Chapter 17

Chapter 17:

7 Seconds


“Harvin, so good of you to call. How have things been?” The middle aged woman leaned back in a luxuriously plush office chair behind a minimalist glass desk as she cheerfully spoke into her phone.

“Is your line secure?” There masculine voice coming over the speaker spoke in a light tone that seemed slightly out of place with the words being conveyed.

“As secure as it can be made. Are there problems?” The cheerful mood vanished as Joyce Rothschild shifted instantly to a completely serious and professional demeanor.

“Our very minor pokes at the perimeter have been met by an extremely sophisticated and vicious level of backlash. Had we invested any more or better resources our entire collaboration might have been burned. There are some extra players on the field, Joyce, and we don't know who they are.”

The new information wasn't particularly 'new' to Joyce. She'd noted the sudden manner in which Patrick's familial attack scheme had unraveled all at once and known that there was an element in play beyond the law enforcement agencies. “Considering how powerful some of the people involved with these programs are, Harvin, that can hardly be considered surprising.”

“We expected a certain amount of additional difficulties. The ghostly 'Company' that appears to be intricately involved in all matters involving Variant-Human Affairs without being publicly acknowledged anywhere for one. But someone else made some significant moves as well, and monitoring the actions we set in motion it seems clear that none of the other players were aware of the newcomers either, and still AREN'T aware for that matter.” There was a long pause before the male voice continued. “How certain are you that your plan can't carry any trails back to us?”

“Who else is with you?” Joyce managed to ask the question without sounding accusatory, even though she felt that Harvin SHOULD have kept the favor she'd requested between the two of them. She actually smiled as she heard the very faint start over the phone that indicated her question had surprised him. You should remember that only Edward enjoys speaking in the royal plural all the time, old friend.

Both Edward and Lee have offered their input on this, Edward is here now.”

Things are already fully in motion, put there by pawns who are entirely unaware that any of the plans they are implementing came from any source except themselves. The faintest of trails could be made to connect Patrick to the final asset that was put into play, but only if he proves too incompetent to remove the man before the dust settles.”

Patrick is aware that you've made use of an asset that MIGHT be traceable to him?” The voice on the other end of the line had changed.

And good to hear from you directly as well, Edward. As for what Patrick is ACTUALLY aware of, I'm afraid I can't claim expertise. I did inform him that I would be tapping some of his resources before I put anything in play, and I'm certain he knows how to clean up a mess. He's had the practice after all.”

There was a pause from the other end of the line, likely while her two partners conferred over a point privately, before Harvin's voice came again. “Everything is already committed then?”

Everything was committed almost two weeks ago. It's simply taken some time for the pawns to notice the pieces left out for them and seize the initiative.”

It's a dangerous move you've made, Joyce.” Edward's voice over the line sounded weary. “I don't think any of us have a great fondness for Patrick, but in leaving the potential for exposure out there I hope you realize the risks you're taking.”

There's less risk than there was with Roger's insane stunts, and if things fail as spectacularly again I can always clean up the mess the same way as before.”

No Joyce. Repeat performances draw too much attention. If it looks like Patrick may be exposed then MY people will handle it directly this time.” The note of finality in the oldest partner's voice drew a broad grin to Joyce's lips.

As you like, Edward. If there's nothing else we should probably limit contact as much as possible, as per the plan.”

That's all. Thank you, Joyce.” Edward's tone had returned to sounding worn and old again.

We'll all be discussing the next phases over the summer, I'm sure.” Joyce noted the slight strain in Harvin's farewell, but brushed it off without a second thought. Harvin was generally considered the most cautious of their little group after all.

As the dark haired woman clicked the button that terminated the call, she found herself contemplating the show to come, and smiled at a thought about a certain overweight bully getting his comeuppance at the end of it all.



Aaron Sexton sighed as he attempted to deal with an odd mixture of conflicting emotions. It was windy and quite a but colder than the norm for Eastern Texas, even in November. This was not a day he would normally be spending outdoors, and yet he was. He would almost never intentionally inflict the discomfort of the hard steel bleachers that surrounded the Overton football field like an oversized high school stadium, and yet he was doing exactly that. While surrounded by several thousand people all cheering over a game where twenty some odd men fought over an oblong ball. Not a single thing on this list that the blond youth would normally involve himself with.

On the other hand, the attractive form of one Iris Todd was currently curled up into him, using his slightly larger frame as a shelter from the biting breeze. The same Iris that had announced to him that since her roommates were dragging her off to see the game with them, she was choosing to drag one of her teammates along. He'd been about to object, when the tall girl had put an arm around him and begun walking, and he'd been halfway to the event before he remembered why he didn't want to go.

And I'M supposed to be the one with the ability to confuse and disorient. Aaron had given up after coming this far with the blonde speedster, not that he had any truly powerful objections in the first place when weighed again what APPEARED to be one of the most attractive girls he'd ever met forcibly taking him out for a date. I wonder what else she does forcefully...

Aaron's somewhat perverse train of thought was derailed by what had to be one of the MOST annoying ringtones he had ever heard. This wasn't the first time the mysterious and annoying phone had gone off, and there was a great deal of mumbled profanity from the immediate area as he was obviously not the only one who was not a fan.

God dammit, whoever that is just answer the damned thing and then turn it off!” The shout from directly beside him showed that Iris was at least as deep in her dislike of the annoying ringtone as Aaron.

I don't think it's anyone in the stands, no one seems to recognize it and EVERYONE in that area is annoyed by it.” Aaron kept himself from falling backwards off his narrow steel seat only by extreme force of will.

You need to not just jump into people's heads like that, Cat.

Sorry, but I get to hear it in super-ultra-surround sound, and I'm deaf. I get to vent too.” Aaron looked across to where the auburn haired telepath was sitting quite a ways off and saw the girl make eye contact and briefly stick out her tongue at him.

As if queued by the childish antics, the mystery phone began ringing again.

Alright, if it's none of us then it has to be under the stands somewhere. Wish me luck!” Iris stood as she spoke and moved the few steps to the top of the bleachers.

And where are you going?” Aaron was slightly confused as the blonde girl's statement didn't seem to mesh with going further UP into the stands.

It's faster to climb over the back than it is to try and fight my way past the crowd down at the bottom where the concession stand is. Be back shortly, keep my seat warm!”

With that the tall girl swung over the top of the bleachers and began scaling her way down, accompanied by a few cheers of; “Break the damn phone when you find it!”

Aaron just sighed again and adjusted so that he was occupying a much larger area of the bench, making a genuine effort to do as his 'date' had requested until she returned from her self-appointed quest.



Catalina Blake pressed her fingers to her temples and seriously considered the advantages of being completely deaf in public. Next to her she felt her boyfriend push in close as he noted her continued distraction from the football game her roommate had originally inflicted on the two of them.

Stupid phone still being stupid?

The telepath managed to smile at the shorter boy as he attempted to make mental communication easier. She still hadn't gotten around to letting him know how much extra information he, and all the rest of her classmates ended up giving away every time they intentionally tried to direct a thought at her. “I'll be fine, it's stopped ringing again and Iris just started climbing down on a quest to destroy the thing. Or at least turn it off.”

Scott returned the smile as he attempted to somehow make himself large enough to shield his much taller girlfriend from the persistently cold breeze that was making an otherwise great morning to be outside into a bit of a chore. “I think in the future we might mention to Tasha that we'll join her in watching sporting events depending on the weather.”

Do you really think she can't rationalize us into these bleachers for anything short of a hurricane?”

The sandy haired boy seemed to consider the point, then both were briefly distracted as the crowd went to its feet with a thunderous cheering as the Overton team on the field forced and recovered a fumble, giving them a great chance to solidly cement their lead before the end of the half.

You're probably right about that. Maybe we could pit her against Louise for the discussion? The good Lord only knows if either one of them would ever back down from a pointless argument because I don't think the rest of us have ever seen it happen.”

No good.” Catalina giggled at the image of the tallest girl in the HCP arguing in circles forever against the shortest. “Louise isn't interested unless it's 'real football,' or soccer if we're being American about it.”

Since we're in America we can probably afford to do that.” Scott nodded his agreement and seemed to momentarily go back to working on the problem in his head, only to be distracted by another cheer as the Wildcards scored a touchdown with only a few seconds left in the half.

Gah.” The auburn haired girl sat abruptly and stopped applauding, bringing her hands back up to her head.

Ringing again?” Scott asked the question so quietly that no one should have been able to actually hear the words, but his girlfriend simply nodded.

Good news though, I think Iris has zeroed in on it and it should be solved momen-...” Catalina trailed off mid-thought and got a strange look in her eyes.

Scott was just about to speak when a loud *BOOM* from the area where Iris had disappeared a minute ago cut through the crowd, shortly accompanied by several screams as a portion of the old-fashioned style steel bleachers bent and twisted, looking as if they were about to collapse.

What the hell?” Scott stared in shock at the damaged bleachers for a second, then looked at his girlfriend, still locked in a strange kind of trance. “Cat? CAT! What's going on?” The sandy haired boy began to panic as he noticed tears forming in the telepath's eyes an instant before his train of thought was interrupted once again.



God damned people picking the most annoying ringtone they can for fun. Then they drop their phone somewhere it can annoy hundreds of people. Yeah, I am definitely breaking it when I find it. Iris Todd ignored the faint telepathic laughter she heard in her head as she climbed down the bleachers to begin to hunt for the annoying device.

And of course, now it stops ringing. Iris sighed and began picking her way through the underside of the steel bleachers; making an extra careful effort to keep an eye out for any falling objects, or liquid, from up in the stands. God, no wonder the phone is lost down here. Do they EVER clean down here? Iris skirted around several moderately large trash piles that were being collected against the larger support beams by the persistent wind and sighed.

Alright, I guess I need the damned thing to ring again. And the speedster waited for the annoying sound to guide her to its source, and predictably it didn't come. Iris waited patiently for quite some time, feeling only slightly annoyed as she heard the thunderous cheering from overhead indicating that she had missed something momentous in the game.

Was more interested in my date than the game. Can't hang out with him while I'm down here either. The blonde girl smiled as she continued to slowly scan the various debris under the stands for signs of the source of her annoyance. Her ambush and subsequent dragging away of Aaron replaying in her head as she did so.

He never saw it coming. Some psychological profiler HE turned out to be. Iris sighed softly to herself as she considered abandoning her quest and heading back up to her seat. The speedster had avoided anything resembling a serious romantic relationship since her problems with Roger during the first year; choosing to keep things casual instead. She wasn't even certain yet if she was planning on trying anything more serious with her latest acquisition, though she figured Aaron would likely be game for either option.

Wait a sec, backpack! That's probably it. One of those heavy duty field pack things, probably belongs to one of the groundskeepers or something. As if on cue, the grating ringtone sounded once again from the direction of the bag Iris spotted. The speedster had to consciously force herself to walk over to the bag at a normal rate of speed, excited that the end of her self-appointed mission seemed to be in sight.

And just because PROBABLY no one can see anything down here doesn't mean DEFINITELY. I am not going to get outed for an SI infraction because I couldn't handle listening to a ringtone for a few more seconds. Iris grinned as she heard another brief telepathic giggle in her head, though she tried to send a stern sounding thought towards the telepath about the perils of eavesdropping in response.

The phone stopped ringing again shortly before the blonde reached the bag, but Iris figured it was no longer relevant as she casually loosened the drawstring holding the top flap of the large bag closed and flipped it up to look inside. The sight that greeted her sent a spike of panic racing through the blonde girl.

The sounds of the crowd dropped away with sudden silence reigning supreme. The terrified speedster couldn't even hear her own heart hammering in her chest, as time was practically frozen between beats. A moment to mentally berate herself passed, and Iris leaned in slowly to look more closely at what she had discovered.

Resting within the bag was a wire-covered device composed of what appeared to be a large brick of white clay surrounded by four glass cylinders filled with a murky liquid. Resting atop the contraption was a simple digital timer that had just blinked from '8' to '7' as Iris' massively sped up perception kicked in to effectively stop time around the girl.

Alright, that's a bomb. That is almost DEFINITELY a bomb. Control, control talked about this. Think. The lesson wasn't as applicable as Iris had hoped as she mentally reviewed what she could remember as quickly as possible. Check to see if it has an obvious motion switch... nothing obvious. No anchor switch, so it can be moved, probably. I need to get-...

The blonde girl's train of thought derailed abruptly. Who could she possibly get in the next seven seconds that could do something about this? If she was incredibly lucky she might be able to get to Teresa in the stands before the timer hit zero, but could the teleporter possibly get down here and get the bomb away before then? No. More options. Iris' mind raced frantically. Her reactions and thought processes were incredibly sped up, but even at the impossible speed her brain currently operated at she could only stretch a second into a little over two minutes of perceived time.

Back to Control, think about the area. Where could I put a bomb attached to... a lot of chemicals where it won't still kill a lot of people? Iris rapidly considered and dismissed all the nearest entrances to the HCP facilities. The elevators were likely hardened sufficiently to absorb the blast, but even though she could likely get there before running out of time, the doors only opened and closed at a normal speed.

Behind the union building, freight access, there's a drainage culvert! Iris carefully considered this possibility as she doubted she'd be able to divert to a different direction once she started out. If I remember the campus map correctly it's a little under a mile. I should be able to do that, get it into the culvert, and get clear. It's got to be close to four feet of water in there now too, with the wet weather we got through most of last month. I can do this. Iris reached forward, but immediately noticed that her hands were trembling visibly, even in the slow motion that her own extremely fast movements appeared to operate in while her perception was fully boosted.

Then the timer on the clock blinked to '6,' and Iris clenched her fists once and grabbed the bag. Don't think anymore, if you think anymore you're out of time, just go go go GO! And the speedster wrapped her arms through the heavy straps of the bag and took off through the maze of metal supports as fast as she could. The air slammed into her almost like a physical blow as she accelerated faster than she'd ever managed before, and a spike of pain shot through her left arm as she realized too late that she hadn't QUITE had enough room to squeeze through the last two beams.

The blonde ignored the pain and ran, not daring to risk a look behind her to learn if she'd been caught or not. It wasn't important anymore. Have to make it there, committed. One shot. Iris forced her legs to push harder, found herself unable to even draw breath as she forced herself to exceed the fastest she'd ever run before. Doesn't matter, can make it five more seconds without air. As if responding to her thought, the timer blinked down once again.

Iris tore her gaze away from the digital display on the top of the bomb she carried, forcing herself to watch her surroundings instead for anything that she would need to avoid in her desperate sprint to her destination. It was not as straight a shot as she'd hoped, but the speedster forced herself to turn sharply so as not to overrun and be forced to lose time backtracking. The blonde girl felt something like a tearing sensation in her legs, and new points of pain blossomed up, but she pushed them aside harshly with the experience she'd gained training in the HCP. If Ames can punch a missile, I can fucking go for a mile run.” The sudden extra voice in her head almost caused the speedster to tumble as her multiple injuries could not.


Wha... happ...ening? Sonic boom... bleachers are fal...ling over?”

Iris felt tears forming in her eyes, though with the wind blasting in her face the moisture had no outlet. Figures you'd finally catch up to my brain NOW of all times. Iris forced her vision to focus ahead of her and saw her objective, just a brief straight run away. In the periphery of her vision, she saw the timer blink down to '1.'

Iris? Oh my god... BOMB?” The speedster felt an odd surge of pride as the telepath grew more adept at keeping up with her heightened perception speed with each passing moment.

It was under the bleachers, I found it when I went looking for the phone. Iris realized something wasn't quite right anymore, she wasn't closing on the culvert as fast as she should be. She pushed as hard as she could, but her legs simply couldn't give her quite the same speed they had before.

Iris! It says ONE on the timer! You have to get away from it now!” The mental voice of her friend was growing frantic, and Iris tried to make her thought sound reassuring.

I have to get it into the culvert, out of the open where the blast will be contained. There's chemicals on it Cat, and I don't know what they do. She was almost there, so close to her destination. And she saw as the timer blinked to '0.'

Do me a favor, Cat? Iris forced a smile onto her face as she felt a burning sensation starting to build in her arms and chest. Her feet left the ground and the speedster dove for the culvert opening, still moving at nearly the speed of sound. Tell my dad I love him, and I'm sorry. Tell my little sister I'm sorry she never got to see me go out and become a Hero. And thanks for not letting me be alone at the end. With that thought, Iris let go of her ironwilled grip on her accelerated perception, and time resumed its normal pace as the blonde crashed into the water with incredible force.