Blackout: 1977

lieutenant-510-72
EXCERPT

They arrived by flying saucer ten minutes afterwards.
From the ramp leading out of the shining silver torus they stepped into the main lobby of the Empire State Building, where Lt. Cambridge and the other NYPD officers waited. Cambridge stared in shock. When the Chief had said they were sending an ‘incident squad’, he hadn’t thought it would be the heavy hitters.
There were three of them. Soldier Blue looked around her with a face unreadable through the half-mask, her red lips tight beneath the shielded eyes. Her statuesque form was sheathed in the red, white and blue costume, made of God knows what kind of indestructible fabric, and in her right hand she held her trademark torch. The torch that flickered not with fire but with a red, ghostly light that had never been put out in thirty years.
Beside her walked a giant in shining green armor; Gauntlet. He moved in smooth, precise movements, his head enclosed in a helmet that bore the stylized, minimal depiction of eyes, nose and mouth embossed on to the metal. His suit hummed with power that made the hair on Cambridge’s arms prickle with static.
The third member of the group had no costume or mask, but wore a black jumpsuit with the E.A.G.L.E crest on one shoulder, next to the holster with its futuristic looking ray pistol. He clenched the stub of a cheroot cigar between his teeth, and looked around him with shrewd grey eyes. This was Max Jankowitz, the Executive Director of EAGLE himself.
Cambridge studied them carefully as the cops in his squad muttered behind him. Jeez, he thought, how old were these people? They’d fought in World War Two, and Cambridge had seen them on TV since he was a kid back in the Fifties. They still looked younger than him. There were rumors that Jankowitz and Soldier Blue were involved in something called the ‘Over-Soldier Program’ back in the early days of the War, but whatever loopy juice they took, it sure wasn’t available to the public.
Gauntlet was another mystery. He looked like a robot, but it was a common knowledge there was a man inside, working the suit; he was officially known as an employee of Stone Industries and served as the corporation’s security chief. His identity was a strictly guarded secret.
These guys almost never have contact with the public, Cambridge thought, they’re usually hidden away in the giant pyramid-shaped Tetra-City, headquarters of E.A.G.L.E., floating out in Hudson Bay. What were they doing here?
“Who’s in charge?” asked Jankowitz, his deep, gruff voice echoing off the lobby’s marble.
Cambridge stepped forward. Jankowitz held out his hand and the Lieutenant tentatively shook it. He felt warm, firm flesh though the glove. This was Jankowitz’s real hand, Cambridge thought with relief, not the bionic arm that he’d been fitted with after a battle with the Bend Sinister.
You don’t remember me, Cambridge thought bitterly. We shook hands once before, after the Over-Human tests, but I was just a kid to you. Just another rookie cop who’d failed the tests.
Cambridge introduced himself and the team, and Jankowitz nodded quietly. He took the cheroot out of his mouth and spoke in a deep, throaty rumble. “You’ve been given instructions?”
“Something’s causing havoc with transmissions. We can’t get through to HQ on walkie-talkies or the car radio.”
Jankowitz nodded again.
Cambridge couldn’t take his eyes off the three Over-Heroes standing in front of him in the lobby. He’d seen them before – from a distance, soaring through the skyscraper canyons, and on stage at open-air public celebration services. Never before so close. Soldier Blue’s expression beneath the cowl was almost as unreadable as Gauntlet’s metal mask.
“E.A.G.L.E has declared a Code Resurgam,” Soldier Blue said in a voice of steel and honey, “which means a situation that requires full deployment of Over-Human resources. We released a statement to the media shortly before, saying that a series of lightning strikes at around 8:37 pm knocked out a tower carrying conductors between substations at Buchanan and Millwood. That led to a power surge that caused the other substations to overload and fail, cutting off power to most of Manhattan.”
Jankowitz clicked open a Zippo lighter and relit his cheroot. “The problem is, gentlemen, none of that is true. There were no lightning strikes and the substations are working normally.”
For a second, the men stood in the lobby, perfectly silent.
“Whaddaya mean, working normally?” asked Carlini.
“The electricity is being generated, but it’s being diverted. New York City consumes six thousand megawatts on an average summer night, and that power is being siphoned off and used for something else.”
“Used for what?” said Levitt.
“We don’t know.”
An electronic buzz signaled that Gauntlet was about to speak. “A TRANSMISSION FROM THE FUTURE FIVE LED TO SPECULATION THAT THE ENERGY IS BEING CONVERTED INTO MATTER.”
Cambridge and Levitt glanced at each other.
Jankowitz unclipped a futuristic-looking gadget from his belt and held it up. “The E.A.G.L.E sensors have found traces of a highly unusual radiation signature at several sites; Wall Street, the Rockefeller Center, and here – the Empire State.”
“Radiation?” asked Gonzalez. “You mean like someone’s got an atomic bomb?”
“THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO SUGGEST A POTENTIAL EXPLOSION,” buzzed Gauntlet.
“Nevertheless, we’re not taking any chances,” Jankowitz continued. “We’re assuming overall charge of the investigation, and we’d like to ask you for any assistance we require.”
“What kind of assistance?” said Cambridge.
“S.O.P. Get in, assess the situation, respond within set parameters.”
“But this time there are no set parameters,” Cambridge said.
Jankowitz scowled. “Except the ones I’m setting now.”
“Hey look,” Carlini interrupted. “The whole of New York is having a party while we’re standing here, like it’s Looters Night Out. We’ve got neighborhoods to protect – can’t ya get some of your Over-friends to help out?”
“All E.A.G.L.E operatives have their assigned duties,” Jankowitz said grimly. “As for the Future Five, they’re fighting the Tyrant King in Central Park. He’s taking advantage of the blackout to open up a hole into the Mole Kingdom under Manhattan. The Morrigan should be here, but there was a crisis in Tir Na Nog, and she went back a couple of days ago to reclaim the throne.”
“What about Bohemiath?” Gonzalez asked from the back.
Jankowitz snorted with impatience. “Aw, nobody knows what side the big red brute’s fighting on these days. He turns up, he’ll start smashing your patrol cars as soon as look at them.”
“So it’s us,” Cambridge said, glaring at Carlini.
“This is a matter of national security,” continued Jankowitz, “so let me disabuse you of a few notions right now. The NYPD – “
It was almost impossible to stop the Director of E.A.G.L.E when he was sounding off, but the loud, booming explosion in the lobby achieved it.
Cambridge spun around in shock, seeing the other cops react in the same way; Jankowitz, Gauntlet and Soldier Blue did not even flinch. The crash and bang of tortured metal peaked, accompanied by screams of fear and alarm. It sounded like a bomb had gone off. He ran through the lobby towards the corridors holding the dozens of elevator shafts, the others behind him, past huddled groups of bystanders looking around in horror. “Christ!” he muttered.
“What is it?’ asked Gonzalez, in a tone that suggested he really didn’t want to know.
As he turned into the corridor, it really did look as if a bomb had detonated in the east reception area. A ruin of twisted wreckage lay outside the door to one of the elevators, wreathed in guttering grey smoke. Blackened chunks of metal, wood and plastic were scattered across the tiled floor.
The uniformed figure standing near the wreckage swung round, and Cambridge saw the Fire Chief had got there first. “What happened?”
“Cable must have snapped,” said O’Hallorhan. “The elevator car fell maybe fifty floors.”
“Any casualties? Anyone inside?”
O’Hallorhan closed his eyes and nodded. “Yeah.”
Cambridge waved away the smoke and leant in for a closer look. He’d seen a lot of violent death and gruesome crime scenes in his career, and this was as bad as he expected. There had been maybe half-a-dozen passengers trapped in the elevator, and now they were just a heap of arms, legs, ripped clothes, burst shopping bags, bloodied faces and dead, staring eyes.
“Madre di Dios,” whispered Gonzalez, the other two cops right beside him.
Cambridge leaned in closer. The corpse closest to the door was almost intact – a young man in a business suit, his face smeared with blood. “What the hell’s that on his hands and jacket?” the Lieutenant said.
The dead body’s hands and lower body were covered in some sort of grey gunk – not blood, not dust – something like machine oil but the wrong color. It was clear, almost transparent, and it glittered as the cops turned their flashlights on it. It reminded Cambridge, for one crazy moment, of the stranded jellyfish he’d seen occasionally on the beaches at Coney Island.
“Stand aside.” Jankowitz shouldered his way past, the gadget in his bionic hand again. He held it out over the young man’s body, and it bleeped and clicked excitedly. He grunted, put the device away, and turned back to Gauntlet and Soldier Blue. At a brief move of Jankowitz’s hand, all three of them began to walk away.
“Hey!” called Carlini, “you gonna tell us what’s goin’ on, or should we just go screw ourselves?”
Jankowitz halted and turned back. “Boy, you are really startin’ to piss me off. We’re gonna go up top in the helisaucer to take a look. I suggest you use the stairs and clear the civilians from the building, like we agreed – unless, of course, you’re inclined to refuse.”
Cambridge looked at Carlini and glared. “Shut your mouth, Carlini, for once. We got a job to do.”

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About J P Catton

Speculative storytelling and skewed fiction: the blog and website of author John Paul Catton.
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