by Martin Maenza
The Bouncer could not believe his eyes as he chased his quarry through the rundown neighborhood. I’ve seen ghettos before, he thought, on the news and even some in person. But nothing, nothing, ever to this extreme!
He imagined what it must have been like back on his homeworld during the race riots of the ’70s. His father had told him about that when he was a boy, how folks would ransack business and buildings, taking whatever they could. There were great fires, and great panics, with police in the streets trying to keep order against a rising tide of hatred and anger.
This world, wherever it was, reminded him a lot of that. But more like a hundred or thousandfold, he thought to himself. What kind of place is this?
A small, multi-legged lizard darted out in front of him. The black man was taken aback for a moment. The creature hissed at him, then scurried off into the shadows. The Bouncer shook his head. Definitely not Earth, that’s for sure! He wondered if he’d ever see home again.
First things first, he had to get his H-Dial back.
He darted about the corner and stopped. Luck was on his side.
There was Korr, surrounded by four men dressed in some kind of uniforms. Finally, some help, he thought.
The men hadn’t noticed the hero’s arrival. They were too busy pulling out small, club-like weapons.
“Well!” one of the men sneered. “What’ve we got here?”
“Looks like some kind of lousy Hunger Dog!” another said.
“What you running for, Dog?” a third said. “You one of those rebellious types?”
Korr looked stunned. He shook his head vehemently. “N-n-no… no…”
“He’s lying!” the fourth one said with a wicked grin. “Let’s see if he’ll tell us where to find his rebellious friends!” He pounded the metal club a couple times in his open palm. “Any bets how long it’ll take him to crack, fellas?”
“I give him two minutes!”
“I can make him crack faster!” One of the men moved closer, raising his baton.
This isn’t right! the Bouncer thought from the side as the man cracked the weapon down hard onto Korr’s skull. Instinctively, the hero sprang into action.
“Leave him be!” the Bouncer shouted.
The four armed men turned about. “It’s another one! Get him!” Together, the infantrymen charged the new arrival, batons raised ready to strike him down as well.
The Bouncer blocked one shot with his right arm, then knocked away a second shot with his left. The infantrymen fought with such determination, with fire. They seemed to live for this, to attack and inflict pain upon others.
That wasn’t the Bouncer’s motivation. Right now, he wanted to help Korr, despite the fact that the man had stolen something from him. Once he cleared away the threat of the men, he could get back what belonged to him, and he could get a few answers, too.
The men roared and charged, almost fighting one another for position to take a shot at this specimen of a man. Clearly, he was a challenge.
The Bouncer roared, too, as he tossed them aside with little difficulty. The super-strength and rough exterior of this body allowed Hero to make short work of the force. Soon, the four attacking men were tossed aside, groaning but still breathing.
Korr stood and watched the whole thing in awe. As the black man approached, he gushed. “That… that was amazing!”
“Save the praise!” Bouncer said. “We best get out of here!”
“Of course!” Korr beamed. “This way!”
The Bouncer grabbed his arm and held him for a moment. “One second, buddy,” he said. “First, you have something that belongs to me.” He grabbed for the H-Dial that hung about Korr’s neck.
“Oh…” Korr said, “…of course.” He lifted the chain over his head and gave it to the man.
The Bouncer put it back about his neck for safekeeping and zipped the leather jacket. He felt a bit better having the item back in his possession. “OK, now we go.”
“Right!” Korr led the way as the two started to duck back into the maze-like streets of the slum.
“Say, Korr,” the Bouncer finally said after they were running for a while, “I’ve got a couple questions for you. First of all, what is this place?”
“Armagetto?” Korr asked.
“Arma–?” the black man repeated in confusion, thinking he’d misheard the name, and shook his head. “No, the planet. What’s it called?”
“Apocalypse?” Bouncer repeated. It certainly looked like this place had suffered through some great cataclysm of sorts. In fact, it had a rather hellish feel to it, at least of what the man had seen and smelled so far. If this place was anything like the last books of the Bible hinted at, he truly prayed the end wasn’t like this.
“You didn’t know that?” Korr asked.
The Bouncer shook his head. “I’m not from around here,” he said. “I come from a place called Earth. You ever heard of that?”
Now it was Korr’s turn to shake his head.
“Forget it,” the Bouncer said reluctantly. “I actually came here to find someone, someone who was taken from my world by a bunch of flying uglies.” The Bouncer made a sneering face. “They looked like this, only worse. Wore armor and such.”
“Parademons!” Korr exclaimed. Then he frowned. “If the Parademons took him, your friend is as good as dead.”
“Dead?” Bouncer asked. “Why?”
Korr turned his head, glancing upon the large statue on the horizon, then bowed his head sadly.
The Bouncer caught the gaze and noticed the statue of Darkseid, the lord of Apokolips. It didn’t take words for him to realize that whoever the ominous-looking guy in the stone image was that this was someone that people like Korr feared.
“Would these Parademons have taken the man to him?” he finally asked.
Korr shrugged his shoulders, unsure.
“I’ve got to try and find him,” the Bouncer stated. In truth, he didn’t know what else there was for him to do. Obviously, the man on Earth who had been attacked was known by these creatures. If they kidnapped him, it was possible the man knew why. And it was possible that the man knew of a way to get back to Earth.
At least, that was what Hero was counting on. If that wasn’t the case, what other choice did he have? He’d have to live out the rest of his days in this dread world, fighting for survival like Korr and his mother did.
The Bouncer shook his head. No, he had to do something. He had to try. To do nothing was admitting defeat. “I have to find him!” he said again.
Korr stopped in his tracks. “Looks as though it is we who have been found!”
The Bouncer looked and saw another squad of infantrymen approaching them, obviously angry. “Damn!” the black man said. “The others we ran into must have called their friends!”
“That’s as far as you go, Hunger Dogs!” one of the men yelled.
“They’re feisty!” another of the men said. “They’ll make good subjects for DeSaad’s experiments or Granny’s orphanage!”
“Attack!” two of the others shouted. And the group of six infantrymen surged forward, ready for battle.
The Bouncer experienced a slight feeling of déjà vu. As the men attacked, he felt as if he had done this before. It was an experience he was already tired of repeating.
The men started to crowd him, weapons raised.
The Bouncer gave a quick elbow to the left, knocking one of the men in the jaw. He then swept his foot around, tripping up another two.
“Get him!” one of the men shouted. He struck down on the hero’s head.
The Bouncer had to blink his eyes to clear out the pain. When he did, he saw Korr slipping away unnoticed by the infantrymen into a crevice in the ruins. Damn it! the black man’s thoughts fumed. Guess I’m on my own, here! He struck back hard, his fists thrusting in many directions. Got to break away!
The men kept coming back for more after each assault. Though the black man was but one, he was able to slowly wear down the forces against him.
When he was clear of the attacks, the Bouncer began to run and then leaped into the air. The shouts of the infantrymen fell behind him as he soared up toward a rooftop. Got to buy myself a few moments, he thought as he landed. The roof started to rumbled beneath his feet, so he moved quickly and jumped again to a roof a bit more stable.
“OK!” he said to himself. “This ground-run ain’t going to cut it! Let’s try something else!”
He unzipped the front of his leather jacket and pulled out the round device that hung about his neck. “OK, little dial, how’s about something more useful?” The Bouncer took his fingers to the device, dialed the letters H, E, R, and O, and prayed.
“Wooo-hooo!” the black-skinned man cheered as he rocketed through the air. Now he was a bit taller and slightly smaller in frame, and he was dressed in a skintight black bodysuit with gray highlights. He head was covered in a similar covered cowl, and his hands and feet had matching gloves and boots.
“This is the only way to fly!” Jetblack said as he soared across the damaged landscape below. Behind him he left a faint trail of smoke as power burst from his feet to propel him through the air. He was rather impressed with the amount of accuracy and control he had; it was as if this body instinctively knew how to fly and use the principles of aerodynamics to its benefit.
Below him, Apokolips gaped like an open wound.
Large fire-pits, some nearly a mile wide or more belched forth smoke, flame, and magma like active volcanoes. Jetblack squinted his eyes and could see other humans working hard near and about the pits. They were as poorly dressed as Korr. “Man,” he said to himself softly. “These people really got it rough. No wonder they scurry like rats whenever the Man comes around!”
Below him he passed slum after slum. Between the dwelling regions were huge barren areas with pits and factories. The cold sterility of the workplaces contrasted with the fiery heat and crimson skies of the world. It was like something out of a nightmare.
“A place like this could use a hero,” Jetblack said to himself. “But that ain’t part of my game plan at the moment. I gotta find me that blond-haired guy that those Parademons snatched back in Seattle. Something tells me he’s my only ticket out of this dump!”
Jetblack glanced ahead at the horizon and saw an area built up more than these slums. He nodded his head slowly. “Yeah, that looks like the place,” he said to himself. “Whoever the dude is that rules this place must live high on the hog! From those statues of him all over, he must think awful highly of hisself!”
He heard a great sound in the distance like rolling thunder, only louder.
“Uh-oh,” Jetblack said. “Better take this down a bit!” He cut his flight arc down lower, to allow for the ruinous buildings and structures to help him keep his cover. “If that’s another one of them booming tube things, it could mean more of those flying uglies! If I stick closer to the ground, I can avoid being spotted.”
The maze-like streets forced the flying man to slow down greatly. Luckily, his tight control of flight allowed him to zip through and dodge jutting pipes and the like easily enough, as long as he had enough advance notice to see them.
I feel like Ms. Pac-Man chowin’ down on pellets and fruits, he thought to himself. Just glad that I don’t have Inky, Blinky, and Pinky on my tai–!
Just at that moment, out of his peripheral vision, something struck Jetblack in the side, hard and fast. It was accompanied by a loud cracking sound.
“Aaa-aaa-aaahhh!” the black man cried out as he clutched his side. Something had struck him mid-flight, slashing through his costume and his skin. He drew his hand away from his side and saw a sticky red liquid.
“Blood?!” Jetblack panicked.
“You got it, sweetie!” a cackling voice chirped as something suddenly landed upon his back from above.
Before he could turn around to get a good look at whoever or whatever it was, Jetblack felt another searing pain as razor-sharp claws cut into his other side. “Ughhh!” he groaned.
Suddenly, his head began to spin, and his eyes could hardly see as he fought back the pain.
Jetblack lost control and plummeted to the ground, hard. Whatever was on his back leaped off at the last moment before he plowed into a row of overflowing trash receptacles like a ball clearing a set of pins in a bowling alley.
With his face in the dirt and his eyelids barely able to flutter to remain open, Jetblack did not see three figures approaching him, their shadows falling across his body. As he slipped into an unconscious state, he heard bits of the conversation from four aggressive female voices.
“…told you my lashes can hit any moving target…”
“…was my poison who downed him…”
“…but I could have stomped him good…”
“Enough! If he evaded a number of infantry squads, he’ll make a nice plaything for Granny!”