“But seriously,” he continued, “if you’re the new Heroes League, I’ve been looking for you.”
Travis looked Jack Maniac over, and said, “Why?”
“You’ve got something I want. I’m looking for a vehicle we used to own. It looks like a ball. You probably saw in the news a couple nights ago. I want it back. I heard that you’ve got it.”
Keeping my voice calm, I said, “From who?”
“Man-machine’s grandson. Nice kid. He was visiting his grandmother when we came over.”
“He’s okay, right?”
“Sure. He’s fine for now.”
“There’s no good reason to bother them,” I said. “They’re right. I’ve got the Ball.”
“Then let’s make a deal. Give me the ball and I free him –” He pointed at Justice Fiend. “– and we leave, and everybody’s happy.”
Justice Fiend stood in a circle of silver metal. Dark characters written in an unknown alphabet had been scrawled around the entire ring. Justice Fiend stood at the edge closest to us. When he tried to extend his hand past the ring, something hissed, and he pulled his hand back as if he’d been burned.
He cursed while Jack Maniac laughed.
“And if we can’t make a deal,” Jack said, “then maybe I pay Man-machine’s wife another visit.”
He waved the arm with the axe blade. The blade glinted in the streetlight.
Daniel: Do you have a plan?
Me: No. I was just hoping to give him a reason to come after me instead of Chris.
Daniel: Then we’d better think of one.
Me: Just take him out mind to mind.
Daniel: It’s not that easy. He’s got a shield.
Me: He’s a telepath?
Daniel: It’s a technological shield.
Me: Seems like there are a lot of those out there.
Daniel: Blame my dad. He’s well enough known that anyone who operates in the Midwest factors him in.
“Not that I mind,” Cassie said, “but what did you do to him?”
Jack said, “To Justice Fiend? I talked to the Dark Master and he came up with a way to cage him. Money well spent.”
A pair of headlights traveled down the road that Justice Fiend had been trapped on. I wondered if a car would be stopped by the circle, if it could ignore it, or if it would break it.
As it got closer, I recognized it as a red Plymouth Fury. It transformed into mech form just before reaching Justice Fiend.
Now there were two of them.
We needed some kind of plan, but not much came to mind. As I struggled to come up with options, I felt Daniel’s presence in my head, followed by everyone else.
Daniel: Quick, everybody. What’s the plan?
Travis: Let’s attack them and take them down.
Me: Trouble is, from all I’ve read Justice Fiend’s stronger and tougher than any of us, and he hasn’t been able to do it.
Vaughn: I bet I could short them out.
Me: Wouldn’t count on it. My suit’s mostly invulnerable to that, and I’m seeing some design similarities in theirs.
Cassie: If you’re that sure we’ll lose, Nick, why don’t we just give them the Ball?
Me: I’m not saying we’ll lose. I’m trying to give everyone a realistic picture of what we’re facing.
Cassie: Look, if I can just get close to them, I can take them apart. You know that.
Haley: Travis and I can rip through concrete. Their armor can’t be that much worse.
Travis: So here’s what we do. Daniel, Nick, and Vaughn, you drive them toward the building, and we’ll try to grab them.
Me: Just watch their armor for booby traps.
After that, it was all just details.
So the nice thing about mental conferences is that they don’t take nearly as long as the spoken variety. Writing the words down loses the lightning interplay of ideas, momentary glimpses into someone else’s consciousness, and the flash of connections made in multiple minds simultaneously. So when Daniel let us draw apart, it felt like we’d been talking for ten minutes.
Unless they had some kind of device for monitoring telepathy, the Maniacs probably didn’t even realize we’d talked at all.
“Rocket,” Jack said. “Here’s how we’re going to do the exchange. You fly back and get the thing. Your friends stay here. Got it?”
“Sure.” That could easily be made to fit the plan. I sent off the minor changes to Daniel who had to be listening in on my thoughts anyway.
I started the rocketpack, feeling the warmth against my back and the thrust beginning to pull me upward. I took off more slowly than usual, climbing to about thirty feet before the others started.
I heard the wind before I felt it. So did the Maniacs. It came from behind them, currents of wind converging on the spot where they stood, blowing Jack and Christine into the air, over the parking lot where everyone stood and into the old Tool & Die shop sign.
When you’re throwing around that much wind, it doesn’t just hit your target. Vaughn’s blast lifted pebbles from the side of the roadbed, loose chunks of road, tree branches from the pine trees behind the businesses on the other side of the road, grass, and dirt.
They hit the building along with the Maniacs, shattering windows, making cracks in the bricks, and divots in the wall.
It didn’t knock them out, but it didn’t have to.
I’d turned around, aiming myself at Jack Maniac. If I could keep him from flying away, Travis and Haley could rip and tear at his armor.
They fell to the ground after hitting the building. Jack began to pull himself up, but some force knocked his feet out from under him. From the lack of collateral damage, I guessed it must have been Daniel’s telekinesis.
He landed on his face, and I hit him immediately after. We both slammed into the wall.
I slipped my arms under his arms and behind his neck. In wrestling, it would have been a killer move, sometimes literally, but wrestling takes different turns when the combatants can create tons of force.
He couldn’t reach me with his axe, or point his gun at me, but he could still push against the ground.
His push sent us into the air, pointed upward. Then the jets on his legs kicked in.
I let go with one hand, aiming it at his face, and activating the sonics.
The answering shout told me his helmet hadn’t be insulated against noise. Had the electronics been insulated? No way to know but try.
I gave him another shot in the face, this one at a frequency that damaged electronics, and moved my hand back to his neck.
He didn’t lose control of the armor which was a disappointment, but he did shout, “What the fuck!”
That gave me hope, but hope doesn’t win fights.
I looked up, deciding it was time to make sure he wasn’t trying to scrape me against the wall of a building.
We were traveling straight up into the sky. I gave the rocketpack more fuel. Time to take control of this flight.
Maybe, I thought, I could scrape him against a wall.