Before anyone else could respond, Haley looked me in the eye (as much as the foot and half difference between her height and the Rocket suit’s would allow), saying, “We’ll all meet him.”
She had a point. Lucas had the exact same powers as Red Lightning—strength, toughness, flight, and obviously, lightning. Even if he wasn’t in the Cabal’s league, he was definitely in mine.
“Ok, but let’s not be too obvious about it. If he’s not infected, we don’t want to freak him out. Night Cat and I go first to meet him. That won’t seem weird. If Storm King and Gravity Star stand in the command center, they’ll look inconspicuous, but still be able to act. Essentially they’re our last line of defense. After that, those of you without wards will have to blast him with whatever distance weapons or powers you’ve got because if he touches you, you’ll be on his side.”
I considered suggesting how they might go about it, but Travis spoke over everyone else, “Go. I’ve got this.”
I left him to it.
Haley, Camille, Vaughn and I walked over to the command center—which was nothing more than the table in the middle of the main room of the complex. The table had fairly impressive monitors. Vaughn logged in to his account and pulled up the administration screen. It had the expected items—a line views from our security cameras along the top, controls for heat, sound, and defenses as well as apps that monitored environmental variables. Some of those were obvious like temperature, but it also included “psychic interference” and “extra-dimensional shift.”
The forest cameras showed nothing for a long minute, but then Lucas appeared wearing the costume of his heroic identity “Red Legacy,” a name chosen to take on the fact that he had the exact same powers as the supervillain version of his grandfather Red Lightning.
The screen didn’t show much color, but after the retinal scanner passed him, he climbed down into the forest entrance. It wasn’t much more than a metal door over a concrete mound outside. Inside, to be fair, it wasn’t much more than a concrete tunnel, but it was a concrete tunnel with cameras and light.
He walked down the tunnel slowly, taking a few steps and then stopping, and standing, face frozen, mouth a thin line.
Haley noticed it before I did. Even before the first time he stopped she commented, “He doesn’t look very good.”
Then he did stop and I saw what she did. Either he felt sick because he was physically sick, or he felt sick because he was a decent person compelled by ancient, supernatural evil from another dimension to attack people he knew and liked.
I had a bad feeling the latter was more likely and said so to Haley.
She looked at the steel door in front of us and sighed, deflating a little as she did. “He doesn’t deserve that. He’s a genuinely good person.” She frowned. “I’ll know if he’s only sick by his smell. If he’s not, we’ll have to attack.”
She glanced up at me and then back to the steel door in front of us. “He’s coming.”
In the time we’d been talking, he’d started moving again, making it down to a small bend near the other side of the steel door.
It began to move and Lucas stepped through, pulling the door shut behind him, and giving us a full view of his costume—red with a golden lightning strike on the chest. The lightning had been rendered realistically, not symbolically, a thicker thread in the middle with thinner lightning strikes branching off.
He turned back to us when the door shut, expressionless and dead eyed. I almost didn’t need Haley to say, “He doesn’t smell sick” to know what would happen next.
Lucas winced and his head ballooned, turning into The Thing That Eats’ too large, globe, leaving no trace of his own features.
In a syrupy, smooth baritone, it said, “It’s nice to meet you all in your home since we originally met in mine. You have quite a bit of history hidden here, and now I know—”
It was easy—too easy—to listen to its voice, but, Haley didn’t wait for it to finish. She’d already grown fangs, claws, and let her arms and legs transform into a hard grayish substance.
She lashed out with a hand and in defiance of anything I would have assumed possible, raked across its cheek leaving four bloody gashes.
Like her, it moved faster than I did, reaching out to punch her in a blur, but not connecting. She ducked, striking out again, and drawing more blood on the underside of its chin while it backed into the door screeching.
As Haley ducked to the side to avoid its flailing arms, I punched it, and for all that my reaction time might not be in Haley’s league, the Rocket suit’s strength delivers a punch with lots of speed and tons of force behind it.
Knowing that Lucas could take a punch and so could The Thing, I wasn’t holding back. I punched it in the middle of its flat nose, throwing it backwards into the steel door it had entered through, and denting the door.
I’d probably be the guy who’d have to fix that door, but my punch mattered. I’d left a red, fist-shaped mark on its nose—which was now bleeding.
I didn’t have long to appreciate my handiwork. The Thing moved more quickly than I did, bouncing off the door and flying at me.
It knocked me backwards into the middle of the room, scraping across red carpet and the polished concrete paths between the concrete sections. Had this battle taken place before the renovations, I’d have hit the giant pile of storage boxes. As it was, I didn’t even hit a trophy case. They’d been moved mostly toward the front of the room with a few exceptions.
So that was great, but Haley was now alone with The Thing That Eats.
While I was still feeling dizzy from rolling across the floor, it snapped at her, flying toward her in a blur.
She jumped toward the wall, pushing off it to land behind The Thing as it twisted around to follow her jumps. Still flying, it dove toward where she stood.
She didn’t stay there long, jumping backward toward me.
Unfortunately, it could change direction in the air. It did, catching her right arm in its mouth. Her ward did its job, making her glow red, and protecting her from catching its infection, but it wasn’t armor.
Despite making a pained noise as it bit her arm, it didn’t stop biting.
I heard her arm crack.