“All the shine of a thousand spotlights. All the stars we steal from the night sky, will never be enough! Never be enough! Towers of gold are still too little. These hand could hold the world but it’ll never be enough! Never be enough! For me. Never, never!”
This is a nicer venue than Jericho usually plays but that’s because it’s a real performance. He’d offered Kaylee and Ian a chance to come see it – well, Ian had probably been offered the chance to see it by the Institute since their children’s choir is performing.
At the moment though the woman singing is Gabrielle – who is in a rather formal black gown – with her brother on the piano. The kids are off to one side doing background vocals but as the music swells they add their own voices to Gabby’s powerful contralto.
The James M. Nederlander Theatre is packed, but Jericho made sure Kaylee and Ian got good seats if they wanted to come.
Kaylee has taken advantage of the outing to get a little dressed up again. A nice dress, heels and her hair done. Sitting in the audience, the seats are really quite good, she listens and marvels as Gabrielle sings.
And wonders if there’s anything the siblings can’t do.
Ian had eagerly accepted the invitation. He’d very much enjoyed the more informal performance, and it wasn’t very often that he got to attend such things to begin with.
It pays to have such friends that can pull favors like getting more than decent seats. Ian actually hadn’t known what to expect, and he’d come relatively early, so once he’d caught a glimpse of the full house once things started to get underway, he’d been quite surprised and felt all the more fortunate to be sitting where he was. He’s dressed nicely for the evening, in one of his better suits and polished shoes that he’s certain he hasn’t made use of since he’d quit his office job long ago.
Even though he’s heard Gabrielle perform before it never ceases to amaze him, and while he could be jealous at how talented she is at so many things it’s a far thought from his mind as he enjoys the music, and with the addition of the children’s choir, it just sounds like something completely different than before. Perhaps that is why the make such theaters, so specialized for acoustics.
The kids choir is rather well trained and in a way this is outreach. Children are vanishingly rare and they are ALL mutants these days. One of the Institutes main focuses is making sure people think of them as humans in as many ways as possible. There’s a very real danger of having them viewed as ‘other’.
Especially when it is literally the case that one species is being replaced by another.
The song swells, goes back into the chorus and builds again as Jericho’s piano is joined by the instruments in the orchestra. The whole thing crescendos and then it all falls away, the lights go dark except for the one on Gabrielle and the only thing that can be heard is her voice and Jer’s piano.
And then the piano goes silent and it’s just Gabby for the last note before that too falls away.
The applause is thunderous. And yes, it’s been observed that if the siblings wanted to, they could probably make a living off of music. Interesting then that Gabrielle is in the medical profession, Jericho in the tech profession and both of them in the habit of taking long trips to Europe that involve a lot of getting shot at.
In the aftermath people are filtering around talking. The mutants are out in the lobby greeting people – they were the focus of the evening – and Jericho and Gabby come down to see their guests. “Hey you two. I hope you both enjoyed the show.” Jericho says as his sister shifts to lean on the raised stage a little. Heels. They’re not comfy.
Kaylee seems to be enjoying the concert at least and smiles to Ian from time to time through out, joining in the applause with the rest of the audience of course.
“The concert was good, but I think you both know that. And Yes, I enjoyed it immensely.” The biochem answers when the siblings join them. She’s no more comfortable in heels than Gabrielle it seems but at least they look good?
With the song’s ending, Ian rises up to applaud, his own claps drowned out by the same sound repeated all around and behind him. He remains where he is once people begin to move about or exit, not caring to get lost in that sea just yet.
“Hey,” he greets, stepping over to join the Trent siblings along with Kaylee. “It was wonderful. But then I hardly expected it to be otherwise.” The librarian grins, nodding at them. “Looks like it was well-received.”
“It usually is but thank you.” Gabrielle says. “That’s a cute dress, Kaylee.”
She’s not wrong. Kaylee’s sense of style does look somewhat borrowed from an earlier time but she wears it well.
“Do you guys want to go back stage?” Jericho says, motioning. “We can pick up something to eat on the way out of here but Gabby’s better shoes are back there.”
The hacker holds a door to the back end of the theater. The corridor isn’t too long but it’s long enough, and relatively bare in contrast to the stumptuously appointed main hall itself.
“I’m glad you could both make it though. I wasn’t sure what with-” The lights flicker in a pattern… Kaylee’s quite familiar with.
Jericho looks up, frowning. “- what with work and all.”
Click. The lights die, casting the corridor into darkness.
“Thank you.” Kaylee blushes a little and fidgets with the sleeve of the cardigan like jackets she’s wearing to cover her arms. Well, the lines on her arms. The silvery lines forming valance like patterns that run under her skin can be seen on her neck and chest though. “And I’d love to.”
She, of course, doesn’t have comfortable shoes with her and she might envy Gabrielle just a little.
Passing Jericho as he holds the door, into the corridor, Kaylee pauses to let someone else lead the way. The flickering of lights gets a frown but she doesn’t say anything till it goes dark. “Well then …”
There’s the sound of rustling as she opens the bag she’s carrying and small beam of light cuts the darkness. Of course, she’d be carrying a torch, right?
“Yeah, sounds good,” Ian nods, smiling sympathetically at Gabrielle. No matter how nice those shoes look he can’t imagine anyone being comfortable in them for very long. His own shoes may be flats but they’re definitely not designed with comfort in mind.
He follows along and enters after Kaylee and Gabrielle, glancing back to nod at Jericho although the light flickering out above has him frown as well.
“Did…someone forget to pay the bill?” he asks as they’re suddenly enveloped in darkness. While he doesn’t carry a flashlight like Kaylee, he does pull out his phone to activate its own light. It may not be as bright, but it’s still something.
Of course Kaylee is prepared. Though as it happens… when she turns it on that’s when things get weird. For starters there’s fog or something very like fog curling around their feet. For seconds… where’d the walls go?
“Something’s wrong.” Jericho says. His sister gives him a flat look.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
“Sergeant Obvious.” Jericho retorts dryly. “I work for a living.”
The hacker takes a few steps forward and cants his head. As he does Kaylee can see what looks like a cloud of fog billowing toward them slowly. It’s only after a moment that she’ll realize that it’s not fog. It’s… a dust cloud.
FROOOOOMMMMMMMM. The sound is a faint, mechanical thrum. Something like… well, something Ian might have heard on Wrangel island. Faintly, in the distance somewhere ahead there are cries of alarm.
If Kaylee’s prepared that means she has her weapon somewhere and in that outfit one might wonder where. “Ian, stay close to me, please.” she says in that crisp British accent and tries her comms back to SHIELD, though she doubts they’ll work at the moment.
It’s never really a night off, is it?
The noise from outside, the dust cloud, all of this – sets her teeth on edge and she looks to the siblings. “We need to go to them. The mutants in the foyer … You know very well what that sounds like.”
The odd fog is troubling. The temperature in the building couldn’t have differed so much to allow it, so what is it? Ian ignores the exchange between the siblings as he looks down at what his phone lights up. “It doesn’t smell like smoke so at least nothing’s burning..?” But that still begs the question of just what…
The sound though faint still catches Ian’s attention, his head jerking up, eyes narrowing. “Did anyone else hear that?” he asks. Of course that’s when other sounds pervade, and it doesn’t make the situation any less alarming.
“I know what that sound is yes.” Jericho’s on edge. Gabby is too. Both of their traces have lit up. But they’re looking around in confusion.
“Where the hell is the foyer though? I don’t see walls. Or the door…”
And indeed as Kaylee and Ian shine around there’s nothing but blackness and mist around them.
Without anything better to do Jericho and Gabrielle start forging toward that sound and quickly. There’s a sound that sounds a bit like drums or rumbling thunder. Then Gabby jerks as if she’s been pushed. Then Jer. A second later Kaylee and Ian can feel it too. The noise around them is that of dozens of rapid foot steps, like a crowd is running past them. Jostling them in a panic. But no one is visible. Not in the least.
This time there’s a high pitched whine like an energy discharge and everyone can see the silhouette up ahead. A sentinel. There’s a… shadow in front of it. Like a broken building is interposing between the vague shape of a great robot. But nothing is visible that would do that.
Then… Kaylee and Ian are both hit by spotlights.
“ANALYZING DEVIANT GENOME!” A great, rumbling voice announces from ahead at full volume.
Kaylee touches Ian’s arm and gets him moving with her, following Jericho and Gabrielle as they forge forward. Seeing them stumble as if pushed she pauses, drawing in a breath of shock as she’s pushed as well.
Ian can hear her breathing go ragged – she’s terrified – as she stops, caught like a deer in headlights in that beam.
“Jer Jericho. This isn’t real, is it? Thi This is like before …”
“I-I don’t know, it’s like we’ve walked into some kind of…pocket space or something.” Ian shakes his head, not sure at all how to really describe it. He steps along with Kaylee, trying to swallow down the growing panic he can sense threatening to bubble up. Panicking won’t do anyone any good.
The sounds grow, and even though they seem muffled he can’t shake the feeling that something is incredibly wrong here. The sudden movement from Jericho and Gabrielle make no sense to him, but then he feels something (or is it someone??) brush past him, shove on by. “What the–?!” He’s pulled away from Kaylee briefly by the rush of invisible bodies.
When he catches sight of an unmistakable Sentinel he freezes. No, no, no, no…
Suddenly he’s blinded by spotlights, gasping as he throws a hand up in front of his face, squinting futilely against the brightness.
As Kaylee and Ian’s terror rises, the Sentinel ahead of them becomes more clear. Not just a distant silhouette now it seems like a very solid, very real thing towering over them. Screams sound around them. They can hear masonry crumbling. Feel the heat of fires they can’t see licking all around them.
Gabrielle’s armor springs into being and she raises an arm to unleash a hail of holographic cannon shells. Jericho quickly pulls it down. “No good.” He hisses to his sister.
“It’s not real Kaylee!” He calls back. “It can’t be! I need you to control your fear! You too Ian! It isn’t real! Don’t be afraid of it!”
Is he right? Both of them can hear the high pitched whine coming from the top of the sentinel as it’s energy beam charges up again.
“Jer Jericho …” With a hum, Kaylee’s own shield springs into place around her and Ian and she swallows, closing her eyes and trying to control her breathing.
Don’t be afraid of it, is easier said than done. This feels as real as it sounds.
“Ian, meditate. Like they taught you to control your power …” she says urgently to the young man next to her as she pushes her own fear down and stands in front of the energy beam.
He almost doesn’t hear Jericho, so fixated on what he’s certain he sees there ahead. Not real? How can it not be real? He can hear things happening around him, feel heat from…from where?
Ian dares not take his eyes off of the Sentinel he’s sure he’s seeing, but he’s not having much luck in calming himself, not immediately. Memories both vague and conjured from nightmares serve as more fuel to stoke the terror there in his mind, but he can’t shut out the presence of his friends either.
He’d like to inform Kaylee how difficult it is to meditate when it looks like you’re about to be lasered to death. Mentally he grasps for more control, something to focus on. Jericho had said it wasn’t real. Why wasn’t it real? Follow that line of reasoning, he urges himself. They were inside a building, where did it all go? How did so many people fit in that narrow passage?
The more he tries to make sense of things the less he’s able to, which in turn serves to distract him from his panic. He remembers to breathe, drawing in a slow, deliberate breath, releasing it again. Repeat. Slowly he closes his eyes.
“This…isn’t real, it can’t be. There’s too much that doesn’t make sense…” he murmurs like a mantra under his breath.
The light from the eyes of the sentinel brightens as Kaylee and Ian struggle to get themselves under control. The light gets so bright nothing else can be seen. Ian and Kaylee smell burning flesh.
Then they’re back in the hallway. The lights are on. Ian is pressed against the wall. Kaylee is in front of him. Jericho and Gabby are a few steps ahead. The former is sort of squished by the narrow hallway and his sisters armor.
The armor vanishes. “What… the hell…” The dark haired woman demands.
Kaylee breathes raggedly through the ordeal, saying a silent prayer as she does. And then it’s gone, leaving the biochem shaking violently, looking around at the others. It takes a moment and her shield disappears. “Alright, Ian?” she asks.
“Jericho, it’s getting worse. I take it, Gabrielle, you’ve not had this sort of experience before?” Her voice trembles but she’s all business.
Even while mostly convinced it can’t be real Ian can’t help but flinch as he can sense the intensity of the light from behind his closed eyelids, and the smell is highly disturbing to the point of nausea.
And then it vanishes, the smell, the sounds, the strangeness of the atmosphere. Just as well that Ian finds himself against the wall as he sags back, gasping for air like he’d just emerged from under water. He does not seem terribly inclined to leave the solidness of the wall, turning slightly so that his shoulder’s against it rather than his back, but he remains leaning against it all the same, lifting a shaking hand to it.
“Wh…” is all he manages, but Gabrielle basically voices what he would have. He swallows, turning his head to glance at the others. “You sound like this has happened before…”
“A haunting, Gabrielle…” Jericho says simply.
Gabrielle starts. “I didn’t think we’d seen one of those since Afghanistan…”
Jericho shakes his head and looks to Ian. “Sort of. Sometimes… things happen. Strange… unexplained things. Just let me…”
The hacker’s eyes go distant. Kaylee’s right. This is getting worse. Gabrielle takes a breath.
“We saw weird things when we were in the army, Kaylee. But I thought that was a function of… forsaken places in the earth where the strangeness could sink into the land. Not here. Not in the middle of the city.”
“At the end of the Sentinel Purge, Chicago was attacked for a final time.” Jericho says, sounding like he’s reading from something. “The single machine caused havoc in the downtown area, damaging the historic Theater district and killing nearly a hundred people before it was driven off by concerted military effort.”
So… this very building was the site of a sentinel attack… fifty two years ago.
“And I have lucid dreams …” Kaylee adds to the siblings explanations. “I’ve experienced this twice with Jericho. The first was in the Coulson Memorial Library and was just the sounds of a fight, the last time was a week or so ago, in my lab when something moved my tables when it went dark.”
She looks at Gabrielle and then at Jericho. She’s sure Jericho hadn’t been anywhere near her that last time. In the same building perhaps but not with her.
“Strangeness sink into the land, Gabrielle? This is Chicago, where many battles with Sentinels were fought …” she trails as Jericho picks up the narrative with the actual events. “Did you experience this when Jericho wasn’t near, Gabrielle?”
The librarian’s face is pale, but rather than confusion there’s a bitter understanding that touches his expression as he looks at the other three.
“…I remember something of that. The Purge. I… It was back when I think my power first triggered, when I met Francisco and Four. I accidentally took Francisco’s powers, and suddenly all I could here were voices, just so many- I couldn’t shut them out.”
He shuts his eyes again, grimacing. “They weren’t from the living.” He still has no idea how Francisco could manage such a thing, but he imagines it had taken him some time to work out that ability himself.
“I can understand the possibility of…what would they be called? Emotional impressions? Supernatural phenomena surrounding tragic events? But that was…” Ian shakes his head, opening his eyes, looking, for lack of a better, however fitting term, haunted by the experience. “That was much too real. That wasn’t merely seeing things, that was like reliving a moment from the past.”
“Places far from… civilization, or anything we call normal.” Gabrielle says quietly. “Believe me, Kaylee. Human beings are so very wrong to assume we have tamed this planet.”
So yes, strangeness.
“I think perhaps once when Jericho wasn’t to hand. But nothing like that.”
Jericho shakes himself. “We should talk about those dreams, Kaylee.” Jericho says. “But… not here. Ian’s right. It was like reliving the moment and I’m not eager to stay here in case it starts again. Let’s get Gabby’s shoes and go get something to drink. Preferably with alcohol after that.”
A pleasantly musical evening is rudely disrupted for Gabrielle, Ian, Jericho and Kaylee when they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a Sentinel attack. ...or do they?
February 21, 2052