The Dénouement: A Revengers Mission Update

LAV_firing

The convoy rolled along, the radio operators barking as the line went dead. The gunners kept their eyes peeled, focusing on the far horizon where the flashes of muzzle fire had suddenly ceased. They moved at a quickened pace, the Humvees and escorting LAVs rolling along on the ridge. After several failed attempts, the CO got on the line with the rest of the platoon and issued new orders.

“Keep your eyes peeled. We’re entering the ballpark. Our orders are to dispatch all-“

The communique barely got out when the convoy came to a sudden halt. The lead LAV that led the way suddenly ceased to be there, and fireballs engulfed two of the Humvees seconds later. Those that remained began to bring their guns about, seeking out whatever enemy they could. From the front convoy, troops jumped from their burning vehicles and began rolling on the ground, trying to suppress the flames that were catching on their uniforms.

Those who managed to get out and bring their weapons to bear weren’t standing long, as a black streak flew through them and knocked them clear into the trees. The grunts in the rear deployed from their vehicles as well and began searching the skies. Whatever had hit them had to have come from above.

“What the hell was that?” asked the squad leader.

No one answered. Whatever hit them seemed to be beyond the realm of their experience…

*                    *                    *

“First pass, a success!”

Angel looked at Judgement’s beaming face and his bared teeth. Taking out armored vehicles clearly agreed with him. A quick look at Bonfire told her that he was having fun too. Already, a second volley of flames was forming in his palms, slowly trickling up his forearms.

“Any plans for a second pass?” she asked.

“Can’t leave their friends there unattended,” replied Judgement. “Same as before? I charge the LAV, you guys take out those grunts?”

“I’ll handle the grunts,” said Angel. “After our pyrotechnic friend here sets the vehicles ablaze.”

Bonfire nodded. It seemed they had a consensus. Even if they had walked into a trap, this aspect of the operation was going well at least. The Captain had paired them well, letting the three of them hold up the rear. Who knew they’d be of the most use back here?

“Alright,” she said. “We’re a go. On three…”

Everyone dug their heels in and made ready to pounce. She counted them off.

“One… two… “

She scarcely got it out before they were off again. Moving as fast as his telekinesis enhanced legs could, Judgement slammed into the remaining LAV, sending it rolling sideways onto the side of the hill. The grunts before it turned to open fire, only to find themselves engulfed in flames as their vehicles gas tanks went up. Their torment was shortlived though, as an unseen force reached down and plucked them out of the fireball, hurling them up into the air and bringing them down hard on the dirt. Their flames extinguished, but bodies smashed, they simply lay there and cried out in pain.

Bonfire, Judgement and Angel landed together a few meters away, looking up their handiwork. Two armored vehicles, four Humvees, and about two dozen armed soldiers. All neutralized, and without a single death…

“The Captain would be proud of us!” said Bonfire. Angel smiled, but quickly stopped as a new sound took to the skies. Aside from her, there was nothing in this sector that ought to be flying about the heavens. And the noise wasn’t exactly coming from the direction of the warehouse either.

“Oh dear…” she said. To the east, a telltale profile was visible, a flying dorito that at the very edge of visibility.

*                    *                    *

X-47B_over_coastline

Smackdown eyed the door tightened his grip on his weapon. He could feel the handles getting slick from sweat, and his legs were beginning to cramp up from standing poised for so long. He placed his finger to his ear and contacted Atrum again.

“How long?”

Atrum was a second in replying. The panel he was tending to had become a mess of tangled wires, every circuit exposed and rerouted one way or another.

“I’m almost there,” he said, breathing heavily. “Just a few more connections.”

Smackdown grunted and looked back at Tsunami. Aside from Styka, who had stayed behind to watch Atrum’s back, everyone was assembled in the facilities main chamber and waiting for the final security door to open. Of all of them, she seemed to be the least interested to see what was on the other end. At least that was the impression he was getting from her. Her face was stony and still, her body still fluid and ready to move at a moment’s notice.

It didn’t make sense to him. He could feel his heart racing and his feet itching at the mere thought of what lay beyond them. Every second that passed made his nerves that much more raw and frayed. How was it she was enduring this with such apparent calm?

Or was that merely what she was projecting, he wondered. Everyone suspected she would be the most interested party in their group. Perhaps she sought to prove them wrong. Perhaps she simply didn’t want them to see how much it was effecting her. Then again, Smackdown wondered if he was simply projecting all that onto her because he was sick and tired of waiting…

“Atrum!”

A loud clank answered his call and the door began to slide open. Smackdown breathed a sigh of relief just as Atrum’s delayed reply came through.

“It’s done, Captain! The last of the security seals is down. The doors should be opening.”

“They are…” he said happily. “Standby!”

He waited as long as he could. As soon as the large steel doors slid open wide enough, he moved forward and squeezed himself through. On the other side, a wide atrium sat, a small set of steps leading to a narrow corridor that went on for what looked like an indefinite distance. Smackdown could tell from the way the warehouse hugged the earth that this tunnel led deep underground. No one could say from this vantage point just how deep it went…

He was followed close behind by the rest of the team. Erotica, Pax, Freedom, Panacea, and of course, Tsunami. Moving fast, she maintained a certain fluid grace as she poured through the doorway and kept close behind. He glanced at her only once as they made their way deeper to the interior, the long, dimly-lit corridor stretching on even farther into the earth. Forced to move in a single line, they pushed forward, following the tunnel onward and onward…

“Captain…” his earpiece buzzed. “Captain… are you there?”

Smackdown put his finger to his ear. He stopped in his tracks and motioned for the team to stop. The interference was already quite extreme.

“Atrum, is that you? What’s wrong?”

“…barely hear you, Captain… I think we got trouble… I’m sensing something… something bad…”

The link cut out shortly thereafter. Smackdown removed his finger from his ear and frowned. He tapped at the earpiece several times, hoping that might somehow correct the signal. He repeated Atrum’s name several times over, releasing his hold so as not to tie up the line in case a reply came through. When he heard Atrum’s voice again, he sounded far more urgent, and far more garbled.

“…Angel’s contacting… Enemy’s… incoming… we have to …!”

“Atrum?” he asked, as soon as the line went dead. He waited for several more seconds, but to no avail. “Atrum?!” He released his hold on the link. Given their current position, the interference was just too great. But he didn’t need to hear the message in its entirety to know that something was wrong. He took another look down the corridor, and then back the way the way they had come.

“Trouble…” he muttered

“What’s that, Captain?”

Smackdown looked to Panacea. “Something’s wrong up above. I want you, Erotica, and Pax to head back. The rest of us will press on.”

Panacea nodded and looked to the others he had ordered back. A single nod passed between them, and they began doubling back with a purpose. Alone, Smackdown looked to the one team member that remained. Tsunami was still unreadable. He chanced to ask her one last time.

“You okay with this, stormy lady?”

She took a deep breath, but her expression didn’t change. “You’re call, Captain. I can go on alone if you want. You don’t have to be down here. It’s not like the answer to your origins that might be down that way.”

Smackdown frowned. He couldn’t help but feel that there was a trace of mockery in her tone. Thus far, he had given her a wide birth, but at this juncture, he just wasn’t in the mood.

“What the hell is going on with you, Tsunami? We’re could be on the verge of finding out what happened to you. Nobody else in this group has ever had that opportunity. Are you telling me you have no feelings on the subject?”

Her face twisted to form something new, something angry and borderline menacing. Smackdown’s fingers tightened around his weapon, the feeling that he might have something to fear from her suddenly occurring to him. Her words did little to lessen that suspicion.

“What difference does it make, Captain? Whether we find that artifact or not, my father is still just as dead. And you, you can’t know what that’s like. You take away that armor, that gun, and your strange sense of purpose, and you’re no different from the rest of humanity. So don’t pretend like you know what it’s like to be me.”

Smackdown’s fear passed. She had slighted him, but not in any physical way. Her assault struck him nevertheless, and hurt him on a much deeper level.

“You’re not the only one who’s lost someone, Hawa. I may not know what it is to be different, like you. But I know what its like to see someone you love die and not be able to do a damn thing about it. That kind of thing changes you. Whether or not it gives you special powers, you’re transformed all the same. And I know that if I had the chance to understand why that happened, I would snatch it up in a heartbeat.”

Tsunami’s face changed again. This time around, it seemed to soften a little; she even looked her expression might crack. But of course, no tears followed. It was clear she had stopped shedding those long ago…

“Fine, Captain. Maybe you do understand something of what I’m feeling right now. But I’m sick of people asking me about it, bugging me like they expect me to show them something. What I feel, that’s for me to know. What I want to learn, that’s for me too. Nobody else needs to worry about that.”

Smackdown waited for her to continue, eventually nodded and realized this was all he could expect from her right now.

“Alright, fine. You keep your mind on the mission, and I guess we’ll have no problem. You just be sure to let me know if you’re feeling yourself slip. I know how that is too…”

“I don’t have that problem,” she replied. “Let’s move on.”

*                     *                    *

She came upon the warehouse at last. Judgement and Bonfire were still a ways behind, but she expected them to catch up quickly. Even if they didn’t possess the gift of flight, fear and urgency was giving them all wings.

She spotted the open door around the top level, the bodies of Atrum and Styka filing out to wave her down. She descended quickly and came in for a landing a few meters away. Her boots landed hard on the concrete surface, cracking the surface and sending chips in all directions.

“How far is it?” asked Atrum. Angel looked up at the sky. The drone was almost directly overhead, its profile passing in front of the sun and becoming a tiny, blackened dot.

“Who can tell?” she said. “It’s so high up, it’d take me forever to reach it. Judgement doesn’t think he can do anything about it unless it fires on us.”

Atrum put his hand over his eyes and tried to get a glimpse of the thing. He shook his head and grunted.

“That’s not like any UAV I’ve ever seen. Who knows what kind of range it has? But I think it’s fair to say they’ve got us targeted.”

“We have to get the Captain out,” said Styka, decisively. “There’s nothing inside there. This whole op was one big trap.”

Atrum and Angel were about to voice their agreement, but another noise arose to interrupt them. All at once, their comms became active with the noise of new chatter. And while everyone else was busy tending to their earpieces, Atrum was receiving a message of a different kind.

[It’s me. What’s going on up there?]

[We’ve got company] Atrum shot back. [A high-altitude UAV. And it’s got us in it’s sights.]

“Where’s the Captain?” asked Angel through her comm. “Inside? What are they still doing in there?” She released her hold on the comm and looked at Atrum and Styka with bewilderment. “What the hell are we supposed to do?”

Atrum concluded his psychic conversation with Pax and came back to them. “They’re out of comm range. We have to go back in there and pull them out before -“

A loud noise cracked overhead, followed by several more. They all looked up, and spotted the plumes of smoke which were descending towards them. It didn’t take long for them to realize that the drone was well within striking distance, and was firing on them with everything it had.

“Oh shit,” said Angel. She did a quick count of the plumes and looked out at the treeline. Judgement and Bonfire were still well away, and the only other people with the ability to take to the air were still deep inside. She looked back to Atrum and Styka. “Anybody want to tell me how the hell are we going to stop twelve missiles?”

No answer. But then again, she hadn’t been expecting one…

hellfire2

Nocturnal

nocturnalThe ground was flattened in places, leaves, mud and the telltale traces of blood ground up and stamped together. The small dots of plasma glowed bright green through the frames in his headset, alerting him of the path of his quarry. He smiled, taking off at a runner’s pace and following it to its source…

He didn’t bother to step carefully. A full out sprint and all the noise he was making as brushes slammed into him was entirely safe now. His last shot had struck home, one of them at any rate. The tiny trail of star-like dots would lead him to it, weakened and helpless from the wound. And then, nothing more to do but finish it off with a quick, merciful shot. Or perhaps he would draw his sabre and let its torment linger. It was entirely up to him.

A successful hunt, and the best small fortune he had spent in years!

Coming to a clearing, he spotted the trail veer off to the right. The splotches of glowing plasma enlarged and became nebulas in his visual field and his auditory enhancers detected the faint sounds of rustling. Clear of the foliage, he looked to his right and spotted a rock outcropping. A vague blur of greenish, grey mass toiled away on it, surrounded by a large pool of glowing matter.

Grinning, he tapped the glasses to switch frequencies, calling up the thermal imaging. The green-grey mass became a blazing field of red, yellow, orange and white, the pool beneath accented in shades of yellow that was darkening at the corners. He stepped slowly forward, brandishing his weapon in both hands.

Coming up on the felled beast, he switched the glasses one last time to image intensification. For this last bit, he wanted to see his quarry’s face. Nothing beat the site of a finished animal, its eyes twisted into the horrid realization that it had been caught, its life brought to a sudden and painful end.

It’s eyes glowed brightly in the night, augmented pupils catching just enough ambient light to shine on their own, but appearing like blazing orbs through his glasses. He wondered if they would wink out when he delivered the coup de grace, or would they simply keep on shining, well into the night and until the vultures and maggots came to strip it’s body clean? Who knew? Point was, he would be looking into them when it died.

“Hello friend,” he said coolly. “You led me on quite the chase, but you had to know it would end.”

The beast struggled and bared its teeth. The almost human-like appendages struggled against the rock beneath it; it was fighting just to move a few more inches away. How quaint, the instinct to distance itself from its wound-be hunter. One had to admire that about it, the commitment to primal instinct in the face of all of its enhancement.

“I don’t suppose you have any last words to share do you?”

The beast bore its teeth again and growled loudly. He laughed. Apparently, it was choosing to die as an animal, ignoring its other genetic predispositions. A man always talked before the end, pleading, asking, wanting – anything to lengthen his last moments just a little bit longer. Or so he had been told…

“You know,” he said, kneeling. “If you were to beg me for your life, I might just let you die here… peacefully against this rock.”

The beast winced, its wounded leg scraping against the rock. It stopped moving for a second, began breathing heavily. It had accepted its fate and stopped trying to futilely pull away. And yet, he was determined to see it would say something before the end. He needed to know… would it behave like a man did? The experience of hunting a knowing, thinking prey was part of what he was paying for, after all. What harm did it do to get his money’s worth?

“What do you say? How about you beg for your life?”

The beast took a loud breath through its nose and turned to him. Its wide mouth stretched into some terrible, crooked line, almost as if it was smiling. The auditory units he had shoved in his ear canals suddenly picked up a new sound. Crunching, slow and low…

“Funny…” said the beast. “I was about to ask you the same thing!”

The frames in the glasses went dark. All light went out as he heard a terrible scream, the sounds of bone, sinew and flesh all crunching and grinding deep inside his ears…

_____

“Fantastic… The attention to detail is superb…”

Itzli smiled as Mr. Charleston, his latest prospective client admired the contraption in his hands. Many times, he turned it over, examining the metal, faux-wood and ceramic inlays. Though not the most sophisticated weapon by any stretch the imagination, those who paid for his services were known to appreciate classics, or at least-approximations thereof.

Charleston opened the breach next and sighted down the long tube, no doubt thinking he looked every bit the seasoned hunter.

“Single-shot, long range spreadgun,” he said, slapping it shut again. “Pump action at the rear and the option for holographic sites.”

“Just in case people feel like merging the traditional and the modern,” replied Itzli. Charleston laughed and put the gun back in the rack. He gazed around at the other various weapons that were on display. From the automags and flechette pistols in the hand gun section, to the high-powered assault rifles by his left arm.

Across the room, he spotted the cases which held the self-loading crossbows, knives, machetes, and other weapons that were even more traditional in nature. Everywhere he peered, the same look burned intently in his eyes. A man overwhelmed by choice, a veritable kid in a candy store…

His eyes settled on one section in the far corner, a case with several canister-like objects inside.

“Grenades?” he said, pointing in their direction.

“Oh yes,” Itzli said, leading him over to where they resided behind reinforced glass. “Our hunters do enjoy flushing out their game. But no high-explosives or frags. Only flashbangs, stun grenades, and caustic gas.” He punched in a code on a small wall terminal, opened the case and fetched a combination grenade. “Our hunters do not enjoy kills they cannot take home with them. And I think you’ll agree. Explosive grenades are messy and somewhat of a liability.”

He passed the device to Charleston, who took it between two slightly trembling hands. “And you say the animals can think, reason, even talk?”

“Why yes,” Itzli responded happily. “All are augmented to ensure the most thrilling and challenging hunt. After all, what good is prey that only obeys its instincts and is entirely predictable? And with all the best wild game now extinct, with the safari now on the verge of becoming a distant memory, men of sport like ourselves have had to get creative, haven’t we?”

Charleston chuckled loudly. “We certainly have. Bu I must commend you specifically for your ingenuity.” He waves his arms around vaguely, referring to the entire compound that existed around them.

Iztli waved his hand dismissively. “Nothing special, my friend. Had I not done it, someone else surely would have.”

“But you, and you alone, had the fortitude to find an island nation that knows how to do business, keep the foreign authorities and animal-rights trouble makers out. No doubt that cost you quite the pretty penny.”

“My greatest expense,” Iztli acknowledged. “But I don’t need to tell you how important discretion is. Which is why all clients must sign a confidentiality agreement and take a private shuttle to get here. Mustn’t allow for a digital trail, after all.”

“I agree,” said Charletson, nodding approvingly. “Criminal the lengths those left-wing freaks make us go to just have some fun isn’t it?

“But well worth it, when you consider the sheer enjoyment this place provides.”

Iztli and Charleston smiled at each for a few seconds, a comfortable silence between two men who seemed to understand each other perfectly. And then, a chime in Iztli’s ear caught his attention. He depressed it and replied:

“Hello… yes? Oh dear… where is he now?”

Charleston waited, his face twisting into a slight frown as he waited for an explanation. Itzli looked back to him the moment his conversation was complete.

“My apologies, I have been summoned to the field. It seems one of our hunters has concluded his safari prematurely.”

“Oh dear,” said Charleston, suddenly concerned for himself. “Nothing serious, I hope?”

“Nothing at all. Mr. Celik simply made the mistake of filling out his information incorrectly. I try to tell these novices, if you request a basic hunt, that is what you’ll get. All too often, sporting men assume they are not ready for a challenge, and then express disappointment when their prey dies too soon.”

Charleston laughed and winked at him. “I assure you, I will not make that mistake.”

Iztli brightened and extended his hand. “Then I assume we have an agreement? A solo hunt for the sporting man from the Deep South?”

Charletson took his hand unhesitatingly and shook it firmly. “Indeed we do. And I look forward to it.”

“Excellent. I shall return forthwith and we can speak to booking, find you the perfect weekend to fly down and conduct a safari of your choosing. Remember, the class of animal, weapons used, duration of the hunt, and any incidentals are entirely up to you. In the meantime, feel free to have a look around. I’ll meet you in our lounge after.”

Charleston shook his hand again. “Good to know there are still men out there who appreciate a good hunt.”

Iztli chuckled and issued him a slight bow. Leaving him in the Armory, he quickly made his way to the bottom floor, to a set of large doors opening onto the main hunting grounds. He depressed the piece in his ear again and began speaking hurriedly to Mara in the Monitoring Booth.

“Where is he?”

“In the South Asia stretch. He cornered Tigris on the rocky bluff, and that’s where his signal began to go faint.”

“Dammit!” Itzli considered the possibly implications. His anger momentarily subsided, replaced by general concern. “Was Tigris injured?”

“Yes,” said Mara. “I’ve dispatched a medres to his location though. He should be fine.”

Itzli sighed and nodded to himself. “Alright, I’m en route to that area now. Tell Tigris to stay put!”

_____

He found Tigris leaning against a slight crop of shale. The medres bot was next to him, its long, poking appendages fishing around in his leg for bullet fragments as a second set of arms administered anti-coagulants and wiped obscuring traces of blood away. Standing next to him, Hubris stood, his clawed hands ruddy with gore. Despite the obvious pain, Tigris appeared to be laughing, no doubt reminiscing with Hubris about their opponents last moments on this Earth.

Bringing the cart to stop, Itzli jumped out and proceeded to them. Both looked suddenly subdued as they saw him coming, sensing that Pappa Bear was ornery and looking to kick some butts. It was a fortunate thing for Tigris that he was. Had his injuries been worse, he wouldn’t have the time or inclination to be mad right now.

“What the hell happened out here?” he demanded. Hubris looked down at his paws and cleared his throat.

“Uh… well, Pappa, we uh… we kind of had to accelerate things a bit.”

“Accelerate? What are you talking about? Tigris! What is he talking about?”

“You’re client,” uttered Tigris, grunting amidst the pain of his medical treatment, “proved to be a better shot than we expected. He caught me in the leg with a lucky round. Fortunately, it fragmented on impact.”

“Of course it did! That’s what your sub-dermal inlays are for! How did that lead you to call in our quick-clawed friend here?”

Tigris looked to Hubris, who was still keeping his head low.

“Well… it still hurt! And I was losing blood. I tried to make it over the bluff and keep things going but…”

“But what?”

Tigris once again looked at Hubris, who finally sighed and chimed in. “He tripped before he could make it over. Twisted his hind leg pretty good too.”

Iztli palmed his face and tried not to shout out how disappointed he was. Such skilled hunters, perfect specimens of evolution and augmentation. And they were to be foiled by a simple accident? Had they no pride in their work anymore? What was worse, they seemed to be getting a kick out of it, the way they were both laughing now.

“I-told-you… never conclude a hunt when I’m with client! It raises suspicions! If I tell one of those butchers that another client died, they will run away with their tales tucked between their legs! If I lie and say they won too soon, they’ll assume the hunt is too easy and look elsewhere! Do you want them hunting your kin for sport and winning? Do you?!”

Hubris cleared his throat again and shook his head. Tigris joined him.

“No, Pappa. No we don’t.”

“Good!” he replied, and looked at Tigris injured leg. His message delivered, his anger spent, he felt some pangs of sympathy and inquired about it finally. “How is it? Any pain?”

“Nothing so bad this machine of yours can’t make it worse,” said Tigris through bared fangs. The machine dug deep for a final fragment, causing him to growl loudly. Iztli smiled.

“Good. Now where’s our friends body?”

“Over there,” said Hubris, pointing with a single claw, bathed as it was in indigo. Itzli followed the finger to a mass on the ground, a twisted wreck of a man who’s terror-stricken eyes looked up at the moon. The pale orbs looked horribly bug-eyed, as it the lids themselves had been ripped free. The horrible expression seemed to scream of lament, a man crying to the heavens demanding to know why he had been forsaken.

He could see several traces of bite and scratch marks, where Hubris and Tigris had both torn into him. All were concentrated on his center mass, avoiding the jugular and other major arteries as much as possible. He understood now why the expression was so fixed on his features. His two furry friends had enjoyed themselves, stretching his last few minutes into an inexorable oblivion. He was sure the expression would remain painted on for as long as his body remained there. Until the vultures and maggots came to pick it clean…

How horrible… and yet beautiful.

“Alright. Get fixed up and get back home. I want you healed and rested. We have another client coming in the near future.”

Hubris purred aggressively. “Anyone special?”

Iztli smiled. “A Southern gentleman gentleman with many kills to his credit. And it just so happens, he enjoys hunting jungle cats.” That seemed to get both Hubris and Tigris’ motors running. Both emitted low growls of contempt and anger, interspersed with happy purrs. The thought of putting such a soul away no doubt appealed to them greatly…

“I love the taste of Southern gentleman,” said Tigris, licking the gore from his lips.

2012 In Review!

fireworks1The end of the year, in review, as provided by the nice folks at WordPress.com! I have to say, 2012 was pretty good to this little blog o’ mine! In addition to me getting the bulk of my current followers, I also received the vast (and I mean VAST) majority of my views in this one year. Consider… of the a grand total of 186,878 hits, over 180,000 took place between Jan. 1st 2012 and today.

Not only that, but of the 769 posts I’ve made since the sight went up, 670 were put up in this last year. Wow… I do love to go on, apparently. To top all that off, 2012 was the year that I published my highest articles of all time. The first was “A Tribute to the Joker” (which remains my top grosser) which currently holds the top spot at 27,974 views. Second place went to “Bath Salts and the Zombie Apocalypse” with 25,697, and rounding up third was “Zombie Guns or How to Prepare for World War Z” at 6,049. Fourth place went to “Dystopian Science Fiction” which earned 4,775 views and is the only article on this site to have been “Freshly Pressed”.

Yeah, its good to see all this stuff in review. It helps you take stock. It also lets you know what you’re doing right and what people seem to like the most. Judging from these hit counters though, I’d say people like sociopathic clowns, zombies, and guns way more than they do classic literature. Hmm… Should I be worried?

Here’s an excerpt:

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 180,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 3 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

The Revengers: Operation Pimp Daddy – Takedown!

Glasgow_cathedralHello again superheroes! Operation Pimp Daddy continues, and we are in the thick of things now. Last time, our heroes Judgement, Panacea and Captain Smackdown were approaching St. John’s Cathedral with the intent of ambushing the notorious Pimp William “Billy Bob” Holstein. Unfortunately, things went a little awry as a certain someone (Father Michael) changed the game by confronting the target a bit too early. Gun fire resulted, and our heroes were forced to storm the church to assess the situation. Here’s what happened…

*               *               *

They ran up the steps. Each footfall was like an eternity as the noise coming from within reached a crescendo. In no time at all, the doors slammed open and people ran in all directions. Smackdown, Panacea and Judgement were forced to duck and cover as they were nearly trampled by all the people coming their way.

Men, women, children, and the elderly. Scarcely anyone didn’t cross their path. Inside, the sound of gun fire continued, three more shots ringing out.

“Captain!” screamed Judgement. His skin began to crawl with gold webbing as the fear and panic fed his powers. His hair similarly grew out, white and straw-like. Emerged in a sea of panic, he drew strength to himself, but the fact that he could press forward and attack was also driving him mad.

“Hang on!” Smackdown replied. At the moment, the hail of human bodies, flailing arms and screams were an impenetrable wall; but at the moment, they had no choice but to weather it and wait. Forcing them aside would cause untold harm, and they already had an uncertain number of gunshot victims toiling inside.

“I can fly in!” Panacea yelled, pointing to one of the stainglass windows that loomed above them. Smackdown spotted the panel that was opened and just large enough to admit her. Though at the moment, breaking through one entirely seemed tolerable. 

“Do it!” he yelled, raising his weapon. Summoning all the power she could to herself, she shot up from the steps and positioned herself on the window ledge. Looking ahead, Smackdown noted that the crowd was also beginning to thin out somewhat. Inside, he could see some traces of a white fur coat and the glint on a silver gun. It looked like they finally had a line on their target.

Smackdown lowered his weapon and called to Judgement. “Judgement! Can you see him? Do you have a line on him?”

Judgment looked on ahead, his eyes widening with grim pleasure. “I got him!”

“Good! You take him, I’ll get his body guards!”

At once, the three of them moved. Judgement leapt forward, propelled by the power of his own telekinesis. Smackdown rushed through the last of the stragglers and quickly assessed the scene.

True to form, Billy Bob was standing there in the middle of the Nave, his gun raised and his body draped in the hideous white fur coat he was known to carry. To either side, two thugs were standing, their own weapons poised and at the ready. Before them was the body of Father Michael, blood streaming from his chest from two fresh wounds.

He could feel a terrible sinking sense forming inside him, threatening to consume him. All at once it came flashing back – a broken body, a bleeding wound, a light beaming down to mark the pale face of a poor young man left for dead…

It didn’t last. In the thick of it, Judgement had sprung into action and drew their fire. Six bullets came from Bob’s men and stopped dead in front of the beastly man’s face. His eyes narrowing, all six projectiles turned into hot lead and dissipated before him. He growled and hurled a psychic wave at them, turning the force that had propelled the bullets at him back at his attackers.

“Feel my wrath!” he bellowed, sending hot lead and energy into their faces.

Billy Bob was knocked flat on his back, his two escorts thrown clear and landing several meters beyond. All screamed from the searing pain of hot lead in their faces, but Billy seemed to have taken the worst of it. He lay moaning while the other two slowly pulled themselves to their feet.

Overhead, Panacea sailed down and landed in the center between the pews, kneeling to place her hand on Father Michael. The old man groaned under her touch, and his body jerked as healing energy flowed into him.

Smackdown gave his head a strong shake. The sudden flurry managed to snap him back to the present and he raised his weapon. The situation was far from resolved, at the moment, his colleagues were handling everything between them. Attempting to resolve that, he spotted the two thugs who at that moment were busy getting to their feet. Their guns were long lost, but both had thought to bring backup weapons for the occasion and were in the process of arming them. One produced a knife while the other fetched a set of brass knuckled from their belt buckle. Raising his weapon, Smackdown charged up his tazer rifle and fired two shots.

One by one, the men screamed as the tazer needles from his weapon struck them in the chests and delivered several thousand volts directly into their nervous systems. They fell to the floor, arms flailing and every muscle spasming uncontrollably. In the center, sprawled across the floor, Billy Bob looked up from a pool of his own blood, his nose broken from the blast Judgement had given him. No sooner did he taken a knee that Judgement grabbed him again, raising him off the ground with another wave of psychic energy.

Suspended above the floor, Billy Bob struggled but could do nothing to free himself from the grip. And all his efforts only made it worse, Judgement extending another invisible hand to clamp him tightly. A small, guttural cry escaped his lips as the pressure closed around him and threatening to break his ribs.

Smackdown gave his head a shake to right himself and nodded to Judgement. “You got him?” he asked.

Judgement hummed an affirmative.

“Good. We need him alive. But if he moves… punish him.”

“With pleasure,” Judgement said with a smile.

“How is he?” he said, nodding to Father Michael next. Kneeling next to him, Panacea looked up and shook her head.

“He took two to the stomach. He’s alive, but bleeding internally.”

“Can you save him?”

“Of course, it’s just going to take some time.”

Smackdown eyed Billy Bob, still hanging in the center of the room, and nodded. There were no sirens in the distance, but that would change presently. He knew they didn’t need to get the good father up and walking again, just healthy enough for the paramedics to bring him the rest of the way back. Alas, he knew Panacea wouldn’t go for that. Nothing short of his full recovery would satisfy her right now. He knew how she felt…

He knelt down by Panacea and looked the father in the eyes. The old man looked mighty stunned and disheveled, and just the slightest bit guilty too.

“Father?” he said. “Can you hear me?”

The old man looked to him and nodded.

“You took a serious hit there, but you should be fine. Our dear friend here does good work.”

He looked to her, his eyes becoming mystified and taking on a distant quality. “What is she?”

Smackdown looked at Panacea, who smiled modestly back at him. Under the circumstances, it was clear the father might interpret this as something of a divine intervention. It seemed cruel to dispel that notion. Still, the Captain concluded that honesty would be appropriate.

“She’s… special, Father. Its probably best not to speculate too much on the issue.”

That didn’t dispel the look from his eyes. He still looked entirely awestruck, like he was staring at the divine itself. In time, he began to laugh to himself, his body retaining more of its natural color.

“He’s almost there,” she said, noting the sirens in the distance. “Just a little bit longer.”

“A little bit longer is all we have…” The sirens were getting closer. Smackdown looked to the doors and wondered just how much they had before police and SWAT would be parking out there, proceeding into the church to and opening fire on anyone who looked the slightest bit threatening.

He eyed Judgement next, who at the moment looked anything but innocuous. One look at him would cause any peace officer to open fire, and he knew how that would turn out. The last thing they needed was some police officers ending up in the emergency room. Enough had gone wrong with this op already…

Smackdown looked back to the Father and noted his lively appearance. The wounds in his chest had begun to close and the only blood now was what was already staining his robes. He began to moan, another good sign since it meant his nerves were firing on all cylinders.

“Alright, that’s good enough,” he said. “Let’s get a hold of Billy Bob and make -“

He was just about to say make tracks, but a sudden slamming noise ahead of them interrupted him. The loud thud was followed by intense screams of pain and the noise of laughter. Bob was the source of the former, whereas Judgement seemed to be taking great pleasure in it.

“What the hell was that?” Smackdown yelled to Judgement. The big man simply shrugged.

“He moved. I punished him.”

Smackdown grumbled. He ran to Bob’s side and noted that he still had a pulse. But in addition to his broken nose, he now appeared to be sporting a broken arm. He looked back at Judgement again with scorn in his eyes.

“He’ll live…”

Smackdown grumbled. He hated it when colleagues got literal! Grabbing Bob by the scruff of his fur coat, he hoisted the man to his feet and began pulling him to the doors.

“Get him in my car! I got to ask a favor of the Padre here!”

Judgement moved forward to take hold of the pimp’s broken body. Smackdown pulled him back and shook his head.

“No, not you. Panacea, get him squared in the back of my car. See what you can do about his injuries too. I want him alive and well for his interrogation.”

“You got it, Captain.” She looked at Judgement and smirked, who growled in return. Grabbing Bob around the waist, she quickly lifted herself into the air and sailed for the front doors. Judgement followed, making it to the door with a few, powerful strides.

Alone, Smackdown knelt by the Father and helped him sit up. The sirens were getting mighty close now, their klaxons echoing off the faces of every building nearby. He had barely a moment to spare, but certain considerations had to be given, and warnings issued. The good Father had risked his life for them, had placed the mission in jeopardy, and was still needed for one final task. There was hardly time to discuss all that, but the last item was indispensible…

“Okay, Father. Here’s how it is. Any moment now, police and special weapons teams are going to come through that door. When they do, they are bound to have plenty of questions for you. I think, under the circumstances, it would be best if we got our story straight.”

“Our story?” he said, smiling. “Our story begins with me confronting a group of thugs, then goes on to have me getting shot, then being rescued by bunch of men and women in strange outfits wielding all kinds of strange powers.” He frowned and gave his head a shake. “What could I possibly tell them that could account for all that, and still sound believable?”

Smackdown cleared his throat. The Father was feeling better and his mind was clear. Perhaps it was a mistake to heal him so thoroughly. The semi-conscious were always so much easier to deal with!

“Father, if you tell them what happened here-“

“They’ll what? Come looking for you? Start scouring the city looking for people for masked people in capes?”

Smackdown considered that a moment and shrugged. “Well, I-“

The Father raised his hand to interrupt. “I shall tell them what happened, my son. I shall tell them that a man of ill-repute was in my church, that I made the mistake of confronting him, and when he decided to shoot me, heavenly avengers came down from on high and saved my life. They dispatched his thugs and then carried him away to issue judgement.” He raised his hands in a questing gesture. “What else can I say?”

Smackdown wanted to disagree, wanted to argue the point, citing the need for secrecy and security. He and his colleagues were agreed, until they had made their presence felt in the underworld, until they had instilled suitable fear in the city’s drug lords, crime barons and corrupt officials, it was best to remain a secret. An enemy who did not know who was hunting them or what they wanted was far more unstable than one who did. Alas, there was no time. The nearest siren sounded mere blocks away.

“Father, I-“

“My son, I am a warden of the church. I believe in angels, in miracles, the immortality of the soul. At least twice a week, I serve parishioners what I tell them is the flesh and blood of a man who has been dead for two thousand years. Do you honestly think I would tell policemen anything other than the truth of what happened here tonight, or that they, in their infinite cynicism would believe me?”

Smackdown had to concede that much. Already, he could imagine the furious speculation that would be going on tomorrow in all corners of the city, and how that mystique could play into their hands. But again, time was factor…

“Fine! Tell them what you must. But next time we come asking for your help, please leave the heavy lifting to us.”

“Evil must be confronted in all its forms,” the Father said unapologetically.

“Yes, but next time it could be someone else who absorbs the bullet. You think about that next time you confront an evil man.”

The Father looked ready to respond, but Smackdown didn’t stay to hear him. Running for the backdoor, he cleared it just in time to see Judgment waving to him from the passenger seat.

“Let’s go! They’re practically on top of us!” he yelled. Outside the car, Panacea released her hold on Bob’s arm and gave him a thumbs up.

“He okay to transport?” Smackdown asked as he jumped across the hood and into the driver’s seat.

“He’ll live. He’ll be might ornery when he wakes up though.”

“That’s okay. I got me one hell of a mood adjuster.” Smackdown nodded to Judgement, who smiled in turn. Even Panacea smiled.

“See you at the house?”

Smackdown nodded. “Race you there!”

Panacea jumped straight into the air and flew off with the sound of a sonic boom. Smackdown slammed the gas petal and aimed them for the nearest side street, leaving the lot outside of the church mere seconds before the first patrol car pulled up…

*               *               *

Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!