So, just recently, I decided to start trying to work on my original endeavors more. Part of that is potentially stepping back into the webcomics scene again. Off and on over the past year or two I've been working on a superhero setting that I've titled Vigilante Shift. As part of my continued development, I've written a short story, the first full tale to be set within my new little universe.
"One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half."
-Sir Winston Churchill
Vigilante Shift Presents:
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery
The motorcycle softly cruised along the street, silent as a whisper. Even if it had been turned on, the electric engine would have only put out a light sssssizzzzzz noise, but its single passenger didn't want to risk even that being overheard. When she finally reached her destination, she gently applied the brakes and turned into an alleyway.
After parking the bike and activating its various security systems, she walked over to the nearby fire escape, slapped her hands together, and then leaped straight up to grab onto the bottom rung of the retracted ladder. She then easily hauled herself up to the first platform and took the stairs up to the roof at a leisurely pace. There, she walked over to the other side, crouched down, and surveyed the open area in front of her for several minutes while stroking her chin.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm broodin'," she murmurred to the voice in her ear. "It's what superheroes are s'posed to do. We brood on rooftops."
An exasperated sigh, then, "Yes, and you are also supposed to capture criminals, as I recall. They don't capture themselves, you know."
"'Cept that one time."
"Yes, except that one time," he grudgingly conceded.
With a quiet snort of triumph, she dropped down to sit on the ledge swinging her feet back and forth in the air. "Okay, we'll do all the things you wanna do," she said. "What've we got?"
"A night watchman on pier 42 noted an electrical disturbance during his rounds," he told her. "He reported this to the police, who further noted that the CCTV in the area appears to have been tampered with, particularly in the area surrounding the Smith-Brown warehouse. You are to reconnoiter said area and report back any unusual activity."
She slipped down from her perch, hung onto the ledge by one hand for a second, then dropped four stories to hit and roll across the pavement before coming up lightly on her feet. A grin spread across her face at the fact that her landing had made almost no noise whatsoever, a trick she'd been perfecting for at least the past two years. Only a slight tenseness in her lower leg muscles indicated any strain from the impact.
"Then I get ta beat hell outta the unusual activity, right?" she asked, her fingers playing over the batons hanging from her belt.
"No," the voice said sternly. "Not unless they notice and attack you first. And no, you are not to purposefully on accident let them see you. Stealth please, Chase. We don't need any more incidents on your record this month."
"Yeah, yeah," Chase mumbled back as she stepped into the shadows and nonchalantly strolled toward the Smith-Brown warehouse. It sat on the other side of the wide lot, closer to the dock's gated entrance than the piers. She didn't immediately see any movement in the area, but she tapped up the low-light on her goggles just to make sure she didn't miss anything.
As she walked, Chase resisted the urge to whistle. She also resisted the urge to run across the lot, guns blazing. And the urge to cackle maniacally. And the urge to rub her fingertips on her pants, start telling jokes, wash her hands, spit on the ground, do a somersault, spin in place, or count the rocks and small bits of broken asphalt strewn across the ground. If she did any of those things, Greg would get mad, and then she'd have to listen to him bitch and whine and blah blah blah and good golly there would just be too much hassle to be worth it.
So quietly she went. Stealth wasn't her preferred approach, but she had to admit that it had its uses. Sneaking around, for instance. That was a good one. Not being seen was a definite bonus. And then there was-
Focus! she berated herself. You're on the job. Stay there!
After what seemed like an eternity to her jittery mind, she was across the lot and pressed up against the outside wall of the warehouse. She slowly slid over until she was next to the nearest window, then peeked inside. With her goggles, she was easily able to see everything beyond the bars and glass. Unfortunately, much of what she would have been able to see was blocked by shelves filled with boxes and areas of the floor stacked with heavy crates.
The RFID tags attached to the various bits of cargo read "Restricted" until they recognized the passcode in her goggles and began pouring out general - if still somewhat limited - information regarding the contents and owners of the containers. Not enough to invade privacy but still enough to give her the general situation.
"Hey Greg," she subvocalized as she read the manifests, "what exactly does Smith-Brown do?"
He answered immediately, which she figured meant he already had the information pulled up. "They're a small shipping company that works primarily with electronics companies," he said, "though they have branched out into other technologies as well. Of late they have shown an interest in working with nanotechnology companies, striking a deal with a new and still relatively small zaibatsu registered as the Ankou Corporation."
It fit with what she was looking at. Most of the crates identified as holding various bits of tech, mostly digipads, AR lenses, radios, gelscreens, and vehicle components, while the boxes held microchips and other small electronic components. All in all a very nice haul for some starter-level thieves.
"'Ankou' . . . that doesn't sound Japanese."
"There is 'anko', which is sort of a bean paste, but in this case it's referring to something from quite the other side of the planet. In English and French mythology, an ankou is a spirit that guards graveyards and sometimes collects souls. You may think of them as a working-class Grim Reaper, if you will."
"Sounds cheery," she said, then froze. "I think I just saw something."
Greg's voice switched from its previously dry tone to something more interested. "Yes, I saw it too. I ran back the footage, and it was definitely humanoid, carrying something. Whoever they are, they aren't scheduled for entry, so at the very least we have ourselves a trespasser."
Chase's grin spread sharp and quick across her face. "Permission to enter the building and engage?" she asked.
"Permission granted. No weapons authorized at this time. Assess and detain."
The denial of possible weapon violence was a bit of a letdown, but Chase didn't let it get to her. If luck was with her, she'd still get to put a few bruises on them with her bare hands. The night didn't have to be a total waste.
Immediately moving into action, she crept around the building until she found a door. Reaching into one of the pouches on her gear harness, she pulled out a codekey with her federal ident on it. She pressed it to the lock, which snapped opened and allowed her to step inside. The good people at Smith-Brown would have already been notified of her pending presence on their property, so whatever boards had just lit up at their office merely let them know she had arrived.
Her goggles lit up the interior of the building as bright as day, twice as well as her own natural low-light vision would have done. She slid between the boxes, checking around corners as she came to them, working to ferret out her prey. She would have thought it unfortunate that she wasn't getting any help from Greg and the CCTV, but tracking the target down manually had its own particular brand of satisfaction.
A soft squeak came from nearby, catching her attention. Her own sneakers didn't make a sound as she moved gracefully along, but apparently the trespasser wasn't being quite so careful. She turned to center herself on the sound and soon after found a figure crouched down in front of a crate, fiddling with the controls.
A more cautious superhero would have waited for her goggles to start spitting out information gathered from scanning the figure. She would have waited for a definite call to action from her handler. She might have even waited for the trespasser to actually break into the crate, further incriminating him or herself. But for Chase, finally finding her quarry only meant one thing.
"Oh me oh my," she said as she stepped out into the aisle between the crates. "Someone's someplace they ain't supposed to be!"
The figure whipped around, revealing himself to be a man, thin and tall. He was wearing all black and his face was covered by a hardened mask, leaving only his springy, short hair uncovered. Though she couldn't see his expression, Chase could tell from his body language that he was surprised and more than a little stunned.
"WhO . . . aRe . . . YoU?" he asked, revealing that his face wasn't the only thing that was masked. His voice was modulated, sounding electronic and inhuman.
"Me? I'm the good guys," she said with a grin. "I am a superhero, duly appointed guardian of Sedgewick City, and under that authority I am placing you under arrest for trespassing. Unelss, ah'course, you've got a real good explanation."
Breaking out of his shock, the man turned, grabbed up a baseball bat that was propped against the crate he had been working on, and brandished it at her. Her grin turned up another notch as she felt the blood start to pump through her ears.
"Oh hohohohoho, buddy," she said, darkly amused. "You just made my night."
"Batons authorized," Greg spoke into her ear.
"I love it when ya say that," she subvocalized so the other man couldn't hear.
Greg was not amused. "Go easy on him. He may just be a gang member performing some kind of initiation."
Chase's batons snapped out to their full length as she flicked them, the sound hard and menacing. The trespasser's muscles jerked, but he held his ground, then stepped forward to take a swing. With no apparent effort at all, Chase crossed the batons and blocked the blow.
"By the by," she said conversationally, "I can't tell ya just how happy I am you're resistin' arrest."
The bat suddenly lit up, causing the flare compensator in her goggles to automatically ratchet down the low-light. Curls of electricity poured out of the man's hands and across the weapon's metal surface.
Chase furrowed her brow and pursed her lips. "Ooh," she said. "Neat trick."
She pushed the bat back toward its owner and backpedaled a few steps to get some distance. The trespasser caught his balance and pressed the attack, leaving streaking afterimages with every swing.
"Electrokinesis," Greg informed her as she deflected and dodged the blows. "Unknown rating. Accessing the DENA database for known electrokinetics in the area. He may only be able to charge it through the bat itself, so try to remove it from the equation. Swords authorized."
There was no "be careful". He knew she wouldn't be.
The trespasser tried to jam the head of the bat into her stomach, so Chase spun to one side and smacked him on the back with her batons as he passed by. This gave his rush a little extra push, sending him straight into a pile of crates. He bounced off the side of the stack and stood stunned for a few seconds.
Chase took advantage of the lull to collapse and re-holster the batons. She reached back and pulled two wakazashis from the sheathes strapped to her back in an X formation. With a soft sigh of anticipation, she dropped into a ready stance, holding one of the blades above her head and the other out in front of her body.
Having recovered from his run-in with the heavy crates, the man threw himself back into the fight, knocking the swords to the side. Chase whirled around with the blow and tried to bring the sharp edges down on the bat, but he pulled back to quickly, showing almost as much agility and speed as she herself had. He followed up with a straight strike that tapped the head of the bat against her shoulder, numbing the nerves there a little bit.
Despite herself, she was impressed. Only a little, but still.
"I have a list of seven possible suspects with his general build and abilities," Greg announced. "I require more identifying characteristics to make a positive identification."
"Can do, chief," she said.
Playtime was over. Chase picked up the pace, moving fast enough that the position of her blades could only be determined by the random flashes as moonlight hit them. Otherwise they were just a blur and the soft whisper of air being cut. The trespasser backed up in surprise, uttering a modulated "WhAt . . . ?" just before the swords sliced in front of him twice each.
His bat separated into three pieces, the handle stump remaining in his hands while the rest clanged noisily on the concrete floor. Before he could react to this sudden turn of events, his mask fell to the floor as well, severed from the cloth strap that had been holding it in place. His expression was one of comical surprise.
Chase twirled her swords around her body for a second, then re-sheathed them. "So, you comin' quietly now, or am I gonna have to actually start hurtin' ya?" she asked.
"Bitch!" he screamed as his body seemed to explode with light. Bolts of electricity poured off of him, trailing along the ground, nearby crates, and all the way up to the rafters above. Chase could feel her short black hair start to stand on in as static filled the air.
"Okay, I take it back," she said. "That is a neat trick."
She hit the ground and rolled as a series of bolts flew through the air she had been occupying, blasting two of the large boxes behind her across the warehouse.
"I have him," Greg told her as she scrambled to find some cover.
"Awesome. So where are we on the whole 'collateral property damage' thing? I wanna chuck a few crates at 'im."
He continued as if he hadn't heard her. "His name is Arthur Jennings. Rating 3 electrokinetic, with shielding from physical and energetic attack, enhanced reflexes and stamina, and mild telepathy of sorts. He can read the electrical impulses of the brain, though with only limited accuracy. He opted out of the superhero program and is therefore not licensed."
Chase dove from her hiding spot as a spider-like legs of electricity began to curl around the edges of the boxes. "Which means he's just become a bonafide supervillain," she said, her tone one of dawning joy.
"Yes," Greg confirmed. "Operational parameters are now at your discretion."
She launched herself forward, but didn't pull out any of her weapons. Jennings turned her direction and began to pull up energy for another blast, but she came at him far too fast. With a mighty bellow disproportionate to her tiny frame, she pulled back her fist and slammed it full force into the electrical field shimmering around his jaw.
The blow exploded in a shower of sparks as he suddenly found himself catapulted through the air. He tumbled end over end until he hit a window on the far side of the warehouse, smashing through it and the lattice of bars on the other side.
Chase's pace didn't slow, though she did take the time to shake her hand out. The nerves going all the way up to her shoulder were tingling from the electrical shock she had gotten from Jenning's shield, but her shift-enhanced system was already compensating for it.
"I always know that I'm going to regret giving you discretion," Greg said with a sigh, "yet I continue doing so. Why is that?"
With a perfectly executed forward leap, Chase slid through the hole in the window she had made with Jennings, hit the ground in a roll, and came up ready for round two.
"Is it 'cause ya love me?" she asked. "Or just 'cause ya wanna fuck me?"
Whatever answer he was going to give was drowned out by a lightning bolt sizzling by Chase's head. Jennings was already on his feet, but the glow around his body had begun to weaken. He looked frightened as the superhero slowly began to advance on him.
"Techbee!" he yelled into the night. "Techbeeeeeee!"
"So, you really gotcherself a partner, or are ya just talkin' nonsense?"
Jennings backpedaled as Chase got closer. His wide eyes frantically scanned the docks as his electric aura dimmed further and further.
"Hmm," Greg murmured thoughtfully. "CCTV is starting to come back online in the area," he said, "though it also appears to be shutting down elsewhere as well. It would seem that he does in fact have a partner, said partner may be a technopath, and they are headed your way."
"Thanks for the heads up," Chase said, following Jennings' suddenly rapt line of sight. "It's a she, by the way, and she can fly."
"I cAn'T lEaVe YoU aLoNe FoR fIvE mInUtEs . . . " the woman's modulated voice chastised the terrified electrokinetic as she floated down from warehouse's roof. She was wearing an outfit and mask much like Jennings', though Chase definitely thought this "Techbee" wore it much better.
Her appreciation was cut short when she felt soft lines of force laying themselves around her head. "Oh, darlin'," she said ruefully, "it's a nice try 'n' all, but everything I got is shielded from EMP, electrical interference, and mental control. You must be new to the game. So why don't you two just go ahead and give up now, 'kay? Tell ya what, we can even head over to this joint I know 'fore I hand you off to Johnny Law. Best damn steakburgers in Sedgewick, my treat!"
In answer, Techbee hefted a small submachine gun while Jennings' glow had started to reform. Chase looked at him over her shoulder then shook her head.
"Yeah, alright," she said. "Have it y'all's way."
With almost no visible effort, Chase shot straight up into the air. A flash of lightning and stitching of bullets hit the concrete where she had been standing. Reaching under her arms, she pulled out the two pistols sitting in her shoulder holsters. She fired two warning shots at each of the villains while still midair, then came down lightly on her feet.
Jennings' fast reflexes allowed him to anticipate and dodge one of the shots fired at him, but Chase had aimed the second to counter that. The bullet bounced off the protective field just above his shoulder, spinning him around and causing him to cry out in alarm and pain. Chase hadn't been entirely certain it wouldn't go straight through, but naturally she wasn't going to admit that to Greg.
Techbee, meanwhile, apparently had normal human reaction times, leaving her to stand perfectly still except for a slight tremor in her shoulders as the bullets whizzed past her left arm. From that reaction it seemed that she had apparently not expected a superhero to shoot back. Chase closed the distance between them, eager to show her a few more things she might not expect a superhero to do.
The submachine gun came back up, but Chase kicked the hand holding it so the short burst went wild, then slammed the butt of her pistol down on Techbee's mask with just enough force to send her to the ground. Without missing a beat, she kicked the other woman's weapon away and planted a boot in her midsection.
The warning hadn't come in time. It wasn't like Greg to slip up like that, so as she flew forward on wings made of electricity, Chase figured he must have been distracted by something going on at home base. The warehouse wall rushed over to greet her face first, cutting off speculation and breaking her nose with a crunch just audible over the rest of her slamming into the surface. Her meeting with the ground was a little less harsh, but still managed to knock the wind out of her a second time.
She rolled over, picked herself up, and straightened the cartilage in her nose, holding it there for a few seconds until her fast healing kicked in. Jennings was gathering power for another strike while Techbee was likewise recovering. Getting taken by surprise like that had been a rookie mistake, and she was as mad at herself as she was at Jennings.
Of course, she wasn't the one she was going to take her anger out on.
The impact had rattled one of her pistols out of her hands, but she decided she only needed the one for the moment anyway. She easily dodged Jenning's next attack as she rushed toward Techbee, intent on putting the woman out of commission again, and hopefully for a slightly longer duration.
Greg's second warning was more timely than the first, allowing Chase to easily avoid getting her ankles blown off by the sudden burst of bullets from the submachine gun, which seemed to be firing all on its own. Damn technopaths, she grumbled mentally as she came down and resumed her run.
More lightning flew her way as Techbee retreated, trying to get to her weapon before Chase could get to her. It seemed that the superhero would achieve her objective first until Greg called another warning as a runaway forklift suddenly tried to run her over.
Chase rolled to one side as the small, surprisingly fast machine scraped by just inches from her shoulder. She flung her free hand out, snagged onto one of the forklift's protuberances, and skidded along the ground as it dragged her along. After carefully placing her pistol back into its holster, she got both hands on the forklift and dug in with her feet, gradually pulling it to a stop.
Techbee had reached her gun and was just firing a double burst at Chase when the superhero heaved the forklift around like a shotput and flung it at her, intercepting the bullets with its frame. Jennings' bolts followed close on Chase's heels as she nearly flew over the overturned vehicle to land squarely on Techbee and roll along the ground with the surprised technopath.
As soon as they stopped moving, Chase slammed an elbow down into Techbee's mask to stun her, then flipped her over to slap cuffs on her wrists. The LEDs on the cuffs lit up as soon as they were in place, indicating that the dampening field was in place, countering the technopath's abilities and effectively putting her out of the fight.
"Gotta give ya this," Chase said as she took a second to wipe a thin sheen of sweat from her forehead. "Y'all actually gave me a little bit of a workout!" Then, to Jennings, "So, we done here or what?"
Just like before, Jennings began to glow dimmer and dimmer, until finally the electricity around him completely shut off. He stared down at his fallen partner, fear evident in his unblinking eyes and trembling lips. Chase nodded as she stood up and started dragging the other woman his way.
"Lemme guess," she said. "Crippling codependency, right?"
"I'm . . . getting therapy for that," he replied, gulping heavily. "I swear."
Chase dumped Techbee to the ground and motioned for him to turn around. As she put another pair of cuffs on him, she said, "Hey, I believe ya, kid. Though it don't really matter at this point. Not gettin' yourself checked out regular is the least of the laws you done broke tonight."
She squeezed the handcuffs tight. "Welcome to the heady world of supervillainy," she said.
Crouching down next to Techbee, she pulled the woman's mask off to reveal her scowling face. "That goes for you, too, Miss-"
"Brant," supplied Greg.
"-Brant. Shame y'all didn't take me up on that offer for a steakburger. Three of us, we coulda had a hell of a night."
"Would you please stop hitting on the bad people and take them out to the street for pickup?" Greg asked, exasperated. "I've called for a squad car, and they should be there in just a few moments. Postscript, operational parameters are back under my discretion. Stand down all weapons. Dirigibles are blue in the morning . . . are you even listening to me?"
"Naw, I heard ya. Blue dirigibles are cool," Chase said distantly as she stared hard at the inside of Techbee's mask. A small smear of blood from the woman's split lip glistened near the area that would be covering the mouth, but she was far more interested in the tech that her goggles were scanning. "Are you seein' what I'm seein'?"
"I see everything you see," Greg countered huffily. Then, with a growing curiosity, "Now that is strange."
Chase looked up at the warehouse. "You said ain't nothin' in there but electronics, maybe some nanos, right? All I saw was standard junk before. But what would a technopath and a 'lectrokinetic want with all that stuff? Between 'em, they could churn out masks like this by the thousands on a government contract and make ten times more than they could stealin' and sellin' the crap in there."
"You know as well as I do that most supervillains have no rational reason for doing what they do," Greg said, but his tone implied he wasn't convinced that was currently the case.
"So just what were you two up to in there?" Chase asked the two criminals. Jennings glanced nervously at Brant, who merely spat on the ground in disgust.
"We want our lawyers," she growled.
The brief blast of a siren and twirling lights cut off any more conversation. The police were ready for their pickup, and it wouldn't do to keep them waiting.
"Alrighty," Chase sighed as she hung the mask on the hilt of one of her swords and dragged her prisoners along. "Guess you can keep silent, since you've got the right to it. You've also got the right to an attorney . . . "
With the trespassing supervillains bundled up and trundled off to be placed in holding cells, Chase went back to retrieve her fallen pistol as two uniformed police officers marked the area as a crime scene. She slipped the gun into its holster as she watched the police tape go up.
It never failed to amaze her that with all the great and wonderful technology that the New City of Sedgewick had to offer, people were still kept out of places with thin strips of black and yellow plastic. Especially since it certainly didn't keep her out of-
"Don't even think about it."
Chase frowned with irritation. "You don't know what I was thinking," she subvocalized.
"I've been working with you long enough to know exactly what you are thinking," Greg told her sternly. "You are not to go in there. The CSI unit will be there shortly, and if there's anything to find, they will find it. You caught the villains. Your job there is over. It's time to get back on patrol."
Chase frowned deeply at the broken window in the warehouse's edifice. "You got a call from 'em, didn't ya?" she asked.
"Yes," Greg confirmed after a brief pause. "Though the local offices of Smith-Brown were cooperative in tonight's operation, the main corporate offices were less than pleased that we were on their property. Of course, there was nothing they could do to stop us since there were trespassers on the scene. But there's no need to rock the boat now that the emergency is over."
"They're up to somethin'."
Another pause, this one longer.
"Yes. I know. But we will simply have to deal with it later, if at all. Understood?"
Several more seconds were spent staring seriously at the warehouse as if to draw out its secrets through sheer force of will, then Chase's mood shifted abruptly as she slapped her hands together and put on a big "another job well done" smile. With a spring in her step, she walked out the gate and started down the sidewalk.
"Sure," she said amicably, "no prob! So hey, I'm really hankerin' for one a'them steakburgers now. Whattaya say we knock off a little early and go grab one? I am all about gettin' my mouth around a big ol' slab a'meat right now!"
A heavy sigh came over the radio link. "How charming."
"I ain't hearin' a no!"
"Thank you, Chase, but I think a nice meal at home will suffice."
She hopped onto her bike and revved it up. "Aw, that's fine, too," she said as she slipped her helmet on. "My place or yours?"
"You are incorrigible."
"Does that mean 'super sexy'? I'm pretty sure that means 'super sexy'."
Her laughter at his response filled the street as she zipped off into the night.
Roland 'Jim' Lowery
April 29, 2011