Heather Takahashi sighed and scrubbed a hand over her face. Her apartment looked as if a tornado had spun through and deposited papers and books open over every spare inch. She leaned back in her chair, an expensive leather high-backed piece more suited to a judge's chambers than a cluttered home/office.

At least the others made it out from the rail station, she thought to herself. They would've shown up in the ICOMP system had they been apprehended.

She curtly brushed a length of auburn hair away from her face and bent over her notes once more. Spread out across the desk were a collection of books on organized crime, history, and criminal psychology. Her hand-written notes were scrawled in the margins, and well-thumbed tabs had been inserted at various points of interest.

There was just so MUCH to learn about the Second Syndicate! The operation was very extensive, that was for sure, considering that the Syndicate itself had survived, Darwin-like, by devouring smaller organizations and absorbing them into itself over the years since ICOMP's founding.

Heather turned her attention to a corkboard by the side of her desk. Currently it was covered in a rough pyramid of note cards. Most of them had large black question marks and nothing else. A few had scraps of information—a name, a description, a personality. "Eventually." She whispered. "It just takes time. Be patient my love."

She reached out to stroke one finger down the pane of a framed photograph on the desk—a tall asian man standing with his arm around her shoulders. Both were smiling. Heather glanced at the clock and frowned. Almost one in the morning—it was time to go to work.


An hour later, Technicality stood perched on the cathedral's arched roof looking down at the city. St. Louis was not like any other metropolis she had ever known. There was a leaden cloud hanging above, ready to rain down something bad upon the streets below. A storm, ready to break.

She focused her attention on the menu options displayed on the interior of her helmet. The lasers tracking her eye movements registered which section she was looking at and the suit's computer highlighted the relevant function. She blinked twice to select it, and the world was suddenly shaded in the flat emerald green of nightvision. Technicality gripped the cathedral's railing in her armored gloves as she leaned forward, scanning the streets below. A car had pulled up, and several men were getting out—all wore ski masks, and two were carrying tire irons.

Ah ha. She smiled inside the helmet. The fun is about to begin.

She blink-clicked another function and the heavy rail gun on her shoulder mount retracted to its storage rack on the back of her battlesuit. There would be no need for any heavy weaponry against a bunch of smash-and-grab punks.

At that same moment, the sound of breaking glass echoed in the empty street. The thieves were raking through the broken glass to get at the jewels while another crawled inside. Technicality attached one end of her turbolariat to the cathedral's soaring buttress and descended down in a quick rappel that was far quieter than using her thrusters. The first warning that the criminals had of her presence was the whining of her servomotors as she tapped the most energetic (and hence, least watchful) robber on the shoulder. That worthy spun around, gaping, and received a steel-clad fist to the face for his trouble.

Heather was never much great shakes as a martial artist, but she knew some basic moves and the suit amplified her strength more than thirty-fold. Each punch that connected hit like a piledriver, and another thief was sent spinning to the ground with a simple backhand.

Technicality shook her head as she reached in and grabbed the third crook by the back of his hooded jacket. This operation couldn't be Syndicate-related, or at least, not on any significant level. These punks were simple errand boys, relying on speed to snatch whatever they could and escape before the police could arrive in response to the store's alarm. That meant that stopping this robbery, while noble, put her no closer to shutting down the Syndicate herself. Spinning my wheels, she contemplated, but at least some lucky girl will get a wedding ring rather than excuses this month.

The thief swore and struggled, but he was nearly helpless as the battlesuit lifted him into the air like a child and then slammed him face down on the pavement. He didn't struggle any further after that. Technicality's helmet tilted to the left as she looked at the last remaining criminal. He gulped, tossing his tire iron down on the ground and raised his hands in surrender.

This sends a message, Heather thought while trussing her prey up with zip-ties. Even if this particular incident is nothing more than a pit-stop, it lets the Syndicate know they aren't safe anymore. She glanced up as her radar pinged a pair of approaching police cars. And that's worthwhile.

Her thrusters fired, sending her suit up into the shadows of a nearby fire escape and from there deeper into the alleys of the city. The police would be busy wrapping up the ski-masked punks, but it paid not to take chances.

Technicality returned to the top of the cathedral and looked out at the nearby forest park. She rested her back against the cathedral's spire and took a deep breath, imagining her husband's voice chastising her for working too hard. In truth, she felt tired—her eyes were gummy and there was an annoying crick in her neck that always developed after a few hours on patrol. Over the tops of the trees she imagined the city lights beyond were those of the construction site where the ultramax prison was being built. Not a problem now, and not perhaps for several more months, but if Steel Claw was right....

Technicality grunted softly as she considered the issue. Maybe it was time to take a look at the existing prison structure and see how things might be changing. It wouldn't be too difficult for Heather Takahashi to offer representation to one of the independent vigilantes already in custody at the supermax facility in nearby Illinois, after all...and the position of a prisoner's counsel would give her almost unlimited access to the prison facility, interviews with the warden, and more. It could be a great source of information indeed.

She shifted on the rooftop, standing up with a muffled groan as her neck protested. It was time to head home and make some more notes, then flop into bed to snatch a few hours of sleep before her legal office opened for business. Maybe tomorrow night, she'd get in touch with the creepy hazard suit guy—Contained—and see what could be done about that suspicious truck stop. Exactly what connection a truck stop had to the kava root business that the Syndicate was wrapped up in continued to elude her, but it was definitely worth checking out. Maybe it would make a good first outing for the entire group, assuming she could get the others to sign on. There didn't appear to be any major threat at a truck stop ("aside from dirty bathrooms and rigged vending machines", she muttered to herself), but she'd been wrong before. Nodding to herself, the battlesuit-armored vigilante tossed herself from the ledge of the cathedral and ignited her thrusters, coasting towards the river and a few hours of troubled slumber.;

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