The Defenders’ staff recommended a route for our approach that avoided air traffic from both O’Hare and Midway. Following their advice, I brought the jet in. Hal, an AI that specialized in predicting how best to win battles between fleets of starships, probably could have worked out a more direct route through Chicago’s many flight paths, but we weren’t in that much of a hurry.
Besides, it was best not to annoy people unless you needed to.
Their advice had been to bring the jet down over the water and fly low on the way in. I did, flying toward Chicago with its skyline of buildings like the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower. Black with white antennas, it towered over everything else. Other buildings stood near it, one of them close to the same height, but I didn’t know their names.
To the south, I could see Soldier Field with its odd combination of 1920s concrete at the base with glass and shiny metal added as part of a later renovation. However much some people might not like the comparison, something about the shape reminded me of a toilet bowl.
That’s not where we went. The Midwest Defenders base was an island just offshore—maybe one hundred feet at most. It wasn’t natural either. Earthmover had been brought in to create it more than thirty years ago.
I landed the jet on a helipad next to the huge, silver dome. Leaving the jet on the tarmac, we walked toward the entrance, a section of wall with a rectangular outline that split in the middle, retracting into the wall around it. As it disappeared, I got a comm call identified as, “Midwest Defenders,” and accepted it, hearing a male voice that said, “Welcome to the Chicago Defenders base. Follow the arrows to reach the containment facility.”
I don’t know what I expected the Defenders’ base to be like, but I must have expected a more human touch and maybe a surprisingly normal block of cubicles. What I got was bare walls, all made out of the same silver material as we saw outside. My guess was that this was the entrance for prison deliveries—which you’d want to be as controlled as possible.
We walked down a featureless hall that ended in a circle of gray metal twenty feet across. The glowing arrows on the wall were painted toward the circle and we walked to the middle of it. Panels rose up around the edges and we shot downward, feeling a hum through the floor.
Haley frowned as we dropped, possibly hearing something irritating on frequencies that I couldn’t hear without my suit. Katuk stood unmoving, seemingly emotionless. Kals stood to my right, but not quite unmoving.
She glanced over at Haley and me, took a breath, and tapped her foot before sighing, “They never told us anything about the Dominators on Earth. I remember learning that we’d had contact with them once in school, but no one knew anything. I never knew whether the rumors were true or if they’d passed them on to test our responses.”
“They did that,” I asked, unsurprised. From the little I’d seen of it, the Human Ascendancy had all the charm and humanity of Nazi Germany or Star Wars’ Empire.
She nodded, “If you were too curious about certain topics, you disappeared, and if you reappeared, you didn’t ask as many questions.”
The elevator stopped and a panel to our left sunk into the floor, opening into a hallway made of grey rock. I didn’t know how far we were down, but the rock would have told me it was Earthmover’s work even if I hadn’t already known.
I remembered a similar cellblock in Colorado where Haley and I had both been involuntary residents. We followed the hallway into a long room with hallways that extended out of it on all sides. Inside the room were four guards, all of them wearing sleek, red powered armor with the Defenders’ “D” on it. Along the walls were lockers and on the right side shelves filled with boxes.
Greeting us, I saw Daniel’s father, Mindstryke in his black uniform that between its jacket, slacks, and Greek Ψ always made me think of the TV show Babylon 5.
He smiled, “I’m glad you made it. Kals and Katuk, welcome to Earth. I’m a friend of the Rocket and Night Cat. We’re hoping you can figure out how to undo what’s been done to Ana and if we’re very lucky, you’ll find a way past our other prisoner’s protections.”
In response to my unspoken thought, he added, “I’m absolutely not going to call her by her codename. ‘Amethyst Archer’ sounds like something Stan Lee came up with on a bad day.”
He pointed down the hall behind him, “We’ll start with Ana unless you’d prefer not to. If it will help, I’m willing to read Ana’s mind to see how she reacts to whatever Kals tries.”
Kals froze for a moment before responding, “I’ve never met a telepath before. The Human Ascendancy kills them whenever they discover them—which means that you scare them. Let’s try it.”