The 13 Collective: Bound by Fate and the Universe, p.1Jeffrey Zweig II
The 13 Collective:
Bound by Fate and the Universe
A short story by Jeffrey Zweig II
Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Zweig II
Thirteen. That number defined my life. Not always for the best, it seemed, so I tried to sway fate and use it as a way to fight crime. And it worked.
I became Thirteen. A superhero cursed with the number that stood for rotten luck and over time became the butt of many jokes. But my life was anything but.
As long as I was a model of good, my life was enriched. Then there was Jinx, who solidified my purpose to keep the world safe - though mostly in secret. I was more a spy, or detective, than a shinning symbol of super-heroism in New York City. But still, we did our part and were given the spoils for our work.
Then thirteen minutes past the hour, of November 13, 1973, Jinx was killed for protecting me. I had given up the life due to injury and age, but it seems fate was cruel. That day, when he took up my mantel -- despite my protests, he was killed for it. Then by process of elimination, they went after his family, friends, and finally they found me, but I was prepared just in case Ah Ling, a nemesis from my early days, came after me for revenge for his gang being taken into custody. These men in grey and blue suits came fast and without remorse. They were professionals.
I dawned my costume for one last stand, though my health was deteriorating, I had my cursed luck to back me up. Despite their expertise I managed to survive the attack with tricks and evasive stealth that incapacitated most of them, before an act of God happened. What I learned later was a temporal force shifted through my house. What I had saw was a wave of silver lightning and gold seemed to ignite the house on fire as a bullet struck and shattered my collarbone into a million pieces.
I fell far, long, like I was suspended in time. My body gyrated like I was atop of a massive engine. There was intense light and heat, like the glue of my flesh was barely hanging on like loose jelly as I hit a hard concrete floor. As I felt my warm blood being soaked into the shoulder of my shirt, I drifted in and out of consciousness, cold and alone on the floor.
At first I was alone, but then a man found me. He was unimpressive at first glance, a professional in everyman’s clothing, so I could tell by his posture alone. I thought it was the end, but it turned out to only be the beginning.
The beginning of my days in Karver City with the 13 Collective.
"What the hell is this?" A uniformed detective grunted under his breath. He had been standing outside in the pouring rain for almost an hour. His superior officer called in and told them to wait for a special task force of the Karver City South Side Police department. They had the area roped off now by yellow police tape, and this meteor fragment was getting cold.
Against an early evening cityscape a brown sedan arrived to the scene. From it came two men, one in a brown leather jacket, blue jeans, and slick almost featureless boots with a thin, receding hairline of a forty something gentlemen. The second man was mostly covered in a cloak and hood, perhaps a poncho, in black cargo pants and combat boots.
"Are you it? The task force?"
"Yes sir. My name is Dee, this man here has no name. Now point in the direction of the site, please."
"Do you have any credentials?”
"You boss called you, yes?"
"Yes, and from his home no less."
"Then you should realize you're cutting in on government time. I suggest we make this quick, then we can all go out for coffee or something. My treat." Dee said with a welcoming smile.
The detective was beside himself. He led the two secretive men to the site, it was a silver shard of steel, the light of the beetle-shaped police cars reflected off of what was left of its metallic surface. "If you don't mind sir, please give us a moment."
The detective was about to object, but there was little in doing so. He left the two agents to return back to the men in blue uniforms as Dee knelt down and pulled from his jacket a small square handheld device with a silver rod popping out of its head, and a meter with a number from one to a hundred. He turned a few knobs on its right side and the meter's arm jumped up to 45.
"Forty five kilobots. This thing is fresh, just like you were when I found you, Thirteen."
The cloaked man knelt down and pushes his hood off his head, revealing a dark blue leather mask with an open area for the jaw, and silver reflective lenses for eyes. There was a built in microphone on the right side of his head that ended an inch from his mouth.
"It's burnt, like how you found me."
"So it makes sense that maybe this came through like you did. A temporal tear in the fabric of space time."
"But what's the cause?"
"If I knew that we wouldn't have to be out here parading around in the rain pretending to be secret service."
“Wait. I thought you were secret service?”
“It’s complicated. Never mind that. Do you recognize this at all?”
“A piece of metal, other than that there’s nothing distinctive about it.”
"Fair enough. Let's get this back home and have Simms have a closer look."
They stood up and returned to the detective who were joined by a pair of uniformed cops behind him. One of the uniforms shined a light on Thirteen, showcasing beneath his cloak a bodysuit with a bold number '13' in white letters across his chest, with a packed web belt and suspenders latched into the vest.
"What are you suppose to be?" Asked the Detective.
"I am an agent of this agency. That is all you need to know." Thirteen said with a staccato tone.
"He must think of himself as some kind of superhero." One of the uniforms said with a smirk.
"Gentlemen. Focus. We have a van coming to collect the specimen. After it’s remove you’re free to go."
I couldn't feel pain. Couldn't tell time when D-13, as I first came to know him, brought me to the collective, to the building we now call home. I passed in and out between dreams of my life, my deceased fiancé, my families and their deaths. My work as Thirteen, and with Jinx. My trials and tribulations of trying to live life normally and my failures to do so. This is what became of Thirteen, a hero, in the end, who disappeared from history with little traces of his life to leave behind.
I considered myself, in the darker corners of my mind, a failure.
A week later, so I was told, I awoke and was fully conscious. My body was repaired and I was soon surrounded by strangers. A large group, and they weren't threatened by the broken man before them.
"You're one lucky son of a bitch." Dee said.
"I get that a lot." I said with a dry mouth and horse voice.
D-13 cut to the chase. He told me he tracked me by a radiation he called kilobots, his own made up name, for an unknown background radiation that had been popping up across the United States in recent time. I asked him did something happen to my apartment. He looked at me as if I were crazy. It was time they introduced me to Karver City, what would become my new home.
Hesitant at first I followed Dee's lead, and he led me to the balcony of their warehouse estate where they worked. It was New York, but smaller, more compact. And there was a futuristic steam punk-ness too it like I had read in comic books. It was strange, and not home. I told him about New York and is vast beautiful cityscapes that teamed with life, where here the streets looked rather empty – like there was no night life
Then we returned to where they found me, an unfinished skyscraper. You could still see the burn marks where I had passed through, I think even some of my flesh was still engrained in the floor. Even though New York could seem like a dead shell at times, this pl
After that Dee began to tell me about his theories on parallel worlds, alternate dimensions, a lot of huge science fiction stuff I really didn’t care about at the time. He believed I somehow survived through what he called a crack in space-time -- the fabric of reality. I somehow fell through it, barely alive, I was burned very well, here in the sky scrapper.
"But how did I survive?" I asked.
The Thirteen collective was full of specialists, who were brought together to investigate these occurrences. They had the whole alphabet, A to Z, in their organization. It spanned the globe. But the occurrences were localized to the United States - for now.
"That was a good job, posing as the Chief of Police, Robert." Dee said as they exited from the large gated elevator into a main community room with many couches, most had seen better days, it was picking at its finest.
Across from them say a man about the same age as Dee, forties with thick round glasses who spent his time on the web, relaxes in a large chair pouring over data streams and sites for information and his own pleasures. He turned the chair away from his seven screen monstrosity of wires and buttons to Thirteen and Dee.
"My enhanced vocoder works miracles. Very proud of it. Coffee with the officers took that long?”
“I think they were more interested in Thirteen than the “meteor fragment”.
“Maybe next time, Thirteen, you shouldn’t dress so ridiculous. So, what do we have here?" Simms asked, his skin sticking to the leather as he pulled himself out of his chair, walking to a table was several metal shards laid out in long pieces to shorter ones.
“Judging by these, it looks like an arm.” Thirteen said.
“I thought the same thing. There’s evidence to suggest your analysis might be correct.”
“Really? I was just guessing.”
“Good guess then. The underbelly of the fragments are not so damage, I see evidence of an assembly line having touched it. So this could be the skin of some kind of robot. Or some kind of vehicle. You’re guess is as good as mine.”
"Any idea if it's related to anything else that has come through?" Thirteen asked.
"We have no way to track that right now. The best we can do is confirm that it did, in fact, pass through a dead space field."
"Dead space field?"
"Theoretically, there's a layer that separates our world from another. Limbo, the void, stuff like that. That is the background radiation we're using to find these things. To find out where it came from, we just don't have a way to find that out. Speaking of which we have another set of breaches while you were out." Simms said and returned to his computer terminal.
"A set? This is more this week than we have had in the last five months."
"Yeah, and this was a big one. There was a big signal and something rocketed past the Johnson building, then immediately after that four more smaller signs appeared, but they were not asteroids, they just materialized, like Thirteen did, into existence."
"Sounds like something major happened." Dee said as his eyes scanned the map of the locations of each occurrence, "We need to get to all the spots. No time for disguises. Activate the whole time. Time to hit the town."
The processes they used to revive me was called neo-birth, or neo-life. It was a commercially available substance, though highly expensive and required many consistent treatments for its effects to be potent. Basically it renews the cells in your body to a more youthful state. If you took enough, you could gain back years of your life. I took thirteen of them to get me back to my forties. That was well enough for me, anymore, Robert said, might have killed me.
Sure, there was a time of adjustment. I was ready to die that day when those hit men came after me. But now, not by my own choice, I was given a second chance at life. I denied my saviors for a few weeks, Dee did his best to relate to my situation – this wasn’t home. I was a free radical in a foreign system.
But there was no way to get back. Not that I wanted too, there was nothing left. But if lives were in danger, then I couldn’t sit by and watch it get worse. The 13 Collective gave me purpose again.
After I decided to join them, I told them about what the uniform was for. My past, and now what was to be my future. The man I was before died in that apartment. Now I was just.... Thirteen.
Four months later, after I completed the treatments and retrained my body, and learned some new skills, they felt comfortable enough for me to join the 13 Collective. It was started by D-13, Robert Simms, and a few others. They gave me a uniform of light knife and handgun resistant mesh, a state of the art tablet computer, and a lethal and non-lethal weapon, though I was used to going off the cuff in the field, relying on that twisted luck I have to get me through. But this was a new me, and I had to start doing things differently.
Thirteen made his way along a rooftop, his cloak flapping behind him as he moved stealthily throughout the interwoven planks that were laid above the alleys of a tent city. There had been a lot of strife occurring overnight. Sudden subtle shifts drove people mad in the blink of an eye. Sundays felt like Tuesdays, and Wednesday like Fridays. Things changed when this occurred. Some were minor, but they were becoming more catastrophic. This event, with five isolated occurrences at once, was the worst it had been thus far.
He came up to a rounded staircase of planks that led up to another story, but as he got up to the fourth plank he couldn’t tell it was barely hanging on, and it broke under his feet. His belly struck the fifth blank then he bounced off of that and fell into the alley into a pile of twisted steel left for recycling. The knarred barbs and thorns of razor sharp steel were haphazardly laid out. But even in the middle of that eyesore, Thirteen landed right in the soft spot, where all the steel criss crossed each other to form a barrier that kept him from injury. But his cloak was not so fortunate. Slowly he pulled himself out of the pile and unlatched his cloak from his body, giving the steel monstrosity its prize.
Exposed now, his armor tight to his thing body, the bold '13' proudly displayed on his chest. Thirteen stretched and flexed his body contained by flexible armor with faint overlapping ovals in its fabric, checked his web belt for his immediate rations and self defense weapons, making sure all was well before tapping the button on the side of his mask. "Jamal, you there?"
"Copy. What's your status?"
Thirteen slipped out the handheld table from his belt, tapped a few buttons, and brought up a map with a location marked on it. "The GPS says I'm getting close, but I fell into an alley, and there's no easy way back up to make a clear path. I'm going to take the scenic route."
"Just be careful. We had two teams reach their items already, and they have reported strange fluctuations in the area, causing some restlessness among the locals of the area. One guy even attacked Dee."
"Is he alright?"
"Yeah. Dee broke their nose, but they'll live." He said as the power in the alley went out, putting Thirteen in darkness, his only immediate light was the tablet and leftover light that came from the city.
"What?" Jamal asked.
"Power's out. The only light is from the sky pollution from the inner city. I don’t want to waste the tablet’s power to light my way. I think the night vision in this mask should work okay."
"Better get a move on then. Don’t make me come pull your ass out of a jam."
"Wish me luck." Thirteen said as he started off at a jog, sidestepping boxes and other garbage. There was no effective way to get back onto the rooftops, anything he could stand on would not hold his weight, that, and he could hear footsteps behind him.
He continued down the next alley, as he sped up, the footsteps behind him were getting lazier, making more noise so he could heard him.
The follower's shoes weren't tied and made his trailing efforts vain, even when he kept to the shadows, he had labored breathing, trying to follow Thirteen with his expensive tablet over a
Around the next corner, the stalker lost Thirteen. There was no light. No footsteps. Maybe he sprinted, he thought, and started to make a large burst of speed toward the end of the alley.
As he came toward the end, Thirteen swung out and struck his stalker with a cardboard box. They went down, but got back up and charged Thirteen, tackling him into the wall. The stalker waited on Thirteen’s side, but did little injury.
Thirteen knees his attacker in the face twice, forcing them back. The hero paced himself, waiting for the alley kid to strike again.
The stalker threw two wild punches which Thirteen avoided easily, then he grabbed the man’s head with both hands and bashed it once into the wall on the opposite side of the alley. They fell to the ground, and didn’t get up.
Thirteen knelt to them to feel the artery on their neck, it still pulsed. He was alive, likely unconscious.
"Thirteen! Where are you?" Jamal called over the headset.
"Guy was following me. Took him out.” Thirteen took out his tablet again to look at the map. “I'm almost there."
"Well hurry up. Sitting outside this place alone give me the creeps.”
“I thought you’re a former military man?”
“Former military or not, doesn’t make this any less real that something could happen. I hate being around these things, nothing seems to go right.”
“Keep your shirt on.” Thirteen said as he got to higher ground and arrived to a baseball field, with other minor tents, and in the corner toward one of the dugouts, now half eaten, was the butt of a turbine engine.
“Holy cow. Jamal, we have locals surrounding the spot. I’m looking at the dugout where this thing is, the whole area is eaten away, maybe by the radiation of when this thing came in.”
“I thought it didn’t crash.”
“That’s what I was told.” Thirteen said.
Thirteen sat on the roof of the house, pulling out a scope to check out the locals. They kept their distance from the engine in black steel. One man touched a panel and removed his hand quickly, yelping in pain.
Then without warning arms sprouted from the side of the "engine". Shards knocked into people nearby and knocked them over as the turbines came together to form a drill head. Everyone ran as the drill began to spin and the arms angles the engine toward the ground. It struck the ground, and slowly the engine buried itself into the ground, tit’s violent shaking broke off its back end, it slammed back to the ground as the engine submerged itself into the earth’s skin.
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