6/ The Secret Revealed

            “I’m fucking terrified,” Henry told me.  We were holed up in a building across the street from the Grand Pavilion, where the state dinner was being held in just a few hours. 
“Nothing to worry about,” Madcap told him.  “Piece of cake.”  I wasn’t sure I agreed.  I don’t know what Big Sue thought because she always looked much the same.  Solid and dependable.

            The plan wasn’t complex.  There were three groups of us in different buildings around the Pavilion.  At the stroke of ten, just as the President was due to begin his speech and with the eyes and TV cameras of a nation upon us, we were to crash through three well-planned entry points, making as much commotion as possible.  The Secret said that as long as one of us got to the President and the King of Ketenka fast enough, they wouldn’t dare shoot for fear of hitting them.

            Of course that was the problem.  In a room full of people, police, federal agents and, presumably, super-heroes, how were a dozen henchmen supposed to reach the leader of the free world without being gunned down?  The Secret said it was “all in hand” and oddly, though she gave us no clues, we had come to trust her enough that we believed it.  Sort of.  It’s just really hard to keep the faith when so much is on the line.

            “You’ve got kids, haven’t you?” Big Sue asked me.
“One daughter,” I said.
“I’ve never had any children,” She said.  I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to respond to that so I sat silently while Henry and Madcap looked anywhere else but at us.
“You think she’ll be okay?  Your daughter?” Big Sue asked.  “You know.  If something happens?”
“Sure,” I said.  “My wife is great.  I have some money put aside, not a lot, but enough to tide them over.  But nothing is going to happen.”
“I don’t mean the money.  I mean without you there, how would she cope?  She needs a father.”
“Well then,” I said, feeling a little uncomfortable and wondering where this was coming from.  “I’ll just have to make sure everything runs smoothly today.”
“True that,” Madcap agreed, solemnly.

            The closer the clock ticked towards ten the more nervous we all became.  Even Big Sue was sweating, although that may have been because it had been a few hours since her last meal.  I don’t know.  Whatever, it was getting mighty tense in the little dark room where we crouched and waited.  Abruptly, our minds were full of The Secret’s voice.  “Are you all ready?”
“Yes,” We all said aloud and at once.  Maybe we should have thought it instead of saying it, but The Secret wasn’t too fussy.  She could hear us either way.
“Okay, pay attention.  You four are to take the main entrance.”
“We’re what?” Henry gaped.  “That’s not one of the planned ways in!”
“I know this,” The Secret sounded a little snippy, I guess she must have been nervous too.  “Things have changed.  You were meant to go through the second skylight above the main atrium but there is a hero stationed there who could cause … problems.  So without any time to plan a fourth secure entrance, I’ve decided to play the surprise card.”
“The surprise card?” Madcap mouthed at us silently.
“The very last place they’ll expect you to come through is the main entrance.  There are too many police and agents there.  So you’ll catch them off guard.”
“I see,” Henry said.  “We’ll catch them off guard by going in through the most dangerous, most heavily guarded path we could possibly choose.”
“Yes,” Said The Secret, apparently oblivious to his irony.  “You have five minutes.  Be ready for the call.”

            We came up the entrance steps really quickly.  But not quickly enough.  The Police here were trained professionals and long before we’d gotten anywhere near the glass-fronted main face of the Pavilion every cop and agent in the area was shooting at us.  There were scores of them and the noise of gunfire was deafening.  I remember being absolutely certain we were all about to be killed.

            Madcap tumbled up the steps impressively.  Big Sue thundered ahead, while Henry and I did our best to keep up with her.  Nobody fell.  Nobody was even hit by a bullet. We didn’t take time to wonder why – our months of training had instilled in us a need to act quickly in any situation.  Instead, we slammed into the wall of police as hard as we could.  Humming with power, my bodysuit assisted me in launching one uniformed cop through the plate glass behind him.  Henry and Big Sue by my side, we launched ourselves through the wave of defenders like a hammer through a slice of bread.  Madcap just back-flipped over them.  I marvelled at just how good he was getting.

            Inside the building there were cops coming for us on all sides.  Up on a metallic shiny platform that connected two higher levels, a row of Secret Service agents were firing round after round at us.  The bullets did not hit.  Instead, we punched, kicked and shoved our way through the lobby area and into a carpeted walkway.  There were more police there, and a tall man dressed in tight blue spandex and covered in tiny stars.  We all knew him.  Asteroid.  A flying, invulnerable, energy-beams-from-his-eyes high-powered superhero.  Fuck.

            The other teams had run into troubles of their own.  One of them was hunkered down at the back of the building having completely failed to even reach their designated point of entry.  Two heroes, Alley Cat and Phantom Five, had met them as they tried to gain entry and presently had them pinned down.  Phantom Five was another energy guy, able to blast opponents with four different kinds of energy.  Yeah, I know.  He should have been called Phantom Four.  But making observations about poor naming conventions probably wasn’t going to help much.  Alley Cat used a bow and arrows, as well as expert martial arts, to fight crime.  They were proving an effective barrier to a small team of henchmen, power suits or no.

            Team 2 had blasted through the second floor gallery windows and almost reached the Atrium before they had run into a wall of police, Captain Carter and The Chaperone.  Although they had also not been hit by any bullets, nothing seemed to be stopping Carter’s sizzling ray gun, nor The Chaperone’s bone-smashing martial attacks.  It was getting very messy for our team down there.

            “I’ll deal with the freak,” Big Sue said, lowering her head and charging Asteroid.  The hero didn’t seem concerned.  He simply shot two dark blue lasers from his eyes as she approached.  Sue screamed as the force burned into her.  Charging close behind her we could smell the flesh burning.  If Asteroid thought that this would stop Big Sue he was in for a surprise. 

            Madcap tumbled past me and was kicking Cops in the face and sweeping their feet in spiralling movements that were beautiful in technique, if not in their bloody results.  Henry and I took care of the stragglers, knocking cops and agents senseless with well-timed blows.  Big Sue smashed into Asteroid, who barely grunted and didn’t move at all.  It was odd seeing somebody as huge as Big Sue stopped so completely by a man two thirds her size.  That’s invulnerability for you.  Sue wrapped her arms around Asteroid even as his beams continue to singe her flesh.  “Go on!” She screamed.  “I’ve got this fucker.”  Asteroid wasn’t super strong.  Sue may not have been able to hurt him, but she could hold him.  For just as long as she could stand being blow-torched by his eyes.

            Henry, Madcap and I had no hope of surprising anybody as we entered the Atrium.  After all, the noise of these various attacks was not inconsiderable.  Sure enough, dozens of armed Police and Agents were ready and opened fire, even as the audience screamed.  Why were the audience even still there?  Why was the President still on the stage? I didn’t know.  I’d have expected them all evacuated when the disturbances began.  There was clearly more going on here than met the eye.

            “How come none of the bullets are hitting us?” Madcap laughed.
“No idea,” I said.  “The Secret said it was taken care of.  I guess this is how.”
“Come on,” Said Henry, charging the stage.  We followed and it was not difficult, with their firearms having no effect, to smash our way onto the stage.  People simply didn’t expect our little team to have the strength of twice as many.  We blew them apart like tenpins.

            We’d reached the stage when a light from above heralded the arrival of the seventh superhero mercenary.  A figure materialised through the roof, drifting slowly down on a cloud of red, white and blue light.  We all knew who it was.  His stars and stripes costume, his bright red shield, his square jaw.   One of the most famous super-heroes in the country.  Ex-leader of the World Hero’s Union.  The Flag.

            “Stop right there,” His booming voice commanded.  It was as if he had the benefit of amplification, but there was no microphone.  “Stand away from the President.”
The crowd swooned, just like they always do when a real, true blue, all American champion makes an appearance.  Even Henry and I took a step backwards.  Not Madcap though. 
“Fuck you, fascist fuck,” He shouted and launched himself into a flying kick at the hero.  It was as graceful and well-executed attack as I’d ever seen.  The Flag smashed him casually out of the air with his shield.  Madcap flew a few feet and crunched to the ground.  He didn’t move.

“Your allies are captured elsewhere,” The Flag said.  “You will surrender now to the forces of law and order.  I will not ask you again.” 
Henry and I looked at each other.  “What do you think?” I asked.
“I think we were paid to do a job.  Let’s get it done,” He replied.
“Okay,” I agreed.  It was what I’d been thinking anyway.  Just like that, two minor henchmen in low-level power suits charged one of the most respected and successful heroes in the country, while the image was transmitted live across every major TV network.

            I think The Flag was as surprised as we were.  At first, he blocked our attacks with casual ease.  I was caught a glancing brow and it felt like I’d been hit with a sledgehammer.  If not for the suit it would have broken my arm for sure.  Henry was smashed to the floor by a backhand that was almost contemptuous.  But with each second that passed, The Flag got a bit slower.  A bit more cumbersome.  We began ducking and weaving around his attacks, and scoring one or two hits of our own.

            Henry got the first really good one.  His right hook caught the hero on the jaw and sent him stumbling back, where he collided with the President.  There was a collective gasp from the onlookers.  Agents had been trying to reach the stage to get the dignitaries out of there but something was preventing them.  We didn’t know what and we didn’t care.  Our full attention was taken with fighting The Flag.

            Even despite his steadily slower activity The Flag was a tough bastard.  But I could now see a flash of panic in his eyes.  He didn’t know what was happening, but he knew where it led.  I got a kick into his stomach.  Henry managed to knock his shield from his hands.  I knocked his knee away and as he fell Henry kicked him in the face.  He got up again, but he looked unsteady.  “How does it feel?” Henry asked.  “To get your ass kicked by a couple of grunts?”
“We’ll see who gets their ass kicked,” The Flag roared as he rose into the air on his cloud of coloured light.  The fury that ignited in him gave him enough strength to throw a mighty blow and Henry, unlucky bastard, took it full in the face. 

            “Your turn,” The Flag said. 
“I don’t think so,” I replied grimly.  Henry lay moaning off to one side.  That punch had made a right mess of him.  But Madcap had managed to climb back to his feet and behind me and – fucking awesome – Big Sue clumped up onto the stage dragging an unconscious Asteroid with her.  The audience had gone silent.  The Flag looked stunned.  Asteroid was just as famous as he was in some circles.  “Time to say goodnight,” I told the hero.
The three of us punched and kicked him to the ground while millions of people watched the broadcast live and in all its glorious colour.

            The Secret made her appearance just as The Flag lost consciousness.  We fell back around her costumed form, which hung suspended in the air in the middle of the stage.  “Mr. President,” She said, turning her masked face towards him.  “In your choice of guardians you have chosen poorly.”
“I have?” The President asked.  To give the man his due, he sounded far less unsettled than I would have been in his shoes.
“This man,” She pointed at The Flag, taking a moment to be sure her words and actions were being filmed.  “Is a filthy bastard rapist.  Several of his associates are not much better.”
She gestured and a figure dropped from a glowing circle in the air – the hero Bird Of Paradise.  “This time, no harm will come to you.  Next time you choose so poorly, that may not be the case.  The people of America expect better, Sir.”
There was an immensely bright flash of light and suddenly nobody was moving except us.  “Get out of here, quickly,” The Secret said.  “You have about three minutes.”
“What about the King Of Ketenka’s artefact?” I asked.
“Change of plan,” She said.  I looked at the King, who like us was also able to move.  He winked.  And, though I can honestly say we had no bloody clue what was going on, we did as we were told and got the hell out of there.