Setsuzoku Heights is the place people go to be robbed or murdered. It's the place the yakuza go home to their dens at night. They say a third of the district is intoxicated, either by drugs or alcohol, at any given moment. If you need an unregistered weapon, a new liver, illegal substances, exotic animals or plants, stolen data, unlicensed experiments, or even a contract to kill—word on the street is you'll find it in Setsuzoku.
Of course, Setsuzoku is also the only district in the city where you find a half-decent street race, which always gives Gogo a good excuse to come back.
As she lets her bike coast to a halt at a red light, the warm air wafts over her skin and hair. The night is muggy and tepid in a way that reminds hair of stepping into a bathtub, except that it's filled with some nameless grime that never really goes away. Maybe it's pollutants from the far-off business district of the city proper, or maybe it's something from the rows and rows of squat, hole-in-the-wall eateries like the nearby all-night diner that is even now pumping out the nauseating smell of frying oil.
Either way, Gogo hardly even notices the air quality anymore, and it's not like the area's inhabitants are the types to complain. Setsuzoku is a "low-income area," which basically means there are more get-cash-fast joints per capita than anywhere else in the city, enough homeless people to roam in packs and to have a well-organized tent city beneath the freeway, and a heavily diverse population with just barely enough Koreans and Japanese mixed in for Gogo to feel at home. It also means people look the other way for minor things like a suspicious ring of people exchanging money as they crowd around a pair of bots. Or the loud squeal of motorbikes drifting through a major intersection.
Not Gogo's bike, of course. Hers is nearly silent by design, a pet project she's spent ages on outside of school. A work of art.
In the space before the light turns green, Gogo catches a small movement out of the corner of her eye. With her helmet on, she has to turn her whole head to see. Awash in the red of the streetlight are two guys, older than her and with broad shoulders and hands shoved into coat pockets. Staring.
There's no way to gauge intentions, and Gogo knows that better than anyone, but she also knows what she must look like: a girl of small stature (even in her head, she refuses to call herself short) alone at night. Alone on a customized bike easily worth thousands of credits to the right buyer, and alone in a district that probably won't care enough to file a report for lost property.
She glares back. Eventually, they look away. The light turns green, and she revs her engine and rides away on the rain-slicked street.
Things might have been bad if she'd been any other girl riding any other bike. But a bike like hers is more trouble than it's worth. Too recognizable, which makes it hard to move and sell. And Gogo has the air of someone who can take care of herself. It's not hard to see that she lacks the unease of a tourist, or even the pointed wariness of a long-term visitor. The streets of Setsuzoku thrum in Gogo's blood, and she feels as at home here as she does on SFIT's campus. Maybe it shows, and maybe that's why people leave her alone.
Not that she's really alone, anyway.
A shadow, faint in the dim sliver of moon, rolls lazily across the pavement in front of her. If she hadn't been expecting it, Gogo might have reached for her maglev discs. Instead, she lets her bike slow to a coast before glancing overhead.
It's hard to see past the amber glow of the streetlights and the neon liquor store signs at her side, but Gogo can just make out Baymax's familiar silhouette amid the seething clouds above. And where Baymax is, Hiro is.
Her helmet transmitter crackles to life. "How do you do the 'fuck off' vibe so well?" Hiro asks, his voice sly.
Gogo barks a laugh, rolling the throttle to give her bike a burst of speed. "Years of practice, young punk," she replies flippantly. "You'll get there one day."
As she accelerates, the wind rushes in her ears, but the transmitter automatically raises the volume to compensate. "You have a couple years' advantage over me," Hiro replies. "Because you're old. And you grew up here."
"So it's in my blood. Deal with it."
There's a comfortable pause in which Gogo darts around a slow-moving pickup, jetting past rows of squat, abandoned buildings.
"I do not understand," Baymax interjects finally. "What is in your blood?"
"It's an expression," Hiro replies. "It means...that she's used to things here. Kinda."
"It means I grew up here until I was in high school, before my parents decided this wasn't the life for them and saved enough to get out to the suburbs," Gogo clarifies. "Out to Matsumount Prefecture, actually, like a couple blocks from where Mrs. Matsuda lives. They wanted trees and picket fences and open spaces, you know? Green stuff."
Hiro snorts. "Green stuff," he repeats, mimicking her dismissive tone. "Why would they want something like that?"
"It's not really my thing," she tells Baymax, ignoring Hiro's quiet laughter. "I hate the suburbs. My parents worry a lot about me being 'alone' in a big city like this, or hanging out in Setsuzoku without them. But since I grew up in this area, and it was part of my upbringing, it's…'part of my blood.' Metaphorically. Get it?"
"I believe I understand better now," Baymax replies, though his voice still has the inquisitive ring that means his curiosity isn't fully sated. "This is the reason you live in a different city from your parents? With Honey Lemon?"
"Yeah," Gogo replies quietly, thinking of her friend. Above her, Hiro seems to sober as well, and the conversation trails off.
It still strikes her sometimes how incredible it is that she and Honey Lemon are friends at all, as different as they are. Both of them credit Tadashi for introducing them to each other, because without him, they might never have really spoken. Even now, their partnership seems odd, but Gogo loves Honey Lemon like the sister she never had.
A sister whose threats of a slow, painful death haven't stopped Gogo or Hiro from sneaking out to Setsuzoku at night.
Because Hiro's got Setsuzoku in his blood too, just in a different way. You'd never guess just from looking at him, though, and that's his problem sometimes. In this part of the city, people assume you're an outsider if you lack a certain demeanor, a grim and wary grit to the face and a sturdy set to your limbs. Gogo's had years of experience carefully cultivating her facade of cool surety, which she wields like a blade each time she returns, but Hiro's got none of that. Instead, he's got the same clean-cropped appearance Tadashi used to have, a wide openness and curiosity that frequent visits to Setsuzoku usually stamp out of most people, sometimes the hard way.
But Hiro's also quick on his feet in a way most people aren't, and he'd made himself known here long before she knew him as Tadashi's brother. Back then, she'd only heard talk of that kid with a shit-eating grin who robbed everyone blind with his hustle and then took off into the night.
Still, it doesn't hurt that he's got Baymax with him now. No one's messing with a six-foot, armored robot in the dark of night. Even Gogo doesn't worry about Hiro being out and about when Baymax is at his side, and she knows the area well.
Somewhere in the distance, church bells chime the hour. Pulled from her thoughts, Gogo swears under her breath and urges her bike faster.
The streets here aren't as easily navigable as the gridded lines of the rest of San Fransokyo. Setsuzoku grew out of a steep hillside northwest of the city proper, and its streets curl like vines threading over and under one another across the land. Gogo loves the complexity of it, the quick drops and short curves, but driving here takes a bit more concentration.
Once she navigates a shallow curve that rounds the back of a lighted motel, Gogo feels comfortable enough to relax a little. Baymax's shadow again passes overhead. "Hey, try not to be seen from the air," Gogo says impulsively, thinking that it'll be way harder to deny their presence in Setsuzoku if the others hear rumors of a flying robot over the district. The silence that follows Gogo's statement is as close to a "no shit" glare as it's possible for Hiro to make without looking at her. "Sorry," Gogo allows, sweeping gently past a slow-moving Honda. "That was a really Wasabi thing to say."
"It was," Hiro teases from above. "Better watch it, Gogo. I don't think we can take two of him in the group."
"Ha ha. How'd the rest of the bot fight go? Looked like one of Megabot's arms wasn't responding that well to the transmitter or something when I left—and by the way, sorry I snuck out for the end. I'm gonna be late as it is."
"That's cool. Yeah, it was awesome. We almost tripled the money—and we went to the ATM to transfer it to credits, so you should have access now—and Megabot pretty much destroyed Diesector in the finals, even with the arm thing—"
"Yeah! Four eighty, FYI. But it was a tough one. Hard to have it climb over stuff with a broken arm, you know? I'm gonna have to hole up and do some repairs when I get back; I didn't really get a chance to see what was wrong with it."
Gogo lets out a low whistle. "You're killing it even with setbacks."
"Reminds me of when I used to hustle," Hiro laughs. "Sometimes I'd pretend Megabot was broken or something, and then he'd miraculously pull through. Only this time, karma came back to bite me, I guess."
On an impulse, Gogo takes a shortcut—a smaller side street that curls over a few rooftops and then leans away to hug the hillside. "Do you ever miss that part of it? Hustling, I mean. You used to be able to sneak in and out unnoticed, but now that we come up here so often, you're too recognizable."
"Yeah, it's weird that most of the bot fighters know me by name now. But it's not all that different being legit, and putting your actual name on the roster and everything. It's just that people don't bet as much, so it just means it takes a little longer to make the money," he adds slyly.
"It is better that you win fairly," Baymax interjects. "I have found that the chances of violent repercussions following a win decrease sharply when the other party believes that the entirety of the event was 'above board.'"
"That's true. We haven't really had to get out of a fight in ages."
"In addition, I believe it is better for your mental health to win fairly," Baymax continues. "Although 'hustling' accrues more money more quickly, you have seemed happier now that you are able to openly garner the respect of your bot-fighting peers."
"Don't make me sound nice while I'm in Setsuzoku. It ruins my street cred."
"Street cred? What street cred?" Gogo laughs. Then a thought occurs to her. "Hey," she adds suddenly, voice growing loud as she slows enough for an ambulance blaring its alarm to cross her path. "Hey, did I ever tell you how I met Tadashi? I mean really met him, not just seeing him around in classes?"
There's a long pause. For a moment, Gogo is tempted to glance up, as if she might somehow make out Hiro's facial expression through the darkness of the tiny silhouette against the moonlit sky, but she focuses on the road instead. "No," Hiro says at last. "What happened?"
"I actually met him because he was looking for you. Here, in Setsuzoku. Bailing you out of trouble, as usual," she adds, and Hiro laughs, startled. "I was in the middle of a race; the track was a little different from the one we're doing tonight, and instead of cutting through the abandoned warehouses out at the city limits, it ran pretty close to Mino's bar.
"So he was on his bike too, and we ran into each other, almost literally—like, swerving around each other in an intersection and everything. Both of us were fine obviously, but I was knocked off of my bike and pretty much skinned my entire left leg. Still got the scar to prove it," she adds, thinking of the way she always becomes more aware of it when she takes a deep turn in a race, the asphalt flashing past just below her leg where the pale scar still stretches.
She shakes her head. "So Tadashi, being Tadashi, like runs over and is treating me like I'm about to die or something...I mean, I guess I was bleeding, but it was really shallow. For about all of a minute, I thought, 'I can still make it. I can still win this.' But I wasn't as good back then as I am now, so I wasn't doing that hot—I think I was in sixth or seventh, and the other racers were just zooming by while Tadashi was trying to figure out how to bandage my leg. Until I beat him off of me.
"So yeah, by the time Tadashi helped me up, there was no way I was winning the race, and I knew it. But when I finally turned to him, probably to yell because I was still kinda mad about the whole thing, I realized I'd seen him around campus before—we had two of our common curriculum classes together. It was just my freshman year, you know, and I remember I didn't know his name, but already he knew mine.
"Anyway, I think he was still worrying about you and all of the crap you were getting up to, because one of the first things out of his mouth when he realized I was okay was 'You know street racing is really dangerous, right?' Like, totally calmly, like he thought maybe I really didn't know anything about it. And before then, I always thought of him as kind of this snobby junior. Kind of a teacher's pet, always speaking up in class and that kind of thing. Right?" she adds as Hiro laughs again.
"He really was, though," Hiro says. "If it was anyone else, you'd think he was a suck up. But Tadashi made it kind of…"
"Exactly. But even so, it pissed me off a little, 'cause I thought, well, what right does this random guy have to tell me about my choices? So I asked what a judgemental snob like him was doing in my part of town, only I didn't say it so nice."
Hiro is laughing again now, so hard the transmitter wheezes as he tries to catch his breath, and Gogo grins. "No, but he just looked crushed. I mean, at first I thought I really offended him, but then he started talking about this kid brother he had who thought he could handle himself and snuck out of bed at night to do bot fighting in basically the most dangerous area of the city. He talked about how he woke up to find you gone, and you weren't picking up your cell, and he'd spent like an hour looking for you. He was barely keeping it together, he was so worried." She takes the next bend in the road thoughtfully, slowing to let two half-drunk pedestrians wamble across the path. "It was the first time I ever remember seeing his Hiro Trouble face. Sometimes, before we even met you, when we'd see him, we'd just know that you'd been up to something. I guess it was just the eyebrows, maybe.
"So since I knew there was no point in jumping back in the race, and Tadashi was obviously out of place—I guess it was the one of the first times he came to look for you, because he wasn't even in the right area—I felt kinda bad. So I helped him look for you, since he was obviously lost as hell."
"Then you're the reason he suddenly figured out where all the bot fights were," Hiro realizes. "I always wondered. One day, he just suddenly became an expert overnight."
"Yeah, that was me. You deserved it probably," she says unapologetically, continuing before he can interject. "So at first, we were just hopping in and out of some of the alleys and bars where the fights usually happened, wandering in and out of the crowds to see if you were there, and he was completely serious. Same worried expression, not really saying much. But after a while, I think he wanted to distract himself or something, because he just started talking. About nothing at first, just some of the projects he was working on, and I think he asked me about my classes, and, I don't know, we probably talked about other stuff too. Movies, maybe. You know me—I don't really talk or open up to people I don't know well, so it was really weird for him to just pour his life out like that. But a part of me just admired him, because he did it so easily. Tadashi just had this way of being a friend to everybody. Just treated you like a friend right off the bat, even...
"Anyway." She clears her throat, which feels a little thick. "Eventually, no matter what we were talking about, it would circle back to you. It was almost funny, because we'd be jumping out of the way of the crowds or a bot fight or a fistfight or even a knife fight once, and he was just glowing as he talked about his kid brother. God, he was crazy.
"We spent probably an hour and a half looking, and he called you a couple of times, I think. The last time he called you, when you finally picked up, he instantly became this whole other person. Like, he went from some over-friendly Prince Charming character to...I don't know, this badass Dark Knight guy or something. I was a little afraid he was going to murder you if he found you."
"I remember being worried about that a lot too," Hiro mutters darkly under his breath.
"Afterwards," Gogo continues, "he got off the call and told me you'd left the bot fights already and that you were safe, and he thanked me for showing him around, but he was kind of in a rush to get to you—probably to kill you. And that was that, I thought. Because like I said, outside of me showing him around Setsuzoku, there was no excuse for us to ever hang out together. Tadashi was super friendly and popular in almost a jock-ish kind of way, and I'm more...sarcastic. And low-key. And weird."
"Like me," Hiro adds.
"Yeah, like you," Gogo replies. They have finally reached the outskirts of Setsuzoku, where empty lots and decrepit buildings give way to the wide road unofficially used as an interstate leading from San Fransokyo to the forested hills beyond. As she comes to the crest of a slope, she can finally make out the small, dark sea of people roaring in the distance below. Here and there, the beams of streetlights catch against hair and clothing in bright patches of color that move slowly with the crowd like the turn of a kaleidoscope.
"I don't know," she adds as she descends, slowing her bike a little to finish their conversation before she reaches the crowd, where the starting line awaits. "Maybe that's why he actually stayed friends with me after that. I thought he wouldn't get me, but he came to sit next to me in class the next day—Honey Lemon and Wasabi weren't in the same class as him, or I guess he would've sat with them—and he started chatting with me online while class was going on. About how it turned out you'd snuck away before we'd even started looking, and how he'd coordinated a total electronics blackout as punishment. All your computers and tech would be dead for a week. He looked so smug about it. I think that's when I realized we were gonna be friends."
Hiro laughs again. "Oh whoa, I almost forgot he did that. It was like the worst week of my life. Well, until he did it again. But it figures that's when you decided he was okay."
"Hey, I can appreciate a mischievous streak," Gogo replies with a grin, and with that, she heads into the crowd. She slows her bike to a crawl for safety's sake, though most of the bystanders part as soon as they realize she's one of the racers, some of them with exuberant whoops and cheers.
She must not be as late as she'd feared, because she passes a handful of other racers on the way, most of them chatting about their bikes or showing them off. This is the part she loves most, the culture of it all—for the enthusiasts, a thrill of excitement hangs heavy in the air, a communal jolt of excitement. Tonight's race will head back toward Setsuzoku taking a different, more complex path than the one Gogo had taken to get here, and she'd wager that there are already clumps of excited people gathering around the hills and bends of the race.
And speaking of wagering, she's got an old friend to see.
In a few areas, the crowd shifts to reveal light sources as she cruises slowly past—a few trash can fires, the headlights of a custom dragster, that sort of thing—but none of them are the one she's looking for. "He is to the west of you," Baymax says suddenly through her transmitter. "Approximately in a 'two o' clock' direction."
"Sweet. Thanks, Baymax," Gogo replies, wrenching her handlebar to one side to avoid a dog trotting across her path.
Once she gets close enough, it's easier to make it out. Strings of old Christmas lights wind up and down the plastic atop a steel-frame event tent, twisting around the sides and back of the rungs to create a three-walled enclosure. Inside, all seven feet of Bug is hunched over the lone table inside the stand, fingers flipping through pages and pages of notes scattered across the surface. A line of people winds around the back, some of them glancing anxiously at the wall timer Bug displays to show the countdown to the race—and therefore the end of the betting period. Six minutes, Gogo thinks. Made it.
As she rides up, the people in line grumble but make room for her; the bookie always gives priority to racers. Bug straightens and looks up, a wide grin splitting his scarred face at the sight of her. "Gogo! I was getting worried," he exclaims.
Among the racing circles of San Fransokyo, Bug has a reputation for being a bit of an eccentric. A lanky, middle-aged man with the hunched build of a windblown pine, he insists on wearing a tailored suit carefully lined with LED lights that shimmer as he moves—one of his favorite sayings being that the best way to make money is to glitter. Rumor has it he'd been just a homeless vagrant before he'd gotten into the betting lifestyle, but despite the spidery fingers that presently clutch a stack of papers under one arm, or the slight limp as he shuffles toward her, Gogo has known him to be quick and ruthless in a fight with anyone foolish enough to take advantage of a man they believed to be a simple moneychanger.
She hops off her bike, placing her helmet on the seat and leaving it where it is as she approaches him. Theft or vandalism is a cardinal sin in the racing community, and there's likely no better place to leave a vehicle alone in the city. "You know me. Cutting it close. I like the drama," she says in a flat, sarcastic tone that makes him laugh.
"Well, it's not so dramatic anymore," Bug confides as she ducks under the rope-joined traffic cones he's using as makeshift stanchions. She steps inside the tent, where the noise of conversation outside will give them at least a shred of privacy against being overheard. "Now that you're coming to every race. Used to be you'd show up with a bang once every few months."
"Gotta get my money's worth," Gogo says pointedly.
"Ah! Yes, only a few minutes left. To business." Bug rifles through his papers, muttering to himself as he uncovers a small, black pad Gogo knows to be the latest mobile credit reader on the market. He picks it up and looks at her breathlessly, eyes gleaming. "Well? What'll it be?"
Gogo knows Bug's got a mind for numbers—taking bets gives him the only high he needs—but she can also feel a thrill of anticipation at her back. A glance behind shows her that the people nearest in the line are trying very hard to feign indifference as they lean in to hear. "Three eighty," she tells Bug with a wolfish grin, swiping her wristband over the reader.
Bug's spindly eyebrows rise. "Confident tonight?"
Gogo shrugs. "You could say that." In truth, her wagers have nothing to do with her confidence levels. Though bookie and bettors alike try to read into the gambling decisions of the racers, Hiro and Gogo have agreed to pool their bets together on these kinds of excursions. They try to keep at least a hundred credits in the account at any given time, giving them a decent starting wager. If Hiro has won some of it in the night's bot fights, Gogo plays the rest on herself in the race.
It's still a little odd to Gogo, who never used to bet at all—she's really just in it for the thrill of the race—but the partnership means money for bike parts and suit upgrades, or even higher-quality engineering materials than they could get with the funds from SFIT.
"Hmph," Bug says by way of reply, watching the reader's screen. "Your odds are still only two to five, you know."
Gogo scowls. "Not much."
"Not much. You'd do better gambling if you weren't a favorite to win," he says, looking up at her. His eyes are piercing. "No scratches or serious injuries like some of the other racers, no serious fights even. Maybe you should throw a few races." Gogo stares back solemnly. After a moment, Bug smiles. "But you wouldn't."
"No," Gogo confirms. The reader beeps as the transaction authenticates.
"Good," he says, whether to her response or to the reader. "You're clear. You'd better get back out there. Race starts soon, and I have about fifty idiots who are gonna be disappointed they can't place a bet when they lined up only fifteen minutes before the start."
He raises his voice at the last part, and Gogo snorts at the scowls on the faces in the line. Bug thumps her once on the back.
"Good luck," he tells her. "And Gogo?"
She looks back to him, finding his expression oddly serious. "Don't get me wrong. It's good to see you. But don't take it the wrong way when I say I wish a smart girl like you wouldn't come back here."
With that, he faces the next bettor, nodding for the woman to come in. Gogo turns away.
"Almost everyone's lined up at the starting line," Hiro tells her lazily as soon as she has her helmet back on. "Doubt they're actually gonna start on time, but it's getting close either way."
"I'll make it," Gogo says, revving her engine in warning to give the line a chance to split. As before, she moves cautiously through the crowd, which parts for her like the red sea. It takes her only another minute or so before she breaks through the crowd onto wide, open asphalt.
It's lucky Gogo's been doing this a while; otherwise, she might have been given a rough time for her lateness. As it is, when she drives over to the lineup, most of the others, already in place, grin or wave in her direction. There are maybe two dozen of them in all—not Setsuzoku's largest race, but a fair size.
Min, a sturdy biker of nearly twice Gogo's height and weight, reaches over and thumps a fist against Gogo's helmet as she wheels her bike into place. The strength of the blow, more out of Min's ignorance of her own strength than any real rivalry, knocks Gogo forward a little.
"You're almost late, bitch," Min says amiably. "Do you know how worried I was? This race would have been boring without you."
Gogo smirks. "You mean maybe you might have won without me." Wordlessly, Min flicks her off.
Race volunteers are busy clearing away the last stragglers on the roadway, taking particular pains with a drunken man who keeps stumbling away from them. When at last the street is empty, the flag girl comes to stand in the center of the road. The crowd settles into relative quiet, shifting in anticipation, until the girl holds the white flag up in the air. For a brief moment, a hush falls over everything, a breath of warm breeze wafting across the road as if to stifle all sound.
Gogo's blood thrums in her veins; she leans forward on her bike, and as the flag drops, everything else seems to fall away. The dark road stretches out before her, lengthening and twisting to disappear beyond a distant slope, and that's the only thing that matters. She rockets forward, away from the well-lit crowds and into the night, her headlights gleaming on the asphalt and the sounds of engines roaring in her ears.
Around the bend, the street tapers off to just two lanes, causing something of a bottleneck that settles Gogo firmly behind half a dozen riders; the car races later in the night will have to be run cat-and-mouse style to fit through such narrow roadways. Darting past pockets of screaming fans, they take the corners quickly, avoiding the roads blocked off by cones.
Keeping her chest on the tank, she loses herself in the blur of dark road and the flash of empty buildings flashing past in the corner of either eye, keeping her gaze always at the place where the road disappears around the next turn. It's a hard race, requiring a good sense of when to brake for deeper turns or to speed up for shallower ones, when to hit the throttle on a slope or when to take it at a coasting pace. She jostles the other riders for a better position, Min somewhere at her back as she leans into a turn to spurt into fourth-place position.
"The road a quarter mile away slopes quickly in a twenty-five degree slope," Baymax suddenly says into her ear. All of a sudden, Gogo is taken out of the race, becoming suddenly aware of the way Baymax and Hiro must be somewhere in the blackness above her, darting like a giant bat through the night sky. "And the one you call 'Reese' appears to be having some difficulty shifting gears. I believe if you—"
"Baymax—" Hiro begins in exasperation.
"Thanks, but no thanks," Gogo says quickly, knowing that Baymax sometimes can't help himself. The robot doesn't quite get that part of the thrill is not knowing what's coming next.
Not literally, of course. All of the riders know the race map in advance, though it switches from race to race. And so Gogo lets herself take the next corners slowly and thoughtfully; without momentum on her side, it's a waste to risk having one of her tires lose their grip in a turn. Instead, she puts priority on getting ready for the next straight stretch of road, a long and clear path through the neon-lit buildings of some of the area's seediest dive bars. Before the road even levels out, she's on the gas, darting down the longest and fastest straightaway of the race.
The sound of the wind in her ear blends with a crackle of static. "Hiro? Gogo?"
"Hey, Abigail," Hiro says, taking control of the conversation so Gogo can focus on edging nearer to the third-place rider. "Gogo's busy winning a race. What's up?"
"Sorry, Gogo. I just saw that both of you still had your transmitters on. Though of course it's because you're at the far end of Setsuzoku. Want me to switch you out, Gogo?"
"Nah, I can listen and win at the same time," Gogo responds cockily, sweeping parallel to the rider, who up until this point had been finding little ways to brazenly show off: quick wheelies, speeding and slowing. Now, he glares at her across his drag bars. "Couldn't sleep?"
"Something like that," Abigail sighs. "I closed my eyes, but I think I just tossed and turned for a few hours and then gave up. I figured you two might still be awake. You should really let me know when you're going to be out at night," she adds. "I'd feel a lot better if I were up to monitor you."
Thanks to her ongoing insomnia and inability to follow them around like the athlete she once was, Abigail has come a long way in the past few months as a much needed "control tower" for Big Hero 6. From the Silent Sparrow building that she stubbornly renovated into a workable lab, she has access to their radios, locations, and vital stats as long as they have their transmitters switched on, making their job much easier when complex patrols spread them out across the city.
Of course, as far as Hiro and Gogo are concerned, it helps that she, like them, is occasionally awake at odd hours of the night. Although Gogo had originally been concerned about Abigail's ability to keep their nightly excursions secret, the lab tech has proven herself up for the job. Gogo's not sure Abigail understands why she and Hiro sneak out into the dangerous, crime-riddled world of Setsuzoku every now and then, but at least she seems to understand why they keep it a secret from the other members of Big Hero 6.
From somewhere behind Gogo comes the squeal of tires, followed by the screams and gasps of the crowd assembled at the bend. Gogo doesn't turn around, but she has the feeling someone's eating asphalt.
"It would be better for your health if you were asleep at this hour," Baymax responds. "I believe Hiro and Gogo do not forewarn you of their plans because they hope to give you a chance at rest."
"Exactly. We're not gonna tell you we're going out, just in case," Hiro says huffily.
Abigail mutters something, but it sounds like she's turned away from the mike. "...better if I knew you weren't both in the most dangerous area of the city. Remind me again why you do this?"
"Cheap thrills?" Hiro says.
"Hey, definitely not cheap," Gogo retorts.
"Either way, not sleeping seems to be common among the three of us. Baymax, why don't you jump on them?"
"Because we don't look tired all the time?" Gogo asks shamelessly.
"Because we're just dumb kids and we're expected to do stupid stuff like stay up all night?" Hiro adds.
"Because I have learned as a rule that it is impossible to sway either of their opinions on this matter," Baymax explains.
"Figures," Hiro replies as Abigail laughs.
"So I'm the pushover, then?"
Though the others continue to chatter, Gogo tunes out the next part of the conversation as the race takes a sharp turn. Just a few more minutes, she thinks, focusing on the road ahead. Almost there.
Leaning so far left she's sure her bike is centimeters from sparking against the asphalt, she takes the next slow bend, the first of several that roll back and forth down the side of a steep hill. She has pulled into third place, but ahead of her are still Sendra and Galo, two of the area's best racers, aside from Gogo—and they're good enough that if she doesn't concentrate, she'll come just shy of winning.
"...probably not a big deal. And there's seriously no reason I should be worried about it, you know? He's got his own security team, so I'm sure he's prepared for anything."
"But it's an alert from an alarm system, not a phone call?"
"Right. Which means it could be an accident or a faulty system, or…"
Gogo shouldn't be listening right now, but a warble of anxiety has crept into Abigail's voice, and Gogo hesitates to even turn down her radio. A slice of pavement that stretches straight across a series of train tracks allows her to jump close enough to show Sendra her front wheel.
"It's just...if it weren't so far away, you know? From San Fransokyo, it'll take the nearest emergency team forever to get out there."
"It's behind us. Like, almost in the opposite direction."
"I know. And it's just the three of you, not even a full team. It would just make me feel better…"
"When would we need to leave?"
Abigail is silent for a minute. "Like ten minutes ago."
"What's up?" Gogo asks suddenly, grinding her teeth as she jostles Sendra for the position. The other racer sweeps a little too close to her, but Gogo keeps her bike steady.
"Krei's labs. Out past Matsumont," Hiro replies. "Apparently, an alarm's been thrown up, and no one's responding to calls."
His grim tone matches Gogo's feelings on the matter. Krei isn't high on either of their lists of friends right now, given his sleazy behavior all those months ago when they first met him. But he still means something to Abigail. She doesn't think they're best buddies anymore, exactly—she's not even sure Krei and Abigail have talked to each other since Abigail's accident—but Abigail still speaks of him with a certain softness in her voice.
"That area's behind us," is all Gogo says, the roar of Sendra's engine loud in her ear as the front wheel of Gogo's bike pulls just ahead. They sweep around a car, which honks furiously at their backs.
"That's what I said."
"I know." Abigail says quietly.
Gogo grunts, nearly blinded by the lighted display of a repair shop. "I don't have the mental space for this right now," she says finally. "Hiro, you think we should go?"
Hiro hesitates, and after a moment, Gogo realizes that's all she needs. Disappointment only washes over her for the barest second before she shakes it off. To the surprise of probably everyone behind her, she pulls aside, veering off the designated track to take a side road that will curve around the way they came.
"Just in case," Hiro says apologetically.
"Sorry," Abigail adds. "About the race. And the money."
"Maybe Bug will save it for you?" Hiro asks hopefully. "He's your friend, right?"
"That's not how Bug works," Gogo laughs, speeding down the quiet road as if she's still racing, as if she can still taste the coming win. "Business is business, and friends are totally separate. We'll just start from scratch next time. And who knows?" she adds slyly. "Maybe backing out of this race will boost my betting odds in the next one."
"Backup's for wusses," Gogo tells Abigail after she offers for a second time to put a call in to the others on the team.
The night spreads like a warm blanket around them, humid air wafting gently in the wind. The open country roads between Setsuzoku and Matsumount are sparsely lit, and only the slim wedge of moon and the headlights from Gogo's bike brighten the asphalt ahead.
Gogo's proud that she doesn't appear to be slowing Hiro and Baymax by much. The curving roads over hill and mountain make it difficult for her to travel quickly across the land, but the pair of them have no such obstacles. In the open air, free of the lighted blimps and windmills scattered throughout the skies of San Fransokyo, it would have been easier for them to leave her behind and take to their destination as the crow flies. Instead, they keep close, patiently waiting for her to follow the instructions of her visor GPS. As it is, a couple of recent upgrades to her bike (all paid with money earned from their bot-fighting, race-winning outings) speed her up dramatically, including an upgrade to pull the liquid-cooled engine closer to her 200-horsepower goal. Which, of course, means that she's currently moving double the speed limit, and that Wasabi would kill her if he were there.
Lucky Hiro and Baymax are on watch to warn her if something's in her way on the road ahead. Running into a slow-moving driver at this speed would be a really lame way to go out.
"That goes for you, too, Baymax," Hiro warns, probably thinking of their friend's inclination toward randomly calling for help.
"I believe it would be beneficial to at least make your friends aware of your destination," the robot replies, almost sulkily.
"Ew," Hiro says. "No. Do you know how long they'd yell at us? Wasabi especially."
"Besides, we've got Abigail," Gogo adds. "Not like anything's going to happen, but if it did, you'd let the others know, right?"
"I don't know; I guess I'd have to think about it," Abigail deadpans. Gogo can almost hear her eyes rolling. "The map shows you guys are almost there. Can you see it yet?"
"It is visible from our height," Baymax replies.
"It's...big." Hiro adds. "Way bigger than Silent Sparrow, anyway."
"Well, the Silent Sparrow labs were made for one specific project, and they just combined the funds from a lot of different groups and industries. But this one's the main headquarters for all of Krei Tech, all of its employees and experiments. I guess you can probably imagine they're into the kinds of things that make it necessary to keep away from prying eyes. You know he has a few military clients? Well, they like to keep things pretty secret."
It's at this point that Gogo crests the top of a hill to finally look down into the shallow valley in which Krei's facilities are nestled. In the smooth, rolling waves of grass and stone out here in the countryside, the expansive series of buildings looks severely out of place, all sharp edges and sleek, modern facades. Bordered by chain link fence on all sides, the building looks like the picture of a state-of-the-art facility, regardless of the strange juxtaposition of flowering plants throughout the landscaping and menacing Keep Out signs every fifty feet.
There's not much cover for them further down in the valley, at least on the main road to the lab; the forested area nearby has been cleared to make way for a smooth stretch of land leading to the entrance. Gogo slows her bike before she moves into the open. "Looks fine from where I am. God, it's so quiet out here. How do people stand it? Anyway, lemme get my gear on just in case," she says, coming to a stop so she can swing her backpack around. "What else can you tell us about what Krei's been up to?"
"Hm. Not much," Abigail says slowly. There's a rhythmic clinking noise in the feed that suggests she's stirring coffee or tea. "I'm not exactly in contact with him anymore; I just...keep tabs on him. You know. From public records."
"Of course," Hiro replies sarcastically as Gogo slips off her jacket to reveal the reinforced nylon suit she always wears under her armor. "So what's public record say?"
"It's been quiet. Really quiet. No mention of upcoming projects, no proposals, no begging for funding. Nothing. It's almost like they've stopped everything, except that they obviously haven't."
Pulling on her breastplate, Gogo grunts. "Sounds really freaking sketchy to me," she says.
Abigail makes a noncommittal noise. "It's pretty normal, actually. Sometimes you have clients who don't want the competition catching wind of something, or sometimes you want to check the success of a project before you put your reputation on the line. It's not unheard of for labs like this to go quiet for a while."
Gogo leans down to the wheels of her bike, quickly moving the front shock and stem in a complex series of twists. A second later, the bar clicks away from the tire, allowing her to pull out the smaller yellow wheels of her suit. The mechanism for the storage system makes her particularly proud, regardless of the fact that she'd had to practice until she felt comfortable with the amount of time needed to slip them in and out.
As she straightens, the grass rustles behind her. She turns to find Hiro clambering off of Baymax's back. The pair of them are already armored, as Hiro needs the handholds on their suits to ride through the air without falling off.
Now, Hiro stares at the facility, his expression unreadable. "It gives me the creeps," he says at last.
Gogo follows his gaze, and she somehow understands what he means. "Krei gives me the creeps," she says. Abigail makes a noise that might have been a chuckle, and Gogo remembers herself. "Sorry," she adds awkwardly. Talking about Krei is one of the only things that makes her feel weird around Abigail, whose no-nonsense, blunt temperament usually meshes well with Gogo's sarcastic and mulish one. But to be fair, none of them see eye to eye with Abigail on her willingness to forgive some of the people that put her in harm's way and abandoned her.
"Yeah, there's nothing weird that I can see, and we probably shouldn't get too close to the fences," Hiro says, folding his arms over his chest. Keeping within the tree line, he leans back against a massive trunk without taking his eyes off of the labs. "I guess we scope things out a while and then go back?"
Wordlessly, Gogo sits at the base of a nearby tree, preparing for a fruitless delay. The problem with being an unofficial group of heroes is that they don't exactly have the law on their side. Masked though they all are, Wasabi and Honey Lemon—not to mention Baymax—have put their foot down at the idea of breaking and entering on the off chance of foul play, more as a matter of principle than out of real fear that any of them will ever be brought to court for their activities.
"I will scan for anything that appears out of the ordinary," Baymax says helpfully, waddling forward to peer down at the buildings. "Perhaps it will be possible to find something unusual that would allow us to invoke the necessity defense."
Gogo closes her eyes and leans the back of her head against the tree, feeling oddly exhausted.
Baymax hums, his tone puzzled. "I believe that the building's construction incorporates RF shielding material. My scan is unable to penetrate."
Hiro straightens. "What, like...the whole building?"
The robot hesitates, then nods. "It is difficult to say how extensive the shielding is, but I would guess that it is something incorporated into the walls."
"So not just your scans. No outside tech can get through." He says nothing further, but when he glances at Gogo, the expression on his face is mirrored by the one on hers.
"Creepy, okay?" Abigail says. "I'll say it myself."
"It's fine," Hiro replies. "We're here, so we might as well wait a few minutes and see if anything's up. We'll keep you posted."
There are a few long moments of silence. Above them, the leaves rustle gently in the wind, which whips across the hillside and whispers at the edges of Gogo's helmet. Finally, Hiro steps over and drops to the ground beside Gogo, yawning. Gogo hesitates for a second and then elbows him, making a show of pressing the button inside the bottom of her helmet that will turn her transmitter down, allowing her to hear Abigail if she says anything without allowing Abigail to hear her. Hiro does the same, eyebrows raised.
"What's up with them?" Gogo asks once Hiro settles into place. "Abigail and Krei, I mean."
Hiro rolls his eyes, pressing his elbows over his knees. "Something," he sighs. "I actually have no idea. I mean yeah, I spend a lot of time working with her nowadays, but it's not like we're exactly painting each other's nails and swapping secrets."
"That would be adorable," Gogo smirks, and Hiro shoves her lightly. She leans back against the tree. "It's just weird, I guess. After all his shit. That she still wants to be friends with him. Or more?" she adds, looking questioningly at Hiro.
"I have no idea," Hiro repeats. "I never asked. But I think she just misses him in a way. Even though she's really mad. And I get that. I mean, think about it...if one of you guys did something to me like what Krei did to Abigail, just threw me into something without thinking about my life, I'd be furious. Beyond furious. I probably wouldn't want to talk to you for a while, but I'd also...I don't know. You'd miss the person, right? And if you thought they were in trouble, you'd try to help?"
Gogo grunts. "God, dating's the worst."
"That's your takeaway?" Hiro laughs.
"This is why I'll always be single," she adds with a grin.
Hiro snorts but says nothing. The silence that stretches between them is warm and comfortable. Gogo's eyes drift to the distant lab, a looming black shape in the night. Most of the windows still glow with dim fluorescent lights in spite of the hour, likely as a security measure, and the atmosphere is serene. Peaceful.
"It's not so bad, is it?" Hiro asks suddenly, frowning down at his knees. Gogo blinks, trying to follow his train of thought. "Patrolling with just the three of us, I mean. It's not the best, but...we could maybe get used to it?"
Gogo lets out a long, slow breath. "Yeah," she says at last. "It's just Big Hero 3 doesn't have the same ring to it."
Baymax, who has up to this point been standing erect to peer out at the facility, now turns toward them. "Big Hero 3?"
Hiro cringes. "Yeah, it's just…a thought," he says lamely. "You know, if anything ever…"
Baymax tilts his head in a curious, puppy-like fashion. "Human friendships appear to be borne of layered bonds created over time through common interests, time spent together, shared triumphs and burdens, and similar elements. It is my belief that your bonds with your friends are particularly strong, having strengthened over time. It would be unusual for your group to separate at this juncture, would it not?"
"You'd think, wouldn't you?" Gogo grumbles.
The robot turns away. "In addition, I believe that there is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles rising in the distance, though the breeze is blowing them away from us. The darkness has also made it difficult to recognize a mild orange light on the opposite side of the building, perhaps almost too faint for the human eye to perceive."
It takes both of them a few seconds of staring to work out Baymax's meaning. "Smoke?" Hiro asks at last, jumping to his feet.
"Why didn't you say that first? Is it a fire?" Gogo adds, rising at his side. Now that she looks, really looks in the direction Baymax faces, she can make out something just barely brighter than the glow of the lighted windows, though the hulking structures of the buildings between it and them makes it hard to see anything more. "Something really is up. Come on," she says, slipping her wheels onto her armored boots.
Gogo takes the slope down toward the chain link fence, intending to follow it around to the back of the building. It's only when she looks back that she realizes Hiro and Baymax haven't moved. The robot is staring at his charge. Even from here, Gogo can see the tight grimace on his face.
Oh, she realizes. Crap. I forgot.
Hiro has a thing with fire. A completely understandable thing. Hiro has a thing with fire like Abigail has a thing with sunsets, a thing that makes her freeze in place or grow suddenly anxious and sick. Nut jobs, the both of them—but part of being a team is that their worries become Gogo's as well.
"Hey," she says quietly. He pulls his eyes away from the distant glow to meet hers. "You wanna sit this one out? I can just check it out, and Baymax can be my backup."
She knows he'll refuse and isn't surprised when his face hardens. "No. I got this."
Baymax nods once, satisfied. "Be sure to switch your transmitters on. They may be needed."
Gogo and Hiro obey wordlessly, Gogo speeding off into the night as Hiro takes to Baymax's back. "Abigail," Gogo grunts into her transmitter. "Looks like you were right."
Nothing but static. "Abigail?" she tries again.
"Think maybe there's more to this building than a shield against scanning. We'll have to get her back later," Hiro replies from above. And then: "God, this looks bad."
For Gogo, it takes longer to see what he means. The facilities encompass multiple buildings, and as its only after a minute or two on her wheels that she realizes that the blackness beyond the facility is not the natural darkness of the night but a curtain of thick, black smoke. The breeze pulls it steadily away from her, out toward the rolling hills of the prefecture.
She rounds the corner to find that some of the lower windows on this side of the building are broken, their glass scattered on the ground, smoke pooling out of them as if they are breathing mouths.
It's only when she recognizes Hiro's presence at her side once more that Gogo realizes she's stopped to stare. "I do not advise entering this facility," Baymax says firmly from behind them. "It would be better to wait for emergency responders."
"Baymax—" Hiro begins, turning, but Gogo sees something moving in the smoke.
"Look!" she says, pointing. It's a person, she realizes as they look on. Someone clambering out of a broken window—and two or three more—and there's someone else bursting from an emergency door. Their clothes are grimy with soot, and they appear to be coughing violently as they help each other up and stumble away.
"Hey!" Hiro calls, hurrying forward. "Hey, are you guys okay?"
Far from looking reassured at the arrival of help, the group looks stunned and even frightened at Hiro's approach, though it's unlikely that they can make out more than a dark figure in the night. Faces pale, they dart away more quickly than Gogo would have thought possible given their coughing fits.
"Hey, we're not—" Hiro breaks off with a sigh. Gogo walks to his side. "I think that was Krei's personal assistant, from before," he tells her, squinting off into the night. "The one with the dark hair. I wonder if that means Krei's here, too."
"When we flew overhead, the area at the center of the facility appeared to be more heavily reinforced," Baymax said. "I believe that is likely where the more private area is."
"I thought we were supposed to be waiting for EMS?" Gogo asks, surprised.
"Yes, but the chances of either of you adhering to that suggestion seemed slim," the robot replies, turning to her. "Was I incorrect?"
"No," Hiro says, grinning, and then he sobers. "Especially not if there are more people in there. Is the structure okay for us to go in?"
"The structure in this area is sound. Though the smoke is thick, the fire does not appear to have reached this section. I will continue to monitor the strength of the structure as you move forward. However, I feel obligated to suggest that at the very least you cover your mouths and noses with fabric and stay low to the floor. This will limit the amount of chemicals you inhale, though it won't offer protection from the super-heated gas."
"Got it, buddy," Hiro replies, rapping his knuckles on Baymax's arm. It takes some maneuvering, but he reaches down the neck of his armor to pull up the fabric of the black shirt he wears beneath.
Gogo does the same. "Ready?"
"No," he says at once. "But let's go."
The air is foul; Gogo can smell it as soon as they enter, even through the fabric covering her nose and mouth. The room around them, a wide area with an open floor plan and a main desk that may have been intended to house reception attendants, is masked by whorls of smoke that shift slowly as they move forward in the silence. At Gogo's side, Hiro mutters something about upgrading their suits for oxygen recycling.
"Let's try here," Gogo says, voice muffled. She points to a set of double doors behind the front desk, and Hiro and Baymax follow her lead.
"Now that we are inside," says Baymax, his voice as calm as ever, "I find that I am able to scan for human occupants—perhaps because the walls are designed to block only external scans." He hums thoughtfully for a moment as Hiro and Gogo, both crouching as they move through the corridor, squint into the darkness.
"Is that a light up there?" Hiro asks Gogo. It takes her a moment to see what he means through the smoke, and for a moment, she fears he might mean the light of flames. Instead, she sees a patch of white falling across the ground just ahead. A light is on in one of the rooms. Gogo nods and approaches it, half of her mind still on Baymax.
Hiro must be distracted in the same way. "Baymax?" he prompts after a moment. The robot rarely takes more than a few seconds for simple processes like this, but Gogo imagines Krei's security may be giving him some trouble. "What's up?"
"The resultant scan seems...incorrect," Baymax says uncertainly, but a loud crash comes from the lighted room before them. Hiro and Gogo double their pace to round the corner.
Inside, they find a trio of scientists, if the long, soot-scarred lab coats are anything to go by. They, like Hiro and Gogo, press fabric to their mouths, but a longer exposure to the toxic airborne chemicals has left them all choking and gasping for breath. None of them appears to notice Hiro and Gogo, who still crouch low to avoid the smoke that rolls overhead. Instead, they dance about the room in frantic motions, scooping up an array of foreign instruments and labware—digital testing equipment, gauges, long coils of computer wires, optical drives, nanostorage systems. The environment may be foreign to her, but Gogo recognizes this behavior from SFIT: there are always some students who, in spite of the obvious health risks involved with getting too close to an uncontrolled chemical spill or other disaster, recklessly rush in to try and save projects they've been working on.
Gogo has no tolerance for this behavior at SFIT—she's been known to bodily yank her idiot classmates away from danger—and she finds suddenly that she has no tolerance for it anywhere else, either.
"What the hell are you doing?" she barks, surprised by the ferocity in her own voice. At once, all three lab techs look up at her, no doubt startled by the sudden appearance of strange interlopers silhouetted before the black curtain in the doorway behind. "Get out of here!"
As if her words have broken some sort of spell, they stumble toward the door to the hallway—equipment still cradled in boxes or nestled under their arms—and hurry away, choking all the while.
As the sound of their coughs grows distant, Hiro turns to her. "Ugh. Scientists," he says, voice muffled.
She cracks a grin under her hand and looks at Baymax. "So. The scan?"
"I do not believe it was incorrect," he begins. "I have performed additional scans to confirm the results. However, these results are...unclear."
Hiro is already moving into the hallway, looking toward the reception area. The scientists are gone, lost to the blackness. He starts in the opposite direction. "What's that mean?"
"Scans indicate that there are a few hundred people present in the facility. But their mental scans...suggest unusual mental processes."
"Sounds like people freaking out in a fire," Gogo says slowly as she and the robot follow Hiro. "Right?" As they move, they glance into the other rooms lining the hallway, but all of them are ill-lit or completely dark, and none show signs of life.
"It is possible," Baymax begins. He hesitates.
"But you think it's something else," Hiro says without turning.
"I have not yet constructed a theory."
The clear, reinforced plastic of her helmet has been covered in a thin film of soot. As she trails behind Hiro, she wipes it off as best she can with her glove, but her hands are thick with ash as well. "Crap," she mutters, and then, "Well, no matter what they're thinking about, it would be good to get them out of here. Then you can ask them all the questions you like."
"Which direction are they in?" Hiro asks. They have come to a fork in the corridor, one path narrowing to a long, windowless hall and the other barred by a thick pair of doors.
Baymax considers this. "It is difficult to say for certain," he replies, "but it seems that most of the presences are concentrated toward the center of the facilities." There is a long pause while he decides the most likely way forward; Hiro and Gogo shift impatiently at his side. "This way," Baymax says at last, moving toward the double doors. There is a keypad at waist height on the left side, and for a moment, Gogo fears that it will require a code that none of them possesses. But Baymax places his palm on the keypad, and the doors whirr open.
"Handy," Gogo says, punching him lightly with her fist as she moves past. "Let's see what we've got."
Gogo has limited experience with fires.
When she was much younger, a severe fire had eaten away the row of condos near her apartment building in Setsuzoku; even with the worst of the blaze over a block away, she had woken coughing and confused. She recalls the foul smoke lining her nose and mouth, lingering in the air for days afterward.
From San Fransokyo's winter bonfire festivals, Gogo is familiar with fire's radiating warmth, which spreads so invasively that standing near one for too long seems like facing the surface of the sun. At SFIT, which is no stranger to dangerous student experiments, Gogo expects to see an unplanned fire at least once a month on average; lab protocol is very strict for this exact reason, and the jolt of initial panic she always feels when someone's experiment goes wrong is always mitigated by the fact that they all know what to do. The fire extinguishers come out, the sprinklers come on, the fire-stricken area of the lab is sealed off, and everything is controlled.
At first, this fire seems like it might be the same—distant, controlled. She, Baymax, and Hiro move slowly through the near-empty facilities, working their way in the opposite direction of the handful of frightened technicians who hurry past them in the chaos. Aside from the first group, they don't have to coerce anyone else to leave, though they do have to help direct a pair of women who have gotten turned around in the heavy haze, and they break a window to allow Baymax to fly a man weak with smoke inhalation to safety.
But then they reach the flames.
They're relatively small at first, bursts of white-hot fire clinging to the drop ceiling tiles or working their way across tables laden with paperwork. Whatever caused the fire, it must have been something explosive: the farther they go, the more they find fire spreading through destroyed walls or crumbling stairwells.
"We need to turn back," Baymax protests again. The three of them are crossing a wide, open area that may once have been used as vehicle storage. Cinders rain down on them from above, and a glow from the doorway on the far wall suggests heavier flames further on. "The integrity of this section does not seem sound."
Hiro coughs, glancing at Gogo. "Maybe he's right," he says. "We haven't found anyone else in this direction, and we don't even know if Krei's here. Not that he's the only one we should be getting out, but…"
"But Abigail," Gogo finishes. Neither of them has stopped moving toward the door.
"Yeah. It's just I don't think we'll be all that useful if we're out of commission ourselves."
"All those people, though. Baymax, you said there were a few hundred."
That hesitation again. "So it appears. As I said, their mental processes—"
Aware of the passage of time, Gogo cuts him off. "We haven't seen that many. So where are they? If we could just get to them…"
Through the grime on his helmet, Hiro looks doubtful. "Yeah, okay. A little farther, but if we don't find anyone else in like three minutes, we turn back."
The next room is ablaze on one end, but they sidle through, still choking in the foul air. Another empty room, and then another. Before Baymax has time to properly convince them that the structural integrity of the building ahead is too weakened to continue, the fire is suddenly all around them.
Gogo's blood boils, or at least that's how it feels. The light scars her eyes—or maybe it's the smoke—so she has to blink them furiously to see. Her lungs are dry, her throat so brittle that her choking coughs seem to crack something in her chest.
Without trying to speak over their own gasps for breath and the roar of the flames, they turn around by mutual agreement to work their way back the way they came. Only it isn't that simple: somewhere in the fire, they must have been cut off, or else they've lost their way.
Baymax is saying something to both of them, but a haze weighs heavy on Gogo's mind, the smoke finally filtering into her thoughts, and she can't make it out, even through the transmitter. For a few absurd moments, she wastes time wondering whether Baymax feels the blaze at all, and how hot the flames would have to be to actually damage him.
And then Hiro is before her, grabbing her arms, maybe saying something as well. He shakes her. "Keep moving!" he says weakly, and Gogo wants to tell him No shit, but her tongue is too heavy.
Baymax half-drags, half-carries them along, trying to find a way out, but Gogo isn't much help. As her vision starts to fade, she sees something odd: through the light of the flames are dark shadows, tall and thin and with human faces. They step forward as though rising from the smoke, like hellish creatures with brooding stares.
Gogo hopes Baymax has the good sense to throw both of them over his shoulder and get them out before the monsters eat them. And then she's gone.