Chapter One
Blackout

            

At approximately nine PM, without warning, the lights went out. Paul Canton paused, one hand holding the skillet handle as he waited for the electricity to return.

And waited.

And waited.

After a good sixty seconds had elapsed, and the butter threatened to smoke, he sighed with resignation. "All right. Have it your way."

He turned off the gas range. Flaring up enough so his body emitted a small glow, he hurried down into the basement, stomping on the right edge of the eighth step with more force than usual. Before he reached the bottom, the back side of the room opened up, revealing a dark, cavernous interior.

The tunnel extended for another couple hundred feet before he reached the reinforced steel door. Once that was opened, he stepped over the threshold and paused. The familiar hum of power that should have been permeating the walls was eerily absent. Slapping the silver plate on the wall behind him, he smiled as a pure luminescence filled the chambers. Across the room, the bank of monitors lit up, revealing what he already suspected.

The blackout didn't affect just his block or area. The entire city was down. The only pinpoints of light came from the traffic, and the odd flashlight and candle popping up.

"Looks like we might have a problem, kemosabe," he muttered. Striding over to the computer console, he backed the surveillance feed up prior to the power outage, then leaned on the table as he watched. Searching for a clue, like an exploding transformer, an animal sacrifice at a substation, a vehicle hitting a pole. A person.

One moment the city was lit. The next, it went dark. Not in sections, but all at once. As if someone had pulled a major plug.

"Did you have something to do with this, bitch?"

Turning, he hurried into the next room to change. Whether or not Sherandar was responsible for the outage, he couldn't wait for the power company to restore the lights, which could take hours, or days. He knew looters could be ransacking businesses. People could be trapped in elevators. There were a hundred possible scenarios occurring right that moment under the cover of darkness. Many of them unlawful, some serious and possibly fatal. Too many problems for the overburdened and understaffed law enforcement officials to handle on their own.

He swore under his breath. No telling what kind of mess that evil woman genius caused. Or what kinds of messes awaited him. Once again, he was relegated to mopping up and cleaning up after her dirty work, and he couldn't begin to guess what her encore might be.

Pulling his mask over the upper part of his face, he took a deep breath and stepped inside the narrow brick tunnel leading upward. A second later, Quazar zipped into the night sky, undetectable against its velvety black backdrop.

Airborne, he took a deep lungful of the autumn air. Amid the exhaust fumes and food odors, he could smell the wet pavement from the early evening rain, and the dull rot of fallen leaves. If circumstances were different, he would have enjoyed a stroll down the block to Maggie's Bakery for a couple of raisin bagels.

"Okay. The way I see it, I have two choices. I can flare up and put a little light on the problem, give the police and fire department an assist. Or I can try to hunt down the cause of this mess."

He came to an abrupt halt, suspended in the air, and spread his arms and legs. "Guess that wasn't a hard decision to make," he muttered, and flared. "Guess it's time to bring a little clarity on the subject."

Light emanated from his pores, muted only minimally by his uniform to prevent blinding anyone who stared at him. Quazar lit the sky, spreading his brightness down into the city. Below, people gazed upward. Many cheered, some yelled at him, although he couldn't make out the words.

A cold wind gently pushed him toward the southeast. Rolling his head around his shoulders to relieve the tension, he wondered how long he'd need to keep shining. As long as he remained conscious, he could keep this up until morning. And maybe that's what it would take until HP&L and law enforcement got things taken care of.

Meanwhile, he scanned the streets and rooftops for anything suspicious. Not ordinary humans doing bad, nasty, or illegal suspicious. More like...

The sound of her laughter floated to him on the breeze. He rotated to his left and stopped.

Fifteen yards away, Sherandar crouched on what appeared to be a pair of motorized hubcaps attached to her boots. She grinned at him from behind polarized goggles, her head moving down and up as she scoped him out from boots to mask.

"What's the matter, Quay-Quay? Afraid of the dark?" She taunted him in that way she had that always irked him. Quazar gave her a dirty look.

"Mark the date, Sherandar. You'll answer for this mess."

She returned his dirty look with her are-you-kidding-me? expression. "This? Whatever are you talking about? Besides..." Her glistening red lips curled into a sardonic smile. "You know there isn't a cell made that I can't escape from. Unless you'd like to tie me up and see if I can manage to get out of that." The last sentence was purred seductively.

He glanced down at the people who had emerged from their homes and apartments, and were gathering in the streets. When he looked back at her, she'd moved closer to him. The smile she flashed him gave him an ominous feeling. "I gotta hand it to you, bitch. You may not rob banks or kill people, but you win the prize for making our lives miserable."

Sherandar shrugged with one blue jean jacket clad shoulder. "Hey, a girl's gotta have some fun, right?"

Before she finished speaking, she grabbed one of the many necklaces she wore around her neck, and pulled on it until it broke. With a flick of her wrist, she tossed the string of little thumbnail-sized black balls at him. Within that split-second of time, Quazar stared at the dozen or so objects hurling across the divide between them until he redirected his left arm to sear the things into oblivion. At the first touch of heat, the balls exploded into hundreds of multi-legged creatures that suddenly dispersed and spurted downward toward the watching populace. Too late, Quazar realized his mistake.

            "Oh, crap," he groaned and shot after them, with Sherandar's departing laughter echoing in his ears.