Atlas – 2

Machines beeped around Aleks as he came to. His vision was blurry, and he could barely make out faces. He tried to sit up but pain that shot through his body with the motion made him stop. He gingerly lowered himself back onto the bed. It was at an angle enough that it wasn’t terribly uncomfortable.

He tried to remember why he was in the hospital. Nothing but a throbbing headache came to him when he tried to remember. His name was clear in his mind, Aleksander Novak. He took hold of the name and held it close in his mind. He wracked his brain for more information. He had powers. Powers over something. He can make things move with his powers. The instinct came to him almost like riding a bike. Riding this bike gave him a headache. He was vaguely aware of the gravitons surrounding everything.

I’ll have to try it out when I’m feeling better.

He wracked his head for more information. He couldn’t remember anything else. He knew things at an instinctual level, but the information came at a cost of a throbbing head.

Best to rest my head for now.

The doctor was explaining something. His head and his memory. Something about broken bones in his chest. It was getting hard to tell with the concussion and the language barrier. The English was barely letting him know what was going on.

The day stretched on. Tests being conducted to make sure the healer cape did the job right to facilitate full recovery. Unfortunately, most healers were unable to fix head injuries that affect the mind. Physical damage could be reversed, but the mental abuse that entailed such events, along with mental trauma was a far flung idea.

A news station in Chinese was on TV most of the morning as he struggled to communicate that he wanted to change the channel. Mercifully, in the afternoon shift change someone spoke better English and helped him get things in order. He was to stay for a few nights, allowing his mind and his body to full recover.

Much of the channels were in Chinese, local stations and some cable TV from the mainland. There were a handful of English channels, and he tuned in to one of the international news stations. Reports of other attacks across the globe was being covered.

“..Kong was the first to be handled. What is now being dubbed the Devourer was confronted by the hero called Atlas. Reports are coming in that he was on the scene forty-five minutes after the creature appeared. Local heroes Shadowboxer, and Voluminous Explosion were gravely injured. King had died. All in their attempts to stop the Devourer. Both Shadowboxer and Volumious Explosion are being treated and are expected to recover.”

The feed switched to video footage, an amateur shot taken with a smartphone at ground level. Shadowboxer looked too beat up. Her left arm hung limp. Her costume, a xiaolin attire with blue as the dominant color with black trim and highlights. She stood in front of the camera, the Devourer about a hundred feet away a towering figure in the background. Tentacles lashed out forward. Shadowboxer dodged with a pivot of her waist.

In the same dodging motion, she summersaulted. Her feet came down to the ground in a purposeful arc before landing. In the same instant, an invisible force smashed hard against the Devourer. The lone eye the monster had was forced shut by the impact.

The Devourer reeled. Tentacles wrapped around the eye. Other tentacles swept out, buildings and were crushed under thbe assault. Two buildings toppled forward, crumbling into a cloud of dust and debris. Shadowboxer looked triumphant but exhausted. From within the cloud a large chunk of debris came soaring through the air. The ruble smashed against Shadowboxer, knocking her off her feet. She lay unmoving.

The footage switched to a more high definition shot, one from a helicopter as it circled around buildings keeping the monster in frame. From the roof tops around the monster came a small trail of fire that exploded into a large explosion that detonated against the Devourer. The monster staggered back. Another trail, followed by another explosion. Two more explosions followed. The Devourers flesh was rent asunder. Tentacles fell, writhing in the aftermath of the attack.

The camera zoomed on the source of the attacks. A woman dressed in a black dress. Her hair was dyed red and she wore it in a bun. Her face wasn’t clear from the distance of the camera zoom. The camera zoomed out and focused back on the scene of the Devourer. The severed tentacles were dissolving into a puddle of ichor and goo. The camera refocused and zoomed a little on the body.

“No fucking way.”

Aleks mouthed as the camera focus adjusted from the zoom. The Devourer was healing. Replacement tentacles rapidly grew from where they were severed. Missing chunks of flesh regrew and recovered in an unbelievable rate. Within minutes, the Devourer was back upright again.

This time it was ready. As soon as it found its feet it launched itself into the air with a push of many tentacles. The lone eye focused on the rooftop where Voluminous Explosion was standing. Multiple angles of attack came at the heroine. The heroine launched herself between the attacking limbs, jumping over, sliding under, sidestepping to one side, and stopping short to dodge the attacks.

She made her way across to the other side of the rooftop unscathed. She launched herself off the edge and spun in the air. In the split second she had before she began falling, she fired off a series of explosions. Tentacles were severed, She finished her turn and threw out her hand. Her fall was arrested halfway down the building and her fall became an arc. She swung on a grapping hook line and used her momentum to launch herself into the air and land on the next rooftop over. The Devourer was giving chase, tearing through the building that she was just in.

She wasted no time in setting a string of explosions to stall the monster. More limbs fell, but the first round of tentacles growing back was already at its full strength. As she moved to the farther end of this rooftop, a streak of light crossed the screen and smashed into the Devourer.

A red glow floated from the impact point pushing back into the air over the monster. The glow pulsed like a heartbeat. The red glow emanated from a man that was in tights, with a red and black motif. He had a domino mask on, and he was shouting his head tilted a little to the back.

The camera zoomed out again, seemingly indicating that King and Explosion were talking. The man nodded, then focused his attention back on the Devourer. It was recovering again. This time, it didn’t stand. It slid across the ground like an octopus. It was moving at a speed faster than it did originally. King barely managed to get out of range of its tentacles as it passed by. Voluminous Explosion leapt up off the edge of the building she was on and cat leaped off a nearby water tower and then fired off her grappling hook to the higher building. She swung out moving away from the pursuing monster.

Another burst of speed from the monster. It used the grasping limbs like a slingshot. It launched high into the air, chasing after King. The hero was caught unaware as the monster reached out. Six tentacles wrapped around King, the red glow that surrounded him exploded in a burst of intense red. The Devourer shoved King past teeth and bit down. Blood sprayed and the glow disappeared.

Voluminous Explosion launched another volley, a silent scream coming from her. The explosions flared, brighter than the last assault and more intense. The relentless barrage pushed back the Devourer against a building, collapsing inward on to the monster as more explosions rocked it. A bleached white bone was exposed as the dust from the collapse settled. Flesh began to knit together around it. It was visible even from the distant zoom of the camera.

Disbelief ran through Aleks. A shiver of fear mixed with it as the Devourer reached out with the same speed it showed as it attacked King. It grabbed Explosion before she could dodge out of the way this time. The tentacles squeezed, and began reeling her closer to its mouth. Just as she was within its bite, four explosions rocked the inside of its mouth. It dropped her, and she fell limp on the ground.

Aleks entered the fight from offscreen. He saw himself on screen, a blur of gray as he shot past buildings and smashed against the side of the creature. The video feed changed back to the studio, with the host front and center.

“Other cities being hit were not as lucky as the devastation caused continued unabated for hours. The regions strongest capes eventually were able to stop the creatures when they could, and those that seemed unstoppable were thankfully redirected to space. Casualties are assumed to number in the millions based on a preliminary report that is being collected by the United Nations Security Council.” He turned off the TV.

I guess it was a stroke of luck that I was doing a training exercise with a bunch of new capes in The Philippines. Still, where were the other Chinese capes?

Aleks was restless that night. Nightmares came with frightful images of the Devourer attack, with its many limbs reaching for his family and friends. He reached the Devourer, only to be a second too late to save anyone. Limbs, torsos, and heads were crushed under the massive tentacles. He fought hard to reach them, and despite the herculean effort, he was always too late. He anguished at the loss when the last of its victims were devoured. He woke up drenched in cold sweat. A searing pain flared in his head. He took a few ragged breaths trying to will the pain away, or at least to a little more manageable level.  He reached for a cup of water that was set aside on his bedside table. Restful sleep was a foreign prospect after that nightmare.

The first day after waking was dull. A series of tests and exercises were conducted to determine his recovery path. They had a cape with the ability to speed up the recovery process down to a couple of days for any minor injuries. They told him that the he can sit up on the second day. They had outfitted him with a sling to make sure that he doesn’t use his recovering arm too much however. The x-rays that they showed him of the break his arm twisted in all the wrong angles and then the current state of it. From what he understood, his arm is still mending and needed another day or two to fully be working again. He could bear with that.

The headaches are much tolerable today.

Aleks stretched his legs on the fourth day as he stood up and approached the IV pole that he was hooked up to. His hospital gown was neat and tidy, covering his modesty very well. His power hummed as he freed his arm from the clutches of gravity to help ease the burden. The weightlessness took hold of the arm. He then dragged the IV behind him as he made his way out of the room.

The hallway was a narrow one, at least by hospital standards. There were nurses walking about, checking on patients. A doctor or two were making their rounds rounded out the medical staff. The hallway stretched out for a bit, then at the end was an intersection. The other end of the hallway, which was shorter than the one that ended in a hallway opened into a larger room beyond.

He started towards the opening that had a larger room. His steps echoed a bit as he dragged his feet. The path opened up to what looked to be a cafeteria. The clock on the wall said it was 9 AM. The space was relatively empty. A counter in the shape of a crescent sat in the middle of the room, with  dining tables surrounding it. The cafeteria had a self-service style set up on one half of the north wall and a service line on the other half. Opposite that was a wall of floor to ceiling window. An opening opposite the one he stood by lead to a hallway further into the hospital.

A Caucasian woman with blond hair and red tips, sporting a hospital gown sat by a table situated by the window. An Asian man stood behind the counter, behind a register, fiddling with his phone. On a table near the counter was an old lady that watched him with narrow eyes as he made his way through the space. Another woman, much younger than the one eyeing him was also present. This woman however was preoccupied with her newspaper to bother looking up at him as he passed.

The menu was in Chinese, with some pictures under the writing. A noodle bowl, a sticky bun, some rice and what looked to be duck, some congee items, tofu with some rice, a fish based meal or two, and then a variety of fruit and vegetable options rounded out the rest of the selection. A man stood behind the rows of food, watching, likely there to help at a moment’s notice.

Opting for the noodle bowl and sticky bun option, He wrestled with the tray of food that was served. Sighing to himself at his struggle, he placed the tray gingerly on the rack and concentrated. The soup from the noodles began floating in clear globs before he adjusted his control to hold the food and containers in place by pulling their gravity toward the tray. The lightness of it was welcome as he really didn’t have a free hand.

He could see the reaction on the man behind the counter of food. His eyes went wide and he took a little step back. He couldn’t help but notice that the man also clenched his fist. He gave the worker a sheepish smile and with the items secure and unmoving from the tray, headed for the counter. He dragged the IV pole with his good hand, and pushed the floating tray with his fingers on the hand in the sling. It wasn’t until he was in front of the counter when he realized he did not have his wallet.

“One second…” He mumbled, embarrassed at the situation. He looked back in the direction of his room as he put the tray down on the rack in front of the counter. Before he could think of a response to say however, he was interrupted by a woman’s voice.

The blonde woman. She spoke in Chinese, a rapid-fire conversation with the man behind the counter. She handed him a bill, then turned to smile at Aleks.

“Thank you so much.”

“Come with me?”

“Thank you again.” He echoed as he followed the woman.

The blonde thanked the cashier and then took hold of the tray by Aleks began walking. They walked to a counter where utensils were to be found, where Aleks grabbed a pair of chopsticks and a glass of water which was also security adjusted on the tray. They then headed toward the spot where the woman was sitting. She gently pushed the tray onto the table and waited for him to sit down before returning to her seat across the table. He released the hold he held on the tray and its contents and the items settled back into normal gravity.

“That’s amazing.” The blonde stage whispered. She was a little wide-eyed, her attention still locked on the tray of food. She turned her eyes to him the next second. “My name’s Katya. A pleasure to meet someone like me!” She held out her hand, clearly intending to shake.

“Aleksander.” He gave her hand a firm shake. She smiled a little more. “Aleks if you want. You have powers? What kind?” He blurted out, before he could stop himself. “If it’s okay that I ask?” She gave him a short nod.

A golden glow surrounded her. It started as a dim, almost invisible light, then it grew in intensity until it was as if a golden translucent light surrounded her body. She also began rising from her seat, her feet raised and untethered to the floor. “I can fly, and I can accelerate living organisms growth.”

She paused, seemingly pleased with her flight. “I was the one who healed you. It may still take a day to fully be back in order as the body still needs energy to recover.”

“Oh. Thank you. I guess I owe you lunch. And my life.”

“Don’t worry Aleks. Truth be told, it was my way of giving back to you. You did save me after all. I happened to be in the building right in front of the Devourer’s path before you stepped in.”

Aleksander watched her closely as she floated back down and settled back on her seat. He noticed the bandages on her torso. She followed his gaze and opened up a couple of buttons on her gown from her neckline.

“I was the first of the good guys to respond after you defeated the Devourer. There were syndicate capes at the scene. I only barely managed to get you out before things escalated further. One of the krisinyy managed to get a good hit in before the kavaleriya arrived.”

“I’m sorry, I think I miss heard you. Krisinyy?”

She paused for a moment. “Russian word for rats.”

He nodded slowly. “Thank you. I guess we can call it even?”

She laughed, turning her attention back to the window outside. “How about dinner instead, and we shall call it even?” She smiled at him, her bright green eyes twinkling in the sunlight. He felt disarmed by that smile. Any doubts in his mind were wiped away.

“Sure. I’ll have to find my wallet first though.” Before he could say anything else, the growl of his stomach interrupted the silence.

They shared a laugh together, and he started scarfing down his meal. The noodle bowl was typical of hospital food, the broth was bland with not a lot of flavor but nutritious. The noodles were good despite the subpar flavoring, enough softness but retaining springy qualities. The meat buns however were a whole other level compared. The rich flavor of the pork along with the sweet almost barbeque sauce like flavor rounded out the burst of wonderful flavor in his mouth.

“Are you eastern European?” He asked between his mouthfuls of food, making sure to not choke on the meal.

“Nyet. I am full blooded Russian. I came to Hong Kong on vacation, but ended up working instead.” A small chuckle, another smile. A bit of his worries washed away with that smile. “American?”

“What gave it away?” Aleks chuckled. “Born and raised. Second generation Croatian”

She speared a piece of fruit and had a pondering look. “What were you doing all the way out here, American hero? You are a hero, right?”

He nodded as he took a sip of water. “I was in the area supervising some training.”

A phone rang from underneath the table. Katerina fished for it and smiled at Aleks in apology. “Sorry, one moment.” She stepped away and began speaking in Russian.

Aleks took the opportunity to wolf down the rest of his meal as the conversation that Katerina was having seemed to get heated. Concern flashed across her face as Aleks finished the meal. She muttered something in Russian that he couldn’t hear, then ended the call. A big sigh escaped her before she turned her attention to Aleks.

“Sorry, I have to go. It was nice meeting you, Aleksander.” She scrambled over to the cashier, and took a pen and the receipt that she left behind earlier and jotted down something. She seemed to thank the cashier and jogged back to Aleks. She put down the paper in front of him and turned towards the hallway leading away from the cafeteria. Aleks had questions, but he looked at the paper, and found her name and a phone number scrawled on it.