“This is a robbery!” a strong, authoritative voice yelled. “No cops, no one tries to play hero, and everyone will make it out of this alive!”
A quick glance told me that the half-dozen masked men were all armed with some type of automatic rifle. They looked shiny and new, too, and smelled of the kind of oil guns were treated with for shipping.
Except for the leader. While he had a rifle slung across his chest, he was holding a powerful shotgun in his hands. While I didn’t recognize the model—it was undoubtedly some brand we didn’t have back home—it was easy to tell that it was a ten-gauge, firing solid slugs. Depending on exactly what ammo he was packing, his shots could easily punch through most of the shields I could put up.
I glanced over in the direction that Akane and Laura had gone, but didn’t see them. Good. We just needed a bit of time.
“Hello,” I said in a friendly, non-threatening tone as I raised my hands above my head, indicating my lack of weapons. “Why don’t you tell us exactly what you want from us, and maybe we can finish this without bloodshed?”
I was hardly a diplomat, by any means. But this wasn’t a formal embassy dinner, this was a hostage negotiation. While I still wasn’t exactly an expert, that was at least something I had real experience with.
Of course, normally I wasn’t one of the hostages…
Still, as long as I could keep them focused on me, rather than the bank tellers cowering behind the counter or the dozen or so customers hiding behind the rows of desks behind me, we should be able to get out of this.
The man with the shotgun gave me an odd look, but it was a little hard to interpret with that bandanna covering most of his face. “You’re brave, boy. What’s your name?”
“Derek Huntsman.” Over at the coffee table, Robyn glared at me. She clearly didn’t think I should have given out my real name.
An expression I couldn’t identify flitted across the robber’s masked face. He slowly and deliberately raised his shotgun, pointing it square at my head. “And what are you going to do, Mister Huntsman?”
I didn’t flinch. “Just what I said. I want everyone to get out of here alive.”
He glared at me.
Then he lowered the gun.
“Fine,” he grumbled. “You can start by getting me the bank manager.”
“Are you planning on killing him?”
The gun came back up. “You’re not in a position to ask questions.”
“Everyone is always in a position to ask questions,” I said, remembering Laura saying the same thing once. “Spreading knowledge is always better for everyone.”
The man growled. “Fine. Then no, as long as he cooperates, then we won’t do anything to him.”
“Then I’m sure he’ll be revealing himself shortly.”
The leader glared, gun still leveled at my head. “What do you mean—”
“Please, put the gun down,” the bank manager, Mike, said pleadingly as he rose up from behind me. “He’s just a customer. He has nothing to do with this.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t,” the man said dryly. “But why don’t we get right down to business, hm? You can open the vault.”
Mike swallowed. “Actually, no not alone—”
Suddenly there was a shotgun pointed at his face.
“We didn’t pick this bank out of a hat, you know,” the robber said calmly. “We did our research. So, I’m going to try this again: You can open the vault.”
The manager nodded nervously.
“So do it.”
“It’s not… not that simple—” He shut his mouth with a loud clicking noise as the shotgun was shoved into his nose. “I—I can’t—”
I pulled Mike out of the way swiftly, taking his place in front of the gun and ignoring the clenching in my gut. That’s the best way to confront fear: Grab it by the horns and force it out into the open. “Shooting him isn’t going to solve anything. Why don’t you listen to what he has to say, instead?”
There was that strange emotion, flickering in his eyes again. What was it? It was hovering somewhere between anger and frustration… was he just annoyed that I was getting in his way? That made some sense, but he had to understand that randomly killing people wasn’t going to get him anywhere.
Either way, he took a step back and lowered the shotgun, acknowledging that I had a point. “Fine. You, manager. You were saying?”
The man in question swallowed visibly. “Y-yes. I have the codes, but the vault needs two people to open it. And both need to be high-ranking bank employees.”
“M-manager. Or assistant manager. No lower.”
The robber’s eyes were narrow, and his hand inched towards his gun. I subtly moved myself between him and the manager again, but he noticed anyway, and glared at me.
He didn’t mention it, though, just turned his attention back on the cowering man behind me. “And the alarm? How is that turned off?”
As far as I could tell, Mike was genuinely bewildered. “Alarm? What alarm?”
“The alarm that trips whenever the vault is opened,” the man explained with exaggerated patience. “It goes to your head office, and they know to check your security cameras for anything suspicious. How do we turn it off?”
“How should I know?” the manager asked incredulously, his voice cracking a little from the strain. “I didn’t know we even had something like that until just now!”
The robber growled and raised his shotgun again, but I just interposed myself between the two again.
“Hey, he’s telling the truth,” I assured him. “Think about it. If you had a system like that, would you tell anyone at the bank about it?”
He glared at me again. “Then do you have any ideas on how to turn it off?”
“Not a clue,” I admitted. “Though if I had designed the system, I’d make it impossible to disable without opening the vault first.” I shrugged. “Maybe even have a constant signal in there that’s blocked by the door, and when it’s opened, the signal can get out. No way to jam it unless you know exactly what kind of signal.”
I could see him frown under the mask. “Yeah, that makes sense…” He glared at the manager again. “Where’s the security office?”
He raised the shotgun again; I got in the way again. “The security office. Where the cameras are controlled. Where is it?”
“They’ll notice if the cameras are dead,” I warned, though I was pretty sure he had already thought of that.
“Shut up.” He didn’t take his eyes off the manager. “Where?”
Mike pointed a shaky finger towards the back offices.
“Greg,” the leader grunted as a command.
One of the other robbers, a slightly shorter man, handed off his rifle to a friend and drew a large pistol from a hip holster, and headed off towards the back offices. He clearly had at least some real training; in the close quarters of the offices, a big bulky automatic would get in the way, and probably damage something important. A small, compact pistol was better.
I wanted to stop him, but there was no way I could think of that wouldn’t be unspeakably suspicious. I just had to grind my teeth and let him go.
“Bobby, once he secures the office, go see if you can get a loop on the feed going, something to trick corporate for when they take a peek. Needs to be as long as possible.”
“On it,” another robber, who I thought might have been a woman, said as she pulled out a phone of some kind, presumably checking some program or other she might need.
“And you—get me a second man who can open that vault, now, or I start shooting people.”
Several things happened at once.
The first thing I noticed was a middle-aged man in a decent suit coming out from behind the counter. Presumably, that would be the second manager.
At the same time, I heard a female squeal of fright behind me, and I turned to see a little boy running in my direction, away from his terrified mother—and out of the comparative concealment and safety the desks provided.
And then Greg found Laura and Akane.
“Ah HAH! John, I found some more!”
The leader—John, I assumed—backhanded me in the face, shoved me aside, and grabbed the boy by his collar. I collapsed on the floor, playing up the injury for all it was worth. Which wasn’t saying much; I wasn’t even sure I was bleeding.
But I needed every advantage I could get, as fast as I could get, or a lot of people were going to die. I could look like a wimp for five minutes if I had to.
It seemed to have worked, too. The man glared down at me like I was a worm beneath his contempt. “Some ‘hero’ you turned out to be.” He pressed his gun against the side of the boy’s head; considering the size of the shotgun, this was actually a very awkward position to hold a weapon, and with luck I could take advantage. “Now, I think it’s time we stopped playing games.”
I shivered on the floor as best I could, only glancing towards the back offices to see that yes, Greg had captured Laura and Akane. They were both unharmed, as far as I could tell, and so was he—which told me that Laura had kept Akane from doing anything rash.
Yes, we were in a bad position right now, but the robbers still didn’t want to kill anyone, and I was sure that went double for children. We just needed to get through this.
With all eyes in the bank focused on me, I slowly rose to my feet, hands raised peacefully. “Right, no games. From the start, all I’ve wanted is to finish this up as quickly as possible without bloodshed. We can still do that.”
John glared at me even more. While he couldn’t point his own gun at me, his men had me covered pretty well. “If so, then why did you send your girls into the back offices?”
I blinked. “Wait, how’d you know they were mine?”
Silver and gold… an obvious trap, and I strolled right into it. Laura wouldn’t have made that mistake. “Yes, of course. I just wanted them out of danger, that’s all.”
“They were doing something in one of the offices, John!” Greg called. “Dunno what.”
John pressed his gun harder against the boy’s temple, and my heart skipped a beat. “Funny thing about hostages. I’ve got spares. So you tell me what the hell is going on here, or I kill this brat and we start negotiating using his mother.”
I swallowed, not even bothering to try and hide my anxiety. “I’m doing my best to resolve this as peacefully as possible, for everyone’s sake, and you don’t want—”
I didn’t hear the gun go off.
I didn’t hear the hostages screaming.
I think John said something, some taunt of one-liner or something, but I didn’t hear it.
There was… a buzzing noise in my head, where my thoughts used to be. The sound of dead air, of a station that doesn’t know what to play.
The boy’s headless corpse was on the ground.
John was covered in blood that wasn’t his.
The floor had a bright red splash of crimson, and an ever-widening puddle of life fluid.
Some of it had splashed on me, as well.
John fired his shotgun into the ceiling again.
Sound returned to the world, and the hostages stopped screaming. Only one woman—the boy’s mother, I assumed—was still making any noise; just a quiet, pathetic sob.
“Benny, grab the woman,” John said curtly. “Now—”
“Akane,” I ordered. “Kill him.”
Then she was at my side, a bloody letter opener in hand.
The robber frowned. “How’d you—”
The deep slash across his throat killed his words almost as effectively as it killed him. He got out a few last gurgles as he collapsed to the ground on top of the boy he had just killed, but nothing meaningful.
It took a second for the rest of the robbers to react.
The one closest to us, the woman, Benny, swung her rifle around. “You bastard—”
I stepped inside her reach and swatted the weapon aside. It went off, of course, but it only fired a few useless rounds into the floor.
Before she had a chance to recover, I grabbed her face—digging my fingers into her eyes for grip—and slammed her skull into the hardwood floor before she even had a chance to scream.
I got more blood on me.
As I stood up, eyeing the remaining four bank robbers from a cold, tactical perspective, they finally got their wits about them and fired.
I raised a wide shield, fixed in place and leaking blue mist, and all their bullets bounced off harmlessly. They might have caused some trouble if they had decided to start firing at the tellers still sheltering behind the counter, but they were too shocked to do anything like that. They just stumbled back, staring at the azure fore field in front of them.
The shield fell with a snap, and then Akane was among them.
She didn’t move as fast as she had against the leader, but it was still plenty fast enough. The first died with a slashed throat. The second actually managed to block her first attack by parrying with his rifle, but she just stabbed him in the heart instead. Number three almost got a shot off, but she cut the tendons in his wrist and stabbed him in the neck when he tried to scream. The last one was too shocked to do anything but die.
All this happened in less than ten seconds.
As the last bank robber hit the ground with a wet thump, Akane returned to me, walking back at normal speed as she wiped the dull blade of the letter opener on her shirt. I finally noticed where Robyn had gotten to—she was in a corner, retching into a trash can.
“We’re not done yet!” a shaky voice called.
I turned to see Greg behind the counter, holding his large pistol to Laura’s head. While he was sweating visibly and shaking, the hand that held the gun was rock-steady. “Look, I just wanna leave, all right? So just—”
“Reverse decimation,” I said.
He blinked. “What’s—AGH!”
Akane had cut off his hand; it fell to the floor, still gripping the gun tightly.
“It is a Domina combat doctrine. The opposite of decimation,” I explained dispassionately. “Instead of killing ten percent, you kill ninety percent, and maim the remainder. The survivors serve as a warning.”
“A warning?” the man gasped. “What warning?”
“You do not harm children,” I said coldly. “Ever.” I turned to go. “I suspect you’ll be hearing of me again soon.”
I had some things I needed to talk to Butler about, regarding Domina’s relationship with the outside world.
Maybe the imperialistic bastards in the Granit party weren’t so far off the mark after all.
Once we got outside the bank—with Akane and Laura dragging a limp Robyn Joan behind us—we got a few odd stares from pedestrians, but nothing much worse.
Except when my coldly logical heart started to melt, and I was forced to feel again.
I leaned against a nearby wall with my eyes closed, breathing deeply.
I just needed… needed…
“Derek?” Laura whispered.
“What? I’m—Laura, find somewhere we can sit down, okay? Somewhere out of the way. I’ll take—let me help with Robyn.”
Laura and I switched places, with me under one of Robyn’s arms and Laura unburdened to find things. She didn’t take long; she quickly pulled us into a dirty alley out of sight of the street. We sat on the back porch of some building or whatever.
It was filthy. I couldn’t bring myself to care.
A child dead. If I had just fought from the beginning… or even when he grabbed the kid, if I had ordered Akane to strike then…
“They know we’re from Domina,” Laura muttered, mostly to herself. “You told them. Combined with the powers they witnessed, that might cause problems.”
“I have an exploit into their security system, so we should be able to erase their tapes, but we need to be quick. Once they copy them onto something physical, it will be impossible to keep this contained.” She cursed. “Silver and gold, and we still don’t have any money. We need to try MC again. The second—”
My phone rang. Five simple beeps.
Laura blinked. “Huh. Uh… you going to answer that?”
I did, though my hands were still shaking. “Hello?”
“Derek?” she nearly shrieked in my ear. “Thank GOD, I’ve been trying trying to reach you since yesterday morning!”
Now it was my turn to blink in surprise. “Wait, what? The satellites have been down that long?” I shook my head to clear it. “No, that’s not the point. Why have you been trying to call?”
“Well…” she said slowly. “That… is a long story.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 220)
Killing ninety percent of a group would technically be called nonomation, but no one would understand it, and it sounds weird anyway. It’s mostly not actually a word.