Me: Crap. I thought we might have more time.
Daniel: I don’t know. It seems about right to me.
Me: Do you know where he is?
Daniel: No. It’s hard to get much of anything. I get snippets, but not much more.
I paused, wondering how many of us would be alive a week from now.
Me: So, are you going to let people know, or should I?
Daniel: I’ll do it.
Me: Oh… I know that Vaughn’s relatives are generally resistant to telepathy, but did you notice if Russell Hardwick is more resistant now? Or anything weird?
Daniel: What kind of weird?
Me: I should have mentioned this earlier, but Alex noticed something odd about him. I assumed that Alex was sensing the change from the Impregnator, but maybe he wasn’t. If the combination of juice and Impregnator is most likely to hurt someone who’s been at it for years, it’ll be the parents who are at the most risk of losing it.
Daniel: Right, but no, I haven’t noticed anything. He doesn’t seem crazy, just focused.
Me: Are you going to keep on eavesdropping for the rest of the party?
Daniel: As long as I can stand it.
Me: Good luck.
As Daniel broke contact, I noticed that Haley and Vaughn weren’t saying anything.
Instants later, Vaughn said, “Shit.”
Haley’s eyes darted around, examining the crowd. Then she stopped, closed her eyes, and sniffed the air.
“I don’t smell him. I wonder how long we should stay?”
“Well, I’m stuck here,” Vaughn said, “unless I really want to piss off my mom. Or unless we had a thunderstorm, and it’s not like I’d get away with it either. Unlike your parents, she’d know exactly what happened.”
Haley pursed her lips. “Do you think she’d tell your uncle anything?”
“No,” Vaughn said. “They barely have anything to do with each other outside work. She’s more involved in the family charities anyway.”
I glanced down at my phone, and thought about texting everyone again, but then it beeped simultaneous with Vaughn’s and Haley’s.
I had a text message from Travis. Opening it, I learned that he’d called a team meeting for five — after this was over.
As Vaughn and Haley pulled out their own phones, and read their copies of the message, I said to Vaughn, “Do you have to stay to clean up?”
“We’ve got people for that. I’ll be there. My mom might want me to stay around for family stuff, but I’ll skip it.”
* * *
Isaac Lim stared down at us from the wall screen. “You’re going to what? No. Let us take care of it. We’ve got people for that. I know you’re the Heroes League. I know you’ve fought these people before, but you got lucky. If you make a mistake, they’ll kill you, and your families. This isn’t a game. You’re not in the Executioner’s league, and you’re definitely not in Syndicate L’s — not when they turn their full attention to you. The best thing you can do is tell us what you know. When we need your help, we’ll bring you in.”
We were all in costume for the call.
Travis, more intimidating than usual in his black Night Wolf costume, took a breath. “We don’t want to wait. We want to go in and at least look for him. All we know is that the Mystic heard Ray had arrived in town, but he couldn’t get any more out of Hardwick.”
“That’s good enough. We’ll send in our people, and don’t worry, we’ll coordinate with you. You’ll find that we’ll be very helpful.”
He grinned at us, and after a little more talk, the phone call ended.
After Isaac disappeared from the screen, Travis said, “Well, that’s phase one. Feds are on the way.”
Jaclyn got up from her chair. “I don’t like it. They have no idea what they’re getting into.”
Travis shrugged. “Hey, we’re doing what Lee said to do. If the Executioners showed up before we were ready for them, we were supposed to call in the Feds. And it’s not like they don’t know. We told them about Prime, Hardwick, everything. We even told him Hardwick might have an Impregnator.”
“I know. Good job pretending you’re unhappy about bringing them in, by the way.”
“Lee said to make look like we didn’t want to. There we go.”
“OK, so they know the facts of the situation. But do they know that an immortal is using them as human shields for his students? No? I didn’t think so.”
Daniel looked up from checking his email to say, “I know it’s dishonest, but they’d have come even if they knew it. They’ve got to recapture Ray and the others. The escape makes them look really bad. Plus, if we all get killed, it also makes them look bad. They really played up their connection to us after everything with the Mayor.”
“Even though they didn’t help at all,” Vaughn said.
Haley nudged me. “Why did Lee want us to look like we didn’t want help?”
“I asked him. It’s in case Prime, Ray, or even Hardwick has connections inside the FBI. If they’re assuming we’re overconfident, or at least inexperienced, they’ll underestimate us.”
“Exactly,” Cassie said. “I like how he thinks.”
Marcus leaned forward. “It’s a cool idea, but it might have been nice if he’d mentioned it to everyone.”
“Oh,” Rachel said, “I’m sure he thought we’d do a good job acting inexperienced without being told.”