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       Tremor, p.21

           Patrick Carman
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  “She’s out but breathing,” Clooger said. “Hawk, get me to a hospital, now!”

  “Stay the same course and keep pressure on the wound,” Hawk said. “I’ve got a beeline on a hospital due west.”

  “Copy that. Let me know if anything follows me.”

  “You got it.”

  Dylan listened to the chatter without responding and stood holding on to the bars he’d bent a few inches apart as two men dressed in black-and-gray camo appeared.

  “Don’t give us any trouble,” the larger of the two said. He had a set of pork chop sideburns and a thinning head of dirt-colored hair that was flying over his head like strands of cotton candy. “Boss wants you upstairs. Can I count on you not to kill both of us?”

  Dylan could have already hurled them into the walls of the corridor, ending their lives in the process. They were nervous, aware of Dylan’s power, acting as if they’d been given the worst assignment in the world.

  “Take me to your leader,” Dylan said, as if he were some sort of alien creature they’d been holding hostage.

  Pork Chops looked at the other man and nodded, then took his Tablet out of a small side pocket on his pants.

  “Cut him loose,” he said into his Tablet. “We’ll bring him up.”

  The wall of bars slid slowly open, and Dylan stepped out into the hallway, taking the full brunt of the wind for the first time. It was like a blast of water out of a fire hose, steady and powerful, pushing all three of them away from the exit.

  “Hit a hard headwind in the last hour,” Pork Chops said. “Should be out of it shortly. We’ve started our descent.”

  Descent? Dylan thought. We must have arrived . . . somewhere.

  Climbing the stairs outside cell block D was comically difficult, forcing them all to use their pulses to navigate. The door to Andre’s office was closed when they moved past, and Dylan stopped.

  The guard who wasn’t Pork Chop said, “Not in there, come on,” then shoved Dylan hard in the back.

  “Really?” Dylan said, turning on him with a glare. The man should have wilted under Dylan’s gaze, understanding in an instant what a foolish thing he’d done. But this guy was having none of it.

  “That way,” he said, shoving Dylan forward again. “And stop turning around or I’ll Taser your ass.”

  Dylan couldn’t believe his ears. What was with this guy?

  “Better tell your partner to take it down a notch,” Dylan said to Pork Chops. He began walking again, hitting another set of stairs that would lead him up to the main level. “Guy’s got a serious attitude problem.”

  “Don’t mind Stan,” Pork Chops answered, standing at a door with his hand on the handle. “He’s a little tired of being pushed around by second pulses. Just one of those days.”

  Pork Chop turned the handle on the door and pushed, letting a stream of sunlight into the gray landing. The wind had died down considerably, and Dylan had a feeling in his stomach that they were moving down at a rapid clip.

  “Name’s Paul,” Pork Chop said. “Paul Sanders. Go on now, they’re waiting for you.”

  The light source appeared to be somewhere above the door, out of Dylan’s line of vision. Dylan leaned forward cautiously, and Stan Tasered him in the small part of his back. It didn’t hurt, but it did send an electric shock through his system, making him jump forward far enough for Paul to slam the door and lock it from the outside.

  “Good luck, amigo!” Paul laughed. “See you on the outside!”

  Dylan was usually cool headed in times of stress, but the situation was unnerving. He’d just been Tasered by a disgruntled single pulse and locked in a space yet again. He was starting to feel like a rat in an experiment as he scaled the steps warily, searching for a way out. He was staring at a ladder, and he knew where it led: to one of the gun turrets jutting out in the air like a tiny lighthouse.

  “Looks like I’m headed to the eye of the beast,” Dylan said, pinching his sound ring. “Not sure I’ll be able to say much once I get up there.”

  “We’re closing in on your location now,” Meredith said. “I can see you.”

  Dylan was shocked as he held on to the ladder with one hand. “Then you know where we are?”

  “I know, too,” Hawk said. He’d been tracking the prison all along, but with everything else going on in the Western State, he hadn’t said.

  “You’re approaching the Eastern State,” Meredith said.

  “If my calculations are correct, you’ll get there a few minutes before Meredith,” Hawk added. “You’ve slowed way down. You’re starting a decline in altitude.”

  Dylan didn’t know what to say. The Eastern State? It was all the way on the other side of the country! He shook his head, angry and confused.

  “Thanks for keeping me in the loop, you guys. Really appreciate that. Anyway, I’ve been summoned. Signing off.”

  Dylan was feeling more and more like a pawn in someone else’s game.

  No order came from Meredith, no other information from Hawk. The line was dead. He knew Faith and Clooger were out there, too, but they felt farther away than they ever had. The Eastern State? Jeez. It might as well have been another planet, as Dylan started climbing the old-fashioned way, on rungs. Each time his hand touched metal he thought of how he and Faith had climbed or, more often, flown to the top of the Nord-strom building and spent time training. Those were good times, the Western State clouding the sky with soft light in the distance, the two of them alone in the quiet of the night.

  At the top of the ladder lay a round hatch crossed with a metal bar. Dylan used his mind to move the bar and throw open the door. He felt as if he were climbing up and out of a submarine as his head cleared the opening. His shoulders were next, then he was all the way out, feeling the piercing sting of cold air on his face.

  “Right on time,” Andre said. He was standing alone, staring through a windowless opening. The entire space wasn’t more than ten feet across, and the hole Dylan had just stepped through took up two feet in diameter. He slammed the iron door shut, leaving a perfectly flat surface where the hole had been. Dylan leaned out through a wide opening adjacent to the one Andre was looking through and took note of where he was.

  Below, closer than he’d expected, lay the grandeur of the Eastern State. From his unique vantage point, it was vast and beautiful. He was one of the only people in the world to have ever seen the Eastern State from where he stood, a thousand feet overhead. It was like looking down on a dense forest, the trees shorn clean and painted white. Buildings like tall, narrow trunks soared up in the air, connected by a million limbs of white. Or was it more like a vast bed of nails infested with a legion of spiders connecting millions of webs from nail to nail? Either way, looking down from high above, Dylan understood what a miracle the States really were.

  “What’s that old saying?” Andre asked. He took two strides across the gun turret and stood next to Dylan, staring out over the infinite mass of spires. “What man has wrought, let no god put asunder?”

  “It’s the other way around,” Dylan said, not really thinking at all but merely trying to orient himself to the miraculous situation he was in. “What God has wrought, let no man put asunder.”

  Andre flinched at the idea.

  “You can keep your god, I’ll take the Marvel comics version. Doctor Doom.”

  “Are you being serious right now?” Dylan asked. He was genuinely unsure.

  Andre laughed.

  “Only trying to lighten your load. You’re going to need that. And for the record, Doctor Doom said it my way, and he did battle with the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Avengers. Pretty good company.”

  Dylan looked over his head for the first time and saw two figures.

  “That would be Wade and Clara,” Andre said. “But let’s not worry about them just yet.”

  It struck Dylan all of a sudden that Andre’s wife, Gretchen, was dead. He’d discerned that much from all the chatter on the sound ring. Gretchen Q
uinn, the ice queen, dead. A sense of moral obligation flooded his system. He was Andre’s son; he should tell him the bad news. But as Andre kept talking, the urge passed as quickly as it had arrived, like a wave heading back to sea.

  “I know this hasn’t been the easiest introduction to each other, but it’s a start. And we’ll have a lot more time after today.”

  “Will we really?” Dylan asked. He glanced over his shoulder and thought he saw a flock of birds approaching from the distance. Or was it something else?

  Andre cleared his throat and observed his son with ambivalence, then smiled with a forced sincerity.

  “I have to say though, as complicated as this is, I’m glad you’re here. Something important is about to happen. Very important. Seeing it with all my children here is more than I could have hoped for.”

  Andre pulled his Tablet out of a pocket with a shaking hand. The man was clearly freezing in the high altitude even with the protective gear. Dylan felt a vigorous chill, nothing terrible, and looked once again at the approaching flock of birds.

  “I’m going to send him up in just a moment more,” Andre said. At the same time, Dylan received a message from Meredith on the sound ring.

  “We’re not coming any closer until they move out,” she said. “Do whatever they ask, Dylan. Just follow orders.”

  Dylan watched the flock of birds, which weren’t birds at all, stop in midflight and hold its position.

  “We’ve got visitors,” Wade said. “Three o’clock.”

  Andre reeled to his left and saw the mass of single pulses forming on the edge of his sight. He turned back to Dylan.

  “I had a feeling she would show up. She always does.”

  He observed Dylan with an evil eye, sizing him up.

  “You’ve been in contact this entire time, haven’t you?”

  Dylan didn’t answer.

  “I don’t know how you did it, but you’re going to wish you hadn’t done that. It’s not going to be good for them.”

  “I didn’t tell them to come,” Dylan said, and then, exasperated by all the secrets hovering around him, went on: “What’s happening? What are you doing here? Why won’t anyone tell me what’s going on?!”

  Andre smiled ruefully, as if he felt a little sorry for the young man standing before him.

  “My dear boy, it’s the beginning of the rest of the story. It’s the start.”

  Dylan wanted to scream with frustration.

  “Just remember one thing,” Andre said, his enigmatic personality coming to flourish in the gun tower. “Home is not the place you go to. It’s the place you leave. Not many people understand that, but in the end, it’s the truth.”

  He took one last look at his son, then turned his eyes to the sky.

  “I’m sending him up. Let’s get the show on the road.”

  A few seconds passed in silence and then Dylan saw all Andre’s single-pulse army exit the prison from every side like bees leaving a nest. Another second or two and then Dylan felt the air come out of his lungs as the full weight of the prison started to free-fall toward the Eastern State.

  “Better get up there,” Andre said, holding on for dear life. “You’ve got work to do!”

  Dylan leaped from the turret, up in the air above the falling prison, and put the full force of his mind to work in an attempt to slow its descent. At its angle it was capable of taking out seven, maybe eight spires in the Eastern State. What would that be, two million people? Four million? More? He had no idea, only that it would be a catastrophe of untold proportions. At least it was coming in from the top and not the side, which could have toppled ten times that many buildings. The prison slowed, but not by much, as Clara and Wade drifted down, one on each side of Dylan.

  “Don’t force it,” Wade said, smiling roguishly. His eyes began to flutter, and he raised an arm. Clara did the same, and the prison grinded quickly to a stop. It happened so fast Dylan wasn’t prepared for it, and he couldn’t correct his speed before slamming into the prison itself. He hit the east-side wall and bounced, the impact on stone crushing his ribs with pain. The Eastern State was harrowingly close now, the tops of the tallest buildings only a few hundred feet below as he buckled under the pain of the blow.

  “Come on; we’re in a rush here,” Clara said. “Get back up. Try again.”

  There was a chatter of messages from Hawk and Clooger in his head, but he blocked out the voices and flew back up between Wade and Clara.

  “That’s a good boy,” Clara said. “Now listen carefully. This is what we call a diversion. Understand? Like Gretchen in the Western State. Di-ver-sion. Say it.”

  Dylan wasn’t about to cow to Clara’s condescending demands, until she lowered her arm, and the prison moved down another hundred feet and stopped.

  “Say it. Di-ver-sion.”

  “Diversion! I get it,” Dylan said, the pain in his ribs subsiding into a dull roar.

  “Good,” Wade jumped in. “We wouldn’t want you feeling confused about your role here. What we need you to do is hold up this prison for as long as you can while we go do something more important.”

  “I can’t hold it up alone!” Dylan yelled. “That’s impossible.”

  “Oh, I think you can,” Wade said. “It’s a lot harder moving it. All you have to do is keep it here. We already did the hard work.”

  “Give it all you’ve got,” Clara said. “Now.”

  Dylan was terrified she would let it fall again, and a million or more souls would be on his conscience. He focused his entire mind on the prison, blocking out everything else, including the voices in his head.

  “Think of it mathematically,” Clara said. “That’s the trick. Don’t be lazy. It’s not about the whole damn thing. You have to break it down, piece by piece, room by room, wall by wall. Bring it all into your mind, one piece at a time, and you’ll be able to hold it. Understand?”

  Dylan thought of the cell he’d been in.

  “How many cells are there?” he asked, eyes closed and utterly focused.

  “Now you’re thinking!” Wade said.

  “One hundred seventeen cells,” Clara said. “Four gun turrets, nine walls, eighteen offices, twelve corridors, a foundation.”

  Clara and Wade watched Dylan as his mind worked over each part of the prison, holding it up one section at a time.

  “He hasn’t got it all, but it’s close enough, I bet,” Clara said. She took out her Tablet and glanced at the screen. “We’re late. Better go.”

  Wade nodded, and together he and Clara slowly let their minds wander away from the prison, one piece at a time. Dylan felt the weight of each thought as it left them, like a scale that was loading up with piles of gold, his side getting heavier, theirs getting lighter, until every fiber of his mind stretched under the pressure of the task.

  When he opened his eyes they were gone.

  He was holding up a million pounds of stone and steel with his mind, the vast power of its weight pulling against him, dragging him foot by grinding foot toward the tallest spires of the Eastern State.

  Chapter 16

  Universal Donor

  Andre, Wade, and Clara slipped away, down into the maze of buildings, as their army of single pulses spanned out across the sky. The drones were already coming, but whoever commanded them appreciated the situation: an object heavy enough to inflict unspeakable damage was hanging by a thread above the city. Who knew what might cause it to come crashing to earth? What was even holding it up to begin with? Where had it come from? Special care was required. They couldn’t fire on the object or any of the people who appeared to be flying over the Eastern State. It was all, every part of it, wildly out of protocol. No one had ever seen anything like it; there was no manual or experience to prepare them. Something about the world had gone haywire in a way that was unprecedented and dangerous. And so they proceeded gently, as if tiptoeing around a floating nuclear bomb and its guardians in the sky.

  The air swarmed with drones, circling and watching,
dodging one another as they photographed and examined. The data transmissions only confirmed a world gone berserk: the object floating in the sky was a prison that weighed more than a million pounds.

  There were what appeared to be two opposing forces at a standoff in the sky, floating as if weightless, staring each other down.

  And the unimaginable fact that a young man appeared to be somehow or other holding the prison aloft.

  Transmissions were also coming in from commanders in the Western State, who reported a major breach of security, the destruction of several tube bridges, a body count of more than two hundred, and an unexplainable encounter with flying people.

  All this taken as a whole would have been enough to distract anyone from a smaller, far less noticeable event taking place on the 354th floor of a certain building in the finance and government district of the Eastern State. But Andre needed to be absolutely sure the decoy was so big it would capture the attention of everyone who mattered.

  “We knew they would come,” Andre said into his Tablet. He was hovering outside a window, looking at the frosted white glass and imagining what lay behind it. Meredith, he knew, would never go down without a fight. He felt a strange comfort in knowing she somehow always knew when he was making a very large move. She’d made a mistake this time though. The stakes were too high. This time Meredith would have to pay the highest price.

  He looked at Clara and Wade and wondered for an instant how it had all led to this. Then he held his Tablet close and gave the order. “Take them. Take them all.”

  The swarm of black-camo single pulses moved as one, all of them brandishing handguns or knives or throwing stars that had previously been hidden. Four of them carried Smith and Wesson Magnums: guns that kicked like a bull when fired. Andre and Gretchen had always preferred classic weapons of war, and the Magnum was as classic as they came. Knives were of the hunting variety, with wide blades extending six inches away from pearl handles. The throwing stars were razor sharp and as broad as a grapefruit, cut in the shape of gears with teeth for ripping.

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