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First National Bank - Bayview Branch, 12:24 PM

September 29th, 2012

Bayview, Freedom City


There was something about the classic capers that always served as the staple for which comic books were tested. The mad scientist and his Machiavellian plans for world domination, the rogue vigilante torn from the ideals of truth and justice as he fell into the shadowy underbelly of crime, and the tried but always climactic alien invasion were all fine tributes to the dangerous lifestyle superheroes lived through daily. But no story is more iconic than that of the bank heist; after all, it was these money-hungry smash-and-grabs that made legacies such as the Centurion a household name. The act of robbing a fortified safe house for lucre had, perhaps, fallen out of style somewhat since the emergence of better security systems over the decades, but every now and then some bold young upstart or nefarious mastermind felt like they were up to the test. Then again, such a high-profile act in Freedom City often ended poorly for the villainous cads who endeavored to get rich quick; but that fact never seemed to deter them.

This time was no exception. Inside the well-to-do First National Bank of Freedom's Bayview Branch, things had taken a surprise turn for the worst as clerks and patrons alike were forced to the ground, hands over their heads as they laid flat on their stomach. Six men, all armed with futuristic weapons yet sporting motley second-hand attire, brandished their tools around menacingly. They were clearly hoods; violent youths who no doubt felt like they had much to prove, their faces obscured by the vibrant bandannas of reddish-orange typically draped over their heads. And what better way to make a statement than to see the establishment that held everything they'd been deprived of get its comeuppance?

"Everybody stay down! No one needs to be a hero!" shouted one of the young men, his rifle slung over one shoulder as he pointed to each of the prone hostages with his free hand. Meanwhile, his comrades were busy at work behind the clerk's counters, rifling through the various drawers for whatever loose cash they could find, whilst two others were busy collecting wallets and purses, tossing them into a large nondescript backpack. It was a tense situation, but the gangsters with the high-tech array of weapons were the least of the civilians' concerns. While the goons might have been strong-arming them for their meager funds, there stood a larger menace made of metal with eyes that smoldered like fire as it burned its way through the large safe door. It was large and gun-metal in color, its dormant wings of steel and fiberglass still as it hunched down on all six of its spindly, sharp appendages, focusing on cutting its way through the meager defenses the bank had by comparison for protecting its money in a surgically precise circular fashion.

For some, it was a fresh new taste of horror as the cybernetic monstrosity ripped through the solid steel door with its lasers like a hot knife through warm butter. But for one clerk in particular, the horror was all too familiar; forced to bear witness to what felt like an all too familiar calling card of another villain as he cowered behind the once safe bulletproof glass of his desk, his new tie all but ruined as he soaked up the room temperature coffee he'd spilled when the goons arrived. He knew without getting the word out, there wouldn't be any help before these criminal vagrants got away - and they needed it now! After peeking over his shoulder from his prone position and seeing his opportunity, the suit-clad middle-aged man crawled across his belly just enough to reach beneath his stall and press the minuscule button that would trigger the silent alarm. As it began to steady flash, a small sigh of relief escaped his voice. Help was on its way...

He just hoped it got here in time before the crooks did something drastic.

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Lunch was one of the few reprieves Baxter got at FDR High, short though it often was. The boisterous, uproarious nature of the cafeteria did little to help the young hero catch some beauty rest, the food on his plate only partially touched even as Chris and Amanda tore their sandwiches asunder with their own insatiable hunger. It was like this every day for Baxter; drifting in and out of being fully awake and lucidly aware of his surroundings. As much as he'd like to take a day off, he knew that wasn't what superheroes did. The Centurion never took a week off in the Bahamas. The Raven never called in sick to catch up on that book he'd been reading. Heck, even Captain Thunder couldn't catch a break. It was just the nature of the business - if you chose to bear the responsibility entitled with the powers (or, in Baxter's case, a nifty battle suit), then it was an all-or-nothing deal.

"You gonna eat that?" Chris asked, voice raised over the obnoxious teenage cacophony that made up the mess hall's current noise as he pointed towards the slightly overcooked butter roll on Baxter's try. Without a word, the dark-skinned teenager in the red-and-black tee-shirt just pushed the entire dish towards his long-time friend. A look of concern briefly crossed Chris' face, and even Amanda looked up with a grimace from her incessant texting, which in turn was met by a caustic shrug on Baxter's part. Truth be told, he wasn't hungry; maybe it was all that work at the Espadas School, or earnest weariness. Whatever it was, the growing boy just had no appetite.

"You really need to eat something. It's not good for you," Amanda chided, smacking Chris' hand lightly even as he reached for the delicious roll. But Baxter was convinced he was good, motioning again for his friend to take his portions.

"Nah. I'm good," the secret Bee-Keeper smiled, patting his stomach lightly. "I'm on a diet." It was a terrible joke, and while his friends exchanged skeptical glances about their already trim friend's sudden urge to cut back, they nevertheless relinquished themselves from the argument. A nice calm followed for Baxter as he closed his eyes and leaned back against the hard plastic chair, its support surprisingly comfortable in the wake of his own tired nature. For a moment, all the stress - the classes, the drama, the hero gig - just seemed to melt away. It was a relaxing reprieve, this gentle repose something the double-life bearing teenager felt was a necessity rather than a luxury. It was peaceful, almost. Serene...

"Hey! Check this!" Amanda chimed abruptly, leaning forward as she mashed the keypad on her cell phone. "There's someone robbing the bank here in Bayview!"

In a jolt, whatever tranquil state of mind Baxter had hoped to bask it was quickly obliterated by Amanda's sharp intrusion into the realm of the now. His face, now contorted into an odd amalgam of concern, curiosity, and consternation, pivoted up from its otherwise reclined state of being.

"Lemme see," Baxter said curtly, practically snatching the phone from Amanda's hands as Chris caught himself mid-swallow, taking a large gulp from the glass of milk he'd procured from the line to help the food pass. This was the second time a bank had been hit, and at first all Baxter could think back to was the brawl with Fleur de Joie against the golems. Was it the same guy? Had the Malador impersonator escaped from Eldrich and returned to his villainous ways? No. What Baxter saw on that livid little screen sent a different chill down his spine as he looked on, and as the message trawled its way through his brain, it felt as though the young armored avenger was staring into the digital abyss... and it was staring right back.

"@VoyRoy: Bayview Bank being robbed by masked men. Cops on site. No sign of heroes. Giant bee inside with hostages." He saw it. He knew the words and what they meant, and yet he read it again. And then again. He couldn't believe it! Not only was the bank being robbed, but it was being robbed by a robotic bee. Someone was besmirching his already tarnished name! And here he was, just lounging whilst innocents were in danger. A bad taste wound its way into the dark-skinned boy's mouth, and a vile pit took up residence in his almost empty stomach. Every fiber of his being tensed in excitement. It was time for the Bee-Keeper to step in and defend his (mostly) good name, lest it devolve further into the mockery it already was. And so, rising from his seat with a slight scoot, Baxter set the cellular back down towards Amanda, a grimace etched on his face.

"Think I'm gonna be sick," the incognito teen moaned as he turned away, visions of the faces his friends were making even as the lie slipped beyond his lips. "Be right back."

He had to hurry. Yeah, there was trouble afoot, but he still had to make things look convincing - a trick, unfortunately, Baxter still struggled with. He'd failed his last semester, even if it was just barely. His friends were an entire grade ahead of him because he was too fixated on this hero nonsense... and yet, he felt obliged. Compelled, even, to see to this duty of protecting those whom couldn't protect themselves. Finding the balance between his personal life and newly acquired professional career (if it could even be called that) was a staggering challenge in and of itself; coupled with his inexperience and stress-filled lifestyle, it was a wonder that he was able to pull any of it off at all without giving away his identity. Regardless, here he was, once again racing through the halls towards the bathroom on the west wing of Roosevelt High; stopping only for a moment at his locker to grab an all too familiar bag from its confines. But it wasn't the bathroom he was headed for. Oh, no. Baxter had other plans. Moving briskly beyond the familiar door to the boy's room, young Mr. Bowles hustled his way down to the pair of steel double-doors that lead outside to the rear of the school, where most of the mobile classrooms were idly parked alongside the football field. It had become sort of old hat for the sneaky hero as he darted out onto the grassy knoll of the school; once again ducking out during the day in lieu of studying and actually completing his homework assignments. It didn't take him long to find his usual spot beside the old outdoor music trailer, the scent of smoke and other narcotics still rife in the air. Slipping to the ground and looking beneath the uplifted trailer, the agile young man saw the coast was clear, taking it as a sign to move into cover behind the immobile domicile and away from prying eyes.

Slinging the satchel from his shoulders, Baxter quickly unzipped the backpack, pulling out another one with practiced aplomb. This one - unlike his somewhat mangy green book bag - was lovingly painted in black and yellow stripes, its metal frame heavy but not unbearably so. Slipping it over one arm and then the other until it straddled his shoulders, Baxter pressed to tiny black button nestled along each side of the titanium handles. Like clockwork, the important pack shifted and whirred to life as a million buzzing bee-bots felt a surge of life strike them, unfurling the Bee-Keeper v1.6e battle suit from its dormant state, encapsulating the teen hero into its protective shell. As always, Baxter was greeted by the perpetually happy little digital bee that made up a portion of the GUI of the HUD inside the insectile helmet, giving a pleasant thumbs up and ensuring that all systems were nominal. No long was Baxter that slacker weirdo with a crazy uncle. No, now he was more than that - someone who could do something for Freedom City. Someone who could stand up for the little people, even if they didn't always like him meddling around. The Bee-Keeper III was on the scene, confidence and adrenaline coursing through Baxter's very being as he felt the comfortable presence of his second skin complete its metamorphosis.

It was time for him to do something about this rogue bee-bot business and the vagabonds pillaging the bank. He wouldn't stand for some mooks wrecking up his part of the city and putting innocent lives in danger; especially not while they trashed his name with some 'bot of his uncles they'd stumbled across! With a sharp twang, a pair of shimmering wings erupted from the back of the armored suit, humming to life as they built up speed. Before anyone was the wiser, the Bee-Keeper III took to the skies, soaring through the air like a madman possessed - the sooner he got to the scene, the sooner he could do something about saving all those hostages!

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Arcing through the brisk afternoon air, the Bee-Keeper III raced across the open blue landscape as though a pack of ravenous dogs were nipping at his heels. Time was always something Baxter felt he never had enough of; and if this wasn't evidence of that, then nothing was. Even now as the yellow-and-gold bedecked teen buzzed southbound through the air, his mind was afire with what to expect upon his arrival at the besieged repository. Hopefully the FCPD wouldn't jump the gun; if he could just get inside without an incident, then perhaps he had a shot at distilling the situation from the hostage variety into that of a mono-a-mono showdown with the criminal element within.

From his lofty position, the Bee-Keeper could see the emergence of the scene below as he closed the gap towards the bank. Police cars and medical personnel were already on-site, their vehicles cleverly placed outside of the First National Bank like an impromptu barricade - both against whatever attempts at fleeing the long arm of the law were to take place, as well as the mild gunfire erupting from within. It looked different, though. Baxter had seen his share of iron since he first stepped into the hero role from gangbangers and thugs, but this? These were flashy and blindingly bright - whatever hardware the crooks inside were bandying about weren't every-day firearms! The situation looked bad... real bad, even to the inexperienced Baxter Bowles.

Descending from on-high towards the gaggle of officers and paramedics already standing-by, the heavily armored apian avenger was greeted with mixed feelings. Many of the officers were already hailing their radios for assistance, whilst others amongst them were glad to see someone who looked like they could help. But amidst all the turmoil and confusion from the bank heist gone awry, the slew of local law enforcement and other civil servants, another man stood out like a bright cherry amidst a bushel of blueberries, his long-sleeve red shirt painting him like a nice little target against the dark blue of the two officers he was nestled between closest to the heist in-progress. He seemed strangely familiar, but Baxter just couldn't quite place it...

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Relax! I'm here to help," pleaded the formerly villainous flyboy as he landed with a light thump beside the pair of middle-aged policemen and their civilian attendee, hands uplifted as if to illustrate he was unarmed; a fact that besides being vastly untrue looked rather ridiculous when you're wearing a tincan over your body. He could see the worry in their eyes, and as the two officers exchanged a glance with one another, lowered their pieces. Equally relieved, at least now Baxter wasn't going to walk into this new fracas with a few extra holes in his suit beforehand.

"Zzo what'zz the deal? Who are thezze guyzz trying to rob the bank?"

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Without hesitation, the redshirt crouched against the police cruiser took the Bee-Keeper's hand and gave it a firm, frantic shake just as another thug's wayward energy blast left a searing score across the roof of the vehicle.

"Hey, Rich Royer. Good timing. Stuff's getting crazy in there," he chimed, both alarmed yet strangely enthused to be in this peculiar predicament. Despite the name, the Bee-Keeper seemed perplexed as to who this man was; after all, he acted like the Hero of the Hive ought to know his name. The man seemed only mildly annoyed by this fact, but clearly didn't see fit to go into any greater detail into his identity.

"Ignore him," one of the officers insisted, his head low and trusty revolver steadied against the paneling of his car as he pressed his back against it for protection. "We tried to get him out of here, but when the perps started firing, it was too risky." He was an older man compared to his partner, closer to his forties with greying hair and a receding crownline. "I'm Officer Burkawitz. This is Officer Donahue," he motioned again, indicating his erstwhile accomplice parallel to him on the other side of the police cruiser. The other man only grimaced, peeking up ocassionaly to check on the situation inside the bank. It was hard to get a real angle on the situation for anyone at their current position; the foyer the only thing truly visible whilst the rest of the bank sat soundly in the hands of the culprits around the corner of the front doors.

"Ever hear of the Malanti?" Burkawitz asked, though he didn't wait for an answer from the gold-and-black costumed teen for an answer. "Small time out of the West End. Usual M.O. is petty theft, vandalism, and graffiti. Never been real violent, except for a few incidents. When we heard they were running this show, I couldn't believe it. I've worked that beat for a couple years, and the most I'd ever seen them do was get into a brawl. Looks like they got their hands on some high-grade stuff - nothing our boys can handle. No one knows where they got the new toys, but Rich here says he saw some kind of robot inside..."

"Yeah. Big and made of metal, shoots lasers, nasty claws. The whole works! Looked kind of like you," Voyeur exclaimed, throwing his hands up slightly and quickly retracting them as another stray bolt from the thug watching the entryway whizzed by, searing a nearby lampost with a hiss as a chunk of its integrity was melted away. "Like I bee, I mean."

"Thought it might be one of yours," Donahue finally spoke up, a sour disposition etched across his face. "That's what the Bee-Keeper does, right? Giant bees? So what is it: you trying to play both sides now, make yourself look good or something?"

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"It'zz not mine," protested the bee-themed hero. But the truth was that he wasn't quite sure.

Much to his displeasure, it would seem that the rumors were true - there was a giant bee wrecking stuff inside the bank according to the pair of eyewitnesses; though whether it was one of his uncles' wayward inventions or an imposter was yet unknown. But that was the least of Baxter's concerns as talk of all this weaponry came to the forefront, landing squarely in the hands of once smalltime vandals. Weapons they were using to both outclass Freedom City's finest and keep their hostages in-check. The Bee-Keeper III's first priority was getting in there and getting the civilians out in one piece; after that, it was on him to find out where all these shiny new guns were coming from.

But it was a more delicate situation than just running in and thwacking mooks upside the head. Baxter had never dealt with hostages before! That familiar pit in his gut once more found a means to shift and contort itself into a painful knot of uncertainty; the criminals inside were probably twitchy, and so the young teen had to be exceptionally careful. With just himself and the policemen on the scene, it didn't seem likely they would be much help against the futuristic hardware the gangbangers were brandishing.

Uncertainty gripped him; but then he remembered that little lavender card Fleur de Joie had given him. Still tucked away within its tiny compartment along the suit's forearm, Baxter stared at it for a moment in contemplation. If he called her, she could definitely help - and if not her, then someone she could get in touch with, most likely! With someone else who had more experience doing this whole heroic business stuff, the situation could quickly go from daunting to a cakewalk. The extra help could be the edge Baxter needed to do his part!

Just as he reached for the compartment, however, the Bee-Keeper stopped. It would have been easy to call for help; to get someone - anyone! - here. But the thought of waiting struck a nerve with him. There was no telling how soon another of Freedom City's heroes would arrive, if in time at all; for right now time was a precious thing, and lives were hanging on every second. It was time to step up or step back - a choice every real hero had to make in the comics Baxter grew up reading. But what if it was a bad one? The Bee-Keeper looked back up, watching the mook with the laser rifle at the doorway. Where there was one, there had to be more... but how many more? And how far were they willing to go to make sure they got away?

Shaking his head and running a gauntlet-clad hand across the antennae adorning it, the Bee-Keeper tried his best to disperse the thoughts of failure lingering over him. He could do this - he had to! This wasn't the time for self-doubt, but for action! Taking a deep breath, the Bee-Keeper steeled himself for his task ahead. He just hoped he knew what he was doing.

"You guyzz zztay here and keep a lookout. I'll gonna take care of thizz," came the authorative words of the Bee-Keeper; or, at least, they sounded as such through the modulated voice. Behind the helmet, however, Baxter was sweating bullets. But such was the nature of being a superhero: knowing that every day could end poorly - or entirely - in the wake of trying to protect the people you care about. And Baxter? Baxter cared for Freedom City and what it stood for; that's why he was willing to risk it all to be like the people who laid down their lives for others. It was his responsibility, and while sometimes he wished he could just call in sick or let someone else handle it, sometimes it was just up to him - the wrong place at the right time. It was a tough job, but Baxter was confident he had the potential to be more than he was now.

That's why without so much as waiting for a response from the trained professionals landlocked by the superior firepower of their adversaries the Bee-Keeper III rose up from behind the impromptu barricade outside of Bayview's branch of the First National Bank. No doubt the Malanti crook serving as overwatch could see him; and that was the plan, if Baxter could even call it such a thing. With uproarious speed and a whirr of miniature robots from within the confines of the battle suit, the Hero of the Hive bolted from his cover in a head-long charge towards the lone guard of the bank at breakneck speed!

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Closing the gap with startling speed, the Bee-Keeper rushed through the air over the police barricade and straight towards the young thug with the high-tech blaster rifle. The whoosh of the wind echoed through the insectile helm as Baxter came closer and closer, a blur against the flashing red and blue lights scattered outside. Just before he reached the disenfranchised youth, the would-be hero could see his eyes bulge in terror; a man of metal justice rocketing towards his visage must have been as unsettling to him as it was for Baxter as the bandanna-clad boy raised his futuristic weapon in panicked self-defense.

"No, no, no, no..." Baxter mentally repeated as the rifle came to bear on him, his own armored fist cocked back and ready to deliver the coup de grace. Just as it looked as though the goon was going to squeeze the trigger and blast the Bee-Keeper squarely in the face, Baxter let loose with his own fist at thunderous speed, the familiar crunch of metal against bone resounding through the helmet as the once-armed thug went sailing across the tiled floor of the bank, skidding to a stop after sliding a few extra feet. A small wave of relief found its way into the concerned avengers' mind; though it quickly evaporated as he came to a stop within the frenetic scene inside.

Sure enough, there were the hostages, sprawled across the floor and surrounded by an entourage of Malanti thugs! But even alarming was the truth that hit him as the newest incarnation of the Hero of the Hive laid his eyes on the mechanical beast tearing the safe asunder; a giant robotic bee! Just like they'd said! But something was off about it. Baxter's interests in bees had only recently been piqued, but this one didn't look like any one he'd seen in the books he'd read. It was more sleek, more aerodynamic... the whole design just felt off. But there was no time to think about that now! He had bigger problems to deal with!

"Your crimezzpree'zz about to come to an end! Zzurrender, and you won't have the fazze the zzting of juzztice from the Bee-Keeper, villainzz!" threatened the young hero, trying his best to strike a deliberately intimidating pose even as the rest of the thugs zeroed in on him within the disheveled bank. Hopefully, the lot of them would just call it quits. There was no need for any more violence - or at least Baxter hoped! He already wasn't feeling like he was at his best, and this whole fiasco could go any way. If it came down to a fracas, he had to be quick and decisive. The stakes were too high for him to choke now.

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As the Bee-Keeper made his threats, the goons - almost in unison - turned their full attention to the armored man, weapons held at the ready in a vice. And while even the hostages laying flat peeked up from their delicate situation, some were stricken with glee to see the apian avenger, whilst others seemed to wallow in horror. Regardless of the prying eyes, the gigantic insect busily cutting its way through the steel vault never even turned to register the Bee-Keeper, far too preoccupied by the task at hand; nearly complete with its seemingly tedious ordeal.

But even amongst the Malanti thugs, one of them stood out. Bigger, stronger, meaner; an older man in his mid twenties, with swarthy skin and the lower half of his face obfuscated by a colorful handkerchief, seemed to be in-charge. It was the look in his eyes - that bitter, grim determination of a man who'd never been given a handout or a chance to better himself in his entire life, of someone whom had survived alone on the streets solely by his wits and brawn. He commanded respect, an air of dominance exuding from his very presence.

"She didn't say nothin' 'bout no heroes! Drop this stupid fool!" he barked harshly, pointing towards the Bee-Keeper before discharging his firearm towards the armored teenager.

Of the four remaining Malanti gangbangers, two took to their leaders' orders immediately. Leveling their blasters, more bolts of crimson energy arced through the air as the goons fired from the hip! The energy projectiles flew just wide of the Bee-Keeper as he flinched from the concussive echo, the stray shots narrowly missing him! As if that weren't bad enough, two of the Malanti mooks roused a pair of the prone hostages, taking them by force and placing them in front as impromptu cover. Screams erupted from the remaining patrons as the situation took a dire turn, the goons still in the midst of reacquiring their yellow and black target in their sights.

"Just back off, bug eyes! I'm warning you!" one of them shouted, as if challenging the Bee-Keeper.

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With the hostages now being used as human shields the situation took a drastic turn for the worse, with Baxter barely avoiding being rent asunder. A familiar sense of dread took its place in the inexperienced teenager's chest, nerves wracking his body even as the battlesuit's millions of tiny denizens began making automatic corrections to compensate. Outnumbered and in a quickly escalating ordeal, the Bee-Keeper had to tread lightly if he wanted to make sure all these people went home safely tonight. He had to stand firm - he just needed to bide his time. Once the civilians were safe and sound, it was all uphill from here. But until then, Baxter had to play it smart.

"Zzoo what'zz the deal? I juzzt zztand here, you rob the plazze, and everyone goezz home? Seemzz like a weak plan; guezz you Malanti guyzz aren't as tough azz I thought you were," quipped the bee-themed protector, training an open hand on each of the crooks sporting the impromptu meatshields, the happy little bee on the HUD already zeroing in on culprits hiding behind the innocent folks like cowards, reticles narrowing as Baxter focused in on the shoulders of the manhandling gangbangers even as he kept an eye on the giant robot and the Malanti's leader. "And what'zz up with the robot? No way you guyzz juzzt built it yourselvezz. I'm guezzing there wazz a two-for-one zzale on EvilBay? Not like it'll matter. Onzze I'm done with you guyzz, I'l zzcrap it and figure it out where you got it later."

"Just gotta keep these guys off their game a little longer. Focused on anything but the tellers..."

Time wasn't a factor Baxter felt he had enough of. One wayward squeeze of a trigger, or a single misfire could spell doom for anyone in the bank. He had to be sure he knew what he was doing; he couldn't risk missing his mark. The Bee-Keeper had one shot and one shot only - it had to count! And as the tiny grids changed hues from a no-go red to a positive green, it felt as though an eternity was slipping by. Hopefully the good people held against their will could hang on just a few seconds more.

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"Just shut up! SHUT UP! This wasn't part of the plan!" screeched the Malanti boy cowering behind a particularly paunchy man in a suit, no doubt one of the more mature tellers working at Bayview's Branch of the First National Bank. Frightened and trigger-happy, he didn't seem keen on being here at all. Nevertheless, he did what he had to to keep himself from being arrested, brandishing his weapon menacingly towards the Bee-Keeper in the process.

"Be cool, man. Keep it together," his friend implored as he hid behind a young woman in her mid twenties, her mascara running as tears streamed down her face. Even as the tension was reaching its peak, the domineering leader of the Malanti heist moved behind the metal bug just as it finished cutting a large hole where the vault once was, displaying the iron bars behind it as the door came crashing down like rolling thunder. They were making progress! While the Bee-Keeper was mucking about, the Malanti had other plans.

"C'mon! What're you guys waiting for?!" came the clarion battle cry of their leader as he began to tinker with the innards of the safe, placing some sort of plastic-looking substance on the corners of the bars. "Just kill him so we can get the stuff and get outta here!"

At his command, another barrage of lasers found their way hurdling towards the Bee-Keeper, still poised where he stood as the goons unloaded everything they had. Screams reached throughout the bank, all but snuffed out by the hiss and whine of metal and plaster melting from the bolts of energy produced by the high-powered weapons. While most of the shots went wide, the pair of men holding the hostages managed to peg the Hero of the Hive squarely in the torso, leaving deep scorch marks all across the metallic surface of the protective carapace. Had Baxter not been wearing the Bee-Keeper Armor, there was no doubt he'd have likely been killed!

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Searing pain rippled through Baxter's body as the pair of shots found their mark across his armored abdomen. The scorch marks were as prevalent as his breath was in the cold air outside; the smoldering metal of the Bee-Keeper armor having deflected the lethal blow - but still, the force of the trauma had taken its course as the young hero wheezed and moaned. It was like nothing he'd ever felt before, as if someone had taken a red-hot fire poker and jabbed it square in his gut. Tears were welling up from the sudden shock of agony, but Baxter managed to keep his head on his shoulders. He had a job to do, and lives were counting on him! He'd just have to tough it out for now.

With the honeycomb reticle narrowed down on each of the perpetrators whom had just blasted the teenaged avenger, the Bee-Keeper had to make a call. The leader of this fiasco had nearly breached the safe, but the hostages remained Baxter's top priority - the question became, however, which of the thugs to handle first. One was skittish and wired, and clearly dangerous! But the other was more composed and level-headed; both dangerous qualities that Baxter couldn't dissuade himself from fearing. There was no telling what would happen next, but if he didn't do anything at all, then he was in no better a position than when he'd started.

"Here goes nothing."

Gambling on the insecurities of the panicked Malanti thug, the Bee-Keeper shifted an open gauntlet towards the more calm and in-control thug holding the young woman. With a confirmatory beep from helmet's HUD, Baxter took the shot. With a slight rev, a thick blast of concussive golden energy burst from the palm of the Bee-Keeper's hand, arcing through the air like solidified lightning as it struck the focused Malanti marksman square in the shoulder with devastating, sending him reeling across the floor before ultimately collapsing with his back against the teller booth. As the woman fell prone to the ground in a shriek of terror, Baxter breathed a small sigh of relief; though she was still in mortal danger as long as all these goons were up in arms!

"Zztay down!" shouted the Hero of the Hive, trying his best to sound bold and confident as he instructed the sobbing civilian not to move. At least the modulation of his voice hid the cracking uncertainty in his voice.

No doubt whatever happened next was going to happen fast - the Bee-Keeper just prayed he could liberate the other one and take care of the remaining thugs before any more unexpected surprises took hold.

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The skies above Bayview had for a while now held a solitary figure in gray, their face obscured by a heavily-tinted helmet staring down at the city several hundred feet below. They had been in that same position for the last three hours, occasionally rotating to survey other parts of the buildings below. At the first sight of flashing police cars moving below towards the bank, they had promptly dropped out of the sky, hurtling towards the ground before catching abruptly just a few yards above a rooftop, halting with a flicker before landing. Peering at their destination, a faint rumble suddenly reverberated through the air, the grey-clad woman, now looking very thin and spidery compared to the people below, leaping across the rooftops as she beginning the long rung for the bank...

The police officers had been more or less easy to dodge around, especially considering that she had been impossible to see in the visible light spectrum, and had stepped with care between their patrols. Atraxia wished she could rub her head in frustration nonetheless, and that her skin still itched sometimes. 'Those brats with the laser guns make it impossible to go in the front door, they'd see me. Have to go in this way, and I have not the least idea what's on the other side!' She resisted the urge to make her suit growl for her, instead taking a vestigial breath and running quickly through the wall. The fact that she was moving through solid objects had only recently begun to fade, and stumbling through the odd sight of walls sliding past, the Farsider strode up behind the front desk.

Taking in the situation with a glance, Red Moon gritted her fangs, ducking behind the desk as quickly as she could. 'I cannot fight the robot. But that other one looks like he can. Those soldiers though, they look more malleable. Just hope they don't see me...'

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Slinking behind the desk, the ghost of Mars hunkered down in position, watching the hired muscle do what they did best. From her copious cover, she had a better view than the other supposed hero attempting to diffuse the situation, with a view of the human leader slouched down against the wall, utilizing the mechanical monstrosity as an impromptu shield. More alarming, however, was the timed explosive pressed against the iron bars of the vault, the steel door having already been liberated from the majority of its mass via a precision circular incision. A sophisticated guess would estimate the gigantic insect-bot was responsible - and that it, too, likely had some sort of laser-based armaments! Thankfully, neither of the two largest threats nor the bulk of the remaining culprits seemed to have noticed Atraxia infiltrate the bank behind them...

"Oh, man! 'Nother one!"

Well, almost no one.

"Deal with it! We're almost done here!" barked the commander-and-chief of the increasingly strange raid on the First National Bank, the man's demeanor growing more and more gruff with each little nuance that seemed to creep its way into their plans.

The goon didn't exactly have a clear line of sight, per se, of the Martian madame, but the eerie helmet and spindly shoulders certainly tipped him off that the individual likely wasn't normal - and that didn't leave a lot of guesswork available for him based on his current shenanigans! Motioning towards one of his bandanna-garbed comrades-in-arms, the young man with the particularly keen vision leveled his new weapon towards the bulletproof-glass teller stations and was followed shortly thereafter by his colleague, the duo unleashing a hail of red lasers at their eerie target. The glass didn't stand a chance, melting and shattering with equal aplomb, but it nevertheless managed to protect Red Moon from the onslaught of gunfire, scorching and searing the walls behind her and taking a good chunk out of one of the desks!

Meanwhile, amidst the cacophonous siren song of chaos that was his men embroiled in battle, the leader of the group moved behind one of the large appendages the insectoid robot had before fishing out a small detonator. With a simple squeeze, a riotous explosion echoed through the bank as the steel bars once protecting the valuable currency were blasted inwards. The safe had been breached! Like clockwork, the mastermind slunk his way into the once well-fortified monetary safe house, rounding a corner from within. Right behind him came the metallic monstrosity, hunkering down on all sixes as it bum rushed its way inside; the familiar sound of metal grinding upon metal resounding outwards as it squeezed to make itself fit before skittering deeper into the vault behind its human master.

The already spooked member of the Malanti almost reeled on the spot to meet the new adversary, his hostage still gripped sternly across the neck with his forearm. Sandwiched between a man in a metal bee suit and some unknown superhero behind him, his manic state was reaching epic proportions as another of the Malanti did the looking for him. The dread of not knowing what was behind him and the dwindling chances of success were piling up - all he wanted to do was go home and forget all about this. Or he would, if he weren't in a position where he might spend the rest of his young adult life behind bars. And he did still have that laser rifle... maybe - just maybe! - if he could get past that hero blocking the doorway, he could negotiate his way out with his tubby hostage! Once more, the young, skittish gangbanger unloaded on the Bee-Keeper III, a blood-curdling screech following suit from both the rotund bank clerk held in the death grip and the insane criminal trying to get out of this terrible situation. Unfortunately for him, the shots went wide, reducing a nearby velvet rope into a lengthy chain of burning refuse, the poles holding it nearly sheared in half.

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With the vault compromised and an unknown, unseen assistant having joined the fiasco that was this debacle of a heist, things were getting even more intense. Baxter was more than just a little grateful for the assistance from this anonymous vigilante; the mysterious figure the goons were firing at behind the desk largely unidentified for the teenage hero in the battlesuit. The tables had turned; with this newfound distraction, the Bee-Keeper had a chance to help shift the tide of the robbery-turned-hostage situation! He had to get these people out of here, and stop that gigantic robot from escaping with whatever ill-gotten loot it was snatching up from within the vault!

"Now's my chance!"

Raising his gauntlet-based blaster once more over the hostage-toting maniac, the Bee-Keeper III let loose another blast of energy. Narrowly avoiding the pudgy patron held in the deathlock of the Malanti thug, the golden beam struck true, pegging the gunman soundly in the shoulder just as it had his colleague before him. With a clatter of metal against the tiled floor, the man slumped to the ground in pain, moaning and wincing as he curled up into a ball whilst the paunchy patron of the bank spun to the opposite side and covered his head as he hit the floor again.

"It'zz over!" announced the armored vigilante as the thug was dispatched, the remaining Malanti readied their weapons against the pair of crusaders, the bee-themed hero's modulated voice an odd amalgam of agitation and apprehension. "Juzzt zzurrender already. No one elzze needzz to get hurt."

But it was as clear as crystal: these guys were going for broke. All or nothing. Baxter could feel the desperation in his own endeavors just as he could in the young men trying to hold up the First National Bank. It was going to go down to the wire; do or die, go big or go home - and Baxter wasn't keen on letting these crooks get away with what they'd done.

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The brief rain of blasts that hissed and blared around the crouching Farsider caused the vampire to twitch at every report and loud hiss as whatever the desk was made of 'Terran building materials, always breaking when you don't want it to!' she thought, waiting for a pause in the assault before vaulting over the front desk, fixing her blue eyes on the one who had spotted her as she crossed the room with vaulting steps, bringing back her gloved hand with a creak of dessicated muscle under the glossy suit, her hand wreathed in a deathly cold vapor as she swung it through the man. To all outside observers the attack whiffed just past his nose, but to the man himself, it was like a knife had torn straight through his very soul, ripping at the control his spirit had over his limbs.

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With a well-aimed but ominously unseen strike, the lone youth who'd managed to catch a glimpse of the ghostly visitor was stricken with an odd sense of dread across his face as he turned to face his other compatriot. His face, as pale as the grave and as locked in terror to match, stared blankly towards his fellow thug and brother, dropping his weapon beside the remaining half-dozen prone hostages without a word. A single step was all he could muster before falling silently to the ground, eyes rolled back as the youth went catatonic. Shocked, the lone remaining goon standing guard outside the vault looked on at the spindly Farsider, his emotion plainly etched onto his visage. Like lightning, the boy shifted from horror to surprise, and then finally to blinding rage, his teeth grit and face red as he leveled the firearm again.

"You stupid cape! I'll kill you! I'll kill you both!" he shouted, the various patrons of the bank emitting gasps and shrieks alongside the blood curdling roar the thug followed up with. Ripping the bandanna once covering his face off, the young, swarthy-skinned young adult let loose another hail of blaster bolts with reckless abandon, plastering everything in front of him at waist-level and reducing it to vaporized ash and holes the size of basketballs.

That is, everything but Red Moon, who remained eerily unharmed as the flurry of gunfire danced around her desiccated form.

Back inside the vault, quite the commotion was going on! More blaster fire and the sound of things being forcibly removed. Whatever was going on, the leader of the gang and his automated assistant sounded as though they were literally ripping the inner sanctum of the bank asunder!

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Abrupt gunfire mind-searing pain notwithstanding, the situation had been adequately flipped with the emergence of this new, albeit disconcerting hero on the scene. With the human shield's relieved of their duty, this whole ordeal was almost over. If the Bee-Keeper and this foreign emissary could just put this last gangbanger down, they could turn their undivided attention to the giant robot masquerading as a bee and his erstwhile compatriot wreaking havoc upon the innards of the vault!

Whilst the enraged criminal focused his fire on the character in the tight suit and faceless helmet, the Bee-Keeper III - seeing a golden opportunity to strike - pulled back a heavy-handed fist, the whir of millions of minuscule bee-bots powering the servos and motors within the streamlined battlesuit humming lightly in his ears as he charged headlong towards the teen gangster with the gun. Flying just inches above the ground, it didn't take long for the Hero of the Hive to close the gap, a gauntlet-clad hook stretching out as it clobbered the poor thief square in the jaw. With thunderous force, the Bee-Keeper's strike hit home, and the thug took to the air; crash landing against one of the remaining roped-off pedestals with agonizing force. He groaned momentarily, but didn't rise again, loosing the death-like grip upon his firearm as sweet unconsciousness took him.

"Zzweet! That takezz care of them," chimed the armored adventurer, clearly glad to be rid of the last of the crooks within the lobby of the bank. Turning to his newest colleague, Baxter - while elated to have the hostages relatively freed from imminent danger - was still set for the flurry of activity that was sure to follow; and this grim-looking patron seemed keen on lending a hand. "Quick! If we hurry, we can get thezze guyzz while they're zztill inzzide!"

Returning his attention to the prone hostages, the Bee-Keeper waved a hand towards the door hurriedly, motioning for them to get moving.

"You guyzz get outta here. We'll take care of that other guy and hizz crazzy robot!"

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Red Moon had flinched as she was eerily silhouetted in the flashing blasts that tore their way through the atmosphere past her and hissing into the wall, too startled to move despite not being able to truly feel the emotion of shock. She had been tensing her withered limbs, about to send a hand through the other human's psychic tendons when the boy was sent crashing against the wall by the armored apian's mighty fist!

Stepping backwards she watched the sharp arc of the would-be bank robber's body, blinking in a somewhat reptilian fashion before answering the young hero's earnest and excited call for action. With a faint electronic hum that built as her suit's vocal amplifiers set to work *krmjrakmm*"The steel one is yours, leave the other to me"*kraashhkm* she said quietly, spidering majestically across the hall, her step slow and ponderous, though she covered ground rapidly with her inhumanly long legs. Her boots tapped rhythmically on the floor as she passed serenely into the smoking hole in the vault door, bending gracefully under and through it before beholding the master of thieves and his metallic servant.

With a sudden burst of movement she lunged across the room in a single step and slashed her hand through the air, aiming it with precision at the collarbone of her enemy!

'He shall fall like a puppet with cut strings.'

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With spindly poise, Red Moon took to the vault with all the grace and fluidity that an unnaturally slinky Farsider is capable of, easily ducking beneath the destroyed remnants of the vault's former iron bars and steel door. Inside, the room was much bigger than it appeared, with numerous safety deposit boxes adorning the walls with loving precision and symmetry. Or, perhaps, they might have seemed that way if many of them hadn't been scattered to the winds and all over the well-tiled floor. The room itself was rather large and imposing by comparison, a hefty square-shaped hollow hidden beneath the sanctity of the former security system undermined only recently.

Within the room stood the two perpetrators whom had no doubt help to orchestrate this whole fiasco: the large and imposing leader of the Malanti group responsible, and the even larger mechanical bee-thing. While the former was busy stuffing his pockets with diamonds, cash, gold rings, and various other trinkets upon Red Moon's entry, the large robotic wasp seemed almost docile. But within its mechanical mandibles stood a single lockbox, both unopened and undamaged, and the vampiric Martian got a good look at its Impervium-built glory before the insectoid swallowed it whole. It seemed strangely content after its meal on the far side of the room, a slight twitch from its head and a couple of clacks, but otherwise an unflinching, immobile entity - a stark contrast to the frantic hustle-and-bustle of the Malanti gangbanger's looting spree.

"Hey! Back off!" he shouted in surprise as the eerie visage of the heroine made itself present, racing along towards him. The man had hoped his other men had killed them both; but it's hard to ask for miracles these days. But before he knew it, the opaque-helmed woman was already on top of him, an invisible strike erring towards him. Eyes wide, the spectral claw tore into the poor fellows psyche, a wince of tangible pain erupting across his masked face as his free hand rocketed towards the location of the pounding. Staggering, the criminal youth drops the pearl necklace he was cradling, back hitting the wall as he reeled from the overwhelming pain.

This activity, however, alerts the giant wasp made of steel and servos, a deathly screech of metal-on-metal echoing throughout the sanctum of the First National Bank. Clearly, it didn't like the fact this crusader of justice was handily assaulting its master, earning the ire of its emotionless gaze as it swiveled on its own sharp, deadly appendages. Turning its focus wholly to the individual in the foreign suit, its eyes narrowed and began to glow with a blinding shade of red... and that's when it happened. Like a precision instrument, the machine-bug let loose a pair of lasers from its eyes, their focus deadly-narrow as it fired them off towards Red Moon with vicious intent!

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Bounding into the vault after the anonymous, crackly-voiced heroine as the civilians made a break for the exit, the Bee-Keeper leapt the remnants of the old steel door and into the fray - quite literally! Inside, things weren't exactly looking peachy keen, what with the mysterious visitor of a caped crusader having clearly taken a beating, whilst the evildoer who'd no doubt orchestrated the other Malanti into this little excursion. What was worse, that wasp with the sharp steel appendages didn't look too keen on the duo blocking its only way out.

But that didn't matter. Baxter and his new friend were in the thick of it now, and it was up to the Hero of the Hive to do his part in thwarting this nefarious bank robbery! And with the eponymous spidery woman in less than stellar condition, her former insistence upon his taking the giant robot apart felt all the more appropriate.

"Your terrible crimezzpree izz about to come to an end, you zztupid hunk of junk!"

Without nary a moment of hesitation, the ire of the Bee-Keeper had been earned, and the yellow-and-gold bedecked armored apian let loose a blast of concussive energy from his palm towards the malign metal marvel. One way or another, that stupid bee-based impostor was going down! Much to the Bee-Keeper's chagrin, however, all he'd managed to do was skim the gun metal grey exterior, barely grazing one of its antennae as the shot went wide. Behind the mask, Baxter hissed harshly at both his sloppiness and the meager hurt the automaton must be feeling.

Guess one's not enough. Gonna have to totes blast this thing to bits with everything I've got."

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The success of her attacks had made her just a bit more confident, and it had not occurred to her before she saw the building light and felt the tremor of power that she remembered '...The machine!' turning too late, tensing old bones too slowly to get out from under its deathly gaze!

The laser blasts that seared through the air from the robot's eyes scorched clean through Red Moon's unarmored jumpsuit, bubbling and melting the dried corpse underneath! The costume's new holes hissed and smoked while the clothes underneath flared briefly before extinguishing.

Staggering backwards more in surprise than in real pain, the world whirled around her, and she collapsed briefly to one knee as her hands slammed onto the floor, faint groans and snarls echoed out from the helmet as she began desperately struggling to will herself up, back into the fight...

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The Malanti thug pushed himself off of the wall, hand still gingerly pressed against his temples as he centered himself. The pain was still there, wracking his physique; yet it was clear it wouldn't be long before that injury spurred him on to a counter-attack. Even now, in his woozy state, he looked on towards the injured woman beside him who'd torn into his mind. It was there, in his eyes: he was going to kill that spindly, smoldering heroine crippled by the precision laser strike of his metallic comrade.

But the giant wasp made of malleable metal and sharpened legs? It had a more assertive action in mind as it waggled its seared antennae, as if it were trying in vain to emulate the emotion some beings call 'pain.' With another guttural screech as its mandibles clacked menacingly towards the faux bee who'd dared offend its personage, the hulking brute of scorched steel once more narrowed its vision - this time on the Bee-Keeper III! With a high-pitched hum, two more beams of white-hot energy burst from its focal points, blasting the armored avenger with deadly efficiency. Knocking the guardian whom had leapt into the vault back and against the concrete wall with a sickening thud, splintering the reinforced barrier as the yellow-and-black fellow collided with it.

Things had just gone from bad to worse!

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Just as surprised to be on the receiving end as he was to feel the roaring shock of pain shoot through his body, the Bee-Keeper landed with a sharp thud against the cement wall at the back of the inner vault, rocking both the still-locked deposit boxes present in the wall and cracking the base as he collided with its reinforced stone-and-steel architecture. A grunt of obvious malcontent as a light paroxysm rocketed through his spine. It was like being hit by a massive freight truck - you know, provided that said truck could fire optical energy beams! The scent of burning metal intermingled with sweat perforated the innards of the Bee-Keeper Armor, and Baxter could only clench his eyes as he tried to cope with the abrupt injury.

"Note to self: avoid the death beams..." the young boy moaned in silence, clutching at his abdomen as he fell to his knees in a ripple of searing agony. It took all his focus just to pry himself from the ground, staggering his way back up from the devastating hit.

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The rushing power that blazed forth from the metal bee jolted the Farsider back into full awareness of the battle, a dry wheeze of air disturbing the smoke that swirled around her head ensconced within the helmet, her pale blue eyes glowing dully as she slowly, so slowly, got back to her feet. Taking a quick look at her comrade she gave a wholly perfunctory and unconscious sigh of relief when she saw he was still moving, and the armor looked it had only been partially damaged. 'Good, we can still fight.' Red Moon turned her attention back to the human favoring her with a murderous glare. With a darting movement she leaped towards him, slicing straight at the psychic web that connected his mind to his body...and slammed her fingers with what would have been a painful impact into the metal wall behind him, the leader of the robbers dodging aside with a contemptuous ease that showed on his face. Gritting her fangs Atraxia rebounded off the wall, slashing with a powerful stroke clean through the threads that shimmered before her mind's eye, rejoicing internally as they all but broke!

Landing beside the would-be bank robber with a soft thud just before he fell, Red Moon realized suddenly that her elation was considerably premature. *kommmjcrsshhh*"I will strike at it from below, do not lose hope."*kahhhhcjshz* she called over to the third Bee-Keeper, shimmering and sliding straight through the debris-littered floor.

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Once more, that menacing demeanor possessed by the leader of the Malanti wavered and faded as Red Moon played her gambit, severing the invisible mental strings with a well-placed strike! The man opened his mouth, gun dropping as both hands shot for his temples, yet no scream came forth. The sheer pain of the assault on his fragile mind caused him to fall to his knees, eyes rolling back, and in one final spasm of unknown suffering, crumpled to the ground unconsciously. Before the gigantic apian with a heart of oil metal and circuits could respond, the Farsider heroine had already slipped away, fading through the floor as though she'd never existed at all.

Screeching its siren song of doom again, the massive gunmetal grey wasp didn't seem at all pleased as it surveyed the situation. Its only means out was still being guarded by an injured hero, and its liaison had been incapacitated - the weakness of a mortal form. With no other targets readily available, the creature was intent on making its escape... but not without leaving its calling card in the way of a deceased do-gooder! Charging forward, the mechanical beast raised one of its razor-sharp Impervium talons as it flew over the cluttered mass of money, important bonds, and fine jewelry that littered the floor with vicious intent. Mandibles clacking, the automated apian slashed downwards towards its injured target, intent on cleaving the Bee-Keeper III's head from his shoulders!

Unfortunately for it, the creatures' attack fell short, scraping metal against metal as it connected ineffectually with the other armored insect hero. While the attack might have been a waste, the mechanical marvel nevertheless took its position near the giant hole it had made previously, an occasional twitch of its antennae towards the portal outwards into the main area of the bank its telltale sign - it was looking to beat a hasty retreat with whatever ill-gotten loot it had stolen!

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"You're the bozz," the Bee-Keeper wheezed, steeling himself for the continuing brawl ahead. Baxter hurt everywhere; his chest felt tight beneath the protective shell of his armor, and even now he could feel the bruises forming where the blast had struck him. Every movement caused a tiny ripple of pain, and a wince following soon after. When he'd rushed here, Baxter had earnestly hoped the whole bee-theft deal was a hoax. And now, despite the crooks having been dealt with, here he was, less than stellar and clinging to a fight he'd hoped would have been easy. Clearly, he was mistaken.

Suddenly, the gigantic, robotic insect rushed him, menacing its multiple pointy appendages with devious skill! But despite the tenderness in his injuries and the palpable surge of discomfort, the Bee-Keeper was ready for it this time! Just in the nick of time, the Hero of the Hive threw up an arm defensively, catching both of the finitely sharp limbs coming towards him across the forearm just below the jagged tips of the automaton's spindly, deadly limbs! But even as the beast recoiled from its failed assault, it gave a glance towards its intended exit, and Baxter got an idea for what was up.

"Oh, no. No way you're getting out of here in one piezze!" groaned the young hero, his modulated voice an odd amalgam of confidence and throbbing misery. Pulling back his own steel-garbed fist, the Bee-Keeper let loose a tumultuous uppercut right below the mandibles of the menacing marauder, connecting with a discernible crack as his reinforced knuckles met the welded armor of the laser-toting insect. The robotic adversary staggered backwards ever so slightly from the recoil of the blow, the Bee-Keeper's servos delivering a magnified sock to the non-existent chin of the insectoid. Yet, still, it stood!

"Oh, c'mon!" Baxter whined to himself, aggravated that the stupid thing refused to go down. He'd given it everything he'd had, but it refused to take a hint!

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