Frank Harrington

Interlude 2C – Carousel (Summus Proelium)

Previous Chapter                                 Next Chapter

“Jae!” The shouted name was accompanied by a series of increasingly loud knocks against the wooden door. “Come on! Get up! I’m gonna be late for work, and you know what happens then? They don’t hire me for another episode and you’ll have single-handedly destroyed my career! Come on!” The cajoling words were punctuated by two more quick bangs against the door, and a heavy, audible sigh.

Sitting up in bed, Jae Baek opened her eyes, glancing around the small room. The bed itself took up about half the space, while her dresser and desk occupied a substantial portion of what was left. The albino-Asian girl slipped her legs off the bed into the single bit of open space right between her desk chair, her bed, and the door. Just as another knock started to come, she opened the door (very nearly taking a fist to the forehead in the process). Standing there in her pajama bottoms and tee shirt, she faced the woman outside the door. Or rather, she faced the woman’s shoes. Jae’s gaze remained low, as usual, while her voice was also soft and polite. “Good morning, Kella. I’ll be ready in ten minutes, as soon as I shower.”

“Hurry,” the overly botoxed and heavily bleached blonde woman urged, annoyance clear in her voice. “I don’t have time to wait around while you sleep in to all hours. Some of us have responsibilities, you know.” With that, she spun on a heel and walked away, high heels clicking on the hardwood floor.

With a quiet sigh, Jae turned to take clothes from the nearby dresser before heading for the bathroom across the hall. She could hear the woman making as much noise as possible in the kitchen, just to make it absolutely and perfectly clear how annoyed she was at having to wait.

With a soft sigh, as the things she could have said to the woman flooded her mind, Jae stepped into the bathroom and closed the door. It wasn’t worth the fight, even if she had been brave enough. Kella Song was her… step-adopted mother, of sorts. It was complicated. Jae, along with six other ‘ethnic’ children of varying ages (Jae being the youngest), had first been adopted by Timothy Wallace and Andrea Mars. The former was producer and director of various television shows, while the latter was an actress who had served as lead or co-lead of a couple movies and one long running drama series, the latter of which she had received awards and great accolades for.

A couple decades earlier, an award-winning television actress and her director-producer husband might have seemed very… out of place in Detroit, of all places. At least if they wanted to have any kind of career. But with the resurging economy in these past twenty years, and a rebuilt infrastructure, the city had become a good stand-in for other larger cities such as New York. It was useful when shows lacked the funding to actually film where they were supposed to be set.

In any case, Jae and her adopted siblings had been taken in by Andrea Mars and Timothy Wallace as part of a… giving back to the community or… something. With their wildly varying and nicely photogenic ethnicities (especially Jae hitting the mark of both Asian and albino), the two could parade their children around to show how much they cared about minorities.

That wasn’t fair. Timothy (she had never and would never refer to him as father) may have mostly seen the children for what they could do for his image, but Andrea had been the opposite of what Jae thought a vapid actress would be. She had genuinely cared for all of them, and spent as much time as she could with the group. It was Andrea who helped pull Jae at least a little out of the shell she had spent so long in before being adopted at the age of nine.

For a few years, things had been nice. Jae got to know her new siblings and mother, learned not to expect anything from Timothy, and actually began to enjoy herself. Even her small room was a personal choice rather than anything forced on her. Jae preferred not having a lot of space. That was the way she had grown up, in foster home after foster home. It was what felt natural.

But the time with her new family didn’t last. When Jae was thirteen, Andrea suffered a traumatic ruptured brain aneurysm and passed away before even reaching the hospital. Within a couple years of that, each of her adopted siblings had moved on to college or other things (Andrea had been the glue that kept them together), leaving Jae the only child in the house, and often the only person in the house, as Timothy took more jobs that kept him away.

It was that feeling of being abandoned, of having had a real (if unconventional) family for such a brief time before it was snatched away to leave her alone in a silent, dark house that had driven Jae to such emotional extremes that her Touched-sphere had appeared. The sphere which had given Jae her powers and introduced her to a new unconventional family, the Minority.  

Then Kella happened. Though she was younger than Andrea had been (and much younger mentally), the woman had already used enough plastic surgery to qualify for some kind of frequent patient award. She was a thirty-something clinging to her teens and the very short-lived success she’d had as an actress back then. And she was certainly in no mood or mindset to actually help raise a teenager when she herself had never truly grown beyond being one.

Kella and Timothy were married just before the man himself found great success once more on another show. That kept him very busy, so he was rarely home. Which left Kella and Jae alone most of the time. Kella, at Jae’s request, knew nothing about her being Touched or a member of the Minority. Timothy did, but he said nothing to Kella. For all the faults he may have had as far as actually spending much time with his adopted children went, he did keep his promises. And he had promised not to tell Kella until or unless Jae asked him to.

Besides, it wasn’t as though the woman ever expressed that much interest in anything Jae did.

What she was interested in was drinking. And also taking as many roles as she could. Even if those roles were almost exclusively either commercials or extremely minor ‘day player’ roles on an established show.

The drinking part was what had gotten her license revoked. Which meant that with her husband gone so often, the woman either took cabs or other ride sharing services to get to her roles, or she relied on Jae to drive her. Most of the time it was that second one, as it didn’t cost money.

Showering quickly before dressing, Jae made her way back out to find Kella waiting for her in the kitchen. The woman held out a bagel with sausage, egg, and cheese stuffed into it that she had taken from a box and heated in the microwave. “I made you breakfast,” she announced. “Come on, let’s go. If I’m late for this shoot, do you have any idea what that’ll do to my career?”

With a quiet, “Thank you,” Jae took the breakfast sandwich. It was nice of Kella, even if she was still acting so incredibly impatient. The woman wasn’t horrible (aside from that whole drinking problem), just… self-centered and not really the type of person to raise or care for a minor. She didn’t know how to handle Jae. Microwaving breakfast for her while demanding she be driven to her work because she’d lost her license for driving under the influence was par for the course.

She wasn’t abusive. She was… complicated. And unreliable. Complicated and unreliable, that summed up Kella Song well enough. She had never intended to be any kind of mother.

Heading outside while taking a bite of the bagel sandwich, Jae silently opened the back door and waited for Kella to get in, the woman making a muttered production about how much the director was going to chew her out for being late. Then Jae got in the front, starting the car before checking the time. She still had about forty minutes before classes started. Plenty of time to drop Kella off and get to school.

Did Kella even remember that Jae had school to go to after this? She genuinely wasn’t sure.

But hey, at least today would hopefully be less exciting than yesterday and last night had been. Jae just hoped no one lit any fuses on the powderkeg today. Or at least that they would wait until after school to do it.

It would just sort of be nice to get through all of her classes without having to go fight any supervillains.

******

On second thought, supervillains would have been nice. At least she could hit those problems.

That was the thought that occured to Jae a short time later, as she stood facing her locker. The actual lock part had been broken (not for the first time), and the door stood open to reveal an exciting collection of hate and vile.

First, there was the fact that everything in the locker reeked beyond belief, as what seemed to be a combination of sour cream, old milk, and rotten eggs had been thrown inside at some point the day before. It also looked like there were some mushed bananas in there for some reason.

On the door of the locker was a taped bit of paper that read, ‘Just in case you want to be even whiter, freak.’ Below that, written in marker on the door itself, were a series of notes, some barely legible. They reached all the way to the bottom of the locker, most written in different handwriting. Among other things, they read,  ‘Fuck off, mutant’, ‘Get out of our school’, ‘Eat shit and die’, and ‘Are you cuntagis? Cuz I’ll still fuck you if you put a bag over your head.’

It went on like that, with other fun misspellings and bits of horrific grammar.  And dicks. Lots of dicks. They were drawn all over the inside of her locker. One enterprising person had even gone beyond drawing to tape up an actual photograph of a penis.

Quietly, to the point of barely being audible, Jae whispered to herself, “For people who think that I’m such an untouchable freak, they sure are eager to let me know they have penises ready to go.”

It made her smile just a little bit, though it was a smile touched with resignation. With a sigh, she closed the locker door and turned to find the nearest janitor. In the process, she nearly ran right into Amber, the two of them both jerking back at the last second.

“Jae!” the dark-haired girl blurted. “God, do you smell that?” Her nose wrinkled. “What the hell is it?”

Quietly, Jae replied, “I think someone’s lunch went bad.” Leaving it at that, the girl started to walk. She was not going to have her teammate and friend feeling sorry for her. Or worse, trying to take care of it herself. Jae knew Amber well enough to be certain she would start throwing people around until someone talked. And as much as the girl would have appreciated the gesture, this was something she needed to deal with herself, or not at all.

The two of them walked together, talking for a few minutes until Jae said that she’d forgotten something. They were near Amber’s first class (a purposeful move), so she said goodbye to the other girl before heading back the way she’d come. On the way, she felt her friend’s eyes on her, but resisted the urge to look back. It only would have confirmed Amber’s obvious suspicions.

Instead, Jae made her way to one of the janitorial closets. There was usually at least one of the custodial staff around there right as school was about to start.

Sure enough, Frank Harrington was there, just filling one of his mop buckets. When Jae approached, the man looked up, smiling broadly. “Well, if it isn’t the only kid in this school who ever beats me at Scrabble. You up for a tie-breaker match later?”

“Maybe,” Jae agreed before adding, “Could I borrow some cleaner and a rag? I spilled some of my lunch in my locker yesterday and didn’t notice.”

Raising an eyebrow, Frank gave her an unconvinced look. “You spilled it?”

She met his gaze, pausing briefly before giving a single short nod. Her voice was even softer than usual. “I’m sorry.”

For a moment, it looked as though he might push things further. The man knew something else was wrong, and was clearly wondering if he should take this to the administration. In the end, he handed over a spray bottle, several rags, and some kind of air freshener. As Jae took them, he hesitated before speaking up. “You come back for that rematch, you hear? I’m gonna take the crown.”

“What crown?” the girl found herself asking.

“I’ll make a crown,” he declared, “and then I’ll take it.” Pointing at her, he added, “Next Monday. Lunch. You bring that thesaurus you call a brain and I’ll bring a crown. Got it?”

She agreed before taking the cleaning supplies and heading back to her locker. The bell would ring in the next few minutes, but she had time to at least start cleaning things out.

The books that were covered in the… stuff were all put in a plastic bag after being wiped off as well as she could. Several notebooks and loose bits of paper were thrown away, but she was able to salvage her favorite pencil case that she’d had since the first day of school after being adopted. Andrea had given it to her, with a note written on the inside about being part of a family.

Taking the case, Jae smiled while opening it, only for her smile to fall immediately. It hadn’t gotten away unscathed after all. Over the note that her now-deceased adopted mother had written, someone had used marker to scrawl, ‘Ghost Slut.’

Clutching the box tightly with both hands, Jae closed her eyes. She was breathing harder, the rage boiling up before she could get a handle on it. Of all the things to ruin, of all the things they could have destroyed, they chose to scrawl those hateful words over a beautiful note written by the woman who had adopted her. A woman who was no longer around.

No. No. She would have stood for other things. She would have gritted her teeth and bore it, for the most part. But this? This was too far. This was something she would not just ignore.

First, Jae finished cleaning the locker as well as she could, including scrubbing off the vile marker scribblings. She hesitated over the writing in her box, but was afraid that any attempt to clean off that ink would also wipe away what remained of Andrea’s note. In the end, she pushed the box into her bag and straightened up.

The rest of the vandalism could have been anyone. But the specific note in her pencil box? She knew who had done that. One person had started calling her Ghost Slut, Casper The Friendly Whore, and other variations of that theme. There were others who used it now and then, but she knew this was the work of the person who had started it.

And she knew what to do about it.

******

Jae’s chance didn’t come until fourth period. That was the first time she shared a class with…  Arleigh Fosters. At the beginning of the school year, Arleigh’s then-boyfriend, Price, had made the mistake of saying that he thought Jae was cute and exotic. It had been a stupid thing to say to someone as prone to jealousy as Arleigh was, but he hadn’t actually meant anything that bad by it. To Price, it had been an offhand comment that he immediately forgot about. But it had boiled up and blossomed into a full on rage fit from the Arleigh, who became convinced that Jae was sleeping with him. She had all-but attacked her at the end of September, until Price stepped in. He’d broken up with her then, while making it clear that he and Jae were not a thing.

But that hadn’t helped. Arleigh was utterly certain that Jae had been the one to break them up, and ever since that day, all of incredibly-rich girl’s hangers on and friends had made it their life’s mission to make Jae feel like a freak.

Now that she thought about it, Jae knew what today had been about. It was around this time the year before when Arleigh and Price had become a thing. This must have been the day that would’ve been their anniversary, renewing the hatred in the girl enough to make her lash out again.

As luck would have it, Jae’s desk was situated directly behind Arleigh. The tall, blonde girl was already there, staring at Jae with a smug, self-satisfied look that made it even more clear she was the one responsible. With her phone in one hand, the girl made a point of typing out some kind of text, glancing up at Jae once more, smirking again, then typed some more.

“Alright, alright, alright, people!” Mr. Hughes announced while coming into the room. “You know the rules. Phones away. That includes you, Miss Fosters.”

With a sickly sweet smile, Arleigh replied, “Of course, Mr. Hughes.” She then set the phone down on top of the book bag at her side, giving the girl behind her one last glare.

Jae ignored her, sitting down with her gaze on the desk. Or at least, it would appear to be to everyone else. In reality, she was watching Arleigh’s phone, and keeping a look out for anyone paying too much attention. Luckily, everyone was too busy listening to Hughes as the man began to go over the results of a quiz they’d just taken the day before.

Once Jae was certain the coast was clear, she focused on the phone on top of Arleigh’s bag. Stretching out her power, she felt it pick up the phone, shrinking it down to about the size of a marble before it floated up under her desk. Jae was able to grab hold of it and put the phone in her lap without anyone noticing.

From there, she divided her attention between Mr. Hughes and the phone, making sure it was silenced before opening up the messaging app and scrolling through. As expected, Arleigh spent a pretty big portion of her conversations with people insulting other people, many of whom she was also having conversations with insulting the people she was having the first conversations with. She was talking behind everyone’s back.

Taking as many screenshots of the various conversations as she could, Jae then went about sending those screenshots to the people who were being talked about. All of the insults, all of the catty remarks about their personal problems, all the times that Arleigh had spilled some close personal secret to someone else just so they could mock the person in question, all of it. She screenshotted all of it and sent dozens of messages to as many contacts as she could.

Already, the phone was starting to blow up with responses demanding to know what the hell was going on. Still, as one last measure, Jae opened up Arleigh’s Facebook account and proceeded to upload all the screenshots there as well, posting them publicly.

Finally done, she looked around once more. By that point, Mr. Hughes was deep into his lecture for the day, and everyone was taking notes. Using her power again, she sent the phone back out, carefully letting it spin around her desk until it was positioned just above the other girl’s bag. Then she let it fall back into place. One of the students beside her noticed something, glancing over as if he’d seen the tiny marble-sized phone out of the corner of his eye. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, he shrugged and went back to paying attention to the teacher.

After that, Jae focused on class. When it was over, she straightened from her desk and headed out without sparing a glance toward the girl in front of her.

She was all the way to the door before hearing the shrill, panicked, “What the fuck!?

Previous Chapter                                 Next Chapter

Advertisements

Becoming 2-06 (Summus Proelium)

Previous Chapter                               Next Chapter

Okay, okay. I had to check Adrian’s house. Maybe he was home sick and just hadn’t been able to call in. I couldn’t panic too much yet. I could check his home. Of course, to do that, I’d have to know his address, and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t tell me at the office even if I asked nicely.

So I had to find another way to get the address, and I had to do it asap. Because if he really was in trouble, every second counted. But how? How was I supposed to get something like that?

The custodial office. It was down in the basement with a bunch of storage rooms. I knew that much, though I’d never actually been down there. There was an unlabeled gray door just behind the east stairwell. According to plenty of other students, that was the door the janitors used to go down to their office. If Adrian’s address was going to be anywhere, it was there.

Unfortunately, I was pretty sure they’d object to a student just walking in there. And that was a conversation I didn’t want to have, especially if they decided to call my parents about it. I needed an excuse in case… or rather, when someone saw me.

Thinking quickly, I glanced around carefully to make sure no one was watching before looking down. Unbuttoning the black blazer with Cadillac Preparatory School written across it, I pulled it off and focused on part of it to make a spot of white appear in an uneven circle, so it didn’t look perfect. Once there was a big blotch of white, I tucked the blazer under my arm and headed for the door to the basement.

It wasn’t locked or anything. The door opened easily as soon as I pulled at it, and I quickly made my way down a narrow set of stairs. There weren’t supposed to be any students this way, so the whole place was a lot more bare bones. The stairs were concrete, the walls were unpainted, lighting was barely sufficient. It was all just as much as they needed, nothing more.

At the bottom of the stairs was an ugly hallway with lime green walls and an orange floor. Seriously, who did the color scheme for this? It was just gross. I was absurdly tempted to just fix it for them. There were also stains all over the place, as well as chipped and broken bits of wall. It stretched on in both directions away from the stairs, with a bunch of unlabeled doors. There was, however, a white arrow on the wall ahead of me pointing to the right with ‘office’ written under it. Good enough. I started that way.

As expected, I barely made it six steps or so before a man in a custodial uniform came around the corner ahead. Seeing me, he quickly walked over. “Hey, hey, son, what do you think you’re–uh, oh. Sorry, miss. What are you doing down here? You shouldn’t be here.”

Adopting an apologetic and somewhat mortified look, I held the blazer up. “I know, I know. But um, someone spilled something on my jacket and… look at it. I was hoping you guys might have something that could get it out before I have to tell my parents that I need a new one again.”

Blinking, the man took the blazer, staring at it. “What… this looks like paint. What happened?”

I shrugged. “Dunno. I was outside and it was sitting next to me and someone spilled… something. They didn’t stick around long enough to ask. Does that mean you can’t get it out?”

Seeing the hopeful puppy-dog look I gave him, the man grimaced. “I… I dunno. But fine, come on. Just don’t touch anything, for the love of God. I don’t need one of you kids getting hurt down here. Stay with me, let’s see what we’ve got.” Turning on his heel, he walked back the way he’d come, turning my blazer over in his hands as he muttered about why a kid had paint.

Following the guy down the hall, around the corner, and through an open door on the right side of that second corridor, I found myself in a simple break room. There was a card table in the middle surrounded by several chairs, a long counter across from the door with some boxes on it, a fridge and microwave to the left, and another doorway next to that. Meanwhile, on the right side of the room there were several large metal cabinets and another long table with more boxes on it. There was also a second doorway. The custodian I was with went to one of those cabinets, opening it up before starting to dig around inside. I could see a handful of cleaning bottles, rags, and other things like that. He was turning bottles around, checking for something that might help.

While he was doing that, I took a couple steps further into the room, glancing through that open doorway next to the fridge. It was an office, with a desk and an old computer. Perfect.

Unfortunately, if I was going to use it, I had to make sure this guy was busy. But how?

The doorway next to where he was working. Looking that way, I saw a storage room with a bunch of stuff piled up in there, including more cleaning supplies.

Mouthing a silent apology, I pointed at a couple of those industrial-sized bottles of cleaning solution, sending a bit of red paint to them and another bit to the floor. One second later, I activated the paint, sending those bottle flying down with a loud crash. Cleaning stuff instantly soaked the floor, pouring out rapidly.

“What the– damn it!” the poor janitor who was helping me blurted as he stepped over to see what that sound was. He set my jacket aside and quickly moved to grab a nearby mop.

While he was busy focusing on that, I silently slipped into the office. Moving as fast and silently as I could, I stepped to the computer, shot a tiny bit of black paint near the numpad to mask the sound, and typed Adrian into the search bar. It took a few seconds, but a few files popped up. I clicked the one labeled employee information.

I didn’t have time to read it. I just control-f’d my way to Adrian’s spot, made sure his info was on-screen, and took a quick picture with my phone. Then I closed the file and stepped out of the room. In all, it took me about twenty seconds or so.

It was almost too long. I barely made it out of the room before the janitor looked over at me. “Hey, look, kid, you probably shouldn’t be in here. Hang on.” He stepped out of the storage room, moving over to take my blazer from the table where he’d dropped it. Then he grabbed an orange spray bottle from the shelf. “Spray this stuff on the spot and rub it in with a clean cloth. Let it sit for about five minutes, then do it again. Run it under cold water until it’s soaked through, then do spray it one more time. That should take care of it. Hopefully. When you’re done, give that bottle to the nearest custodian. Okay?”

I agreed, taking the bottle before quickly fleeing. It wasn’t like I actually needed it, but I sure wasn’t going to tell him that.

Once I was out of the basement, I walked quickly through the hall while glancing at my phone to find the picture I’d taken. There it was, Adrian’s address. His name was there too, Adrian Perez. I typed the address into the maps app of my phone and got a hit of about fifteen blocks away. Okay, I could do this. I just had to get to his place as soon as possible. Like right now.

I didn’t want to attract attention, so instead of running through the hall once I grabbed my bag from my locker, I sort of speed-walked until I hit the nearest exit. That took me out to the side field, where I picked up the pace, moving past some people who were studying and eating, then started to jog once I reached the grass. Finally, I was running across the back field, ignoring a few of the people out there who called out or waved. I just had to keep moving.

Reaching the nearest empty alley, I took a second to drop the bag and crouched behind a dumpster. Unzipping the bag, I started to yank my costume out. Changing right now felt like wasting time that I didn’t have. But on the other hand, I could move much faster if I could actually use my power. And that meant keeping my identity secret.

Besides, if Adrian was in trouble, I doubted a few seconds right now would make that big of a difference. I just had to hope that… well, I hoped for a lot of things. I really hoped he was just sick. Please, Adrian. Please just be so sick you couldn’t call in.

Once I was changed, I slid the helmet on my head, snapped the front of it down into place, and then looked up. The building I was next to was about five stories high, with no fire escape or anything to climb. Not that I needed it. In fact, maybe I really didn’t need it.

“Alright,” I murmured under my breath before pointing with both hands. “Let’s try it.”

With those words, I shot a spot of red paint from both palms. The first time I missed entirely, overshooting the roof. Then I adjusted down a bit and tried again. That did it. There were two spots of red paint right near the top of the wall. After that, I just turned my gloves red and activated the paint.

It worked. Holy God did it ever work. I was instantly yanked off my feet, and hurled upward. A startled yelp escaped me, even though I thought I was expecting it. I went flying five stories into the air before crashing into the wall where the paint was. It didn’t really hurt. I was only moving fast enough for it to feel like I had fallen a little ways. It still stung a bit, and I would’ve lost my grip to really fall if the paint hadn’t been doing all the work. But there I was. No running up the wall, no aided super jump, I just used my paint and went straight from the ground to very near the top of a five story building in the span of a couple seconds. Holy crap!

Shaking off the amazement, I scrambled over the edge of the wall and onto the roof. Giving my phone a quick glance to orient myself, I looked the right way. There was another building around the same height and not too far apart. Then another beyond that one that was a little taller, and so on.

“Okay,” I announced aloud, checking to make sure my voice changer was working. “Let’s do it. Skate out now.” On command, the wheels of my pace-skates popped out. Then I pushed off, skating hard for the edge of that roof while silently telling myself I was insane.

Reaching the edge of the roof, I put purple stars over my legs while readying myself. At the last second, I used the extra strength the purple paint gave me to leap over the gap between the buildings, five stories up. My arms windmilled a bit as I flew through the air… before landing smoothly on the next roof over. The fact that it worked so well almost made it not work, as I very nearly spun out from my own surprise. But I caught it, thinking about Adrian as I pushed off again for the next roof.

That one was taller by a few stories. But I was ready for that. Skating faster across the roof, I went right to the edge and jumped once more. This time, I snapped my hand up, shooting out a spray of red paint. Unlike when I’d skated along the wall of the room last night and run out of paint, I didn’t make a huge blast of the stuff. Instead, I shot out two thin lines, just enough for my wheels to hit. Because I didn’t need to be exact. The second I got close enough and activated the paint while turning my wheels red, they instantly snapped to the right spots on the building.

That was a bit jarring, and I grunted. It was going to take some getting used to. Suddenly, I was skating along the wall of the building. To my left was the long drop to the ground. To my right was the roof. And I was skating on a pair of thin red lines, right toward the corner of the building. My skates maintained their momentum, carrying me to that edge so fast I almost didn’t react in time before hitting the end of both my red lines, and the building itself.

But I did react. At the last possible instant, I managed to shoot a bit of blue paint right at the edge of the roof, sending myself flying as my skates hit it. My hand pointed across the street, and I shot a spray of red that way, hitting a building there before activating it. It took a second to kick in, a second in which I was literally free-falling off the side of the building I’d just been skating across, and toward the busy street below.

Then the paint kicked in, and I was yanked through the air, shooting right toward the building. Below, I could see a few cars slowing down, drivers sticking their heads out to look in confusion. But I ignored that, because I had to focus. Focus… had time it just right…

Now! Before I actually reached that building on the far side of the street, I changed the color of my gloves back to white, disabling the yank from the red paint. At the same time, I shot another pair of thin red lines along the side of that building, while shifting my skates to match it once more. Just to be on the safe side, I painted a couple orange stripes across my legs.

Again, it worked. It fucking worked. My body was snapped around in mid-air so that I hit the side of the building feet first, the orange paint helping me absorb the impact. Then I was skating once more, moving right along those thin red lines as I used the momentum from my trip through the air to keep myself moving even faster.

Then I hit the edge of that roof. There was another building right across from it that was only slightly taller. Even better, there was an antenna sticking up above that roof. As I reached the end of the building I was skating sideways along, my hand snapped out to shoot yet another spot of red that way. It hit the antenna, and my suddenly-red gloves took me sailing toward it.

I cleared the roof, raising my legs at the last instant to avoid slamming them into the wall before turning my gloves white. As the connection with the red paint on the antenna was cut, I dropped to the roof, landing on my wheels as the momentum kept me rolling onward.

Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit! I’d done crazy stuff before, especially on the skates. But this? This was… this was…

This was so fucking cool!

I eased up on the paint a little bit then, skating to the edge of that building before jumping to one across from it that was near enough for me to make it without much help. And that was basically how the rest of my little trip to Adrian’s place went. I skated across the roofs, along the sides of buildings, jumped from roof to roof, and so on. I used blue paint to propel myself higher, red paint to yank myself around, purple paint to boost my jumps in conjunction with the blue, and orange paint to absorb what should have been damaging falls.

Through it all, people noticed. I heard a few horns honking, and a couple onlookers waved. Maybe it was silly, but I waved back. Worried as I was, terrified as I was that something bad had happened to Adrian, I still waved as I passed them. It just felt like the right thing to do.

Before nearing the place in question, I made sure to be less obvious, sticking to the top of the roofs instead of along the walls. I stayed low while skating across the last roof before Adrian’s apartment building, pulling my skates in entirely before dropping to my stomach at the edge of the roof. There, I peered over to look down at the building in question.

Right, it was a building. The roof was several stories below this one, and the place didn’t exactly look like it was in the best shape. But I also couldn’t really tell anything else. Which was obvious. I had to get inside, to Adrian’s actual apartment. According to his file, it was apartment 5G. And since that was a five story building, it was on the top floor.

The roof was empty, so I backed up, took a running start, and used a bit of purple to boost myself in a jump that way. Orange rings along my legs shielded me from the damage as I landed in a crouch on the roof in question.

“Okay,” I murmured to myself, “stealth mode.”

My costume turned black. In broad daylight.

“Stealth mode is easier at night.”

Still, I was able to get to the roof access door and test it carefully. It wasn’t locked. Probably so that people could come out here and smoke or whatever. Either way, it worked for me. I slipped in, carefully making my way down the stairs there.

The sound of voices reached me, and I stopped abruptly before reaching the bottom of the stairs.

“Yeah,” one voice announced, “they’ve got him down at the motel. No luck so far.”

Another voice incredulously retorted, “Does this guy want to lose one of those little ankle biters?”

The voices were coming from down the nearby hall. Very, very carefully, I kept my head low and barely peeked around the corner. Two guys. They were standing near one of the apartment doors, facing each other as they spoke.

“He says all he did was drop the guy off at the bus station. But the bosses don’t believe him. They think he knows something else and just needs a little motivation to bring it out.”

The second guy shook his head. “Shit man, I’m glad it’s Ted in there with those kids and not me.”

“Got that right,” the first agreed. “Course, it’s bad luck for those kids in there.

“Because the second the bosses call and say to make an example of one of ‘em, he ain’t gonna hesitate.”

Previous Chapter                               Next Chapter