“It was one of those two A.M. phone calls,” Vaughn said. “You know, the ones that are either going to be incredibly good, or incredibly bad.”
The cafeteria was mostly empty and lunch hour was mostly over. Vaughn had happened to pass my table on the way out. Courtney and Keith were sitting with me, so I couldn’t say much.
“That was how it worked when my uncle got kidnapped too,” Keith said. “I was already in the hospital, but my mom and dad got called out of the blue.”
“Have you gone to see him?” Courtney asked.
“No. My parents aren’t going to have me skip school for it. My mom might have dropped by during the day. I don’t know.”
Keith nodded. “How did he get hurt?”
“Some kind of random thing,” Vaughn said. “He’s in his residency, so he comes home really late, and just happened to be in the middle of a shooting.”
“Like with whoever it was in Justice Fist, and the Heroes League? There’s something going on.” Keith looked around the table at all of us. “You and I ought to go investigate. Wouldn’t that be cool?”
“No.” Courtney pushed his shoulder. “It would not be cool. Those people have real guns.”
“It’s a waste to be able to lift a couple tons and not be able to use it. With great power comes great responsibility, right? You investigate and I’ll take them down. It’s made to be.”
Courtney stared at him. “It’s crazy. Remember the fight on the north side? Captain Commando cut off somebody’s leg, and someone else got thrown through a house. If we got attacked, the worst I could do is develop really bad acne, and hope to scare them away. And you’re strong, but not Grey Giant strong. We’d get killed.”
“Well, that’s the thing,” Keith said. “This place is getting to be like New York or something. I think all of us second stringers need to get organized because otherwise we won’t be able to protect ourselves.”
“I’m going to bring my tray back. It’s nearly time for class,” I said, and got up, wondering if Vaughn would walk with me.
He didn’t hesitate, just waved to them, and walked along.
We shoveled our leftovers into the trash can, and put our trays on the racks that stood in the corner.
I looked both ways as we stepped out of the door. No one stood anywhere near us.
“How did Lucas keep the press from connecting him with Red Legacy?”
“Oh, family stuff, I bet. We’ve got a lot of pull with the hospital and the police. He went into the hospital as Red Legacy, but got moved to another room as himself.”
Keeping my voice low, I said, “How bad is it?”
“Bad. He can’t move his legs. They got him while the juice was low in his system.”
“Is it permanent?”
“They’re still trying to work that out.”
“He deserves better than that.”
“Yeah,” Vaughn said. “I know. He does. I’ve never really liked him, but I can’t deny that.”
“No real reason. He’s not a bad guy, but I get sick of hearing my mom tell me that I ought to be more like him. Good grades. Good athlete. Never in trouble. It gets old.”
“Do you think it would cause problems if I brought someone in? You know the Southern California Defenders? Paladin’s a friend of mine…
Specifically, Alex didn’t have one. I did, and with Lee’s comments about keeping my identities separate fresh in my mind, I waited until I got home. Then I went over to Grandpa’s house, took the elevator down to HQ, and emailed Alex directly from my Heroes League email account.
I pressed send around four, and he called me back fifteen minutes later.
The League communications system registered the call, and a blue strip with the words “Incoming Call” ran across the bottom of the twenty foot tall screen on the wall. After I clicked on “Accept” with the mouse, a circle with a stylized version of the Los Angeles skyline appeared. Underneath it were the words “SoCal Defenders” with the word “Paladin” underneath in parentheses.
It faded into Alex’ tanned face, and sun-bleached hair. He wore a white L.A. Galaxy t-shirt, and stood in front of a beige wall. I didn’t recognize the place.
“Rocket, what’s up with the picture?”
He had to be referring to the still of the Rocket that appeared instead of me. I’d used a shot of myself flying over downtown Grand Lake.
“I’m not in costume, and I didn’t know if you were alone.”
“I wasn’t. I am now. Kind of. I’m in the hall at school.”
“School? Oh, yeah. Time zones. I could call back in a couple hours.”
“Don’t worry about it. No one’s got a problem with me stepping out of class. At least not when the Defenders phone rings.”
“I thought you didn’t carry it.”
“I didn’t. After what happened on spring break, my dad nailed my ass to the wall for that one. We’re all carrying now, and not just because he got pissed. They’re bringing us in on the action.”
“What brought that on?”
“We did more than a million dollars of property damage to the building alone when you were here. That and Syndicate L’s taken a page from Red Lightning, and laced their power juice with addictive drugs, so Dad needs the help.”
“Wow. I saw something on TV recently. I didn’t know it was that bad.”
“It’s bad enough that they brought my stepmomster into action. That’s bad. They’ve let me lead a couple missions. That’s really bad.”
“Huh. I don’t know if you’ll be able to take time for this, but there’s this guy I know who’s been shot. Now he can’t walk. He’s a hero. Any chance you could –”
“I’ll be there before you know it.”