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Wednesday, April 16th. 144 hours.

I spoke to Gaston for several hours, and we managed to hash out the details of our partnership. I would be a bodyguard that runs around completing tasks and fetching things, with the occasional sidestep into beating people up. Gaston was simply the man with the plan and would be using his logistical experience to work out the exact details of how we would go about stopping String Theory’s shenanigans. It was almost midnight when we finally wrapped up our conversation, and I could not help but let out a mammoth yawn. So this was the life of a mercenary.

I slept easily in my single bed, despite having a person who I had only met today crashing on my couch, and I doubt I would have woken up for anything short of a house fire. What eventually did wake me up was the sound of Gaston knocking shit around in the kitchen, the rude asshole. Just help yourself, bastard, it is fine, Andy will not mind. I forced myself to take a quick shower before I finally joined him in the kitchen, and I made sure to psych myself up before I stepped into the room, completely ready to ask him just where the hell did he think he was.

I never got the chance, and my anger immediately vanished after I realized he had cooked us both breakfast. Two eggy eyes and a strip of bacon for a mouth, it was happy to see me, and the feeling was mutual. The two of us bonded over breakfast, talking about whatever caught our fancies. Eventually, we found ourselves full of food and ready to greet the day, so the conversation slowly turned into more mission-related topics.

We seemed to be of two minds when it came to deciding on how we should go about things. I personally thought that we should just go in, kick String Theory's villainous ass and tell her to cut the shit. I suggested as much to him, but he disagreed vehemently. We ended up debating it in detail, and any progress we had made in the conversation immediately ground to a halt.

"Explain to me why I can't just go for the full-frontal assault again?" I demanded, marveling at how Gaston's face had turned a bright red.

I had made a game of continuing to suggest bizarre variations of a full-frontal assault, and he seemed to be getting more pissed off with every iteration. I was honestly amazed by my own magnificence; truly I was one of a kind, the greatest mind amongst my peers to be sure.

"Heh," I continued after a moment, "I'd give String Theory a full-frontal assault if you know what I mean," I told him, waggling my eyebrows.

Gaston looked like he knew what I mean, and he also looked like he wanted to punch me in the face because of it. Thinking about it, I do not actually know what she looks like, so maybe I would not, who really knows.

Gaston took a deep breath to regain his tranquillity, before letting it out slowly.

"Just listen, Andy. We can't go after any of the current objectives yet." Gaston said, "She is not going to leave the base until the countdown is over. So we cannot wait her out, and there are bombs in the city, we can’t get to her that easily."

Gaston clasped his hands behind his back and paced the length of the room, a serious expression on his face once more.

"Even if we wanted to capture her, we would need to infiltrate the base to do so." Gaston stopped pacing before turning to look at me. "Which we can't do because all of the explosives in the city are controlled remotely by a computer there."

I hold my silence under his unblinking gaze, and he stares at me for an uncomfortable amount of time before I finally relent.

"If we get caught in the base, she starts blowing shit up." I entertain his need for an audience, and he nods seriously.

"We also can't go after the bombs in the city." Gaston says, beginning to pace once more, "Because it might alert her. I don't know how frequently she checks the computer, but I do know that she does check it."

"If she notices, she starts blowing shit up," I summarise once more, and he nods at my compliance.

"Which leaves us with the computer itself, which we can't remove from the base without setting the bombs off." Gaston pauses for a moment before blinking once. "Not that we could get to it without alerting her in the first place."

We had come full circle, once again, and I hold my silence.

He turns to look at me when I do not immediately speak, and it quickly turns into a staring contest. Unfortunately, my eyes immediately begin to water; I was not at all prepared for this contest of wills. I blink first.

Fuck, nobody can stare like Gaston.

"Which she will immediately respond to by blowing shit up," I admit defeat, rubbing at my poor watering eyes.

Gaston beams at me, completely unaffected; he has transcended humanity.

"Exactly! I'm glad you understand now how delicate the situation is." Gaston moved to the center of the room before digging his hands into his coat's deep pockets.

He suddenly raised his hands and spread his coat out like the wingspan of a gigantic goose. A power play; I had seen this before on Animal Planet. It was a sign of aggression and dominance.

Gaston flapped his arms once, and I watched him nervously.

"What can we even do then?" I asked, careful to keep the kitchen table between the two of us. "It sounds like a mission failed to me. We can't complete any of our objectives, and time is quickly running out."

"We rob a bank, of course," Gaston says easily, flapping his wings a final time before letting his arms drop.

I relaxed.

"Of course!" I said happily, not understanding the connection in the slightest.

Gaston squints at me for a moment before raising a single eyebrow, and I take the olive branch.

"Why are we going to rob a bank, Gaston?" I ask cheerfully.

"We are going to need a team," Gaston says thoughtfully, punctuating the statement with a clap of his hands. "For that, we are going to need more money."

Gaston explained his thought process without any prompting on my part, and I was beginning to think that he just enjoyed the sound of his own voice. The plan was simple; we break into the Brockton Bay Central Bank and steal all the money, fantastic. Then we use that money to hire two other capes to join our team, the mans a genius, truly.

We argued over team balance for a while, I wanted more DPS, and he wanted more utility. He made a good case for why we did not need more damage dealers, so I let him win that one, but in return for my generosity, I demanded that both teammates be totally hot babes. Gaston huffed a bit, arguing that we were not exactly able to exclude people based on such arbitrary reasons.

I dug my heels in; I would neither bend nor break. I was getting totally hot babes, or the deal was off.

Ignoring all that, we decided that the first cape would have to have some sort of focus on hacking or computer usage. The second cape had to be a sneaky one who could get inside the facility without getting caught. This seemed like the best combination for accessing the computer and stopping it from blowing up the city. After we had taken out the bombs, we could deal with the real issue, String Theory, and her G-Driver.

In about an hour, we would be meeting a cape who would be helping us with our problems. Gaston implied that he has worked with him once before, and I inferred that it would have been when they had first arrived in Brockton Bay, months ago. This mysterious cape was apparently the contact who had supplied most of the equipment that String Theory had needed. This cape had also managed to get them in touch with some particularly useful people, and at competitive prices, or so Gaston had said.

This time we would be buying information from the man and then paying him to contact the capes we had decided on hiring. Gaston and I spent hours brainstorming exactly which capes would have the expertise that we needed to get the job done. Then we made another list of capes that would consider working with us in the first place, there were plenty in the first category, but only three in the second, and neither of us were willing to hire Mannequin.

Besides, he was not even hot.


We stood on a roof waiting for the cape to arrive, the meeting place was surrounded on three sides by much taller buildings, and the walls were littered with air conditioners and external water pipes.

A single massive billboard stood next to us, facing the street. It served to block us from view, with a large picture of a flat-screen tv proudly on display; big, bold letters spelled out 'High Definition Display.' across the width of the sign. The 'Display.' had been crossed out with paint and replaced by the word 'Penis!'.

I grinned.

The man arrived five minutes after we did, accompanied by several extremely dangerous-looking men. They held dark guns with long barrels and textured grips. Each of their faces was covered by dark glass helmets, and they each wore visible body armor.

The cape stood out like a thumb; he was dressed in a skin-tight black bodysuit that covered him completely. A white snake pattern circled his left leg, his torso, and finished in the middle of his forehead. His moose knuckle was prominently on display, and I stared at it in alarm, had nobody told him?

I was about to call him on it, when Gaston quickly stepped forward, his hand outstretched to shake.

“Coil,” Gaston said cheerfully.

Coil watched the man for a long moment before reaching out and taking it. I made sure to watch the men with the guns; they had turned to follow him with their helmets but made no aggressive movements. Coil pulled his hand back after a moment, and now that the pleasantries had been addressed, he wasted no time in getting straight to business.

"Gaston." Coil said evenly, and I immediately noted that his voice was cold. "I had thought our business complete."

Coil glanced my way for a moment before looking away. I stared at him, completely annoyed; I simply could not believe that I had not thought to name myself ‘Coil’ first. Fuck, I wonder if he would consider trading names with me?

Gaston was as happy as ever; the man clearly had trouble reading the atmosphere, or he might have simply not cared, I am not quite sure. I saw something move from the top of the building on our left, and glanced up for a moment, studying the area. More of Coil’s men, with their guns trained on us from above, damn this guy was paranoid.

"A pleasure to see you." Gaston said, "I find myself in need of your services once again."

Coil watched him silently, and Gaston continued after a moment, filling in some details for the man.

"I need some information. I also need to get in contact with a villain and a rogue outside of Brockton Bay. The villain was last seen in Boston, while the rogue operates in Cambridge. I was hoping you might be able to put me in touch with them."

"Very well," Coil said coldly, "I will assist you. Let us discuss payment."


Coil did not have the information we needed on hand, but he assured us we would have it no later than tomorrow evening, likely before. That was much quicker than I would have guessed, given how difficult it would have been for me to get it.

I did not know exactly how Coil intended to get the Ward's schedules, but I was guessing he would either need to break in or hack their computers. If his powers did something like that, he would be ideal for our current mission, but Gaston had shut him down when he asked, but not before suggesting that Coil was most likely some type of Thinker.

It was possible that Coil already knew the Wards schedules and was just covering his ass by making us wait; keeping track of the hero's movements was probably a smart move if you were a bad guy that lived in the same city. I had never bothered to track anyone; I was a mercenary now; they would probably no longer ignore me if I started robbing banks and stuff in the city. Maybe I should start keeping track?

Coil agreed to contact both capes on our behalf and implied that we would hear from our potential recruits in two days. The man had not even blinked when he said it either, as if the situation had already been handled, this guy was as cool as a cucumber.

We spent the rest of the day working out how to deal with the bank situation, and we went over what we knew of the layout of the building. Luckily, both of us had been inside the bank before, although it was only one time for each of us. So we had a general idea of where things might be, the part that stood out the most was the area on the first floor that was secured by a metal gate.

Gaston had revealed that there was a staircase behind that gate, which led to a large door. We were both running under the assumption that the vault was somewhere beyond that door, though we would have to improvise if our guess were wrong. The only other part of the bank robbery we could plan was how to get into the vault itself.

We looked up a bunch of images of vault doors online, too try and get an idea of what we were working with. They mostly looked alike with a huge rectangular slab of metal with a big circle in the middle.

The slab was about 10 meters across and at least a meter deep. Hanging off the slab by a large hinge was an enormous circular door, just as foreboding.

I had not the foggiest idea of how to go about opening it sneakily, so we tossed ideas around for the rest of the night, arguing back and forth. We finally settled on either digging under the door or around it by going through the concrete walls, something I was sure I could handle with my power.

We went to bed late that night, and it took me a long while to calm down enough that I could fall asleep. I dreamt of epic battles, witty one-liners, giant doors, and swimming in pools filled with money.


Thursday, April 17th. 120 Hours.

I spent most of the next day in a fog; I could not tell you who I sat with at lunch or what the teachers taught in class. My mind was stuck in a loop, flipping over the details of the plan in an endless cycle. I could not stop checking my phone every five minutes for any news from Gaston. When classes finally ended for the day, I raced to the bus stop, as if the bus might ferry me home in an instant, should I only get there in time. I stared at the bus driver, trying to force him to leave early through sheer willpower.

We did not leave for another fifteen minutes.

When I finally arrived home, I found Gaston sitting on the couch, somehow even more impatient than I was. I sat down at the kitchen table and stared at him over my linked hands; Gaston’s left leg bounced up and down unrelenting, we waited.

It was a relief when the call finally came. 5:00 PM, right on the dot. Coil gave us all the Ward's information, shift changes, and additional advice that helped us hammer down an optimal time to start our attack. After Coil had hung up, we finally got down to business, studying what we had learned and put the final details together.

We would attack tonight.


Thursday, April 17th. 7:27 PM.

Operation: Break the bank had begun.

A sea of wires darted through the air, and it barely took a modicum of my attention to control them. I used them to pull myself around a corner at a blistering speed; each wire was thin and nearly invisible in the night as they branched out looking for handholds, creating them if none were present.

I did not lose any momentum as I dived across the gap between two tall buildings, and I glanced down at the street below. I could just make out a person walking down the footpath, completely unaware of me passing overhead. I shook my head at the person; walking around unaccompanied after dark was a risky choice.

They were either brave, foolish, or a criminal, but I did not have time to stop and ask which. I was a man on a mission, and Gaston had finally unleashed me upon the city; my dark conquest had begun.

Muah. Ha. Ha.

I leaped over another street before zipping across a series of rooftops and then diving straight down into an alleyway, landing directly behind the Brockton Bay Central Bank. I checked my watch, 7:30 PM.

I was early, whoops.

I looked around the alley for a moment, and a glint immediately caught my eye, under the light on the wall, the lens of a camera, no doubt a part of the bank's security system. Luckily, I was covered from head to toe in my dark costume, with my ridiculously attractive face safely hidden behind my white oval mask.

While I was admiring myself, my earpiece crackled to life, and Gaston's cheery voice drifted over the line.

"Remember the plan!" Gaston said happily, before going over the plan again. "The money is kept in the vault in the basement. You will need to get past it, which will not be easy. It's made of solid steel."

"Yes," I said, annoyed. "Break down the wall before making my way down to the vault. Knockdown the wall next to it, put all the money in the bags, and then run away. I was there when we planned this, Gaston." I gestured wildly with my hands as I spoke.

"Of course!" Gaston said, cheerfully. "But just in case, we should probably go over it one more time-” I quickly reached up and flicked my earpiece off.

Goddammit, Gaston. This had to be revenge for the full-frontal comment.

I checked my watch again, but it was only 7:33 PM. I frowned at my watch. Should I just start early? Gaston was totally underestimating me anyway; I could be in and out of the bank in under a minute, less if I went all out. I did not actually need the ten-minute window we had bought from Coil, although it was certainly useful.

I was sure I could be gone before anybody even noticed I had been here, I mean sure they would figure out what had happened afterward, from the security footage and the gigantic hole in the wall. But I would be long gone before then.

I took a deep breath and restrained myself.

"I am calm," I said serenely, "I am collected." I stood in the alley and watched the clock tick down. "I am a professional."

Follow the plan. Follow the plan. Follow the plan. I repeated it like a mantra, but when the words started to sound like Gaston, I flinched.

"I am the master of my fate." I searched for nirvana. "I am the captain of my soul." I could not find it and the next four minutes seemed to stretch into forever.

My watch suddenly beeped, and a shiver of delight raced up my spine. I took a step towards the wall and with a sweep of my hand, thousands of tiny wires pierced through it before spiraling inwards towards the center of the wall.

The wall remained upright for a long moment, unchanged except for a barely visible pattern carved into its surface. The wall abruptly fell into the building and broken into a million pieces, leaving a pile of debris on the ground.

"Go time," I said gleefully, taking a moment to look up at the camera and give it a jaunty wave.


Thursday, April 17th. 7:27 PM.

Ward's Headquarters

Triumph stared blearily at the console, trying his best not to fall asleep. He quickly scanned the rooftop cameras again but found nothing. Console duty was always a test of willpower for him; it consisted of long periods of boredom followed by brief moments of excitement.

It was an unfortunate reality that the excitement generally came around when a crime was in progress. He knew he should not be feeling excited when something bad was happening out in the city, but he could not help but enjoy a break in the monotony of staring at the monitors. Ten minutes left before he was finished, he could make it. The three members of the Wards shared the duty between themselves.

Himself, Aegis, and Vista rotated through the shifts every day, while whoever was not on console duty would be sent out to patrol the city in pairs. If a situation became volatile enough to warrant additional backup, they could put the console into an automated state for a short time and review the footage later. It was only allowed in times of emergency, and watching the additional footage was even more boring than watching the live feed.

Triumph yawned long and loud before his mouth shut with a clack of his perfect white teeth.

Recently, there had been talk that another cape would be joining the wards soon, and he seriously looked forward to it. It would split the console duty further, and anything else they could bring to the table was secondary to that, at least in his mind. The first of May was the date when the newest member of the wards was going to be revealed. The only thing he had been able to personally uncover about them was that they were male.

He glanced at the clock and immediately noted that it had barely changed.

Seven more minutes, and he would get to switch out with Vista. He would soon be joining Aegis on patrol if only the damn clock would-. A flash of movement in his peripheral vision drew his attention, and he quickly turned to study the monitors, but there was nothing out of place. Another movement, but he was quicker this time in locating it, and he watched as a figure darted quickly over a rooftop before diving down between two buildings.

The movement continued onto the next monitor and then another before finally coming to a stop in the middle of an alleyway that was wedged between two buildings, facing one of the walls. A light source above and behind the camera illuminated the walls of the building. They were smooth and stretched higher than the camera's frame of reference. Triumph could not quite identify which building it was offhand, but the texture and color of the wall looked vaguely familiar.

The figure was framed slightly left of center on the monitor, his hand placed against his ear. Triumph did not recognize the figure, and it defiantly was not any of the capes that he had personally seen. The costume did not announce who it was, either. If he wanted to know who this was, he would have to try and match a file to the cape database.

He checked the designation of the five monitors, in order of motion. Central Business District Camera #8, #9, #17, #18 and #19. He logged it in the file, under notes before he forgot. They might be able to use it to determine which direction he came from.

The figure was suspicious, and it was obviously a cape, with above baseline agility and at least some small ability to fly, which was more than enough to put them under a Mover classification. The figure’s alignment was unknown, and just looking suspicious was not a crime, after all, so he left it as 'Any.'

The unknown cape idled in the alleyway for a long time, waving his hands back and forth as if he were talking to someone. There was nobody else in the frame, nor a phone in sight. The figure placed his hand against his ear again, and Triumph thought he could safely assume he was using an earpiece.

He eyed the clock briefly; only four minutes left. The figure was tall, stick thin, and wore a mask, a plain white oval. The rest of its head was covered by a dark hood, which was attached to a black coat that hung from the figure's shoulders. The coat was split at the front, a black shirt and pants underneath. Thick black boots peeked out beneath the pants, combat boots of some kind.

He noted the appearance down in the file as 'White Mask,' 'Hooded,' 'Black Cloak,' 'Black shirt,' 'Black Pants,' and 'Black Boots.' Additional details made its way into the notes, full-length sleeves, long pants, no visible armor.

The lack of armor could mean either a lack of resources or a lack of need. Possible Brute rating if it was the latter, he held off putting it in the search parameters but placed it in the notes section just in case.

He added locational details, 'Brockton Bay,' within '100km' distance as the primary and a rough estimate of its height and weight, over six foot, seventy kilos plus. He set the computer to search for a match before glancing at the clock again, two minutes left.

It came to him suddenly; the walls of the Brockton Bay Central Bank were the same color. He practically vibrated in his seat; it was not even that far away. He and Aegis could be there in less than ten minutes. The figure was still talking, and he dearly wished he could hear what was being said, but the camera carried no audio.

The figure suddenly took a step towards the wall.

"Don't even think about it, asshole." Triumph mumbled, glancing over to check the search, it was 90% done.

The figure raised its hand before waving it lazily at the wall, but nothing happened for a moment, so he glanced over at the clock again. Bright red numbers blinked back at him; 7:37 PM, his shift had ended.

Triumph looked back at the monitor just in time for the wall of the bank to suddenly fall inwards.

Aegis and Vista stepped through the door behind him at the exact moment the wall hit the ground. He stared at them for a moment in shock at the timing. The figure turned to look straight at the camera and waved before stepping inside the bank. The computer chimed.

Match Found: Urchin, rogue.

Triumph just stared for a moment disbelieving. The cape's name was Urchin. Urchin, who had known the camera, was there the entire time. Urchin, who knew when the Wards shift change took place. Urchin, who was currently robbing the Brockton Bay Central Bank. Distantly he was aware of the others trying to get his attention.

"Triumph, what's wrong?" Vista said she sounded tired.

Triumph was wide awake.

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About the author

Elbowsnapper

Bio: I’m a fantasy author from Australia, and if I were to describe my work in a single sentence it would be; Realism contained within an unrealistic backdrop. I aim to put out high-quality, original, long-form written content that will entertain, and engage you. Expect dark themes, characters making costly mistakes, and unreliable narrators.

My standard process starts by releasing draft chapters to my Patreon, and then to everybody else online. Once the story is completed, I convert it into a more conventional eBook. I also routinely go back and revise, edit and enhance my older work as I improve as a writer.

I now have a website that has links to all of my original works to date.

https://www.elbowsnapper.com/

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