An old man was sitting at a coffee table at high noon. He was dressed in a tailored white suit and tie and adjusted his glasses as he read the morning paper. The suit matched his broad frame, which was far from the norm for a man his age. He didn't pay much attention to the other customers in the cafe. Every now and then he'd glance at a demon or a werewolf, but they never held his interest for long. In a world where the fantastical had become mundane, there wasn't much that surprised him. Not that it was any less wonderful.
A young waitress strutted to the table, carrying a small notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other. "Morning, sir. Can I take your order?"
The man smiled, making sure his glasses were on tight. "Of course. Just coffee, please."
"Coming right up, sir." The woman started to turn away, but something stopped her. Something that tugged at the edges of her memory. "Say, don't I know you from someplace?"
The man started to look away, pulling up his paper in a vain attempt to hide from her gaze. "Not that I'd recall. Now if you don't mind, I'd really like to get back to my paper. There's actually a fascinating piece on human and alien relations and—"
"Say, I know you! Aren't you the—"
The man slammed down his paper and briefly put a finger to his lips as if to say, 'Mum's the word.' "Shh! You don't need to say it in front of the whole cafe!"
She took a quick scan of the cafe. No-one seemed to have paid attention to her little discovery. Which was just as the old man wanted it. She whispered, making sure no-one else overheard if only not to gain the old man's ire. "You're the Saint, aren't you? Wow! I mean, I've seen you on the news all the time, but I never thought I'd actually meet you!"
"Well, you have. Normally I'd be all for smiles and autographs and being a role model, but right now, I'm just trying to enjoy a nice morning coffee in a quiet little cafe while I have the chance. Without anyone trying to get a piece of the Saint."
The waitress seemed somewhat confused. "So, what, you're trying to be incognito?"
"That's the gist."
"But why? I mean, if I were you, I'd want everyone to know who I am 24/7! You're the world's greatest hero! The Protectors, Saint Foundations, other races being able to come out of hiding, that's all you! Without you, we wouldn't have any of it! You're the most famous man on the planet!"
"Which is exactly why I'm trying to be anything but." He pointed at his glasses. "You know, there was an old comic that came out just a month before I started this. Had a guy that was a lot like me. And somehow, he was able to fool everyone just by putting a pair of glasses on his face."
"So that's what you're trying to do?"
"Pretty much. Of course, unlike him, I've never really had a 'secret identity' or whatever they called it. But sometimes I still just want to relax, you know? To just not be the Saint. Because being the world's greatest hero can be stressful as all hell." He pinched his brow, indicating his frustration.
"So you don't actually like being the Saint."
"Oh, no. I love it! And not just because it's fun. I love helping people. I love inspiring them to do better. And I love making a difference. It's why I do what I do, and I wouldn't have it any other way. But after a while, it does start to get taxing."
"So you really just want to try and take a break?"
He sighed. "I guess." He lifted up his wrist, revealing an old refurbished wristwatch strapped around it. "Though I suppose it'll have to wait. I'm due for a meeting at Saint Foundations in fifteen minutes. Guess I lost track of time."
"I gotta say, you're a lot less, I don't know, bombastic than when you're on the TV."
"All part of being the world's greatest hero. Now I don't want to be rude, but I've really got to—"
Just then, the small Holographic Viewing Screen or HVS that had been floating in mid-air ceased broadcasting it's sports coverage as the words 'Breaking News' popped up in bold white letters. A newscaster in a black suit appeared on the screen, doing his best to remain as calm and professional as possible in the face of whatever dangers had occurred.
"We interrupt your broadcast to bring you breaking news! The New York City spaceport has just been hijacked by a group of robots! Their ringleader and creator has been identified as Leon Leopold, archnemesis of the Saint and longtime anti-interspecies relations terrorist. At the moment his demands are ten billion dollars and the Saint. He says that if he doesn't get what he wants, he will start killing the hostages one by one until he does. On top of that, the Saint must come alone. No friends, no Protectors, not even anyone from the Foundation. If Saint brings anyone else, the hostage's lives are forfeit. Now as for the police's thoughts on all this…"
"Crap!" The waitress turned away from the hologram and looked toward Saint, or at least where she thought he was. But he was gone. Now that she mentioned it, she had sworn she could have felt a powerful breeze just a moment ago. Was that the Saint? In any case, worrying about the Saint wasn't going to do her much good. She shook her head, took away Saint's paper, and went back to work. Because that was all she could do.
A young girl sat shaking, huddled against a shining, silver wall with her family and the other would-be passengers, as well as the employees. The spaceport was as pristine as ever; a shiny, spacious monument to one of mankind's greatest achievements. There were several aisles designed to push people through, much like old airports before Teleport Transit became the norm. Through them lay the entrances to the rockets; large vessels designed to carry passengers to the Moon colonies, or perhaps to one of several otherworldy outposts made in the wake of humanity forging the first of its interplanetary alliances.
Not that the girl cared. All she knew was that a horde of robots had forced her and everyone else to the wall and had used whatever they could find — shelves, turnstiles, luggage — to fence them in like sheep. She wasn't sure what was going on, but she did know that this was unacceptable. Finding her courage, she slowly started to stand tall and proud, determined not to bow down in the face of evil. But before she could say a word, a young man beat her to the punch. He was thin and wiry but had plenty of spirit, and she could tell he wasn't going to let some two-bit crook with delusions of grandeur boss them around.
"Hey, you! Leave us alone, you hear me?!" The man picked up a pocket watch he had on hand and hurled it at one of the robots in a desperate show of defiance. Not that it accomplished much. The watch didn't so much as bash an eye out. Shame that. The robot slowly turned around as though it had been forced to take notice of an ant. It was tall and lanky, it's thin build adding some much-needed speed and versatility to the sheer mechanical prowess that came with being a robot. Its eyes turned bright red, and it quickly began to aim his arm at the man.
"Oh God, no!" The man ran towards the farthest side of the wall as he could, hoping that he wouldn't be burnt to a crisp. The girl almost tried to call out to him, but she never got a chance.
"Now now, that will be quite enough of that." A bold, daring, sophisticated voice came from the entryway to the maintenance room. A man dressed in the attire of a Prussian general strode through the entryway and towards the man, stopping just short of the robots. His bald head glistened under the light, though he would still have looked better with a full head of hair.
"Please," yelled the passenger from the bottom of his soul, "don't kill me! I didn't know what I was doing! Please!"
"No need to worry." The man in the Prussian uniform held up a riding crop, slapping it firmly against his open palm before closing it shut. "For the moment, you're safe. At least as long as my demands are met."
An older woman spoke up. She was scared for her life, but still stood firm and proud, defiant in the face of the enemy. The girl admired her for that. At least someone had the guts to speak up. "And how's that? Do you really think they're just gonna give you what you want?"
"Assuming they care one whit about you and everyone else in this place, or about their precious spaceport, yes. If I don't receive everything I want and I do mean everything, this place is going to go sky high. And all of you with it. Perhaps it won't accomplish much in the grand scheme, but it will be a symbolic victory if nothing else."
"How's stranding a bunch of people on the moon supposed to be a victory?"
The man whipped out his crop and pointed it a hair's breath away from the woman. It fired a crackling blast of energy at the wall next to her, enough to leave a very noticeable mark that left the woman shaking in her boots. "Firstly, if you value your continued existence, don't ask me that again. Second, it will prove that there are those who don't care too much for humanity's co-dependence. Ever since we received help from beyond the stars, we've depended on others accomplishments rather than our own. We would no doubt still be using grounded cars and televisions if it weren't for them."
"But what's so wrong with that?"
"It's an insult to humanity's greatness as well as a blow to its potential, that's what's wrong with it. If given the proper room to grow, humanity could have become something special in time. Something grand and strong without losing what made us unique. Something could surpass any other force in the cosmos. But now? Now we have aliens and centaurs and demons and whatever else, either having come to Earth on a pretense or having come out of the woodwork despite keeping to themselves for centuries. If we're ever to become truly great on our own merits, this horrible excuse for 'progress' must end. Even if I have to personally ensure it does." He began to check his watch. "Now, let's see whether or not I have to start killing you all—"
At that moment, a loud noise had come from one of the robots in the back. It had apparently been torn in two, its robotic carcass now littering the floor like scraps of garbage. At that exact moment, a white blur began blasting through the spaceport. It tore into robots left and right, smashing them apart like tinker toys. In spite of this, Leon simply smiled. He pressed a button on his riding crop. His suit quickly faded away, revealing itself to be nothing more than hard light. Instead he was wearing a suit of black and gold armor, outfitted with the most advanced technology and equipment one could find. And all made by human hands.
By the time the robots had been dealt with, Leon's suit was fully assembled, and he was standing face to face with the Saint. "Saint. Took you long enough."
"Save it, Leon. All I care about is making sure those hostages are safe and unharmed." The Saint himself was everything the girl had dreamed of. He may not have been wearing his standard outfit, but he was still just as mighty and imposing as she saw on the news. And yet, there was still a certain earnesty about him as well. The girl stood still in awe as if merely being in his presence was a privilege.
"Very well." He gestured toward the hostages. "As you can see, they are all unharmed. But if you attempt to move them before you've dealt with me, I can assure you that will change. Oh, you can try to save them all with that vaunted speed of yours. In fact, you may even succeed. But I'm willing to bet that at least one will slip the cracks. And you'll have an innocents death on your conscience. Is that something you're willing to risk?"
Saint looked hard at Leon. He stared him down hard, trying to call his bluff. Assuming he was bluffing. But somehow, the girl knew he wasn't. Because a man as confident and sure of himself as that would be too proud to do so.
"What do you want?"
"Oh, it's quite simple. All you have to do is arrange for the money I asked for and serve up your own head on a platter. Perhaps then I'll leave these poor people alone."
Saint shook his head. "Leon, cut the pretense. It's me you're after."
"Whatever gave you that idea?"
"Please. Ever since we first fought, I've been about the only thing that's on your mind."
"If you are, then it would be because you ruined me. If not for you, I wouldn't be forced to reduce myself to such pitiful displays as this. But for the record, not everything is about you. Because I still want to make a point."
As Leon and Saint kept going back and forth, the girl started to notice something somewhat rather odd out of the corner of her eye. Behind Saint, a panel was opening up from a small black and gold box on the floor hat been barely noticeable until now, and a thin shaft was starting to silently reach out of it. It grew and grew, not making so much as a sound. The top gradually began to bend and adjust itself until it was modified into something resembled a laser pistol. And it was aimed right at the Saint.
"Saint! Look out!" The girl called out to Saint, warming him of the oncoming danger. The pistol shot out a beam of jet black energy. With just a moment's notice, Saint darted out of the way, leaving the beam to fire harmlessly onto the ground. A series of burn marks, dark as pitch, were engraved into the floor, leaving behind a warning to everyone who would ever try to cross the Saint.
"That was close," said the Saint. "Thanks, young lady!"
Leon glared at the young girl, but not for long. "Well, well. I'll give you this much. You have guts. Though I suppose you won't have them for long." He aimed his riding crop at the young girl, ready to turn her into nothing but a pile of cinders. The girl froze, suddenly realizing the consequences of her actions all too well. Her parents began to plead for their little girl's life ("Please, she's sorry, she didn't mean it, it won't happen again, please don't harm our little girl!)" but to no avail. He moved his arm, raised his thumb, and just nearly blew the girl into smithereens.
Lucky for her, she was far from alone. Saint rushed in at the last minute, seizing Leon's riding crop and decking him to the ground with one swift haymaker. "That was close." He turned to the little girl. "Hey there. You've got guts, you know that? Just try to keep them in one piece. Let the pros take care of things from here on out, okay?"
The girl nodded, almost paralyzed with fear, but also out of joy. The Saint himself had seen fit to grace her with his presence, never mind speaking to her. She almost couldn't believe it. She slowly nodded her head, trying to make sure the Saint at least knew she existed.
"Right." He turned to the others and puffed his chest. Suddenly he was filled with vim and vigor, or at least that was how it appeared. The girl knew Saint couldn't let everyone else worry or make their way out alone. Because what kind of hero would he be if he did? "Don't worry, people! You're all safe! We'll get you out of here in a jiffy! Jus5 as soon as I make sure there aren't any traps. Knowing Leon, I'm sure he has something up his sleeve."
As Saint did his best to assure the captives that all was well, Leon had other ideas. In moments he had regained consciousness. His armor took the brunt of the blow. Not that it hadn't hurt at all, but there was such a thing as playing dead. Additionally, as part of his armor, Leon had a gauntlet on both arms. He slowly held up his gauntlet, aimed, and fired at the little girl.
Saint noticed the beam just in time. The girl wasn't sure if he had been trying to get her out of the way or just wanted to stop the beam, but either way, Saint took the bullet. The dark beam hit him square in the shoulder. He howled in pain, even getting on his knees as he tried in vain to cope. "Saint!" The girl rushed under a low gap in the blockade over to Saint, desperate to make sure he was okay. He had to be. He couldn't just up and die.
"Well. That turned out better than I hoped." The girl turned towards Leon, now standing tall and aiming his gauntlet at the little girl.
The girl was scared for her life, and yet couldn't imagine a world without the Saint. He had to be okay. Because if he wasn't? Then she didn't know what she'd do with herself.
The girl's mother stepped forward, ready to dive straight at Leon at a moment's notice. "Don't you dare hurt my daughter! You hear me?!"
"Oh, I wouldn't dream of it. Your daughter has actually proven quite useful. Of course, she did ruin my first attempt at ending Saint's life today, and I'm still a tad miffed about that. But rather than take it all out on her, I improvised."
By now, Saint was finally starting to stand back up. The girl could see he was still reeling, but in spite of that, he was doing his darndest to get back into the fight. Regardless, she couldn't afford to let Leon know she noticed or else he'd be done. She quickly looked back towards Leon, still aiming the gauntlet at her. "You see, I knew that if I were to try to make him drop dead, he'd merely dodge whatever I sent his way. As he always does. But if I aimed it at you, well, as long as I fired it fast enough, he wouldn't have a choice but to save you. At the cost of his life."
"You mean," said the mother, "this was all about Saint?"
"Ma'am, if I wanted money, I could easily hack into any number of private bank accounts. This was all about Saint. And making a statement. Rest assured, I still intend to blow this place sky high. But Saint came first. And now that's he gone—"
Suddenly Saint started shouting at the top of his lungs, rushing Leon from behind. He tore off both of Leon's gauntlets as he turned around before delivering one straight punch to his stomach before could he make sense of what was happening, sending him careening into the nearest turnstile. He tried to get up, groaning all the while, but Saint was on him before he could even blink. He delivered one more mighty blow right to the face, decking him like a prize boxer. And Leon was down for the count.
At first the girl was still a bit skittish. She moved forward just a little, trying to make sure that Leon really was out. And everyone else did the same. After a good thirty seconds, it was pretty clear he was. The girl then ran toward Saint, stopping just short of him as she started to inch towards him. Saint himself was still standing, but he wasn't doing much of anything else. "Uh, are you okay, Saint?"
Saint fell to the ground, face first. "Saint!" The girl tried to lift him up, tried to get him to move, but nothing seemed to work. "Come on, Saint! Please get up! You gotta! Come on now!"
Saint started to come to, though he was still weak. "Hey, hey. Don't cry now. Please. I'm okay. Trust me." He tried to get up, to show that he was in tip-top shape like he said he was. But it took him everything he had just to kneel without screaming like he was being burned to death.
"You don't look okay."
"Well, looks can be deceiving." He pulled out a cell phone from his pocket as he tried to make a brave face, all while the crowd either tried to get past the blockade or wondered if Saint was truly as fine as he let on. He pressed a button on the phone before putting it to his ear, his voice ragged and his face visibly starting to strain with each passing second. "Hey, Interceptor. This is Saint. Just took care of a situation at the Super City Space Port. Think you could call up one of our healers? Oh, no. All the hostages are fine. But if I could just get some help over here, it'd be much appreciated. Yup. Knew you'd understand. Thanks. See you soon."
He pressed another button on the phone before the call came to a close. And then he collapsed like a deadweight.
"Saint!" The girl dashed over to him while everyone still remaining did the same. They gasped and muttered to themselves, wondering if their world's greatest hero had finally met his end. Little did they or the young girl know that it was anything but. In fact, it was just the beginning.