As it turned out, Pulp’s mention of further struggles came sooner than expected.
Shane barely resisted the urge to slam the work out machine as his physical aches won out over his determination and forced him to take a break. Throwing a fit and possibly damaging equipment wouldn’t help him, further his training, or ease the worries of his teammates. Especially not after he said he was fine to keep going during the debriefing.
Shane nearly jumped as his phone went off from its position on a nearby bench, the upbeat ring tone shattering the solidary silence of the weight-training room.
The young Super looked over and saw that it was Angela calling, the grinning face of her profile picture displayed clearly on the screen. He hesitated in answering it for a moment, letting it ring out two more times, before quickly snatching up the phone and swiping the green pick-up icon. He didn’t exactly feel like talking right now, but his sister never called without reason; they had their bi-weekly chats just to keep up to date, sure, but anything else was usually about important developments or making plans to visit the rest of their family.
“Hey, Shane.” Angela’s confident and cherry voice rang clearly through the phone’s small and hidden speakers. “I just got caught up on the news in your town. And, first off, I can’t believe how fucking good you have it over there; it’s always been my dream since I was a wee babe to punch out Nazis when I became a Hero. God, if what I was doing in Port Valins wasn’t so important I’d run over right now.” Angela suddenly gasped in excitement, cutting off any response Shane might have had. “Oh-ho my gosh, how did grandpapa react?”
Shane chuckled in spite of himself in the face of such an onslaught of excitement and positivity. “Ha. Yeah, I practically had to demand grandpa not storm over here himself. He’s pretty pissed that actual Super Nazis exist while he’s head of the DVA.”
Angela’s laugh was strangely infectious when they talked like this, though Shane would never admit it in person. Nor would Angela likely ever say that she found his rare smiles or deadpan humor, which he obviously got from grandpa, charming. The two siblings usually found each other only slightly more enjoyable than annoying to be around when in person, and so long as they could maintain that level of civility then things would be fine; but their rawer feelings showed when talking over a phone and only distantly competing with each other instead of the constant sparring of their childhood or the dogged race for the number one spot in their HCP classes.
“So, what else is going on, little brother?” Angela asked.
Shane hesitated for a bit, thinking he heard something in the tone of her voice, before answering. “I met this Super, Levi, member of a PEERS team. We’re friends and … we might try going out.” Shane said after failing to find another way to phrase it. “Her company approves because of the publicity and Lenny does for the same reason. Spectrum says it’s fine but is insistent I be careful about how or if I reveal my identity to her.”
There was a moment of silence before Angela spoke again. “Okay, as happy as I am that you got time to find yourself a lady, let’s cut the bullshit little brother. What actually happened this week? If didn’t already know about the news of a particularly bad bank heist, I could’ve picked it out from your tone.”
Shane sighed, it was a tired and angry sound, and settled a little bit more comfortably onto the bench. A part of him had been prepared for the futility of trying to hide things from his big sister, so the words came easier than expected.
“I failed someone.”
* * *
It was a simple call, which Shane supposed should have tipped him off. Things always seem to go awry during Hero work when things looked mundane or simple. Dispatch had alerted the team that several Supers were holding up a bank; the Supers had disabled the security cameras fast enough that Dispatch couldn’t tell them anything more than that there were more than five robbers, eight hostages, and that one of them was a blaster.
Breaking from their patrol to reach the bank was simple enough, most were teleported while others with super-speed arrived a few seconds later. Unfortunately for most of their flyers, save for Simikiel, the raging thunderstorm overhead made high altitude flight riskier than usual.
Spectrum’s orders were brief and quick as they traveled and everyone followed them without fail. “Obsidian Wraith, Gadreel, and Pulp; smash your way through the front and act as a distraction, take down a few of perps if you’ve got the opportunity as well. Samshiel and Terram; guard the perimeter and handle anyone that tries to run. Me, Styx, Crusader, and Simikiel will take the rear entrance and hit them from behind. Between the four of us we should be able to neutralize the Super holding the hostages.” That last line may not have been completely true, one never knew what an unknown Super could do, but the plan itself wasn’t a bad one considering his team’s capabilities.
Simikiel and Crusader soared over head and landed at the bank’s back entrance just as Spectrum and Styx finished their sprint across the partially filled parking lot. They all exchanged a look, a small affirmation of readiness, before making their move.
Even past the howling wind of the storm above them, Styx could still hear the sound of shattering glass and gunfire as the team’s strongwomen made their entrance. His attention was quickly brought back to his own situation as Crusader made a waving motion with her hand and had the steel, back doors peel away.
They all rushed in after a quick sweep for traps or an ambush, boots squeaking against the polished floor as they got into formation. Crusader and Simikiel in front with Styx and Spectrum bringing up the rear for ranged support.
“There’s a lot of energy being thrown around in the front; at least two blasters.” Simikiel said, her ability to see energy giving them valuable information before they actually arrived.
Styx couldn’t get much from the shadows he felt for, they were shifting to erratically for him to get a proper feel for what exactly was happening. His vigilance did pay off, however, as he felt an unusually large shadow racing towards their position from around the corner.
“Simikiel, around the corner!” Was all the warning he managed to give before a hulking figure turned the corner with surprising speed and charged them.
The monster was obviously a shifter; humpback with grey, craggy skin, and motes of wispy darkness flowing from the few cracks there were and veritable rivers fell from the gaping mouth and sunken eyes. And despite it’s gangly appearance, the charge it made was good, and deployed with not insignificant strength as it cracked the marble floor beneath it’s feet.
Unfortunately for the criminal, the seconds warning Styx had given was more than enough for Simikiel to react.
She blurred forward, easily sidestepping the charge, grabbing the shifter’s arm mid stride, and pulled while slamming it’s center of gravity. It was clearly hard, the damn thing had to be heavy, but all the same, Simikiel still managed to redirect the charge into a wall instead of towards her teammates.
The shifter shook off the impact just in time for Crusader’s cape to wrap around it’s head, three shadow blades slice deep gouges into it’s legs and arms, and catch three blasts of electricity directly to the torso. Honestly, the assault may have been a bit overkill, but the results couldn’t be disputed as the Super promptly shifted back to human form from the sudden onset of pain and injuries. The team took a second to let Styx more accurately cut the tendons in the shaggy man’s legs before resuming their approach.
The sounds of fighting could still be heard just before they arrived and saw the utter chaos of the situation.
A guy with glowing spikes in his hands temporarily blinded them as they flared like miniature suns before Obsidian Wraith flew forward and smashed the man’s legs, sending him to the ground with a scream. Gadreel was off to the side, a man lying broken yet alive at her feet while she broke the arm of a Super that had what looked like bone armor. Half a dozen or so terrified looking people, presumably the hostages, were making a halfhearted attempt towards the bank entrance, practically trampling a pair of men with broken arms and equally broken guns laying near them while a woman in a ski mask that couldn’t contain her long, blonde hair stood in the corner and blasted swirling spheres of green energy from her hands, forcing Pulp to bob and weave as she approached.
It was frantic activity and violence on a level neither Styx or Simikiel had experienced in a while, but even that shouldn’t have slowed them down, let alone their battle hardened mentors. But the incredibly bright flash of light and presence of fleeing civilians in the mix made them hesitate for the barest of seconds as their blurry eyes readjusted.
Unfortunately for the Heroes, that lapse in action, if understandable, would prove fatal.
Too late did Styx see the woman with the ski mask building up a dozen smaller spheres to throw at Pulp while hostages were still fleeing behind her. Styx went for the limb on instinct in the barely split second he had to react as the woman’s arm arced forward and loosed the shot. It was too late though, the cut he made was shallow and while it made the woman’s shot go wide, missing both Pulp and most of the hostages and harmlessly tearing gouges into the wall.
Two members of the fleeing group weren’t so lucky, however. Two swirling spheres of green energy slammed into the backs of a man and woman, shearing near perfect bloody, large holes through the upper half of the their torsos with merciful swiftness, exposing organs and bones that were never meant to see the light of day.
Styx wouldn’t remember the sound he made when the bodies hit the ground but it startled many of the criminals and wiped the annoyed sneer off the blonde woman’s mouth. Despite his distraught state the young Hero took advantage of the opportunity, in one second two blades of inky darkness manifested and in the next two different spines were cut. Both man in bone armor and the woman slumped to the ground as they lost all feeling below the neck.
There was a beat of strangled, half-silence as the criminals on the ground groaned and the panicked crowed had stopped in shock at the sight of two people being killed, before one of the downed criminals near the entrance shimmered with blue light. The man bolted up, injuries now gone, and made a run for it. The tall man in a ski mask made it all of two feet out the door before a hail of Samshiel’s golden, black energy spheres slammed into his legs and severely perforating the limbs; The blue light around the masked man flickered and then died once more.
Finally, the last body thumped onto the ground.
“So, was that it? I can’t see what’s going on but I don’t hear anymore fighting.” Samshiel’s voice crackled through the comms, breaking the razor wire tension of the room.
“Yeah, it’s over now.” Spectrum said, his voice reaching everyone’s earpiece while putting a hand on Styx’s shoulder as his intern stared at the two bodies quickly pooling with blood.
* * *
“What? I know it was my fault.” Shane said, before taking a shaky breath and leaning back as a small shudder ran through his body. He’d already cried earlier in the day, the well had nearly run dry, so instead the sensation of a tear trailing his cheek, Shane’s eyes only became blurred with emotion for a few seconds. “The debrief is over, we didn’t receive any citations, and the blame for the deaths of William and Erica were laid completely on that Super’s shoulders. But the fact of the matter is that if I hadn’t been distracted, had struck a bit better, they’d be alive right now. So, the only thing I can do now is train, make sure I’m better prepared for next time… and make sure that I don’t burn myself out in the process.”
It came as no great shock to Angela that Shane had made it a point to get the names of the civilians that had died, as most Heroes did. What truly surprised her, and ultimately decided her next words, was the fact that he still had the presence of mind to realize that obsessing over training would be detrimental, instead of simply burying himself in training as he did during childhood.
“Okay, I trust you, Shane.”
There was stunned silence for a moment before Shane responded. “Thank you, Angela.”
“But if I might offer one bit of advice little brother: Be sure to talk to your teammates more for the next few days. It helped me a lot when I first failed.”
After that, more pleasantries were exchanged before they both said their goodbyes. Shane set his phone to the side and prepared to get back to training before another voice pierced the silence of the room.
“Hey.” There, standing in the room’s entrance, was Amy in her workout clothes with a small towel slung over one shoulder. “I was wondering if I could join you.” She said, carefully watching Shane as he got up and took a sip from a water bottle, eyes still a bit red.
“… Yeah, I’d appreciate the company.”