The sun broke through the clouds and managed to reach Clement Easton’s office. He flipped through the police report on his desk while he drank his morning OJ. It had been a week since his agent, The War, had gone to Jet City to take care of some problems. Contact ceased after two days and only after pulling some strings with Seattle PD was he able to find out what happened. Everything The War had done while on assignment was spelled out quite clearly in the report, much to his chagrin. An agent of the Order hadn’t had their cover blown this bad since the Reagan era.
He wondered if he should activate the Seattle unit. They could commandeer a Mobile Precinct Vehicle and be in Jet City within the hour. It would require a massive use of the Order’s resources, but it might be worth it to be rid of this vigilante. This Mr. Nobody. Easton admitted to himself that he’d underestimated the guy. He’d not only sniffed out their plot amid the chaos of a simmering gang war, but also taken out the Jet City unit and the super agent sent to deal with it all.
Maybe he didn’t need to send a whole unit. Maybe a specialist could handle it. The office phone rang. He finished his OJ and answered the phone with a curt, “Go.” The line was silent for a moment before an unfamiliar voice replied.
“I like that. Just one word. Very high speed.”
“Who is this?” Easton asked.
“I think you know.”
Easton cleared his throat. This was unforeseen.
“You’re him then. The one who’s been mucking everything up. I hope you’ll come to your senses soon and leave this all be. It’ll be better if you stop now.”
“Better for you, you mean,” said Nobody. Easton pursed his lips, annoyed.
“This isn’t a game. Do you understand?”
“Are you sure? The codenames and secret handshakes sort of feel like a game to me. Like a LARP that went too far.”
“I don’t know what that is,” said Easton.
“Ask the guy who buys your robes and animal masks. I’m sure he knows.”
“We’re not here to play dress up like you. We’re fighting to take back society.”
“From who? Thugs? Gangsters? Criminals? Have you looked in a mirror lately?”
“A little judgey for a crimefighter, aren’t you?” said Easton.
“I don’t fight crime. I fight evil.”
“Don’t toy with me. You may be a resourceful, lucky son of a bitch but you’re still just one man. You get one chance, just one, to walk away,” Easton spat.
“I may resemble a man in appearance, but in practice I’m more of an urban legend. I’m the road you don’t turn on. The house you stay clear of. The woods your friends never returned from. The river that claims its due every year because despite the numbers, people just keep going back to swim in it. Just real enough to be seen, but not enough to be believed.”
“What are you, twelve? You really believe this shit you’re saying?”
“Why start a war in the streets of my city?” Nobody asked abruptly.
“Start a war? Son, the war started a long time ago. We’ve been fighting it for years. Jet City is just the latest battlefield.”
“You’re going to answer for every person you hurt in this town.”
“I don’t answer to you,” said Easton.
“Of course you don’t. You answer to a higher power than I. That higher power tells you what you’re doing is right. But I serve a higher power too. That higher power tells me your time has come.”
“Now you listen to me…”
“Wanna hear something cool? They’re the same power.”
“Enough. I gave you a chance but whatever goodwill you earned by impressing me just went out the window.”
“You must think very highly of yourselves calling your little boy’s club the Order. Like a bunch of knights at a round table. What a pedigree. What a tradition.”
Easton hung up. This little shit was done. He picked up his special phone to call an associate in the U.S. Marshals. As soon as he grabbed the phone it rang. Only top executives knew the direct number. Easton made sure the room was clear before answering.
“You have a lovely house by the way. The previous owners would have loved what you did with the garden.”
“How did you get this number?”
“From your war buddy. The giant,” said Nobody.
“That’s impossible. He didn’t know the number. Everything was secure. One way,” Easton peeked out the blinds of his office window. He couldn’t see anything with the sun in his face.
“It was a good effort. But you can’t stop me. I’m in your system. I’m everywhere,” Nobody said.
“You’ll regret fucking with us. You’ll beg for death before we’re done, I swear to God,” Easton said, looking through his drawers for the key to his gun cabinet.
“That’s a good line. Mind if I steal it?” Nobody asked. Easton kept rummaging through the junk in his desk. It had to be here. “If you’re looking for your key, you won’t find it. But if you want it back, go to the study.” Easton felt the room closing in on him. This couldn’t be real. Who was this guy? “I’d hurry if I were you. Sharon’s gown wouldn’t look so good in red. Or Valencia’s for that matter.”
“Don’t you dare threaten my family. I’ll stake you to the front gate myself!”
“I don’t do threats, Clement. Now move.”
Easton left his office and went down the hall to his study. On the way he passed the greeting area of his house where guests would leave their things before entering. Two of his personal guards were lying on the floor, two holes in the window spelled out their fate. Easton had seen his share of bodies, but nothing had ever made him want to puke more than this.
He hesitantly entered the study. It was much as he left it the day before. Except for the hidden ledger he kept in a locked drawer, lying wide open on his desk. He went to close it and heard the door shut behind him. Nobody locked the door.
“What are you doing in my house?” Easton asked.
“I came to return some books. Great reads, by the way,” Nobody said, putting some old journals on a bookshelf. “Have a seat. We have a lot to talk about.” Easton didn’t move. His face was beet red and it looked like his carotid would slither out of his head at any moment. “I mean, you don’t have to. I figured it’d be easier to secretly reach for the gun in your desk if you did. You can do what you like.”
“You think I don’t know what you’re doing here? This whole routine?”
“Gosh, I hope so. Otherwise this whole thing would feel kind of silly. So. Let’s talk about you. Let’s talk about the Order.”
“You seem to know a lot already considering you found me.”
“I know a group of Seattle’s finest started the Order in 1932. I know you became a paramilitary group in the 70’s thanks to the War on Drugs and all that sweet funding from Nixon. I know your uncle brought you into the fold when he saw what a rising star you were becoming at Gumption Rutherford Defense Systems. I know you’ve been making as many Deep State connections as you could ever since. I know that sometime in the 80’s and 90’s you lost your way, started turning into the very thing you were fighting. Started executing criminals left and right, used your connections to shove it all under the rug. Would your grandfather even recognize the organization anymore?”
“Is this what you do in Jet City? Talk people to death?”
“Why don’t you ask JCPD Officer Turner about that? I’m sure he has a great many insights to share.”
Easton reluctantly sat down.
“What do you want to know?”
“I want to know why. What was the big plan? What was worth all the time, money, and death?”
Easton shook his head. This wasn’t how he pictured his day going.
“The Mask laws are coming up for renewal. It happens every ten years or so. People sit down and really think about what it means to tolerate vigilantes in our society. It was different when you all wore bright colorful uniforms and played cops and robbers with each other. No one gave it a second thought. But times are different. The superhero as we knew it no longer exists. People join corporate teams, public-private ventures, or the government hires them. Solo operations like you are very rare. No one really buys into the whole superhero thing anymore.”
“What about the Nationals?” Nobody asked.
“They’re a brand. They don’t do real crimefighting. Not like us. They’re too worried about jurisdiction disputes and injury lawsuits to be truly effective.”
“Especially when you bank roll said law suits.”
“Super teams get in the way of what we’re trying to do here in the Northwest. Law enforcement belongs in the hands of us regular folks. Super people are messy.”
“So you start a gang war?” Nobody asked.
“Not just a gang war. We’re going to turn Jet City into Baghdad. It’s going to be block to block. House to house. The Spiders will leave the crime lords no choice but to fight for their very lives. The Governor’s going to want the National Guard on standby. I’m talking state wide emergency.”
“And how was that supposed to change the Mask Laws?”
“Don’t you know what’s coming up two months from now?” he asked. Nobody thought for a moment.
“The Centennial of Superhumans.”
“Bingo. Every superpowered freak, geek and hero wannabe for miles around will be flocking to the big cities to take part in the celebration. Seattle has Hundred Years of Heroes Month, Jet City has that week long festival. Hell, even Everett’s throwing a parade. It’ll be the biggest party in years. Now, if you have a bloody gang war and you add hundreds of inexperienced, under qualified, amateur, DIY super types, what do you think will happen?”
Nobody’s eyes narrowed.
“You don’t care about collateral damage because collateral damage is the point.”
Easton touched his nose.
“Got it in one. Sure, some people will be saved, but a lot more are going to experience first hand what it’s like to be ‘rescued’ by someone who can lift a tank but has no idea how to handle their strength. They’re going to screw it up and when supers screw up they screw up big. It’s not going to be pretty.”
“Public opinion shifts. Superheroes become the media’s punching bag just long enough for the Mask laws to get voted down. With heroes gone, someone has to fill the void. That’s where you and your friends come in. Federal, State and Local agencies. Your buddies at Gumption Rutherford with their military surplus and no one to give it to suddenly have an open market.”
“You are clever.”
“Thanks,” Nobody said.
“It’s funny that you think you can stop this. You can’t. Everything’s already in place. Even if you got rid of the Order entirely, there are other players in the field. More than you can handle.”
“So I’ve heard. But hey, the Centennial’s still a couple months away. I’ve got plenty of time,” said Nobody. Easton pulled a Colt 1911 out of his desk.
“Son of a bitch. You really did leave my gun in here.” He checked the magazine. “And loaded too. You stupid motherfucker.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Nobody said. Easton aimed in and fired. The gun exploded, turning his hand to bloody hamburger. “You know, accidents are the number one cause of death in the home,” he said as Easton screamed.
“Fuck you! You goddamn fucking piece of shit! Fuck!”
He grabbed Easton’s bloody hand and crushed it. “You look like the kind of guy who can afford real good surgery or a nice prosthetic. Maybe they’ll even throw in a plasma torch so you can look all badass. But just remember why this happened. Really try to understand the series of events that led to this moment. I hope someday you will. Until then, stay out of my city.”
He knocked Easton out cold. Then he bandaged the hand to stop the bleeding. He went to Easton’s rather large garage, making sure on the way to check that the two guards were still tranquilized, and took the smallest motorbike he could find. He set his spy drone to home in on his position and rode out of Easton’s home, the drone keeping pace with him. Once he was far enough away he called an ambulance for the man who tried to have him killed several times.
With the rising sun at his back, Nobody rode toward Seattle, ready to start another hunt.
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