Interlude: Distance

Translocator adjusted his grip on the new space station module. It was difficult to really grip anything with the spacesuit gloves. Some Korean and Chinese engineers droned on behind him about how important it was that he be close enough for the astronauts on the station to begin the docking procedure. He nodded and pretended to be following along with the translation streamed to his helmet. You miss the ISS one time and nobody ever let’s you live it down. He thought to himself with a wry smile. 

“Translocator, we’ve got a call from the United States liaison,” the ITAB dispatcher said in his ear. “They want you back in Colswell.”

He groaned inwardly. “Kindly tell them that I’m not their lapdog. I helped clean up, but I won’t help rebuild. Not since you-know-who sued me.”

A pair of important-looking people shook hands in the live feed from the mission control room. 

“That’s not it. He says they’ve had another nightmare attack.”

“What?” his voice rang in the enclosed helmet. 

The engineers gave him a concerned look. Evidently they’d heard his outburst. 

“All good,” he said to reassure them, giving them a thumbs-up. 

A countdown started, translated into several languages for the benefit of the international audience. 

“We’re trying to get Monitor to confirm, but you know how he is.”

“Asleep?” Translocator asked.

“Indeed,” dispatch said with a wry quirk to their voice. 

“I’ll be there as soon as I’m done with my trip to space. Countdown’s almost done.” His previous excitement had faded, replaced with a hard knot in his gut. 

The ISS is moving at a bit over Mach 22. The speed of sound is about 340 meters per second, so that puts it at about 7500 meters per second. The countdown just hit five. 7.5 kilometers per second over fiv- no, four seconds. That’s 30 km away and [[X]] km up. 

Translocator bent his knees and took a few deep breaths as the countdown approached zero. 22.5. 15. 7.5. The countdown hit zero. He jumped. 

His suit expanded slightly as the pressure around him dropped from one atmosphere to zero. Fortunately for him, this one was designed specifically to handle that. The rushing wind was replaced with the sound of the compressed air tank adjusting the suit pressure. His ears popped and the sudden lack of gravity made his head spin. 

“Translocator to ISS. This will never get old,” he said as he looked down at the earth below him and tried to relax into the lack of gravity.

“You got that right,” came the reply from Commander Louis Beor, crisp and clear, with no atmospheric interference. “Let me know if you ever decide to go to Mars. I’ve got dibs on second place.” 

“I’d rather not get out of eyesight of home. Buy me a telescope and some booze and maybe we’ll talk.” In truth, Translocator shuddered at the idea of being unable to find the earth. He had firsthand knowledge of just how small the planet is. 

“Fair enough. Your aim’s getting better– we’ve got you a few kilometers east and up.”

“Face towards Europe. Got it.” He knew the comment about his aim was a joke, but he still winced. 

Translocator used his grip on the satellite module to turn until he was facing the right direction. As soon as he spotted the station hovering above the clouds he moved in closer. The earth didn’t seem to move, but the station now loomed large in front of him. It still felt odd to see it hovering, perfectly still, as the earth scrolled past below, knowing that he was moving at 22 times the speed of sound. The fact that he could match speed like this and that he wasn’t limited to line of sight was what made him the most powerful teleporters ever.

“Bring it around to the other side and we can take it from there.”

A few more jumps to circumnavigate the station and he had the module in position. 

“You need it any closer?” he asked. 

“That’s perfect. Get clear and we’ll start the docking procedure.” 

Translocator moved himself out of the way and watched as the astronauts tethered to the station pulled the new module in with a slow, gentle touch. 

The trip back down had much less fanfare than the trip up. Normally he’d stay and watch the docking procedure, but the news from Colswell gnawed at the back of his mind. He teleported back to the International Threat Assessment Bureau headquarters in Brussels where he stored his jet. It wasn’t really his jet, but the bureau leadership gave him full access to it at any time so he could respond to emergencies without needing to wait for council approval. 

The jet was powered up and ready to launch in just a few minutes. He’d have to fill out requisition forms for the fuel later, but fortunately that was handled post-op. 

“Dispatch,” he said. “Give me the distance to Colswell city,” he said to the air as the VTOL thrusters on the plane powered up. A rather unique vehicle, with Translocator aboard it didn’t have to move very fast, just stay fixed in the air easily. It would be more accurate to call it a hovercraft, in that regard, but the overall design looked more jet-like than anything else because that’s what the chassis was based off. 

“That’s 5682 km at 243 degrees,” said a very similar voice, but this time with a distinct Belgian accent.

“Thank you.” 

One jump and he was there. As soon as he appeared in Colswell he started receiving a transmission on the emergency-band radio. 

“-is in effect. Evacuation is not necessary. Remain in your home. All streets are closed to non-emergency traffic.”

The bottom dropped out of Translocator’s stomach as he emergency broadcast continued, listing hotline numbers for different emergencies to take the load off the primary line. 

“Get me into contact with whoever’s organizing response,” he said as he stared at what the city has become. Two thirds of the city was consumed by a sphere of pure black, rimmed in gold by the sun rising behind it, the buildings around the edges twisted and distorted as though they were being sucked into it in extreme slow motion. 

It felt wrong. His intuitive sense for distances told him that he was looking into a hole so deep he could fall forever and never hit the bottom. It like staring into the empty space between the stars.

“Translocator, thank god you made it,” said an official-sounding voice from the radio. “We’re cut off from most of the city’s law enforcement and infrastructure. Power and water are out for most of the city, and whatever that is, it blocks radio.”

“What can I do?” Translocator asked. He teleported the jet down towards the edge of the bubble, where he saw a line of US military vehicles parked across one of the broadest streets in the city.

“We have a few options. We’ve calculated the center of the area to be Durian Park. There was an outdoor screening scheduled there and local heroes were spotted moving towards that area shortly before the event.” The speaker held a brief, quiet exchange with another person before continuing. “If you’re willing, we’d like to send you in.”

Translocator looked into the void again and shuddered. “Have you sent anyone else in? Did they come back?”

There was silence on the line. “…no.” 

Typical. “Then that’s my answer.” Translocator relaxed. He had an out. 

“We sent in a drone, but we lost contact with it.” The speaker had loss the sense of certainty they’d had moments before. 

“And that makes you think it would be safe for me?” Translocator said. “Since we lost Foresight we can’t risk our lives like that.”

“I don’t know how your thing works! That’s why I asked!” There was a pause. “Look, why don’t you come down here and we can talk? We’ve got plenty of people on the ground who need help, and you won’t do any good up there.”

Translocator spent the next hour or so moving patients from Colswell City hospitals to those in safer areas. The hospitals here were already crowded and overfull, thanks to the previous nightmare event and the recent transfers from parts of the city without power. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it was necessary, and just as important as the flashier uses of his ability. 

And then the bubble burst. The black hole, as those outside it had come to call it, vanished without a sound. Translocator was interrupted from his work by a voice in his earpiece informing him of what had happened. As soon as he was able, he teleported to Durian park. He’d taken a moment earlier to look at a map of the city and learn where the park was, so when the time came, he was ready. 

He arrived at the edge of the park when the sun was just peeking in over the top of the shortest building nearby. A line of dead cars clogged the road, but the air was thick with exhaust fumes, like they’d been driving all night. He gagged at the smell, and tried to teleport away from the road towards the center of the park, but couldn’t. He swayed on his feet, then staggered back, disoriented. 

“There’s something interfering with my power,” he said to his earpiece, disbelieving. 

“Translocator?” The voice that responded sounded raw, but familiar. He recognized it from his previous work in the city– Director Jamisson, the local Metahuman Affairs liaison. “This isn’t public knowledge, but Dr. Destructo’s null-field generator has been out of our hands for a few months now. If you find it, do not deactivate it. It may be what ended the event.”

He walked towards the center of the park, one arm over his mouth and nose to filter out some of the smog. 

“Who is this? This is a government channel.” demanded he man Translocator had been dealing with previously. Jamieson disregarded it and continued. 

“The source of the event was Locus, of the Wardens of Justice. If he’s still alive, do not move him out of range of the nullifier.”

“Randwulf,” Translocator cursed. “Dr. Ermen. He must be in the area.”

There was a clatter and a quiet curse from the other end of the line. The man who had been directing response from outside the bubble seemed to realize who he was talking to and stayed silent. Translocator squinted against the increasingly putrid air as his eyes started to burn. His foot hit something on the ground and he tripped. When his first reflex, to use his power to teleport away and right himself, failed, he couldn’t recover and landed hard on one arm. His wrist twisted sharply and a spike of pain jolted up to his shoulder.

“Aaagh!” He shouted in pain and surprise. 

He rolled to the side and pulled the injured arm close. Only then did he see what he’d tripped over– a body collapsed on the ground in a parka and wrapped in a blanket. The body stirred, then took a deep shuddering breath and coughed. Every few seconds some part of him kept trying to teleport out, screaming at him, you’re in danger! Get away! Get safe!

“H- hello?” Called a voice somewhere nearby. A child started to cry. 

“-breathe! I can’t breathe!” Gasped another voice. Translocator’s own chest felt tight, like he couldn’t fill his lungs quite all the way. 

Someone ran past, a blur in the smog. Translocator jerked away, startled. 

“I can’t,” he said. He stood and turned in the direction he thought he’d come from, but something was wrong. The sun wasn’t in the right place. He was all turned around. He ran, his wrist sending stabs of pain up his arm with each footfall. He could feel his reflex to teleport away butting against the inside of his skull, unable to actualize. More and more voices called out in the smog, blending with the voice speaking to him through his earpiece. 

And then he was in the hangar in Brussels. The air was clean and clear, but his breathing stayed rapid and ragged for several minutes. He hunched over, hands on his knees while he calmed himself. 

Coward. He thought to himself. Coward

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1 Response to Interlude: Distance

  1. Ugh, this took way longer than intended. I started writing this a while ago and realized too late that I didn’t really like the character. Still unhappy with how this turned out, but I guess it is an interlude after all. Fortunately, thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, my lungs are no longer all kinds of messed up, though, so that’s nice.

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