Hellgate and a five-man assault team lay prone in the tall grass outside the power plant’s perimeter. It had not been an enjoyable last few hours. Winter was becoming spring so things were starting to bloom back to life, and that included the mosquito population. Even in his full-body costume, complete with his notorious devil mask the retched little insects still got through to bite him.
<It’s a good thing they’re paying me a small fortune. Son of a…!> He slapped the side of his neck forcefully. It caused more pain than the bite had, but he took a small amount of pleasure in pulling his hand away and seeing the smear of blood.
“How much longer?” The team leader asked.
Technically, the jihadist was leading the team, but Hellgate was in charge. He was the only Super in the mix, with the others being assigned to different teams hitting different targets throughout the city. Seif al-Din was confident Hellgate and five battle-hardened men could take a power plant that was still being rebuilt and re-staffed after its last attack.
“We wait for the signal,” Hellgate replied.
It was the correct answer, even if he felt like strangling his daughter for having him sit out here for hours.
The assault team and all the other men Seif al-Din and Damascus had brought with them were already angry that a woman was the initiator of their holy mission. All the waiting wasn’t helping.
The five jihadists were clad from head to toe in black jumpsuits. Over those were tan body armor stolen from American troops in the Middle East. They all carried AK47s with several more banana-looking magazines of ammunition, and a handful of grenades apiece. They looked ready to bring war to the infidels, but it was the satchels Hellgate was armed with that were the real weapon.
To pass the time, Hellgate pulled the pictures out of his pocket again. There was one picture for each location. Three in total. His mission was simple. He needed to teleport in, drop the charges in their assigned location, and get out. All the satchels were on a timed charge, so he only had a minute to get it all done; which was all the time in the world to someone of his skill level.
All of the bombs were being positioned at strategic locations. Their detonation would destroy the power plant…again. And it would fulfill his first task on his way to a seven digit payday.
“How’s it hangin’ down there?” A new voice whispered in his ear.
Hellgate kept his body language neutral as annoyance crept through him. “Everything is going as planned.” He subvocalized into the throat mike he was wearing underneath his costume.
“What?” asked the jihadist next to him.
“Nothing,” Hellgate whispered back, just clearing my throat.
Armsman laughed in his ear. The legendary supervillain was parked several hundred yards behind them in a nice, comfy building. The window was open so he had a clean line of sight, but sitting way back in the room he didn’t have to worry as much about the budding mosquito population in the area.
His job was simple. Make sure that no one stabbed Hellgate in the back. From his vantage point he had the whole team in his sights.
Hellgate felt something vibrate against his side. He reached into the hidden pocket and pulled out the burner cell. It had a new message. He opened it with a press of the button.
GO was written in bold letters.
“Time to cause trouble.” Hellgate stated for everyone’s benefit.
The jihadists gave a loud battle cry, got to their feet, and charged. The front gate, guarded by two armed men was their target. Sustained gunfire cracked through the air as the five-man assault team pumped a hundred rounds into the guard booth and the two men inside it. Immediately, alarms started to wail throughout the power plant, but Hellgate was already inside.
The first room he appeared in looked like some type of control room. There were three men in white collared shirts and ties sitting at control boards when a burst of flame announced the supervillain’s arrival. They all screamed and tried to outrun the growing flames, but none of them made it.
The fourth man, a security guard, ran toward the new threat. Hellgate grabbed his wrist and forced it upward as the guard tried to level his gun. Then the villain’s fist shot forward three times. A three inch knife extended between his middle and ring finger. The small knife plunged into the guard’s neck three times; each time retracting with a spurt of blood. The last stab hit an artery and the gushing didn’t stop. The guard reached for his throat to stop the bleeding, but he was already as good as dead.
Hellgate planted his foot into the guard’s sternum and kicked him away. Then he disappeared in another flash of fire, leaving the guard and technicians to burn.
The second location was empty, either because people were gone because they were following evacuation protocols, or because no one worked there. Hellgate didn’t even know what the large machinery was, but it looked brand new, so he leaned a satchel up against the biggest thing he could find and teleported to the third and final target.
The last target was outside, and easily recognizable. It was the section of the plant that people always thought about when they thought “power plant”. The transformers were connected to tons of wires that branched outward and away from the plant. Hellgate dropped the last and largest satchel next to a big metal box in the center of the space.
<Ten seconds.> He checked his watch and took a deep breath before teleporting away for this final time.
Ten seconds later the mostly reconstructed power plant exploded; plunging the city of Orlando into darkness yet again.
Seif al-Din sat in the back of a heavily tinted van in a parking lot just outside the local airport. It wasn’t a large airport, and the glory of destroying it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as hitting O’Hare outside Chicago or Jackson-Hartfield in Atlanta. But the longtime freedom fighter knew when he needed to manage his expectations. The security and the Hero teams in those cities were formidable and would mitigate any damage.
Orlando was a different story. It was a smaller town with a single team, a school run by retired fighters, and a target rich environment. This was the type of location he should have thought about hitting long ago. He still wished he could get a team or a bomb into Disney World, but the corporate security force would be on high alert once things started.
<My beautiful Fadeelah. I am coming for you.> The man took a deep breath to control himself.
He was nearly overcome by rage every time he thought of his oldest daughter growing up in the west. He wanted to tear, shred, and kill when he thought of the blasphemies they placed in her head. How they taught her to forsake Allah, to forsake her family, and now to be in a school and training to serve within Great Satan itself. It made him sick to his stomach.
<But today that all changes.> He prayed fervently for this day, and now it was here.
His phone chimed softly, a single text with two letters telling him that it was time for his prayers to be answered.
“Allahu Akbar.” He breathed deep and clasped hands with all of the men in the van with him.
They had undergone the proper ceremonies before departing on their mission. They were all prepared to die today.
Seif al-Din kept his eyes on the airport as he stepped out of the van and around to the back. He helped pull several large crates out. He flipped the clasps and pulled the top off to reveal several RPGs and a handful of Stinger missiles. Then he stood back and watched as his men went to work.
Each man from the van grabbed one of the shoulder launched weapons, lined up, and spaced themselves out to give them the best shot at their targets while avoiding any back-blast from the weapons. People in the parking lot were running and screaming away from the righteous men carrying out the divine will. They kept yelling about calling the cops like it would do any good.
They only had to wait for a few seconds before the lights in the airport flickered and died. Planes on the runways ground to a halt as they lost communication with air-traffic control, and the holy warriors took advantage of that. The man on the far right fired first. The Stinger missile shot out and traveled quickly across the airport. One plane had been in the middle of takeoff when the power went out, but it was already in the air, so it kept going…right up until the missile hit it dead center and shattered it like an egg.
The plane broke apart as its momentum pushed it higher into the air for a few more seconds, and then it came tumbling back down in a dozen different large sections. It hit the ground in a residential neighborhood not far from the airport, and the remaining jet fuel exploded leveling several houses.
Seif didn’t watch any of the following violence. He was more concerned with his other soldiers. An RPG round rocketed across the airfield to strike the first plane in the lineup near the cockpit. This plane didn’t explode and break apart like the last one, but its landing gear did fail and it tipped forward to scrape and twist across the runway until it came to a stop blocking anyone from taking off.
Seif turned his attention to the third man who was aiming at the terminal while the second one reloaded. The second one would work his way through the planes on the runways and at the gates until he was out of ammunition. The third and fourth man would do the same to the terminal, with the express intent of kill as many people as possible. They targeted the areas containing the check-in counters first and then worked out toward the busiest gates. They’d done their research, and figured out the gates with flights that departed soon, which would be filled right before boarding.
The fifth man kept an eye on their surroundings. It was his job to give them as much time as possible to complete their mission. So when the first police cruiser came tearing around the corner with lights and sirens blazing it ate a RPG right in its grill. It exploded, killing the officers instantly, and ended up on its side in a burning pile of steel, rubber, and fuel until the gas tank caught fire and it rocked the area with a second explosion.
Seif al-Din barely noticed the second smaller explosion of fire that announced his ride throughout the chaos.
“Boss.” Hellgate walked up next to him and surveyed the damage.
With the devil mask on the terrorist leader couldn’t see the mercenary’s expression, but his body language revealed the man couldn’t care less.
“We need to move to the staging area.” Seif al-Din stated, but turned away from the Super to look at his men.
They stopped their firing for a second to acknowledge their leader. He gave them all a deep bow and clasped his hands in front of him in the universal sign of prayer.
<You will all feast with virgins tonight my brothers.> He felt the mercenary’s hand on his shoulder and they both vanished in a flash of fire. <Now for stage two.>
Damascus stood in the middle of an open field. A major highway was a hundred yards to his right. The minivan he’d rented was sitting on the shoulder as cars blurred by it at seventy miles an hour. But he didn’t pay attention to any of it.
<It’s so hot.> Unlike the rest of his brothers in arms, he was wearing a golf shirt and silver slacks that matched his hair. <It feels like I’m drowning in hot soup.>
Damascus and his men were used to dry desert heat. Humidity was something entirely new and hated by them. <It is always smoldering in the belly of the beast.> He thought as a Florida Highway Patrol car pulled up behind his van and two officers got out.
One went to look at the van while the other headed over towards Damascus. He noticed how the officer rested his hand on the holster of his pistol. A police officer in his homeland would have already had his weapon out and ready to use.
“Good afternoon, Sir. Can I help you?”
Damascus smiled and adopted an American accent. “Just havin’ some car trouble, Officer. Your help would be much appreciated.”
The officer smiled back and took his hand off his weapon.
“I do need to let you know that I’m going to have to give you a ticket for the windows though.”
Damascus face fell in a well-rehearsed manner.
“Sorry.” The officer shrugged. “We allow tinted windows, but those are blacked out. You can’t see inside at all.”
“Ok,” Damascus sighed theatrically. “You’ve got to do your job, I understand that.”
In his pocket his phone chimed loudly. The officer looked at him, and Damascus held up his hands. “Can I grab that?” He asked.
“Sure.” The officer kept a close eye on the silver-haired super as he pulled the slim phone from his pocket.
“Do you have someone you can call to come and pick you up?” The officer asked as he pulled out his ticket pad. “I’m also going to need to see your license, registration, and proof of insurance.”
“No need officer.” Damascus smiled.
The officer looked confused as Damascus hit the send button on a preprogramed number.
The sound of an explosion and cracking concrete sent the officer spinning toward the highway. The highway for about a few hundred yards in front and behind the van looked like someone had popped a giant bubble. The ground had ballooned out as the buried artillery shells exploded: throwing cars, shrapnel, and concrete into the air.
Brakes shrieked as cars came to a halt up and down the highway.
“What the fuck!” The cop yelled already moving back toward the explosions. “Central, I need everything you’ve got to the eastbound rest area north of State Road 434 now. I need EMS, Fire, more units, we need the fucking National Guard. Fucking bombs just blew up the road!”
Damascus saw the differences between American first responders and American soldiers in the first thirty seconds after the bombs went off. First responders zeroed in on the destruction and went to help in any way they could. American soldiers would have focused on eliminating the threat first. It didn’t even cross the police officer’s mind that Damascus was the one who detonated the bombs.
“Sir, stay here!” The cop yelled over his shoulder at Damascus as he sprinted back towards his patrol car.
“Sure thing, Officer.” He hit a second pre-programed number and his minivan exploded.
The cops never stood a chance, and neither did the cars that had been stopped by the earlier explosions. The first explosions had been to destroy infrastructure. The second had been meant to take lives and create a barrier of dead that would have to be crossed by whoever came down the road. It was a psychological warfare strategy as much as a tactical one.
<And there we go.> He heard more explosions in the distance.
He turned to the south and saw a flaming ball of fire falling out of the air. He couldn’t see it but he knew the power was out across the city, but that wouldn’t be noticeable until dark.
<Now for phase two.> He took a deep breath and pulled.
The fire within him was already there so he drew on it while keeping it bottled up. He was like a rocket ready to explode and lift off. He pulled and pulled and pulled until he felt like he was going to burst. Then he exhaled and exploded.
Silver fire washed over everything. It rolled over the highway, burning cars and cooking off the gas in their tanks. It stampeded over the rest area on the opposite side of the road, causing more chain reactions of explosions. People caught in the open were turned to ash, and those in vehicles were roasted alive. The silver flames kept going beyond that and into the residential neighborhoods to the east and west. It’s initial explosion tapered off after about half a mile, but by then the fire had taken on a life of its own. It continued its rampage through the neighborhoods.
The goal was for it eat away at the area all the way east until it hit Lake Jesup. But it would eat the Spring Hammock Preserve before then and burn down hundreds of homes. To the west, it would get to rampage free after eating homes and breaking into the Wekiva River Buffer Conservation Area. It would grow in intensity and would take a powerful hydrokinetic or a combined interstate force of firefighters to stop it. All of that would drain resources away from the real target.
As Damascus watched it all burn another flare of flame erupted not far away. Seif al-Din and Hellgate appeared. Hellgate’s fire reared up like an angry snake and attacked the silver flames around it. The silver flames replied in-kind and Damascus got to watch a real-life example of fighting fire with fire.
“Good work.” His leader surveyed the destruction with a serene expression. “The other teams report similar success. The city is descending into chaos. And now we must prepare for the counterattack.” He beckoned Damascus closer so Hellgate could grab them both and teleport them to their next location.
All hell was breaking loose back at the Protectorate HQ. Not just in the section occupied by the Hero team and the DVA, but the cops as well.
“We’ve got another call coming in.” An analyst stated. His middle-aged face seemed to have aged five years in the last five minutes.
“Answer it, categorize it, and throw it on the board.” Mr. Morningstar stood like an unflappable pillar in the middle of the storm.
The people in the room drew inspiration from the calm and collected team leader, and that was far more important than any super power right now.
A giant holographic map of Orlando was projected into the center of the room and then color-coded to identify emergency areas. As always, the majority of the map was green, which meant nothing was wrong. A few spots along highways leading in and out of town were amber and red. Amber meaning these were places that needed help, and red meaning everyone’s ass needed to be at that location now.
The problem anyone with a brain was seeing was that there were far too many red zones than there were people to cover them. The small Hero team and the police were trying their best.
“The reports are saying that a group of armed men just stormed the local NBC affiliate and took them over.” The analysts threw another red zone up on the board.
“Get SWAT over there.” Mr. Morningstar was starting to feel the stress even if he didn’t want to admit it and would never show it.
“Sir, they’re fully engaged at the airport. SWAT is pinned down in the parking lot and the gunmen are using human shields. It’s a tactical nightmare. We already have casualties.”
Mr. Morningstar bit down his retort and rethought the plan. “Try and retask a few people when they get freed up. Until then, redirect Galavant some of these interstate hotspots. He can deal with those. Seraphim can take the guys at the airport.”
Currently, the density manipulator was helping move damaged vehicles off the highways, and that seemed to be the best use of him for the moment. It was the first step in getting those roads back open. Step two was getting someone in to fix the huge holes and put out the fires. Seraphim was gathering aerial intelligence, and could be at the airport in minutes.
“Galavant acknowledges. Seraphim’s ETA is three minutes.”
The rookie Hero was literally pulling his weight today.
“Broadcasting was just interrupted at 101.1.” Another analyst said from across the room. Her face scrunched in confusion as she listened to the radio.
“Let me guess,” Special Agent Debora Phillips strode into the office. “The usual death to America bullshit.”
The other woman nodded as Debora walked up to the Hero leader.
“Looks like it’s time to call it in.” The DVA agent took a classic hands on hips pose. “This isn’t some gang retaliation or big bank robbery, this is now officially a terrorist attack.” Her eyes bored into the Heroes. “And if our intel over the last six months is true, then we have a good idea who it is and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”
Mr. Morningstar took a deep breath and nodded. From the look on the parts of his face not covered by a mask it seemed like the old Hero had been trying to convince himself that Orlando wasn’t up shit’s creek already. That all slipped away now that Agent Phillips had confronted him, and the man seemed to deflate as a result.
“Make your calls, Agent, and I’ll make mine.”
“You heard him people!” Debora yelled into the room. “We are now at threat condition alpha. This is not a drill. Follow your procedures and get ready for a long day. We’re about to get a lot of visitors and they’re going to be eager to help. You get them where they need to go and we’ll all get through this.” She turned back to the room and saw Mr. Morningstar was on the phone getting all the help he could directed to the city immediately.
Now she turned her attention to the board. While she’d been talking two more roads had gone from green to red. It was like Orlando had an angry red ringworm around it. There was no way in and out of the city.
“Local TV is playing the same message as the radio now.” The analyst covering the media announced.
Debora switched on the TV to find a man dressed in black, armed for war, and holding a giant sword speaking in accented English about America’s crimes. She didn’t pay it more than a few seconds of attention. Nothing longer than what it took to confirm that the man fit the profile of Seif al-Din, and that meant he was likely in the city.
“Make sure you call the HCP.” She turned to Mr. Morningstar and pointed at the TV screen.
“Dean.” Mr. Morningstar nodded at her comment and raised his voice to let her know he was on with the HCP right now.
Debora refocused on the board and saw a blue flashing light arrive at one of the red areas. “That KaBoom?” She asked an analyst.
She was familiar with the color-coded identifiers the Protectorate used, but couldn’t remember who was who at the moment.
“Yes, Ma’am. We’ve got audio and video if you want me throw in on the screen.”
“Please.” Debora leaned forward as the scene came to life.
“KaBoom entering the premises.” The Hero’s voice was steady despite the front door being shot up and the unarmed security guards lying in growing pools of their own blood.
“Dispatch, have him move to the control room and stop the propaganda show. They’ll probably be there guarding it to stop us doing exactly that.” Debora asked the mysterious mistress of the Heroes communications network
KaBoom cocked his head slightly as the orders were relayed and directions given. “Acknowledged.” He started to run toward the room, but was careful to check his corners. His kinetic abosobtion would protect him, but he wasn’t invulnerable.
That was quickly put to the test. He stuck his head around a corner and nearly got it shot off with machine gun fire.
“Shit.” He pulled back as tracer rounds lit up the wall bright enough for them to see back at the headquarters. “They’ve set up a strong point at the end of the hall before the control room. I need to find another way.”
The other way turned out to be him getting to a parallel location and going through two walls to ambush them from their supposedly secure side. Terrorists crumbled as he hit them with fists packing the punch of a car going twenty miles per hour. But they got a few shots in. The Hero absorbed the energy and kept moving.
Until he fought his way into the control room. Then the screen went white and they lost all audio.
“Get it back.” Debora ordered futilely.
“We’ve lost all connectivity.”
“The broadcast has ceased and we’re receiving the technical difficulties statement with that annoying whining sound.”
“Dispatch has also lost communications.” That wasn’t good.
“Get EMS there now. And let’s hope the building is still there.” The last sentence was a whisper that only Debora was meant to hear.
They couldn’t lose one of their Heroes so early in the fight. This was just the opening act.
“Ok, shrug it off people. We’ve got bad reception everywhere so don’t let it get to you. Let’s find the next fire and put it out.”
But the truth was they needed more firemen.
John was sitting in his office and enjoying a turkey club with extra crispy bacon when the lights flickered, died for a second, and then emergency lights came on.
<That can’t be good.> The old Hero was on his feet before he consciously knew what he was doing.
“The power plant was just attacked.” The emotionless voice in his ear replied. “Damage is city wide.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
“DVA, police, and Protectorate assets are moving to ascertain information. I will keep you posted.”
“Thank you.” John went back to eating his turkey club, while checking the integrity of the HCP systems and watching the news.
The moment the local broadcast cut out he knew something was wrong, and that was quickly confirmed when a familiar voice started speaking.
“You have sinned, America. You have sinned against Allah, you have sinned against your fellow man, and worst of all you have sinned against me.”
John unconsciously shifted into his Iron Giant form. His chair groaned under the increased weight, and the table protested as his fingertips dug into it instinctively.
The last time John had heard that voice he’d been half dead in New York City after losing his entire team and thousands of civilian lives. The phone on his desk started to ring and he hit the speakerphone button.
“Dean.” It was Mr. Morningstar. “We’ve got a problem.”
“I know,” John took a few deep breaths to get himself under control. “I’ll get my people ready, secure the students, and get our VIP to safety.”
“Thank you, John.” Mr. Morningstar’s voice was clipped with stress.
“You’re welcome.” The line was cut and John opened up a new line. “All HCP professors please report to the Dean’s office immediately.”
Robin and Marshall had taken the participating seniors to Intermurals at Lander, so it was only him, Daisy, Craig, Maria, Grace, and Miles. Blake was probably already out there as the city’s on-call healer and Dr. Johnson wouldn’t be much help until after the bloodshed.
He knew his remaining staff would all hear the tone of his voice and know it was go time.
<Now we just need to get a message to Anika.> They needed the ForceOps teleporter to pick her up now and get her to safety.
Removing Seif al-Din’s objective from the playing field was the best way to get him to leave quickly. But he sure as hell wasn’t going to be quiet about it.