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About Quest

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  • Birthday 12/02/1964
  1. Congratulations, Ashnod! The story was well written, and really hit the heart of the other side of the question,"What Would You Do With The Power Of A God?", especially if you didn't want it? Again, congrats! Quest
  2. Liking the HECK out of it! Well worth the wait, and has a wide-spread enough set of subjects and tones for nearly any sort of game using the abby rules and system, be it dark, four color or campy. Maybe some game modules or story ideas next? Again, thanks to everyone who made this book possible. Quest
  3. When ever I think of the movie Serpent and the Rainbow, the part that stands out for me is the torture scene with the eaves trough spike. (You know the part I mean)
  4. Aberrant: The New Flesh Musings 2015-Travis Eaton looked over the land he’d just cleared, taking a deep breath of the dry air that swirled around him. His eyes, solid blue and crystal-faceted blinked in the bright African daylight, as a sun-browned hand wiped sweat from his equally tanned forehead. He glanced at the pile of junk he’d made, old cars and tanks and other machines of the generations-long wars that had plagued this region, shook his head and chuckled. Five years before, he’d been working at a call centre. He’d had friends, an occasional beer night, and all the Nova action he’d needed right on his TV. An average life. Then a chain of events had taken him from an ordinary life, and dropped him into an extraordinary one. He picked up a bullet-torn tire, hefted it in one hand easily, despite the fact the tire and rim weighed nearly 70 kilos, and remembered that day… *** He was in a foul mood. Travis’ car had a flat tire, he was late for work, it was raining, and to top it off, the mother of all headaches was beginning to pound behind his eyes. The screaming child in the bus seat behind him didn’t help either. He grit his teeth, determined to knuckle through this latest headache, just as he had with the one just the day before, half a bottle of headache tablets waiting in his cubicle, beckoning like the Holy Grail in his mind’s eye. He looked out the window, trying to distract himself from the pain. He caught a glimpse of his reflection; saw a face that women seemed to like, blue eyes they said were like crystal, and short cropped brown hair, made black by the rain that had slicked it down. He closed his eyes and nearly retched as a new flash of pain exploded in his head. He could have sworn he felt his entire brain writhing in pain, but before he could examine the feeling further, likely just before passing out, the bus gave a lurch to the side. He heard people and metal scream, then the window seemed to reach out and everything went black. *** Blinking his way back to reality, Travis looked up to see the first of a line of clouds beginning to sweep over the area, the low growl of thunder rumbling along. At the forefront of the clouds was the Nova urging them on, a young man named Rodeo Cloud. He’d taken the name jokingly, because his eruption, besides giving him the power to control the weather had also given him bright-red curly hair, like a clown. He’d said, “I feel like I’m at a Rodeo when I’m in the sky, riding the wind like a bronco, controlling where the clouds and rain go, like a Rodeo clown directing a bull from the fallen rider.” The name, Rodeo Cloud had been a pun he’d made up at the spur of the moment, but the press and the Utopia Publicity Department had run with it. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Emmet (Rodeo Clouds real name) didn’t really give a damn what people called him, just as long as he was in the sky. Travis didn’t care either. He dropped the tire back onto the pile, heard the pile shift slightly with a squeal of metal… *** He blinked his eyes open, rain coming through the shattered window, broken pieces scattered around him like shrapnel. People were still screaming, as if trying to be heard over the roaring sounds coming from outside. Peeking out, he saw two figures, just two. They were battling, going back and forth, power flaring around them as one threw a bolt of crackling red electricity, only to have the other dodge, and return with a lightning bolt of purest silver and gold. The dodged bolts smashed into cars, buildings and perhaps people, but Travis couldn’t tell. His headache had returned, and it was like a spike being slowly driven into his brain. His vision blurred, tears poured out and mixed with the rain. Then everything seemed to go silent, except for the crying of a child. He followed the sound, and looking outside saw the carrier lying on its side, the child seemingly unharmed, not much more than a baby as it screamed and shook, face turning red, and hands grasping, perhaps for the comfort of its mother, whose fate was unknown. The battle was swinging back towards them, and Travis knew, in this strange state of unfeeling grace, that the baby would die, as would they all, unless something was done. He moved, forcing himself through the window, clothes shredding and the weakened metal protesting his passage. Ignoring the screams behind him, signalling the return of his hearing, he grabbed up the baby carrier, swung it around, and used his own body to shield the infant. But a quirk of fate had swung the battle back around, giving him a chance to get the child out of harm’s way, and he did, standing and running to a storefront where an old man was screaming into a phone, a woman, likely his wife beside him. That’s when, in the reflection of the rain streaked glass, Travis saw…himself. Wearing clothes too small for him, his muscles bulged out like a weight lifters dream. His chest was a deep V, and his abs, visible through the ripped shirt bulged out, like rocks had been implanted under his skin. He’d been in reasonable shape before, but this…this was…eruption. He stood there in the rain, studying his body, then, the truth dawning on him…he looked at his face. It was the same as before, except that the planes of his face were sharper, the jaw more pronounced, the jaw line more defined. But it was his eyes that drew his attention. As he leaned towards the glass, he saw his eyes had become almost crystalline in appearance, the blue facets glinting in the sporadic glare of the lightning bolts. The lightning bolts… Travis handed the baby to the storekeeper through the broken glass of the door, his wife immediately at his side, looking at the whimpering baby. Then Travis turned back to the battle, and snarling…charged. The two Novas were still flinging bolts at each other, still unheeding of the damage they were causing when Travis ploughed into them, flinging them aside like they had been hit by a truck. One, tougher than the other was quickly on his feet, and swung his arm like softball pitcher, the under hand pitch throwing a bolt, missing Travis in its unaimed haste. Travis stepped up, and punched the Bolt thrower, the impact snapping his head back and deforming the others face before physics took over, and the force lifted him off his feet and flung him into the air, coming down half a block away. His blood pumping, heart pounding and his chest heaving great lungfuls of air, Travis realized he’d never felt so good, so right. He knew his place in the universe, if only for an instant, as his node finished it’s formation, all pain gone. A moan broke through his reverie, and he looked over to see the other Nova clamber to his feet. Rubbing the back of his head, the Nova looked around. “Jeez, thanks man. That prick caught me with my back turned. Bastard,” he said, kicking a chunk of debris. “But, guess it all worked out in the end huh? “ He brushed at the dirt on his costume, torn and shredded leather dangling from seams, uncaring of the destruction around him. “He’ll never get it now.” Anything else he was going to say was choked off as Travis seized the torn costume and slammed the Nova back into the bus that Eaton had crawled out of, the hole in it's side where he'd squeezed out gaping like a wound. “WHAT!!!” the nova shrieked when he could again take a breath. “What the Hell!!” “What were you fighting over,” Travis said, his voice quiet and low. He slapped the Nova lightly, but enough to knock his head back into the bus. “What was worth all this…” he gestured, indicating the damage, the debris and the moaning and sobbing victims. “What do you think, man?” the other said, as if he thought Travis, as a fellow Nova should know. “The name, man. The name. We were fighting for StormHammer. “ “A name?!” “The name is everything, man. Trademarks, copyrights, products…reputation. Everything! ” The nova said, beginning to babble as he realized the Nova holding him didn’t care about the prize he’d fought for. Travis growled, “Was it worth this,” and drove the others head into the bus, denting it. Another punch and the novas’ head was completely through the dented shell. Unconscious, the nova moaned, hanging there. Travis raised his head, and let the rain wash over him. *** Travis felt the first few raindrops hit him, cooling his skin. Like that first day, he raised his face to the heavens, and let the rain hit him, blinking as drops washed away sweat, as it had washed away the blood on that fateful day. The day the universe had come knocking and Travis Eaton, now known to the masses as Warblood, had answered. *** Finis Chris “Quest” Chase
  5. Just finished mine...sending it now. Been a long time since I wrote anything at all, so win or lose...it's been fun.
  6. I have the formatted (not the Word file)Brainwaves, A New Breed and Forceful Personalities. New Flesh will be icing on the cake!!! Quest
  7. The Shadowed Path: An Aberrant Story By Christopher "Quest" Chase ,,The Nova Age was reaching it's peak, as miracles Became common, as those born from mankind flew Upon wings of muscle or energy or by the force of Their will alone. ,,The blind gained sight, and the deaf could hear, And they danced with those that had been crippled. ,,It was a Bright, Golden Age. ,,But then, what is the Light, without it's Shadow? *** ,,Anton Jervanski hid it all from his father. The headaches, the perceptions…the fear. He hid the fact that shadows swam at his approach, even in a brightly lit room. He hid the fact that his appetite had grown and grown by catching the rats that infested the crumbling Russian tenement that he and his family lived in. Anton hid all these things. Until they could be hidden no longer. ,,*** Russian Confederation/Sector 117 23:30 hrs 10/10/06 ,,"I told you!" Slavodan gloated, his greasy black hair combed straight back, and his teeth, yellowed and chipped seemed to glow in the flickering light. Anton cowered in the corner. A skinny boy of fourteen, dressed in threadbare clothing with patched knees and elbows, he was the youngest of his siblings. Often sick, and weak from hunger, Anton had practically no muscle whatsoever, and his movements were slow and sluggish. Fear fevered eyes looked through a mop of black hair, and a thin-lipped mouth was pinched shut. The flesh of his face was pale and fragile looking, as if you could poke a finger through it, like a sheet of paper. Anton had been free of the headache plaguing him today for only an hour or so. He'd started having them a week ago while running from his tormentor, Slavodan Reshevka, who had targeted him since the moment they met. Slavodan was big for his age, and preyed on anyone who was smaller and weaker than him, taking whatever he wanted from them. Sometimes, (rarely) he got money. But food and objects to sell or trade…these things were fair game to him, and soon he led a small gang of like minded children, none much older than his own sixteen, but many not yet twelve. They terrorized everyone they could, a wolf pack hunting down whatever happened to cross their path. And at this moment, Anton was their prey. Cornered, he had no allies in the abandoned warehouse, only enemies who laughed and shuffled around a small fire, where two rats slowly burned on spits. Slavodan had six boys with him, all with cruel faces and scarred hands, bared to the cold Russian fall night. Anton didn't know what hurt more, the fear that choked him, the hunger that gnawed him, or the headache that began to throb again. "Old man Jervanski's little Anton. A rat-catcher." The much bigger boy shook his head in mock sadness. "A rat-eater. He'd be ashamed, wouldn't he, Janos?" A thin boy to Slavodan's right nodded. He had a pinched weasel face and brown hair that reached his shoulders. Janos was known to everyone in the area, because of his ability with his knife, which he demonstrated at every opportunity. "I've waited a long time for this, little Anton," Slavodan told him. "Now, I've got you." He cracked his knuckles. "Your father has a radio, a good one. He listens to it every night. I want it. Get it, or he finds out about you." "I'm just hungry," Anton whimpered. Slavodan picked him up by the collar. "I don't care!" he yelled. The bigger boy pushed him back, until he fell into the little cooking fire. Clothes smouldering, Anton scrambled out of the fire, the rats falling over and being ground into the dirt in his panic. The group laughed louder as he looked forlornly at the trampled rats. "The radio, Rat-eater," Slavodan said, stepping up to the skinny, shaking boy. "Get it, or you'll stay hungry." Anton looked at him, and felt his fear being devoured by a dark burning hunger, a hunger that ate through him, touching the pounding in his head, which was almost blinding. Slavodan Reshevka stopped laughing as he saw that hunger bleed into Anton's eyes, turning to the black of the abyss, wanting…needing to be filled. Within Anton's brain, a gland began to grow, struggling for true release, about to become truly…more. The others laughed as they watched Anton grab Slavodan's arms, delightfully waiting for the bully to knock him back down, and to humiliate him further. Urinating on a fallen victim was one of his favourites. But as they watched, he didn't. Instead, their leader screamed, and bone could be heard crunching, echoing within the chamber as Anton's fingers squeezed, sinking in with little resistance. Then, Anton's mouth opened wide, and from the screaming mouth of Slavodan came a inky, black cloud, which was sucked down into Anton's gullet. And with that spark of dark energy, Anton's eruption was fully triggered! Hormones and enzymes crashed through his system, muscles began to swell to athletic proportions, shredding the threadbare hand-me-downs he wore. His sight and hearing, already sensitive from the long, drawn out change bloomed like a flower bursting from the bud. To him, the darkness exploded with colours, some of which he had no name for. He could hear the creaking of the rusty supports in the walls as they swayed slightly in a barely noticeable breeze. He flexed his hands again, and Slavodan screamed louder, his feet completely off the floor, held aloft by Anton's newfound strength. Again, a dark mist streamed from the boy and entered Anton, feeding him, and the ongoing change. Janos broke the spell of fear holding him, whipped out the knife he had taken from a drug dealer he'd robbed, and screaming, charged at the two figures. But before the blade could strike, it appeared to the others that the shadows themselves reared up, tripping and enveloping Janos, who thrashed and screamed as he was covered. Anton was surrounded by the shadows now, darkness swirling around him like black flames, darker than the night, and in the ill lit, fire flickered gloom, he appeared to the others to be an ebon flamed demon. The remainder of the group turned as Anton dropped Slavodan, now unmoving, and raced for the door. But darkness flowed past them, and filled the doorway and windows, which, try as they might, they could not get through. "I'm still hungry," said an echoing, powerful voice. As one, they all turned. *** Outside the warehouse, if someone had walked past quietly, they may have heard screams, shouted pleas and prayers. Maybe, if someone had passed by a little later, they might have seen a tall, strong looking young man stepping out of the warehouse, wearing a collection of ill-fitting and mis-matched clothes. His eyes would seem to glow an eerie violet-tinged black, and a satisfied smile would have been on his face. And maybe, just maybe, if someone were curious about this young man and what he had been doing, they might have gone into the warehouse and seen six young men, all of whom were scattered around on the floor, each one shrivelled like they'd been there for months. If they stood there and tried to listen, they would have heard a voice. And following that voice, they would have found a boy with shoulder length hair, his eyes wide but seeing nothing, chanting: "He's hungry…he's hungry...he's hungry." Over and over. And this chanting boy, Janos, like the others, regardless of what it had been before, now sported a head of snow-white hair. *** ,,Anton didn't return home that night, or any other night. With five brothers and sisters, Anton, the formerly weak, frail boy, wasn't the working father's favourite. So Anton, who had no loved ones, no friends and no possessions worth taking hopped a truck that was heading for Moscow, Janos' knife and roubles taken from his fallen tormentors stuffed into his pockets. He was accosted once. The truck driver had been making a little extra money by providing discreet travel to anyone with some need and the means to pay. So he had one passenger other than Anton riding in the back of his transport. The young man in the corner looked at the man who climbed into the back of the truck at the latest fuel stop. He watched as the man settled himself into the corner opposite him, at the other end of the trailer. He was a big man, with muscle stretching the heavy clothing he wore, a brute (unknown to Anton and the driver both) who had just been released from prison. And as his eyes settled on the young man in the corner, just like in prison, what he wanted, he took. What he saw was a young man of indeterminate age, likely going to Moscow to make his fortune, but more likely the boy, in his unkempt, mismatched clothing would end up selling himself for money or food or drugs. The brute saw himself, in his twisted and psychotic way, as helping the young man by showing him how to understand the world, how it worked, and his place in it. Grinning, he waited, and when he judged the boy asleep, he crept towards him. However, just as his hand was reaching out, the boy opened his eyes and said: "What do you want?" Considering his approach as being nearly soundless, the big man was startled. "I…ahhh…I was just wondering if you'd care to share my blanket, you know, against the cold." Growing up where he had, Anton knew the man was lying. But even if he didn't have such life experiences to draw on, he would know. He could smell the man's excitement; hear the thundering of his heart, beating fast in anticipation. "I have nothing to steal," Anton told him. Recovering his composure, the man chuckled. "Perhaps not, but you have something worth trading, my young friend. My blanket and company, for some…company." "Stay away from me!" "Come come, my young friend. You will be doing this when you get to Moscow. You are young, and will be in demand for a time. But, you need to know what to do." He grinned again, and to Anton, his eyes looked like the beady eyes of the gang he had killed, and they had the same, sure expression of control. That Anton's wishes were inconsequential. The man's hand touched Anton's shaking shoulder. Without thinking, he struck out, hitting the bigger man in the chest with his fist, driving him back several steps. He watched the man straighten, rubbing his chest where Anton had hit him. Around the boy, the shadows shifted, and became bright to his eyes. He could see the sweat on the man's face, and hear his feet slide on the debris on the floor of the truck bed. With astonishment on his face, the convict choked out: "You dare to strike me? I have killed men for merely being in my way! What do you think I will do now?" "Stay away from me," Anton said, feeling his powers eagerly testing their bonds, straining to get at his tormentor. "Or else…" "Or else? Or else what, my sweet little morsel?" The Brute had recovered, convincing himself that he had stumbled after the young man landed that lucky shot. "What can you do against me?" The man flexed enormous arms, straining the clothing that he wore which were only a little less threadbare than Anton's own. "Or else, I'll…eat you" The man started to laugh. The laughter echoed in the truck, awaking memories so fresh and powerful that they struck Anton with an almost physical force, awakening his anger. Slavodan, the bully. Janos, his enforcer. His gang of thieves. His anger reached inward, and touched the darkness within him, and it flowed out, filling the inside of the truck. The man shivered as the darkness grew darker. His laughter grew softer, then stopped. He heard, as if it were some afterthought, Anton saying quietly: "I warned you." Something dark struck the Brute, knocking him to the floor. He lifted his head, and was struck again, so hard this time that he rolled over several times before fetching up against the tail of the truck. He gasped as he felt the pain of broken ribs. His gaze fell on the young man, still crouched in the corner. But he was too far away to have done this. So how…? Something was wrong with his eyes. They seemed to be slightly illuminated, as if they were glowing. "I don't think I want you inside me," he heard his would-be victim say. The man gasped, trying not to snort in pained laughter, but hurting his chest just the same. After all, is seemed obvious that the boy didn't… But then it dawned on him that isn't what the boy meant. Fear clutched him then, and he began to pray to a God he had turned from years ago, even as his hand reached back to grasp the tape-handled knife he had in his back pocket. *** Anton watched the man as he reached for the knife. He nodded to himself, seeing the man grasp the weapon as plainly as he would have on a sunlit day. "All right," he sighed, and let the darkness run free. *** The Convict heard the young man mutter something, but he paid it no heed. His focus was on the knife. He drew it, in a practiced move, looked up and screamed as the darkness formed ebony shards that sliced through the air and into him. He fell, and felt a deep chilling cold burning through his body. He thought: What happened? His vision blurred. What? He died puzzled. *** Anton threw the body out of the truck, leaving the knife with the corpse, and taking the money the man had in his pockets, doubling the meagre supply he now had. The clothes he left, because of the bloody hole in the man's chest, big enough to stick his hand through, soaking everything a dark red. *** ,,Russian Confederation/Sector 001 22:30 hrs 10/12/06 ,,Anton walked the streets of Moscow, his hands in his pockets, his heavy sweater pulled tightly around him, his eyes wide, looking around at the city he was in. He was awestruck by Moscow, by the buzzing neon lights, to the cars that honked their way along the crowded streets. Moscow had recovered, thanks to Minister Sierka, a Nova genius, from the Moscow Crash, and was becoming great again. But with the darkness no longer hiding secrets from him, Anton saw what was just beyond the lights, hidden from unseeing, or unwilling eyes. He saw the women and men selling themselves, and remembered what the man on the truck had said. He walked on, and saw men in baggy coats, heard them making their deals and saw the exchanges of rubles and bags of powder. Anton saw the human beasts in doorways and alleys, alone and in packs, watching for prey that could get them through another night. As he walked, his mind shifted gears, and instead of contemplating his surroundings, he began to think about his situation. He knew what he was, what he had become. He'd heard of them on his fathers radio, been taught about them in school as teachers told them about Russia's recovery from the Crash, thanks to the talents of Minister Sierka, also one of them. Novas, they were called. Superhumans, freaks, mutants and devils, if you listened to what Anton's father and his friends said about them. Devils like me, Anton thought. At a sudden noise he looked up, and found he had wandered into a seedier part of the city. Here, even the police dared not tread. Gangs roamed freely here, drugs weren't sold furtively but openly. Buildings showed signs of neglect, weathered and aged, brought on by the harsh environment and pollutants, having much in common with the people standing around barrels of flaming garbage. Anton's lips thinned into a slight smile, and he choked back a laugh, recognizing the painful irony of this beautiful city. It was much like home. *** He found a hotel, a price posted above the door that he could afford, thanks to the money he'd taken from Slavodan and the man from the truck. It was a place much like the tenements where he'd been raised, except blazing lights shone from the windows, unlike home where power could be cut at anytime. Lost in his thoughts as he walked toward the lit doorway, Anton was startled when a set of hands came from the alley he was passing, and jerked him into the darkness beyond. He saw the knife, just before it sank into his stomach. A forearm under his chin held him up, slamming him into the wall, as the hand holding the blade pulled it free, then plunged it in again. Anton felt the wounds as a cold fire within, spreading outwards, like ice in his body. He just stood there, shocked, as his assailant released the weapon. Holding him up, the man began ramming his hands into Anton's pockets. "Money," the man muttered. "Where is your money?" He found Janos knife first, and the crumpled up money next, shoving both into his own pockets. He then found Anton's papers, good only for his sector, but possibly valuable to the right person. They followed the knife and rubles. In the few moments this was happening, his victim realized that, as the thief searched him, the pain began to lessen. And as it receded, so did the cold, replaced by a hot rage. The blade, bloody, glinting in the dim light from the street beyond clinked as it hit the trash-strewn ground. The thief heard the knife hit, and realized that he was no longer holding up his victims dying body. He looked up, and into the fluid black, violet haloed eyes that glared back at him. *** Boris Traytoff had been a thief for years now, and had never been caught. He'd known the fear of being hunted and the joy of escape, but those were nothing compared to the terror that filled him now, staring into the abyss within those two eyes. His target was standing, when he should be dying. Breathing, when he should be gasping for that last breath. Moving, when he should be growing still. He felt his chest shoved by a hand and heard, in a sudden silence, his ribs crack as he slammed hard into the worn brick of the alley wall. He began to slide down, pain beginning to awaken within him, when a hand grabbed his collar, lifting him with no discernable effort, just before a fist slammed into his belly with the force of a speeding car! Again and again, the fist struck with superhuman force, and Boris, almost clinically could hear his ribs breaking, feel his organs rupturing and blood beginning to fill the spaces within. The pain returned after the calm of shock, each sharp pain a judgement, a punishment for each evil he'd done. *** Anton took back his money, knife and papers from the man who'd attacked him, as well as the little money the man himself had. Then he took the man's long woollen coat, the tail draping down around his ankles. It smelled, but the coat was warm, and Anton finally realized just how cold he'd actually been. Looking down, he glanced at the one-time predator. Then he turned and walked away. ,,,,*** Boris, sliding down the wall as he was released, felt a chill deeper than that of his cold surroundings filling him. His breathing became laboured and painful, and his vision began to dim. He wondered: Was this how his victims had felt? *** Anton lay down on the patched mattress, ignoring the spring digging into his back as he tried to relax. His stomach growled, but he had no money for food. This room had taken all that he'd had. But in balance he had the room for two full nights, not just one, and a bed all his own. He lay there and wondered, what was his family doing now? Were they worried, or were they celebrating the fact that useless Anton was now gone? He closed his eyes and thought of the death he'd caused. The warehouse, the truck and the alley, none of it seemed real, like a dream that should slowly fade, but refused to. He thought he should feel something about it, but he didn't. He even had to think hard about it, to remember that he should. His train of thought was broken as the hunger clawed through him again, sharper than the pain from the knife wounds, which he had found were gone, the blood around them the only sign he'd had them. It felt like an animal trying to dig it's way out. "The hunger is like nothing you've ever felt before, is it?" Anton cried out, flinging himself off the bed, away from the quiet voice. He heard it chuckle. Then, peering over the mattress, Anton saw a man sitting in the room's only chair. "H-how did you get in here?" "Please," the man snorted. "I, like you, do not have to play by baseline rules. Perhaps you should be asking me; Why am I here?" The man spoke in flawless Russian, but with a sense of it being a second language, perfect, but not comfortable. "Then, why are you here?" Anton asked, his eyes turning black as he stood, the pain in his belly forgotten. Shadows began to move in the tiny room, swimming like sharks on the walls and the floor. The intruder looked around, seemingly unconcerned. Anton, despite his ability to see through darkness, couldn't quite see his face. "I've come to take you away from the baselines coming for you," he said. "They have found your friends in the warehouse, as well as the man you killed and left on the roadside." The boy felt a thrill of fear. "He tried…to hurt me." The other merely shrugged. "I've read his police report," he said, holding up a file with, Anton noticed, a leather gloved hand. More details of the man were becoming apparent, as if he were only letting Anton see him a bit at a time. "I don't think he was going to merely 'hurt you.'" He leaned over, exposing a dark skinned face to the light, and to Anton's eyes. Rounded, but not fat, the face had the look of having been through hard times, but also good times. There was no nervousness about the man, no signs of stress. His teeth glinted white from under a thick moustache, it's colour matching the white-marred black on his head. It was not an unkind face. He lay the file on the bed, sliding it towards Anton. "Check for yourself," the man suggested. "Multiple assaults, robbery, manslaughter. The list goes on. But he picked the wrong victim this time, didn't he?" Laughing softly, the man leaned back into the shadows, but this time, his face wasn't obscured. "Just like the man outside." The thrill of fear Anton felt became a cold rush, bordering on terror. The shadows, settling down while the other had talked now started to swirl again, like attack animals, ready to strike, anxiously awaiting a target. The man never took his eyes off of Anton. "I'm sure you gave him merely what he deserved. I'm not blind, you know. I can see the fresh blood on your sweater." He pointed toward the file. "Please, set yourself at ease about that animal you killed on the truck, though calling him thus does other species a great disservice. You did what any baseline is allowed to do, young man." He held up a hand, index finger extended, like a teacher about to point out something. "But, be warned. You are a Nova now, and those allowances you once had are yours no longer. Also, though I'm sure you wish to rest, the longer we remain here, the closer your government gets to finding you." Standing up, the speaker walked over to the room's only window, through which a neon light flashed red, off and on, on and off. Anton shuffled away as he passed by. "Do you know what your family is doing right now, Anton?" He started at his name. "Don't look so surprised. The convict had gotten a ride near the fuel depot only a day away from the place where you once lived, where, coincidentally enough, another fuel stop is. That group of malcontents lead to the checking of the families in the area, and you were found to be the only one missing. Your name is being circulated far and wide, with your family being very vocal about you returning home." Anton smiled. "They want me back?" he asked, incredulously. "Really?" He received a nod. "Very much so. After all, they would then get the one hundred thousand rubles being offered for you." A flush touched Anton's cheeks, and tears brimmed his eyes as his heart plummeted to his stomach. "That's not true," he said, his very tone acknowledging that what the other had said was very likely the truth. "I have seen your family on the television. I could smell their greed and willingness to sell you to the highest bidder through the screen. Rabid dogs would be better family." The man shook himself, as though he could shake the sudden vehemence from his voice. "But enough of that. We are here now, brought together by fate and my allies, who have the capability to sense Quantum surges and flows. As I am not bound by baseline edicts or chains-of-command, I have arrived before Sierka's pursuers. But be sure they are not far behind, ready to take you, and make you a part of the Minister's Great Plan, or to dispose of you if you refuse them and what they want." "What would they want from me? And what do you want from me?" Anton asked, dispirited, crushed by the news of his family's betrayal, though he felt little surprise. "What do I want?" The man turned towards Anton, faint traces of anger in his voice. "My given name is Carl Demiskalous. I was born in Greece fifty-three years ago. I was a fisherman, until five years ago, when an immense storm blew in from the sea, and capsized my boat. The incident triggered my eruption, saving my life, but leaving me unable to help the rest of my crew, three men and a boy not much older than you. After ward, I was… 'asked' by my government to enter the newly built Rashoud facility housed in Athens." Demiskalous set his jaw. "I did as my people asked. I found my ability to come and go, teleportation, much in demand. Especially by certain aspects of my government, who seemed to need things moved from here to there, and also to bring to them so-called enemies of the country. Some of these were newly empowered novas, like yourself." The man, lit by red neon hung his head. "I found that my efforts aided those whose purpose was to control the rise of Novas. I found out what happened to some of those I brought to them…" Carl took a deep breath. "I can tell you nothing you would believe, Anton. Nothing that wouldn't sound like a made-up tale to coerce you into coming with me. Stories of bloody slabs of steel and specimen jars that would sound like ravings." Demiskalous looked at Anton. "I freed myself from them. But what I saw that day haunts me. Every time I manage to sleep, I see…" he shook his head, sighing. "But I can do nothing like that," Anton said. He bent to pick up the file, still on the bed. "The man in the truck would be more valuable than me. I am nothing." "That is your family talking, Anton." The older man walked up, put a hand on Anton's shoulder. "Because I refuse to believe that you are that stupid. Think. In the going on three days of your empowerment, you have killed seven people, and left one insane from the sheer terror of it all. You will be much in demand by the Baselines, and much wanted by Sierka." "Maybe I should serve.." Anton began, but Carl wheeled him around, shook him. "NO! We are Novas! We do not serve! We are not animals to perform!" He looked at his hands, released Anton. "I am sorry, young man," he said. He breathed deeply. "I am still, it seems, human enough to take out my own fears and frustrations on others. I have no right to tell you what to do." He backed away. "But do you think Sierka's Great Plan is the only reason Russia is clawing its way out of the financial quagmire of the Crash? Do you think that the Ministers plans are all accepted unanimously?" He walked back into the neon light, as if he needed the flashing illumination. "Other Novas are the reason it all works. He has advisors, theoreticians, assassins and that greatest insult to us, slaves. All working at his command, without even the illusion of freedom that others have." Anton took all this in. It seemed impossible, but the sincerity in the others voice gave the young Nova chills. Could this actually be happening, here and now? Slavery? In this age of supermen? "I had to run for a long time, Anton. But I was found, like I've found you. I was helped, as I wish to help you. Let me take you to a place where you can rest without fear, to think and be in the company of equals." He remembered his father talking to his friends, about freaks and devils. He remembered the cruelty of Slavodan and his gang. He believed. At least in part, he believed. Anton looked toward the older Nova, and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, the door burst open, spilling men into the room, each holding weapons and covered in strange armor. "Anton Jervanski!!" shouted one of the four men. "By Order of the Government of Russia, you are to surrender yourself to us for immediate transfer to Special Conscription Services! You will comply! You will not be told again!!" Frightened, Anton looked at the men. He trembled, and the room blurred from his terrified tears. He glanced back to where the other man had been, but he had vanished when the men burst into the room, leaving him alone. The fourteen-year-old boy in the man's body shook, and shadows began to thicken. "I only wanted to sleep," he said, eerily reminiscent of his words in the warehouse. Shadow filled his eyes. One of the men looked around. "LOOK OUT!" Shadows, cast by the now wildly swinging light bulb hanging from the ceiling, shifted and speared out, slashing at the front two men, who screamed as the dark energy impaled them. They fell to the floor, writhing in agony. The other two, crowded in the small doorway raised their guns. But before they could fire, shadow poured from Anton, ripping through the floor, and dumping them, heavy armor and all to the floor below. Anton felt a bullet hit him from behind, and saw the exit wound bloom on his chest like a dark flower. Falling, thoughts remarkably clear, he turned and unleashed a blast of razored black at the window, which shattered, allowing the energy to shred the man who was hanging there from a rope outside, another of those strange-looking guns clutched in his hands. The rope was cut, and the man's body fell, hitting the ground like a gruesome rain. Anton lay on the floor, feeling the warmth of his body flowing from the holes left by the high-powered round. He felt his body muster itself, and felt resources flowing to the wound. He somehow lifted his head, and as he watched, the blood began to slow, then subside to a trickle, then stop. But the wound itself stayed open. The floor creaked, and Anton slowly turned his head, seeing Carl Demiskalous kneeling beside him. The man looked into Anton's eyes. "There are more," he said. "Many more." Anton replied, slowly. "You…left me…alone." "I had to let you see for yourself what happens to Novas who don't follow the Party line," Carl said, holding a glass of water he had gotten from somewhere to Anton's lips. He sipped slowly, feeling his stomach cramp again. "I need to eat," he whispered. Carl nodded. "Yes," he replied. "You do." He lifted Anton's head gently, held the water to his lips again. "You are weak now, young Anton. You will not be able to repel another attack. You do not even have the strength to heal yourself. They will return, and either kill you out of hand, tell the world that another Nova aberration has been destroyed, or they will fill you with drugs, let you eat and heal, allow you to recover completely, all the while indoctrinating you into Sierka's Great Plan." He looked into Anton's tired eyes. "You will never be free of him. You will be his slave." Anton took another sip of water. So cool and fresh, not like the colored or rancid tasting stuff he was used to. He forced his stomach to hold it down. "But…will I be better off with you?" "We'll feed you, shelter you, and help you understand what and who you are and what you can become. The rest will be up to you. We don't hold Novas against their will. Most times they leave, explore themselves in various ways, including selling themselves to the highest bidder." "But, they eventually return, sickened by what they see and what they've been told to do, as I was. Eventually, they realize that the Baselines are the ones who start the wars, cause the pollution and commit the crimes that they command us to finish, fix or solve." "Yes, they come back. Matured, seasoned and welcomed." Demiskalous smiled. "Oh, there is some bad blood between us sometimes. But it is usually solved easily enough, because in the end, we are all equals. We are Novas." "We are the One Race. We are not, nor will we ever be, slaves." His head turned as feet clumped up the stairs. Carl stood, strode over to the window and looked down. He glanced at Anton, lying in a pool of his own blood. "You must decide now." He came back over to the wounded Nova, kneeling again. "The freedom to chose what to do with your life, or slavery." He reached down, and took Anton's hand. Anton took a breath, as the sounds of running men grew louder. "Freedom," he said, closing his eyes. He heard Carl Demiskalous say; "So be it." *** The Elite Shocktrooper, recruited from the Spetnaz, jumped the hole in the floor, tumbling into the room and ending up in a kneeling position. His weapon, a high-powered rifle with armor-piercing rounds tracked back and forth, trying to acquire a target. But the only things in the room, besides the ratty furniture were the bodies of two men, bled out from multiple wounds, a pool of blood just across from the shattered window, and a glass of water, the contents gently rippling as if it were sat down just a moment before. ,,,,finis By Christopher "Quest" Chase
  8. Scott William Derringer Private Investigator In: The Mystery of the Heiress' Money As told to: Christopher Chase Sometimes, all you need is one lucky break. I kind of figured that I'd used up all my lucky breaks during the war, taking that trench, coming back in one piece, knowing my own name, not like some others. I see them on the street, old before their time, wearing eye patches and scarves to cover up what pieces they'd left behind. Some of them try for some sort of dignity, the sleeves and pantlegs of old uniforms folded and pinned where arms and legs ended. Others didn't care about dignity. They had left that behind, and now all they have are those desperate hours between dawn and dusk, trying to remember who they are, and when they are. If they're lucky, they get enough for some bathtub gin, bought from a guy who looks for people like them. Then they drink themselves dead drunk, or just dead, depending on how clean the radiator was that was used for a still, all so they don't dream, going back to the mud and the blood, the noise and the cold, cold silence. There are still times I feel the same. Sometimes, I sleep with a light on just so I know that I'm home, not in a dark trench somewhere. Thankfully, those times are getting farther and farther apart. *** I'd been reading the paper, seeing that the Yankees had yet again lost me five bucks, when a picture on the front page caught my eye. Forgetting what I wanted to do to the New York Coach, I stared at the picture, not knowing whether to feel angry or not. There she was, Mary Elisabeth Endicott-Maverly, 'Ellie' to her friends, ducking into the family car, which was big enough to hold a family of ten. She had looked into the camera for this picture, and I could see something there, something only someone who knew her would see… Everything faded for a second, and suddenly, I was a poor boy of fourteen again, and she was a girl of sixteen, from the right side of the tracks, money and wealth at her beck and call. Spoiled but tough, because that's the way her father had raised her, she enjoyed pushing everyone around, acting as if her victims were her personal slaves, especially the people around the stables…especially a poor, fourteen year old boy… I shook my head, came back to the present I looked at the story, not really much of one, just good scandal sheet stuff, of how she was spotted leaving the police station, and a rumored suitcase full of money. Right at that moment, my door opened up, and in walked the only real friend I had left from my childhood. "How are you this morning, Sergeant McMurphy?" "Ah, it's me joints again. Too much walking, too little sittin'." We go through this dance every couple of days. In the end, I give him a little 'medicine', kept in the drawer of my desk, courtesy of 'Dr.' Gleason, former Canadian soldier, now owner of Carl's, distributor of whiskey and other joint medicines. He's about the only one who'll talk to me now who knew me as a kid. Not that I was bad, of course. But some of the people I knew back then are respectable now, and don't want to be seen talking to me, a gumshoe, a window peeper. Once I even heard keyhole copper. The rest of the people, well…I'm no crystal ball reader, and since I don't believe in disturbing the dead… And my father, so happy I came back from the war alive, proud when I joined the police, was now so angry at me for quitting the force to become some 'dimestore novel detective', that he wouldn't even speak to me. And I can't even tell him why I quit, the corruption I saw, the darkness behind the shields, because then, I'd be waiting for something heavy to fall on him from a tenth story window. That was the deal I made with certain people when I left. So, McMurphy and I would do the dance, and after, when he'd finished his 'medicine', I'd ask about my father, and he'd say: "Ask him yourself." But today, I changed the steps of the dance, and started my own. I showed him the paper, pointed out the picture, and asked him about her. He knew her for what she was. She liked to pick on police too, not just kids with a shaky past. "She had a flat tire," he said. "She was alone, and she wasn't able to change the tire by herself." Likely afraid she'd break a nail. "The car that found her was looking out for some smugglers in the area, so they searched the car all the while they were helping her." Humph. Probably one helped, while the other went around the other side of the car to take a piss. "Then he looked in, and saw the case…" "One hundred thousand in that case, Boyo. Enough fer just about anything. So, a'fore she could say anything, Bingo!, an' sure she's at the station, ringing up Daddy." I wonder what the two flatfoots who caught her are doing now. Likely patrolling the docks, where idiots who arrest the rich go. So much smuggling goes on there, that no one will allow the police to interfere with it. They either look the other way, or they get swept away. That, or they ended up shoveling after the horses on parade. "She wouldn't say what the money was for I'm told, but after her lawyer came in, curse the parasite, she and the money took the high road out." I wonder what the money was for. People like her don't pay for things, they get them given to them, or they're paid to take them, just so someone could say that what they had or made or sold went to rich, influential people. Kiss-ups. "One hundred grand," I said, rolling the sound around. Made me completely forget the Yankees. "Buy a lotta bootleg with that." McMurphy agreed. But we both knew that couldn't be it. The Endicotts likely had enough booze in their cellars to float away half the town. The Sarge said that he'd heard the scores, and I handed over his five bucks. I now had six dollars and change to my name. Lucky thing I always paid the rent first. But then, something'll turn up. It always does. *** Now, an hour later and a dollar shorter, I was at Maudie's, the only restaurant in town that makes an apple pie I can stomach. Washing it down with coffee thick and strong enough to re-sole my shoes, I asked Maudie what the good word was. "Rich," she said, polishing the counter. She always said that, like it was the key to happiness. Well, I suppose that if you had enough money, you could at least rent it. And, of course, it brought me back to Miss Endicott. Why had she been out there? What was she doing with enough money to buy…anything? It was an itch I just had to scratch. *** Now, shorter two dollars and three hours of daylight, I stood outside the old stables, where once upon a time I'd worked, where once upon a time a girl with too much money and too much free time had tormented me, and where now something sharp was digging into my back The voice behind me was thick with a Cockney accent. I knew who this was. Old Ralfie Hornquist, an Irishman raised in London. He'd been my friend until I'd left, me being the only one who'd listen to his old Irish folktales. I also knew that Ralfie didn't carry a gun, having been shot by an Englishman trying to run his family off their ancestral lands, sixty-five years ago. Likely, he was digging the old shovel he carried around into my back. But since I didn't want to get whacked over the head, my hands went up. It took me fifteen minutes to convince the old coot who I was. ,,*** "…Can't get why," he was telling me. "She never carried too much money with her. Always had her husband carry it. And, I hear, he didn't mind it too much, if'n you know what I mean." "Not have his own?" "Not so's you'd notice. Word is, his family, name'a Maverly, descendents of a Duke or some such, lost most of it and married into the Endicotts to save the family name. She got an influential name, and status with Old Families. And the Endicotts used that status to get richer." "Kids?" "One. A boy name'a Michael. Looks like his mother, but he don't act like her, thank goodness. Though, she's calmed down some, with a child and all." He continued: "Husband though…he's likely the reason his family near lost everything a few years back." "Bad business?" "Betting. The worst gambler you've ever seen, next to you and the Yankees, I hear." Cute. "He in debt?" "With Endicott money? Not likely" Unless he was so deep he couldn't tell. Or maybe Daddy Endicott found out, and cut him off. Hell, maybe Mrs. Endicott-Maverly cut him off. But if he was in deep to the wrong people… "Anything else?" "Nah, she ain't been here for a while. She used to ride here every day or so. Bring the lad along. Ain't seen neither of 'em." She's been seen, I thought. Driving alone in the dark with a case of mon… Oh, no. Maybe she wasn't smuggling, or buying bootleg. Maybe she had been trying to deliver a ransom. Trying to buy back her kid! Even as I thought that, a twist in my gut told me that I was right. Easy enough to find out. Using one of the greatest creations of science, the telephone, I called the boy's school. All the rich kids who didn't have private tutors went to a school named Collinsworth, so finding it wasn't a problem. With a cloth over the mouthpiece, I demanded to speak to the Head, then demanded to know if anyone had been told of the kidnapping, impersonating the gruff, shout coarsened voice of the great man himself, Mr. Endicott. The man at the other end stuttered and whined, but at the end assured me that no one knew of my grandson's disappearance. I hung up. I looked at my watch. It'd be dark soon. I could probably just make it to the Endicott Estate before they tried another ransom run. And they would. No one walks away from a hundred grand. No one. *** So now, here I was, at the only turn-off within sight of the Endicott Estate. Hah, estate. It was so big it should have it's own seat in that League of Nations everyone's talking about. Well, good luck, Mercer. You'll need it. The walls were just as high as I remembered them, bigger than some of the older buildings in the old city, with more predators walking around inside than a lions, tigers and bears only circus. Of course, there was another way in, discovered in my misspent youth, an old steam pipe that had been cut off from the main line when the Endicott's went for a bigger one. Handy thing to know, if I ever needed to get inside without an invitation. *** I had just finished the last of my cigarettes, when the gates opened up, and a Ford Roadster rolled out. It drove along, as if everything was completely normal. I watched it go past, with me hidden behind some brush, then I started my own car, a Studebaker Light Six, (bought for a song from the police impound) and drove along without any headlights. It was a full moon tonight, so it wasn't too hard. The car turned a corner, and I hit the lights, following the little automobile through the city, until it left the outskirts, and followed a well-worn path, no road, just ruts in the dirt. Now I knew where the car was going. The only place around here for something like this was Dusty's, a seedy little joint in the middle of nowhere, named, I think, for the layers of it on the furniture. I hoped she, if it was Ellie in the car, didn't go in there. That place had a tendency to eat people up and spit out bones. Was she going there to deliver the ransom? Check and see if anybody had left further instructions? ,,,,I topped a hill, and saw Dusty's, all lit up like it was Fifth Avenue, plain as day. Made me wonder why people paid the police, with the crooks giving them a better paycheck. A covered truck was parked out front, and five guys built like walls were unloading Canadian whiskey from the back. Just to the side of the truck was the car, well away from the other cars in the graveled lot, the headlights just winking out. I pulled into a spot where I could see the whole area in front of me, and I could watch the deal going down. Then, as my door was yanked open and the second before a sap pounded my head, I found myself wishing I'd checked the scenery behind. *** ,,,,The first thing I thought, as I came to, was that I was back in the trenches. The ground shook under the shelling, others whistled overhead, and all I could smell was dirt, straw and manure Straw and manure? My eyes, often getting me into trouble with a wandering gaze popped open. Then, after coaxing what was left of my dinner back down, I opened them slower. The rumbling and shaking had become rhythmic, the sound of iron wheels clacking against a track, in time with the hammer inside my skull. The smell of straw and manure, strong to a city boy like me became the dirt covering the floor of a boxcar. The screaming shells became the sound of a train whistle. Surprise! I was tied up and gagged. The bad news is that I wasn't blindfolded, meaning they didn't care if I saw them. Speaking of…sitting on a chair that looked small, like a kid's, was the biggest thug I'd ever seen. His back was to me, but I could see how the jacket he wore was stretching over his shoulders. His arms looked to be the same size as my legs, and his legs looked to be the size of cut-down trees. He was cracking the knuckles on the construction tools he called hands, and spitting black tobacco juice into a growing pool on the floor. Then I heard him, crying in the corner, opposite me. He had a blanket, ratty and full of holes wrapped around him, but with his school uniform, shorts and a thin shirt, it wasn't doing him much good. He was shivering, shaking like a leaf. I could see his breath frosting the air slightly. Didn't seem that cold to me, but then, I was dressed a little heavier. My gun was gone, and so was my wallet, no surprise there. They'd tied my hands behind me, but they'd left my feet loose. Strange, but maybe luck was finally turning my way. The kid's teeth began chattering, and I could hear it even over the sound of the train. He was obviously suffering, but the human tower didn't seem to care, another bad thing to add to the fact neither the kid nor I were blindfolded. My gut twisted, and told me that we were going to get off the train, but with a lump of lead in our skulls. A lurch, and the train's motion slowed. I could feel the train beginning to angle up, as it began to climb. Our chances of escape wouldn't be getting much better. Of course, being tied up complicated things. As I was thinking I should've stayed at the office and enjoyed losing the rest of my money to McMurphy, I heard a voice. It was tinny, like I was hearing it from a radio. I knew it wasn't from the man mountain, because it sounded like it had brains behind it. Following the voice, I saw the box, with wires leading out. The box began giving orders, and I didn't like them one bit. ""I know that the wait has been hard for you, Clarence…" (Clarence?) "But I've gotten the money. I'm sure this man watching Mary was doing so without her, or her father's knowledge. But he will make an excellent Judas when the boy is found. A man, down on his luck, steals the grandchild of a rich man to make some money. A mishap, and both die in the wilderness, (Don't like the sound of that) falling from the train they were riding to escape the city that the Grandfather and his daughter have swarming with Pinkertons." "Finish it now, Clarence. The sooner the brat is gone and the family in shambles, the sooner I can proceed with my plans." Damn! Shovel-hands didn't waste any time, because as soon as the voice was done, he stood up and pulled out what looked to be my gun. Lana looked like a toy in his big mitt, but like most ladies I know, small or not she was no less deadly. Seeing me as the immediate threat, Clarence the kidnapping oak tree turned to wards me, the hammer pulling back and the cylinder turning, putting a round under the pin. Damn! Damn!! Lana's .45 caliber eye gave me a cold, black stare. The train whistle blew, and we began picking up speed again as the train leveled off. Big boy turned his eyes toward the sound as the whistle sounded again. Not believing how my luck was turning out, I kicked him in the knee as hard as I could. My angle was awkward, but I still managed to stumble him, his shoulder hitting the wall, and Lana fell, hiding in the straw. I looked at him, and saw the ugliest face I'd ever seen. Someone had taken a knife to his face, jigsaw puzzled his looks. His teeth were revealed in a permanent snarl, scar tissue pulling the lips apart. Eyes the bright brown of new pennies looked at me, then a boot the size of Rhode Island lashed out, and caught me in the ribs. I was surprised my ribs didn't shatter. And I thought it would hurt more. Apparently, Scar thought it should've too, so he did it again, flipping me over this time. Then he picked me up by the scruff of the neck, like picking a kitten out of a litter, and slammed me several times, face first into the wall, letting me slide down with stars swirling in my vision for company. My head spun, and I could taste blood. But I knew, somehow, that I wasn't hurt very badly, and even as I thought about it, the weakness of being manhandled like that began to fade. A hamhock landed on my shoulder, and suddenly the corner of the car was rushing at my face, and I slid down the wall again, everything a blur. And to top it off, something was poking into my arm. I shook my head, clearing it quickly. Strange, you'd think Jojo the scar-faced boy could do more damage than that, but I wasn't counting on that good luck holding out for much longer. And what the hell was digging into my arm? I felt around, and immediately felt the nail sticking out from the wall. Now if I could lift my arms a little bit more… The nail caught the rope, and I began working it, feeling the strands break. Tall, dark and ugly was looking for Lana, but bless her little steel heart, she stayed hidden. Giving up after a minute, he pulled out a knife. Why he didn't pay attention to me I don't know, likely thought I was down for the count. Why I wasn't, I don't know, but I wasn't going to waste this chance. The rope broke as he started towards the boy, who starting screaming as he caught sight of the blade. I was up and running, plowing into the goon's lower back, lifting him off his feet a lot easier than I should have, and drove him into the wall. I wanted to yell: How's that taste?, but I gave him a couple of shots to the kidneys instead. I reached up, and grabbed a hand full of grey, slicked back hair, and slammed his face into the wood a couple of times. I swear I heard something crack. An elbow caught me in the side of the head, knocking me down into the straw, but I rolled with it, and was on my feet in time for the man-mountain to come at me, arms wide, his face pulled back and bloody. Ducking under his arms, I got around behind, then jumped on his back, my arms going around his thick neck. He clawed at me, having dropped the knife, catching and ripping off pieces of my shirt. He stood at his full height, my feet left the floor, and he ran at the nearest wall, whipping around so I'd hit, with his full weight crushing me to paste. The wall cracked, but I only grunted, so he slammed me back into the wall again. He began driving his elbows into my ribs, even as he slammed me into the wall again. He kept this up for what felt like a few months, bouncing me off walls he took running starts at, with me flopping around like a rag doll. The smokestack began to gag, clawing for my eyes now, trying to grab me and pull me off. Then he went to one knee. Then the other. His arms flapped around, and I could feel his throat working beneath my arm, straining to pull in air. He sagged, but I held on, and after I was sure he wasn't faking, I let him fall. Dead or not, I didn't care, just as long as he stayed down. My foot banged against something, and looking down, I saw Lana waiting patiently for me to hold her, which I did. She felt good, like a shot of extra aged scotch, smooth like a favorite brand of cigarette. I retrieved my holster from the ruins (funny, I don't remember hitting it) of the sleeping giants chair, put it on and slid Lana inside, where she nestled comfortably. ,,,,,,There was a choking sound, and I remembered why this had all happened in the first place. Scooting over to him, I put a hand on his shoulder. He tried to pull away, not surprising really, considering what he's been through. "Michael?" I asked. He tried to huddle deeper into the blanket, hoping everything would go away, and that he'd wake up at home. All safe and sound, monster hidden away in the closet. Problem was, the boogeyman of this nightmare is lying in a mound of straw, and is seven feet of muscle and whalebone. I didn't want to be here if or when he woke up. "C'mon, kid. We gotta go. Your mom's waiting for you." "Mommy?" His head poked out. Christ, the kid was barely eight years old, for crying out loud. I wanted to go back over and kick Big and Gruesome a few times, but it'd have to wait. "Yeah, kid. I'll take you to her. But first we gotta get off the train." Suddenly the radio crackled to life again. Most of it was muffled as I hauled back on the loading door, revealing the world as it whipped by at sixty miles an hour, but I could make out the voice asking if 'it' was done, meaning were we dead. Watching the treed landscape rush by, I was at a loss. We'd likely break something if we jumped here, and it would look like the accident the Voice wanted. Speaking of which, the radio crackled again, demanding Clarence answer him. Nuts. At no time did I think Clarence was the only one of the Voice's thugs on the train. If he got antsy enough… My eyes settled on a coil of rope hanging on the wall, about thirty feet's worth, probably what they used to tie me up. Not much good now, nothing to tie it to, and nowhere to go. And outside, the trees whipped past, just like our chances of escaping. The speaker went dead with a snap!, and my gut told me the jig was nearly up. Likely sending some of his goons over right now. No choice. "C'mon, Mike." I hauled him up, grabbed the coil of rope with my other hand, and hoped that I could think of something before the Voice's goons got here. We went over to the door, and I tied one end of the rope around my waist, then tied part around his. Looking out the door, I saw a bridge coming up fast, bracing girders stretching up, and over the rails. I couldn't see from where I was, but it looked like it was a ways down. And to top it all off, I could hear footsteps, clumping along the roof, heading for the top hatch. The bridge was about thirty seconds away, the sides rising up like a cradle. The river it bridged was about seventy feet down. No way out. Unless… I grabbed the big guy in a fit of inspiration/desperation, and hauled him over to the door, the kid looking at me like I'd lost my marbles. If only he knew what I was thinking… Grabbing the guy's knife as we went by, I made a couple of cuts on the rope, then tied one end to Clarence's ankle, and made a loop in the other, and slid my hand in. I gotta be crazy. The hatch opened, and some five o'clock shadow face shoved through, turning until the beady eyes that came with it locked on to us. He opened his mouth to shout, so I did the only thing it could do, and threw Ugly's knife at him. Whether it hit or not, I didn't know, or care. Grabbing Michael, I jumped out the door, the kid in one hand, the rope in the other. We were in midair just before the first brace of the bridge, and we skinned by it, like a football between the posts, and momentum kept us going both out and forward, where the rope hit the next brace, drawing us up, and the force yanking the body of Tall and Ugly out of the car. Michael and I dropped like a stone, but stopped as Clarence jammed against the brace that the rope was sliding across. Forty feet above the river, Michael was yelling his head off and so was I, him from being scared, and me from nearly having my arm ripped from the socket. Then the pressure lessened, and we fell the last forty feet into the water, which was thankfully deep enough to keep us from becoming human pancakes. I twisted, and took most of the impact myself. We were swept along, the water fast for a few, chaotic minutes, until we rounded a bend, and found a clearer, gentler patch. We took the chance offered, and climbed out. I flopped on the bank, and slipped the rope off, the marks on my wrist so bad that I thought maybe it was broken, but my fingers worked, everything bent only so far then stopped, just like it was supposed to. I turned my head. Michael was curled up on the ground, groaning. If I'd thought he was cold before, he was turning blue now. He wasn't even bothering to shiver. I'd seen this in the trenches, when men froze to death. They just began to go to sleep, and they didn't wake up. I had to get a fire going, before the cold started to settle into the both of us, so I reached for my jacket pocket, where I kept a steel tube, waterproofed to hold emergency matches. I'd had it since the war. I reached for it, only to find it gone like my jacket, stripped off when the Voice's goons first caught me. What the hell was I supposed to do now? Rub sticks together? I was no Indian! But I had to do something! Preoccupied, my back to the water, I didn't hear the splashing until it was too late. A hand latched onto my ankle, pulling me off my feet. I twisted and saw Clarence, waterlogged and no prettier from his dip, one leg obviously broken, his face mashed up worse than before, wheezing as he crawled up the bank towards us. I could see trailing beyond him the rope, still tied to the now broken leg, swaying gently in the current. His teeth, what remained of them, were gritted, coming closer like a gap toothed car grill, bearing slowly down on me. Not bothering to fight the grip on my ankle, I pulled Lana out and let her speak her mind. Unfortunately, he didn't listen the first two times, started to at the third, paid complete attention at the fourth and finally got the message on the fifth try. Lana always liked talking to strangers, and she always smoked when she was done. I kicked myself free of Clarence's bear trap of a hand, and against my better judgment, got closer to search him. Maybe he had some matches or a lighter that might still work. I couldn't help but smile as I took from his pocket my wallet, and a steel cylinder of matches. *** ,,I had a fire going now, an hour after we crawled up the bank, warming us both. It was strange, but though I felt the heat, it didn't seem to affect me much, just like the cold air and water. I had set Ugly drifting down the river, the rocks I shoved into his pockets will eventually weigh him down. I'm sure the fish'll appreciate it. Michael and I were in our underwear, our clothes drying on sticks I'd propped up by the fire. My shirt was in tatters, barely enough to cover my back, but my undershirt had come through all right. We were hungry, but at least we were warm. The kid and I both had bruises ringing our waists where the rope had bitten in. The abraded ring around my wrist had turned the color of raw steak, and my shoulder was sore, but it still worked. My shirt, or what was left of it was dry now, so I handed it over to Michael, who draped it over his shoulders and leaned back against a moss-covered stone. And finally safe and free from his kidnappers, he was soon asleep. I threw some more wood on the fire, and watched the kid for a bit, closing my eyes for only a second, then opening them to find that it was daylight. Mike was still asleep. *** Four days later, broke and tired of eating nearly ripe apples, raspberries off the bush and drinking from hand pumps from the farms we passed, the two of us walked up to the front gate of the Endicott estate. *** Micheal was taking a long, hot bath, ordered by his mother as soon as she finished hugging the life from him, the woman no longer the sadistic bitch she had been, while I ate like a pig in the servant's kitchen. They were still looking at me like I should be in cuffs, but Michael's story left them with no doubt that I was the hero in this particular chapter of his life. I ate the steaming…whatever they'd put down in front of me, barely tasting it. I'd been hungry enough to eat the kid, but then, there wouldn't have been any point to all this. I'd also been given clean clothes by the staff, on order of the Big Man himself, which I appreciated, tucking Lana into my waistband because the leather straps of my shoulder holster needed to be oiled, and a place to throw some water and soap together. I hadn't shaved yet, but I was feeling a lot better. But, something strange had happened out there. Happened to me. I barely felt the cold anymore, the hot water felt lukewarm, even though it steamed. My old clothes looked like they'd been through a cheese grater, but I barely had a mark on me. And the biggest surprise came when I'd looked in the mirror after washing my face. I'd always looked strong, my hard working days 'carving', as my mother said, a good set of muscle. But what I looked like now was crazy, my muscles were harder, like wire under the skin, and my veins stood out like cords. I looked like some of those bodybuilders from out of California. I hadn't ever looked like this before, not even when I was younger. *** ,,The Great Man himself, Carl Richard Endicott, Michael's grandfather and Ellie's father finished shaking my hand. A big man, he'd made his money in the railroad, his fortune rising with oil in Texas and rubies from Africa, along with rubber from the Congo and silks from the Orient. He'd worked for all his money, a fact he proudly held up to the bluebloods he kept company with, scarring his hands from labor and fighting, and his eyes held that look that saw strengths he could use and weaknesses he could exploit. Endicott was self-made, and was refusing to let himself go soft. He sat me down, and we talked, drinking his scotch, and I found we were both Yankees fans. Ha. Common ground. But soon, we talked about the boy, and what had happened. He'd been grabbed from the only spot at the school not visible to supervisors, a corner now bricked and mortared over. The spot had a swinging board, hung on a single nail, that some of the more adventurous boys would use to go truant. I asked him why he'd put his grandson there, and he told me he wanted Michael to see some of the real world, not be locked up with some stuck-up tutor. "Something's going to happen someday," he told me. "And only the people who know the outside world, the real world, will be strong enough to keep what's theirs. Everyone else will lose…everything." Humph. So he's only there to be tough. Well, let's find out how tough the old man is when I change subjects. "How deep in debt is your son-in-law?" I asked him suddenly. His eyes widened only slightly. "I imagine that covering his losses is getting to be quite steep." His eyes narrowed slightly. I continued: "I have it on good authority that he's the worst gambler that most people have ever seen. Matter of fact, I'd bet that he wagered you'd cover his markers and lost." "He's cut off," said another voice, a familiar woman's voice. "He's got a monthly living allowance that most families could live off for most of a year." I had to admit, as she walked into the room towards us, that she had matured beautifully. I started at the top, and worked my way down. Her hair was that rich brown that was almost red, and was pulled back into a simple, long pony tail, not the elaborate styles she used to wear. Her face, heart shaped and pretty, was pale from sleeplessness, and the rings under her eyes stood out starkly. Her neck was long, disappearing into a high collared blouse and tailored skirt that covered a tall, voluptuous body that was out of fashion at the moment, hinting at a strength and passion that would likely draw or intimidate men. "Michael's asleep. Finally," she said, sitting down and pouring herself a glass of what smelled like sherry. Not wanting her to drink alone, I 'settled' for some more whiskey. Then, with her head bowed slightly, she looked at me. She knew who I was. How did she see me now, I wondered. Did she see me as the man who'd saved her child? Or would she see me as the kid from the wrong side of the tracks? She flushed slightly, and looked away, ashamed. "It's all right," I told her. She'd told me enough just by looking away. "It's over." The Old Man thought I was talking about Michael's ordeal, but Ellie knew what I meant. "Is it?" he asked. "You told us yourself that the man who was killed was a flunkie. There was some one else…" "I heard his voice," I told him. "So did Michael. If we ever hear him again…we'll know." Mr. Endicott looked like he wanted to say something, but he seemed reluctant. I asked him something I'd thought of while Michael and I were walking back to the city, dodging cars and hiding from strangers, not knowing friend from foe. Who, I asked him, would inherit if Michael had died? Who would gain from the death of one, or all of the Endicotts? Who would call her Mary, and not Ellie, which I knew for a fact she preferred. The Old man gave me the answer I was expecting. But so, at that moment, did the object of our concerns. Charles Maverly stepped into the room, a smile on his once handsome face, rounded by too many years of good living, a tailored suit that didn't hide the paunch and a Tommy gun in his hands, aimed at us. "The one hundred thousand was more than enough to cover my debts. But I've discovered a thirst for more than mere money. So, I'm afraid that the police will come, and find all of you dead, shot by the kidnappers who took my son. They will leave me alive to deliver the ransom, but my poor, poor son will never be seen again." He smiled wider. "Then, I'll use my new empire to expand my interests. Smuggling to start, but that is only the tip of the iceberg, my friends. New machines are being built everyday, like portable two-way radios that can be held by one person." Yep, I guessed right. Sounds a little different here in the flesh, but Chuck is the Voice. "Yes, machines that will reshape the world as we know it! Weapons of such power, the world will tremble at the thought of their use! Machines of such intelligence and power that they will hold an entire library's worth of books for those who have the power to use them! "Technology, weapons, drugs from exotic lands, slaves for those who wish them, transport for small armies and criminals who can pay the price. All this and more!" "My empire will spread it's wings and soar!" He looked down at the gun in his hands, as if he'd forgotten he was holding it. Then he looked back up, and the grin was replaced by a snarl. "But first…" Ellie winced at the scream following the gunshot, and looked in wonder at her father, herself and then me, unharmed and alive. Charles, on the other hand squalled as blood gushed from his leg. He was rapidly turning pale as he clutched at the wound. The artery hit had been lucky. I pulled Lana out from under the table, her smoking showing that she was pleased with herself. I walked over to Maverly, and looked down. "Should've told us to put our hands up," I told him, watching the fear in his eyes and remembering the terror on the face of an eight-year-old boy. His hands relaxed, as the blood flow slowed, then trickled…and stopped. *** It's been a week and a day now. The elder Endicott was so grateful, he rewarded me with a new wardrobe, had my car retrieved and tuned up and paid me enough to keep the Landlord off my back for a few months. I haven't seen Ellie since that day. She'd taken her son and grabbed a ship to Paris. They should be there soon. Hope the lad likes it. He'd been pretty upset when his mother told him afterward that it had been his own father that had him kidnapped, but I think he was even more upset when he came downstairs after hearing that gunshot, and found me standing over him with Lana still showing her pleasure. He would've come after me with that fireplace poker he'd grabbed if Ellie hadn't grabbed him right then. Her telling him what happened didn't calm him down, but me telling him that it had been his father's voice on that radio drove the point home, and he fell into his mother's arms crying like, well like someone who'd just lost their father. He'd been about to empty that Gat at us, but listening to the kid, I was the one that felt like a heel. None of this reached the scandal sheets, of course. Endicott had a reputation for evening scores. So now, eight days later I was leaning back in my chair, feet up on my desk. I opened my morning paper, ignoring the headlines of 'Where is Maxwell Mercer?' and 'Hammersmith Explosion Still Being Investigated' I know that I missed the damn thing, being unconscious at the time and all, but it was a week ago! Let it go and get back to the really important stuff that everyday schmoes like me need to know. I opened it to the sports page, saw the headline and the story beneath: ,,'NY Yankees Losing Streak Broken. Management Lauds New Player As Savior Of The Team, and Welcomes 'Babe' Ruth to New York City. ,,Nuts. Of course, just when I bet against them… I heard the door open and a thick Irish brogue called out: "Seen the scores yet, me boyo?" finis Written by Christopher 'Quest' Chase
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