Even though I wasn’t sure that he was on our side, I decided to act as if I thought so. “How soon?”
He made a gurgling noise. “I can’t say—-”
Whatever he said after that turned into indecipherable noise, and then he hung up.
I stood there, smelling my own sweat and a faint burned smell that seemed familiar. Then I knew why. It reminded me of the smell my arm had given off when I’d been hit by dragon fire.
Glancing over at Sean and Jody, I wondered if maybe we ought to get them more medical help than we had so far.
Dayton, tall and as muscular as the football player he had been, leaned over the two of them, checking their pulses, and opening their costumes. “They’re burned. They’re breathing, but I’m worried.”
Amy turned toward Samita. “Red Hex, you’ve got those balms, right?”
Samita nodded. “And they’re still no better than they used to be. They’ll keep them alive and nothing more. We’ll still need to get them to a healer or a doctor.”
Lucas stared at them, his face twisted. “I’m a doctor. If they can pass through the wards like the Rocket did, well, maybe I can do something. I don’t have the equipment I’d like, but do you have something here?”
I thought about it, dismissed the first thing that came to mind, and then returned to it. “Uh… We might. If we do, Control probably has the best chance of finding it. She’s been cataloging what we’ve got. Oh, and we’ve got an emergency backup device if there’s no other way to save them.”
Eyeing me,Lucas said, “Use it now. Lightning injuries are nothing you should ignore.”
Cassie laughed. Lucas glared at her. “I’m not joking. I don’t want killing them on my conscience.”
“No,” Cassie said, still laughing too much to go any further.
“There are side effects,” I said. “We’d shoot them with the Genderbender gun, and it would pretty much heal them of everything except that then they’d swap genders and be women for about six months except during the latter half they’d be between male and female most of the time.”
Lucas stared at me, finally saying, “What the hell? Why?”
“Crazy supervillain,” Haley said.
I thought about it, and decided to give it to him straight. “She created it as a feminist conscious raising thing. The healing is a side effect. She zapped President Nixon with it because she thought that was the only way he’d understand the need for feminism.”
He shook his head. “Why didn’t this get into the history books?”
I shrugged. “My grandfather said the government hushed it up.”
Lucas laughed. “I’m sure. It makes you wonder what else gets hushed up.”
Samita looked up from digging things out of her pouch. “Alien invasions.”
Rod nodded. “That time statues all over DC started to—actually, never mind. You’re never going to feel safe if you know about that.”
“And I was there for fish men swimming up the Potomac,” Cassie said. “It happens.”
Lucas looked at each of them in turn. “Tell you what. Control can get me medical equipment, but if I say that they have to go to a hospital, you have to bring them, okay?”
“If we can’t get Paladin,” I said. “Sure.”
“Good enough,” Lucas said.
With that settled, I told them about the call. Better, I replayed it with my helmet.
Travis stood at the edge of the wall. “You should have told us that earlier.”
I didn’t see the point in arguing. “Sorry.”
Then HQ got another call. With Kayla headed to the storage rooms, I took it.
Vengeance voice came over the line. “Who have I got?”
Setting the suit to my standard voice modification, I said, “The Rocket.”
“Our wizards have determined that there will be an attack. Stay in your base if that’s where you are. Don’t come out unless you want to get infected. It’s going to be a big one.”
They were more competent than I realized. Well, unless Andronicus was calling them too. I blurted out, “How do you know?”
“Wizards, kid. They know stuff.”
Deciding that my best strategy would be to just say it.“We knew already. The Thing’s human host called to warn us.”
Only silence came from the other end of the line at first. Then came a breath, followed by words. “Don’t listen. He’s trying to maneuver you into helping him.”
Then he said, “Remember that. The host’s a danger too. Probably controlled even when he says he isn’t.”
Then Vengeance hung up, and I repeated that conversation for the group too.
When the recording ended, I said the first thing on my mind. “Neither of them told us where The Thing is going. It’s got to be going somewhere. I’m thinking that if you wanted to infect a bunch of people, you’d go to hospitals, schools or maybe restaurants.”
Jeremy, stood next to the warded area, part of the growing crowd. “How about this? College dormitory.”
“Wow,” I said, meaning it. They were perfect. Unlike with hospitals, none of the newly infected would be sick, and unlike everywhere else, thousands of healthy candidates were practically on top of each other.
I look around the circle, seeing many familiar faces. “So, it’ll have to be those of us with wards—-Amy, Samita, Rod, Cassie, Camille, Vaughn and I since Haley got hurt. Everyone else is too much of a risk.”
Still in his regular shape instead of the gray goo version of himself, Marcus shook his head. “Sydney and I know how to fly the jet. We can stay up there and out of The Thing’s reach. We can use the jet’s anti-personnel lasers to rain down hurt on the Cabal hosts. Plus, if we have to, we’ll be able fly through the Council’s wards because we don’t have any magic on ourselves or the jet.
“What do you think?”
He was right. I told him, “That’s a pretty good argument.”