Vim & Vigor 7
“Owww…” The pained moan slipped out as I woke up in… well, I wasn’t sure where I was exactly. The floor tiles beneath me were caked in dust. Cobwebs were scattered about, and windows were boarded up. I had to be someplace abandoned rather than the alley, but who brought me here?
My head was pounding, like someone was taking a hammer to my skull. I tried to bring my hand to my head, but the moment it connected I felt a sharp sting and pulled away. That was when I noticed two things. The first was that my hand was wrapped with a bloody cloth where I had been… impaled? Stabbed? The latter sounded about right, I guess.
I had been stabbed by Circus. She sent a throwing knife through my hand and I barely managed to get a shot off before the second one hit me. Then I blacked out.
The second thing was that my mask was missing, which was very bad. Bad enough that the fear stilled my heart when I thought about how long had I been unconscious without it? What if someone saw my face and managed to learn who I was? I mean, white male in a city with the E88 was hard to pin down, but I still didn’t like relying on that alone.
“You finally woke up?” A girl’s voice drew my eyes upwards. There’s a… counter, I think. Like what you’d find in a fast-food place. “You probably feel like crap, but I couldn’t do much with the hand but wrap it up.”
“You’re that girl from the alley,” I said as I stood up.
Pulling my mask from behind her back, she waved it casually. “And you’re Greg Vader, school-boy by day, Cape by night.”
My throat goes dry. She shouldn’t know that. I didn’t bring anything that could be used to identify me, so she shouldn’t have any way of knowing that was my name. My burner phone was next to her but it should be locked and I never put my name into it.
Okay, stay cool. I swallowed and tried to play it off. “Who’s Greg Vader?”
She gave me a flat-stare as she set my mask down on the counter next to her. “I remember your name, face, and address from your I.D. card that day at the Market, when I pick-pocketed you during a moment of weakness. And before you say anything about that, I’m not proud of it and I regretted it, so I gave it back without taking anything.”
“Uh…” I mean, I should be mad that she stole from me in the first place but she didn’t take anything. And I had more pressing things to worry about. “I need to go, so can I have those back?”
“You don’t want to talk to me. I get it. Most people don’t like spending time with the homeless. They see them as reminders of what they could become, junkies, or so on.”
“I don’t think like that.” Okay, I did a bit. Not on purpose but I did. “I’m just not good with people and look at the situation—I’ve been gone for awhile without getting into contact with anyone and I don’t know where I am or who you are, but you know who I am.”
Man, my parents were probably worried about me. Taylor was probably worried too. I needed to contact them and let them know that I was alive. Then I needed to see about my hand. She wrapped in a cloth, but there was a lot of blood staining it and the pain was a reminder that if I didn’t go to a hospital for this, it could be really bad.
“I’ll let you leave in a minute, but for now I need you to listen to me because that’s going to determine what I do next.” She grabbed the mask and phone and threw them into the air. They start floating around her.
My lungs stopped working for a second. She had powers—telekinesis of some kind. “You’re a Cape?”
She shook her head. “I’m not a Cape, I’m a Parahuman—it’s not something I chose. I didn’t ask for it and I don’t run for any gangs. I don’t even like using it, but then you brought that psycho to me and I had to use it to get away. I can’t even go back there because she might try to get revenge or someone may have seen me.”
“I didn’t know you were there.” I really didn’t. “And I tried to help you get away.”
“Which is why your identity will stay between you and me,” she said. “For a price though.”
I wanted to call her out on blackmailing someone who saved her, but a sharp ache in my hand objected to drawing this out for too long. It would be easier just to go along with what she has to say. “I don’t have much or any on me, but we could work something out.”
She shook her head. “Money’s nice, but that won’t help me in the long run. I just need you to do me a couple of favors so I can get my life together. Though some cash would be nice here and there, I don’t want to basically rob a kid.”
“I’m not a kid.” She can’t be that many years older than me either. “And what sort of favors?”
“Nothing illegal,” she said. “I mean, if I was going to go that far I would have just turned you over to the Merchants and joined them. Not like someone with powers like mine could strike out independent and there aren’t any other gangs that would accept me.”
“What about the Protectorate?” She’s probably old enough to qualify for that, if she doesn’t want to be a bad guy.
She crossed her arms. “I don’t want to have anything to do with being a Cape. I just need some basic things from you, like keeping my identity and power a secret, the use of your washing machine and your mailbox and address. Stuff like that.”
“Why those things though?” I get why she’d want to keep her identity a secret if she doesn’t want to be involved in being a hero, which seems like a waste given she was lucky to have powers—minus whatever caused the Trigger event she had.
“You’d be surprised how hard it is to get anything when you don’t housing and look like you sleep in alleys. Everyone assumes you’re strung out or did something to deserve being out there, so they usually just treat you like an object on the street to avoid rather than a person. And before you ask, I’m not an addict.” She pulled up her sleeves to show her bare arms. “See, no marks despite living in Merchant territory.”
“I never said you were a drug addict.” Not sure that alcohol is much better for making a good impression. “But if you’re homeless, why not go to a shelter?”
“You ever been to one?” she asked. “As a volunteer or because you had to use them?”
I shook my head. None of my family were really that bad off. “I haven’t.”
“Then do some research before you make that suggestion, but it’s not fun. Even the people who mean well make you feel like you can’t take care of yourself and everything is restrictive. There’s not even enough room for me without someone else who needs it more being put out, and then there’s the fact that I’m a woman, which carries a whole other set of issues.”
“Oh… I’m sorry,” I said sheepishly. “I was just making a suggestion. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Yeah, well I figured as much, which is why I’m explaining to you why I need you to do certain things for me. I’m getting to a point where I may end up desperate. And once that happens, I’m going to have to leverage what I can to get by.”
The underlying meaning didn’t escape me with her words there. “You’ll, what? Sell my identity to someone?”
She had the decency to look down at that. “I don’t want to be a bad person, Greg. I don’t want to screw you over to help myself. Especially since you seem like a good kid. But my options are limited and I can’t afford to care if you hate me because of it. So I’m asking you nicely to do me a few favors so I can get myself together, then I’ll never bother you again.”
“I think I would have liked it better if you just blackmailed me instead of making me feel guilty too.” It’s not like I have a choice really. I mean, she knows too much for me to ignore, but I’d feel like an asshole if I didn’t help her out. Worse, she knows it and that’s why she told me everything.
“And I hate myself for doing it to you since you’re a pretty sweet kid.” She plucked my phone and mask out of the air and then hopped down from the counter. “It would be so much easier if you were an asshole like my ex.”
“Please stop calling me a kid. If you know all my personal information, then you know I’m a teenager.”
“I know, but you’re kind of baby-faced.” She held out my stuff for me to take. “Now come on. We need to get your hand looked at and come up with a cover story for why you were out all night to the people who were going to ask.”
“All night?” I grabbed on my phone to check the time and see that it was early morning—as in ‘I should be heading to school right now’ early. This would be a nightmare of a mess to explain without letting out any secrets. “Oh that’s bad. That’s really bad!”
“There’s a hospital not too far away,” she said. “You’ll need to leave the mask behind and ditch some clothes, but you can just say you got jumped by a bunch of ABB members who mistook you for one of the Empire and that they robbed and stabbed you in the hand as a warning before knocking you out and dumping you some place. We’re close to their territory and tension between them is pretty high after that new Tinker of theirs blew up some place and they attacked one of theirs in return. You can even say you didn’t get a good look because it was dark and they all looked the same.”
In a town with the ABB and Empire, it would work. I’d feel bad about lying, but it would work. “That sounds a little… racist though.”
“Yeah, a little,” she admitted. “But the other excuse is explaining how you went out last night in a mask and were nearly killed. I mean, you’re going to have to get better at lying if you want to try doing all this.”
… I hate that she had a point. And even if that explained what happened to my parents, I still had to come up with an excuse to Taylor about this. If I told her someone saw me unmasked, she’d be pissed or would stop me from going out again.
Maybe I could say Circus left me for dead or something? “Can you at least tell me your name?”
“It’s Cienna,” she said. “Now come on. I’ll walk you a bit of the way through the alleys here.”