Amy and I walked over to student seating. Students sat in bleachers slightly to the left of the VIP stand. Tournament participants were in the first row. A stone wall about three feet high rose in front of us.
Bearing in mind how powerful some of the fighters were, I wondered how much protection that really represented. Then I noticed the telltale shimmer of a force shield above the wall. For a moment I wondered whether it generated by a person or a machine but then I realized that small black discs with glowing sides sat at even intervals on top of the wall.
One of them was within reach.
I reminded myself that tampering with it before the match would cause no end of trouble. I’d have every chance to look at after the tournament–assuming nothing disastrous happened.
Next to me, her voice breaking through my thoughts, Amy said, “What are you looking at?” She followed my gaze. “Don’t even think about it.”
On Amy’s right, Tara, who had been laughing at something Samita said, leaned past Amy, still smiling, and asked, “What’s the Rocket–” She stopped.
Then she stopped smiling. “No matter how interesting you find it, please don’t touch the force field disc.”
I was at that moment going to explain that I wasn’t, that I knew better even before anyone said anything to me about it, but I didn’t get to.
Lee’s voice (well, Gunther’s) came over the loudspeaker. “As you’ve seen, they’re nearly finished running through the obstacle course. We’re going to begin the tournament shortly. The first groups that will fight are group one and group four. If you’re in those groups, please get up and stretch while the last people come in from running the course.”
Sean, Gordon, Stephanie, Blue Mask, and Slugger got up and walked onto the field. Sean wore his “Justice Fist” costume—green and white with a fist on his chest. Gordon wore a dark blue costume with a full moon in the middle of his chest. A hood and mask covered his face.
It was probably a homage to his dead father whose codename had been Moonglider.
Stephanie wore a helmet that completely covered her head, hiding her hair. The front was oval shaped, but flat and made of black material. Along with it she wore armored jacket and pants. They were black, accented with red.
Slugger and Blue Mask were dressed exactly as I’d first seen them—looking like a baseball player and Zorro’s blue masked stunt double respectively.
Group four followed them out—that being Izzy, dressed all in blue, as well as Patriot Jr in red, white, and blue—plus other three team members. I’d learned a little more about them during the week.
The woman in gray powered armor was Akesha, Keon’s cousin. The man who could create force fields was named Hector. The guy wearing brown and off-white and carrying a bow was Malik. He’d been training with me on and off since the first day.
This was good and bad news. If group one and four were fighting first, it meant that Sean’s team might get knocked out of the running in the first round, and we wouldn’t have to fight. Sean might be treating me better lately, but if my team beat his, that might go away.
That was the good news. The bad news was that by process of elimination, that meant that our team would be fighting group three—the team Rachel, Travis, and Jaclyn were on. Fighting them would be hard in a lot of different ways.
Lee’s voice came over the speakers again as the last stragglers from the obstacle course sat down.
“Now that everyone’s here, I’d like to tell you about a little wrinkle in the rules. All week you’ve been fighting each other. Well, this time, you’ll fight with a purpose. It’s a simple game of Capture the Flag. Of course, we’ll be adding a couple rules.
“First of all, even if you can move the flag without touching it, and bring it over to your side, you’re not allowed to. That also means that if you can turn invisible, you’re not allowed to stay invisible while you’re touching the flag.
“Second, you can take people out of the fight with non-lethal takedowns, and they can get up again and play as soon as they can physically move themselves to do it. We have healers on hand, so if you’re relying on injuries to do that, the time period that your opponent’s out might be shorter than you’d think.
“Finally, you’ll notice that the flags aren’t hidden. They’re visible except for being on opposite ends of the field. That’s to encourage short games rather than long ones. That means don’t hide the flag, turn it invisible, or place it in another dimension. Got it?”
All the players, even those of us off the field, said, “Yes.”
“Then get into position. That’ll be next to your flags. I’m going to give you ten minutes to discuss your plans, but then I’m going to blow the whistle.”
The Rocket suit’s cooling system began to hum. I didn’t feel the heat, but it was getting warmer.
I flicked my eye upward to check the temperature, but instead an alert ran across the top of my vision. It wasn’t a systems alert either. It came from Hal.
[Data gathered from the roachbots indicates that the Coffeeshop Illuminati have begun their attack on Turkmenistan. They’re using one of the plans I devised. It’s the one where they isolate the country’s supers and conventional forces, and pick them off one at a time.]
Typing my response back by touching my gloved fingers to my palms, I wrote, “How are they doing?”
[That remains to be seen, but successfully executing the plan seems likely to be within their abilities.]