To his credit, Dr. Henrik only blinked once before he answered. “Oh, Sir Hatch. I hadn’t noticed you’d arrived. I didn’t mean to say you are not valuable, only-”
“I believe what you are trying to say has been made abundantly clear,” Thaddeus said calmly. He began to walk slowly forward. “I’m curious, however. How many Raid Bosses have these new drones been able to kill consecutively?”
“None,” Henrik replied brightly, excitement still clear in his voice. “But we have high hopes.”
“Ah, a prototype then,” Thaddeus said with a smile. He walked forward, and the crowd of people parted. Instantly, people began to shift, the stronger ones following closer to him, the weaker making way. This was the way of things.
Honestly, as Thaddeus strolled calmly towards Henrik he had to admire the man. Warrior he was not, but he blithely ignored Thaddeus’ focused attention. To do that required some Levels, to be sure. And he didn’t break as Thaddeus calmly joined the man at his table. If anything, he seemed more excited.
“Mr. Hatch, would you like to see the projected data that Ghost had complied? I believe-”
“That won’t be necessary,” Thaddeus said simply, looking around. “After all, we are here for a charity dinner, correct? Why don’t we get things started.”
And so, at Thaddeus’ words, they began to move.
By the end of the night, Thaddeus wasn’t exhausted, but he was simply so bored that apathy had settled over him. It was difficult to even smile or ask one more inane question of the imbeciles that surrounded him. As soon as everything was officially called to an end, Thaddeus slipped away, took a service stairwell down several floors, and walked out onto a fire escape.
Feeling slightly nostalgic, Thaddeus produced a cigarette and lit it up. It reminded him of home, and of the time before the System. Not that Thaddeus would want to return to the nameless individual he was then, but he did miss playing Halo with his friends.
Voices from the alley below distracted Thaddeus and his expression darkened. It was a nice daydream he was having, and he did not appreciate it being interrupted by more fools. After all, he recognized the voices below; it was the conversation about what the charity event was for.
“Do you regret going?” The woman asked, looking at the man beside her. Looking at them, Thaddeus was somewhat confused. She was stunning, with long legs and a revealing dress. Meanwhile, the man…
Just looked average. Without even the feeble trappings that money could buy. His hair was brown, and he had something of a belly that even his suit couldn’t hide.
“No, I did learn a lot.” The man said, rubbing his chin. Then he sighed and shook his head. “Troop movements, news from the borderlands, rumblings about abuses in the Unity Church… It confirmed a lot. But I was hoping I would learn something that would give me the direction I wanted. But I suppose that’s too simple. So for now…”
The man paused. Then he frowned.
Thaddeus felt it too, at that moment. The trail of electromagnetic energy over his skin. The lights of the building fizzled and went dark. Hissing, Thaddeus straightened on the fire escape. Another assassination attempt? They had considered postponing it after Senator Firefly was attacked, but many thought it was just some rogue faction in the refugees he housed. Could it really be-
But no, it was only on the lower floors. Localized.
Then the doors to the alley opened, and a group of men walked out, and Thaddeus sighed dramatically, settling back down. Truly, he grew agitated just for this?
The man in the new group gestured sharply. They were wearing night vision goggles. “We must move quickly. We have only 20 or so seconds.”
Then he paused. “You should not have come back, Tatiana.”
“I’m not trying to-” The woman began to speak, incensed, but the man next to her waved a hand.
“Did they really knock out Ghost’s cameras in the area? That makes this much easier.”
“Who do you think-” The lead man began, but then he stopped. Because his group of 6 individuals armed with stun batons and stealth exosuits ran forward… and were stopped dead by that average looking man.
When the first assailant ran forward, the man had stepped forward and grabbed the wrist of the attacker. Thaddeus’ eyes widened. In this darkness, he could do that so quickly? Even his own eyes were just becoming accustomed to the darkness!
But the man didn’t stop there. He stepped forward and headbutted the assailant, shattering his helmet and sending him staggering. His left hand flashed forward and smashed the side of his head, knocking him senseless. His right hand let go of that man’s wrist and snatched a plasma pistol out of a holster at that man’s side.
Immediately, the other attackers froze, and then reached for their own guns. But the average man was already firing. The plasma bolt took another attacker in the chest, but the heat-resistant armor held against the projectile. It was as the attackers were bringing their pistols to bare that the average man clicked his tongue and fired again. Three times.
“What a cheap piece of trash,” The average man said with a shake of his head. He dropped the melted plasma pistol, which had shorted out from being flooded with Mana too dense for it to handle. But the three shots had hit one attacker at the knee, another at the shoulder, and the third had lost most of his hand. All were on the ground, leaving only two attackers and a shocked man standing.
Four seconds had passed. Thaddeus couldn’t tear his eyes from the fight below. He felt… something in his chest. Something he hadn’t encountered in a long time. Something that gripped his throat and lungs.
The final two attackers shot their pistols. The average man waved his hand and simply knocked the plasma away. When the man stepped forward, distance meant nothing. He appeared to simply kick, but the last two were slammed backward into the wall of the alley, whimpering.
The bright lights of the plasma left glowing trails of blindness in Thaddeus’ eyes. It surely had looked like the man simply knocked the plasma aside, but that was-
“You…” The man who appeared to have orchestrated the attack said with a gasp. “You… Tatiana, how did you-”
“Hollar, you are a fool,” Tatiana said with a sigh. Then she shrugged. “I no longer require a partner. It is a little late, but I’ve decided to take my considerable business acumen elsewhere. You understand, right? And while I’m in town, I plan to take my portion of our profits. As well as all the girls that I trained.”
“You!” The man was glaring now, and he took a step backward and triggered something in his wristwatch. An exosuit, a powersuit, sprang into being and settled around his frame. It was a huge thing, with heavy armor and plasma cannons around his arms. “I’ll make you pay-”
The average man stepped forward, seemed to consider, then thrust his fingers into the closing space on the exosuit where it hadn’t yet locked into place on his chest. Then the man pulled.
There was a moment where nothing happened. Then Thaddeus heard the keening of agonized metal before the torso portion of the exosuit was simply ripped off the man’s body. This portion contained the energy cell, so the metal on the man’s body was simply dead weight. He trembled and then began to collapse.
The average man punched the exosuit wearer, knocking him out. The man slumped to the side, but the metal arms pressed into the ground and kept him standing. The metal glittered from lights down the alley from a nearby street.
11 seconds. Thaddeus was sweating now. He could have perhaps beaten those assailants without armor. That wasn’t so impressive. But could he have deflected plasma? Could he have ripped an exosuit in half with his bare hands? Who was this?
“Hang on, we need to move.” The average man said grimly.
“Gotcha. But I was being serious. We should stop at an atm before we leave.”
The average man put his arm around woman’s weight and seemed to shimmer for a moment. The suffocation in Thaddeus’ chest grew more powerful. The air seemed to be thickening, starting with that man. Then he simply jumped.
The concrete couldn’t withstand the force of his ascent and cracked. Still, the man shot upwards, the woman yelping as she was dragged along.
Thaddeus looked up. He couldn't breathe. The strange, impossibly powerful man was going to pass only feet away from the spot where Thaddeus was hiding.
Hiding? Thaddeus stopped at the thought. When did he hide-
But still, as the sonic boom of the man’s passage smashed the air, Thaddeus took a step backward, deeper into the shadows. Whoever this was, there was no need to confront him here. In fact, it was better to remain anonymous. With his identity concealed, Thaddeus could gather information, and later-
The blur of bodies passed Thaddeus’ position. At that moment, Thaddeus looked up.
That strange shimmering had continued until the average man’s body was almost completely hidden from his view. There seemed to be ripples in the air that masked him. But there were two features of the man he could see.
The first was the eyes. They were baleful, and a deep emerald. The seemed to burn in Thaddeus’ vision.
The second feature was a finger. Illuminated only by the ominous light from the man’s eyes, the finger was held aloft and meant for Thaddeus. It was pressed to the man’s lips.
Take this secret to your grave.
Then the man was gone, carrying the woman. Thaddeus felt the impact as the man kicked off the building above, launching himself up and away. Sitting back, Thaddeus began panting. He knew this emotion.
It was suffocating fear.
Four seconds later, the lights flickered back on.