Then Conquer We Must
:from the Chronicles of Purgatory Station
Scott William Foley
“Shh. Don’t make a sound,” Tien Phung whispered to the terrified group. Though she fought to keep a neutral face, her quivering voice betrayed her own trepidation. Few in the huddled mass actually spoke English, so that voice told them all they needed to know.
Those she protected clustered more closely together.
The woman peeked up through a crack as she heard the heavy footsteps slowly search the house. Despite the chill, sweat seeped from her forehead and made her hair stick to her skin.
She thanked the Mother Goddess she hid them away in time. Had the message arrived any later … Her rationale told her no one could have her number—a ghost left more of a trail—but her faith accepted the anonymous warning and so she heeded it. Once the threat absconded, she would relocate those she defended; she would take them somewhere even more remote; she would discover her benefactor.
The man above could hunt all he wanted. The only access to their hideaway lay within the forest a quarter mile north of the house. The most able of the men led them to the ground level hatch—they previously drilled this very scenario at least a dozen times—and she followed while erasing their trail. Half of the twenty souls she sheltered remained nearer the entry. Some insisted on coming with her to view he who would defile them.
The man would find no one. None in rural Wyoming possessed the technology necessary to detect them beneath the house. They were safe.
At that moment, an explosion erupted so great its concussive force knocked all off their feet. She sprang up amidst the dust and debris to find most of those closest to her bleeding or dead.
A heavy thump befell as a man dropped into the subterranean hideout. Before turning around, she bellowed down the corridor, “Run! Get out through the hatch!”
After next facing the interloper, her eyes widened, for she presumed their enemy to be some backwoods, backwards, misguided patriot. She never imagined …
He dressed head to toe in black, military-grade armor. He wore small arms strapped to his legs, a powerful rifle rested against his back, and two barrels protruded from the gauntlets encircling his forearms.
When she saw the man’s belt with the red, glowing circle, she ascertained his identity.
“Anthem,” she said.
The man replied through his helmet’s speaker, “You are aiding a group tied to terrorist cells originating from Ulrakistan.”
“They are refugees,” she replied. “They are not a threat. They just want to be safe.”
“You don’t look middle-eastern,” the man responded.
The woman furrowed her brows, perplexed, then said, “I’m Vietnamese, not that it matters.” She wanted to keep the man talking—the more she distracted him, the greater chance her survivors had to escape.
“Ah,” he replied. “Not a real American. I’m not surprised.”
“I’m American. From Chicago,” she said. “Born and raised. My parents were immigrants, like these people.”
“Chicago? They don’t come any dirtier.”
Helping illegal aliens provided plenty of conflict and danger. During the least ten years, the woman learned to both talk and fight her way out of seemingly impossible predicaments. Knowing she didn’t have a prayer against the man’s weaponry, she settled on talk.
“You’re a Colossal,” she reminded. “You’re a hero to the people.”
Though he wore a faceplate, the woman could swear she detected a smirk as the man said, “Anthem wears a big red “A” on his chest and a cape, lady. I’m not Anthem, and I’m no hero.”
“Let them go,” she said. “They deserve basic human rights. They deserve a life of freedom without atrocity or hardship—”
The woman slumped to the ground with a smoking hole through the center of her head.
The screams at the end of the tunnel intensified.
The man lifted his other arm so that both barrels pointed forward.
He moved toward his prey.
Commander Otto Janus facilitated the debriefing. He customarily sat at the head of the granite conference table, wearing his usual suit of the finest cut with the ever-present flag pin. The Meta-Agent Program’s finest operatives accompanied.
The agents wore the standard black fatigues. Only Hell Hound elected to ignore policy and wear a simple white V-neck instead of the black button-down. Employing something between a grunt and a growl, he said, “Agent 0104 left the target alive, as dictated, and terminated the rest. Our extraction team confiscated the target. The clean-up crew disposed of the bodies to a predetermined remote lake typically unfrequented. One of our operatives will pose as Phung for eight months before selling the house. If any buyers ask about the tunnel, they will be told it was a bomb shelter.”
“Perfect,” Janus said. “0091?”
Cyber Spy informed, “Agent 0104’s x-infrared optics worked perfectly. We have video from Anthem’s feed of the targets’ though the actual floor. The face recognition software also worked as expected. Every one of the enemies’ identities were certified before termination.”
“They were those we suspected?” Janus asked.
“Affirmative,” Cyber Spy replied. “Since none were actual combatants, we verified through archived sources including social media, security video from commercial sites, and various government databases.”
“That should send a message to our friends in Ulrakistian,” Janus quipped. “We can play just as rough.”
“I do have one concern, sir,” Cyber Spy added.
“Proceed,” Janus ordered.
“The woman aiding them, Phung, she mentioned someone warning her. My division intercepted no incoming or outgoing transmissions of any sort. No one could know MAP intended to engage her.”
“Except MAP itself,” Hall Hound snarled.
“You’re suggesting a traitor?” Janus questioned.
“I believe so, sir,” Cyber Spy said.
Agent 0104—Anthem—almost grinned.
0073, Agent Shootdown, intervened, “We know Turf funded Phung. I advise we level his tower. It would serve as a deterrent to those sympathetic and likely eliminate the threat.”
Janus chuckled a little before replying, “If only that were possible, Agent Shootdown. No, Turf is too well connected, too much of a public figure. Even with our ample means, destroying a charitable facility on American soil would create too much trouble. No, I think we’ll arrange a face-to-face with Turf. We’ll let him know his efforts have not gone unnoticed and there will be repercussions if he continues opposing our endeavors.”
“Who should I prep?” Hell Hound asked.
“We’ll send Agent 0104. You enjoy this sort of thing, right?”
Anthem spoke for the first time, saying, “I enjoy orders, sir.”
“Very good,” Janus said in return. “Wear the cape this time. We’ll make it ‘Colossal’ business.”
The back of the personnel plane spread open as Anthem moved toward it. Without pause or even so much as a glance back at the loadmaster, he stepped out and dove through the night sky. The wind ripped at his cape while freefalling. When the island of Purgatory Station came into view, he activated the G-Repulser positioned around his waist. Anthem angled toward the west side of the island.
Floating downward feet first, he descended parallel to Turpheana Tower. He glared through the windows as he witnessed the living quarters, the technology wings, the community education floors, the family assistance level, the shelter, the soup kitchen—they all turned his stomach.
Anthem touched down in the middle of the street, abruptly forcing vehicles to stop. They blared their horns until Anthem stared each driver down. He enjoyed the silence a full minute until he left the street and approached the lobby doors. Refusing to enter a building that encompassed everything he hated about his great nation, Anthem instead chose to pound against the glass until someone came out.
That someone turned out to be an elderly black gentleman with a “volunteer” tag pinned to the pocket of his dress shirt. The older man’s eyes protruded when he saw who awaited. Words fought to escape his mouth, but he could say nothing.
“I’m here for Turf,” Anthem said.
When it became obvious the man could not find the power to respond, Anthem leaned down so that his star-shaped visor nearly touched the tip of the volunteer’s nose. He roughly patted the man’s cheek before grumbling, “Turf—is he here?”
“He’s, uh, he’s changing clothes,” the man stuttered. “He just got back. Had a run in, I guess, with some guys trying to rob Warren’s Corner Store.”
“Yeah, he’s a real hero,” Anthem seethed. “Let him know I’m flying up. I’ll meet him on the roof.”
“Oh,” the man replied. “He doesn’t live at the top. He lives in the, uh, basement, actually.”
Anthem grimaced, then said, “Just get him the message. I’ll be up top. Tell him I don’t like to wait.”
Twenty minutes later, Samuel Turpheana exited a stairwell. He wore an immaculate black suit with a red tie. As always, a small “T” adorned his lapel. It looked as though a child made it … because that was the case exactly.
Beneath his headgear, Anthem’s temples throbbed with anger. “I explicitly told your man not to keep me waiting.”
“First of all, he’s a volunteer—a local school teacher, actually—not my man. Secondly, a fifth grader living in our shelter needed help with her algebra before turning in for bed. She’s got a test tomorrow and I’m not going to have her fail on my watch. Finally, nobody in the building beneath our feet takes orders from you … especially me.”
“Should I be impressed? Are you trying to inspire me? Helping the poor, the weak, the uneducated … They are a sickness killing our nation; they represent everything dragging us down.”
“What do you want?” Turf asked.
“I’m seeking information about Tien Phung.”
Anthem sneered, then said, “National security risk. We believe she’s aiding terrorist cells originating in Ulrakistian.”
“Impossible,” Turf replied.
“Even so. Information?”
“I haven’t seen her in ten years. She worked as an intern here. Such a big heart; she only wanted to help people, to make a difference.”
“So you’ve had no contact with her in a decade.”
Turf answered, “That’s right.”
“But you know her.”
“Knew her,” Turf corrected.
“Good enough,” Anthem mumbled. “Before I go, one more question. We have a traitor in MAP. I know who it is. I know he’s feeding you. Will you commit his name to record?”
Turf set his jaw and glowered at the man wasting his time.
“Fine,” Anthem said. “Word of advice—stop taking the traitor’s help. Stop affiliating with the so-called Colossals. Those freaks will ruin everything you’ve achieved in this cesspool of a city. You’re fiasco with the Shadow Serpent proved it.”
“We finally agree on something. You won’t catch me with Knight or his band of lunatics again. They aren’t the Absolutes—not like in the old days with Solar Flare and Dr. Density. They’re a bunch of amateurs.”
Anthem replied, “Obviously. I like the suit, by the way. Leave the costumes to guys like me—the real Colossal.”
“You’re no Colossal,” Turf countered. “And neither am I. Not anymore. I gave the tights up a long time ago. They were asinine.”
“Yeah, I think so, too, but you know, the sheep love them.”
Turf huffed before saying, “People are hardly sheep.”
“If you say so,” Anthem said before shooting up into the darkness.
He stood outside the small cottage erected amidst a sea of rock and sand. Only the moon cast any light at all, for in this part of Ulrakistan, electricity proved a luxury most did not enjoy.
Speaking into the communications link affixed to this side of his head gear, Anthem said, “Confirm correct location.”
From the other side of the planet, Cyber Spy replied, “GPS confirms location. Our drone has a line of sight on you and verifies.”
Commander Janus broke in, “Are there any potential witnesses?”
“Negative, sir,” Anthem answered. “Mark resides in an isolated site.”
“Damn,” Janus muttered into this link. “We wanted the local scum to see the suit.”
Anthem looked down through his star-shaped visor. Due to the oppressive darkness, he utilized his night-vision and saw the two stars pinning his cape to his collarbones and the giant “A” covering all of his chest and most of his abdomen. He held up his arms and stared at the barrels extending from his gauntlets. They were primed and ready.
“Sir, permission to engage?” Anthem requested.
“Stay sharp,” Cyber Spy added.
Jumping into the air, Anthem’s G-Repulser activated and held him aloft. He used both legs to kick in the front door, then touched down again and stormed the small home. His orders were to take no chances, so he immediately opened fire even though he had no visual targets. Even with his sound nullifiers activated to protect his hearing, he still detected terrified screaming from the back of the dwelling—the bedroom.
He burst in and opened fire upon the figure sitting up in the bed.
Finally, he stopped shooting.
A woman lay upon the sheets, ripped asunder. Blood splattered the walls, the ceiling, the headboard …
Anthem searched the bathroom, the kitchen, the main room. In the only closet, he found her bags.
Cyber Spy broke in, “Agent’s condition?”
“Optimal,” Anthem said.
“Well done,” Commander Janus praised.
“There is an inconsistency, sir,” Anthem alerted.
“Go on,” Janus ordered.
“The deceased is a woman.”
Cyber Spy said, “Intelligence stated the target is male.”
Anthem muttered, “There are no males at this location.”
“We’ve got the right house,” Cyber Spy substantiated. “Our coordinates are good.”
Anthem walked through the house. When he reached the exit’s threshold, he catapulted into the air to rendezvous with his transport. “We may have the right house,” he gnarled. “But we sure as hell had the wrong target.”
Janus grinned as he said, “We’ll discuss this matter upon your return. Our intelligence has much to explain.”
Senator Otto Janus resided before a group of reporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Anthem, garbed in full costume, stood a few feet away to his left. Senator Laura Jasinski, Janus’ running mate, spoke to the media at a podium positioned between the two men.
“Thanks to the diligent efforts of Senator Otto Janus and our favorite Colossal, Anthem, Governor Rick Thornton’s killer has been brought to justice.”
The reporters instantly barraged Senator Jasinski with questions. She held up her palms and said, “I know you want more information. Though I’ve been fully debriefed, it’s only appropriate Senator Janus provide the details. Before I hand over the microphone, though, I do want to say that though it’s been nearly a year since my good friend’s murder, I never stopped hoping he would be avenged. I never stopped hoping … but Senator Janus never stopped working. As running mates, we spend a great deal of time together, and I can assure you that he appraised me daily of his efforts to track down Rick’s assailants. When you choose us to lead this great nation into the future, you can be certain such dogged tenacity will continue to be on full display as he works to protect us against those that would harm our loved ones. I present to you, Senator Otto Janus!”
Janus switched places with Senator Jasinski while noting that not one member of the media applauded. He took a mental picture of the sixty-seven people. One day, they would each be paid a visit.
“If the warm reception is any indication, you obviously realize I won’t be taking any questions.” Janus paused for laughter, but none ensued. “You may remember nearly three years ago we apprehended the traitorous man code-named Freedom. As a government agent, he defied a direct order given by the President himself. Freedom deemed himself too righteous to carry out an order only he could accomplish. Because of that, the war in Ulrakistan rages on which results in more and more of America’s sons and daughters dying in that wretched land. In fact, Freedom’s insubordination ultimately caused Rick Thornton’s death. Thornton, a man who could have led America back to its proper place in the world as both a military and moral powerhouse.
“Unlike Freedom, the Colossal behind me—the only government sanctioned Colossal—follows orders. Anthem does not consider himself above any other servant of the people. He understands that soldiers follow orders or innocent people die.
“When our intelligence pinpointed Governor Thornton’s assassin, we knew we had to act fast. Those snakes slither off under a new rock if you don’t strike immediately, so we decided Anthem was the only operative capable of getting in there, making a visual confirmation, and then terminating the threat.
“Sure, we could have used a drone to bomb the hell out of the cutthroat, but unlike our enemy, we don’t kill indiscriminately. We make sure only the bad guys get what’s coming to them, because we’re America. Anthem personally made sure we got it right. In fact, as the man who brought Governor Thornton’s killer to justice, I think it’s only right that he tell you the name of the monster who stole our favorite son. Anthem, please do step forward.”
Janus moved aside in order for Anthem to approach the podium. As always, his face, what little remained exposed, remained stoic. With no inflection whatsoever, Anthem informed, “We confirmed Governor Thornton’s murderer as Aeat Kareem. She is eliminated.”
Iago Sol Vicente woke up late in the morning. He worked all Thursday evening and well past midnight at the concession stand. The rock group performing at The Arena kept providing encores, and the people kept eating and drinking, and so Iago knew of nothing that occurred the day before as he toiled relentlessly to keep up with the demand.
When he made a bowl of cereal and then turned on the television, he saw an impossible sight—the face of his beautiful wife—Aeat Kareem. He then heard the words.
The cosmic man known as Solar Flare, a figure the public had not witnessed in decades, crashed through Iago’s window just as the man erupted into an inferno. Solar Flare grabbed the bellowing Iago with one hand while using the other to absorb the fire spreading throughout Iago’s immediate space. In doing so, Solar Flare saved countless lives in the apartment building, for it would not have survived the unbridled power of El Fuego.
“Bader Thary Kareem,” Solar Flare droned in a metallic voice. “You’re coming with me.”
The silver man rocketed back through the window with Iago, or rather Bader, in tow. They headed for the attic of First Redeemer Church.
The Nocturnal Knight finished concocting an herbal tea known to calm the mind and replenish the body. The young Ulrakistanian in his bedroom needed both remedied.
As he prepared to exit his small kitchenette, he heard a loud thump upon his attic’s roof. Within moments he perceived a familiar figure peering through his skylight. The Knight disengaged security and remotely opened the window.
Turf landed gracefully before the Knight. The two men next stared at one another. The Knight clearly felt uncomfortable without his helmet or armor, but allowing Turf to see him exposed and vulnerable paved the way to rebuilding their trust.
“Broad daylight?” the Knight asked.
“I wanted to retrieve him last night, remember?”
The Knight shook his head. “No. We thought it better if he discover it on his own. We didn’t want to be the bearers of bad news. I also couldn’t risk First Redeemer going up in flames.”
Turf countered, “So you endangered everyone in his apartment building instead?”
“Solar Flare had him under surveillance. He kept it under control.”
Turf turned and wandered the simple attic’s space. He said, “And you’re sure no one caught Solar Flare whizzing through the air with our ‘El Fuego?’ Like you said, it’s broad daylight.”
The Knight grinned, saying, “Solar Flare is a nut job—aren’t we all, I guess—but he’s got a way with all things electrical. People may have seen him with their own eyes, but I guarantee you it wasn’t through a screen.”
“How’s he doing?”
“Not well,” the Knight replied. “He’s resting. I was about to bring him some tea.”
“How long until he’s got his head on straight?”
The Knight sighed before shrugging his shoulders. “He just found out he lost his wife. It could be hours … days … it could be never.”
“We need him, Pastor.”
The Knight glanced into a nearby mirror and saw the black shirt and white collar he wore. He didn’t remember putting them on, which … perplexed him.
“Call me Knight. Pastor Irons has abandoned me. I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
“Yeah, you’re right, you’re all nut jobs.”
“Be that as it may,” the Knight said, “you need me; we need El Fuego.”
“We also need the electric kid from your crew—Excitor.”
“He’ll be the easiest to bring back into the fold,” Knight revealed. “He loves playing the Colossal.”
“Well, he’s the only one, then,” Turf scoffed.
“You know that’s not true.”
“I know. That’s why I’m here.”
Knight asked, “What’s our time table?”
“My contact in MAP predicts Janus will use his operatives to assassinate Jasinski within four months of their election to office. At that point, Janus will be sworn in as President and limitless. We can’t let it happen.”
“We won’t let it happen,” Knight confirmed.
“All right,” Turf said. “We’re doing this, then. We’re busting out Freedom.”
A lone lake rested within an expanse of dense forest, a lake rarely seen by humans. The sheer effort it took to reach the lake, coupled with its rather mundane appearance, made it easy for hikers to dismiss. The putrid water offered no respite to wildlife, therefore hunters stayed away. Few fish could survive the rancidness, so fishermen also found it undesirable. In fact, other than MAP, no one had much use for the lake at all. Of course, MAP’s continued use of the lake proved the very reason its waters grew ever more foul.
A woman’s head broke the surface of the water.
Within seconds, her shoulders appeared, then her torso, then hips, legs, and finally feet.
Her long dark hair stuck to the sides of her face while her tattered clothing hung heavily from her frame.
She walked across the top of the lake. Her feet made a “plop” sound with each step. When she at last reached the shore she faced a barricade of foliage.
Tien Phung now knew no limits.
Copyright © 2016 by Scott William Foley
All Rights Reserved.
Originally Published at WWW.SCOTTWILLIAMFOLEY.COM
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.
Also By Scott William Foley …
Short Story Collections
The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume I
The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II
Dr. Nekros Electronic Serial
Dr. Nekros: The Tragedian (1 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: Phantasms and Chicanery (2 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: Bloodied Pistons (3 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: An Unforeseen Calamity (4 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: A Nightmare Realized (5 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: An Abhorrent Culmination (6 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: Monstrosity’s Dawn (7 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: The Demons Within (8 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: Lineage (9 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: The Inevitable Demise of Anton Hall (10 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: Diatribe and Divulgence (11 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: Peripeteia (12 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: The Realm Within (13 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: The Depths of Fate (14 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: A77 (15 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: A Catastrophic Convergence (16 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: The Devil’s Ashes (17 of 18)
Dr. Nekros: Requiem For the Redeemed (18 of 18)
About the Author
Scott William Foley is a proud husband, father, educator, and writer. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in English Secondary Education and his Master’s degree in Reading from Illinois State University. Foley currently lives in Normal, IL