Monday, June 30, 2014

44 - The Next Test

Chapter VI - Dancing Above the City

The next test must be outdoors, somewhere open and spacious. I’ve already seen how Kyle handles himself in an enclosed area, and now I must learn what he’ll do in the complete opposite. His fighting technique has changed a lot. It’s almost like he’s become a different person. What has he been up to in the years since we last met? Where has he trained? Who’s been instructing him? And why have I been completely ignorant of him this whole time? And it’s not like he’s been hiding quietly in some hole. Since learning he is the Wandering Koala, I’ve found literally thousands of reports, stories, blog posts, editorials, and other mentions of him and his exploits. He’s been busy, and all over the world. It doesn’t seem to matter in what part of this planet I look, I find a trace of his being there. And yet with all of this, he’s still just an urban legend with no substantiated sightings or definitive physical evidence, video, or even clear pictures.
He is an enigma unlike any other I have faced. Part of me is glad. It would take someone extraordinary to defeat me. Like a koala he looks all innocent and friendly, but his claws are sharp and he’s not shy about unsheathing them. I still haven’t discovered where the name “Wandering Koala” came from, but I will solve that mystery as well. His defeat must be total and complete.

Friday, June 27, 2014

43 - Something from His Past

He doesn't answer. He doesn’t even acknowledge that I said anything.
“Kyle, are you okay?” Still nothing. I stand up and walk down the stairs to where he’s training.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” René asks.
I stop. Kyle would never hurt me, but then again I’ve never seen that berserker rage in his eyes before either. I go back up the stairs keeping my eyes on Kyle. He’s laying into those robots like he’s on a deadly crusade. This is about something bigger than nearly losing a fight. There’s something Kyle’s not telling us. Something from his past. And I have no idea how to ask him about it.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

42 - What's Wrong with Kyle?

“You think those ugly cusses from the restaurant are somehow related to them?”
“It’s possible. Both groups looked human enough, but both possessed abilities that went beyond what anyone could achieve naturally.”
“Did we ever get a blood sample from the Lab Assistants to compare?”
“No, unfortunately, but maybe … ” My hands begin flying over the keyboard performing dozens of searches looking for anything that could connect the two.
“What’s Kyle so worked up about?” René asks thru a mouthful of crunchy popped kernels.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s going after those training robots like they just killed his mother. I’ve never seen him so worked up. Do you think nearly losing to those ugly cusses freaked him out?”
“I can’t imagine it would.” I turn to see what René is talking about and get a little scared. There is such intensity in Kyle’s eyes like I’ve never seen him have before. He looks scared, angry, and blood thirsty all at once. And the pounding he’s giving those training bots … they’ll be beyond repair. “Kyle, what’s wrong?”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

41 - Now that's an Interesting Thought

“I don’t think science would still classify them as homo sapiens, not with their modified DNA, RNA, amino acids, and proteins. I’m not sure what they are.”
“And here I thought that phoenix we faced last week was pretty crazy. And the Christmas lawn decorations come to life the month before that. And what about that giant green bull? You don’t get charged by one of those everyday.”
“We do seem to encounter more than our fair share of the weird and unexplained.”
“It’s his fault.” He points to Kyle. “If he’d just throw away that stupid compass of his instead of always going where it points, we’d save ourselves a lot of grief.”
“If not for that ‘stupid compass’, you’d still be stuck at The Power Company, and I’d be on the end of a Lab Assistant’s skewer.”
“Eww. That would be bad. I hated working at The Power Company.”
I look up at René and shake my head. I think he was only kidding, but with him you can never really be sure.
“So where does one go to get these enhancements? Maybe the same guys who made those Lab Assistants, because you know those weren’t your run-of-the-mill henchmen.”
“The Lab Assistants. Now there is an interesting thought.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

40 - You Mean They Weren't People?

I recently became very familiar with DNA, RNA, and chromosomes thanks to a certain Red Plague that nearly wiped out half the population of Califia. But I don’t recognize these sequences. They aren’t even vaguely familiar. But Kyle does.
“You’re kidding?” I ask. He shakes his head and proceeds to describe how the anomalies are actually genetically engineered enhancements to improve strength, speed, agility, endurance, eyesight, hearing, and more. And I thought Olympic athletes who indulged in blood doping were extreme. This makes that look like taking a Flintstone vitamin. Who would have the knowledge, skill, and equipment to do this?
“What are you guys looking at? Modern art?”
I turn around to see René with an obscenely large bucket of popcorn in on arm and an obscenely large handful of popcorn in the other. How he manages to get it all in his mouth without dropping a single kernel I will never understand. You would think with his steady diet of snack foods he’d be the size of a hippo, but somehow he never manages to gain weight. I wish I were that lucky. I have to watch everything I eat and nearly kill myself every morning training with Kyle so I can still fit into my clothes.
“It’s the DNA of one of those … things that attacked Kyle.”
“Things? Someone’s become very pajoritive.”

Monday, June 23, 2014

39 - Comparing DNA

I lean back tapping my chin and consider why they might have surgically altered their appearances. Are they criminals? Did they do it for this job specifically? Or did they just not like how they looked? That third one is very unlikely, but without more information, I can’t eliminate any possibilities. Not yet.
I scan thru the video footage for the umpteenth time. Several people managed to record the stranger in the grey suit, but no one got a shot of his face, not even a blurry one. With nearly an hour of footage from dozens of vantage points, that shouldn’t be possible. Someone was trying to hide his identity and knew exactly how to do it. How do we always manage to attract world-class adversaries? Can’t we go up against an ordinary criminal once in a while? Where is a shoplifter when you need one?
Kyle brings me his pants. At first I wonder if they were torn during the fight and he wants me to mend them. Then he points out a dark red spot on the knee and places it under one of the many scanners. I see a spiraling molecule appear on the screen.
“The police already ran the DNA but got no match.”
But the computer doesn’t stop at comparing the DNA. Oh, no. Like Kyle himself, the computer is an overachiever. It maps the chromosomes and analyses the sequences. That’s when I become very interested.

Friday, June 20, 2014

38 - The Fight was Recorded

Chapter V - Wandering Koala’s LabTree

I sit behind the 20-foot screen of the supercomputer in the LabTree while René makes his nightly bowl of popcorn and Kyle tends to his wounds. I catch myself adjusting my glasses while looking over the search results and jerk my hand down. I’ve heard several people comment how I’m always playing with my glasses and how distracting it is, so I’ve been consciously trying to stop. It’s hard.
The three attackers were no ordinary thugs. They nearly took down Kyle, and he’s taken on a SWAT team before and won. They looked ordinary enough, which will make them that much harder to identify. They somehow managed to escape while Kyle was chasing the man in a grey suit. The police did recover samples of DNA, but so few people’s DNA is on file that it probably won’t lead anywhere. Fortunately, over two dozen people recorded the fight and posted it online, so I have excellent shots of all three attackers.
Facial recognition turned up nothing, but the program Kyle has (and where he gets his applications I wish I knew, because they are decades ahead of what anyone else has) was able to detect surgical alterations to both bone structure and facial features. I’m still trying to figure out how it could do that from a few fuzzy video frames.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

37 - Hide and Seek

I slide halfway down the bannister until I’m near a fake tree and jump to it. I leap from branch to branch until I’m across the room, then I hit the ground and make a mad dash for the kitchen. It should lead to the alley, and the alley will provide me with more cover and options than the open parking lot in front.
I am dying to look back and see how close he is, but I know it will cost me time, and it may be time I don’t have.
I weave my way thru the kitchen mapping out the path of least resistance. Fortune shines on me, because a kitchen hand is taking out the trash and has the door open part way. I fly past him.
In the alley fortune again is on my side in the form of a passing garbage truck. I jump onto the dumpster, to the garbage truck, up to a ledge, and then onto the roof. I hear the kitchen hand’s indignant “hey” telling me where Kyle is. I’m out of sight before he’s in the alley. I made it.
I'm tempted to peek out and watch him look for me in vein, but he probably has eyes as keen as mine and will spot me. No, I’ll wait here silently.
I don’t have to wait long. The Cuscuses arrive and Kyle disappears before round three begins.
I wait another hour to make sure he’s gone and then head back to my hotel. I have a lot to review before the next test.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

36 - Hit Him While He's Down

All three proceed to kick Kyle while he is down. Not a very honorable attack, but understandable considering the torment he’s put them thru.
One of the Cuscuses picks him up by the scalp and holds his arms behind his back while the other two pummel his stomach. They each take a special kind of pleasure with every strike.
Kyle slumps to his knees. His attackers go back to kicking him in the front, back, side, and everywhere in between. I’m a little disappointed he succumbed so quickly. Maybe he’s gotten old.
The Cuscuses give him one last kick then drop him. His face smacks the ground. They look up at me and smirk. One folds his arms, another rubs his chin, and the third squats against the rocks.
I see a twitch less than a moment before Kyle flies up the rock face again, but this time he’s heading straight for me. I should have known he wouldn’t go down so easily. He mustn’t see me. I’m not ready to face him yet.
I’m barely out of the room when he leaps over the guardrails. He sees back of my head as I turn down the staircase. Does he recognize me? It’s been years and I doubt he ever expected to see me again. I wonder if the Cuscuses have recovered and are on their way here. But even if they were, he has too great a head start on them. I’m on my own.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

35 - This Just Keeps Getting Better and Better

He launches a series of elbow jabs to the ribs, but the other Cuscus grabs his hair and flips him face forward into the water. His friend’s head pops up. Then it hits the water again and goes under along with the other Cuscus. Kyle bursts out of the water and swims towards the waterfall. The Cuscuses are right on his tail. He pulls himself up onto the rocks and scales the face of the cliff. The Cuscuses follow. Kyle is so quick and limber he practically flies up the three stories. The Cuscuses try to encircle him, but aren’t fast enough to get ahead of him before.
And then Kyle does the unexpected and changes directions. He jumps straight at the Cuscus on his left, grabs his arms pulling him off the rocks, spins him around in midair twisting his arms behind his back, and knees his spine as they hit the water. I see the Cuscus fly out of the water and strike the rocks with the back of his head. Kyle is out of the water right after him throwing more punches, launching more kicks.
The other Cuscus drops down behind him and hurling his own feet and fists. The Cuscus Kyle thought he had taken out earlier has recovered and lands on Kyle’s shoulders planting him into the ground. He is hungry for revenge. This just keeps getting better and better.

Monday, June 16, 2014

34 - Strategy over Strength

The other Cuscus slips around the branch behind Kyle who launches a back kick to let him know he knows he’s there. The Cuscuses continue to attack from each side increasing the intensity of their blows with each strike. Kyle leans back dodging their fists, grabs their arms, and twists backwards pulling both assailants over the rail with him.
I see what he’s planning. He’s positioning them so one is below and the other at his side so when they hit the water one will take the force of the blow and the other won’t land on top of him. Clever, using the environment to his advantage. The Cuscuses must realize it too, because try to reposition themselves, but Kyle isn’t letting go.
They hit the water as planned. From the sound and the size of the splash, Kyle has one less foe to worry about. At least he would if his foe wasn’t genetically enhanced. Kyle is visibly stunned. It gives the other Cuscus a chance to get behind him, put him in a chokehold, and push him under the water. I can see him thrashing beneath the surface. The Cuscus has the look of death in his eyes.
For a moment I wonder if this is how it will end. I’m tempted to get up to rescue him so that I can be the one to put him down, but then I see the Cuscus flip over and Kyle come up. Despite an arm still being tightly wrapped around his neck, he manages to take in a small breath of air.

Friday, June 13, 2014

33 - Bargaining Chips

The first Cuscus pulls himself over the railing dripping water all over the ground. He is not happy. He sends a power punch directly at Kyle’s face, but Kyle drops to the floor; the third Cuscus moves his head in time and is only grazed.
Kyle slides between his friend’s legs. He launches his fist straight up into the Cuscus’ gut forcing him two feet into the air. He lets go of René and them rolls over clutching his belly. He’ll be out for a while.
Now that two remaining Cuscuses have lost their shields and bargaining chips there is nothing to hold Kyle back. Of course, seeing their brother writhing on the floor probably removes any inhibitions the Cuscuses may have had. Now we will have a real fight. Now my test can truly begin.
The Cuscuses move in opposite directions boxing Kyle in. Or so they think. He reaches up, grabs an artificial branch, and flips himself up onto it. It figures someone known as the Wandering Koala would take to the trees. The Cuscuses follow suit, one on the same branch and another on a slightly higher one. Kyle spin kicks the higher Cuscus who puts his arms up to block. Kyle launches a few more kicks and punches, all of which are easily blocked. The Cuscus smiles, but I know he’s merely gaging the Cuscus’ strength and abilities. Just what I would do.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

32 - Over the Edge

I see a line fly out from the pair (is that a bolo?), but I’m not sure who threw it. The ball on the end wraps around a protruding rock, and the pair swing towards the cliff face. It must be Kyle’s, because he entwines his limbs with the Cuscus’s who is struggling to move but can’t. The Cuscus hits the tip of a jutting rock with his spine and is forced to let go. He falls into the bubbling pool below.
Kyle places his feet on the rock face, squats down, and then pushes himself off the rock flying thru the air back onto the second tier. He lands on a fake tree branch then is flying thru the air again.
He flips over the other two Cuscuses who turn so his friends are between them as human shields. But they don’t see one end of the bolo whip still in his hands and the other flying across the floor. It wraps around on the Cuscus’ feet, and Kyle pulls him into the other.
They quickly regain their balance, but not before Kyle elbows their arms loosening the grips on his friends. Brent manages to wiggle free, but René is still trapped. Kyle focuses on him. He lunges, kicks, and strikes making contact with the Cuscus’ arms, shoulders, and sides without hitting his friends. The Cuscus jerks René around trying to block each attack, but Kyle anticipates each and every movement. The other Cuscus attacks from the other side, but Kyle manages to fend him off while still maintaining an offensive.