To Live by the Sword
by Jeff Gluckson

The brilliant sunshine made the day hot, much more like Santa Domingo where Presidente Juan Hernandez came from.  Here in New York they even had winter, which he personally found detestable.  He hated the cold.  He had good reason, though few of his enemies were aware of this.  It wasn't purely by accident that the Generallisimo chose to stay in Santa Domingo.  But sometimes one could do more good by entering the backyard of the dragon.  In fact, he had chosen to speak today in a small park across the road from a military munitions plant, which was contributing to the mounting death toll in Latin America.

The tension in the air was electric.  A crowd had gathered across the street from the factory to hear Generallisimo Juan Hernandez.  His charismatic image drew many Latinos who felt similarly about the need for Latin American unity.

Earlier, his mariachis had played their lively tunes to the pleasure of the crowd.  As a politician he knew the value of entertaining the crowd before lecturing them.  Even with popularity on his side, he knew that most people only wanted to listen to politicians for so long.  So he wanted to work the crowd up a little, then have his message imparted, leaving them provoked to think about his simple words.  An American said it once: "In brevity there is wit."

Several people in the crowd carried botas with refreshment.  In his country that would be wine, but here they had ridiculous restrictions concerning drinking alcohol on the streets.  As a foreign head of state he possessed diplomatic immunity, so he could disregard such stupid notions.  But it was the people's plight that he wished to better.  If the people rose, he would rise with them.  He firmly believed that.  It was on a wave of popular support that he swept to power in his country.

"Estamos parados aquí hoy antes de un símbolo de la opresión americana," the General began, his voice that of an experienced orator.  "We stand here today before a symbol of American oppression.  Bombs made here are dropped on our families heads at night back home.  On the families of your relatives who you have left back in the islands, in Latin America.  It is how they test there weapons, in our homelands!  They hold our land in phony leases signed after wars held fifty-five years ago, for their weapons test sites.  Their CIA supplies these same weapons to rebel insurgents trying to overthrow our peaceful governments.  What can be expected of a country where war is waged in the city streets everyday?  Violencia de los begets de la violencia.  Violence begets violence.  Americans learn that lesson at home, and they take it with them to every country they scar with their presence!"

Suddenly, a thunderous flash erupted, shaking the very ground like a tremor.

Everyone's attention turned towards the explosion, but all they could see was an area devoid of light, of utter blackness.  Its span was obviously several car lengths or more, it extended into the street as well.  As the people -- and the guards at the plant -- watched curiously, several figures sprang from the darkness and followed a man-shaped shadow towards the plant.

Two figures were dressed normally enough for this neighborhood, except one was flying and the other had muscles like a bodybuilder on some freakish super-steroids.  A third figure, a girl with long dark hair, wore a skintight black body suit.  The fourth was the strangest, and caused more than a few people to scream -- a cat-man.  He stood on two feet, nearly six feet in height, like a man.  But he had fur all over in the pattern of a jaguar.  He had pointed ears on top of his head, and legs that didn't seem to bend like a person's.  Deadly looking claws jutted from the ends of his hands like a series of switchblades.

The guards ran across the parking lot in an effort to catch the intruders.  The crowds attention was diverted now; the Generallisimo didn't have much more to say.  The team of metahumans across the street was speaking very eloquently indeed.

A careful man did not believe in coincidences, and the Generallisimo had not ascended to the position he held without being careful.  The speaking event had been well publicized in the Latin sections of the city.  Even more importantly, the Generallisimo was quite familiar with this team of metas, these revolutionaries -- Los Soldados.

The spectators were too riveted by the band of metas to notice the charismatic Santa Domingan president, who now ever-so slightly caressed his right-side temple, as if he was feeling for a pulse to his mind.  His surface thoughts reached out to the metas before him.

Destruya su característica, pero no lastime a la gente.  Haga un mensaje positivo para los latinos.  And on cue, Los Soldados attacked the grounds of the factory.

The Generallisimo turned to the crowd, elated.  "See, some Latinos lead the fight against American tyranny!" he yelled into the microphone.  "Cheer for them, for they will lead us into a new age!"

He had to yell.  From across the street, alarm sirens were blaring.  Several more guards were starting to answer the call, filing out of the main building.  Their opponents were much quicker than they, however.  Amazing leaps carried Jaguar and the muscle-bound Tank to the other end of the plant building, while Scorpion, Oblivion and Tornado flew right after.  Then Tank joined his hands together and, using both fists, bashed a gigantic hole through the wall.  A cloud of rock dust hung suspended in the air as the intruders entered, the area of darkness remaining black where the hole was made.  Nothing could be seen, so great was the dark.

One or two guards were still careless enough to approach the darkness with their rifles cocked and ready.  "Halt and surrender, or we'll fire," the one in the lead yelled at the intruders.  His request was countered by the sleek Scorpion, as a jagged bolt of energy stretched out from her hands and rendered him senseless.

As the other guards turned and began to fire at the umbra, a jet of inky blackness spewed out of its darkened pool and slammed into a different guard.  The shadowy force lifted him off his feet and threw him at his squad, knocking them down like five-pins.  Only two guards were still on their feet, and they were backing up, as their gunfire seemed to be having no effect at all.

Tornado, the leader of the metahuman team, hovered before the two guards.  They noticed his eyes from beneath his sombrero -- they were unmoving, his stare seemingly penetrating.  As the guards cowered away, first one, then the other, began holding their heads and staggering backwards, no longer walking.  Scant seconds later, they were flat on their backs, the victims of who-knew-what devilish attacks.

Then Los Soldados entered the factory.

The bulk of the factory was given over to one main manufacturing room, subdivided by the process they performed.  Wide concrete walkways allowed the space needed to transport large pieces of sheet metal to the fabricating presses that turned them into various sized munitions casings.  The machines in the plant were all iron and steel behemoths, creating an infernal din with their rollers and presses.  The machines loomed so large and powerful that they were almost like the gaint reptiles of ages long past.  They were served by a cadre of men and women in blue jumpsuits and yellow hardhats, who fed in the raw metal, and carted away the product when it was finished.

Like an ant hill at the mercy of a band of aardvarks, the technicians were fleeing in all directions from the invading metas.  The guards indoors had fared no better than the ones outside; several inert bodies attested to that fact.  But Los Soldados weren't here to hurt anyone.  The guards were just unconcious.

Oblivion had only used minimum force, saving the full power of his shadowy blasts for opponents more deserving.  The guards here were just doing there job, as odious as that might be.  And the only damage Tornado's mind blasts had done was leave their recipients with a bad headache when they woke up.

Los Soldados were walking a thin line.  Although most considered them villains and terrorists, they had their supporters in the Latino community.  And they had chosen this "activity" to try and magnify that support.  The rhetoric of the Generallisimo was excellent in that regard.  He had dubbed them "the People's Champions" as they assaulted the factory.

Now inside, they attacked their job with vigor.  White, blue, and black energy beams winked on and off to the sounds of shattering machinery.  High on a catwalk, the Jaguar rended banks of monitors to scrap metal with his claws.  Tank lifted a machine the size of a dump truck, and used it as a battering ram to destroy two other monstrous machines at once.  Chunks and scraps of twisted carbon fibre and iron flew in all directions.

By now, all the workers had made there way off the floor of the plant, which permitted Los Soldados an even greater reign for destruction.  The noise the super-soldiers made as they destroyed the equipment rivaled that of the machines themselves.  And in only a few minutes, the superhuman squad had turned the surrounding infrastructure into a scrap heap.

Besides Los Soldados themselves, the only ones who knew the extent of the damage were the plant managers, who had watched the destruction through security cameras.  They were apoplectic with rage, but were in no position to vent there anger.  Of the twenty guards assigned to plant security on this shift, only two had reported in.  That made for eighteen guards down at the hands of these so-called "freedom-fighters."  Refitting the plant would take months, if the insurance companies didn't try to shirk their responsibility.  And if the insurance companies squabbled because the destruction of the plant was a terroristic act, it would take much longer.

"Time to go, Soldados," Tornado called when the pager in his pocket started vibrating.

They had planned to leave the site by air, and that required accurate timing.  Helicopters didn't fly unnoticed.  And the longer the chopper was in the air, the easier it would be to track.  Their "airlift" would be in the air seven minutes.  It would lift-off five miles away, pick them up, and drop them off seven miles from the plant, near a ground vehicle they would continue in.

A billowing umbra hung like a death shroud over the side of the building where the muscle-bound Tank had punched a gaping hole through, the hole they'd entered by and were now using to leave. Oblivion taking point as usual.  The darkness he carried about him made him a very difficult target to hit.  On the other hand, he could see through it as if it weren't there, so he could see any potential attacks before they could be aimed at the team.

As they began to cross the parking area, the crowd was transfixed.  Everything was still.  Only the police sirens broke the silence.

"Bravo, bravo."  Generallisimo Hernandez began to clap.  "You will be heroes throughout all of Latin America," he announced to Los Soldados, his voice amplified by the stage microphone before him.  Some people in the audience began applauding, and then the fervor swept the crowd, and everyone cheered.

"Venido mi embajada, y a mí le recompensará correctamente,"  he told the super-group.

Then another noise added itself to the cheers, the loud speakers,  and the police sirens.  It was the sound of a helicopter's rotors.  As police cars began arriving at the scene, the darkness again engulfed the supergroup, this time rising above the ground to make a huge sphere.  The police looked on, uncertain for the moment of what to do, and then the helicopter finally swooped in.  It lowered itself until it seemed to be hovering on the dark sphere.  Then out of the black sphere came one a Soldado, landing at the helicopter's entrance and ducking through, and then another.  And two more.  Finally, the darkness itself entered the helicopter, masking it from view.

But suddenly, the darkness shrunk in on itself, once again revealing the chopper, which pulled away sharply.  It stayed just higher than the rooftops as it accelerated away from the demolished facility.

The scene looked like a tableau of war.  Many of its guards were lying unconcious in the parking lot, victims of Oblivion's shadowy powers and Scorpion's energy-stings.  Factory workers stood about the perimeter dumbfounded and frightened.  The building was victim to more devastating assaults, its concrete pocked and ravaged, its foundations knarled, its brickwork buckled and even destroyed in areas.  The factory was completely desecrated.

"Once again we see, that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword," the Generallisimo told the audience.

The police, disgusted by the futility of their presence, wondered just what, if anything, the Generallisimo had to do with this wanton destruction.  But such faultfindings were doubly futile, they realized, since the Generallisimo's position as Presidente of Santa Domingo granted him a blanket of diplomatic immunity from prosecution.  So the police entered the plant, to find out what they came too late to prevent.

And the Generallisimo wondered, would Los Soldados accept his invitation to visit him at the embassy?

Generallisimo Juan Hernandez smiled inwardly.

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