The alarm clock began its frenzied dance across the nightstand. Groggily, The Dancer reached from under the bed covers and turned it off. There would be no usage of the snooze button; snooze was the path to laziness. She sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, remembering the Slurpee she had downed around two in the morning and had neglected to do sit-ups to compensate for. Getting out of bed, she recalled the carjacker she had roundhoused and decided that it probably didn’t matter.
The motel room’s carpet felt dirty under her feet as she padded towards the closet. She checked the safe there, opening it using her room key. Her jumpsuit—light blue with dark blue diamonds running down the sides—and her belt were both there. The gun, its gold trim gleaming slightly in the morning light, and its holster were there too. With a satisfactory nod she retrieved the lot from the safe and shut it.
She tossed the bundle on the motel bed, double-checking to make sure that the blinds were shut. She really should’ve checked before she retrieved her costume, but she hadn’t. She remembered closing them the night before, after all. She had snuck out around midnight and gone back on patrol, breaking up a few fights, intercepting a truck full of stolen car parts, and striking the boy behind the counter at the 7-11 speechless when she winked at him in the middle of her Slurpee. After that, it was back to the motel. But she still should have double-checked.
She hit the floor and began doing push-ups. It was disturbingly easy to break routine, she realized. Her list of rules was demanding, but not very long. She hadn’t had any trouble adhering to it for a long time…so why now?
The Dancer stopped the push-ups and moved into a handstand, beginning a repetition of vertical press-ups. She knew why she was distracted, really. She was thinking about him. The mystery man.
She switched to one-handed vertical press-ups and became annoyed when they presented no challenge. A backflip brought her to her feet and she began stretching. The right side of her abdomen was always stiff during these exercises. She didn’t need to glance down to know that it was the scar, three inches of light crimson stretching diagonally down her stomach, that caused it.
She had good reason to think about him, of course. There hadn’t been anyone like him in Port De Soto—heck, in the entire world—since she was eleven. He had come from nowhere. He hadn’t seemed to know about the Police Contract. Most importantly, he was handsome.
And that was why she followed him. When she finally did talk to him, she wouldn’t mention that, of course. “Oh, trade secret,” she’d coo when he asked how she found him.
That, though, would have to wait until she actually did find him. She looked back at the clock and read its face for the first time.
“Aw crap,” she muttered, seeing that it was 12:30 and realizing she had managed to sleep through four hours of the alarm beeping. He was probably long gone.
Warren was long gone, though not far away. Nervousness woke him a few minutes before the alarm clock did, and he left the motel quickly. Now he stood outside the police station again, looking at the glass doors and wondering if he should go inside.
Of course I should go inside, he thought. He had to. Warren pushed the door open, not giving himself any time to doubt.
There was a different officer at the desk. That was good; he had a fresh start now. He glanced up at Warren momentarily before looking back at his notebook.
“Excuse me,” Warren said, stepping up to the desk. The officer put his pencil down and looked him in the eye. “I need to file a missing person report. Uh, actual—“
“What’s the name of the missing person?” The officer interrupted, retrieving a notepad from a drawer.
“Actually, that’s the thing, I think there might already be a report,” Warren said, quickly becoming aware of how dumb he sounded. The officer squinted slightly, puzzled.
“I’m sorry, sir, can I get your name?” The officer asked, twirling the pencil.
“Yeah, uh, I’m Warr—“ Warren stopped, hearing something. He concentrated slightly, unsure of why he was paying attention to it.
“Explosion…gas leak…Stay calm!...fire department…Fourth and Wovoka…”
The officer asked Warren if something was wrong. Or, rather, he tried to, as when he finished the question he was left talking to thin air and a pile of shattered glass that had been the entrance to the police station.
Warren was in the air, flying towards the scene. He had realized that he was unwittingly listening in on a 911 call, heard the operator trying to calm a frantic caller. He knew he could do something, whatever was happening. Moreover, he knew that Fourth and Wovoka was the junction he had awoken under two days before.
He didn’t know how long it was until he arrived. He smelled the smoke before he saw it, a thick black cloud pluming from the ground. He concentrated and suddenly he could see the ground, flames billowing around cars. Screaming fire engines plowed their way down the same street that police cruisers had chased an armored car on before.
Warren grimaced when he heard screams coming from the street. He was fast approaching the smoke cloud; if he didn’t change course soon, he’d find himself caught in the middle of it. The screaming, human and siren, continued. Warren eyed the flames with apprehension, felt fear grip his stomach. He grit his teeth and flew straight down, towards the inferno.
The smoke seemed to part as he flew towards it. He wasn’t sure if that was because of some air current or because of the speed at which he was flying. He also realized that the smoke only got darker as he soared towards the ground; that meant it was thicker. It wouldn’t clear out as easily.
He slowed his flight when he could see the flames without concentrating. They contrasted hellishly against the pitch-black smoke, blocking out the daylight.
Warren hit the ground hard, leaving cracks in the asphalt beneath him. He quickly stood, noticing that he wasn’t sweating. His eyes weren’t watering. He felt the heat, smelled the smoke, but it didn’t bother him. He began to wonder why the humidity had gotten to him…
No time! Go! Warren charged into the fire, instinctively throwing his arms over his head to protect himself. Flames licked at his clothing and he felt patches of his skin exposed to the fire.
He stumbled forward, unsure if he should be calling out, when he saw a limp shape lying on the ground. He took to one knee, recognized it as human and took it by the shoulder, tried to jostle it awake.
He lifted the person from the ground, seeing that it was a young woman. He jumped, kicked into the air with the woman in his arms. He flew straight up, pushing himself faster to escape the flames.
Ten seconds later he was free from the smoke, stopping and turning in the air. He looked, searching frantically for the fleet of fire trucks. He spotted them and descended.
He touched down and saw an open ambulance. The paramedics were up ahead, near the fire engines. Warren rushed forward and set her down by the ambulance. He turned back towards the fire, prepared to take off.
Warren looked over his shoulder and saw a firefighter coming towards him. An oxygen mask covered his face.
“I need to—“ Warren stammered, floating a few feet off the ground.
“Hey, are you crazy?” The firefighter demanded.
“I saw you carry her out through the smoke! Keep outta the smoke! Just cause it don’t bother you doesn’t mean we can breathe it! Hear me?”
Warren nodded. How could he forget that? He saw the woman, motionless in the ambulance, and felt sick.
“Keep outta the smoke!” The firefighter said again. “Go!”
Warren took flight. He didn’t need to be told twice.
He approached the smoke again, keeping the firefighter’s words fresh in his mind. Warren plunged downward, through the cloud and back to the ground. He found himself in a different location this time. He was on a sidewalk, the flames crawling up the face of a building behind him. In front of him he saw the twisted wreckage of a car, blown apart by an explosion. Parking meters on the sidewalk were either mangled or gone.
He heard crying and locked onto it. He dashed forward, looking for the source. As he ran he realized it was a child: a young girl. He hopped over a pipe jutting from the ground and saw a little girl furiously trying to drag her unconscious father by the arm.
Warren kneeled down again. The girl looked up at him, tears streaming down her face. Warren held his hand out.
“My daddy…” she said.
“I’ll help him,” Warren responded. He lifted the girl off the ground and stooped, picking her father up and throwing him over his shoulder. He prepared to take off again, but remembered what the firefighter had told him when he saw the smoke above them. He looked around, trying to find a way to get away from it. He couldn’t fly upward, couldn’t plow through the building next to him, couldn’t risk going through the fire behind him.
“Cover your nose!” He yelled. “Close your eyes!” The girl did as he said. He jumped, flying in a low arc, trying to keep away from the thickest patches of smoke.
Seconds later they were out of it, flying through the sky. Warren could hear the girl coughing. He began to panic, recounting the few moments that they were in the smoke. He descended to the ground, set the girl and her father by the same ambulance, and flew back, past the firefighters as they aimed their hoses and straight into the fire.
He felt his shirt catch fire only to be extinguished as he accelerated. He saw an old man stumbling through the smoke, clutching a handkerchief to his face. Warren stopped, lifted him up, and took off again, keeping low to the ground like he had before. He broke free of the smoke and looped around the cloud, flying over rooftops. He saw the fire hoses were working at full blast now, raining down water on the fire. Steam was joining the smoke in rising towards the sky.
Warren deposited the elderly man at the ambulance with the rest. He jumped before a paramedic could reach him.
As he flew, he remembered the white room. It had been beneath these streets. What had happened to it?
He got his answer when he landed. There was a crater in the ground, chunks of melted asphalt pooled around it. Nearby, he saw the manhole he had first flown out of.
Jesus…This was where the explosion had come from. He gazed into the crater, seeing no trace of the white room, the white bed, the steel walls. A cluster of pipes, bent outward from the explosion, spewed gas into the air.
He was torn away from the spectacle when he saw movement. There was a car, its left side crushed and scorched, its windows shattered. Inside he saw a figure slumped over the steering wheel.
Warren ran to the car and dug his fingers into the door. In one quick move, he tore the door away from the vehicle, the burning steel bending in his hands. He threw it away, letting it hit the ground with a clatter.
“God,” he muttered, seeing the driver. The man was burned, his left shoulder and large parts of his neck mangled by the flames. Warren stop staring when he noticed flames licking at the back of the car, right next to the gas tank.
He returned to action and yanked the seatbelt out of its place. The smell of burning gasoline reached him; he lifted the man out of the car and turned away, ready to jump.
There was a horrendous sound and Warren crouched, knowing exactly what it was. He covered the burned man as best he could as the car exploded, sending fire and metal screaming across his back.
The explosion lasted a second that felt like eternity. When it was gone Warren took off, flying back towards the ambulance. Above him, he heard a helicopter chopping its way through the air. It began dumping water on the blaze as he set the burned man down. A massive cloud of steam erupted from the ground as the water hit; Warren took off. He could hear firefighters and paramedics pointing him out as he dove into the smoke cloud again.
He hit the ground, looking for people. This time he was in the middle of three cars, their empty frames blackened.
He didn’t see anyone. He was prepared to take off and land at a different point inside the fire when he smelled burning gasoline again. The smell was stronger this time, and closer. Warren turned in horror to see a tanker truck engulfed in flames.
Taking great strides he bounded across the asphalt, noticing that his shoes had melted away. They slowed him down. He hopped and flew, scarcely a foot above the ground, towards the tanker.
He stopped when he was a few feet from it, skidding beneath the steel titan. He quickly got off his back and crouched beneath the truck, uncertain of how to go about doing what he had to do. Could he lift it from the bottom? Wouldn’t his hands push through the steel, like they had with the car door?
Bits of molten metal dripping off the side of the tanker told him he was out of time. Warren hunched his shoulders, and stood, feeling the tanker’s immense weight on his back. He reached out with his hands and grabbed the truck’s axle.
The fire was all around him. The truck’s cabin drooped forward as he stood, hoping beyond hope that the whole thing was balanced. He could hear gasoline moving, burning, in the tanker itself.
Warren leaped, hearing the asphalt crack as he rocketed into the sky. Smoke consumed him, obscuring his vision. Even if it didn’t, the tanker did. He didn’t know where he was flying, other than upwards. He prayed the helicopter was gone, that no planes were passing by.
The tanker’s weight was causing him to fly slower. He looked down and saw the city below him, but it wasn’t far enough away. He had to get farther.
The tanker began to tremble; he saw balls of fire falling from it. Come on, come on, I just need some more time!
He heard gasoline hissing and knew he didn’t have any more time. He stopped in the air and looked up at the tanker. He clenched the axle tightly with both hands, crushing it in his grip. He lifted it from his shoulders; his arms shook with the strain.
Screaming, Warren threw the tanker. It sailed up and forward, away from him. Gravity took it down towards the city in a tumbling arc.
He suddenly became aware that he might have dropped a massive time bomb on Port De Soto. Sick to his stomach, he wanted to look away.
Then the tanker exploded, disintegrating high above the rooftops. The massive sound hit him before the shockwave did. He watched as fireballs burned out in the air, turning into harmless ash.
Warren closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. He waited there, floating in the air for a moment. Then he flew to the nearest rooftop and landed on it, looking for something to puke into.
“Lord above,” Roger muttered, staring at his TV screen.
“What is it?”
“There’s been a…Jesus, Joseph and Mary, there’s been an explosion.”
“What?” Jane asked, incredulous. She rushed from the other room and stopped next to her father, staring at the screen. “Oh, God,” she whispered.
Footage of the fire was on the screen, a newscaster talking over it. Streams of water were blasted onto the dying flames as a helicopter flew in and out of the frame.
“Where was it?” Jane asked.
“Fourth and, uh,” Roger paused, watching the screen. “Wovoka.” He remembered how he had felt nearly a decade before, watching the same screen. That was in New York, hundreds of miles away. But his daughter hadn’t been with him then. He looked over to her, just to see that she was safe.
“Maybe it was…” Jane started. She stopped, sniffing the air. “Do you smell that?”
Roger did. He looked away from the TV screen, wondering where the smell was coming from. Something was burning, or had been burnt, but his apartment wasn’t anywhere near Fourth and Wovoka.
He turned around when he heard the window open behind him. Warren was there, his clothes burnt to a crisp.
“Hi,” he said. He looked past Roger and Jane and saw the television. “Am I on TV?”