How much of a chance was a question I had the next time the door opened. Ronnie, the security guard we sometimes saw on the helicopter, walked out and with him came Russell Hardwick and Ryan McCall.
It didn’t take long to guess where they might be going next—the office that we stood in. It was possible that they might walk to the helicopter and leave, but anyone who took Murphy’s Law seriously knew better.
I let the picture fade into the background of my mind, setting the implant to warn me if the situation changed. Then I connected to the League communicator in my suit, telling anyone listening to the mission’s channel, “Russell Hardwick, his bodyguard, and Ryan McCall are leaving the room where they’re ‘cleaning’ the birthing chambers. My bet is that they’re coming back to the office. We’re going to have to get out and it’s possible that we may need to fight our way out.”
Without looking up from the papers she was scanning, Stephanie said, “How close are they?”
I concentrated on the picture. They’d stopped in the lab, standing near Victor’s cubicle and along with it, mine. In short, they stood a little off to the side of where the birthing chambers ought to be.
They weren’t alone. Art and Zola had joined the group. They stood in a circle talking. Russell Hardwick grinned, asking them questions, laughing at their answers, completely comfortable as far as I could tell that Art and Zola now had fangs and claws.
“They’re talking with Art and Zola in the lab near my cube. I’ll tell you when they start walking again.”
Stephanie nodded. Vaughn said, “Good. Maybe we’ve got time to put everything back so it’s not so obvious we were here.”
I leaned over the deck to look at the filing cabinet again. It looked like I remembered from a few minutes before—broken. It wasn’t as if everything around the drawer had been ripped out, but the bolt at the top had left a hole when Vaughn ripped it out.
Making sure I hadn’t left the mission channel open, I said, “Are you sure?”
Putting back two of the three folders we’d gotten out, Vaughn pushed the drawer shut. “Look, it’s not too bad. The door stays shut. If we get everything in and get out of here, they won’t notice on the first look. On the second, yeah, they will, but we’ll be out of here by then.”
I went back to watching Russell Hardwick, turning on the sound this time.
Russell Hardwick smiled at Zola and gave a nod to Art. “I’m sure Ryan let you on my little secret. I’m Red Lightning’s son.”
He held up his right hand, made a gap between his thumb and forefinger and let electricity arc from one to the other. “Hardwick Industries is full of people whose parents or grandparents worked for Red Lightning and I’ve taken care of them. That’s how I ended up here tonight.”
Ryan cleared his throat, “Russ, you’re right that they know, but we don’t have to talk about that here. They’re coming with us—”
Shaking his head, Hardwick said, “I think it’s important that they know what I’m about and I doubt you’ve told them everything. I think they should know what Ronnie knows.”
Next to him, Ronnie nodded.
Turning back to Art and Zola, he continued, “You might remember how the new Heroes’ League helped shut down the Cabal in Grand Lake a few years back. Well, I never believed that the Cabal was fully gone and I was right. They’re not. I made a deal with the Nine to keep them out of our business and the people I have to protect. That’s what I’m about. We lived in fear of the Cabal for years, but after making a deal, we haven’t had to.
“It’s ironic, but having you steal proof of that deal means that I’m going to help Ryan get the Nine out of this company, something I can only do because the Nine trust me.”
Hardwick looked around the group. “Ronnie knows what that means. His parents were followers of Red Lightning. I’ve made sure he and his family have been safe all their lives because of that. With this deal, I own much more of this company and now all of you become mine. You’ll find that if you’re faithful to me, I’ll be faithful to you beyond anything you expect.”
Ryan smiled. To me, the smile seemed a little strained. “Let’s get over to the office and talk through the rest of it then. You’ve seen what we’ve got and you know what it’s worth. We can get this done.”
Hardwick nodded. “Let’s, but aren’t Art and Zola supposed to guarding this place?”
Shaking his head, Ryan said, “We need them with us. Art, tell Victor to have the True take over security.”
Art walked back to the closed door, disappearing into the room and coming out with two men. Tall and muscular with dirty blond hair and olive skin, they looked exactly like Tara might have if she were male.
They wore gray armor made of a substance with an unearthly blue sheen. I wouldn’t know for sure without watching them more, but to my eye the armor appeared to be powered.
My implant labeled it as Abominator shock troops’ armor, commonly used about 10,000 years ago. The armor’s gleam made it hard for me to believe it could be that old. That meant that it either aged remarkably well or that they might have a machine in the backroom capable of making it.
Either way, I needed to get back there.