Chapter 24

Jackhammer awoke to find O’Shay snuggled into his side, snoring softly. High above, dawn was just breaking across the sky in a canvas of pinks and purples. It was going to be a beautiful day.

He peeled himself away from O’Shay, amazed that the guy didn’t stir in the slightest. Oh, to sleep so soundly! Nearby, Gill and Simmi slept snuggled into each other while the other three members of The Brotherhood slumbered by their tutor, Gyan. Their bags were piled neatly beneath a nearby tree to one side.

Just as Jackhammer and O’Shay had woken within the school when they were searching for it, the small band of warriors had now been extracted from the school premises in their sleep. Jackhammer was a light sleeper. He would never understand how anyone managed to move him while he slumbered, but at least it meant the location of the school remained a secret in case any of them were captured in the coming showdown.

He looked down on Gyan, buff and beautiful, but not quite special enough to be a hero. If not for his bitterness, Gyan could be a good ally, but alas, he would never realise that his own personality was his greatest foe. Jackhammer kicked him gently in the ribs. Gyan jolted awake.

"What the...?!"

"Wake up, Sleepy Head."

"You kicked me!" Gyan snarled.

"I figured it would be better if you were awake before your charges woke up."

"You kicked me!" Gyan repeated.

"You were sleeping heavy," Jackhammer lied. "Get up."

"You may have the strength of ten men, but just remember I can read your thoughts," Gyan snapped. "I can know what you'll do before you do it. Don't take me on."

"Okay. You've scared me. I submit to your power. Now get up and make yourself useful."

Jackhammer crossed to the fire place that had been pre-prepared by their transporters in the night. He lit it with as much skill as a new Scout, cursing much unlike a Scout as he tried. It was only after he got the flames burning and the frypan heated that Gyan threw him a box of matches.

"Even heroes ought to be prepared." The smile was sarcastic and unhelpful.

Bite your tongue! "Thanks, they may come in handy if the fire goes out,"

Jackhammer threw bacon, eggs and mushrooms into the pan, then hollered a general morning wake up call. After allowing The Brotherhood a few minutes to get their bearings, Jackhammer explained how they came to be in the middle of a field, acknowledging that none of them had probably been out of the school grounds since their admission.

Despite Jackhammer's assurance that their displacement was normal, the troupe bemoaned the fact that they had begun this quest without the opportunity to say goodbye to friends or to personally prepare for what lay ahead.

He reassured them as much as he could, but ultimately refused to baby-sit them. They consumed a quick breakfast then set off on foot under Jackhammer's direction. He had neither time nor interest in anything they had to winge about.

Thankfully Jackhammer recognised the landscape from when he and O’Shay were trying to find the school. It was doubtful that it was a coincidence they’d been planted back in the same field they'd be taken from. The location meant he could find his way back to headquarters. The four-day trek would be an eternity but not long enough to wear down his troupes.

Jackhammer pushed them like the worst of drill Sargeants. He ignored the groans and moans of The Brotherhood, forcing them to challenge themselves. It all helped build character and stamina for the battle ahead... or so he told them. In truth, after two days of it, their whining felt on par with the Irish Nuisance who had been berating his senses since they first met.

The sight of the towering city landscape couldn't come too soon, and when it did, it was like an enormous weight lifted from his shoulders.

"There it is!" he shouted, in an uncharacteristic burst of emotion. "We're here! Now listen carefully. The League is destroyed, and so is our Headquarters, but it's still the safest place we have to hole up and begin our defensive. Our first mission is to re-claim the League Headquarters by moving in, securing the exits and salvaging what we can from the equipment. The facility is all but destroyed so it should be safe to enter but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be on guard. Once we've secured the place we can move to phase two - locating Seduction's hideout. Any questions?"

Silence was the only response. Jackhammer nodded. "Let's do it."

With surprising alacrity, given their recent trek, the troupe charged forward to the fallen Headquarters of the Superhero League. They entered the bunker and froze, taking in the devastation that had preceded them. Despite all they'd been told, the sight of the wreckage took their breath away. Suddenly the enemy was real and Jackhammer could see the horror in their eyes. Enormous cracks zigzagged through the concrete floors and walls. Once vibrant computer systems lay idle. Furniture was overturned, and shadows flickered in the failing emergency lighting.

Jackhammer stood in the entranceway and fought back an unexpected tear. He too, couldn't help but be moved by the sight before him. This had been his home for so long. When he'd last been here, he'd engaged the Omega Protocol to safeguard the League's files. It had been the hardest thing he'd ever done, but at the time he hadn't had time to think. Now, as he slowly stepped over a shattered chair, the reality was hitting had.

He stepped deep into the devastated cavern with his battalion close behind, but suddenly seemed little point in being here. Headquarters was a relic of past glory. It only served to remind him of his loss.

The troupe spread out and examined the damage, mindful of the defeat that every crumbled bit of plaster represented. There were no words to express the realisation of what they were facing.

Fearful glances floated between each of them as they righted upturned tables and dusted off dead electrical equipment. The room had the air of a long-deserted war room. There was no vibe; no electronic hum. There was just desolation, and the damaged caused by past battles.

At length, they converged near the centre of the room. Jackhammer couldn't meet their eyes, knowing what he would see on their faces.

Gyan wrapped his arms protectively around Vis while O'Shay squeezed into a supportive embrace between Brains and Hawk. Gill and Simmi clutched each other tight. Jackhammer ached to hold someone too but knew he had to remain a steadfast leader.

"Listen to me," he began but was interrupted by the sudden rumbling through the floor. The band of heroes stumbled across the shaking ground, reaching out to steady themselves against the furniture. From the adjoining room, Quake stepped out, dressed to kill as he sent tremor after tremor through the floor at them.  Behind him, Seduction's army, lead by Crunch, flooded into the room.

"Ambush!" Jackhammer yelled, and Seduction's army descended upon them.

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