“There is a dynamic in us that beckons us to something deeper.”
-Professor Fred Parrella
Derrick Lucious had never known his father.
His mother had managed to successfully raise him in a world full of schoolyard bullies and street-side temptations. She worked hard to teach him to be a good kid and raise him into a good man. She made sure he worked hard, too; he had made his grades in school, gotten an AFROTC scholarship, earned his degree in management, served his term on active duty flying planes for the Airborne Rangers, and then made his way into the business world. He was now the head pilot on the west coast for Lightning Air, a small but lucrative charter airline service that delivered everything from small parcels to people. Lightning Air had found its niche for those overnight deliveries that just cannot be trusted to anything but a small private jet. Derrick had bought his mother a nice home, far away from the inner city of Oakland she hated so, and now provided for himself and for her quite nicely.
But he had never known his father.
So now, sitting in an upscale café in San Francisco across a table full of overpriced food from the most beautiful woman to ever give him a second look, he had to answer her question with, “Never knew him,” in that nonchalant way that made everyone believe it didn’t bother him.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Why didn’t you?”
Derrick sipped his wine. As far as he knew, his father had been with Navy Research and Development when Derrick had been born. His mom divorced him just after getting pregnant for reasons that … well, that mom just did not talk about. From talking to other family members, Derrick had managed to piece together that he was always at work and never with mom, and then mom found out that dad had been running around with some young ensign.
“I just never wanted to meet him,” he said, looking up from his wine into his date’s concerned green eyes. “I’m sorry, but do you mind if we talk about something else?”
“Oh, okay … sorry.” Derrick’s date, a gorgeous redhead from Russia named Rebecca Gannistov, put her head in her hand and picked at her food with a fork.
There was a stiff silence as they both thought of something else to talk about, and about how badly this date was going.
This sucks, thought Derrick. He was definitely into this girl. She was smart and funny and concerned, and when her accent came out, which it rarely did, it made him want to sing. He could tell that she liked him too, at least enough to stick around and see if this repressed flyboy could do any better. Why, god damn it, did he have to be such a depressing guy?
“Listen,” she said, refreshingly breaking the silence, “I know you’re a pilot, and I know you flew for the military, so you’ve got to have a few good stories.”
Derrick grinned a little. Thank God, he thought. This he could do. He didn’t hang out much with the other pilots, but when he did, he could always keep up with their war-stories. It was, Derrick was sure, the only social skill he was good at when he wasn’t in a pecking order. “Stories I can do, Rebecca. You sure you want to hear them? Some of them are pretty long, and they’re all guy-stories.”
Rebecca smiled right back and took Derrick’s breath away for a moment. “Derrick Lucious, if you don’t tell me the longest, raunchiest ‘guy-story’ you have, right now, I will be so offended that I will have to order a helping of fresh lobster.”
Derrick laughed and told her about the time one of his co-pilots got an in-flight bachelor party.
“You do understand what it is we have here, right?”
Kim was not quite sure that he did. The substance they had developed was supposed to be a shield against electricity. It was a gel made for sensitive equipment that had to go into areas with a high risk of thunderstorms or electrical damage. They had made it this way so it could be easily integrated into any system: just a small layer of the gel around the inside of any casing would have been enough to let it survive a direct hit from a lightning bolt.
At least, that was what it was supposed to do.
Now, every time they ran a current through it, they would get a strange, brilliant white shard that would form itself inside the gel. The size depended on the voltage, and when the shard was exposed to enough conductive metal, it would disappear, there would be a small popping sound, and the metal would be magnetized. It had hardly any weight, but was extremely resilient. In fact, they had been unable to break it, so far, even in their pressure chamber and kinetics lab.
Was it a new element? A new state of matter? The data on the computer screen in front of him seemed to indicate something like that, but Kim somehow sensed that his supervisor was not thinking along those lines.
“Solid electricity,” said Doctor Thompson when Kim did not answer. “We have created a substance that somehow puts electricity into a solid form.”
Kim looked at the information on his monitor one last time and slowly turned his expensive rolling chair around to look Doctor Thompson incredulously in the eye. Doctor Thompson was in his fifties with gray hair and beard marked with a few determined streaks of its old auburn. He had a countenance as imposing as a sheer cliff and a stare that reminded everyone he turned it on just how much time he had spent mastering his field. As if that were not enough, the weight of his position as the New York head of research for Kirven Labs made it seem even more imprudent to try and question him. Even so, Kim Law found himself asking, “Are you serious, sir? Is that even possible?”
“We’ve just proved that it is, son.” Doctor Thompson stood up from where he was sitting on the edge of Kim’s white-topped desk and walked out of the cubicle, his feet stomping loudly along the thinly carpeted floor toward the labs where some technicians were testing other energy types on the gel. “We have to get a sample of this to San Diego.”
Kim stood up as well and hurried after Doctor Thompson. “Can’t we just send them the data, sir? They should be able to reproduce what we’ve made here.”
“No, Kim,” said Doctor Thompson, irritably. “Those stiff-necks at headquarters are more bureaucrat than scientist. They won’t want to spend the time or money to make it and test it themselves, and even if they believed the data they wouldn’t do anything about it until they saw a firsthand demonstration. We’re going to have to take what we’ve got here and ram it down their throats.”
Doctor Thompson strode powerfully into the steel, concrete and chrome world of the lab, shoes now clicking against the hard floor. He ordered some technicians to drop what they were doing and get some of the gel packs into a locking transport case. As they hurried about, Doctor Thompson handed Kim the key to the case and said, “I can’t go. I need to keep research going here. You’re going to have to present this stuff to the higher-ups in San Diego.”
Kim’s heart skipped a beat and his breath stopped. The blood drained from his face and he found himself unable to speak. Kim had grown up in New York’s Chinatown with his parents; immigrants who barely spoke enough English to run their threadbare but excellent restaurant. He had always been the nervous kid in school, smart enough to do math in rings around the other students, but never very good at literature or, heaven forbid, presentations. Kim was a firm and dedicated member of the populace that fears death less than it does public speaking, and there was no way he was …
“No getting out of this, Kim. I’m sorry. Other than me, you know the most about the gel, and I’ve got a dozen other projects to oversee.” He turned to take the transport case from a technician, then turned right back to Kim and put it into his very unwilling arms. “Now get going. Use the company card wherever you have to, and take that courier service. Lightning Air. They do good work. Good luck, Kim. Call me when you get there.”
Before Kim had realized what had happened, he had been ushered out of the lab, and Doctor Thompson had closed the door and headed back in to continue his work. Speechless, Kim looked down at the precious case he held in his arms and realized that he held what might become the defining scientific discovery of the twenty first century.
He hurried back to his desk to call up Lightning Air, unaware that someone else had watched everything, made the same realization, and was making a call of her own.
Derrick held out a hand and led her down the stairs at the front door of the restaurant. As he was listening to Rebecca’s laughter, he heard something else, something he most definitely did not want to hear.
“Derrick, is that your pager?” asked Rebecca, a quizzical look on her face.
Derrick took his little black pager out of his pocket and checked the number. “Oh, my God,” he said. “I told them NOT to call me tonight. I should have left this stupid thing at home with my cell phone …”
“Who is it?”
“It’s work,” said Derrick. “I’m really sorry, but I don’t think they would’ve called unless it was life or death. I told them I’d kill them if they did.”
“Here, use my phone,” said Rebecca. Derrick looked up at her in amazement as she dug her phone out of her purse and held it out to him. He was sure that page would be the end of it. It always had been, before. And yet, here she was, holding her phone out for him to call the jackasses who had interrupted their good time.
“Uh, thanks.” Derrick took the phone and dialed his office. It had barely rung once when Jimmy Doorman, the office computer specialist, picked it up.
“Derrick? That you?”
“Jimmy. Why the hell are you calling me, now? I told you …”
“… yeah, yeah, that you have a date with the virgin mother herself and if we interrupt you’ll have her sic her kid on us. I got the memo.”
“Yeah, and Jesus is on the other line warming up his lightning bolts, so explain yourself.”
“Kirven Labs just called. They need an over-night delivery. Tonight.”
“Oh, that’s rich. Unless they’re offering to replace our fleet with F-16s, it’s not gonna happen.”
Jimmy told him how much Kirven Labs was offering.
“That oughta cover it …”
“So you’re coming?”
“What’s being taken where?”
“Single passenger with small package, contents classified. New York to San Diego.”
“If I had a dime for every one of those I’ve flown … wait, did you say New York to San Diego? What the hell do you need me for?”
“We’ve only got one plane left in New York, and it can’t make it all the way. We need you to fly out and pick up the package at DIA, then fly it the rest of the way.”
“Why me? You can’t get George or Franky or … God, find some damn kid who plays flight sims. Why do I have to go?”
“Because God hates you.”
“I resent that.”
“George is sick and Franky isn’t answering, for some reason. You’ve got to do it, man.”
“Jesus …” said Derrick, rubbing his forehead in frustration. He glanced up at Rebecca who was just standing there, waiting patiently and looking a little worried. And gorgeous. Drop dead gorgeous.
“No, he’s on the other line. This is still Jimmy.”
“Shut up, smart ass. I’ll make your goddamn flight, but I’m taking my date home, first.”
“Okay, but just go straight to the tarmac when you get here. I’ll have the plane out and ready for you.”
“Thanks, Jimmy. I’ll see you in a bit.”
“Tell Mary I’ve been saying my rosaries.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that. Get to work.”
Jimmy hung up. Derrick closed the phone and sighed. He dropped his head and held out the phone without looking at Rebecca. “I gotta take you home and get going … big job and I’m the only pilot they’ve got left.”
He heard Rebecca sigh tersely. “Well, dinner was over, anyway. I was going to politely ask for some desert at the Dairy Queen on twenty-third, but this does sound more important.”
Derrick felt his insides tighten up. He had no idea what to say. Without looking at her, he just headed for his car while fumbling for his keys.
Sitting in the grass with his back against a black and yellow sign that marked one of the small landing strips of DIA, a young man in a newly acquired technician’s uniform pushed his hardhat up off of his eyes as he heard the distant whir of a small jet overhead. He heard a pilot talking to the control tower and confirming the landing authorization in his radio headset, smiled, and crossed his arms over his bright orange safety vest to get a little more relaxing in before he had to guide the plane in through the foggy night with his light wands. There was no need to hurry. It did not really matter to him if the passengers made it safely to the ground. They were not likely to put up much of a fight no matter what way they landed.
The drive was quiet, the goodbye had no kiss, and the flight was long and boring. By the time Derrick landed his plane at DIA, it was two and a half hours past midnight, locally. There was a low, dense fog covering the runways, and the signal man guiding him in had acted like a complete amateur. He had nearly lost some landing gear on the touchdown, and fortunately had decided to trust the ground lights rather than the signal man when it came to the length of the runway.
“What a perfect evening,” said Derrick as he unbuckled himself. He opened the door and saw the signal man wave at him from the edge of the runway. Derrick sighed and hopped down to the tarmac.
“Is the other plane here, yet?” he called out.
The signal man nodded and hooked a thumb over his shoulder, indicating another runway that, thanks to the fog, Derrick could only make out because of the ground lights. Sure enough, though, he saw the red port light of another plane.
“Thanks,” said Derrick.
The signal man took the thumb he used to point at the other plane and gave Derrick a boyish thumbs-up.
Derrick chuckled. At least someone out here had managed to keep a sense of humor. He jogged past the signal man (signal boy, really, which might have accounted for the bad signaling; he looked no older than nineteen and had hair dyed bright neon green under his hardhat) and across the grass to the other runway. He got close enough to make out the other plane sitting there, facing the opposite direction of his own plan, and with the same “Lightning Air” decal painted in white against the dark blue hull. The door was wide open, but no one was in sight. Not knowing what else to do, Derrick climbed into the airplane and stood in the ante-room just between the cockpit and the small passenger area.
“Hello?” he called out. No one answered.
Derrick could not have flown combat missions as successfully as he had without some sense of when things just weren’t right. He turned to get out of the plane and go grab the Berretta he kept in his cockpit.
Derrick stopped short and almost fell over in surprise. Standing in the doorway right behind him had been the signal boy, but he wasn’t wearing his uniform or his hardhat anymore. He was in a strange spandex jumpsuit, black with green designs of skulls everywhere, with a belt and two bandoleers just bristling with all kinds of short bladed weapons. He had a nasty smile on his young face and murder in his eyes, which were the same neon green as his hair. In a menacingly cheerful voice, he said, “Flight’s canceled. Pilot got stabbed.”
With unbelievable speed, the boy’s hand licked across his belt, grabbed a knife, and made a circular thrust at the side of Derrick’s throat. Derrick was suddenly very happy the Rangers he flew had convinced him to come to some of their hand-to-hand combat classes. He wasn’t able to grab the boy’s wrist like he was supposed to, but he did get his forearm up in time to stop the knife and even managed to launch the simultaneous counterattack; a palm strike that hit the attacker right in the chest.
It surprised the boy, who must have been expecting to kill Derrick right away, and knocked him right out the door and out of sight. Derrick stood stock still for a moment, then shook off the surprise and went to the door to see what had happened.
The weird kid was nowhere to be seen.
Derrick had seen too many horror movies to go out there and try to find him. He slammed the door to the plane and locked it. With a sharp crack, a knife appeared in the small double-paned window of the door Derrick had just closed. Derrick stared at it in amazement. It had gone through both panes and the glistening, oddly oily looking tip, which was pointing right at his forehead, didn’t look the least bit damaged.
Not wanting to see if the boy could get one clear through on the second try, Derrick hit the deck and crawled on hands and knees to the door of the cockpit. His caution saved his life; a second knife came right through the weakened window, shattering it and sticking into the far wall of the little anteroom.
Derrick crawled to the cockpit and opened it. He nearly gagged on the stench of a dead body and … something else. It was a sweet but invasive scent, and it filled the room. Derrick saw the pilot sitting in his seat, unmoving, bent over the controls with a knife in his back and his hands dangling towards the floor. The skin was pale green and the veins were visibly pumping along dark blue viscous liquid. Derrick recoiled in horror and glanced back over his shoulder at the strange knife with its oily blade stuck in the skin of the airplane. He recalled the young psycho’s outfit with its green skulls.
“Oh, man,” he thought. “Some costumed freak is coming to make me into a green, pulsing corpse.” He searched around frantically until finding a Glock 17 pistol hanging halfway out of a holster under the controls. The dead pilot had not even had enough time to fully draw it. The controls, he discovered, had been slashed to ribbons, and he couldn’t find the joy stick.
“Okay,” he thought out loud. “He’s fast. But you hit him, and no one can dodge bullets, so …”
He stopped suddenly, hearing something from elsewhere on the plane. At first, he thought it was the knife-throwing poison kid getting to the door, but then he realized it was coming from deeper into the aircraft.
Keeping low and keeping the pistol in front of him, Derrick moved through the anteroom and opened the door to the passenger section. There were only some ten rows of large, comfortable seats, and from there, they all looked empty. Derrick chanced a look out the window and saw the knife-thrower pacing away from him and towards the cockpit. He raised his pistol instinctively, but his target was out of sight before he could get a bead on him.
Cursing silently, Derrick searched the passenger section and found nothing but a small set of matching luggage. That meant someone had been back here. Had it been that kid? Was Kirby Labs sending some psychotic mutant to California?
Hell, he’d fit right in, thought Derrick.
Just then, he heard the noise again. Someone was in the plane’s tiny galley.
Derrick jogged up to the door, throwing it open and dodging to one side in one motion, taking care to show nothing into the room but the barrel of his pistol and a small portion of his head.
Inside was a very frightened Chinese man in a business suit who was climbing down from one of the overhead cupboards. He started and fell back onto the floor. “Don’t shoot me, please!” he said in perfect English. “There’s a madman out there!”
Derrick lowered his pistol. “Green hair? Knives?”
The Chinese man nodded.
“We’ve met,” said Derrick dryly. He stepped into the galley and helped the fallen man to his feet. “Are you Dr. Kim Law?”
“Yes, that’s me. Are you Derrick Lucious? The other pilot?”
“That’s right. Why didn’t he find you?”
“He came in and looked, but only briefly,” said Dr. Law, who reached up into the cupboard and pulled down a small metal case. Derrick figured that was the package. “I think he thinks this is the plane from California. How did you get past him?”
Derrick shrugged. “I think he thought I’d be an easy kill. I caught him by surprise, that’s all.”
Dr. Law looked disappointed. Derrick thought back to his resistance training, and how prisoners have to keep each other encouraged. He had never needed it in the service, and thought it was just plain weird that it was coming in handy, now. He probably would have been pissing his pants without it.
“I think we can do it again, too,” he said.
Dr. Law looked up. “How?”
Derrick’s mind raced furiously. “There’s another way out of this plane,” he said. “Come on.”
Outside, the frustrated killer paced back and forth along the length of the aircraft. He had two knives between the fingers of his right hand, ready to shatter the next window he saw that pilot’s head in. That bastard had hit him … actually hit him! Just a normal human being! Did he have any idea who he was dealing with?
He knew there was something important he had to do, but he was going to deal with this upstart pilot, first. The package and its carrier had not been on the first plane, so it must be on this second one, but it wasn’t going anywhere. He had the pilot pinned down in here, and he was looking back every so often to make sure no one came out of the second plane.
He glanced over his shoulder once more. The aircraft sat there on the runway, still, not moving, nothing in it. He sighed. What had started out as a fun job was quickly turning into a very boring game of cat-and-mouse.
The killer wheeled around at the sound of the pilot’s voice and had barely enough time to register his face and a pistol barrel hanging upside-down from the plane’s wheel-well before getting shot twice, once in the chest and once in the shoulder, spinning him around to fall flat on his face on the tarmac.
Incredible! He had barely even seen the pilot before getting hit. He must have once been a Navy SEAL … or something …
The killer’s eyes flickered, his vision went dark, and he slipped into blackness.
Derrick dropped out of the wheel-well and used the wheel for cover. He watched the kid for a few moments. Once he was sure the kid was staying down, Derrick motioned for Dr. Law to come down. Together they crossed the tarmac, moving slowly until they were past the fallen killer, then bolted all the way to Derrick’s plane.
“We should call the police,” said Derrick.
“Yes, but let’s do it from the plane,” said Dr. Law. “I really do have to get to California.”
“Are you crazy?” said Derrick. “I can’t run away from a … a murder scene like this. The other pilot is dead and I may have just killed that kid …”
Derrick froze when he gestured to where the young man he had shot was no longer lying.
“Oh, crap. Get in the plane!”
Dr. Law needed no encouragement. He practically flew up the stairs, with Derrick right behind him. The pilot didn’t bother trying to see where the knife-thrower had gone to. He just knew that, with someone that deadly out there somewhere, his window for escape was closing fast.
Derrick got into the plane and turned his body weight against the door to close it as fast as possible. As it slid into place, Derrick heard a metallic *thunk* and felt a sharp pain in his left shoulder. He pulled away from the door and looked down at the bloody tip of an oily knife, then at the small would it had left in him.
The blood drained from his face as he thought about the other pilot he found. With panic building in his mind, Derrick realized he was losing feeling throughout his body. He watched the pistol fall from his hands and hit the floor of the plane. He felt, barely, Dr. Law grab and shake him. Just as his vision went black and a creeping pain began to replace the numbness, he heard the thunder of an approaching storm in the distance.
“That’s what you get,” said the assassin as he kicked the door open, “for thinking you can mess with Venym.”
His own blood staining his grim costume, Venym looked down with a contempt-filled smirk at Dr. Law, who was kneeling over the pilot’s body. “I heal pretty quick.”
Dr. Law made a grab for the pistol. Venym flicked his wrist and planted an un-poisoned knife through the scientist’s palm, then let out a shrill cackle at the screaming that followed before he kicked the wounded man away from Derrick. Lightning flashed, lighting up the cabin a few moments before they heard the thunder. He saw the case sitting on the floor, picked up the pistol, and shot both locks off.
“Ah,” he said to Dr. Law, who was clutching his maimed hand. “Moment of truth, now.” He opened the case and took both gel packs, holding one in each hand. “You brought two, huh? Probably a good idea. Never can be too safe.”
As he chuckled at his own cruel jokes, he suddenly got an idea. The poison in Derrick’s body would not have quite killed him, yet, and his boss hadn’t specified how much of the gel to bring back.
With a wicked grin on his young face, Venym straddled the unconscious pilot, whose face was already turning green and whose veins were already darkening. “I’m pretty sure you can still hear me,” he said, then gave Derrick a hard punch across the face. Derrick moaned and sucked in a labored breath. “So that’s for when you hit me.”
Venym took a particularly jagged knife from his belt and stuck it deep into Derrick’s stomach. Derrick gasped and squirmed weakly. Venym stabbed him again and said, “And those are for when you shot me.” His victim whimpered. Venym only laughed. “I wonder if you even know what it was you were sent to deliver.” He cut a small slit in one of the gel packs. “From what it’s supposed to do, my guess is that it’s pretty toxic. Not that it matters, considering what’s pumping through your system right now, but,” he paused to force Derrick’s mouth open, shove the open end of the gel pack inside, and start squeezing, “every little bit helps.”
Derrick coughed and sputtered as the stuff went down into his throat. Lightning flashed in the windows and thunder shook the plane barely a second later. Venym enjoyed the spectacle with a wide, evil grin, chuckling quietly every few seconds. He stopped as he heard a yell like a wild-man from Dr. Law, then looked up just in time to see the doctor’s crazed face before he collided with the sadistic assassin, sending both of them barreling out of the plane to roll down the stairs and onto the wind-swept tarmac.
Venym ended up on bottom. He thrust straight up into Dr. Law’s nose with his palm, breaking the nose and pushing the man up. Venym then grabbed the knife still sticking out of Dr. Law’s hand and jammed it up into the scientist’s chest. Blood sprayed them both as Dr. Law fell to the side. Almost blind with fury, Veynm paid no heed to the lightning flashing repeatedly in the air as he took out a pair of knives and slashed his victim over and over again along his arms, chest, and face.
When he was done, Dr. Law was a twitching, bloody mess beneath him. Venym stood, shaking with adrenaline and subsiding rage. He gave Dr. Law one last kick and spat on him as he turned back to retrieve the unspent gel pack.
Lightning struck the plane. The flash blinded Venym’s green eyes, and the concussive force of the thunder deafened him and knocked him flat. He just lay there for a while, regaining his senses. When he was able, he sat up and looked at the plane, still crackling with leftover electricity. There was something glowing brightly in the open doorway …
… and it was floating …
Derrick’s eyes shot open as every nerve was set on fire, but all he cloud see was bright white light. His body snapped rigid, and he felt light … weightless, in fact. He felt a burning awareness over every inch of his body, at once agonizing and ecstatic. He wondered if he had died, and about whether he had gone to Heaven or Hell.
Slowly, his body relaxed. The pain of his stab-wounds was still there, but he could tell they were no longer bleeding. He moved his head to look around, but it was like pushing against water, or something slightly more resistant. Finally, his eyes adjusted and he saw the inside of the plane around him, though it was all so … bright … as if everything had been painted white. He blinked and noticed that things were returning to their original colors, although it was all bathed in bright light that was coming from under him.
Derrick rolled to one side … or at least he tried … he had the sensation of spinning in place and found himself staring down at the floor of the plane, several feet beneath his prone form and also suffused with the same light.
He slowly began to realize that he was the source of that light …
… and that he was flying!
Venym managed to identify the figure as the pilot … naked, glowing, and floating just above the floor of the plane. Something must have happened with the lightning and the gel … and it may have had something to do with the poison, too.
Whatever it was, Venym did not feel like giving the pilot a chance to understand whatever new abilities he had. He took out his biggest knife and hurled it right at the left side of the pilot’s head.
Derrick felt something bounce against his head … well, more like it had hit something unyielding his head was on the other side of. He looked to his left to see the young man with the knives – Venym, he remembered hearing the killer call himself while he had been blacked out – looking very worried. A moment later, a knife clattered to the ground.
Derrick smiled. Whatever had happened to him, he was knife-proof.
The next thing, he decided, was how to …
His eyes fell on the bloody form of Dr. Law. He stopped smiling.
Lightning struck nearby, and thunder filled Derrick’s ears.
Without thinking about how, Derrick zoomed through the air and slammed his fist into the assassin’s chest with incredible force. He thought he heard bones cracking, but couldn’t be sure because of the sonic boom that resounded right behind him. Venym was knocked all the way across the landing strip, bounced once in the grass, then rolled to a stop next to the plane from New York.
Derrick blinked in surprise and worry. Just what was he capable of? Looking down at himself, he saw that he was sheathed in a glowing white substance about an inch thick. Though it had slowed his actions before, it was becoming easier and easier to move around, as if he was getting used to it, or maybe even the sheath itself was becoming more responsive.
He could fly, obviously, and extremely fast, too. He could also now detect a low humming, and figured it was coming from the sheath. Even so, his hearing and vision seemed much more acute, and he could smell the grass from here as easily as he could smell the blood from …
“Dr. Law!” he shouted. Derrick flew over to the maimed scientist and reached down to check him, but stopped himself when he realized his new … “skin” might not be safe to touch. He landed and watched smoke rise up from the ground beneath his feet.
Derrick cursed inwardly. He had to find a way to carry Dr. Law without actually touching him …
Derrick flew into the plane and grabbed the plastic door of the lavatory, intending to try and break it off by bracing his feet against the wall and pulling. He watched it melting in his fingers … this time, he cursed aloud. He slammed his fist against the open door in frustration and watched it fly down the isle, torn from its hinges.
Apparently, the sheath was making him stronger, somehow.
He moved over to a chair and put his hands under it. The material smoldered, but didn’t quite get destroyed before he heaved upwards and ripped the seat from the floor. He grabbed it and the door and flew quickly outside before they were immolated by his touch, and managed to scoop Dr. Law carefully into the seat using the door. Picking up the seat with unbelievable ease, he flew towards the DIA terminal. As he soared, he looked down at the barely breathing form of his burden. He had seen bad wounds before; he had flown plenty of flights with casualties on board. Soldiers, civilians, friends, enemies … but they had all been hurt … somewhere else … and none of them had ever been hurt saving his life …
… Derrick only knew the man’s last name …
Up ahead, he saw an ambulance just leaving the terminal with a police car. Both of them stopped as he flew closer. As he descended towards them, Derrick thought very seriously about what had just happened to him. He decided he wanted more time to think about the consequences of letting anyone know what had happened to him before he … well … let anyone know what had happened to him. In moments, he had left Dr. Law right behind the ambulance and was flying back to his plane to look for Venym.
Venym spat a curse when he heard that low hum behind him.
“Was it worth it?” asked the pilot. “You killed a man with that disgusting poison, and probably another one by … mutilating him, and you would have killed me, except it looks like God has other plans.”
Venym turned, tense and ready to spring away, though he was not convinced it would do any good. He had moved so fast, and though the broken bones the pilot’s punch had left behind were healed by now they were still sore, and the burn mark was still there.
The man he had tried to kill was floating two feet off the ground. The nimbus of white light around him buzzed and snapped angrily, and his eyes crackled with electric energy. The wounds Venym had left in his stomach looked like they had been flash-fried closed, and his fists were clenched and ready. Venym didn’t like his chances in a fight with this glowing do-gooder. “You won’t get what you came for, either,” he said with a finality that made Venym shudder. “So tell me, before I put you down hard enough to keep you down, was whatever you tried to shove down my throat worth all that death and suffering?”
Venym’s mind raced to try and find a way out of this. At least this guy wanted to talk, first. “If you knew what I get paid doing this,” he said, running over the list of his weapons in his mind, “you wouldn’t be asking that.” Knives, knives, and more knives … and his gas bombs! No matter how strong that shield was, the guy had to be breathing, somehow.
Derrick’s eyes narrowed. “Bullshit,” he said. “You enjoy this. I saw it in your eyes when you first tried to stab me, and I heard it in your voice when you had me helpless. You get off on it, you twisted son of a …”
Venym cut him off by throwing something at Derrick’s chest. It exploded on contact with his shield, and green gas filled the air around him. Derrick instinctively gasped and managed to suck in a lungful. He began to cough and convulse uncontrollably. He felt his control over his new abilities falter and fell out of the air, down to his knees before the laughing assassin.
“If you weren’t going to die right here,” he taunted, “I’d tell you that lesson number one is not to waste time talking.”
As he coughed, Derrick saw that his shield was … spiking, somehow. It was twitching and convulsing the same way his muscles were. If the shield was like his muscles, then maybe …
“Good … *COUGH* … advice.”
On his next convulsion, Derrick focused on lancing the shield out at Venym. A glowing spike of solid electricity sprang out from him and struck the young killer right through his stomach. Fighting with every fiber of his will to maintain the spike, Derrick watched Venym’s body shudder and shake about as electricity arced through his entire body. Derrick felt himself ache in the way that he might if he tried to hold up a dumbbell too long, and finally had to let go of the spike. It disappeared back into the rest of the shield. Without the spike to hold him up, Venym dropped forward onto his face.
Derrick’s coughing fit took hold once more. He fell onto his side and heard the sirens coming up behind him. He knew he had to get rid of this sheath of white light if the paramedics were going to save him from this gas. He … relaxed, somehow … a lot like the way he did when he let the spike fade back into him. He felt a sudden rush prickle across his skin and heard a thunderclap right in his ears, as if it had happened right next to him. Then he felt the cold tarmac beneath his naked body and heard the emergency vehicles stopping behind him.
Hands wearing latex gloves carefully picked him up and put him on a stretcher. “Gas,” he managed to say between coughs. “Some … kind of …”
“He’s going into shock,” he heard a woman’s voice say. It had an accent … Irish? His vision was blurred and he couldn’t see who was speaking. “Did he just say, ‘gas?’ Get the anesthetic.”
A needle pricked his arm. The convulsions and coughing stopped a few moments later. Derrick sighed and smiled as his breathing returned to normal. He thought back to when he had been rushed into surgery, a piece of his control panel sticking in his ribcage, after a rough landing in a damaged plane. He recalled the profound relief he felt as they strapped the mask over his face to put him under; he would go to sleep, and when he woke up, everything would be alright …
Wherever he was, he was comfortable … well, except for the tubes in his nose, but it wasn’t so bad. He thought about pretending to still be asleep, but he would have to get this over with at some point.
“Yeah,” he said with a dry throat. “I’m awake.”
The nurse checked his vitals and went to get the doctor and a police detective. The doctor explained how lucky he was that the paramedic on hand recognized it as a nerve gas designed to tighten the muscles in the body until they tore themselves apart or the victim choked to death. The detective asked him a lot of questions about Venym, why Derrick had been naked, and the “glowing man” who had delivered Dr. Law to the ambulance.
Glowing-Man? Glowman? Nah.
Derrick told the truth about Venym and what he was after. He said he figured the assassin had taken his clothes off to humiliate him. As for his luminous savior …
“He came out of the sky and knocked the crap out of that bastard. He flew off with Dr. Law, then came back … I guess to finish him off. They fought … that’s when Venym threw the gas bomb and I lost it. What happened to Venym, though?” he asked, genuinely concerned. “Like I said, I shot him twice and the glowing man hit him really hard.”
“Oh, he’s still kicking,” said the detective. “The paramedics found him with a hole the size of a basketball in his chest, but he seems to be able to heal from just about anything.”
“Sweet Jesus,” said Derrick. “It’s like comic books are coming to life.”
“Yeah,” the detective chuckled ruefully. “I’ve got a feeling things are just going to get worse.”
Derrick nodded slowly. Venym said he was getting paid by someone. That meant there were going to be more like him … psychos with powers and abilities that put them a cut above those who protected and served … maybe even some with powers greater than his. After all, he knew from that fight with Venym that, as powerful as he was, he was hardly invincible. The detective was right – things were going to get worse. What he did next would count for a lot … maybe everything.
“By the way, this glowing guy,” said the detective, breaking Derrick from his thoughts, “did he say anything about where he came from or who he was?”
Derrick sighed. “Yeah,” he said. “He said his name is Lightning Shard, and he’s here to help.”
The detective wrote one last thing in his notebook and closed it. He got up to leave and said, “I hope he means it Mr. Lucious. Thanks for your time.”
“Sure thing.” And yes, I do mean it. He watched the detective leave and asked the doctor for a phone.
Rebecca hung up and immediately dialed another number. After two rings, someone picked up. “Thompson, here.”
“It’s Gannistov. Something has happened to your son.”