Posts Tagged ‘hellfire’

[ – To view a list of all current chapters, click here – ]

In the middle of a mid-March afternoon, with the sun out and hardly a cloud in the sky, the last thing Martin Osbourne—known to many associates and enemies as Marty the Hun for his take-no-prisoners, kill-or-be-killed attitude—expected to be doing was to be shivering.

Maybe the next guy I should have whacked is the meteorologist for Channel 7 New Judah NewsCenter, Marty fumed silently. The forecast was for low-70s today, and my coat’s 12 miles away at home. Fucking weathermen never get shit right.

“Get the fuckin’ boxes loaded up boys, because it’s getting’ chilly fast, and if my balls start turning blue, I’m gonna choke one’a you until you’re blue in the face,” Marty barked. “Besides, the big boss wants this shit moved, delivered and sold so he can buy himself a city councilman or a police detective. Don’t get in the way of business and civic progress, boys!”

His crew began to pick up the pace, but a few minutes later, Marty was shivering even harder. He pulled out his Droid phone, called up a weather app, and checked the local forecast.

It still called for a high of 72 degrees under mostly sunny skies.

Marty began to look around a bit, and his arm reached through the passenger-side window of his car to pull a pistol from the glove compartment.

“Boys, I think we have company,” he called out to his team, their breath leaving little puffs of white in the air as they worked, and then they dropped boxes at his warning and began to draw weapons. “Of the trans variety, and I don’t mean a chick with a dick or a tranny dude with tits.”

The ambient temperature dipped a bit more, and concerned about how much colder it might get, and how much that might affect their reflexes and concentration, Marty added, “Let’s all move away from the truck and figure out where this fucker is.”

A lithe form darted out into the open for just a moment, too quick to identify, and three pistols suddenly flew from the grips of most of Marty’s guys—and moments later, the gun from Marty’s own. Only one of the four men, Louie, still had a firearm.

Guns yanked away like magic, and temperature dropping. An Attractor and a Psi with cryokinetic powers, probably, Marty theorized—or maybe an Eco who was playing some sort of atmospheric trick. His mind tried to sort through the players he knew, but the cold made it hard to think, and worrying about being weaponless made thinking hard, too. Taking note of the fact Louie still had a gun, and figuring that the hero—or maybe mercenary’s—attractive power was geared toward metal, he pulled open one of the rear doors of his car, yanked out a good old-fashioned baseball bat, and said, “Louie, you got a resin gun, dontcha? Good man. Everyone else grab something not made of metal that you can bash a head in with, right now. Louie, you keep an eye out for our troublemaker and shoot him in his motherfuckin’ head when he pops out again.”

His? He? No, that wasn’t right, Marty realized. Metal Attractor and a Cryo-Psionic, if he was right—and a Thermal, too.

“Fuckin’ Solstice!” Marty cried out. “We got ourselves a feisty bitch, boys! You can all have a shot at her cooch after you take her down if she’s still alive. We’ll have ourselves a regular party. First one to get a hit on her gets first shot at her goods.”

One of Marty’s men, Paulie, reached for a two-by-four with a couple of rusty, bent nails sticking out of it, but before he could lay hold of it, a hand shot out and clamped on his wrist. He screamed in an agonized wail, and the woman was gone into the maze of debris and crates again. Paulie dropped to his knees, shivering all over from the cold, but also holding the heavily blistered and steaming flesh of his right wrist and hand, which was beginning to ooze in a few spots.

Oscar, who already had a weapon in hand—a police baton he kept handy, made a slow circuit of his surroundings. Solstice dropped from above, leaping down from a stack of crates, both of her hands grabbing the side of his head as she used gravity to her advantage to flip him violently as she landed, wrenching his neck painfully but, more importantly, delivering second- and third-degree burns to his face and throat before she let go.

Shit! Now I have two men screaming, Marty thought.

A shot rang out, and Marty held out hope, the bat shaking in his chilled hands, that Louie had nailed the woman. Instead, there was a peal of girlish laughter and then more screaming moments later as she grabbed Carter in a bear hug from behind, making a burning, blistered ruin of his armpits, biceps and chest, then vanishing again into the gloom around the loading dock.

Three men screaming, and one little bitch laughing at us, Marty fumed. “Kill the whore, Louie! Don’t you fuckin’ miss next time!”

“I won’t, chief,” Louie said. But as he turned slowly, waiting for the next sign of Solstice’s approach, a shot rang out and he stumbled back a half-step, red seeping through his shirt just above his left collarbone. He had managed to keep hold of his pistol, and tracked the apparent source of the shot, ready to pull the trigger and shoot into the gloom near the warehouse several times.

Solstice was faster, though, and a second bullet left a hole just above his belly. Louie dropped to the ground, his pistol spinning across the ground. Then she finally came into the open, wearing loose, flared khaki slacks, Doc Marten boots and a tight, dark green tank-top. Marty shivered and cursed her that the cold probably didn’t affect her at all. But he also noticed that it wasn’t as frigid as it had been, and realized she had probably expended a lot of energy to cool down such a large zone. She probably couldn’t keep it up any longer, he assumed, and she might not have any juice left for burning anyone, either.

She looked a little haggard, he thought, and he figured he could take her. He hefted the baseball bat, and looked her in the face defiantly. He saw the dark, kohl-lined Asian eyes beneath an almost buccaneer-like kerchief-style hood, trailing a braid of material down her back, with fake flowers, little pine cones and plastic snowflakes tied into it at intervals. From beneath the mask that covered her scalp, ears, eyes and nose flowed long, black straight hair shot through with a thin line of platinum blonde and a thicker streak of bright purple. Black lipstick adorning narrow lips, a stainless-steel ring piecing the flesh of a lower lip that held a sneer for Marty as she approached him slowly with a casual, dismissive pace.

“C’mon, you bitch-witch pagan trans-whore,” Marty taunted, choking up on the bat and giving it a lazy swing in an almost ‘come hither’ gesture. “Come get a piece of me if you’ve got anything left. See if you can burn my ass, you cunt!”

“Being Goth doesn’t make me automatically pagan, you shithead, or a witch,” Solstice said. “But that said, I don’t like people badmouthing witches because I’m a practicing Wiccan, you greaseball. You don’t hear me badmouthing Catholics just because of a goon like you. And just for the record, I’m not going to bother with trying to fry your greasy ass.”

She lifted one of the guns she had pulled from a member of Marty’s crew and shot the Hun in one kneecap, and then the other.

“I’m not going to go hand-to-hand with you,” she said as his own cries of pain mingled with the moans, sobs and screams of the other men. “Do I look stupid? Try that ego-busting, macho provoking crap with Feral or Nighthunter or someone else who likes the up-close, bone-crunching wet-work. Personally, I like living to fight another day and that’s why I’m a regular at the shooting range, you prick.”

She put a third bullet in Marty the Hun’s right shoulder, then a fourth in his left. She kicked him hard in the ribs with her steel-toed boots, twice, and then took the man’s own smart phone to call the police. Then she shot several holes in each of the truck’s tires.

As the temperature rapidly rose back to the 70s around five heavily wounded men, Solstice took a long ride back into the city in Marty’s own Cadillac, trying to find some decent music on a radio with nothing but presets for conservative talk radio, classical music and light rock.

* * *

“So, what have we got, here?” asked the sergeant as he walked into the convenience store.

“Clerk has some second-degree burns but mostly just a wounded ego,” one of the patrolmen answered. “Perp got away with $200 from the till and a bag full of junk food and 20-ounce sodas. Apparently, it was Hellfire again.”

“Really?” the sergeant said as he looked at the security video playback on a little monitor. “Geez! Five…well, six now…hold-ups and three different costumes. I wish the ass-hat would just pick one style.”

“Might help if he’d shell out for some decent material,” the other patrolman noted, handing over an evidence bag with a fragment of Hellfire’s red cape that had snagged on a display rack nearby. “Probably keeps ripping his cheap-ass suits to shreds. Looks like he bought this cape in the costume aisle at Wal-Mart. Cheap, thin polyester or whatever the hell those crap Halloween costumes are made of.”

“What an embarrassment,” the sergeant said, shaking his head. “Give me a plain old street punk or crackhead, or give me a real villain like Speed Demon or Tooth Fairy. These wannabe, bottom-feeder trans villains just piss me off.”

* * *

Zoe launched herself up onto the balance beam into a handstand position, did a series of twists to get herself halfway down it, then dropped to her feet with perfect grace onto the beam, took a few quick steps, and leapt into the air, twisting and somersaulting—finally sticking a perfect landing three feet from the end of the beam.

“Good work, Dawson!” Coach Hathaway called out. “We’ve got final championships next month that I plan for us to win, so you’d better have that A-game from now until mid-April.”

Zoe didn’t smile at the praise. For one thing, the coach wasn’t really being all that warm in her approach anyway—but more than that, what Zoe had just done wasn’t even difficult for her.

I could run at full speed on a tightrope and do cartwheels across it without breaking a sweat, Zoe mused ruefully. Competitions hold no joy because I’m a transhuman pitted against normal folks.

Not that she would let anyone know that, of course. She carefully held back doing what she was truly capable of, lest she get kicked off the team. NCAA rules were pretty clear on excluding any Acro transhuman from gymnastic competition; she would make sure to make a sloppy landing next time just for show.

I could have been on the U.S. Olympic team, she thought, recalling the recruiters from Team USA who had approached her years ago when she first got involved in gymnastics and dance. But I couldn’t do something that high-level with any sense of good conscience. Of course, using my skills to get scholarship money for college is basic survival, so no guilt there.

Less guilt, at least, she considered. Far less.

“Sure you don’t want my A-plus game instead, Coach?” Zoe shot back.

“Now that you mention it, Dawson, bring your A-plus-plus-hyperspace-level game to the finals, or you’re off the team.”

Zoe snorted. “I’m a senior, Coach, and the season will be over by then.”

“Then I’ll hijack your diploma and keep you from graduating,” the Coach teased, though with a completely stern and deadpan delivery.

As Zoe made her way off the mat, one of the other women on the team hip-checked her a little. “Prize bitch, aren’t you?” Gloria sneered. “Break a leg, Zoe. Really, I mean it. Please break a leg. Better yet, both of them.”

Zoe felt her hairs bristle, and forced down the metabolic shift of her morphing powers, muttering “Fuck you” instead of letting the change take over and slicing and dicing the teammate who’d never forgiven Zoe for being a better gymnast.

Or kissing her boyfriend a few months ago at that Christmas party either, for that matter.

* * *

The Head of Metabolics and Genomics looked at the man on the gurney and sighed. “Dr. Hansen,” he asked, “are you sure we want to dose him so heavily? Or the others, for that matter?”

“Yes, Jacob, I’m very sure. When I work in a secret government lab and the head of the National Security Agency tells me the White House wants a dozen really impressive transhuman conversions by Thanksgiving, I tend to take that kind of seriously.”

Pausing for a moment, Jacob looked at the chart at the end of the man’s gurney, even though he already knew the numbers by heart.

“Dr. Hansen…Jack…you know Earnhardt here is 36 years old. Manifestation of transhuman powers after age 25 correlates to far higher rates of side effects—particularly psychological changes. Especially when it’s not a natural, organic manifestation. You know that as well as I do. Two of the others are also well into their 30s.”

“And all of them, regardless of age, have the most promising set of biomarkers for induced transhuman capabilities, Jacob. That’s the work we’ve agreed to do here, and none of these people here enjoy any right of refusal right now.”

Dr. Jacob Weinbaum swallowed hard, nodded, and pushed the gurney into the next room, trying to comfort himself with the not-so-soothing thought: What could possibly go wrong, right?

[ – To view the next chapter, click here – ]

God bless the law of unintended benefits.

Every day James opened this store and had a steady flow of customers, and every day he saw a healthy profit in the cash drawer—and those were most days of the week—he was glad all the odds-makers had been wrong.

If he’d listened to people like that, he would have long ago closed this shop that his dad had given life almost 40 years ago. Cosmic Comics. RIP. Instead, it was hale and healthy.

Of course, the name had changed since then, by necessity. Once you end up with real superheroes in the world—and villains to go along with them—you can’t expect to do business as usual as a comics shop and have a name like Cosmic Comics. Still, even knowing things would have to change, he’d kept the name until dad died in 1997. Once the sadness of that loss had worn off, it was time to get serious, and rename it Shoreline Hero Shop.

Sure, the shoreline of Long Island Sound was a few miles away, and many of the folks who shopped here were more interested in the anti-heroics, but why quibble with technicalities?

Point was that damn near everyone had predicted the death of the comic book business the more that transhumans kept popping up after the 1970s. When they started putting on costumes and duking it out in the streets by the mid 1980s and the world of comic books was suddenly real life, everyone said there was no place for comic books anymore—or at least no place for shops dedicated to them.

They had been right in some ways. But wrong in so many others, James considered.

Oh, there had been some lean years when his father was keeping the rent paid by draining the savings accounts during the 1980s and early 1990s. But he had held in there, and James along with him.

Because, damn the naysayers, James sensed there was change coming. A return of the old business and the infusion of new business.

And the mid-1990s proved him right.

Comic books hadn’t died out. Their popularity went down for a while, but then surged again when people realized that the real-world heroes and villains weren’t as dramatic as they had hoped. Sure, there were plenty of impressive and dangerous powers, but no one was lifting cruise ships with a single hand. No one could fly. No one shot out bolts of high-powered energy that could melt a car. So, in the end, the biggest casualties were the titles with heroes and villains that were too close to the real ones in the news.

Batman, for example—for all his iconic history—was too much like Query, Feral, Nighthunter and High Impact to survive as a crime-fighter who could spark the imagination in a comic book or graphic novel. But titles focusing on grandiose powers or magic took over with a vengeance, and soon there were heroes and villains who were even more overblown than Superman or Galactus.

But hell, even the Batman character found new life outside the comic books. An animated sitcom-style series now in its eighth season featuring Batman characters that was every bit as witty and observant as “The Simpsons” had been, plus a dramatic live-action series that focused on Bruce Wayne’s relationships and personal challenges more than the fights with his rogue’s gallery as Batman.

Now, a buddy cop flick in the theater might just as easily feature a pair of transhumans as it might a hair-trigger baseline human detective teamed up with the sedate and serious sergeant five weeks from retirement.

But in the end, comic books had survived, and so had this shop. But it didn’t survive on comics alone, which was good, since that had always been a hit-or-miss business. Now, James could also traffic in the many magazines that covered transhumans, from the porno mags like TranshumNUDITY, Trans + Trans, Playboy’s Girls of Power and Hustler Morph Parade all the way to the gossip and news publications that followed transhuman news, exploits and interest areas, like SuperNews, TransWeek, PoweredPEOPLE, The Transhuman Enquirer, Costume & Ammo, Celebrity Crimefighters and Good::Evil.

Plus a whole set of racks of reality-show videos about transhumans, X-rated films with them, documentaries about them, and self-help books for people dealing with their newfound abilities—or those raising such a person. Authorized biographies, unauthorized biographies, memoirs, history books on transhuman issues and more.

Hell, he even had a corner devoted to martial arts supplies, for those transhuman customers who hoped they might be able to be a real hero one day.

No, business had been good for those who had stuck it out and adapted. The law of unintended benefits.

James tended to give the middle finger to the law of unintended consequences, and he’d never had that law truly punch him in the nose.

Well, at least not until 3:36 p.m. when that asshole came in.

* * *

Plenty of odd and disturbing people had patronized Shoreline Hero Shop, particularly in the past 10 years, but James figured he saw less weirdos than the average convenience store did. Some weirdos were even good for business. Underworld, a villain that the FBI and local police forces kept near the top of their watch list, had come in one day to buy up any and everything in the store that even vaguely mentioned her arch-nemesis Glory Boy. Besides dropping a bunch of cash, the statuesque woman took time to autograph a bunch of stuff in James’ shop.

She even sent him a thank-you note two weeks later, praising him for his comprehensive collection, along with a dozen autographed photos of her in nothing but her mask and a sable stole—James kept one of those and made a tidy sum selling the rest. Apparently, she had gained enough insight about Glory Boy to put him off his game in a streetfight with her, and she trounced his ass. He’d always been a hero with a huge ego and an annoying sense of self-importance, so James didn’t feel all that bad that it was in part because of the inventory at the Shoreline Hero Shop that Glory Boy was going to need braces to walk for the rest of his life.

Fanboys and fangirls, freaky deakies and trans-stalkers, heroes and villains, adults and kids, professors and high schoolers—all walks of life came through here.

So James didn’t flinch when a guy came in wearing black leggings under red satin boxing shorts, Doc Marten boots with red flames crudely painted on them—and flaking no less, a too-tight long-sleeve yellow shirt that was riding just high enough to reveal his belly button, a domino mask that had clearly been bought in a dollar store, and a cape that seemed to have been stolen from some old devil costume from a Halloween shop.

“I am Hellfire,” the guy said, in a tone that held some menace, but also a lot of nasally whine.

“Hi, I’m James. What can I do for you?”

“It’s what you will do for me that matters,” Hellfire said. “I locked your door on my way in, and turned your sign around to ‘closed.’ Don’t yell. Don’t scream. Just do as you’re told.”

James swore to himself silently. He hadn’t been robbed in a long time, and this would be the first time by a guy in a costume. But why did it have to be a guy in such a cheesy, slapped-together get-up?

I’m not telling anyone about a robbery this fucking embarrassing, James thought. Except to my girlfriend. No, not even her, come to think of it. She’d use it as material in her stand-up routine.

James realized the guy was carrying a box, but hadn’t yet brandished a gun or knife, and he began to wonder if this was a robbery after all. As dad had always told him about strange situations: When in doubt, ask.

“So…um, Hellfire…is this a robbery or something?”

“I’m about to become a top-tier fucking supervillain, you shithead,” the guy snapped. “I’m not gonna rob some fucking comic book shop.”

“Hero shop,” James corrected him, rubbing at his neck, putting his hands on his hips, and flapping his elbows forward and back a little as he sized the visitor up.

“I ain’t no hero,” Hellfire said.

“So you’ve told me. So, what’s in the box? Some arcane totem that’s going to eat my soul?”

“Don’t mock me, you putz,” Hellfire whined, fidgeting a bit.

“Well, you said your name is Hellfire. You’re trying to be all threatening and shit. Your robbery weapon is a box. I’m just guessing here. Working with what I have, man.”

“Goddammit!” Hellfire snapped irritably, frowning in an way that was far more petulant and hurt than fearsome. “I toldja this wasn’t a robbery. What’s in this box is what you’re gonna sell for me, to make sure my name is known far and wide before I begin my reign of terror. Oh, and, uh, you’re gonna give me 100% of the proceeds from them. I’ll, uh, be finding you at random times and places to get my take. You’d better have all of it when I do.”

“Or…?” James probed.

Pulling off one of his heavy black gloves, which was clearly from some wholesale lab supply store, Hellfire laid a slightly trembling hand on James’ countertop. James smelled burning, and when Hellfire removed his hand and put the glove back on, a black handprint, smoking slightly, could be seen in the woodgrain.

Shit, a Thermal. And strong enough to generate enough biochemical heat to give me a bunch of third-degree burns on my face and neck if I piss him off, James considered. Time to step up my game.

Hellfire opened the box.

“These are comic books. By me and about me. Thirty copies of issue #1. You’ve got a week to sell at least half of them and give me the cash, and another couple weeks to sell the rest. I’ll have issue #2 in three or four weeks for you, and I’ll have more copies of them, and I’ll want all of them sold, too. So, uh…um…get your fucking sell on. Your salesman face. Uh, whatever it takes.”

James didn’t like the idea of being extorted, paying protection money or being an indentured salesman—whatever the fuck this was. Being the guy’s butt-boy in any case. But he also didn’t like the idea of having the guy jump him some night and leave him with a bunch of burn scars. Suddenly, he was wishing this was a straight-up robbery with a gun. Now James was sweating a little, but that was pretty much par for the course at this point.

He sighed, and decided he needed to buy some time. So he slowly picked up one of the comic books and started leafing through it slowly. As he did, he said, “Seems like a steep price at $30 a copy.”

Particularly since it looks like it was drawn by an eight-year-old and lettered by a Kindergartner, James thought.

“I autographed all those,” Hellfire said, puffing out his chest, but shifting his feet back and forth. “The next batch will only be $15 each, but there’ll be three times…as many…and you’d better, uh, sell ‘em all…OK?”

“Sure, sure,” James said casually.

“Look, I’ve got places to be,” Hellfire said. “I just wanted you to know what’s what, OK? You take it from here.”

“Hold on a bit, Hellfire,” James said, laughing inwardly at the ludicrous and poorly drawn situations in the comic book, with Hellfire fending off three heroes at a time and getting hit on by big-bosomed women every fifth page—a little laughter, even silent, took his mind off thoughts of being burned. James took a deep breath, sweated some more. Blew out a long, slow sigh. “Look, you may end up being a big-time villain soon, but if I’m going to sell these, I need to know more about you. Let me read this and get a sense of who you are.”

“Can’t you do that on your time instead of mine?” Hellfire said in a whinier tone than before. “I’ve got places to be.”

“It’s Monday afternoon, Hellfire,” James said. “Where’ve you got to be? Even here in New Judah, villains hate Mondays as much as anyone. Maybe you want to work hard on a Monday, but you won’t find too many heroes to vanquish out there today. Maybe when night falls you can get lucky and take out Query or something.”

“But why…?”

“Just stick around a bit. I’m almost done here. I might have questions about you that I need to ask. You know, so I can sell your rep a bit and drive sales of your comic book,” James said, leaning forward a little. “Just be a little longer.”

“Look, this…”

“Hey, just stick around. Nothing to be nervous about, right? You’re the big, bad villain, right?”


“So, you’ll come up on me in the deep dark of night every week or so. Creep up on me so I can give you my hard-earned money, right?”


“Yeah, that sounds right. Sounds really fucking unnerving. Scary. Terrifying, even,” James said, and leaned over just a little more, dropping the comic book to the counter. “Real shit your pants stuff.”

“OK now…”

“Big, bad, scary FUCK!”

Hellfire jumped a bit, stepped back.

“Fear’s a pretty powerful thing, isn’t it?”

Hellfire stepped back from the counter, almost tripped over his own feet, and bolted for the door. He scrabbled at the lock for a few seconds before he got it open, and James could see the stain of piss on the guy’s shorts. Hellfire fled down the street, and James figured he wouldn’t be able to come back near the store without anxiety, so it was probably the last he’d see of him.

James sighed, centered himself, and began to stem the flow of sweat and the excess saliva.

Shit, I hate the taste of the fear-producing pheromones—and the smell of them, too.

James went to re-lock the door, and left the sign turned around to “closed.” Normally, he wouldn’t be closed this early, but it would take a half-dozen fans all night to clear the air. Keeping a light haze of comfort pheromones in the air was the usual way of things, not a miasma of terror.

So, yeah, business wasn’t just good because of my good business sense, he admitted to himself, though most of it was due to skill and the example of his dad. But when you had other advantages, you use those too. Like being a Primal transhuman who can manipulate a few emotions, thanks to mom and dad’s chromosomes.

Just another example of the law of unintended benefits, James thought, as he got ready to trash the amateurish comics Hellfire had brought—then he stopped, and put them in a cabinet behind his counter instead. Shit, you never know. The guy might become famous one day.