The two men had barely managed to find a small alcove of privacy, Mr. Transport sputtering protests the whole way, before Mr. Numbers cut him off and began to explain. He kept things quick and vague, a necessity given their surroundings, trying to bring Mr. Transport up to speed enough to understand why they were having the discussion in the first place. Thankfully, some of the benefits to a partnership that spanned decades included lots of trust and speedy communication. In less than a minute, Mr. Transport understood the bare bones of the situation. The trouble was that once he did, he asked the same question that Mr. Numbers was already struggling to answer.
“So, what do we do?”
That was the riddle of the day, it seemed. From what he’d seen, Mr. Numbers was willing to bet that very soon the entire site would be swarming with Heroes, DVA representatives, and every Super willing to cash one of Charles’ paychecks, all of them on top of Globe’s team. The trouble was, there were a lot of variables that Mr. Numbers knew he couldn’t properly calculate yet, not without insider access to what the DVA was planning. They kept those channels secured for a reason, though. He still wasn’t entirely sure what the right move was, maybe they’d need to jump in and save Shelby before she could get caught in the crossfire, maybe they should help Globe’s team try to escape, or perhaps they might even have to lend a hand in the fighting. Too many unknown variables meant they had to be ready for countless situations. There was, however, one component Mr. Numbers was absolutely certain would be essential.
“We get you there as fast as possible. Not involved, not until we know more, but you being able to teleport into and out of the fray will be a key technique in virtually anything we could hope to do. None of the reports actually gave a location, but I’ve pieced together enough data to narrow it down to a single patch of supposedly undeveloped wilderness.” Mr. Numbers pulled out his phone, opening a map function and showing it to Mr. Transport. “What’s the nearest teleportation point you have to this?”
It took a few seconds, and a bit of fiddling with the screen, but eventually Mr. Transport handed the phone back over. “I passed through a town maybe thirty miles away on a road trip once. Too far to drive, but we could hopscotch it in a couple of minutes.”
“That’s going to be conspicuous,” Mr. Numbers pointed out.
“With what’s going on, you think somebody will notice? Or that we’ll even be the only ones doing it?” Mr. Transport shook his head. “The last thing anyone will care about is two people like us popping around. Not until we actually do something.”
“Let me take a wild shot here: hopscotching is when you look as far in one direction as you can and then teleport there, then do it again, and again, in rapid succession. Great way to cover a lot of distance, assuming the topography doesn’t make it a pain.” Alice stepped into view from around the corner, with Vince close behind. Although she had something of a playful expression on, there was nothing so easy-going in Vince’s eyes.
Before anyone could say another word, Vince asked the question that determined everything about how he was going to react. “Is it him? Is it my father?”
The nod that Mr. Numbers gave was achingly slow and visibly annoyed. “From all accounts, it seems that way. I’d also like to add that I don’t approve of you eavesdropping.”
“If you hated it that much, you could have said something. I’m getting pretty good at being sneaky, but we both know your ability must have tipped you off. Taking a guess, you let us listen because we might end up being useful, and now you can honestly say that we brought ourselves into it?” Alice was bobbing about, light on her feet. After suffering a defeat at Intramurals, it felt good to be using her skills once more. “Well good news, it worked. We are definitely in. If you think either of us is going to sit on the sidelines and wait while my mom is in play, even only potentially, then you’d better be hiding by the time we get there.” The cheery mood slipped, revealing the more tumultuous Alice who was hiding beneath its veneer. “Because if you try to get between my mother and me, I’m not sure we’ll still be seeing you as allies.”
“Alice.” Vince set a hand on her shoulder, gently moving her back. “I won’t say I know how you feel, but I want to be there too. Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport are our friends, though. Let’s treat them that way. I’m sure they were never going to do anything as inconsiderate or dangerous as leaving us behind.”
Mr. Numbers opened his mouth, but it was Mr. Transport who spoke next, stepping closer to look both students in the eye. “Listen, while I’m not sure what Mr. Numbers was thinking, this battlefield isn’t going to be a place for you. Not students your age, not civilians who lack a Hero license, and certainly not the children of Globe and The Alchemist. This place is going to be dangerous, and while I know you both think of yourselves as capable, the truth is you’re also potential bargaining chips. If someone takes either of you hostage, they suddenly get a lot of sway on one of the battle’s leaders. You want to help, and I understand. But coming with us might end up putting the people you love in more danger.”
“That was a very nice speech,” Alice told him. “You clearly believed every word of it, and I appreciate the sentiment. Now let me give you my spiel: No. My father has been pulling strings and manipulating events since before I ever said my first word. What happened to my mother… that wasn’t all his fault. I can see that, how a desperate man listened to the pleas of someone he loved and made a hard choice. Everything that came afterward, however, is fully upon his shoulders. These two have been fighting in shadows for decades, and it always ends in more of the same. So no, I don’t accept your concerns or your desire to keep us safe. If they found the lab, then my mother is going to be there. I couldn’t stop Charles from taking her away last time. This will not be a repeat of that.”
Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport exchanged glances, a silent discussion that consisted of only a single question. Eventually, Mr. Transport turned back, his words hesitant. “A rescue mission. That’s all it would be, nothing more. We hang to the sidelines, and if we see someone who needs help getting out, someone innocent like your mother, then we act. Nothing beyond that. I’m not teleporting you into a swarm of dangerous Supers so you can pick a fight. At this point, you’re more or less trained as Heroes, so I expect you to know the difference between a rescue mission and an assault.”
“I can live with that,” Alice replied. “Vince?”
“I won’t start anything,” Vince said. “But if I see someone in trouble, I’ll help.”
“That’s about as much as I could expect from you.” It almost seemed like there was a flicker of pride in Mr. Transport’s eyes, even as he worked to look annoyed by still having to drag them along. “I wish Mary was around to keep you both in check, but there’s no sense in dragging others into this.”
Footsteps came from nearby, and seconds later Mary jogged into view, followed by Roy. She caught sight of the group and let out a quick breath of relief. “Good, we caught you before you left.”
Mr. Transport, slightly wondering if he’d just developed the power to summon people by mentioning them, looked from the new arrivals to Vince and Alice, then finally over to Mr. Numbers. “You began loudly thinking that these two should join us the moment Vince and Alice started eavesdropping, didn’t you? Trusting that Mary would be keeping her mind open to scan for any early signs Lander was being attacked again.”
“Time is of the essence.” It was hard to tell if this was Mr. Numbers’ version of an explanation, an apology, or just a general comment. “And, as you said, Mary has a restraining effect on the group’s more impulsive ideas.”
“It’s fine, it saves us the time of running her down and explaining everything.” Alice’s voice halted, her eyes darting between Roy and Vince. “Although, there is still some explaining to do. Vince, Roy, there are facets of what’s been going on we were asked to keep private, but if we’re about to dive into what I think we are, then you both need to know the whole truth. I’ll fill you in while we’re teleporting, far from prying ears.”
“On the subject of prying, I couldn’t find Nick’s thoughts anywhere,” Mary said. “I’m guessing he somehow got off campus when I was busy doing debriefs.”
A brief pause rippled through them, before Alice finally said what they were all thinking. “He’s going to end up already being there, isn’t he? And probably never tell us how he pulled it off.”
“That does sound like Nick,” Vince agreed. “Plus, if Mary can’t find him, we don’t have time to search. Let’s just trust he’s taking care of things in his own way and go worry about the people that actually need our help.”
Mr. Transport moved slightly, putting himself in the center of the crowd and sticking out his arms. The HCP students, current and former, understood and began to grab on. “Doing rapid teleports means you all need to hang on tight, I don’t want to accidentally leave someone behind. Mr. Numbers, I trust you’ve already sent a message to the Lander staff so they know four kids didn’t just go missing?”
“Of course. Set to go in a few minutes, once we’re safely out of Dean Blaine’s punching range.” Mr. Numbers was, after all, a man who took all the factors possible into his calculations. “Besides, I have no doubt that word will get around.” Only Alice saw his eyes glance off in the other direction down a hall, the way none of them had come. Before she could ask a follow-up, Alice was gone, along with the others, as Mr. Transport teleported them away.
A few seconds later, Angela DeSoto stepped into the alcove, slight grin on her face. This was turning out to be a more interesting day than she’d hoped for.