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Chapter XXII

 

            Black leather combat style boots treaded along the back alley, deftly moving between the refuse and discarded conveniences of man.  The man who wore them, the hero known as the Aggressor, moved with a speed and determination that could rival any athlete.  In addition to the personalized combat boots, he wore a midnight blue bodysuit, accented with bands of black.  A cowl made of the same fabric as the bodysuit covered the majority of his head, leaving only his face exposed, from chin to forehead.  His identity was protected with a reflective domino mask.  The same reflective material lined the palms of his gloves. 

            For a “night time avenger” as he was sometimes referred to, the reflective material would seem like a bad choice, but it worked well with the Aggressor’s style and heroic presence.  More to the fact, the Aggressor didn’t have a heroic presence.  He wasn’t one that flaunted his deeds to the press and the law abiding citizens of Future City.  No, he worked in the shadows and underbelly of the city.  He wasn’t looking to be trusted by the city, but feared by the criminals that operated in it.  To that, the reflective mask worked well when it was all a street thug or minor adversary could see in the coal black of night, darkened warehouse, or windowless basement. 

            Micro-circuitry in the gloves allowed the Aggressor to dispense the “Hand of Judgment” to those that broke the law.  The Hand of Judgment was a series of repetitive neural disruptive electrical jolts that were discharged from the fingertips of the gloves.  When used correctly, it could temporarily scramble the bio-electrical neurons of the brain and reduce the average person to a drooling imbecile for almost two days. 

            The process was more discomforting than painful, and it left no long term affects; at least not physically.  Mentally, most had a hard time shaking the memory of waking up in a mess of their own urine and feces and with no recollection of anything that had transpired over the past 48 hours.  The last thing they remembered was a white glowing hand coming towards them.  It wouldn’t stop most diehard criminals from getting back out to the streets and doing what they do, but would seriously rattle their guard upon seeing the Aggressor again.  For some, all they needed was to see the glowing palm to stop what they were doing and run. 

            The Hand of Judgment wasn’t the Aggressor’s only weapon against crime.  He was incredibly impressive physically as well.  Standing at just under six feet, the man was built like an amateur bodybuilder, with muscles bulging out of places that most people didn’t know muscles existed.  He was impressively fast for someone his size and had the endurance and stamina of a wild animal.  All of this was the least of what made him a formidable enemy and an image of terror in those that exploited the night. 

            The Aggressor’s biggest weapon was his invulnerability.  Street weapons had about as much of an effect on him as a marshmallow shooter against a brick wall.  Most abilities worked together and in combination with one another.  Enhanced strength was normally accompanied with invulnerability, and vice-versa.  In the Aggressor’s case, the strength somehow passed him by.  It didn’t bother him.  He could do his job just as well without it.  Besides, had he been impervious to harm and had the ability to juggle railway cars he would most likely be running around with the other heroes, and leaving the city vulnerable to those that prey on people who can’t protect themselves. 

            Many people viewed him more like a thuggish vigilante in heroes clothing than a bonafide hero.  He could be stubborn, violent, and ruthless.  Those that were lucky would get the Hand of Judgment, the others wouldn’t live to wish that they had.  All the Aggressor cared about was getting the job done.  Making the streets better and safer for everyone; by any means necessary. 

            Not many of the other heroes shared the Aggressor view on how to deal with crime, especially Colonel Courageous, but none of them were in any position to argue.  The Aggressor fought the criminal element that escaped their grasps.  The crimes that were too small to be noticed by them.  Things that were too big for the police, and not big enough to attract the attention of Colonel Courageous, Clockworx, or any of the other members of the Justice Squad.  Until they were ready to handle those dangers to society, they left the Aggressor to his own devices, and the people of the city to his care. 

            This night, the Aggressor was on the hunt to find the connection to the man who ran Future City’s criminal underworld.  The man who every professional criminal worked for, whether they knew it or not.  The man who they all answered to without even having a name for him.  If the Aggressor could be said to have an arch nemesis, it would be the unnamed mastermind of Future City’s criminal network.  The Aggressor was bound and determined to find out who he was, and to shut him down.  And to do that meant finding out who he was, and killing him.  A man that powerful had connections.  Too many connections to even attempt to try him in a court of law.  Death was the only thing that could bring his empire to its knees.  And once it had been broken, the Aggressor would have to work extra hard to keep it fractured and separated. 

            When it was all over, he would have to keep it broken to keep someone from coming in and trying to establish themselves as the new king of crime in Future City.  But, first things first.  He had to find him, and he had to kill him. 

            The Aggressor ran down the alley until he reached the fire escape.  He bounded atop a dumpster and sprang from that to the rails of the second story fire escape landing.  He climbed up the side of the fire escape with very little effort, scaling it with the same ease that one would a ladder.  In no time the Aggressor was on the roof of the five story building.  He rushed to the opposite edge and looked out over the city. 

            The Aggressor knew the heart of the city better than anyone else.  He lived it and breathed it every day.  The sounds of the people moving throughout its streets was like a steady pulse.  The Aggressor listened to the city, looking for signs of anything out of the ordinary.  It all seemed like a normal night.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  Good. 

            The night vigilante sprinted to his right and jumped off the edge of the roof.  He cross the 8-foot gap between the building he was on and its neighbor with ease.  The Aggressor had to admit he got a rush jumping from building to building, taking extreme chances that would, if miss timed, kill a regular person.  There was a time when he would have never even thought about jumping off the roof of a building.  Hell, he wouldn’t have even stood on the ledge of a roof, whether it was two stories high or twenty stories high.  Nowadays, it seemed like if he wasn’t testing his limits or challenging death he wasn’t getting that same rush.  The Aggressor feared that he was becoming an adrenaline junkie.  He couldn’t let that happen. 

            Being addicted to action and the rush that came with the surge of adrenaline might appear harmless when compared to other addictions, but in the end it was just as dangerous.  For someone like the Aggressor, he could easily find himself taking unnecessary risks and chances that could get him or others killed.  He was only invulnerable, not immortal.  He was still susceptible to drowning, suffocating, being poisoned, and countless other means of death.  And even his invulnerability had its limits.  There wasn’t much that he had encountered that could penetrate his skin or cause him any real damage.  But such things did exist, and each time he came across one, it was like experiencing death for the first time. 

            The Aggressor checked the time on the digital display built into the left wrist of his costume. It read 2:18 a.m.  Plenty of time for him to make it to the meeting place.  One of the Aggressor’s informants had left a message at the drop spot on the corner of Currie and Galileo.  He had intel about the nameless mastermind.  Intel that the Aggressor needed. 

            The urban hero made his way to the old rail yard in Yesterday Town and found a dark spot to hide in and wait.  He didn’t have to wait long before his informant came along, making up enough noise to signal astronauts.  The Aggressor didn’t let him get too close to his hiding spot, and called to him. 

            “Stop right there, Snitch.” The Aggressor said.  He spoke through a communicator built into the system on his wrist.  His voice projected from a micro speaker he had planted near a rusted train car and echoed out. 

            “How many times I gotta tell you, man, it’s Snatch, not ‘Snitch’?” the informant called Snatch complained. 

            “Whatever.” replied the Aggressor.  “What do you want?”  

            “I know something about the big man.  Something you should know.”  

            “Speak.” 

            “I ain’t gonna scream it out in the open.  Where you at, man?” Snatch moved to where he thought the voice was coming from. 

            Snatch moved across the darkened rail yard over to the train car with the micro speaker. 

            “Yo, ‘ggressor.  Where you at?” Snatch peaked inside the old rusted train car. 

            “Here.” said the Aggressor, scaring the pro-am criminal. 

            Snatch jumped back at the sound of hero’s voice suddenly appearing behind him.  He turned and came face to face with the glowing reflective mask of the Aggressor. 

            “Jesus!” shouted Snatch. 

            “Not quite, but I do believe in an eye for an eye.”  The Aggressor quipped before shoving the man against the outer wall of the train car.  He grabbed the thief by the collar and lifted him into the air. 

            “Hey, be cool, man.  This is Versace.” called Snatch. 

            “Knockoff.”

            “Nah, nah, nah.  Straight up.  I stole it off this dude’s yacht last summer.” 

            “You’ve been had.” The Aggressor corrected.  “Buttons are single stitched and not double.  Shoulder seams aren’t reinforced.  It’s a knockoff.” 

            “What?” Snatch questioned, looking down at his shirt.  “Damn!  Can’t trust nobody no mo’.” 

            “I’m glad you brought that up.  Now, what do you have for me, and what do you want?” the Aggressor asked, lifting the young man higher into the air. 

            “A’ight, ‘ggressor, man.  Damn!  Just put me down and stop messin’ up the shirt.  You may know it’s not real, but the ladies don’t.” 

            The Aggressor lowered Snatch till his feet touched the ground again, then let him go.  Snatch smoothed out his shirt, and looked at the glowing mask.  In the dark, it was hard not to focus on it.  In all the times he had met with the Aggressor, as friend and as foe, he never knew what he looked like.  Try as he might to take in his shape and build, see how tall he was,

Snatch could never take his eyes off the mask. 

            “Okay.  Word’s spreading on the street fast.  He’s reaching out to everybody.  And I mean everybody.  Pickpockets, dealers, snatchers, everybody.  He’s trying to organize them all under him with these levels, like a company or something.  Thing is, he ain’t askin’.  Everyone’s being contacted individually, with the word spreading.  They haven’t asked me yet, but only cause I’ve been hiding. “ 

            “Hiding?” questioned the Aggressor.  “Why have you been hiding?  What have you gotten yourself into now?”

            “Nothing, new, but I want to keep it that way.  You ain’t listenin’, man.  He ain’t askin’!  This is the new way of things.  He’s moving for all crime to work through him.  For him.  Been kinda quiet lately, right?  Why you think that is?” 

            The Aggressor stopped and thought about the past week.  Things had been busy, but not heavy.  There had been the incident with Colonel Courageous, and some kind big bug a few weeks back, but nothing major on the street level.  Everything had been rather quite, relatively speaking. 

            “You know that new construction they’re about to start in Yesterday Town?  They’ve already started digging out the foundation.  If you look, you’ll find the bodies of those that have said no to him.  ‘ggressor, I’m small time, you know me.  I don’t wanna work for him.” 

            “Get a real job.” The Aggressor said coldly.  He felt for Snatch.  He knew that inside he was a good man, and had only hurt people in self defense, never on the job.  Even still, the Aggressor had to put up the wall.  He couldn’t have them, any of them thinking he was soft. 

            “Where?  Hero Burger?  Come on, man?” 

            “All crime through him.” The Aggressor said aloud to himself.  “That’s a pretty big move.” 

            “That’s not all.” said Snatch.  “He’s getting help from the Hell Spawns.” 

            “What?!” the Aggressor cried out. 

            “Yeah.  I don’t know what he’s doing with them.  But I don’t want no part of it.” 

            The Aggressor thought hard about everything Snatch had just told him.  All crime in Future City, from purse snatching to high profile assassinations all flowing through one large criminal organization.  He couldn’t let that happen.  And then there were the Hell Spawns.  What would he want with that gang of powered thugs. 

            The Aggressor couldn’t put it all together right then, but whatever the nameless kingpin had planned wasn’t good.  He felt a cold sensation run up his spine and realized that he was afraid. 

*****

 

Diamond Dog

            Diamond Dog paced back and forth across the rooftop of the Factory.  He had been there all morning, walking from one side of the building to the other.  He hadn’t gone running all week, practiced using his abilities, or done much of anything.  He didn’t know why, he just didn’t. 

            Really?  He didn’t know why?  No, he knew why.  Diamond Dog knew exactly why he felt so fretful.  Less than a week earlier Black Sunshine had threatened to kill him.  Not only threatened, but shot at him and Guru. 

            DD knew that things had been tense between the two of them lately, but had no idea it had gotten to that point.  He never would have thought that Black Sunshine would try to kill him.  Like all the other kids at the Factory, DD looked at Black Sunshine as sibling, a brother.  Now, they really were brothers, Cain and Abel. 

            Diamond Dog couldn’t stomach it.  He felt raw inside.  He felt like it was all his fault and wondered if he could have done something different.  Maybe he could have handled things better.  Listened to him more.  Treated him better.  Something.  Something that would have stopped things from turning into this. 

            “What could he do?” DD asked himself.  “What could he do?” 

Little Ghost

            Guru sat, legs crossed, on the floor of the training room in the Factory.  Before him sat a foot long green candle, burning bright.  He spoke with a calm, trained voice that moved around the flame without causing it to waiver.   Across from him sat Little Ghost, invisible and intangible. 

            “In your ghost form you can neither be seen nor heard.  We need to work on that.  I believe that there are degrees to your ability.  I think it’s possible for you to be able to control how and what parts of you turn invisible or intangible… being able to walk through walls.” Guru said to the empty space on the other side of the candle. 

            Little Ghost sat across from her adopted mentor complete unseen and unheard.  Even though she had been living at the Factory for a few weeks, she felt more comfortable in her ghost form where she could hide from the other kids.  Kids she didn’t know and was afraid of.  She would only return to her normal self to eat, or if Electric Blue was around; whom she still referred to as Celia.  He adopted sister didn’t mind, and in a way welcomed it.  It reminded her of who she was. 

            Unlike Celia, Caroline enjoyed being called Little Ghost.  It felt right, she told Celia.  She liked being a part of the world, but being away from it.  Guru explained that her power was based on her own fears, and acted accordingly.  Little Ghost was afraid.  Not just about living in the Factory, but if there was a life outside of it.  The young girl wondered if her parents were looking for her.  Did they miss her?  Did they want her back?  If she did come home, would they welcome her, or wish she would simply go away again?  The big question that plagued her, was would they understand?  When she showed them what she could do, explained to them what had happened all those times she disappeared and they couldn’t find her.  Would they still want to be her parents?  Would they want a freak for a daughter? 

            Little Ghost asked herself those questions all the time.  She hoped that they would.  She wanted desperately to go home.  She wanted them to know that she wasn’t a bad girl, and it wasn’t her fault.  She wanted them to know that she loved them.  But, she was afraid that they wouldn’t love her back. 

            “Maybe.” thought the young girl.  “Maybe she should stay a ghost forever.” 

            “Focus.” called Guru.  He snapped the invisible girl out of her daydream and brought her back to reality. 

            “What I want you to do is try and blow out the candle.” 

            “Concentrate on the flame.” Guru said.  “Purse your lips, and blow.”  Guru imitated the motions as he spoke.  His fish face made Little Ghost giggle in silence. 

            “As you do this, I want you to concentrate on the air as it passes your lips.  Think about the coolness of the air as it moves over your wet lips.  Imagine being at the beach, and feeling the wind blowing across the water.”  Guru closed his eyes as he formed a mental picture for himself. 

            “Can you feel it?  The cool breeze, carrying the moisture of the ocean with it.  The feel of the mist as it hits your face.  Now, pretend that you are the wind.  Blow out across the flame.” 

            Guru opened his eyes and watched the flame.  It remained still.  Flickering, but not wavering. 

            “Focus.  You can do it.  Control your ability.  I know that you feel comfortable in your ghost form, but you need to come back to your real self.  You need to learn how to feel comfortable being you again.” 

            The candle didn’t move. 

            “You can do it.  I know what it’s like to get so wrapped up in your ability that you don’t want to be a part of the real world any more, but you can’t.  It’s okay to hide, if you have a reason to, but don’t do it just because you’re afraid.  Don’t run from the world just because you can.” 

            The flame danced briefly.  Guru smiled. 

            “Good.  Try again.  Remember to concentrate.  Be here, with us.” 

            The flame danced again.  Longer this time.  It went still, and then blew out completely. 

            “Excellent!” Guru said with a smile the size of the moon.    

            Little Ghost was smiling, too.  She turned visible, and Guru could see the young girl sitting on her knees leaning forward.  Her eyes were big and bright with pride.  She was quite pleased with herself, and Guru was equally as happy. 

            “You’ve done well.  I think we can end today’s lesson early.” Guru said.  “Why don’t you go tell Electric Blue how well you did today.” 

            Little Ghost was excited.  She bounded from her spot on the floor and up the back staircase faster than Guru had ever seen the young girl move before.  More importantly, she did the whole thing while visible. 

            Guru looked out the old factory windows at the setting sun.  His smile faded.  The sun looked so ominous peeking over the horizon, while trying to hide in the clouds; as if it were afraid of what the night was bringing. 

            The old man walked to the far wall and pressed the button on the intercom. 

            “Crash and Big Me.  Please join me on the training room floor.” 

            The time was almost upon them, and he needed to be ready.  For their sakes.

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