One of the few benefits of having a worldwide bounty is that you can take all the vacation days you want. With the world literally against me, both my movements and any possible solutions have been stunted. Genjo said that his triads wouldn't touch me, but he was running a tight ship as it is, and I frankly wouldn't put it past anyone to take a shot. And ever since our last meeting Misty Sinclair has pretty much neem almost untraceable, there were hints of activity that surfaced in San Jose, rumors of Pantheon activity but they vanished as soon it started.
It's been a couple of weeks since then, and it was now late August. I've caught up on every box office flop I could find, I tried out some new recipes (all of which I wouldn't feed a cockroach), but mostly I've been trying to calm myself down through some old teachings. For hours on end, I would sit on my couch meditating, trying to find the piece that would make everything make sense. But like always, it didn't work, because like seemingly every bad thing that ever happened to me in my odyssey: I couldn't find the right way. And I just couldn't let this piece break too.
And as I sat there trying to piece it all together, I was interrupted by Brutus. With a playful nudge, he woke me from my stance, with a vibrating purse in hand. Taking the call, I heard a voice that I never thought possible.
"Hello, Sarah, I've got a mission for you," said the infamous leader of Titan.
A mix of emotions flashed all at once I couldn't explain it, but I knew one thing, the Paladin was back in business. With a final farewell pet, I left Brutus to his own devices, knowing that he can take care of himself for even a month without causing trouble (not that I ever tested that out for now). I make my way back to Titan in record time as I seeped through the familiar faces. Once I make my way to Morgan, James was there as well. I gave a slight wave as I finally popped the question.
"So what's the mission, and why do you need me for it? Not that I'm glad to be back and everything."
"Believe me, I wouldn't have called you both, but this is a special request," he said almost embarrassingly.
"Who's it from?" James said, questioning.
"An old friend of mine, Georgia Lenses."
The name struck a chord and completely threw me through a loop; when I was in elementary, you couldn't hear a single sentence come out of my mouth that didn't end in her name. So my reaction was less than stoic.
"Wait like CEO/founder of Lenses Inc. is a member of Titan?" I say, shocked.
"More like a contributor a couple of decades back when Titan was still weak and small. We had gotten a tip to protect a politician named Robert Mcnai, who was trying to ban the use of some next-level nerve gas that the military was experimenting with. Eventually, we managed to get this splinter cell so desperate that they held an entire conference of people who had advocated a campaign of nonlethal weaponry. I managed to save everyone in there, including Georgia, who said she owed me a debt that she would always pay. One thing leads to another and the next thing I know, she is the richest woman in the world and now is responsible for 63% of Titan's funds. I try to keep her a secret from most agents for protection's sake with a couple of gadgets here and there. Recently she decided to embark on a project years in the making. And not even a failed assassination seems to be stopping her. Instead, she asked for the best agents I had available to protect her, which brought me to the both of you."
"Did you tell her that I was a literal trouble magnet who could just make things worse," I said, not liking the plan already.
"I did, but Georgia is relentless whenever she sees a deal, and she also promised that she would be protected and safe. But should you accept, know that you're going to be protecting one of the most important people in Titan history," he says with an unbiased tone.
Once again, the words struck a chord; once again, I had the choice to go from peace to war. But if this could lead me to the path out of this storm, then I'll take it.
While my location is classified, I can tell you that New York wasn't one of them. Loud and urban was never my style, but even though hundreds of seeming skyscrapers, James and I found our place. In a giant lense like emblem, we saw Lenses Inc.'s names in almost painfully bright sliver. What also wasn't my style was wearing a tux, but I still made it work enough to slip by the bustling building of employees and make our way up to the head honcho herself. When the elevator opens up, we see the CEO office. It was a relatively large room with a round table of chairs, blue carpet, and a huge shelf of trinkets and awards. All of this ending in a desk containing a short woman with spiky stark white hair bright green eyes in a navy blue business suit held over with a sling over the left arm. Combine that with the signature mole and watch on her right hand, and it was indeed the Georgia Lenses closing another call.
"Sorry, Mr.President I'm going to have to call you later," she said in twinkling interest.
She put the phone up and soon got up from the desk to take a long look.
"So your the illustrious Paladin and Knight. I thought both of you would be shorter," she said teasingly.
"Likewise," I say in a deadpan manner.
"I was well fed in my youth, " James said in tandem
"And a sense of humor, I like that I can tell we are going to get along great, Georgia Lenses at your service," she said as she held her free hand.
"Sarah Walters," I said in agreement.
"James Cormac," he said as he held out his hand.
After our short agreement was made, we talked strategy and got more info on the mission.
"The assassination attempts started when I was cutting a ribbon for an indie tech company; I guess the aim was probably a little off a smidge and hit me in the shoulder. It wasn't the dominant hand, so I guess I was lucky. The reports weren't able to get a real beat on the culprit, but Morgan over the phones said that could be those Pantheon pricks you guys have been fighting. And with someone of my stature, let's say my rogue's gallery isn't exactly small. Normally I would call you and wait it out, but this project of mine is something that I don't want to push any further. I don't have any friends or family that aren't capable of defending themselves or under my protection. And if your expensive type, then that won't necessarily be an issue either. My two-ply should suffice."
"Like the toilet paper?" James says, perplexed.
From her desk, Georgia managed to pull out a green toilet paper roll, made of Willam Mckinley's (500's).
James, in disbelief, awkwardly took the ply as he said.
"And in the college fund, you go."
"You want one, Sarah?" she said as she handed another one to me.
"No, thank you. I'm not in this for the money and will play it your way for now."
And play we did as the project emailed to every employee was a book tour.
For almost two weeks straight, we went across the country through panels, talk shows, and newsrooms promoting Georgia's autobiography. A gripping story of how she scraped her way to the top, for future generations to aim for success. I was never really old enough to see Georgia's appel until now. On the surface, she seemed impulsive and egotistical, but on a deeper level, I can see the real qualities of a businesswoman. Resourceful enough to use almost anything for inspiration, cautious enough to examine the options, ambitious enough to even take this venture and charismatic enough to hide it all. I was honestly a little jealous at first until I started eating like a queen everywhere I went. But even if I was on "vacation" that still didn't stop me from checking every place testing Wiz's latest model of "spyware." To the regular eye, they could be considered glasses, but with these, I could see in most of the spectrum and even what you had for dinner.
For most of the places, they were relatively safe, but they came in clutch when on the last stretch of the tour. We had just finished up her segment of "The Chat." We were inches away from the getaway car, but our trip was sorely soured as the glasses picked up a bomb that sends are car ablaze! Luckily for us, everyone was safe, except the driver who was currently stable in the E.R. And for once I saw Georgia show something new: fear and anger.
"Jerry has been driving me around for years, that man has been the closest I ever had to a brother. And he nearly died because of me."
"He is going to be fine, Georgia."
"You've given him the best doctors in the country. You also gave his family enough money to start their own business. He is not going to die, and he didn't get hurt for nothing," James said while consoling Georgia.
"My specs were able to get some well, specs off the bomb; it looked like the drones that we fought before in Michigan only miniaturized. We've dealt with them before, and they could have been responsible for the sniper shot too. The Gearheads haven't been able to crack the source of the tech, but since you run the world's biggest tech company that you might be able to lower down the list if we go from the notes from Stan. You can bring whoever is doing this to justice." I said with all the compassion I can muster.
"I already checked the specs, Sarah, and it isn't that easy. At best that list runs, it's it all down to a couple of dozen companies, and I'm not going to let you run around while those monsters are still out there. If they want to kill me, then they're going to have to do it here in my castle."
"You can't live here, Georgia these guys could be anywhere and planning as we speak."
"I've pulled all-nighters before, I can make do, and these guys have so much money that these guys wouldn't dare betray me. I'd rather face the press than face the Pantheon."
"Georgia that's pig-headed, this building is one of the first places they'd target, we can get you to a safe house while we take the reigns, I know the difference between pride and fear and hiding from the issue isn't going to make them go away."
"I'm not hiding from the issue. I'm making my stand, and as long as this alliance stands, you'll follow my lead."
"My mission is to protect you at all costs, and investigating these names and going on the offensive is the right way to go. You can stay here if you want, but I've got to go."
I stormed out of the building to angry to think. All while realizing that what I said rang true for me as it did for her. After a taxi, I was about to leave before James stopped my advance.
"I know you're mad, but you think that it's wise to leave Georgia?"
"Georgia has like 40 guards under 24-hour surveillance, whom she knows personally. I doubt even the Pantheon would be able to mount much of an attack of that magnitude."
"Last time we did that, we had a destroyed safe house."
"Then you stay behind, I can take care of this myself."
"I thought we were going to do this together."
"We are, but that doesn't mean we have to do this on different fronts, I'll be fine."
And with that, I rode off in the distance, making a mistake I wouldn't take long to regret.
Frankly told, I agree with Sarah, Georgia would be way better under our protection. I am a soldier, throw enough people in front of something, and I think they can solve any problem, but I find it funny that such a businesswoman wouldn't make connections with us behind funds. But I guess that doesn't matter much as I see a Georgia who had just caught up.
"I don't know much about the spy business, but aren't you guys supposed to be good at following orders?" she said in a salty tone.
"We usually go for the most freestyle approach. Besides, if there is one agent you want to go Awol, it's her. She'll be back," I said respectfully.
Georgia reviewed my words, simplifying saying, "I wish I can buy loyalty like that."
"If you let us help we can, you've known about us longer than I've been alive. I honestly thought that you would be able to trust us of all people."
"Believe me, kid, when you become a paragon in the profession most people fade young in, it tends to make you cautious. There are a top and a bottom in this world, and I think Titan is the equalizer we need. And this incident more than proves it. These Pantheon pricks need to go down, I just which they didn't do it from the shadows."
As soon as she finished talking, my head suddenly grew fuzzy at the presence of a warbling wave. In tandem with a couple of buildings started to go dark completely. Noisy Manhattan went completely ballistic at the sound of crashed cars and panicked citizens. A couple of minutes later, the building's light came back on.
"Well, at least the Pantheon has both dramatic and comedic timing. What the heck happened?"
"An Emp, and by the sound of it a big one. I spared no expense so I made sure this location has emergency power; we should be fine, but if this isn't a red flag, I don't know what is."
"So, start running."
In an instant, multiple men surrounded Georgia as I let my instincts took over, dispersing the group across the key locations. We made our way up the building without a hitch, not seeing a single enemy. Eventually, I managed to get her in her office but no before getting a glimpse of our opponents, a healthy dosing of drones mixed in with a new player, a skinny figure with golden trimmed claws, a shirt with a plume of black feathers with white outlines and chilling skull like a mask. And as the figure bared its claws. I closed the door with an ominous echo, as the battle began.
I will admit that I've had worse get-togethers, but lucky for me, I always had a backup plan. You don't get to be involved with spies without picking up a few failsafe. Once I went to the office, I knocked on the bottom of my shelf three times under one of my Stevie awards. I then put my middle finger on top of the award. The large shelf then opened up as I instantly entered my safe house. Too bad, it was all for not as I met with a gun to the face. And behind that gun was a familiar face that nearly broke my heart in 2. The middle-aged woman had long, sharp black hair, cool blue eyes, and pale skin. She looked so much like her that it was almost unbearable.
"C'mon, I was expecting at least one famous Lenses quote before you go," she said cruelly.
"Well, I did always tell you that talk was cheap, Debbie, but your actions tonight are going to be very costly.."
"My name is Deborah! And trust me when I say that I spared every expense and watched your every move to make tonight happen. After all, I think it's plenty fair to end your life since you ruined mine!" she said with so much hate that it was seething.
The entire safe room soon drained of color as my composure started to crack.
"I thought we buried that incidnet! I thought we had moved on, damn it all I treated you like a daughter!"
"You have the gall to call is family after what you did! You turned my family into a laughing stock, made Grace industries die out because of your own greed, made me look just another underling! And after so long I want to hear you finally admit it."
And with that sentence, I'm forced to remember the worst mistake of my entire life.
Considering my glass half full nature, I decided to focus on the good news. For some strange reason, the murder machines weren't very good at their job as they all turned up nonlethal. And after a long hard fight, my dozen allies were able to destroy every one of them. Too bad, the fight took almost all but one. And that one just happened to be at the hands of our resident psycho. As the man quivered in fear at the claw to his throat, I held a gun straight at that maks of his. The psycho, however, kept her calm as in a digitally altered voice, they said.
"Drop the gun and surrender. Before I take away his pain."
A part of me thought I was lucky and turned out I was right, as I come to realize exactly when my partner arrives. I gave up my gun and awaited my judgment as the figure released a modified chain whip, and just when she is about to use it, Sarah, using her sai catches the whip and uses her speed to blitz the opponent with electrified joust! But shockingly enough, the figure wasn't affected at all, instead slamming Sarah into the opposite wall using her staff while holding her claw over her head. Before they could make a killing blow, Sarah uses her sai to hold them off. After I managed to get the guy out of there, I joined the fight in the form of a powerful sidekick that sends her colliding with the door. Being a gentleman, I helped Sarah up.
"I turn my head around for one second, and your already picking new partners," she says deadpan.
"C'mon now, you and I both know that I'm a one-trick pony. My friend here just got won't take the hint." I say jokingly.
After blocking a mighty slash from the figure's whip, Sarah continued.
"Anything I should know about?"
"Far as I can tell: nasty claws, a sparking whip, and hasn't been fazed by anything I do."
"Well then, if we can't hurt them, we'll have to stop them. Follow my lead."
From the unconscious men, I picked up some of the expandable batons as the assailant spoke out.
"It doesn't what you do. I have no fear; I have no weakness I feel no pain. Walk away now before Orcus becomes the last name you ever hear."
"Well, as a licensed medical practitioner, I'd like to prove that theory of yours wrong," Sarah said, raring to fight.
Sarah and the assailant launched into a barrage of attacks and deflections, all ending in the assailant winning as the whip lit up to let out a sparking hit that sends her back. As Sarah tried to get her second wind, I threw some of my batons at them. They managed to deflect them all, but I managed to close the distance and unleash a couple of crushing blows that make them drop the whip. I thought I was getting the upper hand, but the assassin then struck back with a bone-chilling headbutt! The hit stunned me severely, but I was still able to grab their forearm and stop it from dealing with a killing blow. Sarah managed to get back up as she dragged her sai across their arm!
With blood streaming down the floor, Orcus didn't even bother as they jumped up into a dropkick that pushes both of us far away from each other as she backed up to the waiting room near the elevators with a limp right arm. Not wanting to lose the momentum, I charged in first with a defiant swing that only gets deflected with a palm strike followed by an elbow that I block. Sarah was about to close in but was interrupted by a vicious swipe and a spinning kick. Taking the initiative, I took hold of Orcus and slam them into the table! Using the opportunity, Sarah used a double-pronged attack that completely rips into their left arm! Still, Orcus didn't mind as they hooked their legs to turn Sarah to the bottom.
It didn't stay that way for long as I quickly employed a full Nelson that lifts them off the ground. Orcus tried her best to struggle, but by the time she escaped the hold, it was too late. They could barely keep up a fighting stance with their bloody legs. With her prey now defenseless, Sarah closed in as Orcus made her claim.
"You can't make me give in, and you'll never take me alive," they said in her usual creeping tone.
"Oh, I know, but I want you to take this lesson to the grave. Pain is a warning and a teacher. Maybe if you felt it, you'd realize why you should never have messed with us."
Sarah then slit their throat, turning our opponent into a crimson statue.
It was a couple of decades back, during a time when Lenses Inc was still a fledgling. While I had many enemies to crush, there was always one man that matched me blow for blow. And that was Will Grace or Grace Inc. He was prideful, walked like he owned the place, and was stubborn to a fault. Too bad, he was also my best friend. And so was his wife Mallory Grace, who was as much an emotional rival as Will was. Separately I was on good terms with both, but let's say that they didn't love each other as much as they loved me. After one of their worst fights ever she hid out in my apartment, a couple of drinks later, one thing leads to another, and a mistake was made. And then a row of mistakes was made, over a couple of months. But like all good affairs, we were found out, and as the media nearly ripped us apart.
I lost both a friend and the best chance I had at true love. I tried my best to rebuild what was broken around the time Debbie was born. But lighting can't strike twice; the scars still took their toll. Soon enough Will made some bad investments that haunted all of us to this day and to protect what was left my friends legacy I united Grace and Lenses together. And when little Debbie was old enough, I took her under my wing to be her own woman. I thought I could teach her how to be better than me was the right way to go, but I guess once again, I had set up my own failure. Once again I tried to make my friend's family my own.
"I'm sorry, I truly am. I made a mistake. I turned your family into another deal, into something I could control.And that wasn't right, but you were right, Debbie."
And at the sound of the 2 "rights" in quick succession, the watch finally activated releasing a small dart aimed straight to Debbie's neck! As she started to fall to the ground, all she could say was.
As Deborah's body started to limp, all I could do was lay there for hours, wondering how could have so much yet ended up with so little.
It took some time, but cleanup went off without a hitch. It looked like the vendetta was more personal than anything. But with Debbie in custody, it seemed the plan was to take out Georgia and let a conglomerate of Pantheon connected shell companies to assimilate Lenses Inc. into them slowly was averted. And while we did have a clash of ideas, we made our apologies with Georgia promising to assist Titan in future endeavors. And with my mission revealing doors that even I didn't realize before. I finished my debrief with The Dragoon.
"Do you remember what I said when I wanted to join Titan?" I said in nostalgia.
"Everyday," he said questioningly.
"Well, I want back in. This bounty is going to attract every low-life, scumbag, and mercenary. And I want to show them all that was a mistake they're going to regret. That the Paladin won't hide from the underworld when things get rough, I'm tired of being a coward, and once this is all said and done, I'll end it with the Pantheon."
As Morgan lamented over my chilling proclamation, all he could say was this.
"If this is what you want, Sarah, then I will welcome back to the fold Paladin. And I will help you in any way I can."
"Thank you, sir, I'll need it," I say, walking off to rest for my next adventure.