So many attacks striking at once seemed to create a dense fog around the target, momentarily obscuring Globe and others from view. Alice was gone before the smoke cleared, rocketing off so fast that the twigs around her shattered from sloppy gravitational pull. As soon as he saw her moving, racing toward the giant ball of destruction, Vince let out a mighty blast of kinetic energy and leapt into the sky, following her. Roy was only a few seconds behind, soaring through the air on Vince’s heels.
“Not even a moment’s concern for their safety,” Mr. Numbers noted.
“They all care about their safety, just not as much as they care about someone else’s.” As she spoke, Mary telekinetically knocked over a small tree and levitated it up three feet off the ground. “Alice is worried about her mother, Vince and Roy are worried about Alice, and Vince is also scared for his father. Besides, rushing in when people are in need is supposed to be what Heroes do.”
“And where do you see yourself in all this?” Mr. Transport asked.
With a quick motion, Mary mentally sheared all of the branches off her tree, creating a smooth floating trunk. “Same as you lot. I work in the background now, helping from the sidelines. Although in this case, being nearby is probably a necessity. Either of you want a ride? I made it big enough for more than three.”
“You’re going into the fray?” Mr. Numbers asked.
“Not unless I have to. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be useful.”
“Maybe we’ll catch a ride down, at least until we know where we can do the most good ourselves,” Mr. Transport suggested. Together, he and Mr. Numbers mounted the rear of the tree while Mary took the front. Everyone locked their legs in tightly as it began to move through the air, leaving the ground and soaring toward the battlefield.
For her part, Mary wished she had the floppy hat from her witch costume. May as well complete the look, if she was going this far.
* * *
“You okay?” George was inches away, cold metal face peering into the sweat-soaked expression of their leader. Globe was on his knees, body folded over Shelby’s, panting heavily.
Every ability had a cost to use, be it mental or physical. There was always a toll on the mind or body, in the same way that no one could hold a weight or tense a nerve indefinitely. Enhanced or not, that was true of Globe as well, and maintaining enough barriers to stop all the attacks they’d had thrown their way, on top of conjuring the fog for temporary concealment, was an enormous task, even for a Hero from the Class of Legends. Without Adam and Quentin’s efforts, Globe doubted he could have pulled it off. Even now, there were still attacks coming, but they were fewer than before. The heavier hitters wouldn’t waste their shots, they’d want to take aim at Globe directly. Withstanding another volley like that was almost certainly beyond him. Luckily, the trip up had given them ample time to plan their next move.
“Everyone else, off the platform. I’ll keep drawing their fire, see if you can get away in the confusion. Above all else, though, protect George. We came up here to make sure they have a target they can’t ignore while he slips away, keeping them focused on me so they won’t give chase, but that only works once he’s clear. Until then, his escape with Shelby is priority one.” Carefully, Globe rose to his feet, handing Shelby Adair over to the metal man. “Somewhere safe. Somewhere Charles can’t get her. After that, reach out to Blaine. He’ll get you to Graham, and her into safe hands. Now go, as soon as they can see they’ll attack again.”
George had known it would come to this, and had properly powered up his thrusters as a result. With a sparing glance to the man who had brought them all together, too-aware that this was probably the last time he’d ever see Globe alive, George began to lift from the platform. On cue, the others leapt off, using the smoke as cover as they raced into the crowds of guards and Heroes, splitting focus and kicking up chaos. A small distraction, true, but the best they could manage at this point. Besides, the real distraction, the thing everyone wanted, was Globe. Always had been. That was why Globe put himself front and center, to make sure he was where the attention stayed.
Fully-activating his rockets, George blasted upward just as Globe willed away the smoke, giving everyone a clear view of the nation’s most wanted former-Hero. It was no surprise when most of the eyes turned on Globe, a fresh round of attacks peppering his barriers. All George had to do was get high enough and he’d be nearly home free. He was one of the fastest fliers around, and with no one able to teleport out of here, it would be impossible to catch him. The mission would be a success, if he could just get clear.
Since he was facing upward, George didn’t see the attack that slammed into his left foot, completely blowing out the thruster. It must have been strong, George was no push-over, but the guards had been playing with enhanced powers for a long while now so that was hardly a surprise. Struggling to maintain altitude, George poured power into his right leg. It was no use, however. He’d been climbing too fast, and with such a sudden attack he was beginning to spin-out. The ground rushed closer, crashing now seemed inevitable. With the last of his control, George flipped over, making sure his back would take the brunt of the fall. It was all he could do to keep Shelby safe.
Just when he was sure it was over, the fall stopped. George was floating in the air, sole remaining jet doing absolutely jack shit, as the grass came up to him gently. It would have been a serene moment, if he weren’t fully surrounded by the sounds of battle. Even from his terrible vantage point, he could see the mayhem that had broken out. Globe’s team jumping from the platform had done more than create multiple targets, it had shattered the momentary peace between guards and Heroes. The former were taking any shot they could at Globe’s people, even if it put Heroes in danger. Between the attempts at murder and disregard for their lives, the Heroes in turn were no longer treating the guards as civilians, some were actively working to restrain the most reckless ones. It was a good effort, but more guards were pouring out of the remains of the base now, the unit meant to stop Globe at the exit acting as reinforcements to the ones outside. All this chaos, and some prick had managed to take a shot at the man trying to leave the battle.
A cluster of guards were sent sprawling from a nearby engagement, hurled back by an unseen force. This had the unfortunate effect of putting them directly next to George just as he finally settled to the ground. They saw him, and he them. Weapons and hands raised as they prepared to attack, and though he rolled to the side to act as a shield, George feared that this would be an onslaught Shelby couldn’t survive.
“Get away from my mother.”
As a former Hero, George had heard many voices and threats in his time. He’d heard anger, despair, determination, desperation, sorrow, joy, surprise, and boldness. This voice, however, had something rarely encountered. Pure resolve, unrestrained by any sense of limitation. That was the voice of someone willing to do anything, go to any lengths, to do what they’d set their mind to. Not many people could get to such a point, and for good reason. Even if she didn’t like it, in some ways Alice was more like her father than she realized.
The guards, however, didn’t have George’s experience. They didn’t understand the warning when they heard it. So they looked around, weapons still pointed at George. By the time they saw the threat, it was too late. Yells and the sounds of bones snapping met his ears as all of them were driven forcefully to the ground so hard and fast their bodies couldn’t bear it. Seconds later, a set of white boots, the kind that came with a senior HCP uniform, landed in the grass next to George.
Alice Adair stood over him, with Vince Reynolds and Roy Daniels bringing up the rear. George had no idea how they’d gotten here, Globe had tried to keep the kids far away from all of this, but it was hard not to feel a little happy at the sight. Alice kneeled down and held out her arms, her demand wordless and impossibly clear.
“She needs to be somewhere safe. Somewhere Charles can’t get to her.” George carefully handed Shelby over, setting the thin woman in the strong, trained arms of her daughter.
“Charles Adair will never lay a hand on this woman ever again. Ever.” For a moment, the fire in Alice’s eyes dimmed as she clutched her mother, touching her for the first time since she was a mere baby. Then her resolve brightened, and she stood up, glancing to her friends. “Let’s get her out of here.”
“No.” Vince stepped forward, looking down at the frail form in Alice’s hands. “You go, Alice. You have to go. And I have to stay. My dad is right there. Right over there, in my reach, maybe for the last time. Saving the innocents is what Heroes do. You got yours, I’m going to get mine.”
George was finally rising to his feet, taking a better look at the field. “Step into that, you probably won’t make it out. There’s a ton more guards than Heroes, and a chunk of them are amped up. I don’t know that this fight ends well for those of us not on the Adair payroll.”
“Guess that means I’m staying too,” Roy added. “Wouldn’t very well make much of a Hero if I turned my back when future co-workers were in need.”
For the first time, Alice hesitated, looking from the pair to her mother, and then to the nearby fighting. “I don’t want to just leave you here.”
“You’re not. You’re evacuating a helpless innocent caught in a fight that isn’t theirs,” Vince told her. “You’re doing exactly what we’ve been training for all this time. Keeping people safe. We can only fight because you’re taking her away. So be a Hero, Alice. Get the civilian clear, and trust your team to handle the rest.”
With a face that made clear how unhappy she was, Alice took a few steps back, and then flew off in the opposite direction of the battle. Unlike George, she kept her eyes on the fight, ready to dodge if anything came her way. In no time she was past a line of trees and out of sight.
Testing his left leg, George found that it could still bear weight, even if flying was off the table. “You kids have gotten a lot better at this since I left.”
“We had damn fine teachers.” Roy’s expression couldn’t have been more plain that he wasn’t including George in that statement. “And a lot of motivation to improve.”
“Well, let’s see how much you’ve learned. We’re going to need something miraculous to turn the tide of this one.” As a veteran Hero, George really should have known better than to offer the universe such a perfect line. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a massive tree, growing at an impossible rate and racing across the ground like a slithering serpent, burst out from over a nearby hill and slammed into the battlefield. From it, seven figures dismounted, one wearing an armored costume that George would recognize anywhere.
“All of the HCP deans. Damn, that almost feels like overkill.” He turned to Vince and Roy, making sure they’d seen the new players enter the battlefield. “Pay close attention, boys. You’re about to see just how good those teachers really are, and the kind of power it takes to be the dean of an HCP.”