Ciaroscuro 10.2

Sean laid Locus down in one of the seats lining the back of the jet before taking a seat across from him. The floor rumbled as the VTOL thrusters powered up and the jet began to rise. Sean took a moment to inspect the Nullifier. The metal cube had scratches around the edges where it had been pried open

“I’m flying you to an ITAB facility,” Jamisson said.

“How are you even flying this?” Sean asked. His voice shook a bit, and his arms felt numb. “There’s a reason I was always put on command,” Jamisson replied. “We can talk about it later.”

“Shield, now!” shadow shouted over the comms.

Some instinct took over as Sean leaped out of his seat and focused his power around the ship. A sharp pain axed through his skull and his vision went white as the numbness in his hands changed into intense, burning heat. He heard a distant explosion as he screamed and fell to his knees. He tore his gloves off and helmet

-holding his hands above the fire– the in the fire. The gentle warmth, the sizzle of burning skin-

and threw them on the metal floor. He clutched at his head and curled into a ball,

-a ring of light against a backdrop of stars, and in the center, a humanoid figure, the vitruvian man played out on a cosmic scale-

the images that had flickered across the screen replaying in his mind. Images from his childhood, or that he had seen in dreams.

-His father. His grandfather. His grandmother. His mother, his uncle, lit from within by a brilliant light-

“Paragon!”

Sean’s eyes snapped open and he jerked upright to see Locus looking at him with concern.

“Are you okay? What happened?” Locus asked. His concern faded into confusion. “Where are the others?”

“I-” Sean choked up. He doesn’t realize.

“Stay with us,” Jamisson’s voice said through the jet’s speakers.

Why is he saying that? Sean wondered. The world started to blur and fade around the edges.

“Stay with us.”

***

Wren poked his head out of his door to see us in the common room.

“Thank fuck,” he said in a quiet but intense voice. “Get in here!”

He beckoned me and Kevin into his room. We stood grudgingly and and followed. He had his laptop open to a news stream about the nightmare event.

I groaned. “Can we skip the after-action debrief?” I said, even as my eyes were drawn to the screen.

“No, we can’t,” Wren said. “Look.”

On the screen, shaky helicopter footage showed a bird’s-eye view of a figure surrounded by a ring of a metallic liquid. The silvery liquid flowed and rippled in response to their panicked motions as they swatted at some unseen assailant. Nearby, another person seemed to be on fire, but instead of rising the flames flickered outwards in every direction.

“I don’t understand, what’s going on?” I said. “Are those other heroes?”

“No,” Wren shook his head grimly. “They’re new manifestations.”

The stunned silence lasted for several seconds, during which the news stream switched back to an anchor behind a desk.

“Oh,” I said as the implications sunk in. “Oh shit.”

“How is that possible?” Kevin asked. “Is it like super juice?”

“No it’s-” I paused. “I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s like… a photo or something. An image. This guy, Randwulf, uses it to boost powers somehow.”

Wren’s eyes widened. “Woah. A basilisk hack.”

“Huh?”

“Sometimes you can hack computers through the camera. Show it a specific image or pattern and use that to inject code. Like that, but with people.”

Kevin was just as lost as I was. “What?”

“In this case, I guess it would be an image that causes the specific neurons to fire that trigger a manifestation,” Wren said in an awed voice. “The problem is it’s impossible to contain,” he frowned. “by the time you know it’s there you’ve already been exposed.” He looked thoughtful. “Well, maybe not impossible-”

“Guys,” Kevin interrupted, and pointed to the screen with a shaking hand.

On the laptop, the news stream had returned to the helicopter footage. A squad of uniformed soldiers advanced towards a small crowd, brandishing weapons. With a flash of light, but no sound, the first shots were fired. My heart lurched. I was dimly aware of Wren jumping and Kevin cursing quietly.

I left them there.  A bitter pit settled in my stomach. I got distracted by an easy victory over Randwulf.

On the footage, a familiar dark cloud swept across the crowd and the soldiers.

“I have to help,” I said. I shook off my exhaustion, teleported my earpiece back into my ear from my pocket, and teleported back into the fray.

Darkness surrounded me. I looked around, confused. Feeling the still, silent air, I could sense people around me, but something was wrong. Their positions weren’t consistent. They appeared and disappeared seemingly at random as they stumbled through the darkness. A figure appeared out of the black, a figure I recognized immediately.

“Dad?” I said.

“Will?” His head snapped towards me, but he didn’t look directly towards me. “Where are you? Are you alright?” the world was silent apart from our voices.

He can’t see me. “I’m fine. What-”

“Oh thank god!” his voice threatened to break with emotion. His eyes narrowed in on the sound of my voice and he took a few steps towards me.

“What is this?” I cut in, more forcefully.

“I had to make sure you’re okay. I heard the gunshots and…” he trailed of as I let the shadow covering me fade, making me visible through the fog. He dad rushed towards me and swept me up in a tight hug. “Why don’t you answer your phone?” He said, voice shaking, and laughed.

After a moment he pulled away.

“Is this you?” I demanded as I gestured to the darkness.

“Never let them know everything you can do,” he said by way of confirmation.

“Do you know what this looks like,” I said, voice cold.

That gave him pause. “Will,” he said.

I didn’t let him continue. “It looks like Denizen, Dad. It looks like Granddad. We are on the news right now. I-” I paused as a muffled shot rang out nearby, reminding me why I was here. “We need to help these people.”

***

Jamisson didn’t react apart from a flicker in his eyes when Translocator’s reflection appeared in the monitors in front of him. The screens showed a myriad of scenes, including a live feeds from Durian Park and, Translocator noted, the inside of his jet.

“Where is my jet?” the French hero demanded.

“I apologize for taking your plane,” Jamisson said, looking only at Translocator’s reflection. “You didn’t seem to be using it and I had people who needed evac.”

Translocator stared at him, stunned. “You can’t just steal TAB property. How did you-”

“Listen,” Jamisson said, voice halfway between anger and desperation. “Your little tantrum nearly cost me two of my people, and people are in very short supply right now.” he leaned forward a bit and groaned. “Please, we still need your help.”

Translocator’s guilt crashed over him like a wave.

“I’ll do what I can,” he said quietly.

***

My dad gave me an appraising look, then nodded. “That’s right,” he said, a neutral smile on his face. “There are a lot of people here,” he said.

I wasn’t sure how much to tell him. As much as I wanted to tell him everything, I knew he’d made his living after he retired from daylight robbery as an information broker for  Databank. I decided to share

“Some of the civilians are new manifestations triggered by the nightmare event,” I said. “The soldiers think they could become nightmares. They’re wrong.” I hope.

He nodded, accepting my explanation.

“Move all the civilians to the edge so they can get to safety” I said, then stopped. “No, wait, are there more soldiers outside your range?” I asked. I reached out and tried to feel out the edges of the park, but the details were too fuzzy at that distance. I did notice a few people running towards us, into the dark fog. Not a great sign.

“I think so,” he said. “Hold on, I just found someone interesting.”

“Shadow, is that you in the park?” Jamisson’s voice in my ear surprised me- I’d forgotten I’d put my earpiece back in out of habit.

“Yeah, that’s me,” I said. My father looked at me strangely until I pointed to my earpiece.

“Get out of there. You’re overloading. It’s not safe,” he said. “I’ve got Translocator heading your way.”

Hope blossomed in my chest. I relayed the message to my dad. “Bring him here.”

I pulled the darkness over myself, and my dad faded back into the fog, and a moment later, the French teleporter appeared in front of me.

“Translocator,” I said. “How many people can you move?”

He spun to face me, on guard. “Shadow.” He relaxed once he realized it was me. “As many as you need,” he said, then gestured into the darkness. “Is this you? Were you affected?”

“No, just overloading. Not sure how long it’ll last.” Hearing Translocator say it made me internalize what Jamisson had said moments ago. It looks like I’m overloading, or I’ve been exposed to Randwulf’s… thing. That’s good. No connection to Denizen. “I’ll bring all the civilians together.” I spoke such that my dad could to hear me where he was concealed by the mist and would know what to do. “Do you have somewhere safe we can put a few dozen new manifestations?”

“Newfoundland Station,” Jamisson interjected. “Tell him that.”

Was he listening in? “-like Newfoundland Station?” I appended.

Translocator look a step back.  “How do you- nevermind. Yes.”

“Let’s go,” I said. I could feel the people trapped in the fog moving around, shuffling into position, until they appeared around us in a tight cluster. People shouted and recoiled with surprise, but the moment everyone was in contact, the darkness around us was abruptly replaced with scuffed wood floors, a high, beamed ceiling, and windows looking out into a gentle drift of snow.

***

As soon as Richard felt the group of civilians, and the two heroes, vanish from his fog, he allowed himself to fully disassociate into mist, while at the same time pulling in the edges of the cloud. In gaseous form, he pulled himself through a storm drain back to his parked car a few blocks away. He flowed through the cracked window and reformed his solid body in the driver’s seat. The return of sensation was, as always, abrupt and unpleasant. He took a moment to readjust to physical limbs before he started the car and began to drive, deep in thought.

A huge panther-like creature landed heavily on the hood of the car. It sniffed the air for a moment and stared intently at the passenger with its one gold eye narrowed. Its breath fogged in the air. This street was almost completely vacant, despite the gridlock on the interstates farther out of the city. After a moment, a window rolled down and the driver leaned out.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” said Richard Denzien.

The creature blurred and shifted and was replaced a moment later with a man in mottled grey fatigues with an eyepatch over one eye. “You planning on causing trouble?” Savage said, now leaning languidly against the hood.

Richard, by contrast, was stiff in his seat. “Just wanted to make sure Will’s safe,” he said.

“Good.” Savage straightened up and walked around the car towards the open window.

Richard hesitated, but gave in to his curiosity. “How long have you known?”

“Since I met the kid,” Savage said. “Powers like those don’t skip generations, and neither does the upbringing. His mother must be a hell of a woman to break that cycle.”

Richard’s voice turned cold. “She is. You should know. She was your accountant.”

Savage stopped in the street. His eye widened and he barked out a surprised laugh. “No shit!” He said. “Did Jamie know?” He asked casually, as if they were simply reminiscing about old times.

“He didn’t exactly approve, given who my parents were, but I think if he knew I would be in prison. Speaking of which-”

“-you’re out of the game, and you were one of the old guard.” Savage slowly approached the open window. “Never killed anyone, no drugs, no human trafficking, nothing like that. Just stealing from the rich and scaring the powerful. Unlike the others that makes you okay in my books. Hell, I even respect that. On two conditions,” Savage leaned in close. “Never put on that costume again, and never ever let that kid cross the line.”

“Like you said, I’m out of the game,” Richard said. Somehow he seemed calmer now beneath Savage’s intimidating glare than before. “We both want what’s best for him.”

“Old habits die hard, Dick,” Savage retorted. “Watch yourself.”

Savage turned and bounded away into a dark alley.

“Good talk,” Richard muttered as he rolled up his window.

A few minutes later, his phone buzzed a short pattern. He punched a button on his car dashboard and spoke into the air.

“You have something for me?” His irritation at the previous encounter seeped into his voice.

“Yeah, I’ve for some news.” The speaker’s voice changed and warped as they spoke, but was always clearly understandable. “Listen, I don’t normally work for free, but in this case I’ll make an exception. It’s… not good news.”

“Talk.”

“She’s relapsed. It’s bad.”

Richard was silent. His hands tightened on the wheel.

“The doctor recommended a procedure that’s not covered by insurance. Experimental tinker stuff, still in clinical trials, but they say it works.”

Richard glanced at the briefcase on the floor in front of the passenger seat and let out a slow breath through his nose. He seemed to empty out, visibly relaxing, but with nothing replacing the tension.

“Thank you, K. I’ll speak to Underhand about payment.”

He pressed the button to end the call, holding it down just a moment too long. Expression neutral, he guided the car to the side of the road again and stopped in front of a parking meter that had been torn out of its post at some point and never replaced.

He stared out into the seemingly vacant city as the sky began to dim.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly after what felt like hours.

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2 Responses to Ciaroscuro 10.2

  1. A combination of illness, some recreational stabbing, ballooning project scope, and some tabletop RPGs delayed this a bit more than I intended– sorry about that.

    Fun fact, parts of this arc were originally planned to be in the first arc. Honestly, I should have kept them there, but ah well, live and learn.

  2. Tetragramm says:

    I had wondered why Will repeatedly used the “My mother is in the hospital” as his cover.

    I just finished reading the whole thing up to now. Good work.

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