Full Clip - Tales of Tommi Gunner




I'm in the sewers, again and the air smells like death. I can hear little Susie screaming, but I can't see anything. The slick, rotting touch of cadavers is all over me, running up my legs, under my Sisters Sinister jacket and the soft smell of rotted meat is blowing slowly and wetly against my ear.

"Tommi! Tommi!" Susie's screaming again and now that I can make out that it's my name she's hollering, my eyes snap open. Bag hags all around me, oh God, they're touching me and I can hear the sound of flesh parting and Susie's screams turn bubbly for maybe ten seconds until there is a sound like canvas giving way and she gets real quiet. I can't move my head and I don't understand what's happening, but I feel the hum of magic and hear metallic noises, the whirr of a pump.

Susie's lungs land on my face and the world turns into a red and purple haze and I wake up soaked in sweat, trying to finger-comb her blood out of my long, blonde hair.

Half a pack of cigarettes later, I'm still sitting on the fire-escape hugging my knees to my chest. The sun's not quite up yet, but this part of Galaxy is well lit enough that nothing is gonna be able to sneak up on me. Besides, I've got so many noisemakers rigged to this hunk of rusty metal that bells jingle when pigeons fart on the railings, and a pretty high-grade security system on the front door, to boot.

If the only thing you ever spend your money on is a gun and time practicing at the shooting range, you wind up with spare dough. I'm not even paying rent here, just squatting like everyone else in the building. Even if we felt like forking cash over to a landlord that hasn't replaced so much as a lightbulb in here for probably twenty years, we wouldn't know who to send the dough to.

The other tenants and I have a pretty good working arrangement; I shoot anything that even smells of street thug, and they leave me alone. The kids like to follow me down the stairs in the morning, and the boy from 4-D likes to wait up for me at night. He's a good kid, in a street rat sort of way. Sometimes, he brings a thermos of coffee outside when he waits up.

I get the feeling the kid doesn't like me, that he just wants me to teach him how to shoot, how to take care of the gangers that own the night around here. But he brings me coffee, and it's a helluva better bribe than anyone else has ever come up with.

I hit the disarm button on the sec system and climb back in the window. There's a rank smell coming off my sleep shirt, and I frown like I always do when I can smell myself. My training with the Sisters kicks in and I shelve all thoughts of nightmares in favor of routine. Shower, shave the armpits, wash the hair. Towel off, find clean clothes, let the hair do what it wants to while I put on makeup.

"Hellions clean their guns first. Sisters clean themselves before anything. They can take care of the weapons they own, we're gonna take care of the weapons we are. If your springs are well oiled, you ain't never gonna misfire." I hear Little Susie's litany every morning in my head, the same way I used to hear it at the Sisters' safehouse, right from the horses mouth. So many little things carry over from when I ran with the Sisters. No perfume, no styling gel, unscented soap, unscented deoderant, rubber soled boots. Susie didn't want anyone to <i>smell</i> us coming, let alone hear.

I remember once, she beat the everloving hell out of a devil-boy captain who got it into his head to steal himself an LCD stealth suit and try to sneak into our safehouse. Five-foot two Susie handed him his [censored] on a tidy little plate before he knew what hit him because she couldn't see him, but she smelled him before he could put the strangle on her from behind. That was before my time, back when I was still getting in fights in parking lots with anything that looked at me funny. Susie changed that.

I thought about it while I was checking out my piece and loading spare clips, how Little Susie and a couple of sisters ran across me pounding in the faces of two Hellions that thought because I was a girl, I was easy prey. It made me so mad that they ran away as soon's they caught sight of her that I turn around and tried to take her out, instead of them. Two hours later, I was nursing a bloody nose and a headache at the feet of the Galaxy Girl statue, listening to the Sister Sinister gang leader tell me why I was going to be dossing with them, from now on. She gave me a lot of pep-talk crap that I didn't listen to until later about how I didn't have to be a hero like Her (she never mentioned Galaxy Girl's name - I thought it was a weird thing to respect, at the time), but I was damn sure not going to be street trash like the Hellions.

Chuckling to myself, I got up off the bed and slung my rifle over my shoulder. I had enough ammo to keep me in business for the day, and the key to my locker at the tram station, so I could pick up some supplies. It was Susie that taught me how to shoot, Susie who called me 'Gunner,' Susie who made me into something better.

I hear her screaming every night. The resolve of training and willpower broke for a second and an electric-ice shiver ran up my back, focusing all my attention on the small muscles around my spine. I reflexively set my fingers on the stock of my gun and frowned at the front door for a minute. I wasn't used to dealing with things like this and as I toyed with the alarm remote, it occurred to me to wonder if maybe I needed a new hobby.

I had a job, today, though and it was responsibility that got my legs in gear, made my fingers punch the buttons on the remote. Reflex and responsibility pushed me out into the hall and toward the stairs. 4-D was sitting on the landing, playing with a rusty toy dump-truck and the bruise over his left eye said his dad had been hitting him, again. He pushed the truck half heartedly back and forth, ignoring it with his eyes and watching me come down the stairs. I stopped two steps from the landing and sat down, adjusting the rifle strap so that the heavy gun would sit a little better while I looked at him. His face was dirty and his hair matted and raggedly cut. Was he nine? Ten? Twelve? Under the dirt, it was impossible to tell. Things were tough enough around here to keep him scrawny, but hunger and privation made you tough.

He had the affected despondence of harsh street-life on his face like a damper trying to keep out fire and it made me like him a little more. The kid stared at me without blinking, without looking away as I put my elbows on my knees and laced up my fingers. It wasn't in me to talk down to him, but I had to pick just the right thing to say, else I'd nick his pride and that'd be the end of it. I matched him stare for stare while I thought, ticking away two minutes.

The kid started to shift where he sat, and a slight frown cracked the veneer he'd painted on to look tough. It was time to talk or get stuffed.

"He drink?" 4-D nods and narrows his eyes.

"Passes out?" Another nod. "Pass out in bed?" This gets a frown and a hesitant nod. Must not make it to bed all the time. "Got a bat?" There's a hint of a grin crinkling up the dirty skin around the kid's eyes, and I know I've got his attention. He nods and speaks to me for the first time.

"Aluminum bat. Got it offa Hellion for two bucks." His voice cracks in there, a couple times and that pegged his age at closer to thirteen or fourteen than nine or ten. Someone needed to feed this kid.

"It'll work, but wood's better. Heavier, more momentum." He frowns at the word and I shrug it off, to say it doesn't matter. "Next time he passes out in bed, tuck the sheets in around him and hammer him until he gets the idea. If he tries to get after you when he can walk again, you give him a good homerun swing to the kneecap and then come knock on my door. I'll let you doss down on my floor for a while, 'til you can get a friend to take you in."

"Got no friends." He's easing up a little bit with the .50 caliber stare, but the mention of friends makes him frown.

"Then don't worry about it. Just don't take that
from him 'cause he's bigger than you or 'cause he's your dad. Love him all ya want, kid, but break his face if he hits you again." I get up and dig a couple bucks out of my pocket. They're crumpled and they're dirty, but hey - Money's money, right? He stands, too and brings the evil-eye back full bore, while he looks at the money. Looks like I pegged him when I stepped easy around his pride.

I roll my eyes and say, "Get a damn burger, kid. If you don't eat, you won't be strong enough to break any bones with that bat." He's hesitant, but he takes the money. I nod.

"I'll see ya around, kid. Maybe I'll take you shooting, tomorrow. And kid?" He's about to go, but stops, looking up at me and scratching at his dirty arm. "Take a shower, kid. That's rule one." He frowns, not understanding why I'm talking about rules, and he doesn't say anything. Just turns around and heads up the stairs.

Am I building a side-kick?

In my head, as I walk out onto the street, I can hear Susie's screams turn into dry chuckles and I think maybe I'm doing the right thing.




On the street, all I can think about is the kid. I'm worried about him and I don't know what to do about it. My first instinct is to just find some hellboys to beat down, but that feels like cheating - trying to bury the problem. Without focus, I wouldn't be any good out here and I decided to get my head straight the best place I knew. At Her feet.

Little Susie used to say that the fallen hero statues were the best symbol of what this place should be - that when she lost heart, she remembered Her sacrifice, and the sacrifices of those like Her. She also said that the statues added to all the crime in the city. Susie always thought that living in the shadow of such monumental greatness drove normal people a little bit crazy. If no matter what you did, you'd never be as good or respected as a Hero... There's a whole line of psychology there that she understood but I never got. Staring at G-Girl's boots, it made me laugh to think about the legacy I was considering passing on.

If you asked me, I'd say this city was so [censored]-gone with the idea of being heroic that it's forgotten how to be human. Having a budget for education that was half as big as their budget for managing the Hero Corps would be a big start, but there's so much to do. Paragon's an unlucky place - super-villains and alien invaders... We can't rebuild ruined city blocks, let alone our lives. Some people like looking up at the sky and catching flashes of costumes, or getting to see a hero trash some group of gangers. It makes 'em feel safe, I suppose. But what do you do when the big hero's off chasing someone else, looking for their fame and fortune and their name in a headline? You buckle down and get tough, and you start to hate the big name heroes. The ones that get famous for stopping heists, or busting the big-time villains like the Clockwork King. Sure, they can bust up the street gangs when they first start out, get themselves recognized. But it's that first taste of fame that gets them, every time. On the streets, the junkies push smack, but up in the sky, the heroes are pumping their veins full of fame.

So, us schlepps pick up the pieces in between the up-and-coming heroes and try not to get ourselves killed on the way to the grocery store.

Susie, she wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, and leave behind something better, something big. She wanted to change the city from the ground up. Noble ideals for the leader of a street gang, I guess. Little Susie saw something from the gutter that most people never did, though. She looked up at the capes flying around, and then turned back to the trash and that was it. She sided with us, because she thought we had a better chance than an [censored] in spandex.

Me? I just want a few square blocks of peace and quiet, maybe some time to help a few people rebuild their lives.

I remember a few months before the Vahz got her, we were trolling for hellboys and she stopped me in front of a dirty window. Someone had used their finger and a cigarette butt to draw the most beautiful picture of a sad little woman sitting on a tenement porch in the dust coating the glass. Little Susie pointed at it and said, "That's us. We're trying to make something beautiful out of dirt, and it's saddening." I saw a thug get tossed through that window by an immense man with some weird symbol on his chest and a cape on his back a few days later. I almost shot him.


I didn't realize how long I'd been sitting there, staring at a cement pair of boots until I smelled some hellboys coming from upwind. I stood up quick and pulled my rifle off my shoulder, putting a finger into the trigger-guard and pointing it in their general direction, ready to start shooting. I heard them say my name, "Gunner," and then drop a few rusty laughs, but all five of them moved to the other side of the park. I ain't been in the papers, but they know my name on the street.

I wanted to open up on 'em, but this close to Hero-Central, it didn't pay to just start blasting, even if the gangs probably deserved it. Holing hellboys in front of cops isn't the best idea, no matter if you're registered or not. They frown on killing if an arrest can be made.

You try arresting someone with a machine gun. I gave up on that a long time ago, for more reasons than because it's hard to do.

But, taunt or not, the Hellions had reminded me that I had more to do than sit at G-Girl's feet and try to figure this place out. My tech contact in D.A.T.A. had a favor to ask of me, in return for some hardware I'd been trying to get my hands on. I blew the stone girl a kiss and shouldered my rifle. It wasn't far to go, but if I didn't hurry, I was going to be late. I settled into a trot and headed for the plaza.



Amazing stuff, I hope you write more soon. Great job!



Very nice work. Brilliant characterization. Definitely one of the best origin writeups on this board. Kudos. Insert other words of praise here, because I'm tired.



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