Chapter 16 – Hidden Discoveries
3 Days Later
Alright. One more attempt… here we go!
Pierce kicked off of the building he was standing on, launching him across the block and to the roof of another building, where he again leaped through the air to begin his trek across the city. Dusk masked his surroundings as he continued to jump through the air over the San Francisco Bay Area, searching the roads and buildings as he passed for any signs of criminal activity.
I’ve had a few days to practice punching and throwing, he mused to himself while constantly scanning the ground beneath him, if I run into anyone else with a gun, well… I’m sure I can at least avoid a repeat of last week.
He returned his attention to the rapidly darkening evening environment around him as he sped through the air up the eastern side of the bay. Fremont, Union City, and Hayward all passed by underfoot, all of them receiving a cursory glance from Pierce but little more. It was only when he entered the outskirts of Oakland that he slowed his pace and began to look more closely for any signs of suspicious activity — Oakland was his home, after all, and as such he knew it far better than the rest of the bay.
Though I shouldn’t actually go home… He glanced in the direction of his apartment building before leaping in the opposite direction. As far as his family was concerned, he was still at Caltech, near Los Angeles. While his superspeed made the trek between LA and the Bay Area a trivial endeavor, the trip would normally take five or six hours by car — which would make his presence in the area on a weeknight difficult to explain. I have my balaclava on, so at least no one should recognize me, but just to play it safe… let’s stay away from home. Though I should really find a better mask than a fucking balaclava, I look way more like a bad guy than a hero with this…
For a moment, he stopped atop a tall apartment building in downtown Oakland and peered down at the streets below. Sunset had only just passed, so the streets were still busy with people going about their evening business, be it walking home from work or hanging out with friends at a restaurant. It might be too busy right now for anything to happen… I guess I can check some alleyways. Might’ve come up here too early, though.
Instead of immediately taking off, however, he paused for another few moments to watch the city. The dusky streets were illuminated by street light, allowing him to watch the car traffic and pedestrian activity despite the late time of day. Dozens of people passed by on the streets below, all of them absorbed in wherever their own lives were taking them, and none of them looking up at the crouched, masked man who watched over them all.
At the thought of ‘looking up’, Pierce glanced skyward himself, spotting at first nothing but rapidly darkening skies and scattered dark blue clouds. Just as he was about to return his attention to the ground, however, he noticed a peculiar arrangement of lights descending through the skies toward the northern peninsula. The lights certainly didn’t match that of a normal aircraft; based on how they appeared in the sky, with three pairs of lights arranged in two rows, Pierce figured that the craft was a SERRCom transport ship, likely making a landing at the massive dam under construction across the mouth of the bay. A transport ship, huh? What the hell are they dropping off at the dam this late in the day…?
He glanced at the ground, watching the passing pedestrians for another couple seconds. …No crime in sight. Alright, then. I have the speed, and the time — let’s go check out this dam. If SERRCom’s up to something, I’ll catch them red-handed!
A second later, Pierce launched himself to the northwest, toward the bridge between Oakland and San Francisco. Within seconds, he had reached the bridge, crossed it, and then sped across the husk of San Francisco. He finally brought himself to a stop on the northern shores of the peninsula; some distance to his right was the Golden Gate Bridge, now somewhat tarnished due to consistently delayed upkeep. And to his left, stretching from the most northwestern point of the peninsula north across the mouth of the bay, was the partially-complete shell of the BARP dam. The dam itself was nothing to write home about — it simply looked like a massive wall protruding out of the water, accompanied by a host of cranes and construction ships sidled up alongside the incomplete structure. Most of the southern dam appeared to be complete, though the northern part of the dam still had large holes where the superstructure had yet to be covered with exterior walls.
After taking a moment to survey the dam, Pierce leaped toward the southern edge, where the dam met with the peninsula — and around where the SERRCom transport craft had landed. It wasn’t long before he encountered a chain-linked fence, which he wasn’t surprised to see — what did give him pause, however, was the sight of an armed guard standing just outside one of the fence gates. Armed guards? Around a dam? Pierce crouched into the shadow of a nearby vehicle as he began scanning the fence line for more guards. What the… they’re all over the place. Since when did a fucking dam need this much security? What are they trying to hide? …Wait a fucking minute, is that…? He leaped out of cover, crossing dozens of meters of dark parking lot to get closer to one of the fence gates. Now closer, he could see that two guards had stepped forward and had their guns pointed at another individual, who had their hands up in surrender. The guards were shouting something; Pierce couldn’t quite hear what, but he could see the stature and build of the person they were arresting. With a lanky frame and short height, they didn’t look any older than high school-aged, and they seemed to have short, dirty-blond hair — around the same color as Pierce’s, in fact.
“For fuck’s sake…” He scowled deeply, but didn’t waste another moment before leaping out of cover and blasting off toward the gate. In a flash, he scooped the lone person into his arms and leaped away, fleeing the premises at supersonic speeds. He only stopped a few seconds later, once he stood atop one of the hills a few kilometers to the south; once he did, he carefully set down the person he had rescued, at which point he got a good look at their face and confirmed his suspicion of their identify:
It was his sister.
“What the? Who…?” She stumbled back, her eyes wide with surprise as she stared at Pierce.
“I can’t believe—!” he started, his tone irate, but then he stopped himself. Damn it, dude, be careful. I can’t let her know who I am, so I better act like I don’t know her…
“Uh… thanks for saving me…?”
“…Hmph.” Pierce crossed his arms as he glared down at Riley. “…Call me Speed Demon.”
“Now what the hell were you doing down there?”
She frowned and looked away. “I just wanted to see what was going on over there, that’s all…”
“And so you decided to just walk up to the front gates of a fucking SERRCom site?”
“Look, I know it was hella stupid, alright? I just wanted to see if the rumors were true, that’s all. It was a dare, anyways…”
“Rumors?” Pierce shifted his hands to his hips as he regarded Riley with incredulity. “There are a hell of a lot of rumors about this stupid dam. Which ones did you think a high school girl could verify?”
She opened her mouth to respond, but then she paused and squinted her eyes. “…Do I know you? Your voice sounds familiar…”
“That’s— ahem!” Pierce cleared his throat and immediately attempted to speak with a deeper tone. “That’s not what I asked. Tell me about the rumors you were after.”
“…Something about SERRCom not being upfront with what they’re doing, that’s all. Something about the dam being too big. People think SERRCom’s up to no good.”
“And so you decided to just waltz on up to the fucking armed guards?!”
“I already said it was stupid, what more do you want from me?”
Pierce sighed and held a hand to his forehead in irritation. “You need to realize that being this hella stupid can get you killed. Do you know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t just happened to be there to save you?”
Riley averted her eyes and kicked at the ground in shame.
“I seriously can’t believe how much trouble you get yourself into…” Pierce shook his head. “Seriously, checking out a SERRCom construction site? All on your own? And on a weeknight, at that! What the hell are you doing all the way across the Bay on a weeknight? Do people know where you are?”
“What? How do you…?” Riley turned to make eye-contact with Pierce again, her expression confused. She then looked him over head to toe. “…Pierce? Is that you?”
“Wha-what?” Pierce spluttered, and then cleared his throat as he attempted to regain his composure. “Uh, no. Who’s Pierce? I don’t know anyone named Pierce…”
“I knew it, it is you, you dumbass!” Riley smirked. “Only you could come up with such a lame name as ‘Speed Demon’.”
“Shut up, it’s cool. And I already told you, I’m not Pierce. I don’t even know you.”
“Then how did you know I live ‘across the Bay’? Or that I get into trouble all the time?”
“That’s— that was, uh. …Because of my superspeed, of course! I’m hella fast, I can keep an eye on everyone in the Bay.”
“I doubt that. But if you really do, that’s hella creepy.”
“What?! I’m not—! Hmph. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Sure thing, Pierce.”
“I’m not Pierce, you deaf idiot.”
“If you aren’t, that’s a hella rude thing to call a stranger, you know?”
“Agh. Why are you always—?” Pierce stopped himself mid-sentence, but as he saw the sly grin grow on Riley’s face, he knew it was too late. “Alright, look, you irresponsible delinquent,” he began again, “you’re going to go home, now. Or else I’ll tell Mo— your mom what you were doing out here.”
“Sure, sure.” Riley nodded patronizingly. “If you tell her that, then I’ll tell her that you suddenly have superpowers.”
“That’s perfectly fine, because I’m not Pierce.”
“I didn’t say you were, that time.”
“You know what I meant, asshole.”
“…But seriously. When did you get superpowers? Can I get them?!”
“I don’t know, and I don’t know. You can’t handle them, anyways. It’s a lot of responsibility for an irresponsible person like you.”
“Now you’re not even trying to pretend that you aren’t you. You really need to work on that, if you want to make this ‘superhero’ thing work.”
“Oh shut up, I don’t need lectures from you. Look, just go home, and if someone asks, you ran into the Speed Demon tonight, not Pierce. Got it?”
“Sure, whatever, Speed Loser.”
“I swear, I’m—! Hmph. Just get out of here.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“What I’m going to do doesn’t matter to you, because I’m actually an adult who can take care of myself. Now get going before I fucking punt you across the hills!”
“And how am I supposed to do that, exactly? We’re way out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t even have any way of calling a car.”
“You…! Alright, fine.” Pierce scooped his sister back into his arms, at which point he launched himself over the hills and into the city of San Francisco proper. Within seconds, he appeared in front of a BART station, where he promptly dropped his sister onto a nearby bench. “Go home. Now!” he demanded; before she could respond, he disappeared from the scene, having just launched himself back toward the northwest with a new mission on his mind. His sister may have been careless, and the rumor she had supposedly been acting on seemed too general to be truly based on anything — yet, he couldn’t help but feel suspicious of SERRCom’s activities himself. After all, if they weren’t hiding anything, then why would they need so many armed guards?
And with my speed, I should be in and out before they can react, he mused, stopping for a moment in the parking lot that he had found just before rescuing Riley. Peeking out from behind a large vehicle, he took a close look at the guard activity around the fence — and found that several search lights had been activated, and there seemed to be more guards, all keeping a careful watch over the fence and surrounding area. …Well I guess that makes sense, they did just see Riley disappear into thin air. Let’s hope they haven’t locked down the dam itself, though!
He took several steps back and crouched down… and then he launched himself up and forward, practically flying over the guards, search lights, and fence line at Mach 1. A couple seconds later, he landed with a roll atop the dam itself, now almost a kilometer away from the point where the dam met land. The top of the dam wasn’t lit; there were a number of lights installed on both sides of the dam, so that naval ships could see it during the night, but the illumination from those lights didn’t reach the top. As such, Pierce found himself standing within a deep darkness, so he stopped for a few moments to let his eyes adjust and carefully take in his surroundings.
While standing around, a low electrical humming noise reached his ears. He glanced toward the source of the noise, to the south, where he found the transport craft he had spotted earlier — as it slowly hovered over the dam, sweeping its search lights across the top. Aw, shit. No time to stand around, huh?
Pierce whipped around and began running north along the top of the dam. As he had noticed earlier in the evening, the southern part of the dam seemed to be largely complete already; only the northern part of the dam had exposed structure, particularly around the massive unfinished locks that were intended to allow naval ships to still access the ports within the bay once the dam was complete. A few seconds later, Pierce came to the edge of the completed area of the dam. The top of the dam simply dropped off, exposing the massive steel skeleton of the structure below. Cranes and suspended scaffolding lined the dam on both sides, and hanging lights projected a minor amount of illumination within the structure — just enough for Pierce to get an idea of what it looked like. The rest of the dam remained shrouded in darkness.
Must be over a hundred meters tall… Pierce mused as he glanced over the side of the dam. He couldn’t actually see where the dam met the water’s surface, but the lights farthest down seemed to be around a hundred meters away. That seems… excessively tall. I guess they need room for the dynamos… but there should be plenty of room as is, with how long the dam is. He looked over his shoulder at the transport craft that slowly approached behind him, and then stared down at the structure of the dam below him. It looked much like a half-lit web of steel, with no sight of the bottom; if Pierce didn’t know any better, he might’ve guessed that the whole structure was suspended over a bottomless pit.
With visibility this poor, jumping around will be incredibly dangerous… but I’ve come too far to walk away without finding anything. Let’s see… it looks like there’s scaffolding down there, on the inside of the structure. If I can get down there, then I can follow it inside the dam, to the completed parts — and then I can see if SERRCom’s hiding anything. Ha! Pierce began scanning the web of steel for a path of descent, keeping a careful eye out for joints in the structure and how well the various pieces of scaffolding were secured. …Well, time to put that Mech.E. knowledge to work. Here we go!
Carefully, Pierce crouched down and then launched himself forward, over the exposed interior of the dam. He soon fell below the dam’s top, plunging himself into the sparsely-illuminated interior; a moment later, he landed on a massive crossbeam. He jumped again, this time toward a piece of scaffolding almost ten meters down and against the far side of the dam. The scaffolding rattled under the force of his landing, but it didn’t give, allowing him to turn around and search for his next landing point. A second later, he was in the air again, aiming for a final piece of scaffolding attached to the completed area of the dam.
So far, so good—! Pierce started to think as he landed with a roll atop the scaffolding, but a loud metallic snap interrupted his thoughts. With an incredible wrenching sound, the scaffolding beneath his feet began to give way, prompting him to jump away in a panic — it was only once he was already airborne that he realized he didn’t know where he was going to land. A second later, the answer came to him, as he slammed into the metallic railing of a piece of scaffolding that sat outside of any lighting. He scrambled to grab any part of the railing that he could, clutching onto it for dear life as a distant splashing noise reached his ears. Tentatively, he glanced down, though all he could see was pitch black darkness. Well, uh… this is great. This is fine. This is… not fine at all. Why is this place so dark and dangerous, what the fuck? Does SERRCom not care about OSHA regs or something?!
A nearby creaking prompted him to glance back at the scaffolding he was clutching to. His eyes had begun to adjust to the darkness, so he could see vague outlines of the metal — as well as the fact that the part he was hanging onto was slowly coming loose. Oh, for fuck’s sake! Quickly, he turned his attention back to the rest of the interior in search of a new, safe landing space, but now that he was around fifty meters below the top of the dam, he couldn’t see much. Most of the illuminated scaffolding was above him, and he wasn’t confident that he could reach it from where he was — he would have to awkwardly kick off of a thin metal pole that was coming loose, so he didn’t have much confidence in the amount of force he could use to launch himself. Damn it, there must be somewhere to land, right? …Wait, up there!
He narrowed his eyes as he looked up at where the collapsed scaffolding once was. Whether he simply hadn’t noticed it before, or lights had only just come on, he wasn’t sure, but he could now see a faintly illuminated tarp over what he assumed to be a hole in the wall of the completed area. The hole seemed to be about the size of a normal hallway — meaning there should be plenty of room for him to fit.
A metallic twang echoed through the dam interior as Pierce felt the scaffolding he was latched to jolt. Without wasting any more time, he lifted his legs to plant his feet against the metal pole and then kicked off of it, launching himself up and at the illuminated tarp. He braced himself, prepared to impact a hard wall, but to his relief he simply sailed through the tarp and rolled to a stop on solid ground. Alright… I’m inside!
A quick look at his surroundings revealed a bare-bones appearance. The hallway in which he stood was surrounded by unpainted metal bulkheads, and was illuminated by a series of faint LEDs attached to the ceiling. The walls were unmarked, though there was a door just a few meters away, complete with a large metal wheel attached to it.
Before Pierce could begin approaching the door, a metallic snap echoed through the hallway from outside. He turned around and cautiously peeked past the tarp, just in time to see the piece of scaffolding he had kicked off of collapse into the darkness below. Man, SERRCom really needs better scaffolding. …Or maybe it just wasn’t built to withstand someone kicking off of it at Mach 1. That, uh… that actually makes more sense. Oops.
Without warning, a bright light illuminated the dam interior from above. Pierce flinched away, his eyes scrounged shut in discomfort, but he quickly took another look outside to see where the light was coming from — at which point he spotted the SERRCom transport craft, hovering just above the dam. Immediately, he retreated into the hallway and away from the tarp, hoping that he hadn’t been seen. As he stood there, his attention slowly turned to the hallway door behind him. …I’m already in this far… might as well keep going.
Tentatively, he approached the door and firmly grasped the wheel attached to it. He then began turning it counter-clockwise to open the lock, moving it as slowly as he could so as to not make any noise. Two full rotations later, a soft thunk echoed through the metal bulkheads, at which point Pierce yanked the door open, jumped through, and then closed it tight. He then backed away from the door and stared at it apprehensively for several moments, his entire body tense as he watched for any sign that the transport craft had spotted him; when none came, he finally released a pent-up sigh and turned around, at which point he froze again, and his jaw dropped in awe.
Before him was a massive, wide-open space, stretching from the top of the dam fifty meters above him, to far below him. He cautiously approached the metal railing of the small walkway on which he stood and looked over it in an effort to see the ground; by his estimation, parts of the open area extended over two hundred meters below the walkway. He felt a shudder involuntarily cross his body — he had stood atop far taller buildings before and felt perfectly fine, but something about the fact that he was inside a massive structure unsettled him.
The open space seemed to extend horizontally down the length of the dam for several hundred meters before stopping at another giant bulkhead. The intermediate space was filled with massive support columns and crossbeams, and all along the bottom, below the waterline, Pierce could see outlines of the platforms on which the dam’s water pumps and dynamos would likely be anchored. As he looked over the massive space, something else caught his eye — particularly, there were four large circular holes in the distant bulkhead, two on top and two on bottom, as though to allow a series of massive pipes through. These holes were far above the waterline, however, and seemed to run the length of the dam, as opposed to the width — which is the direction that water would actually be pumped.
That’s weird… Pierce narrowed his eyes as he began running down the walkway to get a closer look at the massive holes. What could that be? I’m no electrical engineer, so I don’t know a lot about power generation, but that doesn’t look anything like hydrodynamic power OR tubes for pumping water. It must be something else. At that point, he stopped running to take another look at the area below him. Now that I think about it, the mouth of the bay shouldn’t be much more than a hundred meters deep, but this cavity looks like it goes down another fifty-ish meters below that. Why the hell did they excavate that much space? There’s no way they need that much room for pumps, or generators, or even the foundation. It seems like something fishy really IS going on here…
He glanced around himself; the open area was faintly lit by hundreds of lights installed all over the structure, but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of human activity. Warily, he turned around and sped over to the bulkhead with the circular holes, at which point he leaped up to one of the holes to inspect it. Once perched at the edge, he was able to see that the hole was indeed attached to a long tube. He couldn’t see very far down the tube, as it wasn’t illuminated, but the part that he could see seemed to be nearly ten meters in diameter, and was lined with metal plating interspersed with bundles of wires, running lengthwise down the tube. Wires? This definitely isn’t for water, then. But what is it? …I feel like I’ve seen something like this before. Hmm…
He whipped around and jumped back to the walkway, at which point he turned back to face the massive bulkhead. Each of the other holes had the same size and appearance as the one he had inspected, and on a closer look, they seemed to be evenly spaced apart, with just over twenty meters between hole edges, and over ten meters from any surrounding walls. Now that I look at it, it’s like the holes I can see are only the center parts of larger tubes. Hmm. If that’s true, and my estimation of the dimensions are right, then… each tube is really around ten meters thick, with a ten meter open space in the center. And they’re made of metal, with a lot of wires running their length. The only thing I can think of that would be made like that is some kind of electromagnet, but… wait, is that it? Pierce stared up at the holes with a mixture of realization and confusion. Are these… particle accelerators? Really? But why?
Not even ten meters away from Pierce, along the walkway he was standing on, a door in the massive bulkhead slowly swung open. Reflexively, Pierce launched himself back into one of the massive bulkhead holes and pressed himself against the metal tubing in an effort to hide from view.
Barely a second later, the sound of hard boots on metal began echoing through the massive man-made cavern. Through the corner of his eye, Pierce could see a patch of light slowly sweep across the bulkhead walls, as though someone was scanning them with a flashlight.
“Do you see anything?”
Pierce pursed his lips as a man’s voice reached his ears. Well, shit…
“…I don’t think so…” another man’s voice replied. “But this is a pretty big place. Could take a while to search.”
“You wanna call in some help?”
Well this is annoying… Pierce eyed the bulkhead several hundred meters away, and the door he had used to first enter the dam. …I need to leave. But how the hell can I get over there without them seeing me…?
“I don’t know…” the second man eventually replied. Pierce couldn’t see where his flashlight was pointing, but he could tell that he seemed to have stopped on the walkway. “…I’m kinda skeptical that there’s anyone here in the first place.”
“You know we’re supposed to take all intrusion reports seriously.”
“Yeah, but there wasn’t actually an intrusion, just some idiot trying to make it through the front gates.”
Riley… Pierce scowled. I really should’ve waited for another day to do this. Damn me and my impatience…
“It wasn’t just that, though,” the first man argued, “the gate guards claimed that the intruder just disappeared, into thin air!”
“Sounds like a load of bullshit to me, honestly.”
“It sounds like a Chaotic. And if it was, do you know what that could mean?”
“If the Chief honestly thought there was a Chaotic around here, then we’d be doing sensor sweeps on top of manual ones, and handing out portable CENT generators. But we aren’t. That means no Chaotics.”
“…Well, I guess…”
“Anyways, we’ve spent enough time here. Let’s check this section off and head back to the guardhouse.”
Finally… Pierce released a sigh and began to approach the tube’s exit, only to stop and jump backward as a beam of light fell on the far side of the tube in which he hid and began to slowly sweep across it.
“Hey…” came the first man’s voice, “…you don’t think anyone’s hiding up there, do you?”
“Hiding? In those tubes? Ha!” The second man’s scoff was so loud that it echoed longer than the rest of his statement. “And how the hell would anyone even get up there?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time someone was trapped in there…”
“Oh please. Don’t tell me you buy into those stupid ghost stories? There’s nothing in those tubes but metal and wires, now let’s get going already. We’re going to be late enough for dinner, as is.”
The sound of footsteps began again to echo through the air, though the beam of light remained on the tube for several more seconds.
“Damn it, Akshay, let it go already!”
More footsteps reached Pierce’s ears — and the light finally disappeared. Even so, Pierce remained completely still for several more seconds as footsteps continued to echo through the massive open area. It was only when he heard the bang of the door closing that he began to move, and he did so quickly. Spinning on his heel, he launched himself back to the walkway and then sped over to the far bulkhead in a split-second, where he blasted the door open with a kick and threw himself outside. Once outside and next to the tarp, Pierce threw it aside and leaped directly upward, smashing through a weaker part of the dam top and then grabbing onto the ledge that remained. With a grunt of effort, he managed to pull himself up onto the top of the dam, at which point he wasted no time in blasting off to the south. Within seconds, he was clear of the dam.
“Shit…” he muttered under his breath as he came to a brief stop in the peninsula hills. Now free of immediate danger, he was able to begin catching his breath, and as he did so, he considered everything he had just seen. He may not have been an electrical engineer, but mechanical engineering was an adjacent discipline, and Pierce felt that he had learned enough so far to determine that the dam had to have some kind of ulterior purpose. What stuck out most to him were the odd tubes that he had found — could they truly be particle accelerators? And if they were, what was SERRCom hoping to accomplish by installing them inside the dam — and why would they feel the need to keep the accelerators’ presence a secret?
“Figures that SERRCom is up to no good,” Pierce muttered, and then turned toward the south and began running down the peninsula. He possessed many questions, but there was no way for him to get answers — not tonight. All that was left was to return to his dorm room, and continue preparing for the upcoming academic year.