A Tale of Daylight, by Brother Grimace
(NOTE: This takes place about a week or so after the events of Wagon Train to the Stars, and about the same time as Baked Alaska.)
"I don't suppose there's any chance of everyone being reasonable about this, is there?"
There were twenty-three of them in the cavernous underground storeroom – four metahumans, and nineteen normal people, all armed with a hodgepodge of weapons.
Of the metahumans - two were African-American girls in their late teens, and so similar in appearance that they had to be sisters. The third was also female – one of those young, exotic beauties of indeterminate origin seen only on television or at the most exclusive clubs... when there were clubs.
The last of the four was a lean bishonen of a boy with long, black hair, night-blue eyes and a smile born to distract females of all ages. The fact that he was a centaur – with an energy bow currently fitted with five arrows - also drew attention.
First Lieutenants David Allen Farrington and Rafael Vargas shared a glance; Rafael motioned with his hands, and the quintet of USMC troops with them lowered their weapons. "We can be reasonable," the young Latino officer said, holstering his weapon. "Who are you four?"
"We're not interested in being drafted into the new army, that's for sure," the exotic-looking girl said, her sparkling eyes catching Rafael's attention – especially after he noticed that her eyes were actually violet crystals. That's a hell of a power – she's only the second person I've seen with a version of it. "We've heard how the USMC is open for business, drafting people to be bully boys protecting the rich people or breeding stock – it's like 28 Days Later and Soylent Green rolled all up in one!"
The girl turned her eyes to David Allen. "You don't think we know what you are? Almost very psychic we've run across is getting his or her God complex on - you think we don't know what you'll do if you get the chance?"
Actually surprised that his fellow officer said nothing, Rafael took a step forward. "You said you wanted to be reasonable. Okay. Let's be reasonable."
The younger of the sisters nodded; the centaur lowered his bow, the weapon disappearing as he did so, and the crystalline eyes of the exotic girl splintered outwards and faded away as she stepped forward. "Okay. Let's not fight. We can all use supplies out of this storage; how do we do this without things getting sticky?"
"I'd say that your being reasonable was a really good start."
The four rogue metas turned to see Maryann Lyter, Carolyn Field and Zoey Robertson perched high above them; Maryann's eyes, white with power, returned to normal as she landed in front of the centaur. "So – when was the last time you and your friends tied on the feed bag?"
She extended her hand. "I'm Maryann. What's your name?"
The centaur looked at her before reaching out. "I'm Boone."
The skies seemed to open up and pour rain down in unseasonably cold torrents over the ruins of what had once been Fostoria, Ohio.
The seven trucks that carried the members of The Alliance and a squad of USMC regular troops were hidden inside the underground storage area of the Fostoria Smarty-Mart; as Zoey, Fabian Nogura and half of the troops stood guard (with Fabian using his powers to ease the downpour around the entrance), the others set down to make friends in the old-fashioned way.
They cooked dinner.
"The thing is, everything that I could ever need to cook with is down here somewhere," Jeffrey said, removing a sheet of dinner rolls from an oven he had fired up (with the assistance of Carolyn, who was wearing a modulator cuff that allowed her to act as a generator for the appliances, as well as recharge several power cells) and sliding them into a warmer. "Everything should be ready in about fifteen minutes. Pizza rolls?"
He set out a pair of large bowls filled with the snacks for the civilians and Galena before taking a bowl over to the sisters, who whispered their thanks and then dove in; Jeffrey walked over to Boone the centaur, who was lounging comfortably on a pair of king-sized mattresses and box springs laid out for him by Maryann, and offered him a large bag of Corn Squares snack mix.
"Thank you," Boone said, allowing Maryann to place several pillows beneath his head and shoulders and not caring that she let her eyes run over his bare chest... or occasionally, down further, as she covered him with a very large, heavy woolen blanket. "Whenever we found food, I made sure they ate – they need to keep up their strength, and I can – well, I can eat things that they can't. It's not the best way to live, though."
David Allen had used his telekinesis to unwrap several comfortable chairs, as well as several other items that the combined group could use, and then cleared out an area that he (the team healer) and Zoey (a certified EMT) could use as a makeshift medical ward.
"I'm going to get Zoey back in here in a few minutes, and we'll start checking out your people for any medical problems they might have," he told Boone, two large medical bags in hand as he turned to the med ward. "I just need a few more minutes, and if we could have some hot, running water and working toilets..."
Rafael nodded; moments later, while Carolyn and Kelly Springer went to work repairing the bathrooms (Kelly, the tall blonde, smirking as she saw the look on her friend's face when Rafael told them to fix the plumbing – "You're the engineers - rig something up.") and Lindy Lomard and some of the troops fired up a series of portable heaters to warm up the area, Rafael sat down to talk with Boone.
"We've all been together on the streets for the past couple of years," Boone told them, letting his head fallback on the pillows; it was tiring for him to keep his head up while talking, and it was obvious that he was weak from hunger. "My people ran me off."
Maryann nodded in an understanding way as Boone continued; Rafael was going to have her (as another engineer) help with the plumbing, but the way Boone reacted to her presence convinced him to have her stay. "I can't go out in the daytime for the most part – I can change to normal human form for a while, maybe four hours at most, but this is my real form – so working a real job is out. I wasn't about to go hungry or freeze, so I used my power to get what I needed and find places to stay."
"With that bow and arrow?" Lindy sounded a bit skeptical.
"No – that's a gift from Royal." He motioned over to the sisters and the exotic-looking girl, who were being entertained by Jeffrey's chef routine. "The sisters – the older one's Regan, the younger one's Royal. Regan's a psi – telepathy, empathy, TK; your guy's a whole world apart from her in terms of power but she can sense people with powers from miles and miles away – and Regan's like her, but she can give people psi-powers. Me - she gave me the power to create that bow."
"The bow's not your power, then?"
Boone lifted his head to look at Rafael. "No. I can turn invisible and intangible – I can make specific parts of my body intangible only, too - and when I'm intangible, I can run on the air. I also don't have to breathe, and anybody I take with me doesn't have to breathe, either. That's been handy, the last few weeks since – what did you call it?"
"Zero Hour," Maryann said. "For all that matters – the moment the world that we knew died."
"Tell me about it." Boone lay his head back down. "We were in Detroit when it happened. Galena – that's the other girl's name – we had gotten up early to scam some breakfast from the local Donut World. We came back with a couple of dozen donuts, coffee, and some milk for the two rats; everybody had finished eating, and we were about to bolt when everything started to burn or explode."
He took a breath. "I had snuck all of us into the luxury suite of this hotel – it's a dodge we do all of the time. The sisters scan the place for empty rooms, everybody climbs on my back and we just walk right through the place up to the room – and if anybody ever catches up, somebody like a maid, Galena gets a small rock and turns it into a ruby or emerald for them. They leave us alone, then, and bring us things."
"If she can make diamonds, then why were you guys living on the streets?"
Boone gave Lindy – who had reappeared and was listening in - a look of searing scorn as he lifted his right front leg and waved it at her. "Cloppity. Clop. Clop. Cloppity. Clop. Clop." He shook his head. "We didn't get the same deal as you Academy types – yeah, we heard about you guys, especially your psychic. Where's the redhead with the wings, by the way? From what I heard, I thought those two didn't move too far apart."
Lindy's eyes widened, Roman coughed, and Maryann's eyes twinkled as she tried not to laugh. "She's off doing other things."
"As for Galena – you keep coming up with precious gems, and people start looking for you if you're not careful. Galena wasn't careful. She's hot, and she can do things with crystals you wouldn't believe, but she's not the fastest boat on the lake, you know? The sisters were on their own because they were living like Harry Potter before Hogwarts – both parents got killed and the relatives were..." His voice trailed off. "Regan's power came up first, she kind of kick-started her sister's powers, and they ran off. They found me, and then Galena, and here we are. After what happened, we occasionally found people who needed someone and didn't mind that we were different. They found you, too."
"It's an accident that we're here," Maryann told him. "We were being sent to Maryland – our former commander has a friend there, and we were being sent to beef up his forces. Something went wrong with the transport, and we ended up just outside Chicago."
Rafael again whispered silent thanks for his power of altering probabilities; he had no doubt that, except for his power, the gateway – the CME's affecting it as they went through - would have dropped them directly into downtown Chicago. "The way my power works – combined with what you said about your psi finding us - that might be what happened. We barely made it away from the blast zone."
"Then you saw what it was like," Boone said. "We barely had time to grab the few things we had before the entire place went up – they all got on and I ran through the wall." He took a breath. "I ran as high and as fast as I could; it was like something out of a bad movie..."
He put his head back down; it was obvious that he was incredibly tired. "We've been moving ever since – find some food and water, a safe place to stay for a few hours, dodge the freaks and losers and crazies that managed to survive, help out people and bring them along so we can protect them... the things that people are doing to one another out there, it's the first time I've ever been glad that I was born like this. We'd all probably be dead otherwise. Even with our powers, we've lost half of the people that we were watching. There are other people out there with powers, and you wouldn't believe the miniature armies that have sprung up already..."
The leader of The Alliance stood up. "Boone – you're tired, and God knows what you've been exposed to out there since things went up," he said, leaning forward. "Just get some rest. We'll get you and your people back up to speed, and then, decide on what we're all going to do."
Boone laid his head back, his eyes closed. "Okay."
The centaur went to sleep almost immediately; Rafael turned to see Jeffrey serving dinner - large servings of baked chicken, whole kernel corn and peas mixed together, scalloped potatoes and slices of cranberry sauce. "The first decent dinner most of them have had in a while," David Allen said, coming up to Rafael and Maryann, and not reacting to the looks that appeared on their faces. "You heard right – 'most of them."
The leader of The Alliance turned to his Executive Officer. "Talk to me."
The tall, pretty young woman with dirty, matted black hair had finished her meal when Maryann tapped her on the arm. "You're Kendra, right?"
Kendra Read wiped her face with a paper towel before speaking. "Yes?"
"Our medical people have started giving everyone exams. I noticed that you're finished, so you can head back now. It'll only take a few minutes, and there's plenty to eat, if you want seconds."
She rose from her place at the table; moments later, Kendra walked into the smaller storage room the soldiers had turned into a medical ward – and lapsed into unconsciousness as David Allen laid her flat with a heavy mental blast. "You didn't have to hit her so hard, David Allen!" Maryann snapped, catching the limp form and carrying her over to a table. "I hope that you didn't fry her brain!"
"Yes, I did – or did you want her to teleport out of here to her friends?" David Allen shot back. "I caught that in her thoughts after I went past the mental shield someone put in there – it's a mental block just like the one someone put in Tom Sloane's head. This girl's a member of The Elite."
Rafael's eyes narrowed as he stepped up to David Allen; he knew that tone – the tone that meant that David Allen knew something and had been holding the info back. "Talk, David Allen."
"The people in the movies – secret groups that control the world and everyone or everything of actual worth, manipulating things to move humanity forward – it's all true. This girl was born into that secret society, and they put a mental block in her mind that would let her use some of her powers but not all; the block was set up so that if she got a code-phrase, the block would open to let her have her full powers, but also put her under somebody's mental control."
"You said, 'Just like the one in Tom Sloane's head'." Rafael looked down at Kendra. "This girl is a part of this secret society – this 'Elite' - just like Tom Sloane." He looked up to his friend. "Just like you are."
"It's not like that, Rafael – not in my case." David Allen didn't back down for a moment. "Trust me when I say that I'm extremely persona non grata with them – remember how I told you I flash-fried four telepaths when I was a baby? Those four were Elite telepaths that were going to lock down my powers –they do it to all Elite newborns, and only allow some people to manifest. The only reason why Tom was allowed was because someone – a guy named John Dynell, remember that web site download Martin brought us? – wanted to use him as a super-weapon in case of emergency. With Tom's powers and with what's happened to the world, he's a strategic weapon."
"So are you, David Allen."
David Allen looked at Maryann. "Before you start thinking 'he's a traitor', remember how Daria, Leta, and several dozens of different telepaths have been through my head over the past decade. If you think that Daria or Leta aren't powerful enough to recognize a 'trip box' if they had seen across..."
Rafael and Maryann looked at one another, and then began to chuckle. "What?" David Allen barked. "What's so funny?"
"Did you really think that we didn't know this already?" Maryann said, trying hard not to laugh. "One word, David Allen."
The telepath's head dropped. "Julia."
"You should know that none of us really have any real secrets from each other in The Alliance," Maryann said. "You have a way of telling Julia things, and she tells Carolyn... we all know."
"Oh – you mean how we all know about how last summer, you and Jeffrey were having a race through Yellowstone National Park, and after you both ended up tripping and falling about a half-mile because you weren't paying attention and ran through a football field's worth of muddy ground, you two-"
The young woman's face went totally scarlet, as did her ears – and David Allen, who believed in preserving moments for history, grabbed his camera and got a shot of her face. "As for you, great leader, do the words 'petting zoo' ring a bell?"
Rafael scowled at him. "You're being a dick."
"Which proves nobody's controlling me. Can I get back to work on getting some answers?"
"Yeah." Rafael turned back to the unconscious girl. "Go deep, David Allen. Take everything."
Several hours later, Boone stood over the sedated Kendra. "She's got powers, and she was spying on us? Why?"
"Turns out that your little friends' power of finding people? She's actually got a lower-powered version of my ability – she controls probabilities... in her case, she skews things towards good luck." Rafael glanced back to Boone. "The places you've been, the directions you've taken? Her good luck has been guiding you, and there's a group of people who have been following you; either you've found people of worth that these people can recruit, or things and places that they can use – the way things are, any cache of supplies is priceless. This storage area alone is worth killing for as a place to live, and the merchandise is worth killing everyone here for."
Boone looked at the girl. "And her?"
"She was placed with you to protect the sisters, to kidnap them if you didn't find anything of worth and take them to a secure location in Kansas – and if you did find something of worth, find out exactly what was here, grab the sisters, and then let them know about this place. They're doing this across the entire world, in order to make sure that they'll have enough supplies and personnel to survive."
David Allen went over to Boone. "It's not her fault. The mental controls in her head couldn't have been overridden; she had no control over anything she did once that 'trip box' went off – and if she could have, she would have. She likes you, Boone – she likes you a lot."
The centaur blinked hard. "Oh."
Rafael tapped Boone on the arm. "I had Lieutenant Brace – Jeffrey, the cook – run out to Legion Tower in Maryland; that was our destination. He told them about this place – they'll now start looking for others like it for supplies and building materials – and about all of you. You've got a couple of choices, according to General Armalin; he's supposed to be our new CO."
The centaur's tail swished as he looked at Rafael. "You and your people can head out with us to Legion Tower," he continued. "The military is rebuilding the town there – Lawndale. You can all relocate there. We'll load up with as much in supplies from here as we can, then seal it off and hide the entrance. This will be a supply cache for USMC forces that will come through here someday."
Boone looked around the room, then back to Rafael. "Our other choices?"
"If you don't want to go with us, we can equip you, give you some secure communications so you can try and keep in touch, and let you go on your way." He hesitated for a brief moment. "The third option is that we all stay here – my people and yours. We re-establish civilian authority and reinforce with metahuman and regular forces to make this a secure area. I'll try to get whatever medical assistance we can in here for the people that are going to come trickling in, and we use what we have here as the beginnings of a new community. One thing's for sure – this storage area becomes our new Fort Knox. We keep it secret from the general public as long as we can, and nobody gets in here if they don't have clearance."
The centaur gave the lieutenant a smirk. "Sounds like you already have your plans up and running. I'm in for staying here - on one condition. The beds I was using from earlier?"
"Not just that," he continued. "Have you gone through this place completely? Before you guys showed up, I did a quick run-through here. This was one of the Super-Smarty-Marts; they've got about a hundred mobile homes down here, including twenty or thirty of the extra-large ones. I want a couple of the big ones - I can have someone put them together for a place to live in. I'll also want dibs on homes for my people."
"Sounds like you might need a bit of legal authority, Boone." Rafael held up a badge. "Jeffrey brought this back with him. If you want it, you'll be a U.S. Marshall for the City of New Fostoria. How about it?"
Boone looked at the badge; he took it in his hand, and stared at it for a long while. "Well – if nothing else, it'll give me a reason to go out in the daylight."
The tac-com radio that Rafael wore crackled to life; sounds of gunfire came through loud and clear as Carolyn's voice sounded over the channel. "Vargas, we've got a couple of snipers up here – help would be appreciated!"
Boone's ears perked up. "Let's get Galena. She's really good for dealing with snipers and large groups of people."
The USMC lieutenant's eyebrows rose with curiosity. "Her crystal lenses can spot hiding places?"
"More like she can fire off giant crystal balls that blow up over the bad guys and shred the area with monofilament crystal shreds. Very nasty, even if they're hidden in buildings, under concrete or in light armor – and if they have a forcefield, each hit takes the power down a bit."
"You've had to do this before."
"Well, then, Marshall," Rafael said, accepting his service rifle from Kelly, who carried a Squad Automatic Weapon that fed from the huge ammunition canister she carried. "Let's go secure the area. You need a weapon?"
Boone smiled as a compound bow formed in his hands. "Not so much. Let's go protect some people."