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Chapter XXVI

 

            Valerie peeked inside the lab from the elevator doors.  She could see Anthony from where she stood.  He was in his usual spot, sitting in front of a workstation, completely preoccupied with a new invention. 

            “Knock knock.” Valerie said as she rapped quietly on the wall outside of the elevator doors.  She stepped into the lab and slowly made her way towards Anthony.  As she walked across the floor, she turned her head slightly to the left, trying to avoid seeing the corner of the room where she had spent her week of hell.  Anthony had removed the chains and restraining bolt in the floor, but in Valerie’s mind they were still there. 

            Anthony didn’t budge at her entrance.  She wasn’t even sure he had heard her come in.  She tried to make a little more noise as she approached him to keep from startling him accidentally.  The two of them had been through too much recently to be alarmed for no reason. 

            “Dr. Anthony?” Valerie called to him.  The Dr. didn’t look up and continued working. 

            “I hear you, Val.” He said. 

            Valerie hastened her walk knowing that he was aware of her presence.  She moved to the side of the workstation and stared at him.  On the table was the patchwork machine the possessed Dr. had built.  Anthony had spent the better part of the night examining it.  He had put it back together, taken it apart, and put it back together again in the hours he had been down there. 

            Above Valerie the ceiling moved, drawing her attention to it.  Liquid digital displays built in the ceiling projected an image of a rising sun. The sun rose and set in just a few minutes.  The display continued, moving day by day through the seasons.  The visual would change every displayed week, and show a new location, but during the same period of time. 

            “That’s new.” Valerie said.  Her head was craned back watching the days go by. 

            “Locked down here without any view of the outside world can be detrimental to the mind.  It’s a self imposed version of solitary confinement.  I need to be aware of the passage of time, without being a victim of its influence.  I keep the display out of real time for that purpose.”

            “It’s good to see you back at work.  Back to yourself.” 

            Anthony stopped examining the device and looked up at Valerie.  The sadness in his eyes almost made her cry. 

            “Don’t mistake what I’m doing here for normal.  I’m far from being back to normal.” Anthony replied. 

            “I’m merely trying to piece together what happened to me.” Anthony continued. 

            “What do you remember?”  Valerie asked. 

            “During the time I was under its control?  Nothing. 

            “What’s the last thing you do remember?” 

            “I’m not sure.” Anthony began.  “I spend so much time down here in the lab…  Everything seems to have blurred together.”

            Anthony closed his eyes and drummed the table with the pads of his fingers.  He tried to recall what he was doing before he woke up to the horror his life had turned into. 

            “I don’t… It’s all a blur.  Things blending together.  It’s like looking through frosted glass – just shapes and outlines.” 

            Valerie smiled at him.  “It’ll get better.  Just give it some time.” 

            “How about you?” Anthony asked.  His concern ran deeper than just the rekindled feelings he had for her.  She had been tortured by his hand.  The fact that he wasn’t in control at the time did little to ease his conscious.  He needed for her to be ok.  If there were any lasting damage, he didn’t know what he would do. 

            “Feeling better.” Valerie answered with another smile on her face.  “With that power dampener removed I’m back up to a hundred percent.  I took a quick fly around the tundra when I woke up.  It felt wonderful.” 

            Valerie closed her eyes and her mind went back to her early morning flight; the wind in her face, and the heat of the sun washing over her skin.  She soared up into the clouds and hovered for a moment before beginning her descent.  Valerie stretched her body out horizontally, pulled her arms to her chest, and dropped from the sky.  Her body tumbled sideways as if she were rolling down a hill.  Her hair whipped about her face and head tangling into a mess that her personal hairdresser would charge her several thousand dollars to undue.  For the freedom she felt at that moment, Valerie would pay any price. 

            The flaxen haired heroine opened her eyes and found Anthony looking at her with a smirk.  She blushed and ran her fingers through the ends of her velocity made dreadlocks.  Her fingers got caught in the tangles and she frowned. 

            “Ugh!  D’lores is going to kill me.” Valerie twisted her features into a mock grimace.  “You’d think that being a hairstylist to the stars, and charging five hundred dollars for a shampoo and herb and seaweed rinse, she’d be happy with repeat business.  Instead, she yells at me and tells me what a bad person I am for getting my hair dirty with soot and ash after saving people from an apartment fire.  Hollywood.  Go figure, huh?” 

            Anthony just stared at her.  Being one of the few heroes to escape the trappings of celebrity he had a hard time relating to her “problems”.  Still, he enjoyed listening to her talk.  He realized that it was something he should have done more of back when they were a couple. 

            “Well,” Valerie said, changing the subject.  “Are you going to tell me what you’re working on?” 

            Anthony turned his attention away from his former girlfriend and back to the machine.  He immediately went back to tinkering with it while he talked. 

            “Trying to figure out why this thing didn’t work.” 

            “Didn’t it?” Valerie questioned.  “I mean, it forced that thing, whatever it was, out of you.” 

            “This machine is what helped me snapped out of the mental prison that being held me in.  The problem is, it wasn’t meant to.” 

            Dr. 253 was in the middle of taking the device apart again when Valerie entered the lab.  He turned the machine around to show the inner workings and pointed out parts to her.   He looked down at his hands.  They weren’t his anymore; at least not the way they used to be.  Anthony looked up at Valerie. 

            “I’ve been struggling with these all night.” Anthony held his hands up.  “I’m stronger than I used to be.  I spent the first two hours down here teaching myself how to hold things again.  I went through about three dozen eggs before I learned the precise amount of pressure needed to pick them up without crushing them.  As you can see…” He gestured to the other end of the workstation.  A small pile of broken tools and various gizmos he had built were lying in ruin at the far end of the table. 

            “My tools aren’t much better.” 

            Valerie reached across the table and held his hands in hers.  She ran her hands along the backs of them, feeling the skin.  Anthony’s skin looked normal and smooth to the touch, albeit mildly discolored and bigger, but they felt like soft leather.  Not unpleasant to the touch, but textured and unnatural. 

            Valerie ran her hands down the backside and along the fingers.  She turned his hands over to feel the palms.  Inside her stomach knotted as her mind flashed back to the times those hands had taken liberties with her bare flesh.  She tried not to let it show to Anthony, and tapped the skin to cover her trembling fingers. 

            Anthony watched Valerie’s hands as she held his.  When she started to touch his palms he pulled away.  She looked at him with surprise, and wondered what she did wrong.  Anthony met her gaze, then looked back down at his hands.  Her eyes followed his.  His pinky fingers were still curled up against the palm.     

            “The pinkies have atrophied to the point that they’re useless.  The bones have become a sponge like consistency.  I think they’ll need to be amputated.” Anthony said in a matter of fact tone that was scary to both of them. 

            Anthony immediately went back to the device, trying to change the subject and temporarily forget about how different he now was.  He pointed at the pieces inside the machine again. 

            “You see this piece here… here… and here?”  The one with the blue tip is a receiver, of sorts.  The one with the orange line around the base is a transmitter.  The clear one is an amplifier.  I believe that the ‘other’ me was going to possess you the same way it had me.  Not him exactly, but one of his kind.” 

            Dr. 253 turned the machine back around to himself.  Her loosened a few screws and removed the top. 

            “See here?” The doctor pointed to another area.  “The blue and black wires lead from the transmitter to the amplifier.  They’re reversed.  Instead of them increasing the signal from the receiver and sending it at you, or whomever, they looped the ambient noise from the room and broadcast it back out.  Like putting an amplifier and microphone in an empty room.  The sound begins to loop and feedback until it become too much for either instrument.  In this case, it took the signal in the room, the being, and broadcast it back at itself, me.  The signal was intensified, weakening its hold, and allowing me to take control.” 

            “Okay.” Valerie said with feigned understanding.  She knew that Dr. 253 had dumbed it down as much as he could, but she still didn’t completely understand.  “I don’t get it.” 

            ‘Neither do I.” Dr. 253 continued on.  He knew what Valerie meant, but took it in his own direction as not to insult her intelligence.    

            “The being that made this knew what it was doing, up until here.  This is too simple of a mistake for it to have made.  There’s no way it would have done something as juvenile as confuse these two wires.  Had it not been for that, I’d still be under its control, for the time being, and you’d be a new host.” 

            “Maybe you did it.  Maybe your subconscious was fighting back.  There were times, when it seemed like you – it – couldn’t concentrate.  It would shake its head like it was having a fit.  It actually did that right before activating the machine.  Maybe a part of you was fighting back.” 

            “I don’t remember.  If I was fighting back against the creatures hold on me, there should be some memory.  A glimmer of subconscious thought.  There’s nothing.  I don’t remember anything.” 

            “What else could it be?” 

            “I have a theory.” Anthony replied.  He directed her attention to the other workstation.  The two of them walked over to the table.  Anthony activated the touch screen controls built into the table top and brought up dual holographic images of his brain.     

            “These are 3D renderings of my brain.  The one on the right was taken from a scan done early this morning.  The other is from a scan I did six weeks ago.” 

            “Wait!  You scanned your brain six weeks ago?” Valerie questioned.  As Dr. 253, Anthony was known to do some things that would seem crazy to those of lesser intelligence, including experimenting on himself at times.  She hoped he hadn’t been doing anything like that again.

            “Yes.” Anthony answered matter-of-factly.  “My entire brain scanned in its entirety.  The scan is done a micron at a time to ensure that nothing is missed.” 

            “And, when did you start doing this?” 

            “Shortly after we broke up.  I was afraid something might be wrong with me.  There wasn’t.  At least, not physically.” 

            Anthony turned back to the holographs of his brain.  The grey matter globes rotated slowly before both their eyes. 

            “See the one on the left?  Perfectly normal.  Each color indicates an individual brain function: active thinking, tactile senses, visual input, memory storage and recall, involuntary actions, etc.”  Anthony pushed another button, and the active regions of his brain lit up like fireworks.

            Valerie couldn’t believe her eyes.  The image of his brain was a kaleidoscope of colors. There appeared to be activity all over his brain.  There were so many colors that they were broken down into lighter and darker hues of the same primary.  Some blended together and were barely noticeable until the image turned a certain way. 

            “My God.” Valerie unconsciously said aloud. 

            “Using this, I was able to understand the nature of my power.  My intelligence comes from multiple areas of my brain all working at once.  It’s the equivalent to a thousand supercomputers working independently to solve one problem.  Each works its own path to a possible solution, and then all the data is compiled.  From this an answer, or path of action, is determined with the highest possible success rate.  If you then take that solution and run it through a thousand more computers, you will have an answer that is infallible.  My brain does this on a level beyond conscious thought.  It would be scary if it wasn’t so intriguing.” 

            Dr. 253 increased the size of the brain image on the right, drawing Valerie’s attention to it.  This scan was not as radiant as the other.  The colors were duller and there were fewer shades of the primaries. 

            “Take a look at the one I did today.  The duller colors indicate a slower processing speed.  My brain is still thinking on multiple levels, but not as fast or as strong.  Something’s impeding it.” 

            The holograph of the brain turned counterclockwise and the right front hemisphere enlarged in view. 

            “See that dark mass?” Dr. 253 asked.  “Cognitive reasoning.  Ordinarily this would be someone who has some form of diminished capacity, mostly associated with dementia or extreme levels of autism.  The brain itself is still active, but the response from the higher functions are slow, or sporadic.   The creature that possessed me subdued my conscious mind with his when it took over.  I believe the problem was, it wasn’t able to completely take over.” 

            Dr. 253 shrank the image of the possessed brain back to its normal size.  He merged the two holographic images together, overlaying the “damaged” one on top of the good one. 

            “My brain is designed to work for me and no one else.” 

            “Of course it is.  I don’t see what you’re getting at.”  Valerie inquired. 

            “When Mistress Meteora asked me to give you powers like hers, I couldn’t just graft those same powers on to you.  I had to tailor them to fit your DNA.  My brain is similar.  The way it works could only work for me, and no one else.  I believe that these creatures take over someone by mapping their mind over the host’s mind.  The creature’s mind slowly suppresses the host until they are completely overtaken and no part of them exists anymore.  This change also forces their DNA to recode itself to fit the creature’s natural form.” 

            Valerie looked from the holograph to Anthony, and back to the holograph.  It made sense – it was coming from Dr. 253 after all, the smartest man on the planet – but a part of her wanted to fight his explanation.  She didn’t want to believe that such a thing was possible.  Creatures taking over people’s minds and bodies.  If she hadn’t witnessed it herself, she would defy all rational reasoning and tell him he was wrong. 

            Dr. 253 continued.

            “My brain’s activity was too much for the creature to subdue.  So, even though it was able to take over my conscious mind, it couldn’t fully map itself to the rest of my brain.  Some part of my subconscious mind realized something was wrong, and started working on a solution to fix it.  This area of my brain either forced or tricked the creature into wiring the device incorrectly.  The feedback loop allowed my conscious self to reawaken and eradicate it from my mind.” 

            “Is it gone for good?”

            “For all intents and purposes, yes.  Because it had downloaded itself into my head, there’s no way for me to extract it.  Thankfully, when my mind reclaimed control of my brain it erased all traces of the creature.  This is why I have no recollection of the past month.  As my mind adjusts to being back in control, those dark masses will turn back into active regions of neural response. That could very well take weeks.  Even still, my memory of that time is gone for good.”   

            “Well, I guess that’s both good and bad.” Valerie said. 

            Dr. 253 turned off the holographic display.  He walked back over to the other work station, with Valerie in tow, and took a seat. 

            “What now?” Valerie asked.  Anthony had explained everything that had happened to her, but he hadn’t told her what he planned to do with that information. 

            “Now?” Anthony repeated.  “I wish I knew.  First I need to find out what took control of my mind.  Then, I need to find out what I did while it was in control.  If I can figure all of that out, then I’ll be able to make a plan.  Until I fully recover, I’m not much smarter than Stephen Hawking.  I fear that may not be smart enough” 

            On the screen above him summer was in full bloom.  The sun rose and set over his head, shining its light down on him like a spotlight.  The midday light bathe him in its radiance and for a minute he looked like his old self.  At dusk, the waning light seemed to accent the leathery texture of his skin and the weariness he wore like a mask. 

            Valerie knew at that moment that he would never be the same.  The Dr. 253 she knew was gone, and inside she cried.

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            It’s been awhile since I’ve done any kind of blog or post on the site, and with this being a new year, I figured I should provide some kind of status update. 

            As you’ve seen, Unwanted Heroes is still going strong.  Things are starting to come together, and we’re seeing early plot threads starting to stitch together with existing ones.  There are still some unanswered questions floating around.  I promise, by the end of this, all questions will be answered but two.  The answers for those two won’t come until the second story arc.  We’re getting closer to the climax and the inevitable return of Terror IX.  So, speaking of Terror IX, last year I did a standalone Unwanted Heroes story just for the Charlotte Heroes Con that was not posted on the site.  The story, Bury My Mask At Washington Square, was about the last stand of the Championaires and what caused them to break up.  If you haven’t read it, you aren’t missing out from the regular story, but it will help to understand and fill in some of those unexplained plotlines.  If at the end of the first story arc you find you have more than two unanswered questions, then you probably didn’t read Bury My Mask.  Don’t worry, Bury My Mask will be available at the Heroes Con again this year, as well as the other cons I will be attending.  To keep with the tradition, that I just started last year, there will be another standalone story, for conventions only, this year.  The story is titled: Terror IX From Outer SpaceTerror IX will tell the story of how the heroes stopped the Cycksiks during their first invasion attempt.  You definitely will not want to miss this one.  I’ll also have collected versions of the story up to that point – which, if things hold out will be to chapter 35, or so.  That’s three more collected versions.  The first one, chapters 1-8, will be on sale as well. 

            What else?  Geez, greedy much?  Well what do you think of this? 

 

            Wolly and I have been working on a new book entitled Fairytale Knights.  We recently completed the 8 page preview for the book and Wolly is working on the art for the first issue of the five part series.  We’re starting out with a limited series, and will move to an on-going book after that.  FTK is the story of Milia, a knight for the Order of the Red Hood, and her partner/familiar Patrick the wolf.  Milia and Patrick live in the World of Imagine, where all fairytale characters live.  A force from the real world is out to destroy the realm.  Milia and Patrick are trying to protect the realm, but when the truth comes out, they realize that things in the Land of Imagine aren’t what they seem.  I’ll keep you updated with more pictures as we go along. 

            So, what happened to Revelations 23?  Well, it’s still around.  We’re working on both books at one time, with Wolly doing the art on both.  We are aiming for the first issues of R23 and FTK to both be ready to debut at the Heroes Con. 

            I might have another project or two up my sleeves as well that I’m keeping under wraps for now. 

            Lastly, with the help of a good friend, I was able to recover some of my older stories from years ago.  I’ll post a few of them on the site after they’ve been touched up.  Two of them being old Star Trek: DS9 fan fictions involving my favorite character, Chief Miles O’Brien. 

            Anyway… more on future projects as they develop.  Unwanted Heroes Chapter XXVI next week, and whatever else I can think of as I think of it. 

“He’s like Batman but he can fly… underwater.”

Jerale Clebourne

Mindseyechronicles@comcast.net

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Chapter XXV

 

            Astronima woke to the sounds of chittering and incoherent mumblings.  Her eyes opened slowly, moving before the rest of her body.  She tried to lift herself from the floor and found her hands restrained with chains made of Ultranite.  In the first few moments since regaining consciousness, she had completely forgotten that she was Dr. 253’s prisoner. 

            For the past five days she had been a captive of her former mentor and lover.  Astronima had been stripped of her clothing and chained hand and foot to a restraining bolt in the floor of Dr. 253’s lab.  Pressure at the base of her skull reminded her of the device he had attached to her head shortly after she arrived.  The device neutralized her abilities and left her powerless.  Powerless and completely at his mercy. 

            Astronima shut her eyes and tried hard not to think of the depravities she had suffered at Dr. 253’s hands. No, not Dr. 253.  Whomever it was that had her chained to the floor of the lab wasn’t Dr. 253.  Not anymore. 

            Astronima carefully lowered her hands back to the floor, moving slowly as not to rattle the chains.  She lay still for several minutes, just in case she was being watched.  When she felt it was safe she cautiously peeked through one eye at what her captor was doing. 

            Across the lab Dr. 253 worked on one of his many partially completed projects.  He talked to himself in a continuous low monotone voice that was devoid of inflection or punctuation.  His words came out like one long random thought, occasionally interrupted with insect-like chittering and noises that were beyond human.  His hands moved constantly, putting pieces together and using various instruments.  Whatever he was building lacked his usual style and simplistic design.  Each of the incomplete projects were moderately sized and looked as if they had been cobbled together from stray pieces and not built from well designed plans. 

            Dr. 253 stopped suddenly and his head snapped over in Astronima’s direction.  The heroine closed her eye quickly.  She held her breath and waited to see if he was going to approach her.  After what seemed like minutes, she heard the tinkering begin again, and she once again peeked out at him.  Astronima shook her head softly, flinging hair over her eyes.  The strands didn’t block her view, but did shield her eyes from view.  It would make it harder for the Dr. to see if she were awake or watching him. 

            Astronima watched Dr. 253 carefully.  It wasn’t just his personality that had changed.  He was different physically as well.  He was bigger in size, more muscular.  His clothes didn’t quite fit him anymore, and the lab coat he wore was ripped in the shoulders and along his biceps.  A large tear ran down the middle of the back, from his shoulder blades to hem at the bottom.  From behind the jacket looked more like a tuxedo coat than a lab jacket.  His hands were three times their normal size and the pinky had curled up with the tip pressed against the palm.  His skin had turned two shades darker, with deep olive green hues that overly accentuated the muscles and veins like a Boris Vallejo painting.  His knees were perpetually bent, forcing him to walk with a cumbersome gait or hop to get around the lab.  His torso didn’t appear to be any longer, but he worked hunched over the lab table.  Every so often, he would shake his head violently, as if he were trying to dislodge something in his brain. 

            The quiet mumblings continued as the man who used to be Dr. 243 wired his Frankenstein machine to life.  His voice elevated to a “Eureka” pitch, and the talking stopped.  The man-creature hobbled its way over to where Astronima was on the floor, carrying the device with him.  Completed, the patchwork creation was the size of a car engine and looked like it was born from the hybrid imagination of Geoff Darrow and H.R. Giger.  The new Dr. set the ugly machine on the floor in front of Astronima and stared at the two of them. 

            The Dr. kicked the naked heroine hard in the stomach and said something in garbled English that she couldn’t make out.  The kick pushed her backwards across the floor.  The only thing that stopped her slide were the chains that bound her to the floor.  The chain links pulled tight and jerked her to a halt.

            The Dr. let out a twisted, graveled laugh and licked his lips.  He clopped over between Astronima and the device and knelt down.  He pulled her hair out of her face and looked at her bruised but still beautiful face.  He stared at her for the longest time, his eyes meeting hers.  Slowly his eyes strayed away and began following the smooth lines of her flesh.  His fingers followed seconds behind where his eyes had been.  The man-creature licked its lips again and rolled Astronima over so that he could see her from the front. 

            Before the beast-like man could commence another round of depraved torture he howled and started to shake his head again.  His hands left Astronima’s skin and gripped the sides of its head in pain.  The creature jerked its head back and forth.  Words spilled from its lips, ranging from mumbles to squeals, none of which were discernable as intelligent speech. 

            Dr. 253 reached behind himself and pushed the crude looking button on the device.  The machine produced an earsplitting screech that seemed to cause him more pain than he was already in.  The man-creature fell completely to its knees and cried out.  Blood began to run from Dr. 253’s nose.  Green at first, then red. 

            Astronima tried as best she could to cover her ears and protect herself from the noise.  As loud as the noise was, it seemed to hurt the Dr. more than it did her.  Astronima had to curl her body up on the floor to provide enough slack in the chains so that she could cover her ears and still watch what was happening to her tormentor. 

            The man-creature threw a hand behind itself towards the device.  It was able to smack the machine away, but not stop the noise.  The device skittered along the floor before smashing into a workstation and splintering into its separate compiled pieces.  The noise stopped, but the pain didn’t. 

            The Dr. 253 monster continued to scream.  It tossed its head back and cried at the ceiling.  The beast continued to scream until there was no air left in its lungs. 

            The Dr.’s arms dropped to its sides and its head lopped to the left.  Soon the body followed and he fell over in a heap. 

            Astronima wanted to reach out to him to see if he was dead, but was afraid to move.  She laid there in fear, her hands still over her ears, unsure of what to do. 

            The Dr.’s body twitched, and his legs spasmed.  Slowly, he began to move, and sat up on the cold floor.  He was dazed, and disoriented.  He tried to push himself further upright and almost fell back down to the floor.  Dr. 253 stayed in his current position for several minutes, trying to gather his strength. 

            The hero scientist tried again to sit up, this time with more success.  He sat up straight, and immediately put his hands out on the floor to stabilize himself.  Slowly his head turned and surveyed the wreckage of what was once his lab.  In his discombobulated state, it took him several more minutes before he noticed Astronima laying naked before him. 

            Dr. 253’s eyes grew wide with shock and confusion.  He didn’t move to free her.  He merely stared at her for the better part of a minute. 

            “Valerie?” Dr. 253 asked, as if he wasn’t even sure of her name. 

            Astronima looked into Dr. 253’s eyes.  They were normal.  His pupils were no longer dilated and the irises had returned to their normal color.  She didn’t say anything back to him.  She just continued to stare at his eyes.  They were his, but at the same time, they weren’t.  They weren’t the eyes of the beast anymore, but they weren’t Dr. 253’s either.  There was something different about the way he looked at her.  She saw something else in his gaze.  Emotion. 

            “Anthony?” Astronima finally answered. 

            “Wha- What the hell happened here?”  Dr. 253’s eyes went from her to the lab and back again.  He was lost. 

            “You don’t remember?” Valerie asked. 

            “I don’t…”  Dr. 253 realized that he and Astronima were the only people in the lab. “Did I do this?” 

            Anthony’s eyes begged for some kind of explanation.  He needed to know what had happened.  What was going on.  He looked to Valerie for answers.  She could only stare back.  Her face was a mixture of emotions, from fear, to relief, to distrust. 

            Dr. 253 could see it in her face.  She was scared of him.  He had no idea of what had transpired, but whatever it was, had caused Astronima to distrust him.  Then it hit him.  In all the time he had been staring at her, he hadn’t noticed the chains around her wrists and ankles. 

            “Chains?” he questioned aloud, not wanting to believe his eyes.  “You’re chained.” 

            Dr. 253 began to cry. 

            “Valerie, I don’t know what’s going on.” 

            Astronima pulled herself up and slid closer to the ring bolt in the floor.  She was able to rise to a kneeling position. 

            “It’s okay.” Valerie said.  She opened her arms as wide as she could and invited him in. 

            Anthony crawled across the floor and found comfort in her embrace.  He hugged her tight and sobbed against her breast.  Valerie started to cry, too.  She realized at that moment that he had been a victim of whatever had possessed him as well.  The two of them had both suffered at the hands of whatever had taken a hold of him.  They were both playthings for the creature’s perverse pleasure. 

            Valerie squeezed him tighter.  At least she knew what had happened, and as much as she didn’t want to think about what she had been subjected to, she knew that there was some relief in knowing.  Eventually she would get over it and come through as a stronger person.  For Anthony, Dr. 253, his life would never be the same.  Not only had his physical appearance changed, but he was missing entire weeks of his life.  A chunk of his being was gone, and there was no telling what he had done during that time, or who he had done it to.  There was no redemption for actions that you aren’t even conscious of doing.  Who knows what repercussions there might be for the things done during those missing days. 

            For Valerie, Astronima, her nightmare was over.  For Dr. 253, his was just beginning. 

*****

 

            “Where were you?” Diamond Dog spat between gritted teeth.  He grabbed Guru and slammed him against the damp brick wall of the underground passage.  His quartz exoskeleton covered his entire body save for his face. 

            “Look at us!  Little Ghost is dead!  We’ve all been beaten!  Our home is destroyed!  And you were nowhere to be found!” 

            Guru remained calm.  There was deep sense of pain and regret in his eyes that DD couldn’t see through his own anger.  Guru had done the only thing he could, and now, he had to live with the consequences of his actions.  And, for the second time in his life, those actions had cause pain to someone other than himself.  Despite all that he had done, all that he had tried to do, to Guru it seemed that all he was capable of doing was bringing pain to those around him. 

            “I’m sorry.”  It was all Guru could say.  He wanted to say more, but those were the only words that would come out. 

            “Sorry?!” DD repeated.  “All you can say is ‘sorry’?  We thought you cared about us!  We thought that we meant something to you, but when we needed you most, you were gone.  Gone!  And all you can offer is ‘sorry’?“ 

            Guru didn’t answer.  He stared at the older teenager with eyes pleading for understanding.  He glanced around the dimly lit tunnel at the other faces looking for compassion.  There was none to be found. 

            Guru’s silence pushed Diamond Dog’s anger up another level. 

            “I’ll show you sorry!” 

            Diamond Dog swung a crystal covered fist at Guru’s head.  Guru held up his hand and blocked the punch.  Unseen force from Guru’s hand pushed back against DD’s quartz protected hand.  DD’s hand was momentarily held in place by the rebuffing of his punch against Guru’s power.  Guru thrust his other hand forward, sending shockwaves of invisible force at Diamond Dog’s chest.  In his weakened state, the older boy couldn’t protect himself against the defensive attack.  The waves of force hit his quartz shell and shattered it.  The crystals cracked and cascaded outwards in a ripple effect, crumbling the protective covering.   The quartz shell broke into pebble sized pieces and fell away from the teenager’s body. 

            Diamond Dog stumbled back.  He was shocked and angry, but unable to do anything about either.  He was too weak to fight Guru, or produce another layer of quartz.  In truth he didn’t want to fight him.  DD was scared and angry.  More than anything, he was angry at himself.  He felt responsible for what had happened earlier that night. 

            DD blamed himself for the destruction of the Factory, and more to the point, Little Ghost’s death.  He looked over at Blue, who still held the young girl’s body cradled against her.  She hadn’t stopped crying since it happened.  Since Black Sunshine had killed her sister. 

            Black Sunshine, the boy Diamond Dog had pushed to the point that he wanted to kill not only Diamond Dog, but everyone in their house. 

            Diamond Dog couldn’t help but be taken back to the events that had forced him to runaway in the beginning.  The fight with Yvette’s father.  It had all happened again.    

            “Everyone, please…” Guru began.  “What just happened was traumatic for all of us.  I know I should have been there, and I’m sorry I wasn’t, but now isn’t the time to talk about this.” 

            Guru looked around the faces of the children before him.  They weren’t children anymore.  These young men and women had been given a crash course in the harsh realities of adulthood.  Any vestige of innocence had been washed away in the blood that each of them had shed.  He had forced them to become young soldiers in the war of their lives.  To abandon their childlike ways and steel themselves to the truth about the world they lived in. 

            Though neither of them knew it, both Guru and Diamond Dog shared the same guilt, and shouldered the blame for everything that had happened.  Each believed themselves to be the harbinger of pain and destruction to others.  Their past actions following them like ghosts.  They felt destined to be haunted for the rest of their lives. 

            “I promise to explain, but not now.  We’re still not safe.”  Guru pleaded with the teenagers.  “Please, just trust me.”

            The group of teenagers looked at one another in the dimness of the tunnel.  Each looked to the other before turning to Diamond Dog to decide for them.  He didn’t meet their stares; he looked away, staring at the wall. 

            DD glanced at Electric Blue, who simply stared down at the girl in her arms. 

            “Ok.” DD replied. 

            Guru nodded and the group began walking through the tunnel once again. 

*****

            The door to the examination room slid open with a hushed whisper of moving air.  General Lawton walked into the room and headed for the table where Major Tom stood. 

            On the table before him were the remains of the Kenneth monster that had terrorized Future City.  The body was suspended above the table by hooks and wires.  The head and limbs had been removed from the torso and were on the table, separated like pieces of beef. 

            Mechanical arms from the ceiling moved at Major Tom’s command, slicing open the organs and pulling them apart.  Major Tom controlled the arms with a spherical remote that hovered in his hands.  He twirled the ball between his palms, and his fingers touched invisible points that activated the lasers and micro scalpels. 

            General Lawton watched for a while before interrupting the balletic surgical performance. 

            “Well?” 

            Major Tom ignored him and continued working. 

            “Look, Tomaskarian-“ The General began, calling Major Tom by his real name. “This silent lone-gunman act may have worked with General Hadding, but I won’t stand for it.  You work for the United States military and you need to respect the chain of command.  You will respect me.” 

            Major Tom continued on with the dissection, never acknowledging the general’s presence. 

            “Goddamn alien…” Lawton began, but didn’t get a chance to finish.  Arms from the examination table reached out and grabbed the general by the collar of his jacket.  They pulled him closer to the examination table.  The smell of the dead rotting alien made his throat fill with bile.  A micro scalpel arm and mini-laser slithered out from the ceiling and hovered before General Lawton’s face. 

            The micro scalpel placed itself next to the carotid artery.  The mini-laser moved along his face and began expertly shaving off the overgrown hairs around the general’s moustache.  General Lawton was trapped in the deadly machine’s grip.  

            Major Tom didn’t look over at the man.  He operated the mechanical arms while his focus remained on the alien body.  Robotic arms performed their duties on both subjects independently, but only one subject held the alien hero’s attention. 

            “First off – yes I am an alien.” Major Tom spoke.  His voice was like the stillness in the eye of a storm.  He was a force to be reckoned with and cautious of, without being overtly threatening.   

            “Second, I do not work for you or your government.  I sought out an organization with the power to preserve its own life.  Yours was not quite there, but was the closest among everyone on Earth.  I am here to work with your world against a mutual threat.  Third, I resent the need of your government to assign a ‘handler’ to me as if I am some kind of child.  Hadding understood this and our ‘relationship’ worked well with this fore knowledge.  Lastly, I do not know you, nor do I wish to.  I do not need your respect, and neither will I give any.  Know this, you will never refer to me by my true name neither in private or in public.  If you feel the need to address me, you may call me Major, Tom, or Major Tom.  It would be in your best interest, though, for any further communications between us to be handled via a liaison.  I do not wish for you to be in my presence again.  This would be for your own safety.  Now, as for why you’ve come here…” 

            The mechanical arms released the general after perfectly trimming his moustache and beard.  General Lawton loosened his collar and breathed heavily.  He took several steps away from Major tom, moving back towards the door.  His rubber soled shoes squeaked on the tile floor as he moved away from the puddle he had made next to the exam table. 

            ‘I’ve examined the creature’s organs.  Parts of it are still human in appearance, but the DNA signature matches that of the Cycksiks.  It is the original Terror IX.”

            “What do you mean, original Terror IX?” General Lawton questioned. 

            Major Tom huffed in annoyance.  He had only adopted a few of Earth’s customs and mannerisms.  Displaying his anger and frustration were one of them. 

            ‘If you had studied the files instead of merely filing them away, you would know that encounters the Earth has had with extraterrestrial life have been given Terror level designations.  The first being Terror I, my arrival to your planet.  Since that time, I have helped your government combat ten Terror level events.  The Cycksiks were number nine.  It took the combined might of several of the world’s heroes to stop them.”   

            “So, you’re saying Terror IX is back?”

            “Yes.  Colonel Courageous and I were able to halt their conquest previously by destroying the jump gate they had assimilated from another race.  It was presumed this would stop them.  Apparently, we presumed wrong.” 

              “If their jump gate was destroyed, then how are they getting on Earth?”  General Lawton tried to take control of the meeting and assert himself as the alpha in the room.  Prior to being assigned to Major Tom, Lawton had served as Special Field Commander in four official military campaigns, and Operations Commander on countless black-ops.  Even still, the thought of alien invasion made his palms sweat. 

            “Unknown.  What I do know, is that they are gestating inside human hosts.  This is why some of their organs are still human in appearance and function, while the DNA is primarily Cycksiks.  They are taking you over from the inside.” 

            “My God.” 

            “I would suggest you call Dr. 253.  It’s been my observation that your God isn’t as reliable as he is.”

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