Before The Coming Dawn
A Tale of 'Daylight', by Brother Grimace
ZERO HOUR: - 03:07:00
Carbondale, Illinois - (Earth Designation: Daria-823)
The man known to his fellow members of the DELPHI operations section as Project Uatu as Archangel (well, on his Earth) turned in his sleep, eliciting a soft moan from the woman lying next to him.
Deep in sleep, Archangel dreamed...
I hate it when it happens like this.
Archangel knew at once that he was dreaming. "Hello, Chynna."
The young woman he knew as Chynna Henry – a woman that he hadn't seen since college, the break-up wasn't a happy one for either of them – stood in front of a bassinet, and as she picked up a crying baby, Archangel looked about the nursery he found himself standing in. "Oh, she's just a little cranky – Mommy's little girl just wants to get a little attention, doesn't she? Mommy has you..."
"I haven't dreamed of you in – my God, I haven't thought of you in ages..."
The sensation that always heralded a very bad prescient dream – Archangel was certain that's what he was having now – trickled at the small of his neck and down his spine... this is not going to be good, in any way, shape or form. Every single time that I've dreamed of Chynna, it's signaled something truly horrible... This is going to be a very bad trip...
The nighttime sky lit up, and Chynna grasped her child close as Archangel went to the window, opened it, and disappeared into the night sky now brightly lit by a spectacular display of the Aurora Borealis.
Something's very wrong – it's not supposed to be this bright, this wild... well, not here in Southern Illinois. The display's so damned bright that it's like spotlights in a football stadium – you can use this to read and see everything around you easily-
A large, gleaming ring of brilliant silver-white energy suddenly appeared in the air above Archangel's head; unlike the purplish-white rings generated by Defender Rings like the one he wore which generated rings which stood on one end, like doorways...
Oh, my God, he thought, as the ring swiftly descended and he found himself in a large chamber. The Ringmasters.
"Master Ringbearer." Intent and direction from the all-consuming glow around him took meaning as words and images simply formed within his mind. "We allow this intrusion, for we will allow you little more in the coming days."
"What are you talking about?"
"The hour of your greatest trial draws near."
"I truly hate the cryptic messages."
"Master Ringbearer – complete the journey within your dream."
Archangel suddenly found himself back in the sky over Carbondale – this isn't Carbondale, it's – holy hell, that's New York City!
Going invisible – thank God my affinity allows me to do that instead of needing to use a Glamour to disappear, he thought – Archangel swooped down over the crowds that had filled Times Square to see the spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime stellar drama in the skies overhead – until the first laser-like beam of dawn light sliced over the horizon-
Every light in New York City suddenly blinked out.
Every vehicle suddenly stopped moving.
Every single machine suddenly stopped working.
He could feel the collective spike of fear from millions – no, billions of people – that seemed to rise up through the planet himself and punch through him like a white-hot railway spike. Oh, God, it can't be – that would come from above, unless it's a sub-launched salvo, carpet-volley pattern designed to shower the entire East Coast, but why would they –
My God, they're actually doing it...
A wave of light and force like an angry sun god's vengeance poured across the horizon; Archangel's shields held against primal energies that washed over him and the landscape below, bathing it in fire that scoured everything in its path away to leave magma and bubbling volcanic glass behind... skyscrapers became towering crematoriums of flame, with massive electrical charges dancing over them and completing impossibly long, massive arcs of lightning that melted, carbonized, or detonated whatever they moved across, making Manhattan Island appear from above like a colossal Tesla globe.
And the screaming began; a collective wailing of humanity that threatened to overwhelm him until he forced the Ring to dampen its ability to sense pain and suffering down as far as he could. It never shuts off, he reminded himself, after a few moments of trying to keep the icepick of emotion from below from continuing to jab at the side of his skull. And this is just in my premonition of what's to come, instead of the actual event...
The pain continued to build, a massive tsunami of pain miles high that drew closer and closer, threatening to drive him insane as he suddenly realized that what he was seeing wasn't just on this Earth, but on several, on many other alternate worlds... he was reminded of a similar event, a Crisis from almost twenty years ago, when a blistering wave of white moved across infinite Earths, killing untold numbers and reducing worlds to nothingness...
He found himself back in the presence of the Ringmasters. "Can it be stopped?" he asked, lifting his head with an effort as she struggled to stand. "The war, the nukes flying – can it be stopped?"
There was a moment of silence. "You and the others who wear the Ring will not interfere."
"Your request is denied."
"But I was-"
"That which is to come can not be stopped. It is a part of what is to happen."
"I don't understand," Archangel called out. "If you know what's going to happen, then tell me, so the Ringbearers can stop it!"
"A similar situation has occurred before, in another reality. Then, as now, the way is clear. The Corps of Ringbearers, by our Mandate, is seen as allied with that which is known as Order. That which is to come is not a product of Chaos – it is a result of the natural order of things. If the Corps of Ringbearers interferes, their actions may be seen as attempt to alter The Balance – and this will allow Chaos a free reign in the matter. Do nothing, and Man may survive this trial. Interfere – and Chaos will see fit to ensure that Earth will fall, her corpse birthing darkness that could spread like a cancer throughout the universes."
"You're not sure if the Other Side will react if you let us go in, so just to be sure, you want us to stand down? That's bull!" he roared. "Many of them won't listen – I won't just stand by and do nothing! The other Ringbearers will help anyway – they'll try to stop it, or set it right!"
The silence seemed to smother him like a thick, choking mass that he was unable to escape. "Say something!"
"You may act to save lives. You may act to preserve the species. These actions would not be seen as a violation of the Mandate. No Ringbearer may act any further."
There was a heavy silence. "You may not act any further. You have never chosen to defy our orders, for you have always held a deeper understanding of our Cause. We understand that you will not do so now." A blue globe of light appeared in front of Archangel. " Your Ring."
Archangel held his right hand out. "We strengthen and charge you to do our bidding. We place upon you the means to enforce our will among your brothers and sisters in the Order - and in so doing, to save the race of Man."
The Defender Ring he wore glowed as the globe encircled Archangel's hand, and then vanished. "Awaken, Master Ringbearer. You have precious little time... before the Final Dawn."
ZERO HOUR: - 03:00:00
Archangel snapped awake. "It was more than a prescient dream," he thought aloud, looking at the way the words that encircled his Ring, written in Interlac, burned with a blue-white fire that made them visible – confirmation that the Ringmasters had indeed spoken to him, as they refused to allow anyone to step foot upon their world except in the absolute worst of circumstances. "It was a message."
He slid out of bed and reached for his cell phone, dialing a number. "This is Archangel for Godseye," he said, sleep fully out of his voice. "This is a Priority Psi Upsilon signal - and I need this flagged as CRITIC traffic for POTUS."
The woman lying in bed stirred. "Hey, you."
Archangel turned to the woman, who had reached over to her table and brushed masses of thick, luxurious black hair from her face before pulling her glasses on. "You know, I was expecting more than just 'wham, bam, thank you ma'am' from a guy like you... besides, I have to make sure that you get to the Tolnai Auditorium on time for your second presentation this morning. The board will have my butt if you're late again."
The woman looked at her clock. "It's almost four in the morning. Gerald. Who are you calling now?"
"Jennifer – you need to get up and get dressed," Archangel said, annoyed by the length of time it took to connect his call and run it through the scramblers – like that'll matter in a few hours, a day at most. "You mentioned that you don't have any family, right?"
"Only child, and my parents passed away a few years back," Jennifer Henstridge said, a slight edge of fear appearing in her voice that neither of them could ignore. "Is something happening...?"
It would be wrong to lie to her now – and it would be wrong to leave her to die alone. The Ringmasters said that we could act to save lives... "This is your house, right? All of your things are here?"
"Yes – I got a decent-sized house so I could have guests, and not have to worry about storage space – Gerald, what's going on?"
Jennifer slid into a SIU-Carbondale sweatshirt that emphasized her ample bosom, and then pulled on the matching sweatpants as her eyes stayed on Archangel. "You remember last night, when you said that I got lucky? The truth is, I think we both did – luckier than you've ever been before."
Goosebumps rose on Jennifer's arms as Archangel continued. "The demonstration I was going to give to those military and academic big-shots? Looks like you're going to be the only one to see it now..."
He turned away from Jennifer as a voice sounded in his ear. "Secretariat Control, meta-ops section - American desk, this is the watch officer."
"This is Wright – authorization Zeta Chi Phi zero-six-zero-nine-zero-five-seven-two. Authenticator code is 'Weeping Angels'.
There was a series of clicks. "Confirmed as 'Archangel' – special field operations commander, Project Uatu. Go ahead, sir."
"I am declaring a Code 513 event. This is not a drill. I am requesting immediate global activation of all 513 protocols and immediate notification of all personnel. Patch me in with General Trainor immediately. Repeat - I am declaring a Code 513 event – this is not a drill."
He turned to Jennifer, who (to her credit) was not shaking with the terror she felt, and which he could feel through the Ring he wore. "Don't worry." he said, reaching out to take her trembling right hand in his own. "You're going to be safe. I'm taking you with me."
ZERO HOUR: - 02:55:00
"Paula, who's that-?"
Sammi Rudolph tried to brush masses of dark-blonde hair and hard-fought sleep from her eyes. "I hate how you have meetings in our bedroom."
She saw Paula Trainor, wearing a bathrobe as she sat on her side of the bed and spoke on the secure phone as Dr. Lori Richmond and Master Sergeant Paxton Tran Noc – her most trusted assistants, both in fatigues and heavily armed – stood silently nearby. "Oh, it's just you two - Oh, my God. Paula-?"
She snapped awake and pulled the blankets up to cover herself as the world came into sharp focus. "Paula, what's going on?"
The attractive Black woman turned to Sammi, and the younger woman felt herself go cold as Paula took her hand. "Sammi – remember what I asked you once before... what is it that you have to take with you if you're leaving for good?"
"A couple of things at the shop, and a few things here."
"Get dressed. The Master Sergeant is staying with you – and please, do what he tells you to, Sammi, I'm not kidding. He's going to take you there and then bring you to my office. Get your gun – I know you don't like them, but get it anyway. You've got one hour – and don't talk to anyone." As Sammi slid out of bed, Paula turned to the tall Vietnamese non-com. "You don't take your eyes off her. If she has to go to the john, you stand in the door to the stall. Use a SMART-field generator to get her things – and you keep her safe. If necessary, use your powers."
The non-com's grip on his Heckler & Koch PSG1 assault rifle tightened slightly. "Yes, ma'am."
"Meet us on the field at Tennyson. One hour."
Sammi wiggled into a pair of jeans and sweater before leaving the room, Paxton on her heels as Paula turned to the tiny brunette remaining in the bedroom and accepted the fatigue uniform Lori had taken from the closet. "Make the calls while I get dressed," she told the younger woman. "Get the Gridrunners on station at Tennyson – one hour from now. We're heading for Niagara Falls – the Fast Forward complex. Tell them to get ready for us, and send the message to USAES. Activate Zero Area now – and run the Homestead protocol. They have an hour to retrieve everyone they can, and to go 'hard shell' in ninety. I don't care how overt they have to be. Warn Quest Industries and the Legion – we may need them soon. Full disclosure. Run the Hard Aurora and Aurora Borealis protocols; send the warning out to all of our friends – here and overseas. They have one hour to get what they need and be ready. "
Lori's expression was coolly impassive. "You're running with this."
"This is a Code 513 event with high confidence, Oversight. Archangel's only confirmed what you and the other precognitives have warned us about for the past week," Paula said, using Lori's code-name as she finished dressing, went to a large wall safe in the bedroom, and took a machine out that looked like a videotape player. " After we use the SMART-field to take the brownstone, we'll stop at your place - and be at Tennyson University in an hour. Send our people out with SMART-field boxes for Amy and Reese – his parents are there, bring them along, too – as well as Angela, Lyle, and Sharon at the British Embassy. One hour. Don't let anyone stop them from getting there." She hesitated for a moment. "Have them pick up Cheryl and Daniel, too."
Lori nodded as Paula drew an H&K G36 assault rifle – identical to the one Lori had slung over her left shoulder – from the safe, and placed it on the bed. "Send the codes to all DELPHI operatives and installations. 'Engage Code 513 – the Slowing Sun and Shadow Recall protocols.' All other protocols are hereby vacated. They have one hour to be on station. Overt and public use of metahuman abilities and Next-Gen tech is hereby authorized. SMART-field use to secure areas is authorized. Ignore all existing laws if they get in the way of extractions. The use of lethal force by all personnel is hereby authorized."
Paula looked up to Lori. "Tell them to move. Anyone who's late will have to find their own way off Earth."
ZERO HOUR: - 02:51:00