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Invasion: Noir -- by Mallard

There are eight million stories in the naked city, I heard a guy say once.  The clothed city only has three stories.  I prefer the clothed city.  I'm not good with choices.  My apartment building has two stories.  I'm not good with stairs, either.

The sun had come up like a forehead pimple on the morning of Prom Night--red and swollen and entirely unwelcome.   Some unlucky ray of sunshine had refracted through the dozen or so empty Regal Lager bottles on my desk and found its way onto a lidded eye where I lay snoozing on the couch after a night I'd just as soon forget.  The name's Mallard.  I'm a hero--the super kind.  The pay is lousy, the hours too long, and the clientele largely ungrateful.  Sure, every once in awhile the odd hooker throws you an extra wink, but I'm wary of odd hookers, especially in this town.  Just as soon as you cozy up to one of those dames, she turns out to be a Carnie or one of the Knives of Artemis.  I take too many knives in the back as it is--no need to go looking for one straight through the heart.

Anyway, my mouth tasted like a ferret had tried to bake a Limberger souffle' in it overnight and succeeded.  The office fridge was empty, so I staggered down to the street in search of a breath freshener, preferably with a twist-off cap.  My cowl phone rang.  It was that numbskull Harvey Maylor from the paper wanting another exclusive scoop on the Carnival of Shadows.  In a sudden uncharacteristic spasm of civic goodwill I agreed to forward about 50 of them to the local jailhouse by way of getting him some leads.  I hate those nitwits.  As a duck, I'm not a natural Carnie-vore.  I'm much happier sitting on a park bench by the pond throwing pieces of stale bread to myself--but that doesn't pay the rent.

No sooner had I started cleaning the streets than an alert came across my headset on the City Emergency Band:  Rikti invasion forces were headed for Talos Island.

Look, I don't like Freakshow, Tsoo, Circle of Thorns, or Warriors any more than the next citizen in tights, and it would serve 'em all right to get blown to bits by Rikti bombs.  Still, I took a pledge when I accepted my Hero's License that says that I have to protect any and all citizens of Paragon City, no matter how unsavory those citizens might be, so I hopped the ferry to Talos.

I came off the ferry right into the warehouse loop, and a skyward glance showed the Rikti dropships already on the way from Skyway City, silhouetted against clouds the wrong color of green and black.  I stood there with a gnawing sense of dread as I watched the bombs falling closer and closer to my location.  Suddenly I felt an impact and an electric sting in my back--a rogue group of Carnies had followed me on the ferry and were taking advantage of my distraction to make me eat some dirt!  It was a dumb move on their part, and I made a dumber one--I turned my back on the advancing Rikti and brought a blizzard down on that crowd of Harlequins.  I pinned several to the pavement in columns of ice, and did my best to target the others--but they were scattering.  Two of them flanked me, and I felt a searing pain across my ribs as I became a fencing dummy for their impromptu practice.

The ground was starting to shake with the impact of Rikti bombs and I was about to be overwhelmed by the remaining white-faced circus dolls when someone--a dame in a cape, I never did catch her name--showed up just in time and dealt some justice to the Carnies that had broken free of my ice.  That gave me enough time to gather my strength and blast one of the two craven clowns using me for a pincushion, and she was down for the count.  The remaining piebald pinup girl took another swipe at me, and again I felt the bite of cold steel across my ribs.

I looked her in the eye and said, "Bad move, sweet cheeks.  I have a pig-sticker myself, and mine is colder than yours!"  I manifested an ice sword and did my best Errol Flynn right across her midsection.  She dropped like the '29 stock market, and did that weird blue glowing thing that Carnies do when they're defeated.  The scream stays with you, it really does.

Ever focus on something so much that you forget something else really important?  I did.  I spun around to thank the heroic dame that had saved my bacon--pork fat, duck fat, who's counting?--and found something a lot more dangerous: a Rikti bomb, half-buried in the street right behind me.  Its power gauge was almost at 100%, and I knew what that meant--kablooey.  Window seat on the express bus to Oblivionville.  A hot sixty-foot tumble through the sky that leaves you cold and six feet under.

Another guy might have called for backup.  Still another guy might have just gone for help.  Some third guy might have just run away gibbering in terror.  I'm not any of those guys.  I'm that fourth guy, the one who thinks he has the guns to take out a nuclear weapon from another dimension all by himself.

It was all I could do to keep that bomb from inching closer to boom-boom land.  And, while I was pouring my guts into suppressing the glowing canister of doom, I couldn't help noticing a second bomb half a block away, its power gauge rising toward "disaster."  It was obvious to me that I wasn't even going to be able to stop the bomb in front of me--the battle with the Carnies had drained my powers more than I'd care to admit--and although there's just so dead you can get, I didn't like the idea of what two Rikti bombs would do to the shipping district at the same time they were roasting me.

I called for backup.  So I'm that fourth guy, and I'm also that first guy.  Maybe that makes me the fifth guy.  It didn't take long for some of Paragon City's finest to fly in and take on the bombs alongside me.  Our combined powers detonated the bombs harmlessly--all things considered--and we went in search of other Rikti activity.

I found more bombs farther up the island, and joined the legendary Captain United in destroying two of them.  It was getting too easy.  The Rikti had to have more up their sleeves--except the Rikti I've seen up until now don't have sleeves, so forget I said that.

My instincts didn't fail me.  Within minutes the general chatter channel told the ugly truth--the Rikti were teleporting into downtown, next to the tram station.  While we heroes assembled had been concentrating on the bombs, the dropships had been readying their cargoes: echelons of elite Rikti soldiers, ready to claim Talos Island as their own.

I hustled myself into the center of the island only to find a madhouse of destruction.  Rikti were teleporting in by the dozens, supported by large armored flying vehicles that, according to my sensor feed, were capable of EB-class damage, and that ain't chicken feed.  All the platoons sported new, heavier armor, and the standard Rikti-issue energy blades now had embedded ranged weapons.  Apparently the Rikti hadn't been idle this last three years.  They'd gotten better weapons, and sleeves.

We were facing hundreds of hard-core Rikti shock troops.  By "we" I mean about two dozen nickel-and-dimers, a couple of brand names, and a guy who fights crime while dressed as a duck.  There's no way to dress it up--we were in for an ugly defeat.

You know what, though?  It wasn't the first rodeo for some of us.  I fought in the Second Rikti Invasion myself, over three years ago, back when I barely understood my powers.  I think more than a few of the others there had been in that fight, too.  We remembered the giant saucers hanging in the sky, unreachable, and the Rikti beaming in to attack our homes and our families.  It wasn't going to happen again on our watch.

I did what I do best--freelancing on the outside, targeting the Rikti mezzers and freezing them solid before they could take our powerhouses out of the fight.  I dropped blankets of snow and sleet on incoming platoons just so they wouldn't feel left out of the action.  If some unlucky goon happened to teleport down right in front of me, I used some of my reserved power to give him a chill and a thrill.  (Can you imagine one of those morons waking up in the Rikti equivalent of a Med Center and having to admit he'd been taken down by some slazkrot dressed as a duck?)

They threw everything they had at us.  They called in reinforcements.  They flanked. They tried teleporting to the top of the central hill and swarming down in waves.  It didn't matter.  We took what they gave us and asked for more.  Their mighty armored fliers didn't last two dozen seconds under the onslaught of our powers.  Rikti Mentalists, used to dominating humans with nothing more than the power of their alien minds, found themselves cringing in terror from nightmares only they could see-nightmares brought by our cadre of of Controllers.  Rikti Master Warriors sliced with energy blades against our Tanks, who refused to fall, or even to acknowledge a hit.  Scrappers slid like silken snakes between the Rikti ranks, drawing alien blood wherever they touched.  Defenders rendered Rikti soldiers ineffective through mere concentration.

And the Blasters?  Well, I can only speak for myself.  I laid on the power like the fate of the world depended on it.  I'd exhaust myself to the point of falling down, and somehow find the will to get up and start over again.

At the end, with the Rikti turned tail and running, I looked to the clearing sky and yelled, "Is that all you've got?  Is THAT all you've GOT?"

They better hope it ain't.  We better hope it is.

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