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Red Line: The Future Part 15

Is Tara leaving? Melissa sees her sister and Kurt walk out and starts to worry. She’s been trying to get her attention for ten minutes. Wyatt pulled her aside the moment they got here and he won’t stop talking. He seems nice enough, he’s clearly intelligent and he likes to talk. Mostly he just wants to talk about himself though. His education, his military background, his family, his ex. It got old after five minutes and they’ve been going at it for nearly thirty.

She could tell him off, flat out say she’s not interested and tell him to get lost. He hasn’t been that aggressive though. Persistent but not overly pushy. She also can’t forget that they’re teammates now. She needs to build a rapport with him or her life’s going to be a lot more difficult. When she can get a word in edge wise, she’s told him how all the people she’s dated are smaller, with long hair, smooth faces, long legs. That couldn’t be more different from the short, short haired, bearded, muscle bound man before her. The only way she could be more clear is if she told him exactly why he’s not her type and she can’t do that. He nods and goes right back to talking about how great he is.

Now she’s alone. With Tara’s help she could have found a way out of this. An excuse why they had to leave, something. Now the only way she can think to end this is to be blunt and she really doesn’t want to do that.

Sandy’s still here and she walks around the table and pulls a chair up between them. She sits in it backwards, getting close to the pair and looking between them. “What’s up folks? Having fun?”

Wyatt’s not amused. He stares her down for a moment before saying, “Ya, we’re having a great time. Just chatting with my new teammate here, getting to know each other. I’m sure we can chat later too.”

“Great, you want another drink? Neither of you’ve had a refill yet.”

Looking into her empty cup, Melissa’s excited to see she managed to finish one glass of tequila. She should have a lime, or some salt, but she made due with just the tequila. She’s never had it before. Her and some girlfriends snuck a few wine coolers a couple of times when their parents weren’t around but she’s never had hard liquor. She doesn’t like the taste or how it makes her feel. She wants to feel like she’s keeping up though. She doesn’t want Sandy to think she can’t handle herself and leave. “Sure, I’ll take a little more. Can I try something else?”

“Sure, what do you want? Kurt left the tequila and the whiskey.”

“Whiskey please.” Sandy pours her a half paper cup of the brown liquid. She holds it up to her face and smells. That’s almost enough to make her gag on its own. She tips the glass back and takes a small sip. She wants to spit it out. Should have stuck with the tequila. Instead she swallows and smiles.

“That’s not really meant to be sipped. Kurt took the good stuff. You do you though.” Sandy turns to Wyatt sitting next to them silently, looking for an opportunity to inject himself back into their conversation. “Did you want some more man? You haven’t had much to drink.”

He shakes his head. “I don’t drink much, more for me to work off tomorrow. I mainly only had the one cup to be polite since we were all getting to know each other.”

“I think you’ve only gotten to know Melissa, I think it’s my turn now.”

She turns back to Melissa and starts asking her about how she’s liking the place. Small talk but it doesn’t stop. Minutes pass and Wyatt’s smile starts to slip. He looks back and forth between the two women but they’re speaking so quickly he can’t say anything. Sandy looks back to him. “Did you want anything else to drink?”

He finally has an opportunity but everything he’s wanted to say for the last few minutes is gone. All he can do is shake his head and say, “No, I think I’m good. I’m actually going to go. Tell your brother thanks for the drinks though. I’ll see all of you around.” Standing up, he almost jogs out of the cafeteria, his hands on his hips.

They watch the man go, a smile forming between them. The door swings behind Wyatt and they stare at it for a minute. When she’s sure the man’s gone, Melissa stands up and hugs Sandy “Thank you so much, I didn’t want to get into it with him when we have to be on a team but he wouldn’t take the hint.”

“He didn’t want to take the hint. Guys like that don’t quit. I’d be careful about being alone with him. I think he’s harmless when others are around and he might be harmless alone but…” The sentence hangs but Melissa knows exactly what she means.

“I’ll watch it.”

“Good. Any reason you weren’t into him though? I mean, he’s a good looking dude. Objectively I mean. Not my type, but good looking.”

Melissa shrugs. “Not my type either I guess.”

“What is your type? More like my brother?”

Her face scrunches. “Ewww, weird thing to say. No, not him either. I don’t really want to go into it too much though. Probably best we leave that alone. Where did my sister go?”

Snorting, Sandy leans in, her eyes narrowing at the change of subject. “She went off with my brother. Apparently he is your sister’s type. Don’t worry, he’s harmless. She’s pretty drunk so he’ll stop before anything gets serious.”

Seeing them leave together wasn’t enough for her to believe it. She can’t remember the last time Tara was into someone. Kurt’s a good looking guy but he has to be in his thirties at least. She’s never noticed Tara being into older guys. The last guy she dated was actually a year younger than her but that was probably three years ago. “Thanks for your help then, I appreciate it.”

“Seriously though, what’s your type? Maybe I can set you up with someone. Me and Kurt were some of the first people they brought in here. I know pretty much everyone.”

“Thanks, but that’s probably not a good idea. I don’t plan to date while I’m here.”

“Oh, so you’re…” Sandy stops herself mid sentence. She almost asked a question she isn’t allowed to ask. Melissa freezes, feeling less safe than she did with Wyatt. This is dangerous. Should she deny it? One false report and suddenly they can look into her. Will they talk to people back home? Seeing Melissa’s eyes going wide, Sandy reaches out and places a hand on her arm. “Hey, it’s okay, just breathe. You don’t have anything to worry about. I don’t know what you’re referring to. No clue. For the record though, if what you’re saying is what I think you’re saying, keeping in mind I have no idea what I think you’re saying, you’re not the only one.”

Melissa sits there blinking at Sandy. Did she just admit what she thinks she admitted? That was an incredibly bold admission if so. It calms her though. “Really?”

“Ya, since I was a kid. No worries, you’re among friends. You don’t have to worry. Kurt knows about me and won’t turn me in. Does your sister know about you?”

Slowly she nods her head. Tara’s known for years. Ever since the time she caught her best friend and Melissa locked in a room together and neither could come up with a good excuse. That’s the only reason Tara had to talk her into joining the military. She didn’t have any other prospects after high school. College sounded exciting but between the cost and her sister’s trouble she wanted to find her own path. Until now it hasn’t been an issue. Maybe tonight isn’t an issue either but she can’t help but wonder how long it’s going to be before another night like this comes up. Next time the person on the other end might not be so cool. She has to be more careful.

A smile slowly returns to her face. It feels good to know she isn’t alone. Sandy’s the first person she’s met in the military going through something like she is. Sandy reaches out and takes her hand. “Maybe I’m crazy, but you don’t want to go back and hang out in my room do you? Maybe watch a movie or something? I just picked up The Birdcage. Supposed to be funny. Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, good stuff.”

Shaking her head, she takes her hand back. “That’s probably a really bad idea.”

“Probably, but it sounds fun. Maybe not tonight but if you change your mind, come hang out sometime. I’ll keep the movie around.”

Sandy stands and gestures for Melissa to come with her. They walk toward Melissa’s room. “You really don’t need to walk me back, I can handle myself.”

“I’m sure you can, but I promised your sister I’d make sure you got back.”

When they get to her room, she wants to invite the woman inside. Maybe they could watch a movie after all, or do something else. She can’t do it though, too much risk. She smiles and says goodnight.

Turning the key to her door, she opens it to find the lights on. Tara’s on her bed, topless, sitting astride Kurt. He’s still got his clothes on but she can’t imagine that will last long, or at least it wouldn’t have if she didn’t walk in. “Really! On my bed!”

Jumping, Tara hits her head hard on the top bunk above her. She screams and grabs for her head with one arm, using her other arm to cover her chest. Kurt looks sheepish, slowly waving at the two women standing in the doorway.

Sandy falls against the wall, laughing hysterically. Tara and Melissa are both bright red. Tara’s using her free hand to search for a shirt and finally finds a dirty one of Melissa’s which she slips on. Sandy manages to breathe long enough to say, “Why would you possibly come back here? You have a private room.”

That seems to confuse Kurt and he has to really think about it. “I guess I didn’t think about it. To be fair, we’re both really drunk.”

Part 14

Part 16

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Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 10

Being a member of the Delux Gang has some benefits. As Jia Crawford downs her fourth free shot in the last hour, she can’t help grinning. Having spent very little time in bars, she’s never had free drinks thrown at her. The Delux Gang’s giving her a salary but she’s able to put most of it away because the gang only spends time at bars who know who they are and have decided that the alcohol they put away’s worth avoiding the hassle they could cause.

“Candy.” Her head’s spinning as she stares at the bartender. She’s a pretty black woman with a great body and huge hair which she loves the look of. She has to remind herself that her girlfriend’s patiently waiting for her in Napa and deserves better than being cheated on with how patient she’s been through this whole ordeal. That assumes the bartender would even be interested. Would she? As she stares at the woman she wants to forget. It might be the alcohol talking, but there’s a part of her saying that Cassie’s Jia’s girlfriend. She’s not Jia here though. She’s, “Candy.”

Jillian punches her in the arm. She remembers she’s supposed to be answering to Candy and perks up. It’s one of the people on her crew. She’s been given a group to command quickly as she’s proved she can handle every challenge the gang throws her way. Two guys and a girl have her back every night, along with Jillian on certain nights. She’s been asked to show her the ropes since they’re apparently such old friends. That’s the story they went with to get her into the gang anyway.

Darin gestures toward the door and tries to wave her over. She groans, just as the next shot she ordered is set in front of her. The bartender smiles at her as she sets down the shot. It’s a smile with possibilities. Jia downs the shot in a moment and throws a ten on the bar as a tip. She moves toward the exit, somewhat grateful for the excuse to leave. She’s drunk enough that she might make bad decisions if she stayed.

She’s met by the rest of the crew outside. Jillian’s right behind her and looks relieved to be leaving. She’s out all night with the group because she has to be. Going against the bosses would be a good way to get hurt. Now six months pregnant though, it’s hard for her to be up this late. The rest of them are having a good time getting drunk and being treated like minor celebrities. Most of that’s lost on her.

The car’s already at the curb with Melia behind the wheel. The others are seated and Jia jumps in behind them. She offers a hand to pull Jillian inside. The door slams. Melia’s in a bad mood because she wasn’t allowed to drink tonight when Jillian wouldn’t be the designated driver again. She’s sulking and won’t say a word. Every one of them except Jia has to take a turn driving but a lot of the others resent Jillian for not doing it every chance she gets when she isn’t drinking either way.

“What’s up?” Jia stares Darin down. He called this party, the rest of them are just along for the ride.

“Got a call from one of our dealers. They caught a couple guys from the Tails hanging out in our territory. Say they’re independent but one has a tattoo that says otherwise. Either way, they can’t get away with that.” Darin pulls out his phone and passes it to Jia. The GPS on it shows a location right in the center of her territory.

Nodding, she passes the phone back. She leans into her seat, closes her eyes and tries to clear her head. The alcohol’s making it hard to focus. This isn’t her first night doing this. She knows what has to be done. This is the hard part though. She knows long term it’s necessary. She has to get Jillian and her future niece or nephew out of this life. If she can take down the Delux Gang in the process so much the better. She still has to look her police officer girlfriend in the eye this weekend when she comes to visit though.

The gang in question, the Five Tails Squadron, keeps coming into their area. They’re a small group, led by a young woman with a knack for finding cracks in any organization and breaking them apart. She’s been pushing her people to invade their territory, walking streets she knows they haven’t been consistently using. They all claim they’re not part of Five Tails when caught but it’s easy to prove that’s a lie. Each member of the gang’s required to get a tattoo on their tail bone. It invades their privacy to check but once you know what you’re looking for it isn’t hard to identify.

They’ve caught six groups in the three weeks she’s been running this territory. People in neighboring areas have caught just as many. She needs to do something to scare them off for good. The bosses have started getting tired of excuses and if she doesn’t give them proof she can handle it they might put someone else in charge. She needs to keep moving up in the organization. They’ve tried beating people. They’ve tried taking their product. They’ve even tried going after their bases preemptively. None of it’s worked.

Darin knew to call her tonight when they found someone. She had an idea after their last encounter did nothing to scare the gang off. If this doesn’t convince them to stay out, nothing short of annihilation will. No matter the results the bosses won’t be able to accuse her of holding back.

The van stops and Melia comes around to let them out. Jillian hangs back and Jia matches her pace. She puts her head close to Jia’s and says, “You sure about this? This would be hardcore even for me.”

Jia nods. She did her research and this shouldn’t kill them. It likely won’t even do long term damage. The pain will be enormous though and word’s going to spread. In the middle of a field a small fire’s blazing. Two of her street level dealers, too minor to even have their names memorized, stand there holding pistols. A man and a woman are on their knees before the fire.

The light from the flames is bright enough to show the bruises. They’ve already received a beating to challenge the ones they normally give out for invasion of their territory. Jia’s adopted a no killing policy, telling everyone a severely beaten person coming back does more to spread fear than someone ending up dead. It’s probably true but it also lets her sleep a little better at night. The people she’s hurting will recover. If she tells herself that enough times it might convince her what she’s doing isn’t so bad.

The closer she gets the more she realizes the man and woman are more like a boy and a girl. She’d be surprised if they’re even eighteen. She feels guiltier about what’s about to happen by the second. She tells herself this will be the last terrible thing she has to do. There’s a reason she’s been drinking all night though. She’s going to need every advantage she has to make herself go through with her plan.

Her dealers grab the man and shove him flat on his face only feet from the fire. The woman’s crying lightly but they leave her alone for now. Jia approaches and leans down next to her. “My name’s Candy and this is my territory. Why would your gang invade my territory? Do you know who I work for. Do you want to get hurt?”

As the girl starts to raise her arms to form a begging posture, Jia jabs her in the chest, making a point of hitting a pressure point that starts her howling. She falls onto her back but scrambles back to her knees. “I swear we didn’t know. We’re new to the area. We were supposed to be in independent territory. That’s what we were told. We’re not part of any gang.”

Laughing, Jia pushes the woman onto her face, lifts her shirt and pulls her skirt down enough to reveal the tattoo of a tail right on the woman’s tail-bone. She whimpers but doesn’t make a move to stop Jia. “I’m supposed to believe you happened to get a tattoo identical to the one required by a major gang in the area? That’s a lot to ask, especially when you both have them.”

“No!” The woman looks wildly around. She has blood dripping from a cut above her left eye. “We were part of the Five Tails in Seattle. We ran away though. Nobody here knows us, we figured we could start over.”

Sighing, Jia walks toward the man. “That’d be a lot easier to believe if every member of the Five Tails didn’t tell me a similar story. Seattle, Orlando, Louisville, someone even told me Kalamazoo. Like the song. Sorry but I’m not buying it. I’d actually be more likely to show you mercy if you told me the truth. We’re probably beyond that though.”

Walking toward the man, Jia grabs him by the hair and lifts him from the ground. As he rises, he lashes out with his left hand, trying to throw a punch. She tries to catch it with her other hand but misses, the alcohol throwing her timing off. Her hand’s knocked aside and starts throbbing. The two low level dealers grab him before he can swing again. She gestures to throw him to the ground and they do so. She tries to shake it off but knows she has to earn back their respect now. She grabs the boy around the neck until his face starts to turn red. She eases up slightly. “Are you going to tell me the same story? All a ridiculous coincidence.”

“Screw you.”

Nodding, she signals to Darin and he starts walking closer. She stands up so she towers over the boy. “That’s better. At least you’re not lying to me. Look, I have to punish you and I can’t think of a better one than this. It’s inspired by your gang. If this doesn’t convince your people to stay out of my territory nothing will.” Darin pulls out the supplies. First a pair of nails, and not short ones. They’re followed by a hammer and two cat tails. She made sure they were taken from already dead animals. No point harming innocent cats.

Darin puts the nail and the tail before the man’s face. His eyes go wide and he tries to run. Her two dealers are there though, catching his arms and refusing to let go. The girl can see the same and would run but Jillian and Melia are there, each with a gun pointed at her. There isn’t any escape. Her sobs grow louder.

After he’s had a moment to look at the supplies Jia crouches next to him. She points at the woman. “Who is that to you? Just someone you were assigned to go out with or someone who matters?”

The man’s eyes are watering now. Snot’s running down his face and his lower lip quivers. “She’s my girlfriend.”

Nodding, Jia smiles. “Good news then. I’m going to give you a chance to be the best boyfriend ever. She’ll never be able to leave you if you do this right. Here’s the deal. I’m going to give you a tail. I’m sure you figured that out from the nail. It’s going to hurt like hell but it won’t kill you. After I’m done I’m going to give you a choice. You can either choose to accept a second tail, exactly like the first one, knowing exactly what that feels like. Or your girlfriend will get one of her own. Completely your call. Do you understand?” He stares at her but doesn’t respond. Tears start rolling down his face but he doesn’t make any noise. “Do you understand? Don’t make me ask again.”

He nods, slowly. She walks around behind him and gestures to Darin. He pulls the man’s pants down slightly, revealing his tattoo. He hands over the supplies. She lines the tail up and takes the nail, putting it in place. Pushing in hard enough that she can hold the entire set up with one hand. He tenses and tries to fight away but there’s no going anywhere and all the fight’s been beaten out of him. Jia considers a reprieve. She could tell him this will happen to whoever comes to her territory next. This kid doesn’t deserve this. If she doesn’t do it now though people will keep pushing. If she does this now she likely won’t have to do it again.

Her earlier mistake leaves her no choice. She can’t look weak. Heavy in her right hand, the hammer feels like a mallet. She takes a deep breath, wanting to look away but she can’t bring herself to do it. Her aim needs to be good and besides that, she can’t force him to go through this if she’s not willing to watch. She drives the hammer down. Her skin crawls as she feels the nail push through his flesh. Blood squirts out and he screams. He fights away harder but the nail’s penetrated and doesn’t go anywhere. Quickly reaching the bone, her progress slows. It takes nine strikes to drive the nail all the way in but finally the tail’s held firmly in place. Jia’s face has turned white and she’s fighting the urge to puke. She’s not done though.

Moving back around to the man’s head, he’s screamed himself ragged. His eyes are wild and he barely seems able to breathe. She looks him right in the eye and holds his gaze. “I’m sure that hurt like hell. Now’s your chance to be a hero to your girlfriend though.” She points at the girlfriend. When he won’t look at her Jia grabs him by his head and twists his neck until he’s staring the girl in the eye. “Time to make your call. Who’s getting the second tail?”

The man says something under his breath but he’s so quiet she can’t make it out. She tells him to repeat himself and he stares up at her, hatred on his face. Spit flies out of his mouth as he says, “Her.” Jia had hoped he’d take the second one himself. She didn’t want to put a second person through this torture. There was even the thought of letting him off easy on the second tail for his chivalry. She doesn’t say that though. She just nods and forces herself to smile. She hopes she doesn’t look too sick.

As she stands and walks toward the woman, she can see the look of horror on her face. “No, you can’t do this. Please. Please don’t do this to me. I’ll tell you whatever you want. Just please don’t do this to me.” She keeps walking and soon all she can hear are the woman’s screams.

Part 9

Part 11

Dynamo Vol. 2 Exit Strategy Part 2

A knock at her door causes Kalenia to jump in her bed. Turned on her side with her blankets twisted around her, the first thing she can see is there isn’t any light coming through the window Marco left open. Most of her lights are off but the one over her bed’s still on. “Excuse me Ms. Wallace, I apologize if I’m disturbing you but I’d like to talk if you have a few minutes.”

Out of the darkness walks a man Kalenia never expected to see in her hospital room. She glances at her morphine drip to make sure it wasn’t turned way up. George Stephan, the man running the Vigilantes Making Us Safe testing facility outside of town’s standing over her bed. Hes a short man with long white hair slicked all the way back and a large mustache. He’s wearing a suit very similar to what he was wearing the last time they met.

Looking to the door, she doesn’t see anyone nearby. The last time she saw the man he was so red she thought he might explode. Today he looks calm though, with a small smile under his mustache. She nods. He grabs the chair from the far side of the room and drags it to the side of her bed before sitting and crossing his legs.

“I greatly appreciate it. I can assure you I don’t come here to give you a hard time or make your life difficult. I heard what you’ve been through though and I wanted to offer some assistance.”

She presses the button to slowly put her bed back into a sitting position. Soon she’s towering over the man in his chair. “Is this something you do for all the vigilantes who get hurt?”

“Not quite. Your case is a bit unique though.”

“Why? Because you sent me out without requiring testing? Feeling bad about the way you acted?”

The man looks down, gripping his hands tightly together. He looks upset but not angry. “Perhaps a little but that’s not why I’m here. You know very well that I was against your becoming a vigilante. I must say that based on your recent actions I would reconsider that stance. A lot of people have been helped by what you’ve done. That gang was dangerous. They’re still out there but their power has been significantly cut into. If anything our program owes you a debt of gratitude. I don’t know that publicity like you’ve given us is good for your case but it isn’t bad for us.”

He might be right. She never expected the media to report on this as a vigilante case since she kept her face out of it. The police knew though and someone seems to have leaked it. Now the press won’t shut up about this major victory for President Hughes. Maybe Marco’s right about giving this up.

Kalenia’s eyes narrow and she brushes a few curls of hair from her face. “That why you’re here then? To gloat?”

“Nothing of the kind Ms. Wallace. I’d actually be here whether you turned into a good vigilante or not. I should have behaved better the last time we met. In truth I take this position fairly seriously, despite being forced into it. I believe vigilantes can be a force for good. Our program has a lot of flaws, I will freely admit.”

“On the record? I’d love to take your deposition.”

He laughs but uncrosses his legs and leans forward. “That wouldn’t do much for my goals of making us a force for good. That would help us no longer exist. I’m a fan of the negative coverage of the act. I believe it will get the public involved enough that they demand the changes we need to become sustainable. In the mean time my goal is to discourage negative vigilantes and take care of the good ones. You’ve proven to be a good one.”

For the first time since they met Kalenia smiles while he’s in the room. “Well, thanks I guess. I don’t need much though. I have good insurance, hospital’s taking care of me. I’m pretty much set.”

“I confess that I couldn’t do much with that anyway. My discretionary spending is limited. No, I can offer you something much more valuable. Information. Information which I believe might actually save your life.”

Despite the drugs she feels awake now. Using her hands to help her sit up further she looks him in the eyes. “Care to explain that? I’m awfully invested in being alive.”

“I’d think so. I have reason to believe that the gang you took on knew who you are. Possibly due to the actions of someone working within my organization.”

It takes a moment for Kalenia to react. This isn’t anything she didn’t already know but she doesn’t want Stephan to know she knew. It might throw her motivations for some of what happened at the casino into question. She’s not completely sure what her motivations were. Her eyes go wide. “You mean I’m exposed? Isn’t all of that supposed to be confidential?”

He nods, slowly. “They absolutely are. I can only apologize. As the man running my organization it is my responsibility to ensure security is taken seriously. A man stopped showing up for work two days after your injuries. Attempts to reach out to him and find out where he went were unsuccessful. I found it suspicious so I dug into his records and found he had accessed the private records of a number of our vigilantes. I’m contacting each of them but your recent injuries didn’t seem like a coincidence. That’s why I wanted to come meet with you personally. I assume someone involved in that organization likely now know who you are. I would take precautions to keep both you and your loved ones safe. I am willing to provide you with a security detail outside your room until you leave the hospital. Of either vigilantes or police officers, your choice.”

She considers her response. She doesn’t want to give away what she knows but she also doesn’t want to appear ungrateful. If they were going to strike at her family they’ve had weeks to do so. She smiles at the man but puts her hand to her chin appearing thoughtful. “I really appreciate the offer but my family values our privacy. I’ll tell them to be careful but if they haven’t come after us yet I don’t know that they will.”

The man nods before reaching into his pocket and pulling a card out. He sets it on the table in front of her. “I will leave you with my card. If you change your mind, please call. I know you may need some time away after all you’ve gone through but I do hope we see you back out there. You may not be sure this is the right way to help people but you are helping.”

He walks forward and offers his hand which she shakes. He starts to turn around when Kalenia has an idea. “There actually is one thing that would be a big help?”

He turns and walks back to the bed. “I will do my best to make it happen then. How can I assist?”

“I understand if this isn’t possible but can I get the name of the agent who stopped showing up for work? I’d love the opportunity to do some digging and try to track them down. I’m pretty good at finding people when I need to be and I’d love to find out for sure what he knows and what he might do.”

The man closes his eyes and crosses his arms. “I’d like to, but I really can’t give you that. I can assure you though that we’ve dedicated significant resources to finding him and haven’t been able to turn anything up. I don’t imagine you’d do any better.”

“I’d like to try still. I’m sure your people are great but this is my life.”

He turns to start walking out. He pauses in the doorway and pokes his head out, looking both ways. Without turning back around he says, “Lamar Hughes.” Without another word he walks out the door and closes it behind him.

Part 1

Part 3

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 6

Pushing the man’s hand away, Ryaan’s in no mood to deal with them. He tries to stand tall, projecting as much confidence as he can muster. “Attacker’s gone. What is it with Chicago and all of these terrible names?”

Looking to his partner, Jimmy’s shoulders slump a little. “What terrible names? Hope you’re not referring to us because we’re famous. People are running around wearing Goggles because of us.”

Nodding Ryaan leans forward. “Yet if they knew what you’re really like they’d be ashamed of you. Enjoy your crappy merchandise while you can. The rest of the city’s going to figure out what you’re like soon. Our area already knows.”

Billy’s hand goes to his gun but Jimmy turns to him and casually shakes his head no. They’re in a park filled with police and cameras. Shooting down the man who just saved their lives probably wouldn’t look good. Instead he turns to Ryaan and smirks. “Fine by us, if you take off we’ll get even more of the credit.”

Snorting as he walks away, Ryaan can only grin. “Not if they have eyes. Wonder how many cameras caught your part of the fight. Spin it all you want, but if they can watch it, people are going to know you didn’t do anything. I don’t have to stand around and tell them.”

Watching over his shoulder, Ryaan’s relieved when none of the police follow him. He ducks around a corner and finds the port a potty area abandoned as most of the people around have run away or sought shelter. He slips inside and locks the door. He quickly starts stripping out of his suit, stuffing it into his backpack. The awful smell he’s locked inside with makes him hurry to get his shirt and pants back on. He doesn’t bother changing his shoes.

Slipping out, he runs toward the city which looms over them. He pulls his cell phone from his bag and tries his sister Nadia’s phone. It rings only once before going to voicemail. He starts to worry. He raced off to try and keep everyone safe, including his sisters. Did he put them in danger instead? Another call to the number gets the same result.

Trying Mina’s phone number instead, the phone rings twice before he gets an answer. “Hello?” Her voice is ragged and worn out. It sounds like she’s been running.

“Where are you all? I’m near the buildings down toward the museum.”

Mina gives him directions to a sub shop about a half mile down the road. Slipping inside, he finds the three girls gathered at a table sharing a single medium drink. He rushes to the table and wraps his little sisters in a huge hug. While their faces are facing away he turns to Mina and mouths the words, “Thank you.”

She nods but doesn’t say anything. He pulls himself away from his sisters after a moment and turns to Nadia. “Why didn’t you answer when I called?”

Reaching into her pocket, Nadia pulls out her cell phone. It’s smashed and has no power. “I got shoved to the ground when everyone ran. The first time. Landed on it. Dad’s going to be mad, isn’t he?”

Shaking his head, Ryaan takes the phone from her and looks it over. “He’s going to mostly be glad you’re okay. What did he say when you called him?” The three girls quickly glance between each other, their eyes going wide. “Wait, you did call him, right?”

Part 5

Part 7

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 8

Walking in the door of Nowak Productions, the auto body shop he operates out of, Zach Thomas can feel the weight of the last night on him. He spent the entire night running around the city, climbing buildings, looking for the man who almost killed his fellow vigilante Sami. Morning didn’t end his hunt. It’s going on noon and the only reason he’s finally stopping is that he needs to reach his lunch meeting on time. Mr. Nowak found him a lead and he tracked the man down but he lost him in the New York night. Going back to the apartment he knows the man was staying at wasn’t any use. He found the door wide open and the apartment empty, the woman who was living with him having cleared out in a hurry.

The lights are on despite the early hour and a closer look finds Mr. Nowak slumped over a work bench in the back. He’s snoring loudly, apparently having spent the night here. Zach makes his way over to the man and puts a hand on his shoulder. When he doesn’t wake, Zach shakes him for a moment.

Nowak stirs. Rubbing his eyes as he pulls himself off the desk, Nowak reaches for his glasses. “Hey kid, welcome back. You had me worried, never heard from you after you went out last night. Did the equipment hold up?”

Zach tosses his helmet on the table in front of Nowak. “Depends on what you mean by hold up. I didn’t catch the guy and the heat vision would have helped but I knew that wasn’t an option going in. It was better than nothing.”

“What happened?”

Zach explains the events of last night as he climbs out of the rest of his suit. Nowak found one of the wedding dresses stolen during the same attack Sami was injured in and he tracked it to an apartment building. He waited for the attacker to show up which they finally did but they reached the roof and were able to easily lose him as they leapt between buildings. Zach tried to follow but he’s not a big jumper at the best of times and with his knee injured this isn’t the best of times. Soon the man was gone, flying between buildings like they were riding a bike.

Nowak looks him over, his eyes lingering on Zach’s center. “So you were jumping from roof to roof?”

“I mean, I jumped from one roof to another. I couldn’t keep up though. Thought about using the winch but that’s not fast enough and this guy was flying.”

“You’re lucky to be alive.”

He messed up. Letting the man get to the roof was his biggest mistake. The second the thief reached the roof the chase was over. If he can get this guy in close quarters he should be able to take him down. He’s fast and moves well but he doesn’t have any sort of armor or anything that would protect him from Zach’s shock baton. “Do you have any other leads on the dresses?”

Shaking his head, Nowak stumbles to his computer. “I haven’t been looking, was hoping you’d take the guy down last night and we could stop obsessing. Not sure where to look now. Guy’s going to need to sell the dresses still but they likely won’t go back to the online ads. They probably know that’s how you tracked them down.”

Fighting out of his pants, they catch on his knee and he cringes. After last night he feels even further from 100%. “Keep an eye on the classifieds anyway. They may not have figured out I’m the reason they were found. Look for any places buying wedding dresses too, especially any who might be willing to play loose with ID.”

“Fine. Lorelei gets out of the hospital today by the way.”

“Okay.”

“She wants to meet with you, check on your knee. I told her how much it’s bothering you still; she was concerned.”

Reaching into a locker, Zach pulls out a pair of khaki pants and a shirt. “She has more important things to worry about at the moment. Besides, I’m meeting Linus for lunch.”

Nowak hands him a hair brush. Looking at himself in the mirror he realizes why. Helmet hair. Nowak says, “Fine, but you still need to take care of yourself. She said she’ll come by your place tonight. She wants to look you over.”

Pulling a light jacket over his shirt, mostly for looks considering how warm today is, Zach walks toward the exit. “Tell her she doesn’t need to. She has way more important things to worry about and I’m fine.”

Stepping between Zach and the exit, Nowak puts a hand up to stop him. “That’s nice and all but let her make that call. She’s worried about you. Let her stop by, take a look. You can’t help them if you mess your knee up worse and can’t go out.”

Shaking his head, Zach sighs and walks around the man. “I’m not her boss but let her know it isn’t necessary. I’m alright.”

He walks out onto the New York street, slamming the door behind him. He locks the shop and makes his way toward lunch.

Part 7

Part 9

Red Line: The Future Part 14

The cafeteria’s still pitch black when Tara shows up, practically dragging her sister after her. She’d have no problem throwing her over her shoulder and carrying her if she thought it’d get them here faster. With dinner over for several hours there’s normally no need to keep the lights on this late. Anyone wanting a snack can turn them back on but with a fantastic recreation room on the same floor the cafeteria isn’t a hangout spot. That makes it perfect for a group looking for a little privacy.

The sparkling black material of her dress catches the light and stands out. That was the goal. She can’t remember the last time she wore a dress. When Melissa saw her changing into it her eyes went wide and she started laughing. She was even surprised Tara brought a dress to the base but she tries to be prepared. Tonight she wants to look good.

Melissa changed as well, not wanting to show up to hang out in her dress uniform. She went a little more casual though. A nice red blouse that compliments her hair and a pair of black jean shorts. She spent more time fixing her hair after taking it out of the bun she kept it in for the presentation than she did worrying about her outfit.

Unsure what to do while they wait, Tara pulls a chair out at the nearest table to help her sister. Melissa shoots her a dirty look but takes the chair. A long day seems to have taken its toll on her. She’s willing to accept some help, even if she doesn’t like doing so. “I can’t believe you’ve been giving me the cold shoulder for a week because you didn’t want to be on the team.”

Pulling a chair out for herself, Tara starts to sit backwards before deciding the only way she’ll manage that is if she pulls her dress up around her hips and gives everyone a show. Even she’s not that bad around people. Instead she corrects the chair and sits down, crossing her legs for modesty. Looking down, she grimaces at the couple of small nicks from having to shave her legs in record time. They’ve stopped bleeding at least. “I do want to be on the team, or at least the field team. I want to back you up. I wanted you to get it more though. You only got hurt because you joined the army. That’s on me and if this can help you then I want you to get it.”

Leaning in for a hug, they’re still holding each other when they hear the door open. Turning they see Wyatt’s the next to arrive. He spent the entire time they sat next to each other at the announcement chatting her up and trying to flirt but she told him he wasn’t her type. He seemed disappointed but it didn’t last long.

Wyatt didn’t change it seems, he only removed his heavy military jacket to reveal a basic cotton shirt. He was invited to bring a guest but seems to be alone. When he sees the sisters he smiles and jogs across the room. His smile’s primarily focused on Melissa which almost makes Tara snort. If he’s not her type then he’s most definitely not her sister’s.

“Evening ladies, nice to see you again. I wanted to congratulate you Red but I didn’t get a chance before everyone took off back there. It’s Melissa, right?”

Extending a hand to the man, Melissa nods and smiles back. “It is. I’d stand but you know, it hurts.” They both chuckle at that. “Congratulations to you too. You must be excited. I’m sure your family will be proud.”

He puts a leg up on a chair, stretching out in a way which makes Tara feel embarrassed for him. “Oh ya, it’s great. My old man’s going to be crazy excited when we go public. He served in Vietnam and the whole reason I joined the military was him. What are we drinking?”

The doors fly open, banging against the wall with a clang. With a giant grin and several bottles in his arms Kurt walks in. Sandy’s right behind, waving at the sisters as they cross the room. “I’m here folks and I’m glad to say I have brought the drinks. We can get the party started.” His hair’s unkempt and Sandy’s looks to be the same. She keeps it short, likely because of how few options military hair standards provide. A few strands standing up seem out of place though and she wonders what they were doing and if whatever it is explains their being the last ones here when this was their idea.

They settle in, Kurt choosing to sit backwards the way Tara wanted to. He grabs the last chair at the table, leaving Sandy without a place to sit. She grabs a chair from the next table over but not before giving Kurt a light smack across the head. “You couldn’t grab me a chair? Really? Such a gentleman.”

“I try. You can get your own chair. Consider it practice for taking care of yourself on the field team.” His eyes run over the group but she notices them pause to run over her legs. He catches her noticing and looks away quickly but she smiles, not minding. She’s not sure Sandy would be okay with it though.

“Okay,” Sandy says with a snort, pushing him to inch over and make room for her chair. She’s dressed casually in a pair of shorts and a tank top. “I guess we can get this party started at least. Anyone have cups?”

There’s none around but Tara knows where they’re kept in the back. She jumps up to run to the pantry, pulling her dress down as she goes. It’s really not that short, it reaches her knees. She’s not used to exposing even that much though and the air on her legs is both nice and uncomfortable.

Choosing between actual glasses which they’ll have to wash after drinking or a set of mini paper cups takes a moment but the little cups make sense. From what she saw Kurt brought whiskey, rum and two different bottles of tequila. These can approximate shot glasses which seems perfect.

Tossing them to Kurt as she returns, he looks them over and then gives her a look with one eyebrow up. “These work, though I think you may seriously underestimate how much I can put away.”

Pouring cups for everyone, Melissa turns to Wyatt. “You didn’t bring anyone with you?”

Coughing and not meeting her eye he still has a smile across his face. “I uh, don’t really know anyone here yet. Haven’t had the time to get to know many people. I want to though. Need to make some friends. Hopefully good ones.” He inches his chair slightly closer to Melissa.

Cringing at the display, Tara turns to Kurt and Sandy. “So when did you two meet?” The second she asks she regrets it. She doesn’t want to think about the two of them. She shouldn’t think about either of them.

Exchanging a look, they laugh and Sandy punches Kurt’s arm. “Twenty eight years ago.”

Kurt puts his hands on his hips and shakes his head. “No, it was twenty seven and change. You are not twenty eight yet.”

“I’m close enough.” She downs her shot and pours another. Tara’s trying to keep up so she downs another shot of tequila.

Looking at Melissa, she seems to be nursing the first shot she took. She takes a sip of it and makes an awful face. Is this the first time she’s drunk alcohol? They’ve never talked about it before. They’ve always been close but she never brought Melissa along to parties. Bringing your little sister isn’t cool. Some of her friends must have taken her to a party though, right? “So wait, you two have known each other your entire life? How’s that work?”

Pulling a flask from the pocket of his shorts, Kurt pours a brown liquid into three cups. He slides one in front of each of the women. He looks over to Wyatt and Melissa but they seem locked in conversation and both still have plenty of their first drinks. “That’s usually how it works when someone’s your sister.”

“Half sister.” Sandy slams her cup and Kurt’s right behind her.

“Wait, so you’re brother and sister? You have different names.” Tara’s staring back and forth between the pair in surprise. After a moment she notices her cup’s still sitting there full. She sniffs it and realizes it’s strong.

“That’s from my private stash, really good stuff. If you like whiskey you’ll like it.” Tara takes a moment to breathe in before pounding the cup. The burn hits her hard and she starts coughing, covering her mouth. Kurt starts to laugh. “You’ll be alright, cough it out if you need to. Ya, that’s my little sister. Half sister, hence the names. There’s a few sets of siblings here. Makes sense I guess with the tests being based on DNA. Why’d you think we were something else?”

“I don’t know, the captain was talking about you being a ladies man and then you were running off to hang out with her.”

Sandy slaps the table. “Shoot, don’t give him too much credit. He thinks he’s smooth but he spends almost all his time hanging out with me. He’s all bark.”

Shaking his head, Kurt looks to Tara. “Ignore her. She thinks I’m a joke but that’s because she’s never seen my A game. Not the stuff you break out in front of your sister.”

“Oh, you have an A game huh?”

“Hell yes I have an A game.”

“Prove it.” Sandy sits there staring at her brother, cocking her head slightly to the side, grinning with her entire face.

“What the hell do you mean prove it?”

“There’s a pretty girl sitting right here next to you. Let’s see your A game.”

Looking at the ground, Kurt takes his flask back out of his pocket and takes a big sip. “That would be inappropriate. We work together and I’m going to be on a team with her sister. Besides, where’s your A game? You could bring it yourself.”

Looking to Melissa, she’s inched a little further from Wyatt. He doesn’t seem to be giving her a hard time but he’s persistent and doesn’t seem to be getting Melissa’s hints that she isn’t interested. “I think Wyatt’s a little fascinated by my sister.”

Grinning at Sandy, Kurt says, “I wasn’t talking about Wyatt. Not exactly my sister’s type.”

Several punches reign on Kurt’s arm. Sandy stares him down, wide eyes with her lips pursed. “I think you’ve had enough to drink tonight. Maybe enough for this week.”

Picking up on what Kurt meant, Tara decides to change the subject. “If you want to show off your A game, that’s okay. I mean, I can be an impartial jury if you want. See what you have. I’m not going to go easy on you though.”

Sandy’s demeanor changes back to a positive one, laughing and clapping her hands. “You have to now, you have permission. Let’s see this so called A game.”

Looking for a way out and finding none, Kurt sighs. “Alright, you ladies asked for it. Fair warning.” Turning his chair to face Tara’s, he scooches closer to her until their faces are only a foot apart. Running his hand through his hair, he smiles and already she can feel herself wanting to lean toward him. He has a great smile. His eyes are a beautiful light blue and when he smiles his eyes follow suit. “Girl, I can’t help but notice that you’ve been noticing me. I don’t like to make assumptions but I do need to let you know, I think you’re absolutely beautiful. Are you here with anyone tonight?”

Staring into his eyes, it takes Tara a moment to realize a response is expected. “Uh, no, just my sister.”

“Well that’s a real shame. You deserve someone to appreciate how amazing you are. I don’t think I could be more impressed. Smart, tough, able to handle basic training like a pro, and then to be this absolutely beautiful. Any man who gets the chance to be your man is the luckiest one on earth.”

Sandy rolls her eyes and snorts at this but Tara’s lost in his eyes. He reaches out and takes her hand. His hands are tender and clasp hers gently but they have a roughness to them. She tries to regain her composure and straighten her back. “That’s a very nice thing to say.”

“Nice doesn’t begin to describe the things I want to say to you. I know you probably aren’t looking for anything serious right now. I know this is an important moment in your life. If you could carve a little corner of your time out for me though, I’d be eternally grateful for every moment you grant me.”

The stare’s what really drives it home. Looking into his eyes, every word seems sincere. Her lips stammer and she tries to find words but nothing’s coming. Keeping her eyes open and breathing’s all she can manage.

A slow clap emerges from the side. They turn to find Sandy making the noise. “Bravo, I have to give it up, that was A game.” Managing to move her head, she sees Wyatt and Melissa are both watching as well. Melissa makes an exaggerated fanning motion which Tara promises herself she’ll get her for.

Climbing out of his chair, his face twists into a grin. “Maybe next time you’ll know not to doubt me. You’ve seen the ladies I hang out with. I can bring it when I need to bring it.”

Stupid. She’s so stupid. She said she was okay with it but that felt so real. She wanted it to be real. He’s way too old for her. She knows that. He’s charming though, and she loves blue eyes. They’re her favorite feature. Her dad would hate him but she doesn’t care. She wants this man.

Looking back at her, Kurt sits back down but moves his chair back a little. “So I assume you give me a passing grade.”

“Ya, uh, ya, that was pretty A grade. I knew you were proving something but it was hard to remember. Well done.” She still can’t look him in the eye.

“Hey.” He takes her hand again and Sandy looks away. “Look at me.” She tries to do so but she’s still not meeting his eyes. “For the record, I wasn’t lying. That’s the secret of bringing the A game, you need to put the truth in it. You’re awesome. I probably shouldn’t get involved with someone in the unit but you’re pretty great and I’d like us to be friends. Why don’t we be friends? No game, I don’t think you need game. Just two people getting to know each other.”

She gives his hand a little squeeze as her heart pounds. “I think I’d like that.”

“Awesome. You want to get out of here then? Go somewhere and get to know each other?”

Everything in her wants to say yes. From her head to her toes and everywhere in between. She hopes somewhere is his room even if that’s not the message she’s getting. Then she sees her sister still being talked up by Wyatt. She keeps looking over at Tara, going big eyed and searching for assistance. How long’s that been going on? Why didn’t she see it earlier? “I’d really like to but I came with my sister and I think she might need a hand.”

Sandy pops her head between them, almost giving Tara a heart attack. “I got her. Least I can do after being a jerk. Go, get to know each other.” She stops to make air quotes. “I’ll make sure she’s alright.”

Standing up, Kurt puts a finger in his sister’s face. “Be good.”

“I will be. Get out of here before I have other ideas.”

Still holding her hand, Kurt pulls Tara to his feet. The alcohol goes straight to her head. Her feet feel weak but his hands steady her. She hasn’t noticed how tall he is until now. He’s easily got a half foot on her and she’s five seven. Leading the way out of the room with a hand on her back, she follows his lead, eager to see what secrets tonight still holds.

Part 13

Part 15

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 9

The back of the limo they have Jillian driving’s outfitted with a lot of luxuries. A fridge with drinks, snacks, magazines. Jia’s annoyed there’s no liquor but with a pregnant woman being the target apparently it wasn’t deemed necessary. As she prepares to terrorize a pregnant woman though, she finds it pretty necessary.

A door opens and a woman who looks very pregnant plops inside, not even taking a moment to look first. She tosses her purse aside and is starting to buckle herself in before noticing she’s not alone. The doors lock and Jillian starts driving. She wanted to ask how she felt about doing this to someone in the same situation but was too afraid she’d get punched in the jaw as a result.

When the woman sees Jia sitting there her eyes go wide. She glances to the door but seeing them locked, she doesn’t make a move to escape. “What do you want?” She reaches into her purse and pulls a pack of cigarettes out. Grabbing one and stuffing it into her mouth, her hand shakes as she lifts a lighter to her face. “You see what you’re making me do? Blame yourself if my baby comes out with three arms or something.”

Snorting in the front, Jillian puts up the barrier between the front and back of the limo. Jia stares the woman down, unsure what she can use against her. She planned to threaten the baby but now she wonders how effective that’s going to be. “I’m here representing a group that would like your help.”

Blowing a cloud of smoke right at her, she narrows her eyes. “You’re with the Delux Gang.” Jia’s eyes go wide and the woman rolls her eyes. “Give me a little credit. There aren’t any others that want Rich dead that bad. What,” she says with a pause between words, “do, you, want?”

Closing her eyes, Jia takes a moment to wonder what sort of forgiveness she’ll need for what she’s about to do. Opening them again, she leans across the limo and snatches the cigarette from the woman’s mouth. She takes a single puff of it herself and then puts it out on the woman’s left leg, exposed under the shimmering silver dress she’s wearing. She lets out a yelp. “What the hell’s the matter with you? That hurts.”

“It’s supposed to. I’m not playing games with you. Figured we’d get that out of the way real quick.”

“I’m not even putting up a fight you slag.”

She presses a hand to the side of the woman’s face, pursing her lips and trying to look sympathetic. That lasts only a moment as she takes her hand away and slaps her as hard as she can manage across the face. “You’re not. Now you know not to. This can go a few different ways but there’s one you’re going to be a lot happier with. Are you ready to listen?”

The woman presses her hand to her slapped face, rubbing it. “I’ve been ready to listen since you got here. I’ve asked you twice what you want. Why don’t you stop wasting my time and say what you want? Slap me if I deserve it, but don’t do it for fun.”

Jia leans back in the limo, getting comfortable and trying to figure this woman out. “It’s really pretty simple. You don’t have to make anyone dead or anything like that.”

“Pity. I can think of a few people I’d like to.”

Fighting the urge to jump across the limo and slap the woman again, Jia says, “You’ll be on your own for that. We want you to be a spy in your boyfriend’s organization.”

“Done.”

Did she hear that right? She had a huge speech prepared about how it would keep her safe. As a backup plan she figured she’d slap her around a little more, keeping it to the face. She didn’t have a plan for if the woman went right along with her. “What do you mean done? We haven’t talked about reasons, details, compensation, anything like that.”

“I’m pretty sure we can work that out. I want a few things but I don’t think you’ll have a hard time getting them. More than that though, I want to stop Rich. Working with you can make that happen.”

“Why?”

“Does it matter?”

The woman reaches into her purse and starts to pull out another cigarette. Jia snatches this one before she can light it. “Ya, it matters. We need to know we can trust you. Someone this eager doesn’t seem trustworthy.”

With a sigh, the woman puts her hands on her stomach. “You have any idea how heavy this is to carry around? Not half as bad as it’s going to be carrying a baby around while constantly watching over my back for people like you in the shadows. I want out. I want to take my baby, move to the middle of nowhere and have the money to do it. I don’t want to worry about Rich over my shoulder. I gave him the chance to set me up with it before and he refused. Wants his boy with him. Asked him to leave with me and the baby, he refused. Loves what he does. I don’t have any other choices. I don’t have any money and I don’t have nowhere to go. You give me another option and I’m jumping on it.”

Staring her down, Jia realizes she got what she wanted without having to fight. “Fair enough then. You’re to listen for anything about missions against the Delux Gang or any other major players. Any big territory moves. Any other details you think we can use.” She takes a card from her pocket, a gift from Tommy. Passing it to the woman, she looks her straight in the eye. “That’s a direct line to me. It’s a burner phone but if I have to switch it out, I’ll find a way to get you the new one. You know something, you call it from an unknown phone. Either a burner, a pay phone, a land line that isn’t tied to you, something good. We’ll meet and you’ll pass any details on in person. Sound good?”

“Whatever.” She looks bored but she takes the card and slips it into her purse. “Drop me off down the road from my place. I noticed we’re moving that way. You know the place.”

They pull to the side of the road and for the first time since the woman got in the limo, they stop. She reaches for the door but it’s still locked. “Are you going to let me out? If I don’t get home soon people are going to get suspicious.”

Jia reaches out and puts her hand around the woman’s neck. “One last thing. If you betray us, we’ll find out. We have other sources. If it comes down to it, you won’t be the one to suffer, at least not at first. Your baby will suffer long before you do.”

Jillian unlocks the doors from up front. The woman glares at her but doesn’t say another word. She climbs out of the limo and slams the door behind her.

Slumping in her seat, Jia puts her hands over her face. She’s going to be a real joy to work with. Hopefully she won’t be here long enough to have to actually manage the woman. The glass divider between the front and back of the limo comes down and Jillian looks through with a grin on her face. “Welcome to the Delux Gang. This only gets harder from here.” She turns back around and soon the limo’s moving through the night again.

Dynamo Vol. 2 Exit Strategy Part 1

Boredom sets in after a few days stuck in a hospital bed. You get tired of people staring at you. Are they waiting for you to die? Do they think you’ll get better? More than anything Kalenia Wallace wants to go home. To return to work. To have her boyfriend Marco wrap his arms around her and tell her it’s alright. None of that’s happening at the moment.

The last time she was hurt while acting as a vigilante under the Vigilantes Making Us Safe, or VMUS, Act she was able to get back in the office within a few days. She shrugged off being stabbed in the shoulder. Pushed through the anger and the hurt. Comforted herself with training and weapons which she was sure would keep her safe. They didn’t work. She was still every bit as vulnerable to a man with a gun. This time though she couldn’t push through it and pretend nothing happened.

When Marco arrived at the hospital she expected a big fight. Instead she found him sleeping by her bed when she woke up from surgery, his eyes red from crying. The next time she opened her eyes he was holding her hand and smiling at her. They haven’t talked about the reason she’s here or how she got hurt. He even stepped outside when a detective showed up to question her. After two weeks of sitting around here they’re walking on eggshells. Marco’s smart enough that he has to have figured out at least the rough details. Even if he’s content to sit around playing the doting boyfriend now, that’s going to pass and a fight’s going to happen.

Everyone keeps saying how lucky she is. The bullet nicked her liver but somehow avoided major blood vessels. A few inches in almost any direction and there’s a good chance she’d have never made it to the hospital. Even if she did she’d be in for months of physical therapy and hospitalization. With the bullet missing anything major though the doctors are talking about discharging her in a few days or maybe a week. She’ll need to take it easy for a month or two but she can go home and get back to her life.

A giant stack of paperwork sits next to her bed. Her assistant was here on the second day she was in the hospital to bring all of her case files. Her clients need the best legal defense and they aren’t about to wait. A few cases did have court dates pushed back while others had to be reassigned but plenty of others are still upcoming. She can’t wait to get back into the courtroom. A part of her even wonders if she can play the injury up in court though another part of her feels guilty even considering it.

Orange Jello and soup are the only things she’s been eating. Anything else makes her stomach upset with the medicine they have her on. A packet of the jello’s sitting on the tray next to her bed right now but her focus is on a case file for Edgar Juatco. He’s back in court next week and she’s hopeful she’ll be back on her feet in time to represent him. She keeps glancing at the door, hoping to see Marco walk in. He went back to work last week but has so far refused any trips out of town. His work’s been great at giving him the time they need. He should be here any time.

A nurse pokes her head in to ask if Kalenia needs anything but she shakes her head. She’s used to spending time alone but it’s one thing when you’re in your own house with a giant TV, stacks of books, bottles of wine. It’s another when you’re in a strange bed in a strange room and want to be anywhere else. She breathes a huge sigh of relief when Marco walks in, tossing her case file back on the stack.

“Thank god you’re here. I can’t take another minute of daytime TV.”

Walking to her bed, he leans down and gives her a kiss. It’s brief, his lips barely brushing hers before pulling away. That’s the only way he’s kissed her since she’s been here. At first she thought it was because he was afraid to hurt her but her mind’s starting to wander. A bundle of lilies, her favorite flower, are slipped into the vase by her bed as the ones from two days ago are taken out and tossed in the trash. “Glad I get to keep you entertained.” He takes a jacket off, something he wears all times of year regardless of the weather, and tosses it on a chair before slumping into it. “How are you feeling this afternoon?”

Positioning her bed so she’s sitting up, she feels a slight twinge in her stomach. She figures she’ll be feeling that for a long time. “Mostly alright. Dr. Batra’s been around a lot and he’s pretty sure I’ll be going home later in the week. He wants me to wait a few weeks more before going back to work but I don’t see why I can’t work as long as I take it easy.

“You should take your time. The clients aren’t going anywhere. They need you at your best.” There are large black circles under his eyes. She knows he hasn’t been sleeping much but he won’t talk about it. Every time they’re together he wants to focus entirely on her.

“These clients can’t wait. I’m the best lawyer for them so I’m going to push through it. and get back. Don’t worry, I can handle it.”

Marco flips over to the news and the conversation fades for a few minutes. When it goes to commercial though he turns back to her. “So, your mom called.”

“Oh? Any change on her coming to visit?”

He laughs and leans forward. “You know very well pigs will fly before your mother gets away from her new boyfriend and comes out here. Do you want me to give her your number here in the room?”

“No.”

“Alright then. Your uncle says he still hasn’t heard from your dad but when he does he’ll tell him. Your sister-“

“I talked to Shanika. She’s busy with the kids.”

“Right. Good news though is that you’ve got me and my mom’s going to stop by tomorrow during the day.”

Laughing hurts so she fights one back. “I’ll wait on her with great anticipation.”

They get quiet again. Marco starts rubbing his hands along his legs and Kalenia notices he won’t look her in the eye. “I’ve put this off but I think it’s time we talk. Your mom asked me earlier what happened and I didn’t really have an answer to give her. A lot of people are asking and I don’t have an answer for any of them. I mean, I think I do but I don’t feel right giving that until I’m sure and I might keep it to myself even once I am. What happened?”

Now it’s Kalenia’s turn to look at the faded blue carpeting on the floor. She takes a deep breath but it hurts and she clutches her stomach. She can see Marco tense up at the sight of it. “Well-”

“If you aren’t ready to talk about it yet we can wait, but we are going to need to do so.”

She shakes her head. “No, it’s better we get to it now. Having it hanging over me isn’t good for my stress level. You know I signed up for the vigilante act.”

She manages to look at his face and she waits for him to look back at her. When he finally meets her gaze, he gives a weak nod. “I was afraid the story would start that way. I hoped you just wanted to gamble but had a feeling that wasn’t it.”

“You want the truth, right?” He nods. “Okay then. I’ve been going out when you’re out of town. I didn’t want to hide it from you but I knew you wouldn’t like it and I didn’t want to argue.”

“What do you mean by going out?”

She glares at him and he shrinks back in his chair. “Let me get this out, then you can ask all your questions. I mean going out looking for criminals. I got a lead on a big drug bust. Which I handled beautifully by the way. Stopped the drugs from getting on the streets, caught some of the big guys in power, didn’t get hurt. It was perfect. One of the guys involved I found out had a connection to the casino. I went there and recognized one of the guys from the drug bust. Followed him around and found a big operation beneath the casino. I stopped it but when I was getting away one of their guys shot me.” Silence returns to the room. Marco’s head’s been working its way closer to the floor as the story continued. “That’s it by the way. You can talk now.”

He looks up at her with tears in his eyes. “Your shoulder?”

“That was from stopping an attempted rape. Totally worth it.”

“But you were out as a vigilante, right?” She nods. “Are you done with that?”

It’s a questions she’s been considering since she ended up here. “I know I probably should be. I’ve done this for a few weeks and I got seriously hurt twice. I’m honestly not sure though.”

Getting up from the chair, Marco walks to her side and takes her hand. He crouches next to the bed so he’s not towering over her. “Honey, I know you don’t like to quit. I want you to quit this though. You’re so lucky to still be here. You wanted to find a unique perspective to bring to your case. You got it. Why wouldn’t that be enough? You know I’m pretty understanding. I’m okay with you jumping off buildings all the time but there has to be a limit.”

She closes her eyes and looks away from him. “All of that’s true but think about what I did. I stopped a woman from getting raped. I stopped two truckloads of drugs from getting out on the streets. I threw their operation into disarray at the casino.”

“You killed people too.” His gaze is accusatory. He wants that to drive home everything she’s done but she doesn’t shrink from the gaze, looking right back into his eyes. His eyes get wider and he releases her hand.

“So you read the stories. I absolutely did, but so did they. The people I killed were people who needed to be put down. People who took pride in hurting others and putting crap out on the streets.”

“People you’d represent if it came down to it.”

She tries to sit up more but the pain’s too much and she has to lean back in the bed and squeeze her fists together until they start turning white. “Yes, if they were in a court of law. They weren’t here though and these weren’t low level nobodies. They were the people running the show, getting rich on the back of the people I represent. They’d have killed me if I didn’t get them first. I don’t feel guilty about it.”

Walking to the window, Marco moves a curtain aside. There’s not much to see from here. Only a parking lot and a few buildings in the distance. It’s still bright outside and with as dim as she keeps her room the glare hits her eyes and stings. “Look, I don’t want to make this a thing. I know you were doing what you thought was best and it was self defense. I love you. I want you to stop being a vigilante though. I want us to have a normal life. Can you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

He turns back to her, a smile spreading over his face. “Well, thanks for being honest at least. That’s more than you’ve been doing lately.” He picks his coat up. “Look, I need some air. I’m going for a walk. Think about it. I’d like an answer before you get out of here.”

“An ultimatum? What happens if I don’t make the choice you want?”

“Honestly? I have no idea. I’d rather not find out.”

“Why don’t you go home?”

Moving to her side, Marco takes her hand and squeezes it again. “I don’t need to go, I just got here. I’ll get some air and be back in a little bit.”

Closing her eyes, Kalenia struggles not to breathe deeply and make the pain worse. “No, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Take a night off. Get some dinner, watch some TV. We’ll talk about this later. I promise I’m going to think on it. Can you think about it too though? If I decide I need to do this, I don’t want you running out the door.”

He leans down and gives her a long kiss, the best they’ve had since she’s been here. “I don’t want that either. I don’t know that I can watch you kill yourself though. I’ll think about it. Promise.”

He starts to walk away but at the last moment she grabs at his hand. “Can you have a nurse or doctor or someone come in here when you get a chance? I could use some pain meds.” He nods before pulling his hand free and walking out. She closes her eyes and tries to drift to sleep.

Part 2

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 5

The next few minutes pass fast. The police haul the bomb away to be analyzed. Apparently unconcerned with any other attempts at attack, the crowds are called back so the festivities can resume. Food stands are repopulated and a group’s soon playing music in the background.

Ryaan tries to slip into the crowd and change but a police officer stops him. “Hang around. We want to question you after things are finished. Nothing serious but we need to go over a few things.” The man looks him up and down. Maybe it’s his imagination but it feels like his eyes linger on every piece of exposed skin. It makes him shiver. “In the meantime, stay close. You’ll get a great view of the show as a thank you for helping.”

With the presentation now set for an hour after the original time, the crowd start growing bored. Ryaan tries to catch sight of his sisters and Mina but they’re lost in the sea of bodies. The cops around him seem more at ease as a lot of the crowd seems to have calmed down since being allowed to return. It’s almost quiet, or at least as quiet as a Chicago festival can be.

A group of men start raising a screen at the back of the stage. Something seems like it’s about to start when the national anthem starts playing over the loud speakers spread around the park. Staring toward the aquarium at the end of the pier, Ryaan can make out movement. The crowd picks up on it as well. They start turning, jumping up and down, raising children into the air. Their earlier calm vanishes, replaced by shouting and cheering. Men are high fiving each other while women hug.

Armed police officers lead the way down the carpet that’s been set up for the event, leading all the way from the aquarium to the stage. The mayor follows behind, though he keeps glancing back at the line behind him uncomfortably. Near the back of the procession, followed only by a few more officers, come the Goggle Guys, each flanked by a tall blonde woman. Neither of the women seems dressed for the occasion but then, neither do the Goggle Guys. They’re wearing the same leather nightmares they wear every other day.

Every ten feet or so one of them stops to flex or try to pump up the crowd. Every time they do the cheers get louder. Ryaan can barely stand it with his hands over his ears. The women with them are hanging off their arms. They look like twins, each almost identical in height. That means the smaller of the men, Jimmy, has a girl on his arm who towers over him, while the taller of the men, Billy, towers over his date.

When the men stop, the women don’t seem to get the hint because each time at least one of them almost trips. In the process of steadying themselves they almost fall out of the tiny shirts they’re wearing. Neither seems to mind, the grins on their faces if anything get larger.

The mayor seems fed up with it. Ryaan notices an eye roll from him as he has to stop for the fourth time, unable to get too far ahead of the rest of the group without spreading their security dangerously thin. His hand slowly taps on his shoulder as he keeps his arms crossed but the rest of the crowd doesn’t seem to notice. None of them are staring at anyone but the Goggle Guys.

A woman in an American flag bikini tries to get close enough to grab them and the men seem receptive but their security detail steps in and pushes her away. The women they’re escorting glare at the newcomer, who has to be kept back by security, and after a moment she relents and slips back into the crowd. The men resume their march to the stage.

Even having to stay close, the mayor reaches the stage long before the Goggle Guys. He waits patiently as more eyes turn toward him, no longer showing his annoyance. When they get to the stage Jimmy rushes up the four steps while Billy leaps onto the stage without even using the stairs. Their dates aren’t allowed up with them but they’re escorted to the side of the stage, not far from where Ryaan’s standing. Jimmy looks over to his date and winks, causing Ryaan to try to shrink into the crowd. His costume and mask stand out here and he doesn’t want them to notice him.

On the stage the men lock arms and do a bit of a dance to the cheers of the crowd. They separate and run to opposite ends of the stage, then run back to each other and high five in the middle of the stage. The mayor starts to say something but he’s drowned out by the roaring crowd. Unable to be heard, he makes his way to the Goggle Guys and whispers something in Jimmy’s ear. The man nods and makes a quiet down gesture to the crowd. A good chunk of the crowd listens to him. Ryaan notices Billy reach down and adjust his gun, realizing for the first time the man actually brought it with him into a crowd this size.

The mayor returns to the microphone stand in the middle of the stage grinning from ear to ear. “Hello Chicago.” The crowd roars their appreciation, though between his background and the crowd’s makeup very few of them likely voted for him. He lets them get it out for a minute, running his hand through his hair. “We’re here today to honor a pair of heroes, responsible for saving the lives of everyone in our great aquarium two days ago. These brave men stepped forward in our hour of need, risking their own lives to protect others. The group nearest the bomb were on a school field trip. Children. While I don’t want us to forget the sort of evil that would target such people, I want to make today a positive day. A day about honoring these great Americans. Let’s show them our appreciation.”

He throws his arms in the air and the Goggle Guys do the same, their stomachs hanging out as their shirts rise. The crowd doesn’t need any further encouragement. Jimmy rushes to the microphone as the mayor’s eyes go wide. “Thank you so much for the love Chicago. It means the world to us.” Ryaan can barely hear them.

The mayor fights his way past the man and gets the microphone back. He laughs as he does so but it sounds fake to Ryaan’s ears. “We appreciate all you give to us and the city loves you back. I have a bit of a surprise though.” He turns to gesture at the screen. “We have a message from a very important person who I think you’ll all be big fans of. If everyone will watch, I think you’ll be pretty happy with this.”

At first the crowd starts to get louder but then the face of President Richard Hughes appears on the screen. He’s squinting and for a moment his hand moves to shield his eyes but after a moment a huge smile spreads across his face. “Hello Chicago.”

The cheers go up and the mayor steps forward to address the crowd. “The president has agreed to join us live in order to give his thanks to our heroes today. If everyone can keep things down and allow him to speak that would be greatly appreciated.”

Chuckling, the president turns his head as if to look at the mayor but he looks the wrong way. “Thank you Mr. Mayor. Thank you to Chicago as well. I don’t want to take up too much of your celebration but I did want to thank the,” he pauses and tries to focus on something in the distance, “Goggle Guys for saving the day. I know they put themselves in danger to make sure others would be safe and that’s the mark of any real hero. From the moment I came up with the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act, I knew how much potential it had to protect people. When I heard about a moment like this, I felt like I was there shielding those beautiful children from those tremendous bombs. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Polite applause follows his declaration but some people in the crowd start looking at each other with confusion on their faces. The president says, “We are going to make our communities and our cities safe and the way we do it is with vigilantes. They can get in there where police can’t and they can shut down danger.” A hand can be seen passing something to the president and suddenly he’s putting on a pair of fancy goggles. “Today we’re all Goggle Guys. And girls, some of you I’m sure are women. I’ve arranged for goggles to be handed out to everyone at your party today. They’re my gift to the people of Chicago to help us remember what saved the day today. Thank you all and God bless America.”

The camera blinks off and the crowd breaks into applause. That goes up in volume when a group of women start jogging down from the aquarium with boxes filled with goggles. Even from the far end of the crowd Ryaan can tell they’re the sort of cheap junk his school handed out to everyone the day before to celebrate the so called heroes from their neighborhood. Nothing like the expensive pair the president wore on camera.

Already Ryaan feels ill. He can only imagine what Mina’s feeling. With the city and even the president’s direct blessing, these two are going to be unstoppable going forward. There won’t be anyone standing against them. Any attacks on them or their actions will be taken as direct attacks on the president. It seemed like they could do whatever they wanted before but now they definitely will be able to.

The mayor steps to the edge of the stage, his free hand which isn’t holding a microphone extended outward. “Isn’t that exciting? We have the president coming live to Chicago to endorse how the VMUS Act is going in our city. I had a long discussion with him last night and he’s even interested in coming here to meet with some of our top vigilantes. We look forward to it. For now though, I know you didn’t all come to hear me talk. I present to you, the heroes of the hour, the Goggle Guys.”

The two repeat their running apart and then running together into a high five routine. Apparently they’ve only practiced the one move. Billy starts to move toward the microphone but Jimmy puts a hand on his shoulder and pushes him away. He grabs it himself. “How’s it going Chicago?” The crowd erupts, the loudest they’ve been yet. Ryaan covers his ears again but it isn’t enough. “Chi Town! It’s our honor to be here in our home town, helping to keep the streets safe. That’s what we do all the time over in Bridgeview but it’s awesome that we happened to be walking through the aquarium on our day off when this happened. Awesome that we got to save a bunch of little kids. That’s what we’re all about. Keeping people safe. We’re going to keep on keeping people safe as long as you’ll have us. Will you have us?”

The cheering just keeps getting louder and both of the men put their hands to their ears. The mayor’s retreated to the back of the stage, whispering something to a man off to the side. Right above his head, something shoots into the screen at the back of the stage which still hasn’t been raised. The crowd notices and people start looking nervously between themselves. Ryaan tries to get a good look at it but the sun’s in his eyes and those of everyone on this side of the stage. It’s fine when you look straight ahead but looking up at where the item is makes it hard to focus.

A whistling noise fills the air and Ryaan sees a flash of red flying over his head. It’s gone in moments but he looks back to the stage and sees it again as it reaches the screen. There was some sort of line attached to it and something came sliding down. The noise stops and the red form drops to the stage. It looks to be a man in a skin tight metal suit. They’re wearing a mask which covers their entire head with only two small eye holes. The suit features black highlights throughout. It covers every inch of their body other than their eyes.

The appearance of this unknown force should be enough but seeing the sword on his hip turns Ryaan’s concern to panic. He starts to run toward the stage but feels an officer grab for his shoulder. “Stay out of this, I’m sure the Goggle Guys can handle it.”

Before they get the chance a number of bullets bounce off the man’s helmet and suit. They don’t seem to slow him down. He moves toward the Goggle Guys who both scrambled to the far side of the stage when he started to descend. The mayor’s escaped the stage and is already being lead away by a crowd of police officers. After seeing the snipers fail to do anything to him the rest of the group seems determined to watch his next move. With such a huge crowd they’re limited in what they can do.

The Goggle Guys don’t seem to have any such concerns. Billy grabs for his gun and Jimmy’s right behind him. Before either can open fire, the man in red draws his sword and lashes out. He slashes at Billy’s gun first and knocks it loose. He turns to Jimmy and slashes again but the man’s still moving forward. He gets him right in the arm, drawing blood and causing the gun to fly off the stage.

Until this point the crowd stayed relatively calm, maybe thinking this was all for show or at least thinking the authorities had things under control. They no longer seem convinced and people start to run. He hears a gunshot go off. How many of them are armed and about to start shooting wildly? Before he can consider that a voice comes over the speakers around the park. “Please refrain from firing around so many civilians. Please move as orderly as possible away from the stage.”

Some people sprint away, pushing past each other. Others try to stay orderly. A lot of the crowd doesn’t move. They seem transfixed as the man in red follows the Goggle Guys around the stage with the tip of his sword. They both keep staring at the one gun which is still on the stage but any time they make a move toward it they’re chased back. They consider jumping from the stage but there’s too many people around and nowhere to go.

The man in red with his free hand picks the microphone up from the ground. His voice sounds distorted. “Chicago, these are the sorts of men you choose to worship. Murderers, bigots, men who assault children. They are truly evil and you would forget that based upon one action which fit your needs. This is unacceptable. Every one of you who has gathered here today to worship these men is worthy of my vengeance. If you stay back though the only people I intend to have vengeance on are them.”

He drops the microphone and starts advancing again. Ryaan hates these men but he doesn’t want to see them cut down before a crowd. Before his sisters. He notices one other worrying detail. He recognized the man in red’s voice. Not specifically, he doesn’t think he knows the man. His accent’s familiar though. It’s Iraqi. It’s subtle, as if the person’s lived here a long time, but it’s close enough to his father’s accent that he’s confident in what he heard. If they’re cut down that’s one more thing they’ll try to blame on his community. If he can stop it, that’s something his community can get credit for.

He shoves the officer’s hand from his shoulder and weaves through the crowd. He worries people will think he’s in on it and open fire but by getting people between him and the cops he’s fairly certain they won’t be able to. He’s near the stage and he keeps pushing forward until he’s at the stairs. Rushing up them in two steps, he finds himself staring the man down.

“Put the sword down. There’s a lot of innocent people here who might get hurt.”

The man lunges at the Goggle Guys, causing them to stumble backward and fall to the ground. Seeing the motion and afraid he’s about to finish his attack, Ryaan draws a throwing knife and sends it right at the man’s back. It bounces away without doing any harm. With his targets momentarily not a concern, the man turns his body so he can watch both sides of the stage. He turns his head to Ryaan. “I’ve seen you. You go by the Rebel, right?”

Nodding, he puts his hand on another throwing knife. “That’s me. If you’ve watched me you know I protect people. I’m not going to let you hurt anyone.”

The man raises his sword. “I’ve seen plenty to know you don’t have what it takes to really help anyone. You could have stopped these guys a long time ago if you really wanted to. You wouldn’t so I’m left to do so. We don’t have to be enemies but if you don’t stand down we will be.”

As an answer Ryaan flicks two more knifes at the man, both of which bounce away. Running his eyes up and down the costume, the only opening he can see are the small eye holes. His knives are larger than that so he can’t get them in there. He might get the tip through but he’s not sure he’s that good an aim. Even if he is, he’s not sure he’s ready to go stabbing someone in the eye. Without another answer to stop this guy, he starts to get nervous. He rests each of his hands on another knife.

“Can’t do that. I don’t want to hurt anyone but you’re putting too many people at risk.” He turns to look at the crowd. Despite being urged to get away far too many people are still gathered. Cops have the stage surrounded but aren’t firing. What are they waiting for? “Get the crowd out of here.” Why can’t they at least make sure the civilians are safe? There’s far too many people more concerned with getting a glance at the action than protecting their lives.

“If you survive this, remember that I gave you a choice.” The man’s running at him at once, raising his sword. Ryaan circles, throwing a few more knives as he moves. The man moves his sword fast enough to knock most out of the air. They weren’t aimed at anything they’d get through anyway but apparently he’s not taking chances.

“This isn’t a game.”

“You’re absolutely right. I take this far more seriously than any game. Any risk to people today is more than made up for by the lives which will be improved by taking these two out of the picture.”

“That’s not your call.”

The man crouches slightly, his armored suit showing it moves easily. “That’s not up to you.” He turns back toward the Goggle Guys. Moving toward them, Jimmy shoves Billy into the man’s legs. Not expecting him to be so low, the man can’t react in time and has to leap to avoid tripping over them. Billy goes for the gun, now on the far side of the stage.

The red armored attacker turns to swing his sword again, about to plunge it into Jimmy. Ryaan rushes forward, pulling his staff free as he runs. If his knives can’t hurt this guy he’s going to have to try something else. The sword comes down but Ryaan manages to step under it just in time, deflecting it with his staff. The man stumbles back but stays on his feet. Gathering himself, he swings again. Ryaan steps in with his staff gripped between both hands, ready to block the shot again.

His staff splits right down the middle, cleaved in half by the heavy sword. His block deflects the blow well enough that he avoids being cut in half but only barely. Glancing desperately between the pieces of staff in each hand, Ryaan starts moving away. Jimmy’s had time to get to his feet and scramble behind Billy who recovered his gun. Fighting alongside these two makes him ill but the alternative isn’t any better.

Opening fire, Billy starts aiming at his attacker. The bullets bounce away with no effect. Ryaan turns to the man, throwing his hands up. “Careful where you’re shooting, those aren’t doing anything and you might hit someone in the crowd.” If anything being told what to do by the Rebel makes Billy start firing faster. If there wasn’t a bigger threat he worries the bullets would be aimed at him.

Moving both sides of his staff into one hand, Ryaan tries another knife, aiming for the hand the sword’s clasped in. If he can’t get away he can at least try to disarm the man. It bounces away as well. His gloves are as tough as the rest of his suit. Every minute they buy matters. Sirens can be heard in the distance and glancing around the edge of the park, the roads are lined with flashing red and blue lights. Eventually they’re going to overwhelm this guy.

With the man in red rushing the Goggle Guys again, Ryaan nervously steps between them, hoping he’s not going to get a bullet in the back as a thank you. They’re the targets and every moment he can stop this guy from getting to them is time for more help to arrive.

Red targets suddenly appear on the man in red. Ryaan’s first thought is sniper fire but bullets don’t appear. Instead a whistling sound cuts through the air and small hooks stick to the man’s suit. He looks down at them, not overly concerned. Ryaan backs away, unsure what’s happening. Then they start to blow up.

The explosions are small, contained, but they’re forceful enough that the air from them knocks Ryaan further back. He tumbles to the ground, trying to keep his staff in his hands. He ends up at the feet of the Goggle Guys. The man in red gets it worse. He’s thrown through the air, landing in a heap on the ground. He quickly gets back to his feet with his armor undamaged. Whoever this is though, they’re able to push him back.

He turns to face them while Ryaan’s still trying to get to his feet. Billy takes the moment to kick him forward, almost sending him sprawling again. The man points at the Goggle Guys, almost ignoring Ryaan. “My crimson cry will be your end. You get a reprieve for the moment but only for the moment.” He runs to the screen at the back of the stage where whatever he shot into it’s still sticking out of the screen. He pulls something loose from his waist and attaches it to the cable. In seconds he’s shooting up the cord, hanging on tight. Several officers try to shoot him as he zips back up the line but their bullets continue to do nothing.

He ends up on a nearby roof. A lot of the cops give chase, running in the direction of the building. Seeing a chance to slip away, Ryaan starts to run toward the port a potties, hoping for a chance to slide out of his costume and back into his regular clothes which are stashed in his backpack. He feels a weight on the bag and turns to find Jimmy holding onto it. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Part 4

Part 6

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 7

By the time the car pulls up in front of his apartment building Zach’s standing outside. He climbs behind the wheel and plugs in the address. The GPS says he’ll be ten minutes early.

The sun’s starting to set and he gets nervous considering his options. He wants to wear his gear but they’ll see him coming and take off. He doesn’t know what he’s walking into but they’re meeting in an apartment complex surrounded by people. He can’t see any reason for them to give him trouble. He should be safe unarmed. Relying on should makes his skin crawl.

Pulling up outside the building, Zach hops out of the car and opens his trunk. Inside his costume is neatly laid out and ready for him to slip into. He grabs his shock baton and slips it into the waistband of his pants, pulling his shirt down. Taking anything else is too risky. He closes the trunk and heads to the door.

The front door to the building’s locked but there’s an intercom outside. He presses the button for 1728 and after a moment the speaker crackles to life with a woman’s voice. “Yes?”

“This is the guy to see about the wedding dress?” Did Nowak give her a name? If so what is it?

“You’re early.”

“Sorry about that, traffic was light. I can wait out here in the dark for ten more minutes if you like.”

There’s a long pause. “No, it’s cool. Come on in. We’re the second door on the right once you reach the second floor.” A long beep later he finds himself able to pull the door open.

Inside he finds a well lit, cheerful hallway. This is an excellent part of town and this apartment definitely fits the area. The finishes look expensive, lots of browns and tans. Making his way up the stairs, Zach sees the door ahead open. A pretty young blonde steps out smiling. “Sorry about the nervous thing. My brother’s coming by before long. Can’t be too careful when meeting a stranger. That’s why I said eight thirty so be cool.”

“Sorry about being early again, didn’t know how long it’d take me to get here. Can I see the dress?”

She leads him inside to a strangely sterile apartment. It’s nice, with high end appliances visible in the kitchen and plenty of space. There’s not much furniture though and there’s almost nothing on the walls or on any shelves. The closest thing to decoration is a TV with a few DVDs in the living room and a few dirty dishes in the sink. “Follow me, the dress is laid out on my bed.”

They go into the bedroom which doesn’t feel any more lived in. There’s an alarm clock on the bed side table and a blanket on the bed but nothing else. The dress laying before him looks familiar. At first he’s not sure it’s the one though. “That’s a beautiful dress. Can I ask why you’re selling it? Is it because of the tear?”

She laughs. “I wish. I broke up with my fiancée. I was so mad I started taking scissors to the thing. Realized after a minute how much money I was cutting up so I stopped myself but it’s already damaged. Luckily I started with a really hard to see place. A train will cover this right up so most brides won’t have a problem. Nobody will see. She’ll know though and for a lot of brides that’s an issue. Hence the low price. Out of curiosity, why are you interested? Are you getting married?”

A good story. Zach’s tempted to believe her. “Nothing like that. My sister’s getting married. We don’t have a ton of money for a fancy dress so this could be an opportunity. She liked the picture you put up and asked me to check it out.”

“She wants you to buy a dress she hasn’t seen?”

Zach sticks his hands in his pockets. “Not really, but she had to work and she was afraid if I didn’t come tonight it’d sell. I’m supposed to only buy if I’m sure she’ll love it. Where’s the tear?”

Guiding him to the bottom of the dress, the woman shows him exactly where it is. His belief in her fades. The tear is exactly the shape of the piece of cloth back at the lab. The missing piece is close to the bottom and the beading’s identical. This has to be the one. He wants to believe this woman didn’t know but her story must be fake which means she knows something.

The shock baton digs into his back and his first thought is to reach for it. He doesn’t want to threaten her though and she may not know all the details. “It’s pretty, but I’m not confident enough my sister will love it. The tear would be hidden by a long train but she’s going to remove that after the ceremony. Can I take a picture? I’ll send it to her and if she approves I’ll check with you and see if it’s still available.”

She seems disappointed but agrees to let him take the photo. With that out of the way, he says goodbye and thanks her for her time. Exiting the apartment, he can hear the lock twist behind him.

Soon he’s back on the streets and heading for his car. She said her brother was coming by soon. That could be one of the robbers and if it is he wants to be ready. He pops the trunk and scans for any sign of people on the street. With nobody in sight he pops his helmet on. Once that’s in place it won’t be a disaster if somebody sees him changing.

Booting it up, he tries to run the helmet through some tests. Almost every menu he tries to open shows an error though. Nowak was telling the truth when he said the helmet was mostly still out of order.

The remainder of his suit goes over his clothes and he snaps his weapons into place. He’s getting better at getting into this. Sealing up the back is hard but other than that it only takes a minute. His midnight blue outfit blends into the dark and Zach sneaks into the yard outside the building. He finds a dark corner to wait in.

A few minutes later a man walks up to the building. It’s too dark to make his face out until he’s on the stoop but Zach’s almost certain he recognizes the man. His yellow scarf billows behind him on this windy night. Was he the one on the boat? He presses a button on the intercom and the girl’s voice is there.

Stepping into the light, Zach considers just shooting him but he feels weird about doing it in the back. “Turn around and face me.”

Turning, the man’s face goes white when he sees Hitbox standing before him. “Oh shit.” There’s a buzz and they both realize the door just opened. The man grabs for it and Zach grabs for his shock baton. The man’s through before he can react. He’s headed for the second floor.

Zach manages to grab the door before it closes and pull himself inside. He hits the stairs hard but running up them causes his knee to throb. He really needs to have Lorelei check that once she’s better. Reaching the top of the flight, he sees the man turning a corner to the next floor. His sister, if she is his sister, stands in her doorway shocked. When she sees Zach she slams her door. He can clearly hear the sound of her deadbolt. The man in the yellow scarf doesn’t pause. He just keeps moving.

Another flight of stairs finds him on the top floor but by the time he reaches it there’s no sign of the man. Zach runs down the hall, his knee throbbing now. There’s not going to be another way out on the third floor. Does he know someone else in the building? His heat vision would be useful here.

Turning a corner, Zach sees a door still open. A sign identifies it as roof access and when he opens the door he finds a small set of stairs. Reaching the top, he opens a door to find himself in the dark. There’s never complete dark in New York but for the city this is dark. They’re a little ways from the main downtown hub and it shows. His eyes try to adjust but without night vision he’s not going to see much.

Movement catches his eye. Turning, he sees the man rushing from one end of the roof to another. His yellow scarf stands out. There’s nowhere for him to go. If he had a weapon he’d be fighting back. Get close, shock him, then call the cops. The plan writes itself.

As the man continues to run Zach realizes he’s not slowing down. He’s nearing the edge of the roof and suddenly panic flashes through his mind. “Don’t.” The man doesn’t listen. He leaps and catches his feet on the lip of the building. Pushing off, he goes head first into a flying somersault. He lands gracefully on the next building without stopping, popping right back to his feet.

Zach’s eyes go wide under his helmet. He hurries to the edge of the building and stares at the gap. It’s not huge, three or four feet across. To him that feels like the Grand Canyon. He tries to convince himself to follow. He can make this jump. Can’t he? Doubt starts to set in. His knee isn’t 100%. If he falls, there won’t be much he can do. There’s always his winch but can he aim in time? They aren’t that high. An image from his childhood of a vigilante falling off a roof and splattering on the ground before him won’t go away.

His promise won’t go away either. He promised Sami he’d catch this guy. He’s going to try. He grabs his winch and fires into the side of the next building to give himself a backup if he misses. Then he steps on the ledge. His knees feel weak and the pain in his wounded leg dominates his thoughts. He bends them a few times before leaning forward. The wind threatens to push him off so he leaps before it can. His arms make it with ease and his right leg clears the gap. His left leg is slightly behind though and catches on the ledge. Grabbing for the roof, he pulls himself over and collapses in a heap.

His fear dissipates. He made it. Getting back to his feet’s a challenge but one he’s grateful for. After cutting his winch line he searches for any sign of the yellow scarf. He finds it but his heart breaks. The man’s on the next roof over. Shuffling in that direction, he sees this gap’s even larger than the last. At least five or six feet. Not an impossible distance but after barely making a smaller jump, he doubts he can keep up.

To drive that point home, the man with the yellow scarf takes off running and dives from that roof to another. He lands and with barely any hesitation takes off running for another roof. When he’s there the man turns back to him, silently daring Zach to try.

He realizes that fights over. Giving up isn’t the answer though. He can’t keep up with this guy on the roofs but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still an option. Glad to find the roof door unlocked, Zach heads inside and makes his way to the ground. A man coming out of his apartment gives a funny look but he doesn’t say anything.

Reaching the street Zach counts the buildings. The man was three buildings down. If he’s lucky he won’t be expecting Zach to come this way. He may even be exiting the building through the halls. He hopes so. The idea of going back on a roof isn’t exciting.

The third building down is behind a gate but it’s not locked. Kind of defeats the purpose of a gate. He hopes the door to the building will be unlocked as well but he isn’t that lucky. It’s sealed tight. Not sure what to do, he sees the speaker system to the right of the door has at least twenty options. He starts pressing every button one by one. On the fifth try someone buzzes him in without a word.

Rushing up another two flights of stairs is hard work. His knee’s on fire now. The entire way he hopes to stumble upon the man and not have to go back into the night. There’s no sign of him. Finding the roof access in this building is even tougher. It’s hidden in a corner and this time there’s no stairs leading up. Instead there’s a ladder and on each rung his knee screams.

Reaching the top of the ladder, he finds a hatch which pushes open. Immediately the wind is raging around his head. Pulling himself the last few steps to the roof, he wants to stay down. The man could be anywhere though so he stands with some difficulty.

His head on a swivel, searching for any sign of the man. There’s nothing. No movement, no flash of yellow. He’s gone. Maybe he snuck out before Zach go to the building. Unlikely but hard to say. Maybe he took off across the rooftops. He can see a few more that are close enough this guy might be able to jump to them.

Staring into the night, he whips his head around. There must to be some sign of where he went. There’s no other lead and they’ll be way more careful advertising these dresses after tonight. After a few minutes it starts to sink in. There’s no sign of movement, there’s no yellow flash. The man’s lost to the night. He took the best chance Zach had to find justice for his friends with him.

Slumping to the roof, Zach wants to give up. He can go home now, tell Mr. Nowak he was right and forget this case. Then he pictures Sami still laying in a hospital bed, fighting for his life. If he can keep fighting, Zach can do the same. Thinking of his next move, he heads for the ladder. With every rung he climbs down, he’s more determined to find these men.

Part 6

Part 8