A Calculated Response: Chapter 3

Chapter 3:

Far From Noble


“It has been forty-eight hours from the best estimate of the initial attack on Meredith Falls,” the haggard looking reporter addressed the camera. “At this time, we not only are confident it was an attack but one group has now claimed credit for it. We bring to you, our viewers, this video sent simultaneously to every media outlet in the United States. This tape, which runs for over an hour in its entirety, is being broadcast unedited. This decision was made to reveal the true nature of the terrorist threat our country now faces.  Due to the graphic nature of some of its parts, viewers may want to be sure children cannot see these images. We will delay for sixty seconds so our viewers can prepare.”

“While waiting, we will recap, not the events of the last two days but the reported totals of dead and injured. Of the town populace of Meredith Falls, we still cannot say for certain the number of casualties but it is estimated to be about twelve thousand. Two hundred and thirty two survivors have been rescued. Of those only one appears to be in relatively good condition. Another one hundred and forty three are suffering from a severe induced form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Physicians and healers have released a statement that they do not expect them to recover their sanity. The remaining eighty eight have undergone some previously undetermined process, which will be explained by the tape you are about to view. These victims of the attack on Meredith Falls have been deformed beyond recognition. At times the deformities are to the point where they no longer appear human.”

The anchorman paused to let the sheer magnitude of death be absorbed by his viewing audience before continuing. “Of the heroes and other super powered rescuers, twenty six are dead, not including the initial four fatalities. This includes five heroes, six members of various PEERS organizations, two members of HOPE, four members of Force Ops, and nine volunteer supers not associated with any group.” Again he paused and took a deep breath, this time seeming to do so in order to steel himself to continue. “In addition, sixteen were maimed beyond the ability to heal, fifty seven were seriously injured but able to be healed, and seventeen suffered severe psychological trauma but did not have irreversible damage. This represents one of the deadliest attacks on a civilian target within the United States and one of the deadliest attacks on supers or, as you will now see, by supers.”

His image faded from the screen to be replaced by a countdown. His voice continued and was echoed by text rolling across the bottom of the screen. “Please stay tuned for the unedited version of the video claiming responsibility for the horrifying terror attack on Meredith Falls. Again we remind you of the graphic, violent, and disturbing nature of this video. Viewer discretion is advised.”




The screen went black momentarily to be replaced by an image of five men and four women standing tall against a neutral background. They appear enveloped in shadows though some of their features can almost be distinguished. The front most man steps forward and out of the shadow. He has handsome, aquiline features but little else to distinguish him from anyone you might see on the street. He dressed conservatively, in a turtleneck, slacks, and a sport coat, for what was to become one of the most played videos on YouTube ever.

He started to speak in a clear, unaccented baritone. “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”  He took a dramatic pause before continuing. “These words were spoken by William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister of England in 1783.  Our country was barely born and already such truths were recognized by those outside it, those whom we fought to be free of less than a decade before.  Those words were true then, those words are true now.”

He paused again and looked from side to side at the eight others on screen slightly behind him. “It may seem that we, by our actions, are counter to our very creed.  Know that we do not seek to become tyrants and we refuse to be slaves. America has denied improving the welfare of its people and the people of the world as a whole in the name of ‘Necessity’.”

“What we do is beyond inhuman, we have become monsters, we acknowledge that and still we remain committed to moving forward. America must realize that its actions do not protect its people but rather renders them weak and vulnerable. To stop us, it must come forth, it must face the truth, and it must grow. The leaders of this nation can no longer claim to be shepherding its growth or to be representing their people.” He paused again and almost looked pleased as he said the next sentence. “You will bear witness to the horrors we must inflict upon the body of this nation in order to once again bring forth the spirit that created this union and made it great.”

“The founding fathers of these United States of America recognized that democracy was far from noble.  Many felt it to be an accursed thing and they tried in vain to place checks and balances on the government they spent their blood to form.” He gestured to each side of him, indicating the eight others in shadow. “Together we are ‘Far From Noble’. We are the check on the despotism of necessity that America is being strangled by.”

“If only this single act of horror was all that needed to be perpetrated in order to teach those in power that they cannot sit above in their lofty perch and look down upon the people from their privileged vantage.” He shook his head slowly from side to side. “We weep for you America and we weep for our victims for they are sacrifices, often innocent sacrifices, to advance our cause and though you may not believe it, your cause. Each of them is a tear in our very souls. We are monsters, we are damned, and we have no hope to live in the better future which we strive to bring forth. We expect that the hounds of those in power will sniff out our trail and attempt, in their righteous fury, to bring us to justice.” He almost spat out the last word. “Know only that we go willingly, possibly to our doom, certainly to our damnation, having given up everything in order to advance America and all of mankind. At one time America led the world in creativity, in technology and in progress. Now, it hides in obfuscation, it disguises what it truly is, and it lessens itself in the world. We will return America to its pathway of greatness or we will see it burn to make way for its successor.”

The shot of the speaker and the eight shadowy figures faded away, his even voice continuing to speak as a new image appeared in their place.  The scene revealed was of a scarlet tear in space, a jagged circle sitting in the middle of a paved road with no other details seen around it. It was as if someone had dug a hole through the fabric of the air into a place lit by red neon. “Now, you must actually see the cruel, but necessary, acts we have perpetrated on the people of Meredith Falls and their would be rescuers.” He looked pleadingly at the camera as his image, and those of his companions, began to fade. “Weep for them, for they did nothing to deserve this. We do this for all of you, including those who were among the first sacrificed for the greater good.” His voice ceased and the scene played on with no further audio.

Through the tunnel on the screen emerged eight people, one of whom, standing head and shoulders above the rest, was dragging a large coffin-like object behind him. Once all of them exited the tunnel and stood on the roadway he turned and lifted it easily, placing it on his massive shoulder. The group immediately split up into four sets of two. The image followed the now familiar speaker wearing his sport coat, and another man all in leather and chains with a red leather coat flaring out from him as he walked. The two men moved onward in eerie silence with no sound recorded to mark their passage.

They approached a car dealership and the man in leathers gestured ahead of himself repeatedly, as if grabbing and twisting something which wasn’t actually there. With each gesture, a pulse of light appeared near bystanders who then came into focus on screen, their mouths gaped open as they stared in wide eyed horror, silently screaming before falling backward knocked over by some unseen force. Once down on the ground they began to thrash, as their skin began to tear open in jagged wounds. It was if they were being raked and bitten by some immense invisible animal. Whatever caused the damage was nowhere to be seen. Each one in turn ceased their silent thrashing and lay still, blood pouring forth from wounds torn deeply into their flesh until clearly their hearts stopped beating and the spray of bright crimson blood ended.

The video continued the images jumped from scene to scene and pair to pair. Different perspectives were shown across the entire town; the whole of the sequence creating a gruesome montage of devastation.

Those approached by the man in the sport would proceed to grab the side of their heads silently screaming before running away from him as fast as they could with no regard for anything else happening around them. Other times his victims proceeded to bang their heads into walls or slam them in doors till they fell to the ground bleeding or worse.

Each pair left a trail of destruction in its wake. The largest of them walked unceasingly toward the town square carrying the coffin the entire way. Any unfortunate enough to get in his way were literally smashed to pulp by his free fist; bloodied remnants were strewn across the pavement. When a car or a building was in his way, he simply moved through it, silently leaving rubble and smoking debris as a testament to the path he took. Despite the sheer devastation caused by his actions, the coffin never so much as slipped from its perch on his shoulder.

The man who was with him didn’t directly engage anyone, instead he simply walked behind the behemoth with the metal coffin and did his best to avoid the inevitable shrapnel that flew his way on occasion. His face was never clearly seen, he wore military style cargo pants and a hooded jacket with dark glasses over his eyes. Only once did anyone get close to him.  A man with a baseball bat held high to strike darted out of the door of a sporting goods store after the monstrous coffin bearer passed. He got within five feet of the hooded man before he suddenly stopped in his tracks as if petrified. His prior motion still carried his stiffened body forward as he slowly pitched forward falling to the ground as if he were a tipped over statue. When his body hit the ground it shattered into a thousand pieces. Shards of this poor unfortunate person then became flesh once more leaving the ground littered with blood and chunks of what looked like uncooked meat.

The next pair included a man and woman. He was wearing a long coat with many pockets and carried large satchels slung over each shoulder. She wore what looked like an isolation suit complete with a full enclosed breathing unit. The man never went near anyone, he simply kept pulling what looked like crystal spheres out of the satchels and tossed them here and there as they walked. She approached everyone she saw. Each person she approached fell to the ground dead as soon as she came close. No two seemed to die in exactly the same manner; some had seizures, some bled from their eyes, some began to vomit until they collapsed, and still others had their skin peeling away within seconds before they too fell over, dead before they hit the ground.

As horrifying as she was, the next pair was perhaps the worst of the group. Each of the other pairs seemed to kill almost in passing. While people in their way died horrible deaths, the killing seemed almost incidental. They didn’t go out of their way to chase people down nor enter buildings to seek them out. With the last pair that wasn’t the case. This pair had two women, at least two figures that both bore a resemblance to women. The first wore leathers and chains similar to the man in the red coat. Her wild hair accentuated the multiple piercings in her ears, brow, nose, and lip. She wore extreme makeup emphasizing her eyes and sinking her cheeks. She looked like a refugee from a thrash metal concert. As frightening a visage as she presented, her companion would have won a special effects Oscar if she appeared in a horror movie.

It was only in overall form could you tell it was female. Her face was crisscrossed by bleeding furrows and scars, her mouth was pulled back in a rictus grin as if someone took a knife to the angle where the two lips met and cut upwards through her cheeks pinning the flesh back and letting the oozing blood begin to dry.  The flesh of her lower lip sagged away from her teeth exposing them and the fact that they were all filed to points where they weren’t broken off stumps. Her hands ended in hook like fingers but the flesh dripped away from the bones of the fingers which were again filed into points. Her mangled, distorted body was covered in shredded clothes. She looked like a zombie out to find brains to consume.

The two women purposely sought out crowds, searching buildings to torture people who were hiding, trying to find shelter from the madness occurring around them. Where they found them, unspeakable things occurred.

Groups approached by the pierced woman began to turn on one another and fight each other. This was not a simple fist fight or even a riot. Each and every person she approached attacked others around them with a viciousness that could never be expected from simple rural townsfolk. It was never enough when one defeated their opponents. They kicked them while they were down, they beat them senseless, they tore their flesh until they were covered in the blood of their victims. Only when their victim was finally still and the blood no longer surged from their wounds did they move on aimlessly, in search of more people to fight and kill.

The victims of the zombie like woman, they were the ones to be pitied the most. For of all the victims in Meredith Falls, they were among the few who did not find the peace of death.

The townsfolk she approached would see her and begin to run, like some scene from the latest Hollywood zombie thriller. No sooner had they turned to flee from her then they would find themselves unable to run away as their legs began to distort and often fuse into a single unmoving stump on which their torso perched. When they could no longer escape, she would slowly shamble toward them, close the distance, and ultimately lay her bloody claws upon them to begin a macabre sculpting of their face and body. What remained when she had done her bloody work was alive, but no longer recognizable as human.

In the midst of her ghoulish handiwork, part of her head suddenly exploded, the left side tearing away as her body was thrown backward from her victim. The angle of the image shifted and a man with a gun stalked toward her. Perhaps it was a lucky shot, perhaps he believed the tales that the only way to stop a zombie was to shoot it in the head. Whatever the case it did not stop her. When she didn’t fall he continued to shoot, the sound of the shots was never heard though her body jerked with each bullet he planted in her. It appeared as if he planted an entire clip in her, despite this she never fell. He stopped advancing toward her and put a new clip in the gun. Before he could take aim to fire again, she suddenly raised her head to look at him.

The left eye and orbit were missing and her brain was exposed. The jaw remained attached at the right side but hung by shreds of skin at the left. Three large holes were visible in her torso and abdomen, her internal organs were exposed and blood and gore were dripping from what should have been deadly wounds. She stared at her attacker and smiled a distorted smile, mouth half gone, the smile all the more disturbing for it. As she glared at him with her one eye, his body began to twist. His arm bent at an unnatural angle bringing the gun up to his own face. His lips began to quiver and stretch as they grew over the muzzle of the gun. The fingers of the hand holding the gun merged together and grew over the handle, all except the trigger finger which remained alone, in place behind the guard. His legs melted away leaving him unable to walk, let alone run. His other hand and arm was untouched as he pulled at the hand holding the gun now grafted into his mouth. The look of horror on his face disappeared as the flesh over his eyes and the rest of his face melted into smoothness except for two small holes where his nostrils were still allowing him to breathe. His scream was still visible in the writhing of the muscles under the unblemished skin. Only then did she turn and shamble away, leaving him there blind and with the gun only useful if he chose to end his own suffering.  

Onward she went, taking her wandering path through the town and leaving the twisted bodies of the people of Meredith Falls behind her. When she came across more than one person together the results were even more disturbing. As she approached groups the flesh of each individual would dissolve and entwine with their neighbors. Two or even three people at a time were merged freakishly into a single being like some bizarre Siamese twin. As the scene played out, the particular pairings she created grew increasingly distressing. For some time she followed her partner and when two people would begin to fight she would merge their flesh so a single creature would tear itself to shreds, its component parts locked in battle. As she progressed away from the senseless combat her companion evoked, she merged mothers and their children, husbands and their wives, people and their pets.

Many of her victims were left trapped inside buildings. As she left each of the businesses and residences she had entered, the walls and doors would sag behind her, melting or decaying just as the bodies of her prey. She left them confined, twisted, awaiting what was to come trapped within their warped selves as much as within the collapsed buildings.

Each of the members of ‘Far From Noble’ left a bloody trail behind them. Each one of them left utter devastation in their path. One by one each member joined their large companion in the town square surrounding the coffin he had carried there.

It was there outside the town hall, beside a fountain with a statue of a man on horseback, the hulking brute had finally put the coffin down on the ground once more. At this point the sound suddenly returned and the man in the sport coat addressed the camera once more. “Now you have borne witness to our capabilities and depths to which we will go for our cause. We will continue to carry out our mission until America changes its ways. We make no specific demands, your leaders know why we are doing this and they know what they must do to stop us. They can throw away lives and property in some vain hope that they can find us and defeat us or they can capitulate. What we have done so far is but the smallest part of what is to come. Though our methods may not be just, our cause is. Many will flock to our banner and call. Some because they believe in it, some because they have other grievances with the government, and still others because in their hearts they hold evil and villainy. Well we say to you the people we wish to help, any who act for our cause we will support. We will take evil and turn it into our weapon, a weapon to be used in our mission.”

Behind him the largest member of their group had stood the coffin upright. It was now obvious the side facing the camera was a door that hinged so it could swing open toward the view being shown. “Believe what you will. We are not villains, we seek no personal profit here, we seek only the betterment of our society. Many of you will not believe us. There will be outrage and the claxon call will be sounded. Our heads will be sought and we will be labeled evil.” He paused once more.

“Is evil done in the name of good truly evil, perhaps, perhaps not? History will label us as villains or heroes but who writes that history is yet to be determined. In one future we are terrorists and our names when spoken are spoken with contempt. In another brighter future we are freedom fighters and our names are celebrated and spoken with reverence.”

He paused momentarily and the others gathered around him. “We still have two things left to show you, two things left to prove how determined we are and how dangerous we can be. We beg of you, let this be enough bloodshed, let this be enough torture. Let us disappear and let the people grow again in the freedom they need as if it were their sustenance. Weep for our souls as you weep for these people. The survivors shall envy the dead and that is how you will know what truly must be feared.”

Behind the coffin a jagged red circle appeared from nothing. One by one each of the men and women of ‘Far From Noble’ entered the crimson tunnel until only one was left. Standing next to the coffin was the man in the hoodie, the one who avoided the fighting and simply followed along. He examined the coffin and then did something to the side of it, his body blocking the view and obscuring exactly what he did. He too entered the tear in space which closed behind him. For ten seconds nothing happened and then the coffin lid began to swing open, the screen flooded with light and then nothing.

When the image resumed most of the town was no longer there. The view was above a great crater. Along the edge, ruined buildings were sliding into its maw. Smoke and flames were everywhere. Once more sound resumed but it wasn’t anything from the ruins shown on screen, instead it was the easily recognized voice of the spokesman for ‘Far From Noble’. “One last thing you must all bear witness to and that is what will happen to those who seek to undo our works or seek to find us and bring us to what you would call justice.”

The image did not change but the quality of light did, after a few seconds it became obvious that the speed of the recording was moving rapidly, hours passing by in seconds. The smoke moving across the screen reflected the passage of time.

The scene changed, the viewpoint moved to the edge of the town once more. Suddenly a sphere of energy came hurtling into view from the sky. It slowed, hovered above the ground and finally came to a stop.  When it touched down it faded and five men came into view. By this time everyone could recognize the first five heroes who entered Meredith Falls. Tramp was the leader of the group ironically known as Response. Unlike most hero teams they had no city they called their home, Hard Drive’s power let them travel anywhere in the country fast enough that they didn’t need one. When the call came in that Meredith Falls had gone dark and that initial rescue crews had disappeared they were first on scene.

Unlike the earlier video set in Meredith Falls, these images were accompanied by sound. “We’ll split into two groups,” Tramp’s deep voice ordered, “Maximum and I will take Boom Box with us.” He looked over at the younger man dressed like a hipster out to go clubbing, “sorry Boomer you’re still an intern for the next ten months, that means you get maximum supervision in this setting.” He looked over at the strongman of the group and snickered, “no pun intended.”

“Sure it wasn’t boss,” added the strongman, “just like the three hundred or so other times no pun was intended.”

“Hard Drive, you take Faraday and start from the other side of the town. We work our way to the center.”

“You got it,” replied Hard Drive. Tramp still hated looking directly at him, why he chose to make his costume reflective was something he would never understand. Faraday walked over and stood next to Hard Drive, the spray of lightning bolts across his costume were glowing slightly as he ran a tiny current through the EL wire running through it. It reflected off Hard Drive’s costume and Tramp just shook his head at them.

He squinted and raised a hand as if to shield his vision from too much glare. “You all hurt my eyes. A bunch of primping peacocks on this team, I tell you.”

“Just because you have no style boss,” Faraday replied. “I mean really that costume makes you look like something out of a fantasy role playing game.” Tramp looked down at himself. He wore a simple costume with a deep set hooded cowl to hide his face, a wide leather belt held compartments with gadgets, cuffs, and first aid gear in them, his boots were rugged but came to mid-thigh.

“I guess you’re right,” he laughed, “all I need is a sword.” Tramp stopped a moment as if he realized something. “Enough banter guys. I’m sure we are all nervous, we have no idea what happened here or what happened to the crews of rescue workers who went in. It doesn’t matter, we can handle it, we’ve handled worse before.”

A chorus of agreement came from the other four.

“Dispatch, this is Tramp, we are ready to enter Meredith Falls.”

There was no reply.

“Dispatch?” He looked surprised. He had lost his earpiece before, he’d had it damaged to the point it didn’t function, but never before had it simply not worked. “Can any of you raise Dispatch?”

Each of them tried in turn, and each reported that she didn’t reply.

“OK everyone the rules just changed,” Tramp pulled two guns from a hidden holsters at the small of his back. “Be ready for anything at any time. I’ve never been cut off from Dispatch like this which means something new is in play here. Be careful and be ready to retreat, information is critical at this point. If you get important intelligence and aren’t sure you can get it out if you keep fighting then run.” He paused and looked at each hero in turn, “Everyone got that?”

A series of affirmative replies told him all he needed to know.

“OK then move out, and remember we can’t raise Dispatch and we can’t call each other. You are out of touch from this point on. If all goes well, rendezvous here in one hour and then we will reassess the situation.”

Hard Drive and Faraday nodded agreement and then stepped off to the side. Suddenly they were enveloped in the same sphere of energy the group arrived within which ascended into the sky almost as soon as it formed. The remaining three heroes began to walk off down the torn up street.

“It’s kinda eerie,” said Maximum, “you would think there would be some survivors. The report we got from Dispatch said no poisons, no radioactivity, and no other residual energy detected except the fires.”

“Right,” replied Tramp, “and that makes me more nervous. You notice there is absolutely no sign of the rescue workers who got here before us? Nothing. No trucks, no tracks, no people.”

“Yeah, like I said eerie. Are you sensing anything kid? Those ears of yours have found people even under tons of rubble.”

Boom Box looked up at Maximum, a look of frustration on his face. “First of all old man, I’ve told you before it’s not my ears, it’s another sense altogether. Just because it detects sound doesn’t make it hearing. And second of all, yeah, there’s something out there, people I would guess but not a ton of them. I think we’ll find them trapped in some of the buildings.” He concentrated and then shook his head. “I’m not sensing the kind of noise I would normally associate with trapped people. Generally I’m just detecting movement of some kind but not digging, and not anything I can put my finger on. Others are more what I would expect, yelling, screaming, crying, but there’s no conversation, just a lot of muttering to themselves as far as I can tell, and again no digging themselves out.” He looked at Maximum again, “I’ll take it a notch past eerie to downright weird.” He stopped as he said it, looked apologetic, and said, “Max, I’m sorry for snapping. I’ve never dealt with anything like this. I’m on edge.”

“We all are kid. None of us have seen anything quite like this before. So no worries, huh?” He grinned and evil grin, “of course, next time you snap at me like that, I might just snap your arm. You know a snap for a snap.”

Tramp chuckled at Maximum’s comment and then said, “well let’s go figure out what’s behind the weird,” he motioned to Boom Box to lead the way as he spoke.

“The largest group is over this way, can’t really tell how many are moving around down there.” He led the way to a collapsed building, rubble sprayed out from what was left of the building. It was if the building collapsed in on itself and then was pushed away, outward from the center of town. It looked like it might have been a small office building or apartment house when it was intact.

Tramp took the lead once Boom Box pointed out the building where the people were trapped. He examined each side of the pile of stone and metal which was once a building. “Over here I think, looks like the easiest way to a stairwell is under this pile,” he said pointing to a slightly sagged in area. He looked up at Maximum and said “your turn big guy.”

Maximum looked at it, “I suggest you all stand back, these aren’t large intact pieces. I’m going to be digging through that and throwing all sorts of loose rubble to get in there. It’s going to take a while. Just keep an eye out, like Boomy said, this place feels downright weird.” Giving his warning he began to shift large pieces of rubble and, as he said, throwing them into the distance. After a few minutes of work, which sped up on screen, he stopped and the video slowed to real time again. “What in the world is this?”

He stood up holding what looked to be a crystal sphere. It was about the size of a baseball though in Maximum’s hand it looked more like a golf ball.  As he held it out to show the others it pulsed with a greenish light before shattering in his hand. Maximum staggered, then he stood up straight, his eyes darting from side to side. He started to look around, moving his head as if listening to something coming first from one place than another. His expression was confused, and then ran the gamut from profound sadness to anger to raw fury. His face finally settled on a sullen anger, looking almost like a child who didn’t get his way. His fists were clenched, the sound of his knuckles cracking could be clearly heard.

Tramp approached him warily, a look of concern evident on his face, “Max, are you OK? What was that?”

But without giving an answer Maximum suddenly shot his hand out grabbing and encircling Tramp’s head and squeezed. Tramp didn’t even have time to scream let alone react, blood and brain matter shot out from between Maximum’s fingers as Tramp’s body fell to the ground only to be trod on by Maximum as he advanced on Boom Box.

Boom Box may have been an intern but his reactions were instant. He didn’t pause in shock, or take time to note the passing of a hero; his mentor dying at his friend’s hands. No without hesitation he moved and acted. He back pedaled quickly away from Maximum and shouted, “Faraday, Hard Drive, get over here, Tramp is dead and Maximum did it, he’s gone insane.” The speakers on televisions around the country nearly blew out trying to reproduce the call for help amplified to hundreds of decibels by Boom Box’s power.

Maximum charged forward reaching for Boom Box when he was suddenly knocked back as a focused sonic boom hit him square in the chest. He shook it off quickly and charged again only to be hit by another sonic boom. This time he didn’t move back as far, he grew instantly stronger to resist it more. Boom Box reached out and again Maximum flew backward the sound of the sonic boom even louder if that were possible. Dust clouded the image as Maximum got up once more and stalked toward the younger here. “Faraday, Hard Drive, now would be a good time,” echoed loudly from Boom Box. Maximum kept approaching.

This time Boom Box hit him with rapid fire sonic booms, one after the other but each knocked him back less, as Maximum grew in strength to resist the force each time. The dust in the air started to vibrate as Boom Box raised the power level. He was obviously one of the strongest sound manipulators in action today and the image on the screen blurred, disrupted by the vibration he was causing. Maximum kept approaching, his walk slowed by the sheer force of sound, as if he were trapped in molasses. The image became uninterpretable, a shimmer of vibration mixed with dust thrown into the air. The noise built to a crescendo then suddenly was gone. When the dust settled Boom Box was held aloft in Maximum’s outstretched hand which had crushed the right side of the young hero’s entire chest. Blood welled up from his mouth, he tried to say something, his power amplifying the sound of his ragged breaths but still not making it understandable.

Maximum stood there holding Boom Box, the slowly fading bursts of sound still knocking into him. He didn’t seem to notice he had him in his grip. His voice was just barely heard over the waning sonic attacks. “No, I don’t want to do that… But, but I’m not supposed to do things like that… Why would I want to hurt people?” Some comments were clear, others mumbled. He stood there arguing with himself until he suddenly turned reach down and grabbed Tramp in his other hand and dragged the two heroes, dying and dead, over to the pile of rubble he had been digging in a few minutes before. Here he pulled out fragments of girder and rebar forming a lattice of spikes. He dropped Boom Box and stuck the body of Tramp onto these spikes posing it in a rough metal frame as if on display. He stood there muttering under his breath frequently, the words no longer intelligible, and then he grabbed Boom Box again. Boom Box could barely scream as each limb in turn was pierced through by jagged metal shards, each time it happened he through another attack against Maximum, the rubble shaking around them, the dust clouding and fuzzing out the image of the slow torture he was going through. Finally as Maximum pierce him through his crushed right shoulder, he raised his head again and you could hear one last boom as he threw yet another attack at Maximum whose head barely moved back as it was struck. Defiant to the end, he coughed up one last huge gout of blood and stopped breathing.

After a few moments the picture was disturbed again as Hard Drive’s energy bubble returned, clearing a pathway through the miasma of the smoke and dust. It landed not far from Maximum but when it dissipated Hard Drive almost fell to the ground coming out of it. His costume was singed, it was no longer reflective, instead being laced with a pattern that looked like the material had cracked. His right sleeve of his costume was completely torn off and the bare arm it should have covered looked as if the bones were no longer there. The skin of the arm bubbled like acid was poured over it and torn like it was dragged through glass. His face was exposed, his visor was askew and covered in soot. He looked around disoriented and then seemed to find focus as he saw the hulking body of Maximum standing at the foot of a large pile of rubble. He rubbed his left hand across his eyes to clear his vision and then limped slowly toward Maximum.

“Max, thank god I found you. I… We need your help, all of your help,” Hard Drive said with desperation. “Faraday and I were searching across the crater and we found a survivor. He was mad, absolutely insane, constantly banging his head into the walls or hitting himself with a fragment of a brick.” He stopped and took some deep breaths. Maximum just stood there facing away from Hard Drive, his body blocking the view of the two dead heroes.

“Anyhow we stopped him from injuring himself further. He was ragged, he looked like he dug himself out from a pile of rubble. His fingers were raw and bloody, there were bits of earth embedded under what was left of his nails. We tried to ask what happened, to find out if there were any other survivors. But he only ran off gibbering absolute nonsense.” He took a shuddering breath before continuing. “We followed him of course. We caught up to him just down the street, he stopped and just stood there pointing at a round crystal sitting perched on a fire hydrant that was half out of the ground.” He took another shuddering breath, shaking his head in self-recrimination. “We should have stopped him, we should have realized something wasn’t right, that he wasn’t just a traumatized survivor. The madman… he walked up to it and picked it up. He held it almost reverently and then reached out for us to take it. Faraday went forward to examine it when the thing suddenly flashed a blue light and shattered.”

Hard Drive looked disoriented, almost panicked. He stood there a moment as if waiting for Maximum to respond, or even to turn around. When neither was forthcoming he started talking again a slight tremor notable in his voice. “The madman, he just liquefied, turned into soup in front of us. Faraday he… he changed, his legs and arms they deformed, his neck twisted, his whole body… it was like he was clay and someone started reshaping him.” He stopped for a second again and looked down at his arm. “I caught the edge of whatever it was and my arm it just turned to jelly. But Faraday, he was screaming in pain and suddenly he turned into his electrical form and surged at me. I barely got a shield up and only caught the edge of it but then I came here I could hear enough to know you guys were fighting. Boomy makes it pretty obvious. We need to grab him and Tramp and go help Faraday and then find a healer.” He looked at Max expectantly, waiting anxiously for him to turn and help. This experienced hero was so shaken by the events he had been through that he didn’t even realize that again something wasn’t right. After a moment he started again, this time more vehemently, “Max we need to get the others now! We have to find Faraday! We need to get in touch with Dispatch! Max!”

Maximum still didn’t move, his massive shoulders rocking up and down with his breaths were the only sign he was even alive. Hard Drive tried to get his attention once more, he came closer. “Max, did you hear me or did you go deaf from the sonic booms again?” He reached out to shake his shoulder when Maximum finally turned. Hard Drive’s face took on a look of absolute horror and the camera angle swung around to show the bodies now visible to him passed Maximum’s body.

“Max… what happened… what…” those were Hard Drive’s last words as Maximum reached out to grab him.

It wasn’t like he grabbed him to smash him, he embraced him, he enveloped the smaller man in what appeared to be a hug. He just stood there, holding him, the camera focused down on Hard Drive’s face, “Max,” he said softly, confusion clear in his voice, “Max it will be OK, just tell me what happened.”

“I… he…” Maximum started but then stopped his gaze darting around. “No, I don’t want to, he’s my friend.”


“No, I said no I won’t.”

“Max?” Hard Drive said with more urgency.

“No! No! No! No! No!”

Hard Drive’s body shook in Maximum’s grasp as the larger hero looked like he was throwing a tantrum. “Max put me down now.” But Maximum kept shaking and yelling ‘No!’ at the top of his lungs, over and over again. “Max, please! You’re hurting me.”

Max looked concerned, “See! See what you’re making me do? I don’t want to hurt him! I don’t want to hurt anyone!”

“I don’t want you to hurt me either Max, just put me down and we’ll figure this all out.”

“I… I can’t… I’m sorry but…” the sound of bones splintering came across clearly. Like a puppy that bites when trying to play Maximum squeezed just too hard for him and broke the body of Hard Drive, crushing it against his own indestructible body. His eyes bulged and blood trickled from him mouth as his body convulsed in Maximum’s arms and then was still. The once great hero began to weep.

The camera angle widened and panned out, as if now viewing the town from a great distance. It was clear that the fires raged on. Once more the speed of the video increased and the light from above slowly began to dim.

As this was happening, the voice of the spokesman was heard once more. “None can stand before us, to do so is only folly, it will only make things worse in the end. You may think that there are many heroes in this land, many who would stand before us and hold the line, defend the nation, protect its people. They are like wheat before a scythe to us. Those who would defend that which has no moral defense will find themselves cut down. They will be branded as dupes of the old order in the world which is to come.”

On screen the light from above continued to dim in accelerated time when suddenly the dancing flames all disappeared and the smoke cleared away. Gray twilight was left and once more the scene began to change. The images flowed to various groups of heroes entering the ruins. Tantamount’s battles with Faraday and Maximum played out for all to see as did Braindrain’s fight against the image of Far From Noble’s spokesman. Rasa’s death was shown, not the simple bad luck of a falling wall but the explosion of a crystal causing the rubble to bury him.

The image accelerated again, the screen going black as night fell and then light again as the morning came and the sun rose. It slowed to normal pace focused on a large temporary structure which appeared to be outside the town. The image moved through the door of the structure and into a large room filled with communications equipment, several members of Force Ops in their black uniforms, and the Architect surrounded by several heroes and leaders of PEERs groups.

“Now that Maximum and the others have been found, there has been no further evidence of current super activity?” asked the Architect. “Is that right?”

“No, nothing else happened,” replied Tantamount, “Rasa’s death appears to be pure bad luck, but…” he paused and added hesitantly, “something doesn’t seem right.”

“I agree with you there but if we are going to have any hope of finding and helping survivors we need to go in now, in full force. You only had two advanced minds among the heroes who went in yesterday to scan for the living and Braindrain… well let’s hope.”

“Pax says she’s gone,” Tantamount shook his head sadly, “I don’t think there is much to hope for.”

“We can hope to find some survivors. There are six additional telepaths among the non-certified supers and three with enhanced senses. If we are going to find survivors short of digging up the entire area we all need to go in.”

“Alright,” said Tantamount holding his hands up in front of his chest indicating surrender, “we all go in.” Everyone in the room waited for the ‘but’. “But, all non-certified supers are to be accompanied by a certified hero. I’ll exclude Force Ops from that requirement but that’s as far as I’ll go. That means each PEERS team can enter with their supervising hero. For HOPE I want at least one certified hero for every four members that enter. For the unaffiliated supers I want no more than two with each certified hero. That means everyone gets to go however there are no heroes who aren’t accompanying others.” He looked around at each person present. “Is that completely clear and understood?” His tone emphasized the gravity of the situation.

There were nods of agreement around the room as well as a few grunts indicating it was.

“Dispatch, this is Tantamount, please log and confirm the decision to allow non-certified supers on-site. In addition, please log the assent of the leaders present to the requirements I have put in place. Full date and time stamp as well as record of who was present.” Everyone looked at him surprised to see him make this request. “I’ve been through DVA reviews before,” he said, then his lips grew into a tight line as he shook his head like he was trying to hold back a comment. “This is going to eventually be one hell of a review. I’m not leaving anything undocumented.

Dispatch’s voice came over a speaker set up on the table so everyone could here. “I have logged the choice and confirm your authority to enact it as mission lead for this operation. Good luck everyone.”

“OK,” added Tantamount, “if anyone who wants to go in isn’t willing to follow the restrictions put them in a transport and get them the hell out of here.”

The group of them left the command building and stood before over three hundred supers and a thousand rescue workers including firemen, policemen, National Guard, medical personnel, and others. So many who came out and put their lives on the line to try and save others.

He stood on a small platform set up to raise him about two feet and allow him to more easily address the crowd. Under his breath his said “Dispatch, begin recording.” Then and only then, he nodded at Doppler, a sonic hero not nearly as powerful as Boom Box, but apparently able to amplify Tantamount’s voice. “Once again I want to thank everyone who came out to help with this tragic attack on Meredith Falls. That includes everyone here today, not just the supers. Those of you who came out and put your lives on the line without the benefits of special abilities are all true heroes.” He stopped as the supers all turned to face the gathered rescue workers and began to clap.

Once the applause died down, he started to speak again. “At this time the investigation of the area has not revealed any active super activity though clearly there was super involvement in the destruction here.” He paused to let that sink in, the first confirmation of the rumors that were flying through the camp. “We have decided that the entire group of supers here will be entering the town in order to perform search and rescue. The non-enhanced rescue workers will stand ready and if all goes well we expect to call you in by noon.” There were murmurs from the crowd of ordinary rescue workers. “PEERS groups will go with your supervising heroes. HOPE will be split into groups of four and each group will be accompanied by a certified hero. Force Ops, you may enter unsupervised based on your own command structure.”

“What about us volunteers?” came a voice from the crowd of supers.

“Non-certified, non-affiliated supers,” he continued, “will be allowed to accompany us into the town in pairs, each pair under the guidance of a certified here.” Again this triggered a low murmur, both from the volunteer supers and the non-enhanced volunteers. “These are the rules people; they are according to protocols written for situations just like… well no, not just like this, but situations which could include this. We have to get in there if there is going to be any chance of saving anyone. But, we aren’t going to take chances with unknown supers.” His face took on a stern, unyielding, expression. “This is the way it’s going to be, if any of you can’t work under these rules… well we will be sorry to see you go, but go you must.”

He scanned the crowd, though there were murmured comments, too low for anyone to make out, no one left.

“Alright then, we will be assigning teams to maximize ability to find and rescue survivors as well as provide protection and support. We have a total of seven telepaths and three supers with enhanced senses to try and find survivors. We will be splitting all of you up into different groups to maximize coverage of the town. Are there any others with powers that will aid in the location of survivors that we aren’t aware of?”

There was a slight shift in the crowd as a woman’s arm shot up about one third of the way back towards the middle. The nails on the hand were long and painted violet, there were numerous bracelets and bangles encircling the wrist. The crowd of supers parted around her to reveal a short woman dressed in skirts and a flowing blouse over which a flak jacket was worn. She had on matching violet eye shadow and lipstick, despite being in a disaster area. She started to walk toward Tantamount eventually coming to a stop at the base of the stage

“Your name?” asked Tantamount.

“Mariana Prentice,” she replied with a voice clearly practiced at sounding ‘haunted’.

His brow furrowed as if he were trying to remember who she was, “I’m sorry, so many here, what is your power?”

“I’m a psychic.”

“Advanced mind?”

“No, I’m a psychic.”

“Umm, that designation usually falls under the category of advanced mind.”

“Yes, yes,” she replied rolling her eyes upward. “Name, number, and categorize your… super powers,” she said the last almost with disdain, “however you like. I’m not a super, I’m a psychic from a long line of psychics.”

Sudden realization showed on his face, “oh, your that woman always advertising on television, solve your problems through crystal balls or tarot cards or something like that.” He rubbed his hand across his eyes while shaking his head no. “I’m sorry, screening should have been better, the volunteers we are taking are only those with demonstrated powers. What you do may play well to an audience and comfort those seeking proof that their loved ones are at rest, but you have no place here.” He turned to the side and motioned toward one of the Force Ops members who started to move up when Mariana reached out and grabbed his hand. Her eyes went wide and then she pulled him toward her, he bent over not resisting in the sudden surprise of it. She whispered something that went unheard into his ear.

“Alright then,” he said standing up and taking back his hand to wave off the Force Ops member, “you are with my group.”

“Anyone else?” He paused and looked out over the crowd. “Any questions?” He paused again and when none were forthcoming he said, “Alright then, group assignments are being given out now. Gather with your supervising hero and let’s move out.”

Again the video played through in rapid speed until almost seventy groups of supers set out into the ruins to search for survivors. The scene only slowed to show death and destruction. There were survivors found though all were either insane or twisted and deformed by the zombie woman. Alongside the survivors, they found crystal spheres. More than twenty scenes played out in clips one after the other. At last the purpose of the member of Far From Noble who harmed no one in the first part of the video was made abundantly clear. He wasn’t there for the townsfolk, he was there for the supers. Super after super fell, heroes, Force Ops, PEERS, HOPE, volunteers. One after the other they paid the price for their virtue.

In one scene, four or five groups of supers were gathered together digging out a large building. A giant of a man in a red shirt and jeans was lifting an intact piece of wall from the large pile of rubble when a crystal sphere tumbled out from beneath it glowing red and then suddenly everyone except the huge super was thrown back in an invisible explosion of force. The piece of wall he was holding shattered and became shrapnel doing nearly as much damage as the blast itself. The camera panned around the area, many were down and not moving as others staggered to their feet. The large super whose clothes were now shredded ran toward the first downed woman and then the scene changed.

The next scene showed a hero with what looked like two ordinary people in jeans wearing flak jackets, clearly some of the volunteer supers. One of them was staring at a pile of rubble throwing pieces off without touching it, the supervising hero was touching his earpiece speaking to Dispatch as a crystal sphere rolled out of the pile and began to glow a pure bright white. The two volunteers froze in place, and then fell over crumbling into pieces as they hit the ground. The hero only caught the edge of it, as the arm he held to his ear, along with the ear itself cracked and fell off his body which began to spurt blood from the stump at his shoulder.

Again the scene changed showing several supers in the black uniforms of Force Ops falling to the ground after finding a sphere which pulsed orange. Their flesh was ripped open as if by unseen beasts.

In another scene, Tantamount and his group came to an area where it looked like there were homes before the explosion. Most of the debris here was wood and brick rather than cinderblock and concrete. The psychic woman, Mariana, reached down at the edge of a pile of rubble and pulled out a child’s ragdoll which was clearly worse for the wear. One eye was missing, a leg was hanging by a shred of cloth, and the seam on the side had popped open with stuffing leaking out. She held it up in both hands and then pulled it to her chest, bending her head over it. She stood that way for a full minute before her head suddenly shot up, her eyes wide, and she began to shake.

“No! Not the baby!” were the only words she was able to get out before she collapsed to the ground, foaming at the mouth and started to seize, still clutching the doll to her breast.

Scene after scene, sphere after sphere, more explosions, more deformities, more death, more disfigurement, more and more and more, until finally it came to the end.

The video finished with an image inside a partially intact basement, the lighting was poor but clearly visible was a woman kneeling on the floor wearing the white fatigues of HOPE and holding the body of a small girl. The view was from behind her left shoulder, the child’s face was clearly seen but it was a single smooth sheet of skin with no mouth, eyes, or nose. Her hair framed the face making her look like a mannequin.

The child was obviously choking, unable to breath. The woman seemed to be trying to do something with her powers. She kept gesturing at the child with what looked like a wand or a stick. Whatever it was she was trying to accomplish didn’t seem to be working.

She screamed “help me, I need help in here, now, she’s dying and I can’t do anything. Oh god, oh god help me, someone please help me.” Again and again she tried to do something with the object in her hand, again and again she failed.  The view moved back revealing more of the room. There were two other bodies were lying on the ground, loose pools of flesh, the remains of another pair of HOPE fatigues and some sort of hero’s costume were plainly seen. Despite her screams no one came to help and as the scene played out the desperate writhing of the child stopped and it lay still in her arms.

“Noooooo…” came the wail from deep in her chest. She bent over the tiny body she held in her hands, her shoulders began to shake as wracking sobs encompassed her. Minutes went by, the scene still playing out in real time. She just sat there, sobbing, shaking uncontrollably, the pitiful body of the little girl held tight.

After five minutes of this, other people finally came into the room but it was clearly too late. A man also wearing the white fatigues of HOPE called out as he came down the nearly collapsed stairs, “Debbie… Debbie are you in here?” He saw her and turned to call back over his shoulder. “Here, she’s in here. Hurry.” He shone a light into the basement and looked around. “I… I think… what’s left of Rebuild and Elan are…” he stopped and suddenly turned away and vomited.

Hemi, another one of the heroes, came in and took the small corpse from the woman’s hands. At the same time another woman, easily recognizable as the healer Willowbark despite burns across most of her costume, came up to her. She stood her up and turned her examining her and bringing her face into view of the camera. The right side of her face looked like a hideous burn from her cheekbone to her temple. Her eye was spared to her great luck. Willowbark grabbed her and a glow enveloped the HOPE member’s head as Willowbark’s power was brought to bear. When the glow faded, the burn was still there, as red and raw as if it just happened.

The scenes played out and once more the image returned to the nine men and women standing in the shadows. The spokesman stepped forth once more and spoke the final words of warning Far From Noble would give.

“Remember what you have seen. We cannot be stopped, the damage we do cannot be undone. No one will be safe until you, the people of the United States, rise up with us, overthrow the yoke of your cruel leadership, and force them to relinquish onto this nation all that they have withheld from them. Rise up people of America, demand of your so called representatives the truth of what has been hidden and held back. Make them relinquish what they have held in secret, make your lives better, make us the leaders of the world once more.”

“Oh for the day that our monstrous acts can finally end. Until that day comes, know that like the founding fathers we too are Far From Noble, and we too will bring about great works and a lasting nation upon this earth.”

The video ended and the screen returned once more to a reporter. This time a woman’s drawn face graced the screen. It was clear that no one involved in this was getting any rest.

“I’m Ashley Glaser, in for Roger Stackhouse who…” she took a long pause, “needed to step away.”

“With the release of the video claiming responsibility for this terrorist assault in the heartland of the United States by supers, there has been a call for more extreme regulation of both supers and powereds.” She shuffled some papers in front of her and continued. “The President has declared a state of emergency and martial law in the region. He has moved National Guard as well as Army troops into the area. Six units of Army Force Ops have been deployed to the area alongside the normal troops.”

“The group calling itself, ‘Far From Noble’, has never been heard of before but appears to be made up exclusively of supers. They have made claims that their attack is due to America holding back something which would improve the lives of its people and its standing in the world community. They gave little to no details of what this was, instead calling for the people to rise up against the government so they admit the wrongdoing and release these benefits to everyone.”

“Humanity First has made a statement which simultaneously supports the opposition of the government while at the same time decrying ‘Far From Noble’ as more evidence of the danger of supers and the need to remove them from society.”

“Intermix, the political action group which calls for equality of supers, powereds, and normal humans under the law, and a removal of the restrictions governing the use of powers released their own statement which declared that ‘while this heinous act was carried out by supers, it in no way makes the case that supers are a danger above madmen with bombs.’ In fact they go on to say that ‘this shows to achieve such destruction even supers resort to explosives over their own powers.’ They seem to have completely ignored much of the evidence in the video that powers were extensively used in both the initial destruction and the aftermath.”

“Congress has been in session since the initial reports came out and reports are that they too have just finished screening the tape from Far From Noble. Discussion of the need for further restrictions on supers or further increases to Homeland Security are ongoing.”

“Stay tuned to this station for continuous coverage of the attack and the aftermath. Be sure to join us at four o’clock as we bring together a panel of political correspondents and representatives from a number of lobbying groups both pro and anti super to discuss the ramifications of Meredith Falls.”

Her image faded out as the picture changed to an aerial view of the crater and ruins at Meredith Falls. Statistics regarding the attack scrolled across the bottom of the screen. A non-stop reminder of the losses suffered.