Nasty awoke from a fitful sleep. She tried to stretch her legs, but could not uncurl. Shivering, she sat up. I can't believe this, she thought. I can't stay here and I can't keep this van. They're probably looking for it right now. She looked at her image in the mirror. I'm a mess. Okay, let's see what I have. Nasty emptied her pockets. Paper, credit cards, Michael Parks, Michael Green - how many names does Mickey have? - Steven Parks . . . that name's familiar. Ah, cash. Twenty, forty, fifty, sixty . . . a hundred and five? Who carries around that much money on them? At least I can get something to eat. She opened the glove compartment. Soccer mom strikes again, I see. Candy, not touching it. Bills. Parking stubs. Movie stubs, all PG. Parking tickets - what's a fed doing with parking tickets? A twenty. Bet she doesn't know it was there.
Leaving the unwanted items in the driver's seat, Nasty got out of the van. She fingered the keys. Better get rid of these, too. Looking around, she saw an abandoned building. She heaved the keys at it. There. Let them find the keys. She took a step, and almost fell. Fucking shoes. She kicked them off and picked them up. Like hell they're "eight and a half".
She wandered the street in her bare feet, feeling the cold of the pavement. She hitched up her pants so she wouldn't trip over the hem. Early morning traffic zipped by her. Nasty tried to look in each car as it passed, wanting to see if she recognized the drivers and passengers. Relax, Natasha. After breakfast, find a Sally Ann and get real clothes. Worry about the rest later.
Nasty heard gunfire several blocks away. She flattened herself against the building she was walking by and waited a few seconds. Just like home. Give them a couple of seconds. More shots were fired, then Nasty heard a loud crack. Huh? Something's up.
"Stop, evil-doer!" someone shouted around the corner. Nasty heard another crack, much closer this time.
Shit. They're coming this way. Nasty crept to the corner. She flinched as she heard two more gunshots, far too close for her comfort. She heard footsteps running closed to her. A purple glow surrounded Nasty's hand as she energized her fist.
A man in a garish purple and red costume ran past Nasty. Without hesitation, she threw her punch, catching the man off-guard. She hit the man in his side. The burst of energy from Nasty's fist forced the man to the ground.
"Another altie!" Nasty heard to her side.
"I don't think so."
Nasty heard two loud shots. She turned, and saw two bullets hanging in mid-air. "Holy shit!"
"Put down your guns and come along peacefully," a man floating in the air said. "Miss, thank you for your help."
Nasty looked up at the man. He wore a blue and white costume with a red cape flapping in the breeze. Great. Damned heroes. Last thing I needed. "I had nothing to do with this," Nasty said.
"I know, Miss. You showed great bravery helping me stop these robbers."
Great stupidity, you mean. "Um, do you need me here, still?"
"I'd like you to talk to my associate. He's two blocks away."
"You want a statement, or something? I didn't see anything, really."
"I just want you to talk with my associate. Someone as civic-minded as you should be rewarded. I have to take these miscreants in. Thank you, again, Miss." Translucent auras surrounded the robbers, carrying them into the air. The man flew off over the buildings, his prisoners in tow.
Great. Just fucking great. Nasty shrugged. I was going that way, anyways. I can handle myself and anyone who tries to stop me. Nasty watched the costumed crime fighter disappear behind a building, then continued on her way. This has to be a dream. This can't be real. I am not being chased by the Feds; I am not seeing a man fly away without wings; and who the hell do I think I'm kidding?
A white limousine stopped in front of her, blocking her path. Without thinking, Nasty crouched into a fighting pose, her hands balled into fist. "I'm walking here!" she said.
A man stepped out of the driver's side door. "Excuse, me, miss? May I have a word with you?"
"One word: No."
"It's about the help you gave to the American Eagle back there. My name is Edward, one of the Eagle's associates."
"The freak in the cape?"
"The 'freak' is the American Eagle. I work for the American Eagle Foundation of Rochester. The Foundation exists to do as the Eagle does, to help people in time of need and crisis."
"What does this have to do with me?" C'mon, just get the hell out of my way.
"Eagle believes in encouraging people to help when they can. Not necessarily by stepping in and taking on a metahuman directly like you did, but in small but important ways. One of the ways is rewarding people."
"I don't need a reward," Nasty said.
"If you say so, but if you don't mind me saying, it does look like you could use some help yourself."
"I am perfectly fine." Careful, Natasha. Eddy there has a powerful friend.
"You're walking around barefoot in early November. You don't see a problem with that?"
November?! What happened to October? What did those assholes do to me? "I just don't want the cops involved, okay?"
"No cops need to be involved. You can go on with whatever you were doing afterwards. Eagle just wants to thank you properly," Edward said.
"Okay, you've convinced me. I'll talk to this Eagle person and I'll be on my way."
Edward walked around the front of the limo. He opened the rear door for Nasty.
"I'll sit up front, thanks," Nasty said. I want to keep an eye on you.
"As you wish."
Edward closed the rear door and opened the front. Nasty slipped into the limo, letting Edward close the door behind her. She looked around the plush interior. Okay, the front trimmings cost more than Mom's apartment. What the hell do they want with me? I should have just walked on. She glanced down at her feet. Right, not without shoes. Swift move, Natasha, just dropping the shoes. And what are you doing trusting this guy? How do you know he's not with them?
"Penny for your thoughts," Edward said as he entered the limo. He closed his door, then started the car. "Or at least a name, so I can introduce you to Eagle."
"My mother told me not to talk to strangers." Oh, lame, Natasha. Think harder.
"She probably also told you to never get into a stranger's car."
Nasty glared at Edward. "Jessica."
"That's a lovely name."
Nasty silently stared out the window for the rest of the drive. She had no idea of where she was or where Edward was taking her. Leaning back in her seat, she resigned herself to being stuck until she reached wherever she was going. As long as they're not working for those jerks, I can handle it. If they are, then I'll make them wish the hadn't messed with me in the first place.
Edward pulled into an underground garage. Nasty became alert. Through the rearview mirror, she watched the garage door close. Great. Trapped. I knew I shouldn't have trusted him. She watched Edward. The driver concentrated on maneuvering the limo through the garage, ignoring Nasty's glare. He parked in an oversized reserved spot, then stepped out of the car. Nasty opened her door and cautiously got out.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Elevator up to the Foundation's office," Edward said, pressing the call button. "From there, I'll introduce you to Eagle's assistant. She'll take care of you from there."
"And then I can go on with my life?"
"No one will stop you."
The elevator door opened. Edward ushered Nasty inside, then entered the elevator himself. He punched in a code into a keypad. The doors closed, and the elevator rose. Nasty watched the floor numbers. The elevator stopped on the seventeenth floor. When the doors opened, Nasty quickly walked out into a lobby. A woman in a tailored business suit walked over to greet the new arrivals.
"Hello, you must be the young lady who helped Eagle," the woman said. She held out her hand. "My name is Anne."
Nasty shook Anne's hand. "Jessica. Look, I did what I thought was right. I don't need any reward or fanfare or anything like that, okay? I just want to go on with my life."
"That's perfectly fine," Anne said. "Thanks, Ed." Edward returned to the elevator and left. "So, Jessica, wasn't it?"
"Um, yeah." I think. Geez, Natasha, try to remember what name you're using.
"Come with me, please."
Nasty followed Anne through another set of doors into a corridor. I should turn around and leave. I shouldn't be following her. I shouldn't even be here. What if she or her boss are controlling me, just like in that coffin? Damnit, what's real anymore?
Anne stopped in front a set of double doors and opened them. "In here, please, Jessica." She ushered Nasty into a large room. American Eagle waited in the middle of the room. "Eagle, this is Jessica," Anne said.
Eagle smiled at Nasty. "The young woman who helped me." He held his hand out to Nasty. "Thank you."
Nasty blushed slightly as she shook Eagle's hand. "I just heard shots and didn't think things through. It was nothing, like I kept telling Edward and Anne."
"You stepped forward when most people would have watched out for themselves."
"Well, I wasn't thinking."
"You helped me catch a dangerous metahuman criminal," Eagle said. "I couldn't help notice how you're dressed. If you want, I can have the Foundation help you get you on your feet."
"I'm perfectly fine. Maybe if I could use a bathroom?"
"I'll show her, Eagle," Anne said.
"Jessica, while you're there, perhaps you could think over this offer - I'd like you to become the next Peregrine."
[End Issue 16]
Next Issue: Nasty's decision.