A Turning Point

Author: Todd Zehner
Contact Info: todd.zehner@gmail.com or lj:kitsune1527.
Recipient: Otter (lj:teaotter)
Character: Jack Hawksmoor (STORMWATCH/THE AUTHORITY)

"The job's over. I need never kill again. I can lock away those damned handcannons for good and start enjoying life again."

Jack Hawksmoor waits in the shadows, watching quietly. He watches Rite, the tall woman, the tribal warrior. She moves like a stone giant, careful, measured, destructive. He has not witnessed what she's capable of, but he wouldn't be surprised if the mountains trembled when she walked. She doesn't look born; she looks like the gods carved her out of the earth and shaped her. Jack watches the man called Smoke, watches him plunk down his glass, then gulp it down, smooth, fluid, loose. He looks like the product of a bygone era – and sounds like he wants to be one, too; the faint, cloying smell of spirits and cigarette-diluted air clings to the man's skin like a second skin. Jack, with his heightened senses, here in the compound that might as well be a city, can smell it, even slipped up tight against the wall like this. Smoke is from a bygone era in another way, too – unlike Jack and his two companions, Smoke is proud of the job he is here to do.

Smoke and Rite have been talking. Jack brings his attention back to the people he's been ordered to kill.

"Not for me," Smoke says, and this time he picks up an entire bottle of, of . . . what is that? Is that Glenlivet? (Jack hasn't had a decent Scotch since he went trawling with Nigel, a week ago.) "All I can do is kill, and the new world will have no place for killers."

Jack remembers the High (alias John Chamberlain, the file said, landed here, an orphan from a parallel universe). Remembers his words on the tape: "Fighting crime is no good unless you look past crime, to its root. Saving the world is no good if we leave it the way we found it." Jack Hawksmoor remembers the first time a city rang out in his ears, shrieking from a gunshot wound to its heart. He broke down sobbing, unable to comprehend what it was telling him. He later found out on the news that the man had escaped. The bastard blew up a hospital. Attacked defenseless, broken people, all because it was an inner-city hospital, and only ten per cent of the patients were white. (Jack knows the feeling of being unwelcome in your own home; his parents were never his family, and his house was never home, not for him, just another section of the alien lab experiment. When he was no longer young enough to be given even that comfort, the closest thing to home for Jack Hawksmoor was the electric thrum and cold concrete of the city streets. Not that he ever minded, because it was more welcoming than his parents' house ever was.) The next time he heard the city speak in his ear, Jack listened.

"StormWatch could still make a move." Smoke sounds irritated. Maybe a little afraid. Jack's organs shift, measuring the size of the room, calculating density, mass, vibrations: Smoke has no heartbeat. If he is scared, Jack can't tell.

Rite takes the bottle of Glenlivet when Smoke hands it to her, inclining her head sharply. "I don't see how. Rose aside, they're not killers." More troubling comments about Rose Tattoo; they'd mentioned her earlier. Jack narrows his eyes; more lies and secrets from Bendix. Jack hated being lied to.

Cities never lied, not to Jack. He realizes Smoke and Rite knew they were there the entire time just as Swift steps into the dim light. The movies are wrong; you don't need to cock back the hammer on your pistols to get your opponent's attention.

Smoke looks disappointed. He doesn't sigh, but Jack can read the angle of his shoulders well enough. It doesn't make sense to the city-dweller. Why didn't Smoke stop them? He's not even reacting to the gun in his face. Like it's inconsequential. Is StormWatch really that ineffectual against superhumans of their strength?

There's too many questions in that, and none of the answers Jack Hawksmoor can come up with are doing anything for the scowl on his face.

"So what are you going to do, StormWatch?" Smoke meets Nikolas' – Winter's – eyes. He seems almost unconcerned with the answer Winter will give him.

"Truth?" Winter responds. "I haven't decided yet." Winter moves Swift's guns down, and Swift herself to the side. "I've killed a lot of people, you know. I don't like it." He leans into Smoke's face. Smoke pulls back, just a bit, and ends up staring down his nose at Winter. "I don't want there to be any killing here."

Smoke doesn't respond. Instead, he asks, "What have you done with the others?" The answer, to Jack's knowledge, is nothing yet. That will probably change soon, and for the worse. There will be bloodshed. And some of that blood is going to end up on Jack's hands.

If he could just reach up into the sky and wring God's neck so the smug, all-knowing bastard might finally give Jack a goddamn reason why any of this was happening right fucking now, he would.

"My team is infiltrating your fascinating compound here," Winter is saying. "We haven't much time." Jack keeps watching. He's not the leader here. He doesn't want to lead. "The Weatherman sent Rose Tattoo in on her own."

Rite gasps. "Rose?" She looks scared. Jack sees this, and is also afraid; anything or anyone that can terrify a woman as rock-solid as Rite deserves it.

Winter says, "You know her?"

"Of course," Rite says, and her next words chill Jack to the bone. "She used to be one of us."

Smoke's face sets into a grim mask, a far cry from the loose swagger from a few moments before. "And that means some of us must already be dead."

"Then we have no time." Winter rubs at his temples. Jack can hear the crunching sounds of Winter grinding his teeth together when he concentrates. "Listen to me: disappear. Let me tell the Weatherman that you're dead, that your corpses are vaporized. Disappear and never come back."

Rite shakes her head and moves to stand so she and Smoke are standing in front of the table. "I'm sorry, but we can't do that."

Things happen in a blur after Winter slams his fist into the table, shouting something at Rite, but Jack can't hear him. He's hearing the distant impact of gunfire, and a desiccated body falling to the ground, limp as a dishcloth. A wisp of smoke, and the satisfied touch of a pair of boot treads against caked ground. The feeling echoes in Jack Hawksmoor's mind like a crow's cackle.

He comes back to Rite facing away from him, staring at Winter intently. He could snap her neck from here if he wanted to do it. But he could not kill someone who'd done nothing to hurt him. Someone who he couldn't even find the words to argue with, and he wonders if he ever could have disagreed. What's so wrong with a world where he never had to consider murder as an option? Where he never had to hear his cities scream ever again?

"Rose Tattoo is reported in most cultures. She's ageless, although I have seen her bleed." Rite spits the words out from between clenched teeth. Jack can feel the tension radiating off the woman and off of Smoke. It isn't the guns Swift holds that is making these superhumans react like they're up against a wall – it's Rose. "She's Death." Rite looks to the side just briefly, then meets Winter's eyes with the same steady gaze as before. "I know, these aren't the words . . . but there aren't any words. She's the spirit of murder."

Winter reacts like he's been punched in the stomach by Majestic. He bows his head, shoulders slumped, and turns away from the table. "And Bendix brought her into StormWatch. His personal killer. The greatest killer in history . . ." Winter shakes his head, a rueful smile crossing his thin face. "No wonder he was so close-lipped about her." He sighs and turns back just enough to meet Rite and Smoke's glance. "Now tell me about these changes you seek to implement – and quickly."

Smoke says nothing, and reaches for his gun. Jack and Swift both tense, but Smoke simply tosses the gun in the air. "The simple version is that we drag the human race to the top of the mountain – " the gun lands in Smoke's left hand and Smoke swings it around to rest an inch away from Winter's right temple – "And let them take a good look at what they've got." Jack's eyes widen, and Swift's fingers quiver near her guns' triggers. "We provide the tools for them to change their own lives. Freedom in all its forms." Smoke shrugs and tosses the gun to Winter as his body fades into grey mist. "What they choose to do with the tools is up to them. At that point, we will disappear. None of us wants to rule the world."

Winter catches the gun, points it at Smoke. "I think your friend Wish has a different idea."

Smoke recoheres and looks apologetic. ". . . so it seems." He shakes his head.

Winter grits his teeth. "Look, I've thought long and hard about this . . ."

Jack is lost to his own thoughts. A finer world. That's what Smoke was offering: a world of freedom and choice, a world of no more lies, of complete honesty. No more secrets. No more children getting biotech grafted into their spines where no on could hear their cries. No more bombs filled with diluted gen-factor, leaving the lucky ones dead on impact and the unlucky ones . . . broken. No chance of another Sam Paul Boy unit springing up in some out-of-the-way town that barely rates as a city. No more governments secretly conducting chemical experiments on their populace. No more murder. No more killing. No more fear.

No more war.

Fuji's voice cuts in over the fetish comlink. "Fuji to Winter. We've linked up with Fahrenheit and Hellstrike. We can't find any of the targets . . ."

Jack senses them only seconds before they reveal themselves: The High, and the two men who call themselves the Engineer and the Doctor. "How strange," the Doctor says, pulling his trenchcoat about himself. "We're all in plain sight, after all." He makes a cutting sound with his tongue and teeth, and moves in to face Rite. "We don't have much time. Rose Tattoo is in the building. And the Eidolon is already destroyed."

Rite stares at the Doctor. Jack can feel her heart thudding in her chest. It isn't hard to tell – there's not a single person in the room whose heart isn't racing, except for Smoke and the High. "But . . . the Eidolon is dead. That's the point of the Eidolon."

"Rose Tattoo can kill anything." The Engineer's voice is incredibly soft and natural. It almost doesn't fit with the man's body, composed as it is of green nanotech, outlined in webbing and circuity, and faceless. But then Jack remembers how human he looks compared to how inhuman he is on the inside, and allows himself a bitter chuckle. The surface of the situation is hardly ever the truth.

Winter nods. "And if she sees us consorting with the enemy, then we're probably dead, too."

Smoke turns to look at the High. Jack keeps forgetting this man has a name: John Chamberlain. Even face to face, he seems larger than even the planet he'd chosen to save. "High. These people reported finding Blind unconscious and severely beaten. You were the last one to see him."

The High points to the door as if in some vague way the motion explains his actions. "He tortured Malcolm King."

Smoke practically spits in the High's face. "Well, what did you think he was going to do? Ask him questions nicely? This is Blind we're talking about." He shakes his head. "My God, but you can be na´ve."

"Shut up." Jack follows the barrel of the gun down to its owner. Jackson King. Battalion. "I want my brother, and I want the man who tortured him. I couldn't give a damn about the rest of you." The door. Someone's coming up behind him. A grunt, and Jackson falls, a needle sticking out of his back, and a short, squat man with a black eyeless mask over his upper face stands over him, smirking.

Blind. Not as unconscious as reported, it seems. "The other StormWatchers are running around in circles. Take those three down. Let's get on with things."

Rite hisses and glares at the newcomer. "Why did you try and kill the Sparks woman?"

The High stumbles back in shock, looking from Blind to Rite and back again. "He did what?" The High asks in disbelief. Jack catches the living legend's eye, and sees the confusion and horror there.

Jack realizes, in that moment, that they've all made a huge mistake. He shivers from the thought; not from fear, though he knows he should be afraid, should be afraid of the footfalls he can't ignore any longer, should be afraid of the danger that's coming; no, Jack Hawksmoor is furious. The chance they've all wasted, the future they've ruined. The future he's ruined, by going along with this plan of Henry Bendix's. We've doomed us all.

Blind calmly explains himself in a voice that barely wavers from a monotone so calm and precise it could almost be a machine. "Because she knew the High. She might have spoken to him, talked him out of things. She could have been the death of his dream, of our dream." He hunkers down. "No one must back out. We must have an absence of crime, and the tools to cut it out of people." He surveys the room, barely disguising his contempt. "Because out of all these creatures, Sparks was the only one on our level. The only threat to us."

Jack's head snaps up, and all the rage he'd been holding back bubbles to the surface, focused on this short, ruthless, torturing machine named Blind. "Oh, is that right?" Winter shouts his name, grabbing for Jack's sleeve, but he's already slipping out of his suit jacket, hands clenched into fists. "I'll cripple you, you son of a bitch – "

Jack's screaming is drowned out by the sudden implosion of the room's walls by the entrance of the remaining members of StormWatch. The ensuing fight is short and brutal. Jack and Blind throw punches, both ending up with their necks cracking rather scarily, and blood dripping down their chins. Blind catches Jack with an uppercut that sends him flying, and draws a knife. Jack spins back with a flying roundhouse, knocking the sick bastard to the ground. Blind staggers to his feet, which is when Smoke, halfmist, wafts up behind Blind and shoots him twice – in the heart and the head. Jack kneels down and picks up his considerably-dirtier suit jacket, slipping it on and reaching out to shake Smoke's hand.

"Thanks," Jack says.

Smoke shakes his head, his mouth a thin line, brows furrowed. "Don't thank me. I didn't enjoy it. It had to be done, is all." Jack nods. Smoke looks up at the ceiling. "He was insane. We were so busy looking at the world that we didn't stop to look at each other."

Jack nods again, face tightening. He knows Smoke is right. He looks up just in time to see Smoke's head explode. The echo of the gunshot rattles around in his mind, the sound permanently etching the sight into his mind. He turns to see where the shot came from.

Rose Tattoo. That filthy, uncaring, murdering bitch she doesn't even know what she's done – she's not even looking at him or Smoke, like now that she can't kill the poor bastard he's not worth the notice – Jack snarls and leaps at her, hands outstretched.

His fingers find purchase around her skull – he can feel his nails digging into her cheekbones – and he uses all the strength the compound is willing to lend him to wrench her skull out of its socket and sever her spinal cord.

He feels the bones snap as her head twists around a full 180 degrees. He watches her fall to the ground, staring at him as the scream dies unuttered in her throat, choked off by the kink he'd just introduced to her windpipe.

He's glad. He collapses to his feet, crying. Another dead, and it's his fault. "She's dead." She doesn't even look real anymore. Like she was never real, just a doll that acted real for a time.

He closes his eyes and swears to himself, to Smoke's memory, and to Rose Tattoo's corpse, that he'll never let things end this way ever again.

He didn't take action soon enough, and now a good man was dead.

They had a chance to change the world here, for the unimaginably better, and they'd wasted it by holding back and listening meekly to what they'd been told to do. Listening while corporations and governments dictated their moves.

Listening to people who didn't want honest change, but easier control.

They could go fuck themselves.

Jack Hawksmoor swears to himself to do whatever it takes to fulfill Smoke's ambition.

He was tired of fighting the wage slaves and the good soldiers of the world. He was going to flush out the goddamned roots of this planet and leave it a better world than it was when he came into it.

He was going to change the fucking world. And if he had to kill to do that, well, he had to, and there was no getting around it.

He stares at Rose's body, still crying. "Now can we all stop screwing around?" he says.

The Engineer starts speaking to him, but he doesn't hear what the man says, only the slow, steady whine of the Hammerstrike missiles coming down from SkyWatch up above.