Shimmer #29 – The Curious Case of Glimmer Gorilla (Part 4)
Even before it started I knew it was a dream. How could it not be? My house and the school auditorium were the same place, and my usual barista, Gloria, was doing tai chi in front of the Taj Mahal.
Searching the crowd I saw my Mom and Dad, dressed in overalls and top hats, laughing and sharing soda in the front row. I had to talk to them – there was something important I had to say.
Next I found myself pushing through a sea of humans. Weird, but I wasn’t bothered by them – talking to the parentals was way more important. When I finally reached them they turned back, smiled, and gestured for me to speak. Every other ear in the room also wanted to know what I had to say.
“Mom, Dad,” I stumbled, “I’m… I’m a gorilla.”
“Don’t be silly, Justin,” they laughed – it was hard to tell who was talking. “Look at your skin. You’re not an animal. You’re just like everyone else.”
That was when I noticed I’d gone into nightmare territory – pink skin! Tiny arms! Hair nowhere but on my head, and even that was an off–tint of yellow. I’d become a monster, just like the rest of freaks in that place. How could they live like this?
I started awake and clasped at my limbs. In the dark I couldn’t tell if I was ape or beast, but the feeling that I was or had been something else was clear as anything could be. The light blinked on and I could see large hands on all limbs, black hair – everything was back to normal, thank the gods.
“Glimmer Girl,” Simon cried before leaping onto the mattress. He poured over me with concern and checked my eyes as though it were something more. “Is everything alright?”
“Just a bad dream,” I told him, pushing him away. I wished he didn’t have to treat me like such a child, but it felt like something I had to put up with – he had the power in this dynamic, much as I didn’t like it.
“Is there anything to eat around here?”
He pointed to the makeshift kitchenette. There were the basics – bread, peanut butter, jelly, sealed cups of instant ramen, and a few other things like beef jerky and a bag of apples. Overall there was nothing substantial, but at least it wouldn’t spoil quickly.
Simon dropped his head in shame. “I am sorry. That is all I could find,” he said. “Food is difficult to come by when you are hunted.”
“It’s plenty. Thanks.”
His guilt still loomed as I started to make us sandwiches. “Alas, I had to acquire them illicitly,” he confessed, “but I assure you, the merchants will be reimbursed when our kind are supreme.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I shrugged. What was the matter with me? We may have been doing it rough, but Simon was treating me with more dignity than anyone else ever had. It may have been a bit… sycophantic, but the attention was kind of nice. Maybe my instincts were wrong – maybe I should have given him a chance.
Again I found myself thinking about Mom and Dad. I hoped I didn’t have to see them as humans – imagining it was bad enough. Gods, I just wanted to see them again, as normal people, not as freaks. This could be fixed, couldn’t it? I mean with a genius like Simon at my back…
If only I could remember their faces – it would have made getting through this so much easier.
It was probably obvious to Simon that I was in a mood – I hadn’t smiled once since I was thrown off by that weird light. Yet he was determined to give me some kind of hope. Maybe I would be if there was something to be hopeful about.
“I know how to rectify this,” he told me, and gladly took his plate, “but I will need your help.”
Food was the least of my thoughts. Sitting on one of the benches I leaned closer to him. “Tell me what I need to do.”
* * * *
Jason stared as he had for hours. Restless, he’d made many mundane discoveries, like the fact that he had twenty–four vertical blinds at his bedroom window, and that at this angle the streetlights projected a shadow from sixteen of them against his closet. He’d also determined that silence was a myth – there was always something, even if it was the early train whining from four blocks away.
When he’d exhausted the investigations he could make from his bed he opted to rediscover music – he hadn’t heard anything new in the years he’d been a prisoner, and the artists of this dimension were different to the ones he’d known. Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Bob Marley – he didn’t know any of them names in his foster father’s CD collection, but the more he listened the more he was willing to learn.
Minutes passed until they ebbed into hours. It was time that he should have been using to sleep, but the peace needed for rest evaded him, and he knew exactly why.
He sighed, lay back, and argued with the lump in his chest, like it could be reasoned with. Worry consumed him – there was no sense in denying it. Yeah, he’d told Tanya that everything was going to be fine, that Kaira was able to take care of herself, but did he believe it? Gods no. He couldn’t be convinced as easily – he’d lived the hero life and knew that death waited around every corner.
As he picked up and considered this ‘Madonna’ person his cell phone growled – he had a text. Jason flipped it open and was surprised to find it was from Tanya.
‘U awake?’ it said.
It seemed sad to him that she had nobody else to talk to – that was why he called her back, in spite of being shoved the night before. She was just a regular person, pushed to the nerve by all this super–crap – someone had to cut her a break.
Tanya answered inside three rings. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself,” Jason said. “Everything okay?”
He could almost hear her shrug over the phone. “I called Kaira’s parents,” she told him, “said she was staying here. Usual excuse. Not sure if I did the right thing.”
“You did. Just give her time to sort out this monkey business.”
“Apes aren’t monkeys,” she chided.
“Yeah, I know. Just wanted to make a bad joke. Give her a day to get herself back to normal, then she can go home and no-one’s the wiser.”
Tanya frowned. “I keep thinking that one day she’s not going to sort it out and she won’t come back, then everyone’ll know I was covering for her. What am I supposed to say then? I’ll be the one they come to for answers, and I don’t know if I could hold back.”
“And now you know why she kept it secret from you so long,” he muttered. “Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.”
“How did Tommy deal with it when you were doing the hero thing?”
Jason paused – that was a harder question than she realized. “He didn’t,” he groaned. “One day he came to me and said that he wasn’t going to be my alibi if I was going to risk my neck. He said it was something he had to do for him, because he didn’t know if he could lie if something happened to me.”
There was quiet, and Jason felt guilty. He knew he’d just put an idea into her head, but maybe it was for the best. Kaira would probably be pissed, though.
“How did you take it?”
Another awkward question. “I felt betrayed,” he admitted. “I thought that if he was really my friend then he’d understand why I put on the costume, and that I really needed someone to watch my back.”
Again, quiet. Upon further review Jason was certain that Kaira would be pissed.
“You’re thinking about doing it, aren’t you?” he pressed.
“Yeah. Kinda. A little.” She was reluctant. “But I don’t want to betray her. If she needs me…”
“It’s okay for friends to need each other, but not if you let it turn codependent,” he retorted. “Listen… with Tommy I was mad, but I got over it. In the end I had to realize that I had no right to drag him into that world. With superheroes everything is life and death. Not many people are cut out for it, and just because that was my life that didn’t mean it had to be his as well – and even after all that, after all that… our friendship was about more than what he could do for me. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah. It really does.”
They paused again – it was not a comfortable one. He only wished it were.
“Listen,” Jason continued, “I’m sorry. You probably wanted to call me to unload. I’m not helping.”
“It’s okay,” Tanya sighed, then sniffled. Crap, she’d been crying. “Listen, Jase, I just wanted to say sorry for being such a queen b last night.”
“You weren’t,” he insisted.
“Anyway, you want to maybe go get some coffee later?”
“That’s our thing now, huh?” he smiled.
“Gotta pay tribute to the caffeine gods somehow. They’re freakin’ needy.”
“Coffee sounds great,” he said, wondering how many days that week he’d end up giving to Tanya and the Lovin’ Spoonful.
They said their goodbyes and hung up. Both of them had school, neither of them had sleep. Yeah, Jason had given Tanya the pep talk about how capable Kaira was as a hero, but it seemed like the girl believed it just as much as he did.
* * * *
It had taken all night, but still Noble searched. He combed the skies, sweeping the streets and alleys for any sign of his teammate. Walls were no barrier to his supernatural power, and continued to sniff every corner they could reach.
The hero pushed himself. Usually he would have stopped searching and let the police handle the rest, but this was different – he had something invested in Glimmer Girl, even if it was only a seed for something bigger. He couldn’t just give up on that, could he?
“Just ten more minutes,” he told himself for what had to be the twentieth time. Useful as he found his empathic abilities they weren’t best used for tracking, not for a lack of trying. Sooner or later he’d have to find something – he wouldn’t be able to sleep until he did.
Morning broke over the city and warmed the hero’s skin. It wasn’t until he saw his reflection in the buildings that he realized how tired he was – not that it mattered, though it did have him question why he was pushing so hard.
Was this really because of some girl? No, she was more than that, just as she was more than a teammate – she was one of the rare few he’d ever felt connected to, even if that avenue hadn’t been explored yet. All of humanity was alien to him, but not her. Even if it meant favoring her over the rest he had to help her.
Peak hour hit and clouded his senses. He would never find Glimmer Girl in that din. Time grew short – Noble had less than an hour to find her scent before it was drowned out. Knowing that made him desperate, forcing the hero to move like his cape was on fire.
There had to be something! …Something… anything…!
And then he found it.
Maybe it was luck, or fate, but the hero wasn’t going to question his fortune. It was only a trace, but the taste was unmistakable. The rage, the fear, the loneliness and confusion – the scene from the night before had been slathered in it. There was the indecision between fight and flight, the same as possessed by any animal – it had to be her.
He followed the trail underground to a corner of the city that seemed long forgotten. Noble could feel the age of it in his bones – the stones were numb, not like most other places. It had been empty for a very long time, making it the perfect place for villains and their hostages to hide. It also highlighted the psychic scent, which was almost as strong as the stench.
Grounding himself Noble started into a tunnel, then used one of his psionic forms to light his path. With every step the longing grew clearer – there was the need for home, the need to belong, mingled reluctance. Hopefully that meant Simon wasn’t going to make Glimmer Girl do anything drastic.
Soon he came upon a makeshift home, shielded from the rest of the tunnels by an old shower curtain. Noble ushered himself inside and inspected the scene – it was your usual mad scientist set-up, but with a Home Depot budget. From the looks of things Simon had been forced to improvise, even having to construct his own tools for more complex jobs.
There was a mattress in the corner stained by nightmares. Noble hoped that they didn’t belong to Kaira – or if they did that they’d be her last.
He turned to the pile of apple cores thinking that maybe they might hold a clue. What he didn’t expect was to hear the whining of the high-tech detonator as he tripped the sensor.
In a second the room filled with fire, swallowing everything and reducing it to ash, but that was the least of Noble’s problems. Fifteen thousand pounds of pressure pressed against him, flattening him between the roof and the shield he’d constructed from pure will. The heat made him want to pass out, the force cracked a rib, and not even concrete was strong enough to hold when he was thrown into it.
Bursting to the street his battle was to stay in one piece. The explosion had left him shaken, the fight against the shockwave had drained every ounce of strength, and Noble fell to the ground, bouncing like a pebble. He was strong enough to survive the blast, but that wasn’t to say it didn’t hurt like hell.
There was nobody around to help, which Noble supposed was a blessing – it meant that nobody but him was hurt, yet still he was uneasy.
As he watched the flames he picked up another emotion, one that he hadn’t felt so far in his search, until now – it was hate. Blind, indiscriminate, targeted at all of humankind – the kind that had taken years to fester.
Noble took a deep breath and launched himself into the air. Captain Ramirez had been right – they’d been lucky until now.
* * * *
The plan was crazy. Under any other circumstances it might have seemed wrong, like something cooked up by a maniac, but it’s different when you’re trying to save everyone, isn’t it? Yeah… yeah, of course it is.
I had to shake myself. It wasn’t like I’d never raided a compound before. Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the same as busting into a villain’s hideout, but charging a building occupied by brainwashed humans was close enough. They’d thank me later for turning them back into their ape selves, even if Simon and I did get a little rough with them. We were doing this for all the right reasons.
… Do I sound convinced yet?
“The InfiniTech building is the tallest and most sophisticated structure in Milestone City,” Simon had explained. “I’ve modified my trans-speciator to produce a wider area of effect. However to power it we will need to access the generators in the basement, which are independent from the large Milestone power grid.”
I didn’t even want to know why Simon had a trans-species-whatever-gun, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
We needed access to the basement? That was fine by me. Saving the world was my responsibility, but stealth was my hobby. I had powers that could me invisible, make me weightless – the only thing I couldn’t do was phase through opaque walls. Other than that there was nowhere I couldn’t go without being detected.
So confident was I in my ability that I flew right in the front door. Imagine my surprise when alarms started blaring and armed goons poured out of the walls! They were packing too – science fiction rifles seemed to be standard issue in this place. Jeez, what had I just stepped into!?
“Glimmer Girl!” the head dog barked. “Uncloak and get on the ground, now!”
There was no point in hiding, though I wasn’t going down without a fight. “How did you see me?”
“Thermal imaging,” he said. “Nobody gets into this building without authorization – not even you. Now get on the ground and put your hands behind your head!”
It wasn’t going to be as simple as that – he knew it, I knew it. There was too much at stake to just go down quietly. I had to remind myself again that he’d thank me later when this was over – they all would.
Suddenly the windows shattered, spraying glass everywhere and pelting the grunts from behind. They dropped quickly – those windows were meant to be unbreakable, but they were short work for the likes of Simon Simian. Strained as our friendship was, I found myself glad to have him backing me up.
He lumbered into the building, abandoning his hovercraft and charging past the first security gate. “We do not have much time,” he reported. “The MMCD are already on their way.”
In and out – should have been easy, right? At least it was in theory. I was starting to get the feeling that we were outgunned. Saving the gorilla race is never as easy as they give it credit for in the movies.
There were a lot of stories floating around about InfiniTech – they’d got their start as a computer manufacturer and then moved onto software, pioneering in the field of artificial intelligence. In the years since they’d expanded into a lot of fields, most of which had to do with the kind of super-science that guys like TASK dealt with every other day. Rumor also had it that they were funded by aliens, but I’d heard that on the playground in grade school, so you know it’s reliable.
The point is should I really have been surprised by all of this security? They had something, probably a lot of somethings, worth protecting.
We came upon the first door. It was deadlocked, six inches of steel sealing the passage. Given an hour I could have cut through it, but the sirens approaching wouldn’t give me the chance. Luckily Simon was able to hack the building system and opened it, revealing a barricade of soldiers that laid into us with heavy fire.
Slipping into the ultra-violet spectrum I was able to glide right past them – their alarms may have been able to pick me up, but they didn’t have that kind of tech in their helmets. After that I just needed to show myself, land a solid punch, and hit the ones out of range with a few hard light blasts.
Looking over the pile of humans that had accumulated I found myself glad that they went down so easy. Thank the gods for superior gorilla strength. Unfortunately they also had the same problem that all henchmen, goons, lackeys, whatever you want to call them had – there were just so damn many of them!
Simon and I plowed through, not letting up for a second. As we continued he sealed the doors behind us, buying us precious more minutes. Good thing as well – I was beginning to tire. How much further were we from the end?
“I will need you to clear a path to the roof,” he told me, then smiled. “Do not worry. I can take care of myself here.”
Stopping to recharge I was almost overwhelmed by the whirlwind of adrenaline. If I fought any harder I was likely to have a heart attack, but I didn’t care – even though failure meant death I was on a high. We were beating the odds, and we were going to continue beating them. I’d fight forever if I had to – for my family, for my friends, for the whole world.
As Simon turned to leave I grabbed his shoulder. Through this ordeal he’d been a loyal companion, understanding and honest. I had my suspicions, but he’d not given me a reason to act on them. Finally I was convinced that his heart was in the right place – didn’t he deserve some kind of reward for that?
Maybe it was hormones raging out of control, but I couldn’t stop myself. I leaned forward, closed my eyes and kissed him. It was brief, but it promised more to come.
Simon blushed and shuffled away, not sure what to do with that sort of contact. It was his dream come true, and it had taken him off guard. Really, it felt like the least I could do.
He stammered as he tried to lift his gaze. “We should probably… erm…”
“I’m on it, Simon,” I told him and soared toward the elevator. “Just do your thing!”
* * * *
There was something about the kiss that put me off. It was familiar, and strange. I remembered something about kissing Simon before and not wanting to. When, where? The pictures weren’t clear in my head, but I couldn’t think about it – there were more important things to take care of.
Wave after wave of soldiers hit, each breaking out more sophisticated weapons, some of which I could have never imagined. Quantum liquefiers, proto-synthezoids, extra-dimensional dream bullets – who came up with these things? All seemed to be in the experimental stage – some fell flat on their faces, others packed a hell of a punch. In the end all of them failed.
So much for using me as their guinea pig.
Finally! I crack the roof and saw the light of day! Every part of me wanted to collapse and die but we were only halfway done. Taking out henchmen? Easy. Keeping the air clear? Not quite as easy. Still, it helped to maintain a positive attitude, even when you aren’t as sure you’re on the winning track as you were ten minutes ago.
Police helicopters – again with these things! They circled like buzzards, probably thinking they’d be more threatening than they were last time. I may have been tired, but this time I didn’t have to cradle Simon in my arms. They were like fish in a barrel.
Breaking into a light-speed dash burned, but it got me out of their scope. They followed me across the skyline like balloons on a string, not daring to open fire while I stuck close to office windows. Did they really think I wasn’t going to use that to my advantage?
I turned mid-air and aimed a finger. All I needed were three pinpoint shots, hard light, not lasers, to knock holes in their fuel tanks. Then they’d have to land, leaving the roof clear – unless a human TASK force was coming to provide support. Crap, I hadn’t thought about that.
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!
The choppers acted as predicted. With gasoline spilling out the side they started a controlled descent, leaving me to return to my perch. Hopefully I could hold it long enough for Simon to finish in the basement.
I took a moment to rest. A minute was all I needed – it figured that fate didn’t plan on giving me that long.
“Glimmer Girl,” a voice called from above. “We need to talk.”
If it weren’t for the costume I wouldn’t have recognized him. “Noble?” The blue and white appeared out of place on his gangly frame. The fact that it had been shredded and singed didn’t help either. “You look terrible,” I told him. That poor ape – reduced to such a pathetic creature.
He didn’t seem fazed. In fact he laughed. “I’ve seen better days.” Noble bore his teeth at me, a sign of his non-aggression. “Kaira, we need to talk. Whatever it is Simon has you doing, we can stop it. We can make everything right again.”
“We are making this right,” I grunted. “You don’t understand. You’re the one who’s confused! I need you to think, Mark! You’re an ape, not a human! Don’t you remember?”
The perplexed look gave me hope, but it was quickly dashed. “No,” he said slowly. “I’m a human… mostly, and so are you. Think about this. We’re not living on the Planet of the Apes.”
Clearly he was demented, but at least he was talking. So long as he was talking I could recharge, defend myself, save the world. Then I remembered – he was an empath and he knew I was stalling. I could see in his eyes that he was readying an attack.
My fists beat the ground as I roared. “You will not stop us!” I declared. “We’re going to save the world!”
Psionic energy erupted from his hands as he levitated. “Then I’m sorry it had to come to this,” he sighed.
Not as sorry as I was. In a battle of ally versus ally there are no winners.
* * * *
To be continued…