The train ride’s bumpy and all four of them are thrilled when they finally reach the stop closest to Millennium Park. Climbing the filthy stairs to the street, Ryaan holds Lana’s hand tight while holding his backpack over his opposite shoulder. It’s filled with all the gear he couldn’t wear without giving himself away.
Reaching the street, they’re immediately swept up in a crowd heading toward the park. The streets are closed and people fill not only the sidewalks but the road as well. The three girls stay close to him. Looking through the crowd he notices that there’s almost nobody who looks like them here. Most of their neighborhood doesn’t seem to be on the same page as his dad.
Pushing beyond the downtown buildings, they’re forced toward the park where they have a great view of Lake Michigan. The place is packed full with vendors and stands all over the place. Near the entrance a man with dark glasses and a support cane’s trying to sell shirts with the Goggle Guys’ pictures on them. They seem to be going fast. When she sees them Mina cringes and pulls away.
Across the road from the park Ryaan sees a diverse crowd gathered holding signs protesting both the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act but more specifically the Goggle Guys. He hopes he’ll recognize someone in the group but none of them look familiar. A cry goes up every few seconds, “No justice, no equality, vigilante law can’t bring us peace.” A few police officers are protecting the group but a ring of those celebrating the festival have gathered around and are trying to drown them out with cries of their own. One of the counter protesters throws a soda at the group which splashes them. A police officer escorts him away but lets him leave as soon as he exits the crowd.
Their attention’s pulled away when Lana sees a food cart selling carnival treats and rushes there yelling about wanting an elephant ear. The rest follow, desperate not to lose her in the crowd.
All four of them get a snack. Lana’s enjoying her elephant ear that’s bigger than her head. Mina grabbed a thing of donut holes on sticks. Nadia grabbed a grape snow cone while Ryaan went with a corn dog. They walk around enjoying the food while exploring.
The mayor went all out for this. Food vendors are everywhere and beer’s flowing from designated booths. Country music blares from a nearby stage and a huge crowd’s gathered around it dancing along. Ryaan doesn’t recognize the singer but a lot of people here are wearing shirts with his face on them. Ryaan starts to wonder whether the real attraction here is the Goggle Guys or the music.
The aquarium’s visible in the distance, standing watch over everything and keeping everyone focused on why they’re here. A path between the popular attraction and the park is lined with the families of the kids who were at the aquarium yesterday. Ryaan walks up to one of them in a baseball hat with a giant beard. “What’s going on with the line?”
With a look of suspicion, the man raises an eyebrow. “This is where the vigilantes are coming from when the ceremony starts. They’re going to honor them in a half hour. Why do you want to know?”
“No reason, just curious I guess.” Before the man can ask any further questions Ryaan slips into the crowd, pulling the girls after him. Nadia and Mina look uncomfortable though Lana seems to be having a great time. That is until she has to use a bathroom and finds the only options at the festival are port a potties. The rest of the group stand guard outside while she loudly complains about the smell.
Their next stop’s the stage. It’s a flat platform about five feet off the ground with some quickly erected metal stairs leading to it. Draped with a flag that goes all the way over and around the stage, he can’t figure out what its made of. A podium and microphone sit at the front while several giant American flag banners wave proudly above. One of them has a picture of a flag with eyeballs wearing aviator goggles. His stomach churns when he sees it and he’s not sure if it’s from the sight or the corn dog.
Pulling them closer, Lana wants to find a view near the stage. Mina puts a hand on her shoulder. “I think we’re close enough Lana. We can see from here.”
Stomping her feet, Lana throws her head back and lets out a mini howl. “I can’t. I’m shorter than you. Let’s go to the front.”
Ryaan’s about to jump in but before he can Nadia kneels down to get eye level with her younger sister. “I’m sure Ryaan will hold you up when things start. We don’t want to be rude and push people who were here before us out of the way.”
The park’s full of easily spotted security guards today but looking around the area, Ryaan notices there aren’t many near the stage. The area’s not that busy with the speeches still half an hour from starting but he can only make out one guard anywhere near the stage and they’re busy working crowd control.
People throughout the crowd are holding up flag banners of their own as well as signs proclaiming their love for the Goggle Guys. He doesn’t see anyone openly against them here which is probably a good thing. This crowd would descend on anyone who isn’t on their side.
Watching the group, Ryaan notices someone with dark black hair getting to their feet on the other side of the stage. Something about that seems wrong. He can’t make out where they came from and it’s possible they were laying in the grass, or maybe they leaned down to pick something up and Ryaan didn’t notice it. He doesn’t remember seeing them walk up to the stage though. Putting his hands in his pockets, they slowly makes their way away. Other than the hair he can’t make out much but they seems like one of the only people in the group who isn’t white.
He should let it go. He’s here to enjoy the festival with his family. Strange looks have followed them throughout the crowd but nobody’s been openly rude and carnival food and games make almost anything better. This isn’t his problem. He looks down at his sisters though and he knows that’s not the case. That could have been something serious. Probably nothing but he needs to make sure.
Leaning down to Mina and Nadia, he taps them both on the shoulder. “I need to run to the restroom, keep and eye on Lana. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Nadia nods but Mina continues to stare at him. Once Nadia stops paying attention he gives her a small nod to confirm something’s going on. She closes her eyes and grabs Lana by the shoulder but doesn’t say anything.
Changing in a place like this is going to be difficult. He searches for any privacy but the closest buildings are too far. He can’t reach them and get back for at least fifteen minutes and by then things will be getting ready to start. The solution presents itself but he isn’t happy about it. Those same portable toilets Lana used lock and he’s changed in one before so he knows he can manage it.
Climbing inside, this seems smaller than the last time he changed in a port a potty. The walls are closing in and the awful smells don’t help. He resists the urge to investigate what he’s smelling. He doesn’t want to know even if there’s a sort of morbid curiosity. Banging an elbow trying to get his shirt off causes a yelp and he hopes nobody thinks to investigate.
Knives slide into the various slots he’s carved out throughout his suit to hold them. His holster for his staff goes over his shoulder and the staff slides into place. Unwilling to leave his bag sitting here and knowing there’s nowhere else safe, Ryaan can only throw it over his shoulder and hope it doesn’t get in the way.
Emerging into air he can actually breathe, he expects to find even more eyes on him. Strangely, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Pushing through the crowd, nobody gives the masked man with knives the time of day. It probably helps that with his costume on not much of his skin’s visible. Someone would have to look closely at his hands to notice.
Even a few minutes closer to the Goggle Guys’ arrival, the stage is largely unguarded. One more guard did show up but they’re also on crowd control as the people in the front are being pressured to move up until they’re practically hanging on the stage. The guards are focused on keeping the walkway clear so the guests of honor will be able to get through.
Moving around the stage is easy but he doesn’t get too close. He’s not ready to draw attention to himself and he’s enjoying the anonymity. He scans the crowd for any sign of the girls but there’s too many tall people around. They don’t stand out wherever they are. Once he’s behind the stage he searches the area he saw the mysterious stranger emerge from but nothing gets his attention. Sneaking closer, he sees a few people in the crowd watching him but none of them seem that focused.
Reaching the stage, he doesn’t see any way up or anything interesting but the flag curtain that covers the entire thing reaches the ground. He kneels down and lifts to see underneath.
He freezes. Right under the center of the stage he sees a device with a clock on it. It’s ticking down and has twenty one minutes remaining. The device it’s attached to looks like some sort of metal box. He’s not an expert but that looks like a bomb to him. He starts to crawl through the grass to reach the device but stops himself. What’s he doing? He’s not a bomb expert and he can’t defuse the thing. He wouldn’t even dare to touch it.
Climbing out from under the stage and standing he sees the cheering crowd before him. Sweat’s pouring from his face under the mask, causing the cheap plastic to stick to him.
Every instinct he has says to run. He wants to find the girls and get them as far away from here as possible. Who knows how many people might get hurt though. Who knows if they can even get far enough away in time. He doesn’t know what this thing does. Should he get away and anyone notices then they’re Muslims seen running from a bombing site. That won’t end well.
Screaming and telling everyone to run doesn’t sound any better though. People will panic. They’ll be trampled underfoot. He needs to keep calm and make smart decisions. There’s over twenty minutes left. There’s still time to stop this if he keeps his head on straight. Searching the crowd for police officers doesn’t do much. The security guards seem busy but he notices they each have a radio on their hip. Maybe they can reach somebody in time.
He rounds the stage and comes up on one of the guards from behind. Tapping the man on the shoulder he almost jumps out of his clothes. Turning around red faced, the man puts a finger in Ryaan’s face and starts to speak but then notices the mask. “Who the hell are you? You aren’t supposed to be back here. Get back into the crowd.”
The man grabs for his shoulder but Ryaan pulls his arm back and puts it up. “I need to talk to you sir. Can we step away from the crowd for a moment?”
“I have a crowd of hundreds that’s growing by the second, I don’t have time to sneak off so you can tell me something. Nobody’s supposed to be behind me.”
Reaching for him again, Ryaan wants to shove him away but lets the hand land on his shoulder, hoping the man will listen if he gives him some control. Lying might help too. “Listen to me for one minute. That’s all I ask. I’m a registered vigilante and I discovered something. I don’t want to yell it out because I don’t want to panic the crowd. It’s serious though. Why don’t you follow me behind the stage.”
“I can’t leave here and I’m not following you anywhere. Whatever you have to say, you can whisper it to me but that’s it.”
With no alternative Ryaan puts his face inches from the man’s ear. “There’s something under the stage that I think is a bomb. It’s on a timer. We need to get the police here right away.”
The man’s eyes go wide. He marches around the stage without another word, Ryaan right in tow. Lifting the covering, he looks under it and the color drains from his face. Fumbling for his radio, he manages to press the button. “This is Davidson on stage duty, there’s something under the stage. We need to get the bomb squad in here now. Someone tell the mayor and the speakers to stay put. Over.”