I couldn’t stop kicking myself.
My father’s confession to me made me realize I’d overlooked something in my plan to attack Imperium: they weren’t going to sit idle and be happy with the status quo.
The second we attacked the dog fight, we’d wounded their pride and the guys in charge weren’t going to let that stand. Banks were essentially fortresses and the act of robbing one would reaffirm Imperium’s status.
We had inspired them to posture, and there were likely to be casualties.
Especially with only a single day to prepare; at best it was a messy rush job that relied on noise being made and extra hands to make light work.
“Or…it relies on one of Us,” I thought aloud in a whisper. But who would it be?
I knew about most of the Adapted on Imperium’s payroll. While Shockwave would be the obvious choice for a bank heist, the man didn’t make a ton of public appearances. Like Beleth, he recognized the power of mystique and being unseen. Besides, there were still more than enough capable hands who could fill in. Ironclad, Kuzu, Mizu, Toolkit, Collision, and Reappear were all capable of helping pull off a heist in one way or another.
Finally I got up in a fit of unrest. Adapted or not, they were bound to do some scouting and case the joint, right? “And if they do, I think I can leave someone to see.”
Imperium was mostly active in the central region of Ciel, terrorizing a fair number of downtown businesses into paying protection money and keeping quiet about their various criminal enterprises. While they opposed Dart, vehemently, that didn’t stop them from trying to proliferate their own drugs and wares, notably in the form of drug-laced liquor. While I wasn’t sure what they kept in solution, the bottle was enough to keep people giggling and falling over themselves for days, and plenty of people paid a high premium for it.
Fortunately, they kept things pretty close to home, keeping most of their criminal activity confined to their little nook of the city. While often they would step outside of their turf for a fight or a raid against another enterprise, something this rushed wouldn’t likely involve them going off their own turf and risk retaliation. Just because Surface Dwellers was the other big name cartel didn’t mean other small groups of Adapted couldn’t pose a problem.
“Which begs the question of where we’re going.”
There were two options that I could spot, both downtown, both seeming to be a little bastion of security. A perfect mark for Imperium to smash down to broadcast that they weren’t to be trifled with.
As much as they were a group founded in an older mentality, they recognized that social trending and perception was as powerful as their fighters. Thanks to the internet and how many people recorded the spectacle that was a fight between Adapted, you needed to prove your strength quickly after a loss.
It was another reason neither Imperium or Surface Dwellers wanted to have an all out war; whoever fell would never be able to regain the same standing.
Taking a pair of surveillance drones, I quickly input coordinates into the little dragonflies and tossed them out my window, watching them unfurl and zip away into the night.
Now with at least something being done, I let myself relax and grabbed my phone.
Nicky: What are we going to do?
Me: I mean, we have to stop them. We can’t just let them get away with this. We have pressure, we keep pushing. Two losses in a row is a serious blow.
Nicky: Any idea who they are going to have there?
Me: Not yet, but I have a few drones looking to see who scopes out the place. With any luck it is one of our friends.
Nicky: Okay, get some sleep Alexis. We need you to be sharp.
I tossed my phone aside and laid down, wishing that sleep could come easily. I felt like the adrenaline from the dog fight was gone, and now replaced with a weaker second wave that left me not quite awake, but decidedly not asleep either.
For a few minutes I debated trying to build, but I dared not try and test the boundaries of a technical skill given my state. I’d be asking for a migraine on the day of one hell of a job.
Still, I found myself waking up to my alarm; I’d not realized that I’d dozed off and I’d forgotten that I had class.
Fortunately my first class was Hosjon’s, by far the best teacher at the school and decided favorite of our group. Hell, Murphy even showed up consistently. That was telling.
It was enough prompt to grab lousy coffee from my kitchen cupboard and wake up as I drove to class, my hair still a mess and me without a shower. Fortunately, Zari didn’t have nearly the same personal hygiene standards that humans did; occasionally it was beneficial when you were running late or felt like being lazy.
Hosjon’s class was a delight as usual. I found a seat next to Xana who noticed that I looked a bit disheveled but didn’t call attention to it. Instead she gave me a small smirk; Nick told her, but that was hardly surprising.
Still, despite it being my favorite class, I felt myself incredibly distracted and almost irritable at being tethered to a chair in class. I needed to be doing something, some kind of prep work, anything! Sitting here was infuriating.
While the discussion was an interesting one, regarding whether or not it was ethical to be rich; I found it difficult to say more than a few words on the topic, my attention taken. Unfortunately, Xana wasn’t the only one who noticed my lack of effort put forth during the discussion.
“Excuse me, Alexis, a moment?”
It gave me a little start hearing a teacher say that to me at the end of a lecture, but there wasn’t anger in Hosjon’s eyes, only concern. I walked up to his desk as everyone else filtered out.
“Xana, I’ll catch you later?”
“Sure, I gotta go bug Nick anyways.”
She slipped away and gave me a nod as if to reassure me.
“How can I help you sir?”
He stared down at me before asking, “What’s going on, Alexis? You seem exhausted. Out late on a Thursday?”
I raised an eyebrow; the way he spoke sounded like he already knew the answer and was just asking to test my honesty. “You seem to already have your own opinion,” I replied, cautious.
Hosjon sat backwards in the chair in front of me. “You’re fatigue would have nothing to do with this, would it?”
He set his phone on the table and slid it to me; he’d pulled up a news article about a dog fighting ring being broken up with suspicion of Adapted interference.
For a moment my eyes perked up, the reaction slipping before I could control myself. “Why would that have anything to do with me?”
Hosjon smiled sweetly, “Alexis, it’s okay. Your secret is safe with me. I know you’re Dragoon.”
My eyes widened and I hastily flipped my head either direction to make sure no one could have heard. “What? How the fuck do you know that?”
“Guilt by association,” he replied.
It then started to dawn on me; he’d learned from either Nick or Murphy, and no one was going to be able to identify Nick in his Adapted form. “You figured out it was Murphy, didn’t you?”
“The smile is a giveaway if you know him and are willing to entertain the improbable. Nicholas was nice enough to confirm it for me and announce himself as Eldritch. You know the running theory; Adapted clique up with those close to them. It makes sense for you to the be third member of the Rogue Sentries.”
A slow and deliberate exhale passed my lips to help calm me down. “I’m guessing from the fact that I am still standing here that you have no intention of turning me over to the authorities…or should I run home to get my armor?”
My teacher recoiled, shocked. “Alexis, I’m hurt. I thought you and I were on excellent terms.”
“Sorry, but I’d rather be safe than sorry,” I replied, unapologetic.
He raised hands in surrender, “Fair enough. But, rest assured, I have no intention to proliferate this information.”
Still, it nagged at me, “How did you know we had anything to do with that?”
“A bit of intuition and lucky guesswork on my part. Nick was polite enough to show me his capabilities in small part. They showed pictures of the front of the fighting ring and the way it had been torn apart seemed like his handiwork. It wasn’t bludgeoned or blasted, but the metal was twisted as if the entire door frame had been grabbed and crushed in.”
“That’s our boy.”
“Given that there are three members of the Sentries, and given how haggard you look-”
“I’ll avoid taking offense.”
“I made the conclusion it may well be you. After all, if Nick and Murphy both fit the bill, the odds of you following suit go up exponentially. While I don’t know what makes you clique up, that theory does seem to have a fair amount of merit.”
“All due respect sir, but I do have another class to get to, is there something you wanted to talk about?”
He nodded, “I’m making sure that my star pupil is okay. Are you? Honestly?”
The way Hosjon was so damnably honest and polite, I couldn’t lie to him. “No, I don’t think I am. My parents are Imperium and I pushed our group into picking a fight with them.”
“That is quite the fight you picked,” he replied with a surprised chuckle.
“And now, I don’t know if I want to fight because I want to punish my parents or because I want to actually help the city. I try to rationalize my actions by saying that we can do both, but I’m worrying that I’m falling into a trap Murphy was worried about with me being too emotionally invested.”
“Rebelling against one’s parents is an inherently emotional action,” he affirmed. “I don’t think that Murphy’s concerns were ill-founded.”
I nodded, “So far we are managing, but it is going to get more difficult as we keep fighting. We haven’t even seen some of their bigger guns yet.”
Hosjon frowned, “If you fight Imperium and actually win, Surface Dwellers will simply move in.”
I smiled, “That’s sort of the hope. We don’t want to beat Imperium, just get enough blood in the water to make people scared, and to make Beleth confident.” It dawned on me after speaking that I should not be so forthcoming. “Sir, I’m going to need you to never say that to anyone. I’d rather our plans not find the wrong ears.”
For a second, he just stared at me before laughing, “Lexi-“
“Alexis,” I corrected, “Sorry, just, humor me.”
“Alexis, I think you have me grossly confused with someone else. If I knew what Mr. Weld and Mr. Pell did in their off time already, why would knowing about one more Adapted change my actions? You are all my students; your secrets are safe with me.”
I frowned, still suspicious. “You seem too nice to not have some ulterior motive.”
He raised an eyebrow, “Do I strike you as a fool?”
“No…” I trailed off, confused by his question.
“Do you think that I would be willing to confront someone such as yourself and Nicholas in such bold fashion? I may be Zari, but that hardly makes me a contender.”
“That wouldn’t be your smartest play,” I confessed, “It would make way more sense to just drop a hint to the police about suspected Adapted activity.”
Still, this felt off. “Why are you being particularly nice though?”
His expression softened, “Ms. Trent, I believe you are assuming I don’t care about my students like many of the staff here. Adapted or otherwise, you are still my pupil and I care about those under my tutelage. Though, I confess,” he added with a coy smile, “I do find you and your friends’ extracurricular activities to be most interesting. I’ve never had such personal investment in such things before.”
I almost laughed in his face. “Mr. Hosjon, are you saying you’re a fan?”
He gave a wink. “I’m sure I’m not the only one. Rogue Sentries made quite the debut for themselves taking on Shock and Awe after all. They are fairly big names and you lot managed to weather the storm.”
“Not entirely sure I agree with that sir,” I confessed. “We got lucky that they wanted a challenge and not to just take the free win. Eldritch couldn’t handle Awe’s electrocution and Parasite nor myself could hold up against Awe with a full charge.”
“Why do you call him that?” Hosjon interjected. “Parasite, that is. I’ve never understood exactly what his Adaptation is.”
“There is basically an alien under his skin, that acts as internal armor and a strengthening system,” I informed. “You can actually see it ripple around when he winds up for a big hit.”
Hosjon shuddered as he did what Nick and I did constantly while around Murphy: he tried imagining how it must feel to have an amorphous blob of matter rapidly running around your body. “He seems oddly adroit, almost unnaturally so from what little I’ve seen.”
I furrowed my brow, “I’ve read a few things that most Adaptations come with some kind of odd implicit knowledge that help with your gift. For Nick, he knows the exact mass of detritus and has a hypersensitive knowledge of his own mass. It lets him know when to grow or shrink while he is ‘suited up’. For Murphy, his little traveler seemed to give him a weird gymnastic knowledge; he doesn’t fall, he doesn’t trip, and he knows exactly how to bounce around regardless of environment.”
“I’m a Cognate…which makes things a little different. Instead of getting implicit knowledge, it was more like I was given a bit of an implicit skill. My Adaptation is all about machinery; when I changed, I seemed to get a base level of technical skill to help facilitate building my creations.”
He nodded, “I see. Every time I hear more about Adapted I find myself more and more interested in their abilities.”
“Unfortunately, you aren’t the only one,” I noted.
“It’s true. But you have to admit they are fantastic in so many ways.”
I stopped for a second, biting my lower lip in thought. “Sir, the night after the altercation with Shock and Awe, you mentioned that theoretical that the Trillodan might find Adapted interesting enough to warrant as a threat. I know it was a hypothetical, but do you think that could really happen?”
He shrugged, “Honestly, I doubt it. While Adapted can do remarkable things on their own, I doubt they will ever be perceived as threatening enough to truly scare the Trillodan into acting. Sure, there have been altercations that have leveled buildings, but there is plenty of modern weaponry that can do that just as easily. And the Trillodan are leagues beyond us with their ability to traverse the universe at seemingly unreal speeds. And, they have the power to destroy planets. I feel that even people like Clemency and Beleth wouldn’t be a big scare to them. Truthfully, I think the government actions with Suppression is a foolhardy endeavor.”
It was a bit sobering to think about: the Trillodan had the power to simply be anywhere coupled with the ability to level entire civilizations. What threat could anyone pose to them?
“And Ms. Trent, while I do appreciate this conversation, I do believe you mentioned having other classes to run to? Though, one more thing,” he called as I turned. “Be careful, please. I’d hate to hear about something ill befalling my students come tomorrow morning.”
I gave him a dismissive wave, “We’ll be fine. Thanks for the time sir.”
The rest of my time in class was a blur, a mixture of restlessness and apathy towards my studies made the remaining six hours of classes feel excruciatingly long and drawn out. My eyes continuously flitted to the clocks, praying more than thirty seconds had gone by since last I checked.
I was regularly disappointed.
Lunch at least offered me a time to check what footage my drones had picked up. It was a challenge to try and sort out who might be Adapted since everyone—excluding Beleth—had a secret identity, but there were indicators that I could use to help give me an idea. I’d seen a number of the Imperium Adapted in video and in person and been able to get pictures to give me rough approximates for their sizes and builds.
While they could be using something made by Toolkit to observe from a distance that hardly seemed Imperium’s style. They were known for being bold and in your face, a relentless group who never shied away from a fight. Even this bit of subterfuge was likely pushing it for them. Scrolling through footage, I looked for people who seemed to linger around the front longer than usual or anyone who seemed very alert about the cameras on the sides of the building.
Fortunately I was only looking for humans, and younger people at that. The oldest Adapted I knew of was 24, born the year that humans had started our exile on Tso’got.
Still, it was hard to tell who might stick out, but one candidate caught my attention. He was walking around the perimeter while wearing a hat and making a point to remain looking down at all times. While there were other people who did this, his gait was peculiar. He didn’t so much walk, as stalk around.
“Who in Imperium would stalk aroun-“ I caught myself. I knew who I was looking at, and I wish I didn’t. “Siphon,” I whispered, “What is he doing here?”
Quickly combing through the internet for footage of Siphon in action showed me a man who stalked around and hardly seemed able to walk flat footed, instead always up on his toes to minimize surface area that could rub on the ground.
Siphon was Imperium’s boogeyman, an assassin and cleaner they only called in to deal with problems. He wasn’t someone who would be able to help with a bank robbery. “But he is definitely someone who could help ensure that no one else could interrupt,” I concluded.
I tagged him and looked through all my footage to see where he went or who he met up with around the proximity. The more I watched, the more I realized that he wasn’t scoping out the bank; he never even went inside the institution. He was mapping the outside, checking the perimeter like he was surveying a battlefield.
“But who are you with?”
He did eventually meet up with someone who held a more confident stance, standing a bit away from the entrance, looking over the busy little square that was directly outside the bank. He was doing the same thing, looking around at the stage for a possible fight.
“Imperium is expecting us,” I whispered aloud as I zoomed in and tried to get a better idea of who he was. Taller guy, a little heavyset, and his stance screamed confidence where Siphon’s clearly was engineered to escape notice. “Which one of their Adapted is way too confident for his own good? Shockwave wouldn’t show up, that would show he’s intimidated and feels threatened enough that he needs to deal with us personally. The second he stoops to deal with us, Beleth senses weakness. Toolkit wouldn’t be brought in for interference and Mizu has to be hurting still.”
Ironclad was an option, but I sort of doubted he’d go another round with Eldritch. While it had been a stalemate, he had to realize the futility of trying to bludgeon a Neklim into submission. Even when he was pulverized by a fully-charged Awe, Eldritch could take a savage beating and endure. Ironclad lacked the speed that actually made Awe a threat to my teammate and was much more likely to become ensnared by something that essentially never tired.
Collision was the last choice, and it fit. A wide open space for him would be a solid arena for him to claim ownership of, and he’d compliment Siphon’s ability to duel people. Plus, what little I remembered, Collision was too confident for his own good; that stance seemed like it was made for him.
“Collision and Siphon,” I mused aloud, “Not impossible. Tough, but doable.” This information in mind, I sent off a message to my teammates.
Me: We’re going to have to siphon some time tonight because I have a collision to tell you all about.
A bad attempt at being cryptic, but it was better than just stating ‘hey, we’re fighting Collision and Siphon tonight’ in case someone was checking our texts.
I finally checked the time; I’d entirely missed a class while scouring the video archives my drones had given me. “Oh shit,” I hissed aloud and sprinted to my last class, though I wasn’t entirely sure why. I was ahead of the curve, I knew the subject matter already, and the teacher couldn’t give two shits about who showed.
Habit was a hard thing to break it seemed.
Afterward, I slipped away from campus and grabbed a drink at the store on the corner, surprised to find Xana there.
“I figured you’d be here,” she said, proud of her detective skills. “So come on, tell me what the deal is! I saw you at lunch staring at your phone like it held the secrets of the universe.” She leaned closer as I opened a fridge to grab a cream soda, “You were looking at drone footage, weren’t you?”
Looking either direction, I glared at her, “Not here you idiot.”
Still, I was dying to talk about someone with what I’d seen and neither Murphy or Nick had acknowledged the text I had sent after I discovered who we were likely up against. Once we were outside, we slinked along the side of the building and she looked at me, expectantly. As our unofficial getaway driver, Xana loved hearing about what we did as Adapted.
It was…nice to feel interesting.
“So, come on, out with it! What are you doing?”
“I don’t know if Nick told you, but last night when my parents got home they had been drafted to help rob a bank.”
“Today,” I added.
Her eyebrows lifted in surprise, “No shit? That’s a quick turn around.”
I nodded, “I’m pretty sure Shockwave doesn’t want to look weak because Beleth and the Surface Dwellers are watching. So, I scouted banks on their turf, since I figured they probably aren’t bold enough to go elsewhere with us having shown to antagonize.”
“I’m pretty sure I saw Siphon skulking around Ciel’s Regency Bank downtown. And, I’m guessing that I saw him talking with Collision.”
Xana frowned, “Siphon isn’t someone who could help pull off a heist.”
“No,” I agreed, “but he is definitely someone who could act as security against other Adapted. I think Imperium is waiting for us to come attack them. They are banking on them holding their own against us while a human crew does the heist.”
“You sure this is a good idea?” Xana asked after a pause. “I mean, Siphon is dangerous. Whenever he shows up, he comes with a body count. Are you sure you want to tangle with him?”
“I know exactly how dangerous he is,” I admitted, “But I like Eldritch against him. It leaves Parasite and me to dance circles around Collision; all either of us need is a good hit on him and he’ll go down.”
Something still seemed off to Xana as she shifted her weight, uncomfortable. “Alexis, are you worried you’re being too reliant on Nick?”
“Against Shock and Awe, you left him in a duel while you and Murphy fought the other. Against Mizu and Ironclad too. And now you’re proposing the exact same thing.”
“Well, of course,” I replied with a laugh, “Your boyfriend is built to take a wallop. He wears a literal tonne of extra mass to protect himself. He’s more protected than I am.”
“But you’re putting him at risk, a lot,” she insisted, the worry and anxiety ringing clear.
The implications were like a slap in the face to me. “Do you think I’m going to risk Nick’s life? He’s my fucking friend, Xana,” I snarled. “I would be devastated if something happened to Nick, but he’s doing this with us. He hasn’t voiced any issues with how I’m suggesting we fight.”
“Alexis,” she whispered, “I just don’t want him hurt. I’m…scared.”
That lifted much of my aggression, leaving me awkwardly emotionally charged with no outlet. “Xana, your boyfriend is a beast. He’ll be fine. Trust me, okay?”
I gave her a condescending look, “Seriously, we’re doing this now?”
She hit me in the arm, “Fuck you.”
I smiled and hit her back, “Fuck you too.”
Still, I looked away, guilt gnawing at me. Did she think I really didn’t care about Nick? Was she really oblivious to how much I cared about Nick? I mean, I know he was a slack-jawed male moron, but Xana was Xana. Surely she noticed….right?
My phone going off saved me from spiraling more.
Idiot: I’ll admit, I’m not liking those evening plans.
Nicky: It’s a rush job, we just gotta take it in stride. I think Xana is busy tonight, you mind picking us up?
Me: No problem. I’ll grab the idiot first since you’re closer to town. How are you doing on your stuff?
Nicky: I should have plenty from earlier. Didn’t have to use any extra.
Idiot: But I see you don’t ask how I’m doing. I’m almost hurt.
Me: I’ll see you clowns tonight.
“Hey, I’m gonna run and make a few last minute adjustments on my stuff since I’ll have some time alone.”
Xana gave me a smile, “Alright. Be careful.”
I shrugged, “I’m a Reckoner, I can’t afford to be that careful.”
Racing home, I gave myself a three hour timer to get myself entirely ready. Reloading the gun, ensuring the charge on my battery pack, making sure the dynamic feedback was working appropriately, and ensuring my optics for the helmet were all green.
With all that taken care of, I picked up the sword and followed advice Murphy had given me. I spent about an hour getting used to the weight, feeling out how quickly I could move the blade and how readily I could change the direction of the cut at a moments notice. When I had drawn it against Mizu, it felt almost foreign to use.
Murphy could just pick something up and let it flow into his graceful fighting style, but I didn’t get that luxury.
And then, to my surprise, I heard the front door burst open.
Hastily I placed the sword on the table that would be obscured and stepped out of my room, hearing my parents shuffle around downstairs, clearly in a hurry. “Hi,” I called down, “Everything okay?”
“Just fine!” my mom snapped.
“What are you guys looking for?”
“We’re just fine, sweetie,” my dad replied.
Still, I walked down, hoping to glean some last minute information. “You guys heading out for your…’job’?” I said at length as I saw them scrounging in the living room.
My mother glared, suspicious, “What if we are? Are you going to stop us?”
I finally saw what they had been looking for: firearms. Both of them were brandishing a handgun. It made me wonder how the fuck I’d never found guns in our living room before.
“No,” I replied, raising my hands and backing away slowly, “Fuck, mom do you have to point that at me?”
She cocked her head to the side, “Maybe you should stop being such a suspicious little brat and I’d be nicer.”
I was glad my dad stepped between us, “Enough. Come on, Mary, we have to go. Sweetie, don’t wait up. We’re going to be out late.”
For a moment I debated asking which bank they were going to; my mother brandishing a handgun deterred my want for confirmation. I was just going to have to trust my gut that I had seen Siphon and Collision snooping around.
“Okay,” I finally replied. “I’m probably going to head out and go work with Murphy and Nick.”
“Knock yourself out,” my dad invited, a bit dismissive. His head was already other places and so was mine. A glance at my phone showed it to be almost seven which meant there was probably another hour or two before I needed to head out and interrupt their progress.
As soon as my parents whisked themselves away into the night, I took a look at the bank and the buildings surrounding it: all centers for commerce, but nothing for entertainment. Imperium had undoubtedly chosen this because it would be almost completely deserted after 10 or 11. With no Adapted doing the actual robbery, there wouldn’t be a ton of noise or commotion to attract onlookers and cops.
Imperium was erring on the cautious side; we’d actually spooked them a bit.
For confirmation, I reactivated a drone that I had programmed to stay in the area and did a quick sweep, noticing the vast majority of the populus filtering out, heading to a nightclub or simply going home for the night.
“Good for us,” I muttered as I started dragging my armor to the car and steadying myself mentally. “Alright, let’s go grab the crew.”
I pulled up to Murphy’s house and was relieved to see him coming out with his suit under his arm. “I was worried you’d be late again,” I remarked with a snide grin.
“I said I was sorry, let it go, mom.”
“Fine. I still want to know where the hell you go though.”
“And I still am not going to tell you,” he said with finality. If there wasn’t a big job to do, I would have pushed.
As it was, I was glad he took a moment to steady himself, closing his eyes in an almost meditative state. Nick wasn’t too far away fortunately, though I wasn’t opposed to my quiet car. Once I pulled up, I walked up to the door, surprised when he answered and hastily shut the door behind him; his face betrayed alarm as he looked around nervously.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as Murphy seemed to detect a problem and walked up the drive to join us.
“I-um,” he sputtered.
“My storage,” he started, nervous, “It spoiled. Like an hour ago. All of it.”
“Wait, what?” I hissed.
“Nick, are you fucking serious?” Murphy exclaimed.
Our friend nodded, petrified, “I can’t be Eldritch tonight.”