“Attention! This is a Code Yellow alert! Please return to your homes until the situation has been resolved! Attention! This is a Code Yellow alert! Please return to your homes until the situation has been resolved!”

A veil of red and blue had been cast across the city on that chilly autumn night. Police roadblocks could be seen along every major avenue, a last-ditch effort to apprehend the elusive Durham Anthony. It didn’t take long for his mercenaries to crawl out from the shadows, prompting an all out war of attrition. We, the Faulkner ASB suddenly found ourselves caught in the middle, targets in a dangerous game to which the conduit shards had become the spoils.

This had all started back on Wednesday afternoon when a mysterious message was sent to the metropolitan police department. Normally, such a bizarre gesture would be disregarded; this one, however, had been addressed by Durham himself, and it foretold of a weapon capable of targeting every ESPer in the city.

Perhaps more cryptic were the conditions surrounding his threat. For reasons unknown, he had demanded that police keep a respectable distance from our little ASB group, and that failure to do so would result in a swift and immediate execution of the weapon’s go-code. We were interrogated and had no choice but to reveal the circumstances of the conduit shards to local authorities. They sympathized with our plight and offered to help in any way they could, but we knew damn well that during the heat of the moment, the six of us would be on our own.

Not that it bothered me at all – as things stood, I was casually making my way down Grand Avenue with my right arm nestled under Eileen’s left. With the streets evacuated, all was quiet save for the distant wail of sirens. A crisp breeze fluttered under our clothes, causing us both to shiver and huddle even closer. I could smell the faintest bit of alcohol on Eileen’s breath. She claimed it to be a ritual of hers, a means to limber herself up before a fight. I was just hoping things wouldn’t come to that.

Grand Avenue runs south through the historic downtown before turning eastward toward the city’s more modern districts. This connection can marked by the set of twin bridges which serve as terminus for the Rollins Beltway. Below them are the remnants of an old railroad depot, although some of the tracks are still in use to this day. A strong psychic aura was emanating from the railyard, indicating that a conduit shard had to be close by.

“Oi Lana, a question for you, if’n you don’t mind.”

“Alright, what is it?”

“It occurs to me that this rock of yours increases the power of any ESPer wielding it, right? How’s it work, though?”

Good question… “I’ll admit, I was a little shocked to learn the Abstraction Sphere itself formed the material. I mean, how could the concept of a dimension or reality be turned into something tangible? Now though, it seems to almost make perfect sense.”

“How do you reckon, mate?”

“Well, our powers are not able to violate the laws of entropy. With the attacks we’ve been having lately, the drug was coercing us to feed off the energy of the ESPers around us, but the crystal isn’t doing that. Since our powers are still governed by concepts of entropy and thermodynamics, it stands to reason the crystal is merely taking our power and translating it into an evolved form.”

“…Kay, ye lost me.”

With a blush, I adjusted my bangs as we rounded the next corner. “Th-That is to say, the crystal relies on some kind of aperture mechanism to adjust the intensity of our powers. It narrows it to build up energy, then widens it to increase the reach. At least, I think that’s what it does. A professional might have a more luck explaining it…”

The twin bridges were now in sight. A cruiser drove up over one of them, approaching us with lights flashing. The officer slowed to a crawl, rolled down his window and gave us a knowing salute. Then he sped up once more, combing the streets for any stragglers who might have disregarded the emergency curfew. We need to pick up the pace.

“Reason I ask,” Eileen continued, “is I can’t get me head around this idea of the… Abstraction Sphere, is it? Just how does your mind simply go there? How are you able to make guns out of thin air and shit when I-R-L it’s impossible even with psychic power to help ye?”

“If I’m being a hundred percent honest… I don’t know. Energy itself just works… differently in the realm of fifth dimensional physics. It occupies different spaces and more efficiently at that. Maybe the Sphere is an allegory for mankind’s fragility, in that the most minor of imbalances can fundamentally alter or even destroy a person’s mind.”

“Oh…” The silence lingered as we followed a ramp down toward the old rail yard. A fog meandered between rows of decommissioned train cards, the tracks a blur in the murky security lights. “Lana, I’m gettin’ a bad vibe here.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice; I count seven bodies closing in.” Blinking a few times, I made out the subtle aura of a man climbing the train car to our immediate left. My guess was he carried a handgun and would be using the added height to increase his short-range accuracy. Farther along the track, two lay prone and another two were hiding in empty cars – snipers and guards, most likely. A sixth snuck up from behind, and in the center was…

“How we meet again, ESPer woman! I can see the magician girl is not with you; was that merely a miscalculation or a reckless decision on your part?”

“Durham Anthony, turn yourself in!” I did my best to stand tall, but my entire body was shaking. “If I have to, I will detain you by force!”

“You think your bravado can carry you? You wouldn’t make it ten meters before one of my soldiers eradicated your very existence! Fret not, for I did not come to kill you – at least, not outright. You shall be my guinea pig for another exhilarating experiment. Yes, tonight we shall blur the lines between the common man and the ESPer, and the world shall come to know the truth of the Syntax!”

As the fog broke, Durham raised his hands toward the sky. “Abstraction Gate, transpose manifest! Unify the foundation and cast down the Syntax! Lend your knowledge and bring forth transcendence!”

“Wait, what are you-!” Before I could respond, a flash of purple light knocked me backward into the gravel. Eileen called out to me, but I found myself far more focused on the waves of energy emanating from Durham’s left hand. He was holding the missing conduit shard. Dammit… He got here first after all…

Streaks of lightning scattered across the sky before plummeting toward the ground as if forming a kind of barrier. While it closely resembled the Abstraction Sphere, the affected area was much smaller, spanning a radius barely larger than the railyard itself. Whatever he had managed to invoke essentially took our surroundings and plucked them out of three-dimensional reality. No – it would instead be more appropriate to say that a fifth-dimensional reality had been superimposed upon the world around us, but what exactly did that mean in terms of battle?

“You seem a bit confused, Lana Orion, so allow me to speak in a language which your haughty arrogance can properly translate!” Durham set the shard in his pocket and brought his hands together. When he separated them, a long thin beam appeared which he gradually fashioned into a glowing katana of light. Taking it in both hands, he pointed its tip at me.

I struggled to my feet. “Eileen! Open your hands!”

“Do WHAT!?”

“Think of something!” I closed my eyes, allowing the energy of the sphere – what Durham referred to as the Syntax – to manifest into a sidearm of my own. Taking careful aim, I fired toward the center of his blade, only for him to cut the psychic bullet clean in half. Durham lunged forward, a look of madness in his eyes. I crossed my arms in front of my face, bracing for whatever might happen next.

“LANA!” There was an ear-splitting clang as Durham’s katana was stopped by Eileen. In the seconds before impact, she had managed to materialize a pair of hunting knives. For a moment, I found myself unable to look away, but then a shot from my left brought me back to my senses. It was a psychic projectile not unlike the one I had fired.

This must have been his tactic all along! When he attacked the university, he used the energy of ESPers to power up his weapons! How had the police failed to notice something as important as this!? Dammit! DAMMIT!

With no time for hesitation, I turned to my left and fired back. The shot made its mark, and with a cry of agony, the man atop the nearby train car fell to the ground. I made a run for it, Eileen continuing her assault against Durham. We were outnumbered, but we sure as hell weren’t about to be outgunned.

Thank you for clearing the wisps out, Durham. “Helicopter Strike!” Splitting off a large chunk of psychic energy, I called forth the visage of a flying drone. It hovered in the air above my left hand for several seconds before rising over the battlefield. As it locked onto the aura of one of the prone snipers, it took aim and fired. There was a cry of pain as the man collapsed. Another shot and the second sniper was subdued.

“I won’t let you hurt my friends!” Dashing between the train cars, I emptied round after round into the ones where my targets lay dazed and confused by the sudden turn of events. Try as they might to counter, they simply lacked the coordination necessary to deflect my rounds. There was one soldier left to take out, but where had he run off to?

“Surprise, bitch!” The clanging of a metal pipe against my waist brought me to my knees. I dropped my handgun which caused it to dematerialize. The drone I created began to fade as well, an indication that I was almost entirely spent. “That’s right; I figured out your little trick as soon as the fight began.”

“Impossible…” I choked, a bit of blood trickling from where I had bit my lip.

“I figured that I could blend in with the unconscious bodies of my comrades. You were so preoccupied with what was in front of you that you couldn’t see my aura mixed in with theirs. The time has come for you to die, Miss Orion. What a pity.”

The man brought his pipe above his head, ready to bring it down upon my skull. There was no way for Eileen to get to me in time. This could be it…!

“Cyclone Shot!”

“Where the- AUGH!” The man crashed into the gravel, his pipe rolling off into the distance. A golden arrow exploded from his chest, bathing him in a blinding light. When it faded, he simply lay there unconscious.

“Rhi…?” As I struggled to stand up, I could see her holding a hand to me. “How did you get in here…?”

“There’s nothing a magician girl can’t do! Now, let’s save Eileen!” Her typical grin of pride was almost infectious. Nodding, I took her hand and we raced over to where Eileen continued to hack and slash against Durham’s mighty blade. Cassandra came around from the opposite side, a large energy shield occupying both of her arms.

When Durham saw this, he stepped back from Eileen, fingers still clenched tightly to his weapon. “You meddling brats! This battle is far from over; in fact, it has only begun! You shall regret this encounter for the rest of your lives, on my life I swear it! Abstraction gate, RELEASE!”

All around us, the manufactured sphere started to collapse. The streaks of lightning fell into disarray and our weapons began to disappear, all except Rhiannon’s for reasons which should have been obvious by this point. A gust of wind drew the surrounding fog inward, and when next I looked toward where Durham had been standing, even the man’s aura had disappeared from view.

“Police! Stay where you are!” Within seconds of the barrier coming down, a specialized assault team dropped in from all sides, moving swiftly to apprehend the men we had subdued. Their tactical commander cut across the rows of track, making a beeline for our location. “Tell me what happened! Where is Durham Anthony?”

Biting my lip, I lowered my gaze to the gravel below. “He got away, officer…”

“Dammit! Strike team, set up a quadrant southbound and fanning away from the tracks! Make sure every cross-street is covered! Now then, do any of you need medical attention?”

“All’s well!” signaled Eileen, wiping strands of charred fabric from her outfit, while Rhiannon and Cassandra simply nodded in affirmation.

“I think we dodged the worst of it,” I answered, “but what bothers me is how in the hell they managed to open an Abstraction Gate in the first place.”

“Exactly what is an Abstraction Gate?” asked the commander.

“Think of it like a converter box that takes your three-dimensional self and adapts it to a five-dimensional reality. Entering the Abstraction Sphere allows an ESPer to tap into their powers on a level far greater than anything they’re capable of in a normal plane of existence.”

“What happens if a human were to jump into that reality? Are they granted psychic powers?”

“Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. In a computer program, adding attribute fields simply creates null values, and reality is no different. A human with no abilities and nothing to protect themselves might find themselves trapped inside forever, or even consumed by the Sphere itself within a matter of hours.”

“Well, shit… If that’s the case, then how the hell was he able to create that barrier thing?”

“I wish I knew, officer…” I wish I knew…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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