The press of bodies and the humidity of desperation was rank in the air. People stared at us from the lobby, strewn across every piece of furniture imaginable. Dirty skin, sweaty bodies. The air conditioning wasn’t equipped to handle all of it at once. Wasn’t able to put up with it, not really.
Wasn’t fair for them, but we weren’t here for fair, we were here to make sure everything was alright.
Colton shoved his way past our entourage and stared at the front desk. “Colton, C Rank hero, here to talk to your leader.”
“We were waiting for a Gale, actually,” The front desk said. Her hair was an off pale purple; dyed, I suspected, but I didn’t bother asking her or hesitating to consider her.
Which was out of character, which instantly made me suspect her power had something to do with not being noticed.
I wished I had that for a moment, and then she gestured at a door behind her. “Go through there. We’ve been waiting for more supplies… if you brought them.”
I opened my mouth to speak, and Hands took over from there. “Let’s handle that later, alright? We need to know what’s going on here.”
The desk smiled softly as we walked by.
The room inside was pleasantly posh in that false way that official places had; paintings, all replicas, soft red leather, and soft music.
Looked more like a therapist’s office, if I was being unfair, but I wasn’t in the mood to be that critical.
“Gale, I assume?” he asked, quietly, looking at the door behind her. He gestured, and I shut it with a gust of wind. Felt an invisible hand about to do the same thing, and patted Hands on the shoulder.
“Correct. You’ve been having trouble?”
“Shortages, really,” The man said, leaning back in his chair. Looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him immediately. Black hair, shortish.
Might’ve been a relative for all I knew. I had a few of those here and there, studding the Association like rhinestones.
“We can’t help with food,” I said. “We’re hitting shortages of our own.”
“We’re actually short on gas. None of the trucks have made it here in the last week.” He said, turning to look out the window behind him. Looked down on what had to be a recreation room, covered in refugees. Might’ve even been a working affair if it wasn’t choked with them, the bleachers and any other furniture made up into beds, festooned with all of the trappings of the people who had escaped the city before the quarantine walls have gone up.
“Ah. How long until the city shuts down?”
“Fuel’s already being sequestered to the police alone, as well as transports,” The man said. “But we haven’t introduced ourselves yet. I’m Zephyr.”
Hands raised an eyebrow at me, and I caught it in my peripheral vision. I shook my head slightly.
Colton gave me a knowing smirk.
“Gale,” I said again.
Colton and Hands introduced themselves in their own fashions.
“How’s our sister city of Mobile doing? I heard that you’ve been getting shipments out of New Orleans for your materials and gas.”
“We don’t have much of a police force to take up our gas,” I admitted. “We settled for calling on anyone with powers to help us out.”
Zephyr raised a lazy eyebrow. “Even the teenagers?”
“Anyone with training,” I said. “We don’t send them out alone, we send them in groups.”
“Still, the expected casualties…” he said, trailing off.
“The casualties would be higher if we didn’t keep up patrols. It’s hard to coordinate logistics when there are riots about, and we didn’t have a large police force to fall back on,” I said, coolly. It was logical to go with it.
Perhaps not morally correct to harness everyone I found, but it was correct from a logical perspective.
“Besides, we were attacked as the crisis was starting.”
“We heard about that on the broadcast radio; Negalli?”
“Dealt with,” I firmly cut in to cut any delusions that he would remain a problem. “Now what are your problems?”
“We’re out of gas, and our supplies are running low,” Zephyr said, walking over to a wall. He tugged it down, and a map of the area unfurled, inch by inch; every bit of mobile bay, and marked, in clear and concise writing, where the supplies would come from.
Emergency protocols needed to be clear and understandable so that anyone could take over in the event of the head of the base being a casualty.
It was still stunning to see it written out just like that in front of us.
Zephyr pointed up north. “We were supposed to get a shipment of gasoline and food from here a week ago, but it hasn’t come. We’ve not received any shipments from the area. The drivers have just gone missing between here and there.”
Missing didn’t mean living. It was the implication that made me uncomfortable.
“Could be that the national guard paid a prettier penny for access to those supplies,” Colton cut in, clearly remembering just a few weeks ago when our line had been cut short.
“Doubt it,” Zephyr said. “Those are sturdy, low risk contracts. The supply houses involved wouldn’t want to piss off the Association just like that; they were high bidders when they were picked, and they’d hate to not get reupped.” He clicked his tongue.
“So what do you think?” I asked.
“Bandits,” Zephyr said. “The other reason why the police have been active. Lots of jail breaks in Florida. A few powered prisons.”
Hands stopped fidgeting her fingers at that. It’s about what we had been expecting in Mobile; an influx in powered crime while the association was down.
“You think a nest of criminals took your supplies?” I asked.
“That’s the size of it. Somewhere on the US 31, between here and Bay Minette, the shipments have gone missing.”
Zephyr turned and looked me in the eye. They were similar to mine, but we’d seen very different things. He stood in a position of rightful authority, granted to him, while I’d been standing in a place I’d fought for. His logistics had been carefully set up for the emergency.
I’d set up my own.
In another situation, he’d have lent help to Mobile, obliterated by Negalli, my corpse forgotten.
And I knew he would do it, because the association didn’t make stupid decisions when it came to putting people into power. Couldn’t afford to.
“Well?” Colton asked. “What do you want us to do about it?”
“Ideally… you’d handle it,” Zephyr said.
“Absolutely not,” I held up a hand, cutting off Colton before he could speak up. “We’re not equipped for that at all.”
Zephyr’s lips quirked into a grin. “I can tell that, Gale.”
I gave him a staunch “get to the point” sort of gaze. One that would’ve looked more intimidating if I were a foot taller and made of muscles and grit.
“I don’t want you to handle it.” Zephyr said, sweeping past the three of us. “I just want you to do a bit of scouting. I can’t afford to risk officers on it… but I can send them out in force, if we figure out where they’re based.”