“And he’s got a shield, a weak one, but quite sophisticated. Actually, I’m pretty sure he’s aware of me now. I don’t think he’s got any real range, so he’s got no idea of where I’m at, but he’s coming to the window now. Don’t look up. He’s nervous, but not all out scared. While he’s not much of a telepath, I’m getting the feeling he’s powerful at something.”
Not looking up, even though I wanted to now, I concentrated on the traffic. It wasn’t dense, but cars drove down both sides of the road.
Three story brick buildings stood on both sides, some dark brown, some red, others tan or gray. All of them from the turn of the last century, some with satellite dishes hanging from the brick. It felt like some of the older sections of Grand Lake except there you’d be into newer construction within a few blocks. Here it felt like I’d only seen old buildings except for the really, really new ones that looked like glass from top to bottom.
Chicago definitely had more taxis too.
Haley spoke before I had the chance to ask Daniel the obvious question. She twisted back to face him again, saying, “Do we need to stop? Is he running away?”
“No. He’s staying. I got the impression that he’s seen worse than telepaths.”
In the rearview mirror, I saw Izzy frown at him. “Are you still touching his mind?”
Daniel shook his head. “No. It didn’t seem like a good idea. I’m watching him clairvoyantly now, but I’m keeping my awareness outside the room.”
An alley opened up on the far side of the building after the office. I slowed the van, and turned left, stopping in front of a dumpster.
Putting the van into park, I asked, “So what do you think? Do we all go in or would that be too intimidating?”
“Judging from what I felt, my guess is that he won’t be intimidated. If you think about it, he deals regularly with aliens. For all we know, some of those guys use guns like Cassie’s as hand weapons. Remember what she did to those fishmen in D.C.?”
I remembered it well. When we’d come to rescue her, we’d found hundreds of dead, burnt frog-like humanoids on the roof. She’d done that with one alien gun, an Abominator weapon though. Hopefully those weren’t in common use in space.
Haley wrinkled her nose. “I remember it. It smelled like burnt chicken combined with a weird fish smell. When we opened the jet’s hatch, it was overwhelming. So disgusting.”
Obviously still remembering, she shivered, and then looked at the rest of us. “What? I know that wasn’t the point. Do you think we’ll be intimidating enough?”
Izzy shook her head. “I don’t think we need to be intimidating. Let’s make him feel comfortable. If he understands what we’re facing, he might help willingly.”
Haley frowned. “I wasn’t thinking that we should scare him—just that he might not think we’re worth talking to.”
Daniel opened his seatbelt. “I’m getting a little worried. Even though he wasn’t that scared, it’s looking like he’s turning off his computer, and he just pulled out his cellphone.”
Haley took off her seatbelt and in one quick movement walking toward the back of the van. Then she stopped. “Nick, how long do you think you’ll be?”
“I might beat you,” I said, pulling the keys out of the van’s ignition. “The new suit’s that good.”
Eyeing me, she gave a quick grin, and said, “I doubt it.” Then she pulled the curtain across the back of the van.
Ok, so she was right about that, but she was also cheating. I would have had to open the curtain to get at my suit, and she’d probably worn her suit under her clothes. It didn’t take long before Haley had stepped out of the back of the van.
Taking her backpack, Izzy stepped behind the curtain as Daniel pulled off his shirt, making it obvious that he’d been wearing his uniform under his clothes too. Any winter jacket would hide that pretty well. It barely took any time at all before he’d put on his mask, and grabbed his utility belt out of his backpack.
He pulled the curtain back as Izzy reached toward the back door, and stepped out after her. As he closed the door, he thought at me, We’ll wait for you as long as we can.
Don’t worry about it, just make sure he doesn’t leave.
I stepped behind the curtain. Why? Because it was there, and besides it guarded against someone happening to walk past and see me change through the windshield. Was that paranoid? Yes, a little.
I stepped up to the grey, ceramic block on the floor, touched it with my palm, and stepped on top, feeling myself sink into the block. I’d ditched my winter coat during the drive, and so I felt the suit form around me. Instants later, it had covered my head, and the HUD display appeared in my helmet.
[Connections tested: System up]
[Power status: Full]
[Weapon status: Ready]
I checked the time—30 seconds—faster than I’d thought possible a month ago.
I set the suit to standard Rocket colors (gold with black detailing), and shut the door behind me as I ran after everyone else.