I stood in a field of black grass beneath a blood-red sky, the sun swollen and heavy and dim above. In the distance, a dark tower rose into the sky, blacker still than the grasses around it. I stumbled towards it, my footing unsure beneath the concealing grass. Some inexplicable desire drew me towards it. The grass rustled with a bitter wind wind blowing towards the tower as I neared it, a wind which grew stronger and stronger the closer I came. I could see the field rippling, bent inwards towards the pillar of darkness, which I could now make out as being constructed of some dark crystal. A ring bare of grass surrounded the pillar, the wind whipping around me as far too fast for any plant to take root. I stopped outside the circle, which was just wide enough that I could reach out and touch the pillar. At the edge of the circle, the wind turned and flew upwards, pulled up the tower by some mysterious force. When I touched the surface of the pillar, it buzzed under my hands as if it were alive. To my horror, the crystal started to creep up my hands and arms, turning the flesh into dark stone, cold, hard, and immobile. I tried to pull away, but my hands were fixed in place, stuck firmly to the black crystal. A pounding filled my ears as it spread across my body and scintillating hues burst across my vision, illuminating the world in a thousand shades of ultraviolet and infra-red. An intense joy filled me at this transformation and I threw back my head to roar in triumph-
I jerked awake, my heart pounding in my ears. A thin film of sweat chilled me, drying quickly in the air-conditioned apartment. In the darkness, I thought for a moment that I was still on that nightmarish black field, but looking around the room at Devin and Rey’s sleeping forms, I was able to convince myself I was back in reality. I stood up, a sudden urge just to move taking hold of me. I wanted to get out of the apartment, clear my thoughts. The thin blanket that had covered me slid to the floor, collecting in a pile at my feet. I slipped out of the room, careful not to disturb Rey, who was sprawled on the floor between me and the door snoring gently. I stepped into my shoes as I passed through the mudroom and quietly ducked out of the apartment, grabbing one of the extra keys from the basket by the door on my way out. There was a dim, yellowed light in the stairwell that stayed on all the time, so I was easily able to make my way down and out into the night. On a whim, I grabbed the Herokiller I’d stashed outside, figuring it wouldn’t hurt to have it with me. I wandered through the streets, not really caring where I went but paying careful attention to my turnings so I could find my way back. The streets were dark, lit only by intermittent streetlights. It was warm, for Redlake, but that wasn’t saying much. I was nearing a T intersection between several brick buildings when a familiar voice called out through the dark,
“We’ll, look who it is,” I couldn’t place the voice immediately, though the tone was distinctive.
“Who’s there?” I said, spinning on my heel.
“Guess,” said the voice, dripping with sarcasm, and I spotted who was talking. A disheveled homeless man was sitting on the sidewalk, sprawled out on a heap of rags.
“Ooh, you’ve found me,” he said playfully, not stirring from where he laid. I reached into the large cargo pocket of my shorts and drew the Herokiller I’d picked up. “Oh, do go ahead and kill him. It would be a mercy.”
“What do you want, Commandant?” I had figured out who was talking by then; the same person who had spoken through the mercenary at my house.
“Ooh, you rhymed! But what do I want… Oh, you know, money, power, the usual. -But not fame. That would be bad.” He started to laugh. “He he he. It’s so funny how you think you can hurt me.”
I heard soft footsteps approaching behind me and I turned just in time for the baseball bat to catch the gun with a sharp ‘crack,’ sending it flying back towards the wall behind me. The person with the bat I recognized as one of Redlake’s few vigilante heroes: Slugger. His baseball motif was complete with a jersey proclaiming him to be number one on a team called, “Redlake Heroes,” and a stylized baseball cap/umpire mask combination. The stinging in my hand was surprisingly intense, and I started to say something to him -I don’t remember what,- but I was interrupted by a high-pitched whining sound behind me. I threw myself to the side, and a bolt of incandescent purple-white energy blasted through the air above me, illuminating the street and filling the air with the smell of ozone. Slugger staggered back, shouting in surprise as he was blinded by the bolt of light. The capacitors whined as the Herokiller’s batteries poured energy back into them and the coolant system whirred, pumping some strange conductive fluids through its inner workings. There was a beep as Commandant pulled the trigger again.
“Hm. Low charge,” he remarked casually, looking down at the display on the herokiller, then let out an exasperated breath. “I told her to charge it this morning.”
I took the opening and rolled to my feet, the various bruises I’d picked up when I hit the ground stinging furiously. My feet thudded on the pavement as I picked up speed, and Commandant glanced up from fiddling with the gun to see me coming towards him. His eyes widened briefly, and he started to speak,
I slammed into him, knocking him to the ground and the gun fell from his hand, clattering on the concrete sidewalk. I landed on top of him, driving the wind out of him with a ‘whoosh.’ His foul smell rolled over me, stinging my sinuses. I saw Slugger advancing out of the corner of my eye and rolled, grunting with effort as I hauled Commandant around above me. There was another ‘crack!’ when Slugger’s bat caught Commandant in the head as she whipped it around- for now that she was closer, I could see that Slugger was, in fact, a woman. Commandant went limp and rolled off me onto the sidewalk. A moment later, he scrambled on the concrete to get to his feet and stumbled off, leaning heavily on the wall.
Slugger pulled back the bat again, shifting her weight, and I groped to my left where the herokiller had fallen, catching hold of it and whipping it around to point it at Slugger.
“Try anything and I overload the cells and detonate them,” I bluffed quickly on half a lungful of air. “They got just enough juice to blow us both to hell.” I took a brief gasp of breath, heart still racing from exertion. I flipped a switch on the Herokiller I hadn’t noticed before and it whined briefly.
To my surprise, she didn’t call my bluff and backed off, though she still held the bat at the ready.
“Control,” I said once I had caught my breath. “Where are they located?”
“What? I don’t know,” she replied, her voice tight with anger and confusion. “I’ve been trying to find that out for years.”
“Dammit. Anything you have. Those assholes are trying to kill us.”
“Us? There’s more than one of you? Shit.”
I waved off her question.
“I can tell you where a few of their fronts are, but I don’t want to see a gang war breaking out.” She managed to make this sound quite threatening and for a moment I could understand how a baseball-themed superhero could be successful.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. We’re not a gang,” I said. “We’re hardly even-” I trailed off. I wasn’t sure what we were. We weren’t villains, I was reasonably sure of that. Everything we’d done had been in self-defense yet at the same time we weren’t registered with the government as heros. I suppose we fell into the “rogue,” category. Thinking about it, I realized we would need costumes. I didn’t want the attention that public knowledge of my identity would get me. I could hardly manage one person’s scrutiny.
“One’s on Dyson street, that’s the closest, and another on Rook’s road,” she said. “You won’t have any luck with them.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
I pulled the trigger, and instead of the loud ‘thump’ that accompanied the weapon’s more lethal setting, there was a only sharp ‘pop.’ Slugger dropped to the ground, stunned by the nerve-scrambling electromagnetic pulse it generated. The switch I’d flipped was, as I’d hoped, a setting that disables the modifications that had been installed when it had been converted into a herokiller, reducing it to a glorified stun-gun. It also, luckily enough, drew less power like this, so I was able to get off one shot- though now the battery was completely drained and the small display on the butt of the gun winked out.
I pulled myself up off the ground and limped back to Devin’s apartment. That hadn’t been as relaxing and thought-clearing as I’d hoped, but I’d gleaned some good information from it. I had a target.