The human body is a battery, a bag of organic soup, creating the electrical and chemical reactions that fuel human thoughts and actions. When the battery runs out of juice, humans stop.
Gods on Earth can often draw upon their godly powers to perform superhuman acts beyond the limits of their earthbound bodies. I am an ex-con god, denied such luxury. A condition of my parole from the hellish pits of Tartarus confines my god powers to the energy limits of this human form…which is out of gas. So I find myself prone and immobile in front of my Range Rover, on a lonely road in the heart of a dark forest.
I am in dire straits. This mortal vessel failed me as I was affecting my escape after stealing the Eye Of Ra. Security is closing on me.
To a mortal observer, I appear unconscious, but I am aware of my surroundings. Desperate to get moving, I am drawing on the electromagnetic energy generated around me. I’m slowly recharging off the surrounding forest and everything living in it. I am pulling from the moon and even off the Earth’s spinning molten iron core. It’s slow. Too slow. Security will be on me before I have the power to move. Just then, I sense a lone figure approaching, and it’s not the rent-a-cops.
Confident footfalls approach from behind my vehicle. I sense the moment they realize I’m lying against the front bumper. The footfalls quicken, even as they become almost silent. They shift their approach, improving their tactical position. Military.
My eyes flutter open, and I am looking into the face of a beautiful woman, her nationality ambiguous. Maybe Filipino. Perhaps Latinx. Her shoulder-length hair and irises are black. Her movements are quick and economical. She moves like a soldier…or a professional killer. I can’t Read her, but I attribute the temporary inability to tap into the inner workings of her brain to my exhausted and diminished state.
Her fingers press against my carotid artery. “Hey, are you okay?” she asks as I sit up with my back against my vehicle’s front bumper.
But, before I can muster a reply, she tenses and looks back up the road behind my Range Rover. “Someone’s coming.” She gives me a sardonic smirk. “Friends of yours?”
I gather my wits, and in an effort made of pure will, I croak, “Run.”
Without a word, she melts into the forest. I don’t blame her, but damn, that wasn’t the reaction I expected. I make a note to do a better job of reading physical cues instead of defaulting to using my god powers to rummage around inside people’s heads. Despite my vow, and even though I never got a Read on the mystery woman, I’ve been tracking the thoughts of the three security guards racing toward me. As their car grows closer, their thoughts crystalize. I realize I have a problem.
The driver of the car is the trigger-happy guard who, upon discovering me escaping with the Eye, opened fire without offering me the opportunity to surrender. In fact, he shot me in the back, knocking me over a cliff. Bastard put a bullet hole in my favorite leather jacket.
Having to shake off that high-caliber round to the back and then having to teleport myself from a mid-air plummet off a cliff back to my vehicle drained me. It blew my energy budget and left me in this depleted battery of a body. My concern is not his trigger-happy nature, though. As his thoughts solidify, I see he plans to steal the Eye for himself. I Read the uninspired scenario playing out in his head. It’s a scenario in which I have to die. His verdict is still out on what to do with his two partners, but if they knew what I know, they’d be worried.
Tires squeal as the car comes to an abrupt stop. Doors open and slam shut, 1-2-3. The footsteps approaching lack the physical grace and tactical prowess of the mystery woman. Wait…why can’t I read her? I should at least detect her electromagnetic signature receding into the forest. Disturbing, but not germane to my current situation.
Security swaggers into view. Two of them, clearly subordinate to mister itchy trigger-finger, fall in behind him, flanking him on either side.
“Well, well, look what we got here. You look like you could use a little roadside assistance boy,” trigger-finger drawls, hooking his thumbs into a gun belt almost completely consumed by an overhanging gut. He is the composite of every cliche movie Southern Sheriff, a real Buford T. Justice. Wondering what he’s doing in the Pacific Northwest, I resist the urge to call him Buford and instead pluck his name—Thomas Earl Brown—from his plodding mind.
I lean my head back against the grill of the Range Rover, “Naw, Mistah Tommy, I’ze jus restin’ my eyes a bit. Y’all know how lazy we gets.”
His cold, still expression barely conceals his rage, and it’s clear Thomas Earl is not amused by my hokey plantation slave shtick. But he doesn’t rise to the bait, doesn’t even ask how I know his name. After all, he’s got some stealing to do. He gets right back to the business at hand.
“He had a backpack. Clem, check the Rover…and turn off these damned headlights.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Brown.” Clem shuffles around toward the forest side rear door. I hear it open. I’m feeling stronger and have decided my best move is to put the three of them into a deep sleep, starting with these two. But before I can act, Clem drops. I know he’s unconscious because the vivid images of his conscious mind are replaced with something akin to TV snow haunted by ghost images—his subconscious mind. That could only mean one thing. My girlfriend’s back.
I decide to let this play out just as a silent blur erupts from the shadows of the forest-side fender. The two rent-a-cops were standing too close—to me, to each other, to the blind spot created by the Rover’s fender and the forest shadows. Their tactical error cost them and did so in short order.
Six seconds is all it took for the mystery woman to incapacitate the remaining two guards. Watching her work is like watching a ballet of carnage. She is lightning fast and catlike, with not a move wasted. I watch her work joints to disorient and destabilize them before administering a vicious strike to a nerve point on each man. She turns them off like a person flipping off a light switch. In that moment, I think I fall a little in love with her.
“Love your work,” I say as I struggle to my feet. “Why’d you come back?”
“What makes you think I left?” she purrs with the self-satisfied smile of a cat that just caught a canary.
I’m not ready to tell her I thought she was gone because I couldn’t hear her thoughts, but something about this moment tells me this is someone with whom I can share a secret or two—when the time is right. So instead, I reply, “Well, didn’t figure you’d want to help some injured stranger dressed in murder black who was being chased by cops.”
“It was simple,” she says with the slightest hint of a South American lilt, “when you thought you were caught, you told me to run, which told me a lot about your character. When the other guys showed up, it was clear they were pricks. Besides, the way the big guy in charge kept touching his holster, he was planning to kill you. The choice was easy.”
As a test, I toss her the Rover’s key fob. Without a word, she climbs into the driver’s seat. I roll an unconscious Clem out of the way, grab my backpack, and hop into the passenger seat. “Hyperion Solis.” I offer my hand.
She hesitates for a moment before making a decision. “Araceli Santos.” Her handshake is cool, dry, and strong. The PIP joints of her first and middle fingers are calloused. It’s a martial arts thing. When a fist is made, the callouses form a single bony knuckle that acts as a tiny battering ram.
Araceli. I consider her name. Heaven’s Light or Altar of Light? What are the odds a person with that name would end up with Hyperion, the God of Heavenly Light? This has the Old Man’s fingerprints all over it, but I set these thoughts aside to unpack later.
Araceli starts the car, scans the dashboard, then flips through the displays to check the tire pressures. I’m impressed. But then it gets better. As she pulls out into the road, she swings over the middle line then back into her lane, making ever smaller serpentine adjustments until we’re tight and dead center of the lane. She tests the brakes before smoothly accelerating. In seconds, she’s assessed the vehicle’s handling enough to be effective in a car chase.
“Heroine, ninja, and professional driver. I’m impressed. You wanna job?”
“I’m intrigued. But I’m sure you’ve guessed that, like you, I am running. I need to get far away from some very bad people. Then I need to disappear,” she says quietly as she winds the Range Rover out of the woods.
“Yeah, I figured. But, you’re in luck,” I say as I enter the GPS location of a nearby private, uncontrolled airstrip, where a fueled PC-24 is waiting. “In a few hours, we’ll be a couple thousand miles away. And I have a way to hide you in plain sight.”
“Dudosa,” she mutters.
“No doubt about it, boo. You got skills, but I got skills you won’t believe,” I say as I guzzle my third Ensure and let the seat back, closing my eyes. It grows quiet in the car.
“You know you have a bullet hole in the middle of the back of your jacket, right?”
“Bastard ruined my favorite leather,” I slur as I drop off.