In the beginning, everything had gone according to plan. It had taken only a couple of small tweaks to change the data being streamed wirelessly to the delivery truck’s computer, rerouting the shipment through a highly trafficked, well-populated area. According to the plan, the truck would exceed that particular sector’s skyway weight limitations; a lock would be placed on the vehicle’s computer, and it would have stalled, standing still in the road until the SPD came to authorize its movement. The SPD would check the trailer, and the goods would be seized. It was a matter of making the recipient and the distributor sweat, because what was in that truck and where it was going were not things they wanted the public to know. And after the SPD saw what was in the trailer, the public would know.
That was the plan in its entirety. His role in it was negligible and it would have ended there. The shipment would have been impounded, the owners on both ends would have been questioned, and their operations would have ground to a halt at least long enough for more plans to be made. It was simple. It was flawless. And best of all, it was harmless.
Except that Surge misinterpreted the code words the distributor and the recipient were using.
Except that what should have been illegal weapons turned out to be a volatile, pressurized gas.
Except that when the truck stalled and came to a halt in the road, it did so directly under a hanging tram line moments before a tram came through.
Except that the truck was not only too heavy but too tall for this sector and the hanging tram that passed while it sat idle hit the top of the trailer. Between the impact sheering a hole in the trailer and the sparks from metal screeching on metal, the truck exploded, taking out the skyway, the front of a nearby building and the tram line, all of which plummeted, taking out two skyway levels below before engulfing the ground level streets in flames.
Emergency services had barely started to respond before Surge was there. Despite the danger, he couldn’t stay away. Not when he knew he was the one at fault for the disaster.
It had never occurred to him what might happen to a normal human’s body if he took them into and back out of the wires with him. He had never even thought to try to extend his electrosynthetic powers to the people around him.
Now he was doing it without thinking, blinking into and out of the corporeal world, grabbing people and dragging them through a transformation their bodies had never been intended to make. He did not have time to be relieved when they came out on the other side no more than dazed and a little fried, with any metal on their bodies hot and fused and acrid. He didn’t have time to think at all. He only had time to react. That was the only way he could save the people he’d endangered.
The additional strain on his body was greater than he had expected, but he pushed himself. He wrenched electricity out of the city, wringing every drop of power out of her that he could. He hissed through the air, from building to street to building, in a rush of ozone that burned in the throat, grabbing whomever he could touch and dragging them to safety with him.
But he couldn’t save the people who had been in the tram. Or the pedestrians on the three skyways and the street. Or the people in the building that had had its face peeled off.
He hadn’t saved nearly enough before he collapsed in the street. Lying stunned with the pavement biting into his face, his coat tingling around him, everything seemed to twist and lurch even though he knew he wasn’t moving. He knew because when he tried, he couldn’t.
Booted feet shuffled at the edge of his vision. Someone was shouting at him. He could see several guns trained on him, but he heard nothing except the static in the air.
The feet remained at a distance, and he managed to tilt his head enough to look up at the people who had approached. SPD. Their mouths were moving as they shouted at him, but they didn’t grab him. Didn’t cuff him.
All he could hear was a loud buzzing.
If he’d had the energy, he would have laughed. They couldn’t touch him because of the electricity clinging to the air around him. When they got too close, the charged air forced them away again.
Getting up off of the ground felt like climbing a rope to the moon. He had to consciously fire each nerve, force each muscle to contract, force his joints not to buckle, all of which was possible only because of the electrical field surrounding him. The sulfuric smell that clung to the air around him perfectly matched the faint, half-imagined taste of blood in the back of his throat.
The first bullet came from behind him, but he sidestepped it without effort. Everything outside of himself seemed pitifully slow, and he did laugh, breathlessly. The electricity in the air crackled in response, like it was laughing too. He couldn’t even hear his own voice echo in his head. All he heard was the current in the air.
He dodged the next four rounds, until he was facing the fire again. Facing the people streaming past his standoff, covered in dust so that they were like gray-faced clones, all running in terror and staring at him with round, rolling eyes. A rush of air from an exploding gas main down the street caught him in the face and he could smell the acrid, toxic flames he’d caused. The air was choked with dust and he suddenly found he couldn’t breathe around the tang of blood and smoke. His eyes widened, and the euphoria evaporated.
The sixth bullet hit him in the back, and he heard more than felt his scapula shatter. He stumbled forward. Fell to his knees.
Fear crashed in on him at the same time that his hearing returned. Every shriek and sob around him increased his panic; the yells of the SPD circling him, the sound of bullets chambering in their guns, the muted roar of barely controlled fires threatened to crush him to dust.
He clamped shaking hands over his ears. Swallowed the bitter taste of bile. Screamed.
And then fled.
He circled the system in panic, uncertain and indecisive. He checked the surveillance footage of the disaster, checked for images of himself. He began to clean up after himself only to be frozen in horror at the fact that the newsfeeds were already broadcasting his face to the rest of the city.
No amount of damage control could fix this. Every person in Solace would know his face, his name, his history.
Even in the wires, he didn’t feel safe. Phineas had pulled him out once. Phineas had held him in a plastic cell for what seemed like forever. Who could say that the SPD couldn’t do the same thing? Who could say that they didn’t already have a way of identifying his presence in the system? Of tracking his movements the way every remote user of the wires was tracked?
He wracked his mind for safe havens. He didn’t have many friends, and every name that came to him was out of the question. He’d been caught by the city’s surveillance network with all of them and they would be the first people the SPD went to question once they thought to review the footage.
There was only one person he could turn to, he realized, and shot through the wires in that direction. He was too stunned and panicked to think his options through in detail; he’d just have to hope that he wasn’t making a mistake.