Cassandra’s shotgun was a gleaming black; military, polished, well oiled. Spoke of advanced contracts with defence companies that had fled America in the intervening years, as markets that needed more advanced support opened up in other countries.
I couldn’t even recognize the model, and I’d gone through the same recognition courses as every other D-ranker.
Cassandra off red face smirked at mine. “But we’re in a truce for the moment, right? Come on, I found a map, I know where an alternate route out should be.”
My tongue was numb. I’d dreamed of being this close to the Cuban Patrol again, and I’d dreamed of it more than I’d dreamed of Green Towassa. I’d dreamed of seeing them taken down, and yet…
My eyes flicked down to the skeletons spiralled out around us. “The fuck was that?”
“The Renegades did a poor job of clearing this place,” Cassandra said, the shotgun sliding up. Lazily, and with far more care than if she were holding a baby, she fed the gun a few more shells. “But that’s a bit insensitive to say. And as for what that was in particular… well, I’m fairly sure you’re not inoculated for that information.”
I breathed out, my teeth grit. “Renegades?”
“There was a large scale Schism in what we were supposed to do when your Association sent out their SOS,” Cassandra’s weapon slid back into her hands. “Come on, we can talk while we’re moving.”
She turned and walked in front of me, and I got a glimpse of the rest of her armor; all gleaming polished notes that made it look like she hadn’t taken a single blow getting down here.
I’d need even more new armor after this, and another uniform. I just hoped the supplier had spare fabric lying around, or I’d just look like a cop in hero suppression gear.
At the end of the day, I wasn’t that different from it. Wasn’t that different from the ones that had been taken like spare wheat in that graveyard, buying time.
Cassandra stopped in front of me. “Do you think you know what they were researching down here?”
My head snatched up and stared at the back of her head. “What?”
“I’m just curious. There’s lots of cages here, but the visibility is shit,” She turned her head and shot me a sidelong look, her eyes gleaming like a cat in the light. “Come on, keep walking, I might be able to breath this ash, but it doesn’t mean I like it.”
I followed after her, shooting her a look. “I thought the Cuban Patrol didn’t hire anyone with powers?”
“I don’t have powers, Gale,” Cassandra said, and I could hear the implied eye roll. “I’m just Swiss.”
I pursed my lips and followed after her, walking beside her, minding my step. My wind sense had returned in full, and I drug it across the room in wide arcs, tasting everything to make sure that nothing was going to sneak up on me, not again. “Swiss?”
“Refugee from the German Craters?” Cassandra tried.
That made more sense. With the… nullification of Germany at the end of World War 2, there had been less survivors and more refugees fleeing the disaster inside of it. Things had turned upon the german people, things that had no name and had never been described outside of classified documents.
The people had changed from being next to the Craters. I wondered if I’d change too, from seeing Green Towassa.
I was only cursory aware of what the refugees looked like, as travel over to Europe for Association members was… limited due to international treaty.
“Association member,” I coughed.
“Right, right-” She paused. “But I thought your higher ranks were actually allowed to travel?”
“Until recently, I was a D rank,” I admitted. “I stepped up to fill the role.” Keep her underestimating me, I didn’t want to think about what would happen if she thought I was a serious threat. Might diminish my ability to take her out.
“A D-rank? How curious.”
“But back to the Renegades?” I pried.
“It’s a bit of a sore spot, considering we’re standing in one of our failures, from not containing it.” Cassandra said, whispily. “And I imagine you hold a bit of a grudge for what happened here.”
“No shit, who the fuck are the Renegades?”
“When the SOS went out, there were two large groups among the Patrol. The news that such a… dominant and… aggressive group had been disrupted caused some to think about cutting back on the influence it had over your country,”
My jaw ached from the press of my teeth against one another, but I didn’t know the way out, and she’d just saved my life. “You don’t have to be nice about it, a bunch of your group swept inside and killed a lot of people.”
“Took part in the madness, killed people that didn’t need to be killed, destabilized things even more than they were,” Cassandra agreed. “My group decided to arrange aid to your regions in order to keep things working. We remember that the Association does good work, even if your methods are deplorable.”
“Our methods are fine,” I hissed. “We aren’t the ones who swept inside a city and killed every person with an Association name tag.”
“Yes, and I didn’t do that either,” Cassandra said. “And I also just saved your life, so.”
“So what, you want me to stop being suspicious?” I asked. My left hand twitched and I hissed, digging through my supplies for a ball to squeeze. The paid radiated slowly out into the nerves and I did some stretches, frantically trying to cool it down.
“It’d be preferable if you treated me as less of a threat, sure,” Cassandra said. “Especially since we really are trying to support you.”
“I’d be more supportive if I had Patrickson’s head on a platter. I don’t suppose you’ve killed him?”
“No, but we’ve tracked down his base of operations through the firebombs and the monsters and the things we don’t have names for,” She said coolly, pausing. “But we don’t have the military force yet needed to assault him, not in this country. How was he? Did he still have…?”
“He had a gauntlet that turned off powers on him,” I said, shooting her a glare. “I don’t suppose you have something that useful on you?”
Cassandra flinched, turning away. “No, no, trust me. If I had one of those, things would be going better for us. There’d be a lot of good people alive right now that are in graves,”
“I apologize for your loss,” I said, gruffly.
“Yes, I imagine you’ve dealt with something similar, haven’t you?”
We passed through another divider into a speckling arrangement of lab, and Cassandra drew a flashlight out of her tactical armor, clipped it to her gun and shined it around. “Ideally, we’d be figuring out what a maniac like Patrickson was doing here, but I doubt it’ll be that easy.”
“That’s easy, he hates the Association,” I said, flatly. “So he took out the base here to make us all suffer,”
And yet, a cool voice inside of me that I recognized as cold logic, the part that rejected crazy schemes and notions of heroism, a part that sounded oddly like Dr. Hawkins, he had left us alive after destroying us. Why did he leave us around? Why? What purpose did it serve?
“And yet, you’re local,” Cassandra said. “Mayhaps I should be more suspicious of you? The guards were slain when he left, you know. He didn’t leave anyone to chronicle his treason, killed everyone who didn’t go with him. Wouldn’t that imply that you’re with him?”
The gun clicked meaningfully, the light bobbing as she drove it towards me. My eyes ached from the light.
“I will fucking kill that man if I have the chance. I will see him driven before the damned horses of hell, and ripped to pieces,” I said, though the words were rabid and low. Where had they come from?
Cassandra laughed darkly. “Now he definitely has that effect on people, doesn’t he? You’ll have to go through me to get the kill,” She tugged the flashlight away from me and moved it around the destroyed lab. Large tanks sat across the wall, shattered, fluid glistening across the ground where specimens had been kept.
She looked down at one and made a face. “What sort of barbaric lab keeps dead babies on display?”
I looked around, eyeing the monitors and equipment. “Genetics lab. They’re monitoring what infants are viable and which ones will self destruct, given time.”
“Rather cruel,” Cassandra dismissed. “I thought your country was supposed to be the seat of morals?”
“Only in so far as those morals won’t get people killed. You have to remember, we haven’t forgotten japan, and we haven’t forgotten the fifties.”
“That’s how they justify it? They talk about the Emperor of Japan and a dead generation screeches in pain?” Cassandra stepped over the rubble and rubs dust off of a monitor. The flashlight moved in a steady arc and revealed a segment of wall with my name on it.
I stared at it. Descent from Hurricane, my siblings, coded mothers.
Even here Hurricane’s reach was powerful, his lovers kept anonymous.
“There’s your name right there,” Cassandra said. “Why would they be studying you here?”
“Large sample size,” I said, off handedly. “I have a lot of brothers and a few sisters, and we all have similar powers to our father, so they’d be interested in the speciation of our line. There’s not that many documented lines like that, so it’s only natural to study it.”
“If you say so,” The soldier said, stepping through the line. “I’d be more suspicious of anything I found in this blasted place. Human experimentation has only led to tragedy in my experience.”
“Are they really human after they’ve become beasts?” I asked. “At what point does the concern for human dignity overcome the wealth of the many?”
“Aimless justifications,” Cassandra clicked her throat. “I’m sure they taught you those in school, probably along the time they were teaching you how to be child soldiers.” I could hear the shotgun and the click of her fingers against polished metal.
“Would you rather they left us untrained? I have a friend whose mind turns into blades, would you leave him without the ability to control it?”
“And in exchange for teaching you, they turn you loose on people they don’t like,” her light flickered over to the next doorway. “I see your justifications and I see the justifications that have allowed your country to maintain child soldiers, Gale.”
“And your Cuban Patrol is any better?”
“We’re volunteers,” She paused. “Most of us have been victims of one thing or another, and the pay is good, the jobs are steady, the education is incalculably valuable.”
“That’s about the same thing then,” I said, stepping past her into the next room. “If you’re poor and have no way out of your situation because your country is wartorn by whatever powered lunatic, then it is about the same as having no choice at all to join the Cuban Patrol. Might even be worse, because your soldiers get to pretend and justify that they wanted this.”
“We don’t tell them to be heroes and die martyrs,” Cassandra’s voice came out in a hiss.
“There are always things worth dying for, Cassandra,” I said, giving her a side long look.
“And they aren’t always what your commanding officer tells you they are,” Cassandra eyed him. “Have you thought of that?”
“Of course I have,” I replied. “But you’re the hostile military operation here, can’t I say the same thing to you?”
“You’re very frustrating to talk to,” Cassandra complained. “Especially as you try to justify child soldiers.”
“It sounds like, to me, right here in this damned dark place,” I said, climbing into the next room and hearing the sounds of crunching glass. “That the Cuban Patrol and the Association are both reactions to the world.”
“And the Cuban Patrol says that the powered should not rule over the weak,” Cassandra said.
“And yet you carry a gun.”
“While the Association demands that its powered be warriors, police the citizenry.”
“That is not the purpose of the Association,” I cut in. “We’re supposed to stabilize places, help those who are weaker than us. We’re heroes, not gods.”
“And yet you pretended to be gods in Mexico, you challenged him there, and you made it happen,” Cassndra cut in, grimly.
I paused and looked at her. “You know, that’s the exact same justification that Patrickson used.”
“Yeah, and Hitler ate sugar.” Cassandra snarked. “Just because a mad man uses a justification doesn’t mean I should be painted with the same brush.”
“What the hell happened in Mexico?”
She laughed. “Entire cities vanished, drug under the ground by massive hands. For a moment, all things worshiped the sun, and our god commanded that we water the fields in our own blood. Mothers cut themselves and tore their children from their stomachs to bask in his light. Soldiers removed their teeth and planted them in the ground for tribute.”
“There’s no way you were old enough to be there, that was what, 25, 30 years ago?” I asked.
“I saw the pictures that the Cuban Patrol took. They use it in orientation to remind us why we train to put those things down. We are inoculated against most of those things from the other places.”
It clicked in my head. How she’d been able to throw off the beast of many bones. “You’re inoculated against Green Towassa?”
She smirked. “Against something similar. There’s a bit of crossover among the various treatments, you understand.”
Perhaps the scientists were inoculated as well? How else would they study the effects if they themselves became compromised?
The better question became how did one become inoculated?
I was quiet, and remembered how her shotgun had torn through the elder beast. The blowback had filled the air and dispelled the whispers of immortality.
“What do your people do with people with powers?”
Her smirk weakened a bit and took on a bit more melancholic look. “There are monasteries, temples, shrines. Places they can seek out stabilization. Some find lives that don’t revolve around their abilities, some find quiet places they can eek out a living.”
“And those who can’t?”
“Why, we have long memories of Mexico,” Cassandra said. “Where most everyone learned that if you have enough guns, even God can die.”
Green Towassa swam in my head and my eyes closed. What monsters were men that sought to slay divinities?