Rebel Rebel Vol. 1 Define Success Part 17

Hitting the street, Ryaan heads in the direction of Lovely Lovely Flowers. He tries to stay in the alleyways as much as possible. People running around in costumes aren’t that weird since the VMUS Act passed but he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. He needs to get what he’s doing taken care of and get home. He can’t afford to get drawn into anything else.

It takes about ten minutes but before long Ryaan finds himself standing back outside the flower shop. It’s just after eight and the store’s still open but he’s not sure walking in the front door’s the way to go.

Working his way around the building, Ryaan looks for any other way in. He finds there’s no back to the warehouse, it’s pushed right against the building behind it. The left side’s the same. Most of the buildings in this neighborhood are built right against each other, though there’s usually a gap every few buildings. There’s one on the right side of the shop and the side entrance found there seems to be the only other way in. They can’t leave that unlocked. With no other alternative except waltzing in the front door, he decides to try it anyway.

He’s happily surprised when the door swings open, though it does so with a loud squeak that makes him cringe. Ryaan slips in but doesn’t bother closing the door behind him. It’s only open a little bit which will allow for a quick escape if he needs one.

The warehouse is dark. The only lights are on the far side and they’re dim enough that they work more like spotlights than lights. Only the faintest of glows make their way to him. There’s row after row of heavy duty shelving units lining the room, with box after box stacked upon them. They look to be the same type of boxes that were being loaded onto the truck last night in the warehouse district.

Ryaan stays in the dark but makes his way around the warehouse, looking for anything that might work as evidence. He wants something he can take a picture of and send to the cops. Something that says, “Here, this is the evidence you need. Go take these guys down.” So far he just sees boxes. Under the room’s main light there’s a table with a few chairs but that’s it. There’s no sign of other people. Maybe the warehouse crew doesn’t work this late. Near the front of the warehouse he can see the outline of a door leading to the shop. Light shines in through the cracks. There’s another door right next to it on the other wall though Ryaan has no clue where it leads. Light’s shining from under that door as well.

There’s nothing particularly suspicious here. The only thing that stands out are the boxes. He makes his way to the nearest shelves and pries the lid off the first box he finds. It’s stapled closed but the staples aren’t strong. Inside the box he sees nothing but flowers. He tries another box, and then another but they’re also filled with flowers. Each box is filled with a different variety but nothing else.

By the time he reaches the fifth box, he starts to lose hope. Was he wrong? Is this really just a flower warehouse? If so he’s going to feel terrible about bothering a nice lady. Deciding to dig deeper into the boxes, he starts moving flowers around. After moving aside a few stacks he sees a hint of plastic poking out. Pushing more of the flowers aside, he sees it’s a bag and it’s filled with white powder. He goes back to the last box and finds the same thing. Each box he checks is the same.

That should be enough to get the cops in here. He just needs the proof and then to get out. He can send it to the cops anonymously. It won’t convict anyone but what they find should be enough.

Ryaan pulls out his phone and snaps a few pictures. It’s dark but the flash on his phone illuminates enough of the area that you can see everything. He makes sure to get some photos of the boxes as well. Having everything he needs, he slides his phone back into his pocket and gets ready to make his escape.

“I was so hoping you weren’t going to find that too,” a familiar voice from the dark says. Ryaan spins around, searching for the source, but he can’t see anybody. He starts moving toward the exit but the voice is back. “I wouldn’t do that. If I see you take a few more steps toward that door I’ll have you shot. Come over here in the light and have a chat with me.” If he wasn’t sure who the voice belonged to at first, he definitely is now. Mrs. Grant found him.

She has to be bluffing. It’s one thing to believe that though. It’s another to bet his life on it. “Prove it.”

“I don’t have to do anything you say but fine, I’ll prove it. JJ, step into the light where our guest can see you.” A man holding a gun steps forward with his gun pointed right in Ryaan’s direction. “I have several others here so don’t think he’s the only one you have to avoid. Now come have a chat with me and nobody needs to get hurt.”

Realizing he’s between a rock and a hard place, Ryaan walks toward the man with the gun. He keeps his hand positioned inches from one of his throwing knives, ready to use it at a moment’s notice. Mrs. Grant steps out of the dark and takes a look at him. “Welcome back Ryaan. I was wondering when I’d see you again. I didn’t think it’d be so soon.”

Ryaan’s not sure how to react to that. How does she know who he is? He wants to deny it. She’s clearly dangerous. She knows though. Even his voice will serve as confirmation. Instead of confirming or denying, he stays silent.

She seems to pick up the meaning of his silence. “Oh please Ryaan, of course I know who you are. Not a lot of Arab kids come in here asking about working in my warehouse. The people I hire to work back here know the type of person I’m looking for and would never tell you anything. Asking at all was suspicious. Then you go and pay with a debit card so I can see your name. I could even see you realize how bad an idea that was when you took your card back. A little too late. You’re not very good at this whole vigilante thing. Your snooping was incredibly obvious. Don’t bother denying it, you’re the same height, the same size, the same skin color. I was born at night but it wasn’t last night.”

There’s not much to deny at this point. Finally Ryaan says, “I don’t want any trouble Mrs. Grant. I’ll walk out of here and there doesn’t have to be any issue between me and your guys.”

She sighs. “That doesn’t work anymore Ryaan. If you didn’t see anything that may have been fine. That’s why we didn’t move on you when you first walked in. I’m trying to take this city back for me and my people but I don’t have any direct issue with some dumb kid who’s in over his head. I didn’t need to hurt you today. Then you found something. The camera flash proved it. After that I don’t have much choice. I can’t let you walk out of here without getting something from you.”

He tenses up. “What do you want? I can delete the pictures if that’s what it takes. I’ll even let you delete them yourself if you want.”

“That won’t quite do it I’m afraid. You still know what you know and you might convince someone to check us out. Or you might come back here and snoop around again. Maybe next time I don’t catch you so easily. I can only think of one way I can let you walk out of here.”

“What’s that?”

A smile spreads over her face. “Come work for me. It’s true I usually don’t hire your people. You’ve proven resourceful though and if you’re friends with Mina, that means you’re not so bad. That girl is about the sweetest little girl I’ve ever known. Certainly the sweetest one of your people. That tells me you’re probably a decent young man and I always have uses for resourceful people. You may not have done a great job sneaking into my warehouse but even finding me and what’s going on here is impressive.”

He wants to lie and tell her he can do that. It’s not in him though. “That’s a nice offer Mrs. Grant but I have to turn it down. I’m not going to help you sell drugs and hurt people.”

Glancing around the room, she frowns. “Are you sure about that Ryaan? Your life is going to get a lot more difficult if you turn me down. I’ll also point out that our goal isn’t to hurt people. It’s to help them. This is a short term means to an end.”

“I’m sure.”

“In that case I don’t have much choice.” She turns to the man with the gun standing off to the side. She nods a few times and several other men, also holding guns, step into the light. “Kill him and get rid of the body. Tell me when it’s done.” She starts to walk away.

Squeezing his eyes shut, Ryaan searches for a way out. “You definitely don’t want to do that.”

Pausing, Mrs. Grant doesn’t turn back to him. “Oh really? Why would that be? I don’t like killing a child but what we’re doing here is too important for me to let you go.”

“You don’t want to do that because the cops that are outside, or will be in the next couple minutes, might hear the gunshots. I called them and told them I heard gunfire in your shop a few minutes before I came in. I figured having some backup on the way wasn’t a bad idea. They could be in the front right now and if they come back here and see a dead kid, you might have a problem.”

She walks up to the front of the warehouse and opens the door to the shop. She closes it again after a moment and walks back to the light. “Well it seems your luck has run up. There are no police here. Either you’re lying to try and get yourself out of this or they haven’t shown up yet.” She turns back to her men. “Kill him, but just in case he’s telling the truth, make it fast and quiet.”

Part 16

Part 18

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Hitbox Vol. 1 Finding Your Sea Legs Part 20

He only wakes in fits and starts. He’s not ready to come to terms with it. Not yet. Did they say dead? They can’t be dead.

Faces come and go; he barely notices. What’s going on? Is this a hospital? Is this real or is he dreaming? If its real, he doesn’t really care anymore.

Who’s sitting next to him? An old man. Is that Nowak? He’s in the back of a car hurtling through the streets. It’s dark outside but there’s still a ton of lights flashing in the windows. Wasn’t he just in a hospital?

“Easy kid,” the old man says. He rests a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t try to move. We’re getting you help, just hang in there.” Some details seem off. This isn’t the car Nowak’s been working on for him. It’s the company car. What the hell is going on? This has to be a dream. Nowak doesn’t know anyone at the company. None of it makes any sense.

Staring at him from the chair next to his hospital bed, his sister won’t leave him alone. “You have to try Zach. She wants to see you. After everything you’ve been through together, don’t push her away.”

Every time he sees her face he thinks of that night. She wasn’t even on the boat. She reminds him of his family, of what he’s lost. It’s hard to even look at her. She reminds him of the things he’ll never have again.

Why did he make it? There were so many people on that boat but so few walked away. Why did he survive when so many good people didn’t? Is he supposed to do something now to prove the universe made the right choice? He’s already got so much pressure loaded on him. The heir to the Thomas fortune. Everyone wants him to be something different. Now he’ll have to deal with this?

“We’re so close kid, you need to hang on a little longer. The doctor’s meeting us there. She’s good, you’ll like her,” Nowak says.

Zach’s eyes dart out the windows, trying to hold onto anything. “Where the hell are we?” Everything jumbles together into a blur.

He’s not getting through. Nowak just nods and looks at whoever’s driving them. His body can’t translate for his mind at the moment. “Can’t this thing go any faster?” Nowak’s look of concern instantly turns into a smile when he looks back at Zach. That can’t be a good sign. Has he ever seen the man smile?

“Mr. Thomas, physically you’re fine. You were dehydrated but that’s an easy fix. The problem is you’re not trying. The plan was to have you out of here days ago. You’re refusing food and water and every time we try to give you an IV you throw a fit. We need you to work with us. Let us make you better. Your family needs you right now.”

He’s back in the hospital. His sister’s there again. She doesn’t look as happy to see him this time. Her arms are crossed and she looks like she’s going to throw something. Possibly the magazine crumpled in her hand. “It’s time for you to cut the pity party. Your girlfriend loves you, I love you. We’re all here for you but you have to let us help.” She fades away.

Pavement? He can see the car next to him. Why’s he on the ground? How’d he get here? Three sets of arms try to lift him. He’s still wearing the suit though which means he weighs a lot. Why don’t they take it off him? Guess nobody thought of that as they struggle to pull him down this dock. Wait, he’s on a dock? Why is he going back to the ocean? Drops are bouncing off his face but he can’t tell if they’re from the sky or from the sea. He doesn’t want to go back to the ocean.

Who the hell’s carrying him? From this angle he can only make out the person who has his arms. It’s Lorelei, the woman from the bank. That can’t be right. That settles things, this is all just a terrible dream. Which parts though? Being a vigilante? Returning to the company? The whole episode on the yacht? It doesn’t really matter. He won’t know until he wakes up. Certain he’s already dreaming, Zach allows himself to drift off to sleep.

Part 19

Part 21

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 3

DeMarcus heads back to the building’s atrium so he can head to the next wing. His first thought’s to head straight ahead to C wing. That’s probably where their most important research is being done. Until now he hasn’t drawn his gun but with how long it’s been since Kelleigh last fired, he does so and keeps it raised, his finger on the safety as he advances. Either Kelleigh managed to take all of the shooters out or they’re already back here. They didn’t go to A wing yet but they could be down either of the remaining two or even down both.

Reaching the atrium, he sees one of the armed men round the corner from C wing toward him. The man looks a bit disheveled with his mask slightly out of place. They’ve already been down there and are heading back. DeMarcus dives to the side and starts moving quickly toward B wing instead. He’s not sure if the attacker saw him but he’s trying to balance the need to get away quickly with not wanting to make noise. Even if they didn’t see him, they’ll hear someone sprinting away. He looks down at his heavy boots and wishes he wore something lighter today.

Turning the corner and not seeing anyone ahead, he turn and starts walking backward, only glancing over his shoulder every so often to make sure nobody’s behind him. Reaching the end of the wing and the three labs in this area he still doesn’t see any sign of the shooters. Maybe he lucked out and they didn’t see him. Maybe they went to A wing first. They won’t have any luck there so that would give him time.

He doesn’t waste time entering the first of the three labs in this wing. There’s one on each side of the hall and only one at the end. That’s their biggest lab in the facility. He doesn’t see any scientists here and exits, keeping an eye on the end of the hall at all times. If they went to A wing instead of this one, they’ll find it locked down. No matter which way they went there’s a good chance they’ll be here soon. He’s able to lock down the first lab and move onto the next.

As he enters the lab across the hall he finds the scientists gathered together. They’re not in any better shape than the ones in A wing but at least nothing’s thrown at him this time. No one in this group seems to have the fight for that.

He gestures to the group and everyone comes closer. “Is everyone in this wing in this lab?”

One of the scientists steps forward. “Ya, this should be everybody. We all moved here when we heard the gunfire. We thought the main lab might be too obvious a target so we came here instead.”

Nodding, DeMarcus tries to take a head count. “Good thinking. I’m going to lock you all in and then get the main lab locked down. Just stay quiet. If I can I’ll tell the cops you’re here. The shooters won’t be able to get through the shutters so you’ll be fine. Did you have some people miss work today?”

The scientist nods. “Only two.”

DeMarcus steps out before any scientists can object and once again glances around for any sign of the shooters. There’s still nothing. He starts the lock down procedure and after just a few moments the shutters are coming down. If he’s quick, maybe he can sneak down into C wing before the attackers give up on trying to break into the labs in A wing. It may not be a pretty sight but he can at least lock down anything they didn’t already take and see if anyone there needs help.

As he walks to the final lab in this wing DeMarcus hears a noise behind him. Turning, he sees a shooter round the corner, followed by another. They exchange a knowing look. He takes off running. As he reaches the final lab he starts the lock down procedure without even looking inside. There’s no time. Gunfire starts behind him and he twitches back and forth, nervous that he’s about to take a bullet. One bounces off the wall to his left. He mistypes the password on his first try and has to enter it again. He pulls his gun and points it back at the shooters, firing a few shots without even looking. They try to find some sort of cover which gives him a few more seconds.

The second time’s the charm as the terminal accepts his password. With a sigh of relief DeMarcus sees the shutters start to close. He considers staying and fighting but he’s not getting past these guys. He’s done all he can to help people and locking down two of the three wings isn’t bad considering what he was up against. Doing all he can is one thing but he doesn’t have to try to die.

Before the shutters can fully close DeMarcus lets off a final shot and steps inside, ducking behind the wall. It’s only a few seconds later when the door closes and he’s safely away from the people trying to shoot him. He takes a moment to inspect himself for any sign of injury. As much adrenaline as he has pumping through him, he’s not sure he would have noticed if he was shot. A quick once over reveals no issues.

Content that he’s okay he considers calling Jesse. Now that he’s safely locked up he can tell him. Or maybe he can get through to the cops and figure out what their status is and how long he’s likely to be stuck here. He’d really like to know if Kelleigh or any of the other guards made it too.

Before doing so DeMarcus turns to analyze the lab and what he sees makes the blood run out of his face. There’s a large chemical container directly across from the door and it now has several bullet holes in it. Apparently the shooters weren’t very good shots. As he sees the gas streaming out and starting to fill the lab, all he can say is, “Fuck.” Maybe he should have taken his chances with the shooters after all.

Part 2

Part 4

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 19

Cruising along in Shin’s beautiful blue convertible, Jia enjoys gazing at the twinkling stars above her. It’s a nice night and she’s comfortable in a tank top and jeans. They’re driving away from the city and there aren’t many street lights out here. It makes the starts really pop. She’s still working her brother for any details that could help her but he remains tight lipped. “Do you know who I need to talk to in this place? How many people am I looking at?”

Looking comfortable behind the wheel, Shin shrugs. “Depends on who shows up tonight. Around fifteen guys are there on an average night. There might be a few people who aren’t in the gang there but there won’t be a lot beyond the staff. They pretty much take over the place at night. Give it a few minutes and anyone who isn’t in the gang will be chased off. If you see a big bald guy with a nose that looks like it’s been broken a few too many times, that’s Rocco. He’s probably the best person to talk to. If he’s not there just ask the bartender who you need to speak with for business. They should point you in the right direction.”

This may be the nicest car Jia has ever found herself in. The seats are so soft she feels like she could get lost in them and she loves the feel of the wind whipping her face with the top down. “You know, I think this is the first time I’ve ever been in a convertible except with Carly in San Francisco a few weeks ago. I was too busy trying to keep her from killing us to enjoy it but this is nice. I don’t want to know how you can afford it, do I?”

“Bought it with my loan, nothing too terrible. Look, I can’t go in there or they might kill me on the spot. I’ll drop you off close and stay close though in case you need to get away fast. I have my phone. If you get a chance, look for a girl with a pink mohawk. That’s my friend Jillian. She’s there most nights. She’s cool and unlike most of the people in there, she doesn’t want me dead. She might help you. At the very least I’d appreciate her having a heads up so she can get the hell out of there. We’re getting close. I’ll cruise by and drop you off down the street.”

The bar they pass looks like it’s seen better days. It’s a wooden building in a part of town where you don’t see a lot of buildings, let alone businesses. The next building is a run down house probably a quarter mile away. The wood’s painted red but it’s starting to peel in spots as is the wood itself. One of the two windows on the front of the building is boarded over. There’s a sign hanging from a poll that says, “Have a Brew,” out front but there’s no sign of a name or anything else to tell you to come in and have a drink.

“They hang out here?” Jia asks her brother.

They slow down significantly so Jia can get a look. “Ya, it’s out of the way, not a lot of random people wander in. The few who do, if they just get a drink and go before long are mostly left alone. Anyone who lingers is told to get lost, at least at night. It’s pretty dead during the day so nobody cares what happens then but at night they prefer privacy. Maybe we should actually come back during the day.”

“I have to work and besides, the whole point is to talk to these guys. It’s not going to do me much good to show up when they’re not here.”

Shin speeds back up as they get further away. “Alright, I just don’t want you getting hurt because I’m an idiot. You don’t have to do this. I can try and straighten things out with them myself.”

“You’re going to do that how? You’re afraid to show your face around them.”

They finally park on the side of the road, not far from the bar. He shifts in his seat looking away from her. “I can try to get Jillian to help. I really don’t want to get her involved, but if it’s my only option we can give it a try.”

“Forget it, we’re here. I’m going in. Stay close and keep your phone on.” With that, Jia climbs over the side of the car and reaches into the back to get her jacket. Trying to appear confident, she heads toward the bar.

Reaching the parking lot, she counts nine cars. Maybe tonight’s a slow night. If things go bad she’ll be thankful for that. The screen door’s the only thing that needs opening but it sticks and makes a loud clang as she pulls it open. The screen itself has a number of tears in it and has definitely seen better days. The first thing that hits her as she walks in is the overwhelming smell of sweat.

Looking around the bar, there’s actually less people than she expected to find even from the cars. She sees a grand total of eleven people including the bartender who is half asleep behind the bar. There’s only three women among the group. The bartender’s the first, with the second being slumped in a booth in the back between two men wearing sun glasses even though the lighting in here can only be described as dim.

The third has to be Jillian. Jia can’t imagine there are two women with pink mohawks who hang around with this gang. It takes a minute but Jia recognizes her. She’s a fighter and they’ve faced off in competition a few times, though that was years ago before she went to college. In those days Jillian wasn’t rocking a pink mohawk but it’s definitely the same girl. She’s sitting with three large men in another booth in the back. One of those men fits Shin’s description of Rocco. Their whole table looks drunk and the stack of empty bottles surrounding them helps confirm it.

Making her way to the bar, Jia can’t help but notice that everyone in the place is staring at her. They try to look like they aren’t and most soon return to their drinks but they’re paying attention to this unknown girl. The sticky door didn’t help her stay incognito. The bartender perks up as she gets close. She doesn’t say anything at first, waiting for Jia to make the first move. She sits on a stool and leans forward. “Can I get a scotch and soda?”

The woman hesitates but nods and goes to make the drink. It only takes a minute. As she sets it in front of Jia the woman says, “Here you go. How’d you find our bar? We don’t get a lot of random people out here. Mostly just our regulars.”

“Just driving along and saw the sign. Figured I’d check it out. Big fan of little dive bars. Doesn’t seem to be much of a crowd for this time of night though.”

The woman grabs a rag and starts wiping the counter down. “It’s a slow night but we don’t get that much busier than this. Enjoy your drink. After you’re done though, it might be a good idea to move on. The regulars kind of like having this place to themselves. Some of the guys here are a little unpolished too. I don’t want you to have a bad night.”

“Sounds like a hard way to run a business.”

“Real good tippers. We’d do worse if they stopped coming in. Just offering free advice, take it or leave it.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind.” With that, the bartender goes to the end of the bar where one of the guys is standing wanting a couple more beers. Jia keeps her words in mind, but decides to make her drink last as long as she can. Sipping it slowly, she looks for an opportunity to get Jillian alone.

Twenty minutes pass and she’s getting tired of watching sports scores scroll by on the TV. Her drink’s starting to get low and what remains is watered down. She can feel eyes on her. Nobody has come up to her yet but the bartender isn’t making any move to offer another drink. She has a feeling that once this glass is empty she’s going to be handed her check.

Jillian hasn’t made any move away from her table. One member of their group got up and left but she’s still surrounded by two men and there’s no opportunity to get her alone and warn her. Even if she approached the bar this place is way too quiet to have a conversation without everyone else hearing. The people in the back seem to be practically whispering to keep others from hearing them. To keep her from hearing them.

Feeling a buzz in her pocket, Jia realizes her phone’s going off. She pulls it out to check who it is but realizes it’s just an email. The buzz gives her an idea. She shoots a text to Shin telling him to text his friend and ask her to run to the bathroom. That’s the one place here they might be able to chat.

With that text sent Jia chugs the remainder of her drink and gets the bartender’s attention. She puts a twenty on the bar. “Where’s the ladies’ room in this place? I need to go before I get out of here.”

The woman points her to a small hall in the far corner of the place but quietly says, “Once you’re done with that, I’d go. Some of the boys are starting to get antsy.”

A word of thanks later and Jia’s heading for the bathroom. The hall’s not short but there’s a room at the end with an office sign which is sitting slightly open. She makes her way into a stall and leans against the wall. A few minutes of standing around go by without anyone following her. She considers just heading back out and confronting Rocco. She tried to give the friend a warning. There’s not much else she can do. Just as she’s about to head out though the door swings open and under the stall she can make out a pair of leather military boots. Definitely not something the bartender would be wearing. That leaves only a few possible women who could be joining her.

Exiting the stall, Jillian’s standing there staring at her with a pissed look on her face. Jia tries to make a good first impression and offers her hand. “Hi, you must be Jillian. My name’s Jia. I’m Shin’s sister.”

Without missing a beat Jillian steps forward and gets in her face. She ignores the hand. “I know who you are. I knew as soon as you walked in this place. I was hoping you were smart enough to leave. You need to get out of here now before shit gets bad. The guys at my table are ready to jump you and throw you out the door.”

Jia frowns. She needs this woman’s help. “I actually need to talk to them. I want to work something out so they forgive Shin’s debt and don’t make him rob any more houses.”

Jillian frowns. “You know about that huh? Look, last night was his way out of the debt and he blew it. I don’t know what happened but he needed to steal that shit and bring it back to these guys. They’re not going to give him another chance. They want to make an example of him and beat the shit out of him.”

“I won’t let them do that.”

Jillian sighs. “Look, you don’t have to worry that much. They aren’t going to kill him as long as he agrees to make payments over time. He owes enough money that they aren’t going to throw that down the toilet if they think there’s a chance they can get it back. He’s going to have to take that beating though.”

“That’s not going to happen. I caught him in the middle of robbing that place. I’m a registered vigilante and had to stop him. He’ll make payments, I can promise that. I want to work it out so the beating part doesn’t happen though.”

Jillian’s jaw drops. “Now you really need to get out of here. If they find out you’re a vigilante and you know who they are, they might kill you. You don’t owe them any money. They’re not going to skip the beating anyway. Zero chance of that. He’s my friend and if I thought we could help him I’d already be doing it but Rocco’s a jerk.”

“I didn’t come here for permission. I promised Shin I’d try to warn you before I talked to Rocco in case things go bad. I’m just doing what I said I would. You should probably go out first and find an excuse to get out of here. Go outside and smoke or something. Is that Rocco you were sitting with out there?”

For a moment Jia fears Jillian’s going to jump her but slowly she nods. “You can talk to him if you want but it’s a really bad idea. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ll make an excuse to go outside for a few but if things go bad and I have to fight, I will. I like Shin and want to help him but if it comes down to a fight, I’m going to back those guys up. They’re assholes but they’re my assholes and if I don’t, I’m going to end up just like your stupid brother.” She pulls a phone out and glances at it. “Wait a few minutes after I leave before you follow me out. I’ll make an excuse for why you’re still in here before I bail. That’s all I can do for you though.”

With that Jillian washes her hands and heads out. The door slams behind her.

Part 18

Part 20

Dynamo Vol. 1 Greater Heights Part 15

After she gets off work the next day Kalenia can’t wait to get home. She has a beautiful new shotgun in her trunk which she loved firing on lunch. Roy even threw in a case for it. It’s beautiful but made her feel even worse about the price. She’s pretty sure the case cost more than Roy charged her for the whole thing, but he insisted he wouldn’t take any more and she didn’t want to insult him. Marco’s supposed to be home tonight so she’s eager to get home and hear about his trip. Before she can do so she has another stop to make.

Ever since deciding to be a vigilante, she’s wanted some tech to help her when she’s out. Nothing too fancy, but some basic gear could keep her safe. A co-worker recommended his security guy and after researching him she’s pretty sure he can give her everything she needs. Her co-worker offered to set a meeting up but she declined. She wants to give this guy as little information about her as possible. She’s still worried people are going to connect her being a vigilante to her being a civil rights lawyer. Her life will stay a lot simpler if she can prevent that.

Huntington Security usually closes around the same time she gets off work but she gave them a call and the man working agreed to stay open an extra hour to try and make a sale.

At first glance Kalenia can’t say she’s impressed with his shop. It’s a nondescript brown storefront that says, “Huntington Security,” on the large glass window. Nothing else stands out and the name on the glass is the only signage. You could easily drive by and never notice this place.

Before walking inside she pauses and slips her mask over her face. She thought about putting her full outfit on but decided that was overkill. The mask should be enough to make identifying her hard if it ever becomes an issue. When he asked for her name on the phone she declined to give it and told him she’d prefer to remain anonymous if nothing she’s purchasing prevents it. He told her it would depend on what she wanted but they could go over it tonight.

The front door’s unlocked but as she enters Kalenia doesn’t see anyone around. A bell rung when the door opened which you would assume is meant to alert someone to her presence. After a couple minutes though, no one has emerged. Kalenia calls out for assistance but her, “Hello?” doesn’t seem to get anyone’s attention.

Her patience giving way, she’s about to leave when a tall, thin, good looking but clearly older man comes rushing out from the back. He’s still in the process of drying his hands on a paper towel. “Sorry, sorry, I was on the can. How can I help you tonight?” As he says this he extends his hand.

This doesn’t make Kalenia want to stay any more but she’s already waited this long. She gives the man a very slight hand shake and looks around the shop. “I called earlier today. Whoever I talked to said you’d stay open a little late so we could go over my needs.”

“Oh, right. The one who didn’t want to give her name. Also apparently don’t want me to know what you look like judging by that,” he says as he points to her mask. “I’m Ron Huntington by the way, I’m who you talked to earlier.”

“Nice to meet you Ron. Sorry about the name thing, I’m a vigilante and I think it’s best to keep that separate from my personal life.”

“Picked up on that from the mask.”

“Right. Well, I need some tech to help me when I’m in the field. I really don’t know a lot about this sort of thing and don’t have much of a clue where to get started. I was hoping you could guide me and we can work out some sort of package.”

Leaning on the counter, he rests his head on his hand. “Depends what you’re looking for but sure, we can probably work something out. What were you thinking?”

Nothing in the place catches her eye. “Well, like I said, I really don’t have a clue what I’m going to need. I’m really not great with technology. My assistant has to fix my computer at least a few times a week. What do you think would be a good idea?”

His smile widens. She figures he’s taking her for an easy mark. “Can’t really say. I haven’t given much thought to what a vigilante needs to be quite honest. Never had much appeal to me. Can’t imagine why I’d want to run around getting shot at. We can probably figure it out though. Let’s take a look around.”

The man shows Kalenia around the shop to demonstrate everything he offers that might help. Not much seems useful until they come to a sleek drone. It’s not cheap but it comes with a tablet so you can easily see what it’s seeing. It even has an option to add night vision which could be helpful. Spotlights are built in as well. Being able to scout an area ahead of time has obvious advantages so it goes in the cart.

Outside of the drone she sees a lot of stuff she could put in her house but not much to help her be a vigilante. She considers a security system for her garage though if she’ll be storing gear there. When it starts looking like the only things he’s going to sell her are the drone and a couple tactical flashlights which have different light levels for different situations, Ron says, “I may have a few other things that can help you if you’re interested. Things that I don’t necessarily keep out here for the general public.”

“Like what?”

Walking behind the counter, he pulls out a binder which has a lock on it. A small key’s inserted and he pushes images before her. “How does a police scanner sound? I can have it installed to your radio system if you leave you car for a few hours. You’ll be able to pick up all the local signals.”

Her mask hides her surprise. “You don’t need my name for that?”

“It’s probably better I don’t get your name for that seeing as it’s illegal. If you’re interested though I have some friends who can provide the unit and I can install it.”

“Whatever it takes to protect the public.” She’s feeling better by the minute. She agrees to drop her car off the next morning to get the work taken care of and she’s given a total. It’s not cheap but she stopped and got a bunch of cash earlier and she’s glad to have enough. Putting it on a card wouldn’t exactly keep her anonymity.

Running into the back to grab her a drone still in the packaging, Ron comes back hauling a bulky cardboard box. Before he can hand it over, he sets it down on the counter. “Just a thought, but what if I were to install this in your trunk? I’ll make a dock it can connect to for charging, plus you’ll be able to pop your trunk and fly it from within the car if you’re driving and need to send it up. Just keep the controls with you. I can even mount the screen into your dash. It’ll just look like one of those touch screen systems all the cars are getting now. That would be pretty cool and it seems like it could be useful for a vigilante.”

Looking into her wallet, she says, “How much would that run me?”

“I’d give you a good price, you’re paying me a fair amount and I appreciate the business. Besides, I’ve never done it and if it works like I think it will, it’s something I can offer going forward. As many people as I see signing up to be vigilantes, I don’t think you’re going to be my last customer wearing a mask. How about another three hundred?”

Kalenia hesitates. It’s not a bad price but she doesn’t have that much cash on her. She really hadn’t planned on how expensive the drone was going to be. “That seems fair but I only have another $220.00 on me.”

“That’s fine, I’ll take that.” He reaches out and grabs the cash from her. “I actually think I’ll enjoy doing this. Just drop your car off tomorrow morning and I’ll get everything taken care of from there. It’ll be ready for you tomorrow night.”

Part 14

Part 16

Rebel Rebel Vol. 1 Define Success Part 16

The rest of the day passes slowly. Every minute feels like ten. Considering what he has to look forward to after school, that should be a good thing. Now that he has plans tonight though it feels like torture. By the time the bell rings Ryaan’s practically shaking. Hurrying home, he regrets he can’t dawdle on the way. His dad won’t be home for a few hours after all and it’d be a great chance to hit the streets. The problem is his youngest sister Lana’s an open book. If he’s not home quick his dad will find out. Then he’d be in even more trouble.

Dinner’s fine; Nadia cooked tonight so they don’t have to stomach their dad’s cooking. It’s just hamburger helper but she adds extra cheese which is awesome. His dad’s still angry and he’s struggling to make conversation with his daughters while ignoring Ryaan.

Once he’s done eating Ryaan heads to his room. He’s only grounded to the house but he figures this is as good a way as any to avoid his dad’s wrath.

Almost as if on cue the doorbell rings at six o’clock. His dad’s the one who answers the door. “Nadia, your friend is here. Get in here.”

Sneaking onto the stairs above the kitchen, Ryaan gets close enough that he can listen in on everything that happens.

Nadia’s voice is spiking and she sounds like she can’t stand still. “It’s awesome to see you. I don’t even know the last time we hung out. I miss you.”

Mina says, “I miss you too. High school work takes a lot longer and I get so little free time but we need to hang out more. That’s actually why I stopped by. My mom wants some flowers for the house so I need to go over to the flower shop on Cicero. I was wondering if you want to come. It’ll only take an hour or two to get there and back.”

“That sounds fun. It’ll give us a chance to catch up. Let me check with my dad.” There’s a slight pause and Nadia raises her voice. “Dad, can I go with Mina to the flower shop on Cicero? We’ll only be an hour or two.”

Their dad hesitates. “It’s getting late. It’ll be dark soon. Why don’t you just stay here and catch up?”

Mina jumps in before Nadia can answer. “I wish I could Mr. Asfour but my mom really wants those flowers so I need to get them. Why doesn’t Ryaan come with us though? That way we’ll be safe if it gets dark before we get back.”

Their dad doesn’t hesitate this time. “He’s grounded. He can’t go anywhere.”

They all get quiet for a minute before Nadia speaks up, barely above a whisper. “Dad, can I have a word with you real quick? In private.”

She marches into the kitchen and Ryaan tries to keep quiet as they get close. He’s sitting just above them and doesn’t want to be caught listening in. Their dad follows Nadia into the kitchen. “I know you want to go but it’s too late and your brother is grounded. I’m sorry but I’m putting my foot down.”

Nadia isn’t having it. “The only reason I don’t see her anymore is that she’s uncomfortable hanging out here because you make her uncomfortable. Her mom was mom’s friend and now she thinks you don’t like her. No wonder she doesn’t want to spend time with me. Just let us go. I miss my friend and want to see her. We’ll be as fast as we can be and I promise we’ll make sure Ryaan doesn’t have fun.”

Ryaan can’t believe Nadia pulled the mom card. He’d have never dared bring her up to their dad for anything. Let alone to try and get his way. After what seems like a very long silence though their dad shouts, “Ryaan, get down here. Now.”

Ryaan tries to make as much noise as he can to suggest he was in his room before making his way down to the kitchen where his sister and their dad are still standing. “What’s up dad?”

“You are taking your sister and her friend to the flower shop. You are not to have fun and you are to get back here as quickly as possible. Do you understand?”

He grins from ear to ear. “Ya, that’s not a problem dad. I can walk them over.”

“Good.” He gives Nadia a pained look before heading past Ryaan and going upstairs.

Nadia says, “You’re welcome,” before heading to the living room to give Mina the good news.

Lana’s sitting in front of the television, mostly dead to the world around her. When she hears shoes being slipped on she seems to wake up. “Can I come with you too? I love flowers.”

Before either of her siblings can respond Mina walks up to her and grins. “I’d love to have you come Lana but I don’t think your dad would allow it this late. He barely wanted to let Nadia go. I promise I’ll come over and we can all hang out soon though. Does that sound good?”

Lana clearly doesn’t like it. “Fine, whatever,” she says before returning to her television show. The two older girls rush out the front door and Ryaan follows. It’s a nice evening out and the sun’s still in the sky, though it’s definitely on it’s way to bed. It’s not warm but it’s also not cold for this time of year. None of them grabbed a coat and none of them are shivering. It’s hard to believe that night will become an issue before they get back but it could if they take too long.

The girls run out in front while Ryaan follows quietly. They excitedly talk about school, sports and everything else going on in their lives. Mina turns back to Ryaan. “You’re being quiet Ryaan, how are you doing?”

Before he can answer Nadia says, “Other than staying out until after midnight and making dad mad you mean? You know we all have to deal with him now, right?”

Groaning, Ryaan hurries to keep up with them. “I’m sorry I was out late, okay? I lost track of time. I probably should have just stayed over but I wanted to sleep in my own bed.”

Nadia shakes her head. “Not good enough, now dad’s going to be stomping around the house for at least the next week. I’m going to have to do all the cooking too.”

Ryaan puts a finger up. “That’s probably a good thing. You know you don’t want to eat anything he makes.”

“Maybe not but cooking’s hard. I don’t want to do it every day. Why don’t you make dinner one of these nights?”

“Sure, I can do that, as long as I get home in time and it’s something simple. You’re better at it than me but I can make some macaroni and cheese or something.”

“Whatever you want, as long as I don’t have to do it.”

Soon they arrive at the flower shop on Cicero. Warehouse was a good description of this place. The storefront is wide but doesn’t look deep. The building itself goes way back though. There’s an alleyway on one side of the building where Ryaan sees a side entrance. The sign’s bright and vibrant and the front window shows off beautiful flower arrangements.

As they enter, Ryaan’s hit by the fresh smell. A bell on the door rings for a moment. There are beautiful flowers everywhere, though not so many you’d need a warehouse that size to store them. What’s going on back there? They’re initially alone in the shop but seemingly hearing the bell, an older woman with pale skin and long black hair enters from the back room. She’s probably in her late fifties or early sixties with skin that’s starting to wrinkle. Her hair hasn’t started to change color yet, or at the least she dyes it. She’s wearing an expensive looking blue and purple striped dress that matches a flower display near the counter.

The woman smiles wide as she enters the room. “Welcome to Lovely Lovely Flowers. I’m Mrs. Grant. What can I help you find today?” As she finishes she recognizes Mina. “Oh hello Mina, does your mother need some new flowers?”

Mina nods. “Ya, she wants a few different ones. I have a list so I’ll get them together.” Turning to Nadia she asks, “Want to help me? I need four different kinds.”

Nadia agrees and the girls start their search for everything on Mina’s list. Ryaan wonders if she actually got a list from her mom or if she made this up.

Something about the owner’s voice sounds familiar but Ryaan can’t place where he knows it from. He’s almost certain he recognizes it though which worries him. With the girls off searching the other side of the shop, Ryaan’s left alone with Mrs. Grant. “This is a lovely shop Mrs. Grant. Do you run it all on your own?”

She smiles and leans on the counter. “Thank you very much young man. I do for the most part. I have some help that works the warehouse in back but I’m the only one up here.”

“That makes sense. That seems like a really big warehouse back there. Does that hold all of the flowers or do you have other warehouses? Actually, this one seems pretty big for the size of the shop.”

She nods. “It is very large, to tell you the truth we don’t need it all. Half of it’s empty. It’s what came with the building though and when I opened up here I loved the location and the building just seemed perfect. I wish I could still say the same.”

He frowns. “What’s wrong with the location and building now? How long have you been here?”

She pauses to think. “Almost thirty years. Me and my late husband opened this place together. He was the real flower expert, though I’ve picked up a few things over the years. The building’s still fine but the city seems to be falling apart. Not just this neighborhood, everywhere. My husband was killed walking home from here one night ten years ago and things have only gotten worse. Someone needs to take this city back.”

Ryaan suddenly knows exactly where he recognizes that voice from. She’s the woman who addressed the warehouse the other night after they finished loading their truck. The leader of the whole group is standing right in front of him. That more or less tells him this is the right place. His mind wants to freeze up but he fights through it. He needs to say something so she doesn’t get suspicious. “I’m sorry about your husband. That’s very sad.”

She looks away and starts messing with something behind the counter. “Yes, well it was a long time ago. Things are changing in the city. The vigilantes might just be able to wash this off the street and if they don’t, there’s other people who will. I just try to sell my flowers and hang on until that happens.”

Ryaan nods. He needs an excuse to come back here tonight. He finds a nice flower arrangement that’s not too expensive and turns to Nadia. “Do you think Lana would like this? I feel bad that she couldn’t come. Maybe I’ll bring her some flowers to make up for it.”

“She’d probably love them,” Nadia says with a shrug. “She loves presents.”

Ryaan turns back to Mrs. Grant. “I’ll take these.” As she starts to ring them up he says, “By the way, some guys at my school mentioned I might ask a guy named Eddie who works here about a job or something. I don’t really know the details but I could definitely use a job.”

The woman’s eyes narrow and she seems to be processing how to answer. “Yes, Eddie is one of my warehouse hands. He sometimes hires people to load the trucks. That must be what your classmates were talking about. We have all the help we need at the moment. I don’t think we’ll be needing your help anytime soon. Thank you for the interest though. That will be $13.61.”

Shot down, Ryaan reaches into his wallet and hands her his debit card. She goes to run it but before she can Ryaan realizes what a terrible idea it is to give the leader of a gang something with his name on it. “Actually, I have cash.” She just smiles as he takes his card back and hands her cash instead. As he puts the wallet away, he makes a point to slide it into his backpack instead of back into his pocket. Hopefully that will plant the seed which will get him back here tonight.

Mina gets the rest of her flowers together and carries them to the counter. Ryaan wonders how she’ll carry them but Mrs. Grant reaches under the counter and pulls out some sort of carrier which they all fit into nicely. After Mina pays and she says her goodbyes to the owner they’re on their way.

Ryaan spends the entire walk home desperate to go over what he learned with Mina. If they start whispering in front of Nadia though she’s likely to get the wrong idea. Instead they walk along making small talk and carrying their flowers. They made good time getting home. It’s only about seven thirty and it’s still fairly light out, though the sun’s starting to set.

Reaching home, he hangs back a bit, letting Nadia get ahead. Mina seems to notice what he’s doing and she hangs back as well. This gives him just enough space to say, “I’m about to try something. If it works, hang back for a minute or two so I can talk to you, okay?” Mina nods and they follow Nadia inside.

Lana’s still sitting there watching TV. She doesn’t look to have moved. Their dad has made his way back downstairs. He’s sitting in a chair not far from Lana, caught up in a book. He glances at his watch when they make their way inside but doesn’t say anything.

Making his way to Lana, Ryaan gives her a light nudge on the shoulder. “I brought you something kid.”

Upon seeing the flowers Lana’s eyes go wide and she snatches them away. They’re blue, her favorite color. She sets them down just long enough to wrap her arms around Ryaan’s neck and give him a big hug. “I love them big brother. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m going to go put them in my room next to my bed.”

Ryaan laughs. “Alright, but they need sun so put them on the side by your window. Make sure to water them at least a little every day too. If you do that they’ll last longer. Think you can handle it?”

Lana confirms she can before running off to put her flowers where she wants them. Nadia turns to Mina and asks, “Can you stay and hang out for awhile? I know Lana would love it.”

Mina frowns. “I really wish I could but my mom’s going to want her flowers soon and it’s starting to get late. I should get going. How about I stop by tomorrow? We can spend most of the day hanging out and catch up. My homework will still be there Sunday.”

Nadia continues the hugging trend, wrapping Mina in a big one. “Sounds awesome. Be careful walking home, okay?”

Ryaan pats at his pockets as if he’s looking for something before saying, “Hey dad, I think I need to go back to the flower shop.”

“You’re grounded. You aren’t going anywhere else.” He’s still looking at his book. Ryaan’s surprised he wasn’t mad about buying the flowers for Lana. It’s awfully close to fun.

“I think I have to dad. I don’t have my wallet. I must have left it there when I bought the flowers for Lana. If I hurry though I should be able to get back before they close. I promise I’ll go straight there and come straight back.”

Their dad frowns as if looking for an excuse to say no. “I’d drive you but I’ve had a few drinks and probably shouldn’t. Fine, go straight there and come straight back. Actually, Mina doesn’t live far out of the way, does she?”

Ryaan turns to Mina. “I don’t think so, are you still over on Watercrest Street?” He knows the answer but can’t let on that he’s been seeing a lot of Mina the last week or two.

She confirms she still lives there and Ryaan’s dad says, “Fine, then walk her home so she gets there safely. Once you’re done with that go to the flower shop and get your wallet. You are to come straight home after that. Do you understand me?”

“Yes sir, thank you.” Turning to Mina, Ryaan says, “We should get going if I’m going to make it back there before the place closes. You ready?”

Mina nods and the pair finish their goodbyes and head out. Ryaan runs to the garage where he stashed an extra backpack earlier. He trades it for the one he carried on the first trip. Inside he’s got all his gear ready.

Once they’re safely away from the house Mina asks, “Why are you going back? What did you pick up talking to the owner?”

He glances over his shoulder to make sure his dad’s not watching. “I know her. She was at the warehouse last night. She’s the leader of their whole group. I knew her voice right away and she said something so similar to what she said last night that I’m certain it’s her. That warehouse has to have more going on than just storing flowers. I’m going to check it out.”

Mina’s eyes go wide. “So wait, did you leave your wallet there as an excuse to go back?”

“No, I have my wallet. It’s in my backpack. I just needed an excuse to get back out. He was never going to let me go otherwise. Are your parents home?”

“Probably not. They went out to dinner at a friend’s house. They usually stay after to talk so they shouldn’t be back for a few hours.”

“Great. Can I change at your place? I have to be quick. If I take too long my dad’s going to lose it again.”

She looks at the ground, trying not to let him see her blush. “That’s fine. Where are you going to change back when you come home though? Can you wear your regular clothes under your costume?”

Frowning, he realizes he doesn’t have an answer. “No, it’s too tight. I might be able to get most of my clothes back on over it though. I hope so because I don’t know what else to do.”

Mina’s parents aren’t home when they reach her house. “Hurry up and get changed and out of here. If my parents come home and find a guy getting changed they’ll murder me.”

Ryaan gets into his costume and puts on his mask. Looking at himself in the bathroom mirror, he can’t wait for Mina to finish up his new costume. It can’t be worse than this. Exiting the bathroom he says his goodbyes and gets ready to go. As he walks out Mina says, “Don’t you dare forget to text me when this is over. Call me if you need help.” Promising not to let her down again, he hurries out the door.

Part 15

Part 17

Hitbox Vol. 1 Finding Your Sea Legs Part 19

Fighting to get back on his feet, Zach Thomas heads for the staircase. As he reaches them he turns back just long enough to see the first pair of civilians run out the front doors of the bank. Lorelei’s standing at the back of the group with a gun back in her hands. She’s aiming in the direction of the vault in case the thieves return before Zach can get there.

Zach rushes back to the third floor. He takes the first few steps two at a time but quickly abandons the idea. He considers stopping on the second floor to make sure the guys he shocked are still out but there’s no time and unless they’re superhuman, they should be.

Reaching the office where he stashed his gear, he’s relieved to find it still sitting where he left it. There’s no sign anyone has been in here. He starts to suit back up but finds it a lot more difficult on his own. His tech guy, Mr. Nowak, has been there to help him every time he’s gotten into it before. They’re going to have to figure out a way for one person to easily do this. It takes more time than he likes and at one point he’s just standing there slamming his back into a wall, but eventually he does manage to get dressed on his own.

Knowing it’s been too long, he takes the stairs down two at a time to get back to the lobby. He’s a little surprised to see there are still hostages there but the majority are gone. Lorelei’s trying to usher the last of them out. From across the hall Zach says, “Things okay? Any sign of them?”

“Not yet, but they can’t be long. You go, I’ll follow as soon as I can.”

He waves her away. “It’s okay, get yourself out. I’ll handle these guys. Send the cops in but make sure they secure the lobby, the guys on the upper terrace, and the guy on the roof before following me.”

Why did he turn down her help? Not waiting for an answer, Zach rounds the counter and approaches the tall double doors that lead to the vault. It’s been a long time. Why haven’t any of the robbers come back?

Using his helmet to pull up a set of blueprints, he confirms there isn’t any way out of the bank back there. Did they not hear the gunfire? Maybe the issue is that they did hear it. Trying to stay calm, he runs through the next steps in his head. He just has to walk down the hall behind these doors, then down another set of halls and the vault will be waiting there at the end. Not that complex. He can handle this. He has to.

Opening one of the doors just enough to get his head through, he sees no sign of the robbers. At the end of the hall are a couple of vases and one is knocked over and broken but that’s the only sign anyone has been here. Stepping into the hallway, one hand lightly grasps his baton while the other hovers near his smoke grenades.

Making it to the next set of doors, he takes a moment to try and calm himself. Deep breaths aren’t doing it. He’d almost rather be back behind that pillar. At least then there was so much going on that he couldn’t think. Now his mind won’t shut up. Grabbing the handle of the next doors, he starts to pull it open. The second he does, machine gun fire’s bouncing off the door. Jumping backwards, the door slams shut. A few seconds later the gunfire stops. Another attempt to pull the door open starts the whole process once more.

What’s the plan for these guys? There’s no getting out of there. The city will throw the entire police force at them if necessary. Are they planning to die in a blaze of gunfire? Do they have a message? Or are they just panicking? For all they know, the person opening the door could be one of the other robbers coming to check on them.

A third attempt to pull the door open isn’t met with gunfire. If anything this makes Zach more nervous. Pulling it a little more, there’s still no reaction. With enough room to slip his head through now, he glances around the corner. There’s no sign of anybody in the next hall either. The vault sits at the end of the hall, wide open with deposit drawers thrown everywhere. It takes a moment but finally he notices one person. There’s a security guard sitting in the back of the vault, slumped on his side against the wall with his hat having fallen from his head. He’s not moving. Hopefully he’s just unconscious.

There’s still no sign of the robbers but they have to be here. They’re trying to catch him off guard, laying in wait. He decides to surprise them instead. Powering his heat vision up, he quickly finds where one of them’s hiding. Just outside the vault are a pair of marble pillars similar to the one he hid behind earlier. One of the thieves is behind the one on the left. The other two aren’t showing up though. Lorelei definitely said three of them came this way, but maybe the others are inside the vault. He can’t make out much in there and it’s possible the thick metal’s stopping his gear.

Zach inches his hand toward a smoke grenade. He wants every advantage and he knows they’ll open fire again at the first sign of sudden movement. If he blinds them though they won’t know where to shoot. He pulls the pin on the grenade before he grabs it, trying to keep his plan a secret until the last moment. Smoke starts to billow out and at that point he grabs the grenade and throws it as far as he can.

It doesn’t go as far as he hoped. Smoke fills the hallway ahead of him but he can already tell it’s not going to reach the vault. With his plan now obvious the robbers jump out. One comes from each side of the vault and one from behind the pillar. All three open fire.

Zach tries to make himself a more difficult target by zig zagging as he rushes through the hall. Bullets bounce off his body armor and although he’s grateful it’s holding up and he’s not dead, it still hurts. He grabs for his other smokes and tries to toss them further down the hall. One falls to the side of the vault but one bounces inside which is what he was hoping for in the first place. With his plan starting to come together, he moves in.

Despite his erratic movements if his opponents worked together they could probably fill the whole hall with gunfire. Luckily they’re panicking too much to coordinate. A few bullets are still bouncing off of him but most are nowhere close. When one goes off his head, he reminds himself to thank Nowak later.

When he nears the vault one of the shooters seems to hear his footsteps. They turn to face him and their gun rises to point right at his head. Without thinking he dives out of the way, just avoiding the gunfire. His suit should have protected him but when a gun aims at your head, you move. Hitting the ground awkwardly, his electric baton goes sliding and all the air is pushed from his lungs. Pulling himself into a sitting position, he grabs his shock gun off his back. The closest man’s back behind the pillar though and he doesn’t have a shot.

Needing cover, he gets to his feet and rushes to the far side of the pillar. Only feet from his attacker, he takes a deep breath and hopes he’s not about to see his parents. Diving to the side, he pushes his shock gun right into the shooter’s neck. He pulls the trigger and can feel the feedback as the gun pumps electricity into the man at full power.

The man flops to the ground and starts to shake. Zach worries he may have overdone it a bit when the man doesn’t stop twitching but right now he has to take every precaution.

Searching through the smoke for his baton, he finds it laying against the wall on the other side of the hall. By the time he locates it the smoke’s starting to thin out and he needs to move fast to keep his advantage. Heading into the vault, he tries to be as quiet as possible. The floor in here’s a different material and makes more noise as he walks. There’s a robber on each side of him. They’re both on edge but neither seems to realize he’s in the vault. Approaching the first one with baton in hand, he jams it into the man’s side. Controlled lightning shoots through the man’s body.

Unlike his friend outside, he isn’t going down quietly. He lets out a shout and tries to turn before hitting the ground. The noise lasts only a moment but it’s enough for the other robber to figure out their location. He turns and opens fire on both of them. Zach tries to say, “No!” He’s too late. Still falling to the ground, the first robber’s riddled with bullets. Blood sprays the walls. It’s hard to imagine anyone surviving that kind of assault.

Turning, Zach suddenly feels a burning pain in his leg. His armor covers most of his body but Nowak never figured out a good way to protect his joints. There are holes in each area and the hope was that most bullets just wouldn’t hit there. It turns out you can’t count on hope against a machine gun. He feels a bullet rip through his left knee. The shot misses the middle but still does damage. It’s deep enough that the bullet hits bone and the pain’s enormous.

He tries to counter, even just to get out of the way as bullets continue to bounce off his body armor. He realizes almost immediately though that he can’t put weight on that leg. Crashing to the ground, he worries that this may be it. His mind wants to shut down, to curl up and cry. He can just lay here and wait for the end. He can be with his parents. A part of him isn’t ready to go though. He’s fought hard today and the last guy won’t get him. He can’t think right now. His mind will only get in the way. He has to act. Unable to stand, he rolls away from the gunfire toward the center of the vault. His knee bumps the floor with each rotation and it hurts but he tries to ignore it.

With the remaining robber continuing to fire where the noise was, the only person he’s hitting at this point is his dead partner. Zach wants to stop him but at this point he can’t risk himself for a man who’s clearly beyond help.

Reaching for his baton, Zach realizes he lost it again. It must have rolled away when he fell. He needs to tie it to his wrist or something. He wasn’t thinking about anything but the pain at the time. At this point though he has to ignore the pain. He has to end this before it goes any further. He tries to push himself into a sitting position but it’s hard with nothing to lean against. He pulls his shock gun back out but his aim’s shaky. Missing here isn’t an option. If he misses the shot will hit the metal drawers lining the wall and tell the man he’s moved. He won’t get another opportunity and with as much pain as he’s in, he isn’t sure he can track a moving target.

Trying to scooch slowly toward a wall to steady himself, he’s terrified to make the slightest noise. The gunfire masks him at first but it abruptly stops. The robber stays put. “Billy, you still here man? Did we get him?”

Feeling the wall against his back, Zach again tries to line up a shot. A deep breath steadies him and once he’s convinced he has as good a shot as he’s going to get, he fires. His shot finds it’s mark and the man starts to convulse. Usually he feels bad when they keep twitching after they’re down. Not this time.

As the smoke dissipates and his adrenaline starts pumping, the pain he’s in becomes more apparent. There are bumps and bruises over most of his body but the pressing matter is his knee and the blood pouring from it. The smoke’s mostly gone and he can see a trail of it on the ground from where he was first shot. It’s starting to pool beneath him. He really wishes he asked Nowak to include a first aid kid in this suit. A search for something to tie this off with doesn’t yield results so he settles for lifting his body armor enough to get at his shirt. Nowak did include a knife to cut the line of his winch when needed and in a pinch it works to cut his shirt into makeshift bandages.

He ties a strip tightly around each knee. Only the one’s bleeding but hopefully that will make it look like a part of his suit and not like an injury. He can’t let the police know he’s been shot. They’ll want to call an ambulance and while that would probably be a good idea, it would blow his cover. Everyone would know who he is ten minutes after he’s checked into a hospital. Besides, how can people trust a vigilante who gets shot all the time?

With his knee as well wrapped as he can manage given his resources, the next step’s getting back on his feet. It proves easier than he expected. There are enough open deposit boxes along the wall that he has plenty of grips to pull himself up by. Putting all the weight on his good leg, soon he’s standing. Walking’s going to be a lot harder. Even a single step sends flames shooting through his leg. It goes all the way into his chest and makes it hard to breathe. The next step’s a relief because at least he’s removing that pressure.

By the time he nears the vault’s exit, he finds he can endure it. The pain’s enormous but it’s not crippling. When he’s about to exit though, he remembers the security guard in the back of the vault. He was hurt and Zach doesn’t want to leave the man without at least attempting to help.

Reaching the back of the vault’s a slow process but it gives him a chance to practice walking. At first the limp’s enormous but before long he manages to look at least somewhat natural. The press will be waiting outside and he knows he has to look okay.

The guard’s still breathing. Zach shakes his shoulder lightly but there’s no reaction. He considers trying to carry the man out of here but doesn’t think he can manage at the moment. Noticing a red welt on the man’s head, he realizes he’s dealing with a head injury anyway. It’s better not to move him. He’ll leave that to the doctors.

He considers trying to secure the two robbers who are still alive. With the amount of voltage he put into them though, they should stay down until the police can get here. He doesn’t have the strength to worry about it. Exiting the vault, he heads back toward the lobby. When he’s halfway down the hall, the doors fly open and a SWAT team comes storming in.

Guns are trained on him and Zach throws his hands into the air. He shifts his weight onto his good leg, trying not to make it look obvious. One of the SWAT officers steps forward and asks, “Are you Hitbox? We were told we’d find him here.”

He manages a slow nod. “That’s me. The robbers are down. Two of them are unconscious. The other one’s dead, his partner lost it and started spraying the vault with bullets. There’s a security guard in there who really needs medical attention. Some sort of head wound, don’t know much more than that but he’s breathing and I’m sure he’d appreciate your help.”

He glances back to his crew before returning his gaze to Zach. “Thank you for your assistance. We’ll take it from here. Let him pass men.”

Zach doesn’t need a written invitation. He works his way past the group as they head toward the vault. One of them pauses to watch Zach walk. “Are you okay sir? You look like you’re hurt.”

His face turning red, Zach turns back and is glad they can’t see him. “Just tired, thanks. I appreciate the concern. The security guard’s who really needs help.”

The man drops it and heads after the rest of his squad. Zach slowly manages his way out of the bank. When he pushes the lobby door open, he finds cops everywhere. It takes a moment for anyone to notice him but when they do, a loud cheer goes up. Officer after officer comes up to pat him on the back or shake his hand. Many want a picture with him as well which he allows. It feels good to be wanted and appreciated. For the first time in years he feels important. That’s definitely a feeling he could get used to. Right now though the main feeling he wants is for the pain in his leg to stop.

It takes a few minutes but eventually he maneuvers through the crowd and finds himself near the front doors. A pair of cops are standing there, making sure everyone who comes or goes is allowed. Zach approaches them. “There was another vigilante here before; she protected the hostages while they escaped. I think her name was Lorelei; she was a huge help taking out the robbers. Do you know where she went? I’d like to thank her?”

The smaller of the two officers, who has the mustache of an 80s porn star, looks Zach up and down. Mostly up due to the height difference. “They took her statement and let her go on her way. She was authorized to do it all. Not that she’d have been in trouble here regardless, protecting people. She sent us after you but that was it.”

“So she’s already gone?”

The man shrugs and looks to his partner. “Think so. Sorry, don’t think she was comfortable hanging around after what happened.” Zach eyes the door and the man seems to notice. “The captain wants your statement before you go. He’s over by the main counter. The press is out front and will probably want to talk to you too.”

They escort him to the captain so he can recount the robbery. They’ve got everyone in custody now. Between the two whose friends shot them up and the ones Lorelei took down, there are seven dead robbers. They took nine alive so they have plenty they can interrogate. Zach tells him that one of them mentioned someone named Genevieve and the captain promises to look into it. He’s glad to hear the security guard should be alright as well. Once he’s managed to spit his story out he asks the captain if he can leave. His knee has stopped hurting quite as much but he’s not sure that’s a good sign. He’s lost a lot of blood and needs to do something about it.

Luckily the shirt he used to wrap his knee is a dark color so the blood isn’t giving him away but he can feel how soaked through it is. He’s not even done, he still has to address the press. If he doesn’t they’ll follow him the entire way home. He turns to the captain and asks, “Is there a back way out of here? I need to get away without being followed. I’ll go out and address the press but when I get back that’d be a big help.”

Thinking for a moment, the captain says, “Ya, there’s an alley out back you can sneak through. You’ll need to get across the street but it should give you a chance to get clear. I’ll have one of my men get you there after you finish up.”

Fighting his way through the crowds to get outside, the crisp evening air hits him immediately. He’s swarmed by the press but the two cops by the door follow him out and are able to keep them from getting too close. A tall Asian man with glasses and long black hair reaches him first. “John Kim, Big City Beat, what caused you to get involved with this today? How many robbers were involved?”

Before Zach can answer the taller of the cops who followed him outside says, “No specifics about these guys, we’ll release the details when they’re ready.”

Zach nods and goes along with it. He doesn’t need to make an enemy of the police. “I don’t want to step on the department’s toes. I know this is an ongoing investigation. I got involved because someone needed to help these people. I took on a group of bank robbers the other day in a similar crime and I thought maybe they were from the same gang. I figured I should finish what I started.”

A microphone’s shoved in his face. “Why are you suddenly getting involved here in New York? What made you become a vigilante?”

“I just want to help people I guess. Give back to my city. I thought I’d be good at it. That’s all I can really say. The timing is just when I felt I was ready. A lot went into making all of this.” He gestures to his suit.

“Any other thoughts you’d like to share with the city?” Camera flashes go off all around him.

“I’m just one person but one person who stands up can do a lot. Thank you all.” He waves and turns to walk away. More of the reporters fight their way to the front of the crowd, desperate for an interview of their own. Between the pain in his knee and his general unease with crowds though, it’s time to end this.

The cops escort him inside and show him to the back exit. At this point he’s afraid he’s going to fall over but he manages to thank them before hobbling his way down the alley. His limp’s not slight anymore. When he reaches the street he rushes across and none of the people around him seem any the wiser. That’s New York. On one block a bank robbery can be going down and you’re a celebrity. A block away people are going about their lives as if nothing happened.

Once Zach’s in the alleyway across the street from the bank he stops and leans against a wall. He won’t make it all the way back to their headquarters. His only choice is to call Nowak. The older man answers his phone on the first ring. “Great job kid, I knew you could handle it. That was a good interview you gave too. You looked kind of rough but you sounded good.”

He takes a few deep breaths. “Thanks. Just to check, you said the car was up and running now, right? Not all done but you can drive it?”

“I guess. Why? Want to take it out for a joyride to celebrate or something? It isn’t a toy.”

“Nothing like that. I got shot in there and I’m losing a lot of blood.”

Nowak’s tone shifts dramatically and he starts to scream. “What the hell are you doing on the phone then kid? Why were you giving interviews? Get to the hospital.”

His breathing’s getting heavier. “I can’t do that. They’d all know who I was five minutes after I get there. Bullet caught me in the knee. Missed the center but it hurts like hell. You can ping my location with GPS. I can’t go any further. I’m going to sit down and take a nap.”

“Kid, don’t do that. You need to stay awake. I’ll get the car and be on my way. It’ll be like five minutes.”

“Did you ever find a doctor like we talked about? Someone we can trust?” His head’s spinning.

“Ya, I found a lady who needs as much discretion as you do. She’s great, you’ll like her. I’ll call her and have her meet us. I’m getting in the car right now, I’m like five minutes away, okay?” There’s no response. “Kid, are you still there with me? Zach? Zach are you there?” The phone line stays dead.

Part 18

Part 20

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 2

DeMarcus is already pressing the buttons to initiate code blue as he reaches for the intercom. “Just blue? Why don’t we go to red. Really lock this place down in case they get in.”

The voice that comes shakes just enough to sound worried. “Negative Dodson. No need at this time. They aren’t getting in. Barry should be able to hold at station one and I’m in the process of calling the police. We have plenty of ways to keep them out. Let’s not deal with code red if we can avoid it. Just see how the outer doors hold them.”

Titanium shutters start closing over all of the building’s windows and the outer titanium doors start sliding into place over the front entrance. The truck got closer than anyone’s allowed to park though and those guys are moving fast. DeMarcus watches as the first man makes it to the doors and blows them away with his gun. He can hear the bullets and shattering glass in the distance. He’s scanning the other cameras when they start slipping inside but he counts at least seven who get in before the doors seal. In the distance he hears more gunshots and a scream. After a few more seconds all the feeds go out. Someone must have cut them from outside. “Station one, report in now. Are you okay?” There’s no reply.

Kelleigh starts pacing back and forth. She’s typing something into her phone. “This is bad DeMarcus. Things are going downhill fast.” She jumps on the intercom. “Station two, are you still there? We need to go to code red.”

There’s thankfully still a response back. “They’re nearing my position and we can’t go into code red at this point. With two down and Anton out, we don’t have the four we need to initiate it. The only way that’s happening is if we start it manually throughout the facility. One of you want to take care of it? I’ll hold them off as long as I can but I don’t think I can buy you very long. There were at least four of them.”

DeMarcus pops back in. “More than that, I saw at least seven. There might have been more.” He pauses for a moment, realizing that’s probably not helpful at the moment. “I can stay here and hold station three. I’ll send Kelleigh to get things locked down. We genuinely won’t be able to unlock it once it’s done so maybe they just retreat. Hopefully someone shows up eventually who can help us let everyone out.”

Kelleigh interrupts them. “You can’t send me to get the code red started. I’m not sure I even know how to do it manually. I’m supposed to be on station two. I’ve never even done it during a drill. You need to go DeMarcus.”

He shakes his head. “I’ve never done it for real either. You can figure it out. I’m not leaving you here to hold them off while I go hide behind titanium. We’ve all gone over the directions and it isn’t that hard.”

Bouncing on her heels, Kelleigh draws her weapon and kneels behind their desks. “This is too big. You know the sort of stuff we work on here. If it gets into the wrong hands… We need the best chance to stop that and you’re it. I don’t like it but I’m holding them off. Now get going.” Gunfire explodes in the distance and Kelleigh turns to him. “Now.”

The gunfire goes on for a few seconds and then abruptly stops. DeMarcus reaches for his weapon and moves to get in position beside Kelleigh. She pushes him away. “There’s no more time. They’ll be here in the next couple minutes. The two of us aren’t stopping them. Get going. Get everything locked down and get all the scientists to safety. I’ll give you as much time as I can.”

DeMarcus hesitates but only for a few more moments. Leaving Kelleigh alone to face their attackers goes against every instinct in his body but she there’s a lot of other people who need help. With a wave he runs past their security checkpoint and starts heading toward the labs.

There are ten different labs on this floor spread out in three different wings and the scientists will be spread between them. Each lab has to be individually locked down. If he can somehow manage all of that before their attackers catch him, he’ll need to head down to the basement and lock the storage facilities there down as well. The executive offices are also in the basement and he hopes all the big wigs have taken shelter there as they’re supposed to in the event of an attack. Mr. Sarraf’s able to do an emergency code red lock down just like he can and hopefully the storage area is already secure with all of the executives inside. The only negative to that would be that by the time he gets there all the other rooms will be locked down. If he gets down there and it’s locked he won’t have anywhere to hide. He’ll have to worry about that when he gets there.

As he runs he considers calling Jesse and letting him know what’s going on. Hopefully this isn’t the end but if it is he wants to say goodbye and tell that man how much he loves him. Their life isn’t perfect and their relationship isn’t perfect either but it’s pretty great. Since they first met DeMarcus has been under Jesse’s spell. He’s kind, smart, and most importantly he encourages him to be himself. He can’t imagine his life without him. There are days he annoys him to death but comparing his life before they met to his life now, it’s clear which one’s better.

He decides against making that call. It isn’t fair to Jesse and even if he pulls this off he’s going to give his boyfriend a heart attack. Hope isn’t gone yet and the best case scenario involves Jesse sitting there worried for hours. With the issues he’s had since the robbery it’ll be better to tell him about this once the danger’s over. He just has to make sure he gets through the danger. Even taking the worry away, every second he spends doing anything but trying to lock these labs down is a second closer to not making it home.

DeMarcus keeps moving into the facility. It takes a few minutes but as he enters the atrium and has to choose between the three wings, he hears gunfire ringing out behind him. He can make out the noise of their standard issue pistol going crazy as shot after shot’s fired. He counts the shots as he moves and knows when Kelleigh’s gun goes empty. For a moment the only noise is the automatic rifles of their attackers. He listens for more shots from her gun, hoping desperately that she’s able to reload. He’s thrilled to hear the shots resume. After only two more though they stop and the final bullets he hears are definitely not from their pistol. He says a little prayer for her before looking up at the wings. He hopes Kelleigh made it but he can’t stop and give it much thought either way. He needs to keep moving.

Picking which wing to enter takes time. He glances between them, trying to weigh the danger of the projects in each. His final decision doesn’t come down to that though. He enters A wing because he knows who he’ll find there.

Running down A wing, he turns a corner and sees four labs ahead. Two of them are at the end of the hall and one’s off to each side. He peeks his head into the first lab on his right and looks around. No scientists or other employees. Water bottles are still sitting on a counter and the chairs have been left in disarray but he’s alone. They must have left in a hurry.

He exits the lab and finds the security controls waiting outside the door. He steps up to the panel and presses his fingerprint against the scanner. It recognizes him and starts pulling up a variety of options. He has to go into two sub menus and then scroll to the bottom to find the code red option. This is a backup plan, they never hope to get so desperate they have to run from room to room applying it. He enters his override code and the titanium shutters that will seal the lab start clanking to the ground. One down.

DeMarcus repeats these steps with the lab across the hall, finding it just as empty as the first. Someone dropped their jacket on the floor and didn’t go back to retrieve it. He moves on to the pair of labs at the end of the wing. He starts with the one on the left out of habit. He’s left handed and tends to process things from the left. Once again it’s completely abandoned and now he starts to get nervous. Either he’s about to find a bunch of scientists in the final lab or the sound of gunfire was enough to spur a lot of men and women to get the heck out of this wing. If that’s the case he doesn’t know where they would have gone. There’s no way out of the building other than past his security desk and he didn’t pass anyone on his way here. He locks this third lab down. With every lab he locks he keeps more of their experiments safe from the attackers. There’s a lot left though.

As DeMarcus steps into the final lab in this wing the first thing he sees is a metal stool flying through the air coming right for his head. He jumps backward but the stool crashes loudly into the door. It doesn’t break but it makes a lot of noise that isn’t needed right now. Getting back to his feet, he sticks his head back in the room. He sees someone winding up to throw another and puts a hand in front of his face. “No more chairs, it’s DeMarcus with security.”

Nothing else is thrown. As he takes in the room he sees ten scientists in various states of fear. Most are glancing out from behind cabinets or under tables. No one’s smiling even with his handsome face having shown up. Everyone looks worried and a few of the scientists are huddled together in the back crying or shaking. At least they’re managing to do it quietly. They don’t need to draw attention to themselves.

Dr. Layla Kanish, one of their head scientists, steps forward and seems to have been the chair thrower. She’s one of DeMarcus’ favorite people in this place, or at least she was before she threw a chair at his head. She spends many of her breaks and lunches out at his station chatting with him and Anton about life, their relationships, or whatever’s in their heads that day. She’s the only person who seems happy to see him. She runs up and wraps him in a hug.

“I’m so glad to see you. Sorry about the chair, I thought you might be one of the shooters. What’s going on? We heard the bullets but couldn’t get anyone on the intercoms.”

It doesn’t surprise DeMarcus that Layla was the person to take charge among this group. She’s gone through a lot in her life and isn’t one to cower. “Everything’s a long way from okay. There are at least seven active shooters in the building. The other guards tried to hold them off while I get us locked down but I don’t know if any of them made it. Is this everyone in the wing?”

She hesitates, glancing between her coworkers. “I think so. Brent was in the bathroom but other than that I think it’s everyone who was here when the fighting started. Brent never came back and he may have gone to one of the other wings if he was closer to them. Or who knows, maybe he’s hiding on the toilet.”

DeMarcus does a head count and only counts ten people. That seems wrong. “Aren’t there usually at least fifteen of you down here?”

“Ya, but four people didn’t show up for work this morning. I hope they’re all okay. That should be everyone though.”

Something feels wrong. That’s a lot of people to not show up this morning. He tries to remain calm though. Everyone’s looking to him. “Alright, well that’s good. Stay put and stay quiet. I’m going to lock you all in and then I’m headed for the other wings. They won’t be able to get through this thing unless they brought all the C4 in California. We called the cops before they started making their move so they should be here soon. If I get ahold of anyone I’ll tell them you’re all in here and to come rescue you.”

Grabbing at his arm, Layla catches his eye. “Lock yourself in and stay with us DeMarcus. You’re going to end up hurt.”

He’d give anything to do what she asks. “I can’t, I have two other wings to get to and a lot of other people to protect. You know we can’t let them get the stuff we work on. A lot of the other guards sacrificed themselves to give me this chance. I have to give it a shot.”

Layla wraps DeMarcus in another strong hug and doesn’t seem to want to let go. She’s brave but this would scare even the toughest person. If he takes too long to think about it he’s going to be as afraid as she is. She squeezes his neck tight and before she lets him go she puts her mouth to his ear. “Please be careful. This better not be the last time I see you.”

DeMarcus tries to give her a confident smile to set her at ease. “It won’t be. Stay safe and stay quiet. This will be over before you know it.”

With those words DeMarcus steps back into the hall, looking for any sign of the attackers. The hallway’s empty. He steps up to the panel and follows the steps to lock things down. It only takes a few moments for the panels to close off all access to the lab and cut off his view of Layla. She smiles as they’re separated, offering a small wave. He hopes he didn’t just tell her a lie.

Part 1

Part 3

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 18

It’s a slow day at the winery. They’re having an uncharacteristically rainy season which is scaring off the tourists and day trips. A few regulars stop in for a drink but Jia’s glad that’s all she has to deal with. Enough people have commented on her eye for one day. It’s been called a shiner, eyeliner, raccoon eyes and a few names she never needed to hear. At least the regulars like her to drink with them and her eye gives her another excuse. She’s had at least half a bottle and she’s feeling pretty good.

As the morning gets late, Shin finally makes his way over from the house. She told him he had to help today but he never showed up and she couldn’t leave the winery alone to search for him. She stares him down, waiting for him to say something. He’s unable to meet her gaze. “Sorry it took me so long to sneak over. Mom and dad wouldn’t stop talking. How’s your eye?”

“Hurts like hell thanks to you.”

That gets his attention and he comes at her, looking up. “Come on. You can’t give me shit for that. You’re the one who asked me to punch you.”

“You didn’t exactly give me a lot of options. It was that or turn you over to the police. Be glad I was feeling nice. I should have turned you in. You need to give me more info about these guys you owe money. I’m not going to find you breaking into any more houses.”

He looks away again. “You really don’t want to get involved with these guys. They’re dangerous and they don’t play around. Leave it alone and let me take care of it.”

“Ya, that’s not happening little brother. I’m already involved.” She points at her eye. “This isn’t going to be for nothing. Tell me more about them or I will turn you in to mom and dad.”

He scans the store to make sure they’re alone. “Your funeral. Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you. Have you heard of the Delux Gang? They mostly work out of San Francisco but they’re all over the state.”

Rolling her eyes, Jia says, “Sure I stay up-to-date on all the gangs around here. Who knows, I might want to join one of these days. Of course I don’t know about a gang. That’s why I need you to tell me about them. Who are they, what do they do, where can I find them?”

“There really isn’t that much to tell. Drugs, guns, more drugs. You know, gang stuff. I got into a little too much debt to them and had to do an initiation last night.”

Her jaw drops. This isn’t the story he told her at first. “What do you mean an initiation? I thought they just wanted you to steal some shit. Were you trying to join their gang?”

“I mean, kind of. I don’t really want to join but I’m not sure I have much choice. I owe them enough money that there’s no way I can pay them back.”

Walking to the door of the winery, Jia locks the entrance. Any customers who show up will have to pound on the door so they won’t be caught off guard. “Why were you borrowing money from a gang? You really couldn’t see how bad that would end?”

Shin shifts between his feet and shoves his hands in his pockets. “I have a friend who’s a member and she told me awhile ago they could lend me money if I needed it. There’s a few projects I wanted to work on and I needed the funds. Things were going well for awhile but then I got behind and I just kept falling deeper and deeper into things. It seemed like joining was my only way out. They told me if I became a member and did some work for them they’d forgive my debt. To become a member, I had to go through their initiation which is just robbing a house they tell you to. It was a one time thing. I wasn’t planning to become a cat burglar or anything. I think I proved last night I’m not cut out for it.”

“You’re not joining a gang. Not happening.”

Laughing, Shin nods. “After last night, I think you’re right. Got any other suggestions so I don’t get killed by these guys? I’m all ears. After how last night went I’m pretty sure joining the gang isn’t an option anymore.”

”My idea is that I’m going to take care of it for you. Like always. Do they just operate out of San Francisco? I thought you were living in LA until recently?”

“I was but I’ve been all over. They’ve got members around the state but to get a loan I had to drive to the bay. It’s not that bad a drive for the kind of money they were giving me.”

“Where can I find them. Do I need go over to San Francisco? I’ll do so if needed.” She sighs. How’s she going to sell her parents on this one?

“Terrible idea. If you really want to talk to them the last thing you want to do is go there. That’s their headquarters. If you try rushing that place you’ll end up dead and that’s not going to do me any good. There’s actually a bar outside of town where a bunch of their members hang out. A lot of people in Napa build up a tolerance to the booze and need something harder. They do a ton of business here. There’s probably even someone there who can make a decision. Since it’s not quite as high profile, there’s a chance they don’t kill you on sight. Not a great chance, but a chance. It’s still a waste of time though. If you ask them to forgive my debt they’re just going to laugh you out of the place. That’s the best case.”

Grabbing her brother’s arm and putting it in an arm lock, she holds it for a moment before releasing it. He yelps but doesn’t fight back. As she releases him he rubs his wrist in pain. “I can take care of myself. Let me worry about what they’re going to do. Where do I find this bar?”

Shin doesn’t have an address but he’s able to give her a general location and describe the place well enough that she’s fairly certain she can find it. It’s a bit of a haul by bike so she demands a ride in exchange for her services. Shin has a nice car; she saw him driving it just a few days ago. He apparently left it a few miles away at an all night grocery before his attempted robbery though. She tells him to get on her bike and go get it. He can throw the bike in the trunk on his way back. He grumbles but does as he’s told.

With Shin gone, Jia can unlock the winery and go back to playing on her phone and drinking. Not a bad way to spend a day. She’s starting to get numb to the pain in her face when her mother makes her entrance. She walks behind the counter and without a word grabs a glass, pouring herself a drink. She jerks her head in Jia’s direction. “Nice eye.”

Jia puts her head in her hands, tired of every person commenting on her face. “Thanks, it really complements my haircut. I’m thinking I might keep it.”

Pouring a second glass, her mother hands one to her. Jia takes it without complaint, not mentioning how much she’s already had today. “Your dad said it was bad. He wasn’t kidding. Believe me, I know you can’t do this without getting hurt now and then. I’m not going to give you a hard time or anything. Can you try to keep it off your face though? He’s going to give me a hard time if you keep getting hurt.”

Jia shrugs, finishing her glass already. Her mother refills it and Jia has another sip. “I’ll try, but I didn’t exactly go out planning on getting punched in the face. It just kind of happened.”

“What’s your brother gotten himself involved in?”

Jia’s taken aback at this. Her mother has never voiced a negative thought about her brother in her life, at least not to her. He literally went two years without letting any of them know he was alive and she shrugged it off as a kids will be kids situation. She badly wants to rub this in her mother’s face, to prove he’s not the perfect child she acts like he is. Jia loves her brother though and she gave her word.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What does Shin have to do with anything?”

Her mother gets closer, staring her down. “I’m not an idiot. I heard you and your brother show up at the same time last night. You come home with that and he shows up out of nowhere, without his car I might add. Where’s he at now?”

“He ran to get his car. He left it at a friend’s house not far from here apparently. He was over there drinking last night and got drunk. No big conspiracy. You should be glad he was smart enough not to drive. I ran into him on my way in last night. You should have more faith in your son.”

“Why did you tell your dad he wasn’t here when you got home then?”

She didn’t expect her mother to have heard that. It takes her a moment to come up with an answer. “Just giving him a hard time. Figured he wouldn’t want to tell dad about his drinking. Dad gives him a hard time about it.”

The older woman gets quiet for a moment before finishing her final half glass of wine in one large swig. She pours another. “Have it your way then. I expect you’ll both come to me if you need help though.”

“What would you even do mom, go put on your old costume and rough someone up? We both know that’s not going to happen.”

Her mother smiles as she starts on another glass of wine. “It doesn’t need to. You don’t do this without making some friends. Some of them still owe me favors. I wouldn’t have to lift a finger. But keep pretending there’s nothing to tell.” With that said, she walks out of the winery, taking her glass of wine and the rest of the bottle with her.

Part 17

Part 19

Dynamo Vol. 1 Greater Heights Part 14

The drive downtown doesn’t take long. Most nights Kalenia would go home after class to find Marco waiting on the couch with a glass of wine and his laptop. He worries when she doesn’t show up so she wouldn’t make many stops. He’s supportive of her classes at least. Ever since finding out she wanted to be a vigilante he’s been pushing her to prepare. He loved it when she signed up for this.

With Marco out of town on business though, she’s got the night to herself. He’ll call before bed but if she doesn’t answer he’ll just assume she fell asleep early. He won’t call until right before going to sleep so she has a few hours to kill. With time to do whatever she wants, she realizes all she wants is to practice the new skill she’s actually good at. The one which might keep her alive the next time she takes on a mugger.

Roy’s Range isn’t far from her office and she’s been stopping in for at least a few minutes every day after work. She’s also been sneaking over on lunch more days than not. She knows the importance of not letting bite sized chunks of time go to waste. With Marco waiting at home she’s had a hard time finding long periods where she can sit and practice.

After her attack Kalenia headed to a gun show in Indiana where they don’t require a background check to buy a gun. Not that the check would have stopped her but she wasn’t willing to wait. She walked out with an arsenal. She bought pistols, rifles, bushels of ammo, almost everything she wanted. For a girl wanting to buy guns, that place felt like Christmas morning.

The only things she wanted but couldn’t get were grenades. One of the vendors told her they weren’t allowed to sell them but he slipped her a card and advised her to give the number on it a call. He said this guy has a lot of interesting supplies and might be able to set her up. The call went well and she’s supposed to pick them up tomorrow night. She’s not concerned about going through the black market. Under the VMUS Act, she can do anything she feels she needs to if it keeps the public safe. The vague nature of the rules let her do pretty much whatever she wants.

Walking into the range she nods at Roy, the man who runs the place. He’s an older, round man, always wearing a pair of bifocals with white hair that only goes around the sides of his head. Day or night you can count on seeing him behind the cash register. He’s a quiet but friendly man who always seems to find a kind word and a smile for her. She’d go up and say hello but he’s got a line and she doesn’t need to pay. She signed up for a monthly membership which lets her come and go as she pleases.

Only a mile from work, she was paranoid that someone from her office would recognize her and put things together the first few times she came in. She’s only been recognized once though and she eventually realized she has a pretty good reason to be here. She certainly wouldn’t be the first woman to buy a gun after getting attacked.

Stepping up to a firing lane, she opens her gun case and pulls out her favorite pistol. It’s small but packs enough punch that she can really feel the weight of every shot while still being light enough that she can slide it into the holster she has under her coat and barely feel it there. It’s also really easy to slide a new clip into when she needs it so hopefully that avoids any risk of running out of ammo in a tight spot.

Popping a clip into place, she takes aim at the target at the end of the range. It’s a pretty simple setup with a long lane and a target at the end. Kalenia likes that about it, she can focus on one target and fire away. Not the best training for a real life situation but she’s still learning.

Pointing her gun and steadying her arm, she starts to pull the trigger. Holes pop into the target one by one. After six shots Kalenia’s happy to see six holes within an inch of the target’s center. She pulls the trigger three more times and two more holes appear. Perplexed to not see a third, she realizes she must have shot through one of the existing holes. There’s no way she completely missed the target.

Firing a final shot, she knows the gun’s empty. Dropping her clip, she reloads and resumes firing. It isn’t long before the center of the target’s completely shredded.

When the target’s delivered to her, she’s thrilled to find how bunched her shots are. She’s getting more accurate every time she visits. Her first time at the range she was happy to hit the paper. Now if a shot isn’t a near bullseye she gets angry with herself. She knows when she goes out she’s going to need to be as accurate as possible. Anything less than perfect isn’t acceptable. A stray shot from her could be more dangerous than whoever she’s stopping. Hanging another target, she sends it back onto the range. The process starts over.

An hour later Kalenia finally calls it quits, content with her progress. She’s gotten pretty good with her pistols and the few times she’s brought a rifle it’s gone just as well. That doesn’t mean she’s without regrets at what she purchased. As she packs her pistol back in it’s carrying case and heads out, she notices Roy’s line has vanished and he’s sitting there reading a magazine while leaning against a wall. She walks over and he looks up, grinning at her. “Evening Roy. How are things tonight?”

He shifts in his seat so he’s sitting straight. “Not too bad. Been busy all night. Not gonna complain about that. How about you? Things going good?”

“I’m good. Boyfriend’s out of town so thought I’d get some night shooting in. I think I’m starting to get pretty good with this thing.” She taps on her case a few times.

“I’d say so. Watched part of your shooting on the camera.” Several TVs are above his head, proving a view of every lane on the range. “You’ve been doing good for anyone, let alone someone who just started coming in here. You sure you weren’t already shooting?”

Roy likes to flatter her and Kalenia isn’t going to stop him. “That’s sweet Roy but no, just started recently. Guess I’m a natural. Out of curiosity, if I wanted to get some more guns, what’s the best place to go around here?”

Roy hesitates a moment, seemingly deep in thought. “Well, that depends a little bit on what you’re looking for. What do you need?”

“I’ve been considering a shotgun. I have pretty much everything else I want but I’m enjoying learning to shoot and want to try out a big variety.”

“I could just let you borrow one of mine to try out. Be glad to do so. I can only let you shoot that on the rifle range though.”

She smiles. “That’s really sweet but I’m pretty sure I want one. I think I’ll like it.”

Roy thinks a moment longer. “Well I have an idea if you like and it’ll be quicker than going through a shop. I have more shotguns than I know what to do with. You’ve been a good customer so why don’t I sell you one of my extras for a fair price. I’ve got a double barrel one that should fit what you’re looking for. I’ll even take care of the paperwork, hook you up with the gun right away. How’s that sound?”

Kalenia could practically hug the man but the bars between them prevent it. “That actually sounds great Roy. Saves me a lot of hassle. I trust you to know if it’s a good gun better than I do anyway. What kind of price were you thinking?”

Deep in thought, Roy takes a minute to spit out some of the chewing tobacco he’s been working on before saying, “Hundred bucks?”

She’s taken back by his price. She saw plenty of them at the gun show and none were near that cheap. “That sounds great but are you sure Roy? I’ve looked at a few and that seems really low, especially if it’s a decent gun.”

He shrugs. “That’s okay. I’m not planning to use it and I don’t want to go through the hassle of finding a buyer. You’ll be doing me a favor. I’ll bring it in and have it ready tomorrow. If you stop by you can grab it whenever. Definitely practice on the range though. These things have a lot more kick than anything you’ve been firing so far.”

She thanks him and says she’ll try to stop by tomorrow, but will definitely make it in over the next few days. With a nod, Roy wishes her a good night and she’s on her way.

With that taken care of she’s confident her arsenal will be complete, at least for now. She should have everything she needs to handle herself on the streets. All that remains is to find out how she’ll react when it’s a dangerous person staring her down instead of a piece of paper. She knows it’s going to be a lot different. She just hopes she’ll be ready.

Part 13

Part 15