It was more a factual declaration than an exclamation, spoken more in the manner of one observing a particularly unpleasant sample of excrement than any kind of expletive. Plateau ran his fingers through his hair under his cowl. He scanned the number of the nearest classroom and grimaced.
“C128. They were right here.”
He looked down at his communicator, which was open to the team tracker. No distress signal had been sent, but he could make out the dot showing the location of Dame Danger, as well as the three dots heading his direction which represented Jet, Legion and Kismet.
“We have to go after them,” said Jet as he jogged up to Plateau. “What if they got caught?”
“Adam, which direction is the signal coming from?” Plateau asked, turning to address the young cyborg.
Adam closed his eyes for a moment, then said, “That way,” pointing down the hall away from them. “And down.”
Plateau checked his communicator again. They were moving in the same direction. “Good. It looks like we can kill two birds with one stone.”
“I think in this case we don’t want to kill-”
“It’s a figure of speech, Adam,” Clarified Jet.
“That doesn’t sound like good news,” said Kismet.
A gunshot cracked around a corner from them, startling everyone. The LED in the corner of Adam’s iris flickered briefly.
“We, uh, might have a problem,” said Adam, and then the doors started opening.
“Oh crap oh crap oh crap. He definitely saw us.”
Emily and Dame Danger leaned on the wall, out of breath. They were cornered, stuck in an alcove with a chiphead patrolling between them and the stairwell.
“He hasn’t come after us. Maybe he didn’t see us.”
“He still there?” asked Emily. Dame Danger peeked around the corner with a small mirror.
“What do we do?” Emily sounded almost panicked. “I’ve never done this before.”
“I could pop him, but I can’t really aim this thing yet,” Dame Danger said, gesturing with her device. “He’d hit first unless I can get closer.”
“Wait, idea. You got any ball-bearings you don’t need?”
“Uh, sure. Here.” Dame Danger rifled through her pockets. “What are you gonna do with it?”
“Provide a distraction.” Dame Danger handed her a small metal sphere, and she pressed her thumb onto it, leaving behind a small circle filled with complex whorls and swirls.
She ducked low and rolled it around the corner towards the chiphead patrolling the hall. He didn’t even notice it as it rolled past him. Emily focused her will on it and was rewarded with a surprisingly loud ‘bang,’ which made a quite convincing gunshot. The chiphead jumped back, surprised, as steel shrapnel grazed the back of his neck. Now facing the other direction, Dame Danger took the opportunity to close the distance and fire off a shot with her own weapon, discharging with a distinctive ‘pop.’ He convulsed and collapsed to the floor as the electromagnetic pulse fried his implants.
“Sweet, it worked!” exclaimed Emily.
“Not for long. We need to run,” said Dame Danger.
“What?” Emily looked confused. Shifting from an internal victory celebration to flight mode was not a smooth mental transition.
“Run! They just heard gunfire outside their rooms,” Dame Danger grabbed Emily and pulled her along as she made a break for the stairs. Emily caught on quickly and soon was running under her own power, leaping down the stairs as confused shouts and sounds of doors slamming open rang through the halls behind them.
“I did not think that through,” groaned Emily as they reached the bottom of the stairwell to see doors opening here too. They ducked back into the stairwell.
“It got us into the stairwell,” said Dame Danger encouragingly. Her eyes lighted on a cart of school supplies, one of several of the type that roll around the school selling pencils and erasers and renting out the graphing calculators. “And I think it might work for us again.”
Kismet dispatched the first few out with brutal efficiency, kicking a door in to knock one of the chipheads away, before dodging a shot from a second by ducking into the room. She tore off the doorknob and threw it, catching the shoulder of the chiphead who had fired a shot off at her with his ion gun, knocking off his aim. His wild shot happened to catch a chiphead coming from a classroom across the hall, dropping her. Ironic, Plateau thought, they’re weak to their own weapons.
Plateau knocked the second chiphead off his feet with a pillar of brick and locked him to the ground with angular bars of ceramic which he grew from the ground. Current threat dealt with, he set about blocking doors and hallways, creating walls out of the ceramic floor tiles, obstructing the doorways. After a few moments, the heroes were effectively boxed in.
“Why didn’t you do that earlier?” asked Kismet as they regrouped. Jet and Legion had just watched, neither of them willing to use their powers under the circumstances. Adam, for his part, was standing still, his eyes closed, breathing very rapidly.
“Uses up a lot of mass. I’m down to maybe 20, 30 percent now.” said Plateau. “I usually make things hollow, but I can’t really do that here.”
“Can we still get down to the IT department?” asked Kismet, unstrapping her tonfa. “Are they even still there?” She seemed to have adjusted to being in-costume at school, but her sudden change after she attacked Legion was worrisome. Plateau made a mental note to consult Jamisson.
“They haven’t moved. I expected them to move,” said Adam. His eyes were still closed, but now he had an expression of confusion.
“I can create a rolling barrier, one that moves as we go down the hall, but that takes a lot of concentration, and we couldn’t move very fast. We should-”
A ‘Crack’ punctuated Plateau’s speech, cutting him off mid-sentence, followed by another.
“Is that gunfire?” asked Jet.
“There are signals dropping out down there. I think-” Adam said, then opened his eyes, worried. “I think someone’s shooting them.”
Dame Danger grinned as she threw another handful of pencils through the doorway, then listened for the pops that marked them splintering. The chipheads hit the floor again, trying to avoid the stinging fusillade of splinters. Emily plucked fresh ammunition from the cart, a highlighter and some erasers, along with more pencils, coating them with explosive runes while Dame Danger plucked off a few of the prone chipheads with her own ion gun.
“These guys are totally incompetent,” commented Dame Danger casually.
“They have a ready-made source of hostages, but they aren’t using it. They’re just throwing themselves at us.” Dame Danger shrugged. “I guess they had to get a lot of volunteers, didn’t worry about training.”
“Or maybe they’re just stalling,” pointed out Emily. “But what for? Wait, didn’t Adam say they were in the IT department?”
“I know what this is- who this is.”
“The Databank. Taking the school hostage is just a cover. They’re after the restricted student database. It’s a data raid.”
“What is the Databank, and why would they want student files?”
“It’s part of Umbra- teachers are required to report uses of metahuman abilities by the students. That way if a new villain pops up, the police can get a warrant and search through the records to see if they are a student. That’s how I got- well…”
Dame Danger was surprised by this. It made sense, from a legal standpoint, but the privacy implications were staggering.
“What about the Databank?” Emily looked at Dame Danger quizzically. She was mildly surprised Dame Danger hadn’t heard of it.
“It’s one possible reason they could be doing it. The Databank is… It’s kind of a repository of secrets, blackmail, incriminating evidence, all that jazz. You can deposit data and they’ll make sure it’s secure, if you pay them, or you can take out a loan of information, pay it back with your own secrets, or someone else’s. This kind of data is better than gold to someone in infodebt, or else could trade it for some big secrets.”
“Infode-? Nevermind. Explain later. We need to stop them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my name and number sold to the highest bidder.” The very thought made Dame Danger shudder. The codenames, the anonymity was meant to protect their families and loved ones. Having that kind of information accessible to anyone was a frightening idea.
“Let’s get going,” said Dame Danger. “The others can follow us.”
Emily cleared out the remaining chipheads with the highlighter, which, entertainingly, burst into a cloud of choking yellow mist that hung in the hallway, and condensed on the walls and floor.
“I wonder if that’s flammable,” mused Dame Danger. Emily laughed.
“Don’t try it.”
“No, I understand.” Jet glared at Plateau.
“I’m sorry, but-“
“I get it,” Jet cut him off. “I know I’m useless. I’ll get Legion somewhere and hide ’till this blows over. Real heroic.”
Jet and Legion stormed off back the way they’d come, towards the library.
“Real smooth, dear leader,” said Kismet.
“It was a tactical decision! They-” Plateau started to rationalize, but was interrupted by Kismet.
“Not saying it was wrong -Legion still needs to recover- but that was cold,” Kismet said harshly. “You’ve read Jet’s file. Afraid of hurting others and afraid of being unable to help.”
“How do you- oh. Oh.” Plateau cringed. “He can’t use his power inside the building without hurting people, but he can’t help without using his power.”
“Yup. Did GA tell you he almost jumped off the roof after the fight with Masquerade, because he couldn’t help us?” Plateau’s eyes widened. He hadn’t known that. None of the others had. “And you just sent him off with the guy who discovered his powers when he tried to kill himself?” Plateau was speechless he hadn’t even considered that. “Ten bucks says they’re on their way to the IT department right now. You may have a good tactical sense, and I realize you’re just trying to protect your friends, but you really need to think about other people’s problems.”
Plateau was speechless. His shoulders dropped, disappointment and anger warring, flushing the pride from his posture. He’d had a plan, a vision of how this would go, and now it was falling apart around him. He didn’t understand- he’d done everything right, as far as he knew, yet he’d managed to get two members of the team captured and sent two away for not being useful. He realized now that it was impossible to focus on both the good of the group as a whole and the will of each individual member.
Kismet spoke up. “We’re broken, all of us. I consider it a good day if I can hold a normal conversation. I’ve seen the files.”
How? Wondered Plateau, distracted from his internal struggle.
“Do you want to know what yours says?” Kismet asked.
Plateau shook his head. He didn’t want to hear this. He’d avoided reading his own file when he’d snuck onto the console the previous year, afraid to know his own faults. Now, though he was drawn to listen through some morbid curiosity.
“‘Protective of others, but still retains guilt. Outwardly self-confident, but does not like to confide. Strong leadership potential, but lacking necessary empathy.’ That’s what it says.”
Lacking necessary empathy. Plateau didn’t understand. He recalled Kismet’s file: ‘Difficulty reconciling multiple identities, difficulty interacting with others under normal circumstances. Short attention span, but highly focused.’ All that fit- he could see how her power shaped her personality, as with the others, but that was all he saw them as -powers. How had his power changed him? he wondered.