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Fate Won't Guide The Way

Chapter Text

'Was it... worth it?'

Henry shivered and looked down. Sparking spine, his arm non-functional and... oh blood there too. Reaching out for a nearby branch he grit his teeth determined to make it as far from the ship as he could. There had to be something more.

The thief bit his lip as his shaky legs and slow progress left him alone with his thoughts. Were there any survivors? Would they care? Should he have gone back? He thought he had done an okay job of leading, surely some of the Toppats had liked him?

Blinking wearily Henry decided to sit down and lay against a rock. This wasn't what he wanted. Had the last few years been nothing but a waste if this was how it was going to end for him?

Absently looking down again he rested his hand against the hole in his chest. It wasn't hurting anymore, and he was starting to feel cold despite being the hot jungle midday. Letting the hand fall back to the ground Henry sighed as he leaned his head back. He could still see smoke in the distance.

Was it worth it?

No.

Anger distantly flooded through him drowning other tangled feelings clawing through his mind. Henry Stickmin was meant for more. Not as a failed Toppat leader betrayed by his second in command, left for dead, and then returned to take down the entire gang. He was going to be history textbook great. Best thief in the world who carried out impossible heists single handedly?

The smoke in the distance grew darker.

His eyes began to water, from smoke, from anger, from the whole mess that was going to be the end Henry grit his teeth.

"No."

Something in his chest felt like it was rupturing.

He wasn't going to close his eyes.

~*~*~

Bright light and the angry alarm clock jolted Henry up in bed. Squinting he snatched the alarm clock and turned it off in a hiss. Blinking a few times before wiping at his eyes the thief growled. He should really look into those gradual light alarms, who knew a space station would mess with everyone's circadian rhythm so much?

Falling back to bed the thief stared at the clock in his hands. He had to get up, he had things to do.

Turning to glace out the window a small smile crept up on his face. It never got old seeing so many stars so clearly when he wasn't in a rush. Slinking out of bed Henry absently noted he missed breakfast and sighed. Must have hit snooze a few too many times, but he was up in time for his meeting.

Making himself presentable the thief took a couple moments to appreciate the monitor showing a few large gems. Keeping the Tunisian Diamond next to the other large gemstones in the vault always was a great start to the morning. The light was just right, they sparkled fiercely.

Money was one thing, but gems were his biggest weakness. Just... they twinkled asking to be admired. The bigger they were, the more light they caught, the glitter couldn't obscure the jewel beneath it.

Smiling Henry reached for the final touch, his own hat. It was unremarkable top hat, but the gold chain let everyone know his rank. Nodding to himself in approval the thief walked out of his quarters and down the hall. It was nice having his office and the main meeting room nearby, just like he had drawn up in the plans.

If he was going to make a spaceship of course he'd make it convenient for himself. Must remember to order a light alarm for himself.

Popping into his office Henry wasn't surprised to see Reginald already sitting in front of his desk. What was surprising was the plate of glorious breakfast food and the smaller pile of paperwork. Seriously who knew being Toppat leader would mean so much paperwork. There were mountains. Ellie elbowing him one day and talking about some delegation had genius (but not her, no way boss).

"You could have waited, I know you just got back from a heist yesterday." Reginald absently waved a hand to even turning around.

Walking over Henry snatched a piece of toast and stuffed the whole thing in his mouth. Wheat bread, but it was a fancy jelly that was... apricot? Humming happily he sat down in his seat. Was that... waffles? It had been waffle morning? Yes!

Reginald looked up from the small stack of papers in front of him and glanced at his leader demolishing the plate. Snorting at the obvious glee from the small gesture he sorted the paperwork back to their proper stacks. Clasping his hands he leaned back into his chair and waited for his boss to finish. Doing paperwork during a meeting with the chief wasn't proper, and Reginald Copperbottom was a proper sort of gentleman thief.

After waffles there had been sausage, hash browns and even a hard boiled egg. Shooting his subordinate a thumbs up Henry pushed the empty plate to the side of his desk and sighed. Now he wouldn't have to go slinking to the cafeteria after this! That was... wait he had still had paperwork after this. Cleverly efficient move to keep him trapped then, should have expected it.

Reginald watched his boss's content expression morph to annoyance and smirked. Looks like he'd been caught, but it was too late to escape now.

Humming softly Henry drummed his fingers for a few moments thinking of how he was going to proceed. Better to just blunder through quickly and he took a deep breath.

"Ship wide announcement tomorrow."

"Yes. Everyone is going to be there." Reginald shrugged, "Everyone is curious." Full attendance was rarely required, and for the earthbound there would be a live broadcast. No exceptions, everyone was goin to see. This would be big whatever it was. It was a couple weeks off, but it had been almost a whole year since they had launched up here and remained gloriously unchallenged.

"Wanted to give you time to prepare." Henry leaned forward and put his hat down in the middle of the desk. "Plan to resign, Ellie coming with me." Pushing his hat away from himself towards the other he glanced up waiting.

It took a moment to process.

"Oh. No Henry no." Reginald jerked both hands and away from the offered hat. "You c- did you need a break? You have been busy." Glancing up at his boss nervously he searched the other's normally expressive face.

"Peaceful transition, endorsed." Henry propped his head on his hand scrutinizing his subordinate. This wasn't quite what he expected as a response. "Time to think for speech."

He was serious. He was actually serious? He was actually serious. Oh god he was serious. Reginald tried swallow the knot of panic in his throat and think quickly. "Maybe short a vacation? Few months off? I know it can be stressful leading."

Bemused now Henry shook his head. Wouldn't his third in command to loved to be back at the top?

"Henry please," Reginald threw out both hands towards the room and looked up at the ceiling, "This station was your idea." Frowning he let his hands drop and looked at his boss again. "We wouldn't have been able to launch if not for you."

He his gaze drop to the offered hat and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Nor fend off the surprise government attack with such minimal losses. You've been the best Toppat leader we've had in a long time."

"...even me." deep shaky breath later Reginald risked looking up at his boss and pushed the hat back with an unsteady hand. "Part of leading is knowing when there is someone more qualified and when to cede. Don't go. I want to see where you'll take the clan."

Henry was sure he left his jaw on the floor somewhere. How could he respond to that? Reaching back to scratch the back of his head Henry felt himself flush. He had actually won the other man's respect during the launch? It hadn't been a ploy to put him at ease and try to retake leadership later? This made things even harder, but maybe if he explained.

"There is something I have to try. Someone I want to recruit." Henry reached out and picked up his hat. "It might backfire, I didn't want the clan to get caught in it." Turning the hat over the heavy gold chain winked at him.

"Then, at least let us look at the problem first. The Toppat clan is strong, you should know better than to write us all off first." Reginald leapt on the chance

Sighing Henry put the hat down and rubbed at an eye. This fully went sideways from how he had expected, but he couldn't find it in him to be upset. Instead the leader nodded and put his hat back on. It couldn't hurt to try. It was kind of... nice. When Ellie got back later today he'd have to tell her.

A few moments passed before Reginald reached out to start more paperwork. The crinkle of paper and occasional penscratch were the only noises. It was boring busy work but the distraction would help calm him down. Nurse his injured pride back up to standards, he didn't want to measure himself up to their leader.

Henry sighed and grabbed some of the work. He didn't think he could muster up any words right now and sitting in an awkward silence made his skin crawl. He wasn't sure how long it took for the atmosphere to relax back to a familiar normal.

"I... hope you have a back up announcement for the meeting?"

The Toppat chief froze. Oh he hadn't thought about that. Grimacing Henry thunked his head down on the desk. Big meeting with nothing to say? Public speaking was already hard, but up in front of the entire clan with nothing to say? Expectant faces? Could he just shoot finger guns at everyone and smile? Maybe carry those prompt cards they use on TV?

"Early one year anniversary since launch?" Reginald offered.

"Mmhmmm." Lifting his head to nod Henry bit back a yawn. This was a bit much for the morning and he was tired again. Well now his whole day plans were ruined if he was staying. The wasn't much he could do until he got to talk to Ellie. Might as well have all four of them to run through everything.

Tapping on the desk until he had the other man's attention he held up two fingers then waved his right hand.

"Yes when the Right Hands are back I'll make sure they check in with you." Reginald nodded. Finger pointed at him too? "I'll be there too." Okay signal. Pleased at his ever improving deciphering skills he went back to work.

Sauntering over to the couch Henry sprawled out and blinked up. Might as well nap until then. He really had earned his place here if his offer had been declined so quickly. Tilting his hat to cover his eyes the thief smiled at the small revelation.

"...thanks."

"Don't mention it chief."

Chapter Text

Ellie Rose was laughing at him and Henry was not amused. He huffed and crossed his arms at his Right Hand Lady. She only laughed harder at him. Eventually he smiled and rolled his eyes at her, it was difficult to stay angry at her when she was like this.

She elbowed him gently and held out a hand. "Told you they'd want to keep you around." Ellie smirked when a few bills were shoved into her out stretched hand. Easiest three hundred she made. Shoving them in her pocket cheshire grin she sat on the edge of the desk. "Change of plans then, what're we up to now?"

"Hn." Right Hand Man tapped his chin and narrowed his eyes. "Ya were gonna leave and now yer not then?" When Henry nodded, the cyborg leaned over the desk and peered intently at his boss. "Good. Don't. Reg would have a fit."

Reginald halfheartedly waved a hand with a hiss. He was sitting down still, and most of the paperwork was done. He could defend himself, when he was more awake and felt like it.

Henry's nap had lasted hours and he was feeling much better. He fiddled with his hands wondering how to word this idea he had. He didn't want to drag this out longer than he needed to. Both Right Hands had just gotten back and Reginald looked done.

"Difficult recruit, government aligned, best pilot." It was a longest of shots but he had to try. Hesitant smile met his best officers shocked expressions before falling into nervousness. Technically he agreed to have his idea heard, but if it was too much he could still leave.

"Someone... you know?" Reginald asked hopefully. Old friends would be much easier to work with than a stranger.

Henry winced and wiggled his hand in a so-so gesture. Technically he didn't know the guy all that well here. "Special missions only, flew me to Toppats." Where he technically broke in and forced a surrender... the thief laughed weakly ad spread his hands. Okay so he had spurned the mission and maybe burned that bridge

"Anything direct will provoke the government to focus more resources on retaliation." Right Hand Man added in. Abduction or anything too forceful would backfire horribly. Blackmail was an option, but unlikely.

"Weren't you going to try talking to him first?" Ellie said frowning. "I know it's the most dangerous, but you'd get the best information that way." She knew it was going to be hard, but he'd forgotten to mention the government problem attached to this. Not that it would change her mind to follow the other, just the approach.

"You can't go in alone, you need a fast way out." Reginald rubbed his temple. There would be complications, but if it helped keep their chief it was worth a reasonable risk. "Right Hand Man, you could be on stand by. You're the hardest to detect and move fast."

"Can do that. We'd need signals and know the layout where we're going." The cyborg nodded. His hand sparked over the desk and made a soft whirling noise earning an apathic stare from it's owner. "Mn. After repairs."

Ellie stretched and failed to hide a yawn when Reginald slammed his hand over the spark that almost set the stack of papers on fire.

"Rest and repairs first." Henry pointed at each of them then made shoo'ing motions with his hands. They were actually going to try

Ellie waved a tiny salute and slid off the desk. "Oh, saw this on the way out, thought you'd like it." Reaching into her pockets she flipped a small sparkling object over to her boss before walking away. The small teal gem brought an excited smile to the thief's face, he did love a good glimmering gem.

Reginald looked down, there were only thirty or so more things to go through. It'd be better to finish things here and then turn in for the day. Frowning at the singed paper he saved he began to read.

Tipping his hat Right Hand Man reached down to pull Reginald away from the desk and started walking towards the door. Ignoring the squawked protests he dragged his former boss halfway before lifting him to his feet. "Orders." He let go when the other nodded and both left.

Henry grinned after the door closed. He really loved being up here leading them. They were a great team!

...

But not the greatest. Yet.

Opening a drawer while his new shiny danced over his free hand Henry began to hum. Everything was going so well, it was due for something to go horribly wrong. Opening the folder there was scarce information, but it would give him a small lead. Maybe everything would go well for once?

~*~*~

Charles Calvin, ace pilot of special missions was frustrated as he stalked through the base. Another mission, stealthily carried out only to find the Toppat base they had been investigating was cleared out before they made their move. The Toppats had not only launched a space station, but there wer rumors they managed to also set up full communications and possible surveillance to cover their ground operations. He was starting to believe it.

They were losing. Before the launch it had been a draw, but they were always one step behind. Public outcry was deafening, anyone caught in uniform off base heard snide remarks behind their backs. No one went out much anymore.

They were doing their best, they just needed to learn more. Everyone was working so hard. He was good, but even he had his sky high limits, they were just... higher in space. Maybe if he talked to the general about that spaceship prototype for recon?

Yanking his headphones down to his neck the pilot stopped to lean against the wall and look to the night sky.

Thankfully he didn't have to debrief Galeforce about another disappointment, that joy was left to the specialized team he brought. Active SAM turrets kept him away and the team hadn't seen reason to deactivate it until they needed a ride home.

Pushing off the wall Charles sighed and starting walking again. At least the base was empty, most of the personnel were asleep. He still had to wake early enough for breakfast, the sooner he went to sleep the sooner this day was over. A brand new day to try to turn things around was waiting for him tomorrow.

When he ducked between buildings and into a shadowed shortcut, something stung him in the back of the leg. Sighing loudly at his luck he reached back to shoo the bug from his leg... that was not a bug and a small dart? The pilot stared at the small projectile in confusion before reaching a hand out to the wall. Was this a prank? It was in poor taste, morale was already low.

It was too dark to see anything on the dart, but from the way his leg was starting to fall asleep he'd guess a mild numbing agent. Whoever's idea of a prank this was better help him back to his bunk. "Alright, you got me, I just want to sleep-"

A hand clamped over his mouth as an arm snaked around his chest. Charles grabbed onto them instinctively and growled. This was going too far for a prank and whomever this was was going to get officially in trouble now.

"I just want to talk." The pilot didn't recognize the voice. There were too many people on base and the pilot was always moving.

Jerk prankster started to pull him backwards.

"Mmmph." Charles eyes widened as he stumbled back, he couldn't keep up with one leg. The only saving grace was his deathgrip on the prankster's arms so he didn't fall immediately.

Oh he was mad now. It hadn't been a good day and while he knew some were envious of his achievements there was a line.

When the hands finally let go he spun to look up at the man who just made a big mistake. It was still dark but he could see the other waving. Couldn't see a rank, name or... uniform? What? Was that a... top hat?

"So, uh. Bomb, barracks. Just hear me out and you get this button. No one gets hurt."

Charles stared dumbly before snapping to the small black button in the other's hand then back to the face. He'd seen this face before, usually in mission briefings, most wanted lists, and the news.

Henry stepped back when he saw muscles tense, just in case. Was this underhanded? Yes, but he really didn't want to get into a fight, it wasn't his area of expertise. Oh and the fact he was in an army base surrounded by sleeping soldiers. "I'll be brief. What would it take you to join the Toppats?"

"Never." The pilot frowned. "You are thieves and murderers." They were bad guys that needed to be brought to justice. A good third of his career was dedicated to Toppat missions under Galeforce.

"But not the worst of the worst." Crouching down carefully out of range he watched the other.

"Bad enough. You criminals won't escape the law forever for your crimes." Charles crossed his arms.

Henry frowned. This was going nowhere, he needed to change tactics. "What about kidnapping? Coercion?"

"Still illegal." Charles pulled back wary from the topic change. He knew they still had an abducted poor security guard on thier ship for no reason. There had never been any ransom.

"Arrest Galeforce then." The thief's voice carefully stayed neutral, "Your government took me, shoved up up where I couldn't escape, and told me the only way out was to do as they asked."

The pilot flushed. That wasn't how- okay it did happen like that but it wasn't as bad as it sounded? No. No that did sound bad from that angle. They had very good reasons. It was a lesser evil to bring down a bigger evil that... well that didn't sound good either.

"So crime against criminals is fine?" The Toppat hummed thoughtfully, then nodded. He lobbed the small black object at the downed pilot and waved his hands widely above his head when he stood up.

Charles heart stopped as he caught the trigger. It could have detonated if it landed just right. It was a big button that... that... actually it suspiciously looked like a standard laser pointer? A rumbling noise was growing louder, it sounded like it heading right towards them.

Henry beamed and held his hands still as Right Hand Man blasted by grabbing him by the arms and racing through the base towards the perimeter. Lights started to flicker on from the noise as they flew.

Wide eyed Charles stared after them. Not one, but two high ranked Toppats, in the middle of a fully staffed base on high alert? There was only one thing to do right now. "Intruder alert! " he bellowed. "Two intruders heading southwest!"

The cry was taken up and repeated, but from the speed the pilot knew it would be too late. Maybe if they Toppats had been on foot they would have had a chance to catch the thieves. Where even had the other thief been?

Close enough to see the signal in the dim lighting. Oh no that was not a comforting thought. Did he walk right by them? How many could ifiltrate the base before they were noticed?

Staring at the laser pointer Charles turned it over and saw a scrawled 'c' on the back. It was his laser pointer? It'd been on his key ring in his pocket. Pulling out his keys the pilot exhaled slowly. It was, in fact, his own dang laser pointer.

He knew the Toppat leader was brazen, but this was something else. As far as crazy stunts waltzing into a base where he was most wanted, waiting to spring a conversation with an enemy, bluffing long enough to debate and then blasting off like it was nothing.

Henry Stickmin was one of the most dangerous criminals in the world. He was skilled, had a strong team for support, and worst of all unpredictable. But... would he have grown to such a problem if they hadn't thrown him to the Toppats? Before his history suggest the thief preferred to work alone.

The General must regret his choices from that day.

When he finally heard footsteps and flashlights shined down the side path he smiled weakly and waved at his rescuers. Gingerly picking up the small dart Charles stared at it as he sighed. So much for dodging the debrief, he'd now get to be questioned instead. This really was a terrible day.

Chapter Text

This would be the moment of truth. Henry fiddled with his thumbs making a point to stare at them instead of his trusted officers. It was super important mini meeting time, again. He'd gotten a look or two when he'd dragged chairs from the nearby meeting room to his office, but this time there would be enough chairs for everyone. Maybe he should just keep extra chairs in here all the time if important impromptu gatherings were going to be a thing.

Ellie clicked her tongue and shot her boss two thumbs up. This was going to be okay. When he nodded she winked and shot finger guns instead earning a groan.

Henry had focused on details for trying to make contact he had forgotten to make a speech for the announcement. Instead he had with a short 'full space year, go us' and finger guns. The crew had found it hilarious, and now everyone had decided finger guns were the new hello.

Everyone.

Henry shook his head and hoped the fad would die down soon. His pride died a little every single time he was reminded of it. He needed to change focus from that to the original goal of this meeting. "Recruit failed. During talks had an idea, maybe change image of clan?" Opening his hands out to the table he shot a weak grin.

"Hn." Right Hand Man's red eye whirled and shone brighter as it scanned over his leader. The human eye narrowed head tilting upward asking for more information. As a fellow man of few words he expected their boss to understand the gesture. He wasn't disappointed.

"Change target." The Toppat Chief supplied with a now nervous smile to the three pairs of eyes just stared at him blankly. Maybe he should have just carried on with his leave of absence instead,

"No more gems?" Ellie looked thoughtful, "You want to branch off to something else besides classic valuables?" Depending on what they get into would change their modus operandi, and they had a very good thing going on right now.

Almost too good, they could hit one side of the world and then the next in short order. No one could predict their movements and earth governments were scrambling. It was getting... a little to easy, predictable. Changing things up would be a good thing in her book.

"Vault nearly full." The full year of heists had been good to them. Even his basket of gems kept right below his three centerpiece jewels was overflowing. It was a big bedazzled basket, using real stones. Next time he was considering making a mosaic with them just to clear more room for more.

"'s true." The cyborg tapped a finger on his metallic arm. He taken to working with security since he was demoted from his old position. It was refreshing work. Slackers had needed someone to get them in line, even if they were in space far out of range of conventional raids. Kept him busy and he got to keep an eye on the ship, all positives in his opinion.

"Oh not crypto-currency." Reginald made a face at the thought. Money was money, but that sort of theft felt it lacked proper class their clan carefully cultivated. As a clan they were specialized in traditional thieving treasures, gold, silver, gems, anything physically precious was also just more satisfying to take.

"...no not..." Henry drummed his fingers thinking how to explain his vague idea. It was going to sound silly. "Rival gangs. Donate excess funds?"

Three blank stares caused the leader to go back to twiddling his thumbs. It was hard to explain and make it sound good after all. Taking inspiration from a folk tale sounded ridiculous, but nothing else had come to mind. Crime against other criminals would be a big change than heists.

"...actually, I did have a few I needed to bring up with you anyway. Give it a trial run of sorts." Reginald began to flip through the courier sack slung over the back of his chair. "One is in the early stages of building a rocket as well."

"Oh no. They don't get to do that." Ellie stood up and glared at her boss. "We're the space thieves, it's our territory now. Taking them down and giving their riches to charities sounds amazing!" She leaned over further and poked her boss in the arm. "Do we get to pick which ones?"

"Long as we break even, launches are expensive," Right Hand Man nodded. Honestly they could do nothing and live out the rest of their lives with the vault contents. Everyone and including thier mobile ground operators could retire and live lavish lives. Not that many would given the chance, Toppats were an active boisterous clan.

Plus, he wouldn't have to remodel for a second vault, and deal with the headache it would bring.

"Also, want to make sure world knows we did it." Henry looked relieved as he rubbed at his arm. This was even better a reaction than he hoped. "Make announcement, leak list of any they bribed."

The thick folder was primly placed in the middle of the desk and Henry quickly swiped it. Both Right Hands made way to look over thier leader's shoulders.

Ellie whistled as she watched her boss start to flip through the papers. "You did your homework."

"Of course." Reginald stroked his moustache absently as a wicked grin crept up on his face. It never hurt to be thorough.

"Oh my god I want to do that one." Ellie pointed down excitedly, "Henry send me on that one!"

~

*~*~

"I'm just saying," Ellie ducked behind the slab of concrete table to reload her gun. "You should really work on that image. It'd stop a fight before it starts."

"Hmn." Right Hand Man morphed his hand to laser mode and peeked out to fire a wide beam. Survivors screamed in the distance.

"See, that what I'm talking about Righty!" She gestured to the faintly glowing muzzle. "If more people knew about that they'd run soon as they see you."

"Maybe. Don't call me Righty." Transforming his hand back with a hiss of exhaust Right Hand Man shook it to help cool it off. That always gave him the tingles. He had two more charges, and needed to wait five minutes before he could fire again. Not that he told anyone his limitations of his new state, yet.

"Call you Redrum then?" Ellie turned around the side of the slab and fired off a few shots at the few remaining.

"No."

"Clear." Leaning back and reloading her gun again Ellie snorted. "Righty it is. Right Hand Man is too long to say all the time."

Glancing around their concrete defense the cyborg scanned the area just to be sure. Confirming the scene he looked back and her and raised an eyebrow, "It'll go against the image."

The image flashed through her head and she couldn't help but snigger. Okay, maybe it wouldn't be the most intimidating name to have to strike fear in their numerous enemies. But the nickname was easier to say, some day it will stick.

"Less people go lookin' for upgrades the better." Right Hand Man stood and offered his hand to help her up. "Less people know what I can do makes my job easier."

Once Ellie might have been offended at the implication she couldn't take care of herself. Now they had been stuck so on many missions their unofficial team nickname were 'The Right Hands'. It was silly and she loved it.

The biggest downside she found, was Righty's slight loss of stealth. She hadn't known how he operated before, but it would've been much easier to move quieter without metal feet. He still managed much better than some of her old contacts had.

No offense to Henry, but if she had to fight she'd rather take Righty. The man was a walking arsenal and get away vehicle rolled into one. The last couple plans had gone sideways in one way or another and it was just easier to bust through.

This plan hand gone awry in an unexpected way. No one had factored in how much weight a vent could hold and it turns out cyborgs were heavier than they looked. Landing in the middle meeting had just been bad luck. This was better than the time with the pigeon though.

The pair hurried over and hunched over the door. Keypad and card required, what were the chances the only guard had been incinerated by laser? Guessing the keypad would be annoying, and getting Righty to hack it would take some time. They could just try to blow the door off but they would need better cover...

Right Hand Man waited patiently when he saw a blank expression fly over Ellie's normally animated face. By now he assumed it was her thinking hard about all available options, like he'd seen with Henry. The first few times it had been unsettling, but now he took it as cue to wait whenever he saw it.

"Vent, boost me." Holstering her gun Ellie pulled out a screwdriver to remove the grate.

"Distraction?" Right Hand Man held steady as she clambered up to his shoulders. There were no window to see in the next room, but the vent clearly headed in that direction. He couldn't see inside even with his cybernetic eye.

"Nah." The metal grate clanged to the ground and she wiggled up into the small space. Oh my god when was the last time someone cleaned up here? Her poor hat was going to need dry cleaning or whatever they did to spruce them up. The suit would be ruined by the end of this, she'd gladly have bet on it if anyone would take her up on it.

Crawling on her elbows quietly as she could the thief glanced down the first grate she could find. Five guards hunched behind a metal desk they threw down for cover with guns pointing towards the door. She had a strong feeling busting down the door would have ended badly, vent validation confirmed.

Ellie squinted her eyes as she focused hard on the table. It shook for a second before slamming hard into the wall knocking out the five guards hiding behind it. Smirking to herself, the thief waited half a minute before forcing the grate out and hopping down into the room. All of them were out cold, perfect.

Now and then she could just... tap into some power, some force, but she could never predict when. All she could do is be ready to use it when the feeling hit. The force had good timing as always.

Pulling open the door she invited the other into the room with a grand flourish. Classy manners, nailed it.

Right Hand Man let the corner of his mouth twitch up for a moment. He didn't mind working in a team, but there weren't many he liked working with. Reginald of course, he rarely left anything to chance and always had a back up or three planned. Henry was brilliantly lucky in his usual blitz, or crafty enough to pull off stealth. Ellie tended to be straight forward no nonsense and was surprisingly great in a fight.

Who knew their styles lined up so well? He could do without some of the chatter though.

Wedging a chair to keep the door closed the pair began to climb the stairs slowly. This deep into the building there were no windows, the only light was the flickering fluorescent bulbs lining the wall. The temperature grew warmer the higher they climbed ending in an unlocked door. One gentle push and a quick sweep of the server filled room let them know they were alone.

"Without AC these are going to fry themselves." Ellie patted the side of the computer. With all the hot air it was spewing out in the small room it was already making her sweat. The sooner the finished in here the sooner they could get out.

"Better hurry. Cover me." Right Hand Man swung his rifle over his back and popped a side panel off. Looking over the multitude of wires and ports he grumbled. Of course there were only slow connection ports, He knelt down and pulled a connection from his shoulder and jammed it in. "Ten minutes."

Ellie crouched by the door and listened intently. This was the only way in or out, and there shouldn't be trouble unless someone woke up or broke through the barrier below. It would have been safer to just kill the guards down below, but she wasn't a bloodthirsty type. Usually.

Minutes passed with only the hum of computers filling the air.

She felt a bead of sweat trickle down the side of her face but didn't dare move from her post to wipe it. The thief could almost hear, yes... it sounded like something heavy being moved. Guard then. Ellie narrowed her eyes at a faint squeal, that would be the chair to keep the downstairs door shut. Figures it would be a smart one to wake up and let in back up.

Standing up the Right Hand Lady yanked the door shut and ripped a large side panel to shove between the door handle and wall. "Hate to interrupt Righty but we gotta go."

"Not done." The cyborg was looking worse for wear, skin flushed, sweating heavily, and the red eye flickering from processing in less than optimal computer conditions.

"Tell me which are promising." Reaching up she yanked off any panel she could and threw it behind her. From her belt she unfolded one of her more useful tricks and shook her prized Purse of Holding open.

Right Hand Man pointed at the first scrawled hard drive he knew had what information they were after. His lip curled and he felt his human eye twitch when she yanked it out, he hated being forcefully disconnected. He was already pointing to the next one, then the next until he was sure they had the most seven critical ones.

Folding her purse back up to tuck in her belt pouch Ellie offered her hand to the other and pulled him to his feet. "Reinforcements on the way, think you can manage a laser or we're gunning our way out?"

"Hn." Taking a deep breath, he shifted his hand back to laser configuration. "I'm gonna need a few too cool after."

"You got it Righty." Ellie grinned and gestured to the wall. She trusted him to make the right call about himself, she was no cyborg expert. Also if he melted part of his arm off again Henry and Reginald would be on both their cases for weeks. No one wanted that after the last time it happened.

"Don't call me Righty." Right Hand Man growled and traced out a quick circle in the stone. Unable to cool, charges remaining to 0.5? So firing in bad conditions was more of a power drain, the cyborg filed that information away. Good to know, not the worst time to learn it, he'd kill for a cup of ice water.

"Alrighty." Backing up she flashed a thumbs up before running full speed at the wall and leaping into kick. The stone circle popped out and landed heavily into the freshly exposed hallway with the thief landing right in the middle. Additional style points for Ellie Rose.

All thoughts of shooting an unimpressed look after her left Right Hand Man's mind as the gust of cooler air rushed into the room. Holding his over heated arm far away as he could he stuck his head out and took a deep breath. It was temperate weather, but it felt absolutely amazing right now.

Ellie raised her eyebrows at the rare pleased expression on her heist partner's face and made note to discreetly tell Reginald. Next time she would have a cooler spray ready if needed. Technically she was second in command, got to look after her new clan fam.

Brushing herself off she rubbed her hands together after she stood up. The laser had kept cutting after the stone, and now she had much flimsier walls to crash through. Oh... yeah. She's always wanted to do this.

Charging the wall she tripped when it gave with far less resistance than she thought, and way more dust than should have existed. Coughing she stood up and frowned at the layer of white powder on her. Oh the cleaners was going to be mad.

This wasn't the time, they had to move and she had to find a good place to stash her buddy.

"Righty!" Ellie called over her shoulder as she started to the next wall.

Right Hand Man stepped out and narrowed his eyes at the mess. The dust he could do without right now, last thing he needed was to clog something when he was already overheated. Making sure his vents were closed the cyborg glanced down the hallway in both directions before crossing.

Ellie had moved onto the next wall and elbowed it hard. Less mess and she didn't fall over this time. The next wall didn't give way leaving her with a smarting elbow and tears in her eyes. The laser etching had looked like it gone through, but this must be a sturdier wall. Studier wall meant it had to protect more, outer wall, window? Window.

Glancing around she threw open the window and looked out. They were on the second floor with gently sloped roof in front of her. To her left the roof stretched on, but to her right it looked like there was a small alcove below. Perfect!

"Think you can manage to jump down? Looks like you can chill there for a couple while I go get us our ride." Ellie was already climbing out the window to test the roof stability. Solid, nice.

"Only a couple minutes." Right Hand Man climbed out and over to the edge. "Don't dawdle." Sliding off the edge and landing heavily the cyborg didn't even look up. Instead he sat down heavily and let his vents suck in the far cooler air. The drastic internal drop left his head spinning for a few seconds.

Cracking open an eye the cyborg focused on getting his hand back. When familiar tingles ran up his arm he shook it and wiggled his fingers. Good. He hated be trapped in alternate modes.

Up above Ellie skidded around the corner, she had to make sure the guards saw her and followed. Gunshots pointed to success, but now she was getting shot at. Even filthy the bright pink hat and clothes made a very easy to spot at night. Booking it down the long stretch she pumped her free arm as one held onto her hat.

It was one thing to have a dirty hat that could be saved, but losing the top hat was frowned on. As a newcomer she had on occasion wondered who thought that wearing an easily blown off hat in the thievery profession often involving running was a good idea?

She jumped and tucked into a roll at the next gap she saw.

Empty courtyard? Lucky!

Stepping out her jaw dropped. It was actually empty, no one around and yet... there was the most obnoxious fancy car she had ever seen. It was yellow. Gold rims. Convertible. Keys. In. Ignition.

Yes.

~*~*~

The lone guard leaning against the outside wall jumped when a yellow monstrosity screamed by and skidded into a turn.

Pulling out their walking talkie they just stared after speeding car. "So... they got the boss's car heading towards the gate." The walkie talkie noise tripled as the guard just watched it take a second turn in the distance.

Pulling out a phone they sighed and pulled up job listings.

~*~*~

Hideous lemon and gold squealed into his vision, and Ellie smugly tipped her hat. Couple minutes on the dot, she was just that good. "Ride's arrived alrighty. Hop in!"

This time Right Hand Man rolled his eye before getting to his feet and sliding over the hood. One quick turn and a hop later and the cyborg was in the car.

"Smooth." Ellie waved her new sunglasses and plopped them on her hat. "Straight away ahead, up for rocketing good time?" This is why she had wanted the job, this was the best part. She couldn't tell if she was vibrating with excitement, or if it was the car's engine

"Short burst, still running warm." Right Hand Man took off his hat and nodded.

Pulling the stick down Ellie slammed the gas. She felt a manic grin creep on her face as the odometer jumped up. She was a thief, but her real specialty that had landed her in the wall? Grand theft auto from the wrong person. When she saw a nice car she wanted to go for a ride, maybe sell it after if it was disappointing.

Right Hand Man made sure he had a good grip before he threw his legs over the back and transformed again. "Ready?"

She shifted to neutral and threw her hat down below so it wouldn't blow away, "Blast off."

"Hn."

The gate guards barely blinked before their chain link gate smashed open and the yellow blob was rapidly disappearing in the distance.

It was a glorious half a minute of impossible speed, and a few seconds of heart-stopping air time that left her shouting in triumph. They got away, they got the things, and it was her favourite escape method.

Right Hand Man's smirk flitted across his face. He could go fast on his own, but something about a car zooming was just... better. Up high the perspective of speed felt off, but on the ground scenery blurred by. Superiorly satisfying on a visceral level.

Slowing down the cyborg was pleased she shifted gears and held steady so he could pull himself back in after getting his legs again. He glanced over his shoulder in case they were being followed out of habit. Looked clear so far.

A few minutes passed before Ellie blanched. "Oh no."

"What?" Right Hand Man snapped his attention to her and sat up straighter at the dread in her voice.

"...our hats were down there." The dirt road and high speed demanded her full attention... and she was afraid to look.

The cyborg looked down to see his feet had managed to go through the top of both hats. Perfectly centered. Damn. It was his favourite hat, and the pink hat looked utterly tragic now. Sighing lifted a foot and reached down to grab his hat.

The mat came up with his foot.

"..." Right Hand Man stared and then tried the other foot with the same result. Well. Just. Well... shit.

Crossing his arms he sank down into his seat and glanced in the side mirror. "Cheap mats melted."

"Cheap mats?" Ellie felt safe enough to slow down and glance over at her passenger's predicament. "Reginald is going to want our hats for this."

Right Hand Man snorted. "Gotta get them from me first."

Ellie started cracking up as she took the first turn with nary a sign of pursuer.

~*~*~

It became known as the Car Mat Incident. The only three people allowed to talk or laugh about it were those higher ranked than the Right Hand Man. It didn't matter where on the spaceship, anyone 'unauthorized' to talk about would find a bright red eye flare from the shadows daring them to continue.

Chapter Text

Stretching was very important and felt amazing after flying for hours (even though flying was always the best). Reach down to touch the ground, reach up high, and twist the torso - Charles groaned when his back popped. Oh he had needed that.

Feeling much better the pilot let his headset drop around his neck as he looked over to the the hanger. Normally he was reserved for special missions, but once in awhile if the general needed a wide search net he was called in to help fill the ranks.

It was happening a lot in the recent months. Every time there was suspected Toppat activity they had to scour the area. The government was scrambling, trying to catch any lead on the untouchable gang.

The lookout he had been paired with was a nice fellow to chat with once he overcame the ace pilot's reputation. Unofficially he and Jim had played a few rounds of 'I Spy', to help keep focus. Not that there was much interesting beyond trees or clouds, but finding the odd rock kept them alert.

Like most of the search party they would allowed to eat a late dinner and then retire for the night. It always felt weird to eat at an unscheduled time, but his stomach wasn't going to complain.

Patting his helicopter after the final check he knew he'd be back in the sky the day after tomorrow.

It was a nice enough evening he mused as last rays of sunset sank below the tree line. The temperature was mild, crickets were chirping and if the day hadn't gone so poorly all would be right in the world. The pilot saw a throng of people veer off the road to cut between buildings to get to the cafeteria faster.

Charles didn't take shortcuts at night anymore, especially when alone. He'll just stick to the main road with bright lights and the few other people he could see, thank you very much. He was more in the open, but he would be able to see anyone approaching him.

Trudging along he bit back a yawn and rubbed his eyes. With all former knowledge about bases useless the government was back to square one for dealing with the Toppats. They had abandoned all their known locations, but the higher ups were certain they had established a few new ground bases. Smaller and harder to find since now they were a satellite base while the main force was offshore.

Funny name to call them satellites since the main base was in orbit.

Or if they could catch any Toppat transport it would be good too. How they managed to get small craft able to launch into space when the government was just protyping their own was a frustrating mystery. They were also a fantastic diversion, it was a guessing game which one was going to crime time and the others a merry chase. One had dropped nearby yesterday, it was so close to base they had to go out and look for it.

Humming around the turn Charles stuck is hands in his pockets and he let his thoughts keep wandering, The government was worried, the Toppats had been quiet (too quiet) for too long. They felt something big was coming, and they had to act now. All hands on deck, and that's why he was helping with search missions.

Now he was thinking in circles, after flying in circles all day. Too many circles!

Shaking his head Charles broke out into a light jog until he reached his destination. A smile broke out on his face when he saw a familar face beckoning him over. Not only had Jim grabbed him a tray, there was a spot for him at the packed table. He didn't feel like sitting alone with his thoughts right now.

"Charlie you have to tell that story for everyone. I can't do it justice." Jim enthusiastically used his spork to gesture at the rest of the now quieter table. No one had believed Jimmy that ace pilot would actually join regular rank fliers like them.

"This one mine then?" Charles gestured to make sure he was being welcomed over and only sat down when his new buddy nodded. Mashed potatoes, peas, strange meat patty drowned in faux gravy. "Nice! I'd hate to, uh, interrupt what everyone was talking about though."

"But the bird Charlie." Jims eyes lit up with mirth. He wold have tole the tale, but getting it from the closer source was always better.

Whoo boy, okay, eyes on him then? Looks like it was story time, the great ice breaker since this was one of his silliest mishaps.

"Okay, I was over a forest carrying a scout who was going on a mission. I couldn't get any closer, SAM turrets." The pilot made a face, the bane of his flying career always keeping him away from the action. "So scout was fully ready to go and he opened the door."

Pause for very important bite of mashed potato, he was still hungry after all. Other pilots were nodding at him, SAM turrets were the worst.

"Soon as he does the biggest bird I have ever seen just flies right on in." Dropping the spork to slam his fist into his open hand the pilot shook his head. "Crashes in the far wall and just flaps around making all sorts of noise, you know?"

"The scout just... fell out. Think it was shock? I'm glad he had a parachute and I was high enough so he could manage to land safely." Charlie shrugged and picked up the spork and stabbed the meat patty to cut a bite. "But, that left me, all up and alone in my small helicopter with it."

If the scout had died this wouldn't be a story he'd tell for laughs.

"So, then it decides one isn't enough and flaps up front." Making sure to pause for another bite Charles let the moment linger because timing was important in a story, "I'm waving an arm at it, but the damn thing just won't leave and I'm still trying to fly."

Angling his head up to point at a small scar in front of his ear Charles continued, "It nicked me before squawking off to crash around back more. Now I'm losing altitude, got the scout screaming in my ear, and disaster bird behind me doing who knows what to my helicopter."

He had thier attention now.

"I had it. I really really had it." Steepling his hands the pilot grinned and raised his eyebrows. "Then, uh... I think it was a tall tree? Something hit the back rotor."

Charles could tell who flew immediately from the winces. Losing tail rotors was indeed a very Bad Thing. Bad enough on a good day, worse with a hellion harpy of a bird behind you threatening to fly back up.

"Down I went, in the middle of a forest trying not to hit any trees dead on and... well here I am." Another quick bite of food, "I was able to walk away from that crash with some nasty bruises, but the mission was a bust. Might've been able to save it if my helicopter hadn't burst into flames and set everyone on high alert."

Rubbing the back of his neck he still felt bad how it turned out. Poor helicopter had gone down because of one bird, not a glorious charge into action.

"Scout came to find me and it took us week to get out of there. Bird just flew off like nothing happened." Charles hummed thoughtfully for a moment. At the time it hadn't been fun, but the ridiculousness was hilarious in retrospect since no one died.

Wonder how Vincent was doing? He should send a message and catch up. If he hadn't come along and help drag his semi conscious butt out he might have still been in the copter when it ignited. Plus he backed up the improbable story about the rogue bird.

Chatter broke out over the table and the pilot let it wash over him as he ate. Why didn't they bring more electronics to help them search? Why are big birds just the worst? When did the Toppats get so good at hiding, they went over the same area for the second time this week and still nothing?

A worn out soldier walked up to thier table. "You guys part of the search crew?" Barely waiting for the scattered nods they continued on, "Make sure you stop by the rec room. News has been running on loop since this afternoon. You are not going to believe it."

The table shared confused looks as the soldier walked away before hurrying to finish their meal. Charles had to shove the rest unidentifiable patty in his mouth to keep up with the group as he dropped his tray off. Someone had left a bread roll. Bread was a very important part of the meal, that was his bread roll now. It lived in his pocket for now.

It was a short walk out to the rec room, just across the yard and from this distance the pilot could tell the room was already packed. Once he stepped past the door he opted to lean against the wall, there were some advantages to being taller than average.

"Everyone in? I'm going to unpause it so you guys can see it from the start." One tired looking officer in front held up the remote. "Interrupt and I'll throw you out." How unlucky they'd been to get stuck on TV monitor duty. They were done with this, but if someone didn't kee order the base would be in a messier uproar.

'Hello world.' The simple handwriting filled the screen, just slightly out of focus. The camera zoomed out and a familiar most wanted face smiled at the camera. Henry waved his hand hello and showed the next prompt card.

'You don't know me, but I'm the leader of a group who did something amazing.' The thief's grin slipped into a smug deviousness that earned a few growls from the government soldiers around the room. Why had the news picked this up if the gang was merely bragging about their latest heist?

Charles opted to angrily bite into his bread roll and cross his arms. There was no way he could forget that face. He was still sore the thief got the drop on him that night. He might have been able to stop whatever this was.

'We wanted to get word out before it was covered up or our credit taken.' Holding up the card for a few seconds before dropping it onto his lap Henry leaned back on the couch and held his hand out the the right.

The Right Hand Lady walked out and sat next to her boss. Reaching behind the couch she pulled over a map. "Today we hit the Neckerthief's main operation and two of their larger bases." She pointed to three red x's on the map and looked back up to the camera.

"We weakened them considerably, and emptied their coffers." Ellie threw the map back over the couch and leaned forward, gaze intense. "We took that money and gave it to the charities that would help people most hurt by this gang. There are a lot, they did some nasty stuff and got away with it."

"How did they do it?" The Right Hand Lady sat up straight and looked off camera to the left. On cue the third in command walked over and sat down on Henry's other side.

"Bribes." Reginald clasped his hands in his lap. "The hardest part of this was getting a full list of everyone they bought off. We will be sending the list to all news outlets so the information will get out. We'll also include some key gang members as well as a full list of crimes committed."

"Whether or not police or the governments act on it..." With that he shrugged and looked over to his boss.

Henry flipped a card over and held it up, 'That's all from us today! You'll hear from us again!' Blinking up at the camera he waved with one hand.

The screen flipped to a list of names scrolling down. The banners across the bottom of the screen started listing crimes committed by the Neckerthieves. They were... oh, okay, yeah. Those were pretty bad. Oh the list was still going. Uh huh, still bad, getting worse. Names on list was still going too. Oh boy, uh...

Charles had dry bread mouth. Somewhere over that broadcast he forgotten to keep chewing. Choking down a portion left him with watering eyes as he slipped out the door. What even was that?

So that was their big move? Decimate a rival and proclaim it loudly? Leak a full crime list and corrupted officials? He... didn't know what to think of it. That other group had their fingers in way worse pots than the Toppats. Did they have their own government specialist group to take them down too?

Walking through the rest of the base on autopilot Charles found himself heading towards the barracks. As a special case he got his own room, even though it was only big enough for a bed, the smallest of dressers, and a lamp since there were no windows. Still, it was temporary home sweet home until he got shipped out elsewhere.

Sitting on bed and unlacing his boots the pilot wrinkled his nose. Should've worn fresh socks today, bad socks lived on the bottom ede of the bed. Hanging his jacket of a dresser kob Charles sighed. Tomorrow was going to be.... something. What exactly he didn't know.

Swinging his legs up he flopped back in bed.

Crinkle.

Crinkle? Sounded close?

Reaching up his pillow the perplexed pilot found a folded piece of paper. Not bothering to sit up he flipped open the note to take a look.

'Pretty good for some thieves.' A small doodle of a top hat graced the bottom of the brief note along with a fancily drawn H.

Taking a deep breath Charles put the paper down on his dresser and threw an arm over his face. Why yes General I have a feeling that Toppat ship swung by to leave this note under my pillow. Wasn't there when I left so they waltzed in the base midday to leave it. Bet they're gone now!

Tomorrow was going to be a mess when he had to bring this up to the General.

Chapter Text

"Cutpursers?" Ellie crossed her arms. "So Neckerthieves always had different scarves, Cutpursers always have a bag on them. Do big criminal organizations need to be accessory related?" The first gang name had been clever, this name was too straight forward and disappointing.

Henry shrugged and pointed to his hat. Kettle couldn't call out the pot. If anything they had the least... witty name out of the three. That was fine, they were classy.

"Helps single out an ally 'n the middle of a fight." Right Hand Man was scanning the desk covered in documents breaking down their next target. This looked ambitious and tricky, he didn't like it already.

"They carry knives in the purses." Reginald supplied.

"Oh my god that's so bad." Ellie covered her face. If all gang names were going to be this bad they were doing the world a favour.

Henry clapped for attention and looked around his officers before pointing at one picture that called his attention. Whomever had taken this picture hadn't appreciated their subject yet a hint of majesty still beamed through.

"Evernight Sapphire, it's their crowning trophy." Reginald clasped his hands watching the others, "Naturally we'll be keeping it."

Henry grinned and gave a thumbs up. It would look great to the three large gems they already had! Plus it was a different colour and would sparkle differently adding just that little bit of extra. Grabbing the paper he began to read over details.

"Cutpursers are thinly spread, so we'll need to make haste before they scatter and clear out their nests."

"Makes them sound like rats." Ellie wrinkled her nose as the image of a rat with a tiny scarf around it's neck popped into her mind. It wasn't a cute rat, the scarf had seen better days, and it was rubbing it's creepy front paws together. No thank you.

"No one likes the Cutpursers." Right Hand Man narrowed his eyes as he felt he finally understood, "You going for a three prong Reg?" He never liked a plan with too many moving parts, more to go wrong at the worst time.

"Yes, two for the trophies, and one each for the two nests. Since they travel light most of their money is electronically kept, but I don't know if their records are kept in the same location. That's why both nests will have to be hit at the same time." Reginald knew they moved around and rarely put down roots, they were used to running. Logistically it must be a nightmare to run, but it was hard to pin them down.

Henry frowned and looked up from the paper. That sounded dangerous. With the Neckerthieves they could spread out their attacks a few days

"We'll have to bring back up." Right Hand Man leaned back in his chair and mentally ran through the list of mission available Toppats. They'd have to be sorted to fit with whomever was leading to maximize efforts.

"We got this." Ellie nudged her boss and grinned. It'd been awhile since they teamed up and this sounded fun.

"Uh, actually if Henry wants to go for the sapphire he'll need to take me." Reginald apologetically scratched the back of his neck.

"Why is that? We work well Reg, it's been ages." The Right Hand Lady frowned, she was competent.

"It's a clever hiding place. They used a museum, but," Reginald held up his hand before he could be interrupted, "it's not on display. This is a huge museum and thier storage is vast. It's a closed system that can only be accessed there."

"You know I can use a computer Reg." Ellie's brow shot up and she crossed her arms.

"But can you read Vrinesh?"

~*~*~

Henry had time to think. Twenty minutes was a long time to stand on a toilet, but the museum would close soon. They had to stay still so the automatic lights would stay off and lull the security into being lax when they came for the final sweep.

Just a little too much time to reflect how before departure Right Hand Man had pulled him aside and given him a Look. Technically he may be his subordinate, but the cyborg was very intimidating. Why he felt the need to point out direct confrontation wasn't their strong suite. It wasn't that Henry couldn't fight, it just wasn't the most... reliable skill he had. Reginald was just terrible at anything suddenly closer than ten feet if he wasn't armed.

They all had their own talents.

The bathroom door opened and Henry blinked furiously when the lights flickered back on. Heavy footsteps walked into the room and stopped in front of his stall. Glaring at the door in front of him and willing the other to go away the thief's lip curled.

The guard said something, and then nudged the door.

Henry mentally swore and yanked his left foot up out of sight. He wiggled dangerously for a second and then hoped the stall walls were strong enough to support him leaning against it.

The door stopped partway and the thief nearly sighed in relief. If they had to start taking out guards this early on it would end in chaos. Bad things happened when his heists got too chaotic.

Satisfied with the seemingly unoccupied sliver of a toilet the guard's footsteps walked away. It was only when the door closed and half a minute passed before Henry risked a sigh. Sneaking was stressful, his hands were already clammy from that encounter.

Wiping his hands on his shirt the thief reached out to brace against the other wall as he put his left foot down.

Plop.

Henry cringed as water seeped through his shoe. As current Greatest Thief in the World, Leader of Toppats, and one of the governments most wanted he was going to pretend this didn't happen.

Stepping down with his other foot the thief carefully lifted his soaked foot and carefully shook it a few times. It squelched when he put it back on the ground, and so he ended up frantically waving it around to get more water out. The stall walls were speckled with water droplets by the time he was done, wet shoes were the worst.

Satisfied Henry stepped out and grimaced at the damp squeak.

Reginald offered a handful of paper towels with a smirk. "It's not the first time, nor will it be the last time this happened." He wouldn't dare laugh at his boss right now,

Not out loud at least.

Deadpanning Henry took them and aggressively patted his offending foot. Once it stopped squeaking he nodded and wadded the paper towels up to throw away. It wasn't comfortable, but it was silent and that was all that mattered right now.

Back to the plan, time to get the hats out of their bags. It's Toppat time.

Reaching in his pocket the thief pulled out his lock picking kit and checked it over. Satisfied that everything was intact he flashed the other a thumbs up, pointed at the door, and then jerked his thumb over his shoulder. Time to move.

Cracking open the door a quick scan showed one side of the dim hallway was clear. Pushing open further to look the other way showed they were alone for now. Henry scurried out and stopped in front of the third door he passed. Dropping to a knee he began to fiddle with the lock.

It was old, well maintained, and most importantly only took half a minute to get to the sweet satisfying click. Wasting no time Henry opened the door into the pitch black room.

Smelled dusty.

Leaving the door just open enough for Reginald to slip in he closed it quietly and sighed. That was the biggest exposed gap of the plan for them. Not that he enjoyed standing in the small nearly windowless room. It felt worse than a prison with the small narrow window on the door and shelves crammed with knickknacks looming against the walls. He was allowed to say that, he'd been to prison before and it was nicer than this room felt.

Squinting his way through the room Reginald found his way to the desk leaving his boss to keep watch. Turning it on he let his fingers find the keyboard as he waited for the screen to come online.

Henry jerked back from the window when he heard a hiss. He had a shadow on the door? Raising an eyebrow he sent a questioning look over his shoulder. That was... bright.

By jove whoever set their computer to maximum brightness indoors should... should not. Leaving one arm to shield his face as the other frantically searched for the brightness settings Reginald hissed again. He wasn't sure how long it took until the cursed light finally relented.

Now he had a lingering giant spot in his vision and watering sore eyes. Muttering quietly he blinked and wiped away a few tears. No he was not going to acknowledge the snicker he heard across the room.

Looking around Reginald lucked out into finding the password taped under the keyboard. Now he could start digging for the information they needed.

Henry looked down at his watch. How long had it been since the guard passed through the bathroom? Seven minutes? Nine minutes? They were supposed to be twelve minutes apart, but people rarely managed clockwork reliability. Narrowing his eyes the thief resumed his scanning outside.

Time seemed to drag as he looked outside to the quiet typing behind him.

Guard, there was a guard, guard walking down the hallway but still far away guard. Snapping his fingers Henry pointed at the window and stepped aside. Backing up against the wall he saw Reginald slap some sticky notes over the power button, and turn off the monitor. Now the guard would have no reason to stop.

The window light disappeared. He'd expected it when security passed by and almost sighed in relief except... it was still blocked. Keys jingled and Henry swallowed, inching further away from the door until he hit the shelf.

The door swung open without a care in the world from the merrily humming guard. Joe was having an alright night. It was pretty tedious and boring but uneventful. Looks like Mr. Hyurn finally got the door stopper installed since he didn't hear the door slam into the shelf. Nice.

Looking to the left the guard opened the second drawer of the file cabinet and reached inside. Pulling out a small candy bar from Hyurn's secret stash (he had permission) Joe opened and shoved the whole thing in his mouth before walking out and locking the door again. Now he was having a good night.

"...ow." Henry clutched his stomach and sunk to his knees. He really had the worst luck sometimes. Catching a doorknob to the guts was still better than being found out but... ow. Having to stay quiet at the same time the door handle hit him, well, luckily he had a high pain tolerance?

"Henry?" Reginald risked peeking around the desk.

" 'm fine, keep going. 's clear." The thief waved back and let himself hunch over more. One more minute then he'll get up.

Once the monitor's light flickered on Henry stood up and winced. That would leave a bruise. Rubbing the injured spot his brows furrowed, no way could he let this stand as is.

Swinging his bag off to open it and stood in front of the file cabinet. He'd watched the guard when he was trapped and blinking back tears. Tugging the drawer open the thief picked up a candy filled bowl and dumped it inside the ready bag.

"Is that really necessary?" Reginald raised his eyebrows at the petty thievery unfolding before him. A slow turn, steely gaze, and a single nod was the answer he got.

"Very well. I have the information." Standing up he powered the computer down and watched his boss walk over. There was a reason they wanted this particular office, the head curator had a small personal elevator to the storage vaults.

It was one of the most direct ways in, the architect had designed the vaults in the second basement with protected walls. In a clever move they had only two stairs access from the third floor or the head curator's office elevator. Moving large objects from storage must be a nightmare.

Elevator music sprung into his mind unbidden soon as Henry stepped inside using a small dim flashlight to lead the way. Lifts always made him feel like he should tap his foot and stare at his watch while the music droned on.

Beep.

Beep.

Sigh.

Beep.

Beep.

Soft annoyed muttering.

Beep.

Beep.

"I'm beginning to suspect card readers have a vendetta against me." Reginald said dryly as he stared at the card in his hand. It always seemed to happen at bad times, like when his not-yet-boss had crashed through the window and chased him down. To think they'd end up like this, life was strange and unpredictable thing.

Henry snickered and held out the light, "Switch?"

"Gladly."

Beep. Beep.

Ding.

The doors closed and the B2 button was lit. The short ride down was silent and both were relieved to see the vault had lighting. Henry got his flashlight back and tucked it in his pocket. Blinking he looked at the card and stuck that in a different pocket, he had a feeling the other wouldn't want it back.

Reginald was looking around, absently pointing at the wall as he tried to find his bearings. Rodents and bats?

"Always bilingual?" Henry trailed after. It had been nagging at the back of his mind and he'd never gotten a chance to ask. The vaults had no guards inside according to plans so this was the safest time to speak.

"No. I learned a few languages to make myself useful." This was the bird section? How did they organize this place? Were they in the taxonomy section? Nature section?

"What?"

Reginald paused and looked back. "Before I was leader." He snorted and crossed his arms, "I was never good at... thuggish work. So I found ways around it and made myself necessary in other ways."

Henry held up his hands, "Can't imagine they wouldn't want you working for them."

"Well, different leadership style. Terrence valued adrenaline and action over all." Plus the strength to back him up in a raid. The former leader settled on annoyed tolerated because he was useful in other ways.

"Bet he never expected you to make a move then." Henry raised an eyebrow. Gung ho types rarely expected looked backwards, a fatal mistake when it came to his third in command.

"I was counting on it." Reginald looked smug for a moment before it faded to resigned, "He was going to ruin the clan, someone had to do something." It had taken years to get thier numbers and reputation back up. It was a dark time in Toppat history.

Henry reached over and patted the other thief's shoulder and made sure he shot a thumbs up when it would be seen. He appreciated not having to come up with plans and paperwork assistance.

Rolling his eyes Reginald waved his boss off and starting walking again. He did what he had to and regretted nothing.

There were long corridors of drawers with the occasional haphazardly large items left lining the walls. Honestly they needed to overhaul the whole storage system, it seemed like a mess. Even the ceiling looked like it could use some work.

Minerals. This was the one!

Turning down the aisle Reginald ignored the smallest drawers, there was no way the sapphire would fit in one. Finally towards the middle he nodded and tapped a large plaque. "Should be this one, I'll keep checking."

Henry nodded and fanned out his lockpicks before staring at the lock. Grin widening the thief knelt down to go to work. He'd get to see his new jewel soon and he couldn't wait. Would it outshine the others?

Reginald kept walking until he reached the end of the corridor and turned right. Okay he might have had a small side agenda planned from the start. Something he had intended to steal but the rival gang had beaten him to it. He wasn't that far removed from petty thievery, just some minor revenge for beating him to it.

Bringing out his own tools to pick the lock the thief slung his bag to his arm. Dropping his lockpicking kit back Reginald reached in the drawer and pulled out a small case. Tucking the container in his bag he noted quiet footsteps. Henry must be walking over now.

Reginald paused as he grasped the zipper, but the steps were coming from the other way he expected? Wouldn't his boss have followed the same way he had walked? Tilting his head for sutble glimpse he caught a flash of white as he closed the bag. Neither Toppat was wearing white and there wasn't supposed to be any security down here.

Time to go.

Breaking into a run the cry that followed was definitely not his leader's. This was going to be a problem.

Henry had stars in his eyes soon as he saw his new gem. Reaching down he picked the large jewel and hugged it. The Evernight Sapphire would look amazing with the right lighting, it was a crime to keep it locked up here. Plucking his favourite thievery gadget from his bag, the Shrink n' Grow would make transport a breeze.

With a whoosh the new sparkly could fit in his hand. His new sparkly. Yes this was the best heist he had in months!

Hearing a shout nearby had the thief jump and look around. He didn't see anyone. He stood up when he heard running and winced when there was a loud thud. Stashing the miniature gem in his bag and hurriedly crept the way he last saw the other go. It should have just been the two of them?

Peeking around the corner Henry furrowed his brow. There was a guard pressing his knee (and using superior bulk) on Reginald's back. The other was trying to get his fallen hat but it was out of reach. The struggle would be over in moments.

Looking around the thief's eyes fell on a sword hilt. Eyes lighting up Henry hefted the weapon. It was heavy and more of a long bar than actual sword. It would do, yeah, it'd be like swinging a baseball bat. Home run and batter up, something something sports go time!

The guard had just enough warning to turn around.

"Might be more." Henry rested the end of his new... sword bat (sword bar?) on the ground. They needed to get moving if anyone came to investigate. He reached down ready to help the other up.

Reginald wheezed and rolled away from the body. That encounter would leave some bruises. He managed to sit up and stare at the offered hand. Hunching his shoulders he disgruntledly looked down with a sigh. "...little tied up chief."

Blinking the Toppat leader leaned over to get a better view and winced at the zip tie around the other's wrists. That had been one efficient guard. The question now was did he have a knife on him? Patting down his pockets the thief frowned. Maybe they had a weapons down here too? They couldn't stay long if regular check ins were req-

"Left Henry!" Was all Reginald managed before scooting back into the aisle and out of sight as his boss turned to look. Not having his hands free was bad enough, but sitting around as an easy target was not something he enjoyed doing.

This guard smirked when they stepped into the hallway. Resting one arm behind their back, they said something and crooked a finger at the thief.

Lifting his new favourite weapon sword bat Henry rolled his shoulder and charged. The guard was unarmed and he had his new weapon. Swinging hard he found himself stumbling forward when the taller security stepped aside. Whirling around the thief held the sword bat up with ease.

Clang.

Henry paled. Sword bat was easier to hold because it was missing half the bar. He was facing an armed guard with a proper sword. That didn't seem like standard issue gear, and more importantly where did it come from?! There was no sheath he could see behind the security officer.

The guard mockingly shook their head and swung into the offensive.

Jumping back to parry lost another inch off his sword bat. The next shuffle lost two inches. Henry swallowed, he was out classed and running out of options.

There was no doubt he was being toyed with now.

Henry grit his teeth. It was now or never, sword bat had nothing left to save him and this wasn't the first time he'd gambled on his luck. Drawing back his arm the thief threw the hilt as hard as he could at the guard's face.

...who barked out a laugh after dodging. Novice mistake to telegraph moves to early. Time to end this and finish off both.

Watching the sword Henry didn't expect the kick that sent him slamming into the wall and stumbling to the ground. Disorientated he blinked a few times before focusing back to the guard lifting the sword over their head. Eyes widening the thief threw up his arms.

He screamed at the gunshot and curled into a ball.

...wait, gun? Cracking an eye open (when had he closed them?) the guard was still towering over him sword ready to strike.

The sword clattered to the ground behind the guard as they staggered to the side. Clutching at their chest as red started seeped through they slid down the wall and snarled at the shaken thief.

Henry shuddered. It was time to go. Standing up he took a few careful shaky steps around the downed security officer and reached down to pick up the sword. Backing up he kept eyes on the guard until he ducked into the aisle. No way was he going to underestimate some one who nearly chopped him in half.

"Cutpursers Henry." Reginald put the gun down with a wince when his boss walked around the corner. He hadn't managed a proper grip when zip tied and the small gun had a surprising amount of recoil. Not that wiggling his hands from behind his back to the front had been pleasant with the one sided fight had carried on.

"...what?" Frowning he jammed the sword down in the ground and turned to look at the first body. There was no pur- was that a fanny pack? It looked like a regular belt from the front, and wasn't it just kind of... hip purse? If they were Fanny Packs of Holding that could explain how his opponent magically got a sword.

My god they had fanny packs. Maybe they should have been called the Fanny Packers instead.

Reginald startled from the sword jabbed in front of him. He glanced up to his distracted boss, back to the sword, and then up at his boss again. Gingerly using the disturbingly sharp blade to free himself he continued, "Canny idea to pose as security while keeping thier valuables safe." It would explain why no one was stationed down here. If they get word they could grab thier valuables and run.

Henry waited until the other stood up before picking up the sword again. This was his now even though it wasn't his typical tool. Both thieves froze as static crackle filled the air.

A quick mutter into the walkie talkie and the wounded guard let the device fall from their hand. Letting their head loll in the intruders direction the Cutpurser was pleased to see an audience. "Toppats." Mocking doffing a cap they began to laugh.

That was bad, whatever just happened from magic fanny pack 'guard'. Henry lifted the sword and stuck his tongue out at fake guard. Once he marched aisle he let his shoulders slump and the unlucky turn of events.

"...worst place to be." Reginald muttered and rubbed his temple. "Nnng. Elevator will be offline, security will come down both stairs..."

Henry half paid attention as he let his gaze drift around. There was no audible alarm nor flashing lights down here to indicate an alarm. Maybe if they had been in a larger storage they could have hidden cleverly, but that wasn't an option down here.

"...maybe climb the cable wires, but I'm not sure if we could open the door..."

Blinking the Toppat chief let his gaze drift upwards. Looks like construction had cut a few corners and left the ceiling exposed. Lights and their wires curled around the large metal joists above.

"...risky but I can't think of a be- Henry?" Reginald winced when his wrist was grabbed and he was dragged after. They were heading away from the elevator to the stairs, clearly not the plan he just gone over.

Running to the end of hallway and turning the corner Henry saw the stairs start a couple feet away. Those weren't important, but the shoddy ceiling sure was! The sloped end of the stairs ceiling ended hanging lower then the metal bars was even better than he hoped.

No one coming down the stairs would see them. Grinning in triumph the thief pointed up. This was giving him a good feeling, so it was sure to work.

"Ah... yes that would do nicely." Musing out loud he looked back to his chief who clasped his hands and jerked his head up. Technically he shouldn't go first, but from the way his leader's eyes narrowed Reginald felt this wasn't the time to complain.

After giving a hand (and shoulder) boost Henry passed his new sword up. It would be too suspicious laying around and climbing with a sharp object wasn't the smartest plan when he needed two hands. Rubbing his hands together he leapt off the wall and managed to heave himself up.

When nine guards ran under the Toppat leader watched them smugly. If there was one thing he liked to count on, people rarely looked up. Waiting until the last officer rounded a corner and orders were being yelled he flashed a thumbs up before hopping down quietly as he could.

After getting his sword back Henry he turned towards the stairs. He gestured walking with one hand, pointed to the stairs, and held up two fingers. He got a blank stare in response. Frowning he pointed to his feet and walked to the stairs. Stepping softly he took two steps at a time, maximum stealth with some speed. This time he got a nod as an answer.

The climb was nerve racking listing for footsteps above, below, or both. There were no markers on the wall to show what floor they were on. Henry belated realized as he spotted the last stair, that from the second basement to the third floor was five flights. Breathing heavily he promised to work more on his cardio when (not if) they back to the station.

There were flashing lights in the hallway but no guards. Reginald let himself take a loud deep breath to help clear his mind. He needed a shower after this. "Camera's seen us."

Thumping his chest Henry coughed and nodded. Less treadmill running, more stairmaster cardio.

Taking off down the hallway at a jog he began to regret carrying the stolen sword. He didn't want to use it on regular guards, they were trying to be 'good' now. It's not like he had any other use for it other then-

Sliding to a stop Henry almost cooed to a fist sized aqua jewel. Regretting absolutely nothing the thief easily lopped off the top of the clear case to grab the gem. Maybe the Cutpursers had been onto something with the bladed weapons.

Reginald had skidded past not expecting his leader to stop. "Not the time Henry."

Looking up sheepishly at the irked tone Henry shrugged and started to run again. It was just too lovely a color to pass up. He couldn't stop to put it in his bag, his pockets weren't big enough, and... okay maybe it was a bad idea to pick up. Good thing he wasn't alone.

"Catch."

The gem flew through the air and Reginald gasped veering off to catch it. One does not just throw priceless gems around. Some were quite delicate. It was- well actually this was a nice gem, the chief had a good eye, but still!

Looking back over to glare as his smirking boss turned the corner the large yellow sign with red writing and exclamation slowed his steps. He didn't know that word, but the bright colors were universal. He couldn't see beyond the hall with the gauzy plastic curtain. Even if he called out now there was no way his leader could stop, "Henry!"

Henry got a face full of plastic sheet before he got through and blinked at the large room. Something felt wrong and he swore time slowed.

Across the room he could a square with two hooded heads on either side. Looking down he saw they were heavily robed statues sitting down holding trinkets on their lap. Bouquet of flowers and the other was a pitcher. There was another of the strange square at the bottom, and the middle square between them had a bar. A railing. To keep people from falling off the second story.

He, awesome Toppat Leader Henry Stickmin, the greatest thief had just run off the third floor.

"Aaaaaaaaaaa-" clamping his eyes shut he braced for the worst.

Pushing the curtain aside expecting the worst Reginald winced. The good was no pancake on the floor, the bad was instead Henry fell a... probably survivable distance on a stone book a giant statue held, and the ugly was how was he going to follow?

They had needed to get to the first floor and trust his boss to find an express way down.

Henry twitched.

Stashing the aqua gem in his hat Reginald sighed in relief, probably alive then. He could work with this some how. He had no rope, didn't trust the plastic sheets in the slightest, and there were no useful columns to clamber down.

There was shouting the distance.

Pinching the bridge of his nose he groaned at his only option. No, he could do this. Tapping his fingers together nervously he glanced down again. Giant statue, he could make the shoulder and then make his way down the arm.

The shouting was getting closer.

Reginald leapt. His relief morphed to terror when one foot immediately slid off soon as he landed. Frantically grabbing at stone he caught groove before he fell too far. Shakily taking a breath he worked his way down, the robed figure provided plenty more wrinkles for him to use.

"Henry." Reaching down to gently slap the side of his leader's face he glanced up to the third floor. He couldn't tell if the shouting was closer or not, but he didn't see anyone either. Calling his leader's name again the thief shrugged off his bag and pulled out a bottle of water he picked earlier in the day while playing tourist. Dumping half on his boss he hoped it worked else he'd have to try a much harder (thus louder) slap.

Henry jerked up with a sputter. What? Ow? Why did he hurt? Reaching up to touch the back of his head he hissed. He heard a displeased noise behind him and he turned to look at the other.

Reginald knew head injuries were serious, but the other's eyes were focused. That was a good sign. He'd need to keep an eye on this until they were back at base. Lovely. "Can you stand?"

Blinking owlishly Henry turned back around to stare at his legs. They looked fine, other than almost getting impaled by a sword. Grabbing the statue thief sluggishly pulled himself up himself up and looked around. Yes, he knew this room, the angle was different though.

Balance seemed fine, good. "Now can you make it down?" Looking over the front of the book the statue's robed legs would be easy enough for a novice. Conversely, easy enough for a guard to climb to them. Reginald didn't see any cameras, but he couldn't be sure since this giant room wasn't in the blueprints. There were supposed to be floors, not a giant open area.

Abandoning the sword he climbed down and gingerly rested a hand against the back of his head. There was something he was doing, it was on the edge of his mind before... oh he'd fell. Slapping his fist into his open hand he looked at the statue. It happened so fast!

Pushing his boss to a nice niche with a particularly lovely lush large potted plant Reginald took a moment. Extrapolating their position meant the exit was the right corridor, where security was likely clumped.

Rolling his shoulders Henry looked thoughtful as he remembered. They were heisting, and he had a lovely jewel in his bag. Didn't he have a sword somewhere? He had it, oh it was on the statue. Too late to go back for it now.

"We're going to need a distraction." Not seeing any guards Reginald turned back to see his boss grin and raise his hands ready to clap. No! Last time that dance had been used the entire ship had lost an hour. "We need them to not look at us."

Disappointed his dance had been shot down Henry crossed his arms. Maybe it would have started a distraction conga line, that would be hard to escape from. Patting down his pockets he gave up and pulled his bag off to dig through it. He always had something.

Pulling out a large super bouncy ball he paused. This could work, he'd miss it on the shuttle rides between earth and their base. Wiggling his chosen distraction to the other he listened carefully before stepping out. Coast clear Henry stared at the far corridor as he wound up. It was just like baseball. He'd never played, but they must throw like that for a reason, right?

Strikeout fastball pitch something something sports go time again!

"Yes!" Henry pumped his fist as the ball disappeared down the far hallway. With that much force it should bounce around for awhile. Backing up into the niche again he grinned with a thumbs up.

A loud crash echoed from down the hallway followed by a cacophony of smaller ones.

Seven guards ran by as another cascade of noise earned a wince. Whatever broke, he'd offer a donation as apology later. For now it was the best possible distraction he could have thrown into. Henry hunched his shoulders as another round of crashes started, maybe a little too good?

That... must have been the stained glass exhibit. Pity, it was one of their biggest attractions and it was supposedly breathtaking in the afternoon when the light angled perfectly. Shooting his boss a neutral expression Reginald gestured to the right hallway as a fourth round of noise started up. This time the guards were frantically yelling just to add to the chaos.

Sheepishly slinking around the corner Henry made sure to not look back. He had wanted minimal damage and mortality since this wasn't a criminal base. Whoops. At least the mortality thing was still good? Yeah. No, this was fine. Walking down the hall the thief felt confidence trickled back as they got further away from the mayhem he unleashed.

"Exit ahead on the left, probably one guard at least." Reginald supplied quietly.

Henry looked thoughtful and nodded. Creeping quietly against the wall he inched up until he could peek around. Looked like one guard, they wouldn't strand a chance except... front desk guards usually had tricks up their sleeves. Eyes narrowing he shuffled back.

Pointing over his shoulder he held up one finger with his other hand. Waiting for the confirmatory nod Henry pointed at the other. Raising an eyebrow he grinned raising up both his hands and shaking them before pointing around the corner.

Closing his eyes Reginald held in a sigh and then shot his boss a flat look. He gestured to himself and then pointed around the corner. He didn't make a habit of willingly walking into a bad situation. Surely they could find a different distraction?

Nodding Henry pointed to himself and silently punched his fist into his other hand. If the guard was distracted he could take them out! A basic plan was sometimes the best plan, right? He had a better chance of overcoming the guard with the element of surprise.

Taking off his hat with a sour expression Reginald ran his hand through his hair. He did not like nor approve this. Glaring at his boss he straightened his shoulders holding his hat in front of himself and stepped around the corner. He needed to make his ways to the door to give his boss the best opportunity to attack.

Henry waited, listening intently to the conversation he couldn't understand. He could tell his subordinate was getting more nervous as the other voice grew sternly insistent. He risked a quick look when he heard a indignant yelp.

His eyebrows shot up when he stared at the standing guard. Tasers weren't standard equipment, but this person had one. Henry wasn't sure if it was the fact his subordinate was fired on, or the taser needles stuck in the top hat that prompted the yell. Maybe both.

Reaching out to grab the large vase the thief watched as the security pulled out a baton and walked out from behind his desk. A smile curled on Henry's face as they turned thier back to him. Lifting the surprisingly light vase overhead he ran out and smashed it down hard as he could at the guard.

Plastic, it was a plastic vase that made a funny hollow klunk sending reverbs up his arms. It still got the job done and Henry sighed in relief as he dropped it. They had the jewel, were at a now unguarded exit, and should be able to get back up home in less than an hour.

"This is a custom hat, it has electronics in it." Reginald muttered as he pulled out the taser hooks and inspected the damage. Right on the circuit board, it'd need to go for repairs now. Frowning he pulled out a phone and began to dial their pick up ride's number. He could be annoyed about his hat on the way home.

Using his foot to prod the guard one last time to make sure they weren't faking Henry nodded and walked over to the desk. There were buttons. Many buttons. Why where there so many buttons? A desk didn't need this many buttons.

Scratching his head he let his eyes pan over until one gave him a good feeling. Jamming his finger without hesitation he looked up and saw the metal door reinforcements slide away. Nailed it.

The chill air felt great after running inside. Stepping down the stairs Henry looked up the street. The car was supposed to come from that direction - or the the police. Chest high hedges lined the border of the lawn as sculptures scattered inside. It was one of the nicest museums he had stolen from.

"Chill Kat isn't picking up." Following his boss Reginald glared daggers at the burner phone in his hand. If she wasn't answering her disposable he'd have to call her regular phone. He had the number somewhere on him.

No use standing around waiting for the police to show up. Even if they made good time in the improvised escape the law officers wouldn't dawdle enroute. Standing in front of the entrance was far from subtly ideal. His thoughts were rambling now.

Henry snorted and rubbed at his head again. He really should look into parkour or how to stick his landings better. Not that it would have helped him just running off the third floor or... okay he just had bad luck sometimes to balance out his great luck.

Snapping his fingers for attention he pointed to the lawn and leapt over the railing once he was sure his intentions were understood. Looks like they weren't done running yet, but he really hoped they wouldn't have to duck into a dumpster to hide.

It was a big lawn. He was going to sleep like a log after this.

Reaching the corner he ducked down to catch his breath and look back. There were the flashing lights, oh they were in trouble.

"What do you mean you can't get to the car Katie?" Reginald hissed into the phone as he hunched over. He facepalmed, "A... flock of geese. Really? Wonderful." No he wasn't going to question this, of course there was no way to salvage his plan. Dragging his hand down his face he shook his head and shot an exasperated look to the sky.

Henry assumed they would not be getting a ride anytime soon. Sticking his head out of the hedge bush he didn't see any police cars coming further down the street yet. Wiggling his way through he glanced around again and darted across the road. Now they just needed somewhere to lie low until either the car or backup arrived.

The streetlights were dim as the thieves ran away, glancing over their shoulders in case they were found.

A few blocks later Henry skidded to a stop in front of a patch of green amid the concrete. It couldn't be that easy could it? Running across a small park, garden, or whatever it was? The old tree in the corner looked promising, dense foliage would help hide them if they climbed high enough.

Reginald peered up the tree as he slowed to a stop. The trunk looked like it had some smooth coating, and... wire spikes further up? Tree climbing deterrents no doubt. It's a solid idea, but they didn't have any equipment to circumvent the protected trunk. Turning to his boss to suggest they move on he saw his boss digging through his bag.

...grappling hook.

"If you had that we could have left from the roof." Crossing his arms as he watched the other start to wind up his toss.

Henry pulled the rest of the rope out of his bag and wiggled it at the other thief. It was enough for one story on a building, but not much more. It was a balance of bag space and overall usefulness, but this tool came with him every time.

As the Toppat leader began to climb Reginald rubbed at his eyes and waited for his turn. He was going to take an extra long shower after an uninterrupted sleep.

Clambering up Henry pulled himself up on a branch and higher into the tree. He settled down on his perch and waited for his subordinate. It would be some time before the manhunt was organized, so they only had to worry about the police cars driving by right now.

Taking back his grapple hook once the other brought it up he starting winding the rope around the handle. "Geese?" Looking over at the nearby occupied branch he raised an eyebrow.

Groaning softly Reginald threw his head back. Just let his poor plan rest in peace. It had taken a couple of steps and died to point blank shotgun maelstrom of bad luck. It had taken him weeks to work it out, all for naught.

Throwing the tool back into his bag Henry paused and squinted. Now that they were going to spend hours up in a tree he had something else that might come in handy. "Open your bag and hold over here."

Reginald did so and heard crinkling as his boss transferred a couple handfuls of something to his bag. Pulling it back he snorted at bunch of candy pilfered earlier. He only had half a granola bar and they would be better than having nothing else. Pulling out an unopened water bottle and the half empty one he used to revive Henry earlier he poured them til they were even. Reaching out he offered one to the other.

Henry peeled the wrapper off and bit into the stolen candy bar. He'd rather eat a bunch now before the area became over run with on foot police sweep.

Victory was tasted sweet.

Chapter Text

Right Hand Man didn't need his internal clock to know something went wrong. No, the internal comms line was a buzz with speculation as he kept his lines open for any information he could use. He could only sit and refresh the news feed on his tablet for so long to keep his hands busy.

An hour wouldn't have phased him, but six was too long for one of their teams to go silent.

Right slowly opened his eyes at the drink in front of him. He'd decided to wait in a lounge, he risked falling asleep too deeply in his own room. He would nod off for a couple of minutes and jerk himself awake outside his room. Old habits could be a useful thing to have, and he needed to be ready.

Resigned he pulled the drink closer and took a sip from the straw. It was supposed to be vanilla but the underlying chalky metallic taste couldn't be completely covered. He was supposed to have these unpleasant concoctions twice a day to help him stay in good form. Chugging the rest he got up and left it in the dirty dishes area, someone would get it later.

Checking the tablet one more time the cyborg glared at it before snapping the cover shut and stalking out of the room. He wasn't sure how he felt about the lack of updates, but he knew he didn't like waiting. He should have voiced his concerns about the most recent plan, namely the team divisions.

He wasn't sure where he was even walking to right now, he just needed to move.

Stopping in a hallway he stared out the window. Or tried. The lighting was dim, and his eye lit the window with it's own flare and his own red reflection. Grumbling he pulled down his hat to cover the worst of it and let his normal eye glance out to the stars he could see beyond the earth.

The last time he had used a hand he had smudged the lens and found out he needed a special cloth and cleaner for it. The other time he managed to scratch it with the robotic one and that had been far worse, a full replacement. He didn't want to spend time dealing with either problem. Hat worked just fine.

A pod was granted permission to dock medical and security staff requested.

Shit. Bad feeling confirmed, and here he was on the other damned side of the space station. This was the closer side, it should have docked over here.

Pushing his hat back up the cyborg stalked his way to the nearest elevator and jammed the button. Crossing his arms he waited for the eternity it took to arrive.

It only stopped twice to get to the floor he wanted. Each time the door opened the lower ranked Toppat would look inside, apologize to him, and say they were going to wait for the next one. He must look like he was in the middle of something Important and Urgent.

He was.

Right didn't bother to soften his footsteps as he plodded through the hallway. The medbay's double doors slid open and he walked up to the first room that had a light shining inside. His hand hovered over the handle before raising it to knock instead.

The door opened before he did.

Ellie raised an eyebrow and smirked. She let the door lazily swing further in so the cyborg see a sleeping Henry. He had a bandage on his head and was hooked up to a couple of monitors but otherwise seemed fine. Someone must have had to stay to monitor their chief.

This isn't who he was looking for though.

"Third room down." The pink hat tipped in the direction as she pulled her chair over to sit by the open door. She had suspicions and observations, but there was never a good point to bring up and ask anything directly. What kind of thief would she be if she turned down a chance to get her foot in the door?

Right Hand Man narrowed his eyes at the other. He didn't care for an audience but he wasn't going to stand around to start arguing. Holding the annoyed glare for a few seconds he turned to stalk down to the third door. He didn't hesitate to knock this time.

"Perfect timing come in."

Opening the door he saw the resident Toppat doctor (complete with that odd metal circle banded around their top hat) yank a wrist brace over a displeased and tired Reginald. Right felt relief trickle through him, nothing serious. This was fine.

"No work for a few days either. Don't sleep with it on." The medical professional continued. Normally no one else would be allowed in the room, but technically as a criminal doctor they could ignore those rules. What was important is the advice was followed and knowing Reginald some back up was always a good thing.

Crossing his arms carefully Reginald half heartedly glared at the doctor. It was too... late? Early? It was too whenever whatever time for this.

"Mind making sure he gets back to his room Right Hand Man?" Scribbling a few notes down on a clipboard the doctor didn't even look up to see the cyborg nod.

Skulking out of the room Reginald took a deep breath. He could probably work his way around the restrictions, there was still so much to do. A cool pressure on the bruise on his back made him wince and pull away. Blinking owlishly at Right he blanked on words.

"Ya been up over thirty 'ours 'aven'cha?" Right lowered his metal arm slowly. He forgot how the cold metal was off putting and the other was only wearing his dress shirt. They weren't know for being made of warm material.

"I..." a thoughtful look crossed Reginald's face as he tried to work out the times. Well, so he had. "Yes."

The cyborg switched sides and rested his normal arm on the other's shoulder. No flinch this time, good. He gestured to the door leading to the hallway. The other always veered between snippy or placid when he was up that long.

Ellie waved cheerfully to a surprised Reginald who waved back and Right who just narrowed his eyes. She was going to get up to trouble, he just knew it.

Reginald started repining once the doors closed and the warm hand on his shoulder gently pushed him down the hall. "It wasn't supposed to take that long." Hunching his shoulders his hands curled into frustrated claws, "They had Cutpursers in the vault acting as guards. Of course it wouldn't be on the schedules."

"Hn." Chiming in with noncommittal noises at appropriate places he made sure they were heading towards the elevator.

"I didn't even know geese migrated there." Reginald didn't know what to do with his hands to fully articulate the ridiculousness of it all.

"Geese." Raising an eyebrow the cyborg prompted the other on.

"Geese." Next major celebration Reginald was going to make sure there was goose on the menu. Revenge on a platter. "Spent all night up a tree because of that. When the Shrink-n-Grow ran out of power I had to throw my vest over to help cover the sapphire." The night hadn't been chilly, but it wasn't comfortable either.

Right pressed the button and pulled the other to a stop. Bemused he watched the blank stare morph to understanding as the doors opened. Forgotten where they were going long as he was mid rant.

Once the floor was picked out and Right claimed the middle ground out of sheer habit.

Reginald slunked in and hunched into a corner with his arms crossed. "You know it's been over ten plans since anything worked as I intended."

"Mostly minor things." Looking over his shoulder Right shrugged, "still got through okay."

"You fell out of a vent."

"An' you didn't know 'ow much I weighed."

Muttering under his breath Reginald took of his hat and ran his hand through the sad spiked mess that was his hair. He knew metal weighed more and Right Hand Man was now made of so much... hardware. He should have suspected more about the vault being unoccupied. He should, no, he needed to do better.

The elevator door opened with a chime.

Reginald deflated and walked out. He really as too tired, he needed to calm down.

Right glanced after. That was the... entirely wrong way. The other wasn't that out of it to forget where his room was? "Reg..."

"Three minutes." Reginald stopped in front of a door and punched in a code before swiping his card.

It didn't work. Reginald bristled at the beep and started typing the code again.

Right sighed and figured it was better to help than to try to drag him down the hall. That wouldn't end well for anyone. He made sure to time his override so it would look like the card swipe worked.

The empty recreation room wasn't in use, half the room was dedicated to boxed holiday decorations and excess chairs.

Reginald snagged the smallest stack of chairs and dragged them to the window. He yanked the top chair off followed by two more.

Right raised his eyebrows as the other slouched down in the chair and threw his legs over the sideways chair in front of him.

Reginald wasn't boorish enough to put his shoes on the seat, but propriety was currently beyond his underdressed unkept disaster self. Concessions could be made in the face of his current fiasco.

"Are you going to sit?" Reginald sighed as he looked out the wide window. He liked to come in here to look out at the stars uninterrupted. It helped clear his mind.

Sitting down the cyborg found himself pulling his hat down over his cybernetic eye again as he looked out the wide window. No earth was in sight in the current rotation, just the sea of stars in an entirely too colourful part of space.

Huh. This was nice. He'd have to remember this.

Right wasn't sure how long he spent looking outside, but he knew he was nodding off when red light suffused his vision again. If he'd been awake his hand would have stayed up. Filing the useful trick away for later the cyborg put his hat back on and looked over.

Reginald was dead asleep. By some minor miracle he managed to not fall between the chairs.

Standing up Right reached down and paused at the red light reflected on his metal arm. He should change sides, he didn't want to risk waking the other from the cold. Yeah, there'd be less contact if that arm was carrying legs, less chance to wake him up.

Right lifted Reginald and started towards the door. It was only a few minutes down the hallway, but he felt a swell of nostalgia hit him. The last time he had done this was the airship over a year ago. So much had changed since then.

Like being able to open a door by transmitting a code.

Stepping inside he made a beeline for the bed. He'd have to raise the thermostat, there was no way he was going to try and pull down the covers with his arms full. Gingerly lowering the other he sighed at the loss of warmth.

The shoes came off first, Reginald would be furious if he woke up to shoes in his bed. The hat found it's home on the dresser top. The lone glove came off next, and then delicately removing the wrist brace. That errant hair smoothed back into place. That was good as it was going to get.

Nodding to himself he left and started down to his room. Sleep sounded great now that everything was as it should be.

~*~*~*~

39.999%

Lauren was keeping watch like a good monitor does. As one of the CCC's main hubs she kept track of smaller bases and the flying scouts. Thier percentages were on the screen in front of her, but her eyes kept drifting up to the large yellow lit sign.

The average.

The CCC were deployed anytime anything approached 50%, the critical turn point before chaos got the upper hand and pushed to majority. There was no turning back once it set and spread, it would be the end of the world.

Closing her eyes she propped her head in her hand. The average was supposed to be low, but a few years ago it started rising and hadn't stopped. They had to deploy more and more to keep the chaos manageable.

Thier best were brainstorming on causes, they had to work fast before they were overwhelmed.

Opening her eyes to scan the smaller screen in front of her she saw a 47% crop up. A small icon lit up next to it, the scout was going to call in for a deploy. Good, if they didn't she would have to and she didn't know the situation over there. Communications were hard, but not having any back up when dealing with planet threatening situations was worse.

Lauren waited three minutes and saw the number crawl back down to 41%. Still higher than she liked, so she noted for someone to follow up in the morning.

She glanced up again.

40.000%

Covering her face Lauren felt like crying. She had hoped it would not change to morning, but she had to be the one to do this now. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out a full keyring and unlocked her left drawer. She got through three more locks before a palm sized button greeted her.

She looked up again at the sign, feverently hoping it dropped back down. A fool's wish, but she couldn't help it. Luck wasnt on her side.

Punching the button the sign turned red and any status lights in the main bases would turn red.

Lauren was alread reaching to the phone when it rang. "Yes. Yes it hit 40%, we're in CCon 2, this isn't a drill."

Two locations surged up to 46% on her normal screen. It was going to be a terrible night.

Chapter Text

Charles had mixed feelings about... well, everything.

He had been stationed at the same base for a week. That itself wasn't unusual, no, it was the reason why he was staying. Since Henry had taken interest in him twice now he was officially the best lead for the investigation.

Why the Toppat Leader was so intent on him in particular when they exchanged a few words before the thief was blasted off into the airship was beyond the pilot. It didn't make sense. Not that the guy made much sense to begin with. He had used a giant super bouncy ball as a distraction in a museum and it worked.

Yeah, the museum heist had made the news. Officials couldn't figure out what was stolen beyond one gem, but clip of Henry running off the third floor had gone viral. The fact the thief managed to still escape after a fall like that was ridiculous. There had to be more to it than that.

There had.

The broadcast happened two days after the heist. Henry had been wearing a bandage, so he hadn't escape unharmed. Like before they gone over what they did, the gang they took down, list of crimes, and an even more impressive list of bribed officials.

Charles wondered if the gang had a dedicated group to take them down like the Toppats had Galeforce. If they did it would be classified information and he wasn't in the need-to-know category. They had been.... worse and he hoped they did.

He also was on edge. That broadcast happened last week and there was... nothing. No note, no late night visit, no... nothing. To make things easier he was grounded and stationary, if Galeforce wanted him to get information there had to be contact first. Maybe it was too easy, maybe it felt like a trap?

He was stationed in the furthest barracks on the third floor. He had a window facing the fence. The light was conveniently out leaving the side of the building in darkness during the night. It couldn't be any easier to sneak in and have... access to him. Being used as bait was not something Charles was sure he liked.

He may be erring on the side of paranoia, but a whole week had gone by with nothing!

The pilot was allowed some research into the Toppat clan so he could sift through any unintentional given information. He recognized some faces from previous missions, but the gang was big. They had operated in a giant airship flying around without fear because nothing would stick to them.

He was bored. He missed flying. He found himself hating walking around after dark.

So he didn't.

Nope.

Charles was sprawled on his bed scrolling through his phone surfing the internet. With the second successful strike complete the public was paying attention to them. The internet was interneting over them and the pilot didn't know what to make of it. They were bad people with sordid histories.

They were doing good.

Mixed feelings.

Charles groaned when he heard a knock. Maybe that was the order he'd be shipping out tomorrow. Sitting around with nothing to do but wait was not something a man of action did!

Turning his phone off he went and opened the door. No one was there, nor was there anyone in the hallway. Narrowing his eyes the pilot looked up the the ceiling just in case. Everything was clear.

Knock knock.

...but he was at the door and no was there. Why did it sound like the knocking came from behind him?

Charles scratched his head and stared at his bed. No, he'd been sitting on his bed for over an hour. If someone was under there he was never going to sleep again without checking.

No one was under his bed, thank all aviation advancements.

Knock knock.

He had no vents or holes in his ceilings, his floor was intact so... where was it coming from?

Charles climbed on his bed and threw open the window to look down at the ground he could see. The moon was pretty full so he could kind of see down there and-

Knock knock.

That sounded awfully close.

Charles looked to the left and blinked. He sighed and rested his elbow on the window sill so he could prop his head on his hand. What was his life now where he wasn't even going to question finding a world class criminal just... was he sitting on sticks coming out of the building? What?

Henry uncurled his fist to wave cheerfully. Just another day in the life of a world class criminal making history.

"Are those plungers?" The pilot squinted closer at the three sticks. What possessed the thief to trust his life to a common household accessory? He was just... sitting on one, with his feet resting on another and his arms thrown over a third.

Nodding the Toppat reached behind and pulled out another. Unremarkable looking but extremely useful tool to have on hand. Offering it over he watched the pilot take it with a confused look.

Bemused Charles rested it near his bed. Maybe it could be evidence? "Trying to win me over again?" It was hard to take the other seriously when he was sitting on plungers precariously on the third floor.

Just a little to far out of his reach or he could have tried to bring inthe thief himself.

Henry nodded. The plan was rolling along better than expected.

"Why?" Charles needed to know why he'd been singled out. Sure was was an incredibly talented guy, heart of gold, great role model, and stuff... yeah.

Henry made a face. He couldn't really explain it logically but he had to answer something. "Best pilot, I think you'd be an asset with us. More fun." Holding his chin deep in thought the thief sighed. "Don't trust the government to look out for you either."

"There is a robust system in place for veterans." The pilot straightened his back affronted. "Among other things."

The Toppat made a frustrated noise and tapped his fingers on the plunger handle in front of him. That's not what he meant. Looking up at the other he made sure he had good eye contact before speaking again, "Systems aren't perfect. People get lost. Government is big, it's all numbers at the top."

This was an argument he couldn't win, he could tell from the grim expression the pilot wore. Time to change subjects to something more agreeable. "But what did you think of the latest strike?"

Charles narrowed his eyes as the conversation shifted. He would allow it, arguing about his place of employment wasn't going to get him any valuable information. "...they seemed like a nasty piece of work."

The pilot continued, "But I don't understand why the museum, there were higher value displays."

"Cutpurser storage, should finish investigation soon." Henry shrugged and leaned forward again.

"What?" Museums weren't dens of thievery! They were built to ward off thieves which... would maybe make it a good place to keep things. Huh. That was double down sneaky line of thought right there.

"Are there more like that?" The pilot didn't want that to be a common thing. He liked visiting museums, they were filled with neat things. Some carried a large range, some were small and specialized, and some were just so out there.

"No, but they're good at scattering. They'll survive and rebuild." The thief snorted. He expected them to be back up in a year, unlike the Neckerthieves who would take several if they survived the fallout.

"What group are you going to go after next?" Charles leaned out the window

"Not sure yet." Henry lazily smiled. He had no clue honestly.

The pilot fell to silence as he racked his brain. Alas he hoped to get that so a large trap could be laid out but... the thief must know that. He was still going to be looking at museums funny for awhile too. And he hadn't really learned anything yet. He was a man of action not subterfuge - well except when the call to action was sneakily ferrying in but that was not the same thing here!

"Are we doing good?" The Toppat let a grin sneak onto his face.

"Ah, it's... morally grey - I... I don't... yeah." In the grand scheme of things Cutpursers had been a bad group, worse than the Toppats. With the whole donating ill gotten money to non profit only charities and uncovering corruption it was like a... vigilante.

The grin veered into smug as Henry reached behind his back to plop a plunger above his head. It was a good enough for him. Carefully standing up he started to climb back up the way he came.

Charles sat and watched, so there were more plungers. He had a... plunger ladder to his room from the roof. The thief must have removed a couple to hide the rest and the pilot hadn't checked up. It was ridiculous yet effective.

A minute after the Toppat's foot disappeared over the roof he watched a figure leap off the roof. His heart stopped a moment before he saw the thief glide towards the fence, gracefully rising just enough to make it over and fade into the distant night.

Wings on his arms, that was... pretty cool. The pilot had stars in his eyes as he imagined what it would be like - not quite flying but a close experience. More hands on? He did love his helicopter and it would be the best forever but trying a new thing here and there was good.

Sitting back in his room his gaze was drawn to the plunger. Actually, maybe if he had used it like the other he could have reached Henry. It hadn't even occurred to him and the thief had just handed it over.

Leaving the window open Charles laid back down. He wish he had a recorder, that would have made things easier.

Yeah, they were doing good, but that didn't erase all the bad things they needed to be brought to justice for. There were always worse people in the world, that doesn't mean lesser crimes could be ignored. On the other hand vigilantes worked in a grey area where the law couldn't sometimes. Like comic book heroes - which he was not calling Toppats that. No, this was just an example he was thinking to make sense.

The other gangs had been worse. So in the end it was the lesser of the two evils winning - still bad just not as bad and-

Oh he was going to get a headache from morally debating with himself. Mixed feelings. He had mixed feelings on the matter.

That whole tangent about systems and government was...

Sitting up he shut the window and picked up a pad of paper nearby so he could jot down anything he learned. The best he had was about the Cutpursers, that information could be passed along to the group trying to take them down. There had to be a dedicated group since they were so bad, right?

Chapter Text

Ellie Rose was many things. She could talk about how she had managed to stroll into place as the Toppat's second in command. How she had spent weeks exploring her new home and getting to know the clan. How she delighted in the gym and loved to be in the ring to pick up new tricks.

Never be said Ellie passed up opportunity.

Was the Toppat chain of command strange? Yes, but she didn't want to be stuck behind a desk. She hadn't known the clan so it made sense to talk Henry into roping Reginald in for that. They knew what they were doing.

Sure she could take over, but... nah. Ellie preferred to stay tapped into crew and gauge how they felt about things. People seemed to forget she was second in command and talked freely around her. Sure she could pull rank if needed but she rather liked being able to breeze around as she liked.

The space station now had a fond nickname of Space Sherwood Station. Not creative in the slightest but everyone adopted it. Ellie was glad most the crew had taken to their new modus operandi with good humor.

What she didn't expect was the world to love them back.

This was the third instance she heard of where a low ranking member was scouting out their next target and ran into trouble. Disappointing they were found (really needed to work on training), but what stood out is how they got away.

Running through a residential area they just climbed over a tall fence and froze when motion lights turned on. It was early enough in the evening for the residents to be awake and paranoid enough to check.

With a shotgun of course.

The Toppat had raised both arms in surrender immediately. The homeowner took a slow look and yelled back to their partner to stand by the door for when the police showed up. With the backyard lit up they'd be questioned.

So when the resident jerked their head in a direction and mentioned a dense grove of woods perfect for hiding two houses over the Toppat had been gobsmacked. They hadn't moved til the resident made a small shooing motion, and then readied the shotgun.

Out of sight the gun had gone off and the Toppat lingered close enough to make sure he wasn't walking into a trap. The home owner instead mentioned a warning shot to scare off the criminal and he fled in a different direction.

Naturally the Toppat got away after that.

It was... something alright.

Ellie wasn't sure she liked it. If word got out it may encourage the clan to be less vigilant, or worse imposters. There had to be a way to tackle this before it grew to that level. Maybe she could reel Righty into a boot camp of sorts. Put people through thier paces and try not to rely on regular people to help them out too much.

One bad incident could sour the public and then the outcry to hunt them down would grow immensely. Better to not court trouble when dancing with goodwill and stuff. The problem was how to strike down misinformation and make sure only what they wanted got out.

It was a problem and she was on it.

She had a particular person in mind for the job. Ellie knew she could have summoned people to her office, but her office was a mess. She really needed to do something about that delightfully obnoxious lemon muscle car she stole. It wasn't a good desk chair.

Knocking on the door she hummed softly to herself as she stared up at the camera. She could use her card to get in, she had clearance but it was better to not interrupt certain areas unnecessarily. Henry had insisted on protecting a few operations even if they were on a spaceship far above all the governments of the world.

The door buzzed and Ellie pushed her way into Communications.

An unimpressed gaze met her own and she smiled. She approved of the even keeled officer even if others found him dry, but Burt was good at his job and that was what mattered. "Have you see- ah, Sven! Perfect you're both here!"

"Ah, yes?" Sven rubbed the back of his head unsure if he should be worried or not. The second in command rarely sought out people - worried it is. Was she going to ask how he adjusted being booted off the chain of command to the head of... well it didn't really have a name but he kept things organized. Very important with limited space. He liked it better than being the third. There was less pressure and he liked keeping things tidy.

"Got a side project for you." Ellie hooked her foot on an uncomfortable looking metal chair and pulled it over to sit down. "Burt you'll also be involved towards the end but it'll be brief."

Burt sighed and slumped in his seat. He already had his hands full being head of communications, well, more than he wanted to some days.

"It's nothing too major. I just want you to make at short intro video a day for any Toppat member that wants it." Ellie shrugged.

"...what?" Sven blinked in confusion. Everyone was up here for awhile, people knew each other in passing at least. It would make sense if there was a heavy recruitment phase but their numbers were steady.

"There's lots of misinformation on the internet. If we make an official channel people will know us. We can answer common questions after a bunch of videos introducing our members." Ellie leaned back and crossed her legs.

Sven walked over his way over, "But why me?"

"I know you go everywhere on this ship, you know people, and know what would be sensitive information that shouldn't get out. Plus you come here often so I thought it was the best fit." Ellie swung her feet as she watched the other two. She also knew he used to be third in command, and that must still carry some respect?

"Secure upload would be my job then?" Burt pulled himself back up with a sigh. "Long as it's not too late then. If things get hectic it will be the lowest priority."

"Naturally Burt, if things are too bad it can wait." Ellie nodded.

"The only thing I'm stuck on is what to call the account." Ellie stood up and started pacing. "Toppat was already claimed, but I know we need it in the name. The best I have was... Toppattery?"

Burt slowly shook his head. No. No, no, and no.

"We can do better than that." Sven rubbed his chin. It sounded like an interesting side project that wouldn't take too long. If it was popular the only inconvenience would be resorting scheduling time for it so he didn't fall behind his main job.

Pulling up another chair Sven sat down at the edge of Burt's console and pulled a small pad of paper and pen out of his pocket. "Okay, so..."

~*~*~*~

The name ended up being Topper Toppats across a few social media platforms.

Sven's intro was first, and then started from the top and worked their way down. Not many declined, the most notable exception being Right Hand Man.

Within weeks they had a ridiculous amount of followers, subscribers, whatever term a particular platform used. All profits were donated to charity of course.