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Bounding Dreams [IC]

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"When you're done, clean the place up and you can leave."


Aliya nodded to the receding hairline of Paul Hamm as he walked away before looking back to the few young girls who still had the twinkle of dreams in their eyes.  She envied their innocence as their pigtails and braids flipped and twirled while the girls practiced dismounts from the balance beam.  There had likely been a time in her life where she looked much like them, although she couldn't recall it; the past clouded with broken promises and ambitions.  


"Miss M?" a four foot ball of energy in a blindingly pink leotard stepped up to her.


"What is wanting Susan?" she said, her still noticeable Russian accent making the name sound more like Zhusan.


"There is a lady at the front, she is looking for you."


Alyia smiled at the young girl, "thanking for letting know.  Will go see of this woman.  Now, run to work the splits.  Needing to be much more flexibles."


As Susan ran off to the mats, she walked to the small counter that served as the office for 'Bounding Dreams' perhaps one of the saddest gymnastics clubs she had ever been in.  That she now worked here made that fact even worse.  The equipment was decades old, most of the lockers were inoperable, it was amazing that the lights even worked given how little money the place generated.  No, Bounding Dreams was just that, another whimsical notion that had faded like the aging paint on the walls. It was so likely that someone was here to collect on something that the insolvent business couldn't pay out on that she was already speaking as she rounded the corner, "Mr. Hamm is not being here this times.  Perhaps if needing pays, can come back to other time?"

Edited by BlazingCoconut
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Hmm. This establishment did not look much like what Anna was hoping for. Based on her experience, sleazy gyms tended to be run by guys who liked to get handsy with girls - or by mobsters. Or by both. She was mollified, a little, when it was a girl who came to see her. The slim blonde woman who was standing on the other side of the desk, waiting for Alyia, had light blonde hair the color of a bottle and wore a heavy Maniacs jacket against the chill of a Bedlam January. It was cold outside. "Not quite, honey," she said in a thick American accent that Aliya didn't immediately recognize. "I'm here to ask about yer private lessons. Usa the facilities, that kinda thing. You got a legit establishment here, sweetheart?" she added, meeting Aliya's eyes with bright baby blues. She was in her fifties, if Alyia guessed, but with the look and agility of a woman who'd kept herself in training. 

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A new patron was not what she had expected at all.  Bedlam was not the kind of city that had a middle class which could afford the luxuries of something like Gymnastics.  Even one run by a failed and disgraced former Olympian like her boss.  Of course, she ruefully thought, it was much like the pot calling the kettle black.  She did flash the woman the kind of smile that she had once reserved for crowds of people who had come to see her compete.  There were few enough times to use it now, but a new customer was one of them.  Perhaps her boss could find it in his heart to actually pay her for the hours that she put in this month.


"Am sorry, was thinking is another person asking of shop finances," she said with a shrug.  The leotard she wore clung to a body that was one part fit and the other part hungry.  It was a certain amount of irony that fashionably thin here didn't necessarily mean fad diet.  However, she still had the long lean lines of a gymnast and while her eyes seemed sad, there was still misplaced hope that could be found in her gaze. 


"Welcome to the Bounding Dreams, is having name of Aliya" she continued, "are looking for lessons?  Or perhaps is for little girl?"

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Anna grinned. "Thanks, honey, but I'm sure an old lady like me ain't what yer lookin' for around here." She looked the girl over, then said, "I gotta a friend who needs some place to flex her muscles - basic acrobatics, some martial arts, that kinda thing. If yer the right place, we'll pay for yer time." She looked around, craning her neck to look over the girl's shoulder. "I read all your brochures already," she said, waving her hand artlessly at the few sad, fading photocopies still in their dusty glass case by the door. "So I wanna see it for myself." 

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"Da!" Alyia said with renewed enthusiasm, "pleased to come inside.  Is happy to showing girls who is training, and also to demonstrate the advanced gymnastics for older students."


As she spoke, she walked out from the small counter and led the woman back into the gym.  The giggling pack of girls scattered like snow in front of the wind, taking places at the outside of the area.  The gym itself had serviceable, but well used equipment.  Most of it was geared towards gymnastics events, but some appeared more for general conditioning.    "Mary, pleased to starting floor routines."  Then turning to speak to the woman again, "Am not seeing of friend, how old?"


As she spoke, one of the small bundles of energy sprung up from the mat and raced to the center of the floor, ribbons trailing behind her as she began a reasonably complex tumbling routine.  While not totally impressive for it's moves, it was certainly elevated by te fact that the girl was rather young.  Regardless of her form, she certainly had the passion and the energy which likely spoke well of her training and desire to be in the program.

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"Coming up on nineteen," said Anna quietly. She fell silent as she watched the girls at play, no, at practice, putting her hand over her mouth for a moment. "Ah, that's nice. Look at her go." Unexpectedly, she found herself briefly wiping at her eyes as thoughts of her granddaughter passed quickly through her mind. She didn't get back to Freedom City much, not lately. "Sorry, somethin' in my eye. You oughta get somma that chalk dust outta the air," she lied. 


"The girls look nice," she offered. "And their parents just leave them here with you?" She'd certainly raised her own son in a similar spirit - but she had the idea that parenting these days didn't work that way. Especially not in Bedlam. 

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Alyia didn't comment on the woman's reaction to the girls who began to perform their little routines.  She considered how to answer, "is so, da.  Am being responsible for all of little girls and boys for some hours.  Is sometimes just Alyia... other times is boss.  Having heard of Paul Hamm?  Was being very good for gymnastics until problems.  Still is good for teaching and helping keeping childrens safe."


She paused as she thought of her boss.  Paul Hann had been a big deal at one point, but several on and off competition problems had separated him from the sport and landed him here.  She wasn't sure, but she was pretty sure that he drank far too much, and this was considering many of her countrymen who she knew.  He owned the store, but like many things in his life, it just seemed to get away from him.  If Alyia hadn't been there on the pittance of a salary that he paid her, she was sure it would have closed long ago.


"Nineteen?  Is already having training?  Or is new to this?"

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"She has training. From all ovah." Anna put her hand to her mouth as she watched the girls perform, then made a point to turn and address Alyia directly. "Heard of 'em," she admitted. The truth was that gymnastics had never really been her sport. "I'm more of a Wilma Rudolph girl anyway." She hmmed. "This Hamm, he the reason you have money problems?" It was a direct question, but seemed to be asked without judgement. 

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Alyia paused for a moment, "yes and no..." she finally admitted.  "Look, if is wanting friend to be getting of training.  Will promise this to be done.  Want to make sure that other things which will talk about do not hurt this decisions."


She sighed for just a moment before looking to the floor where one of her girls finished her routine.  Clapping for the girl, she interrupted herself to say, "is very good show girls.  Please to clean up the floor.  Parents will being here soons."  


The fact that the girls knew what to do, pulling mats aside and pushing equipment to it's designated place.  Several of them got out brooms and began sweeping.  While all of this activity was going on, "this is being Pauls... Mr. Hann's gym.  Is using monies from Olympics to buy.  If..." she paused again, "if wanting to know what is happened.  Is Google to finding easy.  Just knowing is good person still, just is not responsible for store.  Does not always to paying employees... or lights all of time."  She pointed to herself.  "Is using some of limited monies to make sure gym stays open and little girls and boys still having dreams."

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"That's a rough gig," said Anna, nodding as she appreciated the girl's honesty. "You work here, you know the story." People in Bedlam were like that, one thing she'd come to appreciate in the time she'd spent living in the city of her birth. They didn't put on airs, not like the damn Freedomites did half the time, or like the princes and princesses of lost Kemet - not now, honey, she told the divine voice in the back of her head. I didn't even bring the helmet today! There were advantages to assuming the power of a god, and disadvantages too. "This a good place to spend money? Maybe..." She waved her hand slightly. "Lotta money?" 

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"Da..." Alyia said before hearing the rest of the phrase, "wait... is saying much monies?"


That was about as unexpected a phrase around this broken gym as she had ever heard.  She bit her lip, waiting for the other shoe to fall.  It always seemed too, one way or another.  Still, while life had continued to deal her deuces, that didn't mean that she wasn't hopeful that someday, sometime, a pair of aces would turn up.


She took a deep breath, "Ma'am... would be making sure of friend's training personally.  But..." she hesitated, "...if doing so, please to making sure is guarantee's from owner.  Is good man, but not to being very smart with monies."

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"You would? Well that's quite a thing." Anna was smiling, but the look she gave Alyia was almost professional. "Why don't you show me what you can do, honey?" Before Alyia had a chance to demonstrate her skills, though, there was a hammering at the door - hard, rapid knocks and shouting from outside. The three men out there didn't look to be parents, and it was clear from the get-go they were making the kids nervous - glancing around and looking for comfort to the adults in the room. Anna shot a glance at the kids and turned to Alyia. "You take 'em to the girls room," she said, her voice coming quick and sharp. "Let 'em out that window in the back if somebody comes in through it." When had she had time to notice that

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Sadly this was not an uncommon experience as Paul was not very good at his job and collection agents were as common as gymnasts at the bounding dreams.  Although, this particular lot was very persistent.and from the sounds of it, they were not going to listen to her patient reasoning.  She looked at Anna, for just a moment she wondered if this was some kind of scam.  It wouldn't be the first time that someone had tried to run a bait and switch.  


Yet for all her suspicions, she didn't get the feeling that Anna was trying to con her.  That made her something incredibly rare in Bedlam, someone willing to help.


Turning to the girls she gave them a confident smile, "okaies.  Is practice being over now.  Pleased to moving to lockers.  Quickly.  Quickly."


The fact that there was no confusion or chaos spoke to the fact that this exercise, like many of the actual gymnastics routines, was not abnormal either.

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When Alyia looked back, Anna had disappeared - the swinging ladies bathroom door suggesting that perhaps she'd taken her own suggestion about where to hide out. 


The crew at the door, when she opened it, were not the usual people with whom Paul did business. In leather jackets and denim, they looked a touch under-dressed for a Wisconsin winter - but from the look of fervent intensity in their eyes and the grins on their snaggle-toothed faces, the trio didn't seem to be feeling the cold. "Howdy there, young lady," said the leader of the group, a tall man with a weathered face and impressive mustache that had recently turned to grey. "Is yer boss around? The boys and I made a long ride in today and I need to make sure we're in the right spot!" 


"Hey, maybe she's his accountant!" laughed another. "Your boss do business with the Mafiya, honey?" asked the speaker, a shorter man with a greying black beard long enough to be tied into a 'tail' over his belly. "Cause we're lookin' to send a message to them Russkies about some business!" 


A few steps away, the room around her slowed to a near-crawl from her perspective, a silent, invisible Anna Cline watched the conversation play out - pulling one of Esperanza's ski masks down over her head as she did so. 

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Alyia looked between the men and feared that this was not going to go well.  Usually the bill collectors came on their own and the men before her seemed less like collectors and more like enforcers.  Still, she didn't want to provoke them, nor cause any problems.  Not with the girls still in the gym.  She fervently wished that there was more money in the till, but as normal, Paul had emptied it earlier.  Leaving no more than $30 for her to try and convince these men to look elsewhere.


"Nyet," she said backing up, putting the wall behind her, "Mister Hann is not being here.  Is also American, like nice men.  Am only being Russian in gym."


She eyed them carefully, "is pleased to giving of messages..."

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"Hey, Vern, maybe this isn't the right place for-" declared Blackbeard in a loud whisper, his furry eyebrows pressed together with concern. 


"Shut the hell up!" declared Vern, the mustached leader. "All right, then, if yer so innocent, you better get the hell out the back." Reaching behind himself, Verne pulled out a short hatchet, a gesture matched a few seconds later by the rest of his squad. Well, except for Blackbeard - who appeared to have a glass bottle full with something clear - and a large butane lighter. Maybe that was why he'd hesitated, given his obvious intent. "We're gonna make a little example of this place and if y'all can't hold your breath or stand around in a fire, ya ain't gonna like it!" 


Having recovered his courage a bit, Blackbeard added, "This whole damn block used to belong to the Mafiya boys - but we're gonna show 'em this block is Shady Meadows property now - cause we're the hardest sumbitches in this whole damn town!" 

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"Is no need for this.  Gym is for little girls and boys.  No need for examples," she said with a hopefully disarming smile.


However, she was tensing and preparing to react to them before any of the girls could be endangered.  She would do anything that she could to keep them safe.  However, she made the decision that tipping her hat that they were there would be a bad idea with this crew.

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There was a time when Anna Cline had traded punches with the Centurion. Well, that wasn't exactly true - but she'd punched him more than a few times and she'd made him feel it. That had been a long time ago, though - a time when she'd been younger, and stronger, and faster. But even now, she had power - power she wasn't afraid to use. She'd run around the side of the building when the bikers had shown up, but now that she saw them threatening the sweet little Russian girl who'd been talking to her just a minute or two earlier, she ran back. The scene slowed to a molasses crawl as she ran up behind the leader and spun him around, jabbing her fingers into his eyes hard. Then she punched him in the throat, hard, enough that the shock of it went up her arm, then again in the stomach, then in the groin, each time feeling the force of the impact in her bones, before she ended the fight by jerking him backwards onto the concrete, where he fell with a sickening crunch. She stepped back, out of the press of the fight, smiling. 


From Joule's perspective, there was a wind - and Vern seemed to convulse, body jerking spasmodically, grunting in pain, before he fell backwards with a thud that left him moaning, half-insensate from where his head had cracked the sidewalk at his feet. The other two thugs stepped back, looking alarmed, but didn't drop their weapons - they were too high, or too angry, to be chased away. So far. "What did you _do_ to him, you crazy freak?" 

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What the thugs hadn't realized was that Aliya had training and the will to use it.  So when one of the thugs dropped, and it didn't matter from what, she sprung into action!  Jumping and rolling between the two with blades she popped up from the ground, her fist crackling with electricity as she struck the thug with the Molotov in the gut.  She was light on her landing and feet, but he shifted at the last moment and she didn't strike him as hard as she would have liked.  


Unfortunately, she needed this one out of action as she couldn't risk fire with the girls in back!

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The thugs went for Joule, fast and angry, with the carelessness that drugs and fear can bring if you mix them inartfully. Blackbeard was too busy to throw his Molotov cocktail, his hatchet whizzing by Joule's face even as she ducked low; his friend didn't even get that close as they closed on her. Up close she could smell the tobacco smoke and motor oil on them, and probably other drugs if she stayed too close. But given their relative strengths and sizes, it was already clear mobility was key. There was no sign of what had taken down Vern - but he was surely down. Suddenly, Joule felt a faint wind brush past her - and the glass bottle that Blackbeard held in his spare hand shattered, dumping broken glass and gasoline down the side of his pantleg so it puddled in his sock and on the ground. The man cursed and leaped backwards, leaving a trail of gas behind him.



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That was all she needed, with the man distracted she spun and her foot traced a high arc as it crashed into Blackbeard's collarbone, a blinding flash of electricity exploding out from the hit.  Then, to finish him, she grabbed his shirt, pulling her self up and leapt, using him as a springboard, back to the entrance to the gym.  There was no way she was going to let any of these thugs through this room.  Not while she still had a breath in her lungs.


There was something else going on in the room, but she couldn't see what it was, and it seemed to be hampering the thugs so she wasn't about to curse her fate.


Instead she gave them a seductive grin, "thinking is making bad choice to come to beat young girls."

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  • 2 weeks later...

One last invisible crack knocked the last thug to the ground - and Joule was standing over a trio of groaning, semi-conscious bikers who weren't going to be doing anything illegal for a while. Bedlam being Bedlam, it didn't sound like anyone had called the police just yet either. Several seconds later, Joule heard footsteps behind her, and Anna strolled up - unwrapping gymnast's tape from her fingers. "Well, looks like you took out those boys pretty nice," she commented, cracking her knuckles as she freed them. "I've seen these lowlifes before. They run meth outside of town, they must have thought they could start muscling in on territory here. Stupid of 'em, bet they're high." Anna gave the Russian girl a level look, her Jersey accent thick. "What's the plan, sweetheart?" 

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Aliya knew that she had only taken one of them out for sure... something had happened to the others that she didn't understand although given their attitudes, she wasn't about to complain either.  Rummaging through their pockets she liberated them of any ID's that they had and proceeded to take shots of them with her phone.  She concluded photoing their faces so that she'd have them on file.  It wasn't much, but she could maybe try to get the police to respond... possibly.


"Well is first to taking out trash," she said with a wicked smile and dragged the men out of the gym into the alley next to the store.  With some effort, she dumped the men into the dumpster one by one insuring they had no weapons on them before doing so.  Then stepping back into the gym she looked at Anna, "is knowing where these dealers is?"

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Anna gave her a measuring look. "Yeah, I run by there a couple of times. Nasty little neighborhood if you ask me, but they gotta a gal who fries up cheese curds and burgers real nice outta the back of her place." She stuck her hands in her pockets, looking Joule up and down. "Gonna be guys there with guns and knives, maybe harder stuff - lot of 'em doped up on meth. You hit 'em, you're gonna make some enemies. You gotta way of making sure they can't find you?" 

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Aliya paused for a moment while considering what to say, "is not to having normal place for living.  Life is been challenging... perhaps is making of benefit now?"


She shrugged, "maybe is also knowing some things to not being found."  She gave a smile, "sometimes life is not kind and is difficult.  There is peoples who have being looking for Alyia... so is knowing something of not being found.  Also some things on fighting back too"


She was starting to have some suspicions and then asked, "is having of same thing?  Mean, will being safe?"



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