“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter XII – Ernie’s

Someone had dropped $20 worth of Katy Perry in the jukebox, so it was going to be that kind of night. That didn’t bother the members of the Ritter Lab who’d managed to escape Black C.A.S.T.L.E. and were none the wiser to its current predicament; they were one Happy Hour and a few drinks deep already. Gemma and Lynnie were chatting over the tops of their frozen “Big Azz” margaritas, Other Rick was nursing a muddy brown beer of some kind–the kind that came in a too-small glass with a too-big price tag–and Salim was on his way back to their corner table in the back room with a platter full of shots. But rather than pass them around in celebration, he set the platter down on the table and fixed them each with a serious stare.

“You guys have got to come see this,” he said, and then turned to head back towards the bar. They followed, drinks in hand, a little curious, a lot buzzed.

Behind the bar, one flat-screen TV announced the pregame lineups and injury report for the Penguins’ hockey game that was about 15 minutes from puck drop. The other showed the solitary tower of Black C.A.S.T.L.E. backlit by the fiery red sunset. Though it stood alone in a wide circle of manicured landscaping that was no man’s land, its perimeter fence was packed with flashing lights and emergency vehicles from every conceivable department.

Local police and S.W.A.T. were all positioned behind a firetruck that was stuck fast between the security bollards in front of it and the knot of law enforcement vehicles behind it. Spreading out from that central point were more firetrucks and hazmat response crews to one side, unmarked Federal vehicles, presumably from the FBI at the very least, were packed in on the other. But aside from the strobe lights circling the facility, there seemed to be very little action on the ground.

A headline scrolled across the bottom of the monitor: “Possible Terror Attack in Progress: Deadly Virus Research Labs Under Attack”

A picture-in-picture featured the live scene in the main window while a local news anchor occupied the smaller window. He was attempting to give a recap of everything they knew about the situation, but the closed captioning couldn’t keep up and Katy Perry was “Firework”ing at an exceptional volume.

“Could you turn it up?” Gemma yelled at a stoned-looking bartender. The woman, who could have been 21 or 40, put a hand to her ear. Gemma slammed the heavy margarita glass down on the bar and shouted over the jukebox and constant drone of drunk conversation. “Turn that shit off,” she pointed at the touchscreen featuring Katy Perry’s technicolor persona, “and turn that up!” She pointed back at the TV monitor. The bartender held her hands up in mock defense and rolled her eyes, but she did as Gemma requested.

“We now bring you video that was recorded from within the facility under assault,” a heavily made-up news anchor was saying. She was clearly operating on the national circuit and had trumped the local coverage for this breaking story. “It appears to be the leader of the terrorists delivering a manifesto of sorts. It was originally broadcast over social media where the hashtag #Pestilence has quickly climbed the trending charts.”

As if on cue, nearly everyone in the bar switched the app they had been staring at over to their favored social media program to tap into whatever was going on; everyone except Gemma and her coworkers. They were glued to the TV screen.

The reporter was giving commentary over the ravings of a gun-wielding lunatic who appeared to be in the very conference room that Gemma and the others had met in just that morning. She was half-listening to the reporter, and half to the madman, but when a familiar face dropped out of the ceiling to find herself staring down the barrel of a gun, Gemma blocked everything else out.

“Holy shit, Kacie!” There were mutterings of “Oh my God” and “No way” and “I hope she’s okay” behind her. The video cut out before they’d know for sure.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened after this moment and it’s unclear right now as to the situation inside the facility. We only hope that this brave woman is okay and that authorities can get control of the situation soon. We know that negotiations have come to a standstill, but that’s all we can confirm at this time. Let’s go to Julie on the scene. Julie?”

A pretty young Black woman in a pink blazer appeared on screen. She was surrounded by heavily armed law enforcement who kept the swarming press at bay behind a perimeter of sawhorses and armored cars. Whatever she had to say, Gemma didn’t hear it; she was already on her way to Black C.A.S.T.L.E.

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Image of PPG Place via Derek Jensen(Tysto), Wikimedia Commons
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