Chiaroscuro 10.3

Kevin watched over Wren’s shoulder as a news anchor narrated what was happening in the park. The helicopter gave a clear view of the US military vehicles that tore into the park from where they had been stationed at the edge of Locus’ area of effect.

“Should I-” Kevin said, voice low.

“You wouldn’t be able to make it,” Wren said. “And you wouldn’t really be helpful in this state.”

Kevin visibly sagged, exhaustion catching up with him, relieved but feeling useless. On Wren’s laptop screen, more soldiers poured out of the army vehicles and encircled the dark blob that concealed the center of the park. Out of one of the larger vehicles emerged a group of soldiers in distinctive red and gold powered armor. Leading them was a man in ragged army fatigues with a heavy mask over his face.

“Temple,” hissed Kevin.

All at once, the dark blob collapsed inwards on itself, leaving behind only a cluster of confused soldiers. Temple pointed towards the helicopter and a moment later, the screen washed out with bright white light like an overexposed photograph. The feed cut back to the news anchors. Wren checked his phone and smiled grimly and Kevin took a step back and sat on his bunk.

“Oh neat, classes are cancelled until after Thanksgiving break,” Wren said.

“Not really surprising,” Kevin said.

The faint audio from Wren’s laptop caught Kevin’s attention. “We are now receiving footage from before the event that may shed some light on-”

“Turn it off,” Kevin said, then more urgently, “Turn it off!”

He lunged across Wren, grabbing for the lid of the laptop to slam it shut, but he stopped short. A brightly-colored test pattern flashed onto the screen, cutting off the stream mid-sentence. Wren rocked back in his chair, surprised.

“Woah, what?”

“Attention: this broadcast has been interrupted in response to a precognitive warning received from a reliable source within the United States Department of Metahuman Affairs. This broadcast is believed to have contained potentially harmful images, audio, or information. For your safety, this channel, and other channels broadcasting these signals, will be quarantined until the threat has passed. Stand by for additional information.”

“They can do that?” Wren said. He stared at the screen, eyes wide.

Kevin fell back onto the bunk. “Ugh, I’m going to sleep. Wake me up if the building’s on fire.”

Wren gave a distracted “sure,” and within minutes, Kevin was asleep.

Wren hesitated for a moment, then started up a more aggressive proxying service.

***

In the newsroom, Sam stopped the moment the “On air” light went out.

“You cut me off. Why did you cut me off?” she said.

Amit at the monitor shook his head. “I didn’t,” he said, turning it to face her so she could see the test pattern. “Emergency alert.”

“Goddammit,” Sam swore, “in ten minutes that footage will be old news.”

“As far as we know we’re the only ones who got it,” Amit assured her, but she didn’t seem placated.

“At this rate we’ll be playing second fiddle to the BBC,” she muttered to herself.

In the editing room on the other side of a soundproofed glass partition, Paul listened to the beginning of the emergency broadcast through one ear of his headphones. Anu pulled hers off and leaned back from the desk.

“Glad to see someone up top is finally taking these Nightmare events seriously,” she said.

“That’s not what this is,” Paul said, voice low. He leaned forward and grabbed the keyboard and mouse. “This is a cover-up.”

“It’s always a cover-up with you,” Anu said, then saw what he was doing. He opened up a web browser and dragged one of the clips from the media queue into an upload box.

“Hey, what-”

The door of the studio burst open and a squad of armed, body-armored SWAT troopers poured into the room. Each of them wore a pair of heavy goggles and had a patch on their left arm marking them as ‘MEDUSA.’

“Everybody get on the ground!” shouted one of the MEDUSA troopers. Amit stood, hands raised then lowered himself to the ground. Sam shrieked in surprise, but then did the same, visibly shaking. Paul ducked below the desk, one hand still on the mouse.

“Do what they say,” Anu whispered at him, doing the same as Sam and Amit.

One of the troopers saw them and pivoted to point his weapon their direction.

“Step away from the computer,” he commanded.

Paul ignored him, even as several more of the troopers turned and trained their weapons on Paul. Anu gestured frantically to him from the floor.

“Step away now!” ordered the MEDUSA trooper

Paul stood, hands up, and the MEDUSA troops relaxed a bit. Paul glanced down at the screen out of the corner of his eyes and his hand flicked out and tapped a key.

A sharp *pop* and a burst of purplish light from one of the weapons knocked Paul off his feet, seizing. He hit the desk on his way down and pulled the monitor to the floor with him. Sam stifled a scream, and Anu froze in horror. Amit clutched at the carpet and looked away. The smell of ozone filled the editing room.

The squad converged on Paul. One of the troopers tried to wake the computer, while another trained his weapon on the fallen editor.

“We have a potential upload,” the man at the computer said after it didn’t respond. “Source is fried. Too close to the PEP.” He looked down at Paul still twitching on the floor. “You son of a bitch. You have no idea what you’ve done.”

***

Mafic and Felsic staggered out into the street. Lumen had exited her power armor and was crouched on the curb, the armor standing over her.

“Lumen,” Mafic greeted her. “Get any sleep?”

“Not a wink,” the blonde tinker croaked. “Where’s Seep?”

“Passed out in the lobby.” Felsic groaned. “Y’all want pizza? I could demolish a pizza.”

“And maybe a gallon of beer,” Mafic added.

Lumen stood up and stepped backwards into the power armor.

“One of you grab Seep. I’ll deal with this joker.” She nodded towards Ransom, still half-encased in Felsic’s crystals. “Nowhere will be open. We have food back at HQ.” Now fully armored, she hefted the whole block of crystal into the back of the SWAT van that Ransom had driven in.

The brothers nodded grudging agreement and headed back inside to fetch Seep.

A short time later, they made it back to the Blackwell headquarters. They didn’t bother going through the front business, a relatively upscale club, instead taking the hidden entrance by the loading door straight down to their lair. The brothers threw Seep across a red plush couch in the lounge while Lumen deposited Ransom in a meeting room.

By the time the brothers returned, sans armor and armed with cartons of leftover fried rice, Myriad was waiting, perched on one arm of the couch with a hand on Seep’s forehead.

“Hi,” she said. Mafic and Felsic froze, and after a moment, Felsic offered her his friend rice. She waved it away her strange white-on-black eyes focused on some point behind them. “Thanks, I’m fine. So is Seep, by the by.”

“That’s good to hear,” Mafic said. “I’m, uh, not gonna lie, I’m pretty shaken myself.”

“Ditto,” Felsic chimed in.

Opiate peeked into the central lounge from her lab. “Hello boys,” she said with a huge grin. “Glad you’re back.”

“Lily, go dose Ransom for me, will you?” Myriad said without looking back at the tinker.

“Of course!” Opiate burbled happily. “Neurablast cocktail coming right up.”

“You two seem cheerful,” Felsic said cautiously.

“Yeah, Poppy and I were just needed to wake up a little. Should wear off eventually.” Myriad glanced at Opiate’s retreating backside. “She’s fun.” Opiate, on cue, added a bit more sway to her step.

Mafic groaned as he collapsed onto an armchair. “M, we agreed.”

Lumen slipped past Opiate as the latter entered the room with Ransom.

“She’s right, we need her clear-headed,” Lumen said.

“Clear-headed?” protested Mafic. “She’s high as a kite.”

“I know how this stuff affects me,” Myriad said. She fixed her gaze on Mafic and he looked away. A hint of her normal aggressiveness crept into her voice. “If you want a peek inside my head to be sure I’m happy to oblige.”

The silence grew oppressive for a moment before she resumed.

“The city has changed since the Wardens assembled,” Myriad said. “The triads don’t set a foot outside chinatown anymore. The Yakuza and the Bratva don’t even exist and the Irish and Italian mobs are nothing more than social clubs.”

Opiate lead Ransom into the lounge, a hand on his shoulder. Ransom’s eyes flicked back-and forth between the unarmored Blackwell leadership.

Myriad continued. “Now, though, the Wardens are gone, and my sources say their sidekick club is away. We got the warehouses and the industrial district when the Specialists broke up. Now the anchor boys are split, fighting with each other, and tonight they’re all out of commission.” She looked towards Ransom. “We’re taking the harbor. You want a piece?”

***

Translocator’s teleportation didn’t feel as smooth as mine. Rather than moving fluidly through a static world, our surroundings seemed to shift and warp until suddenly we had always been somewhere else. We appeared in a large hall with a concrete floor and a high, vaulted ceiling. The sudden light was blinding, and with equally sudden fury my headache returned. Translocator glanced towards me and said something in French that I didn’t quite catch.

“What?” I said. I could see white flecks appearing in the air around us, like snow, but frozen in place, or tv static.

Translocator looked away and rubbed the stubble on his chin.

“Pour ce qu’il vaut, je suis désolé,” he said, taking a step backwards.

Désolé… I’m sorry? What is he…

The white noise started to fill the space around us and I could see people in the crowd of civilians we’d brought along with us start to collapse.

“What?” I managed to say again. My voice sounded dull and distant.

Translocator disappearing was the last thing I saw, before the world was filled with static.

***

Sean woke slowly. At some point, he became aware of a pressure pushing him down, like something heavy was resting on top of him. He tried to move only to discover his arms pinned to his sides and his legs likewise immobile. He opened his eyes and immediately shut them again as the light pierced through his retinas.

“Take it slow,” said a voice which he belatedly recognized as Dr. Mind. “Hey, hey, take it slow.”

Sean groaned. His mouth felt like it was the driest it had ever been. The sound of Dr. Mind moving seemed sharp and too loud. Sean opened his eyes again, blinked a few times against the bright light, and saw Dr. Mind offering him a glass of water. He sat up and was surprised to notice that he wasn’t restrained. Maybe he’d been imagining it earlier. His head swam a bit, but otherwise he felt fine.

He took the glass and drank while Dr. Mind spoke.

“We’re at the Holdenstedt Neurological Research Institute. Being who I am gets me free reign of most medical facilities,” Dr. Mind said. “What do you remember?”

Sean had finished the glass before Dr. Mind had finished a sentence. Sean haltingly described the confused conversation with Locus, putting a shield around the jet, and the intense pain and confusion.

“Based on preliminary scans, it appears you’ve had a seizure.” Dr. Mind said bluntly. “What you and Locus experienced on the jet is what’s known as the postictal phase. Often this means headaches, exhaustion, and confusion while your brain recovers. For some, it comes with amnesia or psychosis like what you saw from Locus.”

Sean took it in, a bit numb. He put the empty glass down on an end table next to his cot. The walls of the room had been painted in soothing shades of blue.

“Normally, the risk of recurrence for seizures provoked by an outside source like toxins or trauma is low, but this wasn’t an ordinary seizure. It was very localized to the area of the brain responsible for controlling metahuman abilities. We can’t be sure how it has affected you until we get some scans while you’re awake.”

“Oh,” Sean said.

“We should begin as soon as possible. Just let me know when you’re ready.”

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3 Responses to Chiaroscuro 10.3

  1. This took embarrassingly long to finish, but it’s up. Thanks for your patience!
    But on the plus side, new job is cool!

  2. Raefar says:

    Thank you for the update. I just got back into your work after 2 year hiatus.

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