Interlude 1: Precipice, pt. 1

“Charlie, come over to my house after school. You won’t believe what I found. This is gonna be the best summer ever, like, you have no idea,” Rey said, clapping a hand down on my shoulder as we crossed paths in the hall, pushing through the crowd that formed in front of the cafeteria. He was practically glowing with energy and he bounced up and down slightly as he walked. Combined with the red hair framing his face, which had a habit of sticking out in whichever direction it pleased, gave him a quite distinct appearance.

“Sure, man. See you later,” I replied, but he was already receding as he broke off and turned down a different hallway towards the art rooms. I shoved my way through the wall of goths that collected around the doors of the lunchroom- the ‘wall of darkness,’ as the other students called it. They didn’t seem to ever want to go into the cafeteria, just content to get in everyone else’s way -or so it seemed at points. Though I knew the style didn’t always pair with the attitude, the two seemed to usually be clumped together. I looked around the room, scanning tables for familiar faces. It was crowded, and loud, but that was the norm. I was bumped from behind by a group of freshmen coming through the door and was forced to walk further into the room so I didn’t look like I was just going to stand there as I looked through the room again.

Come on, I thought. I must know someone here.

Relief flooded through me as I spotted Devin, my black friend. He was sitting at a table with some theater kids I didn’t know but still, it was better than sitting with strangers. I wandered over to the table, trying to look like that’s where I had been headed all along.

“Hey Devin,” I said.

“Oh hey C-Dan,” he said, and pulled out a seat for me.

I sat in it gratefully and let my backpack fall to the floor with a ‘thud.’

“You know what Rey was on about earlier?” asked Devin once I’d taken a seat.

“He asked you too?”

“Yeah, and he’s being jumpy as hell too.”

“I didn’t notice that,” I thought back to running into Rey earlier. He had just seemed really excited to me. “I’m gonna need a ride over.”

“No problem. You’re on the way.”

I reached down and pulled my lunchbox out of my backpack, displacing a few binders which caught on the fabric. I bent down further to catch them before they spilled out of my backpack and the chair tipped precariously. Devin put out a hand and steadied the chair, tipping me back upright.

“Thanks,” I said.

“No problem,” he said offhandedly. He set about introducing the others around the table, an Emily, a Suzan, a Tom, a Jack, two Sarahs, and a Mary- I remembered that much. Which names went with which faces? That was a different matter. I ate my lunch mostly in silence while the others chatted about various topics. I became acutely embarrassed when one of the girls, one of the Sarahs, I think, started serenading one of the other girls romantically, drawing the attention of all the nearby tables. The noise and the heat slowly started to press in on me.

I got up from the table once I’d finished my food, pushing my chair out and making some excuse about needing to get something from my locker for my next class. It wasn’t antisocial, I told myself; I just didn’t like crowds. The noise in the room felt almost accusatory as I weaved my way between the tightly-packed tables, jostling people’s chairs and disrupting conversations. Once I had escaped from the crowded cafeteria, I made my way down the hall to the practice rooms. The music hall had far fewer people in it than the other parts of the school, I had discovered. I poked my head into the chorus room.

“Anything you need, Mr.. Daniels?” Mrs. Hall, the chorus teacher, asked me sweetly from where she was typing on the computer to the side of the room

“Could I get the keys to the practice rooms?” I asked her.

“Yup! Here you go,” she said in her gentle voice. She stood and handed me the keys, which was much nicer than having keys thrown at me by the band teacher, even though the band room was closer to the practice rooms than the chorus room was. I wasn’t in either group -the band or the chorus- though Devin regularly tried to recruit me into the latter.

“Thanks,” I said, and quietly closed the door. I walked back up the hall to the practice rooms and unlocked one, wedging it open with my backpack. Once I ensured it would stay open, I went back to the chorus room and placed the keys back on Mrs. Hall’s desk. She was now playing on the piano, some classical piece.

When I returned to the practice room I had unlocked, I stared at it in mute confusion. Someone had kicked my backpack into the practice room, and the door had shut and locked behind it. As simple an act it was, it left me confounded. I couldn’t go to Mrs. Hall again; I had already borrowed her keys once. I turned on my heel and entered the band room.

“Could I get the keys to the practice rooms?” I called towards Mr. Job’s office.

“Sure thing!” Came his voice, and shortly later I ducked as the keys whooshed through the space my head had occupied a moment before.

“Uh, thanks,” I said as I bent to pick up the keys.

“No prob!”

This time, I hoisted my backpack up onto my back and propped the door open with the black plastic trash can in the room. I returned the keys to Mr. Job and was relieved to see that the practice room had stayed open this time. I shoved the trashcan back into the room and shouldered the door open, making sure it closed behind me.

I sat down at the piano and placed my hands gently on the keys and took a deep breath, readying myself to pour some frustration into it. The piano was old and slightly out of tune, which gave an ethereal quality to it’s sound. I brought down my hands in a single minor chord, and as it rang through the supposedly soundproofed room, the bell rang, discordant with the notes still resonating from the piano. I let out the breath in a sigh. I rose off the bench and hoisted my backpack up, letting it’s momentum carry me out the door. My math final was waiting.

***

“Hey, thanks for the ride,” I said. The enormous cluster of students outside the doors of the school had started to disperse as people left the school grounds for the last time until next year.

“Seriously, no problem,” replied Devin as he vaulted into the car. I sat down in the passenger seat, throwing my backpack into the back seat.

“You want to stop by your house first?” He asked as we pulled out of the school parking lot and into the line of cars leaving the campus. Once, I would have taken the chance to drop off my stuff at home, but the way things were now? Not a chance. As much as I knew I should…

“Nah. It’s- it’s out of the way.”

Devin nodded. I wasn’t sure if he knew I was just making an excuse, but I was glad he didn’t call me out on it. I looked out the window for a moment, then, the silence growing awkward, hit the button to turn on the radio. It was set on the local classic rock station.

“Aw, hell yeah!” Said Devin and started singing along with “Sharp Dressed Man.”

“Shut up. Listen,” I said, shutting off the radio and craning my neck to look back.

“Cuz every gurl crazy ’bout- agh! what the hell man?”

“There’s a helicopter landing on the school.”

“Really?” He looked back briefly, searched for the helicopter, then quickly looked forward again and slammed the brake, barely stopping before the car ahead of us.

“No joke,” I said. “Right there.” I pointed.

Devin ensured we’d stopped completely and twisted around.

“Huh, you’re right. Can’t imagine why they would want to land there.”

“Traffic’s moving again.” I nudged his shoulder.

“Right, driving. I forgot about that,” he said jokingly, and accelerated as the line of students trying to escape school cleared up.

When we reached Rey’s house, we kept going and parked in the cul-de-sac around the corner. There wasn’t really anywhere to park in front of his house. We got out of the car, leaving our backpacks there. There were birds singing when we walked the short distance to Rey’s house, the hallmark of summer. I knocked on the garage door- we had stopped going in through the front door long ago; it seemed weird to use the front door anymore.

Rey’s uncle answered the door. “Hey. Rey’s in the basement,” he said, ushering us in. He was holding a beer as he opened the door, some special limited-brew, according to the label. Once we had entered, he returned to watching some old TV show: a hobby of his.

“I’m in the basement,” came Rey’s voice. I took a moment to remember where the basement door was in his house; it looked like it was just a closet door. I found it after a few false alarms with closet doors, and Devin and I loped down the stairs, pausing to kick open the door at the bottom of the stairs, which I had always thought was redundant.

“Sup,” said Rey, meeting us with an expression of barely controlled seriousness. A grin kept trying to escape onto his face, pulling at the corners of his mouth. “Guys, this is life-changing. This is the most important thing that has ever happened to you,” he continued, and reinforced it with another, “ever.”

“What the hell are you on about?” Said Devin, taking a seat on the denim couch and grabbing a video game controller. Rey shot him a glare for ruining the effect.

“What the hell are you on?” I corrected with a grin.

“Nice!” Devin reached over and we high-fived. Rey sighed. The sound of the door opening pulled us out of our laughter.

“Guys, I’m gonna head out,” came Rey’s Uncle’s voice down the stairs. “Don’t burn down the house.”

“Can do,” called Rey, and then listened for the sound of the car pulling out.  “Okay, he’s gone. You guys ready?”

“Gee, I don’t know,” said Devin sarcastically. “It’s only why I came here.”

“Sure,” I said, and flopped down on the couch next to Devin.

“Alright, check it out.”

Rey pulled a brushed steel cylinder about the size if a football out of his backpack, which had been sitting on the floor at his feet.

“And what is that?” Said Devin

“Supe juice.”

“No way,” I said, disbelieving.

“Oh yeah,” Rey said, savoring our reactions. He unscrewed the top of the cylinder to reveal a surprisingly large amount of padding, along with three slender, tightly-stoppered vials. He tossed one at each of us.

“Shit, I dunno man. I heard this stuff is permanent,” said Devin nervously, inspecting the vial. “You sure you wanna do this?”

I thought about it. Do I really want to change my life forever?

“Shit,” I muttered. “Of course I do.”

“Ah hell, why not. On three?” said Devin, exhibiting an extraordinary lack of impulse control.

“Abso-fuckin-lutely!” said Rey, popping the lid on his vial. “Cheers!” we clinked them together and started counting down.

“One…

“Two…

“Three!”

We slammed them down together. It was thick and syrupy, but gritty and bitter, like ash.

“Ugh. Sweet,” said Rey, pulling a face. “Like fuckin’ cough syrup.”

“I don’t know what you talkin’ about man,” said Devin, skeptically. “This shit tastes like salt, like the ocean.” He grimaced, and his voice went suddenly serious. “Kinda like blood, actually.”

They both looked at me, expecting me to say what I tasted. The bitter taste had only gotten more intense with each passing moment, expanding into more than just my tongue. I squinched my eyes shut and when I spoke, my voice sounded hoarse in my ears.

“Bitter.”

The serum flowed through my veins, twisting and crawling like vines, verdant and tropical and full of life, wrapped tightly around my cells, curling through my body as if I were a wall of ancient

stone, heavy and dark and old as the seas, weighing heavy on me, pressing me down into the ground with unfathomable force, pounding down like

heavy rain, pouring out of the sky, roaring at the fury of the world with the force of it’s unstoppable rage, the wrath of nature, the final revenge of the sky against the earth, splitting the heavens with a sound like

thunder shaking me to my core, louder than I could possibly imagine, felt more than heard as it tore through my body and obliterated all conscious thought, blasting me apart like a bolt of

lightning, bright and incandescent, illuminating the world, tearing through the air at a blistering pace, unsure of it’s destination or even it’s direction but sure in it’s destruction, only it’s blind, mindless haste, raging through my body, crackling with electricity, white-hot like

fire, burning through me, consuming the world, flaking off my skin and melting down my bones in it’s unfillable hunger, and each thing it consumes only making it need more to sustain itself and burn at a faster pace, burning hotter and hotter, until nothing but ashes remains, burning like

ice, covering the land, spreading from the poles, slowly at first, but with increasing speed as the earth fell into darkness, the cold reaching out it’s blanket to cover the land and freeze the seas, so cold nothing could keep out the bitter, biting chill, nothing would stop it, all feelings numbed as I became locked in ice, miles upon miles thick, and the only sound over the barren fields of snow and ice was the

wind, howling through the trees across the bleak moors and fields of ice that remained, moaning and screaming, a bell tolling not rung by any human hand, a deep, mournful sound, the wind rattling at doors and windows long since abandoned, scattering the ashes of a now long dead civilization, blasted clean by the elements and withered away by

time, passing like forever contained in each moment, an infinitesimal amount of time stretched out for all eternity, or an eternity compressed into the blink of an eye, it was impossible to tell, it was like forever, it was gone too fast, and too quickly, but not soon enough -never soon enough- it was

over.

“-feel any different?” I heard Rey saying.

“Nah man, I feel exactly the same, how ‘bout you?” replied Devin.

A pounding filled my ears, like the sound of distant drums, and for a moment I didn’t realize it was the sound of my heartbeat. I took a deep gasping breath and my heart raced, urgently collecting the freshly oxygenated blood.

“I dunno, but that was one hell of a trip,” said Rey.

“You would know. Hey, Charlie, you back yet?”

I groaned. My blood was still roaring in my ears, disrupting my ability to form coherent thoughts.

“I’ll take that. Now let’s try for words,” Devin said with his incredibly sincere-sounding brand of sarcasm.

“Fuck off,” I muttered. My heart had slowed to a more comfortable pace by now, so I was able to string together some basic profanities.

“Very good!”

“Seriously man, you were sweating like a canary a little while ago,” said Rey.

“That’s not a thing. Canaries don’t sweat,” I mumbled. My cognitive abilities seemed to be back up and running, which was quite welcome.

“I think I could make one sweat if I wanted,” said Rey with mock-lechery, and I opened my eyes to see him gyrating his hips suggestively- though the way he did it made it look ridiculous, like a terrible Elvis impersonator. My eyes itched annoyingly, a product of my seasonal allergies.

“That still doesn’t make sense. And, ugh, thanks for the image.”

As I pulled myself back upright, the sound of tires rolling into the driveway caught my attention.

“Shit, my uncle’s home,” said Rey, stashing the discarded vials back in his backpack.

“Uh, I don’t think that’s your uncle,” Devin said as the sound of pounding footsteps came from above. “Fuck, that’s definitely not your uncle.” The sound of splintering wood marked the front door being smashed in.

“Oh shit, guys, we gotta get out of here,” said Rey, scared.

“Where did you get this?” I asked Rey, by blood running cold.

“It doesn’t matter, let’s get the fu-“

“Where did you get this?” I was shouting now.

“Let go of me!” He said angrily, and I realized I had risen from my seat and was gripping him by the front of his shirt. I released him and he rocked back on his heels.

“Sorry,” I muttered, confused. I looked down at my hands. I didn’t remember doing that. I absently picked at something which had stuck under a fingernail, but it seemed stuck there.

I was pulled from my thoughts and we turned as the sound of heavy footsteps approached the door above.

“Find them!” Came a man’s voice, deep and rich. “We may still recover the serum.”

“Shitshitshit, come on,” said Rey urgently as he yanked at the lock on the hatch into the backyard. His house was one of the few I’d ever seen that actually had one, but I was suddenly very glad it did. There was a “chink!” and Rey grunted and fell back as the lock finally gave way. The lock was old, and his uncle never bothered to replace it, so whenever Devin and I used to stay overnight when we were kids, we’d use it to sneak out of the house. Devin climbed out first, vaulting over Rey and pulling himself out. The upper door into the stairwell slammed open, and a new voice shouted,

“Found stairs!”

Rey leapt up from the floor and clambered out, using the couch as a foothold. I followed close after, the basement door being kicked open close on my heels.

“That’s them!” said the voice that had found the stairs and there was a high-pitched whining sound, like a capacitor charging. I was all too glad to escape out if the basement, but my relief was short lived as a group of military type people wearing black body armor turned the corner around the house and came face to face with us.

“Oh shit!” Exclaimed Rey. The three black-clad men started and pulled up dangerous-looking guns, all blocky and futuristic-looking, with strange-looking barrels. I dove backward in an effort to get out of the line of fire. Devin threw up an arm protectively, as if it would stop a hail of gunfire.

“Down on the gr-” started one of them, then yelped as the ground dropped out from under him. A neat circle of ground around the soldiers had caved in, dropping them down, seemingly into the earth. At the same time, a fountain of dirt and clumps of dirt burst through the surface of the yard, along with it three upside-down and thoroughly discombobulated soldiers, sending them into the air a few feet. When they fell back to the ground with a sickening crunch, it had regained it’s solidity. While they hadn’t gone very high, the disoriented soldiers were too tangled to try to lessen the impact.

“Holy crap, was that me?”

“Yeah, it’s cool. Now come on!”

Rey ran towards where he knew we’d parked at the cul-de-sac. I scrambled to my feet and sprinted after. Devin stood, staring at his hands for a moment, then, realizing we were leaving him behind, ran to catch up. He was faster than I was, so by the time I was getting into the passenger seat he was throwing himself into the driver’s seat.

“Go, go, go!” Shouted Rey from the back seat. There was a squeal as Devin started the car and stepped on the gas, rocketing past Rey’s house on the way out of the neighborhood. Some of the black-armored people saw us peel out and leapt into cars of their own, matte black with tinted windows. We exited the neighborhood to see three or four if the black cars gaining on us rapidly. Devin glanced in the mirror and swore,

“Fuck!”

He tried to press the pedal down harder, but it was already pushed to the floor.

“Take the wheel,” he said to me, and twisted in his seat. I lunged over to hold the wheel steady as he leaned out the open window and cast an arm out at the approaching cars. There was a screech behind us and I glanced back to see that one of the cars, an armored SUV type vehicle, had bottomed out as one of the wheels broke through the asphalt, which had cracked like an eggshell under it’s weight. The wheel pierced back up through the road surface several meters away, catching the underside of the pursuer behind it, spinning them both out of control. A ‘Crash!’ came from behind us as the back car slammed into the front car, which pivoted around it’s trapped wheel, launching both of them off the highway.

“Shit! Car!” said Devin as he retook the wheel. While I had looked back, we had come up behind a sedan, the occupants of which were panicking at our approach. Devin jerked the wheel to the side and I felt the car lurch underneath me. We moved into the other lane just in time to avoid hitting the other car, but Rey fell over in the back seat as we swerved around them.

“Can’t do that again, gotta focus on driving,” Devin said to himself. Our pursuers changed lanes to pass the sedan as well.

Rey pulled himself back up off the floor of the car, facing back towards the two remaining pursuers.

“Guys, I got these ones,” Rey said, his voice surprisingly calm. A moment later, a bright flash of white light shone from Rey’s eyes, though he was facing away from me, illuminating the vehicles behind us, accompanied with a sound like an old-fashioned camera flash. At first, it seemed to have no effect, but as I watched, the first car behind us slowly drifted to the side until it hit the guardrail, grinding along it for a moment until it broke through and careened off the road.

“One left,” I said, but the last car slowed to a stop, maybe to rescue the others, maybe because they realized a similar fate was in store for them. Rey let out a whoop and punched the roof of the car.

“We got ’em!”

Devin let out a breath and relaxed his grip on the wheel, slowing to a slightly more reasonable speed.

“Oh, I need to call Joe,” said Rey, remembering that his uncle was away when the people who had been chasing us had arrived. He fished his phone out of his pocket and dialed his uncle’s number.

“Hey Joe,” he said after a pause. “You might not want to go home. There’s like, a whole fucking cartel camping out around the house.”

There was a pause while his uncle responded.

“Could we stop by my house? I want to make sure everything’s okay there,” I asked Devin, a knot of anxiety tightening in the pit of my stomach.

“That’s the plan. Your house is closer than mine,” replied Devin.

“…No, it wasn’t a- well, I guess it kinda was a drug deal,” continued Rey, “but not mine. I, uh, shut down someone else’s deal.”

Rey listened for another moment, then said,

“Hello?”

After a few seconds, he swore and threw the phone against the back of Devin’s seat. The rubberized case caused it to bounce off the chair and hit his knee with a ‘thump.’

“Ow. Fuck! They cut me off. They cut off my phone.”

“Do you think they heard me?” I asked Rey, my heart in my throat. He silently nodded and stepped on the gas.

* * *

I ran into my house, slamming the door back against the wall in my haste. Rey and Devin followed behind me at a more reasonable pace, but the sense of urgency was the same.

“Dad! Grandma!” I called into the house, but there was no response. I turned to face the others as they came in. “They’re gone.” As I said it, my voice broke, betraying my emotions.

“Shit, man,” said Devin. Rey shut the door behind us, and a split second later, we all started as a woman’s voice spoke,

“Turn yourselves in and you won’t be harmed. The house is surrounded.”

I peered out a window by the door. There were a few of the same matte black cars outside, and more body-armored soldiers with various firearms set up around the driveway, weapons trained on us. One of them, a hispanic woman, was holding a megaphone and a pistol. I somehow doubted the ‘not being harmed,’ part.

“Why aren’t they coming in?” Wondered Devin. “They didn’t have any problem with kicking down doors at your house.”

We thought about it for a moment.

“They didn’t know we’d used the super juice yet,” I said. “That one guy said they wanted to get it back.”

“What guy?”

A deep, rolling voice washed over us from outside.

“Listen to me. Listen to my voice,”

“That guy,” I said.

“You cannot win. There is no hope. Give up. Turn yourselves in. Listen to my voice,” he continued. I pulled a curtain aside a tiny amount. The man talking was tall and dark, with a distinct voodoo vibe. If I had to assign a nationality to him I would say something Jamaican or Cuban  and he wore a black trench coat which he somehow managed to make actually intimidating- I was used to people at school wearing them and looking really silly. Painted on his face was a white X, highlighting his dark eyes and skin and he had his arms raised as if preaching.

“You have been defeated. You cannot escape. Join us and you shall not be harmed.” He paused for a moment. “This is for your own good.”

“I’m starting to think this was a mistake,” said Rey.

“We gotta get out of here somehow,” said Devin. “There must be a way.”

“Guys, whatever we do, we should do it fast,” I said. “That guy’s a supe.”

I turned back to Devin and Rey. Rey’s face was a mask of horror.

“Oh shit, guys. I made a huge mistake,” Rey said.

“No shit you did!” Devin shook his head. “This is so fucked up.”

“I shouldn’t have done this, oh god.” Rey was sinking to the floor.

“Give up. Give in. Listen to me. You cannot win. There is no hope.” The man outside’s voice continued like a mantra.

“Don’t listen to him,” I said, feeling a pang of hopelessness. I suddenly realized where it was coming from and clapped my hands over my ears. I looked around, searching for something to drown him out. I spotted a CO2 alarm blinking on the ceiling and had an idea. I stepped up onto the small decorative table by the door and pulled the alarm open. After a moment of analysis, I pulled out a few wires and twisted them together, bypassing the sensor, then fell back off the table as I jumped back instinctively at the piercing shriek from the alarm.

“Fuck! Ow.” I said, as much at my ringing ears as my bruised back. It had worked, though. I could still hear the voice of the man outside, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying over the fire alarm’s shrill sound. Rey jerked his head up at the sound. He looked from me to the rewired fire alarm, comprehension dawning.

“He had me. He totally had me. Holy hell.” He had to speak loudly to be heard over the fire alarm.

Devin seemed to have recovered as well.

“So what do we do now?” He asked.

“They’re afraid of us. They don’t know what we can do. We can use that.”

“Did you see their guns?” Said Devin. “They’ve got Herokillers, man. We don’t stand a chance.”

“But we have powers now,” said Rey. “I think I have an idea. Devin, can you stick your hole things anywhere? Any size?”

“I think so,” said Devin, furrowing his brow. “As long as it’s thick enough and flat. Don’t think I could do much more than a meter radius, though. It’s-” Rey cut him off.

“Okay, can you put one on the car by the supe? Maybe two feet wide?” He pointed through the window on the door towards where the Hispanic woman and the trenchcoat-wearing super stood.

“Alright, here goes.” Devin outlined a part of the wall with one hand. “It’s right here.”

“Cool.” Rey shoved his face into the wall and the section Devin had outlined crumbled, flaking into chips with the paint from the wall on one side and the paint from the car on the other- white and black. Out the window, I saw them turn as the sound of the fire alarm came from the car, only to see Rey’s face grinning at them from the door of the car. His eyes flashed and I felt abruptly lightheaded, but it faded after a few moments. The effect was evidently much stronger closer up, though, as the two closest stiffened and fell to the ground, bodies locked in position. Further away, the soldiers who had been looking froze in place, though they retained some ability to balance and managed to stay upright. I turned back to face Rey as I saw him pull his face back through the car door into the house. There were flecks of paint chips clinging to his face where it had been stripped from the wall and the car- there was now a patch on both that was entirely clear of paint.

“Ooh, that gives me an idea,” said Devin, shoving his arm through the portal. Another millimeter-thick layer of the wall flaked away, and he pulled it back through holding the Hispanic woman’s pistol. It was blocky and black the AtlasTech logo stamped on the side in silver had been scratched off. The muzzle was a tall, deep rectangle, glowing a dull purple around the rim where it ionized the air around the barrel. It had been severely modded, however; someone had removed the dampers designed to keep it nonlethal and added a pair of coolant cells on the sides to keep it from overheating, effectively making what was meant to be a long-range stun gun into a weapon that could punch through tanks, if given enough power. Actually, only the rifle version could actually do that -the rifles had a larger battery, designed to last longer, which could be shorted through the weapon to devastating effect- but the moniker “herokiller,” had been well earned. Though AtlasTech had done all they could to stop people making them short of halting production (which they eventually did,) people didn’t stop because they sold on the black market for thousands of dollars, and now we had one in our possession.

“Woah, nice!” Said Rey.

“Here, you take it. We’ve both figured out our powers, so you can use it until then,” said Devin, handing it to me, handling it reverently. It seemed heavy, both physically and in gravitas.

“Thanks,” I said, abruptly conscious that I hadn’t figured out what I’d gotten yet. “Okay, they’re out, but we still need to get out of here,” I said. “Come on.” I pulled open the door and stepped out. My ears were still ringing from the fire alarm. Some of the soldiers towards the edges of the perimeter had recovered and were trying unsuccessfully  to help the super and the Hispanic woman back to their feet. One of them spotted us exiting the house and trained his weapon on us, powering it up with a whine of capacitors. The others in the group saw him taking aim and spotted us as well, and they all went down in a flash of light from Rey, all except for one who had been clever enough to look away. There was a crack as the pavement gave way beneath his feet, falling into the portal Devin had opened and out of its exit on the ground in front of us. He caught the lip of the hole and used it to flip himself onto his back instead of on his head, but he had to let go of his weapon to do so, and it fell onto the ground beside him. I flicked the switch on the back of the pistol, causing it to whine as the capacitors charged, and fired it at the rifle. There was a thump and a flash of incandescent blue-purple as I pulled the trigger accompanied by an intense smell of ozone wafting up from the barrel. The gun jerked in my hand with surprisingly strong recoil -it was an energy weapon, so logically it shouldn’t have any- and the rifle skittered across the ground, a neat hole which had appeared through it’s core slagging it completely. The hole continued down into the asphalt several feet, demonstrating why it was called a ‘herokiller.’ The man prone on the ground flinched away from the sound. His weapon disabled, I shifted my aim and pointed the pistol at the him.

“Who do you work for?” I asked.

“Oh god, help me,” he pleaded, but I was unsure who he was talking to.

“Answer the FUCKING question!” I growled.

“Dude, don’t kill him,” said Rey, surprised at my aggression.

“They fucked with my goddam family, Rey, you’d-“

“We- we- we,” stuttered the soldier on the ground, then he paused. When he resumed speaking, his voice was different, not in timbre, but in character. He sounded relaxed, indifferent, as if he were in no danger at all. “I’m afraid you’re not going to be getting anything from this one.”

“This one?” Asked Rey, confused, but he ignored the question.

“Now that was a clever stunt you pulled on Banton with the fire alarm. I must say, bra-vo.” His voice was dripping with sarcasm, discordant with the present danger. “But don’t think the rest will be so easy. Oh, also, I think I’ll be issuing sunglasses from here on out. I already pay for earplugs for tuning out Benton, so that won’t be a problem, I think.” He was totally ignoring us now, talking to himself. He shifted his focus back to me. “Anyway, ta-ta. Good luck with your revenge or whatever. You did take my shipment of super juice, though, so I will be hunting you down, you know, just a heads-up.” His eyes went vacant as whoever had been speaking through him left.

“What in hell was that?” Asked Devin.

“Another super, I’d guess. You’ve really dug us in deep.” I directed at Rey. “Let’s go.” I dug around for my phone as we got back into Devin’s car and flipped it open. I didn’t use it much -an old flip-phone- but it did come in handy occasionally. The keys clicked as I dialed the familiar number.

“Who you calling?”

“My dad.”

“I thought they got your dad and g-ma?”

I shook my head. “Nah. That was just so they’d think I didn’t know where they are. They wouldn’t anyway.” The phone rang once and then was picked up, but it was only silence, and the quiet sound of a car engine, which was difficult to pick up with my still-ringing ears. I counted in my head for five seconds before the call ended with a ‘click,’ and I breathed a sigh of relief. “They’re okay.”

I had always wondered why my dad had insisted on that code, but now I kinda understood why. Being able to send a message without any chance of being intercepted and understood was actually useful in this case. I guess it was a part of his paranoia- he was always worried that some villain whose crimes he’d exposed would come after him. Each amount of time had a different meaning: hanging up immediately meant ‘be there soon,’ five seconds meant heading to Mom’s, ten meant something I couldn’t remember, and leaving it on was ‘come get me asap.’ He’d know I was fine, because I was the one calling, and hopefully he’d trust me not to do anything reckless. Not that I wasn’t planning to anyway.

“Why wouldn’t they go after your family?” asked Rey.

“Think about it. If the heroes went after villains’ families, the villains would go after their families to get revenge. If the villains did it, the heroes would have the moral high ground to go after the villains’ families,” I explained. “It’s an eye-for-an-eye kind of thing. Generally if any villains go after some hero’s family, they’ll get shut down by other villains before the heroes escalate in turn, and the heroes do the same. A couple years down the road, it pretty much ends up being this unspoken honor code, and anyone who stoops below it is too dangerous to have around, even to the villains.”

“How do you know this shit, man?” asked Devin.

“My dad was really into it for a while, liked to write about heroes, and my mom used to manage accounts for a few over in Collswell. That’s how they met, I think. He was trying to get an interview with Paragon or something. I picked up a few things.”

“Huh.”

“Your house next?” I asked Devin.

“Yup. And hopefully they won’t know where we’re going this time,” he glared at Rey, who raised his hands apologetically.

“Uh, about that, Rey, does your phone have a GPS?” I said, abruptly realizing something.

“Yeah, why- oh crap.” He pulled out his phone- a smartphone in a rubberized case to protect against him dropping it (or throwing it at people.) “Shit.” He paused and held it out to me “Here, you’re good with this kind of thing.” I think he expected me to slag it with the herokiller, but instead I removed the case and pulled it apart with my fingernails, cleanly separating the halves of his phone, and removed the micro-SIM chip, disabling it’s ability to transmit any information. I passed the phone back to him, but kept the SIM card.

“If you absolutely need to call someone, I’ll pop this in my phone,” I said, holding up the SIM card. “Mine doesn’t have a GPS.”

“Seriously? How old is it?”

“Old. My dad is paranoid as fuck about the GPS units in phones for some reason.”

“Hey, at least you have one,” said Devin with forced levity. He was starting to feel the effects of our intense afternoon, but still managed to keep up a veneer of lightheartedness. Thinking about it, I wasn’t sure why he had a car but didn’t have a phone. It seemed odd but I filed it away as unimportant for the moment.

The trip to Devin’s apartment was far less eventful than the trip to my house, which was a much-needed reprieve from the near-constant drama that had been unfolding in place of what we had expected to be the first relaxing afternoon of summer.

“So Rey,” said Devin, glancing back at him in the rear-view mirror. “Are you going to tell us who those people were?”

“Uh, yeah,” said Rey nervously. “They were Control.”

“Who is that?” I asked. “You forget we don’t follow capes like you do.” My dad had turned me off of the metahuman scene.

“Right. Okay. They’re one of the area’s villain teams-“

“Redlake has supervillains?” Devin said, surprised. I was mildly surprised myself; I hadn’t heard anything of supervillain activity.

“Everywhere has villains,” said Rey scathingly.

“Do we even have a hero team?” I asked.

“Well, technically,” said Rey, “but it’s really more of a club. Honestly, they’re kinda lame. Part of why Control is set up here.”

“I can’t believe I’ve never heard of these guys,” said Devin.

“They do keep a low profile. People don’t generally take kindly to their type of powers.”

“Their type?”

“Mind control and shit.”

Devin banged a fist on the steering wheel.

“No fucking way.”

“I dunno… You saw that guy at my house,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. Shit.”

“That’s their leader, I think,” said Rey. “Commandant. We saw Benton, and they have a couple other members. Pretty sure one of them’s called Bluefang, and… Opium? Opiate? Something like that. They’ve got five members usually, Kinda traditional superteam number, though their fifth seems to change.” Rey tapped his fingers on his knee, trying to remember more details. “They pretty much run the drug trade here, as it is.” Devin snorted.

“That’d be your expertise.”

“Jesus Christ, you guys will not let me live that down. That was one time. One.”

“No, we won’t,” said Devin, glancing back at Rey in the mirror. “We saw what that shit did to Greg. Not addictive? Bullshit. They wouldn’t sell it if it wasn’t”

“Sheesh, yeah, I know that, man.”

We lapsed into silence. Greg had been a friend of mine and Devin’s. He had gotten into Pil5 pretty hard early in their stint of popularity. Pil1 was supposed to be totally safe- one little spherical white pill was one minute of intense high with almost no side-effects, no crash, nothing; that’s what the word was, anyway, until Greg showed just how wrong it was. At first, he’d thought it was great. He was happier, more energetic, but then it started to fade. He grew bitter, desperate, and moved on to the higher-end pil5, then to pil15. He gradually distanced himself from his friends, getting a job to pay for his habit that sucked up his free time and stole his energy. His grades plummeted, and he went from being one of the most popular kids in school to being a complete wash-out, barely focused in class and a wreck outside of it. Eventually, he robbed his grandmother’s house, hospitalizing her in the process, and proceeded to overdose on Pil15 and go comatose for a few tense months before he just… stopped breathing. It was a tragic end to a former friend, and even as I never quite got over the guilt, Devin still felt even worse about it.

“That Commandant guy. Why didn’t he just control one of us?” I asked, as much to break the sullen silence as for the information.

“Oh, yeah,” said Rey, looking up. “According to Wikipedia, he can only access the speech center of the brain or vocal chords or something. And only in some people.”

“Okay, that’s a relief.” Devin said, relaxing slightly.

I thought about it for a moment. “Can you imagine what he’d be able to do at a political debate?” I said.

“Whoa, I guess that’s more useful than I’d thought,” said Devin. “Hey, what do the other guys do?”

“Well, we know what Benton does,” I said. “Opiate makes drugs somehow, judging from the name.”

“That’s as much as I know, yeah. Sorry,” said Rey.

“About damn time you apologized!” Said Devin. “Shit. I still can’t believe those guys are after us. This is not how I imagined my summer.”

“I know, man,” said Rey. “I didn’t think they’d find me out.” He paused for a moment, then looked at me. “What are we gonna do?”

“What? I don’t-” I started. “Why are you asking me?”

“I dunno. You have good plans?”

“I- Ugh.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. I was starting to get a headache. “Fuck.”

“Hey, you okay man?” Rey was leaning over the back of my seat, looking concerned. The headache vanished abruptly and I realized that the ringing that had been in my ears since setting off the fire alarm was gone as well. It’s absence was disconcerting for a moment.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” I removed my hand from my face to discover that I now had a nosebleed. “Ow.” I could smell it; sharp and metallic, almost overpowering. It was… Distracting. I flicked my fingers, absently, trying to clear off the blood that was clinging to them. It didn’t work, though and some still stuck to the tips of my first two fingers and thumb. Unable to think of a better way to get it off, I licked the tips of my fingers gently. It tasted much like it smelled, metallic, like licking a penny, but was surprisingly gritty, almost as if sand had somehow become trapped in my bloodstream. When the blood had been cleared off, I noticed again that I had something stuck under the tip of each fingernail, but I was stopped from wondering about it more as Devin tossed me a box of tissues that had been wedged beside his seat.

“Here,” he said.

“Thanks man.”

I pulled out a wad of tissues and moved to pinch my nose with them to staunch the flow, but not a moment later, it stopped. Confused, I used the tissues to mop up the blood clinging to my face and stuffed them into a cup holder.

The sun was low on the horizon by the time we pulled into the parking lot of the building where Devin lived; an apartment above an Irish pub. It was located in a more urban area of Redlake than Rey’s or my house, closer to the city. Even then, it was still obviously rural: the tallest building around was this three-story building- the first floor was a pub, the second floor is where the pub’s owners lived -they were really nice guys- and the third they rented out to Devin and his family.

We hopped out of the car and made our way to the stairwell leading up to Devin’s apartment. The door handle rattled as he unlocked it, but the door opened smoothly and we entered. We took the stairs quickly, as had become our habit. At the top, the door was already open as Devin’s mom greeted us, having heard us pounding up three flights of stairs.

“Mr. Davis, Mr. Mclane, Always a pleasure,” she said kindly.

“Thank you, Mrs. Lemots,” said Rey.

“Oh, it’s no trouble. Come in, come in. I confess, I expected you all to stay at Uncle Mclane’s house tonight,” She stepped back into the apartment to let us pass.

“We decided to come over here instead,” said Devin as we entered, pulling off our shoes and tossing them onto the mat by the door. I could hear the sound of a television on somewhere in the apartment.

“Well, I was just starting dinner, so it’s no problem to just throw some more on.”

“Thank you very much,” I said.

Mrs. Lemots walked back into the kitchen to where she was cooking. Almost as soon she had disappeared, Devin’s sister’s head popped up above the chest-high divider between the living room and the mud room.

“So,” she said. “You were in a car chase?”

“Whaaat? There was a car chase?” Said Devin, vaulting over the divider onto the couch next to his sister. “No way!”

The TV was on a local news channel. I nearly groaned out loud. Something so dramatic was bound to be the only thing they talked about, considering how little happened in Redlake.

“The peaceful neighborhoods of suburban Redlake got a taste of drama today when an unusual high-speed chase tore through Grand-Army-of-the-Republic Highway,” said the anchor on the TV. “A witness managed to capture footage of the incident, which you will find quite interesting.”

The news segment cut away to blurry cellphone video looking out the back of a car. Behind it, I could make out Devin’s car approaching rapidly. The low quality and shakiness of the footage obscured important details like the license plate number and our features, but I could tell it was us. Behind our car loomed the large black SUVs. There was an exclamation from one of he passengers in the car getting the footage as devin leaned out the window and threw an arm back towards the SUVs, followed by a ‘SLAM!’ As the pursuing cars crashed together seemingly without reason. As we came uncomfortably close to the car we had passed, Devin pulled himself back into the car and we swerved around them, missing by a hair’s breadth. Interestingly, Rey wasn’t visible in the back seat, as he had fallen down onto the floor when the car swerved. Shortly after, the two remaining pursuit cars roared past, and the view whipped around to the front, shaky as the phone was passed to the front of the car. The footage stabilized just in time to catch a flash of light illuminating the road, it’s source blocked by the two large black vehicles. When the first one drifted off the road, there was a shout from one of the passengers and the footage lurched forward as the driver stomped on the brakes, flying out of the passenger’s hands. Evidently out of interesting footage, it was cut off and replaced by a the male news anchor and a female counterpart.

“The identity of the chased party is unknown,” the male anchor said, “however police have linked the crashed vehicles to a local drug dealer going by the name ‘Control.’ The police are not saying if any bodies have been found.”

“That was obviously you, and your car,” said Devin’s sister, muting the TV. “And since you’re all here, I’m assuming you were all involved.”

“That’s ridiculous. Why would we be in a car chase.

“Oh, that one’s easy,” she said, unmuting the TV.

“It really says something about people today that their first reaction was to film it with the very phone they should have been using to call the police,” said the female anchor.

“That’s true, but what’s really interesting is how they took down those black cars. See where the driver leans out the window?” A slowed down shot of Devin doing exactly that filled the screen behind them. “At first, I thought he was throwing something out or shooting out the tires, but you can see here,” he paused the video, “you can see that his hand is completely empty.”

“You think he could be a metahuman?” Asked the female anchor.

“No doubt. You can see it again here,” the frozen video cut away to the flash of light illuminating the road, then the leading vehicle drifting off the road destructively. “I think it’s pretty easy to say. Whether this new metahuman in Redlake is a hero or a villain remains to be seen.”

Devin’s sister muted the TV again.

“Admit it and I won’t tell mom.”

“Dammit sis, why do you have to make this so difficult?” Said Devin.

“Hey, I’m not the one who’s been hiding superpowers.” She said sarcastically.

“Fuck… Yeah, I’ve had ’em for a while. That’s why I hang out with these guys. We all do. Greg did too.”

“Sweet! What do you guys do? Were you taking down drug dealers?”

Devin glanced at me and Rey.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing.”

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10 Responses to Interlude 1: Precipice, pt. 1

  1. ily, a Suzan, a Tom, a Jack, two Sarahs, and a Mary- I remembered that much. Which names whent with which faces? That was a different matter

    confounded. I couldn’t go to Mrs. Hall again; I haf already borrowed her keys once. I turned on my heel and entered the

    See it?
    And you’re saying “hey” a lot.

  2. Praying for a storm god power…

  3. farmerbob1 says:

    “My dad was really into it for a while, liked to write about heroes, and my mom used to manage accounts for a few over in Collswell. That’s how they met, I think. He was trying to get an interview with Paragon or something. I picked up a few things.

    Missing ending quote

  4. DeNarr says:

    Hmm, these characters are really as likeable as the main story. The interlude just feels much more “high school”.

    • Yeah, this was really me trying to figure out what I’d done wrong from a characterization standpoint during the first arc. Since then I’ve been focusing a lot more on characterization and development for the focus characters.

      These characters are definitely coming back at some point, not sure when yet.

  5. kgy121kgy121 says:

    Why would we be in a car chase.
    ^Missing end “^

  6. The practice room, the headache from all the talking and the things under his nails…
    I’m totally hoping this is Masquerade.

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