Turpibus exitium. --"Destruction for base men."-- Chapter 4

From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Quis Contra Nos? --"Who Is Against Us?"-- Chapter 3 by Seraphym (Saturday, March 31, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Interlude--Mandragora by John Murdock (Monday, April 02, 2007)

(posted Saturday, March 31, 2007)

The "hired gun", as he liked to think of himself, had been patiently waiting in the shadows of the Portal Corp transportation room, hidden among the pipes and energy conduits that criss-crossed the ceiling, concealed by a stealthing device given him for the job by his employer. He was proud of himself; first for infiltrating Paragon from the Isles, then Portal Corp, and finally for actually having the patience to not brain one of the techs below during the tedium of his wait. The gizmo that his benefactor had included as some icing for the contract helped, certainly. It cloaked him against almost every means of detection; infrared, visual, and so on. He'd have a lot of fun once he got back to the Isles; for a man like himself, with the right tools, the possibilities were endless. If you were brutal enough, you could get anything and everything you ever wanted. You could get it all, if you knew how to deal with people the right way. And when you had a little extra help...it was cake.

It'd only taken him a few minutes during one of the lulls of activity in the room to position the other devices his benefactor had supplied him with. The hired gun had been extremely careful not to bump into any of the technicians or worse, one of the "heroes". With a little luck and more than his fair share of sweat, he'd been able to affix the first device underneath the main control panel for the primary Portal. He didn't know what it'd do, but he was sure it wouldn't be good. Next came attaching the last device to the Portal's main power relay; there was no mistaking what this one was. A bomb, and a decently sized one; the hired gun had enough experience in such things to know that his benefactor was not taking any chances, using something that sophisticated. This Portal was going down, hard. It would be messy. He grinned every time he thought about it.

After he'd finished his work, all that remained was the wait. And there was a lot of waiting to be done. He'd filled his time with occasionally snaking his way down from the ceiling to trip one of the techs, or spill some papers from someone's arms. It was brutish and simple-minded, but it entertained him plenty. Even the smallest amount of pain was fun for him to inflict; when he was getting paid for it, it was all the better. Still, in between his diversions, there were long stretches where he wasn't able to do much of anything. His employer had specifically outlined that if he left the Portal room, their contract would be null and void. With the amount of cash that his employer was shelling out, the hired gun was more than hesitant to do anything that might force him to miss out on it. But that wasn't the only thing that kept him faithfully within the four walls of this room. Though he hadn't met the mysterious benefactor, nor even spoken to him---the entire transaction was handled through an anonymous proxy server---the hired gun had the distinct impression that voiding their contract would have less than pleasant consequences for him. Thinking back on the way things had been worded made him shiver involuntarily.

A steady supply of stimulants kept the hired gun awake; he had to be ready for those few moments when he'd carry out the last part of the contract. There! It was finally time. A woman, completely red skin and hair, strode into the room's top landing, flanked by a trio of teenagers and a red-headed man. Some of them bore a familial resemblance, but he couldn't afford to pay too much attention to it. He had to get the timing for this down perfectly; the devices would assist him, but the brunt of the work was still up to him. It took what seemed like hours of agonizing breathlessness for the group, led by the red woman, to approach the Portal; in reality, it only took a few minutes. The anticipation burned through the hired gun's body, making him shake with adrenalin and barely contained glee. He didn't know precisely what was about to happen, and planned to relish the surprise.

The hired gun didn't know if he could wait any longer. The red woman and her friends saved him the trouble of being premature; they entered the Portal, some of them shifting into grotesque and strange forms; evidently some of the aliens he'd heard about. Just as the last of them crossed the threshold, the hired thug depressed a button on the remote device that had come as part of the package.

The Portal was always noisy. The explosion that destroyed it was deafening, blinding, and horrifying. All the pent-up energies required to breach the boundaries between dimensions were released in a fraction of a second, and human bodies were not built to withstand that. The few unlucky techs too close were atomized. Shrapnel lanced across the room and struck soft flesh, shatter-able machinery and unyielding metal. Those still alive were thrown across the room by the blast-wave. Ruptured coolant conduits spewed fluorescent green liquid, severed electrical cables arced lightning. The overhead lights flickered and died, replaced with red and yellow emergency lamps. Klaxons blared, lights flashed for "red alert" and voices began shouting orders over the intercom system, orders that no one in this room was in any shape to obey. Immediately after the main explosion, a second, smaller one rocked the room; the main control panel erupted in a similarly spectacular fashion. Smoke billowed into the room, casting a choking haze over everything. This activated the fire suppression systems; foam jets sprayed from nozzles, computer-controlled and aimed at the main fires. Seconds later fire sprinklers snapped on, loosing a heavy rain of water. The hired gun, almost enraptured by the carnage he had wrought, crowed with delight. It was time to go and collect his payment.

There wasn't any need for stealth at this point, other than that provided by his benefactor's cloaking gizmo. He leapt to the ground, tumbling as he impacted. There were bodies, some of them on fire, some moving, and all of them bleeding, strewn everywhere; the hired gun took the time to kick a few as he made his way towards the upper landing. Just as he crossed the mouth of the entrance to the hallway that would lead him to the elevators, he felt a sharp electrical stab at his side. In abject horror, the hired gun looked down at his side---he could see his side! The cloaking device had shorted out somehow; it was useless slag, smoking even as it was hooked onto his belt. Panic descended on the hired gun; he'd never be able to sneak out of here. He was dressed in a form fitting "mall-ninja" suit, and looked like something out of a bad action movie. His mind raced, looking for alternatives. He settled on what he knew best. Reaching back into a concealed holster, he removed a personal defense weapon, a hand-held machine pistol. It's angular surface and dull gun-metal shine reassured him, gave him confidence. Only a little, but enough.

Flicking the safety off, the hired gun ran full out for the elevators. The doors opened, but the elevator refused to rise, even after he furiously punched the controls. Lockdown; the fire was keeping everything from working for him. Rushing back out of the elevator almost as fast as he had leapt in, the hired thug moved to the end of the hall. He kicked in the door for the stairwell, pistoning his way up as fast as his legs would take him. It felt like he was climbing out of hell, but he finally burst out of the stairwell, into the light and open-space of the lobby. Dozens of bewildered, worried, and horrified faces all turned towards him. For a moment, he stood there looking stupidly back at them. Then he realized that he was looking at a small army of people who, in a few more seconds, would at the least try to stop him for questioning, and at the worst, realize that he had something to do with the disaster. Lacking anything meaningful to say, the the thug blurted out, "Run and gun!" He squeezed the trigger, and the lobby was immediately filled with the staccato roar of automatic weapons fire. He didn't bother, nor did he have the proper training or discipline, to fire in measured bursts, but rather sprayed bullets everywhere. He wasn't terribly accurate, and did more damage to the walls and floor than he did to people, but still scored some hits on living targets. And, luckily for him, there were no costumed "heroes" here at this moment. Everyone scrambled, some dropping to the floor and others running for whatever cover they could find.

The hired gun made a dive for the door. Just then, it seemed like every cop and hero in the world started to come through the entrance. He couldn't fight them all off; the hired gun was thicker than most, but was at least cagey enough to realize that much. Reflexively, he scooped up a young woman in a blue skirt and blouse, some sort of receptionist. His mind catching up with what his body was doing, he placed the automatic pistol against the woman's temple. "Back! I'll kill her unless you get back! I mean it!" Another group of security---Longbow and a few heroes that must have been in the secondary portal rooms---came up behind him, almost careening into each other as they skidded to a halt. The hired gun began to walk towards the door, gesturing for anyone in his way to move, or else. Someone was trying to talk him down, but the hired gun was too frenzied to listen. Everything had gone wrong! The cloaking gizmo had gone belly up, and now he was trapped!

Finally, the hired gun was out the front doors of Building A. Heroes and PPD units, Longbow and Hero Corps, everything was coming in from everywhere. The hired gun sprayed another long burst from his pistol at the heroes and cops in front of him. They scattered, some of them wounded from the spat of firing. Seeing an opening, the hired gun rushed towards it. He wanted to run and keep running, run all the way back to the Isles if he had to. He fired wildly over his shoulder, blind-firing. The PPD and Longbow, along with one eye-patch wearing hero wielding some sort of crazed super-gun, leveled their weapons at the fleeing madman. They weren't able to get a clear shot of him when he had a hostage, but they could now. A barrage of fire stitched the hired gun's body, jerking him around like a puppet with its strings cut. His legs losing their strength and twisting underneath him, the hired gun collapsed with his back against the Portal Corp sculpture, the rings rotating serenely above him, bright against the ominous, dark gray sky. His last thought was of how good he would have had it, had it all, if only the stupid cloaking gizmo hadn't failed.

Dr. Garvey leaned forward in his seat, a robotic finger flicking a switch. The video and audio feed from his combination cloaking and monitoring device shut off, leaving him in a silent workroom. Steepling his fleshless fingers together, the good Doctor pondered.

It had been easy enough to find a patsy; the Isles were almost literally swimming with cheap thugs that worked for low pay. Finding one that was of the right mindset and skill set was easy as well. A bully, someone that would buckle under real pressure and panic in the face of overwhelming opposition. After he'd located and contacted his potential employee through one of the numerous criminal networks that infested the Isles, it had been an even more simple matter to set everything in motion. The bombs and the scrambler, a remote to trigger both, and a device that would enable the wearer to reach their destination within Paragon City. Not to mention the fact that it was also rigged to allow Garvey to discreetly monitor the wearer, and render the entire device useless at the touch of a button.

With the patsy dead at the scene of the crime, and some very personal marks left for those that knew where to look for them, Garvey was content. Things were moving along swimmingly.