by C.J Graham
Set 20 years after the fall of civilisation.
|Blond hair flew in a cloud above her head as she dropped down into the center of a giant old sports dome-come-prison. As she fell to the earth she watched as a hundred beings took notice of her and moved toward the place she would land. They fought with each other to secure their new prize. Many fell beneath stronger foes, stomped underfoot forgotten.
Hands outstretched she directed her power below herself just enough to slow her descent. Next she gathered it back up and formed it into a circular shield that pushed back the bedraggled monsters that were trying to surround her. Monsters may be too strong a word. They had once been people, after all. Could be people somewhere deep inside.
But she had the power to change that. Not for all of them, but for a few after today their lives would change forever.
The monsters pushed and shoved trying to fight against the wall of power that washed into them. Slowly the girl pushed enough power out that a circle, a shield, started forming around herself. She’d never put so much energy out there before. She had to believe that she could hold strong, as the potential lives of a few needed her to keep her power steady.
Scuffles broke out amongst the monsters once they started sensing they couldn’t bridge her shield. Instead they jockeyed for front position, predators waiting within reach to make the kill, and kill her they would if she let her shield drop. She looked at them more closely then. The only thing remotely human about them was their still-human form. All of them were caked in dirt and grime, some so thickly that it seemed to form a second skin. Their hair were snarled messes of knots in varying shades of dirt, some were decorated with barks, tigs, rocks and whatever else had been unlucky enough to fall in and become stuck. The clothes, if that’s what they could be truly referred to, was tattered, stained and ripped. Some had strips of fabric in the lovely shade of dirt hanging from their forms. Most were barefooted, every now and then she would catch sight of one that still wore shoes, had one shoe or even socks. All were in poor shape and was the colour of earth.
Shield steady she drew a deep breath and sent tendrils of power into the mass slowly and steadily searching. A muted light flared in her mind’s eye- she’d found one! Relief seeped out.
She hadn’t been sure going into this that it would actually work. Of course she would never have admitted that, couldn’t admit it, or else they would never have known if it would work.
Sure, her teammate Sal had argued to start smaller and safer but that would have taken too long. The wild monsters had adapted, had gotten smarter in their bid to stay free. The truly wild ones always tripped up eventually and were then hunted down and executed. The newly turned in this part of the world were caught, tagged and sent to holding facilities.
They had found in their database files showing that the Americas had began building holding facilities years ago and then later turned to experimentation. Or maybe that had always been the plan? Of course they had spouted the belief that this would be the key to finding a cure for the virus, but the years passed and the cure never came. Monsters were steadily going in.
The general population didn’t seem at all perturbed by this. Monsters weren’t human, after all.
Now that she was different, other and knew more about monsters surrounding her she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pity.
Back to the task at hand. She held onto that dull glow and started moving towards it. There was a fine balance between holding up her shielding and pushing a path through the turned ones without sending her little light away too.
She knew as soon as he came into sight who it was her tendrils had found. He was different than the others. He stood tall and still, his black eyed dull gaze never left her face- so different from the hungry and predatory stares from the others around her. Now the tricky part- letting him into the shield. She probably should have practiced before attempting this, but there was no time for ‘should haves’ right now.
Maybe if she let the shield roll onto him before he met the barrier it would act as a key and let him in? She hadn’t thought to practice this before now. Silly, silly.
With no other ideas popping into her mind she let her tendrils of power flow out and wrap themselves like loving little tentacles up and around him. She stepped forward those last few paces bringing him to the limits of her shield, taking another step she watched as he slid up to and then through the barrier. She granted herself a small smile of success before he came into arms reach.
This one didn’t lash out, didn’t try to rip or maul her, didn’t try to sink his teeth into her or outright kill her. Instead he stood still waiting for her to make her next move.
She took a breath and then stretched her hands out towards him careful to keep her movements slow but sure. She slid her hands up to cup either side of his face, fingers resting gently on his temples. Keeping her eyes locked with his she then used those same tendrils of power still wrapping around him and redirected it into her hands. She gathered it all up and then sent it cautiously into his mind through her connection with his temples. Her power flowed into him slowly at first but then faster and faster. She saw him. Saw into him. Saw everything that made him. And then she saw his potential. The dull light that had identified him early, muffled by something she didn’t fully understand. To her mind's eye it seemed like darkness, like a fog that needed lifting.
To disperse the fog you needed light. You needed heat. And so that is what she gave him.
She added to his own dulled light, helped him build it again. Underneath the light she found something other, something much like her own, all she had to do was unlock it. A tendril of her power was sent in, sent to the core to reach the lock and once met she turned it in her mind, unlocking it.
The word rang through her whole being. Somewhere along the way she had closed her eyes, these now sprang open to look upon her newly awakened monster-no-more.
His eyes, staring into hers, were wide and full of feeling. Surprise, shock, confusion. His pupils, fully dilated black that had filled his whole eye before had receded to a very normal, human, grey.
“You are the First. Yours is the gift of wind and air. Feel it in you, let the power gather into you and then direct it out.” She demonstrated by pulling her hands up to her chest and forming them into a circle, then she pushed them out in front of her. Hers wasn’t the gift of air, but she did have light. Again she made the same motions but this time when her hands formed a circle she gathered and cupped bright light between them, as she pushed her hands out the light flowed from her palms brightening the monsters pushed up against her barrier.
She hoped this quick demonstration would be enough for now. Hoped it would be enough if she needed to call on him should her own power weaken. Hoped that he would be aware enough, clear enough, to help her if she needed.
At the corner of her senses a new dim light was recognised, “Now we move on to the next,” she said to her new companion.
As before they walked carefully towards her next target. Another rumpled male with a tangle of hair, smothered in dirt, met her gaze.
Going through the same process as before she allowed him into the barrier. Before she had a chance to do more than that she sensed another dull glow moving towards her. She could hear snarling and fighting happening in its wake. Quickly she sent out her power to protect the person approaching her. She watched as the monsters to the left of her stumbled, pushed and fought to stay pressed against the shield. She watched as a small gap appeared and was followed by a small form falling into the safety of her circle.
Walking quickly she bent down to help her, for up close it was indeed a female that had fallen to the dirt caked earth.
“I. felt. you,” a raspy, dry voice came from dull eyes now staring up at her. The broken voice of someone who hadn’t talked in a very long time. This was something that hadn’t happened before. There were no mentions of monsters retaining the ability to speak in any of the studies she had read. Filing this away to consider later she looked once more on the woman.
The clothing she wore, if you could even call the rags that barely covered her, were so old and worn that they were forever stained brown and stunk of the unwashed bodies of the hundred others in this facility. She couldn’t make out this one's facial features through the dirt, other than the black eyes that was a characteristic of all monsters.
Slowly she slid her hands down to cup either side of the female’s face. Fingertips to temple, her power flowed much more smoothly and quickly this time into the depths. She envisioned her tendrils of power as a shining, warm light as it made its way through the woman’s core and met with the light inside the other. This light shone in response, eager to be free of the darkness that had trapped it all this time. She found and unlocked the potential within this one easily and again the voice resounded within her.
She echoed aloud the power this one would now wield.
“You are Second. Yours is the gift of fire. Feel the heat inside of you, let the power gather into your center and then direct it out.” Again she demonstrated by pulling her hands up to cover her chest, light cupped between her hands, and then pushed it out to highlight the unnervingly still crowd.
The girl before her had tears streaming down her face, her clear blue eyes were bright and hopeful, she gave a nod and stood to move beside her First. She could see her pulling hands up to her chest as she had been shown and pushing out. She gave a small smile before turning to the next.
He had been waiting patiently, watching. He didn’t move as she came to him and placed her hands against his face. This time the process happened in a blink, so easily it came to her, now like second nature.
“You are Third. Yours is the power of telekinesis. Picture what you want to move in your mind, use your hands to focus, concentrate, and will it so.” His face flickered with emotion- fear, surprise, elation, determination. He gave a nod and moved out of her path.
The three she had claimed fanned in a circle around her back, unconsciously taking the positions of protectors, as she moved forward towards the source that now captured her interest they fell into step.
Before she could make it to the spluttering, fading light another stepped into its place outshining it by a margin. Quickly she allowed it access to her circle and watched as the bedraggled form of a man stumbled into her circle. Knowing time was precious she didn’t hesitate to step up to him. Quickly, quickly she broke him free from the curse holding him and discovered what this new ones power was.
She couldn’t help the intake of breath, shaky as exhaustion slowly crept in. “Fourth. You have the ability to heal. I fear that yours will be a crash course in use momentarily. We must hurry,” she said as she moved past her new recruit.
She found him, the little spark that was dwindling, in a crumpled heap on the ground. She moved him into the shield without thought and dropped to her knees beside him. Gently, gently she moved to touch his battered body, to turn him over so that she could get a better look.
“Fourth, Four, I need you,” her voice wavered as she called on the healer.
She looked up to him as he sank down beside her, “Feel the power inside of you, Nine. Let it flow like the branches of a tree, like the tentacles of an octopus- whatever it is that allows you to see, to feel what it is you need to do. Let those tendrils sink down into him to explore his body. You should be able to see what it is that needs fixing, healing.”
She turned to him then and lay a hand on his arm, “I won’t lie, this is going to take a toll on you. We each have so much power inside of us- it’s like a well. When the well runs dry we have no more to give until it’s allowed time to fill up again. As we practice our abilities we learn ways to use smaller amounts of power to get the job done. I fear that asking this of you now is too much, but without you,” she pointed down to the crumpled form in front of her, “without you healing him he doesn't have a chance. I can feel his light petering out. He doesn’t have long left.”
Four covered the hand she still laid on him with his. He gave it a squeeze before moving both hands to touch the form in front of them.
She could feel his energy then like a breath of fresh invigorating air. She could hear gasps from those behind her clearly feeling the effects too. She saw Four’s light gather at his centre and roll down his arms into his patient. She could see it branching around the body in front of her and feel as it began stitching the broken parts back together. She watched as rents and tears on the body began to close up and become fresh, pink, clean and healthy skin again.
Sweat dripped down Four’s brow. She felt guilty of asking so much so soon, but new that the sooner her people began using their skills that they would truly master them.
She watched as Four’s powers began drawing back into himself and the person in front of them began to stir. His shoulders were slumped and his breathing ragged. He pushed himself to his feet and stood behind her. His job was finished. It was her turn now.
Now that his face was clean and whole she could see that the person in front of her was young, maybe mid teens. She reached to meet the boys face fingers resting gently at his temples and sank her power down to his core and unlocked his powers. The ringing voice, this time, was met with a barrage of pictures. Stunned she sat staring, eyes wide, as her newest addition.
She was jolted out of her shock when Four touched her shoulder, concern on his face. She shook her head and turned her gaze down to the clear brown eyes that now met hers.
“You are my Fifth. Yours is the power of change,” her voice wasn’t more than a whisper. This power was new and vastly different from the ones that had come before. Each new power surprised her, this one more than the last. This hadn’t been on her superhero cheat sheet, she thought wryly.
“You have the power to change form at will. Animals… You have the power to turn into animals. A shifter.”
Of all the things she had seen today, all the powers unlocked, this was the one that caused her disbelief. She couldn’t let that cloud her view, however, couldn’t let it make her forget the monsters that still circled her shield.
She struggled to her feet. She could feel that she was reaching the limits of her power and couldn’t afford to give much more if she were to get them all out of the facility.
Turning to the five people standing behind her she gazed upon each of them, “It’s time to go now.” Pointing to a heavily fortified door set back along the large concrete wall she continued, “We’re going to head for the door. As soon as they start to realise that we’re going they’ll start fighting harder against the shield. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how much more I can hold against. If it comes to it you each need to use your abilities to hold them back from us.”
A rough voice spoke up from one of the females in her group, “How are we actually going to get out?”
She smiled, “Through the doors, of course! There is a small set of doors that lead into a set of holding rooms. Once in, the doors will shut behind us and we will make our way up to the roof.”
She met each of their faces once more, “There are humans in there. Under no circumstances are you to harm them. Subdue if necessary, but not harm. One and Three, you will take point and use your powers to disable and clear a path to the roof.”
She nodded, more to herself than them, “Are we ready?” Not waiting for an answer followed with, “let’s go.”
Moving towards the door proved to be the easiest part of her plan. The monsters surrounding her shield saw the doors open and knew instinctively that if their prey made it through that they would be forever lost to them. It was like a ripple running through the crowd and one by one they their aggression escalated and they pressed harder against the shield. Fights started to break out and monsters fell left and right to be replaced with others. The hammering on her shield was using up the last of her power reserves quickly, much to quickly.
One and Three moved up beside her as she visibly struggled to keep the madness and the other side of her circle. Each held their hands in front of their chest looking to her to see if they were needed. She nodded at them hoping they would take that as their cue.
A cool breeze began to blow. The breeze morphed slowly but surely into a wall of wind allowing her to ease her own shield. Looking at One she could see the concentration on his face and the strain he was taking to hold it steady. The wind managed to push the monsters beyond the shield, with weaker ones tumbling head over heels across the hard ground. Bodies were sent sprawling backwards. One’s only downfall was that he could only direct his power in front of him. Smarter monsters, discovering this, moved beyond the powers’ reach and resumed pounding on her tattered shield.
Taking note of what was happening, Three attempted to send his power out in the same manner. A few monsters fell to their knees when a small burst of power sprang forth but more monsters soon jumped into their places, throwing themselves against the invisible barrier. Three attempted to mimic whatever he had done before to create the burst and was met by another. His power was like a snap as it clicked into place. They didn’t have time to celebrate, however, as the comms unit in her ear came to life jolting her out of the scene around her.
“What’s wrong? Security footage shows you standing in front of the doors, why aren’t you moving in?” The female voice came across concerned. This wasn’t part of the plan and Sal, the voice currently in her ear, didn’t like straying from the plan.
Relief washed through her, “Impeccable timing Sal, open her up.”
Concern turned to fear as Sal hissed in response, “I don’t like this Mags. We said 30 minutes tops, and you’ve been in there for 28 minutes and counting. I can only keep their security down for 5 minutes max before someone starts getting suspicious. Guard change is in 12 minutes as it is… Not to mention your power levels. As far as I can estimate you are surely running on or near empty. You need to hurry up, girl.” As she spoke Sal’s voice became increasingly worried.
Mags tried to keep her voice reassuring, “Sal, we’re almost through. Just a couple of flights of stairs, right? Do I need to give you a magic password to get these bad boys open?” Mags gestured towards the doors.
Mags heard a click and turned to see the door sliding open.
“Well, it’s been fun,” She told the uncaring monsters beyond her, “but it’s time for us to make our exit.”
Mags and her rag tag team started moving backwards into the room, One and Three only dropping their shield once the doors were well and truly closed. One let go of his wave of air only to stumble backwards and fall. A set of hands caught him before he had a chance to hit the ground and more hands moved in to steady him.
The wall in front was lined with windows, a set of double doors off to one side. She could see people behind the glass, some were scrambling to and from the room, others worked madly at computers, while many lined the window and stared wide eyed at the people around her. Off to the left, she noticed a row of five cages all of them containing a prisoner. Each cage was big enough only for the monster inside to have enough space to stand. The walls were made with what she guessed to be some form of bullet proof sheeting, and the bars at the front of each held a set of chains that shackled around their individual residents. It took a lot longer than she cared to admit studying the monsters before the dull glow of light that signalled a potential met her senses. A giant of a man had somehow been crammed into the second last cell, his black dull eyes finding and meeting hers.
Placing a hand up the comms unit nestled in her ear she called upon her friend for help.
“Sal, do you have access to the cells in the area we’re in now?”
“Five minutes, Mags. Five! You are cutting it so close…” Sal’s panicked voice filled her ear.
“Sal, the cells?” Mags tiredly asked, “As soon as you open it we can move forward.”
“They have a unit moving into position outside the door. They haven’t been able to overcome my lockout breach so they’re calling to bring in metal vapor torches to cut through the door. Which cell was he in?”
Mags walked up closer to the cells and watched as the monsters amped up their attempts to break from their shackles to reach her. They threw themselves mindlessly forward uncaring of the pain and hurt they were inflicting themselves. All of them except the man in cell in 1d. She relayed the number that was printed boldly on the floor in front of the cell and watched as it slowly unclicked and swung open.
The voice came again over her comms, “Mags I don’t have controls of the shackles on him. They have gas systems installed in each of the cells to knock them out before they come in and manually unlock them.”
“I have enough for that, Sal. Don’t worry. And thank you” Mags added the last as an afterthought. She was already moving forward to clutch at the shackles binding her new addition. She gathered a small slither of power and let it trickle slowly into the chains and down into the locks at the man’s wrists and ankles. She waited impatiently as the locks slowly snicked and opened. A wave of dizziness hit her then and she struggled to keep herself standing. She felt hands slide under her arms from behind helping to keep her up. Another of the five stepped forward to release number Six. He would have to keep because Mags didn’t have the reserves to go unlocking any more potentials.
Quickly she relayed to the group what they would find outside the doors. One and Three stepped forward just as quickly to recreate the shielding that they had made previously. The others stood nervously behind as they moved to the soon to open door. Mags checked on her mountain man to see that Two had taken his arm and was ready to lead him along with them. Her little shifter, Five, bounced on his feet as his eyes darted nervously between Mags and the door.
Sal’s voice spoke into her ear, “Doors opening in 3, 2, 1.”
Mags felt One and Three’s power spring to life and move into place as soon as the metal doors started sliding open. She could hear shouting from the people on the other side ordering them to surrender or be killed. As the doors swung wider she could see black clad figures in formations in the hall. About a dozen stood before them spaced evenly to the left and right, with a cluster in the centre shielding a row behind them. All had matching guns pointed steadily toward them. Mags didn’t wait to give them a chance to get rounds off, she began walking forward signalling her group to do the same. One and Three kept their shielding in place even when bullets started pinging off their wall of power.
“One, use your wind to push them back further while Three keeps his shield in place to deflect any bullets. We’ll try and push them hard against the end of the hall and hold them there.” She waited to make sure they heard before she continued, “We need to take the door at the back right of this hall, it’s the access to the stairs. The elevator doors are the ones at the very end. Keep an eye on those.”
It was difficult in such a narrow space. From doors lining the hallway she caught glimpses of people, scientist she thought, popping up to the windows before dropping back down again. No doubt trying to determine what was happening and calling in reinforcements.
As her group moved steadily into the hall the soldiers in front of them fell back further towards the elevators. They must have realised that they had no hope once their bullets started falling to the ground, but nevertheless seemed to valiantly attempt to hold the line and keep firing.
Mags’ and her group managed to make it past the halfway point before the soldiers, who were being backed up and trapped at the elevators realised their mistake. There were too many of them to fit into the elevator if they were to retreat. The only option they had left were the last few doors- the labs. Sure enough, the soldiers broke off in small groups and moved inside the labs. From what Sal had told her of the plans, these lead to other exits- but importantly, it would take them a good while to work their way up through the building and back towards this elevator and stairs. As the last team of soldiers filed through the doors Mags heard the heavy clang of a bolt sliding into place. Passing the door she saw a dozen soldiers in formation, much like before, spaced back from the door. Ignoring them she moved towards the door to the stairway.
“Stairs are clear. Once I open the door I’ll jam the system long enough for you to make it to the top. You have to go up five flights.” Sal breathed into her mic, “Door opening in 3, 2, 1.”
True to her word the door sprung open. One and Three were first to go in and despite being assured by Mags that it was clear, double checked. They insisted on being the first ones up, while the others trailed behind.
The stairs were agony in Mags exhausted state. Drawing on her past life’s training she pushed passed the pain and tiredness and focussed on putting one foot above the other. She could hear the huffing breaths of the others surrounding her and the footfalls of six other sets of feet.
The clang of a door sounded their arrival to the top and she found herself standing in the early morning light. A red haired figure was rushing across the rooftop gesturing for them all to follow her. Sal, Mags thought distractedly.
Unsure faces flashed Mags. She might have nodded and said everything was ok, she wasn’t entirely sure. Everything was starting to become muddled. She just needed to make it a little further.
Sal’s voice broke through as she called for everyone to follow her, “the ships over here. It’s cloaked so you won’t see it until you make it through the doors. Try not to freak out too much, ok?”
Unfortunately Mags didn’t get to see their reactions because it was at that moment, when her eyesight started turning spotty and her body couldn’t support her anymore, that she passed out.
* * *