Chapter 237

               Nick slipped quietly between a pair of hedges and tucked himself into the corner of a dorm covered by shadow. It was one of the many places he’d marked as a good hiding spot during his time walking around campus. Some would have called that sort of habit paranoia, but Nick liked to think of it as being prepared. Given how the night was playing out, it seemed like he’d been in the right. That thought was little comfort, though, as he watched one of the patrols move past.

                So far, they didn’t seem to be doing much more than making a fuss and stirring things up. Despite those sizable guns in their arms, no one was doing anything other than firing warning shots to panic every student they encountered. That and searching the base floor of every dorm and building they could find. By Nick’s estimates, it was a double-pronged approach designed to draw out Lander’s Supers, as well as locate the lift locations. Someone in that organization had clearly been in an HCP, though, if it were Lander’s, they’d already know where the lifts were.

                A slight click filled the air as Nick opened his briefcase, and he held his breath to see if anyone would notice. There was still so much chaos going on around campus that it seemed unlikely, but Nick hadn’t survived as long as he had by underestimating his opponents. He gently removed a pair of pistols, as well as a set of holsters. He slipped on the latter with practiced speed and stowed his weapons. Next, he removed a set of miniature night vision goggles. While Lander was still well lit from lamps and the orange glow of a burning building, there were too many shadows an enemy could hide within, like the one he was using. Besides, the last thing he wanted was for anyone to see his eyes tonight. If he was going to need even half as much luck as expected, they would give him away in a heartbeat.

                Nick closed the briefcase silently, then pulled one of his pistols free and clicked off the safety. There were ten spare clips in the briefcase, along with one in each gun, but he still needed to conserve ammunition. Finding Nathaniel would be hard enough, and there was zero chance he wouldn’t have to fight his way through some thugs to put that bastard down.

                The silent, creeping movements Nick was so carefully employing were suddenly drowned out by screams and the sound of machine gun fire coming from within the dorm. He braced himself, trying to think of a way to help that didn’t end with getting shot to pieces, when all of a sudden, the gunfire came to an abrupt halt. Moments later, he watched as the diminutive woman he knew as Professor Stone, now clad in a bright green mask and costume, emerged from the front of the dorm. From behind her poured at least a dozen students in HCP uniforms, most of them gray. They also wore masks, though theirs lacked the flair of Professor Stone’s; clearly the mass masks were tools meant to disguise features, not create an identity.

                Nick smiled and lowered his guns, noting that there were similar sounds coming from nearby buildings as well. He hadn’t expected this much backup, but he was glad to have it. With his former classmates handling the brunt of the attacking force, Nick was free to stick to the shadows.

                That was where he was best, after all.

*             *             *

                The unit leader motioned to his team, silently ordering them to go around and flank the unexplored room. So far, they’d yet to turn up anything in the library aside from cowering students. There had to be a lift here somewhere, though. A place this accessible, where students could come and go without being noticed if they vanished, it was the perfect spot to hide a lift. According to the radio chatter, three had opened up already, and the squads unlucky enough to witness it were cut to pieces. If this one was about to spit out some Supers, he intended to be prepared.

                With one motion, he kicked down the door, gun at the ready. It was still at the ready as a golden sword appeared from nowhere and stabbed him a few inches below his throat. The second took him the chest, barely missing his heart. A pair of blades attacked from the sides, severing his arms at the elbows. He collapsed to the floor, trying to scream, but finding it hard to find a voice through the combination of pain, shock, and blood loss.

                As he lay dying, he saw the rest of his team sprawled in a bloody heap on the other side of the room. From nearby, a distinct clicking filled the air. It sounded wrong. Like . . . like metal treading over the tile floor. When a figure came into view, he knew he was hallucinating.

                How else could he explain someone walking around in a golden suit of armor? His hallucination walked over to him, peering down as it seemed to notice his shallow breathing. It kneeled, picking up his head in its hands. To his surprise, the metal wasn’t icy cold like he’d expected. It was warm. A soft, gentle warmth, like sunshine through a window.

                “When I came out to study for my finals, I was not expecting things to get this lively,” said a voice, a female voice, from within the armor. “You pricks have really stuck your dick in a beehive tonight. Still, I don’t see any reason not to show a little mercy.”

                A long knife appeared in her armored hand. Before he could even wonder what it was for, the armored woman struck, slamming the knife through his helmet, skull, and brain matter as easily as if she were cutting open a piñata. His helmet made a bouncing sound as it fell to the floor.

                Above his corpse, the armored woman stood, releasing the knife from her grip. It fell only a few inches before vanishing in a glow of yellow light. She surveyed the gory results of her work, expression inscrutable through that golden layer of protection, then turned and began to walk briskly out of the room.

                She passed the hidden entrance to the lift that the team had been looking for—tucked away behind a soda machine that only sold non-caffeinated fruit beverages—but made no movement to head down to the safety of Lander’s world below. Angela knew chaos like she knew her own heart, and there was no doubt in her mind that everyone she cared about would be up here, doing things they weren’t ready for.

                As their senior, it was her job to watch over them as best she could. Besides, she wasn’t going to do something as sane as miss all the fun.