Time Out of Mind
Molly felt positively deserted here
in the park. She wandered through the
small booths and kiosks set up throughout
In the past, C.A.V.E.A.T. gatherings had been small groups of people standing on a small stage. Now, several restaurants and boutiques had set up small booths showing their support for the cause. Entertainment was on the stage and everyone around her was holding and reading a pamphlet, supporting the push for registration of powered children.
Caveat: a warning or caution. Molly mused on the meaning of the word. They couldn’t have come up with a more appropriate name for their group. Eric had always disagreed with her opinions on hero treatment; especially gifted children. He strongly believed in hero registration, but he felt it endangered children and families needlessly to register every person with powers. The strong debate had always been a source of passion in their union.
Despite their heated differences on the subject, Eric had agreed to join her that day at the gathering. She had, after all just recently been appointed on the board for C.A.V.E.A.T. and she needed his support, in presence, if not in ethos. She sighed, wishing he were still beside her, soaking up the warm rays of sun and drinking a cool dark beer while resting on the grass; and most importantly, sharing in her success on the completion of this gathering. Instead he had left her to go sit, hunched over, in front of a computer beneath a flickering fluorescent light. What was so appealing at the office that he left this for that, no matter how much he disliked the organization? She called his cell p hone again, only to get no answer.
What if I’m wrong? What if he isn’t going to work after all? No that’s silly, he wouldn’t lie to me… would he? Why isn’t he answering his phone if he’s at work?
Molly’s thoughts were quickly turning dark, and she decided the only way to put her fears aside was to go to his office and see for herself that he was, in fact, working. She would bring him his favorite, a meatball sandwich from his favorite deli, and stay with him there. If she couldn’t spend the day with him at the park, then she would suffer beside her beloved man under those horrible fluorescent lamps.
* * *
It was clear to everyone present; this building had some significance in Abaddon’s plans, whatever they were. Reconnaissance of the area in Boomtown had thus far given very little evidence of what the destroyer had in mind. Bands of trolls roamed the defeated section of city destroying everything, and more importantly, everyone in their wake. Trolls had always been brutal, but never so expansionist. They also seemed to be tougher, stronger and faster than ever before. It appeared their alliance to the demi-god had further altered their abilities given to them by the superadyne they used so consistently.
Medik had discovered a disturbance in communications some time ago as they had trekked through the demolished section of the city. Though it had deemed the use of police transponders impossible, Psirene was able to put them into a deep sleeplike state. If they could shut down whatever was causing the disturbance, the five could put a lot of criminals behind bars.
Eric had also taken stock of his companions while they had fought the several roving bands of Trolls. Red Sniper seemed distracted, nowhere near his peak performance. Fixit had fought with increased ferocity and had kept near the side of Psirene, in her skimpy, black costume. Remembering what his friend had revealed to him earlier about a woman being pregnant, he figured he may know who it was. Despite her condition, she seemed perfectly capable of defending herself. Her mental powers were a match for any Troll, any day. Darr was another problem all together. It seemed every encounter ended with his having to restrain the swordsman from finishing off a fallen foe.
“How can you expend so much effort protecting the enemies of your home, your country?” Darr’s question had been causing the healer to rethink his position on the matter. No matter how he put it, he was aiding his enemies. Every time his thoughts drifted in that direction, Medik couldn’t help but wonder how much easier his life would be if he were just Eric Bell, and not a hero.
“We need to send someone for reinforcements,” Fixit’s whisper put an abrupt end to Medik’s thoughts. “None of our communicators work within the effect of the building, but if someone can get far enough away, the rest of us can wait here.”
“We can’t wait,” Red Sniper interjected, “what if he finishes whatever he’s up to in there? We should rush ‘em.”
“I can go,” Medik offered, “I’m the fastest.”
“We’ll need you here,” Fixit replied, “your powers will be needed if we’re going to rush in. Psirene,” he turned toward the woman in tight black leather, “you should go.”
“Like hell I will, my place is here with you.”
“You can fly, so you can stay out of reach of any enemy that you might come across. Plus we’ll need the heavy fighters if we’re going to stand a chance f surviving long enough for their return.”
“Of all the sexist…” Psirene was turning red with anger and embarrassment. Her violet eyes flared as she searched for the right words to fling back at the man before her. Her search was interrupted by a hand on her shoulder. Immediately at his touch, she felt calm.
“I think what he’s trying to say, is that he wants you to go get help; and I don’t think he wants you to return with them. I agree, given your situation.”
“What do you know about my situation?”
“I think you are carrying a child.” Medik removed his goggles as he spoke, his green eyes bearing down on the woman’s violet. “And I think John here has a very good reason to want you away from harm.” Bianca looked towards the ground in embarrassment as Medik continued. “I would rather to go for help, but I will be needed here.” Medik handed the mind reader a cell phone. “I have been trying to send a message to my wife. I need her to get this, even if I don’t come back alive.” Hi s eyes pleaded with her not to argue.
“I’ll go,” she responded, “but I don’t like it and I will be back. I have a stake in this too.” As Bianca turned to leave, she could see Fixit and the others already grouped together, working out a battle strategy. The group was little more than a black dot in the ruins around them when she looked back one last time.
“John,” Bianca’s voice was in his head, unaccustomed to mind-speak, his reply was slow.
“What do you want?” Before Psirene even realized what she was doing, she threw out her automatic, sassy reply.
“You have to ask?”
“Yeah, I’m not the mind reader.” Bianca had to stop and think on that response, no one had ever given it before. It crossed her mind how previous responses had angered and flustered her. But was the response really their fault, or was it hers? Quickly she realized that she had left Fixit waiting.
“Stay alive for me.”
“I have so far.” In her mind, Psirene could feel his crooked grin at the flippant response. How could a man be so sincere one moment, and so cocky the next? These types of questions are what kept her interested in the scruffy, part time hero. She turned to her appointed task once more, determined even more to return to the battle.
Several Trolls watched a mysterious object arc from behind a pile of rubble towards them. Any enhancements on the green roughnecks may have made them tougher, but it certainly didn’t make them any smarter. Not until the grenade landed amongst them and exploded, taking several Trolls out of the fight before it even began, did they realize they were under attack.
Half their number started towards the rubble pile from which the offending projectile had been released. Their course changed when, from their left, a rather average man in a leather jacket and yellow bandanna leapt out and hurled insults about their dubious parentage. Knives, pipes and hand guns were pulled from various hiding places and the Trolls headed towards the new offender, as did most of the remaining guards from the door.
“Now?” Medik whispered to Brinkman as they watched the fray from the Troll’s right flank.
“Wait just a bit longer,” Brinkman responded. Their plan seemed to be working thus far. Red Sniper and Fixit would draw as many of the door guards away from the door as possible. When that had been accomplished, Medik and Brinkman could slip up behind the remaining guards and take them down. With the doorway open, they could all rush it and bar the heavy, armored door behind them. It certainly wasn’t foolproof, but it was a good plan for being outnumbered ten to one.
Fixit quickly found himself in exactly the situation he had hoped to avoid. He and Red Sniper had been overly successful in grabbing the Troll’s attention. After hurling his insults, and a few rocks, which did little more than aggravate the ruffians, he scarcely had time to brace himself before the onslaught hit him. Shouting, kicking and punching, Fixit gave as good as he got. Knowing that here, in this place, his medi-porter likely meant about as much as his cell phone; he held nothing back. Limbs were broken, skulls smashed. When he could, he would disarm a foe and use the weapon to quick and deadly effect. One Troll found his head split open, the remains of his drug and magic addled brain exposed to the world as he breathed his final breath.
The scrapper was not alone in his fight. The man known to the world only as the Remarkable Red Sniper stood to the flank of the battle. While most of the fighting was in his friend’s direction, he had to put several Trolls down before they could reach his vantage point. Bursts of automatic gun fire pierced the air, joining in the sounds of battle and shouts of pain.
“Look at him go.” The voice was back. “He doesn’t even seem to feel all the damage his body has absorbed. I wonder if he truly is human anymore.”
“Shut up, I’m concentrating.” Red Sniper snarled at the voice. He was no longer sure if it was real or imagined; a this point it didn’t matter. “You keep talking and I could miss something. Every bullet counts today.” Beneath his gas mask, David smiled. For once, the voice had no smug reply and his head was quiet for the first time since he could remember.
“Now!” Brinkman leapt out from behind their hiding spot with Medik right behind him. The two men had no problem disabling the few Trolls which stood by the door. Almost all of them had joined the fray against Fixit and Red Sniper. A quick sword slash here, a jab between the ribs, Darr’s sword was drenched in blood this day and it pleased him. Medik didn’t bother to try stopping the bloodthirsty swordsman. He knew if the Trolls had their way, he would be dead already. The thought still bothered him, but he had to let it go f or now.
“We have the door! Get in!” Medik and Brinkman shouted in unison over the din of battle. Red Sniper immediately started side stepping in that direction, keeping the bulk of the Trolls between him and Fixit, trying to blast him a path through the mass of bodies.
Fixit turned toward the voices, looking for a path out of the destructive force of the foes before him. For a fraction of a second he wasn’t fighting. A knife wielding Troll took full advantage of the slight opening in Fixit’s defenses, driving a knife towards the hero’s face. Instinctively, Fixit threw a block, but it came too late to completely stop the blow. The blade of the knife pierced his skin at the jaw line and protruded out his cheek and tucking back under his cheek bone. In response, the brawling hero threw an elbow into the Troll’s face, breaking his nose and sending bone shards into his brain, killi ng him before he hit the ground. The sudden movement broke the blade of the knife, leaving it stuck in his face.
“There!” The voice had come back. “Look, I told you he wasn’t human! Seems to me your old pal was replaced by a robot too.” Red Sniper could see very little detail from this distance, but indeed, a chunk of flesh had been flayed from his friend’s face and he could see light reflecting off metal. At first he didn’t believe it, but checking a second and third time brought him the same result. The voice had been right, his friends had been replaced by synthetic life forms. If the voice had been right about that, what else had he been right about? Were these two the greatest threat he had ever faced? He only had one course of action, he couldn’t risk leaving two Council robots unchecked.
Despite the pain and the abuse his body had already absorbed, Fixit was making his way towards the door. Hope was beginning to build up within him, they were going to pull it off and get inside before Abaddon could finish whatever he was up to. That is when the searing pain opened up in his back and left side. He turned to see what had happened, and in the distance, he could see Red Sniper with his firearm leveled right at him. Another burst fired out and buckshot filled his vision; pelting his body and face, blinding him in his left eye. The remaining Trolls around him were also suffering from the bursts emitti ng from the gunner’s barrels, but ignored the pain and continued pummeling the escaping scrapper.
Blast after blast assaulted Fixit, but worse than the pain brought on by the bullets, even worse than that handed out by the angry, enhanced Trolls, he felt betrayed. He could not understand what would bring Red Sniper to side with their enemies. He felt, briefly, the washing effect of Medik’s healing power; but the damage he was receiving was far greater than any healing he could receive at such a distance.
Brinkman and Medik watched as Fixit neared the far line of battle and prepared themselves to close the door quickly and brace it. Within seconds, their hope had been dashed when Red Sniper turned his wrath on their teammate.
“NOOOOOOOO!” Medik shouted into the fray and would have run into it, attempting to save his friend from the Trolls, but a firm hand gripped his shoulder and pulled him into the doorway. Fighting against brinkman’s strong grip, all Medik could manage was a quick healing blast in Fixit’s direction as he was pulled into the building and the door slammed behind him.
“Why did you do that?!” Medik shouted through forming tears, leaving clean streaks down his cheeks, dirty from the day’s battles.
“Aside from joining him in death, what would you hope to accomplish?” Medik hated brinkman’s old world, cold, battle strategy. Rather than answer, he tried to get past him to the door. A quick blow from the swordsman’s fist halted him as well as landing the healer on the floor.
“I you open that door, we will be overrun by the beasts we fought. If that happens, we die here. I for one would prefer to live and go back home.”
As if to illustrate his point, pounding began on the door as the Trolls outside attempted in vain to reach the two remaining heroes. They could hear a howl, low in the air.
“So long my friend, I had hoped to do more for you.” Medik lowered his head a grieved silently for a confidante and companion.
Red Sniper took his attention off Fixit for the moment, hoping to get a shot at the robotic Medik as well. Focusing his sights on his once companion, he was too slow to get a shot off as Brinkman grabbed him and pulled him inside. The gunner knew he could go after Medik later, for now, he would finish off the duplicate Fixit. Taking careful aim once again at the doppelganger, Red Sniper’s resolve diminished at the bloody sight that had been his friend. Fixit’s right leg was broken, his eye was a bloody mess; David Hallsworth watched as his friend collapsed to his knees, surrounded by enemies.
“Why don’t I see any more robotic parts?” The voice did not answer his question. “Answer me!” Red Sniper’s scream pierced the air, turning the attention of the Trolls towards him.
“Shit.” Forgetting any sense of loyalty, friendship or duty; the Remarkable Red Sniper turned and ran away from danger, afraid for his life.
Gibbering monkeys were all around him, hitting him. No, these monkeys were green. These were Trolls, not simians. Fixit could no longer stand, he slumped to his knees. He knew what his fate was, but maybe, just maybe Psirene would return with help just in time to save the day. He watched the sky with his final glimmer of hope. A blow from a troll hit him in the head so hard it nearly broke his spine. He realized that no one was coming to help him, he was on his own. He could get out of this, he had lived through worse in his years on earth. He stood once more, more by sheer power of will than strength. Fire tore up his right leg as he put weight on his broken bone. Curling his fingers into fists, he prepared to win his way free of this ordeal and go heal somewhere safe.
One punch. He threw one punch at a troll before a hammer, swung by a new Troll recruit, hit him in the back. White fire raced through his entire body. The searing pain he could deal with, but his frustration at not being able to keep himself standing tore at his soul. All his hate, his fear, his anger and his sorrow were released into a single, terrifying howl. Medik and brinkman could hear it though the armored door, Red Sniper heard it as he ran from his impending doom, and Bianca heard it while she was trying to reach aid. More than hearing a wail, the heroine calling herself Psirene could feel Fixit dying.
“Just get anyone you can reach down here, it’s turning ugly quick!” Psirene barked into her phone. She knew her own team was busy, so when she had left a message on Nightbringer’s comm., she didn’t try to reach anyone else personally. Instead, she dialed Hero Corps and put out an all points bulletin on the location where the building stood. Fixit’s trauma was all that Psirene cared for at the moment. She hit the send button on the message for Medik’s wife and was on her way back to find Fixit before he could die on her.
John Fix could feel himself floating, but he could see nothing. He couldn’t even see himself. The only thing he was aware of was a constant tug that kept him from falling asleep in the soft, enveloping darkness. He didn’t know what it was, or where it came from, but it kept him from what he wanted, what he had longed for all these years. John was tired and he wanted to sleep. He was so close to it now he could feel the weariness in his bones. The once hero closed his eyes, he thought on how silly it was to close one’s eyes in total darkness, and he let his thoughts relax. Whatever was tugging at him, keepin g away from rest, would grow tired of this game after enough time. He had waited this long for rest, he could wait a little longer.