Chapter 242

               Zero slammed a fist through the feeble padding offered by his opponent’s armor. Even without his own suit’s augmentations, Zero could have made short work of the small squad. He was thankful for every second of advantage it did provide though. Time was both their greatest asset and enemy at the moment. True, every second lost meant more time for innocents to die, but it also brought the inevitable moment of victory closer.

            The Hero Certification Program had been given an almost impossible task when it came to securing their facilities. How does one account for defending against every type of power they knew about? Even worse, what about all the ones yet to be seen? It had quickly been established that a truly impregnable defense was impossible unless they were willing to keep dozens of specialized Supers on hand at all times. What they could do, however, was implement safeguards on top of safeguards. The possibility of losing communication during an attack was one of the first issues they tackled. The solution was a simple one: a server in the DVA pinged each HCP on multiple communication networks once per hour. If any of them failed to connect, it tried redundancies. If those failed too, an immediate distress call was put into place. It had caused some costly misunderstandings more than once, but the system was never altered. One necessary situation justified ten thousand fuck-ups.

            “Zero, we have an issue.” Emerald Hydra’s voice crackled over his earpiece, sending a shot of dread through his spine. It took a lot to rattle that woman, but from the tone of her voice, something had achieved that lofty goal. “We’ve got new players on the field. I can barely pick up their thoughts, but their minds feel . . . warped. I don’t know how to describe it. The only thing I can tell is that they seem strong.”

            He’d been waiting for this, deep down. One Super with the power to block teleporting was rare, though not unheard of. The DVA employed one in its most secure location, after all. Getting enough to cover a whole campus, on the other hand, was damned near impossible. Same for the dome; there was no way they wouldn’t be abreast of a Super with that kind of scale. No, the simplest answer was the scariest one: they had a power amplifier in their fold. Someone was juicing up the abilities of low-powered Supers to accomplish this attack. And if they could do it on defense, it was folly to assume offense wouldn’t follow.

            “Get me to the nearest one,” Zero ordered. No doubt, this was their big move, a push to wipe out Lander’s opposition. They’d accounted for the strength of the professors, possibly even the response of the students. But there was no way they’d accounted for him. Aside from his presence being a highly guarded secret, it was a realization dictated by simple logic.

            If they’d known Zero was at this school, they’d never have come in the first place.

*          *          *

            Larry and Bubbles marveled at the world that had been hidden under their feet all along. The massive concrete corridors went off in who knew how many directions, and in front of them, lifting platforms kept rising and falling, bringing with them more fellow students in gray masks and uniforms. They’d noticed that a few of the masked people wore black uniforms as well, and they’d even seen one in white. Neither had any idea what it meant; they just had a hunch it meant something.

            Around the room walked a tall woman with a soothing voice. She wore no uniform at all, just a pants suit and one of the gray masks. As she made her way around, she paused every time she found someone who had been injured, touching them for a few seconds and moving on. Burns vanished, tears dried, and broken bones were reset as she walked among them.

            Two other men were also milling about, these each wearing black suits and more masks. Despite their formal attire, they seemed more casual than the woman, greeting students as they were dropped off by the lifts and explaining that everything would be okay, they just needed to stay put. No one put up much of a fight; after the hell they’d escaped above ground, everyone was happy to have found an oasis of peace.

            “Damn it, I still can’t get a signal,” Bubbles said, tapping at the buttons on her phone. “No internet, cell, nothing. How are we supposed to check on Steve? What if he saw the report and came down and got in, and now he’s stuck up there, while we’re sitting around and—”

            “Steve is fine,” Larry assured her. “He’s smart enough to steer clear of something like this, first off. Secondly, even if he wanted to bust in, there’s that giant yellow dome keeping everyone out. I’m sure he’s more worried about us than we should be about him.”

            “All the more reason to call.” Bubbles went back to messing with her phone, and Larry felt around in his pocket for his special sunglasses case.

            His fingers closed on it, and he let out a small sigh of relief. That sigh grew exponentially as he opened the case up and saw that his frames hadn’t been damaged in the fall. At least the lenses he’d never needed to worry about; the things were made of solid lead, after all.

            Larry had abandoned his lead-lined eye makeup, along with the nickname of L-Ray to everyone but Bubbles, mid-way through his sophomore year. He’d found that he no longer wanted quite that much attention as he got older, especially since it was like hanging a sign that said “Powered” around his neck when people asked. Larry refused to be ashamed of what he was, but he also didn’t feel compelled to explain to everyone who asked about his silver-shining eyelids. The glasses had been what he started using instead. It wasn’t as quick as shutting his eyes when an attack came, but after so many years of having spontaneous X-ray vision, it took more than glancing guts to wig him out. In that time, he could pull out and don the specs as needed.

            Tonight, he wasn’t willing to take that chance. These people had gone out of their way to save his life, and had opened up their secret base to offer him sanctuary. Maybe that fell in line with normal Hero duty, maybe it didn’t. All he knew was that he owed them, and respecting the secrecy of whatever faces might lurk under those masks was the least he could do.