- September 10, 2023
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 28)
It’s strange to feel tears falling onto my face. People don’t cry over me, or at least not for me unless they’re tears of pain.
Shadow Mask domed me right in my forehead, he’s a much better shot than I thought. If he didn’t take so much pride in fighting hand-to-hand, I wouldn’t be so shocked.
With a bullet in my brain though, I might as well be in a coma. My body is healing and pushing the bullet out, but it takes time. Time where I’m in darkness, paralyzed throughout my body. I hear the sound of crying, a woman, with a lot of background noise coming to mind.
Fuck, I’m about to go to the morgue, explains a lot actually. Here’s hoping they don’t put me in the furnace, that hurts like hell, having all of your nerves set on fire… You’ll scream even if you’re in a coma, or at least I do.
I hear the double doors open and a lot of people shuffling. It’s the static voice of the Hood demanding to know, “Where is she?!” When no one answers, because not many would know who he’s talking about, he adds, “The Director, where is she?!”
Another voice, that of the crying woman sitting over me, she says, “She’s gone.”
I think I recognize the voice now. Is, is that Susan crying over me? I’m touched. Figured calling her Susan would have guaranteed me a spot on her shit list.
At least there’s someone here now to get me out of here so I can heal in private. I can figure out a lie about some magic or healing tech that the Hood used on me or-
“What are you doing?” I hear Susan ask, clearly not to me, but I hear footsteps hurry to my side. “Get that thing away from her!” Get what away from me? Use proper nouns goddamnit!
“I’m cutting the bullet out,” the Hood says, right here, wherever this is, in front of people. Maybe, hopefully, my ears are just playing tricks on me and there’s no one around, and the Hood is not going to dig his knife into my skull.
Oh god, he’s actually cutting into my skull, I feel the knife cut the line in my forehead as people gasp and gag around me. Yep, great, everyone’s here, it’s not like my immortality was supposed to be a secret or anything.
Shnk, shnk, shnk.
Jesus Christ! He could be more careful about-
“Got it,” he says after I go brain dead from him weeding his finger into my skull. I feel my brain pull together faster and my skin too.
All in time for Susan to start screaming at him, “What’s wrong with you, fucking goddamn psycho?! You just mutilated her dead body! Get away from her!”
I open my eyes.
With the bullet out I heal much faster. I see the Hood and Susan standing over me, and I look around to see that I’m in the cafeteria in a body bag, with others lined up around me. This place has quickly become a morgue, and someone needs to pay for that.
First, I have to agree with Susan, “You really should get away from me, I have half a mind to stab you with your own knife.”
“Aaahh!” Susan screams and jumps back, her hands flying to her face, and the Hood crossing his arms over his chest to show how unamused he is.
I sit up as other people scream around the room, and I realize the cat’s out of the bag. I yell at them all, “Calm down! I’m a superhuman, I heal, get over it.” Not actually a superhuman, but I have to keep some secrets. I turn my hand to the Hood as he stands by and tries to judge me. “What?”
“Are you good?” he asks me.
Kind of vague but alright. “Yeah, I’m good.”
“Alright, let’s go,” he rushes through as he turns his back to me.
“Go? I still have to clean up this mess,” I remind him as I throw the tarp off my legs.
The Hood turns around to stick his finger in my face and yell at me, “Emily, Tommy, Marie, those are the names of the kids you brought into this mess, the names of the kids now in the Savaage’s clutches.”
I roll my eyes and remind him with outspread arms, “And here lies all the other people I brought into this mess, they need to be taken care of too, the living and the dead.”
The Hood raises his hand towards me, but pulls it back as it twitches and clenches, like he’s resisting the urge to beat the snot out of me. “Do you even know what happened to them?” He shoves me again, “Do you?”
The way he speaks, the open aggravation, the twitching waves before the storm, his shaking before the earthquake. I have to ask him, “You going to tell me or what?”
“Emily was shot down on the five o’clock news, attacked among a crowd of watchers as the Savaage made her scream with sonic weapons. Tommy was beaten by Hundress to a bloody pulp in front of his family, they had to watch as she beat the life from him and carted him off. And Shadow Mask, he made Marie kill S.I.L.A.S. agents under the threat of death and the lives of her own siblings, in front of those siblings.”
Okay, so things are bad, things are pretty bad.
“Oh, that’s not all, Director,” he adds, using my title as spit, as if it doesn’t mean anything.
The Hood walks up to me, gets in my face again, and this time I stand still, not pushing forward or back. I can’t give an inch as I let him growl in my face, “While you’ve been taking your sweet long nap, the Savaage broke out the worst that we’ve locked up, psychos and all, and took their weapons from our vault.”
“I can guess what three were taken, you don’t need to tell me, but if we lost Automata’s suit…” I begin to realize.
“They can use the Stoneman too, Claire, they have a team, a team of psychopaths who want to do to our team what I do to people.” He splays out his hands to those around us. “Everyone here, they’re capable, they’re safe, and they’re not the ones who can save this city if the Savaage plan to level it. Oh yeah, there’s another thing we don’t know.”
I have to think about it, take hold of the situation instead of letting it take hold of me. I need more information on what we got. “Susan,” I call to her, making her jump from her daze of seeing me go from having a bullet in my head to fully functioning, “how are we operating?”
Susan looks between the Hood and I with sullen eyes, almost frightened to say anything, which means things are not good. “There are no complete strike teams, and even if we mixed and matched they plundered our armory, and destroyed whatever they didn’t take,” she informs me. “They began their attack by destroying all of our vehicles, so no air infiltration or land.”
I hold up my hand to stop her, and then begin to rub my nose as I realize I should have asked, “What do we have?”
“For a counterattack?” Susan starts, looking for confirmation from a nod of my head, “Just him.” She points to the Hood, informing us, “He’s the only one with any weapons and his health to commence this kind of operation, and his health is debatable.”
I look him over, and find the stab wound in his arm, just over his heart, filled in with this hardened white foam. “You’re-”
“I’m fine, I’ve been through worse.”
“They all say that, and then they die.”
The Hood and I both turn our heads towards each other with a slump in our shoulders. He turns away before I can say anything, brooding, “Should have realized that this was a waste of time. I’ll get my friends back myself.”
He walks away from me the same way he came, but I don’t chase after him. There’s no one else, but… there is me. I haven’t fought like he does – or like any of my team has – in a long time. The Palace showed me how out of practice and out of shape I am. I can’t see life or death forcing me to get with the program, I can’t see anything helping me.
If he goes it alone though he’ll die, and I can’t keep him here, so I guess I don’t really have a choice. There’s only one way I know to get myself back in the heat of things, to make myself feel like I was when I was at my best.
I order Susan, “Go catch up with him, tell him to go to James,” and I hesitate because I haven’t asked if he’s alright, “is he…?”
“James is fine,” Susan informs me, and I can hide my moment of worry. “I’ll bring him to James, but what about you?”
“There’s something I need to get before we come up with a plan… something to wake me up inside.” She looks puzzled at that expression, not understanding what I mean, but I guess that’s all part of the surprise. I order her, “Do it now, I’ll meet you there,” and I’m walking in the opposite direction before she even moves.
“Yes, Director,” I hear her call behind me.
I don’t spend a lot of time in my office, and for more reasons than just that I like to sit around and bother the nerd. It’s isolating in a way I’m not as fond of as I’d’ve been in the past. It’s a place of punishment, a place of wallowing. It’s where I keep my failures and where I’ve made my deathbed.
Each step along the way, I have to think about everything I keep secret in there, all the past lives, all the centuries and eras. Arthur Miller, a writer I spoke with once a long time ago, once said that an era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.
I’ve seen that to be true, in eras of time, and eras of my mind. They each had their own sense of pride and guilt, so many I think that sometimes I seem to have a personality disorder, but it’s just the fact that nothing has truly hurt me more than time. Time has everybody by the groin. For once, time is cursing me with not giving me enough of it.
I push open the doors to my office because there are the sins I have to atone for. There are kids that I have failed, ones I swore to myself to raise and protect. Now, what kind of menace to mankind would I be if some newbies to crime one-upped me?
My office as it is, is large, simple, I modeled it after Capone’s. He had a sense of personal style and organization that hid what lied under the surface of books and mementos. I did the same, made it look like the oval office without windows. I know, and anyone worthwhile knows, if I take something out of place, it changes everything. That’s why I go to the shelves of books on the left, and take out Paradise Lost.
I go to the right side with photos of more modern times, photos of promotions, brothers in arms, my climbing of the military scale to get where I am. I take the one that stands out of place, one I stole, of Clay and his family. The people I originally wanted to do this for, and was too late to save.
I take them both to my desk, where the wall behind me is covered by three paintings near and dear, originals of people I knew. One of Joan of Arc, Julius Caesar, and the one I might miss the most, Anne Bonnie.
She was a treasure.
That’s why I hide the switch behind her, she was a pirate, and ‘x’ marks the spot.
I take down her large and gorgeous portrait, one she had made of herself long after we parted ways, the other two were done by those who knew them, so this one is the most accurate. Behind her portrait lies two slots, one for a book, and one for a photo frame. I put in Paradise Lost and the family photo in their cubbies, and the sound of the crank follows.
It’s like in every spy movie, the panel opens and flips to reveal what lies underneath. I turn away from my desk to go and stand in the middle of the room, to bask at everything around me.
Weapons, armor, shields, and banners. Things I wore, things I used to conquer and pillage, things I wielded to kill more than protect.
To my left, lies the helmet and gauntlets of a knight, the black knight with an old broadsword. I wore it first during the Crusades, an agent of death, punisher of life, I killed to satiate a thirst until someone else did, and died for it. When I lost all hope in the cross that was on its chest, and I joined the worst of the worst. They thought me one of the Horseman of the Apocalypse. In a way they weren’t wrong. Nevertheless, it isn’t something I can use now.
Besides that, the saber I used alongside the worst of the worst. My Mongolian saber, the one I used to strike fear into the Khan’s riders, into Genghis himself, so he would exact the revenge I desired so much. So much death, suffering, and pillaging can be owed to me. If I had succeeded, if I hadn’t been distracted, if Genghis hadn’t turned his back on me, who’s to say if I would feel such remorse now. The worst things I did beside the Khan didn’t give me pause, who’s to say if burning down Europe would have. That saber is too heavy for today.
At the end, lies my old cowgirl hat and pistols. Those were simpler times, the Wild West. They were some of the best and some of the most degrading, but not as many regrets. I was an outlaw, couldn’t be an outlaw without any regrets, but I managed to avoid leaving that time with too many.
On the opposite side holds the two contenders for the worst I’ve ever had to offer the world. On one end is a chalice, and a toga. No weapons were more effective, no armor a greater defense, and no symbols stained with blood. With that chalice I drank and brought upon more needless, senseless harm to so many at once. I’ve never destroyed so much greatness in one fell swoop before. Rome rose from the ashes at the death of Caesar, but I made sure the empire rose with tears in its eyes.
As the right hand of King Xerxes, as a general of the great Persian Empire, I was terror, I was death, and I took whatever I wanted. I took life for nothing but whims, I sought power for the sake of power, I drowned in consumption, and I abandoned the greatest treasure I’ve ever brought into this world. I look upon my old scimitar, that one that filled a river with blood towards the death of my Alma. I’ll never wield it again, ever.
There’s the captain’s hat, Davy Jones’s hat, my hat. My pistols and swords too. I can say without a doubt that what they call the Golden Age of Pirates, was a golden age for me. Raiding the kings and queens’ ships, killing and loving who I pleased. I had respect and yet I also had fear. Things have never been as good. It’s so hard to think about what I missed.
I’ve been putting it off, I do that a lot. I know exactly what I came here for. There are only two periods in my life that can help me now, and they lie behind my desk.
To think, I only wore it once, but this helmet has left a greater and more prominent mark on my legacy than any other name I’ve worn.
The helmet I wore as the Hood, and the black leather jacket I wore with it. They lie on a mannequin, as if I ever planned to wear it again. I didn’t, but more than any of my other weapons and masks, I’ve felt it calling to me. It’s as if the best way to atone for anything and everything I’ve done, is to wear that abyss over my face. To give in, to go where I deserve to belong, and to help others get theirs, whether they want it or not.
Right beside it is an old samurai sword, the end of the line.
I take the helmet, and slip off the jacket, and can’t help but think, two Hoods are better than one, especially one with a sword.
“Where is my daughter?!”
Right now, Eleanor Burke is yelling in my face. I can see where Emily gets it.
“You were there, how could you let them take her?!”
I didn’t let them, I would never have let them, but I did leave her shocked, vulnerable, and open to being captured. I am not… blameless.
Jonathan Burke, Emily’s father, the senator, he pulls his wife back as she maintains her hysterics. She snaps at him to let her go, and turns her back to us, wrapping her arms around herself.
He’s able to turn to me, with a look of malice and disgust, a look at me up and down, and blames me. “Don’t think we don’t know who you are, a creepy psycho always hanging around my daughter. It’s not lost on us that you’re always around when her and the other kids are in trouble, and I swear to god if you had anything to do with this I’ll rain down hell upon you.”
When I don’t answer, he shakes his head, makes sure to make some last remarks before the others. “You hide behind that mask of yours, but we know what you truly are, the reason you’re here and not with the rest. You’re a coward who didn’t fight hard enough.”
I have my arms crossed, and they hide just how hard I squeeze my fists.
Just have to let him go, let him say what he needs to say. I know that if I was superhuman I’d be a target, I know I fought was beaten. I know why I’m here.
He turns his back to me to comfort his wife, and I see how she nearly smacks him away. She’s not cowering, she’s tightening her fists like me.
I turn my eyes to Susan beside me. She had them all brought here with me in James’s room. Susan had nowhere else to put them. This was the safest place for the families. Seeing me harassed, she mouths to me that she’s sorry.
I can see in them all how scared they are, they’ve all witnessed their kids falling one by one, some in person.
I see Shelley and Bruce Lin, huddled in the corner alone, Marie is all they have and now they have to deal with being afraid of her or afraid for her. The two kids are going through more than any should have too.
Chester Burke, one of Emily’s younger brothers, the twin with curls and bushy hair, he can’t be more than a year or two older than Marie’s siblings. Shelley and Bruce are scared of all of the adults, even Tommy’s family who tried to comfort them, they wouldn’t let any of the ones bigger than them come near without them cowering and crying. Chester though, he’s one of them, and he walks right up to them with his handheld in his hand.
He looks so different from the rest of the Burkes. I mean he’s a little kid, probably not even double digits, but even his twin has the slick back hair of his father, and the done up look they all have. Chester wears a t-shirt with a striped one underneath, he looks like a normal kid.
Chester is able to walk up to Shelley and Bruce. He tells them, “Hey, your sister is with my sister, and she’s stronger than anyone else. I hit her with a frying pan once and it broke, and another time, I saw her lift a bus with one hand to hold it in place. Us though, we’re with him,” and he points to me, “he watches my sister’s back, he’ll get them all back.” He stares right at me, and I realize he expects me to say something, even asking, “Right?”
I nod my head, and I speak to them for the first time, “I’m going to get both of your sisters back.”
The other Burkes notice this, Chester comforting the lower-class scruffs from the opposite side of the city. Jonathan calls to his son, chastises him, “Chester, what are you doing? Get over here.”
Chester looks up as his father giving him orders, and his mother’s eyes moving to give him the same. He’s a respectful son who does what he’s told and listens to his parents, but he’s also a good boy who’s better, like his sister tries to be.
Chester Burke passes his gaming handheld right to Shelley who stares at it in awe before looking up at him in the same light. He tells them, “You can have it, it’s really fun when you get bored, has a big battery and everything.”
“Chester,” Eleanor growls, and Chester waves and runs back to his mother’s side. His mother chides him, “don’t leave my side again, don’t talk to anyone.”
Neither parent cares much for the handheld, they think of it the same way the Rodriguez’s do a donation to the church. Something to write off on their taxes.
Chester’s twin brother though, the cleaner version, Daniel, he questions his twin, disgusted, “Why would you give it to them?”
Brats aren’t something I can deal with, and I look at Tommy’s family, his parents, his brother and sister, I swear to them too, “I’m going to get your son back too.”
The Rodriguez family isn’t so sure. Sofia Rodriguez, watching me with disgust, a furrowed brow at the man who her brother has told her few positive things about. She thinks she knows me, or knows enough to think me the black sheep of humanity.
Jonas is clueless, he doesn’t understand why his family has it out against me, but feels it in his bones that he has to question me as they all do.
The father, judges me, a man of God, he judges me for doing what no person should. I’m already scum to him.
Tommy’s mother, Mrs. Rodriguez, she’s the only one willing to speak up, questioning, “How? How can you, you, beat those that my son couldn’t? My son is a literal man of fire, how can you win?”
She put a lot of emphasis on ‘you,’ I know she thinks I’m just like those in the Savaage, violent criminals and maniacs, and I’m not that far off, but there is one thing I have going for me…
The doors to the lab open, and a voice layered over with static has a better answer than me, “Because he won’t be alone.”
They all turn around, and in the doorway lies someone who gives me chills. It’s like turning on a filter for the 1920’s.
“Is this some kind of joke?” Eleanor Burke calls out loud, seeing the original in the doorway.
The original Hood, the round and smooth black helmet, with the jacket hood over it. It’s made of a lightweight alloy that can deflect small arms, but she still needs to avoid rifles. The helmet has Tesla’s starlight night-vision, and distance zoom up to several hundred feet. Her design came in its looks. The helmet rounds off at the front, leaving no visual eyeholes. Tesla made it work so the lenses weren’t visible looking from the outside. The back has a steep round off so that it’s parallel with the back of her skull. It fully encased her head but no part of it covers her neck, allowing her to easily turn her head. The part that everyone will remember though, is its color, which is completely and unabashedly black. Her trademark, a trademark I’ve studied.
I like that it’s black. They can’t see anything when the rest of her outfit is black, besides the red stripes down the arms of her leather jacket. The jacket is admittedly a larger size than what she should be wearing, but it can hide her taser-gun, another creation of Tesla. The cargo pants holds her other gadgets, military equipment. There isn’t much she can do to protect her chest.
She takes off the helmet, lets her hair fall down and reveals herself to the room, and lets me see the sword on her back. “Don’t worry, Eleanor, it’s no joke that I’ve put this on again,” Claire admits.
“Again?!” Susan, and along with several others exclaim.
“You think dressing up like the other psycho in the room is going to help?” Jonathan questions her.
I clear something up between them, something that should be clear. “Actually, it’s more like I’m playing dress up,” a correction that draws many eyes, “she’s the original, not me.”
They all turn back to Claire, as she walks in the room like she owns it, straight towards me. She causes the Burke’s to do something they’ve never done before, and move out of the way.
She explains to them all that, “For those of you who didn’t see the bullet leave my skull, not only can I heal, I don’t age. So in 1929, I completed a mission, in Chicago. Parts of it were a living, breathing, cesspool that gestated in the Midwest of the United States, the home of the brave, of freedom, and equality,” and with a look over her shoulder at the Burke’s, “if you lived in the right place,” singling them out to scare the powerful family. “I hunted down and demolished my way to vengeance upon Al Capone, and his mob, and I did a pretty damn good job.”
She turns around to face them all, and assures them, “I’m going to do what I did to the Capone empire to those involved with attacking our kids, because you see, I have an advantage…” and she brings her hand to her chin, to smile and chuckle, “… I can’t die.”
Mr. Rodriguez is especially terrified by the original Hood, whispering, “Sálvame del diablo.”
If only I knew Spanish. Kind of mark on my skillset.
I ask the Hood, “What do you need?”
She tilts her head and looks to the boy in front of the computers. “James?” she calls to him in his chair. He swivels halfway around at attention. “Did you happen to track where our intruders went?”
James turns back to his computer, where all the screens lineup with layers and lines of codes and source wall, but I doubt that’s how he sees technology, that’s only how the screens can display it. With images popping up and going, maps and places flashing in and out, I’d think James was working himself to death.
James explains to us as we come up on either side of him, “I tracked them as soon as they came in. Their fighters… they were all machines, machines that leave a trace when someone leaves a marker in their heads.”
“The Savaage wouldn’t see that?” I ask.
“They definitely would,” James admits, but then he clarifies what the actual plan was, “so I put markers in all of them, and as they have them shut and removed, that distracts from the bug that’s gone into their systems, and let me in.”
Claire chuckles. “You’re inside their whole system, James, aren’t you?”
James shakes his head, “Just their headquarters, where they took Marie and probably Tommy and Emily too.”
That catches the attention of everyone in the room, with Jonas mouthing off, “Well, don’t leave us hanging, where are they?”
James answers his question by connecting all the screens to bring up one image, that of a skyscraper. I don’t recognize it specifically, but I do recognize one thing. “It’s at Add’s Circle,” one of many buildings surrounding that large park. I wonder how they’re hiding out in plain sight, but I guess that’s kind of the point. It doesn’t seem all that interesting or special, at least until Eleanor recognizes it.
“I own that building,” the Burke matriarch mutters, catching everyone’s attention. When we all turn to look at her, she shrugs and says, “It’s an office building, I don’t understand what else it would be, it’s just one of those places we have to keep track of everything else.”
“That’s something we’ll look into later,” Claire notes, realizing that Eleanor didn’t kidnap her own daughter, and she knows that there is such a thing as saving a problem for another day. She focuses on today, asking Eleanor, “Do you have a schematic of the building?”
“I’m sure I can get one.”
James stops them by bringing one up, “Already got it.”
Claire gives the kid the chills by placing her hand on his head and ruffling his hair, complementing, him, “Good job.”
The schematic shows one entrance in a big lobby where the first three floors are only half the width of the building, giving the lobby more overhead space. There are hundreds of floors, and with several elevators, there’s one that runs below the ground, far below the ground. That same one also runs to the top floor, unlike all the others.
I point to it, “That elevator is obviously special, it has one entrance on the fifth floor, and it’s the only one that runs to the top and goes to the basement.” Claire puts her helmet back on, and I notice two things. She must be ready to go, and that the Hoods stand at the same height in full combat armor.
I ask, one Hood to another, “What do you want to do?”
“I have a plan,” she says.
“Is it a good plan?”
She hesitates, and answers, “I have a plan.”
This mission is going to start off as shit, and then go straight to hell.