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Tiffany Korta

February/March Vignette - The Common People

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Echohead

 

As told by Stephen Lake, 82, Retired Police Officer

 

Yeah, I know Velluti.

 

I knew his mother first. Lucia. She cut my hair when I still had some, ha ha. I guess one of the perks of growing old is you save on haircuts.

I remember Umberto. Little snot nosed kid, like the runt of the class. Smart, but not athletic, if you know what I mean. Jaw of glass and arms like twigs. Now, you can call me a jock or something like that, but if you ask me he needed to man up a bit, if you know what I mean. Eat some protein, get some fresh air and exercise. Or at least, if someone socks it to ya, you make sure ya sock ‘em back. I mean, you don’t have to win, right? Ya just got ta make it so the other guy pays for messin’ ya up. Then, they will think twice next time.

 

Three types of guys in the world. The guys who kick sand in peoples faces. The guys who gets sand kicked in their faces. And the guys who watch other guys get sand kicked in their faces.

 

You just gotta make sure you are the first type, or the last.

 

I guess I was a bit of the first, at school. Then I grew up, joined the force. Maybe I still kicked sand it other guys faces, but at least I did it to the right type of guy. If ya going to kick ass, make sure you kick the rights ones, huh?

 

So I tried to toughen the guy up, ya know. Gave him a clip round the ear, a few jabs, tried to show him how to fight back. He was getting his ass kicked at school every day, came back snivellin’ and cryin’ to mummy. Jeesus. I guess he needed a man in the family, ya know? Lord knows I tried, but seemed to be every time I tried to toughen him up, he just ended up getting worse.

 

I guess all that cryin and wailin took its toll. His body didn’t grow right, ya know? Like he wasn’t even a foot and half as a grown man. Liked spending time with flowers and plants, growin’ them on the roof, rather than proper stuff a man should be doin’. I mean, I don’t ever think he’s gone to a baseball game. Or a foot ball. Huh, well that’s the way he was built, I guess.

 

I had a word with the bullies at school a few times when things got really out of hand. I guess it helped a bit, after all I was a cop. But at the end of the day, the kid had to learn to fend for himself, yeah? That’s all of us can do, when it comes right down to it.

 

He was what he was, though. Smart enough to set up shop, selling plants and all that. I went in whenever I had to buy flowers for my wife. Huh, fifty years marriage, still goin’ ‘strong. Never cheated, either. That’s what a real man does, sticks by his wife. Not that Umberto’s going to marry, I guess. No woman’s gonna go for a man with his kind of spine. If he even has a spine.

 

So I saw him, all friendly like, once a month. Maybe more. He always seemed to get nervous when I came in, like I was gonna clip him round the ear again or sumthin’. Huh, maybe I did give him a few little playful jabs, you know, just for old times sake. He just smiled and kinda shrank, you know? Huh, no understandin’ some folks, I guess.

 

Must have been a bout a year ago. I was buyin’ some Roses for Mrs Lake, our anniversary. I go buy his shop and whaddya know? Its all boarded up. I gotta say, I was a bit surprised. I mean, Umberto ain’t got a jaw or a spine, but he’s smart. The business was always doin’ pretty good, and even if he wasn’t rich he was doing ok. More than ok, actually. His mother was always goin’ on a bout him, and Umberto kept her well cared for. So whys the shop boarded up, I asked myself? Well, I didn’t know then, and I sure as hell don’t know now. But I can tell you, something was up. Something odd.

It was boarded up for three, maybe four months. Not for sale, I saw, so its not like he was selling up. And if he had gone backrupt somethin’ would have happened. No, not nothin’. Just a load of graffiti accumulatin’ on the boards. And some of it weren’t too nice, either. Some of his childhood bullies still fancied a dig. Nasty little $£”%’s.

 

When did I see him again? Well it was the afternoon. He was unboarding the place. I gotta say, I almost did a double take. Almost didn’t recognise him. I mean, the guys dressed all different, for one. Got some style, now. Cool black suit, cool as you like. Like James Bond or the Men in Black, or somethin’ from Gunbusters. Ok, I said, maybe he got a stylist, spent some of his cash on some Italian designer or somethin’. Maybe theres hope for him gettin’ a gal or sumthin, if he could just get some fast car to go with the suit, just maybe there’s hope.

 

He still had the stoop, but not so bad. And when I came to say hello, he flinched just like before, but this time, it didn’t last. Like his spine went but snapped back like a rubber band. I gotta say, I was happy for the guy. It was a mystery, but good for him. Maybe he saw some Goddamn shrink or sumthin’, got some guts sewn into his head.

 

Then, some of those bullies came wanderin’ past. Now, they been picking on Umberto ever since high school. And they didn’t like their favourite wimp getting’ a spine and a new cool suit. So they start shoving him around. And then the shovin’ pretty quickly got serious. Boots and Knuckles. I tried to stop em. Twenty, even ten years ago, I would have given them an ass kickin, but I ain’t young any more.

 

Then one of them just freezes. Stops like a statue. I could see the fear in his eyes. Like asking “What the hell!”, gurgling “help!” like a little girl. The other guy, he turns around and wonders what the hell happened. Bullies, they work in packs, and when the pack gets thin, they don’t have all that courage and swagger they pretend to have, do they. No, so you could see this guy startin to lose his balls. “Snap out of it!” he said, trying to push the guy back to workin. All he did was push the guy over. Ouch.

 

So then he turns around, and I could see he wants to give Umberto a real good kickin. Out of fear, this time. And I see him look right at Umberto. No, that ain’t right. I mean, Umberto is right there, bang, a foot away from his face, and he can’t see him. He’s looking left and right, and span around. Couldn’t see what was right infront of his face. Turns to me and says “Where did that little snot go?”. Now, I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I make the best of it. I go point down the street, the other way.

 

So this guy, he doesn’t know what to do. He picks up his friend who is like a puppet without any strings, and pulls him away. Halfway down the street, his friend starts to use his legs again, and that’s when they both started running away.

 

“What the hell was that?” I ask Umberto. Now, Umberto is grinning like a mad dog. Like he got thirty years of revenge packed into a few moments. And you know, I can’t say I blame him.

 

“Poetry” he says, still smiling. “Thing’s are going to be different now” he said.

 

And I can tell ya, they have sure been different. Tell ya one thing, if you are a bully, ya better remember ya wont be forgotten even if you forget. And one day ya might just regret it.

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Sgt. Shark

 

As told by Doctor Leah Rhodes, 56

 

It was ten years ago I first met Victor Finn. Back when he was, well, Victor Finn. I couldn’t say he was “only” Victor Finn. You can’t say that about anyone who is in the [redacted]. They really aren’t ordinary guys. But…hey…can I say that?

 

Ok sure. Well, he was a member of the [redacted] and was working in [redacted] doing [redacted] against the [redacted]. And I am sure you can appreciate just how dangerous that was. I mean, the [redacted]! You have to had into the boys in the [redacted].

 

I work in St Johns and St Elizabeth Hospital, where we have a central diving medicine department. I was a diver myself, and still am when I get the chance. I suppose that’s how I got into it. Fascinating physiology, being underwater. Decompression illness has some particularly interesting biophysical effects on cellular..ah…but another time. I’m not giving a lecture, am I?

 

Anyway, that’s where we have the best dive medicine department in the country. Every now and again, we get someone from the armed forces come in after an accident or operation. Normally that’s not problematic, but we have also had a few from the [redacted] and then things get very heavy. Lots of big guys acting casual, and ready to rip heads off if something went down. I had to sign the official secrets act and everything. So I guess this testament will have to go through [redacted] and I guess they will redact all the [redacted] about [redacted].

 

But that’s not the point. Victor Finn came in one day, and you can tell security was tight. He had been diving off of [redacted] and got into some serious trouble with [redacted]. Had to emergency ascend. It was bad. I mean, it could have killed him. But this guy was hard core, like real peak of endurance and his physiological reserve was immense. So he was in trouble, sure, but it was looking pretty good.

 

He had to spend two days in the chamber, and he was monitored closely. It wasn’t easy for us, or him. There were a lot of other issues. Some complex trauma, and we had to fight off infection. So we had to go in and out of the chamber putting up fluids, antibiotics, and inserting a chest drain. To be honest, one of the toughest cases we had.

 

But he kept in good spirits. The prognosis was pretty good despite all the problems. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed and we got him in time. He had oxygen and fluids straight away on emergency ascension, so things were looking ok. He was a tough cookie. But still, it can get a bit lonesome in that chamber, so we got to talking. He even cracked a few jokes.

 

I’m no psychologist, but he had something hard inside him. He had this drive, you know? To be tough. To be better. To be the best. You don’t get that without something cracked in your past. What, you think people go into medicine for pure love of humanity? Yeah, Victor Finn was somebody I could related to.

And he made a full recovery, at least as far as I could tell. As soon as he was out of the chamber he got transferred to [redacted] for further treatment and [redacted]. I though that would be the last I saw of him.

 

Until last year.

 

I was taking a holiday. Sailing off the coast of North France with my husband and his sister. She had just got divorced and said she needed some time away. The sea can give that to you, just that emptiness and power, completely free to do what it will. It’s refreshing, and invigorating, but when the sea gets angry, it can turn frightening too.

 

The forecast said it would be a bad storm, and we knew to get as near to land as possible and close the hatches. We had ridden out bad storms before, we knew what to expect.

 

The forecast said a bad storm. But it was worse than bad. It was a monster. I swear I thought I was going to die. My husband painted the yacht green with his sickness. I thought he was going to die. I knew one thing. I swore I would never go sailing again.

 

At its peak, we were terrified. We could hear bits of the ship cracking. John, my husband, he was too weak to do anything. But I could hear the life raft come lose, jangling around on its cord, smashing into the boat every minute or more. Boom, boom. And crack. Sooner or later, we knew, that raft would sink the ship. We had to cut it loose and that meant going out. John offered, but we all knew that he could barely stand, let alone cling to the yacht and swing an axe. It had to be me.

 

There gets a moment when you are so terrified, you kind of zone out. Dissociation. Like everything became clear. I had to do this. Or I had to try.

 

The boat was yawing like crazy, and as soon as I stepped out I was hit by a fist of water. I staggered, but I clung on somehow. Because I had too, I suppose. I tried another few steps. Bam! Nearly knocked off my feet by another wave. Another few steps, and then the biggest wave of the storm hit.

 

I don’t remember exactly what happened, not even hitting the water. I just remember being a few feet under. Calm. I remember thinking it was really calm down here. Like the storm wasn’t happening. Like I could just go to sleep.

 

And then I felt some arms around me. I must have been dreaming, I thought. I recalled all the fantastical stories of mythology and fantasy. Mermaids. Atlantis. Maybe they were true, I thought. I was not really conscious, I suppose.

 

Then, next thing I knew I flew out of the water, held by this thing from the sea. Black eyed, sharp teeth, wet waxy skin. Like a shark, like a man. Strong as an ox, and bold as a lion. He handled me like I was a feather, like I weighed nothing. I remember the power. This man swam right out of the sea, ten feet in the air, and landed perfectly on the boat with me in his arm. With his other he took the cord to the life boat and pulled it like it was nothing. Pulled it to his teeth and bit clean through it.

 

I was coming to. A little less hazy. A little less dreamy. He was pulling me back inside. I remember John and his sister screaming as they saw him. Although they were relieved I was alive.

 

“Here you go. I’ll wait outside. Just in case” said the shark man. And then, well, I started to think. Something about that voice. Different, but familiar.

 

And he stood outside, in the cold and the fury, like it was nothing. We just saw this powerful silhouette, facing down nature like he was both one with it, and immovable against it. One hour, two hours. Four hours we rode it out with him, and he stood at the front of the ship. I think he enjoyed every furious wave that hit him.

 

It was nearly calm when we went outside, although the rain was heavy. Hard to see him. But he turned around. I saw those black eyes. Something about him more familiar now. I knew I knew him.

 

“When I heard, I came” he said. “You saved my life once, doctor. Now, I saved yours”

 

Victor Finn promised me, all those years ago, he would try and return the favour I was doing him. And he smiled then when he made that promise. And this shark man, he smiled that same way. Different teeth, different mouth. But the smile was the same.

 

“Victor…”I gasped. Maybe it was a question, but honestly, I knew…and I know….it was him.

 

He paused. He didn’t say anything. Just paused a moment. I think he was letting me know it was. And then he dived into the sea.

 

I never saw him again. It was Victor, I know it. Even if I don’t know what the hell happened to him, I’m glad it did. I just wished I could have said thank you.

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Curveball

 

As told by Minnie Kenson, 20

 

I study media arts at Freedom City University. I hope to go into multi media film after a graduate. We had a really interesting talk by Zyte Guyst last semester. I mean, he is the king of multi media, isn’t he. So cool, so smart, so innovative, so…yeah. Well he is a bit of dick too, isn’t he? Anyway, he really inspired me. Got me thinking about alternative media and alternative sub cultures and the hyper distortion dissonance of fringe existence. Or something like that.

 

It got me thinking about Curveball.

 

You heard of her? Bit fringe. Bit radical. Bit queer. I mean, not that type of queer. Like queer queer. Like. Odd.

 

I heard about her first last summer when I was researching an essay on meta humans and economics: sub culture formation and transformation. I referenced her, of course. I mean, you put as many references into an essay as you can, right? Even if they aren’t relevant. I knew of her, but I didn’t think much of it.

 

Until Zyte got me thinking about her.

 

I think I might do my final year thesis on her.

 

She used to be a baseball player. Was going to go far in women’s baseball. Huh, not like that’s far, right? Women’s sports don’t get much of a look in with advertising and sponsorship. Don’t get me started on that, I won’t stop. But the point is she was good. Really good. A rising star.

 

And then something happened. In Germany, apparently. She flew over there with two arms, came back with four. And if she could throw a ball fast beforehand, she could throw it supersonic afterwards. I can’t find out what exactly happened, there are all sorts of rumours about genetic splicing, some Teutonic sorcery, or some virus. But it happened. Jasmine Rita Jagger had become Curveball.

 

You know the rules on metahumans on professional sports. It doesn’t work. Not fair. I mean, I can see that. I can understand why top-level athletes have to be tested for mutant genes just like they have to be tested for drugs, for MAX and ZOOM and all the others. They even need to be scanned for cybernetic enhancements. Its got to be a level playing field.

 

But I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her. This was not somebody mediocre who was cheating to be the best. This was somebody who was the best, or close enough, who accidentally got changed to something better than the best. Not her choice, at least not as far as I can see. I mean, why would she change herself voluntarily? She got her career pulled from under her.

 

So, I went to see her at freak-con.

 

I mean, she had to make a living somehow, right? Her old career was gone, and she didn’t spend her school studying. At least, not studying maths or English or anything tangible she could fall back on. She spent it playing sports. So, what could she do?

 

When one has no hopes, no beliefs, no morals? What can one do? No, not that. She wasn’t smart enough for law. She went into advertising.

 

Patches and stickers sewn all over her costume. Signatures and poses, allowing slightly freaky men – and slightly freaky women for that matter to feel her arms. Double price for a full hug. Yeah, that’s freak con for you. A celebration of the weird, wonderful and freaky world of metahumans.

 

It’s actually pretty friendly and good natured for the most part. Sure, there are plenty of geeks and nerds out there who perhaps need a good wash and a better deodorant. And a lot of them need some serious fashion advice. But they are pretty friendly, like a sort of family, like you get in sub cultures. They treat the stars with respect, for the most part. Like, when I was there, the queue to see Curveball and get a signature or photograph was one of the longest. Hell, I think it was the longest. In that world, she really is a star.

 

Well that’s how it is for the most part. Smiling and posing, signing baseball caps and base ball bats – a fan favourite is to sign with all four arms at once – and sometimes signing body parts. Yeah, some pretty strange body parts. But that’s where it can get a little crazy, a little uncomfortable. Every now and again a fan gets a little too friendly, if you know what I mean. Now, the folks of freak con, the fans, they don’t like that at all. Don’t get the wrong impression of them, someone gets too frisky, they are lucky to get kicked out of the convention. Sometimes, they get their head kicked in too.

 

From what I saw, Curveball was pretty friendly with the folks at Freak Con. I mean, she got them. Got that they were trying to be respectful alongside their fascination. And, you know, its hard not to get off on being adored and worshipped. I can’t say I know her well, but I would say her heart wasn’t a 100% in it. Half in it, for sure. Maybe more. And its not like the other half was poisoned against the whole scene. But, well, I just got this little scent, this little whiff, that she was a bit sad alongside the smiles. Like she was thinking of what could have been, or what could be.

 

Then I saw this huge guy come up in the queue. Like, huge. Six foot six, tattoos, leather, piercings everywhere you could see – and I guess a few places you couldn’t see. Arms as thick as my waist (hey, I’m trying to lose weight, so keep any comments to yourself, huh?) like he spent half is life in the gym and the other half hustling body building chems and shoving them up every orifice. Guy looked pretty spiked on drugs, you could tell. Sweating, shaking, eyes like big black discs.

 

And he starts getting frisky. Bad frisky. Laughing in a bad way. Like, he wants all four hands on this part or that part of his body. Everyone getting nervous. You know, like you don’t want to believe it is happening? Maybe it’s a joke or something? But that drops off pretty quick. You can only deny the obvious so long. And in this case, that so long was a couple of seconds.

 

Trouble is, this guy is huge and buzzing on God knows what. Like, what are you going to do? Tell him to back off, pull him away? Guy might rip your head off. Now the guys and girls at Freak con, they are family, and you could tell the anger was buzzing quick, and give it a moment, they would swarm on him. But for a moment or two, they just get paralysed because this guy could snap anyone of them in half.

 

Curveball though, she acted. Fast and quick. Must have been half his size, if that. But I guess having four arms helped. Punch punch punch punch. That’s what a boxer looks like with four arms. Hard enough trying to defend against two fists. You should try defending against four.

 

And then she grabbed him. He was huge this guy, but would you believe it, Curveball was stronger! Held him tight, then through him ten feet clear across the con with a big nasty smile on her face.

 

The place erupted! Like every man woman and child in the con sent out a roof raising cheer. She was one of them. Family. The huge thug? If he hadn’t have been out cold he might have got tarred and feathered (yeah, there is a tar and feather station set up every year there). Even still, a few people decided to give him a few kicks just to make sure. Can’t blame em, and I’m pretty sure he ain’t going to pressing charges, and I’m pretty sure the Freak Con family ain’t going to be ratting on anyone for putting their boots to good use.

 

And guess what? Curveball spent the rest of Freak Con signing and posing free of charges. I guess she became part of that subculture full time, that day. I can’t say I am, but I did feel, for one day, part of the family.

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