"Are you high?"
Those were the first words out of my mouth following a very long silence after Lisa had explained to me what the Undersiders were planning. She'd met me in Las Noches while I was eating, correctly assuming I'd be there, and asked me for help on a big job. A bank robbery. They just barely escaped being killed by Lung because of they'd come to get us and now they were planning a bank robbery. I understood Coil wanted them to gain some notoriety, but there was a line. The least they could do was wait a week. At least she wasn't asking the day before.
"Taylor—." Lisa started. I cut her off, not wanting to give her the chance to try to convince me on this.
"No, seriously, did you hit your head? Do you have brain damage? Are you well? To seriously be considering this so soon after getting torched by Lung is just crazy."
She scrunched up her face. I could tell I pissed her off, but she sighed and shook her head.
"I know it's risky, but it's a lot of money. We're getting matched what we lift from the bank. You getting ten percent of that would be a lot of money. All you have to do is get us out of there."
"Why don't you just open a Descorrer and leave that way? Block out the camera's, open a portal, you're back here in no time, no fuss, no mess." I offered like it was the most obvious answer.
"One is because Circus is gonna be with us." Right. Couldn't have Circus knowing about that if they were employed by Coil. I'd probably threaten them to keep it from Coil since I didn't want him thinking he had me in his pocket or anything. "Two is because we're not there to be efficient. We're a distraction. Coil specifically picked a day when all the Protectorate heroes would be gone and we'd only have to deal with the Wards. I don't know what he's doing, but he wants us to make a big enough fuss to get them on our case instead of his. Why else would we be robbing the biggest bank in the city in the middle of the day?"
"That's…" I stopped to think it over, tilting my head to the side. That made more sense. "You don't know what he's after?"
"No. He stole some tinkertech from the E-Eighty-Eight last week. Apparently Gesellschaft got a Tinker and sent Kaiser some tech. Coil heard about it and took it. It's probably why the Empire is planning to speed up their push into the Docks. Other than another shipment of that stuff, I don't see what he'd be after or why he'd send us on such a high risk job just for some tinkertech. He's already buying from Toybox. Unless the Gesellschaft stuff was just that good."
I hummed while I thought that over. Sending them to rob Brockton Central in the middle of the day meant whatever he was doing was high profile. Doing so when all the adult heroes were gone meant he really wanted this to succeed. I took a bite of my sandwich partly to stall for more time to think. I didn't know enough about Coil to know what he could be after. He was paranoid by nature and overly cautious. Unless he was making a major move for territory or was dealing with someone particularly shady, I couldn't think of what he was after.
"You should know better than anyone money isn't that big a motivator for me."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but you still need it right?"
"We do." I sighed. The extra money from jobs would be a big help if I could pretend it was a gift or something.
"So just take it. Help us out and you're making an easy three or four kay at least off of what, ten, maybe fifteen minutes of work? If that. It'll be easy for you. And you won't have to worry about me spending too much on you the next time we go shopping."
I groaned at that, but she only smiled.
"And what would my part in the plan be?" I asked. She smirked, knowing I was at least a little interested.
"Just the getaway. I'm not expecting more than a four or five of the Wards to show up since they should be in school around that time."
"If they show up, and you never come out, how long do you think they'll wait before storming in?"
Her face split into a smile as she tried to stifle laughter. It didn't work and she folded into the table.
"That's such a devious idea!" She laughed. "It might even work if it all goes according to plan."
"Yup." I nodded, a slight smile on my face. "I'll be in the area, not like I have anything better to do. So call me if things head south. I'll get to you as soon as I can."
"Thanks." She smiled. "I'll even take you out for food after we get everything settled."
"That sounds dangerous." Madison said as we sat on the roof of the school. I'd gone to talk to her after classes had ended. She was smoking, but I didn't feel in the mood to. She was kicking her legs idly over the edge while I was laying back.
"I mean, not for us." I said.
"What if someone sees you?"
"Grue's powers make that impossible. And I won't be going with them immediately. I send them over, walk around for a bit, then go in and get them to wherever they need to go. As long as I avoid places with cameras, I'm good."
"What about Theo?"
Ah. I'd forgotten about Theo. He wasn't always available with his family situation, but it was still good to keep him in the loop.
"I'll call him, see what he says."
"And what do you need me to do again?" She asked, still confused.
"I just need you to keep an eye on Downtown. While the heist is running. See if you find any guys that look like mercenaries with tinkertech. Maybe a few dark SUV's. I don't know how Coil operates, but it seems his style if he's acting like a Bond villain."
"So I'm not helping with the robbery?" Her voice was low like she was disappointed.
"Did you want to?" I asked incredulously.
"… Little bit."
I sighed and shook my head. "It's their heist. I'm just making sure they get out of it alright. But I'd like to have you there to scope things out. You're… the only one I can rely on for this." And as much as I disliked the thought, it was true. Lisa was too tangled in Coils strings for me to rely on too often when it came to him. Theo was in a bad spot with so many of the people around him being Capes, and I was already supposed to be helping them escape. A set of eyes in the sky I was certain about would help.
And that was the other thing. I still didn't trust her, I wasn't sure when or if I ever would, but at this point I was sure I could rely on her to do what I needed of her.
"R-really?" She asked lowly. "You… You feel you can rely on me?"
I couldn't pinpoint what the emotion was in her voice, but there was a lot of it. It made my eye twitch that she was so emotional over something like this.
"Yes." I managed after a few seconds, the admission tasting sour. "It's… Early. But like you said, I'm trusting you to not fuck this all up."
Then her weight, which was admittedly very little, was pressed on top of me.
"What the hell?!" I shouted, grabbing at her shoulders. "Get off of me! Off! No touching!" I shimmied away, pushing her off of me.
"Sorry. It's just… I'm so happy." She smiled, bright and toothy. It was like she'd just been told she won a lifetime supply of makeup or something.
I gave her a harsh stare, but she didn't react to it.
"If you burned my hair with your smoke we're gonna have problems." I said, brushing a hand through my hair to clear out any of the gravel from the roof.
"Sorry. I didn't realize you were sensitive about it." She looked away, but still had that smile on her face.
I didn't say anything, still brushing my hands through my hair.
"Well I am." I said eventually, laying back down.
Neither of us spoke until she finished her cigarette and tossed it off the roof. She fell back to look at the clouds.
"Did you think about what I asked?"
"Dinner at my place. I asked Friday."
"Oh…" I realized, having completely forgotten about that. "I… It kinda slipped my mind after Monday. Hell, I'd forgotten when I thought you'd told Sophia about me testing out. Uh… How about Thursday night? I'll ask my dad what he thinks."
Really I had to make sure he knew not to start drinking as soon as he got home.
"Yeah, that sounds good. I'll see what mom says. You might not meet my dad. He tends to work late."
"Yeah, so does mine." I sighed, sitting up. "Speaking of, I should probably get home. I need to start cooking." I stretched, my back popping in several places making Madison flinch.
"I still hate that sound." She sighed. "I didn't know you cooked."
"I kinda have to. No real choice since dad works so much. He's not… the best at it, either. So I cook most of our meals."
"Huh… Right." She nodded. I rolled my eyes, knowing she'd forgotten my mom was dead. It was kind of hard to see how she could considering how often Emma liked to use that against me. "Is there anything in particular you want?"
I cocked my head to the side in thought. "Your mom know how to make chicken parm?" I asked.
"I'll ask her." She said, then started giggling.
"I just thought about something funny. It feels like we're really doing the spy movie stuff. Robbing banks by day, home for dinner by evening. The perfect cover."
I rolled my eyes, but it got a small laugh out of me. "Okay, miss big bad bank robber."
"Stick em up!" She pointed a finger gun at me.
"You'll just have to kill me." I drawled.
We stared each other down before she broke into laughter and my smile widened slightly.
"See you tomorrow at lunch?" She asked.
"Yeah." I nodded before taking off for home.
I ended up calling Theo while I was in the middle of cooking. It wasn't anything I had to keep a constant eye on, so I decided to get that call out of the way.
"Hey, Taylor." Theo answered.
"Hey. You got time to talk?" I asked dully. Surprisingly I didn't feel anxious about asking what he'd think of all this.
"A bit. Is it important?"
"Yeah. You know what kind."
I head him fumble with his phone for a bit before he answered again.
"Okay, I got a few minutes."
"The Undersiders asked for our help with a job."
"What kind of job?" He asked casually. I expected him to be a bit wary after the thing with Lung, but I was apparently wrong in that thinking.
"Bank robbery." I said, just as casually.
If silence could be loud, this sounded like the equivalent of the Endbringer siren.
"Excuse me, what the fuck?" He asked. "They're doing something that big after getting torched by Lung just yesterday?"
"Yeah, that summed up my thoughts too."
"What did you say?"
"Lisa convinced me to help out on the escape side of things. A decent amount of money for very little work."
"That's…" he stopped, frustration clear in his voice. "I thought they only did petty jobs. Stole from the gangs."
"They have a boss who picks their targets. Coil. He's using them as a distraction for something. I'm gonna have Madison watching ground to see if anything shady happens while I help the Undersiders. I wanted to keep you in the loop on what's going on."
"I don't like this at all. I wanted to avoid hurting regular people as much as possible."
"Then you should have voted hero. This is walking the line, Theo. I won't fault you if you don't want to participate. I'm iffy about it too. But if we're gonna be anti-heroes or whatever, we have to be willing to break laws. The Undersiders aren't any happier about this than you are. Hopefully if everything goes to plan the worst thing that happens is a few people leave with some trauma."
He growled, but I could basically see him nodding.
"Fine. It sucks, but you're right. We'll hit some safe houses Friday night. A heroic deed for a villainous one."
"Alright. I'll call you if there are any updates."
"Thanks for keeping me in the know instead of dropping it on me later. I gotta go, later."
Dad got home a little after six. I had finished cooking half an hour before and was just waiting for him.
"Hey dad." I said as he walked into the kitchen.
"Hey." He mumbled, heading towards the fridge.
"Hold on." I said, stopping him. He looked at me like he was too tired for whatever I wanted to say and I didn't let the hurt show on my face. "A girl from school invited us for dinner Thursday."
He gave something between a groan and a sigh and pushed his glasses up to rub his eyes.
"What time?" He groaned.
"I'll ask her, but probably around six."
"Do I have to go?" He looked at me with tired red eyes and I looked away from him, unable to hold his gaze for more than a few seconds.
"No…" I got out eventually. "You don't have to come." I moved away from the fridge.
He nodded, reaching in and grabbing a beer. "Are you still going to cook tomorrow?" He popped open the can and I flinched at the sound.
I shook my head, eyes still on the ground.
"Do you know when you'll be back?"
"Okay. I'll grab something on the way home."
"Okay." I said, moving to set the table.
Dinner was more silent than usual. I didn't have much to talk about and didn't feel up to talking much after that. Dad didn't try to talk either, more focused on his food than anything. I left him to wash the dishes and went to my room as soon as I was done.
It was a bit past eleven when Lisa called me. I almost didn't answer the phone, but I had an idea she'd keep calling until I did.
"Hello?" I asked lowly.
"You're not—, are you okay?" She asked, her voice very concerned.
"I… don't really want to talk about it right now. What's up?"
"You told me you'd talk to me about this stuff." She said.
I sighed. I had said that. "Fine. But what's your thing first?"
"Brian wants to test your powers. Meet at the Boat Graveyard immediately. I'll walk with you home after so we can talk."
I was quiet for a few seconds before sighing again. "Alright. Be there in a sec."
I dragged myself off my bed and grabbed a hoodie off my desk. Luckily it wasn't the white one Lisa had bought me. It was probably too bright for what we were about to do anyway. I opened a Garganta and walked through. It was convenient that I could just sort of pick a place I knew and open a portal there. Sonido was usually faster inside the city, but if you were going from one enclosed space, like my room, to another, like the Boat Graveyard, it was useful to just get there without stopping.
I stepped out into the cold night air just as Lisa showed up. She had Brian in a bridal carry when she stopped and he was not looking okay.
"I thought I'd beat you." She pouted as she gently put Brian back on the ground. It took him a few seconds to get his bearings, but at least he didn't puke.
"Portal." I said simply.
She stared at me incredulously for a few seconds before sighing.
"Of course it works that way. That's cheating, you know?"
I shrugged. "Sonido is usually faster. You just left later than me."
"You're still a cheater." She said with a smile.
"I think I can live with that." I grinned back.
"Okay." Brian said a bit loudly. "I'm okay. Never do that again. Please."
"Well we wouldn't have had to if I knew I could just open a portal here. We'll take one back."
"Thank you." Brian sighed then turned to me. "Now, powers. How do they work?"
"That seems like a question for scientists." I shrug.
"Lisa snorted and Brian shook his head.
"You know what I mean."
"Just gotta touch you and poof, you're gone. The other side looks the same but you can't interact with anything. And there's no ambient sounds. It's actually kinda creepy now that I think about it."
"It doesn't do any damage or anything, right?"
"Nope." I shook my head and put my hands out. "Here, take my hand I'll show you the other side."
Lisa grabbed my left hand with no hesitation while Brian took a few seconds to grab my right. And then I let go.
Lisa looked around in amazement while Brian didn't seem to notice the difference at first.
"We didn't go anywhere." He said.
"Brian, listen." Lisa sighed.
"Yeah, it's quiet." He shrugged.
"Exactly!" she snapped her fingers and pointed at him. "It's quiet." She said like that explained it all.
"I don't see how… Wait. I can't hear the ocean." He realized.
"Yeah. No sounds at all except the ones we make." I nodded. "Follow me." I started back towards the entrance and they followed, Lisa's face still bright from what I guessed was the new experience. When we got back out towards the street Brian's eyes widened.
"There's really nothing here." He said quietly.
"Nope. Not a thing. Check this." I walked over to a wall and my hand went right through it.
"This really is the ultimate stranger power. No time limit or anything? You can just come here?"
"Yup." I nodded.
"And there's no time. We can stay here as long as we need to. We could walk across the ocean if we wanted." Lisa explained.
"I've never tried to walk on the water here. Time in the real world still moves, we just aren't affected by it here. We could sit here all night and this world wouldn't change. It's just a snap shot of everything that was happening when we entered." I explained.
"Yeah, you're definitely worth ten percent." Brian laughed.
"Now we just need to see if your smoke lingers when you switch." Lisa said.
We walked back to the Boat Graveyard and I took us back to reality.
"Alright, Brian, make some smoke and Taylor will send you off to the…" She looked at me.
"I've just been calling it the Isolation World." I shrug.
"You should come up with a better name. In our theme, of course." She said. "Anyway, Taylor will send you to the Isolation World and we'll see if your smoke lingers and plan from there."
Brian nodded and black smoke billowed from him, flooding the area around us. I tapped him and he and his smoke disappeared.
"Well that didn't work." I said blandly.
"It's about what I was expecting." Lisa nodded. "His power works like a generator. If he's not there to power it than the smoke just dissipates."
"Did you know that or are you just now sure?"
"I had an idea before, but confirmation is always better. Anyway, let's go to him so we can talk about the rest of the plan. We'll walk back to the loft while we talk." She put her hand out. I slapped it and we were in front of Brian again.
"Did it work?" He asked.
"No, but that's fine. It's just a modification of our usual tactic." Lisa told him.
"Got it. I'll make sure to go last." He nodded.
"Great. Now, Taylor, you're trying to build up some hero cred right now, right?"
"Fight us." She said simply.
I gave her a look and she frowned, her eye twitching.
"No, I didn't hit my head." She growled.
"Just making sure." I put my hands up in surrender. "So you want me to show up and fight against you guys?"
"Yup. You show up maybe a few minutes after whatever Wards do, fight us, then we'll take off, you follow us and tag us to send us here. It looks like we just got away. You get hero cred and some cash. Easy win for both of us."
"I guess it's easier than just waiting around for a call or something."
"Exactly. You should sit somewhere with a view of the bank so when the Wards show up you can just pop up a little bit later."
"Sounds like a plan. I'll make sure to hold back. I won't hit you too hard."
"Don't hit hard at all!" Lisa shouted.
"Long as you don't send me flying down the street or whatever, I can take it." Brian said. He opened his mouth to speak again but Lisa cut him off.
"Yes, we can do that. It would be like the force of a car packed into a fist. It wouldn't end well."
"Figured." He sighed. "Hey, can you take me to my apartment?"
"Sure." I opened a Garganta and we stepped through. The walk only took a few seconds, but Brian seemed really uncomfortable in there. He sighed in relief when we came out the other end.
"That place is creepy. Thanks for the lift. Can you send me back to… Reality I guess?"
I took a second to make sure no one was around and nodded.
"See you tomorrow." I said.
"Bye, Brian." Lisa waved as I tapped him.
It was silent for a few seconds before she turned to me, her eyes doing their best to bore holes in me. Then she stepped forward and wrapped me in a hug. I tensed up but didn't stop her. She didn't let go until I relaxed.
"Want to talk about it?" She asked as we started towards my house. Her voice had the same somberness it did when talking to a widow. That bothered me. I knew she picked up enough info off me from that staring contest, but I didn't like that she sounded like she was talking to some kicked puppy.
"Not really." I said, pulling a pack a cigarettes from my jacket. I lit it with my thumb and put the box away.
"But…" She said as I blew out a puff of smoke.
"But I said I'd talk to you about it, so I will." I sighed.
"So what happened?"
"Madison told her mom about what she did." I started, looking up at the sky. The stars didn't move here, but they were still nice to look at. "She invited us over for dinner. I'd forgotten about it until today when I was talking to her. I told my dad and he just…" I grit my teeth, being conscious not to crush my smoke. "He just brushed it off. 'Do I have to go?' he asked like it was some big burden. It's like all he can be bothered to do these days is drink and work. I have no idea what's wrong with him because he's either never home to talk or to drunk to have an actual conversation with. The times where he's not either of those things are so few and far between it's ridiculous." I took a long drag of my cigarette and breathed out slowly to calm down. Ranting would be bad, much as I wanted to. "I just want him to talk to me, you know? Things were tense after mom died, but after what happened in January it's like he's just lost whatever will to live he had left."
"Your Not-Quite-a-Trigger Event?" She asked quietly.
"I guess." I shrugged. "It really fucked me up, but…I don't know. I've king of worked through a lot of my problems since then. There are somethings that just aren't that easy, but I think I'm in a better place over all than I was before."
"And if you didn't get powers?" She asked.
I laughed bitterly. "I'd either be dead or in jail if not by now then soon enough. They like pushing buttons. They pushed a real sensitive one on Friday and I almost snapped. Everyone has a breaking point, and I'm far past mine, I just have more self control than that now. If I had to keep going without powers…" I shrugged again. "It's not like it's hard to get guns in a city like the Bay."
Lisa shivered and I knew it wasn't from the cold.
"I can't say I wouldn't have similar thoughts in that situation." She finally said. "But that's not what we're talking about. Why do you think he's gotten like this?"
"I have some ideas, but I'm not sure. The only time he's ever drank like this was the few weeks after mom died. Like, maybe three before he got it together. Now… It's been months and he's just so lost in his own head. The Dockworkers are even getting more work than usual so we get a bit more income than usual, but nothings gotten through to him."
"Well, I have some ideas about what it could be, most likely he's in grief over what happened, but I'd have to talk to him to get a better idea."
"Grief. Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised at that." I said, flicking my cigarette butt of into the distance. I sighed, running my hand through my hair. "I'll talk to him at some point. For now, we've got stuff to do. I… Can live with it for a while longer."
Lisa pulled me into another hug. I didn't tense, but I didn't return the hug either. It was nice, though, to have that feeling again.
"If you ever need me, you have my number. I'll send you the address of my apartment. If you need a place to stay for any reason, you can stay there. I only spend a few nights a week there, so you can have it for long term stays if you don't want to have to deal with Alec and Rachel."
I smiled slightly. "I'll keep that in mind."
"Good. Now, let's get back."
She came with me home before taking off. I slept a little easier.