Deny it all you want, but you'd have done the exact same thing if you'd been in my shoes. Does that make you uncomfortable? Don't worry, it was a lie. There's no way an insignificant nothing could've accomplished even a tenth of what I have. There, doesn't that make you feel better? That's a lesser known aspect of my personality, I'm quite the little sweetheart. Now, get your popcorn ready, because we're gonna go back to the past.
The trolley car problem was a little known psychological experiment which perfectly illustrated why I wouldn't help the rich woman on the other side of the street. Oh right, the snobby ugly hag was getting jumped by three criminals, that was probably important for you idiots who need everything spelled out. To be fair, you need a high IQ like me to understand the subtle craft of subtext and metaphors, so I'll try to keep things simple and explicit for you simple minded morons.
Anyways, in the trolley car problem, a runaway trolley barreled towards three people tied up and unable to move, while I stood by a lever. If I pulled it, the trolley would switch tracks. However, another person was on the other side of the tracks. So what do you think I should do? Pull the lever right? Easy, three is greater than one, it's just a numbers game. Well in the real world I also had two options: I could save the rich dumbass who thought it'd be a marvelous idea to take a pleasure stroll on a floor so dangerous that it's been left for dead by the Hellywood Building Police Department, or I could leave well enough alone. Either one person got hurt, or three. Thus I did nothing. It was only ethical, you said it yourself. I know, I know, all you rubes are full of criticisms. All moral and outraged and righteous and stupid, I know what you people are like. What you public schooled hicks are forgetting are the socio-economic pressures which forced the three young men to criminality. The strato-floors are tough, the fires of the burning atmosphere in the troposhere leak into the floors just below. No opportunity, schools suck, black markets are the only ones that ever survive. Gang or die. That's why they did what they did, they had no choice. Who are we to judge them?
What am I doing? Why am I bothering to explain myself to you? Robberies happened all the time in the strato-floors. You'd know that if you ever deigned to explore anywhere lower than the thermo-floors. Why, so much crime? It's probably because anyone worth a damn studied hard, secured a prestigious position, and ascended to the meso-floors. That's probably where that woman was from: the meso-floors. I could tell. She was wearing a totally douchey red dress, she had this I'm-better-than-you walk, and she showed off jewelry which looked like it was made of real palladium. It not only made her look like a total clown, it made her an easy mark. Why was she even down there anyways? Did she think she'd make a difference? Help some troubled youth find a better life, give hope to those less fortunate, give a home to those without one? Didn't she realize that only trash lived down there? Only idiots think they can save trash. So yeah, she could've screamed her heart out, but I was never gonna help her.
I checked my phone. Turned out I still had five whole minutes before my meeting. You know the funny thing? The road between me and the criminals, me and my destiny, it was totally empty. There weren't any automobiles to flood the floor with the gray exhaust of combusted gasoline, nor any rattles from busted suspensions to cover the woman's screams. I couldn't pretend I didn't see this world for what it was, unlike you cowards.
So I turned my back on the woman, and you know my reward? I had to stare up at this Superhero advertisement. The one they used to have all over the place. You know, the one where Sanae is staring down at you, arms crossed, like some prissy judgemental asshole. Yeah, yeah, that one. It was painted onto a wall next to a liquor store, probably costed a ton of money, but what else would you expect from one of the founders of the Super Alliance? She wasn't the leader back then, but she was still pretty high ranking in the organization, and was probably the prettiest thing that group of uggos could scrounge together. Her costume was a horrid shade of yellow, it was like so passe. She'd been reduced to a carnival freak and was totally begging for more members to bring down the T-1000.
Don't get me wrong, I knew what they were going for. Her skin was a radiant caramel, her smile warm, and you could see every striation of that perfectly trained body. All things she controlled with diet, exercise, and meticulous hygiene. Sanae had always tried to look like a model, but after a certain level looks came down to genetics. She didn't have a perfect hourglass figure, she didn't have naturally straight hair, nor did she have a face which looked like it'd been crafted by some horny D' and D' player. Why was Sanae trying so hard to look like me? She was more than some pretty little thing. She was actually special. She was a Super: one of those blessed with the blood of the old nobility, which gave them the ability to perform a miracle chosen by god. When The First Super died for us, he passed to his descendents a single parcel of his power. But never that holy grail, never that philosopher's stone, never that most coveted of all miracles. Never the ability to heal, never the ability to resurrect, nobody has ever had immortality. That is a fairy tail. But Sanae, she had the best of the rest. Well, the third best. That, not her beauty, not her intelligence, not her ethics, made her better than everyone but one.
It was why she'd been able to climb from the hellish surface all the way to the penthouse. I remembered when I first met Sanae, she was dirty and poor and eager to fight. All my friends thought she was a disrespectful little street urchin, but I saw something in her. I looked out for her, taught her how to survive in polite society, I once even… You know… I thought we were best friends back then… We shared our dreams, our fears, our resentments, everything. I respected her. I thought she respected me… But… After my mother died, after my family broke apart, well… I didn't have money, nor power, couldn't afford school, couldn't afford friends. I wasn't valuable to Sanae anymore. So she told me to go kick rocks…
… I always wanted to thank her for it. She showed me what people were. After that, I knew that everyone else was in it for themselves. I would never be the fool again. Did I struggle to adapt to being treated like some sorry peasant girl? Sure, but I knew the truth, and I always carried myself with the sophistication and dignity of the high class lady I was. I'd be back on top soon enough. Someday… Somehow… I'd get out of this hovel, where women got jumped in public, no matter what it took, or my name wasn't Rose fuckin' Rockefeller!
It was time for work. I forced the edges of my lips upwards. I wanted to get this over with, but it was important to appear relaxed. I didn't want my clientele frightened, ashamed, or thinking too much about what they were doing, because then they wouldn't buy and I wouldn't be able to make anything. I turned.
"Do you want to become a model?" John asked blushing. His voice had a nervous edge, although whether it came from the nature of our transaction or the stress that came from talking to the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen I couldn't really say. "You're pretty enough for it y'know?"
I stifled a glare. I would never prance around an ogling photographer like some attention-seeking whore.
"Thanks," I said playfully. I smiled, and let a long elegant finger rest on his shoulder. I gracefully extracted it once the disgusting mass of hormones started to hyperventilate. "You're so sweet! Just my type!"
It was true. Losers made such easy marks: so resentful and desperate. I could get whatever I wanted from people like him.
"Um… Anyways," John rubbed the back of his neck. "You got the stuff?"
I reached into my hoody. It was a couple sizes too big, hid my fantastic curves, but utility was more important than fashion in my line of work. I withdrew a hard plastic bottle, full of a mysterious clear potion. Mysterious in that it wasn't necessarily ambrosia, which if sold knowingly would put me behind bars for five to ten years. Let me make this absolutely clear, I did not know that what I was selling was ambrosia, and thus can't be held responsible for a violation of distribution laws.
"Is that it?" John looked around, presumably to attract as much attention as possible. "Ambrosia?"
"I've changed my mind," I said. "I just can't go through with this." As you know, I would, heh-heh-heh, never ever break your oh so precious laws. I know how absolutely horrid ambrosia is. It can be taken orally or injected directly into the body for a quicker high. What do you know about its chemistry? Meth floods the body with dopamine. Heroin binds to and activates to mu-receptors in the brain. Cocaine blocks the release of these happiness hormones. Well ambrosia, it does all three and more. It's so, so, very addictive, such a wonderfully efficient drug. Naturally, I knew that if I sold the genuine article to John I'd be able to separate the stupid boy's beautiful money from his naive possession to its rightful place in my pockets in only a few short weeks. But it'd leave him so drugged up he wouldn't even notice that half his body had rotted away. He'd be dead by the end of the month. Naturally, a girl of my pedigree would be far too much of a bleeding heart to ever even consider doing such an inevitable thing.
You have his testament? You have the bottle? Well… Don't you people already have enough on me? Fine, fine.
"Yes," I said. "Do you have the money?"
He did. His fist was bursting with green bills, enough to pay rent for six weeks. Maybe he had more money than I thought. If I pushed this deal through, maybe I'd be able to afford my own studio. Then I wouldn't have to share my quarters with those filthy- Why was he looking around again? John took a step backwards. I let him. I was no novice hunter, awkwardly stumbling after my prey. I'd make him come back to me.
I frowned, and wedged the ambrosia between two cracks in the sidewalk. "Is something wrong?"
"It's just," John shivered. "Everyone says this stuff is really dangerous. Like if you take it once your head'll blow off or something…" He rubbed his hand and looked at me hopefully. I didn't give him a laugh, and waited for him to continue. "Have you done it before? Is it really as bad as everyone says?"
"Ooh," I cooed sarcastically. "Daddy tell you drugs are bad?" I put away the ambrosia and sneered. "We're done. I'll find a different classmate, Marco was cute, maybe him. He's probably not a huge pussy like you John. I worked hard to get this stuff, I'm not gonna sell it to someone who goes cryin' to mommy once things go a little off the tracks. It's a shame, I thought you were kinda cute."
"Wait," John said. He waved me back, and I heroically suppressed a smirk. I took his cash, and handed him a death sentence in return. I didn't feel bad. If it wasn't me, it'd just be someone else.
Money made everything better. The flickering overhead lights seemed brighter, the cracked cement became charming, and the scent of burnt oil from unlicensed cars was just a bit less noxious. My stress floated away. Everything would be alright. The impossible mission Sis had given me seemed less frightening when I was guaranteed a roof over my head. Money, money, what a beautiful thing! Food, shelter, another semester of tuition, even some new clothes were attainable! Even John, the horrid slimeball of bad genetics didn't seem so… He was still here? He'd already given me his money, wasn't it time for him to go?
"What's up dude?" I asked with a pleasant smile.
"I dunno…" John squirmed. "It's just…"
"Talk to me bruh'," I said. Doesn't sound like something I'd say huh? Well some people hate putting on a mask. It makes them impotent. Vocabulary, tone, emotions, looks, I use them as tools to spin elaborate fictions to control people. If I wanted John to come back and give me more money I needed to maintain a relationship, no matter how repulsive I found him. "I won't bite."
"I was just thinking, ya know," John whispered forcefully. He looked up and met my big blue eyes with his dull brown ones, and just for a second, despite his red pimply skin I felt something… A connection I suppose. "Maybe we could do it together?"
With his question asked he deflated like a punctured balloon. I realized then. He'd known all along that I was leading him on. He'd known all along how I'd respond. He'd known all along that his dreams were a delusion. And yet he'd gone after his dreams anyways, because his dreams were all he had.
You think that it's normal to ask out a crush? Let me ask you then, is this what you want to be doing? Listening to me tell you my story, as you live your ordinary life? Have you ever really risked anything to achieve something extraordinary? No, I thought not. You'd rather keep your delusion a delusion, you'd rather never even attempt to make it a reality. Because you know you're ordinary you've given up your childhood dreams. That's what it means to be an adult right?
Or maybe you're just scared. John was too, but he persisted. Sheesh, I'm such a softy huh? That's probably why I decided to indulge in the most terrible, self-indulgent, and dangerous of hobbies: Altruism. I was gonna save that sorry loser from himself.
I knew the danger in compassion. I reached into my coat, and wrapped my fingers around my glock. It was time to make this horrible world with its horrible people living their horrible lives infinitesimally better.
My shoulders twitched. I let a giggle escape my lips. Then laughter. I felt the heartbreak on his face. Good. The only way to cure him of his delusions was to extract them from a butchered chest.
"Me?" I howled. "With you?"
John looked like he was about to cry, but he was keeping it together splendidly. His pain, suppressed as it was, sent shivers down his spine. Charming. Handsome really.
"Impossible," I said, with all the contempt I no longer felt. "Not in a million years."
John grew red. "Then why?" I felt for the trigger in my coat, and he grew louder. "Why were you so friendly then? You made me- I thought!"
"I know, I know," I said, shriveling my nose in feigned disgust. "You thought I'd get to know you, one thing would lead to another, and then maybe, just maybe… We'd fuck? Make-out? I'm from the penthouse loser, I can have any man I want. Why in the world would I pick someone who'd throw their future away for the first pretty girl who smiled at him? No girl's gonna want that. It's pathetic. You're disgusting! You know why I smiled when we met?" I smirked. "Because you reek of desperation! You were just waiting to be taken advantage of. An easy mark! I was so glad I could take all your money before anyone else did."
"You don't-" John gasped. "You don't understand! You don't," He took another breath. "You don't know what it's like! To be a-" He sobbed, and his voice broke. "A loser… To be all alone… To have nobody care."
I walked to him with the long elegant strides of a high class lady, heart full of compassion, and whispered knives into his ear. "Nobody should."
He pushed me away. Tried. I didn't budge. "It'll always be someone bitch." I waved his money in front of him, and switched off the safety. "Don't play the fool. You knew what I was about and you still let yourself be used. It will always be someone, loser. You will always be a victim."
John screamed, his skin flushed, muscles tensed, knuckles white, breathing loud and iritic. I'd peppered him proper, he twitched and jumped, ready for an explosion. He took a few steps back, probably for a charge, until finally, after all our foreplay he… Ran away? Huh? Had I? No my glock was still in my coat, so what could've spoiled my performance just before the climax? Who would? It couldn't have been the police, they'd never patrol a floor which couldn't provide payment. A gang? None of them would be so stupid as to infringe on my turf. So who?
Oh… So that was what had sent John running. The girl from the street ad had deigned to grace us with her noble presence. Too bad. Someone else would take advantage of John, and they wouldn't be quite so transparent with their intentions. I wondered how I'd hear the news of his death. Would it be an announcement from the principal? I could imagine it: his tired voice coming through a microphone, trying to sound sad, trying to scrounge up the emotions he knew he was obligated to feel, while internally wondering why everyone in the auditorium was going through with the farce when the events had been entirely predictable and inevitable. Maybe he'd make it through high school. Maybe I'd hear about it in the news? No, when people like John died it wasn't newsworthy. I likely wouldn't hear about it at all.
Suddenly the girl from the ad, just a speck of passé ugly orange a second ago, was in front of me in a flash. "Rose? Is that you?"
Great. Perfect. Sanae recognized me. She'd tell everyone, and all my old classmates would know I was pushing- You know what? Fuck Sanae! Thought dressing in yellow tights and gallivanting around Hellywood pretending to be a cop made her better? Fuck her, and her dumb costume, and her dumb powers, and her dumb code! Fuck her fake ass noblesse oblige! When I had needed her most Sanae had told me to go fuck myself! I plastered on a big, friendly, fake, fuckin' smile.
"Sanae!" I said in a delighted voice. "Is that you under the costume? It looks great- oh what am I saying? It's so good to see you again! So you've become a Super? I always knew it was you! That's so frickin' cool! I've been rooting you on every day! I think what you're doing is really amazing!"
Sanae's hands clenched. Her voice came out in a pained whisper. "Are you selling drugs?"
It didn't hurt. It was to be expected. Sanae had only ever pretended to respect me. Had only used me when she had something to… I forced myself to keep an open posture. It didn't hurt. I was fine, I was fine.
"I came down here after my mother was killed." That picture of Sanae, the one on the street ad, had it always seemed so judgmental? Yes obviously, but apparently it still undersold the bitch's snootiness. "My father, my older sister we all kind of drifted apart. It's just me now. It turns out that all that schooling we struggled through together didn't prepare me to live on my own. It was a good thing really, to see how most people lived. What it's like to wait all day for some cheap macaroni, how it feels to wash off a week's filth because you can only afford one shower, how crushing it is when you have nothing to offer. I'd have never learned any of that living on the upper levels. I don't have any skills Sanae."
I could feel her glare. "Rose, are you selling drugs?"
I couldn't keep smiling, not even if it was fake. Fuckin' Sanae, thought she was the best just because she was a little famous! Just because she flaunted herself to the public, but this city would always belong to the Rockefellers! Everyone fuckin' knew it, even the damn Super Alliance had formed for me! "I needed the money okay? I need it to put a damn roof over my head! I'm living in a studio with three other girls, and I'm already a month late on rent. Do my clothes look nice?" I held out my gray hoodie, holes near the elbows from thread bare cloth. "You think maybe I had to beg a schoolmate for it? So yeah I sell drugs! I have no choice!"
"Save the sob story. I don't have parents either," Sanae said. "My dad was murdered by the T-1000. But I'm not out selling drugs. Nobody forced you to break the law Rose."
"Don't act like the law is some sacred thing," I cried. "You break it every time you use your powers!"
"That's a false equivalency," Sanae snapped. "I would never break the law for my own benefit. You are."
I shook my head, and finally met Sanae's eyes, terrified by what I'd see. I'd simulated meeting her millions of times, but still she managed to surprise me. It was terrible what I saw: pure self-indulgent shame. No disappointment, no anger, no hostility. Sanae was full of compassion without a trace of judgement. She looked at me like I was still her best friend. Like I was someone she'd betrayed, rather than the other way around. Just like back then, that stupid dumb bitch didn't understand a damn thing. Fuck her, fuck her, fuck her. Shit!
"You don't-" I gasped, caught my breath. "You don't understand what it's like. To be a loser… To be all alone… To know that nobody… Nobody…"
"You've changed." Sanae shook her head. "You were the one who inspired me to embrace my powers. You were the reason I became a Super."
"I know." I hung my head. "I'm sorry."
"You used to care about people. But that stopped after your mother died, you became a different person. The Rose I used to know is gone, replaced by… This…" Sanae's nose shrivelled with disgust. I flinched. "This empty woman whose words have no substance. You don't believe in any of the bullshit coming out of your mouth do you? You just lie and lie and lie."
… It was nice that somebody finally acknowledged my hard work. How much I'd grown since I was a child. Like she said, I'd become a monster. It hadn't been easy. It wouldn't be easy. It isn't easy. Sister would be displeased but I was more than just a puppet. It was time to finish the job I'd started all those years ago. Sanae was practically begging for it after all, who was I to deny her wish? I reached into my coat, wrapped my fingers around the same glock I'd used… To… To… And suddenly I was in a back alley, not too different than this one, from all those years ago. I hadn't known what I was doing, and I'd, I'd…
"Does it still hurt?" I asked. "Your leg?"
Sanae's eyes widened. She took a few steps back. She still had a limp.
"I'm sorry," I said. I remembered the blood pooling in the alley cracks, fumbling with my appearance, frantically calling the police not sure if the last look I'd ever have of my best friend was one of betrayal. The shame I'd felt back then, so pure I could practically taste it, was so overwhelming I'd... I'd done the same thing again and again and again. Betrayal, betrayal, betrayal. But never to… No, I promised myself I'd never do it to myself. Everyone else, but to myself at least, I'd be… I hadn't meant- I didn't have a choice! …
I didn't have a choice. But I did this time. I did this time. I wouldn't kill Sanae. I didn't feel like it. I'd rather just be…
Well, what other choice did I have?
I'd have to be… Ugh… Honest.
I looked up at Sanae's giant advertisement. Beautiful. A hero standing tall, proud, able to fight the forces of darkness. "You remind me of my mother Sanae. Didn't your father ever tell you? She was the T-800, the greatest Super in Hellywood at the time. Until she was killed by a Villain. The same one that rules Hellywood now. The same one that killed your father…"
"The T-1000," Sanae hissed.
I shrugged. "Are you going to arrest me? I was selling drugs. The worst ones. And I'm not going to stop until I figure out how to save the family I have left. I've done bad things. I'll do more if you don't stop me. It'll be better for the world if you stopped me." I looked Sanae in the eyes. "Do what you have too. I'm proud of you Sanae. I'm proud that you've become a splendid Super, but I wish you'd stop. My mother was killed, and eventually you will share her fate. It's inevitable. All Heroes die. It's only a matter of time until the T-1000 is forced to kill you."
A smile found its way onto my lips. It was shallow and nervous, barely met my eyes, but it was the first genuine one I'd had in a long, long time.
Sanae snarled. Limped away. "I'm letting you go. For old times' sake."
It took me a moment to realize what was happening. Sanae's back was becoming smaller and smaller, blurred by my tears.
"Help," I murmured, my voice drowned by the whine of automobiles. "Don't go. Don't leave me."
Sanae disappeared into the floor's incandescent light. She'd left. Again. I had brought out my old self, I'd spoken sincerely, and none of it had mattered. I was all alone, all my friends enemies, just like always.
I trembled. My legs shook. It hurt. It felt like my heart had been ripped straight out of my chest. Which didn't make sense, I'd destroyed my heart years ago. So why, why could I still feel like this?
It was only after I'd stomped halfway home that I noticed the woman. Beaten into compliance by the three criminals from before, now had her face buried in the black top. Held down by two big dumb brutes. Looked like they were about to force her, right in plain sight of a busy street. Plenty of people saw it, hidden behind barred windows, not daring to creep outside. That's just the way things were. The way things have always been and always will be. People pretended it was just down here, but really it was everywhere.
Oh, you disagree? When's the last time you stepped in? Maybe you don't see a woman being raped in front of you, but what about all the things you do see? How many times have you told yourself that you'd love to help, but this looks really dangerous, or I just don't have the time, or I wouldn't really be of any use anyways, or my favorite, it'd be better if I just left it for someone else… Don't look so guilty. I'm complimenting you. Really, these three guys were professional criminals. You try and help and you might get killed. Altruism has a limit: it's called self-sacrifice.
But I'm not like you people. I'm better than you. I could have saved her. It would have been easy. I chose not to. Because I was just a drug dealer, right Sanae? Because I had more in common with the criminals than the victim. Those rapists, that's what I was, someone who took what they wanted from people who couldn't protect themselves. People like Sanae couldn't tell a difference. I'd been completely honest with her, I'd practically begged for her help, and the hero of Hellywood had judged me unworthy of salvation.
She was right. I snarled, and continued on my way.
Another gangster crossed the street to get in on the action. He rushed in front of some cars, ignored their honks, headed straight for his goal. Same black skin, same cheap clothes, same dumb bowl cut, probably spoke in the same dumb vernacular. I saluted him, go have fun.
He didn't see me. Just continued on until he was in front of the gangsters. Started talking. The three other criminals stopped what they were doing and stared at him. The new accomplice shouted something at the woman, and she ran.
Shit. The dumb little criminal wasn't a criminal he was a hero. He had super powers right?
And now he was the one getting the shit kicked out of him. The three criminals, they had the little hero pressed against the ground, and stomped on his head with murder on their minds. They saw me coming, and laughed.
I went for my gun, but now that I was closer I recognized that the little hero was Marco from History class. It was too late to rethink my impulses now, I was just going to have to use my mother's miracle. One of the gangsters tried to force me down, but I wouldn't budge. I'd turned my knees to steel. I grabbed his arm, and hardened a fist. Clubbed him in the nose, and heard it snap. Saw it crumple and flatten. I let him fall to the ground, glanced at his two friends, and raised a perfectly trimmed eyebrow. There was still enough magic in the air for a few more miracles.
They took their friend and ran away, like the cowardly little peons they were. I wondered if they'd take their friend to a hospital. It would be the only way to save him, but maybe they'd be too afraid of the law. Who was I kidding? They couldn't afford a hospital. They'd need new clothes or they'd be sent back down to the lower levels, some kind of counterfeit identities to even get on the elevator, and that wasn't even getting to the…
"Marco?" I asked, helping up the cute little hero. "Do you think it would be ethically justified if the two remaining criminals robbed five upper-level ladies to cover the medical expenses for the man you just put in critical condition?"
"You're a Super?" Was Marco's only response. The stupid cretin couldn't even follow a simple- "That's awesome bruh!"
Well, maybe he could be a little sweet.
Now, don't mistake that for me having a crush on him. Did I find him attractive? Yes, but in my defense it was only because I'd spent so much time in the lower floors. That place is so ugly, so inbred and lowborn that anyone with a near symmetrical face looked like a damn angel.
So what was I doing? Trying to make him fall for me of course. I didn't have any real interest, I just wanted to see if I could. I'd done it before of course, but never to any men I considered attractive, nor any with good self-esteem. He was just another notch in the ladder. You think that seems cruel? I had a feeling you might. The truth is you're just too unattractive to understand the thrill.
"The T-800, she had 'dat power too, and she was the steeziest Super in H-Bill for a sec, yadadamean?"
"Yes," I said softly. "I am aware of the legacy left by the person who last had this power." My mother would be rolling in her grave if she knew what her beloved miracle, the ability to change the composition of her body, was being used for. If she knew how I had attained them.
"Wait, hold up," Marco looked at his old dirty flannel. "I ain't stylin' in my work threads. How do ya know my name?"
"We're in the same History class." Wait a second. I blushed, had he never noticed me? Didn't all boys notice me, weren't they all plotting for my attention? "I'm Rose-"
"Yeah, yeah, I know who you is, I just thought you didn't give a fuck about me," Marco explained obnoxiously, clearly unconcerned with proper etiquette. "Or people like me. It's crazy that Rose Rothschild is down wit' us. I always thought you were a total poser that played thirsty suck-sucks."
How could he possibly think that? I took the time to get to know all my classmates, and made sure to speak in ways their stupid little minds could comprehend. I had modelled myself after the venus fly trap, using a sweet scent to draw in unsuspecting prey. I had to be attractive to losers like Marco in order to reach my self-imposed quotas.
"Guess I was wrong," Marco said. "Sorry mate. Whoa-" He had patted me on the shoulder. "Why'd you do that?"
He hadn't touched me in the normal way. It was more like I was a… Friend, or maybe a sister? It was missing the tension normally present in physical contact. And what was up with the, I was wrong, thing? If he didn't like me, if he'd somehow seen through my façade, he should hold his opinion. People were stubborn, they didn't change their minds so easily.
I folded my arms. What was his deal anyways? If he thought I was a rich girl, if I was his Sanae, he should have viewed me with envy and hatred. It was human nature. I knew from past investigations that he was a C student from a poor family, he should've been a loser. He should've been bitter and angry. But far from going through the motions he stayed after school to study in the library, he showed up on time and even paid attention in class. He'd formed a group of friends with other people who should have been the base of my clientele, but none of them seemed bitter enough to be marks. He and his had costed me so much revenue with their refusal to accept their destiny.
"Marco, what you did was extraordinarily courageous. You saved that woman's life. You should be proud. Your actions warrant admiration. Truly."
"You talk hella domb," Marco said, smiling broadly. "But thanks mange."
"You put yourself in mortal peril. Why did you jump into that?" I asked, trying to keep myself from mirroring Marco's nauseating positivity. What was his angle? Save a rich girl get a rich reward? Make a powerful connection? No, no, that wasn't something he'd do.
"Dunno," Marco said. "I just felt it ya' know? Ya just gotta feel it. You did it too, ya know? Not everything is 'bout thinkin', sometimes ya just gotta see it, and go fer it."
What kind of answer was that? Basic psychology stated that every decision had some purpose, accomplished some practical function. What possible justification was there to risk your life to save someone else? Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs stated that basic survival was more important than self-esteem. Heroism was nothing more than a defect.
"Don't throw away your future! I hate it! I'd rather have my eyes crushed than see it! What about your family? How do you think your little sister would feel hearing you were murdered? You think she'd care that you were being a hero? What if I hadn't been there? You'd be dead or crippled!"
Marco just stared. I didn't blame him, I was full of shit. Where had that even come from? I knew it well. People like Marco didn't have a future. He was the very definition of double digit trash. It was just the way things were. He didn't look right, he didn't talk right, he didn't dress right, and he didn't have any outstanding talent to overcome that. He could save himself a lot of pain if he would just admit to being a victim.
"Yeah," Marco said. "You right, you right. You sound like my older brother actually. Gotta get my life planned, or I'll be waitin' tables forever. Don't worry dude, I got some moves left. I'm gonna be fine." He tossed his black mop of hair with a flick of his head. "What about you?"
I was speechless. My future? I wanted to save Renna, but that wasn't really my future, it was my sister's. I'd never bothered to make long term career plans as they had never seemed necessary. I'd be killed before any of them came to fruition anyways. Maybe I could tell him I'd go into business. That's what father had done before mother was...
"Don't know?" Marco asked knowingly. "Don't worry mange, you'll figure it out. But dude, you should become a Super! You should join the Super Alliance! That'd be hella dope, suck-suck!"
"No," I said reflexively. Then I took a step back. Why couldn't I? To those yokels in the Alliance it would seem like I was an ordinary Super. They'd never know how I obtained my powers. Power, if I were to join I could only show one. I'd be among their weakest. Unacceptable.
"C'mon bruh!" Marco wheedled. "You're a Sup-sup, what else ya gonna do, work at Big Bob's Pizza like me? Besides mange, you'd be able to meet The Reverse Flash! If you join, you can get me her autograph: 'To Marco, her number one fan!'"
Ugh. I threw up a little. I huffed. "The Reverse Flash is overrated, and overly strict. Who would want to work with a stuck up rich girl?"
"I would," Marco laughed. "That girl's bangin' bruh. She's the top Super in Hellywood!"
"She's a soft fraud," I said petulantly. "I've met her before. I saw her let an ambrosia dealer go with a warning. A fuckin' warnin'! All she said was not to do it again, as if that'd do any good."
"Bruh. Bruh! That's what makes the Reverse Flash so great. That forgiveness mange, like an angel. She believes in people! She gives second chances when nobody else will!"
"Oh please, drug dealers don't deserve compassion. They prey on the weakest of society for their own self-benefit. They're villains. They deserve to be exterminated like rats."
"My brother changed Rose. Rodney used to push all sorts of stuff. Sometimes even ambrosia. Now he makes sure I don't do any of it." Marco frowned for the first time. "This isn't about The Reverse Flash is it? You're scared."
"No I'm not!" I blushed. My heart was racing. I had to calm down. One, two, three breathe. "I'm not afraid of anything."
"What about the T-1000?" Marco asked. "The hero killer the alliance was formed to stop? The assassin who's merced half the Supers in the H-bill. Ya don't mess with a guy like that. Ya steer clear."
I burst into laughter, and swatted his arm. "You're telling me to steer clear of danger? You? You're the one who picked a fight with three thugs."
"Yeah well I got big balls, yadadamean," Marco said. "Everybody ain't gotta be like me. It's okay to be scurred, but sometimes ya just gotta do things ya don't wanna."
He really did think I was scared of the T-1000 didn't he? Hah! What a moron… Wait… Was he right? Was I scared? "That shape-shifter doesn't scare me, no matter how many Supers they've assassinated. The T-1000 is just a sniveling coward who hides in the shadows." It was all true, but still… Joining the Super Alliance just felt… "I'll think about it Marco. But if I join the Alliance, you're gonna have to ask the Reverse Flash for her autograph yourself."
Luckily he didn't need it spelled out for him, and we exchanged cell phone numbers. My phone buzzed, and a text flashed on my screen. Sister. She wanted to see me.
"I'm sorry, but I've got to go."
Marco shrugged. "Is your sister nice?"
"Yeah… Well she used to be anyways. Now she's…" I thought about how Sister would react to me joining the Super Alliance and winced. "To be honest, she can get a little scary sometimes."
It was true, and while I'd have loved to stay and chat with Marco, I'd be dumber than you if I ignored a summons from Sister. I had to hurry or I'd be in trouble…
Did you just ask why I didn't hop on an elevator? You've never left this floor have you, bumpkin? Did you just google how long it'd take to go from floor A to floor B? You can't just go from one layer of Hellywood to another. If you're underdressed you'll never get past elevator security, if you're overdressed you'll get jumped. Each floor has a different culture, a unique vernacular, some even have a specialized vocation. None of them like outsiders. Look, let me explain: you look at the floors below you and see uneducated, smelly, bigoted thugs, you look at the floors above you and you see disingenuous, spoiled, conniving politicians who've never done an honest day's work. It depends on which floor we're talking about, but I can assure you they don't like you either. I had to go back to my dorm. Wore some jeans, a sweater, but to move up in Hellywood what I needed most were leather boots with no slip soles. Upper strato lower meso is as blue collar as beating your wife. They process the materials from the lower floors, and refurbish all the crap you upper floor yuppies throw out once your new gizmo is released. Once I was in middle strato I had to shed my skin again. Button-up and slacks, but you know that don'chya buddy? Yeah, I don't need to tell you about the strato-floors, you've lived there all your life. Those tall floors, those big houses, you live the highest attainable life possible. The Hellywood Dream. Can't do any better than an office job in the strato-floors. Not without taking risks. Not unless you're special. Not unless you're… Super.
So I went back to where I belonged: the exo-floors. I'm sure you've heard the rumors and it's true: each floor up there belongs to a single family. Just like everywhere, a higher floor means a higher class, and well, where Sister lives- the Rockefeller family estate- the ceiling is made of glass. I spent my childhood staring up at the stars.
I looked up, saw the beautiful blue stripe of the Milky Way, and I knew I was back home. Moonlight lit a green grass belvedere. Most people didn't realize it, but light didn't just come from electricity, it could also come naturally from the sun. Its rays just couldn't penetrate the earth's atmosphere as it had in the days of yore. It was the fault of our competitors and ancestors, who had ruined the planet with their rampant consumption and pollution. Greedy pigs. Some alarmists said that if Hellywood didn't reduce its carbon footprint its tethers would melt and the whole building would float away. Of course, not all climate scientists agreed. Some said that it was too soon to tell if modern global warming was natural or caused by human pollution, and certainly that it was too hard to find the percentage from the two factors. I thought the whole debate was pointless. Hellywood wasn't the only building on the planet, and if we stopped consuming resources we would just be taken over by another building which did. The problem wasn't science, it was game theory. It was a situation modelled well by the Prisoner's Dilemm-
"Where you think you going?" Asked a muscular black man guarding Sister's trophy room. He wore a thin white v-neck and shorts. Didn't leave much to the imagination, he was built like a man should be. I raised an eyebrow, I'd never seen him before. Was he one of Sister's new playthings? Another toy she'd hooked from the burning tropo-floors? Well whatever, the man was just doing his job. I ignored him.
"Salutations," I said, reaching into my shorts for my cell phone. "I am here on-"
"I know who you are," the man said brashly, grabbing my arm. He was stronger than me, I couldn't break his grip easily, not even if I turned my skin to steel. There was a sofa behind me, and a television with a football game on. USC versus UCLA, noble red versus a puke shade of powder blue. Anything else in the room? I didn't think a cushion or a remote would make an effective weapon against a six foot three goliath with super powers. With my other hand, I reached for my glock.
"I'm Mike Mayweather, and you better remember the name. Your reign over this city is almost over. You may be the most famous Super in Hellywood, the media darling, but someday that's gonna be me. Soon I'm gonna be her favorite!"
My finger itched to pull the trigger. He was acting like some wannabe Super, with his blah-blah-blah, me and my glock could make him shut the fuck up real quick. Come to think of it, he'd grabbed me, foolishly establishing a point of contact. This was my home, I didn't have to hold back. A glock was so impersonal, I could steel my fingers, turn them into bayonets and disembowel the man. Feel the warm slime of his intestines slide through my fingers. Sister wouldn't mind. No, Sister would love it.
Had she hand-picked Mike just for me? An obnoxious little pin cushion to stick full of needles? Did Sister really think I'd kill a man for annoying me? I could feel Sister's ambitions for me in Mike's killable smirk. I already did her bidding like an obedient little puppy, now she wanted me to like the bullshit she forced on me. Fuck her.
"I wish you luck on your future endeavors." I dipped my head. "But I can't keep chatting. I have a summons." I flashed him Sister's text and he let me through.