At Arm's Length
Another quiet night creeps in with storm clouds blanketing the city. Clain is hard at work at his bench at the back end of his GG shop working on the massive blade he’s codenamed the “Motherboard”. A huge cleaver of a sword with a mixture of computer parts and lights, decorated with data screens and LED’s all struggling to come to life. Clain’s work area is a mess of parts and wires creating a sort of organized chaos of ugly and genius. Dusty shelves are full of things no one would need, yet he finds them fascinating and simply cannot bring himself to dispose of them. One of his more basic creations is a steampunk style clock he pieced together with various gears and counterweights which recharges its batteries from the momentum of each swing. The clock shows 8:36 PM. Closing time is 9PM sharp for the GG Shop but Clain hardly ever keeps track of the time.
Vocally upset by the Motherboard’s refusal to function, he tosses his tools across his bench. “This damn thing needs more power… or a better method of conductivity so I can move it...” he grumbles.
When he focuses his mind, he has an unexplained power to manipulate metals with his hands; able to both push and pull them effortlessly while also learning to levitate them steadily. He discovered this power just five years ago and not sure how or where it came from, but has actively been incorporating this power into his work. Some of his projects are specifically designed with this power in mind, such as this new sword. Clain’s been working on this project for weeks at the expense of making anything new that a potential customer would actually buy.
The storefront of GG shop currently leaves a lot to be desired since his newest obsession with Motherboard began. The shop still houses a ton of cool and unique gadgets - from vintage percolator coffee makers, steampunk style clocks and machinery to extremely niche items like classic arcade and video game cabinets. Most of the shelves are currently empty with a lot of space to showcase one of the many half finished gadgets he has strewn about in the back.
The cashier counter divides the garage across the middle and creates a wonderful space for a middle schooler to spread out and do homework, which is exactly what Fila is doing, sort of. Studies are boring and Fila is just that, bored. Slumped over a textbook with her head propped up on her bent elbow. Her role during these late hours is to complete homework while alerting Clain of any customers stumbling in near closing time. Like most of that age, Fila is disinterested in schoolwork and spends her time playing pranks and practicing with her new custom birthday present, a pair of sweet nunchucks.
Down the road from the GG Shop someone parks their fancy new Air Rider cruiser. An older gentleman steps out of the cruiser with an overstuffed duffle bag of odds and ends he no longer needs. He is a man of means, which is very apparent by his vehicle, and wealthy yet rugged in his high class choice of clothes. He makes his way down the sidewalk as the rain begins to drizzle on the street lit by overhead lamps, casting his shadow forward over the broken pavement that leads toward the Pho King. Mr. Le waves to the man from within the empty noodle shop to which the man returns a friendly wave as he passes by and opens the door to the dimly lit GG Shop.
The door triggers a machine-like chime which greets the customer and alerts Fila of the late night patron. The glow of soldering emits within the back of the shop where Clain continues to labor away at the circuitry of the Motherboard when suddenly a shriek fills the air.
“CLAIN! You have a customer!” Fila screams out causing Clain to jump up, slamming his head on the shelf above his bench. Her shriek also triggers the customer to stagger backwards, knocking over items on a nearby shelf with his duffle bag in hand.
Clain, visibly angered, storms out from the curtain dividing his work area from the storefront. “Fila! What have I told you about being unnecessarily loud? It’s rude to me and the customer!”
Fila erupts in laughter at Clain rubbing his head knowing she successfully startled him into banging his head once again. He motions towards her to move to which she dives under the counter, running off back towards her father’s restaurant next door while shouting “Left some Pho on the counter but I’m sure it’s cold now!” with a giggle.
“Thanks,” Clain mutters under his breath while gathering himself to greet the customer properly.
The customer snickers a bit at Clain’s aggravated appearance “She’s a feisty one, huh?”
“Yeah, like a pesky little sister. Anyway, I am so sorry for that. Nice to meet you and welcome to GG Shop! What brings you in today?” The stranger reaches out his hand, motioning Clain for a hand shake without a word. Clain, distrusting by nature, hesitantly reaches back to shake the man’s hand.
“That’s quite the handshake there, mister.” Clain replies, visibly impressed by the firm grip of the stranger.
“I believe a man’s character is defined by the strength of their handshake. Call me... King,” says the luxurious older gentleman with a half smile.
“That’s a convenient name,” Clain says back with a laugh.
King laughs agreeably with him while lifting his heavy duffle bag of odds and ends onto the counter with a thud. “So Mr. Clain, I’ve heard you do trade-ins for cash?”
“On a good day, sure, but these days we aren’t generating a ton of profit to buy items off people. It would have to be the right kinda stuff, ya know?” As Clain begins scanning the contents protruding from the leather bag, his eyebrows begin to rise at the sight of a few notable odds and ends. “I mostly recycle old stuff people don’t want anymore, or create things at a customer’s request, but typically I just make anything random I can come up with.”
“I see,” replies the stranger as he watches Clain rummage through his bag without permission. Clain immediately realizes how unique and useful most of the items are while attempting to awkwardly hide his interest. He has already begun brainstorming the possibilities some of these things could create; specific modulators, condensers, micro conductors, and even repurposed wiring that isn’t completely fried out like the type of junk he is used to.
Clain’s eyes meet back with the customer who is amused by Clain’s interest in all these things he no longer needs. “I have never seen some of these before. You got some pretty cool stuff here,” says Clain as he crosses his arms in feigned disinterest.
“Yeah. They used to be pretty useful!” replies the stranger in a positive tone. “But you know how it is, times change! We all move on to the next bigger and better things. Out with the old and onto something new,” says King with a smile.
“In here, it’s more in with the old and out with the obscure!” replies Clain with a smile to which they both share a chuckle.
“You mind if I look around?” King asks as he moves away from the counter to browse the shelves.
“No. Please do!” Clain replies as he looks over the man’s impressive and expensive clothing. A long dark rain coat with rather shiny boots gleaming under the light with each step. He has a royal swagger about him. A lion’s mane-like appearance caused by the puffed up ascot tie on his chest, prideful stance and strict posture.
King picks up a few items here and there, examining them and turning some on and off; smiling at the comedic ones, nostalgic for the vintage and visibly surprised by the creativity of Clain’s original gadgets. “You made all of this yourself?” he asks Clain, who is cross armed and specating his customer’s movements.
“Yeah, for the most part. Fila helps me sometimes but mostly it’s just me.”
“Fila?” replies the stranger.
“Yeah, that little girl you had the... pleasure of meeting!” Clain laughs. “She picks up on it by watching me and asking way too many questions,” he adds while picking up some of the stranger’s items to examine closer. “I started tinkering with old tech as a hobby which caught the eye of some of the locals around here. Some of them offered up their old stuff and paid me well to make something out of it. Others just needed repairs or had special requests. After a while I decided to open up shop.”
King listens intently with his back towards the counter and replies, “That’s a great start-up story! Did you come up with the name too?”
“The name?” replies Clain confused. “Oh. Gadgets and Gizmos?” Clain chuckles. “That was a silly name Fila came up with from some movie about a fish girl or something. I liked the sound of it and went with the GG Shop.”
“I see. I see. She seems like a clever little girl,” King observes. He makes his way back towards the entrance, eager to reposition the items he accidentally knocked over upon entering.
“Oh. You don’t don’t have to worry about any of that. Wasn’t your fault!” Clain quips out as the stranger tries to clean up the mess.
“It’s no trouble!” King exclaims as he motions towards the final item. A knocked over picture frame which has a photo of Clain in it with an older looking woman wearing an elated smile. “Who’s this?” King asks with curiosity.
“Oh. The picture? That’s my mom and I years ago.”
“Oh. She’s a very pretty lady. Looks very proud!”
“Yeah, she was,” Clain replies in a disheveled tone.
“What was the occasion? You’re holding a trophy there,” King prods as a drum of thunder can be heard brewing outside.
“I had just won a local boxing tournament. Was quite a while ago,” Clain muses.
King jokingly counters, “Must have been quite some time ago since your hair wasn’t grey here! Haha.”
Clain ignores the quip at his stylized silver hair and crosses his arms again, unamused. “Yeah, I don’t fight anymore. She never wanted me to keep at it anyhow. Then I moved on to open this shop.”
“That sounds completely reasonable. We all can’t fight forever you know?” King responds in a lighthearted tone. “Is she happy about your latest endeavors?” he asks as he sets down the framed photo.
“Who knows? We haven’t spoken in a while. Kind of ironic since she always encouraged me to try new things while learning and adapting from my mistakes,” Clain replies in a sarcastic tone.
“You don’t like that advice?” King asks, confused by Clain’s sudden sarcastic demeanor.
“Nah. It’s not that. Just a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ with her,” Clain replies with a hand waving past his ear.
“I see,” replies King. “Well, she sounds like a smart woman who seems to want the best for you. We all have to make mistakes, I suppose. There’s no do overs in life.”
Clain becomes visibly irritated with the conversation, not wanting to talk about his personal life with a total stranger. “So, is there anything I can help you with? Our shop is about to close and I have to get back to some projects in the back,” Clain insists.
“Oh? Anything interesting?” King replies, curious if it’s a new item that might come up for sale.
Clain, reminded of his struggles with the Motherboard sarcastically replies, “Nah. Just a silly personal project. Something I’ve been toying with for a while.”
“Personal projects are always the best! More passion always goes into those.” King smiles and nods to him. “Well Clain, it was nice to meet you and I thank you for your time. If it’s no trouble, I would like to leave you with these sundries in hopes they get put to good use!” King energetically announces.
Clain, visibly shocked by the kind gesture, replies, “Oh. Really? Well thank you very much, sir. I will definitely see what I can do with these. You’re welcome to come by again and see what I’ve come up with!”
“I will certainly keep an eye out and I hope they come in handy for you,” King insists. “Honestly, it’s quite refreshing to see someone do something with all the junk this city discards-”
“Completely agree,” Clain interrupts. “So many people don’t realize what they leave behind!” He excitedly begins emptying the contents of the luxurious bag.
“That is truly an understatement,” King replies.
The stranger begins walking towards the exit of the GG shop watching as Clain rushes to empty the bag of its high tech and useful items. “Keep the bag!” King yells out as he opens the door. “Take care of yourself, Clain!” Waving as he exits the store.
“Uh. Thanks!” Clain yells out as the door closes, then looking down at all his new treasures with a smile as he begins to put everything back in the fancy new bag. “Wish I had more customers like that… damn.” Clain smiles as he throws the bag over his shoulder and heads back to his work bench.
Outside the shop on a rooftop nearby, a gruesome pig looking man stands under the glow of a neon light awaiting someone’s arrival as the rain thickens. His name is Hux and his appearance would terrify anyone. Quite tall in stature and grotesque in every sense of the word. He is adorned in a leather jacket decorated in sharp edged accents with a set of jagged edged forearm blades running from his wrist to his elbow on the right arm. His left hand features a brutal pair of chromed brass knuckles stained in blood. His exposed belly protrudes over the beltline of his black pants, decorated in a tattoo reading ‘PIT PIGS’.
For years, Hux has walked the streets of New Beam City claiming he is a part of the notorious Pit Pigs gang; a group of ruthless pit fighters that act first and ask questions later, if at all. Hux has been trying to impress their leader for years to get officially initiated and accepted within the Pigs, but to no avail. He is a pretty proficient brawler, using his overpowering strength to pound his foes relentlessly. Sadly, his annoying nature coupled with a thick Australian accent keeps the Pit Pig leader from ever officially allowing Hux into their ranks.
In an act of desperation and sign of loyalty, Hux had the Pit Pigs logo tattooed on his big pig-like belly without the consent of the gang. This highly offended and angered their leader once it was revealed to the members. Hux was knocked out then forcibly tied to a surgical table in which the leader personally performed a botched plastic surgery on Hux’s face, transforming it into that of a gnarly pig. When Hux awoke, still strapped to the table covered in blood, all he saw was his reflection in a mirror of his new horrific reality. Hux screamed out in anger and fear at his new face while the Pit Pig leader whispered in his ear from behind. “You wanted to be a Pit Pig so bad, here ya go! OINK OINK,” screamed the gang leader, who then kicked through the mirror revealing a busy city street. Hux was released from his restraints and shoved out onto the sidewalk of the city to the sounds of screams and terror by citizens forced to witness the terrible new existence Hux now embodies.
He has since become a pure psychopath, a rough commoner within this tough city. Taking on any twisted job or contract to kill anyone requested. Most of his time is spent fighting within the underground pits for sport. He has lived this way for two years now: having to move within the dark hours of the city, unable to walk the streets during the day without the annoying shrieks of anyone that sees him.
This evening is just another job for Hux as he receives an anonymous message from an unknown sender. Another hit request, but this one was special and intriguing at the same time. The job was to kill the once famous pit fighter Clain, whom Hux has always wished to settle a score with having faced and lost to him several times in the pits.
Hux paces anxiously across the rain drenched rooftop. Staring out at the neon jungle of buildings with it’s daunting centerpiece of the city. The enormous Cloud 9 building in the distance, emitting its unusual shroud of fog within the storm at its peak.
A voice chimes in from the shadows just after another crack of lightning cascades across the sky. “Will you take the job?” asks a hooded mysterious figure from atop the stairwell housing behind him.
“Who the fuck is that?!” Hux snorts out, spinning around looking for the owner of the strange voice. His eyes race to scan the rainy rooftop, finally meeting the hooded stranger looking down at him from above. “Sneaky fuck. Who do you think you are sneaking up on ol’ Hux? I’ve killed people for less! You hear me!”
The shady figure remains motionless and cold as his hooded clothing waves in the wind. “You get $2,000 now and another $3,000 upon completion of the job,” the mysterious man insists.
“That’s it?!” yells Hux, emotively upset by the low pay offered to kill someone in cold blood. “You can offer more than that, mate! I’m not some cheap labor easily contracted for your dirty work! Especially who you wantin’ dead! Don’t you know who I am?!”
“I do. Another hopeless nobody plaguing the streets of this city. Take my offer or die here where you stand,” declares the mysterious man in a completely calm and cold demeanor.
“WHAT did you say mate!?” Hux screams and lets out a roar before angrily charging at the shady man. Suddenly, from beneath the hooded man’s clothes, a massive six foot samurai style blade bursts into the night sky, erupting into a pulse of plasma-like energy. The man flings the blade directly between Hux’s legs as fast as a bolt of lightning, causing Hux to stagger and fall backwards in shock.
“What the fuck is that?!” Hux screams, shocked by the sheer force and speed of what just happened.
“Do the job and you can keep it as part of the payment,” the man replies in the same cold, calm tone.
Hux climbs to his feet and struggles to pull the sword from the rain soaked roof. “This thing has gotta be worth a pretty penny! If I don’t just keep it for myself,” he exclaims, continuing to struggle with the blade. “You got yourself a deal, mate. I’ll get it done and kill the bitch!” Hux excitedly exclaims. He turns to catch a glimpse of the mysterious figure who has already fled silently. “Huh? Creepy fuck,” Hux snorts out.
Back at the Pho King, Mr. Le is wiping down the tables in the restaurant just after the last few happy customers have left. During these hours, he likes to speak with Fila about her studies and ensure she takes them seriously. “How is your math practice coming along? Did our session help?” asks Mr. Le to his cheerful daughter.
“Yup,” she blurts out. “I got perfect scores on every test this month!” Fila exclaims with a big toothy grin.
“Good job, Fila. You keep it up for yourself and for your mother. Your studies are very important to her.”
Fila shrugs him off and rolls her eyes at hearing the same repeated thing he always reminds her about. “Don’t think I forgot, Pops! If I get perfect scores this year, you’re taking me to Platinum Palace! No more excuses!” she demands, having begged to visit the huge theme park for ages.
“Oh? Did I promise that? I must have forgotten!” Mr. Le says with a laugh.
“Yeah right dad!” she fires back before they both share a laugh.
At the same time just outside the noodle shop, Hux strides joyfully down the rainy sidewalk as people rush out of his way. Some are willing to risk rushing out into the busy street just to get off the same sidewalk as him. One onlooker yells out “freak!” to which Hux bellies out “thank you, mate!” cheerfully as he enjoys the terror he instills in people.
Whistling, he rounds the corner of the shop where the nice big cheerful Pho King logo glows within the rain on the side of the building. The logo depicts a happy panda sitting gleefully within a bowl of pho, devouring the delicious contents he sits in. “Pho King...hm,” Hux snorts. “Dat Ass, you mean!” He pulls out a fresh can of red spray paint proceeding to paint those exact words under Pho King: “Dat Ass.”
Back inside, Fila darts onto her feet on top of the cashier counter. “Dad, look!” she yells, pointing at the security monitor! “It’s happening again!” She jumps off the counter in a rush.
“I’ll call the cops!” Mr. Le shouts as he hurries for the phone.
“Forget the cops, Pops! They never get here in time!” she argues in an angry tone. “I got it this time!” she insists as she sprints up the stairs towards her room.
“Dammit, Fila. Get your ass back here!” Mr. Le shouts at his impatient daughter, knowing full well what she plans to do as he fumbles with the phone. “Don’t you dare go out there, Fila!”
She darts into her room to grab her fancy new nunchucks. Completely amatuer in her abilities and overly confident as any young child, she rushes towards the roof top so she can bypass her angry father and slide down the fire escape to confront the thug.
Mr. Le, hearing his daughter slamming doors and cabinets yells out, “Fila, listen to me! Don’t you dare!”
“Don’t worry, Pops. I can handle this!” Fila yells back as she reaches the rooftop door, slamming it behind her. Mr. Le angrily starts shouting at the police on the phone, alerting them of the situation and urging them to get over there right away. The police let out a scoff before hanging up the phone as this type of call had increasingly become a routine.
Back inside the GG Shop, Clain diligently cleans and reviews the awesome treasures recently left behind, completely unaware of what is happening outside. Jotting down notes on a holographic marker board and drawing rough sketches for new plans. He hears Fila storming around the building, yelling back and forth with her father but the words are completely inaudible through the thick walls and crackle of the thunder and rain above. He hears her slam the rooftop door assuming they had an argument resulting in her charging off.
“Sounds like she’s at it again. Always giving Mr. Le a hard time.” He hears the metal clanking as the fire escape ladder slides down the side of the building and soon after Fila’s voice right behind it.
“Hey asshole!” Fila yells. “Not cool man! I know kung fuuuuu!” she declares, echoing through the alley.
Clain realizes she’s probably confronting the same typical type of adolescent returning to spray paint the side of the building again. He smirks. “It’s not exactly kung fu, but we did teach her some good moves,” he laughs with confidence, having taught her all that she knows.
Clain goes back to his bench assuming she’ll run the loser off and continues his work. Suddenly a shrieking cry rips through the rainy night sky. Clain darts up, slamming his head on the shelf above once again.
“SHIT!” he yells. “Fila? Are you ok?!” he screams out. He can hear her frantically crying while he rushes to the cabinet mounted on the wall to grab his gauntlets, then speeding outside in a rush to get to her.
Fila is on the ground looking up at the grotesque Hux towering over her with no remorse. She is covered in blood with a small pool growing around her. Hux, feeling proud of himself, stands above her holding the small child’s severed arm in his left hand and giant blade bursting with energy in the other.
Hux menacingly walks towards her growling. “You little bitch! That hurt!” Pissed off that the small child nailed him in the jaw with her nunchuck, he raises the menacing blade into the air, screaming, “Now to teach you a final lesson!”
“No no no no. Please don’t!” Fila pleads as the blade begins its descent towards her. Hux is suddenly slammed in the temple with a powerful punch that cracks through the alley as his face slams into a nearby wall.
“What the fuck did you do to her?!” Clain screams, “Fila, can you move?! Can you hear me? Fila!” Her eyes run white as she slips into a whimper and her body goes limp.
Mr. Le rushes around the corner, struggling to keep his footing on the wet pavement as he sees the horrific scene in front of him.
“Oh. My God, Fila! What happened?! What have you done?” he cries as he rushes to her side and lifts his injured and bloodied daughter as carefully as he can.
“Hurry and get her back inside. I will handle him!” Clain shouts, anxious to help get them out of danger.
Mr. Le begins to run away as Hux reels back to pitch the object within his hand, screaming, “Ay mate! Aren’t you forgetting something?” Turning in terror toward the grotesque pig man, Mr. Le is slammed full force in the center of the chest by something solid and warm. Its Fila’s severed arm, now lying limp on top of her motionless body.
“Go!” Clain screams, pushing Mr. Le away.
“Well well well. If it isn’t Mr. Magnetic himself,” Hux snorts out, mocking Clain who is ready to destroy Hux.
“What kind of a monster cuts a child’s arm off?!” he screams, looking back over his shoulder to ensure Mr. Le has gotten Fila away safely.
“Not much of a loss in today’s world, mate,” Hux jokes as the blade’s intense energy fades away. “That little lass needs to respect her elders, aye!” He tinkers with the sword, attempting to ignite its energy again.
“I’ve been waiting for another go at you, Clain, and here we are!” he roars with excitement.
The two had had numerous bouts in the fight pits, but Clain never bothered to learn the freak’s name. “What was your name again? Cux? Or was it Sux?”
Hux lunges forward in rage at the disrespect, slashing his new sword back and forth frantically.
“Here comes the piggy!” Clain taunts as he easily dodges each of Hux’s predictable slashes. Clain utilizes his unique magnetic ability which allows him a great advantage in fighting matches. He nimbly dodges the slashes of the sword while pushing away the metallic accents on Hux’s forearm. Clain quickly notices this sword is not composed of metal materials so he cannot do much but focus on evading the swift swings.
Hux grows visibly winded after multiple missed attempts but in a fit of rage he manages to shoulder check Clain directly in his blocking forearms, sending him flying backwards through the rain flooded alley. Clain recovers into a backwards roll, sliding through the water then using his momentum to launch back into an uppercut punch straight into Hux’s tattooed hairy belly.
Hux lets out a chuckle. “You must be joking. You thought that would hurt me mate?”
Clain jumps back, gathering his footing and preparing for the next phase staring down his opponent. “Shouldn’t you know better? You can’t touch me!” Clain gloats.
Hux rises upright with an evil smile eyeing down Clain. “Alright. How do we turn this thing on again?” Hux complains aloud.
Clain raises an eyebrow confused by his meaning when suddenly the blade ignites to life with crackling relentless energy. “Oh yeah! Now we’re havin’ fun!” Hux bellies out with a laugh.
Hux gathers his breath before beginning an intense barrage of slashes through the alleyway chasing down Clain. The sword cutting like butter through trash dumpsters, piping bursting with steam, the walls themselves and anything it comes in contact with. All except for Clain who, although terrified, continues to effortlessly dodge each slash. He pushes or pulls the various metallic parts of Hux’s armor, using his momentum to counter balance and offset Hux’s movements, knowing he can’t keep it up for long.
Hux is backing him into a corner against a brick wall with nowhere to escape. He notices the fire escape Fila used to slide down from but doesn’t know how he can maneuver his way there. Clain urgently pulls a huge chunk of slashed metal from the trash dumpster into the air towards him, shoving it face first into Hux. While his enemy is stunned, he leaps into the air, magnetizing himself towards the metal fire escape. He’s just about there when Hux roars and vaults the same jagged piece of metal directly upward into Clains ribs, ragdolling him backwards into the exact corner he tried to vacate from.
“Hah! I knew you’d go for the escape, mate! Game over!” Hux exclaims as he gleefully closes in on his prey, having wanted to get the better of Clain for years.
Clain, on his ass, begins to try and hoist himself up. Gripping his ribs, unsure if they are broken and how much he can move, looks up as Hux towers over him with a menacing smile. The blade rises into the night sky as Hux has him in the exact same position he had Fila in earlier.
Suddenly, Hux’s wrist is twisted and forcefully pulled backward. His shoulder dislocates with a crack that echoes within the alleyway, causing him to drop the energy sword. Immediately following the horrific sound is a precise and beautifully executed slash of the vicious blade upward, severing Hux’s right arm, followed by a downward swipe so fast the human eye couldn’t catch it. Blood sprays out, decorating the walls on both sides of the alley as Hux screams in pain, falling to his knees. Behind him appears a shadowed figure, only visible within a few flashes of lightning. His body appears to glow within a trenchcoat standing gracefully as the massive sword’s pulsing energy dies out and disappears within the figure’s cloak.
“I’ve changed my mind,” the shadowed figure says.
“You?! You son of a bitch!” Hux screams out as he struggles to balance on his knees, armless.
“You were willing to not only harm a child, but kill her? Your arms are now mine,” explains the mysterious man just before kicking Hux between the shoulders forcing him face first into the rain filled alleyway with his foot firmly planted on the pig man’s head.
The man then eyes Clain, who is slow to his feet gripping his ribs. Unsure of not only himself but what might happen next, Clain attempts to position himself into a defensive stance. They stare at each other silently. Clain, terrified and breathing hard while the shaded figure stands motionless as the rain pours down on both warriors.
The sound of police sirens echo in the distance as the red and blue lights begin to flicker from the freeway above. The warriors remain still, each waiting for the other to make a move when suddenly the mysterious man turns to walk away.
“Who are you?!” yells Clain, causing the man to pause his step to look over his shoulder at the injured Clain. Suddenly, he vaults upward, wall jumping between the buildings to the rooftop of the Pho King and disappearing into the branches of the solo cherry blossom tree above. Clain shocked at what he just saw, shields his eyes from the rain, unable to see anything while Hux groans in pain on the ground. Coughing and wheezing out a mixture of rain water and his own blood.
Clain suddenly remembers his injured friend. “Fila!” he yells out, racing back toward the front of the building. As he staggers inside the restaurant, Clain’s eyes race across the room looking for Fila. “Mr. Le?!”
“Back here!” he shouts.
Clain runs towards the kitchen, grasping at his ribs from the pain. His heart sinks with guilt when he sees her. “How is she?!” he urges, speeding towards her.
“She’s out. I’m- I am not exactly sure. I started heating a pan to cauterize her wound,” he gulps, white as a ghost. “B-but it’s no longer bleeding.” Mr. Le manages to get out through his tears. He looks over his shoulder at Clain with a sharp glare and notices him gripping his ribs. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, but that doesnt matter. The ambulance will be here any moment,” Clain assures as the sirens close in.
“You have a history with his type, don’t you?” Mr. Le insists, referring to Hux.
“That was a while ago and I walked away. I haven’t been in the pits since…” Clain begins when Mr. Le cuts him off.
“I’d hate to think this was linked to your past and has now affected my daughter. If this is what happened then it might be time for you to pack up and move on,” Mr. Le scowls, looking away from Clain and back to his daughter.
The pain of those words struck Clain harder than his aching ribs as he stares at the cold shoulder of Mr. Le. The silence grows as another strike of thunder sounds outside. Soon after, the sound of car doors opening and closing outside as the front door slams open.
Within the restaurant a voice erupts, “Medic! We’re here!” the EMT’s announce as they enter.
“Back here!” Mr. Le yells out.
“Excuse us, sir,” they demand, pushing Clain aside as he maneuvers his way out of the kitchen to allow them room while gripping his damaged ribs. Leaning against the wall, he tries to eavesdrop on Fila’s condition, when suddenly a voice startles him from behind.
“Sir?” asks a police officer.
Clain fumbles to turn around and meet the stern officer who is not amused in the slightest.
“Would you mind telling me what happened?” the officer asks.
Clain, looking disheveled and in pain, slouches down into a nearby booth. “Someone from the Pit Pigs was tagging the side of the building. Fila ran out there to run him off and he attacked her. I heard her scream and rushed over to see what was going on and...”
The officer cuts him off, curiously asking, “Do you live here?”
“Yes. I rent out the garage next door there” he explains while pointing to the connecting doorway into the GG Shop.
The officer pauses for a moment, “Aren’t you Clain, the acclaimed fighter from the pits?”
Clain, caught off guard by the question replies, “Well yes, but I walked away from all that awhile ago. It’s been about two years since I-”
“Do you think this was somehow related to those days?” the officer interrupts again.
Clain, looking confused as if he was somehow being blamed and unsure how to respond. “I don’t see how or why it would be. I left without any animosity and Hux shouldn’t have been after me for anything personal, unless maybe he was put up to it?”
“Hux, you said?” the officer lightens up. “The pig looking man?”
Clain quickly responds, “Yeah. Hux, the one just outside in the alley?”
The officer looks confused and yells over to another officer in the doorway who is moving amongst curious pedestrians outside. “Did you guys see Hux out there?”
“No sir, nothing over there but blood and debris,” responds the cadet.
The officer looks back to meet Clain’s eyes, both confused. “So where is Hux then?” the officer asks.
“He was outside in the alley, face first on the ground… his uh… both his arms were cut off by some guy that appeared out of nowhere,” Clain responds in an unsure tone, aware of how bizarre it must sound to the officer.
“Right… So Hux, a high level thug from the other side of the city came all the way out here to tag the side of your building and attack a little girl? And where would she get that kind of confidence?”
Clain was caught off guard by such a direct question. “I uh, teach her self defense some days after her schooling.”
“Self defense, huh? With nunchucks in this day and age? Her father is okay with that?” the officer insists in a sarcastic, suggestive tone.
“Why are you turning this around on me? I had nothing to do with what happened to her,” Clain retorts, irritated by the insinuation.
“Are you sure you weren’t the one that cut his arms off? Maybe we will find a body around here?” the officer questions.
Clain stands to his feet, angered by the officer’s implications when Mr. Le comes out of the kitchen.
“I have it on camera. Clain had nothing to do with it. He saved my daughter’s life,” Mr. Le attests in a stern response to the officer’s accusations.
“Okay. Thank you, sir. I am just trying to understand the situation here and your daughter ...”
Mr. Le cuts the officer off. “My daughter’s hobbies are not your concern and I asked Clain to teach her self defense so your suggestive questions are not helping anyone. Least of all Fila.”
The officer stares at the offended and irritated father. “I am sorry, sir. I will look into Hux and what happened to him. May I please have a copy of the footage?”
The paramedics move out from the kitchen with all their supplies packed up and meet the officer. “Their story lines up. The girl came-to briefly and told us about a scary pig guy that attacked her. Unfortunately, we can not reattach her arm. Whatever this guy was using severed and seared the nerve endings on both sides. She’s going to need a prosthetic replacement, sadly. That must have been some blade?” the paramedic asks, looking at Clain.
“I have never seen anything like it. Not even sure I could describe it but just look at the alleyway.”
“Sounds terrifying, especially if you’re just a little kid. We bandaged her back up and left Mr. Le with some painkillers and information on prosthetic replacement options for when she recovers. I hope you guys find that piece of shit.” The paramedic proclaims, motioning to the officer with a slight nod towards Clain. “If there’s nothing else, we will get out of your hair.”
“So will we. And I am very sorry for the situation,” the officer exclaims to Mr. Le who nods his head in reply.
Clain watches from the window as the officers and medics drive away, feeling terrible guilt at the horror that just transpired. A mixture of anger and sadness paint his face as the rain begins again to drizzle on the streets outside. Mr. Le slowly joins him at the window.
“Looks like a storm is coming.” He motions to Clain, attempting to hand him a fresh warm bowl of Pho.
Clain’s eyes fixate on the red blood washing into the storm drain as the rain begins to fall harder. “I will make this right,” Clain insists with a weep in his tone.
Mr. Le nudges his side, insisting Clain take the food from his hand. Food is the last thing on his mind, but not wanting to be rude, Clain accepts Mr. Le’s kind gesture, taking the bowl but placing it on the counter nearby.
The saddened father looks to the bowl and then back at the troubled young man he allowed to rent out the garage next door. “You know Clain, I took a chance on you because of Fila. It’s been three years now since her mother died,” Mr. Le explains as Clain provides his full attention. “Fila was only eight years old. I can’t describe how devastating it was for us both. She was going to have a little brother and I was going to be a father of my second child, but fate wrote us another story.”
Unsure of how to respond, Clain can only look shocked “I… had no idea,” he manages to get out.
“It’s not something we speak of or try to dwell on too much. It’s easier for Fila to pretend it never happened, or maybe it’s easier for me,” Mr. Le continues, with a long pause.
“She always seems so happy,” Clain injects.
“You’re a big part of that,” Mr Le declares, completely confusing Clain.
“Why would you say that?” he asks.
“That day you first walked in here for your first bowl of pho inquiring about our space for rent, Fila lit up. She was excited at the idea of someone new being around, after losing so much.” Clain looks over his shoulder to the injured and sleeping Fila in a nearby booth. “She looks up to you. It makes her happy to have a friend she can learn from. I am just her father but she needs more than that. The space you rent used to be my wife’s sewing area. She was a seamstress and kept all our clothes in top shape and even made her own,” Mr. Le proclaims.
“You might have seen her running around in that ragged old dress. It was the last thing her mother made for her,” Mr. Le reveals as he pulls a photo from his pocket. It was a much younger Fila, smiling brightly in the oversized dress far too large for her.
Clain, giving him a moment, begins to reflect on Fila and the ragged dress she always ran around in. Remembering the times it had snagged on the tools in his shop and how it angered him then. Now having context, Clain’s eyes begin to fill with tears.
“I couldn’t bear watching Fila cry,” Mr. Le continues. “She would sit in her mother’s workshop for days after, nearly a year. I put it up for rent to hopefully help us both move on. I did not tell you this for sympathy. I want you to know the story of a little girl that looks up to you. Like a brother she never had.” Mr. Le gives Clain a pat between the shoulders.
Overtaken by grief, Clain continues to look away for fear of someone seeing his tears. His eyes draw back to the water pouring down the storm drain, noticing the water was no longer tinted in red blood.
“These past two years with you around has made her so much happier. This is why I always let you slide on the rent!” Mr. Le jokes with a loud laugh which eases Clain to muster a chuckle with him.
“You guys have been through so much and here I’ve been trying to create my own business at the expense of your space and food.”
“Ha! I don’t bring you the free food. Fila does!” Mr. Le bellies out with a snicker. “She always goes on and on ’Clain doesn’t eat! I gotta feed him!’and I just smile because she smiles. That’s all a father wants to see from their daughter” he adds with a huge endearing smile.
“I will get her a new arm, Mr. Le. One way or another, I promise you that,” Clain says with a strong sense of confidence. The two men stare onward as the storm continues to rage on outside.