Chapter 3 - Ace
Sunday Night, South Burlow Heights.
South Burlow Heights was the part of the city people partied at and had a good time. It was also where you could find the cheapest housing. The more North you went the more it turned into the upper-class business portion of the city where the Marco Vital building was among other big brand name companies. Burlow Heights was considered the biggest city in the world. Depending on where you stayed in this city, it could take up to an hour just to drive out of it. Sense the city is so big, people describe where they stay based on North and South.
About thirty five minutes East outside of the city was Sumpter Hill, known as the stuffy church town that Ringers and people like me and my friends avoided like a plague. I accidentally got off the freeway too early once and ended up there a few years ago. I won’t ever make that mistake again. Nothing major happened when I was there, but all of the offended and disapproving looks I got as my motorcycle blared loudly through the streets sent a humorous yet cold chill up my spine. My exposed tattoos didn’t help either.
“Where are we headed?”
Yelled a voice grabbing my attention. It was Lionna shouting over the wind and the loud motorcycles as we all pulled off again.
“Monstrous Slice, you hungry?”
I say to her teasingly. She slaps my shoulder followed by a laugh. After we all finally pull up to Monstrous Slice, we walked inside where we ordered our huge slices of pizza. We decided to eat in the outside seating area where the neon city lights sparkled as Saturn’s Rings wrapped the sky.
“You made mad cheese tonight Ace; no pun intended.”
Says Sammi before taking a huge bite out of her pizza. I nod my head.
“I haven’t made that much sense Valentine’s day.”
I say with a chuckle as I sprinkle Parmesan on my slice.
“Guess what? Tonight’s meal is on me.”
I announce with a smile. Everyone cheers and whistles as they continued taking bites and sipping drinks.
The girl who came with Terrence looks at Lionna as if observing her.
“You must be a Ringer.”
She says to Lionna through chews of her pizza. The fact Lionna wasn’t eating as we all devoured our food was almost a dead giveaway.
Lionna responds bluntly.
“So, you like Ringer women better than real women Ace?”
Asked the girl while now looking at me.
I look over at Terrence in a way that said, “What the fuck is up with your chick?” but he was looking away in an attempt to hide his shocked laughter.
Before I could speak, Lionna beats me to it.
“What kind of insecure question is that? You should be more worried about the guy you came with tonight, not being worried about who Ace is fucking.”
Sammi who was sipping her soda through a straw nearly choked on her drink. Women randomly getting bitchy with one another when I was the subject was always prime entertainment for my friends.
“Why so defensive?”
Asked Terrence’s girl in a mocking tone.
“I was simply asking Ace a question, we’re all adults here.”
I chuckle and shake my head.
“Listen, uh, girl I’ve never met. If you want bluntness then fine, Ringer girls are the fuck of the century if you must know. No, I don’t like one more than the other, but have I ever had a bad night in bed with a woman who’s a Ringer? Fuck no. So, my expectations stay high and if I’m bringing home a human girl then she has something to live up to. Ringer women for me have set my bar high.”
I wink at the girl before looking at Lionna. I grab her hand then bring it to my lips giving her knuckles a quick kiss. Lionna smirks at me then looks at the girl.
“Does that answer your question?”
She says without the smirk leaving her face.
“My life has been fulfilled.”
Says the girl sarcastically before rolling her eyes and taking a bite of her pizza.
Grayson and the girl he brought were all cuddled up together whispering in each other’s ears.
“Hey! You animals! Nobody wants to see that shit!”
Shouts Sammi playfully while throwing her straw paper at him. Grayson flips Sammi off then retorts.
“When are you gonna bring Xavier around huh!?”
Sammi’s eyes widen as a surprised chuckle escapes her mouth.
“How do you know about him?”
That’s when I paused eating to stare at Sammi taken off guard.
“Wait, hold on, who is Xavier?”
Terrence looked at her with an equally lost expression like my own.
“Ok, yea! I met a guy that I like ok!”
Says Sammi while chuckling.
“What!?” I say with a shocked expression.”
Sammi never had the tendency to keep her dating life very secret from us, this was the first time I had ever even seen her this excited about someone and she didn’t even tell us about him.
“First of all, I’m not bringing a guy I really like around you guys because you might fucking scare him off.”
I chuckle with a shrug.
“Well if he can’t handle us, is he really worth it? I mean come on.”
Sammi gives me a slight head nod with an expression that said “true” in her head.
“I’m gonna whoop his ass if he even slightly says the wrong thing.”
Says Terrence while looking around at all of us as if waiting on us to agree.
“No! You’re not whooping his ass Terrence! This is exactly why I didn’t say anything.”
Says Sammi while chuckling and shaking her head.
As I said before, Terrence is a nice guy. But when it came to Sammi and men he always played the extreme little big brother roll in her life. If there was anyone that she especially didn’t want to know about her serious dating, it was him. Having flings was one thing, but actually liking someone was when he got the most overprotective. For myself I was half and half, Grayson felt she was fine enough to live her own life whereas Terrence wanted to shield her from shit. I’d like to think I share both perspectives, I knew Sammi wasn’t an idiot, but I still equally worried for her too.
While all of this was happening, Lionna just sat quietly the whole time. She laughed a little at some of the jokes but that was about it. Under the table she was holding onto my knee and kept occasionally resting her head on my shoulder. It was like she had to be touching me in some form the entire time. Occasionally people who knew of all of us stopped by our table for a few quick conversations and laughs. The entire time Lionna never moved. I had to make up an excuse to go to the bathroom just to get a breather. The girl was all over me like she was owning me or some shit.
An hour later of hanging out we all exit out of Monstrous Slice. We decided to head down the street to make an appearance at some party that one of the other Black Lion performers was throwing. As I approach my bike, I get chirped on my Reo activating my Genxs Assistant. I tap behind my ear to listen to what she has to say.
“Someone by the name Bermuda would like to have a meet up. She was sent by Big Rich who informed her on your Services, would you like to reach out to Big Rich first?”
Asked my Genxs. My face reacted with confusion at her sentence.
“Let him know that I’ll be video calling him in about thirty minutes.”
I say as I hop on my bike.
Says my Genxs.
Lionna hops on the back of my bike.
“Hey Lionna, I’m gonna drop you off at your place I got some things I need to handle.”
“But what about the party? I wanted to dance with you.”
I smirk at her.
“Maybe next time sweetheart. You should have found me while we were at The Black Lion.”
Lionna rolls her eyes.
“Maybe I would have if that girl wasn’t already all on you the whole night.”
Oh, she’s talking about Corah.
I just shrug.
“Can’t let that stop you from coming by.”
I look over at my friends.
“Hey you guys! I’m out for the night!”
“Yo! Hit me up and let me know when you want to rehearse the songs!”
Says Terrence who was giving Sammi a piggyback ride. I nod my head.
“Definitely! I got you.”
Me and Terrence decided to feature each other on a few songs. We were both excited about it, they all sounded good and we worked pretty hard on them. The Black Lion offered discounted studio sessions for its popular performers. Considering we were both popular plus he worked there, we practically got studio time for free.
My friends all waved me off as I started my bike then took off with Lionna down the street. As far as they knew I was probably leaving to spend the night with her, but not even my friends knew what I really did for my more stable means of money. Grayson got his cooking from Aunt Deonna, but I adopted her Hopper side. In my line of work it was important to keep it under wraps or you might get caught up. It was also to keep those you care about safe.
Ten minutes later I pull up in front of Lionna’s one story house. The neighborhood wasn’t the nicest, but it also wasn’t the worst. According to Lionna, she apparently was roommating with a married couple in their late thirties with a three kids. They needed help with the mortgage, so they reached out for a roommate. It seemed like an awkward living situation in my opinion but hey she needed to move out of her last place in a rush, so I guess it worked for her.
Lionna hops off my bike then kisses me on the cheek.
“How about when you’re done taking care of business you drop by here tonight?”
I smirk at her.
“And do what exactly?”
I asked in a knowing tone.
“Keep each other company in very creative ways.”
She says as she steps closer and runs her hand up my chest to my neck. Without the soft smirk leaving my face, I shake my head.
“I don’t think so sweetheart.”
Lionna drops her head back out of frustration then looks at me again.
“Why do you keep being so weird with me? I practically screamed let’s fuck last weekend and you kept pushing me away and you’re still doing it. Am I not pretty to you now? I thought you said Ringer women were the fuck of the century.”
“I know what I said but trust me sweetheart I’m the last kind of person you need right now.”
Lionna shakes her head as if she were trying to figure out what to say but couldn’t. I learned about a month ago that she was a customer of the Hopper circle. She was yet another walking testimony of an underground Ringer. It took a lot of work and a lot of different hands in the process, but here she was. She was basically like a walking billboard for the Hoppers who were involved. Only thing is, she looked nothing like her human form. She was in someone else’s Ringer and whoever this Ringer body once belonged to is the one who was pretty.
A lot of moving parts have to happen to get Ringer bodies. Sometimes it was dark shit involving Glowers that I try to stay away from. If I can figure out they have something to do with a job I pass on it. Trust me when I say that Glowers are a fucked-up bunch. One thing about being a Hopper is that your jobs are always a gamble. You never really know what you’re playing a role in sense we aren’t supposed to give too much information to each other. Especially about the shit we’re working on for another Hopper. It was a system made so that if anyone were to ever get caught up by the cops or by a Ringer Observer, they wouldn’t have enough information to give up to arrest anyone else. Plus, if everyone knew every detail of what was going on, we’d never make money because we’d always be thinking too much into it.
A lot of customized work went into changing the original appearance of an underground Ringer, or at least changing them enough. Nobody wants the possibility of the Ringer body being recognized on the streets by someone who possibly knew them. For that reason, I wasn’t into underground Ringer girls, it went a little too much passed fucked up for me. But as far as everyone has assumed, me and Lionna apparently slept together. They never asked so I never corrected them, and neither did she. Most girls wore being involved with me like a badge of honor anyways. I honestly didn’t care about people’s assumptions about me. I’m the only one living and breathing for myself so why would someone who isn’t putting money in my pockets be someone to give a damn about.
Recently, I surprisingly learned that I sort of knew of Lionna back when she was human. She was the quite one in her group of friends. Back then she was still a black girl, but she looked completely different. Her height use to be a little taller and her body was slightly more stocky with her hair always in a low bun. She had a long deep scar going down the side of one of her eyes and rarely smiled. I was told by Marsha that she didn’t like talking because apparently she was insecure about her teeth or something, I don’t know. To Lionna, Marsha was her best friend but I never really got the impression that Marsha felt entirely the same way back. It seemed to me like Marsha was just her friend out of pity, but hey it wasn’t my business.
Me and Marsha began hanging out so much that we almost got around to that point of being together. I finally later learned a few weeks ago that her ghosting me was because she got a job offer that made her move. She still didn’t even say bye which I admit still bothered me. Maybe me and Lionna were in the same boat by thinking we mattered more to her than we really did. It was the closest to a fake broken heart I ever got but even that loss wasn’t much. People have to do what they have to do; money comes first in the long run and Marsha didn’t come off as the type of girl to give up shit for a man.
As you can see now, I eventually learned that Lionna always had a big crush on me. After Marsha left and Lionna transferred to a Ringer, she made it more obvious that she wanted me. I guess she didn’t hear the other rumor among Hoppers that was actually true, which is that I don’t mess with underground Ringers. She wasn’t even giving herself enough time to adapt. The legal Ringers got RO’s and The Watchman Facility process. They also got Checkups every year and received a two year warranty for free maintenance when needed. I’ve heard that the legal way was a pain in the ass, but the transition and counseling still really helped. Underground Ringers like her had to learn everything for themselves and the way she was going about it was wrong. She seemed like she was in the process of changing who she was completely. She got the physical part down, but now she was even trying to change herself mentally. Lionna never was the type to throw herself at someone from what I had seen. Even if she were still human and I was attracted to her, her mind wasn’t strong enough for a man like me even just to have sex with. I knew her type and learned to pass on them a long time ago. You could be the finest woman alive and I wouldn’t touch you if you weren’t thick skinned. Vulnerable and sensitive girls were a no for me. Just a disaster waiting to happen.
“I don’t get it Ace, do you still miss Marsha or something?”
Lionna saying that took me off guard. Do people around here think I miss her? Why and How? Its not like I bring her up in conversation or anything.
“No Lionna, this has nothing to do with Marsha and I don’t know why you would think it does.”
“Then why are you so hot and cold with me. One minute we’re snuggled up at Monstrous slice and now you’re distancing yourself. Why did you even let me ride with you tonight? You’re being so confusing.”
I chuckle and shake my head.
“I guess my attempt at being a nice guy was a bad attempt. How would you have felt if I simply said no to you and yes to Candy in front of all those people? I spared you embarrassment.”
Lionna shakes her head.
“Wow, so that’s the only reason you let me come with you? To not make me look like an idiot? You dont like me in any kind of sexual way at all?Lionna looks down then looks back at me with hurt mixed with anger spread across her face.
“You know, I was told that you were an asshole and I didn’t believe it, but now I get it!”
I smirk and chuckle. Being kind makes me an asshole? Yea, it’s time to go. I think to myself.
I say with a shake of my head and a bluntness to my tone. I get ready to pull off, but Lionna stops me.
I sigh then look back at her.
“I’m sorry, I’m just...I’m so confused and lost right now.”
I look away from her then back at her again out of annoyance. This was exactly what I wanted to avoid. These underground Ringers go through some crazy shit to become what they are and not all of them were mentally prepared for it. Lionna was a good example. She was looking for someone to be emotionally responsible for her, and I wasn’t about to be that guy.
Lionna starts shaking her head as if she were thinking back on things, then suddenly her hands cover her face as she begins to cry.
“I just don’t want to be alone for another night, I just need some of your company.”
She says through her sobs.
I shake my head at her with a slight shrug.
“I don’t know what to tell you sweetheart, call up someone you know.”
I knew what I said was stupid and cold, but I didn’t want to deal with this shit, I had other business to handle. Lionna looks at me with a hurt expression as the tears continued wetting her face.
“I’ve been supposedly missing for about two months now. My friends haven’t even bothered asking about me so it’s not like they care anyways. Big Rich told me I couldn’t tell anyone who I really am even if I wanted to tell them. He says they can’t be trusted. You’re basically the only person who knows my situation besides some other Hoppers.”
I had to resist the urge to shrug my shoulders at Lionna after listening to her sob story. Nobody knowing about underground Ringer transfers was usually how it went. I was tired of this same conversation that I’ve had with countless other underground Ringers. Sense I’m mixed up in both worlds they tend to look at me like I’m some sort of beacon. As distant and unmoved as I may seem to her, I was considered one of the nicer Hoppers. Most Hoppers only hung out with other Hoppers but it wasn’t the case with me. These underground Ringers never consider the fact that their life is going to change even more than the average Ringer. Legal Ringers belonged to Marco Vital for a few months, but underground Ringers belonged to the Hoppers for life which meant their old life no longer exist. The only person she could blame was herself.
“Listen Lionna, I need to go alright?”
I say to her in a less harsh tone. Lionna wipes away her tears and looks away from me with just a nod of her head. I lick my lips and let out a sigh.
“Go do something that use to make you happy when you were human, even the smallest thing, it helps.”
Lionna just silently looks down and plays with her fingers.
I bluntly ordered her. Lionna gives me a sad look in reaction to my coldness, but she hesitantly begins to turn around. I shake my head and Reeve my chopper engine before loudly pulling off down the road.I sometimes felt bad for these underground Ringers, but it’s the choice they decided to make so it’s what they must live with. Lionna wasn’t supposed to tell me, but sense her Head Hopper contact was Big Rich I likely also had a hand in helping create Lionna during the early process sense I mostly worked for him. Wiping tech trails from Tech Specs was my specialty. It helped give the illusion that everything or a single thing installed on a Ringer belonged to them just in case an RO reported them. Ringers are very intricately built systems just like the human body. Building their programs alone is like creating a new fingerprint.I picked up on how to do it when I was a kid. I couldn’t afford the same things as all the other kids around me, so I had to get creative. Being poor forces you to think outside the box. Before living with Aunt Deonna and befriending Grayson. All my childhood friends had the latest tech shit, so I started stealing to have what they had. I never wanted the other kids to know I was poor, so I kept up the illusion that I wasn’t. They weren’t rich or even middle class either but they could at least afford the cheaper things whereas I couldn’t even afford that. So, I stole small electronics and through trial and error I learned how to break the codes so that if they were tracked it showed they belonged to me. My Uncle Clyde never got mad or punished me for it, he actually applauded me and even got me stolen things to wipe. I knew way more about technology and building at such a young age that I knew more than the adults who surrounded me. Thing is, it was a talent that could either make you lawfully successful or underground successful.
The biggest bullshit is that no companies were looking for a self-taught tech genius, they wanted someone with school and job experience. In order to get experience you needed the opportunity to legally get it. No matter what I did my history never measured up to the next educated persons background. It was also a who knows who kind of career, so me and others like me got thrown to the side. I couldn’t exactly put on a resume that I picked up my skills by erasing tech trails on stolen things. I couldn’t afford college, and I wasn’t that into playing sports to get in that way. Nobody could tell me that I didn’t give the honest way a go, it was a system constructed to create Hoppers. I liked working with coding and technology too much to just give it up. So I said fuck it all and went underground. I was accepted there quicker than I was in the world that I for years tried so hard to be a part of. After a few months of proving myself, I finally became a legitimate Hopper. It was all I knew how to do besides singing, but I never really wanted to make a career out of my voice. I didn’t really want to be famous, I just wanted to work at Regals Electrics or Marco Vital Force Corporation. Sense that wasn’t happening, the Hopper life is where I’ll remain. As a matter of fact, I was about to handle some Hopper business with head Hopper Big Rich as soon as I got home.