Eddy closed the windowed doors to the balcony. He watched Capin and Bluewolf disappear into the night. He had been honest when he said he’d never asked to be part of a team. It wasn’t even a consideration when he had first started out. Now, Ryu tried to make it out to be the most important thing in the world.
But Ryu didn’t know, or at least didn’t understand. Sure, they’d all lost people. But every loss was different, and no one could ever truly understand what it meant to someone else. Eddy didn’t understand Ryu’s losses. Hell, he didn’t know about the bulk of them… they’d been teammates for a while now and he’d never bothered to ask.
Eddy had chosen to remain an outsider, even among his “friends.” It was a conscious choice, and one he’d wrestled with for some time. But, apparently, they had still found a way to trust him. What was even more mysterious to him was that he had found a way to trust them as well. But trust, to him, had always taken a back seat to duty.
“To serve and protect,” he said to the empty room. It was at that point that he noticed his voice. It was Kardiac’s voice, not Eddy’s. Somewhere, amidst the anger, pain, and yelling, he’d switched gears. The mask was gone, and the true resident of Eddy Lane’s body had resurfaced.
He frowned to himself. “Protect,” he said again. Right now, Ryu and Aaron were rushing off to protect the woman of a man they fought beside, but also barely knew. It wasn’t an act of selflessness. It was just who they were. She was an innocent, and she needed their help.
His eyes drifted over to the duffle bag that had chirped when the comms went off. He knew what was inside. Walking crossing over to sit on the bed, he pulled on the bag’s zipper and saw dull green ballistic cloth peeking out at him. Innocent lives hung in the balance tonight, and he was staring out a window.
But it wasn’t an innocent life that mattered now. Capin and Bluewolf, working together, could handle pretty much anything… though they had a habit of returning the worse for wear. Not so long ago, they’d had their sentience swapped, and now Blue was stone deaf. Yet they still pressed on.
Eddy reached into the bag and pulled out his uniform shirt. Vivian had called it a costume, but it was much more than that to him. Like his father, he was an officer of the Law, whether or not he’d graduated the Academy. And like his father, he knew deep down that right was right, and sometimes you had to sacrifice your own desires in pursuit of duty to that one rule.
“Like it or not, I’ve got a different life to save,” he said to his reflection in the balcony doors. Fighting against the pain, healing what of it he could in the time he had, he pulled on his costume and locked his gauntlet into position. He slid his goggles over his eyes and, for the first time in a long time, could see clearly.
Alexandra Vega rappelled, through the unnatural darkness, down the wall and perched herself on a ledge just above the glow of the spotlight that scanned the building and yard beneath her. She knew the light would rise only so far, at least when the guards had no reason to suspect someone would be above their normal observation zone. And at this moment, they had no reason.
After all, who in their right mind would break into a Maximum-Security Penitentiary?
She knelt on the ledge, pressing her back against the gray stone of Irongate. Removing several components from her belt, pouches, and boot, she began to convert her high-powered metallic-pink pistol into its alternate form, that of a high-powered metallic-pink rifle. Connecting the scope to its mount, she looked through and located the barred window of the third-story cell whose only resident was the former drug lord of Garrison City: Alfonse Begnini.
Once the rangefinder locked in on the cell, she gently set the gun down next to her on the ledge and pulled a second weapon, another pink gun, though this one was hardly lethal. Its load was variable, by the powerful gas cartridge was rarely used to fire anything more dangerous than a ball of slightly-radioactive paint. She aimed high, above the window, waited for the breeze to still, then pulled the trigger.
The drop was exactly as she’d expected, and the ball of goo arced through the air and hit the wall with a muffled thump just below the window’s edge. “What was that?” she heard through the receiver she had lodged in her left ear. “Is someone there?” The micro-transmitter had stuck along with the adhesive, exactly as she’d designed. Carefully, she slid the thin microphone wire out of the receiver and positioned it in front of her mouth.
“Alfonse?” she whispered, her voice deliberately lower than usual. She picked up the rifle and put it to her shoulder, waiting for the spotlight to make another pass before lowering the barrel. “Is that you?”
“Who are you?” he asked, hesitantly.
Alexandra couldn’t help but smile to herself. “My name is unimportant. Orlando Tucci sent me to get you out.”
“A prison break?” he asked. “I didn’t know I was that important. Cusmano left me here to rot long enough….”
“Cusmano is no longer in charge,” she said, her voice a loud whisper. “Tucci needs the old guard if he’s going to win the operation back from the Vega Syndicate.”
“So he comes crawling back to me.”
She shook her head. His arrogance, even after being taken down by her husband, was immeasurable. “I need you to back away from this wall,” she said, hoping for just the opposite. “But first, I need you to take this.”
“Take what?” he asked, and his head rose up, silhouetted against the pale light of the prison beyond his cell. Through her scope, she watched as the shape of the man’s head slipped right into her cross-hairs. She caressed the trigger like a lover, and with a gentle squeeze, and a loud crack, the darkened head and shoulders were pushed away from the cell window as the bullet found its mark.
Without another word, business-like in her execution, she slung the rifle over her shoulder and clicked the trigger on the rappelling winch locked onto her belt. With a soft whir, she began a rapid ascent to the top of the wall. She only had a moment before the light peeled her way looking for the source of the gunshot, but she knew it would be enough.
Swinging her feet up in front of her as she reached the apex, she leapt onto the wall’s edge. Something cracked beneath her feet like gravel, but she gave it little notice. She was more concerned with the vague outline of a man in the darkness. “Didn’t your daddy ever teach you that killing defenseless, intellectually-challenged thugs in their prison cells would get you put on Santa’s Naughty List?” There was a brief pause. “Oh, wait… no… come to think of it, he probably taught you that trick….”
Alexandra took a half-step back, surprised to find Eddy on top of the wall. She was more surprised to find him in ‘uniform,” with his game voice on. “You are one to talk, Amante. I didn’t see you rappelling down to his rescue.” Kardiac smirked, and her eyes immediately narrowed.
“That would have been a waste of energy,” he said, holding a police handset out for her to see. His thumb pressed down on the call button as he continued. “Officer Willis, how’s the target?”
“None the worse for wear,” replied a voice crackling through the radio’s speaker. “But Resusci-Annie’s definitely seen better days.”
Heartstopper’s confused look turned immediately to anger. “You–”
“Couldn’t do it,” he admitted. “I wanted to… and there were a few moments where I even considered your offer, I’m ashamed to admit.” He shrugged, doing his best to hide the pain he still felt despite his best efforts at rapid-healing. “I love you, Lexa… I always will. But wife or no, you’ve turned into a complete psychopath… and that’s just not me….”
Her lips turned a sneer. “And what will your ‘friends’ think when they find out where you’ve been spending your nights?”
Kardiac smiled, almost wistfully. “Well, Capin was pretty pissed… Wolf almost seemed disappointed. Honestly, I’m not sure which bugged me more,” he said with another shrug. “They seemed to want me to step back and take the time to consider my priorities. Funny thing, though… once they walked away, it didn’t really take me all that long to figure it out.”
The situation, despite the strange darkness, finally came into light. Heartstopper dropped the rifle from her shoulder and raised it to her hands. “You are a noble man, Amante,” she said. “For a murderer. But you seem to have failed to notice that I am armed… and you have no room to dodge.”
He smiled wider, his eyes locked on hers. “And you seem to have failed to notice,” he said, enjoying being back in the game, “that I coated the top of the wall with iron filings.”
Even as her eyes widened, and her rifle began to rise, Kardiac could feel the energy within rushing, not toward his hands, but towards his feet. The top of the wall lit up with sparks playing across its surface, leaping through bits of metal as they rushed at speeds near light towards their target. Similar sparks danced down the length of her gun microseconds after Kardiac directed them to avoid her grounded soles and jump onto the zipper of her boots. Her weapon fired again when her finger spasmed from the shock, though its payload flew wildly toward the lake.
She began to fall, and he rushed forward to catch her. The last thing he wanted to do was watch her plummet into the darkness. As he held her limp form, he looked down on her face and felt a sadness despite the rush of game. They’d faced each other so many times before, but despite his victories she’d always escaped… rather, he’d always let her.
Not this time. He leaned down and gently kissed her unconscious lips. “Time to see how the captured-half live, love,” he said, frowning slightly. “I think you could use some time to step back and take some time to consider your priorities.”
With more than a little trepidation, he keyed his comm unit to a specific frequency, and spoke into it. “Jenna… I know you’re probably seriously pissed off at me, and you’ve got a right to be… but I need a pick-up team… and I need your help.”