Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Thankfully I still have the wherewithal to make up for lost time. Which is why right now, I've got four different works I've alternated between in the last few days.
The first is a short story for an upcoming charity anthology, which features the first meeting between Lightweight and the four brothers of Quadrant. That one was on an ultra-short deadline and clocks in at just under 2000 words, so when I say short, I'm not kidding. It will also likely see publication much sooner than a lot of my other works. It's set after the current volume of Lightweight and the upcoming volume of Quadrant, so it does feature an interesting glimpse into the future of the Quadrant Universe.
The second is the final pieces of Lightweight 17, which will debut on Patreon in one week. While the stories been in the books for months, I made a few final revisions and wrote the afterword that I include in all of my serialized stories. It's ready to go up next Wednesday for patrons and will be available in just over six months to everyone else. I'm very proud of "Arcana" and I hope my readers will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I'm hard at work on a future chapter of Shockwave in the scripting stage. I'm working hard to wrap the final chapters of the first arc as the mystery behind Noah's powers is finally revealed. Not a lot I can say about this one, but stay tuned for a lot more as Shockwave's adventures play out over the rest of the year.
Finally, I'm back at work at a long in gestation project featuring a seventies era superhero. It's one of the most fun and weird tales I've worked on, but I'm on a strict deadline to get this one in to the editor. I'll share more about it when it's wrapped up and contracts are signed. For now, we will simply call it by the code name DOGHOUSE.
So I am nothing if not busy at the writing game, even if my production levels aren't quite at the level I had hoped for so far in 2019. There's always time to get back on track though and start pumping out a lot more words for you to read as the year continues!
Today's featured image is a classic Jack Kirby illustration, one of many in a catalog of Kirby and Kirby inspired images I turn to when I need good reminders of how to design the worlds of Shockwave. Image copyright the Kirby Estate.
Monday, February 18, 2019
Tempus Dux sat upon a throne of skulls. A sea of fire burned before him. Images flickered in the flames.He peered deep in to the blaze. His glowing red eyes shone through his featureless helm of black and silver. The heat would suffocate any normal man in seconds, but Dux could barely feel it against his graying flesh.The same images he had faced a thousand times before flickered into view.A huge brown bear, one arm replaced by a massive metal cannon. He wore a hodge podge of ill fitting armor over patches of burned fur. He wore a metal apparatus over his right eye and side of his face. The eye glowed emitted a menacing red aiming laser as he fired his cannon.The bear vanished, replaced by a man made of pure energy. His flesh gone, he existed only as a human-shaped field of blue and black energy. A transparent, but impossibly hard containment suit held his roaring power in check. With it he could unleash his energies in controlled bursts. Without it, his dissipation would burn his world to ashes.The image faded again, replaced by a figure covered in metal. He stood taller even than the bear, an enormous figure draped in an adamantine shell stronger than any Earth metal. The armor seemed to shift constantly, as blades slowly rose and fell from its surface.Another figure replaced the metal man. Trapped in a hovering chair, this man possessed a bulbous head far larger than the rest of his shriveled form. Veins pulsed across his forehead. His eyes were pure white, but they seemed to glow with a power that lay within.The images flickered again. Tempus Dux raged as he saw the final figure that taunted him within the flames.The female. Cloaked from head to toe in a black body stocking. An apparatus over one eye not unlike the one worn by the bear. Her features remained as always hidden from his sight. Metal cubes, each glowing with a different color in their center, circled around her in a loose defensive formation.Tempus hurled a blast of power at the image in front of him. The fires dissipated, temporarily breaking up the never-ending pattern of ridicule.“Enough! I will find her. I will discover from where in time the witch came and I will destroy her and her friends.”His hand reached down and caressed the flames. His skin burned to a cinder, only to instantly heal again only seconds later.“This time, they will all die. This time, no one will stand in the way of my ascendance.”The fires licked up and over his arm. Tempus Dux stepped forward and let the full force of the flames consume him. As the flames burned his body to cinders, the images flickered again in his mind’s eye.This time he would not fail.
Attack of the Demon
I.Emma Gets in Trouble
“I told you before, Mister Shirai. My father and I built K-Tech from the ground up. I’m not going to sell it to you or anyone else! You can’t have my company and you can’t have our technology!”Emma Briscoe rose from her chair. Lines of anger showed on her normally smooth brow. Her surroundings were already not to her liking. The sparse simple desk and black paneled walls of the office made her uneasy.Kazuhiko Shirai, the CEO and chief stockholder of ZTS Inc., continued to sit at his desk. A weak smile crossed his face.“Think of your future, Miss Briscoe.” Despite only being in the United States for only a few years, Shirai spoke nearly without an accent. Only the precise enunciation of words marred his near perfect control of the language. “You are a twenty-something with more tattoos than experience. You have no idea how to run your own business. Perhaps your father could stop a takeover, but I do not think you stand a chance. It is best if you just cooperate, let your shares of K-Tech be brought in to ZTS, and avoid any messy complications.”“I hoped you would give up trying to coerce or cajole me with this meeting, Mister Shirai. K-Tech isn’t for sale to you or anyone else. It is my father’s legacy to me and I won’t let it go for anyone.”Shirai’s smile flattened. His eyes turned hard. “So be it, Miss Briscoe. I fear you will come to regret this decision.”“I doubt that very much,” Emma said. She rose from her seat and headed towards the office door.Five minutes and eighty-two floors later, she was on the street in front of Tower Z. Night was already falling across the city of Islington. The cold autumn air cut through her blouse. A shiver ran down her back. She pulled a Zippo and her last pack of Luckies from her laptop bag. She quickly lit the cigarette and took a deep, relaxing puff. Her insides slightly warmed, she started down the street towards the nearest tube station.She didn’t like it, but Shirai was right about one thing. K-Tech’s financial footing wasn’t in good shape. Their latest chip promised to be the most powerful computer chip ever designed, but the specifications weren’t coming together correctly. It would be at least a few more months in development and the shareholders wanted it in stores yesterday. It could make billions, but only if it could be finished.Emma was far from a billionaire right now. She had already given up her apartment for a cot above the K-Tech labs. She didn’t have anything close to cab fare. She wouldn’t have had train fare if it wasn’t for the lifetime transit card her father received after designing the computer algorithms that controlled the entire tube system.The street lights suddenly flickered and died around her. Seconds later, the lighted windows from Tower Z clicked off one by one.As the last remaining light faded, she saw figures in black flash towards her. She caught only a glimpse of the blades in their hands as they closed in.She screamed.“Get down, you fool!”The words came out like a growl, but Emma instantly recognized the sense of them. She dropped to the sidewalk. She heard metal strike metal. Then again. And again. And again.Her hands went back to her laptop bag. She fished around for the Zippo in the dark. She found it, yanked it free and flipped it open. With one quick flick, flame burst forth and lit her immediate surroundings.A single man stood over her. He wore a pair of jeans and a tattered t-shirt. The black-dressed men materialized around him. Each cloaked figure carried a katana crafted in dark metal. The man above her met each of their swings with a careful grace, but it was his own weapons that amazed her.Half a dozen blades emerged from each of his wrists. The longest were well over two feet, but several others circled around it. She could see the stain of blood trickling from the base of the blades, but far more of it seemed to coat the long blades.Her apparent rescuer caught each of their attacks in the mass of blades around his wrists. When the attacker’s blades became entangled, he quickly turned the longer blade of his free hand in to cut the attacker down.She watched him move with an amazing level of grace above her. She couldn’t fathom why these men were out to kill her, nor who the man above her could be, but she could be nothing but grateful for his speedy arrival.“The light,” he growled. “Get rid of it.”Emma hesitated for a moment, but after only a few seconds she closed the lighter. She hated to be lost in the dark, but she knew now wasn’t time to question the man that came to her rescue.She could hear the battle continue, but she could only weakly clutch her laptop bag to her and hope that none of the sounds of flesh being rent came from her savior.Time seemed to stand still around her. She wished she could remember any of the prayers from her childhood, but none came to her head. She could only silently plead with whatever force controlled the earth. Please don’t let me die here. Please, please, please!She felt a hand wrap around her shoulder. She cried out.“Shut up! They will hear you. Come on now, before more arrive.”She relaxed at the familiar growl of her savior.He yanked her up to her feet. She ran as hard as she could behind him. She stumbled as they reached the stairs. He braced her to keep her from tumbling down.She saw the light of the tube station below and breathed a sigh of relief.Her rescuer didn’t look back at her as he spoke. “We’re not safe yet. More are coming.”He pulled her along as they hustled down the stairs. Emma tried to look back, but the speed with which he forced her to move made seeing much of anything in the dark impossible. They reached the base of the stairs and continued into the nearly empty station.“Ah!” Emma felt a sharp sting of pain in her shoulder. Her feet instantly gave away beneath her. Her arms felt like lead as she brought them up to stop her fall to the cement.She slowly raised her hands to her shoulder. Her hand wrapped around the shaft of the arrow embedded in her flesh.“Don’t touch it,” her rescuer said. “Try not to move at all. You will only increase the speed of the poison.”Did he just say poison? Her eyes felt heavy and her mind clouded.“Help me.” She tried to yell the words, but they came out as barely a whisper. Her vision a blur, she could no longer keep her eyes open. She tried to choke out one last “please”, but it was too late. Her eyes fell shut and the darkness consumed her.II.Brothers in arms
“I can’t believe you brought an outsider in here!”“They would have killed her,” a familiar voice growled from the darkness. “Did you want me just to let them kill again?”“You could have brought the entire clan down upon us!”Emma struggled to open her eyes. They still felt heavy, but the pain in her shoulder seemed gone.“I’m not a fool. They didn’t follow me.” Her rescuer sighed. “I did what I thought was right, Prometheus. Either way, it’s been done. It’s like Dad always says. We have to deal with what’s happening, not with how we want it to be.”A large brown mass filled Emma’s vision as she struggled to clear it. Whatever it was, it was far bigger than any man she had ever seen.“Hey, guys,” a deep voice boomed. “I think she’s awake.”As her vision slowly cleared, the mass in front of her began to take shape. The brown formed in to fur. Fur coating a massive brown bear!She cried out and tried to struggle up and away. Pain lanced through her shoulder, far worse than anything she felt before.“Samson, you idiot! You’re scaring her!”The bear threw up two strangely human hands in front of her. He backed away. “Sorry, lady. Don’t scream! I’m not gonna hurt you!”Emma realized that the deep voice radiated from the bear’s masked muzzle.Emma’s scream faded in her throat. “You can talk?”The bear scratched the back of his head. “Well, yeah. Same as you can.”“Get out of the way, Samson.”A normal sized figure pushed past the bear. His black hair was long and his skin was very red, as if he suffered some kind of severe sunburn.“I need you to stay calm, miss. You’ve been injured. We’ve cleaned the wound and treated the poison from the arrowhead, but it will still be a couple days before you can safely move around.”She looked past him and saw the other man in the room, the man that rescued her. He stood with arms crossed. He wore a plain white t-shirt that fit perfectly across his heavily muscled chest and abdomen. He would have been handsome if not for the scars that covered the entire left side of his face and traveled all the way up his completely bald head. His skin was mocha colored, and his eyes dark.“Where am I? Who are all of you? Are we in Federation? We aren’t supposed to have any metas in Islington.”“We can’t tell you where you are yet,” the long-haired man said. “But know that you are safe as long as we are with you. My name is Prometheus Morgan. The guy that helped you is my brother Damocles. The big guy is Samson. Our fourth brother Horus is around somewhere, but he doesn’t like guests.”“You picked the wrong bunch of people to get involved with lady,” Damocles said. “ZTS is just a subsidiary of a company called Zodiac Holdings. They’re run by a ninja cult called the Hidden Demon. They aren’t nice people. If I hadn’t been there, you would be very dead right now.”“I don’t understand. ZTS is a computer conglomerate, nothing more.”“That’s what they want you to believe,” Prometheus said. “Fifteen years ago, Kazuhiko Shirai was in America for the first time. He ran a genetics lab back then and—”“The horror draws near, brothers. We face great peril soon.”The new voice spoke in a loud whisper. A fourth man sat with his legs crossed, yet he floated several feet off the ground. His face was pale, almost chalk white. While his face was gaunt, his body was almost impossibly thin. It seemed like a stiff wind could have knocked him over if not for his knack for levitation. His eyes didn’t focus on any of them. Instead, he seemed to focus past them, past the walls of the room.She assumed this must be the aforementioned Horus.“They know who you were, Jigsaw. They know that we’re out there, and they have been waiting for this sign. Shirai is not pleased at Ms. Briscoe’s survival, but he thinks of us as a consolation prize. A chance to redeem his past mistakes.”“Jigsaw,” Emma said. “Who’s Jigsaw?”“Don’t worry about it right now, lady,” Damocles said. “We need to decide on our next action. If the Hidden Demon is gunning for us, we need to attack first. Put the battle on our own terms. We can’t let them find Babs.”“Babs,” Emma said. “Who’s Babs?”An angry glare from Prometheus told Emma she should be quiet. With the pain in her shoulder, she didn’t think it best to argue right now.“We can’t just run off half-cocked,” Prometheus said. “You will get us killed. We need to fortify our position and take them out when they arrive.”“They want to kill us,” Horus said. “And the surface—I don’t want to go to the surface.”Surface? What are they talking about? Emma opened her mouth, but another glare from Prometheus shut her down before she could speak a word.Samson smashed his two massive hands together in a booming clap. “We need to kick some butt! We need to get out there and show those ninjas who’s boss!”“The matter is settled then,” Prometheus said. “The vote is two to two. A tie always falls on the side of caution.”“Unless I choose to break said tie,” a new voice said. “Isn’t that correct, my son?”Prometheus bowed his head. “Yes, father.”Emma had never seen a man quite like the final figure to enter the room. He couldn’t have been more than five feet tall, but his brown skin hung on his bones as if someone gave him another foot’s worth of it. A large afro, wrapped in a headband, framed his head.Despite the excess skin that hung off him like a shar-pei, he seemed familiar somehow. Emma couldn’t place from where however.She did know that of the other four men, only Damocles looked like he could be related. Yet all seemed to look at him as a father.She doubted it was a formal adoption.The new arrival turned his attention to her. “Welcome to our home, Ms. Briscoe. I wish it could be under better circumstances. Alas, it seems you have found yourself in a situation far more dangerous than you could ever suspect.”He glanced over at the boys, before he turned back to her. “Whatever the case, I apologize for my sons’ inability to introduce me. My name is Keith.”“Hello, Keith,” she said.She wasn’t sure what to say next, but Keith quickly made it a non-issue. He turned his attention back to his sons. “You must meet the Hidden Demon on your own terms. But we must also do it quickly and effectively. We will challenge Shirai to a duel at a location of our choosing. He will plan an ambush, but we will be ready for him.”“And then we kick some butt,” Samson said with another clap of excitement.Prometheus looked at Keith with concern. “Father, are you sure this is the right path for us?”“I am, my sons. But I understand your trepidation, Prometheus, just as I understand why Horus wishes to remain here. Despite that, we need to stand ready as one. Babs and I have made sure you are ready for the coming battle. You can win this fight, and you will.”Prometheus nodded.Keith turned to Horus. “You must finish the last few touches on the Asimov. We will need the new armaments in the coming battle.”“Yes, father.”He turned back to Prometheus. “I understand your worries and I respect them. Your caution will be a strength in the coming battle. That is why I choose you to deliver our message to Shirai.”“Yes, father.”“We will meet them at Smithson’s,” Keith said. “They will think it to their favor, but we will prove them wrong. Won’t we?”Damocles smiled in the corner. Emma understood why the man rarely smiled. His grin seemed more sinister than happy.Prometheus turned to Emma. “Get some rest. Your time may not be so restful in a few hours.”“What—I don’t—”Prometheus gave her no time to finish. He turned and walked from the bedside. Emma wanted to see where he went, but she didn’t want to bring back the roaring pain in her shoulder.Keith turned back to Emma. He gave her a smile, which reminded her once again of something canine.“I think you’ve listened to me ramble quite long enough. My boys are not used to outsiders, so I apologize that they are so cryptic. Perhaps it’s best if I just explained where we come from. It will pass the time while we wait for Prometheus and Horus to finish their tasks. Would that be all right?”Emma nodded.“Good. It started just over fifteen years ago…”
III.Written in Flames
Prometheus Morgan lurked in the evening’s shadows. He stood across from the massive Tower Z. The skyscraper glowed in the night. Light emanated from each window, whether anyone was inside or not. He figured they claimed it was for some aesthetic purpose. But the glowing lights that framed each window also made it impossible for anyone to see inside. It was a deviously perfect way to hide a ninja clan’s activity.He turned away from the tower. While Tower Z was tall, its height only barely surpassed the building on Prometheus’s side of the street. The Commerce Center was the pride of Islington. The one hundred story structure held thousands of businesses and served as the headquarters for three multinational corporations. Its presence allowed the city all the financial clout it needed to stake its claim as more than a suburb of either Federation to the north or St. Louis to the south.It also would serve as the perfect perch from which to deliver his message to the office of Kazuhiko Shirai.He took a running leap and bounded into the air. Suddenly his skin burned away, replaced by roaring blue flames. He kept them as dark as he could. He didn’t want to stand out like a beacon in the night.If anyone did see him, very few people wanted to deal with a dark skeleton covered in flames.He pushed a wave of heat straight down beneath him. The flames burned hot enough to heat the very air. The hot air currents launched his flaming body straight upwards.He reached the halfway point of the building, somewhere around the one thousand yard mark, in just over thirty seconds. He drove both hands in to the side of the building. They immediately melded into the steel plate of the wall.He looked at his burning skull in the plate glass window. He smiled, but with no visible musculature he couldn’t tell it in his reflection.Prometheus pulled one hand free and reached up as high as his arm could reach. His hand melded again with the steel frame. He dug his toes into the metal and used his feet to push up while using his hands to retain a grip against the metal.He moved quickly. The longer he stayed in one place, the greater the structural damage he would cause. He didn’t want to melt down the city’s grandest building in order to deliver his message.Climbing as fast as he could, it still took him over an hour to climb to the peak of the tower. From here, he could see Shirai’s office with ease.He pulled one hand free of the wall. He aimed two fingers at Shirai’s office and concentrated. Flames burst forth from his fingertips.They struck the window with the force of a battering ram. The window exploded and the pressurized air from the room burst forth and deepened his flames.Prometheus focused his attention at the far wall of the office. He didn’t want to hurl more flames in to the room, but he still needed to deliver his message. It took most of his concentration, but he could also channel flames into anything within his view. He visualized the exact image he wanted burned in to it.Or more accurately the words he wanted to burn in to it.The flames burst forth in perfect form.
HIDDEN DEMON,A DUEL OF FATESSMITHSON’S YARDFOUR HOURS
Men appeared inside the broken window and stared out at him. He allowed his flames to burn down to a smoldering red. He waved as he released the wall and hurled back towards the ground.He couldn’t hear Shirai’s men, but he could see them point and yell.He braced his fall with hot air currents and floated easily to the ground. He let his flames die as he disappeared back into the darkness.The ninjas weren’t the only ones that knew how to vanish in the night.
IV.Fifteen Years Ago
“Karate” Keith Morgan disliked his nickname. He was a master of karate, but he also held black belts in taekwondo, three forms of kung fu and jujitsu. His skills marked him as one of the best martial artists in the world. Certainly, he was the best trained Westerner.He never learned much ninjitsu, but a genetics lab wasn’t built to withstand someone like him. He suspected Tenryu Labs would possess many layers to keep inspectors from discovering their true purpose, but they wouldn’t stand up to a single individual sneaking his way in under cover of night.Or so he hoped.He didn’t like anything about this assignment. If his handler was right, the lab held dozens of children. Children that were tortured and experimented upon.At least his entryway was intact. He didn’t like slinking in through a sewer grate, but the passage was big enough to allow him to stand upright as he moved deeper into the substructure of Tenryu Labs’ warehouse-sized facility.It took twenty minutes to get inside. The grate opened into a commissary somewhere in the sublevel of the building. At three in the morning it was quite empty. He quietly made his way in the hallway.Even at minimal staff, he knew he only had a small amount of time to find out what kind of experiments Tenryu performed. He started down the hall as quick as he could safely move.Each door was marked, but the first four proved to be nothing more than simple offices. The fourth door was far more interesting.The large metal door was marked clearly: SPECIMEN HOLDING FACILITY.He tried the door only to find it locked. He reached into his afro and pulled out a pair of lock picks. It took him just under a minute to crack the lock.Keith walked in to hell. Dozens of cages, all about five feet square, lined the room. Each held a child. All appeared to be boys and none of them were over the age of ten. Several suffered visible mutations: one possessed the head of a fish (complete with a bowl of water around his head) while another looked more like a bear than a human. They all were asleep. Probably sedated, he thought.He walked up to the nearest cage. It held a mixed boy, maybe six years old at most. His hair fell away in patches from his head. A long scar ran across the right side of his face.The boy next to him fidgeted in his cage, though clearly asleep. His skin was a pale white, almost albino.Keith couldn’t see anymore without acting. Damn the plan, he thought. I have to help these boys.He opened both cages with his picks, then moved down to the next one. This dark-haired boy appeared normal and relatively unharmed. Keith freed him anyway. He opened the bear kid’s cage next. He reached inside to try and rouse the boy.The bear opened his eyes and stared up at him. Keith spoke calmly despite the boy’s fearsome demeanor. “Come on. Wake up the others. I’m getting you out of here.”The bear-boy seemed confused, but he quickly pulled himself to his feet. He shuffled across the floor to the other three boys and started to shake them awake.The dim lights suddenly turned red above him. A siren clanged in the hallway. Keith silently cursed his luck.“Come on, boys! We’ve got to go!”He grabbed the fidgety kid and slung him over his shoulder. The other three boys followed him as he sprinted towards the other end of the corridor.His only hope was to find an exit somewhere down at the other end of the holding pens. He needed to get out and call for help.He stopped short a hundred meters in to the specimen room. A large glass containment unit sat in the center of the room. Inside it was something even he had never seen.The creature’s two legs and four arms all seemed mangled. Despite that, the elongated head, the hairless gray skin and the strange bone structure of the creature inside made its origins very clear. He was looking at an alien.He thought it was dead until it slowly raised its head to look at him.Keith stared up at it in disbelief. The facility has a pet alien, he thought.His shoulder screamed out in pain. He watched the red bullet shatter the alien’s glass case. It took him a moment longer to realize the red was his own blood.Two more rounds cut in to his back and thigh. Another sliced in to the side of his neck. A fountain of blood exploded from his punctured jugular.The boy slipped from his shoulder down to the ground. Keith slumped forward against the glass. As he slid down the case, a trail of his blood coated the cracked case.The alien reached down and pushed one multi-segmented finger through the crack in the glass. It brushed against Keith’s left arm as he fell.
Keith stood in a field of darkness. “Am I dead?”The alien suddenly stood before him. “Not yet. I have used a mental link to build this recess in your mind. It will give us time to communicate. You are dying, Keith Morgan. Your wounds are fatal. You will bleed to death within three minutes.”“I’m going to die?”“I am sorry,” the alien said. “But yes. The boys you have freed can have a chance to live.”“How? How can I help them?”“My body is mangled. You saw my arms and my legs. They have been destroyed by the madmen that have experimented on the children and me. I cannot walk, let alone carry them out on my own. But there is a way around my limitation.”“How?”“I am capable of melding my genetic code with a native of any planet. But to do so will subsume the entire will and form of that creature. The native’s thoughts and memories will live on inside me, but their soul self will escape into the nether and their final rest.”“You want my body?”The alien said nothing.“Yes,” Keith said. “Please save these children. Get them to somewhere far away from these psychos and give them a better life.”“I promise this, Keith Morgan. Take my hand.”Keith reached out and touched the alien’s gnarled fingertips.
Keith rose up from the bloody pool. He felt the wounds close on his back as his body merged with its former occupant. He lifted the pale skinned boy off the ground.“My Enigma, I need your powers.” He touched the boy’s forehead.The child’s eyes shot open. He stared coldly at the three armed guards with their sidearms aimed towards them. With a flick of his hands, the guns flew from the guards’ grip.Keith looked to the other three boys. “Come, children. While they’re disorganized.”Keith lifted Enigma back to his shoulders and then ran back towards the door.The guards moved to cut them off.Keith looked to the young bear-child. “Kodiak, remove them.”Kodiak barreled into the guards shoulder first. He laughed out loud as the two men flew through the air from his blow.“I am sorry my Damocles, but I need you to remove the door.”Blades ripped from the scarred child’s forearms. A pair of swift strikes cut the door from its hinges.“Young Prometheus, use your fire to mask our escape.”The dark-haired boy’s skin burst into flame. He hurled it at the floor behind them.Keith led the boys through the winding tunnels of the facility and to the surface. It proved easy for the alien. His former guards did little to mask their thoughts from him. While his own telepathy was now subsumed inside the human’s mind, his memory was still quite intact.His newfound mastery of the martial arts, Enigma’s telekinesis and Cinder’s flames made short work of the few remaining guards they met along the way.Damocles sliced the main garage door open. The alien and his four charges walked out into the night sky for the first time in years. The children could not help but to look up at the array of stars glowing in the darkness.“Come, children. We are free, but we are not yet safe. I have sanctuary for us all, but we must move with speed and silence. Do you understand?”As Keith looked down on them, each boy nodded in turn. He could see their need. Keith remembered the promise he made to the body’s former owner. He would look after the children as best as he could on this planet.“Follow me then. Tonight was your first battle, but I fear it will be only the first of many.”
V.Preparation for War
Emma stared at the withered body of Keith as he finished his tale.“Are you telling me you’re an alien?”Keith lifted the flaps of skin hanging from his cheeks. “Did you think I was some kind of half-man, half-bulldog? It has been fifteen earth years since my melding with the body of Keith Morgan. It will be another two before my body has fully transformed back to its proper shape.”“And the boys you rescued are your four ‘sons’?”“I have raised them since that day,” Keith said.“Prometheus is a master of flames and chose the name Cinder after he burnt a plant to nothing but his namesake. Horus, or Enigma, is a telekine, but he is also an omnipath. Thousands of thoughts rush in to his head from everyone around him every day. It’s a wonder he remains as sane as he is.“Samson is also Kodiak, but far stronger than the bear that is his namesake. My Damocles was the last to take his name. He can grow blades from anywhere on his body, but doing so tears at his flesh. He can heal quickly, but each wound leaves a scar behind on his frame. Because of this, he has named himself Jigsaw.“Outside of Damocles, they all chose their own names with the help of my greatest aid in their development. Babs, say hello.”A loud ding punctuated the room. “Hello, Miss Briscoe. It is a pleasure to have you grace our presence.”Emma tried to find the source of the disembodied voice, but quickly realized it was coming from all sides. Her thoughts traveled back to her childhood watching various sci fi shows and the disembodied computer voices each starship possessed.“A computer?” Emma said.“Not just a computer. An artificial digital intelligence. The boys named her after one Charles Babbage, an early innovator of Earth-based computational technology. She quickly went from Babbage to Babs.”“I’ve been stabbed and sent to Star Trek.”“This is not science fiction, I’m afraid. We don’t have magic teleporters or the ability to synthesize food out of thin air. But we do have the remains of the technology that I brought with me to your planet. With it, we have a chance against the Hidden Demon.”“What about the other children? You said they held dozens more inside the facility.”“They did,” Keith said. “But the lab burned to the ground the next day. The arson inspectors found nothing inside but aging paper supplies. The entire lab was removed within twenty-four hours. I still do not even know whether they kept the other children alive or just liquidated them for expediency. I do know that without continued samples of my DNA, their experiments will meet with failure.”“Why?”“For the same reason I was able to meld with Keith Morgan and take my current form. My race possesses the ability to constantly adapt our structure to give us the attributes we need to survive any clime or atmosphere. Combined with human DNA it can be allowed to activate the metagene and even tailor it to certain specifications.”“They wanted super-soldiers,” Emma said. “They wanted to create an army of metahumans.”“Almost certainly. My escape thwarted that. They would almost certainly do anything to have me in their clutches again.”“The Hidden Demon moves,” Enigma said from the doorway. “They begin their plans for an ambush already.”Kodiak roused from an apparent nap in the corner.“They want to get the jump on us,” he said. “They think they can beat us.”“Do not be overconfident,” Keith warned. He turned back to Enigma. “Are the preparations ready?”Enigma nodded. “She’ll hold together even under heavy fire.”“Excellent,” Keith said. “Samson, Jigsaw, go meet your brother at the rendezvous site. We will follow you shortly.”Jigsaw came off the wall that he leaned against. Kodiak seemed ready to leap with joy. Emma couldn’t help but think of the massive bear as little more than a big kid.Jigsaw and Keith both looked at the bear man. He settled down. Jigsaw nodded towards the door. Kodiak waved goodbye as he followed his brother out of the room.“Your plan,” Emma said to Keith. “Is there anything I can do to help?”“Hold on.”“Okay. I thought we were talking.”“No, I mean hold on to the bed.” Keith turned to Enigma. “Let’s get moving.”Enigma slumped to the floor. Emma could just barely make out the top of his head from her vantage point in the bed.The room suddenly started to shake. An earthquake?She instinctively clutched at the covers of her bed.“Keep it steady,” Keith said. “The inertial dampeners are running on auxiliary power. If you move too fast or suddenly shift, I can’t guarantee we won’t be splattered against a wall.”Emma’s eyes shot back towards the alien. “What are you doing? What’s happening?”“When I freed the boys from the facility, I took them to the only place I knew I could guarantee their safety. When the Hidden Demon first caught me, I was away from my ship. So after the escape, we traveled back to where it rested: buried under the Mississippi river. It could no longer fly, but its internal systems worked perfectly. It made the perfect home to keep the boys protected.”“Wait, we’re in your spaceship?”“Yes, the Asimov. Yet another of the boys’ names.”“Are we flying?”“So to speak,” Keith said. “Enigma is using his telekinesis to pull the ship out of the earth. He can give us maneuverability while I operate the weapons system aboard.”“We’re going to the battle?”Keith smiled under his hang dog skin. “I told you to hold on tight.”VI.Showdown with the Hidden Demon
Cinder showed no fear as he walked alongside his brothers in to Smithson’s Junkyard. His face was smeared with warpaint in the shape of a black skull. Jigsaw wore paint as well, though his was in white and black. The design consisted of two puzzle pieces, one in each color connected over the bridge of his nose.They hoped the designs would make them look more menacing than a typical male in their early twenties, as well as conceal their features from the Hidden Demon’s forces.Kodiak followed a couple steps behind. The massive bear-man didn’t feel a need for any disguise. He wore his usual face mask and shorts.A large clearing sat in the middle of Smithson’s Yard. The area had once held a massive compactor and incinerator but both were removed after the city decommissioned the junkyard three years earlier. Planned renovations for the site ended when the recession grew deeper in the area.Mounds of bagged trash, totaled cars and general refuse encircled the clearing in every direction except the path the three brothers now walked on.Cinder caught movement out of the corners of his eyes. He knew they were surrounded. He glanced to Jigsaw. His brother gently nodded to make it clear that he also saw their attackers.A group of five ninja awaited them on the far side of the junkyard. None appeared to be armed. Four were masked. The fifth he recognized as Kazuhiko Shirai.The three brothers walked to the center of the clearing. Cinder met Shirai’s grim stare.Shirai stepped forward and spoke. “It has been many years since you escaped me, children. Your loss brought great dishonor to the Hidden Demon, but more importantly you brought dishonor to me. I do not like to be played for a fool. Tell me, what became of your alien savior.”Cinder opened his mouth to speak, but Jigsaw beat him to it.“He died. He’s been dead for years.”“I don’t think so,” Shirai said with a twisted smile. “I think he put you up to this fight. I think he sent you here to die.”“We’re not dying today,” Cinder said. “I could have killed you in your own office today. Instead we have chosen to fight you with honor.”“Honor is for fools. I hoped you would be wiser.” Shirai shook his head. “I created you to be warriors. Instead you will be victims.”His other warriors slowly emerged from the shadows. Though dressed as ninjas, their equipment proved far more modern. They all carried a variety of firearms: handguns, shotguns, automatic rifles. Cinder even spotted a few rocket launchers in the mix.“Our meeting was supposed to be a duel,” Cinder said.“I changed the plans,” Shirai said. “As I said before, honor is for fools. I am no fool.”“Aren’t you? You came here and just assumed that we would walk in to an ambush unprepared. I doubt you even know what we can do.”Shirai laughed. “Of course I know what you can do. I created you. The big one behind you possesses immense strength. Another one can generate fire at will. Your scarred friend is certainly our close range combat unit. And then there is the telekine—where is the telekine?”“If you’re so smart,” Jigsaw said with a sadistic grin, “why don’t you tell us?”A stack of mangled cars exploded to the brothers’ right. Hidden Dragon warriors flew up in to the air, but before they could land another blast destroyed a mound of refuse across the clearing.Three more blasts cut down the armed men surrounding the brothers before a single firearm could be brought to the ready. The Asimov ripped through the sky above them. Cinder knew it would be a couple minutes before it could turn and make another pass.Which made it his turn.He raised both arms high and let the fire consume his flesh. Red-orange flames burst forth from his skin. He concentrated the blaze in his hands. Twin balls of napalm formed in between his fingers.He twisted around and hurled them at two of the remaining groups of soldiers. The fireballs exploded on contact and engulfed the debris around the soldiers in flames. Acrid smoke filled the air.Cinder mopped up the rest of the would-be ambush team in under a minute. Only a few stray bullets escaped their guns.The brothers turned to Shirai and his remaining men.Blades slowly lowered from Jigsaw’s arms as they approached the four remaining men.“You think you have won,” Shirai said. “But I told you I was not a fool. I have contingencies. Backups to my backup plans. You won’t defeat me that easily.”He laughed again. “No, I think it’s time to find out what happened to the rest of my project.”A blast of ice-cold air ripped in to the brothers. Cinder felt the cold bite in his own flames. He poured on more energy to keep the fire burning, but that only seemed to make the cold strengthen.He realized that the cold emanated from the outstretched hands of one of Shirai’s guards. No, it can’t be…Coils coated with a glowing green phosphorescence fell from the arms of another guard. The clothes of the third suddenly ripped from his flesh as he grew. This guard’s skin thickened and hardened until it formed into some kind of metallic hide.Shirai smirked. “Kill them.”
Kodiak charged in to meet an enemy almost as big as he was. His metal foe ran forward to meet him. He crashed in to his enemy with all his might, but neither of them budged.“Another strong guy,” Kodiak said. “Awesome!”“I am Ironclad. And I will break you.”Kodiak slammed a fist down on to Ironclad’s skull. “I saw Rocky IV too. But I rooted for Stallone!”He drove a fist up in to Ironclad’s chin. The blow jarred the metal man’s head, but seemed to not cause him anymore harm.“Dang.”Ironclad pounded his fists in to Kodiak’s chest. A lucky shot caught him in the gut. Kodiak gasped for air. Ironclad hefted Kodiak up in to the air. Kodiak flew through the air and crashed to the ground over a dozen yards away.He laughed. “This is going to be fun!”
A coil lashed out at Jigsaw. He tried to cut it away, but the appendage moved in midair to avoid his strike. The coil’s tip lashed against his left arm. His skin burned beneath its touch.His foe laughed maniacally. “Time to die, blade boy! Madcoil’s got to get rid of you cuz I’ve got way more killin’ to do!”The coil quickly tightened its grip on his forearm. Jigsaw could smell his burning skin beneath the lash’s acid touch.“Screw this,” Jigsaw said.A trio of blades show up through his skin and the coils. Madcoil howled in pain.“You’re gonna pay for that, home skillet. I’m going to make you beg to die!”“Try it,” Jigsaw said in return. “I’m in the mood to hurt someone today.”Madcoil charged towards him. Jigsaw raised his arms and extended more blades to strike.
The ice-man met every blast of flame Cinder could throw at him. The flame would fizzle and die in midair, only to be replaced by another biting wave of cold that threatened to extinguish his fires.“Hey, Ice-boy, eat this!”Cinder hurled a concentrated wave of flame towards his foe. Ice-boy raised his hands and again met the fire with a deflecting wave of super-cool air.Ice-boy only shook his head in response.Cinder knew he couldn’t beat his enemy’s ice powers on his own. His brothers and he made a tactical mistake when they let their metahuman foes direct them into single fights.“Kodiak, Jigsaw, go switch hitter!”Kodiak nodded as he charged Ironclad. The two figures again crashed in to one another. This time, Kodiak dropped to his own knees. He wrapped his hands around Ironclad’s right leg. With one mighty grunt, he dead lifted the metal monster up and off the ground.Ironclad crashed down in-between Cinder’s flames and Ice-boy’s waves of cold. He instantly roared out in pain as the fire and ice ripped through his armor and body.It took only a few long seconds. As Ice-boy ended his assault, Ironclad’s solid white eyes rolled to the back of his heed. He toppled head first on to the dirt and gravel at their feet.Ice-boy raised his hands to lash out with another wave of cold, but it was already too late. Jigsaw struck him from the side. Jig’s arm blades quickly ripped a chunk out of the side of Ice-boy.Ice-boy opened his mouth to scream but no words would emerge.Jigsaw did a quick turn and drove the base of his boot straight into the side of Ice-boy’s head. He was unconscious before he hit the gravel.Madcoil’s lashes streaked towards Jigsaw again. Cinder hurled a wall of flame between the glowing green appendages and his brother. Madcoil roared in pain as the flames burned in to his whip-like lashes.He yanked them back quickly. “I’m gonna kill y’all for that! I’ll eat your spleens when I’m done. I will suck the marrow from your bones. I’ll—”Kodiak’s fist came down hard on the back of Madcoil’s skull. Even after he hit the ground hard, his lashes continued to flail. for a few seconds.The three brothers met in each other’s eyes.“That was fun,” Kodiak said.“Stay focused,” Cinder said to them both.“We ain’t done yet.” Jigsaw turned towards Kazuhiko Shirai.“We got one more to go.”VII.The Face of the Demon
Panic rose in Shirai’s eyes. He put his hands up in front of him as if to ward the boys away.“Please! Please don’t hurt me. Please, it wasn’t me. I’m just a puppet, a cog in machine. I didn’t want to experiment on you boys. I was just following orders!”Jigsaw stalked closer to him. “You sound like a whole lot of Nazis. They just followed orders while they murdered thousands. And what did the Allies do? They strung them up.” The slightest hint of a smirk crossed his face. “You would be so lucky.”“No, please, please! The ninja story is just a ruse. It was meant to cover up the true implications of who I worked for. Please I’ll tell you everything I know.”“Talk,” Jigsaw said.“The organization is huge. The Hidden Demon is just the tip of a fingernail of the full beast. All I know is that the orders came down from on high. From somewhere too big for me to ever know. I reported to a man named Moon. Lucian Moon. He’s the one that distributed your crèche mates. He can tell you where to find the rest of them.”Cinder’s flames burned brighter. Jigsaw watched approvingly. He liked it when his brother let out his anger.Cinder streaked across the clearing. His burning hand stopped short of grabbing Shirai’s throat.“How many? How many of our brothers did you turn into monsters?”“One hundred sixty-eight.” Shirai recoiled in fear. “Eleven died on missions. Another five died from power complications. Twenty-three have gone AWOL. Please, don’t kill me. I can help you find them. Please.”“He’s lying, brothers.” Dressed completely in a black jumpsuit, the wiry frame of Enigma floated down from above. A black question mark sat in the center of the field of white face paint that he wore. “Now that the field of battle is clear, father sent me to give you aid.”Jigsaw grabbed Enigma by the shoulder “What do you mean he’s lying?”“He doesn’t know where our brothers are. He just wants to use the promise of finding them to escape with his life. He isn’t even sure if the name he gave us, Lucian Moon, knows their whereabouts. This Moon is only another step in the chain of command.”Flame licked up from Cinder’s hand. It singed the stray hairs on Shirai’s chin. “You lied to me? I’ll burn you to cinders.”“No, please. They’ll kill me for this failure! I just want to live. I just want to—”A black bile rose from Shirai’s mouth and cut off his last words. It oozed out like something alive. Shirai’s eyes went wild. Horror filled his eyes.Cinder stepped back and watched as the pus continued to stream forth. Shirai frantically clawed at the mass with his hands but he only managed to further spread the substance across his skin.“Burn him,” Jigsaw yelled. “Cinder, burn him!”Jigsaw’s words seemed to bring Cinder out of his momentary state of shock. He threw up his hands and sent a wave of fire at Shirai and the noxious black ooze.Kazuhiko Shirai continued to struggle against the black mass as red-gold flames engulfed him. Jigsaw watched his brother shift the flames hotter. The reds and golds intensified into full blue.Smoke filled the air around them.Cinder reined in his flames. They died down and slowly melted back into delicate red skin. His clothes were gone except for a pair of specially designed shorts crafted by Keith and Babs for just such an occasion.“It’s over,” Cinder said. “We won.”A massive black monster rose up from out of the smoke. Twisted ebony horns rose from its skull. A noxious ichor dripped from razor-sharp teeth. The former Shirai’s nose was gone, melted by the ooze. Muscles rippled across the creature’s chest as it raised one dripping clawed hand up to strike Cinder.Jigsaw bounded up and over his brother. He drove his blade straight into the monster’s glowing red left eye. The monster’s blood hissed and burned against Jigsaw’s blade as he let the momentum of the strike drive the creature to the ground.Jigsaw buried his blades in the monster’s head again and again and again. As they melted away, he pushed replacements from his bare flesh. He didn’t stop until the demon’s head was a mass of black putty in the middle of the yard.Kodiak reached out and pulled his brother back. Jigsaw continued to lash out at the monster, but his brother’s tight grip slowly calmed him.The demon’s body slowly began to dissolve. The black pus that coated Shirai’s skin seemed to dissipate into the air. Within seconds all that remained was a gleaming white skeleton with a crushed skull.“I’m all right,” Jigsaw said. “You can let me go.”Kodiak let his brother drop to the ground. Jigsaw landed in a heap just beside the skeleton. He climbed to his knees and stared down at the former Shirai for a few seconds.Good riddance.A hand appeared in front of him. He looked up to see Cinder’s outreached arm. He grasped the hand and let his brother help him up.Cinder pulled him into a hug. “You saved my life, Damocles. I know we have our problems, but—”“Enough touchy feely crap,” Jigsaw said. “I did what I needed to do to keep my brother and teammate alive. I would expect the same out of all of you.”Jigsaw glanced down at the skeleton.“Even with Shirai dead, you are wrong, brother. This isn’t over. I think this is only the beginning.”VIII.Emma’s Farewell
Emma sat at the edge of the bed. She wore a black sweatshirt that hung loosely off her body. The shirt clearly belonged to one of the boys (she guessed Damocles), but they gave it to her to replace her own tattered and bloody blouse.Her shoulder ached, but a week in bed and the ministrations of Keith, Babs and—of all people—Kodiak had the wound bound and healed enough for her to move around. She wouldn’t have full range of motion for several weeks, but she was good enough to return to her own home over K-Tech.Kodiak insisted on a party before she could go. The four boys and their alien dad set up a few streamers, a pile of vegetarian hors d'oeuvres made just for her and a soundtrack filled with new wave, old school punk and some of the strangest techno she ever heard.Kodiak and Keith danced to a driving techno beat. It looked as comical as she could ever imagine a bear dancing with a four foot high midget would look.Enigma sat in the corner for the entire affair. He slowly nursed a bottle of beer. He seemed clearly distracted, but Emma supposed if she ever found hundreds of thoughts flying in to her head she would be quite distracted as well.Prometheus walked towards his omnipathic brother. He leaned over and whispered a few words in to Enigma’s ear. Enigma nodded, put his beer down and rose from his chair. Head ducked, Enigma quickly made an exit from the room.Emma cut off Prometheus before he could do the same.“Going somewhere?” she said.“Now that you’re healed, ZTS is gone and you can go back to a normal life, we have our own moves to make. We have nearly a hundred and fifty brothers still out there somewhere. The first three may have been corrupted beyond any hope, perhaps we can help the others on their path to redemption.”“You’re going after this Moon guy that Shirai told you about?”“We need answers about what happened to the others. If he can tell us anything, maybe we can help them.”Emma wrapped her arms around Prometheus and squeezed him tightly. He didn’t move for a moment, clearly unused to physical signs of affection. After a few long seconds, he put a hand around her to awkwardly hug her back.She pulled away just far enough to see his face. “Good luck. I hope you find them. In the past week, you’ve been like a brother to me. They would be lucky to have you.”“Thank you, Emma. If you ever need anything—”“I’ve got your number. Keith and Kodiak have both said the same thing half a dozen times already. It still makes me laugh that you live in a spaceship but still use a prepaid cell phone.”“Welcome to our world.”Emma hugged him again.As she pulled away, she could see him mull over his next move. Clearly he was as unused to goodbyes as he was hugs.“This is where you say something like ‘goodbye’,” Emma said.Prometheus nodded. Emma patted him on the shoulder, turned and let him walk away.Her eyes wandered to Damocles across the room. He quickly looked away after their eyes briefly met. He sat in Enigma’s former chair and appeared to be drinking from his brother’s abandoned beer.Was he watching me the whole time?She walked across the room towards him. He tilted in the chair and turned slightly away from her. Not happening, buster. You’re going to talk to me now whether you want to or not.She reached the wall, turned and leaned against the white plasticine surface right next to him. “Hey.”Somewhat reluctantly it seemed, he turned towards her. “Hello.”“Damocles—” She hesitated as she suddenly found her mouth dry and her words gone. “Well, I never really thanked you for saving my life. If it wasn’t for you, the Hidden Demon would have murdered me that day and my father’s company would probably be a subsidiary of ZTS by now.”“You’re welcome.”“One thing’s been bothering me about that day, though. I think about how I was just one of dozens of men and women that visited ZTS everyday. With how Shirai handled our meeting, I can’t imagine I was even close to the first person he made disappear.”“Shirai was a murderer. You were not the first and you wouldn’t have been the last.”“That’s what I thought,” Emma said. “So if that’s the case, what made you decide to save me? Why were you even watching Tower K that night?”“I—” Damocles glanced away. “I had been watching the tower for days. I wanted a chance to kill Shirai, but he never left the building by the main entrance.” He turned back to her. “You were just lucky that I was there.”She nodded. You may have lived a hard life, Damocles, but one thing you still aren’t is a good liar.“Well, thank you, Damocles. I look at your brothers and wonder if they would have done the same. It takes someone special to run to someone’s aid like you did.”“I didn’t want to see another person die. Especially one—” His words trailed off as he turned away.Emma leaned down and planted her lips on his cheek.“Thank you, Damocles. I mean that.”He turned back towards her, but awkwardly. He seemed uncomfortable at her sudden proximity to him.“If you ever need anything, just call us and we’ll be there.”“I know,” she said. She leaned in and whispered in his ear. “If you ever need to talk or just need a friend, you can call me.”She reached in to her pocket and found the slip of paper she scribbled on just before the party. She opened his hand and put the paper in it.“Call me,” she said.She turned back to Keith and Kodiak. She could feel Damocles’ eyes on her back as she walked away.She placed a hand on Kodiak’s back as she reached the dancing pair. “Thank you for this party.”“Any chance for a little fun in this stuffy old place is okay by me,” Kodiak said. His eyes fell on her somber expression.“Aw, man. You ready to go already?”“You said you would lead me back to the surface and get me home. I’ve been away from my business for a week. It’s probably chaos, no pun intended, there right now.”“All right. Never let it be said that Samson K. Morgan doesn’t fulfill the needs of the lovely ladies in his care.” He bowed to her, an awkward movement for a seven foot tall bear.She laughed. “You are always the gentleman. Or gentle bear I suppose.”“If you turn that into a Gentle Ben joke, I will maul you here and now.”“I promise, and I’ll keep way from any Grizzly Adams jokes unless Keith here grows a beard.”Kodiak bellowed a deep laugh through his mask. “You’re a breath of fresh air in this stuffy old place. I’m going to miss you, Emma! Heck, who am I going to watch all my Whitest Kids U Know DVDs with? The guys all look at me like I’m crazy. It’s been great to have someone around with a sense of humor.”“You’ll just have to teach them the true meaning of funny. Though it might take a bit of work. They don’t even smile at the sight of a dancing bear.”He gently nudged her in her good arm.“I’d hug you too,” Emma said. “But I’ve heard about bear hugs.”Kodiak laughed again. “Come on, Ms. Emma. Let’s get you home.”
What has happened to Shirai?
He has failed us, lord. He failed to secure the Chaos technology. But the problem is more far-reaching than that.
It appears he encountered the lost four subjects of the experiment and the alien. He chose to strike at them without the approval of the organization. He died for the trouble. His super soldier guards fell with him. They are in the hands of the authorities, but will be eliminated shortly.
The Hidden Demon is destroyed?
Cut down like chaff. These foes appear to be powerful. Despite their lack of military training, they have become formidable fighters. Shirai may have passed intelligence to them before his death.
Our foes will be on their way to New York. Send in the assassin. This stops now.