Chapter 1

    “So, how goes the project?” inquired the well-dressed man to the assembled group of scientists. This had been the third time this week he had convened the group. He had been hearing conflicting reports, and was determined to get the truth of the matter. He simply had neither time nor patience for incompetence.
    “It has been going remarkably well. The DNA strands, despite their age, are intact and have been successfully replicated.” replied the spokeswoman, a young Indian woman. A smile crossed her face as she continued. “We should have a prototype soon.”
    Nodding, the man looked over the official progress report, each stage carefully documented by the lead geneticist. “Will the clone be as is, or will it be enhanced?”
    “We’re trying one as is, and another with the enhancements. During the growth process, we have been streaming information into the clones’ brains via neurofibers, which is by far a more accurate method than what had been attempted in times past. We should have the prototype available in, say, a week?” she concluded. The others murmured in agreement.
    Jones smiled satisfactorily. This group of scientists seemed more competent than the last bunch.
“Very well. Bring the enhanced version here for demonstration as soon as possible. The Director has been keenly interested in this project, and would like to see a good return on her investment.” He added the last line as a footnote, as well as a warning. The last team of geneticists had proved themselves so hopelessly inept, the Director had them, in her words, “liquidated.”
    The veiled warning was not lost on Dr. Chandrasekar. She smiled politely and adjusted her glasses. She stood up and led the group out of the conference room.
    “Ah, Doctor.” Jones called out.
    As Dr. Chandrasekar turned around, she caught his gesture for her to come back to the room. She whispered some instructions to the team and came back into the conference room.
    “Yes, Jones, what is it?”
    “Shut the door please.”
    She did as asked and gave him a puzzled look. “Is there something else?”
    “The sample that you are currently working on…Do they have any living descendants?”
    “I ran it through the genetic database, and there is one living descendant.” she raised a cautious eyebrow.
    “Here, in Paragon City.”
    He said nothing, but took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Can you get me the name? I need to have him sign some papers before you wake up the project.”
    “Very well, sir. I’ll stream the information to you as soon as I return to the lab.” she said calmly. Inside, however, her mind was racing. What they would want with the personal information of someone descended from a hero was beyond her. She doubted that it was just “to sign some papers.”
    The young geneticist got up and left the conference room, stealing a quick glance at the portrait that hung at the far end of the room. It was a massive painting, one of the company’s founder, Countess Crey. The painting always unnerved her; seeming to watch all in the room, yet focussing on each individual. She smiled again at Jones and left.
    As she walked down the hall, she saw one of the janitors wheeling a cart loaded down with light bulbs. As they passed they locked eyes and the doctor gave him a quick nod. He nodded deeply, some unspoken message passing between the two of them.

    “So, Jones, do you think we can trust her?” came a voice from behind the large portrait overlooking the well-decorated room.
    “I think we probably can trust her about as much as she trusts us, Countess.” he replied.

    When Dr. Chandrasekar returned to the her lab, she immediately went to the growth tubes. The pale, cheerless glow emanating from the transparent cylinders illuminated the room. She first looked at the status of each clone; they were growing at the expected accelerated pace, and all life signs were indicating that each one was healthy.
    Standing back, she looked at each one. Based on the same DNA strand, technically they were identical. Yet, due to the tampering of her and her team, one was a little taller, the organic weaponry this individual had when alive was enlarged, non-retractable. The team also opted to tweak the clone’s adrenal glands, making it more prone to go into a battle frenzy.
    She exhaled deeply and smiled. Dr. Chandra was proud of her work. She was one of the top minds in the field of genetic research, and with the sizeable funding given to her lab from Crey Industries, she would be able to show off her genius to the world.
    The enhanced clone gave a twitch, and the monitors responded with shrill alarm. A slight furrow of worry crossed her brow. The clones were supposed to be virtually comatose and not able to really perform any sort of voluntary movements. As she checked the monitors, she realized that the enhanced clone must have had some sort of dream, her vital signs had gone back down to normal.
    Satisfied that all was progressing on schedule, she faxed the information Jones had requested, gathered her things, and went home. She had someplace to be and had to be quick about it, now that someone’s life was in danger.

    Mike greeted the larger than usual crowd waiting outside his bar. He found it odd that he would have that many people coming to his place on a weeknight. But, he figured, a busy night is always a good thing.
“Hey, Mikey!” called out Joe. He had been one of Mike’s regulars since he opened the place.
“Hey, Jose!” Mike returned. “What joke have you got for us today?” He slid Joe’s customary first drink, a wicked shooter called a Prairie Fire, down to the man. After pounding it back, Joe began.
    “Ok, a nun, a hooker, and the Dali Lama enter a bar…”
    Mike suddenly shifted his attention, no longer listening to the joke. Mr. Valdrich had entered, eyes narrowed, like a wolf stalking prey. His eyes met Mike’s, and the bartender could sense great urgency in that one look.
    So intense was the gaze, that Mike almost forgot to start laughing with the rest of the group. He went to the corner booth, where, in the shadows, Valdrich waited.
    “What can I get for you tonight, Mr. Valdrich?” he asked, trying his best not to sound familiar or conspiritorial.
    “What you got me last night. But I do need to talk to you.” he added with insistence.
    “How long is it gonna take?” He looked around the bar for emphasis. “I’m a little busy tonight.”
    “Not long. But what I have to say may sound…odd.” Valdrich replied. “I can wait until you close.”
    “Yell if you need anything.” Mike said and went back behind the bar to get Valdrich’s beer.

    As closing time approached and the crowd went home, save a few die-hards who were waiting for their taxis, Mike made his way back to the table where Valdrich sat. He slid into the booth, and regarded the man curiously for a moment.
    “Would you mind telling me what this is all about?” Mike started. “How in the world do you know who I am, for starters.”
    “Your life is in danger.” Valdrich said point-blank, as if Mike hadn’t made his demand. “Crey Industries will be sending someone to kill you.”
    “What? Why would anyone kill me? What did I do?” Mike shook his head in disbelief as he rattled off his questions. “Why Crey? They’re the most respected company on the planet! What would they be interested in someone like me for?”
    Valdrich sighed deeply. He had expected this reaction. Lowering his voice, he began to explain.
    “You are descended from heroes. Several generations back, I believe. What Crey Industries has done is replicate one of your ancestors.” Ignoring the shocked look on Mike’s face, he continued. “Whenever they’ve cloned a hero, they check to see if there are any living descendants. If there are, they track them down, and kill them, especially if they suspect their target to possess powers. Not a lot of people know how Crey really operates, and believe me, they want to keep it that way.”
    “Right.” Mike said, slowly moving away. This guy is a total nutso, he thought.
    “Your grandparents of many generations ago were friends of mine.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. Fishing in it, he produced an ancient photograph and handed it to Mike.
    The picture, though faded, showed a tall man with black hair, a woman with red hair, and someone who looked like Valdrich. The writing on the back of it read “Sara and Edward’s engagement party, June 2006.”
    “As I said, they were friends of mine. The mutant strain that runs dominant in the Harlowe line is also in you. If it hasn’t made itself apparent yet, it will.” He put the photo and wallet back into his pocket.
    Mike gave Valdrich his most skeptical look. “I’m sorry if I don’t exactly believe you. You must realize how bizarre your story sounds.”
    “I know it does. It also makes it no less true.” the bearded man took a casual sip from his beer.
    “I mean, you could have faked an old photo or something, but really…” Mike’s voice trailed off in disbelief. “It’s almost too much, this conspiracy you’re throwing at me.”
    He slid out of the booth and went back behind the bar. “I’ll tell you what, though. That tale is definitely worth another beer.” Mike drew another tall draft for Valdrich and brought it back to him.
    Valdrich took a serious look at the younger man. He had lived too long, had waited too long, to see another person fall victim to the ruthless corporate juggernaut known as Crey Industries. Somehow, the boy had to be convinced. He was about to say something when he saw that Mike had gone to the doors, and had started to talk to someone who had just entered the bar.
    Instinctively, Valdrich drew back into the shadows. The less memorable he was, the better. He hadn’t gotten along this far in life without have been incredibly discreet. He watched Mike and the newcomer, two silhouettes in the neon lights of the bar conversing in hushed tones.
    Suddenly the newcomer reached out and grabbed Mike. Valdrich saw a blue spark emitting from the other’s hand, and the bartender went limp. The stranger grabbed him and started to drag him towards the door when Valdrich intervened.
    The man looked calmly at the sword that had suddenly appeared at his throat.
    “I should have known you would have shown up. Still trying to prevent the inevitable, my nameless adversary?” he asked.
    “Not this time, old friend. You shall not take him. Not this one.” Valdrich warned.
    “You realize, of course, I have an entire security detail waiting outside. Are you sure you can take them all on and rescue this one?” the dark-clothed man half-asked, half-taunted.
    Valdrich looked at Mike, who stirred slightly. He grinned to himself. The only beings who could recover from an attack like that were those who had super powers. Valdrich just hoped that Mike’s abilities would begin to manifest themselves, preferably in the next two minutes.
    Seeing that his longtime foe had no intentions of backing down, the mysterious man produced a device and pressed the solitary button on it. The bar filled with fifteen other individuals who were either wielding weapons or whose hands glowed with power that was ready to be used. Valdrich’s eyes narrowed slightly, surveying them like a snake watching a potential victim. Then, without warning, he struck.
    Swinging his sword, Valdrich slashed the blade across the closest one’s chest, and brought the flat side of his sword crashing down upon the head of the second closest, rendering him unconscious. His main adversary, however, continued to drag the still dazed Mike out of the bar.
    Mike found himself reviving to the most bizarre of sights; Valdrich was fighting a large group of men who came at him with knives, clubs, and he thought he even saw a flash of electricity now and then. Despite the man’s obvious skill with his sword, he was still outnumbered, and it was beginning to show.
    “Oh, I see you’re awake, Mr. Harlowe.” said the man he had been speaking to. He raised his gloved hand, tiny blue arcs emanating from his fingertips. “We’ll remedy that.”
    Mike reached up and grabbed his wrist, expecting to feel another jarring shock of who-knows-how-many volts racing through him. It never happened. Instead, his would-be abductor let out a loud cry of pain. Mike could feel the air temperature around him plummet, but around his hand, the cold was even more intense, but it wasn’t hurting him. In fact, to Mike’s surprise, he was the cause of it.
    After seeing that the man who had attempted to kidnap him was rendered unconscious from the pain of having his body temperature drop on him, Mike ran behind one of the men Valdrich was still battling. He grabbed the guy by his biceps and gripped tightly. The man gasped as the shock of chilled blood reached his brain and sent him collapsing into a heap.
    “About bloody time, boy!” shouted Valdrich. “Look out!”
    Mike heard a gun go off, felt a sharp stab in his side. Realizing he had just been shot, Mike instinctively reached out mentally, wishing for some kind of shielding.. Flames exploded up around him, and as they blazed, he could feel the fire taking the sting out of the gunshot wound, as well as igniting the nearby wood furniture. The man who had attempted to shoot him was blown back from the force of the sudden appearance of the flames, flying over the bar and into the shelves of alcohol.
    The fire, finding fuel to consume, moved towards the flowing alcohol, igniting it. The unfortunate thug, having been soaked in various high spirits, was immediately wrapped in flame. As he ran screaming through the bar, he started numerous other fires, in addition to the huge one at the bar. The fire grew rapidly, feeding itself by causing those bottles of booze that hadn’t been broken to explode, giving the quickly-growing inferno fuel and new places to spread to. Soon, the back wall was completely engulfed, spraying flaming alcohol and jagged shards of bottles out at the remaining combatants.
    Combining flame and ice with Valdrich’s steel, the pair managed to finish off the thugs. Mike looked helplessly at the fire, now burning out of control. A sudden mini-explosion went off as the last of the bottles detonated. The pair flinched as glass hit them.
    “We have to get out of here!” said Valdrich.
    “But….my bar…what am I gonna do?”
    “Come with me, and I can help you. I can explain everything, but we have to leave!” Valdrich insisted.
    The pair ran outside and down the street as distant sirens began to wail. Mike stole one last look at the bar. The fire had now grown hot enough and big enough that the glass was blowing out the windows onto the street in a deadly shower.
    Sighing sadly, he continued running with Valdrich, thoroughly convinced that his life was now a whole lot less “safe.”

To Chapter 2>>>

Review this story
Review this story
Stories # - L |M - Z | Authors