I never thought too much about the Sentinels. They always seemed as normal as the police or the army. The Sentinels were just another aspect of what keeps the world safe. Interchangeable really. Like all children, I was fascinated by them. Hell, I idolized them. I watched their feats on the news, saw all the poorly done movies of their exploits, and asked for all their merchandise for Christmas. I grew up with my mind swirling with the stories of the Sentinels’ greatness.
That was years ago. The dismal reality of adulthood settled into my life, and now I am a middle aged man whose childish obsessions abandoned me. I pay bills, go to work, sit in front of the TV, and sleep. Such a wonderful life. I’ve made a living by teaching. It was something that once brought me so much joy. After I finished my degree in mythology and folklore, I was thrilled to start teaching youth about heroes—past and present. That died with their continued disinterest. Slowly I found my mind returning to the Sentinels. It never really halted. Adulthood stifled it a little, for a time, but it had failed to kill it.
I imagine you are probably wondering why I am saying all of this. Or who the hell am I, right? Well, my name is Jack, and I have decided to write about them. Not to sell their image like so many people. They can manage that just fine themselves. I want to know more about the people some of the world regards as gods. Call it envy that’s born from being powerless, or it could be the same thing that has all the mindless following the Hollywood idols’ every bowel movement and break-up.
With all that in mind, I pitched a column idea called Behind the Mask to several newspapers. Every month I promised to have an article about a different Sentinel—the person behind the mask. Get it? I have no intention of selling out their secret identities! I just want to show the world—or the five people who are going to read my article—what makes them tick. I expected it to be a fight. My sister saw that it wasn’t. Her husband is an editor for the New York Times, and promised to secure me a spot. A small spot, no more than a few hundred words, somewhere in the depths of their website. If I failed to deliver or my article was a bust, I could kiss my spot goodbye. He probably didn’t expect me to deliver anything in the first place, which is why he so readily agreed. Hopefully I can prove him wrong. I just want to know who they are really, if they are the same as us…and share that with the world. You know, all the same pointless things people ask about Hollywood’s stars…
You probably want to move forward. I hope you’re not tired of hearing me talk. I do a lot of that, and, unfortunately, I am currently drinking coffee watching the snow fall out my apartment window—waiting. So I have nothing to do except talk. I haven’t a clue as to how I’m going to pull this off. It all sounded so much better in my head. I may have bitten off more than I can possibly chew.
New York was engulfed in a gray snowstorm. Winter wasn’t being kind this year, but if the Manic Forecaster had his way we would have experienced another Ice Age. Thankfully the Dark Shadow stopped him.
I watched the snow blanket everything from my apartment on the fifth four. I love this city. I have lived here most of my adult life. It was the safest place in the world, and that was all thanks to a sentinel called Speed Demon. She is the only one fast enough to have an entire city to herself. The fact that it is New York City is damn impressive. I would be a fool to say I didn’t have a fanboy crush on her. You would too though. Not even Madame Sunshine can protect an entire city, and she is the poster child of the Sentinels—their leader. I decided the moment I thought of the column idea that I wanted to pursue Speed Demon first. I wanted my first story to secure my spot on their site. Speed Demon isn’t well known, but deserves the spotlight. Everyone knows about Madame Sunshine and the rest of the Virtuous Seven save for Speed Demon. Well, that’s not completely true. Dark Shadow is shrouded in mystery, but locating him is impossible. He seems to be everywhere at once, yet nowhere at all. Plus, here in New York Speed Demon is very much loved, but her name sort of falls away once you leave the city limits. She has never been invited to speak anywhere in the city, made a guest appearance on TV or in a movie. There is virtually zilch about her except that she is the fastest thing alive. It would be perfect for my column, considering my audience will be New Yorkers.
I stared over at the police scanner. It buzzed with minor offenses. Nothing that would bring out Speed Demon. My deadline was only a couple weeks away. I had wasted most of my time watching and waiting for the scanner to reveal a crisis. I needed something big, something that Speed Demon couldn’t solve before I was able to put my shoes on. Big cities seemed to be a flame that attracted the moth. When I researched how to go about running into a sentinel, I noticed all the calamities happened in big cities. Most in the same eight or nine…repeatedly. So leaving New York would have hindered my efforts. Plus, my goal was Speed Demon.
Another wasted day concluded with me waiting for something to happen. I didn’t know what else to do. Running around the city like a chicken with my head cut off wouldn’t get me anywhere. Another hindrance I have is being an early riser than a night owl. It was time for my body to sleep hours ago, but the night was a cesspool for activity for the evildoers of the world. Midnight rolled around, one o’clock, two, then three, and I was struggling to keep my eyes open.
Another day… I thought as I gave up the ghost. I have missed too much work for this already, and I had class in the morning. Paying rent took precedence over this…unfortunately.
“Code black Times Square! Code black Times Square!” The police scanner on the table barked through the static. My weariness vanished in an wave of adrenaline.
Everyone knew that code black meant: one of the Sinisters, name coined by the media, was causing havoc. I forget if they had a real name, but I doubt it is as cliché as the Sinisters. That’s just propaganda on our part.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry,” I chanted to myself as I threw on shoes and jacket, and ran out the door putting my backpack on. In my hurry, I fell down the last few steps. It hurt. I lingered for a second at the bottom of the steps.
“Don’t be a pussy,” I told myself through clenched teeth. “It’s just a scratch.”
I unchained my scooter. The way I raced through traffic got me a couple of birds and honks. I broke every traffic rule trying to make it to Times Square. The frozen wind burned my face, but I didn’t care. Vigor flooded through me. This was more exciting than grading papers. That excitement warmed me. I was hoping for a situation that would slow Speed Demon down. Is that even possible? If it’s in Times Square they probably want to make a scene to prove some radical point.
Times Square wasn’t far from me, maybe five minutes. But to Speed Demon five minutes might as well be an eternity. It hasn’t even had time to recover from the alien invasion four months ago. I thought as I saw all the road blocks from construction. Even with New York being the safest city in the world, many considered living in Times Square to be like having a sinister for a neighbor. I was stopped several blocks away by a mob crashing against a wall of cops and cars. The streets beyond that were still being repaired which made my scooter useless. I chained it up hoping to find a clear path through the mob and cops.
There was nothing…
I groaned as I waded through the sea of onlookers. It took several elbows and apologies before I made it to the blockage. Sirens were piercing the night. Cops ordered everyone to stay back over loud speakers. Getting through seemed unlikely. I pulled out my driver’s license hoping to pass it off as a reporter’s badge. I quickly showed it off to the nearest cop, saying, “Excuse me, Officer, I am with the New York Times may—.”
“Too dangerous, by the order of Madame Sunshine, please stand back,” the officer interrupted me while putting his flashlight in my face. He expression told me that he saw through my ruse. I thought about trying another cop, but decided against it. Time was of the essence. Defeat roosted in my mind for a moment.
Just go home, you have work in the morning. My doubt told me.
As if, I thought. The buildings around me were still abandoned from the invasion. There was no light or life inside of them, and they were close together. That’s when an idea hit me. It was a foolish idea: sneak through the buildings.
They were too busy with crowd control to see me skulk away into the nearby ruins. It was easier to navigate the crowd trying to leave. People just flooded by me with their phones out. I bet they hoped to get a great video for Facebook. I should have argued a bit more. I could have, but that would waste time. Time is against me, and you know that cops think their word is as golden as the laws they enforce. Actually, in his defense, he was right, but no one ever achieved greatness asking for permission.
I should remember that.
I ran—sort of—up the stairs like a bat out of hell. A bat that needs to make more frequent trips to the gym if I’m being honest. It took me too long to get to the roof. I was still a couple buildings away and wondered if I had the dexterity to climb through the system of fire escapes like the Dark Shadow to get a clean view. With all that I needed in my book-bag and my dreams depending on getting an interview, I took the chance. It was worth the risk. My heart raced as I looked down to my death.
You got this.
I didn’t believe me.
I should probably look in to a rock-climbing class as well as gymnastics. Couldn’t hurt. I never thought investigative journalism would be like this. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. In all my fantasizing about this, I never imagined getting the interview. I only obsessed over the interview itself. I should have planned more. Hindsight is twenty, twenty, I thought as I wrapped my nerves around the idea of jumping.
Leaning out to grab the neighboring building’s fire escape I thanked the city planners for New York’s cheek by jowl construction. I moved with the speed of molasses. Sweat poured down my forehead, then froze inthe bitterness of winter.. The cold added to my sluggishness. Being fat had that effect…and that was a shit ton of stairs I just climbed.
Go to the gym more. I thought as I swung my weight around trying to figure out how to best mimic the Dark Shadow. I found that closing my eyes worked the best. It eliminated some of the fear of what I was about to do.
This is the safest city in the world because Speed Demon can be everywhere at once. If you fall she will catch you.
The snow piling on the railing, the winds threatening throw me to the ground, and the pitch darkness of the alley aided my body’s flight response. I peeked once more to get my bearings. My legs kept trying to run away, but I threw my weight forward. A leap of faith. The moments before my foot connected with anything scared the hell out of me, but, when my foot landed safely, I thanked my lucky stars. And I cursed my stupid decision. As I pulled myself over the alleyway, I heard something. I grabbed the other fire escape tightly. And just in time. The earth shook violently.
What am I doing? If I had waited a moment longer…
I pushed the thought out of mind. This was already ridiculous. I didn’t need crippling fear to strike now. I searched for the source of the earthquake. It could have been another death machine the Sinisters were planning to use to topple the city. I don’t know why they would do it, but it wasn’t the first time they tried something like it.
The buildings in front of me burst outward as a thing crashed through them. The monster was on a warpath. It was massive with too hundreds of legs, eight beaming eyes, and four lengthy mantis-like arms… Tongues lashed out at the sentinels who buzzed around the beast’s head and scurried between its legs. They looked like insects in comparison. Insects that shot fireballs and lasers and explosions. Slime oozed from places it shouldn’t have, making the creature shine in the city’s lights. My gut turned.
Is that Lady Monster? She is supposed to be in solitary confinement though…
My heart pumped blood through me in a rush. Part of me loved this, the rest of me—which was most—was shitting itself.
I leaned too far trying to see what was going on. I lost track of my grip. A weightlessness told me I slipped, and the instant jerk of gravity told me I was about to die. I wailed bloody murder. The floors of the buildings rushed past me. I frantically reached out for safety. My hand managed to crash against the cold metal of a railing. A loud crack interrupted my screams before it empowered my cries for help. As I fell, I cursed the fact that physics doesn’t apply to all of us. I glanced down and saw the ground bull rushing me.
So this is how I die? Trying to get the scoop on the Sentinels? I closed my eyes not wanting to know when the impact was coming. This is bullshit.
The ground never came for my life. I still kept my eyes closed, but I felt my descent slow until I was floating. A warmth surrounded me as arms cradled me. My heart began to calm down. When I opened my eyes, I was being held by Madame Sunshine. She smiled at me, but it was hard to look her in the eye. I had never been this close to a sentinel. I felt flush as more sweat decided to show up. It was hard to take my eyes off her…physique. That only made matters worse.
Don’t get a boner, you idiot. I told myself as I forced my eyes to find hers. Madame Sunshine was very deserving of her nickname—the tits and ass of justice. There was a reason that she was the poster child of the Sentinels. Madame Sunshine was godly in status even among the empowered and she was more beautiful than any Miss Universe could dream of being.
“What are you doing?” She asked in a heavenly tone that was unable to decide if she thought of me as a friend or foe.
I stumbled over a thousand things to say that would have been more…normal, but ended up blurting out, “…stalking Speed Demon?”
I am going to jail.
Madame Sunshine placed her hand on my head having no trouble holding me up with one arm. A blinding light took over my field of vision. Once the light faded she giggled, “You best find better ways to articulate what you are after, Jack. I will promise you an interview for your article if you promise to stay out of the way and not speak of Lady Monster’s escape. I waited for her hand to leave my forehead before thinking about how terrifying it was that she could read minds too.
What can’t you do, Madame Sunshine?
She waited for my response while taking hold of my broken hand. I had forgotten all about it. In a bright flash my hand surged with heat and the pain vanished. Madame Sunshine fixed her golden eyes on me, asking, “Do you promise?”
I only nodded.