by CSyphrett, with Doc Quantum
A tall, forty-something handsome blond man with a muscular build, who was missing his right arm and his left eye, waited impatiently among the relics of the aviation era at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. His contact was late, but that was nothing major. He was retired and had all the time in the world. His contact, a silver-haired, middle-aged man wearing a conservative business suit, walked toward him. He recognized him from the steel fist he had instead of one hand. Well, at least he had two arms and two eyes, which was one more than the one-armed, one-eyed man had.
“Let’s walk, Captain Hennessy,” said Sarge Steel.
“Let’s not,” replied Hank Hennessy, former leader of the Fightin’ Five. “And I’m not a captain any longer. I’m retired.”
“All right,” said Steel, handing the retired commando a photograph. Hennessy’s one eye widened in surprise, then narrowed in instant anger. “We walk together,” continued Steel, “or I walk alone. Your choice, Hennessy.”
“Talk fast, Steel,” said Hennessy, staring at the photo in his single hand.
“The people I work for are putting together a team, and we want you as the field commander because of your experience in certain areas,” said Steel as he started walking. “Covert ops.”
“What do I get in return?” asked Hennessy.
“You get the man in the picture,” said Steel.
“Done,” said Hennessy, hatred in his eye. “When do I get to meet this team of yours?”
“Tomorrow,” said Steel. “Here’s the address.” He handed over a card. “One o’ clock.”
The former military man glanced at the card and memorized the address, holding it with his thumb and forefinger of his left hand (his only one) as he used that hand to produce a lighter. A simple manipulation of his fingers left the card a burning piece of paper in a public ashtray in a nearby cafe.
“I’ll be there,” Hennessy said as he walked away.
I hope I haven’t made a mistake, Steel thought as he walked in the opposite direction.
Hank Hennessy arrived at the appointed time. The address was a small building that housed a travel agency. He walked in, examining the place with his eye. There was a counter with two clerks behind it, desks, files, travel brochures for exotic places, and a door marked PRIVATE. It seemed to be nothing more than an innocent business on the surface. He wondered how much actual business they did as a cover for the real operation.
Walking up to the counter, he said, “Hennessy. I’m expected.”
“Yes, sir,” the older female clerk said. “The manager is waiting for you in his office.” She pointed to the marked door.
Hennessy walked over and opened the door. A small elevator sat there instead of an office. He got in, and the elevator descended on its own, the door closing slowly as he went. He waited for the door to open at the bottom of the shaft.
The elevator opened onto the floor of the operations center of the agency. Two rows of monitoring equipment lined a central aisle with technicians hard at work. Steel stood at the other end of the room looking over a woman’s shoulder at a screen, which displayed a large map of the world with smaller inset maps of places in Europe.
“Tell MacAvoy to keep an eye on the situation,” Steel ordered. “We’re going to want to send the Pawns on a clean-up run soon.” He looked up as Hennessy approached. “Hello, Hennessy,” he said. “Let’s go into my office.”
The one-eyed man casually looked at the screen as he passed. A position in East Germany had been marked on the screen with real-time video next to it sent back to the op-center. Hennessy saw a masked figure pass in front of the screen dressed from head to toe in a gold-and-black uniform with a small black logo resembling a knight, a piece in the game of chess. He looked around and saw many more chess-themed logos here and there. He idly wondered what kind of organization this was as he stepped into Steel’s office and sat in a visitor’s chair.
“Who’s on the team?” Hank Hennessy asked without preamble.
Sarge Steel, sitting at his desk, seemed slightly taken aback. “You’re not at all interested in the organization you’ll be working for?” he asked.
“I am, but first things first. The team,” repeated Hennessy.
“The team is called LAW — Living Assault Weapons.” Steel pushed a stack of files across his desk to the retired commando. “My fellow Bishop and I have been able to recruit only five of our projected agents,” he said. “We’re going to be setting up other teams as soon as we have the recruits. Your team is made up of those five: the Red Knight, John ‘Specs’ Anders, Syntac, Destiny Fox, and the Puppeteer.”
Hennessy took the files off the desk and rapidly read through them, one by one. “How good are they?” Hennessy asked, putting the files aside when he was done with them. He had heard about Steel and knew he wouldn’t bother to lie.
“They’re rough around the edges,” Steel said. “Specs is the only one with any team experience under his belt, but they haven’t built any type of trust among themselves yet.”
“Are they anywhere around?” Hennessy asked.
“The team is down in the gym going through their paces for my fellow Bishop, Tiffany Sinn, who will be your superior.”
“I’d like to see them in person,” Hennessy said.
“Let’s go,” said the director. “I’m sure they can’t wait to meet you.”
Sarge Steel led the way to another elevator hidden from Hennessy by the control center. He pushed a button to carry them deeper into the earth. The elevator opened into a maze of corridors for the new team. Steel led the way.
Hennessy noticed that signs and arrows were in place for the newcomers like himself. The director stepped into a control booth after verifying his identity. He held the door open for Hennessy to follow.
“This is my fellow Bishop, Miss Sinn, who heads up the LAW program,” Steel said, introducing a very pretty woman in her early forties just showing a trace of gray in her short black hair. He said to her, “This is Hank Hennessy. He’ll be commanding the first team when they’re ready.”
Tiffany Sinn smiled warmly. “Welcome to the team,” she said. “I’m putting them through their paces right now, having them try to capture Specs. We can call a halt so you can meet your team members.”
“I’d like to see what they can do before I meet them,” Hennessy said.
Hank Hennessy watched the proceedings intently, appraising each of his prospective agents, who each wore form-fitting uniforms that were half-black and half another color.
John “Specs” Anders, a thirty-something man with red hair and glasses, stood in the center of a circle dressed in a yellow-and-black uniform with a stylized T logo on his chest. He dodged and weaved from his teammates adeptly. The commando noticed the telepath made no move to attack. He guessed it was because either Specs had almost no offensive capacity or kept it hidden behind the glasses he wore. Still, four on one in a closed room was not good odds.
The Red Knight lunged at Specs, who sidestepped it. The Red Knight was a masked woman dressed in a full-body uniform like the agent he had seen on the screen, save that it was black and red rather than gold, but had the same chess knight logo as the other. She carried a staff that she used to strike Specs after her lunge failed, but Specs managed to avoid that as well.
A millisecond later, the Puppeteer tried to grab Specs, who ducked out of the way. The Puppeteer — dressed in an orange-and-black uniform with a stylized jester logo meant to represent Punch and Judy — had a thin, wiry build. His face was covered with a drama mask, one-half of which was bright orange and fixed in a permanent grin, the other half-black and in a permanent grimace.
Syntac herself ducked and reached for Specs’ legs, but Specs hopped over her. From her outward appearance, she seemed like a beautiful brunette woman dressed in a green-and-black uniform, but there was something too precise about her, almost as if she were built and not born.
Destiny Fox, who had until now been standing somewhat away from the group, took advantage of Specs’ leap over Syntac and smashed Specs to the ground with a blast of water that manifested itself from her hands. Destiny was a beautiful, dark-haired woman in a blue-and-black uniform who appeared to be an American Indian. She seemed uncomfortable and out of place in the high-tech surroundings.
Specs laid on the ground, soaked and waylaid on the floor by Destiny’s power. “How’d I do?” he asked. The Red Knight pulled him up to his feet.
“Four minutes,” said Tiffany into a mike. “A record.”
“Let’s see how the others do,” Hennessy said, impressed despite himself.
The former Fightin’ Five leader smiled to himself as he watched the members of his team perform. The Red Knight and Destiny Fox were a good team, able to crowd even the fast-moving Puppeteer. Specs had slipped into the role of coordinator with ease. Syntac’s amazing reflexes allowed her to switch from offense to defense and back again with blinding speed; Hennessy guessed that she was an advanced android based on the impossible way she moved her body. The Puppeteer was a wild card. He bounced all over the training room, apparently carried by a crazily colored beam of light before Syntac grabbed an ankle and brought him down.
“They’re pretty good against each other,” Hennessy remarked to Steel. “But have they been out in the real world yet?”
“Not as a team,” said Sarge Steel. “But each has had some experience as a solo vigilante, except for Specs, who was with the Tyro Team until it disbanded some years back.”
“I think a field test is in order,” said Hennessy, easily stepping into the new team leader position. “Can you find us something to take on before we go on the mission?”
“Does this mean you’re taking the job?” Steel said, already knowing Hennessy’s answer.
“I should hope so,” Hennessy replied. “I’ve seen too much of your setup to just walk away.”
“You haven’t seen all that much,” said Steel. “This team is a very small part of the larger organization.”
“I realize that,” said Hennessy, looking around and noting various logos with a similar chess theme. “You seem to have a fixation on the game of chess. Could this larger organization you speak of be the fabled secret agency known as CHESS, the Command for the Hindrance of Espionage, Sabotage and Subversion?”
“Sort of,” said Steel. “CHESS is a parent group of your special ops team. LAW falls under a division of CHESS that I’m in charge of called Checkmate.”
“And the figure with the knight logo I saw on the screen back there?”
“One of our agents, which we call Knights,” said Steel. “While the Knights in CHESS are merely agents in plain clothes, Checkmate’s Knights wear full-body uniforms on their missions, which tend to be much more high-risk than the norm.”
“So your whole organization is based on the game of chess?” Hennessy pondered. Steel nodded. “Would that make you the King?”
“No,” explained Steel. “Miss Sinn and I are a pair of Bishops out of four in all, each one in charge of a special subdivision. I’m in charge of the Checkmate division, which monitors and contains superhuman activity worldwide and coordinates with the Sentinels of Justice team, while Miss Sinn is overseeing the LAW program, a new superhuman strike force division connected with Checkmate. Two other Bishops, Link Chain and Mike Manly, head up domestic and international plain clothes covert ops for CHESS. There is only one King and one Queen, and they run CHESS as co-directors.”
“And when do I meet the King and Queen?”
“You don’t. We operate with a hierarchy for a reason. The LAW operatives report to you, you report to Miss Sinn — your immediate superior — and she reports to the King and Queen.”
“So what does that make me? A Rook?”
“You guessed it,” said Steel. “And I’ll be leaving you in Miss Sinn’s capable hands momentarily. As for something to take on, I’m sure some kind of test case will present itself. Now, if you have no further questions, let’s go down and meet your team.” He abruptly began walking.
“Let’s do that,” said Hennessy. The two men left the room and walked down a spiral staircase to get to the gym. Steel opened the door with a handprint check.
“Cheez it, fellers!” said the Puppeteer. “It’s da boss!”