Blades & Barriers: Chapter 72

                Despite the fact that they were surrounded by a building of UA personnel, there were still some options available if the situation went south. Angela watched Ezio carefully as he spoke on the phone, waiting for the slightest tell that he was about to call in for back-up or attack them himself. Maybe he’d trip a secret switch under the desk to fill the room with gas or trigger something else needlessly complicated. By her estimates, she could slit Ezio’s throat before he got off a scream, meaning they’d only have to contend with unaware bureaucrats as they fought their way out. Not knowing any of the strangers’ powers made things riskier, but assuming her team struck with enough speed and force they would still have a good shot at getting out. The mission would be a bust, true, however that was a long stretch better than ending up in a secret prison outside of Hero jurisdiction.

                “Uh huh. Okay. Thanks so much, you have a great day too.” Ezio set the phone down, turning back to the four Supers tensely waiting to hear what came next. “As expected, no issues, my source was able to confirm that you are all indeed Blessed. Not many humans try to pass themselves off as our kind, so it’s more formality than anything. I appreciate your patience.”

                With a surprising speed that almost made Angela flinch, Ezio popped up from his desk and scooped up their forms. “If you’ll all just follow me, we can get your pictures taken for the temporary citizenships while I plug in your paperwork, and then you’ll be free to explore this lovely country.”

                Although she stayed aware, ready, and cautious, just like her grandfather had taught her, Angela’s energy was ultimately wasted. The next half-hour really was little more than a series of answering minor questions, posing for a snapshot, and then collecting their documents from a smiling Ezio. It was impossible to tell if they were simply swimming through normal bureaucracy, or it was all an evil front to hide something more sinister. Both options could be true, when Angela thought about it. Wicked empires probably still needed to keep track of stuff with paperwork, that wasn’t inherently a “good guy” thing.

                Finally, Ezio ushered them out of the building where they found a limo waiting for them. Brett looked over to Ezio, as though United Avalon had provided the transport, but when DV exchanged some quick words with the driver it became obvious that their guide had booked this transportation. They all piled in, Angela noting that the partition glass was up before they ever set foot in the back. She’d still choose her words carefully, glass didn’t mean other listening devices weren’t scattered about.

                “I can’t believe the higher ups were willing to spring for a limo.” She checked the mini-bar to find that it was largely empty, save for a few off-brand sodas and warm bottles water.

                “They weren’t. The cruise put me in touch with a travel agent here in United Avalon who handled transportation and lodging. This must be the car they had laying around when our ship came in.” DV took the opportunity to stretch his legs, enjoying the ample room their ride afforded them.

                “Does that mean our hotel is a grab bag too?” Justin asked.

                “No, for that one they gave me a few options to choose from. I picked a place that allows both humans and Supers to stay there, since I didn’t know what choice we’d claim until I saw all the variables. It’s a nice spot, good security, fine accommodations, and a central location to make it easy on us exploring.”

                “Good security?” Brett had finally been starting to relax, his tension in the interview room had been borderline tangible, but this pulled him up short. “Is that a concern we need to have?”

                “We’re strangers in a place we know almost nothing about. Yes, as a general rule I always choose accommodations with strong security when I’m getting the lay of the land. Maybe in later trips, when we know the area better, we can be a little more adventurous. For the first trip though, we’re new tourists, and we should make sure to think about our safety as we explore.”

                While it wasn’t exactly a subtle way to remind Brett of their cover, it did get the message to choose his words carefully across quite well. They didn’t know who was listening, or how the listening might be occurring, if it even was. From this point on, they were their cover stories unless DV told them specifically otherwise. At least they didn’t have to hide the fact that they were Supers, although keeping their exact powers under wraps was probably the smart call to make long-term. The whole situation was uncertain, dangerous, and exhilarating. So far, Angela had loved every second of it, sunburn included.

                There was more small-talk as the limo drove across the highway, a surprisingly wide and sturdy creation for a new nation so recently at war. Taking a closer look at the scenery, Angela began to notice that most of the buildings she could see also appeared fairly new. Or at least so well-cared for that the difference was hard to spot. America had never officially had war on its own land since the rise of Supers; however, thanks to criminals with power there had been more than a few fights which were virtually unmistakable from a war zone. She’d seen the destruction Super battles left behind, holding her grandfather’s hand as they walked the rubble that remained. Graham DeSoto had firm beliefs that anyone aspiring to be a Hero should know the cost of failure before they undertook the job, and made sure his grandchildren were aware of what they were getting into.

                United Avalon didn’t look like it had been the site of a recent rebellion. True, she was seeing random houses as a sample size, probably ones without strategic value. But the highway? No way, no fucking way neither side would target something this vital, especially once one of them was losing. It could be used to transport goods, ammo, even soldiers. Sooner or later, the highway would go. So, that left only a few options. The first, least likely one, was that somehow this highway from the port had avoided targeting during the war. Her second guess was that United Avalon had amazing, top-tier infrastructure for rebuilding in place. Not impossible, she’d seen how quickly cities could get repaired with enough money and Supers on the task, and while it would be surprising for a new country to have such an operation ready so fast, they did have Supers to spare.

                The limo turned, taking them off the highway, into a large city. Most of the buildings were between two and four stories tall, with some of the obvious hotels shooting up higher into the skyline. They passed a market, an outdoor mall, countless restaurants, and a few smaller resorts before finally turn in to see their own residence. It was nice, big iron gates in front that no doubt helped the humans feel safe. Like everything else she’d seen, the building was either new or incredibly well-kept, and as the gates parted Angela kept scanning for every detail she could take in.

                There was one more option for why United Avalon lacked battle scars. Well, there were technically endless more options, but only one was likely enough to warrant consideration. The simplest explanation was that UA lacked lasting damage because it hadn’t actually seen a war. The Republic of Krezic had been overthrown, that wasn’t in question. Perhaps, however, the new rulers had oversold the level of conflict.

                A nation of Supers against human oppressors. Maybe it had never really been a fight at all. And if the rest of the world discovered that… what sorts of ideas would it put in the heads of Supers living in other countries?