Monday, June 30, 2014

Dreamleaks 4: The DEMI Fires

This day had not been going well for old Toby. For starters, he planned on biking at least part of the way to work, but halfway there, he remembered he brought his laptop home to do some work on the weekend, and he wasn't about to risk that on a bike ride. Then he got to work and had almost his entire day wasted on meetings, busywork, and insipid office banter. Even right now, he had a half-dozen co-workers in his office, huddled together around a computer screen watching some stupid video while he was trying to get something finished. It had already gotten dark, and he just wanted to go home.

Of course, all of this seemed pretty trivial when the fires started.

Because he wasn't the only one staring at cats being morons, he noticed it before anyone else. The office complex just next to their own glowed from within, an intense light that shattered any remnants of a normal work day. For just a moment, as he saw the panicked figures screaming through the building's glass entrance way and even hotter blue flame build among the more “normal” red flames, Tobias could only stare in horror. And then he burst out of office, moments ahead of their own evacuation, while babbling “no, no, no, no, no!” to himself. Not fire, anything but fire. Not with what he knew about Data Efficiency Management, Inc., his employer, and the secrets he knew about his co-workers.

Both DEMI and the other office complex were some distance from the rest of the city, down the hill in a little side road all their own. Even so, as Toby and the rest of his office made their way outside, he could hear the wail of the incoming fire trucks, assuring Toby that no act of insane heroism on his part would be needed, that the actual professionals would take it from here. Even so, Toby could barely fathom the horrors he witnessed around him, too stark for even the endless blaring lights and sirens around him to drown out. He saw one EMT crew frantically try to save a man with a gaping hole blasted in his chest even going so far as to massage the poor victim's heart from the inside! And as the fire went out and the smoke cleared, he saw people sprawled out on the ground and stairwells, looking no different than if they were sleeping. Which, Toby tried to rationalized, they could be. It's not like the firefighters and ambulance crews would just leave people, not after the fires had stopped. Right?

Before he could think bout it more, he learned that his boss Irene had called a department-wide meeting to discuss the fire and what it meant. Toby, under the excuse of needing some fresh air, stayed behind as long as he could. The last thing he needed after all this was dealing with Irene. Irene was a hard-ass on her best days, and something like this would make her into a tyrant. Even worse, she wasn't in the loop about the important stuff. Toby was, and if Irene wanted answers, Toby might not be able to bluff his way out of it.

See, DEMI isn't just a mediocre network solutions company. They're secretly a safe harbor for refugees, refugees that most people wouldn't even believe existed. People with powers beyond what science can explain, perhaps, or with a heritage including some creature that shouldn't exist. He knows for a fact that the receptionist is, in fact, some kind of mer-creature. And his office friend Tessa, the one with the burn scars on her arms? That wasn't just the result of some childhood accident, it turned out. Tessa is a pyrokinetic who came about her powers at a really bad time. But Toby knows Tessa. She's harmless. There's no way she could be responsible for something like this. Could she?

As he pondered this, however, he saw flames billow up in the other building again. And this time, they flowed through the power and gas lines to his office as well. Since everyone was still returning after the last fire, they made it out safely this time. But two fires separated by mere hours? This couldn't be an accident.

The firefighters arrived even sooner this time. Hell, they probably didn't even all make it back to the station yet. But while this second fire was put out almost immediately and without any casualties as horrific as the first, it was clear that the firefighters had the same suspicions that Toby had, if not exactly the same theories about the cause. It was clear that the police would be here soon, and this time, Irene didn't even wait for people to get back into the office before she ordered her entire department into another meeting some distance from the building.

But Toby couldn't have imagined what she did next. As soon as they were out of sight, she pulled out a gun and yelled, “Everyone, on your knees! NOW!” Once they got over their shock, Toby and his coworkers complied, Tessa included. Toby couldn't say what would happen next, but he had two guesses. First, Irene was in fact responsible for the fires herself and she wanted to get everyone's silence before the police came asking, one way or another. But not even Irene could be so homicidal, Toby thought. Theory two is that she also believes these fires were started by someone, and so of course her first instinct was to blame it on her underlings. That's so Irene. Of course, Toby also knew she could be exactly right. So what would he do? What even counted as the right thing to do? Would he keep his friend's confidence, knowing that to expose her or her powers would likely be a death sentence or worse? Or keep quiet, risk his own life, and possibly let an arsonist go free do cause more death and destruction?

Toby had no idea what to do. But he knew that whatevre happened, it was going to get messy.

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