The knock on the door was light, but firm. It opened immediately, revealing a slender young man whom Nathaniel had seen scurrying about since he first met with Crispin. Unlike the others, he didn’t treat the old gentleman with a fearful reticence; he marched right in and began to address him.
“Reporting an update: our Team A task forces have fallen below the sixty percent threshold. As you instructed, Team B has been gathered, and is awaiting you outside.”
“Thank you, Sherman.” Crispin rose from his chair and gave a slight wave of apology to Nathaniel. “Looks like it’s time to commence the second phase of our project. Once I finish with them, we can get you properly prepared for your reunion.”
Crispin and Sherman left the room, heading into a softly lit, white tiled hallway. As they passed a corkboard hanging on the wall—pinned full of flyers for upcoming campus events and various businesses—Sherman began to speak once more.
“There is also another matter, one I didn’t want to bring up in front of your guest. Iyanna reported two disturbances in her energy dome. She was able to heal them quickly, but it’s possible someone either escaped or got in.”
“Between Iyanna’s dome, Gretchen’s spacial anchoring, and Woodrow’s talent for stopping electronic communication, I highly doubt the Heroes have been able to figure out the situation and mount a proper response. Especially not with the gifts I gave them. Which reminds me, when are we due for the next refreshing?”
“Ten minutes and nineteen seconds from now,” Sherman replied briskly. His dark shoes make a light clicking sound as they walked down the hall, a harbinger of his impending arrival.
“Excellent. We should consider the possibility that one or two Heroes might have been lucky enough to be near and saw the dome, even if the official call isn’t out yet. Bring Gretchen to an adjacent room, just in case we need her to halt suddenly.”
“Consider it done.” Sherman stopped and pushed open a door, one that revealed a large classroom that was almost deserted. Its only inhabitants were five people—three men and two women—who ranged broadly in age and race. The only thread connecting them, in fact, was the pin each person wore. It bore the symbol of a sunrise over a city, with the letters “SOP” etched into the metal below. As soon as they laid eyes on Crispin, each stood straight at attention, scarcely daring to breathe.
“Please, relax, all of you,” Crispin said, patting the nearest one on the shoulder as he came through the door. “I know you wish to be respectful, but it is I who am honored to be in your presence. You five are some of the most dedicated brothers and sisters our movement has ever known. Each of you was handed tremendous power, and you refused to let society strip that gift away from you, which took courage. Even more impressive, you didn’t give in to the temptation of money and fame in exchange for acting as a hunting dog against your own kin. And that, my friends, took integrity.”
Crispin walked along in front of them, studying the faces of each one. They’d had names once, but those had already been purged from Crispin’s records. There were not people anymore. They were better. They were warriors in the battle for freedom, and he etched every feature they possessed into his mind so he would remember them as such.
“Too many others have not shared your integrity. They have become tools used by the humans to subjugate the species they immediately recognized as their betters. Today, we strike our first blow back against those tools. Today, we remind Heroes and humans alike that we are many, we are strong, and we will not be put down. While our other team is hunting for the entrance to their hidden rat hole, you are to be given a different task. A noble mission. Beyond these walls, right now, are many of Lander’s future Heroes, and you should crush them as best you can, but they are not your targets. Tonight, our goal is to kill something far more powerful than a handful of half-trained children. Tonight, we slay the image of the unstoppable HCP staff. Find the professors and the dean, and kill them. If the morning sun rises on even a single corpse from Lander’s staff, all of our sacrifice will have been worth it. The others out there, scared of the monster the media has made of the HCP, will see that it is not immortal. It can bleed. It can die.”
Crispin stepped to the front of the room so he could look each of his five recruits square in their eyes. “The gift I am about to give you is precious. It is one I bestow carefully and with great intent. Never do I hand it out for personal gain or attainment. It is a tool for our cause, the only thing a simple man like me can possibly offer. Know then, that when you leave here with it, you are truly my chosen ones. The hopes of every Son of Progress rests on your shoulders. Make great use of my gift, for I’m afraid that it will only be with you for so long.”
“About half an hour,” Sherman added. Poetic language and inspirational speeches were great, but he felt it best if the team actually knew how long they had to work with.
“Yes, my dear friend speaks the truth. About half an hour to do your work in. By then, the Heroes will have discovered something is wrong, and our job becomes nigh impossible. Be swift, be brutal, and be precise. Even with my gift, Lander’s staff will not go down easily. You must put all you have into this battle, and if you die, I pray you do so with the glory of success shining in your heart as you pass. Truly, that is a death all of us can only hope for.”
Crispin stepped forward and put his hands on the cheeks of a dark-skinned young man with high cheekbones. Fire burned in the man’s eyes, a passion for the cause he’d given his life over to. There was no doubt in Crispin’s mind that this man, that all of his chosen five, would fight to their last breath to see his orders fulfilled. His smile deepened at that thought, and he could scarcely wait to have them out the door.
Lander had done well at knocking off his pawns so far. It was time to see how they handled the knights.