False Flag: Azores (Part 3 of 3)
Painting by Demar Douglas
What A Surprise
The Martial gasped and pointed as he saw the Organizer, cape swirling behind him, walking amiably up the driveway.
Jack Attack tapped the screen and said, "The W.A.R. Fare didn't detect any vehicles arriving and ..."
"Get Black Fury back here now," Martial spat out. "Cheryl, come on ..."
The Martial and Rock & Soul rushed to catch up as the Organizer dramatically swept the door open and walked inside.
Rock & Soul and the Martial stepped inside as the Organizer spoke to Al about the catering spread.
"... hard to find these whenever I send someone to Trader Joe's," he said, before regarding the new arrivals. "Ah, the fine fighting forces of DangerWatch. Are you enjoying the Azores so far?"
Rock & Soul and the Martial looked at each other, confused.
The Organizer walked over to the comfy chair Prophecy claimed earlier and plopped down into it. "Oh, now, I hope you all aren't still sore about that thing in Los Angeles. That wasn't your fault, you'll do better next time!"
"Uh ... thanks?" Martial said, suspiciously eyeing the man.
Wrecking Ball burst in the back door, pistol ready, yelling, "Back off you goons, or I'll ..."
She stopped to take stock of the situation -- the Martial and Rock & Soul standing over by the door, Attack looking very confused and coming in behind them, the Organizer leisurely sitting back in a chair -- and stepped over to stand by the caped man. Glaring at the Martial as she leaned down, she asked, "Is everything all right, sir?"
The Organizer, his mirrored face reflecting back only her own, said, "Oh, things are as right as rain, dear child. You should try the smoked salmon, Al said it was locally sourced. You used to like smoked salmon, right?"
Wrecking Ball blinked, shocked, and stood up slowly, saying, "... yes, that's true ..."
The Martial squinted at them, considering what he was seeing.
Prophecy, Gladiator and Snakebird came in the back door together and seemed to relax a little when Gladiator nodded towards them.
"It's so good to see you, sir," Gladiator said, approaching him. "Could I trouble you a moment for a brief sidebar to ..."
Chuckling, the Organizer waived her off dismissively. He grabbed a bottle of water off of a nearby table, which made everyone look with interest.
"I just came to watch the mastery on display," he said, unscrewing the bottle and holding the cap. "Maybe I'll even learn a thing or two. Please, all of you, continue, act like I'm not even here."
There was an awkward beat while everyone glanced back and forth at each other and at the Organizer before Prophecy shrugged and said, "All right," then walked back to her seat at the table.
Slowly, the rest of them save Wrecking Ball, who stood at his right shoulder, found their way to the table.
"So ... where were we?" the Martial asked.
"I believe after the break," the Organizer chimed in, "you had to pick locations for tentpole battles where we would fight over the next year. Oops, sorry, don't mind me ..."
Snakebird smiled at the Organizer and said, "Our partners at Brasher Lyons Brasher have submitted a list of U.S. requests to all of us prior to the meeting ..."
Looking over the list on her iPad Mini, Rock & Soul said, "We are willing to accept the Denver scenario ..."
"Hard pass," Gladiator interrupted. "Transport costs for us in that region are prohibitive. We can't exactly stage very easily there ..."
Martial shrugged and said, "Our metrics show that disrupting an NFL game will give us the best chance of market penetration ..."
"We could accomplish the same in Vegas now that the Raiders have moved," Snakebird offered, "and we'd have pretty flat pre-production costs for both sides ..."
"New Jersey would even work," Prophecy added. "They might welcome the interruption ..."
Rock & Soul rolled her eyes and said, "Any operations in New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, California or Texas would be like holding it in your back yard."
Gladiator scoffed and said, "We could say the same for you in Tennessee, Washington State, where we did that volcano thing, Louisiana, Utah ..."
"Ooh, this is so exciting, watching you all dance around each other," the Organizer said with a little clap. "So interesting watching you decide which city you'll endanger with artillery and armor piercing rounds ..."
Everyone except Prophecy, who was taking a drink of water, glanced at him and he stood up, continuing. "This has come so far from Soldier Sam and his little group of white guys ... I wonder whatever happened to him ..."
Prophecy choked on her water and started coughing, which caused Snakebird to pat the elder's back comfortingly.
Sweeping around the Union side of the table, his cape swishing, the Organizer said, "I'm so sorry that I keep interrupting. I'm just so proud of everything we've done together. This could be the greatest story ever told. I can't wait to hear what you're all going to discuss for the anniversary."
Another awkward silence fell over the table as they all glanced at each other.
His mirrored visage glancing back and forth, the Organizer said, "... I know you didn't all forget. July 4, 1982? The first fight I had with Soldier Sam, in front of the Washington Monument? It's only a few scant months away! I know the Martial and Wrecking Ball and ... well, okay, most of you were children at the time, if even born, but come on Prophecy, you were there, pretending to be Capitol Police while feeding us intel. Still? Nothing?"
A look of understanding fell over Gladiator's face like an eclipse retreating from view. She tapped at her tablet, calling up her calendar app.
"We would never let such an important date go uncelebrated, sir," she said, not looking up as she scrolled. "We were just getting the preamble out of the way. So ... what if we had a big set piece, maybe with a space laser to carve the image or your helmet on to Mount Rushmore? We could ..."
"DERIVATIVE!" he said in a raised voice walking over to look out the window, his hand on Gladiator's shoulder as the woman looked like she'd swallowed a gecko.
"We've been doing this so long, what's really left to do?" he asked, despondently shaking his head and holding the chin of his helmet. "Have we lost 'it' to the super villains and cosmic powers? Should we even try anymore?"
He sighed loudly and everyone looked nervously at each other. At that moment, Black Fury slowly opened the back door and tried to walk in quietly, clanking heavily until he stood next to Al and took off his helmet, offering an awkward smile before looking down at the floor.
"We're doing well in a number of key metrics," Rock & Soul said slowly, "and with our new international expansion, new players like Viceroy, we're maintaining market penetration in all key global demographics ..."
The Organizer spun dramatically, throwing his hands up. "Metrics! Demographics! Are we accountants, or are we some of the finest fighters the world has ever seen? What great battles are left for us?" He made an anguished sound and leaned on the arm of the comfy chair, his palm across his mirrored face.
"Ozymandias," Attack muttered.
Everyone turned and looked at him.
Eyes wide for a moment, Jack Attack shrugged and stepped forward, continuing.
"The great Egyptian king, did it all, got bored and said, 'Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.' The Alan Moore version mirrored that sentiment in Watchmen. The same fight, over and over, until it's all cinders. Alan Moore came up with something new to fight ..."
"An outside context problem," Prophecy said, squinting at Attack.
"Yes, exactly that!" Attack said excitedly, pointing at her. "Not so wild that the heroes would have to pay attention, but ..."
Rock & Soul said, "The R&D goons at Kulak could devise some special effects extravaganza, some new weaponry to fight it ..."
"While our forces fight each other," Gladiator said, catching on, "a new militarized force with strange new tech shows up and we have to fight together, for the first time!"
"Like Jem and the Holograms teaming up with the Misfits to battle the Stingers!" Snakebird said, excited. As they turned to look at her, she said, "Oh, now I'm weird because I am quoting cartoons and not Alan Moore?" She slumped down, arms crossed and muttered, "My sister thought that show was cool ..."
Gladiator moved past that, saying, "The marketing could show a poster of Onyx Dragon and Raven, back to back, bloodied and swords drawn, fighting together instead of each other. We'd shatter annual income projections!"
"Now, this is what I like to see!" the Organizer said triumphantly, arms wide. "New ideas! New stories to tell, together! Our greatest days are ahead, not behind us! Stretch your minds! What new things can we do?"
Martial said, "Well, the Pearl Harbor thing was in the news cycle for a long time ..."
"That was all Gladiator's idea," Prophecy whispered over the table to Rock & Soul, who ate it up like spilled tea amongst friends. "The original pitch from Colonel Clearwater was along the Canadian border. Can you imagine?"
"Maybe there are things like that for other countries?" Martial asked.
"Like maybe we could attack the Tower of London?" Gladiator said, sitting back, her eyes darting back and forth as her mind raced. "Ooh, or you could save Carnival in Belize ... or Brazil!"
"Big ideas!" the Organizer yelled, walking around and jutting a finger upwards. "Bold thinking! I can feel the excitement now, ha! Oh, this is so thrilling. All right, you all keep going, I'm going to take a brief constitutional to enjoy this lovely environment." Walking towards the door, he said, "I'm very excited by what I'm hearing!"
Wrecking Ball fell into step behind him and he tsked her with a waggling finger. "Ah ah ah! You're the security element for them!" he said quietly. "I got here on my own, I'm fine. You don't think the old man can take care of himself?"
Wrecking Ball blinked at that, taken aback for a moment. With a chuckle, he waved a hand in front of his face and his entire visage changed to that of an older white man with stooped shoulders, a natty golden cardigan and battered looking slacks. He walked out of the back door and Black Fury and Wrecking Ball traded confused looks.
In silence, everyone watched him disappear from sight through the French windows in the door.
Finally, Black Fury said, "Forgot an anniversary, huh? Not good. Lotta things might be different if I remembered stuff like that."
Wrecking Ball pursed her lips and looked down at the ground.
Prophecy said, "I, of all people, should have brought that up. I was there! You should have seen me in that Capitol Police uniform, I was really something back then! That was the first time we pulled that fly by, hook escape thing that Nolan used in that Batman movie. 1982! That was my idea!"
Rock & Soul gave an impressed nod. "We studied that in our intelligence trainings. I always admired the boldness of that tactic. It was genius, especially with the tech available at the time!"
Prophecy smiled at Rock & Soul and said, "That's kind of you to say, thank you, dear. The rehearsals were the hard part, then making sure people can hear your parting quip over the roar of the jet ..."
The table began to break into little discussions as Wrecking Ball beckoned to Attack, who walked over and joined her and Black Fury.
"Uh ... " she said, rubbing the back of her neck, "so we noticed you guys started doing this new thing where you're able to disable Bushmasters without blowing them up. Really helps us with employee retention, so ... thanks. How are you doing that?"
Black Fury tapped the little keyboard on his left arm and a hologram of a Bushmaster copter -- a ridiculous spinning blade atop a motorcycle with a rocket booster behind it -- and two red X marks were flashing at the place where the rotor connected with the main riding part and one mid way down the rocket part.
"Lovecraft came up with an automatic targeting system," Black Fury explained. "It's on most of our guns now. All the hardware Kulak sells has a transponder, specific to its model or whatever. Lovecraft figured how to use that and the weird profile of these whirlybirds to make the guns auto adjust aim to disable. There's no weird kick, the gunner doesn't even notice it. We're able to recover a lot more usable parts from the field this way. It's a pretty simple software patch, the talky types could send it over to you."
"That'd be really great," she said, warming up a little. "Strangelove always mentions stuff Lovecraft came up with."
Attack laughed. "I'm old enough to remember them working together, back in the seventies. They were the best of friends, had matching Battlestar Galactica jackets and everything. It can be ... hard when you lose a connection you really valued."
Wrecking Ball looked at him, then looked down and nodded, not seeing Fury take a look at the piece of paper, jammed in the lid of his little wrist keyboard.
"Did you see the Mercedes?" she asked. "It's a concept car Kulak adapted for us. It flies. Did you know that?:
Fury's jaw dropped. "You have a flying Mercedes? That sounds ... can we ...?"
She pulled out the keys and jingled them, "C'mon, I'll show you. It's pretty cool."
Fury and Attack followed Wrecking Ball out of the front door as collegial chatting continued at the table.
Catch Me Outside
Abandoning the limp of an old man, the "Organizer" walked along the same rock wall, until he noticed a suited Iron Rain flunkie tapping on his phone near one of those gigantic crates.
Waving a hand, he resumed the Organizer look with just a brief flash of the four opaque spider eyes on his forehead. He walked up and examined the robot, his mirrored head close to the Iron Rain man's face.
"Uh, can I help you, sir?" the duplicate of Al said, voice identical.
"Maybe," the Organizer said thoughtfully. "I find you fascinating. I don't detect any uncanny valley issues, yet they made so many, exactly identical. You're very impressive."
The robot adjusted his sunglasses and said, "Uh ... I believe the right response here is, 'Thank you.' Can I help you back to the meeting, sir?"
"Mm?" the Organizer asked, barely listening. "Oh, no, I think I stirred that pot enough, unless I can get that Gladiator woman alone and tease her with what really happened with her father."
The robot from Iron Rain took off his sunglasses and his eyes were completely black.
"Aagh!" the Organizer said. "Okay, that's creepy, do not want!"
The eyes beamed out a red light, scanning the Organizer, then suddenly stopped, turning an odd shade of yellow. The yellow light faded and the Iron Rain man slumped, standing, sunglasses falling from his hand as the eyes turned the slate gray of a stormy evening in Puyallup.
The Organizer poked the robot in the chest with a finger. "You okay there, fella?"
A deep voice from behind him said, "I'd ask you the same. You're a long way from home."
The Organizer slowly turned and saw Pride, standing with swords drawn, his full battle regalia on.
"Oh, I remember you," the Organizer said, pointing a finger. "You were in Los Angeles, with ..."
"You are not the Organizer of the Union of the Snake," Pride said, cutting him off. "Did you think someone of my background would not recognize you, Weaver of Tales?"
The Organizer held the pose for a moment, then let his shoulders drop along with his hand as he changed back into his teenaged visage.
"You're a Sekhmet champion," Anansi said, "so I know better than to try and fight you. Let me guess ... since that Prophecy woman in there clearly is a double agent for you, you're not very trusting ... either she got a signal to you somehow, or you hacked Iron Rain. Then, because I was talking so much, that got your attention ..."
"'How' doesn't matter right now," Pride interrupted, "because your actions have the real Organizer on his way here, with a very different agenda that would make a lot of problems for me. We had an Anansi here, too, once upon a time. There are rules here, Brother Spider, and one of them is to leave these gun toting games alone."
Gesturing with both hands back towards the house, Anansi said, "But there are so many fun flavors of mortal here! Gods and heroes and villains and solders and maniacs and secrets ... so many secrets! At least until the man without lies comes, the one who will burn through the deceptions and ... I'm sorry, I almost spoiled years of stories you have yet to experience ..."
Pride shook his head. "You've visited our dimension, you've had some fun, and now it's time for you to go home. As I said, we had an Anansi here, once. I used the past tense on purpose."
Anansi smiled and held up both hands. "You have my scent now, little lion man. You use azizium ... we don't have any on my world. You could probably exile me from here ... or you could protect your fragile little house of secrets ..."
Anansi snapped his fingers and a loud popping sound came from the nearby crate. Pride glanced and saw the other crates shaking as well and he muttered a curse in Hausa.
Anansi put his hands in his pockets and said, "What will it be, little lion man? Deal with me, or save your little playmates from blood and tears?"
Pride sighed and started swinging the blades in intersecting arcs while chanting something in Kiswahili, which made Anansi recoil in horror. The blades glowed as Pride chanted louder, which made Anansi not notice the portal opening on the ground behind him as he backed up, the roof of a T.A.S.K. substation in Australia visible beneath it.
Anansi stopped recoiling when he saw Pride stop swinging the blades and made a confused pout. "What was ..."
Pride booted Anansi in the stomach and the diminutive demigod fell, yelling, through the portal as the crates began to pop open.
Leaning over the portal, pointing a sword, he yelled, "... and I hate Mumford and Sons!"
Get Your Gun
Black Fury, Wrecking Ball and Jack Attack were laughing against the Mercedes when they first noticed the crates.
"... hear Skywolf do 'Living On A Prayer' at karaoke night one more time," Wrecking Ball said, until her eyes grew wide and she pointed.
"Guys!" she exclaimed, pointing as one of the crates came open and they could see what was waiting inside.
A gigantic Hierarchy mecha -- Adherent class, if the files were right -- stomped out, smashing the crate as it emerged. The cockpit was open as an Obsidian Dawn pilot -- recognizable for his Daft Punk-styled black helmet with gold trimming -- fell to the ground yelling, "It's out of control! I can't stop it!"
The three of them exchanged a quick look before Black Fury put his helmet on and powered up the tactical responses on his suit, tapping the keyboard cover to secure it. With his other hand, he pulled his sidearm and took aim at the flailing pilot.
Attack put a hand on Fury's arm and said, "That won't stop them!"
"I need a gunner!" Wrecking Ball said, jingling the keys to the Mercedes.
Attack pursed his lips and muttered something so quiet it couldn't be heard over the stomping of the giant robot, with more out of sight. He handed his keys to Fury and said, "Take the W.A.R. Fare! I'll go with her!"
Fury ran towards the van and yelled, "Your baby won't get a scratch! Promise!"
"Don't lie to an old man, now," Attack complained as he ran around to the passenger side of the Mercedes.
Gunning the engine on the wedge-shaped van, Fury drove at full speed towards the gigantic mecha, clipping it at the knees and making it stumble on to one side.
In the passenger seat of the Mercedes, a weapons command center extended from the glove box with its own screen and controls. The headlights receded to have two huge concussion cannons emerge. The Mercedes bounced and its wheels pivoted parallel to the ground, boost emerging from the hubcaps to lift the vehicle aloft as the tail lights receded to reveal thrusters.
Attack grinned and grabbed the twin grips and said, "Okay! You sure know how to show a fella a good time!"
Inside the building, Al's head popped up as people started standing up and looking out of the windows.
"Please do not be alarmed," Al said calmly, his right hand coming up to his ear. "We have a minor incident that is being contained ..."
Snakebird jumped up and yelled, "The Organizer is out there!"
At that moment, the W.A.R. Fare rammed into the first mecha, knocking it over, as the Mercedes flew over, firing concussion blasts at the ground in front of another as it marched on the building.
Prophecy looked over at Gladiator and said, "I thought she said that car needed one to fly and one to shoot ..."
Gladiator looked, confused, and said, "Maybe the Organizer was right about new ways to tell our story after all ..."
Prophecy sat back and thought about that.
The battle between the out-of-control mechas and the forces on the field were past the other side of the giant crate, and for the time being Pride was out of sight.
As the portal closed and Anansi continued his descent into another dimension, Pride turned to see a heavily armed Tigersnake -- a customized version of the Soviet HIND, painted blue with double the weapons of the original version -- about a mile out and closing fast.
"The real Organizer," Pride muttered. "They can't find me here ... bah!"
He tapped his left ear and said, "Threat neutralized, situation normal ..."
He then swung his swords in a circle and plane shifted away, disappearing without a trace.
Inside the building, Al said, "Please step away from the windows."
A transparent, thick shielding slid down over all the windows and the door.
As the five inside looked over at him, Al said, "The forecast predicts the smallest sprinkle of Iron Rain in five. Four. Three. Two ..."
Outside, Fury signaled to Attack, "That whistling sounds like artillery, Jack! Watch out!"
In the air, Wrecking Ball looked upwards and said, "I see them, we're good ..."
The van and the Mercedes swerved away from the lumbering mecha, still firing beam weapons at them, as four huge metallic spikes fifty feet long and twelve feet in diameter slammed into the robots, slicing right through metal and ground, detonating all four of the runaway machines with the sheer force of impact, creating an impact crater thirty feet across. Pieces of metal and plastic from the destroyed mecha rained like confetti. The shockwave shattered the second floor windows of the building and knocked several supporting posts from the porch, sending portions of the overhanging structure into splinters. The Mercedes escaped by pulling down behind the building and the W.A.R. Fare was made of stern stuff, wobbling but staying strong.
The side of each spike opened simultaneously and out stepped another red-haired man in a black suit, each identical to Al inside, each one holding an unusually bulky looking assault rifle. They all scanned the surroundings through their sunglasses and, determining no further threat, put the rifles back inside the spikes, tapping a button inside, which caused each gigantic spike to start to dissolve.
As the smoke began to clear, the Organizer walked up from the now grounded Tigersnake with two Rattlesnake robots in tow. Everyone in the house came out while Black Fury, Wrecking Ball and Jack Attack left the vehicles and joined the crowd.
"Any injuries?' Martial yelled out. "Anybody hurt?"
Al stepped out of the building and said, "Every one of our guests is intact and no one was harmed, thanks to the timely and overwhelming security provided by Iron Rain. For your safety, the destructive yield of our response was turned down by seventy five percent to insure as much discretion as possible. You're welcome. Unfortunately, we are forced to conclude today's event due to the possibility of further security challenges and the need to establish a root cause analysis."
With a very creepy smile, Al panned his gaze across everyone and said, "Please vacate the premises within ten minutes, as the forecast predicts a high probability of more Iron Rain."
The Organizer held up both hands and said, "What we have will have to do. Let's shut it down. Anhinga, Gladiator, Prophecy, you're with me. Wrecking Ball, please bring the car back to the Constrictor."
He snapped off a strange salute to the Martial, who halfheartedly returned it, a puzzled expression on his face reflected in the mirrored helmet. Without another word, the Organizer turned, cape swirling behind him, and walked back towards the helicopter. One Rattlesnake followed him, while the other waited for the women.
Prophecy turned and clasped her hands, bowing a little and smiling back at the DangerWatch team. "It was truly wonderful to see you all. Next year at the Kulak facility in Vladivostok?"
Martial shrugged and nodded. "We'll see you there."
Prophecy followed Gladiator, who was already on the phone, just behind Snakebird who was alongside the Rattlesnake. Within minutes they were in the air and the Mercedes zipping through the sky past them. Martial looked and caught Wrecking Ball's eye for a split second, and then she was gone.
Black Fury handed the keys back to Attack, who simply gestured towards the W.A.R. Fare. Wordlessly, as Al and his Iron Rain duplicates examined the fallen mecha and helped the pilots inside, they got in the van and left.
That Was Weird
Dented but functional, the W.A.R. Fare pulled through the gate, waved through by the same M.P. From before, to pull right on to the W.A.R. Plane. Within ten minutes, they were all in the air.
Once safely aloft, they finally began to speak.
"Today was a day," the Martial said as they say at the plane's conference room table, Rock & Soul rapidly downing some bottled water.
"It was a little less ... aggressive than normal once the Organizer came through," Fury said. "At least for me."
"That was the best chemistry I've ever seen at one of these things," Martial agreed. "It can be hard to sit across a table and talk to people who've been shooting at you all year."
"I managed to sneak a tracker on that flying car, too," Attack said. "It's already blinked out, but if it comes into range of any of our stations, we'll get some intel."
"Nice," Rock & Soul said. "You brightened up as the day went on, John. You're okay after your 'unsanctioned drive?'"
"What 'unsanctioned drive?'" Martial asked.
"It's settled business," Rock & Soul shrugged. "Nothing worth focusing on, Martial."
Fury shot her a glance and then softened. "I guess ... I mean, it's not a big secret. My dad died a little while ago, and before he passed, the last person he asked about was Patricia. Shakedown. Wrecking Ball, now, I guess. Whatever she's called, the way we keep switching sides and codenames ..."
Martial was taken aback. "John ... I'm so sorry for your loss. I should have known ... you didn't have to come, you could have taken some time ..."
"No, it's fine," Fury said quietly, "He lived in hospice, they, uh, they just ... packed up all his stuff and sent it to me at Sentinel Station. It's ... I'd just get into trouble if I was just knocking around, you know? It's easier to just work and not end up on Nuance's naughty list like the old Inspector."
Attack rolled his eyes, and said, “Bill Davidson. He may have been selling weapons to militia groups, but that man knew how to have a good time.”
"Nuance would never do that to you, John," Rock and Soul said, reaching over to put her hand on his. "When you break the rules, you do it to try and make things right. Did she or I say anything when you 'accidentally' knocked over that police tank in St. Louis? Ferguson? Wherever we were."
Fury chuckled and said, "No, you did not, and I was sure I was gonna get court martialed for that ..."
Attack said, "But then that guy with the blue vest started taking pictures with you and boom, your Q rating shoots up, the team merch sales get a surprise bump, and they put you on the BET Awards in a skit with Tichina Arnold and Tisha Campbell. It all worked out!"
"Yeah, yeah ..." Fury said thoughtfully. "Seriously, thanks, all of you. Maybe I'll really take a few days off." Glancing at Rock & Soul, he added, "without the W.A.R. Pig!"
"If Martial doesn't put you in for a commendation for what you did today," she said, holding her fist out, "I will. We appreciate you."
Fury returned her first bump, and Attack awkwardly added his to it, which elicited laughter and finally Martial put his hand over all of theirs, which caused well deserved laughs to build up for everyone.
Back on the Constrictor, fathoms under the surface, the Organizer sat behind a desk, listening to the three women in front of him.
"So you believe the Hierarchy mecha were controlled from an external source, Wrecking Ball?" he asked, his fingers steepled in front of his inscrutable visage.
"Sir, yes sir," she responded simply.
He sat back, hands flat on the desk. "An element beyond our control wants a role in our little story. I don't like anything about elements that aren't part of our narrative. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm grateful for those stuck up maniacs at Iron Rain. It sounds like this big anniversary thing should be fine, and we didn't have to cede anything from that Pantheon record, which is like a firehose shooting cash at us. Thank you ladies, you're dismissed."
As they started to get up, he said, "Sorry, Wrecking Ball, hang back a moment, please."
Gladiator and Snakebird left, and Prophecy gave an odd little nod to the Organizer before leaving, closing the door behind her.
"Are you all right, after everything that happened today?" the Organizer asked, leaning forward with concern.
"I'm super confused by a lot of it," she admitted, "but it was strangely nice seeing Unc ... Seeing Jack Attack again. Really, though, it was weird when you came by yourself, all kooky and bubbly like that time Schroedinger's Hepcat turned you into a cartoon for a week. Then you came back all serious with a helicopter, acting like you do when you're ... you know, doing that other thing. What was that all about?"
The Organizer sighed and tapped a combination along the base of his helmet, which came free ... revealing the exhausted face of Dante "War Dog" Garrett beneath.
"I'll be honest with you, Patty Cake," he said. "I got an intel burst from a coded, unidentified source saying that I needed to get to the Azores, chop chop. Scans showed some kind of energy on the island that Strangelove couldn't figure out, but wasn't from this world."
"Heroes?" she asked. "Villains?"
"No idea," he shrugged. "I came to get you. Something very weird happened today. We can't let the others know, but that wasn't me that you all interacted with. I got there when I walked up with the Rattlesnakes. I don't know who came in talking to you all, but it wasn't me."
"Whoever they were, they knew things," she said. "Like how I loved smoked salmon when I was a kid, which got a weird look from Dan. DangerWatch was completely caught off guard, so I don't think it was them. Who could be taking an interest in us? Is it ... you know who? The billionaire, the king, the goddess, and their little friends?"
"I certainly hope not," he said pensively. "We have a good thing going here. The world has an easier time accepting the capes and masks and not rising up en masse because they were used to us, blowing up whole towns. I'm gonna put Strangelove on this, because he can keep a secret, but let's keep this between us for now, okay?"
She nodded and he put the helmet back on. Once it was secure, she stood and saluted, then laughed at the old habit, and left the office.
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