City Hall looked just as it had on July 1st, right before the planned ceremony and the unplanned apocalypse. It was dark out, but I could more or less make out the faces below me thanks to the blinding fluorescent glow from the miniature stadium lights. As I stood behind the podium, waiting for everyone to settle down, it occurred to me that I might not be doing the right thing. There was no concrete evidence to back up the ideas I was about to unleash on the half-starved civilians and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure if I believed them myself. But Walker was paying me.
Well, not actual money. After the Destruction money became of a little value. The majority of buildings that had offered employment had collapsed and in all the confusion taxes fell to the bottom of everyone’s priority list. Half of the population had lost their homes anyway. But Walker was paying me in other ways; he promised me my life. In any other case, this promise would’ve made it sound as if Walker had the power to end my existence right then and there. Technically, anyone had that power, especially in this environment, but as I vaguely understood, Walker had “connections”. I was proud to say that the city of Reyesent had not fallen completely into anarchy. We had the council, who had established some rules, and we had enough widely spread and intelligent members to keep everyone more-or-less under control. And that was exactly what my speech tonight was going to be about.
“May I have your attention, everyone?” I asked, leaning in to bring my mouth closer to the microphone. Everyone stopped talking abruptly and turned to look at me and my entourage. Behind me on the little stage sat Goth Boy, Dragomir, Esma, Justice, and Walker, each of them sitting on plastic folding chairs. “You might all be wondering why we have called you here at this hour.” I began.
“True!” Someone called out from the back causing a short chain reaction of stifled giggles. I waited patiently for silence to fall on the crowd once again before continuing.
“It has been approximately a month or so since our city was destroyed,” Pause for affect, then continue, “Nothing has gotten better.” A few people squirmed uncomfortably while others looked solemnly at their shoes. “You might be thinking, ‘Who is responsible for this?’” I was beginning to gain confidence despite the thick tension and suspense hanging in the air. “The minorities!” I cried out suddenly, gesturing sharply toward a random spot in the crowd, “The people who’ve been affected the most yet suffer the least! The people who could choose to do something instead of what they’ve been doing- standing around, bullying others, creating their own resources and refusing to share them!” People began muttering excitedly and I could see sparks in some of their eyes. I glanced back at Walker who nodded at me to go for the kill. “The mutants!” I announced, “The mutants are the ones responsible for our suffering!” A few gaps, a few insults, a few protests, but all faded once I asked, “Where are they? Do you see them? Take them from the crowd and bring them up here!”
I stood aside and waited as about twenty men and women of various ages were dragged up to the stage. They were stood side by side, the lights glaring down on them for everyone to see. Walker counted them silently and then looked over at me in confusion. Three were missing, but there was no time to think about that now. “What about Goth Boy?” A voice yelled out from the crowd. Goth Boy stood up with ease and planted his feet firmly on the ground.
“What about him?” I replied, “I’ll tell what about him: he’s rare. He has decided to help us. He is your friend.” Right on cue, Goth Boy shot out his hand used his power to lift a large chunk of brick wall that had fallen off a nearby building from the ground. People watched in awe as he thrust his arms forward, forcing the bricks back into the gaping hole they had come from. As expected, this short display gave the illusion that he and the Council were fixing the town’s problems.
“He’s not doing anything!” One of the mutants spoke up in anger, a nerdy-looking teenage girl with a nasally voice. “Those bricks were planted!”
“And speaking of planted,” I said, speaking smoothly despite the fact that this was totally unplanned, “Why don’t you show everyone your power?”
The girl stepped forward until she was at the edge of the stage. She held her hands over the ground and, clenching her fists, pulled her arms up sharply. The second she did the earth she had been focusing on erupted and a large, thorn clad vine shot out. One unlucky elderly man had been standing near the site of demonstration and had gotten sliced by the three-foot long thorns. The mutant girl had obviously not intended to do that, but it was just what we needed to get the crowd riled up. A young woman ran over to the man and shouted through her tears, “Kill her!” Goth Boy took this chance to re-focus his energy on the girl and I watched in slight horror as he effortlessly lifted her off the ground and smashed her into the very building he had “repaired” earlier. A half-smile crept onto his face as people cheered. The rest of the mutants in line had completely blanched.
I couldn’t help but bask in the glory of the people’s cheers, but Walker’s urging look quickly brought me back to the task at hand. “Take a good long look at these people, good citizens,” I said, my voice echoing over the now silent crowd. “Forget the never-present rakes and the daunting smoke-filled skies. Fix them,” I pointed at the mutants, “Fix them and get them to do what’s right and we’ll make it out of this alive! But wait!” I added quickly once people began to cheer again, “Three mutants are missing,” I paused to let the suspicion sink in, “All three are women and all three are equally dangerous- if any of you know the whereabouts of Kyra Oscura, Rosalie, or Flameheart Muir I suggest you come forward now.” Dragomir fidgeted slightly, but otherwise I failed to get a reaction out of anyone. If I were to speak completely truthfully, I’d say that five mutants were missing, but because of their positions at Saper’s, Chaz and Claire were free from ridicule.
“Actually,” I jumped a little at the sound of Walker’s voice as the other man came up behind me and spoke into the microphone, “Don’t worry about Rosalie. She’s on our side, after all. But her absence is a little unnerving…” Walker trailed off and returned to his place at the back of the stage. I looked back at the crowd and did a slight double take- it was probably just my imagination, but it looked as if that when I had taken my focus off of them, they had had moved a few inches closer to the stage.
Sensing an ominous feeling in the air, I took a slight step back and said, “Unless anyone else has something they’d like to say, this meeting is adjourned.” I was instantly lifted up off the ground and before I knew it was I standing safely on the marble steps of City Hall along with Dragomir, Esma, Justice, Walker, and, a second later, Goth Boy. It didn’t take me long to realize that it had been Goth Boy who had simultaneously lifted the six of us off the stage and onto the doorstep of City Hall to avoid what followed suit. The stage was now swarming with enraged citizens, all of whom were chasing the mutants and viciously attacking the ones they could get to. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Walker smiling and nodding to himself as he watched the chaos. It occurred to me that, even if the mutants were good, some would be forced to use their powers against the civilians if they were to save their lives. My thoughts played out and were displayed as lifeless bodies were soon tossed aside and fleeting figure disappeared into the night.
“Follow me,” Walker’s voice broke my thoughts and I pried my eyes away from the riot playing out a thirty yards away. The yelling and screaming from outside became muffled as the front doors closed behind us. When we entered our favorite conference room we all sat down except for Justice.
“Walker, this is crazy!” He stated angrily, coming over to stand over the younger man. “The mutants aren’t responsible for anything! And now you’ve got innocent people getting killed!”
“Innocent people were already getting killed from day 1,” Walker replied as he stood up calmly, his voice hard, “Face it, there are many more normal civilians than there are mutants and we needed someone to blame. How many people have mutated? Twenty? Thirty? There are only a couple hundred normal people in this city now, Justice, and I don’t want that number going down any further!”
“You’re already making it go down!” Justice shouted. The two men were in each other’s faces now and no one else in the room dared to breathe. “I know what you’ve got going on down there!” A flash of fear fell across Walker’s eyes, but disappeared as Justice continued, “I know you’re doing some sort of sick experiment involving placing the limbs of corpses on people’s healthy bodies. I’ve seen the stacks of corpses in the basement!”
“I’m sorry for trying to improve our ‘clean’ race!” Walker shot back vigorously, but if you looked closely, you could see that the man’s body had relaxed ever so slightly.
“Clean race? Improve?” Justice bellowed in disbelief, “You’ve done nothing but kill! You’ve slayed the innocent! Consider yourself no longer a member of this council!”
“Wait a minute, Justice, I think you’re forgetting something,” Walker took a step back and put his hands up defensively, “What about that time I helped you into the sky? And the time I convinced Rosalie to work for us? And don’t you need the unanimous agreement of the Council to evict me?” Seeing as Justice wasn’t as readily prepared with a comeback this time, Walker continued, “Only six members of the Council are here, but if it makes you feel better, we can vote on it now,” He turned back toward us, “Would anyone here like to see me go?” A smile was plastered against Walker’s face while beads of sweat began running down Justice’s forehead. No one raised their hand, not even Esma or Dragomir. Walker turned back to Justice, “I’m sorry we don’t get along,” he said calmly, “But I’m sure there’s something we can collaborate on.” We all watched in silence as he left the room, the door closing behind him the only thing to break the silence.
Justice slumped down into a chair in defeat and let his head fall into his hands. A sudden movement in the corner of my eye brought my attention to the window in the back of the room. I was just fast enough to see a blond head quickly disappear from the glass. A few moments later I heard the front doors open and I could only guess that the blond figure from before had entered the building. I thought nothing of it, but apparently Goth Boy did. His teenage curiosity got the better of him and I seemed to be the only one to notice him as he slipped through the conference room door and disappeared into the hallway.
A few minutes later, Goth Boy returned with the same expression he had left with. He was chewing his lip slightly, but otherwise, he seemed undaunted by what he had or had not heard. I was about to get up myself to see what Goth Boy had gone after when the door opened once again to reveal the rest of the Council. Walker came in first, followed by Derek (who I soon recognized as the blond figure I had seen earlier), Liberty, Natalia, and Roland. Walker opened up his mouth to speak once everyone had sat down, but as soon as he did, Justice got up and left the room. As if his sudden departure was expected, Walker spoke up without missing a beat, “Natalia?”
“Yeah?” Natalia responded with her arms crossed over her chest.
“Is there anything you’d like to tell us?” Walker asked, staring at her attentively. The brunette girl squinted her eyes in confusion for a moment before shaking her head. “Are you sure?” Walker prompted, “That whole speech Mr. Rogers just made out there didn’t remind you of anything?” Natalia winced slightly, probably at the memory of the brutality, but shook her head again.
“I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about.” She replied neutrally.
Walker held her gaze for a moment longer before getting up and looking at me, “Skip, take Derek and Goth Boy down to Saper’s first thing in the morning. We need to get a few things straightened out with Svetlana. Derek knows what I’m talking about,” I glanced over at Derek, who nodded curtly. “Dragomir,” Walker turned his attention to the scarred man who looked at the former S.P.A. agent through blood red eyes, “I need you to go after Kyra and Flameheart and bring them here. We had a suspicion that they’re…on the outskirts of town.”
“Why?” Dragomir asked dryly, his Romanian accent reaching my ears for the first time in a long time. “I’m not on your petty council. You told me I was just here as backup.” Something flashed in Walker’s eyes and, apparently, Dragomir noticed it too. The European man snickered a little and his grin sent chills up my spine, even though he was twelve years my junior.
“Don’t you want to bring Flameheart back to you?” Dragomir shrugged, but I could tell from the slight softening of his face that he wanted to. Walker sighed and brought his hand up to his face, pressing his fingers against the side of his forehead and closing his eyes before saying, “Esma, come with me upstairs. Natalia and Liberty, scour the building. I know there’s someone here who doesn’t belong.”Could he mean Justice? I thought, hoping I was wrong. For the first time that night I was starting to get the sense that Walker wasn’t the most trustworthy individual in this city. “Roland, make sure the building is secure. And keep a look out for stray mutants and other potential threats.”
All of us left with our tasks, Walker left the room with Esma trailing behind him. A few moments later, Natalia and Liberty got up to fulfill their tasks. I let my eyes wander anywhere but the window. I had no desire to see the bloody, lifeless consequences of my rally.