Interlude – Thomas

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Peru – Sixteen years before present

The waves slid across the sand, white foam bubbling in its wake.

Thomas let the cool waters run across his feet.

Sunlight beat down on his face. Bright, hot. He was going to get a sunburn if he stayed like that for another minute.

I can’t remember the last time I was this happy.

A hand gently landed on his shoulder. Warm, comforting. Inviting. It was a touch he wasn’t quite used to, not yet, but at the same time, he didn’t want to lose that spark. That electricity. It was all so new to him.

Even with plenty of space on the beach, he still sidestepped to let his girlfriend stand beside him. They held hands.

They watched the waves come to them, then away.

They watched, then watched some more.

This was a moment, and they were in it.

“Already trying to go out and get cigarettes?” Kristin asked.

Thomas kept his eyes on the water. He smiled.

“You know I don’t smoke.”

“That doesn’t exactly answer my question.”

“I’m not going anywhere. Not now, not ever.”

“Is that so?”

“One hundred percent.”

Kristin bumped her shoulder against Thomas, only getting right above his elbow. She interlocked their fingers.

“Big words. Only time will tell.”

They were big words, but Thomas was up for it, up for the challenge. If not just to surprise himself, but Kristin especially. Scary? It was terrifying, down to the bone. Commitment was heavier than anything even Atlas could carry.

Thomas closed his eyes, seeing red from how bright it was out here. When he opened them again, he was staring right at Kristin.

At Kristin, and at her.

“Are we crazy for this?” Thomas asked, though he already knew what Kristin would say.

She kept her eyes to the ocean.

“We are crazy, and we get crazier with every passing day. Every passing month. We are long past the point of takebacks.”

A door closed, but Thomas didn’t think of it in that way.

“Good, good. I wouldn’t want to.”

She made a sound. A hum. Barely audible over the waves.

“You keep talking like that, I’ll start to think the opposite.”

Thomas put his hands behind his head, stretching. “What would it take to convince you, then?” He gulped. “A ring?”

Kristin made a face. A playful shock.

So cute.

“Slow your horses there, cowboy.” Kristin then shook her head. “But who am I to talk?” Delicately, she pressed her hand against her stomach. Through her shirt, a noticeable bump.

“Another day then?” Thomas suggested.

“Another day.” Kristin agreed.

He left it at that, satisfied.

Amongst the waves, Thomas watched her listlessly.

He didn’t know how many minutes passed when she finally noticed him.

She blushed.

“Stop.”

“Stop what?”

“Stop being such a loser.”

“If I’m a loser, then what does that make you?”

Kristin puffed out her chest.

“A winner. I’m the one who scored.”

Thomas almost snorted. What kind of logic was that?

“You certainly think highly of yourself,” Thomas said.

“I do. Get used to it, or you’ll be in for rough ride.”

Thomas rubbed his cheek with his free hand. “But, rough rides can be good.”

Kristin bumped him again, this time harder, more force.

He swayed one way, then back.

“Am I going to have to get used to that, too?”

“Keep getting smart with me, you just might.”

Chuckling, Thomas let go of her hand, and put his arm around her. He brought her close, tight, before falling to his side, bringing her with him.

She let out a high, shrill squeak as they dropped, water splashing around them.

Kristin was in the water, Thomas on top of her. Both wet.

“And you’re going to have to get used to that,” Thomas said. He couldn’t come up with a better comeback.

“Don’t do that!” Kristin said, scolding him. Salt water splattered from her lips to his face. “This isn’t some dumb movie where you can just do that!”

Smooth, Thomas. But Thomas was sure that a small part of her appreciated that kind of gesture.

I think.

Maybe it was a very small part of her that appreciated it.

“Now I’m wet,” Kristin said, complaining about the obvious. She propped herself up to get the water out of her hair. She groaned.

“That reminds me, Spacey wanted you back at the headquarters in ten minutes. You’re due an extra shift.”

Thomas grinned, almost vulpine. “He should know by now that if he sends you, we’re both going to be late.”

“Don’t joke about this. I can tell his patience with you is thinning.”

Thomas thoughts went to the boss, though he didn’t want them to. “I suppose I can’t fault him for feeling that way. A six-month volunteering program and I just… fooled around for most of it. Really, you did this to me.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yes, distracting me with your feminine ways.”

“I don’t think so, buddy. You don’t get to be absolved from this.”

“Oh, so I’m just a buddy to you?” Thomas asked. He mouthed various positions, moves, references. “Do you give those out to all your buddies like party favors?”

Kristin pouted. “Don’t be so base. I only do that for pals.”

Thomas frowned. “When you talk like that, it’s hard to tell if you’re serious or not.”

“Then don’t change the subject. And get off of me.”

Before he let her go, Thomas kissed the top of her head, then he moved, letting her free. Though, neither of them moved to leave the beach. They stayed, sitting in the water.

“I thought we were leaving now,” Thomas said.

“Yeah, but it did take a long time to find you, and it’s so damn hot. I think Spacey can wait while we cool ourselves off.”

Thomas didn’t object to that. They still had some weeks left of the program left, he’d pick up the slack then.

And, more time alone with Kristin was never a bad thing.

Never.

I’m so glad I met you.

“What do you want to talk about?” Thomas asked her, already lost in her eyes.

“We don’t have to talk about anything,” Kristin said, twisting her hair, getting water out. “We can just sit here.”

“We can, and while I agree that nothing’s more pure and beautiful than these silent, unspeakable memories, I like to talk.”

“That you do.”

Thomas took her hand, submerging it into the water between them. She leaned on him.

“I thought of a name.”

“You have?”

“Couldn’t help it. It’s a girl, right?”

“Right you are.”

“Since it’s a girl…”

“Wait, let me guess.”

He paused, tilting his head. Waiting.

“It’s Katy, isn’t it?”

He smile widened. “You are good.”

“Get used to it,” she said, melodically.

He could feel himself falling for her even more. Deeper and deeper.

“Can you guess why?” he asked.

“I’m not a mind reader. I may think highly of myself, but you’ll need to have more realistic expectations of me.”

“Ah, that’s no fun.” Thomas squeezed her hand. “I picked ‘Katy because, it’s like the ‘K’ from ‘Kristin,’ and the ‘T’ from my name. Also, ‘K.T.’ would be her initials, as well.”

His explanation hung in the salty air. A breeze cooling them.

Kristin didn’t offer up a response. She just snickered.

That snicker grew into a heartier laugh.

“Oh my god, you are such a loser!”

Dumbfounded, stupefied, and dismayed. Thomas hadn’t expected that response.

“Hey, if you hate it, you can just say so!”

In between her fits of laughter, Kristin tried to get words out. Her body was shaking.

“No, I don’t hate it… I love it.”

He felt like he was being thrown for a loop. “You what?”

“I said I love it.”

“Do you actually?”

Yes,” she said, now stern. “I had my own ideas for names, but I adore that reasoning. I really want to use it.”

Thomas sat back, shocked that he could even be more satisfied. Katy. The name rang in his ears like a bell. Clear and bright. Like the sky above him. Endless possibilities. But there would be two constants in his future, now. He felt unstoppable.

“Katy.” He said it out loud, to make the idea solidify even more in his mind. He was going to be a father.

“My folks are going to love you,” he said.

“Of course they will. I’m me.” She pressed more of her weight onto him, leaning on him more. Relying on him more.

He couldn’t stop smiling like a big dumb stupid idiot.

“I love you,” he said to her, for the hundredth time.

“I know,” she said to him, for the hundredth time.

Stephenville – Ten years from present

Thomas stood tall, firm. Confident. And he exuded that confidence because he knew. He had all the facts, the statements, and the jury would be eating out of his hand once he was fully through with him. This wasn’t going to end well for the other guy. Or the other guy’s other guy.

It wouldn’t be easy, but Thomas would have been disappointed if it was.

The homestretch.

He was going to have some fun.

“Good morning,” Thomas said, apt. He stayed at the podium. Weren’t supposed to move around and make a show of things like in shows or movies. These proceedings were usually slow, laborious. A lot of patience, waiting, and listening. For the audience, anyway. For Thomas, he might as well be skydiving.

“Morning,” the witness said back, with no life at all. She was in a suit of her own, drab colors, sitting at the stand. Her hair was tied, but it was done poorly, strands sticking out. There was a microphone situated in front of her, but she was sitting away from it. She didn’t look like she wanted to be there.

Who did?

Thomas started.

“Ms. Jessica Quinn, how long have you been the CEO of Tate and Mono Construction?

“Seven years, give or take.”

“So, relatively new at the job?”

“Relatively, yes.”

“Thank you, ma’am. Just double-checking for myself, I apologize that I’ll have to continue like this for a few more questions. Feel free to relax while I gather my thoughts.”

Jessica didn’t relax. Thomas continued with his questioning.

“Okay, Ms. Quinn, you spearheaded the construction projects in King District, am I correct?”

“Yes.”

“For how long, and what were the projects, exactly?”

“Different housing projects, apartments, homes, offices. My men loaded stuff, dumped stuff, put the hammer to the nail. The whole shtick. And about six months.”

She answered the questions, just not in the right order.

I see.

“And thank you for giving me the whole shtick. Now, as well all know, the reason why you are called up there today is because your ‘whole shtick’ hasn’t gone through the usual procedure, disturbing many residents and businesses, and some of those resident and business happen to be our clients.”

Thomas tapped his fingers on the podium.

“They filed a complaint to you, and not much has been done in the wake of that. Now, here we are.”

Quinn didn’t react to anything Thomas was saying. And he was loving it.

“Ms. Quinn, what was King District like, before Tate and Mono came to do its business?”

“Decent.”

“Decent? Do you mind expanding on that?”

“I can’t explain it, it was just decent. That’s not too hard to grasp.”

“I’ll need a proper answer if only to get a better picture of the situation.”

“Fine, it was fucking Candy Land.”

Some in the audience behind him found that humorous. Thomas, not so much.

“Permission to treat the witness as hostile?”

Judge Edgar Brown hardly gave it a thought. “Granted.”

Thomas kept questioning, but now he could ask leading questions. “Streets were clean, people were friendly, a little rough, but what neighborhood doesn’t have an issue or two? Would you say that’s an accurate description of King District, Ms. Quinn?”

She yawned. “Yeah.”

He glanced at Phillips, Quinn’s lawyer, who was biting the end of his pen.

Cool it, Thomas. Don’t get too excited.

“And what was King District like during Tate and Mono’s time in the area?”

She didn’t say.

“Streets weren’t as clean, the people were hesitant to go outside, rougher overall. Would that be accurate to your experience there?”

“I guess.”

Thomas nodded. “One particular bad apple started making roots around that time, right? The Path, a branch of a Japanese mafia group. The Yakuza. Their men have been causing quite the ruckus in the district since Tate and Mono started their construction, with reports that the Path’s men have been coming and going through buildings your company were responsible for, is that correct?”

“Objection,” Phillips said, “That’s speculation.”

“All the evidence is here, sir,” Thomas pointed to his stack of papers at the folder, “Numerous arrests close to these buildings, drugs, weapons found nearby. This is all written down and documented stuff, and this is more than just some noise complaints. I thought you knew this, Phillips?”

“Alright Thomas, enough,” Judge Brown said. “Do you have a point?”

“One I’m eager to make.”

With little enthusiasm, the judge said, “Overruled.”

Thomas tapped his fingers again, faster. “Ms. Quinn, among noise complaints, have these other more, serious grievances have been brought to your attention?”

Thomas could see her neck glisten under the fluorescent lights. Sweat?

“Keep in mind that you are under oath, Ms. Quinn,” Thomas said, reminding her.

“They have,” she answered.

“And what has been done about it?”

“We never encountered any issue with any outside party or the like, and our construction sites were clean of any illicit materials or contraband.”

“So, nothing?”

“Nothing.”

“Thank you, Ms. Quinn. To switch gears here, you’re still a small company, relatively speaking. This is a big project you’ve undertaken, who’s employed you for these buildings?”

A noted lapse.

“Ishida Hitoshi,” she answered.

“That’s a big name, a big name for a big company overseas.”

Quinn didn’t comment or respond.

And now, the clincher.

“That’s also I name I recognize as part of a big controversy in Japan, with rumors that he has very strong connections with the Yazuka, and-”

“Objection, this is hearsay!”

Phillips leaped out of his chair, furious. “That has nothing to do with this case.”

“I think it has everything to do with this case,” Thomas argued. “If those connections are true, it lines up with what we’re hearing about the buildings Tate-”

Judge Brown stopped them. “Both of you, here.”

They both approached the table. Thomas was ready for what was to come, what could come.

The judge leaned closer, whispering, “Thomas, what are you trying to pull?”

“I’m simply raising an important detail that should be relevant in this case. If Ishida Hitoshi is in league with the Yakuza, people should be looking into what the hell he’s doing in Stephenville.”

If,” Phillips nearly spat the word. “If that’s true, but any claims about that here are unsubstantiated, you have no evidence, and it’s not relevant, and you didn’t submit any of this. You’re making a mockery of this court and this case.”

“It is relevant, Phillips. The writing’s on the wall, yet no one is willing to read it, and I’m left wondering, why? And if you want evidence, look to the countless victims that have been coming forward in the last three years. Also, I can bet you Randolf and his boys can find a connecting thread if they decided to show some initiative. The only one making a mockery of this court is that woman on the stand.”

“Shut it, Thomas,” Judge Brown said. “I’ll be the one to decide if there’s any mockery here. Thomas, let’s say this is looked into, and what you’re saying is true, then this whole case turns into something else entirely, and you are out of here. Is that what you want?”

Thomas was beaming on the inside, but he couldn’t show it, not here. “Criminal activity is a factor here, and I want that recognized. I’ll throw the Hail Mary, someone else can score the touchdown.”

Phillips was fuming. “This is unnecessary.”

Judge Brown wasn’t looking pleased with Thomas. “You better know what you’re doing, or this is it for you. Go back.”

They left the judge. Thomas did know what he was doing, because that probably was it for him.

Stephenville – A week after Loving v. Tate and Mono Construction

“Thomas.”

A man stood next to him, holding a beer. James Gomez. Shorter than Thomas, more stout, but with more muscle than him. A head full of hair, a thick mustache. Both were in fashionable, yet casual wear.

“Thanks for coming,” Thomas said.

“Thanks for… inviting me.” James had to duck when a ball flew too close to his head. He was more concerned over not spilling a drop than he was about the kid who threw said ball. “I’m not a huge fan of children’s birthday parties, though.”

“I invited you, you knew what this was, and you showed up, regardless.”

“At this point, I’ll take anything to get out of the office.”

“Even to arrest me for malpractice?” Thomas asked. “A two-for-one deal? I give you a beer, and you give me handcuffs.”

“No, I wouldn’t do that, but I should. That was a dumb stunt you pulled back there. I heard about it through the grapevine.”

“My bosses are breathing down my neck, drowning me in mindless work. Death threats, many of which are written in Japanese. An earful from the wife, which was the worst of it.”

“God damn,” James said, his voice lowered. There were kids around. “You gonna be okay? With your wife and kid, you have to look out for them, too.”

“It’s nothing but big talk on the gang’s part. They do anything, it’ll implicate them, and then the Path is done for. They’ll keep their distance.

“You sound rather confident about that.”

“I have to be. I’ll admit, it was dumb, but it’ll be worth it soon enough?”

Thomas said it like it was a question.

“I can’t give any details,” James said, “But we’ve traced the money. You were onto something.”

Thomas let himself show the emotion inside him. Gratification. He was beaming.

“But why’d you have to go about it that way?” James asked. “You could have just sent in a tip, or better yet, tell me.”

“Tips are too slow. You’re good, James, but your position isn’t. You’re still new, like me. You don’t have the pull to launch an entire investigation. I saw the circumstances, saw my chance, and I took it. Putting it out like that really got things moving, didn’t it?”

“At the cost of your credibility and reputation?”

“If you’re good at what you do, you can get credibility back, and I’m great. And my reputation is with the people.”

“Why be a corporate lawyer then? If that’s the way you think, you’d be better off in the DA’s office.”

Thomas watched the kids play.

“Big companies mean big money, and big money means more for the little guy. I’ll come down, when the time’s right.”

“When? When I’m police chief?”

Thomas nudged him. “Probably.”

“Whoa there, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

“Why not? Dream big, do bigger. You’ll be the new police chief, and I’ll be the new district attorney. Together, we’ll rule Stephenville as…”

“Friends?” James ventured.

“I was going to go with pals.”

James didn’t get it, taking a swig of his drink, instead.

“Could be interesting,” James said.

“Could be real,” Thomas said, correcting him. “This city means a lot to me, you know that more than anyone else. It kills me every time someone asks why I haven’t left yet, why I haven’t packed up and moved. I want them to see what I see in it. It’s not perfect, but I can help, I know I can.”

James drank some more, then said, “Real powerful words there, pal, but don’t beat yourself up over it. You’re not a hero, you can’t put all that weight on your shoulders.”

Thomas agreed, “You’re right, I can’t. I’ll need people. People like-”

“Daddy!”

Katy came running to him, her face twisted up, and she was wailing.

“Yes sweetie?” He had to crouch to meet her at eye level. The way she was acting, it was unbecoming of her pretty pink dress. He had to get to the bottom of this, pronto.

“Alexis took my gun and she keeps shooting me but I told her to stop but she keeps doing it and I’m-”

“Hey hey, hey there.” Thomas had to rub her back, calm her down. She was hiccupping.

“I’ll have a talk with her, I’m sure she’s just gotten too excited again. She doesn’t mean anything by it.”

Katy was shaking her head, rubbing her cheeks with fists.

“I wanna get her back, I wanna get that gun back.”

Where do kids come up with this stuff?

Thomas massaged her again. “That’s not what I’m trying to instill in you. Go get some cake, and you’re making up with Alexis. No one gets that toy gun until this party’s over. Understand?”

She hiccuped. “Understood.”

“That’s my girl.” He let her run off to get cake, and he stood, his back hurting a little.

“Kids these days,” James said.

“You’re telling me,” Thomas said. “Sorry about this, James.”

“Go do your thing, I’ll go have another one of these, and I should be up to hear about Kristin’s summer in India one more time.”

“Make sure she mentions the story about the”

“The Yamarāja. I know, I know.”

He shook hands with James, then excused himself.

Stephenville – Three weeks from present

“Car chase going into Williamson Avenue. It’s red, and the only one going that fast. Police might lose it if this goes for any longer. What do you think about lending a helping hand?”

I’m thinking I’m done with the warm ups. Time for some real action.

Hleuco grinned to himself. He liked it whenever Blank Face showed some enthusiasm, even if it was behind a layer of playful arrogance. It meant that she was getting something out of this. And it meant that she wasn’t completely doom and gloom.

He shifted in his seat, moving away from the complicated connected system of scanners and laptops, to the wheel in front of him. The van started.

With the different channels yelping into his ear, he got out of the parking garage, and drove.

The equipment was outdated, but it was functional, and it served a purpose. Gifts from Gomez. Whenever new stuff came in, the old stuff had to be taken out to make room. And James knew how much he liked antique trinkets.

The van was old, too. Unmarked, bought with cash, kept away in a location disclosed only to Blank Face. He knew the city, the ins and outs. Learned from the best, and the worst, when it came to hiding things. It was a bitch to have to walk to every night he needed to use it, but its purpose was well worth a little pain in his legs.

His foot was heavier on the gas pedal than usual, and not because he was too sore to lift it up more. He needed to keep up with the car, and keep up with Blank Face, so he could be in a good position to pick her up and make a getaway. It was imperative that they kept things as simple as possible, as clean as possible. They weren’t attempting to save the world, they were just attempting to make it nicer. Even if by a margin.

And the girl has school tomorrow, can’t let her be out too late.

“Update, please,” Hleuco asked.

Can’t see it yet, but I do see the cars tailing it. Fuck me, they’re fast.

Please don’t say ‘fuck me,’ Hleuco thought.

“Can you get to it?”

Yeah, if it would turn to the right, I could intercept it from up top.

Hleuco kept an ear out for anything interesting. Anything new.

He relayed what he was hearing.

“Police are setting up a blockade, it can’t make a right anymore.”

Fuck me.

Hleuco shook his head as he drove, knowing she couldn’t see him.

Shut up.

“They’re attempting to trap the car on Williamson. They’re mobilizing faster than I thought.”

What does that mean for me?

“Seems to me they might actually have this one under control now. I’m impressed.”

Great. So all I did tonight was just get some exercise?

“Don’t sell yourself short. Mrs. Azikiwe wouldn’t be sleeping soundly right now if you hadn’t gotten her cat out of that tree.”

I won’t stop selling myself short.

Hleuco took the comment in stride. He sped down the street he was on, still mindful of the speed limit, other cars, and lights. It’d slow him down in getting to Blank Face, but she could make up for that with her own speed and mobility.

The fact that she even had that type of speed and mobility…

He was still having trouble wrapping his head around it. Blank Face had powers, strength beyond compare. No one had seen anything like it, ever. The world was still reeling from the revelation, what it meant, what was to come. How, and why.

It was a day that wouldn’t ever fade over time. It had become something of a pop culture lexicon. A meme, as the kids put it. ‘Where were you when the first superhuman made themselves known?’

Hleuco, Thomas knew. He was in his office, watching the whole thing unfold. Watching the potential.

A hero, here in Stephenville of all places.

And he was able to work with her on this. On being an actual hero. Providing guidance. He would have felt privileged about the partnership, if the sheer coincidence didn’t shake him to his core.

With something so big, they had to take small steps. That meant limiting her shifts to more manageable times throughout the week, picking and choosing what petty crimes she’d handle, and monitoring police activity so they wouldn’t be in her hair as much. All to help instill the idea that her great power should be married with a greater sense of duty.

To better steer her in that direction, establish rules was important.

No extremely severe bodily harm was to be done to another human being.

No killing.

He thought those rules were simple enough when he came up with them, but establishing them early was crucial. This had never been done before, there was no precedent. Blank Face was strong, and by her own admittance, already stabbed someone. Accident or not, that needed to be curbed, avoided in the future. He worried that she might want to escalate if things weren’t in check.

Which was why he also invested in precautions. He prayed he never had to use them.

There were many kinds in Stephenville. Those who were good, those who weren’t so, and those who turned and became lost. He only wanted Blank Face to be the former.

Thomas didn’t want another one in that last category. Not again.

Hey, Hleuco, you still thirsty for an update?

Her voice brought his conscious attention back to the road. He clicked the left turn signal, then turned.

“Always.”

I’m on Williamson now, but the car keeps tearing through blockades.

He tuned his ear to the police broadcasts. She was right.

“The car’s modified?”

It’s going fast as fuck, everyone’s jumping out of the way since it’s just plowing through everything. Cars and vans. I think the front’s been reinforced.

“Where are you right now?”

I’m ahead of everyone, so I’m seeing it all, it’s just…

A pause.

Fuck!

“What’s wrong?”

It broke through the last blockade. A… a bus is coming from the left at an intersection. A school bus.

“At this hour?”

Anyone could be in there! Shit, at this rate they’re going to collide.

Again, a pause.

I’m going.

Hleuco almost stomped on the breaks, but there were others around him. He had to keep driving.

“That’s a big no, Blank Face. You’re going to come back here right now.”

And let people die? I can stop the car, there’s still time.

Hleuco threw caution to the wind, listening to the police and getting a better sense of where to go.

He stomped on the gas.

“Blank Face, if you’re even thinking about it-”

I don’t have time to argue. I’ll update you in a bit.

He passed up a car, crossing a red light. The city flew past him.

“Blank Face!”

He kept driving, and the police kept blabbering on. He punched the button to shut them up. He only wanted to hear Blank Face.

But there was no one on the other end.

Fuck me, Hleuco thought.

With another turn, he was close as he could get to Williamson Avenue. The police blockades worked both ways. He drove down a street that ran parallel.

Sweat dripped down the steering wheel. His heart beat so hard it hurt.

The machines beside him whirred, the van’s tires rolling down the concrete. A screaming sound.

Silent.

He drove.

Quiet.

Still no answer.

It was maddening.

Hleuco started slowing down.

Not another one…

Not another regret.

He moved a finger to turn on the police-

Hleuco? I’m at-

Hleuco went to a full and complete stop. The van and everything inside it rocked. Cars honked as they passed.

He ran his hand through his hair, nearly pulling strands out from the root. He was so happy he was mad.

“Repeat that, Blank Face?”

I’m at an alley over on Baxton, by a pharmacy. Is it a good pick-up spot?

That was a block down, secluded enough. It worked.

“It works,” Hleuco said slowly, “Stay there, don’t move. Be there soon.”

I hear you.

Now you hear me, he thought. But he drove to get her.

His chest wouldn’t ease up.

Before he got to the spot, he reached back to the seats behind him. He put on his mask as he went. A memento from his time in Europe.

He needed an identity too, some gesture to make Blank Face feel less alone in her role as a hero. Hleuco. From the name haliaeetus leucocephalus. The bald eagle.

He needed a mask, too. She couldn’t see his face as it was now. Not now.

The door slid open. Blank Face stepped in. They left.

“I’m back,” she said. It was good to hear her voice without the mechanical filter. That was what he wanted to hear.

“Count your blessings,” he said, “You’re lucky you made it out of that okay. But don’t push that luck.”

“I’m with you on that.” She was breathing hard, panting. Whatever she did took everything out of her. “My arms are killing me.”

How strong are you, Alexis?

The van rolled on, and Thomas was ready to call it a night.

Present

He checked to see if he had everything on him. He did. Wallet, phone, keys.

Thomas got into the car, Jeffery closing the door for him.

The vehicle pulled out of the driveway, and they went.

Jeffery was usually more talkative, but he was mute, now. Thomas wasn’t that lively, either.

Solace got Edgar. He’s dead.

He was at his wit’s end, but he was too sick of everything to exert effort for a reaction.

He just sat.

Solace got Edgar, and he was dead. Because Blank Face and Hleuco pushed too hard, pushed the gangs too far, too fast, and Solace was born from their desperation. He thought he calculated it right, he thought they were disrupting just enough that it would not come to this.

Thomas was cognizant of the fact it would have been an uphill battle. Public opinion of Blank Face was plummeting, and they hadn’t yet reestablished her name as being Blank Face.

Uphill, but he didn’t expect it to become this steep.

No, these criminals are superstitious, cowardly. Especially in the face of an actual threat. I should have taken that into more consideration.

His thoughts poured over every detail, every bit of information in the past forty-eight hours. What connected, what made sense, what was a legitimate clue?

Thomas made a fist with each hand.

He had to give it up to Solace, they were thorough. Nothing came up when they investigated the event staff, and of course nothing came up when they went to Kristin. The only lead was the apartment they traced the signal back to. Nothing but bricks and wood.

Except a message to Blank Face.

Blank Face – Alexis – was positive the message was directed to her, by the leader of El Carruaje, a now-defunct gang, and Blank Face’s first foe. When she informed him of this, he tried to inquire about the woman who ran that gang, Benny. Her record, whether or not she was actually incarcerated.

Of course, everyone was scrambling over Solace. Of course, they were too busy to look into a small fry.

Thomas wasn’t the district attorney, not yet. He could only do so much as he was. No one answered to him, they would only consider what he had to say.

After forty-eight hours, all any of them could do was try and prevent this. But it didn’t work.

Lost in his thoughts, Thomas caught a glimpse of an intersection as they passed it. The sign.

Gomez’s office isn’t this way.

“Jeffery, are we meeting with Gomez elsewhere?” Thomas asked.

Jeffery kept driving.

“Jeffery? I-”

The officer whipped his arm back, pointing a gun to Thomas.

Thomas backed up as far as he could, which was hardly at all. His hands went up.

“Just, just be quiet, or I’ll shoot. Not another word. And if you do anything else except sit there and keep those hands up, I’ll shoot.”

Thomas didn’t try him. Jeffery’s finger was already on the trigger. Thomas put his hands above his head.

Behind the car, a resounding, deep grumble rocked Thomas’s ears. He would have liked to turn and investigate, but there was no need to set off Jeffery.

Looking wasn’t even needed. He could see from the rear view mirror, and that distinct tone of that sound.

It was Styx’s bike. Styx was here.

So this was how…

And he considered Jeffery a pal, too.

He was fucked.

Previous                                                                                               Next

028 – Course

Previous                                                                                               Next

I didn’t scream. Couldn’t, due to the chain. A shaky, pathetic gurgle was all I could produce.

My left arm broke from the impact. If I had a hard time moving before, it was completely impossible now. It went limp at my side, attached like dead weight.

It was just dislocated, not too long ago.

Out of the frying pan, and into Hell itself.

Naturally, my arm went right to healing itself, but it was delayed, slow. It wasn’t healing as fast as it should, as fast as I had seen it heal before. The wounds weren’t mending like they should.

It was obvious why. Like a car running low on fuel, it wouldn’t work properly.

I needed blood.

For my part, at least the sleeves covered up my arms, so no one could see what was actually happening. They couldn’t peek under the hood, so to speak.

I just prayed that man would not hit me again.

My eyes were already full of tears, sliding down the sides of my face until they stopped where the mask touched my cheeks, tracing a perimeter of wetness. My vision was compromised.

Breathing was a challenge, a faint inhale was all I could muster.

“And one more for the road,” I heard from the man standing above me, the sound of the metal bat cutting through the air.

If I could see, everything would have went black and white. I croaked, drool starting to trail down the corners of my mouth.

The man hit me again.

But I prayed about it.

My right arm, shattered at the elbow.

The rest of my body twisted and shuddered at the pain. I couldn’t vocalize, so my body had to express the pain I was in for me.

“Styx, it’s good to see you again,” someone else said. “Been well?”

“Well as I can be. Thanks for the help, but we can pick up on the pleasantries later.”

“Then, this is the infamous superhero, am I right?” that other person asked. “Looks like I wasn’t needed after all, if we’re already taking care of this, now.”

“Don’t go planning your vacation just yet. He still has work for you to do, here. Mister.”

A second voice, a second player. This talk about a ‘Mister.’ Vaguely familiar, like I’d heard mentioned in a dream, somewhere, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Metaphorically and physically.

My brain wasn’t letting me piece any bits of information together. I was simply unable to do much of anything. Rendered useless.

I shut my eyes, then tried to blink away the water. I needed to see, needed to find a way out.

The second voice spoke again. “I’d be wary, though, may have a partner, this one. Was talking to themselves. That, or this is one crazy motherfucker.”

“Yeah? If Blueballs here makes it all the way back home alive enough, we can try asking a few questions.”

“Ha. I have to say, Styx, you know how to entertain your guests. This should be fun.”

“Doing this for so long, you have to keep things interesting. Otherwise, you’re fucked.”

The rough voice of that biker, I had to assume he was ‘Styx.’ He raised his voice to address others here.

“Aye aye! We’re rolling out. Gather up the others, they’ll be sorted out later. He, and this… They come with me.”

Roars of assent, then the sound of movement, activity. People were moving, getting things together. Several engines rumbled to life.

One behind me was the loudest. The sound banged in my head.

My arms weren’t healing fast enough. Still couldn’t move them.

Could barely hear. Could barely breathe.

This might be it.

The loudest engine roared again, and I felt the ground move beneath me. The chain tightening yet again.

This scenario, something familiar about it.

I was being dragged by a motorcycle, with a metal chain around my throat.

My whole body was limp, unable to move a finger or toe as the motorcycle approached a faster speed, getting out of the trailer yard. As we exited, I saw that the gate was open. It was locked shut before, preventing Hleuco from getting in with me.

I was brought onto the road proper, where the ride became even more bumpy. Tiny, pointed pebbles were kicked up as I was dragged, the occasional cracked chip of concrete slipping into through the collar of my clothes, scratching the skin off of my bare back.

My eyes were rolling upward. Buildings rushed above me, speeding by as I was forced past them.

Street lights, traffic lights, no matter the color, we maintained speed. No other cars to impede the bikers, too. Styx’s Gang likely had complete control of the roads.

An elbow bumped against the road again, but it was less painful, that time.

Every feeling and sensation in me was already fading, but I felt the occasional kick of my leg as my foot bounced against the road, the stimulating sharp pain as a broken elbow scraped along concrete. We were going fast, now, and I was soon to pass out, and dying right after.

This was how I was going to die, wasn’t it? Reduced to a bloodied, beaten ragdoll, flopping pitifully, like I was being toyed with by a child. I’d die before my healing could catch up. I’d fall unconscious before I could lift any appendage.

I shifted my gaze ahead of me.

A handful of small, white dots were trying to pierce the dark that already blanketed my eyes, floating up and down, but largely staying in place. The outer edges of the lights were blunted by the overcast gloom that befell me. Hazily, I tried using the lights to focus, keep my mind active, and figure out what exactly they were.

I sensed that Styx had made a turn, because the ground under me shifted, and I was swinging to the right. It was a wide turn, which translated into me hitting the side of a curb, before being pulled along a straight course again.

I gagged.

Over the loud engines, cackling and whooping sounded off all around me.

The engines, the laughing and cheering. The lights… The lights in front of me were from other motorcycles. Others from Styx’s Gang. I was surrounded. Even if I could miraculously get myself out of these chains, there were threats in every direction.

I had no sense of time, place, or direction, or even an idea of who I was. Just an ever-encompassing hurt. I was lost. I was losing.

I was broken.

-ace… ear me… Co-

Among all the racket of the machinery and running concrete, a low, mechanic hissed tried to reach out to me.

-most… from be-

I opened my mouth, or rather I let my jaw hang as much as the chain would let me, and found my lips, tongue, and throat to be dry. A fish out of water. A vampire without blood.

The straining, the struggle, the fight within me was all but depleted. I was running out of fucks to give.

Styx’s motorcycle turned again, because I hit another curb, and I, in effect, bounced.

The hit was enough for me to let my eyes wander around, then gently close, languid. The motorcycle lights dimming all the more.

I was ready to give up.

But, a light here, a light there, spun. Then, they blinked away.

Two, much brighter lights, had cut through the individual lights, knocking them away. The crunch and scraping of metal followed, along with more shouting.

The two lights were moving in unison, together, picking up more speed, catching up to me. It was starting to get close, too close, then swerving to pass me up. With the last of my receding vision, I saw where light reflected off the otherwise black surface.

A van.

Get read- Stick with… self!

Words. In my ear, again.

Who?

Help?

H…

Hleuco?

The black van sped off again, and while I couldn’t see what exactly went down, I certainly heard it.

And was forced to deal with the aftermath.

Metal banged and crashed together, and the chain went even more taut. I was yanked another direction, towards the sidewalk.

My long, agonizing ride through Hell ended with an abrupt halt.

It took some time for me to finally realize it, but I was able to take breaths, to inhale oxygen. The chain had slackened enough, and I was no longer dragged away.

I was dizzy, if nothing else. Rolling and sliding and tumbling, every turn and direction. It wouldn’t leave me. Whiplash.

Damage to my neck? Probably. I was tugged by there for so long. Permanent? Probably not, but the healing would be slow there, too. It throbbed, like someone was still pulling at the chain at consistent intervals, and it wasn’t getting any better. I fought the urge to vomit.

Involuntarily, an arm suddenly twitched. I could move it. I had finished healing, there. With the little energy I had left – energy I was surprised I still had  – I worked to uncoil the chain around my neck.

I worked as fast as I could, which was still slow, and the chain fell beside me, and I was free. Finally.

Working to get to my feet, however, was another hurdle entirely. That meant my entire body working together to a common goal, and I absolutely did not have the capacity for that. But, I had to move, to get moving. Escape, and find a place to hide and lick my wounds in peace. Catch up with… with someone.

But first… first…

I needed blood.

The pounding around my throat, my windpipe. I let it get to my head.

Operate, first instincts.

As fast as my newly-mended arms would allow – which was not at all – I pulled down at the metal chain that once ensnared me. And kept pulling, passing the chain past me, alternating hands. Like I was climbing a rope in gym class, except on my side, and instead of going up to the ceiling, I was trying to get to the motorcycle.

Eventually, I got through the excess chain, and the metal links straightened out again. I was able to make progress.

Dissonant. Jarring. Shouting. Tires. Just noise, everywhere. Panic. Making sense of it could come later.

I pulled, tugged, and pulled again. I made it to the motorcycle, arms aching all the way.

Tapping into my last reserves of strength, I pushed myself up, and crawled on top of the vehicle, which was on its side, but still humming, engines on.

Ah, shit.

They weren’t here. Styx, or the owner of that other voice. Male, if the haze in my brain could clear up a little, and let me remember properly.

They aren’t here. Not anywhere around. Did they run off? Take another bike?

Wait… What was I going to do, if they were here?

That thought, that idea, I had to push it aside. Just for now. Search. Look elsewhere.

I sat up, but I was slouched over. I removed a glove, feeling around the bike, being mindful of where the bike was at its hottest.

If they crashed…

There.

My fingers ran across something wet. I looked at my hand, the way it glistened, how it smelled.

Not oil.

Blood.

Yes.

Getting my mask off was the next course of action. Using only one hand was proving tricky, and I was becoming impatient with how hard it was to unfasten the different straps and pieces to it. I was tempted to just rip it off, but that would only cause more problems in the immediate future.

Patience, Blank Face, give yourself just a small amount.

I did, and I managed to loosen the mask. I pushed it up, scrunching it, putting the filter over my eyes.

I didn’t waste a fucking second.

I thrusted my fingers into my mouth, and licked.

A surge, a short burst of energy, coursing through my veins.

But it was not enough.

It was not enough to satiate me.

Like a brief charge to a battery, I was now at about ten percent. I needed more. I wanted more.

I rose, getting over the bike, and onto my feet. I fixed the glove back over my hand, fit the mask back properly on my face, and adjusted my hood.

Time to find Styx.

I ran onto the sidewalk, trying to look for a good path to maneuver myself upwards, to a roof.

I leaped up to get onto a single story building, crossing the roof to observe the street below.

A line of motorcycles were continuing their drive. Some bikers had helmets, some had bandanas. I couldn’t locate the van that knocked itself into Styx’s bike. But there was another vehicle, among the motorcycles.

A red pickup truck, carrying seven people in the back. They were in white. A boy among them.

With little thought entering my mind, I went back down.

As I descended through the air, I threw a hand into a pocket of my parka, and drew out a handle of a retractable police baton. I clicked a button on the side, unsheathing it. A little over a foot long.

The baton… I recalled getting it earlier in the night. Exchanged for something I couldn’t remember right this second. Something about… safety.

I had aimed with my jump, landing a distance ahead of the truck, but with a few bikers close by.

Within reach.

I swung, wide, attempting to clip a biker off their ride as they passed. I connected, and a biker in a helmet got knocked back off their bike.

The truck was advancing, even closer now, and there was little chance in avoiding me with a sharp turn, considering its load. I had to perform a small hop, and the top of the truck just grazed past the bottoms of my shoes.

It had avoided me, but the truck had veered, then stopping the moment I touched back down. The people in the bed of the truck fell forward, from the momentum of the sudden brake.

Now, I had options, but I went straight for the closest person, to make the decision easy. The downed biker.

I retracted the baton, slipping back into a pocket, and picked up the man by the collar. Either he was lighter than I thought, or I was starting to get some strength back.

I ripped apart his leather jacket down the zipper. He had a sweater underneath, and a scarf around his neck.

Come on.

I’d be momentarily stalled in getting his neck exposed. The impatience was eating at me, hastening my movements, becoming more wild. Couldn’t wait for more blood. Now. Now.

A blow to my side, and I was back down. Swiped by another passing biker. The thick parka took the brunt of the hit, but I instinctively knew that a bruise was left behind. Maybe a broken rib, if I was unlucky. It’d heal, but a significant wind was knocked out of me.

Too many people, here. Gang members, innocents, witnesses. Needed to get one, needed to get to a far away place where I could feed in peace.

Yeah, yeah.

I had to move as soon as I straightened myself up, and get out of the way of bikers and other such obstacles. Slower, easier targets. Weaker.

A hiss in my ear. I brushed it off. It was easy to drown it out with all the incoming sirens.

My jaw twitched. I licked my lips.

A short building, old, with ruined bricks and grooves that defaced its surface. I scaled it, my hands and feet reaching into holes for support and footholds. I got over in no time flat.

I skittered down the side of the building, running while keeping an eye on the street I just left. The truck was just now getting into gear, a ring of bikers surrounding it. Still supervising a transport, or were they trying to protect the immigrants from a certain group, or individual?

Me?

Good luck with that.

I kept a hand close to the pocket where I returned the baton, ready to use, ready to strike. Had to think of a way around those bikers. To throw them off, or eliminate them entirely. They could fight back, they had strength in numbers.

The people in the truck? They had numbers, but not strength. They had been travelling for days, probably, and they were drained, spent, weak. I could use that. Should.

What I needed to figure out was how to separate them from the bikers, then each other. Pick them apart.

One. I only needed one. Two, if things fell in my favor.

Apples. Strawberries. Jam.

Let’s jam.

I went back down, but not onto the street. I was ahead of that group of vehicles, in wait. It had gotten late enough that there wasn’t a single person here on the sidewalk.

I ran until I got to the corner, where the street turned into an intersection. A metal newspaper vending stand, full of paper. I lifted it up over my head, and tossed it at the truck as it sped closer.

It slammed into the hood of the truck, hitting the windshield as it got knocked away, papers flying, twirling down.

The bikers stopped when the truck did. The truck was probably still operable, but some of the truck’s passengers were choosing to abandon it, instead. They scattered, running past the bikers and into alleys and other streets, but not in my direction.

The bikers themselves split up as well, shouting contradicting orders. Some fled entirely, while a select few actually parked their bikes and got down.

Challenging me?

No time to play.

I jumped across the street, avoiding them all. No time to waste. My stomach grumbled, my throat flared.

We were well out of King District, but a lot of the buildings here were either under construction, scheduled for demolition, or abandoned completely. A lot of dark corners, a lot of places to hide.

In reality, a lot of places for people to corner themselves.

I headed straight, into an abandoned building. It was easy to glean from seeing inside the skeletons of other structures. No one had run inside. Too easy to be seen and found out. They had the right idea, but it would only them take so far.

With my mouth starting to salivate at the thought of sustenance, I jumped again, going through an open windowsill.

The clamor outside was immediately taken down a notch. I was in a hallway of an empty hotel, it looked like, judging from the doors that were lined down the length of the hall.

Halls, doors, under stairs, rooms, closets. More places to hide than I expected. This could be harder than I thought.

But that didn’t slow me down. I only needed one.

One. Only one. Needed.

I decided to work my way down, investigating every floor, every possibility, before moving to the next one, below. From checking the numbers on the doors, I was on the fourth floor. If the door was locked, I didn’t try to open it. If it wasn’t, I’d peek my head inside.

Nada.

I moved on, down the winding stairs at the end of another hall, same floor. I didn’t take the stairs, exactly, I hopped down, passing all of the steps, stopping when I banged my shoulder against the wall on the other end. I turned, and repeated the process again to make it to floor two.

The second floor.

Haste made waste, and I was starting to worry that my hurrying was making me clumsy. That I had missed a person, somewhere, or skipped over a locked door when I shouldn’t have, with someone hiding inside. Maybe I could backtrack if I ended up coming up short by the time I reached the lobby. The longer I took meant people were getting away. Food. Drink. Apples.

I combed through the second floor. Rooms, bathrooms, I was checking under beds, now. I pulled open a drawer, staring at a ziplock bag of colored tablets and syringes, and I had to force myself to realize what I was doing, and why it didn’t make sense. Desperate. My throat was on fire.

I got back out into the hall, and looked for the next set of stairs.

In the gloom, I didn’t notice a plank of wood on the floor. My foot got caught on it, and I tripped.

However, I kept my momentum, putting my hands out and catching myself, rolling forward. On all fours, I crawled a foot or two towards the stairs.

I froze.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

A small boy. Probably not over thirteen years old. He slowly drew back, taking small steps, down the stairs. Hair messy, disheveled, stuck up in places. Clothes white, but dirty. Hands to chest.

Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.

Lost boy.

“Miguel,” I said, and that was it. No statement, question, or other comment. I just said a name.

He didn’t give me a response, not that he needed to. He turned on a dime, taking the stairs two and three steps at a time, disappearing from my sight.

I didn’t take the same tactic down as before. I bounded towards the railing, vaulting over to reach the final floor. Floor one.

The first floor, I mean.

Miguel was fast, I had to give him that. He was already hiding somewhere, I figured. He was nowhere in sight when I made it into the lobby. I walked, taking my time. I could catch up to him with a single move if and when I had to.

I didn’t find him by the front counter, but I glanced at a dusted brochure that sat atop it. I picked it up, feeling inclined to read it.

“The Burne-Jones Hotel? A-already going sightseeing, Miguel?”

No answer, not like I expected one. I set down the brochure, and searched elsewhere. It was quiet in here, and when I wasn’t walking on carpet, my steps carried. I would have heard it, if he had opened an exit door, or any door, for that matter.

Bang. The sound of a metal door, down the hall behind me. I hurried in that direction.

He wasn’t here, and door wasn’t closing behind anyone. Dammit. A rock sat inert close to the bottom of the door, a white mark left a foot above it. A trick?

More sounds, again from behind. This time, footsteps.

I picked up the rock before I turned around. Briefly, I saw a figure run down the length of the hall. Another exit was at the end, there.

“Mi-Miguel!” I shrieked, my voice reaching a higher pitch. My head was pounding, my thoughts singular, narrow, too focused. Feed. Fruit. Juice. The smallest of fries.

I can feel myself losing it.

And I am okay with that.

Going after people was…

I wound up the rock like a baseball, then threw it at the boy.

Twice in one night, I struck my target. The rock flew down the hall, striking Miguel in a calf. He didn’t fall, but hobbled away to a nearby door. Changing course?

I followed him, taking long, fast strides, nearing a jog. Windows near the door revealed a pool area. I got to the door, and went through.

The pool itself was drained, and it was easy to spot Miguel in here. He was standing awkwardly at the other end of the empty pool, holding​ a metal pipe. Shivering.

Fool. He had cornered himself.

Like a dumb, scared rabbit.

I dropped into the pool, my landing echoing through the room. Carrying.

With every step forward, he took three back. But his back soon hit the pool wall behind him.

It was dark in here, dark throughout the entire hotel, but I had no issue on that front. For Miguel, he wasn’t allowed that advantage. Moonlight had pierced through the windows that faced the outside, casting blotches of light on the floor of the pool.

What did Miguel see, right this second?

My voice croaked out, completely unrecognizable.

“Migueeeeel, you s-set meee up against Styx Gang, r-riiiiiiight?”

It seemed like so long ago, but I remembered being ambushed back in the trailer, taken by surprise. I had no evidence, no reason to claim what I was claiming, but my brain was taking any train of thought that came to it and rode it all the way. Derailed.

He yelled, as if trying to appeal to someone he knew. But that person checked out some time ago.

Slurred, panicked Spanish. I was barely decent speaking at normal pace in class. All of his words were lost on me.

Alright, no more delay.

Okay.

I practically skipped the rest of the way. My leg strength took me the rest of the way in three steps.

Miguel tried to swing, to retaliate, but it would be of no use to him. I caught the metal pipe with one hand, twisted, and it was enough for him to let go of his makeshift weapon.

My other hand went for his throat.

He was stuck, choking, with my thoughts speeding towards one eventuality, pushing me to take the appropriate action.

“Juice,” I wheezed, trying to suppress a cough. “Let me drink. M-make it easy for me. Give me juice. Use my knife, give me your juice. I j-just want something to drink.”

I thought again. Did I have my knife?

No, I don’t.

Someone had me give it up for… something else. It was in my pocket right now. Would that work, instead?

I had a feeling it wouldn’t.

My fingers tightened some, and the boy was turning red. Like an apple.

Just needed the juice.

Soon…

I was excited.

“A—–…”

A word, maybe more. A sentence? I couldn’t understand, but whatever was said compelled me to wheel around.

Part man, part bird. Tall. Two, dark circles for eyes stared back at me. Haunting.

He brought an arm out. Holding something. Pointing something.

At me.

Who-” I started, but two sharp pricks poked into my leg, stopping me. Another prick.

Whua…

Sluggishly, I drooped, an intense weariness overwhelming me. I stumbled, and the boy slipped out of my grasp. My eyesight was beginning to swim, and a heavy, forceful comfort took over my whole body and sense of self. With my eyelids heavy, and a long breath, I blacked out.

Previous                                                                                               Next

027 – Pop

Previous                                                                                               Next

There was a break in between me relaying that information to Hleuco, and when he finally said something in response.

People?” he questioned.

I almost didn’t believe it myself, when he asked me. I went to take a better look inside.

Ten, eleven, no, thirteen people. At least. That was what a quick scan gave me.

Most of them looked to be Hispanic. Thin, confused, tired. Men, women, children. Parents, and their offspring. A wide-eyed girl in one corner, a tall man with a buzz-cut in the other. They were all in baggy white clothing, though sullied with marks of brown across sleeves and pants. They​ stared back at​ me, silent, possibly scared. Given my appearance, it was understandable.

I confirmed it to Hleuco. “People. Not sure the total, but definitely more than fifteen.”

Another break.

That… complicates matters,” he said, after a time.

“No shit. What the fuck do I do? I can’t just walk away from this. Not anymore.”

Several of the people inside tested a few steps to me, trying to get a better look at who I was. What I was doing here.

We just might have to, Blank Face,” Hleuco said, “We are in no way equipped to deal with them.

“But, who are they?” I asked, though I could guess the answer.

Without having actual eyes on the scene, illegal aliens, most likely.

I looked at them again, everything clicking into place. Human trafficking. I never thought the day would come in which that particular global issue would present itself to me.

Among other things, but now’s not the time for that.

Something had to be done, here.

Couldn’t just walk away from this.

“You’re asking me to leave them alone?” I asked, my eyes still glued on this discovery. A decision had to be made, and soon. A dark figure in a gas mask, standing still, talking to themselves, wasn’t exactly warm and welcoming imagery to these folk.

I’m telling you as fact. We’re in no position to take them elsewhere, and where would we take them? Our plan doesn’t change, even in the face of this. We can call the police from a far-enough location, and let them sort this out.

But, I was here, now. There were people, here, locked up in a trailer of a semi, and they did not look okay. Did they need help?

And could I provide it?

“He- hello?” I asked, testing them. “Anyone here speak English?”

Blank Face, what are you trying to do?

I disregarded him. If there was any info I could pull from these people, I’d try to get it.

No one said anything. Their stares were as blank as my name.

I had to level with them. Talking from the outside of the trailer wasn’t going to get any of these people to respond to me. Had to get inside.

I placed my hand on the floor of the trailer, ready to prop myself up. I opened my mouth wide, and exhaled harshly.

Ah.

Right, my shoulder.

Or rather, my left.

My shoulder was out of its socket. Popped out. Dislocated.

It pounded in pain. Slow and steady, but I didn’t feel like a winner. This was going to be a problem, like a thorn in my side. More than I had initially thought. The pain refused to be ignored. Aggravatingly annoying.

Was the excessive force in breaking the chain even worth this discovery? I almost wished I could turn around and pretend I didn’t see anything.

Why did I have to do that? Alexis, you motherfuck.

But, I couldn’t ignore this, not anymore. I couldn’t ignore them.

I took my right hand away from the trailer, and hovered it over my left shoulder. I didn’t want to touch it, but I wanted to make some gesture to relieve the pain, to make it feel better.

To make me feel better.

“Hurt?”

A small boy. Probably not over thirteen years old. He slowly drew near, taking small steps. His black hair was messy, disheveled, sticking up in various places. Like the others, his sleeves and trousers were tracked with dirt, staining the white he wore. His hands were to his chest.

I looked back at him. I didn’t have an expression to provide, only the gas mask I had on. It wasn’t the most inviting appearance.

How was I to answer him? Would admitting to the pain make me look weak to them? To him? I had control of the situation, here. I’d keep it that way.

Rather than giving an answer, I asked a different question, instead.

“Do you know English?” My words were distorted through the filter of the mask.

The boy lifted one hand away from his chest, making a pinching gesture.

A little bit.

He continued to me. With his other hand, he held it out for me to grab.

I thought about taking it, but I wanted to get up on my own power, to prove that a shoulder like this wouldn’t be an issue. Even though I would be proving that to nobody that mattered.

I propped my hand back on the floor of the trailer, and, with a push of my legs, hopped up into the trailer. Against my best efforts, I made a sound.

The boy jumped back, giving me space. The others stirred too, as my steps were amplified by the space.

My nose hadn’t caught it while I was outside, but it reeked in here. It was a good thing I had on a gas mask.

A stale, musty odor of sweat and other more foul bodily fluids. I didn’t want to think too much on it, considering the amount of people here. How many miles were they travelling to get here? How long were they holed up in here? Was Stephenville even their final destination?

My hand went back to hovering over my shoulder.

I checked to my right, and saw the boy there. I could start with him.

“English, right?” I asked, in a manner that was, in no way, a proper English sentence.

His voice carried a heavy Hispanic accent. “Yes, are you police?”

“Not really, no. Ignore the jacket. Uh, no soy un policía.” Everyone exchanged looks with each other, but that was the extent of the Spanish I had at hand.

I had to move to the real topic. Their very existence, here.

“This might be stupidly obvious,” I said, “But I want you to tell me what all of this is.”

The boy turned to the rest in the trailer, and they were looking back and forth between me and him. Suddenly, he was put on the spot as the spokesperson for this group.

He backed up again, and stared at his feet. “We are trying to make it inside to America.”

Illegal immigrants. These people were trying to get into this country, under the radar, under the nose of the federal government. Hleuco was right.

“Well,” I said, “Let me be the first to welcome you to the good ol’ U.S. of A. Don’t get your hopes up.”

I saw the boy’s lip curl up, slightly. Did he take offense to that?

“Where are you all coming in from?” I asked instead.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“I’m from Pátzcuaro, the others were picked up from other towns and villages.”

I raised an eyebrow, not that he would see it. “Where are your parents, then?”

The boy brought his head down, his chin pressing into his neck. I couldn’t see his eyes, anymore.

His voice was barely above a whisper. “It has been a long journey. For a lot of us.”

Ah.

There was an implication, there, that I didn’t want to explore. I simply tried to block it out of my mind and move onto another topic.

Another voice did that for me.

Blank Face, I thought I told you to pull out of there, already.

I put a finger to my ear, and positioned myself away from the group, indicating to them I was speaking on a device.

I whispered.

“You never said anything along the lines of that.”

Then I’m telling you now. We’ve gone far enough for one night.

“But these people, we don’t know what’s going to happen to them, after this. I don’t think they know, either, by the looks of things.”

I can tell you exactly what will happen to them. Either they get found out by the police and deported back to wherever they came from, or they get divided up between the different gangs, becoming a member as a sort of payment for being helped into the country. Either way, they reap what they sow, and it won’t be long until either party comes to get them. I’d suggest not being around when that happens.

“I get you, but-”

Besides,” he interrupted, “Something isn’t right, here.

“Whatever do you mean?”

Styx’s Gang mostly deal in drug trading, occasionally weapons, but rarely people. If at all. I’m only surmising from what I can hear on your end, but the people there, are they just normal people?

I checked. No one here looked exactly distinct, just fatigued. Like they’d been through Hell and back, an experience that was impossible to explain, they could only show it in their face and posture.

I could relate.

“As normal as you’d expect illegal immigrants to look like,” I said.

“Is there anything else there? Large bags? Boxes, crates, cargo?”

I checked again, but it was clear from the space between the people here. How they stood.

“Some have backpacks and stuff, but nothing big like you’re asking.”

A pause from Hleuco.

Something’s not right, it’s not adding up. Why would Styx’s Gang help out in transporting regular people?

“Maybe out of the kindness of their heart?” I asked, only kind of kidding.

No, but funny. We can talk about this in person, and go from there. I have a bad feeling about this, and I’ll only start to feel better once you’re back here.

Sweet, his sentiments were, but under the current context? His words were tinged a little sour.

“Okay, I see what you’re getting at, I’ll be heading back. I think I need your help with this shoulder.”

I’m a lawyer, not a doctor. But I will take a look at it.

We left it at that, the conversation put on hold for now. I moved my arm back to my side. It was useless in relieving my shoulder.

I wanted to check up on it myself, but my jacket was too heavy, and I didn’t want to unzip it and accidentally move my shoulder around, causing even more pain. I dislocated my own shoulder. My own dumb luck and strength got the better of me.

I needed to stop getting ahead of myself.

“Hurt?”

I found him coming back my way. The boy asked me that word again. If he was willing to ask twice, that could mean he was able to help in that regard.

“Sort of,” I admitted, “My shoulder, I dislocated it.”

He held his hands out, but not too far. Reserved, cautious.

“I can try and set it back. My… my father was a nurse.”

I looked at his face. A forlorn expression. Sad, almost pitiful. Dark shadows were cast over his eyes, his mouth struggling to set itself straight, the corners of his lips drooping down.

How long exactly was this kid’s journey in getting here?

I relented, finally allowing him to provide me some aid. Pride shouldn’t be a factor at play, now.

“Sure,” I said, “You can try.”

He didn’t need to be perfect at it, or even good. I figured my healing would handle most of the work from there. It just needed to be set back in place.

It was a kid helping me out, a child, but I was in no position to be picky.

I tensed somewhat when the boy reached for my hand. “Do you want to lie down?”

“I’m good.”

“But I can…”

“I can deal. It’s nothing. We can make this fast.”

Because I need to go, and leave you all behind.

“Let’s move to the wall, at least,” he instructed me.

I gave him that. He led the way, moving me, and had me prop my uninjured shoulder against the wall. The others around us moved out of the way, murmuring amongst themselves.

Blank Face, you have to-

I paid no heed to Hleuco. Had to focus on my shoulder. No distractions.

“Okay,” the boy started, “Try to relax. I will be moving your arm a bit, pop it back. Let me know if it hurts.”

“Sure,” I said. I had to try and relax. It was harder than it sounded. I never had to do this before.

He held my wrist, and lifted my arm to level with the floor, bending my elbow ninety-degrees. Firmly, he gripped my elbow with his other hand. My breath was cut short.

“Wait,” I said, and he stopped. “What’s your name?”

“Miguel. Why?”

“I just felt like I needed your name before you do this. Sorry, continue.”

Miguel did. “Get ready,” he said, calm. “It might hurt a tiny bit, but you will immediately feel relief.”

“Hope so,” I said in return.

He rubbed my elbow, before slowly rotating it, moving my shoulder ever so slightly. After a time, just when I was about to raise a complaint, he promptly pushed it up with a sudden force.

A pop. A click. The satisfaction of snapping something back into place.

Not a tiny bit, a lot. The hurt. I squeaked.

Followed by an immediate relief. I moaned.

“Agh, oooof,” I sounded, staggering forward. My right hand finally got a chance to massage my shoulder.

I felt my healing getting a chance to do its job, a warm sensation blanketing my arm, hottest at my shoulder. I dropped to my knees, as the relief took over.

I paid little care into what the people in the trailer thought of me, at the moment. A lot of confusion, and impatience, most likely. They still had no concept of who I was, or what I was doing here. They didn’t even know I had powers. But that wasn’t of their concern.

And my concern was getting out of here and leaving these people here. Which was impossible, by now. I had broken the chain, and the trailer doors could be opened from the inside. Whoever wanted to leave now had to opportunity to do so once I left. Less people for the police or gangs to pick up, at least.

You couldn’t disrupt any more than that, without dismantling.

The comfort I was feeling before was starting to level, become neutral, and I was able to start getting back on my feet.

But, instead, I was violently jerked up by my hood.

The volume inside the trailer spiked up spontaneously, cries from everyone filling out the interior of the chamber. Something was happening, and I couldn’t see it.

I was being pulled by my hood and shoulder, my feet dragging behind. I was still reeling from the overwhelming sensations from earlier to properly get a grip on what was taking place.

I tried lifting my hands above my head, reaching for whatever – or whoever – had me in their hold, but my left shoulder was still too sore to move properly, and I couldn’t get any leverage from the way I was being yanked around.

A blunt force struck my back, near the left shoulder blade, and I was pushed down. But not onto the floor of the trailer. I was kicked back outside. As such, it was a bit of way down.

I hit the ground, my previously dislocated shoulder taking a brunt of the impact. It inflamed in pain again.

Stunned, bewildered, off guard. I did not see this coming.

I still could not see. The portion of my hoodie was over my eyes, the lens of my mask.

Blank Face, Blank Face!” It was Hleuco. “Give me an update!

Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t provide one. As soon as I fell out of the trailer, I heard movement all around me. Boots on concrete. A clattering of metal. A chain.

I felt it go around my neck.

There was a delay, between hearing the metal and feeling a constricting of air, until I realized that it was all happening to me. I was being assaulted, attacked, ambushed.

My mind and body were struggling to keep up. Whoever these people were, they knew how to keep me off balance, trip me up. A harsh yank, and the chain tightened around my throat. My eyes burst open, my fingers feebly tugging at the chain.

I was being pulled away, again. Dragged.

Fuck, fuck.

I hadn’t had a proper meal in weeks. I knew I had lost weight, I saw it with my own two eyes, others had noticed, too. Which was why I could be so easily moved like this.

Cough, I tried to. Couldn’t. Choked. Gagged. Fuck.

Crisis. Alarm. Stay calm. Couldn’t. Fuck.

I couldn’t get my feet under me to run, I couldn’t get a good grip on the damn chain. Randomly, a hard tug, and I choked and lost my hold. Fruitless. Pointless. Fuck.

Tears started welling in my eyes. I couldn’t breathe, and I was panicking. Wanting to hyperventilate, but without the taste of air. An indistinct static noise hissed in my ears. Hleuco, probably. Though I couldn’t understand him. The only sound I could distinguish was the occasional rattling of the chain as it loosened and tighten around my neck as it was pulled, the scratching of my jacket against the concrete. Like sandpaper.

I was inches away from passing out entirely, but I was put to a stop. My back to the ground, I was down. The chain still held me like a snake wrapping itself around prey, but it slackened somewhat, as if toying with the mercy it could so easily provide. The hood over my eyes was pulled away, and I was face to face with a man. Black, middle aged, bald, but with scruffy beard.

He sounded as rough as he looked. “I heard you been trying to catch a ride with one of my men. Sad to say, I don’t think you’re tall enough to ride.”

He added, “You don’t look like any border patrol I know. You must be that masked freak… what was it? The Blueballs?” Small droplets of spit landed on a lens. I wanted to clean it off so bad.

“Blahffnn… Fayffffsh,” I tried to correct him, to no avail. The chain still had me.

“Heh, didn’t quite catch that,” the man said. He stood, and I saw he had on a black leather jacket, blue jeans.

I also saw the bat in his hand. A metal bat. Dented in two spots at the end of the barrel, where the bat was its most thick.

“But if you wanted to ride with us so bad, you coulda asked. I will be… more than happy to accommodate you personally.”

He whistled, and more footsteps were summoned around me. I saw them, in the corners of my eyes. Shadows of people, moving, working. Hands grabbed mine, and peeled my already weak hold around my throat, spreading my arms out to my sides. I was sprawled out.

“The chain’s tied to my bike, already, so we are ready to roll. Please keep your hands and feet close by at all times. Any tampering with the safety measures will result in an early stop of the ride, and I don’t think you want that.”

The man lifted the bat above his head. “So, this is for your safety. Enjoy.”

He swung the bat down, and proceeded to break the first arm.

Previous                                                                                               Next

026 – ἄχοςλαός

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The music was loud enough to be heard from even outside the building. Dulled, muted, but audible. It was a steady beat, the bass hammering into my chest.

I was across the street, atop another building, watching over an auto-repair shop as loud music and whirring equipment sounded into the night. Being on the Southside, the buildings here were sparse, not as tall as the ones downtown, so I had to make do with where I perched and hid. There was a run-down, forgotten office building that was a safe distance away. I picked there to do my stakeout.

Vehicles of all types were parked in the wide parking lot of the repair shop. Truck, car, vans, mopeds, but the most common ones were motorcycles. I watched as workers labored over the motorcycles, everything from tweaking the nuts and bolts to even refueling. Somewhere in between that process, drugs were being loaded in. Somehow. I didn’t quite get it.

Hleuco had given me a short rundown, but anyone who had lived in Stephenville for longer than a year would have some knowledge of Styx’s Gang.

Stephenville’s biggest native gang, one of the few left. They had been around, established, from even before the city’s attempted economic and manufacturing boom. Even back then, they were never the most powerful, or the most influential, but they were mobile, and mostly used the city as a hub. As the different cartels started coming in, they brought with them their conflicts. Scuffles here and there took place, apparently, but Styx’s Gang was able to alleviate some of that pressure by agreeing to move weight for all of the different gangs. All at a slight spike in price, but it was a damn steal in exchange for a full-blown gang war.

And I was about to throw a wrench into that particular cog.

Through Hleuco’s own connections, he’d found out about a large shipment of something that Styx’s Gang supervised the transport of. The original plan was to stop them in the middle of that transport, but we missed that window of opportunity when we were talking on the roof of the factory. If we wanted to continue to pursue that shipment, a change of plans was in order.

In short, I was anxious. Not from the height I was at, but rather what I was about to do. What Hleuco had planned for the night. He told me the new plan on the way, and I thought he was insane.

He seemed to have picked up on that.

Did you know that it takes five years for a coffee tree to reach its full maturity, and they can live up to a hundred years old?

“Spectacular,” I said, flatly.

Also, that the name ‘Wendy’ was made up for the book Peter Pan?

“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked, rather irritably. Unintended, and while I understood why he was being like this, he didn’t have to be so obvious about it. He was coming off as patronizing, the opposite effect of what he was trying to accomplish. “Aren’t we behind as it is?”

We are, certainly, which is why we have to adjust accordingly. Although, our tardiness might have made things easier for us, in the end. The only downside is we have to wait a little bit more. My apologies if I try to lighten the mood, to kill some time.

With him buzzing off in my ear, I couldn’t use body language or any visual cue to display my mild displeasure at his consideration for my nerves. I had to speak my mind.

“I get it, I get it,” I said, “You don’t have to go that far, though. It’s going to throw me off once it’s time to go.”

Fair. Then, to switch to something else, how was getting up there? Can you move around in your new costume okay?

I recalled how I got up here, maneuvering my way up this building. Moving about was fine, easier than ever. I was getting the hang of getting up to the roofs, traversing over the tops of buildings, knowing how much strength to put into my legs for certain distances, how to land. I was beginning to develop my own personal ‘parkour,’ achievable only through my own strength and abilities.

“I can.” That was all I had to say.

Good to know. Get ready to move when you have to. Otherwise, just sit and wait.”

“Roger that.” I stayed put.

A moment passed, quiet, aside from the music coming out from the building ahead. Hleuco let the conversation go, leaving me to my thoughts. A dangerous thing to let happen. I straightened my shoulders, and I thought about the slight, but noticeable weight added to them.

Clothes made the man, or girl, or vampire, or hero. My old threads made up Blank Face, or The Bluemoon, to the public at large. Clothes were an important part of one’s image, defining how one was viewed by others, and even how one viewed themselves.

With this outfit, it was different, I felt different. If I was still supposed to be Blank Face, I certainly felt like a different one.

The parka was heavier than my old windbreaker. Not that it weighed me down, just that it was made of a thicker, more durable material. The inside was lined with fleece, which provided me with a warmth I didn’t realize I needed. It was November now, and the weather was getting cooler with every passing week. It wouldn’t ever snow here, but the windbreaker would no longer suffice in the coming months.

Assuming this gig lasts that long.

It was still blue, as well. A darker blue, easily mistaken for black in the nighttime.

The most striking feature of the parka, though, was the word policía emblazoned across the back, capitalized in gold. A little on the nose, I thought, but it certainly wasn’t generic.

However, it was the mask that most deviated from my original look. Stylized as an old-school gas mask, white in color. A single canister protruded out from the left side of the filter that covered my mouth. The lenses were circular, much like Hleuco’s mask, giving me a much less human look and feel.

Definitely more durable than a cheap plastic mask you could get anywhere.

Certainly better than my old outfit, and in every conceivable way. Extra pockets in my parka, a tighter fit on my mask, Thomas had thought of everything when he gave me this costume. I could only be grateful.

Yet, why did I feel like I was in another person’s skin?

“Hleuco.” I found myself saying his name.

Yes?

“Have you been hearing me fine, though?” I asked, testing the earpiece. “Does the mask… um, mask my voice too much?”

A little,” Hleuco admitted, “But not so much that it’s an issue. I took that into consideration, as well. Anything to better hide your identity, the better.

He had even put that into consideration, into the details of my new costume.

“Where did you even get this stuff, anyways?” I asked. “I was gonna ask earlier, but there were other things to go over.”

Items from my private collection, from when I was younger, with fewer ties that kept me down.

“Oh, neat,” I said, not sure what else to comment. Overdue belated birthday gifts from a family friend, I decided to chalked it up as.

But, there are more important matters at hand. I need you to keep me in the loop. Otherwise, I can’t provide what little help I have.

“Right.” I checked again. Still nothing. Workers were still working. Barring the late hour, as far as any normal person would be concerned, it was a normal repair shop. I told him that.

“All clear,” I said, “Though I guess in this case, it’s not the best thing in the world.”

Patience, is all I can tell you. Unless you’d like for me to provide more fascinating bits of trivia?

“I’d like to unsubscribe from useless Hleuco trivia, please,” I said, shutting him down.

I leaned ahead, peering through my lens.

“Movement,” I said to Hleuco. I looked on.

Three men were exiting out of the garage of the auto-repair shop, each wearing very heavy jackets. They each took to their own motorcycle, starting it. It was faint, but the rumble of the engines added to the noised raised by the shop.

“Three guys,” I reported, “Each with their own motorcycle. That’s them right? The Ferrymen?”

Right. They do the basic rounds, delivering goods to whoever needs or wants them. They may be the lower ranks of the gang, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t uninformed. They’ll know what we’re looking for. It’s just a matter of getting that information out of them.

“Isn’t that a whole lot of stupid, though? That just gives people like us the opportunity to do what we’re about to do.”

I didn’t say they know everything. They just know the city better than anyone else. The layout. Where to go and how. And before us, who stood to challenge them? They’ve provided a service, a means to diffuse. If we aren’t careful, it’s possible for everything to blow up in our faces.

The inherent risk in poking this particular beehive wasn’t lost on me. I was aware. It still weighed on my entire being, though.

This was the exact thing I wanted to avoid at first, I thought, Going after gangs.

“Actually, I think I want to subscribe to useless Hleuco facts,” I said.

It will be fine. It is but a sign of their arrogance, that they move around so freely and openly with little resistance or opposition. Remember, we’ve only just begun, so there’s no need to take it too far, so fast. Our tactics are still the same. Hit and run. Disrupt, rather than dismantle. We’re just targeting where we hit this time, rather than taking what comes to us.

If he was up here, being the one to get his hands dirty, maybe he wouldn’t sound so calm about this.

The motorcyclists were pulling out of the shop, getting onto the road. They immediately split up. One went down one way, the other two went in the direction of the building I was on.

Towards me.

“I’m moving,” I said into the earpiece. I turned, crossing the length of the roof.

There was another reason why I had picked this building to spy on them. According to Hleuco, and what he already knew about the area, the parking lot behind this building was a spot where druggies would congregate, waiting to get a score from a passing Ferryman. It was the closest spot for this base, and the most out of the way.

But I couldn’t wrap my head around it. If it was this easy to find a drug deal, why haven’t the police done anything about it? What was stopping them? Money? Power? Fear? It became more apparent every time I stepped out as Blank Face, just how ruined this city actually was.

I made it across the roof, the gravel shifting under my feet as I moved. I watched below.

A few had already gathered. The homeless, the downtrodden, the bored. They were waiting around in a circle, under the orange glow of a lamp post. They were in a parking lot, but no vehicles were present.

No one saw me waiting above.

In the time it took me to move to the other side, the two motorcyclists were turning the corner, coming up to the parking lot. The ragtag group faced them when they heard the motorcycles approach.

I itched in wait.

“They’re here,” I said out loud, positive no one would hear me. “I have a feeling it’ll be messy again. I’ll let you know when I ready.”

Got it,” Hleuco confirmed, “Before you go, remember the rules. No-

“Yes, I’ve heard it enough times, already. I’ll be good.”

There’s nothing wrong with being thorough. Alright, go. I’m not too far. Just give me the signal. Out.

I breathed out, slow. Though I had done this before, didn’t make it any easier to do it again. These were still people. Eggshells, really.

The gang members stepped off of their motorcycles. Looking at them from a closer point of view, I saw that they were black Harleys. Even the Ferrymen themselves were the spitting image of a bar-tumbling biker, leather jackets and all.

They didn’t walk to the others. Instead, they let the ones with the demand come to them. The ones with the supply got to determine the circumstances.

And I was to stop them.

I waited no longer. Putting my arms on top of the metal railing that lined the edge of the roof, I vaulted over.

“Going in,” I said as I dropped.

A three-story fall. I prepared to cushion my descent.

It worked. Kind of. I leaned in as soon as I touched ground to roll forward, but I tripped, flopping onto my side instead of somersaulting. At least I had descended into the dark, where that lamp post couldn’t expose me. No one was close enough to hear my flub, either. Especially with the motorcycles still going.

I hiccuped in trying to suppress a cough.

Haven’t completely developed that personal parkour just yet.

What? Something wrong?” Hleuco’s voice was raised, curious.

“No, not that,” I said. “Just remind me to take the stairs next time.”

I sprung back up on my feet, shaking it off. I pressed on.

The glow of the lamp post soon came over me. I was crossing the parking lot, towards the addicts and their dealers.

They didn’t see me at first. Not immediately. Even as I walked, my pace brisk.

The first person to see me was a girl, the first to purchase her score from one of the bikers. As I got closer, I saw her face shift from confusion, realization – despite my new clothes – then fear.

“Run!” she yelled, pointing. “The Bluemoon!”

The others faced the way she was pointing, and they were much faster to react.

They scattered.

I focused not on the homeless, the downtrodden, or the bored. They weren’t priorities, it was the two bikers. The two Ferrymen.

They were immediately trying to get back on their bikes. I had stop them.

I broke into a run, lunging forward as I got closer.

I tackled the first biker off of his bike. His leg caught the side of his bike, toppling it over with him.

In that time, the other biker was already making a getaway.

I can be fast, but not that fast.

If I didn’t make a move, he’d escape, alerting the others from Styx’s Gang, and this night would go even more down the drain.

I jumped back onto my feet, scanning the area for anything I could use to stop him.

A brick, a few paces away. Was I confident in my aim? My throwing arm?

Better than nothing, I supposed.

I ran after the biker, trying to catch up. Trying, because he was already almost out of the parking lot. I bent down as I ran, scooping up the brick.

I maintained my speed, running as fast as I could. My mind racing just as quickly, I watched for any clue, any indication which way he’d turn onto the road.

His shoulders budged, leaning right. I compensated.

I held my arm back and up, and fired.

Bullseye.

The brick flew from my hand in a straight line, connecting with his side. I heard him scream in a sudden agony. He folded, falling off his bike and onto the road. His bike skidded away from his body as he went limp.

Pure luck. That was the only way I managed that shot. But did I throw too hard?

Eh, whatever.

I stood there, massaging my arm. I needed a breath. The shouting of the other destitutes faded away. I could live with them getting away.

“Hleuco,” I said out loud, “Come.”

Be there in a few.

After I caught a second wind, I returned to the other biker, his leg still pinned down by his bike. I only needed one of them.

“Hi,” I said, as I bent down, over him. “You look like you need help.”

He was heavyset, bearded, a bandana across his forehead.

Yeah, the spitting image of a biker dude.

“The… Bluemoon?” he breathed. He made a face. The motorcycle was heavier than it looked, and it already looked heavy. He was stuck, wholly dependent on my mercy.

Something about that…

I spoke. “Oh, that’s right, you like the new fit? Trying to go for a new look, since, you know, everyone’s an asshole. And yeah, I guess I am The Bluemoon, but that name sucks. If you get to make it out of this, tell everyone I go by ‘Blank Face.’”

“Blank… Face,” he repeated, “What… do you want? You here to fuck with us again?”

What he was referring to, I had no idea, but I ignored him. No time to get into that, now. I simply parroted what Hleuco wanted me to say. To the best of my memory. I improvised. “A shipment just came in recently. A big one. I think you know what I’m talking about.”

He scrunched his eyes. “I don’t.”

I groaned. Standing back up, I set my foot atop the motorcycle. I pressed down.

He screamed.

“I think you know what I’m talking about,” I repeated, my voice raised, but still level. I had to be heard over his wailing.

“I don’t know! I can’t say!”

“Why can’t you say?” I intoned, “Because you don’t want to betray your family?”

“I don’t- agh!”

He wasn’t giving me anything.

Dammit, I’m not good at this at all.

Before I could continue, a light came upon me. A van stopped right behind me. I twisted to see, my foot still on the bike.

Hleuco stepped out of the van. I pressed my ear to temporarily turn off the earpiece.

“Is he a good catch?” he asked. “I saw the other Ferryman on the street, back there.”

“He’ll be fine, or, he won’t be an issue, is what I mean to say.”

“Alright,” he said, taking it as that. He clasped his hands together. “Did we get what we need out of him?”

I shook my head. “Not yet. I don’t know if he even knows anything.”

“Oh, he’d know. You just haven’t tried hard enough. But, we can continue this elsewhere. We’re out in the open. Can you lift the bike?”

“With one hand,” I said, pretty sure about it.

“Perfect. Come, let’s bring him in.”

For a second, I paused. Hesitated. The biker’s squirms filled the fleeting, empty moment.

I didn’t even ask a question. I just phrased a word funny.

“Kidnapping?”

Hleuco, however, seemed to understand the underlying meaning. “Kidnapping? No, he was going out for a ride, wasn’t he? He’s just accompanying us for ride.”

“Um, right.”

“Blank Face, he’s probably got enough drugs to last him some sort of substantial sentence in prison. We get what we need out of him, through whatever means comfortably set within our moral and ethical sensibilities, and we can leave him to be picked up by the proper authorities.”

I put a hand on my hip. I thought about it. “Sure. My moral and ethical sensibilities have been pretty loose lately, anyways.”

Hleuco raised his hand, making a gesture. “We’ll deal with it as it comes. Now, let’s move it along.”

Without another word said, I got to work in lifting up the motorcycle, while Hleuco reached for the biker’s arms.

I slammed the door of the van shut. I removed my right glove, rubbing my hand on the side of my new parka, drying my hand from any excess sweat.

The window of the door I just closed rolled down.

“Are you alright, Blank Face?” Hleuco asked, from the driver’s side of the van.

“I’m alright,” I said, reassuring him, and myself. “Let’s go. If we can find the shipment fast enough, we can be done here, right?”

“Correct.”

“Then, let’s do it.”

“I’ll wrap around the best I can, but I can’t get in and bring the van, so you sneaking in is the best bet.”

“Probably.”

“Remember, the number is 2-1-1.”

“2-1-1,” I repeated back to him.

“Good luck,” he said, and he drove off.

After pressing my ear, turning the earpiece back on, I put back on my glove, and ran towards the fence. I cleared it easy.

I found myself in a trailer yard, on King District, where semi-truck trailers were parked, waiting to be loaded with freight. However, if John Todd, 34, from Clifton, Virginia’s information was correct, one of these trailers still had its cargo.

Trailer 2-1-1, to be exact.

Getting in through normal means was impossible. There was a fence around the lot, and a gate at the entrance. The place was privately owned, meaning, if we didn’t have official business here, we weren’t getting in.

I spat in the face of that.

The hour had turned ungodly, so the place shouldn’t be guarded too heavily, if at all. It was good that I was almost done with being Blank Face for the night. All I had to do was find the trailer, find out what was inside, and alert the appropriate people to its existence.

Disrupt, rather than dismantle.

Right.

I snapped my fingers.

I still needed to feed. How was I supposed to fit that in now? I’d have to figure that out, soon.

I proceeded, checking the backs of every trailer, where the numbers were printed.

5-5.

7-8.

1-9-5, 1-9-6, 1-9—–. I ran until the numbers became a blur, ignoring anything that didn’t have the first slot carrying the general shape of ‘2.’

2-0-1. I slowed, walking until I got to the correct number.

“2-1-1,” I said, out loud, to myself.

You found it,” Hleuco said, his distinct buzzing returning into my ear.

“I did, but,” I inspected the back of the trailer further. “The latch is chained, locked. I might not be able to open it.”

Have you tried?

“I have not.”

Then do it.

I resisted the urge to be snarky. Not now, we were almost finished.

I checked the chain again, holding it in my hand. It was wrapped around the latch and handle used to open the door. Wasn’t heavy, or thick. It might break if I pulled at it hard enough.

Might.

I tried.

I put both hands on the chain, tugging at it, pulling back. Not much give.

I tried again, putting more force into it. I caught the sound of metal clanging. An echo.

Once more, not much give.

I put one last burst of effort into it. I pulled, and put both my feet on the door of the trailer itself, getting off the ground. I gritted my teeth. Tiny, angered hisses escaped from my lips in an effort to break the chain. It was like forcing a sword out of a stone.

Metal clanged again. An echo. I felt it getting looser.

One more full pull, I pressed my feet against the trailer, and yanked my whole body straight.

I dislocated my shoulder.

“Ahhf!”

I crumpled, falling down, holding my left shoulder.

My breath hitched again.

Blank Face, update.

“Nothing, it’s nothing,” I seethed. “Just pulled something.”

Do you need assistance? I’ll find a way to get over there and get you out.

“No… need,” I protested, “I’ll be fine, it’s… one of my powers. Besides,” I rolled onto my back, and felt my left hand’s grip on metal, “I broke the chain.”

With your bare hands? Fascinating.

“Yes, now please, no more questions. Focusing on getting myself… together again.”

I didn’t hear another word from Hleuco. I had to put effort into moving my hand, dropping the broken chain.

I got up into a sitting position. I patted down my left shoulder, my eye twitching every time I did so.

Couldn’t move it, and my healing wasn’t doing anything about it.

It hurt, and it hurt like hell, but I wasn’t shocked or scared at the feeling, rather I almost felt inconvenienced. I had to either relocate it myself, or get Hleuco to do it, and let my healing work from there.

Now I really have to hurry.

I took my time in getting to my feet. Slowly, surely. I didn’t know whether to continue hugging my shoulder or to let it hang for now. But a foot forward, then another, was more important.

I moved along.

Right hand outstretched, I felt for the latch and handle. It was difficult, trying to work it with one hand, but I managed, and I swung the door open.

I looked inside.

My heart dropped.

“Um, Hleuco?”

Yes, did you find it? Is it in there?

“Yeah, but, the shipment isn’t drugs, or weapons. It’s people.”

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025 – Play for Keeps

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Dark clouds stretched above me. Heavy, like it could rain at any moment, the threat literally hanging over my head. Huge, too, and I distracted myself by imagining what it would be like if they were really huge floating islands, and a civilization of people had been living up there for centuries, completely separate from us land-dwellers. What kind of food would they eat? How did they travel from cloud to cloud?

I’m wandering.

I heard Hleuco approach up from behind. I didn’t turn or react, I simply looked ahead.

The city was nothing like New York, with the iconically tall buildings and the sheer amount of them, but Stephenville had a skyline of its own, scraping its own name into the sky. The center of my line of sight held a higher concentration of buildings, taller too. An area colloquially referred to as ‘The Eye,’ the roughest part of town, and where the more prominent gangs held the most influence and power. Even with my powers, I was still an ant, compared to the bosses within those towers. Impossible, to do anything about them now. Not like that was what we were working towards, or anything. Our aspirations were a lot smaller.

I looked, once again feeling a sense of self-doubt, second guessing myself. Should I really be doing this?

Hleuco took a position a few feet away from the roof’s edge. As for me, I was sitting, my legs hanging. It was chilly up here, even with a windbreaker.

We were on a roof of an abandoned factory, in an older district. The ‘hood,’ if I wanted to put a label on it. It was the closest thing to a headquarters we had, not that we had done any refurbishing or renovations towards making it a base of operations. More of a meeting place, I supposed, far enough off the grid that no one besides crackheads and their dealers would enter.

However, that meant that I had to travel pretty far to make it here. Forty-five minutes, walking when two buses took me as far as they could.

I need to learn how to drive, and soon.

Actually, first, I need a car.

“You could’ve told me you were already here,” Hleuco started, breaking me away from my thoughts.

“I came up from another way,” I explained, dryly, “The roof here is big, so I thought I’d stay in one place.”

“You have your earpiece, don’t you?”

“I needed a breather.”

“I said it was urgent for a reason.”

“Kept you waiting, huh?” I asked, not concerned.

“Only a few hours, but it’s not as if time is of the essence.”

“That’s a relief, then,” I said. I didn’t care how late I was. I had to wait for my mom to go to bed before I could head out. That was a drawback he’d have to learn to deal with. Not my fault I was the only superhuman available at his beck and call.

I didn’t apologize, nor attempt to justify my tardiness. Was not in the mood.

“In any case, there’s a lot we need to discuss, and now there’s not much time,” Hleuco said, taking my small wisecrack in stride. “But this is something we need to address.”

I heard a cushioned drop of what sounded like clothes onto concrete, then the crinkling of paper while he talked.

“Thanks to the so-called ‘Halloween Riots,’ the people are asking for a real witch trial out of you.”

“How reassuring,” I said. Lightly, I kicked my legs out in front of me, letting them swing.

Hleuco continued to explain the situation, a situation seared into my consciousness for the last few days. “Public perception was wary at least, fearful at most. But now?” The crinkling paper came back, and he paused. He exhaled, before saying, “They want to burn you at the stake. Not the best foot forward when you just started being a superhero.”

“I didn’t do this to be loved,” I said, nonchalantly. “Not a concern.”

“Perhaps it’s not a concern in a personal sense, but it’s a concern nonetheless. If these riots continue into the next few days, the governor is considering sending in the National Guard to come after you.”

That got to me. I wasn’t aware of that potential measure. “You’re kidding, right? Tell me you’re kidding?” I looked at him for my answer.

I frowned.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

What I heard from Hleuco was him tearing into a bag. He was suited up, and had his mask on, but not on properly. It was lifted up, the mouth-beak section over his eyes, and he was eating a burger.

“You were late, so I had time.”

“But right this very second, though? You’re mixing signals.”

“I still have some leftovers, want a few?” he offered, showing me the greasy paper bag.

Again, my stomach did a flip.

“Um, I’m good,” I said.

“Hmm, more for me.” He dug into some french fries, left in the bottom of the bag.

Without realizing it, he was rubbing it in my face.

“Tasty?” I asked, harshly.

“Very,” he answered, his mouth full.

“Okay, can we get back to the point, now? You were the one complaining about wasted time.” I set my sights back on the city.

“Sure.” The paper bag rustled some more. I heard him set it down.

“Nothing confirmed,” Hleuco said, “It was only reported earlier this morning. The governor’s considering it, but that’s enough for us to have to seriously change how we do this moving forward, assuming of course, we want to move forward.”

“Meaning?”

“I’m just going to get this out of the way now, so I don’t have to waste any more time. Do you feel like quitting?”

That question came at me from nowhere. It was a big question, too, one that I had to take seriously. I pushed myself away from the lip of the roof, and stood, facing Hleuco.

“Why are you asking this, now? Didn’t we just start?” I asked.

Hleuco had fixed his mask in the meantime, and looked at me front and center. A big duffel bag was by one foot, and crumpled litter by the other.

“I ask because the gangs are already retaliating,” Hleuco said. His mask’s beak cupped over his mouth, carrying it, making it sound bigger. “No civilians are dead, but plenty have been injured from being caught up in a riot. And it’s not just those riots. You saw it with the bank robbers. They were using your image while committing a crime. Doesn’t stop there, and it hasn’t. Crimes all over the city are reported being committed by those in blue hoodies and grey pants. Robbery, arson, home invasion. The riots have continued, too, though smaller and faster to be stomped out than that first one on Temple Street. Isolated incidents, but connected by a single, blue thread. It’s clear what’s going on, here.”

Behind my mask, I hid my concern. And the occasional flinch of pain whenever my throat or stomach ached.

I pressed further. “Would you care to be more clear?”

Hleuco drew in a breath before explaining, saying, “Let’s go back to the initial riot on Temple Street.”

“I’d rather not.”

Listen. Several were apprehended and arrested, all from various gangs. From Axel, the Thirteen-Dogs, even leftovers from The Chariot. Not one gang, but several. You were partially right, before, when you asked if a gang was behind it. Turns out there were more.”

That was exactly what I needed to hear at the moment. More complications. I never wanted to be more wrong in my life.

I flinched again. My stomach.

“And it wouldn’t even be a hard collaboration to organize, I’d imagine,” Hleuco said. “Just show up in one place, in dress code, then go to town. Even if they lose people in the process, the gangs did their damage. And the people they did lose? At least they went down for a cause. People like to think that.”

Hleuco reached back behind his head. He was undoing his mask, removing it, revealing the man behind it.

Thomas Thompson.

He set his arms beside him, his mask in one hand. His eyes were baggy, dog-tired, but he stood straight, his posture firm. He fixed his hair with his free hand.

“So I want to ask you again, do you want to quit?”

The question struck me in an odd way. The way he laid out those particular cards, the way he was dealing this out, it made it seem like he wanted me to call it quits.

Again, mixing signals.

I called him out on it, instead of answering. “You were the one who encouraged me to do something with my powers, to do more to help others. Now you’re asking if I want to walk away, after only a week or so doing this?”

Thomas shook his head. “I’ll never not encourage you to help people with your abilities, all I’m asking is, with these circumstances, are you willing to move forward? No one could have anticipated this, and having to tackle this issue will be asking more of you than you initially offered to put on the table. How did you put it, when you just came through my window, back then? ‘Go after the small fries?’

“Not exactly how I said it.”

“Semantics. I stand by what I said when we first met, but I’m not dumb. I recognize how young you really are, the life that mask is trying to protect and hide. I only gave you my proposal because I knew you were aware of the danger, you dealt with it, and you walked away unscatched. You have potential, you have promise, and I want cultivate that. But, this isn’t your main responsibility, and it never has to be. You don’t owe this city anything, and you’re too young to owe this city your life. You don’t have to go that far. If you’re going to fight, you’ll need to come up with your own reason.”

The words rang clear within me, but they were like a ringing alarm that would wake me up every morning. I’ve heard it before.

“You’ve mentioned this already,” I said, “When I came to see you. You’re retreading.”

“I’m reaffirming,” Thomas said, correcting me. “Our original plan of going after petty criminals isn’t going to hold water when they’re tossing molotovs. We will have to change our game plan, not terribly so, but it is in order.”

“What an argument,” I commented. “It’s like you actually want me to walk away from this.”

“I won’t reiterate, otherwise we’ll be going in circles. I’ll simply wait for an answer.” He checked a watch on his free hand. “Though, if we wanted to get to the other thing I had planned, you’d need to be quick.”

My mask hid the slight smile I had. I was amused. “Putting me on the spot, then.”

“Waiting.”

I turned away from him, my eyes again on the city. I went all the way out here just for this? My whole neck and torso were hurting, stinging, and I had already mentally prepared myself to do some superheroing tonight, even if I’d end up falling asleep in class the next day. I needed an outlet, something to take my mind off of that disaster of a dinner.

And I actually needed dinner, too. Not that Thomas had to know that.

He was right, though, I had to give him that. This wasn’t what I signed up for. I had agreed to do work like this as long as it was simple, an easy engagement, with monetary compensation. Two or three times a week, depending on my schedule, I’d ride in a van, or run along rooftops, stopping whatever crime or wrongdoing I’d come across. Hleuco would relay whatever information I needed, usually the movements of the police, all from some complicated police scanner he’d managed to procure. It was as straightforward as you could get, an avenue to not be myself for a while, to assume another identity. As Alexis, my powers – my thirst – hindered and interfered with my day-to-day life. A source of stress. As Blank Face, I could at least direct my strength towards something that wasn’t myself. The thirst was still a problem, though, hanging over me like the dark clouds above. Agreeing to be a superhero was equal parts for myself, and for whoever I could help. But, according to Thomas, those parts were already becoming disproportionate.

Already, we had to change things up.

On the other hand, I didn’t sign up for any of this at all. But, I should have come to terms with that some time ago. Honestly? Still working on it.

I still needed an outlet, a recreational channel for my powers. And, as a more pressing, immediate matter, I was still thirsty. I needed to be out right now. I just had to find a way to slip that minor detail past Thomas.

With my answer, my mind made up, my resolution steeled, I looked across to Thomas. He was still, waiting. Still waiting.

“I’m still in,” I said, after thinking it over.

“Oh?” he asked, sounding like he didn’t expect that.

“I’m saying you’re right, but I won’t quit just yet. We just got started. Let’s show them something good.”

“So, you’re telling me we’re on the same page on this?”

I clicked my tongue. “Looks like it, but don’t point it out like that. It makes me want to take back what I said.”

Thomas smirked, like he was entertained, or relieved. “Then I say no more, just take this.”

He bent down, picking back up the larger bag at his feet. The way he lifted it suggested that its weight was pretty hefty. He tossed it at me, swinging it underhand.

It crashed at my feet.

“And this is?” I inquired.

“Your new costume.”

“New costume?”

“The gangs and riots are smearing your image, and it’s working. The public will hate you, if they don’t already. It’ll be difficult continuing this if they associate you as another element of the rampant crime in the city.”

“But don’t people out there realize that this is a scheme on the gangs’ part? A trick?”

“Some might see through it, but it’s easier to want you out of the picture now, then want to see you maybe achieving some good in the future. Audiences love to hate.”

I tugged at the hem of my jacket. “And you think a new costume is going to change it.”

“It’s a step. This is less imitable, harder to come by. And, if I might add, it’s more striking, too. It’s enough to differentiate yourself from the fakes. Visually speaking. You may have been working on a new one on your own, but I took the liberty of piecing together my own version. I hope you don’t mind.”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t put much stock into my ‘costume’ when I first came up with it, but I couldn’t deny that I’ve developed some attachment to my current getup. It became familiar, recognizable, comforting when I was out doing uncomfortable things. It was admittedly strange to feel this way towards some clothes and a mask, but if old army veterans could maintain a sense of pride in their old uniforms, I could hold that sentiment towards a beaten-up windbreaker and joggers.

But, I was curious at what Thomas had come up with.

I tapped the tip of my foot on the ground, fixing my shoe. I breathed audibly.

I got down on my knees, and zipped open the bag. I peeked inside.

“This is what you came up with?” I asked, still investigating.

“I’ve left some other stuff in there for you, but just try it on. No worries, I’ll look the other way.”

Thomas didn’t expect or wait for a reply from me. He moved, walking away, his back to me.

I had thought about why he was seemingly so disinterested and uncaring about my true identity. The best friend of his only daughter. Considering how I was, what I had become – whatever that was, exactly, – wouldn’t anyone want to know who was under this mask? Yet, he seemed to want to respect that. Was there a reason why? I couldn’t stop myself from putting that train of thought into motion.

Could it be that he already knew?

No, I thought. Wouldn’t make sense. I knew Thomas, he would’ve immediately said something the second he found out. He wouldn’t have let me get this far. He simply wasn’t interested, I had to suspect. There were more important things on his mind, other motives. Like he said, it could be anyone under this mask, but his words would be the same.

That, I knew.

When Thomas got farther away, I changed into what was in the bag. I removed my windbreaker, then my fanny pack with my knife and pepper spray, but I kept my joggers on. I wasn’t willing to expose myself that much, not while outside, and definitely not while Katy’s dad was right there, back to me or not. Not my style.

Hastily, I removed my mask, and swapped it with the one in the bag. I adjusted it to fit my face, and fixed the different straps that wrapped around the back of my head. I tried to clean off the right lens with my hand, but it smudged, leaving a mark, and I left it at that.

Next came the parka, and I zipped it up, snapping the metallic buttons together once I put back on the fanny pack. The parka went past my waist, stopping right at my butt.

Last came the gloves, which I found next to an unattached handle of a thing. Black leather gloves. I put them on.

The only thing I didn’t wear were the pants at the bottom.

I stood, flipping the hood up.

“Um, I’m ready!” I called. My new mask distorted my voice even more than my old one. It sounded deeper, even more muffled. “Ready!” I called again, to account for it.

Thomas came back, fixing the straps around his mask, too. I couldn’t see his expression when he checked me out.

“You didn’t change into the pants,” was what he said.

“I thought we were trying to stop crimes, not be involved in our own.”

I couldn’t see his expression, his reaction, but a pause was all I needed.

“Not what I intended,” Hleuco said.

“Fucking around,” I said back, “Just fucking around.”

“Alright. That aside, I think it works. You look good, or rather, you look proper.”

I shifted in place. The jacket was heavier than I was used to, and the mask covered my face entirely, and it would be harder to take off. This was going to be an issue if I was planning on finding blood tonight. Which I was.

A small complaint which I couldn’t raise.

“I tried keeping the silhouette of your original look,” Hleuco explained. “While making it more utilitarian, built to last. Truth be told, I was quite fond of the rough draft of a costume you had at first, so I just wanted to build upon it, improve it.”

“No, I, you’re right. This is better,” I said. There was a certain nervousness, there, that I didn’t expect. This really did feel like a costume, like effort was made to be and dress the part of a superhero.

This is better, but it’ll take some getting used to.

Hleuco concurred, “Great. Now, we head out. We’re behind as it is, and this took longer than I anticipated. Come along, I’ll explain on the way.”

He moved again without any confirmation on my part, and I had to follow, stuffing my old mask and windbreaker into the bag as I went.

“So, what’s next?” I had to ask. “A new costume couldn’t be the only thing you had in mind.”

“No, it isn’t,” he said as we left the roof, going through a door that led us down some stairs. The added echo of our steps and his masked voice made me really have to listen. “We were going after the smallest of fries, the game that didn’t matter. That’s fine and well, but that means no gang has any incentive to take us seriously. And they don’t, otherwise they wouldn’t be playing dress up. If we want to make an impact, we will have to show them that we are serious, and that we mean business. No more picking up what we can. Now, we play for keeps.”

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023 – Disfigured Conformity

epy arc 4 test

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The bank robbers fled across the street, and I tried my best to follow.

This was starting to become a little familiar.

Three people rushed out onto the busy street, attempting to hide in the swarm of people walking about. They were pushing, shoving their way through, with some resistance, but they were getting away, using the crowd as cover.

I stood over the edge of an overlooking building, weighing my options. I wasn’t concerned with anyone seeing me up here, they were more preoccupied with getting drunk or high to look up.

The street below was the infamous Temple Street, a historic street and entertainment district, known for the multitude of venues and bars that line down the whole path. Bands were playing, and drinks were making people boisterous. In short, it was loud, and it was only Monday night.

Traffic was blocked on this street, cars weren’t allowed through. Meaning that it was a freely flowing, never-ending party, a popular spot for those legally allowed to drink. And a few not so legal.

But that meant that there were a lot of people down there, perhaps too many. Especially today. Jumping down right now could cause a scare. Yet, at the same time, they were getting farther with every second I spent contemplating my decision. I needed to make a move soon.

It started to hurt, trying to keep my eyes on them. Everything was starting to blur together.

Almost half the crowd down there was wearing some kind of blue hoodie and grey pants. Even the robbers.

Eye spy with my little eye… a whole lotta bullshit.

I tried looking for something else that would differentiate them from the rest. The dark bags on their backs, the pointed shape of the masks they wore, their body language as they cut through the crowd.

Something sounded off in my right ear. I twitched, forgetting that I had an earpiece on.

I need constant updates, Blank Face, I don’t have eyes on the scene like you do. What’s the situation?

“Ironic that I have to call you ‘Hleuco,’ then,” I spoke, still looking below me. “They ran into Temple Street, lots of people. A hell of a lot of Blank Faces. I think I’ve lost a few of them when you called in.”

Ah, my apologies,” Hleuco said, but it didn’t sound like he meant it. “Just do what you can, then. For now, we’re just here to send a message. To scare them off. If it involves innocents getting hurt, then it’s not worth getting into.

“I hear you loud and clear. Now shut it, I’m trying to find them.”

Hleuco said nothing.

I tilted my head, trying to focus on a particular shape, hoping that was one of the three robbers I was chasing after. I already lost the other two.

There.

I looked in another direction, a few degrees to my right. Two people in blue were getting in a tiff. One of them looked more heavy-set than the other, but I recognized the bag the smaller man had on his back.

One is better than none, I thought.

I checked directly below me. The building I was on was a bar, and there was a line of people below me, waiting to get inside. Pirates, ghosts, sexy nurses, sexy Blank Faces. That was going way too far, in my opinion.

I glanced ahead once more to check if they were still there. They were. I could make this fast.

I moved to the side of the building, and dropped down into the alley.

No one was here to see me land, but even if there were, most were too drunk to notice or even care. I moved forward like it was nothing, getting off the sidewalk and going into the crowd myself. I had to maneuver past people and away from piles of trash and red cups.

I pushed through, getting to the two Blank Fakes. I ignored the yells and complaints spat at me for trying to cut.

“Bro!” the heavy-set one said, clearly having had one too many drinks. He wore a large blue hoodie and grey shorts, but he didn’t even have a mask. “You trying to start something, bumping into me?” He had a large hand on the robber’s shoulder, who was fighting to get out of his grip.

“Just let me through, you ass! I have to be somewhere!”

“You ain’t going anywhere unless you get on… on… your knees and beg!”

“For what?”

I didn’t give the robber a chance to get an answer. I grabbed his bag and pulled back, yanking him down.

With his hand on the robber, and his sobriety compromised, the heavy-set man fell forward, too, toppling on top of the robber himself.

That was one down.

I didn’t bother with taking off the robber’s mask. He was immobilized, under the weight of the fatter Blank Face, a true blue moon. It didn’t matter what he looked like, it only mattered that I stopped him.

Some people reacted, taking a step back to film the scene on their phones, but most just continued on, looking for another bar to drink in, another band to watch.

I searched around me, trying to find out what I should do next.

I knew there would be some cops in the area, but I had no way of getting their attention without attracting them to me, too. If I did, I could imagine that they would be more interested in me. No go, there.

This was the best I could, for now. Just trying to stop the robbers from making any more progress.

One down, two to go. Perhaps I needed to get back to a higher vantage point if I wanted to find the others. If they were even still on Temple Street.

Before I could make a move, the robber at my feet started hollering.

“That’s The Bluemoon! That’s him! He’s trying to trick me! Retreat!”

Didn’t take long for that to get people’s attention. Everyone turned.

Adrenaline kicked in even more. I was ready for anything.

A moment passed. Another.

Another.

No one reacted.

No one cared.

Right.

Everyone else here was in some sort of costume, and a lot of them were dressed like me. What was one tiny girl in a mask to them? Especially today. They paid me no mind, and many of them continued on, passing the scene, going elsewhere.

I followed, getting back on the sidewalk, and moved to stand in front of another bar. I stepped out of the way of a couple trying to get in.

“I got one of them, but I think it’s a bust,” I said into the earpiece. “It’s going to be impossible to find the other two by now, and I don’t think it’s worth it.”

I agree. They’ll have escaped, but they’re leaving one of their own behind. Don’t beat yourself up over this, you got most of them back at the bank.

“I’m not, and I won’t.”

Good. Not every day out will constitute a win. Now’s a good time to-

“Wait.”

I stopped him. Something else caught my ears.

An echo of something I just heard.

“Bluemoon! Bluemoon! Bluemoon!”

I heard it from various spots in the mass of people crossing the main street. It took a few more looks to realize that the people saying it were others dressed like me. Like Blank Face.

Not all of them, but a sizable group.

They were spread out, but they quickly congregated together, pushing others aside and knocking away those who apparently didn’t get the program. In a breath, that particular gang swelled in numbers. A large gang of those that resembled Blank Face were joining together, yelling all the way.

Others around me were equally puzzled as to what was going on, murmuring amongst themselves or pulling out their phones again to record, waiting for whatever was next.

I, too, waited.

As soon as most of the Blank Fakes convened, they broke up, sprawling in every direction. They attacked.

Bad.

The chaos was rapidly becoming a riot. They were pushing people, bashing car windows, breaking into storefronts, breaking into bars.

Okay, it already was a riot.

Others who weren’t trying to take part in those particular festivities were already fleeing, taking to the sidewalks while the more rowdy bunch took over the street, causing more destruction.

“Bluemoon! Bluemoon!” they continued to chant, at the top of their lungs.

I did not see this coming.

I wasted no time getting right into it. I pushed back onto the street.

I ended up in the midst of a smaller group of rioters in the middle of the road. Considering the present party’s appearance, and the general disorder of the situation, no one noticed that the real Blank Face was here, that the one they were screaming for was among them. I blended in too easily.

I moved amongst the crowd, trying to get to certain Blank Face impersonators who were wreaking the most havoc. I started with a guy standing on top of a police car, about to smash open the front windshield with a sledgehammer.

I stepped onto the car, sneaking up behind him.

Just before he could throw down the hammer and do some damage, I grabbed the head of the hammer. He pulled, but it wouldn’t work. It never would. All I did was hold it, but just that was too much for him.

He turned to face me. His mask was cheap enough that I could see his eyes bulge in fear.

Lightly, I pushed him.

He tumbled off the car, falling on top of two other rioters. They all collapsed into a heap.

Standing above everyone else, more people eventually noticed me. I was back in the spotlight again. The noise travelled in a wave away from me, with me being in the epicenter. Screaming, shouting.

At me.

A sea of blue, white faces staring back at me. The image was disorientating, discombobulating.

This is gonna be fun.

I was forced to continue on, jumping again when some rioters were brave enough to try and come at me, climbing on top of the car. I lost them when I went back into the blue sea of rioters. For once, my small stature helped me. I was hard to notice, and it was easy to hide in the confusion.

Another spot, another place to go. Somewhere else that needed my attention. Go.

While being pushed and bumped, I moved towards a store, several windows already shattered. No door was needed to enter.

Some innocents could be in here, in possible danger. I went in.

Not necessarily rioters, but looters. Troublemakers all the same. Several individuals were in the store, terrorizing those who tried to take refuge inside, threatening the workers to let open the cash registers.

I went to work.

Despite being in blue, I couldn’t apprehend anyone here, I wasn’t a cop. All I could do was stop them from what they were doing.

I worked my way around the store, starting at the counter with the cash registers, a man in a blue jacket had a worker by the throat. I called out to him.

“Need help, man?”

He looked my way. He let go of the worker to grab the register itself.

“Sure, you can start by-”

I threw out my hands.

He flew, his back hitting the wall behind him, chips and sodas falling down when he did. Out.

I glanced at the worker. She was already running, fleeing to the back of the store.

I went on to check out another aisle. Two more, dressed like me, emptying out the shelves into large white sacks. Sad that Blue Santa had to resort to this.

The store was small, so there wasn’t anyone else in here, but the party was still going on outside. Earlier, while I said that I wasn’t angry about the fact I didn’t get the other two bank robbers, I could still make up for it by taking out these guys, and getting back outside in a flash.

Quick and easy. They were pretty close together, and they hadn’t noticed me. I rushed the one closest to me, pressing into him with my shoulder. Even that was enough to knock him into his partner, taking them both down. No point in pulling punches, better off not throwing them at all.

The store was all clear, now. Though, I couldn’t say the same for the rest of Temple Street.

Broken glass crumpled under my feet when I went back outside.

Pure anarchy.

A street vendor’s stand was on fire. Several were. Guitars, drums, sound equipment were being tossed out of venues, breaking even more windows. Even more burglaries, robberies, happening out in public. Dust and smoke were being kicked up into the air, a certain gloom curtaining this turn of events. Wailing, gnashing. Deafening, almost.

Those who were participating in these crimes were people in blue, in grey, in masks.

There was no order to anything. Just things. Things were happening, it was overwhelming, and I had no idea what to do.

I took the easiest and most available option. I tried talking about it.

“You said you wanted constant updates,” I said aloud. “I don’t think I need to tell you what’s going on right now.”

Hleuco response was calm. Was I supposed to take comfort in that? “No need. The reports are coming in. People are taking today more seriously than I’d like.

Briefly, I closed my eyes, blocking out the world. Thinking.

I opened my eyes.

“How everything went to hell so fast, it doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe one of the gangs set this up?”

Maybe, hard to tell when things are so hectic. Anyone can go and mimic your costume. It’s too easy. I’ve mentioned before you needed a better one, didn’t I?

I neglected to respond. He had mentioned it before, and while I understood his sentiments, zipping up a windbreaker was way easier than whatever he had in mind. But this riot right here was forcing me to change my stance on the matter.

But I wouldn’t admit that out loud.

I’ll take your silence as you agreeing with me, then. But that’s not our current issue. This will keep up, and your name and image will continue to be dragged in the dirt. With that being said, with things as they are, there’s not a lot you can do to stop everyone. Alright, no point in wasting your time there, we can figure something out later. Riot police are already mobilizing, if you don’t want to be caught in their crossfire, best pull out now, and don’t do any more.

No need to tell me twice.

“Is the pick-up spot still viable?” I asked.

Should be, I’m a few blocks away. Head over, without anyone following, and I’ll meet you there. Out.

It didn’t sit right with me, having to leave this scene as it was. But I was outnumbered, ill-equipped, and completely incapable of handling a situation like this. I’d have to leave it to the trained professionals, to the people who were actually supposed to be doing this job. As if I had a choice in the matter.

This was a loss I had to take.

And so early in my superhero career, too. A shame.

I bolted for my exit, mowing down anyone in my way. I would have jumped to gain some distance and onto a rooftop, but as far as anyone knew, I was just another rioter, mixed in with the rest.

For a moment, I had to descend into the darkness.

I headed into an alley between two bars, the riot not getting any quieter as I got farther in. I checked, and double-checked for anyone else around. No one. With one jump, I crossed the street, into another alley, and bounded up a fire escape to get access a building’s roof. I ran and jumped to cross more rooftops.

I had it mapped out in my head. How many streets I needed to go, how many buildings I needed to cross. It wasn’t too far, but I was already getting tired. I’d been running myself ragged all night, and that wasn’t in the itinerary.

I was going to need blood, and soon.

Finally, I made it into another alley, dropping into it from a building above. A black van to my right was already parked in wait. I headed over with no delay.

The large side door slid open, revealing a man in a suit. Hleuco. His hair was slicked back, his face obscured by a mask resembling a bird. Large goggles covered the eyes, and the front extended out into a beak and covered the mouth. A plague doctor’s mask, he specified once before.

“Welcome back, Blank Face,” he said, his voice no longer in my ear. “At least, I’m sure it’s the real you.”

“It is,” I said, curt. I got into the van. He slammed it shut while I took a seat, crossing my arms. I made a noise in annoyance. The van sped off.

As we moved, Hleuco tapped a finger on the steering wheel. He was more composed than I was, but I knew he was just as frustrated.

“This was certainly more of a ‘trick’ than a ‘treat.’” he said.

I didn’t nod, or do anything otherwise. I could only provide a comment of my own, summarizing my fourth official night out as Blank Face.

“Worst Halloween ever.”

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