Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Never Special," Pie, pt. 5, 449 words

"Yes, yes, I was." My voice is a little flat, chilly but not cold, like a barely-perceptible breeze instead of a harsh gale.

He doesn't even notice, just smiles a little and begins, "Not all bad—"

And I drop it on him. "I met Lucila because of that," I say over him. He flinches just a bit at that, a wince flashing across his face.

"Y-yeah," he says, stuttering, flailing to recover. "And then I... I kidnapped Lucila by accident," and I can tell it pains him to even bring her up, because he knows, just knows that he's leaving himself wide open again, "and you have to believe that it was totally an accident--"

"She told me," I say, quiet and neutral, no inflection to give him a clue what I'm thinking.

He just deflates a little, mutters, "Y-yeah, and my name..." He sits silent for a moment, and I start to feel bad for what I've just done, but he rallies – barely, but he rallies – and spits out a rambling summary of everything since we last saw each other, of thefts and a fight and hiring and adventure, and how he has one more big thing, "And next I'm going to retire," he says. I open my mouth to apologize and ask him what he's going to do after that, but he runs me over finally just blurting out a last, little thing:

"And it's my birthday," he says. "Which I should've said first, but totally forgot."

Ned grabs up the pie and shoves a huge forkful in his mouth, chewing with that desperate need of escape from conversation, filling his mouth so he doesn't have to embarrass himself further, so he doesn't give me any more chances to slide my words between his ribs. The sad, forlorn look on his face cracks my icy resolve, the wall of hurt feelings I wanted to hide behind. I feel like I've been kicking a puppy.

I wait for him to swallow, then grab him by the shoulders before he can scoop up another load of pie. He looks over at me, a wave of surprise, confusion, and – almost unbearable – a little fear crossing his face. I don't give him time to say anything, and just pull him close against me.

I don't kiss him. I really want to, but I don't know if I could cope with the guilt that'd bring to bear. I'd probably run away if I did so, all dramatic-like as if I was living in a cheap romance, so I just hug him close to me as tight as I safely can. I close my eyes and whisper, "I'm sorry. Happy birthday."

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Never Special," Pie, pt. 4, 398 words

I'm less afraid of crushing him than I am of never letting go; I've had time to get used to my strength, to gauge the full range, but no time to really get used to my fledgling crush on him. I know, I know that he's done horrible things, killed people and hurt them and threatened someone I love, but at the same time I just can't reconcile this as the same man. That was Nefarious, a mask that he wore but never fit him properly, not while we were still close. The man I knew, sat and ate pie with, who's sitting right next to me... That was Ned, though I didn't know his name then. This is Ned.

It's so hard for me to think of them as the same person. Impossible.

"I missed you, too," I say, and squeeze him a little tighter. "What... what happened?"

"Well," he says, "I blew up my work," and that just starts the torrent.

It's hard to listen to. Insane, like something out of a comic book or movie
and I've learned by now that it's never like out of the comics or movies. Europe and clones and Nazis and Argentina and, on the heels of my relief, I feel some other old feelings flooding back in. Hurt. Disappointment. Betrayal.

It's so easy to see, now. I don't know why I never realized it before, but the way he always acted around me... He'd stare at me, hang on my every word, constantly try to make me out to be something amazing... He loves me, loved me almost from the start. I'd loved him too, but never noticed his own feelings for me. Two ships passing in broad daylight...

And then he disappeared on me. Gone for just a month, at first, and then for half a year after that. A whole month he was gone, and he didn't even wait for me to get back to him – didn't even leave me his damn phone number so I could get back to him – before disappearing again, to another continent.

He hurt me, and now I find myself wanting to hurt him back. So I lash out, without even really thinking, at the first opening I find.

"Well, then I robbed a bank and you were there for that," he babbles on. I start to nod, and then speak.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Never Special," Pie, pt. 3, 358 words

"Your boyfriend was in here just about ten minutes ago," she says, and it's only through an act of great will that I keep from reproducing a cartoon spit-take all over her.

"I'm sorry," I ask, feebly.

"Isn't he," she asks. "Your boyfriend, I mean. You two always looked like you'd just come out from a bit of a romp together, whenever you came in here before."

I blush furiously at what she's suggesting, and manage a weak, "No, we, we never..."

"Oh, I'm sorry," she says, her cheeks reddening a bit as well. "You two just always seemed..." She shakes her head. "I'll go get that pie for you."

"Thank you," I manage, and turn back to finishing my coffee.

Bill paid and pie in hand, I hurry out the door just a couple minutes later and look up and down the street. Not many people tonight, but for some reason I don't feel like flying. I step briskly down the street, towards where I know the bench must be, where he must be.

He's sitting in one of several benches, towards the middle of the whole bunch. His silhouette is still much the same as before; skinny, a little hunched over, like an underfed and nervous dog. There's no way he doesn't hear me approach, but he's very studiously watching the bars down below.

I sit down next to him, setting the slices of pie between us, next to a thermos. "Ned," I begin quietly, and finally he looks at me. I think he's a little skinnier than I remember, and there are new lines on his face. I miss his glasses, too. But he's still the man I knew, who I first met nearly a year ago.

"Ms. Park," is all he says, or all he can manage to say.

"Please, for once... call me Amanda."

***

"I missed you," he says, his arms tight around me, and it's the happiest I've ever seen him. His giddiness cuts my nervousness free, buoys me up like a hot air balloon casting off its ballast. I hug him back, hesitantly at first, then with a light touch.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

"Never Special," Pie, pt. 2, 398 words

I don't know how he does it. Somehow, he always makes me feel like an idiot, even when he's just trying to ask me out for coffee. I'm not a moron, but he's always one step ahead of me. Like now.

"I'll be at the end of Pier 9, on the bench that overlooks the bay and the city from 9 until midnight tonight."

That's what he said, and it didn't even occur to me what he really meant until I flew down towards the little diner we always met at. My first clue was actually the names of the bars, one in a garish neon sign blaring out into the night like a technicolor vomit, and the other with a simple bright light on an old wooden sign that'd probably been there since it opened: The Bay, and The City. I landed, and saw the small sign over the diner's door that said "Pier 9 Diner."

So much for the search.

I duck into the diner, my cheeks burning with embarrassment and the chill air of my flight. I keep my head low to hide my embarrassment and hitch myself up onto a stool in front of the counter. The woman working the counter ambles on over.

"Can I get you anything," she asks, her voice warm and friendly despite probably saying the same thing every five minutes every day for years. No routine phrase, she honestly wants to be helpful whether it's her job or not.

"Uh, yeah," I mutter, looking up at her. It feels good to see such a familiar face, but I can't help but feel like a horrible person for not learning her name. "Can I get a slice of cherry and a slice of raspberry pie to go? A-and a cup of coffee for here, I guess."

I don't want to go out there and face Ned, not just yet. Now that it's so close, now that he must be so close, my stomach's knotting up tight. I need just a few minutes more to get my composure back.

"Sure thing," she says, and comes back only a few seconds later with a pot of hot coffee and a cup. She pours the coffee out right in front of me, and while I've never been much for it, I toss back a fair portion of the bitter brew in one gulp.

Friday, November 07, 2008

"Never Special," Pie, pt. 1, 497 words

It's been months since I last answered my phone. I never canceled the service, but the fact of the matter is, I don't use it anymore. I've got a cell phone, but the only people who have that number are Lucila, a couple people like Iron Will and Aegis, and a bookstore that I occasionally order something from. My landline phone's still plugged into the wall, but I turned off the ringer and let the answering machine get everything. Occasionally, there's something useful, that I actually want to hear.

Occasionally.

I don't get too many crank calls anymore, at least. Still, there's a surprisingly large number of people out there, in Grey City and beyond, who feel the pressing need to talk directly to a "superhero" about... anything, really. And I'm one of the few whose number they can easily find.

So I'm only just waking up, lying there in bed and wondering whether to face the afternoon because I don't have to be up for a few hours yet for my new job, when I hear a familiar voice leaving a message on the machine. I can't make out the words, but I know that voice.

My sheet and blanket collide with the wall hard enough to dent the plaster as I fling them off and leap out of bed. Despite my greater-than-average speed, though, I'm only in the next room in time to hear that soft, nervous voice say, "Goodbye." I snatch up the handset to dial tone and nearly break it in surging frustration.

Eleven messages on the machine already. I keep hitting the Next button until I get to the latest one. "Ms. Park," Ned begins, his voice tinny on the machine's cheap speaker.

And I'm not sure what his message actually means. Pier 9? Well, it was Pier 16 where he held Lucila hostage a while ago. Does he really want to hang out so close to that? Or is he telling me something else, with the suggestion of tea and pie? The diner where we always met up after our playacting and practice, perhaps.

Nine to twelve, though. That's a three-hour window. Even if I guess wrong on the first try, that's plenty of time to check half a dozen places easy before he leaves. I still have to figure out what I'm actually going to do once I see him, though.

I mean, it's been almost a year since I last even talked to him. We've met a couple times since then, but it's not the same. I don't know whether I want to hug him or hit him, kiss him or arrest him. Okay, maybe not kiss him, I admit guiltily, because it wouldn't be right or fair at all to Lucila to let myself get swept up into my old crush on him. The only thing I know for certain, though, is that it'll just be him and me.

It can't be any other way. He's my nemesis.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

"Never Special," Morning After, 602 words

Lucila's apartment is much nicer than mine.

That's my first thought when I wake up. Lucila's apartment is much nicer than mine. And it really is. She's not rich, no -- I mean, she's a street reporter for a local Fox affiliate, not a CNN anchor with her own show -- but she gets paid better than I ever did. So I stare at the walls of her apartment when I wake up, scrupulously clean and tidy, like the houses of some of my friends growing up. You know, the kind where it looks like nobody lives in them at all, too clean for a human to live there much less two children.

I don't want to move. She's in my arms, still asleep, and she feels so good there that I'd rather have my bladder burst than to slip away (or worse, wake her up) for a piss.

At about 2 AM, the police and the paramedics had finally let her -- let us -- go, and we took a taxi back to her place. She hadn't said anything, hadn't asked or told me to stay with her, just held on to my hand and wouldn't let go after we got out of the warehouse. I would've flown her back, but her clothes were still wet, so a taxi it was. She said nothing on the way other than to tell the cabbie her address, and just leaned on me the whole way back. Not so much distressed as just tired.

Unwilling to be left alone just then, Lucila had drawn me into her apartment after her, left me in her little den only long enough to change out of her damp clothes and into a long nightgown. It enveloped her figure, hiding and hinting instead of revealing. She could have been in a black plastic garbage bag and still been beautiful to me, though. All I cared about was that she was safe.

I'd shed my overcoat and pants, joined her on the couch to watch some shitty late-night movie, and we fell asleep curled up together like that. Nothing happened, though God knows I wanted it to. But not like that, not after just getting her back, not after she'd just been kidnapped, even if it was an accident and she hadn't been harmed. It would feel too much like taking advantage of her.

I wake up early, ridiculously early, and glance around her apartment while I sit there with her in my arms. There's no way to overstate how lucky I feel, right now, to have drawn the attention and affection of this beautiful woman. But at the same time, I can't help but worry, if I make enemies other than Nefa-- Ned, she'd said his name was. Ned. If I make any enemies other than Ned, how many of them would think the superwoman's "normal" girlfriend is a good way to get at me?

That's a big part of the reason why most of the rest of the super community keeps secret identities; so they can have friends and families that aren't vulnerable to retribution. Just last year, Millennia got outed as someone named Emily Spaetzer, and her husband was dead inside a day at the hands of some nut with a grudge. Millennia killed the bastard herself not long after, but it certainly didn't bring her husband back. Nobody knows where she is, now.

Meanwhile, I'd outed myself from the start. Lucila might never be some stereotypical damsel in distress, but even the strongest person could end up as a case file in the homicide department.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"Never Special," Confrontation, pt. 5, 486 words

And she's clinging to the far side of the rim, glancing back over her shoulder at me. She looks soaked to the bone, her hair plastered to her head and her clothes sodden and heavy, and she looks pissed off. Not at me, no. And she's unhurt, but... pissed off. I look down at the liquid rushing out of the hole in the tank, for the first time pay attention to my sense of smell, and then finally descend to cup a little in my hand and taste it.

Water. Hot water. Not even boiling, but like a bath.

God damn it, I'm an idiot.

Now that the water's draining out, Lucila's clinging to the side of the vat, having to hold herself up over its swiftly-emptying depths. I float to her side, silently offering a hand if she wants to take it. She doesn't have to, knows that I know she doesn't have to. Her slender frame doesn't admit to her true upper body strength, and she could get out on her own if she wanted to. I'm just offering something a little easier, if possibly a little harder on the pride. She takes my hand anyway.

It's warm -- human warm, not from the hot water. It comforts me more than it does her, to hold on to her hand and help her out. I help her up to a nearby catwalk, and she rubs her sore wrists and arms a little once we get up there.

"Are you okay," I ask quietly, my voice lost in the huge room, the swirl of water flooding down there and draining out somewhere. "Did he—" I don't really want to ask, but at the same time I need to know.

"No, he..." She shrugs. "It was an accident, really, that he kidnapped me." She sounds almost amused, despite everything.

"An accident?" I can't really believe it. It sounds too preposterous.

She nods. "I don't think I was ever at any risk from him, actually. He was something of a gentleman about it all, in his own crazy-ass way. I felt more at risk from his pet bimbo than him or his other minions."

His pet bimbo. Good name for her, whoever she was. I'd only seen her in the few seconds of footage she'd been in at the bank robbery, but I'd immediately gotten a sick feeling in my gut, looking at her. I wonder if he's slept with her, if he was going to sleep with her tonight. Celebrate his triumph in making a fool of me. More distance.

"What are you two to each other, anyway," Lucila asks, sudden and sharp, an ambush. One I really should have seen coming.

I stammer a moment, trying to cover my surprise at the direct question, and finally say, "We- we're just nemeses."

She makes a noncommittal hmmm and just says, "He said the same thing."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

"Never Special," Confrontation, pt. 4, 376 words

And then the winch squeals, his hand on the switch, and Lucila drops another foot or two. He's taunting me, testing me, and for Lucila's sake I make a decision. I dart for him, ready to drag him out to the police.

My arms go around him and it's like I'm hugging him anyway, the closest we've ever been. I can't help but mutter his name, just once, packing all my frustrations into the one word because good God damn it what else am I going to say? The idea that this is our courtship flashes across my mind, wooing me like an eight-year-old boy tormenting his first crush with frogs and snakes. Except he's a villain, so instead of amateur herpetology, he indulges in kidnapping and ransoming the only other object of my affections. I want to laugh and weep, both at the same time. There just aren't words for how fucked up we are.

But his hand's still on the switch, and as I bear him down the switch goes with us. Lucila descends with a muffled yell of surprise and a splash.

He tells me to hurry, grinning up at me despite the fact that I'm halfway choking him. So confident even when I've got him on the ground and at my mercy. How?

Useless to ask that question. I know how. The difference between a frustrated and pitiful nobody, and an accomplished, brilliant villain. Months and miles.

I'm already letting him go before I even think about it, and he leans up to kiss my cheek. Lightly, like old friends meeting. He laughs, declares that "We'll meet again!" That it isn't over.

It isn't, but I'm even more conflicted now, even as I rush to save Lucila and he disappears the second my back is turned. I don't care. Trusting that the place has some kind of drain set into the floor somewhere, even if I haven't spotted it, I fly up to the rim of the vat and yank, hard. The seams pop and break, and soon it's torn wide open, whatever horrible toxin inside spilling out onto the warehouse floor. I look in for Lucila, hoping to snatch her before she washes out with it, hoping she's not too hurt—

Monday, November 03, 2008

"Never Special," Confrontation, pt. 3, 380 words

"You better be," he mutters, apparently thinking I can't hear him, but I can. It's not that my ears are super-sharp, he's just not very quiet.

I ignore Donner's muttered comment as I glance over at the fog cloud. My heart beats a little harder, watching Lucila jerk another few inches down towards the vat, but I keep my voice calm as I ask, "Does this place have a rooftop entrance?"

***

One of the skylights, fortunately, actually moves, it's not just fixed in place. I have to grope around for a minute in the smoke clouds to actually find it, but my goggles help, and it's there, right where they said it would be. Time and weather have rusted it shut, but I slam it open with a good shove, sliding the frame sideways with such force some of the old glass panes break. Better than bursting in through a wall, at least.

And I'm down into the warehouse, descending, and everything's clear. No smoke in here, just Nefarious and Lucila and a giant, bubbling vat of something transparent, like water... or various caustic acids.

Nefarious calls my name, a little too happy given what he's doing, what I want to do to him. He's standing next to the camera, aiming it at me, making a grand show of my approach. "We meet again," he cries for the world, and then swings the camera away, flips it off, and drops a bomb that flares and smokes.

It's a pretty paltry smoke bomb, to be honest. The lights in this place are glaring bright, and penetrate the cloud easily enough for me to make out his silhouette. I hover a moment, not really thinking consciously, not sure what I'm feeling, just trying to let my unconscious mind evaluate the situation quickly enough for a snap judgment.

"What are you going to do, Ms. Park," he says, barely hidden by the smoke.

Honestly, I'm conflicted. I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I want to pull him into my arms, though whether for a loving embrace or to throttle him, I'm not sure. He's not the same man I knew, months and miles apart from me now, and I just don't know how to handle the change. Too much, too fast.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"Never Special," Confrontation, pt. 2, 406 words

The image is bent and distorted, broken up by the writhings of the fog, but I can tell that Lucila is a little scared... and extremely pissed off. I can't help but think that Nefarious is very lucky he has her restrained, or else she'd probably have killed him by now.

The police have created a perimeter around the immediate area, blocking off the streets and alleys and keeping a healthy distance from the fog. After all, with mad geniuses like Nefarious, you never know if the fog is really a sort of fast-acting, airborne necrotizing fasciitis, or just good old fashioned poison. Well, I know that Nefarious wouldn't actually do that, mainly because I'm pretty sure he's not a superhuman genius, with the insane leaps of logic that make something like that seem worthwhile. No, he's just a normal man who would realize the impracticality of such a system. Which probably makes him even more dangerous, now that I think about it.

I touch down inside the police cordon, stumbling a little but still landing with far more grace than I'd once been able to manage. I look back at the police, searching for someone who seems to be in charge. A confident-looking older man meets my gaze and waves me over. His name tag, I can see as I get close, gives the name "Donner." He's a lieutenant. I wonder where his captain is, if this kind of thing is so routine they don't even send the captains out anymore.

"Good to see one of you finally decided to show up," he says, voice dripping with thinly-veiled sarcasm. "And which one are you, anyway?"

"Amanda Park, sir," I say, pulling a few loose hairs back out of my face.

Lieutenant Donner nods a little, a hint of grudging respect on his face for my use of a real name, but it doesn't do anything to banish the dismissal in his tone as he says, "The one who dropped the ball the last time he showed up? Great."

Bite me, I think, but say, "I'm ready for him this time." Not that I really am... I still need to get a gas mask, if I hope to fight him properly without risking his knock-out gas someday, but I can't afford it just yet. It's been three weeks, but I still haven't found a job. Not that I've been looking all that hard, to be honest.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

"Never Special," Confrontation, pt. 1, 422 words

For those not in the know, Lucila was accidentally kidnapped by Nefarious. The actual kidnapping and Nefarious's side of it all starts here.


I'm a thousand feet up when my phone rings. I drop a good ten, fifteen feet in my surprise, and scramble to yank the damn thing out of my pocket without dropping it. I loathe the bright, chirpy ringtone I set up on it, but it just makes me quicker to answer. The caller ID shows the name "Iron Will."

Cupping one hand over the mouthpiece to block out the air currents up here, I immediately say, "What is it, Will? I'm out on patrol."

Patrol. Right. Like I'm one of those heroes who actually manages to catch anything while out like this. Like I can see or hear anything from this high up. I just haven't been able to sit still for the past three days, ever since Nefarious reappeared and Lucila disappeared. And last night, as if I needed the confirmation, he declared to the world that he had her. Though I'm not sure who I'm more worried for, because I think Lucila would just kick him in the crotch the first chance she got, even if he wasn't trying to hurt her.

Especially if he wasn't trying to hurt her.

"Get to the port," Will says, hurriedly. "Pier Sixteen."

"Why? What's going on?"

"It's your nemesis. Nefarious."

My... Oh damn, the others are already talking about him as my nemesis. No wonder Will called me, instead of just going in to try to deal with things himself.

"I... Thanks. Thanks a lot, Will. I owe you."

I kill the phone before he can say anything else, and zip the phone up back in its pocket. I look around, squinting into the cold wind, and spot the port. There, I can just barely make out a fuzzy blur, a tiny spot in the midst of all that light which wavers and distorts. That must be Pier Sixteen. I snap my goggles back over my eyes and go.

The blot of distortion in the port resolves as I grow closer. It's a white cloud of some sort, like fog or artificial smoke, concentrated around what must be a single building. And against the churning mass of the fog, an image has been projected showing Lucila Martinez, hanging from a winch by her bound hands, over a vat of... something. The angle's all wrong. Whatever it is, though, it can't be good. Nobody's ever hung over a vat of just water. Not anymore. Even the people who like to feed their victims to sharks usually use genetically modified acid-breathing sharks by now.