Throwing himself around a corner, Zach Thomas’ car skids down a busy Chelsea street. His tires screech and other cars fight to move out of his way. His midnight blue sports car takes the turn with ease and the driving assistant his equipment designer Mr. Nowak built in keeps him from flying onto the sidewalk and taking out the pedestrians who stand around gawking at him.
A woman’s voice crackles over the car’s speakers. “Keep funneling him toward the park. We’ll cut him off.”
“Sounds like a plan. Who’s with you?”
“Just me and Sami. The others should be on their way though. Let’s see if we can finish this before they show up.” Sami calls out in the background but Lorelei tells him to be quiet.
The car he’s pursuing is bright red with a wedding dress flapping out one of the back windows. Who robs a bridal shop? The dress material flutters in the wind and provides an easy target to follow. They’re flying along at nearly 70 miles an hour, darting in and out of New York traffic. It’s mid day and not right downtown but there’s still far too many cars down here for this to be safe.
Zach’s thankful for the car’s driving assistance because until recently he hadn’t driven in years and he’s never had to go this fast, especially in the city. Before Nowak finished this car he’d actually never driven in the city at all. Nobody drives in New York and he only learned how because his family used to spend a lot of time in the country. He assured Mr. Nowak he could handle the vehicle and so far he can, but without the system’s help he could never keep up with this guy. The dress thieves don’t seem at all concerned with the safety of bystanders.
Driving isn’t his top concern. He’s been practicing and he feels confident the driving assistance won’t let him down. When they ditch the cars though he hopes he’ll be able to keep up. He feels a small twinge as he accelerates. Lorelei says his knee is mostly healed and she cleared him to be back out on the streets. There’s still pain if he pushes too hard though and a part of him worries he’ll hurt himself again if he’s not careful. Being shot in the knee isn’t an experience he wants to repeat, even if the bullet missed the most important parts. Only through months of hard work has he reached this point.
This is his first time back on the streets since his injury and he’s glad to not be alone. Lorelei is both his doctor and a fellow vigilante. He met her during the same bank robbery where he was hurt and she saved his life, both in the bank and afterwards when she patched up his knee. Meeting her crew opened doors for him and although they might not agree on every detail of how they should stop people, having backup on the streets makes him feel safer. Sami’s excitable but excellent in a fight and he’s probably the weakest of the group.
The robbers try to turn left but Zach’s able to swerve around them and block their path. They slam on the breaks to avoid a collision and with nowhere else to go, they swerve back to the right. They’re heading toward the park and the water where help is waiting.
Soon he’s back on their heels. He’d love to box them in somewhere but these guys are good at avoiding traps. They mostly stick to the middle of the road, unafraid to dart into oncoming traffic when needed or to jump onto a sidewalk if there’s no other path forward.
Nearing the park, Zach looks for any sign of Lorelei and Sami. He can’t see their car but there’s so many around that if they were two cars behind him and he wouldn’t notice. A cab cuts him off and he doesn’t slam on the breaks fast enough. Luckily, the driving assistant notices the obstacle and breaks for him. He looks for a way to move around them but the street’s packed from side to side and unlike the robbers he isn’t willing to risk running people down. A hole opens to his left and he considers filling it. A moment of hesitation dooms him. The hole shrinks and the self driving technology’s too conservative to use a hole that small. The computer has no problem going around the block five times if needed. Nowak didn’t program it to hurry. He’s left without a way forward.
The red car speeds past the traffic and there’s little he can do except pass this off. “You guys hear me?”
“I got cut off and lost them but they’re going right past the park. Looks like they’re heading toward the docks or the ice rink. Think you can catch them?”
Sounding distracted Lorelei says, “We’ll try. Get there as soon as you can. You’re the one with the tech.”
Boxed in by traffic, Zach sets the car to drive itself back to the auto shop before climbing out and locking the door. the windows are blacked out so nobody on the street will know there’s no driver. As he climbs out Sami’s beat up four door goes flying through the intersection ahead of him. He’s offered to buy his new allies a better car for exactly this sort of situation but so far they’ve declined any offers of financial assistance.
Rushing past crowds on the street, stares follow him. Zach feels his skin crawl, still uncomfortable with attention. He’s a private person and he never wanted to be noticed. He hears the name Hitbox uttered a few times. He tries to move fast but not too fast. A busted knee didn’t help him get in shape and even a fast walk soon leaves him out of breath. The warm summer weather and the weight of his suit don’t help. The New York summer’s sweltering and the masses of bodies around him don’t help.
Reaching the end of the street, Zach searches for the two cars he’s following. They’re nowhere to be found but people are still looking in the direction of the sports complex ahead. A large ice arena used by minor league hockey teams sits on the water. Activating the radio in his helmet he says, “Where are you guys?”
There’s no answer. Wherever they’ve gone they’re out of range. Another voice is in his ear a moment later. “This is the Hammer and Heather, can you hear us?”
“Ya, I hear you. Lorelei said you guys were on your way. We’re over by the Chelsea hockey arena. How far away are you?”
The deep voiced man sighs. “Depends on traffic. No more than fifteen minutes. We’ll try to be there sooner. Were you just calling them?”
“Ya, we got separated but I’m heading after them. Just trying to narrow down the search area.”
The arena looms above him and as Zach reaches the front entrance he sees the red car parked without any wedding dresses in the back. When the thieves ran inside they took their haul with them. Sami’s piece of junk sits right behind. He didn’t bother to lock the doors. There’s only four other cars in the parking lot so the place should be pretty empty.
The pain in his knee grows as he pushes harder. Except for a couple training sessions on a treadmill he avoided putting much weight on it the last few months. Lorelei kept stressing how it’d never heal if he refused to relax. She says he’s ready to be out here now so he’ll trust her.
Someone busted the glass doors at the front of the arena. The ground’s covered in large shards of glass. Climbing through the broken door, he peers into a long hallway and finds it abandoned. The hall’s lined with food vendors but all of the booths are shuttered. Banners for the Chelsea Challengers flap above his head as they’re caught by the building’s air conditioning. The cool air’s a welcome relief but only does so much in this suit.
There’s no sign of anyone and with the building being a giant circle, Zach has zero idea which direction to go. He doesn’t care what Lorelei says, he’s buying them some sort of headset for next time. He spends far too long trying to pick a direction. Every so often he’ll hear what sounds like shoes in the distance but this place is cavernous and any noise echoes off everything. It’s impossible to tell which way the sound is coming from.
Calling to them’s out of the question with an armed thief in the building. Giving their position away could be dangerous. He turns on his helmet’s heat vision, hoping it’ll find them, but nothing shows up. It can only see so far and most of the building’s made of concrete which is too thick for his helmet to see through.
Leaving the heat vision running, he decides to go right. His knee pounds more with each step. Lorelei was wrong. He’s not ready to be out here. He should just go. The Hammer and Heather should be here any time. They’re more experienced at this. They know how to work with Lorelei and Sami. He’s just going to get in the way. Even with his desperation to run he can’t walk away from them until he’s sure other help has arrived so he continues.
He’s a quarter of the way around the building before his heat vision picks up anything. The light’s vague at first but as he gets closer he sees something in the women’s room on his right. Zach turns bright red at the thought of going inside. What if it’s one of the few employees here this time of day? The closer he gets though, the less he worries about an awkward encounter. Whoever is inside, they’re laying on the ground. That might be scarier than whatever they’re facing here.
There’s two entrances to the restroom and he’s again faced with a decision. With someone potentially injured he picks faster this time and enters on the left. He finds Lorelei sprawled face down on the floor. Her hair’s everywhere and her right temple bleeding. She’s still wearing the top to her scrubs, though she changed into better pants for action and a brown leather jacket sit over the top even though this time of year certainly isn’t providing jacket weather. She must have come right from work.
Moving to her side, Zach’s whole body goes cold. She saved his life, if not his literal one than certainly his ability to live the life he wants. Failing her’s not an option. He fears the worst but relief washes over him as he notices her chest rising and falling. Where’s Sami? Why would he leave her like this? He needs answers but for now needs to attend to his friend. He knows enough about head wounds to know he shouldn’t move her. The woman laying in front of him knows a lot more about them than he does though. He runs to the sink and fills his gloves with water. Returning to Lorelei, he shakes drops on her face, hoping for some reaction.
Her eyes flutter and after a moment they stay open. She squints at Zach. “Can you please take the helmet off? It’s weird talking to you when you’re wearing it.”
Doing as she asks, Zach notices his hair stand straight up from static. Looking at himself in the bathroom mirror makes him cringe. He’s way overdue for a hair cut. For a long time he’s just taken a trimmer to his head every few weeks but if he’s going to start back on the board at Thomas Computing soon he needs to look the part. He’s been growing the hair out and it’s time to have a good hair dresser shape it into something. Right now the wild hair makes him feel self concious but Lorelei doesn’t seem to care.
She starts to push herself up but Zach tries to stop her. “You shouldn’t move.”
Her head turns to the side and she grunts at him. “I’m the doctor, not you. I have zero desire to leave my face on a public bathroom’s floor. Besides, I think I’m alright. What’s our status? Did you catch the guy?”
“No, I only got here a few minutes ago and I didn’t see you guys. I circled the building until my heat vision picked you up in here. That’s all I know. What the hell happened? Do you know where Sami went?”
Unsteady on her feet, Lorelei leans against the sinks. “Kind of fuzzy. We were chasing the guy and I think me and Sami followed him in here. He was trying to drag a pair of wedding dresses along and we were gaining ground. He must have gotten the jump on me though because I don’t remember what happened after that.”
“Seems weird Sami would just leave you here. Was he right behind you?”
Putting her hands over her face, she pauses. “Think so, not sure what happened though. Have you heard from Heather or the Hammer?”
Zach pops his helmet back into place. “They got ahold of me before I got here. Said they were about fifteen minutes out so they should be here any time. You should rest, I’ll go look for Sami.”
Pushing herself away from the sink Lorelei says, “Not a chance, I’m coming with you. He’s my cousin. How’s your knee holding up?”
“It hurts but I’ll be alright.”
He turns to walk away but Lorelei grabs his shoulder. “How bad?”
He doesn’t meet her gaze. “Don’t know how to describe it. A fair amount of pain but it’s not slowing me down much.”
“It shouldn’t be doing that by now. When we get out of here you need to let me look at it. We may have pushed you back out here too soon.”
Grinning, Zach wishes he’d waited a little longer to put the helmet back on. He thinks the look would reassure her. “Well then we both have a reason we shouldn’t be doing this. Let’s go.”
Zach exits the room first, scanning for anything out of the ordinary. Lorelei is right behind him with her gun drawn. He doesn’t approve of the guns, he’s a firm believer in non lethal weaponry. He offered to have a set made for her but so far she’s declined almost every piece of tech he’s offered her. She’ll accept payment for taking care of him but she sees anything else he offers as charity.
They move through the halls slowly. Lorelei keeps putting a hand on her head and he worries she’s not up for this. Her facial expression is more angry than anything else though and he knows how worried she is about her cousin. This is his first time working with her crew but she’s told him plenty of stories about Sami and it sounds like he tends to rush in without thinking.
They walk round the place searching for Sami or the thief but by the time they’ve walked a full lap around the circular building, they’ve found no sign of him. A stop in the ticket office finds some very surprised phone operators but nobody else. They lock their door as the vigilantes leave after promising to call the police right away.
Other than those five people the building’s empty. At this point Lorelei’s grinding her teeth so hard it’s giving Zach a headache. “Where they hell are they? You’re not seeing anything else on your helmet?”
“Nothing. Almost like they disappeared. Do you think he chased the guy out of here already? Have you tried calling him?”
“I can’t, he never remembers to put his phone on silent. If I call him at the wrong moment he could get hurt.”
“If we don’t call him he might already be hurt.”
She doesn’t respond at first. She pushes past Zach and takes the lead. “We’ll make another lap. If we don’t notice anything maybe I’ll call him.”
The next lap’s slow going. Zach lets Lorelei lead the way and every time he tries to move faster she gives him a look that cuts sharper than a dagger. When they’re nearing the halfway point Lorelei takes off at a run. Zach tries to keep pace, not seeing what she does. His heat vision isn’t picking anything up.
She stops at an entrance and as he closes in Zach sees why. The door’s slightly open due to a short strip of white fabric with gemstones attached which is stuck. Counting the number of stones in this small piece answers Zach’s questions about why someone would rob a bridal shop.
They exchange a glance before Lorelei pushes the door. There’s a small lobby before another set of doors leading outside. As they open the next doors the heat washes over Zach and he immediately misses air conditioning. He only has a moment to think though because the smell of sea air washes over him and makes him nautious. They’re on the side of the building facing the water and the ocean fills his vision. Lorelei moves toward the water but Zach freezes. She notices and returns to him. She understands his issue.
“You need to push through the fear. I know that’s hard for you but now isn’t the time.”
Nodding, he tries to push forward, to think of anything else. They head in the direction of the water and the mystery of where Sami went is solved. Before them is a small pier behind the arena and a stack of wedding dresses are sprawled across it. In front of them Sami and the thief are brawling. Neither looks to be armed but they’re pushing back and forth while beating on each other. It looks like they’ve been fighting for a few minutes because both men are battered and bruised. A long tear runs across Sami’s shirt.
A boat’s rapidly approaching on the river and at first Zach hopes it’s the police. It looks like a pretty average speed boat though. His heat vision only picks up one person on board and cops don’t normally show up alone.
Lorelei points her gun right at them but Zach puts a hand in front of the gun. “Too much chance of hitting Sami, let me try my way. You can always shoot them if I can’t handle it.”
Zach can’t believe he’s rushing toward the water. It’s the only way they’re going to stop the theft though and Sami clearly needs help. He notices Zach out of the corner of his eye as he approaches. “Took you two long enough. A little help would be nice.”
Getting close, Zach draws his stun baton, ready to put a beating on this guy up close and personal. By the time he reaches the men, the boat’s docked and the man on board’s starting to load the dresses. His mouth twists into a scowl. A yellow scarf flaps in the wind behind him. “You had to pick a fight with vigilantes, didn’t you?”
His friend shoves Sami aside. “Fuck you, they were in the area at the time. They’re everywhere nowadays. What was I supposed to do?”
Going right for the man on the boat, Zach tackles him hard. They crash to the dock and for a moment he’s terrified he’ll go into the water. It takes all his strength to avoid freezing again. He manages to stop himself and climb to his feet. His electric baton’s charged and he delivers a low power jolt to the man. He could go higher but the man doesn’t seem armed and he’s afraid of what might happen if the shock knocks him into the water.
Knocked back, the boat driver stays on his feet. He rushes Zach and tackles him to the ground. The suit pads his landing but at this point he’s in a wrestling match and he’s never been good at those. He also finds the padding gets in the way when he needs leverage. The man’s punching him repeatedly but his hits don’t hurt through the suit. The man’s bloodying knuckles must be hurting him though.
Lorelei circles the action with her gun drawn. So far she’s stayed out of things but she’s ready to fire the second it makes sense. Sami’s losing his fight. The original thief’s knocking him around. If he doesn’t end this soon Lorelei’s going to shoot. He manages to twist his arm so he can press the shock baton into the man on top of him’s side. He’s knocked away though not unconscious. He rolls in the direction of the boat.
With his partner seemingly out of the fight, the other thief panics. He gets a grip on Sami and starts running him down the pier before lifting him into the air. He hits the water hard, causing a giant splash. A thick splat sounds painful. Water flies over all of them. After a long minute Sami pops back out of the water and keeps his head above the waves. If he swallowed any of that water he’s going to need a quarantine.
Ready to return the favor Zach charges his stun baton and heads toward the original robber. A throat clears behind him. Turning, he sees the robber from the boat’s back on his feet and in his hand he holds one of Zach’s grenades. It must have come loose from his belt, or maybe it was pulled free when they were on the ground.
Running his hand over his belt tells him the problem’s bad. That’s a shock grenade, filled with electricity. If it goes off anywhere near the water they’re in trouble. The man’s eyes are wide. “I don’t have to use this. Up to you. Let us get on our boat and get out of here and we’ll let you all go. Otherwise, I’m blowing something up.”
Zach’s willing to lose to protect them. He holsters his stun baton. “That’s fine. Get out of here. You win. Just toss me the grenade back.”
“No dice, that’s my insurance policy. I’ll be hanging onto it.” The two men make their way onto the speedboat. A glance at Lorelei shows she’s holstered her gun. “Good doing business with you folks. Stay out of our way next time.”
The boat starts and pulls away. As it picks up speed the man pulls the pin and tosses the grenade into the water. He aims away from them. If anything the man throws it further away than needed to act as a distraction. He doesn’t know what the grenade he’s holding can do though. “No!” Zach scrambles forward, reaching a hand toward Sami to try and pull him out in time. He’s too far into the water. The boat’s out of range by the time the grenade goes off but Sami isn’t.
Electricity rips through and above the water, travelling at least thirty feet. Zach’s not close enough to pull Sami from the water but he is close enough to see the look on his face as the power rips through him. He lets out a shriek and starts to spasm.
It doesn’t last long. After a few seconds the electricity starts to dissipate, though the water’s still sparking lightly. Lorelei rushes forward, desperate to do something. She tears her coat off as she closes in and Zach can see she’s preparing to dive in. “Don’t, the water’s still electric. You’ll get lit up as bad as he is.”
“What the hell do you suggest I do?”
Ideas aren’t popping into his head. He looks around for something they can throw to Sami but he’s face down in the water. Zach scans for something to hook Sami with but there’s nothing out here. None of his equipment will work and by the time he finds something it’s going to be too late.
His suit’s shock resistant. The thought pops into his head but he can’t do that. He hasn’t been in the water since the raft and the idea of plunging in makes his knees go weak. There’s no other way he can see to save Sami but he doesn’t know if he can make himself do what he needs to.
“Push me in.”
“What?” Lorelei’s eyes go wide but she doesn’t look away from Sami.
“My suit’s shock resistant. I can help him. Push me in.”
“Can you even swim in that thing?”
“Now’s as good a time as any to find out. He’s going to drown if we don’t do something. Push me in.”
She doesn’t need further encouragement. A hard shove sends him flying into the water. Water slowly fill his pants and his helmet. Soon he realizes this suit definitely wasn’t meant to be worn in the water. The water streamss under everything so while the suit offers some protection, it doesn’t completely stop the electricity. He can swim though. Awkwardly but he can swim.
Trying to push away thoughts of a cold, stormy night many years ago, Zach focuses on the current warm summer day while trying to swim to Sami. He isn’t far and it doesn’t take long to reach him. He struggles to flip his limp body but manages to get his head into the air. At that point it’s just a matter of hanging onto the man’s shoulder while flopping his way back to the dock.
By the time he grabs the dock the electricity has died down. It takes teamwork but with Lorelei pulling and him pushing they’re able to lift Sami out of the water.
Forgetting he’s still in the water, Lorelei attends to her cousin. She searches for signs life. “He’s not breathing.” She pumps his chest.
There’s no ladder here and on his own Zach realizes he can’t climb out of the water. He hangs onto one of the polls of the dock, trying to think of anything except where he is. Left without a goal after freeing Sami he can’t keep the water out of his mind. He thinks of his parents, of the friends he lost that night, of the chill of the water and the heat coming off their boat as it sank. The warmth of the water today reminds him of his panic that night and soon he begins to panic. Thrashing about, he wants to call for help but Sami needs Lorelei more right now. He can’t take her from him.
She continues CPR and eventually Sami spits up a lot of water and starts breathing again but his breaths are ragged and weak. She continues taking care of him until the police and emergency workers show up. Heather and the Hammer aren’t far behind, finally showing up after it’s too late to help.
Sami’s loaded onto a stretcher and led to an ambulance. The Hammer crouches on the dock and offers a hand to pull Zach out of the water. The man’s exposed biceps bulge as he lifts Zach with one hand. Lorelei realizes she left him and returns to make sure he’s okay but Zach waves her off. “Go with your cousin, I’ll have one of them drive his car. We’ll meet you at the hospital.”
She tosses him the keys. “Fine, but before you go, get yourself checked out by one of the emergency workers. I saw you in the water, your suit didn’t stop it all. I need to look at your knee later too.”
He’s cleared by the emergency workers after a few tests. He gives Sami’s keys to Heather and leads her and the Hammer to where the car was left. The two of them drive off but Zach just stands in the parking lot staring after them. He wants to follow to the hospital. He wants to make sure Sami’s okay. He isn’t sure he can do so though. He’s not part of their group. This was his first time working with them and he messed up. He replays every mistake. Arriving late. Not figuring out the thief had gone outside sooner. Letting that guy grab one of his grenades. Even stopping Lorelei from shooting them. He’s against killing but where’s the line? Doesn’t there come a time when you have to protect people first?
Zach’s not willing to find that line right now. He needs to get to the hospital. Even if he only stays for a minute he needs to know Sami’s okay. His helmet’s acting weird, the picture inside distorting. Everything has a slight red film over it. It still works at least and he’s able to call his car. He wishes his day was over but there’s a long way to go.