“No,” Brian intoned, “Such a bad idea.”
Lisa still had the phone in her hand. Bitch had arrived just behind her, and stood in stark contrast to Lisa’s jeans, sweater and tight ponytail, with an army jacket, and virtually no attention paid to her hair. The littlest of the dogs, the one-eyed, one eared terrier, trailed after her.
“Come on,” Lisa wheedled, “It’s a rite of passage for dastardly criminals like us.”
“Robbing a bank is moronic. We’ve been over this,” Brian closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, “You know what the average haul is for hitting a bank?”
Lisa paused, “Twenty thou?”
“Exactly. It’s not millions like you see people getting away with in the movies. Banks don’t keep a lot of loose cash on hand, so we’d be pulling in less than we would for most other jobs. Account for cost and the fact that this is Brockton fucking Bay, where banks have a little more reason to keep the amount of cash in their vaults to a minimum, and we’d be bringing in twelve to sixteen thou. Divide five ways and it’s what, two or three thousand bucks each?”
“I could do with an extra three thousand dollars to spend,” Alec said, putting down his game controller and shifting his position on the couch to follow the conversation better.
“On what?” Brian asked. When Alec shrugged, Brian sighed and explained, “It’s a horrible payoff for the amount of risk involved. There’s three big superhero teams in this city. Figure there’s another dozen heroes that fly solo, and we’re almost guaranteed to get into a fight.”
“So?” Bitch spoke for the first time, “We win fights. We won before we had her.” She raised her chin in my direction as she said that last word.
“We won because we picked our battles. We wouldn’t have that option if we were cooped up in the bank and waiting for them to come to us, letting them decide how and where the fight happened.”
Lisa nodded and smiled as he spoke. I thought for a second that she was going to say something, but she didn’t.
Brian continued, getting pretty passionate as he ranted, “We won’t be able to slip away like we have when things got a little out of control in the past. Can’t avoid the fight if we want to get away with anything worth taking. The bank is going to have layers of protection. Iron bars, vault doors, whatever. Even with your power, Lise, there’s a limit to how fast we can get through those. Add the time we have to spend managing hostages and making a safe exit, and I pretty much guarantee that there will be time for a cape to get wind of the robbery and slow us down even more.”
Alec said, “I kind of want to do it anyways. Hitting a bank gets you on the front page. It’s huge for our rep.”
“The runt is right,” Bitch said.
Brian grumbled, “Not fucking up is better for our reputation in the long run.” His deeper voice was really good for grumbling.
Alec looked at me, “What do you think?”
I’d almost forgotten I was a part of the discussion. The last thing I wanted was to rob a bank. Hostages could get hurt. The fact that it would potentially put me on the front page of the paper wasn’t a high point, either, if I ever wanted to drop the supervillain ruse and become a hero in good standing. I ventured, “I think Brian makes a good case. It seems reckless.”
Bitch snorted. I think I saw Alec roll his eyes.
Lisa leaned forward, “He does make good points, but I have better ones. Hear me out?” The rest of us turned our attention to her, though Brian had a frown that made it seem like it would take a lot to convince him.
“Ok, so Brian said similar stuff before, before we hit that casino a few weeks ago. So I was kind of expecting this. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. The boss wants us to do a job at a very specific time. I got the sense he was willing to offer a fair bit if we went the extra mile, and I negotiated a pretty good deal.
“The bank robbery was my idea, and he liked it. According to him, the Protectorate is busy with an event on Thursday, just outside of town. That’s part of the reason the timing is so important. If we act then, there’s almost no chance we’ll have to deal with them. If we hit the Bay Central, downtown-“
“That’s the biggest bank in Brockton Bay,” I interrupted her, half-disbelieving.
“So everything I said about them having security and being careful is doubly true,” Brian added.
“If we hit the Bay Central, downtown,” Lisa repeated herself, ignoring us, “Then we’re hitting a location just a mile away from Arcadia High, where most of the Wards go to school. Given jurisdictions, New Wave won’t be able to jump on us without stepping on the Wards’ toes, which pretty much guarantees we go up against the team of junior superheroes. With me so far?”
We all nodded or murmured agreement.
“Figure that’s happening in the middle of the school day, and they won’t all be able to slip away to stop a robbery without drawing attention. People know the Wards are attending Arcadia, they just don’t know who they are. So everyone’s constantly watching for that. Since they can’t have all six or seven of the same kids disappear from class every time the Wards go off to foil a crime without giving away the show, chances are good that we’d go up against a couple of their strongest members, or one of the strongest with a group of the ones with less amazing powers. We can beat them.”
“Okay,” Brian begrudged, “I’ll accept that we’d probably do alright in those circumstances, but-“
Lisa interrupted him, “I also got the boss to agree to match us two for one on the haul. We bring in fifteen grand, he pays us thirty. Or he gives us enough money to bring our total up to twenty five, whichever is more in the end. So we could walk away with two thousand dollars and he’d pay us twenty three thou. So as long as we don’t wind up in jail, we’re guaranteed five thousand dollars apiece, bare minimum.”
Brian’s eyes widened, “That’s insane. Why would he do that?”
“And,” Lisa grinned, “He’ll cover all our costs, just this once. Equipment, information, bribes if we want ‘em.”
“Why?” I echoed Brian’s earlier question, disbelieving. Lisa was throwing around sums of money that I couldn’t even wrap my head around. I had never even had more than five hundred dollars in my bank account.
“Because he’s sponsoring us and it stands to reason he doesn’t want to fund a team of nobodies. We manage this, we won’t be nobodies. That, and he really wants us to do a job at that particular time.”
There was a few moments of silence as everyone considered the deal. I was frantically trying to think of a way to try to convince these guys it was a bad idea. A bank robbery could get me arrested. Worse, it could lead to me or a bystander getting hurt or killed.
Brian beat me to it, “The risk to reward still isn’t great. Five grand each for hitting what may well be the most fortified location in Brockton Bay and an almost guaranteed confrontation with the Wards?”
“Second most fortified location,” Lisa countered, “The Protectorate Headquarters is the first.”
“Fair point,” Brian said, “But my argument stands.”
“It’ll be more than five grand for each of us, I guarantee you,” Lisa told him, “It’s the biggest bank in Brockton Bay. It’s also the hub of cash distribution for the entire county. Said cash gets transferred in and out by armored cars on a regular schedule-“
“So why don’t we hit one of the cars?” Alec asked.
“They have ride-alongs or aerial cover from various members of the Wards and the Protectorate, so we’d be caught in a fight with another cape from minute one. Same problems that Brian’s talking about, as far as getting caught up in a fight, difficulty accessing the money before shit goes down, yadda yadda. Anyways, the Brockton Bay Central has cars coming in twice a week, and leaving four times a week. We hit on a Thursday just after noon, and it should be the best day and time for the sheer size of the take. Only way we’re getting away with less than thirty thousand is if we fuck up. With what the boss is offering, that’s ninety thou.”
She folded her arms.
Brian sighed, long and loud, “Well, you got me, I guess. It sounds good.”
Lisa turned to Alec. There wasn’t any resistance to be found there. He just said, “Fuck yeah, I’m in.”
Bitch didn’t need convincing any more than Alec had. She nodded once and then turned her attention to the scarred little dog.
Then everyone looked at me.
“What would I be doing?” I asked, nervously, hoping to stall or find holes in the plan that I could use to argue against it.
So Lisa outlined a general plan. Brian made suggestions, good ones, and the plan was adjusted accordingly. I realized with a growing disappointment and a knot of anxiety in my gut that it was almost inevitably going to happen.
Arguing against the bank robbery at this point would hurt my undercover operation more than it helped anyone. With that in mind, I began offering suggestions that – I hoped – would minimize the possibility of disaster. The way I saw it, if I helped things go smoothly, it would help my scheme to get info on the Undersiders and their boss. It would minimize the chance that someone would panic or be reckless and get a civilian hurt. I think I would feel worse if that happened than I would about going to jail.
The discussion went on for a while. At one point, Lisa got her laptop, and we debated entrance and exit strategies while she sketched out a map of the bank layout. It was uncanny, seeing her power at work. She copied a satellite image of the bank from a web search into a paint program, then drew over it with thick bold lines to show how the rooms were laid out. With another search and a single picture of the bank manager standing in front of his desk, she was able to mark out where the manager’s desk was. That wouldn’t have been too amazing, but without pausing, she then went on to mark where the tellers were, as well as the vaults, the vault doors and the enclosed room that held the safe deposit boxes. She noted where the fuse box and air conditioning vents were, but we decided we wouldn’t mess with either of those. That stuff was cool in the movies, but it didn’t do much good in real life. Besides, this was a robbery, not a heist.
While we worked, Alec got restless and went to make an early lunch. Of the four of us, I got the impression he had the least to contribute, at least strategically, and that he knew it. I wasn’t sure if he just didn’t have a very tactical mindset or if he just didn’t care that much about the planning stage of things. My assumptions led to the latter, as he seemed more willing to go with the flow than Brian or Lisa.
He brought us a plate of pizza pockets along with assorted sodas, and we ate as we wrapped up the plan.
“Alright,” Brian said, as Lisa shut her laptop, “I think we have a general idea of what we’re doing. We know how we get in, we know who does what when we’re inside, and we know how we want to get out. Keeping in mind that no plan survives contact with the enemy, I think the odds are still pretty good.”
“So, the enemy,” I said, resisting the urge to wince at the realization that I would be up against good guys, “My only experience fighting in costume… or even just fighting, is against Lung, and that didn’t go well.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Brian said, “You did better than most.”
“I’ll rephrase,” I said, “It could have gone better. We’re going up against the Wards and they aren’t pushovers.”
Brian nodded, “True. Let’s talk strategy and weaknesses. You know who the Wards are?”
I shrugged, “I’ve researched them. I’ve seen them on TV. That doesn’t mean I know the important stuff.”
“Sure,” he said, “So let’s go down the list. Team leader: Aegis. You’d think he has the standard Alexandria package, flight, super strength, invincibility, but that isn’t exactly right. He does fly, but the other two powers work differently than you’d expect. See, he isn’t invincible… he just doesn’t have any weak points. His entire biology is filled with so many redundancies and reinforcements that you just can’t put him down. Throw sand in his eyes and he can still see by sensing the light on his skin. Cut his throat and it doesn’t bleed any more than the back of his hand would. The guy’s had an arm cut off and it was attached and working fine the next day. Stab him through the heart and another organ takes over the necessary functions.”
“Not that we’re stabbing anyone through the heart?” I made it a hopeful half-question, half-statement.
“No. Well, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stab Aegis through the heart just to slow him down. If you did it with something big enough. The guy’s like a zombie, he gets back up within seconds of you beating him down, keeps coming at you until you’re too tired to fight back or you make a mistake.”
“And he’s super strong?” I asked.
Brian shook his head, “Lisa, want to field this one?”
She did. “Aegis isn’t strong, but he can abuse his body in ways that makes it seem like he is. He can throw punches hard enough that they’d break his hand, mangle his joints and tear his muscles, and his body just takes it. He has no reason to hold back, and he doesn’t need to waste any time protecting himself from you. He can also draw on adrenaline… you’ve heard stories like how little old grandmothers lifted cars off the ground to save their grandkids?”
“That’s adrenaline at work, and Aegis can do that for hours at a stretch. His body doesn’t run out of steam, he doesn’t get tired, he doesn’t exhaust his reserves of adrenaline. He just keeps going.”
“So how do you stop him?” I asked.
“You don’t, really,” Brian said, “Best bet is to keep him occupied, keep him sufficiently distracted or stick him somewhere he can’t escape. Trap him in a dumpster and throw it in the river, you can get a few minutes of relief. Which is all harder than it sounds. He’s the team captain, and he isn’t stupid. Rachel? Sic your dogs on him. A two ton canine or two should keep him out of our hair until we’re ready to run.”
“I don’t need to hold back?” Bitch asked, her eyebrow quirked.
“For once, no. Go nuts. Just, you know, don’t kill him. Alec? You’re the backup there. Keep an eye on Aegis, see if you can’t use your power to throw him off. Buy enough time for a dog to get its jaws on him and he’s probably out of action.”
“Sure,” Alec said.
Brian extended two fingers and tapped the second, “Number two. Clockblocker. Let it be known, I fucking hate people who mess with time.”
“He stops time, if I remember right?” I inquired, as much to stay in the conversation as to get the clarification.
“More specific than that,” Brian said, “He can stop time for whatever he touches. The person or object he touches is basically put on ‘pause’ for anywhere from thirty seconds to ten minutes. Only good thing is that he doesn’t control or know how long it’s going to last. But if he gets his hands on you, you’re out of action. He’ll either stand next to you and wait until you start moving, then touch you again, or he’ll just tie you up in chains and handcuffs so that when his power wears off, you’re already in custody.”
“Long story short, he touches you, you’re boned,” Alec said.
“The upside is that whoever he touches is also untouchable. Can’t be hurt, can’t be moved. Period. He uses that defensively, and he can do stuff like throw paper or cloth in the air and freeze it in time, making an unbreakable shield. You don’t want to run into something that’s frozen. A car that drove into the side of a piece of paper that Clockblocker had touched would be cut in two before it budged the paper.”
“Noted,” I said.
Brian continued, “The third heavy hitter on the Wards is Vista. You know that myth about how the capes that get their powers young are exponentially more powerful? Vista’s one of the kids who keeps the myth alive. Clockblocker is sort of a one trick pony, his trick involves screwing with one of the key forces of our universe, but it’s just one thing. Vista also messes with physics on a fundamental level, but she’s versatile.
“Twelve years old, and she has the power to reshape space. She can stretch a building like taffy, so it’s twice as tall, or squeeze two sidewalks closer together so she can cross the street with a single step.”
“Her weakness,” Lisa added, “Is the Manton effect.” She turned her full attention to me, “You know what that is?”
“I’ve heard it mentioned, but I don’t know the details.”
“Wherever our powers come from, they also came with some limitations. For most of us, there’s a restriction about using our powers on living things. The reach of powers generally stops at the outside of a person or animal’s body. There’s exceptions for the people with powers that only work on living things, like you, Alec and Rachel. But the long and short of it is that the Manton effect is why most telekinetics can’t just reach into your chest and crush your heart. Most people who can create forcefields can’t create one through the middle of your body and cut you in two.”
“Narwhal can,” Alec cut in.
“I said most,” Lisa said, “Why these restrictions exist is a question nearly as big as where we got our powers in the first place. The capes that can get around the Manton effect are among the strongest of us.”
I nodded, slowly. I wondered if that had something to do with why Lung didn’t burn himself, but I didn’t want to get further off topic, “And Vista?”
“Vista can stretch and compress space. She can also do funny things with gravity. Thing is, the Manton effect keeps her from stretching or compressing you. It also makes altering an area a lot harder for her if there’s more people in that space. So if all of us are in one room, chances are she won’t be able to affect the whole room.”
“But,” Brian added, wiping a string of cheese from the corner of his lip, “Every time we’ve run into her, she’s been faster and overall more powerful with her power, and she’s had new tricks. Every second she’s on the battlefield is a second things become harder for us. We take her down sooner than later. Aegis, Clockblocker, Vista. Those are the ones we’re most likely to run into, and whoever else winds up coming, they’re the ones we have to deal with, or we’re fucked.
“Let’s quickly go through the rest. Kid Win.”
“Tinker,” Lisa said, “Flying skateboard, laser pistols, high tech visor are staples for him. Expect something new, depending on what he’s come up in his workshop. He’s mobile but not that threatening.”
“Triumph?” Brian said.
“He turned eighteen and graduated to the Protectorate. Don’t have to worry about him,” Lisa said.
“Glory Girl’s on and off boyfriend, he pretends to be a Tinker in the same vein as Kid Win, but I think he just runs around in secondhand armor with a fresh paint job. His thing is these blasts of light. Getting hit by one feels like a punch in the gut, but the blasts also mess with your feelings. Make you sad, make you scared, ashamed, giddy, whatever. Not that bad unless you get hit by a bunch in a row. Don’t.”
“That just leaves Shadow Stalker. Bloodthirsty bitch,” Brian scowled.
Alec explained to me, “She’s got it in her head that Brian is her nemesis. You know, her number one enemy, her dark opposite. She’s been going after him every chance she gets.”
“She was a solo hero,” Tattletale said, “Vigilante of the night, until she went too far and nearly killed someone, nailing him to a wall with one of her crossbows. The local heroes were called in, she got arrested, and made some sort of deal. Now she’s a probationary member of the Wards, with the condition that she uses tranquilizer bolts and nonlethal ammo for her crossbow.”
“Which she isn’t,” Brian growled, “At least, not when she comes after me. That arrow she shot through my side had a fucking arrowhead on it.”
Tattletale shook her head, “Her powers and Brian’s sort of have a weird interaction with one another. Shadow Stalker can sort of transform. She becomes extremely lightweight, can pass through glass and thin walls and she’s nearly invisible. Only thing is, while she and the stuff she carries are all wispy in her transformed state, the stuff she shoots with her crossbow only stays that way for a half second. Then the effect wears off and it’s a regular arrow flying towards you. So she can leap between rooftops, almost impossible to see, hard to even touch, and all the while she’s shooting very real arrows at you.”
“So what do you do?” I asked.
“Her power doesn’t work well while she’s inside Brian’s darkness, for whatever reason. She isn’t as fast or agile, he can see her better, and she can’t see him in the darkness,” Tattletale told me, “So it becomes something of a very intense game of tag, with one very fast person that’s essentially blind and deaf but carrying lethal weapons, while Brian, the other, is trying to take her out without getting shot.”
“Let’s avoid that,” Brian said, “It’s too time consuming and she may want to use that kind of scenario to delay us. Just don’t get shot, and if you see her or see the opportunity, inform the team and do your best to take her down without losing sight of a priority target.
“So that’s the plan, then?” I said, “So many maybes.”
“That’s the way these things go, Taylor,” Brian said, his tone a bit terse, “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of covering all the bases.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to sound like I was criticizing your plan-” I said.
“Our plan,” Brian interrupted.
I didn’t want to think of it that way. Instead, I said, “I’m a touch nervous, is all.”
“You don’t have to come,” Bitch said, her tone a touch too casual.
“In all seriousness,” Brian told me, “If you’re having second thoughts…”
“I am,” I admitted, “as well as third thoughts, fourth thoughts, and so on. But I’m not going to let that stop me. I’m coming with.”
“Good,” Brian replied, “Then we’ve got the rest of today and tomorrow to prepare. Taylor? You can meet me on your run first thing. I’ll have a cell phone for you. You can text Lisa with anything you think you’ll need, like those weapons you were talking about. Look up models and brands ahead of time if you want something specific.”
“What’s her number?” I asked.
“I’ll put it in the phone before I give it to you. Lisa? You confirm the job with the boss, talk to him about the other stuff.”
“So unless there’s anything else, I think we just planned a bank robbery before noon,” Lisa said with a grin. I looked at the digital clock displayed under the TV. Sure enough, it was half past eleven.
I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a good thing.