Chelsea had been standing outside the Circuit City
smoking for over an hour. She had a leather jacket on which, combined
with the six cigarettes she'd gone through, was keeping her warm, but
she still felt this job was getting old fast. She took the last drag
off her current cig and threw the stub down onto the pavement, grinding
it out with her boot. She made her way into the store.
There were a few parts of the sales floor roped off from the previous
attack on the store- the one Red had stopped. Otherwise, business continued
unabated. In fact, it actually seemed to Chelsea that business was booming.
The line on the checkout in the DVD section of the store was impressively
long, though with all the video stores in town and Wal-Mart destroyed,
Chelsea supposed this was the cheapest way to get a movie.
Chelsea checked the lines of sight and determined that the video game
department was probably the best place to be. She could see the front
door clearly but had enough aisles and advertisements to duck behind
if she needed to. She took a place behind a standee advertising the
imminent release of "Vice City".
I'll be ready for Red this time, Chelsea thought. She wondered if she
maybe should have told Argento about the visions she'd had the last
two times she had attempted to fight Red, but she quickly decided there
was no point. He can't beat me every time we fight. Those first two
times, those were flukes; that's why my visions warned me. He was getting
lucky. Hell, last time his stupid girlfriend had to stop the fight.
I still could have come back. This time, he'll be kissing my ass by
the end of it; he'll be crawling on his knees, saying-
"Can I help you, ma'am?" A twenty-something man with dark
curly hair had come up to her while she was plotting her vengeance.
He was clad in the customary red vest of the Circuit City employees. "Are
you looking for anything specific?"
"No, no," said Chelsea. "I was just, uh…" she
glanced to her right and saw a kid playing a video game on a PS2 display, "watching
the game here."
"Oh, yeah, that's Timesplitters 2. Great game, time traveling
first person shooter. This is the… looks like the old west level.
I definitely think it's the heir the Goldeneye tradition of great shooters."
"I don't think any of the Bond franchise have ever really gotten
as good as that one was, but that's just me. I'm John, John Katz."
John smiled and looked at Chelsea expectantly. She didn't reply, continuing
to scan the windows at the front of the store.
"What are you looking for?" he asked.
She frowned but didn't look back at him. "I'm just waiting for
"That's good. I mean, that's cool, like… forget it."
It became apparent to Chelsea that this idiot wasn't good at picking
up subtle hints. She looked around. It seemed there were somehow even
fewer sales reps around than there were when she came in, people were
milling about unhelped all over the store. "There sure are a lot
of customers here," she said. "You must be really busy."
"Yeah, we've been pretty busy since the attacks around town and
all. But, overtime pay is nice, so I don't mind. Actually, we've got
some really incredible deals in the back if you want to come check out-"
"They attacked here too, though, right? And they might again."
"Attacked…? Oh, no, no, don't worry. It's not going to happen
here. That was just some crazy guy. It's not- you shouldn't worry about
it. But, like I was saying, we just got a new shipment of stereo equipment
The cell phone clipped to Chelsea's belt rang. She checked the caller
ID. It was Argento. She rolled her eyes, clicked the phone to vibrate
mode, and put it back on her belt. Chelsea hadn't had any visions of
the mall being torched, so she assumed Argento was just calling to meddle
in her business. As much as she hated to admit it, Alison might have
been right. Being here, in the store, she was on to something. She could
Chelsea was displeased to notice the clerk was still chatting away
next to her, as if she were listening. He was holding up some portable
electronic device for her to look at.
"…And when you factor in the sale and the rebate, it's a
really incredible deal. It has excellent sound quality, too, see?"
He pressed a button and the song 'Almost Paradise' came through the
device. Chelsea had heard the song many times before, but she never
really listened to the lyrics very closely. "Almost Paradise," it
said to her. "We're knocking on Heaven's door."
It's pointless, Chelsea thought. You won't be getting
in any time soon. Of course, she held some of the blame for that, didn't she? It was her
job, her responsibility to shepherd mankind back to Eden, and what had
she done? Slaughter the guilty, sure, but what of their souls? Her place
in Heaven may be assured, but how could she truly be at peace in the
eternal bliss of the Lord's presence knowing how many souls lay in Hell,
damned for all time, that she could have tried to save? She was failing
at her calling, and it was obvious why: she wasn't spreading God's love.
Swords and guns don't spread love, they spread death. Focussing so
much on the creator's wrath had made her forget the real reason she
did her job in the first place: to become closer to her Lord and Creator
and enter into His love. God's love is something that should be experienced
by all people, not just the blessed few like she and Red.
Red. The thought of him immediately made her feel shame and regret.
She had handled things all wrong. Attacking him wouldn't help things.
She needed to talk to him, remind him of the love God had granted them
in their gifts, and surely he would cease spreading destruction. Then
they could go back to Argento and Alison and they could figure out a
way to spread that love, the love she felt shining down from Heaven
and the host at all times, filling her soul with joy.
"I'm so sorry, Lord," she whispered. "I have been misguided,
please forgive me." Even as she said it, she knew. She knew God
would forgive her. She could feel Him looking down at her, watching
her repent her violent ways. He was proud of her. She knew it.
The thought of such a loving, all-forgiving Lord made her feel so lucky,
so touched by His nature, she began to weep. They were tears of relief,
tears of joy, tears of revelation. At this point, the song was ending.
"Shhh, it's ok," said John Katz, putting his arm around her
shoulder. Chelsea grasped him in a tight embrace and cried for a moment.
"Thank you," she said.
"It's ok. Everything is going to be fine."
"I love you," Chelsea said.
"Why, thank you."
"Jesus loves you, too."
"That's… very good to know. Come this way, you can tell
me all about it."
Argento feet slapped the pavement as he ran across the parking lot
towards Circuit City. The sliding doors barely slid away in time to
miss him as he entered the building and immediately scanned the store
for any sign of Chelsea. He spotted her in the video game section, moving
with one of the red-vested employees towards the back of the building.
"Chelsea!" She turned to him and he saw that she appeared
to have been… crying? "Get away from her!" he called
to the man at her side.
The man, whose nametag said 'John,' held up some sort of device, it
looked like a palm pilot or audio player or such. "I was just showing
her this-" Argento slapped it out of his hand, sending it clattering
to the floor and turning a few more heads.
"Argento, no!" Chelsea said. "You don't understand!
I love this man!"
"What?" Argento asked.
"I love all of mankind! Love is my true purpose on this planet!"
Argento blinked for a minute. "Ok, great," he finally said. "Then
I'm sure you'll love this." He pulled back the left-hand side of
Chelsea's leather jacket and grabbed her gun. She had makeshift fixed
her holster with some duct tape before she had gone out, but that had
not restored its disappearing qualities. Argento fired the gun into
the air three times and then pointed it directly at John. "Everyone
who does not work here, get out, now! Now! The rest of you clerks, get
The customers all rushed towards the exits and bustled through. The
annoying beeping sounds that began a second later indicated that not
all of them had left empty-handed. The employees were hesitantly gathering
"Shut that off!" Argento shouted. One of the clerks jogged
over to the service desk and the alarm stopped.
"What do you want from us?" said the man who had been with
Chelsea. "Most of our sales are in credit cards, you must know
"What are you doing?" Chelsea asked. "How is this going
to show them that God loves them?"
"We're getting Red back," Argento said. He clicked the Chelsea's
gun's safety into the off position. "How do I contact him?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said the clerk.
Argento shot him in the leg. He yelped and fell to the floor.
"You hurt him!" Chelsea said.
"Anyone else have any clue what I'm talking about? I want Red
here, right now, or you're all going to be filing for on the job injury.
Now, who knows how to get him for me?"
Another clerk sheepishly raised his hand.
"Do it," Argento ordered.
Argento glanced nervously out the window to where Alison was waiting
with the car running. He questioned whether this 'plan' was really a
very good one, but reassured himself by concluding it was pretty much
the type of thing Red would do. He decided not to dwell on the fact
that Red would have had blessings on his side.
"So… as long as you're doing the right thing," Steve
said, "you just get lucky?"
"Supposedly," Red answered. "It's a blessing, or something.
I'm not really sure how much I believe it, but that would explain why
I'm so good at this." Red was hovering a few feet above the floor
of the hangar in his new Liberal Mediators flight suit. His helmet's
display screen was giving him information on the height, pitch, speed
and other such things unobtrusively in the corner of his view.
"You seem to be a natural. Let's see how you do on landing."
"I'll give it a shot." Red inclined his feet forward at the
ankles and the suit began descending towards the floor. It came in a
little faster than Red expected and he stumbled a bit as he made contact
with the floor, but he was able to remain standing.
"That was terrific. Now, let's see if we can show you the basics
of the weapons systems. Your suit isn't loaded right now, but I can
show you how it would work, were we about to-"
"Sir." One of the red-jumpsuited workers was holding a phone
and looking at Orloske.
"Just a moment, Red," said Steve. He went over and took the
phone. "Hello? What type of situation?"
"Is everything all right?" Red asked.
Steve held up his finger, indicating for Red to wait.
Red had never been a particular fan of that symbol. He glanced around
frustratedly and accidentally activated the menu on his helmet display.
His eye was drawn towards the word 'Sensors' and quickly followed to
'Aural' and then 'Amplify' in quick succession. He now found himself
controlling a sighting target with his eyes. He glanced over to the
phone and blinked. Red could now hear the voice coming through the phone.
"-identified both this Chelsea and someone she referred to as
All of a sudden, Steve's voice blared into his ears. "WHAT DO
"Their demanding we send Red topside," said the voice out
of the phone.
"OUT OF THE QUESTION."
"Sir, Katz has been shot."
"IT'S OUT OF THE QUESTION. HAVE THE INTERCOM PREPPED TO TAKE THEM
ALL DOWN. WE CANNOT COMPROMISE OUR AFFILIATION, NOT AFTER ALL WE'VE
WORKED FOR. I'LL BE RIGHT THERE."
Red glanced towards the 'End' icon and turned off the amplification
as Steve hung up the phone. He pulled off the helmet. "What's going
on?" he asked.
"Nothing that would concern you," Steve said. "Just
a few business issues with our finances I need to take care of topside."
"Oh, ok. For a minute I was worried Chelsea might have found us."
"Oh, no, nothing like that."
"Good," Red said, putting the helmet back on, "because
I'd hate to think that she and Argento, you know, shot Katz or anything
Steve looked at Red for a beat.
"Well…" Steve said. He lunged for the intercom, but
Red extended his feet and flew across the room into him, slamming him
against the wall. Steve's head thumped roughly into the concrete, rendering
him unconscious. The two red jumpsuit workers grabbed for Red's arms,
but he began flailing. They couldn't keep a grip on the suit's slick
surface, and soon the metal limbs colliding with their heads knocked
them out as well.
As they fell to the ground, Red found himself swirling a few feet in
the air. He quickly adjusted his feet and regained control of his flight.
He extended his toes, straightened his knees, and barreled out the door
of the hangar, speeding down the corridor towards the main body of the
complex. Red fumed. Steve was lying to him, hiding something from him.
He'd had more than his fill of that with DI&R.
He slowed up as he reached the main hallway of the Liberal Mediator
complex, eventually coming to a halt. Thuy and Amy came out of the next
room and gave each other a look.
"Red?" Thuy said.
Amy took a step towards him, reaching out in his direction. "Just
relax, come on down, we can work this out. What's wrong?"
Red was bobbing about two feet away from her. She took another step
forward. He whipped out his sword and swung it through her arm. She
jerked back, instinctively, as the sleeve of her pink turtleneck fluttered
to the floor.
"I'll get back to you on that," Red said. He began whirling
his sword around over his head and pointed his feet downward. He began
flying upward at a terrific rate. His swinging sword began hacking through
the ceilings and floors above him. He put his armored left arm over
his head to fend off debris and, a few sub-basements later he emerged
bewildered into the main sales floor of Circuit City.
The employees were gathered in a group near the center of the store.
Argento stood a few feet away pointing what looked like Chelsea's gun
at them. Chelsea was on the floor, cradling Katz head as he bled from
Red first felt excitement: Argento had finally come around to his way
of thinking; why else would he have attacked Circuit City? Next came
confusion. Why was there a Circuit City above the base? Why was Katz
dressed in a Circuit City vest? Red quickly moved on to anger.
"Red?" Argento asked.
Red whipped his sword back into its scabbard, pitched forward, and
swooped Katz off the ground and out of Chelsea's grasp. He held the
man a few feet above the floor by his shirtfront. "What the hell
is going on here, Katz?"
"Hasn't he suffered enough?" Chelsea called from below.
"Red, I just… I… I'm just doing my job, man," Katz
said anxiously. "I'm just trying to make a buck, same as anyone
else, please, just let me go!"
"Red, you can't trust these people," Argento said. "They've
been using you!"
"What else is new?" Red said.
Red was about to punch Katz's lights out when the man looked over Red's
shoulder at the speaker in the ceiling. "Do You Sleep?" by
Lisa Loeb just began playing. He
"What?" Red asked, but by that time, Katz's eyes were already
drooping. "What's going on?" Red turned to Argento just in
time to see him collapse to the floor. The rest of the Circuit City
sales force had done the same, as had Chelsea. Red dropped Katz and
brought his suit down for a landing.
Red didn't know what to do. He tried to think of what Argento would
do at a time like this, but he couldn't really figure that out. Around
the time the police lights began flashing outside the building, he decided
to run. He shot out one of the side windows of the store with his gun,
grabbed Argento and Chelsea around their wastes, and flew them all out
of the premises. He struggled very hard not to drop them as veered off
in the direction of his apartment.
When Argento left Alison in the car, he'd told her to keep the car
running. His hope was to get in, make a scene, get Red present and then,
get them all out of there before there was any real trouble. In the
heat of the moment, it sounded like a reasonable plan, but as Alison
watched the frightened customers come pouring out of Circuit City, she
began to doubt its sensibility.
This, she figured, was the curse of the getaway driver; always left
with too much time to think and rethink things, when really, it's far
too late to change anything. Everything seemed so urgent, though. They
had just gotten in a fax saying that the flying terrorist Chelsea had
killed had been a manager at the local Circuit City.
"What?" Alison had asked. "Why would he work at Circuit
City if he was trying to destroy corporations?"
"How do we know he did want to destroy corporations? That was
what red kept saying, but look at what they actually did- they eliminated
Circuit City's competitors. They blew up Wal-Mart and video stores,
places where you can get products Circuit City sells."
"So, what about the mind control? How does that fit in? And how
are they doing it? And what about they guy who attacked Circuit City?
Or the computer pods?"
"I'm not really sure about those yet," Argento had said. "Once
we get Red back, we can work on that. For now, let's focus on getting
him back, and making sure they don't get Chelsea, as well. Now here's
Alison hadn't had any visions warning against the plan or anything,
but the longer she sat there, steering wheel gently vibrating in her
hands, the less she thought it was a good one. She couldn't really make
out what was going on in the store through the windows: they were tinted.
All she could do was gaze blankly at the exterior and imagine what was
going on within.
She was making a mental note to never get stuck waiting around like
this ever again, when the police lights started flashing. She began
to panic. Her first instinct was to just go, but she thought better
of it and pulled up to the front entrance of the building. No one came
rushing out to get in the car. A moment later, she saw one of the side
windows of the store shatter out into the lot. A red colored one of
those flying terrorists came zipping out of the building carrying Argento
Neither of the passengers appeared to be moving. Alison hoped they
were alive. She told herself that the fact that he was taking them out
of the building made it more likely. Why would he take away a couple
of dead bodies? As soon as she thought that, a million reasons spring
to mind, but fortunately, she hadn't time to process them. She was the
only one who could save Argento and Chelsea. She took off after the
…And was immediately stopped by the numerous police cars flooding
the parking lot.
Officers were getting out of their cars and standing behind their open
doors, guns drawn and pointed in both the direction of Alison's car
and the store itself. Circuit City employees were coming out of the
building with their arms raised, and about half of the cops ran into
the building to make sure it was secure. Alison saw an officer pull
out a loudspeaker, and followed him with her eyes as he walked over
towards an unmarked car that was just pulling up. Tim got out of the
car and took the device. He held it up to his face.
"Miss Ames," he said, "Step out of the vehicle and put
your hands over your head. We're not going to hurt you, just come along
For a moment, Alison considered doing what she imagined Chelsea would
do (just ramming her vehicle through the blockade and speeding out of
there) but she decided things had already gotten too crazy for her.
She put the car in park, took the keys out of the ignition, and slowly
opened the door. She put her hands out of the car first, then followed
"Get down on the ground and put your hands on your head!" Tim
called out. She complied immediately. A number of the uniformed officers
rushed up to her. One of them put the cuffs on her right wrist then
brought both of her hands down to her back and cuffed the left. She
was pulled to her feet, jerked over to one of the patrol cars, and tossed
into the back seat, the door locking behind her.
Apparently, someone somewhere in the heavens though that this was a
good time for Alison to have a vision.
She saw Red. He was older. He looked somewhere in his thirties. He
was wearing one of his Red suits, but it looked much nicer than any
he'd ever worn before, almost like a designer number. He was smiling.
Red was sitting at a desk in an office of some sort. The office was
large and expensively decorated. Alison saw a picture of herself and
Red together, smiling, in a picture frame on the desk. Red appeared
to be typing something. Looking over his shoulder, Alison read the email
he was composing.
"In regards to the growing discontent about this year's redistribution," the
email said, "we should begin a redoubling of our economic satisfaction
program. Input 'Wage Redistribution is Fair' into tonight's broadcast.
In addition, it has come to my attention that certain cities have a
growing anti-union sentiment. They must be stopped. Focus a vigorous
campaign of union laced media in these regions. If we are to have a
fair and just society, these leanings must be eliminated from the minds
of our citizenry. Take care that, in the future, these eventualities
are foreseen and prevented subliminally in advance, so we do not have
to scramble around in such a reactionary manner. If any more 'exceptions'
pop up, take care of them."
As Red clicked a button to send his message, Alison seemed to follow
it through a system to its intended destination. Things began happening
quickly. The technicians who received the email began working on their
computers. As they compiled code, Alison followed their electronic impulses
through systems and networks until she came to a television set. The
family gathered in front of the set smiled as they watched the program.
Alison's consciousness went out of the house into the streets. It was
a bright and sunny day. Everyone around her was smiling. Children were
playing ball in the street. The little boy at the plate hit the whiffle-ball
into a neighbor's yard. The neighbor smiled and returned it.
Alison raced faster and faster across the nation and saw similar scenes.
She saw cars running on electrical power, workers treated fairly for
a fair wage, people having food for all their family… in short,
a better world. She slowed as she focussed in on one man.
He was staring at his radio, which was playing some song Alison had
never heard before. After a moment, he rose for his seat, grabbed the
radio, and threw it to the floor, stomping it under his foot repeatedly.
After a moment, three men dressed in red jumpsuits entered the room.
Two of them grabbed him as he struggled and they managed to subdue the
majority of his movement. The third man took out a gun and shot the
malcontent in the head.
Alison flashed back through the whole process to Red smiling at his
desk. Then, she flew backwards, through years and years, to Red, looking
as he does now pushing a button on some sort of soundboard.
Two cops got into the front seat of the car and began driving.