Thunder Clap: Bend and Break


“Clark?” There was no answer so I scooted around until I could turn my head so it faced most of the way into the corner. “Clark, where are you?”

“Sorry, thought there was someone at the door. Best guess is I’m in the next room over. Unless you’ve managed to pick up a few things from Amp when I wasn’t looking.”

Yeah, that had been a silly question in retrospect. “Are you okay?”

“Better than you from the sound of things.” A couple of soft thumps came from the wall. “Did I hear right that you’re in manacles with some kind of explosive dead man’s switch? Can you describe it?”

I looked down at the cuffs on my wrists and thought about it for a moment. “Well, they’re like handcuffs except they’ve got a bar between them instead of a chain. And there’s-”

“What kind of load does the wire carry?”

“Uh…” I picked it up and gave an experimental tug, not that I really learned anything. “It could probably support a couple of hundred pounds, I guess.”

“Not that kind-” He gave the wall a frustrated thump. Yes, frustrated. You’d know one if you heard one. “Look, do you think you could kick in this wall without breaking the wire and blowing your hands off? Or attracting attention?”

“Not breaking the wire is easy.” I looked at the door. “Not attracting attention is probably a pipe dream.”

The wall thumped some more. “Not enough for me to come through it. Just enough to see through. Listen, I think if you position your foot right… here.” There was a firm thump from a half a foot over to my left. “You can go between joists and just shatter drywall. I could do it myself but do it fast enough with enough force and it will make less noise. You just need to be really, really careful to hit the right spot.”

I bit my lower lip. “I don’t know, Clark. My hitting things right hasn’t been that great lately.”

“Just put your boot on it, pull it away and put it right back in the same place. Without sneezing or anything. Just wait a second while I move over a bit.”

I looked at the wall then down at my feet. Being a taxman didn’t mean I was immune to pain and I didn’t think standing on my feet was a good idea at the moment. Kicking wouldn’t be such a big deal, the motion or impact wasn’t really necessary so much as what dad calls projecting force. There’s a lot of image training and stuff that goes into it but the basic idea is, as a battery of energy, all we really need to do to use it is point it in the right direction and let it out to get an effect. So I worked my way around until I was lying on my back and put one foot on the wall about where Clark had told me to break it down. Then I gingerly flexed it so the sole of my foot and thought about trying to jump upwards.

The wall gave way with a sharp crack and my leg lit up with pain like it had been dipped in acid. I let it drop to the ground, wincing, and pulled myself back to a sitting position. Clark was in the process of cleaning loose drywall debris from around the edge of a hole in the wall, about size ten. “Hold the manacles up to the hole.”

I did as he asked and spent the next thirty seconds or so holding the pose as he made quiet “Yes, I see” sounds in the back of his throat. If you’ve never heard these before then you probably don’t watch many mystery movies. Finally, he said, “Okay, I think I see a way for you to get out of those.”

I perked up. “What?”

“The problem is, they couldn’t really put a whole lot of ways to set off the explosives in there without making them too complex and error prone to be practical. So they just explode if the circuit in the manacles are broken.” He reached a hand through and grabbed my wrist that was closer to the hole and stuck his finger between the bracelet and my wrist. His fingertip could only go a half inch or so before it stopped. “Look, if you can work your fingers under the wristbands like this you can probably bend them enough to slip out without actually breaking them and setting the bombs off.”

“Oh, it’s that easy?”

Clark just shrugged off my sarcasm. “Look, metal’s really elastic. That’s one of the things that makes it so useful. Just don’t overdo it and you should be able to bend it no problem.”

I dropped my hands and glared through the hole at Clark. He probably would have been more impressed by it if his hand wasn’t still sticking through the hole. “Maybe you just forgot the conversation we were having but I’ve kind of been lacking in the fine control department lately.”

“I though that was just hitting targets accurately or using the right amount of force at your top end.” His arm withdrew with a grunt and then the left half of his face came into view. “You mean you can’t even move slowly?”

“What part of lacking precision doesn’t compute?”

He made a face I could only guess was confusion. “So you never used your talent to just pick up and carry heavy stuff?”

“Well, sometimes. But never on purpose until a couple of years ago when talents were outed. Papa and mama didn’t want me getting discovered.” I sighed and leaned my forehead against the wall. “It’s not easy to find the right amount of force to do anything practical. It’s like I’m a giant tank of water and the spigot it’s supposed to pour through has corroded shut. To force anything out at all you have to put real pressure on and then when you finally get something it’s water spraying all over the place. If that makes any sense at all.”

“Yes, I see” noises once again.

I turned my stare back up to glare and said, “Stop that.”

“Sorry.” He sighed and was quiet for a few seconds. “You know, I’m kind of surprised, given your father’s past, that he didn’t want you to follow in his footsteps. Was that a religious thing? No putting women at risk?”

“Don’t be silly.” I norted. “If you’d ever met mama you’d know how ridiculous that is. She expects us all to be ready to take charge and keep our families safe and on track. But it’s kind of right, too, I guess. Papa didn’t like the idea of a job where he half his time lying to people and he didn’t want us to, either.”

Clark smiled with real warmth. “Your dad does strike me as a pretty principled guy. You’re lucky to have him around.”

“He retired for us as much as anything, really.” I smiled back, thinking about all the times I’d heard mama and papa arguing quietly about whether he should train my youngest sister and I to use our talent or not. “Papa used to tell my mother he didn’t teach Zoe or I anything beyond basic self control because he felt it was better to live quietly and justly than to seek power in corrupt ways. Mama could never think of a good way for us to use our gifts without attracting Project Sumter’s attention and she didn’t want that anymore than papa did. She remembers what his life was like before they got married and he went to seminary.”

Clark snorted. “Yeah, that’s something else. How did your dad wind up going from street thug to Federal agent to priest?”

“Minister, technically, and he thought it was a natural progression. Mike – I mean, Senator Voorman’s a Christian, you know.” I laughed at Clark’s amazed expression, or at least the half of it I could see. The whole face was probably more than twice as funny. “We do go into politics sometimes, you know.”

“It’s not that,” he spluttered. “I just can’t see him converting anyone…”

“He’s not good with strangers one on one, that’s all. But he convinced papa that it was a better way to live than street life and then papa took it one step further. He visited a lot, before he moved to Washington.” I absently put my hands in my lap, wondering what Clark would think of the fact Zoe called a U.S. Senator Uncle Mike. The bar of my manacles bumped against my leg in a strange fashion and I tensed. “Clark.”


I looked down at my hands which were now clenched together hard enough to turn the knuckles white. The bar of the manacles was bent into a teardrop shape. “Clark, I just put my hands together.”

Clark smirked. Yes, smirked. “Lots of people do that when they’re reminiscing or talking about family, especially if they’re accustomed to religious rituals or-”

My head jerked back up and I pushed my face as close to his as the wall would allow. “Clark Movsessian, did you start me talking about my family just so I’d absently fold my hands together?”

He froze with mouth open and considered his response for a couple of seconds. “No?”

“Because I could have just blown my own hands off because I wasn’t paying attention.”

“I would definitely not have run that kind of risk. Sounds more like a design flaw in the manacles to me.” All signs of smirking were gone now. “You were nervous and I was just trying to calm you down.”

A likely story. “Fine.” I took a couple of deep breaths and got a handle on things again. “So I’m calm and I’ve got my hands together in one place. Now I just work my fingers under the shackles, right?”

“That’s all you need to do. Nice and easy, now.” His gave me half an encouraging smile and said, “You mentioned Zoe, so I guess that’s one of your sisters?”

I nodded, running my fingertips along the edge of the manacle and trying not to think about what they were designed to do. “Zoe’s the youngest.”

“So there’s a sister between you two?”

Another nod. “Alicia. She’s the normal one, didn’t inherit dad’s talent.”

“Tell me about her.”

“Well, she gets to run track…”



It was shortly after 8 AM and I’d just gotten off the phone to Washington – again – when Teresa showed up in my office. I looked at her through bleary eyes and tried to remember why I felt that was wrong. I liked it when Teresa was in my office. But for some reason I thought it strange that she was there at the moment. It wasn’t that I thought she didn’t like being there, although I hadn’t seen any sign that she did. But she had her own office to work in when she wasn’t out in the field and-

And my brain is no exception to the rule that the sleep deprivation makes you stupid. “Aren’t you supposed to be out in the field?”

She slumped down into one of the chairs in front of my desk and said, “Sanders called me back when Samson went out. He said he didn’t want too many senior people in Circuit’s area of operations while we still have no idea what exactly he’s doing.”

“That was probably good thinking.” I leaned back in my chair and gave her my undivided attention. “So far we here in the office have covered the same ground three or four times and we don’t know any more than we did out in the field. Different branches of the government keep calling to ask if we’re really sure it’s a criminal we’ve dealt with before and would we like their assistance. It’s getting harder to convince them to focus on cleaning up the other four sites and let us deal with this mess here.”

“Other four sites?!” Her eyes rolled up to heaven in some kind of unspoken plea, then she folded her arms on my desk and dropped her head down into them. “I may never sleep again. I’ll die of exhaustion and they’ll wonder why I looked like a hag when they buried me.”

“You look fine. Better than me for sure.” I stifled a yawn and shook my head in a vain attempt to focus my thoughts. “Anyway, the other attack sites are all outside Midwest jurisdiction so we’re probably not going to be involved in cleaning those up at all. Did you find out anything on the mean streets?”

“We were trying to clean up those EMP stations Circuit’s put out but so far we only managed to take half a dozen. I think Massif was going to try and cut a clear path for emergency response vehicles to move through but I’m not sure how it’s going now. I slept through most of the car ride back here.” She grimly pushed herself back into a sitting position. “We still don’t have much in the way of actual intelligence on what’s going on out there. We talked to a couple of cops who’ve been interviewing those groups of thugs Circuit’s been leaving around but all we really got from them is that there was some guys in combat gear going around and beating the crap out of looters and the like. Looks like they disappeared come daylight.”

“Not surprised.” I sighed. “Maybe we could-”

My phone ringing cut me off. I thought about not answering but the caller ID said it was Jack’s desk phone, not an outside line. So against my better judgment, I answered.

“Mrs. Sykes flight just touched down,” Jack said. “She’ll be here in about an hour.”

“You’re bringing her in under high security, I hope?”

“Triple strength.”

Despite my exhaustion I smiled. “Good. Maybe we can finally get some idea what part Matthew Sykes has in all this. Let me know the minute she walks in the door, Jack.”

“Will do.”

I hung up and glanced at Teresa. “New plan. I’m going to get a nap in the hopes Mrs. Sykes won’t be too frightened of me to answer questions when she gets here.”

“You, trying to be civil? Tell you what, you nap and I’ll sell tickets.” Teresa shoved herself up and out of the chair and headed to the door. “See you in an hour.”

I was worried I’d have trouble sleeping given all the stress I was under but for some reason I was able to relax and fall asleep almost as soon as I hit my cot.

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