The Angel of Chicago
Part Fifteen: Detonations
They descended through the thick pour of concrete and steel into the cold, dank chamber. Domino's light did little to dispel the shadows in spite of the small space. There, in the center, on a stand, was the bomb.
"It's smaller than I was expecting," said Domino, sounding relieved.
"It's likely to be very dense, though," said Malak, who was having trouble fitting his wings in the confined volume. He sighed and changed to his base form. "There. Now. You place your hands - gently - on that end and I'll take this one."
* * *
Melody scowled at the document on her screen. Everything was spelled correctly and the grammar seemed fine, but she just wasn't satisfied with the flow of words. Maybe if she changed...
"You gotta come look at this," gasped Sam, without preamble, from the doorway to her office.
He was gone before she could ask questions. With an angry grumble she rose and hurried after him.
The breakroom on this floor had a 3V, an older model with a tank instead of a flat screen. The image could only be seen from the front. What it showed was confusing, which was not helped by one of the colors being out of adjustment, causing cyan ghosts at the left edges of things in the image. Obviously shot from the air, the view revealed some sort of walled installation.
Suddenly, she knew.
"It's the repository! What's going on?"
She got a confusing response, with people actually contradicting each other. Some said it was part of a reality show, a position supported by the fact that the best closeups were coming from a reality show helicopter. Others claimed it was a bunch of empowered assaulting a government compound, though there didn't seem to be much actual assaulting going on. In fact, the only damage seemed to be to one window in what looked like an airport control tower.
"That's the chemical repository," said Melody, above the babble in the room. "Where are all the personnel who are supposed to be there?"
"Someone said they were seen evacuating before the empowered got there," said Sam.
"That doesn't make sense! They're military, and charged with protecting the place! The only reason they'd just leave is if..."
Melody went cold, and silent. She had the dread feeling she was about to watch a bunch of people die. A very large bunch.
"Oh, there's the assault," said someone, sarcastically. "Crunch just showed up."
"Yeah, but did you see that? He just ran through an open gate and into the building."
"Maybe he's learning," said Sam, smirking.
* * *
"It's not working," said Domino.
She was covered in clammy sweat; the pit was cold and damp and neither of them was comfortable. She was already getting tired. They might also have been running low on oxygen in the cramped space.
"Alright, take a moment," said Aaron. "I'll angel-up and that will give me some extra push. Then we try again."
He had to fold his wings into a rather uncomfortable configuration, but Malak managed to fit.
"All right. Put your hands on that end. Now apply your power at a low level and synch with mine. Now, push!"
There was a moment of hesitation; then, finally, the bomb vanished.
"Good work!" said Malak, to the obviously exhausted woman. With the bomb gone he had more room to maneuver, and grabbed Domino's hands to help her. "Now, let's get out of here! Quickly!"
When they surfaced in the chamber they were mildly surprised to see Crunch and a few other newcomers also there.
"It's done," said Malak, tiredly. Domino just nodded.
"So that solves the problem, right?" said Crunch. He sounded a bit disappointed.
"I hope," said Malak.
"You hope?" said Blackpool, concerned.
"Phasing is not complete isolation. There are still some interactions with the physical world. I've done small bombs before and not even been able to detect an effect, but with this..."
"We'll know soon," said Pearl, pushing her glove up to pointedly check her watch.
"I suggest we all get upstairs. I also suggest anyone not resistant to damage of multiple types - including ionizing radiation - leave the compound."
Malak and a few others went all the way back to the control room. Eagle Eye looked up with surprise when they entered. Malak repeated his warning, but the visually enhanced empowered decided to stay.
"Two minutes," said Pearl, glancing at the console.
"Hah! You failed, didn't you?" said Major Grimes.
"That remains to be seen," said Blackpool, moving to a control panel.
"We need to get these soldiers out of here," said Malak.
"The tower is shielded against radiation," said Blackpool. "If the window hadn't been shot out that would include air filtration to protect from chemical leaks. Naturally, they used armor-piercing ammunition inside their armored room."
"Can we at least block the window, then?" said Malak, realizing there was no longer time for much more than that.
Given the abilities of those present, the broken window was quickly covered and sealed. The positive pressure ventilation system helped with that.
Malak looked out over the compound. Those empowered who were leaving - shepherded by Crunch, who seemed nervous about possibly getting radiation exposure - were making certain the few remaining base personnel out there also left. The control room became quiet. Except for the occasional moans of the prisoners, many of whom were still unconscious.
Malak glanced at Grimes, who was smiling smugly. That worried him. What were they overlooking? Was the bomb they had pushed aside a fake, with the real one buried even deeper? No, that didn't feel right. Yet this man was convinced they couldn't win. Maybe he was just delusional.
The counter reached zero. There was an odd sort of eerie flare of light, accompanied by a distant boom and a shudder. After several seconds of nothing more, those in the control room began to relax. Well, most of them.
"Nothing," said Grimes. His speech seemed slurred. He looked at them with bleary eyes. "All for nothing."
"Anyone sense anything?" said Malak.
"No," was the consensus.
"No sign of leakage, either," said Blackpool, checking the instruments. He gave a huge sigh of relief. "It worked."
"Wasted," said Grimes, eyes rolling back. "All wasted."
He began convulsing.
"What the Hell..." said Pearl.
She wasn't the only one alarmed. Were the chemical leak detection instruments wrong?
Malak moved in quickly.
He put his hands on the Major.
"I can heal the damage it's doing to him, but I can't remove the poison. If we can't get him prompt medical aid he'll die!"
"Would that be so bad?" said Eagle Eye, wistfully.
"They're all dying," said Blackpool, checking the other prisoners.
Malak, swearing, quickly checked them.
"Too late to try and bring it back up. They must have timed it to be lethal just after the explosion."
He gave a growl of aggravation, and began healing the half dozen other military men.
"I don't know how long I can keep this up. We have to get them proper medical care."
"On it," said Blackpool.
* * *
Back at the newspaper's break room, cheers broke out as it became obvious that the deadline had passed. Even if most weren't sure what it was a deadline for.
"Well, that's a relief," said Melody, as she and Sam wandered out. "Though I bet some people find a way to blame the empowered for... well, nothing happening."
She gave a nervous laugh.
"Actually, they were responsible, in a way," Sam pointed out. "Though, yeah, from what I know of the situation those nutjobs were just looking for an excuse."
"Well, I've got a deadline, so excuse me," said Melody, turning into her office as they reached the door.
* * *
"I thought you were persona non grata," said Malak, as Blackpool got off the radio.
"One of the things I learned in my investigations is that whatever enemies I have, my problems with the Agency are strictly internal," said the black-clad crime fighter. "They have't told anyone else - including other federal law enforcement agencies - that I'm wanted by them. Haven't even revoked my status as an operative of the Empowered Matters Agency. That's just one more clue that the people behind this are from a very small group. Who know they can't support their accusations if those not involved in the plot ask awkward questions."
His status stood him in good stead when military helicopters from the nearest Air National Guard base flew in. The fact that this complex was not on their maps or lists of secure facilities - not even as an otherwise undefined Do Not Fly zone - inclined them to accept his brief explanation. Helping this was the fact that a few of the empowered who had responded to the message to attack the base had local or regional law enforcement powers, or were simply known to be on the side of the angels. Not even including Malak in that evaluation.
As for those who had sent the notification for various empowered to gather and hunt down the chemical repository, that was a matter for another day.
The injured were promptly ferried to the closest civilian hospital. Malak had managed to keep all seven alive, but only by nearly exhausting himself. He just hoped the doctors would be able to help them. The type of poison they had taken was unknown; even Blackpool could find no sign of containers.
"All this, to win a war only they know about," said Malak, tiredly.
"There is no war, except in the minds of the paranoid," said Blackpool, sternly.
"Yes, but their numbers keep growing. They have enough influence in the press to misrepresent facts and activities in many publications and new programs. Once someone becomes convinced, the corrections in the remaining media outlets are either ignored or blamed on 'empowered dupes' or whatever."
"Surely you, of all people, aren't complaining about having to work long and hard," said Blackpool, making as close to a joke as he was likely to come.
"No. Of course not. It's just that there are so many other ways I could be using my abilities to help people."
* * *
Melody was glad to get home. She turned the key and pushed the door open. Her recent encounter with Blackpool meant that she did not just enter, but looked inside first. There were several men there, one of them waiting at the door. He lunged for Melody.
She kicked him in the shin and yanked the door closed. The key was still in the lock; she turned it, locking the deadbolt, yanked the key out and ran.
She hit the down button as she passed the elevator. At the end of the hall she shoved the door to the stairs open, then ducked into the laundry room and pushed the door closed as quietly as she could. She grabbed the knob with both hands and braced the door with her foot. Several sets of heavy footsteps went by, large men in a hurry. Then came a tell-tale ding. Melody waited for a moment, then yanked the door open and ran back towards the elevator.
The door was just opening. She ducked inside and hit the button for the ground floor. Someone still inside her apartment shouted, but the door closed before she could even see who it was.
On the ground floor she turned away from the front entrance and instead ran towards the manager's office.
"Mr. Harris, call the police..." she began, as she burst through his door.
More of those men were here; tall and broad shouldered and dressed in new suits which didn't seem to quite fit. Mr. Harris was on the floor, bleeding from a hole in his left temple.
Melody turned and fled, but literally ran into another one of the men. He didn't bother trying to be gentle, but hit her, hard, in the gut. Melody went down, retching. Two of them gathered her and dragged her towards the rear of the apartment building, losing her shoes in the process. She heard an odd sound, and realized it was a sudden burst of fire. Smoke was already starting to pour from the super's office as they turned a corner. She couldn't even shout a warning to the other residents.
Melody was dumped into a delivery truck at the rear loading dock. About half a dozen of those men jumped in, more hurrying to other cars as the rear doors of the truck closed. They began binding her as they drove away.
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