Chapter 11


The shock of something ripping through the fabric of the world jolted Surge where he was in the wires. All around him, the flow was disrupted and jumbled, tracing what stood in as vision with white lightning. He didn’t know what it was at first, and in the confusion it took him longer than normal--several millionths of a second--to investigate.

Most of the cameras in the affected areas were out, as were the major routes of access he would normally have taken to reach them. This gave him an idea of the extent of the damage, though, and he grew more and more alarmed and angry as the blackout stretched. Something was wrecking his city.

It took too long to find a camera in the danger zones that was working, and what he saw slowed his motion somewhat. They were demons. Or at least, that was the only name he had to put to creatures like these. They were malformed and repulsive and terrible, and when he took stock of the extent of the damage they had done already in the few moments that they had been in the city, he knew that their numbers and their strength must be incredible.

This knowledge tempered his anger. This stampede wasn’t something he could combat, not on any significant scale, and he didn’t know that they would even be susceptible to his powers.

What he did know, without having to verify it, was that Cross lived just within the current zone of damage.

In the wires, he moved and processed at a speed incomprehensible to humans. He measured time in fractions of nanoseconds; he could go into the wires, access the data he wanted, and be back in the physical world before anyone knew he was gone if he wanted to. But now as he raced toward Cross and Sem, time seemed to elongate in front of him, stretching out to make him move slower and slower.

In his hurry, he misjudged his exit and burst out of the wires several inches above the floor. He stumbled upon landing and flailed his arms to catch his balance.

“Teyen?”

Surge turned to see Cross sitting on the couch with Sem in her lap. She was pale under the blue light of her terminal, and her eyes were wide.

“I’ve been watching the news,” she said. “The things they’re reporting are terrible.”

Surge watched her arms tighten around Sem; unaware of the danger, the boy squirmed some, but remained quiet.

“Can you sense them?” he asked, and didn’t realize that it was the first time he had ever acknowledged her power out loud.

“The people more than the demons.” Her face twisted, and Surge wished he knew how to alleviate the stress she was under. All he could do was remind himself that Cross was strong, and that she had been dealing with this for years, though never on this scale.

The building shuddered and Cross gasped, hugging Sem close. Surge stumbled again and looked around.

“It’s too late to leave now, isn’t it?” he asked.

Cross nodded. She stood up and stepped toward Surge, her mouth open to speak, just as the ceiling gave way. Surge was at her side immediately, shielding her while she shielded Sem from the debris. When he looked up, they were no longer alone in the room. Several hulking bodies that didn’t bear describing had joined them, crouched low around them on gangly limbs, lit by the dying flickers of the terminal screen.

Surge stood, prepared to fight, but was knocked aside by a massive, clawed hand that gouged deep holes in his arm and side and sent him skidding across the floor. He felt more than heard a discouraging snapping in his ribcage as he landed. It was hard to breathe, but he gathered himself, siphoning electricity from the building’s now-damaged grid into his body to support it.

In a blue-white flash he as back between Cross and the advancing creatures, who seemed to be moving slowly only because they wanted to savor the fear they were causing. Cross was glaring defiantly, but even if she wasn’t afraid for herself, Surge knew she had to be terrified for her son. Surge was.

He began to fight, arcing across the room in bursts of electricity, disappearing and reappearing so quickly it would have been hard for normal eyes to track him. He knew right away that it was futile. Without the physical strength to back up his speed, he was no match for these creatures, who seemed less prone to electrical attacks than humans. All he was doing was annoying them and aggravating his own wounds.

He came to a sudden stop in front of Cross, who had backed up against a wall to limit the creatures’ access to her. As soon as he stopped moving, the things turned toward them as one. He could count their teeth.

Mind racing, Surge realized he only had one option; if he could gather enough electricity into himself, he might be able to kill them. The power surge would burn him out in the process, and it wasn’t guaranteed to work considering the creatures’ resistance to electrical current, nor would it ensure that another group wouldn’t come along and kill Cross and Sem before they got to safety, but if he didn’t at least try they were all dead anyway.

He took a deep breath, centering himself, and then reached out to the wires in the building and began to draw the current into his body. Electricity arced from appliances, lights, even the bare walls, contacting his skin at multiple points until he looked like a small star. Over the ringing in his ears, he could barely hear the sounds of light bulbs shattering, and the heady buzz of the current in the air.

Behind him, Cross called his name. In front of him, the creatures had paused, watching him with curiosity but no obvious fear. A strained smile curled his lips. He’d make them fear him.

He had to close his eyes against the pressure building there, and the ringing in his ears grew louder. The darkness around him was pierced by white-blue tongues of electricity that lashed in the air around him, simultaneously separating Cross and Sem from the creatures and trapping them against the wall.

Cross yelled his name again, but he didn’t hear her at all this time. He focused on drawing more current into himself, sucking it out of the surrounding buildings. Something sticky seeped down the sides of his neck. He could feel the blood vessels in his eyes rupturing.

The Surge had always been aware that he and electricity existed in a very delicate balance. He could manipulate it at will, but it was more like coaxing than controlling. While his body was non-conductive through some natural fluke, it was not immune to the strain he placed on it. Electricity allowed him to dodge bullets, to bear loads many times his own weight, and to continue to move when his body should have shut down. This enhancement didn’t change the fact that Surge’s body was frail; he paid heavily for the power he’d been born with.

Now, he was going to pay a heavier price than he ever had previously. He opened his eyes, and the white-blue light was tinted an alarming red. He was ready.

Then the current was sucked out of him as though the power grid had failed. It wasn’t like flipping a light switch: flipping a switch told an appliance to be off, but it didn’t cut off the current running through the appliance. It wasn’t like when Phineas had caught him under plastic and red light, because there he could feel the current, he just couldn’t reach it. This time, the electricity he had siphoned was just gone, as though it had never been there.

The electricity had been all that held him up and he crumpled to his hands and knees, retching. Reaching desperately for the lost current did nothing, and he felt used up and raw in a way he never had before.

With his head bowed and his body shuddering from the strain, he waited, but the attack never came. Sem cooed behind him, not at all alarmed, and he forced himself to lift his head.

The room had gone dark, or at least it looked dark through the blood in his eyes. The only light was in front of him: a calmly swirling bubble encompassing the figure of a single young man. He stood with his back to Surge, unscathed and serene. The vigilante could feel that the strange effervescent sphere that encompassed him was made primarily of the electricity he had gathered himself, but his mind was too hazy to think of a good reason why someone else should be able to command it and without the strain it had caused him.

The demons didn’t seem to understand what they were seeing anymore than Surge did. One of them reached out a long fingered hand to prick the bubble with his claws. As soon as it made contact, it was gone, and the swirling shield adopted an eerie red cast.

“Go now.”

It was the young man speaking, and his voice smiled. The demons, gibbering amongst themselves, seemed uncertain what to do, faced with an unquantifiable opponent who, apparently, could absorb them with no trouble whatsoever.

“Go,” the young man repeated, and though the word was calm and even kind, it was a definite command.

To Surge’s surprise, the creatures retreated, at first with reluctance, but then more quickly, as though aware that they were outmatched and were wasting time deliberating this fact.

He sat back on the floor, exhausted, and watched the figures retreat through whatever egress they found; when they were gone, he turned his gaze on the young man. His hair was disheveled and he yawned as he turned to face Surge and Cross. The power that had coalesced around him burst like a sparkler and the lights blinked back on as the stolen electricity returned to the wires. The comforting, sub-audible hum returned to the air and Surge relaxed somewhat even as pain and exhaustion crashed down on him.

“I came as fast as I could,” the young man said, rubbing his eyes with his sleeve. He looked down at Surge and gave him a crooked smile. “Sorry to steal your show.”

Surge could only shake his head mutely. Even if he had wanted to speak, Cross gave him no time. She was on her feet and she plopped Sem down in his lap as she stepped around him and embraced the man fiercely.

“Bastard,” she said, though her voice was happy. “Waiting until a time like this.”

“At least I didn’t wait longer,” he said with his arms around her.

Surge looked at Sem, feeling spent and raw and not totally sure if he was upright or lying on the floor. The boy laughed and patted Surge’s face with both hands. His fingers came away smeared with blood.

Cross had turned toward him, and he could see that she was speaking, but he couldn’t hear her voice. The young man beside her frowned and he looked familiar, but Surge couldn’t place him and didn’t get a good look at him because the world tilted alarmingly and then he was certain that he was no longer upright because all he could see were Cross’s bare feet and Sem and the detritus from the demolished ceiling, and then he couldn’t see anything and his blood was roaring in his ears.