Cassandra caught my eye and obligingly turned the light towards me so I could fumble with it. Then the com flipped open.
“Gale,” Excelsior’s voice rumbled through the Mic. “Everything alright? We heard another awful noise.”
“I’m with them,” Hands said, muffled.
“Elevator’s gone. Looks like it was rigged to keep anyone who wasn’t staff from taking it. We’re trapped down here,” I reported.
A long sigh from the other end of the radio. “When it rains…” Excelsior’s voice sounded minorly annoyed, but in that way that only veteran heroes could manage. “Did you find any medical supplies? We found some cabinets upstairs.”
“We found a massive cache of supplies down here; antibiotics, anesthetics. Also found why they needed all of them, they were keeping monsters sedated down here!” I said. “Cassandra found me.”
“Cassandra reporting in,” she spoke into the com. “We have one way out to try before I declare we need evac, there should be a supply elevator to the right of us, if we’re lucky it hasn’t been blocked off yet.”
“I thought you said this was the last way out?” I said, turning to look at her.
“Last way I was willing to try,” Cassandra corrected. “The supply elevator will be tight and not fit for humans, I rather think we might have to go one at a time, and given the building has been rocked by explosions, it might be a tight fit or just be trapped.”
“I’m not willing to take that risk,” I said, flatly. “If we get cut off from one another.”
“I know,” Cassandra cut in.
“Dammit,” Excelsior swore. “Stay where you are, we’re going to try and find the other half of your elevator shaft, before anything else wakes up down there.”
“What do you mean anything else?” My voice was shrill. The air seemed thicker even through the mask. Was that blood I smelled, or sap from the vines that drink dreams?
“This is a dangerous place now,” Excelsior said. “If you found one, there’ll be more. There’ll always be more in rank place in the earth like that.”
“You didn’t approve of this research?” I asked. Cassandra’s eyes flicked to the com, a gleam of interest across her barely human eyes.
Excelsior let out a rough laugh through the radio. “Something like that. Ask Rebecca. We’ll be near soon.”
“Got it,” I reported back. “Colton, are you holding on over there?”
“I’m fine,” Colton’s voice was rimmed with the buzz of his mask, and the throaty rrr of someone who had been crying. “Just get back up here, alright?”
“Hands?” I said, wondering what they were doing on the other side.
“Don’t worry, this isn’t your fault, alright?” I said. “I’ve got someone down here with me, you don’t need to worry.”
“Get a doctor,” Cassandra said, fetching me a inquiring look. “Gale might have a concussion.”
“Got it, we’ll get Osteor on the way here.” Excelsior promised.
Quiet silence. “Do you want us to stay on the line?”
I breathed out. “No, no, we’re fine. The thing’s already dead down here, we just… need some time.”
Cassandra shifted uneasily and looked around.
“Roger. Report in when you need to, well be looking for the other end,” Excelsior snapped off the Com channel, and then it was just the two of us.
“They really worry about you,” Cassandra noted.
“Of course they do, we’re on a team together,” I laughed. “Also I’m sort of the leader of the heroes in Mobile, I really don’t want to see if the system is rugged enough to run without me. I suspect it is, but I am a bit of a figurehead.”
“People look up to you?” Cassandra asked.
“Something like that,” I replied, though my thoughts drifted back to the shrine at the church. How many people visited the blasted thing?
Why was I alright with them worshipping my dad?
“Heh,” Cassandra laughed, walking over to the edge of the shaft. This time, she tilted the light downwards. At the bottom, we could just barely see the top of the car, firmly planted at the bottom floor.
“And what’s down there?”
“Probably a morgue,” Cassandra said. “Keep the bodies as far away from anything that would want them as possible. Might prevent things like that corpse grinder from getting to them, It should stay dead this time.” She gestured dismissively behind her at where the woman-spider had been stalking us.
“Should?” I asked, slightly nervous.
“There were many people killed in this place. The ground remembers.”
“You’ve dealt with many of those things?” I asked, making sure I was far and away from the edge. I didn’t want to fall in, not when I was this close to getting out.
“A few,” the red-skinned girl said. “Mostly on squads. It’s a lot easier to kill them in squads, you just gotta trust in what you’re doing. Gotta know the right words, gotta have the right squad composition.”
My thoughts drifted back to the Lost Boy. We’d had a squad then, why hadn’t it worked?
“It also helps to fight under a beacon.” Cassandra said, faintly. “We had far higher success rates, you know, before Commander Fucktrickson ran off with our prototype.”
My windsense tucked firmly against me, and I relished in the contact. I remembered being cut off, and I remembered being beaten half to death. Blood, broken ribs. The beacon was powerful.
“What is even in that beacon?” I asked. I knew what it was, knew who made it, but didn’t know how.
“Lots of radiation.” Cassandra said. “Working under it shortens your life span quite a bit, but the bands of radiation normalize reality so that manifestation events diminish or cease entirely.” She paused. “It makes your super powers not work because hardcore reality is the law of the land.”
“Handy when dealing with threats.”
“The mobile ones are recent inventions,” She admitted. “You need a hell of a power source to get them to work for anything more than a few feet, and even for the few feet you need to drain the power of an entire facility like this one.”
“That sounds less handy,” I admitted.
She grinned and hefted the gun. “Most of the time, you only need it for a second, and then you replace the beast’s head with slugs of lead. If you keep the time low, then you keep the power consumption low.”
But I remembered the gauntlet staying on for at least ten minutes. Had it been ten minutes? It could’ve been shorter, but…
“What’s that look?” she asked.
“How did Patrickson keep it on for so long?” I asked.
“He stole the other part of it,” Cassandra said, flat.
“It harnesses power from heroes?” I asked, thinking back to Faraday’s suit. If you could generalize it…
I remembered the feel of powering that gauntlet for just a second, remembered how the metal dug into my skin and tugged against the very surface of my soul. If you could generalize it, then you could keep it running.
A virtual weapon of mass destruction.
“Something like that. It saps half of a hero’s power, runs the device off of it,” Cassandra’s voice lowered. “Very dangerous if the Association knew about it. Also almost entirely irreplaceable and we can’t make another one due to limited resources.”
I blinked. “Limited resources?”
“It requires large quantities of steel uncontaminated by…” she trailed off, then gestured at her own skin. “Uncontaminated by Germany. It’s a delicate device that requires the destruction of baseline tempered steel, forged before 1928, and there’s really not a lot of that left.”
“One last question,” I asked, eyeing her. “Why the hell did you guys follow Patrickson?”
I heard something in the darkness, and threw my blind eyes of the wind out to try and intercept it. A slow rustling. Movement in the dust. “Three o’clock.”
She laughed, and leaned into the elevator shaft, looking down, just to make sure we weren’t about to get flanked from behind. Her voice came back echoed. “There are only a few kinds of people who join the Cuban Patrol. You have your common people, who join it for benefits, protection. Maybe some wild creature killed their family and left them alive. You have your hunters, people who are bored, people who want to make a difference. Murderers by another name; the world is filled with monsters to hunt, and some of them look like people and need a shotgun through the brain.”
“And Patrickson?” Could hear my voice echoing. “Company, soon.”
She nodded, and checked how many shells were left inside. It didn’t stop her from speaking.
“He had ideas. High thoughts. Revenge; new worlds. Stability. And he had a tactical mind to prove it; everytime he got new information, he came up with such elegant plans; he led us to glory, led us to new heights. We spread out from the ruins of southern Mexico trying to recoup losses against the Taken Souls, getting torn apart by gang violence and virulent religion soaking the ground like toxic run off, to spreading out across Brazil.”
“And then he betrayed you?”
“Leadership didn’t want a war with the Association, no matter how powerful we were,” She pulled herself back from the edge. “Just didn’t fit with our ideas of stabilizing areas. The Association is cruel, nasty, but taking it out like this? Well..” She gestured at me.
“Look at your country right now. Turmoil; Association too close to the government, and with communication down, you’re dealing with monstrous infestations the likes of which can’t even be said. You have villains and warlords starting to take major cities. This isn’t what the Cuban Patrol wants to do. We stabilize, we hunt, we destroy, then we return it back to the people. We don’t mess with human organizations.”
I spread my windsense and sent it slowly crawling across the room. Wanted to look for fresh air, the air down here was getting choked even for my mask, even if Cass could breath it like it was nothing.
“He betrayed you.”
“Turned most of the soldiers working directly under him onto a plan, then killed everyone who disagreed. Scientists, civilians, didn’t matter. Anyone who tried to get between him and the mobile Beacon? Dead in the ground,” She made a movement that resembled the cross in the air. “Desecrated the bodies, left them for the Taken. What a damned mess to take those compounds back from what he left behind.”
“And-” I cut myself off. Something shifted in the wind. “You mentioned the unconsecrated dead, right?”
Cassandra snapped back to attention and looked around. “I did, but they shouldn’t be a worry here. Mobile hasn’t had the same history, hasn’t had the…” She paused, pursing her lips.
“Well?” I asked, stepping closer to her.
She swung the shotgun in a wide arc behind her, idly looking across the destroyed lab spaces. “Unless…”
Distantly, the last light, hidden behind the distant walls we’d cut through, finally gave up against the cracks littering it and sputtered out, painting the ground with the last sparks.
“Unless what?” I hissed, drawing even closer to her.
“It’s a bit like the past, Gale,” Cassandra said. “We carry it with us, like a cloak of sins. The world bears massive scars from our manipulations, and the angry dead follow us like hounds, drawn to the scent of gunpowder, and murder. That’s the legacy of the Patrol, and why we fight to keep areas so stable.”
My jaw clicked together, and I drew my wind sense back to my side, then threw out the wind to get the dust out of the air.
The light of the shotgun came to rest on a gleaming pair of teeth across a jaw bisected in four different places.
“History never dies.”