Boulder City Chronicles — Part 3 — Sugar

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"Part 0" has intro. Two worlds merge and their races have to coexist; the job market fluctuates and some breeds get left behind. Decades after the dimensional tear, people are content to live out their lives as if this were the norm. Some are less content, however, to simply accept this New World.

The cloudless sky and warm sun were a huge improvement from the droll downpour of the night before, which left a mild humid stickiness to the air that Kerin loved. Between the dampness and the heat of the sun beating on her tanned skin and dark clothes, she was actually rather glad now that the witch had sent her on this errand, and had all but forgotten her suspicions as to the woman’s intentions.

Kerin didn’t have a license; she’d never learned to drive. In a city this big, she wasn’t alone in that, but she also detested public transportation. The witch had learned that about her early on, so even little errands like this could take Kerin hours to accomplish because she walked everywhere. The little shop she worked and lived at was a few miles from the nearest grocer, which gave her plenty of time to soak in the sunlight. When she got to the grocery store, Kerin grabbed the cheapest bag of sugar she could find and brought it to the register. Nobody manned the registers, though there was always an attendant on duty in case something went wrong with the machines. She ran the item over the scanner, a little red light shining up and locating the bar-code on the bottom of the item.

‘Please insert your IDAF card,’ the machine prompted in a friendly woman’s voice.
Kerin removed a slim rectangular plastic card from her back pocket. It was about six inches long and one inch wide. She held the card by the white side that had a few numbers and letters imprinted on it, inserting the black magnetic portion into the slot on the front of the machine. The machine made a ticking noise as it accessed the account.

‘Would you like cash back?’ it asked. That, she knew, was a trick question. These machines hadn’t had cash in them for years. Nobody really used cash anymore. She considered saying yes, just for the sake of confrontation. Instead, she reached up to the touchscreen and selected the red NO button.

‘Insufficient funds,’ the machine said in a male’s voice this time, ‘Please select another form of payment.’ A slew of options that were so out of date it made her head spin showed up on the screen. Cash, credit card, debit card, food stamps, different IDAF, money order.
She groaned, pressed different IDAF, pulled the little card out and reinserted it. The machine ticked again a few times, then beeped. ‘Insufficient funds. An operator has been notified. Please select a different payment method.’

Kerin kicked the machine, pressed the different IDAF option on the screen, and tried again. The people with boring jobs were watching her, now, but she didn’t much care if she was making a scene. There was no way her card was out of money. ‘Please contain your anger. A manager will be over to speak with you shortly,’ the machine prompted, screen now showing full red with the word STOP in big bold white letters.

“What seems to be the problem?” a man’s voice asked behind her. It was so unenthusiastic, she half expected to turn and see a robot. It seemed the machines cared more about their customer service than people did, though. The woman wheeled around irritably, seeing nothing at first. When she lowered her eyes, there was a pixie standing before her only as tall as her knees. He had his blond hair slicked back with grease of some sort, and wore the horrible blue polo and khaki pants that everyone else in the building wore.

“This stupid machine won’t take my card,” she snapped. “I know there are funds on it.”
The pixie took a breath, and began to reply to her, his voice too deep to match his shining exterior. Every word sounded pre-rehearsed, “You will need to contact the issuer of your IDAF and resolve it with them, since our systems are based off of the information we receive from their database. I am sorry for the inconvenience, but there’s nothing I can do.” He turned to walk away as if that had solved the problem.

Kerin picked up the bag of sugar and threw it at him, temper getting the best of her as it often did. The heavy bag hit the pixie in the back of the head, and he let out a squeak. “Ow!” he said, wheeling around to face her. His pale skin had pinked, and she noticed that pixies looked kind of like adorable fuming porcelain dolls when they were angry. “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store,” he said, finally finding the intonation in his voice.

She grinned back at him with a shrug. “You’ll need to contact the manufacturer of this sugar and resolve it with them, since your pain levels are based off of the weigh of the item I used as a weapon.”

His cheeks pinked more, and he grabbed a little walky-talky from his waist with shaking hands and shouted into it. “Security! Code …um…there’s a violent woman at register nine.” An inaudible response came from the other end, then the pixie pointed at her and demanded, “Wait here.”

“Why, so you can kick me out?” she laughed, leaning back against the machine. She wasn’t leaving without the sugar, that much was certain. So, she probably shouldn’t have thrown something at the guy, but it wasn’t entirely her fault she had a temper. He was just lucky he was so short, and too much of a hassle to bite. The pixie didn’t respond, just stood there watching her like a little Shih Tzu bouncer, glaring at her angrily which only made his porcelain features puff out like a cabbage patch kid’s face.  Her nostrils flared in irritation, and she couldn’t help but notice that he even smelled adorable.  Like the sour flavor of sweat mixed with lemon pie and candy corn.

In a few moments, a tall man in a simple black t-shirt and jeans came by. The shirt fit too-tight to his incredibly toned muscles, and his long black hair trailed down his chest. At his waist he had a taser, mace, handcuffs, a short neon green stick that she didn’t know the purpose of, and a large ring that held about twenty different keys. While he looked human enough, it stood out to her that he had no scent. It wasn’t just that he didn’t have a distinct scent. If she hadn’t seen him with her own eyes, his smell was so absent that she wouldn’t have even believed he was there. This alone was fascinating, but the intrigue didn’t overpower her need to get what she wanted, no matter how trivial the sugar actually was. The man came straight up to her, and already she could tell he was in no mood for games. She’d make it quick, then.

“Wonderful, so glad you’re here. I asked this guy if I could borrow a few dollars, because your machine is clearly drunk and thinks I have no money. Poor pixie doesn’t make enough to lend me anything, so I hoped you’d be able to. Spare some change?” she asked.

“Shut up,” the guy responded, grabbing her right arm in his left hand and moving toward the door. His grip was tight, but that wasn’t really a problem for Kerin. She slammed a foot on the floor, and the cement beneath her cracked a little. The man stopped, realizing that she wasn’t budging, and looked at the damage to the ground. The anger she expected was instead confusion. His piercing blue eyes glanced at the floor, then up to her, and his brow drew down. “You are really going to make a scene here over a pound of sugar?” he asked.

Kerin shrugged, “Are you?” By now, she was the only person who wasn’t on edge about this whole situation. Everyone was watching, which she was sure was just making it all the more uncomfortable for the employees. While this was sort of an asshole move, what people thought of her was the least of her concerns.  In fact, she got out so infrequently, this was a wonderful change of pace for her.  The witch usually kept her busy enough that she didn’t have much room for getting in trouble or ruining people’s days.  With how much she generally disliked people in general, this was a wonderful opportunity to both accomplish a task, and have a little fun while doing it.  In a city filled with freaks with powers and weird abilities, it really was a shame that nobody cared to use them.

The man seemed to consider her question a moment before his brow drew down. “You’ve assaulted an employee and now broken private property. I’m not just going to give you what you want because you’re acting like a child. Take your business somewhere else,” he said, and tried pulling her again. Though the man clearly had more muscle than she did, Kerin still didn’t budge. Her foot dug a little deeper into the cement floor as he pulled, and she laughed.  “You realize you’re just causing more damage by doing this, right?”

He grunted, then unexpectedly wheeled around. Before Kerin had a chance to register that the man had moved, she realized that she was on her knees on the broken cement floor, hands behind her back and being clasped into handcuffs. The security man’s voice rang behind her irritably, “Well, if you insist on staying, then it’s going to be on my terms, sugar.”

Although surprised at his speed, very surprised, Kerin wasn’t really too impressed. In a world where everyone had a little something special going on, she shouldn’t be surprised that the security detail (even if it was just for a grocery store) would have a little something something on the side. Unfortunately for him, Kerin was not the average freak. After he clasped the cuffs, he moved his hands underneath her arms to lift her up. She pulled her wrists apart, and with almost no effort at all the chain between the cuffs broke. The man lifted her from the ground just as the light clink of the broken link of chain hit the floor. “Thanks for helping me up, love. And they say chivalry is dead,” she joked.

By this point, they’d attracted enough attention that the rest of the security team members had joined in the rest of the crowd. She noted that they were all a lot smaller than this guy, save for one orc who looked like he could bench-press a school bus with all of the kids on it. None of them seemed interested in stepping in, though, and when Kerin made her comment, a few chuckles escaped from the crowd. She turned on her heels to face the guard who thought he had her, looked straight up into his bright blue eyes. He was very attractive, it was a shame that they’d met like this. She reached up a hand, the metal ring still around her wrist, and went to touch his face. “You-”

Her comment was cut off by his tight grip around her wrist. This was not the same strength he’d used on her when trying to get her out the door. His features had grown solemn, not the anger she kept expecting to see. Any considerations she’d entertained earlier about him being just a human were gone as she tried to move her arm and couldn’t. Concern creased her features, and she moved her other hand to grab his, hoping to relieve herself of his grip. His other hand moved and gripped around it before her hand reached his, and he stood holding both of her wrists tighter than she could get out of. The coy confidence she’d held before dissipated, replaced now by a panic. Kerin wasn’t used to encountering people who were stronger than her, and didn’t understand it. At this point, she no longer cared about the sugar. She needed to get away from him.

She pulled away, but his grip didn’t falter. “What the hell?” she exclaimed, but he didn’t reply. His bright blue eyes just stared into her golden ones, holding her wrists as she struggled to free herself. She lifted a leg to kick him, but just as she did one of his swept under her standing leg and moved it out from underneath her. Falling again to her knees, she continued to pull frantically, struggling like an animal to escape the grip of the monstrous human whose strength far outweighed hers, and unable to understand how that was possible. “Fine! Fine I’ll leave, just let me go!”

“Sorry, sugar,” he replied, his voice calm and quiet, the irritation from earlier gone and replaced with an almost monotone one. “I know you wanted to play, but you just changed the game.”

The crowd began to back away, as if they expected something horrible to happen. Kerin knew her overconfidence was going to get her in real trouble one of these days, but she hardly expected it over a bag of sugar. Even though he was stronger than her, though, and probably faster, she wasn’t out of tricks. Almost, but not quite. She just had to get herself thinking clearly again. The man lifted her by her arms, but she let her body hang limp. Strong as he was, she wasn’t going to make this easy for him. He didn’t even bother putting cuffs on her this time. The orc security guy in the crowd moved toward the scene, but the man with blue eyes turned his head to comment as he did,  “If you don’t feel like filing workman’s comp for injuries today, you might want to stay back.”

The guy shrugged, “Didn’t sign up for this job ’cause I thought it’d be easy,” he grumbled and continued moving toward them, presumably to help.

The tall man pulled her by the hands, dragging her across the floor since she refused to move with him. Her hair hung over her face, but she could see through the tiny cracks in some spots, glimpses of scared and confused and irritated faces. Civilians, all of them hoping for something that they didn’t get. Some wanting the underdog to win, because they thrive on the chaos of disorder, some wanting blood to be shed to compensate for their own anger, some upset because their illusion of a perfect normal world had been disturbed once again by someone with a big mouth and a little too much or not enough capability. No matter how this had gone, everyone would have been disappointed. Kerin, however, was the most disappointed of them all. There was no way that this guy was bringing her in over a bag of sugar and a hissy-fit. He had been perfectly content to let her leave, up until he’d stared into her eyes. Did he know? Was that even possible? She wasn’t planning on staying long enough to find out.

The orc followed close behind with a taser-gun aimed at Kerin, in case she tried to start moving again, as the tall man dragged her to a door at the back of the store. The orc lowered his weapon, setting it into a holster at his waist with a subtle click before moving to unlock the door for the pair. She thought to take this chance, but realized that even if she could get the gun, she had no hands to shoot it with. She didn’t know what effect a taser would have on her, if any, but the orc wasn’t really much of a problem aside from that. The real issue was the man whose strength was better than hers. He would have to let go of her sometime.

The door swung open somewhere in her peripherals as her eyes focused on the floor as it moved, counting the tiles from the doorway to wherever they were going next. Her nostrils flared, sniffing for anyone else who was back here. Two others, she could tell, and she lifted her head for a moment to see where they were. The man was dragging her down a hallway lined with doors. She lowered her eyes to count tiles again before anyone had noticed she was looking. The smells were coming from the other side of some of these doors, from two different rooms. Though both smelled cleaned, one of them was definitely an undead of some sort. It was so hard to tell the difference between most of them, from a distance, since they all smelled like rotting corpses of different degrees. Judging by the fact that her stomach wasn’t turning over, she reasoned that the doors here were either incredibly thick, or the undead was a vampire of some sort. Though just as dead as the rest of the undead, vampires tended to smell less rancid than the others. They had the benefit of not rotting away beneath the surface, most of the time. The other smell was incredibly human, and filthy. Probably someone in some kind of holding room for stealing, a hobo or something. She couldn’t blame him, though. It wasn’t easy for pure humans to get by in this city.

The tall man stopped, 32 tiles from the doorway, and the orc unlocked another door. Kerin was dragged inside, then dropped. Her body slumped to the floor as if dead, waiting to be left alone. Her hair draped over her face, hiding the rest of the world from her vision. When she heard the door shut, her nostrils flared, informing her that she had been left alone. Rather, she didn’t smell anyone. Upon lifting her head, though, she was reminded suddenly that the man who brought her here didn’t smell like anything. That was something worth remembering, but she wasn’t exactly used to not being able to see with her nose. Just as she’d lifted her head, she saw him pulling out a chair at a table. The room was all gray, stone with paint over it like a small prison in the back of the grocery store. She glared at him, and he offered the seat to her. “I think we need to talk,” he said calmly, waiting for her to get up.

Kerin pushed herself up on her arms and scooted across the floor to the wall behind her, farthest from the table. She leaned her back against the cold stone wall and glared at him. “I think you need to let me go,” she demanded.

The man shook his head. “You know I can’t do that,” he replied.

Kerin raised a brow. “Can’t? You’re a rent-a-cop for a grocery store. I didn’t steal anything. I said I’d leave, and you said no. You’re holding me against my will. I could have your job for this, you know?” While Kerin knew she wasn’t in the right, here, she wasn’t about to admit that she had been wrong to act like such a child. Her nostrils flared again, searching for a smell that wasn’t there.

“Actually,” he said, finally sitting in the chair that she’d declined, “I’m a little different than the other security here. You see, I work for a partition of the government that’s been called in to Boulder City to look for escaped criminals and things of the sort. Seems there’s been an influx of suspicious characters showing up in all kinds of convenient places, but none of their ‘rent-a-cops’, as you so gracefully put it, were qualified to take them down. To be honest, I thought getting assigned to this store was the biggest waste of my time ever.”

Kerin sat silently, her heart starting to race. Anything he accused her of, she was going to deny until she could get out of here. She’d have to leave this city, start over somewhere else, but she would rather die than turn herself in and go back to that place. “That’s fascinating,” she replied, a bite to her words, “So you thought, since you had to waste your time, you would just go ahead and waste mine, too?”

The man let a small smile dance on the corner of his thin lips. “If I remember correctly, you’re the one who got yourself into this mess. I would think that, being a criminal, you would be a little more subtle to avoid getting caught. Causing scenes in public places isn’t really smart, unless you really think you’re that unstoppable.” He leaned back in his chair and observed her a moment, and she felt like an animal in a cage being watched for someone’s amusement.  This wasn’t the first time she’d felt that way, and it made ever muscle in her body tighten.

“Listen, I don’t know who you think you are, or who you think I am, but I’m just local counter help at a corner store who wanted sugar and lost my temper.”

He nodded. “And I am just a rent-a-cop, doing my job, as far as the people out there are concerned. In this room, though,” he said, patting his hand on the table, “We are what we are. So. Who are you?”

“None of your business.”

“Where did you come from?”

She feigned a gasp, “What a coincidence!  That is also none of your business.”

He sighed. “This is going to go much easier for you if you just an-”

“Oh geeze, now you are using lines straight out of movies. Please. Just, spare me the cliches and try being original, or I’m going to get really bored really fast.”

“I know this might come as a shock to you, Sugar, but your entertainment is not my top priority.”

She grinned knowingly back at him, the tips of her canine teeth glinting in the florescent light. “Perhaps it should be,” she said, laughing a little afterwards before leaning her head against the wall. “Now that I’ve answered all of your questions-”

“But you didn’t ans-”

“I have a couple of my own. Like, what makes you think I’m anything more than your common trouble maker?”

He didn’t respond.

“Oh, so you’re just trying to satisfy your own boredom, just like me, hm? Tired of playing security guard when you’re way overqualified for this?”

There was silence from him for a moment, and a satisfied grin coated Kerin’s lips. She peered at him with her golden orbs tauntingly, knowing she was right. The man replied coldly, monotone seriousness in his voice again that made her skin crawl, “Is that what you’re doing, then? Satisfying your boredom because you’re tired of being so overqualified for the life that you pretend is yours? Tell me, Sugar, when was the last time you ate?”

Her smile disappeared. His blue eyes were piercing her own again, and everything in her screamed to look away, but she couldn’t. “This morning,” she lied, her voice quiet.

“I’m going to ask you again,” he said, leaning forward in the chair, “And this time, you’re going to answer as if I already know the truth.”

She scoffed, “Yeah, like that’s going to-”

“If you don’t make this easy, it will get very unpleasant.  I don’t want that any more than you do,” he said, his eyes narrowing. He didn’t seem to be threatening her, even though it sounded like he was. He seemed more like he was looking for something, staring hard into her eyes and trying to understand what was looking back at him. It made her feel naked, and scared.

Her nostrils flared again, and she could pick up the scent of the undead coming closer to the room. Her eyes flicked toward the door as an excuse to break eye contact with him, and it worked. She fixed them there, and forced a smile and a laugh. “No wonder they stuck you in a super market. You must have messed something up pretty bad to get this gig, and now you’re trying too hard to bag yourself some big fish so you can get back in good with your bosses.” She waved a hand dismissively. “Eggs, toast, and a small bowl of cereal. That was my breakfast this morning. Don’t believe me, give it a few hours. It’ll pass, and you can examine the waste yourself.”

He sighed. “I was really hoping you would cooperate.” The man stood, and walked to the door just as a light tap rang out from the other side. The undead. Kerin’s muscles tightened. The man opened the door, revealing the tall thin vampire on the other side, a man in a slim black suit and wiry blond hair. The creature’s red eyes glanced at Kerin, and he placed a hand over his nose to hide the smell. She grinned, knowing that she likely smelled as unappetizing to him as he did to her. The man who had trapped her here whispered something to the undead, and the undead leaned in to whisper something back, his eyes never leaving Kerin. The taller man looked over his shoulder to her, an expression of realization on his face.

“It’s you,” he said quietly, more to himself than anything else, then closed the door between himself and the vampire.

“What do you-” she started, but the man was in front of her before she finished her sentence, his hand cupping over her face as she reached up to stop him. Instead, as her vision went black, her body went limp on the floor.

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