Price Nothing Given, Chapter 23

I looked up at the broken boards, along with the cracks in the wall. They’d spread a few inches further in the last four hours, widened enough that I could see light through what should have been solid stone. At this rate, it wouldn’t take long before the rest of the structure became overstressed, and a good chunk of the building collapsed to the alley below.

I ruin everything I touch. “And you’re certain they’ll be discreet?” But this, at least, I can do something to fix.

“I appreciate your caution, but they’ve earned my trust.” I’d grown accustomed to the mechanical, alien distortions of Muwth’s voice, but an outside observer would no doubt think she sounded sinister. “I don’t mean to offend or brag, but you’re not valuable enough risk my support over. They are the same people who maintain the shadow tubes. They need me too much.”

Coming from Muwth, trust was perhaps the highest possible praise, even if it was conditional trust granted from a position of power. Given that shadow tubes were most often used for illegal purposes, a means used by villains to escape from the law, as well as no small amount of high profile smuggling operations such as stolen art, it was something of miracle the tubes themselves were still legal. A miracle which Muwth was more or less responsible for.

If nothing else, my fears of spy devices planted in my bedroom was assuaged. “I don’t think I can afford their prices.”

“I already called in the favor,” Muwth said. “They’re ready when you are.”

Holy shit, she works fast. I only told her about my power’s ‘malfunction’ a few hours ago. “I don’t like accepting charity.” Of all the arguments I could make, it seemed the least likely to offend.

I tried to be grateful, but I couldn’t help having suspicious when it came to someone with Muwth’s influence. She treated favors as their own currency, and I often wondered if and what she’d call mine in for. The last time she asked for my help put me into a fight with Kitten, which indirectly resulted in the crap I was dealing with now. If I’d never met Zach and the others, my life wouldn’t be in chaos right now.

“It’s hardly charity,” she countered. “Buying you a house would be charity, this is just one friend helping another. You’ve done enough for others that you deserve someone there when you need it. In addition, it won’t quite be free. For cover purposes, your repairs will be done through a legitimate company, and at reasonable market rates. Enough to ensure only a few people have the resources to recognize it as a fake paper trail. Those who can look, won’t.”

I stood there stunned for a moment at the implications of her reach. Legitimate companies, paper trails, hiding clandestine if not outright illegal transactions in plain sight. People thought I was the biggest powerhouses on the east coast; those people were dead wrong. “Money really is the ultimate superpower, isn’t it?”

“In its own way, I suppose. We sacrifice so much for it that, afterward, we are forced to ask ourselves why we ever wanted it in the first place.” Muwth seemed to take my sarcasm as philosophical musings. She may even have been right. “Still, failure to use that power once you have it seems like an even greater waste. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of money, I assume the Playhouse’s insurance doesn’t cover live-in Imbued. I can arrange a loan if you feel you need one.”

Muwth brought up a good point about the waste in not using the power we’d lost so much to gain, but that was a problem for another time. “No, I can afford the repairs on my own.” My job didn’t pay much, but it was amazing how much you could save up when you didn’t spend money on such things as fashion, technology, partying, or having a life or family. There were limits to my bank account, however. “If they’re not too outlandish, at least.”

“They won’t be,” Muwth said. I imagined she meant her tone to be reassuring, but her voice distortion made it seem more ominous than anything. “I’m sorry I can’t talk longer, but I have some business to attend to. I made Canada wait fifteen minutes so I could talk to you first.”

What. “You’re joking, right?” I waited a moment, but she’d hung up before I even asked the question. Moments later, my phone beeped, alerting me to a text message which held a phone number along with ‘call, 9:15’. “Right. Stupid question.”

I checked the clock. Almost seven, too early for the doors to open even for employees, but about the right time for me to take my pill for the day. I took the bottle out of the kitchen drawer I kept it in now that my medicine cabinet was destroyed. I stared at it, turned it over to look at the medical warnings. I hesitated for a moment, but decided to just take the medicine. The next two hours involved me watching the clock tick by while failing to read one of the new books I’d bought.

As it turns out, I wasn’t in the mood for trashy romance novels or steampunk airship pirate adventures, so when nine rolled around, I opted to make another phone call first.

“Doctor Cantu’s office, can I take your call?” Her secretery sounded cheerful, but of the sort that anyone in theater would recognize as fake.

For reasons that didn’t speak well of me as a human being, knowing she was having a bad day made me feel a little better about the bad week I seemed to be having. “This is Elizabeth Thomas. I need to talk to Doctor Cantu. It shouldn’t take long.”

“Please give me a moment to check.” Without waiting for my agreement, the young woman went silent save for the clicking of her keyboard. A minute later, she spoke. “Yeah, the doctor’s just reviewing patient files for the day. I’ll transfer you.”

“Thanks.”

“Beth? Are you okay? Do you need an emergency appointment?”

No, that’d just make me feel worse. “Not quite. I was just wondering if my medication has nightmares as a side effect.”

“I’m not comfortable making a diagnosis over the phone,” the hesitation in the doctor’s voice made that clear enough. “I can say that all psychoactive drugs can have an impact on sleep patterns, including vivid dreams. But there are also other factors which can cause nightmares, especially unfamiliar stressful situations and anything which may have reminded you a traumatic experience.”

“Oh, then it might not be the medication.” Now that she pointed that out, it sounded like the more plausible explanation. “Things have gotten… complicated… lately. I’m not sure what I should do.”

“You’re not scheduled until Thursday, but I have an opening at one on Tuesdays, we can set up an appointment then if you feel like this is disruptive to your daily life.”

I looked at the disaster area which was my room. “Disruptive is one word for it.”

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow at one. We’ll also discuss how the medication may be affecting you, so the psychiatrist can decide if there’s any merit to adjusting the dose. It takes time to find the perfect balance for a patient, and perhaps we’ll do two appointments a week until we’ve found your ideal recipe. For now, as long as you’re not experiencing suicidal thoughts, I recommend you continue taking your medication. Coming off a drug can often cause worse side effects than the drug itself.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” At least I could count myself lucky that suicidal wasn’t one of my problems. “I’ll be there tomorrow.” It’s nice to know she’s there to help Beth rather than Anima. Even if it’s part of her job.

I stood there for a few more minutes, waiting and thinking until it was time to give the construction company a call. I hoped this weird clandestine arrangement didn’t require exact timing. It seemed like it wouldn’t, but I was no expert on the subject.

“This is Priority Construction, how may we help you today?” Unlike Doctor Cantu’s assistant, the woman on this line was either a good actress, or far too chipper and energetic for this early in the morning.

Great, what am I supposed to say? Muwth didn’t give me any secret passwords. Do spies even have secret passwords, or is that just something stupid from movies? “Uh, this is Anima. I’m calling about repairs I need done.”

“Of course, we were expecting your call.” The woman didn’t seem at all fazed by the use of my costumed identity. “Please hold while I put you through.”

As it turns out, she needn’t have even asked me to hold. The guy I was sent to picked up on the first ring. “Anima? Our mutual friend told us you needed repairs.”

For a moment I wondered why Muwth was so certain that I’d accept her offer that she made the calls ahead of time without my knowledge, but it was simpler to accept the woman’s eccentricities as part of her charm. “Yeah, there was some serious damage to the walls, and one of the rafters is now in my bedroom.”

“No interior wall damage? And the floor?”

There was plenty of both. “Well, the interior walls are more like cheap plywood dividers than actual walls. They were put in later. I’m not sure about the floor. The rafter hit pretty hard, and it weighs hundreds of pounds.”

“Right. The project will be eleven hundred dollars. When would you like us to begin?”

Eleven hundred? That’s all? “But you haven’t even sent someone over to assess the damage.”

“We can take care of that on site,” he said. “Simply set aside a couple days, in case it can’t be taken care of in one. It’s also better if you’re not there during the repair process.”

Does Muwth give all her contacts classes on how to answer questions without actually answering questions? The cavalier attitude and odd rules meant Imbued involvement was a given, but at that price, they must have been working below cost.

“We can start tomorrow. Any time before noon, and you’ll have that part of the building to yourselves for as long as you want.” If they needed more than the three or so hours I’d be out for my therapy, I could stay in the rehearsal area.

“Expect our guys there at ten thirty, then. If you can clean the debris before we arrive, that would be helpful.”

“Sure, I can do that. Thank you.” I turned my phone off, and looked at the mess.

I didn’t want to use my power. Not now, not ever if I could help it. I didn’t want to go to therapy, either. Right now I wanted nothing more than to find a hole to live in for the rest of my life, away from everything and everyone.

Perhaps Muwth and I can become recluse neighbors. Seems to defeat the point of becoming a recluse in the first place.

I clenched my left hand, the one not holding my phone.

Doctor Cantu warned me there’d be times when I didn’t have motivation, but I needed to continue despite it. To give up now was to throw away all the time and effort I’d spent on recovery. It would mean letting her win. I could not allow that to happen, I could not let myself remain a slave to my past, my disease, and this damn power. I was sick of being pathetic.

“Tuatha, faithful maidens.” More like evil fire breathing locusts. “Come forth to serve your queen.” My voice crackled with thunder in response to my power, while black lightning danced throughout the hidden places in the room.

The pixies lined up before me, hovering in rank and file like an army of large, violent insects. The cheerful, dancing behavior was replaced by a stark, military demeanor. Soldiers ready for war, rather than mischievous sprites. Soft blue and gold, with the faint hint of wind chimes replaced by flickering orange and the crackle flame consuming everything it could touch. “What would you have us do?”

My stomach clenched when I realized I’d never summoned pixies like this before. They were alert, ready to obey my commands, fight for me, go to war for me. For the first time, I had their total and absolute obedience. The pain in my gut, my throat, and my chest warned me that I was either about to cry or throw up, and I couldn’t tell which.

Is that the feeling I need to use my power properly? Frustration? Anger? Hate? This is what it takes to master my power? Fine, if it has to be hatred that gives me control, then I can do hate. Starting with whatever sick fuck is responsible for powers in the first place. “Clean this mess.” I gestured at the expanse of destruction. “Anything you can’t carry, leave where it is. I’ll deal with it later.”

“Yes, My Queen.” I must have imagined the disappointment in their tone; they had no emotions to call their own, after all. Whatever opinion they may or may not have been able to have, they went to task, picking up the scattered debris one chunk of concrete or splinter of wood at a time.

I sat down, unable to understand, let alone express, what I was feeling. I could summon an army with just a thought, and now I knew how to control that army. Yet I still felt as helpless as I did fifteen years ago, when I lost my family.

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9 thoughts on “Price Nothing Given, Chapter 23

  1. A/N- Muwth has a habit of annoying world leaders by choosing inconvenient scheduling times, and then being a little bit late. But sometimes she’s on time so she can act pissy and reschedule if her client’s not there on schedule.

    Truly, she is an expert on savoring the simple things in life. Like a Zen master of bitch.

    When I named the construction company, I did a quick search to see if there was a real one. Turns out, there are at least *fifteen* real ones. I don’t know if any work in DC or not. If so, the usual “any resemblance is a coincidence” song and dance applies.

    And on a personal note… still struggling with writing from Beth’s point of view. This is an important learning and growing experience for me as a writer… amongst other things, I’ve learned that I can dip into this sort of darkness just fine, but I do not like living here. Which I have to in order to write this book.

    It’s extended to the point of making me feel miserable. Don’t worry, at this point it’s a *challenge*, and I get passionate about my challenges, so I’m going to see it through to the end, and do it the justice it deserves to the best of my abilities, but once I’m done, I don’t think I’ll ever do another character like Beth. It’s just too exhausting.

    Which is why I’m announcing that I’ll be dropping two other character for the foreseeable future. Ayane and Arianna are no longer characters I feel confident in doing. They’d be a different type of emotional stress than Beth, but they’re too close for comfort.

    Sorry if that disappoints anyone, but that’s just how it is. I have so many other ideas I can write, ones that I’m not afraid of, so it seems insane to do a project that makes me miserable instead.

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=price

    And there’s the vote request. If you guys still feel I deserve it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s okay if you don’t feel comfortable writing the other characters at this time. After all, it’s better if the Author’s writing remains a labour of love, and not just a labour.

      On another note, those two characters aren’t ringing bells for whatever reason. Can someone remind me where they come from?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ayane is Akaihana, aka: “gets power by having sex with other Imbued”, and Arianna is the trans character from Unspoken. Both were going to be quite similar to Beth’s story, in that they focused on the internal issues rather than the external.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Honestly, I don’t blame you at all for dropping the other two. Your characters always come off as very real and natural to me, especially the one with issues. I can feel the anxiety and depression in every chapter you write from Beth’s PoV. Putting yourself in that mindset is bound to be as exhausting as actually feeling that way is.

    On the plus side, this could be the push you need for keeping the story shorter and tighter than some of the past ones. Not having to suffer with this particular character sounds like a good motivating factor for that.. Just like I would tell someone in Beth’s shoes, it is all about the silver linings.

    Muwth really is a great character. For not getting that much screen time, she always makes me chuckle. The whole money as a superpower thing was a good example of that from this chapter. I also really like that she just happens to have a construction company on hand that she can pull some favors with, and get all of this stuff taken care of within a day. And almost entirely because Beth is her friend and she wants to help her out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. > Like a Zen master of bitch.

    Ha.

    > And there’s the vote request. If you guys still feel I deserve it.

    Absolutely. There are other stories that I like as much as the /Price/ collection, but none that are so woefully underrated.

    As for characterization of Beth, I don’t have anything insightful to say. I still like the character. This chapter wasn’t as much of a “that poor girl” feeling. I do wonder about her evaluation of other people, such as Muwth: is it possible they actually like her and want to help out where they can? Is she just possibly too hard on herself, thinking that no one likes her and only wants to use and manipulate her?

    > but I do not like living here. Which I have to in order to write this book.

    Method acting, as applied to writing. Oog.

    Couple typos:
    effecting -> affecting
    time and effort I’d been spent recovery -> ?

    (And no grumbling that you made any typos. Unless you’re fishing for compliments, in which case go ahead.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words.

      And a fear of what others think of you is an inherent part of Social Anxiety Disorder. In people that *do* have objectively valuable traits (fame, money, power), that often includes a fear that others are using them.

      That said- Muwth has a history of manipulation and “favor” collecting, so it’s not completely unfounded. In fact, one of Muwth’s weaknesses is she can’t apply her power to herself, and she’s using her interaction with Zach to circumvent that weakness.

      I’ll grumble as much as I want about typos- that’s what motivates me to improve and make less typos.

      And yeah, I need to work “Zen master of bitch” into the story somewhere. Probably Laura. Or Zach, saying it about Laura. One or the other.

      Like

      1. How about Beth saying or thinking it about Laura? She’s her friend, she thinks, and she seems to mean well, but *damn* she can be a bitch. Maybe after Laura went off on Cassie, way out of proportion to any infraction.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh, certainly. I didn’t mean for you to edit an older chapter. Presumably Cassie will make another appearance in a coming chapter. And sweet li’l Beth/White Mage/Anima will have a front row seat to the Bitch Slapdown.

            Or maybe instead of Laura as the Zen Master of Bitch, it can be Cassie. When she goes into cyber mode, she’s unaffected by emotion or worldly needs, like the Buddha, and she can apply pure rationality to bitchy putdowns of that pretender Mistress of Bitch, Laura.

            Liked by 1 person

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