It was during the dark days that followed the assassination of Earths first President of color, that the first true superhero appeared. Unlike those that followed, he did not come from some twisted mutation of the flesh, from some inner longings of a mind driven mad by voices they did not know. He was not birthed into flesh from a womb that was destroyed by his exiting; a birth of flesh and blood that would later haunt the dreams of every operating nurse and doctor who witnessed it. No, his arrival was heralded by a single sonic boom, and a flash of light that illuminated the darkness in the high country of Maine. His charred and limp form hit the Earth at roughly three times the speed of a bullet. The resulting heat and shock wave devastated the nearby forest. Within a one and a half square mile radius, everything simply disappeared. Anything that lived was vaporized. Anything that stood was flattened. On the outer fringe, trees that had been standing when Columbus stumbled upon the shores, were up rooted and cast outward; flung about as easily as a child might swipe his arm over a table, scattering his toys. Some animals, that were fleet of foot, and had sensed the impending danger, managed to escape the searing heat blast; others were seared alive, antler, fur, and bone melting in the outer rings of the concussive blast. The Earth moaned in response; trembling at the site of the impact. Dirt, sand, leaf and root all fused into glass. If eyed from above, it would like someone had dropped a pebble into the center of a perfectly still pond. But instead of ripples radiating out, it was heat, nigh irresistible wind, and cosmic debris that rose in a plume high into the atmosphere.
In the center of it all, He lay. Motionless, and for the first time in His existence; unconscious. Unaware of His surroundings, with no conscious effort, His body began to adapt; to heal. Lungs that were collapsed and solid in the void of space began to inflate. Arteries that had retreated into his heart, so as to be unaffected by the vacuum in space, began to extend throughout his body and down strangely humanoid looking limbs. The first draw of air into his system activated chemical receptors buried deep within his brain, analyzing the atmosphere and causing his internal organ structures to conform and function in this atmosphere. Skin that had been horribly charred during His fall through the atmosphere began to heal; already taking on its natural bronze hue. His skeletal structure had not been damaged by the impact with the Earth’s surface, but He had suffered muscle and tissue damage; although what was caused by impact and what was caused by the events that transpired before were anybody’s guess. Either way, by the time His hearing became active, his body had healed. He opened his eyes. Protective sheathes that had covered them in space, allowing Him to see and retain fluid around his orbs retreated. They were dim, but soon enough would be pulsing with their normal, brilliant blue sapphire color. He had no pupils, or iris; indeed, His eyes were nothing more than two solid orbs in his face that glowed and pulsed with his biorhythms.
He lay there, looking up into the heavens. There was a time when he could discern the spectral analysis of stars and entire solar systems if he concentrated hard enough. But he was not yet sufficiently healed, nor was he aware enough to do this. Instead, he simply gazed at the stars, not recognizing them for what they were. He could feel hardness beneath his flesh, but he did not move. He listened, but there was nothing to hear. Everything for a mile around was quiet; deafeningly quiet. Had it been possible for him to experience a chill travel up his spine he would have; because as He, one of the most powerful and feared beings in the universe, lay there, with no knowledge of who or what he was. For all intents and purposes he was new born; a blank slate that needed to be imprinted. A brain capable of processing information at rate incomprehensible to humans, could formulate but a single thought; “Who am I”?
Slightly pointed ears, that lay close to his skull detected sound. They moved slightly, orienting themselves to the source. He could hear the crashing of far off water cascading over rock, He could make out the sounds of animals walking; just starting to peer out of their hiding places, already their dim brains forgetting what had driven them to flee. He listened to the rhythmical thumping of their heartrate as it returned to normal. But somewhere, beyond the sounds of the forest, there was something else. Something that seemed familiar to him. He listened more intently. His brain began to shut out all other sound as it focused. There. Roughly sixty miles south of him. Voices. Human voices, and they were singing.
He stood. Drawing himself up to a full seven feet of height, and then slowly began to walk south.
Maura Riley sat in her pew and prayed.
She wasn’t the most spiritual of persons, but she hadn’t quite abandoned hope. Though God knows if anyone had a right not to believe it was she. It wasn’t that she did not believe in God, she just wondered if maybe He had turned his back on humanity. What other reason could there be for such wickedness in this world? If she were truly honest with herself, she needed spirituality in her life. Her problem was with the message that sometimes came out in the sermon.
She looked around the room, only half listening to Deacon Myles as he postured and ranted.
Only half the town was there. Not to worry, the other half had come to the morning sermon.
Had they truly come out of reverence for the Lord, or were they looking for absolution? She knew that most of the people sitting around her didn’t believe in God. But in the back of their minds, a small, childish voice would sometimes whisper “what if”? What if He did exist? Would He truly forgive the many sins they committed behind closed doors if they didn’t even bother to walk into his house at least once a week? Could He see the rank filth that played across their minds? The darkness that hid in the depths? And if He could see that, did such things matter to someone who created worlds? Maybe He even put those things in us. A way of weeding out the unfit, and testing the strong.
Not that she was perfect. Lord knows she had done her fair share of sinning. There was no rationalizing some of the things she had done. Looking back, she could blame some of it on youth. But that excuse could only go so far. What was done in the past, stayed in the past. All she could do was look forward, and try to move on. Each day spent hoping against fleeting hope that she would find the strength to survive another sun up.
She winced. The bruise on her side, just below the rib cage, ran deep. Sitting still was a chore for her. Unable to rise and shift her weight as needed, all she could do was arch her back slightly and take deep breaths. At least it was starting to fade from blue/black, to phlegm yellow. A good sign. It would be healed soon. If she were lucky she would get another week, maybe two, before he forgot all the apologies and promises that he would never hit her again. Maybe if she were really lucky, and really quiet, she would get a month of respite.
Her mother had looked at her and simply shrugged and looked away when her daughter asked her if she had ever been hit before.
”Men are not like us baby. They react without thinking. We make them mad, and it is only natural for them to lash out at times. That’s why He made us different. We are quieter, more thoughtful. And we are built to take pain. Every now and then, we are reminded of just how much we can take. But we always heal. The trick is to not let it poison your mind. Your man doesn’t mean to do what he does. He’s always sorry after the fact right? We just have to remember our place and always turn the other cheek.”
Turn the other cheek. That was easy to do. Until one day you look in the mirror and see both cheeks are bruised. Makeup and oversized sunglasses only go so far. She sighed inwardly and looked over at the slight, hunched form of her mother sitting beside her.
Is this the lifer that her mother had endured for all those years at the hands of her father? The man had died almost two years ago and still her mother never spoke of him. She had loved him; that much was certain. But Lord knows he could be a mean cuss when he drank. Many were the nights that Maura remembered him stumbling in, smelling just this side of a brewery. Her mother would always tell her to just stay in her room and stay quiet. She remembered listening hard at the muffled sounds that came from downstairs in the kitchen where her mother would always greet him. Every now and then she would hear a glass break or a pan hit hard on the floor. Sometimes her father would shout, and other times she was sure he was sobbing. Either way, she knew not to go down and see what was happening. Try as she might, she had no memory of her mother with marks or bruises on her. Maybe he had never struck her. At least not physically. She remembered listening to a talk show psychologist one morning and hearing him say that emotional abuse was still abuse. That scars inflicted by words could take even longer to heal than their physical counterparts.
Yeah right. Maura was certain that the good doctor had never been clapped so hard on the side of the head that he couldn’t hear out of one ear for a week. She winced at the memory. Unconsciously shifting in her seat to take some of the pressure off her sore ribs. She ignored the slight glare her fidgeting drew from her mother.
She wasn’t feeling the spirit today. Certainly if it hadn’t been for the fact that lately it seemed like Sunday was the only day of the week she saw her mother, she would have found a reason to skip service. She tried to focus on the sermon, but found her mind wandering. She was thinking about Andy and whether or not she was ready to stay with him and his temper for the rest of her life. How would her mother react if she told her she was planning to leave him? And if she left him, where would she go? Her entire life had been lived in the confines of this small, close-minded town. It and its inbred inhabitants were all she had ever known. Andy wasn’t a bad man, she knew. He just had a problem controlling his anger, and she had a problem with always seeming to provoke it. She was getting better however. She knew when he was brooding about something or had had a particularly bad day at the quarry. On those days, she would just put his supper in front of him without saying a word and go about her own business. Careful not to say too much, and careful to make sure that his drink cup stayed full.
She was also getting pretty good at reading his signals. Knowing when the laughing was genuine and when it was a precursor to screaming and cussing. She knew to follow his leads in conversation, and when it was safe to venture her opinion, as opposed to just nodding to what he had to say. Most of all, she knew what, and who, not to speak of. Still, it wasn’t always bad. And she figured as long as he kept his anger focused on her and not the child that sat cradled on her lap, then everything was ok.
After the service, she went back to her car, picked up her babies diaper bag and headed over to her mother’s SUV. Justin was already fastened into the back car seat and she leaned in, kissing him and ruffling his hair.
“You be a good boy. Mommy loves you and I’ll pick you up tomorrow when I get off work.” She smiled; again amazed at the ache in her heart every time she looked at him.
She looked at her mother. ”Thank you. I’ll pick him up at eight. I know it’s a pain when I work a double, but I really could use the extra money.”
“Wouldn’t need the extra money if you had a man that worked his fair share.”
“Mother. Mama; please. Not now. I appreciate everything you do, but not now.”
Her mother looked at her with weary eyes. Smiled and raised her hands, brushing back a stray strand of red hair from her daughters face. ”Don’t worry. We have all kinds of fun planned for tonight don’t we little one.” She smiled at her grandson in the back seat. ”Don’t work too hard. You’re starting to look thin. Why don’t you pick him up later in the day? Get some sleep. I can certainly bring him to you later on in the day.”
Maura smiled at her mom and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. One last wave at her son, and then she headed back to her car.
She knew her mother was right. While she might not be sure as to whether or not her man was a good man, she was sure that he was a lazy man. Granted, she was making good money as a nurse at county general, but it was all she could do to keep her house up and diapers on her son. To say she was stretching things trying to take care of a grown man was putting it lightly indeed. Lord knows she was tired. Deep down in her bones tired. While she hated to admit it, she was glad her mother had offered to keep Justin just a little longer. Recovering from a double shift was never easy for her, and to be honest, she never slept well knowing Andy was watching her son. Hell, Andy needed watching just as much as the little one. She allowed herself a slight smile at that, just as she rounded a blind curve.
She saw him/it whatever the hell it was that was standing in the middle of her lane. She had a brief moment to register that it looked like a man, but a very tall one, with glowing eyes that seemed to be looking at her, but not really seeing her. Reflexes took over, and she slammed on her brakes, while simultaneously wrenching the wheel to the right. Amazingly, her mind was crystal clear. She knew there was no way to avoid a collision. There was no panic, no flashing of her life as she felt her car hit the figure head-on at fifty miles per hour. Remarkably, the only thing she thought was “I’m just glad Justin is not in the car”.
Then everything went black. The impact should have sent the figure flying into her windshield and then careening off in some obscenely bent mess of shattered bone and torn skin. Instead, it was like her car had slammed full tilt into a concrete barrier. While her car may have come to complete, crumpled stop, she didn’t. A body in motion stays in motion right? The flimsy seat belt snapped as her mass continued to carry forward, she was blissfully unconscious when she hit the windshield headfirst, the impact shattering the glass and the front portion of her skull as well. Shards of glass ripped at her clothing and gouged her skin as she passed through it. One of her femurs snapped as her lower body made contact with the steering wheel on her way out of the car. The impact with the pavement outside of her vehicle would snap the vertebrae in her spine, crush her chest and drive shards of her splintered ribs into her still beating heart. Her nervous system would shut down long before the rest of her body, keeping her from experiencing any pain or shock. She would never know what if felt like to have her lungs fill with her own blood, suffocating her in minutes. It would be one of those painless deaths that she had seen carted time and time again into the emergency room. She had never really thought such a thing was possible. They had to feel something right? Some flash of supreme pain as they passed on, right? But no, she would leave this world with the last thought in her mind being one of her beautiful son.
But it didn’t happen that way. She was unconscious and her body was exiting her car through the front windshield, on the way to its fateful meeting with unforgiving pavement. Then she stopped, almost in mid air. He caught her with such precision and gentleness, that he was able to bleed her forward momentum down to nothing as he turned with her, shielding her already torn body from further damage as glass, plastic and steel wrapped around his frame. The nose of the car was caved in and diving down into the pavement. That caused the rear of the vehicle to rise up, threatening to flip over onto the pair. He casually lifted one arm and braced it against the hood of the falling car. A simple shrug of his shoulder sent the vehicle flying into the thick trees that lined the road.
He looked at the frail, broken form in his arms. His features, while somewhat humanoid, were unreadable. He felt no connection to this creature he cradled. No kinship, no sense of protector ship. Had his actions been purely reflex he wondered? No, for some reason he knew that he did what he did because it was the right thing to do. He did not know where he was, or who he was; he certainly did not know what this soft, pulpy mass was he cradled, but he knew it to be a living, sentient being, and as such he could not allow its life to be snuffed out as a result of his actions. But now what? Instinct told him she was close to expiration, and even if he knew how, there was nothing he could do to help her sidestep the Abyss. Well, since he could do nothing to stave off the inevitable, he carried her gently from the road and into the marsh that surrounded the area. A few hundred feet into the dense growth he laid her gently behind the protective covering of dense shrubs.
He strode away without a second glance back. In all honesty, as soon as he stepped away from her he had already forgotten her. Once again, his ears were tuned to the strange drone of human voices that were still miles away. He wasn’t sure how, but a part of his mind was beginning to decipher the strange clicks and whistles and translate them into some semblance of a language he could understand. While he didn’t’ know how he was doing it, he was actively learning the English language; and by the time he reached the source, he would be nearly fluent in its usage.
She lay there, broken and bleeding for almost two full days. The undergrowth where he had placed her protected her from the sharp eyes of buzzards, hawks and owls that circled the skies; ever vigilant for a quick and easy meal. While they could never have scooped her up as easily as they did the field mice and rabbits that darted about, they might have been tempted to drop down for a quick bite; easily mistaking her for a dead thing that for some reason just had not started to smell yet. She didn’t move. Not when snakes and rodents crawled across her. Not when those pesky Black Flies and no-seeums lit on her and took long, satisfying drinks from her torn flesh. She didn’t move. Not even when a grey Coyote sniffed at her and started to take a lick from one of her wounds, but for some reason thought better of it and went on about its business. Other critters gave her a wide berth. Where she should have attracted the attention of scavengers that would have lapped her up, she instead repelled them. Instinct told them this one was not ripe for the picking. More than that, biting her might just prove their undoing. So they scampered all about, but never ventured too close.
It was at dusk on the second day that she sat up. No struggling, no wincing from pain. No effort at all. She just sat up, and drew breath deep into her aching lungs. God that felt good to her. It was as if it was the first breath of air she had ever drawn. And in some ways it was. Although a bit confused, Maura was quickly becoming aware of her surroundings. The cool evening air was already beginning to collect into a fine sheen on her naked legs. Her Sunday dress, or what was left of it, was near soaked through. She could feel cold, wet mud that caked one side of her face. Her throat was burning. Thirst, true thirst, was a bitch. And that bitch was clawing relentlessly at her from the inside. Her head ached something awful. She reached up and felt gently. There was a goose egg on her forehead that throbbed and pounded in response to her hands gentle probing. What had happened to her?
She sat there, trying to remember, not trusting her legs to get her up off the ground just yet. She had gotten up early, she remembered. Early enough to have some coffee and time alone on the front porch before Justin awoke. Justin! Where is he? She was frantic now, unable to quell the rush of emotions that began to fire through her. Where was her baby? She looked around, feeling at the ground around her. But then she remembered; she had taken him to service with her. They sat with her mother at church; and then, what? Her mother was keeping him. Yes that was right. She had packed him into her mother’s car and kissed him goodbye. He was going to stay with Grandma while she worked that night. Work! Oh no, she thought. I cannot afford to lose that job. How long have I been lying here? It was late she knew. The sun had almost completely set. If she hurried she could still get to work, and maybe get away with only being given a verbal for tardiness. But something, some inner clock told her that she was a lot later than a couple of hours….
She had to get to her car, maybe start….and that was when it hit her. Her memory came flooding back to her. She had been in her car. On her way to her evening shift at the hospital. She had packed a duffel bag with her scrubs in it so that she could go right from church to the hospital. She had come around a bend. That damned bend that she was always afraid of, because it was so blind. She always went that way from church because it cut twenty minutes off her drive. But it was a dangerous road. It was not frequently travelled, so there was always some form of road kill littering it; the animals had no fear of crossing it, and she had always been afraid that one day she would come around that curve and their would be a big buck standing in the way. But it wasn’t a buck she had hit. It was something else. A man? God, had she hit a person? She remembered a flash of someone tall and powerfully built standing in the road. But that was it. Everything after that was not even a blur. There was nothing else swimming around in the old grey matter, until just a few minutes ago when she had opened her eyes and sat up.
She got to her feet. A little more wobbly than she would have liked; but all things considered she was happy to stand and be able to take in her surroundings. God her head hurt. She raised her hand to her forehead to see if she were actively bleeding. Her vision wasn’t blurry and she didn’t feel nauseous. That was a good sign at least. Hopefully she had only whacked her head really good but hadn’t gotten a concussion. Best she could judge she was about one hundred feet from the road. How long had she been lying out there? Why hadn’t someone seen her car in the road and come to find her? For that matter, how had she gotten so far off the road? No way she could have been thrown that far. If that had been the case she would have awaken at the pearly gates. Maybe she had walked into the woods in shock, and then passed out? Yes. That would explain where she was. But not why no one had come to look for her. Granted that road was deserted, but it was still trafficked enough that someone should have spotted the wreckage and called the local police by now.
Oh God. What about the…..whatever it was she hit? If that was a man, he might have been knocked into the far ditch. At the rate she was travelling, if he survived, he would be in pretty bad shape. If he survived. Judging from the shape she found herself in, that would be a long shot.
She made her way out of the undergrowth and up onto the side of the road. One hand holding the side of her pounding head, the other clutching instinctively at her torn dress, holding the tattered remnants closed over her breasts. She looked around, but didn’t see her car anywhere. She crossed the road as swiftly as her shaky legs would let her but still did not see any sign of her wrecked vehicle. She knew the direction she was coming from and looked along the ditch in the opposite direction. No sign of a body, and the weeds and vegetation on that side looked undisturbed. Nothing larger than a field cat or a fox had bounded through there. Maybe the police had come by and had her car towed, and had been unable to find her body. But no, that didn’t really make sense to her at all. She looked at the road, and her eyes were drawn to two parallel dark stripes that appeared to be burned onto the asphalt. Those were definitely her skid marks. They were short, and they just stopped. No veering to the side, no swerve into the ditch. They just stopped. There was no sign of whatever she had hit, just as there was no sign of her car.
She was starting to feel uneasy about the whole thing. Her head ached, she really wasn’t thinking clearly, and her throat felt like it was on fire. Self-preservation was starting to kick in and she began to wonder how she would make it back to her house. She knew she could cut through the woods, maybe find a house, and it would definitely take some time off getting back to civilization, but was that really the best plan of action? In her condition, she wasn’t sure she was up for a cross-country trek. She had a good idea of which way to head, but if she became disoriented and lost, or worse yet, she really did have a concussion and passed out; no one would find her and she would probably lay out there and die. That wasn’t an option. She had a son that was depending on her and dammit she was not dying in the woods and leaving that boy to grow up with Andy. The thought of that made her burn. Gave her a quick shot of adrenaline and helped her steel her resolve. She headed back the way she had come, walking along the edge of the road. This would take longer, but she had a better shot of someone coming by and offering help. If only she could find her car, maybe her cell phone was still working.
No. Stop thinking like that she told herself. All those “if onlys” and “what ifs” and “maybes” were just wasted energy at this point. Put one foot in front of the other and start moving girl. Before you pass out again, and end up face first in the middle of Highway 29.
She guessed she had been walking for about 20 minutes when she heard a car coming from behind her, heading in the same direction she was walking. She turned and waved frantically. One hand gripping her torn, mud caked dress, the other waving stiffly in the air, back and forth over her head. The car swerved and was past her before she saw the brake lights come on and it screeched to a halt on the side of the road. She ran to it, grateful that it had not hit her and that it had also stopped for her. She was on her way to the car when she saw both the passenger and the driver’s side car doors open. A man in his late sixties was driving and he was rushing towards her, the concern on his face was easy to read. A woman of roughly the same age was riding shotgun. A little on the heavy side, she wasn’t quite as quick as her husband to reach her.
“Miss are you ok! I almost ran you over!” The man’s words were warm and caring. He reached her just as her legs started to give out and she tumbled forward into his arms.
“I….I was in an accident. Just a ways back up the road.” Her words sounded foreign in her ears. Flat, weak, tremulous. The fire in her throat was making her speech raspy and hard. Like dried, broken twigs being dragged across scorched pavement.
The man’s wife reached her just as he was steadying her.
“Landsakes Charley, she looks about dead!” Her words matched her look; heavy and rushed, without enough wind behind them to carry them much further than Maura’s ears.
“She said she was in an accident, a ways back. Did we see a wrecked car back there?”
“Lord knows. What with the way you drive, it’s a wonder we can see anything”
Charley ignored her, focusing instead on the young woman in his arms. He reached up and kindly brushed the hair back from her face, noticing the wince when he touched her forehead. ”We need to get her to a hospital. Martha, help me get her to the car.”
“No.” Maura’s voice was weak, and she could hear it cracking. ”No hospital please. I’ll be ok. I just hit my head when I ran off the road.” She looked form one to the other, taking in the measure of empathy on their faces. These were good people and they meant well, but she had to get home to her son. She had to make sure he was ok.
It was Martha who spoke up first. ”I don’t know honey. You look pretty banged up. Looks like you took quite a lick to the head.”
They had made there way back to the car. An old Crown Victoria with a blessedly big back seat. They buckled her into it before seating themselves up front.
“Are you sure we can’t take you to the hospital? County General is just a ways up the road, sweetie.” Martha’s words were warm and her concern was sincere. She reminded Maura of her own mother and that thought just made her all the more anxious to get home. Her mother would be worried sick about her at this point.
“No, thank you, but I really am starting to feel better. I don’t know if it is out of your way, but if you could just get me home I know I’ll be fine. I just need some rest and a hot bath.” The smile she forced made her face feel like it was cracking in two. But the funny thing was, she really was starting to feel better. Her throat was still aching, but her head had settled down to a dull roar. The little bit of walking she had done before Charley and Martha had come along had obviously helped loosen her aching joints, because the stiffness in her hips and lower back had lessened considerably. ”If you can just drop me at my house, I’ll be more than happy to pay you.”
“Oh hush now,” Charley said. ”We’ll have none of that. You’re just lucky we came along when we did. We’ll drop you anywhere you like.”
She thanked him and gave him her address before sinking back into the stiff, but embracing faux leather of their old Ford.
It had taken multiple assurances from Maura, that she didn’t need a hospital on the way home. Finally, when she had told them that she was a registered nurse, they seemed to ease up on her a little. She promised them that she would have herself checked over when she reported for work.
They dropped her off at her front door, and again refused any type of payment. Seeing Andy’s jeep wrangler in the drive, she assured them she would be fine for the night. She couldn’t think them enough and again apologized for having taken them so far out of their way. She watched them as they pulled out and disappeared down the road. She looked at the front door to her house, then at the jeep sitting in the drive, back to the front door and took a deep breath. What was the likelihood he would let her take the jeep to pick up Justin? She would just have to call her mother and ask her to bring her baby back to her. Legs heavy she walked up the steps to the porch and opened the door.
Stepping into the small entryway, she was met with both the blaring sound of heavy metal being blasted from the stereo in the family room, and the pungent smell of burning weed that permeated the entire first floor. Jesus and God, she had told him about smoking that shit in her house. And that music was bringing back the headache that had only just begun to realize was gone. Nice to see I was missed, she thought.
She walked into the kitchen to find Andy bent over the counter making a sandwich. He looked up at her, mouth dropping open as if he had seen a ghost.
“Maura? Where the fuck have you been woman? Everyone and their fucking brother has been calling looking for you.”
She ignored the cursing. She had long since giving up on trying to clean up his vocabulary, only making the effort now when he would swear in front of Justin.
“I was in a car accident. Out on Route 29. I hit….something. Ran off the road. Must have knocked myself out.”
Andy looked at her. If there had been a look of concern on his face it was creeping away. Replaced instead with his usual look of annoyance. ”A wreck? Is the car ok? Goddammit I just put new brakes on that thing for you.”
Now it was Maura’s turn to be annoyed. Usually she would have let this slip, but was not in the mood for it right now. ”No, Andy, the car is not ok. But don’t worry, I’m fine. Can I please have some water.”
He winced at her words, but still made no effort to apologize or act concerned as she made her way to the kitchen table.
“The hospitals been calling for you for two days now. Said you never showed up for work. Your mamma’s calling too. Keeps going on about calling the police on me if I couldn’t tell her where you was. Fucking bitch. She needs to mind her…”
Maura cut him off. Turning to face him. ”What did you say? How long have I been gone?”
Andy looked at her, cocking his head to one side. ”You been gone two days Maura. And if you didn’t call into work, I’m betting they will fire your ass. You better not end up getting fired cause you didn’t have sense enough to call out.”
She couldn’t contain the anger that she suddenly felt well up inside of her. Two days? Was that possible? And if she had been unconscious for two days, why the hell had he not come looking for her? ”I was in a car accident Andy! How the hell could I call out if I were unconscious?”
“You mean to tell me you been knocked out for tow days somewhere,” he shot back at her. ”Hell, if that was the case you’d be dead! And look at ya, not hardly a scratch on you? You don’t look like you were in some God awful accident. And just so you know I called the State troopers to see if there were any accidents called in and they said no.” He was eyeing her now. Annoyance was giving way to suspicion.
“Andy, please. I am really not up for this right now. I need to call my mother and let her know I’m ok. Did she bring Justin by?”
“No. Bitch said she would keep him till you showed up. She said if you didn’t call her by tomorrow she was calling the police on me cause she thinks I did something to you. She is convinced I’ve gotten rid of you. Especially since you didn’t show up at the hospital and you didn’t show up to pick up your Goddamn brat.”
She looked at him; anger growing inside of her. What in God’s Good Name had she ever seen in him? His beady eyes were narrowed and red. The pot was dimming them and his brain.
He moved closer to her. Slowly moving across the kitchen floor until he was only steps from her. Now she could smell not only marijuana coming off him, but beer as well. She had been missing for two days and he was working on a bender. What did that tell her?
“And here you stand now. Saying that you was in a bad car wreck that knocked you out, but not a mark on you. Your hairs all wild, and your dress is barely hanging on you.” The look in his eyes worried her and she backed up, reaching for the counter behind her to steady her as he advanced. ”You ain’t been in no accident. Where the fuck have you really been? You been laid up somewhere with somebody else?”
Suddenly, the fear that had been creeping into her was replaced by a fury she had never known. How dare he say this to her?
“You ignorant bastard,” she hissed. ”How dare you?” Her voice trembled and she locked eyes with him, for once not looking at the floor when he bulled his way into her personal space. ”You know, if I had any sense I would have ‘laid up’ with someone a long damn time ago. Anyone would have been better than your lazy, worthless, small dicked useless excuse for a man! I want you out of my house!”
Instantly she regretted what she had said. His eyes were wild with anger now, and she knew what was coming.
“You fucking, ungrateful whore!” She could feel the spittle hitting her face and she closed her eyes, sensing the blow that was coming.
It was an open handed, back hand slap to the right side of her face that rattled her teeth. She was braced for it, and he hadn’t held back. The last time he hit her like that, she had gone deaf for almost a week. But this time, she barely felt it. The aching in her head was residual from the accident. But the slap had hardly registered. She looked at him. His face red and contorted with dark rage. She looked at him and she laughed. His eyes widened in surprise, but only for a second. Then he drew back his fist and she knew he was not going to pull this one. It was a punch that was aimed straight at her jaw. She heard the pop as it landed and was expecting to feel the cold, hard linoleum rush up to greet her. But she didn’t fall. And the pain she was expecting wasn’t there either. She raised her hands instinctively grabbing him by the front of his shirt.
She pulled him in close to her. Looked him in the eyes. ”I said, I want you OUT OF MY HOUSE!” And she pushed him. Only, he didn’t step back away from her. Instead, he flew across the kitchen and into the refrigerator on the opposite wall from them. The impact shook the walls, knocking the small, framed pictures of roosters that lined the walls from their hooks.
She was in shock and looked down at her trembling hands. Then she looked up at Andy as he was just starting to get to his feet. He had hit the fridge so hard it was knocked sideways and the door had flown open. The look in his eyes was one she was not familiar with. He made his way to his feet, not once breaking his gaze with her. ”You crazy bitch,” he said. Fear made his voice break. ”You’re fucking on crack ain’t you? You’ve been out whoring and smoking crack with some low life and then you show up here and pull this shit!” He was on his feet now and moving away from her towards the hall.
“You want me out, well you got it,” he yelled from the hall. She could hear him snatch up his keys from the sideboard in the entryway. She was still looking at her hands, only half listening to what he was saying.
“I am out of here, you fucking bitch! You don’t have to worry about ever seeing me again! Or my son!”
She heard the slam of the jeep door and the engine turning over before she processed what he said. ”Justin,” she whispered into the emptiness of the kitchen. ”No”!
She was through the hall and out onto the porch just in time to see his back lights disappear out the drive in a shower of gravel and dirt. She didn’t think, she didn’t question what needed to be done. Driven by the thought of protecting her son, she ran after him.
She was off the porch and down the road without even realizing she had taken the first step. For some reason, the jeep that had seemed so far away was not really that far from her. As a matter of fact, it was getting closer to her. No, that wasn’t right. She was getting closer to it. She was only vaguely aware of the fact that her legs were pumping insanely hard, propelling her closer to the jeep. So close, as a matter of fact, that she could now reach out and touch the bumper. And she did touch it. Grabbing ahold of it and digging her feet into the asphalt. She felt the car lurch, but then a strange thing happened. The bumper came off in her hands and the jeep jumped forward, continuing down the road. She tossed the bumper aside and ran even harder. Then she was along side the jeep on the driver side, and could see the incredulous look on Andy’s face as he saw her outside his driver side window. Before he could swerve into her, she lowered her shoulder and rammed the jeep. To her surprise, it began to tilt up onto two wheels. Before it could come back down she hit it again. This time driving it up and over and into the ditch. Rage coursed through her as she ran up to the front of it and punched through the front windshield, grabbing the father of her son and pulling him out of the vehicle.
She hauled the frightened, disoriented form of the man she once thought she loved out through the front of the jeep. She held him out in front of her, both of his feet dangling in the air; not unlike the way a loving parent might raise their laughing child into the air, holding onto their arms or chest. That was how she thought of this man she hated right now. Only he was a very bad little boy that needed scolding.
“You listen to me you little asshole!” The fury in her voice matched that in her eyes. ”Don’t you ever come near me or my son again! As of right now we are finished, and we don’t ever need to lay eyes on one another again. Do you understand me?”
Andy laughed. Held aloft, his limp body racked with labored breathing that told Maura he had probably cracked a couple of ribs in the roll over. ”You stupid bitch,” he spat down at her. ”I don’t know what kind of freak shit you’ve gotten into, but you are definitely some kind of fucking freak right now! And you know what? No one is going to give custody of a child to a fucking freak!” Despite herself, Maura felt his works sting at her. They lashed at her in the same way that his stinging backhands used to. He smiled down at her, coughing with each breath. ”I may not want the little bastard, but I will make good and damn sure you never get him.”
The coldness of his words, and the meaning behind them, shook her to her very soul. Rage and fury were replaced with fear.
“No,” she said, “You will not touch him!” For added emphasize she shook him. But rather than the fear she was hoping to hear in his voice, she heard a resounding pop as his neck snapped, and bones in his arms cracked in her grasp. He was dead before his limp body hit the ground when she dropped him.
“My God. What have I done?” She looked down at her hands. Shock began to circulate through her body as the realization of what had just happened began to sink in. What was happening to her? He had felt like a rag doll in her hands. A grown man that easily weighed a buck ninety was like putty in her hands. She had the feeling that her shake had done a little more than snap his neck.
When the state troopers received the call about a rolled Jeep on a back woods stretch of highway, they would find his body lying pinned under his jeep, the massive internal damage to his soft tissue organs would be attributed to the enormous weight of the jeep rolling over onto his body. Case closed. Another drunk driver added to their highway death toll. When they would try to notify his long term girlfriend, and mother of his child, they would find that her phone had been cut off and no forwarding number had been left. A drive out to her small house, a couple of miles back of the accident, would reveal the signs of a struggle and plenty of contraband. But the woman known as Maura Riley was nowhere to be found.
Hell's Kitchen, New York
One Year Later
The smoke was so thick that Maura was starting to understand how the phrase "cut it with a knife" had come about. Although in this bar, she was pretty sure that phrase had a far more literal interpretation. In the past twelve months, the changes she had gone through seemed to have leveled off. Her physical appearance gave off only slight clues as to the internal changes her body had gone through. Exhaustive rounds of CAT scans and MRIs had revealed subtle changes in her muscular make up. Her bones had become slightly denser. More fast twitch muscle fibers had appeared throughout her body, which, the scientists had claimed, could help to explain her increased speed and reaction time. To a degree at least. No amount of internal scans or chemical analysis could explain the fact that they had clocked her running at over ninety five miles per hour. Truth be told, she was pretty sure she could have pushed past that, but her increased heart rate had frightened the scientist into making her slow down. While her muscular make up was denser, it did not explain why she was able to bench press the equivalent of a couple of Mack trucks. Simple physics said that her arms should have snapped under the strain. No amount of nuclear PET scans could reveal why she was able to generate sufficient force to jump from ground level to a fifth floor balcony; or what exactly kept her spine from shattering when she jumped back down. Not only would she not break under the force generated, but also she was able to land almost soundlessly, and with no visible signs of exertion. That was what they didn't understand; why she never tired no matter the duration of any test they put her through. She could sprint for hours on end with no signs of exhaustion. They devised magnetic, grav-plates to test her strength, and she could easily withstand one thousand pounds or pressure for the better part of a day and not feel the need to rest. Once, they had asked her to sit on the bottom of the dive pool holding a two hundred and fifty pound weight. After 2 hours, they motioned for her to surface, shaking their heads.
After every test, they would send her immediately to the MRI scanner, and every time the scans came back negative, showing no difference in her physiologic makeup.
But what most fascinated them was not her physical prowess. Amazing as it was, it took a back seat to her ability to heal. If she were cut, or punctured, the wound would close almost immediately. The skin would heal so rapidly, that she rarely bled. They started small with those experiments. After drawing blood they would notice that the area the needle had been inserted never bled or bruised. They then noticed that when they took core tissue samples, not only did the wounds heal before they could be dressed, but microscopically, the samples could not be analyzed because of the speed with which the cut samples would begin to repair themselves. This led the scientists to take more drastic measures in trying to determine just what her boundaries may be. They would take her into the exam rooms, and under fluoroscopy (an xray macine that allowed them to see bones in real time), attempt to break her arms and see what would happen. Early on, they realized that even the strongest of assistants could not muster the force to actually break one of her bones. Then they had an idea. They gave her a solid steel pie, roughly six inches in diameter, and asked her to break one of her bones. She didn't hesitate; raising the bar above her head, she brought it down onto her forearm with all the strength she could muster, and then placed her mangled arm under the machine. They watched in amazement as shattered fragments of bone realigned themselves perfectly and began to weld back together. The swelling at the site of impact began to instantly reduce as the damaged tissue and broken blood vessels were repaired. Within seconds of impact, her arm looked as good as knew. They asked her if it hurt, and she replied, "Like a bitch". But it was a different kind of pain. It was excruciating, but so fleeting, that she really could not describe it to them. It had felt like someone had flicked a lit match at her; white hot and searing for the briefest of heartbeats, and then.... nothing.
"Well", Dr. DeMarcus had said. "I wish we could tell you what exactly is going on her, but as you can see," he trailed off, shrugging. "You say all of this started after you hit Him with your car?"
"Yes," she replied. "I don't really remember much about it, as I said. I came around the corner, and He was just standing there. He didn't flinch or try to get out of the way. I slammed into him, and the next thing I know, I'm waking up two days later, with one bitching headache."
"When you first presented to us, you were giving off the same, strange radioactive readings as the First." That was what he had come to be known as. The First. In the absence of anything better, and with Him not knowing His own name, it seemed appropriate. He was the First. The First superhero the planet had known, and the First example of life from another planet. "Your readings were definitely on a smaller scale, and more residual than active. Still, there is little doubt that you came into direct contact with him. That may explain why your level of mutagenic change is so far beyond the specimens we have since caught." He stopped himself, looking at her apologetically.
She laughed, shaking her head and smiling. "Well I don’t' know which to be more offended by; being called 'mutagenic' or 'specimen' ".
He stammered, trying to apologize in earnest. She cut him off with a wave of her hand. "I'm kidding. It's ok, really it is."
The way he flinched when she waved her hand did not escape her. It was small, but the look in his eyes, spun her backwards to that evening when she held Andy over her head like a rag doll. It was the same look she saw on his face just before....
No, do not go there. She brushed that memory aside. Stomped it down deep inside her along with all the other horrors she had seen over the last year. Dr. Demarcus was looking at her now, his face quizzical. "What was that," he asked?
"Huh? That what," she replied. Now it was her turn to feign confusion.
"Don't give me that. Whatever that was that just flashed through your mind. Whatever it was, it was something you didn't care to remember."
"Old ghosts. Every now and then, they like to rattle their chains."
He smiled. She smiled back, and then said, "Dr. Demarcus, can I ask you something?"
"Of course. But only if, for the hundredth time, you call me Nick."
She laughed, a little more of her nerves showing than she would have liked. "Are you afraid of me?"
He was serious now. Putting aside the iPad he had been taking notes on. "Why would you ask something like that?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. It's just that; well, I saw you. Just a moment ago. You flinched when I raised my hand."
He sighed, smiling at her to ease some of the tension that had crept into the testing room. "I would be lying if I said I wasn't afraid. Not of you. But of what you can do." He took her hand in his. "I would be a fool not to respect these. But no, I do not fear you Maura."
She smiled back at him. Satisfied with his answer. "So. You must have some working theory you're kicking around up there as to what is going on with me. You've been poking, prodding, cutting and scanning me for months now," she said. "What am I?"
Suddenly he was all work again, and began paging through the data he had collected on his iPad. "Well, from what we can tell, you are still," he paused slightly, looking her in the eye, "you."
Maura couldn't help but be a little deflated at his answer. "By all accounts, you are still the same woman you were one year ago; at least on a genetic level. But when we look further. On a molecular level, you are something....else."
They were walking out of the testing room, and heading down one of the labyrinthine corridors that made up the underground part of the government training facility that had come to be known as the Mine. Early on she had learned to ignore the stares and whispers that would often follow in her wake as she passed various scientific and research types. Not all wore the standard, sky blue surgical scrubs covered by sterile white lab coats. No, there were always those that were dressed in black, military issue garb, carrying non standard issue guns and electronic Taser clubs that could be dialed up to 150,000 volts. This was a reminder that the facility was not only a testing facility, but a holding one as well. Not all of the "specimens" here were as cooperative as she had been.
"What we are finding," the good doctor continued as they walked down the hall, "is that something has changed your cellular makeup on the molecular level. We have no idea how this could happen. Modern science is generations away from even beginning to tamper with the building blocks of life in this way." He was getting that excited tone that sometimes overtook him when he was discussing some of her test results with her. "It is as if your DNA has somehow been rewritten. You're still you. But at the same time, you aren't. You're more."
"Well," she breathed, "that tells me a lot."
"I know how you were hoping we would have more answers. I was hoping to tell you more as well. But the fact is, you and," he paused, choosing his words carefully, "the other test subjects who were exposed have become fundamentally altered. The skills and powers that have manifested are all so varied and distinct. Granted, we have not come across anyone with your level of...accelerated abilities. We think that may be because you were the only person we know of to come into direct contact with the First. All of the other subjects seem to have been exposed to the trace cloud of radiation that resulted from his impact with the earth’s surface.
“Imagine a dust cloud billowing up if you drop a rock onto a very dry bed of dirt. That cloud, in this case, would be the radioactive contaminate coming from the First. It would have been picked up and carried for some distance by the winds. Providing various degrees of, infection for lack of a better word, to people that may have some into contact with it."
She stopped, looking over at him. "Infection? First a mutant, then a specimen, and now infected. You really have a way with words doc."
"I'm sorry. I get caught up in the clinical reality of all this. I really don't mean any offense."
She laughed. "None taken," and they continued on, rounding a corner that lead to a bank of containment cells. She slowed as they approached them, pausing to glance inside. She couldn't help but shiver at some of what she saw.
"Dr. De...", she caught herself. "Nick. Why am I not like these people," she asked. Staring at one particularly unsavory individual with glowing red eyes, and thick, almost gelatinous drool that dropped from a misshapen maw. "I mean, if we were all exposed to the same radiation as you call it, why am I not deformed?"
"Again, we don't have an answer for that. The amount of radiation that was registering on this man was barely a fraction of what you were giving off when we found you. By rights, the dose you must have received from direct contact, should have reduced you to," his voice trailed off. There was really no need to finish the sentence. "Also," he continued, "Not everyone was so changed. Some of our subjects were left physically unchanged. Their acceleration was more along the lines of you. To a lesser extent of course. Increased physical dexterity and motor skills. Some exhibit a very different array of skill sets. The ability to see through walls, breathe under water, limited telekinetic abilities; these are just some of the extraordinary abilities we have catalogued so far. Those people seem to have been unchanged in their physical appearance. And others," he nodded to the six inch plexi-glass holding cell, "appear to have completely devolved, into; well, to be quite honest, into the things out of our worst nightmares."
They walked past a few more containment cells, heading to the private quarters where live in scientists and full time staff was in residence. It was also where she had been given temporary quarters until they were finished poking and prodding at her. At least she hoped it was going to be temporary.
They passed a hallway with a single square, red light hanging at it's entrance. On the wall beside it, a large, black "X" had been painted. The ambient glow from the main passageway, carried a few feet into the hall, but after that, it was pitch. She slowed, glancing hopefully at Nick.
She shrugged and they moved on. After awhile she had stopped asking what was down that corridor. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that it might be best that she not know. They reached the door that led to her quarters in silence. Dr. Demarcus smiled as he stepped aside so she could wave her keycard over the red electronic lock that sealed all of the interior residences. There was an audible click as the light turned from red to green. She hesitated before opening the door, and turned towards the much taller man standing next to her.
"Nick," she ventured.
She looked away briefly before continuing. Afraid to look him in the eye when she asked this. "Nick, it's been almost a year. When can I go home?"
He looked at her. For the first time, he was aware of her vulnerability. Then he smiled. "Actually, that was something we wanted to talk to you about."
Her face brightened, and if she hadn't been afraid of cracking his ribcage, she would have hugged him.
The rhythmic bumping against the back of her chair snapped her back from her stroll down memory lane. It was definitely getting more crowded in the bar. The group of college aged boys at her back, had been forced in closer and closer to where she sat at the bar. Their cheering and non-stop smashing of beer mugs together was what caused one of them to continually bump into her. She scooted her chair forward a little more, hugging the bar even closer. The one that kept bumping into her turned towards her to slur an apology. She waved him off and went back to her drink. She sensed him lean into his group and whisper something. A round of raucous laughter, followed by more mug clanking, followed. He turned back to her a second time and leaned in.
"Hey, my names Jake." He offered his hand. "Can I buy you a drink?"
She looked at him and smiled just enough to be polite, but not enough to be taken as any kind of invite. "No thank you Jake. I have a drink," she answered, showing him her half full tumbler of ice and Grey Goose.
"Yeah, but that ones almost empty." He smiled at her, turning to face her fully now. She had to admit, the boy was cute. Tall, dirty blonde hair that was just a little on the shaggy side. All American good looks, and by God he even had dimples. She sat her drink on the bar in front of her and pivoted on her seat, facing him squarely. She tilted her head to one side slightly, and brushed a strand of auburn hair aside. She smiled and reached forward to lightly stroke the hand that held his beer; one finger ever so lightly tracing the blue veins that stood out.
"Thanks for the offer honey, but here's what; I'm not in the mood to play; and if I were, trust me, you couldn't handle the ride. So turn around, go back to your frat pack there, and act like I'm not even here."
He winced. Maura guessed that he was probably not used to being turned down. He sneered at her, and almost laughed. "You must be on something. Believe me, I know I'm what you cougars are all after." He raised his tee shirt at her, displaying well worked, washboard abs, before dropping his shirt and looking down at her in disgust.
She stood up, and moved closer to him, their faces only inches apart. He was taller than her by over a head. Maura softened, smiled coyly at him. "Well now. I didn't know you had it like that." She leaned closer, placing one hand on his bicep, caressing it slightly. She felt him flex it and she smiled appreciatively. "Nice," she whispered, before allowing her hand to rake across a sculpted chest and then down the over worked abs. Her hand paused there, resting just above the waistband of his denims. "But see, here's the thing. I don't give a fuck how ripped you are if you have a tiny..." her voice trailed off as her hand dropped lower, grasping his crotch. "Yeah, just as I thought. Lift all you want. You can't make this grow can you?" She grasped harder now, applying just enough pressure to lift him slightly onto his tiptoes. "Trust me when I say I would hurt you." She smiled then; appreciative of the stares she was getting from his friends. She dropped him and turned back to her drink and her seat. "Now run along," she said. "If you're after a cougar, I suggest you go hump your mama."
She went back to sipping at her drink, ignoring the stunned silence. Then there was an uproar of laughter, followed by the sound of several loud slaps on the back, as the group of twenty-somethings ushered Jake to the other side of the bar.
"Ouch Maura, that was kinda mean."
She flinched reflexively. Still not used to the voice that would suddenly start speaking into her right ear. Even though she knew he was not sitting right next to her, she still glanced to her right before downing the rest of her vodka and waving to the bartender for a refill. He looked questioningly at her for a minute, then smiled. It was her fourth double vodka on the rocks, but with her metabolism burning as high as it was, she might as well have been drinking water.
""I can't help it," she replied. Her voice low and deliberate. "I'm getting bored, and he isn't showing."
"Patience. He'll show sooner or later. The night is still young."
"Yeah, for you," she answered. "You're not the one sitting here getting leered at by all these Toms, and Harry Dicks."
The voice laughed in her ear. "At least you still have your sense of humor." It was Benjamin that was handling her tonight. She liked him. He at least got her and had even been known to crack a joke or two of his own.
"Maybe we have the wrong bar. It's been five days and nothing." The bartender bought her drank to her and she slid the empty glass to him. "Thanks," she said, "for not judging."
He laughed. "Hey, it's what I'm here for. To serve." He winked at her before moving on down the bar to the seemingly endless parade of patrons hanging over it trying to get his attention.
Despite herself, she couldn't help but notice his backside as he walked away from her. "If only I were ten years younger," she mumbled, bringing the glass to her lips.
"Please, you are better looking then any woman in that bar," Benjamin offered. "You could definitely have that if you wanted it."
"Have you looked around this bar," she asked? "That isn't saying much if I'm the best looking."
Again Benjamin laughed. "Well if you don't want him, maybe send him my way."
Maura stifled a laugh, almost choking on her drink. "Mister, somehow I don't think Thomas would like hearing that."
"Please." She could almost see the pouting in his voice. "He hardly notices me anymore. Five years and I might as well be the one that is invisible."
Despite herself, Maura laughed. "Well, at least you have someone to go home to at night. Someone that you don't have to worry about crushing when you hug them goodnight." The silence on the other end spoke volumes to her.
An hour later and she was ready to throw in the towel. She was worried that she was starting to attract more attention for the wrong reasons from the bartender. Anyone who had out away the amount of alcohol she had, should be sliding off his or her chair by now. With her strict upbringing in a God fearing family, she had never been drunk before. There were plenty of times over the last year that she wished she could get drunk. But in the long run she knew it was probably a good thing that she couldn't. God forbid she loose control. Even for a minute. Even now, as she sat there, trying to pretend she was feeling the effects of the vodka, she had to be mindful of how much pressure she was applying to the glass tumbler in her hand. She sighed audibly. "Ok, I'm out of here. He isn't showing up."
The reply came just as she was standing up. "Wait!" Benjamin's voice was sharp, and commanding in her ear. But she also recognized something else in his tone as well. A command that trailed off, into....what; concern? Fear?
Act casual, she reminded herself as she slowly began to rifle through her purse. "Where?"
"Within fifty feet of you. Readings are very strong here. Definitely an excel." Benjamin was starting to rush his words, the pace of his words matched his rising heart rate.
Maura's own pulse quickened. "Fifty feet? Are you sure?" She dropped her keys and made it a point to scan her surroundings as she bent to retrieve them. "How the hell could he have gotten that close and you're just now picking up on him?"
"I don't know. It's weird, it's like one minute nothing, and the next, the readings are almost off the scale. Forty feet now. Whoever he is, he is definitely moving in your direction."
Maura stood up and placed her bag on the bar. Using the mirror that ran the length of the bar space, she took stock of the faces around her. Trying to place the ones that had been there before, and the ones that she did not remember seeing. She instantly ruled out The Jock and his gang of merry heteros, still happily engaged in a round of back slap and tickle. The bar was close to capacity and more bodies were squeezing through the door by the minute. She was worried. The sheer numbers of people made this prime hunting ground for him; but those same numbers were what worked against her now. She picked up her bag and began to make her way slowly through the crowd.
"Let me know if you pick up anything," she breathed. She had her purse slung over her right shoulder, and she raised her hand to hold the strap. To anyone casually observing her, she looked like any other woman in the bar, reflexively keeping one hand protectively on her purse strap at all times. But what this really allowed was unobstructed scanning of the space by the minute array of electronics and sensors contained within the large, emerald colored ring she wore on her ring finger. The scientist that had studied her designed it, and it continually scanned for the unique biorhythms that she, and any other Excel that had been exposed to the radiation cloud, now gave off. It wasn't one hundred percent accurate, and they were finding that some of the affected no longer registered, but in general it could still pick up the slight resonance that was given off on a molecular level by her mutated cells.
She walked slowly, easing her way through the mass of bodies that were pressing against her to get to the bar. "Are you sure this thing isn't just reading me again?"
"No way. These readings are high. Not on par with yours, but definitely higher than most of the ones we've tracked lately. You're getting closer. The ring has an accuracy of plus or minus thirty five feet, and I think you're inside that circle with him now."
She felt her heart start to pound, and she could feel the slightest rush of adrenaline at his words. She shook her head slightly, "I still don't...". Her voice trailed off as she locked eyes with a man that was leaning against a wall near the very back of the bar. Later, Maura would be hard pressed to say just what it was about the man that caught her attention; or how she just knew that he was an Excel. There was nothing about him that stood out. He was of average height and build, not much taller than she herself. Brown, mousy hair that was a bit on the too long side, and sharp, triangular features gave him the look of someone that would never stand out in a crowd. Maybe that was it; he blended in too well for this meat market. Every other man in the place was preening like her Aunt Greta's peacocks; trying to be noticed by all the available women in the bar. But there was something else as well; he radiated danger to her. Maybe it was because she had spent the last six months dealing with his kind, and had developed a six sense for this, but something in his eyes told her he was hunting. She swallowed, feeling her resolve stiffen and rise within her. She held his gaze and walked toward him.
She was stopped by Jock Boy as he stepped directly into her path, cutting her off from the man's view. He was considerably drunker than he was during their previous encounter and the face that she once thought could be attractive, was pinched into an alcohol induced scowl that she had seen far too many times before. He jabbed a finger at her accusingly. "You know what you are?" he stated, the smell of cheap liquor that smashed into her face was accompanied by flecks of spittle. "You're a redheaded cun...". Before he could finish she had the wrist of the offending finger in her hand. She didn’t' have time to play nice, and was not in the mood to be verbally abused. She twisted slightly, careful not to grind the bones in his wrist to dust. Jock Boy dropped instantly to his knees, tears welling in his eyes as he yelped, suddenly he was very sober. She pulled slightly and sent him crashing into the legs of his friends as they looked on slack jawed.
Maura looked up at her quarry, noting that he had not moved from his spot against the wall. There was a quizzical look in his eyes, and then, she thought she saw just a hint of a smile. Or maybe it was a sneer, as one corner of his mouth drew itself upward ever so slightly.
Then he vanished. Literally, just like that, he disappeared. She never took her eyes off him, and in the space of a blink of the eye, he was gone.
"What the fuck," she heard in her ear.
"He just went invisible or something," she replied. She was still moving toward the area where she had last seen him. Nothing had prepared her for this. What now? Was she supposed to just start wandering around with her arms out in front of her; feeling around for someone that may or may not be still in the bar? She glanced toward the doorway; logic said he would probably head that way to get out.
"No, he didn't," Benjamin said. "He's not there anymore."
Maura stopped in her tracks. "What do you mean? I saw him go invisible with my own eyes."
"I'm not doubting what you saw, but I'm telling you, he is not in the bar with you anymore. I just ran a quick diagnostic on the ring to make sure it is still working, and there's no issue with it. Whatever just happened, he did not turn invisible."