On the bottom of my HUD, a bar running across the bottom showed the number of people viewing climbing—thousands already. Then the number jumped by a factor of ten. It had been shared by a super known as Kid Biohack. I wondered if it was him or a staffer, but I didn’t have time to find out.
My floating pods signaled that they were near. That would be nice. People knew the stealth suit by now, but not as well as they knew the Rocket suit. If I could talk to Protection Force in a version of the Rocket suit that called up memories of the legacy of the Heroes’ League, that would help.
The other pod would help just as much but that was because it had repair materials and replacement ammunition. If I needed that, it would be because things were not going well.
I sent out observation bots, larger and less stealthy than the spybots, they could stay in the air longer and broadcast better quality video from a distance. In this situation, they allowed multiple steams of the same event that Kayla or someone in HQ could mix as needed.
The fog began to clear and back at Hardwick Industries’ buildings, Protection Force had noticed.
A few of them flew toward us with more flying upward from behind the trees. My HUD showed that the ones on the beach were flying this way too, possibly in an attempt to flank and surround us.
Over the comms, Tara’s voice cut through the background hissing of the wind. “Spread out and be ready to drop into the trees.”
To my right, Vaughn turned to look past me at her. “Wait, are you saying this won’t work?”
“This is a chess game,” Tara said. “It will work if we pay attention to the ways it might not.”
Vaughn sighed and I thought I saw his hand spark.
Behind and a little below me, Haley said, “Don’t be that obvious.”
“Sorry,” Vaughn muttered.
And then the time for planning was over. Protection Force’s people had met us in the air. The four people who’d flown toward us first slowed to hover in front of us. Twenty more, including the six from the beach, stood behind them but spread out to flank us on both sides.
They didn’t surround us, but if Protection Force was controlled by the Nine, I felt sure that Rook’s crowbots were waiting behind us for their chance. The only question was how close they were now.
In an ideal world, I’d have left the talking to Vaughn, but his grandfather’s reputation and the similarities of their powers meant that I shouldn’t let him go first.
With my voice modulated to sound like my grandfather’s had as the Rocket, I said, “I’m the Rocket and I’m with members of the Heroes’ League—Storm King, Ronin, and Night Cat. We’re here because of illegal activity on the part of your employer. We have evidence. It’s in your best interest to let us go instead of chasing us.”
One of the suits floated forward, stopping several feet away from me, but still closer. Whoever operated that suit had a good understanding of how to fly it. He’d moved forward while staying at the same altitude. It wasn’t impossible, but it was easy to dip or give yourself an extra foot or two off the ground.
Without opening his mask, he said, “I’m Jared Curtis, commander of this platoon of soldiers. We’ve been hired to protect these buildings and the people inside. You’re trespassing on Hardwick Industries’ property and we’re going to have to request that you remain here until the authorities arrive.”
The moment I heard his name, I realized that I knew of this guy. I didn’t know him, but he’d been in some group the army used to fight superpowered soldiers. It wasn’t a government-sponsored superhero team, more a division with a specific purpose—so, a lot of people.
I didn’t know why exactly I knew him. Hopefully knowing that he’d been in the military and used powered armor was enough. It told me he’d be professional and skilled. Still, it wasn’t going to be your average soldier that made into the news. It would be a hero or a war criminal or something.
Not knowing that bothered me, but I kept on talking. “I’m pretty sure that you can’t detain us. You’re security guards. You’re not law enforcement. You can defend people, but if you detain someone, I’m pretty sure that’s kidnapping.”
“Protection Force has the right in this jurisdiction to detain people if they commit a crime on Hardwick Industries’ property. Trespassing is a crime. We’re empowered to detain you until the proper authorities arrive.”
With his right hand, Jared made motions that were distinct enough that they had to be signs to the rest of the group.
“Then I guess we could wait for the authorities. Do you want us to land in the clearing below?”
Nodding, Jared said, “Land and then remove your armor and anything that could be considered a weapon.”
I didn’t need to hear Haley say, “What,” or Vaughn say, “No,” to respond, “It’s not reasonable to expect superheroes to reveal their—”
At that moment Protection Force’s soldiers raised their right arms which, much like my grandfather’s original World War 2 suit, had weapons hanging under their forearms.