by Martin Maenza
Hero Cruz turned to Enrique Lopez, who was trying to blot out the stain with his napkin. “Go inside!” he said to the Hispanic man. “We need to keep away from whatever that thing is!”
“Right,” Enrique agreed quickly. Hero started to usher him and others toward the door, all the while watching the creature. He made sure to allow the others to separate himself from the Hispanic man.
The Parademon was about to advance on the fenced in courtyard of the restaurant, but then stopped. It put its hand to its ear and threw its head back, glancing up at the tall building across the street. It was as if something was directing it. “Understood!”
The creature hissed again at the crowd. “I have no time for you!” It thrust out its wings, which began to flap with urgency. In a moment, it was moving into the air and heading back up toward the penthouse.
Hero broke away from the crowd going inside and vaulted over the short wrought iron fence. As he darted around the corner, he reached under his shirt and pulled forth an object hanging on the chain about his neck. Not sure what the hell that thing was, he thought to himself, but it certainly looks like it could be a handful! Especially if this is another one of those alien invaders!
Lifting the circular pendant up, he placed his finger into one of the ten holes. Time for a little dialing action, he thought. Quickly, his finger turned the key letters of H-E-R-O, and in a flash of light, the young black man was transformed.
Hero was getting accustomed to these transformations the more he did them. Besides the obvious external changes in clothes and appearance, he would actually feel a bit different, too. As he flexed his biceps, he could tell that this time around he was a lot stronger than before. “Let’s see how we did,” he said, his voice a deep baritone.
He glanced in a nearby window at his reflection. He was a taller, about seven feet, and much more massive, too. He was now wearing tight-fitted pants, a dark T-shirt, and a leather jacket. The H-Dial now hung from a thicker gold chain about his neck. His face was clean-shaven, but his jaw was more pronounced. His hair was long, tied back fashionably into a single ponytail. Not bad, not bad at all! I certainly look strong enough to wrestle that thing!
Confident of his disguised appearance, he stepped out into the street. Now to get after that ugly. Hopefully I can fly like Purple Powerhouse and Extinguisher before! He concentrated, willing himself to move off the ground, but nothing happened. “Come on, now! Let’s ‘up up and away’!” Still, nothing.
He frowned. “Aw, man!” He stomped his one foot hard.
The reaction surprised him. He suddenly found himself leaping into the air, albeit unbalanced. “Who-o-o-oa!” Hero landed as best he could, using one his hands to steady himself, and then smiled. “No flight this go-round, but maybe I can leap a few tall buildings in a single bound or two!”
He bent his legs and propelled himself upward, shooting for the rooftop of a shorter building first. When that seemed to work, he eyed the taller building from which the Parademon had fallen and returned to. “Ready or not, here I come!”
Damn it! Carl Browning cursed, diving for cover in the foliage of the patio garden. He shook the golden triangle device in his hands. Something’s jamming the Angler! It won’t let me teleport!
He ducked just in time as a powerful fist sliced through the brush and branches above him, cleaving them away. With Parademons here, it isn’t hard to figure out who is after me! I better keep on my toes, or I’ll end up like the bad end of a stick in a chipper-shredder!
“Do not hide, human!” the Parademon warned. “You cannot escape your fate!”
Browning raised his weapon up, took a fast aim, and fired a blast at the attacking creature. A burst shot into the Parademon’s face, sending him reeling back in a blind rage. “Gaaaggghh!” it hissed and howled as it clawed its face, trying to remove the spots before its eyes.
The man took the opening as a chance to run. Gotta get out of here, lose them! he thought. ‘Cause where there’s one…
Before he could finish his thought, the rooftop was flanked by two more pairs of Parademons. “You cannot delay the inevitable!” one of them stated.
Browning frowned. Damn it! Looks like they’re trying to cut me off but good!
He watched the creatures as they landed on the roof and started to surround him. They were moving in slowly and cautiously. The one he blasted in the face had recovered and was joining the others. They were circling like Indians about a wagon train or vultures about a fresh kill. The human shook his head. He definitely didn’t like either of those images.
By the same token, these Parademons seemed more restrained than usual. While still very powerful and horrid in appearance, they seemed to be holding back. Why? he wondered to himself. What are they after?
Suddenly, a black man dressed in dark clothing came flying over the south wall of the garden. “Hey, now!” the newcomer shouted out. “Hope this ain’t no private party!”
The Parademons turned and snarled. “Stop the human!” one of them ordered. Two of them broke ranks and started to charge the newcomer, their teeth and claws bared and their mouths snarling. Carl Browning watched as the newcomer charged at the creatures with reckless abandon.
“One at a time, boys!” The black man brought back his fist and slammed it into the jaw of the first creature. He then spun about, and, with his thick-booted heel, kicked the second squarely in the chest. “See, there’s plenty of butt-whuppin’ for both of ya!”
He’s strong, whoever he is, Browning thought, not registering the appearance to any of the heroes that he knew or had battled. Then he shouted out, “Who are you?”
“You can call me the Bouncer,” the black man said with a booming voice and a smile. “That’s ’cause I’m gonna show these suckers the door!”
Browning wanted to smile, to enjoy the supposed hero’s arrogant attitude. However, three of the Parademons remained focused on him. “Subdue the other human,” shouted the Parademon who had been directing the others. One of the creatures then broke ranks to aid his fighting associates, leaving only two to attempt to retrieve their prize.
He clutched the Angler, considering the situation. This newcomer doesn’t have a clue who I am or what he’s gotten himself into, he thought. I can certainly use that to my advantage. I just need to keep my cards close at hand until the time is right.
Browning made sure to slip the Angler safe from view, but still keep it where he could access it. If the Parademons were after his device, he wasn’t about to give it up without a fight. After all, he had worked hard to get this new body; he certainly was not about to have it taken away from him so quickly.
The Bouncer was too focused on those attacking him to worry what the other man was up to. I was right! he thought as he slammed his mighty fist into the attacker. There are a whole bunch of these freaks!
He saw the others starting to come for him again. Reaching down, the Bouncer picked up the demon he just felled and used him as a weapon against his comrades. The one Parademon slammed into the other two. But if they’re invaders, what are they doing way up here and attacking one guy? The one who I saw down on the street could’ve easily attacked a whole crowd of folks. Something isn’t adding up.
The Parademons recovered quickly, annoyed. They took a flanking formation about the black man. “You should have let us take the other without interference!” one of the creatures said.
“Instead, you will pay the price for your meddling!” another said.
Together, the three piled onto the Bouncer, who tried his best to protect himself. But with only two hands, it was a struggle. With their gauntlets, the Parademons pounded on him.
I’m strong… Hero thought to himself, but… ugh… this is too much! His feet gave way out beneath him, and he fell to the ground in a collapsed heap. The Parademons got in a few more shots before rising up.
“See,” the Parademon leader said to Browning. “There is no one who can help you now! Surrender!”
“Never!” Browning spat as he pulled out his weapon. With its teleporting abilities somehow disabled, no doubt by something special that the Parademons were armed with, he could not rely upon the Angler’s ability to disorient his opponents. He was reduced to using it at its basest ability — as an energy-projecting weapon. He thrust the weapon out and fired wildly.
But, even at that, it wasn’t enough to stop this many opponents.
Soon, the Parademons were on him as they had been on Hero before, overwhelming him and overpowering him. Their attacks against him, though, were designed to subdue, not permanently injure. It wasn’t long before a blow to the head rendered him unconscious.
The Parademon leader shook his head in disgust. “This should have gone smoother.”
“We have our prize,” one of the others said as the four grabbed hold of Browning, one to each limb. “That is all that matters.”
The leader nodded. “We must get him to DeSaad at once.” Reaching to his belt, the Parademon activated a device.
A portal opened at the far end of the room, circular in shape and glowing. “Move out!” the leader called to the four. With nods, the group began to hover in the air and took flight toward the entrance. As soon as they encountered the field of the portal, they began to fade from view.
The Parademon leader rose off the ground and flew for the portal as well.
The sound of the opening of the Boom Tube was enough to snap the Bouncer back into a semi-awake state. What the–?! he thought. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw four of the creatures lifting the unconscious white man into the air and heading toward the portal. When they vanished, his eyes grew wide. They’re taking that guy!
The other Parademon lifted in the air and started toward the portal.
Can’t let them get away! the hero thought with determination. Despite the pain, he bolted to his feet and ran toward the portal.
The Parademon hit the portal and began to fade, not noticing he was being followed.
“Come back here!” he shouted as he dived into the air after the escaping creatures. The Bouncer hit the field and began to fade out, too.
Below, at Le Petite Bistro, the sound of police sirens could be heard in response to the call of the owner of the establishment. Enrique Lopez and the other patrons were forced to wait inside to give statements.
The Hispanic hairdresser stopped blotting the stain on his pants to glance around at the assembled group. “Hero?” he called out above the chattering, nervous crowd. There was no sign of the black man.
Enrique turned to an older woman. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said to her. “Have you seen a young black man about this high?” He gestured with the flat of his head to just above his own head. “Very short hair, earring?”
The older woman shook her head. “No, sorry.”
Enrique moved toward the door to the front patio and glanced out. He did not see the man anywhere out there. Where are you, Hero? he thought to himself.
There was a sound of loud boom, and then, moments later, another one.
Enrique glanced back at the group assembled, thinking maybe the young man was lost in the crowd. He was not. Enrique shook his head and frowned. This is twice now, he thought to himself. I guess I can take a hint.
The portal opened high in the crimson-hued skies above a dank, worn planet. The Parademons flew easily out of the opening and continued on toward some buildings in the distance.
A lone figure of a man then fell out of the end of the Boom Tube and plunged down to the surface below. “Aaa-aaa-aaahhh!” he screamed out, a bit disoriented as the thick, biting air rushed past his face.
He hit the ground with a loud thud and lay unmoving for a few moments.
When he started to stir, it was barely noticeable.
But his arrival and his plight did not go unnoticed. All about the area, from cracks in the surface and shadows about torn, ramshackle structures, eyes watched the fallen man with curiosity and anticipation. The air carried faint, indecipherable whispers.
Still in the form of the Bouncer, Hero Cruz groaned warily. “Anyone get the… ugh… number of that truck…?”
He tried to raise his head, only to fall back into an unconscious state.