© 2016-2017 Charles F. Millhouse
THREE WEEKS AGO:
Defender’s visor reflected the sun as he roared through the city streets on his motorcycle into oncoming traffic. He raced past frightened pedestrians, shot between traumatized drivers and catapulted over stalled cars on the I-44 exchange. The black garbed titan paid no attention to the squealing tires and accidents almost caused by his reckless behavior. His only purpose was the semi-truck that barreled haphazardly though the downtown five o’clock traffic. The eighteen-wheeler filled with enough Cold War era mustard gas to kill two-thirds of River City.
Although he couldn’t see the truck he pursued, the piles of destroyed cars and wrecked city streets pointed him the way. Overhead, police helicopters scoured the sky while behind him Defender saw the bulk of the RCPD charging behind. He’d been operating in the shadows since he first appeared on the scene more than a month ago. One month – that’s all it took for Defender to become set in the public eye. Not only River City, but the world quickly found out about him. His name forged in skepticism. The biggest skeptic of them all was Defender himself. He never wanted to be a hero let alone a superhero. They didn’t exist. No one wanted a superhero. People wanted a scapegoat. Someone they praised when times became tough and someone to blame when things didn’t go their way. He should have remained in the shadows.
With the lives of thousands of people at stake Defender had no other choice. He had to save the city, even if the police thought the chaos and mayhem was his doing. Sooner or later they would realize he was on their side. Defender just hoped it wasn’t too late to stop this madness from happening.
Increasing the speed of his motorcycle, Defender shot over Breaker Back Hill that led into downtown where he found a roadblock waiting for him. The officers stood poised, weapons drawn – waiting. He kicked the front of his bike up when he hit a dip in the road. His powerful motorcycle jumped over the parked cars, soaring over the waiting policemen who didn't have time to fire a single shot.
Defender looked back to see the police scrambling to their cars to rejoin the chase; he wanted to laugh. He revved his motorcycle and raced forward, lowered his lean body to conform to his bike, streamlining his pursuit and increasing his speed even more. His powers still took him by surprise. His enhanced reflexes, every movement came to him seconds before he needed them, a living weapon – his mission to defend the oppressed to protect the innocent. He focused his thoughts. The fate of so many fell into his hands.
How in such a short time did Treven Kincaid, a twenty-three-year old college student, gain such incredible powers to become the black-clad titan – Defender? Treven didn’t want the glory. He hated his new found powers. He hated the reasons behind his creation and he hated the man responsible. So many deaths and so many twisted evil plots came about to forge his creation. If that was what being a superhero was all about Defender didn’t want it. He wished he would have been one of the many dead so long ago.
The thought of his creation however became overshadowed by the problem at hand. He could see the truck. The monster eighteen-wheeler screeched to a halt in the center of the Wesley Court Yard. The people in the park ran for cover as the truck thundered into the heart of square that teemed with afternoon sun worshipers and families ready to begin a long Fourth of July weekend. Defender scanned the area through his darkened visor. No sign of him. He thought.
With a quick dismount from his motorcycle and a check of the truck’s cabin, Defender glimpsed his lean, well-trimmed body in the trucks windshield. It startled him at first. He’d intentionally refrained from looking at it. The sparkle from his helmet’s visor teemed with reflective light. What’s under there? He wondered. He hadn’t tried to remove it.
A shriek of laughter filled the park. It drew Defender’s attention. He searched the parks surroundings, surveyed every part. The people scattered like rats in a fire. They ran for cover and made it difficult to find the one man responsible for such a callous act. Nothing.
The police sirens filled the air when the cruisers surrounded the park. Police vans with S.W.A.T. teams that took positions and cordoned off the area. Defender knelt down next to the truck. He could fight his way out of the park, but in the attempt spectators might be harmed. It fell on him to keep the situation under control.
Defender lowered his head and waited for the police to move in. His only hope… if the police could neutralize the mustard gas before it detonated throughout the city.
More laughter filled the park. The deep maniacal kind that sent chills up the spine. Defender heard it before. He understood what it meant. The driver of the truck was close. The police were ill prepared for someone like him. Many of the people within the sound of his hysterics would die.
“Look at them. Look at them all. So many wish to play… wish to play.” The laughter intensified and filled the summer wind with a chill. “I never thought it would be like this. Blood begets blood. Death begets death. And it has kissed you all.” Small slits in the semi-trailer slid open. The rat-a-tat-tat of weapons fire sprayed into the crowd.
The police dove for cover, the people in the park screamed and ran in panic and Defender stood helpless. He stood up, grabbed the side of the tractor trailer and flipped it to its side. The laughter stopped.
“You cannot stop me Defender. You cannot understand the power I have at my command.” When the dark devilish form appeared on top of the toppled truck a hush fell on the park. The dark form’s wide brim sou'wester darkened the features of his face.
Defender stepped back. He prepared to leap but froze when the dark cloaked man produced a small black device. “I wouldn’t if I were you Defender. I hold in my hand the detonator that will explode this truck and release the mustered gas over the city. Prepare to meet your maker if you believe in such a fairytale!”
Helpless, Defender found himself lost once again in the moments that led up to this catastrophe. Thirty days... A long journey in such a short time, from college boy to the superhero Defender – he waited to move. A move that could either save the city or destroy it at the hands of… Nefarious.
“Don’t do this… what will it gain you?” Defender asked, anxious. He noticed the police and the civilians. All bystanders – all dead… they just don’t know it yet. His heart tightened in his chest unsure if he had the power to save them in time.
“Punishment fits the crime – punishment fits the crime. This city is filled with it,” Nefarious cried. His white eyes glared with intent.
“Filled with what?”
“Crime and punishment,” Nefarious chortled. “There are no good guys and there are no bad guys. There is only hate. And I hate so much. It’s time to show the world just how much.”
Defender sensed Nefarious’ intent – the position of his body, the tone of his voice he didn’t have time to think – he reacted. Willing the power deep into his strong legs, Defender leapt to the top of the toppled trailer. He snatched Nefarious’ wrist in his hand and gripped it in a tight grasp preventing him from pressing the button on the small black box.
“Let me go!” Nefarious protested. He fought Defender’s grip but to no avail. He lunged forward. His rigid hawk-like features didn’t show signs of distress, only a determination and defiance. He produced a large knife from under the flaps of his cape and drove deep into Defender’s chest.
Defender didn’t flinch – he didn’t feel pain. He’d been shot, stabbed and impelled in many ways over the last month. The single carbon steel thrust into his body had no effect.
“Impressive,” Nefarious chuckled.
“I’ve no time for this –” Defender felt a change in the air, an undeniable threat he detected. Of all his powers – the ability to sense the intuition of others surprised him the most. The police officers moved into position. He heard bolts pulled back on weapons, orders relayed through communication links. A hush on the wind engulfed his senses.
Weapons fire came from the S.W.A.T teams scattered around the park. With prescience Defender moved himself and Nefarious around each shot with precision. Sooner or later he would misstep, a shot would get through and although it wouldn’t harm him, Nefarious would be killed.
Nefarious screeched a laugh. He looked like he enjoyed the dance around the weapons fire. Defender had enough. In a blurred motion he released Nefarious, pulled the long blade from his chest and stabbed the caped madman through the wrist with the knife.
Nefarious’ laughter turned to agony. He let go of the detonation device, it fell into Defender’s hand. He spun the jokester around and punched him in the chest. The hit sent Nefarious though the air toward the police encampments.
The gunfire stopped.
Defender detected oil and gas dripping on the truck’s hot manifold. An explosion was imminent. The blast would destroy the mustard gas and send a toxic plume over the city that would carry for miles. He jumped between the truck and trailer. Willing the power into his arms Defender broke the connections that held them together. He shoved the trailer away from the threat just as the truck exploded into a hot fiery inferno.
The blast ripped into Defender and threw him several hundred yards away from the explosion. Unphased, he stood. His clothes smoldered, his visor covered in black ash. Police officers took Nefarious into custody and moved in toward him.
Defender looked back. The trailer survived the explosion – the city was safe.
“Stand back!” Defender warned the approaching officers. He pointed at the trailer. “You will find the trailer filled with deadly unstable mustard gas. It must be removed before it can harm anyone.”
“Hands behind your head!”
“Don’t move!” The police officers shouted conflicting commands toward Defender.
“Heed my words!” Defender’s voice echoed from behind his helmet. “Or many may die!”
“Get on the ground!” Another police officer shouted.
Defender ignored the order and raced into the billowy plume of smoke and debris that littered the air. Moments later he emerged atop his motorcycle revved its engine and tore off across the park leaving the police in his wake.
Heed my words? Treven Kincaid entered his house through the back kitchen door. What kind of outdated warning was that? Sounded like I was in an old movie or something... Treven looked in the mirror at the end of the hall that separated the kitchen and the living room. He looked different – older, even though he was twenty-three. He found long lines growing away from the corners of his lavender eyes. Deep indentions cut into his features. He ran his fingers through his sandy blond hair. So far he couldn’t find any gray. It seemed every time he used his powers the older he looked.
“You’re not getting old.”
Treven jumped, he turned to find a tall dark haired man standing in his living room. Scruffy, the man dressed in a long brown coat, a wrinkled blue shirt, with a white tie and tan slacks. Even his shoes were dirty and in need of repair.
“Who are you – how did you get in here?” Treven demanded.
“Back door was unlocked. But you knew that.”
“I’ll ask again, who are you?” Treven asked standing as tall as he could to hide his nervousness.
“Bob – why don’t you like it?”
Treven crossed to the other side of the room, placing a soft blue recliner between him and his visitor. His heart fluttered. “Why are you in my house?”
Bob gave a thin smile. “I’ve been watching you Treven Kincaid. I’ve been studying your Defender abilities closely.”
Treven swallowed in a dry throat. His skin broke out into cold chills and for a second he thought about calling on his Defender power and sorting out his intruder. But Treven kept his composure. Bob could only speculate and Treven didn’t want to corroborate his suspicions. “Tell me why you’re here?”
“Like I said, I’ve been watching you. I see in you potential – potential needed in days to come.”
“I’m afraid you have the wrong man.”
Bob shook his head. The thin smile he’d held on his lips widened. “Treven Kincaid, parents killed when a terrorist destroyed the Screaming Demon roller coaster at the World of Enchantment Amusement Park seventeen years ago. You were adopted by the famous motorcycle racer Jake Ford who became a father to you. He was killed thirty-two days ago when he lost control of his bike in what would have been his final race.”
“You and he were struck by a bolt of lightning as you raced to his side. It fused you and him together. You can sense him – he is with you and together you form what the local papers are calling Defender. I know you Treven Kincaid. Perhaps better than you know yourself. I also know –”
“Enough…” Treven snapped, “Enough!”
“I know it all Treven, that Jake was responsible for the bomb planted at the Screaming Demon, I –”
“I said enough damn it!”
Bob persisted, “I'm also aware you’re looking older each time you use your powers and I’m willing to help.”
Treven clenched his hands into tight fists. The knuckles turned white. He shook. He felt violated. But it wasn’t because of Bob. Any good reporter could find that information. It's what he said about Jake – that wasn’t something readily available to anyone except him and Jake. “Again I’ll ask, why are you here?”
“You realize by now you are not the only gifted in the world. I’m sure you have heard other stories of people with powers out there doing what you do. I mean to bring you all together – to…”
“Form a team?” Treven asked with a glib grin.
“To work together, there is strength in unity.”
Treven passed in front of the recliner. “The police have hunted me since day one. And that’s only on a local scale. How do you think the government will react if a team of us start running around using our powers to fight bad guys? This isn’t television. They will react accordingly and will use any means to stop us.”
“Can they stop you?” Bob asked unconcerned.
“No,” Treven replied bluntly.
Bob cleared his throat and walked over to Treven’s computer. As he typed he said, “Once before – many years ago there was a team of gifted individuals. They not only fought the dark forces here in the states, but abroad as well.” He pointed at the screen and stepped aside for Treven to get a look.
Typed in the search engine Treven read: Liberty Battalion. “Are you serious?” he turned around – Bob was gone.