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.