Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
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Cosmic Chronicles

by Joel Realubit

I: Ruminations on Personal Hygiene

Jack walked into the blast chamber. The three-foot thick titanium door automatically closed shut behind him with a loud clang, just as the lights went on in the chamber, followed closely by the whirring sound of the air conditioning coming on. The chamber was really just a large cube two stories high with three-foot thick titanium walls, ceiling, and floor. The A/C vents were at the sides where the floor and ceiling meet. He had nothing on but a pair of navy blue cargo shorts; the metal floor was cold under his bare feet.

Everything was nice and shiny silvery-grey, Jack observed. They must've installed new titanium shielding after the last time he'd been here, which was roughly six months ago. On the far side of the room, on the wall opposite the door he'd came in through, was a large, weird-looking mirror set into the wall. The "mirror" was about seven feet tall, and three feet wide. It was actually a big 12-inch-thick slab of transparent fiberglass with the mirrorized surface deep inside the glass, a foot into the wall itself. For Jack it had always felt like he was looking at himself on a mirror inside a shop window. But then again, the mirror was deliberately designed that way for a purpose, as he knew only too well.

Jack walked to the mirror and stood before it. He was fully six feet tall and had a very well-built, muscular physique. He could easily be mistaken for one of those pro bodybuilders in those musclehead magazines. In fact, he would probably be a perfect fitness model -- except for a few details: he had extremely long hair stretching all the way down to his lower back, and a very long, largely unkempt beard, long enough to cover his abdomen, and a bushy mustache that covered his mouth completely. And, all of his hair was colored violet, the same color as his eyes.

Which was all why he was in the blast chamber in the first place. He badly needed a trim. His hair was still manageable as it was; in fact, he liked tying it into a ponytail like it was now, even braiding it on occasion. But his beard and his mustache needed some trimming. He'd tried letting them grow out, even tried braiding his beard or tying it off into two pseudo-ponytails hanging down from his chin, like he'd seen with Vikings in movies or paintings. But it wasn't really very practical in a fight; it would always just get in the way, and bad guys tended to pull on them in a brawl.

Yep, he thought as he took and bundled his beard in his hands, this has got to go. Looking at the mirror, he placed his right hand at a level perhaps two inches below his chin, while his left hand held his beard straight. Deciding this length was acceptable, he then put his right hand off to the side, and pointed his index finger like a mock gun at his beard where he wanted to cut it.

"Fire in the hole!" he yelled out a warning, mostly for the benefit of those engineers and scientists waiting outside. He really didn't want to have to yell -- yelling meant he'd be moving his jaw, and his beard -- but it was standard procedure. He gave his beard a slightly tighter tug with his left hand, just to straighten it out...

Then a dazzling ray of electric blue light flashed from his right index finger with a thundering crack. The ray sliced through his beard, cutting it completely at the level where he'd intended, some two or three inches below his chin. The ray hit the titanium wall off to the left with an exploding sound, the roaring sound echoing through the large chamber.

"Agh!" Jack winced as the roar bounced many times around the chamber until it became a continuous high pitched metallic WHIIIIIIIIINNNGGGG. "They really oughta put some sonic dampers in this place!" Not that the sound did any actual damage, of course. It was just too damn annoying.

As the sound died down, he looked at himself in the mirror. If the mirror had been made of ordinary glass, it would've shattered from the shockwave of the blast. Jack turned his head from side to side, checking out the symmetry of his work. Okay, cool, he decided it was good enough. He threw the bundle of his cut beard off to the floor. The lab guys would be only too happy to sweep them up later for analysis, as they've been doing for years now. Not that it really did them any good -- no matter what they did, they could never get so much of an inkling on its atomic structure out of them, much less any DNA, indestructible as they were.

Now for the mustache, Jack thought as he stroked his upper lip. He tugged on his mustache with his left hand, clipping it between his index finger and his middle finger, his fingers mimicking a pair of scissors. For this task he needn't fire a ray from his right hand while his left hand held his facial hair; since he could hold practically the whole width of the mustache with his index and middle fingers like that, all he needed was to make the mock scissors that his fingers mimicked, work like actual scissors -- by firing a two rays from those two fingers, and making those rays overlap in between his fingers.

"Fire in the hole!"

A slight pause as he made sure he held his mustache in the right position. Then another flash of brilliant electric blue light, and another loud exploding sound echoing into a continuous WHIIIIIIIINNNG again.

"Geez!" Jack flicked his now-cut mustache away and covered his ears with both hands. When the sound died down, he again looked at himself in the mirror to check out his handiwork. Overall, his beard and mustache still looked unkempt, somewhat jagged, but it was still good. Their length now would certainly be more manageable than before.

This was the problem with someone like Jack. He was what was known as an "S-Class" metahuman, "S" standing for either the comic book "Superman" or that Superion guy in New York. But unlike all the other S-Classes, Jack seemed to be so indestructible that nothing on earth could cut his hair, except for his own cosmic rays. Sometimes Jack couldn't help but envy how the comic book Superman could keep his hair so nice and short and clean-cut using nothing but an ordinary mirror and his eye-beams (or was it his fingernails?). Sometimes, but not often.

Fingernails, Jack suddenly remembered. He looked at his fingers, at his squarish fingernails. All his fingernails were squarish because it was simpler to just cut with a straight line rather than in a curve. For his fingernails though, he would use rays from his eyes to cut them. Luckily, his fingernails were still good for maybe another week, even if they still were a bit long by regular folk's standards.

But then he remembered his toenails. Yikes! he thought as he saw his toes already had almost inch-long claws. He definitely would need to cut them. Soon. But probably not now. He hated cutting his toenails. Cutting them was always such a hassle. He had to wrestle himself into a goofy yoga position to get close enough to get a clear shot, and he looked like an idiot (an idiot who could vaporize a battleship, but still...).

A chime on the PA system suddenly interrupted Jack's ruminations on his personal hygiene. "Cosmic, proceed to the War Room immediately. Cosmic, proceed to the War Room immediately..."

Crap, Jack cussed silently. He hadn't even showered yet!

‘Cosmic' was Jack's codename. Major Jack Ramirez sounded cooler though. The United States Special Defense Services weren't exactly known for their creativity in assigning codenames. Hell, the SDS weren't really known, at all.

Wonder what could it be this time? Jack grudgingly asked as he walked towards the door. Iranian nukes? Chinese hunter-killer satellites? Renegade Russian mad scientist experiments? Last week it was some Russian idiot's genetically engineered plague. He had to nuke a whole secret underground base for that. He kind of enjoyed that one, actually -- he liked nuking things.

Maybe if Jack were lucky, this time they'd send him to some third-world backwater country to assassinate some lameass dictator instead.

II: Three Metas

Jack sidestepped the massive stone-grey fist blurring towards his face, simultaneously slamming his right knee into the giant attacker's gut. The seven-foot-tall stone giant, clad in only in XXXL-sized green cargo shorts and thick leather utility belt, bent over from the impact, and Jack followed up with a left cross into the giant's craggy jaw. The giant retaliated, however, with a devastating backfist into the right side of Jack's head. Jack flew up and backwards from the thunderous blow, but no sooner had he flown several feet into the air in the first split second, than the green and black blur of a roundhouse kick from another enemy struck him clean on the head from the left with a very loud CRACK! Jack tumbled every which way from the strike, and his vision alternated between open blue sky, breaking tree trunks, ground, rocks, and open blue sky again in many quick successions. By the time he found himself lying still on the ground, he was at the end of a very long and deep scar gouged out of the ground, cutting through a long section of the forest. Jack shook his head as he started to get up, but suddenly, the Sun seemed to be moving too fast, shadows cast all around him suddenly growing long and moving in a very odd way. By the time he had realized that an enormous yellow-orange fireball was going to hit, it was too late.

The world disappeared in a blinding, deafening, white-hot, exploding fireball.

"Ugh," Jack floated himself upright, even as the superheated gases around him started rising into a huge brown and grey mushroom cloud. "I hate it when that happens," he mumbled as he dusted off his long violet hair and beard. He didn't mind getting his short-sleeved, second-skin-like, blue-black, leathery jumpsuit getting all dirty though. Its fabric, as well as that of his pseudo-leather armbands and biker boots, was made of carbon nanofibers woven into leathery cloth many times stronger than steel. The durability was more so that it wouldn't get ripped apart on the job, rather than for Jack's protection though. Jack's skin and even his hair was a lot tougher many times over than his suit.

He now looked around, adjusting his vision to see through the rising cloud around him. Even though the mushroom cloud pretty much obscured everything, it looked like he was now floating over a crater large enough to swallow a two-storey house.

His three enemies -- the stone giant, the bald guy in fatigues with the Superman powers, and the female golden-flamed Human Torch -- were now gathering towards him. Adjusting his vision further, he began to see the electromagnetic emanations from them. What he saw more or less confirmed what the slight bruising he got from them told his body: the giant probably could lift nearly 100 tons, the female human torch was actually nuclear-powered somehow, and the bald guy was an S-class meta like Jack himself was. Although, he thought wryly, the bald guy probably wasn't nearly as powerful as Jack was.

How come, Jack thought, we never had any intel on these guys? Metahumans this powerful, and not so much as a rumor in the hush-hush special ops community? The CIA spooks must've screwed up somewhere. Or maybe these guys were new. Maybe only recently genetically engineered? Maybe they were clones? In any case, they were all world-class, Justice League-powerful. No wonder that invisible guy got caught.

All righty then, Jack focused back at the task at hand. Time to get back to work!

Jack dashed forward, his slipstream horizontally cutting a widening wedge of a tunnel through the rising column of the mushroom cloud. He went straight for the stone giant, and, before the giant could even raise his hands in a fighting stance, smashed a left jab to the face, a right straight, again to the face, and a devastating left uppercut to the chin. The uppercut propelled the giant upwards some twenty feet into the air; Jack flew and caught up with him and planted a right straight thrown like a baseball pitch right into the giant's solar plexus with a very loud BOOM that sent shockwaves reverberating through the air from the impact.

Jack then dodged an incoming fireball. The flame-girl was hovering several meters off to the left and about a hundred feet high into the air. For a split-second, Jack admired her beauty -- a fiery goddess with skin of glistening molten gold, radiating flames on all frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. There was some serious nuclear chain reactions powering that flame girl right there. Jack's moment of admiration quickly ended however, when he dodged another fireball, even as flame-girl herself started leaning in and flying towards him. Jack turned towards her as he flew up to roughly her level, raised a right arm, and shot an electric blue ray into the third incoming fireball. The ray tore through the fireball and struck the flame-girl in the chest, the girl letting out a short scream as she reeled backwards. As she started falling towards the ground, her flames gave out and disappeared, revealing a fully naked body.

Whoa! Jack thought. Now that's not something you see every day!

A yell from behind gave away the bald guy's incoming flying side kick. Jack dodged it and the bald guy flew past him. The enemy turned and rushed towards Jack with a flurry of three alternating front kicks in rapid fire. Jack blocked two of them, and floated just out of range of the third one. The guy then unleashed a right roundhouse to Jack's body, which Jack blocked with his left arm. Yes, these North Korean metahuman soldiers would be Taekwondo-centric in their fighting style, thought Jack as planted a push kick onto the guy's thigh before he could launch a second roundhouse. The guy staggered backwards from the kick and started to angrily rush forward again, this time with a punch. Jack however, moved right in and caught him in a Muay Thai clinch, clamping his hands behind the man's neck and pressing his forearms down on the guy's neck and shoulders. Jack instantly followed through with a one-two right and left knee strike into the man's gut. He then adjusted his clinch such that his hands went up to the back of the man's head. He pulled then man's head down, just as he brought his right knee up, smashing his knee right into the man's face. Jack let go on impact, and the man's head whipped upwards and back from the strike, blood trailing from his nose and mouth. As the man rose further into the air helplessly, Jack moved back, then dashed forwards and up into a triple-spin butterfly roundhouse kick, smashing his right shin into the left side of the man's head.

The man's eyes glazed over as the kick sent him rocketing off to the side. As the man plowed a two-mile-long clearance into the forest below, the two sonic booms from the man and from Jack's kick combined into one loud BOOM to the untrained human ear for miles around, nearly overshadowing the continous crashing sounds of trees and rocks shattering on impact.

Ho-kay, Jack thought as stood down from fighting stance and remained floating in mid-air, his long, braided ponytail now hanging in a loop around his neck from the spinning roundhouse he'd just done. That was nearly as tough as that time when he had to tussle with that Russian monster, Makharov. In the world of military-trained metahumans, just having Superman powers wasn't enough; you had to know at least one martial art. Jack himself had a bias for Muay Thai, tweaked for aerial combat.

"Cosmic to Control," Jack spoke as he pressed on the comlink in his left ear. "Cosmic to Control." For a moment, Jack felt a twinge of panic as he thought that the fireblast from that female torch could have damaged his comlink.

"Control here," came the gravelly old voice of General Masterson in reply, much to Jack's relief. "Go ahead, Cosmic."

"I've taken care of the three metahumans and will proceed with the search. I'm pretty much in the general area where Stealth last reported their secret base was, so it shouldn't be long now."

"Roger that, Cosmic. Carry on, and good luck."

Jack looked around and he found the stone giant guy stirring on the ground some ways off in his own 100-meter trail of shattered trees. Jack flew down to the guy, even as the stone giant started to get up on his wobbly grey feet. The giant coughed blood as he glanced up at Jack. Even stone-skinned metahumans had red blood like everybody else.

"Whoa," Jack said as he landed ten feet away from the giant, "that's nasty!

"You okay there, big guy?"

The giant spat out some gibberish -- what Jack presumed was Korean -- that sounded like a bunch of expletives, then charged towards Jack.

Okay, here we go again, Jack thought as he deftly caught the giant's incoming right punching arm, pulled, twisted, and pushed, and threw the giant. The stone giant landed flat on his back, and Jack put his foot on the giant's chest.

"All right, stoner dude," Jack pulled out a picture of a man in his late twenties with a typical jarhead haircut. He leaned down and shoved the picture in front of the giant's face. "You've captured one of our guys -- this guy right here. And you are going to take me to him!"

III: Rescue

"Brrhh!" the giant mumbled, pointing off to the right. "NGrrrHHhh!"

"That way, huh?" Jack banked and turned in the general direction off to the right. They were flying a couple hundred feet above the forest, Jack's left arm around the giant's neck, while his right grasped the giant's utility belt in a pseudo-wedgie.

"HHrrr!" the giant nodded ever so slightly.

Just then a missile suddenly flew up from the stretch of forest before them and blazed past them. "Whoa!" Jack glanced at the missile as it started to arc back towards them.

Another missile flashed from the forest below. Jack shot it with blue rays from his eyes and it exploded in mid-air. He whirled around with the giant and shot the first missile which was homing in on them from behind.

"Waarrrhhg" the giant wiggled and struggled in a panic against Jack's arm around his neck.

"Sorry 'bout that," Jack said. "Yeah, I also shoot rays from my eyes."

"Asshole!" the giant managed to spit out in a clipped accent."You could. Have blown. My head off!"

"Oh, so you can speak english!" Jack cocked an eyebrow.

"No," the giant grumbled. "Only 'asshole'. And 'son of a bitch'!"

"Works for me," Jack shrugged.

Anti-aircraft fire then pulsed up from below. That's good -- increased incoming fire meant the stone giant was indeed leading him to their base.

It wasn't long before they came to a mountain with a wide tunnel at the bottom. The tunnel's entrance was enclosed in a large wire-fenced rectangular area that had a dirt road leading up to it. On either side of it rose missile launchers, easily dispatched by more eyebeams. In the quadrangle in front of the tunnel was populated by soldiers and jeeps with 50-cal machine guns mounted at the back. The tunnel itself was sealed by a formidable-looking solid steel door twenty feet high and fifty feet wide. Jack ignored the soldiers outside, descended and simply rammed straight through the tunnel gates without letting go of the giant. Based on the force of the impact and the way the doors were bent, Jack knew they must've been made from titanium, same as the walls of his blast chamber barber shop back in SDS HQ.

Inside the tunnel, though, were still more soldiers. Jack and the giant were immediately peppered with bullets that ricocheted harmlessly off of their hides. "Yeah, whatever," Jack vaporized the whole lot of them with a single sweep of rays from his eyes. The soldiers barely had time to scream. The tunnel quickly filled with the smell of burnt meat.

The stone giant yelled Korean expletives as he struggled against Jack. After a few seconds of futile struggling, the giant finally relented, gasping for air. The giant was strong, the way he was struggling, it felt like he probably could lift around 80 tons or so.

"All right," Jack said. "Where to now?"

"Down there," the giant pointed with his free arm to another large titanium door identical to the entrance they'd smashed through. "Level 10 down."

"Great," Jack said as he floated them off the floor. "Let's go."

"Fuck you!" the giant spat out. "Asshole!"

Jack laughed as he blasted the large door away with more eyebeams. The door led to a tunnel that slanted downwards at a 45-degree angle. At the end of the tunnel was a large circular chamber about a hundred feet wide and about a hundred feet high.

"Elevator platform," the giant gestured at the chamber. "Your friend is down ten levels."

"Great," Jack said as they floated towards the ceiling, "but the elevator will take too long." And he promptly blasted a hole through the floor with his eyes.

The shaft seemed to stretch down forever, with lights lining up the walls at intervals in vertical stripes. It kind of reminded Jack of that bottomless hole that Darth Vader threw the Emperor down into. As they floated down the shaft, Jack felt a weird but very faint tingly sensation in his body. He adjusted his vision and saw very low-powered x-rays and gamma rays bathing the whole shaft. What the hell were these North Koreans up to? he thought. Nukes maybe? Yeah, gotta be nukes.

"There!" the giant frantically pointed to a large hole in the wall of the shaft as they came to it. "Level 10! In there!" The 'level 10' the giant was referring to didn't exactly translate to ten stories down -- each "level" was inordinately large, easily equivalent to three or four stories in a high-rise building. It had felt like they've already descended two kilometers underground.

The hole the giant had pointed to had a large door blocking it, similar to the titanium doors and elevator floor Jack had blasted through earlier. This time, though, Jack simply used the giant as a battering ram and swung him head-first into the door. The giant yelled more in surprise than in pain as he crashed through the large metal door, which crumpled and fell with him to the floor inside the corridor behind it.

Jack floated into the corridor and saw a bald bald man in a long fatigue coat and black gloves, accompanied by a whole platoon of soldiers behind him, all their weapons trained at Jack.

"Yeah, right," Jack raised his right hand at them. "I don't have time for --"

Suddenly Jack's entire arm burst into flame. "What?" he said as he actually felt his arm burning. "Huh-huhnn!" he gasped as the flames quickly spread throughout his entire body. "AAAAAHHHHH!" Jack finally let out a scream as he staggered backwards, searing white-hot pain shooting into his body from everywhere. He didn't notice the stone giant get up, laugh, and swing a very large fist at him. He simply felt the impact on his face send his entire wretched body backwards through the air, crossing the chasm of the shaft outside, and slamming into the titanium door of the tunnel on the opposite side of the shaft.

This couldn't be happening, Jack thought as he struggled to get up from the floor of the mouth of the tunnel. Jack was well-nigh invulnerable. He could withstand even a direct nuclear attack. And he already has, in fact, that one time back in Soviet Russia years ago. How could simple flames like this cause so much pain? he asked himself as he managed to get up on his hands and knees, even as the flames ate away at his flesh.

Through the rippling haze of the flames, he saw the stone giant laughing at him with that smaller bald guy in the green coat next to him. Jack blinked as sweat momentarily obscured his vision, and suddenly he could see waves of energy coming out of bald guy's head. Could it be --? The image of his own nervous system resonating with the waves flashed before his eyes, and he somehow understood. The man was projecting the pain telepathically! The realization seemed to bolster Jack's resolve, and even as his mind said that flames were ravaging his body, he raised a trembling right arm out towards the stone giant and his bald companion. Every sense told him his arm would explode if he attempted to let out a ray blast, but he grimaced and just plowed through the pain.

A one-foot thick ray of dazzling blue-white light exploded from Jack's hand. Jack smiled as he saw the faces of the stone giant and the green coat fall as the ray flashed towards them. The two let out blood-curdling screams as the ray hit, their screams quickly getting drowned out by the loud clap of thunder ripping through the air and echoing throughout the shaft and tunnel chambers.

A second later and the flames consuming Jack had faded away.

"Whew!" Jack sighed as he sat back on his knees and calves. He looked at his arms and found them unscathed. It was all in his head! Or rather, it was in his nervous system and his brain.

Jack crossed the chasm and floated into the chamber where the giant and the bald guy had been. The walls, floor, and ceiling of the entire chamber were all melted. At the end of the chamber where a wall had been, was a large gaping hole. The stone giant's calves and feet were sticking out of it on the floor.

Jack walked to one door off to the left of the corridor. The door was melted into the wall, and Jack pushed it in, denting it inwards before it fell into the room with a loud clang. The room was dark and empty, and Jack walked further down the corridor to the next door, several feet off to the right. This time, Jack felt some scrambling noises behind the door, and he shoved the door in. As the door fell to the floor, he was greeted by two soldiers with AK-47's standing in front of a man, naked except for his boxers, strapped to what looked like a dentist's chair.

A continuous spray of lead proceeded to bounce off Jack's torso, shoulders, arms, and -- annoyingly -- face, accompanied by the trademark AK-47 rapid-fire popping, rattling sound. Jack made quick-draw motions with his hands and pointed play-pistol fingers at the soldiers. Two electric blue ray bursts sliced through the air, and the soldiers' heads exploded. The now-headless soldiers fell to the ground, while a man in a white lab coat and black rubber gloves cringed at a table next to the dentist's chair, his white coat now stained with blood and bits of brain and bone from the soldiers. The table had various syringes, surgical knives, and a mess of cables, electrodes, and a large black plastic box with buttons and on it.

The lab coat's trembling hand hovered over a button on the black box.

Jack let loose another ray, which passed right through the lab coat's chest and out at the back. The guy fell lifeless, joining the two dead soldiers on the floor.

"About time you showed up," the man in the chair blabbered through a fat, bloody lip, glancing up at Jack with one eye, while the other was swollen shut. "What the hell took you so damn long?"

"Sorry," Jack smiled as he walked up to the chair and proceeded breaking off the manacles built into the chair, "Got caught in traffic on the way here."

"Stealth, SDS," the man shook Jack's hand gratefully as he identified himself. Yeah, Jack thought, the SDS don't know squat about creative codenames.

"Cosmic," Jack nodded.

"Can you stand?" Jack asked as the man slid his feet down to the floor.

"No, no time," Stealth shook his head. "Listen, there's a weapon -- "

"Yeah, nukes," Jack nodded.

"No, no!" Stealth shook his head vehemently. "Not nukes! Its worse! They're working on an artificial black hole!"

"WHAT?" Jack was genuinely shocked. The Russians had the long history of mad scientist experiments, not the North Koreans. And even the Russians hadn't been able to do anything nearly as destructive as an artificial black hole; everything had only been theoretical up until now.

Stealth was an operative of the Special Defense Services, just like Jack, the SDS being the top-secret metahuman branch of the US military. Stealth had the power of invisibility and had been sent to spy on some super-secret weapon that the North Koreans had been working on. Intel on it was that it was some kind of nuclear weapon. Apparently, that intel was wrong. But then again, intel didn't have anything on the metas he'd just fought, so that shouldn't be surprising.

"I found out right before that damn telepath caught me sneaking around this place. They have a prototype at the bottom of the shaft," Stealth proceeded to explain. "Its a fifty-foot-tall sphere. It creates a black hole in the center while it encloses it in some kind of antigravity shell. The whole thing is powered by a nuclear reactor and a bank of superconducting capacitors all contained in a twenty-foot cube attached to the sphere at the side."

"That -- " Jack thought out loud, "That's why there's all this faint x-ray and gamma ray noise soaking up the entire facility."

"X-rays and gamma rays?" Stealth asked, alarm clear in his voice. "Geezus, they must have activated it when you started attacking!"

Jack adjusted his vision and started seeing the x-ray and gamma ray noise going through the entire mountain around them. He followed the rays to their source and saw the outlines of a giant sphere with a cube attached to the side, just as Stealth had described it.

"I can through the entire electromagnetic spectrum," Jack explained, "And I see the radiation picking up from the black hole generator below.

"I'm going down to smash it --" Jack turned away and floated towards the door.

"No!" Stealth yelled him to stop. "You can't just blow it up!"

Jack stopped in mid-air and turned to Stealth.

"If you just smash it, you'll expose the black hole inside it! That's how the whole thing works as a bomb -- the generator can maintain the singularity only for a short time, but in that short time, if the outer shell is compromised, that black hole is exposed and it sucks in everything around it. Now, depending on the intensity, it's liable to swallow the huge chunk of earth in only a few seconds!"

"What should I do then?"

"You need to get it out of here! You need to get it out into space, away from the planet! Away from everything! And if you do smash it, make sure you don't get sucked in."

Shitshitshit, Jack swore to himself.


IV: Black Hole

Jack dove headlong down the remainder of the shaft. At the bottom was a large opening at the side, of a simple design consistent with the opening of the tunnel where he had rescued Stealth. He shifted his sight briefly to see x-rays, and he saw the sphere of the black hole generator glowing brightly beyond the tunnel's large metal door. Jack simply kicked the large door down, the large slab of titanium falling down on several soldiers on the other side and crushing them under its enormous weight. The tunnel lead shortly into a very large chamber that contained the generator.

The generator was more or less as Stealth described it -- a fifty-foot-tall sphere, but on a five-foot-high platform, and a large room at the side, all metallic grey. Tuning his vision up and down the electromagnetic spectrum, he could see the large sphere had much smaller spheres lining up the inside of the outer shell, almost like bubble wrap lining. Each of the small spheres had counter-rotating magnets that seemed disrupted the surrounding gravitons -- they were essentially the antigravity generators that provided the antigrav "shell" that Stealth had described.

Further within the large sphere, only an inch or so beyond the small antigravity generators, was a large 40-foot wide sphere counter-rotating with another sphere inside it. These two concentric, counter-rotating shells seemed to serve as a "lens" for the surrounding gravitons, focusing them into a microscopic point in the very center of the whole sphere. This was the actual black hole generator, Jack decided from the looks of things. The concentration of gravitons at the center was growing at an exponential rate, and Jack estimated that a singularity might be formed within minutes.

Powering the whole thing was a small nuclear reactor attached to the sphere, just as Stealth had described it. A bank of superconducting capacitors surrounded the reactor. The superconductors looked like the same room-temperature superconductors some of the SDS lab guys had developed a few years ago. Did the North Koreans develop the superconductors independently, or was there a mole in the SDS? In any case, the superconductive capacitors look like they were easily holding several trillion watts of energy already -- judging from the electromagnetic signature of the nuclear reactor, Jack guessed it must have taken them several days to charge the capacitors.

Now there were other soldiers in the chamber, but Jack quickly incinerated them as he walked towards the generator, the air again filling with the pungent smell of burnt flesh. He reached under the platform and tentatively gave it a pull. He lifted the whole thing about five inches off the ground before letting it go with loud bang that kicked up a lot of dust from the ground. Jack thought a moment, and decided that the whole thing weighed around maybe a hundred fifty, a hundred sixty or -seventy tons. Manageable, Jack guessed. At the very least, the entire structure could support its own weight even if said weight was concentrated on his hands and shoulders and back.

He reached down and started lifting the entire thing. This time his muscles actually felt the effort, tensing and bulging as he worked his way to get the middle area of it squarely on top of his shoulders. The metal structure creaked intermittently though, and for a while he wasn't sure if it wouldn't break apart on its own. By the end of the maneuver seconds later, the whole thing held together, and he looked almost like Atlas with the world on his shoulders -- except this time, the world was on top of a rectangular platform and had a cube sticking out its rear.

All right, Jack thought, now to get this out of here. Good thing the doorway or tunnel leading to the chamber seemed large enough for the entire contraption to fit through. This was likely not a coincidence if these North Koreans were planning to deliver this as a weapon. Come to think of it, though, how were they planning to deploy this monstrosity? Perhaps this was just a prototype, a step towards creating a more portable version, something that could be loaded onto a missile later on.

Jack floated himself off the ground, carrying practically a small building on his shoulders. He carefully positioned himself horizontally underneath the structure before starting to move forward. It was a bit awkward when he got to the doorway, because he had to fly very slowly and only five inches off the floor. Ever so carefully he eased the black hole generator through the opening leading to the large shaft outside. Finally, perhaps a whole minute or so later, he made it to the shaft, and he slowly floated higher until he could stand up a bit and put the generator's weight on his shoulders and hands again. Once the whole thing felt secure, he slowly flew upwards about ten feet, then briskly shrugged the generator off his shoulders, catching the whole thing so that at the end of the movement, he held it over his head with both hands.

Thus carrying the generator, he then proceeded to fly up the shaft, slowly accelerating as he went. He decided that he couldn't blast straight up through the roof of the shaft, since this entire installation was below ground-level, and he would just wind up blasting up through the entire height of the mountain up top. His best option was to just go straight up to tunnel leading outside, the same tunnel he had come in through.

As he neared the top level however, he remembered the actual elevator platform floor was still in place at the entrance. Shit, he swore to himself for overlooking that little detail in his brilliant plan to save the world. He should've blasted the whole thing earlier so it wouldn't be blocking his way now. For a moment, as he stopped in mid-air, he wondered if the titanium alloy that the generator was made of could withstand smashing through the floor. No, better not chance it, he thought. This was a black hole generator, for chrissakes!

What to do, what to do...

Then Jack had an idea. It was so brilliant, he made a note to congratulate himself later for thinking of it.

Jack brought the generator down on his shoulders again, and he carefully balanced it with his left arm as he brought his right hand down in front of him. He pointed his open palm down towards the ground, and he started concentrating his cosmic energy into a fiery ball of electric-blue fury in front of his hand, all the while adjusting his vision to see magnetic and electric lines of force. The energy he thus generated instantly superheated the air around the ball into plasma, a soup of unbound electrons and protons and neutrons. He continued pouring on the energy until it reached temperatures several times hotter than even the surface of the sun. He then adjusted the energy being generated by his nervous system, until he found the appropriate lines of force coming out of his hand and surrounding the high-energy plasma fireball, visualizing the correct lines of force and mentally plotting a trajectory for the ball of fiery-hot plasma. When he was fairly certain of the trajectory, he then spiked up the intensity of the magnetic field from his hand and sure enough, the small sun in his hand shot forth downward several feet, then made a wide arc upwards in an about-face. It passed beyond the corner of the generator's platform, and a few seconds later --


He didn't see it directly, but there was a brilliant flash of light, then shattered pieces of the elevator platform started raining down, some of it hitting the top of the generator, though most of the debris missed it entirely and simply fell down freely through the shaft. He had aimed for the center of the platform, and the fireball was intense enough that the explosion wound up throwing a good portion of the elevator away from the center, thereby minimizing any flying metal hitting the generator.

"ALL RIGHT!" Jack exclaimed as his idea seemed to work perfectly. What Jack had done was essentially make a guided fireball. He had never done this before, and he was ecstatic about it. While he may not have had any formal schooling in Physics, his cosmic senses and powers practically made him a living, breathing Physics laboratory. His senses alone have thus far enabled him to witness first hand phenomenon that most scientists would only be able to see with special instruments.

Jack's self-congratulatory feelings quickly reverted back to his ingrained military discipline, though, and he proceeded to continue lifting the generator up the shaft. When he reached the tunnel that slanted upwards 45 degrees, ultimately leading out of the mountain, Jack again flew flat horizontally, with the generator's weight spread across the entire back of his body. Thus positioned, he slowly flew up through the chamber, once in a while scratching the surface of the generator with the inside of the tunnel as he did so.

Finally, he flew out the tunnel and out of the mountain and into open sky.

He momentarily shifted his vision again and saw, much to his alarm, that a singularity was already forming inside the generator.

Shitshitshit, he cussed as he pushed the generator off his back and over his head, accelerating as he shot through the sky. Within a seconds he was already flying over the Pacific, climbing ever higher through the atmosphere. Soon, he reached escape velocity as he passed the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Once in space, he accelerated even more until he felt he was many, many miles away from Earth. He then positioned himself somewhat to the rear and underneath of the platform until he could grab a corner of it with one hand. When he was ready, he was positioned like a javelin thrower at an Olympic event, about to throw a spear with all his might. He focused for a moment, then just let loose with a mighty, mighty heave. The entire generator floated quickly away further into the star-specked blackness of space. He followed the thing with his vision until it was about five miles away, and raised both arms out in front, aiming with both open hands at the generator. He unleashed from his hands an enormous, dazzling blue ray almost four or five feet in width. The ray hit the generator, and there was a gigantic, fiery explosion. The explosion only lasted for two seconds, however, and it quickly turned into an implosion as the black hole within started sucking everything in the vicinity into its voracious maw.

OH SHIT! Jack then panicked when he felt himself being dragged towards it as well. He had probably crossed maybe half the distance to the singularity before it abruptly disappeared. Without the graviton lens to sustain it, the artificial black hole suddenly faded away.

Damn, that was close, Jack thought as he stopped himself in mid-flight. Whew!

He lingered for a few moments, scanning the space before him with his sight. Satisfied that there was no sign of the black hole anywhere, he then turned around and --

The Sun was too small. It was only a bright bead hanging in space from where Jack was now, much like Venus would like from Earth. Was that even the Sun at all? It looked like a really bright star in an infinite ocean of stars. And all he could see around that bright bead of starlight were tiny specks of dust, too tiny for him to make out which one was Earth. Hell -- what if that wasn't the Sun? What if he got turned around when that black hole nearly sucked him in?

Fucking hell, Jack thought. How the heck does Superman navigate outer space in the comic books anyway?


© 2008 Joel Realubit

Bio: Joel Realubit is a Technical Manager at a Hong Kong-based mobile telecommunications solutions company in the Philippines. He is "into software architecture, design, and development, as well as strength training, Muay Thai and martial arts in general."

E-mail: Joel Realubit

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