“Tempting offer,” I said. “I have a counteroffer. How about you leave without hurting anybody and we all get to skip a fight?”
Number Eight smiled. That smile along with his bowler, cane, and the white shirt under his suit jacket made me think of the film A Clockwork Orange. Appearing to be in his mid-thirties, the man seemed a little too old for the role.
I’d never watched it, but it sounded disturbing.
He laughed, “I’ve heard about you. You and your team are so young that you bought into the original League’s good press. They were soldiers who recognized that they had to force the world around them to make sense. You’re soft.”
It was hard not to think back to the people I’d killed while fighting on Hideaway or even on Manhattan Island when we fought the Hrrnna’s mercenaries. If he wasn’t trying to bait me, he hadn’t been keeping up with my career. Of course, keeping up with the fighting on Hideaway would have been nearly impossible bearing in mind that it happened on a hidden planet half a galaxy away.
I said, “Understood. We’re soft. If you could please clear out, it would improve both of our lives.”
I wondered how Cassie, Travis, and Daniel were doing and if this conversation might be about stopping us from going to help them. That didn’t fit with Tara’s guesses, but I didn’t see any benefit for him in prolonging the conversation—unless he was also giving time for more allies to show up.
Bearing that in mind, I might need to start the fight—unless he was trying to manipulate me into that reaction? It seemed paranoid and unlikely.
“Right now,” I added.
“Very intimidating,” Amy whispered in my ear. I could feel her breath even though I wore a helmet. Magic.
Captain Clone laughed, “Or what? You’ll attack? Your record says you don’t do that.”
Over the comm, I said, “How about you all attack while I keep on talking?”
“I’ll take Rogue Croc,” Jaclyn said. “Shift takes Captain Photocopy. Bloodmaiden versus Magicka. Number Eight is the Rocket’s.”
I didn’t reply, not wanting to risk tipping the Nine’s people off. Instead, I said, “I guess I don’t. On the other hand, if we’re standing out here talking, you’re not killing anyone and there’s no reason to fight.”
At almost the same time, multiple things happened. The first was that my implant reported back. Since I’d started wondering who Number Eight was, it had been checking the databases we had access to for information, finding a picture of a similar man involved in a fight with Silver Mask during a riot in 1930s in Los Angeles. He’d driven the crowd to fury with his voice, but then disappeared, reappearing some thirty feet away.
As I absorbed that information, a purple blur hit Rogue Croc from the side, throwing her massive, green-scaled form halfway down the block. She landed in the middle of the street, unable to even get up before Jaclyn caught up and began to pummel her with a blur of her fists.
Somewhere out there must have been a person willing to complain that it was unfair not to allow Rogue Croc to get up, but that person had no idea what they were talking about. Rogue Croc’s attempts to strike back missed, but threw chunks of road in the air.
In front of my house, Magicka waved her staff, and a hole opened in reality, allowing human-sized spiders to crawl out, pulling themselves through every available part of the ten-foot-high opening. Many dragged themselves through while hanging on to the spider under them and pushing against the edges of the opening, falling into a heap on either side when they had nothing to push against.
With all of that going on, Captain Clone could be forgiven for being distracted, but he wasn’t. He started to sprint toward my parents’ house (toward me), only to be stopped by Marcus.
Amy and Marcus had turned visible. Standing on the lawn next to Number Eight’s group, Marcus shot his fists forward, stretching a good ten feet across the lawn, hitting Captain Clone, but then splashing almost like water, expanding to surround Captain Clone’s arms.
At the same time as all of that, Amy charged in from next to Marcus, using her spear to stab a spider in the head. It exploded in a blast of red fire and parts made of black goo and green ooze.
With all of this going on, I wasn’t standing there doing nothing. I absorbed the information about Number Eight even as he saw Jaclyn punch Rogue Croc into the air. As the massive spiders pushed into our reality and Captain Clone charged the house, Number Eight disappeared, reappearing in my parents’ living room. Standing next to a coffee table covered with books, he got his bearings and ran deeper into the house.
I turned around and finding the front door locked, I smashed it open, breaking into my childhood home.