Victory: Lawless Book Three, page 1
LAWLESS BOOK THREE
Victory: Lawless Book Three
Copyright © 2018 by James Maxey
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Cover art by James Maxey
The author may be contacted via email: email@example.com
For who I used to be, before I discovered I wasn’t him.
Lawful Legion Role Call
Golden Victory - Super strength, super speed, invulnerability, enhanced senses. Real identity Simon Palmer, small town newspaper editor. Fights evil to follow the golden rule.
Retaliator - Martial arts expert and master detective. Real identity Eric Gray, attorney. Fights crime to solve the mystery of his father’s death.
Anyman - Can use his teleporter to transform into any member of the Lawful Legion. Real identity, Harper Li, inventor. Became a superhero to impress a waitress.
Doppelganger AKA Echo - Can create explosive clones by cutting off an arm. Real identity Valentine Summer, lottery winner. Joined the Legion to avenge her own death.
Big Ape - Half man, half ape, super strength and toughness. Real identity Harry Moreau, unemployed. Became a superhero because of limited job opportunities for man/ape hybrids.
Screaming Jenny - Can set things on fire by cursing at them. Real identity Jenny Sanchez, hacker. Fights crime because she was brainwashed to do so.
Nimble - Rubberized body, nearly indestructible. Real identity Niko North. Fights to avenge the death of her parents.
Atomahawk - Living atomic reactor wearing high tech armor. Real identity John Niache. Fights out of patriotic duty.
Blue Bee II - Enhanced strength, endurance, senses. Can communicate with bees. Real identity Honey Dunn, attorney. Fights crime because the first Blue Bee saved her life.
Smash Lass - Super strength, invulnerability. Real identity Mica Dyson, heiress. Joined the Legion to be a good role model for others.
Prodigy - Possesses the ability to learn any skill after seeing it done once, genius. Real identity Janice Vaughn, graduate student. Joined the legion because she felt it was the most logical use of her peerless intellect.
Arc - A living dynamo, lightning boots, enhanced vision. Real identity Roy Richmond, electrical engineer. Helped found the legion as a way to do the most good for the most people.
Lt. Laser - Can transform into coherent light. Real Identity Seymour Kemp, retired astronaut. Uses his powers in service to his country.
The Bad Guys
The Spectacular Spelunker - Stalactite gun, mole-dozer, cavemen. Real identity Ringo Phelps. Steals stuff because he likes stuff.
Chem Queen - Total control over body chemistry, ability to create exotic chemical compounds from elements at hand. Real identity Cherry Bloom. Eco-terrorist because she hates the corporations that poisoned her.
Sterngeist - A former Nazi rocket man who stole a flying saucer he was studying at area 51 and built an alien empire. Seeks to cement galactic alliance by leading a united alien plan to take over the Earth.
The Prime Mover - Tech genius, mob boss, master warlock. Real identity unknown. Doomsday aficionado.
THE FOUR HORSEMEN
War - A fallen angel possessing an alien mercenary outfitted with neutron star armor.
Pestilence - A cloud of virulent airborne diseases enclosed in a humanoid force field.
Famine - The ghost of an Irish peasant. His touch brings instant starvation.
Death - A demon possessing a futuristic android composed of self-replicating nanites. Can kill anyone instantly by saying their name.
IT WAS A COOL, crisp night in April when aliens stole the moon. One moment, the moon was full, plainly visible over much of North America. Then it flickered once, twice, and was gone, leaving only stars.
When the moon vanished, the earth slackened. For much of the world the effect was subtle. The mass of the ocean was too great for the tides to instantly reverse, and the tectonic plates continued their slow grind with only a few mild rumbles along the most stressed fault lines. In Yellowstone, Old Faithful erupted twenty minutes earlier than expected.
Few people noticed at first. For people at home, watching television or looking at their phones, the theft of earth’s celestial sister drew no immediate attention. As the seconds passed into minutes, the missing gravitational pull of the moon caused satellites passing over North America to slowly deviate. GPS systems told people to turn a few yards before they reached their intersection. Phone calls broke up, then dropped. Television screens filled with static before going dark.
Lt. Laser was the first superhero to respond. His contacts at NASA had asked him to investigate mere moments after the moon disappeared. There was still hope that the impossible data streams flowing across the computer screens in Houston were the result of some hack. The possibility that the moon simply was no longer there was met with disbelief, despite the fact that by now eyewitnesses from a dozen states were calling in to report having watched the moon vanish.
In his photonic form, Lt. Laser arrived at what should have been a position in orbit around the moon in less than two seconds. His eyes were sensitive to light far into the infrared and high into the microwave spectrum and he quickly ruled out the possibility that the moon was simply cloaked. The fact he could see stars that would normally have been hidden ruled out the possibility that the moon was simply occluded by some impossibly large spacecraft.
Lt. Laser was still mourning the death of his daughter Elsa. Perhaps this affected his judgment. Or perhaps his next action would have been taken no matter the risk. Still in his photonic form, he flew to the exact spot where the center of the moon should have been, confirming beyond all doubt that the moon was actually gone. He fired laser pulses back to NASA informing them of his findings, still holding his position where the moon should have been.
Then the moon came back, twelve minutes, twenty-three seconds after vanishing, rematerializing in the sky with the same silent flicker. All across America, dogs howled. Moths danced in chaotic ecstasy. Night birds and frogs sang with renewed vigor.
Lt. Laser was dead. In his photonic form, he was little more than a beam of coherent light. Surrounded by countless tons of impenetrable stone, this light was snuffed out.
The return of the moon nudged satellites a few more millimeters from their orbits and the internet failed along much of the east coast. Only a few radio stations remained on the air. People checked the cables on their static-filled televisions, still clueless about the extent of what had just happened.
Without prelude, the static vanished. An old man wearing a dark military uniform reminiscent of Nazi regalia stood at attention in the center of the screen. He was flanked by aliens of several species. There were tall, stalk-like weed-men, gelatinous purple blobs covered in eyes, spiders the size of small horses with heads like rhinos, a lizard-thing with far too many arms, a tiny, birdlike creature surrounded by a swarm of orbiting diamonds and a brutish, shark-toothed, beast with tiger stripes across its stony skin.
“My name is Heinrich Sterngeist,” said the old man. “My allies and I are responsible for the theft of the moon and its safe return. Earth will suffer no lasting harm from the moon’s brief absence. In twelve hours, we will remove the moon once more, permanently. The long term ecological, technological, and geological consequences will produce mass extinction and an end to human civilization. We do not issue this threat lightly, nor is our motive one of conquest. My allies seek justice and nothing more. To save the moon and thus your world and civilization, we require only one thing: Turn over Glorgon the Conqueror, alive or dead,
The message switched off as abruptly as it had launched, leaving most people wondering if they’d watched a marketing campaign for a new science fiction movie, or perhaps missed the part where a corporation sold them either batteries or car insurance. Others suspected the message was true, and could only wonder who the hell was Glorgon the Conqueror? Across the world, as children began to cry and shake with terror, parents held them in their arms, stroked their hair, and whispered, “Shhh. Shhh. It’s going to be okay. The Lawful Legion will stop the aliens. They always do.”
And in Florida, in the middle of a circle of smoldering ash on the south bank of the Suwannee River, a young woman stood with a half empty bottle of rum in one hand and a loaded pistol in the other, staring up at the full moon through the smoke. She hadn’t heard the broadcast. She didn’t know Lt. Laser was dead. She wasn’t sure if the moon had really vanished, or if her mind was playing tricks on her. Her mind was always playing tricks on her.
She was tired of not believing her own eyes. She was tired of not trusting her own memories. She was tired of being angry, and tired of being sad, tired of caring, exhausted by apathy and weary of sleep, and worn out beyond words from trying to explain her pain to others. Her throat was raw from screaming, and screaming, and she was now sick of screaming. She was sick of the stench of the burnt earth surrounding her, the choking fumes stinging her faithless eyes.
Most of all, she was tired of standing by the river, growing cold, growing numb, the weight of the pistol like the weight of her life, too heavy, and easily shed with a slight movement of her fingers.
She wanted no part of a world where the moon could vanish without warning. This was something the real heroes would handle. She’d tried hard to be a hero and failed. Tried to just to be ordinary and that hadn’t worked out either. Any hope of being normal or happy or whole had been stolen from her a long time ago. She placed the tip of the gun barrel against the lower part of her chin and closed her eyes.
Whatever her real story had been, it was time to end it.
The air stank with the cadaverous miasma of the burnt riverbank. All around me, faint breezes whispered through the embers, causing small coals to glow red like Christmas lights amid the black ash. My throat was raw from screaming. I’d cursed the very ground around me, burning away the brush and weeds for fifty feet in every direction. Fortunately, it had rained the day before, and things were still pretty wet by the river. In a dry season, giving voice to all my pent up anger might have set the whole state on fire.
The pistol was cold against my chin. My hand was steady, despite the weight of the pistol. Too steady. I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t pull the trigger, even though I wanted to more than I’d ever desired anything before that moment.
Harry wouldn’t let me pull the trigger. His ghostly presence served as a guardian angel. I wasn’t even sure if he was alive. I knew Golden Victory had gone to South America to find him, or at least recover his body. Not knowing his real fate paradoxically made it feel even more like he was standing beside me, his big, inhuman hand closed around my own hand like a vise, keeping me from even twitching a finger.
His phantom intervention felt like a betrayal. Why couldn’t he leave me alone? All I was doing was trying to put an end to my pain. Why couldn’t he see that?
I’d left a note explaining why I’d decided to take my own life. Five pages long, typed out on an old, Remington typewriter I’d found at a junk store. The typewriter had been battered, missing paint, with a few of the number keys locked from rust. It had taken deliberate force and effort to move the remaining keys, letter by letter. The slow process helped me organize my thoughts, helped me justify my decision to put all this suffering to an end. I’d said, again and again, on each and every page, Harry, this isn’t your fault. Harry, you aren’t to blame. Harry, don’t grieve for me, I’m not worth it.
But he would grieve. He would blame himself. God damn him. Why should he care? Why should I care that he’d care? He was probably dead. Almost certainly dead. The satellite photos of Technosaur’s lair had showed the whole place destroyed, and no survivors were spotted once the smoke cleared. Harry wouldn’t suffer because I’d ended my own life. He’d never even know.
But what if Harry wasn’t dead?
I lowered the pistol, staring up at the moon, which grew even more blurred as tears flowed freely down my sooty cheeks, the trails they left burning like acid. God damn you, Harry, for being alive, if you are alive. And damn me for lacking the courage to hurt you as badly as you’ve hurt me.
I wrapped my arms around myself, hugging tightly. It was like hugging a skeleton. I’d always been skinny, but for the last few weeks I’d more or less quit eating. In the silence, I became aware of my own wheezing breath, asthmatic from all the smoke. My eyelids felt lined with sandpaper, scoured by the fumes. Harry was probably dead. He probably died feeling guilty. He’d cheated on me, sleeping with Sasha. He hadn’t confessed, but I knew. I’d known from the way his voice sounded, known from the half second of silence that followed when I’d asked him questions about her, known because, honestly, if I were him and had any other options, any at all, I’d jump into a new bed at the first opportunity.
He wasn’t to blame. I was.
But I’m not to blame. My father’s to blame, for deciding it was okay for a man to fondle his eight-year-old daughter. My father was to blame for convincing my mother I was a liar when I told on him, and my mother was to blame for choosing to believe him. My father was to blame for dying. I killed him when my pyrokinesis manifested. No ten year old should have to see that. No ten year old should have to hear those screams. And no one, of any age, should have to smell that, the way his hair erupted, the way his fat candled, the sickly, chemical stench of his cheap clothes crumbling to ash.
Every time I smell smoke I remember. And, because of my particular genetic gifts, I smell smoke almost every day.
These are my memories. Or are they? After I burned my father to death, I was taken by men in suits to a facility called the Butterfly House. I endured many years of therapy. I was told again and again that my powers were a blessing. I could learn to control them, learn to be a hero, a superhero. And if my memories were too much, well, those memories could be removed. We lived in an age of miracles and wonders. My kidnappers had the technology to change my memories into the memories of someone who wasn’t a rape victim and a murderer before her first period. I just had to agree to work for them and they would make all my pain go away. I took that deal.
I was a willing accomplice to the theft of my memories. Now, those memories are back, and I don’t know what’s worse. That I remember what really happened to me, or that I tried to kill off the little girl who’d lived through all those terrible things.
Tonight wasn’t my first suicide attempt. It probably won’t be my last. But, as the moon resumed its slow slide across the sky, I understood that the moment had passed. I wasn’t going to pull the trigger.
I let out a long, slow, shuddering breath. I took the clip out of the pistol and put it in my pants pocket and tucked the pistol into my belt. I was shivering, even though I was drenched in sweat. Florida nights in April are colder than you might think. Spring used to be my favorite time of year, especially the nights. The moon on the broad, slow river looked enchanted. The bugs were out, but not so thick you swallowed them with every breath, the way they’d be in a few months. All around me, the night slowly stirred back to life, with chirping frogs, twittering night birds, the drone of insects, and the distant, soft rumble of traffic
There was a world outside me, a world much larger than my pain. Sometimes it felt too large to ever be comprehensible. What had just happened to the moon? It hadn’t been my eyes playing tricks on me. When the moon vanished, all those bugs and birds and frogs had gone quiet. I’d once been innocent enough to think that the moon would always be in the sky and nothing could possibly change that. Then I’d joined the Lawful Legion and met people like She-Devil who could will herself to the size of a planet and eat the moon like an apple if she wanted. Nothing in this world is impossible except for me getting through a whole night’s sleep without nightmares.
I should have brought my phone with me, since I was sure by now there would be a dozen news alerts about Earth’s missing satellite. I’d left my phone back at my trailer. I hadn’t wanted the temptation of recording some piteous video of me weeping and blubbering and telling people I was sorry, but I had to do this, sorry, sorry, sorry. I’d wanted to go out with a little dignity.
That was why I’d written my suicide note on a typewriter. I don’t know. It felt classier somehow than doing it on a computer. Explaining why you’d end your life deserves more than an email, you know? I’d tried writing the note by hand and gave up because it didn’t look right. When the Butterfly House gave me new memories and a new personality, for some reason they also decided that my handwriting should be all girly. It’s loopy and open and artsy, like something you’d find on a saccharine greeting card in a store. I make little hearts and flowers above my ‘I’s.” I can’t stop myself. If I try, I can turn the flowers into skulls and draw knives through the hearts, but that looks even less serious in a suicide note. The typewriter was old, but the owner of the store had a fresh ribbon. The letters came out black and stark, a little splotchy, almost angry looking. Against crisp, white paper, the harsh letters conveyed at least a prickly hint of my pain.
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