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Chapter 4

Maybe everyone wasn’t meant to be heroic. I didn’t look the part, I didn’t have the skills, and the pros didn’t see anything in me. I felt stupid, but in me somewhere deep, I thought I was more than an average Joe. What was the use of having powers if I couldn’t do anything meaningful with them? What difference could I make as a cleanliness worker? As a custodian. As a janitor.

That was my day job, cleaning up after people at Mock City mall. It was far from a glamorous position, but it paid surprisingly well. In a world full of people and creatures pulled from countless dimensions, someone had to deal with their mess. That someone, was me. Job responsibilities ranged anywhere from cleaning windows to negotiating buyers not to fight over goods.

At least I didn’t work alone. My best and only friend in Mock City happened to be my janitorial partner. His name was Cloud, and he was a literal cloud. Technically he was a mass of foreign sentient gasses, but to the naked eye, he was a cloud.

As I said, people were less than original when giving out nicknames.

Cloud and I met the day he joined Mock City. His people existed in a cold gaseous environment that replenished their bodies, but Mock City was dry the day he came through a portal. The longer he stayed in the heat, the thinner he grew.

Cloud was going to die.

Back then, my friend didn’t have a voice box to speak with. No one understood he was in trouble. No one could understand him at all. When he got around to asking me for help, I assumed I was beginning harassed by a storm cloud rather than an actual person. It took hours before I understood he was alive, and even longer to figure out a way to communicate. I was only 12 when we found someone to build his first containment suit. It was little more than rubber and plastic, but Cloud was safe from evaporating. In a way, he was the first person I ever saved. I wasn’t trying to be heroic. He was in danger of literally fading away; the only right thing to do was help. I felt the same way about Mock City. Though it never asked me for help, I couldn’t overlook the need. If I was capable of helping a person I couldn’t understand at the age of 12, then I should have been capable of helping plenty of people at the age of 23.

Anyway, after having my ass handed to me by a super villain and getting my self-esteem punched by my heroes, I had to tell Cloud about my past couple of days.

He was the only person I could talk to.

We were on the third floor, mopping up what could have been vomit or potentially space fuel someone left on the bathroom floor. My money was on vomit. It was usually vomit, but Mock City was home to people capable of eating metal or barfing rainbows?

“He blew a hole through my chest,” I exclaimed as we cleaned up the chunky bits of mess littered across the tile floor.

“King, the super villain, shot you with lightning and put a hole through your chest? I don’t see a hole,” Cloud commented, and to my surprise, he was right.

My battle wounds had completely healed. No longer was there a hole through my chest. Without a scratch left on my body, my story was less than believable.

“I’m telling you,” I argued.

“Twig, I’m just glad you’re alive. What were you thinking going after a super villain?” My friend scolded me.

“I didn’t know who he was at first,” I answered honestly, but as the words fell from my mouth, I knew they wouldn’t help in my defense.

To be fair the bank robbers wore hoods. King was notorious for having a more regal style than that.

“Why were you at a bank heist?” He added.

I looked away, but Cloud stood there with his metallic hands on his hips. I’m glad he upgraded his suit over time, but I missed the days when he lacked the technology to emote and make me feel so embarrassed.

“You don’t get it,” I said before turning my back and mopping my half of the room.

I shouldn’t have expected Cloud to understand. After eleven years, his suit was state of the art, slick, and durable, but it wasn’t perfect. If his dome ever cracked, or one of his joints popped, it could have been a death sentence. That’s why I always compared him to Hatch.

Cloud was always careful, but I had the luxury of being oblivious to most hazards. The idea of being a superhero must have been crazy to someone who could never take a hard fall without threatening their life. Still, I thought he’d at least be curious about Scarlett, the leader of Mock City’s only superhero team.

“Twig, you’re my best friend in this God awful city,” Cloud said.

“That means a lot,” I expressed in earnest as I turned back around.

“So if I’m stuck here, then you have to be too. That means no getting yourself killed,” he joked.

I might have gone crazy without my best bud. Being Twig, stickman of wonder, rarely earned me the attention of women. It was nice to at least have a friend. Living in a city of unpredictable lunacy and assholes with questionable morals had a way of leaving people in a bad way. I guess it made sense Cloud didn’t want me risking my life. Had I died, he would have lost his only friend.

We were just about done cleaning the floor when our boss radioed us.

“What are the two of you doing,” Steve exclaimed.

Of course our managers name was Steve, and it fit.

“We’re finishing up on level 3,” I said with radio in hand.

“There’s an Arrival in the food court,” Steve explained before his voice cut out dramatically.

We called anyone or anything entering Mock City for the first time, “Arrivals.” Most of the time, they were people like me, Cloud, or even my landlord. Sometimes when portals opened, Mock City let monsters in. All we could do as citizens was hope who or whatever came through a portal wouldn’t immediately go on a killing spree.

“Great,” I said sarcastically.

The last Arrival I dealt with happened to be a man-eating plant, so I was less than enthusiastic about facing the unknown. Regardless, I was on the clock, so I had to venture out into the mall.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out, Twig, but look on the bright side, at least you got to try, ” Cloud said as we packed up our mop cart to leave the bathroom together.

He didn’t understand, but I got someone killed, so maybe I didn’t understand myself.

As we stepped through the door pushing our shared cart of cleaning supplies, there was an immediate realization of how things had changed from before and after we left the bathroom. All of Section 4 was a market place. People sold food, technology, or whatever else they could pawn off. The mall was the central hub of the market place; naturally, it got plenty of foot traffic. It was normal to find chaos everywhere, but what we found was decimation. There was a van-sized hole through the ceiling. The steps from the third to the second floor were destroyed and covered in rubble. Countless people were running scared. Someone knocked over our mop cart and spilled water everywhere, but they didn’t stop. Everyone was trying to get out of the building.

Usually I was busy from the time I clocked in, to the time I clocked out, but that level of a mess was going to require hefty over time. I was good at my job. It wasn’t a challenging career, but it was frustratingly annoying at times. Nonetheless it felt minuscule compared to what I could have been doing. Still, I was afraid. Dealing with Arrivals never got easier, and dealing with one at work wasn’t going to make things better. If whatever happened to be in the mall was terrible enough to scare crowds of people away, I should have been terrified.

Cloud tried to radio our boss again to let him know we were stuck on the third floor with a large number of people, but I had a way down. I could make the drop on my feet. For my durable limbs, it was nothing. If I couldn’t handle an Arrival, who likely had no reason to start trouble, how could I hope to go back out and face carrier criminals like King? It might have been naive to continue playing hero, but I didn’t go out in search of trouble. That time it came to me.

I stepped over to a guard rail and looked over the edge to see the levels below.

“Twig?” Cloud said behind my back while I stepped up onto the rail.

“Someone has to do something,” I said, looking back only for a brief moment before jumping down.

Actually… I slipped. It was hard keeping my balance on those thin railings. Either way, I made it down to the second floor like I wanted to. I landed on my face rather than my feet, but after picking myself up, I got a move on.

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