"Don't forget, we aren't sure of anything yet," Tally said. "They could be building a hundred mass drivers right here, getting ready to bombard every city in the world. We may have to blow something up, after all."
"We're almost at the equator," Fausto said.
"The equator?" Tally shook her head. "What does that have to do with it?"
"The closer you are to the equator, the faster the Earths spinning - more centrifugal force."
Fausto made a whirling motion over his head. "Like a pre-Rusty sling - the longer it is, the more momentum it gives the stone. Right here's the best place to shoot something into orbit."
"So maybe there are mass drivers here!" Aya said. Maybe her story hadn't been totally truth-missing...
"Don't get too excited, Aya-chan." Ren stood up and crossed to the largest opening in the wall. "I haven't see any mountains on this island."
"The nearest ones I saw were more than a hundred klicks north," David said.
"If you drill a mass driver shaft at sea level, your projectile starts too low," said Ren. "And on a tropical island you'd have to worry about flooding. It'd be a nightmare."
Aya sighed. This island wasn't the best place to destroy the world from, and it was guilty-making how that fact filled her with sadness. If only the inhumans had been up to something world-threatening here...
"So why are they salvaging these ruins?" Frizz paused, listening for a moment to the shriek of saws echoing through the ruin. "And why are they on a schedule? In the hovercar, Udzir told us that they'd let us go soon."
"When did he say that?" Tally asked.
"Oh," Frizz said. "I think that was when we were speaking Japanese."
"Thanks for telling me!" Tally shook her head. "Here I've spent all day babysitting you two, while these freaks are getting ready to ... do whatever!"
She stood up, snapping for her hoverboard. The other Cutters and David scrambled to their feet.
"Good," Shay said. "I've had enough sitting around."
Aya stood. "Yeah, let's go get some answers."
Tally turned to her. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Um, with you?"
"Forget it. You four are staying right here."
"Here?" Aya cried. She had a story to rekick! "But what if you don't come back? Or if the freaks find us?"
"In those sneak suits they'll never see you." David pointed at the satellite dish. "And if we're still gone at sundown tomorrow, you can call for help."
Tally stepped onto her hoverboard. Its riding surface shimmered for a moment, then faded into the background. The four of them pulled on their hoods, and soon they were little more than ripples in the air.
"See you later, randoms!" Shay's voice said from nowhere.
The four shapes rose up, slipping without another word through the gaps in the broken wall.
"Wait, Tally-wa..." Aya's cry trailed off.
"They're already gone," Frizz said, putting a hand on her shoulder.
Aya shook him off and went to the crumbling wall of the skyscraper, looking out across the jungle. The sun had set over the trees, and in the distance the inhumans' hoverport was coming alight. The outlines of storehouses and factories glowed against the blackness of the jungle.
All the answers were right there in front of her. All she had to do was go get them.
Aya looked down at her own hand, almost perfectly invisible in her sneak suit glove...
"Aya-chan," Hiro asked, "are you thinking of doing something brain-missing?"
"No." She set her jaw. "I'm thinking that I don't care what Tally Youngblood says. This is still my story."
"You're nuts," Hiro said.
"Look out there," she said. "The freaks' base isn't that far away. And we've got sneak suits!"
"But the Cutters took all the hoverboards," Ren said. "Are we supposed to walk there?"
"Well..." Aya frowned, looking at the floor. "We've got enough pieces of hoverball rig for three of us. We can move pretty fast in those."
"You want to float through the jungle at night?" Frizz said. "It was tricky enough when we could see!"
Ren nodded. "There are wild animals down there, Aya-chan. And poisonous snakes and spiders."
Aya groaned. Why was everyone suddenly so backbone-missing?
"You're just self-shaming because you got the story wrong," Hiro said.
"That's not why I'm - ," Aya started, then glanced at Frizz. "Okay, it's totally shaming. But there's still a story here, and we're still kickers, right?"
"I'm actually more of a clique founder," Frizz muttered.
"Doesn't matter how big a story it is," Ren said. "We don't even have a ..." He paused, staring at her. "Um, where's Moggle?"
"Of course!" Aya cried. "Moggle could tow me in a hoverball rig, maybe two of us. Then we could fly over the jungle, above all the vines and poisonous stuff!"
"But it's still back at that ruin," Frizz said.
"You lost Moggle!" Hiro cried. "Again?"
Aya shook her head. "Moggle isn't lost, okay? Just waiting at this rum we found. We have to send a ping."
"Brain-missing for two reasons," Hiro said. "One, if we send a ping, the freaks will swoop down and capture us. Two, a ping won't travel more than a kilometer here. There's no city interface to repeat it - just jungle."
"He's right, Aya," Ren said, spreading his hands. "There's nothing we can do but wait for Tally."
Aya sighed, sinking to the floor.
If she couldn't rekick the story somehow, she'd be remembered forever as the ugly who'd blown the biggest story since the mind-rain, a useless kicker who'd needed Tally Youngblood to find the real facts.
The name Aya Fuse would forever be synonymous with truth-missing.
She looked up. For some reason, Frizz was making a low growling sound through his teeth.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"It's nothing..." He flinched. "I mean, practically nothing."
Aya recognized his pained expression, and smiled. "You've got an idea, haven't you?"
He shook his head, biting his lip. "Too dangerous!"
"Come on!" she pleaded. "Tell me!"
"Linear transmission!" Frizz blurted out, pointing to the satellite dish that David had left behind.
He rubbed his temples. "We just need to point that in the right direction."
Ren nodded slowly. "Like David said, the freaks will never hear a thing."
The sun was down, and the horizon was dotted with worklights and sprays of cutting sparks. The first cool breeze of the day was wafting in from the sea, bringing the smells of salt and brine.
"That looks like the place," Frizz said, pointing into the darkness. "Two towers in a clearing, one twice as tall as the other."
"But the inhumans are there again." Aya watched the sparks tumbling from the taller spire. "Won't they hear us?"
Ren looked at the satellite dish. "The transmission will only hit a small area, and those workers have a building to chop up. Why would they be listening for random radio noise?"
"I guess so." Aya twitched her fingers nervously, playing with her sneak suit's controls. The scales shifted, a texture like tree bark flickering across her body. Her hoverball rig was completely hidden beneath the suit.
"See that heavy lifter?" Ren pointed at a machine leaving the ruin. "If Moggle follows that cable line, then turns there, it'll be here in twenty minutes."
Aya shook her head, remembering all the random twists and turns Tally had taken on the way here. Down in the treetops the network of cables had been invisible. But from this height, the lifters and hovercars flying to and fro revealed its shape, like a glowing, moving map spread across the darkness.
"I'll stay here and guide Moggle while you wait down there." Ren pointed to where the pile of scrap spilled into the jungle. "Take your hoods off, and I'll tell Moggle to look for a couple of heads glowing in infrared."
"There'll be three of us," Hiro said.
Aya turned to face him. "Sorry, Hiro. But Moggle can't tow three people."
"You forget: I actually know how to fly in a hoverball rig. I don't need to be towed." Hiro drifted into the air, spinning around once to demonstrate. "And I'm not going to let my little sister upstage me twice in one week."
She smiled. "Glad to have you along, Hiro."
Ren carried the satellite dish to the outer wall and knelt, balancing it on a pile of rubble. He carefully aimed the metal parabola at the distant ruin.
A flicker of lights blossomed across its controls, but Ren kept his stare focused on the horizon.
He adjusted the dish in tiny increments, probing the darkness with its invisible beam.
Long minutes passed that way, Ren's fingers moving the dish as slowly as a minute hand. There was no sound in the room but the metal saws overhead.
"I still can't believe we got the story wrong," Hiro murmured.
Aya smiled. "Thanks for saying we, Hiro. But you were right - it was my fault."
He grunted. "You're just lucky to get a do-over."
"No, definitely," Ren said, staring into the flickering controls. "I finally got an answer!"
"Is Moggle okay?" Aya asked.
"Looks fine from here. The batteries are even recharged - must have found a sunny spot!"
Aya felt a smile growing on her face. She had a hovercam again.
"Let's get moving," Hiro said. He glided to a hole in the floor and dove through, slipping out of sight. Frizz followed, pushing with his hands to propel himself downward.
Before she dropped, Aya turned to Ren. "You'll be okay all alone?"
"Sure. Just don't leave me here too long." He patted the satellite dish. "If no one makes it back in twenty-four hours, I'm kicking this to the whole world."
They descended through the iron skeleton of the tower, floating past ruined floors in darkness, like divers exploring an ancient shipwreck. The whine of cutting blades faded above, the darkness growing around Aya.
With Moggle on its way here, finally she could make up for all those cam-missing hours flying over the jungle. Not that nature shots were ever famous-making - quite the opposite. Like Miki had said, the point of fame was to be obvious, and so much of the jungle was hidden.
But Aya wanted to remember its quiet magnificence nonetheless.
"Through there?" Hiro asked when she landed at ground level. He was pointing to the pile of steel and rubble.
"Yeah, but wait a minute," Aya said. "A lifter's coming down."
They stayed in the shadows, watching until the construction lifter dropped its load of scrap. Metal shrieked and bent, grinding concrete rubble into dust as the new addition settled onto the pile.
"Okay, quick," Frizz said. "Before another one comes."
Hiro was already shooting ahead, slipping into the twisted maze without a glance backward. Aya vowed to learn how to use a hoverball rig properly some day. Floating in zero-g mode was faster than crawling, but way too slow when bone-crushing piles of steel were being thrown around.
It seemed to take forever, making her way through the rubble. As the spires fell behind, stray cables clinging to the girders grabbed at Aya from the darkness - only the sneak suit's armor protected her from countless tetanus-infecting scratches. And she couldn't help imagining another lifter overhead, bringing a giant mass of scrap to squash them all.