Book 2, Negative Film, is coming late 2018!
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The front door gave way in two kicks from a reinforced boot, the paneling snapping as the locking mechanism exploded through the wood. It had never been meant to withstand force—rather, the house had relied upon the prestige of its neighborhood to provide protection, placing faith in the crime watch and the flimsy aluminum gate that guarded the street. The door itself had been crafted as an ornament, the rich mahogany actually extending only a sixteenth of an inch before it was replaced by cheap particle board, the gold-plated bracers constructed of hollow tin tubes. It stood confident and overbearing, proud, but without any true strength. Without a backbone.
Just like its owner.
"What is the meaning of this!" he shouted as he rushed down red carpeted stairs, lightning crackling between his fingertips. Lightning that he had never actually used for defense or work, but had offered as proof of his pedigree, atop a reputation supported by generational trust funds. "Don't make me—"
"Police," came the gruff answer as six flashlights swiveled his way, and his face turned paler than their beams. There were plenty of reasons the police might appear at his place, but he had long worked out arrangements that would have prevented such occurrences. Laundered money was to be overlooked so long as change found its way to the station. The same principle applied for tax exploitation. And as for his other crimes, there were always those who would open their hand in exchange for closing their mouths.
"Officers, surely we can reach an arrangement," he blubbered, the lightning fading to mere sparks. "May I request your purpose and your warrant?"
"If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear," said their leader, his eyes narrowing. "We received a report of suspicious activity at this residence. There are those who hide from the state, those who would be willing to pay dearly for a back room. James, your openness to lucrative deals does not go unnoticed, and my officers themselves reported figures entering and exiting this house. Confess now, and we no longer have to search. Of course, should you confess now, we will have found those wanted in the sewer, where they belong, and not your house. But only if you confess. Otherwise, you will be just as wanted by the state."
"This is preposterous!" James, the owner, answered as the officers split, each taking a different path. "I've had no dealings of any sort!"
"Then you have nothing to fear, James," answered the leader, his voice a whisper through thin lips. "Nothing at all."
Dressers smashed into splinters as the officers searched, drywall caved to reveal no hidden compartments, and carpet surrendered to knives. The leader smiled as he watched James fidget, the dollar amounts nearly reflecting in his eyes as they streamed away from his net worth. And soon the first officer climbed the stairs, searching James’ own room, the uppermost of the house with a view of the city more priceless than any of his possessions. The officer frowned as he ripped covers from the bed, chucked the mattress to the floor, and tapped the floorboards. And he spoke after a minute, his voice exasperated and laced with frustration.
"How many times do I have to tell you?" he said, rolling his eyes as he continued to search. "We're after the escapee. Number six from the report. Going to be damn hard to find, you know, because—"
His voice trailed off as he turned and saw that he was the only one in the room. His brow knit together, and he mumbled, craning his neck to check that he was indeed alone. He could have sworn his partner had followed him, and after hours of briefing, had actually asked what they were looking for just a moment ago.
But instead, no one was there.
He continued to search with the hairs on his neck half raised, whipping around at the slightest noise to inspect the room, taking less and less care as each second passed. Then he nearly left the room at a sprint, like a child running back from leaving the trash at the end of a long driveway after dark. And in seconds, he returned to the lead officer, while the others kept watch on James downstairs.
"There's someone here," he said. "I feel it, and I don't like it."
"Your power," asked the leader. "Does it indicate anything?"
"Nothing, sir," he answered, shuffling his feet. "I feel nothing alive in this room. Aside from the clock, there's no energy consumption. But there's ways to hide, as you know. And this feels wrong."
"Fine," hissed the leader, extending a hand forwards, his eyes sliding over each of the objects in the room. "Step back; we need a full investigation."
The officer rushed through the doorway just as the leader's hand formed a fist, and the room came to life. James' bedspread unknit itself, each of the individual threads spiderwebbing apart, pulling the seams of the mattress with them. The springs uncoiled as if they were made of spaghetti, arranging themselves in neat rows on the hardwood. Screws unwound from the bookshelves as each book came apart at individual pages, streaming forward in rivers of paper that accumulated in a neat pile at the center of the room. The dresser disassembled at the joints, the planks stacking to be organized by size, with a neat row of knobs atop. And every other object of the room unmade itself, from the desk to the office chair, the ceiling fan to the vents, down to wiring in the walls, until all that was left were their components, organized, and inanimate.
"Nothing to be found," stated the leader as the officer peered wide-eyed over his shoulder.
"I'm sorry sir," came the reply, the far larger man biting his lip. "I thought—"
"It does not matter; I expected to find nothing anyway," the leader said, his voice level. "The descriptions of those entering the house did not match our records. No, not at all. I knew that walking in."
"Then why did we bother, sir?"
"Because there are those who would best remember," he answered, looking through the floor to where James stood below, "who runs this city and who merely resides in it."
He shook his head and left, the officer following, too far away to hear the gulp that sounded from the roof as three adolescents pressed their ears against shingles, catching the bits of conversation below, the words muffled. And as the police cars trickled away, they departed, one of them hovering to lower the other two to the ground and to steal off into the night.
"Look, I already told you," said Arial, rolling her eyes towards the ceiling, her voice exasperated. "He's not on the case. The police want no one who was involved in the rehabilitation fiasco involved. Except for me, but you already know that."
"I do," I answered, rubbing the heel of my hand against an eyebrow in frustration at our lack of answers. "But if your father isn't working with them, how do they plan on catching anyone? And what did they ask you again?"
We sat in the corner of Burner's Coffee Shop, at a small wood table nestled into a brick alcove, with me settled at the deepest point. Those walking by would only see Arial's brunette hair unless directly in front of the recession, and even then, they would likely be more focused on the steaming cup between their hands than two whispering teenagers. Normal whispering teenagers were be commonplace here, and we were doing our absolute best to be normal whispering teenagers. Normal, after everything over the last few months, was difficult bordering on impossible.
In front of me was a list of names, one for each of the students who had attended the facility, accompanied by an untouched cup of coffee.
"It's the best in the city," Arial had claimed when she deemed Burner's our meeting point, "And more importantly, it's a block from my new school, so I can wait to be picked up there without suspicion under the guise of doing homework. My parents will never know I met with you, so long as you're not using your power if my father pulls up."
Though I had never tried coffee, the store did smell enticing, and I developed an immediate affinity for the pastries behind the glass counter. Arial ordered for us from a thin man with a scraggly grey-flecked beard and knitted hat, and he reached into a bag of raw beans, heat pulsing away from his fist as the beans roasted before being dropped into a small grinder. With a practiced motion, he pulled a pitcher of water from the shelf behind him, the water boiling in his hand by the time the grinder finished, then poured the powdered beans inside before capping the glass.
“It’s a French press,” Arial explained as I carried the empty cups to the table and she held the larger glass filled with cloudy brewing liquid. “Burner’s introduced it to me, and you’ll love it. It's sophisticated, unlike the north.”
She winked, her last comment alluding to the lie I had given her the first time we had met—that I was a traveling Boreal, one capable of replicating the Aurora, born near the tip of the hemisphere. Utilizing my own power, I'd been able to produce a similar effect by extracting light that was trapped within one of my dark spheres. It was the lie I had fed her parents when I attended dinner at her house, one that her father had not bought for an instant, and had marked the start of our journey together. A journey that had ended with us liberating dozens of brainwashed students from a city rehabilitation facility that had far darker goals than their occupants' welfare.
Arial paid without asking, knowing my traditionally tight financial setting, and I enjoyed the refreshing smell of coffee far more than the bitter taste, taking only a single forced sip. But that hadn’t stopped her from filling my cup to the brim every time we met here, though the owner scowled each time we departed and I left a full but now cold mug on the counter.
“Anyways,” continued Arial after a sip of the fresh brew that day, a variety that Burner's chalkboard specials announced to have been infused with strawberries by Vibrants, “the police only questioned me once, and they only wanted to know if anyone had not returned to their families. Apparently, a few had scattered back among the streets. The officers claimed to be concerned for their safety, but obviously, they would know who had and had not been accounted for. So I answered no, playing stupid, and since there were no charges, they couldn’t bring in a Truther to check. At least, with the story of what happened in the subway still fresh, they couldn't risk bringing one in without it potentially blowing up in their faces.”
“But they wouldn’t say who they were asking about?” I inquired, a frown forming on my face as I thought about what we had heard the officers say on the rooftop just a few nights before. Despite their words, Lucio had planted a memory to look exactly like us in a few of their minds, which had lured them to enter the location after we noticed it had been under surveillance.
The descriptions of those entering the house did not match our records. No, not at all. I knew that walking in.
“No, they wouldn’t, and I didn’t think it would be the best of ideas to ask. I heard Wendy was brought in four more times because she said she used to know a few of the missing students outside the rehabilitation center, and I wouldn’t want to arouse suspicion. Trust me, at first they were looking for you. Roland made it his top priority, and Father was inundated with requests about your whereabouts. But that’s changed, ever since his demotion.”
I sighed. She’d already mentioned Roland, the former chief of police’s change in position. A new chief had moved in from another city, one that had been pushed into Roland’s role as quickly as the officers who had been in the subway had been redirected to traffic duty and desk work. Under my breath, I cursed—when Roland and the Hunter were in charge, I had known their motives and possible plans. But now, someone new had entered the arena. Someone unknown.
And in the words of my old instructor Linns from the rehabilitation facility, the unknown is the most dangerous.
“Tensions continue to heighten after a statement this afternoon by High General Webster,” spoke the newscaster, her cherry red lipstick two inches above the microphone and concern pushing through the thick layer of powder on her face, her voice with a hard and forced edge. The wind plucked at her otherwise perfectly brushed hair, threatening to pick apart the careful flow and pull the strands in its own direction, despite a near army of clips forcing it into place.
“General Webster,” she continued, her eyes flicking towards a still scene of political buildings that formed the backdrop behind her, “has assured Congress that we have entered an immediate state of distress. Should war break out across the Atlantic, home forces are not seasoned or powerful enough to adequately answer the call. He calls for more troops, for stronger individuals to enlist, even for a draft. Inaction, he claims, exposes our nation in a way that can only be described as a direct threat to our populace’s well-being—”
“Oh, can’t we ever watch something more entertaining?” exclaimed an exasperated Lucio, cutting off the reporter and drawing my gaze away from the screen. “Like an actual movie for once? If we’re all cooped up down here, we might as well get some culture out of it! I can feel myself starting to get boring.”
It was our fifth week in the subway station, and I drummed my fingers on my leg from where I sat on the garage sale purchased couch. Lucio perched across from me on another garage sale couch, horridly mismatched with my own, as we watched a television that had gone out of style roughly ten years prior. The subway itself had changed drastically since we first arrived, or at least the section we inhabited—tents were strewn across the concrete floor for each of us, pushed far enough apart to form small territories like rooms, each with a small collection of belongings to declare its perimeter along with hanging sheets for privacy. The small kitchen had expanded after Slugger had found a small electric stove in an abandoned house and carried it back, his Momentive powers making it as light as a feather when he maneuvered it through the tunnel. A few space heaters supplied warmth, their extension cords crisscrossing the area to a plug that Lucio discovered had miraculously still worked, and since we paid no power bill, they were kept on high. At its base, the plugs clustered like tree branches to a trunk, stacked on top of each other in precisely the manner fire safety presentations instructed not to do.
Slugger held a wet tennis ball a few strides away and was busy tossing it against the wall, whipping it as hard as he could so it spattered against the concrete. He squinted, launching the ball to hit the same mark each time, and so far had only missed twice. And with each contact, the ball made a slightly different sound as its weight was modulated, the mass fluctuating between a bowling ball and a marble, the distance of the droplets of water and violence of their shape from the impact region testifying to the change.
“We have to see what they’re up to,” I said, continuing to watch the screen, though I’d lost focus. “We’ve effectively cut off any clues we have to what Siri’s and Peregrine’s people might do next. I don’t even know where to look.”
“Yes, because they’re going to spill it out to you over the television as guests to a talk show,” Lucio drawled, waving his hand that was filled with fluff he had been absentmindedly pulling out of the degraded cushion. “Erm, yes, I’m glad you asked! World domination does happen to be a hobby of mine. Stop on by on each Tuesday and we’ll have a chat over tea! Positions open for interns and text the number below for live voting on your method of national destruction!”
Whap! sounded Slugger’s tennis ball, a particularly massive one, which splashed hard enough to throw flecks of water across my wrinkled brow.
“Well, what do you suggest we do?” I sighed, raising my hands.
“Not watch TV, unless it’s for movies! Maybe we do another recon mission like the other night. Spook the police a bit.”
“We don’t want them to know they’re being watched, or else we’ll lose that advantage,” I countered. “Besides, we can only learn so much from sending them false flags. We need to know what they’re really after.”
“Would you cut it out?” shouted Lucio at Slugger as he was sprayed with water. “Baseball’s not even in season, and that’s not even a baseball. I swear, you’re just doing it to annoy us!”
“Aye, and it’s working,” Slugger responded, Whap, before walking over. He dropped the tennis ball in Lucio’s lap and the boy doubled over as he sank into the cushions, the particularly heavy object pinning him down. “But maybe the two of you could learn a bit of something from some baseball.”
“Like how to be a jackass?” interjected Lucio, managing to squirm out from underneath the ball as it slammed onto the floor.
“Nah, I’ve learned that from other places and so have you, rawny as you are. Reason I joined the team, remember?” retorted Slugger, then he faced me. “There are nine players on the field in a game, but only one ball. What do the rest of the players do when they don’t have the ball?”
“They wait,” I said, turning away from the television, “until it comes their way.”
“Right you are, lad. They wait, but they’re ready. I’m thinking you’re a bit eager—you’ve just hit a homerun, and yer ready for another pitch, but it’s the other team’s turn to bat. But you’ve got to wait, or you’ll break the rules of the game, and that only helps the other team. It’s time for patience.”
“Well, you can’t expect us to sit here and do nothing,” I protested, gesturing above. “Not while who knows what is going on up there!”
“I didn’t suggest that,” he said, picking the tennis ball back up from the ground now that it had returned to normal weight. “But I do think it’s their turn to bat now. And it’s time for us to start securing some outs so we can step back up to the plate. Yer right, SC, we need to listen, and do so carefully. But Lucio has a grand point, as much as it pains me to admit it—the television will tell you nothing.”
“So what we need, then, is more listeners.”
“Aye. More importantly, we need them in the right places. When they hit a fly ball, there needs to be someone there to catch it. But remember, we’re fielding now. With a power like yours, lad, it’s easy to be cocky—but don’t fool yerself into thinking yer not defeat-able. The encounter with Peregrine sounded more like luck than skill.”
“Fine,” I said, ignoring his last statement but knowing the validity behind the words. “We’ll need to start tailing them. But which ones?”
“Old instructors, police,” commented Lucio, ticking off his fingers. “Maybe play Blake a visit. Come on, SC, let’s get creative. Let’s have some fun.”
“Plenty of that still to be had,” said Slugger, rubbing his hands together. “When we escaped the facility, we thought it was the bottom of the ninth, and that the game was about to be over. But really, it was the bottom of the first. And the game’s just begun.”
The roof of the Norris skyscraper was locked, the lobby below protected by security guards and elevators requiring card keys. Far down below, those entering and exiting wore only suits and carried leather-bound briefcases, the look of Specials who no longer needed the aid of their powers for financial security. Glittering windows comprised the building’s face, its shape composed of corners and edges optimized to create the maximum number of corner offices. To reserve a room in the Norris took months and several background checks, a bank account with enough liquidity to run a small government, and papers proving power pedigree.
Unless, of course, you were a Flier.
For each night the past week, Arial had glided up the long shadow where the building’s architecture turned in upon itself, a crease in glass and steel shadowed by flood lighting. At full speed, she appeared little more than a shadow herself, her ashen grey clothes blending in with the darkness. Those who might see her from the street below would lose track of her with a blink, and by then, she had crested the top, standing behind one of the beams that made the building’s decorative crown, her hair tied back so its streaming would not give her away. From here, she could trace each of the individual city streets, watching as people crawled like ants far below and cars bumbled like miniature toys. She could watch as pinpricks of lights within windows extinguished themselves to succumb to the coming night, or track the westbound train as it rushed into a tunnel in the distance. She could see everything.
Including the police station, just a hundred yards in front of her.
“We should start meeting up here instead of the coffee shop,” she said to the breeze as I shivered behind her, my knuckles white on the support beam she hid behind, and my eyes avoiding the all too narrow path I stood atop. "Father would not approve."
“Preferably, no,” I answered, sweating. Today, the moon was shrouded by clouds, and Arial had waited until well past midnight to lift me to her lookout. With me in tow, her flight had been considerably slower, and together, we made a larger object that was far easier to spot. And we’d bumped into the building far too many times for my liking.
“Surprising that you’re so scared up here; it is closer to your birthplace,” she said, her eyes tracing a set of flashing blue lights that were only pulling over a speeder.
“I’m not scared,” I defended myself as she raised an eyebrow, making me blush, “I just prefer being closer to the ground.”
“Really?” she asked, giving me a light shove, and I stifled a shriek as I nearly fell from the platform. Her eyes laughed as I scrambled, finding purchase again, and I scowled.
“My power lets me know all too well what effect gravity can have on people,” I glowered, shivering. “I’d much rather be at the bottom of the gravity well. In space, it’s different. Free falling is much more advantageous because it comes without a splat.”
“Yeah, but you also can’t breathe, so there’s that. Besides, I would catch you, just like you caught me.” She squinted, overlooking the city again, then turned to face me. “ Anyways, the reason I brought you is because I need to know what to look for. There are blue lights all over the city—there’s more crime out here than I thought. Trying to keep an eye out for irregular police activity is impossible because it all seems irregular. Besides, when we do find them, how do we hide well enough to listen in?”
“For hiding, remember what we practiced when you first started carrying me? That should work well enough. As for the cop cars, when we lured them in last time, there were six at the destination.” I answered, swaying as my stomach leapt up into my throat. “Watch for that: several cars coming together, potentially from several streets. False alarms are all right; we should be able to rule them out pretty quick and we’ll likely have a couple. Or maybe we’re looking for the wrong thing entirely, and that’s all we’ll have. You’re only up here two hours a night, so our chances of catching them are pretty slim.”
“Unlike my chances of falling asleep.” She yawned and reached into a backpack that she had brought, removing a thermos of coffee and small candy bar. “But sugar and caffeine should take care of that. Instant coffee, though. I can barely stand it.”
“And no matter what, Arial, don’t chase them alone.”
“You seemed to have no problem with that,” she said, coming closer to me and taking my hand. “But before we leave, this comes first.” She pressed against me on the rooftop, each of us blocking half the wind from the other, sole points of warmth in a cold sky. And when her lips met mine, it was as if we had never kissed before—it always felt like that. Like I doubted my very memory at how soft they were, at how my heart pounded too fast within my chest, and how I always forgot to breathe.
It took me a minute to recover as my fingers interlaced with her hair, and I realized the error of her last statement.
“Leaving? We still have an hour up here.”
“Not anymore we don’t!” she said, tightening her hug so I couldn’t wriggle free. “Cop cars converging in the south of the city. We’ll have to hurry to catch up! And you did say I couldn’t leave alone!”
Then she fell backwards, laughing as I drew in a sharp breath, and we dove into the city below.
It had been a false alarm. A drug bust, one single white van surrounded by six police officers that emptied dozens of wrapped packets onto the street from the lining inside the door. Arial and I watched from behind a billboard, our heads poking out as the police handcuffed the suspect, the darkness concealing us. The ad was faded, the lettering in front advertising a herbal remedy store behind us that had shut down several months prior, which aided in preventing curious glances.
I’d managed to keep the contents of my stomach when Arial pulled out of her swooping dive to duck and weave through the city shadows, accelerating through bright spots to avoid being noticed. By the end of the trip, I felt like a soda can that had been shaken to the point of near explosion.
“It’s getting easier, and I'm getting better at it,” she whispered when we had alighted on the platform, setting me down gently so my heels made no noise on impact with the webbed metal. “Carrying you, that is. It used to feel like I supported your whole weight—but now, it’s like the lifting force extends over to you. Makes you lighter and much less like a sack of potatoes.”
“And makes me feel more scrambled,” I commented, all too aware of the subtle change in technique that made the process more like a lurch and less like a ride. With time, hopefully I’d grow used to it—but for now, it was like running at full tilt while blindfolded. Trusting it went against instinct. Against nature.
We watched until the officers dispersed to be sure the scene was as it appeared, and as expected, nothing extraordinary occurred. An hour later, Arial dropped me off at the side alley that formed the entrance to the subway, then departed, zipping back to enter her room through the window she kept cracked open. Here, the gap in the bricks between two competing apartments was so narrow that I had to walk sideways, else my shoulders would brush against the abrasive outcroppings that haphazardly jutted into the middle. I climbed over a few aluminum trash bins that reeked of used diapers, then under a shelf that bore three potted plants that had long died, deprived of sunlight, before arriving at the dead end. A solid wall, also brick, extended to the concrete below.
It had taken a few days to bore a hole up to the surface, as the underground hallway leading to the subway ran directly underneath the alley. Unfortunately, the hallway had been filled with cement and rubble to prevent discovery, likely by Peregrine. Using my black orbs, I’d been able to carve through, but the going was slow—the heavier my orbs became, the more difficulty I had in controlling them. Light would spiral away unbeckoned from their depths, or they wouldn't quite move in the direction I intended to, or they would collapse entirely. This left more than a few areas of the tunnel widened beyond its original proportions, from when my sphere cut away too much. And on the tracks below, there was a mound of dust as tall as me from where I had allowed the orbs to collapse in a more controlled fashion.
But even with my messy cuts, the hole here was invisible due to the trick from the tunnels extending from Peregrine’s teleportation device. Like the other entrances, I’d tied them in a knot that constricted reality itself, creating a false corner that could be entered at just the right angle while spinning. It felt like squeezing between two tightly stretched pieces of rubber as space pressed in, and the exits were never graceful—I’d landed on my hands more than once, and only Lucio had seemed to master the art of falling inwards to the point where he could sprint through the barrier.
The alley above had been dark, but the remnant rays of street lights and passing headlights had made it navigable. Here, below the earth, all light was cut off. My patchwork job of the floor was uneven in the best regions and near mountain climbing in others—this passage was more for emergency exits and discreet entering, so we had yet to level the ground. Had Darian still been around and not disappeared after the confrontation, his help mimicking my powers would have made the task far easier. Even if he couldn't create the orbs, he could move them, and once he took control of them, I could create more to expand beyond my usual two. He would have been especially helpful in carting the rubble below so I could keep a better handle on the orbs I used to dig.
A collection of flashlights were to my right, but I wouldn’t need them—instead, I reached in the pocket in space above my wrist. I was now in the habit of keeping an orb charged by sunlight there for emergencies, and I let the rays spool away from it in arcs to play along the walls. The light lapped like waves against the darkness, decreasing the size of the orb at a sluggish rate, and I was careful to ensure it did not get too small lest it release a telltale pop.
At this hour, deep in the night when everyone ahead should be asleep, silence would be best.
But ahead, I heard voices.
The remainder expected late 2018! Check Amazon for a launch.