THE WAY THINGS ARE
The control room is silent. Its usual bustling hive of activity has ceased, leaving only the hum of the computers, the drone of the fluorescent lights and the quiet dripping of blood. Computer monitors and TV screens continue to display their images for no one to watch. Many sections are pixelated or dark where they suffered collateral damage in the fight. Bright sprays of red discolor the functioning images, painting the scenes displayed in gore.
The door stands open, the guard dead at his desk. His gun is still in his holster, and his left eye is a red ruin. There are no other marks on his body. He died quickly, never knowing what was about to happen.
Others were less lucky. The pattern of the bodies and the disorder of the room show a scene of chaos and panic, of people running frantically for cover or escape. The bullet holes in the walls show that many fought back. The lack of any blaring alarms suggests that none survived.
Over forty men and women lie dead in this room. Every one of them has been felled by a short-bladed knife. The strikes were scientifically precise, designed to eliminate the opponents in as swift and efficient a fashion as possible. Throats are slashed, eyes stabbed, arteries ripped open. Few if any of the bodies bear any defensive wounds, despite their obvious awareness of the attack. The attacker knew precisely where they would be unguarded, the exact best place to strike. Many of the bodies have bullet holes, but none of these appear lethal. In every case, the fatal wound was made by a blade.
Only one body is different. He was a man in his early forties, relatively fit, with close-cropped brown hair and a tailored suit. His name was Mathias Roche, though that is no longer important. His body is slumped in a wheeled office chair which has been dragged to the center of the room. His tailored suit has been cut from him, and his entire body shows the vicious marks of prolonged torture. He was meant to die slowly, gazing upon the deaths of everyone else in the control center.
Standing in front of this body, surveying the carnage in the room, is a virile man with an air of command. His expression, his posture, everything about him speaks of a man who is used to being obeyed—not through fear, but through respect. He has an amiable look with a hint of steel beneath it. This is a man who could lead nations to war. This is a man who could be a king, or an emperor.
He wears a white three-piece suit with a gold tie. On the back of the jacket is emblazoned a large unblinking eye with golden rays extending out below it. It should look garish, but on him it simply looks fitting. Nothing escapes his gaze. His name is Foresight. He is a superhero.
His white suit is splashed and stained with blood. In each hand he holds a short-bladed knife, each one razor-sharp. They, too, drip with blood, until he wipes them casually on the shredded suit of the man in the chair before him.
Foresight lifts the body’s chin with the blade of one knife, then lets the head flop back down to the chest. He tsks his tongue, disappointed.
“Again,” he says.
# # #
The control room is carnage and chaos, blood splashed around in gruesome splatters to drip from the furniture and walls. Over forty men and women lie dead in this room, every one felled by a short-bladed knife. And in the center of the room, sprawled limply across a chair, sits the ruined form of Mathias Roche. His suit and the skin beneath it have been cut to ribbons. His arms and legs twitch feebly but do not move, too broken to respond to his brain’s commands. His breathing is fast and shallow, coming in frenetic bursts, and his chest heaves with the effort of each one.
Behind him, Foresight casually slides his knives into Roche’s shoulders, and Roche screams at this fresh pain. His voice is raw, his throat torn from the magnitude of screaming he has already done today, yet he still has not become accustomed to the pain. Each new hurt is as fresh and sharp as the very first one, and his sincerest hope is to pass out or pass away, just to stop the torment.
Foresight uses the knives as handles to rotate Roche, swiveling him in his chair to take in the scene before him. Every member of his team who was not out in the field is dead. The number of projects that lie in ruins because of this massacre is astounding, the loss to the United States incalculable. Some of these agents had been with the department for forty years. Combined, there was well over one thousand years of experience in this room. All dead, all reduced to nothing because of the actions of one man.
“Do you like what you see?” Foresight hisses in Roche’s ear. His voice simmers with hatred and spite, emotions which all of the destruction he has caused and all of the torture he has inflicted on Roche have been unable to abate. “From such a rise to such a fall, Director Roche. Die, knowing that your work dies with you. You will not be honored. You will not be remembered. The world will never know you lived.”
Panting, Roche struggles to form a single word. After a moment, he manages it: “Why?”
Foresight spins Roche around to face him. “I’ll tell you.”
He withdraws the knives from Roche’s shoulders and balances both blades against Roche’s chest, their points drawing small pinpricks of blood to add to the sea already covering him. Hooking a foot behind one wheel of the chair, Foresight slowly leans forward, gradually pressing his body weight against the knives, forcing them into Roche’s chest.
Roche screams again as the sharp steel blades burrow slowly toward his heart. His scream tapers off only when the knives slide between his ribs and pierce the vital organ. He stares wildly at Foresight for a few seconds more before his eyelids flutter shut and his head slumps to one side, unmoving. Roche is released from the pain at last.
“I’ll tell you,” Foresight repeats, withdrawing his knives, “but not yet.”
# # #
The control center’s steel door buzzes and swings open. Foresight steps inside, a lanyard-hung ID badge dropping from his hand. Behind the desk, the guard rises to his feet.
“I need to see your—” he begins, but gets no farther than that. Foresight kicks the door shut and lunges across the desk, a knife extended in his right hand. He buries it in the guard’s eye, impaling his brain and dropping him with a surgical precision. Blood spurts from the wound, drenching the cuff of Foresight’s pristine white suit.
Behind him, chaos erupts. People shriek wildly and run for cover. Foresight stands by the only door to the room, a security feature meant to protect those who worked within. Having breached the initial defenses, though, Foresight now controls the room’s sole exit, a fact which he uses to deadly advantage.
Around the control center, people are screaming. Some are simply vocalizing their fear, but others are attempting to bark orders at each other, or at Foresight. Several agents have drawn guns and pointed them at the superhero, commanding him in various words to drop the knife and get down on the ground.
Foresight looks around calmly, his eyes lighting on Director Roche. Roche has taken up a defensive position behind an overturned desk. He is one of the ones who has drawn a gun, and several other agents huddle behind the desk with him, seeking the security of both shelter and defense. Roche’s eyes lock with Foresight’s, and although Roche cannot hear him over the shouting and screaming, he sees Foresight’s mouth form the words “You earned this.”
And then Foresight moves, and the bloodbath begins.
Foresight drops to the ground with a fluid grace, rolling beneath the bullets fired in his direction to come up behind a bank of computers. He runs around the rounded wall of the room, ducking and weaving between bullets as he goes. He nears a flabby young man cowering on the ground and slashes out with his knife, slicing through his throat in one swift motion. The man falls backward, gurgling, but Foresight is already moving on.
With knives in both hands now, he moves through the room with lethal grace. He runs in starts and stops, allowing bullets to pass before and behind him as though he knew their trajectory perfectly. Occasionally he twists around to thrust others into the bullets’ path, repaying his human shields with fatal strikes to vital areas. He kills as he goes, never missing an opportunity to slice open an artery or cut through an exposed throat. Agents fall like toppled trees behind him. His suit is stained crimson with their blood, but he is otherwise untouched.
Surrounded by gunfire, explosions and terror, Foresight moves as if this is a choreographed dance to which he knows every step. A woman makes a dash for the door, only to have a knife sprout suddenly in the back of her neck, just below her tied-up hair. Her momentum carries her forward to smash into the ground, and by the time she hits the thin industrial carpet, Foresight is there, ducking to retrieve his knife and gashing open a man’s femoral artery with it as he rises.
In less than a minute, the room is nearly devoid of life. Roche stands, teeth bared, swiping at Foresight with a leg broken from a table, attempting to keep him at bay. Foresight swats it aside contemptuously, scoring a long, deep cut up Roche’s forearm as he does so. The pain causes Roche to lose his grip on the improvised club, and as it drops, Foresight springs forward, landing on Roche with his knives out.
Foresight’s weight drives the older man backwards, tripping him into a chair. The knives penetrate his shoulders, pinning him like a butterfly on a board. Roche’s hands automatically fly up to the knives, intending to pull them free, but Foresight intercepts them and twists them viciously outward. With a crack, both wrists break.
Working methodically and with a stunning swiftness, Foresight disables Roche completely, breaking both elbows, smashing both kneecaps and hamstringing him, letting his knife slide through the skin to bite deeply into the back of each thigh. The shock cannot fully overcome the pain, and Roche howls as his body is systematically shattered. In seconds, he’s quivering in the chair, no longer pinned by the knives but equally unable to move. Foresight looms over him, swift flicks of his knives tearing gouges through Roche’s suit and the flesh beneath it.
The pain is immeasurable. Roche screams until black spots dance before his eyes, hoping to black out, but Foresight seems to know exactly when to stop to keep him awake and maximize his agony. He works with a vicious intensity, seeking nothing but Roche’s pain. Roche loses track of time as Foresight goes about his bloody work. His world narrows to the feral grin on his tormentor’s face, the hiss of his breath, and the never-ending pain.
After an unknown amount of time, there’s a pause in the torture. Roche forces his eyes open and attempts to focus. He struggles even to breathe, his breaths coming fast and shallow in frenetic bursts. Around him, everything he’s worked to build during his career is in ruins. Dozens of his agents are dead. His team has been destroyed just as thoroughly, efficiently and ruthlessly as his body. And standing in front of him, breathing heavily, is the man who caused it.
“You’re about to ask me why I did this,” says Foresight. “And I’ll tell you. It was self-defense.”
He pauses for a moment, watching Roche’s face carefully. “You see? That answers your question. Which proves my point, really. For you to know what I meant by that means that I was right to make the first move.”
Roche’s mind churns, and he pants out a question. “You’re…hero. You help us. Helped me. Why…why this?”
“Always the same question,” mocks Foresight. “It’s not that you’re predictable. Everyone’s predictable. It’s that you honestly can’t understand how it came to this. No matter how far along in your plan you were, you never anticipated my response. I really feel like that’s a lack of faith in yourself. You never believed that you’d succeed.
“And of course, you won’t. So there is that. But still.”
Roche’s mouth moves soundlessly, forming a single syllable, and Foresight grimaces. “‘Why’ again. Fine. I’ll tell you.”
He pulls up another chair and sits facing Roche. “Let me tell you a story. It starts some time ago, with a young man named Mathias Roche.”