The glass shards crunched shattered beneath their feet as Scimitar and Trauma stepped in the damaged liquor store. Bullet holes marked the front wall with the violence that had just occurred, holes and cracks littering the cinderblock wall. The store counter, cash register, and the wall behind had several large chunks of material blasted away from the AK rifle that one of the robbers used.
Scimitar noticed the black sneakers protruding from behind the counter first. As he approached, the sneakers turned into feet and legs then a body. It was the cashier, likely the store owner, lying unmoving in a pool of red blood with multiple bullet holes torn through his chest. His bloody hand still clenched the old revolver that he tried to use to stop the robbery. Scimitar looked back at Trauma and nodded towards the body. She only shook her head comfirming what he knew, there was nothing she could do. He was already dead.
Smoke and dust hung heavily in the air, lit up by the emergency lights that clicked on when the police shut off the building power after Scimitar pointed out one of the robbers was Enhanced. It was standard procedure to turn the power off to prevent an electrical type Enhanced from damaging the unstable power grid. Portable spotlights, some mounted on the police cruisers, some brought in with SWAT, illuminated the store and blinded any criminals looking outside trying to take a shot at the police. Snipers and spotters were already stationed on the rooftops around the neighborhood looking for anyone foolish enough to give them a clear shot.
“They’re around the corner and in the back,” Trauma said pointing to the far side of the counter where a L junction continued to the store restrooms and storeroom. She memorized the building layout before shutting off her EComm, the high-tech armband that would mark them as JTF, and slipping on a Metro Kevlar vest. They did not need the vests – Enhanced skin at their category was tougher than any soft armor and the Harris fiber suits all JTF agents wore could stop even the powerful fifty caliber with minimal injury to the wearer. They needed the vests as a disguise to get in the building and end the hostage situation without anyone, especially the mundanes, from getting killed. Their top priority was taking out the Enhanced criminal.
As Scimitar turned to the corner, he stared directly into the muzzle of an AK-47.
“Who the fuck are you, homie?” the AK wielder asked as he pressed the rife against Scimitar’s temple. The robber with the handgun said something to the third robber, the Enhanced, before walking up with the pistol pointed at Scimitar.
The pistol quickly turned to a new target as Trauma turned the corner, her face showing surprise and her hands going up.
“And you brought a hottie too,” the man with the pistol mocked. “What are you two dumb bitches doing in here?”
Scimitar clenched his teeth as he watched the man point a gun at Trauma. He imagined his arms transforming into swords and slicing the criminal in two before stabbing the man with the AK in the heart, but the Enhanced criminal was too far away. He could not reach the hostages if the Enhanced attacked.
“We’re here to try to end this without anyone else dying,” Scimitar said hiding his anger. “No one else needs to go to the morgue tonight.”
“You,” the man with the pistol said waving his weapon at Trauma, “go sit over there with my boy, Clarence. We’re going to have a little talk with your friend here. And if he tries anything stupid, you’ll wish you were dead after we get done with you.”
As Trauma sat down next to the hostages, she shook her head. He had to play out this charade a little longer.
“Now, negotiator man,” the criminal with the pistol said as his accomplice kept the AK aimed at Scimitar’s head, “tell me how you are going to get us out of her without the cops following.”
* * *
“Your name is Clarence,” Trauma asked looking at the tall teenage Enhanced standing over her. She noticed none of his skin was exposed and since the initial shooting and he had put on gloves. She could not use her power to incapacitate him unless her hand could touch his bare skin. The only openings would be to stretch for his face or reach under his shirt. She feared a physical contest of strength against an unknown Enhanced. Her glanced at the other hostages sitting next to her, a woman with her teenage son and young daughter, all with dirty streaks of tears caked on their faces.
The Enhanced teenager looked down and shook his head. “Only T does. Everyone else calls me by my street name, Strobe.”
“Is that your power? You can create light?” Trauma asked softly. The other two criminals were busy making demands to Scimitar and she wanted to talk to Strobe without interruption.
Strobe’s eyes opened wide when she mentioned his power. “How did you…?”
Trauma smiled as Strobes body pulsed with fear hormones to keep him from alerting his accomplices. “We saw the video before we came inside, Strobe. The shooting…”
Strobe looked away when Trauma mentioned the shooting. He was ashamed, Trauma noticed using her power.
“You didn’t know that would happen, did you?” she asked.
“No,” Strobe admitted. “Things are hard out there, you know, and mom can’t find work and the money is running out. T was coming home with stacks and I had to do something to help. He said for me to come along and make sure the owner didn’t do anything stupid. T knew he had a gat behind the counter and I was supposed to keep him from getting to it.”
“But you didn’t stop him. He got the gun and started shooting.”
“Yes. When he started shooting at T, I freaked and I couldn’t control it anymore. I guess I blinded him or something because he was shooting at the ceiling by the time Deuce shot him with the AK. They didn’t need to do that. The guy couldn’t do nothing after I blasted him.”
“They don’t know that you hesitated, do they?” Trauma guessed. T and Deuce showed no signs of concern when they looked at Strobe. They stressed when Scimitar mentioned the police.
“No. And since you saw my power, does that mean the JTF is coming?” Strobe emitted a strong burst of fear when he mentioned her department.
“Maybe. But it depends on what happens here, Strobe. I saw what happened and I can help you, but not if more body bags are pulled from the building.”
“It won’t matter because my brother doesn’t care. He’s said that he’ll kill any JTF that tries to send him to Leavenworth.”
Trauma looked over at Scimitar before staring at Strobe. “What do you mean? Why would the JTF want your brother?”
“In the projects, if you are Enhanced, you can take what you want from anyone. My brother was robbing people left and right and no one could do shit about it. He’s a mind reader and knows when people are bullshitting him. He can sniff out a conman a mile away.”
“Who’s your brother, Strobe?”
Strobe nodded down the hallway. “T is.”
Trauma jumped up as Strobe rocked back in surprise. The hostages screamed.
“Scimitar, he’s a mentalist!”