DC Universe: Last Sons
By Alan Grant
Warner Books Copyright © 2006 DC Comics
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-446-61656-7
Chapter One They killed us.
The thought rippled out of nowhere.
The dead do not know they have been killed.
"What d'ya call a Sirian with a frag grenade wedged up his butt?"
Kiram Claaw almost choked on his whisky. He took a step back from the bar, his heavy-lidded saurian eyes opening wide with shock as he recognized the tall, muscular figure who'd suddenly appeared at his side.
"L-Lobo," he whispered.
Just his luck. Lobo. The self-styled Main Man. The most feared bounty hunter in the whole stinkin' galaxy.
"At yer service, pinhead," the bounty hunter drawled, in a voice that sounded like bloodstained gravel. He stood six-foot-six, but his heavily muscled torso made him seem even taller. He wore a battered, black leather biker jacket over a tee shirt and skintight pants. Claaw didn't like to think about what weapons he kept in the pouches slung from his skull-buckle belt.
Lobo's shoulder-length black hair, tied back from his forehead by a greasy sweatband, looked as if it had been styled by a psychopath posing as a barber. His face and skin were chalk white, with black markings around the eyes and mouth.
Incongruously, Claaw found himself wondering if the markings were natural, or if the bounty hunter was vain enough to wear facial makeup. Not that itwas the kind of thing you could ask Lobo unless you were actively looking to spend some time on a casualty ward.
Besides, Lobo was the one asking questions.
"Ya never answered me, dude," Lobo said, almost affably. His red eyes glittered in his pale face as he pulled a battered cigar from the pocket of his leather jacket, then extracted a single match. Slowly, deliberately, he leaned closer to Claaw. "Are ya deaf, or just pig-ignorant?"
"I-I heard you," the Sirian muttered, recoiling from the foul odor of the bounty hunter's breath.
Lobo held the match up to Claaw's scaly face. Then, with a quick flick of his wrist, he scraped it down Claaw's cheek. Claaw winced involuntarily as the match head flared into life. Lobo fired up his stogie in a cloud of evil-smelling smoke, then dropped the match into the remains of Claaw's whisky. There was a loud hiss, like a terrified Sirian pissing his pants.
Claaw's mind was racing. It didn't matter what answer he gave, the end result was going to be the same. Lobo had a terrifying reputation, and word in criminal haunts was that he was even worse than everybody said.
All around them, other drinkers were moving away, giving them space. Everybody in the bar could see that trouble was brewing, and none of them wanted any part of it. The bartender reached for the panic button, but Lobo's malevolent glance caused his finger to freeze in midair. He smiled weakly and stuck the offending digit up his nose.
Ahhh, shoot! Claaw cursed quietly under his breath. He should never have told Xemtex he'd take his chances alone. The gang had been together nearly five years, and every job they'd ever done went off smooth as silk. Walk in-point guns-shoot protestors-walk out with the cash. Best work Claaw had ever had.
But now, only hours after he told Xemtex he wasn't running, it was all starting to fall to pieces. He was supposed to be drunk as a lord, fighting off the attentions of the bar's shapely hookers; funny how, the more he drank, the more shapely they seemed. Then he was off someplace where nobody knew him, to settle down in a new, anonymous life, with no more paranoia about being hunted by cops ... or psychopaths like Lobo.
It sure hadn't worked out as per schedule.
Surreptitiously, verging on desperately, Claaw cast his eyes around the bar. Lobo's hulking frame blocked any chance he had of making for the exit. There was a window only a dozen or so feet away. Maybe if he turned suddenly and dived full length, he could get out and away before Lobo realized what was happening.
Light glinted dully on the cruelly curved butcher's hook that dangled loosely in Lobo's right hand. It was attached by a length of chain to the bounty hunter's wrist. Claaw's twin stomachs performed twin somersaults. He'd heard a lot about that hook ... and none of it was pleasant. Despite Lobo's love of hi-tech weaponry, it was said he always preferred to use the hook when possible. He liked to work on his targets up close and personal.
For one crazy moment, Claaw wondered if he'd be able to draw his own gun and shoot his tormentor before that hook came looking for him.
He decided that he couldn't.
The only escape was over the bar and out the back entrance. Claaw steeled himself, ready to burst into sudden action.
"Don't even think it," Lobo said casually, blowing a cloud of cheap tobacco smoke in Claaw's face. "In fact, ya still haven't answered my question. So lemme refresh yer memory, chuzzlewit. What d'ya call a Sirian with a frag grenade wedged up his butt?"
"Uh ... unlucky?" Claaw ventured.
Lobo drew the number "1" in the air with a forefinger. "Strike one." "An arms smuggler?"
"Strike two." Lobo's voice dropped an octave, and the temperature in the bar seemed to plummet by ten degrees. "Think carefully now."
"I g-got it," the Sirian stuttered. "The answer is-a squealer. Right?" He laughed shakily, feeling like he'd just swallowed half a canister of helium. He struggled to keep his voice level as he went on, "No need to go bringing grenades into this. I'll tell you everything I know."
"Yeah, ya can take that to the bank, dude."
Claaw risked another glance around the bar. Half the clientele seemed to have disappeared-probably afraid there were arrest warrants out on them, too. The remainder had put as much distance between Lobo and themselves as they possibly could without actually leaving the bar. A lot of folk liked to watch a cold-blooded killing.
"I'm waitin'." Lobo's voice was quiet, but it carried a dark undercurrent of violent menace.
Claaw shrugged. Okay, so he'd been a member of Xemtex's gang. Okay, so they'd killed dozens of people, most of them innocent victims, and stolen a lot of money. But it wasn't like he and Xemtex were friends, or anything. Claaw didn't owe the gang leader a thing. Especially not loyalty.
"Xemtex said they'd be heading for the Radlands. Couple of hundred klicks from here," Claaw blurted out. He saw Lobo nod approvingly and rushed on. "Wanted me to go with them, too. But I said no. I've had my fill of killing and looting. Figured I'd stay here, maybe settle down with a nice girl ..."
"Yeah? An' establish a refuge for orphans, right? Save it for somebody who gives a crap." Lobo took a last, deep draw on his cigar, the tip flaring fiery red. He dropped the butt into Claaw's whisky. "See, it's like this, Kiram: the warrant on you says '5,000 Creds ... Dead or Alive.' Now-"
"Alive is good," Claaw interjected hurriedly, nodding like he'd just contracted palsy. "Very, very good!"
Lobo ignored him. "-that'll take care o' my booze 'n' babes bill fer a couple of weeks. But ya gotta appreciate my position here, dude. How can I go after that fragger Xemtex an' his freaks with you taggin' along to cramp my style?"
"I got an idea!" Claaw exclaimed. "You could leave me here-then pick me up on your way out again. I promise I wouldn't try to escape or nothing like that."
"Kiram, yer a prince among thieves," Lobo said, with mock admiration. "Sadly, previous experience suggests to me that the majority of outlaws are lyin', connivin', stab-ya-in-the-back bastards. Yeah, I know you're an exception," he added quickly, as Claaw prepared to argue his case. "But I'm sure ya understand that expediency demands I kill ya."
The butcher hook was suddenly in Lobo's hand. "Good night, Gracie," he said in a voice that sounded as if it could pulverize rock.
Before the Sirian even had time to react, the bounty hunter brought the curved edge of the hook slamming down hard on Claaw's head. Kiram Claaw let out a muffled groan, then everything went black.
He came to with a chill wind blowing in his face, and he shivered violently. Sirians were a saurian race-scaly skins, sharp teeth, vestigial tails-and they were extremely sensitive to low temperatures. The cold thickened their blood and made them sluggish.
They were outside the bar someplace. Dazedly, Klaaw felt himself being upended on the rough ground.
He took a deep breath, trying to speak. But before he even got out the first word, he felt a searing pain between his buttocks.
His eyelids rolled back, and he caught a glimpse of Lobo as the bounty hunter swaggered away from him.
"There's another name fer a Sirian with a grenade wedged up his butt," Lobo tossed over his shoulder.
Kiram Claaw frowned, his mental processes slowed by the cold. He had just enough time to figure it out before the frag grenade exploded.
Advertising Feature The Spazz-Frag 5000 Space Hawg is one of the most coveted interplanetary motorbikes in production. It proudly boasts a miniaturized nuclear engine that produces several billion horsepower at a low 2,000 revs and is capable of cruising at sublight speed. It will whisk you from standstill to rocket speed in no time at all. Standard armaments include laser cannon, front-mounted machine guns, grenade autolaunchers and a low-emission organic disrupter-not to mention the 12-inch serrated bayonet secreted under a body panel. There are also canisters of toxic gas pellets, if you know where to look (and if you don't know, don't look; they're booby trapped). The 5000 model comes fitted with its own oxygen environment, an invisible membrane permitting breathing even in deep space. For dedicated planetary use, the membrane can be tuned to handle alcohol, cannabis, and several dozen other Class C drugs. (Note: addition of drugs may impair the rider's ability and will invite police attention on many worlds. It will also invalidate the warranty.) The fitted "Resonance" In-Bike Entertainment system is permanently tuned to Radio Heavy Metal. The manufacturer's market research has repeatedly shown that the Spazz-Frag is bought almost exclusively by single males between 20 and 35 who earn lots of money and constantly listen to music that makes their ears bleed. It goes without saying that voluptuous babes in scanty clothing just love to ride pillion. But the crown jewel in the Spazz-Frag's prospectus is surely the Semisentient Control System, which handles all aspects of the bike's functioning and behavior. Cloned only from pure genetic material cultured in the biolabs of Walton's World, the SSCS is a unique feature of this machine. It will set your route, self-navigate, and is capable of extensive interactivity. It will even become your friend, if you let it.
"Radlands in thirty klicks, boss. What you figure?" the SSCS asked in its irritating drawl of a voice.
"I figure you should shut up," Lobo snarled.
"I can become your friend, if you let me," the control system tried again, quoting shamelessly from its own publicity.
"Ya been sayin' that since I stole the bike, wiseass. An' without fail, what do I always tell ya?"
There was a slight pause. When the SSCS spoke again, it sounded hurt. "You always tell me: 'Go frag yourself, geek.'"
"Right. So do it. But switch to Stealth Mode first. Radlands ahead."
The air around the bike shimmered gently as the control system began refracting the light waves striking it, rendering bike and rider virtually invisible.
Lobo squinted against the glare of the harsh yellow sun. He was riding along about ten feet above ground level, the bike slowed to a comparative crawl. The entire landscape radiated an eerie green glow.
Below him, the ground was covered in a thick carpet of bones and skulls. Here and there, a boulder bore the scorched imprint of a body. A column of refugees must have been fleeing the city when the nukes started to fall. Caught in the blast, flash-cooked.
The thought reminded Lobo he was hungry. His eyes continued to drink in his surroundings as, without glancing away, he flipped open a hatch and pulled out a can of iced beer.
He threw back his head and drained the can in seconds.
He belched once, almost discreetly, then tossed the can over his shoulder. It ricocheted off a rock with a metallic clang.
"What's the point of my being stealthy, if you're tossing beer cans around?" the SSCS asked in a miffed tone. "Apart from anything else, you're polluting the environment."
Lobo sighed heavily. "Lissen, ya bleedin'-heart bike: We're in the Radlands. Approximately one thousand kilotons of nuclear bombs dropped on the city and surrounding area. Radiation readings are off the scale. Nothing will grow here again for approximately a zillion years. So who gives a squeezed zit about a fraggin' beer can?"
"Radiation?" The voice sounded horrified. "Have you taken your antirad pills?"
Lobo cursed and switched it off. If he'd known the Spazz-Frag had such a wussy SSCS, he might have thought twice about stealing it. It had taken all of his considerable engineering skills to circumvent the bike's security systems and booby traps, reprogramming every component so the bike would look on him as its rightful legal owner. The one thing he hadn't been able to change was the control system.
Ahead, Lobo could see his first glimpse of the city-what was left of it. Stumps of once-mighty skyscrapers, their stonework turned to glass by the ferocity of the firestorm, stabbed at the sky. A hundred-foot-high communications mast had melted and bent until it looked like something that might win an art prize. Mounds of rubble were interspersed with craters filled with a disgusting pink gloop that might-just-have been organic.
And everything glistened with that creepy green glow.
Lobo sighed again. The things he did-the places he went-just to earn an honest buck. Sometimes he almost wished he'd become an outlaw himself. Although, now he came to think of it, that would probably involve exactly the same places, as other bounty hunters tracked him down.
In the city, behind the ruins of a vitrified building, Xemtex and his dirty dozen waited impatiently. They were a motley crew of misfit aliens and one psychopathic robot. Four of the gang were on lookout duty in elevated positions, hunkered down among globules of glass and bright green rad-dust.
"Your man was right, boss. It's Lobo."
The Rigellan known as Starboot lowered his binoculars and handed them to Xemtex. The short, scrawny gang leader raised the glasses to his eyes and stared hard at the distant, approaching figure on a space hawg.
"He's the toughest of the tough, so they say," Starboot went on. "You know what his name means?"
One of the others rose to the bait. "Lobo? It's gotta be something connected with wolves, right?"
"Fat chance." Starboot shook his head. "The way I heard it, 'Lobo' is actually a Khund dialect. It means 'He who eats your intestines and enjoys them.'"
There was a chorus of groans from the others.
Starboot shrugged. "He's never failed on a bounty warrant yet. What we gonna do, Xemtex?"
"We stick to the plan, Starboot. This Lobo maybe has a fierce rep, but he's the same as anybody else. Cut him-he bleeds."
Xemtex screwed up his eyes tightly and concentrated. Jagged little lines of electrical force darted around his eyes as he stared at a football-sized sphere of glass a dozen yards away. Nothing happened for a second or so ... then suddenly the sphere exploded into dust with a loud boom.
"Stare at him"-Xemtex grinned-"and he'll explode."
Nobody else on Paradek, Xemtex's homeworld, could blow things up by looking at them and thinking hard. That was probably why they'd kept him in a granite cell since his power manifested itself at age six months. Xemtex was too young to remember, of course, but he'd heard the story plenty of times.
He had colic. His father picked him up to comfort him. Next thing, Dad's head had exploded all over the nursery walls.
Baby Xemtex fell to the floor. It must have been the pain of landing that set him off again. His mother only got one foot inside the door before her leg blew off; the rest of her followed a microsecond later.
Excerpted from DC Universe: Last Sons by Alan Grant Copyright © 2006 by DC Comics. Excerpted by permission.
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