What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

For those who have a way with words.
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What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

"For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

-John Greenleaf Whittier, "Maud Muller"

The thread is meant to contain various short fiction pieces set in Neopaladin's "Sunstorm" setting (used with permission)- the actual game is over in the Gaming Room forum. The stories posted here will have only the most tangential contact with the main game (and almost all of that will be in the first story of this bunch)- events that occur in game may be noticed or referenced here, but mostly as "things seen on the news or online".

When the game was pitched, I had a lot of character ideas- which is not unusual for me. But in this case, they did not just fade into the background when the game started, resting comfortably in my build notebook. They continued to unearth themselves and roam about, like the unquiet dead.

So here I will be telling some of the untold stories from the changed world of the setting- characters that the actual protagonists of the game will never meet, scenes that take place off stage or behind the scenes. Some of these are one-post vignettes, others are part of longer arcs. At least initially, the stories will fall into two groups: one in the early days following the Sunstorm Event, roughly in line with the main game; others in a "One Year Later" setting, as people begin to adapt to the new world.

At least initially, the stories start as the game did, in Chicago. Some of them may travel, perhaps great distances- to Boston, for example... The primary characters, powered or not, are drawn mostly from two not-quite family groups, united by a common thread. A Rogues Gallery post, of sorts, will be going up in the Character Sheets forum sometime soon-ish- for reference, powered characters in the initial time period are generally PL7/135 or PL 8/120; during the "One Year Later" stories, they will typically be PL 8 or 9, but roughly 150pp either way.
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"Might Have Been: Notes and cast list

Post by pathfinderq1 »

>An ever-evolving list of writer's notes:
1. Posting is likely to be a bit slow and irregular
2. Each post will have a header telling people when it is set (Early Days or One Year Later, for example), who the main characters are, and whether it is a 'one-off' vignette or part of a larger arc. Some of the vignettes do involve main or recurring characters, but are not part of a specific plot arc- like the first piece, below.
3. I would strongly prefer to keep this thread for the stories only, and to keep reader or editorial comments to a minimum. If you absolutely must say something, please use PMs.

>Cast List (Powered): These people will get Rogues Gallery posts at some point
1. Grace
2. Flextime
3. Hope
4. Scamp

5. Homewrecker
6. Jackrabbit

7. "Peaches"

>Unpowered but important (these people may get plain text entries, either individually or as part of their respective groups- some of them, while not actually empowered by the Sunstorm, have certain unusual abilities which in M&M terms are classed as Powers, albeit minor mundane ones):
A. The Bulgarian Brothers (Bob and Al; any mention of them should automatically be heard with a wacky sitcom laugh cue, though they are, in fact, very Not Funny guys)
B. Viktor Nikolov (aka Vic, or simply V)
C. Keyanna Ortiz
D. Fred and Ethel

>One off characters (probably won't get fully statted up, but will likely have a brief description of why they are notable):
1. "Swims with the fishes" (It is Chicago, what else are we gonna call her?)
2. Starlight
3. "The girl at the zoo"
4. Airball (and Pig-Iron, borrowed)

(More to be added, as the stories unfold)
Last edited by pathfinderq1 on Sun Jun 04, 2023 3:54 pm, edited 7 times in total.
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

List of stories (Ever-updated)

1. Near Miss: Early Days, Grace (And associates); Vignette
(This takes place on the first day of the game thread, January 10th 2022, and is JUST BARELY off-stage from the main game plot. This is as close as any of these stories will come to the main characters, or the main plot)

2. Awakening: Early Days, Homewrecker and Jackrabbit; Vignette
(This actually takes place BEFORE the game thread, in the immediate aftermath of the Sunstorm Event itself, January 4th 2022)

3. Balance of Power: Later; Grace, Vic (And associates); Vignette
(This takes place about two months after the Sunstorm- mid-March 2022)

4. Flexing some muscles: Early days; Marki and Grace (and associates); Vignette
(This takes place on the first day of the game thread, January 10th 2022, before/during/just after the 'Near Miss' vignette above)

5. And now, the news: various times (short notes); Grace (and associates)
(A compilation of some short news clip from the Sunstorm age)

6. Arrival: About one month after the Sunstorm (Monday February 7th 2022, a few days after the FBI incident); Hope, Scamp

7. "A Day in the Sun": Somewhat later; no primary characters
(This is the introduction to the "framing Device" that links many of the vignettes together- it is background explanation, not a real story)

8. "How to Fail at Carjacking": Later, Homewrecker (guest appearance by Jackrabbit)
(This takes place about two months after the Sunstorm- early March 2022)

9. The Phantom of Logan Square (Part 1): February 11th, 2022; Marki Henderson/ Flextime (And Nemesis!)

10. Your Government Dollars At Work: Mid/late February 2022; no main characters (save a one-line appearance by Scamp)

11. "The Girl On The Train": Early/mid- February 2022; Grace (and associates), Catseye
(Not every Sunstormer was gifted with combat-ready abilities)

12. Dogfight: Mid/late February 2022; no main characters (Nemesis!); (This story takes place away from the "main game" location of Chicago, in rural Missouri)
(Some Sunstormers listened to Nemesis for a while, but shook off her influence- now they learn of the consequences)

13. The Tennessee Incident: Early March 2022; Peaches (and Presidential Task Force Alpha); (story takes place away from the "main game" location of Chicago, near Nashville TN)
-There is a famous Ronald Reagan quote: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

14. Around the World (Part 1): Mid-March 2022; A Special Guest; Southern Germany, near Feldberg (The game is set in Chicago, but the Sunstorm affected the entire world; and some people might exist, in similar forms, in a number of worlds.)

-Prom night
-Nine lives
-The Lincoln Park Zoo Incident
-City by the bay (takes place about 9 months after the Sunstorm- October 2022)
Last edited by pathfinderq1 on Mon Nov 27, 2023 2:20 am, edited 15 times in total.
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

Near Miss
(January 10th 2022; shortly after 10PM)
-Grace, Keyanna Ortiz; Game NPC Albert Jun (sort of- he is just lying around)
+Marki Henderson, Patrolman Jasper Harris, Bob the Bulgarian, Vic (Albeit very briefly)

It was just after 10 PM, barely three hours into their twelve hour shift- and this was already their second call. Abby Henderson, very much the 'junior partner' since she was still a probationary EMT, was behind the wheel. Keyanna Ortiz, a full paramedic (with two years experience here and four more in the military) got the easy spot, handling the radio- but when the show started she would be handling the "real work", so it all balanced out.

They had been sitting in a loading zone a few blocks from the comparatively bustling River North district, nursing some cold Starbucks coffee and not talking much. Abby had had a textbook open in her lap, propped up against the steering wheel, and Keyanna had one earbud in and her window open, despite the cold. When they were talking, it was small talk about sports or whatever was happening in their respective neighborhoods. They had been working together all of two days now, so they weren't really to the "sharing secrets" segment of their partnership- and the last two weeks or so had been pretty tough, both for each of them individually and for Emergency Services throughout the city of Chicago.

This whole Sunstorm thing- out on the street, it was all anybody wanted to talk about, it seemed. And the effects it had had, both on people and on the infrastructure, pretty much assured that it was going to be talked about, because it had screwed up SO MANY THINGS...

But not tonight. Not after what had happened on the plaza downtown this morning. The "Start of Shift" briefing had been, well, a mess. There was a short mention of what had happened, shorn of anything like emotion, and it had raised more questions than it answered- the police were taking charge, or maybe the Feds, but they were not giving a lot of details, even to other Emergency Services. What they HAD said, and the scuttlebutt from those coming off the day shift, had been brutal. And even with some of the stories about the so-called "Sunstormers", it was a little hard to believe, if you hadn't seen it. Someone creating flames out of thin air, people flying, some woman made of tar or something.

Abby was going to mine the internet when she got off shift in the morning. Keyanna was watching stuff on her phone, as long as the reception held up. But neither one of them was ready to talk about, not to someone they hardly knew, despite a basically comfortable partnership so far.

So when they did talk it was mostly sports, as safe a topic as anything. Abby, born and raised in Chicago, could barely care less about the sports scene, despite the Cubs hat she wore when she wasn't working- Keyanna, a relatively recent transplant from Boston, was fairly omnivorous in her sports fandom; she liked and followed nearly all the local teams (though she did have the good sense to prefer the Cubs over the White Sox).

>Abby already had the truck started and rolling before Keyanna was off the radio with dispatch- even in a fairly busy part of town there just wasn't as
much traffic as there would have been before the Sunstorm. Emergency lights and siren on, Abby headed for the scene, definitely not taking her time. Keyanna finished the radio call and started tying on the official laptop, beginning the paperwork that went with every call.

"GSW" was the magic word- there were a LOT of those in Chicago, but every one was deadly serious, especially one in this close to the Magnificent Mile. Mayor Lightfoot and Police Superintendant Brown had made that factor a priority, and EMS personnel, as employees of the city, were expected to toe the line.

Even if it hadn't been an official priority, though, they would have hurried anyway- Gunshots were no joke, and nobody went into an EMS job for fortune and glory; they wanted to help people.

Despite all of this, they were barely halfway there when a police cruiser swung in behind them, lights and siren blazing. Abby pushed a little harder on the gas and the ambulance sped up, abusing the nearly empty streets. They beat the cops to the scene by a whole two seconds- adding another one when Abby just drove the truck up onto the sidewalk, practically through the fence; the powerful headlights illuminated the darkened yard and would give them enough light to work. Keyanna was out and headed around to the back before the cops were out of their car- but the cops didn't need to unload a stretcher or response bags, so they made it into the yard first.

Both of the cops had their guns drawn- strictly speaking that was against policy, but in Chicago nobody really cared. They both swept the yard, flashlights and gun muzzles moving in well-practiced patterns- searching the darkened corners for a shooter or any other danger. Abby darted around to the back of the truck and caught the stretcher as Keyanna rolled it out. Even with the bags on top, it didn't seem nearly as heavy as it had in training- but that was probably just adrenaline...

Working together, they rolled the gear through the open gate and down the little walkway towards the door. The vic was lying in the little scrap of a backyard, flat on his back. As soon as they stepped through the gate, though, Abby felt something like alarm bells in her head. Something was VERY wrong here. She looked back at her partner, and saw a similar sudden frown of concern on Keyanna's face- but whatever it was, it didn't stop either one of them from moving. They set the stretcher on the walkway and each grabbed a bag, moving to bracket the poor dude on the ground- and that was the first thing that was wrong. He was lying flat on his back- not sprawled in sudden death, not curled around his wound in semi-conscious agony. And was that a scarf packed into the wound? Up close, the smell of fresh blood was almost overpowering, much worse than normal. But there were other smells here, stronger than she would expect, but nothing that she recognized...

"Somebody has been at this guy," Keyanna murmured- Abby heard her, but the police probably wouldn't. Abby nodded as she crouched down and they got to work. He was alive, but not by much- whoever the mystery helper was had done just enough... They settled into a swift routine, ignoring the police who were beginning to secure the scene around them...

Time passed, a few critical minutes, before they had the guy stable enough to transport and loaded onto the stretcher. Another pair of cops arrived, and one of them took some notes about the details that Abby and Keyanna managed to pull together- he slipped Abby a business card with his contact for follow-up later. Single GSW, in and out with the entry wound in the back, alive for now- they didn't mention the blood-drenched fabric, at least not now, though they did bag it with the rest of the victim's stuff, just in case...

Working together, they rolled the stretcher out through the gate, where one of the cops strung some crime scene tape as soon as they were through- then around to the back of the ambulance. They loaded him up, and Keyanna climbed into the back behind him so she could keep working while they headed for a hospital.

And all the while, throughout the whole process, Abby felt the faint tickle between her shoulderblades, as if someone were watching her work. Even so, no one else had come out of the house, or responded to the police banging on the door...

She backed the ambulance off the sidewalk, pausing for only a moment to maneuver around the police cars. There was a soft thump of impact, just as she was starting to pull away. She hadn't though she was THAT close to either of the cruisers, but whatever- not like the police and EMS were going to trade insurance cards. The engine growled as she rolled out- in the back she could hear Keyanna back on with dispatch, making sure the hospital knew everything that they did to be sure of a smooth hand-off. The victim was, after all, still in really bad shape.

In the space of a few minutes, the ambulance was pulling into the emergency bay of the hospital- Stroger ( https://cookcountyhealth.org/locations/ ... ok-county/ ) was the closest full-service emergency room, and as city EMTs they were not as tightly bound to one particular hospital system as some private ambulance companies were. Lights flashing, with light traffic in the streets, they were pulling in less than two minutes later. Elapsed time from scene departure to hand-off was less than five minutes- and the victim was still alive when the hospital personnel took over. Abby and Keyanna exchanged a triumphant fist-bump and walked back out to the truck- but not for long.

A few minutes later, with the ambulance parked more respectably, they trooped back into the hospital, checking in at the nurses' station to claim an unused waiting room. Then they settled down at a table, and started the hardest part of the job- the paperwork. Before the Sunstorm, it would have all been done on the city-supplied laptop assigned to their particular ambulance- but post-Event the city was covering their bases; one copy was on the laptop, and networked directly into the city recordkeeping hub, while an identical copy of each of the forms, an actual paper copy (to be filled out in black ink only- hand-engraved stone tablets were probably the next step) was completed by hand, just in case. As the senior team member, Keyanna got the laptop- Abby got to block print the matching information. They sat down across from one another, working mostly in silence, with one or the other repeating some details out loud so the information matched. Abby had the business card from one of the cops (a "Patrolman Jasper Harris"), as the official "Officer on Scene"- since this was a GSW, there would be a detective assigned to take over, but that was beyond their report threshold. After a brief debate, they did mention the scarf that had been pressed into the wound when they arrived, but made no judgement on how it had gotten there- the supervising detective could figure that out himself. If he needed it, it had been bagged separately and included with the victim's possessions.

A half-hour later, they made their way back out to the ambulance with a replacement stretcher and restocked response bags, stopping only briefly to check with the charge nurse- victim was still in surgery, and a detective was apparently assigned, waiting for a call when the victim woke up. As they climbed back into the truck, Abby sighed- her personal phone was still sitting on the center console, blinking with a "Message Waiting" alert.

Or rather, several messages- most of them from her little brother (and probably all about the same issue, whatever it was), one from Vic, one from Al (or maybe Bob- the Bulgarian brothers tended to treat the phones like communal property). Something was up, and probably nothing good, at nearly 11PM on a Monday night... Abby raised her phone and waggled it- Keyanna shook her head in a dramatic fashion, held up five fingers, and trudged back into the hospital to mooch some coffee from the nurses' station.

Abby, meanwhile, didn't even bother to listen to the messages- Vic and Al would both just be "Call your brother, okay". Settling into the driver's seat of the ambulance, she called her brother. "Hey Marki, what's up? Is it Mom?"
Last edited by pathfinderq1 on Thu Oct 27, 2022 3:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

This vignette takes place in the Chicago area, right around the actual Sunstorm event. Despite the small percentage of the world's population who experienced the Sunstorm coma and some degree of change, there were apparently a number of instances where the random effect happened in clusters, to people who were closely linked- this idea will also recur later...

(January1st 2022-January 4th 2022)
>Homewrecker, Jackrabbit

>(January 1, 2022; about 5PM CST/ 3PM PST)

'There! It. Is. Done,' Heather Cavanaugh thought to herself with a bit of a mental sigh as she finished wrapping the box containing the artificial Christmas tree with a final round of duct tape. The other boxes, containing the old familiar ornaments, were already stowed in the closet upstairs- they were just going to have to shift them a bit to make room for the boxed-up tree. Usually, the family used to get a real tree every year, and they decorated it (and took it down) as a group, together. They USED to...

This year, it was all the remaining two of them could do just to get a cheap artificial tree, the last one WalMart had left, and to put on their own favorite ornaments. At least this year they had some kind of tree, not like last year...

Taylor collapsed dramatically onto the couch, as only a seventeen-year-old girl could do, but the groan she left out sounded like real pain. Heather turned towards her daughter with sudden concern, and Taylor shifted a bit, looking back with wide eyes. "Ugh, Mom, I feel like crud all of a sudden," she moaned softly.

Except it wasn't that sudden, she had been feeling off all day- it was just getting worse, mild discomfort and fatigue had taken on a tinge of fever-heat, and it had been a sudden pang of dizziness (standing up too fast from helping box the tree?) that had dropped her to the couch.

Heather moved over to place a hand against her daughter's forehead, wincing just a bit- she wasn't feeling too well herself. "You're burning hot, honey. We're all done out here for now, why don't you go lay down? I'll get you a cool cloth and some Tylenol," she said, with a soft sigh. "Jesus, I hope your damn cousins didn't give us COVID..." The Christmas party had been a risk, but they were (supposedly) all vaccinated, and Heather and Taylor had just dropped in for a quick exchange of presents, instead of staying for the whole extended family dinner extravaganza, no matter how much their hosts had pretended to want them to. It was a dance of misery and formality- Heather knew the extended Cavanaugh clan had invited the two of them more out of duty than honest affection. They were her husband's family, after all- or they had been, back when she had a husband... She closed her eyes briefly, shutting down the unexpected tears with a flex of steely willpower.

"Come on, I'll help," she said softly, helping her daughter up off the couch. Once she was on her feet, Taylor started to stagger down the hall and up the stairs- Heather trailed along behind her, just in case. She paused halfway up the stairs, feeling a momentary pang of dizziness herself. Ahead of her, Taylor made it to her room and collapsed onto her bed, not even bothering to change into sleepwear (or even crawl under the covers).

Heather ducked into the bathroom long enough to collect a cup of water, a few Tylenol, and a washcloth wet with cool water. She coaxed Taylor half-awake, long enough to down the Tylenol and some of the water, leaving the half-full glass on the bedside table, then wrestled a blanket over her and draped the cool washcloth across her forehead. But even those simple tasks were nearly exhausting- after few moments Heather dragged herself away from her daughter's bedside. She paused in the doorway, looking back for just a minute. "I'll check in on you in a couple of hours, honey. You just rest..." Taylor murmured some kind of vague response and shifted under the blanket, already more than half asleep...

Heather eased the door shut and drifted own to the other end of the hallway, towards the master bedroom. She wasn't feeling well herself- worse by the minute, in fact. Maybe she ought to lie down for a while, just an hour or two- that would be enough to scrape together some dinner. The mere thought of dinner, though, brought a sudden wave of nausea and she barely made it to her own bathroom in time.

A few minutes later, finished and cleaned off, she stared into the bathroom mirror- she stuck out her tongue at her reflection, then made joking flex of her arms. And then she dragged herself back into her bedroom and the now-far-too-large (and empty) bed. With a sigh, she stripped out of her clothing and into a nightshirt and crawled under the covers. Just for a little while, a couple of hours...

>January 4th, 2022:

Heather woke up suddenly, sharply, with the vague disorientation that often accompanied such a sudden change. The room was dark, lights off and curtains drawn (though she remembered doing neither of those things), and it took her a few moments to untangle the covers and reach for her phone on the bedside table. She gazed at the time for a second- how long had she been out?

The time was nearly what she remembered- had it been only minutes? Then she blinked and looked the date. Tuesday? How the hell was it Tuesday? It couldn't have been THREE DAYS... She sat up abruptly, and dragged herself all the way out of the blankets. The house was cold, the air against her skin a sudden chill. "Taylor?," she managed to croak.

Almost before she realized it, Heather was standing by her daughter's bedside- though she didn't remember walking down the hall or opening the bedroom door. Taylor's phone and the glass of water, still half full, were on the bedside table, but she was just starting to wake up, as groggy as her mother had been moments before. But she was young, she woke up faster... "Mom, what is it? What's wrong?," she said quietly- she slurred the first word or two, but her voice was clear by the end of her query.

"Honey, are you okay? Check your phone- I think we were out longer than I wanted. Mine says it was three days- I can't believe that..." Heather's voice was calm and steady- much calmer than she felt, certainly. "I'm going downstairs to check on some things, now that I know you are okay..." Part of being a mom, after all, was the ability to remain calm, no matter what- or at least the ability to SEEM calm...

Behind her, Heather could hear her daughter struggling out of the blankets and fumbling for her phone- she kept walking as Taylor worked her way up to being fully awake. The stairway was dark as well, but it was familiar enough that Heather was able to make her way downstairs without falling. Still in just her nightshirt, she worked her way into the living room and looked out the front window towards the street.

It wasn't just her house that was dark- it seemed to be the whole street, maybe the whole neighborhood... A few houses had lights on inside, mostly neighbors that she knew had generators, but most of the street was dark. If it really was just past 5PM in January, it was about a half hour past sunset, so it wasn't any darker than she would expect. Had there been a storm that had knocked out the power? There wasn't much snow on the ground, but Chicago wasn't called the Windy CIty for nothing...

And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Taylor was standing right beside her, looking out at the darkened street with wide eyes. "This is SO weird, mom," she breathed quietly. She held up her phone so her mother could see the screen- sure enough, it read "January 4, 2022, 5:04 PM" One flick of her finger displayed a list of missed calls and messages- there was quite an extensive record, but far fewer than Heather would have expected, knowing how socially active her daughter tended to be. Another flick, and there was one of the local news websites...

"Massive solar flare causes chaos worldwide!" read a banner across the top of the webpage. Heather felt another brief moment of disorientation, and snatched the phone. She looked quickly at a few of the articles- the phone hung once or twice, like the connection wasn't entirely stable, but what she did see was upsetting and confusing. "I'm going to get dressed, and go get the generator started," she said after a few minutes, handing Taylor her phone. Her daughter had been all but frozen, looking out at the street- the few lights that were on, the one (and only one, over the course of several minutes) car passing by slowly. For just a moment, Heather thought she saw a dark-clad figure (a woman, in black?) just at the edge of her vision, but when she looked back, the figure was gone...

As Heather turned to head back upstairs, her daughter reached out one hand, catching her shoulder. "Mom, we shouldn't let anybody know we were out like that. I don't know WHY, but I think it will be important." Her voice was quiet, barely above a whisper, but it was steady and confident.

Heather paused, thought about that for a moment. "We can say we were out at the cottage, we got stuck out there- you know how easy that road gets blocked. All this Christmas and New Years stuff, it was too much for us too soon and we needed to go someplace quiet, just get away. We just got back, that's why I'm only starting the generator now. How does that sound?"

Taylor nodded after a moment. "That sounds good- I think it will work. I'm going to touch base with Marki, Steph, Caillie, the rest of the pod- I'll just tell them we're back..."

Heather made her way to the kitchen and grabbed one of their emergency flashlights, then headed back upstairs. A few minutes later she was dressed, at least well enough to go out to the garage- like some of their neighbors, the Cavanaughs had a generator; with Arthur's background in construction and contracting he believed in being prepared for the random weather chaos that could occur in ChicagoLand... And the Bulgarian Brothers had gotten them a very good generator, as a part of their "business relationship" with Cavanaugh Properties...

Heather headed out the back door, and across the backyard, which was thankfully mostly bare of snow cover- whatever had happened had not included a snowstorm. The generator was in a smaller shed attached to the garage, built so it could have proper ventilation while it was running- the fuel tank itself was inside the garage to protect it from Chicago winters... At her first try, the generator coughed and spat, but didn't catch- the second try was better, but it still didn't stay on. With a mumbled series of curses, Heather stepped into the garage and thumped one hand onto the large metal gas tank- it sounded like there was fuel in there. She thumped the tank again, a little harder- and somehow, much harder than she had intended. The side of the tank boomed loudly- and was that a dent in it now? What the...

Heather looked more closely at the steel tank- it WAS dented, ever so slightly. She looked down at her hand, then rubbed it carefully- it first it felt harder, stiffer, almost like the steel of the tank itself, but it loosened quickly as she rubbed it; maybe a cramp or something? The tank had probably been dented for a while and she had just never noticed it...

She shook her head, then headed back outside. This time the generator caught, running ragged for a brief moment before it grew to a steady growl. It wasn't enough to power everything in the house, but it would keep up with their basic needs. She trudged back inside, flicking on the kitchen light with a wry grin. Taylor was sitting on the couch, just finishing a phone call. "Mom, you won't believe this- that solar flare thing, it happened All Over The World. There are power outages, all kinds of just crazy shi.. stuff. I didn't get Marki, so I dropped them a text, but Steph has has been home through all of this- all the power was out for a while, like everywhere, but it is on at least some of the time now, and it is getting better. They, like, called out the National Guard and everything, but communication still sucks- phone, internet, everything is all wonky and unreliable. Nobody knows what happened, so all the conspiracy junkies are saying all kinds of stuff..." She paused briefly, looking at her mother more directly. "And you know what else? We weren't the only ones who were out of it. Steph says it has been on the news, all over social media- people talking about some friend or relative who is, like, asleep or passed out or something and won't wake up. And everybody who is like that, like we were I think- it all happened at almost exactly the same time, and just while I was talking with her, she was saying that now the news is starting to talk about those people waking up, all of a sudden, like nothing was wrong with them at all. Right about the same time WE were waking up. This is really weird mom, and it feels like it is really important and whatever it was it, it happened to US. I'm kinda scared..."

Heather stepped over to the couch, dropping down to sit beside her daughter before she wrapped her in hug. "It's okay honey. We'll be all right, it will all work out. And whatever it was that happened, we're in it somehow. But we're in it together..."
Last edited by pathfinderq1 on Thu Oct 27, 2022 3:44 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

Balance of Power
-Mid March 2022 (just over two months post- Sunstorm)
-Grace, Flextime (Marki), Vic
(+"Airball", "Pig-Iron", Scamp; one Bulgarian brother, Dougie)

“You want me to do what, Vic? Tonight, really?” Abby held the phone away from her head for just a moment and stared at the ceiling in exasperation. “You know how tough it is for me to get a night off?”

“Is just little errand, half hour, no more. I promise. Dougie screwed up schedule, and we have to do one last little delivery. If I pick you up now, we do it, then go on with our night out- if I try to do this first, then come back for you, we’ll miss our reservation. I’m not asking you to help roll barrels- you can stay in van and read book...” As usual, Vic was leaning heavily on his Slavic accent, pulling the “simple peasant” routine the way he did when he wanted to be endearing.

“Fine, fine,” Abby replied with a sigh. “Pick me up in ten minutes- but you have to actually come in and get me, no sitting out in the van honking the horn, okay?”

Almost on cue, nine minutes and thirty seconds later, a battered black van pulled up to the curb in front of her house- Abby was watching carefully from her second-floor bedroom window. She turned away as soon as she saw Vic get out and start up the short walk to the front porch- she used the time to take one last look in the mirror, checking some details even though she had already checked them a half-dozen times, with a very uncharacteristic degree of vanity.

She heard two heavy knocks on the downstairs door- Vic was never one to press a doorbell when he could hit something instead. Smiling already, she stepped out of her room and headed for the stairs.

>Vic stood in front of the door, shifting from foot to foot, more from restless energy than nervousness. The door swung open far more quickly than he was expecting, but it wasn’t Abby who opened it, it was her brother Mark, three years younger and a high school junior…

And looking very very different from the last time Vic had seen him. Mark, or rather Marki as he insisted upon being called now, was a little below average height with a slender build- and currently dressed as if headed out for a run- sneakers, full-length tights under close-fitted shorts, and a hooded windbreaker. None of that was unusual- or what drew Vic’s attention. It was Marki’s face, pale and narrow as always, but now sporting long dark eyelashes, just a hint of blush, and very clearly defined make-up around the eyes- it was an awful lot of make-up for a Catholic school boy, and there was a broad rainbow ribbon spiraling up one leg of the running tights…

“Hey, Vic!,” Marki said, grinning broadly as they opened the door. “Abby is upstairs screwing around- she should be right down. You can come in and wait- I gotta go get my miles in before dinner.” Like Abby, Marki was on the track and cross-country teams at Holy Trinity, focusing on middle-distance running.

“Yeah, sure kid,” Vic replied with a somewhat puzzled grin, but Marki had already bounced out the door and down the front steps. Vic stepped just inside, not bothering to close the door- it wasn’t that cold out, and he really hoped he wasn’t going to be there long. Indeed, almost immediately he heard a soft sound at the top of the stairs...

He turned to look, and his eyes widened. Abby was kind of a tomboy, always had been- prone to jeans and combat boots, or more recently medical scrubs almost as a second skin. She didn’t “Dress up” very often. But tonight, after all, was special. She stood at the top of the stairs, just for a moment, obviously savoring the reaction her appearance had caused…

She wore a long black skirt decorated with embroidered yellow roses, and she had exchanged her preferred combat boots for dress boots with three-inch heels. She had a white ruffled blouse under a short, close-fitted black jacket. And on top of her head was a small white headpiece with bright red cross- a classically stereotyped nurse’s hat. She twirled in place once and started down the stairs, moving with exceptional grace given that the last time she had worn heels like that had been three years ago for their junior prom; but her workouts at the dojo were just paying off- it wasn’t like she was suddenly super-agile or something. From the third step, she launched herself, letting Vic catch her in a fierce embrace. “You did it, you really did it- you passed, I knew you would,” he said quietly to her as they held on to one another. “I did, I passed- I got the results this morning.” There hadn’t really been much doubt about it- she had been working towards her Nurse’s license for a while, and the NCLEX-PN exam had been the final step for that; it had originally been scheduled for May, but she had wrapped up her coursework early and managed to get an exam slot. Since the Event, what the media was still calling the Sunstorm more than three months later, she had been more focused, more on top of things despite her increased workload, and even the toughest material didn’t seem quite as difficult as it had before. That just proved the value of hard work and a steady diet of practical experience- it wasn’t like she was suddenly super-smart or something…

After a few moments they broke their embrace, and Vic lowered her to the ground. “Get back up those steps for a minute, let me look at you some more. This is way better than medical scrubs and crocs...” Abby obliged, moving a few steps up and taking another moment to preen- she didn’t usually show off like this, but every once in a while it felt good to be appreciated.

Vic eyed her again, his smile still wide, almost intoxicated. ”You look really good, you know. I mean, way different, but good. Maybe the make-up- not used to you wearing that much...”

“Yeah, Marki helped. Turned out he… they have a talent for it.”

“I saw that,” Vic said quietly, giving a quick glance back towards the front door. “You okay with that?”

“Not my call,” Abby replied, with perhaps a touch of sadness. “I’m Sister, nor Mother. They’re having a really hard time, with the pandemic, then Dad, then, you know, all this Sunstorm craziness. If that is how they’re gonna cope, so be it. Is it worse than the way I’ve been throwing myself into work, no days off, no time for my friends? Not gonna judge- I mean, keeps them from shooting up a school, right?” She gave a soft bitter laugh. “And if anybody, I mean ANYBODY does give them grief about it, that somebody is going to the hospital. I can drive them there myself, right?” She gave Vic a level direct stare for a moment, letting him drop his eyes first.

“I get it,” he said firmly. “You know I got your back. Marki’s like my own kid brother too. Or wait, is it still brother?”

Abby shook her head. “Sibling, or just ‘sib’, you know, gender-neutral designation. You don’t know this stuff? What, did you go Catholic school or something?” She gave a quick breath of laughter, then nodded towards the door. “And, I mean, they’re still interested in girls, if that is what is worrying you. Spends almost all their time with Taylor, from down the block. They’re going to prom together- but I’m pretty sure the two of them are fighting over who gets to wear the dress...”

“Taylor… Taylor Cavanaugh, that little redhead with all the sass, was varsity track when she was a freshman?,” Vic shook his head wearily. “They grow up so fast...”

“You know an awful lot about this girl, V. Should I be worried?,” Abby said, grinning lightly so he knew she was joking.

“Nah, you know… Her mom hired the Brothers to do some maintenance on some of her properties after she sold out of her real estate biz. Maybe worry about the mom- definitely some cougar vibes there...” Vic smiled broadly. “I can see it, kinda. You know she lost her dad too, and her little sister, right back when the COVID thing was starting up, maybe that’s helping them bond or something...”

Abby closed her eyes, and sighed. The loss of her own father was still a raw wound, even with all the other tumult in the world. After a moment, she forced a smile and a soft chuckle. “We probably ought to get going, before Dougie steals the van or something.”

“Yeah, let’s go,” Vic said, with an even broader smile, as he turned to walk back down the hallway towards the door. He held the front door for her, then let her check that it was locked before they started down the walkway from the porch to the street. It was, after all, spring in Chicago- the tiny scrap of yard was clear of snow, but was still more mud than grass, and Abby stepped carefully in her unfamiliar heels. Outside the front gate, Vic stepped over to open the door of the van, letting her sweep the long skirt inside before he closed the door. Then he walked around the back of the van, pausing to bang heavily on the back doors. “Behave yourself in there Dougie, there’s a Lady present...”

“What? You been here all along...” A muffled voice droned from the cargo compartment, punctuated by a peal of laughter- which made Vic bang on the side of the van, hard enough to draw a boom from the sheet metal. Then he climbed up into the driver’s seat and pulled away from the sidewalk- the trip from Logan Square to down to the South Side could take a while, and he wanted to get this task done…

Traffic was light- between the pandemic and the Sunstorm, the streets were nowhere near as busy as they had been in the Before Times. Before they were even out of the neighborhood, Dougie had slid open the panel between the cargo compartment and the front seats, and he started right in the middle of a conversation he had apparently been having with Vic. He barely even glanced at Abby and she, in turn, did not even bother to look at him at all.

“I mean, like I was telling you… You gotta believe me, this guy that I know, he works for the government, he really knows what he is talking about. He has had to arrest a couple of these Freaks, these Sunstormers...” He added a pair of air quotes around the last word, and didn’t seem to notice when Abby turned her head sharply at what he had said.

“It was in the vaccine, I mean, I’m telling you it is true. The nano-particles in the vaccine, that were gonna link everybody into the 5-G network so they could track them. Well, the Chinese developed this tech in the first place for their own internal surveillance program, and they didn’t want OUR government to take control of the system, so they tried this electronic pulse thing from one of their spy satellites. But because Bill Gates had tweaked the whole system when he was adapting it for the vaccine delivery, it didn’t work the way they planned. Instead of shutting the whole thing down, it went haywire, and then all of a sudden, you know, Kablooie! Now we’ve got all these nano-bot mutants running around...”

Abby had had enough of this. “You had to listen to this foolishness all day, Vic?,” she said, her voice not loud but very sharp.

Vic shook his head. “Yeah, do you believe this guy? I keep trying to tell him it’s crap, but...”

“No, man, it’s true. I keep...”

Abby reached across the seat and slapped him, rather gently, across the forehead- just hard enough to make him flinch and to break off the flow of his speech. “Dougie, because you are Vic’s friend, and because Bob and Al let you work for them, I will tell you this nicely- once and only once. Everything you just said is a bunch of BS- none of it is true, or even close to true. You know what I do, right? You know I work for the city, I’m an EMT? And a nurse when I’m not doing the EMT thing? First off, we get shift briefings every damn day, and you know the one thing that they tell us very clearly, EVERY SINGLE DAY, is that nobody knows what caused the whole Sunstorm incident, or all these changes, these powers. Nobody, not Bill Gates, not the Chinese, not the president, sure as hell not the former president- Nobody. The only thing they do know is that nothing human did this- and despite all the work they’re doing, we might never know...”

“But this guy I know said...”

“Dougie, shut the F up,” both Abby and Vic barked in startling unison, sharply enough to make Dougie flinch just as effectively as Abby’s earlier slap.

“And on top of that, it isn’t in the vaccine- and vaccines don’t work like that, they just don’t. But the Sunstorm incident sparked people, sparked powers, all over the world- even places that used different vaccines, or didn’t distribute any vaccines at all. And the people that have displayed abilities, the ones we know about anyway- they have no commonality in terms of vaccination status. They are just people, chosen pretty much out of a hat at random- both for whether they got powers, and for what those powers are,” Abby paused briefly and took a deep breath. “I mean, how many of these people, these Sunstormers, have you met in person, how many of them do you actually know? Not something you heard from somebody or other, not something you read about? If you ever read anything, that is… Not somebody’s wacky Tiktok showing their new powers. I’m an EMT, right? I’ve had to take some of these people in, because somebody beat them up, or stabbed them, just because they had powers- back in January we brought in some guy who was shot in the back while he was taking out the trash in his own back yard- not flying through the air or shooting lightning, or anything like that. And this load of BS that you were spouting, that is why these people, just normal people who never did anything, never wanted this… That is why they’re getting beaten, or stabbed, or shot, or killed by idiots who are afraid of this because they don’t understand it. And as long as people keeping saying this stuff, and other people keep listening, this is going to keep happening. People, innocent people, are going to keep getting hurt, keep dying. And people like me, like the paramedic I work with, the police, the firefighters, the doctors and nurses- we are going to have to help these people, to treat them. And to bury them.”

She paused again, slowing down and speaking more softly. “It isn’t like Chicago didn’t have enough violence already, before the Sunstorm- and the old shootings and stabbings haven’t gone away. We just have all this other stuff on top of that- and we don’t need it. Nobody needs to hate these people, or to be afraid of them just because they suddenly qualify to join the X-Men or the Justice League or something. We can hate or fear the ones who use their powers for violence- but that isn’t different than hating some incel douche-bro who took an AR-15 to a school or church or something. It isn’t the powers that turn them into scumbags...”

She closed her eyes and sighed. “And not all of them are people you would recognize as powered, either, you know that right? Not everybody looks like Khemis, that woman you’ve probably seen on the news. Most of them look normal, or almost normal- one girl that got beaten half to death just had these weird eyes, like a cat. And that means you could be saying this in a bar or something- and you could be spouting that BS right in the face of somebody who could fry your brain like a burrito...”

“Yeah, but...” Dougie’s voice was quieter, weaker. And with another sigh of her own, Abby leaned over and casually shoved him back out of the driver’s compartment and slid the dividing panel closed. Vic looked at her briefly, but kept driving. The rest of the trip passed in something like silence, but Abby leaned over and rested her head on Vic’s shoulder, careful not to interfere with his driving…

Twenty or so minutes later, the van pulled into a cluster of warehouses in the southern part of the city- Abby had never been here before, but she got the sense they were in Archer Heights, or somewhere nearby- somewhere near one of the freight train yards. Abby lifted her head off of Vic’s shoulder, and the two of them scanned the area- which seemed almost suspiciously deserted for the this time of day, not quite sunset… After a few minutes of mostly aimless circling, Vic spotted something he had been looking for and spun the wheel, turning the van down a wide alley between two storage buildings, low structures of corrugated steel with a seemingly endless series of unremarkable doors. He pulled to a stop and banged on the panel that walled off the cargo section. “All right Dougie, we’re here. Hop out and make sure they’ve got what we want before we hand over the load...” Dougie didn’t say anything, but they heard the back doors creak open, then slam shut again.

Abby turned to Vic, so she could see his face clearly. “Nothing illegal, right? I mean, I know the Brothers do some shady stuff, but I work for the city now, and I don’t want to see anything, be part of anything, that would, you know, be a problem...”

Vic shook his head, matching Abby’s gaze calmly. “No, nothing actually illegal- definitely rare, a little shady. They keep saying they don’t want me on anything really illegal- they just laugh, and say they’ve got other guys for the really criminal stuff, but I’m family, so they want me to stay clean...”

Whatever else he had been planning on saying was lost in a loud clap of sound- a sharp metallic bang. It could have been a baseball bat striking one of the metal roll-up doors- or a gunshot. Abby and Vic both swore sharply and turned to the sound- but only silence followed it. Vic reached for his door handle, and passed Abby a cellphone- not a smartphone, just a cheap flip-phone. “Gotta go check- can’t just leave him. I give a shout, or don’t come out, call the Brothers, tell them something went wrong- then get out of here...”

“You know I won’t leave you Vic. You’ve got my back, and I’ve got yours- always...” Abby spoke calmly, and her gaze was level.

Vic shook his head. “I know you’ve got my back, but like you said, you can’t get into something like this.”

Abby held up one hand. “I won’t do it for Dougie, I won’t do it for the Brothers, even. But I’d do it for you, and you know it. Now get in there and find out what happened- Hell, probably just Dougie screwing around, right?”

Vic held up one hand, a pacifying gesture. “Be right back,” He said as he slid out of the van and moved towards the door where Dougie had gone in. Abby turned to look out the window on her side, watching him through the mirror. She held his phone ready in her hand- but just in case, she reached up and slid the little “nurse” hat off of her head, placing it on the dashboard. Time for celebration later- this was work. She felt a bit of tension, like she felt when she was responding to a shooting as an EMT- was the fight still happening? Were they going to get shot at? She watched Vic stride over to the battered metal door and thump on it with one good-sized fist, and even with the window closed she could hear him call out. He cocked his head, listening to something she couldn’t quite hear- then he reached for the door handle, pulled the door open, and stepped inside.

There were raised voices, and she pushed her door halfway open. “Come on guys, we don’t want trouble,” she heard Vic say- it was loud, but he still sounded pretty calm. Another voice, unfamiliar barked in return. “He dissed us- we won’t take that from no delivery boy!”

Knowing Vic as well as she did, Abby could almost see him shake his head, raise one hand in a pacifying gesture. “He’s a little punk, it isn’t just you- and he didn’t mean anything. I mean, we just had to slap him around on the way here, he just would not shut up with some stupid conspiracy BS…"

“WE? You got somebody else with you?,” the other voice was louder now, more strident.

“Nobody who is a problem, not like this guy. Just let me drag him out of here, let’s do our business, and I’ll tell my boss how he screwed up...” Vic still sounded calm, but Abby knew him- he was getting cranky.

“Nah, I think we’re gonna see who else you got with you. Open that door up!”

Abby just had time to raise the phone- one of the Brothers picked up almost instantly; she couldn’t tell if it was Al or Bob. “Vic says he’s got trouble, last delivery location,” Abby said quietly before she dropped the phone on the console and stepped out of the van.

The corrugated steel roll-up door rattled open- Vic was right beside the door, with an unfamiliar man beside him. The unit was only dimly lit, but Abby could see clearly, could recognize Dougie lying on the floor with a man standing on either side of him- and someone else near the back of the unit, beside a small jumble of equipment and a few folding chairs. Even worse, the men bracketing Dougie were both armed with long guns, some AK-47 variants- the choice of urban criminals all over the world…

Abby stood calmly, balanced and ready- not threatening, but displaying no fear. “That’s it. Some chick- that’s your backup...” The man near the back of the room was the one who had been talking- he finished his words with a bark of laughter, which was NOT echoed by his companions.

Abby eyed them warily, noting details of description but also of stance, readiness…

“Yeah, that’s it man,” Vic replied, still (mostly) calm. “See, I told you, no threat, no problem. Can we do our business, still come out like professionals?” The two gunmen looked back to the guy who had been speaking, obviously the man in charge- but the guy by the door was still looking at Abby, and she didn’t like the expression on his face. Without even realizing she was doing it, she shifted her stance slightly- moving to compensate for the skirt and the heels, which would alter her movements in ways she had never practiced.

“What are you thinking, boss?,” the man beside Vic called back to his apparent leader. The man at the back paused, obviously thinking things over. After a moment, he shook his head, almost sadly. “I’m thinking there’s four of us, one maybe one and a half of them. We got guns and they don’t- plus we got your surprise, and MY surprise. I think maybe we take the goods, keep the payment, maybe keep the van, whatever else they got...”

Vic sighed, shook his head. “ Why do you have to be like that, man? The Brothers aren’t gonna like that, and they are gonna express some displeasure to your boss...” He still didn’t seem to be afraid- but Abby knew he was too stubborn to scare easy.

“You heard the man- time to shut up and take it,” the man who had been standing near Vic stepped backwards out of fist-swinging range, his smile growing a bit manic. He raised his hands, holding them open about two feet apart- and the air around them began to glow and shimmer…

Vic had just enough time to shake his head, more resigned and weary than frightened- there was a loud metallic bang, again very much like a gunshot. The shimmering bubble of air shot forward and hit him high in the chest, throwing him backwards. While Dougie had hit the door and stopped, Vic had no such luck- he flew nearly out to the van, skidding and sliding a few feet after he landed. He moaned, but didn’t move…

The guy at the back of the group laughed softly. “See, surprises, like I said...” Abby’s eyes widened, just a bit, but she didn’t say anything. She did shift her stance a bit more- this time deliberately, and she didn’t much care whether her possible opponents noticed.

“Go on, get his wallet, keys, phone,” the leader of the group said, motioning one of the gunmen forward. “Let’s load up OUR new van and get out of here.” The Sunstormer kept his gaze focused on Abby, and his hands raised- he wasn’t done yet…

“You guys can still walk away from this,” Abby said calmly. “I don’t really care about him,” she added, nodding towards Dougie, "but I DO care about him.” she gestured towards Vic, who was starting to twitch a bit- he was pretty tough… “So please, walk away, while you can still walk...”

“Girl, you just don’t get it. Ty-Rock didn’t send a bunch of punks. We won, and we’re gonna do what we want,” the leader spoke calmly.

“Yeah, whatever we want,” the Sunstormer added, the air around his hands starting to shimmer again.

“I see you’ve made your decision, now let’s see you enforce it,” Abby quoted with a sigh, raising her own hands into a ready stance. Sadly, none of her opponents seemed to recognize the line- no appreciation for the classics.

The Sunstormer growled, and unleashed another blast of whatever energy he was generating- and missed, as Abby moved sideways, towards the gunman who had begun to step forward at his leader’s orders. In the blink of an eye, Abby was right next to him, too close for him to bring his AK to bear. Without even realizing she had done it, she noted his stance, the speed of his motion, the distribution of his weight- she struck once, right at the joint of his shoulder and neck, just as he started to turn his head towards her. Instead of the meaty thump everyone had been expecting there was a sharp ‘crack’, and he dropped to the ground without even a grunt...

There was an instant of silence, everyone briefly frozen. The leader of the other group drew in a sharp breath. “So you’re like us, Powered. Didn’t know the Brothers had any ‘Stormers on the payroll. Don’t change nothing though…”

“I’m not Powered- I just have a lot of stress in my life, work it out at the dojo. And I’m not on their payroll- I guess you can say I’m a friend of the family.” Abby’s voice was still calm, perhaps unnaturally so considering the situation. The obvious Sunstormer had begun to gather his energies again, and the remaining gunman raised his weapon.

Abby moved again, with uncanny grace despite her skirt and heels. Before the gunman could fire she was beside him- she flicked a low kick into the side of one knee, really driving her sharp heel in. He screamed in pain and even as he started to crumple she spun in place, delivering a vicious kick to his head now that it was low enough for her to reach with the constraints of her skirt. “See, no powers, just pissed off...”

The Sunstormer was still smiling as he raised his hands again- but Abby hadn’t stopped moving, the spin of her kick serving to turn the arc of her movement towards him. She reached out, grabbing one hand and twisting as she moved past him, behind him now. The energies had been gathering sparked and spat, dissipating in a wild burst. It was enough to make him curse, and some of the energy lashed out at Abby, so she had to release his hand. He turned to face her again and took a long step backwards.

And now the leader of the group stepped forward. “Shame you ain’t powered,” he snarled. “ Cause we are- both of us...” Even as he spoke, his skin darkened and took on a metallic sheen. “I’m goddamn bulletproof, and I can lift that van and beat you to death with it. Ain’t no time at the dojo gonna be able to beat that...”

Most of the time Abby was a calm person, not really relaxed but steady- even during the worst calls as an EMT, she could keep her voice and her hands focused. But since she had been a kid, her temper had been her worst weakness- the one thing that got her into trouble at school, with her family, even with Vic from time to time. And since the Sunstorm, the stakes were higher- in those few months she had lost her temper only once, and she didn’t really remember what had happened next (even though she remembered almost everything now). And this situation was so much worse.

For just a moment, she was still calm, steady, focused… But then she reached deep within herself, using some of them mental clarity she HAD learned at the dojo. For the first time in her life, she did not just LET her temper go, she called it, forced it out- and she began to move… (*Activating her “Overdrive” ability*; she is now PL11 against PL7 and PL8 jobbers)

The nearer man brought his hands up, and Abby could actually see the energy swirling, taking shape- oh so slowly… She stepped around past him, forcing him to turn, to release the energy early- and to miss, again. “You need a supervillain nickname,” she growled. “With a power like that, with accuracy that bad, let’s call you “Airball”...”

She kept moving, now scribing a circle around him, like a wolf- moving as fast as she was, he stumbled trying to keep her in front of him. And as soon as he did, she danced in, graceful despite the unfamiliar heels- in her current heightened state she would have been graceful on stilts, or walking on her hands. One long step in, spinning so that her skirt twirled around her, then she grabbed one of his hands and twisted, still moving so that all of her momentum (and his) pulled against his arm- there was a sharp crack echoed by a meatier ‘pop’ as she shattered his elbow AND dislocated his shoulder in the same move. Almost contemptuously she let go of his mangled arm and finished her spin by sweeping his legs out from under him. He tumbled to the ground, still screaming weakly- and she kicked him once in the head, not quite hard enough to kill him.

She didn’t even look down at him, but turned to face the remaining man, the apparent leader of this little group- the second Sunstormer. He wasn’t smiling now, his mouth was set in a grim and angry scowl- but he was still moving forward, a three-foot section of steel re-bar in one hand. His skin had the same dark metallic sheen as the steel bludgeon did. Without even realizing she was doing it, Abby noted his stance, his speed, how his weight was distributed when he took each step- from the look of things he was probably much stronger than she was, even now, but much heavier, very much slower. She had no intention of letting him use that strength the way HE wanted to, so she burst into motion, again circling to one side, forcing him to stop, to begin to slowly turn, much slower than his companion had. Too slowly…

Once she was past him, past the reach of his improvised weapon, she danced in, almost directly behind him. She snapped out a kick, almost too fast to see, connecting with the back of his knee. She grunted softly at the impact- but so did he, and invulnerable or not his knee still suffered the same design flaws as a normal person’s. With his extra weight, he would have needed superhuman balance, which he DIDN’T have, so he started to collapse- still moving in slow motion as far as Abby was concerned. She had time to complete her circle before he was all the way down, time to deliberately aim her next kick- time to lash out at his head while he was still falling. This kick WOULD have killed a normal person outright as she drove all her weight behind one of her sharp bootheels. This guy was no normal, and maybe he was actually bulletproof like he claimed- but it didn’t matter. There was a sharp crack, nearly as explosive as a rifle shot- her bootheel shattered from the impact, but the Sunstormer fell and did not rise. The metallic sheen began to fade from his skin almost immediately, but Abby could hear a wheeze of breath- he wasn’t dead…

She huffed out a breath of her own, and turned in place, surveying the scene, taking stock. All clear, no threats remaining. With that realization, Abby felt the unnatural surge of energy start to fade. See, no Super-Sunstormer powers, just a surge of adrenaline, like a mother lifting a car to save her child. She had, after all, always told Vic she would do anything for him if he was in danger- it seemed that that was true…

She sagged, stumbled on her ruined bootheel, but did not fall. Not yet. She did kick out of the boots, and dragged herself over to Vic’s side. She bent down, lifted him over one shoulder in a fireman’s carry (still much easier than she expected) and hauled him over to the van. Once she got him upright, sitting against the door, she turned back to the scene…

And caught a flash of movement in the corner of her eye. She turned, shifting back to a fighting stance- only to see one of the Bulgarian brothers (probably Bob) standing there, as if he had quite literally appeared out of thin air- there was a smaller figure behind him, a young girl in a black leather jacket and sunglasses, no one that Abby recognized.

Brother Bob took one careful look around, surveying the scene, and muttering a continuous litany of Slavic profanity. After he had completed his sweep, he finally turned to Abby- he was almost, but not quite, smiling; she was, after all, a friend of the family, as her father had been for years. “Good thing you called us. Looks like Hope was right again...” Hope was another one of Vic’s cousins, part of the extensive Bulgarian family network- a few years older, she had always been “the clever one”, and she had gone into the family “networking” business after high school- now it seemed like she had graduated into some sort of advisor role.

But even as “Bob” spoke, Abby realized that the danger was passed, the trouble was over. “Glad you made it,” she managed to murmur- just before everything went black… (*Her Holding Back Advantage has the ‘Inert’ Complication, and also amnesia for the entire use*)

>She woke up suddenly, sharply, like the shock of a dive into cold water. For the briefest instant, she didn’t know where she was, what was going on- but details began to snap into place. She was sitting up, in the seat of a car- no, a van; Vic’s van, the one he drove on jobs for the Brothers. She had no idea how much time had passed, but it was getting pretty dark, so maybe an hour or two. She turned her head slowly and, sure enough, there was Vic sitting in the driver’s seat, head lowered, obviously dozing but not fully asleep- he wasn’t snoring… She turned the other way, looked around some more. They were parked at the curb in front of her house- despite the darkness there weren’t any lights visible, just the subtle glow of the television behind the living room curtains; probably what was left of her mother, parked in front of whatever was on…

But she couldn’t remember how they had arrived there, even though her memory had always been sharp (and sharper still, nearly perfect, since the Sunstorm), there was nothing. She remembered pulling up to the warehouse, calling the Brothers, stepping out of the van. Then nothing, Nothing At All, until waking up. She drew in a sharp breath and Vic stirred beside her, grunting into something resembling a waking state. He looked over at her- for just a moment serious and worried, but he broke into a broad grin. “Hey you’re awake! Sorry I was waiting, but I musta dozed off a little. Been a long day...”

“Vic, what happened?,” Abby breathed. “I don’t remember, nothing after I got out of the van. Those guys had guns… How did we...”

Vic shook his head, slowly and carefully as if it hurt just a little. “I don’t remember much either. One of those guys was Powered, was one of those Sunstormers- threw this thing, like a burst of compressed air, pretty sure he knocked me out. But then I woke up, sitting there leaning against the side of the van, trying to breath and feeling like one of those Sumo guys jumped on my chest. And there you were, leaning up against the van next to me, out cold, and Dougie was lying on the ground by our feet. And there was Bob, smiling like it was Christmas morning and talking to somebody on his phone, like a mile a minute… It was really weird, lemme tell you- I mean, where the heck did he come from, even? Once he saw I was comin’ round he hung up and strolled over. Said those guys musta got into some kind of argument among themselves, over what to do with us or somethin’. And the two of ‘em that had Powers just went at each other, like two bulls chargin’ each other. What he said, by the time he got there it was all over.” He paused, looking at Abby intently. “He said you makin’ the call, that was what let him get there in time, before they woke up. Once he saw I was movin’ okay, he called me a big whiny baby, helped me get you into the van- I mean, you were breathing okay, so we figured you didn’t need a hospital. Bob had called some of his people, they were gonna take Dougie up to County, say he had a barrel fall on him, maybe sprung a couple of ribs. Then he was gonna roust them other guys- said he was gonna dope ‘em up so they wouldn’t remember any of it, take their phones, money, guns, all that stuff. Just let ‘em wake up and wonder what the hell happened, have to go back to their boss with nothing, even with their Powers and everything. Said that would be worse for them than just killing ‘em, and better for us. He wanted me to be very clear to YOU, for some reason, that he was absolutely NOT going to kill them. But he said he really had to talk to you sometime soon- wouldn’t say why...” He shook his head again, and winced ever so slightly…

Abby looked down at her bare feet, at the broken boot on the floor- at her pretty skirt, now torn and stained. “So much for a fancy night out, huh? I bet we missed our reservation too.” She shook her head sadly. “Just let me go in and change, then we’ll go get some pizza or something- save the nice dinner for some other night. How’s that sound?”

Vic nodded carefully. “Probably for the best. I mean, who would want the two of us in some fancy white tablecloth kind of place anyway? I don’t even know which fork goes with the soup...” They both laughed.
Last edited by pathfinderq1 on Sun Apr 30, 2023 5:59 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

Flexing some muscle (Vignette)
January 10, 2022 (about 11PM)

(Flextime, Grace; Cameos- Jackrabbit, Homewrecker)

"Hey Marki, what's up? Is it Mom?," Abby's voice was calm- but then it pretty much always was, unless she was just about to go nuclear. But there was definitely a note of "I'm at work, so this better be good" in there. Sitting on the floor in the corner of the living room, wedged into the tiny space between the couch and the wall, Marki chose a response very carefully.

"No, it isn't Mom. She is..." Well, 'Fine' probably wasn't an accurate term for the condition their mother was in- even 'Good' probably hadn't been true since their father died a couple of months back. "She's okay, just sitting in her chair, watching television..." Which was pretty much ALL she did these days, since television and electricity were back to being at least mostly reliable.

"it's just, I think I messed up my arm, somehow... We were both in the living room, she's watching tv and I'm, you know, watching some vids on Tiktok, and I look over and she's starting to like lean over sideways..." Marki could hear the desperation in their own voice, that edge that led to babbling incoherence...

And the day had started off so well:

>(Earlier that day)
The power was on, for starters- even ten days after the Event, what most people were calling "The Sunstorm", neither consistent power nor reliable internet were anything like guaranteed, but years of Chicago-level weather had ensured that the Logan Square area had a pretty reliable infrastructure. Mom was still in bed- but she had made it to bed on her own last night, which counted as good. Abby was at work- her chore board listed a morning half-shift at the nursing home, then an overnight 12-hour gig in her EMT role. "Home noon-4 ?" was scrawled in today's box, but who could tell if she would ACTUALLY be there.

Marki fixed a quick breakfast, the sort of unhealthy pile of foodstuffs that only a teenager could live on, then washed some dishes and took a load of trash out to the raccoon-proof barrels in the garage, since regular garbage collection was more than the neighborhood could organize right now. Then, fingers crossed, it was time to fire up the laptop, to see if the internet was usable today. Like any sensible teen, Marki mostly lived on their phone, but the computer offered more options- most of the time.

The net was at least sort of working- local news sights had nothing good- still a thousand theories about what had caused the Sunstorm, and what it had caused in return, and each theory was crazier and less-coherent than the one before. But at least no new disasters had occurred overnight- only the usual expected street violence, political BS, and entertainment-as-news foolishness. With the easy chores accomplished, Marki turned to the harder work- getting Mom out of bed and prepared for the day. She wasn't going to be going out, or having friends over, or well doing much of anything, but both Abby and Marki felt it was better for her to semi-vegetate out in the living room, sitting up in a chair, watching television or staring out the window, instead of just lying in bed all day. Thankfully, the process went smoothly today- Agnes was actually able to do most of the work herself, though she managed to lose one fuzzy slipper halfway down the stairs and kept right on walking; Marki waited until she was in her chair before working the slipper back on. Television on, set to one of the classic movie stations, glass of water and some basic food laid on the little side table- and Agnes was good for (most of) the day.

That left Marki officially on their own time- finally! First, a quick round of "call and response" (nowadays just a flurry of texts, delivered whenever the much-abused phone network could manage) with Steph, Callie, Wizzo and the the rest of the pod- and especially Taylor. With no school in session and only vague official plans for when THAT would get fixed, most everybody was home and bored. Taylor took the longest to check in, which was different- she and her mom were working a booth that the Logan Square Civic Association was running down on West Logan, where the farmer's market was held in the summertime. Not everybody had reliable heat, or power, or meals- but the neighborhood was working together to help keep people going; it was a smaller scale version of the supply stations that the city and the National Guard were running (like the one in Federal Plaza), and it was a process that the Civic Association had (unfortunately) practiced a number of times over teh course of the pandemic. Marki though about drooping by to help out- but the agreement with Abby was that one of them was supposed to be home with Mom whenever possible, just in case... Maybe later, if Abby actually did come home for a while...

Instead, Marki nailed down a meet-up with Taylor for later, after she got off the Square. Then they retreated to the sanctuary of their room for some "Me Time". Some time on Youtube, catching up with some new music videos (and some old favorites), some time on Tiktok, keeping a pulse on some of the new trends. A brief break to check on Mom- still the same. Then, guilty pleasure time, real Secret Guilty Pleasure stuff- Marki loaded up some favorites from the Gold Standard. None of the current stuff, that was mostly a little bit TOO stylish and fashion-forward for their taste, but rather some of the archived make-up tutorial pieces. Deborah was too tanned and light-haired to be a match for Marki's coloration, but she had some guests of different complexion, some that were a match for pale skin and jet-black hair. With the laptop balanced on the toilet tank, Marki spend a quick half-hour in front of the mirror, practicing with eyeliner, mascara, a bit of blush- finally, just briefly a dash of lipstick; voguing and admiring the results before (oh so carefully) removing the make-up and stashing the cosmetics back under their bed the way a normal teenager might hide something more salacious. Even Abby didn't know about this little secret, not yet (at least as far as Marki could tell), and if Dad was still alive it probably would never have gotten this far.

Marki finished cleaning up, and took one last lingering look in the mirror, taking just the briefest moment to play at pushing up their cheekbones. At the last second, just as they were turning away, Marki thought they saw someone (a woman dressed in black?), just at the edge of the mirror- but of course there was no one actually there. Brr, a little creepy though. "Candyman, Candyman, Candyman," Marki trilled, with a last wink to the mirror- the original version HAD been set in Chicago, after all...

Finally Marki trotted back downstairs- another quick check on Mom (still operational) and a quick round of chores. And by then, Taylor finally showed up, ferried over by her mom on the way home from the square. Heather Cavanaugh HAD been planning on heading home, but she volunteered to take a shift sitting with Agnes, and even offered to cook up a meal. Since neither Marki nor Abby was much of a cook, they had been eating pretty simply since the Sunstorm- so of course Marki was happy to accept THAT offer.

The rest of the afternoon was kind of a blur- days always seemed to go that way when Taylor was around, but even more so lately, ever since the Sunstorm. They started off back in the garage, which had long ago been Dad's workshop and had more recently been turn into a fairly comprehensive home gym. They had set up a pair of treadmills side-by-side for when it was too cold to run outside- and this being Chicago, that was fairly often. Marki and Taylor worked through some quick stretches and then started putting in their miles- chatting and even passing their phones back and forth with various amusing videos, memes, and other tidbits.

They didn't even realize how much time had passed (how had they both put in so many miles without getting tired, without taking a break?) until Taylor's mom burst in, her eyes wide. She wasn't shouting or freaking out or anything but she was obviously worried and upset. She practically dragged the two teenagers back inside (where Marki could see a pair of tv trays set with plates- one for his mom and one for Taylor's mom, both littered with the remains of some sort of sensible meal). The television was on, but now it was turned to one of the local networks- some sort of emergency news broadcast.

It was pretty chaotic at first, cutting between harried news desk anchors (obviously called in in a hurry) and "live on the scene" reporters. It didn't take long to recognize the plaza downtown- even if you didn't actually GO there very often, it showed up so often on television (and in local social media and so on), any Chicago resident would recognize the location soon enough. And obviously something had happened, something bad...

"Mass shooting?," Taylor had murmured- then she shook her head, and even before the live camera swiveled to show the fire trucks and other response vehicles, she corrected herself. "No, much worse... Wow, this is really really bad." Taylor and her mom shared a brief look that Marki couldn't really parse. The two of them drifted out to the porch for brief discussion, leaving Marki to continue watching the news, now channel-hopping a bit as other stations got their own teams to the scene. It was pretty bad, horrific in fact, even with what little details were being released so far- but Chicago was a city where the daily death toll from violence was often a two-digit number, so appalling as this incident was, it wasn't unprecedented (except for its actual cause, of course). Marki fired off a quick check-in message to Abby, but hopefully she was at work so a response might take a while.

Taylor and her mom came back in quickly enough. There was a flurry of "Are you going to be okay? Just call us if you need to..." and then they were gone. It seemed like they were actually worried about something, far out of proportion to the actual incident. Marki bustled around the house for a bit, cleaning up the dishes and the cookware that Heather had used, walking Agnes to the bathroom, and checking in on the news updates- as soon as Taylor and her mom had left, this meant using the laptop to surf the local news sites- and some newly-minted social media hashtags. There was a LOT more information online, including some people who claimed to have been on the plaza when it happened. Most of the fresh information was probably wrong, but soon enough there was trash-quality unedited video that showed scenes from some cut-rate superhero movie- people flying, a woman made of oily darkness (which gave Marki a brief pang, remembering the dark woman in the mirror, though it didn't look like the same one), even what looked like charred corpses in the middle of the street before the scene cut away. Brief glimpses, sudden motion- these things couldn't be REAL, even after some of the strange news from around the world over the last week. It had to be some sort of elaborate hoax, the sort of hastily-created set piece to hype up all the conspiracy nuts.

Marki was so busy switching between chores and news feeds that they missed Abby's return text. "Just saw. Still at St Joe's
( https://franciscanministries.org/st-joseph-village/ ) , safe. Not coming home, gotta get to EMT Early for special brief. Stay safe. Mom okay?"

The rest of the afternoon and the evening were tied up in pretty much the same pattern. The television was left on, mostly for Mom, who really didn't seem to care what was on, and didn't seem bothered by the frequent "breaking news" interruptions. Marki was online, surfing wherever the tides of social media flowed- including a number of sites filled with other "Sunstormer" incidents around the world. There was even a quick search of "Sunstorm dark woman" which yielded very little meaningful information. Other people seemed to have seen someone- but how many, and what they had seen was not very reliable information.

But it killed a lot of time. There was a brief interruption for dinner- a big frozen lasagna, with some leftovers in case Abby made it home at some point. And another break around 8 o'clock when Vic showed up in his battered black van- he was there to refill the tank for the generator, but he stopped in to say hello, and seemed only mildly disappointed that Abby wasn't there.

And that was it, for the rest of the night- until everything got weird...
>So, it was like, I don't know, maybe 10... And I heard this noise, like a soft little groan. I looked over, and Mom was like leaning sideways, just a little, in like slow motion. And I started to get up, to go over and help, but I got all tangled up. Almost dropped my computer- it felt like my feet were tied together or something. So, not even thinking, I reached out, even though I'm like ten feet away... But my arm like shot out like a spring, and I caught her, my arm wrapped right around her and hauled her back up, got her right back in her chair. And then my arm just like flopped there, like hose or snake or something, I couldn't even really feel it- and it sort of shrank back down. It didn't snap back like a rubber band or anything just, like I don't know, reeled back in until it was normal size again. And I freaked out, maybe a little, and tried to call you, but you didn't answer and I Didn't know what to DO and..."

"Marki, slow down! Breath!" Abby's voice was still calm, but sharp, enough to break the flow before the babbling got entirely incoherent. "Your arm stretched out, ten feet long, then shrank back to normal? Forget Mom for a second- are YOU okay?" Two weeks ago, she would have asked "Are you on drugs?" or "Are you sure you weren't dreaming and woke up too fast?", but that was before the Sunstorm- and even without today's incident, she had seen some stuff on the news, on the internet. Something HAD happened...

"Yeah," Marki said slowly, a long shuddering breath later. "That's what happened, what I saw, what I FELT..." Another breath, slower. "I mean, at first I thought I must be dreaming or something, 'cause I've been watching stuff all night, things I saw on the net, after what happened downtown. I mean, the last week, there's been all these weird things going on, all over the world, even here in Chicago. So there is lots of video and stuff, all these people doing all kinds of just impossible stuff. And I mean, some of its obviously fake, but some of it looks real. Even on the plaza, there were people FLYING! So yeah, I thought maybe I'd just watched to much of that, dreamed it, woke up seeing things. So I went out to the kitchen and tried some stuff, like reaching the table from the doorway..."

"And at first it didn't work, nothing happened. Of course, right, because that would be just insane! I mean, right, that kind of thing isn't real, it doesn't happen except in movies... But then it DID! I focused really hard, like some of those dojo tricks you taught me- really visualized what I wanted, the whole thing... And then my arm was ten feet long again, and grabbed a bag off the table, dropped it, because my arm just flopped once it got that long, dragged it back when arm shrank back to normal. And I went and freaked out some more. Called you, called Vic, called Al like you said, if I ever needed to. Tried Taylor and her mom too, but they didn't pick up either- guess they're all 'radio silence'. But Vic and Al said they'd call you..."

"And here I am. Sounds like you've had a hell of a night, Marki. Do you need me there right now? I can do it if I have to, but it might cost me the job, so you'd better really need it..." Just the level even tone of her voice was soothing- not relaxing exactly, but solid. A rock to cling to, a goal to focus on...

"No, not right now. I just needed to talk to you, to tell SOMEBODY. To make it real..." Marki's voice had gotten calmer, steadier, the nearly frantic edge worn down. "But come over as soon as you're off work, doesn't matter when. Just for a little while. I mean, I need my big sister, live and in person..."

On the other end of the line, Abby drew a deep breath of her own. "All right. I'm off at 7AM, and due for some sleep tomorrow anyway. I'll be there by 730 or so, make you and Mom some breakfast. And we'll talk, in person. But get Mom in bed, and try to get some sleep- you sound like you're half crazy..." Her voice shifted just a bit, obviously kidding just a little, trying to bring a bit of levity...

Marki's voice shifted in turn, getting in on the joke. "Well, all right, but breakfast better be good or I'll just go over to Taylor's- her mom is a really good cook, you know..."

Abby chuckled softly. "The last thing we need is you spending more time with Taylor. People will start talking..."

The conversation wound down- disasters averted, at least for now. Abby reiterated her promise for a morning visit and signed off. Marki fired off a last text to Taylor (OMG-just answer!) and got to work, getting Mom to bed- which, thankfully wasn't too much work. Again tonight, she mostly managed to get herself to bed. Two nights in a row- Woot!

Marki started getting ready for bed themself- a long hot shower did wonders. Then they were back in front of the mirror, wiping away the steam from the glass...

And not all THAT surprised to see a woman, shadowy, clad in black, staring back in the reflection- standing in the doorway of the bathroom, just watching with a faint smile. Marki turned just enough to check- nope, no one actually there. So they went back to looking in the mirror, shifting their gaze to look back at the woman. "You missed the show," Marki said softly, teasingly, hooking one thumb on the towel wrapped around their waist. "I'm really having kind of a night here- do figments of my imagination get to talk, or are you just going lurk?"

The woman's voice was pleasant, just slightly husky, and she flashed a wry grin. "Oh no, I'm oh so very real- and so is what happened tonight. You're special, my dear. One of the few, the Blessed. I just wanted to stop by for a visit, to get a look at you. SO much potential- you just have to STRETCH a bit to reach it..."

Marki rolled their eyes. "Tell me you didn't just drop a pun that bad. And I'm already Blessed- I' mean, just look..." Their voice had taken on the teasing, campy edge that had been becoming all the more common these last few months, and they punctuated their words with a vogue-like pose, equally overdone.

"My, you are a feisty one," the woman laughed. "Oh yes, so much potential. All those years of teasing, the bullying, the mistreatment. Now you have the means, right there at your fingertips, to right so many old wrongs. Just try it out a little, get the hang of things. You'll be amazed what you can do. What you can get away with." She laughed softly- a sound that was at once both compelling and unsettling. "But let's keep it our little secret for now, shall we? Must be careful who you tell. They might not understand, might get jealous that you got such gifts while they had to be so normal, so lacking..." She paused, cocking her head ever so slightly, listening to something Marki couldn't hear. "Now, I must look in on some of my other beneficiaries. I'll be keeping a close eye on you though- very close indeed. Remember to NOT be good..." And that was it, she was simply GONE.

Marki looked down into the sink, then back up at their reflection. "Well, that's it. I AM going crazy. Abby's gonna be pissed..." And then, just for kicks, they raised their hands to their cheeks and pushed, ever so slightly. 'What would I look like with different cheekbones, a different chin...'

>And meanwhile, in the master bedroom at the other end of the house, Agnes Henderson opened her eyes- eyes that were featureless black. And for the first time in months, she smiled...
Last edited by pathfinderq1 on Sun Nov 20, 2022 7:45 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

And Now, The News:
(Unconnected short vignettes, some with ties to other stories)

>February 16th, 2022:
>Disturbing news from the entertainment world: Everglow, a K-pop girl group that was just getting back up to speed after a series of COVID-related mishaps, has all-but disappeared from the social media landscape in the last 24 hours, after previously releasing some teaser material that fans had hoped indicated a new album or a new tour. None of the group's members have been seen in public or posted anything, and all inquiries to the group or to their management company Yuehua Entertainment have gone unanswered. Rumors that one of the group's members may have been affected by the so-called Sunstorm have not been confirmed, but the timing is noteworthy. We'll be sure to let you k-pop fans in on the real details as soon as we have them. Now in other news..."

>February 7th, 2022 (About one month after the Awakening, and the advent of the Sunstorm era):
"Meanwhile, in national news, President Biden today announced the formation of a federal task force assigned to investigate the effects of the Sunstorm on the American populace. Rumors of an official response have been swirling around for a while- as well as rumors about an unofficial but coordinated multi-agency set-up, but this is the first formal announcement, and follows on the heels of the failed Senate vote on the so-called Simms/Duncan emergency Act. Following the attack on FBI headquarters on Friday and other mass casualty incidents in Los Angeles, Portland, Dallas, and Billings, Montana as well as the Plaza incident here in Chicago back in January, and with the growing number of costumed vigilantes across the country, the task force is intended to provide a coordinated response to this new issue. Representatives from the CDC, as well as various scientific and law enforcement teams, will be under the authority of the newly-formed US Space Force- chosen because of the apparently non-terrestrial origin of the initial incident. The exact structure of the task force is expected to be announced sometime in the next few days, and we expect a formal statement within 48 hours. A White House spokesperson did did release a brief statement which reads, in part, "During the last national crisis, the government waited too long to put together a coordinated response..."

"Can you turn that off for a while- all those talking heads are hurting MY head. I just wanted the Cubs spring training news," Keyanna's voice was vaguely annoyed, but Abby was used to that by now. They had been partners for nearly two months so far, and Kix (as she preferred to be called) seemed vaguely annoyed almost all the time, even when she was totally happy and relaxed. Working EMS for the city of Chicago was a tough job, and the surly attitude was part of how she coped with that.

"It's good news though," Abby said, even as she turned the radio over to the "All Sports, All the Time" station that her partner preferred. "Better than what we got now, that "We don't officially exist black ops team that Chicago PD and the Feds have been running..." The partnership didn't OFFICIALLY exist, but it was definitely there, enough to be a line item in the daily briefing for the EMS teams. "I mean, I don't really trust the government to have our best interests in mind, but some of the local are a little too 'Secret Police' for my taste..."

Her partner turned and gave her a serious look for a moment. "Well, we sure need SOMETHING. It seems like there is a new incident every day, some new costumed idiot or uncontrolled wacko. I mean, did you hear about that new TikTok thing, this whole ShowUsYourPowers hashtag? Some crazy stuff up on there..."

"Are you kidding? My little brother, all his friends, they're watching that all the time now. For something that affected so few people it is making a big splash. I mean, even here in Chicago, we've got what, like a couple dozen people running around like the real-life 'Great Lakes Avengers'." Abby's voice was, as always, perfectly calm- and she didn't mention that her younger sibling was one of those affected, what the media had been calling a Sunstormer. At least Marki had stayed on the down-low, and wasn't out roaming the streets of Logan Square in a home-sewn costume. But there were others out there too, some of them not so clever or so lucky.

"Doesn't make them bulletproof either- not all of them, not even most of them." (Although there were, apparently a few of them who WERE bulletproof). "I mean, remember that kid who got stabbed on the train last week. She lived, but that was because we got to her in time, not because she was invulnerable. Her whole deal was she has eyes like a cat- and that nearly got her killed. I'm worried about people like that, more than I'm worried about some crazy flying guy..."

Keyanna shook her head and laughed softly. "Girl, this is the CHI. We better both be worried about some jackass with an AK trying to jack the ambulance out from under us looking for drugs." Whatever she was about to say next was drowned out in a squeal of not-quite static as the EMS dispatch radio crackled to life...

"All units, be advised we have a potential MCI at 2001 North Clark, that is the Lincoln Park Zoo. All available units please respond ASAP. Details to come, Chicago PD is coordinating. Stage at conservatory parking lot off North Stockton..." Even before the initial announcement was completed, Abby had the ambulance rolling, and Keyanna picked up the radio mike to reply. "EMS 21 en route, ETA 9 minutes. What do we know on MCI? Shooter? Explosion?"

There was a moment of silence from the radio, and the dispatcher's voice was a bit shaky. "Initial call was 'wild animal attack'- not usre how that got to MCI. Switch to channel 17 for Incident Command..."

(To be continued in "The Lincoln Park Zoo Incident")
Last edited by pathfinderq1 on Sat Nov 12, 2022 7:13 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

Nine Lives- Arrival :
(Approximately one month post-Event, a few days after the attack on FBI Headquarters; Monday, February 7th 2022)
-Starring Hope Kilmedi ("Codenames are Silly") and Tessa ("Scamp") Varelli

The house was a three-story pseudo-Victorian on West MacLean Ave in Logan Square- it had probably been there almost as long as the neighborhood itself, but it had been very well-maintained (as one might expect, since the owners were, at least on paper, property-management experts). The Bulgarian Brothers, Bob and Al to just about everybody, occupied the first two floors- back in the day they had rented out the top floor, or used it to house short-term workers for their business (especially ones whose legal or residential status was, shall we say, a bit questionable). But when Hope Kilmedi had graduated from college and moved back to the neighborhood to start law school, they had happily allowed her to rent the top floor herself, as a courtesy to their favorite cousin, or niece, or however it was exactly that she was related to them. Pretty much everybody was under the impression that they were quite looking forward to having an “in-house” legal advisor, given some of their activities (which, while they included property management certainly didn’t STOP there). Most people didn't know that she was far more deeply involved in the "family business" than one might expect, and she had been since she was fifteen, when she began to really understand what the Brothers were up to, when she offered her assistance, which the Brothers had grown to rely on more and more...

And, well, Hope was a very smart and very persuasive young woman, even before the Sunstorm. Since then, she was something more than that- to a degree that even Hope herself sometimes had difficulty expressing. The space was rather more than she needed- three bedrooms, a bath-and-a-half, a full kitchen with its own pantry, a living room, and the tower room that she had converted to an office. Almost all of her law school classes were on-line or hybrid, as was most of her internship at a law firm downtown, so it made sense to have a dedicated workspace. But even though she had been there for most of a year, an awful lot of her stuff was still packed in moving boxes- she just HAD THIS FEELING that she might need to rearrange the space in some sort of drastic fashion. She had had these sorts of feelings, these flashes of intuition, all of her life- and even before the Sunstorm, they had often been correct. But in the weeks since that mysterious worldwide incident, her intuition had grown stronger, the vague flashes becoming something much more like a movie preview. That wasn’t even the strangest thing that had happened to her since the Event, but she hadn’t really analyzed the weirder stuff- she was, however, quite firmly convinced that she had been affected by the Sunstorm. The flashes of foresight were just the most common signifier- there were some other, more esoteric abilities which she was just beginning to understand.

Take tonight, for example. Today had been a rare full day at the office downtown, and she had been planning on a quick dinner before settling in to catch up on some research for one class, and a paper for another. And, of course, a few hours haunting various Sunstorm-related discussion forums as ‘Lawscribe98’- she wasn’t quite dispensing legal advice to Sunstormers with questions, but she could weigh in with legal experience). These tasks were also far easier than they would have been before the Sunstorm- thankfully.

But twice during the day, she had randomly felt her thoughts drifting to her friend, her little sister, Theresa Varelli. Not really her little sister, and even “friend” wasn’t entirely the right term. Theresa was almost 10 years younger than Hope herself, barely fifteen, and she was, in legalese, “troubled”. A serial runaway from the age of ten, she had spent most of the last few years either on the streets or in juvenile confinement of one sort or another- the authorities had essentially given up on trying to find her any more foster homes once she turned 12. Hope had met Tessa, as she preferred to be called, during a juvenile counseling course in her senior year of Pre-Law- Hope had been the only student in the course who said “Yes” when the assignment coordinator had asked if anyone wanted a challenge.

And it had been a challenge, right from the start. As a result of both physical and emotional trauma, Tessa was essentially mute- she had managed to learn some degree of basic sign language, but generally used simpler gestures, most of which only required one finger. Hope had learned ASL in high school, one of the extracurricular activities that had helped get her into a top-notch college. And living in Chicago, particularly around the Bulgarian Brothers, had gotten her used to dealing with all kinds of hard cases… From the first, Hope had treated the younger girl like a person- in fact, like an adult, one of her peers. Things had gone better than anyone had expected- to the point where Tessa actually returned the items she had lifted out of Hope’s purse before she left, and even agreed to another session.

That had gone on for most of Hope’s senior year, and the two of them had stayed in contact by text, email, and even some snail mail (when Tessa was back in one institution or another and barred from electronic communications). But she hadn’t seen the girl in more than three months and hadn’t communicated with her at all since the Sunstorm, about a month ago now. Hope had wondered, from time to time, just how Tessa was doing, and she had been meaning to reach out- but there was just so much going on. And well, if there was one thing that Hope was absolutely ceratin about in these crazy days, it was that Tessa was “surviving”, barring just about anything short of a direct nuclear strike.

But twice today, and probably six times in the last week, Hope had done more than think of Tessa. There had been a feeling of her physical presence, as if she was somehow right there in the room. Of course, she couldn’t hear Tessa’s (nonexistent) voice, but the sensation was similar, it was as if she could look around a corner, or over her shoulder, and Tessa would be there. And just this afternoon, coming home, she could have sworn that she saw Tessa standing on the front porch downstairs. It was almost like seeing a ghost, though Hope was certain that the other girl was not dead.

Genuine weirdness, but even a cursory glance at the news on any given day would provide far weirder and more disturbing events- like the attack on the FBI office the other day. Unsurprisingly, it was STILL just about the only thing the news wanted to talk about, no matter the medium, no matter whether it was local, national, or international. Hope had long since given up listening to US based news- there was just too much bias, too much uncertainty. But even the BBC had their US correspondents and a variety of “Analysts” and talking heads on a nearly non-stop loop. To save her sanity, Hope had tuned off the news entirely, and she expected all the Sunstormer media and discussion to be just as swamped again tonight when she finally dug in.

But first, dinner. Without even realizing she was doing it, she unpacked two meals from the take-out leftovers in the fridge, and set two places at the table. She was already putting the food into the microwave before she realized what she had done. She would never eat all of that, she knew. Maybe one of the Brothers was home- money wasn’t exactly tight these days, but she hated to waste food.

Hope was just reaching for her phone when the doorbell chimed. As she picked up her phone, the doorbell notification from the Ring app was front and center- and even before she opened the notification, Hope knew who was there. Of course, it had to be Tessa- this explained the premonitions. How the younger girl had gotten here was another, thornier, question.

Sure enough, the initial view from the doorbell camera showed nothing at first, then a small pale hand reaching up into view and waving. It was easy to forget just how tiny Tessa was- but she was also VERY adept at not being caught on camera.

“That you, Tessa?,” Hope’s phone routed her voice through the doorbell speaker, which prompted the hand, still the only bit on view, to offer a thumbs up. “Okay, I’ll be right down.” This time the hand twisted, waving off that thought.

But before Hope could offer an alternative, there was a muffled “thump thump” on her apartment door, at the top of the stairs. The hand had vanished from the door cam, but there was no way that there had been enough time for someone to climb the stairs from the front porch, even if the door had been unlocked. No natural way, Hope thought. But this was a post-Sunstorm world now. Sure enough, once she had unbolted the various security features (this was, after all, Chicago, and both Hope and the Brothers knew better than to take foolish chances), there was Tessa standing at the top of the stairs.

Well, standing wasn’t exactly the right term. More leaning against the wall, about halfway to falling over. Despite the Chicago February cold weather outside, she was dressed only in ragged jeans, a tattered tee-shirt, and an even more tattered (and far too large) leather jacket. She was also barefoot, and from just a quick glance at the state of her feet, she had been that way for a while.

As soon as the door opened, though, her head snapped around and she focused on Hope. Her hands flickered in choppy sign language. “I won’t go back. I can’t go back”. And then, even as Hope moved towards her, she collapsed in a heap on the landing.

Without even needing to make a conscious decision, Hope knew better than to call 911. EMTs would take the girl, likely never to be seen again. Cops would be even worse, and living with the Brothers had taught her to not do anything to attract police attention. She dragged Tessa inside and plopped her on the couch- the girl was ice cold, and so skinny that even Hope had no trouble moving her.

Once she relocked the door, she pulled down a few blankets- even with heat and power mostly restored, the Sunstorm had made sure extra warmth was never far away. By the time Hope had made some tea, Tessa was starting to stir, though she made no move to escape the blankets. She did sit up, working her arms loose long enough to take custody of the steaming tea mug. At first she just held it, warming her hands and inhaling a bit of the warm aromatic steam. Hope simply perched on a nearby chair- once Tessa looked directly at her, Hope simply said “So many questions. You can talk when you want, but you’re safe here. I promise.” Tessa smiled, a real smile with dimples, something that almost no one had ever seen.

For maybe half an hour, they stayed like that. Hope got up to put the food back into the fridge, and to retrieve her laptop and a phone. Not HER phone, just something she had thought to pick up recently, though she couldn’t have told anyone exactly WHY she wanted this particular model, these particular options. While Tessa warmed up, and drained the tea, Hope worked on her assignments, and pecked away at the phone. This sort of multitasking, even with difficult work, was so much easier these days, and she kept a watchful eye on her friend without slacking on her projects. Finally, though, Tessa finished the tea and motioned for Hope to pay attention. She extended her hands a bit, then thought about it and wiggled out of her leather jacket, which did not quite fall to pieces as it slid to the floor.

As Tessa waggled her hands again, obviously loosening them up to sign some epic tale, Hope offered the phone she had been toying with. At Tessa’s raised eyebrow, Hope smiled. “It’s yours now, call it a late Christmas present, since I haven’t seen you.” Then she pulled it back and typed a few strokes. A mechanical voice chimed “Text to speech too. Might be easier”

Tessa looked at her, eyes briefly narrowed. “Really?” her hands flickered. Hope reached over, offering the phone.

“Yes, really. And I meant it before. You’re safe here, as long as you want.”

Tessa’s smile returned, dimples and all, and she leaned forward to grab the phone. No longer needing to have her hands quite so free, she burrowed back into the blankets. From deep in the nest, the mechanical voice rang out. “So I guess I’m a Sunstormer.- that’s what they call it, right? I was downstate at Juvie and went into a coma, just like all those people on the news, all over the world. And since I was locked up, They knew all about it. Woke up in the infirmary- they kept doing all these tests, just on and on for days. Back when it happened, nobody knew anything about what HAD happened. But they kept at it- poking, prodding, drawing blood and stuff, scanning me in machines I’d never seen before. Took me to some Army hospital after a while, once they knew that people had been changed, once the news started up, especially after that thing on the plaza. Rolled in a couple of other kids about my age too, like a half-dozen of us. I think it was kids from other institutions, even out of state. This one guy had like scales, like a lizard, and this girl was really super-strong, and like nine feet tall. She almost busted right out of there, took all these soldier guys and some kind of electrical thing to stop her. So then they started drugging us. Not enough to knock us out, just enough to make us all woozy, easy to control...”

Hope leaned forward, listening to Stephen Hawking’s robot voice spinning this terrible tale.

“I don’t know how long that kept up, really. But after a while, whatever they were using on us just didn’t work as well, maybe I got used to it, maybe I have some resistance, who knows... As long as we played along, they didn’t think to increase the doses, or try anything else. They didn’t really seem as interested in anybody who hadn’t shown any powers, and I was one of those. But then I could pay more attention. And I started looking for a way out, like I do. Maybe a week ago, they tossed me back in my cell one night, after another day full of tests. I was really pretty awake, kind of cranked up- been a long day, and it seemed like they were still picking at me just because, not really looking for anything. So I bounced up off the floor, slammed into the door just a second too late to beat the latch, pounded on it, cried, the whole routine. But more than anything, I wanted to be out of there- out of the whole place, but really really just out of that cell.”

“And all of a sudden I WAS out, just in the hallway, on the other side of the door. Wow did THAT wake them up- I was a little stunned, and they grabbed me. For about a second- it was easier the next time. Boom, I was at the other end of the hall. And then it turned into this wild chase, like some kind of video game- me in this cloth hospital gown and paper slippers, all these damn gorillas in uniforms and body armor. Woulda been hilarious if it had been somebody else. I was so scared I nearly pissed myself. ‘Cause I knew, if they caught me, they’d drug me and nail me to the floor, cut me up to see what made me tick.”

“We went round and round for what felt like an hour, but was probably like ten minutes. Long enough for them to bring in the guy who was running the whole place, Doctor Brenner, to try to “Convince me”. That didn’t work, so they brought in real guns, smoke grenades, all kinds of toys. I sprung all the other cells, just to even things out a little. That place was a MESS!”

Finally some guy got lucky, hit me with some kind of dart gun. I was getting all dizzy, felt like I was gonna throw up. I knew I had one chance left, so I took a deep breath and like, jumped. I can’t really describe it- all those little hops or whatever that I had been doing, they felt like a blink, not even a breath, a heartbeat. This went on and on, like I was falling, or maybe sinking underwater. And then I was out. Actually outside, middle of damn nowhere, just this fence and these Army buildings that I could barely see, since it was getting dark...”

The flood of text began to slow down, the initial rush to tell the story fading. Beneath the cocoon of blankets, Hope could see Tessa slump a bit,
leaning against the arm of the couch. She reached over, patting the lump of blankets, hoping to touch a shoulder. There was a soft exhale of breath.

“That was, I don’t know, maybe three days ago. I don’t want to talk about how I got here- not now maybe never. I’m not even sure I remember all of it right. It was such a mess...”

“You don’t HAVE to talk about, not now, maybe never. Not to me, not to anybody. Not unless you want to, unless it helps you somehow. It is nobody’s business but yours. You made it, you survived, and you’re here. You want some dinner? Or maybe some ice cream...”

There was a soft whuff of sound as the blanket-mound collapsed. Hope had been expecting something like that, but actually seeing it (for lack of a better term) was still kind of stunning, even after all the Sunstorm videos she had seen. In the time it would have taken to blink, Tessa was no longer cocooned on the couch- she was standing in the doorway that led to the kitchen. Or rather, leaning against the doorframe. “What kind of ice cream?”

Hope smiled. Despite the trauma Tessa had described, the situation she had escaped, Hope felt no sense of looming danger or disaster. Soldiers or not, mad doctors working for the government, it didn’t matter. They were safe. Her friend, who had been through so much, was safe.

“I think we’ve got mint chocolate chip, or Cherry Garcia. And I can get more.” Part of being a proper Chicago resident was to be well-supplied with ice cream, even in the coldest parts of winter. Already her mind was spinning, thinking farther and farther ahead, and farther afield. Once they figured out just what Tessa could do, how far she could teleport (Hope knew the proper word, even if Tessa didn’t, and the concept had been much discussed in Sunstormer forums, though no one she knew had claimed to have done it, or even seen it), she was going to have to loop the Brothers in on this. They would very gladly make Tessa a job offer- Hope had no doubt about that.

But that was for tomorrow, or some other day. Today was for making her friend feel at home, feel safe...

"OOH! Cherry Garcia!" It certainly sounded weird in the phone's robotic voice...
Last edited by pathfinderq1 on Sun Apr 30, 2023 9:47 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

>A Day in the Sun:
January 16th, 2022 (This framing device will be showing up repeatedly)

>LIghts up, on a small studio. Two women are seated at a massive work desk laden with computer gear and two professional microphones. One of the women is dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, and has a military-short haircut; the other is dressed in casual sweats (or possibly pajamas) and has an impressive mane of wavy black hair- the air around her seems to sparkle and shimmer...

"Hey peeps, welcome to the first episode of our new podcast, A Day In The Sun, where we're going to dive in to the brand new world of #ShowUsYourPowers. We're going to start by highlighting some of the best new footage every week, pulled from Youtube and TikTok- the funny, the crazy, and the downright unbelievable. Once we get rolling, we hope to bring you interviews with some of these new Sunstorm celebrities, but for now, we have some wild footage, and our insightful commentary." The woman with the short hair was speaking, her voice confident and upbeat- the other woman was just smiling for the camera, which tended to keep her on the edge of the shot, since whenever it swung more directly towards her, it gave a lens flare that JJ Abrams would admire...

"We're your hosts. I'm Butch, and this is Sundance. Remember to like and subscribe- so we can keep pushing out all the good stuff. But for now, let's just dive in. First up, we have some brand new footage from the Chicago incident down on Federal Plaza, just last week. You've all seen all of the official footage- and some of that is really amazing. But we just got this new clip- somebody didn't want to hand it over to the official channels. This clip has some GREAT shots of BOTH of the fliers over the plaza- somebody's phone has a top-notch camera! Let's watch..."
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

Nine Lives- How to fail at carjacking: (vignette)
(Early March 2022, about two months after the Sunstorm)
(Homewrecker, cameo- Jackrabbit)

“Hello, I’m Butch, and this is Sundance, and welcome to the latest episode of our “A Day In The Sun” podcast. We’re back to share some of the latest Sunstormer videos from all around the world- the funny, the inspiring, and the impressive. As you know, we usually pick the best viral vids to share and comment on- but sometimes we get some really great user submissions that we want to highlight, and our first piece tonight is one of those. What we have here is what appears to be some sort of security video footage, either a doorbell cam or surveillance monitor, and the user who submitted it did a really good job obscuring just exactly where it was filmed. We think it was somewhere in the American Midwest, and we’ll talk about this more in our commentary, but for now let’s just watch. We’re going to call this one “How to fail at carjacking”...

“Why did you even call me, Fred? You know I’m not doing showings right now, especially not anything that far out of my territory.” Heather Cavanaugh’s voice was calm and quiet, with only a mild undertone of the annoyance that she was feeling right now.

“Come on, Heather. You remember how they helped us out, helped you out,” the voice on the other end of the phone had the reedy, almost petulant tone that was all too common among elderly people who hadn’t entirely come to terms with their age- and Fred Cartwright was well into his seventies and still working full time, trying to run his real estate business (although in reality his wife did most of the actual work these days).

Heather held the phone away from her ear for just a moment, long enough to give a heavy sigh. She remembered how the Field Agency had helped out all right. How they had run all of the showings for her real estate business for more than a month, right back at the beginning of the pandemic when the housing market was exploding- after her husband and younger daughter had died, when she herself had sunk into a pit of despair and exhaustion. That help had kept the business afloat- the same business that she had turned over to Fred and Ethel. And now it seemed like the Field Agency (with their Field Force estate team, not longer affiliated with Century 21) was calling in their marker.

“What happened over there, Fred? They ought to have plenty of people to handle this stuff, they shouldn’t need us, shouldn’t need ME… I mean, my license is current, but I haven’t been doing any of this in so long...” Hadn’t done more than a half-dozen showings in the last two years, was what she meant but didn’t say. It had been a long time, and maybe she should ‘get back on the horse’, as the saying went. It would be better than being cooped up at home, worrying about the pandemic, her remaining daughter, all of this chaos that the so-called Sunstorm had caused, both here in Chicago and around the world…

“Well, Jack and Jenny are on some kind of extended ski vacation, and the rest of the office is having themselves a little Covid scare- doesn’t look bad, but they don’t want to be out doing showings. And this listing is hot, and not exclusive. If they don’t show it, somebody else will, and they’ll lose the commission...”

Heather sighed again. She knew quite well how much the loss of a significant sale could hurt a small real estate firm. Back when she and Arthur had first set up their own office, there had been a few very close calls, things that, if they hadn’t gone just right might have broken their little business. She didn’t want that to happen to the Field Agency- they weren’t friends exactly, but they weren’t direct competitors either, since they didn’t work the same territory…

“All right, I’ll do it,” she said finally. “Send me the file and appointment details. I’ll go see what I have that I can wear to this kind of showing.” There was a brief back and forth, a few minutes to confirm the details, make sure the files were downloaded properly- even two months after the Sunstorm, there were still weird gaps and glitches haunting the internet and sometimes even routine activities just randomly failed... But in this case, thankfully, everything seemed to be working properly. Heather looked over the listing for a few moments- it was easy to see why this was such a hot property. She made a mental note to dress appropriately for the setting- probably fancier than anything she had worn since, well since the funeral, certainly. Jeans or sweatpants would NOT cut it for this…

And, of course, after all that thought, all that angst, the showing went perfectly. She had dressed up, for the first time in what felt like forever. Even after the Pandemic, her fancier clothes still fit, and she still looked good. She even lingered in front of the mirror as she was getting ready- she was pretty sure that she looked better now than she ever had before- but, well, she had been affected by the Sunstorm, had been CHANGED, though she and her daughter had only done a limited amount of testing about how much she had been changed...

She had dusted off some tasteful jewelry, and her impeccable black wool overcoat. March in Chicago could be tricky, but the weather had been nice enough the last few days, and seemed like it would hold a little longer- she didn’t need to dress for an Antarctic expedition… She even took the Suburban out of the garage- she and Taylor had usually just been using the Outback, which was far more sensible and entirely suitable for the needs of their trimmed-down family, but the Suburban was just more impressive, and this was likely to be one of the few sorts of situations where that kind of impressive might actually count. Sooner or later they would probably just sell the oversized vehicle, but in the meantime it could be useful.

It was only after the showing was over that things went screwy…

Heather climbed back into the Suburban with one last wave to the clients and an entirely real smile on her face. She checked her phone before belting in and wheeled the massive SUV out onto the street. It was full dark by now, but at least most of the streetlights were still on, even as she cruised out of the rather nice neighborhood where the showing had been and into one of Chicago’s more “Scenic” neighborhoods, perhaps even “Vibrant” or “Authentic”… She knew where she was going, at least in a general sense, but satellite navigation systems still hadn’t really come back on line after the Sunstorm, so she had to engage in a bit of guesswork.

Then she took a left turn at one corner only to see that the next block was full of police lights- an officer stood in the intersection, waving traffic into what was hopefully a brief detour. A few blocks ahead she could see the bright lights of a 7-11, and a brief whim drew her in, convincing her to pull her land whale into the tiny parking lot. She peered out for a moment before she unlocked the doors- the neighborhood seemed a bit less “interesting”, and the store didn’t have bars on the windows or anyone visibly loitering out front- by Chicago standards it seemed safe enough for a quick stop. She opened the door and climbed out- just as she was closing the door she heard the chirp of an arriving text on her phone, safely stowed in the center console. She shrugged- it could wait two minutes, whatever it was; she wouldn’t have picked up if she had been driving.

And sure enough, two minutes later she was opening the door of the Suburban again, trying to juggle key fob, wallet, bottle of ginger ale, and small sack of purchases. She had not bothered to look around very carefully as she left the store though- and that had been a mistake.

She had just hauled the door open and tossed the bag over into the passenger seat- but as she turned to drop the bottle into the cupholder set in the door she heard a rush of footsteps and felt a hand on her shoulder. “Just gimme the keys, b****,” a harsh voice rasped as a hand grasped her shoulder. It was a pretty big hand, wrapped in a greasy work glove- and whoever it was attached to probably intended to deliver a hard shove, pinning her against the door panel.

That didn’t happen.

The hand settled on her shoulder and shoved, but she barely even felt it. It certainly didn’t move her at all. Heather sighed and deliberately dropped her keys to the ground, with a quick shift she kicked them under the SUV. It took her assailant a second to realize what she had done- if he wanted the Suburban now, he would need to crawl underneath the retrieve the keyring.

“God d*** it! You’re gonna regret that! Now gimme your purse! And that necklace!” So he had been watching then, since she got out of the SUV and went inside, long enough to see her necklace when her coat had swung open. Not a good sign. The steady point of pressure against her lower back was a somewhat worse sign- Heather was pretty sure that was the muzzle of a pistol being pressed into her coat.

But she also knew something else. She knew that she had been changed by the Sunstorm. She and her daughter had had a bit of fun testing things out, determining how Heather had been changed- it hadn’t been a LOT of testing, but they had done some. From a minor accident with a kitchen knife, up through progressively more serious injuries- or rather, potential injuries, since they hadn’t actually managed to really hurt her. They hadn’t tried guns though, but…

Heather let her head droop for just a second and sighed again, a moment of acquiesence, of surrender- or rather feigned surrender, just enough to get the attacker off balance. Then Heather turned, moving with inexorable force against the man’s feeble shove. She swept her right arm down and away as she turned, forcing his gun hand outwards in a basic self-defense move- but one exerted with uncanny strength. Superhuman strength, if you wanted to be precise. She shrugged out of his grip on her shoulder and brought her left hand up as she finished her movement, now facing the man- and it was a man, under the hoodie and cheap mask. She could tell by the sheer disbelief in his voice when he grunted out “What the f...” before she hit him.

It wasn’t a punch, or some kind of fancy martial arts strike- it was a simple open-hand shove. Before the Sunstorm, she would have been lucky to push him back half a step- her self-defense instructor would have laughed at her. But now it didn’t need to be pretty, or fancy- it just needed to connect. It did, and he went flying backwards. Not stumbling, literally flying, as if a rope had been tied to the back of his coat and yanked backwards.

Heather almost had time to smile, before she realized that he had held onto the gun. Lying on his back halfway across the little parking lot, the man shook his head, his words devolving into incoherence. His first shot went wide, probably into a building somewhere. The next shot was closer, spanging into the side of the Suburban. Heather had just started to move when the next round caught her in the shoulder- she FELT it, but it didn’t hurt. Made an ugly hole in her very fancy coat, though…

She smiled, a nearly feral grin that was quite at odds with her “prosperous suburban businesswoman” appearance. Then she strode forward, moving quickly and confidently as the would-be carjacker tried to scrabble backwards. She swatted his gun hand away- this time he lost his grip, and the pistol went flying off into the darkness. Then she reached down and grabbed him by the front of his coat and lifted- she wasn’t tall, but she was able to heft him easily, holding him so his feet were off the ground. He struggled, and continued to sputter out a string of profanities and empty threats- as she hauled him across the parking lot and, not very gently, deposited him in the dumpster at the corner of the building.
As she slammed the lid closed, she took a quick look through the front window of the store- the young clerk was nowhere to be seen, having ducked for cover at the first gunshot. But even in this neighborhood, shots would bring a police response, and Heather had seen the cops working only a few blocks away.

Time to go.

She trotted back over to her SUV, casually grabbing the bottom of the frame where one might place a jack to change a tire. With a flex she lifted that corner into the air and moved forward, spinning the whole vehicle in place- much easier than crawling underneath to retrieve her keys. She had to admit she was kind of impressed- she and Taylor were going to have to do some more testing after this little episode…

Keys in hand, she climbed back into the driver’s seat and rolled out. She stopped at the edge of the parking lot, just long enough to check her phone. The message she had missed was a quick text from her daughter. “Don’t gt out f the car” Too late now, but how had Taylor known that? Another question, for later… She wheeled out onto the street, headed away from where she had seen the police cars earlier- though she could already hear sirens… She wasn’t the only vehicle on the streets, thankfully, and she had cleared the next block and turned again without catching a glimpse of blue lights in the rearview mirror… With no victim and probably no perpetrator (she had to assume he would get out of the dumpster on his own), Chicago PD wouldn't be looking too hard- they had far more serious crimes to take care of...

Twenty minutes later she was home, driving the Suburban back into the garage. She had stopped once to send Taylor a quick text, but her daughter was still out on the front porch waiting, looking worried. Heather headed up the steps with a reassuring smile. It was all fine- she hadn’t even really been in danger at all, it seemed.

Kind of a shame about her fancy coat though...
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

>The Phantom of Logan Square: (Part One)
(Friday, February 11th, 2022)
(Flextime/ Marki Henderson; And Nemesis!)

Mike’s Liquors was on West Fullerton, near the western edge of the neighborhood. Nobody really seemed to know who “Mike” was- Carl Garrison had owned the place for more than thirty years, and it seemed like it had been struggling the whole time. Logan Square had been getting all artsy and gentrified over the last few years- but Mike’s was a holdout from another age, a dirtier, seedier time. If you wanted craft beer or fancy whiskey there were other places to get it in the neighborhood; if you wanted cheap whiskey or Budweiser, you went to Mike’s. There were still enough “working class” guys around to keep the place afloat, although Carl had put in a couple of aisles of convenience store basics, and he probably sold more lottery scratch tickets than he sold booze these days. A few years back, Mike’s had been the place to go if you were underage and had a fake ID- but The Brothers told him to knock it off; you could still try your fake ID there, but only if you were not a local kid…

It didn’t help the business that Carl was a hard-core racist, a homophobe, and a misogynist, and had been for years. Everybody in the neighborhood knew it, and they knew that buying some Bud or a bottle of Jack Daniels would get you a free earful of whatever hate Carl was pushing that particular day. If you could stand it (or if you were the sort of guy who agreed with him, less and less likely as the neighborhood changed), Carl’s prices were dirt cheap- otherwise there were other places to buy your booze.

Carl practically seemed to live in the place- he was open all the hours the law would allow, sitting behind the counter watching a little television that played whatever crackpot racist channel he needed that day. More than a few people had said that they expected to find him dead behind the counter some morning, the victim of his own curdled hate (or his bad diet and lack of exercise)- some of them said it with pity, and some of them could hardly wait for the day…

But still, when it happened, everyone seemed surprised- and not in a good way. Logan Square, and Chicago, and the country, even the world- people finally seemed to be settling down after the dramatic chaos of the Sunstorm. It had been more than a month- power was on pretty reliably, society was well on the road to recovery… Sure, there were some people who could do some pretty amazing, even “impossible” things- but there weren’t THAT many of them around, and especially for people like Carl, most of that stuff that you saw on television or on the internet was probably fake anyways, part of some conspiracy by the government, or the Chinese, or the Secret Masters, or whoever. You couldn’t just believe that sort of thing- people flying, lifting cars, shooting fire or lightning out of their hands. Even some of the most well-known local stuff was tricks and special effects- that guy down on the plaza in January had rigged some kind of home-made flamethrower under his coat. Just look at how he mysteriously died in custody, so no one could ask him who made him do it…

So people like Carl, people who seemed to live to hate those who were different, had found a new target for their venom- the Susntormers. Most especially those ‘Stormers who were Black, or Muslims or Jews, or LGBTQ+, but any Sunstormer at all, really, even those who didn’t have obvious powers.

It was mid-February, maybe a week after the Sunstormer attack on the FBI- Carl and all his crackpot friends still hadn’t decided how they felt about that. They hated and feared Sunstormers, of course, but they also hated the FBI, viewing them as oppressive agents of the “deep state”. But in Chicago, it was still brutally cold and well past full dark, nearly time to close up for the night. The front door of the shop swung open, perhaps a little too hard, admitting a blast of frigid air- and a tall figure with a shadowed face. Carl looked up from his little television, already ticked off at this interruption. Anywhere else in Chicago, the person behind the counter would have been fearing robbery- but Carl hadn’t been robbed in years (between the tenor of the neighborhood and his all-too-slim profit margins). He shook his head and started to snarl...

“Hey, no masks in my store! What are ya, some kind of craft beer drinkin’ f…” That was when he realized that the shadowy figure that had oozed through the doorway wasn’t wearing a mask- and was unnaturally, even impossibly, tall and thin, stretched out to uncanny dimensions... Carl reached down behind the counter, grabbing for the official Chicago Cubs baseball bat he kept close at hand- there was a shotgun down there to, but the city inspector insisted that it be locked in place, and there was no time…

The figure just laughed, a high almost screechy sound, and flicked out one- well, it was a hand, right? It had to be, even though it really didn’t quite look like a hand as it rushed at Carl’s face, extending whiplike across the space from the doorway. Carl had lifted the bat just above the counter when the “hand” slapped him with incredible force, then slithered down and grasped the bat, wrenching it from his hands far more easily than should have been possible. The figure crossed the store in two long strides, most of its body bobbing up towards the ceiling in a truly disturbing fashion. “Ahh!” Carl shouted, being far too manly to scream. “G-----n it! You freak! You’re one of THEM! One of those Sunstorm f...”

The figure hit him, another “playful” open-handed slap across the face- hard enough to knock Carl backwards into the rack of lottery scratch tickets on the back wall. It’s voice was high and shrill, a falsetto “camp gay” parody from the worst depths of Carl’s homophobic nightmares. “What? Don’t you like it, honey? Don’t you want some sweet slap-and-tickle from a nice firm young boy?” Another slap, this time punctuated by a high tittering giggle. “The Sunstorm changed the odds- we don’t have to listen to your racism, your homophobia, your bigoted BS. SHE told me, SHE showed me the way...” Each phrase was followed by a ringing slap, bouncing Carl off the back wall of his shop, knocking over the lottery rack and the row of tiny liquor “nips” on the shelves there. After the first couple of strikes, Carl probably wasn’t hearing the rest, and after a few more he probably wouldn’t have stayed standing if the shadowy, almost shapeless figure had held him up with one hand as it slapped him with the other.

Soon enough (but well, really, NOT soon enough for Carl) the figure tired of its games. It slipped both (impossibly long-fingered) hands around Carl’s throat and began to squeeze. Old bigots like this never learned the real lesson- but they could be used to help teach those lessons to others… Carl had just enough energy to struggle- at first, before he flopped limply.

And in that moment, the front window of the store was lit with a flash of nearly-blinding light, red and blue in a pulsing strobe. But only for an instant, as the police car flew past, headed for some other incident. That moment of distraction was enough- the all-but-amorphous figure shook its head, and dropped Carl’s limp body to the floor. From somewhere (within itself, somehow?) it pulled a Pride flag out and draped it over the fallen man like a blanket. Whoever it was, they shook their head again- they didn’t WANT to kill him, but it didn’t seem to matter if Carl was dead or alive.

Justice had been served, no matter what. A message had been sent. HER voice, whispering in the figure’s ears kept repeating those words.

Without another glance, and without calling 911, the figure strode to the door. It flicked off all the light switches, and flipped the sign on the front door to closed, but it didn’t bother to lock the door behind itself once it stepped back out onto the sidewalk. The cameras for Carl’s shop hadn’t worked in months, since the Sunstorm, but some of the other places nearby DID have working cameras, and some of the homes down the street had doorbell cams- but all they caught was a fleeting glimpse of a shadowy impossibly tall and thin shape.

>Marki Henderson woke up in the middle of the night- the house around them was quiet and still, only the soft hiss of the heat on a cold February night. Mom (or what was left of her) was no doubt sound asleep, and Abby was working the overnight shift as an EMT. But something was off, something was wrong. Marki struggled fully awake and trudged to the bathroom.

Where they found blood on their hands. Not their own blood- there were not cuts or bruises, or even any soreness. But blood nonetheless. They washed it off, almost mechanically- not thinking about where it had come from, not WANTING to think about it. But when Marki looked in the mirror, sure enough, SHE was there, standing in the open bathroom doorway. The woman in black, the woman who had been advising, coaching- since the Sunstorm, since Marki had been changed. And she was smiling- a broad smile, which should have been warm and pleasant but instead seemed somehow predatory, disturbing… “How does it feel, child? To use your power, to take some sliver of the world back from those who hate you so much?”

And then she was gone, leaving her words lingering in Marki’s ears, in their mind- which of course meant that there was no way for Marki to ask the mysterious (probably imaginary) woman exactly WHAT she was talking about. They had no memory of anything after going to sleep that night- unusually early, mind you, but not outlandishly so...

>Someone found Carl in the morning, an early morning customer in search of bad coffee and a $5 scratchie- ignoring the “Closed” sign on the door and stepping in out of the cold. He was alive, but he was in bad shape. And even when the police showed up, they didn’t have much to work with- no fingerprints, no DNA, cameras that didn’t work, no blood except the victim’s... Carl himself was no help, rambling incoherently (even more than normally)- some of the description had sounded vaguely like a known local Sunstormer, but THAT close, and it didn't sound anything like the way she usually acted (or the parrts of town she was known to operate in).
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

Your Government Dollars At Work
-Mid/late February 2022
-No main characters (momentary Scamp cameo)

A year ago, this assignment would have been quite literally a joke- no one would have been able to justify the expenses, even as a punishment detail.

A week ago, it would have felt like a scut detail- pointless busywork that some high-level administrator had pushed as part of a personal agenda.

But after last week’s attack on Headquarters, Special Agent Johnson knew that this was serious business- literally deadly serious, in a post-Sunstorm world. He had known some of the people who were killed, had recognized some of the scenes in those terrible photos. It still felt weird, kind of surreal even, he thought as he reviewed the printout for the latest meeting- but surreal or not, it was a matter of life and death…

He slid out of the anonymous government sedan and adjusted his sunglasses; looked over at his partner, making almost the same habitual gesture. Then they both looked up at the sign of the shop they had parked in front of: “Steve’s Comic Dungeon”.

This was what they were reduced to, these were the depths they had to sink to… Johnson went over the file one last time as he and his partner headed for the door. Back when they had started this assignment, Johnson had thought that most of the people they would be dealing with were like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons- overweight basement-dwelling nerds, reeking of body odor laced with a hint of pot stank.

But the reality was very different. They had seen a few guys like that, but most of them had been customers. The people they were really after, like today’s target, mostly looked like teachers or librarians- a few of them wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Bureau’s analyst pool. A little pale, maybe, a little weedy by the nearly military standards of Bureau fitness, maybe prone to some questionable fashion choices- but generally they appeared to be reasonable people. Another stereotype shot to heck…

Like this guy, today’s target: Scott Stevens, age 34, White male, 5’9”, 160; brown hair with receding hairline, pulled back in a short ponytail; brown eyes, little granny glasses. Picture looked like a small-town librarian- and, to bust another stereotype, most Bureau agents definitely knew what a librarian looked like; the Bureau’s academic standards were higher than most civilians believed. Funny enough, according to the file, this guy could have been a librarian- he had an MLS degree, which was probably one reason he was so high on the Bureau’s list. But he had also been a panelist at Comic-Con for several years, and was a regular trivia winner at several other super-hero conventions, as well as a respected Redditor on several relevant forums.

In short, he was exactly the sort of expert that the Bureau desperately needed- especially now...

>It hadn’t taken more than a few minutes to hook this guy pretty hard- like many “superhero nerds” he had been halfway hooked on his own, deeply involved in all of the public news that had been released since the effects of the Sunstorm became known. And Johnson was good at his job, he knew how to work a suspect, errm subject… A little bit of stroking the ego, playing up this guy’s expertise and reputation; a little bit of feeding details, things that “hadn’t been released to the general public- yet”. Most of the time had been taken up with paperwork- hard copies with signatures into Johnson’s briefcase, electronic copies received back at Bureau HQ. It was much easier since so much of the background check process had already been done without the subject even knowing about it, had been done just to get him to the top of the list in the first place.

So Special Agent Johnson and Mr. Stevens talked, and they did some paperwork, and then they talked a little more. Special Agent Brown went down to the coffee shop and got a few cups of surprisingly good brew. And then the three of them sat down in front of the Bureau-issued laptop and watched some movies.

It wasn’t much of a surprise that Stevens had already seen a lot of the clips- many of them had been circulating on Youtube and Tiktok, or even reputable news outlets. And, as it turned out, he HAD been very interested, had been following along- score another one for the analysts who had pushed him to the top of the list. But he hadn’t seen all of them- nobody had. Well, almost nobody, except for a very select few, in the highest levels of the Bureau or other government branches- even the president hadn’t seen all of these, though he had received thorough briefings. But nobody in the general public had seen the secretive surveillance video about that Asian guy from Chicago (“Electro”?), or the chaotic clips from inside the Illinois Containment Facility- the nine-foot tall bulletproof teenager (who had been convinced to work for the government now, and some of the controlled demonstration clips about her were equally impressive), the alligator-guy (now unfortunately deceased, since he DIDN’T want to play along), and well, the “disappearing rabbit” (whereabouts unknown, but they were definitely looking). That was the clip that had made Stevens spit out his coffee (thankfully not all over the laptop), the clip that had made him take over the controls, slowing and expanding the playback, watching again and again- the way Johnson had himself the first time he saw it. She just disappeared, moving from place to place around the facility- no sound, no flash of light, no puff of smoke. “No Bamf!,” he heard Stevens mutter as he watched the clip again…

Then he pushed the laptop back across the table. “What classification system are you using? Is it simple blaster/speedster/powerhouse, or something more advanced, like in Worm or Aberrant? Do you have anyone doing hypothetical builds, like Champions, or M&M, or City of Heroes?”

Special Agent Johnson shook his head. “That was the sort of thing that we were looking to hire YOU for. I mean, there have been some informal designations, but nothing like an actual classification system with formal benchmarks and categories. There just hasn’t been enough time, or enough data, to put something together. But we know that we need it, and this genie isn’t going back in the bottle.”

He pulled off his sunglasses and looked Mr. Stevens directly in the eye. “So what do you say? Are you in? Do you want to lead this project for us? For America, for the World?”
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Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

>Not all Sunstormers are bullet-proof, or even bullet-resistant- but they WERE changed. And some of them are more bullet-resistant than they realize.

The Girl On The Train
>Early/ mid- February 2022
>Grace (And associates), Catseye

Ellie McDonald had always had a talent for art. By the time she was out of middle school, her hand-drawn sketches and cards were valued gifts for her friends and family. Sure there were computer programs that would let nearly anyone create pleasing artwork, but she had genuine talent. Her parents had always wanted her to go to college for something serious- it took nearly the entirety of high school for her to convince them to let her go to art school instead. She was a junior now, and deeply involved in preparing her portfolio for the fall, when the application process would begin in earnest. So three days a week, she went into the city after school to visit the Art Institute. Sometimes she simply went to look through the collection again, or to study a particular piece to increase her understanding of some technique or another. Sometimes she went to sketch- again either a particular piece or simply an assortment of random details, guided by momentary inspiration. One of her sketches of the lions outside, under a light coating of ice and snow, was the best piece she had done in years, she was sure.

She REALLY wanted to go to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design), and she wasn’t going to let some little detail like a world-altering Sunstorm interfere with that.

But the Sunstorm HAD changed the world- and it had changed Ellie herself…

Her eyes, which had been an unremarkable brown, were now a striking green-gold, colored and slit-pupiled like a hunting cat. Quite lovely, but also rather noticeable- to the point that Ellie, who wasn’t really the sort of person who looked other people in the eye directly all that often had still chosen to adopt a set of large, paparazzi-busting sunglasses.

The glasses served another purpose as well. In addition to being very odd and noticeable, her eyes were more sensitive now. She could see in all-but total darkness as well as daylight, and she could see a broader range of colors, a more diverse and intense visual palette. But direct sunlight glimmering on the snow, or artificial light like that of a CTA train, was uncomfortably bright these days…

When she was done with whatever artistic project she had chosen for the day, she got back on the Blue line and headed back out to Forest Park station, where her parents would pick her up. Today was no different- or it hadn’t started off differently…

She had made it to Jackson Station just in time to catch an outbound train, right on schedule- and right on schedule the train had pulled out of the station and promptly slowed to a crawl. A garbled announcement rang out after a few minutes, proclaiming another round of the ever-popular “signal problems”- it was going to be a long trip home. Ellie sent her mom a quick text update, then curled up in her seat as best she could and hauled her sketchbook out of her bag. She didn’t want to start anything new, but she could touch up a few details that were still fresh in her mind. There were a few other people in the train car, but it wasn’t anything like crowded- a dozen or so workers on the way home, a mix of hard-core “in office” workers and service personnel, and a pack of suburban high school boys in team jackets, clustered at the far end of the car, being just a bit too loud and obnoxious. Not enough to bother Ellie, or to interfere with her focus. She settled in to her work, colored pencils filling in tiny but crucial details on today’s sketches.

The train was moving slowly, but it was moving. Ellie was deep in her work, hardly paying attention to her surroundings- she certainly didn’t notice the glances that some of the boys shot in her direction. Stations crawled by- people got off, fewer people got on. At one point the train sped up, almost to a normal pace, before slewing to a sudden stop. Ellie managed to NOT scrawl a mistaken mark across her sketch, but her glasses slipped halfway down her nose- without even thinking she pulled them off and slid them into her bag. Her eyes adjusted- it was a bit too bright, but it let her see the details of her work more clearly.

She didn’t notice that one of the boys had been looking right at her at that critical moment. Didn’t notice how his own eyes widened. Didn’t notice how he shoulder-checked one of his friends. Didn’t notice the sudden burst of shocked dialogue amongst the group. The colors, the lines of her sketch- the details drew her in...

The boys stepped closer, moving as a pack, like teenage boys tend to do. They had closed most of the length of the train car, starting to spread out a bit- drawing a few annoyed grunts or surly looks from the half-dozen other people they pushed past. Then the train rocked ever so slightly, slowing a bit more as it approached another station. Perhaps the motion of the train drew her out of her trance, maybe she saw something at the edge of her peripheral vision. Either way, Ellie looked up suddenly- and hissed as she looked into the glare of the overhead lights. The boys stopped- close enough to ring her seat, to pen her in. The first boy cursed. “Oh damn, I was right. You’re one of THEM, one of those freaks, those Sunstormers...” The last word came out with a bit of a hiss- still a new term, still unfamiliar.

“Don’t piss her off man- she’ll set you on fire or something with her super-powers,” one of his friends said mockingly- but one of the other boys drew a shocked breath and took half a step back; his older brother had showed him some unedited footage from the incident on the plaza.

“No, I, I’m just wearing special contacts, for a theater project,” Ellie stammered, squirming in her seat as she grabbed for her sunglasses. At the other end of the train car, a few passengers turned to watch- but it was Chicago- they just watched, not knowing who might have a gun…

The first boy reached forward, shoving Ellie back in her seat. “You gonna do that, freak? Gonna set us on fire, tear our arms off?” His voice had grown louder, and he glanced around at the rest of his group, looking for approval, for agreement. He must have found what he was searching for, as he stepped forward again, shoving Ellie back, rocking her in her seat- her sketchbook and pencils slid off her lap and onto the floor, but at least the sketchbook flipped closed on the way down, the ever-important artwork sheathed between the heavy protective covers.

“Get off me!,” Ellie screamed now, twisting in her seat uncomfortably- the circle of boys pressed closer, except for one who stepped back another pace, though he made no move to stop his friends, At the other end of the car, two people tensed, almost moving- the other bystanders continued to, well, stand by… Ellie scrabbled for her phone, only to have the leader of the boys slap it away.

What happened next happened fast- when they were questioned afterwards, no one could say when the knife had come out, where it had come from. All the other boys insisted that their friend hadn’t been carrying a blade, he would never… He was a good kid, good school, good family- he had a future, he wouldn’t be carrying a (definitely illegal) knife like some inner-city punk, he certainly wouldn’t…

But the knife was there, and it was in his hand- and the next time he pushed forward he didn’t shove, he stabbed. Ellie screamed in earnest now, and twisted in her seat- there wasn’t room to escape, but she thrashed enough to fall out of the seat and to the floor. There was another flash as the kid with the knife struck again, a blind slash along Ellie’s leg as she struggled, and two of the other boys joined in, kicking at her as she writhed on the ground.

That was enough for most of the other people in the car- phones came up, some to record the incident, others dialing 911. And two men stepped closer- a burly Black man in cook’s whites, and a smaller white guy.

The train began to slow even more, and an automated announcement called out “Approaching Pulaski Station”.

>Elsewhere (but not by much): It was only about fifteen minutes into their shift, and Abby was just sort of driving aimlessly through their assigned sector for the night as she and Keyanna chatted, catching up on how their respective days had gone so far.

They were waiting in line for the light to change, the third vehicle back from the intersection of West Congress Parkway and South Pulaski when the radio squawked, an urgent call from Dispatch. “Any units in the area of Pulaski Station? We have a report of a fight on the train, at least one person stabbed...” Strictly speaking, Central Dispatch had all of the city ambulances geotracked, but union rules meant that they had to ask.

Abby looked at the intersection ahead, and from the driver’s seat she could look across and down- to see a Blue Line train crawling into the station- maybe thirty yards away. “Take it,” she barked at her partner- and even as Keyanna was picking up the radio mike, Abby flipped on the lights and siren. The light hadn’t changed, but the cars ahead of them inched and wiggled, trying to get out of the way.

Abby bulled the big ambulance out and into the intersection without upsetting anyone’s insurance company, and hauled left, pulling up alongside the station entrance before Keyanna was off the radio with dispatch. “Dispatch says it is still a live scene, people still fighting. PD is on the way, and Transit cops, but we’re going to be first on scene,” Keyanna growled. “You up for this?” EMTs weren’t, strictly speaking, supposed to take the lead on something like this, but waiting might mean the difference between life and death. Abby was already halfway out the door, but she turned back to her partner.

“Well, I don’t hear gunfire, so I figure we’re good...”

Keyanna smiled, a feral sort of grin. “Damn right. Let’s do this...” They both bailed out of the truck and trotted around to the back- each of them grabbed a bag of gear, but with the scene still active they could wait to drag out the stretcher. Every second might count. They were already jogging down onto the platform by the time the train actually ground to a stop, their eyes searching for a clue as to which car was the crime scene. Doors slid open all down the length of the train, and people began to file out- except for one car halfway down- where people were RUNNING out. That would be the place…

Both of the EMTs quickened their steps, but Abby was faster. She stepped inside the first open door of the train car and looked over the scene. She could already smell the coppery tang of blood- that definitely wasn’t a good sign. And there was quite a scrum of people still struggling at the far end of the car- four or five high school boys against three random guys, all shouting at each other and wrestling frantically. And through that chaotic melee, Abby could see someone down on the floor, almost under the seats- in a spreading pool of red.

Abby was halfway down the length of the car when Keyanna stepped in the door behind her. “Medic!,” she shouted, which slowed the struggle but didn’t stop it, as some of the participants turned to look. Abby didn’t even bother to slow down, just lowering a shoulder and pushing through, like she had seen Vic do on the football field for years. She wasn’t super-strong or anything, she must have hit them just right, because she forced her way through the scrum and went down on one knee beside the victim, a teenage girl. One of the boys was still struggling, flailing wildly and screaming about freaks- Abby even felt him hit her arm as he lashed out. In response she reached back, without even looking, and shoved the boy away. He stumbled and fell to the ground, and two of the guys piled onto him. Abby reached out towards the girl, starting the process of getting her checked over. Keyanna bulled her own way forward, dragging and shoving at the remaining combatants, forcing them away from the girl so Abby could work.

Time seemed to slow as she began to deal with the girl’s injuries. Abby got her uncurled from her fetal defensive posture and tried to take stock- one stab wound, high on her right shoulder; one cut on her leg, pretty minor; one cut along the forehead and into the hairline, probably minor, but bleeding like crazy like head wounds usually did- that would be where most of the blood on the floor had come from. As Abby slapped a quick trauma dressing onto the head wound, the girl managed to open her eyes- revealing amazing cats’ eye pupils. Abby, somehow, didn’t flinch, didn’t so much as twitch- simply registered that the girl was probably a Sunstormer, then kept right on with her work. This wasn’t the first Sunstormer she had treated, and it was unlikely to be the last...

By then Keyanna had knelt on the girl’s other side, pausing only to toss an artist’s sketchbook up onto the seat- partly to keep it out of the spreading blood, partly just to get it out of her way. The fighting was still going on, though it seemed to be slowing down- Abby and Keyanna didn’t really care, they were focused on their work. Both of them moved quickly, methodically- Abby perhaps a bit more quickly, Keyanna a bit more methodically. Keyanna, who was better at that sort of thing, also kept the victim talking- conscious, awake, and participating in her own care as much as she could, despite the pain. It didn’t take that long to get the wounds dressed- and as soon as they did, the two of them lifted the girl off the floor and laid her down on a row of seats instead, off the floor and out of the blood.

Somewhere in there, Abby registered the bull bellow of the police arriving and taking charge of the scene- only two of the combatants were still at it by that point, and the first two cops took care of that with brutal efficiency, pulling the two men apart and slamming each of them against opposite walls of the train car. Which, of course, provoked a chaotic outcry from all of the other people still on scene, as all of them shouted about how one or the other of them had started it, or whatever… Abby tuned all of that out, and kept working. Strictly speaking, they probably could have walked the girl out, even with her leg wound, but procedure called for her to be carried on a stretcher, so Abby left Keyanna to tend the girl (under the watchful eyes of another cop) and went back out to the ambulance. It didn’t take her long to unload the stretcher, even by herself- it still seemed lighter than it had during training, but (once again) Abby just put that down to incident-driven adrenaline.

By the time she got back around to the train, dragging the stretcher behind her, Abby saw that a few more police had arrived, and they had clearly taken charge of the scene. Witnesses were clustered on one end of the train car and anyone who had been obviously involved was sitting down, waiting for the police to cuff them up. That left Keyanna and their patient (and the police guard) alone at the other end of the car. One of the other cops helped Abby wrestle the stretcher through the doors- then he reached out and tugged gently at her sleeve. “Guy with the knife tagged you too? Let us know if you want to make a statement about that.”

Abby looked down at her arm- sure enough, there was along ragged tear in the sleeve of her uniform. It must have have happened when that one guy smacked her arm, though she hadn’t felt a cut. “Nah, it’s just clothing. I’ve got a uniform allowance, but I don’t have time to actually get cut.” Despite her statement, she saw the red along the edge of the cut sleeve- but she wasn’t bleeding. Maybe it got splashed when she was helping the victim.

It didn’t take long to get the girl loaded up onto the stretcher, and the piled her bag and her stuff on as well. While the sketchbook had been on the floor, it hadn’t gotten too much blood on it. While they worked, Abby could hear the cops talking to the people who had actually been fighting. One kid, probably the guy who had tagged her, kept ranting about how the girl was a freak- apparently he had noticed her eyes too, and that was what had set him off, though he seemed kind of aggressive and unstable to start with. Abby wanted to reach over and slap him, but that wouldn’t be professional- and besides, she had work to do. But she smiled a little when one of the cops, apparently also frustrated by the constant stream of vitriol/justification, shoved the kid back against the row of seats far harder than was necessary.

Once they had the girl on the stretcher and ready to go, Abby took a card from one of the cops and let them know where they were taking the girl. She was going to live, and she would probably be okay in the long term, but it would be a painful and traumatic experience for her. Once she got to the hospital, the staff would reach out to her parents or contacts- another task that Abby wanted no part of.

As they loaded the stretcher and the patient up into the ambulance, Keyanna took a lingering look at her partner, then reached over and tugged at Abby’s sleeve, where it had been cut. She raised her eyebrows in an unspoken question. “It’s nothing- he didn’t cut ME,” Abby murmured. Keyanna pulled at the sleeve again, where it was bloody. Abby sighed and reached over, pulling at the opening in the sleeve- showing her partner her arm, where there was barely a visible pink line on her pale skin, not even enough to really qualify as a scratch. “See, nothing...” Keyanna patted her on shoulder. “Long as you are up to date with your tetanus shots, I guess. Let’s get this girl to the ER...”
Last edited by pathfinderq1 on Sun Jun 04, 2023 4:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Joined: Sun Mar 12, 2017 4:04 pm

Re: What "Might Have Been": Vignettes of the Sunstorm

Post by pathfinderq1 »

>Mid/ Late- February 2022
>No main characters (+Nemesis!)
>Away from Chicago (rural Missouri)

Grady Chambers lived just outside of Pine Ridge, Missouri- he had moved there after he retired from the Springfield MO police department back in 2015. After twelve years in the Army and 20 more on the police force, he had settled in on a small farmstead to raise and train dogs. He had always loved dogs, ever since he was a boy- his Army stint and his police service had both mostly been as a K-9 handler, and he had been very good at his job. Most of the people he had served with had been convinced that he had a gift for the work, that he dealt with dogs better than he did with people. Back in the day, they might even have been right.

But since the Sunstorm a month or so back, that assumption had quite literally come true. He could actually talk to his dogs now, and he could understand what they were trying to say to him. He could even MAKE them obey him, which certainly made working with and training the dozen or so dogs in his kennel quite a bit easier. It was a little unsettling though, a little weird- even after a lifetime of working with dogs, to have the communication be this clear, this direct…

Grady’s homestead was set back off the road, and he liked his privacy these days. There was no gate, but there was a fence right at the bottom of the unpaved driveway where the mailbox was, and both the fence and the driveway were liberally marked with “No Trespassing” and “No Solicitors” signs. Anyone driving up towards the house saw more signs, things like “Trespassers will get bit- if they’re lucky”. And, of course, enough “Beware of Dog” signs to cover a decent sized barn. This house was well-built, but fairly small- Grady didn’t need much for himself really, and it had a storm shelter, which was important in this part of the country. Behind the house was a small storage barn and two low kennels, built of reinforced concrete and set partially into the low hill at the back of the property. A fenced yard was set between the kennel buildings- for the dogs to train and play in.

This early in February, most of the property was still covered in snow- there were some paths from the house to the barn and kennels, and the driveway was passable if you had a half-decent vehicle. The only space that was fully clear was the yard between the kennels- that was used every day, even with only a dozen dogs getting trained up for sale. These were, after all, not little ornamental lapdogs he was raising- these were big dogs, active dogs; police dogs in the making. Dogs that took a lot of work and a lot of food, dogs that needed a lot of exercise. Misty was almost due for another litter of puppies in the next week or so, and that would make things even more crazy around the place- to the point where Grady had been thinking about hiring somebody to help out, maybe a local high school kid who needed a few extra bucks, or a solid recommendation for the police academy or something. But in the last month or so, since the Sunstorm, the job had gotten a lot easier. Just being able to talk to the dogs directly, and to have them able to talk to him just as clear, to make their needs known- well, it still wasn’t exactly easy, especially at Grady’s age, but it was definitely easier than it had been.

Especially since he had been talking to that woman- you know the one… It hadn’t ever seemed weird to him, how she always seemed to be wreathed in cloaks of shadows, and he hadn’t ever thought too hard about just how she got here, remote as the homestead was, or where she went when she left. He had heard about people going crazy when they spent too long alone (or with only dogs for company)- but that sort of thing couldn’t happen to somebody like him- he was a man, a Real Man, a red-blooded American, a veteran. She seemed so real, and she seemed to make so much sense- talking about the gifts he had been given, the power. How he could use those gifts to teach people a lesson, to show them the truth. How he could help set some Bad People onto a better path. So he had listened- and she smiled, and his abilities grew stronger- that was when he learned that he couldn’t just talk to the dogs, or understand them- he could see through their eyes, could control them. And that would make it so much easier to do what she wanted him to do, to do the right thing with these gifts, these powers.

But then there had been a week or so, just after the first time he took control of the four biggest dogs at once and had them run down a deer together- nearly a week when she hadn’t visited. And Grady and the dogs had spent a few long days talking things over. Maybe there were other ways to use these abilities, other lessons they could teach, other ways to reach people. And the next time, she had showed up, just a few nights ago, Grady hadn’t just listened- he had tried to tell her about his ideas, about how maybe, just maybe, she was wrong about this.

She hadn’t liked that, hadn’t listened- had cussed him up a storm, in fact. She had said that if he couldn’t help her TEACH a lesson, then by the Powers (not “by God”, but “by the Powers”, and wasn’t that sort of strange), then she would make sure that he LEARNED a lesson instead. And then she was gone, maybe for good.

Grady wasn’t really worried about her teaching him a lesson. He had his dogs, a formidable force on there own, and he still had his guns from when he had been a cop, and all the years of training and experience that went with them. And this was his land, his place- and there weren’t nobody who was going to push him around on his own land.

So he and the dogs got back to work, and the days continued to pass. Grady didn’t watch the news too much these days, but he saw some things when he did- bad things. He wondered just how many of the people who were doing those things had been visited by that woman, how many of them had listened- and how many had agreed with her. Or had they, just maybe, been bad people all along, up to these terrible ends on their own initiative? One thing he had learned as a cop over the years was that there were plenty of bad people out there, and most of them didn’t need any help being bad, didn’t need a push.

It was nearly mid-day, and maybe a Tuesday- Grady didn’t always pay attention to which day it was unless there was an important sports event that he wanted to watch, and this part of February was smack in between the end of football season and the beginning of baseball, so ther wasn’t much he was interested in. He had finished the morning chores and he was sitting out on the porch- even as cold as it was during the winter, he still liked to just sit out here and look across the open ground. HIS land.

Well, his and the dogs these days. Even sitting out on the porch, he could sense them all, back in the kennels behind the house. If he focused, he could even “listen”, for lack of a better word, to what they were all “saying”. Or he could “speak” to them, and they would listen, would understand.

They would obey.

But as he looked out from his porch, he saw a wink of sunlight on glass. A car had turned off the main road, down onto the unpaved road that led back into the hills. Besides his own driveway, Grady knew that there wasn’t much out this way that might draw a visitor. And it was much too early for the mailman on his route, not that Grady was expecting much mail.

This late in the winter, the unpaved road was a rutted torn-up mass- there hadn’t been much snow lately, so it was passable, but it wouldn’t be fun without some kind of high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle. Grady leaned forward in his chair, just a bit- interested. Maybe some traveler whose GPS insisted that this was a real road? It had happened before, but usually at night, when they couldn’t SEE the terrain and overrule the damn map-in-a-box.

And even though he didn’t realize it, the dogs back in their kennel sensed his interest and quieted down, pricking up their own (metaphorical) ears, though their interest was far more predatory…

Minutes passed, as the car made its way down what passed for a road. It was a dark-colored anonymous sort of SUV- the sort of steroidal land whale that was more at home in the city or suburbs than out here in the country, where massive pickup trucks were the vehicle of choice. But it was big enough and sturdy enough to navigate the rutted road. And, surprisingly, it slid to a stop at the end of Grady’s driveway, instead of continuing further along into the hills.

Grady stood up as the SUV sat motionless, and the driver’s door opened up. A man got out and took one sweeping look at the surrounding landscape, then turned to gaze directly up the driveway, to the house, and to Grady himself.

Even at this distance, better than a hundred yards, Grady could feel the energy of that stare, the intensity. He didn’t shrink from it, didn’t flinch. Even THAT WOMAN couldn’t make him do that- not here on his own land, not now. But he could register the sheer presence. This was no idle lost traveler- this was trouble.

Without even realizing that he was doing it, Grady reached out to his dogs, calling them to his side. Back in the kennels behind the house, the cages slid open, and the outer doors- opened by appendages that were not, precisely, paws. And eight dogs began to make their way out to the front yard- four of them moving around either side of the house.

Grady watched warily as the man began to stride confidently down the driveway towards the house. It was still winter and still cold- and while the driveway was mostly clear of snow, it was a frozen rutted mess even worse than the farm road. But the stranger walked as smoothly and easily as if he were striding along a tiled hallway. Despite the winter chill, he wore only a light jacket, more suited to a brisk May afternoon than February in the Ozarks- but if the weather bothered him he gave no sign. He had covered more than half the distance by the time the dogs rounded the corners of the house and moved towards the porch to stand by their master’s side.

Except that, well, they really weren’t precisely DOGS anymore- they sort of resembled dogs, of course, and when Grady looked at them, he still saw them as dogs, like he always had. But the eight creatures that Grady had called to stand with him were monstrously over-muscled, with dappled hide like dinosaurs and outsized claws. And, well, opposable thumbs on their forepaws. The powers that Grady had developed after the Sunstorm, and with the assistance of the Woman that he did not know as Nemesis, had been shared with his pack- and the results had not been subtle- or gentle.

It would take a more careful eye to realize how they moved with an uncanny, almost disturbing, degree of coordination- as if they were one creature in eight bodies. Even a pack of wolves, or a well-trained unit of soldiers, did not have this level of unity.

The stranger finally paused, maybe thirty yards away now. He looked over the dogs, nodding ever so slightly as he took note of their coordination, and of their visibly unnatural forms. As he made his observation, it gave Grady time to observe the stranger in turn.

He was white, with pale skin like he didn’t spend much time outdoors, and light blond hair, nearly white, which was fairly short- kind of like a military cut that had had a few months to grow out. He was dressed far too lightly for still-mostly-winter, but the cold didn’t seem to bother him. He was handsome enough- not quite model/movie star attractive, but noticeably good-looking. The only odd detail was the heavy work gloves covering his hands.

It was his eyes which were his most striking feature- from this distance they appeared to be completely black (though, surely, that couldn’t be true) and the sheer force of his gaze was nearly a tangible sensation. Looking across the distance between them brought back some uncomfortable memories for Grady- the same feeling one got when a gun was pointed directly at you, and you were staring down the barrel (and, quite possibly, into eternity).

He was smiling with what appeared to be genuine warmth, though that did little to dampen the uncomfortable pressure of his stare. “I guess you would be Grady,” he said, as he started waking closer. “We have a mutual acquaintance, I think.” His voice was as warm as his smile, and it held just a hint of a Southern drawl, a vocal cue that Grady had heard often enough over the years.

“And, I’m sad to say, she isn’t very happy with you. She sent me out here to talk to you, see if we can straighten things out a bit...” He continued moving closer, seemingly ignoring the massive not-quite-dogs which had formed up around Grady, even when they started a harmonic chorus of low growls, which said, all too clearly “Too Close”. He finally stopped, about twenty feet away from the nearest member of the pack.

“You DO know who I’m talking about, right? And why she isn’t too happy with you?

Grady nodded. Between the presence of his “dogs” and the slight advantage of standing on the porch (as well as the nearly unconscious confidence granted by being on his own land), he wasn’t rattled by the force of the stranger’s presence, or his implied threat. “Pretty sure I know who you’re talking about- a sort of peculiar-looking woman, if I’m right. And I’m not surprised that she is unhappy- we had a bit of a disagreement, sure enough. I AM surprised that she sent you out to talk about it- she seemed like the type to take care of things her own self. Especially since I’m not likely to change my mind- and, well, this is my place and my friends and I aren’t likely to look kindly on being threatened.” Even as he spoke, one of the not-dogs began to move slowly forward, as the rest of the pack looked on eagerly.

The stranger sighed, and pulled off one of his heavy gloves. The hand beneath was truly ugly, swollen and discolored like a wound gone bad. “Well, our mutual acquaintance has a lot of other projects that she is working on right now, and let’s just say that she doesn’t like to get her hands dirty like that. I wasn’t going to get all threatening, not right from the start, but we can skip ahead if it would make things easier for you. As you can see, my hands are already dirty, so a little more won’t upset me much...” He was still speaking calmly when the lead “dog” turned from a casual approach into a charge, covering the remaining distance in the blink of an eye and leaping towards the stranger’s throat.

Though he still seemed relaxed, the stranger moved almost impossibly fast, reaching out with tha ugly, misshapen hand and catching the “dog” out of the air in midleap- a feat which should have been all-but impossible, considering its mass and speed. The not-dog growl turned suddenly into a choking gasp- and all of the other “dogs” in the pack simultaneously began to howl. Even Grady felt it, through the strange link he shared with the beasts- a stunning mix of pain and rage.

Almost immediately the not-dog’s flesh began to liquefy under ths stranger’s hand- he closed his grip into a fist, like squeezing a handful of pudding, nearly severing the creature’s head in one swift motion. Almost casually, he flung the body aside and stepped forward.

Grady’s eyes widened and he flung out one hand in a gesture that was half-defensive and half-direction to the remaining members of his pack. The not-dogs tensed for a moment, overcoming the shock of the sudden loss of their pack-mate, and then leapt forward.

The stranger smiled and stepped in to meet them- now moving faster and more smoothly than a normal person. More like an action-movie hero- or a superhuman…

>Fade to (gory, messy) black...
Last edited by pathfinderq1 on Sun Jun 04, 2023 4:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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