Chapter 1: Between Mountain and Metropolis
In the dip of the crater on Mount St. Helens, massive cracks began to appear in the solidified magma. Soft molten rock began to lift and swell, becoming engorged like living flesh. The pressure from the hot liquid rising below provoked undulations in the once motionless, solid surface. What had been flat and lifeless landscape now ballooned upward, a breast expanding with quivering breaths. To an onlooker, if anyone had been unfortunate or blessed enough to be looking on, the pulsations in the growing dome might have resembled the mountain’s heartbeat—racing with the excitement of approaching release.
With a sound like a sigh, a thin white plume was released from the crest of swollen rock, sending ribbons of hot ash billowing up into the air. A growing fracture began to form in the apex, from which more and more steam was emitted, spurting thousands of feet into the atmosphere. The rupture rapidly expanded, allowing the first drops of bubbling lava to trickle from its creases.
A woman’s hand abruptly broke through the crack in the rock. More steam immediately surrounded the lime green fingernails which just barely poked out of the seam. The fingers began to flex and writhe as they clawed at the crevice. A second hand smashed through the fissure, feeling around tentatively. If one could have seen through the thick steam, they would have noted the woman’s dark copper skin, slender fingers, and several eclectic rings with multicolored gemstones. The hands thrashed around in distress as lava bubbled up around small wrists, hot enough to boil rock, but apparently not the tender skin of this human being.
Finally, emitting an ethereal silvery glow, the two hands paused—they firmly gripped the sides of the gap and worked in unison to forcibly rip the rock apart. A forearm followed, elbow resting on the surface to help push the woman’s torso through the crack, and when her head was above the surface she gasped for oxygen hungrily. Crawling along the surface away from the crevice, she panted as she rested gratefully on a firmer portion of the crater—the bright light surrounding her entire body intensified. When the mountain continued to hiss, teeming with pressure from below, she struggled to rise to her feet.
Stumbling as she limped to the edge of the mountain, the woman leaned weakly against a jagged portion of rock that jutted out along the rim of the crater. The translucent white blaze which hugged her curves like an outline began to fade. She coughed as she inhaled some of the hot grey ash that was spewing out of the volcano’s mouth. She glanced up at the steamy plume with dismay, and looked down at her damaged lime-green jumpsuit. She began hastily brushing ash and clumps of drying lava from her bizarre garment.
“I am never doing that again,” she vowed.
Jumping off the edge of the crater, the woman began to levitate slowly toward the ground. She interlocked her arms across her chest and frowned at the skyline of a city visible to the north. In the blink of an eye, she propelled her body across the dozens of miles between the mountain and the metropolis. She now hovered above a busy intersection, staring down in confusion.
“Is this Seattle?” she whispered as she lowered herself to the sidewalk. “Looks different without piles of dead bodies in the streets.” She ignored the judgmental looks as pedestrians strolling by examined her oddly vibrant, neon-green outfit. When a grandmother pulled her small child away protectively, and the young boy stared up at her with his mouth in a little O-shape of surprise, the woman growled. She reached up to touch her curly black hair to check if it was out of place. Finding nothing wrong with her appearance, she made her way to a payphone.
Staring at the machine in bewilderment for a moment, she seemed to be trying to remember how to use it. Mumbling a few numbers under her breath, she lifted a hand. Her fingers paused slightly in front of the phone, not making contact, but causing the receiver to float toward her ear and mouth. Numbers on the keypad began to depress automatically, and the payphone reacted as though coins had been inserted, beginning the call. After a few rings, a polite, professional voice filtered through the receiver.
“Kalgren Technological Enterprises, CEO’s office. Nina speaking. How may I help you?”
“I was supposed to meet with Thorn Kalgren an hour ago!” The young woman in the green bodysuit acted convincingly annoyed. “God, he still hasn’t shown up and I can’t sit here all day—I have other appointments!”
“The CEO is a busy man and he seems to be occupied with some sort of emergency. I apologize—I’ve been cancelling his meetings for the day, but I must have missed yours—who is calling, please?”
“It insults me that you even have to ask,” she told the secretary. “Never mind—is Thorn’s sister available? Amara should be able to help me.”
“I’m afraid Miss Kalgren isn’t in the office today either. Is this about one of her inventions? I could forward you to her department manager…”
“No, no.” The dark-skinned woman chewed on her lip thoughtfully. “This is a matter of some delicacy, Nina. I need to speak to a Kalgren directly—is Rose available?”
Nina seemed to hesitate. “Thorn’s mother is retired. Sorry, ma’am, who did you say you were? If you’re from the tax office, I can forward you to the financial…”
“No! Is Pax Burnson there?”
“Why, no.” The secretary paused. “In fact, I don’t believe she’s involved in any current projects. Thornton recently broke up with his girlfriend, you see.”
“What?” the young girl shouted. This seemed to bother her more than the volcanic lava. She tried to regain composure after slipping out of character. “Well, what about Asher Burnson? Any of the Burnsons really.”
“I highly doubt the Burnsons would be able to assist you with Kalgren Tech company issues. If you just call back tomorrow, I am sure we can schedule you another appointment. I’ll mention to the CEO that you called.”
“No!” the woman in the lime jumpsuit hissed. “Where the hell is he? I’m going to kill your boss.”
“Uh… excuse me?” Nina’s voice faltered.
“All of them. I’m going to kill all of them.” The woman turned her back on the payphone and it promptly exploded behind her. People traversing the Seattle sidewalks began to shriek when she levitated several meters off the pavement. The girl ignored the attention and swept her body up into the air, moving away from onlookers in a fraction of a second. Her slender silhouette barreled through the air so briskly that she was just a kiwi-colored blur. Finally, she landed in the middle of a forest clearing before a massive Victorian manor.
“Burnson Grove,” she muttered. She had been hoping to see several cars in the driveway, signifying that the Kalgrens were visiting. Instead, she could tell without entering that the house was empty. She could not detect any formidable life forces within the walls of the mansion, and the Burnsons and Kalgrens were all strong enough that they would have been easy to detect. “Damnation,” she swore, glancing to the west. Her eyes narrowed angrily. “They’re in India. I should have known.”
Before the final word had left her mouth, her toned body exploded into the sky—a sleek missile launched to a distant destination, sure to wreak carnage upon arrival.