“It’s been a long, hard struggle to bring Dobbling Chemicals here to Fullerton. But three years and sixty-eight million dollars later, we’re here to celebrate the grand opening of the industry’s newest and most anticipated member of Dobbling Enterprises.”
“Joining me today is the person everyone credits with this endeavor, Miss Brenda McKay, head of Design and Development for Dobbling. How does it feel, Ms. McKay, to finally see the results after such a hard-fought battle?”
The reporter stuck the microphone in Brenda’s face, narrowly missing hitting her in the nose. Brenda instinctively jerked her head back to avoid it, then wondered how the whole thing looked on national television. Pasting on one of her patented company smiles, she replied. “It’s a dream come true, Karen! Dobbling Chemicals is quickly becoming well-respected and honored for its discovery and manufacturing of seco-resonant plastics.”
“Plastics that are rapidly growing in demand from all sectors of the retail market, as well as for military use, isn’t that correct?”
For military use. The phrase acted like a code word, instantly putting Brenda on full alert. If the reporter was hoping for some juicy tidbits to verify the rumors that Dobbling was being courted by the Pentagon, she was going to be sorely disappointed.
“I don’t know about any military purposes,” she smoothly contradicted. “But we have some applications coming up that we feel will completely revolutionize the field of medicine.”
That comment got a sparkle in the reporter’s eyes. It was enough to get the woman off of the topic of the military for at least the next question.
“By medical, are you talking about surgical or preventative, or...”
“Pharmaceutical,” Brenda offered. “Although I can’t say anything more at this time.”
The reporter nodded, taking her mic back and turning to face the camera. “Dobbling Chemicals has already hired sixty new employees from this area, and plans to hire at least sixty more. Which is why the town of Fullerton welcomes them with open arms, as this company pumps fresh blood and dollars into its tired economy. Reporting for Channel Eight Eyewitness News, I’m Karen Fox.”
Brenda stood off to the side to thank the woman once the camera man killed the feed. It was always good policy to brown nose the news media. It helped to keep them as close bedfellows, which in turn kept public opinion swayed toward the positive when it came to big business ventures like Dobbling Enterprises. The common man off the street had a natural aversion to big businesses, no thanks to huge corporations who squandered billions of dollars in the past, then expected Mr. Common Man to help bail them out. And then, once the bail out came through, basically gave their saviors the shaft as thanks.
Which was why she had the kind of job she had. Behind her pretty girl-next-door face and her home grown manners, she had a sharp brain and keen eye for dealing with the public.
The reporter raised an eyebrow to see her still standing there. Brenda gave the woman a warm smile. “Thank you again for the interview. If you don’t mind...” She handed the woman her business card. “Send me an email. That way when I’m ready to release more information, I can get in touch with you.”
“Thanks.” The woman accepted the card, barely glancing at it as her camera man relieved her of her microphone. “Say, is it true you’re from Fullerton?”
“Born and raised here. It wasn’t until I graduated from Fullerton High that I finally left town to go to college.”
“Bet you’re especially excited to see this company come in then, aren’t you?”
“You have no idea,” Brenda lightly laughed, then glanced at her watch. It was usually a ploy to end the conversation before it went any further, although the reporter didn’t need to know that. But this time it was also the truth. “Oh, my. I lost track of time. I’m late. I’m sorry, but I need to go. I have another appointment. Don’t forget to email me!” With a little wave, Brenda turned to hurry back to where the small crowd was gathered at the front of the main building for the ribbon cutting.
The explosion was unexpected and devastating. Wood slivers and chunks of brick shot outward, filling the air first with dust and particles, then with lethal intent as poison began to fill the sky. People screamed as shrapnel-like material rocketed from the heart of the factory. An instant later, another thunderous boom of released energy destroyed what was left of the walls and windows. The roof literally melted like wet cotton candy.
Pandemonium ensued. Workers ran for their lives, but the caustic gas was faster, and people fell, overcome by the burning fumes which robbed them of breath. Brenda saw the flames ripping through the top of the building, and immediately knew the worst had happened. She turned to race for safety just as the wall of sound and debris swept over her and the rest of the crowd.
Up ahead she caught sight of the news van. The camera man was about to close the door when he spotted her and frantically waved at her, urging her to hurry. She screamed as her eardrums threatened to burst, and she fell into the open door of the vehicle as a scalding chunk of plaster narrowly missed striking her in the head. Somehow she managed to crawl over the carpeted interior until she was far enough inside as the camera man gave the door a hard tug. The van’s side cargo hatch smoothly slid shut with a satisfying slam.
Behind her, the reporter wheezed as she fought for air. They all were gasping. Through weeping eyes, Brenda watched as the camera man hit a switch on a panel of switches and TV screens, and tried to croak out a plea for help. Something in the fumes was making their throats constrict and burn. She panicked to think they could end up suffocating to death.
Her ears were still ringing from the blast. Shrugging off her jacket, she held it up to her nose, hoping it might help alleviate some of the fumes. Wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her blouse, she rose up until she could peer over the seats in the front of the van, but there was little to see beyond the windshield. The yellowish cloud continued to boil, totally obliterating everything from sight.
Her head whipped around to stare at the man huddled behind her. The reporter lay unconscious on the carpet next to him. The man’s dark complexion had turned almost ghost white.
“Call me Brenda,” she half-coughed. “And you are...”
“Good to meet you, Alan. Sorry it had to be under these conditions.”
The remark earned her a wan smile as the man coughed behind a hand. “It’s too quiet out there,” he managed to gasp.
The realization froze her blood. Too quiet. He was right. The screaming had stopped. An image of the ground littered with bodies flashed through her mind. Oh, God, no. It was too horrible to even consider, but there was no telling what all had been in those fumes. The air could still be toxic. Oh, God, and it could be heading into town!
"Quick! Can you tell which w-way the wind's blowing?"
"Hell if I know."
“Can you drive us out of here?”
“Which way?” the man asked, pointing out the windshield. “That stuff’s like s-soup. You can see past two inches out there.”
“Well, we can’t stay here. Can you reach the TV station? Can you broadcast out? Call for help?”
“The blast must’ve taken out the antenna. I can’t even get a signal. We’re stuck here.”
“Don’t say that,” Brenda gasped. Breathing was like trying to suck air through a tiny straw. The harder she tried, the sides of the straw would collapse, blocking the flow. It took great effort to calm herself and inhale slowly. She watched as Alan struggled like her.
“We can’t stay here,” she repeated, when the camera man held up a hand for silence. He was receiving something through his earpiece. Brenda strained to listen. “What?” she whispered.
After a few more seconds, Alan shook his head. “I thought I heard something.”
“From the TV station?”
“No. Outside. There’s a microphone in the base of the antenna.”
“What kind of something? Could it be someone? Someone alive?” Maybe everyone outside wasn’t dead. She could only pray.
Without warning, the van lurched to one side. Brenda gave a squeal of fright, and Alan yelled as they grabbed for something to hold on to so they wouldn’t be pitched about inside the interior of the van like loose marbles in a can. The vehicle bounced again, ending upright. Alan’s eyes widened, and he pointed out the front.
The yellowish cloud was dissipating. No. Brenda swiped the tears again from her eyes and tried to get a better look. No, it appeared as if the cloud was being blown away. Almost like it was being...fanned?
There was a movement at the far edge of the windshield. She crawled to the front of the van with Alan right behind her. Together they stared at the area where they could barely make out someone, a figure, standing not too far from them. As the fumes rolled away, they were finally able to see a man.
Brenda gasped in shock and delight. Yes, it was a man. A very well-built man, with a wide chest, and small waist and hips, and long, muscular legs. A total stranger wearing a shiny black leather-looking jacket and pants. What appeared to initially be black paint across his face was actually a mask.
But what was more astonishing was the fact that this man was gripping two of the factory’s huge steel doors, one in each hand, and was waving them up and down like enormous fans, breaking up the yellow cloud with a speed and skill that was astonishing to watch.
“Who...the...hell?” Alan’s hushed voice commented over her shoulder.
“It looks like we have a new superhero,” she said in awe.
“Are you shitting me?”
“Infinity’s been gone, what? Sixteen years?” She started to smile. A new superhero. It was almost too good to be true.
She gave a quick glance at the area around them and saw the fumes were almost all gone. As much as she would love to remain there watching this mysterious stranger in black save the day, she knew they needed to seek medical attention, especially for the reporter who remained unconscious.
“Damn! Will you look at the guy? Those doors have to be at least four inches thick and solid steel. I bet they weigh at least seven or eight hundred pounds each, and he’s waving them like playing cards!”
Her tone got his attention.
“We have to get her to the nearest hospital, and we need be checked out, too,” she told him, gesturing toward the reporter. “Monning Clinic is about four blocks away. Can you drive us there now? I’ll show you the way.”
The camera man never got the chance to answer when the van’s side door slid open.
“Anyone in here needing immediate medical attention?” Dark blue eyes slid over Brenda before darting to the camera man, who was already lifting the reporter into his arms.
The woman was transferred to the arms of the black clad man, and a prick of unexpected jealousy went through Brenda.
“Can you two make it over to the hospital on your own?” the man asked. His voice was rich and deep, and sent shivers through her. His glanced paused below her waist. “Better get that taken care of as soon as you get there,” he added.
Brenda looked down, noticing for the first time that her leg was bleeding. At some point she’d ripped her pants and cut herself during the explosion. “Okay.” It sounded lame, but it was the best she could do at the moment.
At Alan’s nod to his previous question, the superhero backed away from the vehicle. In the next second, he lifted off of the ground and flew away.
Brenda hopped out of the van to watch him go until he disappeared in the distance. Her body felt as though she was holding onto an electric fence, and the current was setting off fireworks in her bloodstream. The moment the man had set his eyes on her, it was as though time and the universe had come to a screeching halt. At the same time, she could feel herself growing wet between the thighs.
This man had called to her in the most primal way, and she had no idea who he was, or even what his name was. But she would find out. Whatever it took, she would find out, one way or another, if it was the last thing she ever did.