Poodle Lady

Becoming 2-01 (Summus Proelium)

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I ran until I couldn’t run anymore, sometimes using my paint to speed myself up, other times too distracted to remember it. The bruise on my leg hurt, but I ignored it. The scenery around me was a blur. I think there were people, some of them looking my way as I rushed past in my strange clothes and helmet. A few probably said something. But I didn’t pay attention. Their words were buzzing sounds in the back of my head while I ran past. Ran until I was exhausted. Ran until I could run no further and finally fell to my knees in the back of some empty parking lot somewhere, near a building with a dumpster that was surrounded on three sides by a short fence.

My eyes were flooded and blinded by tears as I half-lay there on the uneven, broken pavement. I made a noise deep in the back of my throat that some part of me recognized as more animal-like than human. It came again, louder, as I thought about what I had just seen.

My father was pretending to be a hero while sanctioning murder, while working with villains. My father, whom I loved more than I could say, the man I had looked up to my whole life… was a bad guy. More than that, he was pretending to be a hero. And not just any hero, but the one who happened to be my personal favorite. The man in my life whom I had looked up to the most, and the man out of my life whom I had looked up to the most were both the same person. And he was a bad guy. He ordered people to be killed. He… he…

I was on my feet. Lashing out hard, I kicked the nearby dumpster, sending pain through the bruise in my leg. Then I punched the dumpster, hard. It hurt, but it was a physical pain, which was a welcome distraction from what I was feeling. So I punched it again, cursing out loud. I hit the dumpster several times in quick succession, cursing louder with each strike of my fist against it.

I couldn’t breathe. Stumbling back, my hands pushed my helmet up and off, letting it fall to the ground. My face was still covered by the ski mask, and I yanked that up as well. Clutching the mask in one hand, I sucked in air greedily, breathing hard. My foot lashed out to kick the dumpster one more time, while I stared at the ground and heard my father’s voice once again talking about dumping me (not that he knew it was me) in the lake if I wasn’t useful for him. He’d said it with no hesitation, like it was normal for him. It was normal for him. Killing those two guys last night wasn’t a fluke or a one-time thing. It was normal. It was who my father was.

I couldn’t put that together with the man I knew. It was like they were two different people. My father was firm, but he loved me. He protected me. He was the hero in my life, and Silversmith was my favorite actual hero. And now they were both… he… he was both and he was a monster. He was… he ordered… he…

I kicked the dumpster again. As I did so, however, the back door of the building that I’d thought was empty was shoved open. Someone was standing there in the light, his gruff voice demanding, “Who the fuck is out there?! Hey! Hey, get away from that!”

He couldn’t see me very well, I knew that much. He’d just come from a brightly lit room and I was standing in the dark some distance away. At best, he could make out my outline. Quickly, I called, “Sorry!” Then I turned, grabbed my helmet off the ground, and ran. With my luck, he’d insist on trying to call either the cops or my parents if I stuck around, and I couldn’t deal with either right then. Especially not while I was dressed like this. That was a confrontation I wasn’t ready to deal with.

Running across the lot while the man gave a half-hearted yell for me to stay the hell away from his shop, I looked down at myself. I was still holding the helmet and mask, and the jumpsuit coverall things didn’t exactly blend in anyway. Not to mention, I had a long way to go if I was going to get back to where my regular clothes were hidden.

Tonight had been basically as far from a success as you could get, without me actually dying or being captured. I hadn’t actually accomplished anything aside from finding out about my dad being Silversmith.

Except I had. Belatedly, I realized that I still had my phone. Throughout that whole thing, I’d somehow remembered to drop it into the pocket of my coveralls while running for my life. I still had the video, short as it was, of my brother meeting with those Easy Eight guys, while standing with a gun in his hand. The video hadn’t actually recorded him doing anything illegal, but it was something. Maybe I could figure out what to do with it later.

Right now, I just wanted to… actually, I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t know what I wanted, but going home was basically the last possible thing. The idea of going back to that place while knowing everything I did made me want to start cursing and hitting things again.

I needed to clear my head. Walking around felt like a good idea, but I didn’t want to draw attention. So I did something about that. Focusing, I turned the bottom half of the coveralls white, while making the top half blue. I thought about it briefly before leaning over to look at my waist. Would this work? I made a space about one inch wide, all the way around, turn black, like a belt. As an added touch, I put in a bit of red right at the front, where the fake belt’s buckle and clasp would be.

It wasn’t going to fool anyone who got close, but in the dark, from a distance, I might not stand out. Enough to walk down the street, anyway. Especially after I looked around for a few seconds and found a discarded plastic grocery bag to shove my helmet and gloves into.

Okay, it still wasn’t perfect. But again, I could probably take a walk like this. Holding the bag with one hand, I started out. My eyes were down, watching the sidewalk ahead of me as I made my way down the street while cars passed me by. I wasn’t really thinking about where I was going, just that I needed to keep moving away from where I’d been.

My thoughts wandered, but always came back to that one thing. My father was a villain. My father was Silversmith. Silversmith was a villain. He was a bad guy. My whole family were… were..

I wanted to cry. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to hit things. I did none of that. I walked. For a long time, actually. It helped clear my head, helped me come to terms, at least as much as I could that quickly, with what I’d found out. I could breathe. It hurt, but I could think about it.

Okay, Dad was a bad guy. My whole family were bad guys. Pretty important ones too, if Dad was able to play at being the leader of the local Conservators. Dad was super-rich, powerful, and influential. He obviously had a hell of a lot of connections in both the Fell and Star-Touched groups. Heroes and villains, he was playing both sides. I didn’t know why or how he pulled it off, but he did.

Then there was that thing he’d said, about how they could maybe ‘use’ me no matter which side I fell on, as long as I didn’t know too much. Dad was confident that whether I, or rather, the boy he thought I was, wanted to be a hero or a villain, they could use me. Which obviously meant that he had even more contacts in both those worlds than I already knew about. Probably other Touched that either worked for him or did favors for him.

I couldn’t go to anyone. I realized that while walking along a dark side street that was only partially lit by a couple valiantly flickering street lamps, the buildings to either side long-since closed for the evening. A steady stream of cars passed, none paying any attention to me or to anything else in this neighborhood.

I couldn’t just go to the cops or flag down a random hero. Dad could have people–no, did have people involved with any or all of them. The second I told my story, if I was talking to the wrong person, or if they talked to the wrong person, things would get really bad, really fast.

So… what was I going to do about it? What could I do about it?

Nothing. Or at least, nothing that immediately came to mind. I had no idea who to trust, only that trusting the wrong person would be the end of this whole thing. For a second, I absurdly thought about, of all things, the game Minesweeper. I’d gotten… fairly good at that game from the semester that I’d been a librarian assistant during lunch back in junior high. It involved a lot of sitting at the desk doing nothing. I’d spent much of it playing games or browsing on my phone. But I’d also played a lot of Minesweeper on the ancient computer that sat there. Enough to know some of the basics, like the fact that it was normally impossible to lose on the first click because if there was a mine under the first tile that you clicked on, it would automatically be moved elsewhere. Your first move on a new board was always completely safe.

Too bad this wasn’t Minesweeper. Clearing this particular set of mines, finding the safe person to talk to about this, didn’t have that kind of safety net. Talking to the wrong person would let my family know exactly what was going on. It would set off all the mines. And I couldn’t chance that. Not yet.

So I couldn’t talk to anyone right now. Not until I knew some more. I was going to have to be very careful. Maybe… maybe I could find out why my parents were part of this. Maybe finding out why would help me figure out who I could trust. But if I did that, if I dug into their history, it… it was going to be dangerous. And I had no idea how or where to start. I couldn’t just wave and say, ‘Hi, Daddy, could you tell me how you became a supervillain pretending to be a superhero?’

All of which meant I was going to have to be subtle. Maybe I could sneak into Dad’s offices, either at home or at his company headquarters downtown (under the pretense of visiting him, of course). That might be a decent place to start, since I could get away with being around home or the offices. Especially if I was careful about it. I could maybe find something to give me a starting point at figuring any of this out.

Either way, right now it was time to go home. I could figure out more… or anything at all later. But I had to get back to where I’d left my clothes first. Looking down at my phone to orient myself, I winced a little. I’d been going completely the wrong way. If I was going to get back home before my parents started to wonder where I was, I’d have to get back there quick. And that meant using my paint and skates to speed things up.

Glancing around, I ducked back behind a fast food place before shifting my suit back to white, disabling the ‘disguise’, for what it had been worth. From the bag, I took the gloves, mask, and helmet, tugging them on one by one. If I was going to use my power to get back to my clothes, doing so without covering my face would probably be a bad idea.

With my identity safely hidden, I moved back out from behind the building and checked my phone once more while rolling back to the sidewalk on my skates. With a little help from my paint, I could take a few shortcuts and make it back to my clothes before–

“Hey! Hey!” A voice called out, making me jerk in surprise as I spun with my hands up defensively.

But it wasn’t one of Simon’s goons. Or any goon, as far as I could tell. Not unless they were employing elderly women carrying shopping bags in one hand and walking a poodle with the other. She even wore a sun hat with flowers on it. The lady was standing there, using the hand with the leash looped around it to point to me. “Hey,” she repeated for a third time, “you’re one of those superhero people, right?”

“Uh,” I managed after a second of staring at her dumbly.

“One of those Minority kids?” she guessed. “You change so much, I can’t keep up. But you, whatever you call yourself. Super-skating-kid. You should call your friends to do something about those guys back there.”

“Those… guys?” I echoed blankly.

My voice must’ve been muffled, or maybe she was hard of hearing, because the woman nodded. “Yes, sonny, the guys back there.” She pointed down the street. “Two of them, they just attacked that poor man. I think they’re mugging him. You should do something about it.”

“Call the cops?” I offered a bit weakly.

The woman laughed bitterly. “Oh sure, sweetie. Call the cops and wait thirty minutes for them to show up. You go right ahead and do that. Daisy and I have to get home. Maybe we’ll have time to bake a nice cake for the officers when they get here.”

Her dog barked at me once before they hurried off, leaving me standing there while the woman muttered something about the state of the city and what it was turning into.

For a few seconds, I just stood there. My eyes were glued to the alley down the street. It was far enough back that I could barely make it out, and in a completely different direction than the way I needed to go. Some guy right now was back there getting mugged and beat up. A guy I didn’t know, who had nothing to do with me. I could call the cops, could even do so anonymously with the Doephone app. But it was like that woman had said, they would take at least half an hour to get out here. That would be too late. The damage would be done. The damage was being done even as I stood there, caught in my own indecision.

I skated that way. Wheels gliding along the pavement, I found myself rushing without consciously realizing what I was doing. Hitting the opposite sidewalk, I turned my skates black and activated the silencing power for the last distance before reaching the alley in question.

Even then, I could hear faint sounds coming from it. Sounds of… bad things. Forcing back the fear that was trying to shove its way up out of my stomach, I coasted to a stop, catching myself against the wall of the building. For a second, I just stood there, asking myself what the hell I thought I was doing.

More sounds came, and this time I was close enough to make them out. First was the sound of a whispered plea, then the shuffling of feet on pavement before that of a fist colliding with someone’s stomach. Then a grunt of pain accompanied by a violent wheeze of air from the person being hit.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I mouthed a silent prayer before peeking around the corner, just in time to see two men. No, three. The third was doubled over from being struck. They were all standing in front of a door at the back of that alley. One of the standing guys was shoving the door open, revealing darkness beyond. The guy who was doubled over said something that sounded like a plea, before the one standing in front of him caught him by the back of the neck, yanked him around, and shoved him through the open doorway. I caught a glimpse of the guy tripping to sprawl out over the floor just beyond. He said something then, another desperate plea that I could barely hear.

The guy who had thrown him in stalked after the guy, rearing back to kick him. Meanwhile, the one who had opened the door suddenly paused before starting to turn to look back up the alley.

I jerked back out of the way, throwing myself against the wall while my heart tried to beat its way out of my chest. I stayed there, whispering silent prayers until I heard the heavy metal door close. Once the clang came, I took a breath before chancing a peek around the corner once more.

The alley was empty. They were inside that building, with that guy.

Putting my back to the wall once more, I reached up to shove the front of my helmet up out of the way before pushing my hands against the ski mask that covered my face to muffle the whimper of revulsion and fear that escaped me.

Who was that guy? Who were they? What did they want with him? Why were they just… hitting and kicking him, and what did they plan to do with him in there?

The only thing close to an answer I had was to the last question, and that was ‘nothing good’.  That woman was wrong, this wasn’t just a mugging. If it was a mugging, they wouldn’t have taken him in there. This was something else. The fear I’d heard in the man’s pleas… I couldn’t hear his actual words, but he had obviously been terrified. Whatever was going on, whoever they were… he was afraid they would kill him. I had no doubt about that. He had been begging for his life.

Just like those guys had last night. The two guys in that motel who had been executed right in front of me. I’d heard one of them screaming, begging for his life after the first had been shot in the head. Then he too had been silenced. Mercilessly, coldly executed.

But what could I do? I’d screwed up earlier. All I’d been trying to do was get video proof of what Simon was doing, and that had gone so wrong I’d barely escaped. I had run away. Just like I had last night. I had seen those guys get killed, and the only thing I’d done was run away.

First I had stood there, watching as they were murdered. Then I had run away. And now… now it was the same thing. Now this other guy was going to be killed. I’d stood there, watching him be dragged into that building where he would probably be executed, just like those guys last night.

I would wake up tomorrow  knowing that, whether it was in the news or not, another man had been killed because I did nothing. Three in two nights. Three men killed because I stood there and watched, because I was too afraid to do anything about it. Three men killed while I hid and then ran.


Not three.

Not tonight.

Not this one.

I straightened from the wall, pushing myself off it. My hand found the front of my helmet and shoved it back down into place with a firm click. Turning, I stepped around to stand in front of the alley, facing that door, beyond which I had no idea what I would find. But I did know one thing.

I wasn’t running away this time.

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