Dudeman took the stairs to the staging area five at a time, without pausing for breath. Behind him, his surfboard bucked and pulled in tight circles as it followed, his own nervous energy pushing it into increasingly obvious acrobatic stunts as it burned off excess force, while in his earpiece, he listened to the Patchwork Champions' battle cries as they engaged Shivarex and Ash. Reaching the bottom, he paused for half a second to take a deep breath, then pushed the door open and glanced around.
The staging area, located on top of Headquarters, was an old re-fitting airplane hangar, once used to store extra intercontinental planes. Now it held the psibeacon that had been taken from the Oligarchs, active and set up in the room's center. A pale blue light filtered from the crystal, pulsing through wires and pipes into various consoles scattered across the room in optimal psychic formation for multiple-point jumps. Several dozen people were already in the room, technicians working at the seven consoles while agents gathered into groups of three and four as they prepared for battle. Most were already in uniform, with the last few pulling on masks or attaching capes as they glanced around. As Dudeman started across the room, he gave a thumbs-up gesture to the lead technician, who nodded to the others and then spoke through a microphone. His voice echoed across the room. “Preparing pre-lim jump. First jump in three minutes. Squads one through five prepare for jump.”
Dudeman started towards the staging area, meeting Seth Lansdowne half way there. His fellow director was fully kitted-out, wearing the modified battle armor in which he always fought. He saluted Dudeman quickly, then returned to pre-fight checks. “Good thing you had intel, Nathan.” He said. “Turns out that you might not be able to block a psiport, but you can block a beacon. Mundi's world-wide comm overload's locked us out, so what you see is what you get – we can jump in, but not out again.”
Dudeman glanced around briefly. “We'll have to make sure to make our numbers count, then.” He asked. “I don't see Highbrow, so I assume we didn't reach Sayleen.”
“Nope.” Lansdowne shook his head. “We have forty-five active powered agents, and eight a-list non-powered agents.”
Dudeman started to nod, then stopped and frowned. Lansdowne nodded before he could ask. “I know – we're short three powers from our planetside list. Patchwork City was locked down long before the rest of the world, so I couldn't pull Blastwave or Moonbeam out. And…” He gestured over to one corner, where a very despondant-looking man sat glumly, two military police standing guard over him. “When we tried to pull Danger Ace, we got him instead. Claims he picked her beacon off the ground, but Intrepid scanned him and says he's a pickpocket.”
“Scanning's inadmissible in court.” Dudeman said blandly. Seth smiled and shrugged. “Fine, whatever.” Dudeman continued. “We'll send him home later. For now, shift Nexus to fill Katy's place. That should keep the teams balanced. Split the non-powereds into two teams of four.” He shook his head. “God damn it, Katy.” He muttered.
“Launch in thirty seconds!” The technician yelled. Dudeman ignored him.
“Biggest battle in years, and she misses it through a damn stupid…” He broke off, looked up at Seth with widening eyes. “Coincidence.” He finished. He turned to the tech, shouted as loudly as he could. “Cancel jump!”
“But her powers don't…” Seth started. Then he froze, realizing what Dudeman had a moment earlier. Katy's powers drove her into dangerous, exciting situations. Anything that would keep her away from the largest superhero battle of the past two years, possibly the largest in decades depending on how it shook out, was something that her powers would be viciously working against. For such a coincidence to have happened, the SEA had to be not about to port into battle.
The technicians were clearly confused, but reacted instantly anyway. “Jump aborted.” The tech spoke into the microphone, as the countdown froze on twenty-two. A moment later, he added, “Sir, we've still got powerup!”
“Evacuate!” Dudeman yelled. He leapt into the air, grabbing Seth with one hand and reaching to snag the nearest technician with the other as he levelled a focused blast at the nearest wall. Behind him, he saw Intrepid scoop up several people and teleport away, as other heroes took to the air, slammed through the floor, or vanish to safety. He counted down in his head. What was the trap? How far did they need to get?
He picked up speed as his mental count dropped. Beside him, Lansdowne was applying an oxygen mask to the technician, as the wind ripped past too fast to breathe. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
The sounds of battle from Patchwork City went silent in his earpiece, replaced by the normal calls of his team as they fled an unknown threat. For a fraction of a second, Dudeman's brow wrinkled.
For another fraction of a second, he glanced down at the teleport beacon still firmly attached to his waist. The thought began to form that Rex Mundi could teleport far more people in a single jump than the SEA could.
Then, for a final fraction of a second, he was back in the jump chamber, with fifty-two agents wearing varying shades of confusion and panic as they began to register what had happened, and the psicrystal flared brightly.
Then it was too late.
A thousand miles away, Ecchs glanced down at his readout and smiled nastily. “And that, children, is what happens when a psibeacon attempts to teleport itself.” He said to no one in particular. “The SEA, the UNSC, the FSB, and Atlantis are now neutralized.” He looked over at Ada. “No more pesky reinforcements for our heroes.”
“Beautiful.” Ada replied.