To be clear, it was the good kind of “not alone.” In the clearing with us was everybody that hadn’t been in HQ when we teleported out.
And when I say everybody, I’m not exaggerating by much. This was what Cassie called a “friends and allies” practice. Not only did it include all current members of the Heroes’ League (except for Rachel who was in space), but it included all the former members of Justice Fist who hadn’t joined up with Sean’s new Justice Fist. So basically, we didn’t have Sean, Jody, or Dayton, but we did have Julie (voice powers), Shannon (darkness), Camille (gravity), and Sydney.
We didn’t have Lucas, but that wasn’t because he’d joined the new, even smaller Justice Fist. This was due to Hardwick family politics. My adventure in corporate espionage left Russell Hardwick in prison and made Vaughn’s mom the family member with the most influence over the Hardwick family’s collection of companies and properties.
Lucas hadn’t returned Cassie’s calls, leading all of us to wonder if he was too busy being a doctor to care or if going from being the son of the CEO of Hardwick International to becoming the son of the disgraced former CEO of Hardwick International mattered more to him than we did.
Beyond the former Justice Fist members, we also had Rod (Troll!), Samita (Red Hex), and Amy (Bloodmaiden). Sometimes we’d also had Blue Mask, but not tonight. Mark and Mackenzie, friends of Amy’s whose exposure to a zombie virus variant had left them with the abilities of the tougher, faster-moving type of zombie, weren’t here either.
Alex (Paladin), Brooke (Portal), and Jenny (Flame Legion), friends of mine from California, were, though.
It felt like one of those huge crossover events where you end up with giant pictures of all the supers a page can fit. Except we were training for the crossover so that when the real thing hit, we’d be prepared.
Haley stepped out of the crowd and we kissed—a long one. It had been more than two weeks since we’d last seen each other and not much this summer before that. We looked at each other after we stopped. We’d both let our costumes fall away from our faces and so I could see her grinning at me, fangs visible in her mouth, dark hair pulled away from her face by something hidden by her costume.
Amplified by the PA in her suit, Cassie’s voice turned everyone’s head in her direction, “Hey everybody… If I could have your attention, we’ll start with drills today. Later we’ll be going through an obstacle course and in case you’re wondering, yes, Izzy and Jaclyn won’t be on the same team again ever. That sucked for everybody—including them. That doesn’t mean that we won’t use them as obstacles in the obstacle course because we’re going to use everybody as an obstacle. We’ll also have a team sparring segment…”
She went on longer than that, but I didn’t listen much. I’d been part of the planning as had Tara, Daniel, and Hal. Between them, they’d come up with the tactical situations we were most likely to face and designed exercises for them.
We’d been lucky that the original League had bought a section of land in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—three square miles of it. It included evergreen trees, a small river, a ghost town abandoned in the early 20th century, and an unused mine.
While it wasn’t impossible that people could find it and watch our practices, it wasn’t likely. We’d set up countermeasures.
For the next two or three hours, we drilled and fought our way through obstacle courses that included robots, drones firing at us, inconsistent gravity, darkness, fog, thunderstorms, and random attacks. We even disabled our protection against Julie’s voice so that we could have training in resisting it without help.
As much as she’d trained, Julie wasn’t as good as Kals or any of the Human Ascendancy’s Dominators at using her powers. She’d had to work it out with help from teachers at Stapledon, none of whom could do the same thing. Part of me wanted to invite Kals in to train her. Another part, one that remembered her ordering Haley and me to leave a coffee shop, still didn’t trust her fully.
To be fair to her, she didn’t abuse her chance and she trained as hard as anyone else. The Stapledon Program’s training had left her better than human physically in addition to her voice’s power. She wasn’t as physically powerful as Cassie, but she was strong enough to be a threat on a good day for her and an off day for Cassie.
At the end of practice, Chancy called Cassie. Then we separated into groups, and he teleported each one back where it came from—with exceptions. Everyone still at Stapledon’s training camp for the weekend went back to HQ with the rest of us. Chancy had moved their luggage as part of the pre-practice teleports, so we appeared back in HQ finding that the main room’s line of suitcases called to mind a hotel lobby.
Everyone ditched their costumes, went through the showers, dressed in their civilian clothes, and either talked in groups in the base or left for their homes.
I found myself sitting next to the door of my lab petting Tiger who’d barked at me and rolled over to display his belly after I put away my armor. Tiger had decided he was done with the stomach rub eventually. So I was scratching his ears and head.
Haley walked up, wearing a green blouse and light blue jeans. She pulled two suitcases behind her across the concrete, “Are you ready?”
The blouse struck me as a little nicer than she might normally wear after practice and I caught a hint of perfume. Given the circumstances, I wasn’t surprised.
I stopped petting the dog. Tiger moved his head to put it back under my hand. I gave his head another scratch, “I think so, but the dog disagrees.”
Haley leaned in to pet the dog, telling him, “Sorry, Tiger. Dog massages are done for the night. If you want more, I’d talk to Kayla.”
With a soft, wuffing noise, he stood up, giving each of us a lick and walked toward Kayla. Haley moved the handle of one of the suitcases toward me. I took it and we walked across the main room toward the hangar. Among the groups of us lingering, I happened to notice that Marcus and Sydney were standing behind one of the larger trophy cases and kissing.
Catching Haley’s eye, I asked, “When did that happen?”
She shrugged, “This summer at Stapledon. She finally forgave him for everything that happened with Kee. I didn’t ask about the details.”
I shook my head, “They weren’t going out. They never even went on a date.”
Haley took a breath as if she were about to speak, stopped, and then said, “I know. I don’t know how many times I told her she couldn’t blame him if they never even talked about having a relationship, but it looks like she listened—eventually.”
We pulled the suitcases through the doorway into the hangar and loaded them into her car, a blue Prius that I’d modified for her.
As we got inside and shut the doors, I said, “I can’t believe we’re going to my parents for supper after this.”
She started the car and we rode toward the hangar’s exit, rolling past the Wolfmobile and the League jet, “Your mom asked and it was the only night that worked this week. How did the island go? I talked to Yoselin at practice, so I know a little, but why is she here? And why did you open storage room three?”
I wasn’t even finished explaining all of it by the time we stopped in front of my parents’ house.