Chiaroscuro 10.4

When we last left our heroes

Two of the three largest metahuman gangs in the city have imploded in the wake of a powerful precog with a vendetta who was also indirectly responsible for the dissolution of the city’s major hero team, but the remaining gang is eying the power vacuum hungrily. Their leader seems to have her eyes on Will for reasons as of yet unknown, and seems willing to cooperate against Temple.

The federal agency that oversees government sponsored superheroes has officially shut down the Wardens of Tomorrow after growing political pressure from Virtue, but they continue to operate in unofficial capacity, creating friction between Jamisson and his superiors.

The chaos in the city has attracted the attention of Dr. Randolph Ermen, a man who rumor says has foreseen the end of the world, and who can make powerful metahumans into ticking time bombs. Into the fray enters Temple, leader of a paramilitary organization by dint of his mind-affecting abilities. Increasing the pressure on his quarry, Temple released schematics for a cheap, reliable power-suppressing device to the public, and in response, Randwulf sent a dangerous piece of dangerous footage to the media.

Something smells fishy within the metahuman registration lobbying organization known as Virtue, and Savage is trying to sniff it out. If the head of the national organization’s son was brainwashed by Temple, who else could be under his influence?

Kevin joined the small but growing team, guilty about his role in the kidnapping of Charity and his failure to protect Wren. In the process,Wren learned that he is a powerful metahuman, a fact that his parents hid from him for many years. In light of the two recent Nightmare events and open gang violence in the city, Collswell University has closed early for Thanksgiving.

Sean was also caught a glimpse of Randwulf’s image and has been taken to a neurological research facility by Dr. Mind, along with the ex-hero Locus, another victim.

The Wardens of Tomorrow inadvertently liberated Japan from its technocratic overlord. Adam gave his life to save his sisters and prevent the return of the late supervillain Dr. Destructo and his army of nigh-unstoppable cyborgs. Thanks to the advanced technology created by Dr. Mind during his time ruling Japan, however, it was possible to revive him from a copy of his consciousness stored before his death. What could this technology mean for the rest of the world?

Will’s father, formerly the notorious villain Psyghast, has returned to Collswell City to check on Will, but his thoughts are clouded by bad news about Will’s mother. Will, his father, and Translocator worked together to teleport the victims of Dr. Ermen’s attack to safety from Temple’s soldiers- or did Translocator have other orders?

***

Awareness returned all at once, with no waiting period. I found myself seated in a wooden chair at a table with a glass of water in front of me.

“Can you tell us your name please?” said the man seated across the table from me a second, larger man stood silently behind him, in front of the door.

I looked around the room, disoriented. How did I get here? I patted the pockets of the body armor I was still wearing to find that my phone was missing, along with my earpiece and the other miscellaneous equipment I carried with me. I still had my parachute cord- I could feel it braided around my wrist. My helmet was gone, but I hadn’t been wearing it at the park anyway. Most importantly, I couldn’t feel the air around me. A null field. I picked up the glass of water and peered at it suspiciously. I was thirsty. Very thirsty.

“Your name,” the man said, more aggressively.

I held up one finger as I drank the water, (to buy time, I told myself), eyes exploring the room. Where the fuck am I? White cinderblock walls, green-painted metal door, an obvious two-way mirror on one wall.

“Do I have the option of speaking to a lawyer?” I said when I finished.

The man laughed a bit, but it was dry and lifeless. “Heard that plenty tonight. You’re not in any trouble. We’re just trying to piece together what happened.”

Right, I thought, taking a closer look at the larger of the two men. Hence the security.

“Your name please,” he repeated.

“Shadow,” I said.

“Your full name,”

“According to UMBRA, that is my name,” I said, watching his face carefully. “If want to know more you’ll need to do some paperwork.” It was that of the man behind him that caught my attention, though. He has until now had been stoic, but his eyes zeroed in on me the moment I mentioned the metahuman registration law. Looking closer, I could see the tension in his jaw muscles. Something was up. They didn’t recognize my hero name, but now they perk up. I guess now I know I’m not in Kansas anymore.

“Will we now?” said the man seated opposite me, not betraying any surprise. “Fair enough. I suppose it’s safe to assume you had metahuman abilities prior to the incident.”

“That would be correct,” I said, settling back into the chair. As if the body armor and the earpiece didn’t already give that away. Or did they really not catch on to that? I thought.

“Would you care to demonstrate?” he asked, leaning forward.

What’s his game here? We’re in a null zone, of course I can’t… Wait. I thought back to Sean summoning his shield despite the null field. If I hadn’t felt this before I wouldn’t know what it feels like. They’re testing if I’ve been affected. I struggled not to react as the thought struck me. That means they know about Randwulf!

“I’d be happy to,” I said, holding up a hand. After a moment, I looked at it, pulling in my brow in mock confusion. “Sorry, this uh, doesn’t usually happen,” I said. I stared at my hand, gradually clenching my muscles to make it shake a bit and held a deep breath to feign exertion. Defeated, I let out the breath and let my hand fall to the table, doing my best to look disappointed. “I don’t know what to tell you. It doesn’t seem to be working. I probably just need to recharge- I’m really hungry.”

As I said it, I realized that it was true- I was starving. I’d eaten most of a box of granola bars in the dorm after Durian Park, but it must have been some time since then.

“We’ll have food for you when you rejoin the others,” he said. “We just have a few more questions.”

The thought of food drove the suspicion from my mind for a moment “I’d be happy to help,” I said, eager to get them over with at the promise of food.

Wait, think. That’s probably what they want. My thought process stalled for a moment. And why is that so bad? Who are these people?

“Could you describe in detail what happened at 8:00 last night?”

Last night? Good, it hasn’t been too long. Probably.

“How much do you already know? I was to make sure I’m not-”

“Just go over everything,” he interrupted.

Damn.

I gave him a brief summary of what had happened, but leaving out a few pieces- Sean seeing and being affected the by the image Randwulf projected, my dad’s role in cleaning up the aftermath, and any personally identifiable information.

When I was done, I paused then asked, “What’s going on? Where are we?” hopefully they’ll feel obliged to share some information now. Come on, reciprocity!

“I’m afraid we know about as much as you do,” he said, not even trying to sound believable or answer my second question.

Fine, that’s how we’re going to play this. Glad I was so cautious earlier.

The larger of the two men stepped aside from the door and the man who had been interviewing me stood and opened it. “You’re free to go,” he said. “there should still be food available in the mess hall to the left.”

I brushed past him, making gentle contact out of habit. Pity I can’t mark him, I thought as I stepped out into the sunlight, then sneezed at the sudden bright light.

***

Busayo crouched down and stared at the huge bundle of I-beams arranged in the construction site. She shifted to one side and glanced up at the structure, then back at the beams. She nodded to herself and closed her eyes while she took a deep breath, then opened one eye. Otherwise perfectly still, she reached out and easily wrapped one hand around the whole bundle. Slowly, carefully, she stood, lifting the bundle off the ground inch by inch. To another observer, the bundle would have appeared to rise inexplicably into the air while she stared at it unblinking from the ground below through a circle made by her hand.

Legally, she was a crane operator, fully licensed and accredited, but she collected the equipment fuel and maintenance budget in addition to her salary. Cheaper, faster, and more reliable than the real thing, and she hardly had to break a sweat.

A car playing loud music approaching on the street behind her distracted her for a moment, but she kept her focus. She began to pivot, rotating the bundle towards the building, where a place had been cleared for it on one of the upper floors of the scaffolding. The music continued to get louder.

“Hey meta!” A voice behind her shouted. “Suck on this!”

The bundle vanished from her grasp so suddenly it made her blink. She barely registered that it was falling, but on reflex she kept only one eye open and put her other hand in its path to catch it. To her shock, it fell past, completely ignorant of her expectation that it should stop.

“Watch out!” called a worker from somewhere on the construction site.

The crash as it hit the ground jolted through her like a lightning bolt and echoed off the neighboring buildings.

***

“He’s not picking up,” Kevin said. He threw his phone onto his bed and resumed pacing.

“Hm,” Wren replied, not looking up from his sketchpad. “I mean, shit. My phone battery died looking for a signal during the Field of Ash event, I’d bet his did too.” Wren’s phone chimed from where it was still plugged in on the windowsill, as if on cue.

“I guess, but he’s not back yet either.” Kevin paced a bit.

“You got a crush?” Wren joked, glancing back at Kevin.

Kevin stopped pacing and gave Wren a withering look. “No. Just worried. And guilty I guess. I should have gone to help last night.”

“Dude, you couldn’t see yourself last night, but you looked like you’d been run over. A few times.” Wren stood up and walked over to the window. “Can you call… what’s his name? The, uh, dispatcher guy?” he picked up his phone and glanced at the screen.

“Jamisson, yeah! Good call!” Kevin retrieved his own phone and scrolled through his contacts list. He looked up at Wren for a moment to see his face fallen.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“My mom called. Four times.” He paused. “Three texts.” He turned and looked out the window into the quad. “They’re here.”

His mother stood outside in front of the building wringing her hands in her typical manner that Wren had come to recognize meant she was concerned for someone’s prospects (typically his). His father sulked in all his mustachioed glory, squinting at the door as though it owed him money. As he watched, a student student walking past stopped and spoke to them for a moment.

“Don’t let them in,” Wren muttered, then swore under his breathbreath when she pulled out her ID and swiped them into the building. Wren threw open a dresser drawer and rummaged through it for a moment before sliding it closed again, still empty-handed.

“Stay in here,” Wren said to Kevin as he slipped out into the hall to meet his parents.

“Hi honey, are you all packed?” Wren’s mother said, rushing up to sweep him up in a hug which Wren reciprocated half-heartedly.

Wren shook his head. “Should I be?”

His mom released him and took a step back “Do you need help? We brought the van so we can fit all your stuff.”

“All my-” he stopped himself and became assertive. “I’m not going with you.”

“We’re here to bring you home,” his mother said as though that was the end of the discussion. “Could you help your father carry your things to the car?” She patted her husband on the arm.

“No,” Wren said. “I’m not going with you.”

“Now I don’t care for your tone of voice, young man” his mother huffed.

“We’re pulling you out. Unenrolling.” his father said.

A stunned silence descended and occupied the hallway. Inside the room, Kevin pulled back from the door a bit.

*You can’t,” Wren said.

“Oh yes we can,” his mother said.

“No, you can’t. I’m 18. I’m not a minor anymore.”

Kevin forgot sometimes that Wren was almost a full year older than him, given that he looked like the younger of the two.

“It’s too dangerous!” His mother protested. “Two events in a row? I can’t have my baby living here.”

“I’m not paying your tuition. You’re coming home,” his father explained, taking a step forward and doing his best to loom.

“I’ll figure something out,” Wren replied, taking a step back.

“And the metas-” his mother continued to wail from behind her husband.

“Fuck you and your fucking politics!” Wren snapped. “I found out, OK?”

Jean-Clement took that moment to poke his head out of his room. This was only the second time Wren had seen their floor’s RA, but it was very welcome.

*Don’t you dare take that tone with me!” Shrilled his mother, but she was cut off by a translucent green wall that appeared between Wren and his parents. His father just stood silently, caught between a surprised gasp and an angry glare, while his mother’s complaints were still barely audible.

“Excuse me, is there a problem here,” Jean-Clement asked Wren in his polite South-African accent. The way he asked made it obvious he’d heard everything.

“There is,” Wren said, his passion from moments ago drained away in an instant.

Jean-Clement nodded and said “You should call the campus police if you like a more permanent solution, but I can make sure you aren’t disturbed any more tonight.”

Wren thanked him and silently returned to his and Kevin’s room. Kevin just watched as he entered and sat on his bed. A moment later the mattress sagged on its spring frame as Kevin sat down beside him.

“Fuck ’em,” he said after a moment of silent deliberation. “You do you.”

***

A hemispherical dome covered the small cluster of buildings, outside of which a swirled white and grey miasma. A faint light filtered through the dome from every direction, bathing the area in an ambient shadowless glow. The buildings themselves were odd mix of welcoming red brick with tall, steeply slanting roofs, and squat, cinder block cuboids connected with enclosed walkways. I clenched my fists as I started to understand what had happened. Translocator betrayed us.

The building designated to me as the mess hall was one of the brick ones, small, high windows facing directly into the featureless grey wall of the neighbouring building. As I walked to the building along a smooth concrete path I continued to take in the location. There wasn’t much in the way of greenery anywhere. Some areas were paved with asphalt or concrete, some were hard packed earth, but not much seemed to grow in the dim light that suffused the area. The air was cool and dry, and smelled artificial, like ozone and chemicals. I could hear the sound of muted fans, like an industrial air conditioning unit, but couldn’t identify the direction or source.

“Shadow.”

I turned to see the source of the voice. A man beckoned to me from between two of the buildings. I hesitated for a moment, then made up my mind and slipped into the alley. I would place him at late twenties, in a warm-looking flannel shirt and jeans with a grey peacoat.

“My name’s Graham. What’s your plan to get out of here?”

I scrutinized his face for a motive but couldn’t gather much beyond the tact thst he was nervous. Claustrophobic, maybe? Or he knows something about what’s going on.

“Why do you think we need one?” I asked slowly, thinking while I spoke.

“I figured out who you are, which means they know who you are. Why haven’t they let you go? Why are we in an interdiction zone?”

Interdiction! It made sense. I chided myself for not realizing. The bubble would be essentially inescapable and impenetrable, and metahuman abilities within could be repressed. Reportedly, he was the inspiration for Dr. Destructo’s original nullifier and force fields. He’d been brought on to deal with powerful villains, but unfortunately he was unable to suppress nightmare-class metahumans- much like the nullifier, I realized.

A thought struck me out of nowhere as I made a strange connection: the Cocatrice, the light weapon Blackwell had been using recently to gain power in the city, was almost an exact duplicate of Basilisk’s ability. Maybe there was some connection there. I filed that insight away for later.

“Graham, I’m sorry, I don’t think you need to worry” I said as I pulled my thoughts back to the topic at hand. “There was a very dangerous villain on the area that may have been responsible for triggering the nightmare event. They just need to make sure nobody else was affected like that.” Hopefully that should get a better explanation out of him.

“Yeah I had plenty of time to figure that one out,” he said. “I think, I think I’m a metahuman now. That’s the problem.” He paused and looked at his hands, which he held up in front of him. His fingernails were painted alternating black and a dark blue. “Tech that gives people powers is illegal as hell, I guess with good reason.” His hands shook a little. “The Nightmare was one of us, wasn’t it? Weren’t they? Could have been me.” He looked back up at me.

“I don’t-” I paused. I don’t know how much I believe the Bureau would be involved in something that shady, I thought, but it was Translocator who brought us here, and Interdictor is here too.

“I need more information,” I finished. “And, food.”

“But then you’ll be trapped here forever!” Graham joked, “but that’s probably not a bad place to ask around if we’re, uh, what’s the word? Circumspect. Fuck I’m tired.” He sagged a bit, losing some of the nervous energy that had kept him going moments before.

Together, we headed towards the mess while I pondered what to do next.

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4 Responses to Chiaroscuro 10.4

  1. Another long hiatus over. I included a summary of the current state of the story (though I omitted some events, for brevity) to try to get myself back on track and remind you all where we left off. We’re starting to get into the fallout from the last arc and I’m excited to show you how the setting evolves.

  2. Ben says:

    This series is amazing, just found out about it a few days ago and have been binge reading it every chance I get. Keep up the good work 🙂

  3. timelessarii says:

    I’m so happy the summer is over… Please keep releasing more!

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