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Vicky


Dusk fell slowly over the small port town, the tides receded and the beachgoers and surfers slowly returning to shore. Rather than thinning, the crowds on the boardwalk only grew thicker as the sun fell and the moon rose. Street lamps and store lights kept the pathways lit and the nocturnal Pokemon came out to play. Mostly Glameow at this hour, but Vicky spotted a Hoothoot perched atop one of the taller buildings near the dock.

Those never usually caused any problems. But where there are Glameow and Hoothoot around, there are also plenty of Rattata. Those little rats never seemed to disappear, no matter how many the cats and owls killed. Vicky had seen enough rat corpses in two years to match the dead during the Kanto-Johto war a few years back. Gruesome stuff, that.

Vicky absently puffed on her cigarette, until she realized it had burnt all the way down to the stub while she was distracted. Annoyed, she stamped the pitiful ember out and tossed the stick into the ash tray. It was about time to be going anyway. The kid would be returning home by now, and Vicky wanted to arrive early and prepare a little ambush.

“One for the road, officer?” the bartender suggested, offering a suggestive smile. It was more of a lemonade stand than an actual bar—the place was set up out in the open with a few bar stools and some small tables where people could sit and smoke in the sun. There were a couple stands like this all over the boardwalk, and Vicky was a regular at most.

“Not tonight, Mason,” Vicky said, draping her coat over one arm and pressing a tip onto the counter. “I’ve got work to do.”

“Will I be seeing you again, Vik?”

“You know the answer to that by now.”

Mason nodded, the smile never leaving his wide face. “Whatever happened to that prodigy you were talking about a few weeks ago? You never did say much about them.”

“You know I can’t talk about work, Mason, stop bugging me about it.”

“I can’t help it,” Mason said with a shrug. “I’m curious. You sent them on a job not too long ago, as I recall. Did everything go well?”

Vicky eyed the bartender.

“I’m only curious.”

“Everything did go well,” Vicky said, lighting another cig and taking a long drag. She stamped the light out and tucked it away for later, then gave Mason her other eye. “And that’s all you’re getting out of me. I’ll see you soon, Mason.”

Vicky turned before the man could ask anything more and strode away from the bar stand, coat tucked under her arm and her white collared shirt partly unbuttoned at the top. Anyone who knew her would recognize her, but no one who saw her would think her anything more than a middle-aged veteran. She wasn’t sloppy, but her coat was definitely well-worn and ‘carefully scruffy.’

As she walked she kept a close eye on the people she passed, though she never gave any outward sign looking. She could see a lot just out of the corners of her eyes, and she saw little of interest tonight. That was good. Despite F.I.L.E. not having as great a presence here these days, the streets were mostly safe. Some alleys could prove more dangerous, but for a port town, there wasn’t much crime here. Petty theft, larceny, the occasional assault. Nothing serious.

Usually.

Two times she passed men wearing heavy overcoats around their shoulders with an image of fangs, almost like a badge of honor, riding their coat sleeves where anyone could see it. Fang was here. And if she saw two, there were more she didn’t see. They liked working from the shadows, but so long as they didn’t do anything in front of her, Vicky couldn’t arrest them. Even though she knew they were trouble.

She moved on. No need to let a potential danger trouble her, when there was a matter far more pressing that needed her attention. She moved past the gang members and finally arrived at an old laundromat. The place was a run down ruin, just barely able to stand anymore, on the outskirts of the slums. The street here was deserted, so Vicky spared no time stepping into the old place.

She was greeted by a familiar smell, and quickly spotted the source. A large pizza box sat on the counter in the back, printed with a tiny Darumaka spinning an enormous pizza in its stubby hands. Vicky smiled to herself as she grabbed the box and carried it up the stairs in the back. She waved her card in front of the scanner to keep the silent alarm from triggering, and moved into the flat above the laundromat.

She’d grab a slice or two and wait for the kid to arrive. She always did after ordering pizza, so it wouldn’t be too long a wait.
Prologue

Six Years Ago


Howling winds and rain pelted Jaime’s thick helmet, sheets of cold ice so thick she could barely see the pitch-black clouds or the massive Tower rising beside her. Her jumpsuit was the only thing keeping her from freezing, and that just barely. Jaime pressed herself flat in the saddle while Bane, her Salamence, twisted between crackling lightning bolts, and every hair on her body stood up. Thunder boomed.

Ears ringing, Jaime blinked the white from her eyes. Another flash of lightning struck the side of the tower, but this bolt came from the stormclouds above her, not behind. Streams of pressurized water and jets of flame brightened the island below, but the only shapes she could make out were herself, Bane, and the yellow monstrosity chasing them.

“Bane, around! Bank around!” Jaime shouted, and Bane twisted towards the tower. He turned so quickly she felt her stomach lurch, and almost tore free from the saddle despite the straps holding her boots. Bane flew around the tower, nearly scraping the sides with his belly, another spike of nausea making her grimace.

Flight was supposed to be freeing. Not this. Not whatever this had become. But she wasn’t about to get chased down by some asshole’s rogue Dragonite. A flash of yellow behind her made Jaime curse, and she almost missed the dark shape clinging to the Tower’s side. “Bane!”

Bane’s eyes were better than Jaime’s, fortunately. As the dark shape—the Honchcrow—lurched towards them, it squawked as a torrent of purple-blue dragonfire engulfed it, burning away feathers and searing flesh, tuning it to roast chicken. The bird’s corpse plummeted into the water below. Jaime grinned and patted Bane’s neck, but neither rider nor mount forgot the Dragonite still chasing them. Lightning flashed, and though it only clipped Bane’s wing, he roared.

A roar more of rage than of pain. But lightning could still kill him as easily as it would Jaime. She grit her teeth. This damned monster kept chasing her, and nothing she tried worked to break her tail. How was she supposed to get into the Tower if she was getting chased down by a dragon that refused to seek easier prey? There was only one thing left to try.

“Bane, up!” Jaime shouted, bracing for another stomach-lurching turn. Bane’s upward turn was almost as sheer as Magnic Tower’s walls, and black spots flecked her vision as she held onto Bane’s neck. He gained speed as he flew, the clouds so dark and thick they could have been the ground rushing up to meet them. The thought did nothing to soothe her nausea.

Thunder boomed and Bane roared again, a painful howl that set Jaime’s teeth on edge. She hurriedly unclipped her boots from the saddle. She nearly fell out right away, but she held onto the saddle’s pommel with one hand and unsheathed her sword with the other. It was more of a long knife, but the tip was sharp.

They shot free of the clouds, and after a pause and a fond pat for her loyal mount, Jaime slipped free of the saddle. Bane felt her go, and knew to circle back for her. Jaime fell, twisting around so she dropped head-first towards the clouds again, and with a yell and a thrust she stabbed her sword through the tiny yellow spike on the Dragonite’s head, just as it burst free of the clouds. Her shoulders almost burst from the impact, but the blade bit deep through tough dragonhide and into the monster’s brain. It died.

“Bane!” Jaime shouted, just as another thunderclap broke the sky. She looked up before the clouds swallowed her, and she saw her Bane hurtling away, lightning flashing all around him, smoke curdling from his corpse.

Jaime screamed his name as she fell.

...

The storm above almost seemed a different world to Tash. The deepest part of Magnic Tower’s moat was darker, for one, if not slightly more wet. He didn’t envy the lunatics up there—not in a tempest that furious—though down here wasn’t much better. Flashes of light still lit up the sea floor, which was all rock and seaweed as thick as his arm.

Whoever thought the bigwigs behind the Tower’s construction could keep the secret entrances so well hidden, and so much a secret? The few hints Tash managed to glean was really only a suggestion of a hint, but he didn’t have anything else to go on. Only so many people could get into the Tower before the entrances closed, but Tash wasn’t about to get caught up in any early fights. Let fools kill themselves and each other while he found his way through stealth.

Glass, his Vaporeon, emerged from the shadows and swam slow circles around Tash’s waist, a delighted gleam in her eyes. Tash grinned. Good news already, and less than an hour since the challenge began—this was going to be easier than he expected. He gave Glass a pat and checked his oxygen tank. With proper breathing he could last a good while longer. Time to go see this secret entrance.

His partner guided him through water—Glass could see much clearer in water than a human could, even in the dark—and it didn’t take long to reach the unnaturally-circular hole in the ground. It looked like the entrance to a tunnel, rimmed with steel plates and a menacing gap almost too small for anyone to fit through.

Tash smiled. This was going much easier than expected. Surprise or not, he was probably the first to find this little hole-in-the-ground, and before long he—

The ground lurched beneath him so suddenly Tash only had a heartbeat to react before something slammed into his gut. He barely had time enough to feel the blinding pain before it cut off abruptly, leaving him dazed and blinking confusion. Rocks shifted below him, and a strange creature made of spiked ridges and sharp claws rose from the ground, eyes filled with rage.

Glass smashed into the creature’s side like a tiny torpedo, but the monster didn’t even stagger. It swung one of its massive arms, its movements unhindered despite the water pressing down on them, and impaled Glass with ones of its clawed hands. A red cloud burst from Glass’s middle, and Tash just stared, paralyzed. He barely registered pain as the Barbaracle grabbed his arms and tore them free, like picking leaves off a tree branch.

Somewhere above them, a body crashed into the water.

Current Day



Genevieve


“It’s looking like a close battle, folks, with the last two challengers fighting on the very top of Magnic Tower. It’s taken us almost a week to get up to this point, but now the final stretch is close at hand! Leandra’s Drapion has been an absolute menace in this fight, while Otto has proven himself and his Pokemon no small threat. But will he be able to overcome the last hurdle and take down Leandra?”

Genevieve—Jenny for short—stepped off the pier and onto the dock of Helix Port, pausing to stare at the small city laid out before her. At first glance it was clear this was the ‘tourist’ section of the city. Shops and restaurants lined the boardwalk within clear sight of the docks—stores selling Four Isle-themed knickknacks, shot glasses, T-shirts and bathing suits with ‘I <3 HELIX PORT’ or other such touristy phrases.

Small stalls lined the walk as well, selling salt-loaded french fries, corndogs, or fried fish “fresh from the ocean.” The smell of oil and fat hung thick in the air, even with the salty ocean breeze coming in. Not far west of the docks, people gravitated toward the already-overcrowded beach, even with the sun halfway over the horizon and falling.

“Oh, and it looks like Otto’s last Pokemon is out, and that Skarmory of his is a true menace. Look how it soars, folks! I don’t know about you, viewers, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the other end of those bladed wings.”

Jenny shifted her pack, ignoring the boardwalk despite the grumbling in her stomach. The food, like on the boat, would be more expensive closer to the boardwalk, and judging by those lines in front of the stalls it would be well past nightfall before she got her turn. She didn’t have to walk far to find the first set of hotels lined up right by the dock—most probably had balconies overlooking the sea, or even backdoors and ‘special, exclusive access pathways’ to get to the beach.

And each one would cost her an arm and maybe a foot for their smallest room, if one was even available. Jenny ignored the pretty lights and the tempting scents and headed deeper into the port city. She hoped to find a place to stay—she’d heard the streets here could be dangerous, especially for a woman alone—and she had no intentions of sleeping outside. Not if she could help it.

“The contestants haven’t been standing idle either, folks,” the announcer said. “Leandra and Otto are still trading blows with their Magnic-approved steel blades—you’ll never find better steel than Magnic steel, viewers, remember that. But—Oooh, the Drapion caught Skarmory in its pincers! Skarmory is trapped now, and all that’s left is Otto himself. It doesn’t look good for our underdog challenger.”

“Allura,” Jenny said. “Are you satisfied now? I’d like my phone back, please. Allura?”

“And there’s the surrender we’ve been waiting for. Otto concedes defeat, which means Leandra is clear to climb those final steps and Ascend the Tower, and that will conclude this year’s Magnic challenge.”

“Allura!”

The Mawile walking behind her a step jumped with a surprised yelp, then glanced up at Jenny with those big red eyes and a sheepish smile. She hesitated, then adopted a look of pure innocence that Jenny didn’t believe for a second.

“Come on, Allura,” Jenny said, holding out her hand. “The fight’s over. Besides, you’ve seen it half a dozen times already, and I’d like to preserve some of the battery tonight. Don’t give me that look. I’m not falling for your fake tears.”

Allura’s expression turned sullen and she reluctantly picked Jenny’s phone off the ground, then handed it up to her. Jenny had to stoop a little to take it back, but she gave her friend an affectionate pat on the head, which made the little Mawile smile.

Maybe there was still some time to find a treat before bed. An inexpensive treat. Jenny didn’t want her Allura to get fat, after all. She glanced over her shoulder, catching a glimpse of the yellow cocoon hanging from her pack. Mars seemed perfectly content, though it was hard to tell now. She missed having the friendly Weedle on her shoulder, but he seemed happy enough where he was.

“I’m beat,” Jenny said aloud. “Come, Allura. Let’s go find a place to stay the night.”

She’d surprise her friend with a treat later. Probably.

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Catherine entered the long, narrow hallway behind the Heritage bar, heavy duffle bag tucked under one arm and an excited grin on her face as she hurried towards her goal. The back entrance was seldom used, but the owner allowed performers to go in and out that way, to give them a bit of privacy. Anyone caught loitering near that entrance was quickly disabused of their foolishness.

She could barely contain her excitement. She’d spent all day half dreaming of tonight, and her belly was so crowded with bumblebees and butterflies she half expected some might come flying out if she opened her mouth. Well, none did, but there was always a chance. And wouldn’t that be a sight to see.

Giggling to herself, Cat slipped into a back room and shut the door behind her, locking it to make sure no one would walk in on her. Then she took a deep breath and set her burden down on the vanity. The room was about as small as the master bedroom in her and Angie’s apartment, with a large vanity taking up a quarter of the space and a few standing racks for hanging dresses or suits, a closet for storing her belongings, and a small washstand for cleaning off makeup or just washing hands.

After refreshing herself in the small bathroom outside, Cat tore open her bag and began taking out her equipment and the outfit she’d chosen for tonight. Bottles and jars of makeup and paints, vials of strong perfumes, ribbons and hair ties, and jewelry of a dozen different varieties. Long and thin strips of metal as well, which she set aside, separate from her other pieces.

The dress was a thick, woolen affair of variegated colors and patterns she’d made herself while she’d lived with a tribal clan what seems a hundred years ago. It came in two parts—a loose, layered blouse with a shawl that covered her chest and shoulders but bared her midriff, and a long skirt that curved about her hips and twisted down her legs to end in loose tassels that brushed her ankles. The tassels swayed hypnotically as she practiced swinging her hips, remembering the dance she learned so long ago.

Once satisfied with her dress, Cat sat at the vanity and grabbed the jars of paint and makeup, then set to painting the skin on her arms, her face, and her midriff too. Swirls of blue and lines of gold decorated her tan skin as her brush danced over it, her top removed so she wouldn’t smear paint on the cloth. She painted the tips of her fingers, and had to wait for them to dry before painting the fingers on her other hand. She had time, though.

With makeup she changed her face. Her cheekbones went higher and became more prominent, her full lips drew color, and shadows made her eyes seem larger than they truly were. She tied long strings of beads to her hair, and they clacked as they brushed together. When it was all done and she saw herself in the mirror, even she had difficulty recognizing her own face. It was someone else’s face. Someone more beautiful by half.

“I am Zia the Enchantress,” she said aloud, meeting her own gaze in the mirror. A spark of amusement tickled her chest, and she couldn’t help but laugh. What would Angie say, if she heard her say that?

When all the paint dried and she checked over herself again, she redressed and sat down to wait. She wouldn’t be going out until the hour struck, and she still had a few minutes to kill before her time. Besides, those butterflies were still churning her stomach, and she wanted a moment to rest and settle her nerves. She hadn’t waited long when a rap sounded at her door, and before she could get up to answer it, the latch on the door shifted aside.

Zia tensed, then relaxed as the owner of the Heritage stepped into the room, gently closing the door behind her. The owner, Star, was wearing that snapback she always had on, ponytail snaked through the hole in the back and her head tilted just far down enough to hide her eyes. Still, eyes down or not, she gave Zia an appraising look, folding her arms across her chest.

Star was an imposing woman. She was of a height with Zia, but the way she carried herself—even while slouching and at ease—height never seemed to matter. This was a woman in full control of herself, her surroundings, and everyone in her proximity. A woman who was who she wanted to be, and unafraid of it. Zia envied her.

“I see you’re ready,” Star said, leaning back against the doorframe. Even doing that she looked in control. “The bar’s packed. There will be quite the crowd when you go out there, but I suspect that’s what you wanted.”

“I will go out in a few more moments,” Zia agreed. She tried to pitch her voice to match the owner’s tone, calm and confident, but what came out was all breathy anxiety. Star’s lips curved into a small smile.

“Relax, Catherine,” she said. “You won’t be any good tense like a coiled spring. Stay focused, but relax. Deep breaths.”
Zia tried. She really did, but there was only so much breathing could do for her. “I’m Zia right now,” she said. “I’d prefer if you called me that while I’m dressed up. It helps me...disconnect.”

Star frowned. “I think you have something backwards, Catherine Winters. Disconnecting yourself from your stage face is all well and good, but remember which one you’re supposed to be right now. You are Catherine until you walk onto that stage. Only then can you be someone else.”

“It helps me,” Zia said defensively.

Star shrugged. “Fine. Suit yourself, kid. Just remember, reveling in the spotlight is all well and good, but if you let it control your life and everything you do, you’ll get burned out quick. You could be a decent actor, if you play your cards right, but you won’t ever be more than that.”

Despite herself, Zia flushed red and almost leapt from her chair. “You can’t—” she cut off, biting her tongue as Star raised a hand. That was all she did, but it felt more like a slap in the face than the earlier comment.

“Take one from a woman who’s been where you are before,” Star said. “Leave Taygete before you can’t get out anymore. This life will suck you in, and it won’t spit you out until you’re as withered and dried out as a corpse. Go to the country, find a farm somewhere or a husband or both, and give your life to something worth doing. You don’t belong here, kid, and I don’t mean any of this as an insult.”

Star nodded to her, then turned and left before Zia could utter a word. She was still opening and closing her mouth, trying to figure out what to say in that empty room, but nothing came out. Zia...or Cat, or whoever she was, fell back into her seat and stared at her hands, her mind racing but no thought coming to the surface.
Cat laughed, despite herself. She shouldn’t have, knowing the termination letter staring her in the face was authentic. Corporate culture was rife with toxicity and unrealistic expectations, and that shouldn’t be making her laugh. She should be vomiting. It was sad, dangerous, and all too common in the world—especially Taygete. SuperLife wasn’t near as suffocating as some of the other corporate societies, but the wrong manager at the wrong time could turn a good day bad, and a bad day awful.

“I’ve never been much of a stickler for rules myself, Angie,” Cat said, placing her chin on her hands and smiling fondly at her friend. “I struck out on my own for years, ‘cause I didn’t want to be cooped up with my bitch of a mother until I was twenty. If I had let her, she’d probably have married me off like we were still in the Middle Ages or something. I had my own little renaissance, though I don’t think it was quite as abrasive as yours.”

She chuckled again, but her smile slowly faded. “It’s not really about being popular,” she said quietly. “I want to help people. Can’t just stand by and watch this city bore itself to death. I still read through comments despite some awful behavior because some people actually want to ask questions. I’m doing this for them. Not me. I think.”

That last part was the real kicker, though. What good could a girl dancing on a stage do for others, when all anyone ever wanted to see was less clothing and more skin? If she didn’t use that strange power of hers to ‘enhance’ her performances, would she be any more popular than the local strippers? She didn’t know. She’d probably never know. And that, despite all she said, bothered her.

I never asked for this power, she thought. She shook her head and smiled at Angie again. “You said we were shopping today, yeah? As much as I like talkin’ to you, if we don’t get up now we never will. And I have a show to prep for tonight.”
“I’m not falling in love with myself,” Cat said, flicking down to the comments section. She frowned, then kept scrolling until she found a comment not laced with sexual harassment. “Though I suppose everyone should be able to love themselves a little. If you can’t live with yourself, how will anyone else? Anyway, I’m just doing some research on how to be better at this thing.”

She set her phone on the table between them and turned it around so Angie could see the video playing. It was one of her earliest performances, done on a street corner rather than inside a reputable club like the Heritage. But renting a slot at the Heritage got expensive, and she could only do it because of her retail job, and though her performances were starting to eclipse what she made at SuperLife, she still needed that secondary income.

She found the video horrendous, but hadn’t taken it off of her account. Indeed, it still received new views and comments, though with less frequency than her newer material. She switched to one of those newer videos, and she could immediately tell the difference. Would Angie ever believe her if Cat said she felt like a different person when she performed? How could she even explain that? How could she describe the feeling she got when she put her costume on and became someone else?

The costume, the mask, the colored hair and makeup changed her. She didn’t become an entirely different person, but the persona still felt real to her. Like stepping into a role playing game with a character model and personality based off herself. One with a different name.

“I just want to be better. I’m trying to play a role here, a different character. She isn’t me, but I’m sometimes her. And I need to learn better how to be her if I want to get anywhere with these performances. The better I am at pretending, the more popularity I can get, and the better to spread what I’m trying to show.”
Cat smiled and waved away the exhaust fumes of Angelli’s departure, part of her glad the woman could leave a conversation so abruptly and part of her a little annoyed by it. She could appreciate someone always wanting to be on the move—that’s basically what her life was like for six or seven years. An international, never-ending road trip, where she often didn’t know where she’d be sleeping until night came.

It felt odd to have both a stable roommate and a reliable, if somewhat run-down bed for...eleven months now? Had it really been that long? The days went by so quickly here compared to a year ago, when every day was an adventure all its own. She was constantly meeting new people, complete strangers who seemed bemused to have a sun-tanned foreigner asking after their day, though overcoming language barriers required some creativity.

But despite all that, she never felt a true culture shock until after she returned. Modern civilization was just so different from the villages and hamlets she visited, and while the lower places of the world could be dangerous sometimes, Taygete honestly wasn’t much better. Everything was just more...convenient here.

Catherine shook her head and ducked into her car. Even if she was coasting through life now, that didn’t mean she wasn’t doing important work here. Well, partly. Cat the Retail Customer Service Representative wasn’t doing much, other than giving her a stable income. Which was still important. But there was something else too.

She turned the ignition and, while she waited for the radiator to blast the heat from her car, she flicked through the notifications she missed during work. There were several hundred of those. Most from Pathisee. Her performances were becoming more and more popular, now that she had some traction and a stable viewer base. The latest video had tens of thousands of views now, which made her smile. While a couple ten-thousands was still only a drop in the proverbial Taygete ocean, Cat knew better than to downplay the importance of the individual.

About a half-hour of driving through packed city streets and nearly getting into two accidents because some asshole cut her off on two different junctions, Cat finally arrived at the Galleria. The place was an eyesore. Nothing like this existed in many parts of the world—parts of the world she visited—and those people got along just fine without such conveniences. The towering structure, all twelve floors of it, could have served as housing for hundreds of villages and families, though Cat supposed she couldn’t be upset about it. Most village homes weren’t larger than a single story.

Still, she missed the stars.

A quick glance confirmed she’d arrived first, so Cat bought herself a pouch of fried quinoa bites, and sat down to tear into the food and her remaining Pathisee notifications. The food court was packed with people, all caught up in their own little worlds and completely oblivious to her. No one saw her. Not while she still wore her SuperLife work clothing. She couldn’t be more invisible. She liked it that way.

Cat paused, glancing up as a pair of young women passed, chatting and laughing together. She smiled to herself, then glanced around the court. Where was Angie, anyway?


Cat twisted her nose as the scent of smoke assaulted her sinuses. She scratched her cheek to hide her distaste as Julie finally returned from her smoke break. She stubbornly powered through the smell, though she grabbed a scented handkerchief from her purse as a precaution. Her skin itched, and she hoped Julie stayed put.

No such luck.

“Catherine,” Julie’s nasally voice, like the buzzing of a particularly large bee, grated Cat’s nerves. “Can you take my shift this evening? I have an appointment with my hairstylist.”

Cat turned and gave an apologetic smile. Julie stood just outside her little bulletproof cubby, flicking through a phone with one hand while the other contended with a purse Cat was fairly sure was heavier than the microwave Angelli looted earlier. Of course, it was a designer bag, one of Grey Filament’s ‘high end accessories’ tailored for ‘customers of modest means and modest income.’

Julie was a chubby girl, though not overweight. Men might call her ‘fluffy’ or ‘plush,’ but those words didn’t really mean much. Round cheeks, wide hips, short with stubby fingers and long hair dyed a strange silver-blue color, lips painted to match. The two gold hoops clashed with the dull blue-gray SuperLife vest and slacks.

Slacks in general were a poor fit on Julie, though Cat remembered what the girl looked like in a miniskirt, as much as she wish she didn’t. Julie, however, was one of those girls who believed more was better, and moderation was cowardice. Or some such nonsense like that. Heavy makeup and misplaced fashion sense aside, her hair was quite stylish.

“Sorry, Julie,” Cat said. “I have a date planned tonight.”

“A date? With a boy?”

No you idiot, with a stage. “Yes.”

“Is he cute?”

“Mmhmm. He has money, too.”

Julie pursed her lips. She seemed impressed, and gave Cat a small nod of respect before she turned away, believing the conversation finished. Cat forced back a sigh, then grabbed her purse as she saw Thomas striding out of his office in a quick gait. There was tension in his jaw, though Cat didn’t get a good look at him before he went out the back entrance.

He must know Angelli is still here, Cat thought, hiding a snicker. He wouldn’t want to risk glancing at her the wrong way.

That was fine with Cat.

“That bitch is still loitering outside, isn’t she?” Julie asked disdainfully.

“You’re lucky I like you, Julie,” Cat said. “Else I might tell her what you just said. She’s a good friend, despite what you think of her, and despite her occasional...lapses in judgement.”

Julie hesitated. It was a mark of Angelli’s reputation Julie backed down so quickly. Angie surprised Cat when they first met, but as she grew to know the woman, Cat enjoyed the delinquent and her occasional antics. Angie was reluctant to speak about her gang and what they did, even though Cat knew she was part of one, though not for lack of trust or friendship. The two girls got along well. Surprisingly well.

Catherine gathered her belongings as the shift finally came to an end, though Arthur was late again. But since Thomas left early and Julie was stuck here anyway, Cat decided it was time for her to go. So she stepped out of her cubby, locked the gate, then strolled out the front doors.

Angelli straddled her bike outside, leaned like a picture straight out of a biker magazine, all black leather and lipstick, though her hair was a silvery platinum. The older woman noticed Catherine but didn’t react as Cat approached the parked car beside Angie. She made sure to stay a pace or two away—Angie got testy when Cat got too close to her bike, despite Cat’s countless reminders it was safe.

“So,” Cat said, smiling and noting the microwave strapped to Angie’s bike. “Rob anyone interesting today?”
Updated my character profile a bit because I was unsatisfied. Post coming in 10.
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