Chapter 234

               They were scared, and with good reason. The Hero world was supposed to be terrifying; it was a fact their teachers went out of their way to drill into their heads. But that was out there. At Lander, in the HCP, they were supposed to be safe. There was still a line between the villains and them. Now, as Dean Blaine looked through the gym and saw all the uncertain faces of his students, the stalwart expressions of the professors, and even the fear in the DVA employees he’d been meeting with, Dean Blaine knew that the line had been forever blurred. No matter how this night ended, they would never feel quite as safe in their home again. Sad as it was, if it was the worst outcome of this evening, then he would count it as a success.

                “There is no pretty way to say this, no nicety I can use to make it better. Our campus has been attacked. A bomb was detonated inside the Business and Mathematics building, and it is currently on fire.” Dean Blaine kept his voice steady by sheer force of will alone. He wanted to rant and rave and have his suit on, kicking the living hell out of the sons of bitches who had dared to do this to his home. But that was the job of the Heroes who would be responding. His duty was to keep his students safe and calm. The odds of someone managing to actually get below ground were ludicrously low, but if some poor bastard did manage it, they would find professors and a dean ready to show them the error of their ways.

                “Additionally, there are unconfirmed reports of people in combat gear and armed with assault weapons. As such, we are forced to assume this attack is targeting all of you, as future Heroes, and thus, we have gone into lockdown.”

                Throughout the gym, he could see the sentiment that announcement stirred. Most of those already down here were the juniors and sophomores who had been working on their carnival, though there were a fair amount of freshmen and seniors that had come down for training as well. None of them were comfortable with the idea of staying penned up below ground while chaos ran rampant over their heads.

                “I’m keenly aware that you all hate what I’m telling you, but it is imperative that you listen to me. What’s happening right now is a job for Heroes, and right now, none of you have the training or skill to wear that title, to say nothing of being officially sanctioned. The situation is being handled, and I assure you that those responsible will deeply regret the day they set foot on our campus.”

                Dean Blaine was going to say more, but the ringing of his phone caused him to stop. It was Mr. Transport’s ringtone. By this point, Professor Fletcher should have reached the suited duo and gotten them to commence bringing the other HCP students underground. There was no need to call him . . . unless something had gone wrong.

                “Just one moment, perhaps this is the call letting me know things have been handled.” He grabbed his phone from his pocket and turned away from the students, hoping against hope that his lie would magically be turned true.

*             *             *

                Alice’s own phone vibrated a few moments after they watched Dean Blaine begin talking, and then harshly whispering, into his. She pulled it out without hesitation, relief spreading through her as she saw the number that was calling.

                “Thank goodness you’re all right. After Mary told us a building got bombed, I wasn’t sure if you’d been targeted too.”

                “Oh, I think it’s safe to say there’s no doubt that Nathaniel is targeting me,” Nick replied, his voice hushed in a way that made Alice’s fears rise right back up again. “But from what I’m seeing, I think he had to piggy-back with someone else to get his revenge. These guys are well-trained, have great equipment, and at least some of them are Supers.”

                “How do you know that?”

                “Well, one of them lowered some sort of energy barrier over the campus to keep us from getting out, or maybe to keep the Heroes from getting in. Also seems to be fucking up phone signals, keeping them from going out. I had to crack mine open and route it through Lander’s internal system to call you directly.”

                “Glossing over why the hell you would know how to do that, have the other Heroes shown up yet? It’s been at least ten minutes; there should be capes and cowls tearing these dicks apart,” Alice said.

                There was a pause, and suddenly, Alice knew. She’d been too well trained not to recognize the tell. Nick didn’t pause; he always had words at the ready. The only exception was when he had something truly terrible to say.

                “Alice, right now, I don’t see a single Hero around. They might be working in the areas I haven’t been to yet, but it’s seems that something is definitely holding them up. Like I said before, I think Nathaniel piggy-backed onto someone else’s plans. Whoever these people are, they’ve clearly put a lot of thought into how to raid an HCP school.”

                She started to ask more, but the sound of gunshots and scuffling came from the other side. Just as her heart started to pound, Nick’s voice came back on. “Sorry about that. I think it’s time for me to get on the move. I’ll keep you in the loop when I find places to hole up. Stay safe down there, Princess. I’m sure the cavalry is right around the corner.”

                Alice lowered the phone slowly, staring at her friends, who’d been listening to her side of the conversation. Damn Nick. God damn him. He was so good at lying, so much of the time.

                Why couldn’t he make her believe that last line, even the slightest bit?

*             *             *

                “What in the hell do you mean you can’t teleport? No neutralizer in the world has that kind of range, and I should know, because I’m the strongest one.” Dean Blaine wasn’t shouting, but his ability to keep up that feat of willpower was quickly deteriorating.

                “It’s not a neutralizer. Mr. Numbers and Mr. V—Professor Fletcher are still able to use their abilities. My guess is it’s a teleporter who can block others, an anchor; probably several of them. They knew we’d want to have Heroes teleporting to our location, so they cut off the option.”

                Dean Blaine very nearly crushed the phone in his grasp, not due to enhanced strength, but merely as a result of a life of training combined with blinding rage. “They’ll still be able to teleport near campus. That yellow wall you described will be a minimal burden to cut through.”

                “If the distress signal even went out,” Mr. Transport replied. “Anything not run through our local system doesn’t seem to be getting through. I know the HCP has safeguards on top of safeguards, but so far, every move they’ve made has anticipated what we’d do. It would be dangerous to assume they weren’t a step ahead of us from the very beginning. What does protocol say you should do?”

                “Exactly what we’re going to—remain in here and make sure our students stay safe. Gather as many as you can and get them to the lifts. I will not let these monsters have the hope of tomorrow.”