Corrupts Absolutely: A Dark Metahuman Fiction Reader
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by Lincoln Crisler
Category: Dark Fantasy
Description: Power corrupts, and absolute power?well, you know. The only family member to survive the 9/11 attacks. A sidekick-turned-construction-worker. The teenaged products of an institute for unwanted metahuman children. The man who can make anyone do anything. Are they heroes? Are they villains? Sometimes they're both. Often, even at the same time. Corrupts Absolutely? collects twenty brand-new stories from veteran authors and newcomers, each with a unique perspective on what it might really be like to be superhuman in today's day and age. In the center of such a roiling mass of uncertainty and excitement lies one important truth: the fight against good or evil is never as important as the fight for (or against) oneself. Contributors: Weston Ochse, Jeff Strand, Joe McKinney, Cat Rambo, A.D. Spencer, A.S. Fox, Andrew Bourelle, Anthony Laffan, Edward M. Erdelac, Jason Gehlert, Jason M. Tucker, Jeremy Hepler, Karina Fabian, Kris Ashton, Lee Mather, Lincoln Crisler, Malon Edwards, Tim Marquitz, Trisha J. Wooldridge, Wayne Helge, Wayne Ligon, and William Todd Rose.
eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC/Damnation Books, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: April 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [376 KB]
Reading time: 228-319 min.
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September 11, 2001, 8:46 a.m. That's when it all went to hell.
The date and time are seared into my mind with a heat I can only pray my wife never felt. Candace had found her dream job. Just the week before, she'd started at Channel 5, WNYW. Their offices were on the 110th floor of the North Tower, and she'd worked overnight, preparing for her first time on camera. She was just a fill-in, but she wanted to be perfect. Candace always did.
She was scheduled off at 9:00.
She was also six months pregnant with our son: Joshua Michael Drake.
We'd only settled on his name a few days earlier. I never got to meet him. They never came home. Just fourteen minutes before Candace would have been in the elevator and down past the impact point, I lost them both.
I lost everything.
No, that's not entirely true. I didn't lose everything. After watching all I loved disappear in a roiling cloud of gray smoke as the building went down, there was still one thing left in my life. Once all the tears had dried and the empty words of comfort had soured on sorry tongues, there was still my fury.
I'd been a good husband until that moment, 8:46; the moment they took them away. I'd been a good man.
That man died with his family.
* * * *
September 11, 2006, 8:40 a.m. Revenge was but six minutes away.
While the world had watched my wife and child disintegrate live on television, and had seen the eagle roused in righteous anger, our soldiers sacrificed in foreign lands, it would never know the truth of what had been set in motion that day. The jihadists had brought the struggle to our shores, but five years after our nation had been dealt a grievous blow, the war had yet to truly begin. In five minutes, it would start in earnest; with me.
My job was to repay our enemies in kind.
It was my pleasure.
The road from then to now had been difficult, in far more ways than I could ever have imagined when I signed up to fight. I wanted nothing more than to kill the bastards who'd stolen my family from me. All I asked of my country was a gun and a one way ticket to the desert. It gave me so much more.
The morning sun of northern Waziristan beat down upon my head, the heat already sweltering as I made my way along the dusty streets of Mir Ali, heading toward an open market. My skin darkened by chemical staining and my beard grown out thick, itching at my chin and dyed black like my hair, I looked as though I belonged.
I was dressed in the traditional shalwar kameez, colored in a simple brown and carrying nothing. The other people on the narrow lane paid me little attention. I affected a shallow limp to feign a sense of weakness, and greeted those I passed with quiet courtesy, my teeth clenched to still my tongue. After five years of learning the language, I was proficient, but it always paid to be cautious. It wouldn't do for someone to note a flaw in my inflection, the anger in my voice. Not when I was so close.
In another three minutes, it wouldn't matter.
Central Intelligence reports had placed a number of ranking al-Qaeda fighters in the area, the people of Mir Ali complicit to their presence, or at the very least, complacent. No real difference between the two in my eyes. You harbor terrorists, you are a terrorist.
Inside the market, I moved amidst the jumbled stalls and carts, my eyes drifting as I weaved my way toward the thickest concentration of shoppers. I was disappointed there were so few women around, the local culture hiding them away from the eyes of men not their husbands. My dissatisfaction was tempered somewhat by the number of children that ran laughing through the crowded aisles. They were mostly boys, but there were a few girls as well, all too young to be coveted yet, even in their society. I counted nearly thirty who scampered about; twenty-seven young boys who would one day take up arms and fight against my nation, and three girls who would breed more. The numbers were hardly equal, but it would be a good start.
I sidled up close to the busiest of the stalls, patrons haggling in quick tongues over the price of chapatis, the long loaves of bread stacked a dozen high. Flies swarmed about, their humming buzz adding to the morning's furor. It was hardly the last meal I would have chosen, but then again, none of them knew just how close to death they were.
I ignored the old man barking at me to move away if I wasn't buying, and let my heart settle. He'd be quiet soon enough.
My thoughts reached down and I felt the first stirrings of heat in my veins, my blood warming in response to the pressure of my will. The man went on, threatening violence if I didn't step aside, only affirming my cause.
I raised my finger and smiled at him, mouthing, "One minute," in his own tongue. That only set him to frothing, his tantrum drawing an audience of onlookers to the stall. I should have thanked him, but I needed to concentrate.
Blocking the ranting shopkeeper out, I closed my eyes and sent the spark of my fury to light the fuse inside. My stomach roiled with stinging acid and I could feel the sweat pushing its way from my pores, coating me instantly in a wet sheen. The man went silent as though he could hear the boiling rush that was building, the napalm sear that rippled beneath my flesh.
I opened my eyes to see him staring at me. His face was twisted in an almost comical confusion, and I wondered what he thought, not that it really mattered. The people who had gathered to watch the shopkeeper's tirade had drawn back a few steps, their voices muted by the uncertainty of what was happening. They sensed something they couldn't understand, but still they gathered thick, sheep too dim to see the culling ahead. It was too late to run.
I turned to face the crowd, my smile breaking through the blackness of my beard. "You have taken my family from me," I told them, in English. Though most of them probably didn't understand a word I'd said, there was no doubt they understood my intent. Their eyes went wide at the recognition of an enemy among them, one of the great Satan, but that thought would be their last. "Now I take you from yours."
With one more push, my blood boiled over. A flash of white stole my vision as the gift my government had given me took hold. Pain lanced through my body, growing sharper with every instant. The agony multiplied like shattered glass, each shard breaking into a million more and yet again, and again, and again. All but the simplest thoughts left my head, my essence too scattered for true coherence. Split into a billion pieces, my consciousness was a tiny blip in each, my body broken down into its basest molecules. Every atom imbued with the fury to match Oppenheimer's greatest achievement, I felt myself explode.
A blur of motion filled my remaining senses and I was overwhelmed by the feeling of being hurled in every direction at once, vertigo at its most exhilarating. Though it seemed, even to me, to be impossible, I noted each and every impact as my fiery essence tore through the assembled crowd, shattered the stalls, and decimated the wares, millions of me peppering the ground where I had just stood. Dust whipped about in my wake.
For the briefest of instants, I was one with everything in the market: the earth, the air, flesh and bone. As my being tore through theirs, it was as though I could taste them, sorting the blood from wood and dirt without a thought. I could hear the people's screams inside me, though I had no ears, and could feel their lives ending as I punctured each with a million different fragments of me. The world was alive with ruin, a crimson cloud holding court amidst the carnage.
My momentum carried my discorporate particles out to a radius of about a thousand feet. My essence slowed at last as it burst through the surrounding obstacles of shops and homes and the remnants of my energies drained away. I could feel gravity's return, its gentle tug pulling the whole of me toward the ground. The sense of separation began to ease, clarity drawing closer like a ship approaching shore. Now came the hard part.
There weren't adequate words to describe the pain that came with reintegration, but as the pieces of me slammed together, becoming one again on a genetic level, no agony could steal my satisfaction away. As they had with us, I had brought the war to our enemy in a way they had never imagined.
Flesh and feeling returned with an acid bath rage, pieces of a puzzle set upon the surface of the sun. I could feel myself knitting back together, and recognized every molecule as it wove itself into the whole. Sense congealed while muscles and tendons stretched and returned to their natural shapes, growing over thickening bone. The smell of char filled my developing nose, and tears spilled from newborn eyes. I was nearly me again.
Close to two blocks from the market, I was reborn, huddled naked on a mattress of wreckage brought about by my righteous fury. My skin sizzled, gray tendrils of smoke wafting about me as the energies inside slowly cooled. I drew myself up and heard my joints creak, the pain and stiffness of my transformation ebbing.
All around me I could hear the cries of the wounded, those too far from the epicenter of the blast to have met their end with a merciful swiftness. There was no time to revel in my satisfaction.
Men shouted, and the morning air was filled with the crackle of flames and the sounds of panic. Black smoke swirled through the streets and alleys, obscuring the world from my eyes, and me from the men that swarmed nearby. It was only a taste of the ruin they'd brought.
I swallowed my smile and rubbed dirt and ashes across my skin, nicking my flesh in a number of places with a sharpened piece of debris, and then slathering blood across my body. For all my success, I had yet to escape. So far behind enemy lines as to be unreachable by my allies, it was up to me to find my way out.
Deep in the throes of adrenal fatigue, I had no need to fake the appearance of the walking wounded. Every step was an anchor drawn through sand as I emerged from the sheltering alley where I'd coalesced, and stumbled out on the street. Mournful wails rose up as chaos began to break, the truth of what I'd wrought coming to light. I could only imagine what they saw. Flickering images of the moment twisted and tangled inside my throbbing head.
I staggered toward the desert, hoping to remain unseen, but I'd done my job too well. All of Mir Ali was in the streets, drawn by my release of power. A man shouted, his gnarled finger pointed at me, a dozen more taking up his cry. I looked about, seeking a clear path to run, but there was none. What wasn't blocked by a cluster of onlookers was made impassable by the fires set by my conflagration. My heart sank for an instant, but I remembered my guise. All of those who'd heard me speak were gone, red stains about the market floor.
Only one outward sign remained to betray my true origins. I crumpled to the ground and curled fetal, moaning incoherent. The men rushed to my side with heavy steps, but there was no anger in their voices; only concern.
",aEON aaN OC aa a" I told them as they closed. Help me.
Words of comfort filled my ears. They believed I was one of them.
Rough hands pulled me into the air, the largest of the men cradling me in his arms as though I were a child. His eyes narrowed as his nostrils flared as the stench of burnt flesh drifted up to assail his nose. I let my hands fall to my groin as he blinked away tears, covering my genitals from sight. None had noticed my circumcision.
I let the man carry me, burying my face in his chest to muffle my barked laughter, turning it into a cough. He jarred me about as he ran, shouting to clear the path ahead. His footsteps slapped as they struck the packed dirt roadway. A few moments later he slowed, his breath loud in his lungs as he called out for assistance. More hands clutched at me, pulling me from his arms. I was a set upon a makeshift gurney, a woolen blanket laid overtop, only helping to hide the truth of who they had helped.
I could hear their chattered voices as they scrambled for direction, the gurney raised unsteadily beneath me. Daring a glance ahead, I saw the doors of a medical center looming before me, the Red Crescent emblem emblazoned above in chipped and peeling paint. Men in white met us at the threshold, taking the gurney from those in the street and transferring me to a rolling cart. As they wheeled me down the hall, flickering lights flashing above my eyes, they asked in clipped voices where I was hurt.
I gave them only one answer, "My heart," then I asked for the time. They looked at me strangely, but one of the interns glanced at his watch, thinking perhaps he was granting a dying man's wish by answering.
I smiled in thanks, meeting his dark eyes as we burst through the inner doors of the hospital, the room busy with people. With a deep breath, I mustered my will once more and drew upon the fire.