Archive for the ‘The Tranquil Village’ Category

Forget-me-not stumbled and dropped the transmitter into the grass as her head bashed against the bumper of a car, her helmet taking the blow.  I got up as she put her hand against the car to stabilise herself, and kicked her in the gut., stumbling back as she rolled across the front of the parked car.

She scrambled for the transmitter on all fours. I brought my shield down, hard.  Luckily for her the grass was soft and the dirt muddy.  I could have chopped four fingers off in any other situation.

“Fuck,” she muttered under her breath, seething with pain.  I quickly gave her a hard kick as I pulled up my shield out of the mud, freeing her hand and allowing her to fall to her side.

I walked over and picked up the remote while she nursed her fingers, covered in mud and clearly cut.

“I win.”  I stated, looking right at her as I lightly shook the remote in my hand, smiling behind my visor.

She scowled at me.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”  she said.  “You don’t fucking tackle someone with the trigger to a bomb!”

“Well, I don’t think the bomb has gone off,”  I replied, walking over to another car and leaning on the front.  “You don’t seem to act like one went off, and I don’t have any indication there was an explosion.”

She got up and marched over to me.  “That’s because the explosion is silent, you fucking asshole.”

I sighed and put my finger over the button.  She stopped in her tracks.

“Wait,”  she said, looking at my expression and the trigger.  “You wouldn’t.”

“I would,”  I replied.  “I know you wouldn’t.  Did my research.”

She followed my hand as I waved my arm from side to side and pulled out a phone from my pocket.  I pressed a few buttons to bring up Forget-me-not on the internet, and pointed the screen at her.  Forget-me-not alternated between looking at my face, the screen and the trigger.

“I know you’ve never had a murder, and you’ve even had autographs.  I don’t think you’d blow up seven guys.  Hell, you should have killed them then and there.  You had the power to.”

She gulped, taking a step back.  I turned the phone off and smiled.  The situation had changed completely.

“We’ve got to see if you actually did kill seven people,”  I said with an all too friendly tone in my voice.  “Go on, show me where they are.  I’ll follow.”

She clenched her fist, shaking in anger.  I sighed and waved the remote, finger gently resting on the button.

“You’re a fucking maniac, how the hell are you a he-”

“I’m not a hero,”  I interrupted, getting off the car.  “I’m not going to play nice, or coddle you, or give two fucks about those men.  The only place this ends is with you being shipped off into a one way trip to the city, and all you can do about it is decide how many people die before then, okay?”

She turned and led the way, walking into the woods next to the convoy.

“Get moving, and don’t stop.”  I finished.

***

The woods were tranquil and calm.  Light didn’t bother to permeate the trees and there was a lack of sound that wasn’t the crushing of detritus underfoot.  Forget-me-not was a few paces ahead, holding the hand I crushed with my shield.  She had occasionally turned back to see if I was following, but stopped when I waved at her and pointed at the device when she turned for a third time.

We were getting nowhere.  A few minutes of walking decided it for me.

“Hey, if you are leading me in circles I’ll press the damn thing,”  I said.

“Don’t, we’ll be there in five mins!”  she said as she turned around and looked at me, a frightened tone creeping into her voice.

I groaned, tossing and catching the trigger in the air as Forget-me-not gasped in shock.  I wondered how Margaret and Samantha were doing.  Samantha was cooped up in a cape psychiatry ward and Margaret was back in Oklahoma, with Maxine, Gunsmith and a few other adult capes in the National Heroes Network.  Michael and Ricky crossed my mind as well; I’d been trapped in Texas for three years, days before I was going to meet them with Derek and Maxine.

“Hey,”  asked Forget-me-not.  “why’d we stop?”

I shook my head and groaned in frustration.  “Fucking Texas,”  I mumbled.  “Why?”

Forget-me-not shot an odd look my way as I walked over to a tree and placed my had against it.  She almost walked over before she caught a fresh glimpse of the device in my hand.  Long, painful seconds passed as I thought about Ellen, Derek, Texas, Samantha and Taker.

“You m-mentioned Texas,”  she said with a stammer, finally breaking the silence, maybe buying time to try something.  “Y-you were there, right?”

“Yup,” I replied, feeling the memory version of a headache.

“You fought the Texans?  Kelpie and Wendigo and Aim?”

“Not them, but I fought a few,”  I replied, thinking of Corvus.  I actually killed someone. How could I forget that?

“They are in the NHN you know,”  said Forget-me-not.  Even minor crooks keep up to date on this stuff?  Really?  I never did and I want to go back to those days.  Those days where me and Michael and Derek and Ellen and Maxine and Ricky woul-

“You were in the city?”  she asked, the cogs finally clicking.  “That one area that got blocked off? How?”

“Stop talking,”  I barely managed to myself, let alone her.  I can’t do this.

I heard her creep closer as the leaves underneath slowly crunched.  I turned to her with the trigger out.

“Stop.  I’ll make sure they get blown to kingdom come,”  I barely managed to say, still leaning against the tree.  There’s only one person here, the forest is empty!  Why do I want space to myself when she’s so far away?

“We’re here anyway,”  she said, trying to trick me or something.  I can’t trust her, not like this.  The crunch of leaves underfoot made me react.

“Stay back,”  I ordered again.  “Shut up and stay back.”

She took a step back, hands in the air.  She pointed in the direction, and I turned to look, seeing a metal door.  A bunker in the woods.

“A bunker?”  I asked.

“For worst case scenarios.  Stuff like metahuman tech malfunctions or stuff, Kingmaker events, Great Lords, Fae, The Hunting Par-”

“Shut up,”  I said again.  A third time.  “Open it and let them out.”

“J-just don’t press the button.”

There must be an indicator that tells her if the bombs or whatever have gone off.  Maybe the fact the door was still on its hinges was a sign, or the lack of smoke, or something.  That doesn’t matter, Forget-me-not was already pulling on the metal door embedded in the mound with a foot against the dirt next to it for leverage.  The door swung open and she went inside.

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The convoy was a wreck.  Whatever Forget-me-not used to hit it, she hit it hard.  My trailer was ripped in two, a simmer of flame popping out from the hole.  Two of the three NHN cars were overturned, and the remaining trailers were unscathed but clearly affected by a shockwave, as all the broken glass can show.  I pushed my way into the scene, looking at the ambulance and firemen as they tried to calm the civilian crowd.

“Shit, she hit everyone,”  Agent Morris said, huffing out breaths as he looked at the scene.  “Where are my guys?”

I didn’t know.  They weren’t with the ambulance, or the firemen.  They could be dead, or maybe forget-me-not is using her technology again?

Morris began looking through his phone, dialling and texting and trying to get a response from his team.  No use.  Nothing.  I began looking for clues, for something among the wreckage.

“Fuck,”  finally said Morris, almost throwing his phone.  “No use!”

I was annoyed as much as he was.  We were busy enjoying coffee and food, and three streets away a maniac who can mess with perception kidnaps seven agents for the National Heroes Network.  This is the worst case scenario.

I groaned, rubbed the back of my hair, turned around to see the mayor and revised my statement.

This is the worst case scenario.  He was pissed, furious that my powers, the powers that the NHN insisted would keep his people safe failed, and they failed within an hour in spectacular fashion.

“You try to sell my town snake oil?”

God damn it.  He’s picking me out.

The crowd itself was agreeing with Warren.  I could hear murmurs and whispers of unity among the townspeople in the background.

“They said you’d prevent this happening,”  Warren said, jabbing me with a pudgy finger.  “Explain this.”

I took a breath to gather my thoughts.  “I don’t know what they said. I can prevent powers from working directly in any space I alter, but nothing prevents stuff already created from working.”

I took a glance at the wreckage and Morris.

“How can I protect my people when the supposed ‘ultimate protection’ fails an hour after it’s put up?  Tell me that!?”

Inspiration struck.

“You’ll be safe,”  I said.  “I can assure you of that.”

 

***

 

The convoy took a while but I managed to drive it out of the town slowly, bit by bit.  Morris took the cars and I took the trailers.  My trailer still drove even after being ripped apart, thankfully.  I should send thanks to whoever built or designed it.

We reached a part out of my range but with the town in sight, not far from it. Meeker had a river and a stream nearby, but the land was mostly flat.  Having this as data, I concluded that Forget-me-not didn’t have anything large on her.  At least, nothing like a vehicle.

I did a few small jumps to fight off the chill in the air.  Morris lit a cigarette, partially because of stress, partially because the lighter provided a little warmth.  We waited.

“Morris?”  I asked.

“Yeah?”  he responded.

“Where do you think you’d hold seven NHN agents? I mean, there isn’t many places to hide them.”

“Hmm,”  Morris thought, pondering the conversation.  “I’d hide them. This bitch does have stealth as her forte so she could easily lock em in a building and make people forget it exists.”

I nodded.  “That does seem like the obvious conclusion.  We’d have a map for Meeker, right?”

“You think we’d find it with a map?”

“I’ve seen memory alteration,”  I replied, thinking of Maxine’s powers.  “this ain’t it. We can beat it easy.”

“Then you tell me why ain’t she caught yet,”  said Morris, drawing a smoke from his cigarette.

“Well, I’m thinking it’s the reason she wasn’t caught this time,”  I replied.  “She’s putting her crimes in a bubble, or making it so that nobody is aware of what’s happening as she acts.”

“Hmm, that’s correct,”  replied Forget-me-not.

“So, I’m thinking if we wait out here she’ll attack us,”  I continued, scratching my head.

“Why wouldn’t I just go for the town?”

“Well, what reason is there to?  She’s the sole cape in Meeker, so I don’t think she needs to worry about them. the NHN on the other hand…”  I gestured, stepping towards Morris.

I didn’t get a reply, he’s out cold and Forget-me-not is there, right in front of me.  She’s dressed in green, a hobnob style of bits sewn together, mainly arranged to avoid a stray bullet or survive a non-powered human playing hero.  Her mask is a simple motorbike helmet, cracked from a previous scuffle.  She wore a backpack, a faint blue aura emitting from it, giving her a slight glow.

She clicked the button on a small device, and her backpack stopped glowing.

“Ah, it appears you are in my range,”  I said.  “I see Morris is down.”

“Take what you did away or I’ll blow them up,”  the villain demanded.  I admired her frankness, oddly enough. Still, she got no reaction from me.  Forget-me-not hovered her thumb over a second button on her device.  Probably a trigger for a bomb.

“Go on.  You’ll upgrade from a small time crook to a threat if you blow seven people up, and bigger, larger people will come. It won’t be two capes who are born here, it’ll be people looking for you.  Roamers are usually the worst.”

“I can alwa-”

I laughed, not the smartest choice.  She looked at me oddly.

“Always what?”  I asked with venom in my tone.  “Run away? Fight them off?”

She backed up, nearly stepping out of my range.  I followed, not wanting her to get the drop on me, closing the gap.

“You think you can fight them off?”

Forget-me-not stumbled a little, stunned.  “I’ll press it, I swear to god I will.”

She wouldn’t.  She is to weak, too merciful.  She’s a wannabe bank robber who leaves no victims and specializes in hostages, but never kills anyone.  She’s the type who says they’ll kill themselves the fifth time and everyone would think ‘do it’ but say ‘don’t’.

I tackled her, and she pressed a button.

 

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“Shit, you’re right,”  I said, almost heaving after taking the first mouthful of my lunch.  “This food is awful.”

Morris chuckled as I spat out a mouthful of bacon back onto the plate.  How can you mess the texture of bacon up badly?

“I warned you,”  he smirked, wagging a finger.

“Isn’t there a place with good food here?”

“Other side of town,”  he explained.  “this is one of those diners where the food doesn’t need to be good.  It’s either eating here or starving.”

The emphasis was correct.  The diner wasn’t packed, there was a smell that I hoped wasn’t the food and the staff were clearly minimum wage or part time.  It didn’t take much to tell that the place let itself go because of the sheer monopoly it had on selling cooked food to eat.

I smiled at the idea of buying fish from the place.  Naivety only goes so far before it becomes stupidity, and buying a guaranteed dose of food poisoning is crossing that line.

“I see.”

The other guests weren’t much.  A man in a coat, sipping coffee.  Somebody driving across the country.  Some college goer abusing the free wi-fi with her boyfriend, who is actually eating food and not throwing up.  Still, it’s a diner that could serve thirty, and only has six people being served.

“So Ryan,”  began Morris.  “I hear you are going into Biohazard’s park, right?”

“Yeah,” I responded, taking a sip of coffee.

“Didn’t expect a vet like you to still risk your life.”

“Vet?”

Morris flinched and rubbed the back of his head breaking eye contact.  I noticed he had a bald spot.

“Sorry, old joke,”  he replied.

“What’s the joke?”

“Don’t want to say…”

“Come on,”  I pressed.  “I’m not going to bite.”

“Well it’s a saying in the police forces,”  he explained with a little hint of embarrassment.  “What’s a cape with PTSD called?  A veteran.  Everyone who used to be a cop or still is knows the joke, and thus you get capes called stuff like ‘vets’.”

I smirked at that.  It’s a funny joke.

“So it’s just cop lingo?”  I asked, followed by  “You used to be a cop?”

“That’s true.  I worked for about seven years before I quit and came here,”  Morris stated.  He took another sip.

“I don’t know why you’d quit one job and do the same thing but with capes.”

“Lots of NHN agents used to be cops.  Since capes started appearing, police got cuts globally whenever they get a chance to enforce the law legally.”

Morris took a moment to think.

“You should know this, Ryan.”

“I didn’t pay attention in school,”  I admitted, shrugging my shoulders.  “At least, not about capes.”

I remember that costing me from day one.  Considering how Sacrifice acted on my second meeting with her, we got off relatively lucky.  Well, at least Ricky, Michael and Maxine did, anyway.

“So I guess there’s some irritation about capes from cops, right?”

“Yeah, there is.  It’s like most cops think people randomly selected shouldn’t have power over others.  Actually, most people have those issues, remember the conscription debates in the UN?”

“I heard about it a little, but it was glossed over.”

Morris gave an inquisitive look, which I responded to with a shrug.  It was true.  Most negative things that aren’t related to civil rights are glossed over in schooling.

“Anyway Ryan, speaking of staying informed,”  Morris said.  “You did your homework on Biohazard, right?”

I did, but not enough.  The information on Biohazard and the park was surrounded by mystery and suspicion, and that’s from the NHN itself.  One story tells of tribes of monsters, another talking about giant robots.  The only thing that was consistent was that Biohazard was not alone in his park; he had an ally who was immune to his powers, somehow.

But that’s not why there is going to be an expedition.  The situation in Biohazard’s area has always been stable, but there is pressure from congress to reclaim it, especially after the near total victory against Texas.  The victory that was celebrated while I-

“Ryan?”  Morris repeated, looking a little concerned.

“Sorry,”  I replied.  “Sometimes I…”

I let the sentence drift off.  It’s become less of an issue.  I used to have complete flashbacks, vivid remembrances of those three years of hell I endured.  They’ve all but disappeared, hiding away in my dreams, or glimmers of my memories appearing, if only for a second.

God knows what’s happening with Samantha.

I sighed and downed the rest of my coffee in one gulp.  “We should be going.”

Morris groaned and got up as I did, following me as I left the diner.  We already payed for the terrible food and ok drinks at the till, and we had a schedule to keep.

“Don’t push yourself, Ryan,”  Morris lectured.  “You have the expedition, then two more towns to visit.”

“I know.”

The expedition.  The first time I’ll be part of a team in three years.  I thought about it intensely for a while as I walked back through the streets, noting more and more crowds as we hit the main street.  Morris’s phone beeped and he opened it up before shooting a look of concern.

“Morris?”  I asked.

“The convoy was hit.  Super tech.  It jammed our signals and was silent.”

We both took a second to stare at each other than ran for the trailers and cars.  It appears we were reminded why there were two capes in Meeker.  They were there to stop the local supervillain, who has technical powers.

“Shit, how’d we forget?”  I asked.

“It’s a cape called Forget-me-not,”  Morris explained, looking it up on his NHN issued phone.  “Anorak countered her powers, which is building stuff that alters awareness and memory.”

I dived around a small crowd and found my way next to Morris in the bustle, running as fast as he could.

“You mean that she went off the grid and we just forgot?”  I asked, realizing it was rhetorical.

I’ve dealt with this before, maybe she’s attacking because I smoked her out by accident.

“It’s only her, right? Nobody else?”  I asked Morris.

He checked his phone.  “No, just her.”

Good, I thought.  I can handle this.

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Meeker.  It’s a small town in the north east of Colorado.  One of the three locations I had to visit before the expedition.

I stood on the platform, a crowd of people around me.  My power was overflowing and spreading like a mist through the town, weaving through the crowds as I expended more and more of my power.  A space of myself consumed all and the crowd thinned out as I did so.

Maybe they expected a tingling feeling or something? I thought.

“Ryan, you’ve reached the limits, you can stop now.”

Agent Morris.  A fat man who recently joined the NHN during my three years absence, and whose presence unwillingly serves to remind me that the world changed while I was locked up.  While I was peeling fingernails, Derek was bleeding out, constantly jumping between the moment the shrapnel tore open his neck and his failing attempts to stop the bleeding.

Maxine told me that due to his powers, he was able to at least say goodbye.

I shook my head and stopped from creating more space, relaxing.  My powers served as a nullifier for anyone inside my space who used powers I was aware of or understood, and the space I created was stronger.

No powers will ever work in my space, ever.

I looked at Agent Morris. “Yeah, I’m done.”

He gave a nod and gestured away, the crowd almost entirely gone except a few important locals.

A truly fat man was waiting for me, his balding hair and wrinkled yet pudgy face was reminiscent of Santa Claus in the way it disarmed me.  He walked up and grabbed my hand, shaking it with both of his.

“So you are the wonderful kid behind all this commotion, right?”  he said, a grin beaming on his face.

I took a second and responded, waiting for him to stop shaking my hand.  “Yes.  I’m Ryan Anderson, by the way.  Mayor…”

“Mayor Alexander Warren,”  he replied, finally letting go to clap his hands and rub them. “Pleasure to meet you.”

I smiled back, lowering my hand.

“We are glad you allowed us to try something like this, Mayor Warren,”  said Agent Morris.  “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,”  the mayor said, waving his hand out at the street.  “Thank the town. I put it up to a vote and they approved, especially since we have no NHN building and several rogue metahumans.”

“No NHN, what happened?”  I asked.

“Some villain called Trauma passed through, a week later the only two NHN capes went crazy and killed each other.  Starshifter and Anorak I think.”

“I see.”

Taker struck my back with the whip, stinging the flesh on my shoulder.  I turned my head around.

Agent Morris was standing there, his hand on my shoulder.  “Ryan, you should go.”

I nodded and said my goodbyes, leaving for the other NHN agents.  Morris started to talk to the mayor as I left the stage and I could overhear the words ‘itchy subject’ and ‘best not mention it’ by the time I hit the last step.

***

I was irked as I began to walk back to the caravans and various other transports provided by the NHN, and if I said it wasn’t because of my coincidental inability to escape Trauma’s presence I’d be lying.

She seemed to be leaving a trail and for the strangest reason I keep following it, even if I wished to avoid her.

I shook my head and opened the door to my caravan, lifting the visor on my helmet.  It’s been a while since I wore a costume.  I lost the last one during the war, so they had to replace it. It still looks the same, but I no longer wield a large riot shield but a smaller, more compact retractable one that forms the shape of a large teardrop when extended.  I no longer wield any batons, since I lost them early every time I fought.

Apart from that my costume is the same as before; a set of re-purposed swat gear provided by the NHN.

Annoyingly, instead of ‘riot’ or ‘police’ printed in bold letters printed on my body armour, I have ‘Blocker’ attached instead.  I dislike the name, but it clearly stuck, and my absence hasn’t given my any chance to fight it.

I took a few steps, turned on the television hanging off the left wall and sat on the couch on the opposite side, my right arm rested on the table that served as a worktop for the small kitchen.  Rivets held the iron shackle down as Fractal slowly took the pliers and a knocking on the door shook me out of my daze.

“Ryan? You in?”

The TV was showing only static.  I quickly grabbed the remote off the couch and hit a button to turn it off, and opened the door to let Morris in.

“Hey,”  I said, sighing.  “What’s up?”

Morris took a few steps in the cramped stairs leading into the caravan with an apologetic face.

“I’m sorry about the may-”

“It’s fine,”  I reassured him.  “I’m not upset over this, it was just an unpleasant surprise.”

Morris gave me a worried glare.  He didn’t believe me.

I gave a fake smile and shrugged, walking over to the kettle.  “Tea? Coffee?”

“You know the crap we got is awful, there’s a coffee house in town we can go to,”  he scoffed casually.

He was right.  The tea was bland, the coffee was dull, and the sugar was practically metallic.

“Really? where is it?”

“A few streets away,”  Morris said, slouching on the couch.  “Wanna go?”

I wordlessly dumped the tea into the sink and opened the door, gesturing him to lead the way out.

“It’ll be my pleasure, I haven’t eaten good food in days,”  I joked, checking to make sure I still had some money on me.

Agent Morris stepped out of the caravan and I locked it behind him.

“Don’t get your hopes up, Ry.  I never said the food wasn’t shit, just the drinks.”

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