hello everyone! here is a reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally long chapter! it was so much fun to write!
thanks to everyone who's given me feedback, especially disneymagic!
one last chapter after this, and then that's a wrap...for part one! the last chapter will be out hopefully tomorrow or the next day...stay tuned for part two's title reveal! hopefully i can get it posted before i have to turn this computer in..it's a school computer so :/
more reviews are always appreciated! I would love to hear how you think this is going!
"Are you ready?" Megan whispers as we slip out of the barracks just after dark. The only things we're taking with us are my neural transmitter for the microbots and Megan's FlexiRex—not a lot to carry, so it hopefully won't be too hard to get out of here.
"As I'll ever be," I reply, peering around the side of the building. I don't see any jets yet, but it might be a few hours. I'm not sure when the flight is coming back. "I just hope Tadashi gets out of there okay. Momokase and Callaghan, too. I feel so bad that they might get killed for us."
"They're tough," Meg says firmly. "They'll make it. The important thing right now is getting out of here and breaking Big Hero 6 out of prison."
I nod, trying to cement our objective in my mind. This is for the greater good.
But are three lives worth it? The spies could be killed, and all to break two teenagers out of a labor camp. Sure, we might have a good chance of getting reinforcements, but is it really, truly the only way to do this?
Deep in my heart, I know it is. I can't see any other way out of here.
"There it is," Meg whispers sharply. "The jet is coming in."
I look up to see a sleek black shape coming closer and closer, jerking erratically through the air. My stomach flips over as it performs a near-nosedive toward the wall.
Meg yanks me back behind the barracks, and we both hit the deck and cover our heads as a massive explosion of sound tears through the air. I hear a faint, high-pitched scream and wonder if it's Tadashi.
As soon as the sound has died away, Megan grabs my arm and pulls me up. "Come on!"
We peek around the side of the barracks, and I see that the jet has indeed knocked a three-hundred-foot section of wall down. The twisted, broken metal of the jet smolders in the ruins, smoke rising from it and curling through the air.
"Coast is clear," I murmur, my voice cracking as I think of Tadashi, injured and possibly dying in the wreckage. "Time to go."
And we burst out of the shadows and dart across the ruins.
Almost immediately, I hear shouts of "Someone's there! Stop them!" and Jeong's scream of "Get back here, Hamada!"
I, of course, don't listen. Megan and I run as fast as we can across the wreckage of the wall and cross the wide stretch of asphalt between that and the city's greenbelt. As soon as we make it to those woods, we'll be mostly safe—it'll be hard for the North Koreans to follow us through that.
Gunshots scream through the air as we bolt across the asphalt, and a few bullets come so close to us that I hear them shoot past me. We're so close…
We burst into the greenbelt, and suddenly our path is impeded by trees and roots and rocks. Still, the terrain stays mostly smooth, and I leap over fallen trees and small streams as fast as I can.
All goes well for a few minutes of running—though of course there are still gunshots ringing through the air behind us—but then my heavy panting turns to a yelp as the ground suddenly gives out beneath me. I hear Megan scream too, and then I'm tumbling down what must be a large hill, bouncing off several trees. The world swirls into a dark blur, and then I hit the ground hard, all the breath instantly knocked from my lungs.
I'm too dazed to realize that the gunshots have stopped, but when my senses return fully, I notice that the woods are silent. I raise my head tentatively and can detect no sound of approaching North Koreans. We are, for the most part, safe.
"You okay, Hiro?" Megan's voice whispers, cutting through the silence.
"I think so," I reply shakily, pushing myself up on one elbow and inspecting my body for injuries. All I can feel is a few scrapes and bruises, and I think I hit my shoulder pretty hard, but there isn't anything serious. "You?"
"Nothing broken," she whispers, her voice soft even though the North Koreans don't seem to be following us anymore. "Can you walk?"
"Of course—I don't think anything's sprained."
Well, except for my already sprained ankle, but when I sit up and flex it, it doesn't twinge any worse than before. It's healing better than I thought it would—I don't really have to perform manual labor, so I haven't had to walk on it much. That's good, I guess.
"Should we just stay here for tonight?" I ask. "Or should we try to get to the Lucky Cat?"
As Megan pushes herself into a sitting position, a shaft of moonlight falls across her face, and I wince as I see a rather bloody, deep scrape on her cheek. Now that I think about it, that was a pretty bad fall we took—the kind Tadashi would bug me about until he was absolutely certain I was completely fine. Hopefully we can make it out of here okay.
"I think we should try to get out of here," Meg says in response to my question. "It's probably not safe to stay right here—they'll find us eventually, especially if we fall asleep. We should probably head out now."
She gets to her feet and stretches out a hand, and I take it, relieved to find that I haven't injured my legs any worse than a skinned knee. I rake my gaze over Megan, checking for injuries. I don't see anything worse than several small abrasions, so I think we're good to go.
"Do you have any idea where the café is from here?" Meg asks.
"Vaguely," I reply, trying to orient myself. I'm pretty sure we were running in a straight line away from the camp, and if the hill is to my right…
I point in what I think is the general direction of the café—southeast. "That way. Probably. I think we'll make it in a few hours, but we've got to get out of here before morning. I think they'll try to look for us then."
"Well, then, let's go," Megan declares, and she sets off into the woods. I hurriedly follow her, climbing painstakingly over a fallen tree and sliding down another small but steep hill.
We cover a few miles of ground in silence, and finally we reach a grassy clearing where Meg insists we stop and rest. I sit down on a soft patch of ground thankfully.
"How far do you think we still have to go?" Meg asks. "We have to be getting close."
"I think it's only a mile or so," I reply. "We're farther away than I thought, but it won't take much longer if we go fast."
I glance up at the sky and decide that it's probably around two or three in the morning—we've taken maybe five hours to go only a few miles. Normally we'd be moving faster, but the wooded terrain is dense and cluttered, with no path to guide us. I guess people don't walk through this part of the greenbelt much.
After several minutes of resting, I stand up, wincing as my shoulder protests the movement. I probably have a huge bruise—that's going to be sore for a few days.
Megan gets up too and we set off again, moving as fast as possible through the woods. It's not long, only about an hour, before we stumble out of the woods and onto the road, which we follow back to the café.
When we approach my home, I nearly collapse on the doorstep in relief. I haven't been here in…a week and a half, I think. At any rate, it's been too long. All I want to do is crawl into my bed and pass out.
We have to enter through the garage, since the door is locked—so they didn't take Aunt Cass by force. She at least had time to lock the door behind her.
When Megan and I get inside, the only sound that greets us is a pitiful mew. I immediately recognize it as Mochi and call out my cat's name.
Seconds later, Mochi comes barreling down the stairs and crashes into my legs, rubbing against them and purring so hard I can actually feel him vibrating.
"Hey, Mochi," I whisper, scooping my cat up and stroking his fluffy head. "How long have you been here all by yourself?"
Mochi meows pitifully again and presses his face into my cheek. I laugh and jerk my head toward the upstairs bathroom. "We should probably get cleaned up."
"Yeah," Meg agrees. "Do you have any extra clothes? I don't care if they're men's, I just need something to wear besides this."
"Yeah, I'll show you. We've got some first aid supplies, too."
I carry Mochi up the stairs and set him down on the floor, then turn to the medicine cabinet and start pulling out band-aids and bacitracin. I didn't realize how bad I looked until now, what with the light—there are grass stains and dirt on my face, along with a bruise on my chin and a couple scratches under my eye. Apart from that, it's not so bad, except for my dirty clothes and the other abrasions I can't see. There aren't as many injuries as I thought, though—it's really only a few small scrapes and a couple bruises.
I look over at Megan and wince again at the sight of her bloody cheek. She doesn't look much better than I do, but I think if we clean the blood off, it won't look as horrible. She's acquired about the same amount of dirt and grass stains as I have, and her hair is tangled and wild. Still, she looks beautiful—a fierce, tough kind of beauty.
"Can we clean that scrape up?" I ask, wetting a washcloth in the sink. "It looks deep."
"Yeah. But let me do it," Meg says grudgingly, holding out her hand. I hand her the washcloth and grab another for myself, running it under the faucet and then gently dabbing at my scraped knee. When I've cleaned all the dirt from it, I move on to my face and then the rest of my arms and legs. Once I've cleaned all the dirt/grass/blood off, I don't look like an absolute wreck anymore.
I graciously allow Meg to use the shower first, deciding to go give Mochi food and water. The cat buries his face in the bowl of food as soon as I've poured it, and I feel a pang of sorrow as I remember that, most of the time, this is Aunt Cass's job. I wish she was here—I can take care of myself, but I just kind of want a hug right now.
The shower shuts off, and I trudge back upstairs to get Megan some clothes. I decide that Tadashi's from maybe five years ago will work, and Meg comes out of the bathroom looking, if possible, even more beautiful. And she isn't even wearing clothes that compliment her figure.
I decide to take my own shower and step into the bathroom, locking the door and pulling off my shirt. I wince at the slight twinge in my shoulder and inspect the joint, finding that while it's turned a shade of deep purple, it's not swelling at all—so it isn't sprained or broken, only bruised. The rest of my torso seems alright, too—a scrape on my back is the only damage I can find. Honestly, I'm pretty lucky I wasn't injured worse in the escape. I could have been shot—we were even shot at—and the worst thing that happened was a fall down a hill. We were protected, I'm sure of that.
But what about Tadashi? The jet was really torn up, and so was the wall. There was fire, smoke, burning ruins. There's almost no way my brother survived.
And Aunt Cass—I have no idea where she could possibly be. I haven't seen her since before the battle, and I didn't even say a proper goodbye. She could be dead for all I know.
My team enters my head next—taken away and locked up by the North Koreans, probably in prison somewhere. They're much more of a threat to the opposing army than the kids in the labor camp were, and the way they treated us still wasn't kind. I can't imagine what they might be doing to my friends now.
I've lost almost everyone I care about in this war, which is very, very far from over. And to be honest, I don't think we stand a chance against North Korea. Meg and I are just two teenagers, armed with nothing but our brains and a 3D printer.
This is hopeless.
Tadashi wanted me to never give up, but if he's not here, if my team isn't here, if my family isn't here, then I don't know what to do.
I turn on the shower and step inside, struggling not to break down. Then I remember that Meg probably can't hear me and let the wave of sorrow crash down, the sound of the falling water drowning my tears.
Faint sunlight streams through the window, gently coaxing me out of sleep. I roll over and look blearily at the alarm clock—the time reads twelve-thirty pm. I don't know when we got back, but I must have slept at least eight or nine hours. It's no surprise—I'm exhausted.
I sit up and run a hand through my rat's nest of hair, looking over at Tadashi's bed, where Meg slept last night. She appears to have already gone downstairs, as the covers are lying abandoned in a heap on the bed.
Dragging myself out of bed, I run a comb over my hair and change into my familiar purple hoodie and cargo pants, then change the bandages on my scrapes and rub more bacitracin on them—I don't want anything to get infected.
I head downstairs to find Megan making breakfast while Mochi sits on the counter and looks hopefully at her. Meg whisks two pieces of toast out of the toaster and sets them down in front of me, then sits down with her own breakfast.
"Thanks," I mumble after having shoved at least half a piece of toast, slathered with butter, cinnamon, and sugar, into my mouth. "Sorry I slept in."
Meg waves a hand dismissively. "I was only up an hour ago. No big deal. But we should probably get started on the printing."
"For sure," I agree, shoveling the rest of my toast into my mouth so fast I nearly choke. "Wait—should we barricade the doors or something? We don't want the North Koreans to be able to get in if they find us."
"That's probably good," Megan admits. "We can throw a few tables in front of the doors, and the windows are already covered, so we should be good there."
We drag several tables over to the front door, wedge one under the handle, and then pile the rest into a barricade. We'll do the same with the door to the garage when we're done working.
"Do you want me to make you a super suit?" I ask as Meg and I step into the garage. "It might come in handy."
"Um, yes," Meg says fervently. "Of course! Can it be black?"
"For sure. What power do you want?"
Megan smiles. "I really like your sonic waves—and some invisibility might be good too. If there was ever a time we don't want to be seen, it's now."
I flop down in my chair—it's been too long—and then boot up my computer. Mochi comes into the garage and hops up onto my lap, purring loudly.
"It should only take me a few hours to print everything," I tell Meg. "Let's do this."
I've barely started designing Megan's suit when she gasps. "Hiro!"
"What?" I yelp, spinning around in my chair, expecting to see an army of North Koreans bursting through the door. None come, so I conclude that it must be something else. "Is something wrong?"
"Baymax's armor—we left it at SFIT! If he's with Big Hero 6, we need to bring it so we can fly out!"
"You're right!" I gasp. "Oh my gosh, how are we gonna get it back?"
"I'll go right now," Meg says determinedly. "Call me if I'm not back in two hours. You have a case for it, right?"
"Yeah, I do—but Meg! You can't go out there alone! The North Koreans are probably all over San Fransokyo looking for us!"
"But I want to help," Megan argues. "And you're working. We need that armor, Hiro—it was designed to get everyone out. Who knows what condition your team might be in? We have to get Baymax's suit or we might not be able to get them all out of there."
I sigh and lean back in my chair, knowing she's right. "Okay. You're right. But please, Meg, please be safe. I—I can't lose you too."
"I'll be back as fast as I can," she whispers, and then she wraps me in a hug. I return the embrace for several seconds, and then Meg breaks away, opens the garage door, and then sets out.
Closing the door again, I continue printing, trying to keep my racing mind off of Megan. She has to make it back. She has to.
I finish printing Meg's suit—I hope it fits—and then get started on mine. I keep all the old features, but I also add invisibility like Megan suggested. It'll be a valuable resource in the breakout. As an afterthought, I grab a roll of invisibility cloth off my desk and stow it inside Skymax. The others don't have invisibility suits, so we might need this to sneak them out.
Despite trying not to think about Megan, I can't keep my mind off her. My head swims with dark fantasies of what could be happening to her right now, what could happen if she isn't careful. And Meg is never careful—she's always jumping into everything headfirst, never thinking before she acts. I won't claim I'm not like that sometimes, but she's like that all the time.
My nerves are stretched nearly to the breaking point when the garage door creaks open and Megan steps inside, hood up and face smudged with dirt. "Hey, Hiro."
"Meg!" I yelp, leaping up out of my chair and rushing over to her as she sets Baymax's armor case down on the floor. "Are you okay? Did anyone see you?"
Megan pulls her hood down and flops down in the armchair in the corner. "Nope. Just put my hood up and rubbed some dirt on my face, figured they wouldn't recognize my clothes. You'd think I was a guy if you didn't look closely. It wasn't hard to get into SFIT—there was nobody around and it wasn't guarded. I bet the North Koreans didn't think there was anything useful in there. I just walked in, grabbed the armor, and went out the back. Had to take a longcut through the greenbelt, but it was fine, I made it back without anyone seeing me." She beams.
"Awesome," I breathe, relief swamping me. "Just—great. Alright, I'm done with your suit, do you want to try it on?"
"Yes!" Meg exclaims. "Did you make it invisible?"
"Well, not permanently, but you can make it invisible whenever you want."
I hand the black-and-red armor to Megan, along with a plain black long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of black capris. Thank goodness I keep extras of just about everything. I should really just have extra suit pieces on hand, too.
Meg goes upstairs to change, and I continue reprinting my own suit. I've decided to add some upgrades, which are also much like Megan's—invisibility, more waterproofing, magnets and sonic waves and all that. But I've also added sheaths on my gauntlets and Meg's arm guards that contain small graphene blades. It cost nearly all of my savings, but I managed to procure a few blades about two weeks ago. I would have taken them into battle, but I hadn't added the sheaths to my gauntlets yet. I'd probably also have taken someone's eye out by mistake.
I change into my suit once it's finished, admiring the sleek, shiny carbon fiber in the mirror I set up after starting work as a vigilante. I made the new armor as light as possible while still being insanely strong, and while it probably won't look as great after this mission, for now it is a masterpiece.
Just as I think it, Meg comes into the garage. I look up and gasp.
Megan is absolutely resplendent in her shining black armor, shot through with bright red. Instead of gauntlets, I opted for arm guards and lightweight gloves, and the result is a perfectly lithe, athletic look with sharp edges. The transparent red goggles are just the right shape for Meg's face and glow faintly at the edges, and the graphene blades, which she's pulled out of their sheaths, are nearly blinding. But my favorite part of the whole look is the design I printed into the middle of the breastplate—a glowing red phoenix, shining like fire. In this moment, Meg is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
"Meg," I stammer. "You—you look amazing."
"Thanks," she says, looking slightly smug. "Love the phoenix. And the invisibility. And the knives. Especially the knives."
I laugh, and my fingers unconsciously drift up to the phoenix on my own chest. "Glad you like the knives—I was pretty sure that was gonna be your favorite part. And I thought the phoenix would, you know—"
"Symbolize rebirth and rising? Gotcha," Megan finishes. "This armor is amazing! I feel invincible!"
"Well, you're not, so you still have to be careful," I remind her. "But I made it as strong as possible so it'll be hard to stab through. Also, the goggles expand into a helmet with a visor for total invisibility coverage. We've gotta make sure we don't have any random heads floating around."
Meg laughs and presses the small button on the side of her goggles, which indeed expand into a visor, and the pieces of helmet slide out of the strap around the back of her head.
"That's really impressive," she tells me, and I flush slightly. "Anyway—when do we leave? What's the plan?"
"That's what I'm trying to figure out," I admit. "I think we're just gonna have to leave tonight, when it's dark. Unfortunately, we're not gonna be able to turn on anything that glows. The graphene blades should be okay, though. We can pass a blade through the window once we find the team's cell, and then they can cut anything they need to before coming out. If needed, we can hack a giant hole in the wall with the knives. Apart from that…it's really just going to be improv."
"Awesome!" Megan exclaims. "I love improv plans! Flying by the seat of our pants is my favorite thing to do."
I smile and put on my helmet. "Still, we'd better do some training with the graphene blades before we head out. I really don't want to end up stabbing myself or anyone else. I bet these knives could take an arm or a leg off if they were long enough."
Meg holds up her shining red blade. "Well, then, I challenge you to a joust."
We practice with the blades for several hours, deciding to set out when darkness falls. We escaped from the labor camp just twenty-four hours ago—it feels like at least a week. I don't particularly enjoy running around in the dark, but we need as much cover as possible.
"You ready?" I ask Megan as we step outside and lock the door behind us.
"As I'll ever be," she replies, unconsciously echoing my words from last night.
We proceed down the street, keeping to the shadows. After several minutes, Meg whispers, "How would you feel about taking a shortcut?"
"Good Luck Alley," Meg says, smiling apologetically. "It's much faster and less likely to have North Koreans in it—most of the people there are a lot scarier than they are."
"That's…actually a good idea," I agree. "Okay, we'll head through there. I did put escape mechanisms in the suits, just in case we're attacked—by North Koreans or sketchy people in Good Luck Alley."
"What kind of escape mechanisms?" Megan asks eagerly, looking over her suit for buttons.
"I'll show you when we need them—and to be honest, we probably will."
We cross the street and cautiously step into Good Luck Alley, trying to make as little noise as possible. We walk in silence for several minutes, passing several rather shady characters. Thankfully, they don't attempt to attack us, so we just continue on down the narrow road.
To my surprise, we reach the end of the alley without being attacked/kidnapped/mugged/murdered. Megan darts across the pool of amber light cast by a streetlamp, and I follow her as she sprints across the street to the police station.
"They're probably being held in here," Meg whispers. "Dad always said they kept the highest-security prisoners in the station so they could keep a close eye on them. I have a feeling the North Koreans will do the same."
We creep along the wall of the station, and I note the curious absence of any North Korean guards. Either they're waiting to ambush us or they're all inside—the second option is how I'd think. I wouldn't be worried about people going into the station—I'd worry about whether they came back out.
Suddenly, I hear a faint voice. "I think they might be infected, Honey. We need to get you some kind of ointment."
My eyes widen, and I look over at Meg to see recognition pass over her face. That's GoGo.
Heart pounding, I whisper to Megan, "Press the button in the center of your breastplate."
Her shaking fingers find the button hidden in the phoenix just as mine do the same. Without a sound, two paper-thin but strong-as-steel sheets of carbon fiber, printed into sleek feathery shapes, unfold from the backs of our breastplates, mine edged with purple light, Meg's with red.
"Wings," I whisper in answer to Megan's incredulous look. "In case we needed to get up to the window. Press the button again and the thrusters will turn on."
We both press the button, and I float somewhat erratically up to the window, grabbing the edge of the sill and peering inside. Sure enough, four dark shapes are inside the cell, and one of them looks up as the light of my wings falls across the tiny, dark room.
A look of pure relief passes over Honey's pale face, and her eyes almost immediately fill with tears. One after the other, the faces of Big Hero 6 are thrown into relief by the soft purple glow. In the cell next to them, I catch sight of another familiar face—President Cruz.
They're all here. Battered, bruised, emaciated—but here.
"You came," Wasabi whispers. "We weren't sure you ever would."
"I would never leave you behind," I say softly. "Never. And I'm here to break you out."
Suddenly, Megan drifts up beside me. "Hiro! There are guards coming out on patrol—and they're not American!"
I look up to see that there are indeed several North Koreans walking across the street, their long silver rifles gleaming in the moonlight. They're walking away from us, but still…
I turn back to my team. "I've got something resembling a plan to get you out of here…but we need to hurry."