She was met at the gate by a smartly dressed young man who led her inside the armored fortress. Following an exhaustive security check, she was brought to a lushly appointed suite and told to wait.
"He will join you momentarily," the smartly dressed young man said, closing the door behind him as he left. She heard the soft click of the lock and smiled. Clearly, her reputation preceded her, and they didn't want her getting out and snooping around.
"Can I offer you some refreshment?"
She spun about at the sound of his voice, a deep baritone with a slightly unnatural timbre. He stood on the sill of a large window that offered a panoramic view of the mountains. Of course, the only view she was interested in was him, standing with the sun at his back, massive wings spread wide, muscular arms folded across a broad chest. Surreptitiously, she activated the minicamera concealed in her glasses. That picture would grab a two-page spread in her article, easy. He stepped down off the windowsill, striding gracefully across the room to a bar in the corner. "Something to drink, perhaps?" He held up an ornate bottle containing a clear liquid.
"Um, just- just water, thank you," she stammered. Silently, she chastised herself. You've met presidents and kings, queens and prime ministers. Stop acting like a star-struck intern and do your job!
"So," she said, accepting the glass of water he offered her, "why now? Why an interview, after all these years of solitude?"
He smiled, gesturing toward a large couch in the center of the room. "Ah. Well, that's an interesting question." They sat on the couch, and she set up her laptop to record the conversation. "I suppose it has something to do with the announcement I want to make."
"And what announcement is that?" She was intrigued. There had been no communication from the Aerie in years, even longer since anyone had seen one of the fabled Birdmen. "Are you returning to public life?"
His charming smile, which he'd worn since appearing at the window, slipped a bit, and a shadow passed across his face. "No." It was almost a whisper.
"No," he said again, his smile in place once more. "No, quite the opposite, I'm afraid. I have called you here to announce that I am leaving this planet. By the end of this week, I will be gone, never to return."
She was stunned. The Birdmen had been on Earth since World War I. They'd become a part of everyday life. Even though the sky had been empty since the late 1980s, people still looked up from time-to-time, hoping for a glimpse of argent wings. Now, even that hope would be gone.
"Why?" she finally managed to ask.
He stood, arms clasped behind his back, silver wings rustling, and walked to a photo mounted on the wall. It was a group portrait, taken after the fall of Berlin in 1939, and it featured all of the Birdmen along with a smiling troop of American GIs. His finger gently reached out and rested on the smiling face of a woman, her gold wings shining in the camera's flash.
"I miss them," he said.
"We all do," she replied.
He nodded, absently. "Of course. But you must understand, they were my family. All I had left of the dead planet I once called home." He walked away from the picture, pausing in front of a display of alien weaponry to turn to her. "When our evac ship landed here all those years ago, your people didn't know what to make of us. Only after we ended the very destructive global conflict you'd mired yourselves in, did you finally see us as friends." He sighed, looking down at the floor before meting her gaze once more. "So we fought your wars, chased your criminals, cured your diseases and helped you make technological leaps that would have normally taken decades." He walked over and sat down next to her. "We were heroes to your people, celebrities, and we we happy for the attention." He looked away. "But not everyone was so friendly."
"Professor Demonicus," she spat through her teeth.
"Yes," he replied, looking at her with an odd sadness. "We fought him and his various schemes of world conquest almost from the moment we came here. For years upon years we struggled with him. Until that one day..."
She lay her hand on his arm. "I'm sorry," she said.
He covered her hand with his own. "I know," he said. He looked deep into her eyes then. "I've followed your career with great interest. Your articles have brought down madmen, corrupt governments and corporate criminals. Your charity work has changed the lives of thousands of deserving children, and you've done more than anyone else to keep the legend of the Birdmen alive." He looked away, toward the photo. "Sometimes," he whispered, "I'll bet it almost feels like enough."
"What?" Her eyes widened.
He looked back at her, standing up. He towered over her as he looked down. "You've spent your whole life distancing yourself from your father, geographically and by your actions. But even though you turned your back on him years ago, even though you'll have nothing at all to do with him, you're still the only thing on this Earth Professor Demonicus loves."
There was a long-bladed knife in his hand before she could blink, and she found herself restrained even quicker than that. She wanted to protest, to assure him that she was nothing like her father, that she only wanted to make amends for the evil he had done, but the words would not come. She could only watch helplessly as the former hero brandished his knife menacingly.
"I take no joy in your death," he said. "And I am truly sorry it must come to this."
He stepped closer, a look of regret passing swiftly across his face. "But before I leave this world forever, I'll see the man who took everything from me holding your severed head in his hands."
"And then I will know justice has truly been done."