Masks 18: Part 8

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Masks XVIII

by

Rodford Edmiston

Part Eight

Energia had trouble flying at first. Then she got the idea of using her magnetic powers to anchor herself to the fixed pieces of metal all around. Once that was done she used a combination of her flight and magnetic powers to pull herself towards the fire station.

The place was a mess. She could see a few firefighters outside, tugging futilely at an enormous tangle of sheet metal and wire which had somehow gotten wrapped around the building. Some even had metal cutters, but the pile was just too much for quick removal that way. The front and back vehicle doors were blocked, and even the human door on the windward side. Energia wondered if all that mess had blown in from one building somewhere, or had built up as it moved, like a snowball rolling downhill.

One of the firefighters spotted her, waved, then got the attention of the others.

"Hey, there!" she shouted, as she landed beside them. "Where is it safe to pull on this? I mean, which direction? I don't want to damage your building."

With a combination of shouts and gestures, they indicated what they thought would be the best course of action.

"Then just pile it in that lot? Okay, better stand back."

Energia anchored herself, then spread her hands to help her visualize what she was doing. She was fighting not only the weight and resistance to bending of the metal, but the winds, as well. She worked carefully, making certain she had a firm magnetic grip on what she was moving, which was not a solid piece but a loose pile of several different materials. In spite of this a few pieces came loose, most of them rolling away in the wind.

Standing there, the wind-driven rain stinging her face, concentrating on the task, Energia strained. The effort required was due less to the amount of brute force needed than the necessity for fine, careful control with slow progress. Finally, she had all but a few loose pieces of debris wadded into an easier to control mass, which she deposited - very firmly - in the empty lot. After watching for a moment to make sure it would stay where she put it, she let go.

"Whew..." said Energia, sagging.

She relaxed a bit too much, forgetting to stay anchored. A gust of wind nearly shoved her off her feet. One of the firefighters - a woman, in fact - quickly caught her.

"You okay?"

"Yeah. That just took a lot out of me."

"Come in and rest for a bit. Most of us will be going on a couple of different runs now that the doors are clear, but you're welcome to hot coffee and cold doughnuts."

"Thanks."

* * *

The police led Blue Impact to some other traffic accidents where she could help. At two of them she simply served as a human tow truck, clearing undrivable vehicles off the road until they could be properly dealt with. At one, though, she had to move a car which had hit a building, pinning an elderly man in wreckage which couldn't be moved until the car was out of the way.

The situation was too delicate for the hydraulic rescue equipment on the scene, but for someone who could exert sufficient force directly by hand while experts oversaw and aided, it was just feasible. Once Blue Impact - very carefully - moved the car out of the way the rescue workers got busy. The victim was in bad shape, but as they closed the doors on the ambulance the EMTs told Blue Impact they thought he'd make it.

Finally came a situation which was almost comical: A fire hydrant had been hit by something - perhaps wind borne storm debris - which snapped it off level with the sidewalk, creating a geyser. This added to the water already running down the street and into the drains but otherwise wasn't causing a significant problem. The police had opened a manhole to gain access to a cutoff, but didn't have the right tools to close the valve. Blue Impact dropped into the hole and simply twisted the valve spindle with her fingers. Carefully.

"That's got it!" one of the cops yelled down the manhole, when the flow finally stopped.

"That's that," said Blue Impact, as she climbed out. "You know of any place else I can help?"

"No. Thank you. I just heard that your teammate - the flying one - was able to get the trapped rescue workers and fire personnel free, so they can now get to the problem sites in this area. The storm also seems to be weakening, so hopefully there won't be any more accidents for a while!"

Waving as she walked away, Blue Impact went back to her bike. With her dense tissues she had little problem remaining stable as she rode away in the fading gusts.

"How's it going?" she asked on her helmet radio.

"I'm finished," said Energia. "Just needed to move some debris blocking the doors of a fire station, but that was a tough job. The stuff was loose and almost had the entire building wrapped up. Real finicky work; took a lot out of me. They made me rest afterwards. I even got coffee and doughnuts."

"Great. Let's meet at city hall and see if anything else comes up. If not, that's a good landmark for Gadgetive to use for picking us up."

* * *

Blue Impact reached the large building a few seconds before Energia.

"Is it just me or is the storm not as bad, now?" the younger super asked as she landed.

"The cops I was working with said the storm was dying down."

"Guess we got the right guy, then," said Energia, grinning.

"They also told me the Red Cross has a place to get food in the rotunda of the courthouse, over there," said Blue Impact, pointing. "You've eaten; I haven't. Check and see if there are any more problems we can help with, and let me know if Gadgetive gets here before I'm finished."

As it turned out, Blue Impact was done with a very large snack and back outside waiting in the waning winds before the flyer returned. She'd thought she might get an argument about taking advantage of the free grub, but tales or her work had spread rapidly and they were glad to feed her. Even better, by the time Gadgetive got there the storm was hardly a problem.

"We must'a got the right guy," Gadgetive said, beaming, as the others entered; Energia clambering in the front and Blue Impact bringing her bike in through the rear clamshell doors.

"Yes, Gadgetive," said Blue Impact, flatly, as she stowed her bike. "We must have gotten the right guy."

"Uh..."

"What did they say at the training center?" said Energia.

"They said they couldn't make any decisions until they made an extensive examination."

"Typical," said Energia, as she took her seat.

Blue Impact moved to the front of the flyer and took the controls. Without saying anything, she lifted them straight up, to well above the clouds.

"It even looks better from up here," said Energia, peering out of the canopy, down at the clouds.

"You okay, teach?" said Gadgetive, concerned at Blue Impact's silence.

"Hmm? Oh; sorry. I'm just wondering what they'll do with that man. Harry. He didn't mean to cause all this damage, but there could be legal impacts."

"Wow," said Energia, startled. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Normally, there would be a hearing and once the judge and district attorney's office were convinced there was no deliberate harm or malice the charges would be dropped. Though there could be civil suits, separately. This... is very unusual."

"If we don't tell anyone who caused the storms, would the Bureau?"

"I'll have to ask Brade about that. I don't think this has come up for one of their cases before."

"That poor man," said Energia, sadly. "I hope he doesn't have to deal with that on top of everything else."

"Anyway, that's all done," said Gadgetive, cheerfully. "Hopefully, noting else will come up before we have to head back to school."

* * *

So far, graduate school wasn't much different from regular college, at least as far as Vic was concerned. Of course, part of that was due to her unusual circumstances. One of the few benefits of the extra year she'd had to spend at Ramsey was that she, Alex and Energia had graduated together. Unfortunately, almost none of the other supers she had started with here were still around by then. She missed some of the others - especially the bewinged Angela Florello and Melanie Perron, who was super strong and could grow a protective shell - and so far she just hadn't made any close connections with any of the new super students.

Of course, as Winter moved in there was more on the minds of at least some students and teachers at the Ramsey Technical College than grades and holiday plans. Vic included.

"How do you feel about Gibbons winning his party's nomination?" said Alex, one lazy evening at the dorm.

She, Vic and Energia had gotten together in the dorm room the first two shared, ostensibly to discuss classwork. However, they were all obviously distracted by the recent political exercise.

Not the same room, Vic thought, looking around, as she waited for Energia to answer, but it's the same floor in the same wing.

Graduate students usually took apartments near the campus. However, Vic was spending a lot of her time with Michelle at her apartment - was even helping with the rent - so didn't see a need for an apartment of her own. Of course, her roommate the past five years - while also now a grad student - was younger than her peers and no-one else wanted to room with her. So, Vic's official residence was right back in the same old dorm. For some reason the rooms seemed much smaller now than when Vic and Alex first started here. On the other hand, it no longer seemed strange - to her or Alex - that one of their frequent visitors wore a costume with cape and mask.

"I honestly don't know," said Energia, frowning. "The man has hardly said a word about supers, though some of what he has said hasn't been super friendly. On the other hand..."

"On the other hand, his Veep choice is known to be an admirer of disgraced former President Harvey Thurlin," said Vic, hotly. She sighed and shook her head. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see just how anti-super Gibbons actually is. As well as how smart."

"Smart?" said Energia.

"Will he be stupid and immediately come down hard on supers?" said Alex, ticking her points off with raised fingers. "Will he be a little smart and work slowly and behind the scenes, hopefully to be exposed before things go too far? Or will he be really smart and simply ignore supers, since popular opinion is now so strongly on your side? You also have to take into account whether his Veep - Whatisname? Carl Donner! - will have any influence, and what it might be."

"He's largely unknown," said Vic, "barely made any sort of mark in politics. No-one seems to know what he's gonna do..."

"When did you become so politically aware?" said Energia, surprised.

"Since it dawned on me that politicians could declare me illegal," said Vic, sourly. She looked pointedly at Energia. "You, too, for that matter."

"Well, yeah," said Energia, shifting uncomfortably. "I do know that both the main candidates are very close in the polls, with everyone else far behind."

"You should keep up with the rest of this stuff, too."

"It's funny," said Alex, breaking the short silence which followed that. "You folks still have it better here than most places. Most other countries where supers helped fight the invasion are working on ways to further regulate them. Turns out the powers that be in lots of places had it rammed home just how effective supers can be in fighting tyranny and are getting very, very nervous."

* * *

Many people were reacting to the victory of Gibbons, in many different ways. One of them in ways which would have surprised anyone who knew him, or anyone who thought they knew who was actually running Gibbons' campaign.

Alvin Montgomery smiled in delayed satisfaction as Milton Garber conceded. All was going according to plan. Soon, people he had picked would again be in charge of the White House and most of the US Congress, plus multiple other political positions. All the while, no-one who knew him in his mundane life realized just how important he was, and those who knew how important he was had no idea of his actual identity. He preferred to work behind the scenes, where he was free from pestering by politicians and lobbyists. Where his work could remain pure.

Montgomery didn't look very impressive. He was a mousey little man, in late middle age, unimportant to those who only knew his public persona. Those who knew him as the Secret Keeper didn't care what he looked like or sounded like. They'd never even seen the real him, or heard his real voice; only the digitally altered versions of both through which he ran the organization that was going to save the world. Billionaires and politicians followed his advice; true patriots at all levels followed his orders without question.

He'd had his setbacks over the past nearly twenty years since realizing that if he wanted this country put right, he needed to do it himself. That was to be expected. The forces arrayed against him ranged from influential individuals through superhumans to much of the military industrial complex. None of them wanted to fix things, to get back to the roots of what made this nation great, and the world orderly, unless it benefitted them and their narrow interests! What helped him so much was that members of those groups - even sometimes those within a particular group - would work against other members who didn't exactly agree with them. Unfortunately, that often also frustrated his work. Compromise, it appeared, was a lost art. More often than not, though, appealing to such extremism aided his cause. All he had to do was slyly let someone know he supported them, and they would do what he recommended. All on the QT.

As the Secret Keeper he ran a covert organization that even many of those working for it didn't know existed. Another advantage of being anonymous was that the setbacks never affected him personally. Though the Five Great Powers nearly had. He had succumbed to their diabolical mind control within minutes, and only the general nature of their commands had kept him from helpfully putting all his resources at their disposal. Thanks to his Border Guard plant, Freedom's Secret, he had beaten the Five Great Powers! Only to see first supers who were late to the party and then the Shilmek take credit!

Well, he wasn't in this for credit. Leave that to history. He was more concerned with the present, and the near future. Though he was starting to feel concern that the near future was becoming the not-so-near future. Progress was slow, with multiple setbacks. Sometimes it was one step forward, then two - or even three - steps back!

Damn that Sievers woman! How she had gotten elected he was still trying to figure out. None of the analysts whose reports he had used - reports conducted thanks to him prompting various political entities which didn't even know they were doing his work - had given her a serious chance! Even doctoring the polls once he realized she was being unexpectedly successful hadn't ruined her. "Social progress, desire for change..." What garbage! Even if that was what some people wanted, how could a middle-aged, childless woman who had been widowed after only three years of marriage appeal to voters?! She hadn't even been properly trained! She actually thought she was qualified to run a country, and had somehow convinced voters of that! Twice! He hadn't taken her seriously, concentrating on his choice in the opposition party... who hadn't even made it through the presidential primaries! Then the same thing happened during Sievers' reelection. What was wrong with this country?! Should he even try saving it?!

He stopped, took a deep breath, and calmed himself. Yes. The United States of America was well worth saving. The core was still there, just waiting for the opportunity to reassert itself, and restore this nation to the greatness it had once known. All it needed was motivation and direction. With Gibbons in office his plan could be put back on track. Despite being delayed for several years. Partly thanks to the desertion of Eve Hind, just when her influence would have been most useful... But mostly due to someone he had trusted as his backup if something happened to Thurlin.

"If Gould hadn't betrayed Thurlin we'd be there by now," said Montgomery, quietly.

"What was that?" said the man at the next workstation.

"Nothing. Sorry."

Montgomery sighed and set back to work. His mundane work, that is. So much to do, and he couldn't afford - yet - to give up his day job. The connections here were too valuable.



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