It wasn’t much different from picking someone up from the airport, provided the airport orbited at Lagrange point 4 and you had to pick them up in the Heroes’ League’s “jet”—which only resembled a jet in its shape.
You might see stars in the sky while you pick someone up from the airport, but you don’t see them in all directions including below you.
Also, when you go to the airport, you’re usually going to pick up family or friends. You’re not generally going with your girlfriend to pick up someone who once told you that you were “the one who got away.”
On a gut level, that would seem like a bad idea, but that was exactly what I was doing with Haley. I’d told her about it, of course—both because I didn’t want her to go into whatever was coming next blind and because she could guess at a person’s mood by their smell and hearing the rate of their heart.
With any luck, Kals had been lonely and drunk dialing with the interstellar ansible system when she’d said that. Either way, we needed her and she’d come when I asked for her help. Earth didn’t have anyone trained by the Dominators that I could find or trust. We needed to unwrap everything in my cousin Ana’s head, partly for information but mostly because she deserved a life more fulfilling than being the Nine’s puppet.
If that weren’t enough, Kals might even be able to interrogate the only Dominator we’d managed to capture, a woman whose real name we didn’t know. I called her the Amethyst Archer because that had been her codename in the early 20th century.
Glancing over at me from the weapons console, Haley asked, “What are you thinking about?”
Gray and black with a stylized cat’s head on her chest, her costume had been reinforced to double as a space suit if necessary. Unlike normal, her dark hair had been put in a ponytail in case her costume had to grow a helmet. She raised an eyebrow to look at me.
“I don’t know, “ I said. “Everything all at once—Kals, Ana, and whatever’s going on with us in the media. It still hasn’t let up. It’s been a few weeks and it doesn’t seem to end.”
She shook her head, “The initial story’s past, but it’s still going in social media. It felt like it stopped last week, but then after the interview with the Defenders unit in Arizona… What was that guy’s name?”
I thought about it, “Major Justice, I think. I’d never heard of him before—which is crazy because he’s been out there since the 1980s.”
Her voice became louder as she talked, “He’s got a dumb name. It’s like he’s trying for a military theme, but also a police theme? And who designed his costume? Green camouflage and a silver shield that looks like a policeman’s badge? It just looks bad.”
I found myself nodding, “I know. It’s weird looking. It’s got to be one of those costumes from before anybody brought in fashion designers.”
Haley shook her head, “Even by comparison to the 80s, it’s bad. I’ll take pastel costumes and big, feathered hair over camouflage and silver. That’s just gross.”
I thought about it, “I’m sure silver would work with some version of camouflage, but not this one. Besides, I doubt I’d care about his costume at all if he didn’t rake us over the coals constantly.”
“That’s what I was trying to say. Most superheroes were supporting us, but then he did that video, and after that other heroes started the same thing. I don’t think they’re all working for the Nine. Some of them were even in Stapledon when you were,” she let out a sigh.
“Yeah, I know. I think it’s mostly kind of old guard supers, both the young ones and the old. We’ve pissed off a few by taking in Tara, and I’m betting a bunch just blame us for power juice and the way it’s pretty much tripled the number of supers, both good and bad, making the old guard less important in the hero community.”
I stopped for a second to look ahead of us with the jet’s sensors, seeing the Xiniti base and the giant round gate that allowed ships to jump between the stars. It flashed as I watched, opening to allow a long, cylindrical ship to slide out and into normal space. My implant identified it as a modular cargo ship with a small number of passenger modules.
As the implant identified it and translated it for me. It was named after a huge animal famed for carrying large loads over a long distance. It was like a camel if camels were the size of elephants. It was like an elephant if elephants could cross deserts with barely any need for water. At a loss for a perfect word to express what the name meant, I nicknamed it Really Big Camel.
I knew the name for one other reason that I explained to Haley as we flew toward the ship, “Kals’ ship just came through the gate.”