I barely got to wonder what the yellow light meant before the phone in my suit rang. The helmet’s readout showed it as being from HQ.
Walking a little bit away from Vaughn, I took the call, talking low into my helmet’s microphone.
“It’s Marcus,” said the voice on the other end. “I went into HQ after work, and you won’t believe it. You’ve already hit pay dirt.”
“You’re going to have to come back here and listen to it yourself, but imagine the scariest bit of intel ever. It’s a meeting with one of Vaughn’s uncles and a bunch of other people.”
“What are they talking about?”
“The Cabal. The mayor. The gang we messed with, and some super team they’re putting together.”
I turned around to look at Sean and his crew. “Superhero team?”
“For real. Like this city needs more than one, but seriously, hurry. They know more about us than anyone would want them to.”
“Like how much?”
“Like they’re on the right track to figure out all of our real names.”
“You’re not kidding.”
The police started questioning Sean about what had happened. The men from the Box handcuffed the men on the ground, and started taking blood samples — that, or injecting sedatives.
Telling Marcus that we’d get back as soon as we could, I hung up.
Even as I did it, I noticed Vaughn explaining to an officer that neither of us had been involved at all.
“See,” Sean said, “it was all us. We’re Justice Fist.”
So yeah, not exactly the most clever name in the world, but the policeman nodded, and asked Sean a few more questions.
As ignored as Sean seemed to feel when we’d operated together (or at least in the same fight), I didn’t have a problem giving him his moment in the sun.
It didn’t last.
One of the guys from the Box walked up to me. He was short, and had crew cut, red hair. He was stocky, but had muscle under the fat.
“Different costume, same Rocket, right?”
“Anything we ought to know about the guys on the ground? Are they juicers?”
I froze, trying to think. “I really don’t know. I got here after everything was over. You’ve got the blood sample.”
“Fair enough. You’re the smart guy. I thought I’d check to see if you knew anything special.”
“I’ve read the formulas, but I don’t know anything about these specific people. I wasn’t even here for the fight.”
He nodded at me, and walked back to the Box.
Sean stared at me. “You’re the Rocket? Where’s your normal costume?”
“I’ve got different suits for different problems.”
“What’s with the guitar?”
“It… does stuff. Hey, Storm King, we probably ought to go.”
“Talk to you guys later,” Vaughn said. “Keep on keeping the peace,” and he gave everyone a wave.
It didn’t take long to make it back to HQ. We flew from Meijer across Grand Lake, landed in the forest in Veterans Memorial Park, and followed the tunnel there back into HQ.
As we stepped through the dark, touching our hands to the wall, and letting it lead us in, Vaughn asked, “What’s the rush?”
“I don’t know. Marcus said it was something big.”
“Marcus? No way. I think it’s the first time he’s done anything.”
“He was there for the fight with the Mayor, and when Vengeance stabbed you. I”m pretty sure he’s been to every group meeting.”
“Yeah, but this is the first time he’s acted on his own. You think it’s because of the field commander thing?”
“I’ve no clue.”
End of the tunnel. I pulled my helmet off, and the retinal scanner glowed red.
The door slid open, and Vaughn and I stepped into the hangar. We walked past the jet, and Night Wolf’s car. Captain Commando’s motorcycle was out.
I wondered what Cassie was doing with it.
We walked into the main room to find Marcus sitting at the main table, hand on the mouse. The big wall screen showed a roachbot’s view of a meeting in somebody’s kitchen.
I needed to work on making the optics better. This was still dark, and still blurry.
When I got a good view of the faces on the screen though, I found it clear enough to make my heart stop.
Well, that might be an exaggeration, but I recognized way too many of the people on the screen. Just for example: the tall, blond guy was Sean’s dad. Next to him sat a tired looking man in a worn, brown suit — Mr. Sledge, my school’s assistant principal. A middle aged women in a black suit (which even to my eyes seemed more fashionable than Mr. Sledge’s) sat next him. I guessed she might be Latino, but I didn’t recognize her.
I did recognize Russell Hardwick though. With the bald head and confident look, he reminded me of pictures of his father, Giles Hardwick. Beyond being Lucas’ dad, I’d seen him on TV. He always seemed to be donating something, and he had some position in the Hardwick family’s businesses. I didn’t know what it was, but it was definitely visible.
There were other people at the table too, but I could only see the back of their heads.
“Uncle Russ?” Vaughn muttered.
Marcus looked up from the computer, and smiled. He seemed a little tired.
“You haven’t even heard them yet.” Marcus moved the mouse, and on the screen, the pointer touched the rewind button. “Give me a second and you can listen to everything. Everything that matters, anyway.”
He stopped playing it twice, hunting for the right spot before letting the file run.
Sean’s dad said, “… I don’t like putting them on the front lines.”
An off screen voice said, “Your son did it to himself. He can’t pass a camera without standing in front of it.”
“We’re hiding behind our kids. That should be us out there!” Mr. Drucker leaned over the table at somebody. His face looked red, but that could have been the light.
Russell Hardwick held up a hand. “Calm down, George. You know as well as I do that Sean volunteered. Besides, we’re not going let him, or any of our children die. They’re a distraction. They’ll give the remnants of the Cabal’s army something to worry about while we get the Impregnator built. After that, we’ll never have to fear the Cabal again.”