It’s a murky day today, raining and wet. I don’t wear the cape on rainy days, it gets waterlogged and heavy, and makes leaping strange.
I called a contact, and he told me that I was the focus of a bunch of precogs’ dreams. That never bodes well. They see me stopping a war, and some vortexy things, mages, undead, and a sewer. Whatever. It’s not Freaks, and it’s not those horrible plant things, so I’ll take it.
In I go. At least, with the rain, I’m already wet when I get there, and nobody will mind if I drip on the floor. I always feel bad in office buildings leaving wet boot prints and dripping on things. Silly, I know, because the electric burns and smoke scent are probably much more annoying to deal with. It’s the water that bugs me.
Heck, I even feel bad about tracking mud in all over Oranbega. They may be evil mages, but I don’t have to be rude and leave muddy footprints all over their city.
Okay, I know, it’s a strange thing to think. Rainy days get to me sometimes.
Banished Pantheon and Circle Of Thorns. Both soul-harvesting evils. Usually a fine thing to share a couple thousand volts with as many of them as I want.
Sewers. I’m already wet. This is good. It will make the moment of horrified revulsion when I fall in to the free-flowing crud that sluices along under the city a little less horrible. Still pretty awful, though.
I said I minded the smell of the sewers less than the Freaks. That’s true. That does not make falling in to a cascade of slimy green glop any less disgusting. Whatever you do, don’t swallow any.
So, I go through the underground waterways, trying to keep to the borders, zapping the hell out of all these minions of destruction. I’m only barely paying attention to what I’m shooting at today. If it’s down here, it’s trouble. It’s also in trouble, as I brought lots of voltage.
Body after body falls in to the muck, and slides away. Zombies and aincent god worshippers and evil mages. Or maybe they’re undead too, I forget. Some of them are nearly naked, and some of them are wearing robes. That’s the biggest difference today. (Do the Circle Of Thorns wear underwear under those robes? It just occurred to me to wonder. I’ve never looked. Don’t think I will, either. The mental image of an Earth Thorn wearing a hot pink “Hello Kitty” thong is not one I’m ready to handle today.)
There I go, knocked off a railing and landed face down in the muck stream. That warm, slimy feeling as it washes over you and tries to get in to the works of my suit, and slithers down the tops of my boots so that my feet will squelch around in it all afternoon is all too familiar. Bleh.
Well, Mr. Mask Of Pain, you get 5,000 volts for that little trick. Look! Kindling. Heh.
Zap, zap, zap. Slosh, slosh, slosh. The day in the life of a hero in Paragon.
The last two bosses fall, landing with sad little blurps in the goop. I’m standing by myself at the bottom of a long down hill run of pipes, a maze of passages now clear of bad guys. My cell phone won’t work here.
I start slogging up the hill, the muck rushing over my boots and down past me, splattering me up to the waist.
What the hell do people in this city eat, anyway, to fill the sewers with this horrible green stuff? No wonder we have so many mutants around here.
Back to the top. Out I go. The sewer entrance is a grille on a pipe end under one of the many layers of city in Skyway. I get cell phone signal, barely. I call my contact. He tells me, “The Circle of Thorns and the Banished Pantheon are nightmares enough on their own; I’m impressed by your ability to battle their forces together.” He also tells me the city feels I deserve a badge for this amazing effort.
I cannot explain to him why this makes me laugh.
He gives me something else to do, and I ring off, unenthusiastically.
I flip the big antigravity generators back on, and leap my way out of the bottom of Skyway. I bound from ground to walkway to bridge to monorail track to bridge to building to building, and then up a long steep angle of a building, landing delicately on the top.
It’s really bucketing out now, cold and grey. It’s also clean, at least cleaner than the sewers. I lie down on a big air conditioning unit on top of this building. I’m the highest point for blocks. The AC vibrates a little, and is a little warm. Rain starts to wash off the worst of the gunk.
I lie there for quite a while, thinking dark thoughts. The afternoon fades to night time, the sky darkening. It keeps raining, although not as heavily.
Eventually, I sit up, move a little. I let the rain get at some of the rest of me. I take off the black cowl and face mask. Even here, alone, on the top of a building, I leave the obscuring welding goggles on. Sewer ick sticks my hair to my head, and I try and rub the worst of it out. My beard needs trimming again, I’ve let it get too long since I don’t see it much. It’s foul too, at the moment. Roots probably show on both of them, too.
I glance at the clock on my cell phone. 6:30 PM. The streets below will be filled with traffic, people making their way through the night to go home. Home to families and hobbies and lives of their own. I gave all that up when I fled Crey to become Machinst. Usually it does not bother me. I keep busy, I don’t let it get to me.
Tonight, it gets to me. I wonder what it might have been like. Maybe I should have taken the money. I could have had a nice place to live. A car. A regular job. Maybe a family, kids, a dog. Except that Crey would never have let me. I’d never have been able to live with what I had to do to get that normalcy. This is where I need to be. I tell myself this.
My cell phone vibrates. I ignore it, and keep brooding.
I think of my brother. I haven’t seen him in two years now. I vanished without a word to anyone. He’ll wonder when I never call. He has two kids, a wife. He and his family squeak by. He runs a little auto shop out in the sticks. Money is often tight, but they’ve got each other. They have neighbors who know them, and who all look out for each other. Community.
For some reason, I remember the last time I was down there. We went to church. His family wouldn’t miss going to church on a Sunday. It had been years since I’d been to church. I don’t know if I’ve been since, either.
I remembered the crowd of people as they arrived. Smiling, greeting each other, knowing each other. There was familiarity and trust. There was caring and consideration for all those other people. There was support of all sorts, should it be needed. I remembered that feeling from when I was a kid, but I never found it at a church in the city. They had it there, and I was glad for them.
I don’t remember the service, particularly. I remember the people. An early potluck lunch, everyone bringing something to share. The kids running around outside after the service while the adults talked, all of them not caring that they were getting their nice clothes dirty. Having fun.
All of them nice people, too. They smiled and were happy to meet their neighbors’ brother. The fact that I was a stranger didn’t matter, that they didn’t know me. I was related to someone they did, and that made it all right.
These are happy memories, really, but they don’t make me feel happy. I sit here in the cold and the dark and the rain, lonely, glum, remembering better times.
I can’t help but think that none of them would like me as I am now. Dressed in a dark uniform, smelling of electricity, burnt flesh, and sewage. Despite the fact that I’m clearly one of the good guys, saving them from all sorts of terrible things, those nice people would be afraid of me. Wary. Even my own brother wouldn’t like it. I can’t imagine he or his family welcoming me back to their home if they saw me like I am today.
I guess I sat here a long time feeling blue, lonely, for the things I gave up, until I heard something. On a rainy rooftop in Skyway.
I jumped a little, startled by the noise, a splash behind me, footsteps. Even as I turned to look, I was flicking switches on my suit to bring power back up. The quiet hum of electrons held at bay starts again, building quickly to a low, subtle thrum.
I relax. Nothing to fear, this time, a friendly face. A petite little woman, cat-like, even to the ears and tail. I keep meaning to ask her if they are real or part of her costume, but I can’t make myself. She’s standing in the rain, tapping her foot and glaring at me. She says, “Machie, why are you ignoring your phone? We were worried about you.”
“Sorry, Miyoko.” I reply, “Just sitting here, letting the rain get some of the sewers off me, and thinking.”
She frows, and said, “Thinking unpleasant things from the look of it. You okay?”
I nod, “Yeah, I’m okay. I’ll be fine.” I slide off of the big piece of equipment I’d been sitting on, and joined her, asking, “What’s up?”
She wrinkles her nose cutely (she is good at cute) at my approach and says, “You need a shower, mister. Go home and take one. Then come meet me. I’m going to a party, and wanted to introduce you to some people.”
Stunned for a moment, I say, “Uh, okay.” Not the brightest rejoinder I know, but it’s what I got out. Miyoko’s a fairly senior hero who knows a lot of people and has been around forever. I’m the new kid on the block. And I’m standing, covered in sewer glop, and staring like an idiot.
Miyoko backs towards the far edge of the roof, crouching down for a fast streak off the top, and says, “I’ve never seen you without the towel on your head. It’s nice. If you hurry, you can get to Icon and get something a little less grim to wear.” When I don’t react immediately, she waves at me, a little shooing motion, “Go on, silly! I’ll see you later.” Having so said, she streaks off the top of the roof, leaving a trail of glittering golden footprints.
Home, for a shower. Then to Icon, I guess. How could I do anything else?