Chapter 23: The Preparation


(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)

(Whew, finally done!! Took way, way longer than I thought. Well, here it is. Please enjoy and comment if there is a mistake or some such.)

Jack’s time immediately after leaving the red pyramid flew by in a flash. He got debriefed about what transpired outside while he was in there, and conversely had to debrief the scientists of his incredible experience as well. Normally, such a session of intense report & discussion would’ve taken a long, long time to complete, but it had to be done in a rush. The time was against everyone, after all.

As soon as the news of Jack leaving the pyramid ahead of schedule – or expectation – reached his ears, Mylorne flew out of his trailer and met up with the exhausted teen. There were lots of important and pressing issues to deal with, the most serious one being the advent of the Divine Tree. Resting would have to wait.

Needlessly to say, Jack was left utterly speechless by the appearance of the metallic object in Manhattan. He had no clear recollections of the Trees in the dreams yet, but there was one bit about him and his friend Enkidu putting everything on the line to kill a creature, The Guardian Beast Humbaba, in order to gain access to one of the said Divine Trees. And it was a real bloody struggle that left Gilgamesh and his pal bruised and near death.

In truth, Jack believed that, overall, Humbaba wasn’t as terrifying as that five-headed dragon thingy and he felt less threatened by its potential. He thought the Guardian Beast could be killed if Mylorne Akkad achieved what he wanted to. With this belief, Jack said he’d go to New York right away. The initial preparations were completed pretty quickly after that.

Of course, the meeting with Gilgamesh was mentioned to Mylorne Akkad, surprising the Immortal a great deal. Of course, it was done out of earshot from the researchers – Jack thought it wouldn’t do them any good to hear about stuff like this just yet. Mylorne hadn’t been clear how much those guys knew and so, it seemed prudent to keep the matter between himself and Mylorne Akkad.

After hearing that the red pyramid was a trap set by the false gods, the Anunnaki, Mylorne Akkad became shocked at first but quickly recovered and became rather philosophical about it.

“I’ll do something about it. For now, let’s not be hasty and destroy the pyramid, not just yet. There are benefits to be had, after all. I want to study the structure and its functions more thoroughly as I can disregard how intrusive each prodding could get, safe in the knowledge that now it’s worthless to you,” said Akkad.

Jack went to take a quick shower following the conclusion of the debrief. That’s when he noticed that….. he had grown taller. Not by much, but he definitely did grow by a couple of inches. And he had gained muscle mass as well, a clear eight pack visible on his stomach. His biceps were taut, his legs not an ounce of fat on them. He wasn’t built like a beefcake bodybuilder, but like a long distance Olympic gold medalist swimmer.

His old clothes could barely fit. Which was fine for now, since he had to put the Kevlar survival suit back on anyway.

The suit itself went a thorough maintenance and cleaning, inside and out while he busily admired his new, totally ripped body. Grime and dirt, caked in sweat, accumulated on the innards of the suit and it stank hard so he had to request for this procedure. The various armor bits and pieces needed swapping, but Jack thought for a second before telling them not to bother on that front. Gilgamesh did something to it that increased the defense and it was more than likely better than what the scientists had on hand anyway.

Meanwhile, the data recorded was collected from the various sensors mounted on the suit as well as the PDA. Supposedly they would offer a greater insight to how the whole place operated. Whether the red soul enhancement was captured or not, Jack didn’t hang around to confirm.

Doctor McLean offhandedly remarked that the suit had grown in size and how strange that phenomenon was. Personally, Jack had no answer to give, although he had his suspicions, mainly Gilgamesh’s remnant will and the enhancement it did to the survival suit, definitely altering it, somehow. Probably, to match Jack’s increased body size.

The shower felt like a godsend. All refreshed, Jack put back on the suit and waited for Mylorne Akkad who had to call the bigwigs gathered in New York. That call took a little bit of time, but as a billionaire with a far-reaching political influence, he was able to wrangle out a meeting with the interested parties.

But before they could climb aboard the futuristic aircraft and set off to the city of New York, Mylorne stopped Jack on the landing pad and asked him with a serious look.

“Mister Mercer. Jack. You’re free to choose how you want to live your life. You’ve gained enough power to do so. I believe, right now, you could be an even match against the likes of Falcon. What I’m trying to say to you, is this. You don’t have to go to New York. This matter can be dealt with by the forces gathered there. You have no obligation to go there.”

“What are you saying?” Jack tilted his head slightly.

“This road will take you down a very dangerous path. One where you might not make out alive. Would you rather not spend the rest of your life how it was used to be? Among friends and family? Why risk your life against those yet to do harm to you?”

Jack sighed like the ground was sinking. “You don’t have to tell me twice. Yeah, I know. This is stupid, me getting involved here. But I was going to stop the vassal of En-men-lu-ana anyway. He’s still in New York, right? And he caused this catastrophe, too.”

Jack stopped here and looked down at his own hand. Covered in the unpainted material of the survival suit, it had this edgy, sinister and slightly menacing appearance. More importantly, it looked powerful, even to him.

After a slight pause, Jack continued.

“You said it. I’ve got power now. I want to…. see if it’s really mine. No, that’s not right – it is mine. I am Gilgamesh. But at the same time, I am not him. I want to know if I am…. me. Jesus, what the hell am I rambling on about? Look, the bottom line is this – if that Tree isn’t brought down, then the bad guys who went to war with Gilgamesh will come back, right? And who will they target first? It’s me, and my family obviously. I am going to nip the bud before it sprouts into a bigger problem. I don’t trust anyone else to do the thorough job. That’s all.”

Jack then climbed aboard the aircraft and took a seat on a bench placed in the cargo area. The survival suit, coupled to his increased bulk meant he didn’t really fit comfortably in the passenger seat.

Seeing this, Mylorne Akkad chuckled softly and climbed in as well. Sitting down in the pilot’s seat, he turned slightly towards Jack and gently spoke. “Very well. But the dangers you will face is still considerable. Perhaps you’d like to speak to your family before we set off?”

Jack frowned but didn’t immediately answer. He slowly rubbed his chin and fell deep into a thought.

Now that he thought about it in a relatively calm atmosphere, it might be a good idea to call home and let his family know that he was alright. The crazy thing was, he got kidnapped only late yesterday afternoon. Not even a full 24 hours had passed since then. Yet here he was, changed and raring to go to a place where a supernatural enemy was waiting for him.

They would be worried sick by now. Cops and Supers would be out looking for him. Maybe, because of his “fame,” the local TV networks might have carried his story in the evening news. The social media could be abuzz with his tale, too.

He should really call his family and tell them…..

Tell them what, exactly?

Jack scratched the back of his head, not sure of what he’d say once the voices of his mom and dad came on the line. Mainly because, there was that thing about him being Min-jung’s guinea pig. Mylorne Akkad had presented a compelling set of evidence to back his story up. There was no denying that it all happened. And there were Cleo, Erik and Lei, too, if he had any doubts about it. All things told, the truth was, his own mother was involved in human experimentation. She was the damn project leader, for crying out loud. How could he forget that important fact? He couldn’t even accept it just yet, never mind feel okay enough to speak about it in the open.

To think, his mother, who looked like any old typical suburban mom, was responsible for creating him, a potential monster. And that she was also to blame for the countless deaths of test subjects and the misery of Erik and his friends. That was not a good feeling. Doubly so, when thinking about the deception he lived through for the past 17 years or so.

He, rightfully so, didn’t feel like calling home anymore.


No, this is wrong, thinking like this. She’s my mother first and foremost. I should trust her more. At least, I need to hear her side of the story first.

Nodding slightly, Jack gripped the grab handle to the side as the aircraft took off. Mylorne controlled the ascent and finally, they were off to the East.

Once safely in the air, Jack asked the way to call someone, and Mylorne instructed on the usage of the onboard communication system. There was an access panel next to where Jack was and all he had to was find the phone function among the myriad of available options there. It used a satellite link, so even if someone wanted to trace the call, it wouldn’t be easy at all.

After taking a bit of time to figure out the call function, he put the headphone on and dialed the number for his home, thinking that someone should be there.

But there was no answer, no matter how long he waited. The phone kept on ringing and ringing until the answering machine kicked in. Puzzled slightly, he wondered if his family was out of the house, looking for him. That was a good possibility. But at least Dana should still be at home. She should’ve answered the phone. And then there were his paternal grandparents living on the other side of the city as well. They could’ve come to stay if a crisis had developed, such as the events of yesterday.

A slight sensation of foreboding crept up on Jack like a stealthy assassin. His frown deepening, he dialed Bob’s mobile number. There was a robotic female voice on the other side telling him that the number was unavailable, that he should try again later. Puzzled, Jack tried again and again, but it was the same story no matter the number of attempts.

Then, he called Min-jung’s number. The phone this time went straight to the personalized voicemail, but no answer. He called again to make sure, but it was the same story. He couldn’t call the offices either since it was a Sunday. Jack then desperately called his sister’s number. It rang, but still, no answer.

His worries grew bigger. Jack asked if he could access the internet here and got an affirmative. The procedure was roughly the same as calling someone on the ground. He then checked out all of Dana’s social media pages, to see if she had made any new posts. That girl would never be too far away from posting a selfie or twitting a message. If she was fine, she’d be online and chatting away.

The last recorded activity shown on all of her social media accounts was several hours ago. This in itself didn’t mean anything, but Jack’s worries didn’t lessen one bit. If anything it grew even larger.

Something didn’t feel right. This could mean nothing, his family not reachable. They could be all out looking for him. But to not answer their phones if that was the case – now that would be strange.

“Is something the matter, Jack?”

Mylorne asked once he noticed a dark look on Jack’s face.

“Uhm, I’m not sure yet.”

Jack shook his head and then dialed the number for his grandparents’ place. The ring went on for a few moments before it was picked up and the familiar voice came through from the other side.

“Grandpa, is that you?”

Oh, my goodness!! Jack!! Is that you, Jackie? Are you alright? Where are you right now?! Everyone’s sick to death worrying about you!!

Jack felt a slight bit of relief after hearing the voice of his grandfather. Recovering from his worries, even if it was only slightly, he quickly inquired about his family’s status.

The answer he got brought a greater deal of relief. Bob was currently on the road, heading back home after leaving Dana at the elder Mercers’ residence. The road between the two Mercer residences had stretches where cellular signals were spotty at best. That could explain why the calls couldn’t get through.

Min-jung was apparently at home but was probably still asleep, exhausted from trying to find Jack the whole night, so no answer on the phone. Dana forgot her phone at home, and the broadband speed at the grandparents’ place wasn’t so hot, so no social media for now.

To put the rest of his worries to bed, he got to talk to Dana on the line as well. She was alternatively angry and happy and was asking a million questions at the same time. Jack could only tell her that he was okay, that he’d be home later. As to when that would be – he couldn’t be sure.

He also conveniently forgot to mention that he might not make it out alive, that this could be the last time she might hear his voice.

Talking to his sister helped to calm his nerves a lot. Jack asked Dana to tell the rest of his family that he was fine. That he’d call them again later. And for sure, he’d get to see them soon.

After hanging up, Jack was able to focus better. He took a deep breath and shook his head to clear his thoughts.

Mylorne Akkad was also relieved slightly at the resolution of the boy’s troubles. But he was an Immortal. He lived for an extremely long time and had experienced a fair bit of troubles along the way. He silently ordered his A.I assistant, Minerva, to search for Min-jung’s whereabouts and report to him periodically with an update. Akkad didn’t mention anything to Jack, fearing that a wrong word or two could disrupt the boy and his focus.

But it was true that Mylorne did feel a certain strange premonition of the future. And it made him uneasy. He enjoyed being in the driving seat, as the person who held all the cards and knew everything there was to know. Lately, though, he had come across other powers that interfered with his vision of the future. That rubbed him the wrong way, but Akkad hadn’t acted on it yet. It was not a good timing.

Meanwhile, Jack was a lot more relaxed. His worries weren’t fully assuaged, but it’d have to do, for now. He closed his eyes and tried to sort out the jumbled, fragmented memories of the past. They always came to him out of sequence so Jack had to put them in the chronological order without a guidance. He wanted to see what the Guardian Beast Humbaba looked like and how it fought, so he could get a leg up when he eventually gets there.

Hidden within the tangled mess of recollected memories seen through the dreams, the bits and pieces of information Jack wanted to see played a frustrating game of hide-and-seek. He could glimpse small snippets and gained a faint understanding of what’s what, but obviously, that wasn’t enough.

What puzzled Jack was the creature itself. Gilgamesh did kill it, but the beast was supposedly an Immortal, an undying monster created by the gods to protect the divine Trees. Its physical body might be destroyed or killed off, but as long as its soul remained intact, it’d be able to revive after the ritualistic sacrifices of countless other souls were made. And if all six Trees were active, then naturally, there would be six Humbabas as well.

Hmm, so Humbaba might not be a name of the creature itself, but the name of that particular species? How does that work?!

Jack shook his head and sighed. Whatever it was called didn’t help him in the slightest so it was a waste of time to even think about it.

But what can I do to kill it? Mylorne Akkad said he will get the necessary cooperation, but…. hmm.

There was a reason for Jack’s uncertainty. In the memories, the Guardian Beast was a huge monster possessing more than enough strength to crush a tank. And that wasn’t the end of its frightening abilities – no, this creature had near-infinite vitality and stamina. Oh, and the incredible defense, too. Basically, it was a perfect fighting machine.

And how should he fight it? With his bare hands? The baton he used inside the red pyramid was completely unsuited for what he was going to do later. He needed a proper alternative. Something powerful and weighty. Preferably lengthy, too. What he wanted was a laser gun or some such.

As if he read Jack’s mind, Mylorne Akkad provided a good piece of news.

“When we get to New York, you will be furnished with a suitable weapon, a halberd. It’s still an experimental item and that was why I hadn’t provided you with it. But in order for you to survive today, you’ll need its capabilities.”

“A halberd?”

Jack cocked an eyebrow. He nearly retorted that this wasn’t the Middle Ages and that personally, he’d preferred a badass sword, but Gilgamesh did enjoy swinging around weapons like that, so….

Jack nodded his thanks and sunk back into his thoughts. Now that the issue of the weapon was resolved, the next thing he had to worry about was how to defeat Humbaba and to destroy the Tree. Jack furrowed his brows, concentrating as hard as he could.

But he drew blanks. He knew that Gilgamesh did destroy the Trees somehow, but the methods escaped him. And as for Humbaba, its core had to be destroyed. What that core was – Jack couldn’t remember either. It was quite frustrating, really.

But logically, the core of the creature had to be on the body itself or somewhere nearby. Maybe the Tree was the core, he didn’t know. Sure felt strange that he had to go in totally blind while facing an unprecedented threat to mankind.

Jack thought about taking a quick nap. It was true that he was still exhausted, both mentally and physically. The flight itself was a couple of hours long and it’d do him a world of good to rest before facing another big event. And maybe gain an access to the past memory fragments along the way.

Jack informed Mylorne Akkad of his intentions and closed his eyes. He just hoped that he didn’t need a pill. He didn’t need it inside the red pyramid and he’d be very happy if he got rid of that addiction for good.

He was aware of the need to train his Battle Sense too, but he had to take one step at a time. He wasn’t a Superman after all, and he was still a human, no matter how much enhancement was made to him.


Jack woke up with a start after falling asleep without realizing it.

The aircraft was still flying, and the sky outside the windows was slowly dyeing in orange. The sun was setting behind them and Jack could see the curvature of the Earth, the milky-white clouds failing to hide the ground beneath.

Jack wondered what woke him so abruptly. He was in the middle of accessing the Soul Sphere so the interruption was not welcomed. Unfortunately, he hadn’t encountered any memory fragments, either.

“You’ve woken up,” said Mylorne Akkad. “Come, take a seat next to me. Look at what’s up ahead, waiting for our arrival.”

Taking up the invitation, Jack moved to the front, the cockpit, and gazed outside. What greeted him was the ominous sight of the Tree of the End.

“There it is,” whispered Jack under his breath.

Seeing it on a computer screen and seeing it with his own two naked eyes had a very different mental impact. The Tree was incredibly tall. Even this far away, it was clearly visible. Colored in eerie orange hue thanks to the setting sun, the Tree of the End imparted this unsettling ancient aura that made his skin crawl.

The sheer, immense scale of the Tree that was shaped like a bizarre metal spike/rod was difficult to fully commit to words. It stood arrow straight, gleaming like someone freshly polished it one hour ago; thick, threatening gray clouds coiled around the middle of it, and at the peak, the black, starry space beyond the atmosphere was visible, something that was as nonsensical as it logically could be.

Looking at the incredible structure, Jack felt stupefied for a minute or two. How the hell was he going to topple such a thing to the ground? Maybe if he had an access to an atomic bomb, sure, it was totally doable. Or maybe even two of them. That was just a daydream, though. That wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

“Look below us,” said Mylorne as he pointed towards one of the displays on the dash. It showed the scene on the ground. Jack saw the lines of cars blocking every road there was, all streaming out of the city of New York, as far away as humanly possible from the island of Manhattan. It was a mass evacuation from the look of things.

The cars were evidently stuck in huge traffic jams and it seemed to him that they were crawling at a speed slower than a snail. Jack couldn’t see the faces of the fleeing masses, but he imagined them to be tired, scared and apprehensive.

The scale of evacuation was massive. Jack thought it could very well be biggest in the history of mankind. Not that it was a nice record to jot down in the history books, though. State troopers, Federal and military personnel were directing the flow of the refugees but they seemed rather ineffective at lessening the density of the traffic hold-up not one bit.

Jack grimaced, hoping that those fleeing the city would find their footing soon. What a terrible way to lose almost everything, he mused. Their homes, their immediate livelihoods, their accumulated wealth – all gone. Well, they still had their health and skill sets, so as long as they were willing, a new path would open up. That much Jack was sure of.

“We’ll be there soon. You should start preparing accordingly. Grab a bite to eat. There’s a rations pack in the cargo area. I don’t think you’ll get another chance to do that in peace. Oh, right. Before you do that, there is something else we need to discuss,” said Akkad.

“Such as?”

“Your professional Superhero name. I can’t call you by your family name in front of the others, now can I? So, what type of a heroic title would you like?”

Jack’s brows twitched uncomfortably. “Uh, is that important? I mean, really, I may not make it out of this situation alive, you know. Worrying about some professional Super name is just a little… Taking things a little too easy?”

“Doesn’t mean I should continue calling you Jack Mercer while you’re going in as a masked Super, correct? You want to protect your secret identity at all costs. Having a brand new name should help in this regard. A new name could help you to become the new persona, to complete the disguise. And yes, I am speaking from the personal experience. So, what will it be?”

Jack groaned and sat down on the passenger seat. After giving it some thought, he finally opened his mouth.

“How about…. uh, The Avenger?”

Mylorne Akkad cocked an eyebrow, giving him a weird look. “No, Mister Mercer. Rejected. Try again.”

Jack slowly scratched his chin. “Okay, how about…. The Mystic Man?”

Akkad shook his head. “Again.”

“The Red Baron?”


“The Gil-o-Mesher?”

“….No, Mister Mercer. Please, do try to take this more seriously.”

“I am serious, though… Okay, fine. Let me think about it for a little while longer.”

Jack crossed his arms and groaned loudly again. He wasn’t expecting a new source of a headache to appear so suddenly. Out of all the other pain in the neck issues, this was a considerably nicer one to have, so it was okay.

But he was no good with this kind of stuff. He just didn’t have the right naming sense. Hell, his own Gamertag was The Proud Gamer, for crying out loud. He was absolutely hopeless, often mocked by his friends and Dana about this lack of knowing what sounded cool.

Jack thought about coming up with a name that was somehow related to Gilgamesh and the God-King’s legendary adventures. But nothing jumped out as suitable. Nothing rolled off his tongue like honey. If he wanted to sound exotic, sure, he could use one or two names but he wasn’t. He just wanted a passable, respectable name and that was it.

The more he thought about it, having a tough but respectable name was a must. He was going to face down several hardened soldiers and Supers pretty soon and a wimpy, childish name would only turn him into a laughing stock. Now that would not do. Not at all. No, he had to come up with a good name for sure. The pressure just increased by tenfold, unfortunately.

And then, there was that thing about revealing the existence of Jack as the Super with the greatest potential ever to the world. He was fine with it so long as his secret identity could be maintained, but Mylorne wanted to use the occasion to unite all those participating in this battle ostensibly under one banner, under one shared goal. It was a difficult task when everyone was trying to count their benefits over their rival’s. And it’d be even more difficult if he came up with a rubbish name. So the pressure was, indeed, definitely on.

Mylorne posited that absolute strength, whether that be an actual physical strength, financial muscle, intellectual smarts or the military might, would be enough to pull together all those unwilling to unite on their own. As a billionaire, he met all of those requirements and then some.

Jack did feel a little pressure at the thought of standing in the limelight, though. It wasn’t due to a lack of confidence, but more to do with the fear of the unknown – largely, of his own strength. Gilgamesh’s remnant will might have enhanced his specs, but Jack had no time to test his new limits. Plus, he had never stood before such a big audience before. It was only natural to feel nervous.

“We’ll begin the landing procedure in ten minutes. Please, prepare yourself.”

Akkad reminded Jack who was sitting there, absentminded, buried in his turbulent thoughts. He nodded and went to grab the rations pack. There were more MREs here. He was not happy to see one, but it was what it was. He tore the packet open and wolfed down the contents as quickly as possible, and grabbed the unpainted helmet, waiting for him by the bench seat.

The helmet was the only part of the armor that wasn’t enhanced by Gilgamesh’s remnant will and Jack wasn’t sure how big a factor that might play later on. He resolved not to get struck in the head for a foreseeable future until he could enhance items on his own. As it was, inside the Soul Sphere he could only enhance his own body and nothing else – not even the clothes he was wearing at the time.

He put the slim but sturdy helmet back on and switched on the PDA.

Meanwhile, Mylorne Akkad contacted Newark airport’s control tower and requested for the permission to approach and land at a previously designated area.

Jack glanced outside and saw military helicopters and jet fighters buzzing around. No civilian crafts were allowed flight anywhere near the greater New York metropolitan area.

Soon after, the craft landed on one of the helipads. A group of military personnel as well as Peacekeeper representatives stood by, waiting.

Only allowed on

Mylorne Akkad put on a smart jacket and slicked back his hair, tidying his appearance. There was no need, Jack mused inwardly. Mylorne was a good looking man, after all. Oblivious to the envious stare, the Immortal nodded at Jack and said, “Let us depart, and greet the destiny awaiting us head-on.”

They exited via the rear hatch. They could’ve used the smaller side entrance but Mylorne Akkad wanted a grand introduction to the world of a new Superhero’s arrival, to build up an atmosphere and all that.

It was a theatrical tactic to maximize the exposure, although Jack thought it was a waste of time. He thought that it was just an exit, nothing as grand as how Akkad was making it out to be.

Contrary to Jack’s expectations, however, he heard a collective gasp when he emerged from the rear of the hatch after Mylorne Akkad left first. There was a surprised, nay, shocked eyes focused on him. Jack had to wonder what the hell was that all about. Now that he thought about it, McLean and his men also did a serious double take when Jack came out of the red pyramid.

Huh, why are they looking at me like that? Is there something on the armor or the helmet?! But I checked before, and there was nothing….

Jack frowned confusedly under the dark visor. No one could see his facial expressions, obviously.

He checked out each of those waiting outside. Mylorne was busy talking to a stunning blonde woman dressed in a sharp business suit and a pair of frameless glasses. Jack extended his Battle Sense and surveyed everyone out here. He could immediately tell that the blonde woman wasn’t a Super, but she had received some sort of combat training.

Everyone here, besides those in business suits, were trained in some way or the other. Would’ve been handy under the normal situations, but not right now.

“Everyone, allow me to introduce the new hero.”

Mylorne Akkad smiled widely and extended his hand to Jack.

Taking the cue, Jack nodded once and opened his mouth. The helmet had voice modulation built in which automatically altered how he sounded. The result was that he sounded like a grizzled old veteran, as if he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and downed a bottle of gin every evening.

“Good day to you. You can call me….. Lugal.

Akkad smiled brightly when he heard that name. It was a Sumerian word for “king.” He was of the opinion that was quite a good name.

The blonde woman offered her hand. “Mister Lugal, welcome. My name is Emma Gilberts, from the Guild of Heroes. Please, follow me. As Mister Akkad have requested, the important personnel involved with the operation have gathered in one spot. I shall take you there.”

As Emma led the way, Mylorne talked to the Akkadian Corporation employees who came to see him. Jack could tell that the talk was about the necessary tech support as well as the amount of equipment on site, and how to best utilize the limited resources at hand. The mysterious halberd got a mention as well. Jack couldn’t wait to see what it looked like.

The place used for the meeting was originally for the press conferences. The décor seemed hastily put together, just like the meeting itself. Cheap plastic folding chairs usually warmed by the bums of tired journalists were now playing hosts to the altogether more important sets of rear ends.

The unadorned stage played host to Mylorne Akkad. All those gathered had their focus firmly trained on him as he strode towards the plastic pulpit, carrying a high-tech tablet PC with him.

“I’d like to thank all of you for gathering at such a short notice. My name is Mylorne Akkad, the owner and chairman of the Akkadian Corporation. You know who I am, I presume, and you know what I have achieved in the past and present. So, you don’t need any further introductions, I pray.

“Today, I come to you with valuable information regarding what we are about to face. For the survival of the mankind. For our future, I implore you to keep an open mind and heed my advice to the fullest.”

Jack was not on the stage but to the side, waiting. He was kind of hoping that he wasn’t needed to say something in front of these important people. He counted several high-ranking military officials, New York’s commissioner of police, the district attorneys for the five boroughs, the city mayor as well as the state governor who were, luckily, not at their respective offices due to today being a Sunday. The Director of FBI and his deputies, specifically flown in from Washington to get a handle on the situation were sitting near the center, surrounded by several stiff-faced Special Agents. CIA and NSA both had sent people here too, although their immediate ranks wouldn’t be known to outsiders.

The dozens of military men and women here, all stiff and hardened and alert, wore uniforms that were markedly different from each other, denoting the individual branches of armed forces they came from.

That was all the government bureaucrats present. And it was a lot of people, Jack mused inwardly.

As for the others, there were GoH members here, as well as several scientific organizations and a few Supers representing their own collectives. Emma Gilbert was naturally here as well, her job to stand in for the mysterious Guild President who was absent from this meeting.

All the faces here were glum and serious. Jack thought this place was worse than a funeral. He then noticed Vanguard sitting at the back, whose grimace was deep enough to show on the luchador mask he was wearing. The burly Super’s frown was so deep that it was probably enough to sink an entire aircraft carrier.

“I’ll try to be brief. That mysterious metallic spike is actually called the Tree of the End,” said Mylorne Akkad, as he manipulated his tablet to project a 3D hologram in the air. It showed a stone tablet. “I have, in my possession, several artifacts, many of them are well over six, seven thousand years old, some of them even farther into the lost history than that.

“These artifacts warn us of six Trees of World. And one of them happens to fit the description of what has taken root in Manhattan.”

The hologram projection zoomed into a section of the stone tablet and another image was superimposed on it. It was a close-up of a single cuneiform that shaped like a metal spike with lines around its middle.

“This is the ancient Sumerian cuneiform representing the so-called Divine Trees.”

There was a soft murmur from those present. From the looks on their faces they had questions but for now, they’d have to wait until the end of Mylorne’s speech.

“What the Tree itself can do is very dangerous, no doubt, but the more urgent issue we need to deal with is its Guardian Beast, a monster called Humbaba.”

The hologram changed to show an ancient mural Jack had seen yesterday in Mylorne Akkad’s tower. A huge, towering monster, with long arms and a bovine head.

“If we were to stop the Tree’s operations, we need to get past this monster first. According to my calculations, Humbaba should only have awakened not too long ago. But unfortunately, it will still possess an incredible power. Lugal here will, with the assistance of the military and GoH members, subdue the beast and proceed to disable the Tree’s functions.”

One of the military men, who was silently chomping on a cigar narrowed his eyes. “Okay, before we jump around all flustered, tell me this first, Mister Akkad. What the hell is this Tree of the End? Why should we be wary of its supposed dangers? And what is this Humbaba?

“Most importantly, how do you know all this, Mister Akkad? How were you able to obtain this information?”

Mylorne smiled enigmatically. “Well, General Williams, I have more than enough avenues of collecting important information. This is the result of one such avenue.

“The six Divine Trees are a gateway for the ancient extraterrestrial species to exert considerable influence on the mankind. These beings have called themselves the Anunnaki, the gods of the ancient Mesopotamia and Sumeria. Of course, they were not a group of nice, friendly guys all wishing for peace and unity. We as humans are nothing more than a plaything for them.

“Well over five thousand years ago, there was a global event that caused much upheaval, called the Third Great Calamity. The connections the Anunnaki had with this planet ceased after that event. And the six Trees vanished without a trace.

“The six Trees each control a certain aspect of this planet. For instance, the Tree of the End has dominion over every metallic object. It does not matter how high or low the level of metal is either – as evidenced by the mass killing of humans and animals within the island of Manhattan.

“That alone should be a cause to destroy the Tree. But as you might have guessed by now, toppling a structure of such dimensions without causing considerable damage to the surrounding areas is scientifically not possible. All we can to is to stop its operations, and stop it from trying to connect to the Anunnaki once more, which is a far more pressing goal.”

The hologram changed one more time, now showing a video clip of the metal vines wrapping around a bridge over the Hudson River, consuming it but failing to cross the body of the water for some reason.

Mylorne continued with little more urgency in his voice.

“All of you have been tracking a suspect involved in the JFK massacre, a man named Nico Gavalas, a Greek national. But he isn’t the mastermind. The truth is that Gavalas is nothing more than a vassal of the real threat, an ancient Super named En-men-lu-ana. He used to go by the nickname of The Mad King. And one of his powers was to turn people into grains of sand. Sounds familiar, yes?

“En-men-lu-ana, allegedly, was favored by the Anunnaki. He was a loyal lap-dog of the ancient beings, so to speak. I believe the reason why he came to Manhattan was to raise the Tree of the End. If he’s not stopped here, today, then I’m afraid Nico Gavalas and En-men-lu-ana would go around the world reviving the rest of the Trees, thereby completing the connections to the Anunnaki and setting up their return to our planet.”

“An ancient Super? How the hell did he live until now?”

The FBI director voiced his skepticism aloud.

“He didn’t. He’s as dead as you can get. But one of the powers granted by the Anunnaki was to leave behind an imprint of will in an item, a golden ceremonial skull. If a person meeting certain criteria touches this skull, the imprint will brainwash the individual to carry out the bidding of En-men-lu-ana.”

Jack cocked an eyebrow at this explanation. He hadn’t heard of this before. Previously, Mylorne Akkad said that En-men-lu-ana was an Immortal like him, that he couldn’t be killed, like, at all. Even if it was a fragment of a fingernail, as long as there was a genetic material available, he could revive given enough time.

Clearly, what Mylorne Akkad was saying up on the pulpit was bull. Jack wondered why he saw the need to deceive those he planned to work with, but the answer would have to wait for later.

Meanwhile, Mylorne continued with his narration that was more like the timely exposition to advance the plot forward.

“That isn’t the salient issue. Please, take a look at this.”

The hologram now showed a diagram of the Tree of the End, like one of those X-ray shots. A network of blood vessel-like webbing appeared within the Tree’s interior, all gathering towards the bottom where a large open space seemed to exist.

“The Tree of the End is made up of amalgamation of metallic elements. It can’t interact with any other matters, such as water or fire. That’s why it can’t cross the rivers.

“And now that the Tree had reached its peak, it no longer needs more building materials. It should be relatively safe to send in personnel to the island.

“The most effective way to stop the Tree’s functions would be to set fire to the hidden nucleus accessible through this passage, shown here with a temperature higher than 2200 Fahrenheit, higher than that of a napalm bomb.”

Mylorne Akkad pointed at the base of the Tree where the dozens upon dozens of thick root-like vines emerged. There seemed to be a tunnel leading into the heart of the metallic tree, at least according to the 3D projection.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t any small explosives capable of causing a high temperature akin to that of a napalm. The best we’ve got at hand is CL-20. But that compound is too unstable for a mission like this. So I recommend we use whatever HMX you can gather.

“It should cause enough concussive damage to the nucleus and thereby disable the Tree’s functions for good. I’m sure the U.S Military and GoH can provide enough HMX to destroy an object estimated to be about 10 to 12 feet tall and 5 feet in width, most likely shaped like a plant seed.”

Everyone present murmured quietly to each other. General Williams was chatting to other military officials in a hushed tone, while Emma Gilberts was on the phone with someone, probably to the Guild President. The representatives of various agencies were also busy yapping away on their own communication devices.

“I shall forward all the data I possess to the parties involved in this operation, of course. You will be able to dissect the information to your heart’s content and give me your favorable answer as soon as possible, before the Guardian Beast Humbaba regains more of its former strength.”

With that, the 3D hologram ended and Mylorne Akkad began preparing to send the copies of the files with his tablet.

But before that, there were other questions that needed to be answered.

“Why do you take a proactive role in this venture? What’s in it for you, Mister Akkad?”

It was, of course, General Williams who said that.

Mylorne Akkad gazed at the career military man and smiled genially.

“As I said before, there are six such trees, spread throughout this planet. Each one is in control of a different attribute, air, water, fire, so on and so forth. When all six of them sprout, then the Anunnaki will be able to command every facet of this very planet. In other words, in complete control of all living beings on the face of this earth.

“And we have a brainwashed Super acting to resurrect these trees. Obviously, Nico Gavalas would have the means to control them, not to mention where to find the other five Trees.

“Would you rather choose to let the Anunnaki control the humanity by sitting on the knowledge I’ve provided, or will you actively seek to curtail the enemy of humanity from gaining sovereignty over mankind? I believe the choice is a simple matter.

“My benefit is thus – I get to stave off the incoming disaster and at the same time, collect valuable data with Mister Lugal here. To me, scientific data is far more precious than any short-term monetary gains there might be, quite unlike the certain sections of our society.”

Akkad, his face full of enigmatic smile, pressed the “send” button on his tablet and soon after, the files were in the hands – or the computers – of those involved. Now, it was about waiting for their answers.

Jack felt slightly stifled so he stepped out of the conference room for a moment. He wanted to take off the helmet but couldn’t, as there were too many eyes watching him. Literally, every Super and regular people present was scoping him out. Their gazes weren’t explicitly hostile but rather, quite wary.

Jack mused to himself that he indeed was in a funny spot as far as being a Superhero was concerned. He wasn’t registered as a law-upholding hero with the GoH, nor was he recognized as one by the public. He was being “funded” by a secretive tech billionaire. Plus, he was wearing a black armor tinged in red. It was intimidating to look at him. And he had a pretty good physique on top of that, thanks to the red soul enhancement.

Jack decided to ignore the stares. As long as he gained the necessary strength to achieve his goals and survive the night, then it was all good. His thoughts were focused solely on disabling the gigantic black metal Tree in the distant horizon, on the future after toppling it, on the two Supers he’d go after soon enough, and most importantly, on himself.

He closed his eyes, thinking that he might as well use the down time to train his Battle Sense. He also wanted to extract red souls and enhance the helmet as well. If successful, then he’d do the same with the halberd later on.

Jack’s Battle Sense slowly reached inside and found the Soul Sphere, rapidly rotating near his heart. He was about to reach in and extract a wisp of the red soul when a voice interrupted him from behind.

“Hey, Lugal, right? Got a minute to talk?”

Jack slightly turned his head to see Vanguard standing there, emitting a dangerous aura. It looked like he was barely containing his fury. His muscles seemed to ripple underneath the skinny jacket he was wearing.

Jack frowned slightly, wondering why this masked Superhero was all worked up for. Hopefully, not at him.

“May I help you?”

Jack asked solemnly. Since he didn’t know whether the target of Vanguard’s anger was him or not, it seemed like a safe bet to be vigilant and respectful for now.

“Maybe. I want to be on your team. Take me with you when you go to Manhattan.”

Jack nearly tilted his head in confusion. Somehow, he resisted the natural reaction and took a second or two to digest this sudden request.

“I beg your pardon? Please explain yourself, Mister Vanguard. What do you mean, you want to be on my team?”

Vanguard stepped forward and stood before Jack, AKA Lugal. Surprisingly, Jack wasn’t much shorter than the hulking Super.

“GoH won’t let me go over there. But my friend…. my friend Blast Storm is somewhere in that goddamned place and I need to find him ASAP. Please, put me on your team. I am willing to quit GoH if you let me in.”

Jack felt a fresh new bout of a migraine rushing in.

He understood the source of Vanguard’s fury, his desire to locate his friend but the Guild grounding him for reasons Jack didn’t know or care.

Jack studied Vanguard for a second. It’d be good to have someone as experienced and strong like Vanguard backing him up. But this decision wasn’t his to make. Mylorne Akkad was the leader of this enterprise and Jack was simply borrowing some stuff from the guy, that was all.

“Why me? You could ask the military. They would welcome a Super’s help, especially if it’s someone as famous as you are.”

“I asked already. They refused, saying they already have a unit ready to go. A bunch of wet-nosed teenagers and that’s their goddamn unit!!”

Teenagers? Could they be from the Project Dead Kings? Huh. So, uh, are they reacting to my presence as well, in the way Cleo, Erik and Lei did? I wonder. Do I need to step carefully around them now?

.Wonder what those three are doing right now. Were they caught after coming here? Or have they got away with Cleo’s family? With the chaos of the mass evacuation, they are probably fine.

Jack slowly shook his head. “It doesn’t matter whether you tag along or not. But I do not want to get on the bad side of GoH – so, please reconsider. If your mind’s made up, then you should ask Mister Akkad instead.”

Vanguard clenched his fist. But he didn’t say anything. His angry eyes said enough. He nodded quickly and turned around.

Jack watched the back of the retired Super walk away, feeling somewhat conflicted.

A friend, huh. I wonder how’s Nick doing right now.

Oh right. I gotta call home. My family should be waiting for me.

Jack sighed softly. He glanced around to see if there was a working telephone somewhere, but at this day and age, finding a payphone was going to be an issue. And since the military had taken over the airport, all the stores and kiosks not related to the operation had closed shut their doors, their workforce sent home. Gaining access seemed impossible without breaking a few laws. Asking for a smartphone from a passing soldier didn’t seem like it would work either, unless he wanted to expose his identity.

What then?

Hmm. Does this suit has a phone or internet connectivity?

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Jack glanced at the PDA’s screen. Indeed, there seemed to be some sort of wifi and Bluetooth connectivity but in the menu, they were grayed out as if the functions weren’t available on this particular version of the software.

Looks like I have to ask Mylorne, huh. Why didn’t I ask for this earlier?! Man, I need to focus and get a grip here….

Jack wryly shook his head and headed back into the conference room.

(Please support my writing by reading it, and talking to your friends about it. Any comments you wish to make are welcome, especially the constructive criticisms. Also, I would deeply appreciate if you show your love by donating some $$. Ahahaha. Well hey, I need “motivations” too, you know!! Well, it doesn’t have to be a lot….. even a single buck would be fine, you know.)

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