Delphi’s underbelly was fascinating! By virtue of humanity, cities were organic. They grew with the needs of their masters, layer upon layer, stacked in a strata of necessity, or whatever was considered a necessity at the time. Delphi was no exception. More than half the city was a mess of amalgamated infrastructure, a chaos of cables and sewers, severed and spliced, rerouted and terminated to form a twisted forest of subterranean toys, tossed about carelessly, or lost when they were outgrown.
And so, to one side was weakness.
Exploiting such compromised systems was trivial.
On the other side was well thought out redundancy. A complex of fail safes that required precise, simultaneous strikes.
Utilities were an exercise in forethought: substructures, fiber, power, antennas, superconductors, liquid nitrogen tubes, transportation systems, and battery backup nodes, lesser portions of Delphi’s foundation were laid out with the meticulous foresight of its namesake.
Aberrant behavior often mitigated from the intrusion of outside influence.
Did it begin? Did it end? Where to tug?
To facilitate exacting knowledge the attendants would play a larger role than ever before. Delphi was an intricate creature. It required a shrewd touch.
…a pulse, just to find the buffer, just to set the trail…
Networks were arbitrarily complex. Predictable.
…a pulse, another crumb for a wayward child…
Skitter! Up and around. Down and through. Never seen. Never heard. Just to glide.
...up to nestle, up to wait…
A small blackness took the night. Controlled. Isolated. Enlightening…
Cars impacted ground. Windows went dark. Thousands of tiny voices rose up in alarm. Confusion swathed those never without power. Never without light.
There were places that did not go dark. Places too tangled to be without. Islands of light in a vast, black sea.
Thus, knowledge is gained.
“It is done,” it said.
Attendants shifted. Away from implication. On to the next task. To map, infiltrate, and understand, the darkness obscuring their departure.
Stillness was waiting. Waiting for the right moment. Waiting for the invitation to be accepted.
...oh to be seen…
...to be heard.
Billy loved Uptown. Loved Delphi. The thousand sights and sounds of a budding metropolis. A city that never slept. What wasn’t there to love?
Peering out from the alleyway, Billy could smell the sizzling crack of fried food and the fine perfume of sophisticated ladies. Business first. He just had to finish a little work, then he’d indulge the pleasure of a well deserved rest.
Even Uptown had it’s dark spots. Not many, but every district needed somewhere for the shit to go. A place where delivery trucks could slink in and garbage trucks could lumber out. Some poor sucker would turn up sooner or later. Billy knew, because he’d made the pilgrimage once or twice himself.
Sure enough, it was only a few minutes before one of the filthy back alley doors popped open and a poor drunken slob poured out. He was middle age - middle management by the look of his middling priced suit. Probably having a pretty good time based on the sloppy smile plastered all over his stumbling face.
“Hey man, whats up?” Billy asked with a congenial smile.
“Jus’ takin’ a piss.” The man slurred, jovially wobbling sideways toward a nook in the alley. “Thank god for the big pisser. Seems like nobody's got a proper bathroom anymore.”
Billy let the man finish his business. It would save some cleanup later on.
Taking a last quick peek to make sure his new friend was alone, Billy grabbed him by the collar and threw him deeper into the alley, pulling with such incredible force and speed that the man's neck snapped, killing him instantly. The body flew limply for a few seconds before landing heavily in the general area of a shadowed manhole.
“I thought this was supposed to be hard.” Billy spoke to the dead man, self congratulatory at the successful execution of his new duties.
Billy lifted the manhole cover and stuffed the body down inside. He was just replacing the lid when his phone buzzed in his pocket.
“Oh, hey Lilith. Yeah, I was just finishing up… One more, okay, no problem.”
Billy placed his phone snugly back in his pocket and took a look around. Just a hop down the alley, Billy could hear the crumpling, rummaging sound as something rustled through a nearby mound of trash. Moving toward the sound, Billy was happy to see a dingy homeless man just sitting and waiting for Billy to harvest him.
“Sorry pops, nothin’ personal.” Billy reached his hand down to grab the man by the hair and to his complete shock the man turned without warning, catching Billy’s arm with a jagged row of fingernails and pushing him back before scampering deeper into the shadows.”
“What the fuck?” Billy muttered to himself, stalking carefully after the crazed adversary. The man was chewing ferociously at something long and rotten. The closer Billy got the more rank and recognizable the smell became. As his eyes slowly acclimated to the dim light, Billy saw the distinct form of a decomposing human arm.
“Ugh,” Billy moaned, slowly moving closer. The ravenous creature backed away warily, holding on to its fleshy prize.
“Hell of a thing, isn’t it Billy Boy.”
Billy looked up, searching the dark for the source of the strangely familiar voice.
“...Cartwright?” Billy whispered, shocked as the rugged veteran stepped into sight, the tattered edges of his cabby hat unmistakable. It was Cartwright, it couldn’t possibly be anyone else, but he was different somehow. His face seemed paler, his eyes seemed cloudy. A large scar with exaggerated cross shaped stitches wrapped his neck from ear to ear. “That’s impossible^”
“Impossible isn’t what it used to be.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I have a message for Lilith… I was hoping you could pass it on for me. These are trying times, Lilith, we all will be tested…”
“Wait, are you the… Jesus.” In this instant he realized. All the problems lately. The disappearances. His dead friends. This man was the reason.
The sound of the back alley rang with a click as a blade leapt from Cartwright’s switchblade.
“I heard you’re a tough fuck.” Cartwright spoke, squaring up. “A real contender.”
Billy held his ground, uncertain what to do. He probably didn’t have long to act if the stories were true. He could run for help, or attack head on. Both had a devastating chance of failure.
The night surged. The lights of Uptown went black, cars crashed, people screamed, Billy made his move.
Billy was fast. Not the speed of a mortal man, but an otherworldly speed, the speed of a man that was blessed. Before Cartwright could even twitch, Billy was upon him.
Billy cocked his arm for a fatal blow; Cartwright flickered, moved like a flash. Billy twisted his head to follow the motion; Cartwright leaned calmly against a dingy brick wall, a fat smug smile on his sly pale face.
“Oh shit…” Billy started the thought, but never finished as he ploughed head first into a solid concrete wall.
Cartwright moved over to Billy’s nearly lifeless body, grabbing his hair and lifting his head upward. “We’ll all be tested Billy, do you think you can remember? We’ll all be tested.”
Billy didn’t respond.
“Hmm.” Cartwright snorted. Billy felt the cold of the switchblade against his neck. “Never mind,” He heard Cartwright say. “I think I’ll just jot it down.” Slowly, Cartwright drew the blade across Billy’s neck. “Think she'll get the message, Billy Boy? Guess we’ll see.”
Py made his way to the underground lab that housed the Alice facility. Py had a splinter chewing at the back of his mind ever since he’d gone with Logan to see Evelyn. Alice had made a comment, an off hand comment. Py had tried hard to push it out of his head, but the more he resisted the idea the more it wrestled past his other thoughts until it bordered on obsession.
“Hi Aster.” Py spoke as he approached the reception area, a little surprised to see her at the desk so close to the ‘needles errand hour’. “Is the Doctor in?”
“Hey Py, sorry but the Doctor’s out. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No, it’s alright, I just had a few questions for him.”
“Have you tried calling him?”
“I did, but I think he’s blacklisted my number.”
“Yeah, he’ll do that^ Let me see if I can find him.” She pulled out her phone and with a few quick taps she entered the number. An instant later the phone blared ‘EMERGENCY, SERVICE UNAVAILABLE, PLEASE COORDINATE WITH CRISIS RESPONDERS IN YOUR AREA.’’
“What was that?” Aster asked in surprise.
“It happens when service is disconnected unexpectedly, usually a storm or something.” Py said. “Haven’t seen it in a long time.”
Aster was still staring at the screen when her phone made another ding. “Oh, it’s a news update… There’s a blackout in Uptown! I’ve never heard of that happening before. Anyway, since you came all this way, why don’t you sit down and I’ll grab you some coffee.”
“No… That’s fine.” Aster must have seen some hesitation on his face at the mention of the lab brew, because she pursed her lips and placed a finger over them in a shushing motion. Py watched with curiosity as Aster reached under her desk and heard a click as the sudden smell of coffee filled the reception area. She opened a drawer at her side and pulled out a disposable cup that Py assumed Aster had obtained at some far off cafe based on the branding displayed prominently on one side. Aster pulled a mug from beneath her desk and poured the fresh coffee into the cup before handing it to Py with a smile.
“Usually when the Doctor sends me out for coffee I just hit the gym. When I get back I sneak a little from the machine I brought from home.”
“You’re probably the only person in this whole place who’s really got him figured out.” Py said, taking a drink from the cup.
“We’ve actually known each other a pretty long time. Though I doubt he’d admit it.”
Py settled into one of the comfy waiting room chairs and sipped diligently at his coffee. His mind wandering to a thousand lonely places: Evelyn, Alleyman, drug dealers, and murderers. Feeling wiser by the day and no closer to his goal.
“Py,” Aster asked tentatively, “is it important?”
“No,” Py replied, standing to go. “It’ll keep.”
As Py approached the desk to toss his cup into the recycling he saw a look of unexpected sadness on Aster’s face, staring thoughtfully down toward the floor, as if she were trying to make a decision.
“If you want, I think I know where you can find him.”