SHIP OF THESEUS’ EXCERPT - NO DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
The Rat dropped from the roof just as Henry reached from the shadows for the lady’s purse. Our hero landed on him, breaking the poor guy’s thumb. This was an accident. What Skyrat meant to do was to land right in between Henry and the woman in a crouch, with one hand touching the pavement in front of him for balance, and the other drawn back into a fist. You know, like superheroes do in comic books. The thing is, jumping from a four story building and directing your landing in such a precise way is tough. It was pure luck that he didn’t land on the woman instead of Henry.
The two of them scrambled back to their feet, Henry holding his hand, Skyrat pulling his hood up over his head, trying to exude confidence and menace in the face of this villain and the pretty lady he was protecting. The lady stood there watching, her hands on her head. She had dropped the purse.
“I told you to stay out of this neighborhood, Henry!” said Skyrat, stern as he could manage. His mask was the severed sleeve of a red t-shirt. Triangular eye holes and a large opening for his nose and mouth had been cut out of it, and it was tied off under his chin to keep it tight. The rest of his costume consisted of a black t-shirt, a maroon zip-up hoodie, blue jeans, and a pair of old red canvas basketball shoes.
Henry didn’t say anything. He just stood there, hunched over at the entrance to the alley, clutching his injured digit to his belly, swaying like a canoe in a lake. He was drunk.
Without warning, the Rat lunged at him, grabbed him by his army coat, dragged him down the alley, scooped him up, and tossed him into an open dumpster with a thud that brought the lid down. “Don’t you dare come out of there until I’m gone,” Skyrat warned. “And if I catch you purse snatching again, I’ll sell you to the Surgeons of the Evil East!”
Henry kicked the inside of the dumpster in response.
Skyrat strutted back up the alley toward the pretty lady with his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, saying, “Sorry if I scared you, jumping out of nowhere like that, Miss. In situations like this, I have to act quick.”
She plucked her purse off of the sidewalk and struck a pose under the streetlight, arms crossed, quite reminiscent of the billboard behind her on the building across the street.
Our hero was oblivious to the similarity. “Are you okay?”
She looked him over as he stepped into the light. The hood cast his face in shadow.
She responded, “What are you, a jerk?”
“I’m the Skyrat!” he said, lowering his hood. He was a young African American man of sixteen. His mask was soaked in sweat and had some food stains on it. His hair, which had grown out since it was closely cropped at the beginning of the summer, was gross from all the rooftop patrolling he’d been doing that night. His smile was ear to ear. His eyes twinkled. An acute observer might have accused him of being smitten by the dark haired beauty in front of him.
“You’re a bully,” she said.
“But…” He straightened up, looking around for an observer to back him up. “He was going to mug you.” There was no one around to corroborate this story. Actually, besides a few random third shifters, drunks, and a couple of Brot cultists, there were very few people here. Skyrat had found himself in Tony territory that was completely devoid of Tony Triads.
“I wasn’t!” Henry’s voice echoed from inside the dumpster as he kicked it again.
Skyrat was flustered. He shifted his weight to one foot and then the other. Rain had begun falling lightly. “Henry takes purses all the time,” he assured her. “I’ve seen him do it. Twice.”
“I wouldn’t have let him take my purse, Skyman.” She glared at him. “I can take care of myself. I certainly don’t need some little boy to save me.” She wasn’t much older than him, a few years at most. She wore jeans and a black pea coat. Her face was kind of sparkly.
Lightning struck in Skyrat’s brain. “You look like Samantha Cyber!” he proclaimed, his smile returning.
He was a dumb kid, but she kind of liked him. “You think?” She looked up at the billboard behind her, then back to the Skyrat. On the billboard, the model sold diamonds with a look of mild disdain on her face. It was the same mask she was wearing now.
“Oh, my god,” he gasped. “You are Samantha Cyber!” She had cybernetic enhancements, sleek ribbons of complex metallic hardware slithering down her right arm. It was a medical necessity to mitigate nerve damage, but it gave her a unique, striking, commercially viable look.
Samantha sighed, turned, and walked away from the boy, knowing he would follow.
He did. “I just saved Samantha Cyber from a purse snatching!” His voice was pitched about an octave above normal. “So weird to see you human sized. I mean, because you’re so big on the billboard. Not that you're big. You’re small. You’re a teeny tiny little girl. Lady. Woman. I mean...”
“Stop following me.”
He didn’t. “I’ll walk you home. The Industrial District isn’t safe at night.”
“This is Green City. No place is safe at night in this toilet.”
“Yeah, but… You’re famous.” He stopped. “Why are you out here all by yourself so late?”
She stopped, calculating her response. “You’re famous too.” Somewhere, a cat in heat began screaming like a baby. Samantha could smell urine. “Why are you out here all by yourself?”
“I’m, uh, I’m not famous.” Skyrat blushed. “I’m infamous. There’s a difference.”
His smile was one of those contagious types. She fought the urge to show that she’d been infected by it. “No difference. Infamous sounds bad, but it can work out pretty well for you if you know how to use it.”
“Well, I mean, this is my, uh, this is my job. Being here is what I do.”
Something popped and echoed in the distance; maybe a gunshot, maybe a vehicle backfire. A Brot jaywalked just east of them. There was no one else around but the yelping cat and a vagrant, vomiting in a gutter. The rain was coming down harder now. “Let me walk you home. I don’t mind.” He put his hood back up.
She thought the boy was sweet and allowed him a smile. “I mind, Skyman.”
“Whatever. You can’t walk me home. I don’t like the idea of some kid knowing where my apartment is. You might tell your buddies, and then I’m gonna have a bunch of little boys swarming my apartment building, hounding the attendant for autographs and trying to peek at me in my underwear.”
He looked around again. Still no one helpful to be seen. “I would never…!”
“Of course you wouldn’t.”
In the distance, car tires squealed, stealing their attention from each other. Back to Samantha, Skyrat said, “Really. You can trust me. I’m a superhero.”
“I’ll tell you what.” She dug his sincerity. “Give me your phone number, and I’ll text you if I ever need a superhero.”
His eyes lit up. “Okay!” He started going through his pockets, pulling out mobile phones. She counted seven of them. “Here,” he said when he found the one he wanted. A vehicle was approaching; a poorly running gas-powered vehicle, coming fast by the sound of it. “Take this number.”
“You’re sure?” She took her own phone from her purse. “That’s the one?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I think I’ll put some music on it. You like For Algernon? Oh, and Star Biker has to go on here too. You ever play that?”
“What’s the number, Ratboy?”
“Skyrat.” He told her the number. She called it. “I can’t believe I have Samantha Cyber’s kwothing phone number!”
Her phone was returned to her purse. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
Headlights illuminated them as an old black full-sized van screeched around the corner and barreled past them, roaring like an injured brachiosaurus with a diesel engine. Swerving out of control, it became suddenly acquainted with the unyielding metal pole of a streetlight. The pole leaned in on the van in disapproval. Sparks spat from a busted light fixture. A hubcap went rolling off down the street. The cat made a demon noise. Samantha and Skyrat watched in disbelief as the truck backed up, beeping in warning.
Thudding, running footsteps like a kick drum drew their attention back to the corner from whence the van had appeared. The perpetrator of the drumming was impossibly big, nearly as big as the van. He wore a tight fitting muscle shirt, jeans, and a green luchador mask with two intertwining snakes on it. Bulging veins pulsed in his biceps and shoulders, and he was snarling like an animal.
Samantha stepped behind the Rat to hide, terrified, clutching onto the back of his hoodie. “What the kwot is that?”
Skyrat whispered, “Berserker.” He was terrified too.
Berserker slowed as he approached the van. It stopped backing up, and the transmission clunked as it was thrown in drive. Bullets pinged through the back windows. The brute just swatted at them like annoying flies. He kicked the back driver’s side tire, and it popped. Sparks flew as the wheels spun for a getaway but to no avail. Berserker smacked the side of the van and it toppled over.
Skyrat said, “I hate this guy.”
“Go get him!” she urged, pushing him toward the scene.
Berserker climbed on top of the van, ripping the driver’s side door off as if it were a page from a magazine.
“Go be a superhero!”
“I will, don’t rush me!” Skyrat took a deep breath and then a step toward the van.
The masked giant stood on the side of the overturned van, holding the driver above him by the lapels. He was saying, “Tell Geronimo that if he wants him back, he can buy him back from Berserker.” His accent was more European than Mexican, as far as Skyrat could tell. The driver’s head was bleeding. He threw up on Berserker’s shoulder. The monster just laughed.
Skyrat drew one more deep breath into his lungs and said to Samantha, “You should probably run,” then ran full force in the van’s direction, jumped, and launched himself at Berserker. He bounced off the villain’s back as a tennis ball would from a wall, falling onto the upturned side of the van and then rolling off onto the street.
Berserker dropped the driver and stepped off of the vehicle. “Skyrat,” he said. “The Theseus to my Minotaur. I have been missing you.”
Rat scurried back to his feet. “How’s your head?”
Berserker took a casual swat at Skyrat. The blow connected and sent the boy through the air and into the burned-out warehouse across the street. He smacked against it and plopped down onto the sidewalk.
“Last time we met, you hit me from behind with a street sign,” he growled at the boy. “That was cowardly.”
“Call it what you want, tiny.” Our hero took to his unsteady feet, shaking. “I stopped you from killing that poor bank manager’s shih tzu, though, didn’t I.”
“For now.” Berserker swung his fist, but the Rat dodged it. The punch exploded the bricks of the building and buried the brute’s arm in the wall up to his shoulder. Skyrat grabbed onto his opponent’s belt, braced his foot against the wall, and flung the villain with everything he had. Berserker flew without grace back across the street, crashing into the underside of the toppled van. The impact rolled it backwards onto its roof. Berserker rolled off onto the street behind it.
Skyrat smiled amidst the cloud of mortar dust, proud of himself. Still, he didn’t dare take on Berserker directly. “Whatever you’re after, I won’t let you take it!” He really needed to escape, preferably with his skull intact. A plan began to formulate.
Berserker came around the upturned vehicle. “Like a mouse braving the kitchen while the cat prowls the house...” His footsteps echoed off of the buildings as he marched forward. “I will play with your helpless form until I am ready to eat you alive, little pigeon.”
Sirens blared in the distance. Samantha had called the police. They would be equipped with weapons designed to take down the likes of Berserker. Skyrat too, for that matter. The monster stopped in his tracks. “The corrupt master of the house awakes as well.” He shifted his attention back to the van. “Fly back to your nest, little pigeon. We will have to continue our game another time.”
Another vehicle turned a corner onto the scene, not the police but a white television news van. Skyrat figured that the driver must have been nearby listening to his police scanner and was now determined to catch the story before the police arrived.
Berserker tipped the black van from its roof back to its side.
Skyrat raced to the news van, waving his hands at it, yelling, “Stop!” It screeched to a halt in front of him, and the driver opened the door. The headlights nearly blinded the Rat.
“What do you think you’re doing, kid?” I yelled at him. You should know that it was me driving the van. My wife and I owned a local independent news station, WGCN, Channel 4, where she was the director and had a morning show called “Early Bird.” Lucretia had had me pick the van up from the shop before going to work. She wasn’t going to be happy about this.
“I need to borrow your van, please and thank you.” To exhibit that this was not a request but a commandeering, he took a cue from Berserker, and ripped the driver’s side door off the news van like a coupon, flipping it off into the air behind him, letting me know he meant business.
Our eyes met. He recognized me. The door crashed down onto the street a half a block behind him. The sirens grew louder.
After a split second of hesitation, he yanked me out of the van and onto the street, careful not to injure my fragile old frame. He climbed into the driver’s seat and put the vehicle in gear, took one more worried glance in my direction, said, “Smells like skunk in here,” and put the pedal to the metal.
Berserker went around to the rear of the black van, opening the doors. Before he could peak at the cargo inside, Skyrat hit him with my news van at about sixty five miles per hour. Glass and metal sprayed the air. The back end of the news van lurched up off of the street and smacked into the black van while the front end wrapped itself around the big guy, who just kind of stood there and took it even better than the streetlight had. Skyrat had not buckled his seatbelt. He was thrown through the windshield by the impact, and I kid you not, he soared over Berserker, did a flip and landed in a perfect superhero pose thirty feet ahead of the collision. He crouched there for a moment, one hand in front for balance, the other drawn back behind him in a fist.
Berserker stumbled at the boy hero, stunned. He reached up to his sternum and took a handful of flesh. It tore with an awful sound. He pulled and ripped, squirming like a snake shedding it’s skin, his flesh wet and red on the inside, making sucking sounds as he stepped free from it, fully dressed, looking clean and bright in his fresh new clothes and mask.
Skyrat stumbled back in disgust and horror, then stood straight to face his enemy, ready for what might be next...
Shiny Red Nothing is proud to present Ship Of Theseus, a genre-nuking novel that pits a troubled young writer named Wayne Bird against his own demons before rocketing him 150 years into the future to meet Skyrat, the superhero he created when he was a little boy.Ghosts, vampires, skin-shedding monsters, hive-minded street gangs, alien viruses, math obsessed cultists, drugs that induce nirvana, and an adventure like none other awaits you!
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