-Edgar Allen Poe
It was 7:35 a.m. and the sun
shown brightly down on east LA through a clear sky. Brian Conway
was sitting at the kitchen table in his apartment, idly scanning
the morning paper. He was in it again, or to be more precise:
Livewire was in it.
He had averted a gang-war in San Gabriel while on patrol the night before and the media had snapped it up like the hungry dog that it was. It wasn't as big a deal as the papers were making it out to be eitherafter all, it is kind of hard to fight after being electrocuted into unconsciousness. In fact, the most annoying part of the whole situation came after he had `pacified' the thirty young men intent on ending each other's lives, and he learned something valuable in the processNo matter how many times you saw it in a movie, the police don't automatically show up to clean up after the good guy. So Brian was forced to keep watch over the thirty unconscious gang members until someone decided to call the cops. And of course when the police finally did show up, reporters somehow made it onto the scene, and one of the little vultures had snapped a picture of him before he could fly out of sight. This in turn lead to this morning's front page article. Perfect. Any hope of keeping a low profile was now definitely out the door.
It had been three days now since the episode at the docks in Santa Monica, and Brian found that his mind kept returning to that night every time he allowed his thoughts to wander. Something about it was justwrong, for lack of a better word. It was a feeling in the back of his minda nagging sense that he was being left out of a bigger picture. There were simply too many unanswered questions: Who hired professional mercenary soldiers to guard one small, lousy shipment of drugs? And what kind of payment would justify soldiers of fortune holding hostages and ransoming them for the safe delivery of said drugs? It just wasn't rationalespecially since they had a chance to make a clean getaway before the cops arrived in the first place. Even more disturbing, was the guy who claimed the tiny bomb he'd been carrying wasn't from the Earth.
Brian's forehead wrinkled as he thought about the egg-shaped device and the sheer power with which it had exploded. The heat alone had almost fried him, even through the protection of his electrical field. Maybe it was a new high-tech invention from the military or CIA. Could be the merc meant that it was space-age technology and not that the bomb was extra-terrestrial in origin. A visit to detective Sanders might shed some light on the whole thing. He was sure that all the reports from the investigation would have gone through the lieutenant.
Making a mental note to track Sanders down, Brian finished scanning through the paper and then tried to decide what he'd do with the rest of the day. He had an interview scheduled in the afternoon with a small insurance company for a four-week stint. During this time he would help assess the condition of their computers and network and come up with a comprehensible upgrade and maintenance plan to be considered by their board of directors. If he got the job, it would pay the rent for three months at least, with a tidy sum left over. God knew he was falling a little short in the cash department lately.
He thought a little more before deciding to take a walk. There was a small park nearby where he usually went when he needed some space, and Brian decided that it was too good a day to sit inside worrying about how complicated his life was getting. So he threw some clothes on and made his way downstairs toward the front entrance of his apartment building.
He was on the last step when he heard light footsteps on the stairs above him. He turned to see who it was, and a couple seconds later, Josephine Senryo descended the stairs. Brian briefly considered turning tail and running, but decided against it. The longer he waited to talk to her, the more awkward it was likely to get between themand if there was one thing he didn't need right now, it was more complications in his life.
On reaching the bottom of the stairs, Jo caught sight of Brian near the door and paused. They both stared at each other for a few brief seconds. Jo was casually dressed in faded jeans and a T-shirt, and from the stack of books she had tucked under her left arm, Brian figured she was heading for the library to study. No matter how she dressed though, nothing could hide the fact that she was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, her distinctly Asian features coupled with a voluptuous body out-shined the plain clothes she now wore.
`Hi Jo,' he began, but she was already moving again and heading toward the door, a flinty look in her eyes.
`Hey, hold up a minute. I need to talk to you.' He scooted around in front of her.
`Well I don't need to talk to you. So get out of my way.' Her voice held a cold edge that he'd never heard from her before. It was even more disturbing because he knew it was directed at him.
`Look, this is important Ok? I want to apologize.'
`For what? Being a jerk is an accident of birth, or so I'm told. Now if you'll excuse me, I have studying to do. So unless there's a problem with the apartment or you're here to give me a rent check in advance, I'm leaving.' She started to walk around him.
`Wait, just give me a couple of minutes Ok?' She kept on walking toward the door.
`I thought we were supposed to be friends,' he threw behind her. She stopped in mid-stride, spun around and stalked back towards him.
`Yeah? I thought we friends too, Conway. But friendship is based on trust, honesty and respect. Concepts you seem to be having a little trouble with lately.' She spat the words at him. `You disappear for three straight weeks and you don't even have the common courtesy to say goodbye. You don't tell anyone where you're goingOh excuse me, I'm sorryyou told Rick, who practically made an ass out of me when I tried to find out if you were Ok.'
`Look Jo, I'm sorry I'
`Yeah, you are sorry. But you know what pisses me off the most?' Her voice rose in anger. `The fact that you get back and you don't even stop by to let me know it. It's been two weeks Conway, just in case you hadn't noticed.'
`At least let me try to'
`To what? Explain? Ok, fine. Where were you?'
`Wherewereyou?' She repeated it slowly, emphasizing each word.
`I,' Brian began, but found that he didn't have an explanation short of the truth and he couldn't tell her the truth, he couldn't lie to her either. `I can't tell you' She raised her eyebrows and looked at him expectantly. `I just can'tI'm sorry.' He didn't meet her unwavering gaze. Jo shook her head knowingly, as if expecting as much.
`Yeah, that's what I figured.'
`Look, if I could tell you I would. Its just'
`Save it. Just save it, Ok? What I said before standsFrom now on we're landlord and tenant, understand? The only reason you talk to me is if something's wrong with the apartment or you're paying your rent. Otherwise, we don't exist to each other, got it?'
`Aw come on, Jo. This is stupid' he started, but she was already out the door and down the front steps of the building. She didn't look back.
`So she blew you off, she thinks you're scum, and she doesn't want to see your sorry ass again. That about cover it?' It was 7:30pm. Brian and Rick were sitting around Brian's kitchen table, the scant remains of a large pizza and several Coke cans lying before them.
`Well thanks for putting it in such a favorable light, Rick. It really doesn't seem that bad now that I hear it coming from you.' Brian's sarcasm seemed not to daunt his best friend in the slightest.
`Come on, Bri. I figure you're much better off this way,' Rick went on. `I mean, I never liked her that much.' He drained a can, then belched thunderously.
`I wonder why.' More sarcasm from Brian which was again lost on his best friend.
`She treated me like I was some kinda directionless bum,' Rick said somewhat defensively.
`And of course she was totally wrong on that score, huh?' Brian gave him an amused look.
`Hey, I've got directionI'm just getting there in my own time.' Rick sounded even more defensive.
Brian raised both hands, palms out in a mock gesture of surrender. `Ok, Ok, I'm not being judgmental here.' He got up and began clearing away the remains of their meal. Rick rose to help him.
`It's just that she's a friend,' he went on. `I feel like I treated her badly, that's all. And it isn't helping that I can't tell her the truth, even though I know its for her own good.' Leaning against the kitchen counter, Brian folded his arms. `This thing inside meit just seems to keep backing me into corners. I don't need all these extra complications.'
`Well, at least you weren't sleeping together,' Rick said. `Now that would make things complicated.' Rick failed to notice Brian's uncomfortable grimace.
In a way, Rick was right though. He and Jo weren't a couple. Two spontaneous encounters that neither of them seemed to want to acknowledge didn't exactly count as grounds for a romantic relationship. No, right now Jo's friendship was what mattered most to Brianeven though another part of him wanted more from her sometimesor so it seemed.
Now that friendship seemed lost and he couldn't figure out a way to get it back. Another casualty of the power inside him. Would it take everything else that mattered in his life away too? Maybe the strikingly real dream he had had in the junkyard that night when he gained his abilities was a metaphor for his life. Could it be that instead of destroying all the people he cared about, he would instead destroy the bonds he shared with them? And in the end, which of the two was worse? To be a merciless killer lost in insanity, or to walk the path of the rest of one's life alone without human warmth or affection?
`with me, pal?'
`What?' Brian snapped out of his reverie, realizing that Rick had been talking to him.
`I said maybe you need to get out and stop worrying about the whole world for awhile and especially about Jo Senryo, fine though she is. How about we jump in my pick-up, head to a nightclub or something, pick up two suitably luscious, if slightly immoral, women and do what comes naturallyI'll even let you have first pick. Whaddaya say?'
`Nah. I've got some thinking to do.'
`Suit yourselfI guess I'll just head home then. By the way, how'd the interview go?'
`I got the job,' Brian said absently as he stuffed the folded pizza box in the garbage bin.
`Well don't let your enthusiasm overwhelm you,' Rick said as he headed for the door. He opened it, then turned back to look at Brian carefully. `You're cool, right?'
`Yeah, I'm cool. Maybe I'll do a fly-by of the city or something. Just to clear my head ya know?'
`Fine, catch you later,' Rick said as he left, closing the door behind him.
The view of the surrounding city wasn't spectacular from atop his three-story apartment complex, but at least it still gave Brian a certain sense of isolation without him having to leave the buildingsomething he felt he needed at the moment. No one else from the building ever seemed to feel the need to climb the stairs to the roof, so he was at least assured of a few hours of undisturbed reflection. There was a low iron rail along the perimeter of the rooftop, and Brian crossed his arms and leaned on it, trying to get his thoughts in order.
The roof top was virtually bare save for a few concrete blocks that presumably had been left over from when the building had undergone its renovations and conversion from house to apartment complex. There were no lights either, and Brian's black shirt, jeans and dark skin rendered him next to invisible, even with the diffuse light from the surrounding buildings filtering down to his location.
A cool breeze stroked his face as he peered over the edge of the roof, observing the people and vehicles in the street below him. And for a moment, Brian allowed himself to forget all the events and pressures of the past several weeks. He couldn't forget forever, he knew, but for tonightat least for a few hours, his thoughts would be his
`Human!' A voice came from behind him. It was a snakelike hiss and Brian spun around in surprise.
`Mr. Rafferty?' Brian began, expecting to see the old man from apartment 7. Old Charles Rafferty had suffered a throat injury in an auto accident some years ago and since then hadn't ever been able to manage more than a throaty whisper.
Instead of the slightly stooped oldster, however, Brian found himself face to face with what looked, at first, like two horribly grotesque robots. The two things vaguely resembled steel versions of the raptors from Jurassic Park, standing on two powerful, metallic legs like those of a tyrannosaurus. The `robots' stood over eight feet tall, and several small, multicolored lights winked on and off all over the gleaming surface of their bodies. The arms of the robots were only slightly longer than those of the dinosaurs they resembled, and they were made of the same metallic stuff as the rest of the things, ending in four talons.
`You possess what is ours, Terran. Return it, lest we grow impatient.' The hissing voice seemed to come from the robot on the left, because it took three steps toward Brian, closing the distance between them to within six feet. It moved with such ease and fluid grace that Brian stood stunned before his brain could process the words that it spoke. The metallic substance of its body seemed to stretch and flex as if it were soft skin instead of the polished steel that it resembled
`What?' He started to form a question, but then stopped again as he beheld the upper portion of the lizard-robot's body. The head-piece of the thing was vaguely human-shaped with the back part made of the metallic substance which formed the rest of its body. The front, however, was composed of a transparent, glass-like material through which a half-reptile, half-humanoid face gazed malevolently outward.
Ohmygod, there's something living inside itand its not HUMAN, Brian, a panic-stricken voice seemed to scream in his mind.
Before he could form another thought, the creature raised a `hand' and opened it's wicked-looking claws. A tiny hole appeared in the middle of it. And from the hole a thin, red-glowing coil streaked out to wind itself, snake-like, around a shocked Brian Conway. The instant it closed to within three inches of actually touching him, his protective field reacted, erupting around him in a softly glowing aura which firmly stopped the coil in its tracks.
Brian's brain finally caught up to the rest of his body and rage overcame fear as he faced the hulking monstrosity before him. His emotions fueled his power as his electrical field glowed more brightly. Clenching his fists, he channeled energy through the field which flexed outward, pressing against the unnatural coil which encircled him, stretching it taut, flooding it with electrical energy until, with a sharp crack, it blew apart.
Retracting the field, and with blackened bits of the coil still fluttering in the air around him, Brian took two steps toward the creatures before him. Raising his arms, his eyes glowed a fierce blue before he sent twin streams of energy from his hands toward the two alien beings. With loud crackles, the electrical beams took the creatures in the chest area, throwing them back and knocking them off their feet to send them sliding toward the other side of the roof top.
`Oh, have you ever picked a bad day to piss me off!' Brian said as he stalked toward the two fallen creatures. Caught in the exhilaration he always felt when he used his power, he had failed to noticed the red glow that appeared around the two figures when he attacked. The advanced alien armor had instantly erected its own shield which served to dissipate the considerable energy from Brian's assault. So it was, that Brian was shocked to see the two lizard-things flip gracefully back to their feet with the aid of powerful-looking tails.
Waitaminute, Bri. They've got tails? A voice in his head asked in panic.
`Foolish insect!' The creature that had assaulted him with the energy coil hissed. `Do you seriously think to stand in our way?' Two circular panels opened in the thing's metallic chest and six-inch nozzles suddenly extended from each hole.
Brian barely had time to raise his arms and fortify his electrical field before the creature fired a series of bright green energy bolts in his direction. As the bolts hit him, each one impacted with a small, concussive explosion that propelled him backwards a few inches. At first they did no more damage than a shotgun(and his shield could easily withstand them), but as his distance from his attacker increased, so too did the force of the bolts until he was hurled back, bombarded with blasts equivalent to thousands of pounds of pressure.
Brian cried out as the cascading pulse-bolts blasted him from the roof top and through a third floor window of the office building across the street. Fortunately, the office he crashed into was unoccupied at the time and no one saw his prone form smash ungracefully into the farthest wall of the room. His protective field was able to cushion his impact against the wall, but the assault from the creature had hurt him badly, like nothing he ever felt before. Just what were these things anyway? And what did he have that they wanted?
Rising slowly, painfully, Brian turned toward the window and prepared to face his attackers again. `I gotta start reading my horoscope more often,' he mumbled to himself.
As Brian Conway's body was being blasted from the roof of his apartment building by the vicious assault of the first Xeniky hunter, the second alien, whose name was Vort was hurriedly recording energy readings and bio-feedback from the dark-skinned human.
Vort's highly trained, scientific mind quickly assessed the nature of the data being received from the hundreds of sensors imbedded in his armor. And what he saw caused his reptilian eyes to widen in astonishment.
`Zarg, wait!' The alien shouted frantically in his own language to his enraged partner.
`What!?' The creature known as Zarg whipped around to face his companion.
`Don't kill it. We need the human alive if we are to get what we came for.'
`Do you toy with me, scientist?' Zarg's eyes flashed dangerously through the transparent face-plate of his armor. `You were the one who said the human was carrying the Mordicons. If this is true, his life is insubstantial. Or were you incorrect in your `infallible' calculations?' He eyed Vort contemptuously as he said this.
`I made the best guess I could based on the energy signature I was receiving. As it happens, I was wrong in my assumption that this human carried the material we seek. I am positive, however, that he possesses a direct link to the Mordiconsthough I am unsure of how exactly this is achieved.' Vort worked quickly to explain himself, always mindful of Zarg's unpredictable temper.
`You also failed to mention that he possessed energy-projection abilities. Had I known this before hand, he would be ours now.'
`I didn't know this myself. It is not a natural occurrence in this species. Still, we should have little trouble subduing him'
`No,' Zarg cut him off, `I will have little trouble subduing it. This puny insect had the audacity to attack me, and I feel a strong urge to show him the error of his ways. Stay out of this scientist.'
Activating the anti-gravity drive in his armor, the alien known as Zarg rose effortlessly into the air. Slowly, as if savoring the feeling of the moment, he propelled himself toward the building across the street where his quarry had disappeared
From the window of the office he had crashed into, Brian Conway watched the two creatures standing atop the roof of his apartment building. They seemed to be conferring about something although he couldn't make out what that might be from his position.
He also noted with surprise, that the fight on the roof had attracted almost no attention from the people in the street below. This was probably due to the lack of light on the roof as well as the awkward angle of viewing required to see properly. Brian figured that his own display of power had probably caused the biggest disturbance because of the bright flashes of light accompanying his energy blasts. As a result, there were a couple people in the street below, craning their necks to see what was happening, but without much luck.
That changed when one of the creatures casually rose into the air as if it was the most natural thing in the world for something that big and heavy to take flight without any visible source of power. Instinctively, Brian new it was the same creature that had blasted him with the energy bolts from its chest, even though it had long since retracted the weapons.
The few people in the street below who had bothered to keep watching the rooftop of the building began to point and shout as the armored creature moved toward the building where Brian was.
Brian wondered briefly if the tenants in his apartment building had heard anything, and hoped that even if they had heard something that no one would go up to the roof to investigate
As he prepared to face the monster coming toward him, Brian took a deep breath. He was rewarded instantly by an acute pain from the left side of his torsohe knew he had several bruised ribs. Even as he pressed a hand to his ribcage though, Brian could feel his body working at an accelerated pace to repair the damage he had sustained from the creature's energy weapons.
Knowing that he didn't have time to fully heal before the monster reached him, Brian decided to take the initiative and attack first in hopes of delaying the thing long enough for him to get some distance between the two of them. Of course, if the second creature joined the assault, he knew that he probably wouldn't get that chance.
Putting a foot on the ledge of the office window, Brian dove through it. He triggered his flight abilities and protective field in mid-jump, angling toward the approaching creature and lashing out with a powerful electric blast from his right hand. The stream of energy hit the armored monster dead on. This time, however, instead of being thrown back by the force of the attack, Brian could clearly see that the creature was surrounded by a pale, red nimbus of energy that repelled his energy beamfragmenting it and sending dozens of tiny electrical beams shooting off in random directions.
At this, Brian angled sharply upward trying to gain altitude as well as distance from the monster as he veered away to the left. The creature realized immediately that he was trying to distance himself from it, and maneuvered to adjust for Brian's new flight path.
So it was that Brian was surprised to see his opponent twist and accelerate rapidly upward, staying on his tail even as he approached mach 1(his electrical field providing protection against the friction of supersonic flight).
`Just what the fuck is that thing?' Brian said to himself even though his words were lost in the torrent of air rushing past him due to his high-speed flight.
The creature increased its speed, starting to close the gap between itself and its human quarry. Brian increased his own speed in response, breaking the sound barrier and approaching mach 2. The armored monster easily matched his pace though, and the gap between them continued to close.
They were heading west, about 3500 feet up, and Downtown LA slipped quickly by as did Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Brian barely noticed, being more concerned with the thing on his tail than scenery. They were now only about thirty feet apart and the monster showed no signs of breaking off its pursuit.
`Ok,' Brian said to himself, `Let's finish this now.' Abruptly, he angled up and cut all forward momentum in his flight, coming to a rapid stop as his power worked like a brake to combat his inertia. The armored alien shot past and under him, but it too slowed rapidly and turned to face himinhumanly graceful in the control of its flight.
`Ok you stinkin tin-can t-rex,' Brian shouted as it slowly began to fly toward him, `Up yours and your mother's.' Energy flowed through Brian as he clenched his will and allowed the mental-blocks that he held on his power to crumble. His body began to glow intensely and small tendrils of electricity shot randomly about his prone form. As the armored creature drew nearer, Brian's eyes glowed intensely blue and he raised his arms and vented the awesome power inside him
The alien scientist known as Vort, trailed at a safe distance behind his partner and the human they were chasing. Advanced instruments and sensors allowed him to easily pinpoint and monitor everything which the two did, without his having to be in visual range.
He soon found out though, that neither he, nor indeed the city of Los Angeles needed advanced sensors to realize that something incredible was happening in the sky above them
The massive surge of electrical energy that flowed from Brian Conway's body would have been all but immeasurable to most instruments on earth. It erupted in a brilliant band of power that lit up the sky over LA like a tiny, azure sun and the accompanying sound was the heavy boom of thunder.
It engulfed the alien creature in its path, causing a second eruption of light, energy and heat that momentarily blinded Brian. As it dissipated, however, Brian was greeted by the sight of the alien thing floating casually in place and without a scratch on its metallic armor. The same red haze he had seen only a couple minutes earlier again surrounded it.
`I am unimpressed, human,' it hissed contemptuously. The monster then raised and extended both of its armored arms. A small, glowing red sphere suddenly shot from each of its open talons. The two balls reached Brian before he could get out of their way and they hit him dead on. The world around him transformed into a ghostly red place before he felt the terrible energy of the assault. It seemed his own shield offered no protection whatsoever as the alien power seemed to burn every single cell of his body simultaneously.
Brian suddenly remembered the night of the lightning strike which had given him his abilitiesthis was how it had felt before he blacked out to wake up with the power inside him. He screamed as the pain became unbearable and he lost almost all sense of who and what he wasthere was only agony. His shield faded and so did his flight ability and Brian began to fallhurtling toward the earth and what he knew would be a very unpleasant landing
That was not to be though, because as soon as the alien saw Brian's power fade and his body begin to fall, a tiny, fuschia beam from a small hole in the belly of its armor shot out. The tractor beam immediately halted Brian's fall and began to pull him back towards the waiting creature.
Brian was vaguely aware of being tugged toward the alien, but could do nothing about it. Whatever the thing had done to him, had seemed to rob him of his ability to bring his power to bear. This was made worse by the paralyzing effect of the tractor beam which held him.
As he closed to within a few feet of the creature, a low humming sound drew his attention upward. He shifted his gaze skyward and gasped as he witnessed a mammoth shape begin to coalesce above him as if from thin air.
The alien ship completed its uncloaking and Brian stared dumbfounded as he realized that the humming he had heard was from the craft which floated above him. The ship was as long as a football field and Brian estimated that it was about two stories tall at least. It was a dark gray and shaped vaguely like an arrow, with the front and back extending farther to each side than the rest of it. There were no engines or indeed any external signs of propulsion systems, nevertheless it hovered easily above them.
In his examination of the ship, Brian had forgotten about the creature which had him caught in its tractor beam. Now he drew face to face with the thing and it stared at him through the slit pupils of its reptilian eyes as the energy beam held him in place.
`Know that in the final hours of your pathetic life, you will feel pain and suffering beyond anything your insect's mind can even begin to comprehend. I, Zarg Nor Treg of the Xeniky swear it. So rest well now human, because the next time you slumber, you shall not awake.' As soon as the creature finished speaking, Brian felt a sudden and painful jolt. He cried out, but then slipped deep into darkness and knew no more