I pulled my finger away from the screen, and the button changed from “Red Alert” to “Alert Sent.”
I was just about to call Travis to ask what Tara wanted me to do when the situation changed again. In the moments between noticing the Blues with the motorcycles and the Greens jumping out of their vans, and sending the red, the Blues had jumped off their bikes to join their fellow Blues in firing shots at Rod. At the same time, the Greens had taken a position off to the side, and they weren’t carrying handguns like the Blues. They had automatic rifles—specifically AK-47’s.
One of them had a grenade launcher.
I didn’t know how much trolls could take, but Rod couldn’t stand there forever.
As I came to that conclusion, one of the Blues stood up, waved his arms and all the True stopped firing.
He started talking, and taking the chance that Julie wasn’t in range, I listened in.
Just like all the other True, the speaker was blond, muscled, and wore a black uniform. Unlike the others, he seemed to be in his fifties—unless their aging process had been modified along with everything else. All I could know for sure was that he had a few more wrinkles, grayer hair, and that the blue bar on his chest showed three thin lines underneath it—a mark of rank?
He clicked something on his collar, and his voice could be heard everywhere.
“Tara, tell your students to stand down. We don’t have any quarrel with them. If you surrender, we’ll let them go. We give you our word.”
A deep voice, the kind of voice you imagined the Earth might have if it spoke, a voice that brought to mind avalanches and earthquakes, said, “Bullshit.”
Gobs of spittle the size of softballs flew from Rod’s mouth, one of them hitting a Blue in the face, and dripping down his chest. The Blue stood there–too shocked, I’d bet, to know what to do next.
I couldn’t guess what kind of training they did, but I doubted he had any more experience facing troll spit than I did—which made it the best thing that had happened so far that day.
The leader caught what had happened out of the corner of his eye, and frowned, but didn’t stop. “Don’t think we can’t kill them if you hide behind them, Tara. I know you’re not truly one of us, but I’d like to think that you’ll face us as we’d face you—with honor.”
Tara didn’t say anything.
Good. At least Tara wasn’t doing the heroic, “Give myself up to save these people even though I know you’ll kill me anyway” thing. Whatever she was going to do, I hoped she’d do it soon, because with all the noise Rod and the Blues’ leader was making, Julie wouldn’t need a tracking device to find us.
Worse, if she showed up, I wouldn’t have much choice about killing her.
If she spoke, she could take over anyone but me. The only way to be sure she couldn’t would be to shoot her. Short of that, I might hit her in the back of the head, but a solid hit there could kill her too.
My phone vibrated. I looked down, discovering I had a text message from Travis.
“When Rod attacks, we all do.”
I hoped everyone else had more details than I did.
I would have texted back for more except that I’d noticed that Travis had crossed the street somehow, and stood on top of the building across the street—a movie theater. “The Majestic” advertised a double bill of “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “The Seventh Seal.”
He put his phone back into his pocket, and I followed his example. He expected Rod to attack soon.
I’d barely managed to stuff the phone inside when I heard Tara shout, and Rod jumped forward.
The True were fast, but only fast enough to avoid being squashed when Rod jumped into the middle of them, cracking the road. Bits of asphalt were thrown into the air as he hit.
A few pieces shattered lightbulbs on the theater’s sign.
Rod jumped toward the Greens and their vans. The Greens did better than the Blues had, firing at him even as they jumped out of the way. The guy with the grenade launcher fired off a shot, and it hit Rod directly in the middle of his chest, exploding.
Any questions I had about Rod being able to take a grenade were answered then. It blew a hole into the middle of his brown, coarsely woven shirt, and left a blackened mark on his skin.
He lost it, absolutely totally lost it, but not in the way that would have made the True happy. He crushed one van by jumping on it with both feet. He picked up the other and threw it down the block.
I don’t know where it hit, but I heard a thud, the screech of tearing metal, and the cracking of glass.
The True were amazing though. When they dodged Rod, it was like they’d planned it. They moved in sync, staying out of his reach, and forming loose rows. The Greens with rifles went for the back, the Blues with handguns in front—except for a few that gathered in front of the TV repair shop next to “Rocket Laundry.”
It didn’t do them as much good as they must have thought it would.
Tara jumped out the second story window, diving toward the flagpole that hung from the wall. It broke as she used it to redirect her fall, but she landed on her feet, catching the pole on its first bounce, and using it like a staff to hit one, then two of the Blues next to the door.
Samita jumped out of the window after her, but unlike Tara, she didn’t do any acrobatics. She just fell.
Not thinking about it, I dove toward her. I don’t know what I thought I could do. I couldn’t fly when I was solid, and I couldn’t catch anybody when I wasn’t solid.
So Samita fell, but a funny thing happened on the way to the sidewalk. She happened to hit a ledge with one of her feet, pitching her forward so she landed on not one, but two Blues. The first one fell into the second, and both of them were knocked backward, hitting their heads on the road, leaving them unconscious.
Samita picked herself up off the two of them, and from the wideness of her eyes, and the shocked expression on her face, it was obvious she hadn’t planned that at all. She took a quick look back as she ran away, following Tara.
Tara by the way, was doing a great imitation of Captain America. The True might have been genetically engineered clone soldiers, but whatever Tara got from mixing two groups worked better than either one alone.
She dodged blows, disarmed gunmen, broke legs, arms, and anything that got in her way.
Travis meanwhile had long since gotten off the roof. At least six of the True lay sleeping on the street, all of them scratched.
Tara shouted, “This way!” She pointed toward the alley next to the theater.
Rod changed back from troll to human, jumping over the bodies of the Blues Travis took out. Travis ran with him, stopping at the entrance to the alley to wait. “Rachel? You out there?”
Samita ran after them, and I flew next to her, completely invisible, and phasing out enough that I couldn’t hear. Julie had to be close.
Despite what we’d done to them, the True weren’t completely down. A Green pulled out his rifle and as Samita neared the alley, he pointed it at her.
Before he pulled the trigger, an anvil hit him in the head.
It fell out of the sky just like it might have in Bugs Bunny cartoon, but different—very bloody when it hit. I’m not going to say more than that, but whatever spirit she’d bound to her ring had a sick sense of humor.
The True stared too. They still outnumbered us at least ten to one, but that? That was pretty far out from any risks that could be rationally calculated.
That would have been the time to go—when the True were completely demoralized. Unfortunately, we didn’t.
Julie and six more True ran around the corner of the laundromat. Julie started shouting. I didn’t know what she was shouting, but I knew what I had to do. Did I have the nerve?