Prologue: Nassau

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The man in black grimaced as he glanced around the corner of the crumbling building.  Already the debris cluttered alleyway was overflowing with bodies, twisted limbs and faces frozen in pain and agony at the moment of death visible in the late afternoon light.

“Damn it.”  He tautly hissed, his breath a white fog in front of his face despite it being nearly 42 degrees Celcius.  Where the hell had those guys come from?

A sound over his shoulder and he twisted slightly to throw a look down the second alleyway at his back, part of a warren of narrow passageways that made up the back ways of old Nassau, capital city of the island nation of the Bahamas.  And he felt a tightening in his gut when he saw a handful of men, most of them Caucasian, making their careful way towards him.  Like him, they were dressed from head to toe in black.  Unlike him, however, they had no intention in being careful of what they did.

“Paladin, initiate a link to the Watcher network.”  The man muttered almost sub-vocally, his bright blue eyes stabbing down the alleyway towards the slowly advancing knot of newcomers.

“And get me Jeriko.  Tell her, . . “  The rest was lost as a maelstrom of light and sensation swept over him, blinding his eyes and blocking out his other senses.

A heart beat later the storm of motion and color took shape and he found himself hanging in space, looking down at the blue-white ball that was Earth as seen from the moon, its atmosphere a haze that blurred the great globe’s edges.  He could see storms over the Pacific, clouds dancing with flickers of blue and purple to mark lightning, and a shifting bank of cloud over a greater part of the northern hemisphere.  Except North America, which seemed to be clear.

Behind the slowly spinning ball space was razor sharp, vacuum black without relent, with each star a pinpoint of light that cut his eyes with their clarity.  Somewhere behind him the sun washed golden light down over the living planet below, the sensation of its life-giving illumination a tingle across his skin. The man in black didn’t have long to wonder why he was viewing his home world from that altitude as massive arcs of leeched out color lifted up from Western Europe and through the clouds to reach towards every other populated center across the planet.  Asia, Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, . . . none were spared.

Space spun violently as some force took a hold of him.  Then he was following one of the arcs down into western Canada.

Down he went, bridging the gap from his original viewpoint to the atmosphere in the blink of an eye, moving so quickly and violently, he felt his insides protest at the rough treatment.  Then he was penetrating the upper atmosphere, slicing through the thin air with no resistance.  The thicker air beneath was as easily parted, then he was hanging for a second above the rolling hills and golden prairies of the western provinces even as morning light spread like a blanket of light over it.

Unheeding of its unknown passenger, the arc arrowed straight for a collection of glinting steel and glass clustered around the snaking banks of a river, just east of the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountain range.  Having traveled in western Canada before, the man in black quickly recognized the place.  It was Calgary, the economic capital of western Canada and one of its largest cities.  But why was he being drawn here?  And what were these arcs of faded light representing?? And then it was down and amongst the skyscrapers in the downtown core, shattering into a thousand smaller filaments of washed out illumination. 

Each tendril seemed to have its own shade of failed light: pale blue, anemic red, watered down green.  They moved with purpose, like a living thing, carefully easing out into the city as it awoke from another night’s slumber.  And while he didn’t know what they were, he could feel what they wanted: death.  Death a dark cloak that clung to each like a malevolent aura as they pushed down street after street, splitting ever more finely to reach more alleyways, avenues and sidewalks.  With the streets swiftly filling with vehicles and people, it wouldn’t be long before one of the tendrils ran into somebody.

And then it happened: there, a pulsating indigo cable of malevolent intent slithered out of an alleyway, right at a knot of people dressed in business attire.  They paused at a traffic light to let the cars stream by in a silvery reflection of the ribbon of water that passed through the heart of the great prairie metropolis.  It was as they were about to cross the street, the traffic paused at a red light, that the tendril darted forward, aimed directly at a woman lagging at the back of the group.

Before the tendril could strike her, though, a bright aura of light flared into existence around her, blunting the tendril’s lunging attack and leaving her unharmed.  And unaware as well; even as the tendril fell to the side, the woman walked on, oblivious to both it and the bubble of light that had protected her.

Protected her from what, the man in black wondered.  Then he watched as the tendril, drawing back to the alleyway, slewed sideways into a second group of people.  This time there was no flare of light and, as the tendril touched each person, they exploded into a cloud of ash and particles.

Stunned, the man in black reeled in place from his vantage point, unwilling to believe what his eyes had just witnessed.  But, try as he might, he couldn’t pull away and watched as other tendrils, sliding out of alleys, and along roads and sidewalks, began a methodical slaughter of anyone and everyone they came across.  Here and there a bright flash announced the presence of another shielded person, the tendrils leaving them unharmed.  They walked on, still oblivious to what was happening as they carried on conversations with people that had been turned to ash beside them and no longer existed.  By far were they the exception, and a rare one at that.

People were turned to ash in their cars, or while waiting for the bus.  Some were even pursued into buildings where they were caught in the elevator or on the stairs, the tendrils making short work of them.

And then the city was empty, except for a handful.  The tendrils had done their work and had eradicated over a million people in less time than it took to drink a cup of coffee.  Head whirling in an effort to absorb what he had just witnessed, the man in black could only stare in confusion.  Then:

“I have an uplink to the Watcher network, Mordecai.”  Paladin’s soft, female voice said quietly via her remote link embedded in the bone just behind the man’s ear.

“I’ve located Jeriko in Islamabad and am connecting to her, . . “

“Cancel that, Paladin.”  He rasped, trying to shake the lingering images of what he had just witnessed from his mind’s eye.  The air temperature rapidly began to drop as he straightened and turned to face the group of men advancing on his position.

“And book me a ticket on whatever airline has flights going to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  Immediate departure.”

“At the note of urgency in your voice, Mordecai, it would seem that whatever is taking you to Calgary is very important.”  The quiet voice noted.  “Perhaps you should consider a jump, . . .”

“And alert these burnouts that I’ve got the power to do that?”  Mordecai immediately retorted.  “Not a chance.  They don’t need to know what I can, and cannot do.”  Abruptly he grimaced.

“Besides, after handling this lot I probably won’t have the juice to make a jump.  Just book the damn flight, Paladin!”

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