Haley landed the jet in the parking lot between the storage building and the factory.
We’d arrived less than an hour before, and aside from a little debris from the bombs, it didn’t look much different. It was lighter (past the factories and warehouses, the eastern sky glowed), and the tornado sirens were still going, but it was close to the same.
An inch of snow still covered the ground, and the temperature felt cold—if not as cold as Michigan.
For that matter, all the buildings that had been standing when we arrived were still standing. The ones that weren’t visible from here.
Still, it felt like we’d been there a week.
We walked toward the jet—all of us but Rachel anyway, and she appeared as I walked up the steps. A little later we’d all buckled up and sat there, waiting.
Haley looked over at me as I clicked through different screen views. Radar didn’t show anyone in the air.
“I’m a little surprised no one’s called us. I’d think they’d want to talk to us.”
I considered it. “Yeah, me too. The thing is, the person we mostly talked to was Ronin, and he probably died in the blast.”
I turned back toward Daniel.
He nodded. “He was in the room when the bomb went off.”
Izzy swallowed. “He didn’t have a chance.”
Rachel tapped twice on her armrest, and frowned. “Who’s going to tell Tara? She shouldn’t hear this on the radio.”
I hoped it wouldn’t be me, but Rachel was right. We needed to call the local Defenders office. That couldn’t have been all of them. Someone had to be back at the office. That was probably the person to call her.
Her and the other four people’s families. Did they have families? There had to be a system.
In a quiet voice, Sydney asked, “Who’s Tara?”
“Ronin’s daughter,” Rachel said. “She’s a Stapledon student. She’s doing her fifth year internship right now. I know her a little.”
“I sparred with her once,” Cassie said, sounding a little more enthusiastic than I would have just then, “she’s a genius at hand to hand.”
Daniel caught my eye, “Call the Defenders.”
Haley clicked on the screen, “I’ll do it.”
Moments later we heard the words, “St. Louis Defenders unit. We’re in the middle of an emergency right now. Can you hold?”
Haley scowled. “This is the Heroes League. We were working on the emergency with you, and we’d… like to report a death. Actually five deaths.”
The man on the other end said, “More deaths? Whose are you reporting?”
“Ronin’s and…” she turned backward toward Izzy and Daniel.
“Metaspark—“ Izzy started, but the man interrupted her.
“We know about Ronin and the team in the True Humanity operation. We’ll need you to fill out an after action report. For now though, stay where you are. We’re handling a number of issues related to what’s happened.”
“We could help,” Haley said.
“Heroes League, thanks for the offer. You’re all Stapledon students, correct?”
Haley hesitated for a second, and then said, “No, but I think we’re all planning to be.”
The voice on the other end didn’t hesitate at all. “There are no adults in your group, correct? Stand down for now. If we need help, we will contact you. And again, stay where you are. Don’t leave St. Louis.”
Then he hung up.
“Oh,” Haley said, as the screen showed the connection’s end. “I would’ve expected that they’d want our help.”
Vaughn snorted. “They don’t want our help, but they want us to write a report. That’s going to be fun.”
Next to him, Cassie rolled her eyes. “It totally figures. Even though they didn’t even know about this before we showed up, they don’t think that we can handle it, so they’re keeping us away.”
Rachel grinned at her. “I’m the last person to defend people like that, but what are the chances it’s an insurance thing? We probably signed a waiver that Haley and her friends haven’t. So they can’t get sued if we do, but the high schoolers are going to break the bank.”
Haley frowned, and narrowed her eyes, “I don’t like that at all. Do you really think they’d do that?”
A series of beeps spared Rachel from answering.
The caller ID showed the caller as “Mindstryke—Midwest Defenders.”
I opened the comm connection.
Daniel’s dad appeared on all comm screens in full uniform as Mindstryke—navy blue with the Greek letter “psi,” and designed in a way that reminded me more of a military uniform. He sat behind a desk somewhere. The bookshelves behind him made it difficult to place where, but I guessed the Midwest Defenders HQ.
A mask covered the upper half of his face, but as the connection became clear, he gave us all a warm smile.
“I’m glad you all survived. We’ve got a lot to talk about. I’m going to debrief you from here, but when you come back to Grand Lake we’re going to have to talk more. A lot more. Your actions have just moved up the board’s time tables substantially.”