I stared at the phone’s screen, trying to remember what Nick had told me about his design. He’d put the phones together last spring when we’d been facing the remnants of the Cabal. After a moment, I remembered everything.
Nick had used the the Defenders teams’ communication protocols for our communicators. They were based on protocols Grandpa designed, and they’d become a standard. It wasn’t much of a jump to guess that he’d designed them to work here too—especially when I remembered that Dixie Superman got lost and came through Infinity City to our world. Grandpa successfully visited Dixie Superman’s reality once, and he would have needed a way to get back.
I could easily see Nick throwing in a way to detect which reality we were in if he had access to Grandpa’s plans.
This was the best news I’d had in hours, and I might have screamed in relief—except I didn’t—and that was good, because as I floated there, another name appeared on the team list:
∞ Red Lightning
And that put a whole new spin on everything—what with Red Lightning having betrayed the original Heroes League, and being, well, dead.
In our universe, at least.
Not that it had to be a Red Lightning like ours. There had to be some universe where that name wasn’t stained, allowing Vaughn to take on his grandfather’s identity. I might just be seeing alternates of Nick, Vaughn, and me. If I was lucky, they might all be Stapledon students. If I was unlucky, they might be from a universe where the whole Heroes League joined in on Red Lightning’s plans instead of fighting them.
I called Travis.
He didn’t pick up instantly. It took at least five rings, and while I waited, I looked down toward the building we’d escaped from. All six of the Blues plus Julie were walking down the alley we’d used. Ahead of them, a small, silvery ball floated, steadily moving forward.
It stopped at the spot where I floated away from the rest of the group, but after a moment, it started moving again.
That’s the moment when Travis picked up the phone, and he didn’t start with “hello.” He said, “Did you see who’s on the team list?”
“Yes, and that’s the least of our problems. Julie and the Blues are tracking you. They’ve got some kind of device, and they’re less than a block away now.”
Travis muttered something, possibly to Tara, and said, “Does crossing the street and going through to another block look good to you?”
They’d crossed through to another block since I’d taken to the air. This one looked like it was out of the 50’s—neon signs everywhere, but since it was day, none of them were on. At the end of the street, two golden arches stuck out of a flat roofed building that had the word, “McDonald’s” on it.
Meanwhile, none of the cars or people looked like they were from the 1950’s. They looked as modern as anybody I’d seen.
I took a second look at the cars when I noticed men and women in black costumes riding in the back of a green pickup truck, and turning down the street. A group of True on motorcycles rode down the next block over.
“No, there’s a bunch of them coming down the street toward you, and there’s more on the street past that. Can you hide?”
Travis didn’t reply at first. Then he said, “We’ll try.”
“Good luck. I’m going to slow Julie down.”
I dove toward them, pulling out Julie’s gun. When I got close, I moved the gun partially inside the floating ball and pulled the trigger. For an instant when I put the gun inside it, it seemed to move left, as if it were trying to get away. If it was, it didn’t move quickly enough.
The bullet phased into normal reality inside the ball, destroying it in an explosion and shower of sparks. It fell to the ground.
I flew away, not hearing their response because I’d already phased out enough that I couldn’t hear anything.
That might have been a mistake—not because I couldn’t hear Julie. That had been a great idea, but what was not so great? I couldn’t hear anything. I might as well have been in space.
I flew back towards our people, shooting through a barbershop in one of the white, psuedo-Guggenheim buildings, and coming out of a laundromat on the other side. A flat roofed building with a wide parking lot, it had a big rocket-shaped sign on the top. Outlined in neon, the sign showed the words “Rocket Laundry.” It spun slowly around, and if it had been night, neon flames would have been shooting out of the rocket’s bottom end.
It didn’t show any sign of a connection with Grandpa, but still, it was weird.
At another time, I might have taken a few pictures, or even gone inside to ask the owner some questions. It was a beautiful example of Americana.
I didn’t, and here’s why. In the time I’d been gone, things had gotten much worse. Hiding hadn’t worked out at all.
How did I know? Mostly from how Rod had turned troll, sprouting up to at least the second story with grayish skin and a potbelly, but muscles all over. Oh, and one other thing—possibly the stupidest expression I’d ever seen on a nearly human face.
With one spiked boot (made from the hide of an entire cow?), he crushed the pickup’s engine compartment. The wheels fell off, one of them flipping over three times before coming to rest on the sidewalk.
None of the Blues were hurt. Rod was fast, much faster that I’d expected something as large as he was to move, but not fast enough to hit them. They ran away from the truck, separating enough that he couldn’t reach to grab more than one of them at once, and pulling out their guns.
The bullets didn’t do much to him, but he didn’t jump forward. He continued to stand in front of the TV repair shop next to the laundromat.
Guessing that he had to be waiting for some sign from Tara, I decided to check what we were facing.
It didn’t look good.
From the left, the Blues on motorcycles roared toward us. Two vans rounded the corner to my right, and stopped. Men and women jumped out. I couldn’t know for sure, but some appeared to be wearing green accented uniforms.
I touched my finger to my phone, and pressed “red alert.”
If they turned out to be evil, alternate versions of our team, I could live with it as long as they helped us during the fight.