We arrived while the ambulances were still there. I flew in in the full Rocket suit. Haley drove her grandfather’s car.
We met up across the street in the parking lot of a brick, two story office building of an oddly modern design that housed a couple dentists’ offices. The walls had been shaped to resemble waves, inspired no doubt by the name “Grand Lake Dentistry.”
The police had blocked off the road and detoured traffic around it — which was kind of a big deal. Jefferson Street was a five lane road if you counted the middle turn lane and almost as important, it was part of “the Strip.”
No one called it the Strip. The Strip was just my name for that section of road in just about every city in the United States that seems to contain at least one store or restaurant from every franchise known to humankind — Best Buy next to Burger King, Target across from Office Max, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and McDonald’s.
At seven at night, glowing signs and streetlights lit up the twilight, giving us a good view of a Box upside down in the middle lane — “Box” being the slang term for trucks with specialized equipment for hauling supers.
The Box’s side had been blown open as if by a bomb.
Another truck, this one with its front blown open, lay next to it. I could just barely read the words “Police” and “SWAT” in the wrinkled metal of its side.
Paramedics were loading people from the trucks into ambulances as Haley got out of the car.
I stood in next to Lt. Van Kley. Tall with close-cropped grey hair, she watched Shorty’s Convenience Mart out of the corner of her eye as we talked.
The last time I’d seen her, she’d been in charge of a group of police attempting to contain Man-machine. Either she had a reputation for being able to deal with supers or her supervisors didn’t like her much.
“They’re in there.” She flicked her hand in the direction of Shorty’s.
“OK,” I said. “So what do you want us to do?”
“First, let’s get around the corner.”
She led us around the corner of the brick building, bringing us out of direct line of sight of the convenience store. Two squad cars were parked parallel to the curb — as close as possible to the building.
When we stood next to the first police car, she said, “It’s just the two of you?”
“No,” Haley said, “Captain Commando will be coming and we might have the Shift too — if we’re lucky.”
A muscle in Van Kley’s face twitched. “How long will it be before the rest arrive?”
“Captain Commando should be here soon,” I said. “The Shift is anybody’s guess.”
Marcus had to work. He said he’d get off work in half an hour, but he’d try to think of an excuse to get out sooner.
I heard the sound of a motorcycle growing closer and then Cassie appeared riding Captain Commando’s motorcycle.
Cassie jumped off it and walked over to us, sword on her back, the US flag on her chest. “So what have we got?”
Van Kley glanced at her and said, “Didn’t you have a telepath?”
“The Mystic’s busy,” I said.
Daniel had had a track meet and was riding home on a bus when I called.
She looked over the three of us. “Well, if this is everyone–”
“So who is it?” Cassie said, “Terrorists? Johnny Destruction?”
Van Kley looked irritated, but answered. “No one you’ve ever heard of. We don’t even know their names. An officer happened to be in the convenience store when they held it up. He tried to stop them but didn’t succeed. His partner managed to shoot one of them when they tried to leave and called for backup.”
“What can they do?” I asked.
Van Kley said, “Bullets bounce off one of them. Another one can blow things up from a distance. I don’t know about the third one.”
Cassie thought for a moment. “They’ve got the ability to blow up trucks and they’re robbing convenience stores?”
Van Kley said, “It doesn’t make sense to me either.”
“That is kind of weird,” I said.
“Do we have a plan?” Cassie asked.
“No,” I said.
Van Kley shook her head. “Usually I let supers follow their own lead, but I’ve got some advice for you if you want it.”
She looked us over. We were listening.
“None of you have subtle powers. You’re going to have to go in like we did — quickly. Can any of you sense where they are in the building?”
She looked at me.
I shook my head. “Sorry. Maybe in the next version of the suit.”
Haley said, “I can try.”
“Know exactly where they are and take them out before they kill any more hostages.”
“Any more?” Cassie looked from Lt. Van Kley to Haley and I.
“They killed Officer Brondsema when we brought in the SWAT team.”
* * *
Minutes later, Cassie and I stood on top of Shorty’s looking through a hole in the roof. Haley sat next to it, leaning her head over the opening.
Cassie had cut through the flat roof with her sword with complete silence. Monomolecular blades can do that. Haley and I had lifted it out, using background noise generated by the sonics to mask the sound.
We couldn’t see through the drop ceiling, but it didn’t matter.
“The hostages are shut in a room in the back. I think it’s the break room. I can hear them talking. One of the hostage-takers is with them,” Haley said. “The other two are near the front door talking with the police on the phone.
“I smell fear,” she said, “and blood. And Rocket, do you remember the chemical smell I smelled on the powered FBI agents? The ones the Executioner killed? I smell that too.”