THE BLACK HEROES:
Hell in Peoria
Obsidian saw it coming: the spark, falling from the severed joint of that unfinished Android, streaming down to the pond water below. He was shin-deep in that contaminated water, along with Opal Stone, surrounded by an entire brood of snarling, malformed machines. Obsidian watched as the spark hit the water, and braced himself for the fire.
The soup of unknown toxic chemicals lit up like a flare, sending flames across the pond's surface, and on to the heroes' soaking wet bodies. Peering through the fire on his own face, Obsidian turned to look at Opal. She was handling it very well, calm and holding her own. She stood there in the water, engulfed in flames, ready to fight the approaching enemies.
Two suns, he thought, raising Hell in Peoria.
* * *
December. It was an unusually warm Saturday morning in Carthage, Missouri. Dale Gruber: Facility Director at the Carthage Gas Power Generation Electrical Plant (CGPG), was standing in line at Mumford Bank's local branch. He'd been there for a long while, and expected to wait longer, because he knew that the teller girl was new.
Jessie, he seemed to remember her name. Jessie was a tortoise-slow twenty-something, he thought, and had no business counting anything, let alone other people's money. After twenty-five long minutes of waiting, Dale was finally first in line. He was about to give the girl some well needed career advice when the building began to shake.
“Earthquake!” someone shouted, as the overhead fluorescent lights began to rattle and pop out of their sockets, “Take cover!”
The terrified employees and patrons ran for cover as debris and cubicle fixtures came crashing down. A large man, one of Dale's neighbors, pushed Dale aside on his way to the exit. Dale fell backward, landing on the marble floor with a thud. A stampede of feet and legs ran over him, kicking up plaster dust with every step.
As the Earth shook, and the bank crumbled around him, Dale caught glimpses of the outside world through the bank windows. He saw the asphalt crack and buckle over itself. He heard snapping telephone lines, and watched in breathless awe as the facade of the Jasper County Courthouse crashed down to a pile of white rubble.
“Why is this happening?” an elderly woman was on the floor, beside Dale, terrified of the scene outside. Dale looked at her, at the blood streaming down her face, and bit down hard on his own tongue. Dale Gruber, the only man in Carthage who had an answer, dared not reveal it.
* * *
“The Black Heroes are socialists!” an angry man's voice bellowed from the small tv mounted on the wall.
“How so, Phil?” asked another angry tv voice.
“Look at Vitruvius, Al. A successful, international corporation under attack for its prosperity.”
“It's the truth! These people, these black, so-called heroes, are radical agents against free enterprise. Liberals, such as yourself, can't seem to wrap your pea brains around the obvious; the Blacks are our enemies!”
“Would you turn that off, please?” Opal Stone shifted in her chair. The CGPG waiting room was cramped and uncomfortable as it was. She thought it could do without the added touch of hate speech.
“Yes ma'am,” replied Becky Stoonam, a receptionist at the power company. Opal noted a slight tremor in the woman's hand as she reached to turn off the television.
What is she afraid of? thought Opal, deciding that it was in her best interest to know.
“Are you feeling okay?” she asked, settling on a direct approach.
“Am I--? Oh, I'm okay, really. It's just been a long month.”
Indeed, it had. Only three weeks had passed since the earthquake: measuring 7.5 on the Richter Scale, hit the city of Carthage; three weeks since it was declared a disaster area. In all, eighty-three people had died, in Carthage, Leawood, and parts of northern Oklahoma. Becky had a right to some harried nerves. But Opal sensed something more: Becky wasn't suppressing a past trauma; she was engaged with a threat inherent to the moment.
“Excuse me,” Obsidian interrupted, and addressed the receptionist. He'd been silent for some time, standing, staring at the pea soup colored walls of the waiting room. “I don't want to be rude, especially now, Ms. Stoonam, but where is Mr. Gruber?”
“He'll be out in a moment,” Becky couldn't look Obsidian in the eye. She was obviously hiding something. “He had to … clear out some of the staff.”
Ah, thought Opal, That's why you're nervous. Poor girl.
Obsidian, apparently on Opal's line of thinking, spoke bluntly, “You don't want to be seen with us. So you're keeping our arrival a secret.”
“Uh—yes,” admitted Becky, “He wanted to keep this out of the papers—you understand.”
“I'm beginning to,” said Obsidian, glancing at Opal. There was a silent understanding between them, a recognized behavior pattern. Every new encounter brought with it an air of fear, of distrust. The average person had a difficult time accepting the presence of super powered beings, but doubly so because those beings were black. The Heroes always had their detractors, always got death threats, right from the beginning. But it was more than that, more than fear. The world had grown weary of their battles, and their constant accusations of Android infiltrators in the hallowed halls of power. Fed by mass media propaganda, the public fear was becoming outright hatred, and hatred could turn on its own.
“Sorry for the delay,” said Dale Gruber, who was currently walking through the door, his hand extended for a shake, “We had some … technical problems in the back.”
Obsidian shook Gruber's hand.
“Save the apology,” he said, “Just tell us why we're here.”
Dale paused for a moment. He'd expected some forgiveness for his lateness, but none was granted.
“Certainly,” he said, “Please follow me.”
The Black Heroes followed, as Dale Gruber led them out of the room and down a flight of metal stairs. The stairs led to an enormous space, a single room warehouse, at least two hundred feet in length. Lined up in single file along this length, were twelve large generators, all humming with raw power.
“Well, here they are,” Dale smiled proudly as he slapped his hand on a machine, “My big green babies.”
“Electrical generators,” said Opal, still unsure of what Gruber wanted.
“Gas powered generators,” said Gruber; our fuel is shipped directly from a fracking well in Oklahoma. This is why I brought you here.”
Obsidian had some idea where Gruber was going. The earthquake that hit Carthage was actually centered about thirty-five miles away, in Oklahoma's northeast region. Since then, scores of environmentalists and left-leaning politicians had questioned, or outright asserted a connection between the quake and that region's burgeoning new industry.
“I understand,” said Obsidian, “But why call us? We deal with--”
“Androids. I know. And Androids are my problem. They're behind all of this fracking, Mr. Black. They caused the quake.”
“How do you know that?” asked Opal.
Dale paused, looking around the warehouse for any unnecessary staff. He'd sent all but his most trusted men home, but he had to be certain they were alone. With his fear assuaged, Dale pulled a ring of keys from his jacket pocket and knelt down between the first two generators. There, built into the floor, was a small, locked panel door. Dale placed one of his keys into the panel lock.
“How do I know? Just think about it, Ms. Stone. Think about what they're doing!” Dale was upset, turning red. He took a breath, calmed himself, and unlocked the panel.
“All across this country,” he continued, “they are pumping poison into the land and water, making it uninhabitable. For us, at least.”
Obsidian watched as Dale reached down into the small compartment.
Could Gruber have the proof we've been looking for? he thought, We've seen too many leads turn to dead ends.
Obsidian spoke pointedly, “Odd words for a man who makes his living on natural gas. We'll have to see some proof.”
“Proof?” asked Gruber. He was pulling a steel box out of the floor, “Here's your damned proof.”
Gruber opened the box. Inside, there were machine parts: bits of metal, small tubes and gears—and the convulsive remnants of a human face. The face was in pieces, broken, but the pieces seemed to be alive; seemed to be flesh, moving in unison, grimacing in spasms and fits. Its single, remaining eye seemed to follow any movement around the room, but it would be difficult to say that it understood what it saw. The face was human but machine, real but surreal, alive—and dead.
“After the quake,” said Dale, with tears in his eyes, “We asked for a temporary moratorium on all natural gas drilling, until we figured things out. But the bastards doubled down. Can you believe that? They actually wanted more.”
* * *
The flight to Peoria, Oklahoma was short enough: thirty-five miles in just over two minutes. The abrupt change in scenery would have astonished most pilots, let alone pedestrians. The flatland scenery was a vast patchwork of white rectangles, interconnected by a network of white lines, squared-off and reaching across the expanse.
“Drilling pads,” Obsidian spoke to Opal as they slowed down for their descent, “Lots of 'em.”
Opal felt a cold chill run down her spine. She couldn't help but notice the field's resemblance to a circuit board: hard-edged and recurrent. The Heroes had long-suspected an Android hand in energy, but this could be the place where suspicion met deadly fact.
“There's the new drill site,” said Obsidian, pointing to an active well. There were people making last minute adjustments to a large pump jack, engineers who were startled by the duo's sudden appearance. The Heroes landed and approached, largely greeted with handshakes and friendly smiles. But one man didn't stay for introductions. He ran off to a small mobile trailer, just outside the drilling area. On the side of the trailer, written in large letters, were the words “BLUE SKIES.”
“Over there,” Obsidian addressed the engineers, pointed to the trailer, “Is that an office?”
“Sure is,” said one the younger engineers, “That's Tim Snyder, the drilling manager.”
Obsidian adjusted his gloves, cracked his knuckles.
“Opal?” he asked, “Would you mind terribly if I asked you to stay here? This … manager and I have a few things to discuss.”
“No problem at all, Obsidian,” said Opal, a sly smirk on her face, “Put in a word or two from me.”
* * *
“Pretty creepy,” Tim Snyder used a pencil to poke at the twitching face parts on his desk, “But I haven't the foggiest.” Snyder was a slug of a man: spineless and limp in his discount ergonomic office chair. He looked up, from his poorly postured vantage, with utter contempt in his eyes.
“Well, let me clear things up a bit.” Obsidian leaned forward, placing his hands on Snyder's desk. “These fragments are Android. They were found in your filtration system, right here on your site. Shall I continue?”
“Never seen anything like it,” said Snyder, his sleazy smile revealing yellowed smoker's teeth, “But if it came from us, how did you get it?”
“We're not at liberty to reveal our source,” replied Obsidian.
“Of course not,” said Snyder. Looking restless, he turned to his assistant, Jeffrey Nunn, who was currently standing in the corner of the cramped trailer office. If Snyder was a human slug, then Jeff was his worm.
“What do you think, Jeff?” asked Snyder, “Think we got Martians--”
“Androids,” Obsidian interjected.
“Right … Androids. Whatever. We got Androids in one of our wells?”
“The wells are thoroughly inspected, sir,” said Nunn, “The filters are cleaned regularly. It would be impossible to miss this.”
“Exactly,” snarled Snyder, “So unless Mr. Black here has a warrant, or suddenly becomes anything more than a freakish vigilante, I suggest that he leave the premises—posthaste.”
* * *
“Did you get anything?” Opal was headed toward her partner, halfway between the trailer and the active well.
Obsidian shook his head, “No. You?”
“Lowered eyes,” said Opal, “No contact. No one wants to admit that they saw something.”
Obsidian looked at the active fracking pad. The engineers were back at work, avoiding eye contact, trying their best to ignore him.
“But they did see something, didn't they?” Obsidian seemed certain.
“Absolutely,” said Opal, “I'd bet my reputation on it.”
“They're here, Opal.” Obsidian walked quickly as he left the property. Opal followed. “They're somewhere underfoot. And these people know it.”
“So what now—Plan B?”
Obsidian closed his eyes and thought for a moment. When he opened them again, he used his powers to levitate, and fly away from the field.
“No. Not yet,” he said, “Not in this political climate. First, we've got to exhaust every possible legal recourse.”
“Ha!” Opal let out a laugh, as she followed Obsidian into the air, “Two scientists, turned super-powered heroes, turned political scientists. I never saw my life going this way.”
“It's all data, Opal,” said Obsidian, “people or protons—all data.”
* * *
“I'm sorry Mr. Black; but you're wrong.” Scott Reich, the governor of Oklahoma, was putting on a good show. He knew that the events of this meeting would hit the press, sooner or later, and he knew how to play the game.
“You cannot impede free enterprise on a suspicion,” said the Governor, nervously looking down at the twitching face fragments on his desk, “no matter how substantial that suspicion may be.” The Governor stood up, shaking his fist at the Black Heroes, who were currently standing in the center of a large room in the Oklahoma State Capitol Building. The Governor's staff and several state police surrounded the Heroes, adding the finishing touch to Reich's performance. In his mind's eye, he could already see a future headline: The Oklahoma State Police: Risking Their Lives for an Honest Leader!
“I'm an honest leader, Mr. Black,” said Reich, “And it is my honor-bound duty to act in the interest of my constituents. Constituents like the Blue Skies Hydraulic Fracturing Company: a fine organization that has brought thousands of jobs to our state. Now, imagine my surprise when these fine people called me today, asking for protection from the two of you: our heroes. Imagine what I—”
“God damn it!” The room fell silent as Obsidian raised his voice. Women instinctively clutched their purses; officers unholstered their guns. It was dangerous enough to have an uninvited black man in the Governor's office, but this was Obsidian Black: a man with a known distrust of authority, and a penchant for punching through walls.
Opal raised her hands to the room, hoping to calm them all down, and assure them of their safety. When everyone seemed a bit less defensive, Obsidian continued.
“Governor Reich, with respect, I must disagree. We're not talking about free enterprise. We're talking invasion: countermeasures in an ongoing war.
Opal and I—we've already gone up the chain of command with this. We've gone to your police, your media, and the mayor of your Peoria. We've called our friends in the National Guard and the FBI, knowing that they wouldn't call us back. And now, sir, we call on you. Your next sentence could very well save the lives of every man, woman, and child in Oklahoma. I know that Blue Skies is bringing billions of dollars to the local economy, but once—just once, I need you to look past the short-term financial gain, and see the long-term objective of a ruthless enemy. Please grant us the legal authority to search that field.”
Governor Reich looked for the reactions on his staff's faces. As a politician, Reich had an amorphous morality; his deepest convictions could turn on a dime. He looked down at the Android face and carefully pondered tomorrow's headlines. When he raised his eyes again, he looked at the Heroes and said:
“I am truly sorry. But you people will never understand. Business is business.”
With that, the curtain fell, and the Black Heroes were escorted from the room.
* * *
“Opinions that matter. News you can trust,” the television blared as bald eagles and American flags streaked across the screen.
“It's the Phil Donovan Show.”
Phil Donovan, the nation's most popular conservative talk show host, did his job with an air of arrogant intensity.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I'm your host, Phil Donovan. As always, I'm joined by my distinguished colleague, Alan Schechter.”
Alan nodded his response, and the camera switched to another image: an inset stock photo of the Black Heroes.
“Well, the socialists are at it again!” said Phil, “This time in Peoria, Oklahoma, of all places! The vigilantes took it upon themselves to disrupt operations at a local natural gas fracking well, making absurd accusations about—what else—an unsubstantiated link between the well's owners and outer space androids. Al, what do you make of this half-baked publicity stunt?”
“First of all,” answered Al, “before we begin, I have to congratulate you on a great round of golf this past Saturday.”
“Great for you!” laughed Phil, “You won!”
Al snorted, smiled, then put on a concerned face, “But seriously, Phil. This is what's wrong with you conservatives: an ignorance of detail. The Black Heroes didn't, as you say, “make a link” between Blue Skies and the Androids; they simply said that Android parts were found in the well, and should be investigated further. But no one is listening.”
“As they shouldn't!” Phil was angry, now, barking out his words. “They haven't got any proof!”
Phil's animosity made Al unsure of himself; he squirmed in his chair and said, “Obsidian held up fragments of an Android's face--”
“That he could have gotten anywhere, or faked, or stolen!”
“Stolen?!” inquired Al, with a convincing look of disgust, “That almost sounds racist!”
“Another liberal talking point,” said Phil. “Bottom-line? These people are at war with big business and the traditional American work ethic.”
“I strongly disagree.”
“Golf on Saturday?”
* * *
Twilight. Obsidian stood there silently, watching the fracking field through a chain-link fence. Out in the distance, he saw machinery, active drilling at the site that he and Opal had visited the previous day.
They won't stop, he thought, They know and they still won't stop.
“So,” said Opal. She was walking up to her partner from behind, “Plan B?”
Plan B, thought Obsidian. The very idea seemed to add weight to his already overburdened shoulders. The duo had enough problems dealing with a covert Android invasion, and the Vitruvius lawsuit. Now, the public officials were tying their hands, preventing them from following leads.
I could give up, Obsidian was lost in thought, give it all up; but where would that leave the world?
He turned to look at Opal. She was there, as she always was, runic and strong, laser focused on the task at hand. All she needed was the word, knowing fully what the word meant. Plan B: To fight the Androids on their own terms, outside the purview of all official governing bodies. Total autonomy, that could only end with a nuclear stand-off.
With a swipe of his hand, Obsidian tore down and crumpled the chain-link fence.
“They'll go after the company,” he said, walking on to the fracking field, “take all of our assets.”
“MŌR Industries will survive,” Opal responded, following her partner, “We've moved enough money to keep it going.”
“Plans within plans,” said Obsidian. He was heading for the active well, giving the drilling crew plenty of time to run for their lives. Luckily, they did.
Obsidian walked directly to the pump jack and turned it off.
“Call the police!” shouted Tim Snyder. His engineers may have run off, but he was the manager, and drilling never stopped under his watch.
“You're going to prison for this!” Snyder was shouting his loudest at Obsidian's face, but the hero ignored him. Obsidian calmly opened a panel in the site's filtration system, and pulled out an impurities filter. Within seconds, he'd found the evidence he was looking for. Entangled within the filter, were tiny translucent filaments: fibre-optics unlike any he'd ever seen. The filaments were moving, writhing like worms. But they were artificial; at the end of each was a pinpoint of red, pulsating light.
“Opal!” Obsidian tossed away the filter. Having proved his point, he walked on to the drilling pad. Opal smiled, and joined him on the pad.
Together, the Black Heroes pulled the pump jack from the fracking well, pushing it a few feet to the side.
Looking down at the well beneath him, Obsidian raised his fists above his own head. Admiring this direct approach, Opal raised her fists in turn.
“The police are already on their way! You animals are finished!” shouted Snyder.
With his fists high, Obsidian gave a look to the drilling manager.
“Mr. Snyder,” he said, “I suggest you leave the premises … posthaste.”
BOOM!!! Obsidian and Opal slammed their fists into the ground beneath them, creating a large hole, sending hundreds of pounds of soil, rock and rubble into the air.
Tim Snyder stumbled back, in shock at what he saw.
BOOM!!! The Heroes struck harder, cracking into the Earth, sending tons of rock and fire into the sky. The methane gas in the well ignited, which in turn ignited the gas below. From the shale layer, a mile underground, plumes of fire shot upward, and out of all the inactive wells. The vast fracking field was now a field a flaming geysers, lighting up the darkened surroundings. Where an active well lay just a moment before, was now a large crater, and a wall-wide geyser of fire bursting from below. Without a word, the Heroes leapt into that fire and down into hell.
* * *
The object was gigantic and grey, at least eighty feet tall, and twice that in length. It was unreal that such a thing could exist, let alone a full mile underground. Throughout the cathedral-like cavern that housed the object, thousands of long sinewy fibres, each with red lighted ends, were retracting into it, returning from the surrounding soils. Through the object's dirty, translucent walls, the Black Heroes saw row after row of new Androids in various states of construction. Some were missing arms, others: legs; some were little more than rudimentary parts. But all of them were suspended by fibrous lines, hanging in an off-color yellow liquid.
“Is this--?” Opal couldn't believe it.
“I think so,” said Obsidian. He had long hypothesized the existence of Android factories, or wombs, here on Earth. The Android reproductive process was largely unknown, as was much of their physiology. The discovery of an active womb could answer all of the questions regarding data transfer, construction and artificial gestation. This knowledge could highlight a weakness within the Androids, and become a real game-changer in the ongoing war.
“We need to document this,” Obsidian stepped closer to the womb.
An explosion shook the cavern and sent flames licking at Obsidian's heels. Several tons of natural gas had burnt out in the initial explosion, but there was plenty more where that came from.
“Who do we call first? Army?” Opal was already recording video, with a small, heat resistant camera.
“That'll work,” said Obsidian, “But nobody touches this thing before our science team.”
At that moment, as if in response to Obsidian's words, something stirred within the womb. One of the incomplete Androids was moving its arms and legs, thrashing about within the amniotic fluid. Opal stepped back, but continued to record as the thing opened its eyes and pulled itself free of its suspension lines.
It's awake, she thought.
The Android stumbled forward through its viscous environment. Opal got a tight shot of its face. Somehow, this machine had the look of a skinned cadaver; red muscles on bone. Its eyes were an unfinished gelatin, also red and white. Those monstrous eyes looked directly at Opal, seething with anger in her camera's viewfinder.
The Android slammed its body against the womb wall. The misshapen metal thing seemed to be in pain, howling furiously in the thick liquid. It looked at Opal with a rage that is only born of ultimate violation.
How dare she come here? How dare she pierce my illusion before the illusion is complete?!
“Obsidian?” Opal's voice broke with a slight tremor.
“Army first. Science later.”
“Noted,” said Obsidian, “And concurred.”
The awakened Android began to pound its fists on the womb wall, which alerted the other Androids. They pulled themselves from their suspension lines, one by one, ten by ten, and moved toward the disturbance. Those with legs, walked; those without crawled, but all headed to the wall. Within seconds there were hundreds, punching, clawing, scratching to get out. In a hurried voice, Obsidian laid out an impromptu strategy.
“They're going to break out of there, sooner or later. And when they do--”
“When they do,” Opal interrupted, “they'll head for the surface. There are thousands … How do we stop this many Androids, Obsidian?”
Obsidian raised his hands, pointed them at the womb. The familiar glow of ultra hot plasma began to emanate from his fingers.
“Simple,” he said, “we let them out.”
Opal looked puzzled, so Obsidian continued:
“How do we turn ten thousand into ten?”
Opal thought for a moment, then smiled. “I've got to admit,” she said, aiming her hands at the womb, “You do have your moments.”
Obsidian's plasma beam hit the womb wall.
“Now, concentrate your beam on the same area!” he shouted. As Obsidian kept his beam steady, Opal fired upon the same point.
The Heroes held their beams, slowly burning a hole in the translucent wall. When the hole was of sufficient size, three or four feet in diameter, the frantic Androids began to pour out in a stream of amniotic fluid. They held their beams, as wave after wave of slime-covered Androids tumbled out, dead or damaged, to the cavern floor. The unfinished bodies and unused metal limbs writhed and twisted, and fell over each other in the panic of premature birth.
“Hold!” Obsidian shouted, shutting off his beam, and raising a hand to signal Opal. Opal stopped her beam. She could see that hundreds of Androids had rushed the hole, causing a bottleneck of bodies. A twisting mass of the living and dead had completely plugged the hole, but it hadn't stopped the thousands behind it from attempting escape. They pressed harder, putting so much pressure on the wall that it began to crack.
“Quickly, here!” Obsidian was rushing to another area, pointing to a different point on the womb's outer hull. “Fire here!”
Opal joined Obsidian and fired her plasma beam on an undamaged area of the womb. Together, they burned a new hole, baiting hundreds of Androids away from the plugged hole. This action dispersed the internal pressure, and prevented a complete collapse of the womb wall. Again, the Heroes held their beams on a single point, killing or disabling hundreds of their enemies at birth. They repeated this process, again and again, until a large portion of the wall finally gave way, sending hundreds out at once.
Obsidian took advantage of the Androids' momentary disorientation, attacking as many as he could. He used his fists and feet to demolish dozens of Androids, hoping that he could slow down their momentum. But the waves of amniotic fluid and crude Androids continued to pour out from the womb, distracting the hero and giving the legged Androids a chance to stand up. Before he knew it, Obsidian was surrounded, and chest-deep in the deluge.
* * *
Hours. They'd fought the newborn Androids for hours. Thousands of them, a mile underground. Battered and bleeding, Obsidian flew up to the ceiling of the enormous cavern, where he joined his partner.
“Three thousand,” he said, catching his breath, “That's my estimate.”
“Better than where we started,” said Opal, “Better than ten.” She was firing plasma beams at the mob below, killing what she could, containing the rest. Seeing this, Obsidian followed suit.
“We can't keep them here forever, Opal. Most of them will make it to the surface. God knows what they'll do.”
“Collapse the cave,” said Opal, “Nothing—and I mean nothing can survive a mile of earth crashing down on them.”
Obsidian was already scanning the perimeter of the cave, looking for the weakest points.
“That could work. It won't be easy, but it could work.”
The Black Heroes moved with precision, firing super-hot plasma through certain points along the roof and walls of the cavern, weakening the structure for a controlled demolition.
“Have I ever told you that you're a genius?” asked Obsidian.
“Constantly,” said Opal, “but never enough.”
* * *
They heard the sound all over Peoria, and other parts of Ottawa County: a tremendous crash that shook the ground for several seconds, stirring up memories of the recent quake. Then came another explosion, the second that night, that lit up the sky over the fracking fields. Once again, the expanse of old drilling wells exploded into fiery geysers, shooting bright streams of flame into the air.
Tim Snyder, drilling manager for the Blue Skies Hydraulic Fracturing Company, was a witness to this, as were over a hundred police officers from four local departments. His eyes were on the crater, as two emerging forms coalesced in the flames of the largest geyser.
“There they are, officers! Coming out of that hole!” he shouted, running dangerously close to the fire, “You'll both hang for this! Dead, dead--”
With a glance, Tim Snyder understood the unfortunate nature of his choice of words. He also understood that they would be his last. As the two large Androids towered over him, one reared back, and punched him in the chest, pulling his heart from a shattered ribcage.
The police fired their guns and shouted ignored orders, as several dozen Androids crawled up from the crater. The Androids were all headed in the same direction: to a man-made runoff pond, about two hundred yards southwest of the active well. The first to arrive saw a disturbance in the water, followed by two mud-covered forms slowly rising from the sediment. The Black Heroes: bathed in a chemical soup.
* * *
Hell. Twin suns burning in shin-deep water, in brutal battle with ill-formed metal men.
A one-armed Android threw the first punch, missing Obsidian entirely, giving the hero an opportunity to counterstrike. He hit the Android in its side with such force, that it knocked the machine's arm out of socket. In one motion, Obsidian grabbed the arm, ripped it off, and used it to strike the next attacking Android.
Opal was making good use of her plasma abilities, igniting her hands with the substance, then driving her white-hot fists into her enemies. The display of multicolored plasma bursts and exploding Androids leapt up from that lake of fire like a macabre firework, a light show for departing souls.
If these things had souls, thought Obsidian. He was swinging that Android arm, smashing through the remaining Androids. They were burning, howling, screaming furiously, because the Heroes had denied them a promised future. These machines would have been billionaire bankers and heads of state, celebrities and religious leaders, beloved and feared the world over. Now, for them, those dreams were dead: killed by some negro sense of obligation.
“All of you!” Obsidian was exhausted as he smashed the last bit of the severed arm against an approaching Android, “We're not leaving until all of you are down!”
And, as the fire burned out, Obsidian raised his broken fists, intent on keeping his word. The Androids looked at him, but didn't respond. The machines all paused, glancing back and forth to one another in a sort of subliminal chatter. It took a moment for the Heroes to realize that the fighting had stopped.
“They're transmitting to each other,” shouted Opal, “Something's changed.”
“I know,” Obsidian shouted back, “But what?”
The roar of an F-16 Fighting Falcon answered Obsidian's question. The government, he thought.
“They're not gonna fight us, Opal,” Obsidian shouted, as the remaining Androids slowly retreated into the darkness, “or make us into martyrs.”
“Not when our own planet is against us.” The pond water rippled around The Black Heroes' legs, as the distinctive silhouette of a military helicopter descended and hovered before them.
“Stand down and surrender!” a loud voice spoke through a speaker, “If you do not cooperate, the President has authorized the use of a tactical nuclear device.”
Just like you predicted, thought Opal, looking at her partner, they'll irradiate all of Oklahoma and anywhere else just to keep us in check. But, you must know what I know; if we surrender here, they will kill us. Torture, dissect, and kill. The gullible public will cheer, and the Androids will return to their work. Humanity needs us, brother, whether they like it or not. And the simple truth is: we fight, or we die.
“Obsidian,” Opal reached out to her partner, and spoke in a resolute tone, “we have to--”
Obsidian raised a bloody hand. His broken knuckles showed through the shredded remnants of his glove.
“You tell your president,” he said, shouting over the sound of the helicopter, “that he's had seven years—seven years to make things right, and do what his predecessors wouldn't! He sat by, just as they did; and he served them, knowing what they are, knowing their agenda. He did all of this with a smile and a promise of change. No—we will not surrender. Not to that man … and not to you. We will no longer follow unjust orders! Tell that to your president, and tell him he's too late. The Black Heroes are here to clean up his mess!”
The military watched, as The Black Heroes flew into the night sky, disappearing above the clouds.