“Moving into position now.”
<A phone.> It was almost comical how the DVA had caught back up to Wraith. <A find my phone app. Wow.>
Seth watched it all unfold from his seat in Dean Ditmar’s office back in Florida. The DVA agents still flanked him, and occasionally shot him looks, but everyone’s eyes were on the large screen on the Dean’s wall. They’d been able to set up a VTC with the operation’s tactical operations center across the country.
They weren’t the only ones. Most of the HCP deans and half of the players in Washington were watching the operation unfold.
<Geez, she’s just one woman.> Seth knew it wasn’t just that, but still the amount of resources being allocated seemed extreme.
He knew Liz needed to be caught for what she’d done. She’d killed people, helped with a terrorist attack, and done a bunch of other stuff he didn’t want to think about. He also knew that the Feds needed to place all of the bad shit that had happened at someone’s feet. Without Seif al-Din, it was Wraith’s burden to bear.
That was why local and state police, SWAT, DVA, and a full Hero team stormed the apartment building when the signal was given. Seth wouldn’t be surprised if God himself was piggybacking on this assault with the amount of firepower that was being shoved into a single apartment.
They had access to the body cams the Hero team was wearing for the op, so they saw it all unfold in high definition.
“Breach in three…two…one.”
Some Hero with a type of explosive power put his hand on the exterior of the building. One second the wall was there the next it was like someone had glued TNT to the exterior. Plaster, drywall, and smoking wood obscured the footage while the assault team burst into the apartment.
There were three people inside, and Seth heard the Dean’s breath catch at the sight.
Some guy was wearing old OD fatigues from the Vietnam era and an obscuring mask. It would have looked ridiculous if he wasn’t a walking arsenal of guns, knives, and even a freaking sword were visible through the rapidly clearing debris. The second guy was short and looked like some type of tech villain. He couldn’t have looked more like a computer as fear flashed across his face.
But Seth lost focus on everything else when he saw her. She was standing in the middle of the group. The other two villains had a hand on either of her shoulders. Despite his best efforts, Seth could still remember those chocolate brown eyes staring into his after one too many drinks. Those perfect lips kissing him. Those hands doing all sorts of stuff that he didn’t want to tell the lovely DVA agents about.
She looked…harsh though. He features were more defined, she’d lost a bit of weight, but none of it where it counted. Her eyes were blazing though, and as the Heroes moved into the room a smartass grin formed on her lips, one that he’d seen on her more times than he could count.
She raised a hand, extended her middle finger to the swarming Heroes, and then was swarmed by darkness. The camera feeds went black and calls for SITREPs and for members of the team to sound off flooded the radios. Slowly the darkness leaked away, and when it was gone there was nothing there.
“Son of a bitch.” The DVA agent who brought Seth in growled, while the Dean just shook his head sadly.
Seth didn’t know what to think. Emotions rushed though him that he had trouble understanding. He was angry. Angry that Liz had escaped after everything she’d done, but he was also impressed. She’d taken on a full assault by a Hero team and everything the local law enforcement could throw at her, and she’d literally vanished right in front of them. Underneath all of that was a speck of happiness that conflicted with his anger. No matter what she’d done, she’d been the first girl Seth really considered committing to. That was a big deal for him and those feelings didn’t just go away.
Those feelings were rearing their ugly head at the worst possible time. Seth’s heart ached a bit after seeing her. She looked different. Prison had done a number on her, and she might even be a little unhinged from the experience, but she was still Liz and he couldn’t help but have an ember of love for her.
All of that played across his face and he wasn’t able to hide it. He looked over and saw the female DVA agent watching him closely. He tried to school his features, but it was too late. Whatever she was going to take away from that brief show of emotion she’d already done it.
Really, Seth didn’t have anything to hide. He hadn’t helped Liz at all in her escape or at all since she’d been captured. The DVA would find no connection between him and his ex, but that hardly mattered. The look in that DVA agent’s eyes said that they had a suspect, and that suspect was him.
“Are we done here?” Dean Ditmar seemed more tired than usual.
“Are we, Seth?”
“Lawyer.” He stated simply for the hundredth time. After what he’d just witnessed he wasn’t saying jack shit to anyone about anything without legal counsel present.
The powers that be were going to be searching for another scapegoat and that sure as hell wasn’t going to be him.
“We’re done. For now.” The DVA agent drove that point home with her eyes. “This goes without saying but don’t go anywhere, Mr. Abney. We might have some follow up questions at some point.”
“You know where to find me.” Seth stood up, shouldered past the two agents guarding him, and headed for the door.
He needed to get out of the HCP. He needed fresh air, and above all he needed a drink. It was close enough to the end of classes that he didn’t think the professors would care about him skipping out early. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. They would care. He just didn’t, so he changed out of his uniform and headed out.
The lift came quick since he was the only one using them right now, and it took him up to the student’s center. It was packed, but he ignored the throng of people moving around him. He needed a quiet place to think. There really wasn’t a quiet place on a big campus like West’s, but he found a free bench out on one of the school’s many quads. He gave a quick looked around for campus police before removing a flask from his backpack and took a swig. The liquid burned pleasantly on the way down. It was a little uneasy settling in his empty stomach, but he didn’t care. He took a quick second and third swig before hiding the flask back in his bag.
Then he shut his eyes, turned his face up towards the setting sun, and tried to relax. The booze helped a little, but it wasn’t enough to dull his thoughts. He remembered when he’d first met Liz. He’d just beaten up a drug dealer at a party – he hated drug dealers with a special passion – and one pulled a gun on him. Liz came out of nowhere and knocked the guy the fuck out.
It was instant attraction. Not just because of the tight yoga pants she was wearing, but because of how confidently she took out the piece of shit. Confident people being attractive worked for guys just as much as for girls, and Liz had confidence coming out her ass.
<Such a nice ass too.>
The memories made him smile, but there was a dark tinge to them now. He saw them all through the scope of someone trying to worm her way into his life. It made him feel upset and violated. That was where the booze helped a bit to numb those feelings. He only wanted to remember the good times.
Seth didn’t know how long he’d sat there, but when the warmth of the sun left his face he got to his feet and went to grab something to eat. The dining hall wasn’t as packed as it was during lunch, so he grabbed his taco and found an empty table in the back of the room. The shell was soggy and the meat probably had been a different type of meat at some point, but it helped settle the booze in his stomach and that was all that he cared about.
He ignored everyone, didn’t make eye contact, and stewed in his own thoughts and memories, which was why it was such a surprise when someone walked up and sat down at his table.
“Hey,” the short freshman girl he’d met at the party had triple the number of tacos he did along with all the fixings.
“Um…hey, Izzy right.” Seth felt annoyance tinged with curiosity shoot through him.
He was definitely giving off a “do not disturb” vibe, so either she wasn’t that smart or she didn’t give a shit.
“So I learned all about you from your friend.” She started devouring her taco with the exuberance only possible after an HCP physical training session.
Seth mood immediately soured. “Becca needs to keep her nose out of other people’s business,” he snapped.
Izzy recoiled slightly, but shook it off. “She’s just worried about you.”
“She should still mind her own business.” That left them in an uncomfortable silence as they both munched on their tacos.
“Um…I want to ask you something, but I don’t want you to take it the wrong way.” Izzy began hesitantly.
“Which rumor is it this time that’s making it through the freshman class?” he scoffed.
“They said you got pulled out of class and arrested by the DVA today. That true?”
Seth could tell she was trying to be cool about this, but there was a burning desire to know that was clearly visible in her body language.
“Not arrested. They just wanted to ask me some questions.”
The emotions threated to overwhelm him when Izzy spoke her villain name. He gritted his teeth and gripped his fork tightly as he tried to bury and lock it back inside himself.
“Holy crap.” Izzy looked around wide-eyed.
Seth didn’t even realize it, but the ground was shaking slightly. <Shit.> He took a few deep breaths and the tremors faded from the ground and himself. <I can’t lose control like that.>
He knew he couldn’t, but he really wanted to at the same time. A vision of him bringing down the whole building flashed through his mind, which he immediately suppressed.
“Weird.” Izzy looked around without making the connection between Seth and the mini seismic activity.
“Yes her.” Seth cut her off, and his tone indicated that was the end of the line of discussion.
Izzy might have missed the use of his power, but she didn’t miss the look on his face.
“Cool, no problem.”
She tried to act relaxed, but he could see the nervousness building inside her. He could tell she was going to ask him something else.
“One more question and I swear I’m done.” She crossed her heart like she was seven and making a promise to her BFF.
Seth took a deep breath in through his nose, slowly let it out through his mouth, and steeled himself. “What?”
“What’s it like to have money?”
Seth couldn’t stop himself. He busted out laughing. If anything, that seemed to piss Izzy off.
“I’m sorry.” Seth could feel the tension leaving his body as he continued to chuckle. “That’s just a really random question, and if you want an honest answer it’s kind of a pain in the ass.”
“Wow. Money equals a pain in the ass to you. Spoken like a rich guy I guess.”
“Hey,” Seth glared back, his anger rising again. “You asked a question and I gave you an honest answer. When you have money that’s all anyone seems to be concerned about in my experience. That or getting more money. People stop thinking of people as people. My family isn’t even a family. My dad’s more worried about the family name than the people that actually have the name. My mom self-medicates herself into a coma, and my brother and sister are world class dicks. Money hasn’t done anything for my family except ruin it. It’s more like we’re a group of people that share chromosomes than people that care about each other.”
It all came pouring out in a rant that took Izzy and him by surprise. By the end of it Izzy was looking at him slightly differently.
“But at least you have a family.” She said after a few moments of silence. “I’ve never known my parents. I never got new clothes, a car for my sixteenth birthday, or even a going away party for graduation. I got legal documents saying I was now an adult and to take care of myself.”
It was Seth’s turn to be thoughtful for a moment.
“I’d still trade you.” He ultimately concluded.
“You wouldn’t say that if you were in my shoes.”
“And if you’d been in my shoes you wouldn’t want to be in them anymore.”
“Then I guess we’re at an impasse.”
“I guess we are.” A smile played on both of their lips.
“But if you want to live the good life so bad then I’ll give you your dream.” Seth blindsided her.
“What?” Milk practically squirted out of her nose as she caught something Seth tossed underhand across the table.
Seth laughed as she looked down and her eyes bulged.
“These are keys to a Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet.” She cradled the keys like they were made of gold.
“So.” Seth shrugged.
“This is a two hundred thousand dollar car.” Her eyes continued to bug out.
“So.” Seth repeated with a smug look.
“So…SO!” She suddenly didn’t know what to do with her hands. “So…I can’t drive this.”
Seth sighed, but he enjoyed seeing the look on her face. “Do you have a license?”
“Is it suspended in any way that would legally restrict you from driving a motor vehicle.”
“Then let’s go.” Seth interrupted her as he got to his feet.
She didn’t move as he walked away.
“If you don’t come with me I’m going straight to campus police to say that you stole my car.” That got her moving.
“But…but…” She was at a continued loss for words as he led the way out of the dining hall and down the street to where the car was parked.
“Where are we going?” she asked as he hopped in the passenger seat and reclined it back to a lounging position.
“You said you never got new clothes, so we’ll hit the mall.”
“You’re letting me drive your super expensive car and you’re going to buy me clothes.”
“It’s only money.” He replied simply as he shut his eyes and waited for the car to start.
It didn’t, so he cracked his eyes to look up at her.
“You’re drunk aren’t you.”
“A little bit,” he smiled.
She nodded her head like everything was falling into place. “You want me to be your chauffer.”
“You drive me around tonight and in return I’ll let you drive a car you seem to be salivating all over, and I’ll buy you clothes. Seems like a pretty good arrangement to me.”
“You’re an ass.” She said, but started up the car anyway.
“Glad you finally see the light, Iz.”
“I’d prefer you call me Isla or Izzy.” The engine rumbled as she put it into drive and pulled into the street. It jerked forward as the powerful engine took her by surprise.
“And I’d prefer if you kept it down, Iz, I’m trying to sleep off a bit of my tipsiness before we get there.”
He couldn’t see her with his eyes closed, but he could feel her eyeroll as she finally reached an open road and opened it up.
Her scream of delight was a welcome change to the toxic feelings and constant suspicion that he’d been enduring from everyone else today.
Kyoshi stifled a yawn as she took the lift down into the HCP. It was finally Friday, and she couldn’t wait to be finished. This first week had been wearing her down from the beginning, and it wasn’t just the academic and physical rigors. Seth’s meltdown and drama was beginning to get around. People were starting to notice what was wrong with her friend.
<Then the DVA hauled him in for questioning.> She shook her head as the soft chime announced she’d arrived. <All anyone is doing is pushing him away. He needs us, he needs his friends, we need to bring him back.>
She tried to put that aside as she walked down the sci-fi-esque corridors and toward the locker room. Today was a big day, without having to deal with Seth.
Kyoshi was beginning to get a feeling for the classes she was taking, and all the extra work she’d have to put in this semester. The above ground classes weren’t really a concern. She’d always been good at school, and she was confident she could maintain a 3.5 or higher GPA this semester. It was the HCP classes that were going to consume her energy.
Focus quite literally did that. It was mentally brutal work. The exercises that Professor Livingston started putting the class through on day one were harder than anything she’d personally given Kyoshi to work on last year. Every day she left that class with her brain feeling like it had spent five minutes in a microwave.
Close Combat was basically an extension of physical training, and a continuation of what they’d started last year. Although, the previous year had been all about learning to fight. For someone like Kyoshi who had multiple martial arts backgrounds it wasn’t too difficult, but that wasn’t the focus this year. This year’s goal seemed to be to put the class in the most unpredictable or shittiest scenarios possible. She understood that Coach McMillian wanted to make them ready for anything, but showing up to a two-on-one fight where your power doesn’t work on one of the people isn’t exactly fair.
<Fair has nothing to do with it.> She remembered the Coach’s words perfectly. <It’s about you saving civilian lives and continuing to breathe. The rest doesn’t matter.>
Focus left her mentally exhausted and Close Combat left her physically bruised, so the healing class with Dr. Sanderson was actually one of the best parts of her day. He’d jumped right into it without waiting any time. They were in the middle of getting CPR certified with plans to move onto operating AEDs next. She really took that class to heart – literally.
She smiled to herself and she pulled on her gray uniform and entered the gym. Before she could get on to those specialty classes she had to go through good old-fashioned physical training, and that always started with pullups.
She grabbed the bar and knocked out ten easily. They were up to doing twenty every time they entered or exited the gym, but she hadn’t done as much upper body training as she should have on summer break. The last ten were a struggle, and she had to throw her legs up on the last two. If Coach McMillian had been watching he would have yelled at her for poor form.
She quickly joined the rest of the class that had already arrived. A quick peek at the clock on the wall and the Coach started.
“I told you all it was coming so I hope you gave it some serious thought.” He scanned the crowd trying to get a read on if people pondered his statements from the beginning of the week. “This year’s focus is teamwork because Heroes often work as a team. Sure, people work solo, but you can bring the full resources of a team to bear on a problem and solve it more quickly and efficiently. Heroes and the DVA both promote team formation for Heroes to combat our lack of numbers and to better coordinate with state and local agencies where we operate. Your training in this starts today.” He looked down at his clipboard.
“We will have four teams of seven. Today team captains will be announced, the teams will be picked, and the workout will be a team one decided by the captain. You can do whatever you want for the remainder of class, but I suggest you use your time wisely. There will be monthly exercises to test each team, and we’re already a quarter of the way through this month. Your first trial will be in a matter of weeks, so if I were you I’d start preparing today.” He cracked a smile that made Kyoshi nervous.
It was never a good thing when the close combat instructor was excited about something.
“The four team captains are: Angela Martin, Jason Cook, Kimberly Goodman, and Erin Fisher.”
<That makes sense. They are the top four in the class.> The rest of the class seemed to agree because not many people commented on the captains. Although, having Erin as a captain was a bit weird. She’d always been a bit off.
The captains stepped forward and spaced themselves out in front of the rest of the class. They all kept a straight face, except Erin who looked like she was in her own little world, but Kyoshi saw their minds calculating the best picks. Just from a basic surface read, Kyoshi could tell that Angela and Kimberly were better at this sort of thing than Jason and Erin.
“Captains, you have five minutes to think then you will choose in the order I selected you. No longer than one minute can pass for you to make your selection. We will continue until everyone is picked and then you’ll get to work. Time starts now.”
Kyoshi listened in while the captains looked over team possibilities. Once the five minutes was up Angela didn’t hesitate to make her first pick.
<What?!> Kyoshi didn’t move at first. <That’s got to be a mistake.> Angela hadn’t been thinking about picking her at all.
In fact, it was literally the first time she’d been picked first at anything. She was a giant, clumsy girl who also happened to be an easily identifiable Super. Back in high school that didn’t win any popularity contests.
“Move it, Ms. Schultz.” Coach McMillian pointed for her to fall in with Angela.
<I picked you because you’re the best advanced mind in the class. Not only does that give us a tactical advantage on the battlefield, but it gives me an advantage here and now. What are the other captains thinking?>
“Anika Kemps.” Jason made his selection.
<He kind of had the same idea you did. Anika is still learning her gift but she’ll at least be an early warning system and she had the added power of her speed and strength. She was probably the better first pick.>
Angela ignored the last part and asked for info on Kimberly.
<She wants a power team.> Kyoshi could easily decipher the blaster’s motivations.
“Anna Fletcher.” Kimberly made her pick, and Anna strutted over to her new team.
<Erin… it’s hard to tell what she’s thinking.>
“Mason Jackson,” Erin called out in her far-off, detached voice.
Despite the slim chances of being on the same team, Mason getting picked by another captain still hurt. Their time was going to be a commodity in short supply and it would have been nice to see him during team activities.
“Alexander Webb.” Angela didn’t hesitate.
She’d wanted Mason, but Alex was another good person with superior strength she could leverage.
Jason didn’t hesitate to snatch up Teresa Shaw. Kimberly added to her powerhouse team with Casey, and Erin went with Lorelei Gilford to complete the second round. The selection went pretty quick after that. Teams got picked roughly going down their rankings depending on what the captain was looking for. Angela did make a surprisingly big jump down to grab Fiona the only teleporter in the class. After their dealings with Liz, they knew not to underestimate or undervalue a teleporter.
As time went by it became more and more obvious that one student high in the rankings was being left out. Seth, who looked like he’d been in a decent mood, got surlier and surlier as the selection continued. Kyoshi was willing to bet the man was not used to being picked near the end for anything. It surely didn’t help when he was picked dead last by Erin.
“Those are our teams.” Coach McMillian pointed to a wall when they were done and everyone’s names appeared on it. “The rest of the class is yours, and please take the time to come up with an interesting name. There might be some extra credit in it for most inspiring.”
Kyoshi wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth so she went back to studying the board.
Angela Martin, Kyoshi Schultz, Alexander Webb, Fiona Richardson, Natalia Romanoff, Oliver Carpenter, Blake Rhodes
Jason Cook, Anika Kemps, Teresa Shaw, Liam Garrison, Emilia Scarborough, Danny Mason, Janet Ibsen
Kimberly Goodman, Anna Fletcher, Casey Williams, Rebecca Whitfield, Jacqueline Eton, Carson Long, Richard Gibson
Erin Fisher, Mason Jackson, Lorelei Gilford, Simon Skylar, Ashley Bates, Rowan Michaelson, Seth Abney
<I hope Angela has a plan.> Kyoshi frowned, because just by looking at the board she didn’t think her captain had picked the best team.
If anything, Kimberly’s looked like the team to beat.