I picked up my guitar from the floor and pulled it out of its vinyl case. Jenny didn’t say anything, but her expression probably meant, “I hope that’s not really for playing video games.”
The man stepped around the smashed hood, grabbed Alex’ door and ripped it off the car. A black mask covered the man’s face, but his black and red shirt showed massive muscles and a lot of skin.
That wasn’t a good sign. Only supers with an extreme resistance to damage went with a t-shirt instead of armor.
“Hey there,” Alex said.
“Hit the jackpot,” the man shouted into the darkness. “We’ve got some choice hostage material here. Hey, what the –”
He disappeared, falling just as if someone had opened a trapdoor immediately beneath him — which was more or less the case.
Men with automatic rifles ran out of the darkness near the gate. Someone shouted, “Don’t move!”
Then the SUV began to sink through the road.
A couple seconds and jarring crash later, the Range Rover sat on the plaza in front of the South California Defenders Center. Palm trees surrounded a fountain in the middle of the plaza. The center, a tall, cylindrical building with three towers rose above us.
“You okay, Brooke?”
Brooke slumped in her chair, breathing audibly.
Alex touched her shoulder.
“I’m fine.” She took another breath. “Just give me a second.”
“I don’t know if I should bring this up now,” I said, “but we should let your dad know, right?”
“I’m sure he already knows.” He didn’t even look away from Brooke. “Half the team’s probably on their way already –”
Then he stopped and looked right at me. “Except they’re not. Almost everybody’s off-planet. Government stuff. Fuck!”
I didn’t ask how exactly you forgot your dad was off-planet.
“Do you think they got past the gate?” Jenny asked.
“Don’t know,” Alex said. “Wait a second… We didn’t see the android in the gatehouse.”
“Android?” I asked.
“The guard? Technomage whipped him up.” Alex said. “When the Defenders bought up half the development, protection was part of the deal, but if they could get past the android, they’re probably in.”
He pulled out his cellphone, pressed a few buttons, held the phone to his ear. “No answer. Sylvia’s not answering anything.”
Brooke asked, “Do you have your Defenders phone?”
“No. I left it at home. You?”
“I never wear that thing. Jenny?”
“My dad’s just an auxiliary member. I’ve never had one.”
“Defenders phone?” I asked.
“A tracking device, mostly.” Alex said. “You can’t turn it off and if you’ve got it, people at the Center can find out exactly where you are. I don’t wear it unless I have to.”
“It works everywhere,” Brooke said. “We’re supposed to be wearing them at all times.”
“It’s like Big Brother,” Alex said.
“Maybe we can call her from inside?” Jenny began to open her door.
Alex looked up at the Center. “Yeah, that’s a plan.”
* * *
We suited up in the Junior Defenders room. The view was just as incredible at night as during the day — city lights as far as I could see.
I stepped out of the locker room, all in costume and carrying my helmet only to find Alex talking to Raptor. He appeared on the television just around the corner from the locker room. To judge from the view of Los Angeles, the banks of computers, and empty seats, he probably stood in the command center a few stories below us.
“Alex, I just got word from your father and Sylvia. You’re supposed to stand down let the police take care of it.”
“Yeah, we’ll just leave Carlos with Syndicate L. The cops can send in Blue Streak to fly over them until they surrender.”
Carlos, I remembered, was the first name of Technomage’s son, the kid Alex had gotten to find Syndicate L’s garage by bribing him with a popsicle.
Raptor’s massive brown wings rustled, probably in irritation.
“I’m not going to argue with you. Stay out of the police’s way. Sleep here tonight. Got it?”
“I got it.”
The picture faded into a local station’s coverage of the night’s events. The bullet-riddled body of the android lay behind the gatehouse, illuminated by the streetlight, endlessly repeating the words, “–ease show me your identification…”
“Are Brooke and Jenny still getting dressed?”
From Alex’ tone of voice, he didn’t sound in the best of moods.
“No,” Jenny’s voice came from around the corner.
I stepped back and checked. She and Brooke had just stepped out the door.
“So,” I said, “we can’t go?”
“We’re going,” Alex said.
“Raptor said,” I began.
“The only reason the kid’s in trouble is because of me!” Alex’ voice easily passed the volume of casual conversation.
“What did Raptor say?” Jenny asked. She had her entire costume on except for her face mask.
Behind her, Brooke still wore street clothes — jean shorts and a t-shirt that read, “No one cares about your blog.”
What had she been doing in the locker room? Talking?
“To stay here,” I said.