Firedrake Chapter 18by T. Mike McCurley
“What the hell do I wanna be on TV for?” Drake snapped, his eyes narrowing at the thought.
“You made quite a showing at the Patriot incident,” Colleen Hart said, leaning back in her chair and taking a long drag on her cigarette. The sleeves of her shirt extended beyond the cuffs of her suit jacket to cover a full inch of her hands, Drake noted as he watched her flick ashes into the standing metal ashtray beside her desk. He trailed his gaze up to see the collar of her shirt buttoned high to conceal her neck.
“That what they’re calling it now?” he drawled, shrugging mountainous shoulders. His tail flicked back and forth behind him in a staccato beat. Hart smiled.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Agent,” she said. “You know full well what the popular press has declared. Patriot’s statements may have given him a warm fuzzy feeling, but they have done little to further the peaceful coexistence of boosted and mundane.”
“Like I care,” he said. The tail flicked a little faster.
“Things are evolving on the streets,” Hart said, eyes not missing the increase in tempo of the barbed tail. “As I said, you made quite a showing at the incident. There are those who would like to have you appear for interviews. Our public affairs people met with legal and seem to think the idea is viable.”
She paused to draw on the filter-tip once more, and then glanced at him from behind a veil of thin smoke. “Me, I think it’s political suicide for the Department.”
“Aww, gee, mommy, can I go? Can I? Huh?” Drake asked, dancing in his chair and waving his arms like an excited child. After a few seconds, he dropped his arms back to hang at his sides and made a snorting noise. “The whole reverse psychology idea blows, lady. Telling me you don’t want me to go on television in hopes that I’ll then want to. Wow. How original can you get?”
“In point of fact, Agent, it’s true. Those were my words to the media relations team that I had in my office just two hours ago.” Hart slid a folder across the table. “There are the recommendations they presented in response.”
“I ain’t reading all this crap,” Drake said, pushing the folder back across the desk with a yellowed talon.
“You ought to. They have nothing but praise for the way you handled yourself at the Parade.”
“Frankly, we could use some good press,” she said, crushing out the cigarette and leaning forward. Her arms flattened on the desk before her as she braced against the metal surface. “National hero or not, what Patriot said and did up there hurt us.”
“Us as in boosters, not the Department, right?”
“Correct. His statements may well have been factual, but that does not deter from the fact that he left a sour taste in the mouth of the general public as relates to metahumanity as a whole.”
“Ain’t like they was too hyped on us in the first place,” Drake said, snorting again.
“Again, you are right,” Hart said, smiling. “Twice in one day,” she added as she quirked an eyebrow.
“Cut to the chase.”
“Have you watched any of the coverage of the event?” Hart asked.
“Naw. Monster said the TV made me look fat, so I passed.”
“We are taking a beating,” she said, glossing over his attempt at humor. “They’re still cleaning up Atlanta, and it’s been three weeks. All of our aid attempts were rejected outright by the Atlanta Mayor and the Governor. They said we had done enough damage. CNN’s got a poll going as to whether or not boosters should be regulated and registered.”
“Fascist bullshit,” Drake snarled.
“Perhaps, but it is an option that is now and has been previously examined by the powers-that-be. On top of everything there’s the Onslaught faction.”
“Onslaught. He’s a booster out of Manhattan,” Hart said with a wave of her hand as though trying to dismiss the man. She opened a drawer of her desk and slipped out a thin remote control, then pointed it at the flat screen television behind Drake and thumbed it to life. “He’s developed a following among the more violent elements of society, both mundane and boosted, due to his…let’s call it flamboyant nature.”
Drake swiveled in his chair to view the television as Hart hit the ‘PLAY’ button. A heavily-muscled man in urban grey fatigues and an executioner’s hood sat across a desk from Larry King.
“What they did in Atlanta just ain’t right,” the man was saying. His voice was strong and vibrant, and eyes like brilliant sapphires glared out from behind the mask. “You got Patriot, standing up there for all the world to see and saying we killed Lady Justice. You got some weather-witch asshole tossing lightning bolts, some big snake-man thing with wings—”
“They said it was some kind of dragon,” King clarified. The man slammed a meaty fist on the desk.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about, Larry! If he’s so good and pure, how come he’s gotta show up with an army? If he’d had any balls at all, he’d have shown up alone! In fact, if he’s got any balls, he can come and face off with me! Him or anyone else. I’ll go toe-to-toe with any of them.”
The image snapped of and Drake turned back to Hart with a chuckle. “He’s a joke, right? Some kind of parody or something? A dumbass kid with a Mortal Kombat fetish?”
“Actually, he’s got a minor rap sheet for Mob muscle work about five years back,” Hart corrected. “He’s been saturating the airwaves with broadcasts like this since the Parade incident. Open challenges to Patriot, you, Ian Calder, Bonebreaker, anyone.”
“So you want me to go kick his ass? Nice. Very mature.”
“Negative. The media relations people think that the only good press we got out of the event was this,” she said, selecting a button on the remote. Drake turned again to see an image of himself as he swept down from the sky and grabbed a bald man with a submachinegun who was firing randomly. The camera managed to catch a good image of the badge on his belt against the arm of the shooter, where the symbol of Humanity First was visible.
“Seems the dichotomy captured in that one shot is going to get someone a Pulitzer or something,” Hart explained. “It also got splashed on papers all over the country as a symbol of governmental authority cracking down on racism. That, of course, was before the press decided it was more in fashion to call boosters dangerous psychopaths.”
“As opposed to the friendly huggable psychopaths,” Drake said, crossing his arms over his chest and shaking his head. “I ain’t your man, boss. There’s all kinds of folks on staff that would be good at this. You need damage control and I’m the guy you call when you need something broken, not fixed.”
“Strangely enough, that is almost exactly what I told the media relations team. My version involved some rather artistic slides and a couple of newspaper shots of you giving the camera the finger, but other than that…”
“So what am I supposed to do? Go on Jerry Springer and say how great we are? Hell, even I don’t like most of our crowd.”
“You’ll coordinate with media relations. They’ll assign someone as your watchdog. Then they’ll set up interviews with the right people.”
“Ah. The right people. Like, the ones who ain’t gonna ask me what it’s like to destroy buildings and set people on fire. Those kind of people?”
“Not to put too fine a point on it, Agent, but yes. We are going to farm you out in arranged interviews. The objective, as you put it earlier, is damage control. We have no interest in starting another war.”
“Oh, man. This sucks,” Drake said. His tail flicked back and forth in short, sharp arcs. The sound of his teeth grinding was audible even over his speech. “How the hell do you come up with shit that’s this stupid? Making me a spokes-thing for boosters? What’s next? You gonna ask Doctor Viral to make a batch of Kool-Aid for the press conference? I mean, you ain‘t even gonna fight this?”
“I fought it already. I lost,” Hart said. “Your assignment is fixed, Agent. Like it or not - and that applies to us both—this is it.”
Moments later, in the midst of Drake’s fevered swearing, the office door opened to admit a man in a suit. A brand new DOJ identification card hung on a thin strap around his neck, and his hair was slicked back into a perfect modern style. Brilliant white teeth flashed as he spoke animatedly. Drake was at first convinced that the man was insane and speaking to himself until he made out the shape of a cell phone pickup slipped into the man’s left ear. A BlackBerry device was clipped to his belt.
“…going to have to do better than that,” the man was saying as he casually barged into the office. “If he thinks that‘s good enough, he‘ll have to think again. Oops, I gotta go,” he added as he saw the furious look on Hart’s face.
“Private meeting, slick,” Drake snarled. His lip twitched to show his own teeth.
Instead of the man blanching and falling back as expected, he winked and extended his right hand. “Marty Shaw,” he whispered by way of introduction. Then, in a normal voice, “Oh, come on, Tommy. You’re my boy on this one. Make it happen. Oh, and tell Andrea I said hello to her and the kids.”
He snatched the phone bud from his ear and dropped it into a pocket of his suit, retracting his hand without any sign of annoyance at the fact that it had not been accepted. He made a gun-shape with his left hand, index finger stretched out and thumb raised, and then clucked his tongue as he waved the hand toward Drake.
“Like I said, big boy, name’s Marty Shaw. Media Relations called me in on this. Apparently they think you’re supposed to be a star.”
“And you believe this why?” Hart asked.
“They wouldn’t have called for me otherwise. I make people famous, doll.”
Drake snorted and a smile began to creep across his face as he saw the color rush to Hart’s face in response to the word ‘doll’.
“Sit down, Mister Shaw,” Hart said through clenched teeth. Drake fought off an urge to prostrate himself before Hart’s desk and realized just how angry the remark had made her. The pheromones she released were thick enough to be nearly visible. Shaw sat.
“So where do we start?” he asked, looking at Drake. He cocked his head to the left, then to the right, examining Drake with a practiced eye, all the while grinning madly.
“We start with you moving over there a couple of feet,” Drake said, using the heavy muscles of one arm to easily slide Shaw’s chair away from his own. “And you’ll keep going, right out the window, if you don’t quit eyeballing me like that.”
“Just seeing what I have to work with,” Shaw said. “You are a big one, aren’t you?”
“What, were you in the locker room earlier?”
“Good! Snappy response. I like it. Now what we have to do is get you to respond that easily in the interviews - although with a little more care for your words. We’ve already got you set up with BoosterScene tonight, then you go on MSNBC in the morning. Official responses to the Patriot incident,” he added, waving his hands in the air and grimacing. He continued before either of them could interrupt.
“We’re going to have to work on the wardrobe a little bit. I mean, I know the whole leather and fatigues look is hot right now, but we’ve got to find some way to keep the pistols concealed. They give the wrong message.”
“What message?” Drake asked. His hand went reflexively to the butt of one pistol as though to guard it.
“It says we’re militant, and right now we don’t need that,” Shaw said. “We’ll find you a jacket or something. Dress you up a little bit and people will find it easier to feel, well, close to you.”
“I don’t want people close to me.”
“Yes you do, Drakey, yes you do! From this point on, you’re the man. You’re going to kiss babies and shake hands all over this country. By the time I’m through, you’ll be able to run for President! I’ve got a crew of my merchandising people working on a few things even as we speak, and within the next twenty-four hours we’ll have Firedrake merchandise in every store from here to Timbuktu.”
“Exactly what do you mean, Mister Shaw?” asked Hart. Her teeth were still tightly clenched and she stared at the man as if he were no more than a bug.
“We’ve got a wave here, lady…um, Director,” Shaw said, waving a finger again. He stood and began to pace about the room, waving his arms animatedly as he explained. “You see, the press picked up on the fact that our boy here’s not the usual suspect. They ran a series of shots of him busting up the gangers and the racist elements at the parade, right? Well, polls show there was a surge of interest in him. The Google hits alone in the two days after the incident were astronomical! Everybody wants to know who he is, what he is, and why he does what he does. The wave has begun to surge forward and we’re gonna ride that bad boy all the way! I’m talking about action figures, comic books, maybe a Saturday morning cartoon! Give us a week, and every kid in America will be wearing Firedrake pajamas and fuzzy green slippers.”
Drake stood from his chair in a rush of movement, his wings flaring outward with a hissing sound. His tail flew up and arced in over his head, the long barbed tip pointing like an accusatory finger as he grabbed Shaw by the lapels and lifted him easily into the air until they were eye-to-eye.
“Now you listen to me, slick. I don’t give two shits what kind of interviews or talk shows or whatever you’ve got lined up. The first time I see anyone wearing pajamas made to look like me I’ll break your BlackBerry,” Drake said. “I’m gonna make you watch while I crack it open and rip the guts out with a claw.”
“Easy there, big fella,” Shaw said, turning his head away from the caustic spittle that smoked as it landed on his suit coat. “No need for threats. Look, we’ll, um, we’ll make a percentage—a fairly large one—of the proceeds go toward the rebuilding of Atlanta. The publicity alone will make it impossible to resist!”
Drake turned to look at Hart with an expression of raw horror. “Who is this monkey?” he asked. “Cheerful Guy? Annoyingly Smarmy Man?”
“I was thinking Captain Car Sales, actually,” Hart responded in a rare show of humor. She flapped a hand at Drake. “Put him down, Agent,” she said.
Drake lowered the man. A part of him was stunned to see Shaw casually reach up to smooth the lines of his suit, brushing carefully at the burned patches. The million-dollar smile was no longer in place when he looked back up at Drake.
“You got a job to do, pal, and so do I,” Shaw said. His voice sounded relaxed for the first time since he had entered the room. Drake was not sure if that was a good sign or not. “The difference is, I’m an agent with about a hundred success stories under my belt and I’m going to make this Department look like the greatest thing that’s ever been. You? Well, you’re a giant gecko who graduated from security guard school.”
“There‘s other differences,” Drake said, making his mind up that the relaxed voice was definitely not a good thing. Still, it opened up the door for him to verbally respond, and that much at least was good. “Like the fact that I can put a bullet in your head and swear under oath a meteorite hit you. Or that I can bite off your face and tell the judge you tried to take my gun and use it on me. Or that I can drop you in a holding cell with a couple dozen Aryan Brotherhood types and tell them you’re there ‘cause you’ve got a thing for young boys. Getting the picture yet?”
“Yeah. I’ve got it,” Shaw said, nodding. He held out his hands as if surrendering. “You’re not going to make this easy, and that’s fine. I like a challenge.”
“Agent Drake?” Hart prompted. She pointed to the door. “Take your new friend and go play somewhere else. And if he gets hurt or worse, you’d better have a very believable explanation for your actions.”
“Yes, mom,” Drake grumbled. He grabbed Shaw by the wrist and propelled him toward the door, stiff-arming him none-too-gently in the middle of the back to keep him moving.
The interview at BoosterScene began amiably enough. The two hosts of the show had years of experience at dealing with geneboosters of most any variety. Ron Yoshida had made his career with his exclusive interview with Professor Pain fifteen years earlier, and had been considered one of the best in the business for nearly that long. He was a natural choice for the lead on the video magazine. His partner was Kimberly Dunn, chosen for her investigative talent as much as for the impressive physique with which she had been blessed. It was an open secret at BoosterScene that Kimberly had Emerged at age seventeen and exhibited an enhanced personal magnetism and charm ever since.
Drake had simply glared at the makeup artist assigned to him until the young woman quailed and walked away with her kit in her hands. The chair they had brought in for Drake to use, Shaw pointed out, was not “tail-friendly”, and it was rapidly exchanged for a simple high stool. Matching stools - albeit shorter ones—were brought out for Ron and Kimberly as well, in hopes that it would make the interview feel more casual.
“We’ve all seen the footage by now,” Ron said to the camera once he got the signal that the broadcast was underway. Behind him, on a wide plasma-screen monitor, various scenes from the Lady Justice Day parade flashed by in a series of disturbing images. “What was supposed to be a beautiful remembrance turned into a riot of near-legendary proportions. What happened out there? Where did it all go wrong?”
“Well, Ron,” Kimberly began, projecting her honey-smooth voice easily over the deeper tones of her co-host. “Some say it was when Patriot made his statements about Lady Justice. Still others claim it was caused by radical anti-booster elements present at the parade.”
“What is the real story?” Ron asked. Kimberly stepped in without hesitation, the two of them playing off one another with the ease of familiarity.
“Our next guest is here to explain just what did happen. Please welcome Firedrake!” she wrapped up, completing her statement with a rapid crescendo that blended in with the applause of the studio audience.
Drake walked onto the stage, noting almost subliminally that quite a lot of the applause died out when his enormous form emerged from backstage. He reached out to shake hands with them both and then took his seat with a rustle of wings. He tried to smile in a manner that would not be intimidating, but gave up rapidly when he saw Shaw, situated behind the cameras, pointing at his own mouth and shaking his head.
“Welcome to BoosterScene, Firedrake,” Ron said, turning slightly to open up more to the camera. Drake, having interviewed dozens of suspects in his time, recognized the subtle shift. He tried to force himself to relax, but the alien nature of the environment put him into a protective mode.
“Thanks,” he managed to say.” Ron and Kimberly both sat expectantly for a second before realizing that Drake was not going to begin speaking until they prompted him. Kimberly caught on sooner, and her question came first.
“So what happened out there?” she asked. Her smile lit up the stage.
“Um, looks like there were some folks from Humanity First present,” Drake said, trying not to stammer. “There was a group of them that had a permit for a protest, and they were being pretty cool, but apparently there were some mixed in with the crowd that were looking for an excuse to cause a problem, and when Patriot made his announcement, I guess that was as good a time as any.”
“Have you had previous problems with Humanity First?” Ron asked.
“Me personally? No,” Drake said, letting a slight grin slip past his guard. “I don’t get out much, you know. Besides, look at me.”
“You are a pretty good deterrent to violence,” Ron agreed with a nod. Drake chuckled.
“Naw. I mean, look at me. I’m a reptile. They come after me, and I’ll sic PETA on their asses.”
The crowd laughed for a moment, and Ron and Kimberly were quick to join in. From his position behind the cameras, Marty Shaw nodded and gave Drake a thumbs-up.
“Anyway,” Drake continued, “we had some problems with a projecting telepath as well. He was able to manipulate the emotional states of the people gathered at the parade, and aided in the causation of the riot that followed.”
“Sounds creepy,” Kimberly said, a too-obvious shudder running down her spine. “He was the one in black, right? The one that made you and Elementaire attack Patriot?”
“That’d be him,” Drake said. “Calls himself China. He, uhh, well, his father was Mindmaster. Patriot was forced to kill Mindmaster a few years back, you’ll remember. So this China, he came looking for a little payback.”
“And he made you attack Patriot?” Kimberly repeated.
“Yeah. Luckily, the Man is built to withstand pretty much anything that gets thrown at him.”
“So what happened to this China person?” Ron asked. He gestured toward the audience. “I’m pretty sure no one wants him running around out there.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Drake assured him. “He’s in a Federal holding facility. No contact with anyone.”
“There’s a poll over at CNN right now, Firedrake,” Kimberly said, holding up a sheet of paper. It had a bar graph on it, with a line each of red, blue, and yellow. The red line was noticeably longer than the blue, and the yellow was very short. “They’re asking the public to vote on whether they think that boosters should be regulated. As you can see here, the popular vote says ‘yes’. Almost two to one against the ‘no’ votes, and the ‘undecided’ crowd chimed in with a couple hundred selections. Now, I know where I stand on this, but what about you?”
Drake sucked at a tooth, and then made a show of clearing his throat. He could see Shaw where the man stood. As expected, he was talking furiously into his cell phone. Wide eyes were fixed on Drake. “Kimberly, let me say this: Officially, the Department of Metahuman Affairs is keeping silent on this poll, and the dozen or so others that are going on right now. Even if it ran a hundred thousand to one, it’s still not a law. Until it is, we’re not in a position to comment.”
“But what about you?” she pressed. Behind the scenes, Shaw turned and spoke to a BoosterScene staff member, who paled and ran from the area.
“On a personal level, I don’t see how it can work. The testing is spotty at best, and unless you’re someone who looks like me, how are they gonna tell for sure you’re a booster?”
“It’s not a new discussion anyway,” Ron said offhandedly. “Polls like this crop up every couple of years.”
“Right. And have they led to anything yet? Nope.”
“There you go,” Ron said with a nod. He raised a hand in response to a gesture from behind the cameras. “We’re going to have to go to commercial now, but we’ll be right back to finish up with Firedrake.”
“And we’re clear!” called a voice from offstage. Ron and Kimberly both relaxed slightly as stage hands swarmed the area, bringing bottles of water and touching up makeup during the break. Shaw stepped forward, his smile once more fixed in place, and came over to pat Drake on a shoulder.
“Doing great,” he said. His next words were a whisper so quiet that the microphones that hung on large booms overhead would have no luck picking it up. “They’re going to bring up Onslaught when they come back. There’s news. Watch what you say.”
He cocked his head to the side, and Drake followed the motion with his eyes. Two staffers were whispering urgently into the ears of both Kimberly and Ron. Ron responded quietly as well, and the young lady who was briefing him scurried away and headed directly for a uniformed security officer.
“What kind of news?” Drake asked.
“That depends on your point of view,” Shaw said, winking and smiling to the crowd as he turned and made his way back to his position of concealment behind the cameras. Drake could see his lips moving as he spoke into his phone. The media agent did not appear to be happy.
“In five…four…three…” Drake heard. A moment later, Ron began speaking, addressing his comments to the camera alone.
“Okay, folks, we’re back. For those of you just joining us, we have with us today Firedrake, the Federal officer seen in those tremendous photos from the Lady Justice Day parade riot. He’s been explaining about the racist elements present and the use of psychic powers to disrupt the proceedings. Before we continue, though, we have to address this item that has just been brought to us. Ladies and gentlemen, the following was sent to us as a web-feed. It was also sent to every major press outlet in the United States and apparently freely uploaded to anyplace that would take it. This is raw footage. It has not been edited or anything, so we can‘t be sure of the quality. Tony, could you roll it, please?”
A monitor at the side of the stage lit up with a separate image as the broadcast shifted to a different source. On the monitor, the hooded figure of Onslaught could be seen seated at the head of a long table. A golden candelabrum occupied space to either side of him, casting shadows from the flickering flames of the dozen candles they held. The room he was in appeared to be made completely from hewn stone.
“I am Onslaught,” he said, carefully enunciating in a bass voice. The camera slowly zoomed in on his hooded face until his narrowed eyes could be seen within the slits of the hood. He sat silently for a moment. The camera view pulled back. Suddenly, he leaped to his feet and slammed his fists onto the table. Huge chunks of stone broke away and crashed to the floor.
“Firedrake?” he roared, making the name itself a question. “That’s your name? You a big TV star now? Hanging out with Patriot and all of those pussies? I put out a challenge for you, snake-boy, and you ignore it? What, did you need to check with Blueboy and his pet Frenchman to see if it was okay? Well, listen up, bootlicker. As of now, your life just got interesting.”
“Yeah, ‘cause it was so dull before,” Drake muttered, rolling his eyes. On the monitor, Onslaught continued.
“I’m issuing the following declaration,” he said, pointing at the webcam with a black-gloved hand. “Anyone that brings me this Firedrake, alive and in condition to fight, gets one favor from me. You name it and it’s yours. You want a bank knocked over? Your rival put out of business the hard way? You’ll get it. I don’t care if you’re booster or a norm, the President or a Girl Scout. I want this asshole, and I want him yesterday.”
Pausing to retake his seat, Onslaught knitted his fingers together with a creak of leather, then flexed the hands so the joints cracked with a series of loud reports that echoed in the room. He crossed his arms on his chest.
“Kimberly? I can’t believe you’d bring that scaly piece of shit on the show and not me. Oh, and Ron, you’re just a dick. Cut the feed.”
The webcam went dark. In the BoosterScene studio, there was only silence for a long moment, and then a murmur of voices began within the crowd. No one seemed to know quite what to do or say.
“Aww, Hell, Ron, you ain’t that bad,” Drake drawled, chuckling as he reached over to clap an enormous hand on Ron’s shoulder.
The gesture broke the tension on the stage for a second. Ron managed a laugh. Kimberly just looked concerned.
“What are you going to do about that?” she asked, gesturing toward the monitor. Drake shrugged.
“Not much I can do right now. When I get back to my office, I’ll contact the US attorney; see if we can get him on something. Incitement to kidnap or some damn thing. Hell, my boss is probably already making the calls.”
“So you’re not worried?”
“Kimberly, if I worried every time some crazy monkey put out a hit on me, I’d have an ulcer big as my head,” Drake said, waving away the idea. “What gets me is he thought I was ducking him. I didn’t know he had issued any challenge. Truth be told, I didn’t know who the guy was. Never heard of him. Not that I missed much, if that little show was his best,” he added with a derisive snort. Laughter erupted from a few within the crowd, then quickly spread.
Squinting at the camera, Drake clenched his jaws. “I…am…Onslaught,” he mocked, lowering his voice and emphasizing the words. “Seriously, slick. Like anyone else is gonna claim that name. Tell you what, folks, I’ve got a counter-offer. Whoever uploads the coolest ‘I am Onslaught’ video in the next, say, twenty-four hours, I’ll give you two tickets for a Lakers game and the keys to a beat-up Chevy Impala.”
“Impala?” Ron prompted, arching an eyebrow. Drake spread his hands and shrugged expansively.
“I don’t need it. Can’t fit my wings inside.”
Everyone laughed at that comment, and the interview quickly wound down. Ron and Kimberly had done the job they were expected to do and Drake had been allowed to speak. No further mention was made of the threat posed by Onslaught.
“We gotta go,” Shaw told Drake as the reptilian booster exited the stage. Behind them Ron and Kimberly were launching into their next piece, an expose of so-called “geneboosting clinics”, where people could pay exorbitant sums of money for genetic treatments that had the possibility—however slight—of stimulating an active Emergence. To date, one such treatment had proved effective, but only due to the severe allergic reaction it generated in the patient, whose stress levels triggered his own Emergence.
“What’s the rush?” Drake asked, though he walked along with the agent.
“The word’s out, big fella. Folks are taking that offer he made seriously,” Shaw explained as they reached the limousine set aside for their transport. Shaw looked around wildly before ducking into the massive vehicle. From inside he beckoned to Drake.
“Get in before someone shoots you!” he urged.
“Been shot before,” Drake said in a slow drawl as he folded his frame into the limo. “It ain’t the end of the world.”
With a squeal of tires, the massive car rocketed away from the loading zone and slipped into traffic. Shaw let out a breath that he had been holding for some time and helped himself to a shot of Crown Royal from the well-stocked bar.
“We’re going to have to do some heavy, heavy damage control on this,” he mused aloud. In his seat, Drake fidgeted, trying to get his tail and wings into a comfortable position. Seeing that he was being ignored by his charge, Shaw retreated to using his cell phone.
They turned a corner and Drake looked up sharply, staring at the black glass between them and the driver. “Hey, slick, this ain’t the way back to the Justice building,” he remarked. A sinking feeling in his stomach told him what was happening even before the voice came over the intercom.
“Just sit back and relax, Firedrake,” it said in a voice that was most certainly not that of the driver who had brought them to the show. “It’ll all be over soon.”
“Sure as Hell will,” Drake said, leaning forward in his seat. His claws shattered through the supposedly-unbreakable glass and raked it aside. He reached forward, intent on gripping the driver by the head. Beside him, Shaw was screaming frantically into his phone.
Space itself split and slammed shut with a sound of thunder around an ionic pulse from outside. The brilliant neon-blue bolt hit the limousine a foot behind the lead tires and blasted through the armored metal as though it were paper. The engine was torn apart by the horrendous impact and most of the components beneath the hood were reduced to scrap in an instant. Shuddering at the force of the assault, the massive vehicle began a rapid clockwise spin before the rear of the limo slammed into the frame of a parked Honda and knocked the smaller car onto the sidewalk. The air was suddenly filled with the scents of ozone, antifreeze, gasoline, and smoke, and car alarms wailed for ten blocks.
The back door of the limo flew open, propelled by a size eighteen foot covered in green scales. Drake looked around himself as he emerged from the armored cocoon, his eyes narrowing dangerously as he sought the source of the attack. Those eyes flared widely and a growl began deep in his chest as he saw the man that stood leaning casually against a lamppost across the street. There was no mistaking the identity of someone he had seen in so many pictures and films through the years.
A gaunt, pinched face was shadowed by the flat brim of a leather cowboy hat. A long riding coat flapped in the morning breeze, exposing the grey hue of the Kevlar-reinforced outfit worn by the man. Dusty boots spread slowly as the man shifted from his leaning position to square his shoulders toward Drake and the wrecked limousine.
“Gunsmoke? What are you doing here?” Drake demanded, stepping away from the wreckage.
“There’s a bounty on your scaly ass, Drake,” the man called, raising his hands to waist level and letting them slowly roll over so the palms pointed at the reptilian booster. “I aim to collect.”
The air erupted once more with the sound of ionic discharge.
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