False Flag: The Power Summit (Part 1 of 3)
Painting by Demar Douglas
The Bad Feeling
The sun shone hard through wispy high clouds over the Los Angeles Convention Center as traffic on Figueroa Boulevard slowed for commuters to gawk at the line of DangerWatch vehicles -- W.A.R. Path light tanks with their triple Gatling guns trained on the sky, W.A.R. Master heavily armored all terrain vehicles lined up perfectly parallel. Huge barricades erected by contractors Brasher Lyons Brasher blocked access to foot traffic but still made the show of force visible. Across the South Hall doorways, a huge banner proclaimed "POWER SUMMIT: HEROES LEAD."
Inside the front door, Operator -- a tall clean shaven Latino man in a green beret and a black mock turtleneck snug on his muscular torso -- barked orders at uniformed Defenders setting up patrols between sandbagged gun emplacements and standard plywood rectangular registration booths. His light brown hands adjusted the beret on the perspiring line of his close cropped fade as the Stoner 63 slung over his shoulder bumped against gray camouflage pants.
At the top of the nearby staircase that led to the already busy convention floor, General Dante "War Dog" Garrett, the leader of DangerWatch and one of its best known members, stood cross armed watching his subordinates go through their preparations. As always, he wore a drab olive green jumpsuit and black boots with a matching garrison cap, both sporting the familiar DangerWatch eagle logo on his left breast and the right side of the cap. His smooth, pale pate shone back the convention center's fluorescent lights.
"You really think all of this is necessary?" a confident voice behind him asked.
War Dog didn't bother to turn around as he was approached by Bryce Bartley, the billionaire adventurer who called himself The Statesman, co-funder of what was arguably the world's most powerful team of extralegal vigilantes, The Line.
"You bring a few hundred walking weapons of mass destruction to an American city for a dog and pony show instead of on one of your space platforms or something," War Dog said drily, "you get military security, even with the limits you and Chief Moore put on my team."
Statesman pursed his lips. "You're not as diplomatic as you are on the media circuit," he said to the older man. "If DangerWatch merchandise didn't sell as well as it does, giving you cache even with my board, this might be a different discussion."
War Dog chuckled. "Those sales have been the same since you were in junior high, Bartley. Isn't that why you spent so much to get the time slot after our animated series for your nation-agnostic super team's little 'adventures?' If you want to talk ancillary income streams, let me know when your show gets to its fortieth season like ours."
At that moment Pride -- by himself, wearing a tailored Givenchy suit with a matching pair of Belvedere ankle boots, his sunglasses matching the golden tint of his kinky coiled highlights -- emerged from the parking garage below. He smirked at his co-funder and glanced at his smart watch.
"Always a pleasure, General," Statesman said through a forced smile. "If you'll excuse me ..."
War Dog watched Statesman fall into hushed conversation with the African noble and together they went inside. The General then tapped his earpiece and said, "War Dog to Martial. What do you have for me, Danny?"
Above and behind War Dog's position was a hallway enclosed by glass where two Defenders stood watch at one of the private rooms. Inside, War Dog's son Dan "The Martial" Garrett -- six foot three inches of patriotic muscle, with light brown hair stood, fatigue pants in a wide legged stance with his arms folded, much like his father. A brown leather jacket lay across the back of a chair nearby and his green short sleeved shirt matched his pants in tone.
Tables were set around the room's walls with impromptu workstations of dual monitors and keyboards with tiny desktop computers. A blue Igloo cooler and numerous cardboard boxes sat underneath the tables. Around him were three team members -- the hazmat specialist Perilous with her helmet on a chair, her long straight black hair in a ponytail as she wiped honey mustard from her olive fingers; a lean Latina woman codenamed Doctor Doctor in a stereotypical lab coat over camouflage fatigues reading a paperback labeled Advocate Case Files: Schroedinger's Hepcat; Lt. Deadline, a shorter, stern faced Asian man with a pencil thin mustache and a black beret and service dress with his necktie and collar slightly looser; and Rock & Soul, a woman who spent her career using her looks as a weapon, today dressed in a conservative black blazer, knee matching length skirt and white blouse as she watched a monitor with each team member visible -- all focused on their work but looking back at the Martial when War Dog's voice rang out from the speakers.
"All stations, status green," Martial said confidently.
"Run it again, Danny," War Dog replied, watching Operator take a position behind sandbags in a corner near the glass front of the convention center. "With all these eyes on us, we can't get egg on our faces today."
The Martial rolled his steely blue eyes. "Rock & Soul, call for all stations to sound off."
"Sir, yes sir," she said, putting on a headset that was lying on the desk. "Just like the old days, this is Rock & Soul, your eye in the sky and voice in your ear. All stations provide supplemental verbal check in, over."
Down in the street-level garage, a matte black 1996 Chevrolet G20 van was parked between the two large garages -- the northern one with its cavernous ceiling dozens of feet above and the more concrete-shaded southern garage -- with the hazel eyed Heavy Duty sat, shewing on an apple, his dark, muscled arms tensed at hearing the order. "Black Fury in the garage," he said, "status green. I have eyes on the western perimeter and four W.A.R. Masters full of Defenders. I'm pretty sure the other six are okay, over."
A few hundred feet away in a parking lot on Venice Boulevard along the southern perimeter of the event, a wiry dark skinned Black man in his late twenties stood on the roof of a W.A.R. Master all terrain vehicle, a black bandanna wrapped tightly around his head with night vision goggles hanging around his neck and an SR-25 light assault machine gun hung low on his back. He looked around and held up a walkie-talkie, saying, "Underground on the southern perimeter, status green. I see some police cars parked on the other side of the freeway, looking pretty P.O.ed but quiet, no action over here, over."
On the roof of the convention center, a man from the First Nations stood next to the open cockpit of his W.A.R. Hammer, a specially modified AH-64 helicopter. He tipped his cowboy hat upwards over his weathered, ruddy skin to glance into the thin clouds and said, "Skywolf on the roof, status green. I have eyes on ten Defenders with W.A.R. Locks in the air, but I sure would prefer some more W.A.R. Hammers or W.A.R. Hawk cover, over."
A wiry, pasty man in a thick black flak vest and a camouflage uniform stood on Pico Boulevard, the northern border of the perimeter, a rounded black helmet with the letters "MP" with a white and red stripe all the way around, sitting atop his bright red hair and freckled face. He grimly squinted at the traffic going west on the other side of the street. "Inspector on Pico, status green. No insubordinate commentary to offer, over."
Inside the convention center, on the floor as costumed heroes from many nations chattered or checked out wares from vendors promising lighter, more durable costumes or customizable vehicles. A petite brunette with a straight low ponytail poking the top of her jumpsuit collar pulled down her patrol cap and said, "Nuance on the convention floor, status green. Nothing weirder than we expected, but I'd feel better if Maraud weren't hawking stuff that can kill us, over."
Rock & Soul replied, "You do remember that the W.A.R. Cries, W.A.R. Dances and W.A.R. Locks are Kulak Group exclusives. He's shot at us a few times, sure, but he's been the reason we had more ammo more times than that. Please continue your reports, over."
The eastern perimeter of the convention center saw a line of W.A.R. Masters next to one space aged looking van with sleek silvery lines, the DangerWatch eagle on each side and an aerodynamic shape. A tall, older white man with a pencil thin mustache, a Black beret and an olive green leather jacket and matching khaki slacks glanced around and spoke into his right collar. "Jack Flack on Figueroa, status green. It's nice to interact with some of the fans, though, and I see a good number of them on this side, over."
A few blocks away, atop the JW Marriott Hotel, a portly Black man in a bulky orange vest and helmet with its visor up sat eating a sandwich, a four foot long laser rifle leaning on his leg and connected to a nearby resting backpack. He glanced at a monitor, showing an angle of the convention center front door that showed both the Inspector and Jack Flack. "Blastmaster up on the roof like the Drifters, status green. Y'all know I'm in this hot protective gear, somebody coulda gotten me a beach umbrella or something, over."
Back in the impromptu situation room, Rock & Soul chuckled. "You know the wind would blow it away, Ron, just keep your eagle eye out, all right? This is Rock & Soul at dispatch, status green, over and out."
She spun her chair and shrugged at the Martial, who nodded back, tapping his ear to activate his comm channel.
"I know we only got ten days to prep for this mission," he said calmly, "and we've only been on site two days, but everybody here is a pro and you all know what you're doing. Keep your eyes open for any possible threats to the attendees and today will go as smooth as silk. This is the Martial, over and out."
Deadline nodded and said, "You give great speech, boss."
The Martial sneered at him, "Stop sucking up to me, Darryl, you're not getting promoted to captain any time soon."
Deadline slumped down in his chair a little as everyone returned to their screens and the Martial walked over to look over the bustling convention floor, tapping the earpiece twice.
"Status green across the board, Dad," he said.
Back by the stairs, War Dog smiled. "I knew I could count on you. I've got to go to a meeting with the mayor about our little pissing contest with the police chief, but those cape and mask types should stay out of your way. This is your show, Dan."
"I'm five by five, sir," Martial replied.
"Talk to you later, son," War Dog said, tapping the link closed. With one last satisfied look, he turned left, heading towards the cafe.
Across the Figueroa and Pico intersection, a three story apartment complex stood, its windows facing the convention center. On the top floor, behind polarized glass that seemed to show a normal family going about their day, a quintet of Digi-Snakes sat in full armor, with their port-filled chest planes and wraparound helmets, typing away as they watched monitors that showed Inspector, Jack Flack, Black Fury, Skywolf and Operator through the glass. Much like DangerWatch, furniture had been moved around to allow tables and computers to be set up around the perimeter of the living room.
The apartment door opened behind them and in came Malik Brown, the "shop steward" who made sure all logistical concerns were addressed behind the scenes. He carried with him two large plastic bags bulging with light gray cardboard packages.
"Hey, everybody!" he said cheerily, closing and locking the door behind him. "Who wants some Comfort LA? I brought enough for all of us, but don't tell the troops out there, aight?"
The Digi-Snakes all chuckled -- many of them had noted similar containers in the hands of undercover operatives outside, so chances are he'd gotten food for everybody, regardless of the size of this operation.
Brown walked to each Digi-Snake, carefully laying down a large box -- the eighteen piece "Martin" plate -- alongside napkins, a bottle of Comfort Ade and a side of candied yams. As the Digi-Snakes lifted their facemasks to eat, he heard murmured words of thanks.
"Y'all quiet up here," he said, finally sitting down with a plate for himself, "so I'm guessing everything's going according to plan?"
One of the Digi-Snakes -- a Black woman with freckles on her light complexioned cheek and a single errant curly strand of hair poking out over her forehead who Brown remembered had the last name Benjamin -- sat her plate aside and turned to face him. "Status green across the board," she said. "We've identified seven front line operatives and dozens of Defenders, plus two or three trying to be 'undercover.' It's all well within the projections that Prophecy sent over, and we were able to get about thirty or forty Snakes inside disguised as security guards and service staff."
Brown chuckled, setting his Comfort Ade down, and said, "Thank you, Ralph Ellison. That's good, stealing this prototype Lockheed Martin jump jet will make the Kulak Group owe us some favors and make the DangerWatch team look bad.
Benjamin leaned in and said quietly, so as not to attract the attention of the others as they are, "… is it true? Is he here?"
Brown smiled and set his own plate aside, leaning in.
"Yes," Brown whispered back. "The Organizer is here. He's gonna personally fly that jet right out of the building and make them look ridiculous."
Benjamin‘s face smiled with a pinch around her nose and she nodded, turning back to her food.
Brown looked over to a tall, lanky Digi-Snake and said, "Andre, did our friends get the perimeter ready to lock down and block off reinforcements?"
Andre, sipping his Comfort Ade, turned around, holding up a finger so he could swallow and answer. Uneven dreadlocks hung over his face, normally covered by his mask. Once he swallowed, he said, "We got the email confirmation of police positions an hour ago, since the Police Protective League are pretty cranky about losing all the overtime they would have gotten from protecting this event. There will be a wall of police vehicles on every road around the building, thanks to Craig Lally. Lots of cars, but no cops on the way."
"Good," Brown said. "Can we get Gladiator to spin that so it looks like DangerWatch refused to coordinate with local law enforcement? Will that work?"
Andre tapped on the monitor showing the Inspector shooing away a young girl, holding an Inspector action figure, as her parents looked on in horror.
"This guy is their Colonel Clearwater," Andre said.
Everyone laughed, realizing the kind of stiff, needlessly labyrinthine drama that meant.
Out front of the convention center, Jack Flack stood, hands on his hips looking around when an excited voice behind him said, "Oh my god! It's you! It's YOU!"
Flack turned around to see The Messenger, one of the heroes from the Line who lived in the Los Angeles area. Flack was about four inches taller, even with the wraparound helmet Messenger wore, somewhat reminiscent of the Black Power Ranger.
"The hero who saved the Santa Monica Promenade from Breathtaker?' Flack said, both arms held out. "Hey, Messenger, bring it in, pal!"
Messenger, standing with his hands clasped, hesitated a moment before rushing to cross the ten feet between them, grasping Flack in a bear hug around the older man's torso,
"Oh my god oh my god," Messenger said, the waist cape on his left side reminding Flack of an adversary he'd rather forget. "You know who I am?"
"Course I do, buddy!" Flack said, pulling Messenger back and holding the younger man by both shoulders. "When I heard about how that intel that saved the Burj Khalifa came because only you and that shapeshifting fella could get it, and then that suicide bomber at city hall, I said to myself, 'That Messenger guy is one heck of a hero!' I was pretty doggone impressed!"
"I ... I don't even know what to say right now ..." Messenger stammered.
"Hey, mind if I took a selfie with you?" Flack asked. "The team's PR types can put it on social media so I can look cool for my kids!"
Messenger just stared up at Flack for a moment and said, "Nothing in the world could make me happier!"
Flack pulled an older model iPhone with a button on the front from inside his jacket, fiddled with it for a moment and then pulled Messenger into a one sided hug. The helmeted hero held up two thumbs and made a high pitched noise of excitement.
Flack put the phone back and pulled out a green business card with white lettering on one side and the DangerWatch eagle on the other. "Tell ya what," Flack said. "Here's my card. I'm usually stationed in New York City -- if you ever come through town, give me a ring, I'll show you the best steak dinner in town!"
Messenger, hands shaking slightly, looked at the card and then back to Flack. "I will, sir," he said solemnly. "Thank you ... so much. I got your action figure when I was ten, and this means so much to me."
"Your figure's still on back order," Flack laughed, clapping Messenger on the shoulder, "so next time we see each other, I'll sign yours, you sign mine, okay?"
"Messenger!" a voice called from a ways off. He turned his head to see Captain Contingency, the Filipina heroine in her jumpsuit and pouches, struggling to carry large white plastic Fatburger bags. "Little help here?"
Messenger turned to Flack and said, "I've gotta ..."
"Go on, son," Flack smiled. "Important to support your teammates! We'll talk soon!"
Messenger waved frantically and rushed over to Contingency, using his telekinesis to grab the largest bag by the handle. They walked towards the front door and Messenger looked back to wave at Flack one more time.
Flack chuckled as he waved back before hearing Rock & Soul's voice in his ear.
"Operator says you ran into Messenger," she said with clear amusement in her voice.
"Your briefing was spot on," Flack said, "so thanks for that. He ate it all up, hook, line and sinker."
"We dunno why, but you still test through the roof with men of European descent between the ages of 35 to 50," she replied. "Keeps your merch and endorsements coming. Good work out there, I'll signal everyone else to use secondary talking points if they run info him. Over and out."
Flack heard the footsteps approaching and didn't bother to turn around, knowing what was next.
"If you're done playing around with the civilians," the Inspector said snidely, "it'd be nice if you got back to work."
Hands on his hips, still looking the other way, Flack said, "I know you outrank me on paper, but I've been doing this since before you enlisted. My performance ratings, even on physicals and obstacle courses, are as high as my Q-rating. I've got my team of Defenders over here covering our area of responsibility, so please be grateful I don't put you on your backside. Sir."
The Inspector walked around to face Flack, a full head shorter, his freckled ruddy skin flashing hot, and said, "You're a dinosaur and I don't want you to make a mistake that will cost one of these kids their life. Your popularity with these mouth breathing nerds is the only reason you're not in some rear echelon desk job waiting to die!"
"Jack!" a female voice called out. "Oh my god, it's him!"
Flack and the Inspector turned to see three middle aged women in business attire with Power Summit badges on lanyards, waving as they approached.
"If you'll excuse me, sir," Flack said under his breath before beaming a smile and a wave at the women coming closer. "Why hello, ladies! I'm sorry, but Laker Girl auditions are next week!"
As the Inspector slunk into the background, the women giggled and the one in the center, with long straight auburn brown hair over her broad shoulders smiled brightly. She said, "my husband took me to see your third movie, Flack Is Back, on our first date when we were in college! He would absolutely lose it if I could get a picture with you!"
Slack grinned and glanced over at the Inspector before kneeling in and saying, "How jealous are we making this fella?"
All four laughed and Flack helped them frame up the perfect Charlie's Angel shot with him in the foreground as the Inspector sulked and walked away.
A few blocks away, atop the unfinished Oceanwide Plaza tower, the Condesa Isabella de la Maza, codenamed Anhinga the Trustee but colloquially called Snakebird, sat in a red polyester camping chair, fiddling with a plastic fork and glancing at the three iPads on tripods positioned nearby. A beach umbrella shielded her from the sun and at her right foot sat a large willow picnic basket with a wooden split-lid sat half open. A bottle of 2002 Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling sat in a micro cooler peeked just over the lid near a segmented plastic container with cheese and fruit. Near the edge, two high powered Steyr SSG 69 rifles sat on tripods with complex camera sights attached under anti-reflective baffles. A gray Fendi Sunshine Tote rested against the ledge behind the tablets.
She used her fingers to zoom in on the tablet in the middle, getting a good look at Blastmaster, nodding his head to some music she couldn't hear at this distance and sipping on a can of Arizona Iced Tea.
"You'd almost be cute if your tastes weren't so basic and your clothes weren't so garish," Snakebird said under her breath as her phone vibrated. She took it out and smiled as she saw the name. Reaching up for her right ear, she tapped a Bluetooth AirPod hidden by her long brown hair.
"I thought you'd be too busy working for little old me today," she purred.
On the convention floor, Laird Connor Viktor Maraud, the CEO of one of the world's leading weapons manufacturers, the Kulak Group, stood in a finely tailored black pinstriped Alexander Amosu Vanquish Bespoke suit, fiddling with the cuff links that barely concealed his wrist mounted flamethrowers. A muscular Black man with a reflective red mask covering his head, he stepped towards the back of the sixty foot square booth to get some relative quiet as he held his left hand to his ear.
"At even my busiest moments you are foremost in my thoughts, Condesa," he said, his voice like gravel and honey, "and not just because two of my best clients are likely to bump heads today. I was thinking of dinner, have you ever eaten at Bossa Nova, a Brazilian restaurant here?"
Back on the roof, she zoomed in on the left tablet, taking note of the peeved looking Inspector walking away from Jack Flack and three giddy civilians in off the rack clothes. "I have not," she said distractedly, "but after that weekend in Brasilia, I do love the cuisine ..."
"So dinner there?" Maraud asked, running his fingers along the main section of a prototype single person helicopter.
"You do remember I'm in the middle of a work thing," she laughed, reaching into the basket for her glass of the Riesling.
"I remember and I'm grateful," he chuckled, "as I have a new product I expect will sell well if your Organizer pulls off his audacious plan. Speaking of, when will the festivities begin?"
She laughed aloud, a rich full sound ringing with joy. "Ah ah ah," she tsked. "We agreed to compartmentalize at work."
"You're right, as always, darling," he conceded. "Since I sold both sides their comm equipment, I suppose it will be easy enough to hack in and find out for myself. See you soon, love, ta!"
She chuckled as the line clicked off and gazed up at the sky, absently noting the W.A.R. Hammer helicopters circling just beyond the police's proscribed boundary.
The phone vibrated again and she didn't look, just tapping the AirPod.
"Forget something, my love?" she asked.
An accented female voice began to speak. "Intermittent. Delicacy. Kingdom. Afterthought. Dreamcatcher. Fungi. Doghouse. Chaste. Confirm?"
Snakebird reached through the diamond shaped hole in her leather jumpsuit and pulled out a flash drive hidden within, holding it in front of her brown eyes. "Confirmed," she said, her voice slower, like she was trying to wake up.
The line went dead and Snakebird stood up, pulling the AirPods out and letting them fall to the ground as her phone toppled as well. Without looking, she picked up the tote and spun, walking towards the door she'd used when she came up here, hours ago.
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