Beginning is the hardest part, he thought to himself. Over and over. He had to take the plunge, and start.
When his powers first came to him, he, Randall Smith, felt like he had unlimited potential. To be anywhere, anytime he wanted - an ability that many would kill for - it had provided an intoxicating rush. The most mundane use of his power afforded him the ability to spend a day at work and the very same night in Maui, if he so wished; with but a wink of effort, he had seen the top of Everest, then inside the Vatican. It was as easy as walking through a door - no, easier. He could do anything.
But gravity had soon set in. Whatever he decided to do, he could not allow himself - under any circumstance - to be caught. They'd kill him, for what he was able to do - for the threat he represented. And more, there was only so much that being in a place, instantly, could let him do. If he wanted to answer his calling - to start really making changes - he'd need to be much stronger.
Instant teleportation was a fantastic power, no doubt, but the drawbacks were more plentiful than one might assume. Even if he were interested in fistfighting child molesters, the ability afforded him the element of surprise, but little else in the way of strength. It'd be better to stick them with a knife, or better, blow them away with a gun - but he was no serial killer, and putting himself in harm's way like that would be foolish. All it would take was one loose variable - something missed - and he'd be dead. He was far too valuable to risk in any kind of combat.
There was the matter of the Others to contend with. Smith didn't live in fear of them, like many - he was part of their ranks, after all - but he was very, very cautious. In any kind of fight, he doubted his chances against an ordinary human; against the extraordinary, he had few advantages, save again for the element of surprise. He was confident that any prolonged engagement would end in a severe thrashing, and that simply would not do.
No time for doubts now, he thought, tightening the clasp on his mask.
The seed of the idea - changing things - had taken root and grown over the last year, and now it was time to follow through.
The principle was the same as in the office: what he could not do alone, he would have others do. Thus began the recruiting process.
In Pittsburgh, where he had spent considerable time already as a management class member of ΔCorp, there was someone who was doing what he had fantasized about. Sign and rumor of a masked vigilante pummeling the scum which infested the streets, who pulled knives on innocents passers-by - et cetera, et cetera. And they were doing it with spirit. To build his network, he would start with her.
It would have been impossible to find her without his power. These engagements were simply over too fast. But popping around the city at nighttime, stimulant coursing through him, he could pinpoint the sounds of violence and home in. After four fruitless nights of searching, he had finally located the person he was looking for in medias res - the aftermath of a bloody thrashing, the twilight between the fight and the escape.
So he stepped forward, out from nowhere, with a smile in his voice - drinking in the moment, luxuriating in the persona, the mask, and his ambitions:
"Good evening! Bra-vo! What a show!"
He clapped, sincerely, authentically proud; the broken bodies of the offenders were testament to this hammer-wielder's conviction.
"I mean no harm. Do you have time for a word?" he asked, stopping. "My name is The World. I have something to offer that I think you'd be most interested in."
There had been three of them on her when Sam had swooped in. She’d arrived before anything had happened to her, thank god, because she had been nearby when the woman had screamed. Sam for not the first time wished she had superhuman hearing. It would have made everything so much easier. Patrolling would be so much more efficient.
Regardless, she stepped off the top of the building she had been running across and made a small vortex that caught her and deposited her behind one of the men. Her broken rib screamed in protest but she ignored it. She immediately swung the head of the hammer into the back of his knee, a sickening crack echoing through the alleyway. He dropped down, holding his legs and screaming, she grabbed the young woman they had been ganging up on, lifted her over the man, and pushed her away, down the other side of the alley.
“Get out of here. Go straight home.” The woman took off running without a single word or look back. The other two men had recovered from their surprise, and one took a clumsy swing at her. She leaned back and away from his fist, then swung her leg lower, catching his ankles and knocking him to his back. The other tried to tackle her to the ground, so she grabbed the front of his shirt, one hand low and the other high, and swung him over her shoulder and onto the ground.
The man whose knee she broke was still making a fuss when the one she had tripped got back to his feet. She swung her heel up high, catching him in the jaw, then drove the handle of her hammer into his gut. He dropped to his knees, trying to catch his breath, and the third man came at her from behind. She ducked low and let him trip over her. When he landed, she took the handle of her hammer and slammed it into the back of his skull, just hard enough to knock him out.
The one she had winded finally seemed to realize what was going on, and he tried to get up and run. Sam spun the hammer, then threw it. It flew straight and hit the man in the back of his head. He dropped like a rock to the ground. She sighed. That had been almost too easy. She’d have to find something more challenging soon, maybe a gang hideout, or she was going to get antsy. As she walked past the man whose knee she had crushed, she gave him a solid kick to the back of his head, He ceased making noise, and she stepped over him to go collect her hammer.
As Sam– Phoenix– picked up her hammer, a voice rang out behind her. She turned around quickly, hammer raised in her hand, but quickly stopped. There was a man, dressed in a suit and a coat, a black hood over his head. She had no idea where he had come from– she was usually good about keeping people from coming up on her unaware– and she had no idea how much the man had seen of what she had done. At least, until she processed his words.
“I don’t know you. Why on Earth should I trust you don’t mean to hurt me? Why shouldn’t I just leave right now?” She crossed her arms over her chest, hammer still held in one hand, and looked around the rest of the alley, acutely aware of how boxed in she would be if the man had an accomplice.
"If I had wanted to hurt you, I would have, without announcing myself, no?" The World held his gloved hands up, palms forward, to show that they were empty; he did not advance, remaining still in the alley.
"I'm an admirer. Not many people are brave enough to do what you do. The harsh but fair approach to these...savages," he continued, the last word oozing with disgust. But his stance did not slacken and his words thereafter did not sour.
His hands came back together, fingers laced. A natural affinity for public speaking stopped him from stumbling over his words - not rushing the important parts. It was more vital not to get carried away with the theatricality. He still let the smile creep in over his grin, because what was happening was exciting. It was practically revolutionary.
"You deserve some recognition! The honest thanks that 'normal' people won't pay you. I'm here because we have mutually aligned interests, and I can help you tremendously."
He spread his thumbs apart, fingers still laced together, palms skyward.
"Your power is related to heat, yes? And you are strong, and resilient. I am like you. I can be anywhere at once, whenever I want. That's an offer I'd like to extend to you."
Phoenix listened to the man talk, the silent tension in her posture relaxing ever so slightly. It was far from gone, but he really didn’t seem hostile. However, the tension came back twelvefold as he addressed her abilities. Had she been in the news then for that bank robbery? Had the bank released the security tapes? It would take a careful eye to pick out the heat waves that surrounded her when she moved and when she “flew”.
“You’re right. If you wanted to hurt me you likely would have already. So you know about my abilities. Either you were at the bank when that robbery took place, I’ve saved you before, or I made the news and haven’t seen it yet. Either way, you have good eyes to determine whether my ability is heat-based. I’ve worked really hard to avoid people figuring that out.”
She unlaced her arms, placed one on her hip, and toyed with the hammer in the other. There was a pause as she considered what he was saying. He was preaching the wrong thing to her. Recognition had never been important to her. If anything, the more light on her, the more restricted she’d be. The offer for help, however…
That was a problem.
“Recognition is a limiter. I wouldn’t be able to do this,” she gestured to their surroundings, and the three unconscious men on the ground, “If I was in the public eye. Not really. I would have to act under more stringent rules. And as for your offer of help– I don’t do partners or teams. I had a partner once. She’s dead. I don’t need another.”
She shook her hooded head, her domino mask reflecting the nearby street light in the low light. Partners were a strict no for her. Phoenix didn’t work with anyone, and neither did Sam. Not since Witch’s death. The last time she’d had a partner, she had allowed herself to be friends with them, to let them deep inside her heart. She had allowed herself to love them.
If he had more self awareness, he'd be grateful for the mask which concealed his face, for his smile had thinned. This was the first time that he had openly stated to someone what it was that he could do - and it felt to him in that moment that she didn't grasp the implications. He was more fixated on what appeared to be a flat-out rejection than the revelation that Phoenix had lost an ally in her vigilante crusade.
The dead partner was interesting. She talked about it bluntly, but it must have bothered her. Maybe there was an angle there? "Fair is fair. We don't have to be friends..." he said carefully, "But imagine a situation where...let's say...five minutes mark the difference between life and death. An unfortunate event occurs, and you could have been there, but for the time it took to travel to wherever you needed to go."
"Think! You wouldn't want to feel responsible for not being able to arrive at an emergency on time. Lives change forever in a span of seconds, not minutes. The average police response time in Pittsburgh is fifteen of those minutes, and that's with their fleet of cars, their patrols, their dispatch network. Do you think you can do better on your own? That you'll always just happen to be in the right place, at the right time?"
Phoenix paused and thought for a long moment. The man was right. Sam couldn’t handle everything by herself. She couldn’t be everywhere at once, and she certainly couldn’t always make it on time. She was usually very lucky– maybe some of Alice had rubbed off on her– but that didn’t mean she always would be. But there were other vigilantes, ones who could be where she wasn’t she had already met the… fed at the bank, so she knew some were even here in an official capacity.
“You’re right, can’t be everywhere at once. And I can’t always be there. But I’ve been doing fine so far. Maybe you could call it luck, but I have never been too late for anything. Certainly not in the thing that I specialize in.”
She gestured around her as she talked about being lucky. It was clear by her emphasis on the word “specialize” that this also wasn’t her usual focus of activity. He would be able to pick up on that if he actually cared enough to hear it. She adjusted her black leather jacket, making sure that it was still well in place over her grey hoodie.
She shook her head a bit and sighed before continuing, “I’m just not convinced enough to think that this would be worth it. I would need someone who could track others as well as get us where we need to be going. I need someone who could hold their own in a fight. I don’t think that’s you. You look like someone could blow you over with a particularly strong breeze.”
The World scoffed. Sheer disappointment radiated through his body, and he threw his head back in frustration. The prickly insinuation that he was physically weak was nearly as frustrating as the woman's inability to...appreciate him. Days of effort to track this vigilante down, wasted. Out of the kindness of his heart, he offered to enhance her mission, and he had been soundly rejected. And belittled. Blood pounded behind his eyes and in his ears; his lids narrowed to slits, fingers curling involuntarily.
"You are a fool. You don't really care about helping anyone, do you? You do this casually. Thoughtlessly! I thought you were serious about this work. I was wrong," he spat, crossing his arms in his temper. He paced back and forth, then came to a stop.
"You're a casual, unwilling to dream bigger. Go on without my help, then. If you ever wind up in jail, remember who could've freed you with a snap of his fingers! When you need someone else taken out of danger, who could've whisked them away to a safe place! When all you have is seconds, you'll wish you had taken this deal. Then we'll see who can't hold their own!" he shouted, shaking his clutched fist at her.
Unless there was anything more to discuss, he'd be gone - away in a blink, to sulk and ruminate over the failure of his effort.
It was honestly a bad idea, taking to the streets so early like this. Sure, Nat had been training for weeks, practicing his power and preparing for this moment, but he felt like an idiot walking through the streets in what currently served as his disguise. The wolf mask covered his features well enough, aided by the half mask of cloth that covered from the bridge of his nose down, but the red coat, the black pants and black runners and the fingerless gloves made him feel… foolish. Like a child on Halloween trying to scrape together a costume so they could get their share of candy.
He wasn’t after candy, though, and when the woman’s scream echoed through the nighttime streets he found his reward, though the distance had been significant enough that he panted heavily by the time he reached the mouth of the alley. A woman ran by him, eyes wide and scared but barely giving him a passing glance. Nat stood there, momentarily confused until the sounds of fighting punctured his puzzled thoughts. The victim had been saved, it seemed, and another woman had taken her place while putting the attackers in theirs. Nat almost applauded her work, almost, save for the appearance of another mask who seemed to have been looking for her specifically.
Nat listened from a distance, most of the conversation lost to its own echoes until the masculine vigilante began yelling, practically berating the other mask for denying whatever offer he had made. Generally speaking Nat would avoid arguments, would simply walk away and let those involved sort the issues out for themselves whether for good or for ill. He hesitated, that part of himself that had always been too willing to lay low battling against what drove him to don the mask and patrol the streets.
The Wolf won once a shaking fist joined the angry words, warnings of ill fates that apparently the other man believed he could save the woman from. It was almost comical from Nat’s perspective. He could see the difference in experience between the two, as clearly as he would have seen it between himself and the masked woman. Yet somehow the man in the suit spoke confidently about how helpful he could be. Somehow Nat found himself agreeing with the woman’s assessment.
”Kind of ironic, don’t you think?” Nat stepped around the corner and made his presence known. He began speaking with a deeper tone, an attempt to disguise his voice betrayed by puberty in the worst of times as it cracked by the second word. The wolf mask was meant to hide his face, but in that moment he was more glad for it obscuring his blush as he cleared his throat and continued speaking normally.
”You, calling her a casual? I don’t even know you guys but I can already tell which one of you has actually done this more.” It was true, to a point. The suit was clean and pressed, the man within it hale and hearty. The woman, however, was already sporting wear on her disguise, and though she hid it well Nat could see a slight favoring to her side. This wasn’t her first take down.
”You would have done better to have helped her with these idiots before making your offer, Mr. Suit.” Nat kicked at the nearest leg of one of the fallen men, eliciting a small groan from him. ”But, I guess that’s the root of the problem here, right? You don’t seem like the type to get your hands dirty.” Nat’s grin was hidden behind the cloth mask, but it was as much in his voice as it was his face. Cautiously he let his fingers brush the wallet chain clipped to his side. It wasn’t his style, but it added a touch of brutishness to his makeshift outfit that he felt suited the persona well enough.
”I have a counter offer, if either of you are interested. Instead of committing to a partnership so quickly, why don’t we work together for the night? Nothing wrong with a one-off team up, right?” He directed this to the woman, though he waved his hand at the man in the suit.
Phoenix was about to scoff, turn, and leave when a new voice came from the other direction of the alley. She watched as what she could immediately tell was a kid came walking up, siding with her. She gave a bit of a crooked grin, her domino mask doing nothing to hide it. She reached up under her hood and scratched her hair, a single red curl falling out before she tucked it back in.
The kid was technically right. There was no harm in doing what he wanted. Besides, it wasn’t like she could let the kid take off on his own with this… guy. She stuck her hands into her pockets, sighing. Her shoulders shrugged after a moment and she bounced her hammer against her thigh as she responded.
When the wolf-masked boy stepped out from behind the corner, Randall Smith let his right arm snake inside his jacket, prepared to draw his gun. He didn't start, though, instead narrowing his eyes at the second vigilante, though iris, pupil and all were obscured behind the red lenses of his custom mask. He bristled silently at the vague insinuations about him not getting his hands dirty, because he wasn't built for pummeling drug pushers.
He thought for a second about pushing the gun into one of the semi-conscious goons' heads and pulling the trigger to show just how dirty he was prepared to be - but never intended to do it. It was merely an intrusive thought.
The idea of making a mask and going out at night had once started like that, he realized, and his fingers slackened on the pistol's handle. It remained tucked away in a shoulder holster under his coat.
The World's indignation was abated by the piercing voice crack of the lupine youth, one which betrayed his age, though to his amazement, the proposal that they continue an association was accepted by Phoenix. Though at first he'd nearly replied with one of ten sharp retorts about the boy's age, his manner of dress - his equal lack of contribution - he thought better of it. This was not the time.
Instead he considered what it would mean to continue prowling Pittsburgh - his original plan - only with an acne-studded kid in tow. If he were even a meta-human, which they did not know at this time - though he walked with a confidence that revealed it, approaching a gruesome scene with nonchalance (despite the voice crack). There was an off chance that he would turn out to be some sort of prodigy - it was too quick to say. The meta concentration in Pittsburgh was reputed to be outstanding, and he dressed the part, at least.
The one thing he didn't want was to feel like some kind of creep for voluntarily associating with someone who was conceivably half his age. Depending on whether or not the trio actually accomplished anything tonight, he'd either feel like a great success, or a loser, out pretending to fight crime when he had the entire world to see. The chance to do something that mattered - or give up, forget this entire enterprise, and waste away in fancy hotels for the rest of his life, using his power to skip out on every tab - though after a year, he'd have burned through all the good clubs, and the moral cancer would keep eating away at everything while he did nothing to help.
He decided to take the risk. In for a penny, in for a pound.
Refraining from any sort of impotent, sadistic display of kicking one of the wounded assailants - though he'd certainly given it a thought - he rubbed his gloved hands together.
"Law enforcement will arrive shortly. I propose we get to a better vantage point. Say...the tallest building in the worst neighborhood, for starters. Each of you, take my hand, and you'll see what I have to offer."
He uncurled his fingertips as he reached his arms toward each of them - though his gaze was more fixed on Phoenix, the person he was here for, other than the stray dog, whose usefulness had yet to be proven. If, or when, they each took his hand, they'd all be whisked away to the new destination, quick as a flash.
Was that too loud? Nat was trying his best to play it cool, to maintain the appearance and persona he was trying to create, but these were other superhumans in masks, and at least one of them had been doing this for a while. Both were clearly older, and Nat could barely contain his excitement as he bounded over to the masked man as soon as he uttered his acceptance. Gaining a mentor was one thing, but a superhero team-up!
”You can call me, uhm,” Nat began, stumbling at his moment of truth. ”A-Alpha M-Met-Steel. Alpha Steel?” This was not going well. Nervously Nat shoved his right hand into the pocket of his leather jacket and took up a position next to the masked man, facing in the same direction. Before he placed his palm over the elder’s he put a finger to his ear. An observant person might notice then the black earbud tucked away there, just as they might notice Nat did not wrap his exposed fingers around the male vigilante’s hand.
”Actually, I uhm,” Nat cleared his throat and gave a little jerk of his head. ”I don’t think they’re going to be coming this way for a little while. Looks like the First National Bank on 8th is being robbed.” It was one of the seventeen places Nat had theorized would be targets for larceny while sleeplessly studying the city. ”The nearest uniforms to the robbery are still nearly twenty minutes away.” He pulled his hand from his pocket to show his phone to the man in the suit and the red haired woman. ”Police scanner app, and I did some research on a lot of the codes they use in police dispatch.”
"Your alias should be something related to your wolf mask, no?" Randall supplied, narrowing his eyes at the boy, whose usefulness he again began to doubt. Then, continiuing the up-and-down trend, he identified an ongoing robbery, using a police scanner application in his phone.
"Good work," he replied, watching the youth press his finger to his ear.
Could there be someone on the other end communicating with him? he wondered. A larger network was not what he was looking for. There was a reason he hadn't lent his ability to the local police force. He was the leader. None of this would work with anyone else in charge, at any point, for any reason. Only he had the vision - and the capability - to make it all turn out for the best. He had accepted that a long time ago. That was why he had to do what he was doing - why sipping Mai Thais in the Caribbean was out of the question, even though he could do that for the rest of his life, if he wanted.
No, he was a good person, and that meant putting his teleporting power to good, unselfish use.
He really hoped to not have to dump this boy's body at a hospital later.
"I'll bring us somewhere outside the bank, so we can get a better view of what's happening before I take you both in. They'll never see us coming."
Once again, he extended his hands.
If taken, they would experience something disorienting - instant teleportation to somewhere else entirely. There was no black void to travel through, no sensation that could really be felt - not the slightest gap in sensory experience. Then they'd be outside the bank on the sidewalk (arriving in the road, as he'd found, was highly dangerous). For the World, all he needed to know was the general address. His senses had gotten good enough by now at getting him where he needed to be. It was true he didn't know what would greet him on the other side, but after a year of practice, a blind jump was like blinking while walking.
For them, it may not be quite the same. But they would get used to it, in time.
Sam stared at the outstretched hand and debated taking it. She could, theoretically, still call this off. She had already been through one bank robbery that week, her ribs still bruised from the way M had broken them. But she strongly doubted that there would be any metas at this particular bank robbery.
Phoenix didn’t mind the kid. She minded the teleporter who she was getting bad vibes off. Her instincts on this were rarely wrong. Alice hadn’t called her the “Vibe Checker 9000” for nothing. Still, if the kid was going to put himself in harm's way with this man, then Phoenix was going along, to make sure he didn’t die. So she nodded at his police scanner app– she sould look into that herself– and she firmly grasped the man’s hand.
“Okay, let’s do this.” No sooner had the words left her mouth than had they moved. Phoenix had never been teleported anywhere before. Her balance shifted as her body realized it had moved without moving. She stumbled for a moment, letting go of the man’s hand. She looked around them and they were no longer in an alley. Instead, they stood on top of a roof, overlooking the bank on 8th Street.
She quickly took in her surroundings and reaffirmed herself that she had her hammer. Her stumble had exposed her ponytail, which she quickly hid again. She didn’t need this teleporter to be able to track her down based on gold eyes and red hair.
“Shit, that was something. Alright, kid, You got the details of what’s going on inside?”
Phoenix could see from their vantage point that no cop cars had pulled up yet, though she could hear the sirens in the distance closing in.
”Oh, right, no.” Nat stammered a reply to the man, a bit flustered by his tone and demeanor. He was intent upon helping, that much was clear, but the man in the suit seemed to weigh Nat with every look. It was unnerving, and perhaps worse it was off-putting. Whatever situation they were throwing themselves into wouldn’t go well if they weren’t able to work together. That would require their best communication. ”The Alpha part was a play on the wolf- You know what let’s just call me Wolf?”
Speaking of which what do I call- oh!” The masked woman took the man’s other hand and Nat’s eyes instantly widened, tongue and mind stumbling and shocked at the sudden change of location. ”That-that’s incredible! Like, whoo!” Nat paced a few steps away and back again with a heavy breath. ”I am dying to know more about your powers.”
Nat paused, and the woman redirected his attention to the mission at hand. The excitement fell away from Nat’s expression instantly, and again he pulled out his phone. ”Well, there is some good news and there is some bad.”
”The bad news is that police dispatch doesn’t disclose as much information as you might think. All I know is that a silent alarm was tripped and a squad car,” Nat raised a finger to indicate the faint sound of sirens, ”is headed this way. That’s the bad.”
Crouching between the man in the suit and the female vigilante Nat placed his phone on the roof so they could all see the screen. On it were a set of blueprints. ”Thankfully it is after operating hours, meaning we aren’t likely to be dealing with a hostage situation here. The bank’s blueprints have been digitally filed in Public Records, and right here-“ Nat zoomed in on the map, to a narrow hallway just before a large room labeled “Vault.” ”Is a choke point. We should assume that anyone trying this probably knows the cops are going to be coming for them. This means two things. One: They’re going straight for the target. Two: They’re going to be armed.”
Nat locked the phone and slipped it into his coat as he stood. ”If I can get to the vault I can seal it, but they might have already beaten us there. We don’t know how many there are but I wouldn’t count on any less than three.” It would be a one on one fight at best, with a running clock already limiting their time for planning. Despite the stakes Nat couldn’t suppress the slight shiver of excitement that ran through him.
"Good work. You continue to impress, Wolf. I assume you can fight."
The youth's competence seemed diametrically opposed to his demeanor. He alternated between juvenile slips of the tongue and pronounced skill in identifying their targets, the layout of the bank, and the best tactical approach. Perhaps his ability amplified his intelligence? He mentioned being able to seal the vault.
As Wolf spoke, Smith slid a pair of plugs up under his mask and into his ears. Couldn't risk any hearing damage.
Smith spared a glance at Phoenix's sledgehammer. She would be the vanguard once they were inside.
Outside, there was sign of forced entry. That confirmed that whatever was going on in there was no mistake.
He slid his right hand into his coat, fingers gripping the handle of his P7. A compact hold-out pistol - he left it in the holster for now. He'd draw it once they were in. He didn't want to risk dropping it.
"I'm bringing you into the middle of where they should be. Hit hard, and fast. Don't give them any time to react."
Keeping his right hand in the coat, he stuck out the left, waiting for Phoenix and Wolf to grab on.
Once they did, they'd be off again, another blind jump, this time into the clutches of danger.
A successive jump, the kind he was about to attempt, would not be silent, as before, but thundrous, announcing their presence within the walls. He was not a fighter, but he could use speed to his advantage. The first landing would be with the two vigilantes, depositing the three of them in the choke that Wolf had identified before the vault. Wresting free, he vanished again, this time, alone - and the vanishing would not be silent, as before, but with a sound like a firecracker going off. When he teleported quickly, he did not fade - he disappeared, and air rushed to fill the void that he'd left.
The second landing would be behind his target. From what he could see - in the span of seconds - Wolf was right. Several robbers, masked, armed - he couldn't stay here long. He'd need to be vicious to survive.
Drawing the P7, he pressed it into the back of the man's temple and squeezed the trigger, the recoil carrying up Smith's wrists as he let out a small involuntary gasp - and to be sure, he let off another shot into the man's body as it slumped to the floor.
Got you - !
It struck him as somewhat anticlimactic - more of an execution than a fight. The fight would be happening behind him.
No time for hestiation. He still had six rounds left in the gun.
Smith whirled back towards the hallway, looking to level the barrel on the other targets - if they had not already been dealt with by his allies.
Phoenix took the hand of the teleporter again, dropping into a position that would let her push off the ground and into the air if needed. She steadied herself, lowering her center of gravity so she wouldn’t sway or fall over this time. Almost immediately upon entering the bank, she was glad she had gotten into position. There were seven men– she heard a crack as The World disappeared, and reappeared, and then two quick bangs.
Six. There were six men.
Sam immediately pushed off the ground and went headfirst into the fight, hammer singing low. She spun as she closed in and brought the full force of the hammer into the hips of the first target. He was knocked back into one of the others, A sharp gasp and cry filling the air. The men who had been stunned by their arrival began to move. One of them turned a gun on her, and she turned toward him, bringing her hammer up in an arc. It caught the gun and sent it flying. It landed with a loud, sharp crack but didn’t fire. She had definitely broken some part of it with her smack.
She then swung the hammer, aiming for the shoulder of the man she had knocked the gun away from. He managed to duck, and her hammer swung past him, but she was quick to reverse the direction and bring it down and into his shoulder anyway.
After she had managed to put two of them out of commission, she backed off a bit, wanting to see how the other two were fairing.
Nat and The World mirrored each other, both preparing themselves by reaching a hand into their coat. Nat wasn’t sure what kind of tricks the teleporter might have up his sleeve, but he was personally excited to try out his own new toys. It had taken him several hours to make the three metal cylinders in his pocket, each one appearing for all intents and purposes to simply be pieces of steel dowels. Their contents, however, were anything but simple. The cylinders were hollow, another, smaller cylinder inside tipped with a thin, sharp needle and resting on a tightly coiled spring. They were his answer for the range limitation of his power, projectiles filled with horse tranquilizer surreptitiously bought and shipped around the city before finally ending up in Nat’s hands.
He gripped the darts firmly before taking The World’s hand again, noting a moment too late that the man had inserted something into his ears. In the instant after, once the surroundings suddenly changed to the interior of the bank he had only seen blueprints of, Nat figured out why The World needed to protect his hearing. The snap of his power rang in Nat’s ears, momentarily disorienting as the teleporter snatched his hand free and disappeared again with a much softer pop. The masked woman sprang into action, her experience evident in every motion while Nat stood stunned for that split second.
There was another snap as Nat launched himself toward the vault door, pulling his hand free of his pocket then and using his power to open the cylinders while they were pointed to the men who stood in his way. The darts flew from their casing with a twang from the spring, one of the darts finding its mark in a robber’s neck while the other two flew wide and clattered against the vault door. The sound was hidden, however, beneath the sharp crack of a gun.
Nat spun in time to see the bullet tear through the man’s skull, eyes wide with shock as the robber crumpled to the floor. He had slid past the bank robber he had missed, the one he had managed to hit already slumping to the tiles below his feet limply but far less disturbingly than the man The World had shot. Almost tenderly Nat brushed his fingers against the steel encased door, his gaze still fixed on the bloody scene that the teleporter had left. The metal of the door rippled from his touch, and with a groan the steel shot outward in the shape of grasping hands and arms that wrapped around the missed robber and slammed against the door in a violent parody of a metallic hug.
There were still two left, their eyes as fixed upon their dead crewmate as Nat’s were, and though their faces were covered in black ski masks Nat could almost guarantee that their expressions were just as shocked. ”What!” It was all he could manage to speak, the shock of the blood splattered across the floor holding his tongue paralyzed. ”You just killed him!” It might have been an obvious statement, but Nat spoke it anyway.
So...the boy's ability was to control metal! Smith was impressed. The enormous hands which twisted out of the vault door demonstrated a degree of precision and flexibility with his supernatural power that showed either strong intuition or a wealth of practice. Phoenix, too, dispatched her assigned foes with haste, spinning the enormous sledgehammer like it was a twirling baton. The full weight of that weapon broke through the defense of two of the robbers, putting them down for the count as Wolf downed the others. Tiny projectiles sprang silently out of the cylinders he'd produced from within his coat - and judging by his reaction to the first man Smith had shot, they were designed to neutralize targets non-lethally.
That left two robbers remaining.
Smith knew he wouldn't survive an armed firefight against them, even with the element of surprise. He was an apt shot with the gun, but the first man he'd killed had been a point-blank shot to the back of the skull. This maneuver would take agility, and he'd never practiced on live, moving targets before.
He raised the gun and squeezed the trigger at one, aiming for his center of mass. He couldn't see whether it connected before flinging himself into the next part of the maneuver.
As the second foe leveled the barrel of his weapon on him, he vanished from where he stood with an abrupt snap, air rushing in to fill the space where he'd been standing.
Simultaneously, air expanded behind the second robber as The World reemerged, jamming the barrel of the pistol into the small of his back and squeezing the trigger until he emptied the clip. It was hard to miss like that. He was proud of how he'd landed - at first he was scared he'd be off balance, but he'd wound up in the perfect position for a follow-up takedown.
As the second man fell to his knees, Smith slid the magazine out of the P7's handle, chest rising and falling. He breathed in and out, let the magazine fall to the floor, and rummaged around for another, and sliding it back in.
He registered the exclamation a moment later, and thought for a second - only a second - about his reply.
He looked back and forth across the hall. The gunshots were painfully loud even with the earplugs in.
Phoenix watched as Wolf and The World each dispatched their own men. She was surprised by the kid, who seemed to follow a nonlethal method of dispatching scum. Phoenix could appreciate that, as she was actively trying to curb her own violence these days. The World, on the other hand, pulled a gun from his pocket and shot the last two men. She was slightly surprised by his use of a firearm, but then, not everyone had enhanced strength or… ferrokinesis? At least that’s what Sam assumed the kid had.
She stepped forward, between the two of them. She gestured with her hands for both of them to stay where they were. In a low voice that edged with just the smallest bit of warning, she turned first to the kid. “Wolf, relax. Is this the first time you’ve seen someone die? I’m sorry if it is. But sometimes people need to die. Sometimes there’s no other choice. Sometimes the good guys don’t win unless the bad guys die.”
Then, she turned on The World, her hood finally falling back so that her curly red ponytail came into view. She sighed internally. She hadn’t really wanted either of them to see her most identifying feature, but too late for that now. “And you. Dude, he’s a kid. Maybe don’t shoot people in the fucking head in front of children.”
She looked around the floor at the bodies in varying conditions. Someone groaned and she walked over and kicked them in the head, and they went silent. She shook her head and looked between them. “Regardless, we should really leave. Won’t want to be here when those cops come in the front door.”
She gestured toward the front door of the bank, where the sirens were getting louder. She walked back toward The World and sized him up, her arms crossed. “Phoenix. The name is Phoenix. Since you have both so graciously told me your monikers, I figured it’s only fair if I do the same.”
The World blinked around the room, felling the remaining two criminals with the same banal efficiency as he had executed the first before acknowledging Nat’s exclamation. The Wolf stood there, stunned in front of the vault as the robber struggled against the steel grip of the arms around him. ”Is that a problem?” Was that even a question?
The vigilante woman stepped between them, cutting through the mounting tension with her own opinion that did nothing to settle the uneasiness of Nat’s stomach. Her assumption that Nat was simply being naive rankled, drew his vision into further crimson that washed out the copper of her hair. The man next to him struggled against the vault door, echoing kicks against the metal creating cacophonous dissonance with the rushing pulse in Nat’s ears.
”Rrrragghh,” Nat’s frustrated, growling exclamation was punctuated by his sudden, sweeping kneel as he scooped up the darts that had missed their target and jabbed them viciously into the struggling robber’s leg. A few weak kicks signaled the criminal’s loss of consciousness, and with a touch Nat remodeled the steel arms back into the vault; which caused the robber to fall to the floor like a rag doll.
”Whatever! Phoenix is right, we need to get out of here.” There was still anger in his voice, but he held his hand out toward The World as the sirens grew louder. ”But I am not done with this conversation.” The gravity of his tone seemed too heavy for his apparent age.