There was no specific mission for Thanatos, Tartarus and Apollo, so instead of searching for something to do, they did what most soldiers do after a lethal mission. They sought relaxation.
And they found it in the Hellfire Club, a busy hot spot for activity day and night. As the three agents approached, a bouncer stopped them, keeping his attention on Apollo.
Apollo rolled his eyes. Again, his youthful look stops him from having fun.
‘I don’t have ID,’ Apollo said truthfully, and the bouncer’s brow furrowed. He took out a little DNA reader.
‘Finger,’ he said calmly. Apollo complied. A spike extracted a drop of blood, and the machine whirred. The bouncer checked the screen.
‘Huh,’ he said, unphased by the words flashing on the screen. ‘Alright, you can go in, but I don’t care who you work for. You cause trouble I’ll throw you back out. Got it?’
Apollo nodded and walked in. Tartarus and Thanatos sniggered and followed.
Inside, they were greeted with the light strumming of a ukulele from a woman on the stage. Thanatos groaned.
‘Great, it’s karaoke day.’
Suddenly, the woman dropped the ukulele and stamped on it with a heeled boot, and rock music filled the venue. People roared and cheered for this woman. Her garnet-red hair swished with her movements, and Tartarus noticed the pointed ears.
‘Alice, confirm race.’
‘That is an Elf,’ Alice said with a simulated smile. ‘According to the club’s program, her name is Allyra Sparkrage, the main attraction. She performs a combination of rock music, gymnastic stunts and stand-up comedy.’
‘A woman of many talents,’ Apollo said, walking over to the bar. Tartarus kept his gaze on Allyra, captivated by her song.
‘Reminds me of home.’
Thanatos had found a pinball machine. He touched it gingerly, trying to figure out how the contraption worked. Tartarus shook his head and pushed Thanatos out of the way. Alice paid with Tartarus’s details, and the pinball machine whirred to life.
Tartarus showed Thanatos how it was done, scoring higher than most ever did on this antique. When the final ball sunk, the machine played a fanfare, and Tartarus grinned as he applied his name at the top. “BADSOB”.
‘Oh, definitely reminds me of home!’ he roared.
The time passed quickly. Apollo drank too much, Thanatos argued with himself in the mirror, and Tartarus got several phone numbers he discarded in the toilet. The three were now seated in a booth.
Apollo had his head on the table, slowly feeding salt and pepper squid into his mouth. Thanatos was watching Allyra perform ballet for cheers, impressed with the diversity of acts she had. Tartarus, however, had noticed something the others had not.
For years, the assassin had trained himself to expect trouble, to the point he knew when it was coming. He could feel eyes on him and his partners. Powerful eyes.
‘Alice, who owns this club?’
′Hellfire is owned by Isaac Ezekiel Daniels.′
Tartarus ran the name in his head. It was so biblical it was either an alias or this guy’s parents loved religion too much. Tartarus being who he was, knew it was the former.
‘We’re leaving,’ Tartarus said quickly, standing up. Almost on cue, the bouncers and wait staff shot glances at Tartarus, cementing his suspicions. His hand fell to his holster.
‘Don’t!’ Alice said in his mind. ‘Apollo is drunk and Thanatos doesn’t have a gun.’
Tartarus’s eye twitched, and he grumbled. Heavy footsteps fell from across the room, and the room fell quiet, even Allyra watched from the stage.
An imposing figure walked out from the office, clad in a turquoise suit with matching shoes. His hands were hidden in his pockets. Tartarus smiled at the sight. It only confirmed something he had always believed in.
‘I hope you aren’t planning on destroying my club, Agent Tartarus,’ the man said, stopping in front of him. He had brick red skin, sharp features and blood red eyes. His coal black hair was cut neatly, and at his back was a pair of bat-like wings folded to lower their size.
‘You know who I am?’
‘Of course. As you know who I am. Or at least, the woman in your head does.’
Isaac Ezekiel Daniels smiled, and extended his muscled hand. His nails were obsidian, filed down to prevent claws. Tartarus took the hand, containing his glee. He was shaking hands with a demon!
‘Follow me, all of you. I have a proposal for you and your... Olympus Squad.’
Isaac turned on his heel, and strode back to his office. Allyra started performing again, and Tartarus couldn’t contain his grin.
‘Up, you two. Let’s go.’
Tartarus and Thanatos sat across from Isaac at his desk. The demon sat in his custom chair, cracked his neck, then leaned forward with interlaced fingers. Apollo, however, had been forced to wait outside, to prevent him from ruining the meeting with his drunkenness.
‘The newest Agency squad,’ Isaac said quietly, running his tongue over his fangs. ‘It’s good fortune that you came to my club tonight. I have a trade in mind.’
‘Better be good,’ Tartarus grunted. Alice sighed in his mind.
‘I have at my fingertips an information network that rivals that of President Frost, or your very own Captain Nevada. I am willing to provide you with unrestricted access to my network, in exchange for one thing.’
‘It has to be big, or this deal would be extremely one-sided,’ Thanatos commented.
Isaac nodded solemnly.
‘The woman on the stage outside is Allyra Sparkrage. I consider her to be family, and recently, I have learned of a plot against her life. In exchange for my network, I require you to keep her safe on your ship. The contractor is powerful, but he isn’t stupid enough to attack a fully-funded Agency squad.’
Tartarus liked the offer. Protecting a woman in exchange for an information network was a good deal. Not only that, but the ship would have an entertainer.
‘Tartarus, maybe you should call Zeus before accepting the offer,’ Alice said quietly.
Tartarus grimaced, but he knew she was right. If Zeus wasn’t OK with this, it wasn’t going to happen. He tapped the comm-piece on his ear, but got nothing but the roaring of an engine. Zeus seemed busy.
‘Mr. Daniels, I’m having trouble reaching my superior,’ Tartarus said quietly. ‘So we can’t accept until I can. However, I think you have a deal.’
Apollo opened the door, surprising the room.
‘We have a problem.’
Thanatos reacted first, pushing Apollo out of the way and took in the scene out the door. The customers had dispersed and disappeared, leaving only Allyra and her DJ crouching behind the stage. At the entrance, five people stood with assault weapons. One was dragging the bouncer’s headless corpse behind him.
In front of these five imposing gunners was a man in a purple pinstripe suit. He had slicked-back black hair and bottle green eyes that shone with malice. But Thanatos was chilled by the smile: subtle curves in the corners that screamed one message.
I’m in charge
‘Isaac!’ the man said, taking three steps forward. ‘Get out here, you crimson bastard!’
Tartarus focused his attention on Isaac.
‘You have a plan, I assume?’
Isaac nodded, stood up calmly, strode past the agents and stopped in front of the intruder. The demon towered over him, pulled a cigar out of his breast pocket, and placed it between his lips.
‘You got I.D, kid?’
Two of the lackeys growled, to which their leader held his hand up, silencing them.
‘Say my name, Isaac. Acknowledge me.’
Isaac snapped his fingers, staring a flame on his middle finger. He held it up to his face, lighting his cigar, and flipping the leader off at the same time.
‘Remind me... I want to say... Louis?’
The man gritted his teeth.
‘Ugh, human names all sound the same. I’m gonna call you Louis.’
Lorcan gestured his head and the five gunners aimed at Isaac. Isaac, true to the display he had been showing, blew smoke into Lorcan’s face, then grinned.
‘Can’t take some friendly competition, Louis?’
‘Competition!?’ Lorcan exclaimed, laughing. ‘How could you threaten me? I own Titan, and have fingers everywhere. The Alliance, the Concord, even Selene. You have nothing except a pretty Elf with a nice voice, and some demon talents.’
Tartarus knelt behind Isaac’s desk, then pulled the pieces of his rifle out. As he built his rifle, Alice’s hologram sat on the desk, swinging her legs and watching the events unfold outside.
‘You’ll only have one shot, Tartarus,’ she whispered, though only he could hear her. Tartarus didn’t answer, keeping himself hidden. Alice checked the trajectory of each shot, then sent the information to her keeper’s mind. He smiled, his rifle complete, and he lined up his shot.
‘Tell Tartarus and Apollo to act on my signal.’
Alice sent the message to their earpieces. Thanatos’s steeled himself, his hand wrapping around the hilt on his belt. Apollo’s hand twitched, ready to pull his handgun out.
‘I have an army, Issac,’ Lorcan continued, confident he was in charge of the situation. ‘What do you have?’
Isaac maintained his grin, then puffed on his cigar. Acrid smoke swirled around him, completing his demonic aura.
Tartarus fired and the head of one of Lorcan’s lackey’s exploded. Bits of brains and skull splattered over the bar and the other lackeys. In their panic, they weren’t prepared for Thanatos to charge at them with his electro-sword.
‘The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him!’
Thanatos brought the energy blade down upon one of the lackeys, slicing him in two and electrifying his remains. Thanatos kicks a second away from the group, and focuses on him.
Apollo, meanwhile, had pulled out his handgun and fired at the lackeys again. He hit the chest, but didn’t kill any of them. The lackeys dove behind the bar, then fired blindly at Apollo. Now it was a cover fight.
Isaac grinned at Lorcan. The Irishman was shaking with rage at this new development. A finger went up to his ear as he stared the demon down.
‘Bring it down.’
The front door exploded, sending Thanatos and the lackeys flying. Thanatos was lucky, as Isaac caught him with one hand before the agent pasted onto the wall, but Lorcan’s men were knocked unconscious as they slammed into furniture and walls. Behind Lorcan, dozens more men ran inside and started firing at Olympus and Isaac.
Isaac glanced at Thanatos, and grinned when he saw his blade.
‘Want to do something cool?’
Thanatos didn’t need to answer. He gripped his sword tightly as Isaac wound up his throw, then launched the agent at the newcomers. Before he landed, Thanatos cut, sliced and slashed through seven men and three women, rolled, then kicked off the wall and charged again. Three more fell to Tartarus’s bullets, and the rest were forced to take cover from Apollo’s automatic firing mode. Isaac slid behind the stage with Allyra, and checked her over.
‘Are you okay? Did anything hit you?’
‘No, I’m fine, Isaac,’ Allyra said, ducking low when a bullet blew a hole in the stage. ‘Isaac, why is Lorcan so angry with you?’
Isaac grinned. ‘I may have insinuated that his mother and his sister were the same person.’
Allyra groaned loudly. Sometimes Isaac put her into more trouble than she needed to be in.
’So what is your plan? Apart from getting shot at!?′
Isaac pushed his hands into the bottom of the stage, splintering the metal and the wood. He grunted and heaved, powerfully lifting the stage off of it’s supports. The firing stopped, watching this feat of strength in awe.
Allyra’s eyes glowed blue, and she pushed her hand towards the stage. It flew towards Lorcan’s men and squashed them against what was left of the bar. Thanatos narrowly escaped with only a clipped arm, but lost his sword in the process.
Beneath the stage was a tunnel, which Isaac pointed down.
‘This way. That’s not going to stop Lorcan.’
The agents, Allyra and the DJ all headed into the tunnel. Isaac glanced around his beloved bar, sighed, and followed them. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he keyed in a password into the pad on the wall, and a sheet of metal slid sleekly over their escape route.
Apollo started laughing, despite the severity of the situation. Tartarus punched his partner in the shoulder, silencing him.
‘Thanatos, check comms.’
Thanatos tried to raise anyone. He overheard a commotion on Zeus’s end, and the sounds of explosions on Dionysus’s. Everyone was busy.
‘We’re on our own.’ Thanatos mused. Silence rang throughout the tunnel until Apollo spoke again.
‘Did you quote the Bible up there?’
The escape tunnel was tight, more so due to accommodating three agents in heavy armor, a bulky Demon in a turquoise suit, an Elf with an electric guitar, and the former DJ, now scared out of his mind.
Above them, there was shouting. Bangs on the metal echoed around those in the tunnel.
‘That’ll hold, right?’ Tartarus asked, holding his rifle like a security blanket.
‘That is triple-reinforced Avalonian titanium. Even a Dwarf won’t get through that.’
A large explosion from above rang through their ears. Apollo blanched at the sight of the now-dented metal.
Isaac was not sure, and had already pushed Allyra in front of him. He strode purposefully, keeping his Elven charge ahead.
‘Move,’ he commanded.
’Yes, Dad,′ Allyra replied. The DJ ran past them, until even Allyra’s trained eyes could no longer see them.
Tartarus and Apollo pushed Thanatos ahead. He was unarmed, and therefore considered a civilian for the time being. Tartarus stuck close to Thanatos, leaving Apollo to guard the rear.
Apollo was once again annoyed. He had risked his life on Set Station and got no recognition, and now he was going to be shot first when they broke through. He was not expendable!
‘Isaac,’ Tartarus said through the bangs behind them. ‘Where does this tunnel lead?’
‘It goes under the Red Light District, and leads out to Titan Ravine. Hope you don’t mind getting wet, boys.’
Apollo groaned audibly. Now he had to swim?
Allyra stopped, and the group stopped behind her. She squinted, her eyes penetrating the darkness ahead. After a moment of deafening silence, a bullet smashed into Allyra’s chest and sent her into Isaac’s arms.
Isaac turned, taking the rest of the bullets in the back, but protecting Allyra from the onslaught. Tartarus couldn’t get a shot around Isaac, and even if he could, he couldn’t see. Thanatos had no way to help. Apollo, jolted by the adrenaline, remembered the present he had received.
Apollo had been in the simulator, trying to better understand the Klisk. After losing his armor on Set Station, he wanted to be ready for anything. Every simulation he ran, he approached the problem differently, sometimes using feints, sometimes directly attacking.
After his 40th trial, Scarlet appeared before him, her purple glow contrasting the fake computer-generated green blood on the ground.
‘Agent Apollo, you have been in the simulator for four hours,’ she said.
‘Don’t care,’ Apollo grunted, sweat dripping from his hair. ‘Scarlet, let me train.’
The door opened behind him, and Apollo could feel the air change. He straightened, and turned on his heel. But he had been wrong, it wasn’t Captain Nevada.
In front of Apollo was an Agent in similar armor to him, with a “Z” emblazoned on her shoulder rather than an “O”. Her skin was light and dashed with freckles, with strawberry blonde hair tied back tightly.
‘Aquarius,’ Apollo said with a smile.
‘Apollo. Fighting Klisk? That’s a lot of sweat for something like that.’
‘Could say the same about the brown on your nose.’
Aqaurius smirked, then took a defensive posture. Apollo mirrored it instinctively. Scarlet was alarmed.
‘N-now, let’s not fight, Agents,’ she warbled. Aquarius glared at the hologram.
Scarlet disappeared almost instantly, leaving the two agents alone. Aquarius attacked first, a quick jab to test Apollo’s reactions. He dodged it, then tried to trip her up with a kick to the heel.
Outside, Agent Beretta grinned from the observation post.
‘Holy... Guys! Aquarius is fighting one of the newbies!’
Twelve different agents came to the window to watch. To them, Agent Aquarius was the best, and she had the victories to prove it. She had never needed to be re-cloned, apart from her initiation. As such, Captain Nevada usually reserved her squad for when another team failed.
‘Interesting,’ Agent Arthur mused. Beside him was his partner, Agent Merlin, who was watching the blows being exchanged with child-like wonder.
‘Think he’ll win?’
Arthur tilted his head in thought.
‘Bet you he will,’ Merlin said, pulling out her credit card. Arthur didn’t reply, but he placed his own card on the table.
Apollo swung his fist, which Aquarius caught with her hand. She tightened her grip and twisted Apollo’s arm, forcing him onto his knees. She looked down at him, smiling.
‘So you’re the expendable one.’
Apollo gritted his teeth, and closed his off hand into a fist. He punched as hard as he could at her knee. Despite the armor, the blow was enough to unbalance her. In the moment of respite, Apollo headbutted Aquarius, then punched her again, knocking her to the ground.
‘Wanna say that again?’ he spat at her.
Above, the Agents had gone quiet as Captain Nevada entered the room. He looked down at the simulation floor, and registered his prized agent losing to a new selection.
Scarlet appeared beside Nevada, looking guilty.
‘Approve Agent Apollo for Grade 6 weaponry.’
Scarlet made the change to Apollo’s file. She, and indeed most who had seen the fight, knew Aquarius would not let this die quietly.
Aquarius picked herself up, spat out a little blood, and grinned at Apollo with red-stained teeth.
Apollo pulled out the miniaturized case from his pocket, clicked the top, and opened it. He started pulling pieces of a weapon out that shouldn’t have been able to fit inside the small casing, and snapped the pieces together. He held up his new creation, a shoulder-mounter cannon-shaped energy weapon, and aimed down the corridor.
‘Get down, morons!’
On any other day, Tartarus may have argued, but he heard the tone, grabbed Thanatos, and pulled both of them to the ground. Isaac laid himself on top of Allyra, minimizing his mass in the hall.
Apollo fired, a ball of condensed pink energy cascading down the darkness. Arcs of yellow sparked off it, lighting up the way. There was a loud scream, then a massive explosion at the other end of the tunnel.
Tartarus stood up, grinning madly at the newest toy in Olympus’s arsenal. Apollo turned and fired behind them, too. The resulting explosion killed everyone in the bar behind them.
‘Apollo?’ Tartarus said.
Apollo checked the weapon’s output reader. One shot left. Whatever he used it for needed to count.
‘We need to get to the shipyard,’ Apollo said bluntly, stepping over the others and leading the way.
Isaac stood up, the back of his suit completely ruined. He cradled Allyra in his arms and followed Apollo. Thanatos quickly followed as well, leaving Tartarus standing behind them, stumped.
Alice snapped her fingers in front of Tartarus’s eyes.
‘Yes, it was very cool, but we have to leave!’