Leap of Faith.
The boy stands alone on the rooftop.
Breathe in, breathe out. Step to the edge, one, two, three paces. Toes curling over the edge of the abyss. Breathe in, breathe out. His fists clench, then uncurl deliberately, as he turns around, his ragged cape whipping around him as he exposes his back to the yawning drop. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in-
And he lets himself fall backwards, into nothingness.
The teleportation mechanism employed by the Red X suit works in one of two ways. It either returns the user to a pre-deployed beacon, or, if no such beacon has been activated, it delivers a 'kick', transporting the user several tens of metres forward in whatever direction he happens to be travelling at the time.
He falls, wind ripping around him, roaring through his ears and plastering his cape to his back. His knees are tucked up under his chin. (One) He can barely think with the horrific speed of his fall overwhelming his every sense (two) but as he reaches terminal velocity he kicks out, (three!) lashing out and striking the side of the building he had jumped from, and for just one instant he is moving out as well as down, and in that instant he vanishes, leaving nothing but empty air.
The corridor is deserted, and dark. The fifth floor of the headquarters of Abstergo Pharmaceuticals, it only serves as access for innumerable offices. Security is at its lightest here.
And it is where the dark figure of a boy materialises out of nowhere, a whirling mass of black cloth twisting in midair and bouncing awkwardly on landing as momentum sends him sliding across the floor until he finally grinds to a halt, on his knees, bare inches from a plastic lemon tree.
He pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes momentarily as his hand, guided by countless repetitions, punched in the security code of his office door. Stepping through, he looked up at the room. Moonlight spilled into the room from the enormous window that made up the entire far wall, but was dispelled as he flicked the light switch, revealing-
"Long day, Doc?"
A skull-faced mask. A figure in black seated at his desk, feet unconcernedly propped up on the polished surface. One hand caressing the leather armrest of the chair. The other was levelling a gun directly at his head.
The doctor blinked, freezing at the sight of the weapon. It was a strange make, looking like nothing so much as a large, six-barelled revolver. Likely custom-made. Still, the design was immaterial, under the circumstances- a gun was a gun. And it was immensely reassuring.
Young thugs, waving around unearned power to compensate for their own powerlessness. He supposed the suit was a manifestation of the same symptom- he should have realised that some time ago. On the other hand, he had been rather busy.
Still, the weapon was comforting. It was good to know he had nothing to fear from this confrontation.
"Ah, you must be the infamous 'Red X'. I was wondering when you would come home."
The boy behind the mask blinked. He'd thought he was ready for this. Thought he was past all this bullshit, but that smug, self-satisfied voice nearly made him lose it right there. With difficulty, he kept his voice under control.
"Cute. So, Doc, how's it gonna be? Any last requests?"
"Oh? I didn't realise you people were so generous. All we can usually expect is a knife in the back." Sarcasm permeated the Templar's voice.
"What do you mean, 'you people'?"
"Why, the legendary Brotherhood of Assassins, of course. Who else?"
Red X cocked his head. "You see a white hood anywhere? I'm just making a social call, Doc. This isn't business."
"Oh? I'm flattered, then."
"So like I was saying. Anything you want to say before I pull the trigger?"
The doctor laughed.
"Only that you aren't gong to kill me, boy."
"Uh huh. That's looking really likely."
"Of course you aren't." The Templar took one deliberate step forward. The gun followed him, but that was the only reaction from the thief. "Because, since the unfortunate demise of my associate, I am the only person in the entire world that can give you what you want."
Red X threw his head back and howled. The voice scrambler crackled and barked, and it took the doctor a second to realise that he was laughing.
"You? What can you possibly offer that I can't just take off you?"
The doctor smiled. "Well, for one thing, don't you want to know your name?"
The laughter abruptly stopped.
"I have a file, you know. It's not on any computer, all handwritten, and I have the only copy. It's your entire life, pre-Animus. Where you grew up, parents, siblings, household pet, even your friends at the school you went to. I can give it to you, if you just play ball."
There was no response from the chair, but the gun had started to shake, ever so slightly.
"You see, we don't really need you any more. Oh, there's certainly more we could have accomplished, but I think I can persuade those higher up the chain that as far as your case is concerned, we should simply quit while we're ahead. We give you the file, you leave us alone. A pleasant non-aggression agreement between our two parties. What do you say?"
Red X struggled with the desire to just let his finger twitch now and be done with it. No, he'd waited long enough, he'd never forgive himself if he choked now.
"You see, Doc, you've got a problem with your little plan. I don't want what you're offering. I don't know who I was before, and frankly, I don't care. My old name could have been Amanda Hugenkis and it wouldn't mean squat to me. Who I was is dead. I'm me, now, and you can't fucking touch me. What do I say? I say 'go fuck yourself, you senile old dick'."
And he pulled the trigger.
And the barrel lit up.
And the gun emitted three long, low, beeps.
And that was all.
"Congratulations, Doc," Red X announced, jovially. "You officially aren't carrying unshielded xenothium. Which is good because it probably causes cancer or something."
The doctor raised an eyebrow, haughtiness masking growing confusion. "So, what was the point of this little charade?"
"Not much, really. Except to make sure you were watching this hand, of course. You should have been looking at what was in this one." His left hand flourished a small, pen-shaped device, with a red button on one end. In one quick movement, before the Templar could discern what it was he held, Red X pressed the button.
Two seconds of silence. Then a dull series of thuds, echoing up from many floors below.
In the office, the sprinklers abruptly turned on.
The doctor's face went grey.
"What have you done?"
"Well, you know all those techno sunbeds you've got in the basement? Yeah, looks like they've all just spontaneously stopped working. Might want to get that looked at."
"The Animus Room?" The doctor couldn't stop himself from half-turning towards the doorway, before forcibly jerking himself back to face his opponent.
"You realise, of course, that you've accomplished nothing," he said, his face a blank mask. "You have set us back six months, no more."
"Yeah, except you forgot one thing." Red X leant forward in the chair, all traces of humour gone. "You start up again, you even think about snatching anyone else and feeding them into your machines, and the Titans are gonna drop on you like a ton of bricks. They're watching you now, I made sure of that. They haven't got anything you'd take to court, but start again, and they'll find more than enough."
"You think the threat of pubescent vigilantes is going to stop us?" the Templar asked, smugness dissipating in the face of frustrated rage.
Red X laughed, but there was no softness to it- a short bark of amusement. "You have no idea what you're getting into. The Titans aren't like your local law enforcement. You can't bribe them. You can't hide from them. You sure as shit can't kill them. Tougher, smarter, nastier sons of bitches than you have tried and failed. Now, me? I don't have to worry too much about the Titans- I can outrun them any day of the week. But you? Better start hitting the gym, Doc."
"This isn't over, boy," the doctor manages, spittle flying.
"For your sake, you'd better hope it is," he replies, and before he forfeits the last word, an explosive shuriken is in his hand, flung over his shoulder. The glass wall explodes outward in a rain of shards, and the thief kicks off against the desk, sending the chair and him both rolling backwards out into nothingness.
All that follows the glass to the ground is the chair.
He lands on the rooftop, and although the mask conceals it, he's grinning like a cheshire cat. Slowly, he uncurls his spine and stands straight, and, although there's nobody there to see it, he brushes his shoulders off, with great theatricality.
He's instantly alert, poised and ready for fight or flight, although he hasn't figured out which yet.
A hooded figure steps out of the gloom, and Red X sighs, almost in disappointment.
"Oh. What the fuck do you want."
"Answers, primarily," the voice answers. "Who are you, kid?"
The thief rolls his eyes. "I'm Red X. You might have heard of me."
"I somehow doubt that's how you were christened."
He shakes his head in despair. "Look. Mask. Costume. Secret identity. Now fuck off."
"We can help you, you know. You clearly have no love for Abstergo."
He shakes his head. "Look. I'm gonna say it one more time. Fuck off. Now, I'm gonna stop being polite in a second."
"But if you'll just listen-"
"Look. I don't care about your secret gang war. I don't know what it is about you people, but I'm a career thief. If I was feeling civic-minded, I'd join the volunteer fire department. I don't care about Assassins, I don't care about Templars, and I'm gonna give you one ultimatum right here, right now. Not in this city. You stay the fuck out of Jump City, or there will be consequences, 'kay? These guys" he thumbed back at the Abstergo building "are gonna have enough problems of their own the instant they try shit, okay? Maybe you'll get lucky and the Titans'll twig to the whole conspiracy, then you'll have a whole bunch of friendly guys in tights to help you out. Word to the wise, though, you'll wanna cut down on the stabbings in front of Robin. He's kinda not a fan of that."
The Assassin was still for a long while.
"If that is your decision," he said, slowly. "We will agree to keep your borders, unless the Templars strike first."
"Cool. Now get out."
The figure left, silently, and Red X stretched to his full height, staring out across the city. Once he was alone again, he trotted lightly to the edge of the building, and in one smooth action, dove off into the night.