Sunday, August 19, 2018

40 : Echo


Following the formation of New Gondwana and the Extinction Wave, Madagascar found itself in isolation from the rest of the planet. Expeditions from Australia, Japan, and Scotland revealed that the population had survived the Wave, but the still developing nation, cut off from the support of the global market, was doomed to severe recession. Likewise, it was initially feared that the island might fall under threat from New Gondwana, as it was the closest landmass to the supercontinent, and no one knew what the Queens had planned next.

The Allied Islands of Europe officially claimed the island as part of their territory, in exchange for allowing most of the population to relocate into mainland Europe. One million people opted remained behind, however, staying in the port towns of Mahajanga and Toamasina.

Despite being officially AIE territory, they had an agreement with the Pacific Alliance to allow them to station a military base on the island. In this way, both nations were able to ostensibly keep an eye on New Gondwana, to forewarn of any potential threats, and be an ideal launching point for a counter-attack. As a side benefit, the island also served as a trade and communications hub for both nations.

New Gondwana had not made an outward act of aggression since its formation, however. For the past five years, Madagascar’s forces have kept watch westward over a silent enemy. The four hundred superhumans and ten thousand human soldiers stationed there have mostly just twiddled their thumbs.

They were completely unprepared for an army of several thousand supers to suddenly sweep down upon them from the north, and run roughshod over the two cities, slaughtering the humans on their way to brainwash the superhumans. I knew we would find no allies when we arrived.

As soon as she was able, Strider brought us to the surface on the northernmost tip of the island, appearing on a sandy shore. She had been correct: the heat and pressure of traveling miles beneath the surface for thousands of jumps had been intense. I’d been the least effected, but even I had felt it. Strider took a moment catch her breath. Her power didn’t appear to strain her at all, or at least, her stamina for using it was incredibly high, but the conditions she encountered when traveling could take their toll.

She also allowed Shoggoth and Hitchhiker to recover. The former sloughed off the latter’s body, reforming himself into his tall blond, mostly male, form. I handed him back his robes.

God that sucked,” said Hitchhiker, bending over with her hands braced against her knees. “Gimme… ugh… gimme a minute…” Shoggoth put a hand on her shoulder to steady her, having already recovered himself. She pat his hand, giving him an appreciative smile. “Thanks for covering me.”

“Sure,” he said.

She gave him a wink. “We should do it again sometime.”

“I would prefer if we didn’t.”

“So,” said Strider. “Where to?”

“Cero said that if we made it back, to meet her in Mahajanga. It’s a seaport on the west side of the island, so you should be able to just follow the shoreline.”

“Alright. Everyone ready?”

“Can I say no?” said Hitchhiker.

Strider teleported us along. In less than a minute, we were standing on the city’s major dockyard. I had been hoping to catch Cero’s army preparing itself for war, or worst, just starting to take off. Instead, no one was here. Strider teleported us around some more, and through a combination of what she called her ground sense, a wide-area application of my echolocation, Shoggoth’s enhanced senses, and Hitchhiker’s aura vision, we detected absolutely no one.

The city was empty, silent but for the calls of local birds and the soft splashing of the ocean waves. Morning had not yet reached this part of the world, but streetlights were still active. We could see signs of a struggle, buildings toppled, fires still burning in the distance, bodies thrown through walls or cut to pieces or smeared across the street. It was a gruesome sight. I’d seen worse in my time, and Hitchhiker didn’t seem particularly phased. But Shoggoth kept his eyes down, and Strider averted her gaze from the dead. I wouldn’t have thought a Queen would be so easily fazed, but then, I wouldn’t have thought one would try to escape the supercontinent she helped create, either.

After several more minutes of searching, Strider finally detected some human movement. She transported us to a spot near a three-story square structure that looked like an office building.

“Of course they’re on the third floor,” she muttered.

“How many are there?”

“Five, in total,” she said. “If it is Cero, then she must have body guards.”

“That’s strange,” said Hitchhiker, staring up at the building. “I only see four people.”

“Four heartbeats,” said Shoggoth, his head tilted towards the upper windows. “But I can hear five different footsteps.”

“There’s definitely five,” Strider confirmed.

“I guess she is an alien after all,” Hitchhiker muttered.

I tuned in my own sonic powers to detect the sounds coming from the building. I did indeed recognize Cero’s voice and the pattern of her footsteps. I didn’t recognize the others right away.

“Alright,” I said. “Excellent. I figured she’d stay behind while her army went and did the hard work. She’s a very behind-the-scenes type.”

“No kidding,” said Hitchhiker. “So, what, we just go on in?”

“Yes,” I said. “Now, just act compliant, as though you are grunt soldiers. Don’t act robotic, but act like you have no initiative, and don’t speak unless spoken to. And when you do speak, don’t be a smart ass.” I looked at Hitchhiker as I said that.

She smirked and said, “Who me?”

“I mean it.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“The building has a basement, but if I go any higher, my powers are going to be cut off,” said Strider. “Would it not be more prudent if I stayed out here?”

I thought it over for a few moments, though to them, it probably seemed like I answered immediately. “Yes, that would be wise. If we cannot take her down directly, we will try to lure her to the ground, so you can reach her.”

She nodded, then vanished, placing herself in a hidden location.

I led the remaining two through the front door of the building, and the other three followed in single file. We cut through a lobby, following the sounds of Cero and her four guards closely, tracing the sound waves as they vibrated through the building.

We went up to the third floor, and down a dimly lit hallway, until we reached a set of double doors. I strode in with an air of purpose, and we entered a large conference room. Four figures turned to face me. Three were women, a redhead dressed in white with glowing violet eyes, a tall muscular bald woman dressed only in a bikini, and an Asian woman in a sky blue kimono, cold mist wisping off her limbs.

The single male was a teenaged boy in jeans and a tee-shirt, carrying an old fashioned lantern on a long pole. The inside of the lantern glowed with a soft blue light. I recognized him now as one of the handful of supers Cero had with her when the SFF first rooted her out. I’d never actually gotten around to talking with him before.

My eyes fixated on the woman in the center, tinkering with a projector. Her pixie cut black hair and green eyes were a bit striking, and the white lab coat an uncommon form of dress, but otherwise, she looked like a perfectly ordinary woman. It was hard to believe she was in fact an alien soldier.

But then, looks were deceiving. A lot of superhumans didn’t look like how you’d expect a superhuman to. They appeared like ordinary people, with no clues as to what their abilities were. The Super Fem Force had gone out of their way to be an exception, with their cheesecake superhero motif.

After a moment of puttering with the projector, Cero attached a small device to the side of it, and clicked a button. An image of the ocean appeared on the blank white wall ahead. She motioned towards the boy with the lantern. He went to click off the lights, and pulled down the curtains of the windows, even though it was still dark outside.

“Cero, I have returned,” I said, flatly.

With a robotically monotone voice, Cero responded. “I am aware. I see you have lost me four soldiers and brought back only three to compensate, none of whom you left with.”

“The Earth Mage’s forces were stronger than anticipated,” I said, not testing her on the fact that she knew I had a third companion.

“You assured me he would be worth the risk,” Cero said. “Instead, you have failed to capture him, and you have cost me four very powerful members of the Super Fem Force.” She stood up straight and turned to me, her bright eyes fixating on mine. The lantern boy’s soft blue light kept some illumination in the room, not enough to interfere with the projector’s image, but enough that Cero’s gaze was plain to see. Her face, like her voice, was always emotionless. She did not convey anger or disappointment at my failure. I did notice the lantern boy shooting me an almost-glare, however.

“Did you at least recover the device?” Cero said.

“I’m afraid that I did not.”

“That is very unfortunate. It held irreplaceable components.”

“You still have the two others?”

“They have been sent with the army.”

“Very well. Do you wish us to join them, or shall we assist you here?”

“They have already deployed.” She turned to the image on the wall. It had shifted zooming in to show that, floating on the water, was an enormous white platform, like a circular barge made of snow-white metal. It was a quarter-mile wide disc, and it hovered over the waters. Upon this platform were several thousand people. Here and there, I could see the glow of some kind of power effect. At least a hundred other figures were flying in the air above them.

The air around the platform seemed to ripple like a heat wave, and I realized that with every flicker, the waters below, and the stars in the dim blue sky above, shifted. The platform was being teleported forward in repeated jumps, similar how Strider jumped us along a mile at a time. In just under a minute, the army came to a stop in front of an enormous wall of pink light. The image was washed out in the brightness of the energy field, but the camera adjusted itself. I realized the image had been using a low-light filter previously, showing us sufficient details despite the army being even further into nighttime than we were.

“We will go to join them once they have secured a base camp from which we can operate,” she said. “We will use your teleporter.”

“Of course,” I said. I wondered how she had known, but she must have figured that was the only way we had gotten here from Reeha so quickly.

Cero spoke while keeping her gaze on the image. “Echo. Why did you leave one of your new recruits outside?”

“To ensure the area was secure. I was concerned that there may be hidden survivors. I told her to search for any stragglers who may prove a threat to us.”

Cero looked to the woman with the glowing violet eyes. The woman looked us over, then shook her head. Cero reached beneath her lab coat and said, “Kill them.”

The five attacked us.


1 comment:

  1. It's not going to be that easy, of course.

    I really don't know who's going to make it out of this alive. At this point, anyone's game. Not the most encouraging though, to be sure.