Center Of Attention 26-16 (Summus Proelium)

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Obviously, it was even harder for me to keep myself under control with that bit of news. Sure, they said the victims who had survived so far were stable, but that could change at any second. They were still quarantined. Both of my parents had been hit by this chemical attack or whatever it was. How did that happen? Why had my mother even been here in the first place? She wasn’t part of the Conservators or any government institution. 

Even more importantly, at least in a larger and more immediate sense, what was going to happen with the Ministry over the next however long it took for my parents to get better? Obviously they had a power structure in place, but they were both the leaders. Who would be giving out orders now? 

Actually, come to think of that, I asked, “The… sick people, how bad are they? I mean, you said they were quarantined, but are they conscious? Can they talk to people?”

The man paused as though he wasn’t exactly sure how much information he should give out. Then he exhaled. “Look, I know you’re worried about all those people, and about how the city’s going to get along in the middle of all this gang shit with half of two of our major Star teams out of commission. Trust me, we’ve all been thinking about it. Some of the affected are awake, but even then, they’re… well they’re sort of delirious. They’re not thinking straight, and sure as hell not communicating properly. The others are in some sort of coma. The doctors think whatever gas got loose in there makes them hallucinate and puts them in a dream-like state. For some it’s stronger and completely knocks them out. Like I said, they’re working on a cure. But unless either of you have a degree in medicine, I don’t think you’ll be much help in there.”

He was right, of course. Well, about me anyway. For all I knew, Paige did have the equivalent of a medical degree somewhere inside her programming and training. But I doubted they would listen to her. None of those people were going to listen to us, not even if we tried to tell them where this attack had come from. Why would they? 

While I was thinking about that, the man continued. “But I’ll tell you where we do need you. Out there on those streets. As soon as those gangs figure out that some of our Touched are out of commission, they’re really gonna start raising hell. As if it wasn’t bad enough already. So we need to make sure all the people we do have left on their feet are ready to go. And from what I’ve been hearing, you guys and the rest of your team are pretty good to have around.”

I couldn’t even begin to think about how to respond to that. My brain was going in too many directions at once. And a lot of those directions led straight toward panicking. Crying was in there too. My parents were sick, delirious, hallucinating, or even in a coma. What the hell was I supposed to do? I couldn’t even go in there and see them like this.

I was still mentally flailing and getting really close to losing it, as Paige pulled me by the arm. “Come on, Paintball, we’ll see what we can do to help somewhere else.” Her voice remained remarkably even as she looked at the man and thanked him for talking to us. And just like that, we left. I walked the bike back to the other edge of the roof, and both of us dropped down together with it. It wasn’t until we were a block away that I managed to find my voice. “Paige, your sister–”

“And your parents,” she finished for me. “Yeah, believe me, I know. But he wasn’t going to let us in there or tell us any more specific information. Not unless we both told him a lot more than either of us wanted to.”

We were standing by an alley as I looked at my hand and tried to will it to stop violently shaking. I felt sick, as though a stone was rolling through my stomach. My heart kept pounding against my chest, and a chill tried to run through me. It felt like I was sick, which was completely ridiculous. I hadn’t been exposed to anything, so why would I feel any effects? It was just my stupid emotions going wild.

Finally, I managed to respond. “We have to find out what’s actually going on in there, and how sick they are. We have to–” Before I could say anything else, my phone buzzed. I fumbled with it before taking the thing out and almost answered as Paintball before realizing I was holding my personal phone. What’s more, the person calling was Simon. Boy would that have been a horrifyingly simple and mundane way to blow my secret. At the last second, I caught myself before turning off my voice changer app. Then I answered as myself, trying to sound as normal as possible under the circumstances. “Simon?”

“Oh thank fuck!” my brother blurted. “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been sending you texts and calls for the past thirty minutes! Look, never mind. Just tell me where you are so I can pick you up.”

Blinking, I looked at my phone. He was right, I had a bunch of missed calls and texts from him. I hadn’t even noticed in the rush to get over here and all that. Obviously, he was freaking out a little bit right now too. 

Again, I had to pretend I had no idea what he was so upset about. I wasn’t supposed to know that dad was Silversmith, and I certainly wouldn’t have any idea that Mom had been in that building. So, despite the terror in my stomach, I forced myself to sound as disinterested as possible. “Dude, I’m just hanging out. I don’t need a ride home. I haven’t needed a ride home in like forever. Why would you even–”

“Just tell me where you are!” He snapped. “I know you disabled the tracker in your phone a long time ago so Mom and Dad wouldn’t hassle you, but I really need to know where you are right now, Cassidy.” His voice caught, sounding as emotional as I’ve ever heard. Then he got himself under control. “Look, you’re not in trouble or anything, and I’m not messing with you. I just need to talk to you and it’s better if we do it in person. I know, I know I’m not good at this or anything. But please, just tell me where to meet you, or go back to the house and I’ll see you there.”

Somehow, the way he was acting made me feel even worse. I wanted to scream at him to knock it off, because him being serious right now and sounding only like he was losing it was going to make me lose it too, in a way I couldn’t afford. But I simply clenched my free hand tight enough to hurt before making the next words come out. “I’ll see you at home. I’ll be there soon. What about Mom and Dad? What about Izzy?” Oh God, Izzy. This had come right after she agreed to be adopted.

Simon informed me that Izzy was already with him in the car as he was talking to me. Izzy, for her part, spoke up quietly to confirm that. I could hear the uncertainty and fear in her voice. She probably knew as much as I did, if not more. She probably would have already called me if she hadn’t been in the car with him.

So, after promising to be home soon, I disconnected and looked at Paige. She, in turn, gave a short nod. “Go home. I’m going to figure out how to get more information out of that place.”

My mouth opened before I caught myself and took a breath to consider what I was saying. “Paige,” I finally managed, “be careful, okay? That place has got to be on super-lockdown right now. They aren’t going to let anyone who isn’t authorized in there. And if you try to force it, they… I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”

The blonde girl paused before quietly replying, “They know Irelyn is my sister, at least some of them have to. I’ll just show up as myself and demand to know how she is. There’s no reason I wouldn’t be there to check on her. My parents are missing and she’s the only family I have around. Maybe they’ll tell me more, or let me see her, even if it’s through a quarantine shield. At the very least I can find out more than we know right now. If I get anything, I’ll let you know. And I’ll check on your parents too, if I can.”

There wasn’t much more I could say to that, so I simply thanked her and then changed in the alley while she kept lookout before summoning an Uber to take me home. The whole time, I still felt like I was going to throw up. Or possibly pass out. There was a ringing in the back of my head that still wouldn’t go away. And now I had to go into my house and act like a clueless little girl who was getting this news for the first time. Speaking of which, how was Simon going to present it? There was no way he would tell me that our dad was Silversmith. So what reasoning would he give for both of them being at that place? Hell, what would he say about Mom being there? I had no idea. I really didn’t, and I also wasn’t looking forward to feigning cluelessness about the whole situation again.

But I was about to find out, as the car dropped me off by the gate. I made sure to tip the driver extra since I was sure I hadn’t been a very good passenger. I barely responded to his comments with distracted grunts, and I sure wasn’t smiling. The fact that I had communicated enough to confirm that I was the person he was there to pick up was pretty much the limit of my communication abilities at that point.

From there, I basically ran in the front door. My mouth opened to call out for my brother, but he was already waiting there, his expression impatient and a bit freaked out. Which obviously didn’t help anything. As soon as he saw me, Simon gestured. “Come on, Izzy’s waiting.” 

So, forcing myself not to blurt out questions I shouldn’t even have known to ask yet, I followed after the boy into the dining room. Our new sister was, sure enough, sitting at the table. As soon as she saw me, Izzy jumped up and moved in for a hug, which I returned tightly while looking at Simon. “Wha-what’s going on? What happened? Where’s Mom and Dad?” At least at that point, considering how they were acting, it made sense for me to sound worried and scared. It would have been weird if I sounded completely normal right then. 

Getting both of us to sit down, Simon launched into an explanation. Or at least as close to an explanation as he could give us while thinking we were completely clueless about all the Ministry and Silversmith stuff. According to my brother, Mom and Dad had been at the Conservators building in order to take part in welcoming Trivial and Flea back to the city, because of the political favors they had helped pull against Breakwater to get them out of there in the first place, and to give them a gift for everything they’d gone through. Then there was some sort of biological weapon attack on the building and now they were sick. He stressed that they were both alive and as stable as anyone else in there, but they were quarantined and couldn’t come out. The doctors were working on a cure, analyzing our parents and the rest of the victims, as well as some residue that had been left behind. He tried to sound as confident as possible when he told us our parents would be fine and would come home soon, but his voice shook a bit throughout that whole thing. He was really close to completely breaking down. Which really didn’t help me. 

Shoving myself to my feet, I shook my head rapidly. “We have to go down there! We have to go see them. What–why aren’t we already there? Simon, let’s go! We have to go see Mom and Dad!” 

“Cass, we can’t–not yet.” Simon took a breath, holding up a hand for me to wait. “Look, you don’t think I want to be there right now? The doctors need us to stay out of the way so they can work. They said we can go visit later tonight, alright? They’ll call when it’s okay to come down there. And I promise I won’t leave without you. We’ll go together, we’ll visit them, and you’ll see that it’ll all be okay. Come on, it’s our parents. They can afford the absolute best doctors in the world, even if they have to fly all the way in from China. And this was at the Conservators’ headquarters. They’ve got the best of the best of the best working on this.” He pulled me into an embrace, which I didn’t fight at all. Then he did the same for Izzy, pulling her close as well as he hugged both of us. “I swear, it’s going to be okay. We just have to take care of ourselves for a little bit. And considering we have like fifty people working in this house to take care of our every need, I think we can handle it.” He was trying to make a joke to lighten the mood, but his voice wasn’t that convincing.

There was so much I wanted to say at that moment, but I wasn’t sure how much I could get away with. Even now, terrified out of my mind for our parents’ safety, I had to worry about saying the wrong thing, or even just something that might make him think something I couldn’t afford him thinking later. All of which just made me feel even more sick inside. My parents were sick, maybe even both in a coma for all I knew, and all I could do was worry about giving away my secrets? Was I that bad of a person?

I had to get out of there. I couldn’t stand to stay in this room anymore. So, after making Simon promise to come get us as soon as it was time to go, Izzy and I went up to my room and laid on my bed. Once we were safely alone, I told her everything I had found out and what Paige and I had been doing when Simon called. She laid there on the bed with me, the two of us holding one another as I lost the struggle not to cry. Izzy wasn’t exactly in much better shape as far as that went, and for awhile we just lost ourselves that way. 

Finally, after an hour or so, Izzy quietly asked, “This is going to be bad, isn’t it? The Ministry’s two top leaders are out of commission, and so are a bunch of Star-Touched, including the leaders of both the Conservators and the Spartans. The bad guys are going to jump on that. They’re not gonna slow down. They’re going to go to war even harder and make the city worse.” 

A heavy sigh escaped me. I’d been obsessing over that myself, and hearing someone else say it right then just made it feel worse and more real. “I don’t know how bad it’ll get,” I admitted. “But you’re right. It’s probably not going to be good. We just have to be ready to do something about it. At least as much as we can.” The words of that guard back at the Conservators’ base talking about how they were going to need visible Star-Touched out on the street to keep things in order played through my head. “I think we’re gonna end up getting a lot of overtime.” 

After saying that, I sat up and let my legs hang off the side of the bed. My voice was quiet. “They’re going to be okay, right? Tell me they’re going to be okay.” I needed to hear it again, even if she had no better idea of how this was going to turn out than I did. My stomach was churning again. It felt like I was going to throw up, even though I hadn’t eaten anything in quite awhile. Hell, that was probably part of the problem. But there was no way I could force anything down, not like this. 

Izzy sat aside me and took my hand with a nod. “You know Simon’s right. They’ve got the best doctors they could possibly have, and the best equipment. They’ll take care of your mom and dad.” 

“Our mom and dad,” I reminded her, squeezing the girl’s hand. “You’re right, yeah. They–they survived this long, they made it past the main attack. They’ll be alright. Just–we just have to give the doctors time.” 

Before either of us could say anything else, my phone buzzed. It was Paige, so I answered it with a glance toward Izzy. “What happened? Are you okay?” 

There was a pause, long enough that I almost started to think the connection had dropped, before the girl spoke up. “It was them.” Her voice sounded even worse and more strained than it had earlier, cracking slightly. 

“Them?” I echoed uncertainly. “Who? What do you mean?” 

Another pause, then, “The Banners. Remember how they were missing? They showed up at the Conservators place to meet Irelyn. That’s why they were allowed inside, right into that room. Of course they let them in. I wondered how my dad could’ve gotten any of his biolems close enough. It was the Banners, the real Banners. They just walked in, and… and then…” She audibly gulped. “He–he did something to them. His people did, his biolems, I mean. He had them do something to the Banners while they were missing. That’s why they were gone for so long. He did it. His people. They– they made them–he turned them into bombs, Cassie. 

“Pittman had the Banners turned into biological weapons and made them blow up right in front of Irelyn. They’re dead, and Irelyn’s in a coma, because of him.” 

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11 comments

  1. Hey look, an answer for everyone who was asking where the Banners were and why they disappeared for so long! I–uhh… yeah I guess it’s not exactly good news, but hey. You can’t win them all. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this chapter and that you’ll take a moment to boost this story on Top Web Fiction with a quick couple clicks starting right here! Thanks so much, and your tags are: Cassidy Evans, Hey Guys This Might Be Premature Judgment But I Think This Pittman Guy Might Be A Bit Of A Jerk, Izzy Does Not Have The Best Luck With Parental Figures‚ Especially When They Interact With The Pittman Family, Izzy Evans, Paige Banners, Paintball, Poise, Simon Evans, Walt McKenneth

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well, that’s one mystery solved. I’m surprised that Irelyn is still alive, considering she was in the same room. Is she particularly resistant, or are touched just harder to kill generally?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My guess personally is because Pittman wanted to be able to keep valuable hostage targets alive to extort favors from his wayward substitute daughter(s) Touched interactions may have to do with it but probably not all of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds like the optimal opportunity to stop the whole routine. Chaos is breaking lose. Paige is now independently wealthy; Cassidy’s parents are out of commission; Simon is going to hold together the Ministry (BUT can he do so without the guises provided by his mother? They are all out in the open there, now.)

    Yup, this sounds like the perfect time for Cassidy/Paintball to hit the streets full-time, no matter what Simon says. Same with Izzy. They don’t have time to live a pretend double-life anymore.

    Here’s the plan: The crime lords wait a while but then strike big when they learn of the Ministry’s weakness. It follows that Minority headquarters are no longer safe, meaning that Minority is no longer coordinated.

    Avant-Guard publicly absorbs the renegades from La Casa (Pack+Soundwave) and Minority (Raindrop+Thataway). Simon knows that Cassidy knows who Izzy is: So Cassidy telly Simon she is now providing telephone support in the secret HQ of Avant-Guard “to make a difference in this troubled times”, which is where she will live right now. Perfect cover story. Absent their parents, Simon either lets her do what she wants and focuses on holding the boat himself.

    Or he comes clear first, and they all come together as a superhero family and who am I kidding that is not what’s going to happen.

    Liked by 1 person

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