It’s amazing how quickly a car running a red light can turn into an international incident.
At 7:42 PM, Central Time, on a Friday in late October a van pulled into an intersection along Michigan Avenue, cutting off traffic to the blaring of car horns. It was a nondescript white vehicle, with a decal touting a company called Hoffman Plumbing. Later investigation would reveal that no such company existed in the city. It was the first of four vans, which quickly positioned themselves to cut off all traffic entering the crossroads. The drivers were apparently not worried about property damage, as they collided with more than one other vehicle in the process of blocking traffic.
The driver of the lone car that had gotten stuck in the intersection with no way of escape sat there for a moment, confused, before the he and his passengers were hustled out of it by men from the vans. In the confusion no one was sure exactly how many there were, although based on estimates of the vehicles’ carrying capacity and eyewitness interviews there were somewhere between fifteen and twenty people, total.
However many people there were, they were well coordinated. In less than two minutes traffic along the busy street was completely blocked, the intersection itself was clear of cars and pedestrians, and large speakers were being unloaded from the back of each van.
Those watching carefully might have noticed the woman breaking off from the main group of interlopers and climbing straight up the side of a nearby storefront at this point. The fact that she was wearing all black, and climbing without aid of any kind of visible equipment, would definitely have helped her get attention if it weren’t for the fact that all eyes were on the intersection.
Most of the men that had piled out of the vans were dressed in black coveralls and wearing ski masks. But the two who were moving into the center of the intersection were still dressed to stand out.
One was of average height, with broad shoulders and wearing a three piece, pinstriped suit. Witnesses agreed that his clothes seemed to bulge slightly, as if he was carrying some kind of concealed gear. He also wore heavy, knee high boots that didn’t really match the rest of his clothes. Instead of a ski mask, he wore a fedora and a scarf wrapped around the bottom half of his face, and his gloves had wires running into them.
The other had clearly started with the same outfit as the stage hands. But over his black coveralls he’d strapped a bulletproof vest. He rested one hand on a pistol at his waist. And he was big, about the size of the average football linebacker. All together, combined with the fact that four men with shotguns were hanging a few steps behind, it was enough to ensure the complete attention of anyone on the street.
So there were plenty of witnesses when the man in the hat raised one hand, snapped his fingers and all the lights on the block went dead.
In fact, an EMP hit everything within a quarter mile. It disrupted phone lines and ruined cellphones, knocked out power, fried computers, shut down cars, caused the loss of most of the day’s record of business in over a hundred stores and, perhaps most importantly to the person who caused it, destroyed the CCTV footage of every security camera and automated traffic monitor in the area. All records of what happened next were reconstructed from eyewitness testimony.
The speakers that had come from the vans crackled inexplicably to life, apparently protected in some way from the magnetic attack that had just destroyed the surrounding electronics. The voice of the well dressed man boomed out across the road and could easily be heard by most people in the crowd.
“People of America,” he said, his voice as cultured and controlled as any politician or highbrow actor. “I welcome you to a moment in history.”
A troubled murmur rolled through the crowd, but the leader of the band spread his hands wide as if in welcome. “You wonder what I mean, and rightly so for we all live in the midst of history every day. But most of us take no notice of it, because we’ve been told that history is made by those with power and who here can claim much of that?”
There was second shifting in the crowd’s attitude, from worried to vaguely belligerent. The well dressed man smiled and gestured to his much larger accomplice. “Some might say power comes from physical might backed with modern weaponry. Others would argue that it is money and the influence it brings that gives one control of history.” He chopped a hand through the air dismissively. “Lies, all of them. Told by people who prefer you living in quiet desperation to stretching yourself to you utmost and discovering you are strong! I come here to day to bring the lie to light. I come here to tell you there are other kinds of power in the world, and with them freedom and opportunity the likes of which would never have been possible just one year ago! Open your eyes and see!”
With that, the well dressed man shot into the air. One moment his feet were solidly on the ground, the next he had risen to a height of nearly twenty feet, arms fully spread, his fingers splayed out like a stage magician who had just finished his trick. “There are among you men, women and children who have abilities that surpass the thing you call common sense. Some of you know them, and work to help them remain hidden – friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons! Some of you are like me, able to challenge the very notion of normal but forced into living quiet lives, afraid to use your gifts because you do not know how others might react. Some of you have never seen a person such as me before, and either wonder at the possibilities or tremble at the implications. But regardless, you all now know one thing beyond the shadow of a doubt: We exist, and now the world must adapt.”
The crowd was really worked up by that point, some people crowding the vans and the handful of black clad men who manned them like makeshift roadblocks, others yelling questions lost in the noise, some ignoring the scene entirely to yell at one another. A few were trying to take pictures of the flying man and discovering that their cellphones were dead.
Of course, with a crowd that was growing by the minute all squashed into what was supposed to be a major thoroughfare of a large city, the attention of the police was inevitable. In fact, according to reports the first officers arrived on the scene less than five minutes after the first van moved to block traffic, just after the well dressed man began giving his speech. The numerous traffic violations and the unauthorized public address, to say nothing of the flagrant firearms violations, gave the officers plenty of cause to take the whole group into custody.
Unfortunately, dispatch had been laboring under the impression that they were dealing with a traffic accident and not a brewing riot, and had only dispatched one cruiser, which had a hard enough time making it to within a block of the scene due to the way traffic was backed up. By the time headquarters would have any idea the situation was different it would be a moot point.
The two officers from the dispatched cruiser traveled the last block to the intersection on foot, arriving as just in time to bump into a pair of officers who had been patrolling the area on bicycles. The four of them together managed to work their way to the front of the crowd just in time for the flying demonstration.
Say what you will about the police, they are well trained to quickly and efficiently react to a mind-boggling array of possibilities, most of which the general public never even contemplates. Flying men is not on that list, but after a certain point one simply becomes jaded. They showed no signs of being disturbed at seeing a man hovering twenty feet off the ground, seemingly under his own power. In fact, they were paying more attention to his armed companions.
In this they may have been behaving more wisely than the crowd. Not that outsmarting groupthink has ever been a great achievement.
Three of the policemen casually rested their hands on their weapons. The last officer cupped his hands and called out, “Sir, I need you to come down from there with your hands in the air.”
Some in the crowd called out, “They’re already there! Along with the rest of him!”
Ignoring hecklers is another core cop skill, and all four officers had it in spades. The officer turned his attention to the armed men. “You five there need to put your weapons on the ground slowly. We’re going to get ahold of the precinct and arrange for you all to be taken somewhere we can talk about this nice and privately.”
The first rule of volatile crowd situations is to deescalate things as quickly as possible. That only four officers would attempt such a thing may seem surprising, but the fact is that the vast majority of people accept police authority, even when they’re upset that it’s being directed at them. Most people accept that law enforcement is a necessary thing, and they’re not out to cross it.
They also realize that cops have to assert their authority against anyone who levels a direct challenge to it or they’ll quickly loose it. In short, messing with the police is never a good idea, and when the city police department has more people in it than the standing armies of most countries the idea starts to look downright ludicrous. The structure and psychology of the system says that one cop is fairly safe in most situations and two should be downright invincible.
Later analysis suggested that the rabble rousers were counting on this mindset.
“Ah!” The floating man twisted twenty degrees in midair, without making any kind of obvious movement, so that he faced the police more or less directly, wavering uncertainly for a moment or two and then coming to a stop. “The keepers of law and order. I’m afraid there’s little you can do to contain the situation now.”
“Look, I don’t know what you want,” the spokesman officer said. “But you’re not going to get it by shouting at the crowd here. Come on down and stop blocking traffic. We can-”
“You are absolutely right!” The other man replied, his artificially amplified voice easily drowning out the officer. “What I want is an end to secrecy! What I want is an end to lies! What I want is an end to injustice! What I will settle for is…” He raised one hand over his head.
Every piece of iron within a city block rattled in response, the bicycles two of the officers had arrived on actually slid into the crowd and knocked several people over and the four vans rocked slightly on their wheels. A large, flat iron and plexiglass case flew out of the back of one of the vans, came to a stop a few feet in front of the floating man then shot up another dozen feet before flying straight down and burying itself six inches into the pavement with a teeth-rattling bang. For a split second there was total silence as the man viewed his handiwork. Then he spread his hands high and wide, saying, “Freedom!”
He drifted a few feet higher and seemed to stretch his hands even further, as if he could somehow grab the edges of the city and carry it away with him. “If you chafe in this world of secrets and silence, then I offer an alternative. This is the age of information, and with it we have been controlled. But one circuit out of place ruins a whole computer, and a single weakness is the end of a network. I am the Open Circuit, the fatal weakness in the status quo! If change is what you desire, then there is a place for you with me!”
“That’s enough.” The cops were starting to look nervous, well aware than their authority was growing more and more tenuous in the face what appeared to be a serious Messiah complex. But the spokesman maintained a calm façade and pressed on. “If you won’t come willingly we’ll place you under arrest and-”
He was cut off by a series of rapid gunshots. The sudden noise panicked the crowd and cause the police to rapidly unholster their weapons, a move that just caused more panic around them. Only one officer managed to spot the source of the gunshots, the woman in black, her bare feet clinging impossibly to the fourth story of a large building, firing a submachine gun into the air. No bullets were found anywhere near the scene, so it was concluded that the weapon was probably loaded with blanks. According to the officer’s report, once her clip was empty she crawled across the side of the building and disappeared around the corner.
This ploy succeed in creating quite a distraction. When taken together with the way all four vans that had been driven into the intersection burst into flames a few seconds later, there was no one paying any attention to the people in black, who had completely vanished by the time anyone thought to look for them again. The only indications that it hadn’t all been some kind of mass hallucination were the burning vans and the display case, still buried in the ground and quickly surrounded by people who presumably had more curiosity than sense.
Any evidence the case might have offered was destroyed by gawkers long before it could be secured.
A cordon of additional police cars arrived five to ten minutes after the departure of the flying man and his accomplices. They did their best to contain the crowd, reassuring them that they were being asked to stay as witnesses, and secure the scene. Paramedics arrived as well, though there were thankfully few injuries to deal with, mostly people knocked over in the panic caused by the gunshots and burning cars.
Just behind the paramedics came a trio of plain, unmarked gray vans. These contained another fifteen to twenty people in rather nondescript business clothing. But they didn’t look much like businessmen or businesswomen. They were wearing earpieces, carrying sidearms and generally handling themselves like people who expected respect, not polite chit chat. In short, they didn’t seem out of place.
Most of them fanned out to check in with the police and paramedics, presumably to assist however they could. Three pressed their way through the crowd, which quickly made way for them.
The largest was a huge bear of a man, Hispanic, with gray salted through his dark black hair and neatly kept mustache. He looked like nothing so much as a retired wrestler and people easily yielded to his size alone. Beside him a blonde Pole, just as tall if not as big, walked with a careful, measured step. A few steps behind trailed a much shorter, wiry man who carried a megaphone and seemed to burst with nervous energy, absently cracking his knuckles or fiddling with the handle of the loudspeaker he carried.
The intersection itself was clear, and once the three men were through the crowd they split up. The two taller men went to look at the steel case buried in the street while the shorter made a loop around to each of the vans, still leaking occasional tongues of flame and smoldering as the last of their upholstery burned. As the short man passed by each van the fires seemed to vanish and its chassis would groan and creak as it rapidly cooled.
With the fires out he walked over to his two companions, who were studying the case intently. It was about waist high on them, and the clear top let anyone with eyes see the sheet of paper within. He looked it over then sighed and glanced up at the biggest of the three and said, “We need to take it in.”
The big man nodded and bent his knees and got a good grip on the case. Then, without even a grunt of effort, he ripped it out of the pavement and laid it gently to one side. The short man just shrugged and turned his attention back to the crowd.
They were already staring at him. So he raised the megaphone to his mouth and said, “Alright, people, listen up. I’m Special Agent Double Helix, of Project Sumter, your government’s formerly secret agency for dealing with these situations. As we’ve had permission to work directly with the public for about ten minutes, we’d like to ask for your understanding and cooperation, since we’re all a little new at this…”Fiction Index Next Chapter