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, endeavored 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...
When Karen stumbles across Michael's secret, she excitedly encourages him to take up the mantle of a superhero, but at first Michael firmly turns the idea down. However, as he reads Martin's journal and hears his dead mentor's praise echo back to him from beyond the grave, he has second thoughts. Finally, when faced with a disaster downtown, Michael finds he is unable to stand by. He dons his mask and saves the lives of nearly a hundred men and women trapped on a collapsing bridge. Since then, he's been keeping himself busy.
"...and the fire has now charred approximately fifty square miles of forest in western Montana. In local news, all of Kestrel City is in an uproar over the appearance of a mysterious new masked vigilante known only as the Specter. While he made his debut by assisting the Stallion during the April seventh hostage situation at National City Bank, Specter quickly defined himself as a hero in his own right when he appeared, in his own fantastic style, to rescue nearly a hundred souls from the collapse of the Thoroughfare Bridge. Thanks to his efforts, the disaster claimed not a single life.
"Since that day, nearly two weeks ago, Specter's unmistakable black and white mask has been seen all over the city, stopping muggings, foiling robberies, and aiding in police investigations. Kestrel Chief of Police, Mark Stebbins, had this to say:"
"The vigilante styling himself as 'the Specter' is breaking the law by taking it into his own hands," says Stebbins, his face appearing on the TV screen, "If I honestly thought I could catch or hold him in jail, that's where he'd be." A very small, grudging smile steals across his face. "But as it appears the guy can poof through walls, that course of action really isn't possible. And... well, I suppose this city could do a lot worse than to have its young men and women look up to someone so dedicated to helping his fellow citizens."
"Other residents of Kestrel City are a little more up front in showing their support," says Rhonda Andrews, co-anchor of Channel 4 News, "Let's see what they had to say." The picture on the screen cuts to an overweight man in a tee shirt and a camo-patterned cap. "Well, I heard he ain't as friendly as Stallion, always disappearin right after he shows up and does his thing, but he's sure got style. I seen him a couple times and the guy's like an acrobat or something."
Cut to a group of Goth-looking girls in front of a music store. They are all wearing black tee shirts, each emblazoned with a very familiar yellow eye insignia. "We love Specter!" they chorused.
A rather frumpy, middle-aged woman with frizzy red hair giggled and blushed as she said, "I tell you one thing: he looks good in those tights."
"...a real hero..."
"Not everyone's reaction to this newcomer hero has been positive, however," Rhonda says, her expertly made-up face returning to the screen, "Entrepreneur and humanitarian, Anthony Fitch, was kind enough to grant us a brief interview on his opinion of this sudden increase in vigilante activity."
"This so-called 'Specter' is no better than the common criminals he rounds up," says Fitch's familiar, thickly accented voice from the small, ancient television set sitting on Michael's desk. "Enforcers of the law must be held accountable to that same law in all but the most extreme circumstances."
"But from all reports, vigilantism is the only crime Specter is accused of," Fitch's interviewer says.
"Yes, and all we have to assure ourselves that it stays that way is his goodwill. Tell me this, sir. What will happen if one day this Specter character or one of these other costumed maniacs has a bad day? Do you think they will exercise the same restraint and good judgment we have seen of them this far? No. However extraordinary these men might be, however honorable their intentions, I won't sleep well at night until I see some evidence that such powers are regulated by something other than young men's moral codes. Personally, I--"
With a whisper of static, the set goes dark and quiet. Michael, who has been practicing in full costume, spins around, instinctively retracting his suit into a tiny square patch attached to the small of his back, leaving him in his boxers. Karen giggles and reddens, standing just inside the door with the remote control held loosely in her hand. Mike breathes a sigh of relief.
"Don't sneak up on me like that," he says, pulling on a pair of jeans. "Mom's not gonna be home for another twenty minutes, but I don't know what I'd do if she found out I-- I was watching that, by the way."
"You were letting it piss you off is what you were doing," Karen says, gesturing at the folding table that Mike had been crushing to wood pulp with one of his tendrils before surprise caused him to stop. "Oh, and as for keeping secrets, try locking the door." She demonstrates. "Geez, what would you do if I wasn't around to clean up after you?" She punches him lightly on the shoulder. Mike feels a strange thrill in the pit of his stomach as she touches him. He does his best to suppress this feeling. She and Brian are still together, and though this pains Mike, the pain has dulled somewhat and he tries his best not to pay attention whenever the thought of it crosses his mind.
"What were you doing in costume, anyway?" she asks.
"With the table there?"
"Well, yeah. But that's just a warm up for me lately. The costume's been getting stronger with use and... well, just watch." The filmy, black-and-white substance slips up his back, over his shoulders, and down his arms. He sends three tendrils each about the diameter of his index finger from the back of his right hand. They slither underneath his bed, then go taut, like flexing muscles. Mike clenches his hand in a fist and the tendrils lift the bed almost to the ceiling as though its weight is no more than that of a kitchen sponge. Karen blinks and takes a step back.
"Impressive," she says, as Mike sets the bed gently down, "But listen, my dad's been working on a scoop for the Herald. He got a tip off that the bridge thing a couple weeks ago, was no accident."
"Yeah, the police are keeping it really hush-hush, hoping to catch the perps by surprise, I guess, but Dad's informant at the station says they found traces of explosives in the wreckage of the bridge. I heard him say there might be a whole terrorist cell operating in the city somewhere. I thought... you know... maybe a certain masked menace to society might want to look into it."
"I'll put it on my to do list," Mike says.
"What? No dramatic spring into action?"
"Well, where do you want me to go? It's not like I have a list of shady hideouts in my address book. I'm not that good yet."
"Oh," Karen says, slightly crestfallen, "Then... you wanna take me shoe shopping?"
"Karen, the mall is six miles away and we don't have a car," Mike protests.
"No, but we do have the amazing teleporting teenager."
"Oh no. Not happening. There is no way in Hell." Karen gives him a look that he is a little too familiar with. Moments later, they are on the roof. Karen is wearing an oversized baseball cap with its bill shoved down over her face.
"You know the drill, now?" Specter insists.
"Yes, I got it," Karen says, rolling her eyes, "Cap stays on until you're out of costume."
"And if we have to stop for any reason?"
"I'll stay back and keep myself out of the way."
"And if... ?"
"And if someone gets too close, even if it's just some old guy who wants to know what time it is, I run."
"That's right. And you don't stop running or take off the cap until you get home. God, I can't believe I'm doing this."
"Oh lighten up, you big baby." She slips her hand into his gloved one and gives it a little squeeze. It's a small gesture but it makes Specter suddenly feel as though this is all a magnificent idea. Maybe he does need to lighten up after all.
It just so happens that their journey to the mall concludes without incident. They reach Kestrel's major temple of commercialism in only a few minutes. Much as Mike's mind wants to dwell on Fitch's interview for the news, he can't help but admit he enjoys himself. Karen is weird about shoes. But then, he reasons to himself, most girls are. It takes her a couple hours to complete her shopping, during which they argue and quip and banter happily with each other as they hadn't since the death of Martin Rheingold. As they make their way to the food court, laden with Karen's purchases, Mike thinks how much he has missed Karen in his life. He again tries not to let this thought translate to how much more he'd like her to be in his life, but he, again, fails.
Like a single rain cloud that heralds an oncoming downpour, that one unhappy thought seems to be all that's needed to steer the day to ruin. As Mike and Karen sit down at a table with their tacos, a shadow falls across them. At first, Mike is so wrapped in his thoughts, he thinks it's just his mind being gloomy as it makes yet another fervent, yet fruitless wish that he and Karen could be more than they are. He quickly notices it is an actual shadow, and whose shadow should it be, but that of one, Brian Knight?
"Hi, Brian," Karen says cheerfully. Mike can't tell if this jollity is due to his besotted friend's selective perception of her significant other or if it is simply born of forced optimism, because the look of twisted anger on Brian's face is pretty hard to misinterpret. He ignores Karen and looks straight at Mike.
"Get up," he barks. Mike, worried, but seeing no reason to exacerbate matters, complies.
"Is there something you wanted?" Mike asks.
"Yeah, there's something I want. I want you to keep your hands offa my girl."
So there it is, Mike thinks, Not that I'm surprised of course. Knew he was going to be trouble from the start, but... I was having such a good day... damn.
"Well, that's okie-fine by me," Mike responds aloud, "As I recall I didn't have my hands on anyone, so I think we're set. Thanks for stopping by, though."
"Oh, so you think you're gonna be smart with me?" Brian says, giving Mike an insolent shove on the shoulder.
Don't rise, Mike thinks desperately, He's already got himself worked up, so do yourself a favor and just try and back out of this. At least do it for Karen's sake. Just don't say--
"Smart? Well I figure one of us has to be." A blinding fast right hook connects with the side of Mike's face. He staggers back, stars flashing in his vision.
"Brian, cut it out," Karen cries. Around them, people have started to stare. Mike sees a security guard at the far end of the food court start to take notice.
"Okay," says Mike massaging his cheek gingerly, "Look. Karen's been my friend a long time, and she likes you, so I'm gonna let that one slide. I understand that you're frustrated and you feel threatened. I get that, man. I do. But you've vented now. You socked me a good one, let some of that anger out and made sure I know who's top dog. Now do yourself a favor and go home before you get in trouble."
"Oh, trouble, huh?" says Brian, apparently even more incensed now, "You think you're going to make trouble for me, is that it, you little snot?" He pulls back and lets loose every bit of force he can in one punch. His fist connects with the other side of Mike's face. It knocks his head back, but this time Mike is ready and doesn't even lose his balance. The security guard begins walking over to them.
"Still on your feet, punk?" Brian says and fires off a punch into Mike's solar plexus. Mike doubles up slightly, but this is mostly a reflex. The advanced physique he obtained in the Over-Realm combined with the rigorous training regimen he had prescribed for himself had made his body preternaturally resilient and Brian wasn't exactly the heavyweight champ.
"Damn, freakshow, what're you made of?" Brian says, drawing back for another blow. Just then, the guard plops a meaty hand on Brian's shoulder.
"Okay, buddy," says the guard, "You're outta here."
Brian wriggles out of the guard's grip long enough to growl at Michael: "We'll settle this later."
As the guard leads him away, Mike says quietly: "I suppose we will." After Brian has been led out of sight, Karen shoves Mike.
"What did you do that for?" she demands.
"Do what?" Mike asks, taken completely by surprise.
"You taunted him on purpose just 'cause you knew you could use your powers against him."
"Shush!" Mike hisses, "Keep your voice down. I didn't do anything to him. He hit me. I didn't hit back. What more do you want?"
"You should have shut up and let me talk him out of it."
"Oh, is that what I should have done?" Mike snaps. He mimics her voice, squealing, "'Briiian, cut it ouuuut!' Yes, that was real helpful, Karen. If I was anybody else, he would have broken me in half before you got a word in edgewise."
"I could have talked him out of it," Karen says, stubbornly.
"I see. He's rough around the edges but you know deep down he's a good guy, don't you. You know that if you asked him he'd stop hurting other people and stop hurting you."
"Brian never hits me!" Karen shrieks, suddenly ferocious. Mike raises his eyebrows and suddenly feels very tired.
"I said 'hurting,' not 'hitting.' And I was referring to emotional pain. But it's very interesting that your mind jumped so quickly to abuse. Is there maybe something you want to talk to me about?"
"I hate you," Karen says, her face screwing up into an ugly grimace, "Brian loves me. I know he does. You're supposed to be my friend. You told me you'd give him the benefit of the doubt. Well, I guess that only proves you're a liar as well as a jerk." Karen storms off.
"Karen, wait," Mike calls after her. Karen, however, is either too far to hear or too angry to listen. "Good job, Pryce," he says, "You're a real sweetie, you know that?" Remembering that Karen is six miles from home with no ride, he slips into the restroom at the McDonald's and changes into his Specter costume. He teleports into the parking lot and looks for her.
"Hey, it's the Specter!" shouts an excited but familiar voice. Specter turns to see Brian, with Karen in tow, coming toward him, "Wow, this is so cool," says Brian, "I only wish I had something you could sign."
"What?" Specter asks.
"Oh, yeah, I'm a huge fan of yours."
"Uh. Thanks, I guess."
"So, what's got you all the way out here?" Brian asks, apparently oblivious to Specter's lack of enthusiasm.
"Well, actually, I heard that someone needed some help around here." Specter glances meaningfully at Karen.
"No," says Karen in a cold tone, "Everyone is quite taken care of here. Nobody really needs you." She put her arm around Brian's waist and smiles fiercely. Specter's golden eyes narrow to slits and they, as well as the emblem on his chest, change abruptly, albeit briefly, to a sickening, bruised purple. His dark cape flutters although there is no wind and his body suddenly seems larger, more threatening. Then, in the blink of an eye, all is normal again.
"I guess it must have been a false alarm," Specter says, and turns to leave.
"Wait!" calls Brian, "Stick around. You're welcome to hang with us if you want."
"Thanks, but no. I think I'll go home. I've got a headache." He walks away.
"I didn't think superheroes got headaches."
"You kidding?" Specter calls over his shoulder, "With all the punches to the face I take in a day, it's a miracle when I don't have one." He is about to port out of the parking lot when a series of detonations shakes the mall. Dust and smoke rise in columns from the roof and from within comes the sound of screams. Specter does an abrupt about face and dashes back toward the doors. Before he makes it in, however, he spots a group of four men in deep, blood red suits. They all carry black, briefcases. Specter's spatial sense tells him that the briefcases are empty. When a second series of explosions sounds, one of the men looks nervously over his shoulder and quickens his pace. As they reach their car, a small burst of smoke appears from nowhere on its roof. As the smoke clears, they see Specter crouched there, his strange, golden eyes staring at them.
"You guys must be with that terrorist cell I've heard so much about."
"Kill him!" shouts one of the men. The men draw weapons from inside their jackets and open fire.
"You know," Specter says as he ties up the half-conscious and badly beaten men with a strand of his suit's silk, "I was hoping for surrender and a full confession, but now that you mention it, attempted murder in front of witnesses will make for a much easier conviction." One of the men stirs. Specter yanks the knot tighter. "Now be sure to tell the police lots of nice stories about the people who sent you. Have a nice day." Specter heads into the mall, ignoring Brian's praise. If that's my biggest fan, he thinks, I'm in trouble already.
Inside the mall, he finds only three people injured, none of them seriously. The security guards tell him that ambulances are already on their way. Specter informs them that there are four men with a very interesting story to tell tied up in the parking lot. The guards go to investigate, leaving Specter alone with the forty people who are still inside the building. They all gaze at him warily. Specter would just as readily teleport away as usual, but today a small boy, kneeling next to one of the injured people, a woman, unconscious, and sporting a bleeding gash on the side of her head, catches his eye.
"Mister," says the boy, "Is my mommy gonna wake up?" It's awkward and part of Specter wants to just vanish. Another part of him wants to brush the boy aside with a thoughtless, 'Of course she will.' Instead, Specter kneels down next to the fallen woman. He tilts back her head, places his ear next to her mouth, and nestles two fingers onto her carotid artery. The pulse is slow and steady and a regular, warm breeze issues against the side of his head.
"I don't know how bad she was hit," Specter tells him, "The cut looks pretty nasty, but she's alive." He swipes a Hershey's bar from a nearby, overturned stand and gives it to the kid. "Hey, uh, Miss?" he says, turning to a girl in her twenties, "I can't really stay. Can you keep an eye on him?"
"S-sure," the woman replies hesitantly.
"Are you positive? I'm leaving this kid in your hands until someone comes for him. If you don't think you can, just say so... and...I'll..."
Specter trails off as the doors open. In walks the Stallion, but the Stallion as none have ever seen him before. His face is bristly and unshaven and through the holes in his mask, Specter can see a pair of bleary, bloodshot eyes. His normally immaculate red-and-white costume is dust grimed and sweat stained in the armpits and chest. He stumbles across the mall floor, leaving irregular footprints in the new-fallen concrete powder. He comes over to a bald man with a luxuriant moustache. The bald man looks at him warily, but stands his ground.
"Don' worry, ciziten," he slurs, flinging a muscular arm around the man's shoulders, "I'll catcha foul crinimals're behind this." The bald man makes a disgusted face and shrugs out of the Stallion's embrace.
"You're a little late for that," says the security guard, coming back inside, "They've already been rounded up as they were leaving the scene of the crime." He turns to Specter and explains that the police have come and arrested the four men and that the paramedics had been unloading the stretcher when he had left them. "You did a fine job, sir, and the two kids who were in the parking lot will help with a conviction, you can bet. Thank you for everything, Specter."
"Specter?" Stallion shouts, whirling comically.
"Yes, that's what I said," the security guard says, "You might want to clean out your ears, Stallion. And while you're at it, why not give the rest of you a scrub, too." Stallion, however, is not listening.
"You!" he cries, slurring ever more fantastically in his anger, "This 'sall yer fault. You took 'way my job'n stole my... my city from me."
"You seemed happy enough to have my help during that bank robbery," Specter points out.
"Shut up!" Stallion wails, now hopping up and down in infantile fury, "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!"
"Stallion," Specter says, walking over and putting a cautious hand on the masked man's shoulder, "It looks like you've had a little too much to drink. Why don't you go home? Or better yet, I'll get a cab to take you home, if you'd prefer.
"Do yourself a favor," he finds himself saying for the second time that day, "Go home. Sleep this off. Think better of it in the morning. Okay?"
"I'LL KILL YOU!" Stallion bellows, slapping Specter's hand away. Specter stumbles back. As Stallion reaches for a nearby bench, Specter realizes what is to come mere seconds before it happens.
"Stop, you idiot! There are people here!" But Stallion is beyond reason. He rips the bench out of the floor, bolts and all and hurls it at Specter. While Specter can easily teleport away, doing so will leave at least a dozen people behind him defenseless. As his natural-born practicality blends with desperation, Specter does the only thing he can think to do. He stands stock still and hopes for no broken bones.
Being hit with the bench is the worst pain he can remember feeling. It eclipses all other feeling. It almost eclipses all thought, but not quite. Specter rallies his waning consciousness and teleports both himself and the flying bench behind the crowd, where he and it crash into a pile of rubble and broken glass. The glass doesn't puncture the remarkable material of his costume, but his body is crushed, quite literally, between a rock and a hard place. He sprouts two black tendrils from his shoulders and uses them to help pry the bench off of himself. Every muscle roars in pain as he gets to his feet. He sees Stallion lurching toward him, clearly not finished. He teleports behind Stallion's back and into the midst of the crowd. He shouts to the security guard:
"Get them out! Hurry!" He is satisfied to see the guard spring into action and herd the mostly healthy people outside as the paramedics cart out the seriously injured. That achieved, Specter turns to face a much larger and massively stronger man who, it would seem, has developed a vendetta against everyone's favorite black-and-white-clad superhero.
to be continued...