…. EPISODE 35…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
“I’m leaving you in charge, HB1,” V says to Riley as we’re getting ready to head out the door. “Do not let any of these idiots step one foot out of this cabin.” “HB1?” he asks.
“Hero Boy 1,” Nitro whispers to him.
“Why does he get to be Hero Boy 1?” Jeremy asks with a whine.
“Because you ask questions like that.”
Jeremy pouts out his lower lip. “I was on the team first.”
V ignores him. “I’m holding you personally responsible,” she says, jabbing a finger into Riley’s chest. “Don’t make me regret trusting you.”
“I won’t,” he says, that naïve look on his face turning sober. “I promise.” Apparently satisfied, V nods and walks away. She must already understand what I’ve known my whole life: Riley thrives on responsibility. Give him a job to do and he will get it done. It’s just who he is.
If anyone will take babysitting the cabin and its occupants seriously while we’re gone, it’s him.
Outside, Jeremy starts for the driver’s door of the car, but V stops him with an arm across the chest.
“What are you doing?”
“Driving?” Jeremy replies.
V laughs. “I don’t think so, HB2.” “B-but, I always drive.” There’s that pouty lip again. “Leave it, geek boy,” Draven says. “V is a control freak.”
“Bite me, Cole.” V grabs the keys from Jeremy’s hand. “Unless someone else here is trained in tactical driving, I’m taking the wheel.”
She leaves a stunned Jeremy, his mouth hanging open, standing in front of the car. “If it makes you feel any better,” Draven says, “Deacon and I gave up on arguing with her years ago.”
“What about Dante?” I ask.
Draven grins. “Let’s just say he likes testing her limits.”
I shake my head and follow him into the backseat of the nondescript sedan that Jeremy secured for missions like this. Missions where we want to get in and out of the ordinary world without being noticed.
We thought the heat was bad after the bunker, but the full-court press Rex and the Collective have put on the media—both superhero and ordinary—is ridiculous. Jeremy had to write some crazy program to log all of the headlines, news alerts, and APBs just so he can keep track of them all. Everyone in a five-hundred-mile radius will be on the lookout for us, so keeping a low profile is a necessity. V starts the car as Jeremy climbs into the passenger seat.
“Does that boy have a death wish?” V asks.
I follow the direction of her gaze to see Riley standing outside the cabin, waving like a fool.
As if V’s instructions hadn’t been crystal clear. Don’t. Leave. The cabin. Then again, Riley has always been on the denser side of the spectrum. “Can I shoot him?” Jeremy asks. “Pretty please?”
He sounds way too excited by the prospect.
V growls but doesn’t say a word. She puts the car in gear and floors the accelerator.
As we speed past, I see Nitro step out of the cabin and drag Riley back inside. Between them and the twins, they should be able to keep the cabin standing for the few short hours that we’ll be gone. Right?
“Are you doing okay?” Draven asks as we pull away.
It’s the first time we’ve left the cabin since my mom was killed. I know it’s barely been half a day, but it feels like a lifetime. I guess time gets a bit skewed when your entire world is pulled out from under you.
He wraps an arm around my shoulders. “Kenna?”
I nod. I mean, obviously I’m not okay. I might never be okay again. But we don’t have time for me to freak out right now, so…
“Yeah,” I answer, my voice cracking on the single syllable.
Jeremy reaches back between the seats. I take his hand and give it a squeeze. We may not have made a great couple, but as friends we’re pretty much perfect.
“So, V,” Jeremy says as she takes the curves at ridiculously fast speeds, “how long have you been Draven’s nanny?”
I crack a half smile at the not-so-subtle attempt to distract me.
Draven punches the back of Jeremy’s seat.
“I mean, did you change his diapers?”
When Draven lunges for my ex, I grab him by the arm and pull him back to my side. “Leave it. V can take care of him.”
Draven settles back in, and I lean into him. Just feeling his solid presence against me keeps the overwhelming sense of devastation at bay. Someday when this is all over, when Rex is dethroned and our world is safe again, I’ll have the luxury of giving in to the bleakness.
For now, I squeeze tighter into Draven’s side and push everything else away.
Being near him, feeling him against me, makes it easier somehow.
V doesn’t even glance Jeremy’s way. She just reaches into the inside pocket of her leather jacket and hands him a lollipop.
“Sweet!” Jeremy says, unwrapping it and popping it his mouth.
“He gets candy?” Draven asks incredulously.
“It’s the closest thing I’ve got to a pacifier,” she answers with a smirk. Draven and I burst out laughing as Jeremy says, “Heeeeey!” I notice he doesn’t get rid of the lollipop though.
“So, V,” Jeremy tries after a few more hair-raising turns, “what do you like to do for fun?”
“I’m a villain. I don’t have fun.”
Draven snickers beside me, and I can’t blame him. Seriously? Is this the best Jeremy’s got? I’m beginning to feel a little embarrassed…for both of us. “But if you did have fun,” Jeremy persists, “what would you do?”
“I don’t know. Take candy from a baby?” She reaches for his lollipop, but he jerks his head away before she can grab the stick.
“Okay, so fun is out. Got it.” He stares out the car window into the foggy night, still sucking on the lollipop. Silence reigns for a few minutes—until inspiration seems to strike yet again.
Jeremy turns to V with a big grin. “So, are you seeing anyone?”
That’s all it takes to send Draven and me into hysterics. I know it’s not fair, but the idea that Jeremy would ever in any possible universe have a chance with someone like V is just funny. Besides the fact that she looks like she could crack his skull with her pinkie finger, she is at least a couple of years older than us and, if I can say so objectively, smoking hot.
I love Jeremy, I do, but smoking-hot older woman isn’t exactly his normal catch.
Reasonably cute science girl his own age is more his dating pool.
Before I can shoot him some snarky comment, V replies, “You applying for the job?”
Draven and I exchange a look. My wide-eyed stare gets a shrug in return. He’s right. Who are we to judge?
“Maybe,” Jeremy says, drawing out the word into several syllables. “If the position’s open.”
“It’s not. I don’t date second-rate hero boys.”
Jeremy leans toward her. “Nothing second-rate about me.”
She shoves him so hard his seat belt can’t keep him from hitting the passenger door with a thud. “You’re going to be seeing my fist if you don’t knock this crap off.”
“Hey, you could have just said no.” Jeremy rubs at the spot on his chest where she hit him.
“V has personal space issues,” Draven explains.
“What I have,” V says, “is stupidity issues. Do lines like that ever actually work for you?”
Jeremy grins. “There’s always a first time.”
V shakes her head. “Sometimes there really isn’t.”
“You gotta give him credit,” Draven whispers in my ear. “The guy’s persistent.” “You have no idea. How do you think we ended up together?”
“Hey! What are you saying about me?” Jeremy demands, twisting around to glare at us over his seat.
“All good things,” I reassure him.
He frowns but faces the front.
“Speaking of stupidity…” V glances in the rearview mirror. “Time for answers, D3.”
“D3?” I ask.
“I’m the youngest,” he explains. “Deacon is oldest, so he’s—” “D1,” I finish. “I get it.”
“Answers, Dray.” V’s voice is laced with warning. “I’m serious. Anton might not have had time for details, but I do.”
Draven gives her a quick rundown of everything that has happened since Deacon went missing. There are some things I didn’t know. Like that Deacon got captured while looking for his missing girlfriend. I never even wondered why or how he got captured.
The other guys were supposed to go with him, but he left without them.
From what I’ve learned about Deacon in the last two weeks, that doesn’t surprise me. He takes his role as oldest brother—and oldest cousin—dead seriously. I can see him not wanting to put the others in danger. Reminds me a bit of myself actually.
“Explain again the part where you blew up Rex’s secret bunker,” V says, “and then decided to hand yourself over to him.”
“It was the only option at the time,” Draven says.
“If you hadn’t ditched me in the first place,” V warns, “then maybe none of this would have happened.”
“Enough,” I say. Partly because I’m defending Draven. And partly because I can’t stand the thought of rehashing everything that’s happened.
Of going back over every moment since I first saw Deacon through that crack in the blinds and my entire world somersaulted into chaos. Into a world in which my mom is gone. In which my dad might not be.
I can’t. I won’t.
Much to my surprise, V takes the hint.
She steers the car around the last curve of the canyon road before we emerge from the foothills. We pull into Fort Collins, and the town is strangely quiet. It’s hugely a college town, so summer is definitely low season. And it’s practically the middle of the night on a Monday, so I guess most people are home in bed.
Still, it’s strange to see the streets so empty. And eerie. But maybe that’s just the dark storm clouds hanging over us, turning the sky from midnight blue to a weirdly ominous violet.
I chose a lab in Fort Collins for purely practical reasons. It’s not much farther from the cabin than either the abandoned ESH Lab or the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, but it’s a lot farther from League HQ, and since none of us have any ties to either Fort Collins or FCU, it’s less likely that the heroes will be
looking for us here. I’m done counting on our luck to get us through. My only comfort now is statistical probability. Our odds are better in Fort Collins than anywhere else in the state. Or at least anywhere within a ninety-minute driving distance.
Plus, Mom took me to a bioengineering conference here once, so I feel like I can find my way around the science buildings.
“Hey, that’s the campus,” I say as V zooms past the main gate.
“Too much human security.” She nods at the manned guardhouse that is stationed at the entrance.
Jeremy leans toward the dashboard. “And the digital security is even worse.” He closes his eyes, like he’s reaching out with his mind. “There are closed-circuit cameras everywhere. Connected to—oh shit, facial recognition.”
He spins around in his seat.
“That is some next-level tech for a college campus.”
“I told you,” I reply. “They have a lot of government research grants.” “Can you take care of it?” Draven asks.
Jeremy smirks. “Are you kidding? It’s already done.”
“We’re still parking off-site. The campus is a tactical nightmare. Too few escape routes. Too many obstacles.”
How does she know that? Did she research the campus when I said that’s where we’d be going? I didn’t think there was time.
I lean close to Draven’s ear and whisper, “What’s V’s power?”
“Echolocation,” he replies in a normal voice. “No point whispering. She can hear everything.”
“So you’re, like, literally bat girl?” Jeremy asks.
V cuts the wheel sharply left, squealing across the street into an almost-empty parking lot. Jeremy slams up against the door.
“How does that work?” I ask.
I’ve heard of echolocation power, but I’ve never actually met anyone with that ability. I don’t know of any heroes who have it.
Maybe it’s only a villain power. There aren’t many powers exclusive to one side or the other, but this could be one.
“I send out an ultrahigh-frequency signal,” she explains. “And when it bounces back, I see an image of what it hit.”
“Like a 3D map in your mind?” Jeremy sounds truly impressed.
It takes a lot to impress him. He’s practically the most jaded guy on the planet after all those years spent hunting conspiracies.
“Something like that.”
V turns into a parking spot and slams on the brakes hard enough to make Jeremy jerk forward in his seat. He’s lucky he’s wearing his seat belt—without it, his head would have hit the dashboard.
“Let’s go,” she says, climbing out of the car without a backward glance. “The longer we’re out in the open, the more vulnerable you are.”
You are. I don’t miss the way she phrases it. She considers herself separate from our group.
Not that I blame her. Why should she get involved with us when half the hero world is out for blood and the other half wants us to fry? Makes it hard to trust her though, no matter what Draven and the other Cole boys say.
Draven doesn’t release my hand as we pile out of the car and start for the campus.
V takes the lead—of course—and Jeremy rushes to catch up with her.
To pretty much everyone’s surprise, she takes his hand.
“Is this your way of telling me you want a date?” Jeremy teases. “Because I’ll have to check my social schedule. I have a lot of girlfriends, and they might be—” “Holding hands,” V interrupts with a voice that could cut through steel, “makes us look less suspicious.”
I stifle a snicker.
Draven laughs so loud that Jeremy shoots him an angry glare.
We turn a corner, and as we do, we pass the front window of a pizza shop that’s closed for the night.
“Oh my God.” I freeze in my tracks, yanking Draven to a stop.
He doesn’t have to finish his question. There, taped up in the front window, is a poster that makes my stomach lurch.
COLORADO’S MOST WANTED
Below it are really awful-looking pictures of us all. The one of me is from my ESH security badge, but they’ve photoshopped it, giving me dark circles under my eyes and a really menacing expression.
The rest of the team’s pictures are just as bad. I have to admit, if I was an average person seeing these images, I’d think Draven, Dante, Deacon, Nitro, Jeremy, and Riley—yes, even Riley—were the most dangerous criminals on the planet. Riley’s transformation is the worst. It takes a lot to make the guy with curly blond hair, shining blue eyes, and a perpetual smile on his face look like a cutthroat drug dealer, but somehow they managed it.
“That’s a Colorado Bureau of Investigation poster,” Jeremy says.
“No shit,” Draven retorts. “We knew Rex was using ordinary police to hunt us down.”
“I know,” Jeremy replies, “but…”
He trails off and shakes his head as he pulls out his phone. A few clicks and keystrokes later, his jaw drops.
“We are wanted for, and I quote, murder, domestic terrorism, and high treason. They have us listed as armed and dangerous. STK.” “What does that mean?” I ask.
V huffs. “Shoot to kill. Keep moving.”
We do, but each step feels a little more ominous than the last.
When we finally make it to campus, I lead us to the lawn around which the various science buildings stand. We need items from several labs, so I quickly divvy up the list. Reading chemical labels doesn’t require any real scientific knowledge, so I don’t need to be there for that.
“Jeremy, you and V go to chemistry and get everything on this list.” I hand V a slip of paper while pointing at the building in question. “There should be a chemical storage vault on the ground floor.”
And Jeremy’s techno-powers will be able to get them in.
“Okay,” Jeremy says. “What about you?”
“Draven and I will get what I need from biology. Then meet us in physics.” I point to the building. “We’ll need help with the heavy stuff.”
Everyone agrees to the plan, and we split up.
I try not to consider how slight the odds are that we’ll get across campus, carrying
a bunch of stolen equipment and a vacuum chamber, without getting caught. One
step at a time. First, we have to get the stuff. Then we’ll worry about how to get it
to the car.