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

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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

Hitbox Vol. 1 Finding Your Sea Legs Part 24

It’s a few days into Zach Thomas’ self imposed injury exile before he hears from the one person he expected to see right away. They’ve been bad days. He had to cancel his sessions with his trainer Simon Brant and the man didn’t believe him when he told him he was injured. It took everything he had and finally a picture of his bandaged knee to convince the man not to drop him as a client.

Lorelei stopped by twice to change his bandages and clean the wound but she hasn’t had time to stick around and talk. Both times she stopped she was on her way to work and was in and out within twenty minutes. She promised to stop again soon with her crew so they can meet but she hasn’t said when. Something to look forward to could work wonders for him. All they talked about other than his injury was how amazing his loft is.

For years he was on his own and he got so used to it that he thought he preferred it. The last couple days have proven that’s not the case. He’s terribly anxious for any conversation, any human interaction. He has an amazing apartment to relax in but he can’t use the workout room and he doesn’t want to sit around playing video games or watching movies anymore. He’s spent way too many years sitting around doing so. Playing some game through for the tenth time seems like a complete waste.

Being unable to move around encourages his worst habits. Soda and snack cakes are breakfast. Lunch and dinner aren’t any better. The slight progress he’s made losing weight evaporates and he actually starts to gain weight.

When Nowak finally calls, Zach practically jumps up and down on his one good leg. “Can I stop by kid? I want to have a talk with you.”

Immediately accepting Zach waits impatiently in his living room. He knows how long it takes to get from Nowak’s place to here but it seems to be taking a lot longer. He’s almost given up when there’s a knock at the door.

He considers getting up to answer but his sore underarms give him pause. “Come in, it’s not locked.”

Stumbling through the door, Nowak looks like he hasn’t showered since the last time they saw each other. His eyes are red and Zach’s pretty sure he catches the aroma of alcohol on him. He didn’t sound drunk on the phone but that seems to have changed. He looks around the place, clearly surprised how nice it is. “Nicely done kid, this place is great. No wonder you got out of our dump of a building. How you feeling?”

Pushing himself into a sitting position Zach lies. “Not bad. Lorelei has me on so many pain pills that I don’t feel much. I’m just getting bored sitting around here with nothing to do.”

“I get that. Sorry I haven’t called until now. I’ve been in the lab pretty much since I took off the other night. Trying to fix your suit up so you have protection over your knees and elbows. I found some bulletproof material I can make a joint out of. They’ll strap around your joints over the rest of the suit. Not easy to shape how we’ll need them and I’ll need to get some measurements from you but this won’t happen again.” Zach can make out a cheap measuring tape tied around Nowak’s waist like a belt.

“That’s awesome. There’s no huge hurry though. Lorelei says I won’t be able to put full weight on it for a few more weeks. After that she wants me up and around for at least a couple more weeks before I go back out. I’m out of commission for at least a month.”

Nowak puts a hand against his forehead. “Ya, that okay. I just, well, I just needed to know it was ready. I let you down and you got hurt because of it.”

“What do you mean you let me down? I’m the one who decided to go into that bank. I decided on being a vigilante in the first place. You were pretty much telling me right from the start I’d end up dead.”

With a chuckle Nowak says, “Well, overall that’s true. You said you needed something over your knees though and I said it’d be fine. You were right, I was wrong. You got hurt because I was wrong. That can’t happen. My job’s to figure out the dangerous stuff and solve it before it’s a problem. Besides, you didn’t even want to go to that second bank. I pushed you to do it because I was so convinced my gear could handle it and it seemed like an opportunity. I was wrong about so much.” He makes his way to the couch and sits. He’s sweating bad and he keeps wiping it away with his sleeve. The temperature’s spiked over the last few days but even with that Nowak’s still wearing long sleeves.

“You can’t blame yourself for this, I messed up. All the technology works great. The helmet’s amazing, the shock gun and rod are incredible, even the suit worked great. I just got hit in the spot there wasn’t any suit. I’m glad you’re fixing the issue but don’t worry too much. I don’t want to make getting shot a regular thing but I’m okay. Have you been drinking while working on this stuff by the way?”

Nowak brightens up as Zach praises his gear. That quickly shifts when the alcohol comes up. He looks down, chuckling under his breath. “No, stopped off on the way over here for that. I was kind of nervous to see you kid, wasn’t sure if you’d be pissed and I was kind of pissed at myself. Needed a drink to give myself the courage.”

“That’s alright. Want something? I have a ton of stuff in the cabinet above the fridge. I’d have a drink with you but I can’t drink with the pain meds I’m on.”

Shaking his head, Nowak leans back. “I’ve had enough. Thanks though. Just wanted to come by and tell you I solved the problem and make sure you were okay. I’ll get to work on the car and the boat security to make sure it’s all ready by the time you get back out there. In the mean time, relax.”

He pauses at this point and heads for the kitchen. “Maybe I will have that drink after all. I don’t do well with people getting hurt kid. I have a son who, well, let’s just say someone hurt him and he’s never been the same. I don’t want to go into it too much, but you’re a good kid. You went into that place and put yourself in danger to help strangers. Not a lot of people would do that. Feel good about it.”

Now Zach really wishes he could have a drink. “I’m not sure I helped. A guy got shot in the first bank. Innocent guy, paramedic said he’d be okay, but they also said he might never use his right arm again. I can’t even imagine. A bunch of the robbers in the second bank are dead. I sit around here and I have nothing to do so I think. I keep thinking if I’d stayed out of it maybe those guys would have taken the money and left. Maybe everyone would have been fine.”

The cabinets in the kitchen squeak as they’re opened. “Sure, or maybe they’d have executed every hostage in there so they couldn’t identify them. There’s no way to know what would have happened. You can’t think that way. You did what you had to and everything worked out pretty well. You’re worse off than most anyone else in the place. Feel proud of that.”

Nowak comes back with a drink, straight whiskey. Apparently his turning down a drink was only really turning down Zach making it. He plops back on the couch near Zach. “I’ve probably had too much to drink. Mind if I hang around awhile? Watch some TV or something until I sober up?” That won’t be anytime soon if he keeps drinking.

Desperate for company, Zach’s glad to have him stay. They sit around watching TV but after an hour Zach’s phone rings. Not a lot of people know the number so he’s a bit surprised. He answers the unknown caller to hear Linus Setterberg on the other end. “Hey Zach, good to talk to you. Your driver told me you hurt your knee. Bad sprain or something? How’s it feeling?”

Well handled Beth. “Not too bad, taking some pain medicine. Using crutches to get around but it could be worse.”

“Glad to hear it. Everything okay with the accommodations? Good food, good apartment, all of that looking good? Want me to send a doctor over to take a look? My personal guy’s good.”

“No complaints and not needed but thanks. The place is beautiful. I’d like to stay here for awhile actually.”

“That’s not a problem at all. Hope you’re up and around real soon. I’m actually calling because the board got back together this week and I told them about you coming back to the company. They weren’t thrilled, I told you they wouldn’t be. They can’t stop it though and there are a few in your corner. The next board meeting isn’t for three weeks but I want to meet for lunch before that if you’re up to it. We’ll get something to eat, go over a strategy for how you’re going to approach things. It’s my treat of course. What do you say?”

Without being able to think of an excuse to turn the man down, Zach agrees to lunch two weeks from Friday at a, “great little Vietnamese place,” Linus knows. After hanging up the phone, Zach sits there staring at the TV but not really watching. He’s glad to have lunch with Linus. He realizes how much he needs to be around people that matter to him. He just hopes he doesn’t mess up rejoining his company as bad as he messed up his start to being a vigilante.

 

 Part 23

Volume 2 Commitment Shock Begins December 31st

Hitbox Vol. 1 Finding Your Sea Legs Part 23

Riding home from his boat is excruciating. Zach Thomas’ leg feels fine, mostly thanks to an absurd amount of drugs. He’s going to miss those IVs now that he has to get by on pills. Instead the pain comes from the silence. Beth doesn’t say a word the entire trip which means after they drop Lorelei at her place Zach sits in complete silence.

Normally he loves how quiet Beth is. He chose her as his driver because she knew how to keep quiet and not ask a lot of questions. Now that she knows what he’s doing though he wants to know what’s on her mind. She doesn’t work for him, she works for Thomas Computing. She’s only a driver for them but she could easily tell them what he’s doing. He doesn’t have a good grasp on her loyalties. If they found out she knew and didn’t tell anyone she might be fired.

Linus Setterberg, the CEO of the company, has been fantastic since his return. He’s made getting access to his money, needed to pay for all this equipment, incredibly simple. That would almost have to change if he found out what the money’s for. The company would potentially be opening itself up to lawsuits if they ignored something like that. At the very least they’d be ridiculed. In some ways that’s worse. He’s been around the business world enough of his life to know how that would go. Their first move would be to run for the hills.

Pulling up to his apartment, Beth stops the car but stays silent. She looks at Zach in her rear view mirror, waiting for him to either get out of the car or say something. He wants more than anything to get out of this car and get inside. Confrontation isn’t his strong suit. He spent years living alone in a tiny studio apartment to avoid it. It’s still weird to be around people, let alone to argue with them.

Running from this would be a mistake though. He needs to know where he stands. Besides, Beth took a risk for him last night. Unable to meet her gaze, Zach looks at the ground. ”I really want to thank you for last night. I know that can’t have been easy but I’d probably be dead if you didn’t help Nowak. I asked him to come get me but I planned on being conscious when he got there. I’m actually surprised the two of you were able to get me into the back of here.”

Beth shrugs but doesn’t say anything. Zach waits, hoping she’ll offer up the answers he’s seeking but he figures out he’s going to have to get them himself. “Did I get any blood back here last night? Everything looks good.”

“A little,” Beth says. She sounds like she wants to spit. “Got it cleaned, Nowak knew a guy. Nobody knows.”

“That’s good to hear. That’s actually the other thing I’d like to talk to you about. I know you work for the company and probably feel a need to be loyal to them. I completely understand that. I’d really like to keep this quiet though. It wouldn’t be good for the company and right now I don’t want to be a big deal. I’m trying to figure things out and that’s going to be easier if the media isn’t losing their minds and following me around.”

She smiles a light smile, a rarity for her. “Probably shouldn’t have talked to the media last night then.”

He returns her smile and actually laughs at that. “You’re probably right. They’ll get tired of that story in five minutes though. I’m not worried.”

“Well they certainly haven’t yet and it’s been a lot more than five minutes. They’re running you constantly. They want to know who you are.”

He’ll have to keep that in mind. It’s a bargaining chip he can use later. “That’s not surprising. Thanks for letting me know. Seriously though, are you going to say anything to Linus or anyone else at the company? I won’t be mad if you feel you have to but I’d rather you don’t.”

“You don’t have to worry about me.” She returns her eyes to the road.

“That’s nice to hear. Any reason why? You don’t really know me that well. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it. Just curious.”

She shrugs, not meeting his gaze. “You picked me to drive you. I appreciate it. A lot of the executives want someone who can talk all day. That’s not me. I just like to drive. Being a private driver’s a lot easier than being in the pool though. Plus, my sister’s a vigilante out in Portland so I know how that goes.”

The vigilante connection’s a relief. Betraying him would be like betraying someone in her family. “Well that’s good. If there’s anything I can do to help her, will you let me know? I owe you one and I like to pay my debts.”

Beth nods and looks up, now staring at him when he’d rather she stare at the road. The conversation seems to be coming to a close. “Anyway, I really appreciate it. I’ll call you if I need a ride anywhere. I’m supposed to take it easy for the next few weeks so I probably won’t be going a lot of places. Guess you get to take it easy too.” A final nod from Beth confirms she understands. With a quick goodbye, Zach hobbles away from the car and into his building to return to resting.

Part 22

Part 24

Hitbox Vol. 1 Finding Your Sea Legs Part 22

Waking the next morning, it takes Zach Thomas a moment to figure out where he is. He figures it out a lot quicker this time. This is actually the first time he’s seen the inside of his private yacht. He came up with the idea to use a yacht for his headquarters so he can easily move around the city. It’s nice, but he’s still terrified of the ocean. After what happened to his family, who wouldn’t be? He may have rushed into this idea. If not for the medicine pumping through him he doubts he would have gotten any sleep.

Besides that, so far he’s mostly been getting involved in his own neighborhood. You don’t need a yacht to get around Chelsea. The entire thing would seem like a waste if it wasn’t making a very nice emergency room in a pinch.

Sunshine blares through the windows and he can smell the sea air through a few open windows. He used to love that smell. Now it makes him feel vaguely ill. A light breeze brushes his face. There’s no sign of Lorelei, Nowak or anyone else. He sees a pair of crutches sitting against the wall next to him. Not feeling like laying in bed all day, he swings his legs over the side. His knee’s heavily bandaged. It hurts, but not as bad as it did last night. Hoisting himself onto the crutches, he steadies himself and heads out the door, trying not to put weight on his injured leg.

Finding Lorelei doesn’t prove difficult. Leaning against the far railing on deck, she seems comfortable as she smokes a cigarette and looks out to sea. Glancing back at the docks, there’s no sign of anyone else around. It’s still pretty early though. The sun’s mostly up but he can still see darkness on the horizon.

“A doctor smoking? That seems like a contradiction.”

Turning to face him, Lorelei doesn’t seem surprised he’s out of bed. She takes another puff. “What can I say, I’m a mess of contradictions. I’m down to just a few a week though. You probably shouldn’t be moving around yet. Rest, feel better. That’s why you’re here.”

He shrugs as he crosses the deck to reach her. “I was getting restless. Besides, I feel a lot better this morning.”

Lorelei laughs, putting her cigarette out as he gets close. “You got shot last night, how you feel has nothing to do with you being better. You feel better because I’ve got enough drugs in you to knock a horse out. If you’re careful you can stay out here but not for long. You really need to take it easy.”

Looking out to sea, Zach feels anxious even with the sea having calmed since last night. A few small waves hit the side of the yacht but they’re no more than a foot high. “How much do you know about me?”

“Enough. I know who you are, your company, all the big stuff. I know about your parents. Sorry about that. I’m sure the whole boat thing isn’t easy. It was a good place to take you though if you didn’t want to go to a hospital.”

“I haven’t been on a boat since that night.” Zach’s leg’s starting to shake even being held in the air. “The only time I’ve been near one is when I came to buy this and I could barely step on the dock. The water’s fine right now and we’re not even at sea but my mind’s kind of freaking. I loved boats. Never missed a chance to go out to sea with my family. My little sister always made excuses to stay home but not me. That’s one more thing I lost. I don’t think I’m ever going to feel comfortable at sea again.”

Lorelei’s eyes travel to his knee which is feeling worse. The shaking’s increasing. For now she ignores it. “Maybe not, but you can face it. Really you should face it. You’re out here right now. You ripped the band aid off, even if it was done for you. It’s a start.”

Using the railing for additional support would be so easy. He’s not there. “Ya, guess it is. So about you, why did you become a vigilante? Seems weird for a doctor, especially one who was so cool with shooting people yesterday. No offense.”

“No, it’s fine. You’re right, I’m cool with killing if it protects people. I signed up because there’s too many people out there taking advantage of each other, willing to hurt anyone to get ahead, to take a little more. I became a doctor because I wanted to help people who needed it. This is another way for me to do that.”

“You can help people without killing.”

She looks away, her voice tightening. “I really can’t. You’re a billionaire, you can buy your way to all this great technology to fight without killing. You’ve got some cool stuff by the way, this isn’t an attack. I don’t have that option though. I have guns. I have to use what’s available to me. Besides, I’m not killing shoplifters who are willing to surrender. Bank robbers who take hostages though? They don’t deserve mercy. I’ll do what I have to do and worry about the rest later.”

“Don’t doctors take some kind of oath though? Do no harm or something?”

Frowning, Lorelei reaches into her pocket for another cigarette. “Ya, we do. I’ll honor that when I’m being a doctor. When I’m a vigilante, I’m not a doctor at that moment. I have to keep those lives separate. Don’t get me wrong, once they’re no longer a threat and everyone’s safe, I’ll be glad to try and save the lives of anyone I shot. I don’t want people dead. I’m just not going to risk anyone else’s life to protect the people putting those lives at risk.”

Zach’s mind’s at work and an idea crosses it. “What if I was to get you non-lethal tech? Something similar to what I use, or we can make it different if you like.”

“I don’t want your money. Well, that’s not true. I want your money for saving your life when you get hurt. But I don’t want your technology. I’d feel like I’m doing this for you instead of for me. Besides, I have a crew I work with and we’d all need the stuff.”

“What sort of crew?”

She pauses, thinking about how to respond. “I can’t tell you everything, too much risk. There’s me, my cousin, a couple friends. We’re all vigilantes. Most of us operate as ourselves like I do. There is one guy who wears a costume like you, he has a good reason to hide who he is. I’ll introduce you to them if you want. We’re always looking for more people to work with. We’re more effective if we work together.”

Smiling, Zach adjusts his weight. “I’d like that. I don’t know any other vigilantes. I don’t really know a lot of people.”

Zach’s latest adjustment isn’t lost on Lorelei. “You’re going to have to do something about that. Allies are important. For what it’s worth, I’m glad you met me. Your driver’s coming in a few hours to take you home. You need to keep relaxing even after you get there. I’ll stop by every couple days to check the wound, make sure you’re changing the dressing on it properly, make sure it isn’t infected. You got lucky. As long as it doesn’t get infected you should be fine before long. Now get back in bed, you need rest.”

Part 21

Part 23

Hitbox Vol. 1 Finding Your Sea Legs Part 21

Waking in a comfortable bed, Zach Thomas feels terrible. His knee’s on fire and his back hurts any time he tries to move. He hasn’t figured out where he is and he’s not sure when it is. This definitely isn’t the new loft apartment provided by Thomas Computing. It’s also not the studio apartment he’s lived in for the last five years. It doesn’t look familiar at all.

When he figures it out it’s because he recognizes the long forgotten but still familiar sensation of the ground rocking beneath him. He’s on a boat.

Terror shoots through him and he tries to jump to his feet. A sharp pain shoots through his left leg. It feels like razor blades are cutting him. Strong hands push him down. He’s too out of it to recognize who they belong to. A voice he can’t place says, “Easy, you need to stay still for now.” They sound confident which puts him at ease. He doesn’t completely surrender but he stops fighting so hard.

His eyes don’t want to focus. Staring in the direction of the voice he starts to make out a face but his first instinct’s hard to believe. What he thinks he sees doesn’t make sense. Another voice from across the room speaks up and he recognizes that easily. “You need to do what the doc says kid.” Nowak’s nearby but he can’t see him.

Everything starts to come back, one piece at a time. The bank robbery he stopped, getting shot in the leg, not being able to get out because of the press and the police. The last thing he remembers is sneaking off, only to start feeling light headed in an alley while trying to call Nowak.

That makes sense. What he can’t quite put together is why the doctor looks like Lorelei, the other vigilante he met in the bank. She saved his butt when he was pinned down behind a pillar. Without her, he’d probably be dead. The last time he saw her though she was helping hostages get out. By the time he took down the last robbers she was long gone. One of the police told him she didn’t wait around and he didn’t expect to see her again.

Why is she standing over him? The doctor who looks like Lorelei has him hooked to an IV and what appears to be a bag of blood. She’s checking his vitals and doesn’t seem concerned. Trying to figure out what’s going on he asks, “Who are you? Where are we?”

Her eyebrows raise and she quickly puts a hand to his forehead. “Do you not remember me? My name’s Lorelei, we met earlier during the robbery. What do you remember before passing out?”

He closes his eyes and groans. “If you’re Lorelei then I think I remember everything. I’m confused, but I remember things. What are we doing on a boat together?”

She takes her hand away. “Your friend Mr. Nowak called me. He —“

Mr. Nowak jumps into the conversation when he hears his name. “Employee, not friend. Just want to be clear about that.”

“Whatever he is, Mr. Nowak called me. I’m your new personal doctor apparently. He was looking for someone he could call if you got hurt, tracked me down a few weeks ago. He didn’t know I was at the bank, but when he told me you were shot, I got down here as fast as I could. I knew I shouldn’t have sent you after those last guys alone.”

Zach tries to process all of this. “That’s an awfully big coincidence. How’d he find a vigilante to be my doctor? I didn’t even know you were a doctor.”

Rolling her eyes, Lorelei steps away from the bed. “Yes, there’s a lot I didn’t tell you in the five minutes we’ve known each other. I’m a surgeon to be more specific, vigilantes come from all kinds of backgrounds. One of the only things I did tell you in the bank is I don’t hide what I do or who I am. I know a lot of the old vigilantes wore masks but this is all legal now, there’s no need to hide who you are. Well, there’s no need to hide who I am. Now that I know who you are I completely get why you hide who you are.” She pauses. “Did that make sense?”

His mind’s still hazy and he decides to ignore the question. “How did I get here?”

Before Lorelei can respond, Nowak’s at his side. “I found you in an alley, you passed out from blood loss. We dragged you into the car and drove to your boat. Didn’t know where else to take you. Didn’t think it was a good idea to drag a bleeding man into our shop in the middle of New York. We’re already giving people too many chances to notice you.”

The boat’s thrown to the side and Zach clutches the sheets beneath him. Lorelei’s back at his side. She sees him white knuckling it and tries to soothe him. “Relax, we’re still in the harbor. The boat hasn’t gone anywhere, we just got you out here. I told Nowak all the gear I needed and he had it stored out here. It was all ready for you. Except the blood but thankfully your driver has the same blood type you do.”

His driver? Scanning the room, Zach’s eyes settle on Beth, his company assigned driver, sitting in the corner. She doesn’t say a word, she just waves when he sees her. “What are you doing here?” His words feel shaky and uneasy. “What the hell’s going on?”

“How the hell do you think I got you here kid?” Nowak’s started pacing now. “I couldn’t have gotten you into a car on my own, especially not in that suit. Me and the girl barely managed. I saw her sitting outside the shop. I didn’t have a lot of options for help so I drafted her. You’re lucky she went along with it or you’d be sitting in a hospital right now and everyone in New York would know the owner of Thomas Computing’s a vigilante.”

It’s a fair point but with Beth sitting here, he worries that’s going to be the case regardless. He likes her, but mostly because she keeps her mouth shut. He doesn’t know her well. She could go to her bosses the second she leaves here. She could go to the press. “She gave me blood?”

“More than I’d have liked but you lost a lot.” Lorelei stuffs a thermometer in his mouth. “You’re probably going to be okay but you should have told the cops you were shot. Those holes in your suit are dumb, you have to do something about that or this will happen again.”

“I’m working on it!” Nowak breaks he silence, practically shouting. He looks like he’s about to break something. He won’t stop pacing back and forth, not seeming to notice the ship continuing to rock beneath him. “You try designing something bulletproof that lets someone move freely. It’s a lot of work.”

Lorelei ignores his outburst. “Well it’s actually good you didn’t end up in a hospital. This is well within the realm of what I can handle. The bullet didn’t get you that bad, it missed almost everything important. You’d have been fine except it nicked a tendon. Even that just barely hit, real slow bleed. You made it worse by running around on it. With the blood transfusion and a little sewing on my part you’ll be fine soon. You just need to take it easy for a month or two, use crutches.”

Zach groans, his armpits already having phantom pains. “I hate crutches.”

“Tough. We’re staying here tonight. I’ll have your driver take Nowak home soon. She can come back for us tomorrow. Be glad you got a boat with two bedrooms or I’d be cranky about it.” She turns to Beth and Nowak, pointing at Beth. “With the amount of blood you gave, I’m getting you some food before you drive though. Follow me.”

Lorelei gets ready to leave the room but before she can, Zach says, “I really appreciate you doing this.”

She turns back, not looking upset but not smiling any longer. She shrugs. “You don’t have to appreciate it, you’re paying me. Very well I might add. Keep that up and I’ll have all the thanks I need.”

Part 20

Part 22

Hitbox Vol. 1 Finding Your Sea Legs Part 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 19

Part 21

Hitbox Vol. 1 Finding Your Sea Legs Part 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So she’s already gone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 18

Part 20

Hitbox Vol. 1 Finding Your Sea Legs Part 18

Zach Thomas opens his eyes and tries to breathe. It’s surprisingly difficult when you realize you’re about to die. He’s hiding behind a marble pillar as a group of bank robbers blanket him with gunfire. Bits of marble fly through the air and hit him in the face but his helmet protects him from them. If he moves it won’t protect him from the bullets.

His protective suit’s two stories above him, hidden in an office. Without it he’d be cut down in seconds if he steps out. He only has his helmet and electric baton with him. He can still see the one robber he pumped full of electricity laying unconscious between him and the gunfire. Unless he can get closer though the baton won’t do him any good against the rest.

He took down two robbers already but the rest seem to have figured out to stay away if they don’t want him to light them up. The closest of them is at least ten feet away firing in his direction. The moment he steps out from behind this pillar he’s going to look like a piece of swiss cheese. Maybe one will eventually decide to get close but more likely they’ll just flank him.

This was a bad idea. He got desperate when he saw so many robbers and tried to get cute. Leaving his suit upstairs set him up for failure. He could surrender but the odds are they’ll kill him anyway. With so many bullets flying he has to do something. Someone’s going to get hurt if this keeps going.

He hears yelling on the far side of the room. His first thought is that the crowd are starting to lose it but it sounds like the thieves. The bullets continue to fly but they’re not bouncing by him and there aren’t any bits of pillar raining on his head. He dares glance around the corner. A woman, seemingly one of the hostages, is running through the lobby with a machine gun from one of the men he put down. As she fires blood explodes from several of the robbers’ chests. Already two more bodies have hit the floor.

A quick scan using his helmet’s heat view shows another man down on the other side of the bank counter. Zach’s been adamant from the start that he would be a vigilante without killing but it’s a lot harder to care about those ideals when you’re literally backed into a corner.

Reaching the end of the counter, the woman slides on her knees around the far side. The cover’s welcome because she now has the full attention of the surviving thieves. They seem to have forgotten Zach’s even here. He considers using the distraction to sneak upstairs and get his gear but there’s no time. She’s cornered and their opponents still seriously outnumber her. She stuck her neck out to save him, he can’t turn and run.

The closest robber’s only fifteen feet from Zach and he’s firing away. Checking to make sure his baton’s on full power, he rushes to attack. His mind screams that he can’t do it. He has to ignore those impulses. If he listens a lot of people are going to get hurt. He heads straight for the closest man and luckily the sound of gunfire drowns out his approach. He lights his baton up and stabs the man in the back. He convulses for a moment before hitting the ground hard. His head bounces and Zach has to admit that he doesn’t much care. Only four to go.

The remaining four robbers are so busy focusing on the woman that they don’t notice another of their own is down. One of the robbers is flanking her and he’ll have a shot in a few seconds. Zach can probably get there in time but not without being noticed. He walks closer but tries to keep out of their line of sight, hoping another option will present itself.

Popping up from behind the counter, her gun taking aim, she seems to think she has a shot. Really she’s just exposing herself. Without another idea to save her, Zach rushes the man. As his gun goes up, Zach’s electric baton hits him right in the ribs. His eyes roll back in his head as he tries to turn and he hits the ground with a wet thud. He’s out of the fight.

The last three robbers can’t help but notice him since he ran right into their field of view and now they turn on Zach. They’re all behind the counter with a bit of space between them but it’s not much. He hits the deck, hoping they won’t have a shot. With a counter between them he certainly doesn’t have an easy path to reach them. He lands awkwardly on his hip and yelps.

This proves all the distraction his savior needs. She ducked back into cover after realizing how close she was to being killed but now she comes up firing. Little bursts of red pop out of the men behind the counter as they collapse to the ground. The last robber seems to see where things are headed and throws his gun to the ground. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot, I give up!”

Zach peaks over the counter and is glad to see the robber’s hands are high in the air and he appears unarmed. Satisfied that the danger’s over he climbs to his feet. He does so just in time to see the man’s head explode as the woman puts a bullet through his brain.

The look of satisfaction on her face speaks volumes. Zach stands there horrified. His hands go to cover his mouth but then he realizes how absurd that looks with a helmet on. It takes a moment before he can find any words. “What the hell was that? He surrendered.”

Walking toward him, the woman brushes her hair out of her face. “Ya, and for all we know he had a pistol behind his back he’d have shot us with when we got close. I’m not risking my life for a killer.”

“That’s not our decision to make. If we kill them, how are we any better than they are?”

Now that he’s not fighting for his life, Zach can really look over the woman who came to his aid. She’s a little shorter than he is but unlike him she’s in great shape. She appears to be middle eastern with long, wavy black hair. Her green t-shirt complements her eyes.

Throwing her gun to the ground, she speeds up as she gets closer, putting a finger in his face. “I’m not anything like these animals. I’m not the one who came into a bank with machine guns and put all of these people in danger. That was them. I protected those people. They’re alive. They might not be if I didn’t put that scum down. That wasn’t my choice, it was their’s.”

“That’s still not our call to make. This isn’t about vengeance.”

Laughing, she turns and starts to walk way. “Actually it is my call. I’m registered as a vigilante. Like I assume you are. I’m allowed to use lethal force if I deem it necessary. I thought it was necessary. You’re free to disagree but I stand by my decision. It’s not about vengeance. You put four of those guys down with your little stun stick and I’m not putting one in their heads. I probably should, but I’m not.”

Zach approaches the last man killed, laying dead on the ground with blood streaming out of his head. The sight of it makes his throat tighten but he has to know. He pats the man down, looking for any sign of another weapon. “He wasn’t armed. There’s nothing else on him.”

She doesn’t look, checking on one of the hostages. “Sucks to be him. I had no way to know that though. My job’s to protect innocent people, not criminals. I’ll do it using whatever tools I have to. That’s why I signed up. I wasn’t even here as a vigilante. Just going to the bank. I didn’t decide hey, why don’t I go out today and shoot a bunch of people in the face. You’re lucky I was here by the way or you’d be dead. So maybe instead of screaming at me you could just say thank you.”

Hostages start picking themselves off the floor with the danger seemingly over. Most of them are staring at Zach and the woman. Zach’s legs feel heavy and he realizes just how exhausted he is, how much his legs are shaking, how much he wants to puke. He manages to reach the counter before slumping against it and slipping to the ground. He looks up at the woman and tries to put on a brave face. It’s only for himself since no one can see his face under his helmet. Somehow it still matters. “You’re right. I should be more grateful. I’m apparently going by Hitbox. What should I call you?”

She narrows her eyes and shifts her weight to her left leg. “My name’s Lorelei. I don’t need to hide it. I hope you don’t think we’re done by the way. There were three of them that went back to the vault. We need to stop them or at least get these people out of here before they come back.”

Any feelings of relief vanish. He barely survived the last group. Trying to process everything going on around him, he’s glad to see no sign of injured civilians. That’s at least in part thanks to him. It feels good. That will have to be the fuel to get him through one more fight. “Alright, my gear’s up on the third floor. I need to get it if I’m going at them head on. I can be quick. Point me in the direction of the vault and I’ll handle it while you get the people out.”

She looks concerned, glancing at the people on the ground who aren’t dead. “What about the ones you put down? They could wake up any time.”

“Not likely. I pumped them so full of electricity that they’ll be lucky to wake up in an hour. Same with the pair upstairs I took down. We have time but we do need to get moving. Once the people are out get the cops in here to secure things.”

She sighs and puts her hands behind her head. “Fine. I’ll get them out and send the cops in. I’ll tell them Hitbox from the news is in here so they hopefully don’t come in guns blazing. The vault’s through those double doors in the back of the room.” She points at a pair of tall wooden doors. “Good luck I guess.”

With that Lorelei starts taking command of the group and all of the civilians almost instinctively listen. “I need everyone in lines, two people at a time are leaving the bank. Hands in the air, out the front door. Do not give the cops any excuse to put a bullet in you. Do not run, but don’t go too slow either. Children and their parents first. Don’t make me say it again.” She’s so caught up in herding the crowd that she doesn’t notice Zach watching her a little longer than he’s proud of.

Part 17

Part 19