Walking down the hall toward the door but stopping before he reached the lobby, Hardwick peered out toward the parking lot. “I don’t see them. They might have left.”
He reached out to the wall and turned up the light from almost nothing to a moderate brightness.
Turning back to Ryan, he asked, “Do you have a gun?”
Ryan shook his head.
Hardwick held up his right hand and let a spark of electricity leap from his index finger to his thumb. “Me neither. If we get into a fight, let me go ahead. Don’t get too close. I don’t tell many people about this, but I ran myself through one of those machines that activates latent powers a couple years ago and I’ve got a full dose of whatever Red Lightning had. If someone tries to take us down, I’ll handle it. You stay out of the way.”
Ryan stared at him, eyes wide.
Then Hardwick took his phone out of his pocket. “You’ve got a way to call the lab, right? Call them and tell them what’s going on. I’m going to call security. If have to, I’m going to call in the Nine.”
“The Nine?” Ryan clenched his right hand. “We’re trying to get away from the Nine.”
Hardwick let his hands drop to his waist. “Our arrangement was that I took over your obligations to the Nine, only leaving you with obligations to me. So you and Sandy don’t owe them for anything they do tonight, you owe me.
“I hope that’s good enough for you because it’s the best I can manage.” Hardwick looked down at Ryan with a hint of a curl to his lips.
Shaking his head, Ryan said, “That’s fine. I’ll make the call.”
Then, hands shaking, Ryan pulled his phone out of his pocket, nearly dropping it as he typed out a number. Hardwick smiled at him and started to make his own call.
I cut off the view, opening up a view to the outside of the lab, watching the two True soldiers stand by the door, looking out at Higher Ground’s lab.
Whoever it was that received Ryan’s call, it wasn’t the guards outside the door-which made sense. It would have to be someone inside, someone who would be in charge of the True.
The door to the lab opened and a woman in a white lab coat stepped out. I recognized her. It was Dr. Griffin, the scientist whose lab had first had the birthing chamber. She’d seemed nice enough when we’d interacted and it was a little disappointing to realize that she was deep into this.
I’d seen her kids back when we defended her lab from mercenaries the Hrrnna had hired. I supposed that bad guys also had kids. Not to mention that I’d known even then that there was a good chance that her lab had a relationship with the Nine.
Dr. Griffin spoke quietly to the soldiers and then stepped back inside the lab. The soldiers nodded, but didn’t do anything special beyond continuing to watch.
I let the scene fade from my view, finding that Haley and the others were watching me as I became aware of my true surroundings next to the lab building.
“That was long look through your spybots,” Haley frowned as she looked up at me.
“Probably, yeah. I checked a few different places. I saw Russell Hardwick and Ryan, the lab’s chief scientist. They’re with the people we took down. The good news is they’re all alive. The bad news is that ‘Uncle Russ’ has decided that we need to die and he’s calling in security and maybe the Nine.”
Vaughn looked around us as if expecting people to explode out of the forest. “That’s not all the bad news. Uncle Russ has been using Protection Force a lot since the Cabal. My mom’s been complaining about the cost. It’s not as if the company can’t afford it, but I don’t know that we need it.”
Haley folded her hands over her chest. “Do you think Protection Force would kill because he told them to? I know they’re a company, but they try to present themselves as superheroes for hire—not mercenaries.”
Cocking her head without saying anything at first, Tara bit her lip. “Is there anyone your uncle might use as security who’d follow his directions without worrying about whether they were legal? Because that’s who I think he’d bring in.”
Vaughn began by saying, “I don’t think—oh. There’s the obvious one. Uncle Russ has been connected to what was left of Grandpa’s army. He keeps them safe. If they repay the favor by taking care of any problems without questions, we’re practically there.”
I thought about it. “I think I’d prefer dealing with Protection Force.”
“Me too,” Vaughn said, “but I’m sure they wouldn’t kill anyone or work with the Nine.”
Haley tilted her head back and sniffed the air. “Maybe we should get out of here while we still can.”