The true measure of a man

is not how he behaves in moments of comfort and convenience,

but how he stands at times of controversy and challenge.

-Martin Luther King Jr.






It was 8:30p.m. and Brian stood outside Jo’s apartment, a slightly queasy look on his face. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to the coming conversation, and his nervousness stemmed largely from the fact that he still didn’t know what he was going to tell her. . .but he had to tell her something.

A week had gone by since his return to his apartment and it hadn’t been an easy one. He had had to catch up on some outstanding work he was doing for an advertising company that was upgrading their whole computer network. He had done some fast talking to try to explain his three-week absence and to convince them to let him finish the job. The fact that he was very good at what he did helped matters immensely. The majority of money from that job had gone straight toward his rent for the month plus several other bills that were pending payment. Add to that the fact that he had spent four hours every night in Robert Mitchell’s underground lab, honing his abilities and learning to control them, and the result was that he had little to no time to concentrate on anything else. . .especially on what explanation he was going to give Jo about his sudden disappearance for three straight weeks.

Brian sighed and wondered, not for the first time, why what Jo thought of him was so important. Hell, they hadn’t really known each other for that long anyway. And even though she was a good listener to his problems when he felt like talking(which wasn’t all that often) they were just friends anyway. Sure they had slept together once or twice. . .but both times had been extremely high pressure situations for one or the other of them.

The first time being when his parents had come to his apartment to try to ‘reason’ him into going back to college(actually threaten would probably be a more accurate description than ‘reason’). After the big argument which was sparked off as a result, Jo had come over and he had told her everything and they had talked for a large portion of the night about it. During the course of their discussion they had found themselves in each other’s arms and then in his bed. Afterward, she had left and neither of them had spoken about it since.

The second time it happened was when Jo suddenly found that the apartment building was being audited by the IRS right in the middle of her mid-terms. Brian had found himself helping her through the whole experience. And one night when Jo had given up on both her exams and getting her accounts together, he had been there to give her the support she needed to go on. And again they had wound up in bed for the night. Again, neither one had spoken to the other about it afterwards.


Stupid Bri, real stupid. Just walk away now and forget it. Except that he found that he couldn’t do that. Of course, by the same token, he was having trouble just knocking at her door too. Josephine Senryo isn’t worth all this trouble. . .you’ve got enough of your own shit to worry about right now, REALLY. God knew that was true enough. The decision he’d made two days earlier didn’t hold any promises for an easy future.

Suddenly, Brian shook his head vigorously as if to clear it and turned to face Jo’s apartment door again. His handsome face was creased with thought as he raised his hand to knock at the door in front of him. Again he hesitated as he recalled the events of the last three days.

It had started on Tuesday morning. His training session on Monday night in Robert’s underground lab had gone extremely well. He was finally learning to control the level of his electrical discharges so that he could choose between disabling a man and demolishing a building with relative ease(that had taken a while to master, but Brian felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when he did get it right). He had discovered that the electrical field which had acted to protect his skin from the friction of high speed travel during his first flight could now be called forth at will.

The field was actually so powerful that it provided an almost impenetrable barrier against physical force as well as projected energy. Robert had surmised that the barrier comprised of an intensely dense cloud of electrons, packed so closely together that they formed a solid barrier. And even if something did manage to penetrate it, the flow of so much concentrated electricity through an object would cause it to melt or vaporize due to the impossibly high conductivity required to allow such a high current to flow.

During his practice sessions he had discovered that it became easier and easier to call forth the field at will. The biggest problem had been the drain caused by simultaneous flight and the external projection of the field at the same time. For some reason, he drained fairly quickly after 25 minutes of high-speed flight with his field on. Of course, the alternative was to get peeled like a banana every time he went past mach 0.6 or so. . .not a comforting prospect in the least.

His decision on how to actually put his new abilities to use came quite unexpectedly. He woke up around 7:30 am on Tuesday(his usual time) and had sleepily trudged his way toward the kitchen to scrounge up breakfast(Brian found that he ate a lot these days although he never gained any weight. And so he had stopped skipping breakfast as he used to do at least three days a week). He stopped on the way, long enough to flip the t.v. on and then turned back toward the kitchen.

The t.v. was on a local channel which was just broadcasting a news update. Brian usually didn’t watch the news if he could help it, so he found it a very strange thing indeed when he was suddenly seized by an inexplicable urge to watch this particular news update. With sleep still in his eyes, he dropped onto the couch.

The anchor woman was the apotheosis of all anchor people. She was in her early thirties, a brunette and had green eyes. Everything else about her possessed the artificial, clay-like quality that all news personalities seemed to be steeped in. Her hair was perfectly done without a single stray lock. Her make-up was the perfect tone, her teeth the shiny white of polished ivory. Brian noticed all these things but paid little attention to them. He instead found himself listening with rapt attention to her comments regarding the latest local news stories.

She began with a few sound bites about local politics and then went on to relate a story about a man found in a dumpster with all his entrails neatly removed as if by a surgeon. . . possibly the work of a serial killer the police had said. She then continued with several stories about various drug-related crimes, saying that statistics were showing an alarming increase in illegal narcotics in L.A. She finished by relating a story of a bank robbery in east L.A. where three tellers had lost their lives. . . there was still no make on the identity of the perpetrators. The anchor woman ended the news update by asking: ‘And what about the so-called ‘heroine’ known the world over as SuperFemme? What exactly is she and the others of her kind doing to combat the crime that’s now infesting the street’s of L.A.? Not very much it seems. From all indications these ‘Protectors’ are often far too busy with their own personal battles to deal with these ‘smaller’ matters. A pity indeed for the people of L.A. and the whole world. . .’

Brian hit the power button on the remote and the t.v. went dead. The news report had jarred something inside him. He realized just how easy it was for the people to steel themselves against even the darkest aspects of human nature. How many times had he heard similar reports on the t.v. and the radio? How many times had he ignored them or changed the channel to find something ‘better’ to watch or listen to? What had finally made him take notice this time?


Maybe its the fact that I can do something about it. . . I have to do something about it, he thought to himself. Brian sat on the couch for almost five minutes. His mind seemed flooded by everything that had happened to him in the last month. The images of all that he had become, all that he had done overwhelmed him for several long moments. And then he was off the couch and picking up the telephone. He rapidly dialed Robert Mitchell’s number. The phone was answered on the second ring and Robert’s deep voiced ‘Hello’ greeted him on the other end.

Brian had paused briefly and then said: ‘Mitchell, it’s Brian. I’ve been doing some thinking. . .’ Liar! A voice in his head had interjected. You haven’t been thinking at all.

‘Look,’ he continued, ‘I want to do something with all this power inside me. I think that if I don’t, I’ll go crazy.’ He paused but when Robert said nothing he continued: ‘I want to help people. I know it sounds corny as hell, and I know that its probably insane but there’s a lot of crime and corruption out there. . .a lot of stuff that the cops can’t or won’t touch. What I’m trying to say is that I think I can make some sort of difference. But I’m gonna need some help to do it.’ Brian paused and waited for Robert to tell him he was crazy or that he was dreaming if he thought he could make even a small dent in the big pile of dirt that covered L.A. and indeed the whole world.

Instead, Robert merely said: ‘Stop by at twelve today and we’ll have lunch and work on the fine details. Right now, I’ve got an experiment running that needs my attention.’ Damn, doesn’t anything ever surprise him? It’s like he knew that this is what I’d decide. Brian’s train of thought was interrupted by the muted click of Robert hanging up on the other end. And that was how it started. His decision to use his abilities out in the open.

He suddenly found his thoughts returning to the present and to the beautiful young woman behind the door in front of him. Sighing, Brian raised his hand again to knock on Jo’s door. And again found himself interrupted. This time by a familiar voice. . .

‘Hey, Bri,’ Rick shouted from down the corridor behind him, ‘Mitchell told me to get ahold of you. He says there’s something going on that you might be interested in, but you gotta move fast on it. . .’ Fucking great. Brian shook his head and rolled his eyes heavenward.




Downstairs, in his apartment, Brian found his mood rapidly shifting from nervous to more than a little pissed off. The longer he put off talking to Jo, the harder it was going to get. Shit.

Rick was sprawled in his usual fashion on Brian’s couch, and Brian noted with a certain amusement that this was the exact image of Rick that had come to stick in his head these days: Sprawled on his couch and eating his food(when there was food present in the apartment, which wasn’t often these days).

‘So anyway, Rob says to tell you that there’s some sort of hostage situation in a warehouse on the Santa Monica docks. Pier 3 I think,’ Rick said casually.

‘Great. I was hoping to start off with a purse snatcher or something. And what the hell do you mean ‘pier 3 I think’?’ Brian was pulling a large duffel bag out of his closet.

Sitting up and running a hand through his shoulder length, blonde hair, Rick hurriedly corrected himself: ‘I meant to say that I was sure it was pier three. Anyway, Rob says it looks like a bunch of guys got caught off-loading drugs from a boat. They holed up in the warehouse where they were unloading it and took some dock workers hostage. That’s as much as he could get from tapping into the police radio traffic.’

‘I guess it’ll have to do.’ Brian unzipped the bag and pulled at a hidden catch inside which popped open to reveal a false bottom. Underneath, was a dark gray suit and like-colored, calf length boots and gloves.

Brian hurriedly pulled it out of the bag and then began to quickly undress. The distaste he felt at having to wear the suit was evident on his face as he pulled the skintight pants on. The material was unlike anything Brian had ever seen before. This was due to the fact that it was a prototype fabric developed by Robert Mitchell. The material had the approximate strength of Kevlar but was molecularly engineered to be almost completely smooth. It’s purpose was to allow Brian to fly at high speeds without having to extend his field. It minimized the friction caused by flight, allowing Brian to achieve supersonic speeds. The aerodynamic smoothness of the suit was testified to by its almost glossy appearance.

Despite the obvious benefits of having the suit, however, Brian hated it. It was too close to something from a comic book. The waist of the pants and the bottom of the top half of the suit were both encircled by half-inch thick metallic bands with snaps all around them. When they were both on, they fit together to form a single garment. Since it was tailor made for him, it would appear as if he was wearing a single-piece suit with a belt on. The most annoying part of it for Brian though, was the mask attached to the neck of the top garment. . .it completely covered his face(he hated the idea of it) and there were two thick lenses in the eyelets.

The lenses were also specially designed by Robert Mitchell. They were composed of a special transparent plastic which altered its light-affecting properties with tiny changes in electrical voltage being passed through it. He and Robert had wired a small battery pack and control mechanism into the metallic belt on the suit. Actually, Brian had designed the circuitry himself based on Robert’s specs(two years of electrical engineering at F.I.T had to count for something after all). The device gave him telescopic sight when he wanted it, as well as the ability to see in the infrared spectrum. As great as it all sounded though, Brian was still not entirely sure if it was all necessary. Still, he told himself that every extra was to his advantage so he accepted it without too much protest.

He finished dressing, pulling on his gloves last of all and turned to face Rick who was staring appraisingly at him. Brian stood with his arms at his sides, his hands clenched into half-fists. ‘What?’ he asked Rick suspiciously.

‘Nothing, it’s just that I think that this is a great look for you,’ Rick replied grinning maliciously. Brian rolled his eyes and quickly went into his bedroom to look at himself in the mirror.

The suit fit him almost like a second skin, but even though it was skin tight, the material it was made of was thick enough in the right places to preserve his dignity. Even though he didn’t think it would be quite enough to preserve his dignity if got an erection. The final annoying thing about it was the symbol on his chest. . .a pair of blue lightning bolts(one on each side of his chest) slanted inward to meet just under his breastbone. He had Rick to thank for that. His best friend had decided that he needed to add some ‘pep’ to his look, which to Brian was ridiculous because he wasn’t out to set any fashion trends. However, before he could voice any objection to it, Rick had already convinced Robert to include the design in the suit.

Brian walked back out of his bedroom and opened his south-facing window wide enough for him to get through. He put one foot on the sill, then threw a backward glance at Rick who was casually channel-surfing and grumbling about Brian not having cable yet.

‘How long are you planning on staying here anyway?’ Brian asked him.

‘Umm. . .not sure really. I figured I’d wait for you to get back, if you don’t take too long. But if you get tied up, I’ll find my own way out, don’t worry.’ Rick went back to flicking between channels. Sometimes it amazed Brian to see just how nonchalant his friend could be about stuff like this. Here he was, ready to fly off to the scene of a crime, wearing a body-suit and Rick seemed more concerned with watching BayWatch.

Shaking his head, glad that Rick couldn’t see his grin through his mask, Brian said: ‘Just don’t close this window Ok?’

‘Just don’t do anything stupid out there Ok?’ Came Rick’s reply as Brian stepped out the window and soared into the night sky.




Detective Jason Sanders surveyed the chaos before him with an increasing feeling of nausea. The scene was like something out of a bad cop movie: Black and white patrol cars had encircled a warehouse near pier 3 in the Santa Monica docks. There were snipers moving into strategic positions, uniformed officers were marking off police borders with yellow tape, and there was a police helicopter on its way if what he heard from the radio traffic was true.

Jason’s head started to throb painfully. He pulled a bottle of aspirin from his top pocket and flipped two of them into his mouth. He was standing next to his car, an ‘89 Porsche and just about the only luxury item he had really ever allowed himself. A cop’s salary didn’t exactly give one unlimited spending power. The fact was that he had bought the car from the owner right after it got caught in the middle of a three-car collision for a fraction of its cost. Then he had spent the next two years restoring it to its former perfection. . .a combination of scrounging for parts where he could get them cheaply, careful budgeting, and maneuvering around his wife. He took a half full bottle of mineral water from the top of the dash, uncapped it and took a swallow to wash the aspirin down. God, he hated this.

Jason forced himself to look at the circus unfolding before him and cursed his luck at having to be the one responsible for controlling it. As luck would have it, he had a reputation for being successful at extracting hostages intact from similar situations. His promotion to detective had actually been the result of his rescue of a bank full of people from three armed robbers. With no backup he had managed to apprehend all three perpetrators with no injury to the civilians in the bank. Since then he had handled several other hostage situations with a high degree of success(becoming a lieutenant in the process), building a reputation for himself as an expert at ‘civilian retrieval’ as his chief liked to call it.

The kicker about tonight was that he was three minutes from being off-duty and just about to head home after a thirteen hour day when he got the call from his chief to take charge of ‘a possible hostage situation’. As it turned out the situation was closer to impossible than anything else. It seemed two uniformed officers on routine patrol had gotten a tip from a source on the street about a boat that was off-loading a drug cargo in the docks. The two officers had gone straight to the pier that their ‘source’ had specified in an apparent effort to single-handedly apprehend the suspects. There was never any call for back-up(standard procedure when you were going into a possibly dangerous situation). The two rookies figured they’d just make an easy arrest and go home heroes. As it turned out, they never got home at all.

‘Damn!’ Jason said to himself. ‘Why didn’t they just follow procedure?’

At that moment, a uniformed officer ran up to Jason holding out a cell phone.

‘It’s them, sir. They phoned the precinct and they patched it straight through to here. They want to present their list of demands.’

Jason took the phone in his right hand, took a deep breath and took his aspirin into his left hand. It was definitely going to be a quadruple Tylenol night.




Brian rapidly gained an altitude of around 1000 feet and then began to accelerate, heading west toward Santa Monica. His thrill at being able to fly so effortlessly was something that never seemed to wear off. And even though he was heading toward a potentially hazardous situation, Brian enjoyed the freedom of flight just as much as if he was out flying for the hell of it.

The suit seemed to be doing its job efficiently and Brian gradually increased his speed until he broke the sound barrier with a resounding sonic boom. East L.A. rapidly fell away behind him as he passed over Downtown L.A. and continued on over Santa Monica. Then he began a spiraling descent while decelerating, leveling out at about 400 feet over the Santa Monica docks.

Brian had no trouble locating the place that Rick had told him about. The warehouse was surrounded by patrol cars and ringed with flood lights. There were nearly a hundred uniformed officers milling around as well as S.W.A.T. team snipers positioning themselves among the crates and containers surrounding the warehouse. Brian used the control dial on his belt to zoom in on the chaos. The special lenses in his mask easily magnified the scene, and Brian felt as is he was looking through military issue binoculars as the ground seemed to leap towards him. He was looking for the cop in charge of the whole operation in hopes of getting some more info on what was actually happening.

Finally, he spotted a red sports car parked a fair distance away from the general chaos. There was a black man standing next to it who seemed to be in late middle years judging from the amount of white in his hair and short, well-trimmed beard. Brian could see quite clearly from the illumination produced by the dozens of high-intensity lights that pervaded the scene. The man was just ending a conversation on a cell phone and it seemed to Brian that he was definitely not in a good mood. As Brian watched, hovering well out of sight, the man turned and barked several orders at a uniformed officer who hurried off immediately.

Seeing that the cop was more or less alone, Brian decided to seize the opportunity to talk to him . . . Slowly descending, he drifted over until he was just behind the cop’s back, about 10 feet off the ground. Then, Brian soundlessly landed and stood with his arms folded across his chest, quickly mulling over in his mind the best approach to use in offering his help. Unfortunately, he delayed a little too much and the cop seemed to sense his presence, because he suddenly spun to face Brian. On seeing the gray-suited, masked man standing behind him, the detective immediately reached for the gun in his shoulder holster.

‘Wait!’ Brian said quickly. ‘I’m here to help you.’ The cop ignored him and smoothly drew his .45 magnum. Pointing it at Brian’s forehead. Brian had to force his body not to erect it’s protective field. The electrical barrier had now become almost a reflex at the first sign of danger, thanks to Robert Mitchell’s rather radical training methods.

Brian quickly concentrated and relaxed. . .willing himself to be calm. If the field triggered itself, the display would undoubtedly attract attention as well as probably cause the cop to panic and fire. Brian couldn’t risk the ricochets so he raised his arms to show that he intended no harm and prayed the cop wouldn’t just shoot anyway. The material in his suit, though a lot like Kevlar, was no where near thick enough to stop a bullet fired from close range.

‘Who the hell are you? And what the hell are you doing here?’ The cop’s hands were steady as they grasped the gun, signifying his comfort with the weapon as well as his willingness to use it.

Looking more closely at the man if front of him, Brian was forced to reassess his earlier guess at the man’s age. Despite the amount of gray in his hair, the cop had a relatively youthful face and a strong build that marked him as a lot younger than Brian had surmised. His voice also had a youthful tilt to it. Brian now thought he looked to be in his mid to late thirties.

‘Ok, just take it easy with the gun and I’ll explain everything. . .’ Above all else, Brian wanted as little attention drawn to himself as possible right now. He needed information and time to form a plan of action.

‘I don’t want any explanations, asshole. This is a sealed-off police crime scene. . .’ The cop paused just then. ‘How the hell did you get in here anyway? This area is completely sealed off.’

‘Look, like I said before, I’m here to help. I know you’ve got a tough hostage situation here, but I think I can get them all out without any innocents getting hurt.’ Brian knew he had to convince this cop that he was serious. The trouble was that any display of his power right now would more than likely cause him to fire the gun, and the sound of gunfire would bring hordes of cops to their location. . .something he wanted to avoid for the moment. ‘I have certain resources that you don’t, so why don’t you just put the gun away and we’ll talk, Ok?’

‘In the first place, you’ve broken onto a crime scene in direct violation of police authority. In the second place, you’re wearing a mask and a body suit like some kind of modern day ninja. And to top it all off, you’re telling me you can extract these half dozen hostages without getting any of them killed, does that about cover it?’ Brian said nothing. ‘Well I got some news for you, ninja-boy. You’re under arrest for intruding on a police crime scene and obstructing justice. You’re spending the rest of the night in jail.’ The cop reached into his jacket for his radio.

‘I wouldn’t do that just yet if I were you,’ Brian said. His words were calm and even and deadly serious. The cop stopped in the midst of pushing the ‘talk’ button on his hand-held radio. ‘Before you try to arrest me, I want you to watch something very carefully.’

Before the cop could reply, Brian began to rise off the ground. He did it very slowly and gradually. Inching his way off the ground and continuing to rise into the air. At first, the cop thought that the masked man in front of him was standing on tip-toe. The man in the strange suit was several inches taller than he was. When the man continued to rise, though, he quickly glanced down to see that his feet weren’t touching the ground. The cop’s jaw dropped open in shock and he continued to stare at the impossibility occurring right before his eyes.

Brian stopped his ascent when his feet were four feet off the ground. ‘Ok,’ he said to the stunned policeman looking up at him. ‘Can we talk now?’




The two Xeniky hunters, Vort Ak Grich and Xarg Nor Treg stood at the base of a snow-capped mountain, surveying the area around them. Both wore large, metallic, exo-skeletal bio-suits. The high-tech armor was standard Xeniky equipment when visiting ‘potentially hostile’ environments. The actual truth was that the formidable array of weapons and scientific devices contained in the bio-suits were the instruments by which the Xenikyan race had conquered and subdued many planets and races in their unquenchable thirst for wealth and technology.

The two alien creatures had come to the Rocky Mountains in an effort to locate the source of the distress beacon that had sounded as one of their ships had crashed in the well-known mountain range.

‘Its gone.’ Zarg’s hissing voice was unmistakably angry. ‘The ship isn’t here and neither are the Mordicons.’

‘Your grasp of the obvious is truly astounding, Zarg.’ Xort raised an armor-clad talon which held a small black cube with several tiny lights flashing on it. ‘This distress beacon must have been dislodged from the ship during the crash. It is amazing that it still functions at all.’

‘Well it worked well enough to continue broadcasting that signal for more than eleven Earth-years. Fortunately for us, that supply ship decided to detour through this backwater system and happened to pick up the signal.’ Zarg’s hissing voice was full of malicious mirth now. ‘The idiots didn’t even realize that they could have become rich beyond anything they had imagined, just by stopping to collect the Mordicons and returning them to the Xeniky High Council.’

‘Yes, well now that honor falls upon our shoulders doesn’t it?’ Xort now pulled a small, wafer-like device from a compartment on his bio-armor. Attaching it to an interface on the left arm of the suit, he began issuing a complex series of commands to the tiny yet powerful tracking device. As he worked deftly on calibrating the device, Xort’s tail(also clad in the high-tech armor of the suit), writhed and twisted.

Zarg began to pace thoughtfully. His reptilian legs imparted him a grace and ease of movement that one would not usually associate with a creature of his size. In truth, Xenikyan physiology was about 50% natural evolution, with the other half being solely the result of constant genetic tampering and ‘improvements’ added by Xenikyan geneticists over many generations. In fact, a part of the Xenikyan preoccupation with stealing technologies and sciences was so that they could continue to change their bodies and force their ‘evolution’.

‘How do we find the ship now?’ He finally asked Xort, turning to face the other alien.

‘Zarg, we aren’t here for the ship remember? You said it yourself, we’re here to take the Mordicons. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if we can trace the ship or not because we can track the energy signature of the nanobots, whether they are with the ship or not, and whether they are with Mord or not.’ Behind the armor, Xort’s lizard-like face twisted into a chilling version of a Xenikyan smile.

‘Then you know where they are?’ Zarg was not scientifically inclined. Something which Xort was well aware of. Still, they made a formidable team because Zarg supplied ruthlessness and cruelty to back up the vast array of knowledge and technological know-how which Xort provided. Even so, neither of them harbored a great affection for the other. It was an arrangement which suited them both quite well in the scheming, deceptive world in which they lived.

‘They are in a city on this same continent by the name of Los Angeles. The signatures show some slight variations than what has been programmed into our databanks, but that could just be Mord’s attempt to keep them hidden from us. I’m positive that we have the right place.’ A malevolent light began to show in Zarg’s eyes when he heard Xort’s findings.

‘Well then, let’s pay a visit to this ‘Los Angeles’ and collect our due. And offer up a prayer for any of these humans who would seek to stand in our way. . .’




Brian floated gently back to the ground with the cop’s disbelieving gaze never leaving him for a second. He threw a quick glance around to make sure that no one was paying any attention to them, possibly catching his little display of levitation just now.

‘Umm. . .you know, if you don’t blink, your eyeballs are gonna dry out.’ Brian’s mask hid his amused grin.

‘What?’ The other man shook his head to as if to clear it and then seemed to regain a measure of his former control and calm. ‘Who are you?’ He asked, his eyes now alert and wary again. ‘How in the hell did you do that?’

‘Ah. . . now you’re asking the wrong questions. What you really need to know is that I can help you get those hostages out. And that I can do it safely.’ Brian raised his left hand and held his index finger and thumb about three inches apart. A tongue of electricity suddenly appeared between the two extended fingers, linking them with a slight crackle. ‘Well, relatively anyway.’

Lieutenant Jason Sanders watched in abject fascination as the dark-suited man in front of him casually played with the small ribbon of electricity caught between his two fingers. A flash of recognition suddenly showed on his face before he spoke again. ‘You’re one of them aren’t you. Those aliens that keep showing up in the news. . .like SuperFemme right?’

Brian sighed. The tongue of energy between his fingertips vanished. ‘I am definitely not an alien Ok? I just happen to have the means to make your job easier. Now you can stand here all night asking me questions that I’m not going to answer or you can fill me in on exactly what’s going on so I can keep those people in there from becoming death statistics in a police report.’ Brian had decided that he wasn’t in a sociable mood at all.

Just then a uniformed officer ran up to them. ‘Lieutenant Sanders? I just wanted. . .’ He broke off as he took in Brian’s dark-clad form next to the lieutenant who still had his gun out. He immediately drew his own revolver and leveled it at Brian. ‘Lieutenant, what’s going on here?’

‘You know. . .I am really getting tired of people pointing guns at me tonight,’ Brian said, his voice rising in frustration.

‘Stand down Chase. It’s Ok.’ Sanders put his own gun back in its holster.


‘I said stand down. That’s an order!’ Brian saw the uniformed officer hesitate for a few seconds longer, then holster his revolver. ‘Now get over here, you might as well hear this too.’

‘Lieutenant, are you sure about this? I mean. . . who is this guy?’

‘You know, that’s exactly what I just asked him.’ Sanders turned expectantly toward Brian.

‘Like I said before, its not important. What is important is getting those people out of there without getting them killed in the process. Now, can someone please fill me in on exactly what happened here, or do I just walk up to that warehouse and knock?’ Brian waited for an answer.

The younger cop, Chase, looked quizzically at Sanders, his face mirroring his confusion about who or what Brian was supposed to be.

‘It seems that our masked friend here, is one of these ‘super’ people that keep coming up on the news and magazines.’

‘You mean the ones that are supposed to be aliens?’ The young officer now turned to look at Brian apprehensively, almost as if he expected him to sprout tentacles or worse.

‘Hey!’ Brian’s hold on his frustration was loosening. ‘I’m not an alien Ok? And I seriously doubt that any of the people you see in the news are aliens either. The point is that I can do certain things that you can’t right now. . .like getting those hostages out of that warehouse. Now one of you better tell me what we’re up against.’

Sanders spoke first. ‘Alright, this is the whole story. From top to bottom.

‘At around 7:30 tonight two officers somehow got tipped off that a boat by name of ‘Viva Maria’ was making a drug drop right here in the docks. Apparently all the right people got their pockets lined in green and security was extra light. So light in fact, that all the guards on duty were found with neat little bullet holes in the left side of their chests.

‘Anyway, they took a patrol car and decided to check it out for themselves. . .I don’t know, I guess they were figuring that if they could make a bust this big alone. . .they’d get promotions or commendations, or at least get noticed. . .damn it!’ Sanders smacked his clenched, right fist into his other open palm. ‘Why in God’s name didn’t they call it in!?’

Sanders paused for several long moments before he got himself back under control. Brian suspected that the older cop rarely ever lost it and that tonight was one of those rare times.

Sanders seemed to regain a measure of his composure and continued: ‘From what we gather, they got down to the pier where the boat was off-loading the shipment. Only instead of finding a few skittish street bums trying to make a quick buck by off-loading someone else’s drugs, they ran into a group of highly trained, professional killers with superior weapons.’ Sanders’ voice was quiet with a suppressed anger that threatened to boil over any moment, but somehow he managed to keep his head and continue.

‘They shot Joe Redman first. He was the senior officer. The other cop was a rookie- Kevin Croft. When Croft saw Redman go down, he decided to try to call for back-up. He got off enough to let us know what was happening before they got him too.

‘After that, we can only guess that they finished unloading whatever it was they were ‘importing’. They stashed it in the warehouse closest to the pier where the boat docked, probably to be picked up later. But then things started to get complicated, see? Because there were some dock workers here at the time and they saw the whole thing. They dialed 911 but there were already four patrol cars on the way.’ Sanders leaned back against the side of his car and shook his head. ‘Of course by the time our people arrived, the perps already had these guys rounded up. And instead of trying to make a run for it, they opted to hold up in the warehouse in an attempt to bargain their way out.’ Brian saw Sanders pop open a bottle of pain-killers and swallow a couple, washing them down with a swig of mineral water from a bottle on his dashboard.

‘It’s just our luck that the damn place is perfect for a siege,’ Sanders continued. ‘Three stories high with all the windows on the top two floors. The door is barred and the assholes inside say they’ve got explosives wired to it with motion-sensitive detonators just in case we decide to play heroes and storm the place. What a fucking perfect night!’

‘What are they asking for?’ Brian spoke so suddenly that Sanders was a bit startled to hear his voice.

‘Well that’s the funny part. I just got off the phone with one of `em. Seems that they want us to let a couple trucks in here to pick up whatever contraband they shipped in. Then they want us to allow those trucks safe passage out of Santa Monica to wherever they’re supposed to go. There’s to be no police helicopters or attempts to follow the vehicles. Apparently, they have a way of staying in contact with whoever’s making the pickup, who in turn seems to have a way of knowing exactly what we’re up to. At least that’s what they’re saying, and at this point, I’m inclined to believe it.’

‘You think they’re serious about this?’ Brian asked him, crossing his arms and turning to look straight at Sanders.

‘Oh I think they’re about as friggin serious as a nuclear meltdown. I’ve never heard of this kind of ransom demand. . .ever. They don’t want money, they don’t want amnesty. . . all they want is to finish the job they started. This kind of dedication isn’t something you see in the average hired muscle. The one on phone sounded like he was taking a Sunday stroll in the park. I don’t mind telling you- this scares the hell out of me.’

Brian took a few seconds to think through everything Sanders had told him. If Sanders was right, then these guys were the kind of people who would do anything to get what they wanted or die in the attempt. And if that was true, then his intervention could well be at the cost of several innocent lives. Of course the alternative was to let the police try to do things their way and be almost assured that some or all of the hostages would die anyway.

No, walking away was no longer an option. He had to do something.

‘How long do you have until they demand an answer?’ Brian asked Sanders as he turned to look at the large warehouse which was now bathed in the bright glow of police floodlights, like an absurd magical castle in a twisted fairy tale.

‘They want their answer in twenty minutes.’ Chase, who had been silent throughout the whole conversation, whistled as Sanders told Brian how much time they had left.

‘What are we gonna do sir?’ Chase turned to Sanders.

‘We’re going to do this my way.’ Brian interjected, before the lieutenant could answer. Sanders looked as though he was about to protest but Brian cut him off again. ‘I’m not going to stand here and argue about this with you, Sanders. Those men in there have your ass in a sling. Now I need you to work with me on this.’

‘No way! We have go by the book on this one. The chief’s on his way here to make the call on this. . .’

‘Screw the chief’s call on this. People are going to get shot if we don’t do something now. Now listen to me very carefully. I’m going in there to get those hostages out. You don’t have to do anything except tell your people to kill all the lights in the area right now.’


‘Are you insane? Do you know how many officers and S.W.A.T units we have deployed out there? For God’s sake. . .’ Sanders looked about ready to split at the seams.

‘I just need you to turn them off until I get inside, Ok? After that you can light fireworks and have a friggin’ parade for all I care. Now do it, because I’m going in with or without your ‘permission’!’

Sanders seemed about to protest again, but something about the other man made him stop and think. This guy was serious. There was something about him that seemed to say he could do exactly what he said he was going to. . . it was almost as if there was a huge well of power inside him, one that he was fully capable of using to achieve whatever he wanted. Sanders had to admit that if anyone stood a chance of getting those people out, this mysterious figure, somehow, was the most likely candidate.

After another moment, he pulled out his radio and relayed the order to kill the lights. There were some very impolite protests from the assembled officers but after a minute all the lights focussed on the warehouse suddenly winked out.

‘Good,’ Brian said as the last light faded. ‘Now give me some time to get inside before you turn them back on. . . Oh, and tell your men not to fire at me on my way in.’

Without waiting for a reply, Brian leapt into the night sky leaving the lieutenant and the young rookie staring after him in shock.

Trusting that the lack of light combined with his dark suit would help shield him from the eyes of the kidnappers, Brian approached the building from high above. Drifting almost 200 feet above the roof of the warehouse, Brian hovered in position and reached for the tiny control dials on his belt.

As he made minute adjustments to his lens controls, Brian saw the world change from a hazy dark-gray to a ghostly assortment of multi-colored hues.

He smiled to himself as he realized that the infrared setting on the lenses actually worked. The warehouse became a large, light-blue, transparent box with red dots scattered at various points within its structure. Brian knew that the red dots had to be the heat signatures of the people inside.

Now, Brian used the controls on his belt to magnify the image through his lenses. The ghostly, blue silhouette of the warehouse seemed to leap towards him as the lenses performed their task with startling efficiency. The top floor of the building came clearly into view and Brian was able to make out the heat signature of four forms amongst the blue and purple outlines of crates and other clutter.

Two of the human forms were huddled together on the floor while the other two stood a short distance away. The two that were standing both held what were obviously guns of some sort. And one of them had his weapon trained at the huddled forms on the floor.


Ok, I’ll do this one floor at a time, working my way down. If I can move fast enough and quietly enough, Brian thought to himself.


Sure, but what if you make a mistake, huh? Ever think about that Bri? An obnoxious, doubt-inspiring voice in his head asked with cheerful malice. What if you freeze when it counts and someone gets blown away? What if. . .? Brian shook his head and forced that voice to fade away. He couldn’t afford to listen to it, not now. But even though he did his best to forget it, it seemed as if he could hear that voice laughing at him from somewhere deep in his subconscious.

Brian descended easily to the roof of the warehouse. He landed lightly on the balls of his feet, simultaneously turning off the zoom in his lenses but leaving the infrared effect on. There was a set of stairs leading down to the interior of the top floor. If he took them, he’d come out right behind the two kidnappers. It would be child’s play to just fly down and fry both of them. The major problem with that was that electrocution generally caused muscle spasms and one of them might pull the trigger on his gun and that would blow the plan to shit. There was another way. It would be risky but Brian didn’t think he had much choice. There was too much riding on him for him to do anything else.

With his mind made up, Brian rose a few feet off the floor of the roof and floated over to the stairs. Using his infravision to scout out what he needed to implement his plan, he floated down the stairs until he was in the room about twenty feet away from the two criminals. Their backs were still turned to him and for this Brian was very thankful. An added bonus was that the two hostages were also unaware of his presence. Both of them had their heads down and were leaning against each other.

Brian thought that they looked as if they had taken a rather severe beating(he was sure he could see blood on their clothing), but he couldn’t quite tell how bad from where he was ‘standing’.

There was a sudden and acute rage building up inside him at the thought of innocents being hurt and abused that way, but he calmed himself. Brian knew that his anger had no place with him in the present situation. It was time to act. And you better get this right pal, cause you only get one shot.

Turning around, Brian flew around the narrow stairs he had just descended. He controlled his speed so that there was no rush of air as he flitted behind the stairs and then behind a large stack of crates toward the back of the room.


Ok, so far so good. Now comes the hard part, he thought to himself as he reached for the tiny dial on his belt and deactivated the infrared sight in his lenses. He looked around on the floor for a minute and spotted an empty soda can. Picking it up, Brian negligently tossed it against the side of the large crate he was hiding behind. In the silence of the large upper floor of the warehouse, the noise made by the can seemed to be as intense as an exploding bomb.

‘What the hell was that?’ One of the kidnappers asked in an anxious whisper. His voice had what sounded like an English accent. Brian thought he sounded like he was on the verge of doing something irrational.

‘It was probably just a rat. This stinking place is full of them.’ His partner’s answering voice was calm. This one’s accent, unlike his comrade’s was very hard to place. Although he too spoke English, there was nothing distinctive about his speech. ‘If you’re going to get edgy why don’t you check it out?’

‘Oh sure! I’m always the one to fucking stick my head out first. Why don’t you go point for a change, huh?’ The English one was obviously a little frustrated. It occurred to Brian that, even though these guys were professionals, they weren’t as calm and in control as Sanders had thought. Something that he hoped would work to his advantage, because his plan depended on separating these two.

‘Because I’m not the one with a chronic case of paranoia, you idiot. Now you can go over there and see for yourself or you can stay here. Either way, I’m not going,’ the one with the nondescript accent replied. Brian held his breath, waiting and praying that one of them would relent and walk over to where he was. As it turned out, he didn’t have long to wait.

‘Alright,’ the English one said after several moments of strained silence, ‘I’m going to check this out. I hope for both our sakes you’re right about it being a rat.’ The other kidnapper didn’t reply. Brian assumed he was just ignoring his jittery friend.

The sound of footsteps drew closer to Brian’s position. As the kidnapper approached his place of concealment, Brian rose into a half-crouch and waited for him to round the corner of the stack of crates where he hid. This has got to work.

The kidnapper finally stopped just short of Brian’s position and looked around uneasily. Brian couldn’t tell what he was doing, and began to think that maybe the guy’s nerves weren’t up to following through with his search. Then, just when Brian was sure that the man would turn back, he heard his footsteps draw closer and he turned the corner.

Brian literally exploded into action as the kidnapper cautiously stepped into view. His left hand streaked out to grab the man’s right hand where it held a Heckler and Koch submachine pistol. Brian’s practiced fingers found a nerve between his opponent’s thumb and forefinger, and he applied pressure to it, compressing it against the handle of the gun. . .making his hand go numb so that he couldn’t pull the trigger. A small cry escaped the man’s lips but Brian quickly brought his right arm up and chopped savagely into the man’s throat, collapsing his windpipe. His cry cut off in a wheezing gurgle and he slumped to the floor clutching his throat, knowing he was dying and that there was nothing he could do about it.

Dropping to his knees in front of his mortally wounded opponent, Brian stared in shock for several moments, realizing that he had been forced to kill another human being again. He resisted the urge to vomit like he did in the alley after his fight with three rapists.


You have to stay focussed. You can’t go soft now, The logical, detached portion of his mind said to him. If you don’t get past it, a lot more people are going to die.

‘Stanley?’ It was the voice of the other kidnapper. ‘Did you find anything back there?’ Brian reached for the dial on his belt and adjusted his lenses to the infrared spectrum. When the world again changed into alternating hues of blue, red and purple, he could see the other man looking in the direction that his friend had gone, but he wasn’t moving.

‘Hey, what’s up back there Stan? A rat got your tongue?’ There was a pause as the man waited for a response from his partner. When there was no reply, ‘no-accent’ raised his weapon and took several cautious steps toward Brian’s position.

Brian could see the two hostages still on the floor, and he judged that they were far enough out of the way for him to use his power to disable the man if he was careful enough. Levitating about two feet off the floor, Brian carefully watched the other man and waited for an opening to strike.

‘Stan, if you’re playing games back there, I’ll make sure you never play another one, do you hear me?’ There was still no answer, Stan having wheezed his last attempt at a breath forty seconds ago. ‘No-accent’ cocked his machine pistol and advanced on Brian’s position. When he reached within a few feet of the stack of crates where Brian was hiding, he stopped again and carefully surveyed the area. Brian decided that the best and most quiet way to get him out of the way would be up close.

Brian swiftly and silently flew around the large stack of crates in the opposite direction and emerged just behind him. Tensing himself, Brian floated up behind the unsuspecting kidnapper. He quickly grabbed his gun arm, knowing that any gunfire would jeopardize the lives of all the other hostages in the building. He applied the same nerve hold he had used on the man’s partner, simultaneously clamping his other hand over his opponents mouth to stifle the man’s surprised cry. Then, with his opponent’s gun hand useless, Brian released a controlled burst of electrical energy, into his quarry’s body. There was a blue flash and ‘no-accent’ shuddered violently before collapsing into unconsciousness. Brian had practiced this method of disabling an opponent religiously for long hours while training under Robert Mitchell’s guidance.

Lowering the unconscious body to the floor, Brain turned his attention to the two hostages who were staring at him as if he was the Devil himself. . .pitchfork and all. He floated to the ground and walked over to them. As he drew closer, he could plainly see that they were in even worse shape than he had originally thought. Both their faces were swollen and purple with numerous bruises. And from the way they moved, Brian had little doubt that the rest of their bodies was in similar shape. The two of them tried their best to move away from him, but their pain-wracked bodies could barely manage to squirm more than a few feet. It was no wonder that ‘no-accent’ had been so carefree about turning his back on them to investigate the disappearance of his dead friend.

‘Wait,’ he said as they continued to squirm away from him. ‘I’m here to try to get you out of here. I’m a friend.’

‘What are you?’ The strongest looking one managed to rasp in a cracked voice. ‘How did you. . .?’

‘It’s not important,’ Brian interrupted the man’s unfinished question. ‘Look, are you two going to be alright here for a while? I have to go help the rest of your friends.’ The two were quick to nod their agreement, but Brian wasn’t so sure it would be wise to make them wait before getting medical attention. He was actually contemplating flying both of them out and then coming back when they heard a hiss of static coming from ‘no-accent’s’ unconscious form. He was carrying a radio.

Rushing over to the kidnapper’s crumpled form, Brian grabbed the radio and was just in time to catch the incoming message: ‘Hawkins, this is Stevenson. It’s check-in time. What’s your status? Over.’

Brian stared at the radio for a few moments before pressing the talk button and replying in what he hoped was a close facsimile of ‘Hawkins’’ voice: ‘Everything’s fine up here. Stan got a little paranoid for a while, though. Thought he heard something. . .turned out to be a rat.’

‘No surprise there,’ Stevenson’s voice replied after a brief pause, ‘Stan’s shadow makes him jumpy. I think he’s in the wrong business sometimes. Anyway, next check in six minutes. Over and out.’ Brian slowly exhaled and put down the radio.

One thing was for sure. . .he had to act now. The ultimatum the kidnappers had given left Brian with just under ten minutes, five if you considered the time between radio checks. Shit, this is turning out to be a damn lot harder than I figured, he thought to himself.