Lights in the Sky

I was never here

rating: +8+x

Devouring over 344 pages of case file on just the first three months of possibly the biggest ongoing case in Dade County was supposed to be the beginning of her big step forward to the federal level. Somehow, devouring over 344 pages left her as empty and rudderless as having gone in blind.

She held the tape recorder up to her lips, not wanting to be overheard through the thin drywall of her office, "SA Fatima Cortes beginning work on Rhiannon Locke case, control number 3-5-zero-zero-zero-zero-9-1-8-zero, picking up from original investigation initially filed by SA Howell Cairns." Her voice droned slightly, but she could clearly remember every word and number she spoke out loud to transcribe later on.

"Subject Rhiannon Locke had been classified a potential violent political dissient on…" She frowned and looked over the dates. There were some anomalies. "Report lists date of 8/23/05 which is the start date of the Key Biscayne incident, but goes on to cite information obtained prior to that date, going back to August 18th, August 19th, and one source going back as far as August 3rd." She was supposed to have any and all information given to her regarding reports made by confidential sources or potential informants. They'd given her nothing but this report and an FBI-UIU addendum, none of which detailed any specific information gathered prior to August 23rd.

"Following that incident, violent clashes between police, WestCiv militia, and this unidentified criminal gang or 'cult' led by Rhiannon Locke briefly intensified, then died down as it is believed Locke's gang has gone underground. A propaganda campaign initiated by Locke's followers soon followed, along with the potential leak of classified information regarding an as of yet unconfirmed anomalous item initially discovered by Rhiannon Locke's transgender sister Agent Priscilla Locke of the SCP Foundation." She turned over the page and scanned through several of the lines to herself. Somehow this Priscilla Locke had managed to avoid any direct connection to Rhiannon Locke, and Foundation personnel had successfully sealed her off from any further police scrutiny. The report contained logs of police requests to sit down and speak with Priscilla Locke, which Locke seemed eager to do. Yet always the officers in charge ended up delaying any interview, or the Foundation would step in and they'd back down without a fight.

"Fats, learn how to type." Agent Velez called out through the wall from his office behind hers.

She ignored him and went on, not changing her tone or volume.

"Some time following Key Biscayne, Rhiannon Locke drops out of sight. Over the coming weeks, the propaganda campaign intensifies and pre-recorded messages from Rhiannon Locke herself begin to appear and local news stations broadcast them widely. None of the videos are timestamped or contain any indication they were filmed post-Key Biscayne. No one reports Rhiannon Locke as a missing person, and following the second video broadcast, a warrant is issued for her arrest. Information pieced together from phone records, witness statements, and a single confidential informant can account for the movement of Rhiannon Locke between August the 23rd up until September 1st, 2005. After this date, all information as to Rhiannon Locke's whereabouts ends."

She scanned through some more lines, ignoring again as Velez droned through the wall. "Fats, learn to type!"

"Digital intercepts from Priscilla Locke's laptop indicate a brief online conversation between Priscilla and Rhiannon Locke in the early morning hours on 11/5/05. Partially redacted log is included in supplementary forms in the report. Rhiannon Locke's IP address is spoofed and encrypted via 'onion…' uh, 'onion routing' and thus is unlikely to provide a positive location of the subject. Apart from this communication, there is no further indication of Rhiannon Locke's whereabouts, nor any further activity on her e-mail account. There's been no activity on her bank account. Her cell phone was discovered wiped and without a SIM card by Priscilla Locke after Key Biscayne and delivered over to Foundation personnel, subsequently delivered to the FBI-UIU. Her social security number has not been used since June of last year, 2004."

"Fats. Type."

She sighed and looked over the information report filed by SA Cairns the day following Key Biscayne. Hours and hours of intel, communication, information, stopping to check and investigate every footprint left behind by Rhiannon Locke while she dashed out ahead of them. Just going by the summary of the investigation so far, she could feel question after question bubble up following every line, bursting to give way to even more questions as the investigation dragged on from September to October, then to November. How had no one had their sights on Rhiannon Locke before Key Biscayne? Where did this Cult of hers come from? How was it organized so quickly? Did it pre-date her, and then she simply took over? Why would so many people follow her? Where were they getting their guns and supplies? How were they getting their information?

Why was the Foundation shielding Priscilla Locke?


"This month has been the longest, quietest of my life."

Priscilla Locke nodded, not looking up at Aurianne as the two of them sat and waited outside the conference room at the school. She'd been contacted by police, asked to meet with them and answer some questions. Then they postponed the meeting. That had been near Halloween, and it was already December with no further news from them. All the while, Rhiannon's cult had been quiet as well.

"I've started drinking again." Aurianne went on, leaning closer to Priss.

Nothing in the cops' tone had indicated they considered her anything but a person of interest, but even as the sister and one of the sole surviving relatives of a suspected domestic terrorist, she'd made it clear over the phone they likely had better and more important information about Rhiannon Locke than her own sister did.

"I'm taking part in anonymous orgies and stuffing myself with food, drink, and dick."

Priss sniffed, and lowered her head. It wasn't even an issue for her that they wanted to question her; it's that they kept putting it off, leaving her frustrated and waiting. And for what? What else was happening that was more important? And was the Foundation involved in some way?

"I'm also pregnant and have no idea who the father is. I plan on leaving the kid with you and whipping ass to Tennessee."

Priss lifted her head and pouted, "'Whipping ass', how do you 'whip ass' to a location?"

"You weren't even listening to me!"

"I was. I was just more concerned with real problems. Also, you never drank to begin with so it was pretty obvious by then."

Aurianne sat back, looking over at the conference room, the muffled sound of scraping chairs indicating they'd be called in soon, "What problems? You are not your sister, and you're not involved in anything she's done or doing. The police know it, the Foundation knows it. Marlowe's even stuck herself out there for you."

"How do you know?"

Aurianne huffed and shook her head. "I probably shouldn't have said that."

"Too late, you did."

"There was a big meeting a while ago about you. Well, not actually a big meeting, but some administrative types were there. A few people wanted you re-assigned due to your sister."

"Reassigned from Anabasis?"

Aurianne shrugged, "The project, the site, both, I don't know. They said the cops would be looking into you as part of their investigation, and Marlowe specifically said she wanted you here, and would do whatever she needed to do to keep you on. She said she'd handle any complications should the police try stepping into our business."

Priss glanced up as the conference room door opened. Dr. Jaime Marlowe emerged first, her hair flowing free down her shoulders and eyes wide, pupils narrowed down to points. Most unusual was she was wearing makeup. She didn't look like she'd been in a business-related meeting. She ignored the two of them and swept past, followed by several other on-site personnel and someone dressed in overalls and a casual shirt.

"I don't suppose it'd be of much use to ask why." Priss grumbled once they were gone.

"Maybe you're her scapegoat. You get written up more often than she does, it makes her look less incompetent by comparison. You know what Dr. C said about her once, a few years ago? Said she was 'painfully, painfully, painfully, painfully average'. Four precise instances of the word 'painfully'."

"Why?" Somehow that news bothered her more than the implication that she herself was a troublemaker, getting 'written up' for her outbursts. And there was no doubt that her name always came up in any meeting involving Anabasis.

"Some work she had done. Don't remember the details, but it was… wild. I'll need to read up a bit on it so I can remember more of the details and tell you the story. It was wild."

Priss got up to her feet as Kohn exited the conference room, and stopped to look at her. They said nothing for several moments, and then Kohn left without a word, leaving her there and the conference room dark and empty.

"Weren't you supposed to like…?" Aurianne trailed off, face contorted in growing concern.

"I guess they forgot about me," Priss smirked and slid her hands in her coat pockets, "For once in my life."

"How's it feel?"

Priss tried to respond, and gazed off into the distance where Marlowe and Kohn and the others had left. She didn't know how to feel about it. She felt as if she were now a marginal figure in a story that had, until then, seemed to be forcing her into its center. She truly could not contemplate what it meant for her one way or another.

"You're thinking too much," Aurianne interrupted, "Stop thinking and go on and do something just for yourself. You could try out the orgy scene. It could definitely use someone like you."


Marvin Ren, a part-time sheep farmer in New South Wales, stood on a stump overlooking the field his sheep were grazing in. The dogs had stopped sniffing around them and were looking up at him with concern. He took no notice of it, writing in a notepad and occasionally checking his phone. After several minutes of them staring silently, he looked up and saw what they were staring at.

The sky was almost cleanly split in two, one half pale blue and smeared with light, distant clouds, the other half a dense, cloudy red, shimmering with light. It didn't look anything like a lightning storm or aurora.

He glanced down at his cell phone and started to text his friend outside Newcastle. He kept watching the sky while waiting for the buzzing response.

"It's too big to be aircraft, inn'it? Maybe meteor shower? Aurora?" He looked over at the dogs. They seemed to have calmed a bit now that he'd noticed, but they were still tense.


James "Jayise" Davies looked down at his phone, then up at the sky. Nothing looked unusual. He looked back down and tried to parse Marvin's message again.

"Red?" He uttered out loud unintentionally. A woman beside him in the bus looked over at him. He glanced back and found himself blurting out "You hearing about red skies from anyone?"

"The news." She said, about to turn away before catching the confused look on his face. "It's all over the news about China. Red skies and everything."

He quirked a brow, "China?" He muttered, gaze drifting back down to his phone as he began to text again.


"China?"

He looked back down at his phone. There was nothing in the skies where his friend was. He'd start calling around. Marvin glanced up at the sky again, and started to panic. The shimmering lights were diving; the red sky was swarming over the blue sky, and coming down close to the ground.


Priss could never empathize with the sensation of having the world revolve around you or being the center of the universe, even when she found herself in that spot.

Walking home late in the day was absolutely nothing like it had been immediately after Key Biscayne. The street lights were on earlier, while the sun was still up, but no one lingered out in the streets much anymore.

In a metropolitan city there was no chance of the streets being entirely deserted; there'd always be people like her, walking home, some standing outside their homes, or a gas station, or a park. The traffic was the same ceaseless muck it always was. The same elderly Cubans sat playing dominoes in parks or roaming Calle Ocho as always.

Priss hadn't even realized until she'd crossed over eighth street just what it was; the homeless. There were none.

She backtracked a block and glanced down the street all ways. It was quieter than usual, but nothing seemed out of place. Except there were no homeless. Not just the homeless, but the poor working class. The man on a mobility scooter with the faded Puerto Rican flag sticker and the green plastic cup begging for change was gone. The man and woman duo who darted through stopped traffic hawking drinks by the highway exit weren't there. The massive black man who always wore white and sat by the parking lot writing in his notepad for hours. No one who'd be considered "lower class" was out on the streets.

The thought struck her to take off her clothes and walk home naked, as if that would somehow fix the malaise that seemed to linger over the city like muck. Her cheeks burned hotly with incoherent frustration. None of the people she'd just thought about likely knew her name, and were probably unaware of her existence. Yet now their absence felt like a failing on her part. She'd failed, somehow, and now everyone was abandoning her because of it.

Someone was parked across from her house and idling in their car. For some reason Priss stormed up to them and looked at them through the window. It was a wirey little woman in a buttoned up shirt and tie, papers and files piled up on the passenger seat. She looked barely out of college and turned her dark eyes up at Priss with wide-eyed shock.

"What the fuck do you want?" Priss snarled at them.

"I'm sorry, I was waiting for you. My name is Fatima Cortes, I'm with the FBI-UIU. If you have the chance I'd like to talk to you about Rhiannon Locke."

Priss blushed, feeling stupid for having lashed out at her for no particular reason. "FBI-UIU? You're not the local police."

Fats nodded, "I'm not, no. The case was handed over to another special agent a while ago while working with the police department, and they've since handed it over to me, since I'm with the UIU, and the Foundation was involved."

Priss furrowed her brow and stared down at the woman. FBI-UIU? And the Foundation was involved, how? Aurianne had mentioned Marlowe was protecting her. Why? Did that also mean potentially sabotaging a police investigation just to keep her from talking to the police? She grunted softly and looked away from the agent. "Do you have a warrant?"

"Do I need one?"

Priss sniffed, and stepped away from the car, "Come on in."


8/24/05

The sickly sweet smell of garbage left Rhiannon Locke loudly retching and gagging every few skips. Soon she couldn't take it anymore and stopped, peeling off her clothing and stuffing it into her bag. She hopped out onto the sidewalk, naked save for her shoes, and shuddered. Would someone come and kill her? Assault her? Call the cops on her? Throw a sheet over her head and leave?

There was no one around, so she started to walk again, skin prickling with goosebumps, excitement making her skip and giggle uncontrollably. Wherever she went, she heard nothing. In the distance were sirens, the occasional scream and shout, the monotonous thudding of a helicopter. None of it seemed to grow either closer or further.

She kept skipping for an hour, and ended up somehow back at the metro station, looking off in the direction of Key Biscayne. There were lights in the sky. Like airplanes and helicopters, but too many. It was as if God had thrown glitter onto the night sky.

She grinned and giggled, and broke down again. She rushed to the edge of the train platform and threw her arms out, hands in fists, and screamed, "I am the great destroyer!"

Her voice echoed, and she shuddered again and screamed louder, "I AM THE GREAT DESTROYER!"

Her voice didn't echo that time. Perhaps she'd screamed too loud to hear the echo. The lights in the sky were flickering, like airplanes and helicopters, but too many.

Suddenly she felt depressed. All at once the realization struck that this was her peak. She would never achieve anything like this in her life ever again. Things she'd set in motion were now self-perpetuating, and she was no longer a vital piece. It could, and would, go on without her. The thought deflated her. There were no sounds now, not even the distant sirens, the occasional scream and shout, the monotonous thudding of a helicopter.


"'Fats' she called herself?"

"Fatima Cortes. Fats for short."

"What did she look like?" Aurianne flattened her ice cream cone with her tongue, then started to lick around the sides to make a square.

"Like, fuck, how do I describe how someone looks? Brown hair, brown eyes, between five and six feet tall, between 50 and 200 pounds? I don't know. They looked ordinary. Average. Conventionally attractive. Could be Caucasian or Hispanic. Eyebrows. Nose. A face. She had at least one of those."

Priss sat in her home with Aurianne Sharpe again, just a few days after meeting with the detective. She thought it had finally come, the big routine, unimportant police interview that had been scheduled and postponed for months which the Foundation was either obstructing or the police were treading lightly to avoid stepping on the Foundation, or something or the other. Everything she had been asked had to do with Rhiannon Locke, before or immediately following Key Biscayne. The only thing remotely resembling an accusation was a question as to whether Rhiannon might've returned home before Priss to dispose of her cell phone, or if that had occurred before the events that night. The detective seemed completely uninterested in Key Biscayne or in Rhiannon's cult at all.

"Was she hot?" Aurianne went on, squaring her ice cream and dabbing it along the sides to create steps.

"I just told you she was conventionally attractive."

"Would I find her hot?"

"You have no standards."

"Would she find me hot?"

"I think you would terrify her, seven foot whore that you are."

"She sounds cute." Aurianne gazed upon her ice cream cone, having made a sloppy step pyramid of the green pistachio. "She didn't ask anything about Foundation business or your talking to Rhie about Foundation stuff?"

"It never came up. All she seemed interested in was who she knew, where she might've gone, the people she hung out with. She seemed to treat it more like a missing person case than a criminal investigation."

Aurianne leaned over the couch armrest, the ice cream wobbling dangerously close to Priss before she jerked it back and mushed her lips into it. "Listen… It is a criminal investigation. Don't let her try to trip you up with the questions or anything. I get the feeling the only reason you haven't been properly interviewed is because of the Foundation. Otherwise you'd be polygraphed, questioned, polygraphed again, and once you let slip that you told Rhiannon anything at all about Anabasis, even its name… I can't even think of a hypothetical. Maybe the Foundation would be merciful and give you some amnestics and make you forget the last year of your life."

"I would absolutely love that, Aurianne."

"No you wouldn't. Especially you. The… The hormones, how they might react with the amnestics, the negative reaction? It'd fuck you up beyond repair."

"I would absolutely love that, Aurianne."

Aurianne slid over the armrest and forced Priss to scoot aside and offered her the ice cream cone, "No you wouldn't, and stop talking like that. Marlowe's on your side for what ever reason, and more importantly I'm on your side here. We're gonna take care of you."

Priss leaned away and smiled, looking off at her balcony at the empty pale blue sky, "No. No you can't. Take care of me. I'm the only one who can take care of myself now."

Aurianne frowned, and went back to her ice cream cone.


It was a week till Christmas when people started panicking. Jayise had been working until 11pm that night and the sky looked normal to him. Maybe a bit brighter than usual. With all the commotion in China and the aid convoys being shipped there, airplanes were taking off day and night more often than usual. Didn't seem unusual to him to see a bit more lights in the sky.

When he woke up around noon, the sky was completely red, like a bucket of water filled with blood, the clouds streaking like shreds of meat and tissue floating around in it. Some people were panicked, and the police suggested everyone stay indoors. The news was still fixated on China. He didn't know why until he stopped to actually watch for a bit. The red in the sky had happened in China, too. The biological weapon that had detonated. Authorities thought it was the same thing, spreading out and into Australia now. But so fast, too fast for anyone to have planned anything beyond the usual routines. Close air vents, seal windows and doors. Duct tape. He needed duct tape.

"Chris'sake… Pick up the fuckin' phone," He shouted into his cell phone, just as his father answered on the other end, "Da! You're still at home?"

"Wot's this being said about the air vents? I 'aven't got any vents. Your sister was hollerin' about me vents."

"Da, stay where you are. Seal off the doors with duct tape. Is she there with you?"

"I'm not a daft old man, I know what to do. But I 'aven't got any vents."

"I'm coming to you, Da, call Olly and Jane and tell them to get over there now" Jayise was looking between the window and the television. Red skies seemed to be swarming in at random, ignoring the wind, coming from north, south, east, and west, filling in Australia like the front of a composition notebook. One neighborhood would be completely coated in red, and then have a single block open to the sky.

"Olly ain't even here, an' Jane went out for more duct tape. Wot d'ya think they mean by vents? I haven't got any, I said."

"The air conditioning, Da, turn it off and close up the vents."

"The 'ell I'm shuttin' off the air."

"Da, just do it, I'm coming over now!" He hung up and began to look around the room, spinning in a circle as he frantically tried to decide what to take with him. What was worth saving in his single-room shithouse of a flat? Clothes were everywhere, papers were everywhere, the bookshelf was as loaded down with empty cans and boxes as with books.

His phone rang again and he dropped it, scrambling to his knees to pick it up before it could break and pressing it on his cheek, "He-Hello? F-f-.. Hello?"

"Oy mate, is it Red where you are?"

It was Marvin, "The fuck you ringing me for asking if its Red? Of course it's Red here. It's Red where you are, too."

"No, mate, it was Red, but it ain't Red anymore. The dogs. The dogs, mate."

"What?" He was starting to sob. The news alerts had gotten more urgent and tense in just the few minutes since he'd turned on the telly, and now Marvin, the guy who'd first called him about the red skies, was casually calling him up as if inviting him out for a pint.

"Eh, nevermind that, actually. Don't worry about it, I'll call you back tomorrow, ey?"

The other line went dead before he could get out another confused "What?"

The clouds outside were sinking. The air started to pick up and the neighborhood took on a dark pink tinge. He bolted out of his room and sprinted down the steps and out the door to his car. The air was surprisingly cool to the touch, but the longer he breathed it in and out while fumbling into his car, the more it started to burn on his skin and in his lungs. Once in the car, he backed out of the parking lot and into the street, all the while the burning persisted.

His phone was ringing again. It was Marvin's number. He answered it and held it firmly to his face, "Mar—"

"Jayise, listen, you're obviously stressed out, it's not a good situation."

"It's a goddamn bomb, you tosser, a goddamn radioactive biological bomb from China, it's gotten over here!"

"Listen, mate. Just breathe, alright?"

"Fuckin'." He hung up and threw the phone into the passenger seat. His sinuses were burning even more. He realized then the AC had been left switched on when he got in and he'd forgotten to switch it off.

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