… EPISODE 26….
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
From the hill overlooking the entrance to the bunker, you’d think it’s an overprotected root cellar with a really big door. There isn’t even a paved road in. Just the door, the fence, and a small team of guards. Gaining access looks easy, but I know it won’t be.
And once we get inside, it will only get worse.
“Guys, come on,” Riley whines. “I can help. I can fly, you know.”
He starts to float, and Nitro grabs him by the ankles and yanks him back to the ground.
“No way, golden boy,” Draven says. “Just because you say you’ve had a change of heart doesn’t mean you’ve earned any trust.” Riley turns to me. “Kenna?”
“Sorry, Riley,” I say. “The team voted.”
I don’t tell him it was unanimous. Whether or not I believe his good intentions, I can’t take the chance that I’m wrong. Too much is at stake. All it would take is one call, one signal. One mistake. Deacon’s and maybe my mother’s lives hang in the balance.
Dante walks toward Riley with the roll of duct tape in his hand and a satisfied grin on his face.
Riley blanches. “Come on, is that really—”
His words are cut off as Dante smacks a strip of tape across Riley’s mouth. Draven yanks a pair of zip ties tight around Riley’s wrists, and they heft him into the back of the SUV, securing him to one of the tie-down points in the floor. Riley isn’t going anywhere.
He looks like a prized pig, trussed up for dinner…in Superman pajamas. Before he shuts the door, Draven snaps a quick pic on his phone. “This one’s going on my wall.”
“That’s the relay box,” Jeremy says, gazing through a pair of high-tech binoculars, which obscure half his face.
He really does have one of everything in his backpack.
I follow his pointed finger. Just inside the fence that protects the entrance is a big, gray metal box in the side of the mountain. It looks like the fuse box in my garage, only about fifty times bigger.
“We all clear on the plan?” Draven asks, pocketing his phone.
Dante cracks his neck. “Let’s show these heroes what a team of villains can do.” “Villains and heroes,” Jeremy corrects.
Dante rolls his eyes but nods in agreement. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this cooperation is new to all of us.
Draven moves in front of me. His face is dark and haunted. It’s the same look I’ve caught glimpses of numerous times in the past few days. It’s the real him. The guy beneath the cocky, badass façade.
The girl inside me, the one who is falling for him despite all the reasons she knows she shouldn’t, melts.
“Kenna, if anything goes wrong in there—”
“It won’t,” I interrupt. My spine stiffens. “We’re going to get Deacon back and find my mom.”
His gaze doesn’t waver. “But if we don’t, if something goes wrong—” “Don’t.” I press a finger to his lips. My best friend already threw herself on her sword for me today. I can’t take the self-sacrificing thing from him too. Not when we’re so close to rescuing Deacon and my mom. We need to stay positive.
He kisses my palm and gently pulls my hand away. Then he steps closer. There is barely any space between us now, his mouth a bare inch from mine.
He cups my face in his hands and pulls me even closer as his thumb strokes along my jaw. And then he kisses me. It’s dark and sweet, edgy and soft, desperate and soothing. It’s filled with secrets…and promises. And I want it to go on forever.
I tilt my head, open my lips on a gasp. Wait for him to take the kiss—to take us— deeper. Instead, he pulls away. He’s so close that I can still feel his heart beating fast and frantic against my own. Can still feel his breath mingling, harsh and broken, with my own.
I move to kiss him again, but he stops me before I can do much more than slide my lips across his. “I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect you,” he murmurs. “That’s good.” I force my voice to stay steady when every part of me is shaky. Shaking. “Because I’ll do the same to protect you.”
He reaches out to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. “Kenna, that’s not what I want. I—” Whatever he was going to say falls away when his gaze shifts to below my ear.
“What?” I put my hand to my neck, certain it must be bleeding or worse.
He pulls my fingers out of the way. “Kenna…” He looks at me and hesitates. “Your mark. It’s…”
The realization hits me hard. My mark. The symbol that brands me as someone with powers has finally appeared. Not beneath the right ear, where a hero mark manifests, but beneath the left.
“H-how is that possible?” I ask.
My dad is a hero—was a hero. One of the most powerful of his generation. A hero. So how can I have the mark of a villain?
“Okay, guys,” Jeremy calls out. “I’m ready.”
I bite my lip, trying to hold in all of my questions, and shake my head. “Not now,” I whisper to Draven. He nods. He looks almost as freaked out as I feel. But there will be time for that when everyone is safe. I can scream and shout and destroy everything around me later. Right now we have a job to do. We have villains to save and my mom to find.
Answers can wait.
Now, we attack.
I take a deep breath. “Let’s go.”
• • •
Jeremy and I climb around to get as close to the relay box as we can without setting off alarms.
“What if I can’t do it?” I whisper, hoping the soft confession won’t carry over the earbuds. This brand-new power thrumming under my skin is like a long-caged beast ready to escape. Just because I can mess with a radio and make electronics go fritzy doesn’t mean I have any real control.
Jeremy pulls me to a stop and gives me a look that says he knows exactly what I’m thinking.
“You will.” Jeremy takes my hand in preparation for melding our powers. “We will.”
I believe him. We might not have made the best couple, but we’ve always made a good team. Better even now, with romance off the table.
“I know you’re scared, but you have to trust me.” He squeezes our palms more tightly together. “I won’t let you lose control.”
I give myself a mental shake. Everyone else believes in me. Now it’s my turn. “Okay,” I say. “Let’s go.”
“Close your eyes,” Jeremy tells me, and I comply. “You’re going to feel my power tugging at yours.”
Almost immediately there is an indescribable pressure. It feels like I’m on a starship in one of Jeremy’s favorite sci-fi movies, speeding through the universe faster than the speed of light. Bright colors streak across my mind. Like I’m inside a computer, a video game.
“Where are you?” Jeremy muses, and I know he’s not talking to me.
We fly past a rectangular object. “Ah yes,” he says with a smile. “There you are, my pretty.”
Jeremy pulls our joined energy back to the rectangle.
“This is it, Kenna.” His grip on my hand tightens. “Just focus your energy like we practiced.”
I take in a deep breath and let it out slowly. With every ounce of concentration I’ve got, I try to send a pulse of power at the rectangle. Nothing happens. “You can do it,” he encourages.
“You’ve got this, Kenna,” Draven’s voice says in my ear. “Just imagine it’s Rex Malone’s face.”
I laugh a little and try to conjure up that picture. Then I imagine blowing him to bits with every last drop of newfound power I’ve got.
The rectangle explodes in a shower of sparks.
“That’s it!” Jeremy shouts. “Okay, V team, we are go for entry.” I open my eyes. “V team?”
He shrugs. “I’m still working on it.”
We run for the gate. By the time we get there, the guards are unconscious on the ground. Dante and Nitro’s combined powers send the massive, supposedly impenetrable—but not to a pair of powerful and powerfully motivated villains— door flying off into the mountains.
It’s now a race against time. We may have blown our way into the building, but the alarms are already squealing.
Jeremy takes my hand and I feel his power guide mine to another hidden security system within the bunker. When he gives me a squeeze, I pulse my power and the alarm goes silent. I’m getting the hang of this.
“That won’t last for long,” he says. “This system has redundancy after redundancy.”
As we pass the unconscious guards on our way through the blown-off door, I snatch bright white ID badges from two of the guards’ belts. Then we’re inside. We sprint through the entrance hall to the first fork.
“Here’s where we split up,” Jeremy says.
“Take this.” I shove a security badge into his hand. “And don’t forget to find out where they have my mom.”
“Left turns all the way,” he reminds me, and then takes off for the security office as the rest of us head into the labyrinth that we hope will lead to Deacon.
Until Jeremy takes control of the internal security system, it’s up to me to keep us off the heroes’ radar. It takes all of my concentration to create an electromagnetic bubble around us so we’re invisible to the cameras and motion sensors.
We wind through corridor after corridor, moving ever deeper into the mountain. I’m not a huge fan of caves. I don’t even want to think about how much rock and stone is above and around us right now.
We pass door after door, hallway after hallway. Around every corner I expect to run into guards, the Ray-Ban brigade, or maybe even Mr. Malone himself. But there’s no one here.
I can’t help feeling relieved. My power must actually be keeping us off the sensors.
Then we round one more corner and I crash dead on into another body. Like a cartoon pile-up, no one behind me can stop in time, sending me tumbling forward into the other person.
Draven grabs me by the shoulders, yanking me back to my feet.
He leans down, like he’s ready to do his mind trick on the person on the floor.
Before he does, I get a look at our crash victim.
“You know this guy?” Draven asks.
I feel the villains at my back, like a shield of protection. As if the balding, old scientist is a threat.
“I do.” I reach down to help Dr. Harwood to his feet. I ask him, “Are you okay?” His eyes are a little wild as he dusts off his lab coat. “You shouldn’t be here.” “I—” I open my mouth, start to explain. Dr. Harwood is one of the good guys, one of the real good guys. If he knew what was going on here, he would help us. Would try to stop it. I know he would.
But before I can get out another word, he interrupts. “I’ve been trying to reach you.” He glances around nervously, then whispers, “I know where your mother is.” “You do?” I feel Draven’s hand on my back.
Dr. Harwood turns around, startled. “There isn’t time now. I will email you what I know.”
“You have no idea how much I—”
Before I can thank him, he grabs my hands in his. “And when you find her, tell her—” He leans in close. “This is important. You must remember exactly.”
I nod, totally confused, but he seems to need the confirmation.
“Tell her,” he whispers, “the scarlet phoenix flies at dawn.”
I blink. That’s the same weird message he’d texted to my mom’s phone. “What does that—?”
Dr. Harwood backs away. “I must go. Tell her,” he says, then turns and rushes down the hall. He calls back over his shoulder, “Tell her.”
I look from Draven to Dante to Nitro. Each of them seems just as confused as I am. What the hell did that mean?
“That guy is bonkers,” Nitro says.
“Ya think?” Dante replies.
“What do you think—?” Draven starts to ask.
I shake my head. Now isn’t the time. My mom isn’t here, but Deacon is. We’ll get him out, and then we can worry about Dr. Harwood’s cryptic message.
We start running again.
“Hey there, Team Hillain,” Jeremy’s voice echoes in our ears. “The security
system is mine.”
“Hillain?” Nitro snorts.
“Yeah, it’s a mash-up of hero and villain,” Jeremy explains.
“We get it,” Dante says. “It sucks.”
I laugh despite myself. “Vero?”
“Well, what would you call us, smarty-pants?”
“Team Stop-screwing-around-and-tell-us-if-we’re-close,” Draven snaps as we speed around another corner.
Jeremy clears his throat nervously. “Yeah, you’re—oh shit!” My relief goes up in smoke.
“What?” I demand.
“Nothing, they’re just—hold on.” A strange scraping sound screeches through the earbuds and then Jeremy is back. “Okay, that should hold them off. You’re three turns from the holding area. There’s a secure door in the way.” He hums for a second. “Well, there was. You can thank me later.”
Sure enough, we race around the third turn and find ourselves face-to-face with a reinforced glass door. Looks like the indestructible plastic Dr. Valik developed a couple years ago. It really is a masterpiece. And if it wasn’t the only thing between us and rescuing Deacon, I would love to take a moment to admire its practical application.
There is a keypad on the wall next to the door.
“The light is red, Jer,” I say.
I know before I try the door that it’s going to be locked. Without the access code, the security badge won’t help. I try it anyway. No luck.
I send a pulse of power at it, but nothing happens. I close my eyes, start to send a second pulse, but before I can, Jeremy squawks, “Don’t, Kenna! Whatever you’re doing just made you visible to the sensors. Focus on holding the electro-shield.” “No worries.” Nitro holds out his hands. “I can take care of this.” “No!” I dive for him an instant too late.
His dark orange fireball hits the door and ricochets. We both slam into the wall.
The fireball barely misses us as it bounces down the hall.
Nitro grins at me sheepishly. “Thanks.”
“Thank me later.”
“Come on, geek boy,” Draven teases. “I thought you owned the system.”
“I do. I just—oh wait, I see.” The sound of rapid clicks transmits over the earbuds. The keypad light turns green. We’re already piling through the door when Jeremy says, “Try it now.”
“We’re in,” I tell him, and then words escape me.
We’d been too focused on the door itself to look inside, but now that we’re here, the holding area is not at all what I expected. I’d pictured something like a city jail, cells with steel bars and stainless toilets.
This is more like a hospital ward. The room is the size of a football field, with several rows of metal beds, tables really, running down the middle. The wall on one side is decorated with an array of hand and ankle cuffs hanging from the wall. The handcuffs are positioned about six feet off the ground and the ankle cuffs at least three feet apart. Anyone chained to the wall would be spread-eagle and helpless.
I don’t let myself imagine what this space would look like if it were at full capacity. Thankfully, today, the tables and the cuffs are all empty.
The other wall is a series of cells, like something out of a futuristic quarantine area. The doors are made of the same indestructible plastic as the one that deflected Nitro’s best weapon.
The guys take off, looking for prisoners. The first few cells are vacant, and as clean and sterile as the rest of the room. The fifth cell down is occupied. Not by Deacon, but by an older woman, probably my mom’s age, with fiery red hair. She jumps to her feet and pounds on the door. It looks like she’s shouting at the top of her lungs, but the door is soundproof. I try to tell her that we’ll be back. From the frantic look she’s giving me, I’m not sure she understands.
I pass more unoccupied cells, then reach one that contains a young boy, no more than seven or eight, who is huddled in the corner, “Jeremy, we need to get these cells open now.”
“I can’t,” he replies.
“Not good enough,” Draven growls. “Try harder.”
“It’s not a matter of trying harder,” Jeremy explains. “There’s no external access. It’s a completely closed system. The release mechanism must be somewhere down there.”
“What am I looking for?” I ask.
“It could be any kind of panel,” he begins. “Keypad, card reader, biometric—oh shit. They’re in. I’ll meet you guys down there.”
I wince at the sound of an explosion and shouting, followed by Jeremy panting as he presumably flees the security room.
Dante has pulled ahead of Draven and Nitro. About halfway down the room he yells.
“Deacon!” He pounds against the glass.
The guys are at his side in a flash. I force myself to remain calm, to think clearly.
Work the problem, Kenna.
I start looking for the access panel. Something, anything that looks like it might make these doors open. As I loop back to the first occupied cell, the redheaded woman gestures wildly. She’s pointing between her cell and the next. I move closer to examine the wall. There is an area, about four inches square, that has a more iridescent quality than the rest of the plastic.
I glance at the woman and she nods vigorously. She forms a rectangle with her fingers. A rectangle the size of a security badge.
I fumble in my pocket to pull out the stolen badge and then swipe it over the iridescent area. The whole front wall of her cell slides up.
“I’ve got it!” I shout. I turn to the woman. “Are you okay?” “I’ll be fine,” she insists, waving me away. “Go. Open the rest.”
I run, flicking the badge over the scanners on each cell, the woman following fast on my heels. When I pass a cell with a small, limp body collapsed on the floor, the woman steps inside. I keep going.
Seven occupied cells in all, and Deacon’s is the last. The guys are still beating on the door when I swipe the card. I’m overcome with emotion—pride, relief, joy—as Dante drops to his knees and cradles the moaning Deacon in his arms. Draven gives me a tight nod. No matter what happens from here on out, at least the twins have been reunited. At least we’ve done that much.
The rest of the cells are empty, and we’ve all congregated around Deacon when Jeremy bursts into the room.
“Half the hero army is on my ass!” he yells, waving a tablet he swiped from the security office. “They were hiding themselves, just like we were, so I wouldn’t know they were here. They must have known we were coming. We’ve got maybe sixty seconds before we’re trapped.”
I look wildly around the room. There is no other way out. If they catch us in here, we’re never leaving.