The house only blew up a little bit — at least by comparison to an atomic bomb, for example. It didn’t have a mushroom cloud, just gouts of flame pouring out the kitchen windows and doors. To judge from what it looked like afterwards, it must have blasted out a couple pieces of wall too, but I was too distracted by the flames and smoke to notice.
We had already gotten out when it happened. The explosion destroyed the kitchen, part of the dining room, and started most of the back of the house burning. Even through my armor I could feel the heat a little.
I hit the ground when it blew like everyone else, realizing belatedly that I probably didn’t have to.
As Marcus, Haley, Water and I began to stand up, the Rhinomobile pulled around the side of the house. Daniel stayed on the ground in front of me, still not feeling well enough to stand. Vaughn and the mayor lay near Daniel’s feet.
The Rhinomobile stopped just short of us. A firehose led down the lawn from the back of vehicle to a fire hydrant.
Over the loudspeakers, Larry shouted, “Anybody still in there? If you need help, give a shout. Otherwise I’m hosing this place down.”
The side of the Rhinomobile opened and Larry walked out onto the ledge above a tread carrying another hose. He jumped down and ran to the back of the Rhinomobile and attached it.
Daniel said, “There’s no one left inside. No one living anyway.”
“Got it,” Larry said, and opened up with the hose. It didn’t take long before he’d put out the worst of it.
We all rode back in the Rhinomobile. No one bothered to chase us. In fact, cars pulled off the side of the road to let us go past.
They probably didn’t want to get run over.
I stood in the opening between the sleeping area and the… I don’t know what to call it. The cockpit? The cab? Whatever you call the place people sit in to drive a vehicle that doesn’t fly.
Larry drove, of course. Marcus sat in the bucket seat next to him, asking questions about the dashboard.
It had a lot of buttons.
“That’s for the oil slick,” Larry said.
Marcus pointed to another button. “That one?”
“Engages the flamethrowers,” Larry said. “I like to start the oil slick on fire.”
“Is that why you’ve got a firehose?” I asked.
“Nah,” Larry said. “I’ve got a firehose because even when I don’t start the fire it seems like half the time I go anywhere something starts burning.”
* * *
Larry parked the Rhinomobile inside the hangar and we all walked out together. Larry carried the mayor. I found myself walking in next to Vaughn and Haley.
Travis, Jaclyn, Cassie, Marcus, Water, and Daniel walked behind us. Jaclyn talked about how she’d disarmed the police. “Half of them were standing in a row,” she said. “It’s like they were saying, ‘Jaclyn, could you please take my gun?’ and when asked so politely, how could I refuse?”
Everyone laughed, Travis particularly loudly.
“Like both arms,” Vaughn said to Haley and I over the noise. “They hurt. Not unbearable pain or anything, but it stays there and it won’t go away.”
He tried to roll up his right sleeve, but barely got it halfway. What we could see of his bicep looked red and swollen. The forearm of his left arm, the arm he’d used to roll up the sleeve, didn’t looked any better. He lost his grip on the sleeve three times while rolling it up.
“Fuck,” Vaughn muttered. “I give up.”
Haley said, “You need a doctor. Nick, the League used to have an arrangement with a somebody. Do you remember who?”
“If they did,” I said, “the doctor’s probably eighty-something. Or dead.”
I pressed the button that opened the door between the hangar and the main room of HQ.
If the room felt full before we left, it felt twice as full now. Aside from the bodies still sleeping on the floor, Daniel’s dad and C, Jaclyn’s grandfather sat at the main table talking to the Guardian and two women — Dreadnought and Flick — which meant we had almost a third of the Midwest Defenders in residence.
Beyond the people who were actually physically there, the big wall screen held three more people’s images: The Marvelous X, current president of the Michigan Heroes Alliance, and a man and a woman who were wearing dark business suits.
Daniel’s dad stood up from the table as the door rolled open and I heard Jaclyn’s grandfather say, “They’re back. Time to get started.”
The people disappeared from the screen.
The Guardian and Flick followed after Daniel’s dad, the three of them meeting up with us halfway into the room.
The Guardian looked just like he did while chewing us out after we defeated the Grey Giant; big and muscular in a silver costume. I pegged him as being in his early forties.
Flick looked a lot smaller, but only by comparison. She had blond hair and wore a powder blue costume. Her mask covered the upper half her face.
“Aside from the explosion, it sounds like you kids did a good job,” the Guardian said.
From our last encounter, I had a feeling that this would be the closest to a compliment he gave.
“Oh come on,” Flick said, “it’s not as if we’ve never blown up anything. They did great.”
The Guardian stared at Vaughn. Between the blood covering his costume, the new scar on his neck, and the swollen redness of his arm (he still hadn’t rolled down his right sleeve), he looked bad.
“Christ,” the Guardian, “what happened to you? Let’s get a look at this.”
He pulled the sleeve up the rest of the way and then said, “Where else does it hurt?”
Vaughn held up his left arm, wincing as the Guardian rolled up the sleeve and inspected Vaughn’s forearm.
“Kid,” he said, “you’ve got two broken arms.”
“He’s a doctor in normal life,” Flick said, watching them.
I’d guessed that from his gentle, bedside manner.
Daniel’s dad had already walked over to Daniel, so I asked Flick, “Not that I’m not happy to see all of you, but why are you here?”
“You know Mindstryke. You’ve been in all over the news for weeks now. They’ve been showing pictures of your fight with Tomahawk, and the broken window in the Mayor’s office. Mindstryke thinks you’ll need an appearance that will put you on TV, and maybe throw out a few memorable sound bites.”