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DCU - Dial "H" for Hero #1: The Calm Before

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posted by alias Gallisuchus on Sunday 11th of October 2020 12:12:43 AM

“Okay but hear me out… danger-sense.” Chris lets an unimpressed puff of air out past his tongue and continues unpacking his lunch bag. Roger purses his lips. “Okay, only a little bit hurt…” Chris finishes with the bag and leans into the table. “You cannot tell me that’s better than having super-speed. The gap between degrees of cool there is astronomical.” “But if you can always tell when and where bad things will happen,” Roger continues, throwing his hands up, “whether or not you can stop them yourself, you can tell OTHER people, who can!” “What if they don’t believe you?” “Okay, the rule is, your power is a known fact to everyone. Everyone would know I’m precognitive.” “How do you know who CAN stop the danger, if it’s just a general sense? Wouldn’t you want… I don’t know, full-on mind-reading?” “There’s so much room for abuse there. I mean, you know how many Superman bad guys there are like that? Mind-reading is totally out. Same with time-travel. We are NOT considering time-travel.” Roger then swings his head to his right. “Glinda, c’mon. Best power. Break the tie.” Glinda Parks sighs. “Fashion-sense.” Roger sputters. “Thats-“ “Well I know I have fashion sense,” she explains, “but I mean, knowing the next big craze before everyone else.” Roger concedes and returns to his food. “I am utterly disgraced.” Chris keeps his laugh inside himself. Sitting down with his old friend at a recess away from all the noisier kids running around in the sun, and having the most cyclical debates ever, was like rediscovering an article of clothing that fit perfectly. The tree they were under and the table were different. Chris himself felt like less of a natural at keeping up with Roger’s enthusiasm, but… he was glad to be back. He was glad to find Roger had made friends that Chris wasn’t too alienated from. He had worried, driving with his parents back into town, that if Roger remembered him, he still wouldn’t be able to fall in with a new crowd. That, maybe, he would be intimidated, or feel replaced. Glinda was alright. Hardly a single common interest, and yet, she fit in right along with Roger. Or, maybe it was that her mind was on an entirely different track, and her scatterbrained nature just never lead to major clashes. At any rate, she seemed laid-back. Chris’ mom had said she herself hung out with boys in school because they weren’t so dramatic. Chris thought that must’ve been a joke. “Roger Dunbar, you can be so persnickety,” Glinda said, shaking her head. Roger forgets his sandwich once again. “It was a hypothetical about what you’d do with amazing powers, not… not how great it would be to know before anyone else that the latest fad is… Bell-bottoms!” “Baggies,” Glinda corrected, pointing at her attire. Chris clears his throat. “Uh… what about you, Vicki?” She was up in the tree, looking out past the school’s fence. “Mind-reading wouldn’t be so bad,” she mutters, practically to herself. “They never listen,” Roger laments. Chris offers a shrug. Vicki wasn’t very readable herself. Chris didn’t comprehend the distant tendencies when, a minute before, she could be engaged in conversation with Roger or Glinda, completely open. She was unfocused in a whole different way. “She’s watching him again,” Glinda remarked. “Who?” Chris answered his own question by following Vicki’s stare. A dark-haired boy, walking in the park across the way, some kind of pad or notebook in hand. “He looks our age, but he’s always there, at this time,” Vicki ponders. “Never in school.” “Maybe he’s homeschooled. Or looks young,” Chris says, uninterested. “You could go ask him to know his age for sure!” Glinda elbows Roger for him to endorse the idea. He takes a bit, then points at his full mouth. Glinda huffs. Vicki remains still. “He could be homeless. And it just… happens. Right in front of us.” “Well if he is, he must’ve stolen those boots,” Chris notes. “They’re really clean. High-end…” Vicki’s concentration finally breaks and she frowns at him. Chris almost chokes. “Uh… private school is a distinct possibility.” Vicki hops down and walks along the bench. “Your dad’s a detective, so you’re some kind of junior-sleuth too? For all you know he doesn’t eat every day.” Chris has an urge to sink into the ground. “I’m wrong a lot. Ask Roger.” Roger looks between the two. “Vicki, he wasn’t trying to-“ “Give the benefit of the doubt,” she finishes. To Chris’ surprise, she doesn’t storm off. She sits next to Glinda again and peels a tangerine. “Sorry,” Chris manages, only by not looking directly at her. “Give me a day, I won’t even remember,” Vicki replies. “I get caught up on things.” “We could be here for a few hours, pointing out what’s wrong in Fairfax,” Roger adds, further defusing things. “Let’s not go there right now.” Glinda glances at her lap, then back up at the group. “What are your guys’ plans for Halloween costumes?” Roger tips his water bottle. “Finally. Common ground.” *** Bryan Smith was about as interesting as his name. It must have been a miracle that he had been noticed by the casting director; equally, that the ad agency had accepted. Bryan had next to no qualifications to get the part. It was the kind of fortune that most people would call a fluke, “too good to be true.” Bryan was never a suspicious person however. He had found in his adult life that he couldn’t afford to be. He wrestled with his worn parking brake as his car rolled to a stop outside Trojan Laboratories. The whole crew was there ahead of him it seemed, cameras in place and all the rest. Halfway through getting the attention of who he assumes is a production assistant, Bryan tries to coolly straighten the loosened drawstring of his pajama pants. “Mr. Smith!” they say, with strained cordiality. “I recognize you from your résumé; you’re here right on time.” “I… couldn’t figure out how to attach my headshot actually, but…” Bryan explains. “We’ll just be getting you in your outfit, and then we roll camera,” the assistant says, skipping over the peculiarity. They then turn back to a few technicians setting up reflection panels. “Does it need fitting?” Bryan asked, trotting after them. “I may have put on weight since I upda- oh.” There were already two more of the crew converging on him with a helmet and chest plate. “Urk! Hey, are there still pins in this?” Bryan exclaimed as he felt pricks on his skin when they were applied. One of the costumers peered at him. “They aren’t fabric,” they drawled. Right. Bryan knew that. “Are there… pants?” “The shot’s waist-up,” the assistant sped-walked up again with paper. “This is your line.” “‘Line.’” Bryan knew it wasn’t a glamorous part. He had hoped it might be more exciting when he was in the moment, but he almost felt even more of a pit in his stomach now than when he had been going unnoticed all these months. It’s a paycheck, he had to remind himself. He waved the page at the assistant. They didn’t look up from their notepad. “Hey, should I say it kinda dramatic-like? Or more tongue-in-cheek? ‘Cause I could really give it some bravado, but I wouldn’t want to like, upstage anyone else…” “I think you should, eh, say the line,” the assistant’s smirk was even less convincing this time. Bryan stops examining his little slogan, and it suddenly registered with him that the cameras weren’t Trojan Laboratories’. They were from news stations. His face lost its color. “Hey, th… the thing said this would be recorded, but not… broadcast!” “Didn’t they tell ya? They had a recent breakthrough here,” a cameraman spoke up. “Gonna turn on their uh… ‘green-energy’ thingamajig. A generator.” “That… might look good to future employers,” Bryan thought. He could bear with this for a few lousy minutes if it meant he might be a mascot for some big scientific achievement… Who was he kidding? The helmet was ridiculous. No one was going to remember him just for being in some hokey promo… They got him for cheap for a reason. “It’s a paycheck,” Bryan squeezed shut his eyes, trying to stop his head from swimming. A reporter was partially through presenting the event, then Bryan would get his prompt. “Do you have any pride? What a joke.” “Say the line, then leave. This isn’t going to kill you.” The reporter had already made their way over to Bryan, amidst his fretting. “… and here with us for this afternoon’s exciting reveal of Trojan’s vision for the future of energy, THE Trojan himself,” they proclaimed loudly. Bryan worked to reset his expression, as he knew it must have been twisted in disgust. Maybe directed at that corny grin. He’d finally realized how much he hated it when people did that. And how he couldn’t. “I was told,” the reporter said, filling in Bryan’s silence, “you have a message to all the families at watching, especially those in Fairfax who may be the first to enjoy this new technology!” Time momentarily, and generously, froze for Bryan. It wasn’t the costume or the line that would hurt. It was the creeping thought that this would be as good as it would ever get for him. And there was nothing to do but rip the bandage off. Bryan stuck out his chest. “Nonrenewable resources are just another wooden horse! Don’t fall for-“ A deep hum rippled through the lot, cutting off the last bit. Bryan and everyone else assembled gazed up the hillside to see Trojan Laboratories encompassed by a mushroom of shimmering fumes, rapidly folding out from the middle of the structure. The great eruption hung in the air, the colors within swaying back and forth almost like disturbed liquid. The spectacle was mesmerizing enough that it took a camera operator tripping into him, as they fled, for Bryan to acknowledge the threat. “R-run, everyone!” They already had; some shut inside the vans, others still scrambling towards the woods down the road. Bryan attempts a sprint of his own, but as the cloud descended on all his escape routes, his cheeks and neck start to itch; his muscles cold and aching, like they’re about to push through his skin. The helmet seems to double in weight over his brow, while maroon shades bleed into Bryan’s vision, and he crashes to the ground, eaten up in the dense vapor. *** Cableman bumped the basement door open was an ankle, and listened before proceeding down the steps. A tune was drifting up from the room below, sung by low yet experienced voice. He was here, then. As per usual. “-t’s all for me grog; me jolly, jolly grog…” Cableman resumed walking, witnessing plays of unnatural light on the walls and his suit as he drew nearer to the bottom. It wasn’t a surprise that she was also there; it being commonplace, though, did not make Cableman any more thrilled at the conversation that was to come. The last few steps sagged beneath his feet, and he tilted his head up just enough to see Cathan. He had on his red costume, and was leaned back in a seat, seemingly inebriated. His song was still making its way out of his lips, albeit in increasingly-detached increments. “… For I’ve spent all me tin on the lasses drinkin’ gin Across the western ocean I must wander…” “Cathan,” Cableman slurred. The splashes of color dimmed slightly in his peripheries, and Cathan’s face regained some its shrewd complexion. “Yes?” “This is me, reporting,” Cableman said while throwing his arms out from his sides, “the nothing there is to report.” Cathan just nodded. “This may come as a surprise to you, but I could be be doing something productive here. More productive than tailing some kid…” Cathan smiled faintly. “He’s our target, I’m sure of that. He’ll make of a mistake eventually, and when he does… I’ll have my most reliable and devout friend there to retaliate accordingly. Won’t I?” “He NEVER talks to anyone,” Cableman growls. “He takes a random route away from the city any time I’m within a block of him. It’s absurd.” “More absurd than making another move while he’s still an obstacle? So that he can take down another of us?” “Get Murr to play ‘spy’ for us. I’m over this.” “Everyone pulls their own weight, Todd,” Cathan interjected. “Oh I can see that,” Cableman responds dully, making no effort to avoid side-eyeing the person he knew was across the room. Cathan’s smile slips; he gives a slow blink and stares down Todd. “When he slips up… leads you to where he hides, makes contact with someone else… that can be the end for you. I’ll send our newest members…” Cathan gestures where Todd had glanced, “… to finish the job as their initiation, and you can go back to your usual work.” “That’s all I’m asking,” Cableman shuffles back. “I’ve got new equipment I’ve been meaning to-“ “I know,” Cathan interrupts again, tapping a finger on the corner of his lid while looking up at the ceiling. “I see.” Cableman follows his line of sight to the obviously-opaque drywall. “Of… course you do.” Cathan settles back into his chair. “Why don’t you rest for the day? Being out of your element has made you… testy.” “I like my head, the way it is, just fine,” Cableman snaps. “You have fun in dream-land while I do all the dirty w-“ Cathan laughs now, and shakes his head. “You’re very lucky I like you, Todd.” There’s no continuation. The two men regard one another with blank faces. Then Cableman departs, Cathan watching him leave, as the display of color fills the room again. *** Authorities have arrived at Trojan Laboratories by now, with the expected biohazard precautions. Incredibly, as the the heads of the institute insist over and over again, all those within the proximity of the reactor’s discharge are found to be wholly unaffected, once screened thoroughly. All persons are accounted for except the hired mascot, whose departure no one can make certain of, being that they had been hiding and separated by the mysterious shroud of energies. The cameras on the scene would be reviewed for evidence of Bryan Smith’s escape. The absence of his car, as Detective Gregory King points out, would suggest he had to have made it out. Even though all those present were assured it was perfectly fine to go home and not be sequestered, a search was now instated to locate the last being who was exposed. For his own safety. Detective King threw off his containment suit as the investigation team was wrapping up. Of all the the things to run into, not a month into moving back to Fairfax… a potentially-radioactive missing person case. He hoped his family would be adjusting in a much more conventional sense than this. What every soul on the premises would fail to uncover, and could scarcely be blamed for overlooking, was the most minute wisp of the energy plume, before dispersing in the air, being carried by the wind down the hillside. The particle survived longer than anyone at Trojan Labs would have calculated; long enough to infuse an unassuming pea pod on a vine in the crops far below. A minute or so would pass before a tiny squeal would emit from the skin, and tendrils would begin to protrude.

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