With that debacle over, we went back to our dorm, changed out of costume and ate. I could write more about hanging out in our rooms that night, but there’s not really much to tell. Sunday morning allowed time for people who wanted to attend worship services to do so, and then we spent most of Sunday afternoon practicing first aid.
By five, we were all waiting in an airport somewhere near NYC. I hesitate to say a “secret” airport because it was clearly used, but it definitely wasn’t commonly used by passenger planes. I don’t think I saw any, but I couldn’t be sure because we rode there in a cargo truck with no windows–just seats in the back. The roof was made of a partially transparent, but not clear, plastic.
We unloaded the truck inside the hangar. I happened to look through the mirrored windows on the door as we waited for our plane to arrive. Even though it wasn’t snowing, it still wasn’t warm. A Fedex jet landed on the runway as I watched, but it didn’t taxi in our direction afterward. I decided that watching for our jet was probably more akin to waiting for a pot to boil than it ought to be, and considered finding someone to talk to.
It might have been a fun place to hang out under other circumstances, but not with people. It felt like it was only barely heated. Water, and other fluids pooled on the floor. Machines and tools hung on the wall or lay on shelves.
Building something might have been a good way to pass the time, but with all the parts meant for airplane repairs, it was a given that I’d annoy somebody.
Turning away from the mirrored windows, I found Cassie walking toward me. She wore a Grand Lake University hoodie, jeans, and atypically, her hair wasn’t in a ponytail. It hung loose around her shoulders. She wore the backpack I’d made for her, the one that changed into light armor–barely powered armor at all, actually. I’d designed it to be more of a disguise.
“Hey, thanks,” she indicated the backpack with a gesture of her hand. “This will help keep me sane. Mom doesn’t want me going out in costume at all outside of Stapledon. With this, she might not even recognize me.”
I wondered if handing her the suit had been a good idea.
Frowning for moment, she said, “I’ll have to give you back the sword and gun before you leave. I can’t exactly take them back to D.C. when I’m trying to avoid the Nine.”
I sighed, and slumped a little. “I know. I was pretty sure the aliens would attack Stardock while we were there. It seems like the Hrrrna have to be working with the machine races somehow, and if they’re desperate enough to attack other aliens here on Earth, I’d think they’d want to go after Stardock too, and soon.”
Cassie shrugged. “At least you’re thinking ahead. I’ve been talking to Vaughn, Izzy and Daniel, and fuck, I’ve been left out of everything. You guys went up to the Xiniti jumpgate, met the Hrrrna, and got attacked by flying robots, and you know what I’ve been doing? Hanging out in the D.C. super compound. I mean, yay, I’ve been getting some training in, but I’ve barely gotten a chance to use it thanks to the Nine. First chance we get, we should take them down, you know?”
I eyed her. “You are kidding, right? The last time we got anywhere near the Nine, we ended up in the middle of nerve gas and a nuke. I mean–”
Shaking her head, Cassie said, “The nerve gas was no big deal. The worst I got out of it was a runny nose. The nuke? That was scary, but you’re forgetting the best part. You blew up Rook’s hand. Talk about badass.”
I opened my mouth without saying anything for a second, and then managed, “I try not to think about that.”
“Still awesome,” she said. “You know he’s got an artificial hand now? I saw it on SuperTV. So yeah, that’s another great thing about being near no one I care about. I get to watch TV and hang out with the Liberators which isn’t nearly as fun as their fanbase imagines.”
I frowned. “You’re going to Georgetown, right? That can’t be all bad.”
She gave another shrug. “It’s not so bad, but I can’t even use my name there. Lim says they’ll transfer all the credits if I go back to Grand Lake, but what are the chances of that? The CIA always wanted me in D.C.. I’m pretty sure they’re planning to have me take over for Dad the second I’m out of college. It was always part of my plans, but it doesn’t sound as fun when I don’t think I’ve got a choice.”
I nodded. “I can see that.”
I’d planned to say more, but heard footsteps, and turned to notice Patriot Jr. coming over. He wasn’t in costume. This was Patriot Jr. in civvies. He wore a red, button down shirt, open to about the third button, showing muscle. Tan, he had curly brown hair, shot through with spots that were sun bleached blond.
Most of the time I’d seen him, he’d been chatting up one of the women, or hanging out with his friends. He’d been grinning or laughing. Now, he looked serious.
I realized I didn’t know the guy’s real name.
“Hey,” he said, “we got assigned together, but I don’t think we’ve talked. I’m Blake–Patriot Jr, in costume. I was thinking maybe we could talk about ways to make the unit work better.”
I looked up at him. This wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I’d guessed he’d been about to tell me how it was all my fault. “Why me?”
He raised an eyebrow, and tilted his head as he looked at me. “Why? You’ve been in the middle of some major stuff. Plus, you train with that freaky guy–Gunther–all the time, right? And you’re in the advanced fighting groups even though you just started? And you’re a brain.
“Look, we didn’t do so well, and my advisor said you’d probably know how to fix it.”
I adjusted to that idea, and wondered who his advisor was. I had ideas for how to fix our unit, but I hoped everybody’s advisor wasn’t saying the same thing. I wasn’t that good.
“I’ve got a few suggestions,” I said. “The first is that instead of looking at us like a bunch of people with powers, you should look at us like we were a ship or something. Second–”
My phone started beeping. It was the beep I’d set for alerts that came in on the common protocol my grandfather had designed. I started to say, “Sorry,” but then I realized Patriot Jr. wasn’t listening to me. He was pulling out his phone. So was Cassie.
In fact, so was practically everyone in the hangar. The few exceptions probably didn’t need their phones to find out what was going on.
I took my phone out of my pocket, and clicked on the screen. An alert appeared. “As of forty minutes ago, Earth spacecraft detected a planetary bombardment. Guardian and various Defenders groups have been mobilized to attend to the situation. Metahumans should gather their gear and contact their local Defenders unit to find out if their services are required.”
Patriot Jr. stared at his phone. “My dad’s got to be going up there. I hope it doesn’t get too bad. Do you guys think they’ll send us back to Stardock?”
It was a valid question, but neither Cassie or I were paying attention. We were staring at the next alert. Haley had sent a yellow with the message. “The League jet has detected that one of the asteroids was aimed directly at Grand Lake’s downtown. Another one is heading straight for New York. The jet’s AI thinks that it’s a feint or a distraction, and Lee agrees. All League members and friends near Grand Lake, please respond.”
I wanted to call Haley back, but I didn’t want to prevent her from talking to people who were actually in Grand Lake. She didn’t have many people to work with–Camile, Sydney, and Marcus for sure, and maybe Chris. Maybe Larry if he wasn’t helping someone else.
I wondered if I should be getting back there.
Isaac Lim walked through a door near the rear of the hangar. He held up his hands to get our attention, and shouted, “Suit up, everyone!”