Episode One: Awakening

Chapter One

In the grand scheme of things, sitting in the corner, nursing yet another drink would do no good. But for the moment, Gabriel Drake could not care less about the grand scheme of things. He was enjoying his drink and told himself, as he had before the last three trips to the bar, that this one would definitely be his last.

He sometimes thought about the war. It was over now, a page in history ending almost two years ago. Its repercussions, however, were far from over. The war-loving Madadnese race had attacked the wrong damn planet, but Earth's response - quick, decisive and deadly - had led to years of conflict between the two worlds.

The Madadnese were bigger, stronger, and a whole lot uglier, but the Iron Eagles, at the forefront of Earth's Special Forces, had fearlessly headed the charge into the Madadnese jungle-planet. Among their numbers was Drake, a young man going into combat for the first time, but by all accounts a gifted soldier and more than ready to play his part. And play his part he did, and he earned the decorations to prove it.

And the powers... Oh man, the powers. For many soldiers war is a tremendous journey of self-discovery, none more so than Gabriel Drake. Back in the war he had quickly noticed that his body was affected less than others by phaser-fire. Indeed, as he took more hits he became more and more immune until towards the end of the conflict he was totally unaffected. He had hidden his new power as well as he could; afraid of being labelled a freak, fearful of the violent repercussions which had befallen so many other people whose evolutionary powers had held them up as a target for hatred and spite.

He also tried, less successfully, to hide his incredible endurance levels. He could heal his injuries unbelievably quickly. Simple bullet-wounds were easy enough to disguise, but on one occasion at least a dozen men watched him take a hail of bullets and keep on going. Suspicion was aroused, but nothing came of it. The issue of mutants within the military was a taboo subject. On the streets, it was a source of great controversy amongst civilians, but in wartime, against a stronger foe, the armed forces were taking all the help they could get - freak or not.

But it was not the war, nor superpowers which played so heavily on his mind that he turned to solitude and alcohol. It was his wife, Helen. It hadn't even been a year since she was found brutally murdered at their home along with their young son, Michael. They had told him it was a suspected terrorist attack, perhaps Madadnese, but almost certainly related to his part in the war. The years of bloody fighting, and the discrimination which had begun to rear its head, caused him serious doubts about whether to stay with the Eagles, but his mind was suddenly and cruelly decided the day he walked into his home to find his wife and child lying face-down in a disgusting pool of...

Happier times. Happier times, he told himself. He thought of past vacations and Christmas days. The first time he had made love to his wife, and the birth of Michael. But the happy thoughts could not stop the tear rolling down his unshaven face and plunging into his whiskey. Could not stop his fist clenching in anger.

Thank God for Hon Shun. Sure, he was a monk. And sure, all that deep spirituality and magic and stuff was kind of weird to Drake. But this new life had given him something of a purpose again. Being a Guardian, protecting others using the powers which made him so different from them. Using his strength to protect the week from threats they may never even know of. For a man with his level of bottled-up rage, such an aggressive and violent line of work was therapeutic. Drake had never figured himself for a hero, even after his efforts in the war, but he was pretty sure that's what the Guardians were.

His train of thought was interrupted as six men entered the bar. He sized them up instantly, a force of habit; in his line of business it paid to know everyone and everything in your surroundings. They all appeared to be in their mid-twenties, their clothes were scruffy and the collars of their black body warmers were pulled up. Some wore woolen hats on their heads and they all sported stubble. He drew the conclusion that they were feared in this area of the city because the bar fell silent as they walked in. Clearly, these were not the most savory of characters, and the night was likely to take a turn for the eventful.

"What you looking at, boy?" The tallest of the group asked menacingly, as he cocked his head at Drake. The man's face was twisted and evil-looking, Drake didn't like him one bit. Drake was far from incapacitated but he knew he was in no state for trouble.

"Sorry," he said, as he got up and placed some money on the bar. Pulling the coat around his shoulders, he made for the door. It would be cold out. Winter in Glasgow was going to be a harsh one, temperatures had plummeted and the snow had fallen over the past week or so with a vengeance.

"No!" The man grumbled, "I don't think you are!" Drake turned about to offer another apology when he saw that the other five were back on their feet. What the hell, Drake thought, why keep all the rage and anger hidden away? He was hurting and it was about time someone else got a little pain.

"Listen… I don't know what your problem was... but I know what it is NOW!..." He smashed the closest man with a thundering right hook, smirking as he heard the man's cheek bone crunch. "...ME!" He grabbed another by the neck; pulling him in and down with all his might as he threw his body towards the man. He brought his knee up as he did so, crushing the man's nose and lip to a bloody mess. His anger could only take him so far, however, and he was fighting a losing battle. A strong pair of arms grabbed him from behind and held him tightly as a fist connected with his jaw. Gabriel Drake did not suffer from any glass jaw syndrome, however. He took the punch easily; he had been hit much harder in his 31 years of life. This fellow didn't rate highly at all. Another shot connected, making blood trickle from his lip. Then another. And another. His head felt woozy and he heard a giggle. Yet no-one was smiling. It was himself who was laughing. This seemed to infuriate the man punching him because he renewed his assault with vigour. Then the man backed off.

Gabriel Drake's head was swimming, he felt as though he was no longer part of his body. He felt the punches land but they did not hurt. The punches were taking the pain inside him away. He willed the man to hit harder, to take all the hurt away. He saw his wife and child; gone thanks to an act of indescribable savagery. God, how he had loved them, how he missed them with all his soul. Each day he felt the burning rage well up inside him. Terrorists, they told him, with absolutely no certainty. They would probably never find his child's killer, his wife's rapist and murderer. Never. He might as well be dead himself.

A man who had stood back to view proceedings now stepped forwards. As he came into focus Drake saw the glint of metal. The man had produced a knife from inside his body warmer. Drake sagged against the man holding him, accepting the inevitable. He only saw the knife, yearning for the final blow; the blow that he prayed would finally reunite him with his love and his son. Drake felt the blade pierce into his stomach, the pain was exquisite. He hoped for his heart to give out, to surrender to his will and just give in.

Suddenly, the man behind Drake released him with a scream that startled the whole bar. The squeal was accompanied by the snapping of bone. The man fell to the floor wailing in pain. The five remaining men blanched and trembled with fear as they were faced with something beyond their reckoning. Standing over the downed man was a huge alien. He stood at around eight feet tall, built on a foundation of solid muscle. There was no trace of fat to be found on the mountainous frame. Constant physical exercise, martial arts and resolve to be the best there was had ensured a cut which no-one could ever equal.

The alien's hair fell about his face and was jet black with blood red markings. It reached down his back to his tail bone and he now scrutinized each of his friend's assailants with his bright red eyes. Atop his forehead, protruding from his hair, were three large bony spines. Like the tusks of a rhino they could be used very effectively as deadly weapons. He seemed to be trying to burn holes in the men with his gaze. From their shaking, it seemed to be having the desired effect. The man was a Varquesse, a warrior people who were vastly intelligent and hugely powerful. The man was the Guardian simply called Jax.

The alien had crushed the man's arm merely by closing his great hand around it and clenching a fist. He had studied the way of the Varquesse fighting monk since he was five and was fully inducted into an infamous monastery on his homeworld. Now at 21 and fully grown, he was an impressive figure.

Jax had been sent by Hon Shun on a small errand. The Guardian master had been worried about Drake. Before he had left the man had sat in Hon Shun's quarters talking at length about his wife and child. He knew that this was a bad sign, there was great anger and uncontrollable rage within the gifted Guardian. Hon Shun put his trust in Jax, an exceptional Guardian in all aspects, to find the troubled man and bring him home in one piece. It was a task which Jax had accepted gladly. He respected Drake and loved him dearly like a brother. After hours of searching his regular haunts, he remembered Drake telling him about a small bar in Scotland where he went to think sometimes. A friend from Drake's days in the Eagles lived there and they would sometimes go to the bar to talk.

Something did not feel right, and like a sixth sense Jax simply knew there was trouble afoot. Now, standing before the five remaining men he knew his gut instinct had been proven correct.

"Do you propose to do anything more with that little razor … Or do you think you would rather pick your friend off of the ground and leave?" Jax offered them their choices.

It was answer enough that the man holding the knife had lost control of his bodily functions and emptied his bowels. They picked up their fallen comrade and scampered quickly, totally demoralised. The bar was still, everyone looked on, still in horror at what had come to pass. There was the distant wail of sirens; Jax presumed the barman had called the local constabulary. They would find out nothing, and the patrons of the bar would tell them even less for fear of repercussions. The barman himself had ducked below the bar at the first sign of trouble so that he would not know anything. Jax scooped up the barely conscious Drake in his powerful arms and carried him through the rear entrance. The barman made a half-hearted attempt to stop them but one flash of those angry red eyes changed his mind.

They passed into the parking area behind the bar and the doors of a hulking transport slid open and the interior lit up. The transport was an old Iron Eagles vehicle modified for civilian use. Jax carried the man inside and set him down on one of the seats. Strapping him in quickly the big alien swung into the driver's seat as the doors slid shut. A mighty roar came from the custom-made engine and the huge transport, with its gold plaque reading 'Rhino', rumbled off into the night sky.