Thursday, November 12, 2009

NaNoWriMo '09, Chapter Twelve: Collateral Damage

The below is a section of the novel that I wrote for National Novel Writing Month. It isn't a stand-alone story, and it's probably not worth your time to read. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month so wordcount is valued above quality. This is a good thing, as it encourages people to actually finish a project. Nobody expects that the result will be ready for public consumption without heavy editing. If you want to read it for some reason you can view the whole thing in one place HERE although that's still totally unedited and terrible. You have been warned.

For a second all I'm aware of through the haze of drugs is flashing red lights and the sound of an alarm, but then the world snaps into sharp focus and I feel something burrowing out of my head like a worm. It doesn't hurt, somehow, and then I hear it hit the floor with a metallic sound. Memory of where I am floods back and I freeze time, sitting up and only realizing afterwards that my restraints are off. There's someone standing behind the table I was on, with his hand out like it had been touching my head. I've never seen him before, but he's not one of the feds. There's no way. His hair is greasy and he needs to shave - he's wearing dusty, torn jeans and a black tee shirt and he's got some blood spattered across his cheek. Is this Walter?

No, this has to be someone from outside. He's not wearing the baggy grey pajamas they put us in. Behind him there's a door into a circular room, where other glass doors look into cells like mine. I slide off the table and step on some sort of silver peg on the floor, threaded like a screw. Was that in my head? I can't feel any holes in my forehead, and the drugs seem to have completely worn off in an instant. Whatever is going on, I feel great. I walk out, ducking around the new arrival, and take in my surroundings. There's a woman in the air, it doesn't look like I caught her mid-jump or anything though. I think she's flying. She's wearing the pajamas, so I guess that makes her Tamara. Another pajama-clad person is here too, and he's leaning over someone in a suit that for sure does look like a fed. There's some sort of goop like honey extending out and wrapping around the fed's neck. This… this is really happening. We're getting out of here.

I've never met anyone else with abilities. Before they moved me to wherever I am now I heard someone screaming, and the guards talked about Walter and Charlie and Tamara, but other than that brief look at Charlie I didn't actually see anyone else. I don't know what to say. Do I just introduce myself? What if they really are terrorists? I check the door but it won't open, some sort of electronic lock. I glance around again and find some creepy-looking guy in a lab coat huddled under a desk. He's got a security badge clipped to him that's pretty thick, it looks like one of those one with a chip in it. I pull the badge off and swipe it over the silver panel next to the door, but nothing happens. I try a few more times, and still there's no response. Well, I wouldn't know where to go anyway. That seems to make the decision for me… here goes nothing.

"SHIT!" That's the guy that was leaning over me. He's jumped back from the table and he's looking around. The woman sees me first.
"Got him, Eddie, he's right here!" I was right, she's flying. She drifts down to look me in the eyes but I'm taller than her so her feet are still floating off the ground.
"Well," she says, "It looks like we have a new Franklin. Can you teleport us out of here?"
What's a Franklin? Is there some sort of code name system for powers that I don't know about? "I… no. I don't teleport. I stop time. I just walked over here."
She looks disappointed, but Walter's eyes have gone wide. "Are you serious?" he says. "That's huge. That's incredible, you can take out every fed in this place before they know what hit them!"
"I don't know. Maybe, I guess. I can't open the doors while everything is paused though, I guess the badge reader is frozen too. But I guess I could start up every time I got to a door and then stop things again when I'm through it? I don't… I haven't really thought about it."

The new guy comes over. He's smiling like a used car salesman.
"I'm Eddie. Folks call me Eddie Shorthand. What's your name, kid?"
I reach out to shake his hand and I tell him my name. He cocks his head to the side like he's listening to something I can't hear, and then he smiles even bigger. "You're the one that got Fast Charlie out! Nice work, kid!"
Tamara and Walter both look surprised, and they're asking me questions so fast I don't know what to say. I start to explain, telling them about biting the scientist and him knocking over the IV stand, but before I can finish Walter holds up a hand.
"Hang on, hang on. We can talk about this later. These alarms have been going on for way too long, we need to get out of here."
The fed has been quiet this whole time, but now he's laughing. "Get out? The only way you people are leaving is in body bags."

Eddie gestures and the creepy lab coat guy gets yanked through the air towards us.
"Doctor! I have an experiment to suggest. You ever use that Extractor I've heard so much about on someone without any powers?"
The fed is yelling, begging, but the doctor seems to be happy to go along with whatever Eddie says. It's making me uncomfortable to listen to, so I step aside to where Tamara and Walter are talking.
"Walter, are you okay with this? I seem to remember you being a bit of a pacifist."
He shrugs. "Pacifist? No, I just… I like violence to be the last resort."
"And is this it? The last resort?"
His jaw clenches, and his nostrils flare. "You heard what Eddie said they did to my wife after catching me. She's rotting in some prison somewhere for aiding and harboring a freak. I'm not playing anymore."
That strange goo starts to ooze out of his pores, but as it covers him it seems to crystallize until it's covered in facets and edges like armor chipped from a hunk of amber. A two-foot tendril reaches out from one hand and hardens into a terrifying spike. The goo doesn't seem so silly now that I've seen this.

Eddie shoves the fed past and the doctor follows meekly, carrying some strange device. It looks like a metal crab with a long spike coming out of its underside. The fed flattens onto the table - clearly against his will - and the doctor shuffles over, placing the crab-thing over his chest. Suddenly, Eddie stops him.
"Wait, Reggie, I think I forgot a question. You asked about the storm, didn't you? Well, our good pal Pudge is busy drumming up some lightning to smack your building with."
"Pudge?" I ask. Tamara leans towards me and whispers, never taking her eyes off of Eddie.
"Yeah. Weird bug-eyed skinny guy. He controls the weather."
"Not that I'd count on him for any vital plan," Walter chimes in, "he drinks like a fish so at any given moment he's useless."
The fed is trying to laugh again, but it sounds more like he's crying. "It won't do anything! He could hit us with lightning all day during a hurricane and the building wouldn't be so much as scratched!"

Eddie nods. "Yeah, we thought of that too. I'd tell you the rest of the plan but I'm really eager to watch you die screaming. Let's just say it involves pigs blood and some hefty bribing of Mexican officials. Hit it, doctor."
The doctor presses a button and the crab legs start to tighten, shoving the metal spike slowly into the fed's chest. I can't watch. He's screaming, over and over, and then somehow it seems like his voice is getting farther away. I turn around and he's not moving anymore, but it feels like I can still hear him screaming.
"Doc, I'm going to let your fate be decided by my pals here, that you've been torturing. Anyone calling dibs?"
Something inside me wants to, but I shake my head. Walter and Tamara look at each other for a minute and both shrug, then a stream of ectoplasm flies from Walter's hand and envelops the doctor's head. He only struggles for a minute.

I swipe the badge again and this time the door beeps and I can pull it open. We head out past the outer lab into a broad hallway where thirty armed guards level weapons at us. I walk up to them, looking at their faces. They look just like regular people. I'm trying to remember the epiphany I had before, something about who the villains were and how I could fight them. I remember the ache in my jaw after biting the scientist's finger, and the swell of pride when I saw Charlie escape. I can't be passive and wait for something to happen. I have to act, and until I can find a way to strike back at this screwed up situation as a whole I'm going to have to be comfortable attacking regular people. Not evil, just part of something too big to fight directly. Collateral damage.

I take some unused handguns out of their holsters and step back towards Eddie and the others, frozen like the guards like shocked statues. I aim carefully, and as I fire each shot the bullets slow and stop before reaching their targets. I aim for the head each time, two bullets per person just to be sure. I have to reload both guns before I finish. Finally I step back to about where I was when we saw the guards, and I look at them one last time. If I just hold it here, unmoving, I won't ever be a murderer. It feels like I'm standing so still that I'm frozen too, unable to take this next step. Forcing myself to keep my eyes open, I let the world start back up.

The sound is deafening, a horrible roar that nearly knocks me over as a thick cloud of blood blossoms into existence behind the guards and they all drop as one. The others are looking at me, at the guns in my hands. Eddie is patting me on the back, and I want to throw up. This is who I have to be, what I have to do. This is how I have to fight until I can find a better way, one that doesn't involve anyone dying. I have to believe this bloody mess will mean something some day.

"Okay," Eddie says, "Tamara is with me. I could use someone who can fly to keep me from falling to my death. Walter, escort the kid out and away from the area. We'll all meet at the…" he stops, looks at the walls. "I can't tell if they have bugs and cameras here. Whatever. At the place where Jezebel had her bachelorette party. Tamara, would you do me the honor?" He hold out an arm and she takes it.
"Wait," Walter says, "Where are you going?"
He smiles, and it gives me the shivers. "Up to the roof," he says, "So that I can get struck by lightning. Now hurry, you've got about five minutes before shit gets serious. Rodriguez." With that, they fly upwards through the ceiling like ghosts.

I have a million questions but instead we start running. I use the badge on doors as we reach them, and before long the exit signs lead us to a metal fire exit. Throwing it open, I stop time and look around. It's chaos. There are people running everywhere. Some of them might have guns but I'm not sure any would even notice me, so I unfreeze things to let Walter keep up. He makes a beeline for a large armored van that's pulling up even though I can see from here the people inside have guns. One jumps out and starts to lower his weapon - I want to stop time but it's like I'm hypnotized. Walter swings with the crystalline spike and spears the man clean through his bulletproof vest. Another is jumping out behind him but Walter is already swinging some sort of ectoplasm whip with that connects right between the poor bastard's eyes and send him sprawling against the van.

It's like some sort of horrible dance, tendrils and blades flashing into existence only to evaporate as soon as they serve their purpose. In the space of a few seconds every last one of them is dead or unconscious. Walter climbs into the van without a word and I follow. The storm overhead is rolling, doubling back in on itself, swirling in a maelstrom over the main building that squats there, ugly and plain and grey. I can see the clouds flickering with lightning deep inside them, not just white but red and blue. I remember something from science class, a million years ago in another life. Something about how at the moment of a lightning strike the air is hotter than the surface of the sun, and sometimes tiny bits of antimatter even form.

I'm nervous. I don't like that we're standing still, Eddie and Tamara are going to be flying, they don't need a ride. Instinctively I want to stop time, but that won't help to speed this along. Walter is just staring at the building. Waiting.
I can hear people shouting, everyone with weapons is running into the building and so far they haven't noticed us. So far.

Suddenly the world seems to end.

The flash blinds me, but I can hear the deep bass sound of something exploding and I feel the van lurch under me. Walter is swearing, spinning the van and nearly tipping it as he tries to point it back at the main gates. Chunks of building, massive concrete boulders, are crashing down around us as we drive. A desk bounces across our path, and papers flutter everywhere. Glancing in the rear view, I see a hole in the universe where the building had stood - one so dark it seems to swallow the light entirely. The van bounces as we crash through a fence, and then we're out of the compound and free on the streets of Los Angeles.