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 and kept 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 at gunpoint, and the next I landed in a ditch. Between them were several hours and twenty miles into the next county. Nobody could explain why.
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. It blew the world into frightening proportion.
The Sheriff knocked on the glass and peered through the shudders. He overlooked my sobs, and cleared his throat. “Son, your parents are here.”
I turned the front desk where my Mom and Dad stood waiting. It took all my restraint not to run like a small child. I landed in their arms a weeping mess. Nothing else mattered. We were together.
Once my nerves settled I pulled back. A woman stood with us. She wore a pressed pants suit, 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.”
“Don’t be alarmed,” she said. Her voice was husky and melodic. “What you experienced was traumatic to say the least. I’m here to see to your recovery. Whatever you need, please ask.”
My father nodded that things were okay. Both parents were tired, but Dad moreso. That was natural. He watched his only child stolen away by a man with a gun. His day was as bad as mine.
I followed Dr. Fox to the kitchenette and sat opposite her. She opened her notebook and inhaled. 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. I stared at the counter 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 only a fool refuses to listen. Such was the mindset of Dr. Theodore Fellows. He 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. Soon they would link him with the pseudonym who rented the space.
Pulling the roller door closed he flicked the light switch and set to work. He rummaged through boxes filled with metal pieces, some finer than others. Over the years he’d accrued all sorts of technology. Some had ‘disappeared’ from his place of work without management’s awareness. Most would have fallen to the scrap pile, though deserved a better home in the hands of genius.
Hours passed as he toiled. 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 the purpose of his invention. 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 a government site. There remained a unique programming interface for him to write for something specialized. The physical realization alone would awe an ordinary person.
Dr. Fellows reached to touch it. He circled his fingers through the vacant core. “Now it needs a power source,” he said.
Fate smiled upon him from the ether with a sudden blink. The machine stirred to life and agitated the air. Gravity shifted, teetering one way to the next. It sent the doctor stumbling back. Once his fingers fell from the core the scenery regained composure. The machine rested once more.
A supernatural mystery presented itself. Discovery superseded any trepidation Dr. Fellows might have experienced. He found his feet again and with all the caution of jungle prey reached to the core a second time.
As hypothesised the machine jumped to life. It caused the locker to twist and curl against the laws of physics. The doctor chuckled. To think he doubted his destiny! Yet there he was, on the cusp of a new age.
Nobody could stand in his way.
* * * *
Four days passed.
At first it was a relief to get back to school. Recovery was a special kind of hell. All I could think about was that weird explosion. Tanya delivered the news that Adrian was on suspension. Things would be better without that jock thug kicking my ass, though it didn’t guarantee an easy ride.
Tanya guided me down the hall past every gawker and gasp. It was a bizarre kind of celebrity. First there was the car accident, then that weird explosion. Soon it coalesced into school legend. What happened that fateful day? Only one person knew for sure.
“You’re as popular as ever,” Tanya said. She carried my backpack, and pushed others away by sheer force of proximity.
My balance was uneven without the crutches. Even with a lifetime of practice walking had become alien. It took all my focus to stay vertical.
“I liked it better when they didn’t know my name,” I said.
Second bell had rung by the time we reached my locker. We had a chance to be alone. A tardy slip was worth it for the room to breathe. It hardly seemed to matter on the cusp of graduation.
I turned the combination. A stack of mystery papers fell out. The first was an old yearbook photo. My face was 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 bashed the wall. She 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.
We slid to the linoleum. The ‘no touching’ rule 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 resolved to steal every moment.
“Right now you’re either ‘princess’ or ‘the boy who lived’,” she said, “and I’m your boyfriend, but that’s nothing new.”
I sighed. “You’d make a 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 needed to clear my head, and get some exercise. Doctor’s orders and all that. She understood, but didn’t like it. Guilt tightened her smirk. Fate challenged her role as protector.
I dawdled for two blocks, lost in thoughts. My attention traveled no further than the sidewalk. The traffic was quiet enough that I didn’t 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 snapped. This wasn’t one of his scare games. Hate flavored spittle flew against the windscreen.
I closed my eyes and prepared for the inevitable. Adrian’s grill charged 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 sputter out and turned to look. Adrian bashed the wheel and guided the vehicle to the side of the road. His beast sat neutered. Something happened in that split second that neither of us could explain.
When I looked down I saw my hands were glowing. Shimmering gold tickled my skin and started to fade. What happened to me? I looked to the car and struggled to connect the dots.
“What the hell did you do to my car?”
I limped like a wounded gazelle onto the main street. I only stopped to make sure he didn’t follow. I was alone. He wasn’t going to leave his car, not even to chase me.
My hands glowed, though it dwindled fast.
* * * *
There’s a place on the edge of town where people go to be alone. Most were kids skipping school, or smoking, but you get all types. It’s not hard to find for those who know the way.
I sneaked through the hole in the chain-link fence by the third post after the housing estate. From there I dropped to the embankment and followed it to the end. After that a gravel path lead under the bridge.
It was a good spot to avoid prying eyes. Tanya was weirded out when I asked her to meet there. It was an hour after sunset, and the place didn’t come with lights of its own. She pointed a flashlight into the dark. It didn’t cover half the six lanes of the above road.
“Hey, I’m in here!” I pointed my own flashlight back.
Tanya’s steps crunched as she wandered into the shadows. Her silhouette blurred against the beam she pointed, but I could still make out her pissed off look. “Okay, so where’s the body?”
I inhaled and took a few steps. “You’re not going to believe me. Gods, I’m not even sure do!”
“Cut the suspense and tell me,” she said.
It took 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 divine warmth rushed under my skin and reached into every corner of my body. It poured out and lit my skin. I was no longer a human being, but an angelic beacon shining in the night.
I lifted 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 radiated with heat. She trembled, still deciding which way to run.
“Don’t be scared,” I said. “I’m not going to hurt you. Trust me, I know how weird this is, and I should have given you better warning, but it was easier if I showed you.”
Tanya dropped her flashlight. She tensed on her haunches. “No, I don’t think you have any idea how weird this is.” She inched a step forward, and ran her hand down the length of my aura. “KC, what in the seven hells is this?”
The lights extinguished when I relaxed. I grabbed the flashlight. “Remember that lab accident, and that guy who tried to kill me? I know it’s cliche, but it… it changed me somehow.”
I told her about InfiniTech and lunch with my Dad, the gunman and the machine, and about the light. Then I told her about the interrogation, and Adrian trying to run over down with his car. Last I told her about going home, swearing never to use this power again, only to fiddle with it an hour later.
Tanya was quiet, more than I could stand. Did she hate me? She thought I was a freak. It only took this long to convince her.
“I’ve got one question,” she said. “Are you or are you not an alien posing as my best friend?”
“Uh, not that I know.”
“So I shouldn’t worry about alien hybrid impregnation?”
I rolled my eyes. “You serious?”
“Good enough.” She wrapped her arms around mine and 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 now. Cis, trans, glow in the dark, whatever.”
I smiled. Gods, I even cried too.
“You know, I don’t just glow in the dark,” I said. “The more I play around 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 til it was dull. Once Tanya’s eyes adjusted she reached out, paused, and placed her hand on mine.
“You’re warm,” she said.
“It doesn’t hurt. I don’t feel much of anything. It’s like when your foot falls asleep, but over my whole body.”
“Want to see what else I can do?”
I pointed a finger at a concrete slab. On it sat a row of cans. I took aim and pushed the energy in my chest. A burst knocked the first can into the water. Each fell as I blew them off the perch. My aim improved. Finally, one remained.
“You realize that with this power you could be a bona-fide superhero,” Tanya said.
I laughed. “Yeah, if I wanted to rescue a rave party.”
“But-but you have powers!”
“Weak powers,” I said. “What can I do? Chase bank robbers and go ‘pew pew’ at them?”
Tanya stopped to think. “Can those blasts come from anywhere, or only 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?” Not that her idea wasn’t interesting.
I turned to the final can and stared it down to size. My fingers pointed. Energy coursed through my arm. The beam exploded like a cannon. Its power lifted me from the ground. I flew back, and didn’t dare open my eyes. When I found my balance I was three feet off the ground.
Tanya grinned at the concrete slab. A large corner was smoke. “That. Was. Amazing! You…!” She turned and squealed.
Don’t ask me how I did it. My body stood suspended in the air. No matter how hard I kicked the ground didn’t get any closer. With every moment the drop grew more ominous.
Tanya clasped my ankle and pulled me to the ground. When I was close enough to earth I powered off.
“This is your origin story,” Tanya said. “Don’t you see what this means, KC? You have a gift. Nothing will be the same after this.”
That was the understatement of the year.
“You know this is the gayest thing ever, right?”
I laughed. “Thanks. I like it too.”
* * * *
It was late when I arrived home, and with no porch light to greet me. I crept through the dark. I stopped when I saw the kitchen illuminated from down the hall. Someone must have forgotten to flick the switch, but no. It was Dad, leaned against the bench and staring into the void.
I poked around the corner. “You okay?”
One looked answered that question. He shook himself back to reality. His eyes were so dark his bags had bags. He was still dressed in the clothes from work, far from bed. Dad looked 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, I get how that goes.”
In all my life I’d never seen him so down. Not by work, not when he and Mom fought, not even when confronted by a child whose gender made no sense. There was always a quiet resolve in him. He took care of problems as they happened. Another man stood in his place.
I pulled a stool from the bench. “Listen, Dad. I need to ask you about something-”
“Anything,” he said.
The words stuck in my throat, but I had to know. “What happened out there? You know, at the lab.”
He paused. Then he loaded a filter into the coffee maker. “Seeing as it landed you in hospital for the second time in as many days 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. Things that exist beyond that we document in the hypothetical. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
“That the universe is 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. We can only observe the macroverse through its effects. We see shadows of how it 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. What does this have to do with those guys who attacked us?”
Dad stepped around the counter and moved to my side. “Imagine that something from outside of our universe made contact with our reality. Something primordial. These encounters are quite frequent, only we can’t see them.”
“There was a… person,” he said. Even that was too much. “He wasn’t satisfied with a theoretical model. He vowed to prove this phenomenon as reality. Because of that people got hurt, including you.”
I stared at my sneakers. Details of that day came flooding back. In my mind it was still happening. “You mean the man who took me.”
“Don’t tell anyone I told you,” he said.
“I won’t. I promise.”
He turned back to the coffee pot. “You’re under no obligation to believe me, of course. I know it’s too extraordinary to believe.”
On any other day I would have laughed it off as 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 with power running under my skin.
I squeezed his shoulder. “How can I not believe you? Even if I don’t understand it.” I leaned against him and shared the exhaustion. “There are no words for what I saw. At this point I’d believe anything.”
Dad blinked the sleep from his eyes. “Despite all the hurt he caused his theories are still 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, whatever his say on the matter. It was not restful by any stretch, only inevitable.
The locker door rolled open, prompting the doctor to attention. He landed in the sights of a semi-automatic handgun, which came as some surprise. Less so was the bitterness painted across McVeigh’s face. Confrontation was a matter of time, and fate chose that moment for it to happen.
“You’ve got some kind of nerve,” the gunman said. “My team, my friends, half of ‘em are in jail because of you! Worse, you made ‘em an accessory to kidnapping!”
The doctor exhaled. “Had you known my true plan 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 staring vengeance in the face?
“I guess we’ll never know, will we.” McVeigh cocked the hammer of his weapon.
Dr. Fellows didn’t 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 in muted purple.
“Would you like to know its purpose?”
McVeigh tightened his aim. With each consecutive pull of the trigger the suppressor muted the roar. High end rounds fired into the doctor’s chest, only the bullets never landed. At close range a hit guaranteed, but Dr. Fellows remained on his seat unimpressed and 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 remained unharmed. His bullets had vanished into thin air.
Slack-jawed and stupefied he threw the gun to the ground. “What the hell did you do?”
Dr. Fellows did not need to smile for his satisfaction to show. “Don’t look behind you.”
Without warning the gunman’s back exploded. Shot after the other tore into his flesh and were buried between his shoulders. The agony flashed until he absorbed the contents of a full clip. His knees buckled and gravity pulled him to the concrete.
McVeigh gasped like a fish on a dock. Blood filled his lungs and poured from his wounds. He twitched from head to toe, and fought for every moment of consciousness.
“I should thank you,” the doctor said. The machine flexed around his palm and whirred. “Without you none of this would be possible. I know that even now, as you shuffle this mortal coil, you’ll fail to appreciate the fact. Far be it from me to not offer thanks when they are due.”
McVeigh managed to choke some choice words. Dr. Fellows knelt by his side.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “This work is so much bigger than you and I. It had to be done. Any sacrifice, and every sacrifice, was worth achieving this final goal. After today ‘science fiction’ is a thing of the past!”
The last moments of McVeigh’s life were without joy or meaning. He didn’t realize his petty vengeance. All he left was a mess to clean.
With the wave of a hand the body disappeared. Only trace amounts of the former gunman remained. Even that was an afterthought. Dr. Fellows crossed the floor, past the stains, and reached to pull the door closed. There was still much work to do. He’d lost more than enough time to distraction.
To be continued…