Sam scried out the rooms behind the doors. Most of the place appeared to be a workroom—it was some kind of lab—but there were people locked in a storage room just off the main room.
There were seven of them, four girls, three guys, all around our age. A bucket sat in the corner. I couldn’t see details in the water basin, but I could guess what the bucket was for.
“I don’t like this,” Sam said. “The Nine? Without backup?”
“We can take them. It’s not like we’re storming their headquarters. This is a lab. Worst case scenario, we’re facing a bunch of guards, and maybe a scientist. Besides, we can’t leave them like that.”
Sam shook her head, face lit by a bluish glow from the basin. “That’s not the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is if one of the Nine is there, and the scrying missed it.”
“Doubt it,” Rod said. “None of the Nine are wizards.”
“Right now,” Sam said. “They used to have the Scarlet Sorcerer.”
Rod shrugged. “In the Sixties, yeah.”
“Look,” I said. “We can’t leave people locked up. How much do you want to bet they all passed the powers test? Do you want to leave them for the Nine?”
“No,” Sam stared into basin. “But if the Nine are here in D.C., this is a big deal. Someone needs to know we’re going.”
“Hey, if that’s all we need, I’ll call the Liberators.”
Sam and Rod said, “What?”
“The Rocket set up my phone so it could join their network. I’ll call them.”
“You seem so normal,” Sam said.
“Compared to what?”
Rod gave a brief smile. “The Young Liberators. I can’t stand most of those guys. They’re all Compound kids. Trained as supers from birth, and probably never saw the inside of a public school, you know?”
I pulled out my phone, and clicked on my last phone call—the one from Liberator HQ. I hoped things wouldn’t get weird.
“You’re not just listening to me because of my Dad, are you?”
“No,” Rod said, “we’re listening to you despite your dad. Most legacy supers are jerks.”
And that’s when Liberator HQ picked up.
“Liberators,” a voice said. It sounded like the last guy I’d talked to.
“This is Captain Commando. I’m with Red Hex and Troll. We’ve found an outpost of the Nine, and we’re going in. We’d like backup if you’ve got anyone free.”
He paused long enough that I thought I’d lost the call.
“Are you serious? The Nine? Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”
“Their henchmen are kidnapping kids. They might not be there tomorrow.”
“Then good luck. Just like I said earlier, I can’t guarantee anything, but I’ll pass your request along.”
“Got it. Bye.”
“Wait a second, Captain. Are you the girl the League brought back from Brazil about fifteen years ago?”
“If I say yes, will that get me backup?”
He laughed. “Wish I could say yes. Just wondering. I was with the Liberators back then. The original Captain brought the girl back to DC, and we never saw her again after that.”
“Huh,” I said. “Good question.”
Then I hung up.
“We’re not getting backup,” I said, “but he’ll pass the request along.”
Sam’s face tightened for a moment. “They’re so useless.”
* * *
Twenty minutes later we stood in front of the sub-basement doors, shining a flashlight on the nameplate that just said, “9.” No other lights shone in the hall either because the emergency lights had run out of juice, or because they didn’t want emergency lights to work.
A thin line of light ran across the bottom of the two doors.
We had a plan for this.
Rod said, “Watch out.”
Sam and I moved to the side. There was no transformation. Rod didn’t grow, strain, or shapeshift. One moment he stood there as a human in a black longcoat. The next, he stood in front of the doors as a troll, bending his legs, and crouching uncomfortably as his head and shoulders hit the ceiling of the hallway.
He pulled his arm back, and punched the doors.
They bent, falling inward with a clatter. Rod stepped inside, and we followed him in.
When we’d looked at the main room in the scrying basin, I’d thought it was a lab, but I hadn’t looked closely. The basin bleached out colors, and the bubbles in the water didn’t help. Look, I couldn’t see clearly through that thing.
It wasn’t a lab—not the kind Nick’s got in HQ. It’s kind of the opposite. It wasn’t for making new stuff. It was for analyzing old stuff.
It had computers and electronic devices that I didn’t recognize at all, but also stone statues, chunks of wall (all of them with writing), clay tablets, and other things.
Directly in front of me sat a chair-like device made of rusted metal. The shape reminded me of a power impregnator—if you’d buried it, and dug it up one hundred years later.
A saw lay on the table next to it along with pieces of the impregnator’s casing.
They’d been taking it apart.