Chapter 158

“Thank you all for coming,” Dean Blaine said, greeting the sophomore class as they took their seats in the central auditorium, a place they hadn’t been to for some time. The dean stood at the center of the stage, an enormous screen at his back showing the cover for what most students correctly concluded was a slide presentation. Each of the professors sat in a metal folding chair, all six lined up behind the dean and below the screen. The looks on their faces ranged from bored all the way to disinterested. Given that the month had just turned to May, the sophomores would have far rather been training than attending some presentation, so they looked far from enthralled as well.

“I called you all here because, as you know, the end of the year is almost upon us,” Dean Blaine continued. “As you might also recall, that comes with more than just the commencement of our year-end exams. The upper classmen all work together to put on something of a carnival event for the freshmen, a congratulatory celebration to put them at ease before their trials.” He left out how chaotic last year’s had been thanks to Michael Clark hijacking a microphone and outing the Melbrook residents. No need to reopen old wounds.

Dean Blaine started to speak again; however, he was interrupted by the high-pitched chirping of a cell phone. He would have admonished the owner for not turning their phone on silent had he not been the owner. He had turned it on silent, however there were certain numbers programmed in that bypassed such restrictions, numbers so important that they were intended to never be ignored. This time he pressed a button to mute the chirping anyway, reasoning that he had a short speech and could return the call as soon as it was over.

“Sorry about that. Now, while the juniors and seniors do the bulk of the work, the sophomores will still be participating in some committees to help out, utilizing their unique skills to-”

The high-pitched tone echoed through the room again and Dean Blaine had to bite back a curse that tried to sneak its way across his tongue. He smashed the button to silence it again, this time far less delicately, and turned back to his audience.

“Apologies once more. Today we’re here to allow you all to volunteer-”

More ringing, this time accompanied by a wave of curious whispers that passed through his students. It seemed this was a battle he was going to lose. Rather than continue with the vaudeville routine, Dean Blaine pulled the phone from his holster and turned his back on the audience of students.

“What is so damned important?” Dean Blaine snapped into the small black device. He stood silently as he listened, the voice on the other line too quiet to even be heard, let alone discerned. Amber was getting curious enough to try and amplify the waves, but before she had a chance, the dean lowered his phone and clicked a button to end the call. When he turned back around she found herself very glad she hadn’t done anything of the sort. His usual good cheer and patience were gone, wiped from his face, leaving the haggard look of a man who has seen too much blood in his life and has a sense he was about to look upon more.

“Everyone stay here,” Dean Blaine informed them. “Your professors and I have something to attend to. The other HCP students will be coming in to join you shortly. Please sit quietly until we return.” He motioned to the people seated behind him, all of whom rose from their seats immediately and followed him out of the room. The thick door shut with a clang, followed immediately by the sound of a large lock sliding into place.

“Something tells me this isn’t all because a snow cone machine got delivered too early,” Nick muttered.

“Gee, you think?” Stella said, not bothering to keep her tone quiet. “Obviously some big shit is going down. I think they just locked our asses in here.”

“If they locked the door it is for our safety,” Chad said calmly. “There are protocols for certain events designed to maintain the safety of the student body. This structure is highly fortified, even against natural disasters such as earthquakes.”

“Wait, so something that was important enough to have all four classes gather in here would be a pretty big deal, right?” Jill asked.

“Not guaranteed, but it would be very likely,” Chad agreed. “Why?”

“Because I’m going to see if that thing gets cable,” Jill replied, pointing at the screen that still showed the title page for the slideshow it seemed unlikely the dean would be presenting anytime soon. She closed her eyes and the screen flickered, switching through various input functions before a local television station airing a daytime soap opera filled the screen. The channels began flipping by as Jill moved through them, finally settling on a national news network.

The moment the channel came on it was clear this was not regularly scheduled programming. The newswoman’s make-up was smudged, as if she’d been throwing it on in the car ride over instead of being professionally groomed by a trained artist. Uniformed officers milled about behind her, occasionally shooting the girl and her crew angry looks, making it clear they despised even their presence at such a scene. Her lips moved wordless for a few seconds before Jill turned the sound up, and when they heard what she was saying many of the students immediately wished she hadn’t.

“-no casualties being reported so far. For those of you just tuning in, again the breaking story today is the jailbreak that happened at the Sanderson Maximum Security Prison for Supers. One incarcerated man, being identified as the former Hero Relentless Steel, was pulled free by a group of three Supers intent on his extrication.”

Eyes widened and nerves tightened at this announcement. Although the media was not allowed to release the names of even disgraced Heroes, it was common knowledge that the man once called Relentless Steel had the ability to transform into a living robot, a power most had observed was strikingly similar to another man they all knew, one who had also been stuck in prison after kidnapping a student last year.

The reporter blurred for a moment, the signal from her location clearly not stable. They could all see waves in the background, which made sense. Sanderson was an island penitentiary; she was probably reporting from the shoreline. The image became crisp again moments later, and she continued her report.

“Normally this would be the most shocking turn of event, given Sanderson’s reputation for being inescapable; however, we’ve gotten confirmation that not only were two of the three criminals former Heroes Raze and Mood Swing, both already with warrants out for their arrest, but it seems they were being led by another former Hero, this one believed to be to deceased.”

Vince felt a very heavy sinking sensation somewhere in his gut.

“We’ve just received security footage taken of their escape,” the reporter said, her face vanishing as four people floating on what appeared to be a giant rock filled the screen. Two of them were familiar: despite the costume and mask, Persephone’s figure would have stood out clearly in a burlap sack. George didn’t have any concealment as he kneeled on the floating piece of earth, only a threadbare prison jumpsuit. The other two men wore Hero masks as well. Even without the facial coverings, they would have still been unrecognizable to most of the students. Most, but not all.

“As you can clearly see, the man known as Globe is leading their attack and coordinating their escape. Inquiries to his former teammates who reported his death have so far been met only with silence.”

The screen zoomed in on the man; he was saying something to George that couldn’t be recorded from the camera’s distance. He wore a long red coat, tattered with time but still highly recognizable. One student would have known it anywhere, just as he would have known the line of the man’s jaw or the way he stood when he was trying to protect someone.

“Father,” Vince whispered, his voice barely audible even to himself. It might have traveled further than he realized, because a mass of eyes turned to stare at him. Vince didn’t notice, couldn’t even see them. All he could see was the face on the screen, all he could hear was the strange ringing that filled his ears. He did notice a curious orange tint that seemed to be coloring the edge of his peripheral vision, but he couldn’t have told you what it was. Vince didn’t see anything other than the man on the screen, his face superimposed over a half-decade old memory of a burning boxcar that Vince had looked down on from a cliff. He could hear his own screams from that day, or maybe someone else was screaming. Maybe a lot of people were; it was so hard to tell.

His line of sight to the screen was cut short as a pair of fleetingly familiar eyes appeared in front of his own. That was the last image Vince got before his body fell limply to the floor.