Authors: Daniel Halayko
Tags: #Science Fiction/Superheroes
By Daniel Halayko
Copyright © 2010 by Daniel Halayko and N.D. Hall
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America.
“Of all the nights to take over the world, why did they pick tonight?”
Alex sat in the back of a helicopter. His legs shook involuntarily.
The radio relayed messages about other Metahuman Accountability Bureau agents. Each burst between static reported what another agent saw around the Empire State Building.
A dispatcher said, “Someone’s connecting a cable to the broadcast tower.”
Another dispatcher said, “We better move fast. The New York Guardians are almost in position. Who is their backup?”
Alex didn’t pay attention to the codenames of various superheroes the agents reported. He barely noticed the constant chatter about how they’d support the Empire State Guardians. He didn’t even care about the clang of metal against metal his depowered titanium exoskeleton made when he shifted in his seat.
He tuned the background noise out when he said into his smartphone, “Am I a dad yet?”
The woman on the other end breathed heavily. “The doctor says soon.”
“I should be there.”
“I thought I knew what I was getting into when I married a superhero.”
“I promise, Emily, as soon as this is over I’ll be by your side, and tomorrow morning, I’ll ask Mister Griffin to find a new agent to wear the exoskeleton. Any agent would love to supervise the New York Guardians.”
“You fight evil alongside your childhood idols. You’re living your dream. It’s just that I really wanted you to be here.”
“And I really want to be there, but this is my job.”
“Fine. Don’t worry about me. Charge into danger like you always do.”
His helmet radio chirped. “Agent Exo, are you ready?”
Alex said, “I love you, Emily, I always will,” and slipped the smartphone into his belt pocket.
He put on his gloves and helmet and tapped numbers into a hidden panel under his left palm. The servo motors under his blue and silver breastplate came to life with a soft whir. His wrist cannon’s targeting laser calibrated with the optical readout. Hundreds of pounds from the titanium and Kevlar-blend exoskeleton disappeared when the knee joints powered up. As the arm joints became mobile, he attached a holster with his service pistol to his suit’s belt.
Ten seconds after he entered the code, he said into the helmet’s radio, “This is Agent Exo. I am armored and dangerous.”
The radio chirped back. “Mister Griffin wants you to enter through the one-hundred-second story observation deck. Your objective is to secure the landing for metahuman reinforcement. There may be snipers. Approach with caution.”
“Roger. Will I have backup from other bureau agents?”
“There are two teams on separate choppers near the site, Xavier and Oscar. We’ll see which can jockey into position.”
Agent Exo reviewed the scanned files for the Ultra-Geniuses on his helmet’s heads-up-display. The first one was the Idea Man, the most powerful known psychic, a spry old man with a silver ponytail. He skimmed the bio of the former philosophy professor. Entirely unremarkable until he started to use his powers to reshape the world to his ideas.
The timeline ran down the right side of his display. It showed each time the Idea Man mentally dominated superhero teams, forced other villains to kill themselves, and enslaved citizens. The most recent entry noted that he kidnapped a team of scientists to build some a psionic amplifier, and Alex had no idea what that was.
He flipped through each of his followers. They people of various shapes, sizes, ages, and degrees of psychic powers. He ended with Mind Dame, the youngest and least powerful of them.
There was something disconcerting about this dark-haired olive-skinned girl. Her arrogant smirk struck him as simultaneously terrifying and tragic. What would make a pretty little waif willingly side with someone as insidious as the Idea Man? Where did her life go wrong?
Agent Exo spoke into his helmet’s radio. “These supervillains can do practically any form of psychic attack. Do the backup teams have anti-psionic countermeasures?”
“Xavier, affirmative. Oscar, no report.”
Agent Exo moved from to the middle of the helicopter. The open door framed the Empire State Building against the galaxy of lights on a clear New York night. Several other helicopters circled hundreds of feet above the red-and-blue flashing police below. Between the blinding spotlights he saw a man in a silver suit fly through a lower-level observation deck.
He pressed his helmet’s second radio button. It opened his connection to the New York Guardians.
“Teammates, can you hear me?”
A woman’s voice said, “Hey Alex, how’s Emily?”
“She’s due to deliver any minute now, Charlene.” He couldn’t think of her as Lady Amazing, an indestructible super-strong supermodel, when they talked about personal things.
A deep, authoritative voice said, “Congratulations, agent.”
“Thanks, Sarge,” Agent Exo said to Sargent Hammer. He felt a little giddy when the first publically revealed superhero, a living American legend since World War II and his mentor congratulated him.
A Texan drawl said, “Raise him to be a good guy, because there are too many of the bad.” That was Arbalest, the greatest living crossbowman. He always came through in bad situations, despite being kind of a jerk outside of those times.
“Will do, Bart. What’s Gunnar up to?”
An older man said, “Stormhead is going up the elevator to protect your position after you secure it. Arbalest will join you shortly after. Professor Photon and Scintilla made themselves as small as specks of dust and are going through the air ducts. Sergeant Hammer and Lady Amazing will infiltrate the ground level. As a reminder, we New York Guardians are all friends, but remember to use code names during engagements.”
James Griffin, the CEO of Griffin Industries and leader of the New York Guardians. Once he piloted the Golden Gryphon battlesuit. He proved anyone could hold their own against superheroes with the right equipment. After forty years, he set aside the golden weapon-covered jet-propelled armor, but he remained the team’s leader and business manager.
“Sorry, Mister Griffin, but Charlene is easier to say than Lady Amazing,” said Agent Exo. “And I’m still not sure I’m pronouncing Arbalest right.”
Feedback disappeared from his helmet speakers. That always happened when Mister Griffin shut off his feed to his teammates to give private instructions.
“Listen, I understand you’re worried about Emily, but you have to keep your head in the game or your son won’t have a world to grow up in.”
“Got it. It must be nice to live in a world where shit like this doesn’t happen.”
“We’ll never know. We live in this one.”
Agent Exo’s helicopter moved in closer to the observation deck. His helmet’s radio instantly synced with the pilot’s headset.
“I see shadows,” said the pilot through the helmet radio. “They’ve got people waiting for you,”
“A SWAT team went in earlier. They’re under the Ultra-Geniuses’ psychic control. I have to take them out without killing them.” Agent Exo stood at the helicopter’s open door. “If I don’t make it out, tell my family I love them.”
“Whose family should I tell? Swear on my badge I won’t reveal your identity.”
“Alex? You don’t remember me, do you?”
Agent Exo’s helmet shook.
“We were in the same exoskeleton candidate training program together.”
“There were ninety-nine other guys in that program.”
“Sargent Hammer chewed me out for …”
“He chewed out everyone at some point.”
“Well, I remember you as being so driven Sergeant Hammer told you to tone it down. It’s no surprise you won.”
“I really wanted to be a superhero.”
The helicopter veered towards the Empire State Building. “Sarge’s training was too rough for me. I washed out before the semi-finals. Still, I think it was a great idea to for the New York Guardians to have an agent who can fight alongside them.”
“Every legally recognized team must have a bureau agent to make sure superheroes don’t break the laws in the pursuit of justice. The New York Guardians were the first to make theirs a superhero in his own right.”
“Yeah, we agents can arrange the …”
A thousand white cracks appeared in the windshield with a huge hole. A loud bang came from the engine rotor. Manhattan’s skyline jerked straight up as the helicopter dropped.
“I’m hit,” said the pilot. “Stupid snipers!”
Agent Exo leapt from the swaying helicopter without judging how far he was from the Empire State building.
He reached out. The observation deck was a yard away from his fingertips when gravity caught up with him.
The Empire State Building’s square windows became blurry racing lines as Agent Exo fell. Stories past by him every second. The lights of Manhattan ran together.
He activated his visual enhancements. The heads-up-display put circles around all available surfaces that would support his weight. He thrust his left glove towards one.
A claw attached to a thin steel cable shot out and caught a corner of the deck. The cable whirred as it retracted. Rockets embedded in his boots fired blue jets of flame for extra lift.
Agent Exo shot past the observation deck and landed with enough force to crash through the wire fence. His exoskeleton absorbed the strain and impact.
He tapped his helmet’s infrared settings. Three human shapes were against the wall. In the flashing lights he saw SWAT across their bullet-proof vests.
He raised his wrist-mounted concussion cannon. “Down! Now!”
A shotgun blast responded.
The slug barely scratched Agent Exo’s armor. He fired three times from his wrist cannon. Each rocket hit its target in the stomach. Each deployed electrified needles sharp enough to pierce bulletproof vests. All three men dropped, stunned.
Agent Exo’s in-visor display system scanned the SWAT team members. Their breathing and pulse rates were stable. He stomped on their guns and flattened their barrels.
“Deck is clear,” he said into his helmet’s microphone. “Send in my backup.”
A new helicopter hovered over the deck. Five Metahuman Affairs Bureau agents in assault body armor rappelled down. Their heavy bullet-proof vests and tight bodysuits made them look like blue turtles.
Agent Exo’s helmet modified his voice so they could hear him despite the hovering helicopter overhead. “Remember, strictly non-lethal force. These are civilians and police officers under the Ultra-Geniuses’ psychic control.” His parabolic auditory enhancements focused on the agents so he could hear them. His heads-up-display instantly gave their names as they spoke.
“Rubber bullets loaded,” said Agent Thomas.
“Use real bullets in the pistols.” Agent Exo pointed to the open door. “We need to secure this floor as a landing zone. Watch for Ultra-Geniuses.”
“Wouldn’t mind seeing that Mind Dame,” said Agent Fitzwater. “She’s legal, right?”
“Barely,” said Agent Charleston.
“Keep your minds and guns steady,” said Agent Exo. “One look in her eyes and you’re a puppet. Is this team Xavier or Oscar?”
“Oscar,” said Agent Hall.
“You went through psychic self-defense training, right?”
“Not me,” said Agent Hall.
“Nope,” said Agent Kreiger.
“Uh-uh,” said Agent Thomas.
“My class is next month,” said Agent Fitzwater.
“There’s a class in that?” asked Agent Charleston.
“Seriously?” said Agent Exo. “Do you at least have lead-and-magnet-lined psychic-resistant helmets?”
“It wasn’t in the budget,” said Agent Hall.
Agent Exo’s glove slapped his own helmet hard enough to make a metallic clang. “Why did they send you guys?”
“Team Xavier couldn’t get in,” said Agent Thomas. “Should we wait for them?”
“Let me check.” Agent Exo opened his communication channel to Mister Griffin. “Problem. The team that made it in doesn’t have psychic defense countermeasures.”
“I saw that,” said Mister Griffin, “but the other team is circling the building.”
“Should we wait for them or …”
“Hell no. The Ultra-Geniuses are almost done with whatever they’re doing. Every second counts.”
“Can I get another New York Guardian to back me up? I’d settle for Arbalest.”
“Alex, you don’t go to soldiers with the army you want, you go to war with the soldiers you got. Now charge, damn it!”
Agent Exo closed the channel. “Let’s move out. If you see anyone, close your eyes and open fire.”
Agent Exo shattered the glass doors with a solid kick. He swept the room with his helmet’s low-light vision. “Ticket offices on the side, otherwise it’s open space.”
The MAB agents spread out. Agent Exo and Agent Hall took the middle.
Agent Exo tore down the maze of velvet rope waiting lines with a single tug. The show of strength made him feel better about taking on an unseen enemy.
It was more for himself than anyone else. He was a superhero, he could handle anything. Whatever came next, he had the training and experience to deal with it. Sometimes he had to remind himself of that.