President Robins looked at the report in front of her. It was better than expected, though not as good as hoped. That described most reports that crossed her desk, given her personal policy of having high hopes but low expectations. However, this time the report came in a lot closer to the low expectations side of things.
“Final direct casualties from the destruction of Sunlight City has come in at about five and a half million. That’s half a million less than we thought it would be,” Raphael stated. She might normally be annoyed that he was just rehashing information she’d already read, but she suspected he was just numb with the shock of it. If they’d asked her a month ago whether it was possible so many of her people would soon be dead, she would have laughed in their faces and called them delusional. Well, unless they were somebody important or had a camera, in which case she would have acted her typically diplomatic self and politely told them they were mistaken.
“Your proposed initiative seems to be having some effect. We need to convene a meeting to plan out our next steps. Do we know anyone else besides Dr. Marco that can become a figurehead of the campaign?” Following the meeting in which Raphael proposed to focus on attracting The Gifted to work for the government, they had launched a media campaign to try and remind the populace that The Gifted could also be of great benefit to humanity.
They were assisted in their efforts by Doctor Carlos Marco, who claimed his brilliance was the result of a power. Doctor Marco had made multiple breakthroughs in cancer research that had the potential to lead to new treatments which could prolong tens of millions of lives. He was a shining example of why The Gifted could still be a net boon to humanity, despite the horrible catastrophe that occurred.
Despite that, he’d been the subject of three assassination attempts so far this month. Furthermore, many people didn’t believe he was really one of The Gifted at all. They claimed that the government was just paying him to claim he was in their efforts to ‘protect the freaks’. Robins could understand some skepticism, given that super genius is not nearly as flashy an ability as something like blowing up a city. What was worse was that one of the assassins was gifted himself.
The assassin had hardened his skin to be as strong as steel and merely ran past as Marco’s body guards shot at him. Fortunately, Robins had posted a gifted secret service agent. Her agent, Shawn Fencer, might as well have been a brick wall. After carving through two normal agents, the steel man snapped himself in half against Agent Fencer. The assassin was a mentally unstable amateur who thought Marco was a sell-out. If he had been a professional though, there was a good chance he would have succeeded. After that, they decided they needed to take Marco and his family into protective custody to keep them safe. It was a sentiment that Marco agreed with, albeit grudgingly.
These hiccups aside, Marco had done a lot of good for mitigating the damage to the public image of The Gifted. Within days of his public appeal there were over a hundred gifted individuals helping with the relief efforts. Though some of their abilities were not particularly useful for helping in disaster recovery, there were others doing the work of hundreds of normal volunteers. And a few that have been invaluable. President Robins made sure these ones were given ample media coverage, showing the helpful and human side of the men and women that so many people across the nation had come to fear. Violence against The Gifted decreased significantly, though the numbers of murders and disappearances had been in the dozens.
“I suggest we use Yves Alexander, if he is willing,” Raphael suggested. Robins nodded thoughtfully, considering the suggestion.
The recovery efforts in general were proceeding more smoothly than most people expected them to, although still far more slowly than she’d liked. Hospitals were no longer so overflowing that they were merely triage centers.
What she was less certain about was what to do regarding the twenty-mile diameter crater the blast had left. In some ways Robins felt the blast seemed to have more in common with a localized black hole than a nuclear weapon. She knew that was probably not very scientifically accurate, but it was the best way she could conceive of it. A great deal of damage had been done on the outskirts of the blast radius from heat, vortexes, and shifting ground, but within the ten mile radius kill zone things simply ceased to exist.
The earth had disappeared even down through the crust at the deepest part and the magma shifted, caving in some of the edges. The Bluegrange and Greenflow rivers were pouring over the edge, almost ten million gallons of water per second. The single most impressive feat so far of the Gifted helping with the recovery efforts was the construction of the largest aqueducts in human history by many orders of magnitude, in order to reconnect the rivers with the other side of the crater.
It’d taken weeks, but their successful construction by a team who consisted of members with abilities from super strength to metal manipulation restored the flow of water to tens of millions of people downstream. Yves Alexander was probably the greatest contributor, raising magma from the bottom of the crater for miles to create the pillars and base of the aqueduct.
It was a precarious situation. As much as she marveled that such a thing could be constructed, she had no idea whether the structure would hold or could be maintained. If the rivers broke through again they would once again deprive dozens of major cities of their main water source and disrupt two of the most important routes of transportation. She wondered if the rivers could be re-routed around the crater, but they would have to evacuate hundreds of thousands more people to even make an attempt. She could still barely believe that creating aqueducts over a mile wide in a crater that was miles deep was actually easier than trying to reroute them.
They would also have lost the canal created to connect the two rivers for shipping. Not that most transport companies or ship captains trusted the aqueduct yet, much less the canal, but there were a few who had braved it. It was a disconcerting sight, watching ships sail on a river that was practically floating on empty air, and she imagined it was even more disconcerting to be on it and know that beneath the water and the rock of the aqueduct is miles of empty air.
Still, for now Yves Alexander was a hero, at least to those who didn’t see such tremendous power as a threat.
“Yes, let’s try to recruit him for some commercials. Now there’s something else about this report that is particular troubling. ”
“The disappearances?” Raphael guessed.
“You know me too well,” she said. Much of the report was better than her low expectations, but something that caught her eye was the disappearances of The Gifted. There had been many assaults and murders, to be sure, but why were there so many missing? She’d asked General Hargrave to glance over the numbers before giving her the report and his calculations showed they were definitely abnormal, even given the increased murder rate.
To be sure, many of those who disappeared might be hiding. Many more might have been victims of murderers more clever than the many killed by drunkards or mobs. And there were too many people missing for them to all be gifted. Those might have been victims of opportunity for depraved criminals or sex traffickers in the mass chaos following the incident. But according to the report there were many who definitely had powers and she suspected something even more sinister than foul play or the fear thereof. Even some of the reported deaths across borders had a suspicious tendency to lack bodies.
“We have dozens of suspected Gifted missing, many of them disappearing near borders or major transportation centers. What’s your assessment of possible causes?”
“They could have fled the violence. That would be a decent explanation for those near the border with Maple, but many of those missing are near the border with Hex. It would be insane for someone with powers to think they’d be safer there. We also severely restricted travel, so how did so many people disappear near major transportation areas without any records of them buying tickets. I think it’s more probable someone is abducting them. So the question is why?”
“Exactly. I want a thorough investigation done. Who is taking our people and what are they using them for? Are they being experimented on, recruited to be used against us, assassinated by foreign entities, or used for some other purpose? What is more, I want to know what their powers were believed to be and whether that affects the likelihood of one of the Gifted being taken. Normally I would be against trying to figure out that sort of information without their consent, but if there’s any chance of rescuing them and stopping further abductions, we need to know everything we can. Maybe we’ll be lucky and they really are just hiding or fleeing, but I will not tolerate anyone using our people.”
“Yes, ma’am. I propose Director Levitt head up the investigation.”
“Make it so.”