Gatekeepers #3

A story by Aaron Daniels.

Evey blinked the sleep out of her eyes a few minutes after dawn.

Morning already?

Peeling the covers off of herself, she swung her feet over the side of the bed and walked to the window. She opened the blinds and looked out into the neighborhood. People were already going about their morning routines — or finishing up their nightly routines, Evey supposed — even though the sun wasn’t up yet. The flow of bodies and vehicles was homey: spending multiple years in an installation full of other people constantly in motion at all times would have that effect. Turning her mind back to her apartment, Evey noted that the carpet still felt strange between her toes, and her bedroom still didn’t feel like hers. The fact that it was the first time that she had had a “real” living space since back before she had left her parents’ for the air force made it doubly strange. The roominess of it was certainly part of that. Rather than feeling welcoming or spacious, it felt strangely wasteful.

Thinking of what else the space offered, though, made her smile. It was something that she had had to wait until shore leave to do while she was working with Crosswind, and then she had to find some studio with open space to work in. Now, though, she could do it much more easily.

After she closed the blinds, she checked her watch: she still had three hours before she had to leave for campus. That would be more than enough time.

As she walked through the apartment, she faithfully turned on only lights that she needed and turned off those lights that she didn’t. She went into the kitchen and poured herself some coffee from the automatic machine into her travel mug, and ate a quick small breakfast of yogurt and granola. Carrying the mug with her, she went back to the second bedroom. It didn’t have anything resembling the normal elements of a bedroom – not that her apartment in general had many such effects – but she kept this room intentionally bare save for the plastic sheeting that had been carefully measured out and used to cover the floor. In the center of the room sat her art supplies, which included her easel (which she had bought new just for the occasion), a table, a palette, and a wide collection of brushes that had been studiously cleaned before they were put away again.

Evey put her coffee on the table and focused on the uncertainties of the previous day – the high expectations that Dr. Ahmadi had expressed, her self-imposed standards of excellence along the same lines, the well-being of the little girl that she had rescued, Antonio showing her up at the bar – and squeezed some red paint from the tube onto her palette. Then she selected a thin brush and dabbed it in the red. She began painting, keeping her breath slow and even while she let thoughts from her mind down her arm and into the brushstrokes.

* * * * *

By the time Evey walked into the Athena Office area, she was relaxed and ready to start her day. Just as the first time she had come into the room, she found Officer Vincent – Sienna – sprawled out on the main conference table manipulating the holographic geometry around her. However, the second that the door behind Evey clicked shut, Sienna paused in her work and slid off of the table with a look of annoyance.

“Good morning, Evey,” she said in a level tone.

“Good morning, Sienna.” She and Sienna stood in an awkward silence for a moment. “Where are you on the sinkhole investigation?”

“Almost certainly the result of an Extra,” Sienna said.

“Oh.” Evey nodded. “I trust that you’ve found evidence of such?”

Sienna’s look of annoyance persisted. Since she was new and not formally in charge yet, Evey decided not to say anything.

“Yes.” Sienna tapped on a tablet and brought up a replica of the building on the holography. It was how Evey would imagine it before she had seen it falling apart. “Here’s the event recreated at 8x speed, reconstructed from the data that I gathered. Keep your eye on the number in the lower right-hand corner.”

Evey did so while keeping her attention on the simulation in general. She was no stranger to this sort of simulation, but it never failed to amaze her to see it unfold. As she watched, the number began at 0 and reached upward to a maximum of 1.9. A lightbulb came on in Evey’s head, and she had a good idea of what she was looking at: she had helped with her share of earthquakes, after all. But . . .

The simulation ended, and Evey looked Sienna in the eye. Sienna waited, as if she were expecting Evey to do something.

“A 1.9 on the Richter scale wouldn’t be enough to destroy that building,” Evey said.

Sienna smiled a small smile. Evey thought it suited her.

“Nice, got it in one. No, it wouldn’t. But the strange thing how the seismic activity is distributed.” Sienna tapped on her tablet, and the holography switched to an overhead, topographical view of the Akron area. She slid the time marker back to the beginning, and they watched the same set of events elapse. There was a hot spot of seismic activity on the graph . . . right under the building.

“That’s power usage if I’ve ever seen it,” Evey said.

Sienna nodded. “Definitely. There was a strong and focused quake right under the building.”

Evey’s mouth drew into a line. “But why?”

“That is the million dollar question, yes,” Sienna said, then tapped a few more times to close the holography session.

“This constitutes a potential threat to the school grounds, so I want you to open a formal investigation,” Evey said.

“Already a step ahead of you.” Sienna nodded a little. “The forms are on your desk.”

“Thank you.” Evey was both pleased with Sienna’s aggressiveness and annoyed with it, too. Reminding herself that she wa not yet formally in charge did little to calm her mood.

Evey let out a slow, quiet breath as she started to walk to her office, then she heard Sienna gasp. Evey turned to find Sienna staring at her tablet with wide eyes.

“What is it?” Evey said, turning on the spot.

“More seismic activity. The center for this one is right under Draper Hall!”

Evey’s heart skipped a beat. She tapped the control fob on her belt and put in the button sequence that gave her an emergency all-points channel.

“This is Special Agent Evey Bloom to all points. We have a hostile seismic Extranormal event in progress under Draper Hall. Sound the alarms and conduct all the students away from the building. This is not a drill.”

Red lights that Evey had noted on her tour the day before lit up all around the room in the Athena Office, and she, Antonio, and Sienna all stepped into the main area to see men and women in a bustle of well-rehearsed motion.

Evey wished that she were formally in charge so that she were clearer on what to do. As it was, she said, “Where is Antonio?”

Just then, Evey’s earpiece beeped. “Hey, guys,” Antonio said on a channel for their team. “I’m already on-site and assisting with the evacuation. Follow Caron’s lead, and get me on comms if you need me. Antonio out.”

Evey filed away a mental note about Antonio not being in the office. If he were going to be in charge, that just wasn’t a good behavior to maintain.

Chief Carson emerged from her office and waved them over. “Athena Agents, security team four with me.” The chief repeated the comm sequence that Evey had just used. “This is Chief Carson to all points. All available security staff to Draper Hall. I repeat: all security staff to Draper Hall. Priority is evacuation of the students. Be aware that we have an Extranormal hostile in play. Subdue any suspicious persons and restrain them until you receive further orders.”

The two teams followed Carson out to the open-air garage and got in the Jeeps before starting them up. Cade handled theirs expertly, and the driver of the opposite vehicle seemed to be just as good if not a little better. Both vehicles arrived at Draper Hall within moments of each other, and everyone disembarked.

“You have your orders,” Carson said. “Move out!” Chief Carson went straight for the command vehicle that was already waiting for her. Evey set out with Cade and Sienna, starting with the northern end of the building. Evey had studied the floor plans for all the buildings on campus, but her memory wasn’t perfect. Having Cade and Sienna guide her through was invaluable, as they stepped through the classrooms and aided the students and staff out of the building, ground shaking all the while. It was a lot milder than Evey was expecting, and it wasn’t doing much except for knocking some miscellaneous items from desks. With everyone working in concert, it didn’t take very long to get all the students and faculty safely out of the building. As soon as they had gotten the last few stragglers out, Evey’s earpiece chimed.

“Athena Agents, this is Chief Carson,” the Chief said. “Do you read me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Excellent. I want your team down in the maintenance tunnels and making sure that the perpetrator is not in a position to do anything further to campus. The tunnels are reinforced, so you should be safe.”

Sienna said, “The nearest maintenance entrance is half a klick away, but . . .” She looked at Evey, who nodded.

“I can get into them as long as they run under the building.”

“They do,” Sienna said.

“Good. It sounds like you have a method of ingress. Move out and keep me posted. Carson out.”

“The specificity of the effect means that we’re looking at someone who is likely older,” Sienna said as they began moving. “And has had formalized training. The perpetrator is a senior in an Extranormal Academy program at the youngest.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Antonio joined them as they neared the entrance to the building. Evey gave him a bit of a look, but he just smiled, then the four of them moved in unison to the stairs and moved down them as quickly as they could while keeping their balance and breath. They all got down to the bottommost layer of the building – B2 – and jogged into the hallway.

“Sienna,” Evey said, “Do you know where the maintenance tunnels run in relation to this level?”

“I’ve studied the layout, but I don’t remember exactly. But I can fix that.” Sienna pulled to a stop, and the others followed her lead. She closed her eyes, and Evey watched as Sienna hummed a strange note while her eyes shifted back and forth behind her eyelids. Evey couldn’t know for sure, but she was fairly sure that Sienna was using her power.

Meanwhile, Cade looked . . . calm. Strangely so. It was disquieting and dangerous, like a slate-gray storm cloud about to lash out with lightning. That his eyes were fixed on some distant point didn’t help matters.

“Cade?” Evey said.

“The hostile is still here,” Cade said. “Less than a quarter klick away, and he is willing to engage with extreme prejudice.”

Evey swallowed a lump in her throat. “Roger. Sienna, do you have your bearings?”

“Yes,” Sienna said as she opened her eyes. “This way.” They followed her as she led them right at a junction and left at another. “Right here,” she said, tapping the ground with her feet. “This will put us between juncture O2 and K5.”

“Excellent. Everyone, please take a step back.” They did so, and Evey had to concentrate more than she had had to in a while. The possibilities were a little more remote this time: maintenance entrances, after all, were rarely in a building where people could just happen upon them. Rarely. That was the possibility that Evey focused on, and she bore down upon that one permutation of events with all her focus and swept her hands at the floor. Purple static swept over the concrete to resolve into not only a maintenance hatch but one that stood open. There was even a ladder.

“After you guys,” Evey said in a strained voice.

The group looked on for a moment.

“Is it, uh, solid?” Antonio asked.

Evey nodded. “It will be until I reverse the effect.”

“Good enough for me!” Antonio said, then he climbed down the ladder, followed by Cade and Sienna. Evey was the last. After they were all safely on the ground, Evey banished the hatch into the possibility from whence it had come as the whole thing vanished in with a clap of static.

“Handy.” Antonio nodded at Cade. “Any more intel, Cade?”

He paused and set his jaw, considering. “He’s retreating.”

“Good.” Antonio turned to Evey. “Hey, Evey, go ahead and let the Chief know.”

Evey nodded and clicked the input on the fob that opened the direct line.

“Carson,” came the voice from the other end.

“Chief, this is Evey.” Evey took a deep, steadying breath. “We have a possible lead on the suspect, but chances are good that he would become even more dangerous if we took action against the suspect, and with the powerset in play and the fact that we’re underground . . . Do we pursue?”

“Negative,” Chief Carson said. “Wait for the suspect to withdraw, and then investigate the area. The suspect may have left something behind. I’m calling in Akron CSI to join you; they’re en-route.”

“Understood. Evey out.”

“You heard the chief,” Antonio said. “We wait. Cade, let me know when he’s out of range.”

Cade nodded and stood at attention, eyes peering ahead into something Evey couldn’t see. Rather than stare at him, she and the others stood silently while they waited and kept their eyes away from him. Tense minutes passed.

“He’s gone,” Cade said finally.

“Let’s move,” Antonio said.

Evey nodded and joined the other three as they went. “Cade, is your power sensitive enough to determine direction?”

“Only approximately,” Cade said. “This way.”

Antonio let Cade take point, and Evey, Sienna, and Antonio fell in behind him in formation, paying rapt attention. There was a strange moment that felt like waking up for the first time in the morning, and, suddenly, Evey could grasp and process nearly every detail in her surroundings: there was a leaking pipe somewhere nearby; the aroma of the space was a mix of dry earth and electrical equipment (which she didn’t realize until that moment had an aroma); there was a buzzing light fixture down one hall that they passed that would have to be replaced soon. Evey couldn’t remember the last time that she had had such sharpness in her senses, but it wasn’t overwhelming like it had been other times when had experienced it. Instead, everything was just . . . clear.

Cade held up his hand and brought the group to a stop.

“His location was near here,” Cade said.

“Any more of an idea than that?” Sienna asked.

Cade shook his head.

“Well, it was going to come down to this anyway, so . . .” Evey and Antonio looked at each other, and they both smiled at one another.

“Or maybe not,” Evey added.

“Or maybe not,” Antonio echoed. There was a feeling that Evey had gotten when she had just about to win a hand of cards, but she was equally reminded of being on the verge of witnessing someone running into a lightpole with their car. Closing his eyes, Antonio took some halting steps forward and spun gently. He seemed relaxed as if he didn’t particularly care about the outcome of his search, but his steps took on a sort of direction if Evey allowed her eyes to unfocus. The team followed gradually behind him for a while until he eventually came to a stop in front of a storage closet that didn’t have any markings or indicators that it was even in use.

“Right here,” Antonio announced. “Probably.”

“Probably?” Evey asked as she eased toward the door.

Antonio shrugged. “My power ain’t an exact science.”

Evey sighed inwardly as she held at the door for a moment. She had worked with powers extensively, and reliability varied wildly. That Cade and Antonio had saved the team multiple hours of searching was something that she was glad for even though she would have been glad for them to be more exact.

She banished such thoughts from her mind and tried the knob. It was unlocked, and she nudged the door open with her shoulder to find . . .

Nothing. The room beyond didn’t even have a light on. Evey remedied that with a flick of the switch to the left of the doorway, and then she saw that there wasn’t much of anything to see, even with the lights on. Rather, there wouldn’t have been if Evey weren’t thinking and perceiving with such clarity; since she was, she saw that there was a very, very faint set of scratches on one of the cinderblocks on one wall. They looked almost like . . .

“Letters?” Evey asked, kneeling in front of them, and Sienna joined her.

“Yeah,” Sienna said, leaning further. “Maybe the name of the suspect’s target? Or maybe a significant other?”

“Maybe . . .” Evey narrowed her eyes for a moment and reached into her power. She imagined if whoever it was had gotten a little more careless and had left an actual marking in the wall rather than just a set of scratches. The possibility was very near for some reason, so Evey made it a reality with a flex of her willpower. Purple static swept ever the etching, and there was only one word that came out –

“Leah,” Evey read aloud. “Who is Leah?”

“I don’t know,” Sienna said. “But it’s something.”

Images of the previous day’s disaster played through Evey mind, and she realized that they didn’t know where the suspect was going to strike next. “Something” was going to have to be enough. She hoped it would be enough.

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