One Week, One Day After the Michigan Avenue Proclamation
It took a little more than five minutes for me to get from the command bunker to my destination, although that was at least in part because I had to go up, over the tree line, and come back down again to locate exactly where the crossroads I wanted was. Finding a trail was easy enough, making sure I had the right portion of the trail was trickier. Flying below the treeline at thirty miles an hour was definitely not an option and positioning technology is a double edged sword – I could risk revealing my position to Project Sumter if they were waiting for me to ping a GPS satellite. I could still tell where the maglev relays around the park were positioned and that gave me a general idea of where I was, otherwise the trip could have taken three times as long.
I’d just started sifting through the trees, looking for a good ambush spot, when my earpiece dinged to life with Simeon on the other end of the line. “I think we have a problem, sir.”
“Bigger than planning a very personal lesson on death from above for Project Sumter?” I asked, trying to keep my voice down in case the wave makers on the other side could pinpoint my location just from that.
“Yes, sir, quite possibly.” There was a loud, indistinct noise on the other end, then the distinctive popping sound of small arms fire. “Agent Samson was with Project Sumter’s team.”
“Yes, I know,” I said, rapping my knuckles on a nearby tree with impatience. “What’s all that noise? You aren’t out with a patrol, are you? You’re-”
“I’m in the power reserve bunker, as you instructed.”
“The noise is Agent Samson.” Cutting me off twice in a row was a sure sign Simeon was upset. “He’s infiltrated the bunker and is in the process of destroying our reserves.”
I slammed my fist into the tree and kicked the maglev back into high gear, shooting up and across the trees at top speed. “How did he get in? If nothing else you could have armed the antipersonnel mines at the entrance.”
“He used the back door.”
“That bunker doesn’t have another entrance!”
“He’s renovated.” Another indistinct noise, followed by the sound of a large, center core power transformer being dropped. Or, in this case, probably thrown. “Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, he is renovating.”
“It’s not renovation if you don’t put all the pieces back together into something new and beneficial, Simeon.” I swooped in towards the bunker. By pressing the maglev array to its limit I managed to make it back to the power reserve in barely two minutes, helped by the fact that it was closer to my starting point than the command bunker and the fact that I’d burned out a relay to do it – if I couldn’t save the power reserve then I wouldn’t be able to fly and fire empion grenades at the same time and, of the two, I needed aerial denial more. Frying a few relays was acceptable losses. “I’m at the front door. I notice it’s not locked.”
“We’re a little bit busy in here, sir.”
The power reserve is basically a big, rough concrete bunker wired to allow a couple of hundred high capacity industrial batteries to charge in a protected environment. Most of the important bits are down below ground level, the entrance basically lets out onto a catwalk that overlooks the batteries – and yes, catwalks are a theme in villain design and I’m no exception. They’re cheaper than building a real floor and villainy is pretty much always on a budget.
About half the catwalk was torn up, mangled and twisted until it looked more like a pretzel than a walkway. Parts of it may have been missing entirely. One of the guards was actually wrapped up in part of the mess. At the far side of the bunker I could see a ragged hole where something roughly the size of a man had torn or smashed its way through a foot of reinforced concrete. My stomach turned over once and I swallowed. I’d known Rodriguez – Samson – was absurdly strong but it looked like I’d still drastically underestimated him.
Simeon was waving to me from the control room, the sounds of sporadic gunfire and tens of thousands of dollars in electrical equipment being torn apart came up from below. I slid to a stop on the catwalk just outside the door, crouching with Simeon in the frame to avoid the bulk of the dangerous stuff flying around outside. “How do things look?”
He shook his head regretfully. “Not good. I’ve already lost touch with two of our six guards and the engineer on the control panel bolted. We’ve lost about a quarter of our reserves and the remainder is dwindling fast. I’m still not sure how he’s avoiding being electrocuted with all the wiring he’s handling but the voltage doesn’t seem to be slowing him down at all.”
“That’s disappointing and extremely odd.” I slipped my SIG out of it’s holster and checked the magazine, deliberately not analyzing what immunity to electricity might tell me about Samson’s talent. I still had no idea how it functioned other than allowing him to perform absurd feats of strength. “We’ll have to deal with him in a little more direct fashion. He took cover when I shot at him at Diversy, and again when Grappler tried the same thing at the library. Bullets must hurt him.”
“They guards are trying that but not getting very far,” Simeon said, tugging absently at the lapels of his suit jacket. Even in the middle of a dingy concrete bunker he was dressed impeccably and, in a bizarre kind of denial of his circumstances, he’d refused body armor or a weapon. That was one reason I’d asked him to stay in the most out of the way bunker, so he’d be out of the line of fire. Not my greatest success, I’ll admit.
“Are the stairs still intact?” I asked, peering through the wreckage that was the catwalk.
“Sir, with all due respect, it may be best to pull back. There’s no way to be sure bullets will actually harm him and staying here just puts you in his reach.”
“I’m not letting him wreck this place ahead of schedule, Simeon.” I gave him my best disapproving look. “It could take months or years to track down the components to finish the Thunderclap array on the black market if we don’t finish fabricating the raw materials here.”
He held up a hand and, grudgingly, I waited to hear his piece. “I understand all that. You are intent on this and I’ve long since come to accept that. But if your set on getting yourself killed I don’t see why you’d object to blowing up a building or two along the way.”
There was a clatter from behind Simeon and Hangman rolled into the control room doorway on an office chair. “Wait, what?”
I glared at Simeon. “Why is she here?”
“The engineer bolted and she has the technical know-how to keep the systems running even when someone’s ripping the guts out of them.” Simeon shrugged. “It was a logical personnel allocation.”
What he wasn’t asking was why I had a problem with something that should be so obvious. Of course someone with Hangman’s computer background would be experienced in keeping an electrical system up and running. The only reason not to want her there was because of the danger. It wasn’t like me to ignore the obvious like that and Simeon didn’t have to say it out loud for me to know he was thinking it was purely for personal reasons.
“Hey, guys,” Hangman said, interrupting my thoughts, “can we get back to the part of this conversation where we’re sitting in a building with a bomb in it?”
“Technically there’s more than one bomb and they’re not that big. Blowing up your base is an essential part of supervillainy.” I ignored the look Hangman was giving me. “Simeon I’m not losing this round. It’s mine to win, we just need to stick it out a little longer and-”
“We don’t have a little longer, sir.” In an uncharacteristically familiar gesture he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “This is your last chance to make a clean break. I’ve never understood why you wanted to become a martyr, but-”
“Yeah,” Hangman broke in, pulling Simeon back as she crowded into the doorway with us. “Care to explain that part? What is he talking about, Circuit?”
I sighed and rubbed my forehead for a minute, wondering when it was I started feeling so old. “Hangman, how much of the plan – the long-term, gambit within gambit, let’s rule the world Plan – do you think you’ve figured out?”
She kept giving me the look and I stared at her until she sighed, accepting that this was a part of how things were going to go. “Well, first you use Thunderclap to take over a city’s electronics. Then you rule it with an iron fist while driving down crime rates and using your public persona’s influence to help bring the economy into line and establish functioning social services. Then you…” Hangman hesitated for a minute, clearly to the part of the plan she hadn’t quite figured yet. “Expand, I guess. Some people will come to you willingly and others can be bullied. At some point there will probably be a direct challenge or five, but-”
“But it will never get that far. Hangman, listen to me.” I reach out as if to put a hand on her shoulder or brush the stray hair from her face. She blinked, a little uncertain, and in that moment I had her by the lapels of the jacket and pulled her close in a way that no one would mistake for affection. “You are stupidly naive and it infuriates me, because I was just like you once. So here’s the truth, unvarnished. Tyrants crumble. Alexander the Great. Julius Cesar. King John Lackland. Napoleon. Adolph Hitler. Nothing they build endured. They don’t usher in new eras, they ripped down the old ones. It was always someone who came after then who did the work of rebuilding, all they were good for was the act of destruction. All.”
Simeon grabbed me by the wrists and broke us apart. “Sir-”
“This is a contest, Hangman,” I snarled, pushing myself to my feet using the doorway as a prop. I was mad and I didn’t know why. I’d spent the last seven years piecing together these ideas and the plans that would make them real, but talking about it always seemed to make me angry. It was perhaps the one thing I’d never stopped to examine. “I tear down their lies, their projects, their secrets, until someone comes and stops me. This is where I get the ability to do whatever I want and use it to find all the liars, the cheats and the bullies out there and grind them into dust so when they finally come and finish me off there’s no more trash out there to clutter up the new order. Because sooner or later that was going to be someone like me. Maybe Lethal Injection. Maybe the Enchanter. But me – I am going to do it right. I will make them hurt like they never have before, but it will be to make them better. And when I am done and buried, they’ll be able to rebuild without any of the old crimes weighing them down.”
“You’ve made a difference, Circuit,” Hangman said, slowly reaching out to take my hand. I jerked back instinctively and she hesitated, looking hurt. “Simeon is right. You’ve shown the world Project Sumter’s lies. You have almost everything you need to build the Thunderclap array. You can step back for a while, take stock, come up with a new plan. You don’t have to-”
“Do you know what a thunderbird is?” I asked.
“What does that-”
“Do you know what it is?”
“No.” She shook her head sadly. “I don’t.”
Simeon gently laid a hand on her shoulder and said, “It’s a creature of wrath, Miss Dawson. A thunderbird’s wrath is unchecked and uncontrollable. Come. We need to go.”
I shook myself back to reality and realized I’d set my gun on the ground at some point during the exchange. I quickly scooped it back up, saying, “We can still contain this, Simeon. We’re nowhere near the endgame yet. I said it this morning – we’re winning this round.”
“Sir, I know you haven’t been paying the best attention so I’ll just tell you.” He nodded towards the edge of the catwalk. “No one’s fired a shot down there for the last ninety seconds. Now you might be able to outmatch Agent Samson with your superior maneuverability and one pistol but I doubt Hangman or I could add much to you side of the equation. And I seriously doubt you or Samson want us here.”
The worst part was, he was right. There hadn’t been gunfire for the last minute or so and I should have noticed and sent them away a long time ago. I sighed and tried to let the tension ease out of me. “You’re right. Go. I’ll see what can be done about Rodriguez.”
They’d gone a few steps down towards the door when the massive bulk of Manuel Rodriguez, full time preacher and part time government strong man, vaulted up from the ground floor and onto the wall above the catwalk, stopping himself on all fours like a human fly, except he immediately slid down and landed lightly on the catwalk. How a man his size managed to land lightly I’ll never understand.
“Actually,” he said, dusting off his pants and bulletproof vest, “before you’re on your way there is one thing that needs to be said.”
I tensed and eased the safety off my sidearm. “And what would that be, Agent Samson?”
He didn’t answer me, not directly. Instead he looked at Hangman and said, “Elizabeth Dawson. I have a message for you from your father. He wants you to come home.”