When things are their darkest, people become more determined than ever to celebrate that they're still alive.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. None of the characters, places, or anything else is meant to be represented by anything in reality. Duh! Fiction, get it? I the author reserve the rights, so please don't go posting this anyplace else without my permission. A very special thanks goes out to Cathy who at the very last moment spent the time to make this story readable. Another round of thanks goes out to all the others out there in BCTS land who have encouraged and inspired me to write and keep writing. Any remaining mistakes are all mine.
The Last Halloween
2013 Halloween Contest
(Maybe, if I can get it finished!)
Definitions of three possibly confusing P's!
Prometheus: Titian from the Greek myths, who stole fire from Olympus and gifted it to mankind. He was punished by Zeus, who chained him to rock where an eagle tore at his liver everyday until freed by Hercules.
Pantheon: The family of gods belonging to a people.
Parthenon: The primary temple to the Greek goddess Athena in Athens and considered the finest example of Doric architecture. A reproduction is in Nashville, Tennessee USA.
I shuffled along, careful not to slip or slide on the icy treacherous sidewalk. My uniform's boots gave me reasonably good traction considering the piss-poor weather conditions, but it never hurt to be cautious. Even with my mittens my hands were numbingly cold from the brisk breeze blowing across the bay. Passing by a row of long dead ice covered palm trees, I had to snort at life's irony. Just a decade ago, everyone was worrying about global warming.
Funny how things can change so damn fast it can make your head spin. Once upon a time nobody would've been able to even conceive of this kind of weather this far south. Hell, this part of Florida didn't even use to see the last dregs of summer until this time of year, Halloween.
Damn, but I could recall the event that changed it all even if no one thought much about it at the time. All this untold misery was caused by a small car sized space probe by the name of Voyager One. On September Friday the 13th, back about ten years ago, it was officially announced that Voyager had pulled an Elvis and had left the solar system. Well, that is it'd actually departed around a year before, but nobody had realized it given some scientific techno babble about magnetic fields not doing what was expected by the brains in charge.
If they really had known what was about to happen that argument between the know-it-alls would've never happened. They would've instead been trying to do everything in their power to silence the damn thing so it never would've been found.
You sure could tell when you were on night club row these days. Even with the frightful weather there were lots of folks out to have a good time. No matter the War and the threat to our very existence hanging over our heads, people would always find an opportunity to party. Perhaps it was because of it all that everyone was celebrating so enthusiastically. Better to go out with a bang rather than a whimper, I suppose.
Personally, I was having a harder time with this particular social occasion. Honestly, yours truly were having serious second, third and fourth thoughts about going to this party, but I had promised. As Sheila put it, who knew if we would get to see another Halloween at all?
Of course our extinction wasn't a done deal, not yet. Humanity was fighting like a covey of pissed-off wildcats backed into a corner, and it helped that the bad guys weren't exactly doing this 'War of the Worlds' invasion thing in the smartest possible way. Maybe, it was more accurate to say they weren't humans and some of the things they did made absolutely no logical sense to us.
Like just hanging around in orbit coming to ground only at odd times, sometimes like gangbusters and in other instances they appeared to be just poking around. Believe me it wasn't because we couldn't hurt them, because we've wrecked plenty of their toys. That is once we could reach the bastards.
Perhaps that was part of the problem. Most of the Aliens' military equipment and vehicles were robotic just like those the US and other militaries had been developing before the War. They were all nice and comfy up in orbit aboard their ship, and could take their time with their 'bots and drones doing all the nasty work. It was rare as hell to see one of the bad guys in the flesh down here with dirt on his boots. That was saved for very special occasions although it usually baffled the hell out of us as to what triggered it.
I'd witnessed first hand one of the events our unwanted Visitors had deemed important enough to get personally involved and, that one at least, I knew damn well why. That would be a day I would never forget. I'd been so excited by the possibilities that'd been offered to me, to all of us in the program. Project Prometheus promised nothing, but if you got lucky, you 'really' got lucky.
Standing outside the club, my breath steamed as I procrastinated. Sheila was one of the very few people who knew the outcome of my Prometheus experience. Personally, I found it profusely embarrassing and awkward in the extreme. That did not include the guilt. Take your pick of the flavor; survivor's, letting my country and comrades down, or just plain old fashioned failure.
Despite it being cold enough to chase Polar Bears inside to the warmth, I just couldn't make myself do it. While I'd asked myself a hundred times how she'd talked me into this, it was a dumb question. When you had a crush like I had on her, she could pretty much ask me to do anything and I would agree. Sure, I would kick myself in the ass afterward, but tell her no? Sadly, not a chance.
Sighing, I looked on as other well-bundled, costumed party goers hurried inside out of the cold. Laughing and eager to have a good time, they were all too focused on getting out of the icy weather to pay any attention to me.
I had to smile at the thought that if cell phones were still around, she would've already called, demanding to know where I was. With as good as our unfriendly Visitors were with computers, such things were unwise. Ah, for the good old days when you only had to worry about the NSA listening in, instead of Aliens with the means of dropping very unpleasant things onto our heads. We had learned the hard way that relying on anything computerized or remote controlled was just asking for it to be taken over and used against us.
So forget all that drone and robot shit. It was live pilots and drivers with as little automation as possible. Of course we'd made up the difference by boosting the hell of our people. Even more ironic is that the technology to do that came from the bad guys.
It was more of humanity using its creative talents to the utmost when it had nothing to lose. We adapted their captured tech and did things with it that had all the science guys wondering why our Visitors didn't use it in the same ways.
Duh! Aliens, some simply said, while others worried at the long term problems we just didn't know about yet. Me, I thought it was likely a combination of the two. Oh, sure they were strange, however they so closely resembled us, but most of the things that were bad for us were bad for them.
It was that old form and function thing again. On worlds similar enough that we could each not just survive, but thrive, certain things had to be the same. And no it wasn't a coincidence. The Bug-Eye-Monsters who found the Voyager couldn't survive on Earth anymore than we could on an inhospitable place as nasty as their home-world. However, being enterprising, they went shopping for the perfect buyers who were willing to take on a nice fixer upper. So what if the joint already had tenants. We had, after all, provided them with the perfect sales brochure with all that stuff about Earth and us, we so thoughtfully added to that damn space probe on that damn gold record.
I remembered an old SF author who once said interstellar war was impossible. The enormous energy expended just to travel such distances at all would make any kind of warfare impractical. That is unless you waited till you got to your destination and used the system resources there to build your weapons.
At least that was the current thinking. We knew they had come in only one ship and while it was a big sucker, it wasn't that big. Add in them setting up some kind of big operation on the Moon and it was a reasonable guess they had put factories up there. That all explained why we saw mostly robots and drones. They just might have a limited number of warm bodies, but they had all the war machines they needed. No matter how freaking many we blew up, they could always make more. Of course each succeeding model was usually improved to foil our latest weapons and tactics at destroying the damn things.
A flake, drifting down from the dark heavy clouds, melted on my chilled cheek. Just perfect, I sighed again as more snow began to fall. Damn 'lake effect' coming off the bay meant it would become even more unpleasant out here.
Closing my eyes, I did my honest best to psych myself up for this. Focusing on how many of my fellow Prometheus 'graduates' who'd already given the ultimate sacrifice for Mother Earth and the human race, I really tried.
At last I heard, there'd only a couple hundred of us, out of the many thousands who had tried, that had drawn that wild card that made the Prometheus Project so worthwhile. However, having our dear Visitors blow the hell out of your facilities each time you used the things tended to slow things up. That didn't stop the Project whatsoever. Despite the costs, the rewards for even one success was worth it. After all what Army wouldn't want a Superman, Spiderman or Witch Blade?
I even wallowed in the survivor's guilt from not only walking away from that first use of the captured alien tech, but of all of those who given their all while I had as many if not more 'gifts' as any, but just couldn't push one damn it to hell button.
It was more than that of course, but I just had to complicate things for myself. You know, that own worst enemy thing. The weight of the Q-Box on my belt felt as heavy as lead instead of the barely noticeable plastic box. Although it had an acronym that had some kind of cool meaning in some dead language, all of us simply called them Q-Boxes because everything after the Q for 'Quantum' was unintelligible techno-babble to us average Joes.
It drove the science guys nuts, but despite all their explanations of shifting quantum states bought into matching something or another, we, the end-users, had to simplify things. Sure I got that Prometheus was somehow linked to a universe with some kind of higher energy thingie-bob, and connected it to us, but really understand it? That would be a no.
The simple explanation was it turned you into a you that could or might have been, a superhero. Or for that matter maybe they were villains. There was no way of knowing since there was nothing like communication with that other dimensional universe or whatever it was. Just you becoming like your unknown twin in that universe, however there were some problems too.
Other mad scientists' programs using the alien tech like any of the various Super-Solider or Project Rebirth, had a one hundred percent success rate. In that program, you were re-born at your physical and mental peak. In most cases I understand that actually exceeded what you really had been like at that age since damn few people really reach their full potential.
To be in your mid-twenties again, was a something most people would not turn down. Besides if there was one thing the human race needed it was every available warm able body to fight the bad guys. After a few kinetic bombardments here and there, over-population was no longer a worry. Extinction yes, but one thing at a time please.
I sighed, freezing, as snow blanketed Tampa. No, I just had to risk it all. Not sure sure of the interactions the Docs usually limited you to just one of the enhancement choices, but being young again wasn't good enough for me. Being a dreamer, has always been my biggest fault and boy did it bite me in the butt this time.
Irony upon irony, I now understood exactly what 'being careful for what you wish for' meant. I got exactly what I wanted, but it freaked me out so badly I couldn't use it.
Giving up, I hanged my head low and walked into the bustling club.
The music was thrumming with Dr. Demento's 'They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!' as the club's lights strobed madly. Shrugging off my parka, I left it in the lockers as other patrons stored their own cold weather gear they'd worn over their costumes as the club's bouncers looked on.
I thought one of them was going to say something about me not being in the required costume until he saw my leggings-like uniform and boots. Whether as qualifying as the required costume or being in uniform, that got me inside.
The Liquid Metal Skins were another of those things we'd taken from our besiegers. Most people just shortened it to Skins since there was nothing else like it. The stuff was elastic like Spandex, but provided as much, if not more protection as old pre-invasion bullet-proof vests. Covering from head to toe, it provided great impact resistance that really helped prevent all the bumps and scrapes you tend to accumulate while trying to stay alive on a battle field. The stuff would even change color to blend into the environment and even did a fair job of keeping you comfortable no matter the temperature. That is if you wore the whole ensemble.
It drove me to distraction since LM was so sensual it put silk to shame. The leggings and top were bad enough, but the head piece/hat and gloves were worse. Having that silky softness constantly play over my hands and face about drove me crazy. That was why I kept my trusty parka with its deep hood and my mitts.
The other parts I had to wear since it was the uniform of the day for the Pantheon Teams which were formed from the Prometheus Project's successes. The single biggest reason was because it could stretch a lot and still provided that aforementioned protection.
On the other hand, the figure hugging material did nothing for my decidedly non-heroic body. In theory, I was on detached duty because of medical issues so I could've worn a nice normal uniform which is what I usually did. It went without saying that a traditional costume would've worked too. It was Halloween.
That is except for Sheila who had convinced me to come dressed as a Pantheon trooper for the occasion. My reminding her I really was in that elite organization didn't work. She explained it was like Superman who appeared in public as his real self. It was Clark Kent who was the disguise.
Of course I had promptly chickened out at the door.
At this point I think I was hoping to see someone, anyone, we knew so I could claim I did in fact make an appearance and then run home as fast as the deteriorating conditions outside would allow. That is except for Sheila. That would not be good because I knew she would guilt trip me about breaking my promise.
However, the problem with finding that someone to make my alibi was obvious. Everyone was in costumes. The creative efforts highlighted other benefits such as it was of the invasion. The new technologies made possible some very realistic presentations. Frankensteins, were-wolves, vampires and scores of others including even one of our unwanted Visitors, a Tweety.
Mind you, I don't care for that term for the Aliens. However, it came about from their short stature and oddly shaped heads which kinda made them look big. The crowning fact was their feathery hair which was always brightly colored. The first one we saw had bright canary yellow hair which immediately got them labeled as Tweeties.
You see I liked the old Looney Toon cartoons, and Tweety Bird in particular. I'd often silently jeered my tormentors while growing up as 'Bad ole Puddy Tats!' Actually I like cats, too, but you get what I mean.
Well if you wanted a real life monster, that would certainly fit the bill. I wasn't sure what the world's current death count from the invasion was at, but the Aliens had killed more people than any one or thing in all of our history.
Rumor had it that, in the off and on talks with them, that they claimed they had bought the Earth all nice and legal, and we were nothing more than squatters who they were trying to evict. Given they told us that Voyager's information had been sold to them, that sorta made a kind of demented sense. On the other hand, it told us that in galactic society, that might made right. We had no recourse, but to fight tooth and nail to keep our world and lives.
“Craig!” A voice accused. “You're not in costume!”
“Sheila.” I sighed, turning to face my accuser. The attractive, bouncy blond was not happy with me.
“You promised!” The great-great-grandmother stared me down. A graduate of Project Rebirth, she had over nine decades of life experiences although she didn't look old enough to drink. To top it all off, the Air Force in its infinite wisdom had seen fit to make her a staff sergeant to try and keep up with its explosive growth as the world tried to defend itself.
Trust me that you would have to go a long way to find someone else more capable of managing people than Sheila. I knew I looked more like her father or maybe even grandfather given I still mostly looked my original age. That didn't stop my hormones from racing every time I saw her.
In theory the Prometheus exposure didn't do anything to your 'normal' body, but while I wasn't 'super' this way, I was healthier and in lots better shape. Of course being back in the Army again might've had some thing to do with that. Being forced to exercise regularly again did make a difference although I was still suspicious when I was more or less able to keep up with the twenty year olds even if I was bringing up the rear. Late middle-aged guys just don't do that!
“I know.” Yelling over the music, I couldn't help, but admire her scanty Tinkerbell costume. Yeah, that's me the dirty old man. She out-ranked me, but not by grade given I had re-entered the Army at the same rank that I'd left, a Sergeant, E-5 which was the same pay grade as hers. The Army and Air Force had different names for the same ranks, go figure. No, she had me by date of rank. Hers went back to the 1940's from her WAC days.
“I know I promised. ” Apologizing while yelling over the 'Monster Bash' was just bizarre. “And I'm sorry, Sheila, but I just couldn't.”
Her disappointed look made me feel like a first class jerk, but I had honestly tried. Not being able to do 'it' was what got me sent here to McDill AFB to begin with. She had no idea of how big of a deal it was when I showed her THAT other me in private. Even that had me awake half the night distressed half out my mind. How could any version of me do something like 'this' to themselves?
Being a good friend she'd sat there with me the whole time, as I fell apart. Unlike all the doctors and therapists, she hadn't pushed or really did anything except be there with me. Sheila had even turned on the TV as if there was nothing wrong or strange about me looking like, like, THAT.
This whole Halloween thing was her idea just so I could pretend, THAT, the other me was only a costume.
“Craig, it's alright.” Her smile said she still wasn't happy, but she wasn't angry at me either. “If you can't, you can't.”
“I even have my Skins.” Gesturing down to my legs, I showed her I had my uniform on even if I mostly hid it under my oversized sweater.
“I see that!” She giggled, her eyes sparkling in the flashing lights. “And I was so looking forward to seeing Halcyon in it!”
Okay, I was confused again as she used my official code name. Was Sheila suggesting she was interested in me like THAT? She was a great-great-grandmother for goodness sakes, for all she could pass for 18 again, so she had to be straight, right?
“Oh goody!” She laughed, taking me by the arm. “I think I broke you! Come on. The others are over here.”
Dragging me though the dancing, jumping, and hopping critters, monsters and everything else in-between, I saw her wave at a table. Our co-workers, Janet, Dave, Paul and Libby were all obviously having a good time. I suppose the for once hopeful War news may have helped lift everyone's spirit's a tad.
In our Visitor's drive to make Earth more attractive to them, they'd nano-bombed several cities which had serious pollution problems. Linfen, China had a coal problem that once was so bad that hanging laundry would turn black before it dried. Another Sukinda, India right in the heart of the country's chromite mining belt had highly toxic chromuim levels in their air, soil and drinking water.
Unlike the kinetic strikes, the nano-bombing while it in itself didn't kill anyone directly, it did forced mass evacuations as every man-made structure and object in the 'blast' area gradually fell apart as the nano-machines not only cleaned up the pollution, but disassembled all signs of civilization.
This time the contaminated Fukushima power plant in Japan was their target. Cleaning up that mess was good, but leaving the tens of thousands of people in the nearby towns destitute in the kind of weather we had these days were a death sentence.
I hated to think of the short cuts and out right mad risks that had probably been taken to do it, but the Japanese Self Defense Force of Earth's Defenders had stopped the Nano-machines in their tracks and even better had timed it only after the Fukushima site had been cleaned. Perhaps it wasn't a great victory, but right now the Earth at large would take what it could get. The news that our latest attempt at directly attacking our unwanted Guests' orbiting ship had failed spectacularly had not been released to the general public. Adding to the bad list, this murderous winter was right out of the end-of-the-world Fimbulwinter from Norse Myths and this endless cold was going to make it tough simply growing enough food.
It was human nature. Celebrate what you could and worry about starving to death later. Not that would be a worry for me. I was already somewhat surprised that I hadn't been 'pushed' into a do or die battle with the alien robots, yet. At least that way the Army would get part of their investment back before I was killed by overwhelming odds. Better yet, I wouldn't get anyone else killed in the doing of it.
Laughing about what someone said, Janet was this little, thin, Air Force Zoomie who was dressed as that Elven archer from that Hobbit movie a few years ago. Being a combined service organization, Dave was our token Marine, but was the least recognizable of my workmates with his Shrek makeup. Really he didn't need any cheesy fake muscle shirt to look the part. If anything he looked more like the Hulk in that green makeup than an Ogre because of the Marines' super-solider program.
Laid-back Paul was Army like me, but tonight was dressed in Dracula's finest evening wear. We'd laughed that the Wallachian Prince wouldn't be caught dead or alive with sparkles. Libby was Navy, a Squid. The cute brunette really rocked her 20's flapper getup.
Somehow I kept from sighing again. It was clear I wouldn't be making an exit any time soon. I'd never been the party type nor much of a drinker. Bowing to the inevitable, I ordered a beer knowing I wouldn't finish it.
Yeah, I got some ribbing about my lack of a real costume, but they all got quiet as I showed my Skins. There is a respect among the services for those in elite units. Just like you don't impersonate a cop, pretending you're something you didn't earn is a huge no-no.
With the exception of Sheila, everyone thought I was just another old Army guy called back to service. Sure they saw the Pantheon patch, but most people saw my age and leaped to the conclusion I was a support element. Just maybe too, I'd taken some pains to help with that mistaken assumption since it simplified my life.
“It's the real deal.” Sheila assured them, raising their curiosity.
“I have medical issues.” Was my reply, hoping nobody asked for an explanation.
The questions were brimming over within them, I could tell from their eyes, but for now they were willing to give me a pass. Unfortunately, I knew I would be hearing more about this. They probably thought I was a 'washout,' someone who'd failed the training after under going the 'process.'
Actually, I did pretty good with the course work. What field training that could be coaxed out of me was more problematic considering just changing was enough to freak me out with serious anxiety attacks. I will say that perhaps it was others reaction to THAT change during this time which alarmed me and only made things worse. Unlike that character in that old movie, I knew for damn certain that wasn't a 'Rabbit in their pants.' That was just eww!
However, while failing in the civvy world was looked down on, college dropouts were an example, in Uncle Sam's mean green machine it was taken to another level. Admitting your limitations was one thing, but to aim high and fail was something else altogether different. It was a mixture of 'do or do not, there is no try,' and 'failure is not an option,' taken to the nth degree. You did not get points for trying, only for succeeding.
Sheila finally tired of my mopping and dragged me onto the dance floor. I've never really thought 'The Were-wolves of London' was very much like dance music, but given the atmosphere tonight people would dance to anything.
“You know being a girl isn't torture.” She whispered yelled over the tune. “It's not that bad. As a matter of fact there is a lot of good about it.”
“But it is different.” I replied, still wishing I was elsewhere. Feeling like a yak with four left feet, as I tried to keep up with her. “If it was only being a girl maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but it's not.”
“Well, 'she' is a bit much.” She smiled as we slowly danced across the crowded floor.
“That is one way of saying it.” I returned her smile with a side ways one of my own. “No woman ever born ever looked anything even close to THAT.”
“I can't argue with you.” Sheila leaned into me. “Talk about curves, wow!”
My brains were shorting out again over the confusing signals, but I had to say it was really weird feeling jealous of what was really myself, kinda.
“Imagine looking into a mirror,” I countered, searching for a way to better say how it felt. “And not seeing anyone, but this stranger. There is utterly nothing similar or familiar about them. Their height, build, hair, face, everything is different. Take it a step further and envisage that image as being so outlandish it's nearly a photo-shopped caricature.
“I know that it has to be me, but something in my head just can't and won't connect with it.” Shrugging helplessly, I tried to escape the dance floor as the song ended.
“What I see is so bizarre, I simply can't associate it with being me.” Shaking my head, I winced as the DJ put on a cover of 'Thriller' by some new singer I was unfamiliar with. I just knew Sheila was going to drag me back to the floor because of it.
“Just as bad, I can't conceive of any version of me anywhere or any-when that could ever do something like this to themselves.” I hated it when I sounded like I was whining. “That only makes it all worse.”
“You know.” She said, dragging me back to dance to 'Thriller'. “That this might have been done to her without her wanting it or saying so. You did say it was a comic-book like universe. It even could've been an accident. All kinds of weird stuff happens to characters in those kinds of stories.” Sheila pointed out.
“Well, as far as we know.” I gave her that much. “It's only a guess based off of how we've seen how Prometheus changes people. However, I'm not the only who has freaked out. A couple of others have been transformed into things not even vaguely human so I guess I've been somewhat lucky in that regard.”
I didn't mention that many of those poor souls were about as stable as nitroglycerin. The Army had used them like living hand grenades. Willing to die for the cause and dear mother Earth was one thing, but suicide was never painless. Maybe even more so when the pain was so unbearable that it drove you to it in the first place.
“So if this wasn't a choice by that other you then she must've found a way of dealing with it right?” Sheila's eyes gleamed in the strobe lights as she lead me down the path of her reasoning by the nose.
“If it wasn't a choice, I guess.” Unwillingly, I could see where she was headed with this.
“Then so can you.” She grinned triumphantly. “Besides you're not the only one dealing with changes. I went from an undersized great-great-grandmother to this sexy young thing. No one told me that I would grow nearly a half foot although I'm not complaining. Being five foot nothing is no picnic.
“I know it was a far less drastic a change than what yours.” Sheila admitted. “But I do have some idea of what you're going though.”
“You grew?” I asked, amazed. She was a lithe little thing a couple of inches shorter than me already. I couldn't imagine her being even shorter.
“Almost six inches.” She nodded. “The Rebirth thing brings your body to its full potential including fixing any malnutrition issues while growing up during the Great Depression. The worst part was adapting to how people treat me now that I'm younger. I'm used to the respect that comes from age. Looking like this, no one takes me serious again.”
“It's not as bad as it was way back when I was a WAC, Woman's Army Corps, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.” Sheila relented and let us leave as the song ended.
I saw that guy in the Visitor costume again. He was just hanging back and watching everyone, but there was nothing wrong with that. As much as I wasn't all that social, I could understand needing to be around others with the death and heartache from the War. Still anyone having the guts to come as the world's current boogie man had to be given some credit.
Getting back to our table, Paul and Dave were out to the john, leaving the girls to their own devices. That left me more or less to myself as the ladies did their girl-talk thing.
That was fine with me. I had a lot to think about.
Sheila did have a point about that other me. If THAT change had been imposed or an accident rather than chosen then yes, he would've had to adapt somehow. The very fact I'd changed at all was proof that other me was alive because otherwise there wouldn't have been a quantum pattern to be copied.
Taking an honest look at the whole thing, I had been blaming that unknown me for this. How dare he get superpowers and ruin it all by changing into THAT! It really did alter everything to consider he might be in as much distress as I when he looked in the mirror.
I'd had some pretty nasty anxiety attacks that had done nothing but get worse. Of course that bought the point of just how the other me had managed not go crazy. Perhaps in that universe such things were more common and not as much as a shock as it was to me. On the other hand, most of Project Prometheus's successes while some did change radically, most experienced only minor changes. Even the others, despite growing bigger and bulging with muscles or suddenly sporting wings, they were usually still recognizable as themselves.
THAT person I saw in the mirror after triggering a change had absolutely nothing in common with me. Gender went without saying, but you could even say racially as well since no one in my family ever had Asian eyes. Complexion didn't count since I doubted anyone else on the planet looked like THAT, and height was a given too because people seven feet tall were at the very least uncommon.
Strangely I had found a character that somewhat resembled that stranger that was me. An online comic strip by the name of 'Grrl Power' had a major powerhouse that came remarkably close. Unfortunately except for a few private archives, that comic along with the majority of the internet was nothing more than history.
I found myself looking at guy in our unwanted 'Visitors' outfit again. In a way that other universe version of me was as much an alien as the Tweety. Okay I have to come clean that once you say it, yes, the Aliens do look a lot like oversized Tweety Birds.
Really his outfit was first rate, but then again so was mine. More than once I'd been thankful that my Skins kept me fairly comfortable even with the heavy sweater I kept on to hide just how tightly my uniform fit. With the crowd here tonight, it was nice and toasty inside despite most of the buildings in Tampa never being intended on keeping serious cold out. I should've been sweating like crazy, but for my Skins.
Of course mine was real deal right of JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command's supply depot. That got me wondering where he got his. Although Special Operations units, like Pantheon, had first dibs on the Liquid Metal Skins, lessor knockoffs were out there if you were willing to pay for it. The Fetish scene were hot as hell for them. Never mind the end of the world was coming when you had an itch to scratch.
We knew damn little about our invaders given that 99% of the time we were only fighting their robotic proxies. Most of the information we had came from communications or more accurately attempted communications. Like I've said before we and them just weren't on the same wavelength.
Additionally with them staying safe and sound in orbit, they were likely to stay strangers as we tried our very best to kill each other. That said us pesky primates had gotten a piece of one if only once. That was where our sample of Skins had originated. With the material's self-repair once you manged to cut off parts, the very tough stuff it would 'grow' into a whole new suit. Unfortunately, like sound recordings and other things, the more copies you made the lesser the quality. Pantheon uniforms were all first generation, but you could usually tell how good Skins were by just how much they looked like molten metal, think quicksilver. The reason why the bouncers had let me in the club with such a lame costume was because they recognized I was wearing the real deal.
The guy costumed as an Alien was also wearing the good stuff. Standing at about five and half feet tall, the Skins covered him from the neck down in a gleaming silver coating just like those space suits from the old movies. Around his waist was the belt that usually held a couple morphers on the real thing. Those were the preferred tools of our Visitors, consisting of specialized nano-tech units programed to become certain classes of machines like the ultimate transforming multi-tool. For example, one might be able to become a host of different weapons while another would be different kinds of engineering instruments.
Yeah, they were accomplished users of nano-tech, but instead of the do everything, take things apart and rebuild it into something else, they instead had very specialized colonies, I suppose you could call them, that had a limited set of forms and functions. Maybe that was just more efficient or perhaps some kind of cultural preference, but that was also a good thing for humankind.
They could've just dropped a swarm of nano-machines on our small planet and had them disassemble the whole joint, lock stock and barrel. Then they only had to rebuild it into whatever they liked. I suppose we should be grateful for whatever reason that prevented them from it. The Nano-tech bombardment thing was bad enough.
However, the point here was Mr. Alien had three flattened ostrich-egg shaped objects, morphers, that looked an awfully lot like the single example we'd managed to recover. It'd had been drained to almost uselessness, but still had been a treasure trove into how the Aliens' tech worked. Of course we'd studied the hell out of it.
I had that really bad feeling the movies talk about even as I tried to talk myself out of it. He couldn't be the real thing, and besides what possible reason would one of our invaders have for visiting a night club of all places on Halloween?
Well for one, he wouldn't have to bother with a disguise tonight with everyone else in costume, my traitor brain answered. Additionally, all of their contact with us has been second hand, through video conferences. Maybe if one wanted to study us first hand this would be the perfect opportunity. After all, he might not get a second chance with humans being on the 'endangered' list.
It was also worrying, that if this joker was real, just how close he was to McDill AFB. It was one of our major command centers which would make security shit bricks if my paranoia was correct. Our unfriendly Visitors had a habit of hitting places that unduly annoyed them with kinetic orbital bombardments.
Just to be sure I looked around to make certain there was only one of them. Not that it mattered all that much. With them dropping their robots from space, they could have a company sized element on the ground in minutes. That was assuming they didn't have stealth units already dirt-side. Although less heavily armed and armored, those things were hard as hell to detect entering the atmosphere.
Logic suggested they were more difficult to build or perhaps some other limitation since we saw so few of them. Normally when we did, they were in groups of six, the number of fingers including the two opposable thumbs of our bellicose Guests.
Immediately, I began trying to see his damn hands. He could have gloves on to make it look like he had an extra thumb, but even animatronics could only do so much. However, with the lousy lighting I couldn't even see his hands much less make out how many fingers he had.
“Earth to Craig!” Sheila laughed at my preoccupation. “Are you alright?”
“I'm fine. Paranoid, but fine.” My eyes never left him.
She followed my gaze.
“Nice costume, even if it is in bad taste.” Sheila replied, but then stopped as she realized what I just said. “You can't seriously mean you think he might be the real thing!”
Janet and Libby were chatting among themselves and didn't seem to notice what we were talking about. That was good. I didn't want to start a needless panic.
“That's why I'm calling myself paranoid.” Smiling, it never reached my eyes. Both my parents and my brother had died when our Visitors had dropped their 'bots on the Savannah River Site where the USA had once refined materials for nuclear weapons.
Her face paled as she noticed all the same details I had, but I'd thought of something else.
“If that is a costume,” She said low, just for me. “He certainly went to a lot of trouble to get the details right.”
“I have to wonder why he's standing where he is.” Sighing, my bad feelings were pegging the meter. “It's not the best place to see the dance floor or the stage when the costume contest begins. That's not what I would expect from someone who put so much effort into a costume so he could win. You would think, he would want to be seen.”
“No it's not.” Sheila followed my reasoning. “We picked this table because it has more privacy than most and is near the emergency exit.”
“And he is in a good place to watch me.” I added, calmly.
“Your Skins.” Enlightenment dawned on her like it had with me.
“If he is the real thing, he could be picking up on them and my Q-Box too.” My mouth was dry, but my taste for warm beer had long deserted me.
“So what do we do?” Sheila asked looking about at the packed club. “If something happens here, it'd be bad.”
“I know.” This could turn into a bloodbath if Mr. Alien's morphers were real. A plasma burner would turn this place into a blazing charnel house.
“Nothing.” I breathed out slowly. “Anything we do might spook him, and that would be a bad thing. He wouldn't be here all by himself to simply to crush, kill and destroy. He was also already present when I arrived so he's not here for me despite how he's watching us. It's possible he's their version of an xeno-anthropologist or something using Halloween as a chance to study us up close.
“With McDill so close?” She spoke my own thoughts. “There's a whole lot of other places a lot less sensitive and safer if that was what he wanted. That is if he's a Tweety.”
“Hey!” Dave, our Jar-head, back from the john, butted in. “What are you two so serious about? I thought we were here to party!”
Sheila's glance at me said she agreed that he was seriously inebriated.
“I always wanted to know.” He stated, drunkenly ignoring our unspoken communications. “Why do you guys call yourself Pantheon? I get the whole like the Greek heroes and gods thing, but couldn't you guys come up with anything better?”
“Well,” I smiled, although personally I agreed with him, but like a lot of things I wasn't consulted “Nobody liked the Super-Friends, and Avengers had already been taken. Besides, no one messes with Disney's lawyers.”
“Blood suckers!” He shot back. After being married four times, he had a very poor opinion of lawyers.
“You called?” Paul asked, in a bad Bela Lugosi imitation while holding his cape up in mock menace.
Dave glared at our vampire and turned back to his drink. He really wasn't this bad normally, but he was very drunk.
“Hey, look!” Sheila nudged me.
A Mentat from the last 'Dune' remake was approaching our Visitor. His makeup was very credible, and the huge bushy eyebrows only accented his surprised and shocked expression.
I think we were just as astounded since they appeared to know each other. Okay by this point we had convinced ourselves we had the real thing as our Halloween Guest of dubious honor.
“Maybe it is just a very clever costume.” Sheila voiced her doubts again.
The idea of a collaborator, a traitor to the human race, made my stomach churn. However, there was something else about the Mentat that nagged me. It took me a second, because I knew him from somewhere.
“The Away Team.” His face finally clicked. They were kinda a joke since their job was to build psychological profiles of the Aliens. The whole Intel shop called them the Away Team or the First Contact Team making fun of their nearly impossible mission of figuring out how Aliens think. Not that our job of predicting their military action was any easier, but we did have a few successes.
However, if anyone at McDill had direct contact with our Visitors, it would be someone from there.
“It could still be a costume.” Shelia said, without any conviction.
“Huh, guys.” Paul interrupted. “I don't think that's a disguise.”
“How so?” I asked him curious, playing devil's advocate. “They're only two guys at a party, right?”
“Feet.” He inclined his head at their subject of interest's lower extremities.
As one Sheila and I stared into the so very hard to see shadows. As difficult as it was to make out, the long split toes were visible. Perhaps there was a way to fake an effect that looked like that, but damn if I knew what it was.
“How did you know?” Sheila asked, Paul beating me to the punch.
“That detail has never been released to the public.” He replied, “No one knew until we got lucky and nailed that one Tweety. There wasn't much left to autopsy, but one foot was more or less in one piece. We don't even know which foot it was, but my did they analyze the living crap out of it.”
“So at the very least someone has broken security, releasing classified information,” Sheila was wearing her official Staff Sergeant hat. “And at the worst we have an active incursion.”
“That sounds about right.” I agreed, trying to see some way out of this mess. “Might I suggest sending the rest of our group out for reinforcements while we keep our objective under observation?”
She looked at our group. Sure they were well lubricated, but they were also sharp people. Janet was looking scared, and Libby wasn't a lot better although I was pretty sure I could credit the alcohol with that. Seeing how she'd been hanging with Dave, it was a miracle she could still walk.
“That sounds like a plan to me.” Sheila handed Paul her keys. “Don't you dare wreck it!” She warned. With all the industrial production going to the war effort, replacing or even repairing a civvy vehicle was nearly impossible these days much less her pride and joy.
“Tell them your token Pantheon guy ID'ed the suspect.” I sighed. If this fell though and it was really a human somehow in that getup, then the rest of them would be covered. “I'm in the doghouse already. If we're wrong, you won't get splashed by the fallout.”
“Feel free to mention the feet thing too.” I added. “I'm not trying to take your credit, Paul. That was a good call. I'm just trying to cover you guys.”
“I know.” He grinned at me. “Try not to start the festivities before we get back. You Pantheon guys have a rep for being crazy!”
“Why do you think I'm here on a medical?” I returned his grin. “I was too sane!”
That got a nervous laugh out of them. They knew the score. These days signing up for Special Forces was the same as the short list for very risky missions. On the other hand, I saw it as a desperate chance to not end up on the same list as the Dodo and the Tasmanian Tiger. Now, if only I could keep from freaking out long enough, I could charge the enemy guns in a glorious but final testimonial that we would not go calmly into the night.
“I think I'm ready for a little action,” Paul waggled his brows at Janet. “You ready to find some privacy?”
Some of her nervousness disappeared as she understood that was to be their excuse for leaving early.
“How about you drop these two back at the base?” Shelia nodded at Dave and Libby. “I think they've had a little too much celebration.”
Dave was so out of it, I don't think he was very aware of what was going on, but Libby caught on.
“Come on lover.” She teased him. “We got places to go.”
“We do?” He slurred. It was a good thing he was enhanced or otherwise he'd be on his way to a hospital for alcohol poisoning given how much he'd drank.
“Yes we do.” She helped him up.
We ended up helping take him to the door and waiting as Paul bought Sheila's car around. Her Caddie was one of the last Devilles the company produced and she babied it like it was her own child.
“Okay.” She sighed. “The messengers are on their way. All we have to do now is wait for the cavalry.”
“And hope nothing goes wrong.” I added, hoping our Visitor would be long gone before any 'reinforcements' arrived.
“Ditto!” She grabbed my hand as we headed back into the warmth.
Taking a deep breath, I took off my oversized sweater and gave it to her. Shivering, Sheila gratefully accepted as she tried to get warm again.
That of course left me in my fully exposed uniform that was in its default color of black. Pockets were impractical for Skins since that would compromise how the protection worked, but the lack was filled by what everyone called our Batman's belts. It was just a wide belt with pouches to make up for that lack as well as holding my Q-Box, but for me it only served to highlight my round tubby shape. Talking my gloves from a pouch, I put them on leaving off only the hood hidden in the collar.
As embarrassing as it was, the overweight guy was in uniform. I had lost an enormous amount of fat from around my middle since all of this had begun, but no matter how much I'd improved, Skins showed each and every flaw in marvelous detail. In truth I'd been the oldest candidate accepted by Project Prometheus and that was only because they really didn't expect me to manifest. Perhaps because it was the first mass test they were curious about the effect on someone older. I'd once held a high security clearance and had kept my nose clean since then. That'd been good enough.
The facade of the Parthenon's classic Greek Doric architecture was the unit patch of the Pantheon Teams and rode on my shoulder. The other insignia was all adapted from regular military informs to fit on Skins.
Two big differences were, one, instead of a regular name tag, a stylized gold and blue kingfisher was upon my upper right breast, Halcyon. Two, on my left breast where you usually found qualification badges such as 'jump' wings or the Combat Infantryman Badge, was a circular device with a hand holding stylized flames, Prometheus.
Halcyon, my code name, wasn't a perfect match for the facts, but that was the moniker that had gotten approved by the convoluted military bureaucratic and political deal brokering. What this all did was make me appear even more ridiculous because of just how little I looked anything like a elite lean and mean solider.
“Well, that wasn't hard.” Sheila had kept my hand as we looked for our quarry.
“Nope.” I replied, wondering at the irony again.
The Mentat and Visitor had moved to the very table we'd recently vacated. In the somewhat better light, I was certain that, one, Tweety was a real live alien invader, and two, he was here specifiably to meet with the Mentat.
“You know.” Sheila did her best to channel her inner secret agent despite her Tinkerbell outfit, “I don't think Mr. Bushy-Eyebrows was expecting his friend to show up tonight.”
“I was thinking the same thing.” Moving around I tried to get a good view as well without being painfully obvious I was watching them. “You know if anyone has a direct line to them, it's the Away Team. Not that its done us much good since they're still dropping kinetic strikes and robots on our asses, but talk is taking place.”
“You're thinking this Tweety may have decided to pull a surprise on his First Contact Team pen pal?” Sheila asked, pulling my sweater down so low it nearly made a skirt for her.
“Yeah,” Nodding I thought over my idea looking for errors. “Perhaps this is relatively innocent.”
“As innocent as meeting a representative of an alien race that wants to kick us off of our own planet can be.” Sheila smiled, at the irony.
It was nice that I wasn't the only one that was being smacked around by fate's debatable sense of wit and humor.
“You know there are those who fear that they have a worst fate in mind for us.” Giving her a grim smile, I explained. “If they just wanted to kill us off they have had the chance. Just their kinetic bombardments has bought on a nuclear winter and unless someone pulls one hell of a rabbit out of their ass, there are going to be a whole lot less people around this time next year.”
I didn't mention the mass starvation that would be the cause. We both knew the score and didn't want or need to talk about it.
“So slaves or some kind of lobotomized servants?” Her nose winkled in distaste. Sheila lived though the difficult Civil Right years and even if she wasn't a minority, she had strong feelings about it.
“That's where some of the theories go.” I nodded. “Others are saying that the reason they haven't wiped us out yet is that they want us to fight back and advance our tech level to nearer theirs. They do appear to be strangely selective as to what they destroy and what they leave alone. Look at how most the large cities haven't been touched. Why do the work when we can do it for them? After they finish us off, all they have to do is move in.”
“That's a depressing thought.” She winced. “However that isn't going to stop me from kicking their feathered butts back where they came from.”
“I'm almost of two minds about this.” I thought out loud. “If one of them is getting closer to understanding us then that might be a good thing. On the other hand, it could be bad too if they get better at knowing how to hurt us.”
“That is an idea.” She replied. “This one has proved himself a maverick just by being here. Like you said that could be good or bad. There is no way to be sure.
“You know.” She changed the subject. “That we're going to catch hell no matter what happens? Some will say you needed to press your Q-thingie button and beat the snot out of him the moment you saw him.”
“I know.” I nodded. “This just might be the ticket that gets me sent on that suicide mission I've been expecting. However, the last time we knowingly took on a Visitor personally, it took a complete Pantheon Team plus an entire armor brigade. That Alien foot from Paul's autopsy cost the lives of three-quarters of that Team, and for all practical purposes destroyed that Army unit.”
The causalities from that alone ran into the hundreds if not the thousands. The enemy robots and drones were deadly effective. Those soldiers had given their all so that the Pantheon Team could have their shot.
What the enemy forces didn't kill, the kinetic strike afterward finished. Our adversaries didn't like to lose and had learned the hard way it was a bad idea to let us get our grimy monkey-boy paws on any of their tech. Of course that only made us a lot better at not getting caught.
“I will bet that at the very least he has a security detail of stealthed robots nearby.” Sighing, I couldn't help but look at all the happy oblivious people and wonder how many were going to be alive by this time tomorrow. “His morphers give him the tools to cut me into little tiny bits, and I'm essentially untrained since I freak out every time I try and change.”
“What about all that martial arts stuff you've been taking?” She asked, moving closer.
“I know that the other me,” Explaining helped distract me from how she made me feel. “Is very strong, so I'm doing my best to play to that strength, pardon the pun. Power arts like karate, and boxing help me learn how to focus my attacks and how to throw a proper punch. If you can get close enough their hand to hand programing isn't that good, and you can kick some serious 'bot tin butt.”
“But?” She asked, hearing my pause.
“Their long range mass drivers will tear even a M1 Abrams to pieces in seconds.” I replied grimly. “And in the event they run out of ammo before their automation can reload from local resources, they have plasma burners that, although short range, they arc at 25,000 degrees C.”
“And his morphers can form one of those too.” She remembered her briefings.
“Yes,” I acknowledged. “And his Skin is much better than mine. This can stop small arms fire pretty good.” I tugged at the collar. “His can stop anything short of a cannon. That's why all they found of that one Visitor was only a foot. We had to hit it with shit so overwhelming that there wasn't much left afterward.
“The point is although I might be able to shout 'Shazam' and turn into Captain Marvel,” I took a deep breath calming the stress that even thinking about my dilemma caused me. “That me, THAT body is unfamiliar to me that at best I'll be clumsy. The reason for all the special training is accustom us to our new bodies and powers as well as teaching us all that special operation stuff. Additionally, as powerful as a Prometheus endowed Pantheon Team member might be, one Visitor and his bodyguard robots can easily level this entire city block and me with it.”
I left off the qualifier. In what testing I did do before becoming useless to everyone including myself, I did rate very high. That didn't particularly make me feel very comfortable given that of the five highest rated ever, three were dead, one was a crippled vegetable leaving just one who was still active on the Teams.
“What are you not telling me?” Sheila gave me that look. She knew me too well.
“That I really don't know what I can do.” I hedged. “There's no guarantee that I'll be of any use at all. You stayed with me and helped calmed my anxiety attack, that one time I changed for you, but transforming is not easy. The Q-Box is like a jump-starter. It only helps initiate the whole process. Older more experienced Pantheon's don't even bother with it. They can not only just will the change, they can stay hero'ed-up much longer. Even the cool down, before they can change again is shorter. The inexperienced, like me, need all the help they can get making it happen. I have to push hard to trigger the change.”
“So the inverse is true too.” She guessed right. “If you really lose it, you'll change back.”
“Exactly.” I nodded. “The other night when I showed you THAT me, I didn't quite reach that point. You did a lot to help keep me from losing it. That was why I never made it to a Team. It would be just plain stupid to risk those lives with me being so unstable.
“The odds of me being able to capture him just plain suck.” I walked her though my reasoning. “All it would do is seriously endanger everyone here. Even if we pulled the fire alarm, the panic could cost lives and perhaps cause him and his robotic guards to react badly. Far, far better to just play it cool.” I was having second thoughts about sending for help, but it had gotten our guys out of here.
Looking heavenward, I prayed for a miracle. "Please Lord just let the Tweety go home before something bad happened, Amen."
You would've thought that when Credence Clearwater Revival's 'Bad Moon Rising' began playing we would've gotten a clue, but sadly, no. We were so intent about possible trouble from the pair in the corner, we made a major mistake.
We'd forgotten this was a wild Halloween party and it was getting wilder the drunker everyone got. The booze was flowing, and passions were riding high. Factor in we were in a War in which nearly everyone had lost those dear to them, and then put one of those who'd rained death down from the heavens where he could be seen, then you have a problem.
With the room so crowded, we didn't pay the drunk who passed us with exaggerated care. That is until he got into the Visitor's face.
“F'ing Tweety!” He slurred, belligerently. “You should all fly back to your F'ing bird cage.”
“It's just a costume.” The frightened Mentat did his best to defuse the drunk.
My and Sheila's “Oh Shit” went without saying. The Visitor didn't appeared alarmed, but with Aliens who knew. I found myself moving before I'd actually decided on what to do.
“Stinking Tweeties think they can just take over our planet.” The Drunk continued, working himself up.
“Hey Friend.” I said, grasping the guy by the shoulder. Second thoughts ran though my head as it hit me just how big he was. I was only 5' 8” and this bruiser was well over six feet plus he outweighed me to boot.
As he turned around to glare at me, I realized he was probably military too given his buzz cut, muscle mass and, although drunk, the way he moved. Undoubtedly he'd been Captain America'ed with some sort of super-solider formula that all the armed services had embraced.
“Pantheon.” I touched my shoulder patch. “We have it all under control. Come on, let me buy you a drink.”
“Poser!” He snarled, having found a target for his anger.
My face exploded in pain as I flew backwards, spraying blood from my busted nose before bouncing to a stop on the floor. Here I am dressed in the best all purpose armor humanity could devise and he hits me in the one place where I'm not protected.
“You shouldn't have made me angry.” I blinked away the tears and wiped at the blood from my smashed schnoz. One of the things I didn't tell Sheila was that enough good old fashion adrenalin would work just as well as the Q-Box to kick-start the 'Shazam' thing. “You won't like me angry.”
He laughed and began to turn back around. Fine, I'd had about enough of this joker. I pushed the button.
Blinded by the flash of light that heralded my change his mouth hit the proverbial floor, and he wasn't the only one staring in shocked surprise. Mr. Mentat looked as if he just soiled himself and even our Visitor looked dismayed, half-raising from his seat as if in alarm.
I knew what they were seeing although I did my best not to think about it. A very tall extremely curvy, but supremely fit woman who while not as excessively ripped as a obsessed body-builder, each and every muscle were as clearly defined as if sculpted by an ancient Greek master.
The only truly exposed part of me was my head since my Skins had stretched and grown with me as designed. However, just as my uniform shamelessly displayed each and every one of my normal self's imperfections, they now hid absolutely nothing. I was a pornographic fantasy, an exaggeration straight out of the comics bearing little resemblance to the reality of a human being.
My face was just as unbelievable. The molten golden complexion belonged on a work of art, but it was alive, me. My shoulder blade length hair was just as impossible being a royal sapphire blue that looked liked gems spun into fibers. My eyes had an exotic slant and were emerald green which was accented by the blue jeweled eyelashes. My gilded lips were more reddish as if made out of rose-gold, an alloy of gold and copper.
Grasping onto my anger like a downing man, I set all that aside as far away as I could. 'Pushing' with my will against gravity, I rose like Paul's Dracula defying the physical laws of our universe. No one knew how the exactly how the Visitor's spacecraft engines worked, but we did know they twisted the laws of time and space. Clever monkey-boys that we were, humans excelled at putting them to use in ways their inventors never even conceived.
In a way, I was a living link to another dimension where the laws of reality were very different. A place that allowed a living woman made of precious metals. An universe that let people fly. That was Prometheus.
“Would you care to try that again?” I tilted my head quizzically while being thankful this joker was tall enough so I didn't have to look down and have one of THIS body's biggest challenges rubbed in my face. Let's just say looking down at my feet while like this was not easy and leave it at that!
“Sheila,” I turned to my friend, taking the opportunity while Mr. Drunk was dumfounded. “Get them out of here.”
Dressed in only her Tinkerbell costume and my sweater, she didn't hesitate for a second. Mr. Mentat didn't need any encouragement to urge his Alien friend that this was not a good place to be.
Apparently that was enough to motivate Mr. Drunk to try again.
Smack! A meaty fist hit the immovable object, my Skins covered hand.
Very carefully, I'd only interposed my open palm. Not knowing my own strength I was fully capable of crushing his hand into pulp.
“Sumbitch!” From his expression even that hurt a lot as he cradled his injured hand.
“Are we finished?” I asked inclining my head the other way. The bouncers were charging to the rescue.
I'd seen that Sheila’s exit hadn't triggered the emergency alarm which greatly simplified things. The reason I'd told her to run for it was because I thought the risk of mass death and mayhem being higher with a panicky Visitor than with scared people running out into a near blizzard. A few dead versus the entire vicinity being leveled to the ground.
Needless to say I was much happier with this solution.
“Hey guys!” I held up my hands showing the bouncers I wasn't going to be trouble. “Sorry, but I have to go. You might want to check the alarm on the backdoor.”
Leap, flying over their heads, I went as fast as dared without hurting anyone or bouncing off the ceiling. The reason why I didn't take the backdoor was because I would've reset the alarm. Just the same with me flying over everyone's heads, getting outside was fast.
Conditions outside was a right mess with several inches of snow covering the once tropical city, and more was coming down. That made it both harder and easier. Finding the backdoor to the club from the outside was a chore, but following the footprints leading from it was a piece of cake.
It was what I found at the end that was the kicker.
The Aliens' aerial drone of choice was rather like those in that old Tom Cruise movie, 'Oblivion.' Maybe a bit more egg shaped, but they had the same retractable weapon pods on the sides. Armament was usually plasma burners and about dozen missiles, six per side. Unlike their ground pounder cousins, the flying drones lacked the rail guns. Their required automated ammunition replenishment gear had to be in contact with the ground and, duh, they flew! However given the drone's high maneuverability and speed, that wasn't much of an disadvantage. Short ranged or not, the damn things could shove those damn plasma burners up your ass and pull the triggers before you could blink.
Right now, four of those things were hovering around Sheila, Mr. Mentat, and their boss, the Visitor.
I kinda pulled a double take when I realized my jeweled eyes let me see the hovering drones while the others couldn't. Hidden by the near whiteout conditions, the stealth units were invisible to everyone except for me.
I felt a lump drop into my guts as all four drones turned and extended their weapons at me!
He had to have some kind of override going since they should've just opened fire. Unfortunately, I'd stumbled into their kill zone. Very slowly I landed with my hands up next to a shivering Sheila.
“We have four stealth drones covering us.” I answered the question I saw in her eyes about why my hands were up.
Despite the cold, Mr. Mentat was sweating like crazy.
“I never expected Tash would take my invitation seriously!” He swallowed hard with fear.
“Please stay calm.” I only wished I could take my own advice! “I might be misunderstood, so could you help me out here?”
At his nervous nod, I spoke.
“Please, this is a night of celebration for us.” I hoped what I thought was non-threatening meant the same thing to them. “We don't want any trouble so just please leave.”
Mr. Mentat mostly just repeated my words, but put emphasis on different parts. As our Visitor slowly nodded, I thought we had just dodged a big bullet.
Then there were just three drones as the fourth blew up!
I threw myself around Shelia as a plasma burner squirted 25,000 degree C death. Not really thinking, I hoped me and my Skins would be enough to save her. The agony that washed over my back made me seriously doubt that.
My brains finally caught up with the fact, I had to still be alive to feel pain. Plus, I'd been stupid since I was the target and not her. All I'd done was put her into danger. About then the booms from the other M1 Abrams 120mm guns reached us. With their new power plants the damn things were damn near stealthy themselves especially with the cover of the near blizzard
That didn't last long as the tanks began to explode as the remaining three drones dodged the rest of the 120mm barrage and returned fire with their missiles usual deadly accuracy. Unfortunately, while this detachment did have the upgraded power plants, they still had the old style 120mm main guns and not been refitted with captured rail guns. With them they might've had a vague possibility of intercepting the missiles, without them, they had no chance at all.
Knowing that if our Visitor fell, it was a certainty that a kinetic strike would be streaking this way from orbit a heartbeat later, I felt my blood freeze. This was a no win scenario.
“Get him out of here.” I told Sheila for the second time tonight.
“I'm beginning to think you don't like me!” But she grinned letting me know she was joking. It was the kiss that rocked me.
“For luck!” Sheila yelled over her shoulder as she dodged for cover as another burner hit me.
Move it! I chided myself though the pain echoing over my entire body. While I didn't appear to be hurt, it had hurt like hell! I had some choice thoughts for the commander of those tanks too, but I was the idiot who'd sent for help. What the hell can you do when doing the right thing is exactly the wrong thing?
'Pushing' hard against the ground, I flew upwards like a rocket at the drone that'd been lighting me up. I noticed my fists were glowing white hot just a scant moment before that drone exploded in a rain of molten fragments!
However my surprise, let the other two pivot neatly in place. We'd learned that it really didn't matter if the Aliens' missiles were active seekers or not. They were so fast, that for all practical purposes they were direct fire even if they could go around the proverbial corner.
The first missile's warhead blew, throwing me spinning out of control crunching into a corner of a masonry building. My brightly glowing body caused the frozen ice and bricks to explode like a superheated iron bar thrust into a vat of liquid nitrogen.
The second missile took out the other two-thirds of the structure, and buried me in the debris. I could only hope the place had been unoccupied because it was completely demolished.
I had another of 'those' moments pulling myself free. Damn but didn't my breasts hurt! Mind you, the plasma burners should've incinerated me and the missiles ought to have vaporized what was left, but no. I fretted over my aching breasts that hurt very much the same way as if someone had kicked me in the balls.
Somehow, my Skins had stayed more or less intact at least in the front. My back that had taken the burners, well, lets just say it was drafty back there.
An A-64 zoomed overhead heading into the fray. We'd learned damn fast that helicopters were dead meat in this this new kind of war. However, Project Prometheus wasn't the only use we'd found for the Alien engines. Refitted, Apaches, while not the best aircraft in the world did give the drones a lot more of a fight without those pesky rotor blades. Hell, maybe someday a purposed designed attack bird using the new tech would reach the boys on the pointed end of the stick. Till then, you used what you had to hand.
That only made me wince as the A-64 Super-Apache cut loose with a full salvo of Hell-Fires right before it was engulfed by a ball of plasma.
Streaking upwards, I belatedly pulled my hood over my head. Hoping for whatever protection it could give, I zipped right though the blazing remains of that doomed crew and machine. My gambit worked as I bushwhacked their killer on the other side, who never saw me coming. My hands glowed again, but not nearly as bright. Still while it didn't explode my arms sunk all the way up to my elbows in its tough armored hide. Recalling yet another movie, I grabbed what I could and yanked, hard.
There was a sharp CRACK as it lurched to one side spewing bright electrical arcs and smoke. A telltale whine increased until something else went wrong in it innards. Losing power, it crashed leaving me feeling very satisfied.
Dropping my handfuls of parts, maybe this girl thing wasn't so bad after all.
Grinning, I oriented myself as to where I was and headed for the sounds of the guns.
A burning M1 was being pushed forward by another as it tried to get close enough to get a clear shot at an Alien infantry 'bot. Being a stealth unit it was damn hard to see anyways and while lost in the ground clutter a very hard target unlike the first flying drone which had forgotten an M1's sensors could see perfectly well at night as well as though the snow.
The ground pounder stealth 'bot wasn't anywhere near the size of the tank, being about my height, but having the build of a squat gorilla. Lacking the boxy shape so many robots from the imaginations of various media, it was a rounded stylized humanoid with Popeye forearms where its weapons were housed.
Unfortunately for that tank crew, the 'bot wasn't hindered by their tactic at all. It's twin rail guns cut loose on full auto, throwing a tidal wave of sparks from the burning tank like a nail hitting a grinder as it cut the hulk in two. With the automated ammunition gathering system in the feet, making bullets for it to fire, the bot was not only anchored, but had an inexhaustible supply of munitions.
But there was a problem with that.
It also made it the perfect stationary target. I crashed into the 'bot knocking it over and happily tearing off one foot. There was no glowing hands this time, but I put one hell of a dent in it. Gyros screaming, it rolled upright, standing on its one intact leg.
“Say good night, Gracie!” I smiled as it tried to bring up its plasma burners.
The 120mm depleted uranium round was more than enough to make me duck and cover from the flying wreckage. Perhaps the tankers were trained to shoot at larger targets, but the ones that lived learned real fast.
Giving the tankers a wave, I took to the air again. Counting the smaller burning wreckage, it looked as if we had gotten all the 'bots, but I couldn't see any signs of Sheila and the boys.
Making myself think, I climbed as high as the low snowy clouds would let me and still see. Somewhere out here our Visitor had to have his ride parked. On the ground was out, because one of us monkeys might stumble across it. However, a roof would be perfect. It could be set to just hover and never make contact with the roof at all.
My smile got wide as I spotted the clear circle among all the snow on a roof top. It was too warm for the snow to stick to the spacecraft and its active camouflage didn't take into account the situation changing because of the weather. Not a mistake a solider would make, but an academic?
The saucer reminded me of the one from the 'Day the Earth Stood Still.' It was super smooth and streamlined with none of the projections and clutter SF movies from after that classic film sported.
Spotting them wasn't hard once I'd narrowed down the area in which to look. Poor Sheila was looking half frozen as she climbed out onto the roof and Mr. Mentat was nearly as bad. The Visitor in his Skins didn't even notice the weather.
Okay let's try this again. As peaceably as I could I floated down more lightly then even one of the many flakes that was still falling.
This time the Visitor's hand went to his morpher. Well, without his escort 'bots I could see how he might feel a little threatened.
“You're alive!” Sheila damn near took both of us off the roof with her tackle.
Squishing, err, breast things, didn't exactly set my anxiety alarms to ringing, but it was more I didn't know what to think about the sensation.
“You, you, you're alive!” Mr. Mentat stuttered disbelievingly. “I saw them shoot you with a burner!”
“That's what she said.” I found myself hugging her back. Weird sensations or not, hugs were good. Just being alive was good too.
“While we're at it.” I smiled. “Would you mind repeating our request for our Visitor to please leave before something else happens?”
The burning fires reminded me too pointedly that they were funeral pyres of warriors who died believing they were protecting their land and homes. Somehow I kept from projecting that anger onto our Visitor. I prayed that somehow some good came of this.
I heard the name 'Tash' again as they spoke.
“You know you're a bit exposed back here don't you?” Sheila rubbed my bare back, but made me jump when her hand went lower.
Without thinking I looked down and of course found my line of sight blocked by a pair of twin mountains. That did start ringing the alarm bells, but trying to work around it, I used my hands to discover that wasn't the only bare spot. Perhaps my 'front' was covered, but that was about it. One leg was completely nude and the rest of my Skins had tears and holes from being buried and plasma burner blasts. Even my Batman belt was gone.
“Damn it, my wallet and keys were in there.” I cursed softly not wanting to sour the delicate negotiations taking place. However, at a guess I must have lost the belt right at the beginning when I got shot in the back. With luck it would still be there.
That line of thought kept me from thinking about just how exposed THIS me was right now. Maybe my tattered uniform covered more than a bikini, but not by much.
All the while Sheila held me and I felt my heartbeat or whatever was in my chest slow to something like normal.
“He has things to ask you.” Mr. Mentat turned to us.
“You, one of quantum'ed cursed would let me depart?” Tash asked.
“Yes.” I took a deep breath. “There would be nothing to gain and much to lose. You would not surrender. I saw your hand go to your weapon. If that was not enough despite how tempting of a prize your and your ship would make, do you think your shipmates would hesitate to bomb us from orbit to prevent just such an event?”
At his nod of agreement, I continued. “Tonight there are those celebrating being alive and being with the ones they care about. They don't deserve a death, not tonight or any night, but I'll take what I can get. It is far better for you to just leave.”
“But tomorrow is another day.” I smiled as Sheila and I hugged.
He nodded and turned to leave, but stopped.
“Why would you give up the one quantum pattern that in all the universes and dimensions that make you unique?” He asked.
Listening to the science guys gave me something of a clue of what he was talking about.
“Because to keep those we care and love safe we would dare anything and anyone.” I replied evenly. “You called me cursed, but instead I say we're warriors willingly putting ourselves between danger and the ones we're sworn to protect.
“Call us Quantum Warriors if you must.” It was an effort not to grin at that, but not at what came next. “When your people made 'that' purchase they made a bad decision. I would ask you to think about it and what you have learned of us.”
“I will.” He replied, but then took a hesitating step toward us.
“This is the custom, yes?” He held out his hand.
“Yes it is.” I took his hand careful of my strength. “Hello I'm Halcyon.”
“Hello,” He replied, back. “I'm Tash.”
“Do your people have a similar custom?” I asked, catching Mr. Mentat's attention so he knew he was being included in this.
“If I may? He asked, Tash, who nodded his assent.
“It's similar to the old Roman salute with the fist bought over the heart” The Dune aficionado explained. “But with the palm turned out to show they bear no weapon. Their arms are articulated a little differently than ours, which makes it a little awkward for us.”
“Our custom had a similar beginning.” I tried out the motion which was as he said not really intended for humans, but I didn't let that stop me.
Gravely he returned the gesture and nearly made my heart stop as he touched one of the morphers at his belt.
“You call this Trick or Treat, yes.” His beak like lips made what I think was his version of a smile. “I choose to give a Treat.”
My Skins regenerated right before my eyes as he touched them. Normally, yes, they would self-repair, but not anywhere near this fast. On the other hand there was a small problem.
“You know that in Earth culture it is the monsters who get the treat or do the trick?” I looked down at him trying to ignore the 'landscape' on my chest.
Our Mentat inhaled sharply in alarm at my insult.
“You have no conception of how my people regard those like yourself who have had their quantum patterns eradicated.” Tash then turned to offer Sheila his hand and introductions.
That was a point I really couldn't argue. Before the war, some of things Prometheus did to people would be right out of the horror movies. Then again I'd always cheered for the underdog, the monster, anyways in the old movies.
She just as seriously shook his hand and did the hand over the chest thing.
I think all of this kinda broke our Mentat, but he took Tash's hand and did the Alien salute as if he'd just won a lottery jackpot.
Then we watched as he entered his craft and departed, raising into the falling snow until out of sight lost in the low heavy clouds.
“I think just maybe we did something very significant here tonight.” Mr. Mentat said, looking up.
I noticed that somewhere in all of this he'd lost one of his fake bushy eyebrows.
“Yes, we did.” Sheila looked up at me as she said it, and I don't think she was thinking about the War.
There was no need for me to say anything so I didn't. I couldn't say I was comfortable as a living female statue, but having her with me, made it far less uncomfortable. Plus, I had things to think about, Tash.
Not a Visitor, unwanted Guest, or even a Tweety, but Tash. He had a name and had given it freely. Just maybe we weren't doomed after all.
“Halcyon, “ Sheila asked, using my code name. “You said Project Prometheus just kind of copied your other self in that superhero universe, right? It didn't steal that person's powers or anything did it?”
“Why do you ask?” As we moved off the roof I could feel the cold even if it didn't set my teeth to chattering.
“It was what he said about losing your unique quantum pattern thing.” She looked so small standing next to me.
“From what I understand we couldn't have done that even if we wanted.” I did my best to explain what little I understood about it as I took her in my arms and flew us down.
“We can tap that power in that other universe, but we can't touch the place or anyone in it. Think of a river where you can draw off water as it flows downstream, but you can't fight the current to go further up.” We could see the emergency lights of the rescue crews as I carried her since she made no objections. As a matter of fact the little minx looked as if she was loving every minute of it.
“How about Einstein’s gig about even observing an event changes it.” She grinned up at me.
“I really don't know.” Seeing all the activity, made me dread the coming debriefing. This was not going to be fun. “You think Prometheus somehow changed things there?”
We heard our one-brow Mentat trying to catch up with us.
“Not Prometheus.” Shelia smiled, “You. Seeing you changed me.”
Pulling my head down, she kissed me, but this time I knew it wasn't just for luck.
One storyteller might describe the place as being in another universe far, far away, but another older spinner of tales would say “It's though a door opened with the Key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension — a dimension of sound, of sight, and of the mind, The Twilight Zone.” A scientist would speak of other dimensions as well, but add in that in the infinity of universes, this one sat at the very peak of endless possibilities. He might say that it was a marvelous place so filled with energy and potential, but yet it still allowed life to flourish.
Or he could say, “Screw it! Rod was right!”
Lapis Iazuli opened her jewel eyes. Time had little meaning for her trapped and bound in this body by the Golem Master. She'd suffered such terrible cruelties that it had broken, no shattered her. The horrifying things that she'd been forced to do had been the final blow that sent the remaining bits of her sanity retreating to the deepest, darkest corners of her mind to hide from the unspeakable, nightmarish memories.
She could hardly remember being male. However, the awful all consuming agony as the evil alchemist tore and rendered that body, her very essence into ingredients to fashion this jeweled prison made of priceless metals, could never be forgotten.
Even her old name was lost to her. Lapis Lazuli was the only one she knew and answered to. She was worse off than a slave who at least had the option to disobey despite knowing they would be punished. Not so for her who was treated like a robot, a machine.
But something had changed. Irregular at first something had somehow touched her as gently as the softest breeze. The first tickle had somehow healed enough of her splintered sanity to waken her sense of self that had laid buried for so very long. The second had returned her awareness, the ability to reason and think that had been stripped from her, but it was the latest that was truly priceless. She had a measure of free will.
Lapis Lazuli couldn't disobey orders from her dread Master, but anything that wasn't covered by those orders and the commandments that was literally written in the stone that controlled and bound her, was now up to her discretion.
So very slowly a smile graced her gilded rose-gold lips. No matter how long it took she would bide her time carefully and with great deliberation.
After enduring so much her anger had long ago burned out leaving only an icy cold, pitiless purpose. Perhaps much of her memory was hopelessly forever scrambled by the horrendous fate to which she'd been shackled, but this she did recall.
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
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