Seven Months Before Impact Day
“We need something big,” Rachel had said, looking down at the city below. “Something public. We need to undermine the control they feel like they have. Challenge their authority.”
“I don’t like where this is going,” Sadie had objected, though nobody heard but me.
“They need a reason to want to capture me,” I’d agreed. “What did you have in mind?”
She’d only grinned. If only I’d listened to Sadie…
I took a deep breath, now ready to enact Rachel’s absurd plan. Doesn’t get much more public than this…
There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people gathered in Federation Square, including just about every media outlet in the city. Aidan had done a remarkably good job of making sure this would be as public as possible. I knew Mark would be among the journalists gathered, and silently hoped he wouldn’t recognise me.
If everything went according to plan, there was no way he could. The mask Rachel had crafted for me covered my face completely, and the armour more or less disguised my body shape. The glowing red eyes gave me a vaguely demonic look, and the black and grey colour scheme only added to that.
“This is a terrible idea,” Sadie said.
“Shut up,” I replied, my voice filtered through the mask.
The crowd was getting restless. None of them knew why they were here, only that it was important. All they could see was a large black box on a stage.
“No time like the present,” Rachel’s voice buzzed in my ear. She was far away, and safe, but I was still worried.
I stepped out onto the stage, causing a wave of murmuring and confused stares. For a few moments, I just stood there, staring back at them, trying to quieten down my thumping heart.
“This is not performance art,” I said, my voice amplified through dozens of speakers, and filtered to the point of being unrecognisable. “This is not a publicity stunt. This city is poisoned, and today, I’ve officially declared war on the source.”
Confusion, incredulity, scepticism. Nothing I hadn’t anticipated. Still, it was a little unnerving.
I nodded, and the sides of the box fell away, revealing a cage. Inside of it, a high-ranking member of Vengeance, looking thoroughly pissed off and just a little worried. Above me, a screen lit up, scrolling through incriminating photos, documents, messages, all acquired by Aidan.
“These gangs are everywhere. They touch everything, control everything, make our streets unsafe. Their masters hide in the shadows, puppet masters pulling your strings, profiting off your fear, above the law and beyond reproach.”
The bars of the cage lowered into the stage, freeing the man. He froze, unsure of what to do.
“One by one, I’ll dig them up, and air their dirty laundry. I’ll disrupt their operations, destroy their safehouses, and bring their empires to their knees.”
Movement in the audience. Several Vengeance members burst forth, revealing concealed weapons, screams erupting from the civilian masses. A gun was thrown to the captive, and within seconds, a hail of bullets tore through me.
Rachel’s armour was surprisingly effective. In less than a month, she’d constructed something even militaries would have killed to their hands on. It wasn’t enough to make me completely bulletproof, but what damage was done would heal. The illusion would be that the armour was even more effective than it was.
I ran across the stage to the captive, my left hand slamming into his face. An electric current travelled through the gauntlet I wore, delivering a shock strong enough to drop him to the ground, twitching.
The police present acted quickly, shutting down the other gang members. They’d all shot at someone, with illegal firearms, in a public place, in front of cameras. This time, the police had crimes to charge them with and evidence to arrest them. More importantly, my message had been sent. The city knew I was here. The gangs knew I was coming for them.
Of course, the police tried to come for me next. I kicked a hidden switch on the stage, causing thick black smoke to fill the air. A catapult built into the stage launched me into the air, carefully calculated by Rachel. I landed in the Yarra River, sinking fast, where Liz met me, helping me strip off the armour, stuff it into a bag, and with the help of an oxygen tank, stay underwater until we emerged in the harbour.
We pulled ourselves out of the water, and disappeared into a public restroom where changes of clothing were waiting. We dried ourselves off, got changed, and began to make our way back to the apartment where we’d made our base.
Rachel and Aidan met us when we returned, grinning. Rachel hugged me tight, whilst Aiden and Liz just nodded awkwardly at each other.
“How’d we go?” I asked, when Rachel finally let go.
“They’re pissed off,” Aidan said, scrolling through tabs on his laptop. “There’s a lot of confusion, a few heads rolling, and talk of a bounty.”
“Sounds like mission accomplished,” Rachel said smugly.
“I still say it was needlessly showy,” Aidan said. “We could do this entire thing discreetly, digging up information and passing it to the authorities.”
“They’d figure out ways around it,” I said. “And it wouldn’t teach them anything. They’re used to dodging the law. What they’re not used to is me, and besides, isn’t this more fun?”
“I didn’t realise fun was an important factor,” Liz said coldly.
“Why shouldn’t it be?” I asked. “What, am I not broody enough to be a superhero?”
“Is that how you think of yourself?” she asked, irritated.
“How would you describe me, if not that?”
“An egotistical, self-centred clown,” she said.
“You’re welcome to leave, you know,” Rachel said, right on cue.
“And leave you without a voice of reason?” Liz asked. “No, I think you need me.”
“Well, I think everything is going great,” I said. “But sure, I can take things more seriously. Aidan, let me know when they’ve set a trap for me, so I can get myself captured.”
“Shouldn’t be long,” he said.
“For now, we should get home. Mark’s probably expecting us.”
Rachel and I said our goodbyes, and I promised to call her after dinner. She was sticking around in the apartment, tinkering with whatever her latest project was. Liz, not wanting to be left alone with her, opted to return home too.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Aidan asked, as we sat on the bus together.
“Everything,” he said. “Rachel, how you were feeling, what you did…”
“I don’t know,” I lied. “I guess I never really found the words for any of it, and I was worried…”
“Worried? About what? Did you really think I would judge you? Don’t you trust me?”
“No,” I said. “It wasn’t about you. It wasn’t about trust. I just…” I leaned into him, resting my head on his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around me, idly playing with my hair.
“It’s complicated?” he offered.
“It’s complicated,” I agreed.
“I just don’t want to lose you,” he said. “You know I love you, right?”
“Of course,” I replied. “And I love you too. You’re family, and I promise, nothing will ever change that.”
Next Week: Collateral Damage