…. EPISODE 49…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
I’m careful to keep us at least two miles behind the vehicle we’re tailing. Far enough to be out of sight for even a super with vision powers. The last thing we want is to be spotted and captured—or worse—before we can stop Rex’s mind-control scheme.
As impatient as I am to lay eyes on them, I force myself not to get overly anxious. The purple dot keeps moving on Jeremy’s map until we reach Pueblo. We drive past the gas station where they’ve stopped and then circle back around to the drive-through taco place next door.
They’re in a white van with blackout windows, just like the one in the SHN newscast. The driver gets out to fill the tank, while another guard sits in the front passenger seat, presumably to keep an eye on the passengers.
I can’t help but imagine scenarios to break V free. My power could disable the gas pump, sending the driver inside to pay, while Draven’s knocks out the guard. Rebel and Dante could send the van soaring away from the gas station while Riley flies up to grab our girl. Nitro could blow the whole thing up while Deacon keeps the van safe with a downpour.
Strategizing has become as natural as breathing to me. But for once, I have to put all of the possible chess moves aside. Getting V back isn’t the endgame. Following her to the source is.
“Want me to drive?” Draven asks.
I let my head flop back against the headrest with a groan. “God, yes.”
If I have to stare out on the monotonous stretch of highway for one minute longer, I am going to lose my mind.
When the van pulls away, we take its place at the gas station and fill our tanks.
Just in case. Then we’re following again, farther south with every passing minute.
If I thought driving was bad, I had no idea. At least driving gave me something to think about. But when I’m sitting in the passenger seat with Draven behind the wheel, my mind is free to wander, to imagine what’s happening with V. To wonder what we’re going to find when her purple dot stops for good.
To think about my mom.
I push those thoughts aside as soon as they surface. I can’t afford to let my emotions take over right now—not when so many lives are depending on the success of this plan.
Four hours into our tailing assignment, we cross the border into New Mexico. There isn’t an obvious change, no bright-red stripe on the road to indicate we’ve crossed a state line. Just a yellow sign dotted with red and green chili peppers and yet another long stretch of nothing. A few mountains peek up above the horizon in the distance, but for the most part, the Rockies have dipped out of sight. I lose track of time as the miles roll by.
“They’re turning,” Jeremy says, his voice excited and breaking up the monotony of the highway.
“Where?” I twist in my seat.
Deacon is looking over Jeremy’s shoulder at the display.
“There’s a road off to the right about two miles ahead.” He squints at his computer screen. “It leads to what looks like… This can’t be right.” “What?” Draven and I ask at the same time.
“The satellite image…” Jeremy says, his voice trailing off.
“What?” Draven asks more emphatically. Deacon looks at me. “The image is blank.” “What does that mean?” I ask.
“I don’t understand,” Jeremy says, his fingers flying over the keyboard. “I’m using U.S. government satellites on the highest clearance levels. Nothing should be redacted.”
“Maybe it’s protected,” I suggest.
“Maybe…” Jeremy says. “But that would entail huge amounts of constant power use. No single super could sustain it for long.”
Draven makes a disgusted sound. “Well, we know Rex has countless hero drones available to him. Maybe he’s using all of them…”
“He could literally use them up completely, until they die,” Deacon says with a dark tone, “then toss them aside and get new ones.”
I shudder at the thought. Imagining being under Rex’s control is bad enough, but I hadn’t really considered the extent of the physical control he could have. He could make a mind-controlled super do literally anything…even kill themselves. If that’s not horrifying, I don’t know what is.
But I can’t be overwhelmed by that right now. We have a plan. We have a mission. We have to get this right. If we don’t, the future we’re all afraid of is going to become the present.
“So we have no idea what we’re driving into,” I say, bringing the conversation back to the plan.
“Not a clue,” Jeremy agrees.
“And we’re okay with that?”
Draven stares grimly at the road ahead. “We’ll find out when we get there.”
I face forward, anxiously awaiting what the next turn will bring. “I guess we will.” Jeremy traces the path of the purple dot off the main road and onto a winding one. His tracker is apparently outfitted with an altimeter, because he tells us that the road seems to be winding up a hill or the face of a mountain.
None of us answer him. We’re all too busy worrying about V and our messed-up situation. At least until Jeremy gasps a few minutes later. “Her tracker is off.” My heart stutters in my chest.
“That’s okay,” I force myself to say calmly, though a part of me wants to completely freak out. “We expected that. We expected Rex to scan her again at the destination.”
“I know,” Jeremy says.
I don’t like hearing the anxiety that’s tightening his voice. Jeremy is usually the cheerful, joking, optimistic one. The one who always believes we’re going to succeed in taking down the heroes. I wish I could soothe his fears away.
I reach between the seats to give him my hand and am relieved when he takes it and gives it a quick squeeze.
But then he’s back to speed-typing on his laptop, and the reassuring contact is gone. For both of us.
When we reach the turnoff, we slow down to a snail’s pace and follow the route. I focus my power on keeping any electronic surveillance from spotting us. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about powers-based surveillance. If Rex has a super scanning for power signatures, we’re sitting ducks.
But we’ve got enough trouble to deal with right now. No use borrowing more until we find out if it’s warranted.
“The van stopped over that next rise,” Jeremy tells us, leaning forward between the seats. He points to a spot where the road we’re on disappears. “Wherever they’re taking them is right over that hill.”
Draven steers the little hybrid off the road to the left. The car isn’t really made for this kind of terrain, so it takes every bump hard.
I don’t think any of us feel it. We’re too wrapped up in all the things that can go wrong—or right—with my plan.
My heart is pounding so hard I think it’s going to thump right out of my chest. I’m eager and anxious to see what this mystery facility is.
“Shouldn’t her tracker be back on by now?” Jeremy asks.
“Not necessarily,” I say, trying to be reassuring. “They could be performing an extended scan.”
Draven guides the car farther into the brush. “Or something could be blocking the signal.”
“Yeah,” Deacon says optimistically. “Like the same thing that’s blocking the satellite images.”
“No way,” Jeremy insists. “My tracker is completely unblockable.”
“Then I’m sure she’s just being scanned again.” I make myself sound more certain than I feel, for Jeremy’s sake.
We park both cars in a spot that’s hidden from the road. Dante wind-sweeps our tire tracks so no one will see where we’ve driven, and then we start for the rise on foot. Up the hill, toward the spot where V’s tracker turned off. Over to where the white van stopped. Down to where Rex is mind-controlling villains.
I’m not sure what I expect—something like the shiny facade of the ESH Lab building or an underground bunker like the one at Lima Whiskey. But what sits on the land before us looks more like an abandoned mining operation, all weird metal shapes painted with dust and dotted with lights and wires.
Nitro says, “That’s so…”
“Unimpressive?” Riley finishes.
“Maybe there’s more below the surface,” Rebel says.
I turn to Jeremy. “Can you techno-scan the building, see if you can tell us anything about it?”
Jeremy doesn’t look up from his computer screen. “No.”
It’s not the answer any of us are expecting, and for a second, we just stare at him, nonplussed, until Draven asks, “Can you at least try?”
“No,” Jeremy says, sounding distracted. “I mean, I already tried. I couldn’t scan it. That place is a total black hole for technology. Nothing seems to be working on it at all.”
Deacon shakes his head. “Which must mean technopath protections, right?” “It’s the only explanation that makes sense,” Dante says. “Rex is serious about protecting this dump.”
“V’s tracker should be back on by now,” Jeremy says, his voice tense and more serious than I’ve ever heard it. “Something’s wrong.”
My stomach lurches at the suggestion. Still, I try to keep calm. “We don’t know that.”
“I can feel it in my gut.” Jeremy shakes his head. “I’m going to remote activate.” “Give her time,” Dante says. He places a hand over the laptop keyboard. “Dante’s right,” Riley agrees. “We don’t want to compromise her if she’s still being scanned.”
It’s the right decision, I know it is. But still, my hands are shaking.
The seconds tick by. Then minutes.
Then, just when I’m about to turn to Jeremy and suggest that we’ve waited long enough, his computer beeps.
“Is that her?” I ask, hopeful.
The ghostly look on his face is all the answer I need.
“No,” Jeremy says, and something about his tone sends chills down my spine. “Someone just hijacked my screen.”
“Is that even possible?” I demand. “You’ve got the best technology defenses.” He grimaces as he twists his laptop toward me so I can see the screen.
Rex Malone’s smiling face stares back at me.