Chapter 98

                Only four teams were left, Wild Bucks being one of them, when Owen heard a familiar voice tickle his right ear. He betrayed nothing as it spoke, though his eyes turned across the field to Deadlift, who met his gaze. Owen gave a slight, nearly imperceptible shake of his head, then turned to face his team.

                “I have to head out for a bit. There’s a situation, I’m tough, you all know the drill.” He kept his tone neutral, almost bored, as if he’d forgotten to pick up milk and was now saddled with making a trip to the store.

                “The duty of a Hero is never done,” Galvanize said, giving Owen a knowing smile. “We’ll be sure to make apologies for you in any post-event interviews.”

                “Ten bucks says he’s faking it just to ditch the press,” Hexcellent ventured.

                Owen said nothing, merely rising from his spot on the bench with his team and jogging off the field. Only when he was safely below the stadium did he speak, and this time it wasn’t to anyone nearby. At least, not so far as he was aware. “Dispatch, this is Titan. I’m clear from being overheard. Deadlift and his team are staying at the tug-of-war to keep from panicking the crowd. What’s the situation?”

                “Three companies of robots, all approaching the city from different directions,” Dispatch said, somehow still calm despite the news she was relaying. “One seems to be en route to Brewster’s downtown, one is moving north with destination unknown, and the third…” Her voice, always careful and detached, wavered for the barest of moments as she spoke. “The third is on track to arrive at your location, the charity event, within fifteen minutes.”

                “Sweet Jesus, we’ve got a couple thousand people here,” Owen muttered, turning back to look at his team. “Give me their coordinates, I’ll intercept that one.”

                “Negative, those are not your orders,” Dispatch replied. “You are to group up with Jeremiah, Gale, and Aether to meet the robots heading for downtown. Modus Operandi has begun tracking the central signal that controls the robots, however getting closer to them will expedite the process. Once the target is located, your team is to move out immediately to take out the controller.”

                “I’m not leaving my team, or these civilians, unprotected.” Owen stood in the bottom floor of the stadium, listening to all of the people moving around above him. There were more outside, a thousand or so individuals with no idea what danger was marching toward them.

                “Nor would anyone ask you too,” Dispatch told him. “We’ve got three other Hero teams already heading to your location, plus the Wild Bucks will be on defensive duty after Deadlift leaves to join up with your group. They will easily be in place long before the robots can arrive, and I should add that many are better suited to protection and handling large amounts of enemies than you are.” She wasn’t quite snippy, Dispatch never veered that far off course, but it was clear from her tone that she didn’t appreciate being questioned.

                “That’s… fine. I mean, good. Sorry, Dispatch. I’m just worried. Can I at least tell my team to evacuate?”

                “You need to be moving, Titan. Your team is safer there, under the protection of trained Heroes, than they would be navigating the streets. All other communication networks have already gone down, just as expected. Jeremiah believes that we are only seeing their first move of the day. We have no idea where the next one will come from, or what it will be.”

                “Shit.” Owen began moving once more, jogging forward out of the stadium and into the bright afternoon light of the fairgrounds. “Do we even know what they’re after yet?”

                “Currently, there is only speculation,” Dispatch said. “However, based on downtown being a spot that will draw immediate response, and the current composition of people in the fairgrounds, Modus Operandi has put forth the theory that they are seeking out situations that have the greatest concentrations of Supers.”

                “More refinement?” Owen jumped to the side, avoiding a small crowd as he hurried through the gate. In spite of the need to move, he made sure to give them an apologetic wave and reassuring smile. If people panicked, or caught wind that things were wrong before the other Heroes were in position, the whole place could fall into chaos. That was why Deadlift had to finish the contest, they needed to keep people from realizing things were headed south.

                “It is possible. The second most likely possibility is that the refinement has been finished, and this is the end-game.”

                “No way… someone is trying to purge Brewster? That seems spectacularly ill-advised.” Owen raced down the streets, now officially out of the fairgrounds and able to stop pretending he wasn’t rushing for all he was worth.

                “True, but no logical strategy makes sense with these tactics so far,” Dispatch agreed. “Currently, the orders are to protect the civilians, destroy the robotic troops, and try and discern what their main objective is.”

                “In that order?” Owen asked.

                “For everyone else, yes. Your team is to prioritize location of the controller and its destruction above all else,” Dispatch informed him. “Though, until that location is found, you are to work in the same way as all the other Heroes.”

                “Guess that’s something.” He understood the need for the greater good, that no Hero could save everyone so they had to prioritize saving as many as they could. That said, Owen had never found peace with ignoring people in need. He still did it, because that was how he saved thousands at the cost of dozens, but it still ate at him every time he had to. At least he could do his part for a while. Hopefully, by the time they were supposed to split off, things would be under control enough that the other Heroes could handle it.

                Owen kept sprinting down the street, hurdling intersections with the barest of effort, doing his best to ignore the stares as he leapt over cars and people. All thoughts of discretion were put out of his mind as he barreled across the road. There was no telling how long it would be before the attack started, but every moment of delay had the very real risk of costing someone else their life. He refused to be too late to help.

                No matter what, when the robots arrived, Titan would be there to greet them.