Jump to content

Mutants & Masterminds: Future Imperfect - [Fic] In The Jungle


Recommended Posts

Juno didn't care for animals much. Some were cute, but most were smelly, drippy, mean-tempered bags of dirty hair and covered with a wide selection of disgusting bugs. She was reminded of this fact frequently these days. Ever since she'd taken a summer job at the Las Vegas Zoo, in fact.

Las Vegas was not known for its zoo. Most tourists, and no small number of residents, were never even aware there was one. Consequently, it wasn't very large, nor was it filled with amenities. It subsisted almost entirely on school and church youth group field trips, and the occasional family outing. Despite this relative lack of income, they did hire over the summer because it was hard to find people willing to shovel hay and feed...and the biological results of the same...in hundred degree temperatures for more than a week or two.

In that regard, Juno was a favorite. She worked all summer, from the moment she biked there from school to the closing bell. And while she didn't particularly LIKE the animals, she was also completely and utterly unafraid of them.

Which was why she found herself in the Great Cat exhibit with a stiff wire brush on a long wooden pole, trying to fish an accumulation of...papery stuff or something that had clogged the drain of one of the watering pools. A pair of lions lying on their sides under a tree's shade watched her with vague curiosity that might have led to an investigative foray had it not been 103 degrees that afternoon.

Juno was wearing a 'zooniform,' which was basically a loose light tan shirt with zoo emblems on it and khaki shorts. Even though the shirt was short sleeved, she rolled them up to her shoulders. After an hour or two she rolled up the hem a few inches as well so she could get some wind over her belly. The customary wide-brimmed hat she let dangle down her back with its lanyard around her neck. She wasn't concerned about heat stroke or sunburn and she liked the feel of the breeze through her short, sweat-soaked hair.

After a quick look around, Juno noticed no one at the exhibit but her for the moment. This wasn't unusual for mid-day in mid-summer. Unlike the animals, human beings had the option of sitting somewhere with air conditioning. She concentrated, and her arms shivered unnaturally, the muscles visibly swelling under her tanned skin. In seconds her arms looked like she'd been a professional bodybuilder for years. She jammed the brush deeply into the mess under the water and twisted it with the strength she'd lacked a moment before. Finally, FINALLY the obstruction moved!

Fifteen minutes later she had it all out. It was unsightly, but she thought it was probably a combination of some kid's backpack...thrown over by some angry underachiever, or by bullies perhaps...as well as the books that had been within it, and some natural sediment and grit that had been slowly building up down there. The paper and the mud had made something almost like mortar when they mixed together underwater, making the whole mass very hard to move.

Juno let her arms relax back to their normal girth and started sweeping the gunk over towards the fence. That done she stood the long-handled brush up against the fence and leaned on it herself, pressing her hands and face up against it, heedless of the little diamonds bring pressed into her skin.

"There's gotta be a better way to get money," she sighed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rebecca smiled despite the heat and the smells. The zoo was a wonderful place, most of the time. The animals were largely content with their semi-domesticated status so it was a pleasure watching them just be animals. She knew that some would be happier in the wild, where their instincts wouldn't be hindered by walls. But she also knew that some would live longer.

A groundskeeper walked by, reminding Rebecca of her job. With an unhappy sigh, the girl reached out with her mind, finding his. A jumble of Spanish thoughts were open to her, and Rebecca 'listened' to them, satisfied after a moment that he was just complaining about the heat.

The pretty 'teen' returned to her contemplation of the big cats. The panther hung from its tree branch, eying her with haughty disdain. Rebecca gave it a wave and wandered on to the next cage.

A girl about her apparent age was doing something with a pole. Rebecca sidled up to the fence on the far side of the enclosure and leaned against it, looking down. The lions were even less interested in her than the panther had been; watching the show taking place with the girl's pole.

While she was working, Rebecca quietly scanned the girl's mind, picking up her irritation at her job. The brunette telepath smiled ruefully, aware of just how much she'd like to have the girl's - Juno was what she called herself - job. I bet she'd imagine that mine is pretty cool. Though probably not the time-share issue.

Their eyes happened to meet across the pit and Rebecca waved and smiled.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A thin trickle of zoo-goers was moving off as they saw the lions weren't doing anything interesting, but Juno noticed one girl stayed a bit longer. Even at the twenty or thirty feet separating them, she could tell the girl was looking at her. She smiled and gave a sort of flip-hand salute from her forehead. She didn't usually talk to the human traffic in the zoo. That wasn't her job. She wasn't one of the handlers, wasn't one of the people who hosted the feeding time shows, or gave little speeches about natural habitats being destroyed.

And she figured, the people came to the zoo to see and hear animals, not some high schooler who was just there to keep the enclosures neat, and dump food in bins.

It all worked out.

Juno reached down and, with an expression of distaste, grabbed one of the straps of the nasty old backpack to haul it up. Muddy, goopy book pages followed it. She gave the girl at the fence a sort of rueful 'it's a living' shrug, and started carefully carrying the thing back to her cart, near the locked gate to the lion enclosure back out of sight from the visitor path.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rebecca grinned happily as the girl at the fence waved at her. It was silly, but these little human connects made her feel human. Even if she really wasn't that much of a human. She wasn't sure what she was, but she liked the idea of being a human.

Too bad her job made that hard. Rebecca sighed, looking down at the lions. Despite being in a cage, they had more freedom than she did. "Cheer up," she whispered. Her job was important; her work vital to the safety of the world. She should be happy that she got to do such important work.

Sometimes, she wished she could do something else.

Turning, she hitched her backpack a little higher on her shoulder and wandered off to find another crewperson. Her mission was simple: to find out if the drugs being dispersed throughout Vegas were being routed through the zoo. Normally, this wouldn't be something that UNISON would mess with, but this time, it was suspected that the drugs were funding a small mutant criminal ring. This was not something that the local authorities could handle easily on their own, so they asked for help up the food chain. They had gotten Rebecca.

Even now, she smiled at the looks on their faces when the locals had seen her. They'd clearly felt awkward about her even being there at all. She couldn't explain why they didn't need to worry about, but she managed to calm them by stating that she was older than she looked and was a mutant.

The memories of that conversation kept her cheer up as she worked for the next three hours, scanning mind after mind. Fortunately, most people were open books; easily read if you just wanted their surface thoughts. It took nothing more than time to scan most of them, sifting through their mind like she was hunting for wheat in the chaff.

Suddenly she froze, her expression falling into shock as she found what she was looking for in the older woman grimly emptying a trash can. Rebecca sank onto the bench, taking a death grip on her backpack as she did another scan to verify. Yes, there it was - the woman had full knowledge of the drugs: how they were coming in, how they were getting dispersed to the dealers. It was everything they needed to get her put away for a long time.

Everything, if the courts accepted telepathic evidence. Even as Rebecca remembered that, she acknowledged that this woman might never see the inside of a courtroom.

Rising, she put on her backpack and headed for the lizard house. Circling around the building, she found a spot to sit down in view of the employee's entrance to the building. Quietly, she waited for her chance; it came when two people, not affiliated with the woman, input the code to the electric lock. Smiling, Rebecca committed the code to memory, then slipped down to use the door the first chance she got.

A short hallway greeted her; Rebecca ducked down it, following the path from the woman's mind. In the feed room, she found what she was looking for - garbage bags stuffed in the back of the cabinets. Good, that's the first step; now I need to know who else is involved-

"You don't look like you belong here."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

After the lions' pool was unplugged, Juno hauled big bushels of hay out for the zebras, since their paddock didn't always grow enough grass in the summer. Fortunately, they got their water from a manmade river that flowed through their enclosure and snaked through the ostriches and apes. Juno kept making noise about extending that to cover the cats, but the expense was more than the zoo brass would consider. It was nice though. Zebras were, weirdly, more aggressive and less forgiving than lions. The big male in particular disliked people on his territory, and Juno had to keep drop the bales and hurry back to avoid him coming over to chase her off.

It wasn't that she was afraid of him. She knew that in a pinch, she could rip the fucker's head off, or stab him three times before he could blink. But so it didn't come to that, she played by the rules.

After that would normally be the monkey house...but she hated the monkey house and had managed to swap with Jack, the other custodian. He'd pulled snakes, and while he wasn't crazy about the monkeys either (no one in the zoo staff actually liked the little fuckers), he was actively phobic about the snakes.

Juno kind of liked the snakes. They were laid back. Always watching, always alert, but wouldn't give you shit unless you asked for it. They were like the cats that way. The only reason people were freaked by them was some weird 'squick' factor that Juno didn't share...and the poison. People hated poison. She got why...it was scary to think that a snake could just bite you once, and that was it. All she wrote. Didn't need to crush your neck or shake you to break your back, or even use claws to eviscerate you. Just one bite. Done.

Unless, of course, you were Juno. Her body reacted instantly to isolate and expel toxins. A snakebite was as dangerous to her as a mosquito bite, only without the possibility of disease too.

Unfortunately, because the snakes were unpopular with the custodians, except for her, it led to the custodians...except for her...tending to oversupply their enclosures. They'd put in more food than the snakes needed, so they wouldn't have to go as often. Problem was, some snakes were like people. They'd eat what was there, not just what they needed. Also, the snake food...which depending on breed was anything from fruit to live rodents...didn't 'keep' forever. If a mouse died, the snakes wouldn't eat it. If the veggies went bad enough, it was the same story.

So today, because of custodial superstitions, Juno found herself having to go across to the other side of the reptile house to steal mice from the monitor lizards supply, so the coral snake on loan from Arizona wouldn't die. The lizards had been fed earlier in the week, and didn't need food terribly often, so there was no one around.

Or...shouldn't have been.

Juno paused in the hallway, right in front of the door that led into the lizard house proper. Were those voices? She closed her eyes and sniffed. Colors exploded in her head, mostly the dry, musty scent of scales and snakes and lizards. A whiff of mouse. A hint of disinfectant. And yes...there were people nearby.

She opened the door quietly. The feed room was the first one down the hall on the left from her. In it were what was basically a large chest of drawers, each one containing mice. Along the walls were refrigerator units for the fruits and veggies, for the non-carnivorous lizards. Same basic setup as the snake feed room.

But there was someone standing in the doorway to the feed room, with only their back poking out. "You don't look like you belong here," he said in a low, dangerous voice.

Juno let the door close behind her. "Funny," she said, cracking her knuckles. "I was just about to say that myself."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rebecca froze as the male voice spoke behind her, starting to turn. Then another voice, a female one, answered his ominous statement with one of her own. Rebecca turned to see an older white male standing between her and a teen girl. Both were wearing zoo uniforms; the girl’s name was Juno and his name was Robert. Rebecca started scanning him, looking for more information.

“Well… Juno,” the man said, after peering at her name badge, “I found this girl here and was about to walk her out.” Rebecca knew that wasn’t true; she’d already run a sweep of his mind and knew that he had planned to question her. If he thought she had seen the drugs, he was going tie her up and hide her in the back of the building, far away from other people. He’d already had some terrible ideas about what happened after that which turned her stomach, but he seemed to be dismissing those in favor of just shooting her in the head. Her mind raced with what to do; she’d found the drugs but just saying so was going to get both of them hurt.

Before the girl could answer, Rebecca stood up and tried to get past the man. “I know I shouldn’t be here, I’m just going to go,” she said, hoping that with the girl here, he’d just let them both go.

“Not so fast,” Robert said, reaching out and grabbing her arm. “What were you doing in there?”

“A prank, a dare!” Rebecca gulped, pulling away and only managing to bump into the door. “Let go of me, I didn’t do anything wrong!”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Actually," Juno said, "This area's off limits to visitors. Still...no harm done." She walked over and put her hand over where Robert's hand had a hold of Rebecca's arm. "Why don't I escort the girl back to her friends and let you get back to work, Rob?"

Despite Robert having nearly a foot of height on Juno, and probably a good fifty pounds or more, Juno didn't seem nervous or worried at all. To Rebecca's mental senses she was irritated, both by Becca's presence and by what she thought of as Rob being a 'douche,' but wasn't in the least afraid of the man.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rebecca felt the dangerous thoughts swirling through Robert's head like refuge. He was thinking about what he'd do if Juno got involved, and how he'd like to put the fear into the 'little girl'. She was worried enough for Juno's safety that she took a risk.

Shutting down her connection to Robert's mind was a relief, the mental equivalent to stepping out of a shower of ill thoughts and evil desires. Instead, her mind reached out to Juno's but instead of seeking, she was sending. *This is me, the girl Robert's holding. Don't panic, please. Be careful, he's involved in a drug ring and he's considering what to do with us right now.* She swallowed and added, *Feel free to get out of here. I can take care of myself.* That was probably true. Rebecca had been in some tight spots but she'd gotten out of them. She wasn't helpless, certainly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If Rebecca had been hoping Juno would be able or willing to listen to voices in her head without reacting...she was disappointed.

Juno frowned as Rebecca 'spoke' in her mind, and looked over at her, obviously startled. "What?" she asked.

Robert seized the moment...and Juno's arm, releasing Rebecca's. He pulled his prize aside and back, catching in an agonizing joint lock. Juno hissed in surprise and, presumably, pain and twisted her face.

"Not so tough now, are you?" Rob sneered. "I see girls like you every day. Wearing boots and those stupid-ass cargo pants and their dad's dog-tags and working out and thinking they're hot shit. But I promise you that every one of them will start crying, and begging, the second a man who knows what he's doing gets a hold of them. And I keep my promises."

Rebecca, having quickly stepped back out of his reach when he let go, was about to let him have it, when he gave a startled yelp and was suddenly hurled sideways, stumbling just before his shoulder hit the wall.

Juno had untwisted her arm, in the process tossing Robert away with little more than casual effort. "Right," she said. "Y'know, I was -going- to just go to a payphone and make a call. But you had to go make this personal. So now when the cops get here I'll be sitting on your chest to wave hi."

Becca realized two things immediately. The first was that Juno was lying about waiting for the police, but not about contacting them. The second was that Robert was stunned by shock and the impact, but he was recovering and he was angry enough and scared enough that he wasn't just thinking of humiliating Juno and herself.

"Okay, here's the plan," Juno said, watching Robert. "You stay behind me. I knock him out. You..." She twisted around and looked back at Rebecca, lowering her voice. "Can you...do something to his memory? Erase it or something?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Not without a few weeks to condition him," Rebecca said, frowning. "Memory alteration is a long-term, time-consuming process. But he's dealing drugs through the zoo, so he has bigger issues." Robert had even bigger problems than he thought; Rebecca never wanted to be on the wrong end of UNISON on their terrorist-hunt.

Robert fought against Juno, but the mutant held him easily. "Go ahead and knock him out," she added, her brown eyes hardening a little as she stared at the criminal. Her mind reading was probing deeper the intrusion into his mind a violation that he couldn't even sense. She ferreted out names, dates, shipments - and who was getting the money. That's the next link in the chain.

"So what's our plan? Do you want me to call the police while you... manage him?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Our plan?" Juno asked, bemused. Robert suddenly charged her with a shout, enraged that they were talking about him as if he was already out of the way!

Juno took the punch without flinching, sacrificing a defensive move so that she could reach up and grab Robert's throat in her hand. Robert choked and grabbed her wrist. Her eyes narrowed a little as she squeezed, interrupting the blood flow to his brain just for a moment.

His eyes rolled up and he went slack, dangling from Juno's hand. She dropped him and turned to look at Rebecca.

"You were talking in my head," she said, sizing the other girl up. "I guess that explains how you knew he was in on something like that. What I don't get is what you're doing here. You're obviously not a cop. I'm pretty sure you're not a buyer or dealer."

"So what's the deal here? What did I just walk into?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I was looking for extra food," Rebecca said, letting shame twinge her voice. It was a lie, but Rebecca was incredibly good at lying. She didn't like to do it but she was still far better at it than she had right to be. "Robert was thinking about this instead of lunch. I shouldn't have come looking, I should have told someone. But I couldn't think of a way to do it without telling them how I knew. So I thought I should come and see it for myself... then... I don't know." Rebecca sighed. "Pretty dumb, huh?"

She looked down at the unconscious form of Robert but her focus was really on the girl next to her. Rebecca's mental fingers were already worming their way into her mind, trying to figure out if Juno was going to cause issues or go along with the game. She hoped it was the latter; she wasn't sure what she would do if Juno started to make waves.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Juno nodded. "Pretty dumb," she agreed.

Her mind was nothing particularly extraordinary to Rebecca's senses; the usual tangle of thoughts, memories and associations. She could tell almost immediately that Juno was buying her story...this close to the MIC, and with Rebecca's waifish looks, it was only too plausible that the occasional runaway or MIC orphan be found. Images flickered, associations...Rebecca wasn't the first mutant on the run she'd encountered. Even Juno herself wasn't registered.

She ran a hand through her hair. "Look, I've got a place you can crash. Food. Water. Other kids to talk to who won't care if you're a mutant as long as you give them respect. If you want, I can take you there when I'm done with work."

Rebecca saw it as a snapshot in Juno's mind. A big open building, with a hodgepodge collection of furniture and throw rugs and improvised reinforcement on a couple of corners and a structural beam in the middle. Faces sprang up, connections of affection and sometimes exasperation. Responsibility. Pride.

This is the world we made, said voices in Juno's memory. Because the one outside sucks. Glass clinking. Laughing.

Juno was watching her, starting to wonder if Rebecca was reading her mind and, if so, what she was seeing. "I'm off at seven. Interested? Or, you know..." She opened a drawer and took out a mouse by the tail. "If you're hungry NOW..." Juno grinned.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Eh, no, not that hungry!" Rebecca insisted, jumping back a step and raising her hands. There was a hint of panic on her face, as if she were truly worried about Juno somehow making her eat the animal.

She paused and swallowed. "I guess we should figure out what we're doing with Robert. You want me to call the cops? I'm not sure what else to do..."

She wasn't worried about herself so much as Juno; the girl had just helped her and Juno didn't want to see her get dragged down to the MIC. It was a concern; the only hope was that Robert would forget from being knocked unconscious or that he'd fear the ego-bruising if it came out that a girl had knocked him out without so much as a single blow.

Rebecca was going to try to keep her out of it, but first she needed to know what her plan was.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"See here's the problem with the cops," Juno said good-naturedly, dropping the mouse back into its heated drawer. "We can call them, accuse him of, I dunno, assault. Problem is, he's the one who's knocked out. We're both fine. We accuse him of drug running, but we have no evidence. We show them the drugs, but that just means two things. First, they'll want to know all about US at that point, and why we know so much. Second, the operation will catch wind of the cops at the zoo, pull up their operation and disappear. The cops'll get one small time drug bust, but the business'll be safe and sound."

She glanced down at Robert. "But if we move fast, I bet we can take 'em by surprise. You know who he deals with, and where they meet? Don't worry, you can stay hidden until the shooting stops. I'll put on a disguise or something. It'll be easy. And when we're done, we leave the cops an anonymous tip that leads them to where we've got the whole ring uprooted and laid out, ready to be taken in, along with the evidence in neat little numbered bags."

"Whaddya think?" Juno asked, looking back at Rebecca. "Can't do it without someone to tell me what's in their brains. Guys like this won't break just because I slap them around some, and I won't do more than that to 'em to get info."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

"Alright," Rebecca said after a long moment of silence. She looked very somber as she stared at Juno, as if she understood the gravity of the situation. "What if... you do run into trouble? I can help, a little. Not like you can... just think about it a moment, ok? While I get what we need."

As Juno noncommittally nodded, Rebecca knelt in front of Robert. Digging in her pocket, she pulled out a zip tie and a packet of smelling salts. After she'd secured the guy, she snapped open the salts, waving them under his nose. He came awake with a flinch and a growl. "Hi," Rebecca said, smiling a little. "Let's try this again. I know that you have the drugs. I need the next step."

"Go to hell," Robert snarled, even as his mind told her something else.

"Ah, you dump them in the trash in a blue recycling bag?" she queried, her eyes narrowing a little as she drilled into his mind.

Robert's eyes widened. "No fucking way!" he squeaked.

"Who picks them up from the trash, Robert?" Rebecca pressed her point, her mental prowess combing through his thoughts for the answer. He was trying not to give it, but she found it anyway. "Awesome, thanks, Robert. Now, its time to sleep again." Rebecca reached into his mind and found the part of the brain that regulated sleep. With a few quick alterations, she left he so exhausted that he immediately collapsed into sleep.

"Alright, I have a name of the man who picks up the trash," Rebecca said, "as well as an address where the guy pays Robert his cut. Should we go?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Juno was just a kid, and wasn't exceptionally bright, but she had some street savvy...enough that she was frowning a little to herself when Rebecca looked over at her. She wasn't sure why, exactly, but something about what she'd just seen didn't quite jibe with the image Rebecca had painted of some street kid mutant out scrounging. Nothing specific jangled her thoughts; she hadn't put two and two together...but she was vaguely aware that, somewhere out there, was a two floating around...and that there might in fact be another two somewhere as well.

"Yeah," Juno replied, banishing the proto-qualms with a shake of her head. "Figure we should follow the money. Lets hit the payer and see if he knows where to find the trash man."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I'm hoping they're one and the same, personally," Rebecca replied, smiling a little. "Two birds, one stone. Let's go, then."


They had to head south, but only a couple miles. Both girls were quiet as they crossed 515 and located the house. It was in a poorer neighborhood and not the kind filled with those struggling to make a living despite having nothing. It was the kind of neighborhood sliding from impoverished to crime-ridden as well.

The day was still brutally hot as the two found an empty lot to hang out in as they watched the house. "So what's our plan?" Rebecca asked the other girl, her eyes flicking over to study Juno.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Juno shrugged, appearing entirely unfazed by the heat. She wasn't even sweating. She shaded her eyes and peered at the house for a second, then said, "Seems pretty simple. I'll bust in through the back door, or crash through a window...make a big distraction and take down some of the thugs. You wait outside on the other end under cover so they don't see you. When whoever runs the place comes running out, you put him to sleep. Then I'll grab him on the way out, and we both get somewhere safe before the cops show up."

"Should be easy."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

"If you say so," Rebecca said easily. "I've never done anything like this, myself." She hadn't but she was now quite worried about the plan. It seemed a little simple and optimist; what if there were too many for Juno to handle. But as Rebecca the street urchin, such concerns weren't as likely. "So give me... five minutes or so to get into position." At Juno's nod, Rebecca eased away from her. She walked a little ways from the house, then snuck back around to the back.

It took her longer than she wanted it to take, but she finally found a spot in the shade of a stripped-down car. As she settled into place, she hoped that Juno was alright. I don't know how I'd explain that to Raven if I got a civvie killed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...