Mariana Amor, biological mother of Izzy Amor (though calling her a mother in any sense other than biological would be something of a stretch), sat in a small motel room on the edge of Detroit. The room had two beds in it, one of which was covered with various clothes, bags, and suitcases, while the other was the one she had slept in for the past couple of weeks while waiting for the heat over what she had done to die down a little bit. Actually, she’d done more than sleep in the room. She’d barely left it at all aside from visits to the office to pay her bill a couple times, and the occasional trip to the ice or vending machines. All of her meals were delivered straight to the door. Five hundred thousand dollars went a long way for that.
Five hundred thousand dollars. Half a million. She could have gotten more. Mariana knew that. For a young, easily moldable and incredibly powerful Touched like her daughter? She could have gotten two, three, or even four times that amount. But she had been in a hurry. And she could work with five hundred thousand. It was a good nest egg to start over in a decent place with a new identity and nothing tying her down.
Or it would have been, if those Oscuro idiots had kept hold of Izzy and made sure the whole thing went as smoothly as they had promised it would. But no. They had to fuck the whole thing up. Now that Handler guy was gone, and she was being looked for by not just the cops and Star-Touched, but by the Oscuro people too. Because they wanted to clean up their mess.
Thankfully, everyone seemed to believe she had already left town. But she was still here in Detroit, in this motel right near the freeway. For now, anyway. But she’d already arranged for a way out of this hellhole and into that new life she’d always wanted. She just had to be patient. Even if that was hard, given how many times she’d woken up in the middle of the night in this shitty place, hearing the slamming of a car door or raised voices and become convinced someone was here for her.
It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair. She wasn’t a bad person. Izzy would’ve been fine with the Oscuro people. Sure, it might’ve been a bit rough at first, but with her power, she would’ve risen to the top of the ranks really quickly. And once she did, she would have been a force to be reckoned with. She would have been a real force in the city, living the high life. Mariana had tried to give her that, had tried to put her through a little tough love so she’d come out the other side with everything she could ever want. And for that, she’d only taken a little payment. Just enough to get her own real life started. But was Izzy grateful for that? Was she even a tiny bit happy that her mother had done the legwork to get her in the door of one of the strongest Touched groups in Michigan? No. Of course not, because she was an immature brat.
So, now Mariana had to get out of this place and get her new identity before any of those people managed to get hold of her. Luckily, she was smart. Too smart to live in some shitty condo playing nursemaid to one of the most powerful Touched in the city while the authorities squeezed them both dry. Mariana deserved better than that. After all, hadn’t she produced Izzy? She deserved to have a say in what her daughter did with her powers, not the jack booted government thugs who would never give mother or daughter what they were worth.
That line of thought was making her angrier by the moment, to the point that Mariana was barely paying attention to the television. Which just made her more annoyed, because this was one of her favorite shows and of fucking course this dump didn’t have good enough TV’s to let you rewind a live show, like any civilized place would. With a curse, she had just started to focus more when there was a soft knock on the door. It was a single knock, followed by a brief silence, then two knocks, then a pause, then one more. A code, because she wasn’t an idiot and had wanted to make sure anyone coming to her room was actually someone she wanted to talk to.
But naturally, of course after all this time, the person who was supposed to help her get out of this shitty city would choose now to do so. Right when Mariana was trying to focus on her show. Heaving a long sigh, she grabbed the remote and flipped it off. Hopefully this person was satisfied now. Honestly, why were people so damned inconsiderate? This was why she needed that money, so she could find a decent place to live, the kind of place she’d always deserved.
Stepping over to the door, she checked through the peephole first, just in case. Seeing a young, attractive blonde girl standing there with the shirt of a local pizzeria and two actual pizza boxes in her hands, she squinted before cracking the door a little bit (still leaving the chain in place). “I didn’t order any.”
The response from the teenager was an easy, bright smile. “Are you sure, ma’am?” she started while lifting the lid of the top box a bit. “I think this is exactly what you ordered.” Instead of a pizza in the box, there were papers, including a California driver’s license with Mariana’s picture and a different name, a social security card, even a birth certificate. It was everything she needed to get started in a new place. This was it, this was the person she’d been waiting for.
Quickly stepping back while unhooking the chain and opening the door, she ushered the girl in before shutting it. “Come on, come on. What the hell took you so long? I paid for premium service. Ten thousand dollars should get something a lot more prompt. I expected you hours ago.” As she finished with that, Mariana was already turning to walk over to one of her suitcases. She undid the combination lock, before reaching in to find an envelope.
In the meantime, the girl behind her spoke up. “It took a few hours to put everything together the way you wanted it. I assume you wanted quality product that’ll hold up to scrutiny, not something that would get you picked up the first time some patrolman pulls you over for a busted taillight and tries to run a five dollar job that was run off a color printer in some asshole’s basement.”
Forgetting her annoyance entirely, Mariana eagerly stepped that way to look at the open pizza box full of her new life that the girl had set on the empty bed. “It’s really that good?” she demanded, reaching out to take one of the documents before stopping to squint at her with a very firm, “I’m not paying you a single red cent until I get to look at them for myself.”
“Go ahead,” the girl allowed with a calm gesture while stepping back to give her all the room she needed. “I’m not worried about you taking it and running.”
Ignoring that, Mariana set the envelope full of cash down next to the box and began to go through all the documents. A new ID, a new passport, social security card, birth certificate, credit cards, school documentation, diploma, a bachelor’s degree from some university in California, it was all here. Everything she could possibly need to start her real life far away from this place. There was even a frequent flier card, and a couple for grocery store loyalty programs. Everything that would make her new identity look one hundred percent real.
“There’s still one thing we need to do,” the girl informed her while Mariana was eagerly examining all the documents. “These will get you a long way, but you were fingerprinted when your daughter went into the Minority system. Which means that if anyone takes your fingerprints, they’ll know you’re not who all these things say you are. But I can fix that. I can get your fingerprints out of their system. For an extra five thousand dollars.”
Snapping her gaze up at that, Mariana squinted. “You’re trying to shake me down for more now?”
“I’m offering you a service,” the girl replied simply. “This is what you’ve paid for. But I’m also telling you that this will fall apart if you get fingerprinted. For five thousand, I’ll remove that possibility right here so you can see for yourself. But if you don’t want that, feel free to take the risk. It’s up to you.”
For a moment, Mariana hesitated. She didn’t want to part with any more of her money. But on the other hand, better to lose five thousand now rather than all of it and her freedom later. Besides, if she ever wanted to get a job that involved being fingerprinted, this was probably a good idea.
“Fine,” the woman settled on. “But you better not be playing me, young lady. I’m paying for the premium service, and if I find out that this whole thing was some kind of racket, I swear…”
Adopting one of those clone-like customer service smiles, the blonde girl cheerfully assured her, “Oh, don’t worry. You’ll get everything you’ve been asking for, cross my heart and hope to die.”
With that announcement, she reached into the second pizza box and took out a laptop, setting it up on the nearby table. Humming briefly, the girl through several options on the screen quickly before stepping aside a bit to show her. “This is the database they use to store fingerprints for Touched and Touched relatives. As you might imagine, it’s supposed to be very secure.” A slight smile touched the girl’s face. “After all, they don’t want people finding Star-Touched identities through their fingerprints. Most of them wear gloves, but still.”
“If it’s supposed to be secure,” Mariana demanded, feeling even more like she was being played here, “how do you have access to it from a laptop in a motel room? That seems like the opposite of secure.”
“I’m not accessing it,” the girl replied, tilting the screen a bit to show her the view panning out to reveal that the image they had been looking at was actually being taken by a camera recording the screen of another computer inside what looked like a secure server room. “This is recorded video. I’m showing you what I already did.” As she said that, a gloved hand reached out to the now-visible keyboard, tapping at it briefly before bringing up Mariana’s entry. Navigating to the fingerprint portion, the hand hit a few more keys, replacing the recorded image of the prints and all associated markers with a different set, before saving it that way.
“So you show me a video of you doing this in some fake server room and I’m supposed to believe it’s real?” Mariana scoffed, squinting that way. “Just how naive do you think I am?”
“Just keep watching,” the young woman flatly insisted, her eyes not leaving the screen. The glove on the screen was pulled off to reveal her hand before apparently being put away. Then the view spun, turning to walk out of the room, past several more servers and monitors before reaching a reinforced glass door with a scanner beside it. A badge appeared and was swept past the scanner, prompting an affirmative beep before the door popped open and the view continued out into the hallway where people in uniform were walking around. A few looked up and nodded in greeting, but most were busy working.
While Mariana watched, the recording continued all the way through the building, past plenty of police officers and Touched-related authorities before eventually leading all the way out to the sidewalk. There, the apparently hidden camera was turned to reveal the actual, publicly known Star-Touched/Detroit Police liaison building. It was the closest thing to a Conservator and Spartan (the State-level Star-Touched team) base that was known to civilians.
Calmly while the view from the camera went dark, the blonde girl asked, “Satisfied?”
Mariana squinted briefly, but she couldn’t really argue with the footage. She had questions, that was for sure. But something told her the girl wasn’t going to tell her how she had pulled that off. On the other hand… “Why should I pay you to do something you’ve already done?”
She was rewarded with a smile. This one seemed more genuine. “First,” the girl informed her, “because as easy as it was to change that information, I could easily change it back again. Second, because if you tried to leave without paying me, you wouldn’t make it very far.” The flat statement came with absolute certainty, as if Mariana could no more make it past the girl than jump and touch the moon. “But those two reasons don’t matter. Only the third one does.”
“Oh, I’m paying you, I’m paying you,” Mariana snapped dismissively. “It was just a question, don’t be dramatic.” Even as she said it, the woman was digging out the extra five thousand. No sense in pushing things. “See, it’s right here?” Pausing with the cash in her hands as though only just then realizing something, she asked, “What was the third reason, anyway?”
“The third reason,” the girl explained with that same simple smile and calm voice, “is that it doesn’t matter anyway, because I’m taking all of your money. But you won’t be alive to care.”
Just as Mariana processed those words, her eyes widening while her mouth opened to scream, the girl lashed out with a lightning-fast punch. Mariana felt sudden blinding pain, staggering as her throat collapsed from the blow. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t breathe save for a little bit. The next thing she knew, her face was pressed down against the bed as the girl straddled her from behind, keeping her head down with one hand while ignoring all of Mariana’s panicked flailing. She was wheezing desperately, struggling to pull in the tiniest gasps of air.
“My name is Paige Banners,” the girl informed her. “I thought you should know that first. And you… you’re a bottom-feeding piece of shit. Do you know what you are? You’re a woman who sold her own daughter. You sold your own child. You had a wonderful, brilliant, strong little kid and what did you do? You sold her into slavery.”
Wheezing even harder, Mariana struggled desperately, head shaking as much as it could with the girl’s grip on it and her weight holding the woman down. She tried to protest, tried to give her explanation.
“Shut up,” Paige snapped. “I don’t care how you justified it to yourself. I’m telling you what you did, not how you lied about it in your own head. You sold your own child into slavery to a bunch of supervillains. You let them hurt her. You let them hurt your own child. You knew they were going to torture her. Torture her. You stupid, evil, pathetic little bitch. You knew they were torturing her, that they were going to keep torturing her. There’s two ways you leaving her with them could have played out. One, they end up killing her because she won’t do what they want. Two, they break her and she starts serving them. Which means she kills other people. That’s what you sentenced your own child to. That’s what you sold her into. Either she would have died, or she would have become a murderer, a monster. All so you could have half a million bucks.”
With that, Mariana found herself briefly free as Paige stepped off of her. She was still struggling to breathe, wheezing heavily and yet barely getting any air at all. Heaving herself over, she stopped short, staring at the pistol that the blonde girl was suddenly pointing at her.
“My father did what you tried to do.” Paige’s voice was eerily calm, the barrel looming in Mariana’s vision, leaving the girl’s own face rather indistinct. “He sold me. He used me. He’s still using me. He’s making me do things I don’t want to do. Things I don’t have a choice in.
“People who do that, people who sell their children just to get what they want, they don’t deserve to live. I hate my father. I hate him more than anything else in the world. I want him to sit on that island and rot. Unfortunately, I can’t stop him. I can’t hurt him. I can’t make him pay for what he’s done. But you? I can make you pay. I can make sure you never hurt anyone again.
“So I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. You’re going to die. And I’m going to take your body for a ride out of state. I’ll drop you in a ditch somewhere with your new identification. Then they’ll find you and you’ll be just another dead woman from California. Because you’re never going to hurt your daughter again. You are going to disappear. Your daughter isn’t going to feel guilty about you dying. She’s not going to wonder if she could have helped you. You’re going to drop out of her life and never appear again. Mariana Amor is going to disappear forever. Because you don’t deserve to have your daughter grieve for you.”
“And that money you were so proud of? Half of it is going to become an anonymous donation to an organization devoted to supporting the survivors of domestic violence and child neglect, and the other half is going to support adoption services and people who foster children. Because you might have been a piece of shit, but there are a lot of people better than you who can put that money to something worthwhile.”
Finally, Mariana managed to wheeze out the words, “Take… it… let… me…”
She never finished the sentence. Paige didn’t particularly care what she was going to say, pulling the trigger to send a single Tech-Silenced round through the woman’s forehead. Stepping back to let the body fall, she stowed the pistol at its holster on her back. The shot had been quiet as a whisper, but she still needed to be quick. She would clean up here, get the body into the car under the cover of night, then make the drive to drop it off as far away as possible. It was a four and a half hour drive to Chicago. Dumping the body somewhere in that city, then getting back would take all night. But that was fine.
Reaching into her pocket, she took out a couple latex gloves, and then got to work.