Chapter 277

                It shouldn’t have been that surprising. Charles Adair, before he was a titan of industry, before he was the Hero called Alchemist, even before he was husband to Shelby Hill, had been a Lander HCP student. Four years of his life had been spent roaming the halls, using the facilities, and sneaking away into hidden lift entrances. So when it came time for him to create a secure facility, one capable of withstanding attacks from multiple Supers at once, what else would he emulate but the place he’d probably felt the safest in his life?

                The above-ground building was just a shell, that much was clear now. It existed as a front, a place to store useless people and equipment, but more importantly it was there to slow things down. Globe and his team had wasted precious time hunting through the building, restraining guards and searching for Shelby, before one of them finally uncovered a hatch leading deeper into the ground. Of course Charles would leave an empty front for the curious to find, keeping the real secrets tucked away underground.

                There was no way of knowing how far down they’d have to go, or what would be waiting for them there. Technically, Globe could just start ripping up the floors and bring his team all the way to the bottom, but that came with serious risk. Charles was wily, he might not necessarily store his darkest secrets on the deepest floor. And there was a very real chance that so much damage could compromise the structural integrity of the underground base. Shimmerpath might be able to portal them all out of danger while Globe held back a collapse, but everyone down there would be lost, Shelby included.

                Globe took point, stepping into the dark tunnel. With a thought, he generated lights that danced through the air, illuminating a concrete hallway that might as well have screamed “HCP-style-construction” for how much it resembled the world under Lander. He waited patiently while the rest of his team came through. Only when they were all in did Globe seal the entrance, turning the metal door into a solid hunk of steel by fusing it all together. It might slow them down getting out if anything happened to Shimmerpath or him, but it was better than risking an attack slipping through behind them. Besides, the others were amped up to potent levels, most of them could manage an obstacle like that without issue.

                They didn’t dally once the door was shut, racing down a hall as fast as they could. Time was the enemy. The longer they took, the more Charles would be able to mount a defense. And worse, every passing second brought them closer to the end of their amplification. Once that gave, this would be a far tougher fight. Their best shot was to have everything settled by the time they were back to normal.

                Even as he thought it, though, Globe knew Chuck would never make things that easy on them.

*             *             *

                The clang of the opening door was a surprise. Dinner wasn’t scheduled for several hours, and no one had been to visit since the last round of interrogations. Perhaps it was time for more questions, although what was left to ask he couldn’t imagine. Everything had been taken, his life’s work dismantled. What more did they think he had to give?

                “Good Morning, Crispin.”

                The fellow who stepped through wore a dark suit with a black tie, and that plain outfit was quite literally the most remarkable thing about him. If Crispin blinked, he wouldn’t have been able to pick the man strolling into his cell out of a crowd. It might be an ability, or maybe he was simply extraordinarily ordinary. Whatever the case, he was something new in the routine, and Crispin was a fan of that.

                “Morning to you as well, stranger.” Crispin made no move to rise from his prison cot; the white fabric of his jumper creasing as he slightly shifted position. This felt interesting, but someone being sent to secretly kill him would also fit the scenario. Best to be on guard for now.

                Outside the cell, there was the sound of yelling, and a bit of running, which the stranger paid a small amount of attention to. “It seems we won’t have long to talk, I’m afraid. Even for someone as powerful and connected as my employer, there are limits as to what can be managed, especially on short notice. You’ll forgive me if I skip the formalities and cut to the chase. We have a job you’re needed for. Come with me, right now, and use your incredible gift. When the work is done, you’ll be able to walk away. Still a wanted man, of course, but one on the outside.”

                “That’s all I get? A ‘job’ with no details and a vague promise of spending the rest of my life on the run? Not the most appealing of offers, and you skimped on the details.” Crispin paused, noting that the sounds of approach were getting closer. “Although I suppose that latter part is understandable, given the circumstances.”

                “The work is simple, someone is trying to break into a place my employer owns and he wants you to help his forces be strong enough to repel them. I’ve also been authorized to hand over a million dollars when the work is done. Seed money, to restart your life and perhaps make it out of the country, where Heroes can’t reach you. But that’s all the information you get. The matter we’re dealing with is highly sensitive. I can’t even tell you where we’ll be going.”

                A million dollars and a shot at freedom. There would be strings attached, there always were, however that was still good pay for a day’s work. “You know, when I was captured, the man who choked me knew that someone would come for me. He said that when this moment came, I should hide and refuse you, because he would stop at nothing to hunt me down and finish me for good.”

                “Yet I notice you aren’t cowering under your cot.”

                “No, I’m not,” Crispin agreed. He rose off the poor excuse for a bed, smoothing his jumpsuit out of habit rather than necessity. “I think I’d rather like the chance to prove him wrong. And pay him back for how I was treated at his hands. You’ve got a deal, stranger. Take me to your soldiers, and I’ll turn them into gods.”

                The strange, plain man held out his hand, and Crispin took hold. They were gone seconds later when prison guards came rushing in to find only an empty cell.