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Aurum Shield

Discussion in 'Tilted Art, Photography, Music & Literature' started by redravin, Mar 30, 2014.

  1. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor


    Somewhere In The Middle

    "Like a wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we were, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment."
    -Harlan Ellison

    If you stare at one spot long enough it’s possible to block out everything else around you. I was focused on the fist sized hole in my wall, trying to ignore the rest of my wrecked apartment. I’d done a thorough job of tearing the place apart and was surprised the Hungarian couple downstairs hadn't called the cops. There was no way the landlord would give me back the security deposit, not with all the holes in the sheetrock much less the broken toilet tank. The floor of my little one bedroom apartment was littered with books and DVDs from the shelves I had tipped over. Lifting the huge assed coffee mug that Sara gave me for Fathers Day to my lips, I realized it was empty. Too bad the coffee maker didn't make it through the last time I needed to hear something go crunch.

    The hand painted mug in my hand was probably the only unbroken dish in the place. The heavy cup reminded me I really needed to call my daughter. I’d sent a text letting her know I was OK as soon as I got back, then I shut off my phone. It was a dick move I know but Sara had a life; high school, theater, played the guitar in jazz band, she certainly didn't need this level of crazy dropped on her. I’d used my kid as crutch one too many times and right now there was no way I was going to bring the crap in my head anywhere close to my kid..

    It had been twelve days since The Silent One pushed me out onto the street in front of my apartment. After two months of unceasing war with miscreations straight out of Hieronymus Bosch’s worst nightmares, on a planet circling a star you couldn't even see from Earth, I was suddenly returned to this apartment and this supposedly normal life. Of course, I’d been fired from my job and while I was lonely before, now I’m totally disconnected from everything that ever mattered to me. Sure, some of that was my own damn fault but when you keep hearing the voices of people whose lives you couldn't save whenever someone talks to you , it’s really hard to reach out to anyone.

    I hadn’t slept except for a few hours a night and we won’t talk about the nightmares. Eating, which used to be my career and joy, is now something I do to stop the stomach pains and from losing consciousness. If I drink booze it tastes like spruce needles mixed with rotten potato peels and I start seeing flying snakes that want to eat my face. We don’t want to talk about what I see on harder drugs.

    Going patrolling is out of the question. The one time I tried ended with me punching out a guys windshield when he ran a red light. At least no one was killed. My issue is clearly PTSD but there isn’t really anything I can do about it. There aren't any counselors who handle people suffering from the effects of fighting an intergalactic war.

    When the doorbell rang I was certain I’d imagined it. Then I went into fight or flight mode, with fight being top of the list. I grabbed my shotgun and went to the door. The peephole distorted her image but it still made me stop breathing. I fumbled with the doorknob, realized it was locked then fumbled some more, the process seemed to take forever. Finally I threw open the door, much harder than it really needed. I was stunned to realize she really was there and not just some fever dream.

    "Aurum Shield." she said.
    "Lady Ferrum.".
    Man Mountain had thought it was funny as hell when he introduced us. Rhyming Latin names apparently made the big guy giggle. As embarrassed as I was at the time, I hadn't said anything. You just don't tell someone who's nine feet tall and can crush refrigerators like beer cans to shut the hell up. It had made for an introduction that was less ‘meet cute’ and more ‘could there be a shittier place to meet somebody?’

    There was a long moment at the door, with me trying to read her face. Did the short time we had together mean as much to her or was it just a way to block out the horror? She returned my gaze with a smile and a lifted eyebrow that told me nothing. I’d thought of dozens of things to say the first time I saw her again and every single damned one of them dropped right out of my head.

    "So, are you going to invite me in?" she asked.
    Her look took in my stained jeans, Flogging Molly t-shirt with holes in the armpits, and the gun resting on my shoulder.
    "Really not a good idea, maybe we could find someplace to go get a cup--"
    Lady Ferrum interrupted, "Seriously, you think we'd be able to go out and have a quiet moment dressed like this?" She was in her full gear, purple top hat and all. I wondered what the neighbors would think of a well known Super dropping in on an unemployed chef. She pushed past me and surveyed the apartment.
    "Looks like the inside of my head." she said.
    A shiver of fear struck me.
    "How did you find me? No favors from..." I looked down.
    "No, no, Alphonse had time to slip me a card with their email. They sent me your address."
    “They’re gone. Kenneth came by the house and told me they went into seclusion, whatever the hell that means. I really miss them.” Tears started to well up in my eyes. Not now dammit.
    “ I didn’t think The Five would just dump us home the minute it was over." She said.
    Nobody talked about what we’d do 'after' because we were all pretty sure there wasn't going to be an after.

    Lady Ferrum sat down on the sofa after I cleared the pile of books and DVDs off of it, crossed her legs and waited.
    Just like with drag queens, the etiquette for heroes is if they are geared up you use their working names but it was too late now.
    "Since I got back all I could think about was you.” Except when I dreamed about the flying snakes eating my face. “Some of this mess is because I thought we weren’t going to see each other again."
    "So you weren’t even going to try?"
    Sitting down next to her I could smell the combination of leather from her gear and jasmine from her hair. I didn’t even want to think about what I smelled like, first chance I needed to make a break for the bathroom and get freshened up a bit.
    "I don’t exactly have the funds to fly to England."
    There was the smile again.
    "Which is why I came to you."
    She leaned forward and kissed me, hard. It was as good as I remembered. Better for being something I thought was gone. When we finally separated, she stood up.

    "Let's get you cleaned up and do some serious snogging.”

    --- merged: Mar 30, 2014 at 1:34 PM ---
    This is the opening chapter to a book I was working on before everything went to shit.
    I figured if I was going to be unemployed the least I could do while I was pounding the pavement not getting called back was write.

    I reserve all rights, etc. etc.
    I guess my only question is if you picked this up would it be enough to keep you reading?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 6, 2014
    • Like Like x 1
  2. Nice tease, @redravin. I, for one, would like to read more.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. Japchae

    Japchae Very Tilted

    Me, too.
  4. Street Pattern

    Street Pattern Very Tilted

  5. RedSneaker

    RedSneaker Very Tilted

  6. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    OK, you were all nice enough to ask for it.
    Here is the first chapter.
    If you have any comments or critics, I'd be really happy to hear them.
    --- merged: Mar 30, 2014 at 11:33 PM ---
    Chapter One

    When in doubt go towards the smoke.”
    -Henry Rollins

    When I was a kid banks were only available during certain hours of the week and never on weekends. Bank lobbies were big places with arches and offices where you went to beg for loans. Now the tellers might as well be working retail, having to work weekends and getting about as much training as the cashier at most grocery stores. My bank was completely open, except for the vault, with angled windows that from what the tellers told me blinded them for half the day. The only thing dividing the offices from the lobby was big planters. The carpet was some kind ugly modern art, while everything else was done in the green and gold company colors. There was another branch just like it about five miles from here in the next shopping plaza. Welcome to the future.

    This paycheck barely covered my child support and rent. Which left little things like food and utilities a bit of a challenge. The Yellow Rose of Texas Bar and Restaurant had cut everyones hours again and next week wasn’t going to get any better. Doug, the general manager, promised me regular hours when he hired me but the restaurant was suffering from the usual three year slump that hits most restaurants, even the big chains.. Corporate decided the solution was cutting back on labor, not improving the food and certainly not finding out if the staff had any ideas on how to bring in more traffic.

    Normally, I never would have taken Doug’s offer but my unemployment had ran out and even though I swore never to work in a corporate clown restaurant, it was my only option. That pissed my ex-wife off to no end. She’d gone through years of grief as every restaurant I committed myself to went bankrupt or closed their doors in the middle of the night. She swore I was so busy taking care of the restaurants and the people who worked for me, that I forgot my family. Unfortunately, she wasn’t that far off the mark. When I commit to something it’s full tilt or nothing. It hurt so much to watch a real restaurant that served exceptional food just disappear when a soulless corporate cookie cutter theme hole like The Yellow Rose of Texas thrived.

    There’s something about working in a kitchen that gets under some folks skin. About a quarter of the people in the US have their first job in a restaurant of one sort or another. There’s a small percentage of us who never leave. I started washing dishes and worked my way up to line cook, went to school part time and got a food service degree. The dream was to have my own restaurant. That’s every kitchen addicts dream, but only a small handful get one. Only four out of ten of those restaurants succeed and I always worked for the six that failed. I loved the work with all my heart. I just never loved wisely.

    I should get direct deposit but then I wouldn’t have an excuse to talk to the red headed teller who wears the tight sweaters. It’s sad that my love life consists of conversations with a woman I see from the waist up for five minutes every two weeks. There are a couple of waitresses who seem interested but I know better than to excrete where I eat. Even if I got the nerve to ask Bobby the teller out, I’m sure she wouldn’t be interested since she knows how little I take home every month. It’s not easy to get out in the dating world when you were married to your high school sweetheart for twenty years.

    Right now the line was going nowhere because a balding man with a huge stack of hand rolled coins is seriously pissed that they were going to make him put them through the counting machine. Then my nose hairs began to burn. New Jersey smells like wet dog everytime it rains and it’s pretty common for someone to run over a skunk but this was a hundred times worse. Even worse than driving through Elizabeth when they vented the stacks.

    You know when you’re looking around to see who farted? I was doing that and just as I’m looking out the door to the bank, I freeze. Really, everything in my body just anchored in place. I couldn’t move. All I could do was watch what was coming at me in a state of dull horror. There was a gold glowing man hurtling towards the doors, backwards. At the last moment, he flips around to reveal a huge black masked man locked in his arms. The two of them were gouging a trench out of the asphalt in the parking lot with their feet. The gold masked man was slamming his head into the the other man’s mask. Blood spread out behind them in a misty spray.

    Then I hear at least two people screaming ‘SUPERS!” and the training every kid gets in elementary school finally kicked in.
    The ‘prey you don’t killed in the crossfire’ part is a given.

    From the floor next to a planter with my hands over my head, I can feel glass raining down on me, hear screeching metal, people shouting, then wood cracking and splintering. It was stupid I know but I couldn’t help looking up, just in time to see the huge man dressed in a long black jacket and silver mask beating on the glowing gold man with the loan officers desk. The desk wielding man’s mask has blood seeping out of it and is badly torn from where the gold guy smashed it but now I could see it’s a hawk. The gold man is laying on the floor and not moving except to bounce a bit when the desk hits him. Which meant this situation was even worse than I’d thought.

    The woman walking through the hole in the wall where the doors had been was dressed like the guy doing the tenderizing of the Super on the floor, right down to the long black hair and black with silver highlights mask, except she wore eight inch heels and blood red fingernail polish. They were The Goshawks, a mother and son team who never made the Top Ten Super Villain List every year but always got an honorable mention. The Goshawks had a reputation for being so unstable they couldn't even hire henchmen. When you randomly drop your people from great heights for looking at your mother funny or making you break a nail,, it’s a bit hard to find employees.

    Are you alright baby? Did that disgusting old man hurt you?”
    The matronly voice that came from behind the mask didn't match the sleek body in the gray and white spandex. She had glanced around the bank and promptly ignored all of us. We could have been the furniture for all we mattered to her.
    Mom,” Slam, “I'm,” Slam, “Fine.” Slam. “He's not going anywhere now.” Slam, slam, slam.
    The desk was flying to pieces as it struck the the gold suited man but it didn’t seem to be doing any damage except to keep him from getting up.
    My turn, honey. I'm gonna push him right down to China.”
    You sure Mom?”
    Don't worry baby, I got this. You get the money.”
    OK, mom.”
    Dropping the desk, Sonny Goshawk walked towards a very scared security guard who promptly tossed away his gun, and put hands on his head. His surrender didn’t stop Sonny from throwing the poor son of a bitch through the bathroom door. With a groan he ripped the handle off the front of the vault and reached inside door Bracing himself he started peel back the faceplate. Soon he had access to the inner workings of the door which he casually tore out like a little kid breaking his first toy. It took him less than eight minutes to tear apart the vault door.

    Momma Goshawk looked down at the golden man and held one hand straight out, then leaned forward.
    I don't know what made you think you could take us, old man but you fucked up. I might not be able to touch you but I will put you down. The same power that makes me fly will bury you.”
    The floor made a groaning sound and opened up. The man in the gold suit disappeared into a hole that appeared around him. Mother Goshawk leaned forward on her toes, both arms straight ahead of her, like she was pushing the man into the ground. Very quickly, I couldn’t see him at all.

    The smell that made me so sick before came on double now. I had to make it stop, my eyes were watering and my throat felt like someone had taken a blowtorch to it. It didn’t matter that she was a crazy lady who could crush me just by looking me. There was a curved piece of jagged metal that had once been part of the door frame. Twisting around I grabbed the makeshift crook and swept Mama Goshawk’s feet out from under her. The result was not what I expected. Her telekinesis threw her off balance at full force and drove her across the room into the wall so hard the concrete exploded right down to the rebar.

    Mommy!” Sonny was across the bank in leap, the huge stack of money he'd been collecting forgotten.
    Sheer luck that he hadn't been looking over when I tripped his mother. I lay very still pretending to be dead.
    Wake up, Mommy!” he cradled her in his arms but whatever power made him practically indestructible was not hers. Her neck was twisted at an odd angle, her arms and legs the same. Standing up, the weeping criminal walked out of the bank to a hail of gunfire. The police knew their bullets were pointless but it wasn’t like they had any other options. Sonny was pissed and had decided it was the cops fault. I dashed over to the hole in the floor where the golden man was half buried.

    Sir, are you alright? Can I help you?”
    There was a whisper but the man was almost four feet away so I had to crawl down through the broken tile and concrete. For a moment I freaked out, my entire weight was on the golden man’s legs but I was standing on some kind of gold light that encircled the hero.
    I'm dieing.” his voice was so faint.
    Oh fuck, that was not what I wanted to hear. I had taken advanced first aid classes but nothing in the class covered dieing Supers.
    SSS OK. Knew it when I ssuited up. Just wanted one last battle. Ussed to be The Gold Shield ..my heart ... too weak for it.” The Gold Shield's words were slurred and getting harder to hear..
    My name is Charles...” he reached out a hand.
    I took it expecting to feel the solid light only to touch a yellow glove.
    “Thank you.” That was The Gold Shields last breath.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 7, 2014
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  7. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Chapter Two

    "THE EDGE, there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."
    - Hunter S. Thompson

    “Thank you? For what?” I leaned closer, thinking he had more to say and realized the old man wasn’t breathing anymore.
    “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” How could I do compressions on someone who could get hit with a desk? I sure couldn’t do them down in this hole. They had to be done on a flat surface. Trying not to joggle Charlie’s neck and back too much, I pulled him free. With chunks of tile, concrete and dirt all over us, I managed to leverage him to the edge of the hole. Getting a painful cramp in my side told me I really needed to ride my bicycle instead of using it as a coatrack. There was a moment where I tried to decide if I was going to lift him out, then get out or climb out and drag him. It took a couple of seconds for me to stop kidding myself and climb out.

    “Can somebody help me?”
    I was trying to figure out why everybody was still hiding when it hit me, one of the stray bullets from the over a three hundred rounds the police fired at Sonny Goshawk. In all fairness they were doing their best to stay alive since with his mother dead, Sonny had decided to kill as many cops as possible. So when the bullet punched through the window and smacked me in the face, I had to seriously reassess the situation. It felt like a pinch on the cheek. The bullet should have gone right through my head and instead it was lying on the floor. Looking down at my hands, they were glowing that damned gold. Dropping back into the hole, I started yelling at the old man in the yellow costume.
    “What did you do to me?” Then I realized I was down in a hole yelling at an old man who was inches away from being dead. There would be no answers, not if I couldn't get his heart beating again. It wouldn't do me any good to bring him out if he was going to get shot. It seemed petty to be angry at somebody for giving me something that kept a bullet from splattering my brains all over the bank but something in my gut was telling me this was the kind of gift that ate your soul.

    Hauling myself out of the hole a second time, I looked for a place to take The Golden Shield. Maybe it was getting shot in the head again but I realized other people were in serious trouble. The customer who had been holding up the line was bleeding on the floor still clutching his rolls of coins. Using my body to protect him, I checked the wounds. They were well beyond anything I learned to handle in the second level first aid classes.
    “Over here,” a green shirted teller waved from the vault door.
    The man wasn't light and groaned when I grabbed his plaid shirt. Have you ever had to crouch and drag something at the same time? Oh and try to keep your body in front of what you are dragging at all times? I managed to get him to the vault and not get him shot again.
    “Help me.” another customer called from behind a planter in the lobby.
    Two more people went to the vault with me serving as bullet stopper. I even received a beautiful smile from Bobby. Maybe I could ask her out after all. The next trip out, I was halfway across the lobby before realizing the shooting had stopped. Had they brought down Sonny Goshawk or had he just left?

    Realizing I could actually just go look without getting killed, I dashed to the window. The police were all being quite still, their guns very carefully pointed at the ground. Standing on top of an overturned armored car was a figure in a long gray cape and hood. At least gray was the best word I can think of, it more like the color meat fat gets when it goes rancid. You really didn't want to look at it very long. Your eyes kind of slid off of the cape and you very much wanted to look at something else, anything else.

    Everybody on earth knows who The Five are but you never expect to see one in person. At least you kind of hope you won't, because that means you’re in the middle of major ugliness. Usually where a whole bunch of people die. They showed up when a major Supervillain decided to destroy a city or there was some kind of huge natural catastrophe. The guy in the ugly cape and white mask was The Silent One. He was holding Sonny Goshawk by the neck with one hand and from the odd angle of Sonny’s head, must have broken the villains neck.

    Which reminded me of The Gold Shield. It had probably been too long, there wasn't a chance of me reviving him. With the ambulances outside, maybe they could do something. So I ran to the hole in wall waved my arms and yelled as loud as I could. “Get a defibrillator in here right away and EMTs. We have people who are shot. Please hurry.” Then I ran back inside before the cops could stop me.

    Then it was back to that damn hole in the floor. Leaning over, I grabbed one of the old mans arms and pulled. It was scary how light he felt; like there was nothing left of the hero that had just moments before been using his forehead to break Sonny Goshawks face. Laying Charlie on the floor, I did all the things I could remember from my first aid classes. Clear the airway, tilt the head, quick breaths, then start compressions, being careful not to break the ribs but putting enough weight into it to make sure I was really pumping the heart. It looks nothing like the way they do it on most of the TV shows and is a lot of work especially for someone like me who specializes more in eating than running.

    When I felt someone behind me I was certain it was the paramedics even though I hadn't heard any noise from them coming in. We all lie to ourselves. So I kept doing the compressions because I told myself they would have to set up before I could stop and they would take over. The hand on my shoulder made the time I fell off my bike and dislocated it feel pleasant by comparison.

    Part of my mind was aware that it was just a hand lightly resting on my arm but the pain receptors said I was being was having my skin peeled off with a blowtorch. Why didn't the gold shield stop the pain? It could stop fucking bullets but not the creepy character standing behind me? Who apparently was the only reason this lobby wasn't swarming with cops and paramedics. Thanks asshole.
    I'm trying to save his life. Can’t you help? Please, please help.” The whine in my voice was grating even to me but weren’t the good guys supposed to help?
    The only thing I could do to keep from totally freaking out, was to continue with the compressions. Try to get the old mans heart started, give back this glowing gold curse, go back to my apartment and get very drunk. Then, suddenly, The Silent One was standing across from me. The cape he wore seemed to sweep out on it's own accord and started to swallow up Charlie’s feet.
    “What The Fuck!” I tried to pull away but found myself being dragged inside.

    When I was a kid my family went to Atlantic City every summer. The summer I was eleven, I swam out too far, got caught in a riptide and nearly drowned. A lifeguard, who I don’t remember, pulled me out of the water unconscious, cleared my lungs and saved my life. As I was fighting the sea, my main feelings were anger and disgust that I had done something so stupid. Everybody knew about riptides and not to go out too far. But right before I blacked out there was a moment of terrible clarity. No matter what happened this was the end of everything I had ever known.

    And in a way it was, after that trip my family never went back to Atlantic City, my folks were killed in a car accident a year later, which had nothing to do with the trip but of course but try convincing me of that. I never swam in the ocean again and after a while stopped swimming at all. That clarity was with me when the cape spit me out. Laying on white shag carpeting gasping for air and praying I would never have to go through that again. Too bad this was just the first of many times and it never got better.

    “Let me give you a hand my friend.”

    Last edited: Apr 1, 2014
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  8. Chris Noyb

    Chris Noyb Get in, buckle up, hang on, & don't criticize. Donor

    Large City, TX
    I'll need to give it all a better read later, but I like it.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. I'm already becoming a fan, @redravin. Let someone else Baraka the piece. I just want to enjoy the tale. Please continue!
    • Like Like x 2
  10. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    This is the first draft so it's a bit rough around the edges (there's a hole around chapter 18 that I still haven't filled in).
    I'll keep posting chapters, mostly because I don't really figure on this getting published and I would appreciate any input.
    --- merged: Apr 2, 2014 3:22 AM ---
    Chapter Three

    “What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity? Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero? Is the light truly the source of darkness or vice versa? Is the soul a source of hope or despair? Who are these so called heroes and where do they come from? Are their origins in obscurity or in plain sight?”
    - Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

    The man who reached out to give me a hand up was straight off cereal boxes, shower curtains, and kids bedding sets. He wore pastel colors, thigh high boots and a flowing cape with total sincerity. I can’t remember which writer said it (maybe Thompson?) but I’ll always remember the quote. “Anybody else would look like they were going to a gay pride parade in that outfit but on The Major it’s pure big dick manliness.”
    Nobody had ever seen him wear anything else in the sixty years he had been a prominent hero first on his own then as a member of The Five. Except for The Silent One none of The Five wore masks.
    The Major had the kind of rugged good looks that made for great cigarette and truck commercial (he hadn't done the cigarette commercials since the sixties).

    He also had a grip that made it quite clear he could crush your hand to powder but then he would switch up to a normal hold so fast you only had the cramp in your hand to remind you. Right at that moment I didn't mind so much since I’d been lying right next to the body of the Gold Shield and at the feet of The Silent One. Looking around I promptly wanted to sit down. I'd always heard that The Five's base was someplace out of reach of the worlds governments. A place giving the heroes such a big edge that nobody wanted to mess with them. I just didn’t expect to be completely surrounded by boiling magma.

    The Five's headquarters was decorated in 1965 Hugh Hefner/Mad Men retro chic, complete with white shag carpet, very uncomfortable looking art deco chairs, a huge entertainment system that included coffin sized speakers, turntables and a reel to reel tape deck. The kitchen looked exactly like the one from the set of The Galloping Gourmet, all brown cabinets, open stove top and the classic white stone arch. So sue me, I notice kitchens. Right now I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Graham Kerr came out and started cooking us dinner. Besides, thinking about that kept my mind off other things. Like what appeared to be a russian nuclear missile standing in the middle of the room.

    “So who has our quiet friend brought us today?” The Major's voice had the bass turned to eleven.
    “The dead one is Charles Walters, the original Gold Shield and the live one is Daniel Ellison. He works for the Bullseye corporation as a Lead Chef for the Yellow Rose of Texas restaurant in Windsor, New Jersey and is apparently the new Gold Shield.”
    The middle aged woman with the $500 hair cut and Armani business suit was PsyAnnie. She looked like someone who would be running a Fortune 100 company with only the slight glow in her eyes giving away the fact that she was the most powerful telekinetic and psychic in the world.
    “The Silent One picked them up after taking out one of the Goshawks.” she said.
    “Why? The Goshawks are not in our league.” They had turned away from me, like I didn’t even exist.
    PsyAnnie shrugged, “Sonny was killing a lot of civilians and there was the whole passing of powers. He thought we might want to handle that.”
    “It’s not really his place to think but yes, we do need to handle this new Shield. I've got about five minutes before that tsunami Dr. Ruin started is a problem, so lets get rolling.”
    “I'll have Brynhilde and Celeritas meet you there when we are done.” She turned back to Dan, “Well Mr. Ellison, this would appear to be your lucky day.”
    “Lucky?” The word came out as a high pitched squeak. As a kid I didn’t collect the action figures of The Five or read all the True Life books like my friends. I preferred the local heroes like Rag and Bone or Deep Six. Still, here I was standing in their headquarters, something my buddies would have killed for but my tongue was stuck to roof of my mouth, and I was certain I was going to throw up,

    “Yes, very lucky. The Golden Shield passed you a special gift. Now listen closely because this is a lot of information and I don’t have the time to repeat it. In Charles Walters’ youth, an asteroid hit his house. When he touched it, an alien symbiont joined with him. We don't know anything about the alien because it can create a shield to protect itself which also protects you. But that also keeps it from being studied. Mr. Walters wasn’t very cooperative for that matter.” PsyAnnie sounded just like Mrs. Andrews, a teacher I’d had who could take the most exciting moments in human history and make them deadly dull.

    “How does ...?” Better, not squeaky but still pretty pathetic. Not good enough though, because she cut me right off.

    “Don't interrupt. It will filter out any poisonous gas but it can't provide you with oxygen. It will deflect any force, energy, bullets, or pointed weapon but it won't make you any stronger or faster. While it doesn't give you more mass it somehow is able to deflect forces of much higher mass so you are not knocked down. Anything further you are going to have to figure out for yourself. Here is a card with numbers for possible mentors you can connect with to do some street work.”

    “What if I'd rather just go back to living my regular life?” Now the words came tumbling out. Everything I'd seen today was pushing me past my common sense. “Why the hell would I want to go out there and deal with people like the Goshawks? You know why that guy went crazy and started killing people? Because I just had to play hero and knocked his mom over and she died and he went nuts and I didn't think that would happen and why would I even want to take that risk and get people hurt again and ...” I ran out of breath.

    The Major held up his hand. He didn't shout but it cut right through my hysterics just as if he had.
    “Well my friend, there is are a number of good reasons for that.”
    The silence made me realize they were waiting for a response.

    “To start with you really didn’t have that much to do with what happened to Mother Goshawk. Her attempt to push The Golden Shield was the primary reason she was killed. You just triggered the effect. Seems the telekinesis and the shield didn’t mix well. We have done you a number of favors, giving you information about your powers and possibly a mentor. Most importantly we took you away from a very difficult situation with the police and will vouch for you with them. You could have been arrested for the murder of Mother Goshawk and the deaths of the police officers. Instead you are going to get to learn how to be a Superhero and you’ll have your mundane little life as well. You owe us for that life.”
    He walked up to me and looked down on me just daring me to say something. Was I being bullied by the worlds greatest hero?
    “We will call in that favor at a later date. It will require that you are able to use your powers to the very best of your abilities. So I recommend that you get lots of practice. Besides doesn't everyone dream of becoming a hero? Now we have to go.”
    With that the two hero's disappeared.
    Dan looked around, only to see The Silent One, his cape expanding out.
    “Oh fuck no!”
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 9, 2014
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  11. Chris Noyb

    Chris Noyb Get in, buckle up, hang on, & don't criticize. Donor

    Large City, TX
    I agees, but this piece doesn't need to be "Baraked." Some writing should be enjoyed for what it is.
  12. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    On to chapter 4.
    --- merged: Apr 2, 2014 at 4:35 PM ---
    Chapter Four

    “Learning is not child's play; we cannot learn without pain.”

    I called out sick that night. Putting some Henry Rollins in the CD player I cranked it up so loud the speakers complained. Henry’s rage and his admonitions against feeling sorry for yourself had helped me in the past and I was hoping that they would help me get a handle on what had happened at the bank. Pulling almost everything I had out of my fridge and pantry, I started to make hot and sour soup, Vietnamese spring rolls and rice pudding. Cooking usually made me calm and centered but about halfway through I began to go off kilter . The Guinness I’d opened when I got home was gone, the second and third became Irish Car Bombs. The problem with Car Bombs is you have to drink them quick or they curdle. This led to stabbing one of my best Hinkel chefs knives as fast as I could between my fingers. It didn't matter if I missed because the shield would make the knife slide right off. As I got drunker, I started trying to hit my fingers until the tip of the knife broke off. I kept thinking I should call someone because this was really counter productive.

    The problem was when we got divorced my ex got all the friends. Which was only fair since she did the work maintaining relationships. There were so many times when I missed events because of work. It wasn't that they didn't want to see me. They always seemed happy to have me around but I never felt comfortable. They were usually talking about stuff that I couldn’t really relate to like, sports, careers, mortgages, and investments. I had gaming friends, work friends that I would go out for a drink with, and some online friends from a cooking forum. Most of the work friends I kept at a distance because they just seemed to get younger and younger. I would drink with them, have breakfast after a night shift but that was about it. The gamers and cooking geeks, I knew by nicks and avatars. This wasn't something you could / share.

    It’s Friday and there is a call I had to make no matter how bad I was feeling or what crap had gone down. After my shift, I called my kid every Wednesday and Friday without fail. The first year of the divorce when she was twelve, I called her every night and after I got off the phone would cry for twenty minutes. Five years later it’s better, though sometimes I find myself getting depressed for hours. I know she has a better things to do on a Friday than talk to her old man but she always answered.

    One of the only things I ever pushed on my kiddo was she should never make the mistake her parents did and get married right out of high school. We had to get married, it just wasn't because of her. Gail, because she couldn't stand being in a house full of survivalist men who used her as a servant and I was desperately trying to get back the sense of a family I lost when my parents died. Sara came later and at times I was certain Gail had gone off the pill because things were getting majorly rocky in our relationship. Whatever the reason, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Luckily, Sara was the kind of kid who loved her parental units and could learn from our mistakes. She didn't shop whenever she got sad like her mom or make work a lifestyle like her dad. I’m not sure how we got such a well adjusted kid.
    “Hey Dad,” She sounded out of breath. “What's cooking?”
    “Hey, you still coming down next month?”
    Connecticut wasn't really that far away but sometimes it seemed in another world.
    “Yep, got it right here on the calendar. Hope you've got my room cleaned up and could you put some food in the fridge. The last time, the only things in there were condiments.”
    Odd how chefs either have packed fridges or absolutely nothing. It depended on your schedule, paycheck and if you had family. Oh yea, and how much stuff you could steal from work.
    “Sure, honey. Hey, I need to tell you something and you can't tell your mom.”
    “O. K.” The was a worried pause between the letters.

    So I told her, starting at the bank and ending up on the phone with her (skipping the drinking and stabbing the coffee table). I don’t think I would have told her without the Guinness and Jameson but I had to tell someone.
    “Wow, so when are you going to call those numbers?” Leave it to my kid to cut through the bullshit.
    “Well, I wasn't sure I going to, it's not like ...”
    “Daaad, be smart. You don't know what kind of favor The Five are going to want but it sounds like it could heinous. You're gonna need some skills, so call the damn numbers.”
    “Yea, you're right.”
    “I mean it, don't dick around. Call them now. This is amazeballs. I'm gonna have a dad who's a super hero.”
    “I don't know how super I'm going to be, just remember ...”
    “I know, don't tell anybody. Mom’s not stupid. She’s gonna figure this out sometime and she’s gonna shit a brick.”
    “Yea,I know.”
    “When I come down we can talk about something totes important. It’s not a hugeass deal but it’s really not an over the phone thing.”
    “OK, that doesn’t make me nervous.”
    “Don’t worry. Hey, I’ve got friends coming for rehearsal. Gotta go.”
    “Sure, love you kiddo.
    “Love you, Daddy-san.”

    Doing my best not to worry about what she wanted to tell me I pulled out The Fives list.
    Of the numbers, two were out of service and the rest went to mailboxes with machine voices. After fumbling around with what to say on the first one, I finally decided to just keep it real short.
    “The Five gave me your number. They said you could mentor me.”
    About ten minutes later one of the numbers called back.
    The man's voice was scratchy and harsh.
    “The Five gave you my number?”
    “Uh, yea. They said you could help ...”
    “Did they say it would take care of their favor?”
    “No, just to call.”
    “Fuck them. Don't call me again.”
    Nobody else called back, which gave me a good reason to finish off the Jameson and Guinness.

    The next day was absolutely miserable. I took Excedrin migraine, vitamin C, and drank lots of water, before I passed out, a trick I learned in my early days of drinking. There were a few occasions when I had shown up for work bright and chipper after a company function to find the younger staff in too much pain to function. This time it didn’t work. You know waking up is going to be bad when you dream you have a headache. This one ran from the corner of my jaw to my eyes, up through my sinuses and back to my neck. Even a long shower set as hot as I could stand, didn't help. I almost took off the corner of my soul patch because my hands were shaking so bad. The only positive thing was when I discovered that while the symbiont would let me shave it wouldn't let me cut myself, so no more toilet paper on my face in the morning. As I was watching my big coffee mug fill up and wished it would go faster, there was a sharp rap at the door.

    Except for the chauffeur’s uniform the man standing on my porch was pretty nondescript. Older, medium height, totally average features, the man was there but not, at the same time.
    “Pardon me, sir but are you Daniel Ellison?”
    I nodded and instantly wished I hadn’t.
    “My employers would be honored if you would join them for lunch.”
    “Right now?”
    “Yes sir. It will be about an hours drive. I have the car.”
    He gestured to a huge, black limousine parked in the street.
    “Who are your employers?”
    The chauffeur handed him a stiff white business card with only a stylized bow and arrow embossed on it.
    “The Archers.”
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 9, 2014
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  13. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    I have a menu for the restaurant.

    Chapter Five
    For the introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperilling the whole state; since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions.
    Sitting in the back of the limo nervously reviewing everything I knew about The Archers, I realized the limo was heading into Philadelphia. Which made sense considering it was their base of operations. The Archers were two street heroes; not popular with the police but were very popular with the people. They showed up at fires, home invasions, liquor store robberies, and had even gone toe to toe with Supers. For two people who didn't have any powers, they always seemed to know what to do and be in the right place to do it.
    Their problems with the cops stemmed not from their tendency to be rather brutal with rapists and pediphiles which was the official reason. Rather it was the time they cleared a young activist of the murder of two police officers and proved a corrupt detective had done it instead. The takedown of six other officers and a DA who were on the take two years later didn’t help their relationship. No matter how many times The Archers were arrested, a wall of lawyers would show up and the two would walk away.
    When we pulled up in front of the restaurant I have to admit to freaking out a bit.
    “This is Perceptions. You didn't tell me we were coming here. I would have put on a suit.”
    I really did own one, it was buried in the bottom of my closet and probably didn't fit me any more since I hadn’t worn it since my brother-in-laws wedding. It was bad enough that I was going to meet heroes for the second time in my life but doing it in a restaurant that I’ve dreamed about eating in since it opened was too much.
    Perceptions was inside a mill house built during the 1890’s. The outside was rustic stone and timbers with a stream running by but when you went inside it was entirely redone into modern stainless steel and glass. That looks so radically different on the outside theme was continued on to the food at Perceptions. The husband and wife team of chefs believed in confusing the palette. They created meals that were experiences. I suspected my meeting with The Archers was going to be an experience all by itself.
    “Don't worry sir. It is a private table so there is no dress code.”
    The driver simply nodded at the maître d' who lead us towards the back of the house. Walking into one of the only twelve, three Michelin star restaurants in the United States, I was trying my level best to act like a rock star. As if I walked into one of the most expensive restaurants in the world wearing worn out jeans every day. It was almost disappointing that nobody even looked at me.
    The couple sitting at the private table had no such issues. They were clearly the exact patrons every waitress fears and loves, demanding the very best service but tipping enough to pay your utility bills.
    Dressed in the kind of custom made clothes that didn’t have labels, the man in a light cotton suit and the woman in a long, silk dress, their features were perfectly symmetrical. At first glance you might think eurotrash but there was grace and a definite edge that you wouldn’t find in that sub species. Still it was hard to believe that these were the heroes who routinely went up against super powered killers and won.
    “Sir, Madam, this is Daniel Ellison as you requested.”
    “Thank you, Kenneth.”
    The driver stepped back and went to over to a table next to theirs to sit down.
    Standing and holding out his hand the man proved to be a few inches taller than me which put him at about six foot two.
    “Hello, I am Alphonse and this is my partner Betanya.” His handshake was firm but not aggressive.
    Betanya turned out to be the same height as Alphonse with an equally firm grip. Both their hands were covered with fine scars just like mine but I doubt they got theirs from working in kitchens.
    “Thanks for uh, sending your driver. So you got my call? I was afraid the numbers The Five gave me were a total bust.” I was determined to be cool and so wasn’t feeling it.
    “Oh, no. We would not have been on the list. The Five do not care for us.” Betanya’s laugh was almost musical. Both of them spoke too perfect English that made it sound like it was a second language.
    “What my lady means, is they prefer people who owe them and it has been our policy to avoid such a situation. In fact we have actually volunteered for events. Which from their perspective has put them in a difficult position. Try the amuse bouche. It’s a very good.”
    On a tiny plate was what looked like three fruit balls in a cherry sauce with a crystallized mint leaf. The first ball turned out to be a bubble of sharp cheese, the second Iberico ham and the third was beef marrow. The sauce was cherry but with chipotle peppers. The bubbles had just enough density to give the flavor and to be coated with the sauce. Inside each bubble was a different flavor of smoke. That tiny plate was magic food.
    “We have also given help for free to some of the new heroes like yourself who The Five would have demanded favors from. We keep an eye on the news and follow up events like the bank robbery that brought you to their attention.” Betanya took up where Alphonse left off.
    “I don't understand, what are these favors and why are they so tough about them? What happens if you don't pay up?”
    “You understand that The Five handle the really big battles.” Betanya poured me a glass of wine. “The kind of situations that would scare the average civilian to death if they were to know of them, horrific situations, world ending events.
    “Most of the time they have more than enough power to handle the problem.” Alphonse continued without a break.
    “But when they do not, they must call in favors. People with powers who are willing to fight the good fight.” Betanya’s turn.
    “The return rate is not great and those that do are often very damaged.” It was Alphonse's turn again, “It doesn't matter if you don't want to help. The Silent One will show up on your door step and drop you in the middle of whatever battle they are fighting.”
    “Why hasn't anybody complained, fought back?” I could hear the high pitch in my voice as it went up. Not in front of these way too cool people. I drank half the glass of wine to try to cover. Wow, it was good. I looked at the label, Château Lafite Rothschild! I was drinking from a bottle that would pay my rent for four months.
    “We do in our small way but this is The Five. They are the good guys and the civilians really don't want to hear the complaints of some street heroes.” Betanya shrugged. “Wonderful, our first course.”
    The waiters brought out complex steel sculptures which were placed in front of each of us. The sculpture was about three feet high with a series of bowls, drains and chimes. When boiling broth was poured into the first bowl it cooked the contents. Then a lever was pulled and it drained down to the next bowl where the the shaved food in that dish was cooked by the newly flavored broth. The pressure from the broth draining caused the chimes to softly ring. Each bowl was gradually more intense in flavor till there was a broth at the bottom that was incredibly rich and complex. I am pretty sure I have never tasted anything that deep and layered in my entire life. It made me want to run back and hug the chef. Nothing was said while the food was finished. I noticed that Kenneth, the driver, was working on his own sculpture over at his table while reading the latest Stephen King novel.
    “So we know a little about Charles Walters, god rest his soul, but we do not know if you have any other skills. Have you taken martial arts, fencing, anything like that?” Alphonse asked.
    “No, not really but I work with knives every day. I can do some good work with them.”
    “That could be useful. Show us.”
    Betanya reached behind her neck and handed me a slim black dagger.
    “Where did you ...?”
    The half smile told me she wasn't going to tell, so I started doing the tricks most chefs practice when they get bored in the kitchen. I had never flipped a knife designed to kill someone before but if I could juggle a cleaver and a 12” chef knife, I should be able to handle a perfectly balanced combat dagger. I was getting pretty confidant so I went for a another spin only to find the the damn knife gone. Only then did I realize that the chauffeur was standing next to me. He was holding the dagger close enough to my neck that one quick stab and I’d be the dinner special.
    “Thank you Kenneth. You can tell them we'll have the next course.”
    The driver handed Betanya her knife back. She tucked the dagger away as magically as she had drawn it.
    “Yes, miss.”
    “A weapon doesn't work very well if you can not stay in possession of it.” she said with that half smile. I was later to learn that was her default mode, if that smile was gone you knew it was on.
    “But that's not fair. I didn't know he was going to try and take it.” Whiny voice again.
    “Have you ever killed anyone?” Alphonse asked.
    “Do you want to?” Betanya.
    “I guess if I absolutely have to but I’d rather not.”
    “Well, if you're going to use knives there is a good chance that you will, sooner rather than later.” Alphonse said.
    “What do you recommend?”
    “I'm thinking batons, maybe a staff. What do you think darling?” Betanya.
    “Perfect, here is the next course. Then we can discuss your training regimen.”

    Last edited: Apr 3, 2014
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  14. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    A bit about the limits of being a hero.

    Aurum Shield Chapter Six

    “Being a hero, the man had observed, is largely a matter of knowing one’s cues.”
    - Lev Grossman, The Magician King

    “I don't want to be The Gold Shield. That's who Charles Walters was and I'm not him.”
    “That's understandable. Do you have any ideas?” Alphonse wasn't even breathing hard. He had blocked or ducked every single attempt I made to hit him with the staff. Since The Archer had his hands cuffed behind his back, my confidence was at a major low.
    “Well, Celeritas is Latin for speed and he's the fastest guy in the world. Aurum is the Latin word for gold. So I thought I'd be Aurum Shield. Keep part of Mr. Walters name as a tribute.”
    “A good choice.”
    Alphonse kicked me in the throat which had no effect except to make me flinch which was enough for The Archer to down strike the staff out my hands.
    “Fuck, at least by this fucking time you'd think I could fucking well hang on to the fucking staff.”
    Every day Kenneth picked me up and drove me to the wooded estate where The Archers trained me to be a hero. With working night shifts at the restaurant and training during the day, about the only time I had to sleep was in the limousine.

    The Archers also helped me figure out my gear. I wasn't going bright yellow, sorry Mr. Walters. I finally settled on a brown leather duster,a black work shirt and jeans. I’d found a decent pair of Doc Martens that didn’t kill my extra wide feet to complete the outfit. Betanya kept stressing how important it was for me to have good shoes. I didn’t need to protect my hands so much but we added a set of weighted gloves so when I threw a punch it actually did something. One interesting thing we discovered was the shield also kept me from leaving fingerprints so covering my hands that way wasn't an issue. I wanted my gear to be a workings mans hero outfit like Rag and Bone, the only mixed race hero team from the sixties and seventies. They wore street clothes and made a name fighting racism, drugs, and pollution.

    The Archers wore a variety of colors depending on the situation but their primary outfit was urban camo battle suits with the bow and arrow from their business cards emblazoned on their back. The wore a high tech helmet and face mask that showed only a shadow of their features from the outside but was totally clear on the inside. It was bullet proof, shock proof and had wifi. Their battle suits had Kevlar chest plates, nanotubes over the knees and elbows that served both as protection and enhanced their lifting ability, and heat regulators that allowed them to patrol comfortably in Phillies humid summers.

    My mask was more of a challenge. Getting something that fit comfortably with my glasses was a real problem. Finally we came up with a helmet and goggles similar to a WWI aviator, only they got me prescription goggles. I didn't ask where they found the goggles, especially with the nifty infrared settings. With the goggles down and the chin strap on, my face was covered enough that even facial recognition software would have a hard time. Just as a precaution they added a couple of LED lights to corners that when turned on would blank out any computers scan.

    The first night we went out on a actual patrol was a bit of a revelation. Kenneth was driving what looked like a regular limousine but The Archers were quick to point out that it was totally bullet proof and had electronic reactive paint beads that made it possible for the limo to change colors with the flip of a switch. Inside were racks with dozens of different kinds of bows and appropriate projectiles. There were also shovels, space blankets, bottled water, rope, dog food, candy bars and teddy bears. It looked more like a Red Cross support vehicle than a hero mobile.

    As Betanya explained, “Every morning on the news there is at least one shooting, a fire, some kind of assault and in the summer a drowning. It is our intent to stop or help with at least one of those every night.”

    That night it was a fire. There were four kids sleeping in a house with no fire alarm and no electricity.
    They had been using the fireplace for heat and the flue caught fire. Since it was a row house it also smoked out the next door neighbors and an elderly woman nearly died from inhalation.
    How Kenneth got the limo down those narrow streets I have no idea. When we could get no closer, The Archers had backpacks filled and were out the sunroof and down the street, before I could even get the door open.

    So by the time I huffed and puffed my way to the fire, the firefighters were setting up their trucks. Betanya was passing the hose like it was something she did everyday. I saw Alphonse helping a couple of paramedics, who didn't seem to be at all surprised that a costumed street hero was handing them supplies. I grabbed Betanya, “I could go in, the fire won't hurt me.” This was something else we had discovered during training.

    “But you would not be able to breath and you have limited training for going into a fire. We are trained volunteers and even we are not going to go in. I will ask the Fire Captain if they need you and if they do we will take it from there. Here.” She handed me the backpack, “You see that family over there? They just had their home soaked with water. There is money, a thermos of hot coffee, and a teddy bear in the bag. Go make them feel better.”

    The mom didn’t have a clue who I was but she knew The Archers so I became cool by default. I poured cups of coffee, gave mom the bundle of cash (wild guess but it looked like five grand) and presented the backpack with the teddy bear to the little girl whose name was Angel. For the next hour I told Angel the stories I used to tell Sara about a talking bear and a pig who lived in a big forest. I even remembered how to do the voices.

    Training days and working nights was a grind, it’s a good thing I’d been working in restaurants since I was a teenager and the menu at The Yellow Rose of Texas was designed so it could be cooked by idiots. Even sleepwalking there was nothing I couldn't handle quickly and accurately. What I couldn't do was keep track of the quality of my squad. A couple of the younger ones didn’t have the skills or really didn’t give a shit, so I had to clean up their mistakes enough times to make me into the kind of pissed off head chef you see on TV. Nights ran together, then one evening I made a serious mistake.

    Turning down the usual crew breakfast run, I staggered out to my car. On the edge of the lighted portion of the parking light I could see two figures. Suddenly the larger of the two reached over and slammed the other into the car behind them. The thump and crying that followed had me running towards them. After all, this was why I had spent all those hours in training.

    The person who had been slammed into the car was Jenny one of our wait staff. Big hair, big smile, she fit right in at the Yellow Rose. The big guy was her boyfriend Sammy. He called everyone Boss and kept coming back in the kitchen until I told him to get the fuck out. Jenny had come to work with a black eye once and another time with good size bruise on her leg. Since she liked to ride the mechanical bull and often did it drunk, we accepted the excuse. Now I felt like a dick for not asking more questions.

    “Nothing to see here, Boss.” Sammy was holding Jenny by the arm.
    “Let go of her. Jenny let’s go back inside.”
    “Told you Boss, this’s got nothing to do with you.”
    “You slammed her into that car. Jenny you can come with me.”
    “She fell, I was helping her up.Why doncha, tell him baby?”
    “It’s OK, I fell. Don’t worry.” The smile that I always associated with Jenny was gone and instead there was a crumpled thin line.
    “Please Jenny, you don’t have to put up with this kind of shit. You can do so much better.”
    “I said I was fine. Don’t talk to me like that.”

    Sammy was smirking at me. I’m not the police, I wasn't even wearing my gear. There had to be some way to make this bastard understand he couldn’t keep hurting her. I raised my fist, pivoted and slammed every bit of my weight into the side panel of Sammy’s stupid Mercedes SUV. The shield kept the impact from breaking my hand but my arm was numb. The side panel was concave from one end to the other on his once immaculate douchemobile.

    “If Jenny comes to work with even a paper cut I will find you and it won’t be your car next time. Understand, Boss?” I stared into his flat, dead eyes until he turned away. Then I drove home and went to bed.

    The next day Jenny didn’t come to work. She was in the hospital with a broken collarbone and a fractured eye socket. She told the police that Sammy did it and he went to jail. That didn’t make me feel any better. The Archers told me there are some situations a hero can’t fix but I know he beat her because of what I did and I have to live with that.
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  15. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    A little background
    Aurum Shield Chapter Seven

    To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child
    -Marcus Tullius Cicero

    Betanya was raining batons down on my head and I was just doing my level best to block when it broke. Not the batons but my sense of decorum.
    “Why are you doing this?”
    “Because you are very bad at batons?” she was doing that half smile thing where she knows you are asking something stupid.
    “No, I mean helping me. Spending all this time and energy on some slub who obviously can’t find his ass with a compass.” Sure I’m feeling sorry for myself but there’s something about just not being able to hang onto a damn stick that will do that to you.
    Now, now I’m sure you could find it with a little guidance.” Alphonse wandered over to join us. Great now it was the tag team. It didn’t help that as The Archers worked out they seemed to get more attractive while I just got smelly and exhausted.

    “Look it’s not as if I’m not grateful. I’m sure I’m going to need this to survive whatever The Five wants but you have to understand I’m a little worried about what you might want.”
    “Of course, my friend. In fact I am surprised you did not ask earlier.”
    So Alphonse hands me a bottle of water and guides me away from the fighting pit, toward the targets.
    “You see that man over there.”
    He pointed at Kenneth who was reading another Stephen King book and buffing one of many limos. “He is the true hero here.”
    “He’s like, a retired hero?”
    “No, he has always been what you see, a driver. At one time working for the fourth richest man in the world..” Alphonse settled into his teacher voice. “The rich man had scientists who were far ahead of everyone else in the world. They could not share their work and there was only one goal.”

    “You see, this very rich man planned on living for a very long time.” Betanya who was speed shooting a recurve bow took over for her partner, “One advancement his scientists made was cloning. They made two clones from his cells. We were raised to be perfect donors for organs when the rich man would be in need of them. To that end our lives focused on athletics, gymnastics, swimming, archery and dance. Kenneth was assigned to monitor us. He watched as we grew from children to teenagers.”

    “Kenneth brought us books that I am sure you are familiar with but had not been included in what little education we received. We learned about civil rights, slavery, law and how governments work. What we found most fascinating was Zinn’s stories of the 1776 Heroes.” Alphonse said.

    I could understand his attraction. History had always been a subject I enjoyed and I enjoyed Zinn’s books. It’s surprising how easy it is to take something like voting or super heroes for granted if you grew up with it as part of your culture. Every kid learned about heroes in school. What they didn’t learn, unless they read Zinn or some of other historians, was just how complicated the process was to get where we are now. The Minuteman took what had been a winked at tradition and made it real, when he saved the lives of six members of the Continental Congress. The Flying Fox was the first known American Super and foiled the assassination of George Washington. It was suggested by more than one historian that in both America and France, that there was no coincidence in the timing of the Revolutions and the changes in laws concerning heroes.

    If it hadn’t been for The Minuteman and The Flying Fox, all the protections for masked heroes would never have been written into law. I hadn't really thought much about how it would affect my life when I read the history books. That is until I was standing in a police station filling out paperwork that would keep them from arresting me and taking off my mask every time I was involved in a crime scene. They didn’t give me carte blanche but I could leave the scene of a crime in pursuit of a criminal as long as I promised to come back, I could perform citizen arrests that held, and I was put on the list of people who could deal with criminal Supers.

    The bonding was exactly the kind of situation where the favors The Five offered would become necessary. You had to have either a law enforcement, government or private security agency with proper bonding sign your papers to be a legal street hero. With them, I became something halfway between a bounty hunter and privateer. Of course, The Five would do the bonding but you would owe them. The Archers owned just such a company and their signing off on my papers had been the real cause of this mornings breakdown. Now that I was finding out the answer, it was a bit creepier than I had expected.

    “It was our connection with Kenneth that allowed us to see the larger world. When he came to us with the details of who we were and what was to become of us, needless to say we felt some negotiations were in order. We went to talk to the rich man with confidence that he would understand our position. There was something of a misunderstanding, during the discussion, he fell and struck his head.” Bethanya tipped her head ever so slightly to indicate the result.

    “Oddly enough just before he died, he had made out a new will designating his two, up till that point, unknown, love children the heirs to his fortune.”Alphonse was firing the wrist crossbows at hanging targets without looking at them. “In the process of going over our fathers estate we discovered he was not a good person. There is a great deal that we as his heirs would have to make up for and we owed Kenneth our lives.”
    He actually missed one.

    I’d gotten used to listening to them bounce from person to person but this story was a little hard to absorb. “You’re helping me because Kenneth helped you? Or because the guy who cloned you was a major league scumbag?”
    “Both.” Betanya hoisted a crossbow that must have weighed about forty pounds up on her shoulder. She had to stand on the lever with her entire weight to cock it. The bolt was as long as my arm.
    “We also enjoy putting a thumb in eye of The Five.” The bolt went through the target, the hay bale and buried itself into the hill behind the targets.
    “Sorry if this is a personal question but you’re the same person, just different genders? You have exactly the same genes except the XY thing?” How far did I want to take this? I’d seen them kissing, stroking each others arms, and finishing each others sentences. There was a part of me that knew I shouldn't say anything more but I just couldn't stop myself.
    Alphonse was laughing at my discomfort. “Wouldn't you sleep with yourself, if you got the chance?”
    I looked down at my gut, “Uh, no not really.”
    They both laughed and it wasn't with me.

    “We have a gift for you.” Betanya had set down the huge crossbow and brought me a small package. Inside was a round, flat disk about the size of my pocket watch. The was a button on it and nothing else.
    “This is a pulse bomb. It releases a blast of energy that we think will disrupt The Silent One’s ability to transport you. We don’t know how long it will last but I suggest you run like hell after activation.” Alphonse said.
    “What if it goes off by accident?”
    “The button is designed to only recognize your shield. As long as you do not fondle it, nothing will happen.”
    “How can I thank you?’
    “Hold on to your staff.”

    I got the idea for my first solo trip from the news after I got off work one night. I was feeling like a zombie but couldn't go to sleep so I was watching the footage of yet another hit and run on a particular stretch of road in Newark. It was a very busy spot on the opposite side of a bus stop where people tended to cut across. The reporter was at the bus stop and everybody he talked to knew about the accidents. While the cameras were rolling a couple he had just finished interviewing dashed across the street. To makes matters worse a few blocks away there was a stop light where kids liked to race. The police spokesman made the usual statement but it was clear they were frustrated. The news story just before was about major budget cuts to the department.

    Then came the part that made me decide to gear up. A woman had been killed and the newscaster said she was dragged for two blocks. The driver got out, pulled her off the car and drove away, leaving her to die. As much as I wished I could go out and find the bastard who killed her, I knew that wasn't something I could do, yet. But maybe there was a way I could keep it from happening again.

    So on Monday, which was my day off, I told The Archers I needed to do something and headed for Newark. I’m not sure why I didn’t tell them. Mostly afraid I’d screw it up and it would be like Jenny all over again. Standing at the bus stop, I got a lot of strange looks but it got really bad when I started walking across the street with people. It wasn’t long before I got braced by a two young men. One large and his side kick who kept a hand deep in the pocket of his jacket.

    “Whatcha doin?” the big guy asked. This was right after I had walked a very nervous young woman and her baby across so I could appreciate their interest.

    So I smiled and handed them my business card. This was something else The Archers helped me with. In the center, over a medieval shield, was my name and the number to an answering service The Archers used. They had explained the best way to deal with people who didn’t recognize a new street hero is not to just announce your name but to give them a way to contact you. It shows you have confidence and intend to be accessible.

    “Just a minute, I'll be right back.” They looked like they were going to argue with me but I didn’t give them time.
    The bent, gray haired woman was pulling a wire basket with groceries across the road. I ran up to her just in time to see the headlights bearing down on us.
    “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” I turned, planted my feet and prayed..
    Sounds … tires screeching on concrete, the woman behind me yelling, then shattering plastic, bending metal, a blowing out airbag, someone crying. The front end of the car was wrapped completely around my body and I couldn't move. I felt like I’d been beaten repeatedly with a phone book. I could see people at the bus stop with their phones out, taking pictures but nobody was coming to help. I guess that made sense, I was a hero. Heroes are supposed to be able to handle things for themselves. You certainly don’t get in the middle of something they're doing. That's a good way to get killed.

    A limo pulled in sideways keeping other cars from coming too close and The Archers were out before it stopped moving.
    Alphonse was checking on the driver and Betanya the pedestrian.
    “Some help here.” I kept trying to pull myself out of the twisted wreckage without any results.
    Alphonse grabbed a crowbar and started working it back and forth.
    “You didn't think this through, did you?” he asked.
    “No, I guess not.”
    “Well, don't feel too bad. The driver isn't badly hurt and you saved that woman's life. With the people who have been taking pictures, it might actually work.”
    For the first time since Sara was born I felt like something amazing was happening in my life.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2014
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  16. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Meeting your heroes.
    Aurum Shield Chapter Eight

    "Never turn your back on fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed."
    -Hunter S. Thompson

    Looking at the address in my hand for about the twentieth time, I steeled up my nerve and got out of the car. You’d think for someone who couldn't get hurt, I’d have more nerve. Growing up here you get trained that there are certain places that you don’t go after dark if you value your life. It’s hard to shake that kind of programming.

    Papa Joe’s barber shop was one of the few businesses that wasn't covered by steel roll up security doors covered with graffiti. This late the only places open were the barber shop and a bodega. Tonight, I had driven into a neighborhood in Camden with the highest per capita murder rate for young men 15-25, to meet someone I thought was dead. So I stepped into the shadows, pulled my helmet out of my coat and snapped the goggles in place. It had to be the worst, turn into a hero moment ever, but I couldn't afford a limo that changed colors. Hell, I could barely afford to put gas in my car.

    The bell on the door only made the softest jingle but it might as well have been a gunshot. The customers in the shop were all black men, and except for two, considerably older than me. The two young men sauntered their way towards me. The Archers had taught me to recognize the stance and poise of people who were carrying weapons. It was clear these two were armed and confidant. From the tells my mentors had drilled into me, the taller of two had his gun in a shoulder holster and the kid with the neck tattoo had his tucked in the back of his pants. While I wasn’t worried about what bullets would do to me, I didn’t want them bouncing around the shop and I didn’t know if these guys were professionals..

    “I’m sorry to intrude.” I held my hands out where they could see them, then flipped a business card from my sleeve.This was a trick Alphonse had taught me, since you didn’t want to be reaching for anything in a situation like this.

    “There is someone here who might be interested in speaking to me.” They both looked at me and just shook their heads a bit like they couldn't believe such an idiot existed. Finally, one of the older men snorted, got up, took the card and slowly started walking to the back of the shop.
    “Thank you, sir.”
    “Don’t thank me. I just want to watch him throw your punk ass out of here.” His laugh was cringe worthy.

    It could have been one of those horrible awkward scenes from movies that I hate so much, where the guy tries to start a conversation and the people just stare him down. I wasn't going to play that, so I went to a rest position, like I was waiting for an order to come in and didn’t say a word.
    The old man came back looking disappointed, “He’ll see you.”

    Sitting in a small room was a small black man even older than the ones out front. He didn’t seem frail, just shrunken like the juice had been sucked out of him. This was Rag, the muscle half of Rag and Bone. He had been able to throw cars, catch bullets out of the air and had dressed in ragged street clothes. His partner was a psychic, very tall and always wore white. They had disappeared in the early eighties (along with a number of other heroes) and I thought they were both dead. He wasn't dressed in the gear of his youth, instead going for a too large, charcoal grey suit.

    Tossing the card on his desk, he held up his hand.
    “Don’t speak till I ask,” I realized that only half of Rag’s mouth was moving, the left side of his face was frozen in place. Despite this his words were clear, if not a bit forced.
    “The Archers called ahead and that’s the only reason I’m having anything to do with you. Take that damn helmet off, look me in eye if you want to talk to me.”
    I took off the helmet and did my best to meet Rags strong gaze.
    “I knew Charley Walters. He was a good man and you had better do right by his gift. What do you want from me?”

    “I want to make a difference and I’m not going to do that in the suburbs. I don’t want to be some ignorant white guy stumbling around in this city. The Archers told me you were here. I wanted to introduce myself and make sure I wasn't stepping on any toes.” I took a breath and tried to read the retired hero but it was impossible, so I held out my hand.

    “Daniel Ellison.” It seemed like forever, maybe I had gone too far by giving my name. That put things on a personal level that assumed a lot without asking permission. I hadn't known at the time what a big deal it had was for The Archers to give me their names when we first met. Finally the old man reached across the desk and took it.

    “Reginald Jefferson. Just stick with Rag.” It was like shaking hands with a tree branch. I was afraid I would break him but just before I pulled away he squeezed so hard I saw stars.

    “So Daniel, you’ve introduced yourself. What do you want to do now?”
    I’d been thinking about this for a while and had even done the presentation for The Archers. They had been politely encouraging but I got the feeling they weren’t totally sold. Considering how much I’d borrowed from them I’d thought it would do better. I repeated what I knew about the murder rate for young men and the general rate of shootings in the city.

    “I want to stand between at least one of those bullets every week the same way I reduced the rate of car accidents on 130. Reaching out to the community seemed a good place to start, getting to know the people and find out what really needed to be done.”
    “But you’re a honky in a hood where you don’t know your ass from your elbow and the police won’t help.” Rag’s tone, that up until now had been pretty hostile, seemed a little bit more open.
    I hung my head, “Yea, pretty much..”

    “Put your hat back on, we've got some places to visit.”
    Rag picked up a cane and called for the young man with the neck tattoo who braced me at the door. His name was Kevin and while surprised, he followed instructions without complaint. Very quickly, we were packed into a Lincoln Continental that rode too low to the ground for a standard issue model.
    “Take us to Cadillac Jims.”
    Kevin pulled away from the curb at a speed that seemed impossible in a car this big and heavy.
    “There’s a deal that I’d like you to handle. We can't seem to get the media to give two shits but if you really want to make a difference, this will be the one that matters.”
    “Certainly, of course.” Note to folks who have never been a hero, be careful what you agree to help people with.

    The introduction to Cadillac Jim was interesting, to say the least. He had a couple of young men who went eyeball to eyeball with Kevin. Suddenly he wasn't Rag's driver anymore, before my eyes Kevin became something cold and deadly. There was no posturing, not a word was spoken but Cadillac Jim's boys knew they were outclassed and faded into the background.

    CJ as Rag called him was an old school gangster, semi retired and could get away with talking to street heroes because he had a reputation for being half crazy. He had a disconcerting habit of flipping an open straight razor between his fingers like it was a worry stone.
    “At least six that I know of, Rag.”
    “How old?”
    “Just like the ones from last year, twelve, thirteen. The cops look at my girls and want to know about their family life before they will file a missing persons report. This boy will help us out?”
    “He’s going to try.”
    Right there I realized this was the real deal. This wasn't something I could walk away from or pass off to someone else.

    After that we visited a minister who ran a shelter for runaways. He reported that they were missing kids as well. The director of AWAKE a shelter for battered women told us about a mother who had reported her daughter missing and how the police wouldn't file a report.

    At two A.M. they pulled up next to a police car in the parking lot of a Wawa. The two officers were not happy to see a street hero but even less happy to see Rag.
    “Just because you saved my fathers life doesn't mean you can pull up on me whenever you feel like it.”
    Kevin and I were standing well back from the conversation. The young cop was built like a scary brick shit house but Rag didn’t even flinch
    “You know it does. Just ask him, Donny.” Rag said. He leaned forward on his cane. “Now do you want to be seen with us out here or get this done?”
    “Fine, fine. What do you want?”
    “The fellow with the stupid hat is Aurum Shield. He’s looking for the missing girls we have talked about. If he asks for help, help him.”
    I stepped up and held out my hand. The cop was having none of that, so I gave him my card.
    “You will help if he asks or your father will hear about it.” Rag said getting back in the car.

    A good portion of the night was through and I was yawning as we pulled up in front of my car.
    It was an honor to shake hands with Rag and even with Kevin.
    “Thank you, I will do everything I can to find out what happened to those girls.” Actually I had no idea where to start or what to do but I figured The Archers would, so I felt like I could make the promise.
    “This isn't going to be easy. All I ask is that you try.” Rag looked over my shoulder and for the first time raw emotion showed on his face. “Oh damn boy, I’m so sorry.”
    “What’s the matter?”
    I turned just in time to see The Silent One coming towards him.
    “Oh, fuck no!”

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  17. I find myself looking for, and forward to, each new chapter.

    I like the short, concise chapter format you've adopted, @redravin. The alternate reality you have created where Heroes and super powers exist and are accepted as a part of the human landscape is kinda cool. The fact that it hasn't affected the overall human condition is unsurprising.

    Is this a completed work, or one still in progress?
  18. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    It's semi complete.
    The book itself needs a complete going over but it's finished.
    there's a section in Chapter 18 and at the end that I'm still working on.

    Thanks your observations.
    I tried to make it so they would fit it without making a huge change to landscape but that the changes they did make would be interesting and maybe ones people hadn't thought of.
  19. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    In which we learn what those favors are all about.
    Aurum Shield Chapter Nine

    “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
    -G.K. Chesterton

    “Dammit!” I’d hit the panic button on the The Archers pulse bomb. It was supposed to make The Silent One back off. “It didn’t work.”

    There wasn't as much nausea and disorientation, scary to think I was getting used being shoved through space and time. Still, I was lying face down in green mud and there were feet gathering around me. Tucking the pulse bomb back in my coat, I forced himself to stand up. Looking around I realized the feet belonged to an odd mix of people. some I knew from the news, others were clearly alien, one I’d met and wished I hadn't.

    “Great to have you here.” said The Major.
    “Really? Why the hell didn’t you ask if I wanted to be here? And where the hell is here?” My hysteria was bubbling out full force.

    Looking around I tried to take in the smeared orange sky, the way the air smelled like burnt cinnamon, the mud that stuck like tar, and trees that looked like giant dandelions. When that was all too much, I focused on The Major who was floated above the ground avoided the green goo that covered my clothes.

    “Son, you've been called to save the Earth. To fight for the future of mankind.” All bass all the time, his voice sounded so cool at first but after a while it just got annoying.
    “So you’re calling in the favor, what is it? What do you need?” How could my voice get that high?
    “This planet is called The Great Home in the language of it’s people. You are here to save it. Because if you don’t Earth will be next.”
    “Me?” Seriously, a few days ago my biggest accomplishment was standing in the way of cars.
    “Well, you and the heroes who will fight beside you against the invasion. Your commanding officer is El Viento. He will provide you with the information you need.”
    “Invasion! Wait, I’m not a soldier. I’d be the worst …” There was no reason for me to keep talking because all I saw was The Major’s back then to nothing at all.

    “HE’S A BUSY MAN! CAN’T BE TALKING TO US RIFF RAFF.” Man Mountain wasn't yelling, this was his normal conversation voice. Everybody found themselves having to adjust their vocal levels after walking away from a conversation with the big man.

    I had seen pictures of Man Mountain but they didn’t really do him justice. I tell you, there is something about trying to talk to someone when you were at eyeball level with their belly button, especially when they don’t wear a shirt, that makes you appreciate how people in wheelchairs must feel. Man Mountain seemed comfortable despite being so far away from Portland and the forests of the Oregon that were his stomping grounds. He wore a huge, lumpy knitted cap over his dreadlocked hair which had bits of leaves and flowers twined into it. Plants grew from spots in Man Mountain’s dark brown skin, a vine from one foot that went up his leg and a pot plant on his shoulder. Hemp sandals and a tartan kilt completed the look.

    “So what the hell is going on?”
    “Shouldn't I check in with El Viento?”
    I had so many questions but just wasn't sure if I was up to having them answered at 800 decibels, still coffee sounded really good right now.
    “Any chance there might be some Tylenol? I always get a migraine when The Silent One does that thing.”
    “Are we going to have to fight anytime soon, cause I don’t think I could do that high?”
    “Cool, fire that shit up.”

    At the mess tent Man Mountain showed me the sonic shower that was the only way to get the mud off of our clothes. The shower turned out to be the only way any of us would get clean the entire time we were there. There was also a very fancy espresso machine. I’d made a lot of coffee in my time as a chef so I started pulling shots.

    “SO YOU INHERITED THE GOLDEN SHIELD FROM OLD MAN WALTERS?” Man Mountain rolled a joint a foot long and fired it up.
    “Yes.I did.” I made a quad ristrettoand gave it to him. “Is it kosher to ask where you got your powers from?”
    “Uh, yea. I’m Jewish.”
    The big man lifted his cap until I could see his forehead and the אמת carved there. He pulled it back down.
    “That’s cool. I understand.” If Man Mountain was a golem how could he get high? Of course now I couldn't ask that question so it was going to bug me for the rest of the night. Man Mountain drank his coffee and smoked most of the joint in one drag.

    Which may have been the reason the Man Mountain had the giggles when he introduced Lady Ferrum about a half hour later. She was part of a stream of heroes, some I had read about and others I had never heard of, who shook my hand or kissed my cheek. Everyone there was unique and interesting but I spent most of my time focused on the British super hero.

    Lady Ferrum came from a long line of heroes, all with the same ability. She could turn to living metal. Her father was The Iron Duke, who had retired about the same time as Rag dropped out of the scene. She wore a purple top hat, bodice and great coat with leather boots and gloves. Hanging from her belt was an assortment of weapons and tools. When I stammered out that it looked very ‘steampunk’ she admitted that was a bit of what she had been going for but long before it got popular and mostly to annoy her father. Sure my infatuation started out about her looks, her broad shoulders or maybe it was her curly red hair but it became clear that she was the bright spot in the room. So sue me, I have a thing for red heads. It was her accent and attitude that made me want to lean in for every word she said and do everything I could to make her laugh.

    A circle of younger heroes had formed around Man Mountain, probably because he had the marijuana and we had set up Lady Ferrum's Ipod with speakers to play Nightwish. Even though I was at least twice the age of some of the heroes, I felt comfortable. Most of the crews I worked with were younger than me but I was usually the lead. Here I was the newbie. Everyone, even the seventeen year old Strafe had more experience. It was embarrassing that no matter what country the other heroes came from, they spoke decent English and all I had was just enough Spanish to give instructions to make hollandaise sauce.

    “So it’s like a locust invasion? The bugs just swarm over the Seuss World, eat everything and leave?” This was my fifth cup of very strong coffee, I hadn't had any sleep and the bud Man Mountain was passing around was making my lips numb.

    Everybody had taken to calling the planet Seuss World after a passing comment by Pinkie Lee, the only psychic in our group. Pinkie could make you see images and if you thought of them, she could see pictures. No where near PsyAnnie for strength or diversity . She had served as the translator to the natives until Captain Science discovered they could talk math. Pinkie Lee was short, cute and so named for her pink hair (even her eye brows). Never serious, always smiling, she explained to Lady Ferrum that it came from having a mom who was black and Hispanic, and dad who was white, Crow Indian and Hawaiian. You saw things from all sides that way. Her pink body suit, furry boots, raccon hat and sunglasses hardly seemed like superhero gear. More like something you would wear to a rave or Burning Man.

    “We just have to be the DDT.” Lady Ferrum's smile perked me right up.
    “We have to not die, when we do it. Important to remember.” Datter Av Brann, the Norwegian hero, had a trick of burning the edge of her paper coffee cup with the tip of her finger right to the edge of the coffee, then drinking the coffee, then burning it some more. She was a national hero and didn’t wear a mask. Her gear even had the countries flag on it. Her freckles stood out against her pale skin when she used her flame powers. When she was dressed for battle she kept her blonde hair tucked up into a white hood that was part of her outfit so it wouldn't catch on fire.

    “So how did all the tents and supplies get here? I can’t see The Silent One carrying it all over.”
    asked Pirtuk, a soft spoken Canadian Inuit. He wasn't much over five feet tall but he gave off the impression of size. Pirtuk took up more space than you could see. I remembered him from a conference on Global Climate Change. He had spoken about the effect it was having on the indigenous people in the northern regions and how the ice caps were melting. When a Republican Senator asked a rather stupid question, Pirtuk made a snowstorm in the conference room and left.

    “Dr. Ruin got some time shaved off his sentence for that tsunami he made. I guess the problem the transporter won’t send anything living. At least it isn’t when it gets to the other side.” Dançarino no céu said. The Brazilian hero was so pretty that I had a hard time stringing together a coherent sentence when talking to her. I never could say her Portuguese name right and had to stick with Dancer in the Sky. Of all the heroes she had to have the most colorful gear with dozens of colors flowing through the dress and even in the beads of her shoes.

    “Are you going to share that joint, big man, or just sit there and whine?”
    Man Mountain picked up both of The Archers. They avoided a bone crushing hug by scrambling up his arms and spending a couple of minutes sitting on his shoulders taking hits off the huge joint.
    “Why are you here? I thought you didn’t owe them anything?” I was absolutely thrilled to see them but it was mixed with as overwhelming sense of dread.
    “The pulse bomb.” Betanya exhaled and coughed.
    “It didn’t work.”
    “But it did. It told us you had been taken, so we went straight to PsyAnnie and explained to her that we had best be the next ones to go or certain information was going to reach the wrong people.” Alphonse jumped down and gave him a hug.
    “You blackmailed The Five?”
    “We didn’t want to miss a chance to save the world.”
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2014
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  20. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    The first fight
    Aurum Shield Chapter Ten

    “War is like night, she said. It covers everything.”
    -Elie Wiesel

    El Viento wasn't much older than me but as I shook his hand I had the impression that the Colombian hero was used to making important decisions. The kind of judgements that meant people lived or died. I’m not usually a good snap judge of character but this time I was right. He had started as a simple, honest policeman in a country that didn’t really value simple honesty. After having family, friends and partners killed, El Viento become a legend and was even involved in toppling the corrupt government. I suspect that change had come with assistance. A price from The Five, that El Viento was paying now.

    Right now I was having a hard time keeping up with El Viento. Sure, he could float on pockets of air but he was running through the green mud just like the rest of us and I was slogging. It had been just a couple of hours since the huge ship popped into orbit around the planet and promptly blew up. The resulting showers of meteorites landed all over the planet from the heavily populated areas all the way to the darkest jungles.

    We were part of a team consisting of eight heroes, rapidly closing on a clearing that was surrounded by glowing pillars. Man Mountain, Captain Science, Lady Ferris, Datter av Brann and my mentors, The Archers made up the rest of the team. We couldn't fly like The Major and Brynhilde, so The Silent One had dropped us here in a jungle, god knows where. I carried a backpack full of explosives made by Captain Science and The Teacher. They promised me there was no chance of it going off by accident but that didn’t make me feel much better. It wouldn’t hurt me but anybody standing next to me would be disintegrated.

    I checked my pocket watch again, if what The Major said was true we had less than an hour before the damn things hatched.
    “You’re just showing off.” Lady Ferris was grumpy.
    “I’m sorry your Ipod got fried but this is just a watch. My daughter got it for me.”
    “How do they travel faster than light? Where did they come from in the first place? There is much to learn.” Captain Science was enjoying this way too much. Knowing that he had once taken down a Super serial killer helped make the idea of a street hero in a white lab coat and a red Converse tennis shoes not seem totally silly. His gangly frame and wide smile made him seem harmless but I’d seen the footage of him burning the heads off of a dozen killer robots with something he had built from the parts from an office’s coffee maker, toaster oven and microwave. Captain Science saved more than two hundred people that day and built the robot killer in less time than it would take me to bone out a chicken. His refusal to use his skills for government or corporate advancement was the only thing that kept him from being a very rich man.

    El Viento made the silence hand signal and everybody hushed right up. Then he did one that must have meant spread out, I never could remember them all. The former police captain made a pass over the ground creating a platform of wind and I stepped onto it. Well wobbled onto it, if you want to be honest. I was setting the chemical fuses when I felt a metal hand touch his shoulder. Lady Ferrum was in full game face, her body was turned to the metal that was her namesake.
    “Good luck.” In metal form her words had a strange echo.

    With a push from Man Mountain, I was whipping towards the glowing pillars. One bag out, two, three, four, what the fuck was happening? The pillars were splitting open and multi-legged things flowed out of them. They were hatching, we’d got here too late. Nothing for it, had to keep going. Five bags, six bags, seven, they might have been snakes with legs, they might have been centipedes if arthropods got over six feet long..

    The bugs didn’t seem to be that interested in me. They were heading towards the center of the ring where the smaller pillars were laid out in a lattice pattern. Bag eight, nine, ten all went down just fine then the spot for eleven moved. One minute I was getting ready to drop it, the next a wall covered with plates came out of the ground and slammed into me.

    The wall was on top of me. I saw a beak coming towards me and the damn thing swallowed me. Nothing could get past my shield but I was trapped inside something that was trying to absorb me. I couldn't see, it was pitch black and all I could hear was a nasty gurgling sound. My lungs were not happy with me, what little air I was getting smelled like a grease trap. My arms could move a little bit so I pulled the backpack closer and pushed my hand inside. Fumbling around, I found a timer for the last package of explosives. Pulling the timer portion off, I closed his eyes, and shoved. Bright lights, agonizing pain, then blessed unconsciousness.

    Where the hell was I? Everything was orange, blue, and swaying. Oh, the explosives had launched me into the top of one of the dandelion trees. Interesting, that put me about a hundred feet in the air. From above, I could see Man Mountain pounding another plated monster like the one I’d just blown to pieces. El Viento was scooping up wind funnels of the snakes allowing Datter av Brann to incinerate them in bunches instead of one at a time The Archers seemed to be everywhere, first with Lady Ferrum using her as cover so they could get close to one of the pillars that I hadn't been able to blow up and take it out. The next minute they were having Datter av Brann set their arrows on fire to burn snakes that had developed wings. I really would have preferred to stay in the tree but finally picked a spot, aimed for it and jumped.
    I hit the plated monster at about fifty mph and only seemed to stun it. That was enough for Man Mountain to get a grip on an edge and flip it over. A huge squid like beak snapped at us.

    Captain Science unlimbered the launcher he was carrying on his back and fired a bundle of explosives straight down it’s throat. We all ducked as it blew to pieces.
    “Such a magnificent beast. I can’t wait to do the autopsy.” he said, dropping the spent tube and quite casually stabbing a flying snake that was attacking him with a blade that had popped from the sleeve of his lab coat.
    “We have to get the inner lattice destroyed or the Stoglan will keep reproducing and adapting.” He clapped me on the back with the other hand. “So glad you’re OK. We were a bit worried.”

    “Tell me again why we don’t just nuke these things.” I said wiping bits and pieces of Stoglan off my goggles.
    “I mean the part where we didn’t just bring some with us.” I followed MM towards the center lattices.
    “What country is going to give, even The Five, their bombs? And would you want to use what we could get on the black market or from the villains?” Alphonse asked.
    “What about the one at their headquarter?”
    “It doesn't have the core, didn’t you notice?”
    “To be honest I wasn't really looking that close. I was spending most of my time trying not to freak out.”
    The other heroes joined the group as we moved towards the center of the circle. Everyone was busy killing things.
    “I just get the feeling this is a lot worse than we were told.” I deflected an attacking Stoglan and Man Mountain crushed it.
    “I don’t think I want to know.”

    ‘Worse’ was the circle after that and the one after that. Each one blending into the other. Green oobleck mixed with blood and chunks of Stoglan. We got hurt but so far nobody was badly damaged. The problem was how much it just ground on, each day more chopping away at the Stoglan and it was getting harder every day.

    The nights were interesting as I got to know the people I was fighting beside. Some of them like The Wolfgangs, five French psychobilly musicians whose cross of rockabilly, punk and Gothic I’d been listening to for years, just enthralled me. Four guys who looked and dressed like Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones and a woman who looked like Elvira and had a voice like honey. I'd no idea they were Supers, which just goes to show you what the French consider to be important. They had helped the police on occasion dealing with Supers on the dark side. In exchange the gendarmes left their pack alone. Watching them fight, tearing Stoglan apart with teeth and claws was scary. It was hard to reconcile those howling beasts with the people singing Cramps songs a capella while smoking unfiltered cigarettes in the mess tent.

    Strafe bothered me a bit. He was the same age as my daughter. Sure he was tall for his age, a handsome, smart black kid who should be in school not on this damn planet flying around shooting Stoglan. Granted he had the cool suit to do it and had been using it since he was fourteen. He wouldn't tell anybody where he got the suit or how it came to be grafted to him. He didn’t need gear, just had to think about the suit and it rolled up around him. Very sleek and armored all to hell, it allowed him to fly, gave him big guns with seemingly unlimited ammunition. I’m pretty sure that his favor from The Five was to make sure nobodies military found out who he was because I’m sure they would have him on a dissection table in no time.

    Slight was a shadow ninja. A real freaking ninja. Only she was blood banished which meant all of her family was obligated to kill her. What did she do to earn this hatred from her parents and siblings? She was born a male. When Slight finally decided she had to be who she was inside, the shadow ninjas issued a death warrant. I learned most of this from Man Mountain who had helped her hide out for a few years while she prepared for the sex change. Slight never came across as anything but a very calm, patient, and centered woman, who I once saw carve a thirty foot Stoglan into ribbons faster than I could draw my weapon. The two katanas she seemed to be able to make appear and disappear at will were her main weapons. Her gear consisted of simple sandals, a gray robe, fingerless gloves, and a hood. The pouches on her belt more often contained medicinal equipment than weapons. Her bravery impressed me on all kinds of levels.

    The Gunsmith was a really intense guy with thick glasses and a way of talking out of the corner of his mouth. He smelled like hand rolled cigarettes mixed with spoiled milk and gun oil. He always wore the same long johns but during the day he put on camo coveralls that had Kevlar in the lining. This was a man who slept with more than one gun in bed with him. He had bumper stickers on his tool box that said the government could take his gun from his cold dead fingers and that gun control was using two hands.

    Not the sort of person I would have ever thought I could like or care about. The Gunsmith had consistently saved our lives with his obsession. One day he brought me a gift. It was a huge four barreled shotgun and a belt of speed loaders. There was a brace to go around my shoulder. He had explained with a sloppy grin that I didn’t have to worry about recoil. I could fire all four barrels at once without breaking my arm or falling down like normal people. He showed me how he had made different rounds including depleted uranium flechettes, bolo rounds that split into two balls with a piece of steel wire between them to chop up anything in its path, as well as the usual slugs and double-aught shot. I didn’t ask how he got the supplies to make everything or if that was his super power.

    After giving me the shotgun he had to patiently teach me how to use it. It wasn't even the complicated stuff like cleaning it. This was basics like getting the shells switched out reasonably quickly and making sure I didn’t shoot my foot off in the process. I told him about my ex-wife being a crack shot but how the most I ever did was play video games. He told me about his sister who could hit targets from miles away and how they didn’t get along. War makes for strange friends.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2014
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