Dark days of age

By Gabriel Ricard

This is may or may not be the start of something more important. There is potential here, I believe for a long term exploration of this idea. Read on and judge for yourself.

The scream registered with Hal Modern quickly, it always did. A force of habit to react before most. Turning around, he saw the unremarkable event. He knew what had happened already.

The kid couldn't be any older than 15. It seemed to him that purse snatchers were getting younger these days. The woman, this youth was desperate to put distance between looked to be in her 40's. Her answer to the passive mugging was to stand there, and scream. It occurred to him not long after his retirement, that most of these woman could probably chase down these guys themselves and shoot them if they were smart enough to actually carry a gun. It wasn't like the police would come down and arrest anyone. Not in this part of the city.

He was within range of being stopped, Hal knew it wouldn't take much more than the effort of reaching out, clutching his jacket before any reaction could be made and taking him to the ground.

In a moment later, he was gone. Hal watched him shoving aside the people ahead of him. He realized the whole thing he had just witnessed didn't really matter to him one way or the other.

It was cold, easily piercing his skin, but doubtful for snow. He'd have to buy a jacket one of these days he decided, stopping at his apartment.

He had nothing else he wanted to do out here. The world was cold and the exact opposite of where he wanted to be in terms of the number of people around him. The second step towards the entrance of his apartment building was blocked before it finished. In place, stood a man who was probably not much older than Hal himself but a beard, almost trying to escape the face of its owner, and clothes that had no doubt become a shit smelling second layer of skin, made him look far more weathered.

Hal did not see much more of this anonymous man's face. A sheet of paper was thrust between them, forcing Hal to be at eye level with it. Finally, Hal brought his voice up, making no attempts to hide his exhaustion and irritation. "Can I help you?"

"Are you aware that this world is within the throes of climax?" the paper was pulled aside and held up to Hal's right. Hal could now get a better look at this man's eyes. Frantic, though eager to discuss the issue at hand.

He shook his head, "Not that I know of."

"It's true," Hal wondered if he was even listening. "It's true brother, this world is already in the beginning stages of the end. Armageddon itself."

"That's too bad," Hal tried to look beyond this man, for some way to which he could slip past him to the sanctity of his home.

Hal's earlier suspicion came true, the man continued on as if Hal had gave no reply. "But there is something you can do. Repent! There is still a time and a place that you can be a part of. And avoid the trip to pure agony that non believers will surely have to ride."

Beginning to wave the sheet in his face, Hal surmised with little effort, that this soldier of faith wanted him to grasp the paper firmly in his hand. Take it from him, and embrace this previously undiscovered salvation.

There would be no way to get past him without an effort. He stepped to the side and tried to move forward, like a chess piece. The attempt was blocked and the paper was still there as if he hadn't done anything at all.

"Please sir! I'm offering you a chance to save your soul."

"Not interested." Without actually laying a hand on him, Hal moved past the man. Almost knocking him to the side with his shoulder.

He was upon him again and this time, Hal did not wait for his patience to be rewarded. Before the second word of the last fanatical plea could be uttered, Hal clutched the neck of the man's jacket and without bothering to keep his strength in check, threw him with almost a slant, into the war weary brick wall of his building. The garbage cans aided the impact a little but he still laid unmoving.

Hal watched him for a moment longer and gazed, his eyes suddenly slumping. He felt nothing about it and by the time he was making his way up the stairs, he had almost entirely forgotten it had ever happened.

Still trying to bounce away from concentration of the cold which traveled through the hallways as well. A drink, a little TV, oughtta work some wonders.

Hal Modern felt the vodka, straight up as always give a weak, almost disappointing burn at the top of his chest before dying. If this kept up he thought, the time would come to find something new to drink. He certainly had the liquor cabinet to do it. The oak monstrosity, probably the most expensive thing he owned used to be a mule chest. Until he had put shelves inside during a particularly restless day. The last time he had taken serious efforts to stock it's massive insides was several months ago. During which, he developed more of a taste to the Russian classic and had ignored the rest.

The television babbled relentlessly in regards to the barrage of terrorist attacks, capturing the attention of Wicked City over the last month. Hal knew it was a little more than that.

It was cold all throughout the house and especially in his living room. It occurred to Hal that his heater was probably not as high as it could be and he nearly groaned when he realized he would actually have to get up. A back that seemed to be cursed with a knot on the lower right side, tightening to great discomfort every time he stood up made him weary of any movement.

At last, he sighed and stood up, ignoring his back and placing his drink on top the TV, he reached up to bring the heat to something more comfortable. He yawned, looking up at his clock of a cartoon cat, a cheap little thing he had found at a nearby church bazaar. Realizing it was two-thirty in the morning and giving in to the fact that sleep simply wasn't going to be possible. The room was barely lit, save for a dull glowing lamp on a table near his chair. He preferred it this way, having decided on an image that would only be answered to himself and maintaining it with little effort.

The small blue light reflected against the wall almost didn't catch his notice. He set his thermometer and turned to go sit down again. It was then that he saw it, immediately gazing towards the window.

The source of the light wasn't something that was coming through his window. He saw that it was on the window. Nothing came to mind at first. He slowly approached the strong, circular glow. His thoughts rushing to his eyes and keeping him from thinking about anything else, he brought his hand to it. His index finger had scarcely traced over it when a force from nowhere knocked him back. Letting out a small gasp of surprised pain as he fell to the ground, he felt glass under him and became aware that it was all around him.

He could feel blood forming at his forehead and beginning a gradual descent down his face. With the pain in his back now up to agonizing, he didn't really care about it.

Only now did he see that his window was obviously gone. The blue light had disappeared as well. Now in place of both, Hal saw a figure gazing at him. The light from before was now all around it, allowing him to make it out.

It was a man whose features stood at sunglasses with small lenses and a thin beard. Hal looked past the long black coat he wore and noticed his feet hovering a couple inches above the floor.

Without thinking he blurted out, "What the hell is this?"

The man who could hover above Hal's floor answered with a short laugh, "The time has come…the walrus said."

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Hal made an effort to rise up, nearly toppling himself over but making it in the end.

"Nothing, I'm just terrible with first meetings, especially important ones like this. At any rate, I'm Bruce and it's wonderful to finally meet the legend himself."

"Legend? Who are you?"

"Don't play stupid Hal, you may be a washed up drunk, but you're not senile. And who am I? I just told you that, but I guess you can also call me an irritated angel of mercy."

Hal almost repeated the question of what he was talking about, but said nothing and only stared ahead. "What do you want with me?"

"To get the ball rolling so to speak, you haven't exactly gone along with what we had planned for you. I'll tell you," he paused to chuckle himself, as if it was an old, funny story that had just occurred to him. "I will never see the man's point in mapping out plans then doling out freewill at the same time. It just doesn't make sense to me."

"I-"

"Yes I know, you're confused am I right," his eyes glanced over to a pack of cigarettes sitting on the table a few feet away. A lighter rested on top of the flip-open package. "Hey you mind if I have a smoke? I haven't had one of those in years."

Hal could do nothing more than nod.

"Much obliged, I promise I'll get to the point. Just bare with me here okay?"

"Sure," Hal's voice was tentative, and almost exhausted. His eyes once again operated beyond his weak frame, widening as he watched Bruce pull his hands out of the pockets, seeing that there weren't even hands there to begin with. In their place were stumps, shaped like a dull, almost pointless cone. The skin was neatly folded all around the place where the hands should have been. For a moment, he wondered how this man would take the pack and light a cigarette. Watching in dumbfounded horror, the cigarettes and lighter rose up and flew over to Bruce. The top came open, a cigarette brought itself out slowly like a shy guest and levitated between Bruce's lips. The lighter flickered to weary life after two tries and leaned itself over to bring the cigarette to intended use. When it was lit, the lighter fell to the floor along with the cigarette. Bruce kept it in his mouth and smoked it that way.

"Now then, I really should tell you what this is all about," Bruce paused for a moment, offering a wane smile. "Captain Caliber? Can I call you that? Please, I've always wanted to. I may be your guardian but I'm also a fan."

Hal's face grew hot, the blood pumped through his features and he could feel it. He finally regained the ability to see more than single words. "No one's called me that…in…"

"Twenty years, I know. Seems like a small millennium doesn't it? The point is, quite simply, it's time for you to come out of retirement."

Confusion was still moving through his mind, but for a moment, he realized it weakened and he took advantage. "You're out of your fucking mind?"

"Well in the technical sense…being an angel, I suppose I am. My original mind I mean. Look, I can understand-" he stopped, moving back a foot.

"Get the fuck out now." Stalking towards him, Hal reached out. To grab Bruce and eject him from the apartment so he could mourn the loss of his window in silence.

"I don't think you-"

"Oh I'm very clear on this now. I'm drunk and a fucking madman has somehow entered my apartment to rob me blind. And besides, I already dealt with your cult this afternoon." The memory had returned as suddenly as the words themselves had came. Hal had stopped upon reaching the range to which he could grab him.

"That guy? Not one of us I assure you, though he was right about one thing."

Hal decided to resist the previous urge for a second longer, "Armageddon?" the word had been used a lot in his youth. But he hadn't heard it and especially thought of it before earlier in the day.

"You got it. Hey, I'm glad to see your minds as sharp as ever."

The second was over, Hal made the final step to take Bruce out of the apartment he hoped, out of his uneventful day. The shoulder that was obvious to his eyes passed through his hand. He pulled back wildly and held his wrist as if he had just burned it trying to grab him.

"I'm not quite ready to leave yet," the cigarette, nearly dead at the filter flew out of his mouth and was pulled apart, reduced to ashes in midair and disappearing before they met the floor. "This world is on the brink of destruction. Do you think we're just going to let that happen?"

Hal had let go of his hand, reaching for the pack of cigarettes himself but stopping and rejecting the idea before he even touched them. He kept his gaze away from Bruce. "I thought you were an angel. Can't you just have God take care of this?"

"He's not really one for getting his hands dirty. Besides…" Bruce paused.

For the first time, Hal saw something other than collected, casual composure in him.

"Maybe it's what he wants."

"What?"

"He wouldn't go so far as to eradicate the world himself. But he's not going to do anything about it. His disappointment with the human race has been a long standing issue up there."

"Well he made us," Hal felt his irritation slipping. Giving way to a cautious interest.

"Yeah and that probably pisses him off more than anything else."

Hal stepped back when Bruce began to approach him. He walked past Hal and stopped at the frame that had once held Hal's window. He was now looking outside, seeming to have forgotten Hal was even there. he could see Bruce's eyes closed through is glasses. This calm stance, coming about without any warning, gave the suggestion that he was absorbing the city in all it's light, noise and violence. "I'm here of my own choice, the ideal part of being so insignificant in heaven is being able to move about freely. No one else up there really cares so no one tried to stop me."

Hal moved forward, "What are you talking about?"

Bruce turned around, his eyes were now wide open. "I already told you. It's time for you to come back, help me save the world."

Hal could actually feel all the ideas spinning around in his head. Looping themselves so relentlessly he could barely breath. Wondering if the walls would collapse on him or even crush him. "Look…I don't know what this is all about," he forced his legs to take him over to the almost forgotten glass of vodka. He finished it off and poured his fourth of the night. "But I can't…and if you know me as well as you claim to, you'll know why."

"I do, but that doesn't matter now. Twenty years ago, you were the greatest hero this world ever knew. The others couldn't hold a candle to you. You didn't survive the Hero Purge by accident."

Hal knew that well. There had dozens of others like him. He ignored the comment. "How exactly is the world going to end anyway? Seems to me like things are the same as always." The fourth glass was soon gone as well, to make way for another.

"You'll find out soon enough."

"Oh what? you don't know?"

"No…I do know, I just don't like to throw all my secrets out."

"How about those hands? Or lack thereof," courage moved through Hal. The confusion was still powerful, but now, easily ignored.

"This is your doing," he lifted his arms up to give a better view. "I know, 'my doing?' right? Lets just say this was punishment for the things you've done in your autumn years."

"What I did? I haven't done anything?"

"Nothing important enough to you to register your memory, but I promise you, this was the result of your sins. As minor as they are. As your guardian, it is my responsibility to personally bare the brunt of your human nature."

He shook his head, going about his fifth shot more slowly than before. "Whatever. Look, I'm not interested, so I would appreciate it if you got the hell out of my home."

"Still don't believe me? Well, I guess you need a little motivation as I like to think we're pressed for time."

"A little mo-" Hal's footing, before so difficult to regain was lost completely once again. The world around him shook and he lurched forward, falling to his knees. He reached over, grabbing his coffee table for support.

"You might want to take a look outside," Bruce's tone was calm.

The room kept itself stable long enough to let Hal stand up, still using his table for support. A tentative walk began towards the window. His fading eyes were blinded for a second by flames below. He squinted, finding the source quickly.

Weakness in his knees forced him to step back. His eyes alive for the first time in several minutes. He turned to face Bruce, whose demeanor had not changed. "The Manipulator," his voice was barely audible.

"Another legend eh?" Bruce nodded, in spite of Hal returning his eyes to the open window. "The great and single practitioner of the Hero Purge himself. And he's looking for only one person and that would be you."

"H…he can't be alive."

"He is, and he wont stop destroying this city until you do something about it."

"Why don't you do anything about it?"

"My powers only extend so far. Besides, I'm going to be in enough trouble as it is."

"I can't…" he was losing control of his own words.

Below him, police sirens tried to pierce through the other assorted chaos. With unlikely quick timing, two cars arrived. The Manipulator's back to them. His back underneath a leather jacket. Hal could almost see his reflection taunting him from the outwardly thick, hairless head of the monster. All Hal was waiting for now was to hear the voice. A piece of his memory which he had never successfully been able to ignore, even for a second. Even from his distance, Hal could see the smirk bursting from The Manipulators heavy darkness colored lips.

"Glad to see some things haven't changed," he gave a roar and caught one of the cars within range. He laughed, lifting the car up and bringing it down on the other before the two officers could escape. He let go of his weapon and brought his foot back, punting the two fiery vehicles like soccer balls.

The cars landed several feet ahead, crashing into an outdoor café and laying it to flames along with neighboring buildings on the left and right side.

"You need to go down there and stop him. You know it's what you were meant to do."

Another building and two cars were next to fall.

"Something you will never escape from in spite of the years that whirl past you."

Hal continued to gaze outside, only his face reacted. "That's very poetic."

"Thanks, I've been practicing that one. Look, I don't need to tell that no one's going to stop him. I love these stupid creatures, but I'm willing to do this if it saves the bigger picture. I also know that you're not far gone enough to be completely ambivalent about them."

Hal finally turned around, to retort with continuing weak protest. The closet near the door to his apartment was open. Hal wanted to say that he had burned the costume years ago but kept silent. The costume, almost entirely black save for a triangle with a blue C on. The mask hung over it, a simple style that did nothing else but match the rest of the costume.

Pressing the fabric of the costume between three fingers, Hal forget anyone else was even there. Memories didn't rush forward, the way he thought it would. But something did assault his mind, he pulled the costume off it's invisible hanger and held it up. Inspecting it for no particular reason, he walked past Bruce. he was barely conscious of the fact that anyone was there with him. He closed the door to his room and turned on his light.

"More playmates? Shit man, will cops ever learn?" The Manipulator made no attempt to hide his feelings. The police cars, four in all, stopped several feet away. The officers seemed to explode from the doors. Saying nothing, they opened fire.

Hal stood at the farthest point he could manage from his window. Still watching, the breeze that had been so prevalent during the day flung his cape behind him, almost trying to rip it off his back.

The cops were shouting desperate orders to one another. Hal's hands shook and he closed his eyes, leaping off the edge and hoping he could still do it.

It came to him without even thinking about it. Hal could feel the air around him, opening his eyes to the world, he flew down. Clenching his fists and bringing them together, he came at Manipulator like a missile, striking him in the right side. Trusting the instincts to aim for the ribs.

It was the surprise of his attack that brought success. Manipulator gave a startled growl and whirled into one of the buildings already destroyed. He was amazed that there was not the slightest feeling of being awkward in this suit. He glanced back at the policemen who were subconsciously moving towards their cars.

He knew better than to watch them any longer and returned to the task. The Manipulator had already recovered, regarding Hal with a smirk. "Well bless my soul, I get to take a city apart and meet an old friend."

"It's great isn't it?" he wondered, absurdly if his rhetoric was still where it used to be. Banter had been an important aspect of his persona. "You're finished here." he silently groaned. He said that far too early.

"Cutting to the chase? Good, you always were a wordy son of a bitch," he cracked his knuckles. "This time. I won't go easy on you. This time, I'll break your spine like I did your little fag partner Kannon Kid."

"Try me," he was going to let him make the first move.

The Manipulator gave the impression he was stretching his back. Letting out a roar which destroyed the windows of the few surviving police cars. He leapt into the air and kept his fist ready.

Diving upon Hal, he threw a punch, catching Hal in the jaw. It hurt much more than he expected. Ignoring it was an old skill he possessed and he returned the favor, the punch meeting with the throat.

It would be arrogant of him to assume he still retained the speed of his youth. Yet somehow, he found the time to bring another shot in. The incredible, pressing force into his hand as he struck The Manipulator in the right eye and uppercut him into the cop cars.

"Shit," he said. The words slipping out of him. the explosions killed all of the cops before they could have hoped to run away.

A moment passed before the wrecks flew back, bathed in fire which stretched upwards and seemed to bring more light to the streets.

A small trickle of blood from the mouth was the only reward Hal could see. The Manipulator was still grinning. "Good shot Captain Caliber. Did you go and get old on me?"

Hal's feet left the ground by a couple feet. He gave a low growl and flew towards him. Trying to catch him from above, Hal felt life flee his body when he was hit in the stomach. Reaction time was dulled enough to allow Manipulator to grab the back of his head and drive it into his knee.

His feet back on earth, he stumbled back a step and tried to clear himself. Before anything could be done, Manipulator was on him again. Bringing lefts and rights in such blinding ferocity, that he wasn't unable to even fall back.

The eight punch seemed to satisfy him and taking his throat, The Manipulator threw him into the building next to the one he lived in. Everything around him caved in and for a moment, he thought he had just been paralyzed from the forehead to toes.

The fear was unfounded and he discovered that quickly, pushing ever aside in a mad rush.

His hands flew up to the sky, he caught the car and looked ahead. The Manipulator held the other end and greeted with the same smile.

Manipulator kicked a piece of concrete rubble like a soccer ball. Hal wrestled the car away and threw it behind him but did not move away fast enough to avoid the debris hitting him in the face.

He tried to wipe the dust away, a foot planted into his stomach and he doubled over to feel another knee driven between his eyes. Finally, with little expectancy, he threw a punch of his own. He felt the flesh connecting and reached out. Taking a hold of the thick arm and winding all his strength into whipping him away.

His vision was worth something to him again, though his back was finally beginning to betray the rest of him. He hadn't been bothered to think about it since leaving his apartment. He concluded that his adrenaline wouldn't carry him any farther and decided to end it. His heels sprang up as he ran, not caring to fly.

The first shot he threw connected better than he dreamed. Feeling blood overwhelm the knuckles and dry seconds later. He spent a second too long winding back for a follow up, his hand caught by Manipulator as if it were a baseball. With his other hand, he struck Hal three more times and scolded him, "I think we're gonna end this a little more to my satisfaction."

Hal wondered, half seriously, if his face itself would cave in. The parts of his face, no longer protected by his mask, were obscuring any original color he had. He made a single pathetic effort to move his arm and gave up when his request was ignored by his brain.

He could hear Manipulator laughing, the other hand taking hold of his leg and lifting him up. The closest he was brought back to earth was Manipulators left knee, which brought thousands of intense lights to him, almost like stars.

The Manipulator let go of him and stood up, Hal rolled off the knee in one motion and fell to the ground. He didn't need to look up to know he had been defeated.

He was forced to eventually with the little strength remaining. Manipulator kicked him over. Hal saw the block of rubble he was holding and the intention that went with it. "Better luck next time Cap."

"That's enough."

"Bruce…?" Hal had forgotten about him.

A few feet away, with the world behind him obscured by smoke and flame, Bruce began walking towards them.

The Manipulator dropped the weapon next to him, looking towards a building, he stepped forward to meet it and disappeared. Flames surrounded whatever door he had just walked through.

Bruce stopped when he was standing over Hal, he looked down and offered a smile that was almost congratulatory. "You're going to have to do better than that when the real thing comes. For now? Take the rest of the day off. I'll be in touch."

Hal felt his legs for the first time in ten minutes. He sat up. His body was alive again, though mostly through pain. It was duller than before and he summoned the energy to fly.

Having not planned on it, he curved and flew straight up. He could feel the difference quickly. The air was far from what he heard it used to be, but it was almost cleansing by being so much better than being closer to the city streets.

He refused to think about anything else at the moment. Especially the realization that he was back.

End.

Weak I know…heh…perhaps I'll come back to it. At any rate, if you think this could be a series(and it could) say so, if not, I won't be surprised.