“Whoa,” I held my hands up in the air, raising them slowly, palms forward. “There’s something that you’ll want to know before firing on us. You’re currently being watched by more than 100,000 people on multiple different streaming services—”
Kayla interrupted me. “One million people.”
A quick look at the bottom of my HUD confirmed she was right. I continued, watching them as I talked. “—actually one million people. Anyway, you don’t want to attack us in front of that many people, do you? I’m pretty sure security guards aren’t allowed to use deadly force unless we’re attacking you or someone else.”
Off to my right, the wind blew upward, holding Vaughn in the air. He held his hands up too, but only partway, shouting over the wind. “He’s not kidding. Trust me, you don’t want to go to jail to protect anyone here.”
My helmet beeped and my HUD showed that one of my floating pods hovered above me. Silent, camouflaged and resistant to radar, it had been designed to be hard to detect. Judging from how Protection Force’s people weren’t firing on it, I’d been successful on some level.
That was good news because my floating pods represented plan b in case talking them down didn’t work.
Jared Curtis turned his helmet to look at Vaughn—which told me that their suits didn’t have the peripheral vision that mine did. If came to a fight, I could use that.
When Jared replied, he spoke louder, not screaming, but with a touch higher volume. “What have you got?”
Contrary to what I half expected he’d do, Vaughn didn’t spill it all. He shook his head. “I’m sorry. We can’t talk about details, but think about it. You’re talking to the Heroes’ League. Our grandparents practically showed people how you do superheroing and we uncovered the conspiracy behind power juice within a year of bringing the League back. I’m pretty sure we’ve saved the world a couple times now that you’ve heard of and more that you haven’t. Do you want to bet against us?”
Vaughn’s speech might have had a little more kick if I’d been wearing the full Rocket suit. It hung above me in the pod, waiting. If I gave the pod the signal, the full suit would drop.
It would make for a great moment as the slim, black stealth suit disappeared under under the full suit’s gold. It’d probably be the first time I’d appeared in it since getting back. I wondered if anyone would notice a difference from Chris.
On one level, I hoped not because that was the whole point of him wearing it, but on another…
Though the Protection Force Rocket suits might not have had great peripheral vision, they had night vision. Between my implant and my HUD, it wasn’t hard to tell that they were still aiming their weapons at us.
Jared’s helmet moved again, turning back in my direction and then at Vaughn. His weapon arm turned along with it, but not all the way, as if his mind wasn’t entirely on the scene in front of him. Maybe Vaughn was getting to him.
Jared didn’t get a chance to respond before Vaughn added, “Attack us and you and your team could find yourselves in jail for a long, long time. Neither one of us wants that to happen, right? I mean, I don’t and I bet you don’t either.”
In the silence that followed Vaughn’s statement, we all hung in the air staring at each other. The Protection Force team kept their weapon arms pointed at us, only moving to adjust to the wind. I found myself wondering when Jared would respond and if trying to push him would help.
As I began to think that I had to talk, Haley whispered into the comm, “Someone’s talking to him. I can’t make out the words, but there’s a hint of fear in the smells coming from his suit.”
“What,” Vaughn laughed, “did he piss himself?”
With a hint of annoyance in her voice that I recognized, Haley said, “No.”
As she said it, the soldier to Jared’s right turned to look at him. If I had to bet, he’d asked Jared a question over their communication system.
Then Jared said, “No. Shut up. Do your job.”
The soldier to his right turned to face us, pointing his weapon arm at me. That, oddly enough, is when I remembered where I knew Jared’s name. I’d been right that he’d been part of a division specialized in fighting supers. He’d been court-martialed because he’d stolen from supers they’d fought, taking alien technology that an archeologist had unearthed.
I’d followed the story because I wanted to know more about the technology, but details about it never made the news. I wondered when he’d gotten out of prison. I didn’t remember exactly how long he’d been sentenced for, but had a vague sense that it was a long time.
Her high pitched voice contrasting with her matter-of-fact delivery, Tara talked into the comms. “In ten seconds, they’ll open fire. Six, now.”
“I’m going up,” I said.
At the same time, Jared pointed toward the clearing. “Land or we’ll fire!”
“Two,” Tara said. “Everyone else, drop. Control, send a red!”
The last part of her sentence cut through a barrage of gunfire. I shot upward, feeling like I left my stomach near the treetops.