- Part Four -
me recap my situation. I had gone to investigate the warehouse
explosion which nearly killed my sister Chris. Having just found
a Vendorian steel plate set into the concrete floor I was stopped
from investigating further by the sound of a gun being cocked.
I wasn't too concerned about the gun. Even when I'm not sporting
my jackal's head I'm bulletproof and with the snout it's like
being hit by a pea shooter. No, what froze me in place was the
sound of my sister's voice telling me not to move. I ask you,
what choice did I have? I did precisely what Chris told me.
"All right," said Chris, "put your hands above your head and no sudden movements."
Once again I followed my sister's instructions. I didn't have any other option except translocating away from there but I still had to know what happened. That meant staying.
"Now get to feet slowly and turn around," my sister ordered.
It was clear to me from Chris' tone of voice that in the dim light she hadn't seen my jackal's head. I was certain that if she had that she wouldn't have sounded quite so confident. Plus, I was pretty sure that there would have been random gunfire if my sister had gotten a closer look at me.
"I don't think you want me to do that," I said speaking for the first time.
"This isn't a debating society. Do it now or I'll arrest you."
"Okay, but you'll have to promise not to freak out."
"Just do it."
I let out an audible sigh and did exactly what I was told. Chris gasped once when she realized how tall I was. However, it was nothing to the sound she made when I turned to face her. Chris' face went deathly pale and she let out a strangled cry. For a moment I thought that she was going to pass out or something but Chris quickly rallied. Within a moment or two her breathing had returned to normal and there was some more color in her cheeks and not once did her gun waver. I was real proud of that.
"Son of a bitch," Chris exclaimed.
"Close, but not quite accurate."
Chris didn't respond verbally but it wasn't necessary. Her expressive eyes did all the talking for her. She stared at me goggle eyed not believing what she was seeing. I could just imagine what turmoil was going on in her head. Before Chris could compose herself enough to speak coherently I began talking.
"I have a pretty good idea what you're thinking right now," I said slowly. "It's happened before. So, I think that I can answer most of the questions that you have. First, you're not imagining anything or having some sort psychotic episode. I really do look like this and no I'm not wearing a mask. I am the Jackal or simply Jackal. What I am is a Wanderer which is the name of my people. So, yes there are more out there like me but you'll never meet them. As to why I'm here. Well, the best way to describe it is as a specialized form of pest control. You got aliens making pests of themselves and I deal with them. And that's it. I'm not going to sell insurance, take over the government, start my own religion, or any nonsense like that. So, any other questions?"
"Why exactly are you here?" asked Chris having recovered her composure.
"Because the explosion that leveled this place and that hatch are not natural. Neither of them have their origins on this planet. I'm here to get to the bottom of all this."
"All right, let's get to work," Chris responded enthusiastically.
"I don't think so. I'm going to investigate and you're going back wherever you came from."
"I'm staying right here."
"Do you have any idea what's going on here. If there are Arions behind all this you won't be able to help and I can't guarantee that you won't get killed."
"I not looking for your help. I can do fine on my own, thank you very much."
I knew Chris' tone of voice. I'd heard a lot growing up. My sister had set her mind to do this and nothing short of physical violence would stop her. Even if it hadn't been against the Wanderer rules there was still no way that I could ever raise my hand to my sister.
"All right," I said admitting defeat, "have it your own way. But do me one favor."
"That depends on what it is."
"Keep your head down and stay out of trouble."
"I'll do my best."
This was the best that I could hope for. So, after heaving a single sigh I went back to examining the steel plate. There were no hinges or visible locking mechanism. I could have just ripped the plate out of the ground but didn't know how many alarms that would set off. Instead, I decided to try a little stealth. I created a force dagger about two feet long and then cut away a section of concrete next to the hatch on an angle.
"What are you doing?" Chris asked after I was done.
"Watch and learn," I replied driving my fingers into the concrete block I'd cut.
Chris gasped when I slowly pulled the block from the ground and casually placed it behind me. Once I'd opened the hole I spent a couple minutes enlarging it. When I was done I had created a tunnel to a tunnel and hadn't disturbed the hatch at all.
"Normally I'd say `ladies first'," I said once the hole was big enough to accommodate my shoulders. "But this is as far from normal as you can get."
I didn't wait for Chris to speak. I just slithered into the hole.
I entered a vertical shaft a couple feet below the hatch. There was a ladder running the length of the shaft next to the hole that I'd created. It was pitch black but that didn't mean anything to me. Chris, however, was a different story. I waited on the ladder and guided my sister's hands and feet to safe hand holds. Once I was sure that she was secure I started down the shaft.
The shaft descended some 75 feet to a tunnel which ran toward the bay. It too was without illumination and because of the chance of Arions being present my senses were on full blast. My ears could hear the sound of distant machinery and my nose detected the scent of numerous Arions as well as a few humans. I was so intent on scouting my surroundings that I forgot about Chris.
"What are you waiting for?" she asked as soon as she stepped off the ladder.
With my hearing on full the sound of Chris' voice rocketed through my skull. I clapped my hands over my ears even as I dialed back their sensitivity.
"Crap, Chris," I exclaimed whirling on my sister, "don't do that."
"Sorry," she responded absent mindedly.
"It's my fault. My ears can be a little sensitive at times."
"Can you see anything?"
"Well, that's all right for you but I can't."
"Don't worry about it," I said taking her hand in mine. "Grab onto my belt."
So, with me leading we headed off down the tunnel. Our progress was slower than it might have been because I was sure that there would be alarms somewhere. I mean Arions might be the Webster's definition of cockiness but even they wouldn't leave a corridor like this unguarded. So, when I reached the laser grid on the floor I wasn't surprised. Chris was, however, when I picked her up and floated her over the grid. We did the floating bit again when I discovered the pressure plates in the floor. By the time we reached the third alarm I knew that we were getting close to our destination as the sound of machinery was quite close.
As soon as I saw it I knew that the floating trick wouldn't work. The walls on either side of the corridor were lined with motion sensors. (I case anyone out there is wondering just how I knew about these various alarms. It wasn't because they were left in plain sight. They were hidden from the naked eye but for someone like me who can read energy signatures they might as well have been marked with big neon signs.) I didn't translocate us both over the trap because of the door a hundred yards beyond it. I was going to make a lot of noise opening it and thought that I might as well get a head start.
"Have you got a quarter?" I asked.
"Sure," replied Chris pressing the coin into my hand.
"Thanks. Now getting down and stay there until it's all over."
Chris hunkered down close to the floor. I took a step toward the motion sensor and then threw the coin into their midst. The results were spectacular to say the least. The instant that the quarter broke the field of the motion sensors the corridor was lit by a dim red light and a loud metallic gong began to sound from beyond the doors. At the same time two large disruptors emerged from the walls and vaporized the coin. They never got a chance to fire a second time as I blew them to bits with a couple shots of my own.
"Are you all right?" I asked turning toward my sister.
"Shit," she exclaimed ignoring my concern. "They know we're here now."
"Yes, I know."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"Why the hell are you going to wait?"
"Because it's not the right time," I replied my attention focused on the activity I heard from behind the Vendorian steel doors.
"Right time for what?"
"Right time for me for me to knock."
Chris looked at me like I'd just grown a second head. (What a revolting idea that is.) However, she never got a chance to verbalized her doubts about my sanity.
"Keep your head down. Stay out of trouble and the first chance you get pick up an Arion side arm. Shooting them with your Gloch would only piss them off," I said turning back to the doors.
It was time.
I focused my attention on the doors. From beyond I could hear the sound of scurrying feet and knew that there was a crowd on the other side. I hit the doors with a combined shot from my hands and eyes. The door vanished in a blast of energy and so did a large section of the surrounding door frame. I sprinted to the now opened doors.
"Knock, knock," I shouted as reached the doors.
I entered a large chamber about the size of a good sized aircraft hanger. Dust and smoke from my force blast filled the air but I could see perfectly well and I knew so could the Arions. It was time to dance.
I charged through the blasted doors without a glance behind me. I knew that Chris would be hot on my heels but I tried to put her presence from my mind. I realized that if I allowed myself to think about my sister and the danger that she was about to put herself in I'd never be able to do my job properly. I might even inadvertently cause the very thing I feared the most through my divided focus. So, I tried to forget that Chris was even present.
As I entered I did a brief survey of the room and its contents. Through the smoke and haze I could see three long metal tables covered with beakers, flasks, and other scientific equipment. Large barrels lined one wall stacked from floor to the top of the twenty foot ceiling. I knew at once that I'd found the drug lab that the DEA and FBI had been looking for.
I didn't have more than a couple of seconds to look around because of a cluster of four Betas. They were in the center of the room erecting a hasty barricade. I took them out with a shot from my eyes and the Betas went flying like rag dolls in a hurricane.
I had no opportunity to assess the results of my force bolt since the moment that I released it I was tackled by a Prime. He was six and a half feet of overly muscular homicidal attitude. He landed two blows to my mid-section before we hit the concrete floor. He hit hard and I definitely felt them but they weren't anywhere near powerful enough to incapacitate me. So, when we landed I was ready for him.
I caught his descending fist with my wrist. His hand smashed into my bracer and the bones were shattered by the force of the impact. The Prime rolled off me howling in pain. He continued to howl even as my force dagger slid home.
Even before I had a chance to get to my feet I was attacked by yet another Prime. She was smarter than her companion. Thus, she didn't attack from the front but from behind. Her muscular arms snaked under mine and before I had a chance to react I found myself in a full nelson. She piled on the pressure forcing my large canine head toward my chest even as I struggled to my feet.
"Quick," she hissed as I finally got my feet under me, "kill it."
I was able to force my eyes up enough to see who see was talking to. Another Prime lurked on the edge of my vision. He waited just long enough to be sure that I was well and truly caught and then he charged. However, he didn't reckon on my eyes. I couldn't raise them high enough to get a shot at his head but I could shoot his knee cap. The Prime ran right into the force bolt which struck the inside of his left knee. It bent sideways as inhumanly strong ligaments, tendons, and cartilage surrendered to my blast. The Arion warrior collapsed to the concrete floor and did not look like he would be getting up anytime soon.
With the second Prime down and out, for the time being, I could focus my attention on the one stuck to my back like a leech. I was stronger that she was and we both knew it. Yet, she was one of the strongest Primes that I'd met so far. In addition, she had the advantage of leverage and a superior position. I tried shaking and I tried rolling on the ground but nothing would shake her off. I was beginning to think that I'd never get rid of her when I had an idea.
I bent my hands back behind me as far as I could. The Prime had her head pressed into my back but I was just able to reach it. I released two force bolts simultaneously. They struck with a deafening roar. The concussion threw me a dozen feet into the air.
The instant that I landed I sought out my erstwhile opponent. It was obvious from the two large indentations in her head that she was no longer a problem.
I turned to the Prime whom I'd previously shot in the knee. He was trying to get to his feet but didn't stay there long as his injured leg folded under him once more. I put a force bolt into his neck and he stayed down. I went over to finish the job but just as I turned him over a voice cried out.
"Touch him and she dies," a female Prime called out.
I looked up from the fallen male. A female Prime stood some thirty feet from me. I couldn't get a good look at her because she was holding my sister in front of her body like a human shield. A GAR disruptor pistol lay at Chris' feet along with the bodies of a couple Betas. So, it seemed that my sister had followed at least some of my advice, not that it mattered a whole lot at that moment.
"Let her go," I said unleashing the full power of the Voice on her. "It's over."
"It's not over as long I have breath in my body," she snarled back defiantly. "First, I shall deal with this pathetic human and then you will feel the full fury of a true Arion Warrior."
"Harm a hair on her head and you'll regret it for the rest of your life. All ten seconds of it."
Had I not been concentrating so intently on the Prime I would have seen the look cross Chris' face and would have known what it meant. As it was I focused completely on the Arion hoping for an opportunity. I was mentally debating the advisability of taking a shot at the Prime when my sister rendered my contemplations moot.
Chris had been forced to drop the GAR but not her regulation pistol. The Prime didn't think of it as any kind of threat and under normal circumstances it wouldn't have been. She hadn't counted on was my sister's ingenuity, however. Chris' left hand held the 9 mm automatic low behind her back. Neither the Prime nor I had any idea what she was planning until Chris began firing. Bullets have little effect on members of the Supremis races. They hardly even feel them. Yet, if they're fired from point blank range into the groin they'll notice. Trust me. I had visual proof of their effect. The Prime screamed like she had been stung by a nest of wasps. She shoved Chris and her annoying pistol away. This was my chance and I jumped at it, literally.
I translocated the distance between us. It put me right in from of the irritated Prime in the blink of an eye. I was in a rage. My fist struck her steel hard abs with all my fury. Air exploded from her lungs and she would have flown across the room if I hadn't had her by the neck. As it was she slumped in my arms. I brought my knee up at the same time forcing her head down. The Prime's once straight nose was smashed to pulp. I let her fall to the floor. I rolled her over and discovered much to my surprise that she was still conscious.
"I still win," she manage to croak out even as I slipped my force dagger between her ribs.
Her body jerked spasmodically. Her fist clenched and depressed the detonator she had hidden there. The whole complex shuddered as the series of explosive began detonating. A large crack in the ceiling opened and San Francisco bay started pouring in. I rushed to Chris' side even as another larger explosion went off. I threw myself atop my sister protecting her vulnerable body with my invulnerable one.
"Hang on, Chrissy," I shouted over the explosion as I took her in my arms.
As I translocated us from the explosive hell which once was an Arion lab I never realized the mistake I'd just made. It soon became apparent, however.
I took Chris and myself to the first place that popped into my head. It was the control room of my ship. The moment that I touched the deck plates I let go of my sister and took a step back. Chris had a look on her face which I'd never seen before. I thought at first that she might have been injured during the fighting or the explosion but as I looked at her I could see no sign of trauma, well, physical trauma. She stared at me blankly and not knowing what to say I stared right back. I have no idea how long the staring went on but it felt like an eternity. Finally, Chris opened her mouth.
"Ross, is that you?"
I was floored by Chris' statement. There was no way she could have guessed that I sometimes went around in human form let alone guess whose head I used when I did. And yet, she had just done it. So, it's hardly surprising that I gaped at my sister for quite awhile before I recovered enough composure to speak coherently.
"I'm afraid you're a little confused miss," I said trying to bluff my way out of this. "I'm the Jackal not this Ross person."
"It really is you," said Chris with more conviction.
"Look miss . . ."
"Don't try it baby brother," she said with that wicked grin which I knew so well. "We both know that you could never lie to me. You might as well admit the truth and save us both a lot of trouble."
I thought about trying to bluff my way out of it. Yet, as I looked at Chris' face I knew that that was now impossible. I could see the conviction growing in her expression as the seconds passed. If I tried to lie to her now she would know it.
"What gave me away," I sighed changing faces.
"Holy shit Ross! It really is you."
"I thought you said that you knew that already," I said hoping that I'd not just made a huge mistake.
"I did but it seemed so impossible that I was half convinced that I was crazy."
"Well, you're not crazy," I responded calling a couple chairs into existence. "You better have a seat Chris."
"So, what gave me away?" I asked once my sister was seated.
"A couple of things. The familiar way you treated me and more importantly what you said to that Arion who had me by the throat."
"You may not remember but you said the exact same thing to Johnny Detmiller."
"Yeah, I remember," I said recalling the high school bully whose girlfriend had convinced him to rough up Chris and my response to it.
"Not just the words were the same," Chris explained, "but the tone and the mannerisms. They were all the same. It was then that I knew for sure."
I knew what was coming next. I could read the questions in Chris' eyes and I moved quickly to forestall them.
"I'm sure you're wondering who I am and how I got this way. Well, it all started like this," I said before launching into my standard `How I became a superhero' explanation.
Chris listened carefully as I explained in as much detail as I felt was necessary. Her eyes went wide a few times but she didn't interrupt. After I was done Chris let the information digest for a few moments before she said anything.
"That's so fantastic," she said at last. "It's like a something from a movie or a comic book and yet, it's real. This is going to be so great."
"Whoa Chris," I said before Chris got completely out of hand. "There are a couple rules."
"First, nobody and I mean nobody learns anything about me. As far as the rest of the world is concerned I'm the same old Ross Archer that I've always been."
"What about Mom and Dad?"
"Especially Mom and Dad, Chris. They can never know."
"But I know that they'd be so proud of you."
"Why? Because I now have the power to beat up alien menaces. That's nothing to be proud of. It was dumb luck that I'm the Jackal and nothing else. I don't do what I do so people will be proud of me or admire me. There's nothing admirable about killing. If Mom and Dad are going to be proud of me then it will be Ross Archer that they're proud of not the Jackal. They'll be proud of the son they gave birth to, the son that raised himself and the life and career I've built for myself. But I think that we both know that's not going to happen."
"Ross . . ."
"Promise me Chris. Promise me that you'll never tell anyone."
"Okay, I promise. I don't like it but I won't tell anyone."
"Thanks," I said relieved. "Now for the second rule. I am not your personal private swat team. Every time you have a tough problem you can't just dial 1-800 Jackal and expect the cavalry to come riding to the rescue. I'm here to protect humanity from alien threats not from itself."
"I understand that Ross. And I'll only call if you can help."
"I'm glad that you understand."
"It was you that saved my life. I thought that it was a dream but it really was you. Wasn't it?"
"Yes it was."
"And you did it because there were Arions involved."
"Yes," I said, dreading the direction this was going.
"Then if they weren't Arions just ordinary criminals you couldn't have done anything to save me."
"According to the rules, no I couldn't have helped. But I don't know if I could have kept that rule. So please Chris, be very careful from now on. I don't to ever want to face that choice again."
"You've got a deal little brother," said Chris, hugging me.
I translocated Chris and myself to a secluded spot near home. After switched back to my human head we walked back. As I expected, Mom was waiting and as I also suspected it wasn't me that she was waiting for.
"Thank God you're back," she said to Chris. "Your father and I have been worried sick about you."
"Chris and I went out for a walk," I said before my sister could speak. "I guess we lost track of time."
"I should have expected that," my mother exploded. "You always were the most irresponsible boy. I would have thought that you'd grown up but I can see that you haven't. You take your sister out God knows where and you don't even have the decency to call. You wretched . . ."
"Mom, shut up!" interrupted Chris.
"Christine!" exclaimed Mom.
"I'm a grown woman. In fact, I'm older than Ross. I'm fully capable of taking care of myself. I forgot to call. If you're going to get angry at anyone it should be me. Ross has done everything to make us all comfortable but the first chance you get jump down his throat. I've never understood . . ."
"Chris, let it be," I said before Chris could really get going.
"But it's wrong."
"I'm used to it by now. It's my problem. Just let it lay."
I didn't wait to see how the situation would resolve itself. The events of the last few days had taken a toll on me and at that moment I needed to rest badly. So, I left Chris and Mom to work things out and went to bed.
The next four days went slowly but they went without incident. Dad barely acknowledged my presence preferring to spend nearly all his time in front of the TV. Mom fluttered around the house fussing over Chris and giving me strange looks but otherwise only speaking to me when she had to. Chris and I spent as much time together as possible. She would try to talk about the Jackal but I'd put her off. The last thing that I wanted to happen would be for Mom or Dad to walk in on a conversation where I was discussing what it felt to fly or some similar topic. I'd put my sister off by saying that we would have a long talk after Mom and Dad returned home.
Finally, after another thorough examination by her doctor Chris, was declared fit enough to live without supervision. Mom wasn't too pleased by this but Chris was chafing under our parents scrutiny. So, calmly but firmly, she stated her intention to return to her own apartment. I had sick idea that my parents would continue to reside with me even after Chris was gone. Thus, I was relieved when they began packing as soon as we got back to my place.
I was hiding in my study waiting for the departures to begin when the door opened. My mother entered slowly and quietly closed the door behind her.
"I need to speak with you."
"Okay," I said dreading another maternal diatribe on my shortcomings as a host.
Mom didn't speak right away. She paced around the room looking at the pictures on the walls and finally stopping in front of one of the bookcases. She picked up one of my books and turned it over in her hands.
"I didn't know that you'd written a book," she said softly.
"I've written three books, Mom."
"I didn't know that. I didn't know that you got a black belt when you were fifteen. All my friends saw you on television talking about the Great Pyramid. I had to lie to them when they talked about it with me because I hadn't seen it. They all told me how proud I must be of you and what you've accomplished. Your my son and I don't know anything about you. And I know that it's all my fault. You came to me so many times and I always pushed you away and kept pushing you away. Even after Christine was hurt and I got a second chance I kept pushing you away. This morning as I was packing it finally hit me. This might be the last time I ever see my son. I couldn't leave with things the way they are."
I wanted to say something to mother to help her but I couldn't find the words. So, I waited for her to continue.
"I know now that I wasn't much of a mother to you," Mom said, looking at my picture on the dust jacket, "and I know that I can't make up for years of neglect. I can only say that I am very proud of the man my son has become and that I wish that I could claim a larger part in his creation."
Mom put down the book and moved toward me. I knew what she was trying to do and stepped closer to her. Mom opened her arms and I moved into her embrace. I could feel her silent tears on my shoulder but didn't mention them. I didn't want to embarrass her.
"I've always loved you Ross."
"I've always known that you loved me," I lied.
"Your father needs me," Mom said stepping back.
"I know and I understand," I said. "Come on, I'll help you with your bags."
Melythra stood next to me on the porch and watched Mom and Dad's rental pull away from the curb.
"Now you know that your mother loves you and is proud of you," she said as we watched the car disappear into the distance.
I wasn't surprised that Melythra knew about our private conversation. She'd long since decided that in order to be a better Companion she would have to occasionally peeked into my mind. At any other time I would have made an issue of it but right then I couldn't be bothered.
"Yes, now I know," I sighed. "Although part of me wishes that I didn't."
"Why should you wish such a thing?'
"Because now I can't help wondering about what might have been."