Swarm

Day 1

It’s late thought Special Agent Michael Conklin. The sun had gone down hours ago and he was still up, pecking away at his laptop. It had been a busy couple of weeks for his department at the FBI as more and more Incidents piled up across the country so it was a nice change to be surrounded by silence. He glanced over at the map that he had taped to the wall beside the bed and followed the trail of mystery as it snaked its way west. What started on the East Coast had slowly crept its way along with no end in sight. But this latest Incident was a long way from the events that were happening back east.

His department had barely kept up, Conklin thought to himself, and it would be nice if his superiors could assign him some more bodies. Then they might be able to track down all the leads that were coming in but he wasn’t expecting anything. The lack of sleep was not helping his complexion and the bags under his eyes were getting heavier by the day. His handsome face was definitely starting to show some of the wear that he was putting his body through. It had been too long since he had a good night’s sleep or some quality time in the gym. All of this is slowing me down he thought to himself as he took another bite of the cold pizza that had been his dinner for the past few hours.

Conklin had arrived here in the small town after a week of sudden and powerful earthquakes had leveled half of it. He had been trying to avoid the trip since he figured that he had enough on his plate but finally he had no choice when the devastation increased and yesterday he caught the last flight out. The airport was empty when he landed except for a lone man standing by a cab parked in front of the main entrance. The young cab driver approached him, asked him his name and then told him that the mayor had sent the cab to pick him up because he wanted to see him as soon as he could. I guess we’re not wasting any time thought Conklin. Off to a good start.

The meeting with the mayor was a brief one and brought Conklin up to speed on what had happened so far. The earthquakes started small and no one seemed to worry too much. Within the week, half the town was leveled. Those who could, packed whatever was still left of their possessions and fled. The ones who stayed only did so because they had nowhere else to go. The mayor took him for a drive around what was left of the town and Conklin started to get an idea of the scope of the damage. When they got back to the command center – which was housed in the old library on the west edge of town – he was introduced to the geological experts that had flocked here in the past couple of days. For the rest of the afternoon they debated various scenarios that might be causing the quakes.

Drained, the mayor drove Conklin to a motel on the outskirts of the western edge of town where the damage was still minimal and apologized for the accommodations. He’d stayed in worse, but not since college. The motel had seen better days when the town was still a popular stop on the old highway and the two factories were still running. That was a good twenty years ago and lately the motel relied on the few visitors that came for its summer festival on the river. What did they do the rest of the year, he wondered as he dropped his bags and looked around. The room was nice enough – small and freshly painted with an ancient double bed faced by a low cabinet and an old TV. He tried out the TV to see if he could find the local news but all he got was static. Just as well he thought and went about setting up all the things he’d need while he was here. He was glad to find that while the motel might be old – and the television dodgy – it still had an internet connection which was all he really cared about. Even this far away from a major center people still couldn’t live without the internet and the wonders of modern life.

Looking over all the files spread out on the bed, Conklin thought that it would be easier with some help since sifting through data had never been his strong suit. His unit was relatively small considering the size of the Bureau but they had their hands full with other problems right now and this wasn’t the first time he had to analyze reports on his own. His team had grown, just not fast enough. As the Incidents became more and more high profile over the past decade it became apparent that some kind of formal investigative team was required. At first he thought being asked to head the new division was an honor, but over the years he had changed his mind. He always knew that the world was a dangerous place, yet in his ten years heading the unit he had seen a lot of strange events and it always managed to surprise him. And I know nothing he thought, especially when you think about the Edge team. But they’re not here and he was.

Focus.

Conklin forced himself to stare back down at the computer screen and squinting, he rubbed his temples. It just didn’t make any sense he thought. Why here? Recently, there had been some timequakes reported back on the East Coast but that was hundreds of miles from here. The quakes in the town started around the time the device went off back on the East Coast… So could they be connected? It seemed like a stretch. The earthquake swarm had to have a local source.

He reached for his phone and the room began to rock. The pictures that hung haphazardly on the wall swayed gently back and forth as the tremor’s intensity increased. This is the sixth one since lunch he thought, counting them off in his head. They’re getting stronger and more frequent too. That can’t be good. The lights flickered and the bulb in the lamp beside the bed made a zapping sound before it went out.

Damn he thought as he got off the bed and crossed to the window. The motel sign outside his room flickered a few more times and stopped like nothing had ever happened. A small one this time Conklin thought to himself. Lucky, there probably will be minimal damage.

Day 2

Conklin’s second day in the town was a rough one and kept him knee deep in reports, scientific data, experts and stories of loss. Normally his team relied heavily on the expertise of the Edge think tank – and his old partner Lucas Wilde – but they’re back on the East Coast with the rest of his team.

He couldn’t sleep and was up early, leaving a couple of messages with the Edge staff. He might be on his own with this one but that didn’t mean he couldn’t get a little help he decided. Just after noon his phone rang as Lucas finally found some time to squeeze him in. Lucas had a knack for knowing exactly where to look and he was always able to make Conklin think about things differently. The conversation was brief and ended with Lucas promising to get someone from Edge to dig through their files to see if they could find anything. As Conklin headed back to his motel room with a case full of reports to go through it occurred to him that most conversations with Lucas were short. He was always to straight and to the point, wasn’t he?

There had to be a reason why this was happening he thought, steering himself back to the problem in front of him. There had to be some kind of simple explanation Conklin thought, but he had decided that back when they were touring the affected areas and nothing since then had changed his mind. The town was situated well away from any major tectonic fault lines so Conklin had the nagging feeling that something natural didn’t seem to fit. Not that earthquakes didn’t happen in this part of the country. They did, but not that often and usually not as an earthquake swarm like the one that was tearing the town apart.

His phone chirped beside him signaling an email. Conklin reached across the bed and scooped up the phone, then quickly brought up the mail application. That was fast he thought as he saw an email from Lucas and started to read. Conklin blinked. Well that’s not quite what I wanted to hear he said to himself. What to do now…

Day 3

He found the boy alone on the east side of town sitting on the edge of a hole where a quake had turned the asphalt into crumbled bits of rubble.

The email from Lucas was a surprise in that it (A) came so quickly after their conversation, and (B) seemed so bizarre. Edge’s explanations always seemed bizarre at first but they had a habit of being right. When Lucas took the Incident back to the Edge staff they had immediately pulled up the reports of the boy. It seemed that just last year the boy had somehow ripped his house apart after being beaten by his father. Some kind of psychic break where he was able to telekinetically tear the foundation of the house so that it collapsed in on itself. An Edge team had apparently been brought in to consult on the case and they determined that the boy needed help. Lucas’ explanation was all kinds of gobbledygook to Conklin and all he really cared about was that the boy’s seriously abusive father was killed in the original Incident – buried in the rubble of the house – and the boy was placed in a local medical facility for treatment.

When Conklin followed up on the lead with the mayor he found out that the facility used to be on the east side of the town but was leveled by one of the first quakes. As the earthquakes increased in frequency and intensity they had to call off the rescue and salvage efforts and divert the manpower elsewhere. Survivors were few and far between and there was no sign of the boy.

It seemed like a long shot, but Conklin had always found that the best place to look for something lost was where you originally left it. He looked back through his binoculars as the boy picked at the rubble with his feet, the stones tumbling down into the crevice in front of him. He came alone because he didn’t quite know how he was going to handle the situation and he had spent the better part of an hour trying to decide what to do. The more he watched the boy the more he decided there didn’t seem to be a better way. He was responsible for all of this.

I hate this part of the job he thought.

It took a while to cover the distance between them and Conklin was in no hurry. It was a grey afternoon and the sun continued to hide behind a bank of clouds that threatened to bring rain. The wind was strong and dust whipped up from the wrecked buildings. Conklin kept his binoculars handy and he regularly checked on the boy as he approached.

As he got closer he slowed his walking and carefully tried to pick his route to make his approach less noticeable. There was no telling quite how the boy might react and Conklin wanted to do this cleanly. A couple of the younger members of his team liked to call this the “bag and tag” solution but he didn’t really appreciate that phrase. Over the years he had come to realize that most of these people weren’t out looking for trouble. Circumstances ended up taking over. Most couldn’t control what they could do and that meant that they were a threat to both themselves and the public.

Conklin was about ten feet from the boy before he finally heard him. As the boy turned to see what was approaching behind him, Conklin raised his gun and twitched his finger. Even with the wind, the dart caught boy right in the side of the neck. He stood there for a second with a quizzical look on his face and stared hard at Conklin, not understanding what had just happened. Then the tranquilizer took effect and he crumpled to the ground.

It was done.

Conklin holstered his gun and pulled out his phone. He dialed the mayor’s office while he sat down beside the boy’s lifeless body to wait as the network connected his call.

Day 4

Conklin felt more like himself after finally getting a good night’s rest. His alarm went off early and woke him from his dreamless sleep. He packed his things and got a ride to the airport on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t busy and he got his boarding pass was through the small security desk in no time. Conklin wandered for a bit before deciding to grab a newspaper and a coffee while he waited for his flight to board. Before he knew it, he was buckled in to the small two engine plane and ready to get home. He could use a break, but his email was already telling him that wouldn’t happen any time soon. He turned the phone off.

As the plane began to head down the runway and pick up speed it started to shake. Was it the plane shaking Conklin thought to himself? Amplified by the cabin, the engine noise increased as the plane picked up speed. The shaking continued until the plane’s wheels slowly lifted off the ground and up into the air. I really do hate these smaller planes Conklin chuckled to himself, he never had smooth flight on them. The plane climbed higher and banked, putting itself on a course for the East Coast and sending Conklin back to reality.

About jason

Illustrator and graphic designer. When not working full time as a Senior Graphic Designer, I am usually working on the graphic novel On the Verge: the Arrow of Time. Artist on Andrew Jackson in Space and The Sisters.

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