The entire waiting room of the United American State Army 12th precinct gasped in unison, then erupted in a roar of outrage, echoing the reaction of everyone else in the nation at that moment. The yellow Intercontinental Championship belt that Ama Afua had earned that morning clattered to the floor as she shot out of her chair to her feet. “What the fuck!” She yelled.
“Ama!” Her mother snapped in shock.
“Young lady!” Her father yelled. “That is…wha? What’s going on?”
The lights and screens in the station flickered briefly, and then suddenly blinked off. The sound of air circulating through vents ceased. Red lights clicked on and illuminated the room with an eerie, crimson glow. Within seconds, the room grew noticeably warmer.
“Sarge?” The private asked nervously.
“Radio HQ. Find out what’s going on,” the sergeant responded.
“No radios, sir,” the private responded.
“What’s going on, officer?” Victor Smith-Afua asked.
“Yeah, and what the hell happened to MK and Corta?!?” Wallace added.
“I have no idea, and I have no idea. But I need you all to stay seated and calm,” the sergeant boomed authoritatively to the room. “I’m sure this is a temporary situation, and everything is under control.”
“You’re sure?” Angela Afua asked.
“It is, ma’am,” the sergeant reassured her. “Now, please just stay seated and quiet.”
“Listen, officer,” Angela snapped back. “I have been beaten, yelled at, taken into custody for defending my baby, and now everything is dark and it’s getting hot, and you want to tell me you’re sure everything’s fine?”
“Yeah, what the hell!” Wallace yelled as he stood from his seat. “Your guns don’t even work, and you got your asses kicked by Marlowe Kana earlier! How can you tell us you have anything under–”
“Sir!” the sergeant yelled as he stomped toward Wallace, “Sit down, now!” The soldier pulled a collapsed baton from a pouch on his belt. He whipped it forward, expanding it. Rearing back, he swung the baton at Wallace’s ribs. Wallace collapsed in a gasping heap.
“Hey!” One of the other people in the waiting room of the station yelled in horror. “You can’t do that!” There’s rules!”
“Detail!” The sergeant ordered as he pointed at the person who had yelled. Two privates approached the man and grabbed him by the throat and around the waist. More soldiers approached from hallways and doorways, swarming in like ants from a disturbed nest.
“Secure every one of these people,” the sergeant ordered.
The officers approached the citizens seated and standing in the room. Cuffs snapped across wrists. One soldier approached the Afua family.
“Don’t you touch my baby!” Angela Afua snarled, wrapping her arms around her daughter.
“Ma’am, we won’t hurt the girl,” the officer insisted as he reached for Ama. “Please let her go and hold out your wrists–”
“You son of a bitch!” Victor Afua yelled as he swung at the officer’s face, clocking him square in the jaw. Another citizen stood and grabbed the chair he had been sitting in, brandishing it in front of him like a shield. Citizens faced off against officers as the suffocating heat rose in the precinct, much as it was across the city of Atlanta.
The Courtland Street Waffle House location in Atlanta held the record for most consecutive days open since the ceasefire had been declared during the Second Civil War: Fifty-one years, one hundred and twenty-four-day record. And Marc Winter was about to break it. He vigorously waved a paper Waffle House menu in front of him, trying to evaporate the sweat that rolled in beads down his face. Walking over to the door, he pulled down the metal shutters that kept it secure in the unlikely event that a Waffle House should ever have to close.
But after the third AutoCycle trash compactor machine had been yanked from the post it was anchored to outside and thrown at the windows in front of his store, Marc decided that this event, unlikely as it may have been, was worth breaking the record.
“Kids, stay down,” Marc ordered as he reached for another window shutter.
Reginald and Regina Todd, and their weird friend Tad did as he ordered.
“Oh my god!” Matthew Swift’s father gasped as he looked out of the window of his stalled, formerly hovering limousine. “How are we going to get inside our home?”
“Well, I’m sure not going out there!” Matthew said. “In this heat, we’ll die!”
Just then, a rock flew from the sidewalk across the street from them, smashing through the back window of the vehicle. The limousine began rocking back and forth on the fulcrum of the rounded maglev engine underneath.
“Dad!” Matthew yelled in terror, watching as his father was dragged through the smashed back window. His mother shrieked as the window on her side shattered, and she was yanked by her hair through the opening. The seat Matthew was sitting on became damp with his own urine as terror washed over him.
Matt and Angela Tuffner walked outside into their sun-scorched front yard. The snow had melted and the streets were steaming as heatwaves radiated across the neighborhood. Immediately, they rushed back inside and closed the door, not wanting any of the comparatively cooler air to escape.
“Oh, god,” Angela said desperately to Matt, “I bet the hospital is a disaster!”
“…Ang, you can’t!” Matt said in equal parts fear and anger.
“It’s my job!” she replied. “I have to get there!”
Matt shook his head. He didn’t want his wife to go; he was terrified that she would suffer burns from the increasingly toxic, boiling air or perhaps even be killed. But he also knew that keeping Angela from helping others, especially during an emergency would absolutely be a non-option. He sighed. “We can take the bikes,” Matt said.
“You’re coming?” Angela asked in surprised delight.
“Well, the Playstation 12 is dead, so I’ve got nothing else to do…” He gave her the smile that had made her fall in love with him ten years before.
Glen Russel ducked as a five-pound weight plate sailed over his head and crashed into the screen on the wall behind him.
“C’mon, man. Be reasonable!” Glen yelled.
“Screw you!” the angry gymrat hollered back. “I don’t owe you those pushups, auggie!”
“You do!” Glen demanded. “Mad Dog didn’t lose!” Before he could hurl the weight in his hand, he felt a cable from a shoulder-pull machine wrap around his neck and yank back tightly.
Omar Rodriguez was lying on the floor of his apartment in a pool of his own sweat. The heat was oppressive, but more so was the stench of the months of unwashed clothes in his hamper permeating the air. It was also, in fact, rivaled by the odor of the two garbage bags lying near his front door, waiting for the day he decided to actually throw them into the Autocycle bin at the end of his hall…or fix the one in his own apartment.
“I gotta get out of here,” he said aloud, as if to motivate himself off the floor. He rolled to his belly and crawled to the door. Ever so slowly, he rose to his feet, finding even standing to be excruciating in the over-one-hundred-degree heat. He opened the door to his apartment.
The smell of the garbage rotting in the Autocycle machine at the end of the hall punched him in the face and he reflexively slammed his apartment door shut.
“Fucking automated super,” he cursed. Nothing ever works around here… That’s what I get for staying in Imagen housing.
Brittany Millar lay sobbing in her father Brian’s lap. “But I have to know!” she repeated for the fifth time.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Brian Millar said to his daughter. “There’s no network. No J.A.Q.i. I can’t ping anyone and nothing is online.”
“But I don’t understand!” Brittany said. “How do we have power but no one else does?!”
“We have our own power, sweetie,” David explained again to his daughter. “We’re not attached to the grid–”
Just then, a knock sounded from the door. “Open up!” A loud voice boomed. “We know you got power!”
“Let us in!” Another voice yelled. “Or we’ll break down the door!”
David stood and aimed at the door the antique pre-war shotgun his father had given him.
“Careful!” Brian said. “We don’t even know if the ammo works!”
Brian aimed the firearm at the door.
A loud THUD! came from the door, followed by another. And then a third THUD, with a loud CRASH, followed by a deafening BOOM!
“It works,” Brian said grimly to his husband as one man fell in a pool of his own blood, and two others took off running through the night.
The workshop-turned-headquarters for The Sovereign was suddenly eerily silent – a stark contrast to the din that Sully and William were valiantly trying to ignore just a moment earlier. The audio and video of several dozen Feeds covering Marlowe’s fight against Corta at the Terminus Citadel had suddenly ceased. The silence was spectacularly eerie. And Sully didn’t like eerie.
“What the hell just happened?” Sully asked, laying down his playing cards.
“I have no idea,” Austin responded from his hacker terminal. Everything just…died.”
“What did you do??” Sully demanded.
“Well, I didn’t do that!” Austin answered. “It’s a complete outage! All nodes within a half mile of the Terminus Citadel are black! Pods, home nodes, relays…even drone repeaters. All dead. It’s like an EMP just went off and fried everything… ”
“Well if you didn’t, who did?”
They both looked over at The Judge, who was leaning against William’s workbench. He had his perennial smirk stamped across his face. “J.A.Q.i, raise Hank Collins,” The Judge ordered through his hacked Pod.
A tone sounded in The Judge’s ear and a small video screen appeared in his heads-up display.
“It’s time,” he ordered.
“On it now,” Hank replied calmly.
“That was you?” William asked The Judge warily from across the room.
The Judge smiled wide. “It’s time for us to make ourselves known,” he said. “What better way than this?”
Sully and William exchanged looks. Both shrugged.
“Think this is part of his plan?” Sully whispered to William from behind his card hand.
“If it isn’t, it is now,” William replied. “Eights?”
“Go fish,” Sully responded, as William reached out to take a card.