by Mike Newberry
“Parker! Get in here!” Mr. Brown’s harsh voice rose above the clickity-clack of computer keys, and the ring of telephones. Lance sat in his cubicle, doodling on his desk calendar. The boobs on the drawing were, if he did say so himself, really something. He added some extra shading in the nipple area and leaned back to admire his work.
“Parker,” Mr. Brown called again. Lance’s phone rang, startling him out of his soft-core reverie.
“Sports desk,” he answered without any degree of passion. “I SAID GET IN HERE!” Mr. Brown screamed.
“Uh, my name isn’t ‘Parker’, sir.”
“I know that. But Van Houghten is too much of a mouthful. From now on, you’re Parker. Now, get the hell in here!” Lance jumped and dropped the phone. He fumbled with it for a minute, getting his hand caught in the coiled cord, and eventually hung up. He grabbed his steno pad and trotted to Mr. Brown’s office, quickly adjusted his bowtie and strutted in. The grizzled old man sat hunched over his desk, sweat reflecting of his enormous bald spot. He tried to cover it with something of a comb-over, but no one was fooled.
“Why don’t you just call me Lance, Brown?” Lance griped.
“Sit down and shut up. And it’s MISTER Brown to you. Now, you’re a sports reporter in a town with no professional sports teams. I’ve relegated you to high school sports because I don’t know what else to do with you. The Board says I can’t fire you, no matter how much you bother me.”
“No matter how - “
“Quiet,” he thundered. “Nancy is out for a few days. Apparently she’s sick, or something. I covered a live battle zone in ‘Nam with malaria, but whatever.” The old man looked off wistfully for a few heartbeats. “Anyway, Nancy is out so I need you to cover the Science and Tech beat at the University. Some woman over there is doing something with gene splicing. Here are her notes. Go finish it.”
“Sir, I really don’t know if I can.”
“I didn’t ask if you can,” Mr. Brown said between clenched teeth. “I just told you to do it.”
“If you want to continue to have a job here, Parker,” he pointed, “you’ll get me this story.” Lance stood and nodded once. He turned and walked back to his cubicle. The reporter threw his laptop, steno pad, and a few other things into his leather back pack. He stopped and doubled back toward Mr. Brown’s office a half dozen times before finally giving up, adjusting his bow tie again, and making for the elevator.
* * *
All these damned halls looked exactly the same. How was he supposed to find anything? Also, was there even anyone here? It was the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday and there were practically tumbleweeds in this building. 403, he needed room 403. This one was 254, and down there was 412 somehow. This hall was a freaking MC Escher poster.
“Where the hell is 403?” he called into the emptiness. He went back to examining campus map.
“Its four doors down on your right.” Lance made a sound that resembled nothing so much as a flaming cat.
“Dude!” he complained to the bespectacled kid who stood behind him. Lance pushed some stray hairs back into place and re-adjusted his bowtie. After a calming breath, he moved toward the target door. Sauntering in, he saw several females - none particularly attractive - skittering back and forth in their goggles.
“Excuse me.” No response. He tried flagging down one a few of them. “Excuse me….Hi, could you….Hey!” Why were these chicks ignoring him? Chicks never ignored him. Last chance. “Where’s Peggy?” he hollered. A hand shot up in the back of the room. It was followed by a barely audible “Over here.”
Lance made his way, dodging girls the whole time, back to the girl who identified as Peggy. She told him, in some detail, what she was doing. He wrote it all down, but didn’t understand a word. Something about isolating the DNA that gave blah blah blah.
This one was pretty hot. Her almond eyes peered out from behind trendy plastic framed glasses. Her jet black hair was bound up in a bun, and her neck offered a tantalizing view of what came beneath it. He interrupted her rambling. “Y’know,” he said, “you could really be something if you let your hair down.” He flashed his most winsome smile. His perfect teeth gleamed in the florescent light. She stared at him uncomprehendingly.
“I’ll be something,” she retorted “when I get this right. Can we focus please?”
“Relax, honey,” he said brushing hair back from her eyes. She slapped his hand away. “Tell you what,” he went on. “I don’t live far from here. Why don’t we go back to my place and splice some DNA of our own?” He flicked his eyebrows at her.
Peggy gasped and slapped him full in the face with her gloved hand. He hit him hard, and he backed up a few steps. Everyone in the room stopped and stared at them over their goggles. He wiped something wet from his cheek - it was not blood, he checked - and gathered up his bag.
“Take your purse and get out,” Peggy said, pointing at the door. Her face was flush with anger and she breathed heavily.
“Ok,” he said. “I can tell when I’m not wanted.” He backed out the door. “Call me if you change your mind.” The empty flask just barely missed his head as it crashed against the wall.
* * *
Lance Van Houghten unlocked his door with a shaking hand. Following his little adventure at the University, he’d gone back to the office and given some serious thought to actually writing this story. He stared at his notes for a bit, but could not make sense of them. He did not know what any of those words meant. Maybe he should have paid more attention, but the girl - Peggy? - was just so hot. He spent most of his time staring at the shape of her lips and imagining them on his…well, he did not listen much. A quick lunch had left him feeling less than his best. By the end of the work day, Lance was fairly certain he would die.
He stumbled home and collapsed on his couch. Food had never made him this sick before. He was nauseated, his head was splitting, he was sweating yet freezing cold all at once. Add to that, his whole body was shaking - not just shivering - and he had tunnel vision. Bracing himself for the inevitable vertigo, he stood and lurched his way into the bathroom. He puked in the sink, and fumbled for the Tylenol in the cabinet. Somehow, the pills stayed down, though it was touch and go for a minute there. Lance fell into his bed and passed out, face down.
It was dark when he woke. He really hated that. Bleary eyed, Lance looked around. The side of his face was wet. He wiped it his chin and rolled over. Surprisingly, he felt alright. The silk sheets made a pleasant swish as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. The faux bear skin rug (Ikea, $29.95) felt fuzzier and deeper than usual, like every single fiber made it a point to caress the soles of his feet. Probably just tingly after whatever hit me yesterday. Today?
A quick look at his phone revealed to Lance that today was, in fact, tomorrow, at about 6am. Two hours before work. Just enough time to get to the gym. His body screamed that now was not the time, but another part of him knew that the hottest babes always work out before work. They liked to watch him lift just as much as he liked to watch them run. He could see it in their eyes, in their walk.
* * *
There was a familiar, yet disconcerting smell in the gym. It was strong, like someone put too much chlorine in the nearby pool, or used too much bleach to clean the equipment. Lance fought down a wave of nausea and made for the free-weights like always. After a moment he must have become used to the smell, because he no longer felt sick. Today was supposed to be back and shoulders, but there, across the gym, was a particularly attractive young thing on the elliptical. She was bouncing in all the best places and all the best ways, and looking his direction.
Dead lifts. Chicks love deadlifts.
As quickly as possible, Lance loaded the bar. Two hundred pounds, plus the bar was a good weight; heavy enough to require effort, but low enough that he could do it several times and seem more impressive. Edging up to the bar, he squatted and made a show of wrapping his hands around the grips. A few exaggerated preparatory breaths and he pulled. Lance’s back straightened and the momentum of the bar carried his arms over his head. The whole structure flung into the air and rattled off the rafters. It crashed back down to the floor with a tremendous clatter. Lance covered his head as some debris tumbled down and barely got his toe out of the way of a large piece of cement.
The room fell silent, save for the reverberating ring of the rafters and the barbell. Lance was stunned, people stared. He moved to replace the bell, but when he wrapped his hands around the bar and pulled, it barely moved. Two hundred forty five pounds should have been no big thing, but Lance was barely able to get the bar up to his thighs. He waddled and grunted and groaned his way to the rack and dropped the bar on it. Everyone was still staring.
* * *
Alright, what on Earth just happened? Far from modest, Lance was certainly able to admit that he was stronger that most guys his height; that a modest 5’8”. But never once would he have claimed to be able to throw over two hundred pounds over 20 feet in the air. And then, to barely be able to lift it immediately after? That was messed up. He was dreaming. Lance was at home, still dreaming, and that was the end of it. That had to be it, didn’t it?
Just to be safe, though, he looked behind him. At this hour, the streets were still relatively baron, save for a handful of runners and the homeless. Satisfied that there was no one chasing him down the street to collect damages, Lance pulled his hood up, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and picked up the pace. Moving at that awkward pace between a jog and a brisk walk, he devoured the blocks between the gym and his home. A noise rang out, bringing his mind back to the moment. Was that gunfire? He pried his eyes away from the sidewalk and looked around, expecting to find a construction site or something that would explain a loud bang. There was nothing.
He heard it again, this he was able to pinpoint the sound. It came from his left, on the other side of the street, and it was followed by a terrified scream.
A woman’s scream.
Rationally, Lance knew he should keep walking, but he was not thinking rationally at the moment. Still have convinced he was in a dream, he crossed the street and made his way toward the likely spot of the struggle, an alley way. Why did these things always take place in an alley? He inched forward, the scuffling of shoes and grunting increased in volume until they were almost deafening. At the back of the alley, where one of the buildings terminated, there was a small intersection, well out of the view of the main road. Slowly, so slowly, Lance peered around the corner. There, a large fellow with a torn shirt grappled with a small girl, barely in her teens by the look of her. She was putting up a valiant fight, but the dude was just too strong for her. There was no sign of a gun. Weird.
“Hey,” Lance called as he stepped around the edge of the building. “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you pick on someone your own size!” Wait, what? What was wrong with him today? Not only did he call the guy out, he actually used that tired old phrase. This had to be a dream. Just wake up, man.
At the sound of his voice, the struggle stopped. The big guy unfolded himself from the small girl and stood to his full height. He towered over Lance, but so did most people. Too late to back down now, Lance advanced and looked up into the man’s eyes. From behind his back, the guy pulled out a wicked looking knife. For an instant, Lance shuddered to think where he had been keeping a blade that size. He did not have long to ponder, though. The knife was thrust with a great deal of force straight at his gut.
And it bounced off. Lance barely felt it. There was nothing to stop the blade but two or three layers of tech fabric, which was certainly not kevlar. The momentum of the blow alone should have forced him back a few steps at the very least, but he did not even move. The big man’s eyes were the size of dinner plates as he realized what had just happened. Those big eyes locked with Lance’s as he struck again. With a move bred of instinct, Lance raised his arm to block the strike, and felt a flash of heat and the trickle of blood as the knife slashed across the unprotected arm. He cried out in pain and struck back with his opposite hand. There was a mighty crack and Lance felt the bones of the big man’s colossal jaw give way beneath the force of his punch.
Rather than screaming, or falling down in pain, the assailant spit some teeth out and growled. With a terrifying speed, he lunged again, all arms and legs, coming directly for Lance’s throat. The smaller man ducked and moved to the right. When he opened his eyes, he was clear on the other side of the alley, the hoodlum looked about wildly for the prey he was sure he had cornered. Lance looked around too, wondering how the hell he had gotten where he was. His attacker closed the distance and swung again. Lance ducked, but this time was not quite so lucky. The blow landed and he crashed to the ground with a groan as the air whooshed from his lungs. The big man laughed, a strange sound through his broken jaw. That sound, for whatever reason, filled Lance with a righteous rage he rarely felt. He glared at the attacker from his position on the ground. With his glare, the already torn shirt began to smoke, then to smolder, then burst into flames.
Now the attacker screamed, and fled into the night, arms flailing at the flames he could not put out. Lance groaned again and lurched to his feet. His face hurt where the punch had landed, but he seemed no worse for wear. He looked at the bleeding arm, but it was no longer bleeding. In fact, the only evidence that a blade had sliced his skin was the faintest pink line, about 4 inches long. He looked around for the girl who had been the initial object of the attacker’s anger, but she was no where to be found. Must have escaped, he thought. He still could not shake the feeling that this was some sort of dream, but it all seemed so real.
He made for the street.
* * *
A high pitched squeal assailed Lance’s ears as the door to the science building wrenched open. He threw his hands up to his ears and grunted in pain. Still holding his ears, he dashed up the stairs and down a hallway to room 403. He crashed through the door and shouted “Where’s Peggy?!” As before, a hand shot up at the back of the room. He practically knocked some poor, unsuspecting scientists off their feet as he stumbled to the back of the room, still clutching his ears in pain.
“What did you do to me?” he hollered at her. She backed away from him like she just smelled something awful.
“Stop shouting,” she griped. “I’m right here.”
“I can’t hear you.”
“Seriously, why are you yelling at me?”
“Don’t you hear all that noise?” he cried over the din in his own head. Peggy looked away for a moment and scribbled something on a scrap of paper.
No yelling. What’s wrong?
“I’ve been hav…” She stopped him in his tracks with an angry finger across her lips. He took the proffered pen and scrawled out a response.
Weird things. Sick last night. Threw weights. Burned mugger. Ears hurt. Peggy’s eyes became as big as dinner plates. Her jaw dropped. She began to speak, but stopped at drawing a breath. She frantically motioned for the pen.
Deadlift. 200lbs. Threw to ceiling. The young science student covered her mouth in shock. Accident. No 1 hurt. His face flushed. With a hand, Peggy raised Lance’s chin and motioned for eye contact. She began speaking, but Lance still could not hear her.
“…Happened to you today?” Her cadence implied a question.
“Say that again.”
“Oh, so you can hear now?”
“Apparently. What did you say?”
“I said tell me everything that happened to you.”
“I left here yesterday and went back to the office. I didn’t understand a word you said, so I left a little early. By the time I got home, I felt dreadful. Slept it off, and woke up this morning feeling better.” Peggy nodded and returned her glasses to the bridge of her nose.
“I went to the gym. Usually I deadlift about 350 or so, but I did 200 this morning. For some reason.” She did not need to know the real reason. “I pulled up and ended up launching the weights, like, 20 feet in the air. Then, when I tried to put them back, I could barely lift it. I ended up waddling back to the rack and getting out of there.”
“And the mugger?” the girl prompted.
“Saw a guy assaulting a girl in a back alley by my apartment. I tried to stop him. He pulled a knife, but it bounced right off me. Then, he swung again and it cut my arm. Look,” he offered his arm to her, but the faint pink scar failed to impress. “Oh, right. It healed.” His face flushed again. Why did he keep doing that. “So after that, I glared at him, and his jacket caught fire out of nowhere.” Peggy just nodded, her eyebrows drawn in so far they nearly met.
“Come with me,” she said at last, and made for the door. Quickly. A few large steps caught him up and he followed her down the hall and out of the building. The two odd companions hustled across the campus to a glass fronted building with odd angles. Upon entering, Lance was greeted with the familiar smell of locker rooms and gym equipment. “Over here,” Peggy beckoned. She pointed at a barbell with several large weights on it. “Lift,” she commanded.
Lance’s eyes opened questioningly, but Peggy’s returned glare was challenging. His chest rose and fell with a cleansing breath and he bent to the bar. Not wanting a repeat of the morning’s incident, he pulled gingerly. As before, the bar came up easily. He straightened, and looked at his companion. “Can you get it over your head?” He nodded and raised the bar over his head. It took absolutely no effort. He didn’t even have to change his stance. “Stay there,” she said.
A moment later she returned with a small stack of weights. Lance continued holding the barbell up, while Peggy came and went with stacks of weights. She was breathing heavily by the time she had all the weights she wanted. Hands on her hips, hair slightly askew, she told him, “I’m going to add more weight.” He nodded. She started with the big ones. Before long Lance was holding over 600 pounds above his head with almost no effort. Several more of the smaller weights and the bar was bending. He reset his feet for additional balance.
Then, without a moment’s notice, he felt his strength beginning to wain. “No more,” he grunted. A terrible crash echoed through the building as the bar tumbled to the floor, spilling its payload across the facility.
“What happened?” Peggy queried.
“I don’t know. I just felt myself getting weaker. Fast. I couldn’t hold it anymore.”
“Well you stood there for almost an hour by the time you told me to stop.” The girl’s eyes glazed over as she stared off in thought and started ticking off her fingers. “How much is the bar?”
“You were over 2500 pounds when we stopped.” She started pacing up and down. “And you said your ears hurt for how long?”
“I don’t know. From when I entered the science building until, well you saw when it stopped.”
“Right.” She was really moving now, only taking about four steps, but they were big steps and she was covering quite a bit of ground. “So, more than five minutes, but less than ten. We’ll call it seven.” Lance may as well not even have been there at this point. Without a word to him, Peggy stopped pacing and made for the door. Lance followed, leaving weights strewn about the ground like so many land mines.
He caught up to her as she mused about the knife thrust. “…Said it bounced off your abdomen but cut your arm. So that means…” She never finished. Lance could practically smell smoke coming out of her ears, her brain was working so hard. He moved quickly to dodge the door she flung open and trotted down the hall just to repeat the process with the door to room 403.
Still babbling, Peggy aimed for her customary station at the back of the lab. “Hey, HEY,” he called over her chatter. “What. Has happened. To me?”
“This lab is concerned with gene splicing.”
“I know that. My editor - “
“Don’t interrupt. I’m working with the genes of ants and mantis shrimp, primarily.”
“What are you trying to make?”
“They’re not going into the same thing. Don’t interrupt. Most army ants are capable of lifting well over 2000 times their own weight. They have a very strong exoskeleton. The mantis shrimp also has a tough exoskeleton, and its also quite strong. Its also so fast that it can flash boil water through friction. Ants and mantis shrimp both have compound eyes and nearly pre-cognitive senses based on microscopic hairs. Those microscopic hairs evolved over time into what we know as the inner ear.”
Lance stared at the brilliant geneticist. He blinked twice. “What,” he said finally. Her eyes clearly said What don’t you understand here?
She breathed a calming breath and began slowly. “Yesterday, I was working with both solutions. I must have had some on my gloves. So, when you were so gross and I slapped you, Some stray DNA must have gotten on you. Your body absorbed the material. Both creatures are very aggressive, so it forced itself into your own genetic material.” Her mouth curved up into a delighted smile and her eyes were the size of tea saucers. “You, whatever your name is, are a human genetic experiment.”
There was a pathetic groan as Lance slid to the floor and cradled his head in his hands. “Oh, come on,” he moaned. “I’m a shrimp?”
“No,” Peggy retorted. “You…are awesome!”
* * *
What a day, what a day. Lance sat there at the table, staring at the middle distance. “Parker!” the his phone buzzed with a text. “Where the hell are you? I need that story.”
Shut up, Brown. Peggy continued to lecture him for most of the day, describing the various ways in which his genetic material had adapted to the invading stuff. “There’s a chemical in your muscles called ATP, Adenosine TriPhosphate,” she said. “When you use those muscles, the ATP diminishes, making you tired. When you rest, the ATP builds back up.” Lance was enough of a fitness guy to know the basics of this process. “Unless I miss my guess,” she continued, “your new genetic material is augmenting the ATP and cellular structures in your body. But I wasn’t finished with the experiment, so the splicing process was incomplete.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Lance interjected. “Let me see if I understand you here. I have superpowers. But only some of the time?”
“You’re not as dumb as you seem.”
“Thanks,” he replied dryly.
“Since it wasn’t a full strain of DNA, your body is fighting back against it. Only some of the cells are changing. I could be more specific about this if you we could run some tests.” Her left eyebrow raised in question. Lance remained silent. “Ok, so a fraction of your cells are adapting to the new information and creating, the case of your muscles, enhanced ATP. But once that ATP is burned, your normal muscle tissue takes over, rendering you ‘normal’ again.”
“That actually makes a degree of sense. What about my skin, or my hearing?”
“Like I said, I could be more specific if you’d let me run some tests.” He shook his head. “Fine. I imagine your skin and hearing are affected in similar ways. New cells form with the enhanced material and then die off, rendering you ‘normal’ again.”
“Oh my God,” Lance complained again. “So I’ll never know what I’ll be able to do and when I’ll be able to do it?”
“Not exactly. We can hypothesize that, with rest, all of these abilities will build strength, so to speak. So tomorrow morning, you’ll be able to put up a great deal of weight. By your math, it had only been about an hour since your first incident. And you were holding up 2500 pounds with almost no trouble.”
“How much do you think I could lift?” he asked with a side eyed glance. Could he use this to pick up girls?
“I’m not sure. Army ants can support a couple THOUSAND times their weight. What do you weigh?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a buck ninety?”
“Well then that would be about 380,000 pounds.”
“You did that in your head?”
“Child’s play. Too bad it won’t be one of your ‘powers’, as it were.” She flashed him a playful look. Playful? Could this girl be playful? Lance was not sure she even had a sense of humor.
“Speaking of rest, I’m going to go home and get some,” Lance said. He was exhausted and needed to process all this craziness. “I’ll call you if anything else happens.” Without a word of good bye, he stood up and walked away, clutching his back pack like it carried his very soul.
* * *
The following morning, Lance woke up and pretended nothing had happened the previous day. He had just gotten up, gone to work, come home and had too much to drink. That was all. This was a fresh day, with a fresh start, and best of all, it was not a gym day. It was an Applejacks kind of morning. He dressed in his usual fitted Ralph Lauren and Dockers and headed to the office. The light of the morning was almost more than he could bear even with sunglasses on, the din of the street took all his concentration to beat back. Ok, not a dream. Just move on with life. No one needs to know, and it doesn’t need to affect you. Well that was complete crap, but he had to tell himself something.
Interestingly enough, as Lance sat staring at the notes on his desk, he began to make some sense of them and started to write the piece on the genetics lab at the University. Peggy’s lecturing must have gotten through to him. He really hated that. He had the whole thing typed up in about two minutes. He was in awe of his own fingers as they danced across the keyboard. When he was done, he printed the piece and headed for Mr. Brown’s office.
The article made a pleasant slap as it landed on Mr. Brown’s desk. “Sorry it was late, sir. I must’ve come down with something yesterday, one of those 24 hour things. I slept it off and was up all night working on this.”
“Yeah, well. Next time call. I’ll read this later,” the grizzled old editor growled.
“Yes sir,” as he always did, Lance backed out of Mr. Brown’s office. Why did he always do that? Spinning, he sidled back to his desk. There he sat, grazing the interweb for local sports scores so he could write something he actually understood or cared about.
“Parker! Get in here.” This time, Lance jumped up and hustled into Mr. Brown’s office.
“Sir, I really wish…”
“Shut up. Get back down to the University. I just got a call; something is going down there. It was broken into or something. Get me that story.”
Peggy! Oh, God, what now? “Yes sir,” he responded and sped to the door, still careful not to let his body do anything weird.
“Lance,” Mr. Brown called over the roar of the office. “Be careful,” he spoke from the doorway, glass of scotch to hand.
“Thanks, Brown,” Lance responded and then he was gone.
* * *
Lance dashed out of the door to the office building and looked around. There were obviously people on the street, but none of them were paying attention to him. Time to go for broke, he thought. He took a deep breath and secured his pack to his back. A few good bounces to be sure his feet were set, and Lance was off. The scenery flew by as he raced through the streets. He laughed and whooped his glee while he ate up the blocks between the office and the University. He skidded to a halt, nearly tumbling over several folks in lab coats fleeing the premises and screaming. After setting his back pack in a flower bed, where he was fairly certain it would remain unmolested, he rolled up his sleeves and walked to the door.
His heart pounded like it was trying to escape his chest, and his hands shook. Rubble was strewn throughout the halls. Dust hung in the air. The sounds of struggle reached his ears from around the corner. Stopping, he closed his eyes and concentrated on listening. There was not much screaming, mostly just the sounds of equipment hitting the ground and glass shattering. Slowly, cautiously, he headed toward room 403. He could not really say how he knew that was where the trouble was, but he knew - like an instinct.
In the hallway, across from the entrance to the lab, lay the crumpled and bloody form of Peggy. He would know the shape of that behind anywhere. She lay there, unmoving but for the slight, but steady, rise and fall of her breathing. Well, at least she was still alive. Glassware flew through the door to shatter upon the wall and rain shards down on her unconscious form. Swearing under his breath, Lance dragged her back away from the devastation. Whatever was in 403 had nearly exhausted its supply of things to destroy, the footsteps moved more slowly.
Lance inched back down the hallway, back to the wall, and peeked around the doorframe to look inside. To his surprise and shock, there, rifling through filing cabinets, hunched Nancy, the Science Reporter he had been filling in for just a couple days ago. She did not look sick now. Instead, she looked furious. Blood spattered her face, but it did not seem to be her blood; there were no visible wounds on her face. Her hair fell in a tangled bun from the back of her head and her eyes practically burned with rage.
His disbelief got the better of him. “Nancy?” he said. Her head whipped around like she was fresh out of the Exorcist.
“Lance,” she said. The muscles of her jaw clenched and relaxed and she fought to master her self. “You startled me.”
“What have you done, Nancy?”
“Oh, I’m just looking for something. For the story. They’re doing some very interesting things here.”
“I finished the story for you while you were out, Nancy. Why did you destroy the lab?” Once again, Nancy’s eyes flashed with rage. In an instant she was across the room and throwing a punch at Lance’s chest. The next moment, Lance was looking at a broken doorway and a lot of rubble from his back by the opposite wall. He did not think he had ever been hit that hard. He stood up with a groan and dusted himself off. He approached the broken doorway slowly to see Nancy back to her work rifling through the cabinetry, searching for some mysterious object. She was growling now.
Lance gathered himself and walked in again. “Nancy,” he called. There was genuine surprise in her eyes when she looked up at him. It did not last long though, and she charged again. This time, Lance was ready. He caught her fist in mid air. She glanced at his hand, teeth bared, in shock. He took advantage of the situation and pushed her back. She flew across the room, crashing into Peggy’s customary station at the back of the lab. She was back on her feet in a moment and rushing him. Just as quick, he dodged her and watched her blow past him. He rushed to catch up with her and press his advantage, but found to his chagrin, that his speed was spent. Nancy, on the other hand, was already moving toward him at incredible speed. In an instant, he was on his back again. He propped himself up on his elbows and fell back in agonizing pain. The source of the hurt was his left arm; his elbow was sticking out of the skin.
That didn’t go well. She’s obviously stronger and faster than me. And for longer. Looks like I’ll have to be smarter than she is. Lance looked at his arm as it healed before his eyes. It was not an altogether comfortable experience, but it didn’t hurt, exactly. Rising, Lance retreated down the hall. He found Peggy there sitting up, awake but dazed. “Peggy, I need you.”
“I know you’re hurt, but I need you to focus, I need your help.”
“Be careful,” she mumbled, barely audible. “She’s faster than you are.”
“Yes, I found that out the hard way. Peggy, Nancy is in a blind rage and not thinking very clearly. I need to be smarter than she is. What are ants and this shrimp thing vulnerable to? What can I use to beat her? She’s going to destroy the building. I need to stop her.”
“Borax. They don’t like borax.”
“What in the blue hell is Borax?”
“Common ant repellent.” Her voice was a little stronger now and her eyes were beginning to focus.
“Ok, well I don’t have time to run to the hardware store. Can I make it?”
“Probably not. But I think I can. I need some things, though. Can you distract her?”
“Not for long, but I’ll do my best.” He was up and moving, practically dragging Peggy behind him. “How long do you need?”
“Not that long. None of the components are in this lab.”
“Well that’s a plus,” he said with a wry grin. “I’ll keep her in this room. Be fast, but be careful.” She met his eyes. There was something there that he hadn’t seen before, but he couldn’t place it. Oh, well. No time now. She was off and he began his vigil by the door.
The racket was terrible as Nancy continued to tear the lab to bits. Fortunately, her attention was firmly directed on her grizzly work. Peggy returned a few minutes later with a large jar of white powder in it. “We’re going to have to get her to inhale quite a bit of this.”
“Ok, two things. First, We?”
“That’s what I thought. Second, I doubt I’ll get her to sit down and snort this stuff. Just how much does she need?”
“Just open the jar and throw it at her, Lance. If you can get most of it on her face, she’ll inhale it. It SHOULD work.”
“It SHOULD wo…y’know what, just give me the damn jar.” He snatched it rudely from Peggy’s hands and, taking a deep breath, strolled leisurely through the door. He was several steps in, practically whistling to himself before Nancy even noticed him. She threw that ice cold stare at him and he quickly ducked behind an upended lab table. Footsteps approached. Lance stayed as low as possible, he could have sworn he heard Nancy growl. He braced himself and just waited.
The table flew out of the way. Lance sprung up like a cobra, unleashing his payload directly into Nancy’s unsuspecting face. He danced back and out of her pulverizing reach. She coughed and gasped at the white powder invading her sinuses. Roaring her fury, she took a step forward.
* * *
The commotion outside the Science building of the University was rarely seen in this part of town. Lance sat on the back of an ambulance, staring blankly at the ground. Peggy came and sat next to him in a sort of companionable silence. He glanced at her and smiled. She smiled back and gently took his hand. For a moment, they both watched the firemen and police officers running here and there.
A gurney holding Nancy was rolled out toward a second ambulance. She was strapped down with steel straps. They weren’t really necessary. The ant poison had her more or less useless. There was movement, but nothing violent.
Lance looked back at Peggy who smiled again. There was a look in her eyes that Lance knew well. She smiled from those eyes. It was an invitation. Living in the moment, Lance leaned over and went in for the kiss.
Peggy turned her head and rapped her assailant on the head. “What the hell was that?” she demanded.
“I’m sorry,” Lance apologized, rubbing his temple. “I thought we were having a moment.”
“Well…think again.” She was about to say something else when Lance was mobbed by the press asking a thousand different questions all at once.
“Sir, what happened in there?”
“You saw for yourself,” Lance replied. “Guys, give me some space here.” He covered his eyes as dozens of flashes went off.
“Sir, do you have super powers?” That one caught him off guard. This damn WEEK caught him off guard.
“I don’t know that I’d say that, exactly.”
“Well, what do you all yourself?”
“You were awesome in there, dude.” That from one of the evacuated students.
“I was, wasn’t I,” Lance mused to himself.
“Sir,” a reporter repeated. “What is your name?”
“You heard the man,” Lance replied. “I’m AWESOME!”