Previous Chapter | Chapter Thirty-Seven | Next Chapterby T. Mike McCurley
“You need not make it seem as bad as all that,” said Deanna Hochek, scowling at the big booster.
“Yeah? You ain’t the one trapped in a chair watching outdated movies, lady.”
“The question is whether those movies are getting through to you. Are they showing you just what you have been doing wrong?”
“Oh, yes, ma’am,” Drake said, nodding his head eagerly. “I’ve been bad, and I won’t let it happen again. Can I go now?”
“Sarcasm is not going to get you anywhere with me,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and turning to retrieve yet another videotape.
“Yeah, ‘cause getting somewhere with you is high on my list of things to do,” he muttered, jerking open the door to the room.
“Five minutes, Drake,” she reminded him, her voice a little too sweet for his taste. He bit back a hasty reply, simply nodding and continuing down the hall. He stopped before entering the reception area, leaning over the desk to stare at the receptionist. She leaned her body backward in her chair, desperate to put distance between herself and the massive green form that was intruding on her space.
“Well, that’s not very sensitive,” he told her with a sad shake of his head. “I could be very offended by your behavior.”
The girl stammered for a moment, unsure what to make of the statement.
“I tell you what,” he continued. “I have been learning how to be polite, so you tell me where I can find a coffeepot in this place and I will let your attitude slide.”
“Doct... Doctor Marshall,” she said, her terror obviously due more to his presence than his spoken threat. She pointed toward the door. “Down the hall, on the left.”
“Thanks,” he said with a smile that was as friendly as he could manage. He pulled his head back from her area, standing and winking at her. His tone changed, becoming suddenly congenial. “You want a cup?”
“N-no, thank you.”
“Okay. Thought I’d offer.”
He was almost dancing as he left the office. Before long, he was back, with a gleaming chrome coffeemaker in his hand. The device was over two feet tall and had a tap on the bottom. He held it up triumphantly, displaying it to the receptionist as it made sloshing noises.
“Most amazing thing I ever saw. The polite thing worked. I told ‘em I wanted a cup, and they said to just take it all,” he said. His teeth flashed, reflected in the lighting that glinted from the coffeepot. “Sure you don’t want some?”
“Yeah, I’m...I’m sure,” she said, very clearly able to imagine the expressions on the faces of the staff at Doctor Marshall’s office.
“Okay,” he said, clutching the pot to his chest as though it was the greatest treasure in the world. He was actually whistling as he returned to the room.
“In a better mood, I see,” Hochek said, arching an eyebrow as she saw what he was carrying.
“Getting better all the time, doc,” he replied. “Coffee?”
“No, thank you.”
“Your loss,” he said with a shrug. He popped free the lid that topped the device and hoisted the entire thing into the air. Tilting back his head, he drank from the top with the ease of a normal man using a cup.
“This politeness stuff,” he began, wiping his mouth on the back of one had. “I didn’t believe it could work, but now I’m seeing what you’re talking about. I mean, I can do my job and still be a nice guy, right? There’s no reason why I have to be so angry all the time.”
“And when someone calls me a monster, or a freak, or something, I can just let it go.”
“That’s part of it, yes,” she said.
“It would be insensitive of me to call them a hairless ape.”
“Yes, it would.”
“Well, bring on the next movie, doc,” Drake invited, taking another swig from the eighty-cup canister. His eyes sparkled. “I think I’m getting the hang of this!”
Seven hours later, Drake emerged from the room with a wide smile on his face and a bag full of classroom material in his grasp. He carried the empty coffeemaker to the office of Doctor Marshall and returned it with a brief statement of his gratitude, and then left the building, humming a tune. His wings fluttered out and wrapped around his frame as a shield against the cold air. He waved happily at people on the street as he walked.
As he neared a corner, he could see a group of people standing and waiting for the light to change. A man in a grey hoodie was carefully slipping a hand into the purse of a woman who was leaning her weight upon an aluminum walker. Drake increased his pace, tucking the tapes and papers from the class into one pocket of his BDU trousers.
“How nice of you!” he called, his booming voice echoing from the surrounding buildings. The crowd turned to see him, and more than a few of them screamed in sudden fright as he suddenly loomed over them. Drake wrapped a powerful hand around the forearm of the thief.
“Take it easy, folks,” he urged, holding up his identification and shield with his free hand. “Federal Agent. I just wanted to tell this nice lady here what a wonderful thing she is doing.”
The woman on the walker turned her head. Her voice was quivering as she addressed the enormous booster. “Wh-what?”
“Why, trying to see to it that this misguided youth has plenty of money to get through his day,” Drake said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. He lifted his hand, bringing the trapped arm of the thief with it - along with the faux leather pocketbook he had been stealing.
“I’m thinking, though, that maybe she’s done her share of donating,” Drake said to the thief, gripping a little tighter. The pocketbook dropped from nerveless fingers back into the woman’s purse.
“That’s my money,” the woman noted, her shock at the theft overcoming her shock at Drake’s appearance.
“It certainly is. What do you say, kid?”
“I was just…I was—”
“Try thanking the lady for her willingness to help you out.”
“Try what?” the thief said, his eyes bugging out. Drake repeated himself.
“I wasn’t trying to help him out. He was stealing!” the lady said. The crowd had lost its interest in crossing the street now, and they were all watching to see how the incident would play. Drake favored them with a smile guaranteed to haunt their dreams for some time to come, and then turned his gaze back to the thief that was struggling to free his arm from the unyielding grip.
“Now thank the lady,” he ordered in a low, growling voice.
“Tha-thank you, ma’am,” the thief managed to gasp.
“Good. Now apologize.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, reaching up with his free hand to ease the dreadful pressure. The woman slipped her purse down from her shoulder and examined it for a moment, then swung it in a quick arc to smash the would-be thief on the top of the head. Laughter erupted from the assembled crowd.
“She earned that one,” Drake said to the thief. There was a solid-sounding thump as the woman struck him again with the purse.
“That one was on credit,” he added, intercepting the purse on its third trip. “That’s enough, ma’am. I’ll take him from here.”
“Thank you,” the woman gushed, still unwilling to get too close to her savior but obviously glad that he had appeared. Drake winked at her.
“Just doing my job, ma’am,” he said. “Now y’all get on across that road,” he added, pointing to draw the crowd’s attention to the fact that the light had changed again and they were free to cross.
“Now...is this going to be a continuing problem?” he asked of the thief. Still tugging against the iron grip of the booster, the youth shook his head wildly.
“No, sir!” he swore.
“Then I will let you go. You go on home and you think about how bad you made that lady feel. Remember, you’re on the honor system, so I don’t want to hear about you getting in any trouble. If you do, I want you to know, I am only a phone call away.”
“You want to help me?” the thief asked, massaging his wrist.
“Well, of course I do. I was referring to the police, though. I’m only a call away for them. I mean, you know, you look like a nice kid and all, but I can’t bail you out. Now, if I have to come back here...” He let the threat hang unfinished.
“Not gonna happen,” the thief said, turning and running down the side of the street.
“It does work,” Drake muttered to himself, resuming his leisurely stroll. He drew his cell phone from his pocket and dialed. He whistled quietly between his teeth as it rang, smiling at the passersby that looked up at him with a mix of fear and revulsion.
“Hart,” answered the tired voice.
“Director Hart, how lovely to hear your voice,” he said. “It’s Drake.”
“Francis Drake, Agent, one each,” he said with a chuckle. “That was good - ‘Drake who?’ I like that.”
“Are you all right, Agent?” Hart asked, her tone hesitating as if cautious.
“I’m wonderful. I just finished up my class with Doctor Hochek,” he said. “I should have gone years ago!”
“I see,” Hart said. “Can anyone else hear this call?”
“Are you in danger?”
“Not at all. Why?”
“You don’t sound like yourself.”
“Ah. I get it. I’m not insulting you.”
“That is a large part of it, yes.”
“Well, now, I am sorry for all the times I did that. That’s just not the kind of behavior that’s acceptable.”
“That’s - that’s perfectly all right, Agent Drake,” she managed. “Glad to hear you learned from the class.”
“Oh, I did,” he said, pausing in his walk to motion a Volkswagen to go past. “So where to now?”
“You mean your next assignment?”
“Yep. Ready to go.”
“I do not have a current assignment pending in your area.”
“Oh. Okay, then. I’ll swing by the local precinct and see what the boys in...I mean, the people in blue have going on,” he said, shaking his head as he corrected himself. His lip twitched slightly.
“As you wish. I presume you will be returning to spend some time with your brother when you finish there?”
“That might be a good thing to do.”
“I will make contact with you there.”
“Cool. Drop on by. It’ll be a party, boss,” Drake said, closing the cell and crossing a street. He dialed up a local mapping system on the phone and found the location of the nearest Police station.
“Well, that’s a long way off,” he mused, looking at the convoluted directions displayed on the small screen. His head rotated around and up, taking in the frames of the surrounding buildings. Teeth flashing in a grin, he spread his wings and pumped them to gain altitude. As he reached the top of a streetlight, he braced his feet against it and thrust upward with all the strength of his legs to throw himself further into his flight. Within seconds, he was climbing past the buildings and into the sky. The cold wind gnawed at him, and he knew he could not spend as much time in the air as he might like due to its debilitating effects on his system. Banking hard to his left, he angled for the most direct route to the station.
“Come here often?” called a voice as he got within two blocks of his destination. Drake turned to see a uniformed officer who appeared to be floating in the air. His form was hazy and indistinct; Drake could see the buildings behind him through the image of the officer.
“First time,” Drake said in response. He slowed his flight a little, and the ghostly image drifted along beside him.
“Yeah? Welcome to Portland, then. Anything we can help you with, or are you just sight-seeing?”
“Thought I’d check in with you guys. I’m Francis Drake, from Metahuman Response.”
“I’ll, uh, I’ll meet you on the roof,” the officer said, turning to point at the building they were fast approaching. A second later, he shimmered out of view.
“That’s a neat trick,” Drake said as he landed on the top of the Police station. His feet dug into the gravel sprinkled across the roof while his wings automatically wrapped around him once more. He looked around, but there was no sign of the officer with whom he had spoken. He had almost decided to glide down and go in through the main doors when he heard a sound and turned to see the officer emerge from a stairway access door. Perfectly shined shoes caught the light as the man walked across the crunching gravel, a smile on his face.
“So you’re Drake, huh?” he said. “Saw you on BoosterScene a while back. The whole Onslaught thing? Name’s Rick Sneed, Portland PD.”
“Nice to meet you,” Drake said, enveloping the man’s hand with his own emerald paw. He jerked a thumb back the way he had come. “I like the whole floaty thing. That’s pretty sweet.”
“Yeah. I’m a transmitter. We caught sight of you on one of our traffic cams, and the Captain figured it would be best if we knew what we were dealing with.”
“Hope I didn’t disappoint.”
“Oh, no. We’re just glad that you didn’t turn out to be a problem.”
“Got any of those to spare?”
“Yeah. I could use the exercise, and I’m free,” Drake said, sitting on the stone rail that surrounded the roof. His tail and the bottom half of his wings dangled over the edge.
“No. I think we’ve got it all covered. Thanks, though.”
“No problem,” Drake said with a shrug. “Is there an airport close?”
“Sure. We’ll take you,” Sneed said, gesturing toward the stairwell. “Come on in. There’s a bunch of guys inside that would love to meet you.”
Drake followed the officer into the building and spent the better part of the next three hours posing for pictures, exchanging stories, and relaxing in a way that was unusual for him. The officers arranged for his flight and drove him to the airport, and he was soon on his way back to Colorado.
The flight gave him time to reflect, and he made use of it rather than simply going to sleep as was his standard pattern. He felt strangely calm, and it was only after a great deal of thought on the matter that he realized he was not as agitated or tense as normally he was. The sensation was new, and he took a moment to revel in the sudden freedom of it. It was as though a shadow that had loomed over him for some time was now gone and he could once again see daylight.
He nodded as that thought ran through his mind. The past had not been especially good to him, and his personal stress level was generally higher than he would have wanted. Now, though, he felt like a large portion of it had eased its grip on him, much the same as he had eased his grip on the wrist of the thief in the Portland street. He took in a slow, deep breath and exhaled, hearing the voice of Deanna Hochek telling him to be calm.
“You got it, doc,” he whispered.
There was a panel truck waiting at the airport when he arrived, and Sala was leaning against the frame of the open drivers’ door. Her arms were folded and propped up in the open window.
“Special cargo in the back,” she said as she exchanged a fist bump with the reptilian booster. Drake grinned and fairly leaped to the back, ripping the doors open wide and jamming his head into the gap.
“Francis!” Monster crowed, leaping to his feet to hug his brother. In the process, he slammed his head against the roof of the vehicle. The metal dented and creaked. Monster covered his head with a hand and moaned.
“It’s okay,” Drake said, stepping into the back of the truck and wrapping an arm around his brother. “Happens to me all the time. It’ll be all right in a minute.”
“Yes, it did. Like I said, though, it’ll be all right here in a minute.”
Sala drove them back to the safehouse, taking a circuitous route that guaranteed no one but a very determined opponent could possibly follow them. As she drove, Drake and Monster talked and joked in the back of the truck.
“Angelo came by earlier,” Sala told him as the three of them exited the truck just outside the safehouse.
“How is he?”
“He’s... I don’t know. Fine, I guess.”
“That’s good,” Drake said, ruffling Monster’s hair as the younger Drake entered the house.
“Yeah.” Sala changed the subject as they entered the home, aware of the listening devices that were concealed there. “So how was your trip? Was your shrink okay?”
“She doesn’t like being called a shrink,” he said. “She’s a doctor, you know. It’s only fair to call her that, considering how much time and effort she went through to earn the title.”
“Ummm...okay,” she replied, arching an eyebrow. “So was your doctor okay, then?”
“She was great, Sala, let me tell you. I never thought about all the problems I caused for people by being as cruel and offensive as I was. I just went along and treated everybody like... Oh, I hope I didn’t do anything to upset you,” he suddenly said, laying a hand on her shoulder and peering down into her eyes.
“No, but you’re freaking me out right now,” she said, backing away a step. She looked him up and down, tilting her head from side to side as she did so. “Who’s in there?” she asked.
“It’s me, I promise. I just...well, Doctor Hochek showed me how much of an irritant I could be. She told me it’s okay to not be mad all the time.”
“And did she tell you that it’s creepy when you’re overly friendly?”
“Oh, now, see? That’s just negative thinking.”
“Yeah. Okay. I tell you what: You go play with Monster and I’ll go make some coffee...and a few calls.”
Drake happily complied, taking the videos and brochures from the class and dropping them onto the coffee table before wandering to Monster’s room and joining his brother, playing with action figures in the floor.
Sala came in some time later, standing in the doorway and leaning a shoulder against the jamb. She stood there for a while and watched the two of them, then slowly slipped out of the room. She flipped open her cell phone and scrolled through the numbers listed within. Finding what she was looking for, she pushed the preset and began slowly walking for the door as she waited for the response.
“Director,” declared the voice at the other end.
“Director Hart, my name is Sala. I am the security operative assigned to Christopher Drake.”
“Is there a problem?”
“Yes. I believe there is.”
“Specify the threat.”
“No threat to my charge. I think the problem is with Drake. The big one, I mean. The dragon,” she clarified.
“He’s...I don’t know...off, would be the word I would use.”
“He has attended a course of sensitivity training.”
“Yeah,” Sala acknowledged, stepping from the house and onto the porch. She took in a breath of the cool air. “I’m clear on that. Problem is, he seems way too happy.”
“I did notice a shift in his attitudes when I spoke with him earlier. Do you believe he has somehow been altered?”
“All I know is, this ain’t the Drake I know. He asked if he had upset me. He put his hand on my shoulder.”
“I see,” Hart said. She fell silent for a moment, though Sala’s sharp hearing picked up the sound of the woman drawing on a cigarette and exhaling. “I have the location of your residence. Stand by there and I will send someone shortly that will establish whether there is truly a need to be concerned or if Agent Drake is simply over-reacting to his training.”
“Thanks,” Sala said, switching off the call. She returned the phone to her pocket and sighed deeply, shaking her head as she looked into the sky.
“Hope that bitch has Deacon Blue on her payroll,” she muttered, referring to the psychic booster who had managed to free Ian Calder from the personality of Annihilator.
She did not have long to wait. The air split with a hissing, crackling sound and a hole opened in the fabric of reality itself. A broad-shouldered man in a ragged, sleeveless shirt stepped out of the hole. His exposed torso was a mass of tattoos, and he grinned as he caught sight of Sala. She had reacted to the threat by backing up to put her body between the portal and the door to the house, dropping to one knee and drawing her sidearm. It was trained on the man.
“Warp Runner,” he introduced. “Hart sent me. I brought a passenger.”
“Supposed to check on Drake. This is the place, right?”
“Lady of few words. I like that,” Warp Runner said, tugging with the hand that was still inside the hole. From within came a garishly dressed young woman, her hand clenched in the grip of the portal generator. Hair of brilliant orange, interspersed with stripes of electric blue, graced the girl’s head, framing an expression that was a mix of innocence and pure malice. She wore a red and green blouse and skirt combo, and leggings of the same blinding blue hue as the stripes in her hair completed the outfit.
“Where’s the idiot?” the woman asked. Her voice was shrill and nasal.
“What idiot?” Sala responded. No longer aimed in the direction of the new arrivals, her pistol was now at her side.
“Drake. The big green doofus. Where’s he at?”
“Inside. You some kind of telepath?”
“If I was, honey, I wouldn’t need you to tell me where Drake was, now would I?” the woman said, stepping away from Warp Runner and walking up the sidewalk toward the house. “Geez. Just once, I wish she’d send me somewhere where people aren’t dumb.”
“How about I put a round through your forehead, sweetcheeks?” Sala asked, her voice gone cold. “Maybe then we’ll see which one of us is the smart one: the one with the gun or the one with the gaping hole where her head used to be.”
“Nice attitude. I see why he keeps you around.”
“I’ll be heading back in a minute,” Warp Runner said as his portal collapsed. His interruption eased the building tension. “I’m supposed to bring Hart, too. Vertigo was first. Hart said she could rile Drake if anyone could.”
“He can only bring one at a time,” Vertigo explained. “Any more would be, you know, convenient or something.”
“Can’t have that,” Sala said, opening the door. She followed Vertigo inside.
“And he smells like bacon,” the costumed girl complained once the door had shut. “What’s up with that?”
“Not a clue,” Sala admitted with a shrug. She gestured toward the back of the house. “Drake’s back here.”
“Well, let’s see just how unhappy I can make him,” Vertigo said, rubbing her hands together and cackling. She and Sala worked their way through toward Monster’s room, Vertigo pausing in front of the television long enough to offer a derogatory comment about the Booster Bears episode that was playing.
“Lookie, lookie,” Vertigo said as she breached the threshold into Monster’s room. “If it isn’t the big frog.”
Both of the Drake brothers glanced up. A toothy grin spread across Drake’s face.
“Hey! It’s Vertigo. Monster, this is Vertigo. She works with my boss.”
“Hi,” Monster said, half-ducking his head.
“This is Monster,” Drake continued. “He’s my little brother.”
“Awww. How sweet,” the girl said, her tone mocking. “Big one, isn’t he? What happened? Mom couldn’t spit out another lizard, so she settled for a gorilla?”
“It’s okay, Monster,” Drake said, waving off the comment. “She’s just mean.”
“Oh, you haven’t seen mean yet, scale-boy. Hart sent me here to talk to you. She thinks you’ve gone over the edge. Looks like the bughouse for you, huh? Of course, maybe you’d like it there. I hear lizards like eating bugs.”
“It’s really not polite to call us names,” Drake said, cocking his head to the side and gazing at Vertigo. “I would appreciate it if you stopped.”
Vertigo grinned and snickered softly at the request. “Too bad. Maybe I don’t want to stop. It’s not my fault you’re so dorky. Haven’t you ever wondered why everyone hates being around you?”
“I think maybe it’s because I’ve been heartless and cruel,” Drake said with a quick nod.
“As if,” Vertigo said, laughing aloud. “It’s ‘cause, well, look at you. It’s like hanging out in Jurassic Park! I mean, barf-ola! Who wants to be around a dinosaur? And don’t get me started on the skin tones, dude. You look like a walking booger!”
“You shut up!” Monster suddenly shouted, rising from his position on the floor to glare at the girl. His hand clenched around the FlashFire toy he was holding. Ominous cracking sounds came from within the fist. Vertigo brought her hands up defensively. A sick grin crossed her features.
“Hey, Drakey! You’ve been on the receiving end of one of my spins. Whatcha think? Think maybe little brother will puke the same color as your scales?” she asked.
Without warning, a soft-skinned hand covered Vertigo’s mouth and a hard object was wedged into her right ear. There was a metallic ratcheting sound, amplified by the pressure of metal against her head. Warm breath ghosted into her left ear as Sala whispered to her.
“You’re evaluating Drake. Monster’s my charge. You so much as ruffle his hair and I’ll paint the wall with your brains. You go after him, you’re nothing more than a two-page report to me.”
Vertigo nodded, unable to speak through the hand that covered her mouth. As Sala released her and the girl took in a breath, the doorbell chimed.
“Just trying to get -“ Vertigo started to say, her demeanor changed by what she perceived as a very credible threat. Sala held up a hand and shook her head.
“Don’t explain. Remember what I said.”
“That’s probably Hart at the front door,” said Vertigo, eager to change the subject. The color had drained from her face, and she was unable to take her eyes from the heavy automatic in Sala’s grasp.
“Let’s go get her, then.”
The return trip to the door was made without words; the only sounds their footsteps and the slithering sound of Sala holstering her weapon. The bodyguard reached the door first, gripping the knob and opening it to display a brunette woman in a business suit.
“Glad you could make it,” Sala said. Her eyes narrowed. “Where’s Warp Runner?”
“Who is she?” Vertigo asked, looking at the woman. There was a confused expression on her face. Sala did not hesitate, jumping back a pace as her hand reached for her pistol. The woman looked up and met Sala’s gaze, her eyes flashing.
“Drop it,” she said, her voice soft and friendly. Sala felt the weapon slip from her fingers to clatter on the floor.
“Welcome to the merry-go-round, Grandma,” Vertigo sneered, thrusting her hands forward. The brown-haired woman staggered and shook her head as if trying to clear it. A second later, she tripped over her own feet and fell to the ground.
“Keep it going,” Sala urged, crouching to recover her weapon. She, too, was shaking her head, though it was not due to Vertigo’s actions. “She’s a telepath. Keep her busy.”
“My pleasure,” Vertigo said with a malicious laugh. The muscles of her shoulders bunched and released as her hands opened and closed in rhythmic motions. On the ground, the woman retched helplessly.
“Drake! It’s a hit!” Sala shouted as she ran through the house to Monster’s room. Drake uncoiled from the floor and launched himself into a run of his own toward the front door, leaving Sala to watch over Monster.
“Go!” he ordered. “I’ll slow ‘em down.”
“Don’t be nice!” she shouted back.
There was a thunderous explosion from the front of the house, followed by a childish scream of terror and pain. A gout of flame billowed into the living room, licking at the furniture before dissipating. Drake’s feet thundered on the floor as he rounded the corner of the living room and made it to the doorway where Vertigo was now sprawled, her costume smoldering and her hair singed to her head. He looked outside, eyes widening.
Two men and a woman stood on the lawn. All wore black jumpsuits with a white circle on the left breast on which was emblazoned the stylized DNA pattern used as a logo by Humanity First. All three held bulky weapons whose make Drake did not recognize. At the feet of the trio, another woman was in a seated position, though even a cursory glance told him that she had not taken the position willingly. Flecks of vomit stained the navy blue suit she wore, and pools of it surrounded her. Drake paused a moment, looking down at the woman.
“Doctor Hochek?” he asked, voice cracking. The woman, occupied as she was with trying to recover from the effects of Vertigo’s attack, did not answer. One of the men did, though. The grin that graced his features was near demonic in appearance.
“Time to die, mutant,” he said, raising the gaping maw of the weapon to cover Drake.
Firedrake and all related characters ™ and © 2006-2009 T. Mike McCurley.