Chapter Nine

“Ai? Where have you been?”

A tall, muscular man, light-skinned and blonde-haired, rushes to the door the second Aiyana opens it. He wraps his arms around her tightly, and Smoke watches as she lets her head fall forward onto his chest, going slack for the first time he’s seen.

“God, do you know how worried I’ve been?” The man – Franz, assumedly, since her records said she was living with her brother – scolds, holding her out at arms length to get a good look at her. “You look like crap, Ai, is this because of-”

Spotting Smoke, Franz steps in front of his sister, bristling. “Who the fuck are you?”

“My babysitter,” Aiyana answers tiredly, before Smoke can say anything. “Assigned by Parahuman Law Enforcement, in all their infinite wisdom.”

“By who?” Franz demands, looking over his shoulder at her.

“I’m Agent Lucas Kim, Codename Smoke, from Parahuman Law Enforcement,” Smoke – Luke – holds out a hand to Franz, smiling. He tries to make it a relaxing smile, disarming the way he’s seen his fellow agents smile, but judging by the suspicious look on Franz’s face, he fails.

Franz takes his hand slowly, as if Luke is going to dissolve his skin or something. Being fair, there probably is some parahuman out there somewhere who can do that, but Luke isn’t him.

The tension lasts until Aiyana mumbles, “I haven’t eaten all day,” which breaks the standoff and gets her shooed into the kitchen and Luke reluctantly allowed into the apartment.

He cranes his head to take in the place: Aiyana had gotten into it a little back at the station, but not enough that he has a good mental image of it. The cramped living room Franz hustles Aiyana past is exactly as boring as she mentioned: it’s got a small television, a gaming system – with a small library of sports and party games in a glass cabinent to the side – and a DVD player, with a couch that looks like it doesn’t get much use.

The kitchen/dining room he likes. It’s decorated in blues and metallic greys, with a dark carpet in the dining room part and shiny white tile in the kitchen part. An assortment of spotless pans and pots hangs over the counter separating the kitchen from the dining room, and the whole place smells like roasted marshmallows. The cabinets are futuristic metal, the appliances all look like they’re younger than his car, and the kitchen table is made of a warm, sturdy wood that he figure is probably oak or something.

(He wonders, a little, how they afford it all. Franz is in high demand according to Aiyana’s file, but Luke doesn’t think that makes enough for all this. He knows Aiyana made good money with Predator, but none of the stuff looks new enough that she would have gotten it in the past year. Maybe their parents are wealthy, but he doubts it. Franz and Aiyana don’t have that sort of air, and he’s good at picking that kind of thing out.)

“Anna’s in trouble with the law,” Aiyana says, collapsing onto one of the chairs. She leans forward so her elbows rest on the table and cradles her head in her hands. “They called in some cloak-and-dagger agency called Parahuman Law Enforcement, and they picked me up in-between classes when they couldn’t find her.”

Luke wants to protest that they’re not cloak-and-dagger, they just keep to themselves because it helps them do their job, but it’s not his place. He’s just here to make sure Aiyana doesn’t try leaving the city (or the country), not do PR for his bosses. Instead, he takes a seat across from her, trying to hide his discomfort and likely failing.

“And held you there?” Franz asks, pulling down a pan and hunting through cabinets for cooking oil.

“Yeah,” Aiyana replies tiredly, “they said something about being an accessory, and ‘aiding and abetting’, but they didn’t read me my rights, and wouldn’t get me a lawyer. They said if I told them everything I knew about Anna – Predator, actually, they didn’t even know her name – that they’d see about making a deal.”

“So you made a deal,” Franz replies neutrally, retrieving what looks like sourdough bread from the fridge, with a sleeve of lunch meat. He glances to Luke. “Do you want a sandwich, Agent?”

“Just Luke,” he corrects, trying on a smile again. “And a sandwich sounds really good.”

Franz nods sharply, turning back to his sister.

“No,” Aiyana looks up, a razor-sharp smile on her face, “I bogged them down in details about our awkward early days until I had enough information to impersonate them once I got out.”

Franz smirks back in return, slapping together sandwiches. “That’s my girl.” He puts the first sandwich in the pan. “And then?”

“Then I reminded them how much they don’t know about my powers, and implied some things about what I might be able to do.” Aiyana’s eyes flick to Smoke, and her smile fades into a thoughtful expression. “They decided that they needed ‘time to decide what to do with me’, and sent me home with a babysitter.”

Luke keeps quiet, even though it’s definitely his cue to chime in. He’s beginning to like the two of them, but his job comes first. He’s been told not to tell her or anyone else anything they couldn’t learn from the PLE’s website. The best way to do that, he figures, is to keep his mouth shut.

“So what now?” Franz asks, pressing down on the sandwich with a spatula.

“I don’t know,” Aiyana admits, looking back to him. “I don’t know where Anna is, or if she’s even done anything. I’m not about to take the word of people who yank innocent people off the street and break all the laws about how to handle suspects.” She shakes her head. “I get the feeling they’re going to try either locking me up or recruiting me.”

(She’s right. Luke’s superiors aren’t enthused enough about her abilities that she’s a ‘capture on sight, casualties be damned’ kind of para, but there was some cautious hope in his orders. They’ll be a lot more insistent about it once he reports the bit about impersonating people; even if she’s lying to throw him off, there’s always the possibility it could become true with enough training and experimentation. Para powers are so unpredictable that even the oldest find new stuff they can do.)

Aiyana pauses, then twists to look behind her. “Where did you put the glass?”

Luke furrows his brow, following her gaze. The only thing in her line of sight that she could possibly be talking about is a window that still has glass in it.

“Kara let me stash it in her living room,” Franz replies, looking down at the sandwiches. “Mom and Dad came by, and I… didn’t really want to deal with that on top of trying to cover for you.”

Aiyana turns back around to face the table, and the three of them sit in awkward silence until Franz finishes their sandwiches. If it’s still awkward during their meal, Luke doesn’t notice, because the sandwich is amazing. PLE cafeteria food isn’t bad, especially compared to what he ate in college, but this is so much better than that. If Franz ever decides acrobatics isn’t for him and opens a restaurant, Luke will make special trips to Chicago just to eat his sandwiches.

When they’re done, Franz apologizes profusely to his sister but says he has to get to work.

“It’s fine,” Aiyana waves off his offer to have her come with him, “if the PLE wanted me dead, they would have killed me already.” Franz does not look reassured by that, but Aiyana shoos him out the door. “I need to have a talk with him, anyway. Go on, go do gravity-defying stunts for all the creepy old men who want to check out your ass.”

Franz protests, but gathers his things and leave with one last suspicious look at Smoke. Aiyana locks the door behind him, and they are alone in the apartment.

Chapter Ten

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10 thoughts on “Chapter Nine

  1. The current arc will be short. I only foresee two, maybe three more chapters, then an intermission, then the next arc. I do, of course, reserve the right to change that if/when it becomes necessary.

    Let me know if there are any pertinent issues I didn’t address here; I’ll either edit them in or deal with it next chapter.

    This week’s bonus content will be a character page. I don’t think there will be much if any new content in it, but it’s become necessary. (I dread the possibility of having so many characters that I the writer have to refer to the character page to keep them all straight.) Also, despite his in-story switch to ‘Lucas’, I will most probably continue to tag him as ‘Smoke’ for convenience’s sake.

  2. Hm. A lot of the conversation is starting to feel like exposition, because you’re telling us about the results of something that happened during a timeskip without having to write what actually happened. For example, we’ve now been informed that she can impersonate people. We haven’t seen her do it, and we never saw her learn it, so there’s no sense of discovery and progression. It’s jumping streight from powerlevel A to powerlevel B with no intervening steps. I would recommend describing, briefly, how she discovered how to do this- I have a very vivid image of her doing an eerily accurate impression of Predator for Franz after she’s learned enough of Predator’s mannerisms, but that could be completely wrong.

    Don’t get me wrong- it works, but I think if you were going for in-media-res, it would be better not to explain everything so you can show it later, or to show how it happened. It’s really a show don’t tell kind of thing, and here we’re just being told what she can do now without a) a demonstration or b) how it came about. I think either of those would really help smooth out the gap.

    • Argh. You’re right. This gives me a pretty solid idea what to do with the next chapter, though, so at least I’m learning from my mistakes? Thanks for the catch. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; this story would not be half of what it is without reader comments.

    • I’d have to disagree. After a time skip, there is going to have to be some explanation of the events that have passed. He did it in such a way that it’s brief enough to keep it interesting and it is relevant. I mean it makes sense that Aiyanna would have to fill in her brother on what has happened. In order for the “show don’t tell” mentality to work in this situation, he would either have to get rid of the time skip or cram it all in the beginning which would feel rushed. That or show in a flashback, which can get cheesy/cliche real fast if not done right. For the time skip technique I think this works, like you mentioned. However, with that being said if the story were to continue this way then yes it would get exposition-y. Also, I’m not an expert on literature so I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think this is an in-media-res situation. He started the story from the beginning, had he started with a prologue of Aiyanna talking with cops then it would be, but really we start from the beginning and just skip ahead in time.

      • I agree that it is absolutely necessary to keep people informed, but I think it would have been better to see a demonstration of her new powers before being told what they are- see the next chapter which, in my opinion, works much better in this regard.

  3. A few things.
    1. I look forward to seeing some of the shoot on sight paras.
    2. Couldn’t any para be a shoot on sight? Think Flare’s powers and master and stranger protocols in Worm. It doesn’t seem like the sort of universe that gives much variance in para powerlevels, considering who we’ve seen so far and the rather limited offensive capabilities.
    3. I’m starting to really like Smoke.

    • Technically, yes, any para could be a shoot on sight. However, as far as the PLE is concerned, there is a world of difference between Smoke, who requires his own set of preventative measures to be contained within or kept out of somewhere, and Mirror, who as far as they know can only touch a pane of glass and appear on the other side of it.

      Liking Smoke? Muhahaha, all according to plan.

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