It was the best truck stop sandwich I’d ever eaten. The bread was stale, the lettuce wilted, and gods only knew the deal with the egg salad, but it was solid enough to keep me from shaking to pieces.
I sat in the corner of the Sheriff’s office and pulled the blanket they’d given me tight. Everything leading up to that point circled in my head; one moment I was being held at gunpoint, and the next I was in a ditch, screaming my lungs out. Between them were several hours and twenty miles into the next county no-one could explain.
Tears pricked as I curled into my lap. Every part ached for the familiar; my own bed, and my family. Whatever that strange light it ripped them away, and cast me into the unknown. Something greater than myself looked past where I stood, and blew the world into frightening proportion.
The Sheriff knocked on the glass and peered inside. He mercifully ignored my sobs, and cleared his throat. “Son, your parents are here.”
I peered through the blinds and toward the front desk where my Mom and Dad stood wrapped in grief. It took all my restraint not to run to them like a small child; by the time I landed in their arms I was a weeping mess. Nothing else mattered except we were together.
Once my nerves settled I pulled back. There was a woman standing with us. She wore a pressed pants suit, her hair in a bob, and an understanding smile. On any other day she might have seemed pleasant enough.
“This is Dr. Fox,” Dad said. “She’s a… well, she’s a lot of things. She oversees health concerns at InfiniTech.”
“Please don’t be alarmed,” she said. Her voice was husky and melodic. “What you just experienced was traumatic, to say the least. I’m here to make sure that you’re taken care of. Whatever you need, just ask.”
My father tensed, but nodded that things were okay. Both my parents were tired, but Dad especially was haggard. That was only natural, I supposed; after watching his only child stolen away by a man with a gun, his day was almost as bad as mine.
I followed Dr. Fox to the kitchenette at the back of the station and sat opposite her. She opened her notebook and inhaled, no doubt sensing the way her questions were going to cut.
“Why don’t we start from the beginning?” she said.
I told her the story, including every detail I could recall. Throughout the session I stared at the countertop and gazed between the flecks on the pattern. As soon as she heard what she needed I could go home.
* * * *
The key to any craft is discipline, but when inspiration calls to lend its favor only a fool refuses to listen. Such was the mindset of Dr. Theodore Fellows, who in lieu of sleep made his way to an industrial storage locker some miles from the waterfront.
He limped through the concrete labyrinth, and bowed his head in front of the security cameras. It was only a matter of time before police placed him as one of the InfiniTech perpetrators, if they hadn’t already, and linked him with the pseudonym who rented the space.
Pulling the roller door closed and flicking the light switch he set to work, rummaging through old boxes filled with metal pieces, some finer than others. Over the years he’d accrued all sorts of technology, some of which had ‘disappeared’ from his place of work without management’s awareness. Most would have fallen into the scrap pile, though deserved a better home in the hands of genius.
Hours passed as he toiled away. The authorities and his former colleagues were an afterthought; there was only the device in front of him, and seeing it through to completion.
Were he to dwell on it Dr. Fellows might not have been sure of his invention or its purpose. All that existed in his mind was the vision, and an absolute drive to bring it into the world.
Time drew to a stand-still when the first piece was complete. It was small and constructed with delicate pieces, some of which had no place outside of an official site. There remained a unique programming interface to be written for something so specialized, though the physical realization was awe inspiring on its own.
Dr. Fellows reached to touch it, and circled his fingers through the vacant core. “Now it needs a power source,” he said to himself.
As though smiling upon him from the ether, fate answered the doctor with the sudden blink. The machine stirred to life and agitated the air around. Gravity shifted, teetering one way to the next, before sending the doctor stumbling back. Once his fingers fell from the core the scenery regained its composure, and the machine returned to rest.
A supernatural mystery had presented itself, and any trepidation Dr. Fellows might have experienced was superseded by incredible need. He found his feet again, and with all the caution of jungle prey reached to the core of the device once more.
Just as hypothesised the machine jumped back to life, causing the locker to twist and curl against the laws of physics. The doctor chuckled; to think he doubted such incredible destiny, and yet there he was, on the cusp of a new age.
Nobody could stand in his way.
* * * *
Four days passed.
At first I was relieved to get back to school. Recovery was a special kind of hell where all I could think about was that weird explosion. Tanya had also delivered the news that Adrian was on suspension. Things would be better without that jock thug kicking my ass, though it still didn’t guarantee an easy ride.
Tanya guided me down the hall, past every gawker and stifled gasp. It was a bizarre kind of celebrity where nobody dared to come close. First there was the car accident, then that weird explosion, which ultimately coalesced into school legend. What really happened? Only one person knew for sure.
“You’re as popular as ever,” Tanya said. She carried my backpack, and pushed others out of the way with sheer force of proximity. She caught their disgust in passing, and turned up her nose.
My weight was unbalanced without the crutches. Even with a lifetime of practice, walking had become alien. It took all my focus to remain upright.
“I liked it better when they didn’t know my name,” I said.
Second bell had rung by the time we reached my locker, and we had a chance to be alone. A tardy slip was worth it for the room to breathe, and hardly seemed to matter on the cusp of graduation.
I turned the combination, and opened to a stack of mystery papers that had been stuffed through the slot. The first was an old yearbook photo blown up and marked with colored pens in feminine caricature. Next was a note; ‘Sorry I missed you at prom, princess. Signed, Beef Chaddington.’ The others followed a similar theme.
Tanya grit her teeth, and bashed a fist against the wall. She’d warned me about the speculation and the rumor mongering, but even she didn’t know how bad it was.
“At least they saved me the trouble of coming out,” I said with no assurance at all.
We slid to the linoleum, and groaned. The ‘no touching’ rule had also lost meaning as Tanya and I lounged on each other. No doubt a teacher would come to pry us apart and send us on our way, but we were going to steal every moment we could.
“Right now you’re either ‘princess’ or ‘the boy who lived’,” she groaned, “and I’m your boyfriend, but that’s nothing new.”
I sighed. “You’d make a pretty great boyfriend.”
We marinated in silence. Thoughts of ditching swirled, but even that was too much effort. So we stayed, and we sat.
* * * *
The day crawled like a dying woman. There were looks, like always, charged with new interest. ‘What’s the deal with Cade?’ lingered in the ether. They’d heard the stories; I’d gone from queer to super-queer, and was even ‘pretending’ to be a girl.
Tanya offered to drive me home, but I opted to walk. I told her I needed to clear my head, and get some exercise; doctor’s orders and all that. She understood, but didn’t like the idea. Guilt tightened the corners of her smirk, as though fate had called her role as protector into question.
I dawdled for the next two blocks, lost in my thoughts, not paying attention further than the sidewalk. The traffic was quiet enough that I didn’t bother to look before crossing. When I heard the roar of the engine it was too late.
In the final moments I caught his face; the specter of death, Adrian Dempsey. Something inside him had snapped. This wasn’t one of his scare games. Hate flavored spittle flew against the inside of the windscreen.
Fear surged through my veins. I closed my eyes and prepared for the inevitable. Adrian’s grill charged toward my legs, and then there was a flash. It was so bright that it shone through my flesh. Then it was gone.
I heard the engine as it sputtered out, and turned to look. Inside Adrian bashed the wheel and guided the vehicle to the side of the road. The driver raged; his beast had been neutered. Something had happened in that split second that neither of us could explain.
When I looked down I saw that my hands were glowing. Shimmering gold tickled my skin, and started to fade. Where did it come from? I looked back to the car, struggling to connect the dots.
“What the hell did you do to my car?” Adrian bellowed, as though I was somehow responsible.
I limped like a wounded gazelle onto the main street, and only stopped to make sure he wasn’t following. I was alone; he wasn’t going to leave his car, not even to chase me.
My hands continued to glow, though it was dwindling fast.
* * * *
There’s a place on the edge of town where people go to be alone; mostly kids skipping school, or smoking, but you get all types. It’s not hard to find for those who know the way.
I snuck through the hole in the chain-link fence by the third post after the housing estate, then dropped onto the embankment, and followed it to the end. From there was a gravel path that lead under the bridge.
It was a good spot to avoid bother, especially at night. Maybe that’s why Tanya was so weirded out when I asked her to meet there. It was at least an hour after sunset, and the place didn’t come with its own lights.
She pointed a flashlight into the darkness; it didn’t cover half the six lanes of road sitting above. “Hello?” she called, like someone would to a pack of wolves.
“Hey, I’m in here!” I pointed my own flashlight back and waved her inside.
Tanya’s steps crunched as she wandered into the shadows. Her silhouette blurred against the beam pointed my way, but I could still make out the pissed off look she was wearing. “Okay, so where’s the body?”
I inhaled and took a few steps back. “You’re not going to believe me. Gods, I’m not even sure I believe me!”
“Cut the suspense and tell me,” she said.
It had taken the better part of the afternoon to master, even if I didn’t understand; I held my breath and focused on my center of gravity. Soon the divine warmth rushed under my skin, reaching into every corner of my body. Finally it poured out, and lit up my skin along with the underside of the bridge. Suddenly I was no longer a human being, but an angelic beacon shining in the night.
I held up my hand and stared. Not only had I changed, but so did the world. Even the sky looked different; no longer a sheet of black speckled with stars, but a cosmic rainbow telling the story of the universe. Beneath it was the bridge, and then Tanya whose body was radiating with heat. She trembled, trying to decide which way to run.
“Don’t be scared,” I told her. “I’m not going to hurt you. Trust me, I know how weird this is, and maybe I should have given you better warning, but I thought it’d be easier if I just showed you.”
Tanya dropped her flashlight, and tensed on her haunches. “No, I don’t think you have any idea how weird this is.” She moved a step forward, and ran a hand down the length of my aura. “KC, what in the seven hells am I looking at here?”
The lights extinguished as soon as I relaxed. I grabbed my flashlight and stepped toward Tanya, slowly. “Remember that lab accident, and that guy who tried to kill me? I know it’s cliche, but I… I think it changed me somehow.”
She was still as I told her the story; about InfiniTech and lunch with my Dad, the gunman and the machine, and about the light. Then I told her about the interrogation, and about Adrian trying to run me down with his car, and how I’d gone home, swearing never to use this power again, only to fiddle with it less an hour later.
After that she was quiet, more than I could stand. Did she hate me? Maybe, I wondered, this was what it took to finally convince her I was a freak.
“I’ve just got one question,” she said. “Well, two. Are you or are you not an alien posing as my best friend, and is it or is it not your intention to ingest your hybrid alien invasion babies inside me?”
“Uh, not that I know of.”
“Good enough.” She threw herself and wrapped her arms around mine, then lifted me from the ground. Bear hugs had to be a good sign.
“So you’re not upset?”
“Not upset,” she said, “but profoundly weirded out. I can’t promise to understand this, but you’re my bestie. I’d be the queen of all jerks if I ditched you because you glow in the dark.”
I smiled. Gods, I was even crying.
“You know, I don’t just glow in the dark,” I said. “The more I play around with this, the more I can do with it.”
Tanya lit up like a Christmas tree. “Show me!”
I’d learned a few tricks in the last several hours, like how to turn up the brightness; all I had to do was think about it. Then I turned it down, dimming the glow to as dull as I could manage. Once Tanya’s eyes adjusted she reached out, paused, and placed her hand on mine.
“You’re warm,” she said.
“It doesn’t hurt. Actually, I don’t feel much of anything. It’s just like when your foot falls asleep, but over my whole body.”
I grinned at her. “Want to see what else I can do?”
I pointed a finger in the direction of a concrete slab. On it was a line of cans set in a row. Closing one eye I took aim and pushed the energy in my chest, forcing a burst to knock the first of the cans into the water. Each fell as I knocked them off their perch; my aim was getting better. Finally, one remained.
“You realize that with this power you could be a bona-fide superhero,” Tanya said.
I laughed. “Yeah, maybe if I wanted to rescue a rave party.”
“But-but you have super-powers!”
“Weak super-powers,” I said. “What am I going to do; chase bank robbers and go ‘pew pew’ at them?”
Tanya stopped for a moment. “Can those blasts come from anywhere, or do they just come from that one finger?”
“Uh, I guess I could do it from anywhere. I don’t know. I haven’t tried.”
“What if you tried blasting from five fingers at once? You know, like a kind of super-charge.”
“You’re going to keep saying ‘super-everything’ now, aren’t you?” I said, not that her idea wasn’t interesting.
I turned to the final can, and stared it down like a would-be nemesis. My fingers pointed the energy coursing through my arm. The beam exploded like a cannon with power enough to lift me from the ground. I flew back, and didn’t dare to open my eyes until regaining my balance. When I did, I was three feet off the ground.
Tanya grinned at the concrete slab, where a large corner had evaporated. “That was amazing! You just…!” She turned and gasped. “Oh my god. No way!”
Don’t ask me how I did it; my body stood suspended in the air. No matter how hard I kicked for for the ground it wasn’t getting any closer. With every passing moment the drop grew more ominous.
“A little help?”.
Tanya clasped my ankle and pulled me down. When I was close enough to earth I powered down and fought for breath.
“What just happened?”
“I think this is your origin story,” Tanya said. “Don’t you see what this means, KC? You were given a gift. Nothing will be the same after this.”
And the understatement of the millennium award goes to…
* * * *
It was late by the time I arrived home, and there was no porch light to greet me. I crept through the dark, pressed into the door, and stopped when I saw the kitchen illuminated from down the hall. Someone must have forgotten to flick the switch, but no; it was Dad, leaning against the bench and staring into the void.
I poked around the corner, and knocked on the counter so as not to startle him. “You okay?” I asked.
One looked answered that question. He inhaled, and shook himself back to reality. His eyes were so dark his bags had bags, yet there he was still dressed in his clothes from work, far from bed.
Dad looked up to me and forced a smirk. “I thought you were staying at Tanya’s tonight.”
“I was, but… I wanted some time to myself.”
He nodded and returned to idling. “Yeah. Yeah, I really get how that goes.”
In all my life I’d never seen him so weighed down; not by work, not when he and Mom fought, not even when confronted with a child whose gender he couldn’t make sense of. There was always a quiet resolve in him to take care of problems as they happened. Suddenly, another man was standing in his place.
I shrugged my bag to the floor and pulled a stool from the bench. “Listen, Dad. I need to ask you about something…”
“Anything,” he said.
The words stuck in the back of my throat, but I had to know. “What actually happened out there? You know, at the lab.”
He paused for a moment, and sighed. He loaded a filter into the coffee maker. “Seeing as it landed you in a hospital for the second time in as many days I think you have the right to know; but what you came into defies explanation. Even if I were to break it down, I’m not sure you’d believe me.”
Dad pursed his lips. “Bigger.”
My jaw tightened. “Kaiju?”
He arched against the counter. “The universe,” he said, “is infinite. Its range transcends physical measurement, and its age defies time as a concept. We can observe it, but only up to a point; and most things that exist beyond that are documented predominantly in the hypothetical. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
“That the universe is really big,” I said.
His tone was of a man crushed by the scale of things. “Bigger than we can see,” he said. “It exists on planes that supersede the human scope. A good deal of what exists in the macroverse, or even possible multiverses, can only be observed through their effect. We see shadows of how the macroverse touches us, but not the macroverse itself.”
I ran my fingers through my hair. “This is all too much. I don’t even know what a macroverse is, and what does this have to do with those guys who attacked us?”
Dad stepped around the counter and moved to my side. “Imagine – and bear with me a moment – imagine that something from outside of our universe, something primordial, made contact with our reality. As it happens these encounters are quite frequent. We just can’t see it.”
“There was a… person,” he said; even that was too much. “He wasn’t satisfied with presenting a theoretical model; he was determined to prove this phenomenon as objective reality. Because of that people got hurt, including you.”
I stared at my sneakers, and tensed. Details of that day came flooding back as if they were still happening. “You mean the man who took me.”
“Don’t tell anyone I told you,” he said.
“I won’t. I promise.”
He shrugged and turned back to the coffee pot. “You’re under no obligation to believe me, of course. I know it’s too extraordinary to be believed.”
On any other day I might have laughed it off; it was like something out of bad science fiction. These things didn’t happen in the real world, and they didn’t happen to people like me, yet there I was, all too aware of the power that ran under my skin.
I grabbed his shoulder, and squeezed. “How can I not believe you? Even if I don’t understand it, I believe you.” I leaned against him and shared the exhaustion. “There are no words for what I saw. At this point I’d believe just about anything, really.”
Dad nodded, and blinked the sleep from his eyes. “Despite all the hurt he caused, not to mention the property damage, his theories are still considered hypothetical. That man gave us a light show, trauma, and not much else.”
If only he knew.
* * * *
It was the limitations of humanity that saw Dr. Fellows asleep at his station. Inspiration drove him in one direction and nature another, his say on the matter be damned. It was not restful by any stretch, merely inevitable.
Suddenly the locker door rolled open, prompting the doctor to attention. He landed in the gaze of a semi-automatic handgun, which came as some surprise; less so was the bitterness painted across McVeigh’s stare. Perhaps confrontation was a matter of time, and fate chose that moment to let it happen.
“You’ve got some kind of nerve,” the gunman seethed. “My team, my friends, half of ‘em are going to jail because of you! Worse, you made ‘em an accessory to kidnapping!”
The doctor exhaled, and arched upright. “Had you known what I was really planning you would have never gone along with it,” he said. There was no remorse in his tone; only the cold statement of fact. What would be the purpose of regret, even then as he stared vengeance in the face?
“I guess we’ll never know, will we.” McVeigh cocked the hammer of his weapon, and scraped his lower lip with his teeth.
Dr. Fellows did not flinch. Instead he straightened the metal frame latched to his left arm. Even as he slept the device, though incomplete, remained with him. Quiet as a whisper the core hummed to life, and blinked sporadically in muted purple.
“Would you like to see what it was for?”
McVeigh tisked, and tightened his aim. With each consecutive pull of the trigger the suppressor dumbed the roar. High end rounds fired into the doctor’s chest; only the bullets never landed. At close range a hit was guaranteed, but Dr. Fellows remained on his seat, unimpressed as he was unscathed.
He fired again, and again, and again, until the clip was empty. Each time McVeigh failed to hit his target, or any target. The walls, benches, and surrounding equipment were also unharmed. It was if his bullets had vanished into thin air.
Slack-jawed and stupefied, he threw the gun to the ground. “What the hell did you just do?”
Dr. Fellows did not need to smile for his satisfaction to show. “Don’t look behind you.”
Suddenly the gunman’s back exploded. One shot after the other tore into his flesh and buried between his shoulders. The agony in his features flashed until the contents of a full clip were spent. His knees buckled, and gravity pulled him to the concrete.
McVeigh gasped like a fish on a dock. Blood filled his lungs, just as it poured from his wounds. He twitched from head to toe, and fought for every moment of consciousness he had left.
“I should thank you,” the doctor said. The machine flexed around his palm, and whirred with pseudo-satisfaction. “Without you none of this would be possible. I know that even now, as you shuffle this mortal coil, you’ll fail to appreciate that fact, but far be it from me to not offer thanks when they are due.”
Somewhere before the shock McVeigh managed to choke out some choice words. Dr. Fellows knelt by his side, and lifted his head.
“You don’t understand,” he rasped. “This work is so much bigger than you and I. It had to be done. Any sacrifice, and every sacrifice, was worth it to achieve this final goal. After today, there is no longer such thing as ‘science fiction’.”
The last moments of McVeigh’s life were without joy or meaning. Not even his petty vengeance had been realized. Instead all he had left was a mess begging to be cleaned.
With the wave of a hand the body disappeared, leaving only trace amounts of the former gunman, but even that was merely an afterthought. Dr. Fellows crossed the floor, past the stains, and reached to pull the door closed. There was still much work to do, and he’d lost more than enough time to distraction.
To be continued…