False Flag: The Power Summit (Part 3 of 3)
Painting by Demar Douglas
At the top of the stairs inside, Pride stood, hands in his pants pocket, watching the pitched battle grow closer.
The Statesman ran out of the convention hall and approached the kingly figure, already pulling on his jet pack. He said, “We have to get out there and help before …”
Pride reached his right hand out and put it in front of Statesman’s chest.
“No,” the taller Pride said. “Let them fight.”
Statesman was aghast, watching the blurred lines of one of the speedsters — maybe Fire Jaguar based on the colors — clearing civilians from the lobby.
“I know you’re used to ’kinging’ around,” Statesman spat, “but inaction here can cost lives!”
“Remember that 'super-sickness' thing?" Pride asked. "Where Tinderbox and Jarhead and that maniac Project Prodigal all died, because of the 50/40 Project sticking their noses where they didn’t belong?"
The sound of gunfire echoed as Statemsman's head dropped. "Yes, I remember. I still check in on Tinderbox‘s mother as often as I can."
Pride smiled pityingly and said, "What did you say that day, 'Statesman?' Do you remember?"
Statesman sighed and replied, "I said, 'if people already have a plan and a method for dealing with things, butting into it causes more trouble than it's worth.' There are a hundred versions of it as a meme, which you know already."
Pride swept his hand towards the conflict. "These are conventional forces. Some of our colleagues are getting civilians out of the way. Part of our charter with the American government, a deal you helped negotiate, gives them jurisdiction in these matters. You're a man with a jet pack, a ray gun and a force field. DangerWatch is a carefully synchronized professional military unit hired to secure us here. What makes you think you, or even I, with all our intelligence, would be anything other than in the way?"
Statesman threw his hands up, exasperated. "What would you have us do, then, Hifi?"
Pride chuckled, saying, "You hear my sister Chioma say that and presume you can as well, 'Bryce.' When we encounter non-combatants, we tell them to get somewhere safe. Follow me."
Pride turned and walked towards the convention hall and, exasperated, Statesman followed. After they were inside, thick metal screens loudly slid into place behind all the glass doors, sealing the whole place.
On the inside, Pride pointed to the Kulak Group booth, saying, "I heard rumors some of the vendors might have some contingency plans for this kind of thing."
Statesman furrowed his brows, squinting at what he was seeing. "Is that an ion inversion ... how did they do that?" He rushed towards the booth and Pride followed, being urged to duck under the dome by two Crimson Shepherds. As he went under. Statesman touched the field and quickly recoiled, his fingertips sizzled by the effect.
"An electron field?" he asked as the Crimson Shepherd led him towards a quickly diminishing plate of tempura shrimp. "How did you …"
Maraud stepped over, arms wide and welcoming, and said, "Proprietary work product, Mister Bartley, but I’d be open to discussing licensing …"
As Maraud and Statesman began to talk, Pride glanced back over his shoulder at a tall Black man in a suit and sunglasses with a short flat top, crouched under the eaves of a merchandising booth for Hasbro and nodded before turning his attention back to the industrialist and arms dealer.
Jack Attack whipped the W.A.R. Fare around to knock two Rattlesnakes into the street as his roof cannon tagged the front left propeller of a Racer, sending it crashing into the bridge connecting the two halls of the convention center.
"Jack Attack to dispatch," he said through gritted teeth. "Any chance my old pal Black Fury could reinforce us out here, over?"
In the garage, Black Fury rammed the side of one of the Union‘s armored jeeps and responded, "No can do, Jack, I've got a squad of Fer-De-Lances that Underground said jumped the freeway off ramp to reinforce the Rattlesnakes back here, I’ve lost six W.A.R. Masters and their Defender crews, over!"
In the lobby, Operator's line had drawn back to emplacements near the stairs as Rattlesnakes led their human counterparts and reloaded his Stoner 63. "You're keeping some of them off my back, Black Fury, so thanks! We're losing ground out here too, Underground doesn't have enough troops to hold the southern perimeter!"
A flash of movement got Operator‘s attention and he glanced to his left and saw the easily identified shoulder cape of the high ranking Union operative called Snakebird, rarely seen in the field of combat. She glanced around from the abandoned cafe on the second floor and ran towards the exhibit hall, disappearing from sight.
Before he could say anything, a spread of grenades landed near his position and the shockwave knocked his entire emplacement back on top of him, rendering him unconscious as the relentless march of mechanical soldiers continued.
Walking in a kind of daze as stray rounds zipped by her, Snakebird approached a service door and pulled her silenced HK45 Compact Tactical pistol, shooting the knob off. Quickly whipping the door open, she stepped in to the doorway to see three Defenders down the hall, taking a moment to recover.
Pfft! Pfft! Pfft! The Defenders collapsed in a heap from three precision shots, smoke spiraling from the noise suppressor as she continued to walk, never losing a step.
She glanced inside one of the double doors leading to the convention hall and saw rubble from the hole in the roof compounded by Rattlesnakes firing from there and sometimes leaping to fall the forty feet to collide with the hard concrete floor. Scant few civilians remained, and she absently pulled the flash drive from her catsuit and gingerly stepped in, eyes scanning.
Back at the Kulak Group booth, Statesman and Maraud were deep in conversation.
“... way it would work at all was omnidirectionally,” Statesman said as Maraud nodded. “That was the original reason I even started working on the jet pack.”
“We hit that problem early on,” Maraud agreed. “One of our clients had a specialist who sent us down the right track with magnetic imaging …”
“So this is ion based!” Statesman said triumphantly.
“In part,” Maraud admitted with a chuckle, “but that brings us back to licensing ...”
Pride glanced to the right and caught a glimpse of a red cape flitting between booths and smirked. He tapped his smart watch a few times, then said, “Did you address the overload issue? You wouldn’t want a Macross City situation on your hands.”
Maraud and Statesman both laughed and started analyzing the engineering headaches of truly reconfigurable mecha, Maraud conceding the crudity of DangerWatch's W.A.R. Pig and Statesman reluctantly admitting the Hierarchy made some good choices in the war mecha the heroes kept having to fight. Pride stood, arms crossed and slightly smiling,
Several yard away, Snakebird looked over her shoulder and looked back to bump into the suited Black man with the flat top, dropping her pistol on the floor
"I'm so sorry," he apologized as she glared angrily at him. "I never meant to cause you any problems …"
A hint of recognition went across her face as she softened, responding, "I never meant to cause you any pain."
The man took her hands in his own and said, "Dreamcatcher. Alabaster. Inkwell."
Smiling, she nodded to him and dropped her hands from his grasp, running towards the large jump jet on a metallic pedestal.
The Black man stepped into an abandoned Verizon booth and disappeared behind its backdrop. A moment later, a tall Black woman, about the same height as the man, carrying a small sequined handbag and wearing a yellow floral print blouse and a knee length black skirt, her hair bedraggled, stepped out where he stepped in and cautiously walked towards a group of Defenders ushering attendees to safety.
Underneath the jump jet, Nuance and three Defenders stood, assault rifles firing up at the Rattlesnakes coming in to the ceiling, with five goons from Lockheed Martin holding Glock-19s, blasting at the crumpled remains of the robot soldiers, still crawling towards the plane.
Nuance heard Deadline's voice in her ear, saying, "Dispatch to Nuance, no luck so far on reinforcements as it seems Operator is not responding. Martial went out front to fight, but he wanted to know if you’re sure the Union is going for the Lockheed Martin prototype, over."
Nuance stopped to reload and said, "It's raining robots pretty much right over it, so yeah, the game is here, Deadline! Where's our air support, over?"
Deadline glanced over his shoulder at Perilous and Rock & Soul, both firing assault rifles down at the lobby after the glass wall of their hallway shattered, and said, "Our first flight of W.A.R. Hammers was taken down by Chrysos, but Skywolf says ten more Flybys are bringing some heat, three minutes out, over."
Nuance started to speak again but saw the Rattlesnakes on the roof chucking gas grenades down, causing some of the scant survivors to panic.
A few booths away, Maraud held his hands up to the two dozen attendees under his energy umbrella saying, "Nothing to worry about, this is within our product specifications. It will drastically increase power consumption, but we planned for this." He gestured at the Crimson Shepherd near the pylon and he touched a button, which made the umbrella reach all the way to the ground and turn slightly pink in shade.
As two other Crimson Shepherds started handing out gas masks, Maraud said, "We are working on chromatic alterations for this, but it does comply with HEPA standards, but these compact gas masks protect eyes and ears as well as noses and are one hundred percent guaranteed to protect against any chemical/biological/radiological challenges in the field today. They’re yours to keep, courtesy of the Kulak Group, and a bargain in packs of five.”
“You just have all this stuff sitting around?” Statesman asked, securing his gas mask.
“You don’t?” Maraud asked in response. He glanced over at Pride and extended an arm with a mask, saying, “You’ll need a mask, your majesty.”
Pride smirked and tapped his collar, as a nanotech golden weave encased his head, leaving only lion-esque lenses as an opening.
With slight amplification, Pride said, “I also keep this sort of thing ’lying around,’ Laird Maraud, but thank you.”
Maraud shrugged and tapped the collar of his own red mask, with a transparent bubble made of energy, looking like an 1960s astronaut helmet appearing around his head.
Nuance and the Defenders scrambled for a pack of gas masks but weren’t fast enough, all of them and the Lockheed Martin security consultants violently vomiting. They all ended up slumped on the ground as the few people left on the convention floor passed out nearby.
After a moment, one of the people who fell down, an older, balding white man with white hair, stood up and glanced at the fallen DangerWatch soldiers and private security operatives. He chuckled and tapped his collar, letting a holographic disguise disappear and reveal the well known silvery helmet and mask of the Organizer. His hands, now covered with black leather gloves, brushed some dust off of his shoulders.
He stepped over Nuance and started climbing up towards the open cockpit of the sleek jump jet ... to find Snakebird wearing a helmet and oxygen mask in the second seat, adjusting some controls.
“An ... unexpected pleasure, my dear Condesa,” his electronically processed voice said. “I'm intrigued to find you here, instead of on top of a skyscraper with a sniper rifle ... where I assigned you for overwatch.”
“Our intel was incomplete,” she said, not even looking up from what she was doing, “I saw something that made me worry for your plan and figured you could use some backup. I was right -- the controls here were encrypted. Their air support will be here in two minutes, and you'd have been caught.”
He regarded her for a beat and shrugged, climbing into the pilot seat. “I literally never have to worry when you're around,” he said. “You didn't even stop to say hello to that arms dealer boyfriend of yours. Very impressive, Condesa."
“Thank you, sir,” she said as he activated the engines. “Just staying on mission.”
The jet took off with a hover and retracted its landing gear before maneuvering out of the almost perfectly sized hole in the ceiling. It swung itself to face west and took off at a high rate of speed.
Just as it started to leave, laser blasts from the Marriott roof whipped past the tail, just missing the jet before it roared away, but beheading four Rattlesnakes on the roof.
Across the street at the apartment, the Digi-Snakes were packing up sensitive equipment into cases from a foldaway dolly while Brown looked confusedly at a tablet. Outside the window, DangerWatch troops began to rally as Racers fled down side streets, difficult to follow with the ring of police vehicles around the area.
"… I’m not exactly sure what happened over there," he said, "but the objective was achieved. Good enough for me."
He closed the Smart Cover for the tablet and glanced over at Benjamin. "Are we clear for the sewer exits?"
She nodded, "We bought three apartments, one over the next, and set up a small elevator. The hazmat suits are next door and we won't smell a thing. The building was evacuated before we got here, so we're clear."
"I love it," he smiled, hefting the last closed crate on to the dolly as three of the Digi-Snakes were already walking out of the door. Andre grabbed the handle of the dolly and left, and Brown gestured for Benjamin to go ahead, which she greeted with a hand to her clavicle and a little bow. Brown followed her and took a last look at the room, pulling a remote like you'd use on a car alarm, from his pocket. He locked the knob and pulled the door closed, tapping the remote button.
A few moments later, a small fire burst out under the tables by the window, starting to ignite the unhooked monitors and curtains. Within five minutes, the fire ignited two bottles of cooking oil under a nearby table, and four more bottles exploded from the heat a few minutes later. Within ten minutes, the entire apartment was aflame.
In the situation room, Pride and the Statesman walked in to find the Martial, Deadline, Rock & Soul, Perilous, and Nuance, holding an ice pack to her head, nursing Coors Lights. Martial stood up, grabbing two bottles from the Igloo cooler and offered them to the heroes.
Pride took the beer and sat down in an empty chair while Statesman looked at it, and the Martial, skeptically.
"This didn’t go well today," he said bluntly.
Martial looked at Statesman and scoffed. "With all due respect, Mister Bartley, our CO said, 'we need more hardware inside the building,' and the police chief said, 'no.' He also said we needed persistent air support, and you said, 'no.' Despite everything that went wrong, including the police abandoning the theatre of combat and not noticing a whole building full of bad guys, not a single attendee was seriously hurt, including you."
Pride opened the bottle of beer with his bare hand, saying, "Well, I disagree with my colleague. I believe you all did commendable work here today. Even with those robots popping out of almost every car trunk in a three block radius and the sewers, your forces held the line. Aside from the actual thief, who likely killed those men in the service corridor, the main complex was never breached by actual troops."
He raised his bottle towards the Martial and said, "I'll drink to that, and say the same to anyone who asks."
Taken aback, the Martial said, "Uh, wow. Thank you, your, uh, majesty. I mean ... we know how the Union of the Snake operates. They’re a 'shock and awe' organization, quick hits if they can do it. If some of your regular playmates, like the Hierarchy or, god forbid, a power like Calamity hit us today ... we'd have had some serious problems, let alone if anything like that invasion from Asgard thing happened. We can't have our hands tied this way."
Statesman sighed. "Listen ... the mayor lobbied hard for us to do this here, and not on the moon, or on some distant island. Then the LAPD wasn't happy at having federal troops on the front line in their town. They're very territorial, but honestly, they were wrong and I was wrong to back their play. I know you all are the best at what you do. I'll ... I'll push back on LAPD so none of this falls on your team. They're in deep with another senseless shooting of an unarmed Latina, so they don't want me on their doorstep too."
"Melyda Corado," Deadline said. "Nothing good in that story."
Statesman reached for the beer in Martial's hand and the airman handed it over.
"To staying in our lane," Statesman said, holding up the bottle towards the Martial.
Martial smiled and said, "Cheers to that," as everyone in the room raised their bottle.
The Breakers Hotel in Long Beach dominated the waterside skyline of the city, looking down on the convention center there. The top two floors had been rented out for three weeks, and one room was occupied on this night, after the attack on the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Maraud opened the door to that suite and saw Snakebird sitting in a plush chair by the window, curtains open, a silky black bathrobe tied around her as she sipped from a glass of Pernod-Ricard Perrier-Jouet, the bottle sitting in a bucket of ice at her feet. He had his mask off, and the brown skin of his shaven head showed the very beginnings of his black hair growing back in. He carried a clamshell briefcase.
He set the case down on a table near the door and said, "I hope I didn’t miss the celebration …"
Snakebird turned her head to look at him, and a slow, sideways smirk crept on to her face.
"Of course not, love," she said softly. "The Organizer dropped me off at Catalina Island on the way to rendezvous with a Constrictor off the coast. He said I was getting the quarterly incentive for making sure he didn’t get caught."
"That's major, babe!" Maraud said, rushing over to embrace her. "Isn’t that, like, two million dollars?"
"Two point five," she said, smiling at him.
Maraud leaned back, his mouth a circle, impressed. "Ooh! That's fantastic! I'm so proud of you, babe! Oh, and on top of all that, you helped me too! I’d heard the Lockheed Martin encryption keys wouldn’t be ready this quarter. Between that and all the DNA and retina scans I snagged, I'm gonna make a killing with all of this intel!"
"We're all in this together, love," she said, her thoughtfulness hanging in the air like a threat.
Oblivious, Maraud said, "Did you eat? When I heard you took a more active role in the mission, I had Bernard get you the sea bass from Bossa Nova, it should be in the fridge, or we can get room service ... I just wanna take a shower, to get all the 'talkin' proper' and glad handling off me."
Staring back out of the window, she said, “I ate, the fish was amazing, thank you. Everything is ... exactly as it should be."
The Real Deal
LAPD and Defender investigators spent hours debriefing convention attendees for any clue as to what happened that day. The last of the debriefed convention attendees found their way to the garage underneath the convention center, pockmarked with multiple sizes of craters from explosions and machine gun rounds, including the woman in the yellow floral print shirt. She clicked her remote, which led to a silver 2016 Chevy Trax blinking its lights. She approached it, climbing in.
The exits were all open now, the automated booths destroyed by weapons fire, and she drove out without issue, first turning right to Pico past the Brasher Lyons Brasher construction crews already working to repair the damage, and then turned left to head west.
The Chevy Trax didn't go far, making a left on the one-laned Union Avenue, a collection of small homes and two-story apartment buildings mostly with an odd mural-covered business sprinkled in here and there. The crossover small SUV continued south past Washington Boulevard until it came to a self-storage business nestled under the freeway. The woman pulled the Trax into a parking spot right under the overpass, right behind a waiting brand new black Chevy Suburban with tinted windows.
She got out of the Trax and walked to the sidewalk, going up to the Suburban's rear passenger door, opening it, and getting in.
Inside she sat demurely considering the other person in the back seat -- Pride.
"My king," she said simply.
"Wakala Kumi Na Saba," he said by way of greeting, "or do you prefer Agent Seventeen?"
"So much of my time in this foreign land," she said, "I take every taste of home I can get."
"As you wish, Wakala," he nodded. "Do you have something for me?"
She pulled Snakebird's flash drive from the sequined purse and handed it over. "Yes, my king. The mnemonic subroutines from our other Askari Mchunga asset Prophecy seem to be working perfectly. This Snakebird woman had no idea she had the intel, no idea she brought it to me, and thanks to the holographic cloak, no idea who she gave it to."
Kumi Na Saba tapped her collar and turned into the suited man again, then toggled the illusion off.
"Do we know how she reconciled going against her orders?" Pride asked, squinting at the flash drive.
"She believes she learned of some risk to the mission and took initiative, my king," Kumi Na Saba said. "All indications are that she taken at her word. The tracker lost the jump jet over international waters, southwest of Catalina Island, presumably taken in by one of their large, impractical air-sea transports."
"All right, thank you Wakala," Pride said with a smile. "Excellent work out there, you'll hear from your regular handler if we need help locally."
"There are some great karaoke spots in this town, sir ..." Kumi Na Saba said.
Pride laughed. "Ah, I take it you've seen the video of me and Messenger. 'Cult of Personality,' quite a song. Yes, he mentioned that. No, I’m pretty sure Statesman had his retinal scan and DNA stolen today, I'm going to keep security risks to a minimum, but thank you. Be safe, sister."
Kumi Na Saba got out of the Suburban and got back into her Trax. She pulled into traffic and headed down Union. After a moment, the plates on the Suburban flipped from the California plates it had to consular plates and drove into the night as well.
Wanna be first to find out what's up with False Flag? Sign up for our newsletter!