Outside the window and far below on the street, in the park, there were people of all kinds. Each one had a story, each had a life. It had been so long since Max felt he had a life. He used to be a person, but now he didn't act in the great play; he just observed the actors and their struggling. The mom who was late taking her two boys to soccer practice. The homeless man wasting away his life in the filth of the dumpsters. The businessman in his finely polished dress shoes and sharp-looking suit.
And, of course, the children. He seemed to watch them the most, when he did watch at all. They skipped and ran, pushed each other and laughed. They just enjoyed life, not knowing they had but a short time until their childish thoughts shifted to worldly ambitions. Then they would forget all about the simple pleasures of running through a sprinkler on a hot day, rolling on the grass with a puppy, even the incredible flavor of an ice cream cone eaten while sitting with their moms in the park.
Of course, life must move on. No one can stay the same forever .
At least, thats what he was thinking as his blissful silence was broken by a buzz. It was not loud, but he had come to hate that sound, finding it worse then a thousand dentist drills. With a sigh he turned from the window, spun around in his tall-backed chair, and touched the flashing red button on the phone in front of him.
"Yes, Jennifer, what is it?" he said coldly into the phone.
"Sorry to bother you during lunch, but Mr. Osaka is on line three. I told him you were busy, but he insisted on talking with you right away."
Internally he groaned. This wasnt what he needed when he was so drawn inward. He took a long lunch break for a reason. He considered doling out harsh words to his secretary, but in the end decided against it, knowing it would just stress their already tenuous relationship and perhaps snap it. Jennifer was the closest thing he had to a friend right now, and that he didnt think he could afford to lose.
"No apologies necessary," he said, thinking back to a simpler time. "Pipe him through, Jenn."
"Yes, Mr. James. Right away."
He chuckled, a rare occurrence for him nowadays, then picked up the phone. He endured the familiar three- or four-second wait until the earpiece crackled into life, and he heard the agitated voice of Mr. Hiban Osaka. "Did you think you could just avoid me for the rest of this quarter, Max? You told me Intagrid would be ready the first of this year, and its already February !"
Max opened his mouth to respond, but getting a word in when Hiban was this upset was next to impossible. More than ever he wanted to go home, to just forget about his deadlines and obligations.
God, the man was still talking. More plague then human, in Maxs opinion.
". foolish, absolutely foolish. You try explaining something like that to your board of directors. If I dont get some solid proof that this can be sold commercially, and I mean yesterday, Im dropping our contract!"
The Japanese man finally stopped long enough to breath. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Max leaned back in his chair and spoke in a calm voice. "Hiban, listen to me. Do you think I want to make a fool out of you?" Well, it might be a little satisfying, he reflected silently. "I have a lot riding on the success of this as well, but how is it going to look when we release Intagrid into stores and six months later it starts killing our customers and trying to take over the world? You ever seen the Terminator?"
Max was just trying to be humorous, something else he hadnt been for a long time, but Hibans response on the other end was definitely not amused. "Maxwell, this is not a matter I take whatsoever lightly. My companys continued survival depends solely on you completing Intagrid. If it is not done by the end of next week, Ill ."
"Youll wait another week," Max said, finishing the other mans sentence in a calm, stern voice. "Enough of being polite. You and I both know that you will wait as long as it takes, because in your own words your companys future depends on this. Ive sat though enough of these verbal bashings." Shifting in his chair, Max sat up straighter and tightened his grip on the phones handle. He swiveled around and looked out the large window once more. Then he continued in the same tone of voice: "You came to me because Im the best at what I do. Ive been contracted by hundreds of others from companies like yours, as well as the military. You know why those people come to me?"
Dead silence on the other end.
Max took a breath. "Because I do it well and I do it right." With his free hand he rubbed the bridge of his noise as if he were wearing glasses. "You asked me to build a home security system that would make people think they lived in old Fort Knox, that was cheap enough for the average middle-class consumer, AND that would be ready to be mass produced in only a year. Now I may be a whiz at this, but thats a tall order. I had to invent several of the components from scratch to make this work the way you wanted. You have my guarantee that the second its ready for commercial use, youll know."
Max watched the flight of a passing bird and waited for some kind of response. Really, the hardest part of this was trying to sound sincere in what he said, when first, he felt so dead inside, incapable of being sincere, and second, it was mostly crap. He had technology a hundred generations more advanced then what he was making for Hiban and his company, but he couldnt introduce it without everyone and their uncles asking how he came up with it. Being considered a genius only took you so far.
"Very well, Max." The stubborn Hibans voice held barely a trace of the anger he was surely feeling. "Get it to me as soon as you can, but make no mistake . Ill only wait for so long. I do have other options, after all." With that there was a click, then a dead line.
Gah, the man is truly annoying, Max thought, swiveling around in his chair. He swore hed screen his contractors better in the future. The desire to go home was now exploding inside him, but he knew he had to finish some critical paperwork, then go down to R&D before he could even consider taking a break, let alone go home. He closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose again, trying to summon up the strength to go on.
Just as he started to rise from his chair, another sound shattered the silence. This time it emanated from the small cell phone in his pocket. Almost cursing, he took it out, flipped it open, then pressed the receive button and put it to his ear and mouth. "Max here. Make it good." He didnt need to be polite or businesslike at all on this phone. Only a few people had the number, and they only used it when it was important.
The voice on the other end of the line was deep and somewhat strained. "Is that any way to greet friends, Lukan?"
It took Max a moment to place the voice, the delay in recognition only because of the surprise at someone using his true name. The smallest trace of a smile touched his lips, and his tone warmed slightly. "Solace, you arrogant bastard, what have you been up to? Its been far too long since Ive heard that scary-ass voice of yours."
The laugh on the other end was just as strained as the speech. "Lukan, I want to catch up with ya, but I have a big problem, and I need your help like right now to fix it."
Maxs faint smile vanished, to be replaced by the emotionless look he typically wore. He shook his head to himself as he settled back in his chair. "The answer is no. I know that tone of voice, and I know I wont like whatever youre about to say."
"Its Max now, Solace," he interrupted swiftly. "I am not Lukan, I am not Chance. All I am is Max." A long time ago it might have hurt him to speak those words, but he was far beyond hurt now. He no longer felt much of anything. It was like a broken circuit; the feelings occurred, but along the way they met a dead space and the emotions just never made it to the part of him that cared.
There was real pain in the other mans voice as he started speaking again. "Fine, Max then, but no matter who you say you are, I need you."
Solace sounded so desperate. Max had been with the man before, in battle. Bullets had flown past them, bodies of dead friends littered the ground, but Solace had never sounded like this before. "All right, you have my full attention. What is it you need me to do?"
Relief flooded Solaces voice. "Well, Destiny is in trouble, and youre the only one Im sure can help her."
Max blinked at the name. Destiny was Solaces younger sister and had been a close friend of his. People had often made fun of the pair when he went by his old name, Chance Fate. But with names like theirs, it couldnt have been avoided. The thought of Destiny in trouble stirred up something in him and he knew he had to do what he could. "Tell me exactly whats wrong."
Solace continued quickly, sounding far better, though worry was still plain in his tone. "Something is seriously wrong with her, like a sickness. She nearly set the Doss on fire an hour ago. If I dont do something soon I think she might . she might not make it."
Anyone else might have assumed Destiny was a mentally ill pyromaniac, but Max knew better then that. Panic started to rise in him, knowing why Solace needed him; he so badly wanted to say no but was unable to. His heart may have grown cold, but he was not so inhuman as to not feel compassion in this situation.
Despite this, Max wanted to strike Solace for making him come to this decision. But his anger was not reflected in his voice as he responded. "Very well, Ill do what I can for her. Give me a few minuets to tie up loose ends that might arise here, and Ill ."
The sound of an explosion cracked though the cell phone, along with a scream that most certainly belonged to his friend.
"Solace!" Max jumped to his feet with awesome swiftness and moved to the center of his office.
There was no response on the other end except for a faint sizzling sound.
Max dropped the phone on the floor and raised a hand in front of him as if willing an invisible force to move out of his way.
The quickness and power of the energy that suddenly flooded him was not surprising in the least. He knew that over the years the power he wielded had only gotten stronger; he just never tapped it anymore. His right arm started to glow blue, almost like a flashlight had been turned on under his skin. Its like riding a bicycle, he thought as the fabric of reality started to bend in front of himmolecules rearranging to connect two points in space. Anyone standing next to him would have seen a blurry circle form about a foot away from his hand. It rippled like a drop of water hitting the surface of a pond.
Max didnt know precisely where in the Doss Solace was, but he hoped the doorway was close enough to him and Destiny. In seconds it had finished forming, and he raced forward to enter his creation.
He had done this many times in his past, but after so long he knew there would be some dizzying effects from the travel. He did not, however, expect that the second he started to pass though the doorway, he would be slammed backwards as if a brick wall had run into him. So shocked was he by his failure to enter the doorway that at first he didnt notice Jennifer standing in the real doorway of his office, her jaw practically on the floor. But he saw her quickly enough.
This can be salvaged, he thought, a second before the cause of his fall came though the doorway, a very large and badly burned troll carrying a woman in her twenties. As the troll lightly dropped the young girl on the ground two things became clear. Her body was totally engulfed in fire without a burn on her and she was completely naked.
Thoughts of salvaging the situation were gone as a streak of fire flew upwards and slammed into the ceiling. An explosion very similar to the one he had heard over the cell phone now loudly resounded in his office.
Max didnt have time to look at Jennifer, but he could imagine her reaction. His hand was up in front of him and glowing bright blue in moments. Everything except for himself and Destiny were quickly pushed from his mind. Pulsing with energy, he did the first thing that came to his mind.
The air surrounding Destiny started to change. Though no one in the room but Max could see the change, an invisible bubble formed around the naked girl. Another streak of fire snaked out from her body, but it met the hardened field around her and dissipated.
Max snapped his gaze to Solace. "What the hell is going on?"
Standing at just under eight feet tall, Solace easily dwarfed everyone in the room, looking especially tall in comparison to the human girl he carried in. A loose-fitting gray jacket covered almost his entire body, hiding anything he had on under it. His thick black boots made a loud thud every time he moved. His eyes were ice blue, and an orange shock of coarse hair lay atop his head. He looked at Max and seemed overwhelmed with relief, which was quickly replaced by panic as he turned back to his sister. "I dont know, chummer. Like I told you, shes been like this all day now. I sure as hell cant do anything about it."
Max nodded at Solace, then flicked his glance to Jennifer and sighed. "Solace, make sure she doesnt leave here." Then he moved over to Destinys trapped form. Streaks of fire were still shooting from her body, hitting the field around her, then vanishing. With every attack he could feel a part of him weaken, but not so much that he would be affected in any short-term way.
As he laid his hands gently on the field he heard muffled screams behind him; he didnt need to look to know Solace was doing what he needed to do. Max couldnt blame Jenn for struggling. After all, she had no idea what was going on.
Destiny lunged at Max but bounced off the kinetic field and ended up flat on her back. He winced and quickly set to work trying to find the problem. Closing his eyes, he extended his mind outwards, trying to force a telepathic bond between himself and Destiny. While he was quite strong in other areas, mental abilities had always been one of his weakest points. Despite both his mother and father being abnormally powerful with mental magic, he had never been given the proper training as a child to strengthen those innate gifts and had never reached his full potential.
However, the strength of his mental power peaked and he suddenly felt Destiny. He recoiled from the field and took a sharp breath. Normally he could only read surface thoughts and emotions from a person at such a low level of connection, but Destinys every thought WAS on the surface. Rage, depression, fear, paranoiaall rolled off her in crashing waves of raw emotion. He wanted to break the link and move away, but he could not let her down, nor her brother.
As Max tried to delve deeper into Destinys mind to find the source of this irrational behavior, he considered that had he kept up his training, things like this would not be so much of a shock to his system. There was a reason he had changed his name and tried to stay out of the public eye. He had many enemies, but if he was not able to call forth his powers reliably if he was attacked, he would be dead quickly. Training would also have helped in cases such as this.
Things suddenly snapped into focus for Max, as clear as if a sign was stapled to Destinys forehead for him to read. He muttered in a toneless voice "Solace, an outside force is controlling her." His eyes snapped open, and he looked at the portal he had made. It was still open, which meant that who or whatever was controlling her had a window to her. The Psion or mental mage that was doing this would have to be in close proximity to her, and with the portal still open, it was as if she was still inside the Doss. If Max closed it, an entire realm would separate her and the force controlling her but if the being still had control of her after the portal closed, there was no way hed be able to stop a link that powerful anyway.
Max lifted his hand once more and snapped it shut like squeezing something in his hand. Abruptly the portal closed. The sounds of fiery explosions ceased. Looking at Destiny, he saw that she was no longer emitting fire. In fact, she appeared to be unconscious. The bubble around her vanished, and Solace was at her side within a second. Max looked to the doorway to see Jenns mouth gagged and arms and legs tied up. He shook his head once more and muttered "This could have turned out better."
Then he was at Destinys side as well, looking at Solace with a mix of compassion for what he must be feeling and happiness at seeing him. Had Jenn not been bound and gagged, she would have been shocked to see the smile that crossed his face. It was warm and genuine, nothing like the coldness usually associated with him. His body was spent and he felt a bit dizzy, but he had not felt this good for a while.
Solaces deep voice suddenly boomed, though his gaze didnt move from his sister. "Will she be all right, chummer?"
Max nodded, still smiling, "Yeah, shes going to be fine. Youre going to have to find out whos doing this to her, but until that happens you two will stay at my house here in the Mundane. She cant go back to the Shadows until the person doing this is dead or has their powers stripped."
The troll nodded and clapped Max hard on the back, nearly causing him to fall on his face. Max looked down at Destiny, now acutely aware that she was naked. He blushed slightly and looked away, causing Solace to laugh. "You still carry a torch for her, chummer? Im sure shed be happy to hear so when she wakes up."
Max regained his composure and shook his head, the thought bringing up his defenses fast and hard. He stood up and brushed his shirt and pants smooth.
Solace could almost feel the change in his attitude and shut up quickly. Picking up his naked sister he held her close, then looked at Max. "I want to get her dressed and in a bed. I still worry about her. The two of us cant exactly go though the front door. How can we get to a safe place?"
Max looked at the center of his office. A new Portal suddenly appeared there. He looked to his friend and his sister and nodded towards it. "Take her through there. It leads right into the guest room of my house. Youll be safe there, I guarantee. Wraiths will take care of anything you need. Youll see me soon enough. I need to take care of some things around herefirst, though, obviously ." He gestured at Jenn.
The troll nodded, and his face split in a grin "Thank you, Lukan, this means more to me than you know."
Max nearly argued about the name, but Solace was though the doorway quicker then one might expect for such a large frame. A small smile pulled at the corners of his mouth, and he closed the Portal behind them.
Whatever happiness hed experienced vanished as he turned and saw Jennifer staring at him with wide, scared eyes. She was not struggling with her binds, probably thinking it would be futile to try and escape after all she had just seen him do.
He swallowed softly and said, "I dont suppose theres any chance youd want to take the blue pill?"
He was referring to another movie, The Matrix. She had to have understood the joke because he had gotten it for her as a birthday present just about a year ago.
She did not look amused.
Not amused was quite an understatement, actually. There was a mixture of anger and fear in her eyes that he admired well, the anger part, at least. Any normal human capable of showing anything but terror in a situation like this was someone to admire. Max considered voicing that compliment but decided it would only make the situation worse.
A pin could have been heard dropping in the office as he crossed the room and moved over to the doorway where Jenn was tied up. The two were usually the only ones on this floor of the building, a fact that he was very thankful for at the moment. They were on the 14th floor in fact, another thing he considered lucky, because the only thing above them was the roof. Unless someone was up there now, no one would have heard the noises that had come from his office.
Jennifer barely reacted as he knelt next to her and looked her in the eyes. Besides the mixed look she gave him, she seemed fairly calm, at least more so then when she had walked in earlier. He tried to think of what to say, but nothing came to mind. What does one tell another person when that person has just witnessed him opening portals and creating invisible force fields?
"I can only imagine what youre thinking right now but its not as bad as it seems. I assure you Im no threat to you."
She just continued to stare at him.
"If youre wondering why you didnt catch on to any of this sooner, its because this is the first time in a long while I've used my powers."
She still just looked at him, her face not even changing expressions.
He cleared his throat a bit. "Look I dont want you to be uncomfortable you promise not to scream if I take the gag off?" It occurred to him how clichéd that sounded, but it was already out of his mouth, so no worrying about it now.
Jenn looked at him very closely, then nodded. Smiling slightly, he reached behind her head and quickly untied the knot in back. Slowly he pulled his hands away, gag in fist, and looked at her. She worked her jaw back and forth slowly, then looked him in the eyes. "What the hell are you?" she asked coolly.
"A lover and a fighter," he replied immediately.
The cold look she gave him indicated she definitely was not in the mood for jokes, and he really didnt understand why he was making them in the first place. No amount of laughter was going to get him out of this.
"Im a human like you," he said after a moment, figuring there was no point in lies now. "But Im also part dragon and part demon. No joking this time." He added the last because of the angry glance she gave him once again.
Either because she decided she believed him, or because she was not going to get a straight answer, she moved on. "That thing he called you Lukan. Is that your real name?"
Max nodded slowly, grudgingly. "It was the name I was given at birth though that was another lifetime ago. Id appreciate it if you just called me Max."
Jenns gaze turned questioning, curiosity brewing within her hazel depths.
Turning away from her, Max stood up and smoothed out his pants, speaking once more as he looked out the window behind his desk. "Lukan died a long time ago, Jennifer. I put everything in that life behind me well, almost everything. You cant just sever the friendships youve made over decades."
He winced after saying that, knowing he was just digging himself a deeper and deeper pit. At most he looked about 25 years old, though those who truly knew him had known him for many more years than that.
"What are you going to do to me?"
Max turned around quickly and blinked, both startled by the question and the tone it was delivered in. Whatever strength Jennifer had before had waned. The fear he had first seen when he looked at her was back again. She didnt look like she was about to break down crying, but like anyone in her situation, she was struggling to make sense of what was going on and what was going to happen.
He licked his lips slowly. "Well theres no point in lying to you. Im going to have to call in a favor and get someone here to erase your memory. I dont want to hurt you by trying to do it myself."
Pausing, he looked at her shocked face, and he frowned because he had hoped she wouldnt take it so hard. Before she could say anything, he said quickly, "You dont need to worry about anything. It wont hurt, and youll come in tomorrow like none of this ever happened."
Her lips moved silently for a moment, as if trying to force out words. Then she said quietly, "You you cant do that. You cant just go into my head and wipe this away!"
"Jenn, I have no choice. You know something that I wouldnt wish on anyone. You now know there are forces in this world that are by no means normal. Maybe you dont realize what Ive been telling you but Im a dragon. Im over a hundred years old. That "thing," as you called him, is a troll from another reality. I can rip open the very fabric of matter and play with it. Hell, my cell phone has a chip in it that lets me talk to wizards, fairies, and forces of evil so dark that just gazing on them would make you want to rip your eyes out! Now you tell me if you want that knowledge. You tell me if you can go on every day of your life until you die, knowing all this."
He had not expected to address her in such a blunt way, but something inside him was hurting, a part of him that he had neglected for a very long time. He couldnt stand the thought of Jenn having to feel the kind of pain that came from knowing so much.
Russell Reznick has recently been officially inducted into the world of adulthood, having just turned 20 at the beginning of January. He also hates being referred to in the third person. Heh.
My love of reading started with Stephen King
books. I later moved on to Dean
I have just recently finished classes to become a computer repair technician and am now taking web design classes. I like pop, rock, alternative, and various other kinds of music. "I enjoy mountain climbing, Parasailing and water skiing" is something you will never hear me say because it's not at all true. My muse is named Jenn.