Mission 01.02

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Could be worse.

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For instance, there could be more than three Bricks in body armor holed up in that bank, or they could have a Psion along with them. Hell, maybe they could even have a clue on what they are doing, which, luckily for me, they don't.

Because I've got Hot Stuff and Vandal with me on this caller, who were only added to the active roster last week. Did I mention they are convicted felons as well? Hot Stuff for arson, Vandal for assault and battery and drug possession. They were selected for some sort of "Redemption Project" to work off their sentences, and I got to run the project because I had the nerve to ask for a promotion. They're my problem -- uh, TEAM -- now.

Them and freaky girl.

"I heard that!" Mindshadow swings around in her chair to glare at me.

I could say something about invasion of privacy, but Mindshadow is supposed to be in my head during a mission, even if we've only JUST arrived at an active scene. Them's the breaks -- since I didn't let R&D implant a chip into my brain, I get a telepath as a team relay instead of a technopath. Not that Thunderer would give Tommy up anyway.

"Some people might find that a compliment," I say.

"Which people?"

I adjust my glasses and nod toward her monitor, where I can see a chat box open. "Are you receiving me, Jun?"

She turns around again and quickly minimizes one window and brings up another, which mirrors what I see.

"Yeah, your camera is online..."

"All right then. Stay focused, please."

I hear Mindshadow's voice in my head hollowly respond, Yes, ma'am.

Then I turn to my team. Vandal has draped himself lazily across two seats, leaving one for Hot Stuff to huddle in.

"Okay, this is what we know. Just after 6 pm as the manager was locking up, three men in gas masks and armed with assault rifles forced her and the security guard back inside to open up the vault. One of the hostages managed to trip the alarm, both were killed immediately after. SWAT and police responded and found that the assailants would not go down under heavy gunfire, though it did force them back into the building, which they've now held for the past 48 minutes."

Blank stares.

"Sooo, we're dealing with three Bricks with a lot of ammo," I say, "Hot Stuff, you'll need to keep to the back, let Vandal and I take front."

"We don't know who they are?"

Wow, great! An actual question. This one is barely whispered by Hot Stuff.

"They're not on file," Mindshadow responds for me. She's got to stop this interrupting thing, too. But it's her file I suppose, she scans every single Gen-Alt that the CGA registers and takes a psionic fingerprint. The fact that Mindshadow doesn't know these clowns means either they've laid low for the past six years and avoided getting tagged, which is unlikely given the stupidity of this bank heist stunt. More likely, they're new.

New Gas Babies pop up every now and then, like when hikers stupidly go into the Controlled Zone. Hell, we're even tracking rumors that some sort of designer drug might have hit the streets based on the mutagens...

"Right, so they're unknowns -- we proceed with caution. Let's go!"

I throw open the door to the mobile unit. Neither of them will budge. "Get off the bus, you pair of green JEEPs!"

"Green JEEPs?" Hot Stuff wrinkles her forehead in confusion. At least it gets her to stop fretfully wringing her hands for a few seconds.

"It means you're new and have Just Enough Education to Pass. Now, move your asses!"

Hot Stuff hurries out. Vandal lets out a yawn before he swings himself off the seats to saunter outdoors.

As I step out of the command unit, I can hear Mindshadow checking in with home base and Winter saying to her, "Keep an eye on Hot Stuff for me, Jun. I'm still not confident about her control. As for Vandal... ah, well. Let's hope for the best..."

The kids wait for me just outside, staring at the lights of all the police cars and the dozens of officers hiding behind them. Everything's been riddled with bullets. Vandal still looks bored out of his skull. Hot Stuff is plainly terrified. I choose to ignore both these things. I've drilled them for months, they're ready for this.

"You two wait here while I assess the situation," I tell them, and then I run over to the police barricade.

I flash my badge and announce, "Lawkeepers! Who's in charge here?"

"Finally!" shouts a lady by the SWAT van. She lowers her megaphone and sidearm, both of which I gather have been useless to her. "I'm Chief Lanier. We've got three bank robbers in there that are immune to bullets..."

"Yes, Chief, I'm aware. If you could just pull your people back, we'll take it from here."

She shakes her head. "Would love to, but we've got a man down by the entrance."

"Ah," I nod. Then I look back over my shoulder and lock eyes with Vandal. To his credit, he immediately straightens up from his slouch. "You're up." I tell him, "And don't fuck around."

"Yeah, sure," Vandal replies and then he's off, hurdling over police cars and into the thick of it. He takes a full-on assault rifle attack from the perps at the bank entrance as he reaches the fallen officer. I stand up and fire several rounds of cover fire while Vandal gets the fallen officer off the ground, shielding him with his own body. I can see Vandal's CGA sweatshirt getting torn up. He hesitates, not sure which direction he should go. He needs to go to the left, the shortest, clearest path... "Mindshadow!"

Yes, I've already told him, she responds telepathically. Indeed, Vandal does book it right where I want him to go, carrying the wounded man in his arms. I step out from behind the SWAT vehicle to lay down more suppressing fire and Vandal loops in behind me to the relative safety of the barricade.

"Get him to the EMTs," I tell him.

"Yeah, sure," he mumbles in return.

Blondie, they're figured out we're the Lawkeepers and they're going to make a break for it.

"Oh are they now?" I say. And THIS is why having a telepath on the frontlines really pays off. "What's their plan?"

Not much of one. They're going to come out the back door firing, run straight ahead and then cut to the right. They have a van parked one block over.

I wave to Hot Stuff, signaling for her to follow me as I head around to the rear of the building.

They're getting ready to go. On a three count. Three...

I point Hot Stuff toward the police barricade. "In case any get past me, then you stop them."


I don't like the green tint to Hot Stuff's face, but there's no more time. I quickly move to get into position to intercept.


And right on cue, they come bursting out of the bank, gun barrels flashing. The lead dude practically runs into my fist and even his enhanced jaw shatters on impact, and he crumples to the sidewalk. Cuz, you know, there are gen-alts and then there are Gen-Alts.

What're more, there are trained Gel-Alts. And I've got twelve years of military training and four tours of duty in the Middle East under my belt. Sorry, boys, this ain't your day.

I turn my attention to the second. I do a flip over the bullets, landing right up in his business.

Then I go for the weak spots even Bricks have: ankle ("Aaah!"), eyes ("Augh!"), ears ("Unnh!), throat ("Gack!"), genitals ("Nnnf" *thud*). Down goes number two.

Blondie, the third suspect is reloading, but he's heading right for Hot Stuff... she's panicking...

"All right, tell her to calm down. Have her put up a wall of fire and corral him back my way..."

I see Hot Stuff suddenly poke up from behind a police car. Her hand is a ball of fire. She extends it shakily and says, "Ha-Halt!" It'd be real cute except the fireball shoots out and engulfs the guy in a searing inferno. He screams horribly.

"Holy... Hot Stuff, put it out!" I yell as the flames grow taller and advance toward me.

"I'm trying," she shouts back, "But nothing's happening!"

Shoot. It just got worse.