Archive: Spotlight Chapter 1: Finding the Story

Last week was the teaser, so I figure, what the heck, let’s hit you with the first chapter for this week’s archive reprint. This one gets a bit long, so I’ll tag it a little way through so as not to eat up too too much real estate:

Chapter 1: Finding the Story

"And you, sir, is this your first time at a Choosing?" Liam asked, recorder poised for a response. His target was a large man whose hairy belly peeked out from under his shirt while he waved a sign that read "Stone Me!"

"You’re blocking me. I can’t see Glo-Ray, you moron!"

With that, man-on-the-street interview number sixteen ended pretty much like all the others, as the interviewee strong-armed Liam out of his way.

"You kind of are," his sister, Hillary, offered.

"Blocking him? He’s like a foot taller than me! And have you seen how many people there are between us and–?"

"No. The other one; starts with an ‘m,’" Hillary said. She crossed her arms and nodded her head to the throng of thousands around them. "Seriously, you’re at a Choosing, and you’re still trying to play reporter."

"I am a reporter," Liam said.

"You’re unemployed."

"I’m freelance."

"There’s a difference?" Even as Liam opened his mouth, she held up her hand. "What’s the last thing you got published in something other than that college rag?"

"Look, I’m building my portfolio," Liam said, shoulders slumping. A crowd of kids swept in through gaps in the crowd that only they’d be able to exploit. The girl in the lead had on a home-made Glo-Ray costume and bared her flashlight at the others.

"Back off, or I’ll blast you with my Harlot Beam!" she called out.

One of the other girls stomped her foot. "Hard light! Hard light!" she yelled, then crossed her arms to pout. "I told you I should be Glo-Ray. Mel doesn’t even know her powers!"

"Mel" stuck out her tongue and ran into another opening in the crowd. As the others–apparently her villainous rivals–trampled after, Liam heard one of the boys say, "But she’s the only one with the costume!"

Liam looked to Hillary, who was still trying to follow the sight of the kids through the masses.

"This could be it, right?" he tried, pointing after the little girl as if she were the actual hero on stage. "I get an interview with Glo-Ray after she norms, and the Times is mine."

"Sweetie, I don’t know why you keep pushing this. I’m telling you: print is dead."

"You’re just a cynic."

"No. You’re a luddite."

"What? No. Look. Right here: brand new digital recorder, just opened. I’m totally embracing new technology."

Hillary raised an eyebrow.

"You bought that?"

"Okay, it was a gift," Liam admitted.

Hillary raised the eyebrow again.

"From Mom," he added.

Eyebrow.

"Two Christmases ago."

"And so I win," Hillary said, hands on her hips. "Besides, you aren’t going to get within a hundred feet of Glo-Ray when she’s done. Look at this crowd."

Liam’s face lit up, and he took a step closer to his sister. "This crowd won’t be here for Glo-Ray once she’s done. Everybody here’s going to be rushing the stage to either get a look at the newbie, or hoping they can get The Stone’s attention themselves. So I just sidle on by in the other direction–"

"–And run into Glo-Ray’s security. So, you know, you might just make the Times then: ‘Glo-Ray’s crazed stalker mangled by bodyguards.’ "

"It’s going to work," Liam insisted. "I just need a few more of these ‘interviews’ to work us up close enough."

Hillary sighed, but smiled. Liam returned the smile. His support once again shored up, Liam scanned forward. Scattered in the throng, folks were more than willing to mug for TV news, but Liam and his little digital recorder kept getting the brush off. maybe Hillary was right, but he’d be trampled to death before he admitted that.

It was right about this time that The Simian’s minions descended on the crowd, sending it into a panic. It took all of thirty seconds before Liam lost sight of Hillary, only another five before his attempts to move cross-stream took his feet out from under him.

So, while cyborg orangutans, mutant lemurs, and the occasional mutant-cyborg gorilla flew overhead, Liam found himself dodging high heels and boots and cursing the universe for suddenly deciding to take his hyperbolic whims so literally.

*****

Stallion heard them first, though it was only partly because of his enhanced senses. Mostly, he was looking for a distraction from all the blubbering behind the stage in the park.

"I’m going to miss you so much, Glo," Crowd sobbed. The mousy little one had her arms wrapped around Glo-Ray’s waist, face pressed against her chest in yet another good-bye hug-fest. Stallion wondered if a few crocodile tears might get him the same hug, but he doubted it. When was this stupid dog-and-norm show going to get a move on?

"Don’t worry, little girl," Glo said, gently disentangling herself from Crowd and holding her shoulders. She smiled. "You and I know you aren’t ever alone, and as soon as you finish with all this–" Glo waved in the air "–you give me a call, and we’ll have another girl’s night."

Crowd bit her lip and nodded.

"Two minutes, Gl–"

The stagehand didn’t get any further than that before Stallion grabbed him and gestured to shut up. When a 6’5" powerhouse with a horse’s head wanted you quiet, Stallion found people got quiet.

"There’s turbines," he said, ears turning to pin down the sound, "and another hum … shit! It’s a teleporter!"

That was all the more warning they had, as–with a gigantic boom and a clatter of monkey chatter–The Simian and his brood popped into the air over the park.

No one spoke. Roc willed her stone armor into being, grabbed Bruise by the collar of his ratty leather jacket, and took to the air. Glo lit up her own aura, took Crowd’s hand and did the same. Stallion smiled, a look that sent the stagehand cowering, but he didn’t care. With one super-powered bound, he was air-borne himself.

"Time to stomp!" he yelled. Can’t go into a brawl without the battle cry, he always said. And stomp he did. His leap arced him over several smaller primates, and a mid-air correction brought his two massive hooves down right in the middle of a cyber-baboon’s anti-grav pack. The critter screeched as it started falling, but Stallion was already leaping toward a winged chimpanzee.

He clocked this one in the jaw, and used his momentum to toss it into a pair of jet-packed gibbons. As they scattered and smacked into others of Simian’s brood, gravity finally got the better of Stallion, and he landed in the midst of a clump of women.

Where before Stallion’s smile freaked that kid out, here the women positively swooned. The sci-geeks on payroll called it pheromones. All Stallion knew was, when he turned on the juice, he got any girl he wanted. Best powers ever: kicking ass and getting tail.

Before the girls could crowd in too close, though, there was a scream from somewhere in the air.

"Sorry ladies," Stallion said, loving how they all pouted as he said it–God love collagen. "World needs saving."

As he leapt up again, landing on the back of an oversized, dragon-winged gorilla and steering it by its ears, something zipped by Stallion’s head. As his eyes locked on it, he dug his knees in the gorilla’s back to spur it faster.

The Stone was flying, coming to take back Glo-Ray’s power. And it didn’t care that she was just now hovering fifty feet in the air.

*****

"Don’t drop me," Bruise said. "There’s going to be a lot of screaming." Roc couldn’t see his face, but she suspected her teammate was smiling at the thought.

He wasn’t lying. Bruise unleashed a wave of the pain stored within himself, and the primate army that was rushing toward them screeched and howled, twisting in the air, holding their stomachs or scratching at their ears or merely writhing uncontrollably. A nearby lemur actually started gnawing off its own paw as if it were clamped in some sort of steel-jawed trap.

Over the minions’ screams, however, came Stallion’s call of warning.

"Glo! Watch out! The Stone!"

Roc turned and watched as the glittering gem that powered them all zoomed in on the hovering Glo-Ray, and its own brilliant beam eclipsed their teammate’s light aura. Even as the beam dissipated, Glo–and her passenger, Crowd–plummeted earthward.

"Faster!" Bruise yelled as they tried to close the gap and catch their teammate.

"I’m moving several hundred pounds of solid rock with only my brain, how fast do you expect me to be?" she snapped back. But she knew he was right. Maybe if there were enough minerals in the soil, she could fashion some kind of hand or–

Or, apparently, Crowd could generate a thirty-foot-tall version of herself, who neatly caught both the original Crowd, and the now de-powered Glo-Ray.

"That one’s new," Bruise offered.

"Not done yet," Roc pointed out, as the very large counter-Crowd was clearly also a very large target. Primates swarmed at her, and with both of her giant hands full, she wasn’t going to be in much of a position to help herself.

"On it," Bruise said, and just as before, Simian’s minions screeched and writhed, giving the larger Crowd the chance to lower her charges and Roc to fly in close to provide support.

"Now we need to find Simian and stop–holy crap!"

Roc spun just in time to block an ape’s massive jaws with her stone armor. The creature screeched and pressed its attack as Roc shifted the minerals in her armor to form a shield.

"Why isn’t your pain broadcast doing anything?"

"Would you look at that thing?" Bruise said, squirming in Roc’s grip. "I don’t even think it’s alive!"

Sure enough, as Roc kicked the creature backward, she saw the decaying flesh on its face, the glaze of its eyes.

"Excellent!" she cheered.

"What? Simian’s making freaking zombie monkeys now. How is that good?"

"Paladin versus undead," Roc said, mentally willing her stone shield into the shape of a broadsword. With a flying charge, she hacked the zombie’s head off.

"Paladin wins," she announced as the primate’s once-again-dead form fell to the ground.

"Freak," Bruise muttered.

"I’m not the one with five piercings in my face," Roc returned.

Before their familiar argument got any further, though, an insidious laugh echoed in the air above. Everyone looked up, and there was The Simian, laughing in triumph. For pulsating in his half-human / half-ape hand was The Stone.

*****

Liam was sure he’d broken a couple of ribs, and as a heavy cowboy boot tromped his right hand, he could hear the crunch of bones. He couldn’t, however, hear himself above the screaming and shouting of the panicked throng. Which of course meant they couldn’t hear him, either.

And then, just as Liam caught sight of a pair of spike heels he was sure would impale him, everyone stopped. They didn’t move, didn’t scream, just stood there. It took a moment for Liam to get his bearings. He rolled himself onto his back, and followed everyone else’s stares (with the eye that wasn’t swollen shut, that is). As he forced himself to stand, hissing with the pain in his sides, Liam saw what everyone else did.

"It’s mine now, you incompetent glory hounds!" Simian bellowed.

"The name’s Glo-Ray," came a reply. Liam couldn’t see who, but someone threw a large rock at the hovering half-ape. He caught it easily, laughing.

"Your power’s gone, stupid female," Simian sneered.

"But mine’s not, moron," Roc said. Even as she did, the rock in Simian’s hand exploded, shrapnel and blood flying. In his shock, he dropped The Stone.

"Got it!" That from Stallion, who leaped into the air, but The Stone zig-zagged out of his way, sweeping low over the masses.

The crowd pressed in, everyone trying to get in the path of The Stone. Liam’s broken rib pressed into his side as bodies clumped and shoved. The pain was so intense he saw lights. He couldn’t breathe.

"Please, just back off!" he tried, barely managing to make a sound.

Until, that is, the light faded.

"BACK OFF!" He yelled, and this time everyone heard him. Of course, it was difficult not to, given that his voice came out like something amplified by the sound system at a rock concert. That’s when Liam realized that he wasn’t seeing lights, but rather had been hit by light–from The Stone. While still holding their ears, everyone around him was staring at Liam, looks of shock, respect, jealousy.

"I will not be denied!" called The Simian, holding his damaged hand. "Kill him! All of you, kill the human megaphone!"

As the villain spoke, Liam heard something else. No, not heard so much as … felt it? There, a pitch he knew his ears weren’t hearing but nevertheless could identify. It broadcast out from The Simian’s pack, and as it reached each of his horde, they moved en masse to attack Liam. As everyone who had previously been crowding him now fled from him, Liam stood agape.

"What? I didn’t … No! Don’t kill the human!" he called out, babbling in his fear.

The primates, much to Liam’s astonishment, stopped their advance. Hovering or standing, they all looked at him, heads cocked sideways, as if waiting for what he said next.

Liam, for his part, was speechless.

*****

As the monkey minions swarmed the new recruit and her former team-mates leapt to try to help him, Gloria had to shove her way through the crowd the old-fashioned way, with elbows and expletives.

She already missed her Glo-Ray aura, but those powers were gone for good–literally, since The Stone never duplicated a power–and no use crying over them. This new kid was lucky, but if he was going to survive an onslaught like this, he’d need all the help he could–

"No! Don’t kill the human!"

–or, he could single-handedly stop a primate army with a random outburst.

"I said kill him, you hairy misfits!" Simian screeched.

The minions were unmoved. Two monkeys in a tiny hovercraft just above Gloria started picking bugs out of each other’s fur. A lemur with a jetpack seemed content to do tight loop-de-loops chasing its own tail.

Simian started pounding buttons on his wrist-control, his subharmonic backpack lighting up and twittering, but Gloria could tell nothing was phasing the minions.

"I will rip your larynx from your pasty, hairless throat, you little–!"

Simian kept screaming, but there was no more sound coming from his mouth. Gloria smiled.

"About time somebody turned down the volume on that…"

She stopped, a sinking feeling in her stomach, and started pushing through the crowd again. She could make out the new recruit’s face now. None of the monkeys had touched him, but he’d clearly taken a beating. Gloria hoped it was just the swelling and bruises that made the smile crossing the young man’s face look so disturbing.

"Attack The Simian," he said.

This time, the minions were all too eager to comply. The muted Simian waved his arms as his creations closed on him, then pounded some more buttons on his wrist-control. And just as an army of primate claws were poised to tear him to pieces, Simian and the entire lot popped out of existence, teleported away.

Where Crowd herself came from, Gloria couldn’t say, but she and a small contingent of her alters formed a safe ring around Gloria as the throng surged forward to throw The Human Megaphone up on their shoulders.

"We won, Glo!" Crowd yelled over the masses.

"I don’t know how, but The Stone just had its first re-run," Gloria said.

"I’m sorry?"

"Sound amplifier, silencer, bending subharmonics. Sound familiar?"

Crowd, bless her heart, could only shrug her ignorance.

"Those powers? They belonged to Sonar," Gloria clarified. "I don’t know what it means, but that kid right there got his powers from the only traitor Spotlight ever had."

Originally published at Spotlight

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