Kathryn Jilles cursed under her breath as she attempted to struggle her way out of the garish purple costume while making her way quickly down the long, brightly-lit corridor. Why did I ever think this outfit was a good idea again? Muffled laughter from the other side of the door ahead did little to improve the Dean’s mood.
“You can hardly blame me for finding humor wherever I can these days, Kathryn.” The elderly Focus Instructor opened the door as he responded to the unspoken rebuke. “And besides, you did ask for me to meet you down here so you could change in time to make it to the Freshman Ethics class.”
“Yes, what WAS I thinking, asking an uppity foreign telepath to do a job that would obviously have been better accomplished by a hook and a clothes hanger.”
“I believe you were thinking, ‘Dani is going to mess with my stuff if I leave it unattended.'” The completely deadpan response actually startled a laugh out of the harried woman.
“Dispatch, this is Trance. Please mark me as ‘off-duty,’ I have a class to teach.” Kathryn waited for the quick response from the mystery female voice on the other side before removing the earpiece and dropping it into the box holding the rest of her Hero identity.
“So have the students started any wars while I was out?”
“Sadly, no. The war councils are all still in the planning stages.” The seriousness of the older man’s expression was a little worrying to the Dean. “We should consider sitting in on some of their meetings. Ms Casse and Ms Blake in particular are demonstrating a great aptitude for this sort of organization, and Mr Sexton seems to have several very promising ideas on how they can implement their schemes without technically breaking any laws.”
“If they come up with anything you think we can use, have them take it to Elena, assuming she doesn’t go get it herself.”
“And should we be making plans to rein them in anytime soon? The Sophomores, Juniors, AND Seniors are all getting pretty deeply involved.”
The Dean paused as she finished her rapid redressing and considered the situation for a long moment. “Make sure to inform Mr Sexton of any areas where his ideas would fail to prevent actual illegal activities, and make sure all the students are aware that the SI policies will be strictly enforced.”
The pair of bottles thunking loudly onto the table drew a wry smile from the man seated there. The large man depositing the bottles offered his own angry scowl in response, an expression that convinced the few other patrons in the bar to pay careful attention to ANYTHING else, before seating himself.
“Christ, why the hell did they send you, Ricker?” The gravelly voice practically dripped with distaste.
“Great to see you too, Rachd.” The still smiling man at the table plucked one of the two beers off the table and popped the cap off with a flick of his thumb. “And you could manage to sound just a little happier to see me, I’m sticking my neck out pretty far for YOU, after all.”
The muscular bald man finally offered his own grin in response, though there was little humor in the expression. “I’d wager a year’s salary that you’ve gotten express permission, if not actual ORDERS, from at least a pair of the top brass on this one, Ricker, now do you have what I asked for or not?”
The shorter man sighed theatrically and flicked a thumb drive across the table. “You’re still as much an asshole as ever I see.”
“I brought you a beer, didn’t I?” Rachd quickly pocketed the small black drive and popped the cap off his own drink.
“So you did. My mistake.” Ricker extended his own bottle over the table and, after a moment’s hesitation, Rachd met it with a soft *clink* of glass. “Here’s to the old man going soft in the world of academia.”
The muscular man coughed out a genuine laugh at that statement. “If you had the clearance for it, I’d LOVE to invite you back so you can see how ‘soft’ things are in the HCP.”
“Then I suppose I’ll celebrate being just a lowly Sergeant who doesn’t have to worry about that sort of shit.” A long pull drained the rest of his bottle and the shorter man sat up a bit straighter. “So, any bright spots I should hit before I get out of this shitty little town again?”
“Nah, nothing that would catch your interest, though you can answer my question.”
“Which question would that be?”
“Why the hell did they send YOU, Ricker?” Rachd literally growled the words, finally getting the smile off the other man’s face.
“I’d guess because the Colonel remembers how much we hated each other and the man thought it would be funny.”
“Ha ha. The real reason. Now.” Rachd’s expression shifted to an even more predatory look. “And don’t think I’ll hesitate for a second to put you through the wall, Ricker. Arrangements have been made.”
The last sentence drew a shocked look from the smaller man, before he began chuckling softly. “My God, the Wrecking Ball himself ACTUALLY planned something out in advance. I thi-…”
“Fine. You still in touch with your old unit?” After waiting for the nod, Ricker continued. “They tell you about the shit we’re having to deal with?”
Another chuckle. “Since some asshole tried to blow up your school with one of the Army’s dirty little secrets, the politicians are trying to put the blame on US, never mind that Force Ops was never tasked to keep track of the shift in the first place.”
“And that puts you here because?”
“There’s been a major subtext to all the blame game that some of the politicians involved want to reopen the idea of contracting with PMC’s as a solution.”
“How the fu-…”
“PMCs employing Supers.” The interruption shocked the taller man quiet. “Yea, I know, batshit insane considering they can barely keep the damned Corpies from accidentally wiping out civilization, but the agenda is still there. And since a little bird told the Colonel that all this shit down in Texas is probably related to an attempt to push for HCP privatization…”
“So you’re here to see if you can find a connection?”
“Nope.” The shorter man grinned again. “I’m here so that if the guys who DO that sort of shit find a connection, I’ll be close by to break whatever needs broken.”
Rachd sat quietly for a long moment before standing and walking away from the table. Several seconds later he returned with two fresh bottles and plunked one down in front of the other man, and raising his own to offer a toast.
“Then here’s to breaking what needs broken.”
The blond healer turned at the familiar voice calling to him as he left the infirmary. “Hey Louise, aren’t you supp-…”
“Yea, Rorie will probably yell at me for being late, but I was hoping to catch you or Tasha before the match.” The petite girl sagged against the wall as she reached her classmate.
A soft glow lit the area around the two, and Louise smiled as she straightened and stretched. “Yea, that. Thanks Antoin!”
The healer smiled and waved as the short girl was already halfway down the hallway before she finished her thanks.
“We have got to figure out a better schedule for doing that.” The voice from directly behind Antoin caused him to jump slightly, before turning to see the familiar form of his team’s captain. “You’re not going to be too tapped out for our match, right Antoin?”
“No worries, oh captain my captain. Team blond’s healer is more than ready to keep walls A and B up and functioning.”
“Team blond? Really?”
“You, me, and Jon, it’s our unifying theme!”
Gerard managed to maintain a straight face for a few seconds, but the too serious look from his teammate finally drew a chuckle. “I think we should probably stick with the number, if it’s all the same to you.”
“But what will I do with the ‘Team Blond’ jerseys?”
The immediate comeback caught the healer off guard and drew a round of laughter from both.
“Who are we matched off with today, anyways?”
Gerard sighed at the question and motioned for his friend to follow as he started down the hall away from the infirmary. “We drew Max this round, so it’s pretty much gonna be an endurance match.”
It was Antoin’s turn to sigh. “Great. Any chance we could throw the match to get done in less than two or three hours? I’ve got projects that need to be finished before midterms and we’ve got the meeting tonight.”
“No, Antoin, Jon and I kinda need the combat scores if we want to stay in the program.”
“Fair enough. Do we have enough time to swing by the war room and see if anyone else needs a refresher?”
“Yeah we sho-… Wait, we’re calling it the ‘war room’ now?”
“I think Ames said she was making a sign.” Antoin shrugged at the incredulous look his friend gave him. “You have to admit, it’s shorter than ‘that classroom we always meet in.'”
“Well let’s hurry to the war room then.” Gerard rolled his eyes at the new title. “Jon’s probably already waiting in the briefing area for us, and you know how nervous he gets in a room alone with Professor Reyes.”
“Yes. Because that’s a trait that only Jon has.” Antoin’s deadpan delivery drew another chuckle from his team captain as they reached the room with, as foretold, a new handwritten sign tacked into the metal surface.
Gerard stood outside the room as the healer entered, unleashed a wave of rejuvenating energy, and returned. His eyes never left the paper sign.
“Why… why didn’t she just use tape?”
“I’m glad everyone could make it on such short notice.” The slim, white-haired young man at the front of the room smiled at his classmates. “I’ll try to keep this short, I know we’ve all been stretched a little thin lately and I don’t want to keep anyone for too long.”
“In that spirit, maybe get to the point quickly Danny?” The prompt from the second ranked Overton Senior drew some smiles from the crowd.
Daniel Heyes also smiled at the prompt. “The point then: I would like to propose that the ten of us that graduate continue our work to find whomever has been attacking our school. I have a plan prepared in that regard.
“I know a lot of you have met Heroes during the early evaluations that you were hoping to intern with, but this would require most of those plans to change slightly.”
“Not that I want to be the lone objector here, but how much do we really think a few Sidekicks are really going to be able to contribute to this thing?” No one was particularly surprised that it was Max Thompson voicing an objection. “Who’s to say that the morons trying to take on the HCP are still going to be around in a couple MONTHS, never mind by next summer.”
“This plan still has the graduates interning with real Heroes, right Dan?” Will Denne stood as he asked his question. “Nothing insane that involves dropping out at the last minute and going rogue?”
“I’m pretty sure the DVA would hunt us all down if we went Rogue at graduation.” Daniel’s confused response drew a few laughs from the crowd. “And for Max’s objection…” The top ranked Senior shrugged. “If you don’t like the plan, I’m not going to try and force anyone to go along with it.”
“Back on topic, what’s the plan Danny?” Vicki McCormick spoke just ahead of Max reentering the conversation, and a glare from the athletic woman settled the third ranked student back in his seat without a word.
“I know it’ll be a little less glamorous than what some of us were hoping for, but the plan is pretty simple. There’s always a pool of Heroes that pick up interns sight unseen, none of the tryouts and evaluations, right?” Daniel paused long enough for a round of nods and affirmative sounds. “So when we graduate, we go with the pool and request to be assigned with Subtlety Heroes.”
Silence spread through the room as the white-haired youth finished speaking, and persisted for several long moments. “The entire graduating class paired with Subtlety Heroes?” Vicki sounded halfway between disbelief and amusement. “Has… Has that ever happened before?”
“We would be the first.”
“Then let’s DO IT!” The second ranked Senior sounded excited now. “We get a chance to end the fuckers who tried to blow up our school, AND we get to go in the history books? Hell yea!”
Vicki’s enthusiasm was infectious, and shortly fourteen of the Seniors seemed wholly on board with the plan. Max stood and moved to leave as the majority of the class began celebrating the strange new record they would apparently hold, but was surprised to find the skinny white-haired youth between him and the door.
“Come on, Max. You may be the late arrival, but we need you to agree to this too.” Daniel spoke just loud enough that the much larger man could hear him over the cheering behind them. “We all know you’re going to be one of the graduates unless you flip out or something again. And if you don’t sign on with this then Vicki won’t get her record.”
Max scowled at the reference to his previous ejection from the program, but after a brief staredown with the higher ranked man he smiled. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll agree to it. Our class is mostly combat types anyways, so the sneaks could probably use the help.”
Daniel returned the smile, and moved enough to let the larger man exit the room.
“Wow, now THAT was impressive. You actually got Max to agree to a plan where he won’t get to maximize his time in the spotlight?” The joking tone from the second ranked girl turned the white-haired youth around again.
“You know you’re both going to graduate, no risk there. Just go out and bang the hell out of each other already.” The uncharacteristically blunt advice from the normally reserved man shocked Vicki into silence, and drew a cheer of agreement from the rest of the class.
Wisely, Daniel made his way out of the room quickly before the flabbergasted woman could recover.
The thin man tugged irritatedly at his collar as he sat and glared at the monitor in front of him. How did I end up working with such… IDIOTS. Everything was going so well, and now it’ll take a major stroke of luck just to come out intact.
Lee Brieten stood and paced angrily away from his desk, tugging hard enough that the top two buttons on his shirt popped free. Joyce and Patrick have ruined years’ worth of work, and everyone else has run and hidden.
Lee ended his pacing to slam a fist angrily down on the desk. On an intellectual level he still knew that the contracted agreement for memory removal had been needed in order to get the assistance he’d needed for such an ambitious undertaking, but in the aftermath it was so hard to focus through the constantly simmering anger. And now we’re all on our own, the two idiots who overstepped thrown to the Heroes in the hope that the pair of them is enough to take the blame, and the rest of us strangers with no way to implicate each other if it’s not.
Something felt wrong with this plan, with the all of it, but Lee had to dismiss that as another after effect of the memory editing. If he had any memory of the Super who’d done the work, he would DEFINITELY see to it that the man was punished for the obviously sub par work. Something… permanent.
The wealthy executive made his way back to his desk and forced himself to sit down and move back to the computer. Just calm down and focus on something else. There’s real work that needs doing, and not all of it revolves around the IDIOCY of those two, or the likely ruin that they’ll have brought down on all of us.
Lee sighed loudly as he found his thoughts chasing the same circles they’d been stuck in for weeks. I have to do something. Just waiting is going to drive me insane. I can’t just wait for them to come for me. I have to prepare, I have to get ready for them.
“Hai, I’d like to introduce you to Darcy, my wife.” The huge form of Henry Harmon spoke cheerfully, but there was a clear nervous undertone as he stood between the two women.
“It’s a pleasure, Darcy. I’ve heard you’re quite the computer expert.” The petite Control Instructor found herself ignoring Henry’s nervousness at the moment as she tried to hide her own surprise at meeting the man’s elusive wife. My god, she’s taller than Ms Johnson.
The nearly seven foot woman smiled back in response, and offered a handshake. “I get to cheat in that department quite a bit. It’s good to finally meet you, Hai.”
“Now, what brings you all the way to Overton, and is it the same reason that Hank here is actually color coordinated today?”
The huge man flushed slightly at the second question. The charcoal grey suit and white collared shirt had nearly caused Hai not to recognize the man though, and she felt it appropriate to draw attention to the bizarre occasion.
“They are related, in that he tends to remember how to dress when I’m around, but the reason I’m here is… complicated.”
“Does it relate to our recent problems?”
“Yes.” The Harmons spoke simultaneously, and the petite Hero became instantly serious.
“What have you got?”
“Not much, and I’m afraid that getting it has taken us out of the case. You’re aware of what I can do?”
“Is that the new term?” The tall woman seemed disappointed. “I liked cybermancer better.”
Hai smiled in response, but waited for Darcy to continue.
“So, we were looking for a similar pattern for arrivals to the trail Hank picked up here, and…” Darcy sighed. “I can pretty conclusively tell you that you’re looking for at least a two person team, and one of them is also a technopath. A damn powerful one.”
“Shit. He found you?”
“He found Hank.” Darcy’s voice hardened, and her husband reached up to put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I found the signs Hank was being tracked, and I tangled with this guy online. He’s not in the country, but I can’t narrow it down much more than that. I beat him because he had to deal with a lot more latency than I did, but he was a LOT better than me.”
“So we went off the grid.” Henry reentered the conversation. “I know a ‘porter up in the Chicago area that owed me a dozen favors, so I got Darcy down here off the grid and now we need your help.”
Hai closed her eyes and ran fingers through her short black hair as she realized what the PI was trying to ask for. “You want me to get the DVA to scrub and relocate you two before this guy comes looking again.”
“I don’t know if I can beat him again, and if he comes stateside I KNOW I can’t.” The tall woman fished a harddrive out of her jacket and offered it to the Control Instructor. “This is a record of the encounter, and everything I could pull. You should have better resources for tracking this guy, and there’s enough there that we can confirm a little bit; this is definitely the guy who did the surveillance scrubbing for your bomb planter.”
Hai took the proffered drive and examined it for several moments. “You’re sure he was outside the country?”
“Shit.” Hai saw the alarmed looks on the couple and quickly tried to offer a reassuring expression. “No, not you two. We’ll get someone down here by this evening to get you relocated and set up. It’s this guy, if he’s not in the US, then our options for going after him are more limited.”
“I wish we could do mor-…”
“Shut up, Hank.” The petite woman interrupted the large man with a smile. “You got us a solid lead, and you both risked your lives for it. You don’t get to apologize, and if you’d done any more to help we’d probably have to kill you both for making all of us look so bad.” Hai’s expression turned from conciliatory to something darker before she continued.
“And ‘less’ options doesn’t mean ‘no’ options. And once we get this guy, I expect both of you to be available to celebrate. And maybe help us find the rest of the bastards while we’re at it.”