I hadn’t noticed how pervasive the sounds of the city were until all at once, they were gone. Replaced by the kind of silence you only really get in space or deep underground. More like deafness than a lack of noise. The air was completely still, even where it intersected with me.
In a moment, the buildings surrounding the park vanished into the horizon, which was lit in all directions by a sickly orange glow. The sky above faded to gray, like an overcast day, but more uniform, without any breaks or variation, and the ground beneath my feet was the same.
What just happened?
“Can anyone hear me?” I said into my comm. My voice was swallowed up by the space, offering no echoes. I began to feel claustrophobic, like a huge amount of pressure was pressing down on me from all sides.
I looked around, only to see the same bleak emptiness all around me. I could hear my clothes shifting against my skin, the fluids flowing in my mouth and throat. Dizzy, I reached out to the people I’d marked to orient myself, only to be struck by a wave of nausea. They weren’t where I’d left them. They were far away, farther than any distance I’d ever experienced. More akin to the distance between stars than any terrestrial measure.
Head spinning, I picked one and pulled. My stomach lurched, the world blurred and shifted, and suddenly I was holding a woman’s arm. She whipped her head around, then let out a startled scream and pushed me away. As soon as I was no longer touching her, she accelerated away from me and vanished into the distance faster than my eyes could track.
I remembered what I’d read of the Wardens of Justice. Locus could warp distances between objects, causing bullets to simply fall to the ground before they could reach him, or trapping criminals by bringing two buildings across the street together. This is Locus, I realized to my horror. This is what the Upright Man warned us about. Whatever was on the screen triggered his powers. My hands shook. What if I had been looking at the screen when it happened?
I could hear the dull, pulsating roar of the blood in my ears.
I reached for my marks again. I need to find Legion. I couldn’t identify who each of my marks were anymore, so I picked another at random and teleported to them. As before, it didn’t feel normal, some interaction between the two powers, perhaps. The world lurched and twisted and I appeared beside someone lying on the ground in a poofy coat I didn’t recognize. They didn’t seem to notice me beyond a brief flicker of their eyes.
I stepped away, breaking contact, and Locus’ power swept them off into the distance. The next person was a man, walking aimlessly forward. I lost contact with him almost immediately and he vanished like the others. How many people have I marked? I wondered. I’d never thought it would become inconvenient having too many marks. I tried to pick up the pace. It doesn’t seem like anyone’s in immediate danger, but the longer it takes to find him, the longer these people have to spend in this… Limbo. Face after face, appearing, then disappearing once I checked them against my memory of Locus.
Soon, I was stopped by a young woman who was recording with her phone when I appeared.
“Shadow!” She said, surprised. Her voice had the same dull quality to it mine had. The total lack of echoes somehow made it harder to understand. She turned the camera on her phone towards me. “What the hell is going on?”
“’I think-” I said, then paused, unsure how to explain the situation. I’d run into enough of this type of person since I started hero work to know this footage would end up online and maybe get picked up by the news, if she was lucky. I had to be careful what I said. A part of me insisted I shouldn’t say anything, as was standard policy, but at that point my head was spinning and I needed an excuse to stop and take a break. “It’s a Nightmare-class event, sort of.”
“Oh sh-” She cut off her swear. “But we just had one.”
“That’s why I said ‘sort of.’ This is a bit different.” Is it, though? “I know how to stop it.” Do I?
I hesitated, uncertain. I let go of her before she could notice and she disappeared into the distance. I remembered what Sean had told me of the Tide of Sky event. Will I to have to kill Locus? I stood still, staring blankly into the distance. I hope not. Locus had been one of my heroes– as much as any of the Wardens of Tomorrow were. They were beloved all across the country, but nowhere so much as in their home city.
I suppose I’d forgotten who I had marked, because I was surprised when I got to Temple, still locked in a prism of quartz and steel. I appeared beside him, paracord wrapped around his exposed head, anchoring us together. I almost jumped away, but something stopped me.
“Temple,” I said. “Why do this? Why surrender here?”
He mumbled something incomprehensible, then paused and repeated himself louder. “Need to give you something.” His voice didn’t sound right. None of the crawl-in-your-ear-and-hotwire-your-spine quality it normally had.
Something’s off. He had seemed smaller earlier, but I’d assumed it was the lack of armor. But what if… averting my eyes, I reached up and pulled the bandanna off his face. No light shone from it, so I risked a glance, and saw not the blinding face of Temple, but Ransom’s, haggard and unshaven.
“Ransom?” I said. How?
“I need to give you something,” he said again.
I recognized his voice. It was Temple, without question. I thought back to what seemed like only moments ago. The van. He was talking through the radio, I realized. Temple was never even here. That left one more question.
“Give me what?”
“The original. He doesn’t need it anymore.”
“The original? I asked, then my eyes widened as I realized what he meant. “The nullifier. You have it on you?”
He nodded, as much as he was able.
I stood still, stunned. If it works on Locus, I might be able to stop this. This was what Temple was offering. An overture of peace– giving us Ransom and the original nullifier was only a part of it. More than that, he was giving us a chance to save Locus, a way out that didn’t mean killing him.