Scattercat - In Spite of Himself You don't think I'll do it?" The gun barrel trembled, inches away from old Clive's snow-white hair. Trent's own hands shook as he met Clive's terrified gaze, tears trembling in his faded blue eyes. The young guard lowered his gun, head hanging in shame. "That's it. Put it on the floor. Slowly!" The skinny man with the botched buzz-cut gestured sharply with his free hand, also holding a pistol, while he kept his other gun trained on Clive. Trent set his service weapon on the floor, resentment and fear warring on his face. "Kick it over here." Trent complied. "Okay, I want all the cash in the drawers. Put it in the paper bags. You!" he pointed a gun at a blonde in a blue miniskirt. "Come get the bags and fill them! Now!" he screamed as she hesitated. "Do it now or I'll kill you! See if I don't!" The woman whimpered as she darted forward and snatched up the pair of shopping bags. She cringed from the skinny man, who seemed to take great delight in her fear. "That's right!" he crowed. "You'd better do what I say. I've got the power! I've got-" His words cut off abruptly as the floor opened up beneath him. A gaping hole appeared, the tiles and cement collapsing with a rumble, forming a ramp and a tunnel and kicking up a cloud of dust; the robber disappeared into the darkness. There was a brief sound of voices and a thud. A figure strode up into the light, clad in a brightly-colored suit with a long, flowing cape. A mask and hood concealed his features, and he dragged the would-be robber behind him, limp and unconscious. "I am Alkahest!" he cried out, dropping the robber's collar and allowing the beaten criminal to slump to the floor. "And I am here to-" "A superhero!" cried a small child. "We're saved!" came another anonymous voice from the crowd. "What?" said Alkahest. "Hold on, I want-" "Is it Captain Courage?" "No, I think it's the Muskrat's new costume..." "Now look here!" Alkahest shouted testily. He reached into a satchel he had slung at his side. "I have a powerful explosive which I have perfected in my laboratory, and-" "Oh, thank you, sir!" cried Clive, lurching unsteadily to his feet and grasping Alkahest's gloved hand, pumping it energetically. "If it weren't for you, the bank would have been robbed and people might have been hurt!" "He did collapse the floor," Trent put in dubiously, retrieving his gun. "Small price to pay for the safety of our customers," Clive asserted firmly. He turned to Alkahest and whispered conspiratorially, "He's young. Don't you worry, sir, I'll teach him proper respect for superheroes." Alkahest's lips curled down sourly. "I'm sure you will," he said. "Excuse me, please." He turned and, with a dramatic flourish of his red-trimmed black cloak, stalked outside. That had not gone terribly well for a first attempt. At least he didn't have a reputation to besmirch yet; he could always change his costume and try again. Maybe something subtler next time; just sneak in and steal the cash, maybe leave an understated calling card instead of the flash and excitement of an active robbery. It would be a shame to waste the day, though; the zeppelin was still hovering over the city, ready to be called down in a moment's notice, and his satchel was still full of all his weapons and gadgets. Perhaps something more attention-grabbing than a simple robbery. A hostage? Alkahest consulted his wrist-mounted computer; a senator was giving a speech on the other side of the city. A perfect opportunity! Alkahest activated his hoverboots and, defying gravity, leapt lightly into the air. Mere minutes later, he descended onto the stage, gratified to hear the gasps and camera flashes from the press below. He'd taken the time to prepare his Omega Rifle while in-flight; it was a particularly impressive piece of equipment, very menacing. He was rather proud of it. "I am Alkahest!" he cried, leveling his weapon at the senator, who blubbered and held up his hands. "Now, scum, you will-" "I admit it!" cried the senator. "Please, I can't hold the guilt in any longer! I've stolen millions from the funds that were meant to feed the homeless, and I feel awful about it! I don't want to go to prison!" He gazed at Alkahest pleadingly and misinterpreted his beetling brows and grinding teeth. "Look, I'll sell my house and give the money back; if I can take from the homeless, then I deserve to be homeless myself!" The crowd gasped at this revelation. "Senator Durvin!" cried a reporter. "Was there anyone else involved in your crimes?" "Yes! I promise I will fully cooperate with any investigators. I'm turning myself in immediately. Someone, please, call a police officer who can take me into custody!" Senator Durvin cast a fearful glance at Alkahest. "Mister Alkahest!" shouted another reporter. "It's been some time since a new hero has made such an impressive public appearance. Are you affiliated with the Champions of Order? Can you tell us how you found out about Senator Durvin's crimes?" "No comment," growled Alkahest. He punched a code into his computer and took off without another word, the cameras continuing to flash below him. This day was getting worse and worse; he'd have to come up with a new name, too, now that the media had gotten ahold of it. He touched down a few blocks away, his boots nearly drained of energy; they'd been meant for short-burst flight only, an emergency escape route if the zeppelin was too slow. He called up a holographic map of the city and considered where he could at least try and salvage something of the day. His exo-armor was still fully charged; he'd have a lot of physical oomph in a good old-fashioned fight. Run faster than a car, punch through walls, that sort of thing. Were there any heroes active in the city today? Someone small-time, preferably; best to try and keep things under control for his first foray into meta-crime. The computer beeped and displayed three possible matches. Perfect! Sideswipe, some low-end speedster who liked to headbutt things, was involved in a mess over on Brewster, just four blocks away. He'd be easy enough to subdue; speedsters were nothing once you'd immobilized them with nets or glue, of which Alkahest had more than enough. Chemicals were, after all, his specialty. He activated his armor and sped away, moving so fast he was just a red-and-black blur. Over on Brewster, the street was a mess. Several streetlamps were dented, bent over at dangerous angles, and a broken hydrant sprayed water into the air. Alkahest spotted a burly man wearing a thick, cylindrical helmet and iron-shod boots. He was leaning against a brick wall, struggling for breath and obviously exhausted. Alkahest didn't see the villain he must have been fighting, but he knew an opportunity when he spotted one. He reached over and grasped a nearby car, servos humming as his armor increased his strength a hundredfold. The metal crumpled in his gauntleted hands as he heaved the vehicle overhead and hurled it at the panting metahuman. The man had just enough time to grunt in surprise before two tons of metal slammed into him, knocking him backwards into the wall, which tumbled down on top of him, burying him beneath the rubble. "Ha! Witness the power of Alkahest!" cried Alkahest, pumping a fist in the air. That ought to score him some infamy! "Hey," said a shaky voice behind him. "Thanks for the assist..." A slim man in a blue-and-silver bodysuit shoved aside a pile of garbage cans and tottered upright. His chest bore a stylized "S" and his head was encased in a futuristic-looking helmet, complete with goggles and sleek fins, which also adorned the bracers on his arms. "That guy was totally stealing my schtick," the slim man went on. "'Hammerhead', pah! Sideswipe is the only ramming-based super in this town!" "Hammerhead?" Alkahest stammered weakly. "Sideswipe?" He glanced back at the pile of rubble. A single brick fell from overhead with a sad clink-clink-clink. "That's me!" the blue-suited man stuck out a hand. "Sideswipe, super speedster. And you're Alkahest, right?" He shook Alkahest's unresisting gauntlet. "Hey, I heard you foiled a bank robbery barely an hour ago. You're just a busy beaver, aren't you? Ha! Leave some for the rest of us, okay?" And with that, he adjusted his helmet, turned, and took off, leaving a cloud of dust and a small sonic boom in his wake. Alkahest stood for a moment, staring at his hand. He clenched it into a fist and stormed off down the street. Around the corner, he spotted a woman in an expensive-looking coat emerging from a department store. Angered beyond reason, he reached out and snatched away her bulging purse, snapping the strands and knocking her down. Her hat fell off, as did her long brown wig. A moment later, a security guard burst out of the door. "Where did she- Aha!" he sprang over. "You've been caught, you dirty thief!" he berated the fallen woman. He turned to Alkahest. "This one's been using different disguises to sneak in here for months, loading up on small, pricey objects. That purse has nearly a thousand dollars of shoplifted goods in it! Thank you so much for stopping her. You've got amazing instincts, to recognize her as a thief like that!" To the guard's surprise, Alkahest raised his hands to his face and burst into tears.