Guardians of Atlantis

The Crime Fighters in:

The Valiant Taste of Death But Once


Chapter 1

Looks Like We Got Trouble

Scott sat on the steps in the sunlight, testing the air with his nose. Everything seemed so different, now. It wasn't physically all that different, not the sound and the smell of the yard, although the sight of it was certainly new. After he realized that his friends were talking about colors that he could not see, Scott had made it so he could now see as they could. It was marvelous, the way the world was so bright and clear, the grass and the trees an intense green, contrasting against the white of his own house, and the yellow of the house next door.

It wasn't really the sight that was so exciting, however, but the understanding. There was so much going on that he had never comprehended before. The sound of cars driving up and down the roads meant that human beings were going to jobs or other places. The smell of fresh baked bread, a scent that had drawn him to similar shops without understanding what they were for, meant that a human was making foods to sell to other humans. Even the buzz of a lawnmower in a yard nearby meant more to him now, as he understood that it was a machine humans used to keep their grass so short and tidy.

He had never understood these things when he was a dog. Scott didn't consider himself a dog any more, although he wasn't sure what he was. He had been given incredible power by those things that they had found inside Akhenaton’s pyramid. As had Richard and Robert. But Scott had been given more than just power. He had been given a gift that even now, he couldn't completely understand. All he knew was that there was now a whole new world open to him, a world of words, and ideas.

Next door a small dog ran out into the yard, and again Scott was reminded of what he had once been. Everything had seemed so simple, then. The dog ran over to the fence, and began barking, obviously defending his territory. He barked at Scott for a few moments, then ran over to the other side of his yard, and barked in the other direction. Some distance away, another dog answered him. He continued to bark, announcing the boundaries of his world as he understood it.

It really seemed simple. Your territory was as far as you could go without running into another dog. But now Scott understood that the humans marked their territory in a totally different way. They didn't even care about dogs' territories. The metal fences, that to dogs just meant a frustrating obstacle, were their way of announcing their boundaries. Other boundaries, like the street, were not marked, but were understood by humans as being a place that was shared, for the use of their cars. So this dog, trapped as he was inside his master's fence, didn't even understand that his own concept of territory was meaningless.

Scott smiled. That was another thing that was new to him, a thing he had learned from his human master. There was something about it, he hadn't quite gotten the hang of it, and Richard seemed a bit amused sometimes at his attempts at it. But somehow it was something that was innate to him, and his new understanding. Some things just seemed. . . well, funny, the human word was the only name he knew to put to it. He had certainly never felt it before. But now he felt it a lot.

He smiled even wider as a thought crossed his mind. Lifting his head, he studied the neighbor's dog a little more closely. It was still barking at the noises on the other side of the fence, apparently disinterested in Scott. Probably because he assumed that their boundary had been settled. Leaning his head back a little further, he let his power shift his vocal chords slightly. It was actually easy for him to choose a form that gave him a more female voice, as his small size made it more natural. His child-like voice had made him feel different from his adult friends, however, and so he had over time altered his throat to make it deeper.

It took a little more concentration, however, to mimic a particular voice. He'd heard the neighbor's voice enough times to think he could get close, though. He whispered a few words to test it out, then took a breath and said, more loudly. "Yipper! Suppertime!"

The little dog turned, his ears perking at the sound of -- he thought -- his master. Running to the back door in a frenzy, he began to scratch at it, barking frantically. He kept up the commotion for several minutes, until finally the door opened, and his owner let him in. The woman could be heard talking to him as the little dog charged inside. "What is wrong with you? I only just let you out!"

Now that was funny. Quite pleased with himself, Scott laid his head down on his paws.

"Scott!!!" Richard had appeared at the door. He glared down at Scott, obviously quite upset. "Get in here!"

Scott followed him inside. "What the heck were you thinking?! You want to give away our identity? You have to be more careful!"

"There was no one around to hear me. Even the woman was inside the house, she couldn't have heard. . ."

"But what if she did? You can't be sure, Scott. If even one person finds out about us, it could be a disaster! Who knows what they would do to us. They might cut us open, see if they can find out what makes us tick. . ."

Scott looked at the floor. "I'm sorry, master. I didn't think."

Richard's expression changed almost instantly. "I do wish you wouldn't call me that, Scott. I don't want you to obey me because I 'own' you. I want you to obey me because you want to do the right thing."

"But you are the leader, yes? We do what you want us to do."

"Well, sort of, if you want to look at it that way." He patted Scott's head. "But really, I don't like that either. I prefer to think of us as equals. A team, with each of us playing our part."

"Okay." Scott didn't understand, but he didn't feel like arguing about it. It was probably just something he didn't understand yet about humans, something he needed to give himself time to learn. There had been a lot of that, and he was picking it up, slowly. He had already learned to talk much better.

"So what are the results?" Richard said, walking over to Robert.

Robert was studying a card, which had fingerprints on it, and comparing it to a second set. "There's no mistaking it. Blue Diamond's fingerprints are totally different from mine. Even if you count the different size and shape of his fingers, which are a little more muscular than mine, the prints are totally different."

"So you don't just look different, when you transform to Blue Diamond, you really are different. Right down to the fingerprints. I guess we expected that, you don't wear gloves."

Richard looked at his own hand. "The big test will be whether Jade Dragon's fingerprints are different. He does wear gloves."

Robert held up another card. "Well, no time like the present."

He stepped back as Richard clenched his fists, concentrating as he willed his powers to activate. For a moment, nothing happened, and then a cloud of green mist erupted around his body. It swirled around him, partially concealing him, and then his clothes began to change color, as if the whirling mists were painting them. His shirt, normally a pattern of brown and white, turned a single shade of bright green, while his jeans turned a darker green. A mask appeared over his eyes and covering his head, and then a cloak formed from the mist, and wrapped around his body. Points seemed to grow from the collar of the cloak, and extended up over the top of his head, like horns.

With the transformation concluded, Jade Dragon looked down at himself. "That sure looks cool," Robert commented. "And at least we don't wear monkey suits like the geeks in the comic books."

"True, although the cape makes me look kind of stupid. I wonder if I can take it off. . ."

He did, and held it draped over his hand, as he studied it a moment. Then he threw it over his shoulder. "Hold on a minute, let me try something."

Again, he closed his eyes, concentrating, and the cape and mask evaporated, as if made of nothing but mist themselves. The green cloud around his body also dissipated, leaving Richard once again standing where Jade Dragon had been. Then he walked over to the couch, and picked up Robert's blue jean jacket.

"Let's try this again, but see if we can make the cloak transform from something. . ." Again, the mists erupted around his body, but this time the jacket turned black, and then grew downward to lengthen into a trench coat. The collar again sprouted up above his head, and turned into horns. Richard's shirt and pants returned to their shades of green, and he was once again Jade Dragon.

"Nice!" He said, as he studied the trench coat. "In fact, I may be able to make the cloak take on this form, even if I'm not wearing a coat. I'll have to try that out."

"Well, let's get the fingerprints, J.D.," Robert said, with just a bit of sarcastic emphasis on his friend's assumed name. "We can talk about fashion later."

Jade Dragon laughed, pulling off his glove as he approached. It was black, as were his boots and, as mentioned, the mask and cape. There were even spikes sticking off of it as some sort of decoration. Jade Dragon set the glove aside, as he took the inkpad Robert offered him, and put his own fingerprints on the card.

He started to put the glove back on, but then stopped. "Hold on a second, I just thought of something else." He put the glove back down on the table, then took off the trench coat, and set it down on the couch. He then stepped away from both of them.

As Jade Dragon returned to his normal form, the glove remained on the table. He walked over and picked up the trench coat, which had also remained transformed. "Well, I would call that a success. We now know that any articles of clothing we happen to leave behind won't be able to identify us."

"But what about my jacket, man?"

"Stay calm, I can probably turn it back by transforming again. But I think I can probably do this. . ."

As Richard held the coat, concentrating, it suddenly transformed back into Robert's jacket, returning to its original length, and faded blue color. Robert ran over and grabbed it from him.

"Geez. Ask before you decide to experiment with my stuff, will ya?"

"I was sure it would change back. Or mostly sure." Richard grinned. "But what do you think will happen if you wear it? You don't normally have a cape, but if you wear something that could be one. . ."

Robert started down at his jacket, thinking about it, while Richard walked over the table. He picked up the glove, and caused it to evaporate into nothingness, the same way he'd restored the jacket.

"Heh. We should start a magic show, man."

Richard laughed again. "Okay, what about the fingerprints?"

Robert studied them closely, along with another card of Richard's prints. "No match. They're quite a bit closer than mine were, in fact if anyone suspected you were the same, they might be able to see the similarities. But it's not enough to hold up in court."

"So our identities are protected when we take on our other forms. Even more than just costumes and masks. We actually become different people."

Robert looked up. "That doesn't sound too good. . ."

"Maybe not, but it does mean that we don't have to worry about giving out identities away. Which means the biggest threat is one of us saying who we are. We will have to be really careful to use our assumed names when we're in those forms. Every time. We may have to start thinking of ourselves as different people. . ."

"That doesn't sound too good, either. . ."

Richard was about to say something, when Scott suddenly began choking. He was standing over his food bowl, and making a hacking noise. Richard ran over to him, and as soon as he realized he was choking, grabbed the collie around the middle and squeezed. Scott coughed up a piece of food, which fell into his bowl.

"Wha. . . what was that?" Scott gasped, his eyes watering.

"You choked. You can't eat that fast any more, you'll get food caught in your windpipe. I've been trying to tell you. . ."

Scott coughed again, to clear his throat. "I didn't. . . I didn't know. I. . . I just eat fast. I wasn't thinking."

"Well, your instincts tell you to eat fast. You're a dog, so it's just the way you are. . . or were. You're going to have to control that, though. Force yourself to eat slow."

"You have a human's voice box now. Which means, you can choke. You could even die."

Scott's eyes widened. "Die?"

Richard nodded. "Just keep in mind, you have to eat slowly. You're able to think for yourself now. You can overcome your instincts."

"Um. . . guys?"

Robert was watching the TV. As Richard looked up at him, he gestured at it.

There was a man on the screen, a man in a black outfit, with silver lightning-shaped trim on the arms and legs. His entire body was enveloped in a crackling field of electricity. And he was hovering over an overpass in downtown Houston.

"This mysterious figure just appeared a few hours ago, bystanders say," a reporter was saying. The scene panned back to show her, as Silver Bolt hovered far above. "No one knows what he wants here, or what incredible power allows him to hang in the air like that. Some have said that it is a promotional stunt, while others think that a costumed vigilante, like the ones famous for patrolling New York and L.A., has come to Houston."

"All we really know is that this strange man is apparently searching for someone. All he will say is, 'I am looking for the Crime Fighters.'"

Robert scowled. "Looks like we got trouble."

[Index] Copyright 2005, Richard Ryley [Main]