“Is there some way I could avoid being on TV?” I said.
“Are you nervous?” Haley asked. “Your grandfather was on TV all the time.”
“Was he your grandfather?” Flick said. “I wondered about the connection. I remember seeing him on TV as a little kid. He always seemed so calm.”
Flick didn’t seem all that much older than we were. I would have guessed mid to late twenties. At best she could have seen him at the tail end of his career unless she’d seen some old news footage. During a history class, I once saw him in a World War II era newsreel.
“Grandpa handled questions from the press,” I said. “He said no one else wanted to.”
“Was that how it happened?” Haley said, “My grandfather always said it was because he was better at it than anyone else.”
“No,” I said. “He just hated it less.”
“I’m sure they won’t make you if you don’t want to,” Flick said.
Off to my left I heard a crackle of energy and a door-sized, reflective rectangle appeared next to Vaughn and the Guardian.
“Flick,” the Guardian said. “Kid Lightning over here needs more medical attention than I can give him without supplies. I’m taking him to Chicago. Don’t let them start without me.”
He didn’t even wait for a reply. He dragged Vaughn through, the reflective surface splashing bits of itself into the air before disappearing entirely.
Vaughn’s voice cut off as they disappeared. “Hey, I’m called Storm Ki –”
“Wow,” I said. “He doesn’t hesitate.”
“He doesn’t,” Flick said, “but when you get to know him better, he’s a real sweetheart.”
Maybe he was, I thought. Maybe deep inside Guardian loved people and fluffy bunnies, but it didn’t stop him from being a total jerk on the outside.
“So,” Flick said, “tell me about yourselves. How did you get involved in all of this?”
We spent the next hour talking with Flick and with each other. While we’d been out, Jaclyn’s grandfather had ordered pizza because no one had had supper. Checking the time on one of the monitors at HQ’s main table, I found that it was only 9:13 PM. It felt like months had passed since we’d left.
In order to eat, I had to pull off my helmet and use the mask from the stealth suit. It leaves enough of the mouth uncovered that you can eat. I considered eating without the mask, but didn’t. Dreadnought and Flick were heroes, but I didn’t know them.
After an hour, Jaclyn’s grandfather said, “Now I know Guardian’s not back yet, but he’s agreed to everything. For the benefit of the kids, let’s talk about what we’re going to do. Mindstryke?”
Daniel’s dad stood up and addressed us.
“You’ve all seen the news reports about the mayor and the Rocket and Storm King. What that means is that when we turn the mayor in, we can’t turn him in quietly to the police or the Feds. We’ve got to give them an image to compete with all the destruction. At 10:00 PM, we’ll land in front of the police station. Between C and I, we’ve contacted the local and national media. We’ll also have a Fed telepath waiting for us at the station. He’ll be going through the mayor’s mind and the minds of all the heroes who had been misled into helping him.
“The Michigan Heroes Alliance will have their own telepath along as a witness. That way we’ve got a neutral party there.
“We’re going to reestablish trust in the League by reminding them of the first League. What that means is C’s going to be running alongside the Rhinomobile with Jaclyn and we’re going to minimize how much anybody speaks to the press. We’ll use the Rocket as a spokesman.”
“What?” I said.
Daniel’s dad said. “Don’t be nervous about it. I’ll tell you what to say.”
“I’ll be your puppet?” I said.
“No. I’ll just be offering advice. Good advice. Nothing’s going to say the Heroes League is back like the Rocket taking the microphone. If you could tweak the vocal output to give just a hint of those old recordings of your grandfather’s voice, it would be even better.”
“I don’t want to be a fake.”
“You won’t be a fake. You’ll be reassuring. They’ll know you’re not the original. You’ll know. I’ll know, but it doesn’t matter. People don’t make every decision based on logic. They base them on impressions. It’s your choice whether those impressions work for you or against you.”
I opened my mouth to begin to argue more, but I heard static off to my left and Guardian and Vaughn stepped out of a gate. Both of Vaughn’s arms hung in slings.
“Already at it?” Guardian said. “I asked you to wait.”
Daniel’s dad said, “We’re just going over the basics. Nothing you haven’t already agreed to. The Rocket and I were just talking about how he fit in.”
“Nice touch,” the Guardian said. “It’s 1953 all over again.”
“I don’t really want to,” I said. “I’m not the original.”
“Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do it. Besides, this doesn’t have to be hard. Let him into your head and Mindstryke over there can flap your lips for you.”