This particular chapter is pretty much a stand alone story, but it does tie in to the main narrative of my book. I hope you enjoy and please comment!
Tracy Ford was hesitating. He was stalling but couldn’t help himself. Beyond the door in front of him undoubtedly lied grief and he knew it. He had been through a lot in the past month. Hospitalization. Interrogation by more government agencies than he had ever known existed. Quarantine. Testing. Then more recently, legal teams, and then to his surprise, training. He allowed his thoughts to drift back to that warm summer day, twenty-six days ago. He had come to call it simply ‘That Day’.
That day was normal in every way. He was on his way home after a relic hunting trip with some of his buddies. He was pleased with the amount and quality of their discoveries in that big field the day before. Tracy and his friends liked to call themselves ‘amateur archeologists’. They enjoyed nothing more than scouring a field or riverbed, and digging up whatever their metal detectors indicated was buried in the ground at their feet. Mostly they found detritus from Civil War camps. Odds and ends left behind as they moved location to location, battlefield to battlefield. Bullets. Belt buckles. Metal buttons. A variety of interesting items were out there if you only took the time to look. It was all good.
Tracy was looking forward to getting home to a nice hot shower and spending time with his widowed father. Tracy was a good son, who had supported his parents in any way possible. It had been rough for a time, watching the cancer eat away at the mother he loved so much. It had been rougher still letting her go. Now he tried to help comfort his father who was still feeling the loss. He heard the sirens well before the firetrucks turned the corner and went racing past him, lights flashing, the wail drowning out everything else. Tracy immediately turned the corner from which they came, backtracking their route until he arrived at what he liked to call the ‘Far House’, overemphasizing his southern accent. Tracy was a firefighter and this fire hall was his second home. “What’s up?” he asked Justin who had been left behind to man the firehouse. “Big residential out on Old River Road! Might be bad!” he said as he watched Tracy grab his gear and throw it into his jeep. “I’ll find it!” Tracy yelled at his co-worker as he did a quick three point turn headed in the direction he had seen the firetrucks flying to.
He might have been off duty, but he wanted to be ready and available just in case they needed his assistance. He took the turns at alarming speed, eventually hearing the wailing sirens, easily following the sound to the source. He could see the smoke rising well before he got there. It was a big one. A huge, old two story home, flames pouring from every window, all of which had been broken by the fire’s pressure change. “Need any help?” Tracy asked the man feeding out firehose, as he struggled into his firefighting gear. “Maybe.” Terry said, “That old place is a tinderbox and it’s not going to be easy to put out.” Everybody out?” “Not sure. The old lady is out, but isn’t sure if her husband is here or not. His truck is here, but he might be over the hill in the back of the house, at their barn, or he might still be inside. Todd and Brian are inside now searching for him in case he is still in there.” As he finished pulling on the last of his gear, Tracy was watching the front of the house, where he was relieved to see Brian emerge from the front door, helping an elderly man through the rolling, thick, black smoke. “Where’s Todd?” Tracy asked Brian, racing to help him maneuver the old guy to the waiting EMT truck. “Not sure. He went upstairs to search while I checked the downstairs. It’s a big house! I found the old guy in the kitchen, on his knees. He’d been trying to put out the fire with a small extinguisher and was about to pass out from the smoke. I just grabbed him and aimed for the door. I guess Todd is still looking or on his way out.”
Before Tracy could reply, all heads turned to a loud groaning, then a cacophonous roar as the house began collapsing inside. “I’m going in!” Tracy yelled as he raced to the front door. As he entered, he saw liquid fire rolling across what was left of the first floor ceiling. Everything to the right of the central staircase had fallen, burning beams a maze as he fought to get around and through the blazing debris. Tracy caught a glimpse of bright yellow and headed for it. “YES!” Tracy thought as he saw that it was Todd’s protective clothing and vaulted over the angled beam between them. “Gotcha, Bud!” Tracy told Todd, as he helped him to his feet. “Let’s get the hell out of here, before the rest of the place drops!” Todd nodded, but before they could move any further, Tracy heard the moaning above him and knew it was too late. The roof of the house dropped, raining hellfire all around them.
Tracy really didn’t fully remember what happened next. He had seen the cell phone videos taken by rubbernecking neighbors, but it was still hard for him to believe what occurred. According to the videos, the entire roof collapsed, forcing mountains of smoke out to form billowing clouds as black as the pits of hell. You could hear his fellow firefighters , yelling and screaming racing toward the house, to be pushed back by the explosive heat and smoke. Chaos was in the air, charging the scene with frantic activity. Then it got weird. Views from several phones showed a massive, electric blue, translucent bubble growing outward through the smoke. It expanded until it encompassed all that was left of the house. Then with a sound not unlike a popping, bubble gum bubble, it imploded with one final bright flash, and suddenly the fire was out. Gone. All that was left was a burned shell with an odd, white mist wafting away from it on the slight breeze. The many faces caught on video were looking back and forth in terror and confusion, no one knowing what they had just witnessed.
What happened next is what made Tracy Ford instantly famous. Two figures burst from the rubble, one carrying the other in his arms. The prone figure was Todd, but the other was something never seen before. It was shaped like a man, but could not be a man. Looking like nothing less than a moving glass statue, it gleamed in the sunlight, a thin, shiny, man shaped sheath enveloping a brilliant, swirling plasma of yellows, oranges and reds. It took several steps forward away from the wreck of the house, and then collapsed onto the smoke blackened lawn, spilling Todd onto the grass. The shock paralyzed firefighters all broke as one and rushed toward their downed comrade. As they raced forward one man went down, then another, suddenly on their backs, startled. “What the hell?” one exclaimed. “Ice! Ice?” another said, “There’s ice everywhere!” spreading his arms to indicate the area all around them. What had once been firehose drenched lawn was now a solid sheet of ice, growing to a perfect edge that mimicked, perimeter of the strange bubble they had witnessed earlier.
Proceeding with a bit more caution, two men reached Todd and helped him up, carrying him toward the awaiting EMT’s. The rest were in a semi-circle, cautiously staring at the strange figure still laying prone before them. They all took several involuntary steps backward when the figure suddenly, but slowly raised it’s impossible head, pushing up on its impossible arms, lifting itself to it’s knees. Various cuts of the several videos showed all of this. The expressions of everyone filmed, revealed a combination of bewilderment and fearful dismay. The inconceivable thing in front of them struggled to rise to it’s feet, the strange energies contained within it shifting and flowing under that odd, clear skin. It rose unsteadily, face down, shaking it’s head as to cast off it’s dazedness. It finally looked up, turning it’s blazing white eyes on those standing around it and the it said weakly, “Get back.” Then more forcefully it repeated, “Get back!” Tracy had remembered this part as he had watched the videos. He remembered feeling a fullness throughout his entire being. A terrible pressure was building inside him, and he felt as though he would explode. From his toes to fingertips, he felt the pressure increasing, threatening to burst him from the inside out.
“GET BACK!” he yelled one more time, firefighters scrambling in retreat as he threw his arms skyward, a massive eruption of napalm like fire forming a prodigious pillar that exploded into the heavens. He later learned that the spike of fire could be seen from over a mile away. For what seemed an eternity, he expelled this inferno, until it finally lessened. then winked out and suddenly the strange creature that had been there moments before was gone and all that was left was a very weak, very tired, very naked Tracy Ford. That’s when he passed out.
The next couple of weeks were a blur of frantic activity. First the hospital stay, complete with armed guards. This is where he learned that the public had been shown the incredible footage of the events of that strange day. The hospital had been surrounded by a sea of sattelite dish equipped news vans, circling helicopters and a flood of reporters. Next came the transfer to some military base he had never heard of, where he was poked and prodded by a never ending river of doctors, nurses, scientists and theoreticians. He had agreed to this, because he wanted to get a little peace and he really, really wanted to find out what the hell had happened to him. Tracy had seen some of the weird videos that had been popping up ever more frequently of other people that seemed to show them using strange powers, but he figured they were all misinterpreted or flat out fakes. A woman with wings? A lizard man? A guy throwing a John Deere tractor half the length of a football field? “Bullshit!”he had thought. He didn’t think “bullshit” now. He knew better.
He learned that testing of the event site had convinced the scientists that the bubble that had been formed was Tracy somehow absorbing all the heat energy in the area which snuffed out the fire and left him a walking shell of energy, not unlike the roiling surface of the sun. It also left everything it touched frozen solid. Luckily, for some reason, his holding Todd had protected him from the worst of the freezing, and becoming a flash frozen firefighter. Todd had a few minor burns from the fire and a broken left arm, but the worst had been a bad case of hypothermia, which was treated quickly and effectively, much to Tracy’s relief.
He was not able to control absorbing heat energy. It was not as radical as at the first event, but being around him was like being in a walk in freezer. He was absorbing the ambient heat energy everywhere he went. People had to dress in arctic wear to work around him. After so long of this, he would feel the pressure building and he would be placed in an open field within the confines of the base and there he could relieve the pressure by shooting streams of fire from his hands. This scared the hell out of him. They had no idea how to help him get rid of this power or even how to control it. This scared him even more. How could he ever hope to live a normal life if he was a constant danger to everyone around him? They tried to deny him contact with the outside world altogether, until he threatened to “napalm the shit out of them if they didn’t get him a damned phone.” They got him a phone. After contacting those closest to him and assuring them that he was ok, he kept in daily contact with his father and his girlfriend, and he also contacted a good friend who was a lawyer and began gathering information on whether it was legal to keep him incarcerated or not. He wasn’t ready to leave yet, but he didn’t want anything standing in his way when he decided it was time to go.
Then came the night he heard a tapping at his window, which was quite startling since he was quartered in a second floor billet. He went to the window, raised the shade, drew back the curtain only to find himself to be face to face with a man floating in mid air. He opened the window, wide eyed at the sight before him and the man said, “I can help you if you want.” After a brief, condensed explanation, he agreed to go with this flying man. Of course his disappearance had later sent the base into a frenzy when it was discovered he was gone, but he didn’t care. He needed help and this floating man sounded like his best chance. It had been. He was flown by the man to what appeared to be a very nice home, that was surprisingly only about 30 miles from his hometown of Newport Tennessee. In this case appearances were definitely deceiving. This house was actually a complex with underground facilities unlike anything Tracy had ever imagined. There he was told the whole story about how there are many different realities. Universes that are alike in many ways and vastly different in many other ways. He learned how the flying man and a few others with him were from one of those other realities and had been principal in the event that had unleashed what they had called “The Godseed” into this universe, changing it forever. Tracy learned much to his surprise that the comic books he had read as a kid, were actually relating tales from this other universe. He learned a lot of things over the next week spent in the compound.
Following the instructions offered by the flying man and his associates, Tracy was able to actually gain real control over his new abilities. He also learned that with this new mastery, he could do even more than he could ever have imagined. They taught him how to contain the energy he consumed until he was ready to release it. He learned that by focusing the energy, he could become weightless and using directed bursts, he could actually fly at jet like speeds. He could also focus the power within him into kinetic energy, which translated into astounding strength. He was most pleased to learn he did not have to be a danger to those he loved.
Now he stands in front of this door, hand slowly turning the knob, bracing himself for what he knows is waiting for him when he crosses that threshold. Enough was enough. It was time. He threw open the door, stepped into the large room and announced quite loudly, “Hey Dickheads! I’m back!” Many heads jerked and swiveled in Tracy’s direction and he was greeted with a series of overlapping insults. “Fuck you too, asshole!” “Suck it, Tracy!” “Were you gone? We didn’t notice, you lazy ass!” “Have a good vacation, Jerkwad?” and more, one drowning out the next. Then he was surrounded by a bevy of firefighters, wives, girlfriends and other assorted friends, hugging him, slapping him on the back, just welcoming him home. And he was home here at the ‘Far House’. He had called to let him know he was coming and assured them that there was nothing to fear from him. They had taken him at his word and had all assembled here to show their love and concern for him. These were his people. These were his family.
After the initial tumult resulting from his entrance, everyone gradually calmed into a normal state of casual disorder. Tracy was the center of attention of course, fielding questions flying fast and furious from everyone present. “Chill out!” Tracy demanded, a big, goofy, grateful smile on his face. “Calm down and I’ll give you the whole scoop. At least what I can tell you, ok?” With only a little good natured grumbling, the gathered group began to settle down. And then he told them. Pretty much everything. He didn’t give up much about who had finally been able to train him out of respect for their privacy, but he was able to satisfy the vast majority of the curiosity that had previously filled the room. But not all of it. They still had some questions.
“So, you’ve got a for real superpower. We’re seeing a lot of that kind of thing lately. Any idea why?” One face asked. “Yeah, but I can’t tell you just yet, but there’s going to be a public announcement in jus a couple of days.” “Bullshit, Dude!”, said another face, “You can tell us. Hell, you HAVE to tell us! We can keep it on the downlow for a few days. Right, guys?” This was answered with a chorus of “Hell, yeah”s” and “You know it’s.” Tracy thought for a moment and after weighing it, decided that he could trust these people with the secret of “The Event”. “Do any of you know who I’m talking about when I say ‘The Protectors’?” “Yeah!” one blurted. “That’s like that super-group, with Superman and Batman!” “No dumbass!” countered another. That’s DC. The Protectors are Thunderbolt comics. Apex, Black Beast, Asguardia and the Blue Bolt! Don’t you know anything?” “Blue STREAK.” corrected Tracy. “Yeah, right. Blue Streak.” conceded the man. “Well, believe it or not, they’re real.They’ve come here from another universe. I’ve met some of them.” Tracy grinned. This was followed by a symphony of ‘Bullshit’s and other accusatory denials. “No bullshit!” Tracy said. “I’m serious as a heart attack. They’re real and are going to go public in just a couple of days. They were part of the events that led up to people now being able to get super powers in our universe. It’s kind of technical, so I’ll just say nothing is EVER going to be the same again!” This revelation silenced the room. The quiet was broken by Todd who said, “I’ve got a question. Are you aware that the video of you that day is the most viral thing ever, and now the entire world has seen your naked dongle?”
Tracy was taken aback a bit by this, as his friends all hooted and whistled like friends do when ragging a buddy. After a moment taken to gather his thoughts, he finally replied, “That’s ok. I’ve got a great dongle!” Which was followed by more hoots and whistles. “You think so? Looks more like a dingle than a dongle to me!” said another. This was met with uproarious laughter. “Hey!” one interjected, “You’ve got a superpower. Got a superhero name to go with it?” Sheepishly, Tracy admitted, “I’ve been thinking about one, but I haven’t’ come up with anything I like. It’s kind of corny when you think about it.” “Well sheeit, boy! We’ll help you out! What do you all think Tracy’s superhero name should be?” “The Tiny Blazing Penis”, said Brian, everyone laughing as they all started having fun with this. Not being able to help himself, Tracy turned to Brian and said, “If you don’t give it a rest, I’ll suck the heat out of your penis and give you frostbite of the dongle!” Silence. It was too late and he knew it. He had given them the perfect set up. “OH MY GOD!” said Brian, “Did you hear that? Tracy just said he wants to suck my hot penis!” Hilarity ensued. Another said, “I think that means he should be called “The Big Flamer!” People were choking on their laughter now. This was the grief he had expected. The good type of grief given to you by your best friends. “Fire Man!” offered another voice. “That’s lame!” Came the quick reply. This was how people who relied on each other expressed their camaraderie. Guys were like this normally, but amongst those that lived together, trained together and relied on each other with their very lives, humor was a necessity. Laughter kept the spirits up and the inescapable fear at bay. This was his family, behaving like his family. “The Heat Sink”, was offered. “The Human Torch!” “That’s already taken, knumbnuts! “You guys are hopeless!” said Tracy, laughing loudly. “Well, if you’re so much smarter than us, why haven’t you picked a name already, hot shot?” came a reply to his laughter. Tracy jerked his head up, lifting his hand to quiet them down. “Hot shot?”, he said slowly. “Hot Shot!” he said with more resonance to his voice.
“Thank you, boys. I think that’s it. Hot Shot is cool! That just sounds like me.”, and that quickly it was decided. Tracy Ford would be known to the world as “Hot Shot!