Ep 07 – Messenger

          A pool of slick, purple-black blood formed around Alice’s feet, and I couldn’t stop looking at it, watching how the color was leeching into the bottoms of Alice’s shoes, which had at one point in the distant past been white.  I guess it was better than looking at the source of the blood, that gently-glowing severed head Alice was holding in her hands.

          Mysteria’s eyes were not closed, but they were vacant. If she had anything else to say, she wasn’t going to say it now. Still, Alice held out the head and watched it as if she expected it to speak again. I couldn’t blame her, really.

          She held it out in front of her until that glow faded and then it was what it was, a gruesome reminder of the severity of our situation. The rest of us stood around Alice, not saying anything, not knowing what to say. Derek watched the head as if it was a bomb he expected to go off, and who was to say that it wasn’t? Everyone else just stood there, silent.

          Everyone but Michael. He left Alice’s side and went to the table. Bellerophon’s body was still sprawled there, his hands falling limply at his side now that they were no longer clutching Mysteria. Michael used one of the chairs as a stepping stool and knelt on the table, beside Bellerophon. He put one hand on his cheek and the other on his shoulder, and shook him gently.

          “Peter,” he said, his voice starting as a whisper and then getting progressively louder. “Peter … come on, Peter, come on.”

          But Peter, Bellerophon, didn’t answer. And wasn’t likely to, I guess. Michael leaned over, put an ear against his chest, then rose and tried to take his pulse by using his carotid artery. He looked back at Derek a couple of times and shook his head curtly, but added, “It might not mean anything. It might not…”

          “Michael,” Derek said. “I’ve called for a team.”

          Michael nodded his head, but didn’t let go of Bellerophon. I could see tears there in his eyes, but he was trying really hard to keep it together.

          I had moved off to the side, and found myself standing next to Marisol and Juanita.  I looked over at Marisol, who just looked scared. It wasn’t hard to understand why. Were we looking at the future? Was I going to be holding on to Dan like Alice was holding on to Mysteria? Was Marisol going to find her fiancée, Scorpyon, lying dead tonight? Bellerophon and Mysteria were both insanely powerful, not to mention Lady Peace. Whatever was happening … it was unlikely Dan and Scorpyon would be unhurt.

          “Alice,” Derek had come to Alice’s shoulder, and he reached out and took Mysteria’s head from her, but she wouldn’t let him take it. “No,” she said. “I’ve got her. I’ve … I’ve got her.” She was trembling a little, so Derek pulled her a little closer to the table and made her sit down in one of the chairs. She closed her eyes and sat down, holding the head and swiveling like she was a child holding a stuffed toy.

          “Alice, you saved Lady Peace … is there any way …?” This was from Michael, who held on to Bellerophon’s hand and he scooted closer to Alice.

          “If he’s alive,” Alice said. “I can see …”

          Derek and Michael slid Bellerophon’s body closer to Alice, and then Alice allowed Derek to take Mysteria’s head. He looked around like he was searching for a place to set it down, but no place seemed really appropriate. Then he looked at me as if he expected me to take it, but there was no way that was going to happen.

          Not even Derek would force someone to take hold of a severed head they were dead-set against handling, so he just stood there with it. Marisol and I watched Alice and she knelt on the table, next to Michael and Bellerophon.  She didn’t have the books anymore, I guess she’d left those in the helicopter, but she must have had whatever spell she’d readied before still at her disposal, because she put a hand on Bellerophon’s brow and another on his chest, and closed her eyes to chant softly. A purple glow poured out of the skin on her hands, but nothing else happened.

          For a second I watched the space just above her, thinking of the little demonlings that had emerged at the hospital. But I didn’t see anything like that, either. Which was good.

          She looked at Michael, shook her head softly, then returned to work. Michael had backed away, giving her room, and an electric crackle filled the air around her. I could feel it lifting my hair and sparking at my fingertips.

          Then it was gone, and Alice collapsed on top of Bellerophon’s chest.

          “Michael, I … I’m sorry. There’s … there’s just not enough left.”

          Michael didn’t say anything, but his face went cold. He looked down at Bellerophon and put his own and next to Alice’s, atop the warrior’s chest. “This can’t be over,” he said, just loud enough for me and Marisol to hear. I looked over at Marisol, whose eyes were closed, as if she didn’t want to witness this moment. I should have closed mine to, but I’ve never been one not to look at something that was in front of me.

          Alice moved closer to Bellerophon again, but this time Derek moved forward and grabbed her by the shoulder, pulling her back gently. “Alice,” he said. “Don’t … don’t do something that’s going to damage yourself. You know … you know this is over.”

          She just looked at him and nodded, then slid across the table, into the nearest chair. She laid her head on the table and covered it with her arm, exhausted. Derek balanced Mysteria’s head there beside her, and then moved off, toward me.

          “Wes, let’s see what we can find in the record here. I want to know what happened, what got this started. Then I think we both know where we need to go from here.”

          I nodded. I did know.

          Marisol and Juanita followed me and Derek as we went to the bank of monitors on the far wall. Ordinarily, there was a holographic projection that glowed above the central table, an interactive display cribbed from Crimnorian tech. With the other monitors alive and active, we both wondered aloud why that one wasn’t working as well.

          “You need to talk to us, Agent Trent,” Juanita called out. Her arms were folded across her chest as she walked, a posture that was understandably defensive. “What are you talking about. What do you know?”

          “Just a minute, Juanita,” Derek said.

          “Please, Derek. This is my son.”

          “I know, I know.” He was bent over one of the control panel. I looked back at the pleading woman, wondering if I should be the one to tell her everything we knew. Why should Derek be the one who gets to decide who knows what?

          But he saved me by speaking. “You know about the attacks earlier tonight, right? The hospital explosion? The monster? Well, apparently someone drew out the Light Brigade, all of them. Lady Peace fell from the sky. We just found Mysteria and Bellerophon. We’re still looking for Sir Solstice and Scorpyon. We don’t know what’s happened exactly, or who’s behind it. That’s all I have right now.”

          “That thing in the sky, the rock that was flashing earlier tonight?” Juanita asked. “Is that where my son is?”

          “It could be,” Derek said. “But we don’t know. It’s my next destination if I don’t find another lead here.”

          I was a little disturbed by his use of personal pronouns in that statement, but decided that it would be an argument for later. Derek continued to work at the monitors, and I saw timestamps appear on the little screen he utilized. He was looking back through the record.

          Then something on my hip buzzed and I panicked for a second until I realized it was my cel phone. I picked it up, almost as frightened of this reminder of mundanity than I had been by anything that had happened this night, and saw Laura’s picture pop up on the screen. Of course it was Laura. I was surprised it had taken her this long to get in touch.

          “Wes, anything?” she asked.

          I thought about how much I should tell her before I decided that was stupid and I should just tell her everything. “No Dan, yet. But we found Mysteria and Bellerophon. They didn’t make it.”

          There was a choked silence before she continued, “Where are you? Are you all right?”

          “I’m fine. We’re at The Well. We’re still trying to figure out what happened.”

          “Any leads?”

          “Nothing but that it’s big. But you knew that. How is Chloe?”

          “Asleep the last time I heard, thank god. Claire and Ben’s section of town escaped the worst. Nice job with the monster, by the way.”

          “I didn’t do anything. It was all Alice.”

          “Well, pass it along.”

          “I will.”

          “And tell me when you know anything. I mean the instant, all right. No matter what it is. You know you don’t have to protect me.”

          “Yeah, I know.”

          “Be safe Wes,” she said, and was gone.

          Maybe I didn’t have to protect her, but who was going to protect me?

          “Hey,” Derek said, looking at me, but getting the attention of Marisol and Juanita as well. “An hour ago.”

          I had to look around Marisol’s shoulder as Derek cued up the appropriate screen.

          “We can see where they came in,” he said. The image on the screen showed the inner chamber of the well, with the monitors lit and the central table empty. After a few seconds, there was a burst of purple light, and Bellerophon collapsed onto the table, holding an object we couldn’ make out even though we knew what it was. He staggered there on his knees for a second, and then fell over onto his back, in the position in which we’d found him.

          “That,” I started, frustration starting to boil in my voice, “was spectacularly unhelpful.”

          “You never know,” Derek said. And he ran the video again. I didn’t feel like watching it, but Juanita did. She practically had her head resting on Derek’s shoulder.

          I went to another one of the wall-screens, looked at the live feed of the city again. It was still dark, still smoldering, but it didn’t look like the damage had spread. Maybe the worst was over.

          I touched on of the sensors, and my watch beeped. It vibrated for almost a second, and at first I thought it was some freaky confusion with my cel phone, but then it flashed, and all the lights in the chamber shut off for a second, then came on again.

          The image projector came to life over the table. Bellerophon’s body and Michael’s kneeling form were overlaid with a three dimensional image of my brother’s face.

          It was just there, his face, his head, looking for all the world like he’d become a severed-headed giant and was looking at me. It was all I could do not to call out to him.

          “Wes, what did you do?” Derek said. He’d turned around and was facing the table alongside me.

          Michael moved off the table, came to stand beside Derek.

          “This message will play if something has happened to me,” it began. “If it’s all a mistake, I’m sorry to scare everyone, but … anyway, I set this to play for either Wes or Laura, keyed to the watch and the pendant. You know what I’m talking about.”

          “I guess I’m glad you’re here after all,” Derek whispered.

          “If something has happened to me, you need to get the watch and the pendant and reunite it with my armor. It’s all that will allow you to control it, otherwise, it’s just dead. You need to take care of it until the council comes for it. It can’t be allowed to fall into the wrong hands, so if nothing else, secure the watch and the pendant.”

          “Oh … kay,” I said. Seriously, this was his last message to his wife and his little brother and all he had were instructions on what to do with his armor? I would have been offended if I wasn’t still freaked out of my mind.

          “Laura … Wes. I love you. I hope I got to say goodbye. If I didn’t … be safe. Take care of each other, and know that you were the reason for everything I did.”

          There were a few seconds where Dan’s face was just blank, unmoving, and then the message cycled again. We all watched it, silent.

          Finally, Derek’s eyes caught mine.

          “Anything else?” I asked him.

          “I’d like to know what Mysteria’s message meant,” Derek said softly. He looked at Alice, who nodded as well. “Who betrayed them? Who was she talking about?”

          Pegasus had cantered further into the room. He ignored Dan’s projection to put his head on Michael’s shoulder.

          “You said we needed to go up to that rock!” Juanita reminded Derek. “What are we waiting for?”

          “Do you really think that’s where they are?” Marisol asked. The hope in her voice mirrored my own. I’m not sure why, but even though it had been intended to have the opposite effect, seeing Dan’s face had just removed the reality of his  possible death from my mind. After all, he wasn’t here dead with the other two. There was still hope.

          “I don’t know, but we’re running out of options. I’m sending a team up there.”

          “We have to go,” I said. “You and me, at least.”

          “You’re not leaving me here, Juanita said.

          “You need me,” Alice added.

          “Wes, Alice, you have a case,” Derek said. “The rest of you, it’s going to be incredibly dangerous. You can stay here and watch. No arguments.”

          He strode off toward the door, looking back at me as if he expected me to follow.

          I followed, as Alice did after me. We were headed to the scene of the Light Brigade’s last battle.

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Interlude 1 – Sunset

8 hours ago

 

          Natalie Jensen stood in Aaron Trent’s office, right in front of the windows that overlooked downtown Nova City. The sun, dropping into the ocean on the other side of the city, splashed purple-amber light on her face. It felt good, to be here at Sunset, no one else had a better view of the city at this moment, so she took seconds to lay down on Trent’s desk the file folders she’d been holding and just wait there instead of doing what she usually did and getting immediately back to work. She’d spent her dinner break preparing these statements for him to sign, so he couldn’t begrudge her a few minutes just to rest.

          She was always surprised at how spare Trent’s office was. It was huge – it took up one quarter of the TrenTech building’s top floor—but there was nothing in it, really, not even a family photo on the desk, that represented the man her boss really was. It was all chrome and glass. All function. Awards on the wall, but no mementos.

          Not that she really knew who the man was, either. She’d been his assistant for five years. They’d had working lunches together, working dinners too, and she’d been to his house a couple of times, but always on errands, making deliveries, picking up packages that needed to be mailed. He told her that he trusted her, liked her, saw himself in her. But she had no idea what any of that meant.

          And she didn’t know where he was now. He’d had her clear his afternoon calendar so he could work on one of his “special projects”. It made her wonder if she could get away with going ahead and leaving without being dismissed to work on a special project of her own.

          Surely, Jenn would be finished with classes by now. Maybe they could have a nice dinner together … they could both take an evening off and just … just be together. They hadn’t been seeing each other long, but Jenn … Jenn was special. Special and secret.

          She hadn’t felt like this about anyone for a long time.

          But she had to snap out of it. She really couldn’t go until she found out if there was something else Mr. Trent needed from her. Her job didn’t have official hours, as such. She knew he would probably dismiss her, she just needed to have the confirmation.

          She dialed his cel phone number and was unsurprised when she heard the series of clicks that indicated the call was being routed along the building’s own communications network.  He was still here, somewhere.

          She heard the line opened, some strange noise in the background.

          “Mr. Trent?” She picked up the receiver so that she could hear better.

          “Natalie!” He’d never sounded so happy to say her name. If she didn’t know any better, she’d even guess that he was drunk. But she’d never seen him partake of so much as a sip of beer.

          “Mr. Trent … I was … where are you?”

          “I’m in sub-basement seven. And I have something that I think I’d like to show you.”

          Show her? Was he drunk? Was she about to be propositioned by her boss? “Do you want me to wait for you here, Mr. Trent?” She asked him.

          “Why don’t you come down.”

          “Down?”

          “Come on, Natalie. You know about the private elevator in my office.”

          “I’ve never been in that one before, sir,” She said. “When I asked about it you said to leave it alone.”

          “There’s a proper time for everything, Miss Jensen,” Trent said. The line cut off, but she heard a gentle hum coming from the corner of the room. Soon, one of the wood-paneled walls slid open, revealing the gleaming silver interior of an elevator car.

          This might be a bad idea, but he was her boss. Besides, she was curious. She could be the first person in the world to get a look at TrenTech’s newest innovation.

          Maybe he was going to unveil the 5G T-phone.

          She got into the elevator. The keypad had only one button. It made stops on no other floors. It was strange, but it didn’t really surprise her. After the doors closed, she felt almost no motion for the few seconds she knew herself to be descending down to sub basement seven.

          The doors opened again on a steel-grey chamber lit with white bright light. In the center was a circular theater, almost like a surgical facility. A ring of light cast down the white glow here, which gleamed from every surface but the matt-black form that stood in the center of it.

          “Mr. Trent!” Natalie called out. She walked toward this central theater slowly. From all around her she heard a soft thrumming, intercut by the clicking of her high heels on the polished concrete floor. Through the light, she couldn’t quite make out the great dark figure that rested there. Was this Trent? Surely not?

          Then it moved. Its shoulders straightened, and it revealed itself as a hulking metal man-thing. Rising up to its full height, it was half-again as tall as Natalie was herself. As it moved, it was lit from within, blue-white light pouring out through its joints, and through the holes of its vaguely man-shaped face. The mask gave the effect of a kabuki warrior.

          “Mr. Trent?” She asked again, looking around for any other sign of him.

          “Natalie,” the thing spoke. Its voice was amplified and modulated, but still recognizably that of Aaron Trent. “I wrestled great Hephaestus himself for this design, to make my vision come to life.”

          She stared at the thing as it moved, lifting its arms over its head, then taking one, impossibly graceful, step toward her. “What is this?”

          “We called down Gods,” he said, and something else inside the suit of armor came to life, the blue-white glow shifting along the spectrum to crimson and orange. “We’ve called down Gods to remake the world.”

          “Mr. Trent, you’re not making any …”

          “Bring anyone you love down here, to this place, which will become the under-palace of the seat of a new kingdom on a new Earth.”

          This was … there was no part of this that wasn’t crazy.

          “Take the gift I’m offering you, Natalie,” Trent said again. “Survive tonight.”

          His fingers flexed. One hand reached up to tap something on his opposite wrist, and the he was gone, leaving nothing but a clap of air behind him.