Kevin tapped at the keyboard with growing frustration.
“Gah, this is annoying,” he said.
“What is?” Sean asked. He and Sasha were, at Kevin’s request, avoiding watching what he was doing, instead reading various articles on their phones. The UMBRA amendment had made the news in a big way, and public reaction seemed mixed, at best.
“I got it into recovery mode, which bypassed the password, but I can’t do anything. I can’t run any programs to actually look at any of the files.”
“Can you copy the files to somewhere else?” Sasha asked.
“Well yeah, that’s what recovery mode is for. Problem is, it encrypts all the files when you recover them, so I have all the files, but I still can’t… hold on, idea.” Kevin shut the laptop and flipped it over. He plucked a screwdriver from a coffee mug and unscrewed the underside of the laptop. Sean stood and approached, interested.
“Yes!” Kevin said, then set about extracting part of the laptop’s internal wiring.
“Care to explain?” Sasha asked.
“The laptop has two hard drives- an SSD and a hard drive. The OS boots off of the SSD, which is why it loads so fast, but all the large files are stored on the hard drive because it’s a lot bigger, which means that I can remove the entire hard drive-” he finished pulling the connections out of a metal wired into the laptop before continuing, “-and plug it right into something else, in this case my laptop.” He wired the hard drive into his laptop and waited a few moments. With a chime, the new file directory appeared on the screen. Kevin scanned through the hard drive for a few minutes, before stopping. “IRC?” he said, puzzled. “Liam did not strike me as an IRC kind of guy.”
Sean looked back and forth between Sasha and Kevin, utterly lost. “IRC?” he asked when he realized he was the ignorant one.
“Anonymous online messaging tool.” Sasha explained. “Villains use it to coordinate, or at least they used to, but… almost everyone dropped it after Metatron hacked almost the entire network a few years back. I used to use it to talk with my cape-watcher group.”
“It’s pretty much abandoned in favor of ICE, now,” Kevin said.
“So nobody’s watching?” Sean finished.
“Not quite. It’s complicated, and I don’t actually understand it, but you can’t really monitor either of them. That’s why I’m surprised it’s IRC and not ICE- it really shouldn’t matter, but ICE is technically more secure.” Kevin shrugged. “Let’s open that up and see who’s there.”
Kevin opened the program and logged into the only bookmarked server. A message appeared in the chat box almost immediately.
Lightbringer: Sup Invisabro.
Kevin stared at it for a moment. “God, Invisabro? Really?” he said, then typed a response.
Invisabro: Kinda busy. Can’t talk long.
Lightbringer: Aren’t we all?
Lightbringer: Seriously, join the club.
Lightbringer: Welcome to the real world.
“Lightbringer,” said Sasha. “Who is that?”
“Lumen?” Sean suggested. Another message appeared a moment later.
Lightbringer: How’s the job coming?
“Wait, let me get this,” Sasha said, pushing Kevin’s chair to the side so she could reach the keyboard.
“Hey!” Kevin protested.
“I know Liam,” Sasha said, then typed out a response.
Invisabro: Easier than expected so far.
Invisabro: Haven’t found out anything yet, though,
Invisabro: except that these guys are total tools.
“Hey!” Sean protested, but Sasha shushed him.
Lightbringer: Is that really a surprise?
Invisabro: Not so much, no.
Lightbringer: Well, keep up the good work. Bosslady has faith in you since you pulled off the last job so well.
Lightbringer: The denudine was a master stroke.
“Holy shit,” Kevin said. “You were right.”
Lightbringer: We know it’s someone in your class, though, so keep a lookout.
“Wait, what?” Sasha said.
“No idea,” Sean said, but he sounded unsure.
Invisabro: Got it.
Invisabro: Gtg. Seeya.
Sasha disconnected and the three let out a collective breath.
“Holy crap, it was him,” Kevin said. He rocked the chair back. “I am so sorry.”
“No worries,” Sasha replied.
“That’s enough to get him kicked out of the program, not to mention arrested,” Sean said.
“Problem-” Kevin interjected. “We can’t exactly use evidence we found on his stolen laptop.”
“Oh, right. Hm.” Sean thought for a moment. “We could just submit an anonymous tip and let the police handle the rest.”
“He’d get rid of all the evidence before they could search anything,” Sasha said. “Besides, his laptop is our only evidence, and I kind of stole it.”
“Oh, right.” Sean said. “That is a problem.”
“So, we wait until he does something really incriminating?” Sasha proposed.
“Sure,” Kevin conceded after a moment, and Sean agreed.
“Should I tell Will?” Sean asked.
Sasha looked up at Sean with a sharp, scrutinizing glance.
“Yeah, sure,” she said, her nonchalant tone not matching the intensity of her expression. Her expression faded back to neutral, leaving Sean confused.
Sean left the room, thoughts whirling.
“Sean, check this out,” Will said from his desk. “The Upright Man trial hit the news.”
Sean leaned over to get a view of Will’s computer, and almost fell out of his chair when he saw the article title:
Trial Delayed By Hospital Crisis; Local Hero Director Injured
“Wait, what happened?” Sean asked once he had regained his balance.
“Looks like that Upright Man guy tried to use his precognition to rig the trial.” Will scrolled through the article. “They had to delay the trial when he announced that he’d planted a bomb in the hospital or something. He-” Will paused. “Oh shit, mom! I need to check on her.”
“I don’t think you should be going out,” Sean said. “You looked like crap last night. You still don’t look great.”
Will frowned, then flicked Sean on the arm. “You check on her then,” he said, then added, “Please.”
“Sure, but I don’t… What happened? I want to make sure I’m not walking into…” Sean didn’t finish that thought. He leaned over Will’s shoulder and read a segment of the article.
The blast was mitigated by the arrival of local hero and national icon, Paragon, who sources say leapt out of his plane on the way back from Washington to fly the rest of the way to the hospital himself. The airline has filed suit for recklessly endangering the passengers of his flight, as the cabin depressurized briefly, but an out-of-court settlement is expected.
“My uncle’s back,” Sean said. “I wonder if… But yeah, sure. I’ll go check on your mom. Where’s the hospital?”
“You know where Herald Square is?” Will asked.
“Go to Herald Square, then take Mercy Street until you see it. It’s pretty much a straight shot from campus.”
“Alright, see you later,” Sean said, and left the room.
Guardian Angel nudged the white door open.
“Hello?” Jamisson’s voice came from inside.
Guardian Angel pushed the rest of the way through the door. Jamisson was sitting up on the hospital bed with a tablet computer on his lap.
“Afternoon, Sir,” Guardian Angel said, not sure what to do.
“Ah, you’re here.” Jamisson gestured at the tablet and the screen went dark. “Paragon told me you’d stop by. I’ve spoken to Commissioner Blaine, and he wants help dealing with the Anchor Boys. Davy Jones is making waves again, and Dr. SWAT isn’t equipped to handle him at the moment.”
“Right, got it. I-” Guardian Angel caught a glimpse of something moving out of the corner of his eye and turned to see what it was, then jumped back in surprise, wings curling around in front of him. Shadow had somehow appeared in the room without him noticing.
“Shadow, Savage wanted to see you. He said to he’ll find you tonight.”
“That might be a problem,” Shadow said, his voice emanating from the featureless black blob that was his head. “The weather’s gotten too cold.”
“Weakness to cold?” Jamisson asked.
“Makes sense. Talk to Dr. Mind. He used to that sort of thing for the University when he was working on his Ph.Ds.”
“I will do that. Thanks.”
Shadow left the hospital room, and Guardian Angel could see the darkness that shrouded him fading as the door closed behind him. It was another few moments before his footprints had faded as well.
“And you, meet Paragon at his house as soon as you can. For now, we’re doing solo heroes with sidekicks until you two finish the community service and training minimum.”
“Sidekicks?” Guardian Angel asked.
“Yes, and you’re going to have to swallow your pride for now,” Jamisson said. “It’s not an ideal situation, but it will serve until I can get more support into the city.”
Guardian Angel apologized and turned to leave, when he stopped. “I just realized I never asked you,” he said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. You should check in with Cryoclasm before you leave.”
“Oh yeah, what happened?”
“What we think is that her power came back on suddenly when the damage to that part of her brain was repaired by the Neuraplast. She immediately started overloading, and the high stress level made it spiral out of control. Paragon bubbled her.”
Guardian Angel waited for more explanation, then, receiving none, prompted, “Bubbled?”
“He swapped his force-field over to her, and it stopped her power from spreading, because she can only draw heat from contiguous substances.”
“I didn’t know he could do that,” Guardian Angel confessed.
“He doesn’t, often. It can’t contain people, because they can still move, but it also can’t protect people very well, since they can’t use any of the other tricks it gives him, like flying or the concussion blasts, and it leaves him exposed. Though he did put it on Blueshift sometimes when they needed to hit something really hard.”
“Huh,” Guardian Angel said. “We’ll talk later. I have to go.”
Sean rang the doorbell and waited for his uncle to open the door. It was getting cold, Shadow had been right. The door opened, startling Sean.
“Sean!” Ben exclaimed, grinning like a lunatic. “Welcome, welcome! Come on in.”
Sean entered and was immediately assaulted by the bright colors of his uncle’s home.
“So, how’s college?” Ben asked after he shut the door.
“Good,” he said, offering the generic reply, then remembered himself and elaborated. “It’s kind of crazy, actually. It’s hard to keep up, being a hero too.” Sean walked further into the house and sat at the kitchen table. The house was laid out very similarly to the Upright Man’s house, he noticed to his discomfort.
His uncle switched to the voice he used when in-costume, the quintessential heroic baritone. “I’m telling you professor, Chronovore ate my homework,” he said, then cracked up at his own joke. “Anyway, business. Even though we don’t technically have jurisdiction anymore, the PD can still ask for our help as solo heroes, which is what they’ve done in this case.”
“What with?” Sean asked, relaxing now that his uncle had shifted onto a more serious topic.
“Everybody’s favorite shipyard union: the Anchor Boys,” Paragon said. “Come on, get suited up. Let’s go.”
Sean groaned. “Ugh. Seriously, this will be my second time putting it on today.”
“I don’t seem to have that problem,” Paragon said with a sly glint in his eye as he conjured his trademark glowing armor.
“I am so jealous of that,” Sean groaned, and unzipped the gym bag.
Since I had to schedule this, I can’t put up the first comment like usual, so I’m putting it here. My buffer has been eaten by real life, so chapter length may decrease briefly.
Just a reminder, vote! Also, there is now a donation link, by request. I’m not going to ask you people to donate, because I don’t do this for the money (though it is an added bonus), but the option is there if you want to use it.