I feel a foreboding bite to the wind. My hands tremble as I hold the rifle in place. My breath puffs through the black mask on my face, misting the air, fogging my glasses. The clouds are grey. No sun shines.
As we draw closer to position I become even more conscious of my hair, dyed brown from its normal white. Even under the dye and black helmet I feel exposed. But they say no one can tell. So I trudge forward.
Pleiades has my back, he’s my wingman on the ground. They say I am to trust him. He is a fellow agent. One of the best. I trained with him for two years, but even so, stepping out on my first mission, stepping out into the street again, I feel vulnerable not watching my own back.
The street. The place where every corner is treacherous. The place where you die the moment you stop watching over your shoulder. The place they pulled me from, and the place they just dropped me. But I can’t look over my shoulder. They tell me to stay focused ahead. Looking only to the goal. So that’s what I do.
The asphalt is slippery, damp, and unforgiving. My steps are only sure because of long practice before and through training. My shaking breath shows only a fraction of my mind. The objective is not one to be taken lightly.
Commander Leo’s voice comes through my earpiece, giving instructions as we start coming in on position. Trusting that Pleiades has my back, I follow the instructions without looking to make sure he’s there.
Moving from a side street, we walk to the back door to a massive business building–the only thing standing between me and Thargonos Square. The only thing between me and the greatest villain in history. A man whose face has never been seen, and yet is feared all over the world. A man fast enough to dodge bullets, and I’m supposed to shoot him in the head.
Pushing through the back door, I move to the nearest staircase, one out of view from the business front windows. The echo of my boots is loud in the silent building, even though they’re twice as quiet my partner’s. Together we climb, until reaching the fifth floor.
I slip down low, moving from the stairwell toward the front of the building. Teams alpha, beta, and gamma, are in place. Team delta, Pleiades and I, is the last to get in position. I settle down to my belly as we near the big front window. The crawl is slow, but steady. Within the fifteen seconds it takes for me to get there, I’ve considered every single possible thing that can go wrong before I reach my position, and none of them do. So I lift my rifle on its bi-pod, and look out the window, into the empty square. Empty but for one person.
Ever since the moment people learned the speedster had entered Thargonos, the Security Head and his team started setting up a plan to take down the renown villain. To kill the malicious man.
So they worked out a plan to meet with him, to make a deal in this very square. They offered a briefcase of information about neighboring cities in exchange for leaving Thargonos alone. The terms were accepted, and the Security Head knew that the speedster knew it was a trap. So they hired the best mercenary team in the world to make sure their plan was carried through. They hired the Upholders.
And that is why as I look at the very man feared in every country through my rifle scope, I regret taking the oath that was followed by the badge being clipped on my chest. But thinking of the oath reminds me of its contents, so I do my best, relaxing in position to study him.
A suit of red metal-weave plates covers him from head to toe, interlocking. His breathing is relaxed, and his shoulders rise with steady fall. Even through the armored suit, it’s clear this man is harder than steel. His body is surrounded in an aura of danger, and the overcast day doesn’t help.
Commander Leo speaks into my ear, saying that team alpha is moving in with the briefcase of info. Each team copies back, and gets ready.
My finger slides over the trigger and I let my instinctive reflexes get ready to jerk my finger back, faster than the blink of an eye. Hopefully faster than the villain.
The master plan is falling into place as I see Leo step around another building and into the square, briefcase in hand. I spy the other teams in different points in different buildings. We are the only people within a mile radius. This area has been evacuated for this operation. Businesses have closed so I can pull the trigger, in this spot.
Leo stops his advance ten meters away from the villain. His mouth is moving, and I hear his voice in my ear, but the enemy is not replying. So Leo steps forward, setting the case on the ground, taking a step back.
The villain steps forward, reaching down slowly. Leo tells the villain to “Go ahead.”
I pull the trigger.
The very air itself appears to slow down as the bullet, surrounded in flame, emerges from the barrel of my gun, barely spinning. The space around the speedster pulls in toward him, who lifts his foot, kicking Commander Leo in the chest. I blink and the villain is gone, but I catch glimpses of him appearing and disappearing around my teammates, striking them, tearing them apart. So I go to stand up.
My body feels like lead, and for every time the villain appears and disappears, I only move an inch. The power in my body is fast, but the body itself can only move so fast. By the time I’m standing every single other team has been laid out on the square grounds, laying still, eyes empty. The bullet has only moved a yard from the barrel end, and the speedster is staring up at me.
He disappears and I turn around, only to see Pleiades fly past me and through the window, jaw fractured and wobbling in several pieces. And standing still, breathing no harder than before, is the one we were sent to kill. The one we failed to kill. The one to be my death.
He starts walking forward, and I lift my hands. But at only half the pace as my enemy. His movements are fluid, unhindered, swift, and deadly.
I feel the first blow on my chest as the ribs crack, sending sharp spines into my heart. As I start flying back he moves behind me kicking out my legs. I sail towards the jagged edges of the broken window, and he jumps forward throwing punches in a flurry I can’t see, but every single one breaks my body more, and more and more.
Eventually my mind slips away, falling into utter darkness. A brief light returns as my mind wakes to see him let go of my collar. I fall into a pitch black tunnel, and a cascade of water. Darkness returns.
It isn’t the pain wakes me. It isn’t the cold, smelly, sewer water. It isn’t the rib running through my heart. It’s a soft beating. One that carries a calm thunder to my head. One that gently pulls me awake.
My eyes open and the grimy concrete tunnel is flashing in silver blue light. For a minute it doesn’t make sense until I remember my heart beat again–the one that woke me up. I remember something else, something I’d worked hard to forget and did. Something that brings back tears of the past, pulling the pain of a thousand eons with it.
The doctor, when I was a five, told my parents about the strange light pulsing through my arteries for the first time when I got angry during an appointment. I remember when, shortly after meeting the doctor, I threw a tantrum, letting the power flow–when mom tried to grab my arm.
No! My mind screams. I’m not a killer! Her cold body laying on the ground is a clear image. When she wouldn’t wake up I ran out onto the street, promising never to wield lightning again. My father disappeared.
But in all the pain of memory, one thing stands out. Lighting.
Gritting my teeth, with tears streaming, I lift my head. The water pulls at my body which is halfway on a sewer bank. My right hand, sitting in the water, twitches, sending silver blue electricity through the water.
I try to sit up farther, but all goes black. When my head clears again, I go to stand up. But somehow I’m already there, one hand against the wall.
I take in a deep breath letting pain clear my head.
If only I had it, I would have been fast enough to save Pleiades… but as a boy I gave it up along with my mother. May I be forgiven. I close both eyes in fervent prayer, though not sure who it’s to. My eyes open once more.
Now I have a job to finish. Now I have a role to fulfill.
The tears turn to a waterfall as I begin walking. The electricity pulls my bones back in place, it keeps me alive. Alive to feel the pain of my mistakes. I move into a run feeling more pain than ever before. The tears won’t stop, so I keep running faster and faster, letting anger be my fuel.
I run to escape one villain, to leave it in the dust. And I run to face another.
May you come to fear the lightning of Orion Ten… the last Upholder.