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DC Futures Fan Fiction focuses on the future of the DC Universe. Characters in DCF are often the descendents and proteges of the modern-day DC characters, but they are original creations of the authors.


BLACK LIGHTNING:DCF
Written By Wayne Ligon (wligon@mindspring.com)
Edited by Jason Tippitt


"Part 1: Death"

1
Black Lightning Luis Dos Santos sat back in his chair and folded his arms, hoping he didn't look bored. They'd been at this for more than an hour. Jose Delgado, the leader of the White Lightnings, was up on his high horse again: "We've got to do more, we've got to protect ourselves from the Razors and Skulls and all the other gangs that surround us. We've got to protect our families. I guess you guys want to see your mamas raped by these guys, huh?!" Those might have been the exact words or not; Luis had heard them all before so many times he could repeat them in his sleep.

Delgado was good in a fight, but he was a good talker also. Luis had seen the man talk someone out of shooting him in the head, twice. 'Of course, it was your big mouth that put the gun there in the first place,' he thought. Delgado was good for one thing: whipping people into a frenzy. Even Luis found himself stirred by the teen now and again.

He looked around the small warehouse and saw too many people nodding at Delgado's words. Jose wanted the White Lightnings to become more active, instead of reactive. Hit others before they had a chance to hit on Lightning turf. It was a good spiel, but Luis was curious about how Jose planned to back it up. They were good fighters, but they weren't an army.

Luis shifted. He was the chief scout, trusted with ferreting out all the routes through their turf and seeing how they could be used. He did recon and spying and sniping. It was a good enough life, and his people didn't have to mix it up with the other gangs all that often. Things had been stable now for about five years, almost Luis' entire time with the White Lightnings. A few shots had been fired, people occasionally wound up dead, but that was to be expected in Blüdhaven.

Luis cut his eyes to Roberto Santiago. 'Berto was his second, and his best friend in the whole world. He also sat with his arms crossed, half-listening. His dark eyes met Luis' and he nodded agreement. Asshole. Unspoken, it passed between them: they were that close. Luis gave the other man the ghost of a smile. They'd been friends their whole lives, and there was no one else he wanted at his back. He cut eyes to the rest of his buds clustered about him. Most of them were long-timers in the gang -- they tended not to get shot at, and so stayed alive. Luis straightened as Delgado stopped talking and began to pay more attention.

"I am," Delgado continued, "talking about our future. We can take them; I know we can. We need to expand, and.."

Luis spoke up. "Expand where, Jose? Our families are here. Eight blocks that way, twelve that way. Furthest out we go. So… people planning on moving? You been having enough babies you can start your own tribe?" Luis grinned, and several people laughed.

It broke the mood Delgado was creating, and the tall Latino man turned blazing eyes on Luis. He was on Luis in three strides, Luis rising quickly to meet him. Delgado had about thirty pounds of muscle on him, but Luis stood his ground, relaxed and confident. Delgado reached out to grab Luis' shirt, but Luis was there first. He caught Delgado's hand a certain way, locking two of the man's fingers in a painful grip. Delgado was stronger than him by far -- a lot of people were -- so Luis had had to learn other ways of defending himself. He'd never be a tower of muscle like the older gangbanger, but he was much quicker and had moves the other man had never seen.

He squeezed just slightly, the bones in Delgado's hand grinding together. Just slightly, he could see the goateed man wince -- there, that slight tic of his right eye -- and smiled.

"You want to go finish this now, Jose?" he said in a low voice the others couldn't hear. "We can, right now." He nodded once to emphasize his point, still looking right in the man's blazing black eyes. He saw the gangbanger's fury, but also saw him weighing the options. No one knew it, but they'd fought before. It had started out for fun, just two guys testing their skills. It had turned serious, though, and Luis had been forced to break a couple of Delgado's ribs. Both of them knew who would win a straight fight.

"I know your family is close to mine, but should we hold hands this way? In public and everything?" Luis grinned, his tone making it all a joke, so that neither of them would lose face. He grinned and pushed Jose away, giving the man's fingers one last twist that almost caused Delgado to cry out, and sat down. He crossed his arms again, giving the gang leader a light smile that said, 'Everything is OK, I'm not a threat to you.' It also said, 'I'm not afraid to sit down after you almost lost it, because I know I'd still kick your ass all the way to High Harbor.' Delgado stood there for one instant, a muscle in his jaw jumping. Luis nodded just slightly. "You want to expand, fine. We got the maps for you. I think it's a mistake, though. Truce has held for five years, man, and we still got as much as anyone else has."

Luis' quiet voice just seemed to make Delgado angrier. The huge man turned away and looked to the group. "Go the hell home. We'll talk about this later." The meeting disintegrated into the general genial chaos that usually characterized their get-togethers. Luis stood and shrugged on his jacket, motioning for Santiago. Unconsciously he brushed the spots on himself where he kept his knife and gun, reassuring himself they were where they needed to be.

The two went out into the fading sunlight of a hot June day, followed by a few other scouts who clapped Luis on the back and made for home.

After they turned the corner, Santiago grinned at Luis. "What the hell did you do to him? You did something, but I couldn't catch it." Luis stopped and took the man's half-gloved hand, quickly moving the fingers like he'd done to Delgado.

"Hey!" Santiago yelped and tried to pull back. That movement made the pain twice as much, and the young man almost went to his knees. Tears came, and he shook his head. "Shitshitshit!" he breathed, then fell backwards when Luis let go suddenly.

Luis laughed a bit as 'Berto shook his hand. "You see, mi amigo, the more you move, the worse it gets. You go forward, you go backward, it's all the same." He offered his hand and the other teen took it, still shaking his head. "I can't even see what you're doing."

"Here, it's really simple. It's just the way you do it." The two stopped and Luis showed Santiago the grip, and the way he had to move his fingers. They practiced, and Luis winced when his friend got it right. "Yeah… yeah! That's it! Stop!" He gave an "aaahh" of pain and blinked away tears while Santiago grinned. "Okay," the other boy said, "I think I got it now."

The two teens traded horseplay for the rest of the way to their homes. These places used to be high-rise apartments, but had suffered in the riots and then over twenty years of neglect. The ocean was close, an ever-present threat. Makeshift levees and a fifty-year-old government seawall kept the water back at high tide, but some place always experienced flooding. After the ice caps partially melted, Blüdhaven almost died; some say that would have been better. Several parts of the city were still underwater or awash, despite almost a century of shoddy, half-hearted reclamation attempts. Most of the population had been relocated to higher ground, and life continued. But there were still vast stretches of abandoned buildings, declared unsafe or in danger of collapse. In these hives were squatters, scavengers, outlaws and fugitives. Most of the people now residing in the La Hoya area were third-generation or better illegal immigrants. They had no rights, no place in society, so they stayed on after the waters began to rise.

The residents -- mostly relatives of Luis and Roberto, plus those they chose to protect -- kept things repaired enough that the place probably wasn't going to fall down any time soon. At least this decade. There was a water main that ran under the place, and somewhere along the line, the families had bartered or stolen a filtering plant. Thus they could provide fresh, untainted water to hundreds of people. It made them much sought-after, and, in their own way, the Santiagos and the Dos Santos were rich. And powerful. An almost feudal order had arisen in La Hoya and the other drowned areas, making clean water and power commodities more valuable than gold. The White Lightnings and other groups like them were more often adjuncts to the militias than not, though some (like the Razors and the 56th Street Overlords) were true outlaw gangs, preying on those just above them in the chain of life.

Lookouts whistled as the two teens passed through the first series of checkpoints, so by the time they reached the main entrances, there were already people waiting to greet them. Luis patted his friend on the back. "You going to come up for supper?" he asked, and smiled when Roberto nodded. "Good, I'll shower and meet you there."

2.

Jose Delgado took a long pull from a rare cigar and passed it to Sandoval, his right-hand man. Delgado sat back, watching the night descend. Sandoval dangled his legs over the edge of the warehouse roof and watched the lights of downtown Blüdhaven across the strait.

"So, you want me to kill him now?" Sandoval asked as he smoked. Delgado grunted. "I'll take that as a 'no.' You should do it. Hell, I've told you that a dozen times. If you don't, you'll be running for him in a year."

Delgado started to speak, then slowly clenched the hand Luis Dos Santos had almost broken. Something was cracked in there anyway; he could feel it move and grate, sending spikes of pain up his arm. He liked the pain. It cleared his mind and put his thoughts in order.

Delgado followed Sandoval's gaze and looked off to the east, where he could see the blazing lights of downtown standing in sharp contrast to the grey and black of La Hoya and the surrounding areas. Here, only a very few buildings still had working solar batteries, just enough to power lights for a few hours. More than a few fires blazed in the near distance. It was summer, and the nights were warm and short. Nothing like the hell of midwinter.

Delgado scratched his goatee and considered his friend. Sandoval was right, as always. Dos Santos had to die, but he couldn't do it. He could sense it. The others would turn on him, and on his family. He closed his eyes, and suddenly he could see how it could be done, just what he needed to do. He turned to Sandoval and outlined the plan in a low voice, as if he didn't want even the stars to hear. Sandoval slowly smiled and nodded, and handed back the cigar. Delgado watched the tip glow hot and bright as he pulled on it. Not as bright as my future, he thought. Not by half.

Back in the darkness, Enrico Dos Santos tried to keep his heart from beating so fast. He'd come up to find Delgado and report on the movements of the Razors gang, then he'd heard his cousin's name mentioned. He'd stopped to listen, and grew cold as Delgado outlined his plan. He waited, part of him wanting so bad to break and run, the other part of him responding to what Roberto Santiago had drilled into him: Get ALL the information. He listened and mouthed the words to himself, so he would remember exactly. Then, when several minutes of silence had gone by, he slipped back out the way he'd come. He had to find Luis, and quickly.

3.

Luis hopped from girder to girder after Roberto as the teens threaded their way through the ruins a mile or so south of their homes, right on the edge of White Lightning turf. Six stories up and bathed in moonlight, Luis was able to follow his friend confidently. He'd been this way before. It used to be a huge mall, before the money dried up and the riots started. After that terrible Tricentennial winter, when the National Guard kept people from leaving and they started to burn anything in sight to keep warm, not much was left. He wondered why Roberto led him here. This place had been picked over long ago. Luis loped along in a half-crouch, his athletic body letting him move at almost a run. Up ahead of him, Santiago had stopped.

He came up alongside his friend and peered down one of the shafts. It was a black pit leading down into the depths of the structure. It was just beyond the central Food Court (his stomach growled -- it was three hours past dinner, and his sixteen-year-old body wanted to eat again), if his memory was correct. He looked up. "'Berto, this wasn't here last week."

Roberto shook his head. "No, it wasn't. The storm must have collapsed a section here, and here. I knew you'd want a look." He pointed to recently crumbled masonry. Lightning still started fires while heavy rains and snow collapsed at least one building a year. Luis had a vision of some great weather giant slowly grinding the city under its heel.

He looked at the surrounding turf with a practiced eye. Since he'd been a small kid, he'd played in the ruins along with everyone else. Scavenging to live, maybe lucking up on something that had escaped decades of kids and adults doing the same thing. Now he looked at the shaft and nodded. "Climbable," he said, scratching the almost-stubble on his chin. His hand dropped to his belt, coming up with a hook and line. The teens clicked the hooks into place and tested their weight, then swung out and down into the darkness.

After a few seconds, they clicked on lights and pointed them down. The feeble beams didn't illuminate much, but a few glints hinted at the floor far below. Keeping an ear open for sounds of shifting rubble or signs of habitation, they slid down and down, until they came parallel to one of the levels. Probably the second story, Luis thought. Luis kicked off the wall once and twice, then swung into position where he could drop to the floor. He tied the line off as Roberto followed, agile as a cat. The floor seemed inclined to support them, so they let go and flashed the beams out into the small open space.

Formerly bright colors gone gray and pale from seeping rain and years of insects made the shadows confusing. A few bones were scattered about, and Luis bent to examine one. It showed rat marks, but also something else. 'Berto nodded, and both teens unsheathed fighting knives. Any number of things could be down here with them.

To the south and west, the city was a wasteland of former chemical plants and oil refineries. Years of lenient laws designed to attract industry and provide jobs had left thousands of pools of waste shimmering under the sun, seeping into the water and the ground. The political machine that ran Blüdhaven still held that the business of NorAm was Business, and that considerations of the future were nothing when measured against the profits of today. Other, hidden, dumping grounds sheltered worse things. Radioactive waste, plagues, nerve gas and worse things had been paved over and forgotten in the mass exodus so many years before, and the active plants used the ruins as a legal dumping ground even today. Leaks still killed dozens of people every year and slowly poisoned who knows how many others. Since no one was supposed to be living there anyway, pleas from the few remaining Greenies fell on deaf ears.

In the past decade, though, city trackers like Luis and Roberto had begun to notice something was different. Blüdhaven had at one time sheltered uncountable numbers of animals. Most died without their owners, but there were enough left over to form packs of feral dogs -- a significant danger. Cats, of course, were everywhere and getting more numerous every year. Pigeons and other birds were still numerous. And there were the rats, of course. There were even a few tribes of monkeys and apes, descended from the two zoos. Even if rumors of more unlikely things surviving from the zoos were true, it still didn't explain some of the tracks and odd bodies that trackers occasionally found. Huge rats, or ones with too many limbs or eyes. Dogs with no back legs that dragged themselves like snakes. One man had been bitten by a very large cat and died when the wounds turned black.

There were rumors of worse things, of course, and every year they found just enough oddness so that no one could wholly discount anything. After all, weren't there people who could fly or bend steel with their hands? If those things could exist, why not rats the size of collies? So Luis and Roberto took out their knives and sent a silent prayer to God.

4.

Thomas Baylor cut off the car's engine and sat quietly for a second in the parking garage. Something was… He chided himself for being unreasonable. Mr. Santiesteban's security net was impeccable. He checked his briefcase once more and patted his gun, then exited the car and made for the elevators. Halfway there, he heard a scrape -- something that should not be there. Metal against stone.

"Hello?" he asked in a clear voice. "Mitch, that you?" Mitch was the security detail usually here at this time of night. It was his job to walk the parking deck and make sure no one used it as a hotel. Thomas took a few more tentative steps, and then went on with more confidence. The disks in his briefcase needed to be in Mr. Santiesteban's hands by now, and he was a little late. It looked bad on his record. It was a good thing that, unlike his predecessor as Overlord of the Narrows, Mr. Santiesteban was not an unreasonable man.

He turned to pass between two cars and stumbled. "Goddammi--" he started to curse, but his voice died in his throat when he turned. Mitch was lying on the ground in a spreading pool of blood. Fresh, new blood. Baylor stumbled backwards, eyes widening. He was stopped by something behind him and reached for his gun. The knife was very cold when it buried itself in his throat.

5.

Gabriel Ruiz Santiesteban nodded slowly as he walked around the murder scene. Two men -- one of his guards and Thomas Baylor, his right hand man and good friend for these many years -- lay dead. In his own turf. On his own doorstep. This sent a very bad sign to the others and to his own people. A sign that he was weak, that he could not protect what was his. For so many years he had tried to provide for his people, using his power and influence to extend an umbrella of protection as far as he dared. And now this.

He shook his head. None of the rival operations overlapped his area. Unless someone was trying to expand, then there as simply no need for this. He sighed. Those same years had taught him that in 2112, there seldom needed to BE a reason for this kind of violence. He knelt, his long coat dipping into the blood, and closed Thomas Baylor's wide, fear-filled eyes. There was little reason to kill Thomas, save as a personal attack at himself. A muscle near his eye jumped twice before he could control it. A towering fury rose up in him, and he stood, feeling as great as his anger. One ringed hand clenched into a fist, and most of his bodyguards quietly fell back a step.

One man approached, then there was suddenly a phone in his hand. "Yes," he said, quietly.

The voice on the other end was young and frightened, but trying to be precise and polite. Santiesteban recognized the type; a deliverer of bad news who did not want his own life ended as a result. "Mr. Santiesteban? This is Jose Delgado. I run the--"

"I am aware of what you do, Mr. Delgado. This is not a good time."

"Sir, I think one of my men is headed your way. He kept saying he was going to kill someone."

Santiesteban's voice chilled Jose Delgado, and the gang leader almost dropped the phone. "I see, Mr. Delgado. Come to me, then. We have much to talk about." The phone went dead. Jose looked to Sandoval and nodded once.

6.

Luis and Roberto threaded their way through the ruins, lights playing on the metal and plastic representing a way of life they had never known. Most of this section seemed to be fairly intact, structurally, something that caused Luis to breathe a sigh of relief. More scouts were killed by falling masonry than gunshots any year. This mall, in particular, was prone to sudden shifts that sent bricks and glass smashing to the sidewalks. One section had even settled completely into the vast underground parking deck.

One place caught Roberto's eye, and he stopped. "Oh, shit, Luis… look!" He walked slowly towards it, and Luis' eyes widened as well. He stepped up to the grate and smiled. "Man, you hit the motherlode." He slapped 'Berto on the back. It was a clothing store and, it seemed, fairly intact. Inside were years worth of trade goods. Things that could be traded to the other gangs or even to the retros in the arcologies. Shirts, dresses, baby things… the possibilities were endless.

Both young men worked at the grate for more than an hour, eventually shoving it up enough so Luis' blade-slim body could slip underneath. Roberto, with his broader shoulders and deeper chest, couldn't fit, and it didn't look like the thing was going to budge any further. Luis' dusty face beamed. "I'll scout around and see what we have…"

He wiggled further into the shop, under the plastic security door that had buckled during the same shift that probably opened up the shaft. Otherwise, it would have been impassable. Slowly he stood up and shone the flashlight around. He paused to change out the battery pack and waved to 'Berto before slipping deeper into the store. As he walked, he could not believe the luck. This would make them kings, as such things were measured in the ruins. He paused to take a pair of leather biker gloves, smiling as they slid on with a suppleness not ruined by the passing years. He doubted Santiestban had such nice things. He picked his way through the ruined store like Caernovan entering King Tut's tomb.

He made a once-about, not even touching the second floor of the place, then stuffed a gym bag full of scarves and gloves to prove the richness of the find. He slid out under the grate and tossed the bag to Roberto. "Your find, your loot, mi amigo." 'Berto grinned and slung the bag over his shoulder. "Damn, I can't believe it. There are five or six other places that--"

He stopped, his light on a cracked pane of plastic. He walked forward, Luis trailing curiously behind. The circle of light expanded, showing a window display of a book store. Beyond the grimy pane were heroes. The heroes of a world turned to dust along with the USA. Roberto put a hesitant hand to the plastic; both teens were silent as the studied the pictures. Both of them could read, thanks to their family and the local church, but the sheer power of those images -- Superman foremost among them -- was almost enough to stun.

Luis turned to Roberto. "Been hearing that some of them, at least, are coming back. Back to stay, maybe," he said softly.

"Man, I wish I could do that," Roberto whispered.

"What?"

"Fly. Pick up car with my bare hands. Stuff like that."

Luis smiled at his friend. "I know, man. Me, too. But it'd also make you a hunted man, since I KNOW you wouldn't join no damn Justice League."

Roberto snorted, "Damn right."

They stood and looked at the display for a few more minutes, then Luis tapped his light. "Getting low, dude. We need to go." Roberto nodded, and they began their way back to the shaft.

Luis played his light over the bones once more, then untied his line. He swung out into space, expertly stopping himself against the opposite wall of the shaft, then dangled, waiting for 'Berto. Once his friend joined him, he began to climb, muscled arms pulling him easily upwards. He'd only gone about fifteen feet when he felt a sudden change in the line. "Shit, 'BERTOOOOO!" he managed to yell as the line parted, and he fell into darkness.

7.

Estela Dos Santos turned up the light in the meeting room, tapping into the precious power stored during the day. Theirs was the only building within a mile with a still-operating solar battery. She tapped her cane and turned to give a wrinkled smile to her visitors. "Please, come in and have some coffee, gentlemen. What can we do for the Baron of the Narrows tonight, eh?"

The two men sat down at the table, taking steaming coffee from the servant. "Donna Dos Santos," James Nevers began, "we have grave news. Thomas Baylor has been murdered."

Estela, the Donna Dos Santos, the ruling matriarch of the family, clucked her tongue. "Who would do this thing? I thought Mr. Santiesteban was well-liked. Who would do this thing to his house?"

Nevers looked at his partner, then sipped his coffee. "We'll come to the point, then. Your grandson Luis did not like Mr. Baylor, did he?"

Esteka blinked once. "Forgive an old woman her frailties, gentlemen. I thought that incident had been forgotten, and the matter settled. It had been a misunderstanding. Did we not compensate Mr. Baylor for his broken knee? If the accounts…"

"The accounts are fine, Donna Dos Santos. It remains that your grandson had ample reason to hate Mr. Baylor, and we have information that--"

"Information?" the Donna barked. "What information? You accuse my grandson of murder, then you had better have good information!"

Mr. Nevers' partner coughed once, and Nevers himself stiffened. He slid a folder over to the woman. She opened it and read, then read some more. At last she nodded.

"I see. Interesting. What do you want done?"

Mr. Nevers' partner coughed again, and rose. "Donna Dos Santos, you know me from a little baby," Sandoval said. "I hate to think that Luis -- my own sworn blood brother -- has done this, but we need to see him. Now."

8.

Luis' stomach lurched in the sudden free-fall. Vainly he tried to reach the wall, something, anything, to break his fall. Above, he thought he heard Roberto's cry, and looked up. That saved his life, since the movement turned him enough that the beam didn't catch him on the head. Still, he slammed his shoulder into the twisted girder, and he screamed. The jagged metal tore open his leathers and laid him bare to the bone all along his left shoulder and back. He CAUGHT for a mere second until his flesh tore and he was falling again. He could feel the wet spatters of blood streaming down his side, and his vision blurred. His flashlight slipped from his nerveless fingers and tumbled off into the darkness. Just before that same darkness claimed him, he felt warm water close over his head.

Roberto slid down the line, burning streaks into his gloves as he went. Screaming Luis' name, with tears running down his cheeks, he dropped into the darkness. His light swung crazily, revealing nothing. His heart almost stopped when Luis' scream did, and he heard the distant splash.

"Oh, Santa Maria," he prayed, "he hit water. He might be alive." He went down hand over hand, until at last one hand closed over nothing. He hung there one-handed over the abyss, calling Luis' name over and over again. When there was no answer, he set the line to swinging, until he contacted the rough wall. Abandoning the line, he began to inch down the crumbling surface. "Luis! I'm coming! Hang on!" he cried.

The darkness did not answer.

At the bottom of the shaft, the crevasse continued for a good thirty more feet down past the last parking deck. Shifting tons of masonry and steel had opened the passage as the land began to subside, allowing water and air to breach a once-sealed bunker. Barrels of things never meant to be mixed had split open and mingled. Chemical reactions were taking place slowly over time, raising the temperature to near-blood heat. The last subsidence had opened a shaft to the surface, allowing more air, polluted rainwater and the occasional brief flicker of sunlight to enter as well.

Into this soup fell a body, a warm body. Warm enough to set off reactions in the enzymes and bioactive materials. The syrupy liquid burned its way though the gashes, into Luis' system. There it settled, moving though his bloodstream as his heart pumped blood out into the water. Proteins went to work in his cell structure, and bit by microscopic bit, he was changed.


"Part 2: Rebirth"

"I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; every possession, a duty."

~ John D. Rockefeller ~

1.

Donna Estela Dos Santos looked out of the fifteenth-story window and prayed to her God. Behind her were Sandoval, the second in command of the White Lightning gang, and James Nevers, a representative of a powerful protector further north: Mr. Gabriel Santiesteban. They were here to accuse her grandson of murdering Mr. Santiesteban's aide. True, Luis had never gotten along with the man. But to murder… She shook her head. She could not see him doing this. Especially with a knife, from behind. He would have at least faced the man.

Sandoval. Now, Sandoval would be the kind of person to come from behind. He was a jackal, always around to pick up what others left. Since a child, he had been like this, as were his parents before him. They were dead now, victims of their own treachery. Was it so against God to hope the same fate would befall their son?

Now, no one could find Luis save to say that he went off to the south with his cousin Roberto. She smiled a bit. If anyone could keep Luis on the straight and narrow, it was Roberto. A good boy, and a good influence. Brothers in all but blood.

Now, though, she gripped her coffee cup and turned to the hard-eyed men. She was once more Donna Dos Santos, leader of a family that still was civilized when all about them was turning to chaos. She tapped her cane on the ground, and a servant opened the door. "Is there word?" she snarled.

"No, Donna. Not yet."

She waved the man away and frowned. "We will find him, yet."

Sandoval shook his head. "He is one of the best scouts we have. If he does not want to be found, he will not be. I suggest that we will never find him."

Mr. Nevers nodded slowly, taking all this in. He stood. "I see. Donna Dos Santos, I thank you for your time. Mr. Santiesteban will be in touch very shortly."

"Of course, Mr. Nevers." Estela put on a good face, frowning only when the men had been led out. She turned back to the window, shivering a little. Even the summer heat was not enough to soothe her aged bones. The last time Mr. Santiesteban had 'touched' someone, it had been with military-grade ordinance.

2.

Roberto Santiago dropped the final four feet and landed softly. His light showed him the pool of black liquid here, stretching about forty feet across. It didn't ripple at all. Was this…? He bent and touched it, felt the black stuff burn his fingers slightly. He wiped his hand off, and blinked back tears.

Oh, shit, he's dead, he thought. Luis… "Luis!" he called, twice. He stood up and played the light over the surface once more. It should still be rippling or something, shouldn't it? He would have made a damn big splash, and it hasn't been that-- His breath caught when the light passed over a small lump. He squinted, then decided it was good enough. Breathless, Roberto slipped off his boots and shirt, then waded out into the muck.

He gasped, once. It was warm, very warm. And it tingled on bare skin, an almost-perceptible burning. It was thick, but not too thick to swim through. Oh, God, what is this crap? Is it poisonous? Shit, probably. They wouldn't have put it down here if it wasn't. Still, it's Luis.

Roberto swum out to the lump and treaded water. It was… "Luis!" he cried, when he raised him up. No response. Biting his lip, he dragged his friend back to the shore and dropped down beside him. "Oh, Christ, he's not breathing…"

Roberto's heart pounded. He didn't know how to treat someone who was drowned, except from what he'd been told. He opened Luis' mouth and probed for anything obstructing it, then began mouth-to-mouth. He blew air into the teen's lungs, and alternately rolled him over to pound on his back. Finally, Luis gave a little cough, and a stream of black ooze came out of his mouth.

Roberto froze, then renewed his efforts. Another cough, then a huge gout of black stuff, mixed with vomit. Luis' stomach heaved twice more, then was still. Roberto bent to him, and could feel his breath, however faint. He was breathing on his own. Right there, Roberto thanked God and all his angels. Rob was a strong young man, easily strong enough to pick up his friend and move back away from the pool.

He flashed his light around and shook his head, seeing the split barrels and biohazard signs. "Sweet Mother of God," he whispered over and over again. He knew then that Luis was going to die anyway, and probably himself as well. Whatever that crap was, he'd swam in it, had it in his mouth. Luis had swallowed enough to float a canoe and probably sill had it in him. They were both covered in the mess.

Dumb with the realization, Roberto almost failed to recognize the sound as he drew closer to it. Water. The sound of running water. Coming out of his daze, he stumbled towards the sound, with Luis slung on his back. The floor was suddenly wet and sloped upwards -- the water cascaded from some room above this one. 'Berto clenched his jaw and started up the slippery rubble, until he dropped to his knees at the top of the rise. Another room, mostly underwater. But the water looked and smelled clean. "What the hell," he murmured. He stripped and knelt in the shallow water, which was refreshingly cool. Not like the hot, fragrant swamp below. He waited for a second, and when he was sure it was safe, dragged Luis in after him. He undressed the teen and found how his clothes were torn. The jackets they wore were ballistic-rated, but Luis' had been torn clean through. Blood caked the outside, making it stiff.

"Ah, God!" he said as he ran his hand over the shoulder and side -- and found nothing. No cuts, no abrasions. Just some bruising. Nothing at all that could have produced that much blood.

It was just another shock in a series of them. Roberto was acting mostly on automatic now, as he washed the gunk from his body and Luis.' Finally, he pulled his friend from the water and dried him with towels from the gym bag. Loot from one of the stores far above. Roberto's legs began to shake with exhaustion, his adrenaline rush dropping off. He took several deep breaths and checked out Luis one more time. He was still breathing, but shallowly. Nothing else seemed to be wrong, but them it might be only a matter of time, depending on what that stuff was.

Satisfied that his friend slept, Roberto finally allowed himself to sleep as well.

Luis continued to dream of falling, until he hit bottom. The bottom was hot, and he couldn't move for the spikes driven through his limbs. Pulling just caused more blood to flow. There was so much blood. All of it his. He sank deeper; the widening spikes tearing more and more until he simply came apart. He dreamt of being born.

Darkness. He blinked, and there was still darkness. 'Am I blind?' Luis thought. It was the utter darkness at the bottom of… 'A hole.' It began to come back to him. The fall, and the pit, and the… water? He tried to shake his head, and was amazed that he could. Slowly, he saw it. His head was clear. Not at all like the times he'd been shot. Then, just trying to get up was agony. Now, though…

He rubbed his chin. He must have hit water. It wasn't unusual for basements to fill with water. "Man, I am the luckiest bastard alive," he said softly. He shifted on the rough ground, and became aware that he was naked. 'How?' He frowned. He was undeniably alive; he ached too bad to be dead. And it was possible he'd pulled himself here, and had no memory of it. The second time he'd been shot was like that. They told him he'd managed to kill the gunmen and then run down the third guy, but he had no memory of it. Just BLAM, and then waking up under the bed sheets.

He let out a slow breath, then realized that it was echoed. 'Shit,' he thought, and froze. 'Something is down here with me.' He stopped breathing and then could distinctly hear someone breathing, very close to him. It was so utterly pitch-black that he might as well have been blind. But, he smiled slightly. He recognized that rhythm. 'Roberto.' He reached out, and found warm skin. He let his hand move; it was an arm. Roberto must have saved him.

He smiled, and wept right then. What, God, did he ever do to deserve such a friend? He stood up, and ran hands over his own slender, hard-muscled body. Nothing seemed out of place. No strained muscles, no broken bones. Nothing. He thought he remembered… blood. Or something. He shook his head, and took a few unsteady steps. He felt a tingling pass over his body and stopped, then continued on. It wasn't unpleasant at all. In fact, it was refreshing, like being under a needle-spray shower. He felt elated, then suddenly he just couldn't help himself. He stretched and vented his emotions with a loud WHOOOP! "I'm alive!!"

"Huh? What? Luis? Luis!" It was Roberto's deep voice; he was awake.

Luis turned to the sound of his voice. "'Berto! I'm okay!"

Roberto scrabbled around and found the light. He turned it on, and looked next to him. "Where the hell are you?"

"Right over here! By the other wall, I think. I can't see."

Roberto swung the beam around. "You can't be, you'd be in the…" The beam hit Luis, who was indeed out over the water. The operative word being 'over.' He was floating about a half-inch off the water, bathed in a black aura that arced soundlessly down to the pool. Roberto's mouth fell open. It looked for all the world like his friend was being struck continuously by black lightning.

3.

Luis frowned at his friend's expression, then shifted his vision down. He was still caught in Roberto's light beam, so he could see the water, and the fact that he was standing -- no, FLOATING -- over it. "Madre di dios," he whispered, and clenched his fists. He began to rise a bit, and all he could think of was 'No!' Promptly he dropped down into the water, the shock of the cold breaking his concentration. The black lightning vanished, and he was left on his knees in the shallow pool. He looked back at Roberto. "Wha… what?" he said.

Roberto just shook his head, and stood up. "Come here and get dry, then we'll try to figure this out, OK?"

A few minutes later, Luis slid into what was left of his clothes. His jacket and shirt were a tattered ruin, and only his belt allowed him to keep up his pants. His boots were still wet, but good. After he cinched the belt around his narrow waist, he turned to Roberto again.

"So, what did YOU see?"

"Same as you, mi amigo. You, covered in some kind of… electricity? I dunno. It didn't seem to bother you at all."

Luis shook his head. "No, I was fine." He held out his hand, and suddenly it was enveloped in black tendrils of energy. He held his hand up and made a fist. When he looked over to Roberto, both teens were grinning.

4.

Sandoval joined Jose Delgado, the leader of the White Lightning gang, in the man's makeshift 'office.' It was the office of a former shipping clerk, since their hangout used to be a warehouse. The only thing really changed from that time was the fire door Delgado had added as 'protection.'

Delgado looked up. "What?"

Sandoval shook his head. "They still can't find him. WE still can't find him. Everyone is out combing further south, since that was the last place anyone saw him going. But it's a damn lot of territory out there. Some really big ruins with lots of really small places to hide. He could be off the island now, too."

Delgado snorted and stood. "No, he's still here. He wouldn't run; I know that much. But what the hell is he UP to?" Sandoval merely shrugged. "We need a body, and quickly. Our own people will shoot his ass on sight, but the scouts and trackers… they'll let him talk first, I know it."

Sandoval shrugged again. "Then we just have to find him first?"

Delgado swung around and punched the other man in the jaw, sending him sprawling. "I KNOW THAT!" he shouted, then advanced on the other man, who was shaking his head, trying to clear it. He picked Sandoval off the floor and held him up in the air. "I know that, you idiot. Santiesteban cannot…"

A soft cough stopped Delgado's ranting. Gabriel Santiesteban stood in the open doorway, looking regal in his charcoal-grey suit. Delgado dropped Sandoval in surprise. "You cannot… be made to look like a fool, sir. Luis did this to you, and we can't allow that. I mean…"

Santiesteban walked forward and struck Delgado across the mouth with a gloved hand. His voice was low and dangerous. "I do not need you to nursemaid my honor, do you understand?" Delgado hesitated. "DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!" he shouted, picking up the muscular teen like Delgado had held Sandoval minutes before. Delgado's feet didn't touch the floor. He nodded quickly, unable to breathe, and Santiesteban tossed him casually over a desk. Sandoval tried to make himself unobtrusive.

"I sincerely hope so. I am doing you the honor of looking for this man, but my patience is wearing very thin, Mr. Delgado. I try to be a reasonable man, but circumstances may soon force me to be quite unreasonable. Mr. Baylor was an old and dear friend of my family, and it is shameful that he has come to harm in my house. Now, it is a stain upon my honor that only blood can erase. Do you understand that, Mr. Delgado?"

Delgado nodded from his position on the floor.

"Very good. I hate to enter into business with people who are incapable of a simple understanding. I trust you to retrieve your rogue member, but I am quickly running out of patience." With that, he turned and walked through the door.

Delgado glared at the empty door frame. "Yes, Mr. Santiesteban."

5.

Luis closed his eyes and rose into the air, surrounded by a corona of black energy. He felt the freedom of it all -- like floating but more grounded, somehow. In control. He spun, then did a slow flip in the air. Now he opened his eyes, and laughed at Roberto's expression.

"Hey, it looks like you have the hang of it, mi amigo! You can fly!" Robert let himself sit down, hard. He was in shock now, once more.

Luis laughed, his bangs now hanging down into the water since he was upside down. No disorientation at all -- he was amazed at that. It was like 'down' was wherever he decided it was. He righted himself and suddenly was beside Roberto. "Wow, I'm fast, too," he said, and touched down by his friend. "It's like a dream come true, mi amigo. It's wonderful."

"I wonder what else you can do?"

Luis shrugged. "I'll get us out of here first, then find out. And, people will start to worry, I think. I didn't say anything about an extended trip."

Roberto picked up his things, then steeled himself as Luis put an arm around him and created the lightning field. It tingled as it closed over him, much like the black ooze had. Then, they were in the air, moving slowly down the passage to the main shaft.

"Up, Up and Away!" Luis cried, and suddenly they were back on the level they had left hours earlier, so fast it took 'Berto's breath. Luis laughed as he let go of his friend and floated up near the ceiling. "It's like you didn't weight anything. I guess I'm pretty strong, too."

He landed near a large chunk of broken rubble and hefted it into the air, young muscles straining but equal to the task. "It's… heavy, but… I'm doing it, cousin." Luis held it over his head, then let it down gently. Roberto tossed him an iron bar, and he bent it handily. He grinned. He was easily stronger than Delgado, now.

Roberto came up to him and gave him a critical look. "OK, but the ripped jeans thing just isn't going to fly."

"Huh?"

"You need a costume."

All his young life, Luis had worked to protect his family, his compound and his friends. The White Lightnings were even an extension of that; they literally existed as an adjunct to the adult patrols and militias. A lot of people saw it as a training ground, of a type. He frowned a bit at the thought. 'Except Delgado wants to turn it into something more. Something he can control.' He looked at his hands, limned in crawling ebony energy. 'I can stop him now.'

Luis slowly nodded at his friend. He could fly. He had super strength. 'Why… why NOT do it?' He looked up into Roberto's eyes. "Yeah, you're right. I can… do stuff, now. At least a couple things."

'Berto nodded again. "OK, we try something else." He hefted another bar, then shook his head as Luis reached for it. "Nope. We know you're strong, mi amigo. I'm going to see if you can take what you dish out."

Luis' eyes widened a bit. "Um--" he started, then Roberto swung the bar down at his shoulder. It was like being hit really hard with a wiffle bat. He felt something, but it wasn't much. "Um, harder."

"You sure?" Luis nodded, and Roberto swung harder. Again, it hit him, and unbalanced him a bit, but otherwise not much.

"Okay," Luis said. "I don't think I could take that all day long, but… go for it. Hit me as hard as you can."

Roberto wound up, thick muscles in his arms bulging, then brought the bar across in a whistling arc right into Luis' ribs.

"Crap!" Luis said, and went down. He looked down at his bare midriff, to see faint bruises beginning to form. "Not bad, mi amigo. That should have broken several ribs. right? You did hit me as hard as you could?"

Roberto nodded, and grinned again. "Looks like you can at least take a hit. That's just amazing."

"So, like, what should I call myself?"

Roberto shrugged and pointed at the silent field of energy surrounding Luis' body. "You're already going to get a name, anyway. Why not run with it? Black Lightning."

"I like it."

6.

"Donna Estela? They're here."

Estela sighed and waved the servant aside. Behind him were Mr. Nevers and Mr. Santiesteban.

"Don Santiesteban, you grace my house and domain," she said, offering the tall man a small cup of precious coffee.

"And you are as beautiful as ever, Estela." He sipped the coffee, then smiled at the small woman. "You know why I am here?"

She nodded. "Yes, and they are ready below. I would ask you to reconsider, but the honor of men is ever a fragile thing. I know you need this to prop it up." She almost smiled when she saw Nevers go pale. Probably he had never heard such familiarity, almost impudence, directed at his boss.

Santiesteban sipped again. "Ah, yes. Your wit is as sharp as your mind, Donna Dos Santos. Yet you know this is necessary. You would do the same."

And she nodded herself, knowing it was true. "Indeed, yes. Luis' parents are below, and his cousins Jefe and Maria will go with you as well." She took a deep drink from her coffee. Hostages, awaiting Luis' return. It was an old practice, but then Don Santiesteban valued tradition.

The Baron of the Narrows gave her a smile and sketched a bow. "Excellent. Luis has until tomorrow night. Until then, they shall know every comfort."

Donna Dos Santos managed a tight smile. 'Right up until you put a bullet in my son's head,' she thought.

Luis' parents and cousins went with Nevers and the Don, out into the large limo that then lifted off into the air and shot towards the Narrows. Enrico Dos Santos stood watching until the limo became just another star, then the young teen began to trot southwards, along the trail his cousin had taken.

7.

Finding a fairly coordinated outfit wasn't easy, but between swimwear, dancewear, skiwear and fetish materials, they'd made out just fine. The shirt was the most unusual; it was a bit bulky on Luis' sleek frame, with a wide collar that was a ring of thicker material, but that just added to the effect he was going for. The deciding factor was the design; dark wine-red, it was black across the shoulders and short sleeves with the white-outlined black invading the red in a lightning-shaped zigzag that ended just below his pecs. The pants were unrelieved matte-black that molded to the muscles of his thighs and calves almost like a pair of tights, flowing into the black boots. He kept the biker gloves for a suitable 'tough' look. A bright yellow belt with attachable pouches went around his narrow waist.

"I like it," Roberto said. "You look pretty, well, heroic. And it should protect you, too. That shirt at least has a good ballistic rating. I guess it was some kind of executive skiwear or sports thing." Both boys shrugged. Whatever it had been, now it had a different purpose. They had about enough duplicates for five or six suits, so they stuffed those into one of the big sports bags.

He stepped back from the mirror and struck a pose. He smoothed the fabric over his compact muscular form, amazed at how easy it was to move. This must be why heroes wore such things.

He paused. 'Hero. I like the way that sounds.'

Behind him, Roberto clapped and wolf-whistled. Blushing just slightly, he turned around. "Smartass. What am I going to use for a mask, bud?"

Roberto tossed a small black bundle to Luis, who unfolded it. It looked like a strip of thick black plastic that bulged slightly at two points. "What the hell is this?"

Roberto walked over and took it. "Here, I found this over in the same executive place we got the shirt. I read about these, once." He unrolled it and slipped it over Luis' head. "The bulges go over your ears. When it's adjusted, you just tap here." He did, and Luis yelped.

The plastic constricted on his head, formfitting itself to the shape of the teen's head and face. It was tight but not uncomfortable. There was a feeling of solidity about it; when Luis reached up to touch it, it was smooth as glass and seemed hard as metal. "They're sunglasses, really. If you had about five thousand to blow on them, then. The bulges are to protect your hearing, and I think they usually had a radio."

Luis at first thought Roberto was playing a joke on him. He could see just fine, then he realized that there were a couple of lights in his vision, off to the side. The entire inside of the visor was like a screen. With a little practice, he found that the glasses responded to light. 'Probably meant for the glare on snow,' he thought. It even had a night mode, letting him suddenly see clearly in the darkened store. In his ears was a whisper of WRRG. "Radio checks out. Where are the batteries for this thing?"

"Behind the ears. They had a box of them, so I took it. Considering it's still good after about fifty years, then I bet we're fine on that score."

Looking in the mirror, it looked like Luis was wearing a black blindfold. Nothing could be seen of his eyes. It was a bit alien, which Luis liked. If it made people nervous, that was probably a good thing. He picked at it, but the visor was solid. Unless deactivated, there was no way anyone could unmask him. He took it off, and gave the costume a once over. Luis looked at the small black mask in his hand and felt a chill run up his spine. 'Good lord,' he thought, 'I'm really going to do this.' He put the mask to his face and felt the tingle as it hardened again. Turning to the mirror, he adjusted it, then struck a heroic pose. "Stop, Doctor Devastator! No more shall you… do stuff!" He made fists and pointed at the mirror.

Which promptly blew up in a shower of glass as a roaring bolt of ebon energy lanced out from Luis' body, driving through the mirror, the wall and the reinforced concrete behind it.

Luis stood, stunned.

"Holy Crap!" Roberto said softly.

Luis looked at his fists, then at the man-sized hole in the wall. He turned back to Roberto. "I… did that, yeah?" Roberto nodded quickly. "Man, I got to--" He was cut off by the sound of groaning metal and the sudden SNAP of breaking stone. The ground moved once, then bucked. Hard.

"This place is gone, man!" Luis blazed with black light and caught up Roberto in one arm, their scavenged loot in the other. He rocketed through the torn grating of the clothing store, down the mall and up the shaft as the whole area shifted around them. 'I must have hit a support pillar or something!' Luis thought. 'Ah, hell!'

In a shower of brick dust and tossed metal, the pair burst out of the collapsing mall. Luis -- Black Lightning -- rose higher, then set Roberto down on top of a nearby building, far from the destruction. He smacked one fist into his palm and turned to his friend. "Man, that was amazing!"

Roberto looked back at Luis, seeing the grin on his cousin's face and trying to match it. He casually felt for any cuts or punctures from all the glass and metal, but found none. "You are the luckiest guy on earth, Luis."

Luis shrugged, peeling off the mask. "The field protects me and whatever I'm touching, too, I guess. Or… I do something else. I dunno. It's something to work on." He looked up into Roberto's eyes. "You know I would have told you about this?"

Roberto simply nodded. Luis went on, "Because I dunno if I can get through this without you. It's… well… I can do something now. Something different." He turned away from Roberto to look over the city. "You think I can be a hero?" he asked quietly.

Roberto came up behind him and placed firm hands on the smaller teen's shoulders. "I know you can, bud. You are one, already. Now you just got the firepower to back it up."

"I know what Delgado has been doing, trying to get us into stuff that ain't aimed at keeping us all safe." Roberto just nodded, watching the sunset. "I know I got to do something…"

Roberto squeezed his friends' shoulders, feeling the tensed muscles under the armored shirt. "You know what is right," he said, and Luis slowly relaxed. "Come on, we need to get to bed and head back tomorrow morning."

8.

Between the ruins and the more-livable portions of Blüdhaven lie the Narrows. Shipping and storage facilities were the least of its riches, and Don Santiesteban controlled them all as the 'protector' of the area. The dock crews worked through him, as did many of the lower level office workers. It was a rich enough section of the city, and it had made Gabriel Santiesteban quite a wealthy man -- wealthy enough to renovate an old hotel as his home base.

Luis' parents, Eduardo and Sabina, stood on the balcony of Gabriel Santiesteban's penthouse and wondered where their son was. The crime lord had afforded them every convenience, but the guards at the door reminded them that this was still a prison. And they would die at sunset tomorrow unless their son came forward to confess his part in the murder of Thomas Baylor.

Sabina frowned into the darkness. "No evidence has been produced. No weapon, no witness," she said for the dozenth time.

Eduardo scratched his goatee in agreement. He was a man of few words. "I know, my dear. But Don Santiesteban has been generous, still. And I trust our son. He will be here."

Sabina turned away from the night and walked into the huge bedroom. Her sister Celeste's children Jefe and Maria sat in the floor playing a video game. She smiled just slightly at the resilience of youth. Both children had grown up in the wilds and knew just what was happening.

She turned back to her husband and thought how much Luis was like him. "I trust our son as well, mi amore, and I will wait. But Don Santiesteban will not have Celeste's children as well."

Eduardo Dos Santos heard the steel in his wife's voice and turned back to the stars. "Then his honor will have to be satisfied with us," he said simply.

9.

Luis and Roberto picked their way through the ruins in the early morning light, heading back north. They took it slow, investigating a few side streets now and again, and meeting with other dwellers their families traded with in these parts. They showed off the clothes and cloth, hinting at more to come, and traded a few select pieces. Luis replaced his hastily-patched clothes (all except the armored jacket), and Roberto was able to make a deal for some ammo along the way.

At the third place they stopped, the door banged open, and they heard, "Luis! Luis!"

Luis turned, and waved when he recognized his cousin Enrico. The twelve-year-old jumped over a fallen cornice and practically attacked Luis, embracing him hard.

Luis blinked, patting the boy on the back, then held him out at arm's length. "'Rico, what's happened?"

Almost babbling, the boy related what he'd heard on the warehouse rooftop, then, "Don Santiesteban came, said that you killed his aide, Baylor."

Roberto snapped around, and Luis just shook his head. "What happened, 'Rico?"

"He came, and Donna let him take your Mama and Papa. Jefe and Maria, too. He said they were hostages, so you would show yourself. He'll kill them, won't he?"

Luis nodded grimly, and cracked his knuckles. He looked over to Roberto, then back to his cousin. "When?"

"Tonight."

Luis relaxed a bit. "Good… Enrico, you'll have to come with us, back home, then up to the Narrows."

Enrico just goggled at his cousin. "There's no way…"

"There is always a way, 'Rico," Luis said. "Roberto, come on! We've gotta fly. And yes, 'Rico has to know."

In the shell of an old gas station, Luis stripped while Roberto dug out the components of the Black Lightning costume. "Man, I have GOT to wear this under my clothes, or something…" Luis grumbled as he slipped on the lightning bolt-emblemed shirt and struggled with the tights. Roberto tossed him the gloves and boots while Enrico watched, confused, as his cousin put on the uniform.

"Well, at least we get to see how fast you can fly, now…"

"Fly?" Enrico asked. "Wha--" His jaw dropped when a black corona of energy form around Luis' body. "Madre di dios!"

Black Lightning adjusted his mask and then slipped the gym bag over his shoulder. "Come on, Enrico, we're going to take a little trip." Hesitantly, his young cousin came over, standing where Roberto told him to. Putting an arm around both his cousin's waists, Black Lightning concentrated, and the three youths rocketed into the air on a pillar of silent black energy. The hero did a roll, got his bearings and shot off to the north.

Flying out in the open caused Luis to break out into a sweat. 'My God, I can go fast. And high!' Below them, buildings flashed past, and they could see the tumbled city below them as Luis dodged though the ruins.

Roberto clung hard to his cousin with one arm; even with the field effect, Luis would probably have bruises from it, but Roberto was holding on for dear life. They'd both walked on girders and ledges their whole lives, so neither had much of a fear of heights -- but this was different! 'He's holding up better than I am,' Roberto thought. 'Or he's hiding it better than I would. But then, he knows he won't get hurt if we hit something.' He stole a glance at his cousin's masked face, inches from his own. All he saw was raw determination in the set of his jaw. It wasn't often he got to see the steel at his cousin's core. Usually he was laughing and cutting up with the rest of the guys. But times like this, Roberto recognized something in his cousin that made him very proud.

Black Lightning's handsome young features settled into a more serious mien once they were over halfway home. 'Delgado. Goddammit, I shouldn't have pushed him! Or maybe it's time to push harder. Otherwise, he'll suck all of us down to hell with him.'

Unconsciously, he poured on the speed, flying at about the tenth-story level. If it wasn't for the pure desperation he felt, it would have been amazingly cool. Black Lightning pushed, then pushed again, feeling himself go a bit faster each time until he saw the Dos Santos tower flash past -- people stared and shouted. He slowed and circled the building, seeing his aunts pointing up to the sky. Pointing at him. He rolled, put on the speed and dropped down several blocks away.

Gently, Black Lightning set Roberto down while he himself still hovered a few inches off the ground, Enrico still clutching his chest. The young boy hadn't said a word since they took off. "'Berto, I've got to go find Delgado. Go find Sandoval and the rest of the gang -- the ones we can trust, and see if you can neutralize the ones supporting Delgado. I think it's time for a coup."

Roberto nodded once. "Si. And good luck, my friend." The two teens embraced and parted, Black Lightning rocketing back into the sky with Enrico while Roberto waved. Roberto Santiago then turned and trotted down the street to begin his search.


"Part 3: Retaliation"

1.

"We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right."

--Nelson Mendela TwenCen Philosopher

Black Lightning blazed an ebon trail across the morning sky as he flew towards the White Lightning meeting area. As Luis Dos Santos, he was the chief scout for that gang, which protected a several block area from the ravagers that preyed on the ruins' residents. It was also that gang that had sentenced his family to death by blaming him for the murder of Thomas Baylor, the aide to Don Santiesteban. He had been away in the rubble further south, searching for trade goods, and could not be found, so his family was now hostage against his return. If he didn't show himself, they would be killed. Thank God one of his scouts had heard their plans, or he'd have nothing to go on.

'Or,' he thought, 'if I cannot prove my innocence, then I'll be the one to die.'

He dropped to a building top and let go his cousin Enrico. The boy turned to him, wide-eyed. "My God, Luis! What--?"

"Black Lightning. Call me that when I'm dressed like this. The mask is there for a reason, cousin."

Enrico nodded, and smiled. He'd always worshipped his older cousin. Now Luis was a superhero! "Have you always been able to do that?"

The black-visored teen shook his head. "No, 'Rico. Just a day or so, now." He frowned slightly. "We've got to go to the Don and clear my name. You've got to tell him what you saw and heard, okay?"

The younger boy folded his arms. "I'm a scout, same as you, okay? I know how to report."

Black Lightning nodded. "I know; sorry I said that, okay? It's just -- my parents…"

Enrico nodded once. "Gotcha. It's okay, Lu -- Black Lightning. I'll tell him."

Black Lightning floated up a foot or two. "Good. You stay right here. I've got to get Delgado, then I'll be back for you." He waved to his cousin and dropped over the edge of the building.

Black Lightning frowned as he doubled back, then hung in midair, a soundless field of dull black energy seething about him like the sun's corona. Arcs and prominences flared and fell back as he dropped lower and lower. He knew these streets better than anyone -- but not from the air! He smiled as he got his bearings again and took off, dodging the rusting hulks of a former time. He saluted two White Lightning members he passed; the boys just followed him with their eyes, jaws dropping. The third guy he did this to fired a shotgun right at his chest.

BLAM! was the first thing Black Lightning knew; the second was the feeling he'd been kicked in the stomach. He doubled over and tumbled along his flight path.

'I'm dead!' his mind screamed as he slowed and stopped in midair. He removed his hand from his chest and looked down. 'No blood.' He ached, and he was sore, but… 'I'm bulletproof!'

He uncurled and whirled around to see the ganger taking aim. Luis smiled and shot a bolt of black energy right over the guy's head, blowing a hole in the storefront beyond. The boy scrambled out of sight.

Black Lightning hung in midair for a second, making sure there wasn't any permanent damage. It also shocked him back into sense. 'Check it, dude. You are NOT Superman. Shit can still kill you, okay? Remember this!' He turned and blazed off towards the warehouse, already with a plan in mind.

2.

Roberto Santiago trotted down a relatively clear street and turned down an alley. This was one of the main caches for the scouts, and there were bound to be at least a few about. He caught sight of Esteban, a likable young man who owed him a few favors, sitting on lookout duty.

"Hola, Esteban!" he called and smiled when the teen did a double-take. The mustachioed young man jumped off the dumpster and ran over to Roberto, holding him at arm's length.

"Shit, man, people are looking all over for Luis! They say he went nuts and capped Don Santiesteban's right-hand dude!"

Roberto shook his head. "It's not true. Delgado has decided to clean house early, I think."

Esteban nodded his understanding. "I wondered when that would happen. All the scouts did, I guess."

Roberto continued, "We've got to round up the scouts and trackers first, and keep Delgado's hand-picked boys from interfering."

"In what? Man, where is Luis?!"

"Safe, for now. We got someone on our side, okay? Delgado is going down."

The boy bit his lip, suddenly looking like the 13-year-old he was. Esteban shook his head, uncertain. "What do you mean? We can't take out Delgado's people by ourselves."

"We don't have to, I told you. Luis is safe -- now we have to make sure his family is safe too, okay? When shit starts going down, you can bet that Delgado's goons are going to make a play at our families. Get everyone you can to go to the Dos Santos towers and then get your own people to safety. If you see one of Delgado's boys, wing him. You got that?"

Esteban nodded, already shouting for the others. Three more boys piled out, and Roberto repeated the story. The teens scampered away like rats to spread the word while Roberto made for the main warehouse.

3.

Delgado paced as he listened to the scout's report. They still hadn't found Luis. But then, all of the scouts were loyal to Dos Santos, anyway. He turned to look at the young teen, who quailed back at his gaze. He smiled at the fear in the young eyes and pulled his gun.

"You wouldn't be lying to me, would you, Paco? You know how much we need to find him. Otherwise Don Santiesteban will start on us. Would you like to be first when he comes here with his men?" The boy shook his head, and Delgado continued. "I think you ARE lying to me, Paco. That your loyalty is to him rather than me."

"No, Jose, no," the boy said, staring at the gun.

Delgado smiled again, and chambered a round in the huge gun. "Maybe I need to provide some incentive for the others, eh, Paco?" He pressed the cold barrel to the boy's forehead and traced a circle. Paco closed his eyes and swallowed once, ready for the end. "These babies'll put holes through an engine block. Think what they'll do to your head, Paco…"

Delgado jerked the pistol away at the loud BAMM! from inside the main warehouse, and a second sound like a peal of thunder. "What the hell?" he growled and reached for the office door.

Then there was the sound of tearing metal and the crack of concrete as the heavy steel fire door was jerked out of his hand. It was torn off its hinges, tossed away by a young man in a black-and-red costume, surrounded by what looked like crawling black electricity. Delgado gaped for a second. Blüdhaven had its own Justice League installation, but none of them ever gave La Hoya a second look. And this guy didn't look like any of them.

"Let the kid go, Delgado!" came the command, and for a second, Delgado hesitated. 'He knows my name? Ah, hell with it!' He brought the gun up and fired point-blank into Black Lightning's chest.

Black Lightning ooofed and was thrown back into the crates, the wind knocked out of him. 'Santa Maria, I forgot about that diesel locomotive he calls a pistol!' Delgado growled and fired again, but the superhero was already moving. Black Lightning rolled to one side, and the crate behind him exploded from the second shot. He labored to take a breath, but nothing would come, and the edge of his vision grew fuzzy. A third shot took him in the leg, numbing it from the knee down. A fourth slammed into his ribs, laying a line of fire across his chest. 'Cracked or broken,' Black Lightning thought. His sight bubbled with black dots. 'I gotta hang on, or he'll kill me.'

Delgado grinned and aimed at the prone hero. "I don't know what the hell you are, pajama-boy, but you're a dead man."

Finally, Luis was able to draw one shuddering breath, his entire chest alternately on fire and coldly numb. The corona of energy around him flickered once, the arcs growing gray.

Delgado slapped in a fresh clip and chambered the round, grinning at the dimming aura. In the dim light of the warehouse, he tried to get a glimpse of the hero's face, but all he could see was the unrelieved black of the man's visor. Well, more a teenager than a man, by his build. "Looks like you're outta luck, pretty boy. Those hollow-points screwed you up pretty good, huh?" He walked slowly to the superhero, who was just getting to his knees. "Yeah, stay on your knees, dog," the ganger growled and put the massive gun to the back of Black Lightning's head. "Hasta la vista--"

Black Lightning came up on one knee in a fighting stance and pointed his fist at Delgado. A bolt of black energy arched to the gang leader, picked him up, and slammed him hard against the back wall. The gun skittered away into the darkness. A second ebony bolt, much dimmer, followed right after, blowing a hole through the office into the rooms beyond it.

Black Lightning wavered as he got to his feet, his corona dimming further and vanishing altogether in a few places. 'That… that wipes me out, man,' he thought. He took a breath and then another. His chest was a sea of pain.

"Pa -- Kid! Run!" Black Lightning yelled at Paco. The young scout needed no further encouragement. He scrambled away back into the warehouse proper.

Now, shouts and alarms were being raised. He'd blown in through the ceiling and taken out the door guards with two light force blasts. There were others, though, some with shotguns. Black Lightning forced himself to walk. 'I don't know how much more of this I can take, but' -- he looked at the energy aura slowly building back to solid black -- 'it can't be much more. I already feel like I could sleep for a million years.'

One step and then another. He slowly straightened up, and his aura darkened. 'Better. Better.' The pain in his chest and leg didn't go away, though. 'Jeez, I think he broke something.' Breathing still sent needles across his side.

He stepped into the ruins of the office, where Delgado was just beginning to wake up. He picked up the man by the shirt, lifting him to a standing position. "I'm looking for answers, and you'll provide them, understand?" he growled in the 'toughest' voice he could muster. He pressed Delgado against the wall. The man reached out and punched him square in the jaw. It turned Black Lightning's head and split his lip, but did nothing else. "Is that the best you have, man? We can settle this another way…"

With that, he clamped onto Delgado's arms and rose into the air. Gunfire whizzed around him as Delgado's goon squad arrived, but Black Lightning blazed up the way he came, though the hole in the warehouse roof and far up into the air. Delgado let go his lunch as the ground raced away.

'Got to keep him off balance, and never let him get a good look at me now that we're out in the light. He knows me too well,' Black Lightning thought. He tossed Delgado up and then caught the man by his wrist. "We're going to take a little trip to Don Santiestban. But first, where is Sandoval?"

4.

Sabina Dos Santos dropped a mound of sheets and blankets just at the entrance to their suite and poundedon the door. "Guards! Where are you?" she shouted and went on, filling the air with rich, shrewish invective. Finally she kicked the door for good measure.

It opened, and one of the young men outside peered in, his brow creased. "What--" he started, then remembered who he was guarding. Don Santiesteban himself had said to treat these people as guests, save that they could not leave the suite. He controlled himself admirably; the woman sounded too much like his own mother. "What can I get for you, Mrs. Dos Santos?"

From the living room came the sounds of the Playtendo, adding to the chaos. The two kids were in there, like they had been almost constantly since they were brought here. 'Probably never seen one before,' the man thought.

Sabina kicked a pillow case into the man's face. "You can get some CLEAN bed sheets and CLEAN blankets! This place hasn't been vacuumed in a year! Does Don Santiesteban use this place to keep his GOATS!?"

Now, the other guard looked in at the huge pile of expensive linens and heavy blankets. The first man snatched off the pillow case and thought about bringing his rifle around. "Mrs. Dos Santos, please, we--"

"I don't CARE what you want, you will have these replaced! They're filthy! NOW!" Sabina had been a singer at one time, and now called on the full range of her voice in the most grating tone she could muster. The other man actually winced.

Eduardo, her husband, thought he heard a glass break in the kitchen. He stepped forward. "Gentlemen, please… I do not want to disturb the Don with this."

The guards looked at each other, then at Sabina. She was a small woman, no threat to them. They came in and one kept his rifle at ready while Eduardo hefted up the heavy bedclothes. Eduardo gave a long-suffering look to the guard, who almost nodded in agreement.

"Madre do dios," Eduardo grunted as he picked up the first armload. Sabina nodded to herself -- arranging things in that manner had paid off. "Watch those!" she shrilled. "Heavy linen, and those blankets! They go together."

"Just LIKE my mother," the guard muttered to himself as Eduardo dumped the heavy armloads down the laundry chute. The guard turned to the small woman. "The housekeeper will send up some fresh things soon, okay?" 'Please, please let it be okay. Just shut up,' he thought.

Sabina smiled demurely at the guard. "You've been very helpful, young man," she said and shut the door in their faces. She swallowed hard and let out a held breath.

Eduardo Dos Santos placed a hand on his wife's shoulder and leaned over to kiss her cheek. "You did very well, dear. Now, you need to go finish the next level. And turn up the volume a little." He pointed to the Playtendo. By now if all was well, Maria and Jefe were scrambling out of the laundry baskets in the basement.

5.

Roberto slowed as he approached the warehouse and went into one of the buildings that faced it. Once another storage facility, it had long since fallen victim to the ravages of time and wasn't safe to live in. Roberto knew the way across the mostly rotten floor, though, and knew when to jump at the right time. He leaped and landed lightly on a secure section of floor, right by a window. He looked down on the warehouse that served as the White Lightning's gang HQ and saw Delgado's men roaming all over it, guns at ready. 'Okay, Black Lightning's been here, it looks like.' He smiled to himself when he saw the hole in the roof. 'Jeez, Luis didn't waste any time at all.'

He sat back and thought. 'Okay, I've got almost all of our people accounted for and either moved somewhere or secured. No need to worry about Mom getting shot.' He swallowed softly. 'Everyone else who I can't find can either take care of himself, isn't a concern for Delgado, or belongs to him.'

Satisfied everything was going okay, Roberto retraced his steps to the outside. 'Okay, now… Black Lightning is going to take care of Delgado, and--' CLICK. 'Berto froze as the gun muzzle touched his temple. Sandoval grinned as he stepped from the shadows. "Roberto. Good to see you back, mi hermano. Where is your cousin Luis?"

6.

Don Santiesteban stood on his deck, smoking and watching two of his godchildren at play below in the pool. It was a hot summer day, as hot as any day in Bolivia, his ancestral homeland. He smiled quietly, watching the young ones playing tag and dunking each other. He snapped his fingers, and a servant was at his side. "Go get the Dos Santos children; they should enjoy this as well."

"Si," said the woman, and was gone.

He drew a deep lungful of fragrant smoke and exhaled it through his nostrils. Soon, this unpleasantness would be over. Thomas Baylor's killer would die, avenging his friend's death. He glanced over to the desk and the pictures on it. One depicted himself as a young man, broad and strong, arm around the shoulders of a much smaller man -- Thomas. He had to smile. 'I wore such a cocky expression then? Yes, I must have. We were young and out to make our fortunes. Why not be cocky?'

The jungles of Bolivia and the mines of Peru had burned that cockiness from them both. The things they had been forced to do, just to survive. 'We both became men there and left behind our youth forever. I think it almost broke Thomas,' Gabriel Santiesteban thought. 'But he never gave in, and saved my life more than once. I've never known a man to be so brave.' He poured a drink to toast Thomas' memory once more.

The maid knocked once and entered. "Don Santiesteban? The children are gone. What should I do?"

The Baron of the Narrows turned and raised a bushy eyebrow. "The elder Dos Santos, they are still there?"

"Si, Don."

He waved her away. "Nothing, do nothing. No, wait. Have the Dos Santos brought to my office. Find Sandoval and Delgado, and have Nevers meet us there." He sighed and stubbed out his cigar. "It is time for this to end."

7.

"I don't kno--" Roberto started to say, but Sandoval shoved the gun muzzle hard against his temple.

"You don't know where your little cousin IS, man? Bullshit. You're joined at the goddamn hip." Sandoval licked his lips, looking at the teenager. "Kneel." He felt a charge as the guy did just that. His heart began to beat faster. Would 'Berto's blood be as red as Taylor's? Would it spurt high like the old man's had? He pressed the gun to Roberto's temple harder, feeling the soft spot, running the gun muzzle around it.

"He RAN, okay? I don't know." Roberto's voice stayed steady, somehow.

"I got people say you went off together, eh? Ah, screw it. Time to die," Sandoval said with finality. His patience was at an end. His finger pulled on the trigger.

"HEY," came a shout from above Sandoval, and the man looked up to see a black shape hurtling down at him. He whipped the pistol around and fired twice before he was hit by Delgado's unconscious form and slammed to the ground, driving his head back against the bricks with a hollow CRACK.

"Damn, that looked like it hurt," said Black Lightning as he caught Roberto underneath the arms and alighted on a roof. Roberto opened his eyes. His legs failed, and he went to his knees again, trembling in relief. He'd never been so close to death, and it made him feel weak. His stomach lurched once, but he kept control.

"Black Lightning?" Roberto managed to say. The masked teen dropped to the ground, then went to his knees and put a gloved hand to his cousin's temple.

"You okay, guy?" he said, changing the pitch of his voice just slightly. He brushed 'Berto's temple with two fingers before the man winced and pushed him away.

"Yeah, I'm okay." He managed a weak smile. "I saw what you did at the warehouse. Good work."

Black Lightning winced a bit. "Not that good. Delgado almost put me down. I got cocky. And I've been going in circles, trying to find Sandoval."

"He spotted me, I guess, and trailed me out here. Jesus." He shook his head. "God, he was going to kill me." Then he looked at Luis' bloody lip and his cousin's stiff movements. "How bad off are you?"

Black Lightning put a hand on Roberto's shoulder. "I'll be okay, now." He chuckled, "I've been worse off."

Roberto shook his head. "No, not really. Not and still been walking around. You look like death."

Black Lightning stood up, ready to fly away. "Good, because I feel like it."

That caused Roberto's head to snap around. The sheer tone of his cousin's voice in that instant sent a chill up his spine. He stood and stopped Black Lightning.

"Black Lightning?" The costumed hero started to shrug off the hand on his shoulder, but Roberto came in just behind him. "Luis!" he whispered, "In cold blood?"

Black Lightning stood on the ledge for a long moment with his eyes closed. They'd set him up, gotten his family kidnapped, almost murdered his closest friend. He clenched his fists, suddenly eager to let loose a blast of black energy. He could fry them right now, turn them into shadows on the brick. He knew he could.

He felt Roberto's hands tighten on his shoulders, and he relaxed. His aura faded to a pale gray, then flickered out. He was just a sixteen-year-old boy in a costume, then. He took a breath and let it out in a long, trembling sigh. His gloved hand covered his cousin's. "Thanks, 'Berto. Thanks. No, Santiesteban is at the heart of this, and he'll have to decide what's to be done with them. He's the closest thing to law we have." He turned back to his friend. "Thank you," he said and smiled sheepishly. "Again."

Roberto let his hand drop. "You're welcome. Again." He grinned and stepped to the ledge, looked down. Sandoval was gone, leaving only a spatter of blood on the brick and Delgado's still-sleeping body.

Black Lightning's hand clenched. "Damnit! He's gone. I thought I hit him harder than that. Santiesteban will just have to settle for Delgado, then."

Black Lightning's aura powered up again, a stronger and deeper black than a few minutes ago. It seethed in a kind of dark glow as Luis flexed his arms.

"I've got to get Enrico. Just… rest here, okay?" With that, Black Lightning retrieved Delgado and blazed away to the north. Roberto swallowed once more, still kneeling. He watched Luis fly off and touched his temple where his cousin's fingertips had been. This was going to take some getting used to.

"God, Luis, be careful. Please."

8.

Gabriel Santiesteban's office was a huge thing, done in warm woods and leather. It held a distinct aura about it that spoke of power and wealth, but also of struggle and accomplishment. It was meant to impress, yes, but it also bore personal touches that kept it from being sterile. Behind him, beyond a transparent plastisteel sliding door, was the pool and recreation deck area. It was empty now, just a serene picture of light-dappled water. Beyond the edge shone the faint lights of central Blüdhaven. It was an impressive view.

To one side sat the Don's wide desk, topped with the latest computer technology. A bar was on the opposite wall, and bookshelves lent a scholarly air to the entire scene. A large map of the Narrows was displayed on the far wall by the entrance.

Eduardo and Sabina Dos Santos walked in under escort and made themselves comfortable in broad leather chairs. Sabina held Don Santiesteban's eye for a heartbeat longer than needed in a quiet display of defiance. He gave her a slight nod, a salute in return. It pleased him to see her spirit undimmed.

Santiesteban got up and went to the bar. "Drinks?" he offered, but the Dos Santos shook their heads. Nevers joined the group, closing the door behind him. He stood, silent and enigmatic, by the city map. "A pity," said Santiesteban. "You've met Mr. Nevers? Yes? Very good." He walked back over and sat behind the desk. "Nevers, no word yet on Delgado?"

There was a whistling sound and then the pool outside exploded with a column of water as the inert form of Delgado dropped from the sky. Or was thrown, as the case was.

Black Lightning followed him down, coronal energy seething around him and arcing to the pool and the metal fixtures. He still held Enrico under one arm and gently dropped the boy to the poolside. Santiesteban watched the costumed youth drop from the sky with a studied look of patience. He heard Nevers draw his gun and held up a hand to stop the man, then stood. He adjusted his charcoal-gray suit carefully and tapped a control. The doors opened.

"Ah, there he is. Nevers, don't just stand there; get the hero a drink."

Eduardo and Sabina Dos Santos sat very still. They had never seen a Mask close up. Only distant tales of the Justice League came to mind, and Sabina found herself willing her body not to shiver.

Black Lightning scooped the floating gang leader from the pool and tossed him onto the deck before landing, himself. He crossed his arms as he heard the sounds of multiple guns being readied. Behind his featureless black visor, his dark eyes narrowed.

He nodded to Enrico. "Don Santiesteban! I think this young man has an interesting tale to tell you, about your aide."

The Don stopped at the edge of the pool. He was over six-foot-six, almost two heads taller than was the trim, costumed teenager standing before him. He had to smile, just slightly. But the boy was an unknown quality, and Don Santiesteban had not become wealthy by underestimating the unknown. Between them, Delgado sputtered as he started to regain consciousness.

"Indeed? I have heard many tales the past few days," said Don Santiesteban. "This one," he nudged Delgado with one leather shoe, "tells me his best scout, Luis Dos Santos, has done this thing. There is motive, and means. The two disliked each other, and Luis was perhaps stealthy enough to make it past my security net. Many of their gang work for me, on and off."

'I never hated the guy,' Black Lightning thought, looking up at Don Santiesteban. 'He was a twit who thought I didn't know shit about bein' a scout because I'm young. I don't think he realized what it's like to live in the ruins. I got into plenty of arguments with him; it was the main reason I quit doing 'side work.''

Black Lightning cleared his throat. "Luis is safe, and hidden," he started, then glanced down. Delgado was beginning to open his eyes and come to. The young meta smiled and put a gloved hand on Enrico's shoulder. "'Rico, tell Don Santiesteban what you heard, eh?"

The twelve-year-old swallowed once, and nodded. He faced the Don and related what he'd overheard the night of Thomas Baylor's murder. Black Lightning crossed his arms and kept quiet, letting his cousin talk. Once, he looked down to see Delgado's eyes blazing with fury. And fear.

"The hell I did!" Delgado said at the accusation. "Sandoval…" He stopped, looking up and seeing the Don and the masked kid.

"Yes, Mr. Delgado?" Don Santiesteban rumbled. "You have something you want to say?"

"No, I, GURK!" Delgado struggled as Don Santiesteban bent and dragged the young man to his feet and then held him effortlessly up in the air with one hand. Delgado kicked slightly, his hands clutching the unyielding arm. The suit fabric tore, revealing shining chromed metal instead of flesh.

"He can't tell you anything if he can't breathe, man," said Black Lightning, quietly, still a bit stunned at seeing the Don had a cybernetic arm. The Don gave an icy smile and relaxed his grip a bit. "Talk, now. Who did this, and why?"

"San -- Sandoval did it. He killed Baylor, not Luis."

"On your orders, no?"

Delgado choked and thrashed a bit. He was a big man, and powerful, but his strength was useless against military augmentation. He clutched at the Don's steel fingers in the soft leather glove but couldn't budge them. "You're… killin' me, man…"

"Since you have done what the boy has said, yes. Your own eyes condemn you. An innocent man cannot have such fear in him."

"Don Santiesteban--" Black Lightning said, meeting the Don's eyes as the man turned to him. Now, at the moment he had been waiting for, he had second thoughts. His mind raced, trying to find some other solution. "I can take him to the police." It sounded weak even as he said it, but Luis felt he had to try.

Don Santiesteban barked in laughter. "Ah, no, hero. Yes, I am wealthy enough to buy justice, but you have heard his confession. He is not worthy of your mercy."

Before Black Lightning could react, Don Santiesteban's cybernetic hand closed on Delgado's throat, crushing the bone and cartilage in one slow, steady motion. Delgado kicked once and then was still.

"You--" Black Lighting started to say, his aura seething.

"Yes, I. His blood is on my hands, not yours, hero." He released the gang leader's corpse, letting it fall back into the pool. "My friend is avenged, and this matter is over. Nevers, see that the Dos Santos family is released."

He turned to the pair, now rising. "My most humble apologies. My aide will see you justly compensated."

He turned back to Black Lightning. "Now, as--"

Black Lightning was already rising into the air, Enrico under one arm. "I don't need to stay, then. I'm sure you'll be hearing from me, anyway." He grinned and blazed away with a flare of ebon energy.

"Yes, I am sure," said the Baron of the Narrows.

9.

Luis Dos Santos held his mother in a tight embrace as she wept. "Mama, Mama, I AM okay, okay?" His cheeks burned bright, the only support he had coming from his father, who simply clapped him on the shoulder. "Papa, I am sixteen! Tell her!"

Eduardo Dos Santos put his hands on his wife's shoulders and pulled her away. "I am sure she knows how old you are. Sabina, Sabina. Luis is a man now; you're embarrassing him."

Sabina looked up at her son and wiped her tears. "Ah, it is just good to have you back. I was--"

"I know, Mama. You were worried. I was, too! I'm just glad I was cleared." He folded his arms and settled against the kitchen counter, grinning. It was good to be back. From the next room, he heard Jefe and Maria telling their story again to the littler kids, about how smart their aunt was.

Enrico had been talking non-stop as well, judging from the commotion down in the yard. "I'm Black Lightning! ZAP! I got you!" "No you didn't!" drifted up from theplayground outside.

Sabina came forward and kissed her son once on the cheek. "Never too grown-up. Now, get off my counter. I have dinner to make." She smacked him good-naturedly and shooed the two men from her domain. Luis continued out into the hall and climbed the four stories to the roof. He was still stiff from his confrontation with Delgado, but… He touched his side gingerly. The cracked rib was now just painfully sore. 'I guess I heal a lot faster now,' he thought.

Once there he went to lean on the railing, looking northwards towards the shining lights of the downtown arcologies. A few minutes later, Roberto joined him. "So. Been thinking?"

"About what?" Luis asked.

"If you're going to continue as Black Lightning."

Luis looked over to his cousin. "Of course I am. I can make things a little better for us all. With the White Lightnings gone, this whole area needs a protector now. Since I caused that, I gotta fill in. But I wonder, sometimes, if I'm good enough. " He looked back towards the glowing city. "You think the old heroes ever worried about that?"

Roberto put an arm around his cousin's shoulders as they watched shadows creep over the land, plunging the city into darkness. Only this place and a few others still glowed with light. "I'm sure they did, mi amigo. I'm sure they did."

END

Check out the Black Lightning DCF web site at http://www.mindspring.com/~wligon/blmain.htm

The DCFuture Underground Fan Fiction Group acknowledges that DC Comics owns the names Black Lightning, Blüdhaven, and ALL DC-created characters and retains complete rights to said characters. These concepts are used WITHOUT permission for NO PROFIT, but rather a strong desire to peer into the future of the DCU. We also acknowledge that the concepts and original characters introduced here are the intellectual property of the author.

This DC Futures story is © 1999 by Wayne Ligon.

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