Andy climbed out slamming the door behind him. He paced outside the van matching the worried glances the onlookers were giving. News crews like hungry hyenas probed at the constraints raised by the police while Nightprowlers filled the plaza ready to plow inside Globe tower with its spinning red “G” mounted on the roof. Andy abandoned the van surrounded by orange cones and started toward the tower.
wHAt are YOU DOIng?
“What does it look like? I’m going to…help. Somehow.” Andy bit himself for answering the voice.
As he was looking at the skyscraper he thought he saw it split apart and implode, collapsing like a giant on top of the world it threw a shadow across. Then the image was gone, a delusion born and dead in the same instant.
yOU saW THAT, RIGHt?
“Saw what? What are you talking about? I’m just going crazy, that’s all.”
tHAT TOWEr is GOING to COME CRUSHING DOwn LIKE A WEDDING cake. jOAQUIN AND aNNE AND ALL THE REST are goiNG tO DIE.
“How do you know that?” Andy lowered his voice weary of eavesdroppers.
tRUST ME, i’Ve SEEN IT.
“So how do I stop it from toppling down? How do I get them out of there on time?”
yOu cAn’T sTop the COLLAPSE…BuT tHerE mIGHt be A WAY to SaVE thEM.
“Like what, teleport up there and warn them?”
Andy found the phantom face reflecting in the window of a parked red sedane. White, hollow eyes stared right back at him.
“Are you me from the future or something?”
nOT EXACTLY. bUT i CAN GET INSIDE That Tower withOUT Getting CAUGHT AND KILLED. iF YOU ALLOW ME, i CAN WARN THEM. BuT i GotTa FLY SOLO. AnD i cAN’t unTILL yoU SAY YES.
“Say yes? I’m not holding you prisoner, I don’t even know what or who you are.”
Andy grimaced at the silence the phantom gave to his question. Despite his reservations he licked his lips in dry curiosity.
yOU KnOW i AM REAL, YOU saw ME DoWN AT ThE DoCKS. wE’RE thE SAME BUT NOT REALLY, NOT FULLY CONNECTED YET. i NEED YOUR PERMISSION, aNDY.
This was the epitome of everything he’d ever wanted. An ability, an intimate link with an ancient power that was unique. Allowing this to happen meant he would no longer need to abuse his own fear and insecurities about super enhanced people. It was weird alright, nothing like the abilities Anne or Joaquin had. But then again…
“Just say the magic word, huh?”
yEAH, JUST ALaCAzaM ME.
“Fine, I agree, but what’s it going to-”
Andy collapsed on the street, a seizure racking his body, his eyes peeling back. The phantom took a semi-solid form above him flexing his digits like a pianist, stretching his back till it cracked pressurless.
sORry KIDDO, IT’S going to HURT WHEN YOU wake up.
His form blinked and teleported into the second laboratory on the 50th floor finding Anne stepping over the bodies of two Nightprowlers, panicked medical staff spilling out of the room behind her. She stood amongst the hundred beds filled with people in pale nightgowns attached to systems pumping the new genome into their veins. He broke the haphazard atmosphere in the room.
aNNE! yOU GOTta GET OUT OF HERE, this buILding IS about to COLLAPSE.
Anne raised her eyes to him taking a defensive position.
“What are you talking about? Andy? No, you’re not Andy.”
Phantom-Andy grimaced, floating in the air. I AM, aNDY. lOOK, CAN’T WE TALK AFTER YOU gET OUT of here ALIVE?
“What about all these people?”
Phantom-Andy shook his head. tHEY DON’T MATTER. iT’S BEttER THeY DIE. kRIStOF IS COMING AND HE’S out for BLOOD. YOU GOtTA Move, Get ANYONE YOU Can OUT.”
“I have to find Globe first. I’m not leaving until the bastard’s dead.”
fINE, YeS, GOoD. jOAQUIN WILL BE THERE. i’LL try And FIND the STONeWEAVEr BEFORE-
The sonic boom caught up with them rebounding off of the bulletproof windows, a fracture pattern appearing, spiderweb-like close to splintering. The ceiling groaned raining white daub as the building repositioned itself. They could hear somewhere below and explosion inwards to outwards, a heavy cough inside the frame of the skyscraper. Phantom-Andy looped in the air, the pulse waves catching his ethereal body, distorting him. He solidified again and sunk through the floor. Anne ran back to where the door still stood finding the stairs down to the 49th floor. Phantom
* * *
Joaquin emerged through the exit door landing on the 49th floor. The lights in the eerily quiet corridor flickered creating illusions of motionless shapeless shadows that weren’t there. Then a fast-moving silhouette graced the walls and Joaquin chased it past rooms missing walls, missing doors giving him a peak into desolation and oblivion, a border leading into nothingness but the blue sky, clouds fast and high. He caught the shadow, its owner stepping into view in a moment of flee – Globe was escaping the unhinged heavy oak doors of his control room. Joaquin schooled his face when the man in question stopped.
“Runnin’ like a lil’ bitch, I see.”
Globe turned back around in the middle of that pristine corridor, alone, unguarded, sleeves rolled and vest unbuttoned. His hair was disheveled, blue eyes turned dark, sparkling with some lunacy.
He studied Joaquin for a brief before training his Desert Eagle on him but then started to laugh contorting his face in the maniacal shortness of breath.
“It’s pointless. I can’t harm you, can I Joaquin? So why am I holding a gun?”
The weapon cocked nonetheless, rounds escaping the wide barrel. Joaquin ran toward the flying bullets, staggering back inches when they smashed against his chest, compressed by the impact with his impervious skin. The amounted momentum carried him across to Globe and he beat the gun out of his grasp. Globe’s hands were fast; he grabbed a handful of Joaquin’s tattered shirt and spun him around ending his back against the wall. Joaquin threw his weight back at him rushing him across the hall to crash a hole in the wall with his body. He lashed again, palm coming flat at the doctor’s throat to catch short of his windpipe.
The breaks rippling through the skyscraper reached the ground under their feet in angry waves that destabilized both men. A disoriented Globe became easy prey and Joaquin lifted his body throwing it ping-pong style back across the narrow corridor. He pinned the dazed Major there to bombard his ribs with heavy fists, low cuts, dirty fighting. Jacob slid down the wall spurting blood from his mouth. His hand instinctively went for his thrashed bones.
“Killing me won’t change anything. It’s already begun. I proved my point.”
Joaquin took his head between his large palms clattering his teeth as his fingers squashed Globe’s jaw, denting his cheeks.
“You killed Massey. You hurt my friends. Das was your funeral signed, mothefucker.”
He dragged Globe’s body to a kneeling position, arms switching to a choke hold. Globe fought back against the early release Joaquin was trying to give him, nails digging into the hardened skin, breaking to bleed at the touch. His long flailing arms however got a reach and he landed a distracting punch in Joaquin’s temple, adrenaline fused slipping out of his hands.
Coughing he slithered across the floor in search for his useless gun.
“Up here, asshole.”
Globe lifted his watery gaze seeing his Eagle in Anne’s hands, cuts and bruises fading on her pristine skin.
She shot him in the shoulder pinning him to the ground to clutch the wound.
“You fucking bitch!”
Joaquin rushed for the gun in her hand eager to grab it but Anne pulled it away.
“Get up Jacob. In there, move.”
He barred his teeth at them, a lopsided grin flickering across his features as he walked back into the control room he’d tried to escape.
“You’ve lost it, yo,” Joaquin shook his head at Anne.
“Kristof is free and we’re trapped in here. He’s going berserk out there and I want to know how to stop him. Tell me.”
Globe spat in her feet. Joaquin forced his body to kneel for execution digging digits into the wound.
“You can’t stop him. It’s too late.”
The tower tremored. Somewhere far below a supporting column began collapsing.
“You captured him once before what’s stopping you from doing the same now?”
“He’s much more powerful.” Globe rolled his eyes forcing Anne to jerk the gun closer to his forehead. His speech quickened. “Whatever tests we did on him must have backfired. He would have absorbed all that we administered into the main gene pool replacing the supers genome we used from his DNA over and over again, repairing it with a different pattern each time.”
“Granting him access to all the different abilities you stole from your subjects. He’s become an adept,” Anne summarized, realization pinching her features.
“How do we stop him?”
Globe turned to Joaquin.
“You don’t. You run far, far away from here. Those supers downstairs entertaining your friends, Joaquin are just a test drive of what the new genome is capable of. Kristof is the direct embodiment of that. There’s no stopping him.”
The wheezing speed with which Kristof, unseen by them, moved became the reason for an explosion story’s below.
Joaquin could swear there were tears’ running down Globe’s reddened skin. They were the cold tears of fear.
“Is your helicopter parked on the helipad?”
Globe nodded allowing Joaquin to rummage through his pockets fishing out the keys.
“You did this yourself Jacob,” Anne shook her head lowering the gun. “You ruined yourself with your ambitions.”
“Oh, please. Those ambitions were yours once, don’t you forget that!” Globe’s spit came out between his heavy breathing. “I did this for you! I pitied the destruction Genghis Khan did to humanity and I tried to save it. Me, not you!” He jabbed a finger at his chest.
“All you do is for your own selfish benefits you prick so don’t use me as an excuse.”
He stared at her wide-eyed.
“Is this what I get in return, hate and apathy? I sacrificed everything to make this possible. Everything! And it worked, Anne, you saw that it worked. A new generation of supers, a new lineage. It all worked. You just stopped wanting to be part of it.”
Joaquin snatched the Desert Eagle from Anne’s hand reassuming her previous actions.
“I’m tired of your bullshit!”
“It’s not worth it, Joaquin, he’s as good as dead with Kristof free. We should go, now.”
“Massey’s dead cause this fool.”
Anne’s face changed, the schooled smirking expression drooping to an ugly pain ridden one.
The resting heavy gun fit in his hand perfectly. He aimed the ten inch barrel returning it at level with Globe’s head, right between his eyes. The mad scientist was unmoved by that decision.
“Heroes don’t kill people in cold blood, Joaquin. I thought you wanted to be a hero?”
Joaquin set his jaw firm.
“Yeah, sometimes heroes have to make tough decisions and those ain’t always easy. This one is.”
He squeezed the trigger ending one of eight bullets from the .44 Magnum in Globe’s head delivering him to death without a preaching speech. Globe’s body kicked, blood spilling down his nose.
“You and I need to reach the roof. The helicopter is the only way out.”
“What bout’ my crew?”
“I have someone on them. They should be fine.”
Joaquin threw one last glance at Globe’s oozing bullet hole deep and red, bits of brain and skull decorating the rich carpet. His eyes flickered to the outside where a lazy sun burst through the clouds in an eerily beautiful way, gold slicing through grey. A shadow fell over that view and Joaquin froze on the spot watching Kristof descend outside carrying the small black helicopter on his hands. No words found time to escape his mouth but his hands grasped Anne’s shoulders and pushed her down before Kristof took speed and hurled the machine, fins rotating in deadly circles. It crashed through the bulletproof windows opening a gaping hole in the wall.
The air seeping in filtered the weariness from their heated bodies amidst the sparkles erupting from the crashed helicopter. Jet fuel poured on the white floor in thirsty gulps scenting the air with a flammable odor.
“You look well, Joaquin. Anne, lovely as always. You’ve picked a side, I see.”
Joaquin hoped back to his feet tracing the skid marks dug into the granite, chunks of it littering the floor. He then looked up at Kristof hovering above the hero and the lady in red studying their reaction. He wore an ill-fitting shirt and pants, the dark circles under his eyes made them look darker, deeper. They relocated toward Globe.
“I wanted to do that. I guess I lost track of time ruining his tiny ego tower. This city has changed since last time I was here. It almost feels like I woke up in another world. It feels strange to be free again.”
Kristof looked at the city stretching like a mirage across from them. His voice though strained from months of silence, throaty and taut, was antagonizing, arrogant.
“It’s filthy with vermin on the inside. Botched job. So many supers undeserving of that title, gifted but afraid to use their power. I can feel them within my veins. Pathetic.”
“What are you going to do, Kristof? Resume your pointless war?” Anne asked cautiously, catching Joaquin for support.
“I’ll do what your weakness prevented you from doing. You stooped so low, Anne.”
Anne’s lip quivered into a snarl.
“You have a lot of nerve to say that. I tried to save your life. If you weren’t a stubborn bastard none of this would have happened. I lost Justin because of you!”
Kristof scoffed. “And a fine job you did after failing my life. I mean look at the mess you’re in. You left Globe alive for too long! Your hands are dirtier than mine.”
Anne stepped into his space.
“I begged you to not start this war Kristof and you simply couldn’t resist. Immortality does that to you.”
Kristof’s laugh was grating. He glided toward her, feet hovering inches above the ground. Joaquin tried to stand guard to her but Kristof laid his palm on his chest and flung him back with impossible force clean through the wall to the adjoining room. Gentler this time he circled Anne’s chin lifting her head so she could look him straight in the eyes.
“I guess it does. But you know what else it offered me while I wasted away in that glass jar Globe stuck me into? Time to think. You were wrong back then in the woods. This is exactly how we do things – we take what is ours and we take it by force because we can, because we’re stronger. And this world belongs to me. And I will bring it to its knees.”
Kristof lowered himself to the ground, bare feet touching the cool surface. He eased his body taking the first steps on his tinned legs splashing through the pool of fuel. Kristof snatched Globe’s body from the floor and studied it for a heartbeat, the glassy eyes staring down unblinking almost like a stuffed animal. He flung it out the window satisfying an itch. Anne used the time to reclaim the Desert Eagle using it as an incendiary weapon. Kristof returned his attention to her and Joaquin reemerging from the dent in the wall.
“Now about you two,” he croaked before seeing a weapon aimed at him.
“Light this fool up, Anne!”
The gun in her hand was unsteady, a minimal uncertain shaking, the finger pulling away from the trigger. The woman in red saw realization come across Kristof’s face.
“She won’t do it, though she’s thinking about it. Are you ready to blow us all up, Anne?”
Her hesitation made Joaquin jumpy, anxious.
“Gimme that, I ain’t afraid of him!”
Joaquin flexed his muscles glistening with sweat. He went to snatch the handgun from Anne but she pivoted away. Kristof barked laughing.
“But you should be afraid, Joaquin because if your impervious skin allows you to survive an explosion I’ll come for you and it surely won’t save you when I rip you limb from limb. And then I’ll do worse to Anne.”
Anne refused to shoot at the transparent fluid Kristof was standing in making a choice. Kristof was pleased.
“By the way, Joaquin, I never asked, did you enjoy playing house with my father? I bet he enjoyed having a son to play by his ridiculous rules. Lord knows he never loved me.”
Kristof walked his weary body around drawing blood into the withered digits, wiggling his toes.
“Shut up!” Joaquin yelled but Anne’s harsh grab on his bicep stilled him on the spot.
“Don’t. He’s too strong, we can’t harm him. There’s only one way we step out of this alive and it’s by letting him go. It’s what he wants.”
She dropped the gun to underline her refusal to fight.
“I ain’t lettin’ him escape!”
Kristof cocked his head to one side stretching the tense muscles in his neck.
“Listen to Anne, Joaquin. She’s the smarter one of the duo. I suppose I could let you two leave here unharmed but then again…”
Joaquin saw Kristof raise himself in full height, a gravitational pull circulating the thin body pulling him and Anne toward the dooming center.
“Anne was wrong about one thing. I don’t want to see you surrender; I want to see you dead. You two are constantly in my way.”
Kristof darted out through the roof. When he came crashing back the tower collapsed sending everything and everyone into oblivion, an explosion encompassing the top floor.
Joaquin saw the first spark of ignition slither up the trail of spilled fuel and into the skeleton cabin of the chopper exploding it from within. He felt the fall and closed his eyes ready for the impact that never came. His back hit a solid surface instead, Anne landing next to him. Burning pieces of exploded helicopter crashed around them.
tHIS WAY, jOAQUIN! c’MON mAn!
Joaquin saw an apparition float beside him. It looked strangely like Andy.
fOLLOW ME. qUICKLY!
Phantom-Andy relocated to a floating piece of concrete gently bobbing up and down in the air, in the rain of debris and dust. Joaquin got the idea pulling Anne back to her feet. He hopped from boulder to boulder, rock surfing, following the phantom as it guided them down a spiral circulating the collapsing tower.
Joaquin leapt feet kicking in mid-air, bracing himself for the fall and roll over the shaky floating piece.
Above them the skyscraper imploded on itself, the large red “G” letter spinning on its top splitting in two in the middle, sliced by Kristof. The supporting columns gave in, snapping in succession that ran the entire length of the tower. The domino effect tilted the structure toppling it over the neighboring buildings, bringing power lines down, their wires exploding into flames that caught on the tower setting it on fire. White smoke mixed with the black smoke of death, a storm of thick clouds rolling over the plaza in big swirling mushrooms, nuclear in sight and impact. The foundation gave way sliding the remaining standing floors to the streets below.
Joaquin reached the last platform stumbling off its uneven makeshift form. Quake panted with the exhaustion of the stunt, dropping all the rocks he supported at once when Joaquin and Anne were safe on the ground, away from the collapsing building. Joaquin found Denisha, Betty, Nightwave and Kid shaken but alive, watching the powerful whine the building emanated as it turned to rubble. Globe’s empire was destroyed, the memory of his being wiped clean, buried under the weight of his ambitions.
Their victory was short lived and they all felt it. They’d lost a friend in the attempt to win a battle they ended up losing to a greater power. There was a new threat on the horizon looming over the city once more, shadowing over the entire planet, ambitions greater than those of Globe. Joaquin somehow worried Kristof would succeed where Globe failed.
He looked up to the sky but Kristof was gone. Soon they turned their backs on the wailing sirens, preparing for yet another fight.
* * *
Kristof closed his eyes letting the last rays of the sun gently caress his skin. He sat lazily on a bench in a nearby park drinking in the world so wide, so impossibly clueless. The last trails of smoke carrying the stench of death and fire blew past him, carried by the disappearing north winds.
“Hey buddy! Whoa can’t believe it’s you. Stranger things have happened, eh?”
Kristof’s eyes snapped open. He tilted his head to one side studying the man shutting off the incoming light. A proud spotted mutt entwined itself between his legs, eager head pushing to be pet.
“Jules, right?” He said with a smile, remembering.
“Yeah, buddy! How have you been?”
Kristof considered the question.
“Disconnected,” he answered. “I’ve been away and I’ve missed so much. So much chaos.”
“Yeah nah, the whole superhero crisis. Crazy I know buddy.” Jules scooted next to him bringing his mutt to crouch at his feet.
“What’s its name?” Kristof asked.
“Charlie but I keep calling him Mugs. Fits his ugly face, innit? Found him on the street one night, all cold and hungry. Couldn’t just leave him ya know, buddy?”
Kristof smiled, his thoughts blowing away with the wind.
“It was beautiful. He said I’ll never see it but I did. I opened my eyes and my mind just in time to witness the culmination of that primitive, narrow-minded era and witness the birth of something magnificent. The future is glorious, Jules, you just wait and see.”
“I hope it is buddy, I sure hope so. We need something uplifting to happen you know, something grand. Whaddaya thinking that could be, buddy?”
“Someone very special for people to believe in. Someone for them to fear. A new God.”
His eyes drenched in gold, soaking in the sun turned to Jules and he accepted the shrivel that ran down the man’s spine. It was a notion he was becoming fascinated with.
“Whadday mean buddy?”
“How would you like to change the future, Jules?”
Jules relaxed visibly, his small round eyes resuming the nonchalant, droopy look that defined him.
“You preach, I hear ya buddy! I’m all about betterment, full hands supporting a revolution, buddy.”
“Then it’s really simple, Jules. I’ll be that someone to make the change. I’ll take over this world and teach it how to behave, how to grow. Come along, Jules, we have a new future to build.”
The man and his mutt trailed behind Kristof, three figures turned to black by the receding light, long shadows falling over the city of heroes.
* * * T H E E N D * * *