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TCE SHORTS

PLATINUM CITY CHRONICLES

Black Jag # 1

Black Jag and the Raging Infernos

1st Chronicle

Written by Steffon Thomas

Illustration by Archsider Artist

            The projects were on fire. Six of the of ten 19-story high-rises in the 47th district of Platinum City blazed under the night sky. Someone had parked a tanker truck on Bellamy Avenue sometime earlier in the day.

            The BOOM came around midnight.

            The highly flammable chemicals inside the tanker dispersed like liquid shrapnel, which subsequently sparked the outbreak of flame and horror. There really was no reason for a truck like that to be parked in the projects, but that was the least of concerns at the moment, as there were still hundreds of people who needed to be evacuated from their apartments.

            The buildings were shabby, filled with low rent dwellings, but like every one of the hundreds of thousands of high-rises in Platinum City, the stairwells were equipped with a specialized, nearly indestructible heat-resistant alloy. In other words, even if the buildings went up in flames or collapsed, the stairwells would still remain standing.

            Everyone knew the drill. And while most of the residents hustled to the nearest exit, there were several that couldn’t. On the 8th floor of building B, 74-year old Carl Williams was trapped in his bedroom. In building C, Wilhelmina Jenkins was having a hard time wrangling her 4 small children. In building F, the closest building to the explosion, corner store cashier Frankie Partlow was sleeping when chemical debris came flying through his window sparking a fire. He’d leapt up from his bed, but in his confusion, he tripped, hit his head on the dresser, and was rendered unconscious.

            People came pouring out of the exits of the infernos, half-dressed, discombobulated, and in disbelief that their lives were being turned upside down right before their eyes. Above, screams for help could be heard through the fires. In the distance, sirens blared.

            Rashawn Parker, a respected and well-known community activist, came running over from his building, which had been spared, and tried to regain a sense of order. He’d brought the trusty megaphone he’d used at many community events and protests.

            “Everyone get back from the fires! Get across the bridge to building J,” he said in a calm yet amplified tone. Many of the people who had been gawking didn’t realize how close they were to danger.

            Rashawn saw a group of young men who had been hanging out on a set of benches that night. They’d been playing dice, doing push-ups, and spitting rhymes when the explosion happened. He ran over to them.

            “Guys! I need your help…”

            Trey, Mooch, Carter, and the others immediately leaned it. “What can we do, Park?” Trey said pocketing the dice.

            “I need you to get these people a safe distance from the fires. We won’t have any barriers until the emergency vehicles get here…”

            “That’s if they ever get here,” Carter said rolling his eyes.

            “Yeah, the only time they come around is when they tryin’a run us off our own stoops,” Mooch said with disdain.

            “We can’t worry about that right now,” Rashawn said, bringing the group back to focus. “Everyone is scared and confused. Get them across the bridge before these buildings come crashing down on their heads”

            “Aight, cuzzo. We gotchu,” Mooch said, as he and the others hustled off to commence crowd control duties.

            “Mr. Parker! Mr. Parker!”

            Rashawn turned to see twelve-year-old Portia Thompson running toward him. “Portia, you need to get across the bridge!”

            “I know Mr. Parker! But my Mama is still upstairs!”

            “What?”

            “She was in the kitchen when the boom happened, and now she’s stuck! She told me and my sisters to run to safety,” she said in a panic. “Is my mama gonna die, Mr. Parker?”

            Rashawn’s heart skipped a beat as he realized how many other people must be in similar situations. Several other residents had also come over to him. Chatter about trapped loved ones filled the air around him. Rashawn was suffocating from the gravity of the situation, but he knew at that moment, they were all counting on him. He quickly took a couple of deep breaths.

            “Everyone, please try to remain calm. Just get across the bridge… help is on the way…”

            “Wait!” Lydia Rogers screamed out as she pointed to the rooftop of the Community Building. “Help is already here!”

            A cheer rose from the crowd because BLACK JAG had arrived! He was clad in his customary super suit: golden tactical gear, accented with grayish claw markings, and a high-tech mask equipped with numerous capabilities. He looked to Rashawn and gave him a reassuring nod, then he leapt into action, launching himself up to a 7th floor fire escape on the nearest inferno. He then catapulted himself to a neighboring building that was not on fire, latched on to a 14th floor fire escape and scaled the building until he was on its roof.

            He turned on his eye-scanners and began to collect information. First, he ascertained the structural integrity of the on-fire buildings, which were all between 60 and 70 percent, but dropping rapidly. He then scanned for the locations of the trapped people. He would have to move fast.

            He took a few steps, then ran and leapt nearly 20 yards to the roof of Carl’s building. He looked down through the floor and scanned the entire structure. Along with Carl, there were two others who would need his help. Jag went to the edge of the roof, then turned around and performed a perfect backflip that gave him just enough momentum to CRASH through the window of the old man’s apartment. Obviously, he stuck the landing.

            The frightened gentlemen looked up through the smoke. “Black Jag? Is that you?”

            “Yes, Sir. I’m here to get you to safety,” the hero said, as he helped the man to his feet and guided him to the door, which had been dislodged from the force of the explosion and jammed awkwardly on its hinges. Without a thought, Jag brandished one of his energy sticks and clicked it on. An energy shield formed around the stick. Jag put his shoulder behind it and RAMMED through the door, creating safe passage for Mr. Williams into the building hallway and eventually into the stairwell, where another resident took the elder and guided him down.

            Jag scanned the building and quickly moved to the 4th floor where Portia’s mama was trapped. He busted through her door and found her stuck on the far side of her kitchen. Her old stove had caught fire and was blocking her path.

            “Black Jag! Help me! Please!” she screamed out.

            The hero maneuvered through the smoke and flame and took her hand. “I got you,” he said with reassurance. Suddenly there was a SPARK, which ignited the gas leaking from the appliance and caused another EXPLOSION! Jag triggered his shield and expanded it just in time to block himself and Portia’s mom from being engulfed.

            Once the initial blast subsided, he pushed through the flames and got the woman to the safety of the stairwell.

            “Thank you, Black Jag! You saved my life!”

            He nodded, then turned and scanned the structure one last time; empty. It was time to move on to the next building. He ran back through the woman’s apartment and leapt through the window to the neighboring building where he CRASHED through the 4th-floor window of Reggie Johnson Jr. The hero lifted a bookcase from Reg’s legs and sent him on his way.

            Jag then made his way up to the 6th floor, where he roused Frankie Partlow; then the 15th floor where he freed a family of four from their apartment, before swinging up to the 19th floor and helping another woman to the safety of the stairwells.

            With that building empty, he leapt to the next inferno. As he landed on the roof of building C, he felt a RUMBLE.

            “Oh, no,” he said to himself as he looked down and initiated a scan. The readout on his screen showed the building’s structural integrity was down to 25 percent. Fortunately, there was only one apartment he needed to visit. He initiated his shield, then leapt up in the air and flipped into a position in which he was flying downward with his shield out front. This allowed him to SMASH through the floor of the roof, as well as the next 14 levels, straight down into Wilhelmina Jenkins’s fifth-floor apartment.

            “Look! It’s Black Jag!” the oldest of her four children exclaimed.

            “Oh, thank God!” the mother said with relief. “I just don’t have enough arms.”

            “Don’t worry,” Jag said, picking up a toddler and an infant. “You’re safe now. Let’s go.” Wilhelmina grabbed the hands of her two older children and headed for the front door. Jag followed. But just as the mother opened the door and went through into the hallway, the building QUAKED again, causing the doorway to collapse and trapping Jag with the two small children inside.

            “My babies! My babies!”

            “Get to the stairwell and get outside, now!” Black Jag commanded through the debris. “I’ll get your children to safety. I promise!” Ms. Jenkins quickly complied.

            Jag turned to see that the apartment was falling apart around him. He put the toddler down for a moment and brandished his energy stick. While still holding the infant, he reached down and affixed the stick to the heel of his left boot. He then scooped up the toddler and ran for the window.

            Once he was a couple of feet away from the window, he leapt into a double-front kick motion, clicked his heels together activating the shield, and BUSTED through into the night sky, one kid under each arm! His momentum brought his feet downward, which turned the shield into a hoverboard of sorts that Jag could control like a flying skateboard. He rode the shield down to the ground where several people, including Rashawn Parker, ran over to help reunite the children with Wilhelmina, who had just made her way out the building.

            Jag turned to Rashawn. “Keep directing everyone across the bridge. There’re a couple more people trapped. I’ll take care of them.” He then turned to the crowd that had formed around him. “Citizens! Follow instructions and get to a safe distance. These buildings could collapse at any minute.”

            A moment later the first of the emergency units arrived and jumped into action. A police sergeant came running over as the people moved toward the bridge.

            “Thank you, Black Jag,” he said with genuine gratitude.

            “No, thank Mr. Parker here,” Jag redirected. “He’s the man of the people. I’m just backing his play.”

            Fire trucks pulled up and the fire chief hustled over. Black Jag immediately addressed him, “Sir, the structural integrity of the six burning buildings is compromised.”

            “Yes, we received the readings en route. The damage will be severe, but we can still salvage the structures,” he said referencing the tablet in his hands. “Every district grid in Platinum City has a secondary structural reinforcement module beneath it. Usually the module activates automatically and sends liquid concrete up through all the support beams of the buildings.”

            “Usually?” Rashawn questioned.

            “Yes. But for some reason, the module for these buildings isn’t engaging. It’s like something tripped the breaker.”

            “Where’s the main breaker box?” the hero asked.

            “Over there!” The chief pointed at the only burning building Black Jag had not swept yet. “It’s on the second sub level.

            Jag quickly scanned the structure. “I detect a couple trapped on the 8th floor; and a man on the sub-level near the breaker box.”

            “It’s probably the maintenance guy trying to fix the system,” the fire chief said. “But he’s going to need some help.”

            Black Jag turned to a trio of firefighters, Jane Carletta, Mikey Warble and Josh Lopez . “You three with me. I’ll get the people up top; you get that module working.”

            Jag took off running for the building. The firefighters hesitated at first, not knowing whether they should take orders from the vigilante hero. “Go with him for Christ sakes!” The chief yelled!

            They approached the building and Jag leapt up to a fourth-floor terrace, as the fire fighters bravely pushed through the smoke and flames and into the lobby. Jag scaled the building up to the 8th floor; Jane, Mikey and Josh found the stairwell and made their way downstairs.

            Jag busted through the window and found Charlotte and her boyfriend Lincoln trapped behind a series of exposed electrical wires. Joy and relief filled their eyes at the sight of the vigilante. “I’m here to help!” But as he reached for them, one of the wires whipped wildly and made contact with the hero’s wrist. “Ahhh!” he yelped, as a jolt of pain shot through his arm. He recoiled and surveyed the area. The wires were totally out of control and making it impossible to maneuver through the apartment without being shocked.

            “It looks like we’re gonna have to cut some wires,” the hero said, pulling out his other energy stick. With the flick of a switch the stick emitted an energy axe! He wielded the weapon with precision and sliced down several of the flailing wires with no problem at all. Within seconds, Charlotte and Lincoln were free to move through the apartment and out the front door.

            “Thank you, Black Jag.” Charlotte said, as the couple made their way into the stairwell.

            The hero re-engaged his mask scanner and looked down toward the sub-level to check on the progress of the firefighters. To his surprise the reading showed that the three emergency workers were laid out on the ground unconscious and the maintenance man was still tooling with the module.

            “What the…” he said before heading down the stairwell himself. He leapt down each landing and made it to the lobby in seconds. He then kicked the door open and made his way down to the second sub-level.

            He hurried down the corridor of the darkened area and turned the corner to find that the man messing with the module was not a maintenance worker at all. It was a shadowy figure in black and red gear and a red mask covering his entire head.

            “Hey! What are you doing?”

            “Ah, if it isn’t Black Jag,” the villain said, turning to face the hero.

            “Who are you?”

            “You can call me Redline,” he said, his voice dripping with malicious intent. “And to answer your first question, I’m not doing anything. It’s already been done. I’ve disabled the backup module. It’s only a matter of minutes before these buildings come crashing down.”

            “You’re behind the tanker truck, aren’t you?”

            “Precisely.”

            “But why? Why would you do this to these people? What have they ever done to you?”

            “Simple, they got in my way. And now…” the villain said, taking a defensive stance. “…you’re in my way.”

            Suddenly, Redline charged Black Jag and came at him with a combination of precise punches and elbows smashes. The hero parried and dodge the attacks, before countering with his own series of blows. He quickly found an opening and knocked the villain back with a punch to the face.

            Redline shook it off and went back in for another attack, this time adding a series of sweeping kicks. He clipped Jag’s leg and sent him crashing to the ground. The villain went for a stomp, but the hero brandished his energy shield and blocked the blow, staggering Redline.

            Jag got to his feet, pulled out his second stick and ignited his energy axe as well. Suddenly an EXPLOSION rocked the area.

            “Black Jag…” firefighter Josh said, groggily. “We’re running out of time. We’ve got to re-engage the system immediately or the buildings will fall.”

            “I’m on it—” he was cut off by the sight of two red whip-like wires emanating from Redline’s wrists.

            “Takes two to tangle, Black Jag. Wouldn’t you say?” And with that the villain lashed out at the hero with ferocity. Jag tried to dodge and leap out of the way of the red lines, but he wasn’t quite fast enough and caught a lashing to the back. He rolled to the ground and quickly recovered. Another whiplash came his way, he parried the attack and brought his energy axe down on the line. To his shock, the blade did not cut the line!

            Yet another whiplash came around, but Jag blocked it with his shield before backflipping out of reach of Redline. He quickly scanned the area and detected a steam pipe. He flung his axe at the pipe causing it to BUST open! Hot steam engulfed the villain, leaving an opening for Black Jag to charge in and land a series of chops and kicks. He ended the combo with an energy shield SMASH that sent Redline flying into the concrete. The villain hit the ground with a thud and didn’t move.

            Black Jag holstered his energy sticks and went over to the firefighters, who were all in various stages of consciousness. “Come on, guys. Let’s finish the job,” he said.

            Josh was the first to his feet. Jag helped Mikey and Jane up. They all approached the module. “Oh no…” Mikey said after a moment of checking the display screens. “He scrambled the mainframe! We have to reboot the entire system!”

            “How long will that take?” Jag asked.

            “More time than we have,” Jane responded.

            “What does that mean?”

            The firefighters all looked to Black Jag. The last thing they wanted to do was disappoint someone they all looked up to. But he could see it in their eyes – there was nothing more that could be done.

            “At least the people are safe,” Josh said. “And that’s all thanks to you, Black Jag.”

            “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

            “What about him?” Jane said pointing at— “Oh no, Redline is gone!”

            Suddenly there was another RUMBLE!

            “No time! We gotta move, now,” Black Jag commanded.

            The four of them hustled up the stairs and outside to where the emergency officials had successfully cleared the area.

            “Get back! Get back!” Black Jag yelled. Firefighters, officers and others ran for the bridge as all six of the burning buildings began to crumble and collapse. The ground RUMBLED with ferocity as smoke and flaming debris mixed with screams of horror and tears of pain filled the night sky.

            It had taken less than an hour for the homes of hundreds of citizens to be reduced practically to ashes.

            Black Jag stood in the midst of the carnage, as the dozens of emergency personnel moved in to continue doing their jobs. The sounds of people wailing and crying echoed in his mind.

            “You did everything in your power, Jag.” He turned to see Mikey and the other two firefighters standing behind him.

            “I know,” he said somberly. “But it wasn’t enough.”

            “It’s not your fault, brother,” said Josh. “It was the system. Those modules should not be so easily accessible.”

            “Yeah, right… the system,” he said, almost to himself, as he watched the massive piles of burning rubble.

            After another moment, the hero took a deep breath and regained his composure. He checked his gear and looked to the firefighters. “You guys have this under control?”

            “Yeah, we’ll take it from here,” said Jane. “Where are you going?”

            “To find the Redline.”

 

To be continued in Episode 2: ‘Black Jag and the Redline’

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