Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 10

Catherine’s standing by the corner, a cigarette in her mouth, pacing back and forth and staring up the street. She smokes? He can’t imaging his little sister smoking, but then again, he doesn’t know her anymore. Five years is an eternity for anyone, especially someone her age. She looks like she’s calmed down some, though he can’t tell if she’s hiding her anger now that she’s more public. “Cat?”

Wheeling toward him, the rage which had started to subside is back in full force. Her face turns red and her eyes go wide. “No, you do not get to call me Cat. You don’t get to call me anything.”

“I just want to talk.” Tears force themselves into his eyes again. He can’t fight them anymore as they roll down his face. “You have every right to hate me, but please at least listen to me for a minute.”

Shaking her head, she throws her hands up. Her eyes somehow go wider. He was never much of a crier. He doesn’t remember ever doing so in front of her. He doesn’t even remember crying after finding out about his parents. Later he cried a lot in private but when people are watching he can usually control himself. He didn’t cry at their funeral as he tried to comfort her, knowing he could never really help her when he couldn’t even help himself. “I’d have listened to you five years ago. Or four years ago probably. Maybe a little later. Not now though. It’s not fair. You come up here and cry and now I’m the jerk if I don’t listen to you.”

“I don’t want you to feel like a jerk. I’m not playing a game or trying to use this. These are real.”

She nods. “I believe you. I just don’t care. You probably feel a lot of guilt. You should after what you did. You’re a coward and you lost the right to speak to me a long time ago. Go back to wherever you’ve been hiding. Or don’t, I don’t care.”

A car pulls up to the side of the road, the stickers of several ride share companies plastered in their windows. Catherine turns to walk toward the car. Zach says, “Please give me five minutes. I don’t deserve them but if you listen to me and don’t like what you hear, I promise I won’t bother you again.”

Her shoulders tighten but she pauses. When she gets to the car and opens the passenger door she says something to the driver Zach can’t make out but the man behind the wheel nods and drives off. She turns back to face him. “I’m listening. I won’t promise to say anything, or not to say anything. If you have to get anything off your chest you’d better speak up. This is the last time you’re going to speak to me.”

He slowly nods, trying to sort out his thoughts. There are so many words to express in such a short time. He wishes he could say he’s rehearsed this speech a million times over the last five years but that would be a lie. He did a little at the beginning but for most of that time he’s given her as little thought as possible. During the rare times the thought of her and how she was doing popped into his head, he pushed those thoughts back out. He thought about doing an internet search for her a few times but never did. The less he thought about her out here, abandoned by the one person she had left at the time she needed him most, the easier he slept.

“You’re down thirty seconds. I started the time when the guy drove off, not when you start talking.”

That snaps him out of his self pity. He made a bargain to gain this chance, he needs to use it. “Look, you have every right to hate me.”

“Check.”

“You have every right, but for what it’s worth, I do love you. I was a mess after what happened. I’m still a mess. I’m trying to put things back together but it’s a process. That’s why I hadn’t reached out to you yet. I wasn’t planning to any time soon. I wasn’t ready. I’m not ready now. I couldn’t let you walk away today thinking I didn’t care though. I care a lot. I messed up. I couldn’t be there for you though because I couldn’t even hold myself together.”

Nodding, she puts her hands on her hips. “Ya, I’m not stupid. I put that much together. I knew you were messed up before you took off.”

“You figured that out? At your age?”

“I was fourteen, not five. So ya, I put things together. That didn’t matter though. I was a mess too but I didn’t take off. I got therapy, I cried, I acted out, but I didn’t run and leave you alone. I would never have done that. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I did.”

She needs to understand things weren’t so simple. “I probably should have done some of that, but there was so much pressure. You, the business, everyone fighting for a minute of my time. All the pity.”

Her face gets angrier at this. She closes the distance between them and shoves him. “You think I didn’t deal with that? After you were gone that got worse. I had to take all of the responsibility for both of us. Linus tried to help but he could only do so much. You weren’t facing anything I didn’t face too. I still never left you.”

What excuses are left? His shoulders sag. He wagered everything that he could get through to her and he’s failing. “You’re right, what I did wasn’t excusable. I messed up. I was broken and I hurt you when you needed me. If you don’t want to see me again, I understand. I just want you to know I truly am sorry and if I could go back and change what I did, I would.”

There’s a pause but after a moment the car from before pulls back up. She nod but looks back at the vehicle. “I believe you. I just don’t care. I guess apologizing’s nice and if you’d done so a few years ago it might have meant something. It doesn’t now though. I cared for a long time and eventually I got to the point where I couldn’t manage anymore. The pain was too much. I honestly never thought I’d see you again. Look, I don’t wish anything bad on you. I hope you pull yourself together and live a decent life. I just can’t be part of it. Good luck.”

Turning away from him, she walks toward the car. He searches for something he can say which will stop her but can’t find the words. “I’m so sorry Cat.”

She doesn’t turn around. “I don’t care, and don’t call me that. Or do, you won’t get the chance again so I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

Climbing into the back of the car, she says something to the driver before slamming the door. He wants to fall to his knees but manages to stand. He wants to run to the car and beg her but that won’t help. She’s made her decision and she’s standing by it. All he can do is watch the blue car speed off and disappear around the corner at the end of the street.

The easy thing to do would be to leave. He wants nothing more than to go back to his apartment and fall into bed. He doesn’t want the beautiful loft apartment though. He wants the studio in the terrible building where he spent the last five years. He was safe. He didn’t have to deal with bank robbers, or attempted murders, or his past. That apartment’s no longer an option though. If he goes back to even the loft now, there’s a good chance he won’t leave for another five years. Instead he forces himself back into the side door, back down the steep staircase into the Cuban restaurant with the wonderful smells.

When he returns to their table in the dark corner, Linus is already halfway through his sandwich. Zach’s is still waiting for him. The man eyes him up and down, pausing on his slumped shoulders and wet face. “It went that badly huh?”

What can he say? Slumping into his seat, he grabs for his food and starts stuffing it into his mouth. In less than a minute half of his sandwich is gone and he moves on to his side of plantain fries. He sees why Linus likes this place.

They eat in silence. When Linus’ food’s gone, he tries to catch Zach’s eye but they don’t leave his plate. “Look, she’s still living with me and despite this, I doubt she disappears. I’ll talk with her tonight, try to ease things. Maybe get her to give you another chance.”

“She said she never wants to see me again. I promised if she heard me out I’d leave her alone. I’ve broken enough promises to her, I don’t need to break another one.”

Laughing, Linus leans forward. “Now who doesn’t know her? She lashes out but she calms down too. It’ll take time but she will eventually give you another chance. Besides, if I talk to her that’s not you bothering her, that’s me doing so. I bother her all the time. It’s kind of my thing.”

Fighting the urge to hope, he decides for now he must assume he just said goodbye to his sister. At least this time she got one. The second half of his sandwich sits untouched. He was so hungry but now he feels nothing. “Why didn’t you tell me she was staying with you? I had no clue what happened to her.”

“Eat your sandwich. She had to go somewhere after you were gone and Amy’s around the same age. Things worked out. Besides, I was happy to take her in. I love you guys.”

His face’s starting to turn red. The vein in his neck pulses. He should never have been set up like this. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You had enough to deal with right away. It’s been a few months though and I figured it was time. I spent five years telling her I didn’t know where you’d gone. I protected you because I thought that was best. Now I feel the best thing is to push you. You’re both too stubborn to make the first move. That’s done. It was hard and it hurt but now you can move forward.”

Part 9

Part 11

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 9

The Cuban restaurant Linus picked for lunch is hard to find from the street. The door’s tucked around the side of the building and the only sign’s on the door itself. Linus promised he’d pick a place in Zach’s area and he wasn’t lying. Only a ten minute walk from the shop he didn’t bother to call his driver. The fresh air lifts his spirits. Upon arrival he regrets not having the extra set of eyes to help him figure out where to go. He walks past the place three times before finding it. His phone’s GPS app says he’s arrived but he can’t see a restaurant. His knee’s throbbing so he breathes easier when he notices the side door, tucked out of sight in shadow down an alley.

Opening the worn door, he descends a steep staircase where he ducks his head to avoid the ceiling. He’s grateful for the sturdy railing so he can lean on something when his knee hums with pain.

At the bottom of the staircase he finds a dim room, though a light sits on each table so the diners can see each other without issue. There’s fifteen or so tables and each one’s full. A woman emerges from the back carrying drinks but she notices him across the way and gestures that she’ll be with him in a minute. Dropping the drinks off at a table, she walks over to him. “What can I do for you? We’re all full at the moment.”

“I’m meeting someone here. A Linus Setterberg?”

Nodding, she wipes her hands on her apron. “Oh ya, he’s already seated. Follow me.” She leads him around a corner to a table which is concealed by a half wall. Linus is eating a giant platter of plantain fritters. There’s twenty of them on the table and from the look of the crumbs there were originally twice as many.

Linus extends a handshake which Zach takes. He turns to the woman who led Zach to the table. “Thanks for bringing him over Samara.” She nods and walks away. He gestures for Zach to sit on the other side of the table. There’s two other chairs. “Glad you found the place. Try these Bolitas de Platanos, they’re awesome.”

Grabbing one and popping it into his mouth, Zach has to admit they’re very good. Maybe not so good he needs forty of them but he understands the appeal. “Took me awhile. Almost had to call you for help. Why are they so hidden?”

Linus shrugs and pops another plantain ball into his mouth. “They’re pretty much always full and they don’t have a ton of room. If they were easier to find they’d only turn more people away. I think they like being the little hidden place people love. They could move but they’ve been here forever.”

Zach nods at Linus and picks up a menu. He has limited familiarity with Cuban food so he’s not sure what to order but everything looks delicious. “Why’d you want to meet? You said something about planning next steps.”

The waitress returns and interrupts them. Linus orders a sandwich and asks Zach if he wants the same thing. Without a clue what to order he goes along with the suggestion. Before she leaves, he makes a point of asking her not to hurry the food. Weird. When the waitress walks away, Linus turns back to Zach. “So, I want to talk about a few things. Next steps, how things are going, but let’s start with money.”

Eyes narrowing, Zach wasn’t expecting this. He’s gone through almost twenty million so far being a vigilante but he’s worth billions and that’s not much in the grand scheme of things. “What about it?”

Swallowing another plantain Linus says, “Well, you’re spending a lot. Not that you can’t afford to, and considering you’ve spent almost nothing for five years now this isn’t a major deal, but we need to slow down at least a little.”

Zach puts a hand on his forehead. He considers objecting but he hates confrontation. “Slowing down’s good. I’m trying to do so. I think I’ve slowed down the last few months actually.”

Another plantain ball disappears. Zach takes a second before they’re gone. Suddenly he feels the need to eat. Once Linus finishes chewing he says, “Ya, I’ve noticed but not as fast as I’d like. I was thinking we could hire a financial planner to work with you.”

That grabs his attention. He eats another of the plantain bites. As the conversation continues he feels more and more glad Linus ordered so many. He can’t deal with this. A financial planner means reporting to someone about everything he buys. He wouldn’t be able to hide where the money’s going and he’d be found out as a vigilante. “It’s my money, I don’t think I need permission to spend it.”

“No, you don’t. I’d like to help though. Going from nothing to this kind of spending overnight can be overwhelming. I want to make sure you’re prepared.”

Trying to smile, Zach’s pretty sure he only manages to look strange. “I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine. I’ll tell you if I need help. Can we talk about something else?”

Linus stops smiling and eats another snack. “Fine, but I’m going to keep tracking your spending. If you don’t slow down then I’m going to bring this up again. That sounds awful so get yourself under control.” He leans around the corner and looks toward the door. He checks his watch. “Let’s talk about the last board meeting. I thought things went well.”

Zach turns and looks toward the door as well but nothing stands out to him. “Are we waiting for someone?”

“Don’t worry about that. The meeting went well. I liked that you got involved with one of the presentations. Maybe not my favorite but you established yourself as someone the board has to take seriously. That’s a good move. You really liked Charley’s presentation though?”

Eating another of the bites, Zach takes a moment to think over his response. He can’t tell Linus why he really likes it. “VR’s huge right now. I think there are a lot of potential uses down the line, either as it’s own technology or for licensing.”

“I’m glad you’re already out ahead thinking about things like licensing, but I think it’s going to take a long time to reach that level and cost an awful lot of money on the way. Still, we’ve signed off on the funds and we’ll continue to do so. I want to make this your project though. It’ll give further products you support additional clout. Follow along, give support where needed, I’ll get you Charley’s number so you can check in.”

Looking down, Zach realizes he’s earned himself additional work. His goal with the board’s been to do as little work as possible. “I don’t know if that’s appropriate. If she wants me to have her number, she’d give it to me.”

“That’s awfully presumptuous when you’re her boss. Don’t worry, I checked with her, she’s waiting to hear from you.”

Looking at the table, Zach notices they’re low on their appetizer. Linus again looks around the corner toward the door and Zach can’t help but notice. “Seriously, are you waiting for someone? We can wait if someone else is coming.”

“Don’t change the subject Zach.” Linus pauses for a moment, eating one of their last few bites. “Over the next few weeks, I need you at every board meeting. We need you invested and making contributions if possible. Nothing major. It doesn’t need to be what you did this week. I want you felt every time in some way though.”

That wasn’t the deal. This was supposed to be easy. Linus promised he could show up, listen in and drift into the background. “What happened to no pressure? I can make an impact, but every time?”

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on you. If you’re really not comfortable speaking up, that’s fine. You took initiative though and that changes things a bit. People are going to look to you now. Before you could take a back seat, assess, then step in later as needed. If you fade now people will think you made a mistake. It’s going to make you seem weak when you step up later.”

Putting his head in his hands, Zach groans. “What do I have to do? I’m not good at all of this.”

Linus smiles and reaches out to put a hand on his shoulder. “That’s okay. We don’t need anything crazy out of you. Support a project, or vote against the majority on something every time. You don’t need to care about the vote. Wait until near the end then vote against the majority. It won’t matter since the thing lost but people will start looking to you to try and get a measure of your support. That’s huge.”

This is all going to be too much. He squeezes his eyes shut and steadies his breathing for a moment. He wishes Linus would remove his hand but he can’t ask him to, too much risk he’ll take that the wrong way. The only choice is to accept the man’s well meaning gesture, though doing so makes him want to scream. Footsteps approach from behind them. Nobody’s checked on them since they ordered so he assumes the waitress is coming back. He can’t let her see him like this. He doesn’t even like Linus doing so.

Looking up, his mind goes blank. He thought his stress was at about a level nine out of ten. Now he’s escalated to level 50. The blonde haired girl, dressed in khakis and a tank top hovers over them with her mouth wide. A small yellow purse is wrapped over her shoulder. She looks him right in the eye and her shock turns to anger. Her eyes go thin and the edges of her mouth curl. Her fist tightens and the first clear thought Zach has comes in the form of fear she might hit him.

Her gaze flashes to Linus who doesn’t look at all surprised to see her or afraid of the consequences. “How dare you do this. What gives you the right?”

He takes a long drink from a glass of scotch before smiling and answering her. “Well, as the person who spent the last five years taking care of you, that gives me the right. You wouldn’t do this on your own, I did what I had to. Sit down and eat with us. You love the food here, I’ll split my pork belly with you.”

What has Linus done? Zach tries to think of something to say, something to make up for all he’s done wrong and everything he wishes he could change. Nothing comes to mind though so he stares in silence. She turns to him, her anger rising. She reaches toward him, grabbing toward his collar, but she pulls her hand back and locks it behind her head. “Did you know?”

Words don’t come. He manages to shake his head no which is going to have to be good enough.

Linus nudges a chair out to provide her an opportunity to sit. “At least have lunch with him, you might find what’s left of your family does better together than they do apart.”

Even after five years, Zach knows what to expect. Linus lived with her for this long and hasn’t figured that out? People don’t change that much. She kicks the chair away and turns to go. He could say something to her but what can he say to make up for all that’s happened? Tears gather in the corner of his eyes but he tries to blink them away. He hasn’t cried in five years and he’s not ready to start now. Before she storms off they lock eyes for a moment. She notices but she doesn’t say anything. She breaks eye contact and looks down before rushing away.

“Wait Catherine, don’t rush off.” A few moments pass while Linus watches her go. Then he turns to Zach. “Go after her.”

It takes a moment for him to realize Linus is talking. The man reaches out and shakes him a little. “What?”

“Go after her. You need to talk to her now. Why do you think I invited you both out here? Your spending’s a concern but not so bad we had to have this talk yet.”

Shaking his head, he looks at the man, still having a hard time finding words. “Why would you think this was a good idea? She doesn’t respond well to being pushed. She’s been with you five years and you haven’t figured her out?”

“Of course I have. What other choices did I have though? You’ve both pushed each other away for so long that if someone didn’t push you together this would never have happened.”

“Did you ever think that’s for the best?” The silence between them lasts a few moments, the sadness in Linus’ eyes growing. Is that pity he sees behind them? That’s the last thing he wants. “I stepped away at the worst time. That wasn’t fair and —”

“That’s all well and good but everything you’re saying to me right now, you’d be better off saying to her. She’ll call a car and in this part of town they’ll take at least a few minutes. If you hurry you can still catch her. Your sister’s stubborn as hell. If you go after her, she might not want to talk to you, but she’ll at least recognize the effort. If you don’t try this time, I don’t know that she’ll give you another chance.”

Blinking, he looks at Linus and considers his response. He wants to yell, maybe to shove the man. He’s right though. This might be his last chance. Is he willing to write his sister out of his life forever? She’s the only family he has left. He doesn’t deserve her forgiveness but if he’s trying to put his life back together, wouldn’t that eventually include bringing her back into it?

Without another word, he stands and heads for the exit. He should scream at Linus but he’s not going to cause a major confrontation in public. That he can tell himself that while rushing toward what’s likely to be an even bigger public confrontation isn’t lost on him but what else can he do?

Climbing the steep stairs to reach the street, he fights through the pain in his knee. Hopefully any car service will have as much trouble finding the place as he did. He’s blasted by the heat as he pushes the door to the street open. How hot is today supposed to be?

Part 8

Part 10

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

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

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 6

“You here Nowak?” The lights are on as Zach walks into the repair shop but he doesn’t see any sign of the only other person who should have a key. His first thought is that the man is likely downstairs again but he doesn’t hear anything below him. He runs to the basement and finds himself still alone. The lights down here are out and there’s no sign of anyone.

Concern grows in his head. Why would the lights be on if Nowak’s not here? He calls the man’s phone but it goes right to voice mail. He calls again but gets the same result. Sweat’s pouring down his face now. He feels weak and considers finding a place to sit. He sends a text asking where the man is before trying another call. This time a voice answers. “What’s up kid?”

Zach finally breathes. “Thank god you’re okay. Where the hell are you? I show up and the lights are on but there’s no sign of you.”

“Relax, I ran down the street to grab lunch. I’m getting soup. You want anything?” When Zach tells him he doesn’t want soup Nowak promises to be back in a few minutes before ending the call.

Pacing back and forth gets old fast and his legs start to shake. Zach finds a chair and sits. By the time Nowak shows up carrying a big brown bag he’s managed to calm his legs. “You alright kid? You look rough.” He sets his bag down and pulls out a couple of styrofoam containers. “Sure you don’t want any of this? It’s really good soup. I got an extra in case you changed your mind. Figured I’d have it for dinner if you didn’t but you look like you could use it.”

Zach wheels the chair he’s in toward the table and takes one of the soup containers. “Sorry if I snapped at you. Long day and it’s not over.”

“How’d your meeting go? Tell me you didn’t screw things up and get our funding cut off.”

Chicken and rice is a nice surprise. A quick sip of the broth finds it a bit salty but with a deep chicken flavor. “It went fine. I even managed to push through a proposal I liked. It was a lot though, so many people staring at me.”

“You should be used to that though, right? Everyone in the city was talking about you after the bank robbery.”

Surprised to realize the soup’s nearly half gone, Zach pauses. “No, they were talking about Hitbox. That’s me but it isn’t the same. I liked this proposal and now we’re working on it. Before I opened my mouth it was going to fail. I also don’t even know it’s a good investment. I just thought the technology could possibly help us here so I pushed.”

“Don’t worry too much kid. The kind of money your company has, one project isn’t going to bankrupt anyone.”

Nowak’s right and he takes solace in it. He’s a billionaire, it’s okay to push a project. Championing an interesting product is a good use of his power.

The older man’s face is smiling for once. “Looks like you needed that, your face is getting some color back. When did you eat last?”

“I had a granola bar for breakfast.” Zach’s been dodging his trainer who will want to get back to work now that his knee’s healed. To make up for it he’s been trying to eat healthy.

“Going out there weak and tired isn’t doing anyone a favor. Eat. You can eat healthy without starving yourself. If you can’t figure that out, hire a cook. You can afford it. Has Lorelei checked your knee recently?”

“She’s a little busy being in the hospital. It’s fine though. No pain today.” Another big sip of broth hits the spot. “You were right about the soup but that’s not why I’m here. I have plans tomorrow so I want to get some work in today. You find anything about those guys?”

After a long slurp of his soup, Nowak wipes his mouth. “Actually, yes.”

He’s so used to bad news that it takes a moment for Zach to realize what Nowak said. When he does, he jumps out of his chair. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? What did you find?”

“I’ve been running some searches and one got a hit while you were in your meeting. Figured I’d call you after but I didn’t know what time you got done. Then I got back here and you looked half dead so I wanted to get some food in you first. If you want my opinion I think you should wait, at least until tomorrow.”

He moves closer and grabs the table. He still feels weak but he can’t let Nowak find out. He’ll try to stop him and right now Lorelei and Sami need him to push through. “Tell me what you have.”

Turning away, Nowak throws his hands in the air. “Can’t say I didn’t try. One of my hits found a wedding dress that’s the same style as the material you gave me. There’s a note about a small strip of fabric being torn at the bottom of the dress. They’ve got it cheaper than I expected as a result. They want to move this fast.”

“Where are they?”

“No clue yet. It was on a local classified site. I emailed them asking for a meeting but haven’t heard back.”

“Can you try to trace where they placed this from? Maybe I can find them myself.”

Shaking his head, Nowak cringes. “This isn’t a TV show, I can’t run traces. They’ll get back to us soon enough. You know you can’t go in there in your suit, right? They’ll clam up right away. You need information. You need to go as you.”

“That’s fine, I can handle myself.”

Nowak runs his eyes up and down Zach, settling on his still pale face. “I don’t know if that’s true.”

They sit around for fifteen minutes and Zach keeps checking the time on his phone. “They haven’t emailed you back yet? They should be eager. You’re not keeping this from me are you? Once that sells we may not get another chance.”

“I’m not hiding anything. I’ll let you know when it’s back. I also spent the morning trying to fix your suit. I’ll get it loaded into the car so it’s ready to go when you are. Have Beth drive you home and get some rest. When they reply I’ll send the car over.”

“How’s the gear coming?”

“Not well. The helmet’s bad. You can see out of it and I have the police radio back up and running but that’s all that works. No heat vision, no night vision, no maps or anything like that. You’ll mostly be flying blind. Give me a few days and I can solve it.”

“In a few days this dress will be gone. We might not find the other one. I can’t wait. Send the car when you hear the word and I’ll handle it. Make sure everything’s in the trunk in case I need it. I’ll take it from there.”

Zach stands and heads for the door. Nowak can only watch as he leaves.

 

When the text comes it’s nearly eight at night. Laying on his couch with a soda on the table next to him, Zach’s caught up in the news and almost misses it. A story about a pair of Chicago vigilantes who stopped a bombing has him feeling awesome. Vigilantes really can make a difference. Picking up his phone, he almost wants to follow Nowak’s advice.

 

They want to meet at 1728 Union Rd around 8:30. If you drive fast you’ll make it. The car’s already on the way. Be careful.

Part 5

Part 7

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 5

Walking into the board room Zach feels all eyes on him. He’s surrounded by the group of men and women who’ve spent years making the choices for his multi billion dollar company. They’re all lingering around the long table where they meet. He knows many of them, though he hasn’t seen any since his parents’ funeral. There’s many others he doesn’t recognize and he’s certain he’s never seen. They all know who he is. They whisper as he walks by, flashing nervous smiles. They range in age from the fairly young to the very old. Age doesn’t have much to do with their reactions.

Is she here? Asking Linus feels impossible, like an admission of what he did. She wouldn’t necessarily be on the board, but he wouldn’t be surprised if she is either. She must hate him. He can’t undo what he did. Scanning the faces of every woman in the room, none of them look like her although how would he know after so long? What does she even look like now?

The new suit Linus recommended itches like crazy but he has to admit he looks great in it. It slims him in all the right places and makes him look twenty pounds lighter. He loved his reflection in the mirror this morning. Now he wishes he could stop fidgeting, or that his tie was a little looser so he could breathe.

An older man with a cane comes over and offers his hand. Seeing no polite way around the gesture Zach accepts while trying to remember where he knows this guy from. There’s a hint of recognition but he can’t come up with a name. He’s saved by Linus calling the meeting to order.

Everyone takes a seat. There’s an empty seat near Linus and the man waives him over. His shoulders slump. Why’d they have to put him right at the front of the room? This is his first meeting, somewhere in the back where he can observe without getting in the way would work a lot better. There’s no other free chairs though so he makes his way there and fidgets into his chair.

New business is brought up first and a variety of committee members stand to present new issues or new products they’d like to throw the company behind. Acquiring another company’s discussed but Zach finds the business side of that confusing. Other members of the group are concerned about the cost of buying a company in dire financial straits but the man proposing the purchase suggests at this price they don’t need the company to make money. Their patents alone will make the purchase a steal.

The vote on that one’s close but they pass. Too large a financial obligation. Zach abstains on the vote and can’t miss the eyes rolling around the table. He doesn’t waiver though; he doesn’t know enough to make an informed decision. He won’t contribute to messing this company up. The man who made the proposal seems upset but after a moment manages to calm himself down enough that he doesn’t storm out.

Next is an investment opportunity in VR. A short brunette woman in a long green dress gets up to discuss all the money they’ve been pouring into it and where they can go from here. She presents a program which can map your way around a city and take you on a virtual trip. It uses real time data from a satellite network to show what’s happening in the city in real time. This seems way more advanced than current GPS programs and Zach takes notice. He can see a hundred ways this could help him.

The claws emerge the second she finishes her presentation. They’ve spent too much on VR in the last few years with little to show for it. This could take years to show results. What are the practical applications?

The room goes quiet and Zach worries this isn’t going to pass. He needs a way to sway the room and he’s out of time. Linus notices his agitation and leans toward him. “Everything alright Zach? This all a bit much for your first day?”

“I’m good, thanks. I actually have a question about this last presentation. Do I raise my hand or something? Or just speak up?”

Linus frowns. “You’re the controlling owner, stand and speak and everyone in this room’s going to listen.”

Standing, Zach feels every eye in the room focus on him. His fight or flight instincts kick in and he wants nothing more than to escape and bury his head under a pillow. He breathes in and out a few times, trying to calm himself. There was a time he regularly had to appear confident when he wasn’t and he calls on his best fake smile. “I actually rather liked the presentation, the technology looks impressive. I wonder if we’ve considered what could be our best customer for this though.”

The woman who gave the presentation looks ready to grab any flotation device tossed her way. She can read the room. “What would that be? We’re certainly interested in ways we can get the most out of the technology.”

“How about first responders? Police, paramedics, fire fighters. They could all use a technology that helps them plot the best course around a city. That can shave valuable seconds which for emergency responders can be everything.”

A man sitting a few seats down climbs to his feet. “That’s great Mr. Thomas and I can see the application but usually those public agencies don’t pay all that well. If that’s our main market I question whether we would ever recoup our development cost.”

Run away. The urge is strong. Zach’s legs shake but he stands his ground. “That may be true and I know we’re here to make money. There are other considerations though. Working with the police to help with this sort of technology could be huge for public relations. I’d also argue that if we get this working everywhere then every first responder in the world will want one. That may not be a huge amount per unit but the amount of units adds up.”

The crowd starts whispering and everyone seems to be considering his points. If there’s one thing the board likes more than money it’s public recognition. The vote starts soon after and while there are a few nail biting moments the proposal passes. Zach’s relieved to see Linus votes along with him.

Another hour goes by before the meeting ends and none of the other proposals interest him. He abstains from the remaining votes though none are close enough that he could have mattered. When everyone gets up to leave the woman who proposed the VR technology makes her way over to him and offers her hand. “Mr. Thomas, I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for your support. If you hadn’t spoken up I don’t think we would have passed.”

She’s a little older but attractive and Zach starts to sweat as she comes close. “Glad I could help. Your proposal was fascinating.”

Her eyes narrow. “Thanks, I had considered the law enforcement angle but I guess the potential for pushing that hadn’t occurred to me. I think there are a lot of other applications as well but that could be great for the company’s image.”

“Ya, big help. Glad to do so…” Zach sticks his hands in his pockets. He realizes how weird he must seem but feeling awkward about his awkwardness just makes him more awkward. Finally he decides to end things. Removing his hand from his pocket he offers it to her. “I really want to see more of this when it’s done Ms…”

“Moore. Charley Moore. I’ll make sure you receive any updates Mr. Thomas.” She takes Zach’s hand and he’s suddenly very aware of how sweaty it is. She doesn’t seem to mind though and she smiles as she leaves.

Linus sneaks up behind him and slaps him on the back. “Great first meeting. I was surprised you stood up for a project but you made some excellent points.”

“I saw you voted for with me. Did you like the project too?”

Linus puts a hand to his head and rubs his temple. “Honestly? Not really. It’s okay and could be cool but I think the business applications are small and even if we can sell it to first responders, that’s years away. It’s not going to break us or anything though and I wanted to support a project you were passionate about. Everyone in this room understands you have pull now. The next time you speak up, they’re all going to listen.”

His skin crawls. Zach’s never liked getting ahead because of who he is and knowing that this only passed because he’s a Thomas hurts. He reminds himself his success wasn’t at stake here. Charley’s was. “If this thing doesn’t work out am I going to take the blame?”

“Not at all, don’t worry about that. Nobody hits them all out of the park. I’ve championed plenty of investments that bombed. Try to make more of your passion projects hit than not and you’ll be fine.” Linus pulls his phone out and starts scrolling through it. “By the way, I wanted to grab lunch with you tomorrow. We can go over the meeting, I can answer any questions you might have, then we can start looking at next steps.”

Every instinct in his body tells him that he doesn’t have time. Sami and Lorelei are in the hospital and he needs to track down the people responsible. He needs to keep Linus in the dark though. “Now definitely isn’t the right time. I have a lot going on with the business I’m investing in. Maybe in a couple weeks?”

Linus’ eyes narrow, not much but enough that Zach can tell he isn’t happy. “I know this all seems like a lot and maybe you don’t want to rush things. Today went great though and I want to keep the momentum going. Besides, it’s my treat. You have to eat.”

Fidgeting in place, Zach tries to think of another excuse. None come to mind. “Alright, we’ll make it work. Send Beth the details about where and I’ll be there. Try to pick somewhere that’s not super fancy though. I don’t want to dress up.”

Another slap on his back sees the smile return to Linus’ face. “You’ve got it. I have the perfect spot. Low key, secluded, not super busy. Fantastic Cuban food and you don’t have to wear anything fancy.”

“Sounds perfect.” The men shake hands and Zach calls his driver. His original plan was to take today for himself since he knew this meeting would be a lot to handle. If he’s going to make time for Linus tomorrow though, that means he needs to make more time today for hunting down these men.

Part 4

Part 6

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 4

Storming into the auto body shop he operates out of, Zach Thomas looks for any sign of his partner. “Nowak! Get out here.”

There’s noise coming from the basement and he hears something fall. A shout goes out. He considers investigating but he still hears movement so everything’s probably fine. After a minute Nowak struggles up the stairs with his arms full of equipment. Zach’s helmet, his stun gun and the top half of his costume are all stacked on top of each other.

Tossing all of this on his work bench Nowak comes at Zach finger first. “Do you have any idea how much work you’ve stuck me with? I’m trying to get your costume working like you want but this helmet’s going to take at least a couple more days. It’s a complete mess.”

“Sorry about that. Is it working at all?”

With a sigh Nowak lowers his hand. His shoulders slump. “Not as more than an actual helmet. The gear’s shot. I can get the one way glass working so you can see out but that’s the best I can do.”

“That’ll do. You can get back to fixing it soon but first I need you looking into the guys we took on at the arena. I need to know who they are, where they operate from, how I can take them down.”

Zach starts to turn away but Nowak grabs his shoulder. “Don’t do that. It isn’t your job to fix everything. Solve new problems, don’t get caught up in the old ones. You’ll keep digging forever. I could give you evil people I dealt with thirty years ago to go after. That wouldn’t solve our current problems. There’s always more evil in the world. These guys weren’t any worse than the rest.”

Pulling away, Zach walks toward the locker he keeps in the back. “We’re finding them. That’s not up for debate.”

Shaking his head, Nowak walks to a computer terminal. “Then what can you tell me about them? I need every detail you remember.”

Zach thinks, surprised how easily Nowak gave in. Pacing back and forth, he tries to clear his head and remember everything from the pier. That’s hard when he spent the entire time he was there working to stay alive and focusing on how close he was to the water. “There were two of them, they got away on a boat. They’re probably trying to sell a bunch of incredibly expensive wedding dresses. That’s something to start with.”

“That’s actually not a lot to go on. What do they look like?”

Zach opens his mouth but nothing comes out. Thinking back, he realizes he has almost no clue what they look like. “They’re both guys; one’s kind of tall with long hair. The other’s a little shorter with short hair.”

“Your descriptions are stunning in their elegance and detail.”

Glaring at Nowak, Zach says, “I was a little busy trying to stop them from killing me. Sorry I couldn’t remember if they have a mole on their cheek.”

“Did they have a mole on their cheek?”

“I have no clue. I don’t think so. I was just being sarcastic.”

Nowak coughs a few times as he searches a few classified sites for wedding dresses. “You’re not good at it. Can you tell me anything else? Any little detail might be the hint I need.”

“Can’t you just check into wedding dresses on the black market?”

Nowak almost chokes and covers his mouth to suppress his hacking. “The black market? What do you think this is? I’m going to be searching online auction sites and classified ads. Hopefully I’ll stumble onto something but the more I know, the better we’ll do.”

Hitting the table in front of him, Zach readies himself to storm out of the shop. As if the hit jarred something loose though one detail pops into his head. He reaches into his pocket in the same jeans he’s been wearing since yesterday. He pulls out a small strip of cloth streaked with a few beautiful beads. “Will this help?”

“What the hell is it? An old handkerchief”

“Me and Lorelei found it in a door when we were rushing after the first guy. It’s a piece of one of the dresses which tore off.”

Nowak snatches the cloth from his hand and turns it over. He rubs the cloth back and forth between his fingers before heading for a microscope. “This is good news. Most people selling online will try and be detailed so a rip, even a small one, is probably going to be listed. I didn’t even need the fabric, just knowing it ripped is helpful. Having the actual material’s even better.”

Leaving the shop, Zach wants to get back on the street and go after another set of bad guys. Plenty of other people are causing problems in New York. Without his gear working though that’s not an option. If an emergency comes up he can try using it but a lot of people out on the streets are more than capable of killing him without his full set of gear. Instead he calls his driver Beth and asks her to come get him.

While he waits he notices a text from Linus Setterberg, the CEO of his company Thomas Computing. They’re in the process of introducing him back into the business.

 

Hey Zach, just checking in. The next board meeting’s tomorrow and I have things ready for you. I know you weren’t feeling up to the last few with your knee so just want to make sure you’ll be there. LS.

 

Considering his options, Zach almost deletes the text and pretends he never got it. That’d be the easy thing to do. Taking his money back is one thing but being at the company, the place where he hasn’t spent serious time since the death of his parents, is another. He told Linus he’d show up though and if he doesn’t show up, there’s going to be trouble. He’s living in the company’s apartment, using the company’s driver, and running his life using the company’s money. Holding up his end of the bargain isn’t optional anymore. He’s already canceled multiple meetings because he hadn’t healed yet.

He texts back that he’ll be there. When Beth shows up he tells her to take him home so he can get ready. A woman of few words, her shrug tells him that works for her.

Part 3

Part 5

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 3

Nowak calls his driver Beth and she’s soon waiting outside. She gives him a nod as he climbs into the limo but doesn’t say anything else. Nowak’s already told her where to take him. They ride the entire way to the hospital in silence. He thanks her for the ride and asks her to stay close.

Crowds are everywhere as Zach pushes his way through the lobby. He feels them push in from every side and his first thought is escape. He’s not needed here. He can’t do anything for Sami or Lorelei. Retreating to a corner of the room, he wants to close his eyes and walk away. His head’s pounding. They aren’t going to want to see him. He messed up.

Pushed around the room, he fights to reach the reception desk. Knowing this isn’t going to get easier if he waits, he asks the receptionist for the room of Sami Sadik, mentioning that he’s related to Dr. Sadik. She doesn’t look it up when he mentions Lorelei’s name. She asks a young looking man in a white coat to guide him to Dr. Sadik. He nods and leads the way.

Zach follows at a distance, his hands white from how hard he’s squeezing them together. He’s led to a private room where Lorelei’s sitting on the edge of a bed, though her feet are hanging down. She’s in a hospital gown and wearing a wristband.

When Zach walks into the room a small smile spreads across her face. She tries to stand but thinks better of it. Instead she waves him closer. She motions for him to sit. “I’m glad you’re here. Didn’t know if you were going to come by tonight.”

Why is she in a bed? He tries to stay calm. The last thing she needs right now is more stress. “Figured I should. Where are Heather and Hammer?”

She lays back down. “They were here a little bit ago but Hammer had a meeting and he was Heather’s ride.”

“Didn’t expect to find you in a bed. Are you alright?”

With a wave of her hand she says, “I’m fine, they’re just being cautious because I was knocked out. They insist on running a few tests to make sure I’ll be okay. Nothing to worry about. I’ll be out of here tonight. Tomorrow at the latest. How’s your knee?”

She doesn’t have time for that right now. “I’m fine, don’t worry about it. How’s Sami?”

“We’ll get to that. Seriously though, how’s your knee? I didn’t spend months healing you to mess it up today.”

Rubbing his knee instinctively as he talks about it Zach says, “It’s okay. Hurts a fair amount, but no signs of damage. Just a bit red. I probably pushed a little too far too soon but it’s nothing to worry about.”

“Keep an eye on it. Tell me if the redness doesn’t go down in the next couple days. Until that happens I want you taking things easy too.”

“I will. Seriously though, how’s Sami?”

Her hands cover her face. “Bad. Really bad. He’s on life support now. There’s some brain activity but they don’t know if he’s going to come out of this.”

“Shit.”

Finding his way into a chair, Zach slumps and puts his head in his hands. He hates hospitals. He never wanted to be in one again. “I’m sorry. I should have let you shoot them. If I had…”

“Get over yourself.”

Looking up, surprised, Lorelei’s smile’s long gone. “What do you mean?”

“You aren’t my boss Zach. I thought you two could handle them so I let you. I made a choice, you didn’t make it for me. Do I wish you hadn’t let them grab that grenade? Sure. I also wish Sami hadn’t gone rushing off after them alone after I got knocked out. I wish I hadn’t gotten knocked out for that matter. There’s plenty of regret to go around. you don’t have a monopoly on it.”

Nodding, Zach wants to believe she’s right. That this isn’t all on him. That’s hard to accept though when he could have done more. The shame makes it hard for him to breathe. “Whatever he needs, any procedures or medicine or whatever, please let me help.”

She purses her lips. “Fine, but only because this is his life. Don’t get used to me taking money from you.”

“Can I see him?”

Pressing her call button, Lorelei summons an orderly to take Zach to see Sami. He’s laying in intensive care, looking incredibly frail with what feels like every tube in the world sticking out of him. His chest rises and falls but there’s no life to him. He looks broken.

Zach’s seen far too many people like this in his life. He watched a man who survived the sinking of his yacht slip away, unable to help him. He can’t go back and undo this. All the money in the world might not be able to bring Sami back to them. Unable to keep looking, he instead turns his attention to the monitor showing his heartbeat. As he watches the line on screen rise and fall, he vows to do for Sami what he could never do for his parents. He’s going to find the people responsible and make them pay.

Part 2

Part 4

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 2

Climbing out of his car in the auto body shop he operates out of, Zach Thomas expects to be alone. Instead Mr. Nowak who builds all of his tech is working on some new piece of technology. He turns to smile at Zach. When he climbs out of the car and Nowak sees how soaked he is though he turns red. “Tell me you didn’t fall into water in that thing.”

“Ya, went right off the pier. So that was fun. You’re going to have your hands full fixing everything.”

“You think!” He snatches the helmet from Zach and looks it over. He tosses it on a work bench and puts his head in his hands. “I tried to waterproof but something like this is hard to waterproof from the inside. It can get rained on but you can’t soak it through. Do you have any idea how much you’re going to pay to fix all of this?”

“Good thing I’m a billionaire.” His eyes stay down. He’s usually not here this late and he wanted to be alone. He can’t look at anyone right now. He continues stripping out of his gear. When he pulls off the pants his knee’s bright red but there’s no bleeding or serious damage.

“Your money. You think it’s all money. That’s not the only problem though. Fixing something like this takes time. More than an hour or two. Time I spend on this is time I don’t get so spend on your new gear.”

“My current gear is fine except you need to figure something out with ventilation. I was dying in the heat today.”

Nowak takes a deep breath and closes his eyes before responding. “I can’t do anything about the weather but I’ll see what I can figure out. Hard to put cooling systems into a pair of pants but I’ll work on it once I the main suit’s back up and running. This was terrific work but I can do so much better. Your car still needs so many upgrades.”

Zach opens a locker in the corner where he stores a spare set of clothes and begins dressing. “Can you call Beth? I need a ride.”

“Not going home?” Zach usually would walk from the shop, it’s only a few minutes away and he likes the exercise. He’s been trying to get in better shape and while his activity should help in time, being off his feet for months put him behind.

“I need to go to the hospital.”

For the first time since Zach came in, Nowak stops working. “What’s going on? Is your knee okay? I can call Lorelei.”

“That’s not going to help considering she’s at the hospital. I’m fine. Her cousin got caught in the water when one of the electric grenades went off. One of the guys we were fighting got ahold of one and threw it in.”

Nowak goes quiet for a moment before saying, “Is he going to be okay?”

“Not sure. He’s in bad shape. I need to find out more though. Kind of my fault.”

Steadying himself on a table, Nowak takes a deep breath. ”Being a vigilante’s dangerous, he knew what he was doing. Don’t put this on yourself. Do you want me to come with you?”

“I have it. Just need a ride.”

Part 1

Part 3

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 1

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?”

“What’s up?”

“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.

Part 2