San Francisco, an old warehouse on Washington Street, late night
For longer than he’d care to think about, the only sounds echoing through the, mostly, abandoned warehouse had been the sounds of fists striking flesh and blood hitting the floor, all of it his. And still, despite what felt like an eternity of brutal punishment, the only sound Alex was really paying any attention to was the inhuman voice screaming bloody murder in his mind.
Through one swollen, partly-closed eye he could just barely make out the battered old bronze helmet resting on a table nearby. It wasn’t more than a handful of feet away, but tied securely as he was to a sturdy chair bolted to the ground it might as well have been on a different continent.
As the Triad enforcer took a moment to catch his breath and nurse his bruised knuckles Alex let his mind wander briefly, drowning out the frenzied demand for violence and bloodshed that echoed through his mind by thoroughly cursing himself for his own carelessness and idiocy for getting landed in this bloody mess.
It was just so fucking stupid! Surviving the insurrection, getting out of Iraq in one piece, all those years wandering, fleeing, surviving on his own, with the maddening influence of that damned voice growing stronger every single day, only to lose it all on his first fucking day “home” in San Francisco!
Alex managed a weak shake of his battered head, split lips mumbling something softly to himself as more blood dripped to the floor, much to the amusement of the three Triad enforcers. All of this just because he, for some god-forsaken reason, had had to get himself involved when he saw some pimp beating up one of his girls near Grant Avenue. He’d just meant to tell the punk to lay it off before he killed her but then the stupid motherfucker had pulled a knife on him… and then… it all went… red.
He was shaken out of his reverie by a jaw-rattling punch as the beating began anew, a fresh Triad member having apparently stepped up to the plate. Alex had long since lost count of for how long the beating had been going on, and at this point he wasn’t even entirely sure if he remembered why they were working him over. Something about wanting him to join their crew… or maybe spill the secrets of his powers?
Obviously someone had seen the rather horrific mess he had made of that pimp, and made sure his bosses were made aware of it, and like a green rookie fresh out of boot-camp he’d let them get the drop on him. If his eyes weren’t swelling up to a point where his tear ducts were blocked shut it would have been to cry for!
However, before he had a chance to let what remained of his consciousness be swallowed by self-loathing a most surprising sensation suddenly snapped his attention back to reality as the Triad thug swung hard… and missed completely, catching nothing but air with his fist, yet seemingly failing to notice!
Thinking for a moment that he’d completely lost what little remained of his mind, Alex could only watch in complete bafflement how the thug continued to punch and punish empty air, to the approving cheers of his two friends as if every blow had landed perfectly. Shaking his head hard in a feeble attempt to dislodge the cobwebs he suddenly caught a sliver of movement out of the corner of a half-closed eye, turning his head to focus on what revealed itself to be a young woman, probably barely out of her teens, sneaking across the warehouse floor towards him without making a sound, her almost inhumanly pretty face set in a grimace of pure concentration.
With all the grace and silence of a prowling cat she reached the chair he was bound to and set to work on the heavy-duty ropes tying him down, vaguely almond-shaped eyes still focused intently on the trio of brutes who continued to grin and cheer at the, apparently, expert pounding one of them was dishing out to the empty air.
“Shh… don’t move” she whispered through clenched teeth. “I’ve almost got you free but I can’t hold up the glamour much longer. We have to hurry and get out before they notice!”
As she finished the sentence, the last rope came undone and, acting purely on instinct and adrenaline, Alex hurled himself out of the chair and directly towards the small table, grasping hands closing around the helmet like a drowning man clutching at a life-belt. The racket, however, from his sudden leap and the disturbed table was more than the girl could manage to conceal and almost as one, the Triad trio turned in shock to face Alex just as he lowered the helmet down over his bruised and bloodied head “You guys wanted to learn my secret?” Alex growled in a voice that barely sounded human, even as bruises and swellings began to fade away like the girl’s illusion before their shocked eyes. “Well here… it… IS!”
He shouted out the last word in a terrifying voice loud enough to not only wake the dead, but to scare the life right back out of them again, bringing down one fist on the table, shattering it completely with a single blow!
Moving with almost surreal speed he snatched up one of the shattered table legs before it could even hit the ground, flipping the jagged piece of wood over in one hand before hurling it like an improvised javelin, catching the nearest thug in the throat with sufficient force to nearly decapitate him where he stood!
His two remaining friends could only watch in shock as he collapsed to the floor, a gushing jet of blood drowning any last cries he may have attempted to make. As they stood their, shell-shocked minds still trying to comprehend what had just happened, Alex exploded into movement. In what seemed like the blink of an eye he had covered the ground between them, snatching up the heavy chair as he moved past it, the metal bolts pinning it to the floor snapping with a scream of tortured metal that, fractions of a second later, was drowned out the by the pained scream of the second gangster as he smashed against the far wall with a sickening thud, his ribcage shattered by the force of the blow!
The last of the three, however, was apparently faster that his two unfortunate fellows and somehow managed to deploy a nasty-looking switch blade, lashing out at Alex with rather depressing results as the razored edge of the knife somehow glanced off against Alex’ unprotected side, barely leaving a shallow cut in its wake.
In return, Alex wasted little time bringing his armoured head down in a devastating head butt, crushing the thug’s face even as steel-hard fingers dug into the gasping man’s throat like barbed hooks, tearing it out in a gruesome shower of blood and viscera!
No more than a handful of heartbeats had passed since he’d been unleashed from his bonds, yet in those precious few seconds the warehouse had been turned into a slaughterhouse! Covered almost from head to toe in the blood of his former tormentors, Alex turned with agonising, exaggerated slowness to face the girl who had freed him.
She’d gone pale as a sheet, eyes wide in pure shock and terror at the scale and speed of the carnage that had unfolded before her unbelieving eyes, backing slowly away towards the furthest corner as she saw the expression creeping across his gruesome, blood-soaked visage.
In his ears, the irresistible roar of the Uncaged God pounded like a drum, drowning out any hope for rational thought and the denied, animalistic passions of thousands upon thousands of triumphant victors burned in his boiling blood. His face twisting into a feral grin he took another slow, measured step towards the frail, delicate and so utterly helpless girl before the alarmed shouts of another half-dozen Triad enforcers who had just burst through the door, weapons in hand, commanded the full scope of his terrible attention…
The Dog of War had been Unleashed!
Several days later, in a small flat somewhere on Grant street
Alex still wasn’t entirely certain why he had come, or what he was doing there or for that matter what was even going on as he watched the young, somewhat androgynous man work his “magic”. Expressive eyes set in a pale face were focused entirely on the screen, ghostly-green backlight making him look even paler than he already was, while slender fingers danced across the keyboard with a life of their own.
Alex was quite literally so far out of his depth in this brave new world of information highway hi-jacking that he might as well have been standing on the ocean floor, but everyone had assured him that this kid, Sal something or other, was the best of the best, and it wasn’t like he had any better options anyways.
Besides, as the kid dove deeper and deeper into the vast vaults of information, opening sealed doors with the flick of a finger, spinning an entire life’s worth of experiences and footprints from threads pulled out of empty air while whistling some tune Alex didn’t recognise either, he was beginning to think that people were selling this kid short.
In the blinking lights of server-racks and the gentle hum of over-worked cooling fans, the ever-present, always hungry cry for bloodshed and carnage in his mind that had been his constant companion for so long now was changing pitch too.
Instead of endless calls for the sound of fists against flesh, of steel against bone and the coppery scent of arterial blood, spraying from torn jugulars it now sang a different tune. A seductive, sinister song of vast stockpiles of abandoned chemical weapons, of vat after vat of biological death languishing in dusty storage and of forgotten nuclear silos, pregnant with thermonuclear destruction… all of them ready and waiting like a world-slaying arrow on a quivering string… all of them simply awaiting the right electronic key to throw wide their gates and rouse them from their slumber…
Alex shook his head hard and managed to banish these thoughts back to the blood-stained corners of his subconscious that had been fully conquered by the Host-Breaker, blinking again in surprise when, for a moment, he thought it looked like one of the busily blinking routers weren’t even plugged in at all. Before he could investigate further however, Sal uttered a small exclamation of victory, quickly drowned out by printers and what seemed like some form of laminating machine bursting to life.
Moments later he found himself looking down at a freshly minted drivers licence, indistinguishable from the genuine article, his own photo looking up at him next to the name “Alex Mars”.
For a long moment he just stared at the card, the identity and life it represented, and the horrible pun it encapsulated before he looked up again to meet Sal’s triumphant grin and his outstretched hand.
“Welcome home Alex!”