Chapter 13 – Realizations

4 Days Later

— Saturday, September 17, AD 2129 —

“I can’t believe I’m stuck with you…”

“And I can’t believe that I still need to be stuck with you,” Pierce shot back. “Suck it up. That little stunt you pulled a week and a half ago is what put you in this position.”

“Why am I getting punished for stepping in to stop a bullying?!” Riley exclaimed irately, “didn’t you do the same thing?!”

“Yeah, but I didn’t get bruised all over for it. You had to’ve known how Mom would react to that.”

“Ngh…”

Pierce smirked as his sister turned away from him, frustration writ across her face. Early morning sunlight shone down upon them as they walked the streets of Oakland, en route to the local BART station. Pierce himself hadn’t any desire to use the trains — he could just run to any destination, after all — but his sister wanted to hang out with a friend elsewhere in the bay, and ever since she had returned home covered in bruises ten days ago, their mother had insisted that Pierce act as her chaperone. Neither sibling was pleased by the demand, but Pierce couldn’t help but feel a little worried for Riley’s safety after interrupting the fight she had gotten herself into. He refused to say as much out loud, choosing instead to project his standard impatient demeanor, but he worried for her all the same.

Accompanying Pierce and Riley on their walk were two others: Cooper, whose leash Pierce held onto as the beagle eagerly trotted down the sidewalk; and the same young girl he had seen Riley defending the previous week. Pierce now knew her name to be Sera, but he knew little else about her — she appeared to be incredibly shy, and altogether reluctant to engage in conversation with him. He himself wasn’t overly interested in getting to know her, either; he and Riley had always maintained separate friend groups, and he had little intention of changing that now. Still… as small and as quiet as she is, it’s not hard to see why she was getting bullied. Good on Riley for stepping in, but if I hadn’t shown up… Pierce passed his sister a surreptitious glance as she engaged in conversation with Sera, and then turned his attention forward again to watch Cooper, giving the leash a brief yank to stop the beagle from peeing on a fire hydrant. …Let’s just hope they don’t get into any more trouble.

“Hey, asshole.”

“What?” Pierce looked over at Riley again. “The hell do you want?”

She jerked her head toward her friend. “Sera wants to know what it was like to live on a different planet.”

Pierce turned his gaze toward Sera, who seemed to shrink away from him, but maintained eye contact all the same. His mouth turned up into a small smile as he replied, “well, it was pretty amazing, but also not. The day-to-day shit on Ainminthalus was almost exactly the same as here, you know. Wake up, wash up, go to work, go home. Get groceries on the weekend. Hit up a bar every now and then…”

“You’re not old enough for that,” Riley countered.

“On Ainminthalus I was,” Pierce shot back with a smirk. “I turned 21 a month ago, anyways. But, that aside… the really interesting parts of Ainminthalus were the rings, and the spaceport. The rings were amazing, but kinda hard to describe. You’d really have to be there to appreciate just how much of the sky they took up. And the spaceport… it wasn’t super busy, only a few dozen landings and take-offs each day, but man, is it weird to see commercialized space travel on that level.”

“Sounds nice…” Sera replied quietly.

“Heh.” Pierce grinned. “That’s not even the best part. I got to fly one of those spaceships.”

Sera’s eyes widened in curiosity, but Riley simply regarded her brother with an incredulous look. “I thought you were only studying the thing, not flying it,” she questioned.

“And flying it is a part of studying it, duh,” Pierce shot back. Though it’s true that I never really flew the ship outside of a small preset path… but they don’t have to know that.

“H-how much do you know about spaceships?” Sera asked.

“Now?” Pierce smirked and made a show of casually shrugging. “I mean, I can’t build one from scratch, but you could say that I know a thing or three.”

“Could… could you tell me about them?”

“Hmm… that could take some time, and we’re almost at the station. Maybe another time.”

“Oh…” Sera cast her eyes downward. “…Okay…”

Pierce narrowed his eyes slightly as he noticed her reaction. Before he could think any further, however, Riley had sidled up to him with an irritated expression on her face.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she hissed, her voice low so as to not be overheard by anyone else.

“The hell are you talking about?” Pierce responded in kind.

“Don’t hit on my friends, you asshole.”

“What? Get the hell out of here. You seriously think I’m interested in high schoolers?”

“Then what was that line about ‘maybe another time’?”

“If you think that counts as ‘hitting on’ someone then you need to get out more, ‘cause that’s literally the opposite of what I was doing.”

Riley glared at him for another couple moments before slowly pulling away. “…If you say so,” she muttered.

“Of course I say so,” Pierce shot back. “I have over four years of life experience over you, don’t forget that.”

She rolled her eyes. “As long as you’re around, I’m sure I never well.”

“Is… is everything okay?” Sera questioned.

“Everything’s fine,” Pierce replied flatly, and then nodded forward. “We’re here, though.”

The three stopped walking just in front of the train station’s entrance area, which was teeming with weekend morning activity. Out the corner of his eye, Pierce noticed Sera inching closer to Riley, but then he was distracted by trying to keep Cooper from peeing on a nearby lamppost. “This damn dog…” he muttered to himself, and then crouched down to look Cooper in the face. “Look, buddy, I might’ve volunteered to walk you, but don’t push your luck.”

The beagle simply barked once and licked him in the face, leaving him to purse his lips in mild disgust.

“Hey, asshole! We’re leaving now!”

“Stop calling me ‘asshole’,” Pierce retorted as he glanced back at at his sister. “You’re meeting up with another friend here, right?”

“And what about it?” Riley shot back.

“Wow, bitchy much?” Pierce snorted. “Just promise not to get into trouble again. I won’t be around to bail you out today, after all.”

“I can handle myself.”

“That fight last week says otherwise. Just be careful, alright?”

“Wow, concern, from you. The world really is ending.”

“Oh shut the hell up, just leave already so I can do my own shit.”

Riley flipped Pierce the bird before turning around and guiding Sera into the station. Pierce simply made a face at her retreating form before looking down at Cooper and turning down the street. “Alright, buddy, let’s go,” he declared as he began pulling on the leash. “Let’s get you home so I can go hang with Conrad.”

Cooper offered two yaps in response before turning around and dashing off down the street, yanking at the leash in the process. Pierce remained unfazed as he easily braced against the yank; he had spent nearly half his life growing up alongside Cooper, after all, and was by now well familiar with the beagle’s tendencies. With an amused sigh, he began walking down the street after Cooper, his attention now free to focus on the dog or any random thoughts that crossed his mind.

 

“If… if you ever see Liask… tell her… tell her that I… …that I…”

 

“Tch…” Pierce scowled, doing his level best to ignore the dull throbbing that once again passed through his lower torso. Every damn time I think of Ainminthalus, I can’t help but remember what happened to… damn it. This is… fuck. He began sweeping his gaze across his urban surroundings in search of something to distract himself, to take his mind off of the death that had apparently been burned into his memory. …Why is this even hitting me so hard? I only knew Trenon for, what, three months? That’s nothing…

“Hey! HEY!! Get back here!!”

“Huh?” Pierce looked up, distracted by a woman’s shout. Down the block, he could see a woman chasing after two hooded figures — one of whom appeared to be holding a purse. They promptly jumped into an old, idling car and then drove off down the street so fast that they left skid marks. A purse-snatching? In broad daylight? Are you fucking kidding me? Pierce stared after the car incredulously. …Wait! This is a perfect opportunity for me! Now I—! He stopped himself and glanced down at Cooper, who himself seemed to be looking between the car and the woman curiously. …Shit. I can’t just leave Cooper alone. Uh… uh… got it!

He spun on his heel and began running toward the woman who had just lost her purse, yanking on Cooper’s leash to get the beagle to follow. The woman appeared to be dialing her phone, but just as she held the device up to her ears, Pierce approached and thrust Cooper’s leash into her free hand.

“Hold this,” Pierce ordered, “I’ll get your purse back faster than you can call for help!”

“Wait, what? No, hold on—!” the woman began to respond, but Pierce had already whipped around and dashed off — though he maintained a reasonable, human speed until he found an alley to duck into.

The moment he did, he leaped up to the roof of the building and then began hopping from roof to roof across the city, in search of the car the purse-snatchers had fled in. The vehicle had since turned down a street, so Pierce wasn’t exactly sure where it had gone, but he began scanning the streets as he leaped through the city all the same. It looked like a manned car. An old one — well, ALL manned cars are old, but this one especially so. They’re pretty rare, too, so it should be easy enough to find. Heh. Dumbass criminals.

He then stopped atop a building and glanced to his right; standing just in front of him was the apartment building in which his family lived. After a moment of hesitation, he jumped over to the building and looked for the window to his and Riley’s room, which he had left open for just an occasion as this. Quietly, he jumped through the window and dug through his clothing, eventually pulling out the balaclava he had acquired a week ago. Within moments, he had put the item on and leaped out the window to resume his hunt.

Now where the hell did they go he mused as he searched the streets. They can’t have gone too far, there’s no way a junker like that car would belong to anyone who lived in the better parts of the city… He stopped for a second atop another apartment building to take a closer look at the streets around him. The vast majority of automotive transportation was automated nowadays, and only the rich, car enthusiasts, or inheritors owned their own cars anymore. As such, cars were rarely parked on the side of the street, as most of them were owned by the government or by private taxi companies. Which means that any cars that ARE parked must not be automated, Pierce reasoned, and then smirked to himself. And just what do we have here, huh?

He jumped down to the street, just in front of an alleyway — an alleyway in which two cars were parked. Both were covered, but the two men standing near them looked exactly like the two who had performed the earlier purse-snatching — and they hadn’t yet seemed to have noticed Pierce. Confidant, he began to approach down the alleyway. “Hey!”

The two men whipped around to stare at Pierce, who continued to casually approach. “Hey, who the hell are you?” one of them demanded.

“I’m just a… friendly neighborhood conflict resolver,” Pierce retorted, stopping just a handful of meters from the other two men. The two backed into defensive stances; Pierce could see one of them hovering his hand over his hip. Does he have a gun? Pierce questioned mentally, …heh, just try and shoot me, you idiot. I dare you.

“I don’t know who you are,” the other man growled out, “but if you wanna live to see another day, then you better leave now.”

“I’ll leave after a couple questions,” Pierce shot back, and then nodded at the two covered vehicles behind the men. “Mind if I take a look at those?”

“We don’t have to show you shit,” the first man snapped, as the second pulled out a pistol from under his jacket. “This is your last chance, buddy. Leave. Now.”

“Ah, well.” Pierce sighed and shrugged. “I tried.”

“Alright, that’s—!” the second man started, but before he could finish his thought, Pierce had disappeared from where he stood and reappeared just beside the man. In a flash, he disarmed the man and threw the gun to the side, at which point he grabbed the man’s arms, pulled them behind his back, and then forced him to the ground.

“This is your last chance!” Pierce shouted, “give back the purse you stole, and I’ll leave you alone!”

“The hell—? You bastard!” the man on the ground spat, “Rod, take ‘im down!”

“Oh for fuck’s sake— ah!” Pierce jumped as he felt something poke him in the back. Reflexively, he released the man on the ground and jumped away — at which point he realized that the first man had been standing behind him, with a knife out. Worried, Pierce quickly reached around and began feeling his back; he immediately found an incision in his shirt, but his skin was unbroken, and he certainly wasn’t feeling any pain.

The man with the knife stared at Pierce, his eyes wide and his hands seemingly frozen in place. “Who… what the hell are you?!”

“…Heh.” Pierce chuckled to himself before crouching down and blasting off toward the two men again. In a split second, he had thrown them both to the ground and grabbed the knife off of them, which he then used to slice up the car covers into long, thin strips. Before either man could even begin to stand up, Pierce grabbed two of the strips and used them to tie up the hands and feet of the two muggers, and then stood back with his arms crossed to admire his handiwork.

“What the?!” the first man exclaimed, his head jerking back and forth as he snapped his attention between his own bonds, those of his friend, and Pierce. “What the fuck just happened?!”

“Are you… are you one of those Eximius Vir guys?” the second man questioned, a deep scowl upon his face. “What the hell are you doin’ here?!”

“No, I’m on my own,” Piece replied as he glanced to the side. The two cars were now exposed to the air, and one of them was an exact match for the escape vehicle he had been chasing. Ha! I knew it. You dumbasses.

“But if you’re not with them, then who the hell are you?” the man pressed, “and why are you all up in our shit, huh? What’d we do to you?!”

“Oh shut the hell up, you criminal idiots,” Pierce shot back, gagging the two men with another two cloth strips in the process. He wiped his hands together casually before approaching the escape vehicle, smashing in the window with his elbow, and grabbing the stolen purse from the inside. As he did so, he noticed a variety of other bags stashed away in the car, and a handful of electronics stored in the other. Damn, these guys have really been at it, huh? But how the hell did they get away with storing all this shit in two manned cars, on a surface alleyway, in broad daylight? Shit, the police really are fucking useless. Pierce glanced back at the two subdued men, who were both struggling against their bonds — with little success. Still… trying to find out who all this stuff belongs to would be a pain in the ass. I guess I can put up a note in the community center or something. Too bad people won’t know that I’m the one who found this… hmm, now that I think about it…

With the purse in hand, Pierce casually approached the two subdued men and crouched down next to them. “I’m going to leave the two of you here for now,” he declared, “but I’ll send someone to come find you. And when they do find you, tell them… tell them that it was the Speed Demon who brought you down.” He then stood up, a broad smirk across his face. “And with that, I really gotta get back to my dog. See ya!”

Without waiting for a response, Pierce leaped up to the roof of the adjacent building and began leaping across the city, back to where he had left Cooper with the woman who lost her purse. The whole way there, he couldn’t help but grin to himself. Ha! My first real attempt at crime-stopping, and a successful one, at that! Fuckin’ sweet! And with this balaclava, no one will see my face, and with my speed, no one will be able to catch me. I can stop crime and save people with impunity, without attracting attention from SERRCom! Take that, Phoenix! Ha ha!

His mental self-congratulations continued on, as he crossed the city to return the purse.

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