The tremor began slowly, the low subconscious rumble of the subway underfoot, and intensified until the pigeons scattered and a wide split opened in the sidewalk, a ragged concrete maw, swallowing a young couple who had been flirting over their mimosas. My plate skittered off the table spilling my lunch across the sidewalk with a wet slap. The laptop and café au lait followed. I’m not a psychic but I knew this wasn’t going to end well.
A metallic voice, distorted by rage and amplified, electronic modulation echoed in the canyon of the financial district. “GIVE ME THE SOULSTONE, BILLY WEATHERS! YOU ARE THE HOST NO MORE!”
A beat, a breath, and a single scream tore through the air igniting a wave of confused panic. Standing at the edge of the square was a Heigelfiend drone: seasoned and scarred, two stories of war machine, radiating heat and twitching with a ferocious, sub-human drive to kill. To maim. To deliver pain.
Choking back my dread I hunched and ran with the crowd surging away from the drone. I dove between two rows of parked cars and skidded to a stop on the asphalt then reached beneath my shirt to touch the smooth black curve of glass half buried in my chest. My skin crawled and my stomach churned. I breathed a small effort of will into the cool, dark surface and a curl of smoke took shape deep in the stone. I felt it come alive: a dark, mass in my chest, a living turd that coiled and swelled in the orb. Its consciousness opened and absorbed the chaos around it. I smelled burning rubber somewhere in the distance. Giant footsteps shook the earth.
“Oh, Billy, I am so hungry”. Her voice vibrated from the Soulstone.
“I need you, Beth. Now,” I said.
In response a soft cloud of mist spurted from the stone, burning through my shirt, and bloomed like a flower from my chest, it’s black petals curious, feeling at the air like antennae.
“GIVE ME THE STONE, BILLY, AND I WILL STOP THE KILLING!” More screams. A car flew overhead and buried itself in a third floor yoga studio. The sound of the car horn mingled with the sound of something like throat singing.
A magenta beam of plasma arced across the square and tore through a crowd of tourists before it carved a jagged line through the Barnes and Noble. A massive, triangular hunk of brick calved off the building and plummeted to the sidewalk crushing the broken remains of the tour group. The robotic monster piloted remotely by Dr. Heigelfiend stepped through the dust and his left hand dripped plasma that spat and sizzled.
This time there was a note of panic in Beth’s voice, “I’m SO hungry!”
My chest wept a greater concentration of blackness that coiled and shaped itself into a dark void of writhing tentacles. I felt suction from the stone, a vacuum tuned to psychic energy, as Beth began feeding desperately, voraciously on the chaos spilling across the square and I felt myself growing stronger. The tentacles spilled from my chest and swelled, a black leviathan squirming across the pavement. The drone’s turrets chattered gunfire into the dark mass to little effect.
I groaned with the strain of shaping all that pain and stood with the support of the sentient black cloud swirling around me.
With drama and theatric timing the drone raised an arm. “YOU CHALLENGE ME? YOURS IS THE FINAL STONE, BILLY, AND THIS IS YOUR END!” The drone’s hand snapped open and there was a hole the size of a dinner plate in its palm. Deep in that hole I saw a spark and the flare of pink light.
Beth whispered a command, “Go, Billy. Do it.”
“Too late,” I said, boiling with anger and regret. I hated Dr. Heigelfiend and the others like him, an endless line of would-be usurpers: villains, aliens, and greedy bastards with galactic dreams. The only thing Beth and I had ever wanted was a normal life. We didn’t choose this burden but we were stuck protecting this lump of black stone. And ourselves.
A gout of charged plasma blossomed from the opening in the drone’s palm as I willed a slice of living black mist into a convex disc between us. The disc solidified and the loose sheet of charged plasma splashed violently against the shield and across the square, clinging to everything. The smell of gasoline and burning hair filled my senses but the three of us: the Soulstone, Beth, and I were left unharmed.
“The stone made its choice, doctor, and it chose us.” I gestured and giant, looping coils of pain threw themselves at the drone, wrapping around its limbs and scaling its body, ripping off chunks of armor and exposed weaponry. The drone fought the tentacles, hacking at them with whirling saws and burning them with jets of flame but the wave of blackness was overwhelming and eventually the drone dropped to one knee in a shower of sparks and the peal of folding metal. The giant squid flowing from my chest shimmered like a bruise in the afternoon sun and pulled relentlessly at the drone: tearing away its limbs and flogging its body with tentacles the width of tree trunks. Every impact sounded like a car crash. The drone was conditioned to withstand concussive force from any number of missiles and large caliber anti-aircraft guns but susceptible to the steady, relentless force pulling outward and it fell apart.
From his island headquarters in the South Pacific Dr. Heigelfiend bleated into his microphone, “SCHIESSE!”
When Beth spoke it was with a reverence she reserved for special moments, “What the fuck, Billy? Where’d you learn to do that?” My girl.
The black cloud continued dismantling the drone like a time-lapse film of jungle parasites breaking down the corpse of an animal and I could hear the ebb of sirens among the moans of wounded pedestrians.
“Okay Heigelfiend,” I said, “you want to fight? I’m bringing the fight to you. I’m done running and I’m tired of screwing around.” I felt a wave of pleasure deep in the Soulstone and Beth let out an involuntary moan that made my hair stand on end.
“Um, Billy, I think you just turned it on.”
Great. I had a dead wife, a horny mystic rock with a thing for pain and all the evil powers of the universe enemies to hunt down and kill. I knew this wasn’t going to end well.