Death Of A Hero: Part One

Submitted by C B Wright on
Curveball, by Christopher Wright
Liberty

The clear, untarnished melody of In The Mood starts up again for what must be the tenth, eleventh time—Alex has lost track at this point. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have neighbors: this is exactly the sort of thing that would get on his nerves, if he wasn’t the one doing it. He feels sentimental tonight, and the music is comforting. He doesn’t hate new music, not like some of the other guys his age, but he prefers brass and string instruments over computers. It reminds him of… happier days? No, not happier, necessarily, but more hopeful.

Once upon a time people believed that by coming together they could change the world. Things are different now—people don’t like to pitch in, because they feel the ones asking for sacrifice aren’t telling the whole truth. The worst part, he thinks, is that people aren’t necessarily wrong. Too many leaders prefer saying what they think people want to hear instead of telling the truth.

The thought pains him.

This isn’t new, Alex reminds himself. It happened back in the day, too. More than we knew.

He leans back in his chair and stares at the empty message window sitting open on his computer monitor. He sips his coffee, listens to the music, and notes the occasional rumble of thunder echoing off the Manhattan skyline. It would rain soon. An ache in his shoulder—the remnant of an old wound—suggests it will rain pretty hard.

Alex likes the rain. He likes the sound of rain striking stone, wood, glass, likes the sound of thunder rumbling across the sky. It’s a good sound. That night it would rain, a proper thunderstorm from the sound and feel of it, and Alex is at peace. The last few days were a mess, but he’s on top of it now. He doesn’t like the solution, but it’s the only one with a chance at success. Alex is a tactician: he always maneuvers for the best possible advantage, if not for himself, then for his side. In this scenario his side needs to sacrifice a pawn. It’s his turn.

This is the last time I’ll ever hear the rain.

He almost slides from sentiment to self-pity, but he sets his jaw and pushes those thoughts aside. He has a job to do: he looks at the blank message window on his monitor and begins to type.

I know you’re going to get this, no matter what they try, because it’s you. Sorry to dump this on you kid, but you’re the only one I know who has a shot. You know how I always tell you to tone things down? How you need to show restraint?

Not this time. Give ‘em hell. It’s no less than they deserve.

Capt. Alexander Morgan, Ret.
(liberty@guardians.tti)
“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

He stares at the message briefly, wondering if there’s anything else he needs to say. Words fail. He almost slides into self-pity again.

He sighs, and forces himself to focus. He clicks the “attach” icon in the email window, navigates to the attachment folder, and double-clicks the file. He smiles briefly: teaching himself to encrypt that file was quite an achievement. Jenny will be proud, he thinks. If she ever finds out.

He hopes she never finds out.

His hands tremble, ever so slightly, as he types in the email address, then steady as the mouse pointer hovers over the send button. He takes a breath. Clicks the button.

A progress bar displays: sending, 2%. Alex sighs again, and waits.

He moved in to his penthouse in the 90s, when floor plans favored open rooms and lots of large, glass windows. It’s a luxury apartment, and he still feels a little guilty that he lives there, especially since he doesn’t pay for it himself. But he loves the openness, and loves the view, and considers it his refuge from the rest of the world. His sanctum. Which makes it all the more galling to him that it’s about to be intruded on in such an ugly manner.

The progress bar reaches 12% when he hears the soft click of the balcony door latch. The intruder is very good; he hardly makes a sound. Most people wouldn’t notice.

Alex notices.

His computer desk sits at the far side of the living room, next to a hall that leads to the bathroom, bedrooms, and laundry. A large L-shaped sofa separates the desk from the rest of the room. Alex reaches for a tray sitting on an ottoman wedged between the desk and sofa. His right hand grips the tray firmly as he carefully lifts it off the ottoman, testing its weight.

When the French doors burst open, Alex is ready.

The tray flies through the air, humming as it streaks across the room, into a shadowy figure looming in the doorway. The tray ricochets off the figure with a loud twang, and the figure staggers back, crying out in pain. Alex slides out of his seat and crouches to the ground, taking cover behind the couch as the fwip fwip fwip of silenced pistols are followed by shells bursting into drywall and shattering glass.

Alex calmly pushes a button set into the wall behind his desk.

He hears another volley of fwip fwip fwip as his assailants fire into the couch. He doesn’t flinch—the muzzle velocities of the silenced weapons are too low to pierce through the back. Better, he thinks, to let them waste their ammo. He glances up at the monitor, untouched in the firefight.

24%.

One of the French doors swings wildly, crashing against the wall with a bang. Cool, humid air seeps into the living room. Thunder rumbles in the distance. The shooting stops; Alex hears indistinct muttering outside. Then:

“I confess, Herr Morgan, I hoped the weather would mask the sound of the latch.”

Clear, precise English. Unmistakable German accent. Alex’s jaw tightens.

“Richter…”

36%.

He hears a loud crack as the front door buckles. At the same time, a shout goes up from the balcony, and the glass windows on either side of the door shatter. Alex rolls back out of the living room and into the kitchen. He stands, hidden from the living room by a half-wall, and sees the front door splinter into pieces. Men clad in tactical gear enter the room.

Not soldiers, he thinks. I will not dignify them with the name soldier.

Alex reaches for his carving knife. It is a quality weapon: well-balanced, full tang blade, always kept sharp. Two men fill the broken door-frame. One kneels and brings his rifle to bear. Without hesitation, Alex throws the blade—it flies through the air with deadly precision, piercing the target’s goggles with a loud crack and entering the left eye with a sickening schlict. The man slumps over, dead.

Alex doesn’t like killing. He avoids it whenever possible. But today he is at war, and in war prisoners are taken only when your enemy surrenders. No one would surrender tonight.

He moves faster than any human should, leaping on to a counter as gunfire rips through the wood cabinets beneath him. He’s still almost in peak form, even after decades, but he can feel the aches start to pile up, feel the sluggishness in his limbs. He’s getting old, he realizes, and although a part of him feels it’s about time, at the moment it’s inconvenient.

He launches himself across the room toward the attacker. He feels, rather than hears, the bullets flying past him. He tackles the masked figure, propelling him outside the door, into the elevator foyer. The man grunts as he hits the ground, then twitches once as Alex twists the man’s head farther than it is meant to go, breaking his neck. Alex grabs the man’s rifle, reaches down to his belt, and draws forth a bayonet.

He turns back to the door. Richter will already be reconsidering his options. He doesn’t like public displays—he probably hoped this action would be over in seconds. It wasn’t over; it was now more complicated. There’s a chance, Alex thinks, that if he runs Richter won’t bother to follow…

… but he has to make sure the email goes through.

He stands back, pokes the rifle around the corner, and fires blindly into the living room until he empties the magazine. He drops the rifle and runs, crouching low until he whips through the kitchen and emerges from the other side, back into the living room.

He glances at the monitor. 58%.

Alex vaults over the back of the couch, flying feet-first into someone emerging from the balcony. The man falls back and Alex rolls past, through the French doors, and onto the balcony.

It’s raining now, hard; sheets of rain falling from the sky, muffling every sound but its own. Three armed men stare at Alex, startled, and attempt to raise their weapons.

None of them are Richter.

Alex lashes out with his foot, undercutting one man’s stance. He falls flat on his back, his rifle discharging in the air. Immediately Alex throws the bayonet at another. The bayonet is crude compared to his carving knife, but capable. He doesn’t bother to watch the man fall.

The third assailant hesitates. Alex springs to his feet and leaps toward him, striking him in the solar plexus, then kneeing him in the face as he doubles over. He feels goggles crunch as he breaks the lenses, then feels blood on his knuckles as he viciously strikes at the man’s temple. In seconds all three are down.

Alex scans the area quickly. There is nothing but rain.

“Richter!”

No reply. He hears sirens in the distance, occasionally swallowed up by the thunder booming through Manhattan.

He steps over the broken glass into his living room and glances at the monitor. 89%. He sighs in relief.

Almost over, he thinks. For me, at any rate…

“Do not move, Herr Morgan.”

Alex freezes. He hears the click of a very distinctive gun’s hammer draw back into its cocked position.

“Now raise your arms. Keep them away from your body, if you please.”

Alex obeys. “I didn’t expect you to be a part of this, Richter.”

Low laughter rumbles behind him. “No? I find that strange. I have always been dedicated to the ideals of the Third Reich. Even after it fell, the beacon lit by Mein Fuhrer always led me on my path. And now I find the ideals are but a reflection of a greater design. A Fourth Reich? A map for all mankind. It is my honor to serve.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Alex sees 97% on the monitor.

“Never understood your honor, Richter. You take it so seriously, but you tie your honor to madmen. Despots. Tyrants…”

Richter’s voice hardens. “Turn around, Herr Morgan.”

Alex turns to face Richter for the last time.

They are so alike they could be brothers: blond, blue-eyed, strong, clean-shaven, full of resolve… both warriors from a bygone age, making their way in a world that says “never forget” but can no longer remember why. Richter’s gun points directly at Alex’s head. His hand doesn’t waver. Alex knows he won’t miss.

“Tell me the name of your contact, Herr Morgan.”

Alex shakes his head. “Not going to happen.”

Richter smiles slightly. “Such arrogance. You have a choice: you may tell me now, or you will tell me later. I recommend the former.”

“There isn’t going to be a later.” Alex’s voice is flat. “If you don’t kill me now, I’m going to kill you.”

Richter’s smile falters. “You do not kill.”

Alex narrows his eyes. “You know better than that. I was a soldier. I fought, I killed. Your men in the hall are dead. At least two of the men on the balcony are dead. Not the legacy I wanted to leave behind, but I don’t have the luxury of choice tonight.”

Richter looks at Alex thoughtfully. “How much do you know?”

“Enough,” Alex says. “Enough to know the truth.”

Richter frowns. “No… no, I believe you are bluffing. Like you did in ‘42? Remember your little gambit in Paris? I remember it quite well.”

“Project Recall,” Alex says.

Richter’s hand tightens on the grip of his gun. “You should not have told me that.” His voice is stern, harsh, tinged with… something else. Regret.

Alex’s computer beeps.

“It doesn’t matter,” Alex says. “It’s too late now, Richter. I win.”

Alex leaps towards Richter, a study in balance, grace, power and speed. His movement is perfect—nothing wasted, no flourish, nothing that would detract from his ability to fight or kill. His fighting style is often studied, often imitated, and has no equal. By the time most people notice he’s moving, there’s little if anything to be done.

A light flashes between the two men. Richter steps backward as Alex falls to the floor, dead. He stares at the body, mesmerized by the red stain rapidly spreading across the back of Alex’s head.

“I am sorry, Captain. Truly.”

He is sorry. Yet another piece of his past has been torn away, sent hurtling into the shadows of memory. In the nights to come he will be haunted by the face of his oldest enemy leaping to his death: no malice, only resolve and a calm acceptance of what they both knew would happen.

Richter knows that look. It is the look of a man who knows his enemy has failed. That look concerns him.

He calmly unscrews the silencer from his pistol and pulls a black, eyeless mask over his face. He touches the ear-piece embedded in his mask.

“This is Richter. Morgan is dead. However… we may have been too late.” Richter frowns as he notices the email window open on Alex’s monitor. “I believe he managed to contact someone.”

He walks to the computer. An open dialog box reports “Message Sent.”

Richter tilts his head as someone on the other end asks him a question.

“I do not know,” he says. “Hold on.”

He grabs the mouse, closes the dialog, then clicks the “Sent Messages” folder in the email program. “Yes, he emailed someone. I do not recognize the address. The account is cb@chaos.tti.”

He listens a moment, then says “yes, I believe that is a Thorpe domain. That will make it harder to track, but not impossible… and it narrows the list of potential recipients.”

Sirens. They are very loud now—Richter can hear them quite clearly above the storm. “I must leave now,” he says quickly, “or risk discovery. I am headed to the extraction point. I will make following this trail my next priority.”

He steps out to the balcony, ignoring the rain, and pulls a second gun out from under his coat. He aims quickly, and fires—the grappling hook flies across the night sky, bonding instantly to the wall of a nearby building. He steps off the edge of the balcony, swinging in an arc toward the building. He shakes from the impact as he hits the building wall—the impact would shatter the legs of an ordinary man, but to him it is merely uncomfortable—then allows his grappling gun to pull him up the side of the building to the roof.

The wind dies down for a moment, and he hears the police as they storm the penthouse: shouts of challenge, of recognition, of alarm… then, finally, shouts of grief.

Comments

Comments are active for 30 days after publication. If you wish to comment after 30 days please use the Forums.

Bravo, Herr Wright

Shit, man, youre getting good. Congratulations! Looking forward to the next installment.

Cyclic

I'd like to chime in after

I'd like to chime in after having read the first chapter. Overall, it's probably among the best intros I've read to date, but two things poked me in the eye. For one, nazi villains talking about a Fourth Reich tend to immediately put me off (on that note, it's 'mein Führer' with an ü). They've just been done to death, often poorly. And if Richter tries to speak correct English, why the 'Herr Morgan'? It's a little overmuch, like you're screaming 'this guy is german!' at the reader.

I'm still waiting for the day someone creates a german superhero rather than a villain. I might have, but then went for Swiss and Russian instead.

I also found it hard to believe that Richter is completely oblivious to the death of his men.

But I'll probably keep reading anyway, because apart from those two things, this is pretty great. You're starting wonderfully close to the conflict, the action is good, and the characterization (as mentioned in reviews on WFG) was the selling point that drew me here.

It probably has been done to

It probably has been done to death, and an eyeroll or five is more than fair. But given who Liberty is Captain Ersatz for, it fit too well to let the well-trod path scare me off.

The reason I have Richter say "Herr Morgan" will likely produce more eyerolls, but when I was writing this scene I was thinking this is a comic book and in every comic book I've ever read the German characters inevitably result to saying "Herr," "fraulein," and "Mein Gott!" even when they otherwise speak perfect English -- basically to do what you describe, it's screaming "THIS GUY IS GERMAN!" Which I thought was fun.

Thanks for commenting!

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

That's some serious quality

That's some serious quality you've got here. Assessing whether this is worth reading is already out. Now I'm just finding out if it's a story I want to read *personally*.

Like the commentor above, I did think guys talking about a Fourth Reich was pretty old...but if it fits, you do it anyway. It sounds like you had good reason for it.