MUS #4 – The Responder

It’s six o’clock in the morning. Six o’clock is early. Surely not. It is blurry but I can see it between each closing of my eyelids. My head is heavy and my ears are being assaulted by intermittent blasts of electronic buzzers that should be reserved for indicating the apocalypse. Would I stay in bed if I knew the world was ending? Probably; the mantra ‘protect and serve’ is pointless without the future and memory foam orthopaedic mattresses are preferable anyway. Each muscle is wrapped affectionately by warm cotton sheets, I begin searching the darkness behind my eyes for the sweet welcoming embrace of the nothingness I had just left.

A sharp pain in the thigh forced me into consciousness. I’m up. I’m up. My loving wife, slumbering soundly; her duty to wake me was done. The thick carpet stroked my hardening feet until they reached cold pale-white tiles. I visualised the repetitive strokes of the tooth brush, the unsatisfactory fall of lukewarm water and the lengthy task of dressing, all  in an effort to distract my senses from my icy soles.

Without much indication of anything happening in between, I stepped out onto the Manhattan sidewalk, dressed and clean, and hesitantly inhaled the cities smells as if I were a vet to this concrete covered beast, trying to assess the health of my patient. An unclean steam pressed itself against the interior of my nose and I felt guilty for enjoying the warming effect it had, knowing how filthy it would be. This experience was fleeting, and without realising it, usurped by the militant breath of car exhausts. The smell was abrasive and unforgiving. I was unable to stop its advances and could taste it in the unreachable back of my throat. I coughed. Dust, oil and heat triumphed over air. I coughed again. No air but a slight panic tingled semi-subconsciously. I inhaled deeply and coughed from the bottom of my diaphragm to the tip of my tongue and in doing so, found this smoke-grey cloud’s rainbow lining; diesel. That universally and shamefully enjoyed intoxication from the smell of gasoline ran elusively through the morning air. That’s the first vice of the day; now for the second, coffee.

I walked the few blocks to my precinct, a cup of comfort in hand, I moved through the city and recognised its three species of inhabitants. Those with hazardous glances of disdain, they squint unknowingly and turn away quickly; the deliberately self-validating beams of appreciation, eager to show how compassionate and grateful they are; and the infinitely more prevalent glances of adopted indifference, ‘we don’t care but we want you to understand that we don’t care’, is what they would say, if they cared, which they don’t of course. These various masks were unable to completely hide a feeling about my kind, be it good or bad. ‘Public Relations’ is a bitch, and a boring one at that; anyway, it isn’t my department.

I tell you what, ask Andrew ‘bout it. Always a good chat with him” said a young man with tended-to blonde hair and a well-fitting uniform as he talked at an equally attractive woman who fiddled with her hat by her side, not allowing her eyes to wander off of her fellow conversationalist. It’s too early for this debate, suddenly i’m hit with overwhelming tiredness again as I enter the precinct. station.

It’s a ‘good chat’, because I think you’re full of shit and I tell you” I replied in the hope that such a harsh comment wouldn’t warrant much response.

See? It isn’t being ‘full of shit’ that makes me understand respect. They’re the reason you’re here. ‘n fact, they’re the reason I’m here, and she’s here. We should respect them” The young idealist spouted.

Yeah yeah, they’re the reason we’re here, we owe our thanks blah blah. We’re children now.” I certainly wanted the conversation to end, but stubbornness, mine or his or both, didn’t allow it.

Heh, ‘children’, don’t be stupid Andy we’re still the NYPD, we still protect and serve, Super-heroes don’t change that”

“Who is the highest power of authority? Not the law, not the due course of justice, but which ever shiny metal or green freak is the public’s favourite today”

“They still have to abide by…”

“You know I once saved a woman from a stabbing attempt last week. All she said was ‘I was hoping for Thor’. Kids look up to these super heroes for protection. They’re never around. The closest we get to these heroes is the images on our TVs. They’re too busy with their own drama to actually help anything. Physically, mentally and lawfully, they all do more bad than good.”

Blondie wasn’t interested in actually reaching a conclusion; he had his hopes set on the rant, which he got. That was the problem, no amount of discussion could tarnish the barrier of affection the public felt for superheroes.

Today was one of the slower days. Typically I’d be walking the streets and doing the whole ‘cop’ thing. But here I am, effectively handcuffed to my desk. In front of me sits a piece of paper with lines of printed black lettering. It explains an internal reconfiguration of reporting procedure that I am to familiarise myself with and put into effect immediately. This sheet is then placed into a folder to be referred back to should I ever need it. Underneath this sits another piece of paper with lines of printed black lettering. This time, a portion of the lettering is thicker and therefore warrants greater attention. Ref: Seminar-986DE. It was explained retrospectively by other lines of text that this reference indicated an upcoming lesson that would discuss the usage of squad cars and the efficiency of our patrol routes relative to time and area coverage. It is mandatory. It was dull.

Strangely, there was a shudder of low thunder running contrary to the sunny skies, and noises the likes of which I have never heard.  I joined the office staff in a rush to the window and was perplexed to see that a large jet black and electric blue circle marred the sky just above Stark Tower, with a brilliant blue and white light going into, or coming from, it. Such was the atmosphere rippling through the city, that it was impossible to believe this was anything good. Somebody should put the reins on that man and bring him under the eye of the law.

“All units, ALL UNITS” screamed the radio. I didn’t hear the rest; I was already in my squad car. Today the NYPD restored itself as the city’s authority.

No seminar or lesson, no film or book, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for what followed. Cars were upside down, battered and ablaze. Large slabs of concrete were strewn haphazardly about the street over which hundreds ran every which way attempting to escape danger. It was impossible to separate the screams of children with the cries and wails of men and women.

I saw indescribable monsters. These Lizardy-looking robot freaks moved so fast. They had an intense malevolence inflicting pain, causing damage, quicker than anything I’ve seen.

I’d ordered the men to fire openly on the aliens, but that wasn’t much of a plan. On foot I headed towards the front of a squad car blockade we had built amongst other abandoned vehicles.  I couldn’t think, the pace of chaos made clarity impossible. I could barely stand, the enemy was fast and untouchable, and I couldn’t even aim at them. I tried to bolster my will by remembering my duty.  I was supposed to be leading some of these men; I can barely stop myself shaking. We can’t fight these; average men with average pistols can’t fight whatever this is.

An officer, through heavy panting, gun shots and the sound of the enemy overhead, began saying words at me.

“It is going to be an hour before they can scramble the National Guard”

“The National Guard? Does they know what is happening here?”

“Do we?”

Something landed on the hood of the car in front of us; I grabbed my pistol tighter fearful of what was before me; a few of us may be able to kill one if we focused enough firepower. It was Captain America. I felt the tension of the officers around me relax into hope. This red and blue shielded ‘hero’ stood before us to, how does the phrase go, ‘save-the-day’.  

“You need men in these buildings. There are people inside that are going to be running right into the line of fire.”

Who did this jumped up spandex wearing rank-less ‘hero’ think he was commanding. I looked around. I stood alone, he was commanding me.  This barrage of orders continued:

“You take them to the basement, or through the subway, you keep them off the streets. I need a perimeter as far back as 39th.”

“Why the hell should I take orders from you?” I said. And with that, cued a massive explosion and the arrival of two exoskeleton wearing weird things. Without hesitating, the silver star of Captain America’s shield introduced itself to the dull nickel of the alien’s head and knocked him off of the car. A futile shot was fired and reflected, followed by a convicted right hand into the previous victims buddy. The neck of one was broken, and the other was dismembered, its arm choosing to die holding the gun, rather than attached to its body. Captain America remained steadfast in the same position as before, unfazed after quickly relieving us of these two threats.

I acted quickly, and over the radio to my squad announced: “I need men in those buildings. Lead the people down and away from the streets. We’re gonna set up a perimeter all the way down to 39th street”.

There was no question in my mind. We’re going to win this.

Source: Joss Whedon’s The Avengers

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