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, with the help of entrepreneur, Anthony Fitch, attempted to complete the doctor's last, unfinished invention, a teleportation device called Traveler. The experiment ended in disaster as an explosion destroyed the machine and hurled Michael into a hellish dimension where the demonic inhabitants granted him super human abilities and named him the herald of their assault on the Earth. In order to survive the coming months, Michael must now learn to control his new powers, come to grips with what he has seen, and search for a way to avert the coming invasion which draws nearer each day...
Now returned to his old life, Michael finds that, in his grief for his dead mentor, he has neglected his best friend and secret love interest, Karen Moore. He learns that she is now in a relationship with a twenty-year-old high school dropout named Brian Knight. As if this weren't enough, he is also informed that Fitch, presumed dead in the explosion, is alive and may have actually caused the "accident" that has thrown Michael's life into such turmoil. Furious, Michael decides to skip school for the afternoon, dons his shadow suit and begins his vengeful hunt for the renegade Fitch under the assumed identity of the Specter.
I was actually out of the school, in costume, and swinging, 'porting, and gliding my way into the city before I realized I didn't really have any idea where I was going or what I should do. If Fitch didn't want to be found, then a sixteen year old high school student was the last person you'd expect to find him.
No, I couldn't think like that. In this mask, I was the Specter. I was... well... I didn't know exactly what, but whatever it was, it was extraordinary. I had to think beyond, go beyond, do beyond if I wanted to find Fitch and make him pay. Crouching on a low rooftop, I closed my eyes and let my spatial sense roam free. The city swam into view, but when I tried to look for people, to pick out faces or actions, it was all a blur. Moving shapes became blurry, so my powers would be useless if I tried to track Fitch with them. I was just about to open my eyes, when a thought came to me. If moving shapes were blurry, then very fast moving shapes must just be streaks of orange zipping along. There were many of these on the streets, large and blocky and obviously cars, but, only one was about six feet high and no more than two or three wide. It was the Stallion, and if the Stallion was running that fast, there was a problem. If there was a problem there was a good possibility Fitch was somewhere farther up the ladder, pulling the strings.
Okay, granted, the logic wasn't flawless, but what other leads did I have? I 'ported up to a higher vantage point and swung away. I kept tabs on Stallion's progress with my spatial sense as I rushed to intercept him. I caught up to him and was only tailing him for a few minutes before he stopped in front of the National City Bank. I slipped down into a nearby alley where I faded into the dark. The Stallion skidded to a halt near the half dozen cop cars.
"Stallion," said a police officer, "It's good to see you."
"What seems to be the problem, Captain?"
"It ain't pretty, that's for sure. We got at least six men in there, all armed with SMG's. They're demanding all the money and valuables in the bank and a helicopter in exchange for the safety of the hostages. We got an hour left and they won't be negotiated with. They say if we don't meet their demands they'll start killing one hostage every thirty minutes."
"Good Lord!" Stallion exclaimed, "How many people are in there?"
"Twenty three, maybe twenty four. We're not sure." Stallion's self-assured manner faltered for a moment.
"I... uh... I don't suppose you have a plan of some sort."
"Not a one," the policeman said, "I hate to even think of it, but we may just have to let these creeps go. It burns me up, but the safety of the people inside is more important. The only way we could stop them is if we could take them by surprise somehow, but the only way in there is through the front."
"I can get you in there," I said, stepping out of the shadows, "And I can do it without anyone seeing."
"And you are...?" asked Stallion.
"I am nobody," I said, "Who are you?"
"Listen, whoever you are, can you get us inside there?" the captain asked. I teleported behind him and crossed my arms.
"Looks like it," I replied. The police captain raised his eyebrows.
"Is he with you?" he asked Stallion, who shook his head, waved the officer aside, and came over to me. He put his arm around my shoulders in an awful echo of the way he'd held me on the day Martin died.
"Listen, kid," he said, his big plastic smile stretching his face, "I appreciate your enthusiasm, and I understand your wanting a piece of the action. I'm flattered, I really am, but this is more of a job for qualified crime fighters like myself." I wanted to hit him, but instead I tore my shoulder out of his grasp.
"Listen, Horseface," I snarled, surprised at how rough and different my voice sounded, "I don't give a shit about publicity stunts or your cheap theatrics. I got business with the guys in there and I'm going in whether you like it or not." This seemed to knock the wind out of Stallion in a way my punches never could have. He blinked and stepped back. If I'd left him there, he probably would have just stood and watched.
"You in?" I asked.
"Y-yeah," he replied, "Yeah, I'm with you."
"Fine." I grabbed his red cape. "I warn you, this could turn your stomach a little the first time." I ported both of us up onto the roof of the bank. I was winded, so I bent over, putting my hands on my knees.
"Hey," Stallion said, "You okay, buddy?"
"Yeah," I said, shaking it off, "I just never took anyone with me before. It's harder. And for the record. You. Me. Not buddies."
"Fine. What do you want me to call you?"
"Specter. Now shut up." I put my hands on the cold concrete roof and closed my eyes. My spatial sense showed me a large main room below us, with several smaller rooms branching off. I saw a large blot of orange sparkles which must have been the hostages, as well as five or six smaller blots that seemed to be moving--the bank robbers. "Okay," I said, "I can see a small room just off the main lobby. The door's closed, and probably locked, but you could break it, right?"
"You can see through walls?" he asked.
"Sort of. Shut up."
"Hey, uh... what did you mean by publicity stunts?" Stallion asked.
"What? Come on. Don't you ever wonder where all the profit goes from the millions in Stallion brand merchandise sold every year?"
"It... it goes to charity," he stammered.
"Really? Which one?"
"I..." Stallion frowned in confusion.
"Wow, and I thought I had issues. But this isn't the time. We're going in. Hang on."
We were in a small room filled with tiny strongboxes. It must have been the place where people can store their valuables, like jewelry, collectibles, that kind of stuff.
"So what's the plan?" Stallion asked. It was weird being here with the big guy. Normally he seemed so confident. I mean, stupid, yes, a total media slut, sure, but at least he seemed to be secure in his idiocy. This subservient attitude was just freaky.
"Okay," I said, making it up as I went along, "When I give you the signal, I want you to bust down the door. Then..."
Moments later, the door to the side room burst off its hinges. The room was filled with dark grey smoke, which poured out. The six thugs gathered around the room.
"Shit, man," said one, "Is that, like, tear gas or something?"
"Nah, dawg, that stuff's the wrong color. Besides, smell it. It smells more like a gas stove."
The sound of a quick burst of pressurized air erupted behind them. The felons turned to see the Stallion standing there, wreathed in grey smoke.
"Hah!" laughed a short, cocky one, "You can't touch us, pony boy. Lay one finger on us and the hostages are toast."
"Hostages?" Stallion asked, chuckling a little, "What hostages?" He turned to show them an empty bank lobby. Where only moments before there had been nearly two dozen terrified men and women, there was only another bank of that strange smoke. The crooks stared in disbelief for a few seconds. They then turned as one to Stallion, leveling their weapons at him.
"Time to put this horse down, boys," said the leader, who was sporting a cobra tattoo on his left bicep.
"Oh I think not," I said, porting back into the fray after I had taken all of the hostages to safety. I shot three tendrils from each of my hands, snaring their guns and yanking them from their nerveless fingers. The Stallion was grinning now that we had clearly gotten to the punching part, the part he could understand.
"Hey, Specter," he called, "You want any of this?" I snaked another tendril over and yanked their boss to me.
"Just this one," I said, hating how we almost sounded like friends now. Focus. That's what I needed. This was a means to an end. That's all. I wrapped an arm around cobra-tattoo's neck, and teleported to the top of the bank again. I had him by the collar of his shirt and held him over the edge of the building. He screamed as he looked down at the long drop to the ground.
"They say Fitch is alive," I growled, "Talk."
"I don't know nothing," he whimpered. Without hesitation, I dropped him, letting him plummet about ten feet before I let the tendril wrapped around his arm go taut.
"Oh God!" he screamed, "Oh God!"
"There's five other guys I could be talking to," I said as I reeled him back in, "If you don't think you can be useful, you can drop."
"NO!" he shrieked, "No, they're just chumps, man. They got no connections. They can't tell you anything."
"But you can?"
"Oh God, I think you dislocated my shoulder," he whined. I yanked on the arm for good measure.
"Talk, you little weasel!"
"Yaaargh! Okay! Okay! Word is Fitch is holed up in one of his company's warehouses. He had secret underground rooms built underneath some of 'em. Places where he could hide if the heat ever turned on him."
"If they're secret, how do you know about them?"
"I was one of the guys he had work on them. He'll kill me if he finds out I told you."
"Sucks to be you, huh?"
"Please," he begged, "Please let me live."
"Hmph," I snorted, "It's not worth staining my new threads with your blood." I ported us both back down to street level. "Here's the last of them," I said, shoving Cobra-Tattoo into the arms of the waiting police. As I leaped up onto the roof of a S.W.A.T van, an odd thing happened. The crowd that had gathered behind the yellow tape erupted into cheers. I didn't know how to react. I'd been so fixated on finding Fitch that I hadn't even thought that I might be doing something great by saving the lives of more than twenty people and foiling a bank robbery. It felt strangely good...awkward, but good. As Stallion waded into the crowd, shaking hands and flashing that smile that I had so come to despise, I teleported up to the roof of a nearby building. Amazingly, even forty five stories above the street, I still heard the roar of surprise and admiration from the crowd at my disappearing act. I smiled a little bit, feeling really good about myself for the first time in two months. I swung away from the scene and resumed my hunt.
The more I relied on it, the easier it became to use my spatial sense. Where I had once had to close my eyes and focus, I could now incorporate it into my other five senses as easily as I might be able to see and hear something at the same time. Using it as I moved through the city, I sensed that there were, in fact, three separate Fitch Industries warehouses with hidden basements. Only one would have the old man in it, and at this distance, it was impossible to tell which. It seemed my special new awareness, like my teleportation, had its limits. That was fine, though. It was only 2:30. I had the rest of the day. If it took me a while to find where Fitch had gone to ground, I had all that much longer to dwell on my revenge.
Deep beneath the streets, at the bottom of a stairwell concealed behind a forklift in a run-down warehouse on the North Arc of Kestrel City, there was a room so secret, it was not on any blueprint or in any city record. For almost all intents and purposes it did not even exist, but for Anthony Fitch's purposes, it did. It was comfortable, as would be expected, and was full of the most advanced technology money could buy, from a security system that could mow down nearly anyone before they got even halfway down the stairs, to a high speed, hijacked internet connection linked to a bank of monitors.
Sitting in a faux leather swivel chair, his skull-like face eerily illuminated by the ghostly glow of the screens was the fat rat himself. Not that he was particularly fat. He had a respectable pot belly, but his arms were still thickly muscled from his years spent on his parents' farm before he moved to the city as a young man. Decades of shady deals and back alley backstabbing had made him a lonely, watchful man. Age had not dulled his caution or his senses.
"I know you are there," he said softly, "Why not come out and speak to my face instead of skulking in the shadows?" I stepped out of the dark corner where I had been standing.
"Fitch," I growled.
"Ah, so it is you," he said, "I thought it must be. The news stations are making quite the commotion over your actions today."
"Forget the news. You have bigger problems."
"Yes, of course. No doubt you've come here to make a name for yourself by taking out the Keystone of the city's largest criminal organization. Gentlemen of the mask, such as yourself, always seem to find their way to me."
"Stallion never has," I pointed out.
"The Stallion is a buffoon," Fitch sneered, "A glorified thug with childish, black and white notions of morality. He is effective at beating the stuffing out of my puppets but he could not sniff out the puppet master if you gave him three bloodhounds and my street address." I couldn't help smiling a little beneath my mask. Fitch was slippery, but I had to work not to cheer for that little diatribe.
"You, however, are a different matter," he continued, "In fact, you remind me something of a great adversary of mine from back when I was a younger man. Like you, he was a man of considerable power, and he, too, hid his face from the world. Yes. Yes, you are very like the Goshawk."
"Wait. The Goshawk? The greatest superhero in Kestrel history?"
"The very one."
"You knew him?"
"Knew him, fought him, made him what he is, yes. I commissioned the laboratory that created his father, from whom he inherited his powers. When his father died, I took him in, trained him, gave him his first helmet and many of the tools he was famous for using. We had a disagreement in his late teens, so he left the shelter of my house and devoted his life to unmaking everything I had created with mine."
"But he disappeared years ago. Where did he go?" I asked, unable to keep the interest from my voice.
"Well, several years back, I believe he married a fine young woman and moved out of the city to keep his family from my grasp."
"And you just let him go?"
"I keep tabs on him, as I think he knows, but really I hold no grudge against him. He was a worthy and honorable opponent and so long as he is out of my city and out of my path, I have no reason to wish him ill. In fact, I even sent him a small, anonymous gift at the birth of his daughter. Vengeance, my boy, is not a profitable venture. Ah, but enough of this reminiscing. You come to my house, girded for war and with anger in your heart. Please, tell me why."
"You were on the fortieth floor of that building during the explosion on Friday. Everyone on that floor, the two floors above it and the two below it are dead. Why aren't you?"
"Very simple. I kept an escape route handy that day."
"Escape route, huh? And what exactly made you think you'd need one on that particular day?"
"Well, it was mostly the four ounces of C-4 I had attached to the machine's main circuits," he replied glibly. At that moment, the tenuous grip I had been maintaining on myself snapped. I grabbed the little weasel by his impeccably pressed lapels and rammed him up against the wall.
"WHY?" I bellowed, "Why would you do that?"
"Money, boy. And power. Two things that every man, woman and child on this Earth truly desire. A poor man wants the money to live and the power to protect himself and his family. The middle class man wants the money to be comfortable and leisurely and the power for its prestige. And the rich man like myself," he shrugged, "well, what can I say for bad habits."
"How is it about making money? That machine could have revolutionized the world. You'd have made millions and become a world-wide enterprise."
"True. But your logic only exposes your inexperience. Did you ever stop to consider all the industries that would be crippled by instantaneous transportation? Automobile, trucking, shipping, oil, I own stock and entire companies in all these areas. I would have lost trillions of dollars as soon as the technology became mainstream."
"Then why bother with it in the first place?"
"I couldn't risk someone else actually finishing it. I had to possess the machine in its entirety so I could be sure it would all be destroyed. Besides, I have an image to keep up. Taking on underdog projects like Rheingold's maintains my humanitarian appearance." I couldn't take it all in. It was too much, too horrible. I gripped my head in my hand and squeezed hard to ease the headache that was beginning to pound in my temples.
"You..." I said, "I-I can't believe you would... You selfish BASTARD!" I bashed him against the wall again, and harder. "You destroyed all of it! That invention should have worked! It should have been the next step in human advancement, and you let it die! And for what? Wealth and influence? Two things you already have more of than any man in the city? I'll kill you!!" At that moment, just as I was about to wrap my hands around his neck, what looked like a huge, green, metal snake looped around my waist and tore me away from the old man.
"So sad," Fitch said, straightening his rumpled shirt, "Unfortunately it seems our civil conversation has come to an end. To continue with the more violent portion of this negotiation, allow me to introduce Dragonfly, the man who provided my escape route last week." It turned out the metal snake that was now holding me a few feet off the ground was actually a robotic tail attached to a man in greenish armor. His helmet had an insectile look to it, with two large bubble-like eyes taking up most of the surface area and a pair of stubby antennae sprouting from the forehead. There were four, thin, delicate-looking wings attached to his back.
"Dragonfly, huh?" I said, trying to ignore my screaming ribs, "Nice name. Your parents hippies or something?"
"He prefers to keep his identity secret," Fitch said, "Something I think you can understand. You see, my boy, power comes in all kinds of forms. Just because I am involved with criminal activities doesn't mean I shun other, more legitimate types. Dragonfly here was an aeronautics engineer for NASA until they cut the funding for his research. I offered him a lifetime of unlimited resources for his work in exchange for his services and the schematics and blueprints for that remarkable battle suit of his. So you see, I am not an evil person. I am not the archetypical big, bad businessman whose only purpose is to step on the unfortunate. I am an entrepreneur. I do what is best for myself and my business. That is all.
"Now, before I take my leave of you, I have a gift," he held up a small, tattered notebook, "This was the journal of Dr. Rheingold. I have kept it thus far, but it would be unwise to do so any longer. You obviously are connected to the doctor, perhaps one of his students from the college. If you would like, and if you survive your encounter with Dragonfly, you may have it, with my compliments. However, as you have already seen, the man is quite capable, so I doubt you will have the chance to read it. Hmph. Pity." He stuffed the book inside Dragonfly's belt.
"And now, sadly, our time together has drawn to a close. If one person can find me, others will be able to, so I leave you now, for a more secure facility. And thus, with the greatest doubt that we shall meet again in this life, I bid you buenas noches, Espectro." He went up the stairwell and was gone. The tail flipped me upside down, bringing me face to face with the bug guy.
"Hi there, little man," said Dragonfly. His voice had an odd, buzzing quality that may have been natural, but was more than likely a side-effect of the armor he wore. "Congratulations. You're the first punk whose face I get to beat in since I started working for Keystone. He said he was saving me for a special occasion. I hope you make it worth my while." No sooner had he said this, than I teleported out of his grasp and performed a spinning kick to his abdomen. This resulted in me kind of bouncing off him onto the ground. My foot throbbed, but Dragonfly seemed unharmed.
"Argh! Damn!" I cried, "What're you made of?"
"You'll have to do better than that," he chuckled, "This armor is made of a special polymer based on the molecular structure of keratin, the same material bugs' exoskeletons are made of. Bullets don't even leave marks on this stuff." He pounded on his chest for emphasis. While he was busy bragging, I sent my black tendrils slithering along the ground and up his legs. As soon as he shifted his weight to rap on his chestplate, I popped up, yanking the five tentacles up and behind me. Dragonfly pinwheeled his arms and then went down hard on his back.
"Ahh! You little freak!" He got to his feet and spun around, hitting me square on the nose with the clubbed end of his tail. I saw stars and I felt as though my nose had exploded. I staggered back to lean on the wall as Dragonfly closed in for the kill. "Well, you were a little more annoying than I'd expected," he said.
"You have no idea," I replied, surprised at how clear my voice was. In fact, it seemed like my nose was getting clearer all the time. It didn't feel as swollen as it had even seconds earlier. It was probably getting numb, I figured. I watched as Dragonfly pulled back for a massive haymaker and teleported away just in time. I reappeared clinging to his back.
"Going up!" I chimed and teleported straight up through the ground, the warehouse above us and onto the roof. As soon as he was given an open sky, Dragonfly blasted into the air, with me still clinging to his back. I had to haul my feet higher to avoid the burst of fire that erupted from the pod to which the wings were also attached. It was clearly a jet pack, while the wings were some kind of guidance system. Dragonfly began to zigzag wildly, trying to shake me off, so, almost on its own, the costume sent out dozens of tiny, strong threads that wrapped themselves around his torso. He was babbling angrily, but between the roar of the wind and the scream of the rockets, I couldn't discern what he said.
Now securely bound to the thug's back, I reached for his right front wing, hoping to rip it off and thereby destabilize him. I was instantly sorry. The wings, though they looked delicate were strong and sharp on the front edge. Although the costume sustained no damage, the force carried through the thin silk and cut my skin beneath it. I felt blood oozing out and pooling inside my sleeves. I cursed like crazy, but the accident helped me remember that my costume was nearly indestructible. I carefully stood erect on Dragonfly's back and wrapped a tendril around each of the front wings. Curious, I yanked on the left one?and we suddenly veered right. Sweet.
"What're you doing?" Dragonfly screamed.
"Taking the reigns," I called down cheerfully. After a few experimental loops, I decided to use this situation to my advantage. Maybe I could ride this baby to my neighborhood and save myself a trip. I sent a few more threads out of my boots and bound his arms to his sides, eliciting more profanity from him. I pulled both of my reigns toward me and gained a little altitude before veering to the south and heading home. As we flew, I caught sight of Dragonfly's tail behind me. I wondered why he hadn't used it to dislodge me.
"Hey, Fly-Man," I called down to him, "Why aren't you smacking me around with that thing back there?"
"I'll kill you, you little freak!! Let me go! I'll kill you!"
"Okie-dokie, then," I said. I stiffened the tendrils into poles and shoved the wings down, causing us to plummet toward the street instantly.
"Pull up, man!" he cried, "Pull up! I'll talk!" I obliged. "The tail was made as a balance during flight, the same way real dragonfly tails are. If I try moving it in the air, we both go splat."
"Oh. Okay. You can shut up now." We flew until we were in my neck of the woods. I leveled him out and locked the wings in place with a tangle of tendrils. With that, I cut ties with the securing threads on my feet, and looped a thicker one around Dragonfly's waist.
"I hope that was entertaining enough for you," I said, plucking the notebook from his belt and leaping off his back, tendril in my free hand. I dangled beneath him for a few feet until a roof came within leaping distance, at which time I took my leave of Dragonfly Airlines. I stood and watched the unwilling aviator shrink in the distance. Briefly I wondered if he'd be able to regain control before he ran out of fuel and crashed. My beaten nose, aching ribs, and cut hand all seemed to scream in protest at once. Yeah. I really, really didn't give a hoot.
Before my hunt, I'd hidden my backpack, in which I had an old sweatsuit from gym class, on the roof. I retrieved it, dressed over the suit, and teleported down to my floor. I swiped my key card and slipped in. Mom was waiting for me.
"Well," she said, "9:45. Cutting it a little close, aren't we?"
"A little," I replied tiredly.
"The school called and said you skipped out on your afternoon classes."
"Yeah." Where was the point in lying?
"Care to tell me what you had to do that was so important?"
"Not particularly. Grounding?"
"I want to, but I don't see the point. You haven't gone anywhere or done anything with anyone since Dr. Rheingold died. What would I be grounding you from? Heck, I'm almost happier that you went out and did something today. Promise me you weren't doing drugs or causing trouble."
"And try to keep this kind of thing to a minimum, kay?"
"I'll see what I can do," I said, grinning at her. I went to my room, closed and locked the door, and removed the itchy sweatshirt, revealing the upper part of my costume. It was hard to remember that I could just make it slide off and fold itself into a little square.
"Oh hey," Mom called through the door, "Your friend Karen stopped by earlier. I told her she could wait in your room. I didn't see her leave, so she might have fallen asleep in there." I froze. From next to my bed, I could see Karen's wide blue eyes looking at me. I tried to think of a way to cover the truth, but it was far too late. The golden eye on my chest was looking straight out into both of hers. "Well," my mom called, "Is she still here?"
"Yeah," I said, "Yeah she's still here. Could you call her dad and tell him she'll be home a little late? It looks like we've got some things to talk about."
Next Chapter: The Stallion's Sidekick?