I explained it all to her. Her response was somewhere between a grunt and a growl, followed by, “That’s insane! He’s got no right.”
Taking a deep breath, she shifted back, her eyes becoming fully human and her claws disappearing. She pulled her phone out of her purse where it lay next to her yoga pants on the floor, “I’m going to send a yellow to everybody and see if anybody can make it in with us. How many do you think we should have?”
I began to open my mouth to answer and then realized that I didn’t have one. “Um… Maybe four? Plus maybe Daniel, but not in the room. I think it’s weird that they showed up right after we found out that Uncle Steve was being targeted by the Nine. Ideally, I think we’d hide Kals with Daniel, but I’m not sure if she can test for Dominator mind control without making it obvious.”
Haley frowned, “If he’s got some kind of suicide trigger like yesterday… People would think we killed him.”
I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but yes. Having a known critic die seemingly at our hands might even be the Nine’s plan.
Haley slid off my bed and stood up, taking off the t-shirt she wore. My mind went in a different direction. She sniffed the air and turned to look at me, “You’re thinking about that, now?”
“Not intentionally,” I said, “I blame you.”
She laughed as we both pulled on clothes that would form into the underlayer of our costumes. I’d pulled off my pajamas rather than let them be an uncomfortable underlayer to the underlayer.
We pulled on our nanotech-infused clothes, feeling them adjust around us, and then ran for the elevator to the basement. Even as we did, I heard beeping noises from other rooms in the house, showing that Haley’s yellow alert and my attached copy of Major Justice’s message had reached everybody.
They’d catch up. As we dropped down the elevator shaft toward HQ, Haley muttered, “We’re both going to stink.”
“You’re the only one who will notice,” I told her, feeling the elevator stop and watching the doors open.
“That doesn’t make it better,” she stepped out, sprinting toward the locker room as I ran for the lab where the full Rocket suit waited for me. Putting on the stealth suit would have been faster, but I decided I felt better knowing that I had everything available.
Fifteen minutes later, we were not only in full costume, but we’d run up the tunnel to the Heroes’ League’s public headquarters. Matching the colors of our actual headquarters, the public headquarters felt different. The crimson carpet on the floor combined with the grey concrete walls, black chairs, and black couches to make the place feel like the lobby of a hotel. There were pictures and even posters of past and present versions of the Heroes’ League, but instead of feeling official, the pictures and articles just made it feel like a lobby with a theme.
I wondered how long before the next time we’d renovate the place. I supposed that I could blow it up again. Then we’d have no choice.
Haley and I stood next to the counter with the coffee and expresso machine. Kayla had somehow arranged for donuts to be delivered in the almost non-existent time between now and when she’d found out we were having company. Two boxes of more than a dozen each sat next to the coffee machines.
Haley and I were already eating and we weren’t alone. Amy was there as Bloodmaiden, meaning that she was around a foot taller and wearing armor made of black metal and glowing red gemstone. I couldn’t help but wonder who got the donut when she changed back—Bloodmaiden Amy or normal Amy? I didn’t ask her. Explanations that depended on magic theory always sounded like something from an overly detailed fantasy novel.
Amy held her helmet in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.
Daniel hung out with Katuk and Kals watching from the next floor up, but Cassie stood next to Amy, coffee in one hand and rainbow-colored gourmet donut in the other. Her blue costume combined with the flag on her chest made her the brightest object in the room—not counting her donut.
It might have been more polite to wait for Major Justice to eat, but I was hungry and no one thought he’d trust us enough to eat with us.
As I neared the end of my glazed donut, the egg-shaped form of a Defenders podjet landed in the street in front of our building. I stuffed the last bit of donut in my mouth and set the helmet and my right gauntlet to reform over my head and hand respectively.
“There we go,” Cassie said, taking another bite of her own donut. Her mask only covered the upper half of her face.
As we all watched through the darkened glass of our windows, the door on the side of the podjet opened. Major Justice stepped out first, his camouflage-patterned combat fatigues failing to fit aesthetically with the silver shield and belt filled with gadgets he carried.
Major Justice looked up and then watched as a woman wearing a black wetsuit and balancing on a surfboard floated down to the sidewalk. From the woman’s greying blond hair, I guessed that she was in her 50s, but I couldn’t be sure. She might have been younger. It took a moment, but I did remember her name—the South Beach Surfer.
Major Justice nodded to her, his own face hidden by a camouflage-patterned mask. As South Beach Surfer stepped off of the surfboard, a man exited the podjet. Between the black and white striped shirt, black pants, beret, and face covered with white makeup, his looks matched his name. His codename was literally Mime.
The muscular woman with light brown fur who followed him out appeared to be a human-shaped lioness, but she could have been a human-shaped eagle as easily. She was called Shifter.
As the group stepped up to our door, I tried to remember their histories. Except for South Beach Surfer who’d been kicked off the SoCal Defenders, they all represented different teams. Major Justice was from the Arizona Defenders unit, Shifter from a private team in Oklahoma, and Mime… He was associated with a circus-themed team from Florida.
They might be here to beat us up, but in another sense, they were a multi-team delegation.