Thanks, DM! Post 'em up folks, you've got until I close the thread on the 16th, and once I close it, I'll post up a new thread with the voting poll. Like what I'm seeing, keep the good stuff coming!
He slunk out of his building, his head swinging back and forth as if trying to see everywhere at once, like a dog that was fearing the inevitable kick. After the news of last night, the entire city was holding its collective breath, and hardly a soul could be seen on the normally busy streets. He went anyway, fearing the possible life-ending danger, but when you are a reporter and you are offered the biggest scoop of your career, you suddenly become a lot more willing to take chances. Still, scoop or no, he clung to what little shadows the bright morning sunlight left him.
The diner was closed up, its blinds shut and sign swung to "Sorry! Come again soon!". Smoke escaped the small chimney over the kitchen area and fans could be heard from inside, and heartened by that, he crept across the street to knock on the door. After a few moments, the blinds on the door parted enough for some eyes to look out between them.
"Are you Bergstrom?" the eyes asked.
"Y-yes, I'm Peter Bergstrom, you called me..." said the nervous man in the street.
"Good, get in here. He's waiting." The blinds shut and the door swung open to the dim interior of the diner. The reporter walked in and the door was locked behind him. The owner of the eyes, the cook of the establishment, did not waste any time with greetings, just moved back to his grill that was filled with food.
Bergstrom wiped his forehead and looked around the dim interior of the diner. "Um, so what's this all about?" he asked the back of the white-aproned cook. There did not appear to be anyone else in the diner at all, just himself and the man at the grill.
"He wants to talk to you," he said, barely looking up from his grill, his spatula gesturing to the far end of the diner. "Trust me, you'll want to see him. He wants to see you, says he's got the story of the century." Still disbelieving him, Bergstrom walked deeper into the gloom of the diner to find this mystery man.
"Hello?" called Bergstrom into the empty diner. "Someone hiding back here?"
"You could say that," rumbled a voice, in a register deep beyond normal human capability. The reporter stopped and stared, his gloom adjusted eyes finally piercing to the back of the diner, where two legs the size of cows moved and shifted. "Come on back, Mr Bergstrom, I promised you the story of a lifetime and you'll get it." It was a man, lying on his side with most of his torso disappearing around the corner of the lunch counter, but no ordinary man, for this man was built to gigantic proportions.
"You... you're, uh, you're..."
"That's right, Mr Bergstrom, I'm Night Train." The man, if you could continue calling him that after the Change had gripped him, was enormous. Even lying on his side as he was, he overtopped the reporter with his shoulder. Peter Bergstrom knew the stats well - eight feet tall, weighing in at a couple of tons, and so heavily muscled that he could lift near 100 tons over his head. The scariest fact was that he was as fast as his nickname. The legs that were better measured for girth in feet rather than inches could propel the Changed man to incredible speeds. Everyone who lived in the city knew these things, because knowing about the Changed in the world meant you could protect yourself, or at least avoid becoming a casualty in one of their titanic battles.
Night Train himself lay before the stunned reporter, lying on his side in the aisle between the booths of the diner, daintily picking food off of a myriad of plates piled up on the table in front him. Peter Bergstrom, veteran reporter of 15 years, had covered nearly every phase of the Change, from the first contact of an alien intelligence to humanity, to the arrival of the Hive Mind, and its fight with humanity's savior, the Immortal King of Hylorn, Gren Harvoth. He had been in the presence of many Changed since, but never so close to someone with such a reputation, especially not after last night's announcement. He found himself staring in horror, knowing the Changed in front of him could run him down and crush him to a bloody pulp, and there was nothing he could do to stop him. Something shifted in his mind, and Peter Bergstrom suddenly knew that if he was going to die, he would at least get the story first. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his audio recorder.
"May I sit, Mr Night Train?" he asked.
"Please, Mr Night Train was my father, call me George," was the reply, said between gulps of food. A panic-ridden guffaw burst from the reporter's throat, and he stared anew at the monstrous man. Night Train's - could his name really be George? - head was the only part of him that was of normal proportions, but even it was grotesque, being half-buried in the flesh of gigantic shoulders, like a face being pressed halfway through a wall of flesh. "I hope you don't mind if I continue to eat, Mr Bergstrom - Peter? Okay then, Peter - as you can see, I have to eat a lot to keep up my strength. Please, if Joe brings out something you like, help yourself." He lifted a serving spoon, still tiny in his massive fingers, to his normal-sized lips and drank as best he could the soup inside. As if summoned, Joe the cook came around the corner and placed more large dishes on the table and swept away finished dishes back to the kitchen.
Peter sat, and gathered his thoughts as he fiddled with getting his audio recorder set up. "This is Peter Bergstrom in Phil's Diner, the 5th of July. With me is the Changed known as Night Train, who has asked me to call him George. You asked me for the interview to give me the story of a lifetime, sir, can I ask why me?"
"Yep, you can. I guess it's because you've written about us Changed folk for about as long as anybody else, and I've always liked your work."
"Thank you, George, I've tried my best. Now, is there something specific you wanted to talk about, or am I to ask you questions?"
"You know what I want to talk about, why don't you just ask me about it."
He fiddled with his recorder, but asked the question anyway, "Did you kill him? Last night, did you kill Wonder Lad?"
"Yeah, I did," rumbled Night Train. "Stupid name. Wonder Lad? He ain't been a lad in a decade, but still calling himself that." Night Train shook his head as much as his Changed flesh allowed. "Do you want to know why, or have you made up your mind already?"
"I assumed it was because you were a, well..."
"A supervillain?" he asked, his bicep-thick fingers marking quotes in the air. "What a stupid concept, just like these freaking names. I never picked 'Night Train', George Ferguson was always good enough for my mom, why couldn't it be good enough for the rest of the country?" He shoveled some more food in. "Sorry, 'm starvin'. Look, the Changed are the same as they were before the Change, they're not villains or heroes, they're just people, good, bad, or ugly." He wiped his face delicately with a tablecloth. "Do you want to hear the story, or not?"
Bergstrom drew in a deep breath and nodded. "Please, George, I want to hear your story."
"And after you hear it?"
"What?" the reporter asked, spreading his hands. "You think I'm going to bring you to justice all by my lonesome? I'm just hoping you let me live long enough afterwards so I can get the story to the paper."
"Alive? Mr Bergstrom, I asked you here so I could get my story told. If anybody kills you after it goes out, it won't be me. Will you hear my story?"
"Yes, Ni... uh, George, I will hear your story. Please," he motioned with his recorder. "From the beginning, please."
"Doesn't it always start there?" he smiled. "It started the night the Immortal King and the Hive Mind fought. You know, I think you know more about that time than I do, care to fill me in?"
"Um, okay. The Hive Mind was coming to Earth to consume humanity into their collective. Gren Harvoth, the Immortal King of Hylorn, had also discovered humanity way out here in the back of beyond. The King had not come to conquer, but to observe us, didn't even know the Hive had found us too. He was unprepared for the fight, but knew he had to do it, or lose another planet, another planet's worth of species, to the hunger of the Hive, so he fought. Without the Hylorn High Fleet, without even his personal battle craft, he still fought."
Night Train snorted, his giant lungs and chest making it a rumble of a train moving under heavy load. "He claims he's a king, that's for sure. If he is a king, they sure haven't looked for him since he's been stranded here after his fight with the Hive Mind." The reporter opened his mouth to protest, but one finger bigger than his head waved him to silence. "I'm sorry, go on."
"So, the King, uh, Gren claims to have been fighting the Hive Mind in space outside our atmosphere, and one of the Hive Mind's weapons misses the King's ship, hits our atmosphere, and causes the Change in random humans across the globe. Gren Harvoth defeats the Hive ship, but his own ship is so damaged that he crashes to Earth in Texas."
"The Change did come that night to humanity, that is true. I'm not going to argue who fought who or what, but that's when it started."
"Did you Change that night? We know it's a latent, uh, I guess you would call it an infection, and in some that it effects, it lays dormant for long periods of time. We've all got it, but only a few humans actually Change from its effects."
"No, Peter, I did not Change the night Gren Harvoth, self-proclaimed Immortal King of Hylorn, crash landed outside tiny little Tulia, Texas," replied NIght Train. "You ever been to Tulia?"
"Uh, yes, a couple of times to see the crash site. West Texas is..." Peter winds down as the enormous man waves him to silence again.
"Sorry, never been there myself, was just curious. Please, go on."
"Right, so, the Immortal King crashes to Earth, and humanity starts Changing around the world. That's, uh, that's pretty much it. Some of the Changed work to help their fellow man, and some well..." he trailed off, motioning awkwardly at Night Train, who snorted and kept eating for a moment while he gathered his thoughts.
"The world is not as black and white as you think it is, Mr Bergstrom, and none of the Changed are just "good guys" or "supervillains" like the comics used to portray," he rumbled. "There are Changed who are good and there are Changed that would kill their own grandmother just 'cause they can."
"The Red Revenger," said the reporter, "he's certifiable."
Night Train laughed, "God yes! That bastard... well, let's just say he's glad he was never in the Hole same time I was. And Ray Craven, I met that guy, hope they keep him in lockup forever."
"Yeah, Ray is a nutter, no doubt. That's his real name, isn't it? How did he never get a Changed moniker? He looks like a gargoyle from a Gothic church, but no one ever called him Talon Killer or the Winged Death or anything like that."
"Sadly, I think it was the Change that drove Ray mad," said George. "Not an excuse for what he done, by no means. Glad he's locked up."
"What about you?" said Peter, gathering his courage. "Any excuses for what you've done."
The enormous man stopped, a pitcher of ice water pinched daintily between two massive fingers on the way to his face. "What exactly do you think I've done, Mr Bergstrom?" The reporter stammered a bit. "Please, Peter, calm down. I'm not here to kill you, just tell my story."
"Okay. There was the Shamrock bus line incident that cost 15 people their lives. Then there was the 1st National Bank, with over 100 injured and 23 dead. Then there was that exhibition World Cup match at Snooker's Stadium." The reporter continued for a while, categorically stating every incident in public record. The big man sighed and continued to eat while the litany droned on. Eventually, the list ended and the reporter stared nervously at the Changed in front of him.
"I make no bones, Mr Bergstrom, I have done many horrible things over the years, and people have died and been injured because of what I done." The large man seemed to sink back into himself. "I ain't proud of any of it, except for what happened last night."
The reporter stared at Night Train in shock. Clint Barstock, known as Wonder Lad, had been one of the few Changed heroes that had shined almost from the beginning. And here was this horrible Changed, with a name and reputation that made grown adults shiver at the mere mention of it, claiming he was proud to have killed Wonder Lad! Bergstrom leaped to his feet and without any regard for his own safety, charged the giant before him. His balled fist lashed out at that normal-looking face surrounded by grotesque flesh, and connected with a crack.
They stared at each other for a long while, the reporter's eyes wild with fury and the Changed man's eyes filled with sorrow. Finally, Peter removed his fist from the cheek of Night Train and clutched it to himself.
"Joe? Bring an ice pack for Mr Bergstrom, would ya?" rumbled Night Train. "I think he broke his hand." Peter cradled his busted hand and thanked Joe for the bag of ice. "Why is it everyone goes for the face? It's as tough as the rest of me, but everyone swings for it straight off." Night Train sighed again while the reporter gathered himself. "Please don't do nothing like that again, Peter. You can't hurt me, you can only hurt yourself."
Bergstrom gritted his teeth. "You're proud of it? Proud to have killed one of the protectors of this city? What did you expect me to do?!"
He held up a giant hand to try and calm the agitated reporter. "This is why I asked for you, Peter, to listen to my story." He paused to look at the food before him. "I promise, Pete, it's worth it. And afterwards, well, after we can talk about where to go from here." The reporter nodded, and sat back down, breathing heavily.
"The Change came, and we didn't really notice anything different, the wife and I," said Night Train. "I had a car repair shop not far from here that we lived over, were doing pretty good for ourselves. Had a one year old, cutest little girl, just starting to walk. None of us showed any signs of Changing. And then it happened." The large man stopped, his eyes staring off into the distance.
"What happened, George?"
"It was dark. I'd been sleeping, and a God awful loud sound came from our kitchen. When I got there, lights were out, but I could see someone had fallen through the roof and was staggering around. He must have hit the transformer on the way or something, 'cause the lights wouldn't come on, but I could hear him. Drunk, falling over drunk, he was, and getting pissed. Y'know, angry drunk." He went still for a moment as he gathered himself. "I go to him, trying to calm him down. And the guy just picks up my fridge like it's nothing. He's screaming something about how nothing can stop him, we're all weak and useless. And then he throws it."
He stopped, draining a pitcher of water, and then another. "I wake up a week later in a hospital room, hearing his voice again, but not in my head, he's on the TV on the wall. There he is, this kid, accepting an award from the governor for... something, I can't remember what for, this big grin on his face." He stopped, his brow knitted.
"I passed out again. I was in and out of that coma for two more months, and at the end of it, well, I woke up looking like this," he said, waving a hand at his gigantic proportions.
"It must have been World Air flight 283 rescue award ceremony you saw. It was the first time Wonder Lad was recognized as a hero," said Peter, his mind working back. "But it certainly wasn't his last." He stared intently. "So he hit you with a refrigerator and started your Change, why is that reason to hate him so much?"
"The fridge went past me, through the wall behind me, and..." he choked to a stop. He hunched down on himself, trying to shrink into as little space as possible. "And through my wife and daughter, killing them both." Tears rolled down his cheeks, unabated. He had grown used to how useless his giant hands and fingers were for some tasks, and had grown used to ignoring those things over the years.
Bergstrom sat and stared. It was not often one's world changed so drastically in such a short amount of time. Few of us could stand such shifts well, and the reporter tried his best, yet it still took him a while. George bent to the task of fueling his outsize frame when he saw his audience was going to be a while chewing on this new information.
"Why do you think he did it?" the reporter finally asked.
"Who did what, Peter?"
"Wonder Lad. Why did he go good after being a bastard like that?"
"I don't know, George, I don't. Maybe he was in the right place to catch that plane fallin' out the sky, and when he did, he found he liked the attention." Night Train snorted. "I'd say you could ask him, but I fixed it so you couldn't. Sorry."
Peter finally looked up. "So the Shamrock bus line...?" he started.
"Wonder Lad was there, to open the new garage. I showed up to confront him, but we started fighting. I never meant to throw a bus full of people into an office building... but there's just something that happens in my brain when I see him." George grimaced, taking a moment to chew on another ladle full of rice and beans. "The world goes dark and I wake up, having destroyed another city block and back in lockup. Again."
"Damn," muttered the reporter.
"What I wouldn't give for my notes on you, I could verify that Wonder Lad was there every time."
"He wasn't," confessed Night Train. "Some of those times, it was someone else attacking me after I'd gotten out again." He shrugged massive shoulders. "When they gonna learn they can't build a cell that'll hold me?"
"So how did you do it?"
"How did I do what?"
"You know... kill Wonder Lad?" Even now, even knowing the reason behind the hatred, the reporter could not bring himself to fully believe his city's hero was capable of such evil. "I mean, you've landed entire skyscrapers on him, tried to burn him, suffocate him, and even your enormous strength couldn't harm him for long."
"Where did they find him?" George asked, a sudden gleam in his eye.
"At the bottom of a vat of vodka at the Ivanovich distillery."
"I finally figured it out, took me all those years." He shook his massive shoulders, the best he could do to shake his head. "The Change made me big, but didn't make me any brighter."
"Figured out what, uh, George?"
"Think about it, Peter, back to the night he killed my family and almost killed me," said Night Train, the teacher leading his class to the inevitable conclusion.
"He was drunk."
"Right. And what do you get drunk on?"
"Which is like what to your blood?"
"Poison," sighed Peter, full realization coming to him. "He didn't drown, he died of alcohol poisoning."
"Right," said George. "He laughed as I pushed him under."
"But the vodka flooded his lungs, was absorbed into his bloodstream, and he died of alcohol poisoning." The reporter stared at the walls, the giant man in front of him forgotten. "Genius."
"Yeah," Night Train snorted. "I'm a genius all right, one who's wanted by the police and the Changed Division. Again." They stared at each other in awkward silence.
"What are you going to do now, George?"
"I'm done, Petey, done. All I ever wanted was the bastard that killed my family, and I got him." Tears sprang from his eyes anew. "D'you know I can't remember what my wife looks like, what my girl's laugh sounds like? It's been so long, so long and these hands," he held the offending members up, each seeming as long as the reporter was tall, "these hands are so big I can't even hold a picture of them to look at."
Peter moved by this grabbed a napkin from the table and dried the tears on George's face, moving past the enormous hands without a thought for them.
"What do you want me to do, George? I'm Catholic, and we don't condone suicide."
"I've tried that, Peter, the heroes can't kill me, and neither can I," he sobbed. "I've done awful things to get him, and people have died, but I can't." His bellow lungs are rustling the drawn blinds as the sobs shake his massive frame. Peter sees Joe the cook at the corner of his counter, concern in his face. "What can you do that I haven't tried?"
"I can tell your story, George, and then you can do something you haven't tried yet."
"You can try to be a hero for the city, pay off your debt."
"You think it will work?"
"We have to try, George, we have to try."
It took an hour to get the police, SWAT teams, and Changed Branch officers to understand his phone call was not a hoax or a prank, and to come and surround the diner. Joe sat outside with Peter, grim faced at what his friend was about to face. George emerged from the roof of the diner, through the hole he had entered in. Peter was still amazed that he had not noticed the tarp covered hole above his head through the entire interview, but he did admit to being a bit distracted at the time. The crowd of armed normal and Changed officers had been noticeably shaken by his entrance, but Night Train had calmly jumped off the roof and held up wrists the size of tree trunks to be symbolically shackled. The Changed in charge of the arresting team, Razor Lady, the Queen of Speed and Blades, trembled slightly as she locked the specially formed hoops of steel around his wrists. The tremble came from the knowledge that nothing had ever held the Changed before her, and maybe ever her own superhuman speed would not be enough to save her if he decided to change his mind.
"I'm done, Razor, done," Night Train sighed. "Take me in." He smiled at Peter in hope for the future as he climbed into the back of the dump truck for his ride back to prison, and to await sentencing. Peter smiled back. He knew it was a different world his new friend was seeing.