Spacer Talus 33
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    I shielded the two of us and we went in, checked pulses and found people were scared but not dying, so the gas wasn't poisonous. Its heaviness provided effective cover for us as well as the robbers as we made our way toward the dimly glimpsed open vault.
    Inside was a man in a blue costume with yellow lightning bolts, stuffing money into one of a pair of duffel bags with an air of unhurried concentration. When the bag was full he handed it to someone whose arm was coming through the wall—not through a hole in the wall, mind. He began working on the second bag, then somehow alerted, turned and saw us. He moved with an odd, gliding motion, like skating, and very quickly. Seeing the two of us blocking the door, he charged directly at us, bounced off me, then Albert, then the vault door before I hit him. He doubled over as if sucker-punched, lips moving as he subvocalized something. Albert seized his line of sight, and he stopped, paralyzed by the "oubliette" illusion.
    The fog, meanwhile, had condensed into a liquid silver wave, moving to attack us. It missed me and punched an impressive hole in the vault door. Albert tried to catch its mind.
    "It is an android!"
    Great. Something neither of us was particularly equipped to deal with. While Albert busied himself with our prisoner, I sidled away to my left, trying to draw the thing's attention away from them. It lashed out again, but didn't seem strong enough to get through my shield. Stalemate.
    Then Lucky drove her bike through the main window. Glass flew everywhere and the few citizens remaining shrieked and fled as she charged the silver thing, lightstick held like a lance before her. It arched up and out of her way, then abruptly dispersed into fog again and flew out the doors. I followed, but though I could easily outpace it, it did not seem to be affected by height, and eventually the air was too thin for me to handle.
    Lucky and Albert had already made their reports when I got back. A getaway car holding the insubstantial accomplice had been parked out back; he had managed to rescue his unconscious companion and get away, but Albert's photographic memory had caught enough detail that it was a sure bet the car would be traced.
    Our failure did nothing to ease the frustration never far from my mind, and I headed off to patrol without saying much. Lucky followed after me on her bike—worried, I guess—so that we both heard the sound.
    It came from Chinatown, a vicious crackling of high energies under tight control. I banked down to investigate; Lucky arrived seconds later at a brutal and eerily silent scene. Every window on the street was shaded, every door closed, and there wasn't a soul in sight. Those of the six men on the ground had obviously departed. Lucky called in Albert and bet me dinner that he'd puke at the sight. (I took it, by the way, certain that no one so concerned with his dignity would be so easily overset, and won.) Between the two of them, they reconstructed the scene quickly.
    Two men (or so Lucky claimed from the scents) had lured the gang members down the alley and systematically destroyed them. One had taken out five hand-to-hand—one with a knife, one with a barbed wire garrote, three more in a slightly less dramatic fashion. The sixth had gotten a running start before being hit by the weapon we had heard. The upper half of his body had been neatly if gruesomely flattened. Lucky remarked that she had seen something like it during the Daemonwar. Plasma weapon.
    Reilly and the coroner's team showed up about then. He's been avoiding me assiduously ever since my talk with Beth. I guess that makes things easier, but it kind of pisses me off at the same time, though I'm not sure I have any right to be angry. It's not as if I've been trying too hard to force the issue. Hell, I'm not even sure I know what the issue is. Anyway, he had some information to pass on about the bank hit. The place had a state-of-the-art security system; Albert conjectured the heist was the work of an exhibitionist personality, a show-off job, and that there would be more strikes. The six dead men could be the victims of genuine psychotics, who, like serial killers, would strike intermittently when the urge grew too strong to contain.
    "So how's the wife?" Lucky asked Reilly, and received twin glares, which had the usual effect—none at all. A discussion ensued and quickly devolved into a who-should-go-where argument. I cut it short by announcing that I would head for base and research other likely targets of the bank robbers. Lucky and Albert could hang around the waterfront looking for killer vigilantes if they liked. At least we could be pretty sure it wasn't Phoenix this time.
    My research turned up five likely targets. One's our base; it would certainly be a coup to break in, but we don't really have anything to make it worth their time that isn't too cumbersome to steal. Of the rest, two are private residences, penthouse living space owned by gentlemen with Italian names (am I being unfair? probably, but I tend to suspect everyone of something these days). The other two are our old friends Renaissance Technologies and Taurus (I haven't found anything out regarding either yet, or rather, nothing useful—there's enough innocuous public information on both to drown in). An interesting list.
    I also found out a bit about the blue-costumed bank robber, Paul Owen, AKA Power Line. A mid-level villain with electrical control powers, he's associated with a sort of criminal weapons R&D group called TECH. They're well organized and widespread; operations against them have netted a few members, but the rest always took cover quickly and stayed low long enough to escape notice, then broke their fellows out of jail with discouraging ease.

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© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson