Thunder Clap: Break it to Pieces


It only took two minutes of watching over Clark’s shoulder for him to stop what he was doing, look up from the box containing Circuit’s amazing EMP superweapon and say, “You’re not helping.”

“Sorry.” I came around the table, sat down on in a chair and put my bottle of water down on the floor. The table in Lincoln He’s kitchenette was scattered with pieces of casing from the gizmo we’d found in the bookstore. It had taken a while to get back to the concert venue on foot, consult with the stage manager and Lincoln, and finally decide to move most of our people out of the venue and to Lincoln’s apartment via a rather roundabout route. Cheryl was staying there to direct new Sumter resources that might come to join us but otherwise we were all crammed into Lincoln’s small one bedroom apartment.

Soft sounds of snoring came from the cramped living room just outside the low wall dividing it from the eating area. Massif, Gearshift and Lincoln had bedded down out there after practically forcing Teresa and Amplifier to take a nap in the bedroom. Chivalry wasn’t dead out there but it was having to work awfully hard to express itself.

Clark had started disassembling the box almost as soon as we’d gotten settled again, pulling out small canisters, a clear plastic or plexiglass box half the size of my head containing coils of wire I guessed was an electromagnet and parts that did who knew what, with no sign of nodding off. I wasn’t sure where he had gotten the tools from, my guess was they were Lincoln’s since he worked in IT when he wasn’t moonlighting as Massif’s man on the street or whatever ti was they did together. Clark moved with confidence, unlike most of us had when we finally dragged ourselves into the apartments, his hands rock steady and working fast. Other than his brief moment of annoyance when I started kibitzing I don’t think he’d stopped working on the thing since he’d walked in the apartment door and sat down at the table.

“Aren’t you tired?” I asked. Given how quickly the rest of the crew had hit the sack I’d have expected him to do the same.

“This is the middle of the day for me. I’m working third shift at headquarters right now so I’m always awake this time of night.” He went back to tinkering with something in the box. A long, thin black hose connected it to the electromagnet container. “What about you? Training is done during the day and you weren’t a field agent until tonight so I’d assume that’s most of what you did.”

“Believe it or not, not getting tired is one of the perks of being a taxman.” I poked at the hose. “What’s this for? There’s no wires connecting it to the magnet itself, just the box, so it’s not a power cable.”

Clark looked at me strangely and said, “No, the power hookup is on the bottom. I think this,” he tapped the thing he was working on in the box, “pumped some kind of coolant to keep the thing at an even temperature. Those,” he pointed at the canisters he’d already taken out, “look like a six or eight month supply. You don’t sleep at all?”

“Well, I don’t get physically tired.” I tapped the side of my head. “This still needs time to unwind, do all the subconscious things the brain does when you’re asleep. But if I need to I can skip a night or two here and there without major problems. Slightly slower reflexes, some fine motor control lost.”

“Not that that’s a huge loss,” Clark muttered, finally detaching the pump and pulling it out of the box to look at more closely.

“Not that big a loss,” I admitted. “I generally make a point to hit the sack before short temper and annoyance become an issue.”

Clark opened his mouth for a moment, hesitated like he was thinking better of it, and finally settled on saying, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

I waved it off. “Just finishing my thought, nothing against you. I spent most of my life trying to find the lowest possible setting for my talent. I still don’t really have an idea what the upper end of it looks like.” That was enough of that. Time for a subtle subject change. “Why does that thing need coolant? Does firing off the EMP cause it to overheat or something?”

“Best guess? It’s only an EMP part of the time. The rest of the time it just creates a low level magnetic field.” Clark pointed at the coil of wire with a small screwdriver. “Even if it operated at a very low strength that would show up on the electricity bill. Unless that’s a superconducting wire. The resistance on those is so low they practically need no power at all to keep running. So they probably did it to keep the owner from noticing that there was something in his building eating through electricity like there’s no tomorrow.”

“What you just said told me nothing about why it needs to be cold.”

Clark shrugged. “Most superconductors only superconduct when they’re cold. It’s complicated and I don’t really have the physics or electronics background to understand it, I just know it’s so. If they are using the superconductor to keep the electric bill down they need to keep it cool all the time.”

“Great.” I flopped back in my chair. “Does knowing this actually help us in any way?”

“Not really. I mean, if we’d known about it six months ago we might have started running down leads on where Circuit might have gotten all this stuff. It’s liquid nitrogen cooled and this,” Clark tapped on the box holding the electromagnet, “is actually two layers deep and I’d guess there’s a near vacuum environment between the layers. Circuit’s done that with his gadgets before as a countermeasure against Helix but there’s got to be so many of them out there that they were built by a third party. And it’s probably a custom job, that’s not an every day piece of equipment. I can’t think of a single practical application for it outside of messing with heat sinks.”

“You’re dodging the question.” I waved my had at the mess of junk scattered on the table in front of us. “Circuit’s shut down the city using these things. There’s got to be some way to counter it.”

“Actually, he hasn’t.” He waved his hand at the stuff on the table. “Magnet, capacitors sufficient to keep it firing, coolant to keep it superconducting, simple hookup to a fiber optic network fast enough to let the thing react nearly real time. But nothing here lets him disrupt the power grid. That must have happened at the regional level. Knocking these things out will probably let vehicles through again, it’s probably hooked up to the surveillance system so it will probably blind them. But we’re not getting power or cellphones back, not by taking these out.”

After everything that had happened so far it was weird that hearing that was what made me the most disappointed. I rested my head on top of the magnet case and exhaled deeply. The sound of Clark poking around with the coolant pump went on for another ten seconds or so then he stopped. “Don’t you have to wave your hands in the air before you lay on hands?”

“I’m not praying, I’m being frustrated.”

“Frustrated?” Clark sounded like he wasn’t sure if he should laugh or not. “I didn’t think frustration was a part of your religion.”

I picked up my head enough to look him in they eye. “My religion doesn’t have things that are a part or aren’t a part. It just has help for people with problems. Right now my biggest problem was that we just got shot at, smashed a guys floor and got a box full of highly suspicious junk. And all that work was for nothing. This doesn’t frustrate you?”

“Well,” Clark heaved a sigh and pulled the pump out of the box. “There is one bright side.”

“What’s that?”

He tipped the pump on one side and tapped the power hookup. “Give me fifteen minutes and I’m sure I can jurryrig this into something we can plug into the outlet. Then we can run it long enough for Amp to see if it has a frequency that will break it. Almost all motors do, they shake in a specific way when they’re on and if we can amplify that enough with a sympathetic frequency and break it like an egg.”

“Sounds good.” I carefully pushed myself up to my feet and started towards the back room. “Let’s get to it.”

He put a hand on my arm as I went by. “Better wait. You might be able to go forever but Amp needs her sleep. I’ll wake her in a few hours – if you don’t do it right her yelling at you about it will be that last thing you hear.”

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