In the near future, a teenaged boy with teleportation powers battles the forces of evil
In an attempt to honor the memory of his friend, the late Dr. Rheingold, sixteen year old Michael Pryce agreed to sell his damaged teleportation device to entrepreneur Anthony Fitch on the condition that Michael would be the very first human test subject upon its completion. During the test, however, an unknown error caused a catastrophic explosion which killed most of the attending technicians and hurled Michael into a hideous, alien dimension.
There he was confronted by Ku, the strange realm's demonic god, who told Michael that he was to be the herald of the coming invasion of Earth. Ku's General-in-Chief, Mordierre, explained to Michael that the accident had somehow granted him the ability to teleport. Behind Ku's back, the treacherous Mordierre gave Michael a suit of rare, valuable shadow silk, which was said to have special powers and properties, in the hopes that Michael would use this slight advantage to oppose Ku's invasion and save the Earth, himself, and Mordierre from the demon's domination.
Now the boy has returned to his home world, where no one is alive to remember the teenager involved in the explosion. If he is to survive the coming months, he must now learn to control his new powers, come to grips with what he has seen, and search for some way to avert Ku's invasion which draws nearer with each passing day...
I didn't know how much of what my memory told me was true. In my head there were images of monsters, devils, and alien landscapes. I could still hear the everywhere-voice of the demon-god, Ku, and the smooth, oily tones of Mordierre, his backstabbing, and apparently unwilling general. Every ounce of common sense in me screamed that it was a lie-- that it had to be some kind of hallucination, a vision brought on by the shock of the explosion or the fumes from the burning machines or something. Then again, I had been in a laboratory that had essentially torn itself apart and I had no burns, no cuts or scratches, not even chapped lips. And, even as I contemplated all this, I was dashing across rooftops in the direction of my house, teleporting across the gaps, sometimes bypassing entire buildings. Something had obviously happened to me and it was awfully ironic that my weirdo superpowers were the easiest thing to believe.
When I was several miles from the hospital, I slowed my progress. No one was following me. No one could have known that I had left the hospital, let alone what direction I had taken afterwards. I had to go in steps, take this one thing at a time. If the hospital hadn't had time to take blood samples, I couldn't have been there too long. What I needed to do was find out how long I had been out. The sun was low in the west, and I guessed it was maybe seven o'clock. I had stepped into the portal tube at about 12:30 or one o'clock, so by my reckoning, it was seven or eight p.m. The question to be answered was "what day was it?". Normally the easiest thing in the world, I could hardly go down to street level and just ask a random passerby. A half-naked teenager in a green, paper hospital gown suddenly appearing in a gust of grey smoke might attract a tiny bit of negative attention.
Below me I saw a small park. There was a man sitting on a bench, apparently engrossed in the sports section of the Kestrel Herald. I had to time it perfectly and it was a risk but...
"'Scuse me, sir, could you tell me the date?"
"Yup. It's April fourth."
The man choked as he breathed in a lungful of grey fumes. "Hey, kid, you really shouldn't..." The man put his paper down to see there was no one in the park with him. "...smoke."
By this point I was already back on the rooftops and running like crazy. I teleported farther and farther. Yesyesyes! It was still April fourth. Mom knew I was going to be involved in the experiment today. She should be expecting me home pretty soon, so if I hurried, I could make it home and step back into the routine of my life as if nothing had happened. I began to wonder just how far I could teleport in one go. I closed my eyes and focused the part of my mind that triggered the teleportation process.
Before I could make the jump, though, a burningly clear vision exploded in my mind. It was as if every line, every edge, every wall in the city was outlined in orange light. I could see planes and curves, but no textures or color. What I was most aware of was a sense of space. I could see the distances, understand them, without bothering with words like inches or miles. It was wild, but it was like a colorblind person who suddenly sees green. I barely knew what I was seeing or how I was seeing it. I opened my eyes. I saw normally. Closed them. The spatial sense was gone. I primed my teleport button again and there it was, the whole city. I focused harder, narrowed my vision, and I saw this very rooftop. I saw the skylights of the offices right below my feet. I saw the air vents next to me. I reached out and felt the cold metal beneath my fingertips. My hand entered my strange vision and I saw it as a ghost hand dusted in tiny, gleaming, orange pinpoints.
When I felt like I was getting the hang of it, I extended my sense to the south. I found my neighborhood, my mom's apartment, my room. I pushed off with my mind and once again I was jetting through a grey-orange haze as I slipped between realms as easily as you might slip past the bath curtain in the shower, but this time something went wrong. The 'port lasted too long and I began to feel a tightness in my chest. My eyes felt like they were going to burst out of their sockets and my stomach began doing summersaults. When I finally re-entered the world, I was on my hands and knees in my own room. I had teleported roughly three miles in a single jump and I felt horrible.
"Okay," I said to myself as I stumbled to my closet and pulled on some clothes, "Obviously there are some limits here."
"Mike?" my mom called from the living room, "Oh God, Mike, are you in there?"
"Yeah, Mom," I replied in as calm a voice as I could muster, "What's up?"
"Oh God oh God oh God," she panted as she burst into the room and pounced on me, "Mike, I was so worried about you. How long have you been in here? When did you get in? What happened at the lab? I heard about an explosion on the news and... and...oh I'm so happy you're okay."
"It's alright Mom, " I said, "I..." I thought about telling her all that had happened to me; my experience in the other realm, my new powers, the terrible duty that I might one day have to fulfill. I wanted to spill it all, but something held me back. There was something about this, something dark and secret that struck a romantic sort of chord. It was suddenly very important to me that what had happened that day be mine and mine only. "I'm fine," I said, "I was nowhere near the accident today. That's the good news. The bad news is that the company is calling the Traveler project a complete loss. There just must have been something that was lost in the Dr. Rheingold's accident that can't be replicated through his notes."
"Oh, honey," she cooed, "I'm so sorry. I know how much that project meant to you." She hugged me tight. "Regardless of what happened, I think it was very good of you to try and see Dr. Rheingold's work through. I'm proud of you, kiddo." Even though Mom didn't know even a fraction of the traumatic day I'd had, the hug helped a little, and I reveled in the safety of her embrace.
That night I couldn't sleep. I stood in front of my mirror, teleporting just inches at a time. I was exhausted, but I was fixated on trying to see myself disappear. It was like trying to see if the light in the fridge was still on when the door was closed. Finally, there was just too much smoke in my room, so I opened the window before the fire alarm could go off. When the air had cleared, I returned to the mirror. I pulled down the collar of my shirt and examined the yellow eye symbol, Ku's mark. This was the proof, proof that the hellish otherworld had been real, and not just a hallucination.
It was then I remembered Mordierre's gift, the suit of shadow silk. Patting my pockets, I realized that, first of all, I hadn't been wearing these pants when I received the package, and second, I didn't remember having had it after I returned to this realm. I kicked myself mentally for having lost what might have been my only edge if Ku really did show up on my block one day. No sooner had I begun to wonder where it could have gone, however, than pitch-black blotches appeared on my palms and began to spread. At first I flailed, hoping to shake free of the strange, living ink, but then I realized it couldn't be ink, or anything liquid for that matter. It wasn't wet. I rubbed my fingers together as the blackness crept up my arms. It felt smooth and dry and... silky.
In no time at all, a figure in a tight black jumpsuit stood facing me from the mirror. On the chest was a golden eye emblem, a larger counterpart to the symbol on my skin. I flapped my arms and flexed my legs, but the bizarre costume didn't restrict me at all. In fact, I could barely feel it against me.
"Heh," I laughed softly to myself, "All I need now is a mask and I'm set for Halloween." To my surprise, the costume obliged by stretching from the collar, up my neck and over my face, creating a black mask with big, almond-shaped eyes the same golden yellow as the symbol on my chest. Strangely, although the eyes appeared to be no more than colored cloth shapes, I could see through them perfectly. "No way," I whispered. "Uh... maybe no mask would be better," I suggested, and just like that, the mask slithered down to fuse with the rest of the silken cloth.
Mask on, I thought. It appeared.
Mask off, I thought. It receded.
Mask on. And it was back again.
"Cool," I said. The first thing I tried to do, once I fully realized that the costume would change its appearance for me, was try and remove the eye from my chest. It creeped me out and reminded me way too much of Ku. It would not be removed. Of course. So instead, I changed the mask, arms and torso of the costume white, leaving a black swatch over the chest and hands. The lower legs and boots I left black. I liked the look, but the mask was a little bland, so, I carefully traced a hooked, swooping splotch over my right eye with my fingertips. Black, I thought, already becoming accustomed to the suit's thought-sensitivity. The splotch appeared as I had traced it, in black, as requested.
"What else can you do?" I asked. No sooner had the question passed my lips, than the black silk on the back of my left hand extruded a long, narrow tentacle, which I could move at will as easily as my fingers. I thought I might be able to use this quality of my costume to swing through the city like some of the comic book super heroes I had grown up with, but when I tried to shoot it at my door, I was disappointed to find that the tentacle extended much too slowly and when it did hit the door, it just bumped against the wood and fell, limp, to the ground without sticking at all. Oh well, I thought, I'll find some use for this, I'm sure. Remembering what Mordierre said about blending with the shadows, I held up my right arm, and then slowly pushed my left hand into its shadow. No matter which part of me entered the shadow, that portion became transparent and nearly invisible. I grinned. I knew I should go to bed. The day had been long and tiring, and if I didn't hit the sack soon, I'd regret it in the morning. Meh, screw it.
So I teleported back onto the roof, clad in my new suit and ready to go for a real test-drive. As that ten-story-high wind buffeted me in the face, I knew what was missing from the costume. I barely had to think before a wispy, black cape descended from my shoulders. Perfect. I extruded another tentacle from the back of my hand and flung it at the leg of a water tower on the roof of a nearby building. It wrapped around the steel beam and held fast. I knew it would have been smart to wait and test the tensile strength of this filament before trusting my life to it. I also knew it would have been smart to do my homework for school on Monday. Oh well, what was life without a little risk?
I leapt from the roof, both hands latched onto the tendril. I fell faster and faster. Strange facts and figures in my head suddenly appeared as I hurtled toward the ground. 9.8 meters per second per second was prominent among these. It was the rate of acceleration of a falling body. The line stretched, absorbing some of my downward velocity, then went taut and I swung. It was exhilarating. The wind whipped around my head and roared in my ears. The lights from nearby windows turned into long streaks of yellow luminescence. As I reached the peak of my swing, I began to slow.
This posed a problem, since I hadn't thought this far ahead. I couldn't send out another line in time and there wasn't a building immediately available to land on. So I released the line and let myself fly farther upwards for a few seconds before teleporting straight up about a hundred feet. As I slowed to the split-second, midair halt before I started to fall, my new cape suddenly spread out and stiffened into something like a parachute. As I drifted gently down, I found I could direct my course by mentally repositioning the cape. Guided by my spatial sense, I landed neatly on the roof of a building that sported a large, illuminated billboard advertising Sting brand soft drinks. That night the city was my playground.
Two days later, the city was Hell on Earth. My muscles were tired and my eyelids were heavy as I walked to school. Every car horn and squeal of bus brakes tore my head apart inside. I walked past a newsstand where the headlines were babbling about the explosion days earlier and the mysterious disappearance of Anthony Fitch. I didn't much care. I thought about the blank worksheets in my pack and wondered if I could finish them in homeroom. Didn't much care about that either. I was just tired and cranky and all I wanted now was about four or five more hours' sleep and a couple of Advil for my head. My spatial sense informed me that there was someone running towards me from behind. I sidestepped quickly and my best friend, Karen Moore, stumbled into view beside me.
"Well," she said, "Aren't we Mr. Reflexes today? I guess it's not the first time either, the way you've been dodging me the past few months."
"I'm sorry," I said, "I've had things on my mind."
"I know," she replied, taking my hand and squeezing it, "Dr. Rheingold's accident was real hard for you, but sucking it all into yourself and holding it there isn't the way to deal with it."
"And just what would you know about it?" I snapped.
"I do understand, Mike," she said patiently, "Me and my Grammie were best buddies until she got Alzheimer's. She died not even knowing who I was." This was some new information for me. It stopped me pretty much dead in my tracks.
"I didn't know about that," I said.
"I know. There are some things that... I don't know... they're terrible, yes, but it's important that you keep them to yourself, at least at first. You need to keep it close so it can be just for you and nobody else, even if it hurts. Do you know what I mean?"
"Yeah," I said, thinking about the previous night and my need to keep my secret from my mother, "Yeah, I think I do."
"Really? Well then you'll understand when I say it's time to come out of mope-land and start getting your life going again." She gave me a friendly slap upside the head. "Got me?" I had to laugh.
"Yeah, I hear you," I said.
"Good." She skipped on ahead. I watched as she went. We'd been friends since fourth grade, but I had begun to have feelings for her in the past year. Decidedly more-than-friend feelings. Now seeing her hair swishing in the morning sun and the very slight outline of her bra through her shirt, I wanted her more than ever. I hadn't ever said anything about my feelings to Karen, but after everything that had happened, all the times I could have died, I felt that maybe it was time to leave those silly, juvenile apprehensions behind.
I broke into a jog to catch up with Karen, but when I did, I felt my heart sink. She was talking to a tall, lanky, unshaven black guy in a dark shirt. He had three piercings in each ear and one in his upper lip. His hair styled into corn rows and his pants sagged so low it looked like they were only a step away from pooling around his ankles. Most disturbing of all, he was holding both of Karen's hands in both of his and she was looking at him as though his head had suddenly turned into solid chocolate. Karen liked chocolate. A lot.
"Mike! Hey!" she crowed, "Come here and meet Brian." I came, a little too shocked to talk. "Brian," Karen purred, "This is Mike Pryce, my friend I told you about. Mike, this is Brian Knight." She bit her lip, then finished: "My boyfriend."
"Hey," Brian said. He said this by opening his lips, letting the syllable escape, then just leaving his mouth slightly agape. It gave him the appearance of being brain-damaged. I wanted to choke him until the gangsta wannabe shut his pimply mouth and with my new powers, I could easily have done so. Then I saw how Karen was practically melting over him and my anger dissolved into sadness and hurt. There was no desire to hurt Karen back, however, so I offered a nominal greeting.
"Weren't you that guy Kari says was mopin about that dead teacher guy?" My eyes narrowed and I felt the bitter, hot metal taste of bloody anger in my mouth.
"Yeah," I said.
"You gotta get over that shit, man," he advised in his infinite wisdom.
"I guess you're right," I agreed, now employing every ounce of self control I had not to break him in half, "But you know how it is. Sometimes you just have to keep things to yourself." Eli shrugged and sauntered away.
Karen swept up right next to my ear and squeaked: "He calls me Kari!" She scampered after him. I rolled my eyes.
"He calls her 'Kari,'" I muttered. This was going to be some kind of day. Later, at lunch, I was surprised when Karen clacked her lunch tray down across from me at the table.
"Not sitting with Brian?" I asked.
"Oh, he doesn't go here," she replied.
"From the suburbs then?"
"Uh, no. He kinda dropped out."
"Oh." I wanted to say all kinds of things, not the least of which was how much better she could do. I resisted the urge. I did my best not to be judgmental, but this was pushing it. So I said, "He didn't drop from here, did he? I don't remember him from any of our yearbooks."
"Well, yeah, he went here. He just dropped out before we got into high school." There was a statement that gave me pause.
"Karen," I said, "How old is he?" She flinched.
"Yeah, I know, he's a little older, but--"
"A little? Karen, he'll be out getting drunk on his next birthday!"
"Pssh! Of course that's presuming the ratty little freak would bother adhering to the law."
"Which I sincerely doubt!"
"I'll have you know he got his GED and is going to Pre-Med at KCC. He's going to be a neurosurgeon, you ass! And by the way, why don't you keep your Proper Police bit to yourself? After all, half the school knows you went over to that gay-wad Rheingold's "lab" to be a little teenaged eye candy for him and maybe for some private "lessons"!"
Her words hit me so hard I had to grip the sides of my chair to steady myself. I looked at her in shock, wondering what on Earth could have happened in the past few months to the sweet girl who'd been my friend. Was this all Brian's doing or had we really and honestly grown apart?
"Why would you say something like that?" I asked. I could see there were tears in her eyes. For a minute she almost looked like she'd say something, but at the last minute she turned away and stalked off. I bowed my head and rested my forehead on my hand.
"Whoa," said someone behind me, "Talk about harsh." I turned to see Ben Johnson, one of the best players on our school's soccer team, someone who would never have spoken to me on a normal day.
"What do you want?" I asked.
"Nothin. Nothin much. Just callin it like I see it. Harsh. But hey, cut her some slack, right? Been under serious stress over the last couple days, that girl."
"What kind of stress?" I asked.
"I'd've thought you'd know," he said, "Being her friend and all, but hey, none of my business, right? She's been under stress cause her dad, the guy who writes the crime stories for the Herald, he's been trying to prove Anthony Fitch is really the biggest crime boss in the city. Fitch don't like that at all and there've been some pretty nasty threats. Yesterday night he got a tip that Fitch actually rigged that explosion on Friday."
"Why would he?" I asked, suddenly interested.
"Who knows? Rich old bigwigs like that gotta have some kinda weird thinking. How'd they get to where they are otherwise?"
"How do you know all this?" I asked.
"Heh," he laughed and flicked his ear, "Ear to the ground, my man, that's all. See you around." He left, and as the bell rang and the students filed out of the cafeteria. I only sat there as the lunch ladies started wiping down tables. I sat, lost in my mind; lost in possibilities.
So, Fitch was alive. Not only that, but it was possible he had been the cause of the explosion that killed at least three people, could have killed me, and obliterated the last pieces of Martin Rheingold that I had. As all the anger I'd felt since the death of my friend and mentor focused into a single, narrow beam, it came to me that I was perhaps going to skip my afternoon classes. It came to me that I had a score to settle with a certain Anthony Fitch. Or better yet, the ummm... the Specter. Yeah. Yeah that had a nice ring to it. The Specter had a bone to pick with Fitch. And if it turned out that the accusations of arson were true, well... there might only be bones left to pick when I was through with him.
to be concluded...