Thunder Clap: A Brief Cooldown

Helix

The city streets were oddly empty, even for the time of night. It was well after midnight when Samson and I set out from the venue and struck across town. I’d been expecting less traffic, given the power outage and the hour of the night, and we did pass a another car going the opposite direction every thirty seconds or so, but for the size of the city that struck me as far too few.

I thought about mentioning it to Samson but he was staring out the window. I could tell he was still a little hot under the collar – figuratively, not literally – but I wasn’t sure how to broach the topic. Even after working together for nearly two years, I didn’t know the man well. Samson worked with rehabilitating talents guilty of minor offenses. I leaned more towards catching the ones with delusions of grandeur with a small helping of policy advising on the side.

That didn’t mean I didn’t know what his problem was.

“Izzy is as ready for field work as anyone ever is, Samson,” was what I finally settled on saying as we turned onto the highway and I became less concerned with watching side streets. Given how quiet it was I glanced away from the road long enough to try and read the other man but he was still staring out the window. “Massif is there and he’s got almost as much field experience as I do. She’s gotten way more practical training than any of us ever did, since she can do it out in the open and crosstrain with the police. She’ll be-”

“Helix,when you have kids of your own, you’re going to be very embarrassed about this conversation.”

I gave him a confused look but he was still staring out at the streets. “Is this the voice of experience talking?”

Samson gave a rueful laugh and finally turned away from the window. “It sure is. The tactical chief I had the year before I retired was worried about his son joining the police and I told him that he’d probably be safer there than working with us.”

“Were you right?” I asked, aware that the odds pretty much went the other way.

“His son has been shot at twice and probably stared down a dozen knives but he’s only been hospitalized for bruises and cuts from fistfights, so he’s been blessed more than most.” Samson shrugged. “I guess men with an overdeveloped sense of responsibility shouldn’t be surprised when our children follow in our footsteps.”

“Grandpa Wake would say you can’t ever have too much responsibility so long as it’s used in the right way.”

There was a short, comfortable silence in the car, then Samson asked, “Why did your grandpa retire, Helix? I always wondered, back when I joined. It would have been nice to have him there in person to learn from for a while, not just the first few days.”

I glanced at him in surprise. “You met Grandpa?”

He nodded. “Back when I was a troublemaker, not a peacemaker, Project Sumter brought me in and the Sergeant was there to keep an eye on me until Michael was confident I wouldn’t cause any further problems. He was a frightening man, in his own way.”

“What, did he lose his temper and break something?”

“Age makes a difference for us, Helix. It’s not like we’re actually limited by this.” He slapped a hand to his forty inch waist. There was a slight shockwave, he had enough of a gut for that, but I knew that most of it was muscle. There was a theory around that taxmen actually stored their borrowed entropy in muscle and that was why they could pack it on so easily compared to most. Samson laughed and added, “I met this one ex-K-”

He stopped abruptly and shook his head. “Never mind. What I’m trying to say is, these days cellphones, cars and light bulbs alone put out more power than a taxman could hope to use in a lifetime. There wasn’t as much technology when I was a stupid kid but there was more than enough that I could throw a bus at the agents who came to pick me up. Imagine my surprise when I met a man who I was sure could throw that same bus into orbit.”

“Orbit?” I looked away from the road longer than was strictly safe. We didn’t crash only because there wasn’t much on the road to crash into.

“You didn’t realize?” Samson asked, honestly curious.

“What he could or could not do with public transportation wasn’t something Grandpa talked about a lot,” I said dryly. “He didn’t say much to me about what he thought he could do, just what he’d done.” A shrug. “He never said why he left Project Sumter but I always felt he and Grandma didn’t like staying there when it had no clear goal. I’m sure he would have come back had war ever broken out with the Soviet Union but the idea of just sitting on standby didn’t sit well with him. Grandpa Wake’s a man of action, even if all that action boils down to is working on the tractor.”

“That’s not surprising, I suppose,” Samson said, leaning back in his seat a bit and letting his eyes droop most of the way closed. “I left for much the same reason. Project Sumter was doing too much cracking down and not enough reaching out. Many young talents just needed help controlling themselves and awareness of the dangers. Instead we tried to scare them into not doing anything at all.”

“The Cold War wasn’t healthy for anyone. We started researching some really freaky things back then. When I’d been with the Project three years I was cleared to read up on the Harvest research.” I cracked my knuckles absently against the steering wheel, watching for the exit we wanted. “Grandma would have thrown a fit if she’d known what they’d done with her ideas.”

“Her ideas?” When I didn’t answer, he needled me a little more. “I never heard of any line of research codenamed Harvest. What did it have to do with your grandmother?”

I shrugged. “During the war she came up with the idea of creating a large scale mild low pressure zone to influence the weather and make it easier for the bomber streams to fly on ’round the clock bombing missions. That’s why her codename is Clear Skies.”

Samson nodded. “I’d heard stories about that.”

“Harvest was research into doing the opposite. I think the name was chosen since it was kinder than the alternative.”

There was a moment of silence, then I heard a sharp intake of breath. “You mean reap. As in reaping the whirlwind. They wanted to make bad weather instead of good weather?”

“Bingo.”

“Why?”

Another shrug. “Making storm systems on demand would be a great way to interfere with spy satellites, slow the progress of armies in the field, even cause artificial droughts and famines if you really felt mean. The ultimate goal was to make artificial tornadoes, although they never even built a theoretical model for that.”

Samson sat up straight again at the mention of tornadoes. “How much of the rest can we do?”

“None of it.” I said it with real satisfaction. I wouldn’t stop being a heat sink for anything but I didn’t like the idea that someone could make a desert just because they hated the rain and chased it off whenever it came near. “Even the most basic weather manipulating formulas they came up with never worked in practice. Too many variables, or something. Research was stopped almost forty years ago, although there are one or two people out there who periodically suggest starting it again.”

“I suppose you could use that kind of ability to end droughts as easily as cause them,” Samson mused. “Or pull hurricanes into landfall in the least damaging place possible.”

“I’m not saying there aren’t good uses for the idea,” I said quickly. “I just don’t think the Project Sumter I used to work for was prepared to use the ideas in good ways. I hate to admit it but some of what Circuit’s forced us to do has been for the better. Any transparency at all would have been an improvement and he sure forced a lot of it on us. But his methods are a- What’s that?”

Coming around a curve in the highway I could see at least half a dozen vehicles stopped in odd positions across the highway. Almost as soon as I saw them the steering wheel went stiff and unresponsive under my hands and I stopped talking to focus on keeping the vehicle under control. The dashboard was dark and the engine wasn’t running. Samson jerked forward in his seat, scanning in all directions in case there was a surprise waiting for us somewhere out there, and asked, “What happened? EMP?”

“I think so.” The car kept going under the influence of momentum but I stepped on the brakes and aimed for the side of the road. “Looks like Circuit’s been working on cutting off the highways as a way to get around.”

“It certainly explains why we’ve seen so few cars out,” Samson agreed.

“On the bright side that means he wasn’t deliberately targeting us this time, probably just hitting every car that comes past. No doubt using satellites to spot them, although I wonder how the EMP is being delivered.”

Once I got the car mostly out of the road I put it in park, we climbed out and Samson picked up the car and moved it so that there was no chance of some other out of control driver crashing into it. I could see a few people who had been milling about the other stalled cars gawking at us but ignored them. Not having to keep a low profile all the time was nice in more ways than one.

With the car out of the way Samson dusted off his hands and said, “Are you really sure you want to do this?”

“Well, it’s not going to be fun for either of us from what I understand.” I started limbering up my legs a bit as I spoke. “But if we don’t do it then we’ve kind of defeated the point of your coming along with me, instead of staying with the others at the convert venue.”

He sighed and carefully lowered himself down onto one knee, wincing slightly in the process. “You’d better climb up, then.”

A few seconds later I was up on his back and we left the gawkers and Circuit’s impromptu roadblock far behind.

——–

Izzy

“So do we just sit here and keep an eye on things or do we wait for Helix to give new marching orders?” Jane and I were out on the street with Clark, watching the last of the audience from the evening’s abbreviated concert go trickling out the doors.

“Right now Circuit – or whoever – knows where we are,” Clark said, absently twirling the tire iron that Jane had recently brought in around by the socket. “Staying here doesn’t gain us anything, not even doubt about what we might be doing. This was a well publicized concert. Odds are good we’re under surveillance by Circuit already.”

“Creepy,” I muttered.

“I know, right?” Jane sighed. “So we’re just amusing Mr. Voyeur if we hang around here.”

“That’s a great way to put it.” Meaning it wasn’t.

“Sorry, Izzy, I call it like it is.” Jane folded her arms and proceeded to lavish a death glare on the surrounding skyline. “We need to get out there and figure out to undo whatever he did.”

“It would be easiest to just go to his tower and drag him out for a good spanking,” I said. “If your house is covered in webs the fastest way to deal with it is to kill the spider.”

Clark slung his tire iron over one shoulder and shook his head. “Not to brag but I’ve done field work for a year or so now and, in my experience, the oldschool field agents got where they are because they showed a good deal of caution. We may need to go after Circuit and shut down his operation but we’re supposed to do that while trying to minimize the impact he has on the general populace. And minimizing impact means we need to know what impact Circuit is trying to make and how he’s making it.”

“Yeah?” Jane planted hands on hips and gave him a skeptical look. “Speaking of the General Public, I thought we weren’t supposed to be waving tire irons in the air around them?”

“Is that so?” He made a show of looking around the street, which was now pretty much empty. “It’s a good thing they can’t see me, then, isn’t it?”

Jane was obviously winding up for some kind of retort, she would keep going like this all night if we let her, so I stepped in and said, “Well, Massif is in charge of our half of the show so why don’t we go and see what he wants to do now? Maybe he and Lincoln have thought of a good place we can move to, so at least we’ll be out from under Circuit’s eyes.”

“I still think he ought to give me the tire iron back,” Jane sulked.

“Clark doesn’t have a sidearm with him or any kind of talent,” I said, trying to be reasonable. “I think we can stray from what’s normally advisable a little bit.”

“I’m glad one of them sees reason,” Clark said under his breath.

“I heard that!” Jane snapped.

I managed to get the two of them out of the street and back inside without incident. Almost as soon as we were back in the lobby Amp’s disembodied voice said, “Good timing. Get backstage, Massif is rounding up the team.”

Once Jane and I got over near heart attacks – I’ll never get used to the way she does that – I asked, “What’s he planning on?”

“Well the idea is that he’ll tell us the details once we’re all there so neither of us goes hoarse with all the talking.” The sarcasm came through loud and clear, Amp’s got one of the most expressive voices I’ve ever heard. But that just made it easier to hear the contained excitement behind the sarcasm too. “From the sounds of it, though, we’re going to go out and beat Circuit like he’s a redheaded step-child.”

“Alright!” Jane punched a fist in the air and gave Clark a triumphant look. “That sounds like my kind of plan!”

Clark nodded resignedly. “It sounds like someone’s in for a world of hurt. Let’s just hope it’s not us.”

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