Chapter 239

               “Bubbles, get back!” Larry yanked his friend backward just as section of the burning floor gave way. Of course, this had to be the night he’d booked a damn lab for extra credit, and even worse, the night he’d dragged his best friend along to help him.

                They watched the floor fall away, crashing in cinder splinters to the floor below. Historic Lander, with so many of its buildings made of wood; all-too-flammable wood. He grabbed her hand and pulled her down the hallway, trying to peer through the tears that smoke and fear were putting in his eyes. When they were almost to the corner, he caught sight of two men in dark clothes with guns held at the ready. Without thinking, he grabbed Bubbles and jerked her back against the wall.

                “What are you—” Larry pressed his finger to her lips before she could finish asking her question. He might have been flunking chemistry, but he was good enough at math to put all these factors together. One explosion might be an accident; add in others, and you had an attack. The sort that people with giant guns and what looked like SWAT-grade armor would be carrying out. He tried to hold his breath to keep from taking in more fumes, desperately racking his brain for a way out that didn’t involve going past the gun owners.

                The sound of bullets filled the air, followed by what sounded like a crackle of static, and then several grown men yelping in pain. Larry wasn’t quite sure what had happened, but if it had hurt those men, then it probably wasn’t all bad. He and Bubbles moved away from the wall just as they heard voices coming down the hall.

                “That was a good hit, Energy Taker Lad.” The voice was female; Larry could pick up that much.

                “Energy Taker Lad? Really?” A new voice; this one male. Larry thought he might have heard it somewhere before, though, between smoke inhalation and fear, he didn’t exactly trust his senses at the moment.

                “It’s what came to mind. It’s not like we have code names, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want me using your real one, since there are two people in the next hall.”

                Larry felt his blood run cold, despite the oppressive heat around them. He glanced back down the hall they’d come from, only to find the fire had spread to the walls and ceiling. Even if he were willing to risk jumping down a floor, they’d just be leaping to their fiery deaths.

                “If you can hear us, please stay calm,” called the male voice. “We’re here to help, and should reach you soon.”

                “And Larry, I know you’re scared and upset right now, but we’re not the enemies. You don’t need to be afraid of us,” added the female.

                He barely had time to process a stranger calling him by name, and addressing exactly what he was thinking, before two figures came into view. They both wore layered gray outfits and gray masks, though he could still see enough of their bodies to figure out which was the guy, and which was the girl.

                “Oh hell, you didn’t tell me there was this much fire!” The man hurried forward, past Larry and Bubbles as he stood over the brim of the collapsed floor. He stretched out a gloved hand and seemed to be staring directly into the flames.

                “Wait!” his shorter partner yelled over the dull roar of the flames, grabbing his attention. “If you absorb all of that, you’ll burn out the floor below us. Remember, you take the stuff that’s going to burn too.”

                The unknown man smiled, one of the few expressions they could make out beneath the featureless mask, and again, Larry felt a slight tickle of familiarity in his brain. “I might have been saving an ace or two up my sleeves for finals.”

                Bubbles let out a squeak of shock, and Larry echoed her as they watched the fire below surge upward, striking the man in gray and vanishing as it swirled around him. In a matter of seconds, the flames were gone, and he had turned back toward them.

                “Don’t worry, that fire’s out for now. Let’s get you two—”

                A loud creaking interrupted him, and the floor below them began to splinter.

                “What the hell?” This came from the woman, who was staring daggers at her partner.

                “I didn’t burn any extra, I swear! It must have already been about to collapse,” he yelled back at her.

                Moments later, everyone was screaming, as the floor below them gave way and all four people found themselves tumbling through the air. Larry had just enough time to reflect on how much bullshit it was that he was going to die in school, of all places, before the man in gray grabbed him in a tight hug and spun around in mid-air.

                They slammed into the fire-rotted wood, the guy holding Larry taking the brunt of the impact on his back. Sadly, their trip wasn’t over, though, as this floor immediately gave way as well, sending them hurtling down fifteen feet to the ground floor. Larry felt his whole body tense for landing, in spite of knowing perfectly well that he was supposed to stay loose in a crash situation. His body refused to listen to his brain however, and he grit his teeth as the marble floor came rushing up at him. At the last moment, he lost his nerve and slammed his eyes shut.

                To his shock, when they hit the ground, he felt nothing. No splat, no pain, not even a slight push from the sudden stop. Peeling his eyes open slowly, he found himself staring into the smiling face of the man who’d been holding him.

                “You have no idea how glad I am that that worked,” the stranger said, releasing his hold on Larry.

                “Actually, I think—shit, Bubbles!” In his momentary flood of relief, he’d forgotten that she was in danger too. Jerking his head upward, he found his best friend floating down, along with the short girl in gray.

                “Sorry, it’s hard for me to lift people and myself, so we had to go slower.” The girl set Bubbles down, who immediately ran forward and squeezed Larry in a hug with all her might.

                “I understand this is stressful and terrifying, but you need to come with us quickly,” said the guy. “We’re going to take you somewhere safe, and the entrance is only one building away. The sooner we get you there, the sooner you can relax.”

                “Let’s go.” Larry gently pushed Bubbles away, who immediately leaned forward and whispered in his ear.

                “L-Ray, do you think we can trust these people?”

                “They just saved both our lives. Besides, we always knew there were Heroes-in-training at Lander. I just never expected to see them out and about like this.”

                “To be fair, this is a surprise to us as well,” said the mystery girl. “But we should move now. The closest goon squad is still far enough away that we can get you underground before they arrive.”

                “Underground?” Bubbles asked.

                “I’ll explain as we go,” the masked man offered. “So long as we start moving now.”

                The four hurried out of the building and into the warm night air. Larry could see the glow of more fires, as well as several more burning spots in the building they were leaving. It was all so impossible, so surreal, and he had a solid hunch that it wasn’t going to get less crazy anytime soon.

                “Hey, mind if I ask what you meant back there? About being glad it worked?”

                “Oh, that.” The man in gray turned back and gave a somewhat sheepish smile. “I’ve never tried to absorb the kinetic energy from a fall before. It made sense in theory, but this was the first chance I had to put it to use.”

                Larry’s eyes widened, and he quickened his pace. The last thing we wanted was to be around for any more of a Super’s test sessions.