“I still do not understand the purpose of this.”
“How will we know if we still want to be heroes if we stop trying?”
“Yes, but…a mugger? I really do not think it will take both of us for this.”
“He’s been hitting at least one person a night, on the same street, for over a month. If he doesn’t have powers then the cops really are useless.”
“I suppose you are correct.”
Burnout and Mach stood on top of an apartment building, looking down 413th. They had been there for almost an hour already, with no sight of the man they were looking for.
“Are you positive that this is the correct street?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Don’t worry, the street’s clearing up. He should be making his move soon.”
The two focused on the street again, the only noise being a periodic bleep from Mach’s helmet.
Burnout fought to keep his eyes on the street while he spoke. “Mach, are you playing Pong in your helmet?”
“I do not believe I enjoy stakeouts.”
Burnout was about to reply when he saw a shadowed figure burst out of an alley and make a beeline for a woman walking down the street.
Burnout prepared to move but Mach held out a hand. “Wait. We cannot guarantee it is the mugger yet.”
The woman gave a startled shout and fought to keep a hand on her bag.
“Now we can go.”
The mugger ripped the bag from the woman’s grasp and turned back to the alley, only to be met with a wall of blue flames blocking the entrance.
A loud voice echoed through the street. “Stop! Place the bag on the ground and surrender!”
Mach descended from the roof, floating on a set of rockets from each leg.
The thief stretched his hand out and a black tendril shot out from beneath his feet. It wrapped around Mach’s leg and attempted to drag her to the ground.
With a shout, Mach increased the output from the captured leg’s rocket and thrust her left arm towards the tendril. A small gatling gun with a black belt popped out of her wrist and fired into the appendage, only for the small rounds to pass through the tentacle and into street.
“Mach!” Burnout sent out a jet of flames into the tentacle, severing it from its connection to the ground.
The mugger gave a pained shout and dropped the purse before taking off down the street.
Burnout sent a worried glance to Mach, who nodded. With a relieved sigh he picked up the woman’s purse and handed it to her.
The woman seemed unable to speak, but she gave a light smile and hurried down the street.
Burnout returned to his partner. “What was that thing?”
“Judging from the coloration and its reaction to your flames, I believe the culprit to be a shadow manipulator. If we hurry, we should still be able to capture him.”
“Wait. It would be best if you acted as support for this fight.”
“Why? I saved your ass a few minutes ago.”
“The mugger only used his own shadow to fight, if we were able to extinguish all lights then his shadow would disappear and he would be powerless.”
“Or he was holding back and you’ll be screwed.”
“My suit protects me from his attacks. If you are correct then you will have ample opportunity to create more light.”
Mach stared at him.
Two bursts of fire emerged from each of their feet, carrying them down the street. Mach saw a sheen travel across her visor, switching to thermal imaging. A trail of warmer air emerged before her, quickly turning down the next alley.
Mach landed outside the alley and signaled for Burnout to do the same. The trail in front of her was quickly going cold, but the alley was a straight shot with only a few places the thief could hide.
Mach flexed her left arm and the gatling gun popped out again, this time with a blue belt leading back into her arm.
Her voice boomed out once more. “Come out and surrender! I do not wish to harm you but I will if you resist!”
When no response came, she slowly advanced into the alley, with her arm raised. A few feet into the alley, a cry rang out and a dark shape leapt from the wall above the speedwalkers.
The thief swung an iron rod at Mach’s head. It rang out with a sharp ping and Mach backpedalled away.
With a pained grunt she lifted her arm and fired a string of shots at the thief.
The thief’s grin disappeared and he looked down. Sluggishly, he reached up and pulled a small blue dart out of his chest.
“Wha-?” The thief collapsed onto the ground.
“Nice.” Burnout stared at the unconscious mugger. “What was in those things?”
“A heavy tranquilizer with minimal risk factors. Beck Industries provides them as non-lethal weapons for heroes.”
The two stared down at the unconscious thief.
“So, call the cops or drag him to the station?”
“I believe we may have to explain his powers to them in detail.”
“Dragging it is.”
“All right, everyone on the ground!”
Rose took a deep breath and followed the man’s instructions. A small part of her screamed to take action immediately, but even if she took him out right away his gun could go off.
A glance around the room summed up the situation. There were three men on the floor, and another had already made his way behind the counter.
Unfortunately she wasn’t exactly armed. She had a few seeds, but the floor was tile and the counter was too far away for her to manipulate. Her options were pretty much limited to her staff and maybe a net if she could rework one of the seed quickly enough.
But without her mask, she couldn’t afford to be nearly that overt.
It was time to get creative.
She closed her eyes and focused on one of the seeds woven into her shirt, Japanese Honeysuckle. She’d kept a sample after removing it from her neighbor’s garden. It wasn’t particularly dangerous, but it grew fast.
She forced the vine to grow around and under the other hostages, doing her best to keep it out of sight. It took less than a minute for it to touch the wood of the counter.
Rose took a deep breath and held it, focusing all of her attention on the tip of the vine. Sweat poured down her forehead as the vine began to meld with the dead wood and she could feel the whole counter fall under her control.
She released the breath and scrubbed her forehead against her shirt to dry it off. It took her a moment for her to run through her limits with the counter. She couldn’t do much to alter its composition from this far away, which meant she was stuck with growth.
She slowly turned her head until she saw the fourth robber. He had been shouting at a teller angrily for the last few minutes, forcing him to drain each of the desks of all their money. The rest of them were stalking through the crowd, keeping an eye on all of the hostages.
She needed to draw them closer.
With a mental flex, she forced a small spark of life into the counter, causing a single branch to stretch out and brush the knee of the fourth robber.
The man gave a start and whirled around, but she quickly retracted the branch out of his sight.
One of the other robbers shouted at the fourth man to keep up the work. He grumbled a reply and turned back to the teller.
It took two more tries for the first robber to stalk over to the counter.
“But I swear, something’s touching me!”
“Keep this up, and I’m gonna be touching you. And trust when I say it won’t be gentle.”
At this point, Rose had melded enough of the vine into the counter that the two began to fuse into something new.
Rose gave a small smile and sent the now ropier branches at the two robbers, tripping them and quickly dragging them beneath the desks.
The two managed to cry out before she could get a branch between their teeth.
The last two robbers began shouting at each other, but she couldn’t afford to listen. She carefully wound a branch around each of their necks, carefully compressing their necks to restrict the blood vessels. She waited until they stopped struggling against their bindings and quickly removed the branches from their necks.
At this point, the two other robbers slowly approached the counter from opposite ends.
“I don’t see ‘em! What the hell happened!?”
“Musta been dragged underground by some tunneler! He’s probably gunning for us now!”
She was tempted to grab them right away, but the second had his gun pointed towards the hostages still, and she couldn’t risk it going off.
In a few more steps they would see the two tied under the counter, and realize where the attack had come from.
She had to be careful. She couldn’t tell exactly where her vines would grow; she had to work with what their movements could tell her and her very limited view. She needed to make this one big.
There was only one teller behind the counter, and they had ordered him to the floor before they started their search.
She closed her eyes again, and with a pained groan she forced the entire front half of the desk to sprout up branches.
The robber’s guns were forced to point into the air, and she immediately ordered the vines to grow around the two and trap them with their weapons useless.
Rose let herself smile and she carefully pulled the vine back out of the counter and into her pocket.
She did her best to blend in with the crowd as they slowly stood up and examined the trapped crooks.
Most of them sighed in relief when they heard the sirens approaching the bank.
Allspades twisted his body around, breaking out of the larger man’s hold. He completed his spin, and grabbed him by the shirt. With a loud grunt, Allspades threw the man into a wall.
He stared at the rest of the punks, raising his eyebrow.
“One down. Ready to tell me where your boss is? Or are we gonna stick with the hard way?”
One of them stepped out of line and glared at Allspades. “You took out Charlie. You really think we’re gonna let you get away with that? GET ‘IM!”
As one the group charged forward, Allspades stared at them and sighed deeply.
“Always the hard way. I told King scare tactics didn’t work against the stupid ones.”
Allspades braced himself and caught the first punk’s tackle. And the second’s. And the third’s.
He took a single step and shoved all three of them onto the ground, at the feet of the last two.
He jumped forward with a whoop and pulled the fourth punk down to the ground with him.
He looked at the downed man with a smile. “You, I don’t need.”
He slammed his fist into the man’s gullet and forced the air from his lungs and knocking him unconscious.
He felt a heavy thud on his back and turned his head. The last punk held a crowbar over his head, winding up for a second swing.
Allspades twisted off the unconscious man and heard a loud crack as his ribs broke under the crowbar.
“Sorry bud, better you than me.”
Allspades kicked at the last punk’s knee, breaking it and bringing him to the ground.
The first three punks had just made it back to their feet. Allspades grabbed the crowbar out of the last punk’s hand and sent it flying at chest level.
The missile bounced off the first punk’s chest, sending him back to the ground with at least one broken rib.
The last two stared at Allspades in shock.
He smiled happily and stepped forward.
The two immediately turned away and ran out of the alley.
Allspades looked down at the fifth punk, the one with the broken knee. He reached down and lifted him up by the front of his shirt.
“Now, how about you tell me where your boss is. You see, we’ve had a talk scheduled for a long time now, and I’d hate to miss my appointment.”
Allspades lightly set the man on his injured leg. The man let out a sharp scream and Allspades lifted him back up.
Mitchell Chase looked at his sister with the widest eyes he could manage.
“Pleeease let me go out-out.”
“No. Now go work on your homework. You need to get it done now, cause I’m not helping you finish it on the last day of Summer again.”
Will stared across the bar and gestured to his glass for the second time.
The bartender gave a hefty sigh and filled it up one more time. “You need to slow down, Will. I’m not watching you black out again.”
“Tough luck, Roy. I didn’t get my chance earlier this week, and my cousin’s not stopping me tonight.”
Roy shook his head. “Look, Will, I know you’re hurting, and I know I’m not stopping you, even if I kick you out of this bar. But tomorrow, when you wake up, I really hope you forgive me for this.”
“William.” A new voice spoke from the door.
Will turned in his chair and stared at the woman in the doorway. “Addie. You called Addie.”
Roy quickly walked down the bar and began pouring another customer’s drink.
Addie walked over and glared at Will. “We hoped your cousin would be enough to keep you away from the bars.”
“He thought I’d give up after one day.” Will took another sip. “Optimist.”
“I’m taking you home.”
“And what makes you think I’m going?”
“Because Roy isn’t serving you another drink, and I can catch you if you try to run away.”
“Fine.” Will set his now empty glass on the bar. “You putting on the mask or should I call Jim?”
“You want to be seen escorted home by Zero?”
“Point. Tigermobile it is.”
Unimportant walked through the airport warehouse, whistling a tune no one else could hear.
He walked down the aisles of containers, marking tallies for each row in his notebook.
There was no reason the city would need this big a shipment. Even if he hadn’t helped put away a couple hundred dealers this last year, it was till twice as large a shipment as Asclepios had ever bothered to make.
“need to open one up”
Unimportant pulled off his bag and searched through it. He hummed happily to himself as he found his bolt cutters.
He walked down one of the aisles. If he opened one near the front someone might see. He didn’t feel like being accidentally locked in a shipping container. Again.
“near the back…but not too far”
He lined up his cutters with the chain and slammed down on the far end. He quietly slid the chain off and opened the crate.
He started whistling again as the pulled out his penlight and clicked it on. A quick scan showed stacks of white boxes, each precisely labeled with the shell company he’d identified weeks ago.
A box cutter later revealed the boxes were filled with vials of a deep orange liquid.
It had always been blue. Asclepios had been working on the same drug for five years, and no matter how much he improved it, it had always been blue.
“new…new is not good.”