… EPISODE 20…
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
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“Holy shit.” Nitro presses his forehead to the van window. “They leveled it.” “Keep moving,” Jeremy instructs. “If they destroyed this location, it’s likely that they’ll have surveillance in place.”
Draven squeals away. No one says a word as he drives on, presumably heading for another safe house. This one is razed too, as are the next six. The entire villain network has been compromised.
“They’re gone,” Dante keeps repeating. “They’re all gone. The public records are clean. There was nothing to trace those properties back to us.”
“How could they know?” Nitro demands. “Only villains knew about the safe houses.”
“How many villains have they taken over the last few weeks? How many have they tortured? Is it such a stretch to think that some of them broke under the pain?” Draven’s voice is aching. It rips my heart to shreds. “Was anyone—?” I can’t finish the question.
“No,” Dante replies. “They should have been empty.” “We only use them as a last resort,” Nitro adds.
Draven slams both fists against the van’s steering wheel, lost in his rage and helplessness. I want to help him find his way out, but I don’t know how.
Nobody says anything as Draven pulls into the shadowy corner of a grocery-store parking lot.
“They’ve declared war.” Draven pulls out his phone and tries calling his uncle again. Dante and Nitro are both texting people like crazy too. Desperate to find out if the empty safe houses are the only places that have been hit.
I wish I could do something, but I have no one to call. There’s no one I can trust who isn’t already in this van. But what scares me most is that the friends Dante and Nitro are calling and texting aren’t answering.
I know it’s crazy, but I try calling my house. Maybe if I wish for it enough, Mom will be home and fine. As I pull out my phone to dial, the screen flickers, then goes dark.
Stupid battery. I reach into the center console and pull Mom’s cell phone off the charger. There’s a notice on her lock screen. Two missed calls and three text messages from Dr. Harwood.
Did Kenna reach you? She sounded worried.
Where are you?
The scarlet phoenix flies at dawn.
What the hell? Dr. Harwood has always been a bit odd, but that last text is beyond weird. I don’t have the time or energy to wonder at his cryptic message.
I swipe my finger across the screen so I can call home, but despite the full charge, Mom’s phone flickers and goes dead too.
Jeremy’s computer starts beeping. He enters a few keystrokes and curses.
“What?” I ask nervously.
“They put out an APB.” He looks up at Rebel, his face white. “Wait, no, it’s more than that. Your father has issued a new directive.”
Rebel scowls and grabs the laptop out of his hands. She reads the memo on Jeremy’s computer.
“‘Tier Red Protocol in Effect: All members of SHPD and ESF are hereby called to active duty. Report to headquarters for assignment. Use highest levels of caution. Villains to be approached with utmost prejudice.’” “ESF?” Dante asks.
Jeremy explains, “Elite Superhero Force. They’re like the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and police SWAT team all rolled into one.” Draven’s hand clenches into a fist.
That’s great. That’s just…great.
“‘Pursuit of the villains and traitors who compromised the ESH Labs facility tonight must be unrelenting,’” Rebel continues reading. “‘They are to be found and apprehended at any cost.’”
A shiver of fear skitters down my spine.
“Among the wanted are three known offenders—villains Dante Cole, Draven Cole, and Nitro Willoughby. Also on the run are villain sympathizers Kenna Swift and Rebel Malone. All are to be treated with extreme prejudice under assumption of deadly intent. All League resources will be dedicated to this manhunt until further notice. “
Rebel chokes on a sob. I reach for her hand and for something to say, but there’s nothing I can tell her that will make this better. I mean, it’s one thing to know that your dad is a genocidal asshole, but it’s another to know he’s sending elite forces to apprehend, his own daughter.
I’m still searching for the right words when the computer emits an ear-splitting beep in a sequence that sounds like old-school Morse code.
Jeremy grabs for his laptop. “No!” he shouts, typing furiously. “No, no, no.” “What?” At this point I’m afraid to hear the answer.
“Come on, baby,” Jeremy says to his computer, “don’t do this to me. Don’t— shit!”
The laptop lets out one last beep, then goes black. Smoke puffs out from the vent in the back.
“That doesn’t look good, mate,” Nitro says.
“Thanks, Admiral Obvious. They just burned my laptop.” “They can do that?” Dante asks.
“They can if they send enough malicious packets to overwhelm my hard drive while disabling the cooling system at the same time.” He slams the lid shut and throws the laptop carelessly into the back of the van. “Irreparable. They must have found my bug. There’s no other reason to come after me so hard.” “So where does that leave us?” I ask.
“Screwed,” Draven and Rebel say at the same time.
“Not entirely,” Jeremy says. “They can’t have found my rootkit, not this fast, which means it’s still scanning for details about the secret location.” “But can you access the program?” My stomach clenches.
He smiles grimly. “All I need is a secure Internet portal and a computer that doesn’t suck.”
“We’ll find you one,” Draven promises.
“First we need to ditch the van,” Dante says.
“For sure,” Nitro agrees. “They’ll be looking for it.”
“And they’ll be able to access the city closed-circuit cameras to find it,” Jeremy adds.
“If they can access cameras,” I say, “then can they see us? Wherever we go?” He nods ominously.
We sit in stunned silence for several moments as we try to assimilate our new identities as public enemies number one. This must be what Draven, Dante, and Nitro feel like all the time. It’s a terrifying sensation that will turn me into a whimpering mess if I dwell on it too much.
So I focus on the most immediate problem. The superheroes are searching for us and we need to get to safety. The only problem? How are we supposed to do that when every law enforcement agency in the state has our names and descriptions?
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” I say. “I’m going to run into this store and get whatever I can find to disguise our appearances.”
“No,” Jeremy interrupts before I can reach for the door handle. “I should go. I wasn’t on the APB list, probably because I wasn’t caught on camera tonight.” “But your ankle…”
He gives me a cocky smile. “I’ll manage.” He pulls out his wallet and checks the contents. “I’ve got twenty-four bucks. Anyone else have cash? No way am I paying with credit.”
We all empty our pockets. After two days of living off the radar, it’s amazing we have anything left, but Jeremy ends up with close to eighty dollars. We watch nervously as he limps across the parking lot toward the twenty-four-hour entrance.
I swear I don’t breathe until he limps out several minutes later with a shopping tote in each hand.
When he gets back to the van, Dante and Draven help him inside while Rebel and I grab the totes. Inside are stacks of baseball caps, a few University of Colorado tees and hoodies, and half a dozen pairs of sunglasses.
Nitro holds up the shades. “Seriously?”
“Facial recognition, man,” Jeremy retorts. “And it’s not like eighty bucks was going to buy you Ray-Bans.”
We divide up the goods. The guys pull on the shirts and hoodies, while Rebel and I hide our hair under the caps. When we’re as disguised as we’re going to get, we look around at each other.
“Now what?” Jeremy asks.
“Where can we go?” Rebel adjusts her cap.
“We could find a motel,” I suggest.
“Security cameras,” Jeremy says. “Even if we pay with cash, again, facial recognition. The software will flag the five of you in seconds.”
We sit in silence. Where can we go? We need to rest. We need to get Jeremy back online. And we need to figure out what to do next.
Reb shakes her head, like she doesn’t want to say it. “I have an idea.”
“We’re all ears, babe,” Dante tells her as he rubs a hand up and down her spine. “It’s a crazy idea,” she explains, “but it would be the last place they would ever look. We should go,” she says, wincing as she does, “to my brother Riley’s.” To say you could have heard a pin drop in the van would be an understatement. Riley Malone, son and egotistical heir of the Malone family. The guy who takes the job of being a superhero way too literally. The guy who wears a freaking cape to the office.
Oh yeah, we should totally stay with him.