It is day six of NaNoWriMo and I am already way behind, but I’m working on it. I thought I would share my progress as of last night, so here you have it:
It started with a boom. Somewhere off in the distance there was an explosion. I couldn’t see any smoke, but I was in the heart of downtown Delphi so I wouldn’t see much unless it was happening right in front of me. The massive skyscrapers of the world’s largest new metropolis provided a sense of security that bordered on oppression. Modern building codes made each one resemble a medieval fortress that reached toward the heavens, and their stability protected the people inside from the dangers of the modern world. I shrugged off the noise and continued my walk to the office.
My name is Peter West and I am a reporter for the Delphi Oracle. It’s a big paper with a readership in the millions, and that doesn’t even include the online readership. Synthetic paper revitalized the newspaper industry and paved the way for real news to make a comeback. Thirty years ago the only paper left was the New York Times, and it was a shadow of its former self. It had turned into a tabloid rag focused on the celebrities and oddities of the post-war era. No on wanted to read the news back then. Life was hard and being reminded of that was the last thing anyone wanted.
Of course I didn’t report any real news, but my business card still said I was a reporter. My beat, if you can call it that, was minor crimes. I spent a lot of time calling police stations and finding out how many purses were snatched that week or if the drunk tank was filled to capacity. I was lucky if something I wrote could be found amongst the other refuse buried at the back of the paper. Still, I was a staff writer so I brought home a paycheck even if nothing got printed.
Speaking of my paycheck, I was looking at the diminishing number of credits on my ID card when the second boom echoed through the maze of space between the buildings. “That sounded close,” I said to no one in particular as I looked in the direction of the noise.
A twenty-foot tall video screen stuck to the side of a building across the street flashed the call sign of Oracle One, the television arm of the paper, and it was quickly replaced by the grinning visage of Chuck Reed. I couldn’t help but flip the man my middle finger.
“Good morning, Delphites. I am Chuck Reed and I have a breaking news story for you.” The smile never left the man’s face ad his teeth were blinding on the over-sized screen. “Captain Supreme has interrupted the robbery of the Sewer Workers Credit Union on Fifth and Ontario by the Human Cannonball. If you’re in the area we recommend that you seek shelter immediately. The Human Cannonball is ranked twenty-fourth on the list of most destructive villains and ninety-eighth on the casualty list. This has been a breaking news update. I am Chuck Reed.” His grinning face was replaced by live images of the two Supers fighting it out.
I stood there watching the fight, counting the seconds that passed between the time the Human Cannonball would hit a building and the sound of the impact would reach my ears. By the third such hit the sound reached me in less than a second. A spray of rubble shot out from behind a nearby building and smashed a trio of cars on the street below.
I looked around and the streets were empty. Heavy blast doors were sliding into place all around me and I knew that my options for safety had dropped to almost non-existent.
“Crap. Oh crap. Oh crap.” I ran away from the sounds of destruction, too terrified to even turn my head to see just how close they were. More by instinct than any intention of self-preservation, I threw myself into an ally and scurried behind a long blue dumpster.
A deafening metallic screech was followed by an impact that knocked me flat and made the dumpster buck and leap about like a wild stallion. I rolled to the side, just managing to avoid being crushed by ten tons of garbage. Pulverized concrete peppered me like bird-shot and filled my nose and throat with fine powder. If I wasn’t choking and gagging while trying to catch a breath of clean air, I would have screamed in pain and terror.
Everything I ate for breakfast was forcibly ejected from my stomach as my body fought for breath. Despite the burning sensation in my throat and the briney taste in my mouth, it cleared away enough dust to allow some precious air into my lungs. I quickly pulled my shirt over my mouth, curled into a fetal position, and prayed.
When the dust settled, and I couldn’t hear the crash of two super powered juggernauts battling any longer, I sat up and looked about the alley. The dumpster was crumpled, smashed, and completely blocked off the exit. Every surface he could see was covered in a fine grey powder. Just the site of it made me want to sneeze, but I held it together in order to keep from knocking the dust into the air and sending me into another fit of gagging and coughing. I stood up but fell back to my knees before I could get all of the way up. I hadn’t noticed the way my ears were ringing or the fact that the ground seemed to be moving from side to side. I shook my head, trying to clear away the sudden fog that clouded my thoughts, but all I succeeded in doing was making myself sick again.
I wiped away the vomit and tried to stand again. I was a little more successful on the second try and managed to prop myself up against the wall rather than fall onto the ground. I yawned and swallowed in an attempt to clear the ringing from my ears, and it helped enough to let me hear the wail of sirens. There were still no sounds of fighting, even in the distance, so I looked for a way out of the alley.
A quick look around confirmed that the dumpster blocked one entrance and the other was blocked by a heavy loading bay door. The reinforced blast doors were still in place and it could be hours before they were opened up once more. It looked like the only way that I was going to get out was to climb over the dumpster and whatever debris was on the other side.
I climbed the misshapen rungs built into the side of the dumpster and lowered myself into the pungent rubbish inside. I probably should have thrown up again if my stomach hadn’t already been emptied twice. I waded through the filth and pulled myself out the other side only to find a twelve-foot tall boulder of concrete and steel.
I am not prone to fits of anger, and I rarely swear, but in that moment I let loose a string of expletives that would have done my drill-sergeant father proud. I picked up a chunk of concrete and threw it against the alley wall; then I grabbed a piece of rebar and struck the barrier to my freedom over and over until my arms ached with exertion and blisters formed on my hands. I dropped the metal rod and stared at the colossal grey lump. “Just move, would ya?” I muttered as I leaned my forehead against its rough surface.
The chunk of skyscraper started to shake and the movement was accompanied by the muted rat-a-tat-tat of a jackhammer. It took all of five minutes before I heard someone call out, “Fire in the hole!” I’m not a construction guy by any stretch of the imagination, but even I know that is the universal warning that something is about to explode, so I dove to the side, returned to my fetal position, and covered my head with my arms. A loud crack that sounded like a gunshot came first, and it was immediately followed by the much louder crash of thunder that was the concrete boulder splitting in two. Once again I was covered in dust and peppered with little fragments that bit into my skin, but this time a cool breeze filled with the smell of explosives flowed through the breech and I was saved the embarrassment of vomiting once again.
A man in dark coveralls wearing a reflective yellow vest and a battered hard hat stepped through the breach and looked around. He jumped back when I stood and said, “Holy shit, man. Are you okay? We didn’t know no one was back here.” He stepped up, grabbed me by the shoulder, and held me up. “You don’t look too bad, but we better get you to a doctor.” He pulled me toward the fissure in the boulder and called out. “Hey, Jimmy, grab a medic would ya?”
“You okay, Don?” called another voice from beyond the smoke and dust.
“I’m fine, but there was some guy hiding back here.” Don said. He shook my shoulder with every word as if to remind me that my presence was unwanted.
“No shit.” Don stepped between the pieces of building and dragged me with him. “He’ll be fine, but you know how it goes.”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said, “if we don’t call the doc and he dies, the company gets sued and we lose our jobs. Good call.”
Before I knew it Don passed me off to Jimmy who then passed me to another worker who took me to a bench beside a large recreational vehicle with the words Super Recovery stenciled across its side in bright yellow lettering. “Stay right here and the Doc will check ya out.” The nameless construction worker turned and left before I could even say thank you.
There were at least twenty men and women around me, and hundreds more were scattered about the street, but they all were busy and none of them was idle. I watched as they slowly broke down the debris that clogged the streets and carted off any wreckage left behind; even the boulder that had blocked my escape from the alley was in the process of being loaded into a machine that crushed the concrete and spit out the rebar. By my estimation the street would be cleared within another fifteen minutes.
“It’s really pretty impressive isn’t it,” said a tall, handsome man that approached me from out of a crowd of hard hatred men. “I’ve been with the company for ten years and I’m still amazed by how good they are.” He was taller than me, maybe six-foot-six, and he looked like he belonged in a cologne ad with his blonde hair that was just long enough to move when he walked and his clean shaven, square jaw that might well have been carved by an artist intent on capturing manliness in that one part of his face.
“I didn’t even know…” My voice trailed off as a pair of fifteen-foot tall exoskeleton marched past me. Each of them carried a wicked looking gun attached to a large backpack by a hose that was bigger around than my thigh.
“Oh, you need to watch this,” the handsome man said as he pointed toward the human-shaped machines. The two of them stopped beside one of the buildings that had suffered a particularly devastating amount of damage to its exterior, and planted their feet at shoulder width apart. They leveled their guns at the building and pulled the trigger. A dark grey, viscous fluid shot out from the barrels and coated the parts of the building that had been cratered by high-velocity impacts or sheered off from the vibrations. The material built up as each layer solidified within seconds and the pilots within the powered suits continued to pour it on until the damaged area were replaced by bulbous protrusions of the new material. The exoskeletons stepped back and a swarm of workmen scurried up the building and chiseled away at the protrusions until they had been flattened to the point of uniformity with the existing building. Another crew sprayed the area with a color blending epoxy that sealed the area and mimicked the color of the original structure.
“Incredible,” was all I managed to say as I stared in awe.
“Yeah.” The man grabbed my hand and shook it vigorously. “I’m Doctor Pierce and I understand you were out here during the ruckus.”
“Um, I guess so,” I said as I shook my head and winced. “I got locked out.”
“You’re lucky to be alive I guess,” Doctor Pierce said. “Most of the time when someone gets locked out and the Human Cannonball is on the loose there is not much left to do but clean up the smear left behind.”
I looked at the man and said, “You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t feel particularly lucky.”
“You’re only saying that because the adrenaline has worn off,” the Doctor said. “Later tonight you’ll be sitting on your couch and it will hit you.”
I snorted. “I doubt it.”
Doctor Pierce smiled. “Either way, I have to check you out before you’re allowed to go on your merry way.”
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