Isla was still shaking when she exited the tent where the pushy soldier had asked her questions. Only part of the shaking was due to the explosion that had ripped through the city, and the chaos that followed. A lot of her anxiety had to do with the recent questioning.
No one told her how to handle that situation. She had her SI requirements, but this wasn’t some collegiate administrator or other student bugging her for details about her Super status. This was the Army and the DVA. They weren’t fucking around, and she didn’t know where to draw the line. So, she ended up telling them everything.
The soldier hadn’t even blinked when she whispered she was a member of West Private HCP’s freshman class. He’d probably become even more intrusive. Isla’s eyes had scanned the room for help in those moments; begging and praying that Coach McMillian or Coach Meyers would step in and handle everything.
She noticed some people in the room from around the HCP, one or two members of her own class, and then a bunch of normal looking people who she guessed were members of the Orlando civilian population who just happened to be Supers.
“Isla?” A familiar voice called out her name.
She turned around and saw a small gathering of her classmates. Since Aiden was the tallest, he was the one she saw waving her over. She hurried over to join the group, which had a couple of sophomores present. A terrorist attack kind of threw the “don’t group together and draw attention” instructions out the window. People were more concerned with their own shit, and the group of young Supers was only drawing limited attention.
“Hey.” She huddled with the rest of the group, her body still shaking a bit.
“Do you want my jacket?” Aiden asked with a look of concern.
“I’m good,” Isla shook her head and lifted her chin up. She didn’t want the rest of the class to think she was going into shock from everything. She was training to be a Hero, and Heroes didn’t shy away from the ugly.
“Can you believe that shit?” Scarlett was standing near the center of the group and fuming. “They’re questioning anyone who isn’t one hundred percent human and grilling them about their ‘involvement’.” She put the last word in air quotes.
“They’re just doing their jobs.” Someone else commented, but Scarlett just gave them a dismissive hand wave.
“I’m telling…” Scarlett started but stopped suddenly and just shook her head. “I’m just saying it feels wrong, and I’ve got a better idea about how that shit world works than the rest of you.”
“Not all of us.” Kyoshi Schultz stepped into the conversation and ignored the glare Scarlett shot her way. “But Scarlett has a point. It’ll be better if we head back to school and discuss this stuff there.”
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than all their phones got a text message simultaneously. It was a campus alert from the school. It told everyone to return to campus, if possible, so the school could get accountability of their students.
“Let’s go.” Kyoshi took charge and started to lead the group of students toward the nearest bus station.
It was a ten-minute ride back to the edge of campus and then another ten minutes for them all to get back down into the HCP without drawing too much attention. They had to be extra careful to ensure that no one followed them from the bombing site and tried to blow their secret identities. A random person off the street claiming that someone might be a Super from what they looked like back at the bombing sites was one thing, making a claim on campus was another. Everyone hoped that no one’s cover was blown in the next few days. That would just be the icing on the shit cake.
One of the professors that Isla didn’t really know – a Professor Willis – gathered them together in the gym and started to check names of a list.
“Everyone needs to stay put until we know the status of all the students. There are refreshments in the corner if you’re hungry. Getting a little sugar in you after what you’ve seen might not be a bad idea. Others might want to be proactive, do something so they don’t feel useless.” The Professor wasn’t pulling any punches. “If that’s the case, then get into your uniforms and I’ll run you through an exciting training exercise.”
Isla wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but the exodus of students to the locker room made the decision for her. She went in and got into her black uniform and hit the track for their five mile warmup.
It wasn’t until a few miles in that she started to feel better. Getting the blood pumping was keeping her from thinking about everything that could go wrong in the next few days, and what had happened in the last few hours. The rhythmic breathing of her running helped to clear her mind and focus it on the simple tasks right in front of her.
The rest of the class was the same way. Soon, their concerns about the bombing fell away as they got further into their workout. That was exactly what Professor Willis wanted. When he was sure no one was looking he glanced back down at his checklist. There were a few names that didn’t have a checkmark next to them, and the DVA was reporting that all Supers had been interviewed and evacuated from the immediate area. The old Subtlety Hero hoped they were in route or else their week was about to get a lot worse.
Daisy listened for the go order before taking action. She already had the life lines of everyone in that building dialed in. All she had to do was squeeze. Thirty-one people went limp and dropped to the floor. She suspected at least a few would have collateral injuries from the fall, but that wasn’t a big concern.
Loud cracks of gunfire cut through the air as snipers took out windows. The blinds and curtains were drawn so no one could get a bead on Nightingale, but there was always a chance someone would get lucky, and with the civilians unconscious on the floor, the risk to innocent people was minimal. That was only a secondary goal. The primary reason was for the SWAT members repelling down from the roof to have easy access into the building.
That was only one phase of the complicated operation. Usually, you wanted to keep an assault like this simple, but nothing was simple with a psychopath like Nightingale. They had to go in from as many angles as possible. Daisy dropping the civilians was just a small part in the plan. Right now, Hunter was teleporting SWAT all over the place in the building to cover as many different approaches as possible.
The plan was to contain her as much as possible before she could even move. Daisy might be out on the perimeter, but Hunter was getting in on the action. He still had his big gun and been in more than his share of fire fights.
Gunshots rang out and the radio filled up with chatter. Daisy gripped the side of her chair and squeezed. The groan of warping metal was drowned in the hurried reports and yells of agents and SWAT officers.
More gunshots rang out. “Man down!”
“Shit…she’s…” Static followed.
“Hunter, report.” Agent Phillips was at the center of the chaos trying to hold down the fort.
“We’re pinned, she’s got…” The staccato roll of a rifle on full auto rang out and crashes and curses could be heard over Hunter’s line.
<Fuck it!> Daisy pivoted, broke through the perimeter, and reached the front door in a few kinetically-powered leaps. People were screaming behind her, but she didn’t give a shit. People were dying and she was able to do something about it.
A SWAT member in black tactical gear was slumped over a railing on the first floor landing. Blood dripped from two holes right where his armor ended and his neck began. It was expert shooting, which made Daisy take a few deep breaths.
<I should have grabbed a radio.> She shook her head. Her leg still itched like a bitch and she was beginning to regret her impulsive action.
A three-round burst rang out above her followed by a scream. Daisy grabbed the dead SWAT member’s side arms before bounding up the stairs two at a time. More bodies and blood filled the hallways. They’d all been expertly targeted with shots where their armor didn’t cover them or was weak. A good few were still alive, but they wouldn’t stay that way for long without medical attention.
“Hold on,” she whispered as she continued to move toward the sporadic gun fire.
It sounded like it was getting higher and higher, so she kept up her pursuit. The first bullet fired her way was meant to keep her head down. It smacked into the wood hard a few inches from her head. Splinters shot toward her face, but her absorption made them fall limply to the ground.
The gunfire was no longer sporadic. Shots rang out every few seconds. Daisy didn’t need a radio to hear the SWAT teams talking with each other and converging on Nightingale’s position. The BOOM of Hunter’s rifle felt like it made the whole building shake.
“Push! Push!” someone yelled. Two SWAT officers appeared in the hall in front of her and started moving forward while methodically firing to keep Nightingale behind cover.
It didn’t work.
Daisy didn’t see how the supervillain had gotten her shots off, but both officers went down. One had blood fountaining from his neck, while the other one grabbed his leg and screamed. Daisy rushed up the last few stairs to the landing and reached for the nearest guy. He was only a few yards from the cover of the landing, but that still put her in the open.
The first round hit her in the shoulder just as she got a grip on the back of the guy’s vest. She expected the unbelievable pain of a gunshot wound to radiate through her body, but instead heard the soft ping of the bullet falling uselessly to the ground.
“Fuck!” Nightingale swore from down the hall.
Daisy didn’t waste any time. She gave the guy a mighty pull and he flew back into the cover of the stairwell. His landing wasn’t pretty, but a few bruises were worth not bleeding out. Another round flew in her direction as she dove back behind cover. It barely missed her, and this time she felt the twinge of a bullet dipped in Nightingale’s nullifying goo.
<She’s not always using her special ammo.> Daisy thought as she quickly ripped off the SWAT guy’s belt and made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. <It makes sense.>
It would take time and effort to coat the bullets and load them into magazines, and time was something she clearly didn’t have as the combined effort of the SWAT teams drove her back.
“Reaper, what the fuck are you doing here!” Hunter darted out of the hallway to take cover next to her.
“Helping.” She answered simply as she checked the shot officer’s pulse.
She couldn’t see the other Hero’s face behind his mask, but she could tell by the tightness in his neck that he was pissed. “Fine.” He ultimately relented. “You already inadvertently helped us. You kept her away from the stairs, and that stopped her upward progression. We’ve got her contained on this floor for now.”
A BOOM way louder than gun fire made the whole building shake and loose pieces of plaster fell from the ceiling.
“Unless she has an exit strategy.” Daisy and Hunter looked at each other for a moment before sprinting back into action.
“Watch him.” Hunter yelled back to the still-advancing SWAT teams, but the two Heroes took the lead. No shots rang out as they approached. “I’ll go high you go low.” Hunter ordered.
Daisy brought up her gun and waited for Hunter to count them down. When he hit zero they burst into the room to find…nothing.
“What the…” there was a large hole in the floor and nothing else in the room.
The two Heroes approached it carefully. Daisy poked her head in and jerked it back quickly to avoid any fire. Nothing came her way, but she got a good look at what was below.
“Shit.” She lowered her weapon and took a deep breath.
Hunter poked his head down and let out a similar curse. Below them were two more holes that lead all the way into the darkness beneath the building.
“She’s in the sewer!” Hunter passed the information along so the cops could expand the perimeter, but that was asking a lot. There had to be a thousand manhole covers in the city, not to mention other outlets. Nightingale could pop up anywhere.
“How did this fucking happen?!” Hunter finished his radio call and then kicked a chair over in anger.
“My guess is that she had military-grade detcord wrapped around her body,” Daisy guessed, but it had been a rhetorical question.
The DVA and cops would do what they could. They’d deploy everyone. Try and secure everything, but Nightingale was a trained operative, and they couldn’t be everywhere at once. Plus, if Nightingale went one on one with a patrol officer at a man hole she’d win.
<At least we’ve got Stal.> Iron Giant had made sure of that.
Daisy just hoped it was enough to get the ball rolling, reacquire Nightingale, find Wraith, figure out what the hell Abney was thinking, and ultimately put a stop to Seif al-Din’s plans.
With everything hanging over her head like this, the upcoming holidays were starting to lose some of their appeal.
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