– Sarah Ardent –
– Wednesday 10:17 Eastern Time –
“First time seeing ‘em?”
“The War-Walls. Quite a sight, ain’t they?”
The taxi zipped along the arrow straight freeway, its tyres humming rhythmically in tune to the imperfections of the worn road surface. Paragon City didn’t get many visitors from the outside world these days, a status reflected in the shoddy maintenance of its access roads.
Once a shining example of a modern metropolis, the city was now far too dangerous for any sane or casual tourism. A fact reinforced by the imposing towers of concrete linked by powerful force-fields that surrounded the city, cutting it into manageable ‘zones’. Sarah knew that they probably had an official name, but to the world at large, they were simply known as the War-Walls.
“I’ve seen photographs,” she answered as the taxi drove closer. “But this is my first time seeing them in person…”
She had been exchanging friendly chit-chat with the taxi driver since he had picked her up at Paragon City International Airport almost forty-five minutes ago. Due to the War-Walls the airport couldn’t sit inside the city it served. If you wanted into Paragon City, you arrived by car, and checked in through one of the many security checkpoints that led beyond the massive barriers.
“Yeah, takes ya breath away don’t they?” the driver chuckled. “And, lady, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”
“The motorway is quieter than I thought it would be…”
“The freeway?” he clarified. “Yeah, no one really commutes to the city these days. Too much trouble. If you work in Paragon City, you live in Paragon City. And unless you’re a cape-groupie, then it ain’t no tourist trap either.”
“People just comin’ to see the capes. The supers,” the driver explained. “But no one comes just for the city. Not since the War.”
“Were you here at all during the war?” Sarah asked as she stared at the huge shimmering forcefields.
“Are you crazy?” the cabbie laughed. “No one but the capes was here during the war. I was a cabbie before that fucking ship came down, excuse my language. I was driving a fare outta Boston when all hell broke loose. Lost everything that day. But hell… it was something to see. Those were some kinda fireworks. You see much fightin’ in the UK?”
“Personally? No,” Sarah replied quietly.
“S’pose not, figure you’re too young to remember it. Don’t know if we’ll ever see anything like that again. Supers and soldiers side by side fightin’ them aliens.”
“Yeah, that’s them,” the driver nodded. “I tell ya right here and now that if we’d lost that war… dread to think what woulda happened. The aftermath weren’t pretty!”
“I saw the news reports,” Sarah reflected. “London was hit pretty hard, too.”
“Not like Paragon,” the driver said sadly. “This was ground zero.”
She knew he was right. Paragon City had suffered terribly during the war, and still did to this day. After the dust had settled, crime had become rampant across the devastated city. The irony was that the devastation wrought on the City during the war was also the reason the City was so important today. It had become a nexus of science and magic, of abilities and technology far beyond anything found anywhere else in the world.
Paragon City had secrets to unlock.
She continued to gaze up at the shimmering blue glow of the War-Walls. They were probably the only things that had kept Paragon City from plummeting into anarchy, keeping the problem of crime and the ever-present threat of the remaining Rikti carefully controlled.
“We certainly have nothing like this back in the UK,” Sarah said quietly.
“So, what brings you all the way out here to Paragon City?”
“Work,” Sarah stated simply. “What about you? You work in Paragon City?”
“Yeah. Some people hate the City; it’s a dangerous place to be. Real easy to get caught in the crossfire of some battle or other, or suddenly fall afoul of something in this city. First week on the job here I accidentally hit a Supatroll in Skyway. Almost gave me a goddamn heart attack! Felt for sure he would destroy the cab and put me in hospital, but…he just ran off.”
“So, if it’s that dangerous, why do you stay here?” Sarah asked, genuinely interested.
“As I said… no place like it on God’s green Earth.” He turned slightly to look back at her. “I’ve been a cabbie close to thirty years, and I seen things…amazing thing… I seen Rikti drop-ships aflame over Atlas, I seen giant tree monsters stomping down the streets of Founders Falls… I see supers every single day. I ain’t no cape-groupie, but…
“You wanna see the amazing? This is the place to do it. And if you wanna see the amazing then you just gotta shoulder the risk that goes with living in Paragon City.”
The taxi started to slow down as it approached the security checkpoint. The cabbie’s monologue had whetted Sarah’s appetite for discovery, and she found herself excited to gain entry to the city and experience it all first-hand. She found herself full of nervous excitement. Nothing in her previous training had prepared her for what might await her beyond the War-Walls.
In front of them stood the giant doors to the city, currently open and patrolled by both Police and what she knew were the red and white uniforms of Longbow officers. Next to the road, there was a pavement with a smaller checkpoint in where foot traffic could gain entry into the city.
As they waited their turn to get the taxi in, Sarah watched in astonishment as a large athletic man in a black-and-red costume swooped in and touched down gently onto the pavement. He waved and nodded to the checkpoint officer who smiled and immediately granted the hero access, no questions asked. The two exchanged familiar words, laughed and then the hero took to the sky on the other side of the gate and disappeared into Paragon City.
“Who was that?” Sarah asked breathlessly.
“Get used to seeing that one. That’s Rogue. Used to be a player for the basketball team here, now he’s a hero and media darling. One of our more high-profile heroes,” the taxi driver laughed. “Had him in my cab once. Nice guy, really popular with the ladies.”
“Rogue…” Sarah muttered under her breath as she looked at the empty sky where he had disappeared.
“So, what work is it that brings you here? You kinda look like a scientist maybe. That what you are lady? A scientist?”
Sarah was quiet for a moment as she stared at the sky inside the gate and above Paragon City. Here, she was at the gates of a city that was rising from the ashes and trying to take back its place in the sun once more. It was something that Sarah Ardent understood more than most people.
“No…I’m going to be a superhero.”