Ben twists this way and that diving down one alleyway after another. He doesn’t dare return to the main streets. He imagines paparazzi will have swarmed the area and are searching for him. That’s if they aren’t still behind me. The former astronaut doesn’t think he’s still being pursued but can’t say for sure. So, against his better judgement, Ben dares to take the chance and peek over his shoulder. There’s nothing, no one. The alleyway behind him, long and straight, is empty. In that moment Ben feels the exhaustion in his legs and the shortness of breath come to the fore. Hesitantly he begins to slow. His body, now sure he’s safe, is no longer willing to continue this run. That is why before long Ben is doing little more than a slow plod as he tries to suck down air to ease his heavy breathing, while a stitch burns across the left side of his chest.
Ben manages to wander a couple more metres before the pain in his side becomes too much and he relents and accepts that he has to stop moving entirely. He does, and braces himself at first with his right arm against the cold dark brick of the building wall closest to him. His head drops as takes longer and slower breaths now.
Some time passes before the stitch eases just enough for Ben to consider it to not be a priority. In that time the former astronaut has changed position.
He now has his back pressed against the cool damp wall, his head back against the dark brick also as he looks up toward the sky. He can’t see the sky because of the height of the neighbouring brick building that forms the opposing boundary for this part of the alley. Ben groans, screwing his eyes shut and then listens intently. What he expects to hear are voices, footsteps, calls, shouts, screams, bickering. But he hears none of that. Instead there are only the sounds of road noise from passing vehicles. The sounds of the road aren’t loud, which means he’s a decent distance from any major road. Though, he has to admit that he has no clue where exactly he is. He’s never been down these alleyways before. That is, after all, the closest the paparazzi have ever gotten to him since he first became the beacon of unwanted fame that he is today.
Still, Ben knows he can’t stay here. There is every chance that the pap will weave through these routes desperate for pictures, interviews, quotes, pieces of him, whatever they can unreasonably, in his mind, get. So Ben pushes himself off the brick wall, first to test his legs which offer little resistance. That’ll change; he thinks as he takes a couple steps to make sure his legs aren’t giving him a false sense of security. They aren’t and so Ben wanders down the alley. He couldn’t run now even if his life depended on it and so he really hopes he isn’t going to turn a corner or suddenly be descended upon by hungry media hounds all after their pound or more of flesh.
Ben yanks the overlong gloves off his hands and stuffs them into one of his hoodies two deep quarter circle pockets. It isn’t glove wearing weather but when you have energy in place of fingernails it becomes a necessity to hide that difference from any prying eyes. Mainly because those prying eyes quickly become questions and demands whether that be from curious members of the public or the sudden appearance of paparazzi vultures that said members of the public have alerted.
Ben looks at the energy where his four fingernails had once been on his right hand. But quickly drops his hand down to his side and out of sight. They don’t seem to do anything or serve any purpose other than to have made him the talk of the globe and bring his career to a sudden end. He’d tried to pry them off, cut them down, everything. However, whatever he tried ended the same way, the tools melted and the yellow energy claws were left unaffected. That’s why he just tends to ignore them now, other than to cover them up when he goes out in public or occasionally curse their existence.
Ben rounds a corner and then a minute later leaves the confines of the alley and steps out into a parking lot surrounded of all sides by buildings. The parking lot isn’t full, it has maybe a fifth of the cars it could potentially accommodate. There are still no media hounds desperately baying for a piece of him. However, there are a couple figures with hoods over their heads facing away from him. They are alongside one of the larger vehicles. Ben can’t tell what make or model it is, but something about their movements suggests that they’re up to something nefarious.
“Hey, what you guys doing?” Ben calls out unsure if this is the brightest way of approaching whatever it is he has a clear view of.
The former astronaut gets no answer. It’s like the pair of what he would assume are men, because of their size and shape, haven’t heard him. It’s possible, he thinks, but unlikely. Then he catches sight of a pry bar, only for a couple seconds, but it’s long enough to convince him of what they’re doing.
There is no dispute here. These guys are trying to steal this car. So Ben roars loudly, “You two, stop!”
This time the pair of men hear him, evidenced by the fact that a blink of an eye later one of them, the one without the pry bar, spins round to face Ben. The man has a scar from near the corner of his top lip up about five centimetres across his cheek. The scar gives the man an expression that looks akin to a permanent snarl.
Still, he doesn’t seem bothered by having been caught red handed; even if he is clearly the accomplice helping the actual crook who is still has his back to Ben.
“Dee, look what we got.” The man with the scar snarl says, elbowing his partner in the arm to draw his attention.
Dee, the man with his back to Ben, ignores the instruction until less than a minute later the car door relents and grants him access when it pops open. Dee smiles then glances over his shoulder, smiles again, this time out the side of his face and then turns with the pry bar still in his hands. He slaps the curved metal head against the palm of his open right hand and says, “Well, looks like someone walked into the wrong hood.”
With that the scar snarl guy pulls a flick knife from his pocket and smiles. With the scar on his face it looks less like a smile and more like a grimace accompanied by green eyes filled with cruel intent. It’s a far cry from Dee whose eyes are hidden beneath wrap-around mirror lensed sunglasses shimmering purple and blue.
“You should walk away about now.” The scar snarl guy states with a chuckle.
Ben knows the pair are trying to intimidate him, but he stands his ground. The two car thieves don’t think the Asian guy in front of them has quite understood just how much dangerous he is in, so Dee decides to make it abundantly clear.
“Stick around and you’ll get your skull crushed, teeth kicked in and cut to ribbons. Is that really what you want, pretty boy?”
Dee licks at the sections of his bottom lip where they join to his top lip. Not quite managing to reach as far as the middle of his bottom lip though. It’s a strange habit that he repeats over and over. Maybe it’s learned and meant to add to his repertoire of intimidation, but if that’s true then Ben can’t see how it aids such a thing in any way.
Still, the former astronaut needs to make it clear that he isn’t afraid and about to run from them like they want him to. So Ben announces is as plain terms as he can, “I’m not scared of you.”
In response the pair turns their heads and look at each other. Their severe expressions crack, first turning to smiles and then they both erupt into raucous thundering laughter. Dee and his partner, Franco, throw their heads back, close their eyes and cry to the heavens above. But they don’t quite go as far as to grab hold of their bellies as they roar uncontrollably. Then in an instant the scene changes as both car thieves launch, without warning, into an attack.
Dee reaches Ben first, already mid-swing and aiming for Ben’s jaw, when the former astronaut leaps back to avoid the swipe. It works, and he narrowly evades the strike only for Franco to follow immediately after with an angry underhanded stab aimed at Ben’s gut. Ben grabs the scar faced man and stops his assault almost immediately. “Time to die.” Franco spits before an evil cackle escapes from his lips, even as Ben shoves him back and away just in time to see the pry bar hurtling toward his ribs. Ben catches it with both hands and pushes back against it.
“Why is it you pretty boys always think you’re heroes?” Dee questions as he puts all his weight behind the pry bar in his hands. Unfortunately, he and Ben are evenly matched and he makes no progress. That is where Franco comes in as he roars and bounds toward Ben. But the former astronaut kicks his left leg out behind him in a manner that would best be described as being similar to that of a horse. The kick surprisingly makes contact with Franco’s gut and sends him doubling over as he staggers and stumbles backward and away from the fray. Ben didn’t think his kick would be that effective, though he isn’t about to complain about it as he suddenly twists and wrenches the pry bar hoping to rip it from Dee’s hands. It doesn’t work and instead all that happens is Dee shifts his weight but manages to keep his grip on the blunt metal tool just long enough to deliver a sharp kick to Ben’s shin.
On instinct alone Ben curses and releases his hold on the pry bar. Instantly he realises his mistake and so frantically throws a punch. Because of the energy that has replaced his nails he can’t fully ball up his fists and so while the punch connects and has the desired affect that throws Dee out of combat, it also sends painful bursts up his arm and into his brain from his hand.
Ben spins away from the dizzy Dee. He cradles his fist, cursing as he flexes his fingers hoping they aren’t broken. They’re stiff but mobile without causing any excruciating agony that would confirm his worst fear. He feels a good deal of relief at that as he raises his head to find Franco rushing him. Ben groans and then ducks out of the attack before delivering a sharp elbow to the scar snarl man’s chin. Franco’s head snaps right from the force, sending the criminals vision double and leaving him to stagger off unsure of where he’s headed.
Ben takes the brief respite to gather himself. It’s a pretty even match between them, but he needs to end this. The longer the fight goes on the more likely it becomes that the duo will team up and attack him in unison. If that happens he’s done for. There is no doubt about that and Ben isn’t arrogant enough to believe different. So, when Dee comes at Ben for the third time the former astronaut feints and then suddenly grabs the very end of the pry bar. It’s sharp and feels as though it is cutting deep into the flesh of his hand. Ben takes a second to look up but sees no blood as his free right hand lunges for Dee’s exposed jaw.
Unfortunately, Ben never completes the punch. Instead, Franco has managed to gather himself and circle around to plunge the blade of his knife into Ben’s side.
The former astronauts’ eyes go wide and then he lets out a shrill cry in agony before somehow managing to have the reaction to unleash a violent backward stab of his bent and pointed right elbow that slams into the snarl faced thief’s face.
Following that Ben manages to stagger away. But he feels something. Not the pain but something else. He can’t explain it. It isn’t rage. It isn’t fear. It’s…power. And it’s overwhelming. He can’t contain it. He knows that almost immediately and so as he spins round to face his attackers, who are closing in on him for the kill, he throws out his arms in front of him and roars like a demon. But his roar means nothing compared to his straight and pointing fingers, the yellow energy from which, lances outward in beams of superheated matter. Eight beams of yellow superheated energy to be exact, which Dee and Franco only just manage to drop below before their heads are taken off.
The energy lances still emanating from Ben’s fingertips cut through metal and into the far off brick of the wall some nine metres away, carving angled burnt claw marks in the surface.
Dee and Franco, who are on their backsides on the heavily worn and faded asphalt of the parking lot, stare up at Ben as his hands shake and the beams of energy finally withdraw and return to the strange nail-like substitutes of swirling yellow that they had been before. The pair of criminals had never even noticed them during the fight, but now they’ve seen firsthand what the man can do they quickly scramble to their feet and then sprint away as fast as their terrified legs will allow.
Ben, hands still shaking profusely, brings them up and stares at them. To be more accurate he is glaring at the yellow energy claws that replaced his fingernails. It’s the first time the energy claws have shown any signs of being useful.
Then Ben realises his breathing is shallow and fast and after that it dawns on him where he is. An instant later he spins round hoping no one bore witness to what has just happened.
On his third spin his heart sinks. He catches sight of a figure. He doesn’t know how he missed it before, but it is clear he did, and then as he focuses on the figure his heart does more than simply sink; it plummets right into his gut. The figure that saw the whole thing play out, or at least that is what Ben assumes, is a pap. Ben wonders if he can negotiate with the man. But his subconscious screams that he needs to run. For whatever reason Ben conforms as he curses and then rushes off as fast as he can, filled with terror.
He knows he needs to find somewhere safe. Somewhere that is far from prying eyes that might ask questions or know who he is. He doesn’t know where that is, but there has to be somewhere that fits that description and we won’t stop running until he finds it. After all, he doesn’t want to hurt anybody and right now it is crystal clear that he’s dangerous, very dangerous, and in no way should be considered a hero. He almost killed those men, even if they were criminals, and that’s wrong. So very, very wrong. So he must keep to himself until he understands what he is and can control these cursed yellow energy claws, beam things.
Unfortunately, Ben is alone in this belief that he is a danger and on the evening news the footage the pap recorded is broadcast, not just locally but worldwide. As a result he is branded a hero, a superhero to be exact, and the people begin to hope that he might not just signal the dawn of a new stage in human evolution but also serve as the protector and saviour of mankind who will help usher them into what they believe is a new era.