by Adrian Watts
"IABSATIWTSS or It all begins somewhere, and this is where this series starts"
January Year Five
The fires raged.
Men and women from all over the country had been called in. Firefighters, paramedics, police... the demand was far in excess of what the state could supply. Even international aid had been requested, in the form of three new, barely used water-dumping helicopters. One was even named the Incredible Hulk. Wonder if Bruce Banner was working for the crew that prepared it...?
For two weeks, the fires, starting from New South Wales' Blue Mountain Region, had spread havoc across the entire country. News reports - not only in Australia, but in other nations, as well - spoke of little else. They were one of the worst disasters ever to hit the country. What else would you expect?
Aboard one of the airlines carrying interstate reinforcements sat a man named Aaron Taylor. He was young, and from the southern state of Victoria. A firefighter. They'd been made to prepare on the plane, so he was already wearing his yellow and black firefighter's uniform, and in the aisles between the seats long firehoses stretched from the cockpit door to the toilets at the back of the plane. The plane would be landing directly in one of the fire-stricken zones, and the emergency crews had eveything ready. It would take less than a minute for them to get off the plane and into the fire...
"This is your captain, speaking. We're about to land in Wollongong. Please make your way to the exit nearest you now." a voice piped over the airplane's public address system.
Shouldn't we strap ourselves in for the landing, or something? Aaron thought. Oh well, he's the captain....
Aaron picked himself up, and helped two other men with the nearest hose. The three of them waited beside the frontmost exit, and Aaron felt the plane begin to descend. He was surprised when the co-pilot ran past, grabbed the end of the hose he was holding, and fastened it to a connection inside the plane.
"What are you doing?!?" Aaron demanded.
"Captain's orders, sir. There're too many flames for us to land down there, so the captain's decided you'll need to slide down your hoses. It's either that or let the fires run rampant, I'm afraid." He looked toward the cockpit for a moment, then turned back to Aaron. "Grab your hose, sir - the captain will be opening the doors in a few seconds."
Aaron grabbed his hose as hard as he could, now the fourth man in the row behind the hose. Suddenly, with a rush of escaping air, the door swung open and the rope flew out. One by one, the three men in front of him climbed hastily down the hose, but Aaron froze. Looking out the door, he saw that the plane was barely above the treetops, and that the hose reached the ground, and then some. Still....
He bit the bullet and jumped, sliding down the hose as though it were a firemen's pole. As soon as his feet touched the ground, the hose slackened in his grip and Aaron saw the co-pilot unhooking the other end of the hose from the inside of the plane. Aaron looked around, surveying the destruction around him. Trees were black and ashen, crumbling when hit by the slightest breeze. Houses were hemmed-in by them flames, but very few had been actually damaged yet.
"We need to find a source of water for the hose," Aaron said. "Let's try those houses. One of them may have a pool." He and the other three firefighters manning his particular hose dashed off through the burning forest, searching for a water source. Aaron approached a house - by far the one running the highest risk of damage - but stopped dead in his tracks as an ear-splitting cry reached him through the flames.
"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! Help! My baby - she's trapped inside!" An older woman, wearing a purple t-shirt with various stains and holes in it, with grey tracksuit pants and a pair of moccasins, came running towards Aaron. "Help!" she panted. "My daughter, Elizabeth... she's only nine... she ran back in for her teddy..."
"It's okay, ma'am," Aaron said. "I'll get her out." Running straight through the flames, Aaron found himself stumbling and splashing into the house's pool, which he hadn't seen thanks to the obscuring orange relfection. Oh well, he thought, swimming through the lukewarm water and climbing out of the other side of the pool, this'll actually help me get the kid out!
He ran into the house, it's door still open from the mother's departure, and began to search for the little girl. There were a few small fires around the house, but Aaron could smell the strong, revolting smell of burning plastic. He kept searching, but suddenly his back was wracked with pain - his fireman's jacket was burning! He shrugged it off as quickly as he could, stamping out the fire as quickly as possible, wondering who the genius was who made fireman's jackets and helmets plastic.
"HEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLLLLLLLLLLP!" he heard from somewhere above him. "WHOEVER'S DOWN THERE, PLEASE HELP ME!"
"Where are you?" Aaron yelled back.
"I'm in the roof, trying to get my teddy. Please, sir, the hatch is in the bathroom ceiling!" a girl's voice called.
Aaron ran. He'd seen the bathroom as he entered, but hadn't checked in there. He found it again, and saw to his amazement that the string which lowered the stairs which led into the roof had already been pulled, and the stairs lowered. He ran straight up them, and saw the girl. She was crouching right next to the top of the stairs, pushing as hard as she could on a crate marked 'fragile'.
"Quickly, Elizabeth! We've got to get out of here!" Aaron called to her.
"Not... without... Mr.... Wonky-tonk...." Elizabeth gasped. She gave one last heave, and the box lurched forward, tumbling down the stairs and spilling it's fragile contents along the way. One of the first things to go was an old kerosene lamp, spilling it's flammable contents across the stairs, pooling on the bathroom floor.
"Oh shit," Aaron muttered. "Have you got Mr. Wonky-tonk?"
The girl nodded, holding up a battered old brown teddy bear. An eye was missing, and there was a small split underneath it's chin.
"Good. Now we have to move quickly. Come here and hold my - dammit."
Aaron watched as the flames inside the house finally reached the puddle of kerosene. In less time than it took to tell, flames shot up the staircase and began to spread to things in the roof. Aaron, thinking quickly, ripped off his wet shirt and wrapped it around the little girl, leaving the smallest of spaces for her to breathe through.
He jumped from the top of the stairs, falling through the fire which he felt making contact with the bare skin on his back, sides, and arms. Though wracked with pain, he ran back out of the house, out the front door, where a burning tree promptly collapsed.
"Oh, geez. This is starting to look like one of those crappy comic book superhero origin stories!" he muttered. He looked around, searching for an escape route. He found several which he could escape through, but not while holding the child, and he didn't want to leave her on her own. The fallen tree rolled slightly towards him, and he backed back.
"Don't worry, Mr. Taylor," the bundled girl whispered. "The cavalry is on it's way!"
"What did you say? How did you know my name?" Before the girl could answer, Aaron had to turn around, shielding his face from the spray of white foam which blew across the tree in front of him, dousing the flames but ending up as a foot-high slippery marsh that would be difficult to traverse. Still, he ran across it, leaping across the tree to safety on the other side, surrounded by his three fellow firemen.
"How... did you know... I was there....?" he panted as he lowere and unwrapped the girl.
"We don't know," Aaron's best friend, Timothy Quinn, said. "We just got this creepy feeling. But that must have been harsh. Your left shoulder looks as burnt as one of these trees."
Aaron looked down at his left shoulder, and saw that it was indeed badly burnt. A circle about the size of a fifty cent piece sat on the skin connecting his shoulder and neck, and the last dregs of the fire-supressing foam were slowly draining out of the depressed wound.
"I didn't even notice." Aaron said. "I just wanted to get the girl out of th - LOOK OUT!" Aaron leaped forward as another burning tree, much taller this time, began to fall right on top of Quinn. With a might shove he pushed his friend out of the way, but it was too late for him to save himself. The tree fell toward him, increasing in speed, and he didn't know what to do.
Suddenly, he felt a tingling in his upper-back, and then a burning sensation as two huge phoenix-like wings of flame burst out from his back, flapping instinctively and lifting Aaron up into the sky, out of the tree's path.
"Jesus!" Quinn yelled. "Aaron must be some kind of mutant!"
Aaron hovered in the air, puzzled, and then tried to manipulate his wings to lower him to the ground. He found he had limited control over them, but as he tried to flap them they simply vanished, and he found himself falling rapidly to the ground below. As he collided with the earth and felt his head slam against the trunk of a fallen tree, he could see the girl - Elizabeth - grinning wildly at him. And he could swear, as blood dribbled down his face and darkness swept over him, that she even winked at him....
"And our main story tonight is an update on the continuing New South Wales bushfire crisis. Earlier today, a Victorian reserve-firefighter, Aaron Taylor, was rushed to hospital with second-degree burns and major head injuries while helping out the crews in Wollongong. The fire commisioner has not yet made a public statement regarding the incident, and many, including Ian Churchill - the owner of Australia's third largest multi-service company - ascribe to the theory that the Victorian's injuries may have been the result of negligence on the part of the State Emergency Services."
The image on the television screen changed to show Ian Churchill, a middle-aged man wearing a brown and yellow akubra with a children's python wrapped around his neck.
"I am certain that given time, my investigators can prove that Taylor's injuries were entirely preventable by faster action by the Fire Commissioner, Peter Alraune." he said. "I will leave no stone unturned as I investigate this situation. Also, in a gesture of good will, I've already notified Mr. Taylor's family that I will personally pay for all necessary medical treatment until he has made a full recovery."
The young man watching the television snorted loudly, but kept his attention on the screen as the image changed back to that of the red-haired newsreader.
"We will keep you aprised of any new information as it comes to hand. Good evening, everyone - I'll see you in the future!"
As the newsreader finished her spiel with her trademarked signoff, the only occupant of the room leaned forward and switched off the television.
"Yeah, right. That fucking Churchill wouldn't do anything as a gesture of good will." He giggled. "Except maybe wipe his own arse."
He looked around at his own filthy surrounding. Beer cans and pizza boxes little the floor of the single room unit. The bed, over in one corner, was stained yellow with patches of dog urine that it's owner had neglected to clean up. Piles of dishes littered the sink, with ants crawling across the benchtop and flies buzzing around the refridgerator, able to smell the rotting food and curdled milk that was stored therein. A large bong sat upright next to the bed, and that was by far the cleanest thing in the area.
The filthiest thing in the room by far was the unit's sole human occupant, who was laying back on a filthy food-stained couch. He was wearing torn denim jeans, and a (white?) singlet that hadn't seen a washing machine for at least the past six months. His greasy black hair was slicked back to keep it off his forehead, which showed that he had some sense, not wanting to let all the crap that was in it migrate to his face.
His well-tanned arms and face were streaked with mud and grease, and his arms were home to many bloody scratches. He finished his survey of the room, and then slumped back on his beer and food-stained couch.
"The place is a god damn dump. If those DC... DCM... DMC.... whatever they fuckin' were hadn't screwed with me, I wouldn'a have ta spend all my dole money on dope. But no, the headaches 'are not covered in the signed agreement', they said. 'Not out fault marijuana is your only recourse' they say. I don't even know what a fraggin' 'recourse' is!" He yelled. "Rusty! Rusty! Bring me my damn bong!"
"HOWWWWWWWWWWWLLLLLLLL!" A dog's howl could be heard from the front yard of the unit.
"Rusty? You okay, boy?" The filthy man rose to his feet, and trudged slowly over to the front door. Pushing it open - or, rather, pushing it over as it's hinges broke under the strain - he walked out into his front yard which was littered with burnt-out cars, oil cans, and spare parts, which at least explained the abundance of grease.
A brown and white dog lay moaning a few feet away, and the filthy man's keen eyes were able to see a snake - a children's python - weaving it's way through the overgrown grass.
"Fucking snakes! They're EVERYWHERE! Wait until I get my gun, you rotten son of a bitch!" He spun around, and headed back toward the house. But he paused as a dark shadow came over him. He looked up, and froze. A jet was falling from the sky, aimed directly at his house. It was going to crash. He ran over to his dog and crouched beside it, hugging it's moaning form as the plane got closer.
Moments before impact, Rusty gave a yelp, and a dull, non-reflective grey coating came over the man's blotchy skin. The plane collided with the earth, one wing smashing hard into the man's back, knocking him down to the ground. He didn't get up.
The offices of the Australian's government's newest department, the Division for Counter-Measures Against Superhuman Activity were sparsely furnished, and equipped with only the oldest SHIELD hand-me-downs. The three-storey - two above and one below ground - complex consisted of thirty rooms - but only one was not completely empty.
One room, the Hub, was a beehive of activity. Banks of ex-SHIELD computers lined one wall, giving information print-outs that SHIELD decided were unimportant enough to share with the division. Twelve men and one woman ran around, mostly monitoring the computers connected to SHIELD's satellite monitoring system, which was supposed to alert them to any superhuman activity on the continent that SHIELD detected.
Since the machines' installation six months earlier, no activity had been detected until one fateful January day. Two blips showed up on the read-outs, one in the city of Sydney and one in the more southern city of Melbourne. The division's commander, Erlend Larsen Jr., was excited. He had been counting the days until the government would shut him down, but it hadn't yet happened, and with this new development it might not happen at all.
"We have to intercept these two superhumans," he said, as the other employees of the division milled around him. "As you all know, our lack of funding means we have to do everything ourselves. To that end, I'm splitting us up into two groups. One will be led by me, and one by my 2OIC and the only chick here, Iris Bueller."
The single woman present, an extremely tall woman with red hair that reached down to her knees, blushed.
"Let's go. We'll have to take public transport, of course...." Erlend muttered something under his breath, but then spoke loudly again. "What's everyone standing around for? MOVE MOVE MOVE!"
The twelve division members quickly filed out of the complex and down to the nearest bus-stop. But once there, Iris Bueller went into action.
Even Larsen doesn't know about me, she thought as she prepared to do her job. He thinks I'm just the token 'chich' the government wants on the team. But I'm so much more!
NEXT ISSUE: The DCMASA goes into action! Old meets young when two of MV1's few Australian supervillains move onto the scene! A famous comic book writer comes to town! And we DON'T learn Iris Bueller's secret!
If you live in Australia, then you know not to trust our postal service! If you want to get your letters to me before the conclusion of this Limited Series, don't send them by Australia Post! Don't even send them by Nova Express! Send them by.... ANZACS AIR-MAIL! All letters arrive at my computer polybagged and with neat foil covers - not!
But if ANZACS AIR-MAIL doesn't work for you, you can always send it the long way to Adrian Watts.
- January 30th, 2002