I was acutally reminded when the new class of trainees came by the office for observationary purposes. See, we are used to never, ever touching hte candy machine after an unfortunate series of incidents involving a mouse, a hole chewed into the back of the machine, and a half-eaten snickers bars in plain view.
You know how there's this dirty, evil side in us all that delights in the misfortune and embarassment of others? Not to mention the joys of making someone run for teh bathroom to throw up? Yeah. We all watch reality TV and have glimpsed the Day the People Ate Bull Balls in Fear Factor. Yes. Like that.
It was kind of this second, where they took out their money and said, we are going to go get candy. And our first instinct is not to say, oh! No! Mice have eaten some of those snacks! Unclean! Unclean! Our actual first instinct is to shut our mouths and stand there with a smile, smoking a cigarette or two. Then we wait. Quietly. Snickering to ourselves, but on the inside, while we look at each other and open our mouths as if to repent, but then don't. So we let them walk down the hall, then down another hall, then down a third hall to the break room. And we may let them put in their money--I mean, is there a law that says they can't look *into* the candy machine and *see* the half-eaten Snickers? No, there isn't. And we aren't there bodily blocking the visual. So they coudl get their candy, and they coudl come outside,and we can wait until they eat,oh,three quarters, and then we can laugh adn say, a mouse got that! Then we watch them run inside and throw up for about an hour while we laugh and laugh.
Yeah. *sighs* No, we didn't do that. We told them beforehand. But in retrospect, wouldn't it have been a great deal more fun to have done the above? Yeah. I think so too.
Sometimes, I am just a self-sabotaging maniac.
Anyway. No one eats from that machine. It's kind of sad, really--I mean, I'm sure some of the food in tehre is just fine. But it just makes you wonder, because it's been over a month and CandyGuy has yet to remove that half-eaten Snickers bar and replace all the snacks. Which may argue we do not havethe brightest CandyGuy ever, don't you think?
In other news, I made a deadly enemy of passive-aggressive spite by helping out another trainee. He, the trainee, got a lecture in asking me, not his worker iv, a bastion of malicious incompetence. Well, honestly, I may not know as much as she does--I mean, she is a Worker IV and I'm a trainee. But. That is why I have this thing called A Mother Who Is an Expert on the Computer System and an Expert in Policy. I ask *her*, then I give advice. But yeah. While I was helping him, she screwed around with my computer screen and it took me the devil's own time to figure out how she turned it on its side. At lesat, I suspect it was her. Anyoen else would have admitted the joke, because it *was* funny as hell. I'm wondering what she's planning to do to me, though. She won't do it openly, so it'll have to be something subtle and really unanswerable. She's being much harder on teh trainee in question.
Hmm. Okay, this is just--something. I just want opinions on the clarity. If you are about to kill me for the WiPs I seem to be refusing to finish, I'm sorry. I have all this next week off,and I plan, somehow, to get passed my Landscape block somehow, even if I have to resort to porn to do it. Which is such a sacrifice. But anyway. This is asking for opinions on hwo clear it reads, okay?
Go under cut-tag for the rest. This is about The Yard
As most of you know, The Yard is--alive. It is active, and I still tiptoe around it, becuase I love this story very, very much. But the second half is giving me problems, not least of which because I'm still not used to using two points of view and I no longer have them together, so to speak. I'm also nto sure where to start. My biggest weakness is my dislike of having to build up to action--i like to start right in it, so I'm not sure this gives nearly enough context for what's going on. And I'm using past tense, which I'm still not very good with, and past perfect and past participle and basically, a lot of pasts to illustrate the current timeline and what's happened up to now that I've skipped. This is absolute first draft--I think issaro may have glanced at it, but my memory is very unreliable. So I'm asking on my LJ to see how it reads.
This is one of those rare times I will say, if it's reading bad, or it sucks, just say so. I don't have to use this particular beginning. I can scrap it and start over, or cannibalize it, or try and start from an earlier point. I want to use this as a foundation for writing the rest, but if it doesn't work, I really need to know, becuase I really am *not* good with cutting scenes out once they are set down permanently. Honestly, you do not have to like it, my feelings will totally not be hurt. I just need to know before I actualy use it to build teh rest of the story.
Okay, tha'ts a hell of an intro, isn't it? This picks up after Interlude. If you need to to refresh your memory, the first part is here.
The Yard Part II: City of the Gods
Clark's Kryptonian was accented almost as much as Mrs. Ross's, which helped. Leaning on his arm, she allowed him to guide her through the streets. She had a hell of a grip.
"What do you think?" she murmured from beneath the floppy straw hat. The sun reflected gold spheres in her sunglasses as she looked up at him. "The hub of the world."
"I thought that was New York," Clark murmured, guiding her from behind two pedestrians arguing in the middle of the sidewalk. It was eerily like Metropolis had always been, or at least, as much as Clark had seen of it. The only difference was felt more than seen--Clark knew his own kind when he saw them, dressed in a vague resemblance to human apparel with some sweeping cape thing that makes him think of Lex's comic book collection. The sense of entitlement is like a glow around them, thnough. Easy to spot in a human crowd.
The first time he was pushed into the gutter had been educational, to say the least.
"Is it--always like this?" For some reason, Clark had had completely different ideas of what an occupation looked like. Not quite so--normal. Armed encampments, concentration camps, vague memories of apocalypse movies and late night Sci-Fi channel---hell, humans bent over dragging cinderblocks to make the Kryptonian equivalent of a pyramid--that wouldn't have surprised him.
The utter normality did.
"It's not in the best interests of the conquerors to torture their conquered population," Mrs. Ross observed softly, eyes on the people ahead of them. Kryptonians were as powerful as he was, or so Mrs. Ross had been able to tell him so far. "Most of the problems were early on. Now, people have adapted." Raising a hand, she gestured to the busy street, full of the sounds of typical morning traffic, the skyscrapers still spiraling above them, and the early Monday morning crowds.
Her mouth quirked up in a smile as she looked up at him. "Saying atrocities these days is considered very melodramatic." She winced when her weight shifted too fast on a step, and Clark narrowed his eyes on the prosthetic that had replaced her leg to the knee. Easy stages, the doctors had told him. Her hands tightened briefly, mouth thin. "Don't start."
"He said a few hours." Backroom medicine wasn't new to Clark--he remembered Lex's acquaintance Toby--but there were *hospitals*. Functioning ones. Ones that Mrs. Ross, as an expatriate of sorts, couldn't step foot in. Clark thought about the ID cards they'd been given in Edge City, of the explanations and apologies. They'll do for getting into the city, but we can't do more than that. Don't use them unless you have to.
And losing a leg to the knee was too suspicious not to merit some kind of interest in who Elizabeth Chanders really was.
"I'm fine. I need to get some fresh air. Stop hovering."
"I'm not hovering. Let's go back to the apartment." Stopping short, Clark waited for her glare at him. "We've walked a mile. I--" Don't feel comfortable going farther. Don't want to see anything else. Really don't want to be noticed. Carefully, Clark turned her around so they faced the way they came. "Your skin is being rubbed raw."
"You're cheating." But she didn't deny it, either. She didn't fight him when they turned around, Clark watching for other pedestrians or the occassional Kryptonian. They tended to be--difficult. Strange. He didn't move like them or act like them, but they felt something, and it worried him. So far, no one had been interested enough to stop and figure it out, but Clark thought it might be only a matter of time.
"Wait." And damn, that's what he got for not paying attention. Stumbling a step, Clark caught himself before he pulled her over, just a little too much speed. A thousand warnings from his parents echoed in his head, and he almost smiled, because this wasn't what they ever could have feared about him revealing his powers.
The slim fingers tightened on his arm, and Clakr followed her gaze, curious, freezing on the vehicle that stopped in the middle of the street--Clark still wasnt' sure what to make of a car without wheels and looked nothing *like* a car--a group crowding around the door. Bodyguards, his mind told him numbly as he recognized the sigil of his house. Ducking his head, he wondered if there was any way it wouldn't look suspicious to be the only person walking away in the dead-stop of the crowds on the sidewalk.
Just because you think everyone could be out to get you doesn't mean they *aren't*, Lex's voice murmured in his head. Especially here, especially now, even with the image disruptors--and the idea of that *still* screwed with his head. He didn't look like himself, Mrs. Ross had told him, even if the mirror didn't show a damned bit of difference. It's not supposed to work on *you* sugar, just them. Don't worry. We've been doing this for almost as long as you've been alive.
But a tiny box in his pocket didn't change the instinct.
There was murmuring in the crowd--the El's, Clark came to understand, tended to avoid mixing with the rabble, prefering the rarified air of what used to be Metropolis' Southeast Side and occassional forays into the technology district, where the world became a better place with the application of physics-defying Kryptonian innovations, brought from their home planet to make rustication just a little bit easier on them all. Somewhere outside Metropolis, spaceships were being built again, and maybe a few thousand human scientists would have to debate whether there had really been such a terrible thing, that the Kryptonians had come. They'd made life so much better.
Clark blinked away the instinctive bitterness, watching the emergence of Kal. It--might have been him, he thought, but not close enough for identitiy dissonance, not since the first time, sitting on Mrs. Ross's bed after the surgery on her leg to make the prosthetic work, watching the screen that showed him in three dimensional splendor. Announcing the end of the terrorists in the Badlands during a press confernce. Looking more adult than Clark could ever claim, cropped hair and cool smile. It was like--nothing he could describe, even as Mrs. Ross had groped for the remote that turned off the screen, like it could ever erase the memory from his mind.
"I thought he was dead," Clark had heard himself whisper.
"No," she'd said simply, looking at him with wide, understanding eyes. Her hand had closed over his in a brief squeeze. "You're nothing like him."
Not anymore, with too-long hair streaked blond and the clothes of a lower class Metropolian. He'd never moved that way, though, like he owned the world and knew it, never just didn't *see*, like the peopel staring at him weren't even there. Like--
"Christ," Mrs. Ross whispered, and Clark wondered if sh'ed hurt herself, but her eyes were fixed on the group leaving the car. Kal's head towered above them all, but--but--
Shorter than Kal, thinner than Clark remembered, when he could stand to, watching with sharp eyes. Kal was talking to him in a low voice, like there wasn't an entire city on hold for them, then Lex nodded sharply.
"They haven't let him out of the compound since he arrived," someone said, like this was hugely important, national news. Maybe it was. Lex Luthor had come home to Metropolis. It had been on all the news programs. "He's the one who--"
"Shit. Shut *up*." And the voices stopped short. Clark could guess what they would say. The one who helped end the terrorist threat in the Badlands. Not just the massacre, but the destruction of the Smallville caves, the only rebel stronghold in the state.
"Clark," Mrs. Ross whispered, but Clark tuned away her voice. Lex wasn't limping, though Clark had heard stories of extensive reconstructive surgery, emergency calls to every competent Kryptonian surgeon in the world. The stump of his arm ended in a gloved hand, the most advanced in prosthetics, unlike the shaped plastic on Mrs. Ross. He looked pale, but that wasn't anything new.
Clark watched them go into the building and wondered if he could be sick now or wait until later.
It'd taken Clark three days to wake up.
They hadn't been scared of him, and at first, he couldn't make any sense of it. Then again, he couldn't make sense of anything at all. Life was shaded between sleep and eat and *don't move* and rest, and it was days before he realized Mrs. Ross was the one who sat by his bed, holding his hand.
Dark eyes and thin lips, watching him with narrow curiosity. Playing cards when the hours got too long and Clark got too restless.
"Justa few more stairs," Clark told her, gripping her hand as hard as he dared. The apartment building had once been a warehouse, now remodeled into modern urban living, the tenth floor devoted to caring for rebels that needed somewhere to hide, to heal, to take a break, or maybe just to forget for a while. Clark could, a little, if he didn't look too long at what were considered normal household appliances that didn't look anything like what he'd had at home.
"And you just--believe me." Clark remembered staring at Mrs. Ross that third week, when he'd felt so close to normal that he almost expectd to be able to open the window and see Smallville outside. "I don't--"
"I saw Kal." She'd been shufflign cards for their third round of poker. He'd sucked, and she was great at it, and that was why he'd kept playing. "A lot has happened in the last few years. This--"
"Are you listening to what you're saying?"
She'd given him an amused frown. "Clark. We were conquered by *aliens*. My suspension of disbelief is probably my defining characteristic. We've studied the meteor rocks for years. It's not impossible--the Kryptonians are studying interdimensional travel in their most prestigious laboratories and science centers. That they could ahve succeeded, using the properties of the rocks--that's not a shock."
"But why *would* they? What the hell would be the point of me and Lex being dragged here?"
The way she'd looked at him after had made him wonder if she was as good a liar as Lex was. "I don't know. Perhaps it was a side effect while they were experimenting--oh yes, child, they do experiment in the badlands when conditions allow it, especially with the rock."
Clark wondered how many humans had been caught up during those, then pushed the thought aside. He didn't want to think about that, either.
The list was growing by the hour, the things that wanted to flood his head, and there was a kind of morbid curiosity to see how long it took to break.
Coming to their apartment, Clark swiped his card, pausing for recogntion and permission to enter. Carefully, he steered Mrs. Ross toward the chair by the window, where she could get late afternoon sun. She'd never admit she needed rest, but the warmth would soothe her into the sleep she didn't think she wanted. Clark gave the window a glance before stepping back, going to what passed for the kitchen for drinks.
"So tell me about him."
Mrs. Ross looked better after six weeks in relative safety, in relative peace. Hell of a lot better than any cave system; Clark had almost forgotten about windows and glass and esoteric things like bath tubs. He thought Mrs. Ross might be having the same kind of strange glee, just knowing that there were actual *bathrooms*, with tile, and sinks, and fixtures, and *toothbrushes*.
Or she could be as jumpy as he is, even now, in this bright room, filled with familiar furniture. Not just soaking in the sun, though that was part of it. A huge part of it, that Clark never understood before, the difference between dusty darkness where feeling unwell had become a habit and this. It was only now he could understand what had been happening to his body.
"He's smart. He gets Bs and Cs in school. He drives too fast." Picking at the edge of her blanket, he shrugs. "He's my best friend. We've been friends since I came down--in the meteor shower. Pete and me--we did everything together." He smiled a little in memory, taking the cups and balancing them carefully as he walked back. Moving human-slow wasn't necessary anymore, but it was a kind of false comfort. He wasn't like them. Not even in the privacy of their apartment.
Her hand touched his when he came back, and he looked down, seeing the dark, clear eyes fix. He was telling her fairy-stories to pass the time.
"Now tell me about Clark."
Clark ducked his head. "There's not that much to tell."
They'd moved beyond having listeners outside the doors; it's a relief, since God knew, Clark needed to talk, even when he didn't have words. He'd listened then, curled up on a bed by the window, sunlight soaking into his skin, hearing the slow, even cadence of her voice, telling him the story of the world. Absorbing it was impossible; it was reading War of the Worlds, Orson Wells, Isaac Asimov, maybe vaguely X-Files or Outer Limits, but it wasn't real. The scars on her back; those were real. The missing leg; that was real. The shaved head and burns were real, all the reality Clark could handle. Everything else was superfluous.
He'd asked why; that was a stupid question, and not a stupid one. Torture was for when there was something you wanted, and there was nothign she had they could use. This was *play*, maybe. Something Clark, hypped up on red meteor rock, might have understood. This was something that Kal understood.
Her hand on his brought him back. "I doubt it."
Clark shrugged, trying to get used to the plain, warm, *clean* cotton. It was sinking in--not everyone lived like rats under the ground. Some lived in perfectly normal houses and cities, built centers to treat the wounded, plotted death and destruction to the enemy, all under the amused eye of Kryptonians themselves. It was against everything Clark had ever heard about rebels and rebellions.
"Just me." His hair kept getting in his eyes. Kal cropped his short, and Clark didn't look at a pair of scissors these days without flinching. He'll cut off his own fingers first. "I do stuff. I go to school. I hang out with my friends." Clark thought of Lana, pushing the memory aside for later, private brooding. "I watch the stars." A smile started twisting his mouth up, and he couldn't quite control it. "I wonder who my people are."
He didn't look at her, even when her hand tightened, fingers pressed to invulnerable skin and unbreakable bones.
"They're not all bad." He couldn't help looking up at the amused drawl of her voice. "Don't look like that. They're like any race--species, I suppose, in this case. Good ones, bad ones, stupid ones--"
"Cruel ones." Her bones seemed so fragile. "You don't--I mean, you don't have to say--"
"There are those that help us." Her mouth quirked up in a slow smile. "In their own way. Let them swing around trees, watch their strange indigineous ways, leave them alone to do their thing, like any dedicated sociologist studying a strange and primitive culture. Not many acutally think they should have to leave the *planet*, but they don't mean us ill."
"That's not comforting."
She'd been the face he woken up to--utterly normal, like he'd been sleeping over at Pete's. A second that felt like forever, where Clark was sure it was all some hallucination that had finally ended, but even his idiotic subconscious knew better and let him know it, too. She'd sat by his bed, swathed in bandages, his living, breathing wall of protection. She'd looked into his eyes and smoothed back his hair and said, "Who are you, child?" and he had no idea how she knew, but she did.
She'd said she'd tell him what had happened, when he was ready to hear it. He wasn't ready yet.
"Did--when you saw him--he looked okay?" That was the only thing he'd wanted to know. Eveything else was pointless.
"No, but that doens't mean anything. They--let's say they can heal even better than they can destroy. And they have a lot of motivation." What that motivation was, Clark didn't want to know, wasn't sure he didn't already. Kal knew, though--Kal knew what was worth the life of Mrs. Ross, of the people fleeing the badlands. "Kal was with him, Clark."
That wasn't comforting, either.
"Clark." Her hand had tightened again, getting his attention. "It's time to leave this room."
And here Clark had thought she liked him. "No."
Sitting up, Mrs. Ross had pushed a pillow up behind her, and Clark jumped to help. She was getting stronger every day, but she was still too thin, tired too easily.
"You can't hide forever." He hadn't deserve the gentleness. "Clark, look at me. We'll go out into the city, you can look around, get used to--"
"You think people won't recognize me?"
Her slow smile had told him she didn't reconcile it any better than he did. It was safe here, Clark thought. It was safe because for these people, it wasn't real. "Here? They won't." She shook her head as her fingers brushed his hair. "Kal wasn't their legend."
"To-may-to, to-mah-to." The smile seemed to fade just a little, and Clark knew she was remembering Kal.
They hadn't--image disruptors had done something, but most of it was Kal himself, who was nothing like Clark Kent, nothing like the kid sitting with an aging rebel leader in this bright, alien room.
"Tell me about Lex. Your Lex."
Clark caught his breath, looking into the kind, determined eyes. She'd lived through more than he could imagine. And now she wanted to hear this.
"I--" Clark stopped. "I--he was my friend. Is my friend." Was, is, past tense, present tense. Lex, hero of the occupation, bringing down the nasty Badland rebels--he was everywhere, even when he wasn't there at all, his name on everyone's lips. Clark wondered how he'd woken up, remembered the fierce joy of knowing he was alive, even if inaccessible. "Lex is complicated."
"Everyone's complicated, honey." Sitting back, she glances down at the prosthetic, then sighs, reaching down to unfasten it. "Better get this off.
"He's not theirs." That's the second thing Clark had said, with the first flash of news reports in the language he'd learned to hate.
Mrs Ross had looked at him with pitying eyes and then away.
"He's not. Their Lex is dead. He's *mine*." Even to himself, his voice had been too high, too sharp, too—something. "He's my world's. He's not—he tried to die to save us."
Mrs Ross had turned off what passed for a television, looking into his eyes.
"Right now, he's Kal's, as long as Kal wants him to be, honey. I know what Kal can do. You don't."
Clark thought of the borrowed memories, shuddering from the ones written into Mrs. Ross' skin. "I know. I know what he can do. And I know what Lex is." That Lex would compromise himself and everything to a point, and that point was the thing he'd never been sure of. Never even knew what to *call* that feeling, that inner knowledge of Lex's balance of morality and expediency, how delicate it was to walk, and how often Lex stumbled to the wrong side. That had worried him. But this--this didn't worry him.