Chapter 268

                It was a boring job. Out in the middle of nowhere, guarding some bunker from a potential, unknown threat. He didn’t know what was down there, or who might want to take it. Even when getting drunk with his fellow guards, none of them had let a single tidbit of information slip, most likely because they were just as in the dark. Everything had gone through intermediaries and shell corporations, none of them even knew who they were working for. They all hoped it wasn’t anyone doing something too illegal, but the amount of money they were getting made it clear that this probably wasn’t on the up-and-up. Nobody paid this kind of salary to just guard a patch of wilderness without good reason.

                Five years he’d been on this job. At first, he’d been unsure whether it was a good idea or not, but an old cellmate made the introductions to the hiring agent, and there weren’t a lot of jobs out there for people that were Supers and ex-cons, especially not ones that came with this kind of salary. Five years of taking his shifts, standing at his post, and scanning the surroundings with his enhanced senses. Not a spectacular power by any means, not like the soldier types who lived in a separate compound than the guards, but he had used the ability to crack a few safes. Now he only used it to look at birds while waiting for more nothing to happen. On this particular day, however, that boredom came crashing down.

                There was no sign in the sky. Not a shimmer, not a blip, not a sound. The only tip he got was from the sparrow. It was flying around its tree, probably looking for some tasty worms like usual, when it jerked, suddenly, like it was avoiding something. Any other situation, any other job, and he would have ignored it. But he’d watched these birds for years, he knew their movements, and that wasn’t natural. Even then, it would have been dismissed, but management was expressly clear on these matters: anything out of the ordinary, no matter how small, was to be reported.

                “This is the southeastern watch tower. I think I just saw something odd coming from the east. Potential invisible airborne threat.” The shoulder-mounted walkie-talkie was crackling and responsive to his touch, they put in fresh batteries every morning, just in case.

                “Acknowledged. Troops are getting the order to be readied until we can investigate. What did you see?”

                “Nothing, sir. My mistake. I thought I saw a bird dodge an invisible target, but I just caught sight of a hawk circling the sky. It must have been diving to get away.”

                What the hell? That was his voice, the words were coming out of his mouth, but he wasn’t the one speaking. His mouth was being moved for him, like a puppet, and no amount of effort seemed to retake control of his body.

                There was a brief clip of silence, then the voice on the other side spoke again. “Understood. Thank you for your service.”

                Seconds later a loud, blaring alarm blasted through the entire area, the signal that the base was under attack. Overhead, the roof of the building lifted off cleanly, like someone had chopped straight through it, to reveal a man in a red cloak floating in the air. It was strange, though. He didn’t have the movement of a flying Super, more like he was standing on something unseen.

                “Where did I mess up?”

                The cat was out of the bag now, and as a guard with no value this was almost certainly the end, so there didn’t seem much issue with answering. “We have code phrases to use if we’re actually calling off a report. That way, if someone threatens or controls us, they won’t know that by trying to calm things down they’re actually just confirming the threat.”

                “Crafty. I should have expected as much. Well, we were never going to have much of an element of surprise in the first place.”

                Suddenly, it all clicked. The red cloak, the aura of confidence, the overwhelming power: this was Globe, the legendary villain. Holy shit, this day was going from shitty to totally fucked in the span of seconds.

                To the guard’s surprise, Globe didn’t immediately kill him. Instead, he stared down with a unexpectedly gentle expression. “For what it’s worth, we don’t care about any of you. Wait, that came out poorly… I’m out of practice at this. What I mean to say is that none of you guards are our targets. If you attack us, we will defend ourselves, but if you want to run then we won’t give chase. We’re here for some very specific things, however none of you need to be hurt for us to acquire them. Spread that around, please. Get on the radio and use whatever codes are required to let people know that. I take no pleasure in spilling needless blood.”

                That gentle expression slipped away for a moment, as Globe’s eyes hardened. “That said, we have a mission to complete, and we will see it done no matter the cost. Make sure your fellow guards know that to try and stop us is to take their lives in their hands. Try to convince them to run, if you can. I may not like spilling blood, but my hands are still filthy with the stuff.”

                And with that, Globe was gone, floating off back into the sky. Strangely, the roof of the guard station lowered back down, perfectly resealing as though there had never been a separation there in the first place. The guard raced to the window, trying to track Globe, but he was nowhere to be seen, not even with enhanced senses.

                Slowly, waiting at any moment for his body to leave his control again, the guard pressed the button on his radio once more. “Sir, this is the southeastern watchtower, and the windows are freshly cleaned. I’ve made contact with the intruder and have confirmed an identity.”

                “Code phrase heard and acknowledged, what information do you have to pass along?”

                He took a deep breath, well aware that his last one should probably have come moments ago, when he was face-to-face with the enemy. The others might try to stay and fight, but this was going to be his last act as a guard. Money didn’t raise the dead, and even seeing only a fraction of Globe’s rumored power was enough to make it clear how dangerous a fight this would be.

                “It’s Globe, sir. Probably others as well, he used the phrase ‘we’ more than once. He wanted me to pass along the message that the guards are all free to run and they won’t pursue, but if we attack then they will counter, and I don’t think they’re playing by Hero rules.”

                He didn’t wait for a reply. Instead, the guard dashed down the stairs, yanked open the door to his station, and began sprinting through the woods, toward the nearest town and away from the wailing sirens already giving him a headache.