The causeway across the bay had never looked gloomier. The water was a bare few feet away from the tires of Hand’s car, lapping across the edge with each swish of the waves. It wasn’t too far from the waffle house we’d set headquarters up across from (and they appreciated the business of heroes taking lunch breaks, even if the schools didn’t admire us for stealing teenagers to do our dirty work.) but the slurry of choppy waves dancing across the side of the causeway reminded me that hurricane season was rapidly approaching.
Didn’t want to think about it.
Knew it’d be a death knell for the area if one swept up right now.
“You think too much,” Colton grunted from the front seat.
“This is still my car,” Hands reminded him. “And you’re my honored guests, but don’t think I won’t make you walk the length of the causeway if you too get into another fight.”
“I’m innocent here,” I protested.
“I can think of one person who certainly isn’t,” Hands glared at Colton. “Rebecca didn’t want to come?”
“Wasn’t invited,” I said. “Gotta keep her in Mobile in case there’s an emergency. Medical shipments are slow to arrive, after all.”
“Bet that made her angry,” Colton commented. “She looked pissed when she had to unbreak my nose again.”
“Again?” I asked.
“She was also on that job in the association, though she would take blood every time she healed you over there,” Colton explained.
“Did she have a few gallons of your blood?” I asked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Colton huffed.
“If you punch everyone you disagree with, you had to have picked on people way out of your league.”
“Believe it or not, I learn my lesson after the first time,” Colton crossed his arms over his chest. “But yes, sure, she took my blood a lot. Training is rough.”
The car was silent for a moment. Hands caught my eye in her rear view mirror. “We wouldn’t know,” Hands said.
“Right. D ranks. Hardly seems that fair, you two saved me after all.” Colton muttered.
“The ranking systems in schools are really for how dangerous the power would be to go without training, Knives for Brains,” I pointed out. “I can summon gusts of wind, and Hands has an invisible hand. Don’t really need training to stop yourself from hurting people.”
“And because they invest more training in me, they expect me to take on more responsibilities?” Colton said, cocking his head to the side. “Wouldn’t that just lead to a concentration of power in the hands of those with the most actual power? That’s not how the system works.”
“Obviously, that would be a stupid way of measuring that out.” Hands said. “And the president of the association is only a B rank, so while there might be a correlation between power and status, the leadership isn’t necessarily made up of those with powers.”
I shrugged. “Assumedly, when rank testing starts in the fall, I’ll get to see if I keep my B rank, and from there see if I can go into a leadership role. They like to keep their leaders at least a B, though. So that the leader can at least keep their subordinates in line.”
“Keep it?” Colton laughed. “I don’t know if you noticed, but taking out an S rank villain at least earns you your B rank. And you beat me in a fight.””
“I knocked you flat on your back with a grenade, not my powers. And what will I do with a B rank? I’m far less lethal than a gun, and I’m hardly in a position to police a city,” I said.
“You know, this sounds like a future worry,” Colton said. “You do bad with those, so let’s stick in the present and worry about rank test another time. For now, we’re in a crisis, we need to keep things together so we can make it to test.”
“He’s not wrong,” Hands sighed. “Even if he had to say it in the worst way possible.”
I sighed and shrugged. “Fine, we’ll look at it like that.”
The causeway didn’t last that much longer than the conversation. Good thing, considering I didn’t think I could stare at the roiling waves for much longer without brooding.
Fairhope was a bit farther down the coast, but we stumbled across abandoned vehicles almost immediately; people who had run out of gas, or been trapped in evacuation traffic, in the initial panic and decided to leg it the rest of the way there instead of bothering the gas stations or the long wait. Considering the gulf traffic hadn’t really been running during the dauphin island attack… and that hadn’t been too terribly long into the crisis… this side of the gulf was suffering from shortages of fuel.
Made me look at the fuel tank in Hand’s car, unwaveringly pointing at three quarters, and wonder what else they were missing out on.
Though, it rang incorrect that there would be gas shortages here and not in Mobile. Didn’t like the picture.
The cars intensified to a certain point where it was clear that they had been shoved off of the road to make room for additional traffic, then petered out as we moved into fairhope proper.
The difference between Mobile and Fairhope was night and day. While Mobile still had the responsibilities of the average city, Fairhope was halfway to being a resort town; painted structures and tourist boards instead of the towering buildings of the downtown.
But looming in the distant rose the monolithic complex, embroidered with a White A, that marked the largest shelter for Alabama.
There had been talks about putting it in larger cities, Montgomery, Birmingham, just to name a few, or even Huntsville, but the logistics of the area meant that restocking the shelter in Fairhope was easier; considering it had easy port access and Fairhope was already a rich place, so funding for providing for the shelter didn’t have to compete with other municipality costs.
It also helped that the Association paid Fairhope for each year it stood on the city’s property.
So Fairhope served a few purposes; resort town, artist town, and shelter town. In other states, similar towns had been chosen; no matter where you went to vacation, you could not escape the Association’s visage, and you could not throw a stone without coming in contact with one of their structures from the publics works projects of the 60s.
Veteran labor was a powerful force to reckon with, even if it hadn’t aged too terribly well in the sixty years that had passed since then.
“That’s our target,” Colton said. “What’d they need?”
“It was a general alert to make contact with them.”
“And we’re in person why?” Hands asked.
“I sent them an email telling them Mobile was online, and they immediately started demanding supplies, Seems like something we should handle in person, make sure nobody is… misplacing things into their pockets.” I said. “And look around.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the other city. It was that it was alarming that they were already running out of supplies. Exactly how many people had been evacuated here?
How bad was it up north that the evacuations were required at all?
How bad was the crisis at hand?
Fairhope was a nervous wreck of a city, with civilians flitting around furtively instead of with the boisterous swagger that marked tourism. Instead of the rich aura that marked the east coast of the bay for as long as I’d known it (and growing up in Florida, the Mobile Bay area wasn’t exactly an unknown, as much as my father enjoyed the coast line and protecting it) there was a deeply fearful taste to the air. Like nervous emotions were overcoming the omnipresent touch of the oceanic winds.
“Turn,” I said, pointing at the shelter. “Let’s get this handled.”
Colton turned and peered out the window. “The real question is whether or not the beach is open.”
I laughed. “We can handle that after we assist here.”
What was I doing out of Mobile this soon? Hadn’t I learned my lesson last time?
But… we were determining logistics. Meeting in person. Things that needed to happen.
Things that would have to happen if we were going to pull through at all.
The winding road was flanked with patrol cars; the police force hadn’t been desecrated here, and yet… this had to be most of the officers in force, watching our car as we slid forward.
How menacing Hands’s hand me down vehicle must’ve been to draw all of the attention.
We were stopped before we got to the front gate.
“Halt!” Came the roar of the officer.
“Roll down the window,” I said.
“Working on it,” Hands said, casting a glare at me through the rear view mirror.
I shot her an apologetic look instantly.
“Hello, officer,” Hands greeted him. “This is the shelter, correct?”
“We’re sorry, you’re going to have to find alternative lodging. We’re overbooked as is,” The officer said, looking into the car.
Then his eyes slid onto the cape in my lap. His face shifted to something. I only caught the edge of it, his sunglasses keeping most of the expression locked away, but it might’ve been something like hope. Some fragment of it.
He knew what a b rank looked like. Knew what it might meant.
And, with a sudden and slow drop, I realized this meant there wasn’t another B rank around.
I was the highest ranking denizen of two cities now.
“Are you the reinforcements?” he asked.
Hadn’t been too long since I’d traded myself for thirty minutes. Knew the tone in his voice. No upward command. Roads were stopping.
“Close enough,” I said over top of Hands. “But we’re here to help. Let us inside, let’s talk with whoever is in charge.”
The gate fluttered open, and we were let inside.