Power Box Drain

“Ask him are they alive or dead,” Tee Pom says.

“Alive, he says.” Dance can hear the change in his doppelganger’s voice. “They were alive when he left them.” The cracked and urgent voice goes on. “He says he hopes they are still alive.”

“Don’t want any more murder charges on his ass?”

“No charges yet,” Tee Pom warns Michel’s boys.  “All right, who’s with me? Good. I’ll be in my truck, you lead.” Dust boils up as trucks roll out. Hyphen can only duck his head and cough.

“They will go? Please tell me…”

“Yes, they are going. Do you know,” Dance says, “who I am?”

The wrapped figure twists painfully to face him. “Yob tvoyu mat.” Hyphen grunts. “Yes, I know who you are, you bastard. I see pictures.”

“Can you be calm?” Dance watches his twin take a deep breath. There’s something setting his teeth on edge, like a sound that makes his teeth hurt. Even as Hyphen slows down, the… sound, very high, nearly inaudible, gets shriller and more painful. Dance takes a few steps to the side. Then a few more, and as he comes around the struggling figure, the sound sharpens.  When the man turns, all the noises shift with him. It’s the other naga’s power box, Dance realises, and the whole world lurches with the sudden twist of fear.

Dance gives a little showman’s flourish with the tail, and extends his hands to the crowd. “Would you mind moving back, please? For your safety, please. There could be an accident.”

“What’s up?” Emma asks him while people are distracted, jostling. They’ve cleared maybe three more feet of space. It’s a joke. He can’t get enough room to turn around in a fight, let alone keep them safe, or use his canopy.  He’s going to need it.

“I’m going to drain his power down before he blows us all up,” Dance says, as patiently as he can.

“Blows– right. How much more space?”

“Miles! We must get people away.” Dance frowns. It’s hard to think of the words. “Ahh, you must not hear it. I am having teeth on edge from a high frequency sensation you might call… a creepy-sounding whine. It makes things… resonate. While… my system can insist on stabilizing this… field effect… he is generating… and not knowing it… ” he makes a face. It’s hard to remember the right words. “Better to reduce his power overload. Trying to kill him will destabilize it… badly. I must drain his… power box… which will give him better overload limits.”

Drin’s hand lands on his shoulders. “I’m sure you’re right. Look how the lights react whenever Hyphen moves.”

It’s true. Dance barely noticed that side-effect, blinded in the sea of power gradients swamping the open space, making him nauseated.

“Did you get Preacher?” Drin’s voice, steady as a rock.

Emma nods. “On his way. May take him an hour or so. Can you wait till then?”

“I think we don’t have an hour.”  Hyphen’s screaming tirade– the women, the wharf, as if no one had heard or believed him– are running on and on, a nightmare litany that makes Dance feel helpless and wobbly.

“The truck went to get them,” he tells Hyphen, loudly, in Korean. “Stop, you must calm down. You are going to hurt yourself.”

Hyphen barks laughter at that. “I’m already hurt. My world is… is hurt.” His face screws up, like a puzzled child. “World,” he says again.

There’s a pop, and shrieks, as one of the light bulbs on the outside of the building blows out.

“Get back,” Dance says to the crowd. Tremors are running through his legs. He keeps the tail rolled up tightly, to keep all the shaking from becoming visible to everybody. “Move back.”

Michel, and Emma and Drin, and Grace move through the crowd, guiding people away. Not that a mere hundred feet will be safe, but the illusion is soothing.

“Give me a sightline to the power cables,” he calls out, and people have begun to listen once more, they start moving right and left across the field until there’s a broad corridor opened straight before him and his… his brother.

Drin trots back. “What do you need from us, Dance?”

Dance grips his hands together, pushes them against his clenched gut muscles, to stop them shaking. Deep breaths. The power whine is drilling his skull in half. “Maybe water, something for him to drink, later on we get into it. He’s in pain, can’t stop overload, can’t get away from the unstable fields–”

“Get a pitcher of ice water,” Drin says to somebody. “Anything else?”

Dance tries to think. “Move away– drive away the truck?” he says doubtfully, and hears Drin’s field-voice booming, giving the orders.

Hyphen totters, Dance shoots out one hand in warning, but with the sickeningly high field gradients squeezed between them, he doesn’t dare touch.  “No– no, don’t let him fall– down–he needs to be on the ground–”

Michel’s gator-wrestling boys are suddenly right there to catch Hyphen, to move in with blessedly electrically neutral human hands, to lay him down at Dance’s gestures.

“Don’t touch his back. Good, let him sit. Move the truck please–” at last the truck roars into life and moves away.

Dance pulls off his shirt, lurching a bit. “Forty foot canopy pop out. Please more room for that side, and that one. More, please. Thank you.” He leans forward, touching his hands to the damp ground. Things unroll. Readjusted blood pressure goes booming through his whole body as the flap of glittery skin around his neck billows outward in an explosion of rainbows and stiffening struts.

“Emma? Do you have anything to help me… anything you can remember?”

“If you give me a minute.” Emma’s face is pinched with worry. He’s seen her when this… strange memory trick starts playing, and he watches her tic and grimace and frown as if from a long way off.  His own heartbeat is so loud, the blood is rushing in his ears.  She says, “Right, this might be– a little difficult–”

Under Emma’s directions, he shifts how he’s leaning down, feels how adjustments in the struts are shunting blood. His parasail makes a double set of cells, hollow at the back, closed at the front, standing upright in its laser-cannon curl over his shoulders. He pushes it up gently until the top of it rises clear of his head.

“Can you stand up straight?” Emma asks. Her hands rub over the canopy skin, testing the tension of it so gently, so delicately.

The closed front surface snugs down behind his head, and the back of it keeps rising, tilting, curling inward at the tips, tipped upward until it has become a big hollow shell towering over his head. It threatens to overbalance him, and his tail tip comes up and twitches here and there at the struts, pushing in places, adjusting things. Then his tail settles down into a wide coil, and Dance bends his knees, settling his weight down into the support of his tail, bracing up against a wind that none of the others can feel.

“Get back please,” he says.

The man restrained by the duct tape is looking up at Dance, Dance’s own eyes staring back at himself.

Dance starts to hum gently, echoing in that shell.

There is a scream, in Hyphen’s hoarse and ragged voice.

Dance feels like screaming too. But that won’t do. One of them has to be sober, sane, fully awake, one of them has to control their combined fields, keep calm about this whole thing. One of them has to figure it out. Dance starts fumbling among the wavering, uncertain fields, looking for power sinks that won’t arc or leak or backfire.

Dance feels, more than sees, people talking and scrambling around him.  Emma says something, sharply.  Someone darts around the side of the building. Dance can feel the change when the the breakers bang off the building. The music inside goes silent. The only lights left are from the generator–until it gets shut down too, and then the lightbulbs on the little stands go out. It’s calmer, by a very little bit.

In the darkness, Dance tilts back his head, and finds a path threading through the lightning and iron-filing storm. The little lights go back on. The music inside the building goes back on, the lights inside shine out again. After a moment or two, lights in a half dozen of the nearest dark buildings down the street go back on, and Dance is leaning back, clenching his jaw, lips peeling back as that high continuous sound streams past his ears, aimed by the shell that is part of him.

Hyphen is screaming out as loud as he can, mouth gaping open. The screaming, the ragged, breathless cries keep coming from the man writhing in the duct tape.

“Ya see my watch?” Lafayette’s voice says. “Plumb crazy!”

After a few more moments, the lights in all the parked vehicles down the street turn themselves on.

“Shit,” Emma and Michel say in unity– very quietly, but Dance hears them.

Dance manages not to fire off vehicle ignitions when he’s pouring juice through the headlights; it’s hard, but he does. None of the engines turn over. No engines. No heaters. No fans. Nothing that moves. Just lights. More lights go on down along the houseboats. He’s pushing it into the nearest powerlines, pushing all that energy almost faster than the lines can absorb it.

“Careful, careful man, you don’t want to overload those transformers here, they ain’t built for really high level stuff,” ‘Toine says to Dance, as if Dance can hear him past everything else he’s doing.

It hurts to take the attention to do it, but Dance nods. Yes, he heard ‘Toine. He will try to be careful.

The man in the duct tape is rolling about like a worm, screaming and struggling, apparently trying to get closer to Dance. Maybe he doesn’t have any choice about it, either.

To calm him, Dance’s tail lifts, stirs, and he shuffles forward nearer to Hyphen– and steps into a place where everything is still. Hyphen is quiet, gasping with the aftermath.  The overwhelming grating frequencies are gone.  He can hear only a few simpler harmonies, all well within the pain threshold.

Dance is not moving, his body grows heavier, set in stone, he’s not going anywhere. He doesn’t dare move any more, with all those confusing magnetic fields going at once.

“You want him yanked back off you, Dance?”

Dance’s hand comes up, flattens, makes the ‘no’ gesture they’ve used on raids.


The canopy tightens in closer around Dance’s head, and Dance draws in a deep breath, and the lights and the music in the building die out. But not the vehicle lights, not the house lights, and not the lights in the little stands nearby.
Reach farther, Dance says, just lips moving, unable to tell if he is speaking it into the air at all. He pulls on the fields from the other naga. You can help me do this. Save your life. Save your women. Help me reach further.

The power plant is in a complicated jury-rigged web of power lines, only three-quarters of them actually on the owners’ maps. It glows in the distance among the lines, some distance over the horizon.

Push it there, Dance whispers. They need it. They can use it, they can spread it for us. It’s been so hot today. They’re on power conservation, nearly brownout, warnings. Give it to them. All those air-conditioners and tvs and radios and fridges and stoves and–

Take it, Hyphen yells at him.

It’s like having a massive hand grip him all over his body, and squeeze. Too much for his skin. He’s overflowing.

There, put it there! Dance shrieks.

Streams mingle together and they both are vomiting power into the lines, the glow in the distance brightens unexpectedly, relays are issuing warnings and some failure points light up red bulbs. Speakers and klaxons are pulsing, dials running backwards.

You could power the whole grid for the Southeast with this sonuvabitch, says one of the nearby telephone lines, but Dance can’t tell who’s reporting or who is listening.

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