…. EPISODE 47…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
Quake lives in a quonset hut east of downtown Boulder, just a few blocks from the Lair, the nightclub he and Nitro own. From the outside, his place looks like an abandoned warehouse, covered in rust, surrounded by weeds, and with a huge hangar door on the end that looks like it hasn’t been opened in decades. The driveway is cracked and jagged, broken concrete jutting up in all different directions. As if it’s been in an earthquake.
And maybe it has.
Whatever’s happened to it, everything about this place says stay away.
Which is why my heart is pounding as Nitro leads us to the side door and rings the bell.
“He’s probably still asleep,” Nitro says. “He’s always the last one to leave the club at night.”
Wow, that makes me feel so much better. By all means, let’s wake up the exhausted supervillain.
I know my fear is unfair, that Quake is on our side. He teamed up with Draven and Nitro to bring down the hero bunker at Lima Whiskey, and—according to the guys—he’s way more gentle giant than cold-blooded killer.
Still, it’s hard to shake a decade of brainwashing. It’s like facing down the bogeyman. As much as I tell myself Quake’s reputation is an exaggeration, I can’t stop my body from entering panic mode at the thought of him.
Nitro rings the bell again. There are still no signs of life inside. Hell, there are no
signs of life outside. Anyone passing by would think this place is totally
Maybe it is.
Jeremy points out a security camera well-hidden above the door. “Someone doesn’t want surprise guests.”
“Are you sure this is the right hut?” I ask Nitro.
Draven gestures at the other, similarly dilapidated buildings on this block. “They do all kind of look alike.”
“I’m sure,” Nitro says with a growl.
I have a feeling that one day Nitro is going to get fed up and blow all of us to smithereens. I probably wouldn’t blame him. He does take the brunt of a lot of teasing.
Only Riley seems to always have his back. If that’s not the irony of the century, I’m not sure what is.
Besides, who would have thought that Nitro, one of the most feared and dangerous of all the villains, would be such a…harmless goofball?
Remembering that gives my Quake fears a big punch in the gut. lf all the fearmongering about Nitro was way off base, maybe the stories about Quake are too.
Hell, if the hero reports are to be believed, now I’m one of the most dangerous villains to ever live.
Then again, when it comes to Rex Malone, maybe I am.
As Nitro pounds his forearm against the door, I find myself relaxing with the promise that Quake is just a big, old teddy bear. Maybe he’ll even invite us in for a cup of tea or hot co—
Suddenly, the door bursts open, sending Nitro stumbling into Riley with the force of the swing.
“Do you know what time it is?” a male voice roars as one of the largest men I’ve ever seen fills the open doorway.
Now, I’ve seen Quake before, but always from a distance. Seeing his imposing form up close and personal, coupled with the menacing scowl on his face, sends my heart rate right back to pre-self-reassurance levels. The guy is huge. And looks like he eats mountains for breakfast. Which, according to the reports, he does. That thought, more than anything, straightens my spine. I will not succumb to the paranoia. I will not be the unwitting pawn of Rex’s schemes and smear campaigns. I will, however, keep at least one other villain between Quake and me. I inch closer to Draven’s side.
“Time to make our play,” Nitro tells his brother. Quake squints at him. “Are you being funny?” Somehow the British accent makes him less intimidating. “No,” Nitro says. “We’re getting real.”
“All right.” Quake straightens up to his full height of six-foot-something. “I’ll get me keys.”
“Actually…” Now Nitro looks nervous.
I’d be nervous too if I were about to tell someone as huge as Quake that we don’t need him to come along, we need him to babysit. Nitro swallows hard.
I take pity on him.
“Actually,” I say, stepping in, “we have an important job for you to do right here from home.”
Quake spears me with a burning glare. It’s kind of a miracle that I don’t pass out on the spot.
“You’re Kenna, right?” he asks, like he’s not sure if he likes me or not.
That’s fine. He doesn’t have to like me. He just has to trust me—or at least trust his friends enough that his trust splashes over onto me.
“Yes. I’m Kenna Swift.”
He looks me up and down, then runs his gaze over the rest of us gathered on his doorstep—well, not so much a step as a worn spot in the dirt. When he sees Mrs. Malone, unconscious and cradled in Riley’s arms, Quake’s frown deepens.
I notice Riley wince, but he doesn’t say anything to defend his mom. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
“That’s the job we’re talking about,” Draven tells him. “We need someone we can trust to watch her—”
“Huh-uh,” Quake says, shaking his head and starting to close the door. “No way. One run-in with her in a dark alley is enough. I’d rather keep my bollocks out of the freezer.”
“She’s harmless,” I start to explain.
“Harmless?” Quake looms over me. “Tell that to Mickey Lee. Spent a week as an ice cube, thanks to her. Literally, one week in a massive block of ice. Lost half his toes to frostbite.”
“What I mean is,” I continue with a chiding tone, “that we can make it so her powers can’t hurt you.”
Assuming he’s willing to take the immunity serum.
Quake stares at me. Still uncertain of me.
“Look, can we come inside?” I suggest. “We’ll explain everything.”
After several tense seconds in which I am totally prepared for him to shake the world around me to the ground, Quake steps back and waves us inside.
The interior is nothing like I expected from the exterior. In fact, it’s pristine. Like someone with hospital-quality cleaning standards scoured the entire building from top to bottom. The floor is a gleaming polished concrete; the furnishings are
modern industrial, like something out of an old-school sci-fi movie; and the space is lit by warm overhead lighting.
It’s all completely at odds with the worn-out look outside. But it’s all so calming that I immediately feel my tension easing.
We follow Quake past the kitchen area to a massive farmer’s table that could easily seat twenty. Quake takes the seat at the head of the table, and everyone else fills in around him.
I sink into the chair gratefully, my hand finding Draven’s under the table. This feels like the first truly relaxed moment we’ve had since the cabin blew up. Or, more precisely, since Rex blew up the cabin. Since then we’ve been on the run, hiding, sneaking around, fearing for our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
Always trying to stay one step ahead of the hero’s kill squad.
We’re still doing that obviously, but here at Quake’s I feel…safe. Secure. Like nothing can hurt us here. And like we all can take a huge sigh of relief.
Even V seems more at ease than she has since I’ve met her. And she doesn’t seem like the sort to ever relax. Especially considering what she’s just volunteered to do. I allow myself to sink into Draven. For the space of a couple breaths I allow myself to let it all go. To…be.
When I open my eyes, Quake is looking straight at me.
For some reason, my fear is gone. I have no worries.
“You like that, huh?” he asks.
frown at him. “What?”
“The calming sensation.” He braces his massive forearms on the table. “My girlfriend is a serenity inducer. She leaves a trail of it behind even when she isn’t here.”
“She the yoga instructor?” Nitro asks.
“Wow.” The scientist in me is unwittingly fascinated. “I’ve never experienced that power. Is it pheromone based?” I ask.
“Kenna,” Dante says, his voice tinged with impatience as he recognizes my detour. “Can you turn off the science geek for a few minutes?”
“Oh, right!” I say. “Mrs. Malone. The reason we’re here.” The serenity inducement is obviously working a little too well.
After considering several different approaches to bring Quake up to speed, I decide I should probably get straight to the point. “Rex is mind-controlling supers.”
“What, like hypnotism?” he asks.
“No. As far as we can tell, it has to be a superpower. He has to be using someone to do it. We’re just not sure who or what the exact power really is.”
Draven leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Until recently, he’d only been able to control heroes.”
“Well, that explains a lot of what’s wrong in heroland,” Quake says.
“My thoughts exactly,” Nitro agrees.
“But we think he’s finally figured out how to control villains too,” I add. “Which means he’s implementing his endgame.”
Quake runs a hand over his smooth-shaven head. “The amnesty.” I nod. “The amnesty,” I confirm.
He spits out an epithet so nasty I think it’s only legal in England. And then only when your favorite football club loses.
“My thoughts exactly,” Nitro says again.
“So where does this one come in?” Quake nods at Riley. “Isn’t he daddy’s lapdog?”
“Not anymore,” Riley says with an edge to his voice.
Nitro pats Riley’s hand. “He’s with us.”
Quake’s brows hit his hairline, and the two brothers exchange a long look. Then Quake smiles at Riley. “All right then.”
“We need you to watch Mrs. Malone while we carry out the plan,” Dante explains, wrapping his arm around Rebel’s shoulders. “She’s not safe. She could tell her husband we’re coming, and we’d be dead before we got there.”
Rebel reaches up to squeeze Dante’s hand. “My dad won’t hesitate to kill me and Riley. Apparently my mom doesn’t care enough to stop him.”
I glance at the armchair where Riley set his unconscious mother.
If she were awake, would Mrs. Malone say something to contradict Rebel? As insane as it seems, as much as I can’t imagine that she actually believes in Rex’s philosophies enough to be okay with him killing their children, I’m not so sure. I’ve stopped being surprised by that kind of loyalty. Clearly she’s not the only one in the hero world who believes that Rex’s ends justify his means, that the big picture is more important than a few—or a lot of—lives.
“You want me to play babysitter while you go off and save the super world?” Quake leans back in his chair. “Not bloody likely.”
“It’s the only way,” Nitro says. “Your cover is as blown as the rest of ours— there’s no way Rex will think you want to turn yourself in for amnesty. Better for you to stay here, out of the way, than risk…” “What?” Quake snarls, looking totally unconvinced.
“I already lost Mum and Dad because of Rex Malone. I can’t take a chance on losing you too.”
Quake looks like he’s going to throw up at the sweetness of Nitro’s confession, but he doesn’t protest anymore. Instead, he asks, “What am I supposed to do with her?”
“Just sit on her,” Nitro says with a cocky grin.
“Literally, if necessary,” Riley adds.
Quake nods. “All right. For a while anyway. You said something about making it so her powers won’t work on me?”
I explain how the immunity serum works, leaving out the part where the version my mom made suppressed my own powers. He might be less likely to take it if he thinks it might leave him powerless. At this point I think his safety—and the overall safety of our mission—is worth the cost of a lie of omission.
“It really works?” he asks. “Seriously?”
“As a bloody heart attack,” Nitro replies, then lobs a fireball at Jeremy’s head. “Hey!” Jeremy complains as the fireball dissolves in front of his face. “Was that necessary?”
“All right,” Quake says. “I’m convinced.”
Without preamble, he pushes up his shirtsleeve, revealing an upper arm that is roughly twice as thick as my thigh. Just like that, he’s ready for the shot. I’m a little humbled by his trust. We never spoke before today, and now he’s letting me dose him up with immunity serum. All because he trusts his brother and the Cole boys enough to trust me.
The loyalty that heroes show to Rex is nothing compared to the loyalty I’ve seen villains display. I hate that I was so wrong about them for so long.
My hands shake a little as I prepare the injection, but Quake doesn’t even flinch as I send the serum into his bloodstream.
“I can’t sit around here all day,” he says when I’m done, pushing his sleeve back down. “What do I do with her when I head in to work tonight?” “Put her in the walk-in,” I suggest.
If it could keep Draven and Dante locked up the night Rebel and Jeremy and I broke into ESH Labs, it can keep Mrs. Malone under control for a while. Her power won’t do her any favors through six-inch-thick walls designed to contain cold.
“I like the way you think, Swift,” Quake tells me.
Jeremy gives me a thumbs-up.
“Now if you idiots don’t mind, I need a shower.” Quake pushes to his feet. “You staying long enough for me to do that? Or do I need to handcuff her to my toilet?” “We’ll be here,” Nitro says at the same time Deacon asks, “You have handcuffs?” “Actually,” I venture, emboldened by my new not-fear of Quake and his apparent approval of me, “we’d like to stay for a little while. We need to get our tracking equipment up and running before we begin.”
Quake nods. “Stay as long as you like. Just don’t break anything.” As he walks toward the back of the space, toward a door that probably leads to a bedroom suite, he adds, “And know that the serenity will wear off in a bit.”
Good to know. For now, tempers and tensions are at a minimum, but that won’t last.
It never does when you’ve got nine different personalities trying to fit together like mismatched puzzle pieces.
“What’s the plan, K?” Rebel asks.
I nod to Riley and Nitro. “You guys make sure Mrs. Malone doesn’t wake up. Jeremy and I will get V set up for her infiltration.”
“What about us?” Draven asks, gesturing to his cousins. “We aren’t going to sit around doing nothing.”
“No,” I say. “You’re going to get us more appropriate transportation.” “What’s wrong with the van?” V asks.
“Nothing,” I reply. “But we have no idea where they’ll take you, no clue how far we might have to drive. I’d rather have a car with the best gas mileage around.” “So, hybrids?” Deacon guesses.
I smile. “Exactly.”
“And while we’re at it,” Dante says, “we’ll get provisions for the road. Food, water—”
“Orange soda,” Jeremy pipes in.
Draven shakes his head. “We’ll get what we can.”
“Draven,” I call out as they head for the door. When he turns back, I say, “Be careful.”
He nods, winks at me, and then they’re gone.
“And me?” Rebel asks.
I give her a sympathetic smile. “You’ve been through”—I flick a glance at Mrs. Malone—“a lot in the last couple days. You should get some rest.”
Soon, before the calming effects from Quake’s girlfriend wear off. It might be Rebel’s only chance of getting sleep for quite a while.
“I don’t need rest,” she says defiantly, even as she stifles a yawn.
“Sure you don’t,” I tell her. “But you’ll be a lot more help if you get some.” She reluctantly agrees, letting me lead her over to a couch to lie down.
It’s funny. Rebel and I have kind of gone through reflections of each other’s experiences lately. I found out my mom was a better person than I ever imagined; she found out hers is way worse.
For once, I wouldn’t trade places with her for anything.
Jeremy and I set up our station at Quake’s kitchen counter.
“Imported marble.” Jeremy smooths his hand over the countertop. “Very nice.” “Stop screwing around,” V snaps. “Let’s get this started.”
Jeremy looks wounded, but I understand where V is coming from. She’s scared— an emotion she’s not used to dealing with—and rather than to succumb to it, she trying to muscle through.
“Yeah, let’s not waste any time,” I tell Jeremy. “The longer we take, the more villains Rex gets under his control.”
Jeremy starts laying his equipment out on the counter. His laptop—which has miraculously survived every explosion and battle we’ve had to go through—plus an array of gadgets, a bunch of wires, some dime-size devices, and a soldering iron.
He looks like he’s ready to build a robot. Or NASA’s next spaceship.
“This is the tracking device,” he explains, holding up a small silver disk. “I call it the Watchdog.”
“I’m warning you, HB2,” V says, but her voice has a hint of humor.
Jeremy clears his throat. “It looks like and acts like a basic watch battery, but it is so much more.”
He pulls up a screen on his computer. It is a map display, like an old-school eighties-style interface—neon bright colors against black. It shows a satellite view of Colorado, the rectangular outline of the state glowing in blue.
A bright-purple dot blinks over Boulder’s location within the state.
Jeremy taps his trackpad and the map zooms in. First to the amorphous shape of the city of Boulder, then to the gridded streets of downtown, and finally to the block where Quake’s quonset hut sits between an auto parts warehouse and an appliance repair shop.
The purple dot glows in the center of the screen.
“This baby speaks to seven different satellites at once, giving me precision, down-to-the-inch, better-than-the-freaking-NSA location tracking anywhere on the globe.”
V rolls her eyes. “Very impressive, geek boy. You can track me. Any cell phone
can do that.” She leans one elbow on the counter. “But can you keep Rex from
“And any technopath he controls.” Jeremy grins. “Allow me to demonstrate.”
He pulls an ordinary-looking analog watch out of his backpack. He twists the back off, removes the existing battery, and replaces it with his tracking device.
When he flips the watch back over, the second hand is ticking away. “See, just an ordinary watch.”
“Rex isn’t going to pat me down,” V argues. “He’ll have technopaths scanning every inch of me.”
“This is a technoscope.” Jeremy picks up one of his gadgets. “It mimics, to ninety-nine-percent accuracy, the scanning powers of a technopath, such as myself.”
He pushes a button on the side, and the gadget starts beeping.
“With the tracking device engaged,” Jeremy says, waving the technoscope over the watch, “the signal is easily detected.”
The gadget emits a high-pitched siren.
I slap my hands over my ears. V just glares at him.
“But,” he says, leaning out of reach when she tries to punch him in the arm, “with the tracker turned off”—he presses against the winding dial on the side of the watch—“it becomes invisible.”
This time, when he swipes the technoscope over the watch, it doesn’t make a sound.
“You’re sure?” I ask.
“Positive,” Jeremy promises. “Just push the dial when you’re being actively scanned. No one will ever know.”
“How will I know when I’m being scanned?” V asks.
Jeremy grins. “I’m glad you asked. This”—he picks up what looks like a pack of chewing gum and pulls out a stick—“is my other masterpiece. Here, try a piece.” “You have got to be—”
“Trust me.” Jeremy holds out the stick. “Just try.”
V reluctantly opens the gum, tears off half, and pops it in her mouth. She hands me the other half.
When we’re busy chewing, Jeremy raises his hands and waves them over us.
“Feeling anything?” he asks.
I shake my head. “Nothing.”
“Good.” He winks. “Because I wasn’t scanning.” V punches him in the arm.
Jeremy rubs his shoulder with one hand and keeps waving the other over us. “How about now?”
The instant he asks the question, the gum starts vibrating. Not enough to make a sound or probably even be noticeable, but enough to make the small blob feel totally weird.
V spits it out into her palm.
“What the hell?”
“Nanobots,” Jeremy explains. “They react to the ultrasonic frequency of a technopath’s scan.”
“Are they safe?” I ask, dropping my gum in the trash can.
“Absolutely,” Jeremy replies. “But I wouldn’t swallow them. They might cause a
variety of unpleasant side effects.”
“Noted,” V says, tossing out her gum.
Great, we’ve got the tracking part of the plan covered. We’ll be able to follow her wherever Rex takes her, without him being any the wiser. Now we just need to dose V up with the immunity serum, and she’ll be good to go.