10 Months Before Impact Day
Unsurprisingly, Sadie was waiting up for me when I get home. She looked up with reserved enthusiasm when I walked in, using the front door and not bothering with the window, but as soon as she saw my face, her expression turned sour.
“You okay?” she asked, compassion in her eyes.
“Not even a little,” I said, collapsing into my bed.
Sadie climbed onto the bed beside me, sitting with her knees hugged to her chest. She placed a hand on my arm.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
“It’s about Rachel,” I said, my tone suggesting she probably wouldn’t want to pry any further than that.
“You can tell me,” she said. I craned my neck up to look at her. She smiled back gently.
Sometimes I had to remind myself that Sadie was a genuinely caring and compassionate person. It was difficult when she disagreed with me on so many things, but I did know that she was a good person, and when I wasn’t mad at her, I was proud to have her as a sister.
“We kind of came out to her mum,” I said, my head collapsing back into the bed so I could stare up at the ceiling. Sadie knew enough about Rachel’s home situation to know what that would have entailed.
“The abusive alcoholic? How did that go?” she asked, worried.
“About as well as you’d expect.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said, sounding like she really meant it.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen now,” I said. I felt completely powerless. I was scared Rachel was going to be taken away from me.
“You’ll make it work somehow,” Sadie said confidently.
“Charlie, I know you,” she said seriously. “You’re the most loyal person I’ve ever seen. You’re resourceful and tenacious. And Rachel is as tough as they come, and she obviously cares a lot about you. If anyone could make this situation work, it’s you two.”
That was a surprise. I hadn’t expected her to be so supportive, not with the way she’d been acting. It was really nice.
“That’s surprisingly optimistic of you,” I said.
“I know I haven’t been your biggest supporter lately,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Life’s been crazy lately, and there’s been a lot to adjust to.”
I reached up with my hand, and felt Sadie clasp it, grabbing onto me like I was an anchor. As always, her, skin felt completely normal. If I hadn’t known better, it really would have been so easy to just assume she was just a normal girl.
“And as usual, I am powerless to do anything about it,” she said with a sigh. “I guess fighting you was the only thing I felt like I could do.”
“You wanna do something else?” I asked, an idea suddenly occurring to me. I sat up, enjoying the confused expression on her face.
“I really need to punch something,” I told her.
“You can’t punch me,” she said, shrinking back.
“No, I mean I’m heading out. I could use an extra pair of eyes, and you might feel better when you see how much safer Rachel has made it all.”
“I was meaning to ask where all that stuff came from…” she muttered, eying the closet where I kept it all.
“Better you don’t know,” I told her.
“Okay, I’ll come with you,” she said, and I grinned happily. “But you can’t get mad at me for screaming again.”
“I’ll try not to give you a reason to scream, then.”
It felt good to have somebody by my side, even if nobody else knew she was there. She wouldn’t be much help in a fight, either, but just knowing I wasn’t alone made a big difference.
I climbed out the window, not wanting to be seen in my ‘combat gear’ as I liked to think of it, and helped her climb out after me. She stretched out dramatically, making a point of how rarely she was able to leave the house. I ignored her, and started walking.
For once, I actually had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go. I’d done some research, trawling through old news articles and dozens of forums, and managed to figure out the address of a gang safe house. Once I had the address, I’d done more investigating, just to make sure, and I was completely confident about it.
It was an exciting prospect for me. Stopping petty crimes in progress wasn’t going to make a scrap of difference, not even if I dressed like a bat or left a calling card. They were never going to stop doing what they did because they were scared of one person out there trying to stop them.
Hitting back at them, though, that could really make them think. If they didn’t feel safe in their own territory, maybe they would start to think twice about the line of work they were in. Without the promise of protection, I had to assume the gang life lost a fair amount of appeal.
It was only a theory, but it was a lot more than I’d been working with, and even at worst, it couldn’t make things worse. At least, I hope it wouldn’t make things worse.
Sadie trotted along beside me, enjoying the opportunity to see areas she wasn’t used to being in. It was kind of like taking a puppy for a walk. I smiled at the thought.
It took as us the better part of an hour to reach the address, an apartment complex in a slightly more rundown neighbourhood. It wasn’t anything fancy, and I was able to just walk in and go straight up the stairs.
Realising that we had reached our destination, and the fun part of the night was over, Sadie’s demeanour changed drastically. She kept her lips clamped shut and her shoulders were raised and tense, but to her credit, she didn’t do anything to get in my way.
I stopped in front of the door, taking a second to listen. There were definitely people in there, and I had triple-checked the address. That was all I needed. And this time, I had the element of surprise. I wasn’t going to waste it again.
Slowly, carefully, I checked the door handle. Thankfully, it wasn’t even locked. They were almost making it too easy for me. Not that I was complaining. I grinned at Sadie, who just looked back at me with a confused expression on her face. I pulled a pair of swimming goggles over my eyes.
I opened the door the tiniest amount, listening for any reaction. When nothing changed, I unclipped one of the tear gas grenades, pulled out the pin, and rolled it into the room. I shut the door as quietly as I could, trying to get as much time before they noticed as possible.
It didn’t take long. Within seconds I heard shouts of ‘What the fuck?’ and the pounding of feet against the floor. Show time.
As soon as I heard the door handle begin to turn, I slammed my body into the door, taking whoever was on the other side completely by surprise. They staggered back, and I surveyed the room, keeping my mouth shut. The gas would be somewhat filtered by the ski mask, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
There were eight of them, all coughing and trying to cover their faces. I kicked the door shut again behind me, just as Sadie scrambled inside. No more time to waste.
The guy who was trying to get the door open charged at me, tears streaming down his face. The poor guy never stood a chance. He ran straight into the tip of my baton and buckled over, collapsing to the ground as his lungs struggled to inhale as much air as they could. Unfortunately for him, the air was full of tear gas.
Someone was trying to get the window open. I pulled out my pistol, already loaded with rubber bullets, and fired at her. The shot hit her in the side of the ribcage, and she was thrown off her feet, crying out as she hit the ground.
Another guy threw himself at me half-blindly, and it was almost too easy to move out of the way, my foot lashing out at the side of his leg, sending him crashing to the ground. I let him lift his head up just a little, then planted my foot on the back of it and slammed it into the floor. It seemed less barbaric than just kicking him in the head, and less likely to cause permanent damage.
Another person made a run for the door, and I slammed the baton into their throat, their own momentum delivering most of the force. They fell over backwards, the back of their head smashing into the ground.
With half of them already down for the count, and the other half struggling to cope with the gas filling the room, there was no challenge in taking care of the rest of them. When I was done, all eight were unconscious, and though more than one of them would need medical attention, it still felt like a victory to me.
I rounded up every weapon I could find in the place, stuffing them into a garbage bag. I also found wads of cash, and I took those as well, though I planned on actually using the cash. The weapons I was just going to dispose of, so nobody could use them.
A knock at the door surprised me, and I whipped around, holding the pistol aimed right at the entryway. If it was more of them, I was prepared. But what if it wasn’t?
When I didn’t respond, there was another knock, followed by somebody shouting “This is the police, open up!” and more knocking.
“Shit!” I hissed, panicking. What was I supposed to do about police? Getting into a fight with them wouldn’t do me any favours, but there was no way they were going to let me just walk away.
“What are we going to do?” Sadie whimpered. My mind was racing.
“What floor are we on?” I asked her. I already knew, but I needed her to confirm it for me, because I didn’t trust myself.
“Four…” she said hesitantly.
“Alright, good. Sorry in advance, sis. You’re not gonna like this.”
Before she could object, I dropped the garbage bag full of weapons, turned, and sprinted towards the window. I threw it up just as the police burst through the door and vaulted out, trying to at least angle it so I was falling feet first.
A wave of vertigo washed over me, but it was gone as soon as it came, and I hit the ground before I even realised it was there. The shock burst upwards through my legs, but somehow I managed not to break anything. At least, I didn’t think I’d broken anything.
The second I was able to move again, I was running. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw Sadie in the window. She hesitated, then jumped out after me, landing gracefully on her feet. Well, it wasn’t like she could even get hurt.
I slowed down just enough to let her catch up with me, and the two of us ran together even though we knew the cops weren’t chasing us. There was no way they would have been able to get down in time, and with a scene like the one I left for them, they probably figured there were bigger priorities anyway.
When we finally made it home, I stripped off all my combat gear and tossed in the back of my closet, making a mental note to figure out a stealthy way to clean it, or at least let it air out, because it was rank. I grabbed a t-shirt and clean underwear, and treated myself to a long, hot shower.
When I made it back to my room, Sadie was glaring at me, her arms folded across her chest. What had I done to set her off this time?
“What the hell was that?” she demanded, bristling.
“It was the only way out I could think of on short notice,” I said, shrugging.
“Not that, though that was incredibly stupid,” she said. “I’m talking about what you did to those people!”
“I did what I had to do,” I told her.
“Nothing about that was necessary. Charlie, you really scared me in there. It was like you were a different person.”
What was that supposed to mean? A different person? No, she just didn’t want to accept that I was strong enough to do what it took to make a difference.
“I never expected you to understand,” I said coldly. “I just wanted your support.”
“No, Charlie, this isn’t about what you did. I’ve never been in a fight, so I don’t know what it’s like. But Charlie, you were enjoying it. You probably hospitalised half those people, and you enjoyed it. Tell me that’s not messed up.”
“What do you mean, ‘enjoyed it’?” I asked. I didn’t recall enjoying myself. I was just doing what I had to do. “How could you even tell?”
“Because I’m always watching you. I don’t need to see your face to know what your expression is, and I don’t need to be a mind reader to know what you’re feeling,” she said.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said defiantly.
“Well, I’m coming with you next time, too,” she said, just as stubborn as I was. “Clearly you need a voice of reason.”
I didn’t say anything about that. I just stepped past her, getting into bed and turning the light off.
Next Week: I’ve Let You Down