Kyle Yeager huddled in an abandoned mansion that was not his own. All of eighteen-years-old he traded some fuel he siphoned from some cars to an old lady who now baked her own bread, among other rarities.
The bread tasted amazing and was a Godsend right now, since he hadn’t anything else to eat in two days. He was scuttling down what was once the richest part of the city, grand mansions now empty and dark, decadence gone astray, hiding his bread and figured why not.
No one lived there anymore and he’d always wanted to see the inside of just one of these houses. Coming from a working class family, they never had much more than a modest ranch house with three small bedrooms for a family of six.
He didn’t know what happened to them, his mother and father, his two brothers and sister. When the disasters came and the black smoke blotted the sun and the quakes tore the streets open, he was knocked unconscious. He woke in a neighbor’s basement unsure of how he got there. Beside him was the body of Maryanne Milford, one of his mother’s friends and neighbor. She’d cut her own wrists open.
He learned quickly how to survive. Staying hidden at night. Trading goods with others in the city by day. Making allies with the innocent. Minding his own business when he saw something strange or unsettling.
He would move from home to home, rummaging through what was left, gathering supplies and then meeting at touch points with others to trade. So far it worked.
This house was his favorite yet. It had a game room with billiards and dart boards. A small bar in the corner of the room contained a couple of half full bottles of vodka and tequila. He stowed them in his pack and gobbled down the rest of his bread.
He stepped into the hallway. It was carpeted but it smelled musty, the ceiling unfortunately leaked now. Mold spread across the plastered walls, ruined paintings hung askew.
He reached the staircase, a massive twisting banister riddled with scratches curled down into the dark. Kyle stepped onto the first stair and froze. A noise below caught his attention.
Movement stirred, heavy steps, a thud then some crashing furniture. He listened closely and heard snorting, sniveling and huffing.
Kyle backed up, crept down the hall and caught glimpse of a deformed shadow forming on the wall behind him. It was a mutant….searching the house for food. It tore through the downstairs and now headed for the upstairs. It probably picked up his scent already.
Kyle’s heartbeat picked up, his palms dampened. He started back to the game room and in his nervous haste bumped into the wall. A painting tumbled to the floor.
A roar erupted downstairs and the mutant stomped onto the stairs. There was no time, Kyle pressed himself against the wall, reaching for his bag, fumbling for one of the glass alcohol bottles when something incredible happened.
His arm became the color of the wall and blended perfectly with it. He looked down and his legs had taken on the same effect. A grunt caught his attention.
The beast’s bulbous head crowned the edge of the stairs and its threshold. Kyle reacted and pressed his entire body flat against the wall. He blended with it. Flesh became plaster, clothes vanished, even his bag hid inside the camouflage he was able to project.
The mutated creature, a cross between a pig and a human, a wet snout sniffing the air, cloven feet stomping the ground, skulked by him. It hadn’t seen him at all.
Kyle waited as it continued down the hall, punching the walls, kicking doors in. It roamed into a bedroom at the end of the hall and disappeared. Kyle took his chance.
He ran down the stairs and out the front door. “Time for a new neighborhood.”
Orchid was awakened by whimpering. At first she thought she was dreaming. She looked around the school’s basement and saw groups of people sleeping together including Jack, cradling his son Justin. Both slept soundly.
She got up and moved her way around the basement. She found Cesar sleeping but Morganna wasn’t with him. Usually she was either with Orchid or Cesar or at least nearby. Concerned now, Orchid searched on. The whimpering started up again. She let it lead her around some furnaces and air ducts. Rows of pipes filled the ceiling, some dripped with water. A supply closet was open in the back of the water heater’s chamber.
Orchid headed for the closet. She reached the door and a mop sailed past her.
“Stay away!” a small voice called.
“Morganna, it’s me,” Orchid said as she peered in and saw Morganna cowering in the corner of the closet.
“Yes, it’s me. Come out of there.”
“Where am I?”
“In a maintenance closet. What’s happened?”
“Another vision. Inside my dream.”
Orchid saw the young girl take hold of her green gemstone and instantly calm down. She pulled herself up and exited the closet.
“Are you okay?” asked Orchid.
“I was sleepwalking…running rather. The vision showed me a new man with power. An older man. He was not using his powers for good, Orchid. In the dream he came for me, chased me into a trap. He will not side with us.”
“We’ll just have to convince him then.”
“I don’t think he can be convinced. He’s getting stronger. Knows how to use his powers very well and doesn’t care who he hurts. He is called Solomon. And he thinks he should be king.”
“Just what we need right now, another whacko.”
“The masked man. He will come again. We need to find the others like you soon. Only together can we stop him. He is their weapon, meant to stop humanity from rising again.”
“I cannot say just now.”
“Of course you can’t.” Orchid smiled. “Well, will either of these two find us tonight?”
“Then c’mon, Let’s go back to bed.” Orchid put her hand out and Morganna took it.
“A tasty double feast,” Octavius said, eyeing Cameron and Lila. “Take them!”
Cameron jumped in front of wife and curled his fists. Rage shot through him, burning hot, tears ran rivers down his cheeks, his head dampened with sweat. “Don’t you touch her!” He yelled. “I will rip you apart!”
The white wolf howled…loud and baleful and leapt into the air.
It came down on the first cult member to charge and tore into him, ripping his chest to shreds with sharp teeth and paws.
The other cult members hesitated. Octavius’s face was a mask of anger. “Get them you fools! The God of the Feast demands it! Kill the damned mutt!” He lifted his sword against his own members and they charged.
The wolf’s howl was returned. Many howls cried into the night. A moment later a pack of street dogs charged the boathouse.
The pack of hungry dogs descended on the cult. Three more members fell to saliva-coated teeth and raking paws.
The cult began to scatter into the streets, shrieking, tripping over themselves. The white wolf jumped from its fresh kill and landed in front of Octavius. The two locked gazes. Octavius pointed his sword at the wolf. “We’ll meet again, beast.”
Octavius fled with the rest of his people and the wolf held his ground.
The dogs circled Cameron and Lila, whimpering, begging for accolades. Cameron turned to his trembling wife. She was in awe. Her mouth hung agape, her eyes were wide.
She hugged Cameron then looked up at him. “How? Did you do all of this?”
“I think indirectly,” he replied. “I’m as amazed as you.”
The wolf came to Cameron’s side. The rest of the dogs got down on their bellies and whined, tongues hanging out, tails wagging.
Cameron looked down at the white wolf and petted him. “It’s okay boy, they can go now.”
The wolf howled at his cousins and the pack ran off into the streets, back to their scavenging.
Cameron bent down to the wolf and put his head to its head. “That was awesome.”
The wolf licked his face.
Cameron laughed and wiped his mouth. “C’mon,” he took Lila’s hand. “Let’s get out of here and off of these streets.”
Luana stood over her rescued man and glared through her sunglasses. Seemed any kind of light these days irritated her. She marveled at her handy work and ran her gloved hands over him.
His eyes slowly opened. His lips parted. He finally woke from his surgical sleep. “What’s going on?” He looked down at himself. “What have you done to me!”
“I’ve made you better,” Luana replied. She looked up and down. His right hand was replaced with a metal one, a robotic hand with silvery serrated fingers. The right arm was embedded with wires that connected into his muscles and biceps. Parts of it had been replaced with plates and bolts. The joints were synthetic.
His left arm had a device bolted into his wrist with a small screen for reading coordinates and tracking movement and life signs. It was adorned with nodes and flashing lights. His left eye was covered with a monocle surgically grafted to his face that had a LED light. His left shoulder had a small laser cannon on it.
“With your right arm you can lift a car or take down a tree,” Luana began. “The device on your left hand will track all manner of energy for me, both biological and manufactured. You can command the laser cannon by will and the piece over your eye will give you a flawless aim. You are my warrior. One more powerful then all of my soldiers combined. I’m going to need you to take down that masked dude with all the power. Once I get his power under my control nothing will stop me.”
“You crazy bitch. You’ve turned me into a freak! I won’t fight for you…ever!”
“You won’t have much choice.”
“Think so? What if I just blow your head off right now?” The laser on his shoulder whirred with a hiss and pointed directly at Luana’s face.
“Please. You don’t think I’ve thought of betrayal? I wrote the book.” She pushed a button on her glove and the laser shut down, his arm went immobile and the eye’s light snuffed out. “A kill switch. One push deactivates your weapon systems. One more push and I stop your heart. Now, get up, we’ve got some hunting to do.” She pushed another button and his weapons and mobility returned.
He pulled himself up, weak at first then gaining control over his new body. He moved slowly, arms and legs heavy, a thud resounded on the floor as he set his feet on it.
“Oh yes,” Luana said. “I’ve replaced the muscles in your legs with robotics. You can now leap to the top of most buildings in the city.”