I answered. “Hey, how’s it going?”
Haley’s voice came over the phone. “He’s moving. He left the house just after you did, but not before we sent in the roachbots.”
The sound of a car’s engine roared in the background, and Haley talked over the noise—but not to me.
“He turned left! Don’t let him go!”
Travis, her older brother said, “I know! Let me drive, dammit.”
The tires squealed.
“It’s going great. We’re on his tail, but I don’t think he knows yet. Besides, Storm King’s in the air. Even if we lose him, he’ll keep up.”
Plus the tracking roachbots had GPS, but time out of sight was time for them to notice and nuke the bot.
“Cool,” I said.
“Are you still with Courtney?” Haley’s tone didn’t specifically sound annoyed, angry or jealous, but it didn’t quite sound casual either.
“Yeah, but I’m nearing campus, so I can meet you soon.”
We said good-bye, and hung up.
In a quiet voice, Courtney asked, “What’s going on?”
“It’s just Haley. I’m supposed to be meeting her tonight.”
“Oh,” she paused. “I’m glad you came with, but I hope she’s okay with it. I don’t want to cause problems.”
We were nearing campus. I could see the upper stories of the parking garage above the trees. I considered running. Haley, Vaughn and Travis were following someone who worked for the Nine, and they were doing it without me.
As I thought that, I realized something else—they didn’t know. I’d been too surprised by Haley’s call to mention the Nine.
I thought about waiting to tell them until I got to the van, but I didn’t think for long. That was crazy. They needed to know immediately. Davis might not be much, but the Nine could throw anybody from the villain side of things into a fight.
Johnny Destruction had worked with them before. I’d met his son the past summer, and didn’t want to again.
I pulled out my phone, stopped, and started to type a text message.
Courtney stopped, and said, “Nick?”
“Sorry. I forgot to tell Haley something. Just a second.”
Angling my phone so Courtney couldn’t see it, I wrote, “Davis showed us CC’s picture. It’s the Nine.”
Haley wrote, “Knew it. THX.”
We’d suspected. We knew they were in town, and even though other groups might have a power impregnator, Cassie had said she’d seen one when she fought the Nine in D.C. last summer.
If we’d been following directions, we’d have called in the Feds at even the slightest suspicion of the Nine being involved, but Travis had said, “Let’s not pull them in until we know. We’ve seen the Feds in action. They’re not that good at handling people with powers.”
I had a bad feeling that I should have pushed for specific conditions for when we’d turn this over to the Feds. You could say that we didn’t “know” the Nine were involved yet, because anybody could be searching for Cassie. Other organizations might start just because the Nine were.
All the same, the simplest explanation that fit the facts was most likely the correct one. Right now, the simplest explanation made me worry that we’d be walking into one of the Nine’s hideouts.
I desperately wanted to put the full Rocket suit on, but that would take time I didn’t have.
One of these days, I’d have to come up with version of the suit that I didn’t need to hide in the van. Instead, wouldn’t it be cool if the van turned into my armor?
“Nick?” In the dark, I couldn’t see Courtney very well, but that was a good thing. That way she was less likely to pick up on how frustrated I felt with being interrupted while I was thinking.
“If you need to go, you can. I’m sure I can make it back to the dorm.”
I turned my head toward Courtney. She smiled a little, but her voice had quavered as she’d started to say, “I’m sure.”
I gave it some thought. I wanted to run and join everybody, but it didn’t feel right. She’d wanted me to come along because she felt nervous before. The fact that she had powers and I didn’t hadn’t stopped her from asking for help.
I couldn’t see her asking me to leave her alone in the dark unless she knew that Davis wasn’t likely to bother her at the moment.
She must have read something from my expression because she kept on talking.
“If other people really need help, you don’t need to stay with me.”
“What?” I could hear the shock in my voice.
She lowered her voice. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have listened, but I modified my body in case there was trouble… I could hear both ends of your conversation with Haley.”