It’s that time again!
Writing has begun on Incorruptible, the last book of The Push Chronicles. That means it’s time for some sneak peeks at the first couple of chapters!
Chapter 1 Prison
It was, I had to admit, a perfect prison. My first full day in it had been spent trying to probe it, figure out a way out. I had to give Eric credit for not falling into any number of traps his Whiteout-altered mind would have pointed him at. No matter how far gone he may be into his messianic delusions, he was still a genius. Instead of relying entirely on the unreal Pushtech devices as I would have thought, the Crusaders had started with a nice, solid cargo container and just added on to it. There was almost nothing unreal to the cell: just reinforced steel and locks. Just the right thing to hold me in.
Three months ago, when Eric, better known these days as Epic, had thrown the switch and caused all of reality to twist and turn, I was one of the few people who resisted it. As a free bonus gift, I could ignore the unreal changes around me. If this had been created using the super-science of those superhuman beings called the Pushed, I could have just walked right out as if it didn’t even exist. Even the ridiculous manacles and chains weighing me down wouldn’t have stopped me.
Of course, even if I had been so lucky, there were other problems. The alternative chills and fevers, the gnawing hunger tearing at my stomach, and the raw desire for something to ease the pain … by the second day here I had recognized all the signs of withdrawal. I guess Duane had been right. The former FBI agent-turned-private investigator had warned me, had tried to stop me. Still, no one ever mentions how much pain is involved in being a ‘superhero’ and what a mere mortal would have to take just to make it through the day.
A ‘superhero’, what the world at large calls a Push Hero, was the last thing I ever wanted to be. Considering Eric had used some of my own research into bio-feedback to perform his reality-tearing experiment, I had felt little choice but to become one. Responsibility was a bitch and I was buried by it. That was the recent past, though. For now, I was a prisoner, while Epic’s Crusaders, Push Heroes who had a more extreme vision for protecting the normal people, must have control of at least Atlanta by now.
It had been a week now since I had surrendered to Twister and the other Crusaders, or at least what I thought was a week. To be fair, my sense of time was distorted and not just from the waves of sickness from the detoxification. Why people in solitary confinement often become unhinged was now blatantly obvious to me. It took what rational thought I had between fevered dreams of escape or hours spent cursing Rachel Choi, Duane’s partner, for telling me to surrender, to keep at least semi-sane.
“Indomitable?” The mid-Western drawl was distorted, either from the ringing in my head or the speakers themselves, I wasn’t sure which. “The new doctor’s here and I’ve got your grub.” The voice of my jailor, also the man who had slapped these chains on me in the first place, was one of the few I had heard since I had been here. The truth was that I didn’t hold any real resentment towards Twister, even if, like most Pushed, he only ever used my nom de guerre.
Like so many others, the former police officer had their minds filled with a format for how things should work in this new reality. For most people, they didn’t even notice and even those that do can hardly fight the influence of the Whiteout. If only things really did work like a comic book, as Eric had intended, but even with the world vastly changed, some things remained the same.
” … alright … hungry anyways … ” I was in the midst of a fever break and with it was coming a moment of clarity. The sound of my own voice sounded alien, a shadow of it’s normal sound. As per procedure, I forced myself to sit up, trying to ignore the lingering pain of the two bullet wounds in my chest and shoulder, payment for stopping Mackenzie. Good thing he was gone now, dissolved in a cloud of metaphysical particles.
“Alright now, just sit still. Opening up this tin can.” There was a pressurized hiss (I could only guess why this cell had it’s own air supplies, probably to gas me if I got unruly) and the cell doors slid open. If I had my strength, if I wasn’t bound by all of this chain, if I wasn’t ailing so horribly, that would be the only time, those few moments as Twister and the man who had to be the new doctor came in before the doors shut, to have a chance to escape.
Instead, humbled by all of those things, I simply tried to focus, eyes gummy with sleep and dried sweat, on the small table with its Styrofoam tray of food being pushed towards me. It didn’t look appealing, but my stomach didn’t feel picky.
“Alright, Indy,” Twister said, “this here is Doctor Aziz. With your, er, resistance to Doc Bio’s powers, I figured you’d do better with a normal doctor.” I barely noticed the Crusader’s look of unease as I grabbed the plastic spoon and ravenously attacked the food-like mush. The doctor, a middle-aged Arab, shifted on his feet, keeping a few steps back.
“From your previous caregiver’s notes, I see you’re still -” the doctor began, only to be cut off.
“Save it, Doc.” Twister smoothed out his handlebar mustache. “She won’t even give you an ear until she’s done eating.” He wasn’t entirely right, but I didn’t bother to correct him. Though I was far from out of the woods, my mind was far more clear and my hunger less overwhelming than it had been for days.
“Well, then, Mr. Twister, as her, well, overseer, I really must say that this isn’t the best facility for her well-being.” There was a shuffle of papers as Aziz rifled through his clipboard. “Your Doc Bio suggested Indomitable here was suffering from several ongoing conditions outside of her immediate injuries. Solitary confinement and constant manacles are only going to aggravate those conditions.”
Interesting. I found the willpower to space out my eating. Chew, Irene, it’s good for you.
“Look, I’m not real keen on all of this myself.” It wasn’t false regret in the lawman’s voice. “You just don’t grasp how dangerous this lady is if we don’t keep her under wraps until, well, until later.”
“She isn’t Pushed. I just don’t fathom why all of this is necessary, especially considering where -“
“Hush it, Doc.” The drawl had turned steely. “All of that aside, this is the woman who laid out Epic with her own bare hands. That should lay it all in perspective for you and …”
Twister’s sentence had trailed off. They were both looking at me now; I hadn’t even realized I had stopped eating, listening to every word with rapt attention. It took a moment through my dulled brain to realize that I was grinning like a madwoman.
“Don’t leave anything out on my account,” I said, feeling a tiny surge of confidence. Maybe I was locked up here. Maybe the Crusaders had taken down my friends and allies, the Atlanta Five. Maybe they had dealt with the defection of their own in the Argent Archer. Maybe they even put away Alma, who I’m sure wouldn’t back down to them, no matter how new she was to this. Through all of that though, Twister remembered the great price the Crusaders paid to bring us all down. They all remembered. There was still just a hint of fear and that gave me a strange sense of hope.
“I think you’d better just finish up that meal now, Indy.” Twister’s tone was hard, but I could see that lingering wariness in his eyes. “Let the doc look at you, right? No funny business.”
My grin cracked slightly as I felt the tingle of fresh chills creep up my sweat-slicked back, but I kept control enough to favor his request with a disinterested nod before going back to the food.
Despite the obvious case of nerves I had given him, Dr. Aziz was a consummate professional, at least as much as I was able to notice through the wave of chills and nausea that had come over me. He inspected my wounds as best as he could having to maneuver around the manacles and lengths of chain that weighed me down, took my vitals, and asked me a series of questions, most of which I don’t quite recall. There were several serious scowls, much deep thought, then a brief discussion with Twister over the need for medications. Doc Bio, unable to use his powers to alter biological matter on me, had been of the opinion that any kind of medication would only hamper the drying out process. Personally, I thought he had been far more interested in studying my unusual nature than healing my wounds.
“Well, if you say so, Doc,” Twister said with a weary nod. “You’re the expert here.”
“You say that, but I don’t think you mean it.” Aziz shook his head as he turned towards the prison door. “If you have any concerns over this woman’s health, she should be transferred to a prison hospital in the city.”
“Doc, we already talked about this.” My head was hung as the chills turned to fever once more, but the food had calmed my gut enough to let me think. The Crusader seemed sincere enough; his doubt about what he was doing was obvious, at least to me. “I … look, there just isn’t a choice on this. I’ll make sure she’ll get her medication.”
“Very well, Mr. Twister. I certainly hope you Crusaders know what you’re doing.” There was a surprising amount of bitterness in the man’s voice. Normal people almost never stood up to a Pushed: there was fear and awe, but rarely dispute. “The stocks at my hospital’s pharmacy are already low and -“
“I’ll let the higher ups know.” Twister sighed and followed after the doctor. “Things will improve and fast. You’ll see.”
As the doors opened with another hiss, I let myself settle back down on the sweat-stained cot. I must have been recovering somewhat because my mind turned over these new tidbits of information instead of slipping into another fever-dream. From the sound of it, Epic’s new regime was having problems. Predictable, really. It didn’t matter if you were Pushed or not, he rolled into Atlanta with a sneak attack and an invading army. Forget the internal rebellions, there’s the U.S. military to think about.
That thought sparked a sudden sense of urgency. When this all started, we had barely averted the lighting of the proverbial powder keg at the Battle of Washington, salvaging enough good will with the U.S. government and people to prevent a war on American soil between normal and Pushed. Now, though, this kind of attack of part of the nation would trigger all of that and more. Just how long could we have to prevent it?
No matter the pain, the sickness, or the obstacles, I had to do something. I needed to get free, find my friends, and …. I didn’t know what, but something. Lives were at stake.
As my mind sparked with this new purpose, I felt something hard, cold, and metal tucked into the waistband of my orange prison slacks. For a long moment, there was the certainty that the sensation was just another new delusion brought on by my rattled psyche. Unlike all of those, though, this new feeling didn’t pass. In fact, the growing pressure as I tried to put more weight on it made it worse.
It took a considerable amount of maneuvering to get at whatever it was. The thickness of the chains that limited my arms and legs was impressive, but the length considerably less so. I also had to factor in the need to keep whatever it was out of the prying eyes of the cameras I knew were watching me. Even so, it just took patience and time to jostle it loose from my waistband and to flop over until it was under my chest as opposed to the small of my back. I only hoped my jailers took this for one of my many fits of thrashing before sleep.
Certain in the reality of the object now, I hazarded pushing myself up on my elbows just enough to peek at it, now right under my breasts. It looked distinctly like a key. More importantly, it looked like the key they had used to unlock these manacles the few times they had removed them to let me wash.
Had the doctor put it in my waistband during the examination? I couldn’t remember it happening, but I didn’t entirely trust my own perceptions right now. It really was the only explanation, wasn’t it? Maybe he was someone sent by Rachel and Duane, a signal it was time to escape, that a plan was ready.
I didn’t know. I didn’t care. I dropped back down on the key, feeling the cold metal against my breastbone through the thin prison clothes. It was the feeling of freedom and it was so very comforting.