Chapter 69

                Titan and Deadlift rode the elevator to the sounds of a generic rock ballad that seemed familiar yet impossible place. Walking into a hotel in full costume had been strange enough, but odder still was how the staff had seemed unsurprised to see two Heroes casually saunter in and request to use the penthouse elevator. When Dispatch had given them the meeting location, Titan had almost, almost, asked her if she was sure it was correct before coming to his senses. If she said this was where everyone was gathering, then it was the spot. Trusting Dispatch was as ingrained in a Hero’s life as trusting themselves.

                An elegant “ding” filled the air as the elevator’s doors opened, showing not a hallway like Titan had been expecting, but rather the foyer of a luxurious suite. Already standing there, tapping his foot impatiently, was Jeremiah, whose handsome face broke into a grin as he saw his guests arrive.

                “Titan, good to see you as always; Deadlift, a pleasure to meet you. If you could both come this way, the others are already here.” Without waiting for their reply, Jeremiah turned on a heel and began walking briskly down one of the halls jutting off the foyer. Titan and Deadlift quickly followed suit, the younger Hero struggling not to marvel at the opulence around him.

                Titan had been surprised when Dispatch told him the other robot squads had been effectively handled, and he’d bordered on shocked when she told him a post-battle meeting was being held less than half an a hour after the attack. Obviously, someone had been ready for this, or at least expecting it. Technically only Deadlift was needed to attend, as he was the leader of the attacked team, but Titan had tagged along for a multitude of reasons, most important of which was his curiosity about why this attack seemed to deviate from the established pattern.

                Jeremiah opened to the door to a large room with a projector and a well-crafted conference table. Already seated were Gale and Aether, the representatives of the other two attacked teams. Both looked more or less unaffected by the skirmish, unlike Titan who was wearing a borrowed sweat shirt that barely fit him.

                “My fellow Heroes, I have called you here to discuss the robotic attack you all suffered today,” Jeremiah said, gesturing for Titan and Deadlift to take seats.

                “Can we also talk about why you’re in a freaking hotel penthouse instead of a base?” Deadlift asked. “How much does this place cost to rent?”

                “No idea, we bought it outright,” Jeremiah replied. “Subtlety Heroes often have to move about, so having multiple location suits our needs better than a static one. Most of my team’s hidey holes are less opulent than this, but they’re also closely guarded secrets. Consider this place the equivalent of our guest room.”

                “Our guest room is a corner where we store our extra weight bench,” Deadlift grumbled.

                “Lovely as it is, I’d rather talk about the matter at hand,” Gale interrupted. She and Titan shared a brief look that was, while not exactly warm and friendly, at least didn’t dip so cold as to be called frosty. “Namely, why did the robots come after us this time? And why with such paltry numbers? That last wave had no less than a hundred units attacking half a dozen different targets, most of them civilian.”

                “Quite accurate,” Jeremiah said. “But you left out the fact that this attack also came much earlier than their others. Usually there’s at least a three month gap between attacks, presumably so that more units can be designed and built. We’re at around half that as of today, which I believe speaks to why the units we dealt with weren’t nearly as refined. This was, by my estimations, not the next generation of robots. Instead it was the same units with some additional features and programming slapped in.”

                Aether was hunched forward, fidgeting with the corner of her glove while her forehead creased in thought. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why come after three Hero teams with nothing in common using already beaten units and low numbers?”

                “That it makes no sense tells us exactly what the real reason for the attack was,” Jeremiah replied. He produced a remote from his pocket and clicked one of the buttons, causing the projector at the back of the room to hum with life. Moments later an image displayed on the white wall across from the projector; one immediately recognizable to all present as a map of Brewster.

                “As soon as I heard that the robots were attacking Wild Bucks, Transcendental Justice, and Elemental Fury, it was obvious that they had nothing to gain from such an assault. Which I took to mean that they weren’t pawns out for gain at all, rather they were calculated losses.”

                Titan let out a weary, frustrated grunt as understanding kicked in. “Decoys. They were all decoys.”

                “No fair getting ahead of me,” Jeremiah said. He glared at Titan for a moment, then sighed and clicked his remote again. “Delpham Technologies and Pharmaceuticals.” Jeremiah paused to point at the building’s location, which was marked by a large red X on the new slide. “At exactly five minutes past three, an alarm was tripped indicating that a robbery was taking place. Police responded within four minutes and noted robots fleeing the scene. They put in a call for Heroes to deal with them, but no one was close enough to reach the robots before they somehow dropped out of sight. Now, here’s where the ingenious part comes in.”

                Jeremiah clicked again and new slide appeared. This one still marked Delpham, but it also had colored dots representing each of the bases attack by the robots. Before he said a word, it was clear what had happened. Those three bases formed a misshapen triangle around the company, not especially close to it, but probably nearer than any other Hero bases.

                “As you can see, your teams would have been the first to respond to the call, were you not under assault. Additionally, having those three squads make such a ruckus let the fourth one slip through town unnoticed, and ensured most of our Heroes were playing defense rather than offense. From stem to stern, this whole play was never about sticking to their pattern. It was about keeping our hands full while they stole prototypes from Delpham, and damn if they didn’t pull it off perfectly.”

                “Bastards,” Gale swore, grimly staring at the map before them. “How did we not see this coming?”

                “Why would we have? They’ve never done anything remotely like this. If I didn’t know better, I’d guess that they spent all those other attacks training us to look right, just so they could completely catch us off-guard when they went left,” Jeremiah said.

                “Let’s focus on the matter at hand,” Titan said. “If they went to all that trouble to successfully rob some place in the middle of Brewster, it must have had something they wanted pretty bad.”

                “That was my first thought too,” Jeremiah agreed. “Sadly the company was not too compliant in giving us a list of stolen goods. Something about copyrights, industrial espionage, technology thieves, blah blah you get the idea. It will take me time to get a full list of everything that was taken, but before the meeting I was able, let’s call it liberate, the details of one item.”

                Jeremiah clicked his remote once more, and a detailed schematic for some cylindrical device popped up on screen.

                “Yeah, if we’re supposed to know what this is… we don’t,” Deadlift said.

                “Nor would I expect you too. This device is a highly experimental gravity distortion field generator, based on the work of a long-dead tech-genius who attacked San Francisco. From what my smarter teammates have told me, it seeks to circumvent the size restrictions inherent to building large machines. Giant robots, for example, currently weigh too much to be able to move on two legs unless the higher pieces were made of far less dense materials. So, unless someone is a tech-genius, robots must either be small and durable or large and vulnerable. With this device, however, the weight could be compensated for by a weakened gravity field, allowing for almost no limits on the size of a robot’s construction.”

                Jeremiah paused to make sure the others were taking his message, which the worried expressions greeting him made abundantly clear. Still, he felt it was good to really send the point home, just so they understood the severity of what faced them.

                “To put in simply: the next wave of these machines we face may not come through downtown, they might be the size of downtown.”