Chapter 238

               “Sir, we’ve received reports that a significant portion of Lander’s students have come topside.” The man in combat gear stood rigid as he made the report, a fearful expression in his eyes. Nathaniel could feel the terror in him even from across the room. He was almost hurt that none of it was inspired by him or his eyes. Every bit of fear this mercenary had was reserved for the handsome older man sitting next to Nathaniel.

                “Interesting. I didn’t expect them to actually break protocol. Well now, that’s why we make contingency plans. Give the order to detonate bombs three, four, and six. That should spread them thin and occupy their effort.”

                “Understood.” The mercenary turned and headed out of the room, moving more quickly than was strictly necessary.

                “You seem to be enjoying yourself, Crispin,” Nathaniel remarked. He studied the older man’s face carefully, but was unable to find more than sincerity in his wide, constant smile.

                “Why wouldn’t I be? Thanks to you helping us secure funding, the Sons of Progress are finally able to enact a plan I’ve had designed for years. Do you know how much of a blow we’ll have dealt the Heroes when this night is done? Not only will we wipe out an entire school’s crop, but we’ll also show the myth of the unassailable HCP to be just that: sheer myth. How many parents will let their children attend an HCP school once they see the havoc we wrought? The anonymity they’ve enjoyed for so long will be stripped away, and we’ll be there to capitalize.”

                “Just remember your part of the deal,” Nathaniel said.

                “My men waited until your target was on campus before creating the shield, didn’t they? Like you expected, he soon dropped out of sight, but we know he’s here,” Crispin said. “I assume you have a plan to draw him out?”

                “There’s not much need. Nicholas Campbell isn’t one to sit around and wait; he’ll uncover where I’m hiding and come to me.”

                “Oh my. Well, that will be quite the surprise for him then,” Crispin replied. “I have high hopes that this night will end with both of us getting exactly what we want.”

                “Things are certainly on track,” Nathaniel agreed. “Though, I have to say, you really hate Heroes. I grew up in a family of criminals, and even we don’t despise them this much.”

                Crispin’s smile broadened by a few inches. “I don’t hate Heroes, Nathaniel. I hate the system that creates them. We were born with gifts, power beyond mortal understanding, yet humans, our lessers, seek to tell us when and how we can use them. Because they can’t fly, they want to tear off our wings out of spite, and ‘Heroes’ are the tool they use to do it. I want these poor, brainwashed victims to be free, just as I want the rest of the Supers to be free, but unfortunately, to earn us that freedom, there must be sacrifices. I will mourn every one of our Super kin that falls tonight, and know that their sacrifice went toward making a better future.”

                “All I care about is killing one Powered,” Nathaniel said.

                Crispin nodded and kept right on smiling. Nathaniel had many connections and a fair amount of clout, but he also had an unerringly one-track mind. So far as Crispin was concerned, this was actually a positive factor. It made his partner so much easier to control. And Crispin was a big fan of keeping everything under control.

*             *             *

                Though she could feel practically feel the heat from the explosions as they rocked three more buildings, Impact kept her mind focused on the task at hand. It bad been a while since she’d had to set up a viewing station, and her hands fumbled with the monitors, adding precious seconds to the task. At long last, she completed her work, and stood back to admire what she’d fashioned.

                Around her were an array of cameras, pointing off in every conceivable direction across campus. Each was equipped with a short, medium, and long-range lens, so she could get a good view of anything in their line of sight. The cameras fed to a wall of monitors, giving her complete sight over the entire campus. Taking in information from so many sources was a difficult task, but she’d spent decades practicing it. Often, she was thrown into situations where she had to take shots on the fly; however, when she got the chance to prep a nest like this one, well, that was when she was truly at her deadliest.

                “Zero, there’s a unit coming away from the Science building. I’ll take them all out, just be nearby in case any are Supers. Seamstress, there’s a squad to your southeast, one of which seems to have minor ground manipulation abilities. Black Hole, you’ve got two squads doing patrols near your location. They might not see you, but be ready to silence them quickly if I give the order. Wisp, any luck on the locations we need?”

                “Nothing so far. These grunts are either being kept completely in the dark or have wills of steel.” From the background of Wisp’s communicators came a harsh, animal-like scream. “Personally, I’m betting on the former.”

                “Keep trying. Mr. Volt has found and deactivated two bombs, but the damn things are hidden well. We need to get teleportation on the table or lower the dome, if we want to evacuate.” Impact checked the monitors again, making sure the situation hadn’t changed while she was relaying information, then reached into one of the buckets she’d stashed up here along with her equipment.

                In the pouches of her costume were metal balls of various densities and with distinct purposes, but she was saving those for when they were needed. Dipping her hand into the bucket, she pulled up a handful of bullets. Hollow-points, technically illegal to use on humans, assuming someone wasn’t sanctioned to kill. Impact, along with every other Hero on campus tonight, was not under orders to wound.

                She turned back to her monitors and squinted slightly. Every mercenary near Zero had a softly glowing mark appear on the back of their lower spines. They couldn’t see them, of course. Only she could see the marks she created. In her hand, three of the bullets glowed as corresponding glyphs appeared on their casings. They rose up from her palm and floated slightly forward before bursting away at speeds faster than they could ever reach when being fired from a mere gun.

                On screen, the mercenaries fell in heaps, as what appeared to be streaks of light zipped down from the sky and struck them squarely in the invisible marks on their body. There was a lot of blood, and in her experience, they were all likely to be paralyzed at best, but she’d still given them a chance at life.

                Given how many people had certainly been in those buildings, it was more than they were owed, but she couldn’t bring herself to kill without need. No matter how angry she might feel, that line was what distinguished Heroes from the monsters prowling the night.

                Plus, it wasn’t as though Wisp could interrogate a corpse.