Warning: Moderate language and violence (nothing beyond that in the game).
Storyline: Takes place before storyline gameplay in inFAMOUS, so no significant spoilers for either game. Mostly canon, with a few minor liberties in how quickly Cole develops some powers and meets some common enemies.
0. Empire Event
Explosions are loud. Sounds fill everywhere, every nook and cranny. There's no space for anything but noise. And still more sound rushes into my ears and all thought is crushed by a wall of boom!
After the explosion, there's a long, fragile moment of perfect silence. The world is deaf in sudden stillness. Then, a faint, vibrating ring, like pent-up up sound leaking out of my head. Everything seems still and dark; there is no more intense white of searing heat.
Thick, oily smoke filters up from the rubble, seeping into the tiniest pores of my skin. The smell will never, ever leave. Even after all the soot has been scrubbed clean, I will remember the smell of destruction. It will cling to my nightmares, discoloring every moment of happiness with its acrid flavor.
Then there are the ghosts. All the people once beside me on the busy street, talking or laughing or walking while saying nothing at all. The busker on the corner with the poorly-tuned guitar and the two bank tellers gossiping on the bench: these are the people who fell to the explosive sound, the white heat and the black smoke. Laughter and talk and guitar-tuning, silenced in an instant. They fled the world screaming.
My eyes follow their shadows among the rubble-strewn shells of buildings. I see the faintest traces of a thousand ghosts, green-white outlines that fade to nothing in the dying sun.
The only things left in this crater are stillness and a ringing murmur in the ears.
And, somehow, there is me. Deeply changed, I remain.
"Wait – you were at Ground Zero when the explosion happened?" Cole had just woken up, so I was piecing together the story as best I could.
"I was running a job, delivering a package in the Historic District. Next thing I know, I'm waking up in the middle of a crater." His voice was weak as he explained.
"Where were you when I called?"
"In that parking garage, that tall one off Oak and Lime, behind my apartment. Or what was left of that parking garage."
I whistled low. "You were right in the middle of it. How the hell did you survive? And then how'd you get to the bridge?"
"Uh. I walked."
"Damn poor timing, with the way that electric terrorist attack hit the bridge just as you were coming across."
"About that -" Cole began.
Just then, there was a perfunctory knock and Trish entered the hospital room. "Zeke, who are you talking to?" She looked up from her clipboard, eyes going wide to see Cole sitting up in bed.
"Zeke! Why didn't you tell me he was awake?"
"Oh. Right. Trish, Cole's awake."
"I can see that," she said coldly, brushing past me. "Let me take a look."
Trish busied herself with poking and prodding Cole, taking his temperature and making other doctorly observations. I watched from the sidelines. Cole was pale but alert. He didn't take his eyes off Trish the whole time.
After a while, he finally spoke up. "I guess this means we're sleeping in the park."
"Sleep in the park?" I snorted. "Just wait 'til you come by my place."
"Your place? It's just a crater in the ground. I -" Cole's eyes turned inward for a moment, "I was there, Zeke, everything is – it's just gone."
"Didn't I warn you not to underestimate the ol' Dunbar creativity?" It was easier for me to loom over Cole when he was laid out in a hospital bed. Usually he did all the looming and brooding, so it was a nice change of pace.
"Last time I went in for your creativity, it involved a cocktail made from margarita mix, tequila, and pickle juice." Cole eyes were shut tight, creased lightly in pain and weariness, but a bitter smile touched the corners of his mouth. It made me happy to see him smile, after all the terrible stuff that had happened in the past few days, especially to him. I was afraid I'd never see him smile again. I knew Trish was thinking the same thing. Her sagging shoulders seemed to pick up a tad as she smiled back at her boyfriend, shaking her head ruefully. She probably remembered the Pickle Juice Incident more clearly than either of us.
The thought of an unsmiling Cole was a scary one. Seeing him hooked up to the machines, pale and sweating, was slowly breaking Trish's heart. I don't know much medicine, but I saw her typically tender personality change to snappy and impatient. Between her teary, red eyes and her constant nervous glances to the unsteady line monitoring Cole's heart rate, it was no secret she was worried. I wished she'd drop the professional doctor act, though. Cole could see straight through it and it just tired her out.
While Trish helped Cole's body recover with medicine, I took it as my job to make his smile come out again. Especially so she'd smile as well. I'd never admit it to either of them, but I lived to see the pair of them happy.
So, through a thin smile of my own, I explained to my brother-in-arms why he would not be sleeping in the street or the park, but rather on the most comfortable couch we could liberate. Much to my surprise, Trish occasionally chimed in. I knew she didn't approve of my plans to freeload on somebody's roof, but, unlike her, I didn't have an office in the hospital to use as a hotel room.
After the explosion levelled our apartment complex, I had bent my expertise in partying on rooftops toward more long-term ends: semi-permanent accommodation. After scouting around between visits to the hospital, I had my eye on a couple of places. Cole was going to help me set up a rooftop pad just as soon as he was up and about. He just didn't know it yet.
Cole's eyes widened as he came to understand the plan. He liked it, just like I knew I would. He has this thing about high places.
"Told you the world's better with a view from the top." His voice was reedy but the small smile was back.
"Yea, well, unlike certain crazies, I plan on using the stairs instead of climbing around on windowsills."
"We're all going to be using the stairs, thank you very much," Trish corrected sternly, taking up the chart at the end of Cole's bed and using her sharpest Doctor Authority voice. "Cole, you're in no shape to even think about those crazy acrobatics. You were in a coma, for goodness' sake!"
"I was?" he murmured weakly. He looked distracted.
"Yes," she said matter-of-factly. "For three and a half days."
"But I'm better now?"
"Well, you're awake," we could hear the relief in her voice. "How do you feel?"
"Tired. Wait – how do you know I was in a coma? I can still remember – "
"No brain activity. EEG a complete flatline."
I couldn't help but laugh. "What else is new?" I asked.
Trish gave me a harsh glare before turning back to Cole "In fact, nearly everything we hooked up to gave no read out at all. We almost took you for dead, except you seemed to have a pulse."
"Well, your blood was flowing, even if it took two days before we could get an EKG to measure your heart rate properly. This hospital's pretty close to Ground Zero – the blast must have fried some of the more sensitive equipment."
Cole didn't say anything. He just leaned back into his pillow, turning his head to the wall. Even in the sunlight that filtered through the hospital room window, his skin was growing paler by the second.
Trish reached for his hand. "You should rest. We'll worry about finding you a place to stay after you're well."
I saw Cole's callused fingers close around Trish's hand. I stood up. "Well, I'll just let you two have a moment. Gotta get a cuppa joe."
I had just opened the door to leave the room when I heard Trish shout, half in pain, half in surprise. The power cut out and with it went the fluorescent ceiling lights. Turning around, I saw a scene I will never forget.
Even in semi-darkness, it was good I was wearing my shades. My eyes are a bit funny – too sensitive to light – so I wear sunglasses all the time, even indoors. Cole always made fun of the flashy pair I chose to wear, but I figured if I had to do it, might as well go in style. At any rate, the shades came in real handy just then, because I turned around to see my best friend's body wreathed in electricity, almost like he was wearing a second skin made of lightning. His back arched, his body lifting from the bed on rolled shoulders. In the flashes of light, I could see his eyes and mouth were wide open. His deep, crackling groan was somehow worse than a scream. Sparks were flying everywhere, shooting from the electrical equipment on the side of his bed to impact his skin, the bed, everything. His hands were clenched and glowing bright white, too bright to look at even through my tinted shades.
Cole's limbs alternately went rigid and limp. His body thrashed back and forth, throwing off the quilt. His paper-thin hospital gown scorched as bolts of electricity raced along his body. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the chaos died down. There was no more lightning dancing around the bed, no more river of sparks pouring from his hands. His body collapsed to the mattress, still flickering.
Trish had fallen to the floor beside the bed and after a second of gaping I rushed over to help her. She'd bitten back her shout and now all I could hear were Cole's gasps and the uneven, ticking buzz of electricity. The room was dim. I knelt by Trish's side, holding her shoulders. She seemed fine, just terrified. We stared up at Cole for a long time, silent and wide-eyed. Every moment or two a flickering spark of electricity would flash somewhere along his arms. The whole room smelled like ozone. It was a bitter, almost acidic smell, like spent car batteries.
"Damn," I murmured. Trish was shivering, just slightly. "Damn." I said again. First at the bridge and now electrocuted again? I don't think anybody could be prepared to accept the pattern that was forming. But, like they say, lightning don't strike the same place twice.
"We should –" Trish began in a dazed voice that slowly grew more confident, "we should check on him. You're alright?"
I nodded. As she stood, I held her elbow to make sure she was steady. She turned her head sharply, piercing me with the glare only a woman can give. My hand made a quick retreat from her elbow.
"Right," I said.
Cole's breathing had become even, almost peaceful. Trish hesitated to put her hands on his skin, but peering at his neck she seemed satisfied with his pulse. I had no idea how he was still alive after that light show.
The door opened suddenly and in the light from the room's one window I saw a young, harried-looking black man in a white lab coat peek in. He glanced around the room, eyes widening. The shadowy remains of the electrical equipment were smoldering, half-melted or else scorched beyond recognition. Seeing Trish, he visibly relaxed.
"Doctor Dailey, it seems a circuit has tripped, again. We've got more patients than rooms to put them in and the power's out in the whole building, again." His gaze lingered on the stack of wrecked equipment. Trish and I very carefully did not look in that direction.
"Yes, Sam?" Trish prompted.
"Uh..." Sam continued, "Doctor Smith sent me to gather everyone in the board room in –" he glanced at his wrist watch "– three minutes for an emergency meeting."
"Oh, good, meetings," Trish said ruefully. "Love those. Will there be doughnuts?"
"Just coffee, I'm afraid. You sure everything's okay in here?"
"Hmm?" Trish asked. Then, as if she suddenly realized the need to cover up the scene with a hasty lie, she nodded and waved her hand in a dismissive, shooing motion "Yes, it's fine. I was just checking up on Cole – on this patient before seeing to the others next door."
With one last skeptical glance around the room, eying me in particular, the man excused himself, shutting the door again as he left.
"Well, that was fun," came a familiar voice, raspier than ever. I turned to see Cole sitting up in the bed. The were no signs of misbehaving electricity, no sparks or flickers anywhere. If it hadn't been for his burnt dressing gown and the half-melted medical equipment, I would have already begun convincing myself I had imagined the whole scene.
Trish and I stared. He stared back for a moment, then shrugged and began stretching his arms. We continued staring. He cracked his knuckles and then snapped his neck to the side with a sickening click. Trish hated it when he did that. The sound seemed to break her daze. She rushed over, grabbed his wrist – not without flinching when their skin first touched – and held her fingers over his radial artery. She frowned at her watch as she counted.
"I have a meeting to attend down the hall in two minutes." She said briskly, reaching into her lab coat pocket to retrieve a penlight. She leaned into Cole's face and shined the light into his left eye. He pulled away and she clicked her tongue. "Your pulse is rapid but steady. Skin warm to the touch, dry. Pupil dilation and reflex, normal." She snapped her fingers in front of his face. He blinked. She held up three fingers. "How many?"
"One pretty lady, one short Elvis impersonator, –"
"Cole, I don't have time for this –"
"– and three fingers," he finished calmly. For a dude who'd just been barbecued with electricity for the second time in less than a week, he was looking pretty good. Pale, but good.
Trish narrowed her eyes for a minute and then swapped her light for a ballpoint pen. "Good," she snapped, grabbing Cole's clipboard from the basket at the end of his bed. She went to write down her observations, only to find the paper charred beyond recognition. Sighing, she through it onto the bed and walked toward the door. "Just now there was an electric surge. We've lost power to the whole building. They'll need me in the trauma ward," she explained before rounding on me. "Zeke, watch him."
There was nothing to say besides "Yes, ma'am."
"Love you, too," Cole whispered as the door clicked behind her.
Things were awkward after that. Normally, Cole and me, we don't have to say much if we're hanging out. It's one of the things I like about him – there's no obligation to say anything or do anything if you don't feel like it. Just sit on the couch and have a couple of beers, no problem. Feel like going on a rant about the price of oil and how it's all driven by a multinational secret organization? Well, that's okay too. When you get right down to it, Cole's a simple kind of guy.
Except things had taken a turn for the more complicated. I looked at my best friend, sitting in the hospital bed as if he hadn't been electrocuted twice, as if he hadn't somehow survived at the heart of an explosion so powerful it had leveled nearly eight square city blocks. After a minute, he coughed, looked away, and started stretching his arms again. I looked down. No point in staring. He looked the same, except for a scar under his right eye. That was new.
I sat back down in the hospital chair and picked up my comic book but my heart wasn't in it. After a minute or two of running my eyes over the page without seeing a single word, I put the book down and twiddled my thumbs.
"Zeke..." he coughed, cleared his throat, and tried again. "Zeke, was I really out for three days?"
I nodded. "Yea. You remember any of it?"
He didn't say anything, just looked down at his hands, stretching and curling his fingers. It was like the man had never seen his own hands before.
"What's going on out there?"
"Oh, it's about as bad as you'd expect. There's no power, no cops, and the feds have closed off the bridges. Total quarantine."
"No power in the Neon?"
"You kidding? No power anywhere, except the hospitals. All of Empire City's one big black-out. There's been some rioting and lots of looting. Gang activity's been on the rise since the blast but mostly people are holing up and waiting things out." I didn't add that things were looking to get a lot worse before they got any better.
"...and you're planning on living on somebody's roof?" He asked quietly.
"Always got a plan, don't I? Never know when a conspiracy will come to light and everything'll really hit the fan. I got some stuff stashed away here and there, emergency rations mostly, but these past couple of days I've been thinking more about the longer term, seeing the bigger picture. Sitting in a hospital room watching you snore all day is pretty boring, you know that?"
I was trying to get him to smile. Or at least stop staring at his hands.
"I figure you'll need a place to crash too, so why not set up a rooftop camp? It'll be like the good old days." Our most recent rooftop party had been only two weeks ago, but somehow everything before the blast seemed like it was going to be 'the good old days' from here on out.
From somewhere downstairs there came the sudden cough and deep thrum of generators kicking in. An emergency light in the hall flickered on and then became steady. A few people cheered in the room next door. I got a better look at Cole.
He was looking fine. He was awake and he wasn't so pale as before. Hell, I was still trembling but he didn't even have goose pimples. He squirmed a bit as I stared at him.
"I'm not a lab rat, Zeke."
"Maybe not, but you just pulled off a hell of a circus freak act."
It was Cole's turn to pin me down with a cold stare. I'll admit it was a pretty dumb choice of words, but it wasn't as if I'd just insulted the man's mother.
"I was awake."
"What? The whole time?"
"Not the past – three days did she say? Not the whole time. But just now, when all the electronics went haywire. I was awake for that."
Damn. "You okay?"
"If you're asking 'Did it hurt?' then, yea, I'm fine. Didn't hurt at all." He was looking at his hands again. After a minute he added, "I think I might have hurt Trish though."
"Shocked her? I don't think so. She shouted pretty good but you saw her hands when she was using that pen light – no scars or burns or anything. I think you just scared her. Hell, scared me too."
"Zeke, I gotta get out of here."
"I'm not so sure that's a good idea."
"You heard the nurse – he said they have more patients than rooms. Besides, you and I both know I caused the circuits to overload. It's dangerous having me around when people are hooked up to pacemakers and iron lungs and who knows what else."
I chewed my bottom lip. I knew he was feeling cooped up and was liable to say anything just to get get out of the confines of the hospital bed, but at the same time he had a point. Trish wouldn't admit it if asked, but I knew there was definitely something going on with Cole, something outside the realm of medical knowledge. In fact, I was eager to see more of it in action.
"I'm not so sure you should be walking around. Can you even stand up?" His was not the face of a man who'd been in a coma for three days.
"I feel fine, Z. I was tired before but... now, I'm fine. Can you at least get me my clothes?"
I felt my cheeks burn as I was suddenly reminded that he was wearing a paper apron, now burnt. At least they'd left his pants on.
"Yea, man, I can do that for you." I looked around the room.
"I think they keep personal effects at the front desk."
"Oh. Be right back."
I came across Trish when walking down the stairs. Nearly bumped into her, with the emergency lights so dim through my shades.
"Zeke? What are you doing here? You're supposed to be watching Cole."
"He's fine, Trish. I'm just running down to get his stuff."
"Personal effects, you know. Whatever he had on him when he came to the hospital."
"Zeke, his clothes and shoes are in the bag beside his bed."
"They are?" Our eyes met and without a word, we raced back to the room where we'd left Cole.
He wasn't there, of course. The whole "fetch my stuff for me" was a wild goose chase designed to give him time to bail. Trish scanned the room and ran off in a huff, pausing just long enough to give me the evil eye again. I felt like I'd gotten more than my fair share of her withering looks. It wasn't my fault he tricked me. I scouted the room a bit more carefully, shivering as a cold breeze came in the window. I grabbed his bag from beside the bed and poked through it. I knew he wouldn't mind.
It was a brown paper bag, mostly empty. They'd left him in his pants on the hospital bed, thank goodness, so it was just his shirt, his shoes and socks, and the contents of his pockets. His wallet was there, black leather thin and worn as usual. His cell phone, on the other hand, was completely wrecked. After the light show in the hospital, scorch marks blackened the display and the plastic of the buttons had melted together. His watch was in similar shape, the glass face completely cracked. A few charred coins rattled in the bottom bag; I slipped them in my back pocket absentmindedly. That was it.
Looking around the dim hospital room, there was nothing left to do. I shut the window, gave the chair where I'd slept the past three nights one last hateful glance and shut the door behind me. Guess it was time to get gone. If Cole wanted to talk, he'd show up.
Unless he was dying in a gutter.
The complete story comes has just over 50,000 words, including a climax battle, plenty of character development, and some over-arching themes. Most chapters are somewhat shorter than chapter one.
Please leave a review to remind me to post the next bit.