The sky was overcast, the clouds rolling in and unleashing a torrent of rain upon the heads of those gathered in the forest of masonry. Just another rainy day, the kind that seemed to follow the morose, the people that just didn’t want a sunny day to allow even the possibility of happiness.
Just another rainy day.
Just another funeral.
Roger gathered his longcoat closer to him, his wide shoulders stretching the fabric to their limits. It was far from comfortable, but he hadn’t had time to buy specially fitted clothes after the… well, after his luggage had burned.
His luggage, and everything else in his life. Hours had passed, and the small crowd of extended family, casual friends, and various folks who had been pressed into throwing on their blackest tie, their saddest dress, and their most sincere sorrows at the behest of a friend who didn’t want to go had long dispersed. He bent down and placed his hand on the tombstone, a sigh just barely escaping through his gritted teeth.
Another day, another funeral. He thought things would change, that they had changed, and that life could finally just be normal.
But normal didn’t seem to be in the cards for Roger Armstrong.
He stood, and just as he began to turn a shadow caught his eye. As he turned his attention to the solitary figure, it suddenly turn and sprinted between the rows of tombstones, the granite forest obscuring his view even further.
He didn’t know why he did it, but without thinking he gave chase, his coat flapping in the wind and the rain. Before long, the figure exited the cemetary and emerged out onto the streets of Hudson City. Roger began to gain, but without warning his quarry leapt from the sidewalk and into the speeding traffic of lunch time traffic.
Horns blared, drivers and pedestrians alike shouting at the crazed figure that dodged between speeding vehicles without hesitation. Roger stopped for a moment, and as soon as a few cars screeched to a halt in the rain slick streets, he followed suit, ignoring the cries of anger and astonishment.
Roger had never noticed it before, had never cared to notice it before, but across the street from the cemetery amidst the row of office buildings was a bank. It was into this bank that the figure ducked into, and that Roger followed.
According to witnesses on the scene and verified through review of traffic cameras, no more than five seconds passed from the time that Roger entered the bank lobby, and said bank lobby exploded. The glass door had barely closed behind him before every window in a block radius was shattered by the shockwave, the glass from the bank’s front windows liquified by the flames of the blast as the fire leapt out in great bellows.
For Roger, the world went away. Surprisingly, though, the condition wasn’t permanent. Seconds later, light began to peek in, and conciousness returned. Flames surrounded him on all sides, though the heat did not bother him for some reason. He struggled to a standing position, and looked about.
The lobby was a battleground. Flame leaked down from the ceiling, the corpses nothing but burned and blackened husks. Roger looked down for wounds, and was shocked with what he discovered.
There was not a scratch on him. He held his hands up to the light, and saw that somehow they were reflecting the dancing flames that surrounded him. The rest of his body was the same way, mirroring the fires, reflecting its own light back into the shadows as he turned and shifted.
“This can’t be real,” he muttered to himself, his voice completely inaudible over the sound of the roaring flames. A corpse, possibly of a woman no older than himself, caught his eye. He shook himself out of his daze, and began to look through the wreckage. He wasn’t being burned, and whether this was a dream or not, he had to find any survivors.
“Hello!” he shouted, cupping his hands arounds his mouth. “Is anyone still alive?” Without waiting for an answer, he rushed forward, shoving over blocks of granite, shrugging off falling debris like it was nothing. For a while, he didn’t even notice the ease with which he was clearing the rubble.
When he did notice it, it was just a little surprised voice in the back of his mind. Something to take notice of when there weren’t lives to be saved, people to be rescued. Whatever was happening to him was only important in that it might allow him to save someone trapped in the burning building.
As he passed further into the bank, past the wrecked teller stalls, he heard a voice. At first he thought he imagined it, but after he stopped and listened he was certain that he could hear a woman’s voice, as if from a long distance. “Help! Is anyone there?” she wheezed, her voice distorted as if by static.
Roger looked about, and after a few moment found a speaker hanging from a cracked wall by a bundle of frayed wires. An intercom. “I don’t know if anyone can hear this, but I’m trapped in the vault. The… the explosion, I guess, caused the vault to close and lock automatically. It’s just me… static … It’s… dark… help…” and the line went dead.
The vault. He had to get to the vault, and somehow free that woman. “I’m coming, miss,” he whispered, and barelled his way to the back of the bank. Before long, he stood before the great steel door, sealed and apparently undamaged by the vicious blast. He looked at the shining steel doors, then down at his own shining hands. Steel. Without thought, he walked up to the massive wheel that served as the vault’s locking mechanism, gripped two of the handles, and threw his weight against it.
He could hear metal groaning, then a teeth shattering CRACK as the handles actually broke off in his hands. He looked down at them in shock, then frustrated simply tossed them over his shoulders and dug his fingers into the grooves between the door and the vault.
He planted his feet firmly on the ground, and pulled. Concrete splintered beneath him, his toes actually digging into the material that was somehow softer than his own bare feet. For a moment, nothing happened, nothing aside from the concrete below him gave way. But then, in one incredible motion, he ripped the door from its hinges and heaved it back over his head. It crashed through a wall before coming to rest several feet into the marble floor of the lobby.
Shock was again plain on Roger’s face, but the shock was quickly replaced by confusion. The vault was devoid of life, or even of the dead.
“I don’t know why he bothered with getting you to open it,” a woman’s voice, the same woman’s voice, came from behind him. He spun, and saw a wisp of a woman leaning against the armored door frame of the vault.
She wore a black and purple catsuit that accentuated her slight curves, leaving little to the imagination, while her belt was adorned by all manner of pouches. Around her neck dangled a pair of high-tech looking goggles with ear coverings. She had black hair, streaked with bright purple. She couldn’t be more than nineteen, maybe twenty.
“How’d you get here? What’s going on?” Roger asked, his voice booming in the close confines of the vault.
She smiled, and softly spoke. “Roger Armstrong, the man of the hour. I see your powers manifested rather…” she pauses at this, looking him up and down slowly. For the first time Roger realizes that most of his clothes burned away in the explosion, and what had survived had become several sizes too small after his physical transformation.
“No need to be shy, Roger, we’re all friends here,” she moved forward, each step crammed with sexuality. “DARWIN wasn’t lying when he said you were… an impressive specimen.”
“How do you know my name? Who are you?” he held out a hand to block her path, but it didn’t stop her. Instead of stopping when her chest made contact with his open palm, she kept walking, his hand passing straight through her.
“Me? I’m like you, Roger. A mutant,” her smile grew with this as she traveled the length of his arm, until they were face to face.or rather, face to stomach, her five and a half feet not even reaching his pectoral muscles in his new form.
“What? I’m not…”
“Almost eight feet tall, with a body made of practically indestructible organic steel, and able to rip the door off of bank vault without breaking a sweat?” she began to circle him, tracing an intangible finger along his chest then over his back until she was in front of him once again. “Yeah, you’re the model of average American.”
“I thought the whole… mutant thing was just…”
“A hoax? Some sort of viral marketing maybe?” she laughed, and begin to slowly float until she was at his eye level, her nose inches from his. “Honey, there’s nothing computer generated about you and I.” And with that, she flew through him completely, gliding silently into the vault.
“You still haven’t answered who you are, or what you want with me,” Roger looked down at himself, then spun as she passed through him without any kind of sensation whatsoever.
“Oh, didn’t I?” she replied over her shoulder, as she pulled a large nylon bag from the small of her back, and began to shove bundles of money into it. “My parents named me Rebecca, but I go by Eidelon, though I’m thinking of changing it to Phantasma or something. What do you think?”
“I…” Roger began, confused, then walked into the bank after her. “How do you know me?!” he asked, his anger rising.
“Oh, right.” she smiled at as she dumped another bundle of $100s into the bag. “DARWIN told me to check you out. Set up this whole bombing thing and everything, kind of a test. He loves his tests.”
“Stop that!” Roger yelled, and tried to grab the money she was holding from her hand. Perhaps predictably, his hand passed right through it.
“What? You want me to bomb a bank and NOT rob it?” she barked out a laugh, then shook her head in disbelief. “Yeah, right. Whatever.” She continued scooping up money.
Roger slammed his fist through a shelving unit, sending the money stacked atop it hurtling through the air. “Who the hell is DARWIN?!” he shouted, stepping in front of her.
Rebecca sighed, and rolled her eyes. “DARWIN is my boss, obviously. He takes care of us, looks out for us, makes sure that the humans don’t find out about us while bringing us all together.”
“And he bombed a bank to find out if I’m a mutant?!”
“Eh, yeah. I thought it was a little extreme, I mean, we could’ve just tried shooting you or ramming a truck into you or something. Orders are orders though, y’know?”
“You know how many people died here?”
“Dammit, he didn’t say you’d be so goody goody,” she sighed again, and tied the bag up before slipping it over her shoulder to rest on her shoulder. “No, I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. They’re humans, we’re mutants. If they knew we existed, and I mean REALLY knew, they wouldn’t stop at anything to see us rounded up and shot.”
“You don’t know that.”
Rebecca stopped, and stared at Roger for a minute before responding, really looking at him. “It sucks, but it’s the world, Roger. It’s us versus them, dog eat dog, survival of the fittest. And guess what? We’ve got guys that can turn to steel and eat tanks for breakfast, and girls that can float and become intangible. I’ve got my money on us.”
And with that she began to sink into the floor. “We’re all just people, Rebecca.”
“It’s evolution, Roger. The homo sapien wiped out the neanderthal, and it’s time for another changing of the guard. It’s our turn to be king of the hill,” as she sunk up to her breasts, she looked at him again, serious. “I’ll be seeing you, Roger. I hope next time we can be friends. Just try to stay out of trouble until then, okay?” And she slipped into the earth below.
Roger stood there, confused, stunned, a little in shock. He looked down at his hands, gleaming steel in the dim firelight. What did this DARWIN want with him? Why go through all this trouble for him?
He stepped out of the vault, and once again was surrounded by death.
Maybe Rebecca was right. Maybe it was inevitable, the coming war.
No, he refused to believe it. Suddenly a grim resolve filled him. He had caused nothing but death, this gift that had been an unseen curse to him.
He thought back, and remembered now. The car crashes, train derailment, the terrible horrors that he had been involved in and somehow surived. His body had reacted, had protected him, but had probably also been a cause. He looked at his toes, down at each footprint that he left in the concrete due to his enormous weight.
He didn’t understand what had happened to, but that would have to change. He would no longer be a cause, no longer bring death and destruction to those around him. He would be a protector. If this DARWIN was searching out other mutants, was testing them, killing innocents as collateral damage, then Roger would seek out mutants as well. Somehow, he would find them before DARWIN, and protect them.
He had a mission now, a goal. For the first time in his life, he had a purpose, something to truly live for.
As he stepped through the flames of the bank, over the carnage and exited the scene, his thoughts raced ahead of him, and plans began to form. Mutants were real. People with the power of gods. And he would take responsibility for them.