Conflict: Prologue

Amin slowed the car as he approached the smouldering wreck. A small plume of smoke drifted lazily upwards, framed by twilight. He stopped, left the engine running and the headlights on and stepped out of the car. He unholstered his gun and approached the carnage, his shadow spilling large onto the scene from the light of the car behind him. The rusted car was parked haphazardly on the dirt road, it's driver and two passenger doors open. Amin slowly made his way to the front of the vehicle.

The sight that greeted him would have turned his stomach, where it not empty. Melted flesh and melted steel, intermingled and intertwined upon the cars hood. He wished for his eyes to avert themselves, but he could not break his gaze from the charred mass.

He noticed some hair on the ground. Blonde and red. Unusual in these parts, though perhaps less so since the scattering of the Golden Terror. His thoughts froze. Two colours of hair. Two people. He looked back up at the twisted mound, seeing it now not as a whole but as parts. Too many bones for one person.

A gust of wind came over the hood of the car, carrying sand and smell. The smell did what sight could not and Amin turned away and retched, falling to his knees. He holstered his weapon and fumbled for his radio, stopping momentarily to compose himself. He breathed deeply and pressed to the button on the radio to speak.

"This is Officer Amin. Responding to a tip off about a plume of smoke on the North bound dirt road. I have a vehicle out of commission and two deceased, probably parahumans. Requesting a team for salvage and retrieval. I'm about ten kilometres from the station."

A melodic female voice responded. "We have two units responding to a potential shoot out at the well down South. No doubt someone trying to take more than their quota again. We can only spare one unit for you."

Amin sighed. "Fine." He paused. "Tell them to bring the containment gear." he glanced back at the wreck. "They're going to need it."

"Will do, Amin," the voice sang. "Over and out"

As the conversation ended Amin stared briefly at the radio, amazed at his young colleague's flippancy. It's not that they didn't crack jokes or make light before it all went down, but they were professional about it. Professional flippancy, another casualty of the apocalypse.

He made to stand, but was stopped as he noticed the black mark in the dirt below him. The shifting sand had covered it somewhat but and black streak trailed off the road into the long grass. He stood and turned, noting that the streak had come from the direction of the car. Another parahuman, maybe. He drew his weapon and a torch, flicking the latter on

"It never rains, but pours," he whispered while shining the torch against the yellow grass, illuminating a darkened and disturbed patch where the black trail ended. He smirked and made for the grass. It never rains around here anyway.

He brushed the grass aside and walked slowly forward, his head and shoulders bobbing above the grass line, but his eyes fixed downwards. The light of his torch guided his way, eventually falling on a huddled black figure on ground. He readied his gun. Always an unfair fight against these types.

The figure stirred under the light and looked up, brown eyes meeting his own. A kid? Amin lowered his gun and inched forward.

The child withdrew into itself, hiding under the black rag of what might have once been a blanket.

Amin holstered his weapon for a second time that night. "It's okay see, I'm unarmed."

The child looked at him with a confused expression on it's face. A boy, Amin decided.

Amin waved a hand in front of his mouth. "Do you understand?"

The child shook his head.

Amin pointed at the child. "You." He paused before continuing, then gestured towards the road and the wreck behind them. "You?"

The child paused, then shook its head again.

Amin relaxed. Hopefully not a parahuman. He stood and offered his hand to the boy. Gingerly the child took it and Amin hoisted him to his feet. He heard a rumbling in the distance and looked towards the road. A truck lumbered towards his car. He tugged on the boy's hand and the boy followed him to the road and into beams of his car's headlights.

The truck pulled up beside Amin's car and two men stepped out. One made his way to the back on the truck and one towards Amin. Both wore hazmat suits that would have looked cheap in the nineteenth century.

"Amin," said the one who approached them. "I thought you said no one was alive here."

Amin glanced down at the boy, who was staring at his own feet. "I guess I was wrong."

"Anything else you're wrong about, since we're the one's who'll be cleaning this mess up."

Amin narrowed his eyes and made to walk past the man, slapping him on the shoulder. "You better hope not, friend." He smiled without smiling and walked towards his car.

Smoke filled the air, seemingly everywhere thanks to a flickering fluorescent light.

The detective spoke. "Two parahumans, Amin?"

"Potentially one, sir. It was... hard to separate the details of the scene."

The detective stubbed his makeshift cigar out on his desk. "Shit, we barely get one incident a month. Sure, they're rising but -" He sighed. "We haven't got the resources. Some Warden sets up a few holding cells for us and drops off a barrel or two of containment foam every now and then. It's not enough!"

"We're a backwater, sir. Nobody gives a damn about us, if you'll pardon my language."

The detective waved a hand. "A growing backwater," he corrected, his voice growing louder. "We may have water issues, but we aren't lacking for food thanks to the herds. More people come here every day and those flying fuckers expect us to export some of our food while they won't even give us a water pipeline! I haven't showered in I don't know how long! The chief-"

Amin cut off the detective's rant. "What about the kid, sir?"

The detective huffed for a moment and leaned to look past Amin at the boy. "Protocol, put him in a cell until the next Warden visit."

"Sir! He's a child."

The balding man coughed. "Watch yourself, Amin. I don't write these rules, I just enforce them. The next Warden visit is in two days."

Amin gritted his teeth. "Of course, detective." He turned abruptly and walked towards the boy. Everyone's on the fucking edge today. As he brought the boy out of the offices and towards the cells, he heard the detective shout.

"Will someone fix that damn light!"

They walked towards the cells and Amin shifted until the boy was on his right. The passed the first cell and that's when the screaming began. The boy clutched onto Amin, tugging at his uniform.

"Uniformed scum! Murderers! Enablers! There'll be no justice here, not while these men are in charge!"

He heard a muffled thump against the door of the cell. Whatever metal the Wardens used for these cells, it was enough to hold a blaster. Another thump. A minor one at least. A moment later he heard another bigger thump in the distance behind them and winced. The girl in there had triggered last week. Taken out her entire family, or they had assumed they were her family. She wouldn't say.

He steeled himself against weak thoughts. Bitch tried to blow my head off. They'd gotten her with the containment foam, fortunately.

They made it to the cell. Amin had chosen the nicest one for the boy. It had a pillow and everything. He let the boy's hand go and gestured for him to go inside. The boy glanced at him and then walked inside.

Amin mined eating and drinking and the boy nodded his head vigorously and gave a thumbs up. He almost smiled, the child seemed to be coming back to life. He mimed for the boy to stay. The boy nodded once again as Amin left.

He tried to ignore the woman's screeching as he made his way down the hallway, but he found the hairs on the back of his neck standing up and his fists clenched.

The woman screamed. "What the fuck's going on!"

He rolled his eyes as he left the hallway. Thankfully, the kid was far enough down and the rooms sufficiently soundproof that the he shouldn't be able to hear her as anything more than muffled noise.

He fetched a bottle of water and some bread and made his way back to the hallway, where he found the detective screaming back at the woman through the door.

The detective was fumbling with his keys. "Fucking bitch! No wonder your family wanted to sell you! Shut up!"

Amin's eyes widened. He dropped the bottle and bread and sped down the hallway. "Ayub," he yelled over the screams of the detective and the woman as he came closer to the portly man.

Ayub spun around and snarled. "That's detective to you! Now go fix that damn light."

Amin stood startled, pausing long enough for Ayub to jam his keys into the lock of the cell and turn.

"Now, you who-"

Ayub was cut off by a flash of heat and light colliding with his face. He screamed and fell back, thrashing against the wall. Another flash hit his abdomen and he fell, both silent and to the ground.

Amin backed up and fumbled for his weapon as the woman emerged, bathed in a blue flame that crackled across her skin like electricity. That was new.

She growled at him, her features contorted with rage. "Where the fuck is it?"

Amin held his hand on his weapon, his thumb itching. He felt himself sweating. "Where's what?"

She looked down at herself. "The one who's doing this! I can feel it. Something pulling strings in my head, messing with my power!"

Crazy bitch. Amin glanced down at Ayub. No chance of saving him. He glanced down the hallway. The kid on the other hand...

The woman seemed to follow his gaze. "Down there! It's down there, isn't it!"

She conjured a ball of light in her hand and flung it at him. Amin dived. Too late, but the ball simply dissipated before it hit him. The woman appeared shocked at her attacks failure to land. Seizing the moment, he drew his gun and aimed just as the woman flung another attack. He screamed as the ball of searing heat hit his hands and the light blinded him. The gun misfired as it clattered to the floor. Disorientated, he slumped against the wall.

He brought his hands up and gazed at the blackness. He tried to move his fingers and failed. Behind his hands he saw the woman limping down to the kid's cell. He felt fear for the boy and then anger. The latter fuelled him as he followed her.

The glowing bitch yanked open the already ajar cell door. "I'll find you," she yelled into the cell, "even if I have to search this whole room!"

Amin leapt at the woman and wrapped his arms around her neck. The flames on her body burned him, but he didn't care. The bitch needed to die. He tightened his hold, bringing them both to the ground. He felt his hair catch fire and his clothes begin to smoulder. She struggled less and less and eventually stopped. The fire went with her. Both lacked for air.

Amin tried to move and his body screamed. He looked around for the kind and saw him standing by the bed, wrapped in a makeshift cloak from the pillowcase. He tried to move an arm towards the boy, but failed. He tried to speak and his burnt tongue made nothing but nonsense. The boy smiled, pointed at him and then gave a thumbs up. Amin passed out.