“Camouflage setting,” I said over the comm, flipping mine on.
It wouldn’t make me invisible, but it matched my surroundings. Haley and Vaughn’s suits had it too. Tara wore her own (not of my design) and hers didn’t as far as I knew.
We all squished our bodies next to the wall of the building. That might be enough on first glance. Protection Force’s suits’ night vision wasn’t likely better than night vision goggles—which were often monochrome.
They wouldn’t work for more than a glance with the lights alongside the building. Unlike the front of the offices, the back of the lab was just gray painted cinderblock, making it slightly easier to hide, but not easy.
We needed a distraction if we wanted to get away.
Over the comm, Tara whispered, “Our best chance is to get into the trees. We need a distraction.”
My mind flashed back again to the bunker in the forest on the planet Hideaway and the hours we’d spent fighting there. A part of me did not want to go into the woods. I squashed it down, but not before Vaughn said, “I’ve got this.”
I felt the wind begin to blow and heard the sound of the wind increase. Above the forest, the clouds began to move, covering the moon. In the air above the trees, the four Protection Force fighters in powered armor had become at least ten, but their formation broke and scattered as they struggled to remain upright.
Soon after that most of them gave up on remaining upright and struggled to remain in the air and away from trees as they blew rightward.
“Now!” Tara ran across the fifty foot gap to the trees with the rest of us following.
If it were left to me, I might have waited longer before running to be sure they’d moved far enough that the lab building blocked their view of us. At the same time, I had to give Tara the benefit of the doubt.
We ran about twenty feet into the woods before I said, “If we go too far, we’ll go to the beach near the dorm.”
“Dorm?” Asking without a hint of effort in her voice, Haley ran alongside me, weaving around or jumping over the same kind of small bushes I ran through.
“Yeah,” Vaughn followed a few steps behind me. “Higher Ground’s people stay in the old hotel over there.”
“Do we want to come out on the beach where people might see us?” I glanced back, unable to see Protection Force’s people, wondering if their suits were based on Grandpa’s World War 2 design like all the military suits I’d seen.
Tara held up her and stopped running. We were far enough in that I couldn’t see anything but trees around us. I felt myself breathe faster, controlled it and concentrated on using my HUD to look for signs of Protection Force.
Thinking back to the time we’d fought Ray in the forest near Haley’s family’s cottage, I wondered where Solar Flare was these days. His plasma blasts were hot enough to burn the old Rocket suit. I didn’t know how they’d do against the current suit, but I didn’t want to find out.
Turning around to face us, Tara talked in a low voice over the comm. “I don’t know how many people Protection Force has here, but I’ve done some reading about them. Their squads are typically from four to eight people in size. He’s clearly hired several, but most of their business contracts specify guarding locations or people. They don’t give chase under normal circumstances. So even if they have people at the hotel, they won’t follow us if we get to the beach and fly toward Grand Lake.”
I considered that, deciding to try to ask a question she might not have asked herself. “Are there any exceptions to that?”
Tara frowned. “Well, if Protection Force has been infiltrated by the Nine, it’s likely that they’ll do whatever they can to stall us until the Nine’s people arrive and try to kill us if that doesn’t work.”
I asked the next question, “What are the chances that they’ve been infiltrated?”
In a softer voice, as if it were news to her too, Tara said, “High.”
“Shit,” Haley muttered. “Maybe we shouldn’t go down the beach. Maybe we should go inland?”
Tara shook her head. “If they’ve been infiltrated, they’ll have more people here, the people Mr. Hardwick is paying for and the people he doesn’t know he’s paying for. They’ll have enough to cover the beach and search the forest.”
Vaughn looked back. “That sucks. If we’re going to fight whatever we do, we’d better do it sooner than later. I’m not tired, but I can’t keep up the winds forever.”
Over the comm, Kayla said, “Control speaking. Should I send a red? People said they’d be looking.”
Weighing the idea, I said, “We’re not quite there yet. Maybe call a few people so they’re in position when we do?”
From the way Haley stepped back and frowned, I guessed she might not agree. “I’m going to call Lim by his back channel. They probably won’t fight the Feds. Not if he’s got our video.”
Then I tried to connect. He didn’t pick up, but he did send a text message. It said, “Busy. Will call back. Watch out.”