Jordan stretched, sore after being stuck on the bus for three hours. Which, for an 11-year-old, might as well have been an eternity. The clouds were swelling, looking like it might rain soon. That was fine, Jordan never minded a little storm. Thunder wasn’t anything to worry over, and if asked he would admit to finding lightning pretty if nothing else. TJ latched onto his neck from behind, tossing Jordan forward a step.
“Move it Arnaz! We’ve got some battle grounds to ogle!”
Jordan shook him off. “Cut it out, TJ! You can’t be feeling much better than me right now.”
TJ laughed. “I feel great. Just can’t wait to get this over. It’s been all month they’ve been talking about it! Think they’ll have any of the monster corpses stuffed or something?”
“Doubtful.” Mia had found them, it seemed. “Most xeno-origin monsters that come to Earth that are routed by the S.U.N. Taskforce are incinerated after they’re killed. To prevent any possible virus or illness spreading from their biology and in case they have some kind of nasty abilities we’re unaware of.”
Jordan shrugged. “Dead is dead. What’s it matter what happens to the body after?”
Frank brushed him on the shoulder, his typical way of getting attention.
“Yeah, right, germs. Some of them can apparently heal super good. What do we do with the ones we can’t burn?” Jordan waved off Frank’s indignant signing.
“What do you mean?” Mia tilted her head.
“Like, with all the monsters out there, you gotta think some of them are tougher than others. Maybe tougher than we even know. Those, whatchacallit, Megulon things. They’re damn near bullet-proof right? So what if you get one that’s just invincible!” Jordan threw his arms wide open.
TJ punched him in the arm. “No such thing, come on. Nothing is invincible. If it bleeds, you can kill it.”
Jordan hit him right back. “You stole that from Alien 2.”
“Jordan, I don’t think that’s the right movie.”
“How would you know, Mia?”
“Sides, we all know you just throw it into a volcano! There ain’t nothin’ a volcano can’t destroy!”
“What about Godzilla? He survived a volcano!”
“Yeah, he did, I saw it, TJ!”
“Your mom’s right!”
And on the four would go, Frank paying more attention to his book on herbology than whatever the supervisor was going on about. The other three, Jordan next to Frank, TJ next to Jordan and Mia behind the two, walked along together oblivious to the world around them.
A series of scarred stone side on a building caught Jordan’s eye, drawing him over. “Imagine how strong those things were! These are like, a foot deep!”
Mia sighed. “Five inches at most. Boys, always exaggerating size.”
TJ laughed. “I never exaggerate.”
Frank signed something behind TJ’s back, Jordan and Mia giggling. TJ turned on Frank, scowling.
“Don’t you butt in! I get enough from the doofus twins!”
Mia smacked him upside the head. “Who’s the doofus, dumbo king?”
“Just ‘cause I won’t hit a woman-!”
“Why, ‘cause one won’t touch you back?”
The two began to argue, Mia lightly tapping him upside the head, TJ throwing his arms up in protest. Jordan sat back with Frank. Frank signed something to Jordan.
“Yeah, they are pretty stupid. Good thing they have us, right?”
“Fine, good thing they have you. Spoil the moment why don’t you?”
“You and your boyfriend done making out, Arnaz?” The voice gave Jordan pause, not out of fear but instead trying to recall where he knew it from.
Turning, he found the older teen from the bus, with two of his friends behind him. His arms were crossed. Jordan tilted his head.
“I’m not sure, let me ask Frank. Frank, we done making out?”
Frank signed something to Jordan. Jordan smiled.
“Frank says we can make room for you, Cambles, if you’re lonely.”
The older teen scowled. “My name is Devon Chambers, you half-breed.”
“So, you make fun of the deaf and you’re racist. Aren’t you a winner?” Jordan smiled, knowing what was coming.
It didn’t matter if you could win a fight. If it had to be fought, that’s all there was to it.
The first punch came from Chambers, an awkward but heavy blow that clipped Jordan’s head. Pain rang out, but Jordan didn’t let it slow him any. He charged forward, driving his head into Chamber’s stomach and tossing them both to the ground. Chambers was near twice Jordan’s size and he knew it, but that didn’t matter. At least, Jordan sure hoped it wouldn’t. Otherwise he really was going to need superpowers.
Chambers was gasping for breath, Jordan throwing wild punches at his side, trying to ignore his own splitting headache. One of Chamber’s friends grabbed Jordan by the shoulders, dragging him off. Holding Jordan still by the arms, friend number one hoisted Jordan up. Chambers, regaining his composure, got to his feet. TJ, Mia and Frank were off to the side, unsure what to do. Jordan thought he could see Mia yelling towards the group, maybe TJ was yelling something at the group. Friend number two was there, standing in front of them.
Jordan couldn’t hear them right now. He was focused on something else. Chambers was taller than him, sure, and he was being held up by his arms. Fine. What he had planned, maybe it’s not what Superman would do, but Jordan wasn’t Superman. Chambers reared back to punch Jordan even harder, when Jordan rammed his foot as hard as he could into Chamber’s crotch. The older kid crumbled like a sandcastle in a hurricane. Then Jordan slammed his head backwards, into the face of friend number one.
This didn’t work as well as it did in the movies, it turned out. The kid let go of him, sure, but Jordan’s vision went near black from the impact and he found it difficult to get back on his feet after. His vision was swimming and he wasn’t sure where was up and where was down. Chambers was saying something, clutching at his groin.
Suddenly the fighting was over, Mr. Adler stepping over Jordan’s body. Slowly, the world began to make sense again. The rest of the group, including Mia, Frank and TJ, were sent on ahead for the rest of the tour. Jordan found, when he recovered, he and the other three were to be kept at the bus. What would happen to them after the trip would be determined later.
Jordan sat opposite of Chambers, glaring out the window. To his surprise, Chambers was the first to speak.
“You’re a fucking nasty fighter, aren’t you Arnaz?”
Jordan blinked. “Thanks. If you got a clean hit on me though, I don’t think I would have kept going.”
The bus was quiet for a bit.
“Sorry, about your friend. I got a cousin, that Asperger’s thing. Not the same but, nothing that can be done about it. I was just in a shitty mood.”
Jordan nodded. “Yeah. I get you. I shouldn’t have been so quick to attack you either.” He stared out the window some more. “What do you think they’re learning?”
“If it’s the same shit as last year, there’s a stuffed Megulon corpse hanging in the museum, and they’re going to mostly go on and on about Megulon habits and weak spots. Stuff like the joints between the exo-armor and whatever.” Chambers was confused by Jordan’s laughter that followed.
Normally, the idea of learning about the biology of one of the alien creatures that had come to Earth would be too good for him to pass up. Jordan had an intense, keen mind for the extraterrestrial and super-human. Only, Chambers had mentioned one thing first that overrode everything else.
“I would love to see Mia’s face, when she meets that Megulon.”
Rick wouldn’t admit that the chill pierced him to the bone. A storm was starting, rain sputtering to life before stopping again. What was the word his mother had used before? Staccato? He shivered, crossing his arms to grab his shoulders. Anything to try to get warm as the rain staccato’ed all over his backside.
The bleeding had stopped after some pressure and time was applied. He was already feeling the aches of where he had been hit but those would pass soon. He was trying to be careful, silent, as he approached the dilapidated arcade. Rog had goons out everywhere, and while Rick didn’t think a 14-year-old little shit was enough to get his attention, he didn’t really want to chance that either.
A small, hormonal part of him would admit that there was one thing that could be nice about it. The girls of the gang, they all looked like the easy type. Maybe one would even want to fuck him. Shaking his head, he reconsidered. He didn’t want some whore as his first girl. Who knows what diseases they’d even have? Besides, Rog’s gang probably used those girls as prostitutes or something. More pitiable than anything. Just a brief thought of a young teenage boy.
What gang did Rog even belong to? Some new shit group, the Gunners or something. They came in a short time ago, something even Rick was aware of. Used to be, gangs weren’t really that organized. Just a bunch of society drop-outs who banded together because of whatever fucking reason, usually something owing to race or money. Then these guys started coming in, dismantling the others piece by piece and absorbing their members.
These guys were worse. Crips or whoever were here before, you could probably walk around and not get hassled. Even if you did, it’d be some insults and warnings unless you did something stupid. They didn’t try to make you join their operation, didn’t try to get you to think like they thought. Why would they? The whole idea of it was that you banded together to make a gang. Similar problems bring similar people together.
This was more like a low rent mercenary group. Only with the nastiness turned way up. They didn’t care what background you were from, though they always seemed to know. Rog was a guy he had never met before the last few days, yet the asshole had his number immediately. Shivering again, Rick pushed on. The rain was starting to get worse.
Who gave a shit about the Gunners? That wasn’t a life Rick wanted, and it wasn’t going to be something he did. He’d rather join the goddamn military first. At least there, there were rules. He could rise to authority. Have a say for something once in his miserable life. Maybe he’d get recruited into the Supreme United Nation’s Taskforce one day. He couldn’t stay at the mechanic’s shop. That would just bring the wrong kind of trouble down on the guy.
Arriving at the side entrance, in an alley, he found something curious. The door was unlocked. Not thinking anything about it, he entertained the idea that the power might still be on. Maybe one of the machines would be on free play, he could play some ancient cabinet. That Dungeons and Dragons thing, Double Dragons, Dragon’s Lair, even Donkey Kong 3. Whatever, he wouldn’t be picky.
To his continuing surprise, when he flicked the light switch the power did, in fact, turn on. This place had been abandoned maybe five years ago. Why would it still have power? A thought unnerved him. Maybe someone was already using this as a hideout. Now he could just see Rog coming around the corner, arms crossed, biggest shit eating grin on his face. How fucked would that be, wandering right into where those assholes were hiding.
He stopped himself, taking a deep breath. No way. They weren’t anywhere near here. This place was too small, cramped. All the machines were still here. Rick looked around the musty old room, covered floor to ceiling with cobwebs and maybe worse. Rat shit littered the ground and the smell was something he’d rather ignore. Only it occurred to him, he didn’t run into any of those cobwebs on the way in. In fact, it looked like some one had been through here recently.
There was a path cleared to one of the arcade machines. If Rick was a more imaginative sort, maybe just a younger more innocent child, he might have entertained a fantasy of this situation. That the arcade machine was waiting for him, that it would briskly take him off on a grand adventure. Allow him to become some grand hero. Save Princess Blowjobs from the evil who-gives-a-damn troll goblins, get married and be thrice laid. Whatever.
He was not that imaginative. He saw the path and all that occurred to him was that some one must have gone through and gotten to that machine for some reason. Simple, straightforward, easy. What he did not see, as while he did not entertain such flights of fancy, he similarly did not look for anything outside the obvious, was that the floor around the machine was damaged. If he had seen it, even from the counter where he stood, Rick would have remarked that it looked like a jackhammer had been used or something.
He did not see it, however. Rick merely went forward to check the machine, finding that it was the only one that seemed to be without power of the lot. Checking, he found that it was an old Space Invaders cabinet. Trying to move it to the side then revealed something that wasn’t so obvious from where Rick had been. Someone, something, had knocked a huge hole into the ground. Massive by Rick’s standards, the hole was large enough that he could drop into it without issue.
Moving the machine a few more feet from the edge, finding that its power cord had been torn from it ages ago, Rick peered down. All that he found was inky darkness, without a bottom to be seen. Grimacing, he tried to step back and away. Tried being the key word.
The floor beneath him buckled, crumbling and Rick found himself tumbling into the pit. The landing hurt worse than he thought it would, mostly because he was convinced he was going to die on the way down. So, perhaps this was an improvement. Opening his eyes, Rick screamed and scrambled away.
One of the alien bugs was there, staring at him. Backing up as far as he could, hitting something he couldn’t see behind himself, he watched the bug just sit there. Eventually he realized, it did not have the same royal purple hue that the normal Megulon had, instead it was all dark and brown. Its eyes similarly were dark and lifeless. After a moment, he realized what he was looking at.
A husk. The damn thing had molted at some point in the past. Like a cicada. Rick looked around, the dark still just as all consuming, hoping that the creature wasn’t still alive somewhere. Impatient, he stepped away from whatever had stopped him. It wasn’t a wall, but it wasn’t moving either. Rubble maybe? Bringing his hand up to wipe the sweat and rain away from his forehead, he saw the bright purple blood. Fresh.
Springing back, he found it. The thing he had crashed against. A Megulon, but not like the husk behind him. He had never seen one like this before. It had longer limbs, a larger body, and from Rick could see, larger wings. More of a neck, tusks or pincers or whatever growing out of its face. What was left of its face. This creature had been mauled by something and Rick didn’t much want to find out what.
Was this a new arrival? Or, worse, did one of the ones from nine years ago survive and grow into this freak? Looking it over, it was a big bug. The normal Megulon were around six feet hunched forward. Rearing up, they reached nearly twelve feet. This thing was easily twice that. What Rick did not notice was that the creature seemed to no longer be able to rear up, to move bipedal. It had fully grown into a quadrupedal form.
In the distance, Rick only now being able to see that he wasn’t in a basement or even New York’s sewers, but some makeshift tunnel, he heard a high-pitched noise. A kind of screeching sound that reminded him of what he could remember the Megulon sounded like, only worse. Louder. Against his better judgement, he stalked forward, finding a fork in the path. About to go down the left path, a burst of yellow tinted light and the sound of bone shaking thunder made him sprint down the right.
Running, he was not looking at where he had been headed. Even if he had, he was going too fast to avert his course now. Crying out in pain, he ran smack dab into something very large. Falling backwards, freaking out and cursing, he tried to get his bearings straight. Opening his eyes, he saw it.
It was something he remembered seeing on TV. Something recovered from Megulon pits that had been cleared out, before being eradicated. Only on TV, they were small things, maybe the size of a football. These pods were much larger, much too large. Big enough that he could fit in it. On TV, they identified them as the eggs of the Megulon.
Rick had just run into one, he realized, and looking past it he saw dozens more. Stretching back, into the sewer system that the tunnels had bored into and beyond, there were more and more. Some were smaller, but all were massive compared to the football sized little runts on TV. And, in the dim glow coming in from the artificial lights of the sewer, Rick would swear that he saw something moving. Something big.
His heart pounding the way it was, it was a surprise that he didn’t just lose it when the voice called out to him. A feminine voice, kind of husky, older. Rick turned and saw someone approaching him.
“Hey kid. What’s got you down here?”
She was probably one of the most beautiful women Rick had ever seen. Not just his teenage hormones talking, she had an elegant style to her. She wore her long red hair like a glamor star from the 30s, her bright blue eyes were clear even in the dim light. She had a good figure from what Rick could tell. It was obscured by her weird tracksuit, the color he couldn’t tell, that seemed to be torn in places. Most of all, she had a warm, honest smile.
“I, just kind of fell. Um. What’s, what’s your name?”
She took him by the hand, helping him to his feet with ease.
“My name’s Rebecca. Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
The older woman smiled. Rick pegged her at being near her forties, but only because of the way she sounded. She looked younger than his own mother.
“That’s the name buddy. You got one too?”
Rick was startled for a moment. “Oh, right. My name’s Rick.”
“R&R, good to meet you! Now like I said,” she put a hand on his back, steering him away from what he was afraid were eggs. “Let’s get you out of here.”
He tried to stop their movement but found that Rebecca was deceptively strong. “Wait, what are you doing down here?”
“Oh, this and that. Mostly my job. It’s boring, don’t worry. I just need to get you out of the area so nothing bad happens to my new best friend, okay?” She kept moving regardless.
“Are those, like, eggs? Like really big eggs?”
“Well if my job is done correctly, hopefully you won’t have to find out!”
Eventually the woman had dragged him back to the hole. Getting him to step up on her awaiting hands, she prepared to toss him up back to the surface. Rick realized, coming out of his daze, that there was no way this was going to work. She was too thin, and it was too far away. Rebecca just winked at him, before hurling him straight up.
“Watch where you land!”
Words he barely heard as he went through the hole, right into the arcade machine. It collapsed under his weight, machinery and cheap wood crashing to the ground.
“You okay up there!”
“Fantastic. Never better.”
“Great to hear! Now get going!”
Rick was slow to rise, fresh pain hitting him from every angle as he attempted it. What the actual hell was going on? Stumbling outside, he tried to take stock of himself. Did what just happened, happen? He didn’t see the group approaching as he wandered outside, trying to get some fresh air.
“Ricky boy, you reconsider what kind of pet you’re going to be?”
Rog. Rick could barely even remember why he had been worried about Rog. Seeing that stuff underground, brief as it was…it was so much larger than whatever bullshit Rog was doing.
“I need to go, Rog. Not now.” Rick tried to move past them.
Rog, Rick realized, almost looked offended to be so ignored. With a snap of his fingers, Rick was roughly grabbed by two of his associates.
“You don’t get it, Rog! Under our feet, there are-!”
“You don’t get it, Damon! Our top man has eyed your pretty little ass, and he don’t take no for an answer. I don’t know what for, maybe some high paying customer likes their tail weak and worthless, but you-” Rog punched Rick in the gut, hard. Rick started to gag. “Are coming with us. We are either going to domesticate you or break you. I don’t really give a shit which happens first.”
Gasping for breath, Rick tried again. “You don’t get it you dumb asshole! We’ve got a serious problem!”
Rog moved away, snapping his fingers. Rick dragged along, a bandana shoved into his mouth. Rog’s words about Rick being requested was lost on him, worried more about what was going on below.
“Only thing in the world that matters, Ricky, is staying in the race. The guy holding our leash, he could yank it just like that. Nothing in the world is more important than that.”
Rog was so self-assured at this moment. So completely confident in his place in the universe and all that lay within, that he never even bothered to check his own feet. Check the ground on which he walked. If he had, he would have seen the cracks forming. He would have found the steam rising. Rog, it would seem, was not a man who looked to see where he was going.
From below, a thousand terrible noises cut through the air. From below, the tremor of a thousand freshly born horrors cut through the ground. From below, a new Hell would emerge, so much like the one that had once plagued this planet before. The roads seized, vast swaths of pavement and the foundation beneath being shoved up. Bright red eyes, glowing in the dark of the storm, could be seen by those who remained on their feet and dared to look into the pits opened up.
Emerging from each of the eggs Rick had discovered were full grown, fully developed Megulon. Their gestation was over, their cycle of feeding would continue.
Woe be to all who fall under the shadow of the locust swarm.