One Glass Slipper



Scene Title One Glass Slipper
Synopsis Ghost is hunting Samantha.
Date July 12, 2009

Harlem — Someone Else's Apartment

Intruder alert.

Rigging a shotgun to a door is not as precision business as rigging most other things to a door. He takes ten minutes to do so, knuckling a screw hook into the flat plaster of the ceiling, a few feet of string, a few test pulls to verify the trigger's locked in and pulling before he loads the gun. It's hours yet until the workday is over, so nobody catches him fishing things open and shut, or picking locks before that or, previously, checking his teeth in the lens of the security camera— which probably isn't even on, never mind manned.

Have to love shitholes like these.

Reasonably satisfied, he shuts the place up, locks himself in. Smells the age chalky in the plaster, the residual oils off food, not quite undercut by the bleachy acridity in cheap detergent. It is pretty tidy in here despite that uneasy olfactory equilibrium. Books in shelves, a few Hendrix posters taped up on the walls, rickety stereo setup, coffeemaker, and a lot of filing cabinets for a personal residence. This makes sense on several levels. Paranoia at technological vulnerabilities increase with rightful deference to cyberpaths, resulting in the most inherently mundane of security measures on Humanis First!'s part. Justified paranoia, even if you wouldn't use the word 'reasonable' anywhere.

Ghost makes a mess, of course; it's what he does.

Guts pounds of papers in manila, unearths a gun from cereal boxes, dumps books in the armload onto the couch after he's finished opening it up with a razor, sending cotton skein fluff around in clumpy drifts, looses curly fibers that tickle his nose nearly to sneezing. He has enough light in through the windows by which he can briefly skim the reading material. Cinderella is mentioned four times in the course of fifteen sheafs in manila. They'd left her a Zastava M91 in the locker room of a bus depot a year ago; the one she has been drilling hapless mutant brains with since. No serial numbers, actual names, memorable addresses. They know she's ex-military, but only through demonstration, no paperwork, nothing.

Nothing recent, either. Profoundly unhelpful. Ghost is frowning about this when the shotgun goes off at the door with a shattering shock of report. Despite himself, he jumps a mile. It's a little salve for his dignity, maybe, that he reflexively jumps a mile in a good direction, through the doorway, plunking down on the floor, keeping an ear out before he takes a psychic peek.

Derek Altman's vision is fizzling out where he lays, blown sprawled backward into the hallway.

Pain, pleasure, and other emotional subtexts don't tend to carry over through Ghost's ability, very well. Not directly, anyway. He tends to be able to infer. From the palpitating pant and waning groan of Derek's breath in his ears and temperature of his torso, the disruptor round hurt a lot. The ghost has made a point to avoid being on the receiving end of one of those, ever. From what he has gathered, secondhand, it is like experiencing a bellyflop from a very high place concentrated on a very small surface area.

Stepping out, he seizes the prone body by the ankles, drags it in through the door. Trails water splatter and matted carpet skew along the way. It turns out, he isn't even wearing a gun.

Some seconds later, the nebbish young gentleman awakens to a world that lays perpendicular to the one he is used to walking around in, burning slightly from the stink of ammonium carbonate, gently snowed by furniture stuffing and his shoulders cramping against the confines of zip-tied wrists. Ghost sits nearby, gun in one hand, white powder phial disappearing out of the other. "Tell me about Samantha Tanner," he says. "Her recent stuff. What's she doing, why? Where's she been? What does Humanis First! know? Samantha Tanner."

Derek's eyes roll in their pits. He coughs. His shirt is wet, his skin stings, the erupted vessels of bleeding bruises already massing underneath the fabric of his shirt. He doesn't scream— probably as much because he doesn't have the voice to do so as because he understands that what he's feeling is the other edge of the benefit of operating out of a slum area. Speech emerges in a rasp. "I don't know what you're talking about. Wh-who is Samantha Tanner?"

Ghost puts an eyebrow up. "Call sign Cinderella." He doesn't know why they call her Cinderella. Something about disenfranchised fairy tale heroines. Maybe someone was being an ironic asshole, knowing there are no happy endings for people like them. Just endings. "If you don't talk now, I will step on your nipples until somebody finally starts coming up to check on you, then shoot you in the head with real bullets."

The absurdity of this concatenation of words, its selection, produces in Derek an expression of distinct incredulity, but only the kind constructed to collapse as readily as a cardhouse. There's a slithery pile of mess on his face after that, enough showing that Ghost only has to grind a boot into chest for a few seconds before the spit-slathered mumble of his mouth underneath Ghost's gloved palm finally begins to sound like recognizable syllables. Ghost peels his hand away a small margin. Listens. "I don'" Derek hacks, flails his feet. "I don't stop! They don't tell me anything. I j-just handle contacts" This is believable, even without checking his pupils or whatever. Ghost puts his foot back on the floor. "J-just she's black-listed. Last month, sh-she was black-listed.

"Gone off the grid, they say she's E-Evolved. W-we're supposed to avoid her. I haven't heard shit, man. J'ss what's in the fucking news. I mean one of the cells— one of the cells was going to assign her to William Harvard. S-SCOUT Captain. She did him after the black-list. It doesn't make sense— f-fucking homicidal freak—"

It is probably not a good sign that the ghost can't really tell which one of them Derek is talking about, despite that he has yet to make murder within the frame of the man's perception. Ignoring the new red clotting his fingernails, Ghost bangs him into the floor once, twice. "What else?"

"That's it. That's it, I swear. I don't know anything else— I only met her like three fucking times, orders from the top—"

He doesn't answer. Derek's owlet blinking twitches a darkening shade closer to a scowl.

"Are you a cop?"

Jesus. "Was that question rhetorical?"

"You don't sound like a cop," Derek grinds out, something hotter gathering a glare on his face. "A-are you one of them?"

Ghost zips out another length of zip-tie, casts it down on Derek's lap. Motions with his forefinger, a little loop around his ankles, and is rewarded by a momentary grimace the texture of orange pulp before compliance comes, an uncomfortable squirm to sit upright, before slippery fingers clumsily push and pry damp plastic in around his denuded ankles. Blankly, Ghost points out: "Everybody is 'them' to all of you." He buttons the collar of his jacket with a forefinger and thumb, kicks a baby's breath garland of padding off his shoe. "Huh," he says. For some reason, he has to suppress a smile. "Seems like she's really upset."

"Please don't kill me."

Ghost obliges him that; after all, the face he's wearing isn't his own and, frankly, live bait is the only kind that works with fish these size. Tilting across his feet, he kicks Derek in the head hard enough to knock the cognizance out of it, and trots for the door. Snagging his shotgun down, into a bag, he checks the neighbors, then downstairs, up last. There's a microwave dinging to finish, overlooked by a terrified elderly woman of some jiggling Jell-O corpulence, both summarily abandoned by someone long since rabbited ringing down the fire escape.

Harlem — Residential District

o/` Children play but their voices slowly fade away.

For an hour, now, he has been scrolling through the Times between texts on his PDA. Reading, rereading Tanner's article. Wondering.

On separate news, there had been a fire.

Since 2007, it has intrigued him, persisted thematically through his introspection and, sometimes, when he has had a lot of hoppy beer, exposition. Why Evolved manifest the abilities that they do. Sala, who sees contempt in every instance he's shown love, and retreats to privacy because of it; whose sense of self seems chained to what (and who) he happens to be wearing. Jesse, whose strengths, both psychic and emotional, are inextricably connected to damage, the uncontrollable backlash and runoff from all he had sustained and, of course, causing it. Hana would never be alone, if she didn't choose to be. Eileen and zia Lucrezia, either. It doesn't surprise him at all, that the three have never really gotten along. You don't get healthier than Diego without being on fucking steroids. In 2010, he met a beautiful man who was gradually turning to gold. It made news, when Arthur saved him.

Sometimes, he understands with the most impugnable, retching ache of conviction, that this is Arthur's ability: saving people.

Worse, maybe, is contemplating what that says about him. Samantha, too. He'd never told anybody that he'd been hoping he'd get telekinesis. Wishes, horses.

He figures he might have gotten astral projection, of all things, to answer any number of existential appetites or questions. To get away, always, pathologically restless fuck that he is; to have a chance to fight, now, ten years earlier and ten years too late; perhaps to become a ninja, because ninjas are awesome; to stop dreaming, not because his dreams were unpleasant but precisely because they weren't, that awakening had become too difficult, a relentless millstone of parting (you know who you are— and for better or worse, you are why he is so very rarely sorry, and the lion's share of causes when he honestly is).

He doesn't know about Samantha, aside of fire. Watching a cloud trail a dim reflection across the screen for only another moment longer, he puts the PDA away.

Unexpected loneliness requires unexpected measures. It has been days since Ghost heard his companions in any substantial capacity— only a monosyllabic question here or there, in the piteous squally register of a bear cub orphaned in the woods, not even a proper scolding in regards to the latest debacle with Salvatore or whomever. He suspects either that this is not very healthy for their brains (brain, collective?) or that the other two are tricking him, by which the discerning skeptic should understand to mean, he totally thinks the other two are tricking him but he's trying to be nice about it. Nevertheless, he decides to trick them back.

He buys a Japanese soft drink. It is pink strawberry, in a glass bottle, with a network of round notches chamfered into the neck that can not conceivably match the shape of his hand or configuration of his fingers in any way— probably because it was made for somebody with smaller ones. There's a cute little marble that clinks around inside whenever he tilts it back.

It perspires in the seasonal heat. He sits on a playground bench, the envy of all the children. Listening to the Bronx and cast-iron equipment bustle and whoop and clangor through the muffle of his self-imposed distances, he finds, to his exasperation, that he can not hear Gabriel or Teo say anything.

Fuck. Oh well, oh well, oh well. It is really tasty pop.

Now the PDA chimes. Message from Hana. The ghost rises.

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