Copyright © 2016 by D'Artagnon
Not All Stories End Happily
Moving stealthily, the Fox stalked forwards. He had heard the mike clicks and information exchange over the soldier's radio sets. He hadn't been close enough to actually hear what was said, but the sound had been enough for Andy to zero in on the place in the bushes where the soldier hid. Andy had a new target.
He glanced around, making sure that the Hound was still searching for him near the large elm tree and its skirting of browning bushes. The thing, for Andy wasn't sure if it was actually alive, moved a bit further away, checking to see if Andy was near the pair of boulders at the head of the trail. Far enough away for me to act, Andy thought, grimly.
He turned his attention back to the soldier, who was operating some sort of panel that stuck out from his chest, mounted to his armor. The soldier seemed preoccupied with the control panel and with the scene beyond, where Tom had rolled over and the first Hound was prone and motionless, its guts spread over the ground and its head several feet away. Andy was preparing for his move. He planned to simply run up to the soldier and dropkick into the back of the man's knees, making them of a more similar height. Then he planned to wrap the man's neck in a quick Weaver Lock and hold it until the guard succumbed to unconsciousness.
Simple, effective, humane and, above all, silent. It was a good plan. One his grandfather would have been proud of for its simplicity and the skill required. Andy stood to a partial crouch, ready to run across the ground to the soldier, ready to deliver the shot to the man's legs when he saw him, over by the partly stocked trailer. Leaning over, looking at the recently liberated Hound head, his hand still on Sammy's tail, was Stamos.
Andy's eyes filled with rage. He'd never been this close to Stamos. He'd followed the man to his laboratory across the river before. He'd stalked him to his home in a moderately well to do neighborhood. He'd even had the man under the scope of a high powered rifle once, about a decade ago. If it weren't for the hawking winds off the Merrimack that winters day, Andy might very well have taken the shot. But the man had his young son with him that day, and Andy couldn't traumatize the four-year-old like that. Or risk hurting the innocent boy.
Andy rose, feeling a little more than anxious to get his hands on the old Nazi's scrawny neck and show him all the dirty infighting tricks his grandfather had drilled into him. He momentarily lost his concentration on what he was doing and heard a small stick snap under his foot. A quick, startled look down showed that Andy had found a elm branch no thicker than his wrist, but it had a rock conveniently placed under one end, just enough that Andy's scant weight bent the branch without breaking it completely. But it was enough for the wood to creek and crunch… and get the soldier's attention as well.
The Fox looked up, his eyes and those of the soldier meeting in surprise. For a moment, there was no movement. And then the soldier slammed the panel shut against his chest and pulled out a long combat knife. Andy stepped back, bringing his fists up. His own knife was still clutched tightly in his left fist, held blade back, flush against his wrist.
Andy snarled a bit as the soldier grinned at him, thinking Andy an easy opponent. Andy opened his right fist, nearly half the size of the soldier's paw, and beckoned the soldier forward. The soldier rolled his shoulders and moved in.
Andy took a step back as the solder came forward, slapping a hand contemptuously at Andy's fist. The Fox let the hand get close, but didn't allow contact. He didn't want the man with his longer reach to grab onto him. He did duck and side step when the bigger knife-fighter swung his blade at Andy's face in a tight arc. The soldier was quick, though and turned against Andy's movement, launching a kick at Andy's hip. Andy realized the mistake at once and cartwheeled on one hand over the kick. He'd managed to roll halfway around the soldier in doing so and went for a low leg sweep.
The soldier was well trained, however, and he hopped over the sweep. Andy resumed his vertical base stance as the soldier turned towards him. The man had clearly underestimated the boy's skill, and he was mentally adjusting his strategy. Andy knew at once that his main tactic would be to use his greater reach to his advantage, apply more strength than someone Andy's size ought to have.
Andy was counting on that.
The soldier swept in again, the blade coming in low to rip into the Fox's belly. Andy let it get close before moving, his own blade hand a blur as it slid inside the soldier's guard, cutting a shallow gash into the soldier's uniform. He didn't feel it taste skin, but the soldier did snatch his arm back, swinging a jab from the empty hand to back Andy up.
But the Fox was having none of it. He ducked under the jab and gathered himself. The soldier risked a look at his ripped uniform sleeve, and in that moment, Andy struck.
He launched himself up and forward, reaching out with both hands to grab the lapels of the soldier's uniform. Andy could feel the added weight of armor and the electrical systems of the Hound controllers as he landed against the soldier's body, his feet coming up to land on the soldier's thighs. He raised his head up suddenly, the top of his skull ramming into the soldier's chin. He stood up higher on the man's legs as he felt the soldier reeling back from the strike to his face. Andy leaned back, shoving with his legs and back, holding tightly to the soldier's uniform. Both knives hit the ground and Andy felt gravity take control.
They rolled backwards, onto Andy's back, his legs coiled. As soon as the Fox felt the man's weight surging towards him, he shoved hard with his legs, keeping his arms stiff and his back curled. The soldier pitched backwards over Andy's head, thrown about four feet to land on his back. Andy grinned, hearing the same branch that had given him away snap under the soldier's back as he came to the rest.
Andy got to his feet and grabbed up both knives, his practiced hand taking a moment to feel the balance and weight of the soldier's knife. He turned and without hesitating hurled it at the soldier's head. The blade flipped end over end, covering the distance almost instantly and struck the soldier in the head. Handle first.
Andy grinned at the precision of the strike. He'd purposefully aimed at the top of the man's forehead, beside the right temple. Instant knock out. The Fox moved to the man's side and opened up the control panel, his eyes scanning the controls and readouts. He grinned, realizing that there wasn't any sort of password protection or user ID protocol. Working quickly, Andy plugged in a spare jump drive into the control panel and began doing what he did best.
A shadow fell across Andy's back and he looked around, cursing out loud at having been surprised.
But when he recognized, he smiled.
Josh watched below as Kyle slung the Hound formerly known as Brad across the ground. The Hound tracking Josh seemed to notice the throw as well. Kyle's move had propelled the "Brad" though the other Hound's field of vision. It rapidly tracked around to face Kyle. It seemed to be moving oddly, as if something electrical were occurring in his body, making his movements jerky.
Kyle had managed to regain his feet and seemed focused on getting something off the ground. The Hound was more or less on Kyle's blind side and was preparing to attack. There was still enough distance that Josh might be able to shout a warning, but the speed of these things was deceptive. Josh knew that first hand. Or first foot, as the case may be.
"NOOO!" Joshua shouted, flying down towards the Hound with as much speed as he could muster. Like a diving falcon, he plunged at the Hound, fists stretched out together before himself like the ram of an ancient trireme. No matter how much it hurt, he was going to plow his fists into that Hound's back.
The Hound reacted to his scream, however and turned to face Joshua as he zeroed in. The Hound brought its right arm, with that long spike of a forearm blade, back to a pre-punch position. The motion clearly was aimed to bring the sharp, slicing weapon forward just as Josh got into range, whether the boy hit him or not.
Joshua pulled up short, looping low and twisting away from the Hound. He was only a few feet above the ground, but his flight power seemed to be very maneuverable in tight quarters. He zipped in a circle and craned his head around to keep the Hound in sight. Oddly, he somehow felt that he knew exactly where the Hound was. Where all the movement and players on the field were, he realized. Automatically, instinctively. He could just… feel them.
The creature had taken a few steps to try and follow the swift Hawk, but it couldn't match Josh's airspeed on foot. Josh swept forward and moved laterally, hovering, keeping the Hound's attention on himself. He had to give Kyle a little more time. That battle against the other Hound, the now motionless one, had taken a lot from the hockey star. If they expected to beat this one as well, they needed to work together.
Kyle was startled by Joshua's scream, but he wasn't rendered inactive by it. The swoop and evade move Joshua pulled, captured the remaining Hound's attention. Kyle scrambled to retrieve the ax, shuffling forward across the ground on hands and knees. With the wood tool in hand, he turned to see what he could do.
"Kyle!" Josh called out, a sense of who and what was where giving him confidence. "Go help Sammy! I'll keep this one busy!" Josh swooped low and then darted back away from the Hound as it lunged for him with the forearm spike.
"Who?" Kyle called back. He could see how easily the Hawk avoided the Hound but kept teasing it, attracting its attention away from Kyle. It seemed locked on, as if no other target would get its attention unless provoked. Which was fine by Kyle. His throat was still feeling the effect of Brad's unnatural grip.
"The little tiger kid that came up here to help you. He's hurt. Ughn!" Josh grunted, his feet briefly touching ground as he got close to the Hound and then boosted up, the Hound's blade sweeping through where Joshua had been just a moment before. Had Josh not had the ability to fly, that slash would have voided his guts onto the dusty fall of leaves covering the hill top. Josh couldn't help but smile, knowing that he was keeping this horror at bay.
"They got my Dad up there, too!" Kyle shouted, impressed by the flying boy's acrobatics. He watched as the kid turned a back flip in the aid, arching back like an Olympic diver, before darting back at the Hound. Kyle got a good look at the kid's face and realized he knew him. They'd shared two classes the year before and their lockers were only twenty feet away this year. The name escaped him, but he knew the face.
"Go! I got this! Make sure Sam and your dad are okay. He's just a little shit," Josh explained. His own worry and guilt about how he'd injured Sammy earlier at the Watch tinged his emotions. He realized he couldn't do much against the Hounds physically, but he could give Kyle time to help the tiger boy out. Grimly, he decided he'd give it his best.
Josh darted in at the Hound, banking away sharply and getting the creature to chase him. As he flew back, he "felt" the static presence of a large boulder, its worn, rocky surface somehow communicated to his brain. He could sense its texture, its hardness, how deeply and firmly it was planted in the ground. He alighted on the rock, butt first, as if he'd been flying his whole life. Perched on the boulder, he glanced around to see how well this new sense matched what his eyes told him.
"Hey!" a voice said from slightly behind the boulder. Joshua looked down and saw a man in army clothes, army gear and some kind of small tablet screen attached to his chest. All kinds of red warning lights and text bars were blinking on the tablet's face, but Josh couldn't make heads nor tails of them from his angle. All he knew was the man looked surprised.
"Oh look, our tax dollars hard at work," Josh said, snarkily. He swiveled on the rock, amazed at his own sudden dexterity and agility, and brought his foot into direct opposition with the soldier's head. The man fell back and automatically reached for a sidearm. Josh saw the move, felt the man's arms move to aim the weapon in his direction and realized two things at once. First, he felt a lot stronger than he'd ever felt in his life. Kicking that man over while balanced on a rock on only his hands had seemed like some impossible comic book move and he hadn't even thought twice about doing it. It just seemed so, natural.
The other thing he realized was that even with super powers, he wasn't likely to beat a bullet. Or the trained hands of someone used to killing people with bullets. Even dazed and confused soldiers. Josh wondered how many more enemies there were out there.
His mind seemed to pulse for a moment, an unconscious short hum sound echoing briefly in his own ears. He felt a sudden wash of sensations pour into him. Every object around him seemed to have a place in his mind, a shape, a presence. He could feel every movement, even in the shadows of some of the objects. He could pick out details about those things and people. He could almost make out faces and hairstyles and clothing. It wasn't an image in color, but it felt to Josh like everything around him was suddenly marked by its own movement, its distance from him, its unique features and details.
And in that moment, he also knew exactly where all the humans were in this hilltop clearing, and most of what they were doing. Including the soldier laying at the base of the boulder he was on, and the way the man's arms brought the pistol up in a two-handed grip, aiming towards Joshua's own chest. Including the Hound scrambling over the boulder Josh was perched on, about to leap onto him from behind. He felt the movements, he could see where all things intersected at that moment. And in that clarity, Joshua acted.
The soldier fired his weapon, the compression wave of the speeding projectile passing his head flooded Joshua's senses even before the loud blast of sound registered in his ears. As he felt the blast, Joshua reacted. He twisted sideways and dove into the air, his flight power keeping him parallel to the ground, but driving him with speed away from the soldier's aim.
As if in a panic, the soldier fired a quick three shot burst. Joshua realized that two of the bullets had missed him by mere inches. The Hound coming over the boulder behind him hadn't been so lucky. It took all three shots and then looked down at the soldier on the ground. The Hound's internal programming assessed the situation and altered its target information. Despite having three bullets pierce into its body, the Hound allowed its momentum from the leap at Josh to carry it over, and it speared its forearm blade straight at the soldier's chest.
Josh turned, his eyes opening wide in horror. The Hound's blade drove deep into the soldier's shoulder, pinning the man to the ground. Without realizing it, he turned and summoned up all the airspeed he could, barreling into the Hound from the side. The contact was hard, but Joshua pushed with his shoulders and elbows as he hit, which seemed to take some of the sting out of the body block, at least on Joshua's end of it. The beast went tumbling away from the soldier, wrenching the blade out of the hapless man's body. The Hound fetched up against another boulder but quickly regained its feet.
"You okay?" Josh said, looking down at the soldier. His hover seemed almost natural now. He felt so much more in control over this flying thing. Like it should always have been a part of who he is.
"I'll live." The soldier's hand came away from his wound bloody and dripping. "The Hound… it's out of control, kid. Get out of here, while you can."
"Sure. But not before I get you out of here. Is there like some first aid kit around?" Joshua wondered for a moment where all this concern for a man who had just shot at him came from. But he'd have to think about it later. The Hound was standing and the soldier was in no shape to take it on a second time. Blood already flowed fairly freely down the soldier's uniform and over the crumpled screen attached to his uniform. Josh could see there were no lights on the mini-comp and assumed that somehow, that broken computer had been controlling the Hound.
But no longer.
"Back at our van," the soldier grimaced in pain, leveraging himself upright.
Josh swooped down, landing and helped the soldier to his feet. The Hound turned and reoriented on the two of them and began marching up towards them. Josh's expanded senses picked up that the Hound wasn't moving like it had before. There was a definite limp of some kind. So it can be hurt, Josh thought, grimly.
He scooped the soldier into his arms, noting that the man didn't seem as heavy as he probably should have. Joshua chalked it up to adrenaline and the Fox saying that they were all lots stronger than average folks ought to be. Clearly, there were advantages to having these powers.
"You're only my second passenger, so sorry if it's a bumpy ride," Josh said and bolted up into the sky. Below him, the Hound tried to track him, but Josh choose a path through the remains of the tree canopy, hoping to remain out of sight. "Where?"
"North of the road in. Behind a screen of brush."
"Huh?" Josh said, not sure which way was which."
"Good God, you kids really don't know which way north is?"
"I'm new to this, gimme a break!"
"That way, past the… the whatever that is," the soldier said as they passed over Tom, curled on his side.
"Tom…" Josh said, feeling a pang of guilt and worry over his new friend. They'd hugged and shared secrets just two hours before. Now the werewolf boy looked mortally wounded and going through some sort of deep, wracking painful body contractions.
"Down, by that stand of birch trees," the soldier replied. "It wasn't supposed to be like this, kid. We were just sent to capture. Not kill. Definitely didn't sign up for killing kids…" the soldier's voice drifted off. Joshua could feel the man's blood soaking into his own shirt. He had the feeling that the man's injuries were a lot worse than either of them suspected.
Joshua came in for a landing and this time he kept his head on how fast the ground was coming up at him. The added weight of the soldier made for a slightly jarring landing, but he managed to stay on his feet with the soldier still cradled in his arms. The back of the van, which was disguised as a furniture transport cube truck, was open, and another soldier was inside, apparently tied up.
Josh set the wounded man down and looked to the other soldier. He was a big one, strongly built. There was a bruise on the side of the man's head, near his eye. The soldier had been gagged with his own socks, his combat boots lying a few feet away, minus the laces, which had been used to tie him up. "Those things attacked him. Hurt him pretty bad. If I cut you free, will you take care of him while I go help my friends?"
The soldier nodded. Joshua took the wounded soldier's combat knife from his harness and cut the other soldier's bonds. Then, as a matter of good faith, he handed the now freed soldier the knife.
"I could try to take you prisoner," the man said, accepting the knife.
"Enough pain for one day. Help your friend. I don't know how bad he's hurt. And I don't know how to help him. Please, just help him."
"Okay," the soldier said. He reached into the front part of the van and brought back a gray-brown box with a large red plus sign on the top. "Your friends are in serious trouble. One of my Hounds is loose and on H&K protocol."
"Ach and Kay?" Josh replied, unfamiliar with military jargon.
"Hunter/Killer mode." The soldier opened the case and began pulling out medical equipment. "It'll keep looking for targets until it's destroyed or until another control unit calls it off."
"I think there's two in that mode then. I gotta get back. Little Sammy may already be dead," Joshua said, his left hand tightening into a fist of guilt, "and Tom was in bad shape. Did you see a little guy in a hoody and glasses?"
"He's the one that kicked my ass," the soldier said, ripping the uniform shirt off his comrade's shoulder. Wow, guess Andy's not all talk. Mad skills, dude! Josh thought. The soldier ripped open several packs of gauze pads. "Damn, what a mess!" As he started applying bandages, the soldier looked up at Joshua, a look of concern coming over his face. "You did the right thing, kid. He'd have died if someone doesn't stop this bleeding."
"Thanks. But I gotta go help my friends."
"Hey!" the soldier called out, as Joshua jumped out of the van. The soldier tossed him the knife, a slow and easy toss with the blade facing away from Josh's body. The blade was back in its sheath, protected. "You might need that. There's a spot on the Hounds, mid back, just below where the ribs fall away. Hit it there hard enough and you can get it to shut down. That's their power supply, keeps them running."
"Thanks," Josh said, smiling. He tucked the knife into the back of his jeans and rocketed into the sky. He had Hounds to hunt.
And then he heard a single echoing gunshot from just beyond the screen of birch trees. "Andy! Tom! Kyle!" Josh said, not sure who could be under fire. Without pausing to think, Josh stopped his headlong flight and looked around, that sound in his head pulsing again as he tried to sense… everything.
Johnson saw the situation for what it was becoming. Things had rapidly deteriorated while the crazy old coot supposedly there to give technical support and evaluate the enemy seemed first fixated on the probably dead tiger-thing in the wood trailer, then seemed shocked into inactivity when the werewolf boy had decapitated one of the Hounds. Now another hound was down, one was wandering, Gamma wasn't responding to radio signals and the Dakoon boy was arming himself, looking for a target of his own.
He aimed at Kyle, loading another dart into his tranquilizer gun. The hockey player represented the greatest ground threat still in play. The flyer, while an impressive ability, didn't seem to have any success against the Hounds. He was negligible. The tiger was down, the werewolf had succumbed to his injuries, apparently, and the other boy seemed to have rabbited. If nothing else, he could re-tranq the taller boy and maybe manage to bag the flyer, too.
As he was aiming, however, the werewolf surged to his feet, although very wobbly. The doctor had pulled the tiger in the sweatpants out of the trailer and laid his broken body on the trunk of the car to examine him more closely. The werewolf seemed intent on reaching his companion, which put Johnson and the doctor in his path. Johnson was no fool. The werewolf had ripped the Hound to a greasy spot in the dusty grass. It was an engine of death. One the doctor probably would love to research more, Johnson thought wryly.
He shifted the aim back towards the werewolf only to see the boy shift forms. Painfully. His body seemed to shiver and flex, becoming more a giant wolf than a wolf-man. The thing was still huge, its head huge with a massive jaw. It looked to Johnson like it could snap through a telephone pole with one bite. And in that form, the creature was stable, looked strong and fast, with a low center of gravity.
Johnson kept the gun aimed on the werewolf, even as he watched Kyle pick up the hand ax, looking around for something to do some damage to. The werewolf seemed to be wracked with pain, unable to move, locked in place as his body continued the change. Or fought it, Johnson realized. He switched his aim back at Kyle, and locked in, waiting.
Kyle looked around. The flying kid had the one Hound busy. As long as he kept doing what he was doing, he could lead the thing away. 20 yards away, the werewolf boy had something really wrong going on with him. He tracked from the werewolf's position towards where his father's car was. The man in the expensive suit and the oddly dressed old man were standing over the body of the tiger-boy. The man in the suit had a large rifle in his hands, pointing it at the werewolf, who again fell, his body doing… something.
"Sammy. Dad!" Kyle panted, remembering his father at the mercy of these two creeps. The same guys who had drugged him and strung him up like bait, and the tiger boy and the werewolf had paid for that trap, dearly. Hefting the ax, he gathered his feet, starting to sprint the 30 yards or so towards the two suited guys. As quick as he was, Kyle felt himself wishing the ground were covered in ice. His speed instincts were honed to skating, and even in sneakers he felt he'd be at a tremendous advantage if there were a sheet of glaze under them all right now.
That's when the one suited guy turned and pointed the gun Kyle's way again. Kyle realized he couldn't dodge a bullet. That kinda crap only worked in martial arts films or "Star Wars" stuff. He looked for cover as he kept on running, but there was nothing but knee high tree stumps and sandy turf, barely covered with withering grass and leaves between him and the rifleman.
He kept on running.
Johnson controlled his breathing, steadied his chest and arms, lining the crosshairs of the rifle over Kyle's form, picking a soft spot on his torso for his darts, when something rose up behind him. The agent barely saw the flash of motion, even as he heard the shift of leaves under someone's feet behind him. He turned in time to barely deflect the log that came crashing down at his head. The half yard long branch of thick white birch smashed into the side of the rifle, Johnson's combat training kicking in to parry the clubbing blow.
He pivoted towards the attacker, bringing the butt of the rifle forward sharply at head level. The attacker fell back, knocked down to the ground. Johnson kicked the birch branch away before bringing the rifle up to his shoulder to aim down at the attacker.
"Stay down, Mr. Dakoon, or I will dart you," Johnson said, simply but with menace.
"You da-da-don't sca-sca-scare me," Kyle's dad stuttered, trying to get to his feet. "You'll not ta-ta-ta-take mu-my son!" He got back up, anger clear on his face. Johnson was amazed the man could still move after being tranqed earlier.
"Stay down, sir!" Johnson ordered, preparing to dart the man again.
Then a shot from a pistol rang out. Close. Dakoon stopped in his tracks, a pained look springing to his face. Johnson looked back and saw Stamos holding his own Glock. The pistol had fallen out of his hip holster while he'd fought off Dakoon's tree limb attack.
"So sad, too bad," Stamos said, merrily, as Kyle's dad dropped to his knees, blood sprouting out of the bullet wound in his gut. "Bye-bye." Johnson felt even more control of the situation slipping away. The kid's dad pitched forward, bleeding out internally. Johnson had seen such wounds in the past. He knew the damage his personal gun could do. The wound would be fatal in minutes, if it hadn't already killed the man.
"Oh, you'll be wanting this back, I assume?" Stamos asked, holding the pistol out by just forefinger and thumb, dangling the handle under his withered palm.
"DAD!" Kyle screamed, still running at the scene. Johnson turned and brought his rifle up, looking to drop a dart into the rushing boy's neck. It would be a close shot, he realized, even as he lined up the barrel on the boy's rushing form.
"You crazy motherfucker!" a loud growl came from the trunk of the car. Stamos turned in time to have Sammy leap on him, claws outstretched. The tiger-boy's tackle landed him and Stamos on the ground, rolling behind the trailer. The gun bounced off the trunk of the car and fell out of sight. After rolling twice, Sammy wound up on top of Stamos, trying to put his teeth to good use.
"Impressive," Stamos said, pushing the tiger's head away from his own face. "You can still talk, and curse, while in this form. Exceptional." Sammy growled and tried to bite down. The old man's forearm pushed painfully up under Sammy's neck, pressing in on his windpipe. It wasn't enough to cut off Sammy's air, but it was leverage enough to keep the boy's kat canines at bay.
"You want impressive, ya sick twist?" Sammy growled, struggling to get a paw free to rake his claws across the old man's face.
"Oh, yes. Show me!" Stamos said, and then he pushed up with his knees and shoved the tiger against a wide, flat tree stump, sawdust still fresh around the base. Sammy banked off the stump and reeled as pain exploded through his ribs. He churned his tiger body, trying to stand.
But Stamos seemed to be faster. The old man grabbed Sammy's tail and yanked it hard, sprawling the tiger onto his back. The sweat pants bunched around his thighs, exposing some of his underwear with his tail hanging over the waist band.
"You seem to heal quickly. I wonder how much damage you can take before you break too much to heal!" Stamos said, and then, still holding Sammy's tail, he spun in place, surging with his shoulders and back and hips. The doctor slung Sammy into the air, back over the roof of the car and towards the center of the clearing.
"Owww! My tail! You crazy bitch-ass ho!" Sammy screamed as he was tossed into the air. The strain on his spine and tail was extremely painful. Much less painful than when he landed on top of Tom. Both boys crumpled to the ground in a heap. Stamos leaned back slightly, his hands over his hips. The use of such force was something his body hadn't been used to for several months, and the small of his back complained slightly.
That's when Stamos saw him, striding past the pile of tiger and wolf fur like the echo of some long forgotten ghost. The ghost paused to make sure Sammy wasn't permanently harmed. The werewolf was still having convulsions, and as the kat regained his feet, his attention was to his fallen comrade. Stamos walked towards the slender figure approaching him, his mind at awe at the similarities between the boy before him and a man he had known during World War Two. A long forgotten enemy. A frequent nemesis, in fact.
As they got closer, Stamos realized the boy carried a knife. And carried it like he knew how to use one. He made note of that when he stopped five yards from the boy.
"Unless my old eyes deceive me, and at this point, I believe most anything may happen, but you are, as the Americans say, the spitting image of Leonard Fox."
"That would be my grandfather. He sends his regards, and bids me welcome you to hell," Andy said, standing defiantly in front of Sammy and Tom. He slowly, deliberately pulled the control panel from behind his back, and showed it to Stamos, before letting it drop to the ground, already a crumpled mess, the hard drives pulled and secured in a secret pocket in Andy's hoody. "Your soldier boy is tied up and stuffed in the van you boys drove up here in. He's alive. A mercy you may beg me to take from you once I get done." There was steel in the boy's eyes, behind his round-framed glasses.
"Another bishop off the field. Well played, boy. Your Oumpa would be proud. But you didn't disable my Hounds when you destroyed the controller mechanism. In fact, you set that last one assigned to that controller on a mission. He'll hunt you until it can no longer function on his own. So you think you've taken away my pawns, but you might have just given me another set of knights."
"Chess references. Interesting," the boy deadpanned. "No matter. We outnumber you. We'll get justice here today!"
"Justice? Oh my dear boy, don't go confusing justice with vengeance. I thought you might be smarter than that."
"Sometimes they travel in the same car," Andy said, taking a cautious step towards the old Nazi.
"Along with delusions of grandeur," Stamos scoffed. "You aren't ready for me. I'm sure you are well trained, boy," the mad scientist snarled. "But you haven't got the stones in those pants you are wearing to handle what I bring to the table."
"Did you think the same thing in Lafayette Square?" Andy taunted, casting his eyes low under his fore bangs. He pushed up on the center frame of his glasses, getting an odd reflection to pass over the lenses, briefly obscuring his eyes from Stamos' steady gaze.
"You, heh, you are about to learn the final lesson of those who underestimate their betters."
"As the kids today say; don't sing it, bring it!"
"With pleasure. I will get to finish with you what I started on your grandfather." The old man grinned, a wicked thing, that seemed to twist his face with malice as well as joy.
Andy rushed forward, bringing his knife up. He'd waited a long time for this confrontation. He was going to take his best shot at ending this evil man's existence.
Johnson fired, once, twice, three times. All three darts were aimed well, despite the dwindling distance between himself and the rushing teenager. All were placed with the calm and precision that his years in the SEALS had taught him, skills that had served him, his teammates and his country well.
All three were knocked out of the air by Kyle's ax. When the hockey star was ten feet away from Johnson, he jumped, bringing the ax overhead with both hands. Johnson was amazed by the boy's speed. He had to hand it to the nut job doctor, though; he'd been dead on balls right that this kid was far more than just human. Johnson managed to get the gun up to block the ax strike, but just barely. The heavy blade bit clean through the sniper scope on top of the dart rifle. The rear optics sheared off as Johnson backpedaled. He tried to use the momentum to turn and whack the kid in the temple with the butt of the rifle, but the hockey boy's sport training seemed to be expecting that.
Kyle ducked and turned, raising his elbow as if to block someone from crashing him into the glass. His elbow struck the butt of the rifle and he turned again, back towards Johnson. He punched hard, as if cross checking without a stick and knocked the agent over. The rifle went clattering down to the ground, bouncing a few feet away from the combatants. Johnson's foot had caught on something and the force of the boy's swift, torso twisting attack had bowled him over. It took both Kyle and Johnson a moment to realize what Johnson had fallen over.
Kyle's father's body. Blood pooling in the slight recesses of dying, drying, gray grass, scattered birch and maple leaves, and tiny stones, so ubiquitous to the New England landscape. A slight groan escaped the dying man's lips as Johnson scrambled to regain his feet.
Kyle dropped to his knees beside his father, for one brief second overcome by a sense of loss and agony. He hadn't been close to his father, hadn't felt any deep connection to the man in years. He'd even planned on running away a few times, planning his eventual escape, his chance to break free. But this was his one living connection to the world. The only family he'd known for years.
"Kyle?" the father wheezed. "Be a good man," he said, gasping. "Don't be," wheeze "like I was. You are so much better. Be… good… my son…"
The air left him then, and Barry Dakoon settled back, into a spreading pool of his own essence, and died.
"It wasn't supposed to be this way," Johnson said, standing. The boy was kneeling by his father, his knees soaking in the blood on the ground. Tears dripped unchecked down Kyle's face as he watched his father die. How many times had he wished the old man dead, wished he'd had the courage to do it himself some times? And now, all he felt was grief and loss and… and…
Kyle looked up to Johnson. "I didn't want to kill anyone, son. That crazy bastard is out of control. He'll get us all killed if he thinks it'll be fun."
"You aren't my father!" Kyle grunted through grit teeth. Johnson realized the mistake in calling him "son" a moment too late. Kyle stood, his anger, his rage almost, giving him a level of adrenaline he'd never felt before. It gave speed to his limbs as he launched himself at Johnson, bringing the ax around in a lethal chop towards the agent's neck.
That's when Johnson decided he needed to use his secret. With a quick shuffling motion of his right arm, he triggered the DT crystal generator, bringing a length of compressed carbon into his hand. The crystal spike was barely two feet long, but the facets and edges were composed of latticed carbon fibers that grew in interlocking bonds at the atomic, molecular level. Which meant the crystals formed by the DT generator within his body were as tough as diamond. And where they were pointy, they were as hard and sharp as honed carbon steel.
Johnson stepped back from Kyle's ax attack and brought the crystal shaft up in a Krav Maga blocking move. He caught the ax under the head, which gave him direct leverage against the handle. Using his height advantage, he spun with the force of Kyle's blind ax charge and twisted the boy away from himself, over the slight rise of the hill. Kyle's sledge for carrying lumber up the hill was overturned there and he had to step over the wooden-sided box or risk tumbling over it.
"Just stop it, Kid. It doesn't have to be like this!" Johnson looked around wildly for the dart rifle. He didn't want to stab the boy, uncertain how his amazing healing and regenerative powers would handle the neurotoxin in the crystals. Usually it caused paralysis. But usually Johnson only used it on people not so hopped up on adrenaline and fury as the boy was. "We can help you." Reasoning didn't always work, he knew, but it bought him some time while the boy recovered from nearly going down over the sledge. Besides, it might reach through the fog of emotions and hormones he knew would be raging in the kid at the moment.
"Like you helped my father? Like you helped Sammy?" Kyle screamed, moving back in on Johnson. He had no idea where that crystal came from, but it was tough enough to deflect the ax and Kyle's strength. He wished like mad he had a hockey stick in his hand instead of the hatchet. He knew how to do "things" with that.
"It wasn't my intention to kill anyone. It wasn't my call."
"Yeah, that's why you used zombie kid soldiers armed with switchblade machetes on their forearms!" Kyle snarled, leaping over the slight rise to level ground with Johnson. Johnson was suitably impressed. That jump was easily ten feet up the hill and covered nearly eight feet across the ground. And the kid did it from a virtual stand-still, not even winded.
"That wasn't my call either. I'm just doing my job."
"You have a pretty shitty job," Kyle said, and he charged in, keeping the hatchet low, held tightly in both hands. Johnson recognized it at once as a modified hockey stick grip. Which mean the boy was going to use his sports training. Johnson prepared himself for what he knew was about to happen.
Kyle rushed forward, his shoulder banging into Johnson with much more force than the agent had been prepared for. He stepped back, absorbing the momentum. In one smooth, fluid, well-practiced motion, Kyle brought his hatchet up, under the length of DT crystal in Johnson's hand, and levered it, trying to disarm the agent. The weight of the ax head combined with Kyle's strength and the sheer alacrity and skill of the move caught Johnson off guard and the shard spun out of his hand, lazily picking up brilliants of sunlight and throwing out shine-lines all its own.
The shard landed several feet from where the two combatants struggled. It was out of reach and with Kyle so close, he had to do something or the boy might just take him out. He triggered the DT generator again, hoping it wouldn't tax his body too much to create another crystal so soon. He knew the other crystal would be dissolving soon, separated as it was from his body. That was the good thing about the alien technology, it was designed not to leave evidence behind. Very useful for capture operations.
The generator provided Johnson with a second shard, although much shorter than the other. It was too depleted after making that short sword sized one to do much more than give him a standard four inch stabbing blade. And none too soon, because Kyle's shoulder ram had taken a lot out of Johnson. He felt something in his shoulder not moving quite right.
Kyle twisted in place and tried to hack the hatchet down into Johnson's neck, but the agent was wise enough in the ways of hand to hand fighting to not be where Kyle aimed the strike. The ax head bit only wind as it passed downward, the agent taking a judicious step left. True to his training, the agent countered Kyle's chop with a swift lifted knee to the boy's hip. They were both too far off angle to each other to land a blow to the boy's privates, likely ending this fight, but the shot to the hip was enough to back Kyle up and drop to one knee. Johnson noted that the boy still had enough presence of mind to hold on to the ax, however. Probably another hold over from his sports training, the agent surmised.
"Stay down, Kid! I don't want to hurt you!"
"No! You just wanna make me some kinda lab rat… for that freak!" Kyle said, gesturing towards Stamos as he and Andy circled. Suddenly, Andy rushed the old man, bringing his knife around in a short arc aimed at the old Nazi's throat.
"Oh shit," Johnson muttered under his breath, his attention now focused on Stamos and the lithe boy attacking him. He actually turned more to face that altercation. This mission was not only a failure, but his duty to "protect" and "keep in custody" the mad scientist was now in jeopardy as well.
Kyle took Johnson's apparent distraction as an opportunity. He jumped at the agent, hatchet swung high over his head to cleave the man's head open like a ripe melon. His anger and frustration and grief over his father was a burning in his chest and in his eyes as he sprang forward.
And he'd have probably killed Johnson in one stroke had that blow landed. But the agent was wily, trained well, and knew how to set traps. He'd turned on purpose to give Kyle the sense of an advantage, but he'd kept an eye towards the boy, knowing his emotions were getting the best of him. Kyle catapulted himself into the air, Johnson moved. He stepped towards the boy, changing the angle of the attack and flung his DT shard, right into Kyle's face. As it left his hand, the much smaller crystal dissolved into a fine mist, which Kyle had no recourse but to inhale. The agent followed the move with a short, fast jab to the kid's midsection, doubling him over again, and forcing some of the mist back out of the boy's lungs. He didn't want Kyle to get a full dose of the neurotoxin. Just enough to knock him out for a few minutes.
Kyle fell to the ground and convulsed briefly, his body feeling that tingle and numbness sensation again. Inside, he railed and shouted and screamed in fury. But his body was limp as a used dishcloth, and he fell to the ground in a loose heap. His vision began to blur and darken around the edges, but he had a clear view of Johnson checking his pulse.
"Heart like a lion, Kid. Total respect. But I have to go keep that lunatic from getting himself killed. I don't like it, but it's my job, too. I know it means nothing right now, but I'm sorry about your old man. This has all gone sideways. Out of control. Just know this, Kyle: I never intended to hurt you, or your friends. Certainly didn't want to have anyone wind up dead. If I could make it up to you, I would."
Kyle struggled internally, his body wracked with coughing, trying to expel the poison from his lungs, but his body was not responding otherwise. He watched, with dimmed vision, as Johnson retrieved the dart rifle and moved off. NO!he screamed in the echo of his own thoughts. He had failed. Failed his father, failed the strangers who had come to his rescue, failed to do anything before this crazy business even started. He'd even failed to use his weird new talent to see that weird gas attack coming.
As the gathering numbness encompassed all of his consciousness, Kyle felt the ground behind him shudder, as if under the heavy tread of one of the Hounds. Helpless, numb, filled with guilt and rage, and unable to even turn to face the sound of whatever approached him from behind, Kyle slipped into the dark, afraid that he was about to follow his father down death's slippery slope.
Josh soared over the area, watching from above. He saw the weird old guy sling Sammy like an Olympic hammer toss guy, and was about to intervene, when he saw Andy move to engage the man. There was something deliberate and cautious about Andy's movements. Clearly, this was something personal, something he'd been waiting a long time for. But Joshua had come to understand, in the short time he'd known him, that Andy only took chances where he knew he could succeed. Not to say that he didn't take chances, just that he didn't take foolish ones.
Joshua left the old guy to Andy. As he silently floated over the scene, he let out that sound pulse from his head, and the world intensified yet again. He could feel where all the movement was in the area, he could sense the full shape of objects in space, at least in that one moment of the pulse. He could feel the jumble of Sammy, moving on his own, fussing over Tom. He could sense the movements of Andy and the old guy as they closed in on each other, like ancient samurai in some old movie, ready to make the war around them very personal.
And he sensed the agent pick up the rifle again, aiming near Andy, but with Tom and Sammy on the same angle.
He also sensed the Hound coming up behind Kyle, who was convulsing, painfully, on the ground. His radar showed all of this, clearly, and he knew what he had to do. He looped up over backwards and came back towards the ground, fists out, straight at the agent. He kept adjusting his angle, coming in from the man's blind side as he raised the rifle to dart one of his buddies.
"Not happening," Josh said to himself, mumbling. He poured on the speed and came in low, flat to the ground almost. He swept in and rammed into the shooter like Superman, fists first. The impact jarred Joshua slightly, but his mass and speed were enough to carry him past the point of contact. The agent fell over, reflexively pulling the trigger as he fell over. The dart went well wide of whichever target he had in his sights, but Josh couldn't look back to see what the man was up to now. He still had another target to knock down before he could figure out his next move.
Keeping a head of steam, Joshua bolted barely above the ground, raising leaves and dead grass in his wake, straight at the Hound. The creature was coming into close range, ready to spear that long, sharp forearm spike right into Kyle's unprotected back. Joshua was going too fast to avoid the hit at this point, and he didn't really know what else to do. If he got cut keeping Kyle from getting dead, well… he'd just have to deal with that if it happened.
This time the contact hurt. A lot. Joshua banked off the Hound as they collided, bouncing sideways and crashing through a group of scratchy bushes. He hit and tumbled a few times, grunting and rolling until he found himself sitting to a stop, his back against the bole of a tall, skeletal elm tree. Everything ached and jarred as he slowed to a stop the hard way. As if on instinct, he shook his head and let out a pulse, feeling for movement.
Seems that Josh's caroming around had knocked the Hound over, and pushed it back several feet. Josh still felt no positive movement from Kyle, so he struggled to get to his feet. His hand felt slick, and he looked down. There was a trail of blood running down his left elbow, trickling off his pinky and palm. He hadn't felt the cut or scrape or whatever it was, but the blood was real enough. It felt more like seeping blood to Joshua. Not spurting. Not serious. Then he felt the Hound get back to its feet. Would only be a matter of time before it went after Kyle again.
Gritting his teeth, Joshua shot back into the sky, hoping to avoid more of the same bumpy ride he'd gotten through the scrub brush. He was really beginning to hate nature. All these trees and logs and even trucks hauling logs seemed out to get him today. He'd had quite enough.
Andy surprised the German in his mad rush to attack. Instead of leading with the knife, he leapt and spun a scorching back kick at the old Nazi scientist's face. The old man easily fended it off with an open palm, but was unprepared for Andy's speed and skill as he dropped low to the ground and tried to sweep the old man's legs. The Nazi was a bit surprised for the move, but not unprepared for it. He stepped back, quickly, raising both feet out of the path of Andy's flailing feet. The Fox pushed himself back up to a standing position, arms up and close, ready to ward off an attack.
The Nazi was ready to provide one. He struck out with a foot and moved in behind it as Andy batted the kick away. Then came the barrage of punches. Clearly this old freak had been trained as a boxer, for his blows rained in, quick, sharp, on target. Andy back pedaled slightly, keeping his arms up to fend of the blows to his head and chest. Seven punches went out, and seven got blocked before Andy fired a snapping vertical kick to the old man's face. The shot wasn't hard, but it had enough to it that the old man backed up and kept his guard in place. Andy felt like he'd gotten lucky with that kick. The old man was a lot stronger than he looked, and blocking those punches seemed to almost have a draining effect on his arms. They circled left a moment and both seemed to come set again, ready to test each other.
"A fine ploy, lad, is it?"
"Not a worry you should have presently, butcher," Andy replied evenly.
"You, aheh, you have not employed your knife yet. Are you fearful that I would forget it is there?"
"You'll find out soon enough. Don't read the last page of the book before you know what's happening between the covers."
"American literature is decrepit, feeble and lacks sophistication and culture. I would hardly waste my time on such trivialities."
"Don't knock it til you've tried it, Herr Doktor."
"I," the doctor said, moving in behind a sharp right hook. Andy barely deflected the punch off his elbow and staggered with the force of the punch. He realized it was a ploy to get him to lower his guard to the right , so he twisted, dropped to his butt and rolled backwards as the left cross came at his chin. He watched as the old man's silver timepiece caught a glare from the sun as Andy fell away and rolled back onto his feet. "need," the old man continued as he threw the crossing punch. He quickly stepped about as Andy fell away from him, gaining distance. "No primers," he said, aggressively as he stalked two steps towards Andy, pummeling the Fox's raised fists as he moved in, "from a yearling!"
Andy dropped low as the man tried to bring in both fists at the same time. He stepped inside the man's guard and punched hard to the solar plexus. A loud WHOOSH of air escaped the old man's mouth at this punch and Andy used that sound to target his next attack. And he chose a dirty move that some boxers were trained in, but most didn't use in sporting matches. He grabbed the front of the man's shirt and rammed his head upwards, catching the doctor square on the chin.
The German fell back, clutching his face in astonishment. Andy went through a couple of arm movements, showing the German that he had some boxing training as well. The doctor regained his feet, still rubbing his chin. He spit a glob of red from his mouth as he regarded Andy.
"The Sailor's Kiss, is it? Very well, young one. To the end, then."
"To your end," Andy said, with slight emphasis.
They moved as one, striking for each other with brutal right hand punches that both connected, both to the sides of the head of their opponent. Andy's punch rocked the doctor, but he managed to remain standing, somehow, taking a single big step to the right to steady his stance. It took a bit out of the old man and he clearly had to shake his head to remain focused.
Stamos' punch dropped Andy like a shot from a cannon. It exploded bursts of color behind his eyes, spiraling pain blossoms through his vision. He dropped like a stone and barely had the sense of mind to use his hands to keep from landing face first in the dust and leaves.
"I…" the old man rasped, catching his breath. "I would say you were a worthy opponent, if such were the case. But as I see you now," he exclaimed, stepping forward to plant a boot in Andy's gut just as he was starting to rise. "You are clearly over matched, and out of your league." Another gut kick knocked Andy over on his side. "You should have heeded my warning." A third kick landed, smashing under Andy's chin and lifting his head back and away. He lay on the ground, sprawled out, the knife tumbling from his hand. The Nazi kicked the blade away contemptuously.
"Now I end you, as the vermin you are." He raised his foot, ready to stomp down on Andy's face, only to find that Andy had moved. With a sudden curling motion, he reverse somersaulted up to his feet, clearing a distance of a few yards between himself and the doctor. The heel stomp landed on bare earth.
"Interesting," Stamos said, "but ultimately foolish."
"I could do this all day," Andy said, bringing his wrists up to a defensive posture.
The old man tilted his head in agreement, and then strode in slowly, but with purpose, moving like a man much larger, much younger might. He brought his hands up to close with Andy and instead of going into boxing positions, he maneuvered through Andy's screen of hands to a wrestling position, bringing his hand up towards Andy's throat.
The old man's strength could not be denied, and Andy, despite his own strength being far above what anyone his height and weight should have, wasn't even close to matching it. The brute force of the conflict was having an effect on Andy, despite his constantly rejuvenating body. The stress was beginning to wear him down. If he kept up at Stamos' game, his rules, he'd lose.
And losing here meant death. Or worse.
Sammy rolled off Tom's body and was shocked to see how he was quivering and bouncing around in pain. He looked over and saw that Andy had the weird white haired guy all busy at the moment. The shooter guy was on the ground and Joshua was about to go head on into the Hound over there. He was free of the fight for a minute but he was alone with no one to tell him how to help Tom. He felt the werewolf boy switching shapes again, going back to the more scary wolf-man shape.
"What do I do? What do I do?" Sammy cried out, trying to keep the shakes and tremors racking Tom's body from doubling him up. His tiger paws seemed so ineffectual at holding Tom down without the claws slipping out. There was so much blood pouring out of Tom's chest, dripping and dribbling, with an occasional surge. It was like the injuries inside were filling him up in places where it wasn't supposed to fill up.
"Be-behind… you!" Tom managed to say, just as one of the Hounds leapt at Sammy's back, its forearm blade sweeping in for a deep stabbing attack. The brief warning was all Sammy needed. With a loud, feral growl of defiance, probably mixed in with a healthy dose of fear, panic and anger, Sammy turned to the incoming attacker and pounced.
The Hound's blade struck, and ripped a long, shallow gash in the fur along Sammy's side. But the little Kat also struck the rushing Hound, the claws of his right forepaw hooking into the armored black uniform of the Hound, knocking the creature to the ground, all in one mighty roundhouse swing. Sammy let instincts he didn't know he had taken over and he followed the techno-zombie to the ground, his mouth opening wide for a savage bite to the thing's throat. His free arm grasped the Hound's right arm, immobilizing that blade's movement, and his hind claws curled under.
Grasping and holding the creature with mouth and upper body, the powerful legs went to work on the Hound, repeatedly clawing and ripping into the belly armor. The young tiger's ferocious attack, shredded the Hound under him like a big tomcat attacking a captured squirrel. In moments, his claws had rent the suit apart and his back claws were making ribbons of the soft belly hidden underneath.
But the thing still struggled to shove Sammy off. The Hound seemed to be operating on some weird program of attack until no movement is possible. He jumped off the body and lowered himself, ready to pounce again as the thing that had once been human kept twitching its limbs, seeking some way to attack. Sammy watched in horror as it partly sat up in a pile of its own guts and reached blindly for him. The thing's head hung barely attached and at an extreme angle. Sammy wondered how the creature even still had the ability to see what it was reaching for.
Reluctantly, Sammy swatted the Hound with his paw, hard enough to knock it sideways several yards. A long string of guts and uniform and machinery parts strung out along the path of its travel. Sammy realized that some of that was stuck in his toe pads as well and he kicked his back feet like a dog to clean them. Then he trotted over to Tom's side.
"Tommy!" Sammy cried when he reached the werewolf boy. His body was still, his breathing labored and a frothy pink foam drained from his nostrils. "Ohmigod-ohmigod!" Sam exclaimed, trying to lift his friend to a sitting position.
"You kill it?" Tom wheezed, half sitting up with the tiger boy's help.
"Yeah, I think so. What do I do?"
"Wish, unGHhhh! Wish I knew," Tom said. And then a tranquilizer dart appeared on the side of his neck. Tom clenched his teeth at the added pain and slumped in Sammy's arms. The Kat let him down gently and tracked his vision back towards where the dart had come from. Leaning over the roof of the car, the agent was again sighting down the barrel at Tom with the rifle.
A sound erupted from Sammy's chest. Like the sound of an angry, wounded tiger on a hunt for manflesh, confronting a whole wolf pack, a bear and a wily panther. A sound that was filled with enough anger and pain to almost become Rage. A sound that he knew was his own, and he let it out in a mighty roar.
And then he charged the agent and his gun.
Kyle shrugged himself to a sitting position. His head was still a mess of splotches and lights as he tried to regain his feet but decided he needed to stay down a little longer. His whole body felt twitchy and for some reason, he could hear his own heartbeat, which was sluggish and heavy, like his body was full of thick axle grease instead of much lighter, redder fluids. His head ached terribly and shaking it was a bad idea, he found out the hard way. Balance kept shifting and he felt like he was gonna hurl.
"The guys need you," Kyle said to himself, his voice sounding weak and distant. But that statement seemed to get through all the cobwebs and shakiness he felt. It had been a mantra drilled into him by coaches and other teammates over the years, before his father's meddling had ostracized him. "The team needs you." He drew in a deep breath and felt it catch in his throat. He exhaled, forcefully and it felt like he was hacking up tiny bits of sharp dust. He decided he did need to hurl just then, so he bent over and let the dry heaves take him. His body was achy, but each cough, each retch, each colon squeezing effort to get the bad out and let the good in seemed to make him feel better.
"Watch your back!" Joshua shouted from overhead. Kyle turned to look where the flying boy was and almost didn't see the Hound charging up the hill at him. The creature moved with a weird gait, and Kyle recognized it at once as the movement of someone who had seriously injured their leg. He'd seen it in kids leaving the ice after a particularly violent collision. Little League Hockey wasn't supposed to be a hitting league, but things happen.
The Hound's looping step made it easy for Joshua to knock it over, coming in close enough for the thing to take a swing at him, only to dart away and watch as the creature fell from the momentum of the attack. It turned to chase Joshua, which gave Kyle the chance to realize how close to him the Hound had actually gotten. It was less than ten feet away.
His senses returned to full slowly it seemed, for Kyle could suddenly make out the sound of radio chatter from the agent's shoulder mounted microphone, some twenty feet away, over by the car.
"This is Gamma, Beta is losing a lot of blood here. We need to evac and get medical or we're going to lose him. Over."
"Get the van ready. The Hounds are a lost cause. Trigger the auto destruct on them. I'm bringing the doctor in. And call our in-town back up. Tell the we need to contain this situation now. No media, no law enforcement, no nothing."
"Roger, Alpha. Self-destruct is armed and triggered."
Kyle's eyes shot open. Joshua was still tangling with the Hound out there. He looked across the field and saw little Sammy wrestling with one as well. He had to warn them… he had to….
And then Kyle sat up, suddenly aware that he'd just had another of those weird future flashes. As he felt his body starting to return from paralysis, a strange almond-like taste in his mouth, he heard Joshua flash by overhead, calling out "Watch your back!"
Kyle lumbered to his feet, noticing how close the Hound was to him. He watched in awe, for a moment, at how gracefully Joshua flew, dipped and twisted away from the Hound's spike lunge. He was poetry in motion to Kyle, like a swimmer twisting through the water, only it was empty, unsupportive air he moved through. Kyle shook his head, remembering the flash. He probably had seconds to give a warning.
"Josh! Sammy! Boom!" Kyle shouted, feeling something still clinging inside his throat, scratchy and foreign.
Josh heard and twisted around to see what Kyle meant. And then the Hound exploded. The blast caught him square in the back as he had been climbing and turning away from the Hound. Three other explosions rent the air, bursts of smoke and heat blasting through the area.
With his body between the Hound and Kyle, Joshua was flung towards the hockey player, the blast wave bending his body into a "C" shape in the air. Kyle waited and jumped, timing his leap to intercept Josh. Without realizing he'd done so, Kyle had jumped vertically nearly twenty feet. Their bodies met in the aid and both of them expelled air at the contact. Kyle had enough presence of mind to grab Joshua's head and hold it still as they fell to the ground.
Kyle landed with his legs split wide, absorbing as much of the impact as he could. He immediately set Joshua down and checked him over for injuries. The blast had knocked him out, but he seemed to be unharmed. Kyle shook his shoulder gently.
"Hey. Hey! Don'tchu die on me, too," Kyle said. Joshua opened his eyes with a flutter and looked up to Kyle.
"Oh, you meant, Boom!" Joshua said, tiredly. For a moment, Joshua reveled in having this hot guy looking down at him, so concerned, so gentle. Then his eyes shot open again. "Sammy!" Kyle helped him to his feet and they both looked around for their friends. Joshua sent out a pulse, that Kyle actually heard, and his head spun towards where four bodies lay sprawled out. One was regaining his feet. Joshua realized at once that the stooped gaunt figure wasn't Tom, Andy or Sammy.
"There!" he said and tried to take a step. He felt the world tilt a little on him and leaned on Kyle for support. "Ohhh, not good."
"Easy. I'll go to them. You rest a second." Kyle helped Joshua sit and turned to go to his new friend's help when he saw the old man standing over a slight figure. He'd pulled up the kid by the arm and looked to be about ready to punch him in the head. This time, Kyle recognized the precognitive flash for what it was and he knew he had no time to wait or to shout a warning.
Lowering his head, he began running straight at the old man, hoping to bowl him over before he could kill Andy.
The explosions caught the four of them completely unprepared. Two of the blasts were far enough away that they didn't affect anyone. The one near Joshua was too far away to cause any trouble to Tom, Andy and Sammy either. But the one that Sammy had just dispatched, and the one that Tom had eviscerated in a moment of pure Rage, were both close enough that all four combatants there were dropped like stones in a pond.
Tom seemed to get less of it than Sammy, who had been racing towards the car where the agent was firing tranquilizer darts. The Tiger crumpled under the blast, getting tossed a few yards away. Sammy was lifted by the blast and hurled sideways. He slumped to the ground behind a tree stump that had caught his foot and twisted him around like a stuffed animal in a tornado. He wasn't knocked cold by the blast, but his hearing was painfully ringing and his body had all new ouches to go with the ones he'd already earned today.
Andy was also spared much of the blast due to his prone position. He did find himself rolled over a few times, and the heat of the explosions did sting his flesh slightly. Still, he was not much better for his previous pains when the blast wave washed over him.
Tom also was spared most of the effects of the explosion because he was already laying flat out. His body jerked with the ripple of heat that passed over him, but the combination of his injuries, the tranquilizers and the strange reaction his body was having kept him from joining the fight. He swam in a sea of conflicting sensory inputs, pain like liquid fire in his wounds and the slow drip, drip, dripping away of his own blood from the open wounds.
Stamos didn't see the explosions coming either, but he did have the presence of mind to know what the hockey boy was shouting about. As soon as he heard the "Boom!" warning, he dropped to his face and covered his ears with his hands. He kept his mouth open as the blasts went off, preventing him from losing his eardrums in the explosions. He knew how much explosive and chemical "neutralizer" was in the Hounds' bodies. Anything left of their technical equipment or genetic material would be cleansed in fire once the self-destruct sequence was begun.
He rose, feeling the effects of the battle so far, and realizing he was in peril. He'd used up a lot of his recuperative powers in the struggle with the children. It had been months since he'd had an infusion of the serum. And while the effects had been much stronger with the new version cooked up from young Paul Carver's secretions, it still had a time table effect until he could make a more pure batch.
And for that he'd need Paul Carver's testicles, whether the boy was still attached to them or not. Fortunately, he only lived a short distance away. Unfortunately, Stamos himself was stuck with Agent Johnson and his adherence to duty. Side trips to kidnap teenagers wouldn't be viewed as "mission critical" and so, if Stamos wanted to go harvesting, he was going to have to break his little agreement with these petty American fools sooner rather than later.
Then again, the doctor considered, if this boy is indeed the grandson of Leonard Fox, and he displays similar physical powers to the Carver boy, perhaps his testes would do as well. But he only needed the glands to remain alive and healthy a short while. The boy had proven a stubborn adversary, but no match. A simple punch to the neck to incapacitate the nervous system should leave the body intact long enough for the mad man to do his deeds. The brain… inconsequential.
He strode to Andy's side, where the boy was attempting to sit upright with the aid of a stone. Stamos ended that need with a snapping kick to the boy's head, sending him further down the rabbit hole, as it were. Nearby, the werewolf continued to convulse and shake, for the blast had been much nearer to him than to Stamos, and he seemed far worse off for it.
"Young fool," he said, dangling Andy up by one arm. "You thought to be my undoing, yet you shall be my resurrection. I shall draw forth my own phoenix from your body's treasures. Say hello to your Oumpa when you see him in hell," Stamos grinned evilly, drawing back his hand to deliver the blow.
"You first, monster!" Andy screamed, and he slashed his blade at the scientist's arm, the one holding Andy off the ground. The knife had skittered across the ground in the blast, right against Andy's side. Stamos released Andy, stepping back from the slash, his arm going out wide and away from the Fox, who slowly was pulling himself back to his feet. A dribble of blood rolled out of Andy's nostril and he wiped it with the back of his hand. "You die now," Stamos said. He had no patience for playing out the game with this resourceful and dangerous child any longer. He had had enough.
And then with a roar out of a storybook, Tom rose, surged forward and latched his mouth around Stamos' left wrist. The werewolf's huge jaw easily wrapped completely around the man's hand, nearly midway up the forearm. He gnashed down with all the pain and Rage he had in him, all the hurts and blood loss and anger. This man had caused all of this, Tom realized, and so this man must die.
And then a great burning pain flashed through Tom's mouth. It was as though fire swept into being as his jaw clenched onto the man's flesh, sinking his life taking teeth down to and through the bones. Still, the pain seemed to drive him on to keep his jaw clamped on the scientist's arm. He squeezed his eyes shut with the pain, knowing that somehow this was penance. Fate's pay back for him killing Dylan Rhymers the night before. God's judgement. He had to do the right thing, but it was going to hurt, in more than just the physical sense.
And then Kyle tackled Stamos, slamming into him like a linebacker, shoulder down, arms up to maximize impact. The combination of Tom's grip and Kyle's body block was enough to rip the old man's hand off. Blood spurted and the old man cried out in agony as he fell to the ground, clutching his stump. He managed to get to his feet just long enough for a pair of hands to grab him and lift him away. Kyle's mad rush and impact bounced him off of Stamos and he stumbled directly into Andy, knocking them both down again. Stamos barely realized it was Agent Johnson that had picked him up and slung him over his shoulder.
"We are bugging out!" Johnson shouted into his radio, carrying the doctor as best he could towards the large transport truck they'd brought the Hounds up here in. The uninjured soldier quickly helped get the doctor in the back of the van and Johnson bolted it up. He turned to look behind himself with the rifle scope and saw that the four boys were still grouped together where he'd picked the doctor up. He looked around quickly for the fourth boy, the flier, and found him moving towards his comrades.
He could take a shot from here, he knew. Maybe get enough of them to make something worthwhile from this failed mission. But he had two wounded on the van. And the entire operation had been a farce. He couldn't take the risk of this getting more out of hand. Reluctantly, Johnson boarded the van and put it into gear. He drove away quickly, hoping that the local fire company wasn't close enough to hear the explosions themselves and roll out.
And he had the feeling that someone in Washington was not going to be happy about any of this.
"Tom!" Sammy cried. The werewolf boy fell over on his side, his maw still decorated with Stamos' blood. Sammy reached the werewolf and managed to turn him on his back. The much larger boy seemed to be convulsing violently. The little Kat couldn't see any evidence of the hand the werewolf had bitten clean off and the Kat assumed that Tom had actually swallowed it!
The werewolf continued to convulse, steam issuing from his mouth as he lay back, twisting and writhing in pain. Sammy switched back to human form, his body feeling the mix of chill and heat in the air. The explosion had knocked down trees and shoved over boulders. The whole hillside looked like how Sammy thought Tom must be feeling, wasted.
Kyle, Andy and Josh rushed over, Josh moving faster than the others. Sammy looked around, tears straining down his eyes. "What do we do? What do we do?"
Andy was the first to speak, the first to move. "Hold him down. Keep him still." Kyle and Josh took opposite shoulders and tried to keep the werewolf boy from shaking so much. There was blood all over his fur and not all of it from his enemies. Sammy stood back as Andy went to work, looking for wounds. The deep stab wound was obvious and it wasn't healing like it should. In fact, the wound seemed to be steaming, as if something were still inside, having some sort of chemical reaction to things.
"This is beyond any help we can give him," Andy said, getting a shocked look from Sammy.
"It's all my fault. I left him. I ran ahead and he tried to protect me. It's all my fault."
"Saaaam!" Tom said, reaching up a huge paw. Sammy came closer and felt the large hand grasp at him, desperately. The arm wrapped up around Sammy's slight belly, gripping him, and Sammy's fingers wrapped around Tom's hand as well.
"I'm here," Sammy replied, softly.
"Not your fault. We saved Kyle. We beat the bad guys. If they didn't bring this mess, that's what would have stopped all this. Not your fault, little brother. Not your…" and his arm seemed to lose its grip on Sammy and his eyes rolled back in his head.
Andy stood suddenly and let out a deep, long, keening wolf howl. It echoed across the valley, loud and full of the pain of loss, the sorrow of a companion slipping into oblivion. Sammy dropped to his knees beside Tom, calling his name over and over. Kyle looked over to Joshua, and Joshua looked back, shaking his head slightly. All movement in Tom's body ceased, and his chest gave a mighty sigh, then rose no more.
"No. No," Sammy pleaded, as Andy continued to howl. "He was a hero. He's not 'aposseda die!" Sammy cried, tears streaming down his face. He hung on to the werewolf's body, sobbing into the bloody mess of his chest.
Suddenly, the air near the boys rippled and seemed to stretch and bob, like the surface of a pond where a pebble has been dropped in. Two figures stepped through, and instantly Kyle and Josh were on their feet. The figures were huge, over ten feet tall, broad of shoulder and covered head to toe in fur. Werewolves, same as Tom!
Andy looked to the newcomers and gestured to Tom. "I don't know what's wrong with him. He isn't healing."
The two werewolves looked around the scene, taking in the damage around them as well as the four boys that were around Tom's body, three standing, one crouched beside him. The rightmost of the newcomers sat on his haunches near Sammy, who protectively held onto Tom's hand. With great slowness and gentleness, he took Sammy's hand off of Tom and began examining Tom.
"Are… are you gonna help him?" Sammy asked, tears in his eyes.
"We shall do for him what must be done. Your duty to him has ended now," the standing newcomer said in slightly accented English.
The two newcomers spoke briefly to each other in a language that seemed mostly growls and barks and yips. Then, together, they folded Tom's hands across his chest. The one examining him lifted Tom's body over his shoulder and rose, standing as if the four hundred pounds of sinew, fur and bone across his back were an easy burden to lift, but a hard one to carry.
"We will take him where such as he must go. You did the right thing in summoning us, Fox."
"Is he…" Joshua said but couldn't bring himself to finish.
"Beyond the ken of your kind, noble Hawk." Joshua's eyes opened at that. "Yes, we know of you. We have been watching a long time for you boys to emerge."
"Are we… are we like you, like Tom. I change into a tiger," Sammy offered, still with tears on his face.
The speaker of the newcomer werewolves bends over Sammy, sniffing him deeply. "No, my brave little one. You are not Garou, or any of Luna's changing breeds. But you are Ǣgyptian. New versions of the old gods among your kind." He looked at the others, standing back to his full height. "Find the others, protect one another. Evil is growing, you all need to be prepared."
The first newcomer, with Tom draped over his shoulder seemed to stare off into the distance and then the air rippled around him. With a step forward, he vanished into thin air, as if stepping behind a curtain. The speaker turned to look at the boys. "May Gaia and Luna watch over you," he said, as he too stepped into nothing and vanished.
"What the hell just happened?" Joshua said at length.
"The werewolves took one of their own. I didn't know he was a true werewolf." Andy turned back to the others. "I can hear the fire and police departments coming this way. We need a good story, and now."
Unseen, several yards away, a shadowy figure in the scrub brush moved. The figure's hand released the small branch it had held back in order to see the events of the fight. It retreated to the comfort of the shadows, but remained focused on the boys as they regrouped.
The figure contemplated the scene, scowling. Things had not gone entirely as expected. Less violence for the one boy than the figure had liked. More than enough for the other, the young one, although he seemed none the worse for his predicaments. Still, had the one boy gotten thrashed more, the figure would have enjoyed the chaos better.
It was a start, the figure realized. But with the boys grouping like they were, the figure's own plans would require help. Which meant recruiting others. The figure knew of others. The figure had visited the nightmares of others and knew what darknesses drew them on. The figure could do it. It would just take time.
The figure looked back, its gaze seeming to linger on the four. Another time. Rivalries could be stoked to aid in the necessary bloody end of the one boy. The log truck should have done it! Other plans would have to be made in order to get him alone and vulnerable again.
The figure turned at last and walked out of the woods, heading for a roadside trail that would lead it back towards town. In the distance, the sound of approaching authority figures necessitated the figure to hurry along without appearing to be hurrying. Wouldn't do to be seen at the scene, after all.
Another time, the figure promised. There would be another chance, another time.
The arrival of the authorities wasn't easily dealt with. Kyle was alone again, with his father's body, with the carcasses of the Hounds having exploded into just weirdly shaped patches of dark scorched dirt on the ground. The other Lost Boys waited in the trees, many yards away. Kyle sat there, feeling miserable as he waited for the police to show up.
The cover story, quickly constructed was one that made the most sense. Kyle didn't know who the people were who showed up to attack his father. He never got a clear look at them, because they knocked him out first. All he knew was that he heard a loud bang, woke up, and saw his father dead, and some van rushing from the scene. Barry Dakoon was known for making bets around town, so assuming that it was a bookie he didn't pay off made sense. And it was something that Kyle had suspected, but knew no details of. "Keep it simple," Andy had said. "The less you know, the less they'll try to get from you."
It made a sort of sense.
All at once, there was a flood of official vehicles to the land clearing site. Old man Smith showed up as well, since the police had told him there'd been a death up on his property. Essex County Sheriff's office sent a pair of investigators, and the local Canterbury cops sent their mobile CSI team up to collect evidence, as well as their most senior detective, Lieutenant Dana De Stefano. The coroner's office sent a van to take custody of Barry Dakoon's body.
The investigators were trying to make heads or tails of who had jurisdiction, who had the right to interrogate the only witness to the scene, Kyle. And just as they were getting into the why's and wherefor's of the situation, a dark, clean, late model four door sedan pulled up. Out got two men in cheap suits and sun glasses. One was tall, with the practiced air of not looking anyone in the eye. The shorter man, while of normal height, seemed to be smiling for entirely the wrong reasons.
The two men identified themselves at once as agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And that they were now in charge of the investigation. And they thanked everyone, with the implications that they were no longer needed to investigate. Kyle was about to be left in their hands when the female detective from the city police informed the FBI agents that under Massachusetts state law, a minor could not be interrogated until the next of kin were informed and given custody.
Kyle liked her at once. Reluctantly, the Feds backed down. Kyle was allowed to sit with his father's body, thankfully sealed in a coroner's bag, and say his goodbyes before the lady detective took him to her car. The Federal agents kept a close eye on Kyle as he watched them watch him. He had the feeling that they weren't going to go away easy.
He was taken to the police main headquarters and a social worker was called. Lt. De Stefano never questioned Kyle about the incidents up at the clearing site, other than to ask if he needed medical attention or if he was hungry. She was itching to ask all the necessary questions, Kyle felt, but she was professional enough to know that these things had to happen in a certain way. Kyle felt a surge of respect for her for that. And a bit of guilt about how he'd have to lie to her soon.
The boys watched and waited until Kyle was safely escorted out. Then they made their own plans. Cell phone numbers had been exchanged and a plan to get together later set up. Andy was about to head to his current hiding place when Sammy made him an offer he couldn't refuse. They had retrieved Sammy's hoody and he handed Josh a spare shirt from his back pack. Josh's bloody shirt was quickly buried. No need for him to have to explain to his parents why his clothes were soaked with another man's blood.
It wasn't a perfect plan, but it wasn't like they had a lot of time. Daylight was starting to fade and certain things had to be done to keep up appearances. Josh had to be home, Kyle had to go through the police stuff, and Sammy needed to have a chat with someone. Andy just hoped that things all would work out.
Silently, he was happy that Stamos had suffered. He had the feeling they'd be seeing the bastard again. Next time, I'll be ready, Gramps. I swear it, he thought savagely.
Somewhere in the distance, a gentle rumble in the heavens signaled the potential that night for rain. Or other distant warnings yet to come.
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