For Alt★Hero-inspired fiction. Keep it clean!
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By 0n 2s
The night was sultry.
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By SilentDraco
Wisps of cloud and burring, banal cicada talk filled the sky. The remaining stars looked wilted. This was a night where everyone and everything sought a cool place to rest. But it was a night where restless, sleepless people would seek anything to vent their slow-cooked anger.

Over on a fading basketball court, a group of teens were playing late at night under buzzing lights. They played in short bursts, mostly passes and layups, as no one had the desire to burn off the cool drinks. There were occupied and trying to get tired, just killing time. Killing (but not time) was on the mind of the men hunched in the dilapidated plumber's van down the darkened street.
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By kHz
Fred asked himself as he watched the scene, perched as he was on the sill of his apartment window with one scruffy sneaker pressed against the frame. He'd been watching the city as the sun went down, holding a half-empty bottle of swill in one hand and a half-smoked cigarette in the other. The orange sunset haze had been long and pretty, but it wasn't why he waited in the heat.

The night always crept in and swallowed civilisation corner by corner; gridlocked streets became one dark and cavernous labyrinth, and urbane citizens were replaced with street-samurai and prowling gladiators.

The sun was long gone, and now the combatants were entering the arena.
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By E Deploribus Unum
Betty watched Fred through a set of binoculars she wiped regularly with the same tissue she applied to her copiously running nose. She hated his scruffy sneakers. For crying out loud, the man was obviously an alcoholic and a nicotine fiend. Still, there was something about Fred that made Betty want to waste hours of precious soap opera time staring out the window at him and wondering what on earth he might be up to. One thing was for sure: he knew <i>something</i>. In a world of predators, even with his dissolute disregard, Fred looked like a man to be reckoned with.

What was going on in the streets? Betty had some vague idea, I suppose, but she didn't much care. What really concerned her was whether Fred would pay any attention to her if she could somehow contrive to meet him downstairs in the lobby.
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By SilentDraco
Betty heard a grating squeal and looked down. Oh, it was only a car turning the corner. When will the police fix those darn things? What’s our tax money good for? She took a deep sip of iced tea, wiped her nose just once more, and turned a careful gaze back at Fred.

Patrolman Lafferty tried to ignore the worn brakes. Maybe another week, well, a couple more days on these lousy brakes? If I don’t screw up, maybe the sergeant will give me a new unit with only 150,000 on the odometer. The radio muttered softly in reply, but no traffic for him. He glanced up and saw a man in an apartment window. “For the love of Pete,” he mumbled, “please don’t fall out. It’s too hot for the paperwork. Sarge will put me on foot for a week. Dad and Granddad told me about shifts like this. So sticky that it takes a day to change yer mind.”

Tom drove slowly down the street, an ear on the radio and his eyes on the street, looking for nothing particular but aware of being watched. “Patrol … feels like I’m back in the ‘stans, but no buddy. Heck of a way to run a patrol, but it’s supposed to be different. Doesn’t feel it.” He noted the game in progress – no trouble, maybe a bit late, but nothing out of ordinary. Driving down the block, he passed the older model cars, all of them wishing for a good downpour to break the heat and wash down the dust. A light behind him flashed in the mirror for an instant, catching his attention. Something about the van he’d passed almost came to his attention.

“Dispatch, this is 5-14. 10-7 at 7th and King. Ten minutes.” “Dispatch copies.” Tom got out of his tired cruiser, only a bit more worn than himself, and walked into the ship. “Linda, let me have a medium iced coffee, one sugar. Need some caffeine.” Using the restroom, he came back to find the counter lady had his coffee and half a biscuit ready. “Well ... it was broken anyway, so we can’t sell it. Besides, you need a little something to soak up the coffee?” He thanked her for the little extra bit – nice girl, early thirties, kind of tired and just a bit nervous tonight. Maybe something was up? Two streets and four good slugs of coffee later, the can registered. It had leaned heavy to curbside, like a spring was going, but it was fairly new model. “Well, maybe another look,” he sighed, changing his route. The knight made yet another pass in his domain, hoping not to encounter trouble.

{Deploribus, let's see what comes out of this. I'm thinking the stage is now set fairly well.]
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By E Deploribus Unum
Fred gave a final, draining tilt to the bottle of swill, stubbed out the cigarette and, shooting a quick glance across the courtyard at Betty (whose night, and perhaps life, was made in the millisecond his eyes caressed her distant, graciously aging form), slid off the window ledge and headed for the street. Time to shake things up, he thought.
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By kHz
The plumber’s van swung out from the gutter, mounted the kerb and scattered boxes and trash, before staggering back into the center of the street. Leather-clad hands spun the wheel. The long-mistreated combustion engine sounded like drumfire, and the van gained speed between the high buildings of the block. The headlamps flooded the night.

‘Hey Max,’ said one teen. ‘You stupid?’

‘It’s your shot,’ said another.

Max held his ball and stared as the van sped alongside the court. It clipped a paper rack and flung the legacy press over the asphalt in a shower. The side-door slid back as the van braked to a stop. Muzzles emerged from the black interior: the unmistakable shape of several fully-automatic submachine guns.

One of the teens gasped, Max dropped his ball, and the guns rose to shoot.

Fred kicked the door and it slid along its rail and snapped shut. A woman’s cry came from above. The van shook, with muffled curses and the rumble of inside movement.

The teens stood frozen and Fred turned to them.

‘Hit the bench,’ he said. ‘This court’s now in session.’
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By E Deploribus Unum
The first teen, caught completely off guard, buckled as Fred seized the muzzle of his submachinegun and rammed it brutally into his midsection. He stumbled backward, incapacitating two of his companions by falling directly on them. By then Fred was in the van and any conceivable opportunity for resistance was all but over. Nobody had even had a chance to move. The driver was last, taking the butt of a confiscated semi-auto to the side of the head as he turned to engage.

Distraught to have nothing more professional than her cellphone camera handy with which to record the small portion of the melee she could observe from her apartment, Betty nonetheless ensured she captured almost every newsworthy moment. It took mere moments to upload the footage to her well-trafficked blog.
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By SilentDraco
Fred popped out of the van, breathing a little hard but otherwise untouched. "Hey kids, I said ... head to the showers. Get outta here before the copes show up!" The teens and their cheering section backed off the court, out from under he lights, and started shuffling away. No one wanted to turn their back on Fred, or the fully jacketed Final Timeout that almost got them. Something flashed red, catching his peripheral vision, and Fred also heard a muted tone. He dug under one of the groaning bodies in the back, pulling out a device that looked like an extra-thick cellphone. It had an odd-looking antenna on one end. Looking it over, Fred touched the antenna by accident; the device flared red and beeped deeply. "What? They looking for ... wait ..." Fred pointed the antenna end toward departing group. It flashed a lighter red and gave a long beep; then it beeped again. " Oh, no." " Hey, YOU! Stick around a minute!" Fred pointed in Tommy's direction and made a "stop" motion.

Tommy looked like he was called for charging, travelling, and making an unauthorized trouser deposit all at once. He turned and ran, but suddenly Fred had a hand on his shoulder and hissed "I said, Stick Around!!" as his grip tightened. Tommy stopped quick and tried escaping with a shoulder fake, to no avail. The device beeped louder. Fred squeezed his collarbone just a little tighter, to a quick gasp of pain and immediate compliance. "OK, listen kid. You're not in trouble. I'm not after you. It's those jokers that had my attention, at least I wasn't until this little box of theirs went off. All right," Fed sighed, "We need to talk - fast, and then you need to vanish fast, I think. Tell me, who are you? What's school like? Anything you're really good at, sports, hobby, anything? " Tommy burbled and squeaked: "Cn yoo leeito?"

Freed blinked, and realized he'd gripped tighter. "I'll let go of your shoulder now. Be real careful, and don't try to take off. Let's get away form the lights - over there, by that wall." They moved into moderate shadow; Fed relaxed as the light dimmed, and relaxed a bit more because Tommy didn't bolt. After two shaky breaths, the boy said: " I'm Tommy, uh, Smith, and a sophomore at Jackson High. School's all right, but a lot of it's boring and stupid." "Let me guess, you hear the same dumb stuff five times in a row, and again the next day?" chuckled Fred. "Yeah, how ...?" Fred cut him off, "No, I got the same T-shirt from West Springfield. What is it you like, and are pretty good at?" He was listening with half an ear, concentrating on the first distant howl of a siren. "Well, math's really easy, but my teacher is pushing some brain-buster problems and trig at me. It sounds dumb, but the trig stuff works well with basketball. I'm a pretty good shot, but it's more like knowing exactly where to shoot from and where I need to be. " Tommy was warming up to his favorites. "Soccer is OK too, but the best part is kind of setting up the shots or striking, because I can kinda see where the ball's coming and get a feel for where to dribble and shoot ..." "... because you get a feeling or kind of mental map about where everyone around you is, or will be, and an idea of what they'll do next?" finished Fred quietly. "Well, yeah, did you ever ...?" "Baseball was like that for me. Never seemed to miss a fly ball, unless I wanted to run a bit and not look perfect. Cut a lot of doubles down to singles on purpose." The device was glowing stronger, and Fred pushed a smart icon to run off the annoying beeps. The light was starting to annoy him, so he waved the device away from them. It faded, then pulsed red almost as strong again. Fred glanced right to see Sis creeping over, wanting to get Tommy away and out of trouble.

He almost snarled some pretty bad word at the kid. "Look, Tommy? You don't know me and don't have a reason to trust me, but just try to believe this. Those guys in the van, this wasn't just a drive-by. They wanted to get someone .. or, maybe someones," he gestured right as Sis froze. "We really need to talk, but not here and now. You have a hideout, or a couple, but don't tell me where. Give me a drop location. I'll stay there, and you can see if I'm alone and that I'm unarmed. If you're OK with that, write a location on the blank side of this." Fred handed him a dirty, beaten coaster with a cats-eye design on one side. "I'll meet you there, and you and your buddies will have time to check me out first." He cut off, hearing a faint howl, just as Tommy said "Where's he going?!", pointing back at the van. "No time. Both of you, go, and move fast!" Fed snarled the last as he saw one of the Gun Club crawl out of the van with a rucksack, and run for cover under some trees, heading to a hedge. "Losing my touch," he thought, making a dash toward the trees.
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