Like most of you few who read my
drivel, I live in Paragon City. Day in and day out, we're eyewitness
with nary a flinch to things that would make people anywhere else in
the world doubt their sanity. Our local news reports on giant
octopus attacks and zombie uprisings with the nonchalance most other
cities' broadcasts reserve for informing the public of Toys-for-Tots
drives. Here, you get used to it – you stop questioning the things
you see and just accept that this is what happens in the City of
Heroes. We understand the meaning of "expect the unexpected"
better than anyone.
Today, though, for the first time,
after living here for all my 22 years, I can honestly say I don’t
believe my eyes.
I realize I should know better than to
go to the bank in person, especially here. It’s the 21st century.
Telephone and online banking, ATMs -- I didn’t even have to go in
to open my account in the first place! Hell, I could probably handle
it all through my cell phone now. Still, I'll go sometimes. Just to
get out. I could have my paycheck direct-deposited, but I go
downtown to the Canyon and pick it up at the office every payday. I
take it to the bank, I deposit it, I spend a little time filling out
the little slip, deciding how much I'll set aside for bills and how
much will fund the week's indulgences.
The whole thing is something of a
ritual for me, just a little something that gets me out of the house
on a regular basis. Reminds me there's a world away from the
computer besides work. Tending to all the little nuisances from the
comfort of home may be convenient, but it lacks that sense of
accomplishment you get from actually leaving the house, going
somewhere, and seeing even the most mundane task through to
completion. I value convenience, but sometimes I don’t just want
things done, I want to get things done.
Anyway, this morning I didn't even get
as far as the deposit slip.
Everyone's heard that cutesy saying
about everyone who decides to live in Paragon gets their "15
minutes of peril". It's really popular with people who used to
live here, but got out before anything actually happened to them.
People like my cousin, who moved to L.A. to "follow his dreams"
but wound up doing the same pointless job there he berated me for
staying in here while he waits for his agent to call. Every time
some hurricane or flood or tornado makes the national news this dick
gets on the phone with me to laugh at the people vowing to rebuild.
"That's what you get!"
Sorry. I just got off the phone with
him. Guess what he had to say?
A lot of the time it's the same people
who visit Paragon like it's a theme park. They flock to touch
Statesman's cape and try to get Mynx to pose with their kids, who are
wearing those oh-so-precious blue cat-ear headbands. They start
recording every mugging they see on their cell phone cameras in case
a hero shows up – never occurs to them to use it as a PHONE and
call 911. At least they're usually too scared to come back,
wondering all the flight home why they looked like such an easy mark
for that Hellion gunning to earn his horns.
...way off track. My point is, I
didn't used to think I thought that way. I know the dangers of
living in this city, but I thought I just knew how to live with it,
thought I was alert. I know how to put out that attitude on the
train or walking through the city, that little mindset adjustment you
make to give yourself that swagger that makes the thugs think twice –
like maybe you're an off-duty cape.
Now though, I realize I did think
exactly like that. It does seem to happen to everyone, and I bought
into the folk odds that said I wouldn't end up in one of these
situations again because I already had my 15 minutes three and a half
years ago at homecoming.
So, yeah. On to what happened.
The loudmouths entered first, just
after I found a pen that actually worked. They ordered us to lie on
the ground face down, not waving guns but backing their commands with
a threat anyway: flames, frost, sparks danced around their fingertips
as they pointed to people and told them where they wanted them. I
think they were part of that mutie gang, the Outcasts, but they
weren't wearing their colors – they had just been hired on for
crowd control, we soon realized.
We cooperated, of course; it's what you
do, mutants or not. They go over this kind of thing in school
starting pretty early around here. All of us, the customers, were
down before they got around to really yelling. A couple of them had
to backtrack and decided they were yelling at us anyway because we
were “looking the wrong way” or something.
One of the guards got off a shot into a
frosty Outcast's shoulder, and he couldn't have picked a worse time.
That was right when their boss got there, a thickly built redheaded
guy one called “Rude”, another called “Randy”, another called
“Reilly”. Rude Randy Reilly wore these huge copper gauntlets –
I'd expected them to be rolling with a mutant boss, but he was more
of a gadgeteer I guess. He didn't even care that one of his thugs
was shot, he came in pissed off and stormed through the lobby with
fire jetting out of the gauntlets, slamming burning fists into anyone
still standing – only the guards...I was going to, but I don't want
to say "thankfully," that sounds kind of horrible. Then he
was gone, pounding his way to the back of the bank, to the vault.
The Outcasts talked a lot of crap,
trying to rile a couple out-of-towners who didn't know how to deal
with this kind of thing, who were just whimpering agreement to
whatever the robbers said while they clung to each other. The
Outcasts were just trying to piss them off, get one of them to get up
and give them an excuse to burn or shock them. Despite what I said
before about out-of-towners, I felt bad for them -- that the rest of
us were relatively calm probably only made it worse for them. The
robbers kept that up for a while, prodding almost everyone in the
bank in turn with threats, collecting wallets and making a big show
of reading our addresses out loud like they were gonna come for us
Since they made so much noise, it was
really obvious when they all went quiet at once. Suddenly, all I
could hear was the shaking breath of the teller lying next to me and
the intense hiss of Riley's fire jets from the back, probably melting
right through the vault door.
I didn't really want to question our
reprieve from the Outcast idiocy, but my curiosity got the better of
me. I turned my head as slightly as I dared to try and look up at
the Shocker standing at my side, opposite where the teller lay.
There wasn't any electricity dancing around his fingers now; they
still twitched but in a markedly different way, uncontrolled,
reflexive instead of voluntary. His arms hung slack at his side, and
as I chanced turning my head a little more, I caught sight of his
face and felt a chill run down my spine. Sweat beaded on his
forehead and his eyes were open so wide I could see the white all the
way around his irises. The expression on him was one of sheer terror
– tension throughout his entire body screamed that he wanted to
flee, but whatever had captured his mind wasn't letting him.
I glanced around, bolder now. All the
Outcasts were in the same state, some of them cowering, others
stumbling about in a daze trying to flinch away from things we
couldn't see. I was about to get up, bolt for the door, when the
thing that had terrified them spoke.
Last year, when Tom Booth started that
Facebook group for the "survivors", I wrote up that bitchy
screed that got me my first Digg. I'll have to go into the archives
here and look it up later (the police station doesn't have public
wi-fi apparently so I'm stuck with what's on the new laptop), but I
think I called that little pity party a "steaming pile of
hangers-on and angst vampires." I still stand by most of what I
said: I looked at the group at the time and just going off ages I
could see half the people hadn't been there. In fairness, before
SkywayRay16 DIVES down to the quick comment box to play douchebag's
advocate, some of those could have been family members of the dead.
Still, by the time I looked the group already had twice as many
members as there had been people who actually escaped.
It always bothered me that he used the
term survivors, too. None of us survived anything. We ran. We got
away. We escaped. The massacre didn't start until after we ran and
Adams' gunmen chained the doors. The only “survivors” were the
two people who perpetrated it. Hell, it has more right to join that
group than any of us do.
Yeah, us. I'm joining as soon as I get
back online. For all the slimy sorrowmongers I despise, there's
people there who need to know about this, that is if they don't
already and I just missed the damn memo. That, and I think I need to
talk about it now. (Can you tell??)
When I first heard the voice, I thought
it was a woman's – it was a voice like silk wrapped around stone,
dulcet tones that shrouded but didn't soften the promise of pain in
their words. “Everyone stay down. This ends now.” It was
familiar, in that tickly kind of way that's usually reserved for
trying to remember on what kid's show you saw the creepy rapist on
Law & Order before. I looked towards the entrance, but caught
only a glimpse of a slender, caped figure disappearing with a
shimmer, like a dissolving mirage. A whisper of a breeze shot
through the lobby the next instant, air displaced by the figure's
I turned back to see the cape standing
in the middle of the lobby, its back was to me. Its hands were
thrust in the air at odd angles, gauntleted fingers coiled in a way
that immediately reminded me of a puppeteer manipulating marionettes.
Its hair was short. I would have thought it gray if the bank's
lights didn't bring out a trace of wheat. It wore black and blue
from neck to toe; beneath the hem of the cape I could see its boots
were the same golden metal as its gauntlets. The colors, the pattern
of the cape, they were familiar but I wouldn't peg them until I saw
the emblem on its chest.
A soothing green radiance began to
shine from its body and its caution to us hostages of a moment before
sank in. I dropped back low to the ground and held a hand to my brow
to shield my eyes in case its powers were particularly bright. The
shine shifted, the light flowing like liquid up its legs and down its
arms, contributing to a brighter glow in the torso. Only a few
seconds after the glow began, the radiance flared, turned a sicklier
shade of green. The cape suddenly snapped its arms out and – I
really thought it looked like this at the time – assumed the pose
of the crucifixion, complete with head dipped down to one side and
feet tightly together, as the glow burst out from its upper body in
It was radiation – I could feel it in
my teeth, that same tingle I got in the back of my mouth when my
science class toured Terra Volta on a field trip in the 8th grade.
It washed over the torsos of the Outcasts, the only ones standing.
It served to snap them briefly out of their terror and they
scrambled, trying to get their bearings even as they clutched at
their burned midsections in obvious agony. The one nearest the back
of the lobby ran, stumbling into the doorway to the passage Reilly
had gone down. I think he tried to yell for help, but the cape just
lazily rolled its head to tilt now towards the runner, brought a
hand forward and curled it back into its sinister puppeteer's claw.
After a snap of its wrist, the runner went rigid, making sickening
choking sounds as he tried futilely to scream for help through a
A bolt of electricity sizzled across
the room above me and seared into the cape's shoulder. I almost
laughed at the sound it made then, but that sense of familiarity was
still tickling me to distraction. That sound was a tsk, a single
scolding cluck of its tongue. Its arms dropped from their dramatic
pose as it seemed to realize the Outcasts weren't going to just offer
up their wrists for cuffing. There was no air of disappointment
accompanying that realization. The glow began again, this time
concentrating in its hands, and it began to whirl through the room
hurling bolt after bolt of that corrupt green luminescence (note: all
else aside I totally win a bet by using that word in a post before
the end of the month) at our captors.
I hugged the ground as did the other
hostages, all of us grateful for the cape's intervention but fearful
of what would happen if a stray bolt hit us. I caught only glimpses,
my attention drawn to the intricate dance of its hands.
The glow would abate as its hands
spidered through the air, skittering across a web only it could see,
and those intricately subtle gestures always resulted in terror,
paralysis, or blind staggering in the Outcast who had earned its
attention. During the assault, it launched its blasts with its hands
at odd angles; it took a moment but I realized the fact that the rays
only seemed to clip the limbs of the Outcasts wasn't the result of a
cape with shitty aim. No, it was deliberately grazing them,
whittling them down, using surface burns to force their submission.
It toyed with them, like a cat with a stuffed mouse.
All the while it performed its furious
radioactive Kali dance (I have no idea how else to describe it)
through the lobby I was trying to get a better look at it. Between
the way it sidestepped through places unseen to move from target to
target, the billowing of its cape behind its extravagant motions, and
my own wincing away from the brightness of its rays, I just couldn't
quite get a lock on its face. I finally started to focus instead on
answering the simpler question: was our savior a man or a woman?
I think that was when it began to dawn
on me. The instant I put my curiosity to words in my head. That was
when the question of the voice stopped being a tickle at the back of
my mind and started to be an insistent, grinding knuckle right
between my ribs that wasn't going to pass. Something in me knew
then, knew, but consciously all I immediately understood was that I
didn't want to see its face anymore. I didn't want to see its face
The last of the Outcasts collapsed.
They all still breathed, but it came ragged and pained to all of
them; the fight had been burned out of them one teasing brand at a
time. The lobby was under its control -- from the back, the sound of
the flame jets abruptly cut off and was replaced by a victorious
cackle that seemed to rise and fall in contrast with the blaring of
the klaxon indicating the vault had been breached. Only Reilly was
left, no doubt busy in collecting his haul without any clue of what
was waiting for him.
I scanned around me as I rose,
cautious. The other hostages were getting to their feet too,
murmuring reassurances among each other. Some offered thanks to our
rescuer, quietly. I don't think I was the only one unnerved by the
playful way it had dispatched our captors. The teller and I
eventually got back to our feet after a moment of awkwardly both
trying help the other to their feet as we each stood on our own. I
think we had a bit of a moment there, and he was pretty cute, but
that dissolved as soon as I looked towards the lobby entrance where I
had first glimpsed the cape.
It was there, finally still. Not
Kali-dancing, crucifying, puppeteering, not shimmering through space
or time or whatever the hell it did. It did not glow. It just stood
there looking through us towards the back of the bank, its face at
last unobscured. I lost my legs.
I always wondered how they identified
the dead. Whether they even could. What do you think it's like for
a parent to have to bury their child with someone else's face?
I remember after the blast. I waited
outside the gymnasium for hours, praying for the last time in my
life, for hours, that just one of my friends who stayed behind had
lived through that hideous flash of green rotglow that lit the
windows. All they brought out was body bag after body bag. One of
them wasn't zipped up all the way. I saw its face -- I mean, I saw
its face, where that dead kid's should have been. That was the last
time I'd seen the face I saw in the bank today.
It's not blonde anymore. Its hair's
gone a queer pale ash, not quite gray but not quite platinum. No
bleachy sparkle to it. You'd never know it used to be that neon
straw Dennis the Menace color. That was its color when we had
11th grade Spanish together at Lewis High. A year before it killed
over sixty of our classmates at the homecoming dance.
“All of you, go.” It gestured to
the door and walked back into the lobby, and most everyone
immediately complied with its terse dismissal, no doubt thrilled to
do so. I was still sitting in the middle of the floor where I landed
when my legs turned to jelly. It was walking right towards me. I
was in its way, I think. The cute teller had stayed, was asking me
something, but I couldn't hear him.
It stopped. A few feet in front of me.
It wasn't staring past us now, it looked me in the eye. It showed
no recognition, but then we had never been friends -- even those who
weren't in a class with it knew about it at our school, the strange
kid that nobody knew if it was a boy or a girl. It exhaled, its
nostrils flaring for a second with exasperation and asked, with all
the genuine concern of an afterthought it would forget having voiced
before I finished answering, “Are you hurt?”
I just froze.
You hear that all the time. “I just
froze.” I never knew what it meant until now. Even at Lewis High,
when the guns came out, I didn't freeze, I kept my head down and ran
like fuck. I was running from guns then, though. We didn't know
about Hess then, we didn't know what it would do, but God did we find
out. Now, God I wanted to run like fuck, but I just froze. I think
my mouth might have moved. The teller was looking down the corridor
that led to the vault, pulling on my arm, but nothing was
It reached for me and I unfroze.
Red light! Green light!
Those of you who know me IRL –
(insert your own crack about who-else-would-read-my-blog here) –
know that I'm not a loud person. I don't shout. I don't holler. I
don't yell, even when some of you fucks really piss me off (hell when
that happens I get even quieter).
When it reached for me, I screamed. I
don't know why. I mean, of course I know why. Three of my best
friends died that night along with sixty-four others. I meant I
don't know where it came from. I've never heard anything like that
sound come out of myself, ever, in my entire life. I think I had so
much crashing through my head at that moment (there's another phrase
I always run across but didn't quite grasp until today, “cognitive
dissonance”) that nothing could make it past the whirlwind of
questions I needed to ask but not of it. Everything about this was
wrong in all kinds of ways, and I was doing that thing I do where
instead of voicing my questions I grill myself in twenty different
directions in my head to try and puzzle through the answers myself,
and my brain just ground to a halt when the question of who that
thing before me was had resolved.
Then, when it reached for me, all the
questions crumbled away. My vision irised down and I thought I was
about to faint, but I didn't. My sight just tunneled in on its hand
coming closer -- in the same instant I flashed back on its face on
the body in the bag that night, and the storm of questions just blew
away, none of them mattered. It came so hard, so sudden, I thought I
tore my vocal cords, “DON'T TOUCH ME!” I felt my chest harden, I
wanted to start crying then but I think I kept at least that much
It recoiled. I don't know if it was
the volume or the words themselves but it looked like it had been
slapped. I wish I had slapped it. I would have been proud if I
wasn't so fucking terrified of losing my face. God knows what else.
I felt a sharp pain in my back. I
never realized I was moving but I had scrambled back and thudded into
the edge of the entrance to the corridor that led to the vault. I
could hear footsteps from here, distant but getting closer.
The look on its face after the surprise
faded was not as satisfying. It turned my stomach, actually. I
remember it clearly, not blurrily – so I guess I didn't cry? Not
in front of it. It gave me this contemptuous look, so unmistakably
disgusted with what it saw, the disdain so palpable I wanted to turn
away, scrub my face on my sleeve. I forced myself to stare back now,
my teeth bared like an animal – I don't know, it seemed like the
thing to do. To balance the weakness I'd already shown? Whatever.
I couldn't believe how withered I felt inside, to have this murdering
thing looking at me like I was a puppy that just shit on its fucking
It spoke again, bitter but calm. “I'm
not here for you. I'm here for him.” Silk and stone. “Go,
Jennifer.” It nodded to the teller. I don't remember standing,
maybe he dragged me, I don't know. Things blurred. It knew my name.
Remembered me. But I didn't have any horror left. I was back near
the entrance alcove before I knew it, in the teller's arms, he was
pulling at me but I was holding onto the frame of the doorway
like...well. Part of me wanted to see?
The last thing I saw before I lost my
grip and he muscled me out to safety was it playing its hands through
the air as if plucking the strings of an invisible harp, and some
kind of shining darkness? spilling out of the air and clinging to
Reilly as he charged in with a bag of money over his shoulder like
some demented Uncle Pennybags.
I'm shaking as I type this. I just
finished giving the police my statement, and trying to get some
answers out of them about what I just saw. I was scared, before, I
have no problem admitting that. I was terrified. Now, I'm just
furious. I want to throw things, but I'm still at the station so
that probably won't go over well. They said that Vanguard cut a deal
for it. Immunity or asylum or clemency or something like that. This
fucking abomination that murdered the High Park Five and massacred
the Lewis High Homecoming, the Androgyne, is back in Paragon City. It's not just free to roam about on its own
recognizance, it's a goddamn Reciprocator. ...and it may have saved