#8: First Strike: Denver Jul 19, 2019 13:09:29 GMT -5
Post by Admin on Jul 19, 2019 13:09:29 GMT -5
Issue Eight: “First Strike: Denver”
Written by Eric Guptill
Cover by JoseRealArt (click the link for his DeviantArt)
Edited by Mark Bowers
Clark would tell us all about his friends and acquaintances at the Daily Planet.
Besides hearing about Lois, we heard about everyone that was in Clark’s life. He would tell Martha and me about his mentor, Perry White, and how he strived to be a newsman like him. There was Jimmy Olsen, one of his good friends, then there was Steve Lombard.
Clark always found the good in people, but with Steve, it was a touch more difficult. It was rare that Clark found a person that rubbed him wrong on every occasion. Lex Luthor was one, and Steve Lombard, the other.
From day one, Steve had teased Clark. Clark could take the teasing, but he also had a habit of making the most off-color jokes. Jokes that Clark thought were completely disrespectful.
Everyone in the office ignored them. It was just who Steve was. Clark, he couldn’t handle that, but he didn’t want to make waves, so he called me for advice.
He wanted to know what to do; should he go to Human Resources or just ignore it? I asked him if what he was doing was right and he said no. That was all the answer he needed.
Clark still had reservations about going to Human Resources, he didn’t want to ruin this man’s career. Instead he confronted Steve. To Clark’s surprise, he had not gotten defensive, instead he listened to Clark and accepted what he had to say. It had surprised Clark.
For a few days, Steve left Clark alone and watched what he said around him. Clark felt proud of what he had done. Then Steve had begun talking to him about sports. Clark enjoyed their sports talks, discussing major teams, especially the Metropolis Knights.
One day after their conversation, Steve had good-gamed Clark. A little sports pat on the butt. Clark had been too shocked to say anything, but Lois had seen it and told him he just got Lombarded.
For Clark, it was the beginning of a tense relationship with Steve. He continued with his behavior while Clark worked to avoid him. He was at his wit’s end, not willing to report Steve, but not willing to put up with it.
I told him he had to live with his choices, though I wouldn’t tell him that I would’ve punched the guy. Clark couldn’t do that, he’d end up killing him. But every story about Steve made me want to hit the guy, more than anything. I’m sure Clark felt the same way, though he would never admit that. He had more control than me and for that I was proud.
“After you, my dear,” Pete said opening the door with a flourish and a bow.
It was the same goofiness that had won Lana Lang over. She had known Pete as a child, grew up with him, but it wasn’t until they were adults that she realized she loved him and they had gotten married She still loved Clark, but that love had lost its romantic edge and was now a deep-seeded friendship. They would always be close, but now, she didn’t pine over what could be and focused on what was.
“Why, thank you, Mr. Goofball.” Lana smiled as she lowered herself into the car, hand on her stomach. She was seven months pregnant, though she did not show, well, not very much. It had been the exercise. The doctor had told her that since she had exercised before the pregnancy, she should continue. Her body was used to it and it wouldn’t cause a strain on the baby. She had followed the doctor’s orders, running every day.
She looked over as Pete got into the car. “Are you sure that you don’t want to know whether it's a boy or a girl?”
He placed his foot on the brake and pushed the ignition button. The car started smoothly as he looked at his wife. “C’mon, Lana. You just want me to cave so you can find out. Not happening. We’ll find out when he or she is here.”
They had an envelope in their bedroom. It was sealed, and they had decided against learning the sex of the baby. Pete was more into the surprise than Lana, but she had to admit that the idea of finding out when the baby was born had grown on her. She still needled Pete, but she didn’t want to look at the envelope. They had a list of names, but could not decide on one. That would be a battle for both of them.
Pete began to back up the car when a large explosion buffeted the vehicle, shaking it as the ground buckled beneath them. They could see cars flying in the air at the other end of the parking lot through the haze of smoke from at least one exploding automobile.
“We need to get the hell out of here,” Pete said as he continued to back out of their parking space.
Lana fought to pull her eyes away from the explosion, but managed it. She reached into the glove box and pulled out a glove, setting it on her lap. The second one came out of her purse. They had been gifts from Clark and the Justice League. One for each of them in case of an emergency. Lana didn’t know if this was one of the emergencies that they had anticipated, but she wasn’t going to be caught with her pants down.
Pete looked down at the gloves and back at Lana. “You sure we need those?”
“Better safe than sorry.”
Pete couldn’t argue with that. Putting his foot on the brake, he grabbed one of the gauntlets and put it on, as Lana put on hers. They looked metal, but felt like the softest silk on the inside. They weren’t bulky and responded to mental commands. Lana couldn’t understand the science, but she knew that it could be the thing that saved her if she was ever attacked by one of Superman’s enemies. In truth, she hoped that it was a gas-line explosion or some other occurrence, but she was having a hard time convincing herself of that.
Pete, again, started backing up. He watched the console as the rearview camera showed the smoke and damage in sharp contrast. The eddies of gray and white swirled in the wind until a white creature emerged. It was humanoid in shape, with no facial features, and it walked toward them.
Pete hit the gas, driving backwards toward the creature, but did not hit it. It easily grabbed the trunk and stopped the car’s momentum. Pete threw the car into park. “Lana, we gotta run. There’s a creature behind us. You know the plan, let’s do it.”
Lana nodded; she had glanced at the console while Pete spoke and could see it. It wasn’t natural at all. “Love you.”
“Love you too,” Pete said as he opened his door in time with his wife. Seatbelts discarded, they both ran out of the car in opposite directions.
Pete dove behind some cars as beams of heat ripped into their car, cutting it in half. He was surprised it hadn’t ignited, but it only lay there in two halves. He wanted to run more than anything, but that was what Lana was doing. He would do what he could to distract this thing and hoped he would make it out the other side.
Slowly, Pete crept around a few cars. The smoke was beginning to encompass this area, making it harder to breath. He pulled his t-shirt up over his nose and mouth, hoping that it would help. He couldn’t do anything about the sting in his eyes.
He began moving on his hands and knees, barely able to see in front of him. He knew that he couldn’t stay in the smoke for any prolonged period of time and hoped there would be a clearing soon. His prayers were answered as the wind cleared the area in front of him for a split second, but what he saw was not encouraging.
Standing in front of him was the creature. He looked up at it as it looked down at him. Where its eyes should have been, a red glow began to shine. Pete knew what that meant. He pointed the gauntlet at the creature, and a blast of pure energy ripped from it and into the creature’s face.
Lana ran out of the parking lot and around the nearest apartment building. Pete was the head of his own company and he was still humble enough to live in a regular apartment. She loved him for it, but after this maybe they would move a little out of the city where no one else would be in danger.
She continued, running from one building to the next, but not entering any. They had planned for this eventuality; with Superman as a best friend, how could they not. The plans had evolved since her pregnancy. They would stay together if they could, but if not, then she would run. She had always hated this plan, but she knew it was the smartest one. She had another life to think about. That made all the difference. Pete was smart and resourceful, he would be okay. Please, God, let him be okay.
The smoke was helping her, allowing her to get further and further away from the scene. It was a light jog around the buildings, followed by sprints through the open areas. She had considered an all-out sprint, but wanted to remain as hidden as possible, just in case.
The glass patio doors moved past her as she continued on. I wonder what they think, pregnant woman jogging past their apartment. It was a silly thought, but helped to keep her calm. She could get away, at least far enough to hide somewhere. That was her goal. She knew that Pete had the same goal.
At the thought of her husband, she glanced back at the rolling smoke clouds. Emergency services had to be on their way. A flash of bluish white energy pierced the smoke and Lana stopped. No, no, he’s fighting it. Fear began to grip her.
Pete had rolled out of the way after hitting the monster, then began dodging around it, firing blast after blast to keep it off balance. He wasn’t sure if they were doing any good, but he continued on anyway. Each blast provided a few more seconds for Lana to get away and that’s all he cared about.
The blasts were working for now, but Pete knew that he would have to change tactics. Luckily, Lana and he had been training with them so he wasn’t going into this fight blind. He could hold his own as long as the creature didn’t tag him.
He jumped to the side as twin rays of pure fire sliced past him, blistering his leg. Pete landed hard, and winced as he looked down at the smoldering hole in his jeans. He quickly patted out the embers, wincing as he hit the red skin underneath. Ignore it, ignore it. It would be his mantra; it was a little pain, but he could put up with it.
He began getting up as the creature stepped toward him. This is it, now or never. He forced himself to focus on the creature’s legs. He didn’t know what was going on above him, but he had a plan, one that had formed only a second ago, and he had to implement it. That meant ignoring distractions, such as the fear that he would be cooked alive.
Two quick blasts erupted from the gauntlet, hitting each of the creature’s legs. It came tumbling down towards Pete, just as he had hoped. He crab-walked out of the way as it hit the ground. The first part had worked; he was surprised, but not distracted.
He stood up, with a mental command switching from blast to increased strength in the glove. He had never understood how the gauntlet could increase his strength without doing damage to his arm, but it did, and Pete would use that to his advantage.
He began smashing the creature in the back of the head. Over and over again. Its face sunk deeper and deeper in the pavement as its arms and legs flailed. He was doing it. He didn’t know what this creature was, but it had attacked him and his family. He would kill it before he would let it hurt Lana and their baby.
It had only been a few minutes, but Pete was worried that he couldn’t hear any sirens. Minutes - with all that had happened, he could imagine that he had been doing this for hours. Sirens should be coming already.
He began to slow down his attack as the arms and legs stopped moving. The creature seemed unresponsive. Maybe he had knocked it unconscious, or killed it. That thought bothered him. Unconscious was what he would hope for.
One last punch landed and then he stopped, stepping back. There was still no movement, just the smoke, car alarms and him. The creature seemed dead. He had watched enough horror movies to know it could be playing possum. Why Lana loved those movies, he couldn’t guess, but he’d rather be watching one now than living it.
He bent down, thinking about checking the creature’s pulse. It was risky and would be the death of him if this was a horror movie, but he had to know if it was out. Pete’s hand stretched out slowly, shakily. Get it together, Pete, get it tog-
He didn’t finish his thought as a white hand shot out at him and hit his left shoulder. There was a crunch and pop as he flew backwards. His back skidded across the pavement, ripping through the shirt and skin, a trail of blood following his body. It was a pain he could not ignore and released a scream of agony before stopping.
Pete could hear his breathing, in shallow ragged gasps. His leg was burnt, his back was on fire and, from the feel of it, his left shoulder was either broken or dislocated. He whispered a silent prayer as he realized it was not his right arm. If that had been the case, the gauntlet would have been close to useless.
He placed the gauntleted hand on the ground, trying to push himself up. Dark red liquid seeped down his back, he could feel it with every movement. His left arm hung useless, he couldn’t imagine how he looked. He grunted as he continued his upward movement, only to lose his balance and fall back to the ground.
A scream erupted from him as his left arm ended up under his body. Blackness seeped into his vision, dark fairies dancing on the edges. Pete knew if he passed out, he would die and maybe Lana would as well. That was all the motivation he needed. He opened his eyes, taking in deep breaths. The mix of oxygen and smoke made him cough, but also gave him a little more clarity.
Pete pulled himself to his side until he freed his left arm. Tears of pain oozed from the corner of his eyes. He knew he was in bad shape.
The creature walked towards him, staring intently with empty sockets. The skin where its mouth should have been began to warp and it sounded as if air was being sucked in. It was an odd high-pitched moan as it distorted more.
He didn’t know what was coming, but it couldn’t be good. Pete raised the gauntlet as the moaning ceased. He fired a blast where the mouth should be, a split second before the creature exhaled. It hit the cold air that wanted to rush out, creating a chain reaction. Heat and cold combined in the creature’s throat. It bulged out and began descending from the throat down into the chest.
Pete could see the progression as two forces moved further into the creature. It stood still, skin beginning to sag as its stomach began to distend. Colors began to play under the skin, blues and reds and whites. They danced faster and faster, pushing the limits of its body.
Pete didn’t know what would happen, but he covered his face just as the creature erupted outwards. White goo sprayed against nearby cars and onto Pete. It wasn’t hot or cold, just sticky. Ohmygod, I did it.
He rested against the pavement. Pete knew that he was hurt, but it wasn’t that bad. Well, it was bad, but not as bad as it could have been. He could be dead.
The smoke began creeping in again, closer to Pete. He turned his head to the side, knowing that closer to the ground he could get fresh air. He began to relax. He would rest, just for a minute.
A white hand reached out and grabbed Pete’s by the neck, lifting him up. There’s two! He couldn’t wrap his head around this as the creature flung him away. Pete didn’t fly far, but slammed into the side of a car with enough force to dent the door. He fell to the ground, unconscious, as the second creature moved away from him.
Lana continued running past the buildings, dodging a lawn chair here, grill there. It would have been easier to move further away, but then she would be out in the open. She didn’t want that. Pete was fighting the creature, but she had to hope for the best and plan for the worse. She had to get away.
She focused on the baby. The baby was what mattered. It was the only thing that kept her from returning to her husband and fighting alongside him. Pete and this baby, this was her future. In truth, it had taken her a long time to get over Clark, but once she had, it had smacked her in the face. The Clark she had loved had been the teenage boy, not the man he had grown into. She had always wanted to be Mrs. Kent, not Mrs. Superman. Lois was happy with both.
That realization had made Lana see the truth. She had finally found her happiness in being married to Pete. She was still Lana Lang, wanting to keep her name. Their baby would be a Lang-Ross, carrying both of their names. The thought made her smile, but only for a second.
She neared the end of the complex; only a few buildings lay in front of her. Her feet pounded on the pavement and grass, before losing purchase as a blast of cold air hit the ground, creating a sheet of ice. Lana could feel the ground give way as she turned to her side and slid into the arms of a glass patio door. It wasn’t hard enough to break it, for that she was thankful.
She looked up as the creature descended from the air, floating down. Oh, Pete, no. The thought ripped through her that her husband was gone, but she fought it down. She couldn’t think about that now. He might just be hurt, maybe he got away. She had to focus on the creature.
The glove remained hidden behind her back, pressed against the glass. Heat vision, freeze something, most likely breath, this creature has Superman’s powers. The thought spurred her on. If it had his powers, then it most likely had his strength. Lana would be in for the fight of her life. It was sobering, and provided realization that she would have to give it her all.
It continued to float lower, its white skin gleaming in the sunlight. It was only ten feet away, nine, eight, seven, its foot nearing the ground. That was what Lana was waiting for; her gloved hand appeared out from behind her back, shooting a blast of energy that sent the creature flying into the top corner of a nearby building.
Lana stood up, steadying herself on the glass door, but it was no longer there. She tumbled onto the carpeted floor of an apartment, a Hispanic man holding the door open. It took her a minute. Nearby a woman stood, holding two children; a girl and a boy. They looked to be about eight or nine, and it was evident that they were twins.
Lana scrambled to her feet, the man shutting the door behind her.
“You’ll be safe here,” he said, his accent betraying his Mexican heritage.
“No, no, no. We gotta get out of here, all of us. We have to run!” The panic edged into her voice. “You saw it?”
“Then we gotta get out of here.”
Lana began pushing the man towards the door. The layout of the apartment was similar to her and Pete’s. She hooked the wife with an arm and began herding her and the children.
“What are your names?” Lana knew that asking questions could help ease the tension.
They began moving faster toward the door. “I’m Guillermo, that's Bertha, “ he said, referring to his wife. “The two angels are Mateo and Liliana.”
“I’m, Lana.” She smiled at them. “That thing won’t stop. We have to get you into hiding.”
Guillermo opened the door. And pushed his family out, exiting after Lana. “What about you?”
Lana watched him shut the door. “It’s me that the creature wants. I’ll be fine.”
The explosion of glass reverberated from within. She looked at Guillermo. “Run!”
He picked up his son, while Bertha picked up their daughter. All of them them raced down the open-air concrete hallway. Lana knew she could outpace them, but hung back. She needed to protect them, but how?
Then she knew, as a door ahead of them opened. “There, she pointed.”
The owner looked at the family heading toward him and began closing the door, alarm written all over his face. Lana raced past them and slammed her shoulder into the door before it closed.
“Let them in, please, please.” The desperation evident in her voice was enough. The door opened and Lana ushered the family into the apartment.
Guillermo and Bertha stood there. Looking at her.
“Get in here,” Bertha said. Guillermo nodded.
Lana looked behind her then back to them. Tears welled in her eyes at the kindness of these strangers. They did not have to help her, but they were more than willing.
“I can’t, it wants me.” She kissed Bertha and Guillermo on their individual cheeks. “You’re saints, watch out for those kids.”
She began pulling the door shut as the door to Guillermo’s apartment exploded in a fury of wood and metal, a piece grazing her cheek. The force required to send it that far down the hall had to be incredible. It was enough to knock Lana off balance and send her careening to the ground.
Her fall was a blessing as heat vision erupted in the space she had just occupied. She began to pick herself off of the ground as a hand grabbed and pulled her up. Guillermo stood in front of her, determination in his eyes.
“I can’t leave you.”
Lana looked at Bertha in the door, the love she felt for this man evident. She could understand why; he was putting himself at risk for a complete stranger. She wouldn’t forget it if she made it out alive, if they all made it out alive.
They both looked as the creature stared at them, but before they could react it was in front of them. Its movement faster then either could track.
“Que mierda.” The curse left Guillermo’s mouth as he placed his body in front of Lana’s. His fist was raised and ready, striking out at the creature’s face. The impact did nothing but break a few bones in his hand.
“What the hell is that thing made out of?” Guillermo asked as he cradled his hand.
Lana ignored him, watching the creature raise its hand to strike. She knew if it hit, it would be the end of Guillermo and her. The gauntlet weaved around his body, a force field erupted around them as the creature’s fists pounded down and down.
Guillermo was staring in amazement. “We alive, compa. We’re alive.” He turned to Lana. “Now what?”
“This,”she said as the force field collapsed and a burst of energy sent the creature into the ceiling of the walkway above. It hit hard, before falling to the ground, bits of dust and concrete falling down on top of it.
Lana didn’t waste any more time. She shoved Guillermo into the open door, Bertha moving out of the way.
“Lock the door, then as soon as the coast is clear, get out of here.”
Bertha complied and shut the door, the click of the lock sounded a second later. They would be safe for now, but only if Lana got away from there. She looked around, the steps to the second floor looming down the hall. She would go there.
Running as fast as she could, Lana hit the stairs, taking two at a time. Her goal, the rooftop. She just hoped no one was relaxing at the gardens that each apartment building held. It was a risky move, but she couldn’t stop thinking about Guillermo, his wife and two kids. They deserved a chance to escape. She would give them that. The stairs provided her a chance to get ahead of the creature. She knew that blast into the ceiling wouldn’t have ended it.
As she came upon the rooftop, she breathed a sigh of relief that it was empty. It was early morning and that had worked in her favor. She would have to make her stand here. She could use the terrain to her advantage while giving Guillermo and Bertha time to escape.
Lana turned to face the staircase, just as the creature raced up them. It paused, staring at her, then bent down. One hand slammed into the edge of the staircase while the other ripped at the railing. The effect was immediate, a cascade of metal and concrete fell away. It was not providing her an escape route, but she had planned for that.
Lana began slowly moving backwards, her gauntlet raised. The creature stood, staring with its featureless face. Then it began moving toward her, with purpose. She fired off blast after blast, but it was prepared. They all struck their target, slowing it down, but not stopping it. She hadn’t expected it to.
Ever closer she came to the edge, the creature gaining on her. She moved faster, almost tripping over a lounge chair, but ducking at the last minute as a white hand swiped at her. Her lower back came against the railing surrounding the roof, just where she wanted to be, but time was running out.
Lana would not waste that time and pushed off with her feet, sliding over the bar and into the air just as something flew from the sky and crashed into the creature. Clark. The thought brought relief, he was here.
She turned end over end as the ground approached. She caught a glimpse of Guillermo and his family racing away, along with the old man whose apartment had given them shelter. They hadn’t noticed her, which was a good thing, considering she was plummeting towards the ground.
At the last second, the force field erupted, providing a cushion. It had been a trick that she had practiced before. Both Pete and herself had practiced many conceivable uses for each of the defensive and offensive capabilities of the gloves.
She got up, turning off the force field. Glancing around, she looked for Superman and found, not him, but a robot. The gray angular shape of the body, how it glinted as the sun hit it; it was a robot made in Superman’s image. She could only imagine that there was more danger than just here if Clark had sent a robot to protect her.
Commotion began to surround Lana as people exited their buildings. The explosions along with the sound of collapsing staircases had given the impression that they were not safe in their apartments. They had not been wrong.
“Run, run!” Lana yelled as she moved away from the battle, but was quickly thrown off of her feet as a wave of concussive energy slammed into her. Those around her fell too.
She glanced at the battle, the hits that the robot and creature were giving one another were shattering patio doors and windows. Staying near the building was no longer an option and Lana knew it.
Pulling herself up, she had been doing that a lot in the last ten minutes, she began running through the green areas toward the parking lot. With falling glass, out in the open provided safety. She had to see if Pete was okay. It hadn’t been part of their plan, but that didn’t matter, what mattered was her knowing if he was okay.
As she moved forward, she managed a glance behind her. It was a glance that made her pause and turn around. The creature looked as if it was melting, while the robot was missing a leg and one of its hands. They were poised in the air, both firing heat vision. Lana knew this wasn’t good.
She ran towards a building and rounded its corner as the two beams exploded outward in a fury of heat and concussion. Screams erupted from those caught in the blast radius, but she couldn’t worry about that now. Pete was all she had on her mind.
She continued to run as the robot was flung into a building in front of her. She continued past as it pulled itself from the building, sparks erupting from every joint. It hovered in the air for a few seconds before falling in a heap on the ground below.
Lana only hoped that the creature was done for as she entered the parking lot. The smoke had begun clearing as she raced from car to car. She didn’t know where he would be, but imagined it would be near to where they had first encountered the creature.
From one car to another she darted, yelling Pete’s name. Then she saw him. His body crumbled against the side of a car, its door dented further than she would have thought possible. Blood dripped down his chin onto his chest and his left arm hung at an odd angle.
“Pete, Pete, oh god.” She ran to him. Sitting next to him, she listened and heard the faint sound of labored breathing. Her hands began to hold him, but the bones seemed to shift and move and she backed off.
She could hear sirens in the distance, they were finally coming. They would be okay. Pete would live; this thought gave her strength as a shadow fell on them. Lana looked up into the melting face of the creature. It looked like a figure made out of pudding, its body dripping and deformed. She knew it was still dangerous.
Before it could react, she reached over to Pete’s glove and activated the force field. She then activated hers to reinforce it. It didn’t seem to notice, but slammed into the force field over and over again. Its hands raised high and coming down together. With each impact, a little more of its cohesion disappeared until finally it melted into a puddle of goo as both gauntlets gave out. They had been drained.
Tears streamed down Lana’s face, her body wracked with sobs as sirens grew closer and closer.
“It’s over baby, we're safe. Just hang in there, just hang on for me and the baby.” She shuddered again and again, waiting for help to arrive.
TO BE CONTINUED IN ACTION COMICS #53
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