“Are you shitting me? You’re joking right? Next you’re going to ask me to pull your finger…right?” Lorelei had her hands on her hips and fire in her eyes. Since she could shoot lasers out of those things, it wasn’t an exaggeration.
Surprisingly, news about Seth’s probation hadn’t spread throughout the sophomore class by the time they reached team training the next day. Seth was still nursing the tail-end of a hangover and was taken off guard by his teammate. He was surprised because he had to explain it. He only expected to have to defend himself.
“Nope.” It was better to get straight to the point. “I can’t use my abilities.”
“Great.” Ashley Bates was brooding a little ways away from the rest of the team.
“Guys…” Mason tried to come to his defense, but the girls cut him off.
“No, shut it, Jackson.” Lorelei stepped in front of the strongman with her hand outstretched.
There was literally nothing she could do to stop him, but Mason stopped just short of making contact. He had an unhappy look on his face, but after a moment he took a step back while Lorelei took a step forward and got right into Seth’s personal space.
“What is your deal, Abney? What are you even doing here?” Her hands weren’t on her hips this time. They were pointing accusingly at him. “You don’t give two shits about anything but yourself. You’re successfully dragging the team down every practice. You fucked up our first match after breaking your ankle five seconds into it. Now, you can’t even use your power. What good are you to us? What good are you to anyone? Stop screwing everyone else over and just go home.” She finished with a huff.
“Everyone just take a breath.” Mason stepped up when she stepped back. “Let’s be rational. We’ve got a workout to do before we even start working with our abilities. Come on, Seth, I’m going to need a spot.”
“No.” The word wasn’t heard by anyone but Seth at first. “No.” He repeated more forcefully.
“Bro, we’ve got to…”
“No,” Seth repeated a third time. “Lorelei’s right. You guys do your thing and I’ll see you later.”
“Hey, Seth, don’t…’
“Let him go.” Lorelei was still fuming and so was the rest of the team. Even Erin, who was normally off in her own world, had her face scrunched up in disappointment. “We’ll get more done without him.”
The only person who looked uncomfortably out of place was Rowan. The transfer student knew the rumors, but he didn’t know Seth that well. He just kind of stood there in the middle of the group and looked at the floor.
Seth didn’t stick around and wait for more shit from his teammates. He turned on his heel and headed for the door. He didn’t even bother to go to the pullup bar and do his required exercise before walking out of the gym.
“What the hell, guys! Do you think we’re going to be any better off down a person?!” Seth heard the start of Mason’s argument as the door shut behind him.
He headed straight for the locker room to get out of the suddenly oppressive and constrictive gray uniform. He tore the thing off and threw it in his locker before pulling on his clothes. They still reeked a bit like beer, which only made him want a drink, but he had something to do first. Instead of heading back up to the student center he took the long way.
Seth walked the corridors of the HCP in the opposite direction toward the lake. He was pretty sure the various large arenas they’d competed in were underneath the body of water. He reached out with his power and felt the softly lapping waves several stories above him. He found the lift nearest them and took that up to the surface. He emerged in one of the dorms that lined the lake. He looked at the footage to make sure the other side of the polymorphic mesh was clear. It was, so he pushed through it, walked past the vending machines, and took a left away from the door. He didn’t know if the DVA had people on every HCP exit waiting for him, or if they just sat on the ones he used frequently. He’d never used this one before, so if they didn’t it bought him some time before the alert went out.
It all depended on how long the supervising professor waited to tell them that Seth wasn’t in class.
He ducked out a side exit and shuffled around in his bag with his face turned away from the security camera he’d spotted. They’d make the connection sooner or later, but it would buy him time, and that was all he needed.
With college classes organized the way they were, no place was ever really empty, so to get real privacy he needed to get off of campus. Calling an Uber was simple enough, and he had it take him into Orlando. There, he could get lost in the crowd long enough to do what he needed to do.
He ended up in a mid-range restaurant in the middle of the city. It was between the lunch and dinner crowds so there was plenty of open space.
“Give me a private booth away from everyone else.” Seth said to the cute waitress who was probably attending UCF or one of the other schools in town.
She gave him a head-to-toe appraisal and a sniff. He could see from the scrunch of her nose that she was going to turn him down, so he went for the universal motivator. “Here’s a hundred bucks.” He pulled out a crisp Benjamin and it changed the whole equation.
She stuck the bill in her bra and seated him in a small alcove at the back of the restaurant. He had good lines of sight to everywhere, no one could sneak up behind him, and it didn’t look like anyone had followed him into the place.
<Now or never.> He thought as he rifled through his bag, took out the burner phone he’d been saving, and dialed the number he’d committed to memory.
Five rings later it went to voicemail. “Pick up your fucking phone and call me back,” he growled.
He placed the phone on the table in front of him and smoothed his facial features as the waiter came over. He ordered a beer, showed the guy his fake ID, and sat back to wait. He didn’t have to wait long. Less than three minutes later the phone began to vibrate.
The vibrations against the wooden table drew the eyes of the few patrons in the bar, but they drifted away the moment he picked it up.
“Hey!” The excitement in Lilly’s voice was the exact opposite of what Seth was feeling. “I’m so glad you called me back.”
Seth would have made a few moments of idle chitchat, but everything that had been bubbling inside of him burst out like the universe finally popped his internal bubble.
“What the fuck, Liz! What the fucking fuck!” He didn’t care that he’d slipped into using her old name. All he cared about was not drawing too much attention to himself while he chewed her ass out.
“I made you promise me one thing, just a single, little, teeny-weeny thing; and you took that promise and took a massive diarrhea shit all over it. You didn’t even make it a day. Fuck, it wasn’t even six hours before you blew that guy’s brains out.
“Seth, I did it for…”
“Shut the fuck up!” He couldn’t help but raise his voice a little, and that got a few glances. A couple with a baby in a stroller looked over from where they were talking with a waitress. It looked like they were going to find another dining establishment.
“No, Lilly, don’t make excuses. You didn’t do this for me, or for us. You did that for you. Admit it!” He was fuming. He could see the red tinge at the corner of his vision.
He’d succeeded in making her speechless, which was a hell of an achievement.
“Seth…” she took a deep breath. “You’re right.”
That wasn’t quite what he was expecting.
“That son of a bitch hurt me when he did that to us last spring. He hurt me bad. I was already broken. I’d been beaten, stabbed, defeated, and that fucktard took the last good thing I had. So, yes, I admit it. I killed him for me, but I did it because of what he did to us. For fuck’s sake, Seth, just look at us now. We’re at each other’s throats, and that is just what they want. I love you, Seth, and I’d never do something intentionally to hurt you.”
Seth was silent for a moment. He hadn’t looked at it from her angle before. “You still shouldn’t have broken your promise.” His temper was still up, but it was simmering instead of boiling over. “I want to trust you, Lilly. I want to be able to figure everything out with you, but you aren’t giving me anything to work with. Your whole life is a lie. Most of what you’ve told me is a lie, and the one promise I made you make you broke inside of a day. What am I supposed to do with that?”
There were several moments of silence on the other end before she replied. “What can I do to make things right?”
“I…I don’t know.” He took a deep breath and put his forehead against at the cool tabletop. “But I do know that any more lies and deception between us is going to use up the last bit of faith I have.”
Of all the yelling and cursing they’d done over the last few minutes, it was the hardest thing to say, and it hit the deepest.
Maybe it was him being hopeful, but it sounded like she was telling the truth. He still didn’t know how this was all going to work, and he didn’t have any idea what the hell he was doing, but his hope that everything would turn out ok was still hanging on by a thread. Deep down he knew it was stupid, selfish, and majorly self-destructive, but he couldn’t help himself. Despite all of the shit he still loved the memory of what they’d had. If she was truthful with him going forward, he might get to love the real her.
<Fuck,> he mentally exhaled while running his hand through his hair and taking a big gulp of the imported beer the waiter had brought him.
“Ok,” he exhaled. “Where do we go from here?”
“That clearly took her by surprise. “Well…um…we could…”
Seth never got to hear the answer. Two electric darts attached to coils of metal impaled his shoulder and sent fifty-thousand-volts of electricity coursing through his system. His whole body seized up, he pissed himself a little, and the phone went clattering onto the table.
“Target neutralized!” The woman from the couple pushing the baby carriage – that had been seated several tables to Seth’s right – had the taser leveled at Seth and was ready to send more voltage through his system.
He could hear Lilly on the other end, but his fingers were locked up and he was taking painful breaths.
“Get the phone. She’s still on the line.” The man from the couple rushed over, grabbed the phone, and stuck something into the USB port.
“Seth! What’s going on?”
“L…” fifty-thousand more volts went shooting into his system, but it didn’t stop the gurgling scream from escaping his throat.
“Tracing…tracing…got her.” The woman was on her phone a second later relaying an address in Orlando. “Cuff and book him for aiding and abetting. We’ll see what else we can get to stick when we get him back to the station.”
“Should we call West Private?” the man asked.
“No.” The woman gave Seth a shake of the head. “All the connections in the world aren’t going to be able to save his ass now. We’ve got him red handed.”
A fresh wave of agony jolted through his system and that was more than he could handle. He couldn’t think about him and Lilly anymore as his world went black.
“Seth…Seth!” Lilly called through the line.
At first she thought the call was dropped, but a quick look at her screen showed it was still happening. Then she heard the shouting on the other end of the line, followed by a grunt of pain. Something was happening, and whatever it is it wasn’t good. She quickly hung up.
“Everyone we need to clear out!” She yelled to the rest of the Supers in the abandoned warehouse.
Stal was watching her soaps and didn’t even acknowledge her. Morina and Nightingale were huddled together over a corpse the older woman was dissecting. The blood-manipulator and nullifier were drawn together the first moment they met in the way creepy people recognized other creepy people. Lilly didn’t care as long as they didn’t start getting into really weird shit, and dissecting an already dead corpse didn’t cross that line.
“Why?” Nightingale didn’t look up as she used a pair of forceps to pull something back and get a look under it while Morina watched with fascination.
“I just got a call,” Lilly hesitated to say who it was from or what it was about. “Let’s just say I’ve got a bad feeling Heroes are going to be kicking down these doors soon.
With a small puff of black her phone disappeared and reappeared in an active volcano across the world. The itch at the back of her skull that something wasn’t right persisted.
“You can do whatever the fuck you want,” she stated when no one moved. “I’m getting out of here for a little, and since I’m your only transportation you might want to take me up on that offer.
“Fuck that douchebag,” Lilly cut off Stal when she brought up the terrorist asshole. “You can call him for a ride if you want, but I doubt he’ll stick his neck out for you.”
Stal and Nightingale exchanged a quick look before nodding to each other.
“Good. We’re out of here in five.”
She figured that was enough time to get everyone out. If someone was onto them then they would have to mobilize. Having her confirmed at a location as enough to bring a team in on the mission, but knowing that she ran with at least two other Supers from the prison break was enough to give the Heroes pause…hopefully.
After five minutes everyone was gathered with anything important. Most of the warehouse’s items were being left behind with a little extra surprise for anyone that came in looking for them. As it turned out, Nightingale’s surgical skills were used for more than just torture and her little experiments. She was quite adept at making explosives. All that time working for the Republic of Krezic had taught her a particular set of skills.
“We need to make multiple jumps, and we’re going to need more surprises.” It was always better safe than sorry, and she was sure if her location had been identified then Hunter would be on the case. She’d almost caught him with the trick last time, so he’d be ready, but every second they slowed him down was a second they could put some distance between them.
Nightingale was more than happy to oblige. She had two more blocks of Semtex with detonators in her bag. Morina clapped at the sight.
“Here we go.” Lilly visualized her destination and willed the group to be there. Darkness exploded around them and a few seconds later they appeared in a cave by the ocean a world away.
“He’ll come through in the same place.” She explained to Nightingale so she could place the bomb and the triggering mechanism – an IR strobe that would sense the presence of a person and detonate.
Once the bomb was set and armed they teleported again. This time they appeared in the wilderness of northern Canada. Nightingale set up another bomb, and then they hoofed it. The best countermeasure other than setting explosives to kill whoever followed you through the rips in space-time was to put distance between teleportation points. It would be harder for Hunter to track them if he didn’t know where she teleported from.
They hiked for about a half-mile before Morina started complaining. She would bleed a man dry without a care in the world, but walking almost three thousand feet was a protest-worthy offense. Lilly found a good spot and teleported again. This time they arrived at their fallback position. Ironically, it wasn’t all that far from the original warehouse. When their surprise bit the Heroes in the ass they’d be able to see and hear it.
The place was already set up, so Stal plopped down on the couch to watch her soaps while Nightingale and Morina discussed what they would do next. That was fine with Lilly, she had other things to do.
“I’ll be back.” She didn’t wait for a response before teleporting away. She dropped into her loft across the pond before arriving on her Uncle’s secluded beach.
“Mika!” She yelled as she stormed into the underground fortress. “Get me a trace on the last call to my burner now! I need a location on Seth.”
The technopath was asleep on the job with his face plastered against the keyboard.
“MIKA!” She roared in his ear.
The boy jumped a foot in the air with a wild look in his eye. He had key-shaped impressions on his face from his slumber, and he was having some trouble realizing where he was.
“Get a location on Seth , NOW!”
“Yeah…ok…location…Seth…on it.” The boy’s scatterbrained mind was starting to settle.
“What the hell are you yelling about?” Armsman stepped into the computer nexus of their little operation.
“Finding Seth.” Mika answered before Lilly could come up with a good story.
The sour look on the legendary villain’s face showed her just what he thought of her ex but still kind of boyfriend. Facebook didn’t have a relationship status update for what they were.
“That stupid boy is going to get you killed,” was the only thing her Uncle said on the subject. “Go see you father. It’s been a long time since you visited.” He walked away without another word.
There was a reason Lilly hadn’t visited him in a while. For all intents and purposes, Hellgate was dead. He’d been in a vegetative state since last spring. The bitch Reaper had done everything but stop his heart. It was just one of the reasons she wanted to see the Hero rot in whatever Seif al-Din had in store for her. After that, Lilly would get her revenge, and then she’d finally be able to lay her father to rest.
“Hey, Dad.” She walked into the state-of-the-art medical clinic Armsman had in his home. “I’ve been up to a lot lately.” She explained it all to him.
It had a duel effect. It was therapeutic to the soul while ramping up her desire to find Seth. There were very few things in this world that she cared about, and the boy she loved was one of them. When she left the clinic she was focused and ready for action, like a professional athlete before a big game.
“I’ve got him…I think.” Mika’s fingers were flying across multiple keyboards when she stepped into computer mainframe. “Top screen.”
She followed where he pointed and saw a grainy surveillance video from what looked like a restaurant. There was a man hunched over a table talking on the phone. There was a few seconds of footage before something silver shot across the screen and the man went rigid. Two people rushed over, one grabbed the phone and stuck something into it while the other secured Seth.
“I followed him.” He played bits of surveillance footage that followed the two people half-dragging Seth out of the restaurant and to a waiting black SUV. “I ran facial recognition on the people that grabbed him.” He hesitated. “I’m pretty sure they’re DVA. I didn’t press for more info once I learned they were in government databases because it would trigger alerts.”
“Push it.” Lilly’s tone was cold as she assessed the situation. “I’ll take you somewhere so you can use another network to access the info and not lead anyone back here, but I want to know everything about those two people: family, friends, even their pet’s doggy daycare. Give me a complete profile on them Mika.”
Lilly wasn’t sure if it was breaking into government databases or the expression on her face that had the technopath stuttering.
“Ok. Hit me with the bad news. Where is he?”
“I followed the black SUV through the city’s traffic cameras until it went underground here.”
“Police HQ.” Lilly only had to see the outside of the building to know where it was.
The good news was that she had a teleportation point in the building already that she’d used to steal info. The bad news was things had changed. It was a police, DVA, and Hero hot spot now. If she went in there it would be surefire suicide. The cells themselves had anti-teleportation gadgets built into them, so she couldn’t just jump in and out.
<Fucking tech geniuses,> she grumbled.
It didn’t matter. She had her in. She replayed the video of the two people grabbing Seth, and felt sorry for them and the false sense of safety they felt right now.
<Time to bring in Morina.>