Black Heart – Chapter I Part VI
by Steppen Sawicki
We rejoin the novel just in time for some exposition!
Two hours before sunset, all 47 Spotters and 29 Possessed – what remained after last night – were crowded in classroom 1, a room typically used for training and seminars. The tiny uncomfortable seats with those little desktops that rotate into place were all filled, and some people had notepads or laptops laid out on them, expecting crucial information they shouldn’t forget. Cam waved to Bryan from the standing room at the back as he passed by, and waving back Bryan made his way to his saved seat at the front by the podium. The position promised that he would be called up before the group.
Hussein was seated behind the front desk along with a couple of other higher-ups. The room hushed expectantly when he stood, as if everyone held their breath at once.
“First order of business,” he said “is the beta that was caught last night.” He recounted the events from what Bryan and Andrade had told him. Thankfully he left out details of the beating Bryan had taken, only saying that the demon was very dangerous, had broken through a barrier, and attacked. Then he called Bryan up front.
As he stood, Bryan felt like a student called up for doing something wrong. Hussein had told him to show everyone the demon before anything else, since they might not listen to his words for expectation. He almost dropped the pack of cards, his palms were so sweaty, and he found himself looking to Hussein for some sort of encouragement. Hussein did give him a smile and a nod, but that only made him feel silly for looking at him at all. People in the audience chattered in low voices, and he had to wonder if some of it was about him. He didn’t look up at them.
He reached into the deck, and as his fingers touched the card he was looking for he gasped and pulled away from it. The thing inside had snarled at him, thrown hate and loathing at him. It was like touching a rabid dog and only too late finding the mistake. But what shocked him most of all was the curiosity and something like admiration, how it had looked at him, seen him. Not at all like a rabid dog.
The deck fell to the carpeted floor, cards scattering. The sound of it startled Bryan back to reality and he looked up. A couple of the Possessed chuckled, but mostly there was silence. Everyone was staring at him. He felt his face grow red-hot as he bent and started to pick up the cards.
“I would help if I could,” Moir – a good Spotter – said to him from the front row.
“I know,” Bryan said. “Thanks anyway.” No one but him could touch the cards. He had to pick them all up himself, and it felt like he picked them up for an hour as everyone watched him silently. He left the worst for last but was prepared this time when he touched the three of clubs. It watched him and spread hate through him but he held it up.
Every seat in the room creaked as every body leaned forward to study it. Even the Possessed, though they couldn’t see anything but the three of clubs in their normal unpossessed state. But the Spotters could see it, and they began chattering excitedly to each other about what they were seeing, their conversation full of metaphors and symbology and words like dimensions and auras.
After a full minute of this, Hussein held up a hand to silence the room, and the conversation died down with reluctance.
“That was for the Spotters,” he said. “Now the Possessed will need to listen. Bryan’s going to tell you what it’s like.”
There was that speech Bryan was dreading. For a moment he wished he had just stayed in that horrible night club with the horrible band instead of running off to a hotel full of demons. Then he set that aside and talked, haltingly, about how it had been too pale to see until it was on him, about its strength, how it had tried to enter him and nearly succeeded. How much power he had had to sap from the demon in him to capture it, and how it almost hadn’t been enough. He was certain he hadn’t gotten any of it put into adequate words – and how could he – but when he finished no one spoke and many of the listeners had a stunned look to them.
“Thank you, Ivers,” Hussein said, his voice like a thunderclap in the silence. Bryan nodded and gratefully went back to his seat. Hussein needlessly added a few words about how everyone should be careful, one signaled, more, etc. Then Cantrell took her turn.
Cantrell was the no-nonsense Lead Spotter. Much like a librarian or boot camp instructor, she was never seen without her hair in a tight bun. She stood stiffly and spoke in a clipped tone. “Ivers was able to capture this demon. Our other team last night was not so lucky.”
Bryan grit his teeth against that. But he couldn’t expect Cantrell to part easily with praise.
“Most of you,” she continued, “if not all, have already heard some part of what happened. We’re here to set the facts straight.
“At 4:15 early this morning, a Spotter and Possessed responded to a call at the Caltrop Apartments on Westwood. The Spotter was unable to view any demon but noted several deaths in the vicinity. The Possessed entered the complex with caution. Nine minutes later the Spotter lost sight of and communication with the Possessed. A second Possessed was on hand at this time, and two more were called in along with additional Spotters. Three Possessed entered the complex at 5:05. Three minutes later, two of them were dead. The third exited the building under influence, and attacked our agents and the police force stationed outside. The police were forced to open fire and eliminate this Possessed, after which the demon was free to roam again. Further efforts to contain the demon by additional Possessed failed, and the demon retreated.
“We believe it traveled east, but are uncertain as our Spotters were unable to view it. Possesseds describe it as little more than a filter, very dim. Current death count is at 170, 32 of those being police or SWAT, five Possessed, four Spotters. Information is still coming in.”
She paused, and the silence was deafening. She had rattled it all off so cold and calculating, like a newscaster with no relation to the situation.
“This demon,” she went on “is unlike anything seen before. It carries little to no aura. Its psychic attacks are powerful and widespread. Similar to the attacks you’re all used to, simply stronger. Along with the deaths, a large number of police cars were compacted. Many of the policemen were killed not by the demon inhabiting and devouring them, but by psychic blast. The people it did enter were devoured at an incredible rate.
“We have termed this demon a gamma.”
The silence in the audience collapsed as everyone began speaking at once. A gamma – there was no such thing. Even Hussein had trouble bringing calm back to the room. But all Cantrell had to add was for everyone to be careful, if there was a call but no apparent demon be vigilant, etc. Nothing any of them needed to be told.
First a beta and then something completely new and more destructive.
They were all terrified.
Bryan jumped up as soon as the meeting was over. No one was really moving, they mostly just stood and murmured to each other, still a little in shock. He shoved his way through them and found Cam in the back, grabbing his arm and pulling him out of the room.
“I’m sorry,” he told him. “I know you said you don’t want to talk about it…”
“But you have to know what I saw.” Cam sighed as if exhausted. “Are you ever gonna owe me.”