An Habitual Offender, Chapter 9
I Will Fight No More
The storm had been raging for hours now, so it must have been very late and the night was as black as black could be. The lighting bolts appeared puny against the storm, their bright light diminished by all the wind and driving rain. The lanai had not lasted very long, and the tree that they had clung to did not last much longer. He’d been separated from Carolyn then, and he had no idea as to her fate. He’d been thrown up against another tree by a great wave that struck him as he staggered across the beach calling her name. He’d climbed the tree to escape the rising water, but the wind had grown ever stronger and his perch was being tossed about.
Another bolt of lightning struck somewhere nearby. It was bright and sizzled its’ way through the rain and into the jungle. The tree began to sway ever more violently and he lost his grip and began to fall…
His face hit the ground with a hard crack. It was totally dark except for the flashes of blue light. He rolled over on to his back and rubbed his jaw. The flashing blue light meant something now and he pulled himself off of the floor and staggered towards the machine. He grabbed his right wristband with his left hand and shoved it against the electrodes.
Three strong surges of energy entered his wristband before whatever drove the arc gave out. Now the only light was the faint glow of the bands. He checked the gauge capsule and saw that it read a touch below three quarters full. Excellent.
He remembered the hood over his head and he reached up and tore it apart. Then he pulled his cowl off and gave his scalp a good scratching. He put the cowl back in place and tried to stand up. His stiff left leg began to spasm now and he was distracted for a few moments. He could hear some rumblings, faint and distant like thunder, or perhaps explosions. Something must be going on if they’ve cut the power. Who cut the power? The Big O did say that help was on the way.
When his leg felt better he looked towards the door. The nature of his powers gave him a limited form of infra-red vision, but the room was cold and there wasn’t much to see. He groped his way towards the door, counting his steps and comparing them with what he’d heard earlier when Sandra – Icebird was pacing about. When he reached the door he began feeling around. He tried drawing some of the heat out of the metal but there wasn’t enough for this trick either.
Sounds continued to make their way through the walls and he was certain that there had to be some sort of commotion out there somewhere. Now, vaults are designed to keep people out, not in, right? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? He decided to have a go at the upper hinge. He moved his hands around on the wall and made a guess at where it might be. He willed his left hand to grow hot and marked the spot on the wall. Then he willed his left wristband to glow and he walked back across the room, passing between the bits of the restraining device and reaching the far wall. The restraint platform was close to the wall. Good.
He pushed his right foot against the wall, then grabbed the pillars of the device with his hands. He pulled himself up and braced his left foot against the wall. He charged up his wristbands for blasting. He shoved himself back, then released his hands and pushed off from the wall, summoning full flying thrust from his boots. He was halfway across the room before he could take another breath. His glowing red hand print was looming large before him. He shouted at the top of his lungs, screaming at the wall, telling it to yield. He fired both bands at once, just a couple of centimeters from the wall. Concrete shattered, rebar melted, knuckles broke. He drove himself into the wall with all his might, ignoring the pain in his hands. His arms collapsed as his head hit the wall, and everything went black.
He opened his eyes a moment later and cursed the pain in his hands so loudly that he almost did not notice the draft across his face. Moving air, perhaps a bit fresher than what he’d been breathing for the last… however long. He waited for his hands to regenerate before he did anything else.
He could see a bit of light now, a faint source off in the distance somewhere. Go towards the light. He smiled. There was just enough room for him to squeeze through. The wall where the upper hinge was mounted had given way. Well, I’m pretty sure this is good news.
Now his hands felt good enough to use again. He punched away another couple of chunks of concrete and forced himself into the opening. He dropped to the floor and rolled himself onto his hands and knees. He heard a noise and caught a glimpse of a bot scurrying around a corner. He was willing to bet that the bot knew the way out, so he followed it. He was walking slowly, taking his time, stretching out his stiff and sore muscles.
Presently he came to a door. A basic, industrial-type, steel fire door. He punched it out of its’ frame and into the hallway beyond with a hard right.
He continued down the hallway and saw a staircase/ramp combination. Hmm, up is always the way out of a shithole, isn’t it? He climbed the stairs and felt more rumblings under his feet. The lights went out, then came back on dimly as the emergency batteries took over. There was a door at the top of the stairs. He took it out with a quick left jab. Up another level. The next door fell to a front kick. Turning back kick. Flying leap.
He was enjoying himself as he made his way through the complex. At the very least, he would continue to cause mayhem until they put him down. Why don’t I just bust out of here and go home?
He found himself in a large, open area, possibly for moving freight or storing equipment. He saw a steel double door, and when he looked more closely he was sure that he could see daylight seeping through the cracks around the edges. At last! He smiled and raised his right fist. A coruscating nimbus of energy issued from his wristband, covering his hand and nearly obscuring it. He took three running steps towards the door and struck the center post with all his might. The post and doors caved in, tearing off of the hinges and frame. He watched the pieces scatter across the tarmac outside.
The bright light hurt his eyes but the fresh air certainly smelled good. He took a couple of cautious steps towards the doorway. He could hear sounds of machinery. He blinked a few more times and began to be able to see. He saw a lot of bots. There was a sound in the air, something familiar. Then he remembered. That particular sound could only be made by six jet engines receding into the distance. They were okay, and they got me out of there. Thanks, guys, now go home.
The bots were formed into two lines leading away from the door. He could see Icebird off to the left, standing on top of some sort of tank or self-propelled cannon. As best as he could tell they were all looking at him. Waiting for him to run the gantlet.
He smiled and cracked his knuckles. Yeah… Fuck Yeah! He launched himself towards the bots, both fists blazing as he flew down the line. The first dozen or so were toasted before they could react. Then the others began firing at him. Nothing too powerful as the stuff was more or less bouncing off of him. He wasn’t taking much damage. Perhaps they’d been able to take out some of the better bots during their first attack.
The bots closed in on him now and he began swinging at them. He grabbed one by its’ arm and threw it behind him. Then he kicked another, and it took out two or three more before losing momentum. A long, sustained blast from his left wrist cleared a path towards the big ugly thing that Icebird was riding.
The bots reacted to this by falling back. Okay, so I’ve survived the first round. Now it’s time for the heavy artillery. He looked up at her and saw that she was running cold again. Great. I’d rather face Shockwave. He planted his feet firmly and grinned wickedly at her. He raised his right hand, palm up, and flexed his index finger to make the ‘come hither’ sign.
The cannon fired, striking him square in the chest. He staggered back a couple of steps before regaining his balance. Yeah, good one. The first blow I’ve really felt since we started. Nothing I can’t handle. He walked back to his original position and prepared for the next shot.
Icebird was waiting for him, her face expressionless. The machine hid the lower part of her body and he couldn’t see her hands, presumably because she was working the controls. He heard the click of the trigger button and the cannon fired again.
The part of him that was attempting to perform a quantitative analysis of the relative intensities vis a vis the two bursts failed as he had blacked out somewhere along the way. What he experienced was the sensation of being crumpled in a heap with broken cinderblocks and concrete falling down about him. Some water was trickling down from somewhere, perhaps rainwater or a broken pipe. He wanted to crawl away, to hide, to run, to escape the all-consuming fear that he felt. And he was doing a piss-poor job of it as he now realized that he’d only managed to cover a few inches in his headlong flight across the ground.
He stopped trying to move and lay there, gasping for breath. Presently he became aware of the sound of the cannon, that buzzy thrumming of a powerful electromagnetic field. He heard the frequency and amplitude increase. Aw, hell, she’s turned it up again. There’s no way I can handle a stronger blast.
Another chunk of concrete fell on his back and he cried out in pain, then rolled over on to his side. I can’t do this… I just can’t do this anymore. She’s got me. She’s got me. Well, that is what she wanted. I give up. She can kill me… then it all ends. If I’m dead she probably won’t care about the others. Then he sighed, letting out a great sad breath as tears welled up in his eyes. And I just met a really nice girl.
He managed to pull himself on to his hands and knees. He crawled away from the debris and found the remains of a column that he could use to pull himself up. Eventually he got his feet under him and tried to control his wobbly knees. His left arm was a bit numb and he wondered if he’d gone through all of this only to die of a heart attack. What a crappy way to go.
No, I won’t die that way. She can kill me, but damn it all I’m going to die on my feet! He took a few shaky steps towards the cannon. Yeah…Fuck Yeah! His strength failed him and he had to lean against a steel lattice column. He pulled his cape around his left side and looked over at the cannon and her. She was grinning at him the same way Shockwave had done just before Kevin had fried that ugly-ass face. He was so angry now that he forgot how badly he was hurting and took the few steps back to his original position.
“Shoot straight, you sorry son of a bitch! I’LL SEE YOU IN HELL!”
The cannon fired, and his fear won out. He fell on to his right knee and threw his left hand up in front of his face. The beam struck squarely on his wristband. AAAHHH! Too much too much too much too much! His eyes were burning, his eardrums were bulging out, his every nerve was on fire from the energy coursing through his body. He felt plasma spewing out of his mouth, a bizarre combination of lavender and green. His eyesight began to fail. What do I do? What did that guy do? The giant spaceman monster fighter in that old Japanese telly show he watched when he was a kid? Why am I thinking about shit like that now?
He raised his right hand and pushed his left hand away from his face, wristbands dangerously close together. He raised the fingers of his right hand, stiffening them into the knife hand posture used in asian martial arts. The energy flowed through him and out of his right hand, a mighty beam that surged back towards the cannon.
There was some sort of energy shield around the cannon, but it failed after about a second. Then he watched, from some perspective other than his own, as the beam chewed into the body of the machine. A moment later it began to explode, an expanding debris cloud moving ever so slowly through space and time. The concussion eventually reached him, and then he was hurled backwards across the tarmac and into the welcoming arms of darkness.
21:48 Mission Elapsed Time. He opened his eyes and determined that he was in a pile of wreckage. He gazed at the sky for a moment and saw that the sun had not changed position, so he couldn’t have been out for very long. He pushed the junk off of him and sat up. Jagged metal poked him in the butt and he forced himself to his feet. He looked around, and saw that he was alone.
He surveyed the area and determined that he was near the edge of a tank farm. He thought he could see the reactor building off in the distance, some two or three kilometers away. Smoke was rising from the building. Must be why the power went out.
He decided it was time to get a better look at things. He launched himself into the air, but he immediately felt very weak and nauseous. He gave up trying to fly and landed on top of one of the tanks. He waited for his head to stop spinning, then he began to walk around the perimeter of the tank roof, looking around, pondering his next move.
Eventually he found himself facing the reactor building again. He couldn’t see any bots or planes or people. He was feeling better now, and was thinking about trying to fly again. He looked up at the sky, hoping against hope that he might catch a glimpse of the jet.
Two frigid fists slammed into the underside of his chin, throwing him ass over teacups across the roof of the tank. Icebird rocketed into the sky above him, almost too fast too see. She did a perfect back flip and reversed her course. She dove down at him, both fists firing pale green and lavender beams, a vision of the goddess of all hells as painted by Georgia O’Keefe’s evil twin.
He flung himself down and to his left, hitting the roof and avoiding most of the blasts. She passed so close over him that the toe of one of her boots struck the back of his thigh. The colder than cold flying jets from her feet washed across his legs, burning his flesh. Cold. His worst enemy. He was poorly insulated and cold could hurt him and sap his strength.
He tried to stand up but could not move his left foot. He looked at his his foot and saw that it was encased in ice holding him fast to the tank. His first thought was to fly and blast his way out of the ice, but he stopped himself. I could be on top of half a billion liters of goddess knows what! I can’t do that!
He began to beat on the ice with his right fist, breaking off too-small bits each time. He began pounding harder and the rusted roof began to shake. He kept looking around. Where was she? She could have had him by now.
That could only mean… she was still toying with him. She had all the time in the world and he didn’t have squat. She was always better than me. His fist began to slow down. She was always better than me.
After another couple of strikes his foot broke free. He crawled across the tank roof and staggered to his feet. He felt totally crappy and wished that he could just quit, give up, give in. He took a breath and shook his head to clear it. No. No, I will not quit. She can kill me but not because I quit. I will not give her that satisfaction.
He heard a familiar swooshing sound behind him. He turned around and saw her landing on the far side of the tank. He had some of his strength back and he forced himself to walk towards her. He raised a fist and tried to charge the wristband, but he was so scared that he couldn’t quite maintain the necessary focus.
Fine. Fine. So we’ll do this the brute force way. She was standing there with her hands on her hips, waiting for him. When he got close enough he struck her hard on the jaw with his left hand. She leaned back with the punch and retuned with a left of her own.
The blow was ferocious and it spun him around. She kicked him hard in the back and he fell down. He hit the tank and rolled, then forced himself back on to his feet. She was right there and gave him an uppercut and a round house, spinning him through a couple of circles before he went down again.
His head was swimming now and he couldn’t stand. He raised a foot and blasted her in the chest, checking her forward advance for a moment. He got up just in time for her to begin slugging him again. The blows weren’t quite so hard and he was able to stay on his feet. I guess I got one in on her. But why am I not long since dead?
21:53 Mission Elapsed Time.
Take the stick, Fiona. I’ve done my part for now.
The ship lurched as Serenity released the controls. Fiona grabbed the stick and leveled the jet out. She checked the altimeter and saw that they were just above eight thousand meters. They were heading north, towards Belarus. Fiona banked into a slow turn to starboard. “Barney! I’m flying the plane now!”
“Great! I think.”
“What do we do now?”
“Umm –” He checked his screen again. “I’ve got a lock on him.”
That was enough for Fiona. The turn became a wing-over and she dove down, shoving the throttles all the way forward. “Have we got lasers?”
Barney had to work his console for a moment. “Only fifty per cent power. Nothing’s had time to recharge.”
“I’ll take what I can get. I’ll run her down if I have to.”
Barney had no doubt that she would try that. But before he could say anything, he heard Hanna’s voice.
“You go, girl!”
Fiona stopped grinding her teeth for a moment and smiled.
While his mind was otherwise occupied, he had been retreating across the tank as she struck him again and again, each one more painful than having one’s face shoved deep into dry ice. He was certain that some part of his body would freeze and shatter before she was done with him. She had that wild-eyed look that Dr. Shockwave had in the later encounters. In a way that was good, because Shockwave had always been lousy at unarmed combat.
She stopped hitting him. Why? He looked around and saw that he was at the edge of the roof. Nowhere to go. She swung at him again, but rather slowly. He struck her right hand with the back of his, deflecting the blow. Then he twisted his right hand around and grabbed her wristband. Ah. His hand would freeze and burn off, that was what he’d been waiting for. The pain he felt from the cold thing was almost unbearable.
She bellowed in fury and tried to pull her hand free. He gripped her even tighter, wishing that he could just crush the damn band and end it all. He pushed her arm down so that he could see her face. Something about it made him think that she looked fatigued. He couldn’t see the inside of her wrist, so he had no idea as to what amount of energy she might have remaining. Her eyes froze, then thawed. It was scary watching it happen so close in front of him.
She tried to slap him with her left hand, but again he was able to block her and grab the wrist. They were well entangled now. He hadn’t been quick enough to follow through and she hadn’t tried. Great, so I’ve caught hold of a ticking bomb and there’s no wires to cut. No wires…
She must have been shouting at him for a while before he realized it. “I’ll kill you! KILL YOU!” She was completely wild now, and he found himself remembering that Sandra had a hellacious temper of her own. Too bad I’ll never see her again. I owe her an apology. She hadn’t stopped shouting yet. “You nobody! You loser! You –” Here she stopped and began looking around at the sky. Searching for something?
22:09 Mission Elapsed Time. Fiona pulled out of the dive and they soared across the tank farm at just above roof level. Barney checked his scanner for the direction and looked out the windscreen. What he saw made him jump out of his seat for a better look. He leaned over the pilot’s chair and put his face as close to the glass as possible. Oh, this was bad.
He took a chance, and looked over her right shoulder. There, at about ten o’clock he saw Serenity pulling out of her dive. The plane was rolled a bit to port, and he could already see Barney’s horrified face through the glass. Then he saw Fiona in the copilot’s seat. He sighed, and felt the tears welling up in his eyes. And I just met a really nice girl.
Barney did his best to sound calm. “Fiona, we need altitude and we need it now.”
Fiona studied his face for a moment, then she reached over and put her finger on the afterburner control. “You’d best be right about this, Barney. Now sit down.” Barney flung himself into his seat and began strapping himself in. Fiona lit the ‘burners and pulled Serenity up into a steep ascent.
Hanna reached over and touched Barney’s arm. “What did you see?”
He was having a hard time looking at her. “I saw something in his face that scared me.”
The jet’s afterburners ignited and the plane pulled up almost vertical and began to climb. The sound of the engines began to fade and he turned his attention back to Icebird. He was feeling rather strange, not exactly all there. Perhaps fatigue was setting in for him as well. Part of him could see the tableaux from a perspective outside of his body. The two of them struggling, arms all twisted together. Before, we’d been left hand, right hand. Now we’re crossed. It’s – he sucked in a breath in surprise – it’s the old reverse polarity trick, isn’t it? A sad smile came on to his face. I can end this… I can end this now.
He gazed down on her face, wanting to remember that little nose and the freckles, and that lock of hair that never would stay out of her eyes (though this was covered by her cowl). Her eyes could be the most beautiful shade of blue when she was in a good mood. Certainly he wasn’t expecting that now, but she did still look strong and powerful. Such a waste. Then he heard something he hadn’t expected to ever hear again.
“Kevin?” Sandra’s voice. He looked into her eyes. Sandra’s eyes.
The corners of his mouth turned up just a bit. “I think we have to go now.”
She stared at him for a moment, mouth agape. Then she closed it and nodded just a bit. “Hurry, before he comes back.” He began to push their wristbands closer together. Sandra threw herself towards him and planted her lips on his the moment before all the bands made contact, completing the short circuit.
They went nova.
22:11, Mission Elapsed Time. Barney saw it on his screen. “Brace yourselves, everybody! Here comes the big one!” The expanding concussion wave was gaining rapidly on them. They were at maximum thrust already, so they were just going to have to ride this one out. Fiona pitched the jet’s nose down and began trying to get to straight and level.
The stern went up, then the whole plane flipped end over end a couple of times as the force blew past them. Fiona chopped the throttles and began struggling to regain some semblance of control. The gyros were screaming and the wings were moaning again as the jet tumbled across the sky. She used up the rest of the gas in the reaction control system quickly. Then she was shouting at the top of her lungs, demanding that the jet right itself immediately.
22:45, Mission Elapsed Time. Fiona checked her turn and bank before she looked over her shoulder at Barney again. “Barney, we’ve been circling this smoking hole for half an hour now. We haven’t much fuel left.”
“I know, I know.” He hadn’t moved from his screen the entire time. “It’s incredible! Everything’s just – Plain. Gone.” He worked his keyboard for a bit before speaking again. “The radiation’s gone, the reactor’s gone… almost all of the original complex is gone. I keep getting these weird hot spots, but I can’t resolve them. Just a few minutes more.”
Fiona couldn’t think of anything that she would want to do less at this point. She could give him maybe fifteen more minutes before they had to get serious about returning to Munich. I need to get away from all this…
“Fiona. Put her down. Quick!” Barney tried to jump up, but his straps held him tight. He smiled a bit and began looking around at the group. “I’ve figured it out. He’s down there, but something’s interfering with his energy signature!”
Fiona had the plane dropping vertically towards the ground. Her heads-up display activated, showing her the target area. She tried to vector the jet over there as best as she could. A minute later they were on the ground, clouds of dust and smoke still interfering with their view.
Fiona hit the airlock controls and jumped out of her seat, running quickly towards the rear of the cabin. Hanna was the second one into the airlock. Fiona had opened both doors and she slid down the ladder to the ground. The two ladies started looking around the area.
Barney came down a few moments later, followed by John. Barney pulled out a scanner and began waving it about. He pointed it in a direction. “Thirty meters that way.” He started picking his way through the rubble and the others followed. The wind took some of the dust away and they saw that they were on the edge of a modestly sized crater.
He was laying down there in the bottom, clad in the tattered remains of a pair of jeans. He’d changed back to normal form. They could see the gold and silver bracelets on his wrists. He looked plenty beat up, but he’d regenerated well enough to survive.
Barney looked at Kevin, then nodded his head. “I’m beginning to understand why the readings were off.” He took the last few steps into the bottom of the crater. He picked up Kevin’s right hand and tried to check his pulse. He looked more closely at Kevin’s wrist. The bracelet had changed, the silver band was now shot through with gold, in the very sort of whirls and swirls pattern that one would see in images from a cloud chamber.
Kevin jerked his hand out of Barney’s grip and threw the arm over his face. His lips began moving, but Barney had to lean down to hear him. “Too bright – can’t see.”
Fiona fell to her knees beside them and pulled her helmet off. She threw it aside without looking and carefully slid her hands under Kevin’s head. “Can you move your legs as well?”
He sort of floundered about for a bit. “I can feel them. They hurt.”
“It’s a start. How are your eyes?”
He moved his arm down a bit and opened his eyelids just a bit. The light still hurt and he started blinking rapidly, his eyes tearing from the light. “Ugh.” After a time he was able to stop blinking so much. Blurry shapes filled his vision. He closed his eyes, opened them again, and now he could more or less see properly. He could see Fiona’s face, turned round the wrong way. He was fairly certain that Barney was in his field of vision as well.
She was really pretty, and the tears steaming down her face did not detract from her looks at all. She bent down and kissed him on the forehead. “We thought you were gone.” Then she looked up at Barney. “Do you think it’s safe to move him?”
Barney shrugged. “I don’t see why not. At least he won’t be heavy this time.”
Hanna took a step forward as she was thinking about helping get Kevin off the ground. She looked at his face and stopped, puzzled about something that felt different. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what she was seeing. She looked him over and saw that his bracelets had changed, but that wasn’t it.
“Kevin!” Fiona’s voice was loud, and carried enough shock and surprise to cover for everyone. “Your eyes! They’ve turned hazel!”
“Oh, my…” Kevin looked over at Hanna for a moment, and smiled. Then he turned his gaze towards the sky, seeing somewhere, or perhaps someone, else. “I once said that she’d always be a part of me.”
Hanna waved arms at John and Barney. “C’mon, boys – let’s get him up.” She looked at Kevin’s eyes for a moment, then nodded. “It’s not so bad.” Hanna was smiling now. “It makes him look a bit more… mysterious.”
Fiona looked up at her. “Mysterious? This one?” Then the two ladies burst out laughing.
An Habitual Offender by
Kevin L. Corridon is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. s