I would consider myself a very thankful man. I have a beautiful wife and daughter and one of the best friends in the world and the best job ever. Most people can take years to find themselves, but I was lucky enough to have someone to inspire me to become who I am now. My grandfather was someone who fought in WW2 and told of the time he once saved a man who became his best friend for life, sailed across Oceania and fought for civil rights in the 1950s. He always seemed to have to be an unstoppable force. His funeral was one that hit me hard. I'm talking about him now because spring-cleaning has officially started at my house and I just found his most prized possession, his journal. My name is James Cormac; an agent of Titan and this is my life.
My grandfather was a man who wanted to live to the absolute fullest, so he made a journal and filled with things he wanted to do and describe them. After cleaning through the rest of the rooms, I laid down to read some of them. After all, Chuck Norris once said that one could learn from history. I read these tales and found myself enthralled with what this man had done in nearly nine decades of life. I keep reading until I find Margaret at my door. My heart still gets giddy sometimes when I see her. She was nearly as tall as me with straight blond hair, and glasses though she was covered in dirt.
"Okay next time you better throw rock paper scissors cause that shed is filthy."
" You have two psych degrees you could win if you wanted to."
"Because I thought it would be easy. And only now do I realize with dirt on my face I was wrong. Are you reading the Titan manual again?"
My wife Margret's a psychologist, and by far the greatest achievement in my life was getting her to put up with me. To the world at large people think that Titan is a taxing agency. But it is a front to pay for some of Titans expenses. From the beginning, I decided to come clean about Titan as a way to stay honest about the life that I lead. I was lucky to join Titan for my "skills," and well the rest is history.
"No, I'm reading my Grandpa's journal he had a bucket list. It's amazing what he was able to accomplish."
"I guess he was a strong advocate of carpe diem."
"It means to seize the day live every moment to it's fullest."
"So like how after we finish this cleaning we should seize Lily's room and go out for pizza."
"Exactly," she said with much excitement.
I thought about the journal for the rest of spring break. Unsurprisingly death was a common factor in my line of work. I should know better than anyone how close death one could be. I have the scars to prove it. Maybe my grandpa had the right idea. As I go back to work at Titan, I discuss the idea with my best friend Sarah Walters, known in the world of Titan as The Paladin as we engaged in our usual sparring session ( or as others call it me getting beat up). She had on pads with black pants and a white shirt. She also had her hair in shambles, but I could still see her face which I would compare to a roasted chestnut. I knew she was usually a jaded person, but I knew she could be supportive of my idea.
"ahahaahhahahahahahha," Sarah said while holding her sides.
I look on the bright side in fact in the near year of my being assigned to her I finally made her laugh. I wish she would do that more often. While I like to think personally that we had a natural relationship we both knew the truth. Morgan Daniels, the leader of Titan, assigned me to her as her partner. The whole point was to kill her if she ever turned traitor but luckily I was able never to carry that out. Whiles most probably don't notice it, but there is no one I would rather have by my side.
"What's so wrong about having a bucket list? There are a lot of things I haven't done yet."
She regained her composure and explained herself.
"James, you have a body and skills most men would kill for and a beautiful wife and daughter. You have a job where you save lives, go around the world and kill evil men. You're the most charismatic person I ever met with having thousands of people respect and you and stand by you. How the hell can you live life more to the fullest?"
"Well, I've never had an avocado before."
She smacks her head, but before she could kick my ass in another round, we heard our phones beep. We quickly went back to the command center to meet the man behind it all. Morgan Daniels aka the Dragoon stood before me. I still get goosebumps talking with him. He looked as if his eyes trapped an unquenchable fire. Again, he smiled with a softened expression.
"Hello James, Sarah hope you had a good warm-up because you have a very difficult mission ahead of you."
"What kind of mission is this," said Sarah with caution.
"Remember Ben Stan?"
"Ben Stan the very bad man," I said dryly.
As Sarah's facepalmed, Morgan continued.
"Well, it's been about a week since that little scuffle with him, but somehow he went to a Titan base in Detroit. He was raving about how the Pantheon is coming for him and that he needed protection. So we gave him a tracker and last time I checked he was held in a safe house. I want you to escort and interrogated him. We could get some helpful information about our new enemies. Ben's already met Sarah, so maybe we can use her to coax the information out of him."
"Right... coax," Sarah said sinisterly.
"I hope all goes well for you."
In about an hour or 2, we were in a car driving to the base in uniform. One of the things that make me famous among Titan is my bulletproof armor. Years ago Titan developed a rare bulletproof material. Using this Titan decided to make a group of powerful soldiers becomes virtually one-man armies. They were dubbed the Artillery, and I was a member. They were like a family to me. But sadly all good things must come to an end, and I was alone.
Sometimes I look at the armor for minutes at a time. I wonder if I keep it as a lesson of the future or as a burden of past nostalgia. It's ironic I think about what my place is in all of this often before a battle. A lot of people who venture on their path often question the outcome of their choices. After all, when people reach the ends of their lives, there is always one question that gets brought up. Did it matter? I stew over that often. I exited the car armed to the teeth. My armor was grey with a draconic helmet engraved in it. I was equipped with a machete, shotgun, an automatic, shield and two grenades. My feet heard the crunch of gravel. My casual walk turns into a desperate run as I see something that makes my blood run cold and adrenaline spike. The safe house was in shambles. On the outside, there were broken windows, dead agents and shredded cars. The inside was far worse. Every inch we advanced brought another body or a new form of destruction I never knew possible. All around they were these weird hunks of metal, broken pistols and knives. The only words to perfectly describe this mess were.
"Crap and a half," Sarah said awestruck.
The eerie silence is broken when we hear the sound of a battered woman crying for help. Sarah rushes instantly to the sound, but from nowhere she is suspended up in the air by a robotic tentacle! I survey to see the glowing red eye of a drone more advanced than anything I've ever seen. Instantly I jumped and slashed down on the tentacle until I hear the snap of circuitry. I threw the machete into the hunk of metal it came from and quickly kicked in the drones monitor screen for good measure. My success is short-lived when I barely miss something that swoops down from the ceiling! I realized it was another drone with spider-like appendages with miniature chainsaws. I feel the heat and pressure of those saws as they slice into my armor. The cuts aren't deep, but I'm lucky that it didn't break. Through the pandemonium, I stand my ground as I use my shotgun as a bat and whack the spider bot away only to empty a couple of rounds into it. Again there is no rest as I hear the whirring of two turrets rattling off from another drone. In haste, I dive into a nearby pillar for cover. My back started to bruise from the sheer force of the bullets I caught. As I heard the drone inch closer, I notice a buzzsaw embedded in the wall. In a flash, I use my strength to dislodge the buzz saw and throw it at the drone! I thank my ultimate Frisbee coach as I hear the shredding of metal and circuitry combined with the spurting of oil. When I got back to my list, I was going to have to cross off and add surviving a robot apocalypse. I motioned towards Sarah to see if she was all right. She coughed and coughed but was relatively fine.
"What the hell are those things?"
"I don't know, but I have a seeking suspicion that this has something to do with our new friends."
We rushed over to see a woman who was bleeding from a slash in her stomach. Sarah quickly got to work. She lifted her shirt to see the slash and the blood.
"I need medical assistance, cloth and a report on what the hell is going on."
In 30 minutes we have a small unit of agents performing, cover stories, and scanning. As we saw the agent in a stretcher, she summons a bit of strength to address me weakly.
"Those drones completely took us by surprise. About 25 in all in the crossfire Ben left, but the trackers should still work. Please take this bring that bastard back here," she held my hand with pure desperation.
My mind flashes to that fateful mission that caused the Artillery to die. The scene looked all too familiar to when I said goodbye for a lot of close friends.
"I will... We will."
And in 5 minutes we were off as if nothing happened. Detroit had one of the highest murder and crime rates in the country, so a blanketed narrative wasn't so hard. The transponder beeped Ben's location as we drove in silence. No words really could describe the horror we witnessed. Sure death was a regular part of my job, but I couldn't shake it away. These unknown enemies with barely any information on who we are as far as we are know barreled through a Titan safe house with tech that was 3 to 5 years ahead of anything we've ever seen. If we were going to win against them, we needed Ben. We tracked down the tracer to a bar titled " The lucky duck" known for the presence of the Highwaymen motorcycle gang (There a real thing). We changed into police uniforms as we walked into the bar. We saw about 20 men and women all in standard biker gear there as we saw a list of rules carved into the bar.
That would be endearing if it weren't for the fact that they all had some form of melee weaponry on their person. We kept moving towards where the transponder was pointing towards their broom closet. I was about to get in, but two guys stopped me dead in my tracks. The both had standard biker attire, but one was a skinny black man, and another was a fat Caucasian man. They stared themselves straight into my personal space and sneered.
" I suggest you get out before we throw you out."
Sarah then jumped in showing a fake police id.
"Hello sir my name is Dorothy Smite, and this is my partner Derga Mince(I made the id names). We are the Detroit police department. We have strong evidence to believe a suspect called Ben Stan entered here about an hour ago. We're here to collect him.
"Well, Dorothy why don't you make it back to Never-land were you belong. Do you know where you're at? "
"It's called Oz and unless you don't want the entire force of DPD on your to assess you'll surrender quietly."
I diffused the situation.
"This missing person has quite the ransom. If you give him up, I bet you can make a pretty penny without even having to shank a poor man on the street."
The two men looked at each other with smug expressions.
"Sorry sweet cheeks but your suspect isn't here. May I suggest looking up your asses?"
Or more likely Ben has bought them off.
Sarah dripped venom with her next few lines.
"Then I guess we're not leaving."
The fat guy threw a punch at me, but I caught and put all my power in my grip. The man crippled his composure and got on his knees. The other man moved to attack but I punched him away with my right hand. All the men stood with weapons ready.
"Here is what's going to happen. We're getting our suspect whether you like it or not. How hard that's going to be is up to you, "I said.
To answer the black man was going to strike but Sarah caught his hand, hit his throat and backhanded him. He crumpled. We then stood side by side to greet our multitude of opponents.
"Just an average day in the life of us."
"That is so depressingly true it hurts," Sarah quipped back.
I pulled a bar stool off the ground, and we charged into combat. I managed to swing the bar-stool and took down two men and raised it to counter a raised machete. I twisted out of the holder's hand and kicked him down. Another man raised his bat and hit me a couple off times. I use the bar stool to disarm him and crack it over his right shoulder. I then hear the sound of agony as I saw my partner gets to work.
I saw Sarah pushed into the bar but quickly recovered by throwing a bottle at her attackers head and delivering a palm strike followed by a swift elbow. She then grabs a gator pro from the hand of an assailant and uses it to perform a deep slash into his leg. She used it to good work as she trapped a man's hand and buried it into his torso.
My fight continued with my body hissing with pain as I landed two jabs on another opponent a burly man carried a sledgehammer. He smiled a giddy smile as he ran towards me. I pushed myself off the bar to avoid the strike and rolled into another attacker, and I quickly subdue her with an elbow to the head. I barely miss the sledgehammer again. I take a chair to parry the sledgehammer and broke it across his side and unleash a vicious uppercut that launches him upward. Then suddenly a chain wrapped around my throat and pulled me into the bar. As I choked two men with brass knuckles were about to give my dentist a paygrade. I pulled as hard as I can to gain control of the chain and proceed to roll out of the way. On the way down I tripped one of them down and punched on in their privates as they agonized in pain I busted their heads open.
While I was done, Sarah proved her greatest strength. She was like a force of nature as I saw her dislocate a man's shoulder, slam a dude's head on the bar, break a man's ankle and stab a man's hand. She finished her last man with a volley of palm strikes. We made our way to Ben but the only person to stand in our way was a bulky woman with nunchucks. She flipped them around and around and struck a confident fighting pose.
"You're not getting past me."
We looked at each other with exhausted expressions as ten seconds later the woman is thrown into a table that breaks underneath her. I put down a mental note to put my first bar fight on the list. I kicked down the door of the broom closet, and Sarah grabbed Ben who was dressed in formal attire. Scared out of his mind he struggled but resorted to yelling.
"I already gave you guys 6,000 dollars the other half will come later!"
"I'm disappointed that you don't remember me, Stan, I thought we had made quite the connection last week," Sarah said with her creeping contempt coming through.
"Who are you?"
"Remember when I said that you would die by a thousand cuts? I'll make that promise come true when we get back to Titan. "
"Why it seems you did such a great job earlier."
"Listen here you little shit if you told us that the Pantheon was half as powerful as what you described we wouldn't be here right now. Those lives are on you," I said holding him up with fury.
"I came to Titan because I thought I would be safe. And tonight proved just how much of a lie that was. Need I remind you ass hats that the only asset you have to beat the Pantheon! Because I swear if this all you have then they will crush Titan like an ant. They'll match you pound for pound, and they will make you nothing more than a memory. You want to know something about the Pantheon, know this. Cut the bullshit and don't hold your punches cause they won't either."
Then suddenly in the mess of words, a small drone appears above us with a red light looking from it.
"Greetings agents of Titan, My code name is Hephaestus, and I've come for Mr. Stan. Further resistance is futile and only result in more antagonistic measures."
"If I wanted to commit suicide I could do that myself," Ben said.
"You committed suicide the very moment your utter incompetence lead to Titan finding you out. If you don't come to the Renaissance center in one hour you're next of kin will suffer for your foolishness."
From the speakers, we heard the fearful screams of a young man.
"Dad please save me already, please!"
Ben eyes widened with fear, which turned into rage.
"You bastards wouldn't dare hurt my-."
"You know we would Mr. Stan. You are a threat to Pantheon. You know we would sacrifice one to save many. I'll see you there; this drone will tell you their location. "
What happened next was a magnum opus of emotion. He cursed screamed and kicked for about a minute before starting to break down into crying slowly. He desperately cried out and pleaded and offered me money and power. And as much as this man annoyed me, his reaction is understandable. Because the greatest moment in my life wasn't how I saved the city this week, it was seeing the first moments of my baby girl Lily. I may be bruised and tired I may die if I do this, but as long as I have breath in my body, I will use it to help those in need. Because that is what Titan is all about. So in that moment of sympathy, I kneeled and told him.
"Don't worry Ben; we will help you. We'll get him back."
As we drove towards the Renaissance Center Sarah quickly listed off a bunch of plans towards Wiz.
"How about hacking the drones or make an EMP or something?
"No good, we can't hack them, but maybe there be enough to make a set EMP, but it would take some time to set off. Even if you get there, I guess you may have 4 minutes before it can be activated. Think you could set one up? "
"I can; I have experience with bombs. just talk me through it and tell me what I need."
A series of coughs was followed shortly after saying that.
"You sure your up to this? You took a hell of a beating," Sarah said."
"I'll be fine Paladin. I can do this."
That was a bit of a lie. The bruises made it hard to focus on anything, I feel like passing out, and knuckles feel like they're on fire. Still, I got a mission to carry out. I can rest later. By the time our hour was up, we had set up a working EMP. We met Hephaestus up on the top of the Renaissance Center in uniform. Hephaestus met us with three drones. One of the spider drones had a knife against Ben's son's throat. We walked with tension thicker than blood filling the air. The only thing interrupting up our stand off being the flicker of the surrounding lights and the glass windows that reflected them.
"Surrender Ben to me first, and then we will give you his kin."
About 10 seconds passed before we gave our statement in the form of a quick draw that would make Clint Eastwood jealous. Sarah let me borrow her gun Gungir, and it's fantastic! During the quick draw, a blue laser shot out right through the center of a drone. I got panicked when the knife left a small nick on the boy's neck. We charged in with guns blazing. I feel the air sizzle as I barely avoid buzz saws aimed for my head, but I'm still able to land a couple of shots on the drone and finish by smashing it so hard with my shield that it dents. Sarah threw a volley of glue grenades at her drone and electrocuted it with her staff. I thought the battle was over until out of nowhere. However, Hephaestus voice spoke out.
"I'm giving you one last ultimatum to give up or die."
We turned to see a drone with a considerable bomb strapped to it's back.
"I tried to give all of you an out, to keep things civil. I hate it when things go wrong. Don't bother trying to escape or defuse me you'll all die anyway. As a last bit of mercy, I'll give you 30 seconds to rationalize your death. Goodbye Tita-"
Before I could say goodbye to my family the drone shut down. I thought luck was at play, but then I realize the lights around us started to blackout, and I realize our 4 minutes were up.
"Well that was anticlimactic," said Sarah bluntly.
I couldn't help but smile and then laugh a haughty laugh as I lay down on the ground exhausted. Hours later we secured Ben and his son in Titan. Ben was less of a tremendous pulsating dick as he was now ready to give us info. All was well as Sarah was just about to finish her debriefing with Mr. Daniels while I managed to get medical attention. I thought this story would end with me watching Looney Tunes when suddenly on my Tv I was alerted that transmission was being sent to our location. It turned into an image of a Pantheon symbol with three dark heads around them. Mr. Daniels voice spoke with an underlining fire while answering.
"So I assume you are the Pantheon that's been causing such a ruckus lately. "
"Indeed we are," the heads said in unison.
"Let me get straight to the point and cut through the bullshit what exactly are your intentions. What business do you have with Titan? You've taken lives, stolen children yet you say you're actions are fair and just. So please explain to me what merit do you justify yourselves for these actions? On what level did you believe in sacrificing 20 good men was for your greater good."
"Soldiers in the line of duty die all of the time. We didn't want to act right now, but Ben forced our hand. We were simply adapting to the situation. Your agents got in the way while we opted for a more peaceful solution numerous times."
" So what my men were just casualties in your grand scheme?! You call sending your next-gen war machines a peaceful solution! From what I see you're preparing for war masking it under a pathetic facade of peace!"
"You know nothing. Do you believe that peace can be achieved by putting a bandage on the world's problems? No, the only way to bring peace is to force it. Anyone that gets in our way will meet a swift end."
My hospital bed felt like it was on fire.
"So you intend to force peace on the world, to abandon free will and unite it kicking and screaming into submission. And what makes you think that Titan will stand by and allow you to carry on such a goal?"
"There is no choice. If you want to go to war then fine but remember. We are the greatest minds and bodies in the world with an ambition that far exceeds yours. If you go to war with us, know that in the end, you will bow down at our feet."
"Titan has stood the test of time again and again. You are not the first enemy to try and beat us, and when this war of ours ends we will come out the victor, and you will join the ashes of our enemies."
"Fine but remember well. Remember that even the Titans with all their power faded into obscurity. Remember this moment and your words because there will be a time where you will regret it with all your hearts."
The monitor held up, and I could finally breathe again. The pain from my bruises comes fully into fruition, and the weight of our proclamation weighs down. When I go back to my home in bandages, I instantly write a couple of additions to the list. Something tells me that I was going to dance close to death yet again. And I feel like a lot more horrors are in store for me, so I hope to every god out there that I'm strong enough to pull through the storm that's coming.