Vim & Vigor 9
Until today, I thought that hiding a girl in my room would be exciting. In hindsight, it was just stressful. Very stressful.
Cienna had taken over my bed after eating the food that I heated up, sitting on it in a pair of track-pants. That and a t-shirt that made the outline of her chest pretty evident, for what it was. I wouldn’t say she was flat, but she wasn’t exactly stacked either.
The rest of her clothes, unmentionables and all, were in the washing machine. They needed a thorough washing just to deal with the stench of alcohol alone. Then a heavy-dry to get them back into a state that could reasonably be considered clean.
She wasn’t exactly probing every corner of my room to invade my privacy, but I wasn’t exactly expecting visitors today and didn’t clean it up too well. Not to mention she looked like she was starting to get settled in, which was a problem since I was already hoping that Dad didn’t come home early and Mom didn’t wake for the next two or so hours. I’ve caused them enough problems as it was—Mom especially, who I wanted to check up on after I thought about what I was going to say to her about everything.
I mean, I was technically attacked by members of a gang. Just not the ABB. But that’s not much better, since I went out looking for something to do. Dad would be pissed and Mom would be disappointed, both things I didn’t like dealing with or wanted them to feel.
Granted, if I hadn’t gone looking for trouble, I probably wouldn’t be in this mess… but I just wanted to do something useful with the time and power I had. That’s what a hero does, right?
I’ll have to lay low for a while until things settle down on my end. Make an effort to get home early. Spend some time with Mom and Dad. At least until Taylor finished getting a new power ready for me to test—
“So, how’d it happen?” Cienna asked out of the blue.
“Your trigger,” she clarified. “You’re a Parahuman, but if your parents don’t know then you can’t be like the chick from the family of Blasters that got busted for being a hypocrite.”
“You mean Glory Girl and New Wave? They’re not all Blasters.”
“Either way, since you must’ve gotten your powers some other way if not from them, and you don’t seem like the type who’s gotten a raw deal from your parents, that leaves something going on outside the home. And since you don’t seem like the type to get into trouble with that baby-face of yours, I’m guessing you’re bullied in school?”
I don’t give her an answer. Partly because I was sick of lying more than I had to. And the other part was because it was a reminder that the whole reason I had these powers were because Taylor was bullied instead of me.
I was just… there. Someone people didn’t talk to unless they had to. Taylor was the exception though. She was nice like that and we usually worked together in class because we at least meshed somewhat and got work done.
“I mean, I get it,” Cienna continued. “People tend to be assholes if they can get away. See it every day.”
“Some people, yeah,” I admitted, thinking of Sophia’s gang. “Never really got why they enjoyed that. There’s not much of a point in being mean most times. Much less to people who didn’t do anything to you aside from exist.”
“It’s because it makes them feel bigger than they are.” She stretched out on my bed, shifting the pillow so that it was laying beneath her. “Some people just get off on seeing others lower than them because then they feel that they’re better than someone else.”
“I don’t see what’s so fun about putting someone else down to put yourself up—it doesn’t change anything, besides making someone else miserable.”
“Misery loves company, and as long as the other person is more miserable than you… well, you get it.”
Despite the fact that she’s getting far more comfortable than she should be on my bed, and I don’t think I’ve washed the sheets for a bit now either, I tried to think of a reason under that logic for Sophia being… herself. I couldn’t really come up with anything. She was a track-star, she didn’t do drugs or get messed with by anyone affiliated with the E88 as far as I knew. Maybe she’s had issues with her parents or I was missing something?
And whatever was going on with Emma and Taylor wasn’t something I was privy to either. Only that whatever bad-blood was between them was largely instigated by the former. And the fact that she targeted Taylor even after she got hurt and the locker thing doesn’t really make me sympathetic to whatever happened to her.
“You seem like a good kid and all, so it must be hard for you to go through things like that and people just watch it happen. They’re just as bad.”
“…Some people want to, but just can’t. The ones who don’t join in or laugh, but have sit there and watch it happen. They want to do something, but they’re afraid they’d make things worse, or they’d get hurt too. So they feel really bad about it afterwards, because they know they should have done something but couldn’t. They’re victims too, in a way.”
I knew that from personal experience. When it happened, you tell yourself that there was nothing you could do to stop it. That you’d try to make it up in some other way, like I was now. Because that was all you could do. People who exploited that were the worse.
Cienna doesn’t see it that way though. “All the guilt and pity in the world doesn’t help when you’re suffering. It just makes you feel worse when the people pitying you could be doing something.”
“It’s easy to say that, but not everyone is like us. They don’t have powers, and when they do they have to keep their heads down because no one will help them if they get into trouble. If the teachers and staff did their jobs and prevented that in the first place, it wouldn’t even be a problem.”
Mister Gladly claimed he knew that some people were giving us a hard time, but if he really did then he wouldn’t have paired us with Julia and the others. He would have been the one to report those three for what they did. Yet he didn’t, so either he was lying or he let it happen.
“In a perfect world, they would,” she said. “But we don’t live in a perfect world. Just one that sucks and you try to get through day-by-day.”
“…Can we drop this now,” I asked. “That stuff isn’t something you talk to others about in the first place and I’m already tense enough.”
She yawned and shifted the pillow again so it was just under her head. “Fine. Just wake me up when my clothes are dry.”
Wait, what? “You’re sleeping here!?”
“It’s not like I can go anywhere with my clothes wet and I can’t think of anything else to talk about with you, so…night.”
I just stared at her as she turned her head and curled up in my sheets. Judging from her breathing it sounded like she was slipping into a deep sleep already, so she was probably already tired. If she stayed up and waited for me to wake up after Circus got me, like Mom did, then it made sense. Everyone’s got limits on how long they can stay awake, and between the food and shower I guess she reached hers…
Still, who sleeps in the bed of the person they were blackmailing?
I wanted her gone, but there was no point in waking her up for no reason and when I couldn’t actually force her to. I…really hoped I was making the right decision here, considering how the last day went between being nearly crushed, set on fire, and stabbed. After which I was blackmailed by a homeless girl, who I was lying about having powers to, while lying to Taylor about the latter’s existence and role in my survival…
There’s no way this is going to end well in the long-run.
Fortunately, a bink sound from my computer distracted me from that train of thought. I had a private message waiting for me now, from GstringGirl. She must’ve just noticed I was logged in again.
GstringGirl: you missed the game last night. what happened?
Right, I was going to get in a quick game with her after I got back from practicing with Telekinesis. She could only get access to her computer for a limited time, so that was probably a hassle on her end too. Better explain so she doesn’t get upset with me too—it was hard to find people on the forums who didn’t have it out for me or accuse me of baiting for attention.
XxVoid_CowboyxX: Ran into some trouble on the way back home last night. Gang dudes.
GstringGirl: Are u ok!?
XxVoid_CowboyxX: Got roughed up a bit. Woke up in alley in morning. On pain-killers but fine.
GstringGirl: it’s getting dangerous there.
XxVoid_CowboyxX: I’ll stay clear of gang territory when I can.
GstringGirl: not just gangs. new uncontrollable trigger happened last night. check uber & leet thread.
I left-clicked a link and opened it into a new tab before browsing over to that thread. Uber and Leet caused a monstrous trigger with one of their stupid pranks again. The video of them actually doing so has been taken down, but apparently Nemean and Heimal worked with the Cyborg of Brockton Bay to stop the trigger before someone could get seriously harmed.
That being said, it’s safe to say they’re getting cage’d for that one the moment they stick their heads up again. I’m actually a bit ashamed I used to like their show until that GTA episode. But things… were really getting worse, aren’t they?
The ABB and E88 were reaching a pretty bad tipping point. New Wave’s been discredited somewhat due to Glory Girl. These idiots caused someone to trigger for a stupid prank. The Undersiders got away with knocking over a bank. And then there was that thing with Circus and whoever Trainwreck was working for.
It’d be nice to be able to warn Nemean and Heimal, rather than just not saying anything and then one day reading they ended up dead in an alley somewhere. But they don’t exactly list their contact information or have a visible account. And I can’t do anything right now about the other things beyond stealing money from the Merchants to benefit Taylor, at least until she got back onto her feet and we tag-teamed the issue together.
I glanced over to the sleeping girl in my bed, now splayed out unladylike as she turned in her sleep. Her powers would be useful against bullets and anything non-organic that entered her field of influence, if I had her pegged right. We need more heroes out there, so maybe I could convince her to work with Taylor and me…
Right now, she was treating me like a kid and blackmailing me. And Taylor was probably only reluctantly letting me continue with testing her powers after what Circus did and that screw up with the Merchants. I couldn’t push things with them by trying to bring them together to form our own team.
Realistically, I’d probably be lucky just to be able to go out at night again once Mom woke up and we had a long talk about how this would make twice that I’ve been attacked, if you include the lie I told about how Taylor got injured in the first place. I didn’t want to lie to her face again, but I have to or it’ll all come crumbling down.
This sucks, I couldn’t help but think as I replied back to the private message.
XxVoid_CowboyxX: Depressing stuff with that.
GstringGirl: i know. be careful.
XxVoid_CowboyxX: I will.
GstringGirl: k. have to go now.
After that, I spent some time just trying to get a grasp on everything I’d missed online until the dryer tumbled to a stop a few hours later, and the buzzer that signaled the laundry being done rang out. Crap, I knew I forgot something!
It was loud enough that Cienna shot up in my bed, her head whipping around and eyes wide open in alarm. I held my hands up to stop her before she activated her power and tore my room apart. She exhaled when she noticed me, tension flowing out of her body as she started to lay back down while I got up and went over to the dryer.
Her clothes… well, they were cleaner than before. I guess. I didn’t really look at them as I moved them from the washer into it. She probably does need some new clothes though. I reached down to grab them—
—when Mom’s voice came through her door, soft but clearly. Crap, I woke her up too.
“Y-Yeah, Mom. It’s me!” I shouted as I grabbed the clothes and rushed over to my door, tossing them through it and onto the bed. Cienna glared at me for that, but I pointed to the window and said, “Mom’s up. You gotta go!”
Then I shut the door and rushed over to Mom’s room before she came out to check on me. It was just in time as I heard the sound of her bed’s springs creaking, meaning she was getting out of it. I knocked on the door lightly to let her know that I was outside, not wanting to step in without permission just in case she was indecent.
“Mom, can I come in?”
I stepped inside, closing the door after me, to see that Mom was sitting on the bed. She looked… tired. There were rings around her eyes that were a bit bloodshot from exhaustion, and probably crying too. “Sorry I woke you up.”
She just shook her head and stood up. Then she hugged me against her body tight as though she didn’t want to let me go, sniffling as her voice came out hoarse and soft. “I didn’t know… I didn’t know what happened to you… I thought you…you…”
“…I’m sorry.” It was all I could say to her as I tried to think of a way to get free when she started crying on my shoulder. I still hadn’t thought of everything I was going to say, and if Cienna was still there I’d feel even more guilty after seeing her like this. “I’ll get you some water, okay?”
She nodded and then sat back down on the bed.
I turned away as she started wiping away her tears. It was hard to look at her in that state, a far-cry from when she was happy that I was going out to my ‘gaming-club’ at night. All because of Circus.
Thankfully, when I got back to my room Cienna, her clothes, and her bag were all gone. The window was opened too, so I guessed she climbed back out that way. I hoped no one spotted her, but for now it was a relief that one thing hadn’t blown up in my face today after everything else. I shut the window closed and then went into the kitchen to get Mom some water like I said. Then I spent hours trying to convince her that everything would be okay and I was fine.
All while swearing in my head that if I ever crossed paths with Circus again, I was going to make her pay for everything.
Vim & Vigor 8
Hours later, near-evening, I’m stuck at home. The painkillers are mostly working, but I was still feeling a dull throb where I’d been stabbed. Not to mention I feel like crap after everything was said and done.
I had gotten in touch with Taylor once I arrived at the hospital that Cienna took me to. I told her I survived because Circus left me for dead after I passed out. It was a lie, but I felt it was the best that I could come up with that kept the promise I made with Cienna and didn’t want Taylor to know that I got exposed.
She didn’t exactly question it, but she did tell me my parents called her. She stuck with the excuse I gave her, that she didn’t know what happened to me after we parted ways. That gave me some relief, right up until I called home.
Mom had sounded frantic when she picked up the phone. Her voice rasp and cracking like glass on the verge of shattering. And, when I told her that I was at the hospital because I was attacked by a bunch of ABB members who thought I was a member of the Empire Eighty-Eight because of how I looked, it was as if the glass itself shattered along with her heart.
I wasn’t proud of it. I wish that I was smart enough to come up with a better excuse. But I couldn’t at the time, so I had to listen to her crying over the line after telling her they stabbed me in the hand and stole my wallet before leaving in an alley somewhere.
I think she would have had a heart-attack of I’d revealed the full extent of it. That I had been nearly shot, crushed, and literally set on fire, while being chased by an apparently murderous villain.
A police report was filed for obvious reasons, but all I could do was tell them that I couldn’t really describe the attackers outside of being Asian. Again, I wasn’t proud of it and sincerely hoped that they chalk it up to being a random crime and didn’t bring anyone in. If they did, I’d feel even worse about getting someone else arrested for the lie I told.
Dad ended up leaving work afterwards to pick me up from the hospital, since knowing I was safe was enough for Mom to finally get some sleep after she had been up all night worrying about me. The conversation with him was just as awkward, what with me having to lie to his face about it. They thought it was just bad luck that I had ended up being targeted, but if they knew I had gone out specifically looking for trouble I got the feeling that all of that worrying would turn to anger.
Still, I needed to find some way to make it up to them. Not sure what I could do exactly about it, but hopefully I’d think of something by the time my hand could fully heal. The pain flared every now and again, but thankfully there wasn’t any nerve-damage.
While Mom was still sleeping and Dad was at work, I checked online for information to pass the time. Circus had been known as a burglar, but not a murderer. But like Taylor stated, they simply never found a body—and I imagine that a corpse would be easy to hide with her hammerspace power. That might be why Nemean and Heimal go after her so much.
Bzzz! Bzzz! My burner phone ringing in the desk takes my eyes off the computer and onto it. The number on the screen is probably Cienna’s, after she made me give her it on the way to the hospital to cash in those favors I owed her. Giving her my actual number wasn’t happening, and a dummy number was pointless since she knows my name and where I live.
‘It’s Cienna,’ was the first thing she said when I picked it up.
“I know.” After all, there were only two people who knew this number aside from me. “So I’m guess you want a favor now?”
‘What, I can’t call just to check up on you?’
“And the other part is a favor, right?” The line went dead at that, leaving me to wonder if I pissed her off or something. That could be a problem since she knew one of my secrets and I couldn’t really do anything to silence her. Leaving aside the fact that she did save my life, she actually had powers unlike me.
Then I heard knocking on my window. The timing couldn’t be a coincided, could it? I found myself sincerely hoping so, considering the implications.
Tck. Tck. Tck.
Unable to ignore the fact that the volume increased that time, I got out of my swiveling chair and pulled open my blinds. She’s standing outside of my widow with a duffle bag slung over her shoulders. Crap.
“What are you doing here?” I asked as I opened the window and stuck my head out to look around. A lot of the homes in the neighborhood were landscaped to have natural barriers or fences. So while I don’t think someone spotted her, she really sticks out in this neighborhood and the last thing I needed right now someone calling the cops.
“I’m just calling in one of my favors,” she said, unslinging her bag from her shoulder and pushing it through the window. “Now let me in before someone spots me.”
I tried to get in a word against her coming into my room, but she pulls herself in through the window before I can. Just like that I have a girl in my room… while my mother is sleeping a room over and could wake up any second and find her!!! My mouth opened and closed as I looked between her and the door and tried to figure out what to do.
Do I kick her out? No, that’s a bad idea when I thought about it for more than a second. She had powers, I was currently powerless, and pissing her off while she had my secret identity and address will end up endangering my folks. That’s out, along with calling the police or anything else.
Okay, approach this carefully. I took a deep breath to calm down and looked over to her. She’s looking around my room where she’s standing, eyes wandering over the posters and books and stuff. I might not be the best at reading people, but I’d like to think I could at least recognize when someone’s about to kill me. She doesn’t look the part, and she’s been mostly reasonable, so violence wasn’t the immediate threat as long as things stayed as they were.
I walked over to the door and locked it to keep it that way. If Cienna went any further into the house, she could possibly wake my mom. Mom needed her sleep after last night and there was no way I could explain this so that it ended without the cops being called, yelling, and disappointment—or the house being torn down.
The sound of the lock clicking into the place caused her to turn her attention me. She frowned. “I’m not going to go steal anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
I shook my head and held both my hands up. “That’s not it. My mom is asleep after being worried sick about me going missing last night. I already went with the story about getting mugged by the ABB, so if she finds you here…”
“A lot of secrets come out that no one wants,” she finished, nodding her head. “Saves everyone trouble if they stayed a secret.”
Good, she at least understood why I did it instead of jumping to the telekinesis and tearing my room apart. I breathed a little easier at that and asked, “Okay, now what favor is it that you needed that was so bad that you tracked me home?”
She pointed to her duffle bag. “I want you to do my laundry for me.”
…What? “You came all the way here for laundry?”
“I did tell you this morning I’d need to use your washing machine and stuff.” She brought a hand to the collar of her shirt and pulled it open. “And I’ll want to use your shower, and some food.”
They weren’t unreasonable requests exactly. Simple things really. The kind that you would offer a friend, like if Taylor came over and spent the night. The only real worry would have been the twenty-questions Mom would put her through… at least before last night.
But I barely knew Cienna and having her here was just asking for trouble. “Can’t I just pay for a motel room or something?”
Her back straightened and she crossed her arms, giving me a sharp look. “Look, Kid. I’m not asking for much this time. Just do these little things for me and everyone comes out ahead.”
I noted the ‘this time’ part and the implication that there would be more requests in the future, but I don’t argue with her further. She held all the cards right now and, aside from the fact that I didn’t like being blackmailed, they weren’t that big of demands. But I was going to have to think of something eventually to cut things if she got to the unreasonable requests.
“Fine, but you can’t leave my room and you need to be gone before Dad gets back tonight,” I tell her, pointing a finger to the door opposite of my closet. “You can use my shower there.”
“Sounds good.” She nodded in approval and then turned her attention to her duffle bag, unzipping it and pulling out a smaller bag. She sat it on my bed before tossing over the larger bag. “Go ahead and put those in. I’ll leave the clothes I’m wearing in the smaller bag for you to dump in with them while I get into my clean ones.”
I caught it and cringed as the scent coming from inside of it catches me off-guard. That distillery smell from when I first spotted her was strong enough that the bag itself was probably in need of a wash. I hold it out at an arms-length by the straps as I opened the door and went out into the hall behind the Living Room to where the washer and dryer were.
I turned the bag upside down and dumped her clothes into the washing machine without sorting colors from whites, or really looking at it all since I didn’t want to ruin the illusion I’ve built up of what women should be like. Sure, I’ve handled Mom’s laundry at times, but your own mother doesn’t count as a woman—they’re different. Once the last of the clothes were in the wash, I poured in the detergent and left the machine to fill up with water.
That out of the way, I took the duffle bag back into my room. Leaving it around for my parents to find or smell was asking for trouble. I flipped it inside out to let it air and then hung it outside of my window as the door to my bathroom opened just a crack and the smaller bag was tossed out haphazardly onto my carpet.
“Greg?” Cienna stuck her bare arm out of the door with my bottle of body wash in her hand. “Why do you have a woman’s brand of body wash in here?”
“I like the smell after I take a shower since it helps me relax.” Plus, that brand doesn’t aggravate my skin the way the normal stuff does.
“Hmm… I’ll give it a try then.” Deciding that on her own, she pulled her arm back in through the gap and shut the door.
“There’s nothing saying men can’t use it,” I mumbled as I picked the smaller bag up. Just like before, I dumped the contents into the washing machine without looking, and shut it so that it could start. That just left me needing to fill the time until she got out of the shower.
Mom cooked last night so I checked the fridge for leftovers. It’s her favorite from the look of it, but it was almost untouched. Did… did she even eat while she was waiting for me?
…Tears sting my eyes as I took a deep, shuddering breath. I was careless and Mom had been worried herself to the point of starving. If she knew what I was doing, she’d definitely have a heart-attack or something.
But, at the same time, I owed Taylor for screwing up her leg. And she’s happy that I’m helping her. Or she appreciated my effort at making up for that. We’re on better terms than before at the very least.
And I was doing something meaningful for once, even if it was a little dangerous. I think I could deal with myself being at risk. But if this was what happened after a close call, how would Mom act if I ended up being killed?
…It was frustrating.
I wanted to keep helping Taylor. I had to, if only to make things right. But I couldn’t put Mom through this sort of thing again. I couldn’t let myself get caught like I did before, screwing up from the moment that can got crushed and turning my back on Circus before I put her down.
But first things first, I had to deal with Cienna’s demands until I could get her out of here.
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.”
Vim & Vigor – Interlude Cienna
(A Worm/Bioshock Fanfic)
The Market, April 10th
“You did the right thing,” Cienna told herself as she walked through the alley with her hood up, covering her long hair. She had to say it aloud to drown out the phantom voice chastising her for giving back the pudgy, geeky-looking boy named Greg Veder his wallet back.
It was a moment of weakness that drove her to take it in the first place. She could see it there, hanging out of his pocket and practically begging her to take it. So she did, simple as that.
Staring down at the I.D. of the boy who was a few years her junior, she saw that his name and his address, which was a good distance from where they were. He’d never come looking for her even if he knew that she had taken it. It was a clean steal overall.
The kid didn’t have much money. But there was more than enough for a couple of drinks. It would have been so easy to have taken everything from the wallet and then toss it. The only reason she hadn’t was because of her father’s voice whispering in the back of her head saying that he probably deserved it for being careless. That gave her pause.
Her father didn’t use to be so bad. In fact, she could proudly say that he was the best dad in the world before the accident cost him his job and one of his arms. He started drinking more and more, trying to cope with the loss of his pride and meaning in life that came from working. Then he turned mean—not to her, but to her mother.
Her mother wasn’t a saint either. In fact, Cienna had more than once wanted her father to just leave her and the two of them could go someplace else. But the abuse only made things worse in the end for everyone involved.
A few months later, he got himself killed in a bar brawl. And her mother… no, there was no point in thinking about it. Her mother made her choice that night. And so did her lousy ex-boyfriend a few weeks later.
Either way, her father’s voice made realize how far she was about to go to slake her thirst. Guilt followed as the moment of weakness passed. It would have been the first step down a bad path. One she’d witnessed personally. So she gave him the wallet back and then went on her way after spotting him at the bus stop.
“I did the right thing,” she told herself again as she fumbled through her pockets, brushing over the plastic canister holding a bunch of rusty nails, a few wrinkled dollars, a cheap cell-phone that she owned. It was useless to her at the moment since she hadn’t bought minutes on it and the twenty dollars in smaller bills she had was better spent on alcohol or food rather an hour of talk time when she didn’t have anyone to call.
Cienna sat down in that alley, out of sight and with her back against the wall. Then she closed her eyes to think. It had only been roughly two months since she’d been on the streets and she was reaching a point where she was getting desperate.
How much longer could she last as things stood? How much longer would it be before she’d resort to taking from others wantonly to deal with her own issues? Even if she didn’t know exactly when, she knew that point was getting closer.
She couldn’t be the person she used to be if she wanted to survive for much longer. But she didn’t think she could live with the type of person she would have to become either. Her throat felt patched the more she thought about it and she almost yearned for a drink to help her forget everything.
It turned out her justification for not tipping over and robbing people was a Cape. She recognized his face as he lay on the ground with his mask displaced. In hindsight, it was probably a good thing that she didn’t steal from him.
As the female villain who’d threatened her life groaned from getting hit by a blast of electricity, Cienna shook Greg a few times to try and wake him up. He was out like a blown light bulb. There was nothing she could do to wake him it seemed.
A moment of time froze as Cienna considered her options. The smart thing to do would be to run away and hide. She could probably get enough distance since she knew these streets like the back of her hand.
But she couldn’t leave him. Not because she was altruistic. If this was just another fight between rival Capes or gangbangers, she would leave them to kill one another off. But he told her to run away and surrendered to try and give her a chance to escape.
That meant a lot to her on a deeper level considering how she’d been mostly treated since ending up on the streets. People saw you as mostly a fixture or something to exploit, and maybe one out of thirty would give her loose change if she resorted panhandling. Less than that as the scent of alcohol grew worse by the day.
Plus, he’d owe her for saving his life. She could use that to make things better for herself somehow. Everyone looked out for themselves, and this was her way of doing that. If she needed to make herself feel better about it later on, she could use the fact that he tried to help her and told her to get away meant he was a good person and she was doing a good thing.
Her mind made up, Cienna flipped the switch on her power as she crouched down low. It would take her power a few seconds to ramp-up. But the villain wouldn’t be able to get close to her again. Not unless she wanted to be stripped naked and then torn to shreds once she put up the first layer of defense.
Cienna grabbed his mask and shoved it into her pocket before she picked the boy up. Or at least she tried to. He weighed a lot more than she was used to lifting, so it took a minute to get him into a position where she could drag him off somewhere private.
That’s when the villain got onto her feet and threw knives at Cienna. The blades cut through the air, points positioned to hit them both. Then they entered the range of her power and started spiraling around in an orbit around Cienna. “The hell?”
Unbeknownst to the villain, Cienna was now the eye of a slowly building invisible telekinetic field that would grab everything not nailed down around her and spin it faster and faster as the base momentum increased. She hadn’t really found a limit the highest speeds, mostly because she didn’t want to attract attention and didn’t like using her power unless necessary.
Reaching into her pocket after she managed to get the boy onto her shoulders, Cienna added to the storm of dust that built up speed by pulling out a small plastic canister of nails, rusted and worn. Her power only worked on non-living things, meaning that if the villain was willing to sacrifice their clothing then they could enter the eye and then kill them both before she had built up enough cover. That threat ended once the nails were added, unless they were a Brute.
“That’s not going to save you,” the villain said as she pulled out a gas torch. Cienna recalled the flames that she saw coming for her before, only to be blocked by the geeky boy in her arms. Given he was unconscious there would be no second save like that, so Cienna ejected the knives back from the field orbiting her.
The added momentum sent them sailing forward with lethal intent, and while the villain was nimble enough to avoid one after spotting the glinting and sharpened steel coming for her, the other found flesh. It sunk into her arm point-first with a wet thunk and had enough momentum that it buried itself up to the hilt. With a pained rasp, the villain dropped the torch.
Cienna took that as her cue to go for the alley that they ran through before. Broken bits of glass, paper, discarded refuse and trash, everything that could be caught was as she neared it. She gave them two rotations within the vortex and then ejected them in the direction of the villain, whose arm was limp as the knife vanished and blood poured from the wound.
Whether it was because of the blood-loss, the unexpected encounter with a parahuman, or the mounting injuries from the earlier lightning blast, the villain turned tail and ran out the opposite direction. But Cienna didn’t think she was out of trouble just yet, since the villain could always come back and had seen her face. She couldn’t stay around here anymore.
Looking down to the boy she was dragging along, she mulled over what to do with him. In the end, she decided she didn’t have any other choice but to bring him with her someplace where they could hide. If she was going this far to save him already, she may as well see it through to the end.
Cienna knew one place that she could go that they’d be safe in, an abandoned building that was once of a shut-down Chinese food restaurant. It was constantly getting broken into because—well, they were close to Merchant territory after all and the ABB had a stranglehold on places closer to their own domain, so the owners cut their losses.
She’d take him there and wait for him to wake up. Then she would extract a price for services rendered. If she was on some villain’s kill-list now because of this kid, she was at least going to make things better for herself in the process.
End Notes: Say hello to Whirlygig’s OC Stand-In. Her power is largely the same, with the added bonus of being aware of what enters the orbit and being able to choose what she can eject from it.