For Alt★Hero-inspired fiction. Keep it clean!
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By SilentDraco
#469
The man in grey coveralls ran, limping and lurching, to cover in the clump of bushes. He saw trees beyond, a small grove of darkness, and then scattered streetlights. Five minutes, he thought, five minutes there and … but I need the five minutes now. Get away, lose the gear and coverall, and he could slide away. But first … he pulled a burner phone off the sack and pressed a speed-dial. “Two reporting. No pickup. Team down, interference from other side. No denial. Evading. Recall … site five. Four units.” No answer was expected from that message drop. He paused long enough for water, a stimulant and pain tablet. Using bushcraft, he low-crawled under the main branches and then eeled through the hedge across a shadow-patterned ground. His steps sounded like some small animal searching for insects or nuts. One quick look showed no apparent follower, so he set the sack under the hedge, reached in, and activated a delayed incendiary. He pulled a wallet and a handful of energy tabs out, stuffed his pockets, and started to creep away.

Fred dashed toward the trees, angling to go around the end of the hedge. He felt better, running in shadow, and sprinted for about thirty yards. With a quick, light stop, he crouched down and listened hard. No sound – wait; that was NOT rats in the undergrowth, but maybe one big one. Fred slunk ahead at a fast, using trees and shadows to break up his motion. Then with a leap he went up a convenient oak and went perfectly still.

Two took one long breath, then another, and walked slowly to the street, cutting diagonally through the trees. Coming out elsewhere, no one could easily connect him. The coverall? Ditch it at the last opportunity. Another 20 meters and he was far enough to begin evasion, but then he heard a faint creak and shift. Looking behind and to the side, he saw nothing, but then felt … looking up he saw a set of green eyes getting closer!

Whoomp! Fred timed it perfectly, a quick leap onto the shoulder and neck. That last-second glance – pure gravy. Two collapsed on his knees and fell forward, as Fred made two blurringly fast closed-fist slaps on his head. Trained reaction let Two try to shift weight and throw the assailant off. Fred rolled opposite to the throw and then slapped a closed finger strike to the throat. Two was stunned and couldn’t breathe. Fred put a couple tie-straps on Two’s arms, and then grabbed his neck and began a fast twist. “Talk to me now,” he growled deep in his throat, “and as your reward I’ll kill you quick. Else,” a sudden sharp spike in Two’s side made his eyes widen, “it gets slow and messy … for you. I love to play!” Two looked sideways at the terrible eyes, whispered “Chat …” and spoke fast.
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By headsnedder2-50
#868
“Who were you after?” Fred asked.

“The kid… Thomas Smith.”

“What did you want with him?”

“He was chosen.”

“For what?”

“Training… ascension...”

“Ascension? What do you mean by ascension?” This was beginning to sound familiar to Fred.

“I don’t know… he didn’t tell me...”

“He? Who sent you?”

“I… I can’t tell you that...”

Who sent you?”

“No! He told me not to say his name!” The man was pleading at this point.

Fred jammed the spike further into the man’s side, “And I’m telling you to say his name.”

A sudden disturbance caused Fred to break his concentration. He hadn’t seen anything, he hadn’t heard anything, and the man seemed to be distracted by something as well. Someone else was here. Not physically. But here nonetheless.

Fred turned back to the man, “Listen buddy, your time’s getting short-”

The man began to laugh deeply. Too deeply. “No… His time is up. It’s your time that grows short, Fredrick Freeman.” he rumbled. He stared straight into Fred’s eyes, as if piercing them.

Fred was absolutely sure he had not told this man his name.

He jammed the spike into the man’s side hard enough to draw blood. “Who are you? What do you want?” he yelled.

The man laughed again and the laugh turned into a hacking cough. As he began to spit up blood, the cough turned into shallow breathing and stopped. The man fell silent. Fred put his fingers to the man’s throat. No pulse. The man was dead.

Fred noticed an orange flickering light off to his right. A fire. He quickly searched the man’s body and found a small, cheap cell phone and a wallet. He pocketed both. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, he pulled back the sleeve on the man’s coverall, exposing his right arm to the elbow.

There it was. Right in the middle of the forearm. The Mark.

Fred swore and began dragging the body. He didn’t want to do this, but he had no choice. Getting the police involved would cause more trouble for him, but it would also cause plenty of trouble for them. At this point, the most important thing was to put as much trouble between them and whatever they were after.

The wooded area cleared out to a grass-lined parkway. Fred left the body in the grass. On the other side of the parkway there was an unlined drainage channel. Fred jumped in and made his way among the weeds, concealed from view. He knew this channel well. It ran south along the parkway, then turned eastward back to his own neighborhood. He could get out by the alley near 8th Street and get into his complex the back way, unnoticed.

He was going to need his rest tonight. For tomorrow, his work really began.

The Cult had struck again.
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By kHz
#891
‘You’ve a talent, Miss Beauvais,’ said Lafferty, peering at her cellphone’s display. ‘I couldn’t have asked for a better angle of the incident. Shame this fella’s face isn’t viewable, however.’

‘Glad I could help, officer,’ said Betty, wiping her nose once more. ‘But I need it back.’

‘I’m afraid this is evidence,’ he said, moving to pocket it. Lafferty stood in the hall, his feet wet on the carpet, and his radio crackling with activity.

‘And I’m afraid I really need my phone.’ She stepped into the hall and placed her hand on Lafferty’s arm. ‘Besides, you can watch it anytime on my blog. To your heart’s content!’

The heavyset patrolman relented with a grunt and returned it to her.

‘You don’t recognise the fella in the video,’ he asked. ‘Or anyone else involved?’

‘Only some of the children. They play ball here on the regular. Maximilian something… Thomas Smith, and his sister Annie... I’m sorry, I don’t recall all their names.’

‘That’s alright, Miss Beauvais. And you’ve never seen this fighting fella before, is that right?’

‘Never,’ she lied, feeling a lump rise in her throat.

Lafferty noted her details in his pocketbook, thanked her again and wished her a pleasant remnant of her evening. He squelched away down the hall, and Betty shut her door on the sound of the patrolman answering his radio.

The lights of the patrol cars and emergency responders still flashed on the ceiling of her apartment, though the only sound from outside was the gentle patter of rain against the window panes.

No sooner had she taken a step toward them than her phone chimed with a few chords of Bach.

Bandstand. Now.

Betty looked up at the rain falling outside and tutted to herself. Why tonight of all nights?

She changed out of her robe and slippers, and put on a pair of black stockings, a black cotton skirt that passed her pleasing calves, and a pale silk blouse that she tucked in in a hurry. Having spent a few minutes brushing her brown bob into shape, spraying it with a thick cloud of hairspray, and a further ten minutes washing her face and applying the bare minimum of makeup, Betty donned a brown hat and raincoat and grabbed her umbrella. She slipped out of her apartment, locked it behind her, and descended to the street.

Cutting through the gathered crowd, only glimpsing at the gaggle of officers and the dilapidated plumber’s van, Betty Beauvais walked along King Street to 7th. She headed uptown, her umbrella concealing her from the night’s sudden summer rain.

Heaverton Park lay silent, dark and deserted.

When she drew near the freshly painted bandstand, Betty recognised Nola standing in its shadow, waiting for her in an impatient stance. They’d only met once, but Betty remarked to herself that the girl hadn’t altered her appearance one iota; black biker’s jacket zipped-up tightly, skinny leather pants, her wretched nose-ring and a slash of pink hair that protruded from an otherwise clean-shaven scalp.

Nola looked like, and was, a not-nice teenage girl.

‘What took you so long?’

‘I am unwell,’ said Betty, sniffling.

‘Too bad,’ said Nola. ‘Come here.’

The girl took Betty’s right arm and drew her deeper into the shadows. Nola rolled up the sleeve of Betty’s raincoat, and pushed up the sleeve of her blouse, exposing the underside of the forearm.

A black circular tattoo marred the skin.

‘This healed okay,’ said Nola. ‘Means it’s now time.’

‘Already?’ asked Betty, somewhat surprised. ‘I haven’t finished the book you gave me.’

‘Don’t worry about that,’ said Nola, grinning wolfishly. Betty noticed for the first time that both rows of Nola’s teeth had been filed to sharp points, giving her a truly awful smile. ‘Tonight’s going to be fun!’
User avatar
By headsnedder2-50
#898
Lafferty exited the apartment building and headed down the alley where he had parked his patrol cruiser. He had questioned several people there, but Miss Beauvais had the most useful testimony and evidence of any of them. The alley was dark, but through the shadows, he noticed a man walking toward the apartment building.

An errant floodlight from another apartment complex interrupted the shadows of the alley. As the man passed through the light, Lafferty got a good look at him. Caucasian, male, dark hair, dark shirt, soaked from the rain but clearly not dressed for it, covered in seeds and stickers as if he’d been walking through weeds recently and… those sneakers.

Those were the sneakers of the man who’d been sitting on the edge of his window earlier that evening. Clearly, he had seen something of the events that took place, and his shirt matched the one in the video.

“Sir? Sir, can I ask you some questions?”

The man stopped, “Sure.”



----



Betty desperately clung to Nola’s back as she raced down the road on her motorcycle. It was bad enough that the girl drove like a speed demon with no tomorrow on city streets, but in the rain, it was almost more than enough for Betty.

After about ten minutes, they came to a stop. The neighborhood was mostly single family houses, but it was about as bad as her own neighborhood. Most of the houses were dilapidated with weedy yards and barred windows.

“We’re here.” said Nola over the helmet’s Bluetooth speakers.

“Where?” said Betty.

Nola pulled off her helmet and talked to Betty directly, “Where we were going.”

She dismounted her motorcycle and walked over to an unmarked van about 20 feet away. This van was a darker color than the one Betty had seen earlier that evening, and it was a different make, but Betty was starting to have her fill of unmarked vans for the evening.

Nola walked up to the back of the van and knocked twice. “Carl,” she called. The back of the van opened up. The man inside had a dark uniform and a shaved head. Nola gestured toward Betty as if presenting her to him.

Betty slowly walked up to the van. Nola smiled her wolfish smile at Carl. “Well?” she asked him.

Carl beckoned Betty to the van. He took a device from a shelf and turned it on. A red light started blinking. He fiddled with the controls a bit then held the device out to Betty’s face. As he did, the red light went off. He moved the device slowly up and down, then side to side in front of her face. The red light stayed off.

He flipped the device off and leaned out toward Betty. “Hold still,” he said as he put his thumb and two fingers to the side of her head and closed his eyes. Betty wasn’t sure what to do, so she just stayed there.

After about 30 seconds, Carl opened his eyes and looked at Nola. “She’ll do.” he said.

“Do what?” asked Betty, more confused than anything else.

“Start tonight’s festivities,” said Nola with an uncharacteristic giggle.

“Come on in,” said Carl, moving back to make room for the two women.

“No.” said Betty. She had had enough of this weirdness for one night. She wanted to go home.

Nola drew closer to Betty, “Whaddya mean no?” she said, “Come on Betts.” Betty hated when she called her that.

“I mean I’m not getting into a van that I’ve never seen before for a reason that I don’t even know about. Nola, what are you getting me into?”

“Exactly what you signed up for. Nothing more, nothing less.” Nola let her eyes drift down to Betty’s forearm and come back up. Betty still had her coat on, but she got the hint.

Carl chimed in. “Look… Betty, is it? If you’ve been called, you’ve been called. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen, but I can tell you that you’ll get through tonight just fine if you don’t put up too much of a fuss.” He sounded mildly bored, like a technician who just wanted to get done with his job.

“And if I say no?”

“Did Nola tell you what would happen if you walk away and abandon your new brothers and sisters?”

“She kinda went over it...” Betty vaguely remembered Nola telling her something about that right before she got her tattoo.

“So she told you about being clawed, shattered, having your mind juiced dry and your thoughts vaped into the air by a cackling old man?”

“Um… something like that?”

“Well, she wasn’t exaggerating.” said Carl in a matter-of-fact tone.

Betty took a moment to process what she had just heard. She couldn’t even make sense of some of the stuff he said. What chilled her the most though was how nonchalant Carl was about all of this. It was like he had seen the things he had described to her before. It was no big deal to him. She hadn’t considered these people to be nefarious when she had said the oath in that shadowy apartment not too long ago, but now she realized she had no idea what they were really willing to do.

Or what they really wanted.

Betty weighed her options. She knew she was somewhere off Saffron Blvd., but she didn’t know the neighborhood. It was too late for a bus, and too long for walking. She didn’t want to call a friend for a ride and get them wrapped up in all of this. The rain had faded to a light sprinkle, but there was no telling if it could pick up again.

“What exactly are you going to do with me?”

“You remember the part of the book that talked about the Blissful Unity with the Higher Mind?” said Nola, “Think of this as the first steps toward that.”

Betty remembered the book referencing that phrase, and one of the later chapters was dedicated to it, but she hadn’t gotten that far yet.

“You promise me I’ll stay safe?” asked Betty.

“You’ll be home by morning.” said Carl.

Betty hesitated. She didn’t see herself getting home without getting through this first, whatever it may be. She decided to bite.

“Okay,” she got into the van.

Nola climbed in right after her, shutting the van door behind them.

Carl started working with another machine, a metal headset wired to some sort of large control board. Eventually, he brought the headset to Betty.

“That’s not going to electrocute me, is it?”

“No, see it’s insulated?” he pointed to the padding on the inside.

Nola mildly startled Betty by taking off her hat for her. “Relax Betts.” she said. She held Betty by the shoulders. Betty noticed that her grip was much stronger than any teenage girl’s had any right to be.

“Ready?” asked Carl.

“I guess...” said Betty.

Carl lowered the headset onto Betty’s head and turned to the control board. He started adjusting knobs and dials.

Betty didn’t feel much of anything. She just heard a steadily increasing hum. She turned to Nola, who was staring right at her and had peeled her lips back into a shark smile. Then she was blinded in an instant by

White…

Hot…

Pain!



----



“It looks like you got caught out in the rain.” said Lafferty. The man – Fred – had been cooperative so far with all of the standard questions, but Lafferty was moving on to the meatier queries.

“Yeah,” Fred looked up, “unusual weather.”

“Mm-hmm” said Lafferty. It was a bit unusual this early in the year, but not unheard of.

“Those stickers on your pantlegs, where’d you get those?” he asked.

“Well, I -” Fred stopped as if interrupted. He started looking around, his eyes darting back and forth. Lafferty thought he looked kind of like a dog hearing a dog whistle, but couldn’t hear anything himself. Fred looked over his shoulder, as if honing in on the signal he was receiving.

“Sir?”

Fred snapped back to the real world. “Officer! I have to go now. You can follow me if you want.” He ran into the shadows of the alley.

“Hey! HEY! Do not run!” Lafferty drew his pistol and ran after Fred. He saw Fred climb onto a large, dark, and not-quite-legally parked motorcycle near a back fence and turn it on. He stopped ten feet from Fred and pointed his gun at Fred’s center of mass. “Freeze!” he yelled.

“Officer,” Fred turned around casually, almost lazily, “if you shoot me, you’re going to miss. Now, I’m going to leave. You can follow me, or you can stay behind, but you’re not going to stop me.” He pulled out, slowly rolled to the end of the alley, and turned around to look at Lafferty.

Lafferty stood there in near shock. No one – no one – talked to him like that when he had a gun on them from ten feet away.

And yet this guy just did.

He snapped out of it and ran to his patrol cruiser at the other end of the alley, calling for backup as he ran. As he started the car, he saw Fred make a right onto King Street, heading east toward Ace Avenue.

Lafferty roared down the alley, his lights blazing and siren wailing, and whipped out onto the street after him.
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By E Deploribus Unum
#899
Betty woke -- if you could really call it waking -- to find herself in a plain, cinder-block enclosure with a low ceiling. She thought she might be underground, though she did not know exactly why she thought that, except that there were no windows anywhere to be seen. She could not lift her head sufficiently to view the far end of the room in front of her, nor could she make out whether there was anyone else nearby. Very gradually it dawned on her that the walls to her left and right were painted an aggressive, glossy white; surfaces that could be hosed down repeatedly with industrial-strength cleaning products and not show the slightest adverse effect.

That didn't seem a promising thought.

She was strapped to what she assumed was a hospital gurney -- at least that was the general impression she was able to gather through her still-befogged senses. Everything hurt. The walls were bright with reflected light from a series of hanging bulbs; she could not bear to look at these directly or to open her eyes completely. The restraints across her forehead prevented her from taking any better stock of her surroundings, and the throbbing in both her temples was sufficient to dissuade her from making any loud noises or trying to call out for help. She had the impression her head would explode if she even opened her mouth, let alone spoke. She was almost afraid to breathe.

She was fairly sure she was naked; the chill in the air told her that much.

Betty had a vague, inexplicable conviction that Nola was somewhere nearby, combined with a powerful intuition that it would be best to refrain from moving or giving any other impression of consciousness to her captor or captors.

She knew beyond any doubt that she had made a terrible mistake, very probably her last one.
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