Oliver Queen knew guns. He could operate them skillfully; his reaction time was perfect. He had the stars to prove it, making him the unchallenged leader of his squad. Only John Diggle could come close to his skills, and once they teamed up they were feared by their enemy.
Oliver Queen was a decorated soldier—as long as guns and enemies were virtual.
As he stared down the barrel of a very real gun, the masterful Call of Duty veteran had to admit: the all-nighters on his PS4 hadn’t prepared him for this.
Sweat collected on his brow and slipped down his temple. He swallowed heavily, forcing himself to stop staring at the gun (it was so close to his eyes, he was squinting behind his horn-rimmed glasses). Instead, he placed his attention on the man aiming it at him, the bald dude looking way too amused, grinning and revealing a golden front tooth.
Now was the time to say something—preferably something clever and witty—to make it perfectly clear he wasn’t afraid and wouldn’t let himself be bullied into using his skills for evil.
Oliver Queen would not cross over to the dark side.
In movies, the guy sitting in an uncomfortable wooden chair would say something, deliver a cool punchline despite facing three scary guys dressed in leather and despite knowing that nobody would hear him scream in a warehouse by the docks.
But this wasn’t a movie. This had somehow turned into Oliver’s reality and he had nothing clever (or witty) to say. He didn’t have a punchline to deliver, not even an un-cool one. All he could do was feel his heart pump forcefully in his chest with the fear trumping through him.
Suddenly footsteps echoed through the huge room. They came closer without any hurry, getting louder with a casualness that Oliver couldn’t really explain but hear clearly. Finally, a man stepped into the light cone illuminating the part of the warehouse where Oliver sat, kept without being bound.
The clichéd English teacher vibe radiating off the guy startled Oliver into staring at him, taking in his tweet jacket (with elbow patches!), his perfectly side-parted hair, and his brown corduroys. He stopped in front of Oliver, smiling down at the younger man without any warmth. It was a smile of superiority, filled with confidence. “Mr. Queen—or would you prefer me addressing you as Optimal Prime?”
Oliver would prefer not to be addressed by this guy at all. Actually, the optimal thing would be Elbow-Patches not knowing Oliver’s top-secret hacker name, but that ship had obviously sailed. Oliver swallowed heavily again.
“I see you are the stoic type.” Elbow-Patches’s unnerving smile wasn’t wavering. “That’s perfectly fine. You can stay silent—while doing exactly as you’re told.”
The three guys that grabbed him in the parking lot of the supermarket had told him that they needed his hacking skills. They hadn’t told him directly, but Oliver had pieced it together. Stripping him of all his gadgets (laptop, phone, smart-wearable, tablet) was the first clue, driven home by one of them warning the others to “make sure the hacker doesn’t get his hands on anything he can use to call for help”. Actually calling for help had been impossible, too, due to the tape slapped over his mouth. They had pulled that off in the warehouse, laughing as Oliver had cried out in pain.
The evil teacher stopped smiling and nodded to one of the abductors. A guy with a facial tattoo (tribal, covering the left half of his face. Oliver couldn’t help but think that the guy wasn’t Mike Tyson, no matter how much the dude wished he was) stepped forward, past his partner with the golden tooth, and pulled Oliver up by his arm.
Tattoo-dude was taller than Oliver, strong and muscular. Oliver had started some light weight-training last month (he wasn’t getting out of this gym membership Digg had talked him into anyway, so he might as well use it to shed some of the extra pounds he’d been carrying around). He could appreciate the time and dedication that guy put into his impressive biceps. Sadly, it didn’t dim the sinking feeling within Oliver, because he couldn’t do anything but let himself be dragged across the warehouse, toward a desk with an impressive computer setup. Oliver wasn’t a fighter—he was outnumbered and threatened with a gun—he didn’t have a choice but to let the man push him down onto another chair, a rolling one this time.
The three computer screens came to life as Oliver’s chair crashed against the desk, making everything on top rattle. Illuminated by the hard lightning of the monitors, Oliver looked up at the wannabe Mike Tyson and found his voice. “You never said what you want me to do.”
Again, the noisy footsteps sounded through the huge hall as the head of this weird little operation walked toward him. “We need you to give us access to Kinsley Airbase.”
The hair on Oliver’s neck stood up, goose bumps of shock raced over his skin, perfectly visible since he was wearing his favorite Captain America t-shirt. The shock was also audible in his voice as an involuntary “What?” fell from his lips.
The smile returned to Elbow-Patches’s face. “I think my request is pretty self-explanatory. So, you should get to it. And believe me: we’ll know if you do anything other than what we ask of you.”
Oliver stared at the man who seemed so dignified, all poise, politeness, and good manners, but who was obviously insane—and a terrorist. At least that was Oliver’s best guess. Why else would somebody want access to one of the biggest arsenals of weapons and ammunition in the US? Oliver knew about the somewhat secret airbase because his best friend John Diggle was a soldier. And even though Digg was overseas at the moment, he and his wife Lyla had been stationed at Kinsley once.
“No.” Oliver was surprised that his voice sounded so strong and determined. He certainly didn’t feel either.
Tweet-jacket raised an eyebrow that looked way too amused for Oliver’s liking. “No?” he repeated, his voice dripping sarcasm. “Please, Mr. Queen, do not misunderstand the situation. I might have used the word ‘request’, but let me assure you that the only choice you have is between doing as we tell you and dying.”
“I won’t help you get access to those weapons.”
“Who says we want weapons?”
“What else would you want?”
“I won’t help you get those either.”
Evil teacher tipped his head to the side, studying Oliver. He wasn’t a very tall man—only a little taller than Oliver sitting on his chair—and he was skinny, but he was intimating nevertheless. The way his eyes slid over Oliver showed that he could see the younger man’s death already and didn’t mind what he saw. “You’re trying to put up a brave act. That is unexpected.” He took his eyes off Oliver and rested them on Mike Tyson. “He needs his fingers, the rest is dispensable.”
The facial tattoo shifted as the guy grinned. “Kneecaps are my specialty, anyway.”
“You look pale, Mr. Queen,” Elbow-Patches observed. “Are you sure you want to be this brave? You could spare yourself some pain and us some time. Just stop being difficult.”
“Sorry,” Oliver said and couldn’t help but wonder what had gotten into him. What was he doing here? He must be out of his mind. He was bad with pain. Like, really, really bad. But he was even worse with terrorism, apparently. Hacking the NSA, crashing Google’s servers, messing with Starling City’s traffic lights was one thing; handing launch codes for whatever over to criminals, giving them the power to destroy en masse whatever was something entirely different. At least it was to former hactivist Oliver Queen, aka Optimal Prime.
Damn it, he was being really brave here and there was nobody around to witness it.
“Julius Hudson, you have failed this city.”
The words echoed through the huge room and before Oliver really registered them, he had to come to terms with the fact that tattoo-guy was crashing to the floor. Oliver blinked and, yes, there was an arrow sticking out of the man’s leg as he rolled over the floor, groaning and bleeding.
Shooting up from his chair, Oliver whirled around in time to see a figure drop from the metal rafters. His mouth opened slightly as he saw the figure—a woman, he recognized now, who was much smaller than the two men she had touched ground next to—jump up and wrap her legs around Golden-Tooth’s neck. The big guy crashed head first onto the concrete floor, pulled down by the petite figure in one fluent movement. A bone shattering crack followed, making Oliver’s stomach turn; that never happened when he played Tekken—and the woman’s moves strongly reminded him of the old-school videogame, because what she was doing seemed unreal.
The third kidnapper, who had kept in the background before, ran toward her, but she evaded him elegantly, effortlessness and easy. The guy, who was at least one head taller, came at her again, fists swinging, but she blocked the blows skillfully. It looked like dancing—the very aggressive kind—and somehow she ended up kicking the hollow of his knee from behind, bringing her opponent to his knees. Her right hand was closed around a bow and she brought it down to his nose, once and a second time, knocking him unconscious.
Oliver didn’t even have time to be impressed before she straightened up opposite him, her bow raised and drawn, aiming an arrow—not at him but at Elbow-Patches who, as Oliver only noticed now, was pointing a gun at him.
“Drop your bow or the boy dies.”
The woman simply let go of the string. The shattering sound of the gun hitting the concrete rang through the warehouse, immediately followed by a yell filled with pain. The first arrow had knocked Patches’ gun out of his hand, the second had sliced through his arm. Nearly soundlessly, the woman moved. Again, she jumped up and knocked him out with one well-timed kick.
Barely one minute ago, Oliver had feared for his kneecaps. Now the fear was replaced by awe. Stunned, he let his eyes travel over the three unconscious men and the one groaning in pain to his right.
“The police are on their way.”
The voice telling him that was undoubtedly female, but it was altered to make it sound deeper, more dangerous. It fit her while not fitting her at all. She had an intimidating aura, her fighting skills were all kinds of awesome and meant that she shouldn’t be messed with, but she didn’t frighten him. She was dangerous, but she didn’t mean danger to him, he was sure of that.
Oliver looked at the woman standing three steps away from him, dressed in dark green leather, a hood hiding more than half of her face. He swallowed heavily and willed himself to stop staring. He forced himself to say something. Awkwardly, he pushed his glasses up. “Thank you.”
She nodded. Police sirens sounded in the distance, getting louder by the moment and that sound spurred her into action, reaching for another arrow. His eyes followed her as she flew upward, pulled by a cable, landed on a metallic bar far above, and disappeared through a skylight. Oliver stared at where she had vanished.
Damn it that was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to him—and the most terrifying. He had just been saved by a woman with a bow and wearing green leather.
Yeah, Oliver decided, this Wednesday could have ended much, much worse.