Baltimore: Chapter 3 / by Joshua Guess

 In response to the manufactured earthquake aimed at the central United States months before, the Department of Superhuman Affairs strongly lobbied for funding to create a taskforce. The OSA, being in charge of registration, criminal justice, and nearly every other aspect of life involving the Next, saw it as their mandate to prevent or respond to the actions of the group of rogue Next wreaking havoc across the world.

When congress dawdled, the head of the OSA took his argument to the United Nations. Under pressure not to be seen as complacent, the congress and the executive branch worked out a vast international agreement in a startlingly short period of time. Journalists were quick to give the accelerated time frame context; when teams of terrorists were jumping from one continent to another at will to destroy infrastructure and sow chaos, the usual arguments and deliberation went out the window.

And so the Rapid Intervention Taskforce, or RIT, was born. In truth it was a system of them, with each nation working within their own borders and offering assistance to other countries as needed. Working from a common resource pool of international funds, each RIT unit practiced total information transparency with every other unit. Massive attacks were sometimes prevented using the system, while disaster response became surgically coordinated. Using RIT teleporters meant having boots on the ground to aid victims in minutes rather than days.

Though Erik sat with his shoulder squashed hard against Dom's in the cab of a massive relief truck, surrounded by dozens of identical vehicles and preceded by hundreds of Next, his first thought upon seeing Baltimore was that the taskforce would not be enough.

“Jesus,” said the driver, an older man with a haggard face. “What the hell is that?”

“Water,” Dom replied. “That's water.”

The wave had crashed long before, leaving standing water miles inland. That was not what they were seeing, however. They were too far from the damage caused by the tsunami to witness it directly. Instead they gaped in horrified wonder at tendrils of seawater rising and moving in the distance. Erik did a few rough calculations in his head and realized the whipping columns had to be ten feet thick at least, to be seen from so far away.

As they watched, one column swept sideways through the air and crashed into a building, crumpling it as easily as if a giant swiped at it with a massive arm.

The radio in the cab crackled to life. “Confirmed: the hydrokinetic is in the city and is attacking. The director believes he's had his powers magnified temporarily. All unites are to remain where they are while strike teams remove the threat.”

“Fuck that,” Dom said, opening the door. “We're not going that direction anyway. We're gonna find our families.”

Erik nodded, following his friend through the door. He looked up at the driver defiantly, but the older man just gave them a hollow-eyed glance. “I seen enough of these to know it's not gonna be pretty, boys. You take care, okay?”

“We will,” Erik said. “Thanks for the lift.”

“Where are we?” Dom asked. “I don't know which way the university is.”

Erik shook his head. “We're west. That's all I got. Probably not the best idea to go straight in. Not with...that going on.”

A booming impact echoed across the city streets as whoever was controlling all that water attacked once more.

“How did that wave even hit us?” Dom asked. “It didn't just roll over Delaware.”

Erik tilted his head toward the writhing mass of watery appendages destroying huge swaths of a neighborhood. “I bet that guy did a lot of it. They did a simulation on TV a while back on what would happen if a big tidal wave hit the Chesapeake, and it would still have a lot of power after going around the corner and hitting the bay. But not that much. You heard that Singh lady say that guy was making the wave worse. He probably aimed it right up the bay and kept it strong.”

Erik realized he was babbling and closed his mouth. Dom was trying to distract him like he always did when something bad happened. Erik got better grades, but emotionally Dom was way more intelligent.

“We're going to find them,” Dom said. “You know the university would have done a lock down. They're probably all together, worried crazy over not being able to get hold of us.”

Not for the first time, Erik tried his cell. The signal wasn't getting through, though whether it was damage to the towers or just an overwhelmed system thanks to the emergency, he didn't know. Every failed call cut him a little deeper.

Dom didn't seem as bothered by the lack of communication, but he was the kid who played baseball in the park, basketball in the street, and climbed trees until his hands bled. Erik's dad called him a throwback to the way kids were when he himself was young, while Erik was a child of the digital age. Not obsessed with technology by any means, nor absorbed by it, but so used to its continuous and ubiquitous function that the lack demoralized him. In a very real way, a central pillar of his world had failed.

Erik tried to bring up a map on his phone, but the GPS and internet were both out as well. Frustrated, he stopped and took a deep breath, thinking it through.

“We need to find a gas station,” Erik said after a few seconds.

Dom's eyebrows knitted together. “Why?”

Erik smiled, determined to work through the fear and heartbreak brought on by the state of the city around him, the only home he'd ever known. “Because we need a map if we're going to figure out where we are and how to get where we're going.”