December 3, 2018 at 8:35 pm #153482
One minute before the Shanghai event…
The harsh, unforgiving rain battered at Laura’s face, plastering her long, blonde hair to her cheeks. It was cold, especially at midnight a thousand feet in the air between the colourful skyscrapers of Shanghai – the most populous city in China. She couldn’t feel her fingers or toes, and her ears and nose were completely numb. Lightning flashed, and she caught her reflection in the darkened windows of the nearest building; a masked, red-and-gold clad symbol of hope floating effortlessly in midair, looking for all the world like a drowned rat in the torrential downpour. Her pulse and mind racing, her blue eyes searched the surrounding air for her target.
Radio chatter hummed continuously in her right ear, accompanied by bursts of static and distant gunfire. Her friends were spread out across the city below, and all was violence and chaos. Chris was fighting a losing battle with the psychopathic ‘Warhead’, while Jerome was locked in combat with the hulking ‘Brass Bison’ somewhere else. Kazuko and James were last heard from heading to a warehouse near the docks to confront the ‘Tarantula’ and the ‘Alley Cat’. Noah stopped responding to communications ten minutes ago.
Twenty four million people lived in and around the city below, and a gang of international super-criminals was minutes away from stealing – and likely activating – a nuclear doomsday device. So far, things weren’t exactly going to plan.
As Laura flew around the corner of the next building, she saw him. Out in the open some distance ahead, the cause of the unnatural weather hovered, equalling her altitude. With her vision obscured by the storm, she could just about make out the dark blue costume and dark brown skin of the man’s face. He was motionless, meaning he either hadn’t seen her and was concentrating on maintaining the rain, or he was waiting for her to make the first move. There was a tense pause.
Taking a deep breath and clenching her fists, she flew with sudden burst of speed – arrow-like – at her target, pulling her right arm back to deliver a solid punch. At the last moment the man raised his arms towards her, hands outstretched, and she was hit by freakishly strong winds that swept the hair from her face and sent her tumbling backwards through the air. Recovering, she fought to fly against the wind, but after a few seconds it was like fighting against a hurricane. As the squall around her intensified, she had to use every ounce of her strength just to try and reach her opponent, muscles straining with the exertion. Still, she was being pushed back, inch by inch. That’s when she let out a yell and began to glow like the sun.
Six Weeks Earlier…
In an unassuming office in midtown Manhattan, a man with greying black hair and expensive tinted reading glasses over his steel grey eyes sat behind a desk, wearing a white dress shirt under a pale banana yellow sports coat. Shafts of evening sunlight stabbed through the half-closed blinds at the window, barely illuminating the other occupants of the room. Three men and a woman sat half obscured in shadow on the other side of the desk, and a tall, dark-skinned man stood near the window. All five were dressed in much more affordable business attire in muted shades of black, dark blue, and brown. Notably, the woman had six arms.
“So what you’re saying, Quinn,” rumbled one of the men, a unusually large, mousy-haired Russian, “is a… how you say… doomsday device?”
The man behind the desk simply nodded and threw a look at the woman with six arms.
“That’s exactly what he’s saying, mate,” she said with an Australian twang, the light catching her auburn hair as she looked across at the Russian, “and he wants us to steal it.”
“Piece of cake,” scoffed an athletic, blonde man sitting next to her. His accent was entirely American, “it’s getting away with it that worries me. We all know the number of super-freaks out there fighting for ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ is growing by the day.”
The man in the pale suit, Isaac Quinn, pursed his lips and brought his hands together, fingertips lightly touching.
“I wouldn’t worry about them, Mr. Blake,” he replied in a surprisingly quiet, English voice. “We’ll be out of the Sentinel’s and the Society’s jurisdiction, and I’ve ensured that the Assembly will be too bogged down in politics to even notice that we’re there,” he paused, a subtle smirk crossing his features, “As long as we operate together, there will be nobody left – absolutely nobody – organised enough to stop us.”
Slightly apart from the others, a stocky redhead with a permanently psychotic expression had been casting furtive glances at the woman. He was evidently intrigued by her extra limbs. He finally looked over the desk and locked eyes with Quinn, an insane grin on his face.
“I’m in,” he affirmed. Another American. “What’s the plan?”
“I’m glad you asked. It’s like this, Mr. Hirsch,” came the reply, “You will provide muscle, along with Mr. Khaberov, to occupy local law enforcement and any super-powered individuals who decide to become a problem. Mr. Blake and Miss. Morgan will infiltrate the facility with my assistance, acquire the device, and transport it to the city docks. Meanwhile, Mr. Siwo here will be providing natural cover for our activities in the form of a tropical storm. He and I should be be free enough to support any of you with additional manpower should anything unexpected happen.”
At the mention of his name, the African man by the window tore his gaze away from the world outside, and instead examined the assembled group with a troubled expression
“I’ll do it,” he said, “but I don’t like this all that much, Isaac… I agree with your ends, but I take issue with the means. I don’t want the deaths of that many innocent lives on my conscience. What does this device actually do?”
The man in the pale yellow suit tapped the side of his nose and smiled.
“That’s for me to know, and you to find out, John. Trust me, your conscience can be at peace. You won’t be responsible for the death of a single person.”
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic…
In Finland, the Järvinen Enterprises complex was an architectural curiosity. Somehow it both blended in with and stood out from the low Helsinki skyline, a cluster of large, squat buildings that were all sleek edges, minimalism, and glass. The interior was as modernistic as the exterior, all monochrome, futuristic, and sparse – and the office of the young, blonde CEO, Jerome Järvinen, was no exception. It was sometime in the early hours of the morning, and Jerome sat staring at a set of dual computer monitors. The left-hand monitor displayed six faces, while only five faces were displayed on the right with a question mark where the sixth face should be. Underneath each face was a name, age, and nationality. He didn’t recognise any of the faces except for his own, which was part of the left-hand group.
Running one hand over the stubble on his chin, he took a large sip of coffee and swivelled his chair to look out of the floor-to-ceiling windows that ran along one entire wall of the office. The moon was obscured by clouds, but the city lights twinkled back at him through the darkness. He sat like that for a while, daydreaming and drinking coffee, until he was brought back to the present by a notification on one of the computer screens. Almost immediately, a police siren could just about be heard in the dim distance. Sighing, he took one last look at the eleven assembled faces, and the puzzling question mark. He had a lot of work to do.
Swallowing the last, bitter mouthful of his drink, Jerome stood up, and stretched.
Leaving the office, he strode to an elevator at the end of the hall, pushed the button, and entered when the doors slid open. Pressing a rapid sequence of keys on the number pad, and speaking the answer to the security question out loud, the elevator doors closed, the lights flicked to a dangerous red, and the elevator plummeted eight floors.
Stepping out into a spacious two-story hangar containing assorted military vehicles, workstations, consoles, and miscellaneous equipment, the CEO of Finland’s primary mechanical engineering corporation emerged from the elevator dressed from the neck down in a suit of polished, jet-grey power armour. A section of the ceiling began to open up to the sky with a faint grinding noise. Flexing his shoulders, arms, fingers, and neck, Jerome picked up a helmet from a nearby bench a placed it over his head. As if by magic, a heads-up display flickered to life on the inside of the full-face visor. Standing directly beneath the widening hole in the roof, he used the communications gear built into the helmet to get his night secretary on the line. With instructions to make fresh coffee, he activated the jetpack at the back of the armour. Two wings spread out with a click from either side, the propulsion system roared to life, and the internationally renowned superhero called the ‘Jetman’ soared up out of the hanger and into the night sky towards the wailing sounds of emergency vehicles.
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