The next few minutes pass fast. The police haul the bomb away to be analyzed. Apparently unconcerned with any other attempts at attack, the crowds are called back so the festivities can resume. Food stands are repopulated and a group’s soon playing music in the background.
Ryaan tries to slip into the crowd and change but a police officer stops him. “Hang around. We want to question you after things are finished. Nothing serious but we need to go over a few things.” The man looks him up and down. Maybe it’s his imagination but it feels like his eyes linger on every piece of exposed skin. It makes him shiver. “In the meantime, stay close. You’ll get a great view of the show as a thank you for helping.”
With the presentation now set for an hour after the original time, the crowd start growing bored. Ryaan tries to catch sight of his sisters and Mina but they’re lost in the sea of bodies. The cops around him seem more at ease as a lot of the crowd seems to have calmed down since being allowed to return. It’s almost quiet, or at least as quiet as a Chicago festival can be.
A group of men start raising a screen at the back of the stage. Something seems like it’s about to start when the national anthem starts playing over the loud speakers spread around the park. Staring toward the aquarium at the end of the pier, Ryaan can make out movement. The crowd picks up on it as well. They start turning, jumping up and down, raising children into the air. Their earlier calm vanishes, replaced by shouting and cheering. Men are high fiving each other while women hug.
Armed police officers lead the way down the carpet that’s been set up for the event, leading all the way from the aquarium to the stage. The mayor follows behind, though he keeps glancing back at the line behind him uncomfortably. Near the back of the procession, followed only by a few more officers, come the Goggle Guys, each flanked by a tall blonde woman. Neither of the women seems dressed for the occasion but then, neither do the Goggle Guys. They’re wearing the same leather nightmares they wear every other day.
Every ten feet or so one of them stops to flex or try to pump up the crowd. Every time they do the cheers get louder. Ryaan can barely stand it with his hands over his ears. The women with them are hanging off their arms. They look like twins, each almost identical in height. That means the smaller of the men, Jimmy, has a girl on his arm who towers over him, while the taller of the men, Billy, towers over his date.
When the men stop, the women don’t seem to get the hint because each time at least one of them almost trips. In the process of steadying themselves they almost fall out of the tiny shirts they’re wearing. Neither seems to mind, the grins on their faces if anything get larger.
The mayor seems fed up with it. Ryaan notices an eye roll from him as he has to stop for the fourth time, unable to get too far ahead of the rest of the group without spreading their security dangerously thin. His hand slowly taps on his shoulder as he keeps his arms crossed but the rest of the crowd doesn’t seem to notice. None of them are staring at anyone but the Goggle Guys.
A woman in an American flag bikini tries to get close enough to grab them and the men seem receptive but their security detail steps in and pushes her away. The women they’re escorting glare at the newcomer, who has to be kept back by security, and after a moment she relents and slips back into the crowd. The men resume their march to the stage.
Even having to stay close, the mayor reaches the stage long before the Goggle Guys. He waits patiently as more eyes turn toward him, no longer showing his annoyance. When they get to the stage Jimmy rushes up the four steps while Billy leaps onto the stage without even using the stairs. Their dates aren’t allowed up with them but they’re escorted to the side of the stage, not far from where Ryaan’s standing. Jimmy looks over to his date and winks, causing Ryaan to try to shrink into the crowd. His costume and mask stand out here and he doesn’t want them to notice him.
On the stage the men lock arms and do a bit of a dance to the cheers of the crowd. They separate and run to opposite ends of the stage, then run back to each other and high five in the middle of the stage. The mayor starts to say something but he’s drowned out by the roaring crowd. Unable to be heard, he makes his way to the Goggle Guys and whispers something in Jimmy’s ear. The man nods and makes a quiet down gesture to the crowd. A good chunk of the crowd listens to him. Ryaan notices Billy reach down and adjust his gun, realizing for the first time the man actually brought it with him into a crowd this size.
The mayor returns to the microphone stand in the middle of the stage grinning from ear to ear. “Hello Chicago.” The crowd roars their appreciation, though between his background and the crowd’s makeup very few of them likely voted for him. He lets them get it out for a minute, running his hand through his hair. “We’re here today to honor a pair of heroes, responsible for saving the lives of everyone in our great aquarium two days ago. These brave men stepped forward in our hour of need, risking their own lives to protect others. The group nearest the bomb were on a school field trip. Children. While I don’t want us to forget the sort of evil that would target such people, I want to make today a positive day. A day about honoring these great Americans. Let’s show them our appreciation.”
He throws his arms in the air and the Goggle Guys do the same, their stomachs hanging out as their shirts rise. The crowd doesn’t need any further encouragement. Jimmy rushes to the microphone as the mayor’s eyes go wide. “Thank you so much for the love Chicago. It means the world to us.” Ryaan can barely hear them.
The mayor fights his way past the man and gets the microphone back. He laughs as he does so but it sounds fake to Ryaan’s ears. “We appreciate all you give to us and the city loves you back. I have a bit of a surprise though.” He turns to gesture at the screen. “We have a message from a very important person who I think you’ll all be big fans of. If everyone will watch, I think you’ll be pretty happy with this.”
At first the crowd starts to get louder but then the face of President Richard Hughes appears on the screen. He’s squinting and for a moment his hand moves to shield his eyes but after a moment a huge smile spreads across his face. “Hello Chicago.”
The cheers go up and the mayor steps forward to address the crowd. “The president has agreed to join us live in order to give his thanks to our heroes today. If everyone can keep things down and allow him to speak that would be greatly appreciated.”
Chuckling, the president turns his head as if to look at the mayor but he looks the wrong way. “Thank you Mr. Mayor. Thank you to Chicago as well. I don’t want to take up too much of your celebration but I did want to thank the,” he pauses and tries to focus on something in the distance, “Goggle Guys for saving the day. I know they put themselves in danger to make sure others would be safe and that’s the mark of any real hero. From the moment I came up with the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act, I knew how much potential it had to protect people. When I heard about a moment like this, I felt like I was there shielding those beautiful children from those tremendous bombs. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Polite applause follows his declaration but some people in the crowd start looking at each other with confusion on their faces. The president says, “We are going to make our communities and our cities safe and the way we do it is with vigilantes. They can get in there where police can’t and they can shut down danger.” A hand can be seen passing something to the president and suddenly he’s putting on a pair of fancy goggles. “Today we’re all Goggle Guys. And girls, some of you I’m sure are women. I’ve arranged for goggles to be handed out to everyone at your party today. They’re my gift to the people of Chicago to help us remember what saved the day today. Thank you all and God bless America.”
The camera blinks off and the crowd breaks into applause. That goes up in volume when a group of women start jogging down from the aquarium with boxes filled with goggles. Even from the far end of the crowd Ryaan can tell they’re the sort of cheap junk his school handed out to everyone the day before to celebrate the so called heroes from their neighborhood. Nothing like the expensive pair the president wore on camera.
Already Ryaan feels ill. He can only imagine what Mina’s feeling. With the city and even the president’s direct blessing, these two are going to be unstoppable going forward. There won’t be anyone standing against them. Any attacks on them or their actions will be taken as direct attacks on the president. It seemed like they could do whatever they wanted before but now they definitely will be able to.
The mayor steps to the edge of the stage, his free hand which isn’t holding a microphone extended outward. “Isn’t that exciting? We have the president coming live to Chicago to endorse how the VMUS Act is going in our city. I had a long discussion with him last night and he’s even interested in coming here to meet with some of our top vigilantes. We look forward to it. For now though, I know you didn’t all come to hear me talk. I present to you, the heroes of the hour, the Goggle Guys.”
The two repeat their running apart and then running together into a high five routine. Apparently they’ve only practiced the one move. Billy starts to move toward the microphone but Jimmy puts a hand on his shoulder and pushes him away. He grabs it himself. “How’s it going Chicago?” The crowd erupts, the loudest they’ve been yet. Ryaan covers his ears again but it isn’t enough. “Chi Town! It’s our honor to be here in our home town, helping to keep the streets safe. That’s what we do all the time over in Bridgeview but it’s awesome that we happened to be walking through the aquarium on our day off when this happened. Awesome that we got to save a bunch of little kids. That’s what we’re all about. Keeping people safe. We’re going to keep on keeping people safe as long as you’ll have us. Will you have us?”
The cheering just keeps getting louder and both of the men put their hands to their ears. The mayor’s retreated to the back of the stage, whispering something to a man off to the side. Right above his head, something shoots into the screen at the back of the stage which still hasn’t been raised. The crowd notices and people start looking nervously between themselves. Ryaan tries to get a good look at it but the sun’s in his eyes and those of everyone on this side of the stage. It’s fine when you look straight ahead but looking up at where the item is makes it hard to focus.
A whistling noise fills the air and Ryaan sees a flash of red flying over his head. It’s gone in moments but he looks back to the stage and sees it again as it reaches the screen. There was some sort of line attached to it and something came sliding down. The noise stops and the red form drops to the stage. It looks to be a man in a skin tight metal suit. They’re wearing a mask which covers their entire head with only two small eye holes. The suit features black highlights throughout. It covers every inch of their body other than their eyes.
The appearance of this unknown force should be enough but seeing the sword on his hip turns Ryaan’s concern to panic. He starts to run toward the stage but feels an officer grab for his shoulder. “Stay out of this, I’m sure the Goggle Guys can handle it.”
Before they get the chance a number of bullets bounce off the man’s helmet and suit. They don’t seem to slow him down. He moves toward the Goggle Guys who both scrambled to the far side of the stage when he started to descend. The mayor’s escaped the stage and is already being lead away by a crowd of police officers. After seeing the snipers fail to do anything to him the rest of the group seems determined to watch his next move. With such a huge crowd they’re limited in what they can do.
The Goggle Guys don’t seem to have any such concerns. Billy grabs for his gun and Jimmy’s right behind him. Before either can open fire, the man in red draws his sword and lashes out. He slashes at Billy’s gun first and knocks it loose. He turns to Jimmy and slashes again but the man’s still moving forward. He gets him right in the arm, drawing blood and causing the gun to fly off the stage.
Until this point the crowd stayed relatively calm, maybe thinking this was all for show or at least thinking the authorities had things under control. They no longer seem convinced and people start to run. He hears a gunshot go off. How many of them are armed and about to start shooting wildly? Before he can consider that a voice comes over the speakers around the park. “Please refrain from firing around so many civilians. Please move as orderly as possible away from the stage.”
Some people sprint away, pushing past each other. Others try to stay orderly. A lot of the crowd doesn’t move. They seem transfixed as the man in red follows the Goggle Guys around the stage with the tip of his sword. They both keep staring at the one gun which is still on the stage but any time they make a move toward it they’re chased back. They consider jumping from the stage but there’s too many people around and nowhere to go.
The man in red with his free hand picks the microphone up from the ground. His voice sounds distorted. “Chicago, these are the sorts of men you choose to worship. Murderers, bigots, men who assault children. They are truly evil and you would forget that based upon one action which fit your needs. This is unacceptable. Every one of you who has gathered here today to worship these men is worthy of my vengeance. If you stay back though the only people I intend to have vengeance on are them.”
He drops the microphone and starts advancing again. Ryaan hates these men but he doesn’t want to see them cut down before a crowd. Before his sisters. He notices one other worrying detail. He recognized the man in red’s voice. Not specifically, he doesn’t think he knows the man. His accent’s familiar though. It’s Iraqi. It’s subtle, as if the person’s lived here a long time, but it’s close enough to his father’s accent that he’s confident in what he heard. If they’re cut down that’s one more thing they’ll try to blame on his community. If he can stop it, that’s something his community can get credit for.
He shoves the officer’s hand from his shoulder and weaves through the crowd. He worries people will think he’s in on it and open fire but by getting people between him and the cops he’s fairly certain they won’t be able to. He’s near the stage and he keeps pushing forward until he’s at the stairs. Rushing up them in two steps, he finds himself staring the man down.
“Put the sword down. There’s a lot of innocent people here who might get hurt.”
The man lunges at the Goggle Guys, causing them to stumble backward and fall to the ground. Seeing the motion and afraid he’s about to finish his attack, Ryaan draws a throwing knife and sends it right at the man’s back. It bounces away without doing any harm. With his targets momentarily not a concern, the man turns his body so he can watch both sides of the stage. He turns his head to Ryaan. “I’ve seen you. You go by the Rebel, right?”
Nodding, he puts his hand on another throwing knife. “That’s me. If you’ve watched me you know I protect people. I’m not going to let you hurt anyone.”
The man raises his sword. “I’ve seen plenty to know you don’t have what it takes to really help anyone. You could have stopped these guys a long time ago if you really wanted to. You wouldn’t so I’m left to do so. We don’t have to be enemies but if you don’t stand down we will be.”
As an answer Ryaan flicks two more knifes at the man, both of which bounce away. Running his eyes up and down the costume, the only opening he can see are the small eye holes. His knives are larger than that so he can’t get them in there. He might get the tip through but he’s not sure he’s that good an aim. Even if he is, he’s not sure he’s ready to go stabbing someone in the eye. Without another answer to stop this guy, he starts to get nervous. He rests each of his hands on another knife.
“Can’t do that. I don’t want to hurt anyone but you’re putting too many people at risk.” He turns to look at the crowd. Despite being urged to get away far too many people are still gathered. Cops have the stage surrounded but aren’t firing. What are they waiting for? “Get the crowd out of here.” Why can’t they at least make sure the civilians are safe? There’s far too many people more concerned with getting a glance at the action than protecting their lives.
“If you survive this, remember that I gave you a choice.” The man’s running at him at once, raising his sword. Ryaan circles, throwing a few more knives as he moves. The man moves his sword fast enough to knock most out of the air. They weren’t aimed at anything they’d get through anyway but apparently he’s not taking chances.
“This isn’t a game.”
“You’re absolutely right. I take this far more seriously than any game. Any risk to people today is more than made up for by the lives which will be improved by taking these two out of the picture.”
“That’s not your call.”
The man crouches slightly, his armored suit showing it moves easily. “That’s not up to you.” He turns back toward the Goggle Guys. Moving toward them, Jimmy shoves Billy into the man’s legs. Not expecting him to be so low, the man can’t react in time and has to leap to avoid tripping over them. Billy goes for the gun, now on the far side of the stage.
The red armored attacker turns to swing his sword again, about to plunge it into Jimmy. Ryaan rushes forward, pulling his staff free as he runs. If his knives can’t hurt this guy he’s going to have to try something else. The sword comes down but Ryaan manages to step under it just in time, deflecting it with his staff. The man stumbles back but stays on his feet. Gathering himself, he swings again. Ryaan steps in with his staff gripped between both hands, ready to block the shot again.
His staff splits right down the middle, cleaved in half by the heavy sword. His block deflects the blow well enough that he avoids being cut in half but only barely. Glancing desperately between the pieces of staff in each hand, Ryaan starts moving away. Jimmy’s had time to get to his feet and scramble behind Billy who recovered his gun. Fighting alongside these two makes him ill but the alternative isn’t any better.
Opening fire, Billy starts aiming at his attacker. The bullets bounce away with no effect. Ryaan turns to the man, throwing his hands up. “Careful where you’re shooting, those aren’t doing anything and you might hit someone in the crowd.” If anything being told what to do by the Rebel makes Billy start firing faster. If there wasn’t a bigger threat he worries the bullets would be aimed at him.
Moving both sides of his staff into one hand, Ryaan tries another knife, aiming for the hand the sword’s clasped in. If he can’t get away he can at least try to disarm the man. It bounces away as well. His gloves are as tough as the rest of his suit. Every minute they buy matters. Sirens can be heard in the distance and glancing around the edge of the park, the roads are lined with flashing red and blue lights. Eventually they’re going to overwhelm this guy.
With the man in red rushing the Goggle Guys again, Ryaan nervously steps between them, hoping he’s not going to get a bullet in the back as a thank you. They’re the targets and every moment he can stop this guy from getting to them is time for more help to arrive.
Red targets suddenly appear on the man in red. Ryaan’s first thought is sniper fire but bullets don’t appear. Instead a whistling sound cuts through the air and small hooks stick to the man’s suit. He looks down at them, not overly concerned. Ryaan backs away, unsure what’s happening. Then they start to blow up.
The explosions are small, contained, but they’re forceful enough that the air from them knocks Ryaan further back. He tumbles to the ground, trying to keep his staff in his hands. He ends up at the feet of the Goggle Guys. The man in red gets it worse. He’s thrown through the air, landing in a heap on the ground. He quickly gets back to his feet with his armor undamaged. Whoever this is though, they’re able to push him back.
He turns to face them while Ryaan’s still trying to get to his feet. Billy takes the moment to kick him forward, almost sending him sprawling again. The man points at the Goggle Guys, almost ignoring Ryaan. “My crimson cry will be your end. You get a reprieve for the moment but only for the moment.” He runs to the screen at the back of the stage where whatever he shot into it’s still sticking out of the screen. He pulls something loose from his waist and attaches it to the cable. In seconds he’s shooting up the cord, hanging on tight. Several officers try to shoot him as he zips back up the line but their bullets continue to do nothing.
He ends up on a nearby roof. A lot of the cops give chase, running in the direction of the building. Seeing a chance to slip away, Ryaan starts to run toward the port a potties, hoping for a chance to slide out of his costume and back into his regular clothes which are stashed in his backpack. He feels a weight on the bag and turns to find Jimmy holding onto it. “Where do you think you’re going?”