"Your past doesn't define but gives you the starting point for who you were going to be."
I once saw that on a motivational poster. For most people, this it's some quote that changes their entire life. And it did for me, even in this world of mine I always thought as myself as a simple guy. When I tell my story, I hope people think that I'm more man than myth, not inspired nor saddened. When I die it will be as a normal man not a hero or a martyr. But like I said before, I'm average. And a simple guy tries to help his friend in the here and now.
"It's all over," Sarah said as she stared at her phone in complete disbelief.
Concern and curiosity clashes together over my friend's conundrum. It had only been a couple of hours since our last life-threatening adventure and she was in her usual mopes over our last failure. But now in seemingly one fell swoop, her natural air of cynicism had turned to despair that could be felt in droves.
"Sarah, what's wrong, did something happen?"
Sarah's responded in the form of four gravely serious words.
"Let's talk in private."
Considering how easy news spread in Titan, I followed her request and gave ourselves a private interrogation room. And when I finally saw the cause for my partner's suffering, I realized that in all my years at Titan it seemed we had reached our toughest challenge, but I tried my best to hide it as best I can.
"Well, it's not that bad we could always hide you or-"
"That won't work James, that's exactly what the Pantheon want anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"They're using my notoriety against me. While the Underworld goes hunting for me the Pantheon will seize more territory and power. On top of that with the added attention not only could Titan be discovered, but also be occupied using resources and time in my name while innocents die from every two-bit merc looking for a buck. Face the facts, James it's over for me."
"Don't talk like that; I'm sure if we work together, brainstorm we can-."
"And do what?! Fight the entire world?! Let the Pantheon keep getting more powerful than it already is?! Use everything you have to save a dead woman walking?! Tell me, James tell me how?! Because right now, I'm all out of chances," she said in wistful sadness.
And as I saw one of the strongest people I've ever known slowly crumble, I thought about how the only way to answer such a daunting problem was to look at my past. Before there was the codename of Knight, there was a young man with no direction. I don't know about most people, but high school had some personal highlights of my life. The problem was I lacked much ambition, something that my grandpa often nagged me for, right to his dying day. And after that somber day as I sat in my room for days on end wondering about what I desired, and then it hit me, what better way is there to live my life by protecting others. I was quickly joined the Marines and passed the tests with flying colors and managed to pull my weight in many shootouts.
Eventually I got on Titans' radar I eventually was told into the "truth" of the world, saw the purpose of such a seemingly shadowy organization, and the world that churned beneath. And all I had to say was one thing.
"When do I sign up?"
I think you can fill in the rest, I joined the Artillery, made a splash on the whole organization, met a beautiful psychologist that would be my wife, entered the paintball circuit and... I lost a second family. And with it, I was given the burden of a survivor, my world grew shallower, and the enthusiasm I carried with me was gone. For months I laid in this stupor until I got a one of a kind of a call from Morgan. And as I walked into his office, he gave me a grimace of seriousness. Like any great leader, Morgan could extend and amplify his emotions. And right now I could feel that this was a mission of grave importance.
"Thank you for the speedy arrival James; I hope you know I wouldn't have called you if it weren't a matter of grave importance."
"And what exactly is this matter?"
"I'm guessing you must I have heard that recently we've had a new occupant join our ranks. Her name is Sarah Walters aka the Paladin and I want you to be the one that introduces her on her first mission. So far she has answered every question we've given her with flying colors for a month and she seems truthful in her motivations. Even still if the worst comes to pass I would like one of my best agents at ground zero."
"Keep your friends close but your enemies closer I'm assuming?"
"Exactly, I'm keeping her on constant watch, and when I have enough info, then we will proceed accordingly. Between that and the sleepers hopefully, we could determine her as being friend or foe."
With my mission clear I quickly headed out to greet the supposed world's greatest warrior. With the Paladin admitting to hundreds of counts of illegal activity kept her at Titan's most impressive prison: the Freezer for a couple of days now. In simple terms, there are really only 2 ways to live in such a place: back or front. And with the large amount of info gained she was probably living better than me. Upon her arrival I was greeted with a welcoming committee that consisted of 4 heavily armed agents while she was still in cuffs. When I asked why the extra security they simply stated that our sort of maybe prisoner was the one who requested it.
"I just wanted to make you feel comfortable. I don't know how much you know of me, but I want to make one thing clear. I'm still a criminal and still a threat."
After a long and awkward silence, this was my only response.
"Well on that note, let's get the tour started."
I gave her the most basic and simple information as we made our way to Morgan's office, where he gave us a debriefing on our next mission.
"Thanks to your wealth information on the underworld, our war against Eclipse has nearly been put to an end. However their special ops unit, the Blackout Brigade has been as we first assumed untraceable till now. Recently we've got a couple of reports of a pattern of almost perfect assassinations of law enforcement across the four Asain Tigers also following a string of high profile robberies around three days after. And with the assassination of one of Hong Kong's chiefs of police we have a small window of opportunity before they make their move again. You two along with a small platoon of our deadliest agents will govern under all the likely targets of interest to avoid attention, and when you see something move out to eliminate the threat. With your tips on the Blackout Brigade hopefully, they'll be brought into the light for all their actions."
After the debriefing, Paladin finally started opening up in her... "own" special way.
"Mr. Knight, considering Dragoon is putting us together, that means he must put a lot of faith in your skills. What are they?"
"Well, I'm one of the strongest people and one of the best shots. I've got pretty good armor and carry mostly heavy-duty gear."
"Got it, so you're a tank. Then I guess you you should hang back and scout for me while I sneak in and handle them."
"And let you fight the brigade by themselves? Hell no, It's better if we move in together."
"I've fought these guys a lot better than you Knight and from first handexperience I can tell you that you would do nothing but slow me down. Once they see you they'll either retreat or mow you down. If your technology is as advanced as I've heard you can track me and snipe from the back. I'm not letting another innocent get blood on their hands for my sake."
"Fine then, but I'll make one thing clear. You're a member of Titan now which means I'm not leaving you behind for my sake either."
With our little argument settled, we made our way to Hong Kong. Night fell over the lively city as our stakeout the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Company. And while Paladin hid inside the large complex I was forced to hear the worst sound in the world: silence. You see the Artillery were always loud in the best way possible. We were always talking, bantering moving because making noise in essence was the ultimate show of life. But silence? That was stillness, lack of progression. As Paladin moved in all I could do was wait in agonizing, chilling, ageless silence. The only thing that interested me was looking through the scope of the most advanced sniper rifle in the world: The Supreme Surveillance Scope. Named after Titan's greatest markswoman. Not only can it shoot out tracers but it can scan in ultraviolet, infrared, night vision and digital imaging. With it, I can pretty much see like superman. Though the clarity might have been a curse in disguise as suddenly the digital imagery from the tracer cut out.
Every alarm went off in my mind as I quickly used the zip line function of the SSS and called all Titan agents in the immediate area. A minute later, I dramatically crash into the window as I quickly searched the building with a shotgun ready. Along the way, I see no other personnel, though knowing my opponents a narrative wouldn't be hard to spin. Eventually, I came to a couple of bodies clad in black leather and blood. I kept following the trail of blood and violence as again depressing; thundering silence took center stage. Each passing minute raised my senses higher and higher until the silence was interrupted by a hit to the head!
Fortunately, I had enough experience to know what different hits feel like on my armor. As soon as I hit the floor, I figured out that my assailant was probably nearby with a silenced pistol though I didn't give them the chance to find out if they were lucky as I quickly turn around and fire two shots that quake my body! I almost wasn't sure I even hit the person till I saw the blood. But, unfortunately, I didn't also have time to worry as Out of the blue I am attacked by a garrote to the throat! The Brigade member on their demented piggyback ride pulled with all their strength from, causing my head to start seeing spots as I coughed and sputtered. Still, I power on through and drop my shotgun to take control of the garrote and jerked my way out of the hold to let the assassin hit the corner of the table, slam their head in a second time and threw them to the escalator! Milliseconds later I dived for my shotgun but two other black blurs interrupted my mad dash.
One held me in a chokehold while the other peppered me with bullets, they hurt, but they have no stopping power. Realizing that shots were useless, the one in the back took up a blade aimed at my throat! Adrenaline once again pulsed within me and not only do I block it with my forearm but I take control of it with my other and plunge it into my opponent's leg, take it out and threw it right at my opponent's neck! Immediately after I engaged in a crushing one-handed shoulder flip!
Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to knock him out as a flying kick forces me back a couple of inches. Seconds after I was hit again by a defiant flying knee that sent me reeling! And to cap the finale of my three-course meal of pain The last of the three new players displayed an action that I could only describe with a quote from one of my favorite people: Bruce Lee.
"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."
And that spin kick symbolizes the phrase perfectly as I'm thrown to the side of a desk while the other BB's (Blackout Brigade) attempted to close in. I use the counter to kick one of them away and move my left hand away from a stab to not only punch my opponent and then put him in an arm twist that grants me a human shield. With the BB's at bay, I quickly steal his blade. I pull away from the railing as my enemies followed regrouped, forming five if I counted my prisoner. Again silence took over my throat, with only my heavy breathing interrupting it. And once I gathered every bit of strength, I equipped my shield and unsheathed my machete for battle!
A storm of slashes ripped through the bank, but with an overpowering offense, I pushed back long enough to kick the escalator BB into a chair that quickly topples over. I then take the BB with the weak leg and bring them into a tackle that quickly forms into a suplex that crashes them over the railing into the ground below. Using my shield, I guarded from a bunch of pierces and stabs that would puncture me as I got back up and continued my assault.
Machete meets blade at a ferocious tempo that sends sparks flying but once again I managed to brave through and blitz past an opening. I leave my blade in another opponent as I push on to another in a short but brutal exchange. I force him to his leg and chopped his throat against the table using the shield! But I realize that it was a fatal move as my remaining opponents gave up an opening and before I knew it a flurry of fast blows send me to my knees with 2 of my opponents grasping my arms. I try to escape, but like a Chinese finger trap, they only coiled around my arms. The guy in front, probably their leader, came to me with my shotgun in hand and aimed point-blank at my head. I tried looking at the light at the end of the tunnel, but as I said before, I know how my armor operates, a good shotgun blast can hurt like hell, but one to the face point-blank? Absolute best case scenario I get back up out with a major headache, and I stall till Titan comes, worst case and I have a concussion that won't last long.
With seemingly no way out, I close my eyes and embrace silence. The last image of my mind being my comrades in arms.
"I'm sorry I tried my best."
The shot gun went off, yet I was still wide awake. I flutter my eyes open and saw that the paladin in all of her glory struck! Not only did she divert the shot with her grapple gun but she also managed to hit on of my captors right away. With my opponents out of the way I quickly saw the opportunity and tripped up my opponents feet and go to town. We both engaged in a prolonged frenzy but we were both very tired. I was about to have my opponent on the ropes but my focus shattered at a terrible sound. Two shots from a silenced pistol.
I turn my attention to see Paladin on the floor hissing in pain as her enemy started to reload. The sounds of conflict quickly fell away in the replacement of a thousand no's. But that shock turns to anger as I finish my BB off with vicious backspin blow that finishes them off as I threw my machete at my opponent. Luckily he backed away but in hat time span I pounced with the force of a lion and lifted him off his feet! But despite my power the grapple still fails when my opponent shifts his weight and uses elbows to break away. As soon as I land I quickly try to strike again from the ground but once again it's stopped by fancy footwork. Realizing the skill of my opponent I fall back and readied myself. Realizing that power wouldn't be enough I instead fall back to my most admirable quality:unpredictability. I quickly threw a volley of random stuff from the desk as the BB got closer. With his vision partially obscured I took the chance to aim a straight jab to the face! The assassin put up a reflexive guard but unfortunately for them my faint was all tosuccessful as I launched into a mighty knee and push kick!
With the BB dazed I snatched the rolling chair from nearby and used it to execute a series of swings. Most of them hit my opponent as they seemingly slowed down but all too soon an explosive vigor erupted from the BB as they launched a volley of intense blows that makes me drop my weapon and in a violent move break my arm! Searing pain erupted from my right arm with my momentum crippling severely! But even with all of that, I push my pain to the side, because I'll be damned if I ever fail my teammates ever again. So when my opponent tried to end me with a reverse spin kick, I catch it with my free hand and in one violent action, I break it over my knee! And with my opponent finally screaming, I finish it all off with a punch to the head. But I don't even spend a second on that as I quickly rushed my battered body towards Paladin's side.
I spent hours in the medical bay, worrying over not leaving for even a second. And when she properly recovered from her wounds, the first words she could say to me was this.
"How long have you been sitting there?"
"About, when you arrived, I needed to be here the moment you woke up because I wanted to say thank you."
"Don't thank me, I don't deserve it, especially if you risked your life for someone you didn't even know. I didn't follow this path to get thanks; I did it to help. It's as simple as that Mr. Knight."
And with so few words leaving me so speechless, all I could say was this.
"Fine, but if you don't want my thanks then at the very least call me James I think we both earned that right. Especially since we're going to have more get-togethers like this."
"In that case James, you can call me Sarah as well, and you can consider your back covered."
And just like that, not only did I learn a valuable lesson, but I also gained a lifelong friend. A lesson that I intend to repeat for my friend.
"Sarah, after our first mission together, you taught me that I could be the man instead of the myth. You taught me that I didn't always have to be invincible. Titan has existed long before us, and it will exist long after. And whatever threat comes we'll deal with it together even if it's the world's itself. You've never given up a fight before Sarah, you better not start now, cause I got your back."
In an all too familiar sense of deja vu Sarah stood speechless and shocked. A storm on emotions almost escaped but Sarah at the last moment held them in and simply said.
"Yeah, and I will always have yours, James."
"I wouldn't have any other way, and I'm not going to."
And with our the mushy stuff all out of the way we quickly returned to Mama's to get ourselves a second helping of food and a little more rest. Because with the making of such a heavy promise, I knew that I was going to have to use all the power I could muster to keep it.