Monday, April 03, 2006

Abstract, Chapter 4

Season 3, sequel to "Whisper"
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC comics, not to me

“You all right, kid?”

I opened my eyes to find the motorcyclist looking down at me. There was a lump on his forehead, but otherwise he appeared to be okay. He looked worried, which made sense if he’d heard the two gunshots. He probably figured I was bleeding to death on the sidewalk.

“I’m fine,” I said, trying to sit up. “He didn’t get me. I guess I just kind of passed out.”

That was kind of an embarrassing thing to admit, particularly to a huge, leather-jacketed, tattooed guy who was pretty much a walking advertisement for testosterone. But I figured it was better to have him think I was a wimp than an alien. He slung a thick, beefy arm around my shoulders and helped me to my feet.

I looked around the parking lot and saw Chloe’s Beetle was gone. Hell. I knew she’d never voluntarily leave me believing I’d been shot, so Chameleon Guy must have decided she’d be a convenient chauffeur for his getaway.

“Looking for your girlfriend?”

I was in a hurry, so I didn’t bother to correct him. “Yeah.”

“I saw the car go that way,” he said, pointing toward the city skyline.

“Thanks,” I said, and started to jog away. I was so worried about Chlo I’d almost forgotten about my nausea and headache, but my body promptly reminded me. I staggered and almost fell—something I never do.

“What, are you gonna chase it on foot?” he said. “Don’t be stupid, kid. Climb on the back of my bike and I’ll give you a ride.”

I thought about the level of noise the bike produced and winced. “No thanks,” I said. “I really don’t think we have much chance of finding them, anyway. Do you have a cell phone? Could you maybe call the cops?”

“I think the guy who owns the store already called them. But I’ll make sure.”He ducked inside the glass doors. I steeled myself against the headache and sick stomach, then jumped into superspeed and headed east, toward the city. Every step hurt, sending jolts of pain through my skull, but I managed to keep on my feet, knowing I couldn't give in to weakness again. Chloe needed me.

She was out there somewhere. I had to believe that, because I couldn't face the possibility that she was dead. But where was she? In a city of eight million people, she was like the proverbial needle in a haystack. Even if the biker dude was right, and I was heading in the right direction, the odds of finding her Beetle on the congested roads of the city weren’t good.

Ignoring the aching pain in my head, I considered the problem. I thought about how I’d managed to learn to focus my hearing to find Pete, my buddy who’d been abducted a couple days after my superhearing had developed. But that had been in Smallville. A town of 45,000 people is totally different from a city of eight million. And I’d had a clue to Pete’s whereabouts—he’d been kidnapped in a tow truck with a very distinctive rattle. Otherwise I might never have found him.

I didn’t have the slightest clue where Chloe might be, and there were probably thousands of VW Beetles in the city, so listening for her car wasn’t an option. There wasn’t anything particularly distinctive about its sound.

Then again, I remembered something that gave me a flicker of hope. When my superhearing had first developed, the very first voice I’d zeroed in on had been Chloe's.

It was weird, really. I’d been standing there in the school hallway with Pete, just starting to cope with my blindness. I’d come to school to collect a few school books, and suddenly all these noises had started assaulting me at once. Feet hitting the floor, locker doors opening and closing, book pages rustling. The sounds had been so shockingly loud I almost fell over. And then suddenly, as clear as a church bell on Sunday, I had heard Chloe’s voice. She was talking on the phone, and according to Pete she was nowhere nearby, but I could hear her like she was standing right next to me and shouting in my ear. It was as if she and I were suddenly on the same frequency somehow.

I wondered if I could find her if I listened for her now, if I could somehow tune back into that frequency. In a city of eight million people, it seemed wildly unlikely. But it was the best hope I had.

The only hope I had.

I came to a halt, because the wind whistling in my ears didn’t do much to help me sort out the vast quantity of sounds I was hearing. I'd stopped under a bridge, and a scruffy homeless guy looked at me with a sort of vague surprise. I ignored him and started trying to tune into different sounds, sort of like running up and down the radio dial. Millions of voices talking at once, millions of car engines roaring, jet planes flying overhead, stereos blasting—I tried to tune it all out, or at least let them fade into white noise, let them become a background hum instead of an overwhelming roar.

Listening for Chloe was like focusing on a single spot of color in a Jackson Pollock painting, I thought. I just had to look at that single spot and let the rest of them fade out. The only problem was, I wasn’t sure where that single spot was.

Chloe, I thought, and listened hard.

After several moments I thought I heard something. A fast, rhythmic thudding. A heartbeat.

That was crazy, I thought with despair. There was no possible way I was hearing Chloe’s heartbeat, out of all the heartbeats in the giant abstract painting that was the city. It probably belonged to the homeless guy, who had apparently forgotten my presence and was picking his nose. I’d thought maybe if I focused really hard, I could hear her voice raised angrily as she berated the guy who’d carjacked her beloved Beetle and taken her along for the ride. But picking out the sound of her heartbeat amidst all the other sounds of the city seemed ludicrously impossible.

Even so, I kept listening. And the more I listened, the more I was sure that heartbeat didn’t belong to the homeless guy. It was quite some distance away, and I could hear it getting more distant as I listened.

I had somehow focused in on one single heartbeat, out of eight million. I’d found the single spot I was looking for in the painting.

Hardly daring to believe it was really Chloe’s heartbeat, I started racing toward the sound. I focused on that one steady beat and let everything else go. All the other noises of the city seemed to recede, to fade to white noise, and my head started to feel less like it might explode.

In less than a minute, I had traversed five miles, and I spotted a red Beetle right in front of me.

I slowed down to a more normal pace as the Beetle made its way through the heavy traffic of the city. I figured the guy still had a gun pointed at Chloe, or she’d have managed to jump out and get away from him by now. I couldn’t do anything dramatic that might get her killed, like grabbing the back bumper and forcing the car to a stop.

Besides, I was still uncomfortably conscious that Chloe had made an agreement with Lionel to tell him everything she found out about me. I really didn’t think she’d betray me that way, and I honestly believed she was sorry, but I still didn’t want her to see me use my powers if I could possibly help it. The fewer people who knew about me, the better. I paced the car, running along the sidewalk at more-or-less normal speed, and looked inside.

Chameleon Guy was definitely there, sitting in the passenger seat. He was difficult to spot with normal vision, but if I stared hard I could see his skin changing colors rapidly as the car moved, trying to match the background. The chromatophores in his skin couldn’t keep up with the flow, however, and he looked more like a moving abstract painting than ever. I didn’t see the gun, but I guessed he was holding it down low, where other drivers wouldn’t see it. Chloe looked frightened and angry at the same time, her hands gripping the wheel so hard her knuckles were white.

I figured she was minutes away from doing something crazy, like deliberately crashing the car into a building. Going peaceably along with something she didn’t want to do had never been Chloe’s style.

Sirens blared loudly as a fire truck went past me, and a car backfired nearby, but I didn’t flinch. I was totally focused on Chloe’s heartbeat, and the sounds of the city had receded to a totally bearable hum. For the first time since we’d come within twenty miles of Metropolis, I felt like myself again.

Read Chapter 5 here.

1 comment:

blackheart_me said...

Love the biker dude and it's just the beginning. But i'm worried he's abotu to go into the city when he knows the noise could practically make him pass out again. AHH how I love the connection you wrote up :D. About his superhearing kicking in and the first voice he "channeled" to was Chloe ^_^ Ahh the sting of the past. Chloe's deal with Lionel rlly scarred their friendship =\ WOOT! loved ur end of the chapter :)