Chapter 32

As the techs loaded Conrad out of his wheelchair into the cannon, the lights flickered. The techs looked at the lights and then to each other with a hint of concern in their body language.

“Listen, there’s no room for doubt here. You put me in there and you keep me in there until the process is complete,” barked Conrad.

“The power seems so flaky. What if it fails and we lose power?” asked one of the techs, anxiously.

“Chances are that I won’t make it through the night. I can either die in that chair or the cannon, I’m willing to take the risk.”

The tech nodded. “We’ve preloaded the materials that Scott provided.”

“Excellent,” replied Conrad, “Let’s get started.”

The techs continued to slide Conrad into the cannon. Once he was in, they tilted it upwards slightly and started the sequence.

The cannon’s outer barrels began to spin, the beams fired and started to bounce around the shielding, exactly like it did for Neil when he was inside.

“We’re losing power,” shouted one of the techs, in a panicked voice.

A brief flicker of light and a slowing of the cannon indicated that the power cut out for a moment.

“That wasn’t a hiccup,” shouted one of the techs. “That was the switchover. The backup generator is online. There’s no way the cannon can finish the cycle on this power source. It’s draining the battery faster than the generator can charge it. We might only have a few more seconds.”

“Calm down, we only need a few seconds,” reported the tech at the control panel. “The process is almost complete. Just waiting for the phase grid to bounce back the beam. Besides, you heard Conrad.”

“Yeah, but the battery is only at 3 percent,” announced the panicked tech.

Before the tech could read the status, the room went pitch black. The cannon stopped spinning, the panels all went dead.

“Did we make it,” screamed the panicked tech, “Did we make it?”

“I can’t see the readout. Generator status?”

The panicked tech pulled out a flashlight.

“No readout,” he replied, “Generator probably offline. Maybe we fried the battery? Can someone go check? Will someone check the generator?”

One of the other techs nodded. He started towards the door as the panicked tech tossed him the flashlight.

The panicked tech went back to the cannon and banged frantically on it. “Conrad, can you hear us? Can you knock if you’re there?”

Suddenly, the door to the lab slammed open. The faint smell of ozone entered the room. A dull electrical buzz hung in the air as a faint blueish-white outline of a man entered the dark room.

The techs stood there silently as they watched the outline make its way toward the cannon. As he approached, they noticed small arcs of electricity dancing over his body. His eyes glowed blue. He was producing enough of a glow that they could faintly make out his features. As he opened his mouth, it also seemed to light up in a faint blue. He began to speak.

“I don’t know why you’re helping Conrad, but if you want to live, I’d strongly advise you to leave.”

The ethereal tone of his voice carried a presence that chilled the techs. They all shuffled toward the emergency exit light and headed out of the dark room, all except for the panicked tech.

“Listen, I don’t know if he made it. Please, save him!” Pleaded the tech.

“I don’t think you understand. I will not ask again. Leave.”

The tech looked at Neil, then toward the emergency light and ran out of the room.

The shock on their faces surprised Neil. He hadn’t really noticed his physiological changes until he heard his own distorted voice. “Come to think of it,” he thought to himself, “I have never felt like this before. All I was hoping to do was drain the electricity through that conduit to trip a breaker or disrupt the cannon, but instead, I guess I stored all of that electricity.”

He looked down at his arms in awe. Blueish-purple arcs of electricity punctuated with random sparks danced up and down his skin. It almost felt like his arms had gone to sleep, combined with a shivering sensation. The movement of the electricity entranced him as it flowed up and down his arms.

Remembering himself, Neil shook his head and walked up to the cannon’s control panel. As he brought his hand close to it, he noticed the control panel begin to disintegrate. Neil pulled his hand back and stared at his palm intently. Small pieces of the panel orbited his hand.

“I don’t care how much energy I’ve stored,” Neil thought to himself, “electrical energy alone can’t break molecular bonds.”

He reached at the panel again and found that more and more of the panel disintegrated and seemed to orbit around his hand. As he watched it orbit, he realized that the arcing and sparking across his body was due to other particles moving around his entire body.

“I’ll need to worry about this later. For now, I need to make sure Conrad is dead,” Neil thought to himself.

He walked up to the cannon. He looked at the supports and the hydraulic lifts that kept it upright and grabbed them. As they disintegrated in the same manner, the cannon pitched forward, dumping Conrad’s lifeless body onto the floor, unceremoniously.

Neil walked over to Conrad’s lifeless body.

“This isn’t quite how I expected the big showdown to go, but truth be told, I’m glad this is over,” spoke Neil.

Intending to disintegrate Conrad, Neil opened his hand, palm outstretched downwards and carefully lowered it toward Conrad.

Gasping, Conrad took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Flailing and disoriented, he grabbed out and latched onto Neil’s arm. Conrad’s hand burned to the touch. The pain was unbearable to Neil. He snapped back and dove away from Conrad, falling on the floor gasping and straining.

“Oh, it’s not over, Neil,” quipped Conrad as he stood up.

The lights came back on in the room.

“Would you look at that? I guess the power is back on,” said Conrad as he grinned.

As Neil recoiled in pain, the light gave Neil the opportunity to get a good look at everything. The first thing he noticed were the holes in the floor. He must have been destroying everything he stepped on as well.

“How did I not sink down,” Neil thought to himself. “If I was disintegrating the ground underneath me, I should have basically fallen into the earth.”

Neil looked at his arm where Conrad grabbed it. A mark in the shape of a hand print had burned into his skin. It stung to the touch. The skin felt charred and blistered. The intense pain was not fading. Even though Neil could feel electricity coursing through his body, this burn was not healing. Neil held his arm close to his body and protected it with his other arm as he attempted to block the intense pain and attempt to stand.

As he looked up, he saw Conrad, eyes transfixed on the burn.

“Shit, he noticed,” Neil thought to himself. This was an unwelcome development.

Conrad turned around and grabbed one of Neil’s arm-mounted cannons from a nearby table.

“He was probably anxious to test the arm cannons once the process was complete,” Neil thought to himself. He grabbed the top of a nearby table and forced his body up, trying to get his feet underneath himself, while Conrad struggled to get the cannon attached.

As Neil got up, he realized that he was able to touch solid surfaces without disintegrating them.

“Either my pain is forcing me to control this new ability, or I wasn’t able to hold the charge indefinitely,” Neil thought to himself as a chill worked its way down his spine. “Or, Conrad somehow siphoned my power.”

Conrad leveled the now-attached arm cannon at Neil. Neil turned his head and closed his eyes. He held his breath and balled his fists as he heard the trigger click, but nothing happened. After a few seconds, Neil opened his eyes and looked.

Conrad gritted his teeth in frustration.

“Now, Neil, I’m not sure, but something tells me that your presence and the emergency generator being online is to blame here. I don’t seem to have your powers.”

A sense of relief washed over Neil. It distracted him from noticing Conrad walking toward him. As Neil realized his guard was down, Conrad swung his arm, with the cannon still attached. It connected with Neil’s face, knocking him backwards to the floor.

“Still, somehow the process has healed me,” muttered Conrad as he detached the cannon from his arm, “And I haven’t felt this strong in decades. You know, Neil, thankfully, you’re such a fuckup, that you can’t even screw something up on purpose.”

Neil wiped blood from his lip as Conrad continued to talk.

Conrad looked at the burn mark again. “And, judging by that burn on your arm, I’m pretty sure that I’ve come through the process with some kind of abilities.”

Conrad paused for a second and threw the disconnected cannon to the ground.

“So, Neil, let’s find out what abilities I have, shall we?”

Pushing the pain aside, Neil jumped up just in time for Conrad to lunge at him. Neil leaned forward to avoid Conrad’s grasp, but with his sore arm tucked in, he found himself falling off balance. As he fell forward, he felt Conrad’s hand pressing on his back, burning it just like his arm. As the burning sensation increased, Neil could feel his energy levels decrease. Neil fell hard to the ground, just out of Conrad’s reach and rolled onto his back. The pain seared so intensely, Neil felt like he was going to throw up. He desperately arched his back to keep his weight off the burn. Panicked, Neil rolled back onto his stomach to keep from passing out.

Neil could feel his heart race. Adrenaline kicked in, giving Neil the strength to scramble away from Conrad and get to his feet.

“Okay, he knows that his hands burn me,” thought Neil to himself, “But I don’t think he knows that he’s draining my power. Still, I don’t know how to beat him.”

Neil looked around the room hoping for an idea. Nothing came to mind. He was going to have to lean on his fighting skills.

Conrad stood across the room, balling his hands and flexing his arms.

“Every time I touch you, I get stronger, Neil.”

Neil’s heart skipped a beat. “Damn it,” he thought to himself, “He knows that he’s draining my power. Things just went from bad to worse.”

Neil decided to feign bravery. He hoped that it would somehow balance the fight. He was desperate to show Conrad that he was not afraid.

“I’ll make you regret getting into the cannon, Conrad,” shouted Neil unconvincingly as he ran up to Conrad and attempted to kick him. Conrad blocked it effortlessly. Confused, Neil jumped back.

“How the hell is he so good at fighting?” thought Neil. “That doesn’t make sense. It took me months to learn how to fight. It’s not like the cannon can give you fighting abilities. Can it?”

Conrad must have noticed the expression on Neil’s face. His booming laugh filled the room.

“You didn’t expect me to be soft and weak like you, did you, Neil? Unlike you and your charmed life, I had to fight to get where I did in life. I mean that literally. You have no idea what I’ve done, what I’ve seen. I made my way up through organized crime. I started as a street tough. I was putting guys in the hospital way before you even thought of that shitty self-defense class and your half-assed Krav Maga.”

“We’ll see,” replied Neil. He jumped in to attack Conrad. Conrad turned, spun and extended his hand outwards as he swung backwards. The back of his fist connected with Neil’s face, leaving another burn on his cheek.

Reeling, Neil fell to the floor and rolled away. Conrad charged Neil and kicked him in the ribs so hard he came off the ground. Before he could land, Conrad grabbed him by the neck and lifted him up.

“I told you, Neil, every time I touch you, I get more powerful. Super human strength powerful.”

Neil wasn’t sure if it was the burning or Conrad’s grip, but it was getting harder and harder to breathe. Neil could feel his vision start to fade again, he knew that he was about to pass out. He knew that Conrad wouldn’t stop until he was holding Neil’s lifeless body. He knew that once he died, nobody would be left to stop him. With ever last bit of energy in his body, Neil pushed through the pain, squeezed his hands tight and pushed out all of the electricity left in his body.

The crackle of sparks and electrical arcing blew the two of them apart in separate directions. Neil fell to the floor gasping for air.

“He can’t physically absorb electricity,” Neil thought to himself. “He must need to use me as some kind of conduit. Finally, some good news.”

Neil looked across the room at Conrad, who was struggling to get back on his feet. Frantically, Neil peered around the room looking for something he could use as a weapon. “If I could just make Conrad keep his distance,” Neil thought to himself, “I might have a fighting chance.”

Neil found a broken broom on the floor. He picked it up and ran toward Conrad. He swung it and broke it over Conrad’s back. Conrad hardly flinched as he turned toward Neil, lunging and grasping.

“Well that was stupid,” thought Neil to himself as he jumped back, just managing to stay out of Conrad’s reach. Each step was harder and harder. His legs felt like lead. His body ached. He knew that eventually, Conrad would get his hands on him again and he didn’t have any electricity left in his body to do that again.

Conrad loomed closer. Cornered, Neil dove, feet-first into an awkward kick to Conrad’s knees. As Neil fell on his tailbone, he watched Conrad fall backwards, groaning. Neil stumbled to his feet and tried to get out around Conrad, out of the corner. Just as he thought he was free and clear, Conrad grabbed Neil by the foot and threw him clear across the room.

Neil landed awkwardly. His back hurt. His chest hurt. Somehow, he was pinned down and couldn’t move. He felt a sharp pain in his chest. It prompted him to look down. A jagged chunk of metal had impaled him, clear through his chest. Neil looked up to see Conrad walking toward him.

Frantically, Neil tried to push the metal down, cutting his hands. Panicking, he only succeeded at injuring himself more and more as he tried to twist and turn as much as he could and push his elbows down to free himself from the metal before Conrad got close. He looked around for things to grab and pull. He reached up and grabbed a thick piece of something that felt like flexible metal. “Maybe it’s some kind of high pressure hose for the hydraulics in here, or something,” he thought to himself as he decided to pull as hard as he could.

As he pulled, he felt the metal give and let go. He kept pulling. It wasn’t a hydraulic line. He was holding on to a high voltage wire that he had just managed to rip free from one of the machines in the lab.

“I hope this isn’t grounded,” he thought to himself as he slid the wire back and forth on the sharp metal edge protruding from his chest. Conrad was almost upon him.

Frantically, he kept sliding the cable back and forth against the metal, hoping to cut the thick rubber jacket, exposing the wire. Just as Conrad went to touch Neil, the metal tore through the jacket and made contact. As he felt the electricity coursing through his body, he watched Conrad get knocked across the room.

Unlike his previous experience where he absorbed the electricity through his hands, this felt different. It was a direct connection. He didn’t feel like he was siphoning the current, he felt like he was a part of it. He felt like it was a part of him. He could feel every bit of electricity around him. And he wanted every last bit of it. Instinctively he willed the electricity to him, sucking it out of everything like water through a straw. The lights began to dim again. The blueish-purple electrical arcs danced up and down his skin again. It felt like he was even more powerful than last time.

Still, he wanted more. Neil caught a glimpse of Conrad recoiling in fear, his hands up, protecting his face. Neil enjoyed making him cower. He enjoyed making Conrad feel the same fear and hopelessness that he himself grappled with moments ago. He enjoyed every aspect of it. Still, he kept absorbing more and more electricity. The more he absorbed, the more aware he was of it. He had sucked every amp out of the building, but he was so connected, he could feel more power coming through. He wasn’t sure how, but he could feel the electricity coming in from nearby city blocks, maybe even from miles away. It just kept flowing into him.

The sensation was unlike anything Neil had ever felt. The more power he absorbed, the more peaceful he felt. He continued to feel more aware and connected to the power. The electrical grid felt like tendrils that he could sense, as they continued to expand outward. Neil realized that he would have been content to sit there forever. He briefly thought of Conrad, but he could not maintain an interest on anything outside of himself.

Neil struggled to think of anything other than the electricity. Briefly, a concerning thought fluttered through his head. “Am I absorbing the electricity, or is it absorbing me?” he asked himself. Before he could contemplate, he lost interest. He was far too calm to worry about anything.

Neil closed his eyes. The electricity felt so warm, like a comfortable blanket fresh out of the dryer. He felt like he was floating on a tranquil lake.

Abruptly and uncomfortably, Neil suddenly felt like his tendrils had been sliced off. The warm sensation was gone. He wasn’t connected anymore. Neil opened his eyes to find himself back in the lab, his body floating high above the ground, way above the railing that had once impaled him. He looked around. Conrad stood across the room next to a large breaker. The power was off again, but the room was uncomfortably bright with a blueish purple haze. Suddenly, Neil realized that he was the source of the glow.

As the euphoria and haze cleared from Neil’s head, he felt a pang of guilt for being so willing to dismiss everything important for that sensation.

“If I make it through this, I’ll never absorb that much electricity again,” Neil thought, “I don’t know if I’d ever come back from it.”

Neil knew that he needed to end this. He needed to finish Conrad.

“But, first things first,” thought Neil, “I need to figure out how to get down from here.”

Neil attempted to thrash his arms around as if he was swimming. He tried to focus on his powers and control them like before, but there was something entirely different about his powers now.

Before Neil had made any progress, Conrad arrived and attempted to grab Neil, but his hands passed right through him.

Conrad laughed dryly.

“What’s so funny?” asked Neil, in a shaky, yet ethereal voice

“I can’t begin to describe how fulfilling this is, Neil. I don’t know what you did, I don’t know how you did it, but here you are again, assuming the role of screw up.”

Conrad put his neck near Neil’s hand and continued.

“I bet you want to end this right now, right Neil? You want this to be over? Here, I’m all yours. Go ahead and choke me.”

Neil grasped at Conrad’s throat, his fingers passing through him as if he were a ghost.

Conrad turned around and started to walk away.

“Come back here!” shouted Neil.

“Why, Neil? From where I am, you’ve somehow converted yourself into some kind of energy. I don’t think it’s within your skillset to come back from this, judging from your flailing. I think we’re done here.”

Conrad continued to walk away, chuckling to himself.

Frustrated, Neil started to wriggle and thrash around. Panicking, he continued to flail his arms and legs in earnest. No matter what he tried, he was stuck in the air, unaffected by gravity.

As he grew more and more frustrated, Neil got the sensation that he was getting closer to losing control. He felt like he did when he first got his powers. He thought about his attempts to meditate and control his powers. He thought about his breakdown in the hotel room.

“The hotel room,” thought Neil, “I’ve been here before. I’ve been overwhelmed before. I need to calm down, I need to focus.” He thought back to that night in the hotel room. He closed his eyes and thought about his wife, his father, his best friend. He focused on Rebecca’s red hair. He focused on the way his father smelled – the brand of cigarettes he smoked. He thought about Tom’s sense of humor. He concentrated on them.

As he calmed down, he could somehow feel his body solidify. As his body became more and more dense, he slowly started to fall toward the ground.

“So I can force myself into an immaterial state,” Neil thought to himself, “and I can somehow dissolve and absorb matter. If I make it through this, I’ve got so much more to learn. I don’t think my powers are electrical based at all.”

As Neil landed on the ground, he called out to Conrad.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

Conrad turned around and let out an audible gasp as he looked at Neil.

Neil looked down at a nearby table. The metal top was reflective enough that Neil could get a reasonable look at his face. His eyes looked like electrical flares with a blueish-purple light so intense, they looked like a hazy bright cloud around his eyes. He looked down at his arms. Not only was the electricity dancing up and down his arms, his veins were glowing.

Neil looked at Conrad and walked toward him.

“You have no idea how much willpower and determination it takes to control this energy. I almost lost myself to it, but you had to shut off that damn breaker. I suppose I should thank you, because if you hadn’t, I’d probably be lost by now. You know, earlier I thanked Scott, but since he was acting at your behest, I really should thank you instead. You called me a screw up, and maybe you’re right but I came into this with such a na├»ve, limited view of what powers I had. Between Scott telling me all about my powers and this fight, I’ve come to realize that I’ve still got so much to learn and so many more powers to control. Thanks to you, I’ve got a good sense of how to control this.”

Neil outstretched his hand, placing his palm on Conrad’s chest before continuing.

“But I bet you don’t.”

As Neil felt Conrad start to drain his energy, instead of fighting it, he willingly pushed whatever energy he could into Conrad until his power had depleted.

Drained, Neil fell to the floor.

Conrad took a step back and smiled. He swatted Neil like a bug, knocking him across the room.

As Neil landed, he was relieved that he didn’t find himself impaled again. He got to his feet.

“You stupid ass,” boomed Conrad’s voice, “You’ve given me so much power!”

“That’s right, Conrad,” replied Neil, “now the question is whether you can control it.”

Limping, Neil walked up to Conrad and shoved him. Conrad backhanded Neil to the face, knocking him onto his ass.

Neil got up again. Conrad gritted his teeth.

“That’s it, Conrad,” Neil thought to himself, “keep letting me get under your skin. Get frustrated with me. See if you can come back from it.”

“Conrad, do you know how long it took me to control my powers? Do you know how hard it is?”

Neil punched Conrad in the face. Enraged, Conrad punched him back, knocking him down to the floor. Neil stood up again.

“Stay down, Neil!”

“I don’t think I will, Conrad.”

Neil stood up again and kicked Conrad in the kneecap. Infuriated, Conrad outstretched both hands to grab Neil. Neil braced for a throw, but Conrad’s hands passed through Neil.

“It’s awful disconcerting when you can’t touch things, isn’t it, Conrad?”

Conrad swung his arms at Neil, unable to connect. He gritted his teeth. Neil took a step in and offered his throat to Conrad, much like Conrad did earlier.

“Go ahead, Conrad, end it.”

Conrad reached his hands out. They still wouldn’t connect. Neil turned his back and started to walk away.

“Don’t you dare turn your back on me, Neil. I’ll kill you!”

“Conrad, you’re losing control. Soon there’s going to be nothing left of you.”

Conrad shouted in frustration. A loud noise caught Neil’s attention. He turned to look. As Conrad flailed his arms and legs, whenever he made contact with something, it would start to disintegrate and break free, falling to the ground. Neil flipped the large breaker back on.

“Wh-What are you doing, Neil?”

“You wanted more power, right? I want to see how you’ll make out with even more power in you.”

The high voltage cable went live again and started dancing across the floor. Neil caught it and started to absorb the electricity again. As he started to absorb the electricity, he kept his focus by repeating the same three names over and over again: “Rebecca, Robert, Tom”

Before Neil took on too much electricity, he put his other hand in the air, in the middle of Conrad’s chest. As he absorbed the electricity through one hand and pushed it into Conrad’s intangible form, Conrad became more and more unstable. As the electricity coursed through Neil, he felt himself starting to hover. He became immaterial again, somehow managing to maintain a connection with the electricity and Conrad. He continued to concentrate on pouring more and more energy into Conrad.

As Conrad became less and less stable, the structure of the lab started to melt away. Large chunks of the ceiling and walls were starting to fall around them. A pained look on Conrad’s face seemed to indicate that he was about to completely lose control.

“It ends today, Conrad.”

“You stupid idiot! Neil, the hero doesn’t kill people!”

“I can’t let you live, not with these powers.”

“What? You think you’re better than me, Neil? You had powers and you didn’t even help people. You used your powers selfishly. You don’t deserve to live either!”

“You’re probably right, Conrad. And from the way things look, there’s a good chance this building will come down on us and kill us both. Still though, regardless of motivation, I did use my powers for good. You won’t. As a regular human, you were one of the most dangerous people on the planet. With some discipline and some time, you’d only become stronger. You’ve killed and threatened enough people. Your reign of terror and blackmail is coming to an end.”

“You could have saved your father.”

“You killed him, not me. That’s on you.”

“You can’t be around people, Neil. Did you know that? Did you know that you’re constantly leeching bioelectricity from people around you? Did you ever notice that Tom seemed weaker around you? Grouchier? Maybe a little slower to heal? I can help you with that!” pleaded Conrad, “We planned for that with my powers!”

Neil felt a slight pang of guilt. Maybe he was the reason Tom’s healing was so slow. Or maybe this was a mind game. Either way, if Conrad could figure out a solution, so could he.

“I’m not interested, Conrad. I’ve finally come to terms with it anyway. Neil is dead. He died with Rebecca. He died with his Father, he died on a slab in that room over there. I am Sinewave, and maybe I’m not a hero, but we’ll both die tonight and the world will be a better place without you in it. Tom will understand. I don’t see myself leaving here either.”

“B-b-but, the building is coming down around us, Neil, we’ll both die.”

“Probably. At some point I’ll run out of energy to absorb and while you explode or fade into nothingness, the building will crush me. And then, it ends tonight..”

Neil felt the electricity begin to trickle out from the high voltage line. He knew that soon there would be no more energy for him to absorb, but he still had quite a bit of it stored in his body. As he absorbed the last bit of electricity, the cable fell to the ground. Closing his eyes, he poured all the energy left in his body into Conrad’s incorporeal form.

As Neil’s energy drained, he started to become solid again. As he became solid a piece of the ceiling fell through him, merging with his body. The pain was unlike anything he had ever felt as the concrete fused with his internal organs. Neil fell to his knees on the floor.

Neil coughed blood into his hand. He looked up at Conrad anxiously. Just before he blacked out, Neil watched as Conrad’s incorporeal form imploded into nothingness, releasing a shockwave. Neil smiled with bittersweet satisfaction as the concussive force of the blast sent him sprawling as the building caved in on him.


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1 comment:

Richard Belzile said...

Long chapter. LOOOOONG. Enjoy.

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I am Sinewave: Spark

Written by Richard Belzile

Updated semi-infrequently

I am not a professional author, this is my novice attempt at creating a novel in an episodic fashion. Comments, critiques and compliments accepted.

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