This was it. We had the Coffeeshop Illuminati, but no Major Justice or the military special ops team that Lim had been talking about.
Those were waiting in the wings in case we were too much trouble—if Hal was correct.
Bullet landed in front of us, the bullet-shaped bits of force disappearing as he stepped toward the ground, showing all the control his reputation had led me to expect. His dull grey costume evoked the look of a bullet even though his “bullets” weren’t made of metal.
He landed the rest of his people in a half-circle facing us, including Gordon and Meteor loosely in the half-circle. Theo was too close. Still, if they did choose to fire on us, it allowed almost everyone to take a shot without hitting someone on their side by accident.
With enough warning, even Theo would only need to pop into the air to avoid friendly fire.
With their backs to the playground, this even meant they’d avoid firing on it and the beach behind despite that both were empty. Their misses would land in the forest, meaning that they weren’t environmentalists, I supposed.
Glancing over at Gordon and then Theo, Bullet shook his head, “There’s no reason for anyone to be disciplined, but Corona, please stand aside.”
Theo frowned, but looked back at Bullet and the formation behind him, blinked as he recognized the tactical implications and stepped off to the side.
It might not have been a profile in courage, but I couldn’t fault him.
Bullet looked over the group of us and said, “Major Justice isn’t willing to talk to you any further, but I’m willing to take your surrender. As someone you’ve helped, I only want the best for you. I know that Major Justice wants to guide the Heroes’ League, but I know you’re capable. I do think you need some help with public relations right now. If you surrender, I’d be willing to help you calm things down.”
Vaughn looked over at me, winked, and turned back to Bullet. He’d had an idea. I hoped that I’d like it. The Rocket suit’s 360 degree view allowed me to notice Amy let out a slow breath, the kind you might take to calm yourself down.
Amy dated Vaughn for a couple of years. I could only guess what triggered that reaction.
“Alright,” Vaughn said. “We’ll surrender, but only if Major Justice agrees to get scanned for the Nine’s influence. If people with experience in finding their meddling pass him, we’ll surrender after that.”
This was the kind of plan that I’d have loved to have a vote on because if he got scanned by someone working for the Nine, they weren’t going find the Nine’s influence and we’d still be expected to surrender.
Also, Major Justice might just be an asshole.
“And by the way,” Vaughn added, “we won’t accept just anybody to check him. As you should know, you need a team for this—a telepath, a wizard, and if you can get one, someone with the skills to remove the Nine’s influence. We want a say in who does it.”
That was a little more hard-nosed than I’d expected, but his family had built a multi-billion dollar (or more) business. You don’t do that just by being friendly.
Bullet’s face twitched and he opened his mouth as if to begin, but then didn’t. Much like me, he’d expected a fight and he wasn’t getting it.
It was actually pretty clever, avoiding a super on super fight for the moment, if it worked, we might remove a cell of the Nine’s influence on the community.
I wished I’d thought of it earlier, but I could help at least. Using my implant, I called Kayla, “I hope you’re watching this right now. Make sure Team Hidden knows not to attack unless they attack us. Also, make sure that you’ve got a recording of this conversation available. We might need it again soon.”
Her reply sounded in my head, “Hal’s already on it. He’s setting up avenues to distribute the video.”
I wanted to know more about that, but given that Hal had been studying up on how to manipulate humans for years now, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Theo turned to Bullet, “It seems like a reasonable request. You know what the Nine are like. Everyone knows they have influence in the superhero community. And you know what the Heroes’ League is like. They’ve been fighting them.”
“Corona,” Gordon’s voice strained as if he were almost keeping it under control, “let Bullet make his own decisions.”
Bullet waved Gordon to silence, “Corona is right. I’ve seen on a personal level how the Nine can influence people and turn them into things they’d never agree to become.”
He had to be thinking of Armory. It had only been a month or two ago that we’d captured Armory and proved to Bullet that the Nine had manipulated both of them.
Gordon let Bullet speak, but the moment he stopped, Gordon flew closer to Bullet, trying to keep his voice down, but not successfully. The Rocket suit amplified it for me, but it was loud enough for everyone nearby to listen in.
“You can’t seriously be thinking about it?” The Rocket suit noted that the wind speed in the area had ticked up by five miles per hour. Gordon might be losing control.
A few of the figure behind Bullet stepped closer. I didn’t like the look of it.
Bullet didn’t seem to think he was in danger, though, turning to Gordon and saying, “Stand down. We’ll talk about this later.”
The wind speed grew another five miles per hour.