“The quarantine moved unexpectedly?” Zephyr asked, leaning back in his chair. “Interesting… and it caught the trucks up in it?”
“Probably raided for supplies,” I said, easily. My eyes didn’t flicker over to Hands or Colton, but I could only hope that they were willing to spread the deception. No need to panic Zephyr. It would either work out, or it wouldn’t and I certainly had my doubts on exactly what, if anything, we could do to stop that one in particular.
Zephyr breathed in, then breathed out, steepling his fingers together. “No bandits?”
“Great. That gives us a few different problems instead of one easily handled problem,” the man sighed. “Do you have any good news?”
“We weren’t asked to bring good news.”
“Goodness. I sound a tad ungrateful there, don’t I?” Zephyr whistled, sinking further into his chair, lack of posture as he kicked his feet up on the table. “Fine. We don’t have to worry about bandits to the north, and travel is even more strictly prohibited. Do you have anything we can use?”
Out of the corner of my eyes, Colton turned towards me. “You could increase fishing.”
“It’s out of season, most of the fish,” Zephyr said. “We risk the bay’s life. If we disrupt that, we’ll…”
“We’re risking human life here,” Hands said. “And you’d only be doing it enough to keep the people here fed.”
Zephyr’s eyes darted over to the window, where he could peer down upon the people he was watching over. “I think you underestimate how many people are here.”
“Our supply lines are running short,” I said, quietly. “We’re going to be in the same boat. Can we count on you to feed fairhope, too? I’m sure the other communities are going to be more than happy to go fishing for their food.”
I felt a pang of guilt, distantly, that I was forcing him to such a harsh point.
But I couldn’t keep Fairhope’s safety such a large priority. That was his job.
One that I could only hope he got in check.
—- Detecting credentials—-
What Rank would you like to view the Database from?
—- Querying internal registrar—-
—- Displaying information now—-
Negalliforce (Atilla Somorjai)
Place of Origin: Budapest, Hungary
Rank: S (VS)
Powers: Electron Manipulation
History: Involved with the (Code Named Dark One) that destabilized Hungarian democracy in an attempt to seize control over the second world countries already in a state of flux from systematic attempts to wrest their hold on Communism. Labelled as a Destroyer type, the Eastern-European Anomalous Stabilization Team (EAST) successfully started him on operant conditioning to make use of his powers a minimal threat to human life. His brother, also powered, (see attached file) slipped under the radar in the belief that more traditional powered authorities would intervene. Atilla slipped from EAST control in [REDACTED], marking him a potent threat to life as we know it, culminating in an attempt to bargain safe transfer of Negalliforce back to America as part of a prisoner exchange with his brother. Faraday (see attached file) oversaw transport, but in an attack on the transport, was unable to prevent the assassination of Negalli’s brother.
Assassination of Association Asset Taylor Varabage. Technology taken involves a prototype (REDACTED) engine, along with several terabytes of classified material.
Degradation of infant conditioning has led to class three mental defects (see attached file) and wide spread megalomania, self destructive behavior, risk taking behavior, and revenge seeking behavior. As Negalliforce represents the power capacity of a large atomic weapon if he were to self detonate, his revenge is to be kept unfulfilled for as long as possible. [REDACTED]
See One Flew From the Cuckoo’s Nest for projects associated with Negalliforce.
Currently believed to be suffering from late stages of radiation poisoning. See Agent Rhode’s report.
The trip back to Mobile was disquieting. We’d seen something out there that had alienated us, something that had made us realize that the world wasn’t as cuddly as we had wanted it to be.
The stakes were far more visible than I’d ever wanted them to be, and we were on the edge, staring up at them. To the north, things were happening, and we were hiding in Mobile and praying that nothing would go wrong, that we’d be safe, and yet…
We all knew that wasn’t the case. Didn’t take a genius to see the quarantine was just expanding and expanding.
Wish’d we had longer. In those strange halcyon moments, when all was clear, and everything made sense.
When I knew where I stood, even though it was shaky and hazy.
Midtown had seen a minor criminal presence while we’d be gone, and headquarters was down a few rooms as we held the people responsible for processing.
They screamed at us profanities as we entered, and the capes we’d left behind looked utterly exhausted. “Busy day?” I asked.
“Busy day,” Earnest said, sweeping inside with one of the few remaining members of the Mobile police force. “But we’re getting the accused out of here as soon as possible, Gale. No need to concern yourself with them.”
I peered over his shoulder at the patrol board, and noted where the arrests had taken place, marked with a massive red X on each house. Drug dealers, I suspected. Hopefully not linked to any serious movements, we didn’t have the means to deal with anything greater than a stiff breeze right now.
Downtown was still a mess, I didn’t want to think about long term repercussions; dust exposure, economic damage, insurance payoffs, media coverage… hadn’t wanted to pay attention to local news, but I knew how it was running.
But it was running, and that was what mattered. The day passed slowly, what little remained of it, interspersed with screaming and the vague idea that using Earnest to interrogate people was unethical to the extreme, since using powered people to resolve non powered crimes went against Association rules on cape intervention, but I couldn’t bring myself to care after the day I’d had.
After another few hours, I slipped back to the motel room I’d been staying at, and slipped to sleep.
A few days later, and a sleep schedule that’d make a marine concerned, I caught Colton drinking at the desk I’d given him. His eyes settled on mine as I entered his room, hunched over top of the new patrol schedules, and he poured me a shot.
“Underaged,” I reminded him.
“End of the world doesn’t care,” Colton said, offering me the glass.
“We really shouldn’t be drinking on the job.” I took the glass, resting it on my hand, giving him a long look. “Is there anything you want to talk about?”
“It’s funny, actually,” Colton said, looking down at the whiskey in his glass, swirling it about. “I put forth the first schedule in a matter of desperation, trying to get as much covered as possible, figuring out which bunch had the least experience, to figure out how to get them trained up for this.”
I slowly nodded. “It made sense at the time.”
“Yeah, but it was sloppy,” Colton’s eyes met mine as the shot slipped down his throat. Eyebrow raised.
“Don’t take another shot,” I said, sternly.
“As a friend, or my ranking officer?” He asked, slowly.
“I can be both right now,” I said. “But if you keep drinking in front of me, we’ll see how much farther that goes.”
“Alright, alright,” Colton said, raising his hands in the air. “But you gotta take the shot too.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Because I’m stopping, and I don’t want to waste whiskey like that.” Colton said, smoothly. “In fact, here,” He pulled the bottle out of his drawer and slid it over to me. “Keep it in the contraband locker.”
“We have one of those?” I asked, rubbing my eyes. The shot sat on the desk in front of me.
“Course we do. We’ve seized lots of stuff lately,” Colton said.
I sat the bottle next to the shot, sighed, and then downed it. It burned like hell, but I swallowed and ran my tongue over my burning lips.
“You were saying about the patrols?” I asked.
“I did a sloppy job the first time, but now everyone wants it to run like it did the first time. Expect it, even,” Colton said, leaning back in his char. “Like they’re going with mediocrity, as long as it works.”
“I didn’t take you for a perfectionist. I thought you were more pugilistic,” I said, idly.
“In martial prowess, perfect forms and prowess tie together hand in hand,” Colton said. “We should move towards a perfection in our systems, or else we’re losing things we could put towards other things.”
“You know what I mean,” Colton sighed. “I’m not a damn statistician, Gale, I can’t tell you how much human capital we’re wasting having people go after marijuana dispensaries. How many people we’re not training because we don’t have a person certified to help people through their burgeoning powers.” Colton’s eyes were dark, and his face drawn. Did he have nightmares too, of gunshots ringing through the air, of things slithering in dark places?
“We’re taking over for the police,” I said. “We follow their rules.”
“We need to come up with our own rules,” Colton said. “Not reactively, but proactively. Shore up more structure. Less desperation, and… something to make us stand out. So we’re not just the people temporarily taking over.”
I peered at him, leaning forward. The fumes of the open whiskey bottle tickled my nose. His face was flushed. “Why are you drinking?”
“It makes me less focused. Less prone to chase my own tail, Gale,” Colton said. “I can’t…” He laughed, leaning back and away from me. “I can’t figure out what I’m doing, Gale.”
I nodded slowly, looking down at the whiskey bottle, and setting it off of the desk and away from him. Keep calm, razor focused.
“And you’ve been focused?”
“It’s all I know how to do,” Colton sighed. “Since we were in school together. They had me focusing tighter and tighter because…”
“You might hurt someone?” I asked, leaning back.
A knife formed in the air in front of him, and he snatched it out of the air, twirling it around his hands. “I’m… I’m scared that I don’t know what I’m doing, really. I’m a fighter, and I’m here in an office trying my best, but… why am I here?”
“How many shots are you in?” I asked, idly.
“A couple,” Colton said, lazily. “Enough to keep my mind from being swords. Maybe just knives. Metal fragments. I’m scared because… I’m uncertain. When I was with the Association, there was always objectives. Something to throw myself at. There was a right, there was a might, there was something to cut, and it was necessary. But now… Why am I here?”
I gently reached out and touched the side of the knife in front of me. “You’re here, because I know that your entire focus, most days, is on keeping people safe. Because you think you’re the mighty. And you think that the mighty must protect the weak. You’re the only person working here that’s got most recent and repeated combat experience. So I expect that you have a better idea of how to keep them safe than anyone else.”
“I thought we were trying to keep Mobile safe first,” Colton asked.
“We’re part of Mobile, Colton,” I replied. “Every person we’ve got in this office also matters. Thought they might be willing to give their lives, we’ve also gotta keep them alive. Sacrifices are stupid if they don’t mean anything.”
My mind flickered back. Thirty minutes for my life. Had the exchange rate changed yet? Was it more or less? Did Negalli’s blood on my hands enrich my life?
Then lazily, watching Colton, I pressed my finger against the edge, pointedly keeping eye contact. It was sharp, yes, but it didn’t cut me, not even went I put more pressure on it. “I trusted you to stop a bullet for me.”
Colton laughed, and the knife dispelled. “You’re insane, Gale.”
“I might be,” I admitted, rubbing my fingers together. “But I trust you anyway.” The thin crease the knife left on my finger disappeared.
I couldn’t afford to not have trust in Colton.
“But what if I hurt someone? My mind if knives, Gale.”
“Knives have a handle,” I said. “Keep a firm grip on it, and it won’t hurt anyone.”
Colton laughed and looked back down on his work. “Guess I need to work on my handling.”
I shook my head, and stole his whiskey bottle. “Stop drinking at work, or we’re going to have to have a more serious talk, alright?”
Days past with dwindling portions and frequent brownouts. Things were winding down, and we were running out of options.
But the city was together, working together; from the Fourth Wave to the teacher’s association, to tattered jail officers and city workers, to the unemployed working the rubble for a paycheck. The tension was high in the air.
But I still had to work each day, even as my sleep got worse and worse. Shapeless things thrashing about in a soundless scream, gnashing teeth and stars.
Impacts, broken bones, dancing jesters, a thousand sights and sounds suspended crazily within just the prison of my mind. Scorpions, snakes, and gentle things, a woven canopy of dreams I had had once, served with a side of gore.
Emails up on the crackling screen. My job, to coordinate efforts.
A new sort of email had started to spread.
RE: Towns still up and running without Association presence.
Hello Gale! Glad to see there’s another place in Alabama still running. Greetings from Huntsville! We’re still mostly intact, getting harried by movements to the north, I don’t think Tennessee has been as lucky as we’ve been. I’m glad to hear from someone on the coast, I’ve been hearing some bad news from the exclusion zone. Are you all okay down there?
Hope to remain in contact with you. Sorry it’s taken us so long to get up and running, our power’s been out for quite some time! Message us back and we’ll see if we can get everyone else to know that you’re still out there!
Attached was a simple picture showing off a massive fortification, bristling with outposts and guns. Captioned the Northern side of Birmingham.
I typed up a quick response and darted back to the email, flicking through them. In the past few days, I’d received a number of different hits from different cities that were scraping out existences.
The Association bases had been taken out, one by one, but the heroes that were there were still trying their damndest to hold on.
It hit me that maybe, for once, we weren’t really alone. We were all trying our best.
It also struck me just how bad the problem might be that it had taken them this long to get back online. How many armored fortifications had been built up around cities? How many had disappeared into the night without response?
Then I checked the others emails, sent from contacts in other states. Pictures of strange things taken on grainy cell phone cameras. Things with limbs, faces, twisted, not quite human. Bloodied bodies in the forest. I clicked on a photo so I could peer closer to the depths, get in even closer, and…
The internet cut out. Page error.
I tried reconnecting. No internet found.
The lights were still on, and as I walked around, I saw other people having the same trouble.
The hair stood up on the back of my neck.
Which was about the time the sirens started up.