From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Detour by Seraphym (Tuesday, April 10, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: The Slough of Despond by Seraphym (Saturday, April 14, 2007)

(posted Tuesday, April 10, 2007)

Quod in te est, prome -- "Bring forth what is in you."

John moved in a blur. Everything around him was washed out and muted, drowned in his fear and sudden pain and then some more fear. He flew as fast as he could, faster than he had ever pushed himself before. Skidding to a halt as he landed, he slammed his gloved fist into the HQ's main door switch, keying it open. He didn't waste time talking to the person on duty at the front desk; didn't even bother to look at their face to see who it was. He was in too much of a hurry. Alarm klaxons assaulted his ears as he dashed past; they sounded like they were a million miles away, but he paid no attention. If they were because of him, it would shortly be cleared up as he was ID'd by Waitron, If they were because of Sera....

...Sera....the kids...he ran faster,

John sprinted towards the stairwell that would take him to the teleportation units. Vex was waiting for him at the corner, concern and bewilderment marred his face. John pushed past him without uttering a word, already moving, leaping down the stairs before Vex could catch his arm. Moments later, John was being dematerialized and simultaneously rematerializing in Peregrine Island at one of the beacons that the CCCP had set up. Flying again; John could see the smoke all the way from the other end of the island. Sirens pierced the air, reinforcing the sense of urgency that was growing in John's gut. After gliding over the rooftops of buildings for what seemed like an eternity, he was in the open air again, facing the courtyard that the three Portal Corp buildings were centered around. It was horrible. Thick, oily black smoke belched from the entrance of the middle building, blotting out the sky. Police tape, police drones, and Longbow and PCPD teams swarmed the grassy area; a group was congregated in front of the Portal Corp sculpture, talking with paramedics that were just now zipping up an occupied body bag.

John landed running, hardly slowing down. Longbow moved to intercept him. "Hey!" their captain shouted, "That's a restricted zone! You can't--" John almost decked the uniformed man right then and there, but stopped himself just in time. Instead, he reached into a belt pouch with steely fingers and produced his ID.

"Commissar John Murdock with the CCCP. I have---people, personnel, that were in there." John started to breathe for what seemed like the first time since this started. He needed to at least appear calm, even if he felt as if he were about to be ripped apart by the torrents inside of him. After letting his words sink in for a moment, he spoke again, pointing at the damaged building. "I need in there, and right now."

One of the PCPD people, pretty high ranking by his insignia, had been looking at his own PDA as John spoke, and now he blanched. "Good God--let him in, give him a badge, someone--"

Someone tossed John a rectangular plastic ID badge on a neck-lanyard. He caught it with one hand, and dragged it over his head while running for the door. Behind him, vaguely, he heard the cop continuing. "Poor bastard. I've seen him around, especially the Row. That was his family in the Portal. Wife, kids...all gone." John gritted his teeth and tried his best to ignore the cop, failing miserably. Another stab of terror, a flood of possibilities and eventualities running through his mind all at once.

There were some gas masks hooked up to compressed air tanks, SCBA units, the sort that firemen used; John scooped up a unit, securing the mask over his face. He had trained on this sort of equipment when first learning how to operate the Berkut suit; he twisted a knob, and air began to flow into the mask. Without a backward glance, John strode through the doorway of Building A, plunging into the smoke. It was hard to see anything, and John instinctively ducked down as he jogged. Walking face-first into some piece of fallen debris or a low-hanging pipe wouldn't help him. The elevators were out; he punched the fire override, but it wasn't working either. He swiveled his head, trying to make out the "Emergency Exit" sign through the smoke. It felt as if every delay was personal, the cruel hand of some enemy taking his family farther and farther away from him. John pushed past firefighters running hoses down the stairs; they must have arrived not too terribly long before he had.

Finally, John was there; the Portal chamber, or what was left of it. He rounded the corner, barely keeping from running to the top landing; he didn't even know if it'd still be there, from the way the cop outside had been---no. No, he wasn't going to think about it. He couldn't. Whatever had happened, he would get them back. He had to.

The view of the Portal chamber swam up before him. The rings that made up the contraption were still, twisted and blackened. Some were missing, blown off and lying in jagged pieces around the room. Blood and debris covered the floor; both shone dully in the emergency lighting that feebly tried to cut through the smoke. The navigation terminal, normally manned by several technicians, was also completely destroyed. The entire scene was one of carnage and destruction. For a few moments, John was taken aback, stunned, in fact, by the enormity of it. How could Sera and the kids get through this? How could he do anything to fix this? His gaze was drawn to the ramp that led to the actual Portal; the metal grating was fused together, the end of the ramp ending in melted slag.

John turned away from it all before he became sick. His entire body shook, and it took him several long moments to gain control of himself and stop from screaming. Once he was sure that he wouldn't break down, John walked out of the Portal chamber, making his way hurriedly to the courtyard again. Out in the sunshine, he wove his way through the twising crowds of bomb defusal experts, firemen, and LEOs; he grabbed a random one, asking them to take him to whoever was in charge.

Tina MacIntyre; at least this was a familiar face. She'd given him countless assignments over the last several months. She didn't look like her normal crisp self, though. Her face was gray with soot, her hair had escaped from its ponytail and her glasses were slightly askew. She looked up from a paper readout that a technician was waving in front of her face, and her expression, already grim, fell further. "Murdock," she acknowledged.

"Just tell me." John set his jaw, bracing himself. He was almost proud of himself for how even his voice was.

Tina spoke in an impersonal manner, although her body-language told John that she felt anything but detached. "The Portal apparatus is completely inoperable. The mechanism is irrevocably damaged in some areas; despite that, the infrastructure around it was left in good shape, by comparison. The blasts were extremely localized; most of the injuries were created by shrapnel thrown from the Portal rings and the navigational terminal. The terminal itself was completely obliterated. There's simply nothing left of it, which includes the tracking data and coordinates that the Portal was dialed into last." She snatched up the readout that the tech had been shoving into her face. "Our records show---here---," she pointed to a line of text, "that the database for that Portal was completely erased by a malicious bit of code moments before the blasts took place. We...we don't know where they are, John. We don't even know if they made it...anywhere." John turned his back to her, walking away and pressing his hand to his comm headset.

"Waitron? Bella? I don't care who the hell is at the CIC; patch this through to the RPC main channel. This is John Murdock; there's been an incident at Portal Corp involving my family. I need anyone versed in Portal tech to get down here, now. I---I need help." John closed the line, then opened up a dual private channel, dialing in the frequencies he wanted to contact. His comm was already buzzing with multiple incoming transmissions, but he ignored them. Once the line was set up, he began speaking. "Petro, Mandy; I need you both down 'ere at Portal Corp immediately. Coordinate with the staff here; Tina MacIntyre is the gal in charge. Let 'er know I sent for ya, an' she'll clear ya through. These people don't know what the hell they're doin', and I need folks that do. Murdock, out." He didn't really mean to say that the Portal Corp personnel were incompetent; he simply hated them for giving him the worst news he had ever been given. He wasn't going to settle for it, and wrote them off as strangers that wouldn't be able to give him what he needed.

He needed help he trusted. He needed friends.

Most of all, he needed what strangers couldn't give him: his family, back again.