was already explaining, "I asked for the surge. I designed it, actually."
"You mean you're a voluntary bubblehead? That's it - I'm leaving you behind. Come on, Aya - there's no time to argue!"
Aya struggled out of Tally's grip. "You can't just leave him here! Those freaks will get him!"
"So? He's a freak too. And this is dangerous enough with only two of us!"
"I'm not a bubblehead," Frizz said. "But she's right, Aya. You'll be safer without me. Leave me!"
"Crap," Tally growled. "You just had to say that!"
She grabbed them both, then jumped.
At this speed the rain felt hard as stones.
"Moggle!" Aya yelled as they tumbled away from the hovercar. "Follow me!"
Then the treetops hit - wet ferns whipping and slapping at her face and hands, branches crunching as they tumbled through the air. Tally's grip around Aya was lung-crushing, the gray light spinning into darkness as they dropped beneath the canopy of jungle.
The roar of the hovercar slipped away, and Tally twisted next to Aya, the borrowed hoverball rig straining to maneuver among tree trunks and shafts of rusty iron. Aya felt magnetic forces wrenching at her crash bracelets - the three of them rose up above the trees again in a shallow hover-bounce, like a speeding rock skipping off water.
They dropped again, tearing through tangled vines and ferns, every obstruction heavy with rain.
Aya felt thorns tearing at her clothes and hair - then suddenly the forces in her crash bracelets disappeared, and the Earth itself crashed up against her.
They hit at a shallow angle, tumbling through brush and leaves, skidding across meters of thick, wet mud. She felt her ribs cracking in Tally's grip, her breath forced from her like a punch to the gut.
Finally they slid and rolled to a halt.
Aya took deep, painful breaths, slowly opening her eyes.
Above her, vast flocks of birds were wheeling, scattering away from their wild and unexpected arrival. The jungle was dense down here, the sky almost completely hidden. Aya could actually see the path their sidelong fall had taken, a tunnel of wrecked branches that stretched away into the distance.
Water still spilled from the leaves and ferns they had shaken in passing, as if the storm had followed them down.
"You two okay?" Tally asked.
"Uh," Aya managed. It hurt to breathe.
"Let me guess," Frizz said. "We ran out of metal."
"Barely enough," Tally said. "Any less and we would have splatted."
"We did splat," Aya grunted. Her soaking hair was tangled around her face, leaves and ferns and mud plastered over every inch of her body.
Tally raised herself into a crouch, pointing up at a towering structure that stretched up beside them. "Yeah, but if we hadn't fallen past that, we'd be paste right now. Whatever those freaks are up to includes salvaging all the ground-level metal from these ruins."
Aya groaned, sitting up slowly. If they'd almost crashed, what about...?
She started to flex her ring finger.
"No pings!" Tally snapped, grabbing her wrist. "You'll give us away. Besides, we must be a few kilometers from the others. Much too far for your skintenna to carry."
"But they could be hurt!"
Frizz took Aya's hand, pulling it gently from Tally's grip. "Fausto and Shay were only carrying one passenger each. They probably had a softer landing than the three of us."
"Probably? You mean if they didn't fly straight into a tree!" she cried, but resisted the urge to boot her eyescreen. She scanned the jungle, wondering if Moggle had found enough metal to come down soft. "You mind if I yell, at least?"
Tally shrugged. "Go ahead."
Aya sucked in a deep breath and yelled, "Moggle!"
From the depths of the jungle, she spotted an answering flash of night-lights. Through the ferns and hanging vines, she saw the hovercam making its way toward them, weaving from side to side, its lifters grasping whatever metal was left in the ground.
"Did you get that fall?" she called.
The night-lights flashed once more, and Aya smiled.
Ren's mods had pulled through once again.
Aya had never realized how annoying the wild could be.
The jungle was unimaginably hot, snarled, and logic-missing. Every direction was blocked by massive roots that spilled down from the trees. Spiderwebs glistened among the ferns, and the humid air was choked with clouds of insects. Ankle-grabbing vines covered the ground, which the rain had turned into a maze of waterfalls, rivulets, and mudslides. Her Ranger coverall was having trouble staying slime-resistant, and Frizz's clothes - the formals he'd worn to the tech-head bash last night - were threatening to fall apart.