Tara and I parted after that, each of us heading to our own rooms. The week flew past. We had two matches with each of the three teams, losing more than we won. That was okay. It was actually the plan. We’d come up with strategies and tactics for fighting each team, and devices or spells that might help.
Tara wanted to test how the other teams would respond to similar tactics that didn’t use the new equipment.
It had the side effect of getting them used to less effective versions of the same idea. Combined with losing, it might lull our opponents into thinking we weren’t much of a threat.
I explained as much to Haley on Friday night, the night before the tournament. We were sitting in my lab with the lights on low, deliberately next to the wall and out of direct view of the door.
Haley glanced in the direction of Stephanie’s lab. “Are you sure you can tell me this? It’s not as if I’m going to tell Travis, but Izzy hears everything.”
I shook my head. “Not really. We’ve been using my lab for team meetings, so Amy worked up a shield against listening, and I worked up something with sonics that should help. You try to hear outside.”
Haley did, closing her eyes and tightening her mouth on the right side as she did.
I thought about kissing her, but decided not to when it occurred to me that if I actually managed to surprise her, she might break bones before realizing it.
She opened her eyes. “You’re right. I can’t hear anything outside. Are you sure it works against Izzy? She’s much better than I am.”
I thought about it, finally saying, “We haven’t gotten Izzy to test it, but I tested it as best I could, so I’m willing to risk it.”
She bit her lip. “Do you think you’ll win?”
“I don’t know. Everyone’s got a good reason to win against us. Lee put serious powerhouses on all the teams, and the closest thing we have is Rod and me. The Rocket suit doesn’t match Izzy or Jaclyn except maybe in taking damage. Rod’s in their league in strength, but doesn’t have the mobility. Overall, I’d say we’re the weakest physically.”
Haley nodded, “But you’re not relying on strength—“
Beeping from my League phone interrupted her. I checked the notification. Hal had sent me a message. It said, “Coffeeshop Illuminati chatter in concert with flybys over Turkmenistan indicates a ninety-nine percent chance that the Coffeeshop Illuminati will attack within the next twenty-four hours.”
I stared at the screen, and sighed. They’d attack at the worst possible time of day–probably part way through the tournament.
Haley leaned over to view the screen too, and I angled it so she could see.
“That is the worst timing,” she said.
“I know.” I tapped the screen, forwarding the message to everybody, and recieving half a dozen replies.
I looked them over, realizing that one of them wasn’t a reply. It was a message from Lee that I must not have noticed earlier.
It said, “Tomorrow morning report to me the moment you make it through the obstacle course.”
“Why?” Haley asked as I read it.
“I don’t know.”
* * *
They set up the tournament and obstacle course outside the Castle Rock Compound–not immediately on the other side of the wall, but close. The obstacle course ran between two foothills. Very little grew there as the soil wasn’t much more than rocks and sand.
The course itself wasn’t bad–lots of running, lots of objects to climb or jump over. Plus, in some spots people fired live ammunition at or near us. Other people threw grenades.
The tournament fighters went first as teams. We’d been encouraged to assist each other, and we did. Rod (in troll form) tried to shield the more vulnerable members of the team from fire. To the degree that we could, Amy (as Bloodmaiden) and I did the same.
We’d been told to provide a show–which meant no invisibility spells even if Samita or Amy had prepared. Well, not unless we planned to handle the next obstacle in a showy way.
Worse, they had people to impress–photographers, reporters, civilians… All of them stood behind rope lines talking, sometimes eating.
The Rocket suit handled all the problems I faced easily. I jumped or flew over walls, often carrying Tara or Samita. As I did, I heard cameras click, sometimes flashes fired despite the morning’s light.
On one occasion, I jumped over a thirty foot wall to recognize one of the photographers snapping pictures on the other side.
It was the tall, bearded paparazzi that I’d seen when Haley and I went to the club with Gifford and Hunter.
He had a new camera.