Shimmer #12 – Escape (Part 2)
Gabby raised an eyebrow curiously at Jorge’s arrival. “You went grocery shopping? We had beans in the jet.”
Looming over the cast iron pot the newly returned member of the Young Sentinels considered the requirements of his specialty dish, including the unopened cans he held in the paper shopping bag he’d brought with him.
“Remember that time we were fighting Gremlin and he shot us out of the sky with that… ionic sub-whatsamathingy,” he explained. “You know, when he blew a hole right in the side of the jet and we lost cabin pressure until we could land.”
“Yeah,” Jorge groaned. “Nobody thought to refill our storage compartment after we cleaned it out.”
Gabby made a face like she was going to be sick. “I remember that. It was… absolutely disgusting. Ugh, it was wretched.”
“It was. Anyway, that’s why I had to race all the way to the next town for our supplies. Do you have any idea how hard it is to run at the speed of sound while wearing hiking sandals? I’m amazed that they managed to hold together all the way there and back.”
“You know your costume was right here any time you needed it,” she pointed out, but the speedster shook his head.
“No costumes. How bad would it be if one of the team leaders couldn’t live up to his own example?”
Gabby continued to dwell on the foul imagery conjured in her mind of splattered beans, exploded vegetables, smeared fruit and more left to rot for a week in a coffin like locker while their jet was being repaired. “I swear, I will never forget that… ugh… for as long as I live.”
“Careful,” Jorge warned. “You’ll put me off my food. Speaking of…”
“I’ll go get the others,” she said and made her way to the water’s edge.
* * * *
I shivered in fear. Of all the bad ideas in the history of bad ideas this… was definitely one of them. Still, it wasn’t like I could complain, because for some stupid reason I decided to go along with it. Why? I don’t know. Why does anyone do anything?
“This seems kind of… I don’t know,” I muttered nervously. “Are you sure the water’s deep enough? What if I fall on some rocks and break my neck?”
Mark smiled while the others snickered and cradled me on the palm of his very powerful hand. “It’s okay. We checked. The water out there is really deep. Nothing’s going to happen to you, I promise.”
“Yeah, Glimmer Girl. It’s tons of fun!” Ari grinned enthusiastically. He was the last one to be launched courtesy of Herculena, and after coming down like a boulder off a high cliff he rose to the surface squealing and laughing.
Clinging to Mark’s wrist I once more considered my predicament. “What I’m trying to say is that this seems really dangerous, like walking into open traffic dangerous.”
“No more dangerous than high diving,” he reasoned, “and I won’t throw you that hard. Promise.”
Caught up in that innocent smirk of his I was pulled by a twang of guilt. What kind of an idiot was I? The last thing I wanted to do was spoil their good time. Besides, I was a freakin’ superhero. Who on earth was I to talk about dangerous?
“Ten points says you can’t skip her over the water,” Herculena quipped.
“No!” I squealed in terror. What was she thinking!?
Immediately Mark lowered me down and took my hand. “Hey, settle. It’s okay. If anything goes wrong, and it won’t, you can just go into hard light form and fly to safety, yeah? No harm, no foul.”
“Hard light form is cheating,” Herculena added, but whatever. She was just trying to rattle my nerves. That was her idea of a good time, I supposed.
Clutching my legs tightly under my arms I rolled into a perfect cannonball and readied myself for launch. Somehow shooting into the air always seemed easier when my body had no actual mass and could reform again in the unlikely event of going splat. I know: a superhero scared of falling, who’da thunk it?
My stomach turned as I was propelled into the cold wind at even height with the treetops. I dared not open my eyes for a single second or unclasp my knees until I hit the water. What a rush! Feeling the bubbles climbing my back I figured out which way was up and darted to the surface to take that first relieving breath.
Okay, so it more fun than I thought, but that was just me. Somewhere deep inside I still had that inner wimp that gave me pause whenever I took a chance.
A short distance away I could hear the other Young Sentinels hoot at my successful landing. Basking in the shallow water by the shore I could make out Mark’s shape standing with his hands on his hips in an impressed tone. From where I was floating I was glad he couldn’t see me blush.
Gabby walked up to the water’s edge and called out. “Come on, GG! It’s time to get some eats!”
I forced myself back upstream toward the others. Food sounded incredibly good, and if stuffing myself meant not being tossed around for the next hour or so then so be it.
Suddenly I felt the water tremble as a cold current flowed beneath, making me shiver and motivating me to the shore even quicker than before. The more anxious and paranoid part of me imagined fictional creatures from the black lagoon lurking below, and though it made me wary I dismissed it quickly as nothing.
Though my fears were realized when something fixed itself tightly to my ankle and pulled me below the surface before I could draw oxygen. The rational part of me made a note: next time listen to my paranoia. The rest of me: AAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!
Gods, what was happening to me!? I fumbled and tried to scream but there was no air in my lungs. The force concealed in the darkness pulled me further from the salvation of the moon’s glow and to the cold floor of the river to suffocate.
Yeah, right. Without even thinking my body burst into fiery licks revealing the face of the water-dwelling predator.
It recoiled in shock while its meaty claw gripped tighter and drew me further down. Blast after blast didn’t faze it so much but made it scream. Whatever the thing was it was tougher than any gators I’d ever met.
I caught a glimpse of its bleached silver scales and a blood red eye that sent ice through my veins. Through the desperate tundra of bubbles it was hard to make out anything else apart from the glistening teeth stretching wide from mouth to jaw.
From the surface above a man crashed like a meteor into the monster’s ribs forcing it to release its death grip. With a bit of distance I could make out a shape: it was huge!
With all the force of a rocket behind him Noble tore away with the monster down along with the current. If anyone could match the creature it would have surely been him. Momentarily stunned I could only watch as they faded into the darker waters before I finally resurfaced to gain my bearings.
“Glimmer Girl! Are you alright!?”
Gabby, Jorge and Ari stood at the shoreline while Brent and Herculena dove in fearlessly.
“There’s a…” I tried to explain, “thing!”
“What kind of a thing?” Jorge pressed desperately.
I shook my head not knowing how to answer. “We have to get after it. Whatever it was doesn’t belong out here. It would have killed me if… if…”
From the near distance we heard an inhuman cry. Noble had either landed a blow or been felled. The group didn’t waste any time chasing after it and neither did I. After all it was our job to look out for each other when one was in need, especially when dealing with the terrible unknown.
The only light that could be seen for miles shone from either my hard light body or the moon above. In the empty wilderness the monster had the darkness at its advantage, or at least it did during those times Noble charged off by himself.
We found him laid out upon a rock with Brent by his side. Poor Mark. His arm was clutching his gut, with a stream of blood shimmering as it trickled into a stony pocket. I powered down and sat by his side, pressing my hands down upon his to help keep the blood inside.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” he winced.
“Just relax, guy,” Brent said. “We’re all here looking out for you. Don’t panic.”
I gasped. “Oh my gods, are you alright?”
Shaking between breaths Mark forced a smile. “Trust me, I’ve had a lot worse. Besides, healing powers, remember? I’ll have this patched up in no time.”
I pressed down harder, willing with all my might for him to be okay. Whatever fear I might have had of touching him before was dispelled by my fears for his safety. By the smile on his face he really seemed to appreciate the gesture.
Jorge scanned the darkened bushes. “Where did Herculena go?”
“Uh,” Brent explained nervously, “she went charging off after whatever that was, said something about spilling blood for glory and honor.”
That was Herculena, predictable as always. Trust her to go off half cocked. For her general plan of attack there was no real thinking required, meaning the rest of us, particularly the pack leaders Gabby and Jorge were the ones stuck picking up the pieces.
“I’m going after her,” the speedster muttered. “Ari, you don’t have your sonar equipment packed, do you?”
“It’s part of my standard field pack,” the junior cadet replied. Already he’d pulled from his backpack a pair of hover discs with which to surf through the air and an orange helmet that, as stupid as it looked, connected him instantly with the personal network of satellites he always bragged about.
“You’re going to have to help me look,” Jorge told him grimly. “I’ll race ahead, you stay close to the others. I don’t want anyone else trying to handle this alone. Got it?”
Before even having the chance to protest Ari, now the Gadgeteer, was left standing in the misty spray left by Jorge darting across the river. Moments later he hovered above the ground and started on a similar path with a slow, metallic hum.
“Be back soon,” he told the others, particularly Brent who gave him a brotherly nod of affirmation.
Meanwhile my attention was squarely on the wide open gash being examined by Gabby. Poor, poor Mark. He had to be in so much pain.
“Wish I knew what that thing was,” he murmured. “I am not looking forward to round two.”
For that matter neither was I. Whatever we’d found was no woodland creature, that was for sure. Who knew what kind of danger we were in that very moment.
“Are you… okay?” he winced.
I blushed. Even in his current state he was concerned for those around him.
“Fine,” I said. “Just fine.”
He smiled and leaned back. Chivalrous jackass. It could have been any one of us he saved yet still he took the time to make me smile.
“Rest up, hero,” I told him. “You’re going to need it.”
* * * *
Jorge ran through the night, fighting his way through twigs and branches faster than most men ever could. Though the monster had left a solid trail it was still difficult to follow in such thick roughage with little visibility to aid him.
He hadn’t yet laid eyes on his enemy, but was certain that he’d know it when he saw it. After all how many animals call a forest home that could take out two of the strongest young heroes he’d ever known?
“Herculena,” he called out. She was the reason he was out there after all. No response was immediately forthcoming meaning he’d have to venture just that little bit further.
Every so often he would find a heavy footprint, stop, listen and feel it out. It had to be close: he could still smell its rank odor. Running his fingers through the freshly upturned soil the speedster silently prayed that he wasn’t within its notice and that he wouldn’t be the next one to confront the monster head on.
Casting his mind back to the camp he thought of the Gadgeteer. If his tracking systems were working he couldn’t have been far behind. A part of him wished that the fledgling Sentinel wouldn’t catch up and that something else might snatch his attention.
In his head he cursed Herculena’s running off. Funny thing was it was in Gabby’s voice. Had he become so used to the two of them fighting that he couldn’t imagine them being at loggerheads with anyone else?
“Herculena!” he ventured again nervously. Making that much noise in the midst of hidden danger was a heavy risk, but one he had to take.
Suddenly there was a noise, something big and lumbering passing clumsily through the bushes. Jorge thought better of advancing and backed away slowly. Any noise could spook the beast, and even at his speeds a fall in the dark would make him easy prey.
A twig snapped, the monster charged, and Jorge did what he did best: ran. Rocketing blindly through the darkness his only point of reference was the brutal grunting at his tail. He had to make some distance: if only there was a clearing somewhere…
Not far behind him the monster barreled on, striking at the earth with fists like boulders, sending tremors through the ground and leaving Jorge struggling to stay upright.
It took only a single ill step to send the speedster rolling. An unseen dip in the terrain at high velocity had him leave the earth and fall aimlessly into the trees, hitting branch after branch until gravity pulled him home again.
The plunge had taken a lot out of him, but he was resilient. It wouldn’t be long until he was able to recover completely and start again for safety. The monster, however, was still close, and by the time he was able to get back on his feet it might have been too late.
As the light broke through the cracks in the treetops Jorge caught sight of the pale reptilian skin matching the same dull silver as that of the satellite above. The shadow trailing it was familiar also and revealed to the speedster the true nature of the thing stalking him.
“Oh no,” he gasped. “Not you… anyone… but you…”
Suddenly there were lights. Small and red, like tiny flames dancing in the shadows. They were eerie as they were suspicious, as were the silhouettes to which they were attached. A new threat approached, their predatory steps looming perilously over the half-conscious hero. The monster in the woods was not alone.
* * * *
“We need to get you back to camp,” Gabby insisted for the hundredth time.
Mark, on the other hand, insisted he could do it on his own. “I’m really fine,” he said while stubbornly pulling himself upright. Like a typical jock he couldn’t stand being seen as weak even if it meant turning down help when he needed it. Were all guys that stubborn? Watching him resist Gabby’s generosity made me wonder a moment why I felt so drawn to him in the first place.
“Come on, Mark,” I told him. “You’ve got nothing to prove to us. We’re all heroes here. We can all carry the world on our shoulders. The point is you don’t have to, especially after nearly having your guts torn out by…”
I thought about the creature again. That could have been me it nearly tore in half. The thing is I wouldn’t have recovered nearly so easily. There went my swimming aspirations for the next fifty years.
Once more Mark caught my gaze and left me hypnotized. “Can’t argue with that logic,” he said with a goofy grin and threw an arm around Gabby’s neck. “But seriously, I’m fine. The wound is healed. I just need a few minutes to… Brent, dude, are you okay?”
Brent shook his head. Whatever was out there really had him unsettled. “Huh? Uh, yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Just worried about the others is all.”
It was what we were all thinking. Sooner or later we were going to find them and after that all hell would break loose: that was assuming the monster didn’t find us first. Still, better we cross paths with it than some other poor soul that might have been camping out there, right?
Our attention snapped when we heard the hard scraping of metal and stone. Drenched from head to toe Herculena strode boldly toward us with the oversized weapon she was wielding left to drag lazily along the shoreline. Somehow her return seemed premature.
“Whatever tried to snatch you, Glimmer Girl, it’s gone now,” she said. “Must have scared it off. Can’t say I blame it. Mortal or monster, the last scion of Olympus is more than a match for any creature.”
Gabby frowned with deep concern. “Did you see it?” she asked.
“No,” Herculena replied slightly irritated that she felt she had to repeat herself.
“Ari and Jorge are still out there looking.”
“Well they won’t find anything,” the demi-goddess scoffed. “I don’t care what tricks gadget boy has up his sleeve. If I can’t find that brute then neither of them will either. Whatever danger there was has since passed.”
Marching until she was square with Herculena’s chin Gabby fixed a hard grimace up to the unfazed teen. Funny, I was getting that feeling again that they were going to have one of their famous rows.
“Even if the monster did run,” the elder hero snorted, “then it’s still only a matter of time before it comes at somebody else, namely someone without powers who wouldn’t last a single second. Therefore, it’s still our responsibility to…”
“We can track it again in the morning,” she replied in turn. “There aren’t enough people in this area to warrant immediate action. In the meantime I hunger for whatever poor substitute for chili you have prepared for the group.”
“You know we probably wouldn’t be in this mess if you hadn’t gone charging in half-cocked,” I chided.
Herculena scowled. “I was simply following the lead of your boyfriend over here, match-stick.”
Mark blushed, but probably not as much as I did. “I… I was only trying to save Glimmer Girl,” he explained bashfully, “but that’s beside the point. We’ve got a monster on the loose and some of our people still roaming the woods. Gabby… what do we do?”
The burden of leadership fell heavily onto Gabby’s shoulders. Usually she was happy to coordinate while following Jorge’s lead, but in his absence it was the role of the first mate to take command and see things through. All of us were behind her, except maybe Herculena, but for some reason she didn’t count. Besides, it was a four against one majority.
“Jorge’s going to hate me for this,” she groaned. “We suit up. Those of you with radios turn them on. Glimmer Girl, since your hard light form doesn’t like technology I’m going to need you to stick to a buddy.”
“I got her,” Mark said before I had the chance to say anything. I just laughed nervously.
“You better be right, Herculena,” Gabby said. “The monster is our second priority. For now we make sure Ari and Jorge get safely back to camp. Hopefully if they’ve found something they’re still in one piece.”
* * * *
Hovering above the earth the Gadgeteer followed closely the path before him. The monster’s trail seemed to follow that of Jorge’s: both were easily seen via the ocular enhancements installed into his helmet.
With a heavy gulp Ari wished that he had his full suit with him. Alone in the woods all he had for protection was a pocket laser, a portable force-field and a few other useful trinkets. These things might have suited the everyday layman fine, but to him it was the bare minimum and next to no match for a giant reptile tearing through the river.
“You shouldn’t have gone off alone,” he told his unseen team leader. “You’re always telling us not to go off alone.”
It was always Jorge’s intention to lead by example. Sometimes that was easier said than done, even for one whose thought process was a hundred times faster than that of your everyday mortal.
As Ari traveled he could feel terror seeping into his pores. It wasn’t the creature he hunted that scared him as much as it was its absence. Out of sight it had the potential to be so much larger and more terrifying than it might have been: at least seeing it face to face he could gauge its power, abilities and possible weaknesses.
And then there was Jorge, his coach, his friend, who might have fallen victim… no. Go! was better than that, smarter. Prone as he was to racing ahead he knew when he was outclassed and would have fallen back if he had to.
“Hey, Jorge, are you out here?” Gadgeteer called. His heart plummeted in his chest when he heard not a human voice but a beastly growl. For a moment he dared to hope it was “Herculena?” but it was in vain.
Scanning for shapes in the rugged landscape he stopped when he noticed what appeared to be bright red fireflies buzzing over the bushes. Though a genius he was it still took him a moment to recognize them for what they were.
A hail of laser fire had the beast screaming as it flew into the woods collapsing trees as it fell. Whoever were behind the triggers had come prepared, though Gadgeteer wasn’t entirely sure if they were themselves friendly.
The hover-pads thrust him away at the limit of their capacity with their pilot muttering “oh god, oh god, oh god” in a panicked whisper. What on earth had he just walked into, and how fast could he get away?
But with the fear there was also curiosity. Steeling his nerves the Gadgeteer rounded behind a large rock and peered to the fiery exchange behind him.
“Oh… my… god…”
In the newly laid clearing the monster stood with silver scales gleaming in the moonlight. Its mass had multiplied as the angry, draconic fin stood proud and tall as it pointed to the attackers. Millions of years of evolution had turned its kind into the perfect hunters, the ultimate predators, while the addition of alien super-sciences advanced those powers even further in that one brutal being.
Gadgeteer gasped, muttering the name of the mighty crell warrior known to all mankind since their brief occupation of Earth not so long ago.
“It’s Konquero,” he whispered to himself. “What’s he doing here!?”
Leaving him no other room for reflection the savage soldier of the stars stood baring fists the size of mailboxes. With no great effort he uprooted a birch tree to use as his weapon. First blood had been taken: he would not give them opportunity for second.
* * * *
TO BE CONTINUED…