My first reaction was — as had become an instinctive reflex for me — to freeze time. Unfortunately, between John and Fumiko that left me completely frozen, too. But it did give me the opportunity to think — which I rapidly realized would be a bad thing to indulge in. My aura didn’t have a lot of reserve, despite feeding on Fumiko. Certainly not what I’d had available after feeding on Pipsqueak! Worse, I was already starting to panic — and if I had a full on panic attack while in frozen time and I let my aura wear out, then I’d probably drain Fumiko to death for John.
John had told me that he needed to feed on the recently dead. That since ghouls never actually died, unlike vampires, their flawed souls fed on the death that was absent from their existence. I couldn’t claim to understand how that worked, but whatever: I knew that if John didn’t have a human corpse to feed on, he would make one.
Actually, I wondered if I counted. I’d died once — not even a week ago — and ‘gone dormant’ three times since then. Each of those was sort of like dying, right?
I wrenched my thoughts away from that track. Partially because it suggested some very squicky solutions very quickly. But more because I realized that I was just distracting myself from what I’d already realized I had to do.
I unfroze time and shoved John up against the door. Behind me, I could hear Fumiko shout, and to my left Dad was yelling, too. Swears, it sounded like. John snarled at me. He clawed at me, but I was stronger. His jaws snapped twice at my face.
I shouted loud enough to cut through the rest of the noise. “Head across the river,” I snapped to Dad. “Don’t stop for anything. Kallaher’s funeral services on Maple Street. We’ll meet up there.” Then I leaned into John. His teeth sank into me — I bit back the need to scream and squeezed my eyes against the tears of pain that welled up when he ripped out part of my shoulder. I may have sobbed, but it didn’t matter: I’d managed to fumble around behind him and I’d gotten the door handle. I pulled and heard the door unlatch. “I’ll lead them off,” I shouted.
Then I shoved John out of the car.
I tumbled out of the car with him.
But that was fine. That was the plan. What I had to do was make sure Fumiko and Dad were safe. That meant getting the starving ghoul out of the car — and it meant making sure the SUV with the solocks in it didn’t get to pursue them. John and I hit the pavement hard. John hit first. I bounced off of him and rolled across the street. Still no traffic: neither of us were hit by a car. As soon as I had tumbled free of John’s grasp I froze time again. I bounced, rolled, and finally slid to a stop while the rest of the world was locked in stasis around me.
I wanted to just lay there — but only for a second. I had enough aura to heal the injuries I’d just taken. Even the missing chunk of my shoulder. I felt fine after that — except for how very, very aware I was of how thin my aura’s reserves were.
But at least the cracks had been plastered over when I’d fed from Fumiko, so none of my ‘living’ aura was going into paying for my vampire super powers. And I still had enough of a buffer of Fumiko’s life force to keep my grip on time steady.
I picked myself up from the ground and took a second of relative time to assess my situation. John was still in the process of rolling to a stop. Fumiko’s car was already past me. The SUV had turned onto the street and was angling to follow. There were no other cars on the road.
I frowned and looked behind me, toward Fumiko’s car and then further up the street.
Son of a bitch!
There was another car there: a second SUV that was pulled over by the side of the road. There were two men outside of it, and a series of spike strips — like what police deploy to stop car chases — stretched out across all four lanes of the road beside it. I felt my nostrils flare angrily — but not because of the danger Dad was about to drive across. No: I recognized one of the men.
So, maybe Mr. Fiore hadn’t opted to start a war, after all. These fuckers were Director Lewellan’s. My eyes narrowed. I was guessing, now, that the sirens I’d heard in the distance had been related to me. Lewellan had probably leveraged his contacts with the actual cops to have them support Adrian’s little hit squad. And I was guessing that Adrian had kept the regular cops at a distance — they were probably redirecting traffic away from this showdown. And, of course, that would keep them conveniently away from any excessive use of force — like unloading into John — that Adrian’s people chose to use.
I stalked down the street toward Adrian. I took a moment to close the back passenger door of Fumiko’s car when I passed it. I kept going until I got to Adrian and his blockade. I took care to skirt around Adrian and the other man — I had no desire to see if ghouls could get dragged into my personal time zone like vampires could. John hadn’t been, but he’d clearly been starving at the time — I wasn’t going to take a chance on a ‘living’ ghoul having better powers than John had.
The first thing I had to do was make sure that Adrian and his crony couldn’t chase Dad and Fumiko. They’d probably be distracted by chasing me, but I wasn’t going to risk them deciding to split up. I got to the front of their SUV and wedged my fingers under the hood. Then I ripped it open.
I know absolutely nothing about how cars work, so once I was under the hood I didn’t go for subtly. I ripped out every wire, belt, or other protruding thing I could find under there. Then I let the hood slam closed again. I smiled softly. Go ahead and try to take chase, I silently dared Adrian. I’ll be glad to let you waste your time. I grinned wider. After all, that’s my monopoly. It almost felt unfair. I had virtually all the time in the world, and they weren’t even going to have time to figure out what the hell happened to them.
With my sabotage of Adrian’s ride complete, I turned and cleared the spike strips out of Dad’s way. I gathered them up as I did. Then I turned around and walked back toward John.
I could’ve gotten in the car and just ridden off with Dad and Fumiko, but I couldn’t leave John behind to either be caught by Lewellan’s people — or worse, to escape and kill someone innocent. And I figured Dad and Fumiko would be better off running without me. I could lead all the people who were following Director Lewellan’s talismans in the opposite direction from the river and John’s friend the funeral director. Then I could freeze time and make my way to rejoin them.
It would give us the best possible head start on whatever we did next.
So I walked past Fumiko’s car again. And then past John. I stopped at the first SUV — the one that had pulled out of the Mexican restaurant’s parking lot, and that had brought the solock who’d shot up John.
I was actually a little pissed with these guys.
I took a moment to array all of the spike strips right in front of them. There was no way they’d be able to avoid having their tires shredded. But just in case they were armored or something, I pried the hood of their vehicle open, too. This time I found the metal prop that can be used to hold the hood up, and I put that in place — then bent it out of shape so it wouldn’t slip out of place when time resumed. Locking the hood up should pretty much guarantee zero visibility, I figured.
But for good measure I tore a whole ton of crap out of the engine, too.
Now I just had to figure out what my opening move would be, once I let things start moving.
On autopilot I turned and marched away from the vehicle I’d just finished sabotaging. On a certain level I felt queasy — they were fucked and would very probably wind up hurt or even dead, possibly, and I didn’t have the excuse of being starving to explain my actions. I didn’t really want to see how my machinations played out.
But I wasn’t just being squeamish: Adrian and his friend weren’t in their car. I couldn’t leave them unopposed to take potshots at Dad and Fumiko or something. It was kind of strange, but having actually been psychotically bloodthirsty before, I actually didn’t feel that bad about whatever the potential consequences might be of my going after Adrian and his people like this. After all, it was flat out self-defense. They hadn’t even said anything to John before opening up with automatic weapons, for god’s sake!
I knew what maliciously murderous intent felt like, and the murderous intent I felt right now wasn’t it.
So, once more I strode down the street. I tried to ignore how shaky I felt. Succumbing to my nerves wouldn’t be helpful. Own it, I reminded myself. You’re a badass, Abigail. Make them regret coming after your friends and family, and maybe they’ll stop. If not because they regret what doing it got them, then because you’ve broken them too much for them to keep doing it.
That actually helped. Emma had reported that Lewellan had given the order to hunt down my friends and family. When Benjamin’s people had apprehended Dad and Fumiko, they’d been acting on Lewellan’s orders. Fuck that shit. By the time I was standing in front of Adrian, I’d actually gotten my hands to stop shaking.
Adrian’s companion was watching the space with the now missing spike strips, frozen in anticipation of his ambush. Adrian, on the other hand, was looking at the two oncoming vehicles. He had a slightly smug smile on his lips, and I felt a sudden surge of anger.
I wanted to wipe that smile away. And I would, because Adrian was a ghoul. I didn’t know if his companion was a human or not, but with Adrian I wouldn’t have to hold back. Or at least, not as much. John had pretty much laughed off being beat over the head with a table, so Adrian could probably take a solid punch. And if it was solid enough, maybe I could intimidate his buddy into backing off.
I curled my fist and drew it back like Fumiko had taught me, way way back when. I mentally made a promise to myself: if we survived the night, I was going to apologize to Fumiko and ask her to teach me every self-defense lesson that I’d been too freaked out to take her up on before.
Then I snapped my fist forward, and unfroze time.
And all the ensuing mayhem broke out simultaneously.
My punch caved in Adrian’s chest. His eyes shot open wide — and he shot backward, twisting since my punch was slightly off center and then colliding with his own vehicle hard enough to slide up the hood and crack the windshield. His companion yelled in surprise and whirled around toward me, pulling some sort of sub-machine gun out from his coat as he did. Fumiko’s car blew past us. And behind us I heard the other SUV’s tires blow out, and the metal of the wheels’ rims screeching across the pavement as it spun out of control.
Despite myself — despite even the gun that was coming into play — I had to look at what my sabotage had done. Just to make sure I hadn’t actually killed anyone. It was just a glance.
Son of a fucking…!
It was just a glance, but it was one that revealed the out-of-control vehicle, now turned sideways, skidding across the street on a collision course for John’s motionless body.
I froze time and ran. It was kind of stupid. I didn’t need to run: time was frozen. But I did anyway. I got to the SUV and grabbed it. I focused all my strength, like I had with the truck, before, and tried to shift its course — but I couldn’t! Trying to shove it was like trying to move too close to a person in frozen time. My stomach dropped: I couldn’t move the vehicle because of the people inside. I couldn’t directly interact with anyone alive while time was frozen without getting, as Benjamin had said, ‘snagged on their aura.’
Apparently I couldn’t indirectly interact with people, either.
If I unpaused time, I wouldn’t have the time to get John out of the way. If I didn’t, I couldn’t move him. And I was panicking too hard to take the time that I did have to try to figure out something else to do.
I mean, what could I do? Try to construct a ramp over John or something?
Actually, that might’ve worked — except that I couldn’t really keep time frozen forever, I knew crap about construction — and I was far, far too aware of how thin my reserves were. Maybe I was underestimating them because I was contrasting them to when they’d been bloated on Pipsqueak’s life force, but I made my decision and I made it rashly.
I had to act, and I had to do it before I didn’t have the reserves to do anything.
I took a breath that I didn’t need and then I put all my strength into shoving the SUV off of its current path. I pushed until it started to physically hurt, like it had when I’d forced myself to get mere millimeters from Pipsqueak’s neck. And then I kept pushing, until I started to feel the effort actually noticeably drain my remaining reserve of aura.
And then, right when I was giving it absolutely everything I had, I let time resume.