A sound few men would recognize blared through the hotel, loud as thunder. A light brighter than the sun was swiftly followed by dozens of men and women stepping into the building through tears in reality. Griff was among their number, a pair of earbuds stuck firmly in his ears.
Ryan "Griff" Griffin swayed from side to side to the tune of Mr. Blue Sky
as he entered the luxury restaurant on the 98th floor of the Four Freedoms Plaza. The catchy little song played like klaxons through his earbuds, drowning out the sound of panicked guests screaming in confusion and fear at the sight of dozens of bizarrely dressed gunmen pouring into the room. Griff ignored their terrified faces and focused on tapping along to the beat on the grip of his rifle.
They'd gone over the plan a hundred times. There were two floors to the restaurant, six exits- two up top, three on the lower floor, and a final one through the kitchen. They had at least five boys coming through each door to ensure nobody managed to slip away unnoticed. A couple nutjobs rushed at Griff and the militiamen next to him. Probably had so much adrenaline running to their brains that they thought they come barrel through 'em and make a run for it. Griff didn't take part in the beating his compatriots gave them. Just focus on the music.
Once the room was secure and any potential threats had been neutralized, they started rolling in the heavier equipment required for the operation. Most of what the unarmed technicians pulled from the crates looked like props found on a Sci-Fi movie set: Unintuitive, alien, and strange. It was even stranger when they started hooking it all up to a single, dinky laptop. Griff didn't understand most of it; all he understood was that it was necessary.
They were going to save the United States from its imminent destruction. It had to be done.
Griff bobbed his head along, pulling a pack of zip ties from his belt as he approached a table of frightened guests. Two kids with them, their sobbing mother holding one another each arm tighter than Griff had ever seen anyone hold on to anything. She didn't make eye contact with him, focusing instead on whispering promises that they'd make it out okay to her children.
Her husband, however, was different.
He sat up straighter as Griffin approached, his expression twisted with anger at having his dinner interrupted by a bunch of costumed hooligans waving guns around. "What's the meaning of this? Who are you?!"
Griff blinked a couple of times, reaching up to pause his music before answering the man-turned-prisoner. "Just follow our instructions and don't get in our way. This'll all be over soon." He assured, dragging the man's hands together so he could slid a zip tie over his wrists- the same was being done to every other hostage in the restaurant in preparation for the next stage of the operation. Griff was struggling to keep his hands still enough to actually put the tie together.
Another pair of hands came around from behind him, taking hold of tie and locking it in place. Ryan felt his cheeks flush in embarrassment as he turned around and went to thank whoever it was, only for his voice to catch in his throat.
"You're doing great, son." The helmeted figure placed a hand on Griff's shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Though the strange and intimidating armor obscured his identity, Ryan knew the figure to be none other than Reverend Stryker. Flashing a charismatic smile, he moved away from Griffin, and started up the carpeted stairs leading to the second floor of the restaurant.
There were, perhaps, thirty Purifiers in all working in tandem to secure the location. Some were zip-tying hostages and dragging them into cordoned off areas so they could be more easily managed. Others had left the room itself and were busy blocking up stairways and disabling elevators, while still others were prepping defensive measures to fend off the inevitable response from law enforcement and would-be heroes. They were an odd sight, to be sure: men in silverish spandex and kevlar body armor, many of whom looked hesitant, nervous and uncoordinated, yet nonetheless carried out their part of the plan semi-efficiently.
Stryker gave soft words of encouragement to some as he passed by them, making his way to the center of the second floor where his technical experts were wrapping up their own work. They had just finished assembling what looked to be a six foot tall obelisk of some kind, it's obsidian-colored exterior as smooth as polished marble. Several, thick cables protruded from the base of the object, attaching to a number of portable batteries as well as to a single, ordinary-looking laptop they'd set on a cleared table.
"How're we looking, Selby?" William asked the ebony-skinned technician tapping away at the computer's keyboard.
Selby wasn't immediately able to answer, his mouth full of some poor soul's pilfered dinner as he finalized the connection process. It'd taken months for him to get acquainted with their supplier's...unorthodox
coding language, but once he'd gotten the hang of it, there was practically no limit to what he could do with it.
"Everything's just 'bout ready to go, bossman." Selby sang, wiping his face off on his sleeve. "Some cape got in the Metropolis team's way but they managed to grab the execution files and get away scot-free. Just waitin' on the upload to finish and the network'll be online; that's when the real
Stryker gave Selby a pat on the arm and shot him a smile. "Excellent news. And how are our allies in Star City doing? Are they in position?"
"Why don't you try the helmet out?" Selby suggested, tapping his head and pointing up at the gaudy looking device the Reverend was wearing.
That signature smile of William's fell into an uncomfortable frown. "Right, of course." He nodded, slowly. He'd done several tests with their anonymous suppliers to ensure that the strange technology actually functioned as they claimed, but the sensation that came with reaching his mind out into the world was...disturbing. It was like he was growing a new limb straight from his frontal lobe, and with it he reached across the country, grasping for an ever-so familiar mind.
Star City Public Library ♦ Star City, California"-and Star City...is under my protection now! To anyone who doesn't like it, you can come take your best shot! But just know that after you do, I'll take mine and I never miss!"
The young, beleaguered Green Arrow's public warning to all of Star City's worst had been making the rounds on social media recently. Some people thought it was fake, but Kristine Calverly had seen enough fights to know the edited video featured some very real punches, and that was definitely
actual blood running down the kid's face.
She ran the video back several seconds to the moment the Arrow kid landed a flying armbar on Brick to break his arm. "God," She started giggling, reversing it to watch that same move again. "Nothing makes my day like watching some kid kick the shit out of some dumbass mutie."
"Will you get off that fucking computer and help us?" One of her partners, Michael McCain, called from behind her as he struggled to carry multiple wooden crates toward the stairway . He was a giant of a man at over six feet and five inches and built like a human tank. None of the muscle was natural
, of course- why bother going through all that work when a cocktail of chemicals could do the trick. That was a little different from the pair of extra arms sticking out of his torso, though.
The redheaded woman jammed a middle finger back in McCain's direction without bothering to look away from the library's public computer. "Fuck off, Mike. You're a big guy, you can handle it."
to use the alt IDs-"
"I'm not calling you Forearm
, dipshit. I'm getting paid to kill muties and cops, not play pretend."
"'Playing pretend' was part of our contract, Burnout. If you're not satisfied with your duties then you should not have signed on." An accented voice called down from above, drawing both sets of eyes upward toward a flying man she knew as Kamikaze.
Another of her partners floated down from the second floor balcony, all dressed up in one of those ridiculous outfits that mutants seemed to like so much. Haruo Tsuburaya landed with no small amount of grace between Michael "Forearm" McCain and Kristine "Burnout" Calverly, his frown taut in his disapproval.
"Thumbelina and the Purifiers have nearly finished setting up the control center." Haruo informed them. "Contact Stryfe's team and-"
A sound like rending steel exploded across all three of their minds in the same instant, pain shooting through their skulls as some outside entity forced it's way inside. It spoke to them in a thunderous voice that could make mountains tremble. 'Can you hear me?'
"Speak of the devil." Burnout muttered, massaging both of her temples as she stood up from her chair.'We can, sir.'
Kamikaze quickly replied, his only reaction to the stunning psychic pain being a slight wince everytime Stryfe 'spoke' to them. 'We're nearly finished on our end, how-''I'm already done, actually!'
The young and chipper voice of Kristina Anderson, AKA Thumbelina, chimed in over the telepathic connection. 'We're just waiting for the upload to complete and then we'll be all set for the deployment phase!''Excellent work, my child. Humanity owes you all a great debt for what you're going to do today. Selby tells me the time is nearly upon us: brace yourselves. I have no doubt that the mutants and their ill-informed human allies will attempt to put a stop to our work before it is done. You must ensure that doesn't happen.'
Reverend Stryker's psychic voice was as charismatic and intoxicating as it was in person. It wasn't surprising that he'd managed to build such a powerful, almost cultish following with his rhetoric.'Just make sure my paycheck's ready when this is all over, Preacher Man, and I'll kill as many superdopes as you need me to.'
Burnout replied, her words drenched in venom and ego. It wasn't everyday a customer came to her, offered to give her "superpowers" and paid her to use them to fuck up a bunch of self-important muties in tights. It was almost a dream come true for the contractor.
"Looks like it's showtime, boys. Let's go find a TV."
Every screen across the nation flashed with the The SMPTE color bars of the standard TV test pattern, accompanied by a single, screeching beep
The card fell away, replaced briefly by a smattering of static just before the image actually started to come into focus.
A picturesque view of Central Park appeared before every American. Far in the background a dozen children were laughing as they kicked a soccer ball around. To the left a family could be seen lounging on the a checkered picnic blanket, the father busy talking to an older gentleman seated on a bench not far from him. In the center of the screen was an art piece of some kind, a six foot tower of pure, polished obsidian, evidently unmarred by even a single scratch.
Several men in green work jumpsuits began to approach it from out of frame, all of them carrying duffel bags stuffed with blocky objects over their shoulders.
Another burst of static, briefly, and the view flipped to another camera overlooking Silver Lake Park on Staten Island. Both the lake and it's accompanying golf course appeared in the background, yet once again the central object was another tower, identical to the first. It had it's own team of groundskeepers standing around it, a few bending down to open up their bags as one went to tap on the exterior of the tower.
Another switch, now to the front lawn of the Long Island University in Brooklyn. College-aged students were rushing out of the building to grab lunch, many of them passing by another copy of that strange piece of modern art that seemed to so dominate the hijacked television broadcast. One of the groundskeepers had a remote of some kind in his hands and a phone to his ear.
Six other locations across New York were quickly flashed across the screen, but it wasn't the only city featured in the broadcast. There were similar objects scattered all across Star City, each of them surrounded by their own team of groundskeepers or other, seemingly unrelated workmen. There were at least six men at some of the more out of the way art pieces, and upwards of two dozen wandering around near the ones placed in highly trafficked and public locations.
A young woman in the final shot, apparently warned via a phonecall, started screaming about the broadcast to everyone around her.
Then it cut again, and America found itself face to face with a monster.
"The time of Men has come to an end." The armored man began, his voice distorted to be absurdly baritone in order to obscure his identity. "You sit atop your ivory towers and in your arrogance believe yourselves to be the superior people. You think your government, your armies, your heroes can keep you safe- that they will protect you from people like me. You're all fools. I am called Stryfe, and we are the Metahuman Supremacy Front. We will show America- and humanity- humility. We will tear down your palaces, put to the pyre your precious law and order. We will show you how truly vulnerable your nation really is. Safety is an illusion."
Stryfe uncrossed his arms and approached the camera until his masked face dominated the entire screen.
"This is your reckoning."
Just as soon as he appeared, Stryfe was gone, replaced once more by the first view of Central Park. One of the workmen began to tap several buttons on the remote he held, and the 'art-piece' reacted. The polished sides of the obelisk sprang open and fell away into the grass, revealing what lay inside.
Not even a second later a great, black mass exploded out of the tower like a swarm of innumerable locust. They swept across Central Park with terrifying speed. Everyone in view was in a panic, sprinting away in an attempt to escape, only to disappear into the swarm as it passed by them. For several, chaotic moments nothing could be made out through the screeching swarm, the entire screen obscured by their presence. It wasn't until they'd moved on that the bodies came back into view.
There wasn't a scratch on any of them. Ever single person was on the ground, in some way, but there appeared to be no blood or gore, and it didn't take long for them to start moving again. That was when the first one broke the silence with a blood curdling, furious scream. A man, perhaps in his late twenties, sprinted across the grass in an awkward, stumbling gait, running straight for the nearest person to him. He threw his hands at her like they were clubs, bashing away at her skull and face with an animalistic fervor. She roared right back at him, sinking her teeth into the other man's ear and tearing away a chunk.
Everyone began to get to their feet, filled with an unnatural bloodlust, and began a senseless rampage to brutalize the nearest thing to them. Young, old, man, woman, it didn't matter. It didn't discriminate. The violence encompassed them all, urged on to harm anything in sight by powers unknown.
The camera switched again. That strange black cloud was being dispersed across New York City and Star City alike, flying forth from their obelisks like a plague from Exodus. They descended on everyone, bursting through windows and splitting off into thousands upon thousands of smaller groups to terrorize everything in sight.
It was when their numbers thinned that the nature of the swarm became more clear.
Each 'bug' was, in fact, an extremely small and complex robot. They hunted down individual persons and buried themselves into the base of each one's neck. The goal of this was unclear; however, the reaction
the victims had was always they same. They would wake up several seconds after falling to the floor, convulse for a short time, and when they rise back up they immediately rush to assault the nearest person to them. They would do whatever necessary to get there- even if it meant, in some cases, throwing themselves through a window and plummeting to the concrete below.
The picture cut, suddenly, every television set in the United States going black. Federal authorities hadn't managed to wrestle control back from the hijackers, leaving cutting the broadcast wholesale as their only viable option; the damage had already been done, however.
William Stryker stepped away from the camera, partly annoyed that they'd lost their connection sooner than had been expected, but partially glad that he no longer had to witness the carnage personally. His shoulders sagged under the weight of the admittedly ridiculous attire he'd been recommended to wear.
He could tell from the body language and whispering of his men that he was not alone in his feelings. The certainty of this deed's necessity had never been in question for him, but he knew from the start that not all men had been gifted with such resolve. He knew he needed to reassure them, yet when he went to speak, he found the words would not come.
Instead he just sighed.
"May God forgive us."