Based on the chapter you just read, the black-nailed man is:
33.3% - A good Guy
66.6% - Best left mysterious for now.
0% - A bad guy
What should the black-nailed man do next?
60% - Go outside and inspect the car
40% - Other
0% - Picks up one of the interlopers to take them out to the car
0% - Give the diner staff another sedative.
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Need to catch up? Read Chapter One.
The black - nailed man took his com unit out of his coat pocket. The device appeared as an everyday, run - of - the - mill, nothing - to - look - here cell phone. He held it in his left hand and placed the back of it against all four nails of his right hand. His fingers tingled as the device scanned and ascertained his identity. Two seconds later, the screen lit up, revealing icons that would never appear on any commercial mobile device in the black - nailed man’s here - now. He tapped the icon of a black anvil on a white shield. The com unit buzzed, and he held it up to his face as he walked to the front door of the diner.
“Report,” said the monotone voice on the other end of the com.
“I have two interlopers in restraints needing transport,” the black - nailed man said. “One male, local ID claiming him as Arden Sunback. One female, local ID claiming her as Madison Greenrise. Both are tagged. Both show signs of aesthetic augmentation; however, subdued with cerulean stun with no issues. Interlopers appeared to have arrived in a black sedan. Moving to investigate the vehicle. All locals on the scene are sedated, and should remain so for at least twenty minutes.”
“A black sedan?” the monotone asked.
“A black sedan,” the black - nailed man confirmed.
“Why do they always come here in a black sedan?
“Maybe black sedans are really popular in other where - whens,” the black - nailed man said. “Or maybe someone smuggled a bunch of late Twentieth Century entertainment to other where - whens, and they think those are a factual representation of our here - now.”
“One of those questions we may never have answered,” the monotone said. “Extraction team prepping. ETA ten minutes.”
“Copy that. Agent out.”
He slipped the com unit back into the pocket of his peat coat. Tapping his fingers, he set a ten - minute countdown on his retinal display.
Outside, the rain from earlier in the evening had settled to a drizzle, where tiny droplets of water seemed to hang and swirl in the air. Light from the lamp posts on either end of the parking lot shone against the mist giving the parking lot a kaleidoscopic look.
Standing just outside the diner, the black - nailed man looked over the parking lot. The black sedan was the only vehicle in sight, but that didn’t mean the parking lot was clear of danger. Interlopers from other where - whens often brought their strange technology with them, which included some fairly sophisticated and terrifying defensive weaponry. Just two assignments back, the black - nailed man had barely escaped being vaporized by some land - mine - like device no larger than a quarter. He couldn’t wait to see what kind of augmentation R & D came up with after reverse engineering that nugget of technology.
After sixty seconds of observing the parking lot, he saw nothing, heard nothing, and other than the slight pulse of residual cerulean energy emanating from the vehicle, the black - nailed man sensed no other cerulean sources and detection no breaches to the current where - when.
With nine minutes to the extraction team, the black - nailed man crossed the parking lot. The whole while he kept his senses open for any further intrusions.
When he reached the sedan, the black - nailed man placed his hand on the roof. The car was native to the current where - when. That made the situation far less problematic than it might have been otherwise. Dealing with an object of this size could cause serious ripples throughout the here - now. Despite all his skill and talent, the black - nailed man never took a bit of good fortune for granted. Too many agents died in the line of duty after reaching a point where they expected fortune to smile on them rather than being grateful for it. Even though the sedan was native to here - now, that didn’t mean the interlopers hadn’t given their vehicle some after - market upgrades.
The half - nailed man made a counter - clockwise circle around the sedan, keeping his left hand raised between himself and the car, fingers held wide. When he registered nothing out of the ordinary, either electronically or chemically, he went to the driver’s - side door and peered in. He saw a pair of paper cups in the drink holders up front and a duffel bag and suitcase in the back seat. Other than that, the vehicle appeared clean.
Just as he completed his circle and began lowering his hand, his fingers vibrated and the edges of his vision flashed red.
The bombs, both the one just underneath the driver’s - side door and the one under the trunk, were ingenious little devices. The design couldn’t have existed natively. The electronics wouldn’t function and chemicals of the explosives wouldn’t mix until the door opened. No wonder it took his sensors a bit to process these as dangerous. Both devices were small enough that they barely registered as a source of cerulean energy. Either that, or the components of the devices had been in this here - now long enough to have the cerulean energy they would have collected in coming here dissipate to latent levels, making them barely detectable. That possibility made the black - nailed man glance from side to side. The thought of tech from another where - when being here that long meant the agency had been failing on a fundamental level. He cast that worry aside. Addressing a situation of that magnitude was far above his pay grade. A quick jolt of cerulean energy from his augments rendered both explosives inoperable. Now, to look inside.
The driver’s side door had one of those fancy, keypad locks. The black - nailed man held his right hand up to the keypad. His fingernails lit up, flashing blue numbers in rapid succession. It took seven and a half seconds for the combination to show on his fingernails. He punched the numbers, and the locks clicked open.
He opened the door and reached for one of the paper cups. His fingernails buzzed, indicating the cups some where - when else.
“Interesting,” the black - nailed man said.
Now that he leaned inside, he could read the label on the cups. Starbucks. He leaned closer and sniffed. An odor reminiscent of coffee wafted up from the cups. Were these the equivalent Sunbucks from another where - when? And as interesting as that might be, the name of the chain where the interlopers had purchased the drinks only pointed to a bigger question. Why would someone keep paper cups from another where - when even after acquiring a new vehicle? Odd. Odder still when considered alongside the lack of residual cerulean energy in the bombs. He placed both these strange details in back of his mind so that his subconscious could work on it, especially if he found other pieces to this bizarre and disturbing puzzle.
The suitcase and duffel bags were nothing more than they appeared. Both were full of cloths. Interestingly, some clothes were native, some were not. Different garments set off different patters of vibrations in his fingernails, indicating multiple non - native points of origin. Where and when ever Madison Greenback and Arden Sunrise had originally come from, they were either well - traveled, or they had access to multiple alternate place -times. With each new discovery about this pair of interlopers, the black - nailed man’s curiosity about them grew. Unfortunately, unless the agency assigned him to investigate, these details would remain a mystery. Perhaps the trunk might provide that one piece to connect all the others into something recognizable.
In the trunk, he found a cardboard box emanating latent cerulean energy and half - a - dozen tech items very obviously not native to the here - now: two pistols made of some silver or steel metal, device that might have been a tablet except that it had no screen, to be determined, too be determined, and a metal hoop about half the size of a hula hoop with buttons along the outside. The black - nailed man sent a jolt of cerulean energy into each of these through his fingernails. He could not remember any other incursion brining this many items with them. Instead of adding clarity, this find made the whole situation more opaque. Who were Madison Greenback and Arden Sunrise, with an arsenal of other where - when tech. Perhaps the box might hold some answers He removed the box top and found it filled near to overflowing with files, paper files, some new and with only a few papers in them, some old, wrinkled around the edges, and stuffed with paper and photos.
As he reached to pull out one of the older files, the black -nailed man heard a series of barely - audible clicking. The next moment, his augmented senses detected a surge of cerulean energy behind him. An incursion. Close. Were the interlopers here to assist Greenrise and Sunback? Questions could wait. Time to act.
He shut the trunk and turned around.
A new lamppost stood at the far end of the parking lot. This one wasn’t like the other two. It looked as if pulled from some other where - when, one still using steam, oil, and coal to power technology. A warm, yellow flame flickered at the top, casting eerie shadows through the fog that wafted about, appearing from some other where - when. Not mist, but fog — thick and layered, the kind that lingered in the air like some strange, amorphous creature rather than a vapor. Again, seemingly out of nowhere, but in reality, appearing from some other else where - when, a dark silhouette appeared, leaning against the lamppost. Fog swirled around the interloper.
For less than a second, the black - nailed man stood still, taking this in. With all his experience, over the decades of dealing with incursions, both hostile and incidental, he had never even heard of of a hostile incursion of this magnitude. He had no doubt that this incursion could be anything but hostile, a deliberate breach into the here - now from some other where - when.
The black - nailed man reached under his peat coat and drew his weapon. The casual observer would likely mistake the shining pistol for a chrome - plated .45, the hand cannon pistol popularized in television and movies at the end of the last century. To the careful observer, the barrel would be too rounded, and capable of firing a bullet greater than .50 caliber, if, that is, the weapon fired bullets. Early in the Agency’s existence, many augmented agents died in the line of duty before they realized many interlopers had augmentations, technology, or abilities that rendered bullets ineffective. Necessity being the Mother of Invention, the Agency developed the cerulean blaster. Most interloping beings couldn’t manage to protect themselves from the essence that separated one where - when from another.
Even before the gun came free of the black - nailed man’s shoulder holster, his fingernail’s charged the weapon to life. It wouldn’t fire for anyone else, not even another agent.
He took aim on the interloper and squeezed the trigger.
Blue energy flashed.
Less than an instant later, the cerulean bolt hung in place about three arms from its intended target. The fog swirled around the bolt.
Over the next few seconds, as the gray fog took on a blueish hue as the energy from the attack dissipated. Two more figures, roughly human - shaped as far as he could tell, appeared in the lamp light, walking out of the fog. This wasn’t just an incursion. This might as well be the vanguard of an invasion force seeking to establish a forward staging point. These two new interlopers moved away from the lamp post, one toward the sedan and one toward the diner. Tendrils of fog swirled around them as they walked at a steady pace with the confident bearing of men with nothing to fear.
“We don’t want you fight with you, agent,” said the interloper still leaning against the wall. “We just want to retrieve the two you apprehended in the diner. Once we have them, we will depart. Gentlemen, you know your responsibilities.”
And with that, the black - nailed man found himself on completely unfamiliar ground. He’d never heard even the hint of a rumor of an incident when one interloping force was direct conflict with another. His primary mission parameters dictated that he apprehend these interlopers, tag them, and let an extraction team take them in for interrogation before sending them back to their own where - when. He’d also never had his primary weapon rendered so obsolete. Time to improvise.
“If you know who I am,” the black - nailed man said, “you know I am not authorized to enter such negotiations. I will give you one chance to return to your native where - when, or I’ll have to consider this a hostile incursion.”
“Your agency considers all ‘incursions,’” the man spoke that word with a sneer, “hostile. I assure you, we are not hostile to your here - now. However, we are not leaving without Greenrise and Sunback.”
The countdown timer in the upper, left - hand corner of his vision switched from 2:32 to 2:31. How was he going to deal with this incursion before the extraction team arrived? Did he risk charging up is com unit? Did these interlopers have the capacity to breach the trinary encryption algorithm? If they did, that could give them unfettered access to the Agency’s communications network.
“Now, Agent,” the man at the lamppost said. “Stand aside and we’ll be on our way. Stand in our way, and be eliminated. Gentlemen, see you your tasks.”
The other two interlopers drew weapons from inside their suit coats. If not for his augmented vision, the black - nailed man would not have made out the jet - black pistols they held. Fog continued to swirl around them as they both walked with steady purpose, one cutting toward the highway, the other toward the diner.
He had to do something. But what?