In the near future, a teenaged boy with teleportation powers battles the forces of evil
My name is Michael Pryce. I am a sophomore at Kestrel City Central High School, where pretty much nobody notices me. I'm not even important enough for the football team to hassle. I don't know if I have a best friend, but if I had one, it would be Karen Moore, who's always been good to me ever since I moved into the city proper from the suburbs five years ago. My grades aren't outstanding... not anymore anyway. I used to be a pretty good student. I had a good head for the hard sciences, so they told me, and I also enjoyed English a lot. Lately, however, I've had to tweak my priorities a little. My name is Michael, but when I put on my black-and-white mask and costume, people call me Specter. They call me a hero. I'm not so sure about that last part, but I'll let you make up your own mind on it. This is my story and it starts in the high school auditorium where Dr. Martin Rheingold, a professor of physics at Kestrel Community College had just given a presentation on his subject and the careers it could lead to.
"Uh, excuse me. Dr. Rheingold?" I felt pretty dumb doing this. I mean, people were always telling me what a nerd I was, but chasing a physics teacher into the parking lot to say how much I enjoyed his presentation was taking "dork" to a new level. That was, however, just what I did.
"So, you liked the lecture, huh?" said Dr. Rheingold, hopping up to sit on the hood of his battered Buick. He was well dressed, but had an air of scruffiness about him, more like an artist than a scientist. He was youngish, maybe in his early thirties, had a trim goatee and wore slim, frameless, rectangular glasses. "Yeah, I thought it went pretty well. It's always a challenge to keep high-schoolers' attention and once you lose them, it's damn near impossible to get 'em back."
"I really liked the thing you did with the pool table. The thing where you explained how the tiny imperfections in the ball and table made it impossible to predict the... uh?"
"'Trajectory'," he said, "Is the word I believe you're looking for. That's chaos theory. It essentially says that accurate, long-term predictions of uncontrolled events are impossible due to millions of imperceptible variable factors."
"Yeah," I said, a little dazzled. No one ever talked to me like that... like I was a colleague or something. I couldn't help feeling flattered. "Yeah, didn't Jurassic Park have something about that in it?"
"Ah, yes. They barely scratched the surface of the theory of course, but I do like Jeff Goldblum. Hey, you wanna come over to my lab and help me with stuff?"
"Sure!" I said. It was wild. All of a sudden this prestigious scholar wanted me to hang with him. Sweet! I hopped in his car and he drove me to the KCC campus where his private lab was. It was on the seventh and top floor of the science building. The seventh floor... I'll never forget that. Inside his laboratory, he showed me his current project and lifelong obsession.
"I call it Traveler 1.0," he told me, "It's a machine that will, in theory, be able to instantly transport matter from the platform you see here to any set of coordinates it's given."
"It's a teleporter?" I said, unable to tell if he was pulling my leg or not.
"How's it work?"
"Ah, yeah, about that? it's kind of complicated." He paused thoughtfully. "Okay, here's the best way to explain. I have a theory, one for which I've gathered quite a bit of evidence, that states that there are many, perhaps an infinite number of dimensions or realms existing in the same space at the same time. These realms are all moving at slightly different frequencies, which is why we can't see or feel or interact with anything but our own realm. Recently, though, I discovered a way to temporarily accelerate the frequency of molecular movement to the point where an object will pass out of our space and into that of another realm. I experimented with it and learned that the objects almost instantaneously reappeared somewhere else. Right now I'm fine tuning the mechanism that controls direction and distance, but when it's finished, this machine will revolutionize the freight and travel industries, even the space program. It'll be the cleanest, fastest form of transportation the world has ever seen. It will be my contribution to the scientific community and to the human race."
"That's amazing," I said. I remember how he seemed so confident, as though his invention absolutely had to work out of the sheer force of his will. I certainly believed in him. In the days that followed I spent every afternoon in Dr. Rheingold's lab, doing my homework and chatting with my new friend. He hired me as his personal lab assistant and it was the best damn job I could have gotten. I was getting paid to do the coolest crap ever with the coolest guy ever. My dad died when I was eight years old, and it was like a miracle, finding something like a father figure in this man I had just run across. It was perfect. It lasted for six months.
I was in second period math when I was called to the office, where a note from Dr. Rheingold was waiting for me. In it, he wrote that he had just finished his work on Traveler, and was making some dry runs now, but he wanted me there for the first test on a human: himself. I slipped out the side door on my way back from the office and dashed down the street to the KCC science hall.
What would have happened if I had run faster or if I had received the note earlier? What would have happened if I had been on the fourth or even the third floor when the explosion rocked the building? I don't like to think about it, but sometimes, in the night, when there's no warm sun to melt the frost on my heart, I think about it anyway.
I was about fifty yards away when the explosion happened. I heard the huge concussion, accentuated with the bright, painful sound of shattering glass. Fire leapt from the windows of the top three floors. For a short while, there was only quiet and I stood there, rooted to the spot, watching. Then, in the distance, the wail of fire engines erupted. I began to run towards the building.
I struggled as hard as I could to get in, but there were dozens of students and teachers scrambling to get out at the same time. The doorway was congested and try as I might, there was no way in. I became desperate, I started biting and kicking, doing anything I could to make headway and save my friend. Right about then there was a huge gravelly crunch as the wall surrounding the door broke away. It was not from any fiery blast, however. Standing by me, resplendent in his red and white costume, stood Stallion, Kestrel City's own masked super hero. He tossed the doorframe and most of the wall aside, creating a wider portal through which the screaming, singed masses could escape.
Before I could dash into the building, the Stallion picked me up with one hand as though I were a rag doll and carried me away. In retrospect, he probably saved my life that day, since I was ready to dash up the crumbling stairs into the inferno, but at the time, all I wanted was for him to put me down.
"Let me go!" I screamed, "Put me down! My friend is in there! I've got to save him! He's still in there!" My cries were blotted out, however, by the uproarious cheers of the crowd as the Stallion put me down and proceeded to pose while the newsmen and photographers swooped down like vultures to the slaughter. The Stallion clamped an arm that could easily lift ten tons around my shoulders. I wasn't going anywhere. I could only stand there as Stallion smiled for the camera and my friend Marty Rheingold burned amid his destroyed dream. Suddenly, a rumble erupted from behind us. With his arm still on my shoulders, Stallion and I both turned to watch as the building collapsed. Some smart-ass photographer snapped the picture, which made it to the front page of the Kestrel Herald with the headline: SAVED.
The funeral was held four days later. Dr. Rheingold's body was never found. An empty casket was placed in the ground as Father Lancett intoned the last rites. Suddenly, a wall of air whooshed over the graveyard in the wake of the Stallion as he sped by at an astounding speed. Seeing a crowd, the over-muscled chump slowed down enough to wave and favor us with a big, plastic smile. Many people smiled and waved back, but not me. I felt the first hot blooms of hate in the pit of my stomach. There were maybe twenty four mourners attending the funeral. After about two hours, I was the only one left there, sitting with my back against a tree, watching two men in dirty jeans covering the empty wooden box with dirt. I had run out of tears half an hour earlier and their wet tracks were now drying on my face.
From my right, a shriveled, elderly man with an olive complexion approached, accompanied by a younger, taller man carrying a briefcase and wearing thick glasses and an expensive suit. I didn't bother to look at them. I just stared at the filling grave and breathed in the vast blankness that seemed to have taken the place of my heart.
"Mr. Pryce," said the younger man, "Ahem, Michael Pryce?"
"What?" I grunted, my eyes never straying from the stark silhouette of Marty's cross-shaped headstone against the evening sky.
"Ahem, yes. I am Edwin Druille, attorney at law and manager of the deceased's estate." I looked at him.
"And you're talking to me here?" I asked disbelievingly.
"Ah, yes, well? Mr. Fitch here was very insistent on that point." He gestured at the old man, who seemed familiar somehow. It came to me.
"Fitch?" I said, "The Anthony Fitch? Of Fitch Industries Incorporated?"
"I see my reputation precedes me as it so often does," said the old man in a whispery, hispanic accent.
"And you thought it would be a good idea to talk to me about my dead friend's estate on the day of his funeral, in sight of his grave." Far from being disconcerted, Fitch curled his loose, dark lips into a smile as thin as watery broth.
"It is my belief that the business of the dead should be done in the company of the dead." This comment was obviously meant to make me uncomfortable and to set Fitch with the upper hand. I suppose when a weasel like him loses the strength of his youth, he needs to rely on casting vapor and fear in the minds of those he wants to intimidate.
"You realize, of course, that there was no body," I said, "We're really no more in his presence than anyone else."
"Regardless," said Fitch, shrugging off my point with all the air of a politician, "Mr. Druille must make the official statement, if he would be so kind."
"Mr. Pryce," said Druille, "As the manager of the estate of the deceased Dr. Rheingold, it is my pleasure to inform you that you have been named in said deceased's last will and testament. The document was very insistent that you be the recipient of all his laboratory equipment, his notes and his inventions." I was quiet for a little while, mulling this over.
"'Insistent'?" I repeated, "How can a document be insistent?"
"Well what I meant to say was..."
"What you meant to say is that there were no loopholes in it, that there was no way that you or your slick law firm could legally get around it. What you mean to say is that you and Mr. Fitch have already tried to take away what Martin specifically meant me to have."
"I don't... that is to say I..." Druille stuttered. Clearly this was not going as he had rehearsed it.
"That's enough, Druille," said Fitch, smiling, "That's quite an astute observation, Mr. Pryce. Yes, there's no point in lying to you. My corporation, that is to say I, tried to buy the late doctor's possessions, his notes and equipment from KCC, but thanks to an annoyingly thorough legal document, I am forced to try to do business with you."
"The answer is no. I won't sell my friend's things to some faceless corporate scheme."
"Ah, but look, I do have a face. I didn't send you some incompetent lackey to throw my money around. I, Anthony Fitch, come to you personally to try and work out a deal that will help all three of us. You, me, and Dr. Rheingold."
"You can't help him," I said, my eyes tearing up despite my attempts to hold back, "He's dead."
"But his work is not. Michael, listen to me. Dr. Rheingold was a genius, a man who could have- should have- changed the world. I believe we can still make his dream a reality. But we need to work together."
"I'm listening," I said, and surprisingly, I really was.
"Most of Dr. Rheingold's equipment was damaged in the accident. Many of his notes and calculations were lost. When he wrote his will, he must have thought that you would be able to finish his work. I must admit, I don't see how a high school boy could hope to complete such a complicated project, but he must have had faith in you. Now, though, his work has been crippled, nearly destroyed. You don't have the knowledge or the resources to repair what was lost. I do. I want to help finish what Dr. Rheingold started. And all you need to do is sign the papers and take the money."
"Yes, of course. You didn't think I'd expect you to just give these things to me, heavens no, that wouldn't be good business. I am prepared to offer you two hundred thousand dollars for all that you inherited from Dr... from your friend Martin." The look on Fitch's face told me that I, a sixteen year old of lower-middle class, was supposed to be flabbergasted by such a generous offer. I smiled.
"Three hundred thousand and I want to be the first human test subject once the tech is operational," I said. This threw Fitch off balance, but he came right back.
"Five hundred thousand and you stay out of it."
"I'll stay in it or you'll get no deal."
"Michael, this is dangerous. I can't be responsible..."
"I'll sign a liability waiver," I said. Fitch hesitated. "You know," I added innocently, "Those glass transporter pods would make great planters for my mom's marigolds."
"All right, yes," Fitch said reluctantly, "Will your parents agree to it?"
"You kidding? With you offering I don't know how many years salary, I'll be lucky if Mom doesn't wet herself."
Later that week, Mr. Fitch and all his lawyers came to my house with paperwork up to their eyeballs. Hands were shaken. Names were signed. Deals were made.
From then on, the construction of Traveler 1.1 was my all-consuming obsession. Everything that had been good and bright in my life fell away from me and I felt powerless to stop it. I went to school in the mornings and afterwards went straight to Fitch Towers, where technicians were working tirelessly to rebuild the machine. As with all Fitch's humanitarian efforts, Traveler was now receiving a great deal of press attention. It got out that I was one of the benefactors of the project, and they hounded me for information every time I showed up. Traveler was my whole world, and I would normally have been happy to have an attentive audience, but I recognized so many of their faces from the day Martin died, that I couldn't stand to be around them. So much of my life was empty with Martin gone, and as the days passed, that emptiness got filled more and more with cold, black hate.
Two months after Martin's funeral, Traveler 1.1 was ready...
"Are you sure it's ready for human testing?" asked Fitch.
"Nothing's sure, Mr. Fitch, sir," said Dr. Neale, "Dr. Rheingold was years and years ahead of his time. Even after years of testing, we may still not understand all the intricacies of this process." Fitch gave him a black look. "B- but as far as it's humanly possible to be sure, I- I am." The black look dissipated instantly into the broad, endearing grin for which Mr. Fitch was so well recognized.
"Excellent, Doctor. Mr. Pryce," he said to me, "Are you sure you wish to go through with this?"
I was wearing only a pair of black and white striped boxers with a Fitch Industries logo patch-- a powder blue globe on a black field with a dark green "F" emblem emblazoned on it and a small white satellite streaking in orbit around it-- sewn halfway down the left leg. In my hand I held a small photo of Dr. Rheingold and I. We had both been four months younger. I had been holding a violently foaming beaker with an expression of comical surprise on my face as Martin doubled over with laughter next to me. There were tears in my eyes as I placed the little picture back in my wallet and the wallet back in my jeans, which were folded on a lab table.
"Yes," I said.
"All right then. Dr. Neale, please begin the sequence as I get Mr. Pryce secured on the platform." As he led me to the machine, he bent lower and spoke into my ear. "It's not too late to cry off, Michael. Come on, you can't think your friend would want you to risk yourself like this."
"Mr. Fitch," I said, "Do you know why I wasn't in the lab the day Martin Rheingold died? It was because the people in the office waited for an hour to give me the note he sent. He postponed the test for me and when I didn't show up, he tested the machine on himself before I got there. Just a bunch of old ladies at the desk who had better things to do than their job, that's all. There's no other reason I shouldn't have been in that accident-- no reason I shouldn't have died with him. If this thing kills me or fries my brain or whatever, it'll be no different than if I had died in the explosion when I was supposed to." Fitch had nothing to say, so he opened the glass pod and closed me inside.
"Mr. Fitch?" said Dr. Neale.
"Proceed, Doctor," replied Mr. Fitch.
Outside, a pigeon landed on the sill of the window. It pecked at a line of ants marching up the concrete side of the building and preened a few of its neck feathers, listening to the strange noise coming from the inside of the building with some apprehension.
The noise sped up and the pigeon cocked its head curiously, turning one of its side-mounted black eyes towards the window.
"Oh good Lord--NO!" a voice from inside shrieked. This was too much for the pigeon. It decided to find a more peaceful perch. It hopped into the air, spread its wings and...
A wall of fire shattered the windows and leapt out into the smoggy air that hung around the fortieth story of the building, instantly vaporizing the bird and raining shattered glass, metal shards and hot oil down on the unsuspecting pedestrians below. In the ensuing chaos, as police, paramedics, and of course that self-styled do-gooder, the Stallion, worked to evacuate the building, and get those who'd been injured to the hospital, no one had time to peer through the smoke and flames on that fortieth floor laboratory to see the body of a sixteen-year-old boy standing-- floating actually-- in the shattered remnants of a glass pod. His body was criss-crossed with black, undulating shadows that seemed to be cast by nothing. The shadows swirled faster and faster, covering more and more of the boy's bare skin until they finally consumed him. From the blackness that was still in the shape of a teenage boy, two wide, white eyes opened. Although there was no face left, the eyes seemed to bespeak surprise. Then, suddenly, the boy, or whatever the boy had become, vanished in a wisp of black, sooty smoke.
to be continued...