Then Conquer We Must: from the Chronicles Of Purgatory Station (Part 8)

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Then Conquer We Must

:from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station

(Part 8)

by

Scott William Foley

 

Sunday

“Shh.  Don’t make a sound,” Tien Phung whispered to the terrified group.  Though she fought to keep a neutral face, her quivering voice betrayed her own trepidation.  Few in the huddled mass actually spoke English, so that voice told them all they needed to know.

Those she protected clustered more closely together.

The woman peeked up through a crack as she heard the heavy footsteps slowly search the house.  Despite the chill, sweat seeped from her forehead and made her hair stick to her skin.

She thanked the Mother Goddess she hid them away in time.  Had the message arrived any later … Her rationale told her no one could have her number—a ghost left more of a trail—but her faith accepted the anonymous warning and so she heeded it.  Once the threat absconded, she would relocate those she defended; she would take them somewhere even more remote; she would discover her benefactor.

The man above could hunt all he wanted.  The only access to their hideaway lay within the forest a quarter mile north of the house.  The most able of the men led them to the ground level hatch—they previously drilled this very scenario at least a dozen times—and she followed while erasing their trail.  Half of the twenty souls she sheltered remained nearer the entry.  Some insisted on coming with her to view he who would defile them.

The man would find no one.  None in rural Wyoming possessed the technology necessary to detect them beneath the house.  They were safe.

At that moment, an explosion erupted so great its concussive force knocked all off their feet.  She sprang up amidst the dust and debris to find most of those closest to her bleeding or dead.

A heavy thump befell as a man dropped into the subterranean hideout.  Before turning around, she bellowed down the corridor, “Run!  Get out through the hatch!”

After next facing the interloper, her eyes widened, for she presumed their enemy to be some backwoods, backwards, misguided patriot. She never imagined …

He dressed head to toe in black, military-grade armor.  He wore small arms strapped to his legs, a powerful rifle rested against his back, and two barrels protruded from the gauntlets encircling his forearms.

When she saw the man’s belt with the red, glowing circle, she ascertained his identity.

“Anthem,” she said.

The man replied through his helmet’s speaker, “You are aiding a group tied to terrorist cells originating from Ulrakistan.”

“They are refugees,” she replied.  “They are not a threat.  They just want to be safe.”

“You don’t look middle-eastern,” the man responded.

The woman furrowed her brows, perplexed, then said, “I’m Vietnamese, not that it matters.”  She wanted to keep the man talking—the more she distracted him, the greater chance her survivors had to escape.

“Ah,” he replied.  “Not a real American.  I’m not surprised.”

“I’m American.  From Chicago,” she said.  “Born and raised.  My parents were immigrants, like these people.”

“Chicago? They don’t come any dirtier.”

Helping illegal aliens provided plenty of conflict and danger.  During the least ten years, the woman learned to both talk and fight her way out of seemingly impossible predicaments.  Knowing she didn’t have a prayer against the man’s weaponry, she settled on talk.

“You’re a Colossal,” she reminded.  “You’re a hero to the people.”

Though he wore a faceplate, the woman could swear she detected a smirk as the man said, “Anthem wears a big red “A” on his chest and a cape, lady.  I’m not Anthem, and I’m no hero.”

“Let them go,” she said.  “They deserve basic human rights.  They deserve a life of freedom without atrocity or hardship—”

The woman slumped to the ground with a smoking hole through the center of her head.

The screams at the end of the tunnel intensified.

The man lifted his other arm so that both barrels pointed forward.

He moved toward his prey.

 

Monday

Commander Otto Janus facilitated the debriefing.  He customarily sat at the head of the granite conference table, wearing his usual suit of the finest cut with the ever-present flag pin.  The Meta-Agent Program’s finest operatives accompanied.

The agents wore the standard black fatigues.  Only Hell Hound elected to ignore policy and wear a simple white V-neck instead of the black button-down.  Employing something between a grunt and a growl, he said, “Agent 0104 left the target alive, as dictated, and terminated the rest.  Our extraction team confiscated the target.  The clean-up crew disposed of the bodies to a predetermined remote lake typically unfrequented.  One of our operatives will pose as Phung for eight months before selling the house.  If any buyers ask about the tunnel, they will be told it was a bomb shelter.”

“Perfect,” Janus said.  “0091?”

Cyber Spy informed, “Agent 0104’s x-infrared optics worked perfectly.  We have video from Anthem’s feed of the targets’ though the actual floor.  The face recognition software also worked as expected.  Every one of the enemies’ identities were certified before termination.”

“They were those we suspected?” Janus asked.

“Affirmative,” Cyber Spy replied.  “Since none were actual combatants, we verified through archived sources including social media, security video from commercial sites, and various government databases.”

“That should send a message to our friends in Ulrakistian,” Janus quipped.  “We can play just as rough.”

“I do have one concern, sir,” Cyber Spy added.

“Proceed,” Janus ordered.

“The woman aiding them, Phung, she mentioned someone warning her.  My division intercepted no incoming or outgoing transmissions of any sort.  No one could know MAP intended to engage her.”

“Except MAP itself,” Hall Hound snarled.

“You’re suggesting a traitor?” Janus questioned.

“I believe so, sir,” Cyber Spy said.

Agent 0104—Anthem—almost grinned.

0073, Agent Shootdown, intervened, “We know Turf funded Phung.  I advise we level his tower.  It would serve as a deterrent to those sympathetic and likely eliminate the threat.”

Janus chuckled a little before replying, “If only that were possible, Agent Shootdown.  No, Turf is too well connected, too much of a public figure.  Even with our ample means, destroying a charitable facility on American soil would create too much trouble.  No, I think we’ll arrange a face-to-face with Turf.  We’ll let him know his efforts have not gone unnoticed and there will be repercussions if he continues opposing our endeavors.”

“Who should I prep?” Hell Hound asked.

“We’ll send Agent 0104.  You enjoy this sort of thing, right?”

Anthem spoke for the first time, saying, “I enjoy orders, sir.”

“Very good,” Janus said in return.  “Wear the cape this time.  We’ll make it ‘Colossal’ business.”

“Understood, sir.”

 

Tuesday     

The back of the personnel plane spread open as Anthem moved toward it.  Without pause or even so much as a glance back at the loadmaster, he stepped out and dove through the night sky.  The wind ripped at his cape while freefalling.  When the island of Purgatory Station came into view, he activated the G-Repulser positioned around his waist.  Anthem angled toward the west side of the island.

Floating downward feet first, he descended parallel to Turpheana Tower.  He glared through the windows as he witnessed the living quarters, the technology wings, the community education floors, the family assistance level, the shelter, the soup kitchen—they all turned his stomach.

Anthem touched down in the middle of the street, abruptly forcing vehicles to stop.  They blared their horns until Anthem stared each driver down.  He enjoyed the silence a full minute until he left the street and approached the lobby doors.  Refusing to enter a building that encompassed everything he hated about his great nation, Anthem instead chose to pound against the glass until someone came out.

That someone turned out to be an elderly black gentleman with a “volunteer” tag pinned to the pocket of his dress shirt.  The older man’s eyes protruded when he saw who awaited.  Words fought to escape his mouth, but he could say nothing.

“I’m here for Turf,” Anthem said.

When it became obvious the man could not find the power to respond, Anthem leaned down so that his star-shaped visor nearly touched the tip of the volunteer’s nose.  He roughly patted the man’s cheek before grumbling, “Turf—is he here?”

“He’s, uh, he’s changing clothes,” the man stuttered.  “He just got back.  Had a run in, I guess, with some guys trying to rob Warren’s Corner Store.”

“Yeah, he’s a real hero,” Anthem seethed.  “Let him know I’m flying up.  I’ll meet him on the roof.”

“Oh,” the man replied.  “He doesn’t live at the top.  He lives in the, uh, basement, actually.”

Anthem grimaced, then said, “Just get him the message.  I’ll be up top.  Tell him I don’t like to wait.”

Twenty minutes later, Samuel Turpheana exited a stairwell.  He wore an immaculate black suit with a red tie.  As always, a small “T” adorned his lapel.  It looked as though a child made it … because that was the case exactly.

Beneath his headgear, Anthem’s temples throbbed with anger.  “I explicitly told your man not to keep me waiting.”

“First of all, he’s a volunteer—a local school teacher, actually—not my man.  Secondly, a fifth grader living in our shelter needed help with her algebra before turning in for bed.  She’s got a test tomorrow and I’m not going to have her fail on my watch.  Finally, nobody in the building beneath our feet takes orders from you … especially me.”

“Should I be impressed?  Are you trying to inspire me?  Helping the poor, the weak, the uneducated … They are a sickness killing our nation; they represent everything dragging us down.”

“What do you want?” Turf asked.

“I’m seeking information about Tien Phung.”

“Why?”

Anthem sneered, then said, “National security risk.  We believe she’s aiding terrorist cells originating in Ulrakistian.”

“Impossible,” Turf replied.

“Even so.  Information?”

“I haven’t seen her in ten years. She worked as an intern here.  Such a big heart; she only wanted to help people, to make a difference.”

“So you’ve had no contact with her in a decade.”

Turf answered, “That’s right.”

“But you know her.”

“Knew her,” Turf corrected.

“Good enough,” Anthem mumbled.  “Before I go, one more question.  We have a traitor in MAP.  I know who it is.  I know he’s feeding you.  Will you commit his name to record?”

Turf set his jaw and glowered at the man wasting his time.

“Fine,” Anthem said.  “Word of advice—stop taking the traitor’s help.  Stop affiliating with the so-called Colossals.  Those freaks will ruin everything you’ve achieved in this cesspool of a city.  You’re fiasco with the Shadow Serpent proved it.”

“We finally agree on something.  You won’t catch me with Knight or his band of lunatics again.  They aren’t the Absolutes—not like in the old days with Solar Flare and Dr. Density.  They’re a bunch of amateurs.”

Anthem replied, “Obviously.  I like the suit, by the way.  Leave the costumes to guys like me—the real Colossal.”

“You’re no Colossal,” Turf countered.  “And neither am I.  Not anymore.  I gave the tights up a long time ago.  They were asinine.”

“Yeah, I think so, too, but you know, the sheep love them.”

Turf huffed before saying, “People are hardly sheep.”

“If you say so,” Anthem said before shooting up into the darkness.

 

Wednesday

He stood outside the small cottage erected amidst a sea of rock and sand.  Only the moon cast any light at all, for in this part of Ulrakistan, electricity proved a luxury most did not enjoy.

Speaking into the communications link affixed to this side of his head gear, Anthem said, “Confirm correct location.”

From the other side of the planet, Cyber Spy replied, “GPS confirms location.  Our drone has a line of sight on you and verifies.”

Commander Janus broke in, “Are there any potential witnesses?”

“Negative, sir,” Anthem answered.  “Mark resides in an isolated site.”

“Damn,” Janus muttered into this link.  “We wanted the local scum to see the suit.”

Anthem looked down through his star-shaped visor.  Due to the oppressive darkness, he utilized his night-vision and saw the two stars pinning his cape to his collarbones and the giant “A” covering all of his chest and most of his abdomen.  He held up his arms and stared at the barrels extending from his gauntlets.  They were primed and ready.

“Sir, permission to engage?” Anthem requested.

“Granted.”

“Stay sharp,” Cyber Spy added.

Jumping into the air, Anthem’s G-Repulser activated and held him aloft. He used both legs to kick in the front door, then touched down again and stormed the small home.  His orders were to take no chances, so he immediately opened fire even though he had no visual targets.  Even with his sound nullifiers activated to protect his hearing, he still detected terrified screaming from the back of the dwelling—the bedroom.

He burst in and opened fire upon the figure sitting up in the bed.

Finally, he stopped shooting.

A woman lay upon the sheets, ripped asunder.  Blood splattered the walls, the ceiling, the headboard …

Anthem searched the bathroom, the kitchen, the main room.  In the only closet, he found her bags.

Cyber Spy broke in, “Agent’s condition?”

“Optimal,” Anthem said.

“Target?”

“Terminated.”

“Well done,” Commander Janus praised.

“There is an inconsistency, sir,” Anthem alerted.

“Go on,” Janus ordered.

“The deceased is a woman.”

Cyber Spy said, “Intelligence stated the target is male.”

Anthem muttered, “There are no males at this location.”

“We’ve got the right house,” Cyber Spy substantiated.  “Our coordinates are good.”

Anthem walked through the house.  When he reached the exit’s threshold, he catapulted into the air to rendezvous with his transport.  “We may have the right house,” he gnarled.  “But we sure as hell had the wrong target.”

Janus grinned as he said, “We’ll discuss this matter upon your return.  Our intelligence has much to explain.”

 

Thursday

Senator Otto Janus resided before a group of reporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  Anthem, garbed in full costume, stood a few feet away to his left.   Senator Laura Jasinski, Janus’ running mate, spoke to the media at a podium positioned between the two men.

“Thanks to the diligent efforts of Senator Otto Janus and our favorite Colossal, Anthem, Governor Rick Thornton’s killer has been brought to justice.”

The reporters instantly barraged Senator Jasinski with questions.  She held up her palms and said, “I know you want more information.  Though I’ve been fully debriefed, it’s only appropriate Senator Janus provide the details.  Before I hand over the microphone, though, I do want to say that though it’s been nearly a year since my good friend’s murder, I never stopped hoping he would be avenged.  I never stopped hoping … but Senator Janus never stopped working.  As running mates, we spend a great deal of time together, and I can assure you that he appraised me daily of his efforts to track down Rick’s assailants.  When you choose us to lead this great nation into the future, you can be certain such dogged tenacity will continue to be on full display as he works to protect us against those that would harm our loved ones.  I present to you, Senator Otto Janus!”

Janus switched places with Senator Jasinski while noting that not one member of the media applauded.  He took a mental picture of the sixty-seven people.  One day, they would each be paid a visit.

“If the warm reception is any indication, you obviously realize I won’t be taking any questions.”  Janus paused for laughter, but none ensued.  “You may remember nearly three years ago we apprehended the traitorous man code-named Freedom.  As a government agent, he defied a direct order given by the President himself.  Freedom deemed himself too righteous to carry out an order only he could accomplish.  Because of that, the war in Ulrakistan rages on which results in more and more of America’s sons and daughters dying in that wretched land.  In fact, Freedom’s insubordination ultimately caused Rick Thornton’s death.  Thornton, a man who could have led America back to its proper place in the world as both a military and moral powerhouse.

“Unlike Freedom, the Colossal behind me—the only government sanctioned Colossal—follows orders.  Anthem does not consider himself above any other servant of the people.  He understands that soldiers follow orders or innocent people die.

“When our intelligence pinpointed Governor Thornton’s assassin, we knew we had to act fast.  Those snakes slither off under a new rock if you don’t strike immediately, so we decided Anthem was the only operative capable of getting in there, making a visual confirmation, and then terminating the threat.

“Sure, we could have used a drone to bomb the hell out of the cutthroat, but unlike our enemy, we don’t kill indiscriminately.  We make sure only the bad guys get what’s coming to them, because we’re America.  Anthem personally made sure we got it right.  In fact, as the man who brought Governor Thornton’s killer to justice, I think it’s only right that he tell you the name of the monster who stole our favorite son.  Anthem, please do step forward.”

Janus moved aside in order for Anthem to approach the podium.  As always, his face, what little remained exposed, remained stoic.  With no inflection whatsoever, Anthem informed, “We confirmed Governor Thornton’s murderer as Aeat Kareem.  She is eliminated.”

 

Friday

Iago Sol Vicente woke up late in the morning.  He worked all Thursday evening and well past midnight at the concession stand.  The rock group performing at The Arena kept providing encores, and the people kept eating and drinking, and so Iago knew of nothing that occurred the day before as he toiled relentlessly to keep up with the demand.

When he made a bowl of cereal and then turned on the television, he saw an impossible sight—the face of his beautiful wife—Aeat Kareem.  He then heard the words.

The cosmic man known as Solar Flare, a figure the public had not witnessed in decades, crashed through Iago’s window just as the man erupted into an inferno.  Solar Flare grabbed the bellowing Iago with one hand while using the other to absorb the fire spreading throughout Iago’s immediate space.  In doing so, Solar Flare saved countless lives in the apartment building, for it would not have survived the unbridled power of El Fuego.

“Bader Thary Kareem,” Solar Flare droned in a metallic voice.  “You’re coming with me.”

The silver man rocketed back through the window with Iago, or rather Bader, in tow.  They headed for the attic of First Redeemer Church.

 

Saturday

The Nocturnal Knight finished concocting an herbal tea known to calm the mind and replenish the body.  The young Ulrakistanian in his bedroom needed both remedied.

As he prepared to exit his small kitchenette, he heard a loud thump upon his attic’s roof.  Within moments he perceived a familiar figure peering through his skylight.  The Knight disengaged security and remotely opened the window.

Turf landed gracefully before the Knight.  The two men next stared at one another.  The Knight clearly felt uncomfortable without his helmet or armor, but allowing Turf to see him exposed and vulnerable paved the way to rebuilding their trust.

“Broad daylight?” the Knight asked.

“I wanted to retrieve him last night, remember?”

The Knight shook his head.  “No.  We thought it better if he discover it on his own.  We didn’t want to be the bearers of bad news.  I also couldn’t risk First Redeemer going up in flames.”

Turf countered, “So you endangered everyone in his apartment building instead?”

“Solar Flare had him under surveillance.  He kept it under control.”

Turf turned and wandered the simple attic’s space.  He said, “And you’re sure no one caught Solar Flare whizzing through the air with our ‘El Fuego?’ Like you said, it’s broad daylight.”

The Knight grinned, saying, “Solar Flare is a nut job—aren’t we all, I guess—but he’s got a way with all things electrical.  People may have seen him with their own eyes, but I guarantee you it wasn’t through a screen.”

“How’s he doing?”

“Not well,” the Knight replied.  “He’s resting.  I was about to bring him some tea.”

“How long until he’s got his head on straight?”

The Knight sighed before shrugging his shoulders. “He just found out he lost his wife.  It could be hours … days … it could be never.”

“We need him, Pastor.”

The Knight glanced into a nearby mirror and saw the black shirt and white collar he wore.  He didn’t remember putting them on, which … perplexed him.

“Call me Knight.  Pastor Irons has abandoned me.  I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

“Yeah, you’re right, you’re all nut jobs.”

“Be that as it may,” the Knight said, “you need me; we need El Fuego.”

“We also need the electric kid from your crew—Excitor.”

“He’ll be the easiest to bring back into the fold,” Knight revealed.  “He loves playing the Colossal.”

“Well, he’s the only one, then,” Turf scoffed.

“You know that’s not true.”

“I know.  That’s why I’m here.”

Knight asked, “What’s our time table?”

“My contact in MAP predicts Janus will use his operatives to assassinate Jasinski within four months of their election to office.  At that point, Janus will be sworn in as President and limitless.  We can’t let it happen.”

“We won’t let it happen,” Knight confirmed.

“All right,” Turf said.  “We’re doing this, then.  We’re busting out Freedom.”

 

Sunday

A lone lake rested within an expanse of dense forest, a lake rarely seen by humans.  The sheer effort it took to reach the lake, coupled with its rather mundane appearance, made it easy for hikers to dismiss.  The putrid water offered no respite to wildlife, therefore hunters stayed away.  Few fish could survive the rancidness, so fishermen also found it undesirable.  In fact, other than MAP, no one had much use for the lake at all.  Of course, MAP’s continued use of the lake proved the very reason its waters grew ever more foul.

A woman’s head broke the surface of the water.

Within seconds, her shoulders appeared, then her torso, then hips, legs, and finally feet.

Her long dark hair stuck to the sides of her face while her tattered clothing hung heavily from her frame.

She walked across the top of the lake.  Her feet made a “plop” sound with each step.  When she at last reached the shore she faced a barricade of foliage.

No matter.

Tien Phung now knew no limits.

 

_________________________

Copyright © 2016 by Scott William Foley

All Rights Reserved.

Originally Published at WWW.SCOTTWILLIAMFOLEY.COM

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Also By Scott William Foley …

Short Story Collections

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume I

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II

Novels

Souls Triumphant

Andropia

Dr. Nekros Electronic Serial

Dr. Nekros: The Tragedian (1 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Phantasms and Chicanery (2 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Bloodied Pistons (3 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Unforeseen Calamity (4 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Nightmare Realized (5 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Abhorrent Culmination (6 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Monstrosity’s Dawn (7 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Demons Within (8 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Lineage (9 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Inevitable Demise of Anton Hall (10 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Diatribe and Divulgence (11 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Peripeteia (12 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Realm Within (13 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Depths of Fate (14 of 18)

 Dr. Nekros: A77 (15 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Catastrophic Convergence (16 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Devil’s Ashes (17 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Requiem For the Redeemed (18 of 18)

About the Author

Scott William Foley is a proud husband, father, educator, and writer.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in English Secondary Education and his Master’s degree in Reading from Illinois State University.  Foley currently lives in Normal, IL

Burning For Justice: from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station (Part 7)

BurningForJusticePart7

Burning For Justice

:from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station

(Part 7)

by

Scott William Foley

He stood uncomfortably in a black and orange, form-fitting costume upon a rooftop surrounded by other garishly clad individuals.   The one called Turf, the only one wearing real clothes—a suit, no less—engaged in a reserved conversation with the famous Colossal named Freedom.  The others he did not recognize.  A man with blonde hair wearing a silver shell of a uniform looked awkward, unsure of his part in all of this.  The press called him Silver Streak.  Another man, the youngest of them all, introduced himself to the world not so long ago as Excitor.  Wearing dark glasses and black leather pants, Excitor appeared primed and ready for action with blue electricity jumping from hand to hand.  He obviously showed off—probably for Freedom.

Though he remained upon the outer edge of the group, when they asked him his name he readily replied, “El Fuego.”  He intended to join this new team, to grow close to Freedom, and so while he didn’t want to seem too eager, he also didn’t want to come across as lacking confidence.  He could already tell Turf and Freedom thought little of Silver Streak.  El Fuego felt certain Silver Streak’s place on the team would not last long.

Their  supposed field commander, whom Devil Woman promised to deliver upon that rooftop of First Redeemer Church, had yet to arrive.

He counted himself fortunate at gaining notice so soon after his debut in Purgatory Station.  He’d heard about the Nocturnal Knight.  In Purgatory Station, his fame rivaled Freedom’s.  The Knight lacked international acclaim—probably by design.  The Nocturnal Knight gave every indication of only being concerned with his city alone.  El Fuego figured the veteran didn’t care about the rest of the world, including the raging war in Ulrakistan.  A war where more civilians died on a daily basis than soldiers.

However, El Fuego agreed that the serial murderer labeled Shadow Serpent needed stopped.  According to Devil Woman, that purpose inspired this team’s formation.  She said the Nocturnal Knight himself handpicked them and she recruited on his behalf.

When Devil Woman finally arrived with the Nocturnal Knight, what little of his faced showed illustrated grave annoyance.

To El Fuego, the Nocturnal Knight’s satisfaction meant little.  After all, his ultimate objective remained earning Freedom’s trust.

***

“Let her go, amigo,” El Fuego demanded.

He saw a thug sprawled out on top of an innocent woman, holding her at knifepoint, about to violate her in ways unmentionable.  The woman screamed at the top of her lungs for help.  El Fuego could only see the assailant’s back, for he pinned the woman down in the shadows of a nearby dumpster within the forlorn alley.

He could eradicate those shadows easily enough, but he hoped it wouldn’t have to come to that.

“Who in the hell are you?” the thug growled from over his shoulder as he wriggled upon the woman.

Taking a deep breath, El Fuego next replied, “Sin importancia, gamberro.  Just leave her alone.”  He felt the sweat seeping from his skin beneath the prickly mask.  The costume he wore clung to his entire body, from the orange boots all the way to the mask that covered all but his forehead and hair.  Though mostly black, his uniform sported an orange flame burning over most of his stomach and chest.

“She’s mine, freak,” the villain bellowed.  “Go back to Mexico and get your own.”

El Fuego swallowed hard.  He should have known better.  Purgatory Station proved a tough place to live, with tough people and tough criminals.

“I was born in the States,” El Fuego notified.  And then, a small spark flickered in the palms of his hands.  Within seconds, those sparks erupted into two small flames, which in turn exploded into two infernos, illuminating the entire alley.

El Fuego noticed the woman lift her head from the filthy pavement.  She had red hair and wore a terribly inappropriate, knowing smile.

Setting aside his befuddlement, El Fuego said, “I’m warning you one last time, villano.  Get off of her—now.”

The brute did indeed stand up, but it was not to change his mind.  He looked down at the innocent woman, his eyes ablaze with carnal lust and hellacious evil, and grumbled, “You stay put or I’ll make it tons worse on you, understand?”

The woman simply nodded in understanding and winked at her attacker.

“You’re a kinky one, aren’t you?” the antagonist quipped.

El Fuego found the woman’s coolness peculiar, as well as her unwillingness to make a break for it.

Tossing his knife from hand to hand, the hooligan chuckled, “You think a little fire scares me, freak?  No dice, pal.  I’ve dealt with your sort before.  I haven’t cut me up a costume in some time, though.  I’m going to enjoy this.”

Eyes widening within the slits of his mask, El Fuego realized he would not escape violence.  In an almost pleading voice, El Fuego said, “Tu eres muy tonto.  There’s no way I can avoid hurting you.  Badly.”

The hoodlum grinned like a jackal and whispered, “I’ll take my chances.”

Seconds later, after a great deal of screaming and burnt flesh, El Fuego approached the woman, saying, “Do you have a phone on you?  We should call an ambulance.”

El Fuego watched as the woman rose to her feet with her back to him.  She reached inside her overcoat, affixed something to her face, before turning.  She removed her coat and revealed a silly costume as well.

Eyes behind a black, diamond-shaped mask studied him.  El Fuego returned the favor, taking note of her red bodysuit and thick, black belt.  The letters “DW” functioned as the buckle.

“I’m Devil Woman,” she said with a smirk.  “And we’ll call the cops, but no ambulance.”

Attempting to block out the man’s moans behind him, El Fuego stated, “I’ve seriously hurt him.  He needs medical attention, ahora.”

Devil Woman crossed her arms.  El Fuego noticed she wore black, opera length gloves past her elbows.  The rest of her arms were bare.  “He would have raped me.  Knowing that, do you honestly think he deserves a doctor?”

El Fuego had no response other than to look away from her.

“Look,” she began, “I’ll call the police in a minute and then they’ll make sure he gets treatment, okay?  But first I want to talk to you.”

Snapping his head to attention, El Fuego asked, “This whole thing … you set me up to find me, didn’t you?”

“You got me there.  Pretty sharp.  You’re new in Purgatory and no one knows much about you, much less how to find you.”

“You’re loco,” El Fuego scoffed.  “You could have been hurt.”

This time, Devil Woman sneered, “Please.  That rapist was due to get burned tonight one way or the other.  He should feel lucky he’s still got all his body parts, if you know what I mean.”

El Fuego turned his back and started to take his leave.

“Where are you going?” Devil Woman shouted.

“We’re done here, diabla.  You entrapped that man and now he’ll be scarred for the rest of his life because of me.  You’re reckless and amoral and I want nothing to do with you.”

“I’ve got an ally who’s very interested in you.  We’re putting a team together to take down the Shadow Serpent.  You’ve heard of him, right—the Shadow Serpent?”

El Fuego stopped at the end of the alley and faced her anew.  “Si.  I’ve heard of him.  He’s ruthless and needs to be stopped.”

“Exactly,” Devil Woman agreed.  “The only surviving member of the Absolutes is in charge of this new team.  He wants to train you and help you stop criminals without giving them irreparable damage.  Personally, I think a little permanent disfigurement can be a great deterrent, but what do I know?”

El Fuego thought for a moment, but then remembered his mission while in Purgatory Station.  He said, “Lo siento.  I can’t.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“ … I just can’t,” he finally replied.

“Don’t you at least want to know who else is on the team so far?”

El Fuego said nothing, so Devil Woman took that as an invitation to continue: “I’ve got another newbie calling himself Excitor.  Turf told me he’s in.  I’m working on that guy Silver Streak, and Freedom is risking everything to take part.”

“Que?  Freedom’s on the team?” El Fuego asked.

“Yeah, hot stuff.  I just said that.  You got a thing for Freedom or something?”

El Fuego felt his cheeks flush beneath his mask.

“I’m just giving you a hard time,” Devil Woman admitted.  She approached him and whispered into his ear so that the writhing goon behind them couldn’t hear, “Look, meet us on the top of First Redeemer Church in three nights, yeah?  Just be there; we need your kind of fire power—no pun intended.”

She stuck out her hand, and, after pretending to deliberate, El Fuego took it, saying, “I’ll be there.  Just don’t forget to call an ambulance.”

He couldn’t believe his luck.

Devil Woman watched him walk away and muttered, “Yeah, right.  We’re going to have to work on that bleeding heart of yours, fire boy.”

 

***

“Hola, senora.  I’m interested in the room you have for rent.”

Etta Hurston stood in the doorway to her building.  The young man appeared nice enough, but being nice wasn’t her main prerequisite for tenants.

“You do have a job, Mr.—”

“Vicente.  I’m Iago Sol Vicente, and yes, Ms. Hurston, I do indeed have a job.  I start next Monday at The Arena.  My cousin owns a concession stand and has agreed to take me on.”

Etta stepped out of her door, closed it, and asked, “So you’re from out of town, then?”

“Si,” Iago responded.  “I’m originally from Wardner, Idaho.”

“Never heard of it,” Etta confessed.

“Not many have,” Iago replied.

“Are there many Hispanics in Wardner, Mr. Vicente?”

Though slightly taken back by her bluntness, Iago answered, “Less than three percent, Ms. Hurston.  It’s a small town.”

“Married?” she asked.

Iago winced just a little at her question as he struggled against past memories, then answered, “Single.  Always have been and probably always will be.”  He forced out a laugh at the conclusion of his statement.

“Oh, I don’t believe that,” Etta replied flatly.  “You’re a good enough looking boy.”

Iago frowned a little as he retorted, “Gracias?”

Etta then confirmed, “And you’re here to work at your cousin’s concession stand in The Arena.”

Iago said, “Times are tough, Ms. Hurston.  The mining industry in Wardner isn’t what it used to be.  I thought I’d better jump at this opportunity.  Besides, I’ve always wanted to visit the east coast.  Figured I’d search for a little freedom, you know?  What have I got to lose, right?”

Etta studied him a bit longer, then asked, “There’s a five hundred dollar down payment.  Do you have it?”

“Do you take checks?”

“You have a bank account?”

Iago laughed, “Of course!  I’ve already been to the bank and transferred my funds.  Are you always so distrustful, Ms. Hurston?”

For the first time, Etta smiled, “When you’re in the rental business, Mr. Vicente, especially in this part of town, you learn to tread carefully.”

“Yo comprendo,” Iago returned.

“Let me show you the space,” she said while offering her hand.

Iago shook it and said, “I’d like that.”

As they walked through the building’s foyer, Etta said, “I’ll have to do a background check while I wait for the check to clear.  Do you have someplace to stay in the meantime?”

“Not a problem,” Iago said.  “I can stay at my cousin’s as long as it’s only for a few days.  Let me know if you need any references.”

***

“Buenos dias,” the man named Iago Sol Vicente said to a woman as he took his appointed seat next to her.

“Hi, there,” she replied before glancing up at him.

Settling in, he fastened his seatbelt and bowed his head in prayer.

“Nervous?” the woman asked once certain his prayers concluded.

“Si,” he answered with a sheepish grin.  “I’m not much of a flyer.”

She feigned great fear and sunk away from him, saying, “You’re not a puker are you?”

Iago kept his smile affixed, but his mind raced for the best way to answer her question.  He figured to play it safe with, “Occasionally.”

He truthfully had no idea what “puker” meant.

The woman sensed his uncertainty and felt embarrassed for him.  “I’m Emily,” she said in an effort to move the conversation along.  “Nice to meet a fellow American.”

“Indeed,” he agreed.  “Though I don’t stick out quite as much as you,” he joked.  “Mi nombre es Iago,” he informed with a polite nod of his head.

“Yes, this blonde hair and these blue eyes aren’t really the norm around here, are they?” she joked.  Then, after they both chuckled, she asked, “So what brought you to Egypt, Iago?”

“Just seeing the sights,” he replied.  “You?”

“Business.  I’m an art dealer and thought I had a lead.  No such luck, I’m afraid.”

“A wasted venture,” Iago assumed with a shrug of his shoulders.

She laughed and admitted, “A trip to Cairo is never a wasted venture, but as far as the piece I sought, well, in that regard, yes, I came up short.”

They paused in their conversation as the flight attendant ran through the required instructions and notifications.  Then they rolled slowly to the runway.

“So what do you do, Iago?” Emily asked.

“Oh, I’m a miner from Idaho,” he answered.

“Idaho?”

“Si; that’s right.”

“But this flight goes to Boston.”

“Que?”

Emily laughed a little and then said, “You don’t want to fly to Boston if you’re trying to get to Idaho from here.  I think you picked the wrong flight.”

“Oh, no,” Iago said.  “I’m moving to Purgatory Station.  I have a cousin who lives there.  He got me a job and everything.  I’m not going back to Idaho.”

Lifting her eyebrows, Emily confessed, “No offense, Iago, but I think I’d stay in Idaho if I were you.  Purgatory Station is the freak capital of the world.  It’s not safe there.”

Iago pressed his lips together, surrendering to her argument, and simply said, “Well, what’s a guy to do?  I have to work, right?”

“But you’re a miner,” she reminded.
“Not anymore.  I lost my job.  I have to go where the money is.”

Emily squinted at the young man next to her.  Never one to withhold her thoughts, she said, “Look, Iago, I don’t mean to pry, but I don’t understand how you can be sightseeing in Egypt if you lost your job.  You sound like you’re a little hard up for money.”

Brushing his hair out of his eyes, Iago felt foolish and then admitted, “Honestly, my abuelo recently died and left me a little money.  I should have saved it, I know, but he always wanted me to see the pyramids and so … well, I burned right through it.”

Emily dealt with enough shady executives to know a lie when she heard one.  She simply said, “Well, best of luck in Purgatory Station.”

They did not speak for the rest of the tremendously long flight, and Iago decided he better get his act together if he wanted to avoid a detention camp.

 

***

 

<I just don’t know, Bader,> Aeat said with her eyes threatening to overflow.

Bader reached across the table and took her hand.  <Aeat, I’ve been training for over a year and a half now.  I fly out of Cairo in three days.  We thoroughly discussed this after President Shahrastani came to us so long ago.  We agreed to his plans, remember?>

Aeat rolled her eyes and mumbled, <As though we had a choice.  He would have killed us if we defied his wishes.>

<Hoshyar Shahrastani is an indecent man, Aeat.  That is common knowledge.  However, we have a stake in this as well.  Our innocent countrymen die daily because of this war.  If I can convince Freedom to help me—to help us—then perhaps we can bring the suffering to an end.>

Aeat took her husband’s face in her hands and reminded, <President Shahrastani will kill you if he finds out you are altering his plans.  He will kill you, and then he will torture me before he puts me to death.  And there’s no telling what he may do to the children.  You realize this, of course.>

Bader pressed his hands to his wife’s, saying, <I believe the American called Freedom is a good man.  Once he realizes my cause is just, he will assist me in destroying his clandestine organization.  He will come to understand that his super powered allies are an abomination when they follow such reprehensible orders.>

<You are taking President Shahrastani’s word that they even exist, Bader,> Aeat reminded.

Bader stood up and walked across the room.  He leaned his head against a bookshelf with his eyes glazed over, disturbed.  <They exist, Aeat.  I’ve seen pictures of them and what they do.  One of them looks to be a hybrid of wolf and man.  How can we ever hope for independence when such monstrosities play a role in our final fates?  We have to believe we can save our homeland, Aeat, even if it means betraying President Shahrastani.  We must risk our own safety for the good of others.  My father—>

<Hush, Bader.  No need to dredge up those emotions.  I believe in you and your cause, and I trust you will convince Freedom to help our people.  Like you, I will risk everything for the betterment of our children’s lives.>

Aeat then stood up, traversed the room, and took her husband in her arms.

<I love you, Bader Thary Kareem.>

<And I you, my love.>

They then walked to their children’s bedroom.  They watched their babies slumber peacefully even as the bombs exploded miles away.

<I imagine a time when our children won’t fall asleep to the sounds of destruction,> Aeat said.

<As do I,> Bader agreed.  <It will come soon.  I promise.>

They passed the moments in silence.  Finally, they made their way to the bedroom.

<May I see the ridiculous costume they’ve assigned you?> Aeat asked.

<It’s already been shipped to our contact in Purgatory Station.  I never would have made it through customs with that thing.>

<Tell me again the name they’ve given you,> Aeat requested.

<El Fuego,> he answered.

<No, not that silly thing.  I mean your new identity.>

<Ah,> he huffed.  <I’ve got all the papers proving I am now Iago Sol Vicente of Wardner, Idaho.>

Giggling in an effort to avoid tears, Aeat choked out, <You’re going to end up in Cuba.>

They then took each other in their arms for perhaps the last time.

***

Bader Thary Kareem kept his mouth closed and fought to remain calm as they marched him into the presidential palace.  He easily could have stopped them from taking him, but then what?  Would he take on the entire Ulrakistanian army?  Even with all his power, he couldn’t stop mortar or missile attacks.  No, he assured Aeat that going with President Shahrastani’s men was the safest choice for she and the children.

But what could they want with him?

They finally paraded Bader into a large room with a literal throne at the end of it.  Bader couldn’t believe Shahrastani’s reputed vanity extended so far as to have procured an actual throne.  Of course, he did not express these thoughts with even the slightest amount of body language.  Such disrespect would ensure his family’s suffering.

<Bader Thary Kareem,> President Shahrastani addressed.

Bader answered with his eyes reverently lowered, <Yes, sir.  How may I serve?>

President Shahrastani nodded at Bader’s veneration, flattered.  <It is a matter of record that you possess extraordinary abilities.>

Bader felt the vein in his neck suddenly throb.  This day had been a long time coming, and he’d dreaded it from the beginning.

Remaining silent, Bader didn’t dare contradict President Shahrastani but also didn’t verify his claim.

<Your rationale is to be valued,> President Shahrastani expressed.  <Your ability to remain calm, even in the face of terror, is commendable and leads me to believe my advisors are right about you.>

His mind raced faster than his heart, unsure of what President Shahrastani meant.  Bader always assumed if they discovered his … unusual … abilities, he’d either be enlisted into the Ulrakistan army or dissected.  This dialogue is not at all what he expected.

President Shahrastani rose from his throne, descended several steps, and then stood face to face with Bader.  He actually placed his hand on Bader’s shoulder, something none of the guards and advisors in the room ever before witnessed.  Such an uncommon gesture riled even Bader, enticing him to look up and meet his President’s gaze.

President Shahrastani said, <We’ve known about you for many, many months, Bader.  Nothing occurs in my nation without my awareness.  My advisors initially wanted to use you to defend the homeland, but I thought of you as my secret weapon—one to be unleashed only when absolutely necessary.  After all, our enemies have agents far more powerful than even you.  I couldn’t waste your talents, and so I decided to leave you be until a need arose.  Indeed, a need has arisen.>

<Sir?>

<You see, Bader, our enemies fabricate people like you in a factory of sorts.  Our intelligence has not learned the location of this secret organization, but we know its name—MAP.  Do you know what that stands for, Bader?>

<I do not, sir.>

President Shahrastani abruptly removed his hand from Bader’s shoulder and returned to his throne.  He waved an attendant over with a glass of wine, took a refreshing sip, then informed, <Meta Agent Program.  They’ve been producing unnatural human beings for decades now, and they’ve decided it is their right to disperse them in covert operations wherever they please.  My people tell me it won’t be long until one of them attempts an assassination attempt against me.  Can you imagine?  Me?>

In fact, Bader could very well imagine.  President Shahrastani brought much trouble upon his nation, but, of course, Bader didn’t dare utter this common knowledge.

<I’m about to give you classified information, Bader Thary Kareem.  If you breathe a word of it to anyone, even your wife, I will have you and your entire family exterminated.>

Bader almost cried out that he wanted to leave, that he didn’t want to know anything, but he realized showing such weakness would only hasten his loved ones’ deaths.

Fighting to control his voice, Bader lied, <I’m honored, sir.  And you can rely on me for loyal servitude.>

President Shahrastani beamed at his newest ally.  <Excellent!> he exclaimed.  <When I wrestled control of Ulrakistan from the perverse leader before me, one of my first actions was to secure many underground sects throughout the world.  We have operatives in every major nation across the globe, and I use them for a variety of purposes, including the securing of identities.  In fact, I purchase identities like some men buy stock.  And just like good stock, my efforts are paying dividends.  Do you follow me so far, Bader?>

Bader nodded to the president without speaking.

<Good,> President Shahrastani said.  <We plan on sending you to the United States.  There is a city called Purgatory Station off the coast of Massachusetts.  It is renowned for housing an inordinate amount of these aberrantly gifted people.  We will give you a new identity—an American identity—and you will become one of these costumed fools.>

Bader couldn’t hide the incredible shock.  He stammered out, <Sir?>

<Your powers make you the perfect candidate, Bader.  You will wear a costume and perform feats of justice throughout the city.  It’s only a matter of time before you draw Freedom’s attention.>

<Freedom?> Bader repeated.  Plans sprang into his mind, ideas that, if discovered, would guarantee prolonged torture proceeding a gruesome death.

<That’s right,> the president substantiated.  <And once you meet Freedom, you will win him over.  He will count you among his allies and eventually bring you to MAP as their newest recruit.  You will then gather intelligence and deliver it to your handler in Purgatory Station.  He will in turn deliver it to us, and, when the time is right, we will have you destroy MAP from the inside out.>

Bader considered such strategy the product of a lunatic.  He could think of at least ten ways it would never work, but he didn’t really care, for this may be the surest way to end the war with America.  He would have to discuss it with Aeat, of course, but if he could explain to Freedom why they needed his help, then perhaps some sort of peaceful resolution could be found.

If President Shahrastani suspected him of any treachery, it would mean certain death for them all, but what if Bader could pull it off?  What if he could save his people?  What if he could finally bring peace and justice to his land?

He only had one problem.

<I don’t speak English, sir,> he confessed.  <And I’m not familiar with American customs. I don’t believe I could pass even as an Ulrakistanian-American.>

<Nor do I, Bader,” President Shahrastani agreed.  <But not to worry.  Tonight you make arrangements with your wife, telling her nothing of what we really have planned.  Then tomorrow, you begin a program of total immersion.  We estimate within the year we can train you to pass as an American citizen.>

<And I’m to also take on a costumed identity?> Bader asked with obvious trepidation.

President Shahrastani smiled at Bader and replied, <That’s correct.  It’s perfect for you.  You shall call yourself El Fuego.>

<Is that … Spanish?> Bader asked.

***

 

It would later be revealed that the roaring inferno resulted from an errant American missile striking a nearby oil truck.  The missile had been among the first of the American salvo aimed at eradicating what little Ulrakistanian infrastructure remained.  The American government would later apologize for destroying a market full of merchants setting up for the day’s business.  The only good news had been that it was too early for most of the shoppers to arrive.

Bader would find all of this out much later.

He had no explanation for how he survived the explosion.  He remembered hearing the missile’s approach, and he remembered stumbling out of the flames, but he had no recollection at all of what happened in the duration.

What he did know, however, was that his life had been irrevocably transformed forevermore.

Once emerging from the firestorm, he realized fire consumed his entire body.  As taught during childhood, he fell to the ground and rolled.

The flames refused to extinguish.

His body burned, but he didn’t detect any pain.  The blaze licked at his clothing and hair, but neither incinerated.  Understandably so, Bader panicked when he grasped he couldn’t put the fire out, and his terror made it rage all the more.

His ears filled with the sound of hungry flames and the chaos of warning sirens and the cries of humans suffering.  Everything looked blurry and red with traces of orange.

When thinking back to that moment, Bader understood his brain must have entered a instinctual mode.  The next thing he knew, stood before he and Aeat’s simple home and pounded on the door, praying what little wood comprised their mostly cement house wouldn’t ignite.

When Aeat answered, tears streamed down her face.  Surely she believed her husband and father-in-law were already dead and gone.  Nothing could have prepared her for the sight of Bader slumped over with his hands on his knees, totally engulfed in fire and begging for mercy.

***

<We forced their hand,> Fathel Ikal Kareem said as he laid out fresh produce upon the table.

Bader whispered, <Hush, father!>  He looked around to make sure none of the other merchants setting up along the street heard his father’s bold declaration.  Content no one overheard, he murmured to his father as he helped arrange the fruits and vegetables, <Keep you voice down, father.  Such words are punishable by death should someone report us.>

Fathel ceased his organizing and stared at his son, <You cannot live in fear, Bader.  One day you will be called upon to sacrifice everything, and when that day comes, you must listen to your sense of justice, not your dread of consequence.  Soon America will attack, and when that happens, our homeland will crumble.>

Bader also ignored their goods for the moment and met his father’s stern gaze.  <Father, President Shahrastani has assured us he can keep America at bay.>

Fathel laughed, informing his son, <America is a lion just waiting to pounce, my son.  When wronged, they seek retribution.  Shahrastani continues to antagonize and threaten them.  Only a fool would believe, after everything that’s happened, that America would not find its way to Ulrakistan.>

<Perhaps President Shahrastani will surprise us all,> Bader returned.

<Don’t count on it, Bader,> his father replied.  <You’re a smart man.  It’s a shame you couldn’t have continued on with your schooling.  I believe you could have been an engineer or perhaps—>

<Father, please, let’s not revisit this conversation,> Bader begged.

Fathel continued anyway, <Our homeland has been cannibalizing itself for decades, since the moment Shahrastani took power.  And as a result, our infrastructure has suffered.  Do you realize our educational system was once among the best in the world?  And now?  We were lucky to keep you in school as long as we did.>

Pausing to look at the rising sun, Fathel crossed his arms in contemplation.  Finally, he resumed, saying, <Yes.  I honestly believe when America attacks, it may be a hidden treasure.>

Bader could listen to no more.  He cried, <Father!  You’re speaking treason!>

Fathel uncrossed his arms and used his hands to take his son by the shoulders.  <Bader,> he began, <it is only treason if you’ve pledged allegiance, which I have not.  Hoshyar Shahrastani is not this land’s caretaker.  He craves only power.  He has let his people down time and again, even killing them on many occasions.  If an invasion removes him from office, it can only be to Ulrakistan’s ultimate benefit.  Once he’s gone, this nation can begin work on healing itself and bringing honor and productivity back to its people.  Remember, Bader, your allegiance is to the common good of your fellow man, not to tyrannical dictators.>

These words penetrated the fabric of Bader’s being as he carefully weighed their meaning.  His thoughts, however, were suddenly interrupted by a sound he knew all too well.

He did not have time to get one last look at his father’s face.

_______________________________________________

Copyright © 2009, 2015 by Scott William Foley

All Rights Reserved.

Originally Published at WWW.SCOTTWILLIAMFOLEY.COM

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Also By Scott William Foley …

Short Story Collections

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume I

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II

Novels

Souls Triumphant

Andropia

Dr. Nekros Electronic Serial

Dr. Nekros: The Tragedian (1 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Phantasms and Chicanery (2 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Bloodied Pistons (3 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Unforeseen Calamity (4 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Nightmare Realized (5 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Abhorrent Culmination (6 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Monstrosity’s Dawn (7 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Demons Within (8 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Lineage (9 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Inevitable Demise of Anton Hall (10 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Diatribe and Divulgence (11 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Peripeteia (12 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Realm Within (13 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Depths of Fate (14 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A77 (15 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Catastrophic Convergence (16 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Devil’s Ashes (17 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Requiem For the Redeemed (18 of 18)

About the Author

Scott William Foley is a proud husband, father, educator, and writer.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in English Secondary Education and his Master’s degree in Reading from Illinois State University.  Foley currently lives in Normal, IL

Vices and Orders: from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station (Part 6)

vices and orders cover

Vices and Orders
:from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station
(Part 6)

by

Scott William Foley

October 13 – MAP Secret Headquarters, Undisclosed Location

Senator Otto Janus, Supreme Commander of the Meta-Agent Program, presided over a meeting in the conference room with his most accomplished sniper:  Agent 0073—Shootdown.  Also in attendance were the rest of his top personnel:  Agents 0050, 0091, 0102, and 0104—Hell Hound, Cyber Spy, Shadow Serpent, and Anthem.

They sat at a long, granite table with Senator Janus, naturally, at the head.  He wore a suit of the finest design with the prerequisite flag lapel—as all good patriots must—and held a simple black thermos, which he neglected.  His eyes were cold and his demeanor subdued.

His best agents remained silent while listening to their commanding officer work through the specifics of Agent Shootdown’s mission.  Each wore the standard MAP black fatigues.  Only Shadow Serpent wore a variation of the uniform, for his came equipped with a very necessary headpiece covering his entire face.  Though they would not actively participate in Shootdown’s operation, the termination of his target would trigger global consequences that each would need to carefully manage and manipulate.  Of course, it goes without saying they would be guided by the machinations of Supreme Commander Senator Otto Janus.

After a lengthy, detailed explanation of Shootdown’s directives, Janus finished by saying, “Gentlemen, the success of Agent 0073’s mission will ultimately end the Ulrakistan War and stabilize the geopolitical landscape.  Thanks to your continued expertise, we will put this world back on track, and we will do so on my terms using my sound judgment.  Any questions?”

Of course, because these were the most distinguished and successful agents in the program, there were no questions, no doubts, and no concerns.  These men existed to execute orders no matter the repercussions.  Only one rebelled against the program, and though he evaded their reproach for several months, they eventually captured and imprisoned him.  Ironically, they codenamed him Freedom.

Janus studied his men, and then, with his lips pressed tightly together, said, “Dismissed.”

The gravity of his decisions bore upon him.  The logistics of who lived and who died were contingent upon the greater good.  Who else could he trust to make the correct choices but himself?

October 16 – Prime Minister’s Private Palace, Ulrakistan

Agent Shootdown lay upon a rooftop 817 meters from Prime Minister Salah al-Amiri’s private palace outside Ulrakistan’s capital city.  He methodically adjusted the 24-power scope of his modified McMillan TAC-50 sniper rifle.

Behind the black lenses of his midnight blue mask, Shootdown’s brown eyes were icy, calculating, and resolute.  He analyzed the temperature, humidity, current wind speed, and rotation of the planet.

He’d made far harder shots in the past.  He’s got the medals to prove it.

At last, the Prime Minister’s guests emerged one at a time from the palace.  Many stumbled and swayed after a long night of enjoying Ulrakistan’s best wines and delicacies as they climbed into their secured transports.

As Shootdown expected, the least important dignitaries left first.

His target would come out last.

After stoically waiting another forty-nine minutes, Shoodown’s quarry surfaced looking sober within his rifle’s crosshairs.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Shootdown flexed his trigger finger.  He next packed his gear and humped it to the safe house.

October 17 – Carmah’s Cup, Purgatory Station

Julie Carmah struggled to keep up with her early morning crowd while rushing from table to table, determined to maintain the satisfaction of her loyal customers, thus ensuring their inevitable return.

She missed the help of her brother-in-law, Nick.  Though he did what he could to give her a hand in the mornings, he invariably had to leave in order to attend the day-by-day grind of his senior year.

The local jazz station played from tastefully placed speakers in two corners of the tiny café and complimented the low din of chatter.  Julie’s patrons were largely comprised of business people grabbing a simple breakfast and those retirees who chose to remain in Purgatory Station instead of heading across the bay into Boston or south to Florida.

Just as Julie made her way back toward the kitchen to drop off some dirty dishes, the music ceased and the DJ said, “Ladies and gentlemen, please excuse this interruption …”

Julie noticed the unmitigated shock in the DJ’s voice.  She stopped at her front counter and set down the plates.  His tone alone demanded their attention.

The café hushed as the DJ informed, “We’ve just received word that presidential nominee and projected winner Governor Rick Thornton has been assassinated in Ulrakistan.  He was sixty-seven years old.  This, of course, will have a huge impact upon next month’s election.  We’ll break in with more news as details release.”

Julie thought of her late husband, Trent, killed-in-action during a tour of duty almost three years ago in Ulrakistan and wondered how many more would die in that desert land.

She then looked at her ring finger and thought of Allen Hemingway, a man who proposed to her hours before a clandestine faction of the government hijacked him.  Some considered him a traitor to the nation and some, including Nick, practically worshipped him as a hero.

After all, Allen was also known as the Colossal Freedom.

October 20 – Trover’s Fine Literature, Purgatory Station

Franklin Trover sat upon the stool behind the register of his bookstore and stroked his silver mustache.  He just hung up the telephone after calling his girlfriend of innumerable years, Sophie, to come down from their apartment above the store and join him.

He didn’t tell her why.  He wanted to waste no time.

“What’s going on?” she asked as she materialized from the back room after descending the stairs.

Franklin hefted a small television out from behind his counter and said, “They’re about to announce who’s going to replace Governor Thornton!”

Sophie strolled through the empty store and joined Franklin behind the register.

“Since when do you watch TV while working?” she asked.

“Since this nation’s best hope for a brighter future got gunned down like an animal.”

“Touché.”

Franklin said, “Here it comes.”

Upon the television screen, party leader Brian Petker appeared before a solemn backdrop and said, “Friends and countrymen, as you know, this nation mourns the loss of a true servant of the people and harbinger of hope—Governor Rick Thornton.  However, this press conference is not to lament the senseless murder of our nation’s most inspirational leader, for an election nears and Rick would be the first to tell us to take care of business.  And we have serious business for which to attend—we must appoint a new presidential nominee for the coming election.  As you know, Governor Thornton handpicked, amidst much protest, Senator Laura Jasinski to be his vice presidential nominee.  We feel it only right to preserve Rick’s vision and so we therefore name Laura Jasinski as our presidential nominee for the impending election.  Senator Jasinski now has the task of choosing her own vice presidential nominee, and she will do so in a matter of days.  We must continue the campaign for the White House and save this nation from the greed and corruption that permeates its most important leadership positions.  With Rick Thornton’s spirit watching over us, I know we can right the wrongs of the last few years and bring this nation back to glory.  Thank you.”

Franklin and Sophie stared blankly at the screen as pundit after pundit began their raucous commentary.

Finally, Sophie said, “This changes things.”

Franklin agreed, “I would have gone to Hell and back with Thornton … Jasinski was something I could overlook with him in charge, but now … Let’s just say I’m looking hard at Bessudo.”

“You’ve always voted straight-ticket in the past,” Sophie reminded.

“Yes, and with Thornton I would have been happy to do it again.”

Sophie sighed and shook her head, “This all doesn’t feel right.  Allen taken away like that, right on the street, after saving so many lives …”

Franklin stood up and wrapped his arms around her.  “I know.  Something stunk about that, and something stinks about Thornton’s murder as well.”

“What do we do?” Sophie whispered.  “I haven’t felt this helpless in a long, long time.”

Franklin said, “We pray … and we vote.  What else can we do?”

October 25 – Attic of First Redeemer Church, Purgatory Station

The Nocturnal Knight stood wearing civilian clothes with his former Absolutes teammate, Solar Flare.  In just a few moments, Senator Jasinski would reveal her vice presidential running mate.

The Knight glanced at the man covered in a silver shell with a red visor shielding his face.  Solar Flare burst through the skylight several months ago as the Nocturnal Knight sat contemplating how some of his actions contributed to the world’s current tailspin.

The Knight later looked in the mirror and tried to explain to Pastor Irons that Solar Flare would be staying with them during the coming months as they prepared for the unavoidable return of Quietus, the entity responsible for the destruction of the Absolutes.  But the Knight’s words fell on deaf ears, for Pastor Irons had not yet relinquished his embargo against the old Colossal.

Irons quite possibly would never speak to the Nocturnal Knight again.

Senator Jasinski appeared on screen.

Solar Flare, his voice rising from the depths of whatever comprised his innards, mumbled, “This is all wrong.”

“Quiet,” the Nocturnal Knight hissed.  “I want to hear this.”

Jasinski began, “My fellow Americans, nine days ago, our history changed course.  I can tell you that when Rick Thornton chose me to be his running mate, I was every bit as surprised as you.  I know I don’t have the experience Rick had, and I know I don’t possess the sheer charisma of the man, either.  Before Rick’s death, we were so far ahead in the polls that everyone assumed we could look forward to calling Governor Thornton ‘President’ Thornton.  However, things have changed—the numbers don’t lie.  General Bessudo and Senator Lampe are inching closer and closer in the polls, and it’s obvious you need me to do something to restore your faith in Governor Thornton’s message.

“I want you to remember that Governor Thornton saw something in me that told him I was the one he could entrust the nation to if something happened to him.  Fate cruelly held him to his decision, and I ask that you honor his memory by honoring his choice of running mate.

“However, I understand what a hard decision it is for you to put so much faith in such a little-known commodity.  Asking you to trust in Rick only goes so far, and so I hope that with my choice of running mate you’ll rest easier knowing I have someone I can fall back on with the experience and knowledge equal to Rick Thornton himself.

“I’d like to present to you today my choice for vice president and the man who will help me lead our great country to prosperity once more:  Senator Otto Janus!”

The Nocturnal Knight saw the man responsible for locking Freedom away without trial.  He saw the man with a heart of darkness, and his own went cold.

“In the name of God, we cannot allow this,” Pastor Irons said to him.

The Nocturnal Knight turned off the television and saw Irons reflected in the empty screen.  He knew better than to push his luck by welcoming back his old friend, so instead he simply said, “Agreed.”

From behind the Knight’s shoulder, Solar Flare pronounced, “This is the beginning of the end.”

October 25 – Northwestern University, Evanston

Senator Otto Janus walked out upon the stage to a plethora of student boos.  A smile firmly cemented upon his face, he shook Senator Jasinski’s hand and approached the microphone.

The boos intensified.

“As you can hear,” he began, “I am not particularly popular among the youth of our great nation.  Therefore, I’d like to nip this in the bud, right here, right now.  Two years ago, I was largely responsible for the apprehension of Freedom, our government’s gift to the American people and a man who ultimately turned treacherous.  Though he was a Colossal in appearance, he was also a servant of the nation and had pledged his undying loyalty to the United States of America.  He was given orders he found unsavory and he neglected those orders and went underground, taking the equipment you—the taxpayer—paid for.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, you heard Freedom tout the fact he was given orders to kill—that he couldn’t go through with such a thing.  But how is that any different from the brave American soldiers in Ulrakistan who are ordered to terminate the enemy on a daily basis?  Do you think they enjoy killing?

“I assure you … they do not.  But they still do it, because they love their country and want to protect the people living upon American soil.

“Freedom absolutely deserved to be reigned in, and I can assure you, during his detainment he is being treated humanely and with every consideration afforded all American citizens.

“And that’s what you can expect from me as vice president.  I’ve always had to make hard decisions, and, consequently, they’ve always turned out to be the right ones.  Check my voting record—many bills I pushed in the past were unpopular at the time, but they all turned out to favor the American people.

“As you know, I dropped out of the presidential race back in July when it was obvious I couldn’t compete with Governor Thornton.  With a man like him winning the office, I was happy to do so.  I ran for president because I didn’t think anyone else had the moral fortitude to bring us back from the brink, but Rick Thornton did.  Therefore, when that became obvious to me, I gladly stepped aside.

“But those insurgents—those monsters!—in Ulrakistan assassinated Rick Thornton.  They shot him from the shadows and never even admitted what they did.  Our favorite son is dead because we’ve let this war go on too long.  I assure you, if Senator Jasinski and I are elected, we will not end this war—we will win this war!  We will take the wheel of this great nation and set a due course for a bright future!  We will honor Rick Thornton and do right by him, so that he will look down upon us from Heaven and say, ‘I left the USA in good hands.’”

Otto Janus this time smiled a real smile, for the crowed now no longer booed him, but instead cheered his message.  They chanted his name, they clapped, and they laughed and grinned like the thoughtless sheep he knew them to be.

He smiled, for he knew MAP would make sure he and Jasinski were elected.

He smiled, for he knew that in sixteen months he would give Agent Shootdown yet another mission, and he would then be President Otto Janus of the United States.

Copyright © 2008, 2015 by Scott William Foley

All Rights Reserved.

Originally Published at WWW.SCOTTWILLIAMFOLEY.COM

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Also By Scott William Foley …

Short Story Collections

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume I

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II

Novels

Souls Triumphant

Andropia

Dr. Nekros Electronic Serial

Dr. Nekros: The Tragedian (1 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Phantasms and Chicanery (2 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Bloodied Pistons (3 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Unforeseen Calamity (4 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Nightmare Realized (5 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Abhorrent Culmination (6 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Monstrosity’s Dawn (7 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Demons Within (8 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Lineage (9 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Inevitable Demise of Anton Hall (10 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Diatribe and Divulgence (11 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Peripeteia (12 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Realm Within (13 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Depths of Fate (14 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A77 (15 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Catastrophic Convergence (16 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Devil’s Ashes (17 of 18)

 Dr. Nekros: Requiem For the Redeemed (18 of 18)

About the Author

Scott William Foley is a proud husband, father, educator, and writer.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in English Secondary Education and his Master’s degree in Reading from Illinois State University.  Foley currently lives in Normal, IL

Excitor Electrifies: from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station (Part 5)

excitorelectrifiescoverExcitor Electrifies!

:from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station

(Part V)

by

Scott William Foley

This is a big day for me.

Before I walk into The Purgatory Station Chronicler, the city’s biggest newspaper, I check myself out in the window’s reflection.

Hair looks good.  Face looks great.

I get the electricity jumping from eye to eye before I put on my shades.  Those blue sparks look cool behind the dark lenses.

Never been in The Chronicler before, so I figure I should head to the front desk.  I walk up to an old lady sitting there and say, “Hey.  I’m Purgatory’s newest Colossal.  I want an interview.”

The lady looks at me kind of funny, then says, “Oookay.  Let me give Albert Jordan a call.”

I watch her pick up the phone before I say, “Who’s that?”

Looking over the top of her old lady glasses, she says, “He’s our crime reporter.  He handles most Colossal stories.”

“No—no way.  I want Kristina Carlock.”

“Who?” the woman asks.

This lady’s annoying.  “Kristina Carlock.  She should be around my age.”

After searching her directory, she tells me, “Listen, Mr. Colossal.  We don’t have anyone on staff by that name.”

“I didn’t say she was on staff.  She’s an intern.  That’s who I want to interview me.”

Lightning bounces from hand to hand as I wait on Kristina to make her way down.  I don’t like the way the old lady’s looking at me, like I’m a poser or something, so I figure I’ll show her a bit of what I can do with my blue and white juice.  It’s a fun way to kill time.

I can tell she’s impressed.

Who wouldn’t be?

Finally, I hear a voice say, “You wanted to see me?”

And there she is.  Kristina Carlock.  I say, “How you doing, Kristina?  I’m Excitor.”  Then I pull down my shades just a little, making sure my eyes glow, and wink before I say, “But, you can call me your big break.”

***

The old lady screams at me out for almost starting a fire, so we head out to a nearby outdoor café.  Kristina looks uncomfortable.  Probably because she’s a little drab in her work clothes compared to me.  I look like a rock star—a rock star with wicked powers.  People are staring.

We have a seat with the rest of the midmorning crowd and order some drinks.

After the waitress leaves, Kristina looks at me kind of funny, then says, “You’re for real?”

“What?”

“You’re a Colossal and you’re handpicking me to be your interviewer?”

“You know it.”

“I’ve never heard of any ‘Excitor.’”

“I’m new.”

“How new?” she asks.

“Just got in from Chicago.”

She smiles before she tells me, “I’m from Chicago.”

“No kidding.”

“Where’d you go to high school?”

“Don’t know,” I answer before taking a swig of iced tea.

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

I can’t help but look away when I answer, “I mean I don’t know.  I don’t even know who I am, much less where I went to high school.”

She finally takes out her notepad and starts scribbling.  She asks, “You have amnesia?  Seriously?”

“Yep.”  This is a little tricky.  Probably the less said the better.

“Were you a Colossal in Chicago?”

“Nope.  First thing I remember is waking up at Navy Pier in the middle of the night and realizing I had awesome powers.  I came to Purgatory Station pretty soon after that.”

“But Chicago has Colossals,” she says.  “Lots of cities have Colossals.  Why Purgatory Station?”

“Because Purgatory Station has all the best Colossals, and I’m going to be the best of the best.”

She laughs at me—flat out laughs—and says, “We’ll see about that.  Pretty cocky for a no-name.”

I knew she’d laugh at this stage of our relationship.  I’m use to that sort of thing.  She’ll find out sooner than later—I’m the real deal.

“I’ll have a name pretty quick,” I reply.

Her brown eyes narrow as she furiously scrawls something across her paper.  “Busted any MegaMals?”

“That’ll also be coming soon,” I answer with a grin.

Lowering her pad, she looks at me like I’m an idiot.  “You’re going to get yourself killed.”

Shrugging my shoulders, I smile at her before sipping from my drink.

“So why me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why pick an intern instead of a real reporter?”

“Get out of here.  You’re a real reporter.  I read your obits.”

“I only get to write the obits because no one else wants to.”

“Well, you’ve got a real way with respecting the dearly departed.  You’re the right woman for me.”

I watch her roll her eyes.

“Let’s get this thing moving along,” she mumbles.  “So, what, you can pop electricity out of your fingers or something?”

“It’s sweet.  I can do all kinds of cool stuff with electricity.  And it comes right out of me—I make it.  The other day I cooked a hot dog.”

Why did I say that?  Get a grip, man!  Remember, the less said, the better.

Oh, no.  I’ve seen that look in her eyes before.  For real.

“So you fried a hot dog,” she says.  “But you haven’t taken on any MegaMals.  How about regular crooks?  Muggers?  Jaywalkers?”

There’s that old sarcasm.

I can’t do anything but shake my head.  Then I say, “All in due time, right?  I mean, I just got here.  First I settle in, then I start cracking heads.”

Stuffing her notepad and pen into her purse, she huffs, “You know, I’m really busy.  I’m trying to earn my way at The Chronicler.  This sort of thing really makes me look bad.  I can’t have guys in leather pants picking me up at the office.”

“What are you talking about?  This is an interview!”

She stands up while saying, “No, it’s not an interview.  An interview denotes something newsworthy, and you’re not news.”

I watch her walk away.

***

“Dude, she just ditched you?”

I respond into my headset, “Yeah, man, can you believe it?”  It’s later that same day, and I’m playing the latest rage with my boy, Percy, who lives back in Chicago.

“Actually,” Percy says, “I can believe it.  She was always nice, but man, she never put up with any guff, bro.  You know what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, I hear you—Dude!  Watch out!  You almost got us killed!”

“Sorry, man.”

Percy’s not half the gamer I am.  It’s cool, though.  This is as much about getting stuff off my chest as it is beating my best score.”

We take care of his misstep in the game, then he says, “So the morning was pretty lousy?”

“Without a doubt.”

“I told you it was too bold, bro.  Waltzing into a newspaper like you were all that.  You should have waited to take out a bad guy first.”

“Yeah, I know.  You were right, dude.  I should have listened to you.”

“I go to Northwestern.  Only wicked smart people get in here.  You should always listen to me.”

Man.  And Kristina thinks I’m cocky.

“So, you got a job yet?”

“No,” I sigh.  “Seeing Kristina again was my first order of business.  Making a name for Excitor is my second.  Doing the wage-slave thing is, like, a distant third.”

“Where you living, then?”

“West side, near the highway.  Studio in the building’s basement.  Cheapest place I could find.  They say Turf patrols around here, though, so that’s cool, right?”

“Yeah, man.  That’s cool.  He’s definitely breaking the mold with his public aid project.  Don’t see many Colossals taking that kind of proactive route … You tried applying to PSU yet?”

“Dude, I didn’t come here to go to school.  I came here for Kristina!”

“I know, man, but … you need to go to school, dude.  It’s hard enough with a college degree, much less—”

“I appreciate it, Percy.  Really.  But I have this talk plenty with my mom and dad, all right?  I’m kind of burnt out on the whole thing.”

“Okay, man.  I get it.”

“Besides, these powers—they should make me rich, right?  I mean, if basketball players get endorsement deals, why can’t Colossals, right?  I don’t need college!”

This is truth, especially since my GPA sucked and, even though I’ve taken it four times now, I can’t seem to get over a 16 on the ACT.  Besides, I think east coast schools want the SAT, and there’s no way I’m studying for another stupid test.

“Just don’t get yourself killed, all right?  We don’t know enough about these powers of yours.”

“I know all I need to know, Percy—they freaking rock!  I’m the luckiest guy in the world.  To crawl out of bed with lightning in my hands—Kristina’s the only thing that can top it, and before long, she will.  I can do anything now!”

“When you planning to tell her who you really are?”

“After she falls in love with me.  Once she loves Excitor unconditionally, she’ll be okay with who Excitor really is.”

Just then, Percy manages to get us both shot dead.  Man, I was just about to win the game, too.

“Smooth move, Percy.”

“Sorry, bro.  Hey, I need to go anyway.  I’ve got an econ test tomorrow.”

“Cool, man.  Good luck with that.”

“Thanks,” Percy says.  “Later, Todor.”

“Yeah.  Later.”

***

“Whas tha—!”

Explosions.  Gunfire.  Screams.

I wake up to these horrible sounds and realize this is my chance.  This is the moment for Excitor to join the big boys.

Jumping out of bed, I pull on my leather pants; blue, sleeveless shirt; black, fingerless gloves; black boots; and shades.

Actually, I’ll leave the shades off until my fireworks get going.  Kind of hard to see in the dark with them on, you know?

Running out of my studio apartment, I fly up the stairs and out the back door of the building.  I see bursts of light and hear sounds of gunfire on the overpass nearby.  I’ll need wheels if I want to beat the other Colossals to the scene.

Propping my sunglasses on my forehead, I scan the area and find a kid’s bike leaning against a dumpster.

It’ll have to do.

Promise I’ll return it … assuming I live, of course.

***

After peddling like crazy, I ditch the bike and climb up the embankment to the overpass.  When I leap the guardrail, I can’t believe what I see.  Some dude in a metal suit with gun barrels mounted all over it is tearing into some sort of a convoy.  He’s shredding them!

The convoy’s got guns as well—big ones—but their bullets just bounce off the dude.  He keeps shooting them down like nothing—he’s like a walking tank!

I’ve got to stop to this.

How the hell do I stop this?

With the MegaMal’s back to me and safely out of the way of any flying bullets, I drop the shades, flare up my eyes, and yell for him to give up.

That is, I try to yell.

When I open my mouth, nothing comes out.

God … I’m terrified.  What if I get killed doing this?  Is Kristina really worth dying for?  She doesn’t even remember me!

“Help us!” one of the convoy guards screams after noticing my glowing eyes and hands arcing with blue electricity.  He’s lying on the ground and bleeding really bad.  Gross.

The armored man turns, faces me, and chuckles.

Damn it.  Even with my juice flowing, he’s laughing at me.

His voice booms through a speaker, “I wondered when one of you morons would show up.  I don’t know you, pipsqueak.  Got a name?”

Swallowing hard, I’m mortified when next my voice cracks, “Excitor.”

With smoke wafting from the gun barrels mounted on his shoulders and forearms, the man continues laughing at me.  “That’s a dumb one.  Where do you guys come up with this stuff?  You sound like something for ED.”

I have no idea what ED is, but I don’t like his tone.  “Yeah?” I holler back.  “Well, what’s your name?  Captain Metalpants?”

God, I’m so lame.

Uh-oh.

I seem to have genuinely pissed this guy off.

“You don’t know who I am, you little punk?  I’ve been in the business of killing people half your life!  Name’s Barrage!”

Like his name implies, he sends a tidal wave of bullets my way.  I feel something give way in my bladder and figure this is the end of the road; I’m finished before I even get started.

Before I know what’s happening, his ammo gets zapped right out of the air by lightning.

I look around for some other Colossal, but then realize it must have been me.  My instinct took over my powers, saving my life!

“You gotta be faster than that, dude!”

With my confidence soaring, I let this guy have it.  I open up on him.  It’s hard to keep from smiling as I watch blue and white electricity leap from my hands into his tin suit.  He’s practically a lightning rod.

Or so I thought.

“This isn’t my first rodeo, newbie.  I insulated my suit a long time ago because of idiots like you.”

He lifts his arms to fire at me once more, but I beat him to the punch.

“Let’s try this again!” I cry.  I go at him full throttle, but this time, I concentrate on finding the seams and cracks in his armor, feeling it out as though my own fingers were searching him, then, after finding what I wanted, I pry my way in.

His armor buzzes with my electricity, a brief scream issues through his speaker, then Barrage just stands there with smoke coming off his metal hide.

I shorted the loser out.

As the police, ambulances, and reporters roll up, I turn my back to them.  Part of me wants to check on the guards from the convoy—a lot of them look in a bad way, some even dead—but I’ve got this little patch of wetness on my pants that could be pretty embarrassing.

I head for the guardrail.

“Wait!” the reporters holler.  “Who are you?  Where do you come from?”

They’re all asking questions at the same time, but once I look over my shoulder, careful to keep my back to them, they quiet down in anticipation of my reply.

“You want the scoop?” I say.  “Go talk to Kristina Carlock at The Chronicler.  She knows everything about me.”

Then I leap the rail.

Pretty cool, right?

It is, except then I have to hide in some bushes until they go so they won’t see me riding away on a bicycle.

That part’s not cool.

***

I walk into The Chronicler a few days after Kristina’s interview publishes.  Since she didn’t ask much in the way of questions, she spent more time describing me as a “toned, confident, dark, tall, and handsome man with an electric personality.”

Rad.

The same old lady’s working the front desk, but this time her eyes light when she sees me and she says, “Mr. Excitor!  We’re so glad you came to us for your first interview!”

“My pleasure,” I say with—literally—an electric smile.  “I need to see Kristina.”

“Right away!”  Her withered fingers can’t dial the numbers fast enough.

Ah, it’s good to be me.

***

Kristina and I make our way back to the outdoor café where we first spoke.  We had to stop quite a bit so I could sign autographs, which was cool for me but, more importantly, seemed to make a good impression on her.

This whole thing is going a lot easier than I planned.

After we sit down yet again with the midmorning crowd, we order drinks.  She then says, “So I guess I should thank you for the interview.  You’re the hottest thing going right now.  They put me on staff even though I haven’t graduated yet.”

“My pleasure, Tina.”

“Tina?”

“Yeah.  I thought I could give you a nickname, you know, since we’re going to be exclusively working together now.”

“No, Tina’s fine,” she stammered.  “It’s just … no one’s called me Tina since high school.”  She studies me for a few moments, then says, “Are you sure we don’t know each other?  You know, from Chicago?”

I feel sweat break out under my arms.  “Yeah,” I say, trying to sound relaxed.  “Pretty sure.”

“Take off the shades.”

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Secret identify.”

“You told me you have amnesia, dork.  You said you don’t even know your own name.  Which makes no sense, by the way.  How do you get by?  Driver’s license, credit cards, rent, they all want a name and soc number.  In fact—”

I take off the shades more to interrupt her line of thought than anything.  I’m not ready to tell her the truth—not yet.

This could go either really badly or—

“Oh,” she sighs, looking me right in the eyes.  She doesn’t say anything for a few seconds.  Then, she kind of grumbles, “I guess we don’t know each other after all.”

Crap.

“So anyway,” she begins, pulling out her notepad.  “A reporter for WPUG News, Sidney Attwater, got in touch with me.”

“Nope.  You’re the only reporter I talk to,” I say before replacing my sunglasses.

“I told her the same thing.  She doesn’t want to interview you, though.  She’s got a relationship kind of like … ours … with a less conspicuous Colossal by the name of Devil Woman.”

“Never heard of her.”

“No one has,” Kristina replies.  “Nonetheless, Attwater said Devil Woman wanted a meeting with you on behalf of The Nocturnal Knight.”

I nearly spit out my drink.  “No way!”

“I know.  Incredible, right?”

“He was one of the Absolutes!”

“I know.”

“Totally!” I say.  “I’m way into it!  Set it up!”

“All right.” Kristina replies while reaching into her purse.  “And you’ll give me all the details, right?  No holding out on Tina, right?”

I smile.

Earlier there, for a second, she had me worried.  But she really has no idea who I am.

“Every juicy bit, Tina.  I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”
She hands me a prepaid cell phone.  “To keep in touch,” she says.  “Sidney told me to call her if you said yes and she’ll get us the details.  I’ll call you when I hear something.”

“Done.”

“Don’t lose it, ‘Excitor.’  I don’t want you forgetting about me.”

I look at her and say, “Tina, I couldn’t forget you if I tried.”

***

I’m not really one for costumes, you know?  I get all my gear at regular stores.  So when I see Devil Woman in her red body suit, thigh-high boots, and big “DW” belt, I kind of laugh.  If she didn’t have such a smoking-hot body, she would have looked pretty lame.  Costumes suck.

She tells me, “I’m putting together a crew for The Nocturnal Knight.  He wants us to help him take down the Shadow Serpent.”

“The serial killer?”  I instantly regret how stupid that sounded.

“Yeah,” she smirks.  “The serial killer.”

“Cool.  Are we the new Absolutes?”

She looks off to the city skyline and says, “That’s up to the Knight.  You in?”

“Like Flynn.”

“Good.  Meet us on the roof of First Redeemer, five nights from now, at eleven.  Keep it quiet, too, got it?”

“Got it.”

Yep.  This whole deal is a cakewalk.  Things are most definitely looking up.

To Be Continued …

 

Copyright © 2008, 2015 by Scott William Foley

All Rights Reserved.

Originally Published at WWW.SCOTTWILLIAMFOLEY.COM

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Also By Scott William Foley …

 

Short Story Collections

 

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume I

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II

Novels

Souls Triumphant

Andropia

Dr. Nekros Electronic Serial

Dr. Nekros: The Tragedian (1 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Phantasms and Chicanery (2 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Bloodied Pistons (3 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Unforeseen Calamity (4 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Nightmare Realized (5 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: An Abhorrent Culmination (6 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Monstrosity’s Dawn (7 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: The Demons Within (8 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Lineage (9 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Inevitable Demise of Anton Hall (10 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Diatribe and Divulgence (11 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Peripeteia (12 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: The Realm Within (13 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: The Depths of Fate (14 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: A77 (15 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: A Catastrophic Convergence (16 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Devil’s Ashes (17 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Requiem For the Redeemed (18 of 18)

About the Author

Scott William Foley is a proud husband, father, educator, and writer.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in English Secondary Education and his Master’s degree in Reading from Illinois State University.  Foley currently lives in Normal, IL

Fall Of the Absolutes: From the Chronicles Of Purgatory Station (Part 4)

 fallabcover copy

Fall of the Absolutes

:from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station

(Part IV)

by

Scott William Foley

The Nocturnal Knight sits on a wooden chair in the attic of First Redeemer, his headquarters.  He remains motionless with his elbows positioned upon the armrests and his chin propped against his interlocked fists.  How did everything go so very wrong?

Months ago, the United States of America incarcerated Freedom, perhaps the truest Colossal in Purgatory Station.  With Freedom gone, the Knight knows no one else he can trust to watch over the city.  His is old.  He doesn’t have much time left.  Death looms.

Sydney is out of the picture.  She doesn’t speak to the Knight, nor does she operate as Devil Woman.  The press isn’t sure how to interpret Devil Woman’s sudden appearance and even quicker departure, but the Nocturnal Knight knows the truth.  He knows what made her lose heart. He blames himself.  Like with so many others, he failed her.

The Shadow Serpent returned soon after Nocturnal Knight resorted to the unthinkable, thereby losing his last shred of integrity.  The MegaMal’s reemergence establishes the villain’s superiority.  Not many can walk away from a sniper-shot to the forehead.  The monster continues to kill innocent citizens while making the Colossals look inept.  If the Knight didn’t know better, he’d think it a well-calculated conspiracy.

Pastor Irons, his confidant and only friend, abandoned him soon after the Nocturnal Knight’s last encounter with Sydney.  Irons knew the Knight put that young woman up to cold-blooded murder, and a man of God could not live with that.  Irons gave the Knight an ultimatum: hang up the cloak or lose Irons forever.  Like so many times before, the Knight took the only option he believed viable.

Irons soon disappeared.

Though the meagre space between the attic and First Redeemer’s sanctuary separates them, they might as well be on different planets.  The old pastor kept his promise by leaving the Knight’s life.

Staring at the dark, wooded floor, the Nocturnal Knight thinks of one other time in his life when things were so bleak, so hopeless.  Seventeen years ago.  On that awful night, the Absolutes, a team he helped found, were massacred.

On that day, they fell like amateurs, and he didn’t even have the honor to die with them.

***

The Nocturnal Knight just finished preventing the knife-for-hire MegaMal known as Slit from assassinating Ulrakistan’s visiting ambassador when his transmitter sounded.  Each member of the Absolutes operated independently, so when a call came in it meant a critical situation threatened.

He met the rest of his team in a seemingly abandoned, overgrown bunker at the top of Forlorn Mountain in Wilderness Park.  It remained as a relic from the Second World War.  Solar Flare owned the bunker, though he never bothered to explain how he’d come to do so.  He also never told them where the state-of-the-art technology within the bunker originated.

When the Nocturnal Knight entered, he observed the rest of the Absolutes sitting at a round table with twelve seats.  One of those seats belonged to the Knight.

Seven remained unfilled.

“You’ve arrived,” Solar Flare said.

“So I have,” the Nocturnal Knight responded as he sat down in a whoosh of cloth and a clank of equipment.

He took stock of those surrounding him.

To his right sat young Firestreak.  Unlike the Nocturnal Knight, most of Firestreak’s red and black uniform served no purpose other than to hide his face.  He did have one interesting feature, however.  He wore a pair of jet boots that probably belonged to the Meta-Agent Program.  The Knight heard rumblings MAP discovered antigravity properties and thus become lax with rounding up archaic flight technologies, such as Firestreak’s boots.  MAP’s disinterest in fueled flight methods served as the only possible reason Firestreak operated unfettered with them, unless, of course, MAP claimed him as one of their own … … The Knight felt assured they did not, though Firestreak’s acquisition of the equipment would remain a mystery until the Nocturnal Knight found time to solve it.

Little did the Knight know that by daybreak, the United States government would recover those boots … but little else.

Next to Firestreak sat Dr. Density.  The doctor swore up and down that his blue and red costume facilitated the proper functioning of his Densometer, but the Knight didn’t see why that included a giant atom sewn onto his chest.  Like most of the Absolutes, Dr. Density hid his face in order to retain anonymity.  While he allowed his brown hair to remain exposed, a pair of red goggles and blue cloth obscured the rest of Dr. Density’s features.

Cometress could be found across from Dr. Density.  Her eyes glowed red and her hair crackled yellow and sparked orange as it shifted and shuffled with the predictability of an open flame.  She wore no mask, but with gold sheen passing for her skin, the Nocturnal Knight wasn’t convinced she even belonged to the human race.  Her orange and black body suit utilized unknown elemental materials, which supported the possibility she arrived from elsewhere.  The Knight surmised she had no identity to protect

Finally, Solar Flare sat next to Cometress.  But for the red and yellow emblem upon his chest, a malleable silver shell covered him.  It fit perfectly the contours of his body and formed points at his shoulders, fists, and outer calves.  A red visor hid his face, which, along with his otherworldly appearance, prompted the nation to speculate wildly as to his origins and consequently nickname him “the cosmic man.”

Solar Flare said, “Now that the Knight is here, let’s begin.  The PSPD notified me an unknown MegaMal has taken the Gaiman Observation Deck hostage.  They’d like us to intervene and stabilize the situation.”

The Knight questioned, “He’s taken the Gaiman Observation Deck hostage, or he’s taken hostages on the Gaiman Observation Deck?”

Solar Flare shifted in his seat before saying, “Just the deck.  He allowed the visitors to leave.”

“That seems odd,” Dr. Density commented.  “It’s certainly not consistent with most MegaMal behavior.”

“Are we even sure this is a MegaMal?” Firestreak asked with his palms up.

Cometress ribbed, “What?  You think he’s a tourist?”

Firestreak glanced in her direction, but said nothing in return.

“The PSPD’s primary concern is the six-foot, glowing axe he’s wielding.  MegaMal or not, we can’t allow that,” Solar Flare said.

“Finally, we agree on something,” the Nocturnal Knight grinned.

“So if he hasn’t taken any hostages, what does he want?” Firestreak asked.

Solar Flare answered, “He won’t say.  Apparently, he’s just standing there with his axe, waiting.”

“Waiting?  This case grows more peculiar by the moment.  He’s waiting for what?” Dr. Density inquired.

Cometress snapped her fingers, which emitted a red spark, then bounded from her seat and said, “Let’s go find out.”

Before everyone followed Cometress’ lead, Dr. Density quickly said, “I think we should recruit Turf for this mission.  I spoke with him a few days ago.  He wants to be part of the Absolutes.  He wants to be one of us.”

“I already told you,” Solar Flare interjected, “he’s too inexperienced.”

Firestreak argued, “So was I in the beginning, but you all helped train me.”

“You just want someone on the team younger than you,” Cometress teased.

Dr. Density blushed beneath his mask.  He said, “I all but promised him.”

“You had no business doing so,” the Nocturnal Knight chastised.

“We could use his power,” Dr. Density continued.

“I’m with Density,” Firestreak assisted.  “With this unknown MegaMal and his ‘glowing axe,’ we might need some extra muscle.  Turf has power to spare.”

Cometress huffed, “We’ve got the power of two suns.  Isn’t that enough?”

The Absolutes flew in—Firestreak carrying Dr. Density and Cometress hauling the Nocturnal Knight.  Solar Flare took point.  They first saw the axe.  It burned red as though forged in Hell.  As they moved in closer, the figure holding the axe came into view.

For some of them, this figure was not a welcome sight.

“Density,” Solar Flare called out over the bay’s winds.  “You talk to him.  Firestreak, I want you behind him.  Open fire the minute you think we’ve got a problem.  Cometress and Knight stand on opposite sides.”

“And you?” the Nocturnal Knight questioned.

Solar Flare stared at the mysterious individual as he replied, “I’ll stay above and cover all of you.  Be ready to find shelter in case I have to fry the guy.”

The Knight sneered, “Take cover while we’re on top of a bridge in the middle of Massachusetts Bay?  Great advice.”

Solar Flare ignored the Nocturnal Knight’s comment.

They landed and took their positions according to Solar Flare’s instructions.  He hovered a distant twenty feet above.

Dr. Density allowed fifteen feet of buffer space between the stranger and him.  “Looks like something out of a Tolkien novel,” he muttered to himself.

The figure held his axe horizontally with both hands, utterly at ease.  He was mammoth, at least seven feet tall, and with his medieval cloaks and helmet sculpted to appear like the fleshless face of a demon, he did indeed appear like the villain of a demented fantasy.

The axe-wielder seemed to study Dr. Density for a moment, then looked to his left at the Nocturnal Knight, then slowly faced the Cometress, and finally glanced over his huge shoulder at Firestreak.

His weapon, which discharged red flickers and embers, remained lowered but at the ready.

At last, the intruder propped his axe against his body and pointed through the night sky at Solar Flare.  He then used the same gauntleted hand to wave away the rest of the Absolutes.

The Nocturnal Knight dared not remove his eyes from the obvious threat, but nonetheless yelled up to Solar Flare, “Looks to me like he wants you one-on-one, Flare.”

The Cometress quickly reminded, “That’s not how we do business, Knight.  We work together.”

After chuckling morosely, the Nocturnal Knight quipped, “Oh?  The power of one sun may not be enough?  That’s news.”

Dr. Density demanded, “Let’s get this over with.”  His heart raced as he shifted from foot to foot.  His lower back grew moist with sweat.  Density did not suffer superstition, but when he woke up that morning he had a feeling he would never see his wife and children again.  Such unsubstantiated misgivings were as foreign to him as the metal constituting that radiant axe, yet the feeling persisted.

“Talk first; show of peace,” Firestreak prompted.

Cracking his knuckles, the Nocturnal Knight added, “Action if he doesn’t comply.”

The Cometress grinned and said, “Always.”

Solar Flare said nothing.  He watched … and waited for the inevitable.

Adjusting the Densometer encircling his right forearm to the point his body could withstand a tank shell, Dr. Density next calmly held up his hands as a sign of nonaggression.

They faintly heard a helicopter approaching in the distance.

“It’s obvious you’re not from around here,” Density began.  “We’re the Absolutes.  You might say we’re the protectors of Purgatory Station.  We don’t want trouble, but, unless you have a permit for that thing, we need you to hand over the axe.”

A slight breeze arose and then, almost too fast for any of them to follow, the immense man rushed at Dr. Density, his cloak flailing behind him, and swung his axe at the Absolute’s emissary.  Beneath his red goggles, Dr. Density’s eyes grew huge as he realized his end surely arrived.  Luckily, at the last second, the stranger pivoted the axe so that its blunt end nailed the doctor square in the chest and made a sound like the crunch of stone against stone.

Relief flooded Dr. Density’s heart until he realized the force of the blow sent him careening through the air and over the guardrail of the Gaiman Observation Deck.  He fell.

Though the attack took only a fraction of a second, Cometress scrambled to intercept Dr. Density’s plummet.  In a blaze of orange hair and red eyes, she alerted, “I’ve got him.”

Solar Flare kept still during the episode.  After the assault against Density, he finally yelled, “Attack!”

Firestreak ignited his jet boots and lifted off, gaining the high ground against the stranger.  Just as the rival turned to face him, Firestreak’s forehead emitted a series of interspersed white dots before firing a psionic concussion blast strong enough to pulverize a minivan.

Their enemy caught the discharge upon his axe, twirled it like so much cotton candy, then flung it at the newly arrived WPUG news helicopter.

When Firestreak’s redirected barrage struck the helicopter, it—and all within—were ravaged.

“No!” Firestreak screamed with his head in his hands and his eyes wide.  “No!”

Nocturnal Knight looked up at Solar Flare and muttered, “I think we’re definitely dealing with a MegaMal.”

The murderer rested the blunt end of his axe upon the ground.  Again, he pointed at Solar Flare, then waved Firestreak and the Nocturnal Knight away.

Reaching behind his back, the Nocturnal Knight pulled out two escrima sticks, ready to battle.  He assumed an offensive stance, then called out to Solar Flare, “What is this?  Does he know you?”

Still hovering above, Solar Flare spoke no words.

The Nocturnal Knight glanced at their leader then quickly formulated a few theories, none of which he liked.

Suddenly Cometress reappeared with Dr. Density in tow as he punched a series of commands into the Densometer.  She dropped him to the ground and when he landed, the cement beneath his feet cracked.  He’d take no more chances with axes.

“He’s okay,” Cometress declared as she took position next to Solar Flare.  “I caught him before he hit the water.”

“Not that it would have mattered,” Dr. Density hissed as he stared down the fiend with the glowing weapon.  “I prepared for impact.  Still, it’s nice to stay dry.”

“Yeah, and it’s nice to strain every muscle in my back hauling you up,” Cometress added.

Firestreak, still reeling from the devastation of the helicopter and all within, landed next to Dr. Density and shook his head.  “How can you joke?  I don’t believe what he did … What he did with my … How?”

“Enough talk,” the Nocturnal Knight said.

“Agreed,” Cometress added.  “Let’s finish this.”

As though in accordance, the brute leapt through the air, catching Dr. Density and Firestreak by surprise, and swept their legs out from under them with the six-foot handle of his weapon.  He next raced to meet the Nocturnal Knight head-on.  Cometress left Solar Flare’s side in order to reinforce the Knight.

Solar Flare shrieked, “Knight, no!  Quietus is too powerful!  Do not engage!”

Though rare while combatting, the Nocturnal Knight became distracted, turned his head a fraction of an inch, and demanded, “How do you know his name?”

The Knight’s lapse provided Quietus an opportunity.  He flung his axe in a wide arc and tore through the Knight’s gut with the ease of a lightening bolt through the sky.

The Nocturnal Knight collapsed.

“This can’t be happening,” Firestreak moaned as he climbed to his feet.

“It’s happening,” Dr. Density replied.  “We’ve got to end this.”

Cometress landed in front of the slumped Knight.  Her hands radiated with energy, urging release.  She wanted nothing more than to crack the monster’s skull-faced helmet in half, as well as whatever hid beneath.

“Get him to safety,” Solar Flare ordered her.

“But—”

“Now, Cometress,” Solar Flare insisted, still aloft.  “Other than me, you’re the only one fast enough.  I can’t leave, which makes you the only chance he’s got.”

Cometress growled at Quietus, “You’re mine when I get back.”  She then scooped up her ally and whisked him away to Purgatory Station’s mainland.

The behemoth appeared unafraid.

Solar Flare finally descended and hung a few feet above the ground, directly before Quietus.  “Take position,” he commanded Dr. Density and Firestreak.  “Triangulate and surround the target.”

“About time you got involved,” Firestreak said.  He then questioned, “Can we do this without Cometress?”

Dr. Density assured, “She’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Solar Flare declared.  “Density, are you up to full capacity?”

“Any more and I’d fall through the concrete,” he replied.

“Good.  With the Knight gone, Firestreak and I can cut loose.  No mercy, all right?”

“He’ll get the same compassion he gave those people in the helicopter,” Firestreak answered.

The air crackled with unbridled power, and before all Hell broke loose, Dr. Density swore he saw Quietus’ shoulders convulse, as though chuckling.

With the Nocturnal Knight cradled in one arm, Cometress used the other to throw open First Redeemer’s attic skylight.  She descended and laid the Knight down upon a nearby daybed.

“You’ll be okay?” she asked as she looked out the skylight with her mind on other things.

Grunting, the Nocturnal Knight replied, “Fine.  The axe cauterized the wound.  Didn’t seem to hit anything major.  Just need time.”

Preparing for takeoff, Cometress said, “It’s safer for you this way.”

“But not for you.”

Looking over her shoulder, Cometress asked, “What?”

“He knows him,” the Nocturnal Knight said though gritted teeth.  “Solar Flare—he knows that monster.  He called him by name.”

Cometress turned to face the Knight.  “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying we’re fighting Solar Flare’s battle for him.  He knew he couldn’t take this character down on his own.”

“We’re a team, Knight,” Cometress replied matter-of-factly.  “Solar Flare doesn’t need to fight alone.  Teamwork is what we do … Most of us, that is.”

The Nocturnal Knight looked away.

“I’ll see you soon,” she said before blasting off.

The Knight turned and watched her trail of energy dissipate, then whispered, “I hope so.”

The wind roared in Cometress’ ears as she careened between skyscrapers, but once she’d cleared the city and approached the Gaiman Observation Deck, her screams of rage roared far louder.

Firestreak’s skeletal remains smoked in the corner of the deck.  Only his equipment and bits of tattered red and black uniform clung to his charred bones.

Solar Flare hung above Quietus, pouring every ounce of cosmic force through his fists against the murderous MegaMal.

Quietus did not wane nor relent.

Standing as far away as possible, Dr. Density shielded his goggled-eyes with his arms and did his best to evade atomization by Solar Flare’s intense power.

Drawing her closed fists to her chest, Cometress beckoned every reserve of power at her disposal and prepared to add to Solar Flare’s onslaught.

As she neared, though, the unthinkable occurred.

Quietus absorbed everything Solar Flare fired at him, brushed it off with a shrug, and then hurled his axe at the leader of the Absolutes.

It tore through the silver shell with ease.

***

The Nocturnal Knight remains seated in his attic, reliving that terrible night.  Solar Flare’s rupture eviscerated Gaiman Observation Deck and most of Kirby Bridge.  No one, not even the Nocturnal Knight, could have guessed the cosmic man housed so much raw, devastating energy within his heart.

Though incinerated before the explosion, the United States government managed to locate both of Firestreak’s jet boots.  The right boot landed on a shoreline in Boston.  The left one traveled to the middle of Purgatory Station.

They found not a shred of Dr. Density.  Only his Densometer survived.  They discovered it directly beneath the site of the explosion at the bottom of the bay.  Why the Densometer dropped straight down while Firestreak’s boots traveled miles in either direction proved a mystery to most.  The Nocturnal Knight had yet another theory, however, and if ever proven correct it would mean Dr. Density suffered a horrendous fate—perhaps still suffers.

Of course, Solar Flare and Cometress were obliterated as well.  In seventeen years, there’s been no reason to believe either survived their encounter with Quietus.

Quietus entered the chronicles of infamy the day he brought about the fall of the Absolutes.  They even made a movie about it.  Of course, no one present at the scene survived those last moments, so the producers took quite a few creative liberties.  In fact, other than the Nocturnal Knight, no one even knew what Quietus truly looked like.

The Knight has never spoken a word about that day to anyone.

Even now, the Nocturnal Knight doesn’t know Quietus’ origin or purpose.  As always, he has ideas, but he likes none of them, for they all revolve around and incriminate Solar Flare.  During his darker moments, he wonders if Solar Flare always planned to sacrifice them to that monster.

“It’s time to hang it up,” the Nocturnal Knight mutters under his breath.  “You’re no good any more, old man.  The Knight’s time has passed.”

A sheen of light suddenly illuminates the attic as a ball of fire crashes through the skylight in a shower of glass.

The Nocturnal Knight jumps to his feet with fists raised.  His eyes widen as he struggles to create explanations for the impossible sight unfolding.

The light subsides until the Knight sees a silver cosmic man standing before him.

“Get yourself together, Irons!” Solar Flare cries.  “It’s only a matter of time before Quietus finds me again!”

 

To Be Continued …

Copyright © 2008, 2015 by Scott William Foley

All Rights Reserved.

Originally Published at WWW.SCOTTWILLIAMFOLEY.COM

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Also By Scott William Foley …

 

Short Story Collections

 

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume I

 

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II

Novels

Souls Triumphant

 

Andropia

Dr. Nekros Electronic Serial

 

Dr. Nekros: The Tragedian (1 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Phantasms and Chicanery (2 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Bloodied Pistons (3 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Unforeseen Calamity (4 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Nightmare Realized (5 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: An Abhorrent Culmination (6 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Monstrosity’s Dawn (7 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: The Demons Within (8 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Lineage (9 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: The Inevitable Demise of Anton Hall (10 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Diatribe and Divulgence (11 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Peripeteia (12 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: The Realm Within (13 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: The Depths of Fate (14 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: A77 (15 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: A Catastrophic Convergence (16 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Devil’s Ashes (17 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Requiem For the Redeemed (18 of 18)

About the Author

Scott William Foley is a proud husband, father, educator, and writer.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in English Secondary Education and his Master’s degree in Reading from Illinois State University.  Foley currently lives in Normal, IL

Freedom’s Acquiescence: from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station (Part 3)

freedomsacquiescencecover0615 

Freedom’s Acquiescence

:from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station

(Part 3)

by

Scott William Foley

Allen walked into the living room to find Sophie and Franklin, his elderly roommates, working on dinner.  Of course, Sophie, a tremendous cook, needed absolutely no assistance from Franklin, but her boyfriend loved to observe the minutia of her culinary artistry.

Allen smiled when he noticed they crafted the first meal he ate with them in the apartment above Franklin’s bookstore—Trover’s Fine Literature.  So much happened since then, all those months ago.

In fact, during the last seven months, Julie Carmah still refrained from uttering a single word to Allen.  He didn’t even dare step foot in her shop, Carmah’s Cup, located next door.  In a reversal of their original understanding, now Franklin retrieved all of Allen’s coffee.

He sat at the breakfast bar and watched the couple bicker with each other as one of them cooked and one of them impeded the process of cooking.  Allen felt a pang of jealousy at their happiness, and it sickened him to feel as such.

Allen now chided himself for ever believing he and Julie could attain that sort of happiness.  After all, the death of Julie’s husband rested on Allen’s shoulders.

“You look upset,” Sophie said as she shooed Franklin away.

Allen snapped to and faced Sophie.  Was he upset?  He supposed so, for a variety of reasons.  One of those reasons, though a separate issue from Julie, buzzed at the forefront of his mind.

“I got an encrypted e-mail from one of my former … associates.”

“A member from MAP?” Franklin asked.

“Yes.”

Sophie and Franklin froze.  MAP meant trouble for their friend, the kind that proved fatal.  Allen deserted his post in the government’s highly classified Meta-Agent Program—MAP.  He served as a public Colossal for the government, acting as a patron of goodwill.  However, the program utilized many, many more agents than just Allen—codenamed Freedom—and none of them acted like him, the people’s hero.  They were not meant to serve that role.  Instead, they executed covert operations for the security of the United States of America, and most of those maneuvers involved sabotage and assassination.

When Freedom become too comfortable in his position as a Colossal, MAP officially decided to put him in his place.  They assigned him to purge the leader of Ulrakistan, a country with which his own warred.  He refused.  They could have commanded any other MAP operative to fulfill that order, but they chose him.  The decision did not come easily, but he could not commit murder.  As a result, the war raged on, men and women died, and Allen blamed himself for every one of those deaths.  Julie’s husband, Trent Carmah, perished only weeks after Freedom went AWOL.

“Are you in danger?” Sophie asked.

“No,” Allen answered.  “It came from an ally; maybe the only ally I have left in the program.  The botched mission with the Nocturnal Knight and the others brought me all the wrong kind of attention from MAP.  I’m apparently back on their list, though I didn’t think I ever really went off of it.”

Franklin placed his hand on Allen’s powerful shoulder. “This is my fault.  I never should have suggested you work with the Knight,”

“The Shadow Serpent has killed nearly a hundred people,” Allen replied.  “I had to take action.  The Knight focused his all his efforts on the case; it only seemed reasonable when Devil Woman approached me to join their cause.”

Franklin muttered, “I never dreamt it would end so badly.  The Knight isn’t the same man he was twenty years ago.  He’s not the man I remember.”  His eyes were laden with shame.

“We all make mistakes,” Allen reassured, this time placing his strong hand on Franklin’s tiny shoulder.  “I’ll deal with both the Knight and the Shadow Serpent when the time is right.”

“So did your friend have anything else to say?” Sophie questioned.  Of course, the meal could not be ignored for too long, so she asked this while busying herself anew with the nuances of preparation.

Allen noticed she kept brushing aside her gray hair as it fell into her eyes before he said, “I don’t know I’d go so far as to call him a friend.  We weren’t really trained to think like that at MAP.  He just wanted to offer a warning.”

The three of them stood in silence for some moments, contemplating the implications of such dire news.  A man replaced Allen when he went rogue.  MAP designated this man Agent 0104, but the public knew him only as the newest government sanctioned Colossal called Anthem.  Unfortunately, Anthem did not consider himself a Colossal.  He was everything Freedom was not, and that included being a killer.  However, Anthem followed his superiors’ orders, so in their eyes, that made him perfect.

Franklin’s brother, Walter Trover, worked for MAP in his younger years as a scientist.  When he discovered that Allen tested off the charts in morality and conscience, he doctored the books a bit to keep the young boy in the program.  Such attributes were not generally held in high regard for a program manufacturing super soldiers.  Walter Trover considered Allen, then known only as Agent 0099, his penitence for all the killers he created.  Walter Trover died long ago, apparently, but left a subconscious directive for Allen to come to Purgatory Station if he ever found himself cast out—to find the bookstore called Trover’s Fine Literature.

“You need to tell him,” Franklin mumbled to Sophie.

Sophie glared at her boyfriend and replied harshly, “I think he’s had enough for today, don’t you?”

Allen could hear most conversations at a normal volume from well over a hundred feet way.  He said, “I can take it.  If I need to know, I need to know.”

“Put the meat in the oven, won’t you?” she requested of Franklin with ice in her voice.  She wrung her hands on a dishtowel and said, “Allen, sweetie, I saw Julie last night, after she closed, over at Malko’s Café.  You know they stay open quite late.”

“I know,” Allen returned patiently.  He knew what came next.  It was inevitable.

“She was on a date, honey.”

His face did not change expressions, but Allen felt his heart crumble at the conclusion of Sophie’s statement.  He told himself months ago he must let her live her life.  She wanted nothing to do with him, and he would respect her wishes.  He understood at his most rationale level that it would be best for everyone if he let her go.  However, his distinctiveness at MAP derived from the fact that he had a heart.  He was not a heartless machine instead a human being.  His face flushed.

“Anyone we know?” Allen asked with his voice a steady tone despite the tempest wreaking havoc within his chest.

“No,” Sophie answered.

“I should talk to her,” Allen muttered after dropping his chin.

“You can’t,” Sophie informed far more directly than intended.  “Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry to be so abrupt, but she deserves a chance at happiness.  You know I love you, Allen—”

“We both do,” Franklin interrupted as he put some green beans on the stove, nearly catching his plaid shirtsleeve on fire in the process.

“—but we also love Julie,” Sophie concluded.  “We know why you had to do what you did in Ulrakistan, and she does too … in her head.  But in her heart, she can’t help thinking what might have been.”

“I can’t kill,” Allen growled.  His ears felt as though they’d been doused in gasoline and lit afire.

“Honey, I know that.  That’s what makes you the hero you are.  But, she doesn’t see it that way.  You realize that.  She only knows Trent would still be here if you’d been the soldier she thinks you were supposed to be.”

“You know I respect the soldiers,” Allen volleyed.  “And you know if I could trade places with Trent, I’d do so in a heartbeat.  But the entire world saw me as a symbol of justice.  Even though my country asked me to do it, I couldn’t execute a man.  I may have been just another soldier to my superiors, but the children of my country saw me as their champion.  I simply couldn’t cross that line, no matter what.”

“Allen, we don’t think ill of you for your decision, you know that,” Franklin proclaimed while approaching.  “We all have to make our decisions in life, and my brother knew even when you were a baby that there were some things you wouldn’t do.  You can’t blame yourself for who you are.”

“But Julie can, and she probably should,” Allen proclaimed barely above a whisper.  His head remained lowered.  He spread his palms out wide on the breakfast bar, stretching his fingers as far as he could in an effort to relax.

“We’re sorry, dear,” Sophie offered.

“What should I expect?” Allen garbled.  “What kind of a life could I offer her when Allen Hemingway doesn’t even officially exist?”

***

“Nick, I’m home!” Julie said as she entered the apartment that she shared with her brother-in-law.

She entered the television room and saw the red-haired teen watching a late night movie.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” she asked as she removed her coat and tossed it over the old, patched-up recliner.

“It’s Friday night, Julie,” Nick said while grinning at her.

“Yeah, I bet you had an awesome Friday night closing down the shop for me,” Julie half-joked, half-apologized as she plopped down and extended the footrest.

“It wasn’t bad,” Nick reassured.  “Franklin and Sophie helped me.  Then we played cards for a while.”

“They’re good people,” Julie acclaimed.

“The best,” Nick agreed.  The light from the television reflected off his face.

“So, what are we watching?” she asked as she pulled her brown, curly hair back into a ponytail and took off her jewelry.

Nick cleared his throat and awkwardly said, “It’s a film based on the end of the Absolutes.  You know, that old team of Colossals.”

“Yeah, I know,” Julie replied.  She detested the overabundance of Colossals in Purgatory Station, but since her encounter with Allen Hemingway, she found them somehow even less favorable.

Nick, contrastingly, couldn’t get enough of them.  His experience with Freedom at the defeat of the Nether Man was something he’d cherish for the rest of his life.

Wishing to switch topics, Nick inquired, “So, how was your date with Hunter?”

Now it was Julie’s turn to feel rather awkward.

“Oh, it was fine.  We had some coffee and took in a quick one-man show.”

“How was it?”

“Pretty funny, actually.  I didn’t think it would be, what with being titled after a cave man and all that.”

Nick glanced at the television and saw the nearing destruction of the Absolutes by the hand by their greatest adversary, Vitriol.  Of course, no one actually witnessed how the Absolutes’ lives ended, so this scene, and the movie as a whole, employed quite a bit of poetic license.  That being said, Nick knew it upset Julie, so he turned it off.

“Thanks,” she said.

“No problem.  I’ve seen it before.”

“It came out when I was your age,” she informed.

They then sat in silence, both quietly reflecting on their evenings.

“He’s a nice guy,” Nick finally blurted out.

“Who?”

“Hunter.”

Julie studied her brother-in-law in search of sarcasm.  She knew Nick though, and it wasn’t part of his personality to purposefully antagonize.  So many were such jerks at his age, but not Nick.  Not now … probably not ever.

“Yeah,” she agreed.  “He is a nice guy.  You know, if it’s weird for you, I’ll stop seeing him.”

Nick smiled gently and said, “I know my brother’s your first love, Julie.  Nothing will change that.  No one expects you to die an old maid, least of all me.  Hunter’s good for you.  He’s a lot like Trent, really.”

“You’re wise beyond your years, boy,” Julie crooned.  “Good thing I met Trent before you, who knows what could have happened?”

“Yeah, I’m sure you’d love to date a sixteen year old.  Just what you want, a boyfriend ten years your junior with acne and a cracking voice.”

They both laughed.  After several seconds passed, Julie grew serious and said, “I mean it, though, Nick.  You say the word, and I’ll break it off with Hunter.  It hasn’t even been a year yet, after all.”

Nick rolled his eyes, then informed, “The only way I’d ask you to dump Hunter is if you’d give Allen another chance—”

Julie huffed in irritation.

“—but I know you’ve got some grudge against him, and I know you refuse to tell me what it is, and I’m going to respect that.  So, unless you’ll give Allen a shot, I’m good with Hunter if you are.”

“Allen’s not right for me, kiddo.  Just take my word for it,” she seethed.

“Franklin and Sophie think he’s okay.”

“They’re old, Nick.  They don’t know any better.”

Julie saw the look of disgust come over Nick’s face and instantly realized what she said.  She couldn’t believe she decreed such filth.  Franklin and Sophie were pure gold to she and Nick, and she had the audacity to speak against them because of a chip on her shoulder.

“Oh, Nick.  Oh, Nick, please forgive me for saying that.  I’m an ass.  I didn’t mean that.  You know I didn’t mean that.”

“I know, Julie.  This kind of thing can’t be healthy, though.  Your beef with Allen is turning you against your loved ones.  That can’t be good.”

“You’ve been watching Dr. Gill again, haven’t you?”

“No comment,” Nick laughed.

“Oh, I don’t know how long it’s going to last with Hunter anyway.  He’s a great guy, but he doesn’t make me feel the way Trent did,” Julie admitted as she began playing with her own ponytail.

“Has anyone?” Nick asked while swinging his feet off the coffee table and onto the rest of the couch so he could face her better.  He pulled the old quilt from the back of the decrepit couch and covered up.

Julie’s face turned red, but she refused to answer.

“Hey, speaking of Allen, I’ve got some tough news for you.”

Julie immediately asked, “What?”

“I saw him last night at The Machine in the Ghost.”

“What’s that?” Julie inquired.

“It’s an all night internet café.  He was  … having coffee.”

She exploded, “He’s drinking someone else’s coffee!”

Nick said, “You know, we’ve been studying this play where someone says something like, ‘I think you protest too much.’”

“Hardy har-har,” Julie mocked.  “You know we need every customer we can scrounge up!  Whether I like him or not, we need his business.  How dare he go somewhere else?”

“Yeah,” Nick chuckled.  “How dare he go to another coffee shop when you won’t allow him in yours?”

“First of all, it’s our coffee shop, not just mine.  You know that.  Secondly, that’s not the point, and you know that, too.”

Nick leaned his head back on the pillows and stared at the ceiling.  He loved his sister-in-law, but he sometimes wished she could ease back on the throttle a little.  Trent loved her fire, and Nick knew he’d never settle for someone who didn’t have it as well.  It still annoyed him, though, when it made her unreasonable.

“What time did you see him there?”

Nick felt very tired after leaning back on the pillows and getting cozy with the blanket.  Without thinking, he replied, “Oh, I guess it was around one-thirty.”

Julie erupted from her recliner and screamed, “What the hell were you doing out at one-thirty in the morning?”

Startled by her outburst, Nick sat up, stunned, and realized he just jumped into a whole heap of trouble.  Crap.  He knew he should have gone to bed earlier, but he felt like Trent would have wanted him to wait up for Julie and make sure she got home okay.  Now he dove headfirst into the proverbial fire.

“Um, I was, uh . . . well, you see, I was, um—”

Just as Julie was about to issue a stern ultimatum, their phone rang.  She glanced at the clock and saw it read eleven-thirty at night.

“Who in the world?” she whispered.  She walked into the kitchen to grab the cordless, but pointed at Nick with her eyes wide, which signified that their conversation had not reached anything near a conclusion.

She answered the phone.

Nick watched her, relieved at the reprieve, until a look of shock come over her face.

“Nick, honey,” she said between sudden and choked sobs, “would you mind going to bed now?”

“Is everything okay?” Nick asked in genuine concern.  He felt his heart race, for he assumed something happened to Franklin or Sophie.  His parents, grandparents, and only brother were all deceased—he tended to obsess about the well-being of his still living loved ones.

“Please, sweetie, just go to bed, we’ll talk tomorrow morning, okay?  We’ll talk tomorrow morning, I promise.”

Before leaving for Ulrakistan, Trent made his little brother promise to mind Julie in every way, shape, and form, and Nick, for his part, lived up to Trent’s expectations.  Although it pained him to leave her obviously distraught, now would not be the time he defied his brother’s orders.

He squeezed her shoulder as he walked past and shut himself in his room for the night.

“Okay, I’m back,” Julie said with a snivel.

Twenty painful minutes later, Julie stood looking out the window upon Geoff Avenue.  The tears flowed more slowly now, but they did not end.  A headache arose due to the tears, and her sinuses felt as though they’d been packed with mud.  A million chaotic thoughts raced through her head.

She then saw a familiar, tall figure walk by on the other side of the poorly lit street.  She knew him anywhere.

“Someone else’s coffee, huh?” she sniffed, suddenly wiping at her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt.  “We’ll just see what’s so great about this Spirit in the Computer or whatever the hell it’s called.”

She grabbed some tissue, rubbed away the running mascara, threw on her coat, and pursued the man who not only betrayed his country, but betrayed her business as well.

***

Allen Hemingway glanced through the immense windows of The Ghost in the Machine internet café.  If all went according to plan, he wouldn’t have to offer his patronage there any longer after tonight.

He powered three blocks past the café until he came to an alley leading nowhere.  There existed entirely no reason for this alley to be in this particular spot, but it was standard MAP protocol to have a “clean street” in every city.  These were streets incapable of falling victim to any sort of electronic surveillance.  Although Purgatory Station could not compare to its larger neighbor across the bridge, Boston, it still found itself the host of many, many undocumented meetings.  Smaller cities were more inconspicuous, after all.

Allen, now a defector of MAP, avoided this alley as though his life depended on it.  And now, ironically, his new life hinged entirely upon the ghost spot.

He stood in the center of the alley, perfectly still.  He could feel the eyes watching him, assessing him.  He expected nothing less.

“Serve the country first,” a hollow voice said from nowhere.

“And the people second,” Allen returned without conviction.

From the shadows stepped a large, powerfully built man.  A metallic membrane coated his chest and shoulders, then climbed his neck and covered the entirety of his head.  Allen saw two iridescent eyes boring upon him.  In an alley unlike theirs, one that wasn’t masked with electronic buffers, those eyes could decode an awfully lot with just a glimpse.  The man’s arms were bare from the biceps down, except for gloves that fit tightly up to the wrist.  They were not a laborer’s gloves, nor a soldier’s.  They were an electrician’s.

“You know I don’t actually believe that, right?  The whole people come second thing,” Allen said.

“The entire MAP facility knows that by now, Agent 0099,” the man said.  His side arms thumped against his legs while walking toward Allen.  Though an electronic microphone, a filtered voice said, “I suppose I should be calling you ‘Mr. Hemingway’ now, correct?”

“I prefer it, Agent 0091,” Allen returned.  “Or do you prefer ‘Cyber Spy?’”

“Actually, I do, if you’re serious,” the large man returned.

“How are you?” Allen asked, extending his hand.

“Fine.  You look well,” Cyber Spy affirmed, taking Allen’s hand and shaking it briefly.  Allen sensed the man felt more than compromised by this action.

The two men walked side by side to the end of the alley.  Both stuck to the shadows.  Even though they were in pitch darkness, Allen could see the yellowish slits glowing where Cyber Spy’s eyes should be.

“Been on any missions lately?” Allen asked in an effort at levity.

“Classified,” Cyber Spy responded.

They both realized Cyber Spy achieved success seven months ago with at least one mission.  After all, Cyber Spy located Agent 0099 for MAP, and Allen suffered a high caliber bullet to the temple as a result.  Even though Cyber Spy fired not the actual shot, both men thought it best to abandon the topic.  Allen got his dig in, and that was quite enough.

Orders were orders.  Allen didn’t follow his last order.  He was considered a bad solider.  Cyber Spy was still a good soldier.  He had yet to mutiny.  He probably never would.  Walter Trover allowed Agent 0099, Allen, to retain an aspect of humanity seldom evident in MAP prospects.  While Agent 0091, Cyber Spy, proved the only other agent Allen could stomach, he was still far from a typical human with typical emotions.  Cyber Spy, like the others, were bred to follow orders.  Period.  No matter what.  He would kill Allen if the order arrived—no questions asked, no hesitation.

However, hadn’t Cyber Spy broken protocol already by warning Allen?  And if this meeting unfolded as planned, wasn’t Cyber Spy defying his superiors even more so?  Perhaps Cyber Spy retained more humanity than Allen credited.

“You’re risking execution,” Cyber Spy reminded.

“I know,” Allen confirmed.  “It’s worth it.”

“What’s worth it?” Cyber Spy interrogated.

“You’re the master spy, figure it out.”

“We’re not constructed to be normal citizens, Allen,” Cyber Spy lectured.  “You cannot offer anyone the American Dream.  MAP members are incapable of what you’re thinking.”

“I haven’t even told you what I’m thinking,” Allen chuckled.

“I am a master spy.”

“Then you’d realize I’m not a member of MAP any longer.”

Allen’s eyes shot up to the rooftops when he heard a sudden howl erupt, filling the night with maliciousness and wrath.

Within seconds, Allen hit the pavement—hard.  The concrete splintered beneath.

He made an effort to spring to his feet, but a heavy boot planted itself firmly onto his chest and forced him back down.

“Stay put!” a gnarled voice roared.

Allen looked up and saw Agent 0050 standing over him, nearly foaming at the mouth.  The most feared soldier in the entire Meta-Agent Program employed the most dangerous aspects of both wolf and man, and he had both hunted and caught Allen.

“Hell Hound,” Allen moaned.

“Shut your damn mouth or I rip out your tongue.”

Cyber Spy started to make a move, not entirely sure what he would do, but Hell Hound raged, “Stand fast, Agent Cyber Spy.  I am your superior officer, and you’re in it deep enough as is.”

Cyber Spy remained still, as ordered.

Hell Hound gave his attention back to Allen.

The long, forked beard, the crescent, reddish eyes, the elongated incisors, the long fingers tipped with razor sharp claws, and the brown hair covering his entire body unnerved even Allen.  This should be considered no small feat, for, during his time as Freedom, Allen fought against things most humans couldn’t imagine.

Hell Hound removed his boot.  “Now, get up, traitor.  Fight back.  Give me a reason to call in Shootdown and Anthem.  Give us a reason to celebrate tonight.  We would love to finally eliminate the only member of MAP to revolt.”

“I serve the people, Hell Hound,” Allen announced.  “And I don’t serve the people by blindly assassinating world leaders.”

“Well, don’t worry about that, Agent 0099.  We cleaned up that mess for you a few months ago, but don’t bother thanking us.  It’s not your fault you can’t hit anything if your fists aren’t involved.”

“I didn’t miss.  I chose not to kill him.  And the assassination did a lot of good, didn’t it?  The President announced we’ve got another four years in Ulrakistan.  So, great job with that.”

Hell Hound narrowed his feral eyes, then grumbled, “Unless you’re in Freedom uniform or attacking a member of MAP, I’ve got orders against killing you.  So do me a favor and fight back.”

Hell Hound suddenly started kicking and punching Allen even as the man remained upon the ground

Cyber Spy backed away and leaned against the wall of the alley.  His orders remained in effect; he would follow his orders.  It wasn’t a matter of a choice.

“If we’d caught you during that Shadow Serpent fiasco,” Hell Hound snarled, “you’d be dead right now.”

Though he tried to fight to his feet, Allen couldn’t escape the Hound’s kicks enough to do so.  He shouted, “The Serpent’s killed countless people!  Why doesn’t Anthem stop him?”

“Because the Serpent’s doing exactly what MAP—”

Cyber Spy cleared his throat.

Hell Hound ended his attack against Allen, turned to Cyber Spy, and nodded.

“The lust of the kill,” Hell Hound shrugged while taking deep breaths.  His narrow, sinewy chest expanded with every intake of air beneath the tight black shirt he wore.

“Understood,” Cyber Spy responded.

Hell Hound glared at Allen again and spat, “This is your last warning, ‘hero.’  You show your face in the red, white, and blue one more time and you won’t have a face left.  Stay off the grid and MAP won’t bother with you.”

“Got it,” Allen gargled.

Hell Hound huffed before leaping straight to the edge of the rooftop above.

Cyber Spy next walked over to Allen and offered offering his hand.

The spy dared say nothing; Hell Hound’s hearing should not be underestimated.

He heaved Allen up when a roar thundered down from above, saying, “Do not help that traitor!”

Cyber Spy released Allen’s hand, which caused him to fall in a heap to the cement once more.

They would never again have such a friendly meeting.

***

“You okay?” Julie asked with such little sympathy that she surprised even herself.

Allen looked up and saw the woman with whom he hadn’t spoken in seven months.

He got up, rubbing his ribs a bit, and inquired, “How much did you see?”

“It was dark; I didn’t see anything,” she replied.

“Stick to that story, would you?  I think it’d be better for both of us.”

“Sure thing,” she agreed.  She walked with Allen as he started to leave the alley.  “So,” she began, “what’s so important that you’d let yourself get beat up?”

Allen drew to a stop when they neared the alley’s threshold.  He faced her, taking in her lightly freckled face, but found it difficult to keep eye contact.  He held his hand out to her.

She looked down to see a small electronic card.

“This,” he declared.

“What is it?” she asked.

“It’s a key.  And it’s got a time limit.  Once we leave this alley, we’re going to have to make small talk.  We can’t talk about what just happened, and we can’t talk about this key.  If you want to tag along and get some answers by watching, that’s fine.  We’re not in any danger as long as we don’t talk about what we’re doing.  If you want to go home, that’s fine, too.  You’re going to find out what all this was about one way or the other.  It just depends how quickly you want to know.  So, what’s it going to be?”

“You know me, Allen Hemingway.  Lead the way.”

***

As they walked through the chilly night, Allen and Julie spent more time together than they had in over half a year.  Although nowhere near ready to forgive him for, she believed, the death of her husband, she could not go back home.  She needed to be out, doing something to take her mind off things, and if this was it, so be it.

“You’ve been crying,” Allen said.

“So?”

“Would you like to talk about it?”

“About what?” she snapped.

“I don’t know.  You’d have to tell me first,” Allen volleyed sarcastically.  He never behaved so immaturely in his life.  His time away from MAP truly made him more and more human, for better and for worse.

“No, Allen, or whatever you want to be called, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I want to be called Allen.”

“Whatever.”

Several moments of silence passed until a cold rain abruptly beat upon them.

“Great,” Julie muttered.

“We’re too far out for you to walk back by yourself,” Allen said.  “You’re going to have to deal with it.”

“Easy for you to say; I’ve seen you shrug cars aside,” Julie mumbled as she pulled her coat up over her head.

Allen trusted Julie never to tell anyone about his other identity, Freedom, and he knew she addressed it only to irritate him.  He would instead simply change subjects.

“So who’s this new guy you’re seeing?” he asked through the rain.

“How’d you know about him?”

“Sophie.”

“I should’ve known.”

“So?  What’s he like?”

Allen assumed she chose to ignore him until she finally replied, “He’s not Trent.”

Allen thought it best to change subjects again.  “How’s Nick?”

“Still a devoted fan of anyone wearing tights—especially Freedom.”

“Good to hear,” Allen returned.  “And I don’t wear tights.  My uniform fits closely in order to avoid ensnarement.”

“You wear a cape,” Julie reminded.

Allen did not counter.

“Actually,” Julie began, “I do have something you could help me with—it concerns Nick.”

“Anything he needs,” Allen said.

Julie said, “He told me, on accident, of course, that he saw you at some café the other night.”

Allen did not break stride as they continued walking through the rain.  “That’s true; I was communicating with the gentlemen you saw.  Not the furry one, obviously.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“I didn’t want to risk a trace on Sophie’s computer.”

“That’s happy news.  I thought I’d lost your business.”

“No.  You may not allow me in your shop anymore, but I’m still a loyal customer.  At least, as long as Franklin’s willing to go get it for me.”

Julie threw her head back in frustration, then continued, “Anyway, he saw you there at one-thirty in the morning.”

Allen stopped in his tracks and bellowed, “What’s he doing out so late?”

“That’s what I want to know,” Julie returned.  “I plan on talking to him about it, but I think, now that it’s confirmed, this has been going on for a while.  Little signs, here and there.  I thought it was just my imagination, but now . . .”

“You need to know what he’s been up to.”

“I worry about him.  Trent trusted me to take care of him.”

“I’ll check into it.”

Almost inaudibly, Julie said, “Thanks.”

“No strings attached,” Allen reassured.

“I assumed not,” Julie said.

They walked anew, their shoes making flatulent sounds as the chilly water seeped into their soles.

Several more blocks passed by until Allen stopped before a dilapidated building.  “We’re here.”

“We’re where?” Julie asked.

Allen led her through a doorway, though devoid of any doors.  Julie feared upon entering they meet with some unsavory characters seeking shelter from the rain, but then she remembered the nation’s greatest hero accompanied her, and the fear subsided.

They descended decrepit stairs that groaned under Allen’s heavily muscled frame and entered a cellar of sorts.

Julie watched as Allen approached a brick wall, pulled out the electronic keycard, and swiped it past an apparent sensor.

An efficient purr emanated, and before Julie knew it, a small portion of the wall slid aside revealing a recess no larger than that a shoebox.  Allen reached in, pulled out a black leather pouch, dropped the key inside the space, then watched as the wall slid back into place anew.

“You wanted to know what was so important?”

Julie watched as he zipped open the pouch and spread it open for her.  With water dripping down her forehead, she perceived dozens of documents, cards, identifications, and forms, all detailing the existence of Purgatory Station’s newest official resident, Allen Hemingway.

“Yale, huh?” she said, looking at one certificate in particular.

“His idea of a joke,” Allen dismissed.

“What would make you go public like this, Allen?  I thought you and the government agreed to be cool as long as you don’t put on the tights?”

Allen answered before he could think about it too hard, for he knew to think about it too hard would result in not saying it at all: “I realized if I’m ever going to share my life with someone, I need to have a real life to share.”

Julie stared at him, wide-eyed.  She then turned and left, back into the downpour.

***

The next morning, Allen sat with Sophie and Franklin at the breakfast bar.  They ate toast, fried eggs, as well as sausage, for their morning meal.  While Franklin craved coffee, he’d have to wait a half-hour until Julie had Nick bring it over, as was habitual.  In the meantime, he settled for hot tea.

“And so she just walked away?” Sophie asked after crunching into her toast.

“That she did,” Allen answered.  “Without a word.  I followed her, of course, to be sure she got home safely.”

Franklin said, “That’s the most she’s spoken to you in quite some time.”

“Yes,” Allen confirmed.

“Well, there’s nothing more you can do now other than wait and see what happens,” Sophie said.

The three of them all nodded together, without anyone voicing anything otherwise.  They finished their breakfast as such, in silence, contemplating this new turn of events.  After all, Franklin and Sophie previously boarded a man who didn’t exist.  Now they had a real, certified citizen of the United States living with them.

“Crap.”

“What is it, Franklin?” Allen questioned, alarmed by the elderly man’s outburst.

“I’m going to have to report your pay to the feds,” he groaned.  “Damn taxes.”

***

“Are you still in business?” one man asked another in the shadows of a tavern.

“Always,” the second man answered.

“Good.  I’ve got a job for you,” the first said.

“Where?” the second asked.

“Purgatory Station.”

“What is it?”

“Your specialty,” the first man said.

“Same rates as last time.”

“Worth every penny,” the first man said.

“I’d ask what you get out of it,” the second man mused, “but you don’t pay for that.”

“Like a good soldier, you don’t question my orders.”

***

Allen hid in the shadows across the street from Carmah’s Cup.  He’d been waiting since midnight, waiting for some sign, and now, finally, his stoic patience paid off.

“What are you up to?” Allen asked under his breath as he followed his target, careful to stay a half-block behind at all times.  Disparaging scenarios fluttered though his head.  Drugs?  Gangs?  Weapons?  Worse?  Could it get worse?  Allen didn’t know.  Whatever the case may be, he would keep his promise to Julie and help Nick however possible.

Nick had a heart of gold and Allen knew it.  Nick strove always to make his brother’s spirit proud, but Nick’s age and inexperience made him easily swayed by fools.  Allen hadn’t experienced such things personally, of course, but he had a basic knowledge of child psychology, just as he had a basic knowledge of virtually any topic one could conceive.

Members of MAP may have been brutish, but that didn’t make them brutes.

He watched Nick enter an alley and disappear into the darkness.  Allen readily followed.  He soon witnessed Nick standing before the back door of the business called Malko’s Café.

“What’s all this about?” Allen pondered.  He remembered this location served as the setting for Julie’s recent date.

The back door slid open just a sliver and Nick slid though like a greased snake.  The door immediately closed.

Racing up to the back door, Allen gently took its handle and turned.

Nothing happened; it’d already been locked behind the redheaded boy.

Allen took a step back and looked up at the building.  He could see that, like so many other business in Old Downtown, the owner lived above in an apartment.

He hated to do it—dawn had yet to break, after all—but to pick the lock and possibly set off an alarm would do no good for his newfound status as an official citizen of the world.  Though loathe to wake up a hard working family, Allen needed to ensure Nick did not expose himself to any sort of danger within those walls.

Allen took a deep breath then pounded his open palm against the door.  He held back in order to avoid knocking it off its frame.

Sooner than expected, a middle-aged man yelled down from the window above, “What the hell do you want, you moron!  It’s two in the morning, here!  I’m gonna call the cops, you freakin’ idiot!”

“Sir, please, there’s no need to shout,” Allen replied.

“You wake me up and you tell me not to shout?” the man yelled.  “I’ll shout all I want, you miserable—”

“Sir, please,” Allen interrupted.  He held up his identification for the man to squint at through the darkness.  “My name’s Allen Hemingway.  I’m a friend of a woman whose brother-in-law just entered your café.”

“I got a burglar in my shop!” the man cried hysterically.  “Maria, call the cops!  Some punk broke into my store!”

“Why isn’t the alarms going off?” a nasally, somewhat feminine voice returned from behind the irate shopkeeper.

The middle-aged man looked back at Allen with his thin eyebrows raised skeptically.

“Someone let him into your shop,” Allen informed.  “Sir, really, can you come down and open your door for me so we can discuss this inside?  We’re waking up the whole neighborhood.”

The man hesitated.

“Sir, my friend is very concerned about him.  His brother died in the war and my friend is taking care of him.”

Once more, no response issued.

“Sir, do you have any children?”

Again, no answer.

“Look, sir, I live with above Trover’s Fine Literature.  If you want to call Mr. Trover right now and check my credentials . . .”

The rotund café owner’s eyes lit up and he blurted, “My poppi was friends with those Trover boys!  I’m glad to hear Franklin’s still up and running that store of his.  Why, just the other day I thought about—”

Allen abruptly caught movement within his peripheral vision.  As trained, he resisted the urge to turn his head and notify the quandary they’d been spotted.  Instead, he rolled his eyes sideways.

Oh, Nick.

The boy eased out of a window just three rooms away from the man Allen presumed was Mr. Malko.  Nick looked fully prepared to scale the lifted stonework of the building downward.

Allen envisioned Nick’s splattered skull against the pavement.  He said a quick prayer.

“Sir,” Allen interjected rapidly.  “Could you just search your home and café for me?  You’re not being robbed, of that I’m certain, but I need to know what my friend’s brother-in-law is doing in there.”

Suddenly, the window to the man’s right opened and a young girl appeared.

“Poppi, what’s going on?” she asked.

Allen breathed a sigh of relief.  Now he knew the situation.  Nick had good taste.  Not only was the dark haired girl cute, she was also quite smart.  After all, she misdirected her father’s attention, and Allen’s, from the boy crawling down the wall to her father’s left.

“Irene, this guy says there’s a boy in our store, but there ain’t no alarm going off.  Did you let any one in?” the man asked.  His voice offered no conviction that his little girl could actually be capable of such a thing.

“Poppi!” Irene cried out, obviously offended.  “Of course not!”

Irene next gazed downward at Allen with eyes so pleading they nearly broke his heart.

“There you have it, fella,” Mr. Malko said in irritation.

“My mistake, sir.  Please accept my apologies.”

“Yeah, well, if you wasn’t friends with Trover, you can bet your ass I’d be callin’ the cops right now.”

Mr. Malko then slammed his window shut.

Allen shot Irene an amused, scornful look.  She blew him a sincere kiss and gently closed her window.

Allen left the alley and there Nick waited for him.

“Smart enough not to run, huh?” Allen asked while putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“You’re in pretty good shape, Al.  I knew you’d catch me.”

They strolled along the sidewalks of the city, heading back to their respective homes.

“So that’s what this has all been about.”

“What do you mean?” Nick asked.

“Julie knows you’ve been sneaking out a lot.  I told her I’d find out.  Now we know.”

“Yeah.  Are you going to tell?”

“No, I’m going to leave that up to you.  But I’m not doing so to punish you, Nick, although I imagine Julie will.  Purgatory Station is a dangerous city.  It won’t do for you and Irene to be out so late on the streets.  You could literally be killed if caught alone by the wrong people.”

“I know, Al.  It’s just, we go to different schools, we both work all night at our family’s shops; if we ever want to see each other we have to sneak out!”

“I understand, Nick,” Allen sympathized.  “We’ll have to work something out.  That is, assuming this is something you want worked out.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Nick asked.

“Well, if you really care about this girl, I’ll try to assist you somehow, but if this is just about . . . well, if you’re just after, um, well . . .”

Nick erupted, “Sex!  You think I’m just with Irene for sex?”

“Well?” Allen countered.

“No!  We’re too young for sex, Al!  Cripes, is that what you think of me?”

Allen stumbled, “I mean, I hoped you knew you were too young, but, I guess, I mean, I’ve heard the temptation—”

“What’s that supposed to mean?  You’ve heard?  Are you saying you’re a virgin?” Nick interrogated.

Allen felt his cheeks flush.  Members of MAP were not allowed to have any meaningful relations with anyone, nor did they ever have an opportunity to bond with anyone on a personal level.  They were regularly given access to the opposite sex in order to satisfy certain needs, but Allen did not partake.  His instinct told him it was worthless if done with someone you didn’t care about.

They arrived at Carmah’s Cup before Allen said, “Oops, here we are.  “Listen, I’ll talk to Julie in the morning; don’t wake her up now.  She’s going to have to talk with Mr. Malko.  I’m sure they’ll come up with something so you two can date at reasonable hours.”

“Thanks, Al.  I know I can always count on you to be fair,” Nick said.

“All right, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Allen replied.  He patted the boy on the back.

“Good night,” Nick said before sneaking back into Carmah’s Cup.

Allen waited until Nick’s safe entrance before saying, “Good night.”

***

He pulled on the ridiculous suit.

If someone met his fee, he’d put it on.  After all, he was one of the world’s most feared MegaMals, and for good reason.  None defeated him, though the official scorecard said otherwise.  If the numbers got bigger in his account, his pride could take any blow.  He was a business, after all, a franchise unto himself.  Those other guys who were just plain nuts or seeking vengeance, well, that wasn’t him.  He didn’t have any personal vendettas.  He didn’t consider himself an evil individual.

It’d been a long time since his most recent job.  Ironically, Freedom “took him down” last time.  Not today, though.  Today, Freedom would be embarrassed, and Anthem would be the hero.

The customer is always right.

The black mask slid over his face with a hard tug.

***

Julie heard the ring signifying a new customer.  She looked up, brushing a curl out of her vision as she did so, and saw Allen approaching.  It’s the first time he entered Carmah’s Cup in months, and it marked the first time she wouldn’t stop him from entering in the same amount of time.

He stopped in front of her counter and said, “We need to talk about Nick.”

“He told me about it before school,” Julie informed.  “Thanks for checking up on him for me.”

“Not a problem,” Allen returned.  “So, you know it’s nothing bad.”

“Well, other than all the problems that can spring up from late night rendezvous with the opposite sex, no, nothing too bad.”

“I think he’s serious about her.”

“He’s just a kid, Allen.  You know how fleeting high school love can be . . .”

“Actually, I don’t.”

Julie blushed, then said, “Right, I forgot.  Well, anyway . . .”

At that moment, the door sang again as a thick, strawberry-haired man entered her store.  He walked briskly up to the counter, leaned over it, and pecked Julie on the lips.

Allen clenched his fist into a solid, bone-crushing mass.

Julie pushed Hunter back a little and grumbled, “Hunter, I have a customer.”

“I’m not a customer,” Allen seethed.  “I work next door.”

“Ah, well,” Hunter began, sensing the man’s tension.  “I’m sure you’ve seen two grown-ups kiss, right?”

“Of course he has,” Julie interjected.

Just then, several more customers arrived—businessmen and women hoping to hone their morning’s presentation over some coffee.  Hunter moved aside, next to Allen.

Hunter noticed Allen glaring at him.

“Got a problem, Mr.—?”

“Hemingway is my name,” Allen said.  “And I do have a problem.”

“Would that problem be me?” Hunter interrogated, turning squarely to face his doppelganger in size and stature.

“Yes, it is you.  But, it’s no fault of your own,” Allen answered.  His heart pounded, for he completely recognized the fact that he acted irrationally.  These were not the actions of a Colossal.  Provoking a civilian out of pure spite because of his own jealousy!  What was happening to him?

“Then whose fault is it, Hemingway?” Hunter demanded.

“My own,” Allen responded.

“Got a thing for Julie or something?” Hunter asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Allen fired back.

“Yeah, in fact, it is. She’s with me, so deal with it.  If you work next door, you could have made a play earlier.”

“Yeah.”

Although he never backed down from a fight, Hunter didn’t see the point in initiating one.  He thought he’d change the subject.

“So, Hemingway, what do you do next door?”

Allen watched as Julie took orders from the table full of suits and dresses.  “It’s a book store.  Trover’s Fine Literature.”

“Book nerd, huh?” Hunter grinned.

“Yeah, I guess I am.  How about you?”

“Soldier.  Just got back from Ulrakistan.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“How’s it going over there?” Allen asked.

“How do you think it’s going?” Hunter countered.  “We’re still there, aren’t we?”

“So you’re against it?” Allen inquired.

“No, I’m not against it,” Hunter said, aghast.  “I just wish they’d let us take off the gloves and kick some ass.  You?”

“I think we should pull out.  Immediately.”

Allen experienced shock when a rock-hard set of knuckles smashed into his chin.  He rolled with the punch to spare Hunter a broken hand, but the savagery of the attack confounded him.  He fell to the floor, not hurt in the least—he needed to sell it.  After all, most small arms fire couldn’t rupture his skin.

“You’re nothing but a damn coward!” Hunter bellowed at Allen while shaking his fist in pain.  “Wimps like you are the reason we won’t get down to business!”

The entire patronage of Carmah’s Cup stopped what they were doing and gaped at the ruckus.

Julie came running across the shop and, under her breath, demanded, “Hunter, what are you doing?”

“This chicken shit thinks we ought to pull out overseas.  Tell him to get lost, Julie.”

Allen stood up while rubbing his chin, then said, “My opinions are my own, Hunter—”

“That’s Sergeant Ares to you, turncoat.”

Allen continued anew, “My opinions are my own, and the fact that I think we should leave because we’re not doing anything but getting ourselves— and a lot of innocent civilians—killed does not make me a coward or a turncoat.  You would assault someone without warning just for disagreeing with you?”

“Yeah, well, you didn’t just watch twelve of your buddies die three weeks ago, did you, punk?”

Dropping his head in genuine sorrow, Allen said, “Don’t you see?  Those soldiers didn’t have to die needlessly.”

Hunter made a fist while stepping up to Allen again, but Julie held him back—rather insufficiently.  He bellowed, “You call dying for your country a needless death?  They died fulfilling their sworn duty!  You bleeding hearts just don’t get that, do you?”

Julie rubbed Hunter’s arm as she said, “You’re upset.  Please, go back in the kitchen, have some water, calm down.”

“No, damn it!” Hunter cried out.  “Are you going to get this guy out of here, or do I have to throw him out?”

Julie met Allen’s eyes and answered, “No, I’m not going to throw him out.  He’s welcome to his opinions, as misguided as they may be.”

Hunter tore his arm free.  He scowled at her, and though quite menacing, no one in the shop believed for an instant he would harm her.  Hunter emitted both honor and courage, and, after learning he just lost so many friends, all were willing to overlook his brashness.

“What would Trent think of you?” Hunter hissed before powering past Julie.  He flung the door open, leaving Julie’s life forever.  She would never see him in person again.

The shop quietly resumed its normality.  The business people went back to their business, the readers went back to their reading, and the daydreamers went back to their daydreaming.

Allen took a step toward Julie and whispered, “I’m no coward.”

“Prove it,” she rumbled before storming back into the kitchen.

***

“So you know Freedom’s gonna show?” Agent 0104, also known as Anthem, asked his superior.

“I’ve taken care of it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Agent 0050, Hell Hound, snapped.

“Are you questioning me?” the superior interrogated.

“No, sir,” Hell Hound uttered.

The superior looked about the hold of the stealth ship.  He saw Agents Anthem, Hell Hound, Cyber Spy, and Shootdown.  All suited up.  Anthem, of course, alone looked the part of a Colossal.  He dressed in a garish uniform of black, red, and blue.  His cape hung loosely about his body, all the way to his ankles, fixed in place by a silver star against each collarbone.  That was his job, after all—to be the government’s officially sanctioned Colossal.  The rest were covert agents dealing mostly with overseas issues or concerns the people of the nation were never to learn.  They were each dressed to most efficiently deal with their area of expertise.  Other than Hell Hound, all wore masks or helmets.

Freedom not only betrayed MAP, but he also stole a G-Repulser, the belt that defied gravity.  The government invested far too much in both to leave them in the field.  They needed time to implement Anthem, however, and so they promised Allen they’d leave him alone as long as he stayed off the grid.  Freedom, consequently, could not subvert Anthem’s role.  Should Freedom appear publicly, he would be apprehended by any means necessary.

Now that Anthem gained America’s acceptance, Freedom and his G-Repulser could not remain liberated.  He rarely utilized five MAP agents for one mission, but this situation will prove multifaceted.  The first step is locating Freedom out in the open.

Good thing he hired somebody to make sure that happened.

***

“She saw me take on the Nether Man!  How can she call me a coward?” Allen complained.

“She didn’t call you a coward, Allen, she told you to prove you weren’t a coward,” Sophie reminded.

“Semantics,” Allen mumbled.

“Not really,” Sophie replied.  “There’s a big difference.”

Allen threw his head back.  “What was I doing?  I was ready to annihilate that guy in the middle of Julie’s shop because he kissed her!  I’ve gone from being a disciplined super-soldier to a soap opera reject!”

Franklin laughed before he said, “Oh, now, sure, you’re developing a penchant for the dramatic, what with all those Fitzgerald and Shakespeare works you’ve been reading, but don’t go overboard.  After all, some of your changes have been for the better.”

Allen glanced over at The Bible that Walter Trover left behind.  It retained the bloodstain on its cover from when Agent Shootdown attempted an assassination upon him.  He read it twice now, and was currently in the middle of his third run.  Much of it confused him, but some of it made perfect sense.

“I know you’re right.  I’m just becoming so damn . . .”

“Human?” Franklin finished with a smirk.

Allen said nothing in return.

“We know you’re no coward, Allen, but face it, there are some fears you’re not facing,” Sophie said.

“Like what?” Allen asked.

“Well,” Sophie began, “why don’t you tell us?”

“What?  My biggest fear?”

“Mm-hmm.”

The hero sat upon the couch, unable to verbalize that which immediately sprang to mind.

“Well, if you’re anything like Walter, I know what your biggest fear may be,” Franklin hinted.

“What’s that?” Allen inquired.

The silver mustached old man rose creakily from the couch and disappeared for a few minutes.  When Allen studied Sophie for an answer, she looked even more perplexed than did he.

Finally, Franklin returned, holding a very small box.

He cracked it open, and Allen saw before him an engagement ring.

“What in the blue skies above is that?” Sophie cried.

“Relax, old gal,” Franklin eased with a wave of his hand.  “I’m not going to break our promise.  This isn’t for you.”

“Who’s it for then?” Allen questioned while scrutinizing the ring.

“This was for my brother’s lady, way back when.”

“I didn’t know Walter considered marriage!” Sophie interjected.

“Thought about it!” Franklin exclaimed.  “He dated that woman for six years, and he bought this blasted thing after only their six month together!  He darn near thought about marrying her since the moment they laid eyes on each other!”

“I don’t believe it!” Sophie said.  She rose from the loveseat and moved to admire the diamond.

“I didn’t either.  He showed it to me after a year and a half with her.  Said he was going to pop the question any day.  Well, after four and a half years passed, she got tired of waiting on him to work up the nerve, so she moved on.  Within months she met some school teacher and they married the same year.”

“I don’t believe it!” Sophie repeated, stunned that the brother of her boyfriend could surprise her so thoroughly from beyond the grave.

“Said it was the biggest regret of his life, God rest his soul,” Franklin enlightened.  “I’d sure hate to see someone else make that mistake.”

Allen couldn’t remove his eyes from the ring.

***

He wore a black trench coat and a black fedora.  When he stepped into the middle of the busy street, motorist barraged him with insults and complaints.  It was just before rush hour.

He threw off the coat and hat, revealing a skin-tight costume beneath of black and white.

“Time for a little death and destruction,” he whispered in perverted glee.

***

“Okay, soldiers,” the superior said to his MAP operatives.  “We’ve got reports of MegaMal activity in Old Downtown Purgatory Station.”

“Where there’s a MegaMal in Purgatory Station . . .” Hell Hound began.

“There’s Freedom,” the superior finished.

He then continued, “Despite your personal feelings, you’re orders are to capture him . . . Got that, Agent 0091?”

“Yes, sir!” Cyber Spy replied.

“And,” the superior continued, “I want him brought in alive.  Do you copy that, Agent 0104?”

“Piss on that,” Anthem muttered before shouting, “Yes, sir!”

“Superb.  Remember, Anthem plays to the cameras, the rest of you stay invisible.  I don’t want our citizens to know about you yet,” the superior commanded, feeling quite satisfied.  “Get ready, gentlemen, we’re bringing in the last of MAP’s defectors.”

***

Allen entered Carmah’s Cup with a sense of fear never before experienced in all his years of battling MegaMals.  His feet felt as though they melted to the tile floor as he trudged through the doorway.

That fear abated, however, when he saw Nick working the tables alongside his girlfriend, Irene!

“Oh, I am so glad you’re here!” Irene called out to Allen.  “I never got a chance to thank you!”

“Thank me?” Allen questioned as he shook her proffered hand.  “I thought you two might be upset with me for, well, you know . . .”

“No way, Allen!” Nick chimed in.  “Julie and Mr. Malko talked it over, and they decided Irene and I could work together at each other’s shops during the week.  Sure, we’re working extra hours, but—”

“—at least we get to be together!” Irene finished.

“Well, that’s good news,” Allen said.  “I’m glad this has all worked out.”

“Who would’ve thought my dad could be so reasonable,” Irene laughed.

“What do you need?” Julie suddenly interjected from the counter.  She wore a scowl on her face that did nothing to hide the disdain she felt for Allen.

“I wondered if we could talk, um, in private?” Allen asked, moving past Irene and Nick, towards Julie.

“No, we can’t talk in private, Allen.  I mean, you ruined the only relationship I’ve had with a man since . . . well, in a long time, and you didn’t seem to mind doing that in public.”

“You could have told me to leave.  That’s what Hunter wanted,” Allen reminded.

“Why don’t you just tell me what you want and get out?”

“Fine,” Allen mumbled.

He dropped to one knee and pulled out Walter’s engagement ring.

Julie, Nick, Irene, and everyone else in Carmah’s Cup gasped at the sight of the diamond and all it entailed.

Their gasps coincided with hundreds of panicked screams from the street outside.

Allen turned his head to gaze out the windows of Carmah’s Cup.  His eyes bulged at the sight of street tables, chairs, papers, and all manner of debris flying through the air.  People clung to light posts and mailboxes to fight against the unseen force drawing them to its source; others smartly rushed through the nearest doorway.  The wind howled with the fury of a hundred tornados, yet the sun shone brightly without a storm cloud to be found.

Allen dropped the ring box and sprinted out the door.

Just as he laid eyes on the villain not more than a quarter mile away, the city’s alarms sounded.  Unfortunately, Purgatory Station knew the sound well.  It had more than its fair share of Colossals, after all, and with that came a disproportionate number of MegaMals.

“What is that?” Julie shouted over the thunderous winds as her hair whipped and flailed after stepping out of Carmah’s Cup.  She yelped as she lost her footing and slid.

Allen grabbed her and hauled her back into her coffee shop, then slammed the door shut in Nick and Irene’s faces as they seemed about to exit the business as well.

“Get to cover!” he shouted through the glass.

Nick looked down at Allen’s feet and saw them dig an inch into the concrete.  His eyes engorged at the sight, then they locked with Allen’s.

With a familiar voice, Allen commanded, “Get them to cover, Nick.”

The teen followed Freedom’s orders.

Allen turned back to face the cause of the cataclysm.

The void raised nearly seven feet tall and four feet wide.  It sucked everything into it; everything, that is, but for a man dressed in all white and a black cape with a featureless black mask that completed a black circle on the upper half of his body.  He stood directly before it, unaffected, with his arms spread wide and his cape billowing madly behind him.  He ducked and weaved in order to avoid large object forced into the abyss.

“The Black Hole,” Allen muttered.

Hard work awaited.

***

Allen burst into the apartment above Trover’s Fine Literature and rushed into his bedroom.

Sophie took cover in the corner of the kitchen with a small television playing on the counter.  Franklin busied himself boarding up the windows that faced Geoff Avenue.

“You better take a nap!” Franklin shouted through the apartment.

“I thought the same!” Allen hollered in return.  “Don’t disturb me for a few hours, please.”

“Not a problem,” Franklin mumbled as he hammered.

***

Allen tossed his bed aside and lifted up the loose floorboards.  He pulled out his black satchel and put on the red, white, and blue uniform with the large, red “F” on the chest.  He next affixed the blue and white cape, and then slid on the red gauntlets and boots.  Lastly, he fastened the mechanism that allowed him to fly, the G-Repulser.  He suffered no illusions – they would kill him to get it back.

Allen knew he faced a ferocious confrontation.  He’s certain he’d never beaten the Black Hole fair and square.  It always seemed the villain gave up far too easily for a man with those sorts of powers.

Although not a true black hole, the void Black Hole controlled could lift cars off the ground and its range hit up to a half-mile.  The only weakness, as Allen saw it, was that the cavity would only devour those things within its perimeter.  If a person were to walk right alongside it, they wouldn’t feel even a twinge of its power.  However, they would be swallowed whole the moment they entered its area.

Because Black Hole always took refuge directly before the pit, it was hard to lay a hand on him, shoot him, or even blow him up.  Everything—shells, fire, energy of any sort—diverted right into his personal chasm.

Last time they fought, Allen and he tore up five city blocks in Noir Port City before Black Hole’s field unexpectedly dissipated.  Allen rushed in and broke the monster’s jaw.  The battle lasted about an hour, but he saw no reason why Black Hole’s abilities should have a time constraint.  Again, it seemed to Allen almost as though the Black Hole simply called it quits.

“Let’s hope he gets tired again,” Allen said.

In the next moment, Freedom flew out the skylight above Allen Hemingway’s room.

***

“This is Sydney Attwater with WPUG news, bringing you the live attack of the unstoppable MegaMal, the Black Hole.  This onslaught’s motivation has yet to be determined, but Senator Otto Janus joins me with some strong opinions of his own.  It so happens he granted me an interview in the area prior to this development and has graciously agreed to adapt to the situation at hand.  Thank you for that, sir.”

Like so many of Old Downtown’s denizens, Julie, Nick, Irene, and the patrons of Carmah’s Cup took cover from the devastation while watching events unfold on television.  They were huddled in the upstairs kitchen of Julie and Nick’s apartment.  They watched the live newscast set up a block behind the villain, where his powers didn’t reach, for the latest developments.

“My pleasure, and thank you, Sydney,” Senator Janus said in response to Sydney Attwater.  I’ve just called in the only Colossal our nation’s government condones—Anthem.  He should be here any moment.  Let’s pray no vigilantes decide to take action before he arrives.”

“Senator, when you say ‘vigilantes,’ are you referring to this city’s Colossals such as Freedom and the Nocturnal Knight?”

“You’re damn right I am,” Senator Janus declared.  “We all agree that Freedom is out of control, the Nocturnal Knight has always been a madman, hell-bent on his own agenda.  He’s plagued this city for decades.  This has been a concern of mine for some time, especially in this city, which is why I wanted to originally speak to you in this locale.  This spectacle merely confirms my alarm.”

“But the Colossals didn’t cause this attack, and they usually don’t.  In fact, didn’t Freedom stop the Nether Man mere months ago?  What would have happened had he not intervened?”

“That’s right, Attwater!” Nick screamed at the television.  “You give that pencil pusher heck!”

“Shush, Nick!” Irene shot out.  “I want to hear this!”

“As I see it,” Senator Janus corrected, “Anthem stopped the Nether Man, with the help of a concerned citizen.”

“Pastor Irons, I believe,” Sydney Attwater hissed.

“Yes, that’s correct.  While I am not a member of the blockheaded religious right, it seemed a man of the cloth proved integral in the defeat of the rock man.  Thank goodness Anthem figured out such a man would be necessary.  Freedom simply convoluted the matter.  Anthem progressed admiringly on his own,” the senator argued.

“Does this mean the government is not backing Freedom any longer?” Attwater asked.

“That’s exactly what that means,” Janus clarified.

“Shouldn’t this be coming from the President?” Attwater countered.

“In two years, I will be the president,” Senator Janus informed.  “And I plan to make Freedom and the rest of those lawless grandstanders my number one priority.”

Sydney Attwater looked directly into the camera and said, “You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen!  America is no longer sponsoring the Colossal known as Freedom and Senator Janus’s will throw his hat in for the next Presidential election!  This has been Sydney Attwater with—”

“—Just a moment, Attwater,” Senator Janus interrupted.  He took Sydney’s microphone and announced, “I want this city to understand something.  We have video surveillance taken from one of our satellites showing the vigilantes Freedom, Nocturnal Knight, Turf, Excitor, Silver Streak and two unknowns engaging the Shadow Serpent.  You remember that, Purgatory Station, don’t you?  Several innocent civilians were killed that night.  We were ready to deploy Anthem and some other highly trained operatives on the Serpent, ending his vicious murder spree once and for all.  Had those . . . vigilantes . . . not interfered, the Serpent would be in our custody at this very moment, and this city could get a good night’s sleep once again.  I vow, America, that when I’m elected President, I will end the reign of these so-called Colossals.  Don’t you see?  These MegaMals seek out people like Freedom and the Nocturnal Knight for a fight!  If you were rid of these narcissists, these men and women who enjoy pissing all over the Constitution, you’d be rid of your MegaMals like the Shadow Serpent and the Black Hole—”

“I hate to interrupt you, Senator,” Attwater said, “but it seems as though one of your local ‘vigilantes’ is on the scene!”

Julie, Nick, and Irene watched as the cameraman panned from Senator Janus to the Black Hole, just a block ahead of them.  Amazingly, his ring remained invisible from the back.  Objects flew toward the Black Hole and then simply disappeared from sight.  The camera then focused tightly on a man flying in at a steep angle.

Freedom reigned.

“He’s going to whip that MegMal just like he did the Nether Man, and it’s going to be right outside our apartment again!” Nick cheered.

“That deal with the Nether Man was outside Carmah’s Cup?” Irene asked Julie.

“Yeah, what a coincidence, right?” Julie fumed.  Senator Janus was right.  He spoke gospel to Julie.  Allen attracted these freaks.

***

Freedom flew right up to the edge of Black Hole’s chasm and stood next to the villain dressed in black and white.

“What do you want?” Freedom screamed over the tempestuous winds.

“This is just another day at the office,” Black Hole responded.  “Why don’t you come closer and take me in?”

Freedom saw as a car lifted and flew towards Black Hole.  He watched it collapse and fold until completely engulfed.

“Is this going to be like last time?” Freedom demanded.

“Oh, no,” Black Hole answered.  Freedom perceived nothing in that opaque mask, not even a pair of eyes.  Black Hole continued, saying, “This isn’t going to be like last time at all.  Today, you don’t beat me.  Today, people die.  Today, I win.”

“This is Old Downtown.  The Banking District is blocks away.  There’s nothing of value in this area.  What . . . do . . . you . . . want?”

“Just to earn an honest day’s pay,” Black Hole crooned.

Freedom at last realized whom he truly fought, but he had no time to contemplate the matter, for he saw several citizens stupidly walk right into the void’s perimeter.  The hole compelled them closer, sending them aloft through the air.

“Looks like you have work to do as well,” the Black Hole mocked.

Freedom propelled upwards, flying as close to the edges of the void’s territory as he dared.  He raced to the victims approaching him while crying they put their hands above their heads.

Luckily, they careened near the top of the zone, so they were able to extend their hands beyond its realm.  Though the action dislocated a few shoulders, Freedom caught their hands and yanked them free.

He landed near the closest storefront and ushered the citizens inward, away from the unmerciful gale.

When Freedom turned around, he saw his most dangerous enemy, the government sanctioned Colossal called Anthem, soaring headlong at the Black Hole.

Freedom next saw the cavity inexplicably vanish just before Anthem landed in front of the Black Hole and knock him to the ground.  It seemed an out of body experience for Freedom, for he executed the same motions with the villain in the past.  His suspicions confirmed, Freedom now understood the Black Hole served as nothing more than fodder to make the government’s agents look good.  Like a fool, Freedom never considered such blatant deceit possible.

Freedom rocketed though the air before landing next to Anthem.  The Black Hole laid on the ground, his black cloak spread wide beneath him.  He cursed under his breath at Anthem for the stiff punch.

“You’re nothing but a scrub,” Freedom mumbled at the felled victim.

“Hey, gotta eat,” the Black Hole replied.  “Don’t you think if the government really wanted me gone they’d just nuke me?  That’s the only way to get rid of me, and don’t think they wouldn’t do it.”

“They still might if you don’t shut your damn mouth,” Anthem condemned.  “Why the hell are you detailing classified information to this traitor?”

“Hey,” Black Hole responded, “I might work for you guys, but I’m not one of you.  Boss knows I don’t give up the info to just anybody.  I figure Freedom’s going to be taken in with me anyway, right?”

“Right,” Anthem said with a grin as he turned and faced his predecessor.

Though Freedom couldn’t see the eyes behind Anthem’s star-shaped visor, he knew those eyes overflowed with hatred.

Sydney Attwater ambushed both men, saying, “This is Sydney Attwater with WPUG News.  Anthem, it looks like you and Freedom have teamed up once again to take down a MegaMal.  Should we expect this from now on?”

Anthem faced both Attwater and Senator Janus, who joined the group.  He said,

“Absolutely not, Ms. Attwater.  In fact,” Anthem continued, “by order of the President of the United States, I have been called upon to incarcerate Freedom so that he may pay for his crimes.”

In their kitchen, Sophie and Franking gasped.

Next door, Nick and Irene, as well as the patrons taking shelter, were astonished as well.

Julie sat tightlipped, resentful of the pain flooding her heart.

“So, this is it, huh?” Freedom grumbled at Anthem.  “That’s what this has all been about?”

“What do you mean?” Attwater asked.

“This whole thing, it’s been a set up.  The Black Hole is no MegaMal.  He’s a mercenary.  A lap dog.”

“Are you coming in quietly or not?” Anthem interrupted.

“What exactly did Freedom do to warrant such aggression?” Sydney interrogated while sticking the microphone into Anthem’s face.

Senator Janus grabbed Sydney Attwater’s hand and pulled the microphone towards him.  “Freedom betrayed the USA several months ago.”

“Oh, no,” Franklin muttered.

“Don’t do it …” Julie moaned.

“What?” Sydney Attwater asked.  She noticed Freedom’s head drop.

Janus said, “He was given an order, and he defied that order, taking matters into his own hands.  He’s been fleeing his government ever since until that debacle with the Nether Man.  Anthem could have stopped the Nether Man in record time, by the way, had Freedom not acted like a loose canon.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Freedom said.  “Anthem was ready to call in an air strike and destroy Old Downtown right along with the Nether Man.  If I hadn’t smashed his communications link, he would have done just that!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Senator Janus chastised.  “A government Colossal would never do such a thing!”

“What do you take me for?” Anthem asked.

Freedom responded, “Exactly what you are—a cold blooded killer willing to follow any cold blooded order.”

“The fact is,” the senator resumed, “that little piece of equipment you see around Freedom’s waist is government property.  The tax payers of this great nation funded that device, and Freedom stole it from those very same people!”

“I use it as I always have,” Freedom said.  “I fight for justice in the homeland.  I don’t go overseas and murder our opponents while they sleep, I protect those who need it here.”

“Really?” Senator Janus countered.  “Then why didn’t you and the rest of those ‘heroes’ stop the Shadow Serpent?  He’s been killing the citizens of this fair city for months, yet you’ve done nothing to stop him!”

Freedom noticed that, with the Black Hole still lying on the ground, pretending to be unconscious, the people along Geoff Avenue wandered out of the buildings.  He looked over and saw Sophie and Franklin standing arm in arm with one another, staring at him for a sign to take action.  He then saw Irene, Nick, and the patrons of Carmah’s Cup emerge.

However, Julie did not appear.

“Freedom, could you answer the question?” Sydney Attwater asked just above a whisper.  He detected the sympathy and understanding in her eyes, after all, she played a role in the botched capture of the Shadow Serpent as well.

Freedom cleared his throat and said, “We cornered the Shadow Serpent, but he dove into the water to escape.  We needed to tend his victims and, if I’m being honest, thought better of diving in after him.  None of us were underwater combatants.”

“So, you were all cowards,” Senator Janus mocked.

“Screw you!” Nick yelled from the sidewalk, then moved threateningly towards the senator.  A tiny explosion of concrete detonated at Nick’s feet, which forced him to jump back and land on his rear.

Irene rushed over to make sure he suffered no harm.

“I’m a United States Senator, boy,” Janus reminded.  “Threaten me again and you won’t like the results.  I have bodyguards everywhere.”

Freedom knew better.  Yes, Janus had bodyguards, but none of them would shoot at a high school student.  Janus improvised to explain the sudden gunfire, but Freedom knew the real deal.  Shootdown surely kept Freedom in his crosshairs and, considering this seemed his grand finale, Freedom expected that  Cyber Spy and Hell Hound also targeted him.

Anthem leaned into Freedom’s ear and said, “No bulletproof glass to protect you this time.”

Just then a large, black transport vehicle arrived.  Unrecognizable soldiers leapt from it and secured the perimeter.  These were MAP’s foot soldiers.  They were not genetically engineered like the actual agents themselves, but they experienced much psychological tinkering.  They would do anything a superior ordered—anything.

The soldiers restrained the Black Hole by injecting a sedative and binding his extremities with bizarre shackles.  They led him, as he stumbled wobbly, into the transport vehicle.

“We’ve got a nice spot for you in there as well, Freedom,” Anthem informed.  “So, do we need to clear the people out of here, or are you going to go in peacefully?”

Freedom glanced over at the multitudes of people standing along the sidewalks—thrust back by the foot soldiers.  Franklin and Sophie wore expressions that begged him to fight back, to protect himself.  Nick and Irene looked horrified that their hero was now considered a villain, though they did not believe such a thing.  And then . . . then, Julie walked out of Carmah’s Cup.  Tears rolled down her cheeks.  Freedom could sense her distress.

He had to know.

He left Senator Janus and Anthem to console Julie.  No matter how poorly she thought of him, he loved her.  She needed him; he knew it.  He would not abandon her in her time of need.

“Where you going?” Anthem interrogated, grabbing Freedom’s arm.

Freedom spun and delivered a thunderous roundhouse to Anthem, sending him flying into the side of a building twenty feet way.

Blood instantly spurted from Freedom’s left shoulder.

“A warning shot, traitor,” Senator Janus professed.  “You give us back that G-Repulser and let us take you in, and you won’t have to take any more shots.  Keep in mind, we’re using artillery designed just for you.”

Freedom argued, “I give you the G-Repulser, right now, you give me two minutes without skirmish.  No one gets hurt; none of these civilians get caught in a crossfire.  I’ll go in quietly, just give me two minutes.”

Senator Janus started to laugh, then realized he still remained on camera with Sydney Attwater.  “In respect to your past good deeds, I’ll honor said request.  However, remember, one misstep and you will be terminated.”

Freedom nodded once, paying no attention to his shoulder’s torment, then unlocked the G-Repulser.  He let it fall with a heavy thud.  A soldier gathered it up and ran to the transport.

With blood pouring down his arm, Freedom approached Julie.  He spoke over the interlocked arms of the foot soldiers forming a barrier against the inhabitants of the city.

“What’s happened?” he asked her.

“My father . . .” Julie began.  “He had a stroke a few days ago.  I was going to fly out tomorrow to see him.  He . . . he died.  There were complications . . . I just got the call on my cell.”  She broke into tears.

Freedom fought through the foot soldiers and took her into his arms, neither minding the smeared blood.

Finally, she stumbled, “You’re turning yourself in . . . j-just so you could find out what’s wrong with me?”

Freedom nodded.

“W-Why?” she asked.

Freedom held her out at arm’s length, then said, “Because I love you, Julie.  Despite how you feel about me, I love you.  I meant to propose today, truthfully, if this craziness hadn’t happened.”

“I know,” Julie whimpered.

Freedom felt his heart pound.  “Your answer would have been … ?”

“Time’s up!” Senator Janus yelled from behind.

“Just a minute!” Freedom hollered.

Blood showered Julie’s shirt when Freedom’s other shoulder exploded.  He dropped to his knees in horrid pain, but refused to remove his eyes from her.

“I don’t even know your real name,” she sobbed.  “How can I marry a guy when I don’t even know his real name?”

The soldiers collected him, each mercilessly clutching an arm.

Ignoring the agony, Freedom said, “Since my earliest memories, my name has been Agent 0099.  But you know my real name.  You were there for my birth.”

They dragged him away.

Freedom, now only Allen Hemingway, tore his eyes from Julie to say good-bye to Franklin and Sophie.  Both of them offered sympathetic smiles even as tears slid down their faces.

“I know a pastor who can help!” Franklin called out.

“No,” Allen yelled in return.  “Let me handle this on my own.”

“You’re never on your own, son!” Franklin issued in return.

“I know,” he responded, gritting his teeth against the misery.

“I love you!” Sophie wailed.

“I love you, too, Miss Sophie,” he chuckled through the pain.  The old woman couldn’t help but choke out a laugh.

Finally, as they hoisted Allen into the transport, he shouted to his biggest fan, “Be a good man, Nick.  Trent and I are both counting on you now.”

Nick, helped up previously by Irene, fell to his knees once more and covered his face.  Irene dropped and placated him as best she could.  Within the span of one year, he’d lost his two greatest heroes.

Allen stood, shoulders bloody and torn asunder, just inside the transport as the doors slowly shut.  He focused solely upon Julie.

“I’m sorry about your father,” he yelled.

With that, the transport doors closed, and the mammoth vehicle pulled away.

A clean-up crew promptly arrived and began putting the devastated area back into order. Senator Janus lectured the camera again regarding Freedom’s unpredictability and that the nation couldn’t afford to allow him, nor the rest of the Colossals, to simply roam free.  Anthem dug himself out from the wall Freedom’s blow drove him into, then unceremoniously flew away.  Although no one saw them, Hell Hound, Cyber Spy, and Shootdown gathered their equipment and made for the rendezvous, satisfied with another mission accomplished.

As Irene held an inconsolable Nick, Franklin and Sophie moved to take Julie into their arms.  They were comforting her about her father when she lifted up her left hand.

She wore the engagement ring Allen left.

Through a thick wall of tears, she whimpered, “I wanted to say yes.”

Epilogue

Within the deepest innards of the Meta-Agent Program, a conference room existed.

Within this conference room rested a gargantuan table.  At this table, there sat seven men.

Facilitating the meeting?  Senator Otto Janus.

“And so, the mission succeeded.  All objectives were competently satisfied.  Well done, Agent 0104,” Janus commended.

Agent 0104, Anthem, dressed in standard fatigues, nodded in acknowledgement.

“Well done also to Agents 0050, 0073, and 0091.  Excellent shooting,” Janus said.

“Thank you, sir,” Agents Hell Hound, Shootdown, and Cyber Spy replied.  Cyber Spy did not actually fire a shot, but only because his orders were to fire third if necessary—the kill shot.  Although he counted Freedom as a friend, if such a word can be used in conjunction with MAP, he swore an oath to follow orders.  No matter what.

“Dismissed,” Senator Janus, their superior, the Supreme Commander of the Meta-Agent Program, said.

Anthem, Hell Hound, Shootdown, and Cyber Spy stood, saluted, then left.  Only two men stayed with Janus.

“Well, ‘Black Hole,’ you delivered perfectly once again,” Janus complimented as he tossed a satchel full of bills the MegaMal’s way.  “Consider this a bonus.  The predetermined amount has already been wired to your account.  As usual, money impeccably spent.”

“I aim to please,” the mercenary replied.  “You ever need me again, you know where to find me.”

“Affirmative,” Janus answered.  “Take care, Cody.”

“Same to you, Otto.”

Dressed in civilian garb, the Black Hole took his leave.

The lone man with Janus wore black fatigues and a black mask.  A black visor allowed this man to see, but even it gave no hint of the man beneath.

“Agent 0102, now that your bullet wound has healed, you are to resume activities, understood?  You didn’t need both eyes anyway, right?”

Commander Janus, of course, did not expect a verbal reply.

Janus stood, leaned upon the table with his hands outstretched, leered at Agent 0102, then said, “It’s time Agent Shadow Serpent attack Purgatory Station again.  After a few more hundred murders, perhaps the people will finally turn their backs on their ‘heroes.’  Dismissed.”

Agent 0102 stood, saluted, then exited the conference room.

To Be Continued …

Copyright © 2006, 2015 Scott William Foley

All Rights Reserved

Also published in the short story collection

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II (iUniverse, 2006)

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Also By Scott William Foley …

 

Short Story Collections

 

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume I

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II

Novels

Souls Triumphant

Andropia

Dr. Nekros Electronic Serial

 

Dr. Nekros: The Tragedian (1 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Phantasms and Chicanery (2 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Bloodied Pistons (3 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Unforeseen Calamity (4 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Nightmare Realized (5 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: An Abhorrent Culmination (6 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Monstrosity’s Dawn (7 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: The Demons Within (8 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Lineage (9 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Inevitable Demise of Anton Hall (10 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Diatribe and Divulgence (11 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Peripeteia (12 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: The Realm Within (13 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: The Depths of Fate (14 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: A77 (15 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: A Catastrophic Convergence (16 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Devil’s Ashes (17 of 18)

 

Dr. Nekros: Requiem For the Redeemed (18 of 18)

About the Author

Scott William Foley is a proud husband, father, educator, and writer.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in English Secondary Education and his Master’s degree in Reading from Illinois State University.  Foley currently lives in Normal, IL

Knight Writings: from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station (Part 2)

knightwritingscover

Knight Writings

:from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station

(Part 2)

by

Scott William Foley

Entry 7579

Earlier today I witnessed something I thought I would never see, and that was the end of the Nether Man. More unbelievable is the fact that Pastor Irons played a role in stopping the behemoth. Of course, without the man called Freedom and his heir apparent, Anthem, the rock man would likely have run his course and re-entered the sea, only to terrorize my city again.

Freedom seemed to be the sort of man I can respect. The pawn called Anthem … quite the opposite. I don’t know what Freedom’s situation is just yet, but it’s obvious he’s detached himself from government control. I wish I could say that’s a bad thing, but when you’ve been in the game for twenty-two years, you discover not all evil walks in the form of living rock or creates portals into nothingness. Some evils wear tights, some wear ties, and some wear stripes. Not just of the jail variety, either.

This Freedom has been at it publicly for a few years. He’s proven himself time and time again. He is a good candidate. Technologically produced flight, low-caliber bulletproof skin, very high intellect, and more importantly, a moral heart in his chest. Could be perfect.

This brings me to Shadow Serpent. I found another of his victims tonight. I arrived first on the scene. Female. Caucasian. Brown eyes and hair. Estimated at five feet, three inches and around one hundred and thirty pounds. Late thirties. Body found in an alley off O’Neil. Nothing stolen from her person. Other than four puncture wounds to the stomach, no trauma to the body. Death, as usual, by injection of an indeterminate poison. Until I acquire a sample of a victim’s blood, or the perpetrator himself, the toxin will remain unknown.

Makes the Shadow Serpent’s body count 52 in nineteen months of known activity. I can detect no method to his routes or choices in victims.

I hate to admit it, but I may not be enough to stop him. He has eluded me since I focused my efforts on him thirteen months ago, when it became evident the PSPD could not stop him. I arrogantly thought the Nocturnal Knight, as the media long ago dubbed me, would succeed where they failed, as has previously been the case so often.

A task force dedicated to stopping the serial murderer grows more imperative with every new victim.

Entry 7580

The Shadow Serpent claimed another victim tonight. Male. Hispanic. Late teens. Approximately five feet, eight inches. One hundred and sixty five pounds. Brown eyes, yellow and blue highlights to his hair. Two puncture wounds in his forehead. As usual, no witnesses. Body found in a parking garage, top floor. Nothing stolen from person.  No trauma to body other than holes. Makes 53 in nineteen months.

I called it in and then departed the crime scene after uncovering no external evidence. As I jumped the ledge, I noticed a silhouette on the above building. I knew it wasn’t my prey for two reasons: someone still living has never seen him, and the figure was that of a female. Even so, I don’t like being seen, either. I would know my observer. What I found disturbed me greatly.

She called herself “Devil Woman.” Strictly unprofessional. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for women bringing down MegaMals. Oime, if she didn’t hate me, would be a candidate in a heartbeat, and she’s as female as they come. This “Devil Woman,” however, did not hear me approach from behind. She didn’t even know I neared until I tapped her on the shoulder. I’ll give her this, she turned swinging, but it’s obvious she has no combat skills beyond basic self-defense. The diamond-shaped mask, the red horns, the “DW” belt, it all screams “amateur.” No function whatsoever. All form.

She will get herself killed. I told her as such as rudely as possible. I’ve been intimidating the good, the bad, and the beautiful for decades. I’ll follow her for a few nights – let her get roughed up just enough to call it quits. I don’t need another corpse in my city.

Entry 7581

Even though I got shot, it the night proved rewarding.

A new Colossal emerged this afternoon. The boy told the press to call him “Excitor.” Kind of a silly name. He’s young, but he’s got power to spare. Wields some form of bioelectricity. Typical youth—brash, cocky, overconfident. He may be perfect. With this young man and Freedom, I’d have a tactician with muscle and flight and the enthusiasm of youth backed by raw power and fearlessness. Is the boy morally dependable? He’ll need observing before any decisions are made. He defeated Barrage, however. No small feat.

Near First Redeemer, I found “Devil Woman” attempting to apprehend participants in a drug deal. They pulled guns. That’s when I intervened. I disabled one of them immediately, but the other got a shot off. The Kevlar and leather armor held. He passed out when he saw me get back up. Ah, that little episode will drop non-MegaMal criminal activity by twenty-five percent over the next three weeks. I guarantee it.

The amateur put up a brave act, but the discharged firearms spooked her. I saw her hands trembling and the puddle at her feet. I pointed the puddle out. I haven’t survived two decades taking on the city’s worst by being nice. I don’t want her dead. She seems like a decent person. Can’t say I approve of her garb.

Entry 7582

I found myself on the island’s northwest side. The Serpent murdered yet another. This time an elderly African American. Approximately seventy years old. Two sets of puncture wounds on each shoulder. Six feet, four inches tall. Two hundred and twenty, give or take. It’s apparent the Serpent is using some form of needle to inject his victims. The media loves to propagate the notion that the MegaMal is literally “biting” his prey like a real snake, but all the evidence suggests nothing of the sort. There are always rectangular imprints surrounding the sets of punctures. The impressions are accompanied by subsequent bruising. I’ve come to the conclusion that the killer has two needles mounted to a device on each fist. As there are never any witnesses, I have no way to confirm this. Just a hunch.

As expected, it wasn’t long before Turf arrived on the scene. As his name would suggest, he’s very strict about maintaining order in his neck of the woods. He was not happy to find me sulking around, but he was even less happy to realize the Shadow Serpent struck on his watch.

I don’t know if Turf considers himself a Colossal, but I’ve always thought highly of his efforts since he started protecting the innocent eight years ago. During that time, he’s never killed. He doesn’t use weapons. He depends on his enhanced strength, speed, and intellect to get him through tough spots. I once heard a rumor that he also depends on a higher power. We may have something in common.

I told him I wanted to assemble a team to terminate the Serpent’s activity. He didn’t seem interested. He’s still angry about not being allowed to join the old team, before most of us were killed. I think Solar Flare knew what he was doing in refusing Turf’s admission back then. I’ve always maintained that Solar Flare knew death awaited that team. His powers gave him a strange talent for escaping time’s perimeters.

I should have been with them on that day.

I should be dead.

Entry 7583

No Shadow Serpent victims tonight.

No Devil Woman sightings, either.

I should consider myself lucky. I’m hoping both of them gave it up.

Trover brought in the young Colossal today to First Redeemer. I don’t know how these people who don’t wear masks expect to fool anybody. He seemed very interested in finding a purpose beyond just being one of the nation’s greatest heroes. Pastor Irons sat and spoke with him for a very long time. Trover simply faded into the background with a smile on his face.

The young man, Freedom, is an ideal recruit. In fact, if this new team works out and we stop Shadow Serpent, I’ll gladly hand leadership over to him. Solar Flare was right; I’m not exactly the most diplomatic madman running around in armor and a cloak.

Speaking of armor, this “Silver Streak” could be a logical addition. His biomechanical suit gives him extremely enhanced speed. I’d love to know how it works. I didn’t even know such a thing was in development, which leads me to believe it’s not government or corporate related. The media has never been able to clock his speed.  I find this odd.  Like Excitor, however, Silver Streak has not been on the scene long enough to prove his morality. I’ll not have any ethically ambiguous members on my team.  He bears further observation.

Entry 7584

The Serpent was mine!

It happened on the Metzler Building in Old Downtown, right on the edge of Grell Harbor. Though I at first saw only his back, I knew it could only be him. He had something hanging from his back, blowing in the wind. It looked like shed skin yet to fully detach, but that’s impossible. The killer is all too human, of that I’m certain. He dressed in all black. I got within twenty-five meters when I pulled out a tranquilizer dart. I wish I could tell you that I find it dishonorable to take down an adversary from behind, but with a body count like the Serpent’s, honor goes out the window.

It’s a moot point anyway.

His latest victim still writhed when the Shadow Serpent turned to face me.  I hadn’t made a sound. I couldn’t make out his build due to the cape billowing behind him, but I could see two crimson eyes, two fangs, and a red, forked tongue.

I was right about the needles.

At the end of the knuckle-guard on each of his gauntlets were two needles. Big needles.

I next observed his victim.

It was the Devil Woman.

I could see nothing in those red eyes, and the MegaMal said nothing. He just stuck one of the two needles from his left hand into her left arm, then shoved her off the building into the harbor.

He ran and jumped to the next roof; I ran the twenty-five meters to the ledge, lost as much armor as I could en route, then dove in after the amateur.

Entry 7585

Twenty years ago a man named Trover nursed me back to health after Odium tore me to shreds. This, of course, happened back when I wore inadequate armor.

In those days, I wore a mask instead of a helmet. To Trover’s credit, he did not remove it during the nine days he, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend took care of me.

Out of respect to his actions, I won’t remove the Devil Woman’s mask.

It is obvious the Serpent did not want her dead. He used her to distract me from pursuing him. I’m certain he allowed himself to be seen. I walked right into his plans. He choreographed all of it.

I pulled Devil Woman from the water and rushed her to my quarters. It took a few days, but she’s finally coming around.

Unfortunately, the Serpent did not pump enough of his venom into her for me to get an accurate reading of its composition.

I have to wonder if this was also part of his plan …

Could the Serpent be more intelligent than all of us?

Entry 7586

I have my work cut out for me.

Devil Woman is up and moving, and she thirsts for vengeance. She’s demanding I train her to take on the Serpent. I explained to her that I don’t even know for certain that I can defeat the Serpent, and I’ve been taught by the best and have over twenty years of experience.

She won’t take “no” for an answer. If I don’t instruct her, she’ll confront him anyway and be killed within the week.

To make matters worse, she’s a heathen.

I suppose that is not without its irony.

Entry 7587

It has been days since my last entry. I have been very busy. Devil Woman is coming along sufficiently in her training. She does not remove her mask, and I do not unfasten my helmet. There is no personal connection whatsoever.

I keep telling myself that.

Although she is an amateur, she is not entirely clumsy or unintelligent. I’ve initiated her training in the art of the staff. It will allow her to keep her distance from criminals while engaging them. I did not respond when she mentioned a gun would be easier.

On another note, the Shadow Serpent killed once again over the last few days. Again, no witnesses. Two sets of puncture wounds along the collarbone. Female. Asian. Forty to forty-five years old. Five feet, one inch. Approximately one hundred and seventy pounds. No irregularities in appearance other than the wounds. Killed while cutting through Morrison Park. Supposedly on her way to a graveyard shift at work.

Where is the connection between the Serpent’s victims? I cannot believe anyone, MegaMal or not, can kill so many so indiscriminately. Even history’s worst murderers had a method to their viciousness. What is his?

It is time to put the force together. Loathe as I am to admit it, I can’t protect the innocent and track down the Shadow Serpent simultaneously. I will need assistance. Devil Woman asked me who I would like working with us. I told her the names of my candidates, then I reminded her that she is not one of them, therefore negating the term “us.”

She did not respond to my latter statement positively.

Entry 7588

Even though I explained to her that I needed a few days to observe some of my candidates, Devil Woman took it upon herself to summon them.

She and I were to meet tonight on top of First Redeemer for a session concerning rooftop combat. When I arrived, she accompanied an impressive cadre of Colossals.

Freedom stood in his red, white, and blue with his cape flowing behind him looking exactly like the Colossal he is. He was the only one I felt sure would join.

To my surprise, Turf made an appearance. He didn’t seem happy, but he did look resolved to put an end to the killings. That’s all I ask.

The Silver Streak stood with his suit gleaming in the moonlight. I wish Devil Woman had given me more time to watch over this enigma, just to be sure. His membership is probationary in my book.

Excitor was also there on a trial basis, as well as some other kid I’ve never seen before. Blue electricity jumped from one of Excitor’s hands to the other, and his expression said saving the city wouldn’t be terribly difficult.

The other kid kept his entire body covered from the boots to the top of his head.  Only his hair remained free.  His suit had an orange flame riding up his legs and chest, set against black. He called himself El Fuego. Unlike Excitor, he didn’t exhibit his powers openly, though I should think they are fairly obvious.

I don’t know how in the world Devil Woman convinced these men to join my little crusade, but I saw in her eyes that she expected to be admitted for her deed. I guess that makes four probationary members.

The Shadow Serpent will be stopped.

Entry 7589

It’s been weeks since I began training my recruits to battle as a team.  While we’ve been preparing, the Serpent struck time and again.  I now have 57 murders in my city over the last twenty-one months, all accredited to the Shadow Serpent.

He will pay.

In the meantime, the recruits progress tolerably enough.  I’ve come to rely on Freedom and Turf for their veteran experience.  They seem to get along well.  Both men have a good in them rarely encountered.

Silver Streak is a different story.  He’s not a particularly gifted combatant.  He doesn’t have any passion for our drills, either.  I don’t know why he joined up with us.  He says he wants to take down the Serpent, he owes a friend, but his heart isn’t into what we’re doing.  I’ve seen that suit of his in action.  Actually, I haven’t seen anything more than a blur.  He refused to explain to me how it works, but I’m beginning to think it’s got nothing to do with enhanced speed.  If he’s going to stay in this squad, he’ll detail the specs … or else.

Then we have Excitor and El Fuego.  We have a “no real names” policy amongst ourselves, by the way, although I’ve already figured out three of my recruits’ identities.  I’m not going to commit their names to record, but Turf and Freedom were deduced a while ago, and I just happened to come across El Fuego as well—almost too easily.  The rest would be simple if I wanted to put some real effort into it, but I don’t.  My only concern is the Serpent.

At any rate, the two kids do not get along.  Every drill we run ends up a pissing contest between them.  If they both didn’t have such raw power, I’d kick them out on general principal.  But, I need them.

Devil Woman is doing fine.  Even though she’s driving me crazy with all the personal questions she asks, she’s got more passion in her little finger for taking down the bad guys than Silver Streak has in his entire body.  But, like Excitor, Silver Streak, and El Fuego, she’s inexperienced.  These kids will probably get Freedom, Turf and me killed if I don’t take every precaution.  The only problem is, the rookie boys have enough power to keep their hides safe.  Devil Woman’s only got her heart and her brain.  Not many of us survive doing what we do with just those.  Until I met her, I thought I was the last.

If we could just catch a break; if the Serpent would just slip up once . . .

Entry 7590

Devil Woman is off the team.

After a training session, I caught her taking notes.  She thought we all had left.  In fact, we had.  I came back due to a hunch.  My hunches are always right.  There she was, huddled in a shadow, jotting down everything.

I can’t believe I let her get the best of me.

I should have known when I first encountered her that she wasn’t the real deal.  I confused her incompetence with just being a novice.  I never dreamt someone would risk her life over something so trivial.  I’ll never understand her sort.

I threatened to break her every finger if she breathed a word to the public concerning what she learned.  When I first met her, she probably would have started crying.  I made her tough, though.  She handed the notebook over to me, but she didn’t make a sound.  When I turned to leave, she asked me to wait.  It killed her pride, but she begged me not to tell the rest of the recruits.  I don’t know why, but I agreed.

I’d like to think it was because I didn’t want to hurt team morale.

… It’s not that.

It’s a good thing what happened; I’m too old to get mixed up with women like her.  Besides, Pastor Irons would never approve.

Entry 7591

More weeks passed since my last entry, more people died.

61 in twenty-two months.

Finally, though, we caught a break.  Last night, Turf patrolled on his own when he came across a dead body.  Female, African American.  Turf doesn’t bother to analyze details as I do, but I got him to remember that he thought she was around twenty years old, about five six, and probably one hundred and sixty pounds.  He said she had one set of puncture wounds to her right cheek.  No other signs of trauma.

This one, however, had a note attached.

It said for me to meet the Serpent tonight, alone, at Waid’s Wharf.  It’s on the northwest side of the city, the rough part.  An old shipyard.  Barely used anymore, not for anything legal, at least.  That’s Turf’s part of town; he’ll know where I can stash away the team.

I’d love to take the Serpent down myself, but I won’t risk another innocent life for my own ego.  Tonight, you will exist no more.

Entry 7592

It has been four weeks since my last entry.

Just like with my other team, all those years ago, things went wrong.

Terribly wrong.

I got to the wharf.  Turf, Freedom, El Fuego, Excitor, and Silver Streak were a quarter mile behind me hiding in a warehouse.  They had a clear view of me, and with Silver Streak in the crew, I could have help instantly if I needed it.

I saw him.

He stood perfectly still, perfectly relaxed.  I’ve seen such a stance before.  It is a stance that only the most deadly and capable warriors employ.  I knew if he wanted a fight, I’d have my hands full.

Keep in mind, I’ve never gone against someone I wasn’t sure I could beat one way or the other.

He held up his arms for me to take a look at the needles protruding from his gauntlets.  I think he was reminding me, just to make it a fair fight.

Engulfed in my cloak, I positioned my escrima sticks against my sides and hoped they would catch him unaware.

He reached toward me and motioned for my approach.

I rolled my shoulders, as though warming up for combat.  It was the secret signal to attack.

The next thing I knew, Silver Streak lay on the ground.  He bore no punctures, but the boot mark on his face made it obvious that the Serpent somehow prevented his attack.  I had it in my head that his suit was a temporal displacement unit rather than a speed machine.  I guess I was wrong.

Phase one of Operation: Head Crush failed.

I dove on the ground as phase two initiated.  Blasts of flames and electricity surged over my head, aimed at the Serpent.  Sparks and flares consumed the area where he stood.

I got up and positioned my escrima, ready for both offense and defense.

Excitor, El Fuego, and Turf formed a perimeter around me.  We kept Freedom hidden as our ace in the hole if things got worse.

Freedom is wanted by the government for treason, after all.  He tries not to go out in the open unless it’s absolutely necessary.  The last thing I need are Meta Agents like Hell Hound and Anthem crawling all over us.

We looked everywhere, and finally, atop a crate as big as a semi trailer, we saw him.

The Serpent stood, glaring at me.  I betrayed whatever sense of honor he thought existed between us.  That didn’t trouble me.  Frankly, I recognize no honor in murderers.

He picked up a remote control device of some sort and pressed a button.

The crate fell to pieces, and within, the nightmare began.

He had four people strapped to a table.

As the crate fell apart around the hostages, the Serpent leapt into the air, did three somersaults, then landed on the table in the middle of his victims.  He immediately sank a pair of his needles into the poor soul on the far left.  The man twitched violently before dying.  Excitor vomited.  I think it was the first time the boy witnessed someone die.

We all made a move to rush the Serpent, but he paused just as he was about to drop his “fangs” into yet another victim.

He kept the needles above a woman’s forehead while staring us down.

We froze.

With his left hand, he pointed at me and gestured for me to near.

I did.

He allowed me within ten feet of him, then signed that I stop.

I did.

He pointed at the three men twenty feet behind me and indicated they remain in place.

He then exploded from the table and commenced attacking me.

I got the escrima up in time to block a set of his needles.  When he pulled his hand back, he took one of my sticks with it.  I couldn’t allow him the time to pull it free; I had better odds against one set than two.

Then, El Fuego and Excitor did something stupid.

I heard Turf yell “No!” before streaks of unrefined energy blazed past me.  Again, the Serpent easily dodged them, catapulted through the air, landed next to the hostage on the far right, then punctured her trachea with his venomous spikes.  Another innocent dead.

Shadow Serpent waved his finger sternly back and forth at the boys.  I didn’t have time to also admonish them because the battle commenced anew.

He obviously toyed with me.

Freedom didn’t dare come out of hiding for the sake of the victims, Excitor and El Fuego had been rendered useless, and Turf wouldn’t risk movement, either.  Silver Streak remained unconscious.  And I was just an old man getting the life beat out of him.

It’d been a long time since I took that kind of punishment.  I knew he could have stuck me anytime he wanted.  My chin remained the only part of my body unarmored.  He made a point to strike it with an open palm and kick it with the heel of his boot as often as he could.  And trust me, that was quite often.

I didn’t land one blow against him.

Finally, he stabbed me under the chin with only one of his needles.  He didn’t have enough surface area to get them both in.  My face instantly numbed and I dropped.

I watched him bend down to unfasten my helmet.  He knew one poke from one needle wouldn’t be enough to kill.  He meant to finish the job.

That’s when Freedom erupted.

The boy’s got guts, I’ll give him that.  He broke through the wall of the warehouse, hoping to get the edge on the Serpent, but the killer proved too quick.

He back flipped from me to the table with the victims, tore loose the escrima, then placed both sets over the two remaining hostages.

Freedom had no choice.  He landed next to my body, mere feet from the Serpent.

He almost made it.

With the top half of my body now ice-cold, I looked up to see Freedom staring at me.  He knew he failed.  I could see he was a man who didn’t fail often, and hated it when he did.

In the time it took Freedom to make the quarter mile, the rest of the team got halfway to the hostages.  They stopped, thankfully, when Freedom did.

We had a good old stalemate.  None of the Colossals dared move.  The Serpent knew if he killed his last two victims, he had no collateral for escape.  He had nowhere to go.  My men blocked his only route.  He only had the harbor behind him.

He meant to take it.

He scooped up the smaller of the still-living hostages, threw her over his shoulder, then motioned for Freedom to back away from me.

With one set of his poisonous needles pressed against the butt of his victim, he knelt down and lifted my helmet half off.  My entire jaw and mouth were completely exposed.

I felt the needles push against my skin when thunder erupted.

God forgive me.

Entry 7592

It has been five days since my last entry.

My healing goes well.

Bodily, at least.

My soul is a different matter.

As an absolute last precaution, I implemented Phase Omega in the stratagem against the Shadow Serpent.

I would not tolerate an escape.

I felt sure we’d be able to capture him, but the hostage situation changed matters drastically.  When Devil Woman saw that all other phases failed, she took the action I instructed—long range termination.

I abhor guns, and I detest killing.

I don’t know which is worse: that I ordered the death of a human being, or that I used someone else to execute the action.

When all was said and done, I couldn’t condemn merely myself, I had to drag Devil Woman down with me.

I later learned the Serpent took a bullet squarely between the eyes, but, even so, he still managed to bolt for the water.  No one dove in after him, and I can’t say I blame them.  The innocents required medical attention.  The dead needed tending.

His body never surfaced.

The team disbanded.

Freedom, while no stranger to death, couldn’t condone my actions.  Turf is a loner.  Silver Streak doesn’t have it in him to continue, said he’d missed first place yet again.  Excitor and El Fuego are simply too green.  They have to deal with the death of those hostages for the time being.  They’ll get over it, eventually.  I hope they’ve learned a lesson from the terrible events they witnessed.

And Devil Woman, well, I owe her a great deal.  I knew I could ask her to kill for me. Like me, she saw the big picture. Also, she wanted back on the team and would do anything to get back in my good graces.

The question is, have my good graces cost her His?

Entry 7593

I found the strength to get out of bed today.

Thankfully, I suffered no permanent damage.  Pastor Irons and Devil Woman did a fine job nursing me back to health.

My soul, however, still aches for the death I caused.

Is it right to kill in order to keep others from dying?  Did I error in assuming the mantel of judge and jury?  Did I manipulate a naïve young woman into the role of executioner?

I don’t know.

During my twenty-two years on the job, I always found a way other than killing.  Now that I’ve done it, will I resort to it again?

More so, even if I don’t, will Devil Woman?  She nearly died when she fought the Shadow Serpent in hand-to-hand combat.  But she then defeated him from a half mile away with the aid of a rifle.  That sort of success is difficult for people to ignore.

I will call on her today.  I must see her again.  I wish I could say it is only to discuss the actions I ordered.

Entry 7594

When Devil Woman came to my quarters, she did not find the Nocturnal Knight, but rather, Pastor Irons.

He handles these sorts of situations better.

Pastor Irons first asked her to remove her mask.

Although she hesitated, the Devil Woman disappeared, and Pastor Irons perceived Sydney Attwater standing before him.

She asked Irons what this was about.  He told her it pertained to several things.  He said she must abandon her story for WPUG news now that she had committed murder.  He informed her that Devil Woman should disappear as well.  Finally, he asserted that the redemption of her soul should be her only concern.

Of course, Sydney is an atheist, so Irons’ last proclamation did little to stir.

Sydney argued that if she hadn’t shot the Serpent, the body count would be in the seventies by now, which is indisputable.  She also reminded Irons that I ordered her to exterminate the Serpent, that I taught her how to fire the sniper rifle, and that I assigned her vantage point for the shot.  She may have pulled the trigger, but the Nocturnal Knight killed the Serpent.

Irons stated that Nocturnal Knight’s sense of morality wavered and I needed help.

Irons will never forget the look on Sydney’s face after his declaration.  She looked at him as though he were psychotic.

She replaced her diamond-shaped mask and left Irons, that old fool, standing alone in my attic headquarters within First Redeemer.

He contemplated deeply while rubbing my bandaged chin.

_______________________________________________

Copyright © 2006, 2015 Scott William Foley

All Rights Reserved

Originally Published In the Short Story Collection 

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II (iUniverse, 2006)

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Also By Scott William Foley …

 

Short Story Collections

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume I

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II

Novels

Souls Triumphant

Andropia

Dr. Nekros Electronic Serial

Dr. Nekros: The Tragedian (1 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Phantasms and Chicanery (2 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Bloodied Pistons (3 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Unforeseen Calamity (4 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Nightmare Realized (5 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: An Abhorrent Culmination (6 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Monstrosity’s Dawn (7 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Demons Within (8 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Lineage (9 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Inevitable Demise of Anton Hall (10 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Diatribe and Divulgence (11 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: Peripeteia (12 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Realm Within (13 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Depths of Fate (14 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A77 (15 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: A Catastrophic Convergence (16 of 18)

Dr. Nekros: The Devil’s Ashes (17 of 18)

 Dr. Nekros: Requiem For the Redeemed (18 of 18)

About the Author

Scott William Foley is a proud husband, father, educator, and writer.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in English Secondary Education and his Master’s degree in Reading from Illinois State University.  Foley currently lives in Normal, IL.