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Midnight in Paragon City - The Origin of The Gunslinger

Dead Woman

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[Comments welcome]

From the files of Mender Alhazred

The following story takes place on the world shard designated hope.

Chapter 1

“Fill your hands you son of a bitch!” – John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.


                In lucha libre, a wrestler’s mask is more than just a gimmick – it’s an identity.  Putting it on transforms you into something magnificent that blooms into a legend the longer you keep the mask on.  It can make you immortal.  Your children and their children’s children can keep your legacy alive by putting on the mask.  People listen to you when you wear the mask.  That’s the power it has.  Countless icons such as Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras, and The Black Shadow understood this.  But none of them hold a candle to the greatest of them all – El Santo, my hero.

                During his time, El Santo was Mexico’s greatest champion, not because he was a talented entertainer but because he had the ability to inspire.  As a kid, I looked up to El Santo as he taught me the differences between good and evil; right and wrong.  The forces of darkness were powerless against him as he fought with honor.  However, it knew that it could destroy El Santo if it could achieve the impossible – unmasking him before the entire world.

                In Lucha Libre, a mask cannot be used again once it’s been removed in public.  Your name, address, and all your details are published for everyone to see in the next day’s paper.  Sometimes the wrestler can keep going and even get a successful career, but most of the time, they quit because of the embarrassment.  What’s worse is that everything you have done up to that point becomes meaningless.  All those lessons on what is right and wrong and standing up to evil just forgotten – discarded.  I know that if El Santo were unmasked then I would have given up on his talk standing up for all that is good – and countless other children would have done the same.  That’s why unmasking a wrestler is pretty much first-degree murder, and Bobby Lee wouldn’t have minded that one damn bit.

                Bobby Lee was a young hotshot who had made a name for himself as the world welterweight champion.  You get a lot of attention and recognition when you wear the gold.  Your paychecks get bigger as well, but Bobby Lee wanted more – much more.  He had defended his title against El Santo in August of seventy-eight and won.  That right there was a major victory, but Bobby Lee showed his clever side.  The match had a hidden stipulation.  If Bobby Lee won, then El Santo had to agree to a mask versus mask match the following month.  Since he was a man of honor, El Santo agreed to put his mask on the line against Bobby Lee’s on September 3rd, 1978 – my thirteenth birthday.

                This was a match everyone wanted to see.  Bobby Lee had defeated El Santo in front of the world.  That meant that there was a chance, an honest to God real life chance that El Santo’s legacy could be defeated.  I begged and pleaded with my mother to go see it.  She would put up with my antics for a few minutes before giving me that look that promised one hell of a spanking if I went on, and she would punctuate that promise with a try-me-I-dare-you, “We’ll see.”  I had to make do with that as it wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t a no either.  But that was never satisfactory for a kid like me, and I would press my luck a few more times but only after praying to St. Nicholas and the Virgin Mother for protection.  The fact that I never incurred her wrath is all the proof I ever needed that there is a God in Heaven. 

                I couldn’t sleep the night before my birthday given how anxious I was.  Would I be able to see my hero?  I hoped so.  I prayed and prayed through most of the night until I was able to fall asleep, but I didn’t sleep long as mom got me up super early for Sunday mass.  Somehow, I made it through that sermon even though it felt like an eternity.  We got home with mom telling me to take a nap, which I thankfully did.  It was after a couple of hours when I heard her knock on my door.  I sat up immediately and called for her to come in. 

                Mom stepped in and leaned against the door frame with this funny little smile on her face.  I was about to ask her what was going on when I saw the tickets in her hands. That was like a shot of adrenaline that destroyed my exhaustion leaving me so hyped up that I could have run a marathon – without even breaking a sweat.  I saw the tickets.  I looked at her.  I couldn’t say anything as my jaw was on the floor and was finding its way to China, but she could see the question that was on my mind – was this real?  She drunk that in with a warm smile on her face and then nodded saying, “Get your coat.  We’re going to see El Santo.”   

                I couldn’t run fast enough.


                Old Slough, Kallisti Wharf – 2:01 a.m.

                The explosion came without warning.  Its violence ripped through neighboring streets while shattering windows and forcing car alarms to go off.  The ground trembled.  Signs twisted and broke.  Flaming debris rained down like bullets.  A power transformer was hit causing it to rupture and explode.  A bolt of electricity shot to the sky that briefly turned night into day.  Some buildings collapsed.  Others were pockmarked.  Fires dotted the streets here and there.  It was a loud roar that gave way to a deafening silence.

                Daniel Barnes hated that as it was what the actual calm-before-the-storm sounded like, and there was no doubt about it – a storm was on its way.  That storm was going to be organized and relentless, and it wasn’t going to stop until it figured out who had set off the explosion and why.  Barnes hoped that he would be long gone by then because he knew that he wouldn’t be able to survive it.  However, his math wasn’t adding up right.  He figured he had less than ten minutes before emergency services arrived.  That wasn’t much time.  Navigating through the wreckage was part of the problem.  Trying to avoid his pursuer was another.  He turned his head and saw his pursuer was still there, and he was walking like a killer from a Hollywood slasher film.  Barnes also had a bullet in his leg. 

                He was already burning through all the adrenaline his body was putting out, but it wasn’t enough to dull the pain.  Every step felt like a nail tearing its way through his leg, and the pain was only getting worse.  There were other problems as well.  The thick black smoke in the air was garbage going through his lungs that made him cough violently.  He couldn’t see.  That smoke stung his eyes causing them to tear up and blind him even more so.  All those obstacles were making his heart run fast, and it wouldn’t be long before he started panicking.  And if he lost it then he would really lose it, but there was a piece of him that was calm enough to notice the great big elephant in the room.  Barnes’ pursuer was the one who shot him in the leg.  There wasn’t much distance between them both, so all his pursuer had to do was aim and shoot.  So, what was he waiting for?  Just finish it!  He’s toying with me.  That was the only idea that made perfect sense.  Thrill killers were nothing more than mosquito-like annoyances – nothing to truly be afraid of when you realize they were more bark than bite.  But it left Barnes shaken all the same.  His pursuer looked and acted like a certain high-ranking officer who would have never toyed with anyone and considered that a waste of time.  This meant that Barnes’ pursuer was an infiltrator and a good one given how he evaded detection for so long. 

                Barnes’ lungs were ramping up their rebellion, turning every cough into a fire that was burning him from the inside out.  Already he could hear himself wheezing and gasping, but that was nothing compared to how the world was starting to go black.  If a miracle didn’t happen now, then he was going to pass out.  Panic was creeping out of him.  But he caught a brief glimpse of hope peering out from the smoke.  There were two shipping containers that had been swept together by the force of the explosion.    Between them was a thin corridor that he could get through, and beside them was a building that had burning debris on its roof.  If he could get to the mouth of the corridor, then he could bring down the debris with a stun grenade.  But his panic was screaming at him with a better idea, throw it at his pursuer.  He wanted to, dear god did he really want to, but his pursuer was healthy and wearing a respirator while Barnes was coughing and choking to death.  Barnes knew that his pursuer would easily dodge the grenade, but Barnes knew that he could hit something stationary even though he was ready to pass out.  It had to be this or nothing.  Barnes shifted towards the mouth of the corridor while getting the grenade ready.  It became a desperate gamble that Barnes put everything into.  He popped the pin and tossed the grenade towards the debris, and with a single burst of strength threw himself towards the mouth of the corridor.  Sensing danger, the infiltrator stopped just as the grenade went into the air, and the suddenness of the blast only forced him to hop back.   The debris came down just as Barnes had hoped.  Now safe, Barnes flipped onto his back and watched the infiltrator peer at him through the debris before disappearing. 

                 Every one of Barnes’ muscles was pleading for a moment’s rest, but he ignored that by hobbling up onto his feet.  He was careful not to put any unnecessary pressure on his bad leg, but that was quickly becoming a luxury he could no longer afford.  His leg was ice cold, and he could feel nothing when he touched it.  Speed became essential.  He grabbed a small tube on his belt and aimed it towards the top of the container that was next to the building.  He squeezed and watched the miniature grappling hook fly.  There was a clang of metal striking against metal.  Barnes tugged and saw that the connection was holding.  He then gripped the tube with both hands and squeezed it again.  His body launched so fast that he nearly missed grabbing hold of the top of the container, but he did.  He moved fast and got on top of the building’s roof.    

                His lungs continued fighting him and were winning. The world was spinning.  Things were getting dark.  He needed to react now.  His hand desperately grabbed at his belt several times hoping that it would find his portable respirator.  A surge of panic filled him as his hand grabbed at it but moved away, leaving him feeling that he had lost it.  But he swelled with relief once he found it and shoved it into his mouth.  He sucked hard on fresh clean air and his lungs thanked him for it by slowing down its assault.  Barnes didn’t get much rest.  Through the smoke, he could see the lights of over fifty emergency service vehicles, and they were only minutes away. 

Barnes knew that he was screwed. 

The storm was here. 


                The event was to take place at the Palacio de Los Deportes.  This dome shaped indoor arena first opened in 1968, just in time for the Summer Olympics that were held in Mexico City.  While the Palacio was made for basketball, it hosted a wide variety of sporting events and music concerts.  The first time I saw the Palacio, I remembered thinking how it looked like pineapple.  I had even asked my mom if pineapples can really get that big, of course she laughed and told me that I was being silly.  But I appreciated how regal the place felt, and as mom and I approached, I couldn’t help but think that this was a perfect place to hold such an important event. 

                The ticket guy checked our tickets and ushered us with an overworked – welcome to the Palacio, next!  And those words seemed to trigger a force that pulled my mother and I into the Palacio, but both of us were able to pull away and head towards the concession stand.  She had money for plenty of snacks and drinks and let me tell you my arms could barely hold all of them, but I didn’t mind one bit as this gift as this was my birthday and mom were going to let me eat and drink sugary treats. 

                I almost dropped everything once I stepped into the arena and saw twenty-thousand people.  How could so many people sit so comfortably in one arena?  I couldn’t comprehend it.  Mom led us through the crowd towards our seats.  I was of course expecting that she would take us to the cheap seats that were up in the back, but the closer we got to the front row, the more I allowed myself to hope.   And when we sat down, in the front row, I looked to her in awe, telling her that these tickets must have cost a fortune.  She smiled at me saying, “You’re worth it.”  I wanted to say more to her, but I couldn’t.  The lights had dimmed, and the show was about to begin.


                The sirens were getting closer with every passing second, and all that did was harden Barnes’ resolve to get off the roof quickly.  A quick scan of the area revealed a warehouse that had somehow survived the explosion.  It was small and nestled up against the gigantic war wall, but for Barnes, that warehouse looked like a sanctuary.  He saw his way in as the warehouse had a busted-up window he could slip through.  Seeing the finish line had become a shot of nitrous oxide that gave his adrenaline an extra boost needed to keep going.  All the pain was forgotten; like it had never even existed.  Barnes picked up his grappler and switched on a zipline feature.  He moved quickly, aiming one end at the roof, and firing the impervium hook.  The ping he heard was the impervium hook tearing through the roof and sticking.  He tugged on it, felt it hold, and then aimed the other end towards the warehouse roof and fired.  A moment of fear poured down his throat and drenched his stomach as he realized this was an all or nothing shot.  If the hook missed the warehouse’s roof, then he was good as dead.  He tried pushing those thoughts back as humoring them would only bring about mistakes, but they kept coming back like wild animals that wouldn’t be deterred because they had tasted blood.  But they stopped abruptly once both ends of the grappler tightened up.  Barnes knew that he had made it. 

                Taking hold of the grappler, Barnes sat down on the roof’s edge and then pushed off as he ziplined his way towards the warehouse.  For a moment, Barnes felt free and alive as the wind hit his face.  But that was a total distraction that blinded him to the fast approach of the warehouse.  Barnes cried out as he arched his body and brought his knees up to his chest to slow his descent, but it wasn’t enough.  The impact was an earthquake that jostled his hold from the grappler.  He cried out as he felt gravity grabbing him and yanking him down.  The smack of solid earth almost knocked him out, but his resolve kept him going. 

                He got up as quickly as he could, but his body was instinctively taking its time as it knew that it had taken a heavy beating.  The sirens that were so close by didn’t help either.  They were nothing short than a full-on assault that would shatter his body.  His eyes and ears filled with pressure and would pop at any moment.  He had to work fast, but the world was spinning both this way and that made him mistrust his movements. He slammed his elbow into the glass.  He missed.  The glass cut through the uniform.  He bit down his lip to strangle back a cry.  He tried again.  Glass started coming down.  There was enough room for him now to slip through, and he did so just as the first responders started to arrive.

                As if on cue, Barnes’ leg gave out which caused him to fall, but luck was a bit on his side as he turned so he could cushion his fall on his side.  Looking up, Barnes saw that he had underestimated the warehouse.  It was one of those bigger-on-the-inside warehouses that Crey Industries often sold.  While this was a delightful surprise, it didn’t help him solve his most pressing problem in that he couldn’t walk.  If he couldn’t walk, then he would drag himself.  He reached each arm out and pulled himself forward.  It was an exercise that wore out every muscle in his body as it felt like he was dragging a dead weight along with him.  He kept moving.  A hero or a cop could peer inside at any moment.  He cursed himself for thinking that as the warehouse door jiggled.  He pulled himself faster and harder.  Someone was outside and was now moving towards the window.  Barnes made one final pull and got himself into darkened refuge.  Barnes didn’t move as he felt someone standing outside. 

                “Hey! I need you over here!” Someone far off shouted.

                The person at the window moved quickly, “Coming!”

                Barnes breathed a sigh of relief, but he knew that he wasn’t completely safe.  He grabbed at a pocket on his pants leg where a single use medical kit was stored.  Taking it out, Barnes opened it up and searched through the usual assortment of stimulants that the cape community called – inspirations.  Each stimulant came in a tiny one-time use syringe that used compressed air to inject the stimulant directly into the blood stream.  Barnes still thought it all sounded like Star Trek.  The syringes were clear so he could see the stimulants inside.  What’s more was that each stimulant was dyed to represent a certain reaction and the stimulants were given a bio luminescent agent to help them glow in dark places; like the corner he was sitting in.   The top layer had syringes catering to combat with yellow giving you a clearer focus, red increased your strength, and orange made you more resilient with purple making you quick as a wink.  But there was a light purple (almost lavender) looking stimulant that was used to break free from things like panic and delirium.  He held onto it as he kept searching until he found the ones he was looking for.  One was bright green and the other was a bright blue – healing and respiratory recovery.  Without cleaning his neck or finding an artery, Barnes started injecting the stimulants directly into his body. 

                Now was the hardest thing Barnes could do and that was to wait until the healing stimulants did their job.  What sucked was that Barnes had no gun as he had turned that in just as his shift had finished.  But he managed to hold onto his knife when the explosion went off, and as one of his instructors said once – any weapon is better than no weapon at all.  It still boggled his mind that he managed to escape the explosion, but he knew that was just luck.  The explosives that went off were meant to destroy everything.  


                My mom wasn’t a wrestling fan.  She wasn’t one of those who thought it was a bad influence on me – it just wasn’t her cup of tea.  But on that day, my mom became a wrestling fan.  She cheered when the people cheered and booed when the people booed.  We watched all the matches with her asking me every now again why this guy was fighting that guy and the likes.  I told her and she soaked it up like an undergraduate student on their first day of school. She really got into it, which only made me smile because she was doing that for me.  She wanted me to enjoy every single moment even though she wasn’t.   

                But then she went quiet because it was time for the main event.  All eyes turned towards the wrestler’s entrance.  I watched as Bobby Lee was the first to come out.  The jeering of the crowd was so intense that it nearly blew out my eardrums, but I didn’t care as I was lost in the moment.  I watched as he made his way to the ring wearing his signature green and silver mask and black trunks.  He paid no mind to what people thought of him, so I didn’t expect him to look my way.  But he stopped as he walked by and looked at me.  Ice cold terror poured itself down my throat which froze me solid.  I wasn’t certain because of the lighting, but I swore up and down that he smirked at me before he moved on. 

                All the fight had gone out of me.  I truly thought that Bobby Lee was going to tear me in half in front of twenty-thousand people.  He didn’t and I promised the Virgin Mother that I would say an extra-long prayer of thanks for her protection before I went to bed that night.  But all of that was blown away when the people exploded into cheers.  El Santo had arrived.  I turned and saw my hero standing there.  Every part of his costume from his mask right on down to his boots was pure silver without any other color.  His hands were on his hips looking towards the ring like a hero recognizing the danger and showing that he wasn’t afraid.  That seemed to unnerve Bobby Lee to where he paced back and forth like a tiger and daring El Santo to come on in.  I watched as my hero walked towards the ring and in that moment, I felt that I had seen God walk on by.  But then I froze once again because El Santo looked at me.  I could see his eyes, and they were looking directly at me.  And then, he winked before he moved onto the ring. I thought back to Bobby Lee’s arrival and how that was a terrible omen.  But El Santo read my mind and assured me that everything was going to be alright with just a wink and a nod.

                I sat back down in a daze as the ring announcer introduced both men.  Bobby Lee fed off the jeers and nearly threw up in disgust when El Santo got more attention than him.  Both men were night and day.  The young upstart against the veteran.  Their match represented nature with the young going against the old.  It was then that the match started, and I sat back to watch history unfold before my very eyes.


                The wait seemed to last forever and a day, but the stimulants enabled Barnes to break free from his worry and allow him to try and come up with some sort of plan.  Nothing came up though, but Barnes kept himself patient knowing that something would happen.  It was then that Barnes heard the arrival of the trucks.  From his vantage point, Barnes only saw one of the trucks – a Longbow variant of the M1083 MTV general utility truck.  But Barnes was certain that he heard at least three of them.  By then, Barnes’ leg had healed considerably, but he would still need a medic to dig the bullet out of him.  He got up slowly and made his way over towards the window while keeping to the shadows.  His vantage point was still limited but he could make out at least three trucks.  To say that his spirits lifted was an understatement.  They were soaring high in outer space while singing Halle-freaking-lujah.  These trucks were what he needed to escape.  So, he thought it through. 

                Barnes knew that his options were limited.  He could stay in the warehouse and keep his fingers crossed that no one came in, but it was a guarantee that someone would come inside soon.  There was stepping out and making a break for it, but there had to be three or four hundred people outside with at least one looking where he was hiding.  The trucks blocked the warehouse from view.  Barnes could slip outside and get in one of them and drive off.  True, he didn’t have the keys, but he had something better – a master key.  On the outside it looked like a fob, but if he placed it against the ignition lock then it would scan it and create a hard light replica. 

                The infiltrator was still a problem.  Barnes knew that he was out there.  Like the person he was masquerading as, the infiltrator had stealth capabilities.  For all he knew, the infiltrator was watching him from the window he came in through.  But what other choice did he have?  Barnes moved closer to the window.  He peered his head outside and saw that the entire warehouse was camouflaged by four trucks all lined up in a single file.  Barnes figured his best bet was to take the lead truck as that meant driving off without having to back her out.  Barnes slowly stepped out of the window and looked around carefully.  No one was there.  His instincts told him to move now.  He moved towards the lead truck.

Then he stopped.

The Infiltrator stepped out of the shadows. 

As he smoothed back some of his blonde hair, Barnes whined out softly, “Son of a …”  


                A Freedom Corps vehicle arrived at the scene only an hour after the explosion, and two men, both officers in Freedom Corps, emerged from the back seat.  They were almost like Mutt and Jeff – purely mismatched in height.  The lieutenant was a couple shades shy of six feet, but his athletic physique made up for his size.  The lieutenant colonel was nearly seven feet tall and almost lanky, but those who knew him knew that he could handle himself no matter what.  Both men absorbed the situation while trying to keep themselves detached.  Explosions such as this always left behind casualties, and while they hadn’t found any yet they knew that they would.  Knowing this had the potential to taint the investigation, and that created a whole mess of problems that could let the guilty party go free.  They wanted the people responsible, but they were going to do it correctly by doing their job and following all laws and procedures. 

                The lieutenant, whose name was Alvarez, tapped an ear bud he had on and listened intently.  Even through all the noise from rescue and investigative operations, Alvarez was able to hear every single word that was relayed to him and digest it.  When done he looked to his superior saying, “Colonel Demery.”  The tall man turned when hearing his name and gave Alvarez his full attention.  Alvarez continued, “Gas has been turned off.  There are units examining the sewers but so far, they report nothing.”

                Demery nodded but then he asked, “Anything else?”

                Alvarez nodded, but he looked grim saying, “There is sir.”   


                “Scanners show explosive residue in the air.”

                Demery closed his eyes and sighed.  He could feel that Alvarez was going to drop a bombshell on him and that alone was worse than hearing what he was going to say.  He braced himself as he said, “What was the type used?”  Alvarez told him and it was like a slap in the face that made him wince.  It was military grade that groups like The Council, the 5th Column, Nemesis, Arachnos, and Malta had access to.  That meant Kallisti Wharf was hit with an intentional attack.  Demery ran a hand over his shaven head feeling the weight of the moment press down upon him.  He asked himself, could this get any worse?  

                It did with a gunshot. 


                Soldiers, including Alvarez, along with law enforcement agents rushed towards where the shot came from, which was behind a caravan of utility trucks.  Demery had stayed behind along with volunteers and rescue workers who were gathered.  Everyone was tense except for him as he knew they had someone from all the shouted promises of opening fire if their commands weren’t obeyed.  That tension exploded when there came abrupt silence.  Demery always had that silence because it sounded like a predator that was ready to strike, but then the code came that said things were fine and a suspect was in custody.  Demery closed his eyes and relaxed.  All the tension escaped when people let it out with smiles and cheers and even applause, but Demery was not satisfied.  Sure, they had someone in custody but that didn’t mean they had the criminal mastermind behind this whole circus.  But Demery kept that to himself, best to let the people have this little moral boost.  Two officers emerged from the caravan and with them was a young kid with blonde hair and blue eyes that went through Hell.  But what caught Demery’s attention was the uniform the kid wore.  There wasn’t a whole lot about Malta everyone knew, but their uniforms were certainly recognizable.   

                Demery’s communicator crackled, with Alvarez asking, “Colonel Demery?”

                “Go ahead.”

                “Better send forensics over sir.  We got another Malta agent here.”

                Demery blinked as he asked, “Did our boy kill him?”

                “Yes sir, but its someone you know.”


                Wrestling is more than colorful characters spouting off threats and promises to each other.  It’s a story.  Bobby Lee’s entrance was the predator full of confidence that he would prevail.  El Santo followed showing that he was not afraid, and that honor would guide him to victory.  That took Bobby Lee down a notch, and it made him lose his cool.  His pacing back and forth while daring El Santo to enter was a futile attempt to regain some of the spirit El Santo took away so easily. 

                The match itself was a continuation of that story.  Bobby Lee the predator stalking his prey and getting one swipe after another that puts El Santo on the edge.  The only thing El Santo could do was to move and hope he could gain an advantage and he does.  The hunted becomes the hunter and Bobby Lee is now fighting for his life, realizing that he may have chewed more than he could swallow.  This hunt goes back and forth.  It’s a contest of strength.  It’s a contest of wills.  But most importantly – it’s a dance.  And like all dances, this one had to come to an end with El Santo coming out victorious. 

                I watched with glee as El Santo skinned the leopard he had slain.  He held up Bobby Lee’s mask to the twenty-thousand people that were there watching, taking in their cheers and their celebration.  I turned to look at my mom who had been watching me the whole time enjoying my enjoyment of this special day.  I asked her, “Did you see?” 

                She laughed and told me that she did see. 

                But then her eyes spoke to me, saying I should turn around.

                I did and nearly fell back onto the floor in surprise.  Before me was my hero El Santo and he was looking down at me with authority much like God does from his throne in Heaven.  I trembled in awe and fear.  My idol was here right before me.  I could think of nothing else.  He finally spoke with thunder in his voice asking, “Are you Carlos Gallardo?”


                It took Demery just a moment to make it over to the scene.  Forensics had yet to arrive, so Demery and Alvarez had a moment alone with the body.  Kneeling, Demery tilted the head slightly so that he could see its face.  It took him a moment to recognize the catch he had, and a smile started dawning on his lips.  He looked to Alvarez and said, “Let base know that we have a second Malta agent.  It’s Carlos Gallardo – aka Red-2-Dead.”


                How did he know?  The voice in the back of my head spoke up, “It’s because he’s God’s chosen warrior stupid.”  That made perfect sense to me.  I then realized to my horror that I hadn’t answered his question yet and he was expecting me to, but I couldn’t find my voice.  It was trapped deep within me, too scared to come out thinking it would embarrass itself.  However, I could nod my head and nod I did.  My head went up and down quick, almost making me dizzy. 

                And then he did something that was truly magnificent.  He got down to my level so he could look me in the eye.  I was shocked and horrified.  Angels of God above don’t get down on their knees.  If I could, I would have urged him to get back up onto his feet.  But I couldn’t.  I didn’t have the strength to do that, so I watched helplessly as he asked me with that thunderous voice of his, “Today is your birthday isn’t Carlos?”

                Again, how did he know? 

My head screamed at me in disbelief, “I told you stupid, it’s because he’s one of God’s chosen.”

I nodded my head slowly this time just taking in everything.  It was then that he stood up and lifted me up into the air.  He looked up at me and hollered, “Then I dedicate my victory to you Carlos Gallardo!”  He thrust into my hand the very mask Bobby Lee wore to the ring.  I could have died then and there feeling that my life was complete.  But it wasn’t.  You see, the entire twenty-thousand strong that witnessed that match was cheering me. 

None of these people knew who I was.  I had not made any accomplishments or stopped any villains.  But for that one moment in my life, people looked at me as if I really was a hero like El Santo.  No, I take that back.  Their cheers made me feel so much more like if I was Statesman or Hero-1.  I had not earned that praise.  I had not earned that respect. 

But I swore to God.  I swore to El Santo.  I swore to myself. 

I would be the hero that earned that praise. 


                Barnes sat in the back of a police cruiser with his hands cuffed behind his back.  He shook his head muttering how close he was to getting out of here. Defeat was in his eyes, and yet he was hoping, praying that maybe that would count for something.  It wasn’t though.  The standing rule in Malta was to never get caught.  There was a harsh penalty to pay if that ever happened.  This moment alone in the back seat was the real calm-before-the-storm and it made him nervous. 

                The only comfort was that it wouldn’t be long before he was evacuated.  He had turned his head and saw techs bringing a body that he assumed to be the infiltrator’s out on a stretcher.  Barnes recognized the techs as undercover agents.  He muttered to himself, “Where were you an hour ago?”

                The door to the cruiser opened and Barnes had enough time to see a hand reach out and touch him.  The jumping bean transponder placed on his shoulder came to life with a hum, and he felt the whole world fade away as he was teleported towards the storm. 


                I had only cried twice in my life. 

                The first time was when I was in the States being trained by Malta.  I was bunked with a guy who was also from Mexico and one night I heard him crying.  By then it was lights out and you were supposed to sleep and put everything else out of your head.  I whispered angrily at him, “Why are you crying?”

                When you sign up for duty, you make a promise that you won’t hold anything back.  Yes, all that you share will be used against you – to tear you down, so you can be rebuilt from the ground up.  If he had said nothing I would have personally gotten out of bed and beat the tar out of him.  But he didn’t hold anything back.  He told me, “El Santo died today.”

                I said nothing more to him and let him do his best to cry himself to sleep.  I lay there staring up at the ceiling remembering that special moment from six years prior.  I didn’t sniffle like my bunk mate, nor did I sob.  But I felt my tears shed down my cheeks.  I let them go until I couldn’t cry anymore.  The world had become a smaller place for me, but I still remembered my promise. 

                I would become the hero worthy of those cheers.


Edited by Dead Woman
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Chapter 2

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.”  Louis L’Amour


                On December 5th, 1979, my world had come to an end, and it started with an explosion.  I was spooked rather badly because what I experienced was loud that made the ground shake violently.   My immediate thought was that a thunderstorm had snuck up on us but looking outside I saw a bright blue sky.  Dark skies always accompany a thunderstorm that leaves you thinking God is truly ticked off about something, but the weather was just fine – beautiful even.  I stepped outside and looked around, feeling uneasy as I did.  My neighbors were gathered and were searching for answers just like me.  They asked each other what was going on only to get a shrug and an I don’t know.  Then one of them let out a cry as she pointed upwards.  None of us breathed a word because we were focused on the black smoke in the air.    

                A stray thought hit me – where was mom? My heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach, but I pulled it out just as quickly as I remembered mom was at work.  Ever since I can remember, mom worked as a janitor over at the Palacio Nacional – the seat of the Mexican national government.   Nothing could ever happen there.  Why would anyone try?  My mom was safe.  I kept telling myself that again and again, but I wasn’t listening.  I was convinced from the bottom of my heart that something had happened there. 

                My neighbor’s daughter came out with a radio that was turned onto the news.  I sat there watching as everyone gathered around as it said that a bombing had indeed taken place at the palace.  Some of my neighbors looked at me knowing my mom worked at the palace, and that oh my god what if Carlos’ mother is dead fear in their eyes only inspired me to move.  I had one thing in mind and that was going to find mom.  I ran past them, a few calling out to me with one or two trying to stop me.  They failed.  I ran and I would keep running until I made it to the palace. 


The journey from the back seat of a police cruiser to a Malta base was lightning-fast.   People often despise the teleporter after using it for the first time.  Your body being disassembled into a compressed, identifiable pattern was one thing.  Having that pattern reassembled just the way you remembered it was something else entirely.  But together, the process was like being seconds away from a long night’s rest and then jumping headfirst into full alert because your mind hasn’t processed how you’re somewhere else. Most people got over that quickly, but not Barnes.  He never stopped hating the teleporter.  However, he wasn’t thinking about that.  Instead, he was worried about his exit interview.  

Up ahead, Barnes saw the Exit Interviewer himself.  Anyone who saw him would have asked – is this a joke?  Say the name Malta out loud and most who heard you would think about wet works and black ops run by fascist soldiers who could take down whole armies.  But this tiny man who was a hundred pounds soaking wet at best; screamed book worm.  He truly looked like he belonged in an accounting office rather than a military complex run by assassins and operators.  Barnes could very well kill this man in two moves, but he didn’t.  He was petrified of the man. 

There were a couple of things that made the Exit Interviewer frightening.  The first was that he worked under the authority of Gyrfalcon himself.  It was Gyrfalcon’s legendary disdain for operatives who get caught or killed that gave rise to operatives like the Exit Interviewer.  The Exit Interviewer’s own intellect had on numerous occasions successfully retrieved fallen or captured comrades, and he did that without ever being noticed.  That made him the most important operative in Gyrfalcon’s army, and Gyrfalcon gave him a great deal of authority.  The Exit Interviewer showed that as he circled Barnes while paying close attention to all of Barnes’ little details.  But what made him truly scary was his powers of observation.  He could look at you and know you intimately without you ever having told him a thing about yourself.  He had many nicknames – the human lie detector, Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty, and of course the Exit Interviewer.  But whatever the name, he was the guy who dished out punishments for getting caught.  And most of the time, the punishment was a bullet in the back of the skull. 

Finally, he stopped and looked directly at Barnes, “Look at me.”

Barnes locked eyes with the Exit Interviewer and fidgeted. 

After a moment, the Exit Interviewer said, “Take him to the back.  Get him cleaned up.  I want his clothes and I want his gear stored for analysis.  After that, get him some food and knock him out for at least twelve hours.”  He watched as Barnes was escorted away and noted how confused he was over the special treatment he was getting.  The Exit Interviewer kept his world greatest poker face going and betrayed nothing.  He kept watching the corridors even as Barnes disappeared in them. 

“Are you sure that’s wise?”

He turned his head to see his protégé, Rebecca Smith, stand beside him.   On the outside, the Knives of Artemis and Malta were two separate entities.  Malta were men who came from various military backgrounds who fought to preserve ideals of how might makes right.  The Knives of Artemis were women whose brutal regimen and ethics damn near bordered on religious fervor.  But both sides were essentially one and the same – different divisions of one organization, and it was not uncommon to see representatives from opposite factions in both divisions and the ones that the rest of the world didn’t know about.  The relationship The Exit Interviewer had with Rebecca was almost parental with a bit of mentor-student thrown in for good measure.   It was his hope that one day she would take over for him as Malta’s new Exit Interviewer.  In his eyes, she had talent; an eye for detail that rivaled his own.  She was a woman of many talents:  cunning, intelligent, cool under fire, and of course beautiful.  But she could be a real pain in the ass at times.  The Exit Interviewer believed his logic and reasoning was plainly obvious, and her not being able to see it always got under his skin.  But then again, she was still new to everything, so he cut her some slack on that.  Still, it was all one great pain in the ass.

He looked to her and asked rather innocently enough, “Pardon?”

Smith wasn’t fooled.  His voice had the barest quality of stress towards it, indicating that he was intentionally trying to sound – polite.  This was backed up by a deception that included very subtle muscle twitches in the face when trying to act out something that can only be done naturally.  Knowing his truly heartfelt disdain for why people weren’t like him intellectually, and that she was his protégé, it was reasonable to assume that he was being polite; to give her a chance to take back her question – to save face because she didn’t see what he saw.  Smith stepped closer to him and repeated her words carefully to him, “Is it wise to treat him this kindly?”  

Disappointment dawned on his face as Smith didn’t take him up on his offer.  He sighed and looked back down the corridor, and as he did, he spoke directly and with authority screamed how much he wanted a correct response from her, “You’ve gotten a good look at him.  You’ve also read his file.  Give me the basics and then analyze him.”

Smith smiled as she recalled the data through the techniques the Exit Interviewer taught her.  Once the data was brought up and as clear as day, she recited the information almost verbatim, “Barnes, Daniel J.  Born August 11th, 2002.  His place of birth is Moscow, Iowa.  Hair: blonde.  Eyes:  blue.  He is six feet two inches tall and weighs one hundred and seventy-five pounds.  He is the second of three children.  His mother stayed at home.  His father worked at a nearby plant.  The family was very active in the Lutheran community.   He went to school in Moscow, Iowa but had no college prospects, so he enlisted in the armed forces.  That is where we recruited him.

“Barnes favored his leg as he arrived.  The back of his pants leg is torn showing that he was likely shot there. However, the fact that he can still walk on it shows that he used a regenerative stimulant.  His hands, face, and uniform are dirty showing he had to maneuver through the wreckage quite possibly hiding.  He has defensive wounds on his hands and wrists showing he got into a struggle with his attacker. My guess is that he is physically exhausted which is why you want him to rest up.”

The sigh the Exit Interviewer gave showed that he was disappointed in her evaluation.  This caught her attention and made her look at him as he had yet to look at her.  He said, “You missed one thing.”

A slow smile crept over her face, “The PTSD he has.”

His eyes sparkled with interest, “How do you figure?”

“You focused on his eyes.”


“A few studies have been performed – mostly at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada and at the Charité Universitätsmedizin in Berlin.  Staring into the eyes of someone who has neurological trauma like autism or in this case PTSD causes them to stress.” She looked down the corridor and said with a smirk, “And he was stressing out really bad when you looked him straight in the eyes.”

Pleased, he gave a light nod of his head saying, “Now, can you see why I chose to be kind?”

Smith did and explained, “You can’t trust testimony from someone who has suffered a great deal of trauma.  You must calm them down first, let them know that they are safe, and that you’re their ally before you can get anything out of them and even then, you can’t completely trust what you have.” 

“Precisely.  If we let him think that he has a chance to survive this, then he will do whatever it takes to recall every bit of relevant data for us.  That’s why I am showing him kindness.  Of course, after that is finished then he must be shown the exit.”  He then stopped.  He replayed the entire conversation he had with her going back to when she asked why showing Barnes any kindness was a good idea.  He then turned his head towards her and glared at her hard. 

Smith smirked as he said, “You were playing with me.”

“That I was.”

He snorted as he went down the corridor with her following right behind him.

Trauma was a wild animal that struck whenever it damn well pleased – and it often did at the most opportune time imaginable.  There were treatments that could starve the animal outright or wrangle it, but could something like that be stopped?  The science said no, and that was a good enough reason for Malta to kill off any of its members that exhibited any sign of trauma or defect.  Malta was all about precision and knowing when to pull the trigger, and a soldier with issues would always put that efficiency at risk.  The problem of course was that they couldn’t be let go either as they held too many secrets.  The only option was clear – show them the exit with a bullet.   

                “I need to make a phone call to the directors.  I want you to prepare to have all non-essential personnel move to carrier base two.  I will be asking to have our base go on lock down as we perform a full DNA scan on both Barnes and the remains.”

                “How long will you be?”

                “Not long.  Only five minutes.” 

                “I will meet you in your office then.”

                With orders in hand, Smith headed out and the Exit Interviewer went to make a conference call.


                I didn’t stop running until I got to the Palacio Nacional, and even then, I didn’t feel like stopping to catch my breath.  My mother was there somewhere and whether she was alive or dead I didn’t know, but I wasn’t about to sit around and wait until someone had the bright idea to reach out to me.  The entire palace was swarming with police, fire fighters, and emergency responders.  There were a great deal of people coming and going.  People were yelling at each other giving orders and the likes.  But that didn’t hold my attention.  There was a large hole from the side of the palace itself that was smoking and on fire. I was shaking terribly, and it wasn’t from the cold but rather the anger over seeing our national pride devastated and defeated.  But then I remembered that my mother was somewhere and that I needed to find her.  I ran off searching for her.

                It was almost like a scene from a Hollywood film.  I ran headfirst into a giant of a man wearing a tiny policeman’s uniform.  I looked at him.  He looked at me.  And then he grabbed me and started to drag me away telling me that no children should be around.  I fought him.  I yelled that I was looking for my mother and that she was part of the staff.  It ticked him off that I didn’t stop fighting him, but I was red hot from how he didn’t believe me and wasn’t letting me search for my mother. I was almost ready to bite his hand off when I heard her, “Carlos?”

                Nearby were several ambulances where the injured were being taken care of.  Mom was there with a bandage on her forehead.  The officer, seeing that mom knew me let me go.  I darted towards her; never looking back at the officer who held me.  She held out her arms to me and I launched myself right into them.  We hugged and sobbed in each other’s arms as we found each other.  I knew that she would later tar and feather me for being here, but at the moment, we were just happy. 


                Stepping into Malta’s communication chamber was always an exercise in keeping cool under fire.    From within the communication chamber, a voice spoke out to him with a phone operator’s soulless professionalism, “Please identify yourself.”  The room itself was circular with nothing in it except for a pedestal.  The top half of the chamber was a gigantic monitor, and it came to life with a ten second countdown.

                The Exit Interviewer was not worried nor did he move quickly.  He strolled towards the pedestal and spoke rather normally, “This is The Exit Interviewer.  Code one, one, one a.”

                The timer stopped at seven seconds then vanished.  In its place was text stating that the system recognized The Exit Interviewer’s voice print and identification code.  Anyone the system didn’t recognize would have immediately flooded the room with a poison gas; a variant of the mass execution gas that the 5th Column used during World War Two.  The poison was fast acting, but it wouldn’t be fast enough to whoever breathed it in as it strangled them to death. 

The system spoke again, “Place hand on scanner.”  The pedestal’s top opened and up came a hand scanner.  The monitor replaced the acknowledgement text with a five second countdown.  The Exit Interviewer calmly made his way over and placed his hand on the scanner and watched as the countdown stopped at one.  The timer went away as the system said, “Identity confirmed.  Placing call.”

                For over ten years, the Exit Interviewer had a working relationship with directors.   And during that time, he never learned about their identities or whether they were male or female.  There were exceptions of course such as Gyrfalcon and Direction 11 in that he knew they were male.  The rest, however, was a complete mystery to him, and he had no desire to solve it. 

                Each of the directors answered.  Some of their faces were obscured by well-placed shadows that were noticeably pixelated.  Only Gyrfalcon and Director 11 chose not to go that route as both wore their masks that hid their identity even more so.  It was Director 11 who would do the talking as his image directly faced the Exit Interviewer, “Report.”

                The Exit Interviewer went straight to the bad news, “Project Purity is dead.”

                Director 11 shifted then asked, “Dr. Skorzeny?”

                “We believe he’s dead.  We checked his transponder signal and found that it was offline.” 


                “There were two survivors – Daniel Barnes and Carlos Gallardo.  However, Barnes killed Gallardo.”

                There was a moment of stunned silence.   

                Director 11 then asked, “Why?”

                “We have yet to figure that out.”

                 “Is it Gallardo?”

                A pause, and then the Exit Interviewer stated, “That brings me to my request.”

                “You think him to be an infiltrator?”

                “I suspect that there was an infiltrator.”  

                “Go on?”

                “Gallardo was one of our best operators.  I find it unlikely that a fresh recruit like Barnes could kill one who is as experienced as him.  At the same time, I find it unlikely that an agent experienced as Gallardo could be taken on and replaced.  Either one or the other is an infiltrator and a full DNA scan would prove as such.” 

                No system was perfect, not even if it was set up by Malta.  So, there were times when things got through the crack.  The question was how quickly you could spot that and then go after it aggressively, and for Malta, they had a batting average so fine that it would have made Ty Cobb’s ghost whistle while impressed.  But this was a different case entirely.  Somehow, an infiltrator had gotten in without making a sound and that had the Exit Interviewer spooked.  In a city of heroes, changing your face and identity was as easy as one, two, three.  In fact, it was downright affordable in some cases. A full DNA scan would reveal everything from what the person looked like to who made the DNA alterations. 

                Director 11 said, “Stand by.”   He then pressed a button and caused the entire monitor to go black.  Patience followed.  The Exit Interviewer knew that they were having a conference on whether to give him what he wanted.  Even though he didn’t know who they were he knew that he would get what he wanted.  He had never been denied before. 

                The monitor came back to life with Director Three saying, “Authorization granted.”

                “Begin transferring non-essential personnel to carrier base two.  After that you may begin.  Then contact us immediately after completion for the results.”


                The call then ended. 


                I never believed in luck but rather in a higher power.  Mom was safe because of a schedule screw up.  She was scheduled to work in the Chamber of The Deputies.  There was a late-night session going on and mom was someone who could quickly clean the place up afterwards.  But she was transferred over to tend to the garden.  She was about to head back inside and argue with whoever wrote the schedule when the bomb went off. 

                It was a bomb; handmade and planted by the Cruz-Ortiz cartel.  And the people who had made it were truly evil as they added nails to the bomb.  They wanted to kill as many people as possible.  People screamed why.  They made no bones about it.  Governments didn’t want them to make money from the misery of others.  So, our leaders instituted laws, hired more soldiers and guards, and had even asked Uncle Sam for assistance.  All so they could stop the manufacture and distribution of drugs.  They promised more bombings, more violence, and more terror if they weren’t given free reign to carry out their operations.  Of course, we all wondered how this was even possible. 

                Throughout the seventies, drug cartels had worked with super villains and terrorists from the Middle East, Africa, and the Etoile Isles on how to apply guerilla tactics to their overall operation.  They even had support from well-known groups such as the 5th Column and Arachnos who provided them with weapons and equipment and additional training.  They were once pests that had turned into locusts and finally evolved into a plague, and we allowed that plague to go on unchecked until it was too late.

                Mom had seen the writing on the wall years in advance.  The cartels had started off as a whisper by frightened people who didn’t know any better.  As they grew in strength, the cartels became a force that we thought we could handle.  You see it on the news how people shield themselves from hurricanes and tornados.  We thought we could do the same.  We were wrong.  They became a force that cost the lives of over one hundred politicians, staff, and civilians.  My mom decided then and there as we hugged it out that we were going to head to America.  However, it wasn’t the violence that sold my mom on this.  Cartels do more than take advantage of people with drug habits.  They prey on those who are poor and suffering.  They hand them a wad of hundred-dollar bills, American, and say be a monster for us.  Well, if you’re poor enough and hungry enough then you’ll do anything for money.  My mom worried that I would be seduced into violence, and that was why we were going to leave. 

                I didn’t want to go though.  Mom was fortunate enough to make good money at the Palacio Nacional.  We were able to live somewhat comfortably in the Roma district where I went to a good school.  That kind of upbringing made me want to stay.  I had dreams.  I had friends.  I had a life here.  I didn’t want to give that up, but mom was relentless on this issue.  We were going to go.  End of story. 


                When he was finished, the Exit Interviewer headed back towards his office with his hands clasped behind his back.   While he was small and physically weak against the soldiers, he knew that he was superior to them because of how he had proven his intelligence again and again to the directors and how that insight aided them in critical operations.  They rewarded him with more power and position, making him untouchable.  Such things meant little to him though.  Let the megalomaniacs like Lord Recluse lust after that.  He would always need someone with brains to make sure it all runs smoothly.  They could say that their force of will is all they need but that’s just for show.  Men like the Exit Interviewer will always be needed and that is where the real power comes in as he has the keys to every office in the organization. 

                At his office, he stepped inside and saw Smith lounging with a glass of whiskey in her hand.  He shook his head but noted that she had poured him a glass as well.  A fatherly smile crept across his lips as he sat down behind his desk and savored the drink.  He said, “I may disagree with some of your habits, but I cannot deny your consideration.”

                “You were the one who rescued me from a life of being a gang bitch.”

                He smirked as he said with his usual humility, “I simply recognized talent is all.”

                Smith laughed as she sat up and said, “You’re a liar.”

                Intrigued, the Exit Interviewer looked to her and said, “Explain?”

                Another test, which Smith knew she could win this time.  She said, “You gave yourself away when you smiled.”  The Exit Interviewer said nothing as she went on, “One of the earliest lessons you taught me was that tells aren’t just for poker.  Everyone has that one quirk that makes them stand out when they’re BS’ing.  Yours is when you smile.”

                He kept his face even as he said, “I’m still not convinced.”

                She smiled, “On day one.  You welcomed me with a smile as you told me how casual your training would be.  That smile was full of bull crap.  You wanted to see how good my reasoning was.  I said it then and I said it now it’s your smile.  You don’t know how to genuinely smile.”

                “I do know how to genuinely smile like I am doing so right now.  I just don’t know how to do it when I am telling a lie.”  He raised a glass to her saying, “Well done.”  He clinked his glass with hers.  After he took a drink he said, “Are the preparations made?”

                “They are.  They’re just waiting on your word.”

                On that, he reached over to his desk and clicked an intercom button.  His voice echoed through every part of the base.  “This is the Exit Interviewer.  All non-essential personnel will now depart for carrier base two.  Base will go on lockdown for the next twenty-four hours.”

                When he was done, he said, “We got about thirty minutes to kill before we get started.”



                For a whole year, my mom worked to find a coyote who was good enough and honorable enough to get us to the border.  Finding such a man goes way beyond finding a needle in a haystack. Most coyotes will take you to the desert right around the middle of nowhere and then leave you to die. But mom was determined and well organized.  She made a lot of phone calls and talked to a lot more people face to face.  In the end, she found one – Juan Hernandez.

                Personally, I considered that a sign of bad things to come.  Coyotes don’t use their real names when they advertise their services, but they were at least creative in the names they had.  He might have just as well called himself John Smith or John Jones.  But this was what mom wanted, and I went along with it.  Mom met up with him a few times before they did a handshake deal.  With the date set, we said our goodbyes to those we knew.  We would never come back. 

On the day of our departure, we met Hernandez at the prearranged destination point.   We carried no luggage, no artifacts, nothing that we had collected over the years.  It was just the clothes on our back and nothing else.  Neither of us said anything as the severity of the moment weighed heavily on us.  While I told mom that I would go with her on this, I was nonetheless angry at her still.  I had thought of my dreams of being a world class chef and how it all went up in smoke. 

An old Ford that had seen better days came around a corner which got mom to stand up, and that got me realizing this was our ride.  He pulled over to the corner and stopped with both of us making our way over.  I stopped and saw Juan Hernandez and was surprised at how kind he looked.  Kindness isn’t an actual description, but you can see it all the same in people who are sincere, and he was that.  I thought that he wasn’t much given his name but seeing him up close and personal made me realize there was more to him. 

We got into the back after a few minutes and then we drove off.  I made it my mission to look out the window at my home as it vanished from view and wanting to burn it all into my memory.  I did not look away even as my mom told me to give my neck a chance to move.  I watched Mexico City become smaller cities and villages and it was only when I saw nothing but desert that I finally looked away. 


                Smith returned to the Exit Interviewer’s office saying, “The last transport is finished.”

                The Exit Interviewer didn’t respond as he was hypnotically engrossed with what he was reading on his computer screen.  Smith made her way around and looked at the file and saw that it belonged to the late Carlos Gallardo.  It was then that the Exit Interviewer acknowledged her, “What do you think of him?”

                She said nothing as she scanned the document quickly using those techniques that the Exit Interviewer taught her.  She waited until she was done and then said, “Impressive record.  He came to the United States at fifteen with his mother.  Was recruited after he was picked up by New Mexico state troopers.”  She looked to the Exit Interviewer curiously, “Why did we have an undercover agent with them?”

                “We were instituting our network infrastructure.  By then computers were becoming more and more useful, so nationwide databases for law enforcement were being set up.  Throughout that year and the following years, we instituted our software so that we could monitor those databases.  Agent Fitzjames was there overseeing the process from New Mexico.”

                Smith read on, “He nearly escaped from the jail.  Clever kid.”

                “That’s what won Fitzjames over.  Five officers held down Gallardo after one of them manhandled his mother.  Gallardo beat the crap out of him.  Nearly escaping  showed that he has both strength and intelligence – a rarity.”

                “You cultivated it well.  Had him train at Quantico and The Farm.  Even got him to learn some things at ONI, MIC, MCI, and OICI.  And his trainers were just as impressed at his combat skills.  Expert in several forms of hand-to-hand combat, has excellent proficiency with military weaponry, but he preferred his six shooters.”

                “We knew we wanted him with the gunslingers as he acted more like Louis L’Amour than John Wayne.  We thought that his temperament and skills would rub off on the other gunslingers but they still being yeehaw.”

                Smith snickered as the Exit Interviewer allowed himself a small pleasure by putting on a yeehaw accent, but he was nonetheless troubled, and Smith could understand why.  Gallardo was one of their finest agents.  He had one hundred and twenty confirmed kills.  He had worked in planning major operations that the heroes were completely unaware of.  He had even worked with Max in rescuing Battle Maiden from Praetorian Earth in exchange for the nanites.  He was good.  But now he was dead, and Malta was a little weaker because of it.

                Then the sirens started blaring. 

                Both Smith and The Exit Interviewer were startled as an intruder alert sounded.

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