Frank, Stella, and the large tarp covered shape that Yeager had called Big Ivan, appeared in the Humanity First compound just outside the bunker door next to one of the guards that Stella had knocked out. Frank took a brief moment to give the massive blocky object the finger. Then he disappeared again, presumably back to his family.
Almost immediately, the roar of a massive engine erupted from the thing under the tarp, and it started to rise. Up, and up, and up it went; and the tarp fell away to reveal a thing that stood three times taller than Stella. The tarp was torn away to reveal a giant humanoid robot bristling with weaponry.
Big Ivan looked like what you’d get if a Russian tank designer had been told to design a robot, and what he came up with was a cross between a gorilla and a sumo wrestler. Despite being over fifteen feet tall, Big Ivan looked squat and fat, with broad shoulders, a relatively tiny head, long arms, and a massive torso with relatively short and stumpy legs.
Where Big Ivan wasn’t complex arrangements of cable and hydraulics it was weapons, and wherever they could be fit, big blocky masses of olive green armor were bolted on. It’s arms ended in a massive three fingered claw-like hands. A pair of exhaust pipes, like you’d see on construction equipment, belched black smoke into the air.
The enormous mechanical beast threw back its head and screamed in a titanic voice: “RAMPAGE!!!”
Then all Hell broke loose as Yeager used Big Ivan to unload with every weapon it had. All Stella could do was clamp her hands over her ears and, out of habit more than anything, shift her body into steel. The noise was a physical force as machine guns, rockets, and grenades started spraying death in every direction.
Humanity First militia scattered like rats as Yeager’s Big Ivan stomped forwards causing incredible amounts of property damage. Then he turned around and brought the machine’s massive fists down on the laboratory bunker they’d so recently escaped. He hooked the clawlike fingers into the wall and tore it aside. The guns on Big Ivan’s shoulders rotated in all directions; keeping the compound’s residents cowering from brief bursts of machinegun fire.
Once he’d torn a large enough opening, Yeager began methodically demolishing everything inside the lab he could reach, starting with the broken part of the anti-super weapon that Janey had so recently been trying to repair.
“Yeager stop!” Stella screamed as loudly as she could. “You’re going to kill someone!”
“DON’T CARE!” Yeager’s voice boomed like a shockwave. “I’M GOING TO KEEP MY PROMISE TO JANEY!”
For the moment, Stella elected to give up on arguing with Yeager. He was a problem for heroes and the DVA; if any heroes were even alive. Instead she forced her way past Big Ivan into the bunker to make sure her coworkers were all right. She was relieved to find that Miriam, Gerald, and Monique were all fine; obviously Miriam’s powers had recovered, and she’d healed them of all their injuries.
Initially, conversation was impossible over the roar of weapons fire and Big Ivan’s engines, but once he was satisfied that he’d destroyed everything in the lab, Yeager stomped off. Stella found herself being given questioning looks by her coworkers.
“That was Vincent Yeager,” Stella said. “He has the ability to inhabit machines. He… He took the girl who made the anti-super weapon, but I think we can find her.”
“I would guess that he took her to Benny Sanzenbacher,” Miriam said. “Also known as Benny the Wrench. As a felon, Benny is of course not at all allowed to have custody of super or powered children that, for one reason or another, cannot be put in containment facilities, or with their families.”
Stella just gaped in amazement, as did Monique. Gerald sighed, and stared longingly out the hole in the wall, as if he wanted to charge into the fray.
“I was a subtlety hero back in the day,” Miriam said. “And when Benny found a couple of powered kids who’d fled from an unforgivable situation in a containment center, and spent weeks caring for those kids before we found them, we struck a bargain rather than rip those children from a place they felt safe. If we had concerns about a containment center or family, a child might ‘run away’ and wind up with Benny.
“Some of the kids we entrust him with are long term cases, but mostly his home is an off the books half-way house. There aren’t more than a dozen DVA staff, heroes, and Company people who know about this. If any of you so much as whisper a word of this then those kids go back to some truly terrible situations.
“There’s a shifter boy there named Nathan Atwater that the containment centers nicknamed ‘Hyde’. He randomly goes into states where he is incredibly strong, fast, intelligent enough to be considered a tech genius, charming enough to trick manipulate almost anyone, and is completely psychotic.
“The Greenfield Containment Center staff, now fired and prohibited from working with children ever again thank God, chained Nathan up in a soundproof room and forgot about him. After his mother made inquiries we discovered him half-starved to death, wallowing in his own filth, and nearly insane from the isolation. Dealing with him in his alternate state was too difficult for any of the containment centers, but so far Benny’s managed to keep him under control.
“If any of you whisper a word of any of this, it will probably end in Nathan’s death, or permanent isolation in a super containment facility.”
Part of Stella wanted to report this to Miss Black, the head of the VCS department immediately. Another part of her wanted to go along. Yet a third part of Stella, a part suppressed and buried for nearly two years cried for attention. That part of her saw the gun that had been loaned to her by the hero Strike sitting on a table in the corner of the bunker, and whispered that heroes had helped those kids at Benny’s farmhouse, and that all of the heroes who she’d met that morning were dead.
It reminded Stella Hawkins that students were welcome to enroll again in the HCP, and that with a few years of additional life experiences and training, maybe some work in the subtlety major wasn’t inconceivable. That maybe what had kept her from getting past her Sophomore year in the HCP was fear, or lack of drive, or good enough reason to excel, or maybe she’d just been up against unusually tough competition for the Junior Year.
“Damn,” said a new voice from behind Stella. “We’re going to lose another one.”
When Stella turned around she found Linda Anderson, the intervention team lead with the ability to speak any language. Behind her were most of the other VCS intervention team members leading a large group of women and children. Some of Stella’s coworkers were missing, and while Stella prayed they were elsewhere, she remembered Influx’s horrific death all too well.
“Get a move on,” said Linda in a stern and forbidding voice. “Only two of the heroes that came with us survived, and they’re both busy. That robot is fighting men in power suits with heavy weaponry, and there’s stray fire going everywhere. We need to clear the area.”
Just then a group of three Humanity First militia burst in from around a corner of the yard and leveled guns at everyone. Some of the women and children screamed and backed away, but Linda Anderson just crossed her arms and glared at the three armed men.
“Buiognsfhe! Grudsfoi!” One of them demanded, and then all three of the men stared at each other in blank incomprehension.
The second gunman also tried talking, but all that came out of him was: “Yfhdsau fo rueinvch! Fodeb?”
The third man stared as his gun in confusion and said: “Kengfes?”
All of the VCS agents except Stella were grinning like idiots, though some of the grins were forced around tear streaked faces. Stella was just confused. “What’s going on?”
“Linda’s scrambled the part of their brains that processes language. It also messes up their short term memory. They can’t hold a thought for longer than a few seconds, and the more they try to talk or think, the more confused and befuddled they get.”
Stella would have loved to know what Miriam and Linda’s hero identities had been, and no sooner had she thought it, a voice in the back of her mind said: “Psyche and Palaver.”
Stella’s mind locked onto Psyche’s name immediately. Her career had been covered in a presentation in her ethics class at Lander. Psyche had been put under disciplinary review for using her healing powers, which could adjust the brain chemistry of others, to treat her own team’s psychological trauma. The long term effect of which was that their sense of guilt and shame had been lessened, and it caused her team to become needlessly brutal in dealing with criminal supers and powereds.
It had culminated with Psyche using her power to lobotomize a serial killer with Demolition class abilities. And while she’d been cleared of all criminal charges, people had become uncomfortable enough with the healer, and her team, that they’d been forced into retirement.
Palaver was also a famous name, but the only thing Stella remembered of her was that she’d been in the same team with the infamous Psyche.
Stella grabbed Strike’s gun, and shifted from her old familiar steel to titanium. At the very least, she could return the weapon to the hero; assuming he’d regained the use of his arms. Then she joined the rest of her colleagues in escorting the non-combatants out of danger.