“Welcome to the ODA,” the captain said, with a grim smile. Laura knew the designation by now—Operational Detachment Alpha. It was a Greet Beret unit.
Rowley spoke. “I’ll tell you right up front that we’ve got a challenge ahead of us. We’ve got Jack Cooper, the human telescope—”
“Among other things,” Jack said.
The captain stopped, as if he was about to say something, but then continued. “Then we have Aubrey Parsons, the Invisible Girl. And finally we have Laura Hansen, Supergirl, the only one of the three of you who can pass the army physical fitness test—and get a perfect score doing it.”
He sat on the edge of the table and looked at Laura. She tried not to grin too much at his assessment of her.
“Hansen, it’s a pity that women can’t serve in the special forces, because I have no doubt that you could show our best men a thing or two. I’ve watched your training. Parsons, after your demonstration last night you strike me as an asset that could be very valuable to our organization, so long as we utilize you effectively. If we had six months to train you, you could be one of the top tactical soldiers this army has ever seen. But we don’t have six months to train you. In fact, we have no time at all, and we’re going to have to rely on your current skill set.”
He looked at Jack.
“As for why we have you, it’s because you and Parsons seem to be ideally suited to work together—complementary powers. I don’t know how your brain works, but you’re better than any sensor package.”
As he spoke, Rowley gestured broadly with his hands. “Our team will be focused on special reconnaissance and Parsons, you’re going to be our primary asset. Cooper, you’re tasked with keeping track of anything and everything that she does. And Hansen, for now you’re the bodyguard. That may change, because you have a lot of potential.”
Laura nodded. It was fine, for now.
“What does special reconnaissance mean?” Aubrey asked.
“It means that we’re not a combat team, at least not primarily. It means that we—you—sneak in wherever we’re going and find what we’re looking for. It’ll be a lot like the mission at the school—you gather information and relay that to us so we can make decisions about what action to take.”
Laura finally spoke up, unable to control her curiosity any longer. “So, where are we going?”
The captain clapped his hands together. “We’re getting on a plane. And we’re doing it this morning.”
THE TWENTY-SIX LAMBDAS WERE LOADED onto a green camouflage bus, along with a handful of soldiers. Behind and in front of them were at least two Humvees that Jack could see, but he could identify a total of seven engines, so there had to be something else in the convoy.
Captain Rowley had told them that commercial flights had been halted weeks ago, and every major airport was acting as a makeshift military airfield. Dugway was fifty miles from Salt Lake International, across a mostly empty strip of road. Even the towns on the highway were dark as they passed, and rumor spread around the bus that whole cities were being evacuated. Jack didn’t know how much of that was true, but it was eerie to pass the shadows of McDonald’s and gas stations—places that never closed but were now empty and dark.
Aubrey was holding his hand but talking to Laura. It turned out that she wasn’t from Utah at all, but from Colorado, and had been camping down in southern Utah when the dam had been destroyed. She was trying to run, to get far away from more terrorist activity, but ended up right in the middle of it.
“I was hitchhiking,” she said. “I don’t remember much. My friends wanted to go east, back to Denver, but I wanted to go farther into Utah—to someplace no terrorist would ever care about.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. She was a tiny, gorgeous girl. Hitchhiking was asking to be murdered.
“Don’t forget,” she said with a smile. “I can handle myself in a fight. Anyway, we drove west—the trucker who picked me up said he was going to some place called Huntington. We didn’t make it a hundred miles—we fell into a stupid canyon. Terrorists knocked out a bridge. I survived—” She looked a little embarrassed, maybe guilty. “I can survive a hundred-foot fall, I guess. But he didn’t. Rescue teams found me at the bottom of the canyon.”
Aubrey nodded and placed her free hand over Laura’s. “That’s actually not that far from where we’re from. Huntington’s kind of right over the mountain.”
“I guess that’s how we all ended up in the same place.”
Aubrey and Laura started chatting about their abilities, and Jack leaned his head on the window and stared outside.
Somewhere, very high up, was a bird. At first he thought it was a plane, but he couldn’t get a good look at it. It disappeared high over the top of the bus before he could focus in on it.
There was a glare from low morning sun, and Jack tried to unlock the window to get an unblocked view.
“They’re locked,” someone across the aisle said. “I already tried mine.”
Jack glanced over to see who it was—a kid who could somehow control electricity—and when Jack looked back out the window there was no sign of whatever it was.
“Keep it closed anyway,” someone else said. “It’s too cold out there.”
He craned his neck, trying to find the bird. Something about it didn’t seem right.
Jack sat back in his seat, and started listening to the conversations in the bus. He wasn’t sure if that was dishonest or not. Everyone knew what he could do. He didn’t even feel sneaky. He was getting better with his powers all the time, and he could focus on one conversation at a time and ignore the others.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” a girl was saying several rows ahead of him. “I’m fifteen years old. I shouldn’t be in the army.”
“You’re a freaking monster,” a guy responded. “You can take care of yourself.”
She didn’t seem to be offended at being called a “monster,” and Jack immediately knew who he was listening to. A girl named Krezi—a powerful Lambda 5D, like Laura—who could shoot some kind of laser or fire or something from her hands.
“I know I can take care of myself,” Krezi said. “But that’s not the point. Should every person who can fight be forced into the army?”
“They gave you the option,” the guy answered. “You didn’t have to come.” From the tone of his voice, they’d had this conversation before.
“Yeah, some option. We could come and fight or we could stay locked up in Dugway indefinitely. In case you haven’t noticed, even though we’re all helping the army now, they haven’t taken these bombs off our ankles. They don’t trust us. They’re just using us because they don’t have a lot of options.”
“But isn’t that the whole point? Do you think that they’d risk a fifteen-year-old girl if they had any better ideas? We’re at war.”
“I can shoot energy from my hands,” she said. “Is that really superior to a Green Beret shooting bullets from his gun? Do they need me so bad?”
“But you don’t look like a Green Beret. That’s the whole point. You’re—”