Palindrome

3

“What’s up buddy?” the gang member greeted as he helped Theodore aboard the airship. As the door slid closed, he noticed Rift send a few more missiles to incinerate the remainder of the enemy ship. Just before the door closed completely, he noticed something fly from the destroyed carrier.


“Did you have fun?” The man stunk. Jeremy Schowld had small blue eyes and curly black hair kept in line by a couple bobby pins. He always wore a black choker with fake pearls embedded in the fabric. It was a gift supposedly, and one of the few things that managed to not fall apart when he touched it. 


“Can’t say I did.” Theodore turned around and offered the handgun to him.


“Oh?” Jeremy yanked Theo’s arms back and leaned in close to the werecat. “Maybe I should change that while you’re all tied up,” he purred, and an uncomfortable shudder ran down Theodore’s spine.


Theo whipped his head forward before slamming it back into Jeremy’s face. As the goon reeled in pain, Theodore turned up his nose. 


“Expect a sexual harassment complaint on your desk before the day’s over. Now shoot the damn chains off before I throw you off this plane.”


“Okay. No flirting at work. Could’ve said that instead of turning my nose another degree,” Jeremy grumbled. 


Theodore pressed his lips together. He didn’t mean to hit the man that hard.


He said, “I’m a little stressed out, sorry. I haven’t been in a crashing…airship before.”


“Right? I was surprised too. Didn’t think anyone else owned an airship. Theirs was smaller though. I guessed they flew so low because they assumed your ankle bracelets were of the criminal variety and wanted to stay in your radius. They wouldn’t want the police to immediately flag you down.


“We could’ve rescued you sooner, but we were busy tracing their communication signals.”


“You aren’t using the gun?” Theodore interrupted.


“You’ve been watching too many movies if you think this thing’ll free your chains,” Jeremy said as the lock about his wrists clicked open. He exchanged the handgun for the chains and dropped down to lock pick those around Theo’s ankles. 


“Really?”


The stinkbug stared up at him. “You can’t be serious.”


Theodore felt his cheeks heat up and quickly averted his eyes. 


“When I found out that wouldn’t work, I would have threatened them to give me the key,” the werecat said.


Jeremy freed Theo’s ankles and stood up. “Do you think that would’ve worked? Do you know who kidnapped you?” 


“No idea, but they’re not complete amateurs,” Theodore responded as he shook his ankles. “They used codenames. I might’ve gleaned some info if you didn’t destroy their ship.”


“Heh. No worries. Once you get dressed, we can finish your job. Gotta kill the roaches in their nest, right?”


Theodore stared at him. He was practically naked, but the thing that worried him: “It’d feel odd to do it without my—”


“Mask?” Jeremy gestured for Theodore to follow him. They rounded the corner and a pair of black and white sweatpants and smiley-faced t-shirt greeted them on a hanger. Beside it was his mask, a bit singed at the edges and with a few bullet holes in the ears, but it was still in one piece. 


Theodore lifted the mask off the wall. “I’m not wearing those.”


“Only thing we had on short notice. Your other clothes were unusable.”


Theodore stared at Jeremy for a moment then looked down at the mask. He’d have to find a replacement which was a shame since he grew attached to it. He placed the mask onto the wall. 


“Brief me on what we know and steps moving forward. Meanwhile, find me a snack and a proper suit. I try to keep the casual stuff for when I’m not on a job.”


“I really don’t understand your dislike for suits. They’re comfortable and you look clean.” They were in the crew quarters where Jeremy had pilfered an outfit that was about the right size. Theodore didn’t approve, but he could always return it.


“O.E. said I didn’t look like a member of Rift, and I would’ve liked to keep it that way,” Theodore responded coldly, tightening his grey tie before putting on equally grey gloves.


“O.E.?”


“That’s the woman who tried to kill me. If I wanted to dress the part of a corporate elite, Boss would purchase all my clothes, and his tailor will stitch that broken R everywhere she can,” he sneered. Theodore scratched at the golden R embroidered on his vest. “Even now I want to rip it off. I can’t see myself wearing it every day.”


“Personal resentment aside, you should know that the O.E. chick is most likely part of the group called Palindrome.”


Theodore secured an ammo belt around his hips. “Never heard of ‘em.” 


“They’ve apparently been stealing from a whole bunch of organizations both legal and criminal. According to our reports, thirty-three active members are stationed at their base of operations. That’s about all we know.”


“Seems a bit hasty to jump to war with them, don’t you think? We’re killing more roaches than dealing with the source.”


“Boss’ orders.”


Theodore twisted his lips and narrowed his eyes. This all sounded unlike him. Boss is more methodical and thorough. Storming in guns ablaze would only scatter the enemy. He considered sending in Jeremy and other spies to acquire a formal analysis on Palindrome. Like where was the puppet master? Can they minimize police interference and Rift casualties? He wanted to dip from this half-baked plan, but he was originally assigned to eliminate the thieves. 


If what O.E. said was true, Palindrome only stole from them because they believed they could get away with it. Perhaps Boss knew this too and was satisfied in leaving a message? He would sometimes toot competition was a good thing.


“Ready to go?” Jeremy asked, breaking his thoughts.


Theodore sighed and reluctantly answered, “I suppose.”


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Palindrome