The Angel of Chicago
Part Eight: Conclusions
There was actually a hatch in the roof, accessible through the attic. Once Melody was there and in position to see in the proper direction Arielle climbed out the closest window with the phone and jumped up beside her.
"This actually isn't the first time someone has had to do this," said Arielle, grinning, as she handed the phone to Melody. "What?"
"That's the first time I've seen you do something superhuman," said the reporter, as she stopped staring and took the phone. She dialed from memory.
"Huh. Hadn't even thought of that as being... Well, I guess it is..."
"Jeremy? This is Melody. I'm on the scene of a live event and I want you to put me on record. Got it? Okay."
She stood a little taller, looking into the distance.
"This is Melody Gundersen reporting. I am in Haven, the community founded by Malak and several other empowered and non-empowered to help those in need. Despite the noble purpose of this town it has been attacked several times during its history. Tonight may be witness to yet another attempt to destroy it."
* * *
Malak glided silently and invisibly overhead. The night was far from completely dark, but even so he had trouble seeing the approaching vehicles. They were all-terrain and equipped with medium weapons. They had also been painted or perhaps coated with something matt black and were driving without lights. Even the glass seemed to be covered with something non-reflective. However, to his passive sonar they stood out starkly, despite signs of exterior application of sound deadening material. That just made them a fuzzy blank volumes to his sonic perceptions.
Abruptly, the vehicles stopped. Men all in black - even their weapons had been given the same treatment as the vehicles - poured out and quietly took formation in front of them. In its decades of existence, Haven had occasionally been the victim of intimidation attempts by local, state or federal law enforcement, this did not look like one of those attempts. This was turning out to be one of the few true assaults.
On some unheard, unseen signal the men in black started forward. Once they had moved far enough ahead, the vehicles began creeping after them. All heading directly towards Haven. Malak decided it was time to act.
There was no reaction.
"WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE HERE?"
There was still no reaction. Malak realized they were likely wearing some sort of hearing protection under their helmets. Something deliberately intended to block his influence.
"Enough of this," muttered Malak.
He held out his right hand; a spear with a tip burning bright silver materialized. He hurled it at the lead vehicle, targeting the engine. There was a modest explosion - he was trying to stop them, not blast them to atoms - and the vehicle jerked to a halt.
Immediately, both personal and vehicle mounted weapons opened fire, painting the sky over them. Many of the rounds were tracer, and the streaks of light they produced arced into the distance. None of this touched Malak, who was again both invisible an desolidified.
That first spear was intended more as a warning. This group obviously needed more. He held his hand out again and concentrated for a moment. Four more spears formed in his grip, one for each undamaged vehicle. They flew true, and quickly all the attackers' ground transport was out of service.
Malak flew to one side then turned, diving to come in low and fast, aiming for the the middle of the formation. Due to sweeping his wings back he shoved men aside as much as knocked them down. The result was many broken bones but few serious injuries.
Those multiple blows slowed him, and he quickly landed, sandled feet sliding to a stop. Before those around him could react, Malak spread his wings, drooped them to knee level and spun. Over a dozen attackers fell, many with serious knee and lower leg injuries. He immediately went desolid and invisible again.
The attackers swept their weapons around, but were disciplined enough to hold fire. Suddenly, a very loud voice yelled for them to switch to blades. The men slung their weapons and brought out what looked for all the world like World War One bayonets.
"Back away!" the same someone shouted. "Don't let him get close! Gmfphffff..."
Malak spared a quick glance in that direction. He saw Mannequin - wearing what looked like an oversized version of a backpack crop sprayer - squirting something which was very much not insecticide or fertilizer on the man standing in the doorway of one of the vehicles; a man using a bullhorn to yell orders. The substance, in fact, appeared to be adhesive.
"That should gum up the works!" said Mannequin, triumphantly.
"Get out of here!" said Malak, as he shifted position, moving invisibly into the middle of a formation of armed men before again becoming sold and spinning.
On the roof of the house Melody was frantically trying to see what was going on. Many others in the town were likewise on the streets, or even also on roofs, some of them armed. A few were obviously empowered, and they took up guarding positions at intersections. However, seeing what was going on at ground level in the fields outside town proved impossible. Even Arielle was having trouble. She abruptly jumped off the roof.
"I can't stand this!" shouted Arielle, from below. "I'm going to go see what's happening!"
"Catch me!" said Melody, tossing the phone handset aside and jumping.
Fortunately, she did.
The two ran together towards the scene of the battle. Which had suddenly gone very quiet.
They arrived in time to see those few of the attackers still capable of it running into the night. A night filled with moans of pain punctuated by the occasional scream. After a tense pause, Malak came walking towards them out of the corn, carrying Mannequin. The odd pair stopped in front of the new arrivals.
"It... was worth... it," said Mannequin, reaching up to caress Malak's face. "Thank you... for caring."
Mannequin's eyes rolled up and the strange figure went limp. Malak looked at his burden for a moment... then abruptly opened his arms.
Mannequin gave a startled squawk, then hit the ground hard enough to leave significant depression.
"Hey!" said Mannequin, sitting up and giving Malak an angry stare. "Have some respect for the dying!"
"Try that again when you're actually hurt. Meanwhile, I'm going to tend the wounded and make sure they don't cause any trouble before the police get here. You get back to the clinic!"
"Men!" huffed Mannequin.
A glance towards Melody and Arielle showed they had no sympathy, either. In fact, both were trying to stifle laughter, though that was more from nervous relief than humor.
Muttering in irritation, Mannequin rose, dusted a bit and stalked off into the night.
* * *
"What's the word?" said General Conyers after the man he spoke to threw down his headset in disgust.
"The plan had to be aborted," said the mercenary leader. "The target stayed in a very public area the entire time. She was actually talking to her paper on the phone about the attack. Worse, only a few of the decoy team escaped."
"This just proves she knows what's going on!" said General Conyers, furious. "Well, at least we have Blackpool on the run."
"I did get a sniper emplaced in a high point," said the mercenary, nodding. "If you're still wanting her alive I'll recall him."
"No," said Conyers, after a moment of thought. "She's done too much damage. Have your man take her out at the earliest opportunity. Oh, and on the off chance Blackpool shows up there, he's on the list, too."
* * *
"I just don't understand why anyone would attack this place!" said Melody, obviously offended at the very idea.
"This isn't the first time," said Aaron, sadly, as they walked tiredly away from the city hall. "There's always someone willing to play serpent in the garden."
"Dad, I think this was definitely not some random attack by worked up bigots," said Arielle. She glanced at Melody. "I didn't say anything before, but I'm sure I spotted people in cammo with weapons sneaking around Melody's cabin. That's one reason I went along with taking her to the scene of the fight."
"Then we put Melody in the spare bedroom at my place for tonight," said Aaron, firmly.
"Oh, I really hope all this wasn't because of me," said Melody, shocked.
"It could very well be. I'll try interrogating some of the prisoners tomorrow. Our basement jail is currently rather overcrowded, even with the worst of the injured in the town infirmary, so we called the state militia to take them off our hands. However, that won't happen until tomorrow, probably after lunch. With their helmets and ear muffs off the prisoners will hear me and I should be able to get some straight answers."
* * *
Blackpool read the paper with an odd feeling of relief. The attack on Haven had been a terrible thing and could have resulted in hundreds of deaths. However, no-one had died, not even among the attackers. He realized that the reporter was probably the actual target, even though there was nothing about that in any paper except for her being a witness and having the byline in the New York Glory and their affiliates. He decided to take the last copies of his information there. She should definitely be interested in it, and Malak and his allies could defend their town against anything short of a major military mobilization. Now, to find an appropriate map...
* * *
Blackpool entered the main branch of the New York Public Library hours after it closed. He found a reference - a magazine article from two years back, so it was almost current - and focused on an early-morning photo of the center of Haven until he felt a connection. Then he found a nook in a storeroom to sleep. He had meant to just rest, but was so fatigued he quickly fell asleep.
The first stirrings of the janitorial staff in the morning woke him. He moved through shadows to a gas station which hadn't opened yet, to use the restroom and freshen up a bit. Then he went to where he had hidden his microfilm and prints. He made sure they hadn't been tampered with, then prepared to move to Haven.
None of this was an exercise in paranoia. For all he knew his opposition had empowered working for them to track his movements in some way. That was why he had made a point of moving between multiple, widely separated locations during the day and early evening, then walking to the library and picking the lock on the loading dock door. Now, he just needed a few moments to focus, so he could make contact with the specific shadow he had picked, when the local time in Haven was the same as in the photo.
Contact. He stepped through, coming out in the early morning shade of the town hall. Smiling under his full-face mask, Blackpool stepped out into the light and walked around the building. People were just starting to notice him and react when the shot rang out. Blackpool went down, stunned and cursing himself for being careless. He hadn't even managed to get enough control of his body back to roll into cover when he noticed people running towards him, shouting in alarm. The expected follow-up shots didn't come; there were simply too many people crowded around him, pulling him to safety.
I think I like this community, he decided, as they got him into the corner between the front steps and the front of the building.
Several confused seconds passed, with people trying to figure out where the shot had come from. While some were standing around, looking confused, nearly as many were shading their eyes and trying to spot the shooter, while jinking and dodging in case of more shots. Through gaps in the people helping him, he saw Malak swooping in, overhead, from the west. The direction of his home, Blackpool recalled from studying a map of Haven. Several of the people in the square shouted and pointed, apparently to the town hall roof. The winged form swerved, towards the bell tower just above where Blackpool had been dragged.
No wonder there no more shots; they would have needed to lean well out of their concealment to get the angle. Maybe they tried, and that's how those people saw the shooter.
Another shot rang out; this one obviously aimed at Malak. That just helped him target the shooter; he dove for the tower. Then came a startled yell. Blackpool saw Malak move into the bell tower, then back out the other side, now carrying a naked, struggling man. The costumed law enforcement officer actually gave a short laugh at that.
Good job. You don't know what he has on his person, so dematerialize just him. Leave everything else behind.
"I'm not badly hurt," said Blackpool, finally recovering enough to speak. He stood, with a bit of help.
"The infirmary is this way!" said a woman, someone of obvious authority. He later learned she was the mayor.
"I have an important package for the reporter," said Blackpool, holding the bundle out for the woman. "Melody..."
"She will get it," she assured him, immediately understanding he had knowingly risked his life to bring that here. "Theo, Keith, get him to Doc."
She turned and hurried towards a different building. Blackpool later learned this was the town jail, where Malak had been headed with the shooter. Satisfied, he let himself be helped to the infirmary.
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