End of Summer
 
alt.showcase.94

Poison of Choice

Featuring Ballistic

by Allan R. Thomas

"SCREW BATMAN!" Insane Commando could take him, no problem."

"Who?" questioned Ballistic.

"Wrestling reference, of course." Wade replied.

"Of course," Ballistic muttered to himself as he listened to "Squeaky" Terry -- as in squeaky clean -- ramble on about his favorite wrestler to Wade and anyone else who'd listen.

"Yeah, take away that punky little belt of his and he don't stand a chance against the Insane Command-elbow!"

"And is that before or after he catches a Bat-foot up his…"

"Shut yer face, Wade!" Terry bellowed as he continued to "educate" Wade on the "incredible" physical prowess of Insane Commando. Terry owned Sgt.Swill-a semi seedy bar in a mostly seedy area of Gotham known as the Hub. He was an OK guy at heart. Just too bad he was cheap as hell; so much so that the clientele had to drink out of the bottles and cans. He figured that he would carry on the tradition of the old bar when he bought it and only serve beer. He also figured that anyone who wanted different could take their "candyass" somewhere else.

"-- and that's just five moves that could kick Batman's butt!"

"Simply riveting," interjects one of two patrons that Ballistic had been watching for the past few minutes from the far corner of the bar. He had been wondering when they would make their move.

"By the way," continues the patron, "you can go ahead and open the register now."

"And how you gonna make that happen tough guy?" Terry asks with a smug grin.

"With my grin remover." And with that, he quickly whips out a gun and takes aim at Terry's head. "See how fast it works?"

Before Ballistic, still seated at the other end of the bar, can act the second patron steps forward, fingers on his tie. "Say cheese," he says as he presses his tiepin and it emits a blinding flash into the face of the gunman. "Expect the unexpected. He's all yours, gentlemen." And with that, the seediest of the bar's clientele drag the would-be robber into the back alley.

The unknown savior then approaches Ballistic.

"The name's Ralston. Let's talk a minute."

"I'm not in a talking mood. Especially to strangers."

"I just saved your life, not to mention your wallet."

"Thanks, but that doesn't mean I owe you a conversation. Besides, there's nothing for you and me to discuss."

"Sure there is, Kelvin." Ralston sits down.

"Who?"

"So we're on that 'He doesn't exist anymore' kick, huh Mao?"

"Sorry, don't know who you're referring to."

"Well gosh, Kelvin. I don't remember reading about any kind of memory loss in your file. Let me tell you what I do remember reading. Not too long ago, you were Kelvin Mao, member of the Gotham SWAT team. During the outbreak of alien parasites that occurred all over the country a while back, your entire team was decimated and you mortally wounded, spinal fluid sucked out. Incredibly enough, you survived and evolved into what you are now – a freak with skin that looks like organic body armor of some type, bullet-and-who-knows-what-else-proof, enhanced senses, and those unfashionable tusks poking out of the sides of your jaws. Shall I go on to discuss your investigation of the parasites with the Bat-"

"G-man. You'd have to be to know that much. What the hell do you want from me?"

"Just your services, mercenary. As you said, I work for one of our government's less-than-illustrious organizations. Doesn't really matter which one. Anyway, here's the deal: there's a certain Dr. Derek Stokely who was working for us up until a few hours ago in one of our labs. Strictly research."

"Weapons research, no doubt."

"Who, us? Actually, he's developed a special bacteria that can eat cancerous cells and it'll help humanity, blah, blah, blah."

"Hasn't that been done already?"

"Ah, yes, the good people at S.T.A.R. Labs. Only thing is, they're still trying to work out the nasty side effects that would come from widespread usage of their little brew."

"Which would make Stokely's formula the brew of choice."

"Exactly."

"So just what are you afraid of? That he'll market the hell out of it and your organization will have one less secret it can keep? Or worse yet, the fiend might decide to freely give it out to all the cancer patients of the world."

"Spare me, merc. The good doctor's got a history of being…left of center, shall we say. And I have to find him before daybreak, which is why I'm enlisting your special services. More manpower on this, the better."

"Why me in particular? Gotham's got plenty of mercs."

"Because you may be an EX-cop, but you'd still have a vested interest in recovering something that valuable for use by the 'common good'.

"One million dollars."

"Oh my, how modest."

"Modesty keeps it from being two million. Be glad I'm not greedy. It's nine o'clock now. Be back in an hour with half, and don't jerk me around because I know someone with your level of 'organizational' skill can get his hands on that kind of money."

"Fine. Guess I better tell Jimmy it's time to go."

"Who?"

"My newest agent. The 'robber' in the alley getting a mudhole stomped into him. The plan was for me to stop him with a simple judo move, then throw him out. That way I gain a minimum level of respect, or at the very least, your attention. But I always was good at improvisation. See ya in an hour," as Ralston begins to walk toward the door leading to the alley.

"Jesus," Ballistic utters out loud to himself.

"Hey, don't worry pal, I'll be fine. Yo, Jimmy…"
* * * *

10:54 PM.

Elsewhere in the Hub. A lone teenager stands across the street in the shadows watching an old lady enter her apartment building. From the look on his face, it's obvious that he's contemplating robbing her.

"Don't even think about it, Irving." whispers a voice from the shadows behind him.

"Who the—"

Ballistic steps forth. Irving is clearly shaken.

"Stay back, before I call down the wrath of my Nubian brothers who came before me!"

"But you're white."

"Don't try to distract me, punk!" The StreetSlider will definitely break you off somethin'."

"StreetSlider?"

"Cause I slide, slide, slippity slide right into beatin' your—"

"Sure, Irving," as Ballistic takes out a grenade and starts tossing it in the air and catching it. "I was thinking you could do a quick hacking job for me, that is, if the brothers will allow it."

"And just where would I do that from?"

"Curiously enough, your room upstairs in your parents' apartment has a top-of-the-line computer setup in the corner, presumably stolen."

"Stolen, hell! My uncle gave me that computer months ago, before we went bust and had to move to this neighborhood."

"And you rob just enough old ladies to keep that Internet connection, right SlipNSlider?"

"StreetSlider!"

"Whatever. Let's go. You got a job to do."
* * * *

It takes only minutes for Irving to hack into some of the local "high security" file systems to find the file that Ballistic needs…

"Damn, this is the same B.S. Ralston was trying to feed me earlier, about miracle cancer cures…"

"Cures?!"

"…but it's crap, DripDryer. There's no way this is about anything that noble."

"It's StreetSlider, dammit!"

"Looks like I'll just have to find Stokely and play this out, until I can find out what's really going on. I'm outta here, TeacupRider."

"Look, I told you -- Aw, what the hell's the use?"

"That's the spirit, especially considering that I saved your life back there."

"How?"

"The old lady you were going to rob, she walks the streets like that on purpose, just waiting for some punk like you to try something. Then she shoots you with that .45 she's got under her coat."

"Yeah, right."

"Suit yourself, TurdGrinder."

When Irving turns to respond, Ballistic is gone. And as Irving begins to shut down his PC so he can go back outside, a deafening BLAM!!! causes him to run to the window, just in time to see the same old lady from before, only this time there is a member of the Street Demonz gang lying on the front steps with his head blown off.

Trembling, Irving quickly slams the window shut, sits back down at his computer, and loads the latest version of 'Insane Commando's Ring of Death Wrestling All-Stars'…
* * * *

A rooftop, blocks away from StreetSlider's residence, Ballistic continues to ponder the little bit of information that he does have…

"Alright, think! This guy's immediate goal would be to get out of Gotham. After that, finish his project before anyone else could, which means he would need all of his notes and records. According to the information here, Stokely has three different addresses he maintains here, but I'm sure Ralston and his boys have got those covered. Besides, I'm just as sure that Stokely could pull all of his records electronically from any location. So let's think this out. The next thing I would want to do, as a 'left of center' scientist, is review the work of anyone else in the field conducting the same research, to see if it could spark any ideas -- oh, hell," as Ballistic realizes where Stokely must be. "I can't believe I have to follow this clown into…"
* * * *

S.T.A.R. Labs Gotham -- part of a network of million dollar research labs that house groundbreaking, and many times lethal, experiments. Using the natural membranes that cover his eyes and allow him to see in the electromagnetic spectrum, Ballistic easily avoids the infrared beam-based outer security and makes his way further into the facility, where the labs are.

"Way too easy. I've been passing in front of security cameras since I got here and not one alarm has gone off, or goofy old night watchman jumped out. They must've already been taken care of, which would make this the place."

It's at this point that Ballistic is about to pass another lab when he realizes that the door is open and sitting at the computer working is Stokely. A few feet away from him are a man and a woman tied to chairs, the man in a guard's uniform, the woman in a lab coat.

"You definitely picked the wrong night to work late, my dear," Stokely comments to the woman in the lab coat. He then spots Ballistic at the door.

"Ah, come in."

"You were expecting me?"

"Not you in particular, but Ralston had to send someone after me who'd actually have a chance of stopping me from getting out of town. God knows those idiots that work for him would never have found me in time." Stokely moves to continue his work with a pair of vials.

"I don't suppose you're just gonna let me turn you over to Ralston and collect my cash, huh?"

"I'm sorry, did you say something?"

"Oh, nothing of substance," answers Ballistic as he draws a gun and takes aim at Stokely's head. "Can you hear me now?"

"Loud and clear, babe!" answers a voice from the direction of the lab door. Both men turn to see Ralston, flanked by three of his agents, dressed in black and heavily armed.

"How'd you follow me, G-man?" Ballistic inquires.

"Trace chemical on your hand from the minute you touched the case with the cash in it, just like I knew you would. While my boys search the obvious places, I sit back and let you figure out where he really is."

"That's crap, Ralston. You'd have to know that there would be an outside chance that he'd come review the competitor's work. What's the real motive behind all this?"

"OK, fine. The real motive, as you call it, is money. Old motive, but never worn out. The crud in the vials is no cancer cure, of course. In fact, it's an extremely strong, fast-acting synthetic cancer made up by the good doctor here. And can we figure out who that might be for?"

"Metahumans."

"Yep. Only thing is, Stokely has a bit of a prejudice toward super-powered types and only started his work with the idea of using it on all you super-goons ASAP for the 'good of the normals', as he puts it. At least that's the plan after he works out the kink of making it harmless for people without extra abilities. As of now, it treats both types of physiology exactly the same. But I digress. The plan that I have for it is to keep its existence secret for a while, until I come up with the perfect marketing plan for the world's governments."

"You play off of their fear of future invasions or rogue metahuman activity by selling it for billions to world governments. And who could stop you, considering what the product is."

"You're so good at this! Think of it! You're the first of a handful of world leaders who hold the key to instantly annihilate a renegade Superman, or the Flash. The Batman, of course, is another story; no one knows what the hell he is. But aside from that, there are plenty of other freaks out there to boost world paranoia and my sales! By the way, you realize I'm just telling you this because you're going to get to test out the first batch of the new stuff for us."

"That's why you came to me."

"An incredible grasp of the obvious, I must say."

At this point, two of Ralston's men have their guns drawn on Ballistic, with red beams shining on his head. The third quickly confiscates all of Ballistic's weapons.
"Doctor, make sure to use this to inject him." Ralston hands Stokely a hypodermic gun. "You're dealing with a tougher grade of skin there."

Stokely jabs it with all his strength into Ballistic's neck, stunning him. The hypodermic gun is lodged in his neck as he reels and falls.

Ralston then turns to Dr. Stokely, grinning. "Well, Doc, the stuff definitely works, but we still don't know if you worked that kink out. So how bout it? Up for a good stickin?"

"No!"

"What's the matter, no faith in your work?"

"Go to hell!"

"If you save my seat."

"Why wait Ralston?!" exclaims Ballistic as he lunges for the man nearest to him and stabs him in the chest with the hypodermic.

Immediately, the agent screams in agony as tissue and bone begins to break down before everyone's eyes.

Ballistic pulls the guard and scientist down behind a lab table as Ralston and his remaining two men open fire.

"Armor-piercing bullets, chump!" shouts one of his men. "That skin of yours ain't saving you from this!"

During the confusion, Stokely manages to make it to the door, vials in hand.

"Damn," thinks Ballistic. "I've got keep Stokely from making it out of here with that poison. He'd kill half the population in his quest to massacre metahumans!"

Still pinned behind the table, Ballistic overturns it, igniting a fire with the spilled chemicals. He then darts for the door to pursue Stokely.

"Don't worry about Stokely! Just get Ballistic!"

Ballistic turns the corner toward the main door of the facility to see Stokely struggling with the locked door.

"What's this clay on the handle—"

"Hey there," Ballistic whispers.

"Stay back!"

"Right. Like there's a chance in hell of that happen—"

A sickening BOOM! erupts from the spot where Stokely stood, ending in a shower of blood and body parts.

"Jesus!" Ballistic screams.

"The vials, Mao, now!" exclaims Ralston as he and his men close in from the other end of the hallway.

Ballistic runs through a nearby vacant lab after kicking its door open. Once he gets through the other door of the lab, he notices stairs leading to the roof. "I definitely don't have a choice, considering the front's booby-trapped."

On the roof, Ballstic is met with gunfire from one of Ralston's agents who is just a few feet away. Ballistic ducks down, hurling a small disc at the gunman. The disc, right after being released, has two razor sharp blades pop out from the sides, which slice through the gunman as the disc hits his midsection.

"Didn't check under my wristbands. Chump."

"Aren't we a nasty little punk tonight?" asks Ralston as he and his remaining agent level their guns at Ballistic from both sides.

"Give me the vials, Mao."

"They were blown up with the Doc. And what the hell kind of booby-trap was that anyway? I saw HIM explode but not the door."

"We call it the Goop. Special clay-looking substance that contains temperature-sensitive nano-explosives on the inside, which are made out of gallium. As soon as the temperature of the gallium reaches above eighty-five degrees, causing it to liquify – BOOM. And as you just saw, handling it with bare skin that's usually ninety-something degrees isn't too smart. But again I digress. Give me the vials."

"Fine, Mr. Wizard. Take 'em." As Ralston holds his hand out, Ballistic slips a small sharp blade into Ralston's hand, stabbing him and giving a side kick to the agent covering him on the other side. The blade in Ralston's hand then shocks him with a massive charge, leaving him stunned and senseless. Ballistic then grabs him around the neck and uses him as a shield from the agent's gun.

"Like that little surprise, Ralston? I call it a vibra-blade. After I stab you with it and hit a hidden stud it sets off a delayed charge into the wound."

"But that doesn't mean jack with my gun trained on you," says Ralston's man. "You can't get very far trying to drag him in front of you as a shield. So how are you gonna save the day now, hero?"

"Well, with the vials destroyed along with your mad doctor, that only leaves one more heroic thing left to do," Ballistic answers as he smiles at the agent and presses Ralston's tiepin, setting off a blinding flash in the agent's face.

Minutes later, when the agent is finally able to focus, he sees Ralston laid out on the rooftop in front of him, neck broken. And as he leans over the body, he sees a tiny, half-open container of something stuffed in Ralston's mouth that looks mysteriously like clay…
* * * *

In the distance, inside Ralston's SUV, Ballistic smiles as he hears the sound of a small explosion from the roof of the building. He doesn't even bother to look back.
* * * *

"Nice Range Rover. Where'd you get it?" asks Terry the next night.

"Special bonus for finishing the job early. We both agreed that I deserved it."

"Cool."

"Gimme a couple cans to go, Terry."

"Alright then."

"By the way, when are you gonna finally start serving this swill in glasses?"

"Never, man. That would take away the bar's charm."

"Charm. Yeah, ri—" as Ballistic suddenly starts to tremble, and then falls to the ground, still trembling.

Terry reacts quickly, calling for help, but it's…
* * * *

"…way too late for this guy, huh Doc? Paramedics didn't make it in time?"

Gotham Police Headquarters Main Building. The morgue. Detective Harvey Bullock's been called in to make an ID.

"That's right. He was dead on the scene. And I've got no clue how to identify him."

"So what makes him different from any other John Doe?"

"This one's very… unusual. And since I know that you routinely deal with the…unusual here in Gotham—"

"You mean that flying nutjob and his pals, I know. So you thought maybe I could help you ID some freak that just happened to pass across your table."

"Something like that."

"I'll give it a shot. Let's see 'em."

As the doctor pulls the sheet back, Bullock's eyes open wide.

"Mao!"

"Who?"

"Name's Kelvin Mao. Ex-cop. Remember the SWAT Team that got torn apart a while back? He was the only survivor. Disappeared from the hospital not long after. What'd he die of?"

"That was another problem. His skin is so hard I couldn't even get a blood sample or conduct an autopsy to find out. He even has some kind of dense membrane over his eyes, which stopped me from drawing blood that way. So I asked for any evidence picked up at the scene, since it was a questionable death. After examining the can he was drinking out of, I discovered that he died of poisoning. More specifically, ingestion of rat urine. It was encrusted around the top of the can. I guess the bartender didn't have a fondness for using glasses or properly wiping the tops of all the cans before serving his customers."

"Geez! You telling me he couldn't have smelled it or tasted it?"

"Not through the alcohol. And who actually pays that much attention to their drink when they're in a bar?"

"I damn sure will from now on. Screw getting shot, dyin' from a can of beer is what's scary as hell."

"Actually, Detective, this is just a freak occurrence. It's nothing you should let yourself become paranoid about."
"Yeah, sure. I'm outta here."

"Thank you, Detective. Enjoy the rest of your night."

"Right, Doc. I'm sure it'll be a pleasure."

FINIS

 
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"alt.showcase.94" concept by Joel Ellis Rea.
This story is © 1999 by Allan R. Thomas.
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