“You are not gonna believe what I’m seeing here!” The voice broke through, all filled with the static of a bad cell phone reception.
“Listen, Steve,” Byrne replied patiently. “I’ve been doing this long enough that I think I can believe pretty much everything.”
“The Memorial Bridge just came alive.”
“You copy that? The bridge just came alive and is rearing up like some fucking caterpillar!”
“… I will admit I did not see that one coming.” Byrne put his pencil down very carefully and spun his chair back to the screens.
“You’re telling me.”
“Where are you? Who’s on the scene?” His fingers flew over the keyboards.
“I’m on Interstate north! If the morning traffic hadn’t been bad I would have been on the damn thing! I think they might have closed it off before it happened, it’s hard to get a bearing from back here…”
“Who is on the scene? There must be someone, right?”
“Gimme a break, I am trying to get on the roof of my car so I can have a look.”
“Traffic’s jammed solid then?”
“The bridge just scuttled across the bay, so yeah, good guess. We ain’t going anywhere”
“You see any SCT choppers in the air?” He had a negative on alerts for the Special Control Team so far, but you never knew.
“And how am I supposed to tell them from the traffic ones?”
“By doing your job. They look nothing alike.”
“No choppers yet… but there’s… I’m not sure, but I think it’s the Idealist?”
“Paydirt! You be safe, get online, get a trajectory on this thing so people can stay back.”
“I know my job, Byrne.”
“Then go do it.”
Cape-Chasers were perhaps an inevitability of the age of heroics. What had started out as a loose collection of thrill seekers and people eager to spot a real live superhero had eventually turned into a community of people determined to make a difference.
Denny had started out filming the Operator when he was fighting the MegaDon on a rampage through his neighborhood back when he was still in high school. He had been standing there, terrified in the face of these forces of nature as he watched them rampage through his viewfinder, blind to the fact that this was his neighbors’ houses being wrecked, his street being torn to bits before the battle moved on. His hands had been shaking, but he had sold the tape to a local news station, earning him a brief mention as ‘local boy, Denny Washington.” He had been hooked, both on the sudden windfall of money and the sense of importance as he saw his pictures across the news.
So he moved to Link City, because that was where the true crazy happened, where the skyscrapers were giving the sky the middle finger, and where superheroes zipped between them. He got online, got into the networks, tracked information and traded rumors. Where would the next incident be? Was the Society of Truth stepping up its war on lies? Did the scattered spottings of the Nihilist really mean something? They were the weathermen of the bizarre, investigating occultism and mad science with equal enthusiasm, because it didn’t matter if it was true. What mattered was that the people out there believed it to be. Who cared if someone came from a different dimension or his mom’s basement? As long as they had the power to level a building you didn’t ask any questions. You just needed to figure out when they would do something, so people would move in to stop them. All that mattered was the thrill of getting close to the heroes, close enough to film them, to catch the fights on tape.
And then Carbonvale happened.
Something changed in you when you saw dead people. Suddenly all the excitement, the thrill of the chase… suddenly all that turned to ashes in his mouth. And not just for him. There had been over a dozen chasers there that day, all converging on the quiet suburb. What happened when heroes failed? When they made mistakes, and not the funny ones that could be sold for good money to the news like the time Protectron got stuck inside a Chevy? People died, that’s what happened. People were caught out, incinerated, crushed under broken buildings. He had seen dead people that day. Had walked the streets, camera in hand, and when he had spotted the first smoking corpse he had not even realized what it was. It looked so… stiff. Like a log, shaped like a man, still smoking from the UnOrb’s deadly gaze. The fighting had moved on by then, the air was still. Maybe it would have been easier if there had been screaming.
But there were only the dead.
Carbonvale changed things for the Chasers, suddenly the act of just getting out there to catch a glimpse of awesome seemed shallow, to just get money for the footage seemed cheap. Little, by little, the focus shifted. Suddenly the same people that had jealously tracked Capes to get exclusive footage were sharing their findings. They were giving people the time to take cover when the authorities were hesitant to blow the whistle in case nothing happened. They were giving people time to get out. And then they began to get organized. A former Channel Five, Action News! reporter set up the hub, and people begun connecting. Personally, Denny thought that H. Robert Byrne was a cantankerous asshole, scarred by whatever accident had sent him on his crusade. But he couldn’t argue with results. Byrne might have stirred the drink, but it was a glass they were all sipping from now, providing them with better predictions. Forecasts. Warnings.
Because that was the horror of it all. Nobody in charge wanted to take the risk of getting things wrong. If the city ran the sirens and nothing happened, people would begin to ignore them. It would be like the tsunami warnings in Japan having gone off dozens of times and then, when it finally happened; a lot of people had stopped listening. Not to mention that the property values would go down if people understood the risks, willing ignorance was part of life here in the crazy west. They Cape-Chasers couldn’t stop the disasters or the fights; in the face of the storm they were as helpless as ants. But they could make sure fewer people got hurt because they knew what was coming. And if they made money from selling the pictures, running the sites, making the TV-shows… well, at least they could also justify this by pointing to the lives they had helped saving. To get the word out in time.
So, Denny wasn’t surprised when his phone beeped, Byrne’s voice waking him from where he lay wrapped around his boyfriend. Just annoyed.
“Washington here,” he mumbled, keeping his voice down even if Neil was already stirring. “I thought today was going to be calm?” There had been nothing on the web, no rumors of heists, no prophecies of occult doom, no sniff of giant monsters. The scryer that Byrne had set up a deal with had not twigged to anything wrong, so he had decided to sleep in.
“So did we. Suck it up kid.” Byrne’s voice was harsh, even on the phone. “You live close to the docks, right?”
“So what if I do?” Denny gently freed himself from the entangling arm, shuffling out of bed in boxers and slippers.
“Pop the blinds.”
That Denny did, feeling his jaw hurt as it hit the floor. Out in the bay, the Memorial Bridge was rearing up on pillar legs, cables twisting like angry snakes. He couldn’t see any details from here, but he thought he saw a streak of crimson flash down from the skies, sending a cloud of concrete dust in the air.
“Is that the Idealist?” he asked numbly.
“And the fact that she is fighting the bridge isn’t what you’re asking about first?”
“I was hoping I was imagining that part.”
“Well, you are not.”
“Jesus, Byrne, how come we didn’t see this one coming? And why aren’t the sirens going?”
“We’ve reported it in, they should be on within minutes, for now, get your ass in gear because I need eyes out there.”
“Putting on my pants as we speak.”
There wasn’t even a goodbye, just a click in his ear as Byrne hung up, most likely already making more calls, bitching at officials. They had taken to calling him ‘dispatch’ behind his back. Joke about their ‘boss’.
“Was that the boss?” Neil mumbled from the bed, scratching his chest.
“Yeah. Sorry to wake you. But bad shit is happening, and it might be coming our way.”
“Do I need to get out?” That had woken Neil up alright; already out of bed and scrambling for clothes.
“I think the Idealist will probably keep it away from the city. Waves might get here though; we’d better get sirens on the waterfront. If that thing crashes down it might get ugly.” Denny pulled on his jacket, grabbed the equipment and leaned in for a quick kiss.
“Never a dull moment with you, mm?” Neil still looked sleepy and ruffled.
“Never. You’d get on the net and make sure the word goes out in case the emergency department drops the ball?”
“The word of what, exactly?”
There was a pause there, windows rattling as the first sonic boom reached the city. Both of them turned to look at the window, where the battle raged on.
“That the Memorial Bridge has woken up cranky.”
The waters in the bay were rough and choppy, but Denny wasn’t new to boats, and Caitlin was the best driver he knew, car or boat. Who also happened to be Neil’s sister, which was how he had met him.
“Wow, there’s something you don’t see every day,” she said as the bridge adopted increasingly abstract stances in its rampage.
They circled the edges of the battle, riding the waves as the bridge twisted. One minute it looked like an enraged caterpillar, the next it was more of an angry praying mantis. The idealist was a blur of red, one of the more annoying heroes to film in battle. Too fast. Too tiny compared to the creatures she fought. And she never gave interviews.
“How are you supposed to fight a bridge anyway?” Denny braced against the waves, the bridge was thrashing, and the boat nearly capsized more than once.
“I dunno?” Caitlin said, fighting the sea. “Usually they collapse because soldiers blow them up or boats ram them.”
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat then.”
“Very funny Wash.”
“I hate that nickname.”
“Don’t be a dick then.”
“Keep the boat steady and maybe I won’t be.”
“Complaints, complaints… shit!”
The bridge had shifted, part of the roadway dipping under the sea, sending up a bigger wave. Much bigger. Big enough to dwarf them, to crush their little vessel and push them to the bottom of the ocean. Denny held his breath as he prepared for impact but kept filming. Sorry, Neil, he thought to himself.
Then the boat jostled, he found himself grabbed hard, breath lost, flailing in the air. Held tight, him and Caitlin, up and away, through lashing cables and screeching metal. Flying. So this was how it felt.
“Hey there!” the Idealist said, a big smile over her surprisingly young face, “Nice day for it, huh?”
“Wh… let me down!” he protested, nearly dropping the camera. His feet kicked empty air, but he ignored it. The camera still whirred, and he realized what was happening. “Wait, never mind that. Turn this way! Can I get an interview?” He tried to ignore Caitlin’s arms digging into his ribs, or the fact that they were speeding towards shore fast enough to steal his breath away.
“Uh. Not right now?” The Idealist replied as she put them both down on the edge of the docks. “Bit busy trying to figure out how to beat up a bridge.”
“Figure out? You mean you don’t know?” Denny could have sworn the hero looked embarrassed, scratching her hair. How old was she anyway? Sixteen?
“Um,” she said, “Well, no. I mean. I don’t make a habit of fighting…” she shook her head and turned away, looking back to the ocean, “This is a stupid conversation. Unless you have a better plan, I’ve got to get back to punching that bridge-looking thing.”
“Why are you punching it?” Caitlin asked, rubbing her ribs.
The Idealist looked slightly sheepish, “‘Cause that’s sorta what I… do?”
“Yeah, but that’s not how you bring down a bridge,” Denny broke in, because he had been thinking about the same thing. “I mean unless you have a huge boat to ram it with, you can explode its supports like they do in war movies or set up a vibration to shake it apart like it did in Tacoma. Haven’t you seen the videos? It’s not like it’s not on YouTube or anything.”
“I… don’t really have time for computers. Angry bridges. You know how it is.”
“Hang on,” Caitlin interrupted, bringing up her phone. A quick search later, and she held up the small screen, watching the look on the Idealist’s face as she watched the Tacoma Narrows Bridge be destroyed by nothing more than a strong wind.
“Huh,” went the Idealist.
“Whatever you’re gonna do, you’ll better do it fast,” Denny interrupted. “Not that the footage ain’t great, but it’s getting a little close for my tastes.”
The Idealist nodded decisively. “Look, just. You be more careful where you go from here on in, guys.”
“Denny Washington,” he replied, and part of him was flushed with excitement that he got to tell the Idealist his name.
“Caitlin Bell,” Cait added with a happy smile.
“Then you be more careful, Denny, Caitlin. See you in the funny papers!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Denny asked as he watched the red streak fly off.
“Hell if I know,” Caitlin said. “I’m just glad I have insurance on the boat.”
“I can’t believe how young she looked.”
“You’re a regular spring chicken yourself,” she snorted.
“Oh shut up old woman.” There were maybe five years between them, but since Denny had started dating her baby brother, those years seemed like decades. “I’m calling this in.”
“Tell Mr. Byrne that he owes me a deductable.”
“Tell him yourself, or better yet, find us another boat,” Denny had his phone out, pressing the speed dial. He’d call in, but the battle was still going.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Caitlin laughed and saluted him as she ran down towards the water.
“Of course I would,” Denny muttered as he waited for the hub in their wheel to answer his phone. “It’s never a good story unless you get the end!”
[For the other side of the story, read 'Fly Trap'.]