Description: Metro City is missing its core and its vitality, and one Marine is sent in to investigate.
It's quiet -- too quiet. Nothing is right with this city, not with the very heart of the city plunged into the depths of Hell itself. The majority of Metro City looks much like usual -- except for the barricades, the temporary chain-link fencing, and the utter lack of people in the city center. Hence the quiet: no people are even allowed near the spot dubbed Ground Zero, with both the MCPD and the National Guard providing security for the location.
It is quiet, but the silence is periodically broken by the squawk of police scanners from the scattered patrol cars. The sky is blue, the air is crisp -- it would be a perfect spring day if not for the foreboding atmosphere around Ground Zero. And the giant-sized locusts that swarm around the periphery of the circle every few minutes.
One would expect the scent of death in an area of such tragedy. There is no such scent here.
Zach Glenn walks the area of Ground Zero by himself. The 2nd Vanguard Battalion, the Marine unit that Zach is a member of, is often tasked with investigating matters of meta-natural events. Ground Zero most certainly qualifies.
The Marine walks the perimeter of the Square, taking in the scene with both his normal senses and his psychic senses. He regards the locusts, perhaps larger than he is, with a bit of concern. Them's some big bugs. Some really big bugs.His hand strays toward the wrapped bundle dangling from his right shoulder periodically, before forcing himself to lower the hand.
From the relative safety of their patrol car, two MCPD officers look up at the arrival of the Marine. Some words are passed between the two, but it seems that they agree that the Marine is probably more well-suited to life here than they are, and write off the idea of interfering. They do spend the next minute or so discussing the bundle upon his shoulder, however.
While the site of Ground Zero is quiet, and mortal eyes would see nothing unusual aside from some slight crimson energy around the rim, a look beyond the physical realm would reveal it to be practically seething with energy. It's not quite chi, and it's not quite soul energy, but some unholy hybrid of the two. Energy is drifting upwards from the very center of the anomaly, and that same energy is falling back to the earth around its circumference, cascading like a column of water.
There is the sound of a mobile phone's alarm going off, from the direction of the patrol car. The alarm is silenced: a moment later, an officer's head pops up over the car's roof. "Hey, uh... sir? Just so you know, the... weird red junk's gonna start flooding out again in a minute. Might not wanna step too close!"
Zach looks over at the police officer, then over at the anamoly with a frown. He considers for a moment before nodding once and heading towards the vehicle at a brisk trot. More things that just aren't right. He smiles once to the officer, waving by way of greeting.
"So this thing's throwing off energy on a pattern," he asks with obivous curiousity. He reaches, carefully, into his back pocket to pull out a billfold wallet. He flips it open to show his identification, showing that he is truely Captain Zach Glenn, United States Marine Corps. "Something you can predict?"
The cop answers, "Yeah, you could say that..." as he glances at the Marine's CAC card for a moment.
His partner chimes in, leaning on the roof of the car. "Can just about set your watch by it, every twenty-eight minutes. Give or take a minute here or there."
The first officer returns the identification, offering a bit of a smirk. "The trick though is... it doesn't always eat the same amount of space every time. Sometimes it's an inch. Sometimes it's half a foot. Sometimes it's a yard or more."
The buzzing overhead is becoming a bit more intense. The locusts will be making their closest approach in about a minute or so.
Zach stows the wallet, walking around the car to put it between the event and himself. "But still on a timer," Zach says almost to himself, "A pattern indicates an intelligence. That's something." Glenn stares at the event, noting the locusts before going back to watching the anamoly.
"This resembles the reports from Italy," he comments. "Anyone go missing," he asks.
The first officer -- the name badge identifies him as "McElhinney" -- nods. It's his job to serve the public, to answer the questions. He understands well that some people seem to think aloud -- that they use the verbalization as a way of summarizing their thoughts and constituting new ones. But when the Marine mentions Italy, a tangible 'snap' can be felt in the officer's demeanor. His jaw tenses, his expression hardens.
"Yes." comes the quiet statement from the officer's partner, across the car. He spares a glance towards McElhinney -- who has not budged. The second, Officer Munroe, continues, though he too is stiffening somewhat. "Yes, people are missing. Five thousand, at last count. Including a couple McElhinneys."
Officer Munroe looks up to the locusts buzzing overhead, flashing them a frown. "Hope you plan to ask /them/ some questions too."
Zach's frown deepens as he feels the wave of emotion from McElhinney, showing compassion for the man's trouble. "I'm sorry to hear that," he says honestly before regarding the locusts again. "I think those guys are more symptom than disease," he says almost idly. "Are they attacking people, or just enjoying the local scene?"
McElhinney sits back down in the car at this point. It's clear that he had been talked out of similar reveries by his partner several times before, but it doesn't get any easier to face the prospect of his loved ones vanishing.
Munroe is not as adversely compromised as his partner, but he'd rather be talking about something else. Anything else. He considers Glenn's wording for a good few seconds, chewing it over like a piece of rawhide, before answering, simply: "They're scouting. Waiting for... something, I'm not sure what. They've never stopped, not yet."
The buzzing of the locust wings becomes increasingly intolerable. Munroe mouths quietly, making it super easy to lipread: "They'll fly past in just a moment."
The locusts do not, in fact, fly past in just a moment. Their pace slows, and an odd chittering sound can be heard, insectoid limbs shuddering as they hang from their carapaces.
A psychic would be able to tell the truth of the matter: they find Zach Glenn to be a matter of curiosity.
McElhinney and Munroe trade wide-eyed looks at each other for a moment, before staring back at the locusts. But the locusts only tilt their head, allowing their compound eyes to commit the Marine's form to memory.
Zach stares up at the locusts, his eyes narrowed dangerously. "Officer Munroe," Glenn says with an almost unearthly calm. "I need you to get back in your car, and drive away slowly. Like nothing is wrong." This time, Zach's right hand reaches up toward the top of that bundle on his shoulders. He picks at it for a moment before tugging sharply at it to reveal a wooden hilt.
"I think they're more interested in me than you right now, but you don't want to draw attention to yourself."
Munroe does as he's asked. Sure, he's actually got jurisdiction here, and the Marine captain technically has no authority to give him orders... but the Marine's intent is clear. As is his combat capability.
With two light thuds, the car doors pull shut, and the patrol car moves along.
One of the locusts dips down. It doesn't 'look' at Zach directly, instead preferring to keep its head cocked to the left, so that its compound eye can remain fully upon him.
Its words are erratic, and difficult to discern. The thought patterns are alien, jumbled -- but some thoughts transcend language.
"Yyyyyou. Ssstrong. Ffffight. Insssside."
The other half-dozen locusts hover in wait, ready.
Zach would have quashed any such concerns with some paperwork he carried with him, ordering him to the scene. It wouldn't have been his fault that word had not gotten down to the rank and file. He keeps his eyes on the locust in front of him, but is aware of the other six waiting for him. Glenn regards the monsterous being in front of him.
Zach's curiousity is evident once more when he asks what is quite possibly the most annoying question ever.
The... thing hovering before Zach does not show any outward sign of comprehension. Indeed, even its brain activity shows that the word 'why' barely registers a blip. The word 'why' is apparently not in its vocabulary -- the thought of questioning a higher power's orders is not something it's ever had to do.
The head twitches. Perhaps, it considers, Zach did not hear it the first time, so it repeats more insistently. "Sssssstrong ffffighters ffffight. Inssssside. Fffffighters get sssssstronger."
The other locusts begin to chime in as well, echoing the words of the first. Chanting it -- thankfully, with the same meter and cadence. They're good at working together.
They do flutter backwards about a foot though. Each insectoid is over six feet tall, but to sacrifice the advantage of flight is to risk injury.
And maybe strong fighters get to the bottom of things. Zach considers for a moment. This wouldn't be /terribly/ different from other assignments. Zach's hand, which had hovered near that sword hilt, finally drops. He gestures with the hand, in fact.
"Fine," he says. "Lead on."
If they try to grab him, though, there might be a problem.
All but one of the oversized locusts buzz away. They have orders: deliver their message, then return to their patrols. And since the 'smart' one is being tasked, it's up to the rest of them to proceed.
Besides, it's about time for the expansion -- a rather -large- rumble, easily mistaken for an earthquake. In this case, though, the tremors begin at ground zero, the world rippling outward. Solids move like liquids as the fabric of reality is warped and twisted about, like someone dropping a supermassive bowling ball through the living room floor. Holding onto something is irrelevant -- everything's moving at the same rate, even the air molecules. If one were to tip over, it would be from their visual interpretation of the world turning fluidic, rather than any real force knocking them over.
The effect lasts for mere seconds, the visual resembling the elastic shudder of a snapped rubber band more than the severe grinding of irregular tectonic plates against one another.
The circle expanded outward about two feet, that time.
Aside from tilting its head to the side, the locust guide is unaffected. Perhaps it is wondering why Zach Glenn has not moved to follow it closer into the boundary.
Perhaps because there is still a chain link fence around it, and he lacks the wings of the locust.
Zach does, in fact, lose his balance a bit. He's reacting as if things are shaking, even if they are not. He does not fall, though, that'd be bad times. There is a reason that in the old stories, falling is synonymous with dying. Falling would be a /horrible/ idea. Zach keeps his feet as much through raw athletic ability as through sheer will.
"H'okay," Zach says in a breathy whisper. "That wasn't even a little creepy or anything." Glenn collects himself and walks towards the anomaly. The fence offers no real boundary; an effort of will enhancing a jump carries the Marine over the would-be barrier with ease. Zach reaches the edge of the disturbance and hesitates for a moment.
He's not sure what is on the other side, or if he'll even survive the transition. Or how to get back. This could very well be a one-way trip.
The locust seems pleased when Zach starts moving towards the edge, if one considers its wingbeats adopting a higher pitch as "pleased." It flies right over the edge of the anomaly; nothing terrible happens to it, the exoskeleton isn't ripped apart or anything, it just... hovers inside the boundary, turning back expectantly to Zach.
Noticing his hesitation, the locust allows itself to descend, below the surface of the street upon which Zach stands.
It sinks as low as fifteen feet below before realizing that Zach isn't making the jump. And then it buzzes back upwards.
"C-c-c-come. Isss sssafe." It flies closer, extending both arms wide as it flies closer to him. The Marine had seemed resistant to being picked up and flown around earlier. Perhaps he is less so now, as it is the only alternative to counting to three and jumping.
The locust comes closer, and Zach's hand flies to the exposed sword hilt. He takes a deep breath, considering for a moment. The locust doesn't immediately grab him. Zach pulls out a cell phone, and attempts to call some information in, perhaps get some orders.
The conversation is quick, to the point. Glenn swallows once as he hears the decision. He nods once, "Understood." Zach takes another deep breath, and fires off a text message before pocketing the phone. He nods one more time, steeling himself.
He counts to three.
Then Zach jumps.
The locust's wings stop beating. It falls alongside Zach at the same rate, the Marine's reflection visible... until the light fades.
The laws of physics are no different on the inside of the boundary than on the outside -- for now, anyway. Gravity acts exactly the same. The air smells as fresh as Metro City usually does, which is to say that he won't miss the light, ever-present scent of day-old pizza. In fact, for the beginning of the trip, the only thing that will feel odd is seeing the towering skyline of Metro City rising upwards so quickly, superceded by the flat, two-dimensional squashing applied to city streets and buildings alike, as if Metro Square had been flattened into the cylindrical walls. At no point does the unblinking locust seem affected by this, maintaining the same distance apart from the Marine...
Maintaining consciousness will take superhuman effort. The fall lasts well over five minutes, with the air pressure increasing considerably. It will feel as if every molecule is being converged into one singular point.
It is over. Quicker than it began -- or perhaps it took longer than one would think? How long -has- Zach been standing here, in the middle of Metro Square, with all the familiar buildings towering around him? Aside from the unusually vivid azure of the sky, the veins lining the dark, pregnant stormclouds, or the dark earthy colors of the surrounding hills... this is Metro City.
The locust blinks back at Zach. And then its wings begin to beat once more, compound eye transfixed upon Zach as it begins to flutter higher.
Zach manages, only barely, to stay awake and aware during the drop. He is breathing far too fast, and only barely keeps his feet. He takes a very long moment to collect himself, his breathing still a bit faster than he'd like. He looks around after another long moment, his brow furrowed. The sights are... familiar, but at the same time new. Zach Glenn had never been to Metro City, but some of the buildings seem... right to Zach. Depsite the clearly wrong locale. Memories of a history that never was clash with memories of Zach's life.
He pulls the cell phone out of his pocket. No service. Not... that much of a surprise, really. His gaze shifts from the phone to Il Paradiso, and stay there. Zach suppresses a shudder as that sense of deja-vu slams him. Glenn weighs his options, the locust is taking flight, but not providing much in the way of direction.
So Zach heads for the opera house.
As the locust buzzes off to join its brethren, the city seems to be a bit more... still. Zach may get the sense that visitors are not common here -- the jackals and rats stare at him from a very comfortable distance. Is he the first? It's hard to tell... as anyone who looks like they might have a voice is well out of earshot.
The opera house is looking a little rough around the edges. It had been maintained, sure, but the exterior looks like it hasn't been powerwashed in years. Not to mention, there also seems to be some sort of purple stain smeared upon the walls, with black chitinous bits stuck in various places.
The opera house is populated. It's easy to see this, for as Zach approaches, one of the side doors flies open. "Hey, soldier, you new here? Get in off the streets before they spot you!" The speaker, a stubble-faced man in a tattered button-down shirt who looks like hasn't bathed in days beckons to the Marine with an open hand, cautiously watching over Zach's shoulder.
"Marine, actually," Zach corrects almost reflexively as he waves to the man. "And I just got here." He looks around, and trots over to the stranger. "Captain Glenn, United States Marine." Zach extends a hand to the man to shake.
Soldier, Marine, what's the difference? The man's forehead wrinkles in dismay as he's corrected -- quibbling over terms while lives hang in the balance is not something he's keen on entertaining. "Jace," he replies, shaking Zach's hand in kind. And not subtly moving to usher him into the building.
The door opens into a side hallway. It's tall, like everything in the opera house, but unlike the main operatic chambers, these walls aren't very acoustically friendly. The moans of the injured echo loudly, as people are in dire need of medical assistance. Doctors in bloodstained medical scrubs shuttle between the more critically injured, propped up against the walls of the hallway. One doctor looks up to Zach, and in a fleeting moment, looks pleased to see someone standing at full height, healthy and hale, before returning to his work.
Jace bars and locks the door behind Zach. The windows are largely boarded up; chemical lights keep the walls illuminated and the darkness at bay.
"Good. We can probably use a sol-- a Marine's help here."
A dark-skinned woman runs up to Zach, looking up to him incredulously. She's a nurse, her name badge reads 'Patel.' "... Did I hear right? You said you just -got- here? Did the Marines send you?" Supposedly that's a more polite way of asking 'are you suicidal or just plain stupid?'
The tone with which Zach corrected the man wasn't confrontational; it's fairly obvious that Glenn took no offense to the mistake. (Nevermind that Zach's fatigues clearly read US Marines on it.) He looks around, taking in the sight with concern.
Patel gets his attention pretty much by default. He blinks once at the nurse. "Yes, ma'am," he answers honestly and politely, "I just arrived, and yes. The Marines sent me in to investigate what was happening in Metro City. That led me here." He frowns slightly. "How many people are in here?"
Nurse Patel breathes a sigh of relief. "Oh, good, you're not a complete crazy then... Gosh... hundreds." A hand sweeps to her forehead, spattered with sweat. No power means no air conditioning, and with the limited airflow, it's also pretty hot from all the people inside. "A lot of them are sleeping though, for lack of anything better to do."
"Tell him about the so-called 'tournament' then," snaps Jace, looking irritable and disinterested. "I'm going back to my post." Jace goes back to his post watching outside through the gaps in one of the boarded-up windows. Not to be rude, but ... that's his job, here. He takes comfort in his job -- the white-collar worker feels useless next to all the doctors, but at least he can be a good watchman.
Patel breathes a sigh... of frustration, this time. "Don't... mind Jace. He's a little on edge. We all are." She smiles warmly, turning to walk back through the halls. There's nearly a hundred people just out here in the hallway. "The... tournament. Word is spreading that there will be a fighting tournament here." She pauses a beat. "Really. Like, right in the middle of the square, just like fights used to take place here."
"This isn't exactly Kansas," Zach says sympathetically to the nurse, while watching Jace walk away. The concern for the man is obvious, but Zach turns to follow Patel down the hallway. "A tournament," Zach says neutrally. "Interesting. Any other news going around," Zach asks, curious.
Patel offers a mirthless chuckle as she makes her way past the injured people. Doctors are too busy with their work to note the passing of two healthy people. "It's been... a day? Maybe two? And a small portion of the people trapped in this living hell have banded together for safety from packs of roaming darkstalkers within a poorly-kept opera house... what do you want me to say?"
She rounds the corner to reveal a massive wooden door, propped open to let -some- light into the massive opera chambers. Looking back at Zach, she shrugs her shoulders wearily. "S-sorry. I'm running a bit dry on hospitality."
At least it's clear where the remainder of the thousand are hiding, now. People are crowded all throughout the chamber, sprawled out across multiple seats to rest, with various electronic devices and chemical lights providing beacons of light here and there.
"Oh. We have had some vampires try to talk to us. Pretty much everything else just growls or chitters. They could be reciting Shakespearean plays for all I know."
Zach takes the comment in stride; the tension, the fear in this place is palpable. However, Patel keeps talking, and while none of it seems immediately useful Zach has learned that there isn't such a thing as too much information. "They might be," Zach says after a moment. "How'd you keep the vampires off of all of you?"
Patel shrugs faintly. "The vampires just wanted to talk, really -- they were under some orders to leave us be. Came to talk to us, mentioned we were only making life difficult for ourselves, et cetera. And they left, after telling us about this stupid tournament."
She looks at all the people gathered about, frowning somewhat. "Apparently... that's what this is all about, right. The... I forget what they call him. He wants the strongest to fight. And none of us here are stup-- brave enough to make a stand."
She inclines her head back towards Zach. "Says that when he's satisfied, we'll be returned. Based on what happened to that Italian city, I'm not too eager about our chances."
Zach stops short, then looks towards the square with a frown. The psion reaches out with his mind, trying to get a better feel for the place. "If noone steps forward," Zach says half to himself, "It might not end well." He looks back to Patel.
"Have they been making regular visits," Zach asks.
Patel arches an eyebrow at Zach. "'Might' not end well?"
The nurse tucks her hands into her pockets. "They visited once. It was creepy enough. The others aren't as, well... dignified. You probably saw the evidence of how well we got along with the scarab beetles on the wall when you came in."
"Sorry," he says, "Bad choice of words. 'Won't' would be more accurate." He takes a deep breath. The people here, they cannot defend themselves from this. That means it's Zach's job to do so. "Did they say where to go," Zach asks evenly, "If someone was interested in entering this tournament?"
"There..." Patel started speaking, but she has to think for a moment. "I wasn't really at the door when they came, but from what I recall, they said to just be standing in the center of the square whenever the hourglass emptied." She glances down at the fitbit on her wrist, frowning at the thought of having to charge it soon. "From the look of things, it'll run out on Friday, so... few days."
Patel laughs, mirthlessly again. "I just hope they're recruiting topside, too."
"So three days, then," Zach notes. He considers telling her how terrible the recruiters' people skills are. He decides against it. "They are looking for people who can fight at a professional level," he finally says. He looks around. "So until Friday," he says, "What can I do to help here?"
"Yes," answers Patel, narrowing her eyes for a moment. "Well, first off, if you're really wanting to help, we need some help with triage. And... beyond that, if you know anything about communications systems or electrical systems..." She breathes a deep sigh. "The really tall building with the busted-up signs... they have a generator in the basement. Old as heck, but it'd probably get us running. They also have a comm antenna we could use -- if we get it broadcasting, we might be able to contact home."
She looks down at her feet. "But we haven't heard back from the last group we sent out."
"My bachelor's degree is in mechanical engineering," Zach admits, "So I guess that's where I'll go first." Glenn shrugs the bundle off of his shoulder, removing the bundling to reveal a sheathed claymore. "Anyone else willing to make a go of it is welcome to join me," he says after resetting the weapon on his shoulder. "But I think I'll have a better chance of getting there on my own."
Patel's eyes widen. When she'd offered her suggestions, they were mostly out of cynical jest. But she hadn't considered that Zach is... actually a Marine. Who is competent at things like this.
"... Okay, that... that sounds good! But... do me a favor, and, uh... give me about a half hour or so. There -are- some people who can go."
She glances at the doctors, frowning somewhat. "We're... we need this, Captain Glenn." With a look back to Zach, she musteres a brief smile. "We've been needing a hero. You'll have some support. Thank you."
Log created on 21:17:04 04/07/2015 by Jedah, and last modified on 23:39:36 04/08/2015.