The List – Episode 5: Party Crashing (Part 1)

I straightened my bow tie as the elevator dinged, signaling that I was at my stop.  The wall in front of me slid open, and I stepped out onto the one-hundred and eightieth floor of the Panzer Building.  Behind me the elevator entrance closed, becoming one with the wall and leaving no trace of the lift.  Molecular manipulation being put to a fine use.  I personally preferred the kind of doors you could kick in, but the tech in this building had better been fancy considering how much a stay in this place cost – one night was enough to clean out a working man’s life savings.

The hallway walls were semitransparent, showing off whatever distasteful art style that was this week’s fad.  The current favorite of this crowd was living human statues, pinned in place by slender shards of glass that descended from the ceiling like rays of light.

I ignored the figures like everyone else did, and strolled up to the banquet hall entrance.  The four guards stationed in front of the lavish doors took notice of me.

“Identity and weapons check, sir,” one said, and the others huddled around me with scanners.

“Of course,” I said, raising my hands to the sky.  The men ran the scanners, checking my retinas and pupils, measuring my height and weight, taking my cholesterol reading.  With the recent string of assassinations (not naming any names), it was understandable that they’d want to buff up security.  So they were trying to find something – even the most miniscule detail – that was out of place. They would find nothing.  The tablet in the first guard’s hand beeped, and he tapped on it for a few seconds then brought his attention back to me.

“All clear, Mr. West.  Sorry about the delay, we just don’t want someone getting in who doesn’t belong.”

“Make it snappier next time,” I said as I straightened my tie.  “Or next time I’ll see to it you’ll be working in the pit.”

The man’s chin quivered, and I walked past him and into the banquet hall, my hands in my jacket pockets and an undectable blade strapped to each wrist.  No doubt there were secondary scanners built into the entrance that was detecting my gait and mannerisms, waiting for a slip up.  I had spent the past two weeks perfecting those two things by learning from the real Mr. West, a rising star in the corporate world who made himself famous off the sweat of others.  Two painful weeks studying how to become him, down to every little annoying twitch.  The Doctor had done a pretty good job of replicating the features, altering my bone density and mass, even going as far as taking an inch off my height.  All he asked for in exchange was that he got to keep the real Mr. West.  “For experiments,” he had said.  Well he could have fun with that.  I had a job to do.

No alarms went off, at least on my end, which meant I was in the clear.  I merged into the crowd, brushing elbows with some of the filthiest rich of the city, and I tuned out the mundane conversations of which stocks were going to blow up or about how they’d “disappeared” mistresses that wanted to get serious.  I avoided the swarm of Kate 2.5s, the group of women that sneered and scoffed with all the same expressions.  That particular model of face was the current rage, but it would only be a matter of days before it was outdated and a new trend set in.

I worked my way over to the refreshment bar, ordered champagne to keep up appearance.  As I sipped it I scanned the crowd, looking for potential problem areas.  The guards were well concealed so the other attendees wouldn’t notice them, but in this environment they stuck out as much as an Old City beggar would.  They were strategically placed to ward off any outside intrusion, but they wouldn’t dare fire on the crowd in the case of a threat from inside.  Besides that, they were lax on their weapons and enjoying the events around them like amateurs.  That would let me do my job without too much trouble.

The drink hit my stomach, but not fast enough.  The buzz of meaningless chatter grew as I watched the men who valued money over lives and the women that fought to one up each other with their expensive new bodies.  It made me sick.

“It’s quite disgusting, isn’t it?”

I was almost caught by surprise, but didn’t let it show.  I turned to the man who had spoken to me.  He wore a fine white tux, and his cold grey eyes looked me up and down.  Without his costume on he looked like a completely different person, but he was still the dangerous and powerful Rune.

“Beg pardon?”

“These hor dourves, they’re absolutely awful,” he said as he placed a half bitten morsel back on its tray.  The waiter behind the table nodded his head and took the tray away, and a half second later a fresh tray was put in its place.

I choked back the urge to slip my knife out and jam it into his ear.  Reason one was because I knew that wouldn’t work, and two was because Rune was not my target on that particular night.

“Your tastes are impeccable, sir,” I said.

Rune chuckled and leaned in.  “Between you and me, I think this whole setup is tiring.”

The first thought that crossed my mind was:  He knew.  I kept the smug outward veneer, but could feel the blood pumping to my hands.  I had to restrain my grip on the champagne flute to keep it from shattering.  They could just as easily reach out and grab the man by the neck.  While I calculated the minutes it would take to strangle the man, I gave Rune an amused smirk and nodded.  I wouldn’t reveal my hand too early and ruin all the work it took to get there.

He continued:  “These people are all sheep, more worthless than the scum that work the factories fifteen hours a day.  What do you think?”

“I think you started hitting the refreshment table a little too early tonight,” I said with a grin.

Rune let out a boisterous laugh.  “Indeed, maybe I have!  But you didn’t answer my question.”

“These people do make my feel a little queasy.  I was told this was going to be a high class dinner, but I’m quite disappointed at the turn out,” I said, maintaining character.

“That’s what I like to hear,” Rune said, his smile still stretching across his face.  That moment the lights dimmed, and the people around us quickly fell into silence.

Smoke spewed from the center of the room, and spotlights centered on the man that appeared out of thin air.  He held his head down, his fingers of one hand pinching the brim of his black top hat.  He flipped the hat off and twirled it around, then reached into it and pulled out a deck of cards.  He fanned the cards, flicked his wrist, and they quadrupled in size.  The crowd roared, and the man in the spotlight flipped his wrist around and the cards were gone.  With the snap of his fingers the cards exploded above us and rained down.

“This guy thinks he can take Big Game’s place in the Superior Six,” Rune said in my ear.  “What do you think of that?”

“Mr. Tricks?  He’s certainly a crowd pleaser.  I’ve heard he’s racked up a count of wins recently as well.”

“True, but I’ve heard he’s been working for Force Industries on the side.”

I cocked my head at Rune.  He’d been jerking me along this entire time, baiting me, but I wasn’t going to fall for it.  I’d already known all this information, but Mr. West did not.

Force Industries had stayed out of the super hero business, but had plenty of dark secrets of their own.  The technology they produced for “peace” efforts always seemed to wind up in the hands of insurgents of unstable countries, allowing Force to sweep in and turn what was left into one giant sweat shop.  Word got out they were looking to put a hit on Rune and the other Superior Six, and Mr. Tricks would a key player in achieving that.  And I couldn’t have them taking the fun away from me, could I?

Rune glanced down at a gold watch, tapped it, then gave me a pat on the shoulder.  “I hope the show is enjoyable for you, unfortunately I have some other business to attend to.”  He turned and the crowd parted as he exited the banquet hall.

I mentally breathed a sigh of relief.  Rune’s time would come, but it wasn’t tonight.  I turned back to watch my target perform his little freak show.

I eased my way through the throng of fake smiles and faker bodies until Mr. Trick’s glowing face was only a few feet away.  He finished another trick, and the crowd roared with applause.  I brought my hands up to clap, which triggered a mechanism that released my knives and shot them up into my grasp.  He bowed, and at the same time I lunged forward and sunk a blade deep into the top of his hat.

The hat exploded, propelling me into a mass of Kate 2.5s that crunched under my weight.  I dodged as an onslaught of cards flew my direction, turning into little razors and shredding everything in their path.  I weaved through the crowd as Mr. Tricks maintain his place in the spot light.  I kept watch on the dumbfounded guards that swung their guns back in forth looking for an open shot.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he said, spreading his arms out magnificently , “but tonight I have a very special performance in store for you all.”

The crowd around me started to awe, the stupid sheep.  I shoved a group of gawking onlookers to the floor and charged at Mr. Tricks.  He flipped his hat off, and ribbon streamers shot out at me.  I spun through the stream of colors and deflected two of them with my blades.  He pulled a wand out from the palm of his hand and blocked the slash of my blades, then pointed the end of the wand at my face.  With a loud bang flowers burst from the end, and I managed a back flip just in time to keep them from slicing off the skin on my face.  The onlookers behind me weren’t so lucky, and the ones still conscious shrieked as they pawed at their tattered countenances.  I whipped my blade through Mr. Trick’s torso.  He stared down at where the blade had sliced through his gut, his face full of terror.  Then the wound cracked outward like a spider web, and his image shattered and chimed on the floor.

I spotted him on the other side of the room and sucked in a lung full of air.  He used a combination of telepathic suggestion alongside super human sleight of hand.  I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but I suddenly wished I had my beam blade at my side.

Mr. Tricks flicked his wrist, and swung his wand which extended the distance between us.  I slid underneath it as it impaled an anorexic looking couple behind me.  The wand came down at me, and I smacked it away with my knives.  I brought one knife back and sent if flying at Mr. Tricks.  I threw the other in the direction I anticipated him going.  The first knife hit another mirror, obliterating it.  The second bounced of a flutter of cards.  I followed through on my attack, placing myself where he was going to be, and I hunched down to deliver an upper cut.  This Mr. Tricks was not a mirror.  My fist landed squarely on his jaw and whirled him around.

I smacked off his cap and grabbed a hand full of hair, keeping him on his feet.  Just as I was about to crush his spine with a well placed punch, Mr. Tricks let out a solemn laugh.  He snapped his fingers. The lights blasted on, and the glass walls exploded inward, peppering the crowd with crystal shrapnel.  Men in full armor spilled in from the hallways and windows and readied their guns at me.  Now I had to admit, that was a pretty neat trick.

I stopped counting when their numbers reached fifty, and I put my fist into the throat of the closest soldier and snatched the rifle out of his hand.  I spun and put bullets into as many of the soldiers as I could before a group of them piled on top of me.  I couldn’t move under their sheer weight, and they twisted my arms back as they crushed the air out of me.  The more I writhed, the more they piled on.  They slammed the butts of their guns into the back of my head, into my face, into my ribs and gut.

So much for all the work the doctor put into this disguise.

They stopped suddenly and parted around me, leaving me laying there like a red stained lump of an island.        Through the blood and the swelling I could see Mr. Tricks saunter up.  I spit a mouth full of blood and let out a chuckle.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Mr. Tricks asked me.

“Looks like you caught me,” I said with a grin and the best shrug I could manage.  These men hadn’t killed me yet, which meant they were under direct orders not to.  Their mistake.

Mr. Tricks worked the white glove off his fist, then cocked his arm back.

“That was rhetorical,” he said, and slammed his fist right between my eyes.

To Be Continued…