Thankless Task

Posted: 19th December 2010 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Single-run ("One off") Stories
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In the darkness of the alley, two masked men crouched, shrouded by shadows, waiting for the lights and sirens to pass far enough into the distance for them to stand again, and venture out into the night.

More into the open, though still moving with as much stealth as they could and still be alert to potential threats and potential work.

“I don’t think those cops were looking for us, anyway,” Streetwise said.

“They hardly ever are, but we just never know, so it’s always duck-and-cover when they come,” Ballistic answered.

“Wonder how long we’ll keep having this conversation?” Streetwise ventured, and not for the first time in recent weeks.

“As long as we keep living in Philly,” Ballistic noted. “Probably the strictest anti-transhuman-vigilantism laws anywhere here in this city. Pretty harsh in the rest of the state, too. We’d be better off moving to Marksburgh, you know. Or better, move to Erie to live, and commute into Marksburgh for the hero stuff.”

“Yeah, except the only reason the laws don’t get enforced there is because that area is so fucking crime-ridden and dangerous that the cops hardly do anything there except collect bribes or try to stay alive. The governor would shut that whole area down if he could, but there’s too much tax revenue flowing out of there.”

“Well, all the more reason we should move there,” Ballistic said. “We could do some real good.”

“You got a day job lined up?” Streetwise asked snarkily. “Do you know what unemployment is like up there?”

“But we could end up doing work that means something to the people there.”

“And end up real dead,” Streetwise pointed out. “Only the most hardcore and crazy heroes and vigilantes work that gig.”

“Fine, New York City, then. They have vigilante laws, too, but a whole lot less strict and loosely enforced because the cops know they need the help.”

“Yeah, just what I want to do: Deal with New York pricks on a daily basis,” Streetwise groaned. “Shit, I’ll bet even the folks in the Bronx have got an uptight attitude and hoity-toity vibe going compared to real folks like us. I’d probably punch out the civs as much as the crooks.”

“Philadelphia may be more ‘real’ in terms of the people, Street, but it’s no good for us anymore. Darkgirl got nabbed by the police for violation of vig laws end of last week.”

“I know, shithead; I was dating her. Remember?”

“Screwing her a couple times a week isn’t dating, Street,” Ballistic said. “I don’t think you ever bought her a single gift, meal or anything else. Point is we’ve been getting picked off. It fucking sucks. The police are rounding up more heroes than villains. I don’t know if it’s just because they know we’re less likely to hurt them and they can keep their numbers up for arrests and the DA can keep up his conviction numbers, or if they’re afraid we’ll cost them jobs if we’re allowed to work the streets freely.”

“Whatever. Let’s just find some action. I thought I saw some movement in that strip mall over there. Maybe a break-in. Might not be a trans villain, but I’ll take a street tough if we have to,” Streetwise said.

“Why not New Judah?” Ballistic asked. “Now there’s a city that appreciates its heroes. Or at least enough not to make their work illegal.”

“Because this is my city. Because this is where we were born. Because this is where American government started. Because it’s Philly,” Streetwise said. “You want to run out on your city, you go right ahead.”

They approached the stores, and Ballistic noted a door that was ajar. “OK, Street. How do you want to play this?”

“You’re the Brute, so you take the front door. Just give me a minute or two to get moving around the back,” Streetwise answered.

“Cool,” Ballistic said.

The night was quiet, and only the buzz of old, overworked streetlights and illuminated store signs gave any evidence that there was life around these shops. That, Ballistic realized, and the tiny ghost of movement inside the store.

Really quiet if it is a break-in, he thought. So I’ll be just as quiet.

A slow approach not only increased his chances of surprise but meant he’d be in position to go in about the same time Streetwise was in position to enter from the rear. As a Cyber, he had a knack with electronics, so he wouldn’t trip any alarms back there, and his TK powers were sufficient to open locks.

Ballistic gave it just a few more moments, knowing that Streetwise wouldn’t move until he did, and then he burst in.

His entrance was rewarded by the sudden assault of several flashlight beams blinding him, then the room lights inside being thrown on in concert with a symphony of “Freeze! Police. Grab floor now!”

Ballistic swore and then dropped onto his belly, putting his hands behind his back, interested neither in getting shot nor hurting cops.

I hope they didn’t get Streetwise, at least.

* * *

“Think you’re pretty smart, don’t you,” the police officer said to Streetwise.

“Not really.”

“Well, we’re the ones who did the real work, but you’re good as a trained dog to flush ‘em out for us. Now if only we could teach you to retrieve. Then maybe I could take ya on a duck hunt or something.”

Streetwise frowned, and swallowed the insult. “I don’t have any more friends to give up to you. Are we done?”

“Friends,” the officer scoffed. “If you’re their friend, I’d hate to see their enemies. I may not like the lot of y’all, but I hate traitors more. Guess it goes to show what kinda cloth transhumans are cut from, huh?”

“Yeah, sure,” Streetwise said. “We done?”

“Yeah, we’re done. You can walk. But next time I see you, I arrest your ass just like your friends. And won’t it be fun when you see ‘em in prison and they start to put together that you were with ‘em every time they got caught, but always got away.”

Streetwise said nothing as the police cruisers turned off the colorful, spinning cacophony of the rollers atop their roofs, and drove away. He peeked out from the corner, seeing a glimpse of Ballistic in the back of one of them, and felt that sick twist in his stomach. It didn’t get any better no matter how often he had done this. Ten times now? A dozen, maybe?

He looked out into the night, wondering if he should chance trying to find any criminal activity tonight to thwart, knowing the police had a general fix on his location, and decided to trudge home instead, sticking to the shadows.

No one ever thanks the Judas for his work, Streetwise thought miserably, any more than this city thanks the heroes who’ve been bruised, broken or killed protecting it.

He thought back to Ballistic’s words, and considered them. New York didn’t feel right, and New Judah was a place he’d just be part of the crowd. Besides, Janus was setting up shop near there, and that made things a bit too dicey. The D.C. area didn’t have any anti-vig laws targeting transhumans yet, but that was largely because of the dearth of activity there. Might be a good place to blend in and just work the hero thing lightly. Or maybe Detroit, he considered, where there was some action but not as much heat from the police. Or Milwaukee. But leaving the East for the Midwest? It didn’t sit well.

Plenty of time to consider his options, Streetwise realized bitterly.

It wasn’t as if he had any friends to distract him from his thoughts anymore.