"Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, Citizens of America, it is- is this thing on? Charles-" It was a cloudy April morning, one that threatened rain. People flooded into the city square, amassing about an ampitheatre a week in the making.
Cameras from the press took the time to take in the downtown crowd, highlighted by bright umbrellas at the majority of hips. Children sat on shoulders, clear of the larger bodies that might harry their small forms. Around the square, it was far more militarized.
Cop cars lined the roads, clearing them of all traffic beyond pedestrians. Helicopters circled, low and watching. Specific apartments and offices had been rented or borrowed, so that snipers, hackers, and communications could set up at strategic points to watch the conference. Interpreters were readily available, but off the streets. Every man on the ground was on high alert, and every man was on the ground.
Military stood by, ready to move in on a word. Police were ready for everything they'd been trained to take. Under charming smiles and sweet words, beneath fancy suits and shiney ties, every person on or beside the stage was sweating bullets in anticipation, soaking bullet-proofed vests.
As mike issues were resolved, millions tuned into news stations, televised and radio alike, waiting anxiously beside words from the sponsors.
"Is this better? Testing – 123 – testing – we're good? Excellent! Sorry about that folks! We'll start in just 30 seconds. We're just as excited to be here today as you are!"
It was anything but excitement that he was met with. Weary, wary eyes onlooked as far as the eye could see. But he kept his smile in place as the cameras moved back to him. He brightened it, for all of America, hoping to relieve some of this tredemtion.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, Citizens of America. It is my Honour and Privilege to welcome you all today's press conference.
"For those of you who do not know me, I am Benjamin Franklin, Mayor of the lovely city Browningsville. Today, we stand a little scared for our own, a little scared for ourselves. Today, I stand before you to tell you that you no longer have to be. That Tomorrow looks better already, and not just because the rain's set to clear up! Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, please welcome Senator Leopold to the stand. This esteemed gentleman has travelled all the way from Washington DC to assure you that what I say is true!"
Light applause followed. An older man took the podium, surveying the gathered crowd quietly for a moment.
"Thank you, Mayor Franklin, for that warm welcome. As this kind man has said, I am here to promise you all a bright, new future.
"One year ago today, a Tragedy struck our nation right here in this very city. Terrorists planted explosives in an integral structure, sadly killing 72 innocents for their own heinous purposes. Of those, one being was exposed to be more than they appeared, opening our eyes, and the world's eyes, to a threat even greater than any terrorist could provide, homegrown or otherwise.
"Magic, and the Beastly users thereof. In our Communities, our Businesses, our our Schools, and even in our very Homes. They hid, and continue to hide, slipping under the radar using a mockery of our shapes and appearances. How long have they been here? We cannot be certain. How to identify them for what they are? Again, we had no notion. But Today, going forward, it is my pleasure to announce that we shall no longer be kept in the dark." All eyes were on him. All faces brightened, rejuvenated by the promise of safety. Announcers were silent. In their businesses and homes, people leaned forward, volumes cranked up.
"Most of you are familiar with Hephaestus, the #1 First Response Company in America. Trusted and used by Mothers, Emergency Services, Banks, Businesses, and even our own Presidential outfit, it comes as little surprise that they are the first with a solution to these hidden beasts. Using the research of the Acclaimed Expert, the Late Alexander Windermere, a sensitive, trustworthy system has been developed.
"The Prototypes of the Anti-Magical Detector and Immobilizer, or AMDI Unit, have been shown to not only unerringly sense the magic of the being, but to disable it, and hold the being paralyzed and captive until prepared tactical units arrive on-site after alerted by the device itself.
"In three weeks time, these devices will be present in every single major transit centre in America. A month, and every school will have them. Three months until projected availability for every home and business, and six until personal units become available-"
Somewhere behind the scenes, and air conditioner had been out for nearly an hour. An Mp3 player was turned down just as the senator began to speak. A single earbud dropped to hanging, letting the user better hear their surroundings while keeping up with the times.
Some windows opened, trying to tempt a breeze off the premature rain clouds. People raced to get them closed again, to fill the gaps in the defenses. They were too busy looking to notice a window barely move on another building. An armoured guard announced his floor clear. Another guard repeated finding nothing, and another guard, and another guard. One for each floor of each building.
"Kappa 41, clear." Somewhere behind an abandoned earbud.
"Kappa 40, clear." Below.
"Kappa 39, clear." Further down.
"Kappa 38, clear." On the very edge of hearing.
"Kappa 41, not clear." A smirk breathed below a cold, unforgiving sight. A helicopter passed by, close enough to touch, but still unseeing.
The recoil was technically enough to shatter bone. He held it tight as the gun lurched itself apart instead of his shoulder. The pieces of it were stone cold as they hit the floor, any and all heat energy transferred directly to the bullet. Collected and stowed in a wrap around backpack too small to hold a whole gun, the gunman fled the vantage point long before the bullet reached the halfway point. It may have been biding its time, moving about obstacles such as buildings. Saving its energy for the home stretch.
No one found out what was to happen after 6 months. Senator Leopold quite literally lost his head. Or perhaps it was his heart exploding with superheated blood that stopped him. Either way, it was a mess, and the crowd broke in a mad panic. Screaming, crying, trampling those who moved or reacted slower. It was a thankless task to quell them, but at least the police force was prepared for it this time.
Behind panicking people, the blood rose up of its own will. The Press, who'd stayed firm and recording, had to flee to avoid being doused in the boiling holt carnage. Anything left behind was melted into slag and burnt to a crisp, destroying any evidence not backed up remotely.
Content his bullet had landed, the shooter slipped out of a high-rise's fire escape, pulling a pair of sunglasses from his backpack.
Even in an empty alleyway, no one paid any attention to him. The first barriers were between him and the amphitheatre; this building was too far out to consider properly. There were other buildings in the way, after all.
He chuckled to himself, plugging his earphone back in. He switched from frazzled news reporters and official warning announcers.
"Phone, text my brother. Tell him I got to 2nd base, I'm going to steal home now." He informed the device. He headed for the road leisurely.
"Message sent. Anything else I can do for you today?"
"Is the Yellow Line, Browningsville operating at regular frequency?"
"The Yellow Line is operating southbound at a regular frequency. However, Northbound commuters are being asked to disembark at Lowe Station, and are warned that there are multiple federal blockades throughout the downtown core. Please expect delays."
"Works for me; Play playlist 'Hamlet'."
He paused on the corner of the alley and the street. People passed in a hurry, a lunch rush probably. He pulled a long cane from his bag's side pocket, and proceeded.
For all their hurry, people gave him plenty of space when the brightly coloured walking stick for the visually impaired came into play. Exactly as he wanted, making his way with increased ease.
Police ushered him past every blockade, and no one else bothered his path. Life was good as he was seated in a mostly empty train car. Every other person got checked and triple checked, through weeping and sobbing, and he had to share his car with none of the shell-shocked.
"You're a little out of your way, Mars."
He did have to share with a dozen cops, though.
"The red and yellow lines look the same from where I'm sitting."
"Lost again?! Your uncle's going to pitch a fit!"
"I never said I was lost. Maybe I just wanted to take a scenic route."
"Through a million barricades?"
"I didn't know the queen was coming."
"I don't buy it."
"Take it or leave it. So is your team new, or are we all just not saying hi, Cady?"
"Yeah, new. Everything is in the doghouse right now. The station is down two out of every three officers, and the ones that are left are drowning in paperwork. I've been sent to return the pre-grads to the uni, before I go sit in enough witness reports for six." Cady plonked down next to Mars, "You weren't at the bar last night. Commander Coach got let go."
Mars grimaced. "Really?"
"Yeah. That last riot was the last straw I guess. No one's sure if he had the heart attack then and there, or while he was cleaning out his desk. But he's stable now."
"Oh no... Are the rest of you doing okay?"
"We're surviving." There was a very light sigh, then he made himself grin. "The new commander's a real treat, though. You might've noticed the core. She's got the district locked up tight even without enough hands."
"Sounds like a babe." Mars grinned in return.
"She is." A rookie piped up. His classmates laughed at him, but no one really disagreed. Cady sniggered as well, standing.
"Anyways, this stop's ours. Get home safe, Mars."
"Cando. Good luck with everything." He waved them off the train. He was left alone on the train car. He could breathe easier.
Time seemed to slow down once the train car started moving again. The next stop saw Mars rise, though they were miles from the Red-Yellow junction.
From outside the train, it appeared as though the train door had opened, though no one was inside the car. No one exited.
The noise of trains and stations voided out into absolute silence. Mars ignored the dizzying quiet, walking forward at a calm pace. After a few steps, sound began to filter back into existence. The soft sounds of an office building, including the creak of a chair directly before him.
"Welcome back," ten people chorused at once, voices interlapping from the same spot, perfectly synchronized.
"All went according to plan, Sir." Mars reported.
"As you said in your text." One voice now, that of a child. "Thank you for your services today, Rum. However, there have been developments. I'm afraid I must now invite you to a meeting."
"You've arrived, we can start now!" A female voice now, though the hand that took his shoulder was indisputably his boss'. If only the man would walk places instead of teleporting. He was instantly in a room where three people breathed and one did not; the click of their keyboard alerted him to their presence.
"Is the wait over?" A breather asked. Her voice was muffled as though she wore a mask. A fabric mask.
"Yes- wait, 1, 2, 3,- where's Whiskey?"
"Very lost. Something about a Blue Line, but we don't have a Blue Line, so I think he hit the teleporting window from the wrong direction. I'll find him and catch him up later." Another woman stated, from where she leaned against a corner of the room. Her phone blipped as she texted.
"Bluh, fine." The boss huffed. "Anyways, Rum, you know Siren and Riptide. You're meeting Bombsa and XK-A92 for the first time. Bombsa and XK, this is our sniper, Rum."
"Anokata, deary, we need to work on your naming schemes again. You're all over the place with your themes." Siren criticized without looking up from her phone. Riptide backed off her a few steps, but Anokata was apparently in a forgiving mood. He just scoffed, leaning against Mars casually.
"I know what I'm doing." He sounded no older than 10 now. "And I'll prove it later! For now! Bo is getting impatient and wants us to start already. Be nice to the new kids, Rummy-tum." He pulled away, elbowing Mars knowingly. He accepted the jab without comment.
"Now, as most of you know, being the one and only Dark Angel has it's perks. Namely the ability to see and move through time, peek into the future, and get our hits done perfectly and without detection. It affords us security, and the ability to only need one of each specialist.
"Rum, our sniper. Beautiful work, every time. I've never actually seen him miss. Siren, our resident intel specialist. Her body and mind are flawless and tempting. Riptide, our torture specialist. No, no, no need to for a demonstration, not even on Rum. Then there's Whiskey, our more traditional assassin. But he's MIA right now. Rude.
"Our newest are Bombsa, to replace Geronimo in the explosives field, and XK, our newest intel specialist. Because computers can't appreciate Siren's assets. They're missing out." He paused then. "Now there is a reason behind introducing you all to one another. Surprise! It's a crossroads! I hope you're all as terrified as I am." Anokata's jovial tone iced over on a breath. Every person in the room shivered.
"A... crossroads?" Mars could only assume Muffled was Bombsa. Gone was her earlier snark and aggression. Her fear leaked into her voice.
"I am as limitless as a god, but Crossroads are points in time where even Time himself can't see the outcome. This war between Men and Magic will end with our extinction, or Men's extinction, or maybe we'll just kill each other off, or perhaps we will find peace united, and there's potential for outcomes I can't even conceive. No one, nothing will know until the deciding factor falls into place, whatever that may be, for better or worse."
"Our plan of action, then, Sir?" Mars asked.
"Three weeks are left. Until then, we continue as scheduled. After...
"After the darkness falls, I suppose we'll see. But until then! I want you all to work in pairs. Time is going to start proving unpredictable the closer we get, and I want you all to have backup in case the worst happens. There will be no solo missions going out, for your own safeties." He grinned then, popping back to jovial. "So choose your partners! No, Riptide, you're with Siren."
Anokata skipped from the room then, Siren in hot pursuit. Mars considered the rookies, fingering a spare bullet he kept in his pocket. It had been there for years, waiting for him to miss a shot. Silence fell for a good minute.
"So either I get a broken sniper, a robot, or some guy who can't be arsed to show up." The sass had returned to this rookie, stronger than ever. Mars grinned, shouldering his walking stick.
"Who said I was broken?" He asked innocently. She scoffed.
"If you can't see, then you can't shoot. Everyone knows that!"
"Hm, didn't know I couldn't see; I thought it was just a clever disguise from here." The bullet in his palm weighed exactly as it always had, as he rolled it between his fingers.
"So you're not fucking blind?"
"I never said that."
"Actually, your previous statement did directly imply that you are visually capable." A man stated, without looking up from his typing. So this was XK-A92, the robot. Explained why he didn't breathe.
"Implied, word of the day, Kiddos! I never said it right out, though! Never said the opposite either!" The bullet was bouncy in his palm, happy to flip in idle archs.
"Are you broke or not?"
"Well, I have no disabilities – nothing that slows me down or inconveniences me in the slightest." Mars smirked at her frustrated growl.
"What kind of fucking answer is that?! You think you're some kinda hotshot, spouting half answers and and flinging shells about?!" Bo exploded like the bomb she was named after. When she took to her feet, angered, beads clacked about her head, bouncing off excessive facial coverings. Bandages, a face mask, an eye patch, a toque; lots of flammable knit material. Mars chuckled as he resisted.
"Oh yes." He agreed. A twitch of his fingers, and his bouncy bullet exploded heat and noise, firing without the use of a gun.
"I am the Hottest of Shots." He informed her, as his bullet kissed her one bare cheek before embedding in the wall behind her. "I'll take my chances with Whisking-in-action. I don't babysit rookies anyways. Later." Mars strode away, leaving them to gape. Halfway down the stairs he hadn't had to climb to enter, he paused.
"Phoenix out, next time I gotta say Phoenix Out. So much cooler than 'later'." Mars growled, then continued as intended.