The voice on the other end barely gave me time to finish. “What kind of new information?”
“There’s a factory making a material for armor I came up with. The weird thing is that I only came up with it a couple days ago, but they’ve been making it for months.”
He didn’t say anything, leaving me to look over the jet’s glowing dashboard, and then look out towards St. Louis’ growing skyline. The Gateway arch rose just past the river, and skyscrapers on either side and behind it.
Lights from below made it stand out.
Chances were that that would be destroyed if we failed too.
My mind substituted shattered skyscrapers and a fallen arch for the scene ahead.
In that moment, it hit me that I had died here in at least one universe, and technically in an infinite number. In this universe though, I could easily be leading some of the people I cared most about to their deaths.
Leading them, I thought, and repeated the words in my head a couple more times. It ought to be someone else. Someone competent.
If things went badly wrong, both Rachel and I might die. I wondered who would tell my parents. Agent Lim?
Daniel spoke directly into my mind then. Don’t worry about it, Nick. This time’s different. We all know what we’re up against, and we’re not going to just let it happen. I know I’m not planning to die here.
That was comforting in a way. Not totally comforting, but close.
Haley looked up from her console, the glowing light reflecting off the grey Night Cat costume, and said, “Rocket?” Her tone sounded questioning.
Whether she’d smelled my nervousness through the Rocket suit, heard my heart speed up, or simply read my body language, she guessed a little of what I was thinking.
I didn’t get a chance to reply. Another voice came over the comm. The first had sounded like some random guy, probably someone whose job was simply to take calls. The new one sounded confident, a baritone that sometimes hit bass.
“I’m Ronin,” he said. “What’s the situation? Is the factory making armor?”
I recognized the voice then, and I knew who he was. This was Tara’s father. He’d joined the Defenders and moved around among the major Defenders units for the last few years. If I remembered correctly, he shared Tara’s ability to predict people’s combat moves, and used it when commanding Defenders teams—brilliantly.
“I don’t know what they’re planning to do. I just know they’re making something that shouldn’t exist yet. It might be because of aliens. It might be time travelers, for all I know. What’s important is this: I died investigating this in another timeline even though we saved St. Louis. The thing is, that means if we mess up, St. Louis might be destroyed. Worse, it might escalate so quickly we won’t have time to think anything through.”
He took it surprisingly calmly, especially given his reply.
“I’ve heard about this. We’ll give you any assistance you need. Keep in contact with us each step of the way.”
We’d need the help. I’d gotten Agent Lim’s voicemail when I called his office last night. Since he normally answered his phone, something major had to be going down somewhere. I hadn’t even tried to call Lee. I knew he was doing something this weekend—probably overthrowing a government.
A lot of other people I might have called were busy too.
“Believe me,” I told Ronin, “I’ll keep you up to date. By the way, do you have anyone who can heal? I’m sure you’ve got hospitals, but we may need more than that.”
“I’ll make them available. I’m putting the local Defenders on red alert. Are you going to need anyone when you do recon on the factory?”
“No. We’ve got all the people we need for that, but that might change after we get a good look at it.”
“Understood. I’d like an address anyway.”
“Sure,” I said, and gave it to him.
“Thank you, and good luck.”
I assured him we’d keep him updated, and then cut the connection.
By that time, we were above the river. This early on a Saturday morning, the Mississippi was wide, flat, dark, and empty.
I turned off the jet’s main engine, and used the gravitics to keep it moving. Between the shields’ ability to absorb light, and the gravitics’ silence, we would be hard to notice—if nowhere near as fast or maneuverable.
We floated above the river until the GPS indicated that we were getting near the factory. Then I turned the jet in towards the city, and not an especially nice part of it. City blocks with one or maybe two buildings and a parking lot appeared to be the norm. Asphalt appeared to cover everything.
We had similar areas in Grand Lake, but St. Louis was bigger.
And then we found it. St. Louis Industrial Materials appeared to be two flat-roofed, rectangular, sheet metal buildings.
In the darkness, I didn’t even try to guess at the color. Instead, I set the jet to hover above the old brick factory on the next block.
Then I turned the jet’s sensors on the factory, hoping that it wasn’t rigged to detect them and explode.
The jet displayed shadowy representations of the insides of both buildings on the screens. One building appeared to be full of manufacturing equipment. I recognized the shapes of devices I used while creating ceramics.
The smaller building on the far side of the lot seemed to be used for storage, and it appeared to be full.