Despite the efforts of the aging window mounted fans, and the constant influx of New Silver City's dingy air that wafted through the other windows, nothing seemed to clear or cover the stench of hot solder and burnt plastic that permeated Max's cluttered workshop. Satisfied with his current wiring scheme, Max flipped a switch to open up the sky lights and turned the fan around to blow the air in and up this time.
With this accomplished, he studied the massive room a moment, faintly recalling its history. At one time, it was cleared out of rooms and obstructions to be converted into a sort of rooftop ballroom. Sadly, the dream died with Max's uncle and foster father, Jason Kendall. Since then, it had previously been used for storage by his aunt for bits of odds and ends, and as a playroom for him when he was little. Now it was his workshop, and place of refuge from the world below.
He smiled and moved his current project under one of the open skylights before plugging it into the power strip and walking back to his Plexiglas barrier with the large switch he had behind it.
“Here goes nothing... but hopefully something!” he chuckled to himself while he donned his welding mask and readied his fire extinguisher. There was an audible POP! When the switch was thrown into the “On” position.. and the tiny set of coils and open wire hummed to life.
He waited expectantly as the voltage climbed upwards... finally, his patience was rewarded with a brief pop of electricity between the coils, followed by another, and another, until a softly glowing sphere formed and hovered inside the rings. Max was just about to jump for joy and out from behind the shield when the orb suddenly exploded, and showered the room with sparks and caused some of the wires to catch on fire.
Saddened, he flipped the switch back to “off” and rushed to put out the fires. “Ah well... That's still better than nothing at all!” He smiled a bit, waving he fumes away as he looked over his charred work, and only found minor solace in that his magnetic bottle almost held the energy for long enough to be considered stable. He sighed, unplugged the device, and started downstairs, headed to his room to clear his head and revise his plans.
Unfortunately, there was something that was waiting on him, or someone rather.
“Mr. Kendall.” The short, rotund man stated angrily, “I am tired with this half ass lazy attitude of yours!”
Max arched a brow, having idly wondered if the man before him had done a lick of “real” work in his life. “Err.. what seems to be the problem Mr. Gallows?”
Mr. Gallows face was red, with what Max presumed was anger, as he nearly shouted, “That damned light in my hallway is burned out again! Now all it does if half light up and buzz all night long! If you'd do your damn job instead of merely swapping the lights around, like I know you do, it wouldn't have gone bad!”
Max had to suppress the grin that threatened to form on his face, Gallows' obvious ignorance, combined with his short, round stature was sort of comical. Granted, he was no tower himself, barely reaching five foot five and being an effeminate looking, skinny white boy to boot. Still, he didn't like being yelled at, particularly for something he didn't do, nor had any control over.
“Mr. Gallows, I'll be glad to fix the burned out light in my hallway just as soon as I return from the hardware store.” He purposely let that little emphasis sit a moment before he continued. “Thank you for bringing it to my attention, and I would like to remind you that rent is still due this week as I need to pay the plumbing bill you charged to me when you clogged your toilet up by accidentally flushing down... now what was it? Ah.. your hair.” Max finally smirked, served that fat lout right, he thought.
The man stammered, “H-how'd you find out about that!?” his face went from red to a pale pinkish hue faster than one could blink.
“Well for one, it wasn't my in-house plumber that everyone in the building was instructed to call first, the man who gives us remarkably good service for a very low rate, plus room and board. Second, the guy you called left me a detailed invoice of the problem and how much it cost. Unfortunately for you, he wrote “Toupee stuck in toilet.” Now, if you didn't want the news spreading around... Hank would of taken care of it and probably wouldn't have said two words beyond “Hair clog.” and that would have been the end of it.” Max smirked again, his arms crossed triumphantly.
“You.. You!” he gaped and turned crimson once more, mentally scrambling for something to fire back with “I helped you pay that damned inheritance tax when Lynn left you the building!” he yelped.
“Ah no you didn't. I distinctly recall you trying to convince me to give the complex to you instead, for less than what the building was worth. Now if you excuse me, I need to go buy a new lighting kit because clearly there must be something wrong with the fixture if the new bulbs I put in there last week burned out already.” Max turned, feeling mostly triumphant in his defeat of the dread balding man, having left him speechless as he took the elevator down. If it weren't for the lingering feeling that there was more to this than Mr. Gallows let on, it would of been an otherwise perfect victory.
The trip through the lobby and to Max's truck was sadly uneventful. Even his best friend and resident expert in all things green and leafy, Samuel, was no where to be seen this morning. Max had known Sam from when they were both in preschool, before he had changed from a gangly kid no bigger than he himself was, to a nearly seven foot tall scaled “reptilian” meta-human who's hobbies included bouncing bullies, planting trees, and generally being a silly goofball kid, even as an adult. That said, Sam was also Max's voice of reason when it came to his oddball projects, doing his best to try and dissuade him from doing anything too dangerous.
It didn't take long for him to get the hardware store, and within minutes he had already stashed a florescent light fixture kit in his cart, along with a brand new box of tubes. Max then circled around the hardware store, picking up a few odds and ends before he proceeded through the self checkout after seeing little else of particular interest or use.
His mind was elsewhere as he started to cross the parking lot.. and was little more than halfway to his truck when he was suddenly thrown to the ground. Stunned and confused, it took a moment to register that the ringing in his ears was from an explosion that flipped a nearby car onto it's roof.. and that he was hearing the sound of gunfire all around him.
As soon as he could gather his wits, he crawled to the nearest source of cover, the overturned car, and pressed himself against it, only occasionally risking a glance around to see if he needed to move. From what he could tell and remember from local police reports, there were two distinct gangs fighting here. The ones with the automatic weapons, were some sort of anti mutant group, whom he could never pronounce the name of right, that favored high tech exo-skeletons, rocket packs, and lots of hot lead. The others were “The Grundge” a group of violent, deformed, and dangerous meta-humans who had enough bones to pick with normal humans as it is.
So there he was, trapped dead center in what appeared to be the next world war, and it didn't seem like it would ever end. He thought he had heard sirens approaching, but in the event of supers fighting, he knew all they do is manage crowd control and wait for one group or the other to give up the ghost. Or hope someone stops them both before it gets further out of hand. So that wasn't much of a sign.
Then the earth shook. Twice. At first, he thought another explosion had gone off nearby, but as he twisted around to peek through the window of the overturned car he saw the truth. A hero had arrived, thank the gods! Though it was difficult to see the hero in detail, he managed to figure out enough about him that it could only be one hero, Wolfguard.
Wolfguard wasted no time disrupting the ranks of both sides. From what little Max knew of his powers, he knew that he claimed to be empowered by the spirits of the elements and his totem, Red Wolf. The hero was whats known as a Brick. Big, tough, and had strength in spades. To make matters worse, for the gangsters at least, his elemental powers meant he didn't have to touch them to hurt them.
Somewhat enthralled by the fight, Max almost didn't notice that one of the gangsters had been sent sailing in his direction, parts of the exo-skeleton peeling off midair from the strike. Max screamed when he noticed, dropping flat down to the ground as the punk hit the car and rebounded off, showering him with pieces of broken armor and bits of glass. “How very manly of you, Max...” he muttered at himself as his racing heart slowly stopped trying burst through his chest.
Seemingly alerted by the sudden scream of panic, Wolfguard turned toward Max, and struck his massive fist into the ground. The ground rippled and buckled and Max suddenly found himself surrounded by a wall of stone, as if the earth itself burst upward in a near perfect ring around him and the car. The ring both shielded him from the battle and, unfortunately, kept him from being able to easily escape.
Within the stone shield, time seemed to crawl as the battle raged around him, with no sign of abating any time soon. Only the occasional impact of gun fire or.. something he couldn't quiet identify striking the stone served to remind him that he was dead in the middle of an active battle.
He felt it before he heard it, a strange pickling sensation swept over his body, followed by a loud popping and snapping. He twisted around.. looking up vainly to try and guess what it was, only catching bright flashes in the air and muddled shouting. Then suddenly, a bright flash erupted just above the wall opposite of the car, and the stone began to crack and smoke.
Max no longer felt safe from the raucous battle outside. “That's... my cue to try and get the hell out of here I think..” he muttered as he started to climb over the upturned car and reach for the top of the stone ring.
Risking a quick peek right after a bright flash.. he noticed that most of the combatants had fled or were unable to fight. All that was left was Wolfguard himself and one remaining thug in power armor with some sort of lightning gun. Each circled the other and traded several blasts.
“Guess now is as good as ever..” Max mumbled to himself as he forced himself over the edge to try and hit the ground with a wince, praying that the gangster failed to notice him before he could take off to safety.
He quietly counted to three before launching into an all out sprint between the wrecked cars and pavement, aiming for the ditch at the end of the lot when the prickling feeling swept through him again. Time seemed to slow down as he turned to see what he hoped wouldn't happen, the man with the lightning gun was aiming in his direction. Max has been shocked many times over his life by his various projects, but the blast didn't feel anything like he ever felt before.
He felt like his body was being crushed in some areas, while others seemed to strain as if he was going to explode. Then came the strangest feeling of all, like all that power was moving somewhere within, only to be pushed back by something else entirely. That new feeling seemed to build and build until something gave, and Max found himself pushing the power back out until it was gone.
It was several moments before he realized that he had fallen at some point, and someone was touching him, though he couldn't see who at first. As his vision and hearing slowly came back he tried to sit up, only to be held down by an EMT while a stretcher was being brought over. The woman said something he couldn't quiet make out, but when he tried to say something to get her to say again, his voice came out as a rasping squeak.
Max struggled to adjust his position again when the woman repeated herself, this time Max could actually make out the words. “Please, try to stay still. There was an explosion and you could be hurt worse than you realize.”
He gave out what he hoped was an exasperated sounding sigh and forced himself to stay still as they loaded him up into the ambulance and strapped him in for the ride.
As he rode to the hospital, he glanced at the young woman who had checked him out on the ground and tried to force a smile. “.. so.. did someone get the number of the truck...” he winced as his throat rasped mid sentence, “ ...that hit me?”
She looked at Max and smiled back lightly, “To be able to crack a joke.. after surviving a close encounter with a Mad-tech weapon that just vaporized its user.. either means you're incredibly tough, lucky, or both. Either way.. you should keep quiet and focus on resting until the doctors clear you.”
She placed a finger just over his lips, to keep him from responding. “That means no talking unless its necessary. We can't chance anything when Mad Science is involved, got it?” He sighed and nodded, resolving to try and get some rest until they reached the hospital.