An Unlikely Hero – Issue 1
Sam Marshall knocked on his son’s bedroom door. When there was no answer, he opened the door and stepped inside. His son was sitting at his desk with his back to the door, the room illuminated only by the single desk lamp. It was no wonder that his son hadn’t heard him; he was concentrating hard on the textbook in front of him, loud music leaking out from the oversized headphones he was wearing that were connected to a small laptop. The professor smiled, he was studying no doubt for his big test tomorrow. He looked around his son’s bedroom, almost every wall surface except that directly above the desk was covered in posters. All of them of various superheroes and super-teams; there were posters of the various members of Alpha Force along one wall, the world’s premier super team; on another wall was a poster for the recently formed EU sponsored team, EuroForce; a poster signed by the leader of the UN Overwatch team took pride of place above his bed; and there were posters for lesser known teams such as Legion and the Army of Light as well as independent heroes such as Defender, Upload and Rescue. His son, Sam had to admit, was a bit of a superhero fanboy. But then so were many thirteen-year-old boys. Looking slightly out of place above his desk was a wall chart calendar. Tomorrow was ringed in red marker with “Big Test, Do Not Fail” written next to it. He reached over to the light switch and flicked the light on and off again to get his son’s attention.
The boy jumped, startled out of his concentration by the flashing of the lights. He turned around looking for the source of the flashing and saw his dad standing in the doorway. “Hey dad,” the boy said taking the headphones off.
“It’s eleven o’clock Todd, time for bed.”
“Aww dad,” the boy pouted, “but I really need to learn this stuff for tomorrow.” Sam walked over to his son and looked down at the textbook he had been studying.
“Algebra,” he whistled, “tough subject.”
“Not for you,” Todd muttered under his breath. His father pretended not to hear him, over recent months his son had become increasingly bitter over his poor academic performance. Sam had decided to give his son some space, the last thing he needed was his father hovering over him pressuring him “to study hard and do well”. Encouragement or platitudes only seemed to anger him further.
“Okay,” Sam said relenting. He ruffled his son’s blond hair before he left, an act that he knew Todd publically hated but secretly liked. “But even your uncle needs a good night’s sleep,” he said nodding over at the poster of Overwatch. Stopping at the door, he turned and looked back. “Don’t overdo it son, see you in the morning.”
“I won’t, night dad,” Todd said turning back to the desk and putting his headphones back on.
Sam smiled sadly as he closed the bedroom door. “He tries so hard,” he thought as he walked downstairs and into the study.
Todd pinched the brow of his nose in annoyance as he stared at the book on the desk in front of him. It wasn’t going in; the harder he tried the less he seemed to understand it. He ripped the page out of his notebook, screwed it up and threw another page of incorrect revision answers across the room. “Stupid stupid stupid,” he muttered repeatedly, thumping the side of his head with the heel of his hand.
He knew his inability to do well in school wasn’t his fault, not really. When he had just been an infant, he’d been in a car crash. His parent’s car had been hit by a drunk driver, one of those random accidents that no amount of superheroes could prevent. His father had escaped without injury but Todd and his mother had not been so lucky. The other car had smashed in the passenger side of his parent’s car and his mother, who had been sitting in the passenger seat and had taken the full force of the impact, had been killed instantly. Todd had been in a baby seat in the back and had been trapped in the twisted metal wreckage until they could cut him out. He had suffered a serious head injury in the crash and for a while, they had thought he might die. But he didn’t, eventually he pulled through. Although he’d been left with a small and nearly invisible scar above his left eye, the real lasting damage had been much more insidious and didn’t show up properly until he started school. After several “incidents”, Todd had been diagnosed with a number of behavioural problems and learning disabilities, all of them stemming from the brain injury he had suffered as an infant.
All his life he had been held back by those problems; dismissed at school as a disruptive and academically poor student. His father was a genius, gifted at science and engineering. To the rest of the world, Sam Marshall was just a simple scientist who worked at a university on cutting edge research; but a handful of people, including his son, knew the truth. He worked with superheroes, designing their equipment, analysing devices captured from supervillains and acted as a consultant with the UN Overwatch in regards to off-world technology. Todd’s father was one of the smartest people on the planet. His son, on the other hand, was a moron. Todd could tell by the way that his father had started to ignore him, throwing himself into his work and ceasing to encourage him, that he was disappointed in his son and that he had given up. That hurt more than anything and that was why Todd was determined to do well on the test tomorrow. He had to prove to his father that he wasn’t just some dumb kid and a lost cause.
He flipped the textbook to the start of the chapter. Picking up his pencil, he yawned and began the revision exercises again. He didn’t get very far however, within ten minutes he was slumped forward on the desk, sound asleep.
In the shadows behind the house, the air shimmered and three men materialised out of nothingness. They were all dressed in identical black body armour and were carrying mean looking submachine guns. If it weren’t for their high tech breathing masks and wrist-mounted stun blasters the men would like average members of a SWAT team. The leader of the three men pulled out a small scanner and pointed it at the house. “I’m picking up two life signs,” he said to the other two men, “the larger one downstairs is most likely Professor Marshall, and the smaller one upstairs will be his son.” The men readied their weapons and moved towards the house.
The lock on the back door was easily bypassed and the three men entered the house silently. Reaching the hallway, the leader motioned towards the stairs and the smaller of his two men started up them while the other followed the leader towards the study door. Creeping silently up the stairs, the man moved across the landing towards one of the bedroom doors. Light was leaking out from under it and the man looked at the sign fixed on the door that said “Keep Out: Level 4 Biohazard.” Beneath the mask, he smiled a thin smile as he opened the door slowly, his gun ready. He saw the boy slumped forward on his desk, his head resting in his folded arms and fast asleep. The boy didn’t hear the shouts from downstairs as he slept with his headphones on, no amount of noise would break through the loud music playing. This wasn’t what he had signed up for; no one told him that one of the targets was just a child. The man had his orders however and he was committed to the cause, but nonetheless he hesitated as he raised his gun.
“What do you want?” Sam asked the man pointing the gun at him. He had been just about to call it a night and turn in when the two men had burst into his study. Panicked, he had managed to shout out a desperate warning to his son before the leader of the two men had shot a blue bolt of energy from a wrist-mounted weapon at him. As he had fallen to the floor stunned, he prayed that Todd had heard him. Even if he hadn’t, he took comfort in the fact that Baxter, the computer system that he had designed to run the house, was probably already alerting the authorities to the situation.
“My boss wants you to deliver a message,” the leader said as his follower kept an SMG trained on Sam.
“What sort of message?” Before the leader could respond, there was a commotion as Todd was shoved roughly into the room, tripping over the rug.
“Get up!” Yelled the man who pushed Todd into the room, kicking the boy in the side and pulling him to his feet by the hair.
Sam took a step towards his son but was stopped by the barrel of an SMG prodding into his chest. “Leave him alone,” he yelled as Todd was shoved against the wall on the other side of the room and held at gunpoint, “don’t hurt him, please.” Todd looked across the room at him, absolute terror evident in his eyes. Blood was dribbling from cut on the side of his head and his cheek was starting to swell up from where he had been struck by the barrel of a gun. He was too scared to move, too scared to resist, too scared even to call out.
“Well, now that we’re all here I guess we can get this over and done with.” The leader reached into a pouch on his vest, pulled out a DVD, and tossed it to Sam. “Give that to Paragon; I know you know how to get in contact with him.”
“What’s on it?” Sam asked, wondering how much the man knew about him and Paragon, the leader of Overwatch.
From behind the mask, the leader smiled. “The general gist of it is this; next time it will be his kid.” He waited just long enough for the words to sink in before turning to the man pointing the gun at Todd and nodding.
As Sam watched in horror, the man opened fire. Todd didn’t even have time to scream as the bullets tore into his unprotected body. He crashed to the floor, the wall behind him splattered with his blood. Crying out, Sam ran across the room and pushed his way past the armed men. “Oh God no!” He cradled his son, holding him close as the men slipped quietly out of the room. Their job done, they had no wish to stick around.
“Dad,” Todd said, coughing up blood and gasping for air.
“Shhh, everything’s going to be alright.” He was lying; it wasn’t going to be all right. The blood was everywhere; the pool on the floor beneath his son was growing larger by the second. Todd had over a dozen gunshot wounds perforating his body and only had minutes to live before he bled to death. He realised that his son was going to die in his arms and that there was nothing he could do.
Todd looked up at his father’s distraught face and instantly knew the truth. He was dying. The pain came in waves, great tsunami’s of agony that threatened to overwhelm him. He could feel himself getting weaker, slipping away. Already it was a fight just to breathe and keep his eyes open for just a few seconds more.
As he helplessly watched his son die, it suddenly hit him that there may be something he could do after all. “Please, just hang on a little while longer.”
Managing a half-smile, Todd tried to say “I’ll try” but could only cough up more blood.
“Baxter,” Sam said loudly as he picked Todd up gently “power up the lab.”
Sam carried Todd out of the study and across the hallway to a door that opened with a hiss as he approached. The door led to a stairway the led down to the basement lab where most of his “special” work was conducted. Entering the lab, various computer systems and scientific devices booted up and the lights came on, illuminating the crisp and clean surfaces with a soft white glow. “Lab systems are at 100% Doctor,” an electronic voice said from an overhead speaker, “emergency services have been notified. I took the liberty of alerting Overwatch. Estimated time of arrival, 7 minutes.”
“They’ll never get here in time,” Sam muttered as he laid Todd down on one of the workbenches, placing his folded up sweater beneath the boy’s head. “Just hold on.” He ran over to the large fume hood that stood against one wall. Suspended inside the apparatus by a series of energy beams was a silver capsule and the focus of his current research project. The project was for Overwatch and involved a piece of off-world technology recovered from a derelict alien spaceship found in orbit by NASA. It had taken weeks of research to uncover its purpose and Sam believed that was an advanced piece of nanotechnology. If he was right, then its purpose was medical in nature, a species-neutral technology designed to help speed up the healing process. “Drop the containment field and unlock the fume hood Baxter.”
There was a noticeable pause before the computer responded. “Sir, Overwatch demanded Level 4 Biohazard protocols when dealing with the nanobots.”
“I don’t care,” Sam snapped, “drop the blasted field!” There was a clunk as the locking mechanism disengaged and a red warning light started to blink. Sam lifted up the hood and reached inside, grabbing the canister.
“I will have to notify Overwatch over the breech of containment protocols.” Sam ignored the computer as he rooted through several drawers looking for a hypospray. He ripped it out of its sterile packaging and began to siphon off some of the alien nanobots, a silvery-grey solution filling the hypospray’s glass vial. “Sir, the nanobots are years away from human trials.”
“Todd doesn’t have years, he has minutes!”
Todd didn’t hear the conversation between his father and the house computer. A great coldness was beginning to spread through him and he felt so tired. His vision was blurring and everything was starting to swim around him, as if he was spinning on a roundabout. Todd wondered why it was so dark in the lab, why didn’t his dad put the lights on? He knew that any moment now, his eyes would close; probably for the last time. It was at that point that something moved into his field of vision. It was a woman with a kind face and long blond hair. She was surrounded by a luminous glow. As she looked down at him gently stoking his hair, he saw that she had blue eyes just like him. “It’s okay Toddy,” she said softly, “it won’t hurt for much longer.” The woman faded from view as his father returned to the workbench, hypospray in hand.
“This’ll feel a little strange at first,” Sam said, his voice breaking, “but it’ll make you feel better.” He pressed the hypospray to Todd’s neck and pressed the trigger, watching as a silvery sheen spread from the contact point for a few seconds before vanishing. Sam prayed that it would work. There was no reaction at first, and then Todd’s body twitched and began to convulse, arching and writhing. Sam held on to him but within a few seconds the convulsions had stopped. There was a sigh as Todd breathed out and his chest stilled, his eyes staring lifelessly at the ceiling. “Nononononono,” Sam cried. He began CPR, desperately trying to breathe life back into the body, not wanting to accept that it was already too late. For several minutes he tried in vain before Baxter spoke softly.
“Sir … Sam … I’m sorry, I’m detecting no signs of life. He’s gone.” Sam threw his head back and cried out in grief.
Paragon had been the first to arrive on the scene, his rocket pack getting him to the house ahead of the police. Baxter had opened the front door for him when he had arrived, but he didn’t need the computer to tell him where to go. A blood trail led from the study towards the basement lab. Following it, he found Sam clutching the body of his son weeping. He took off his helmet as he stood at the lab door. “Jesus,” he muttered in shock.
Sam looked up, his eyes that of a broken man. “I’ve lost him John.” Paragon, or John Harris to his friends and family, had rushed over to his brother-in-law. He wanted to console him, but the words he usually used suddenly seemed hollow to him.
Somehow, he had managed to tear Sam away from Todd’s body and bring him upstairs. The police had arrived soon after, as did several of his Overwatch teammates. Although uninjured, Paragon had Sam taken to the medical facility onboard Sentinel, Overwatch’s aerial command centre that was already on route the region. The local police were only too happy to accept the assistance of the superheroes in the investigation, especially after hearing that the lab in the basement had been contaminated.
Paragon stood in the hallway, watching the forensic investigators move in to the study and begin their sweep. It had been nearly an hour since he had arrived, and he was still stunned by the brutal slaying of his nephew. Although none of the civilians knew that Sam Marshall’s wife had been the sister of the famous superhero, they could tell that the normally stoic man was deeply shocked by the incident. One of Overwatch’s technicians approached him holding a handheld DVD player, the look on the young man’s face told Paragon that he wasn’t going to like what he was about to be told.
Downstairs in the lab, another superhero stood over by the workbench looking down on the body. Her name was Shimmer, and it was because of her powers that she was the only one currently allowed in the sealed lab. She could push her body slightly out of phase with the rest of the universe, rendering her completely incorporeal. This meant that she could enter the lab without risk of contamination. Although theoretically, the nanobots that Doctor Marshall had been working with were inert outside of an organic medium once activated, no one was taking any chances. With the lab off limits, she had volunteered to enter it to obtain the crime-scene photographs the police needed and other forensic samples. She looked down at the body again. “Poor kid,” she said to herself, “what sort of monster guns down an innocent child like this.” She turned her back on the boy, took out a scanner calibrated to detect nanobots and began a scan of the lab. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed movement from the workbench. Just in time, she turned around to catch one of Todd’s hands twitching slightly. Moving back to the body, she bent down to re-examine it. As she watched, she saw the cut on the side of the boy’s head close up. “What the,” she muttered. Taking a risk, she brought herself back into phase and attempted to feel for a pulse. She found one; it was weak and erratic, but definitely there.
Paragon crushed the DVD player in his hand, his enhanced strength making it easy work. “That bastard,” he said loudly enough for everyone to hear, “I’m going to make him pay.” The technician swallowed and looked uneasy.
“Sir, there’s one other thing.” He had that look on his face that said “please don’t shoot the messenger.”
The technician’s answer was lost as Shimmer phased through the floor, a panicked look on her face. “The boy’s alive!”
“That’s not possible,” Paragon said, “the paramedics checked the body. He’s been dead for nearly an hour.”
“I don’t know how, but he’s alive now and he needs medical attention immediately.” Shimmer phased back through the floor as everyone in the hallway stood stunned by the news. Paragon ran down the stairs back to the lab, breaking through the quarantine seals.
“Baxter, is it true?” He asked the house computer.
“Yes sir, but he is barely registering. Life signs only began again a few seconds ago.”
Paragon looked down at Todd, if there was a chance that he was still alive …”We need to get him to a hospital quickly,” he said picking Todd up. He ran back up the stairs, bursting into the hallway and running out the front door, Shimmer just behind him.
“Good luck,” she called out as he ignited the rocket pack and took to the skies. The nearest hospital was only a few miles away but they would not be equipped to deal with this. Pushing the rockets past the redline, he streaked across the sky, leaving the city behind him. There was only one place that could help his nephew, Sentinel.