Androgyne/Fifteen Minutes

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Fifteen Minutes
Perspectives: The Rescued

Originally posted under the "The Rescued" topic in our coalition's Perspectives writing series, which asked for a story about the character from the perspective of someone they saved, this is another story I started writing around the time the Androgyne turned hero but didn't get around to putting an ending on for over a year. I was worried it would come off as too gimmicky in its presentation, but I've received a lot of kind words for this story that put my concerns to rest and now I'm kind of proud of it. Also, trivia: Rude Randy Reilly was the very very first villain I ever rolled, a short-lived Fire/Fire Technology Brute. I think he was deleted to make way for the first incarnation of Hamhock.

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Fifteen Minutes

posted by JenerationWhy @ 8:14pm EST

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.

(read more)

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 later.

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 reappearance. Teleporter.

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 concentric waves.

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 paralyzed throat.

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 ever.

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 registering.

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 self-control.

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 rug.

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 my life.

Last Updated: 12/27/2010

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