Ship Of Theseus’ Character Card: Skyrat
From the rooftop of the abandoned brewery building next to the JC Maxwell Plant, Skyrat watched Henry creep down the alley to the beat of an approaching lady’s footsteps. It was oddly quiet for the Industrial District, even for three in the morning. This was Tony territory, but there wasn’t a Tony Triad to be seen.
The Rat dropped from the roof just as Henry reached from the shadows for the lady’s purse. Our hero landed on him, breaking the poor guy’s thumb. This was an accident. What Skyrat meant to do was to land right in between Henry and the woman in a crouch, with one hand touching the pavement in front of him for balance, and the other drawn back into a fist. You know, like superheroes do in comic books. The thing is, jumping from a four story building and directing your landing in such a precise way is tough. It was pure luck that he didn’t land on the woman instead of Henry.
The two of them scrambled back to their feet, Henry holding his hand, Skyrat pulling his hood up over his head, trying to exude confidence and menace in the face of this villain and the pretty lady he was protecting. The lady stood there watching, her hands on her head. She had dropped the purse.
“I told you to stay out of this neighborhood, Henry!” said Skyrat, stern as he could manage. His mask was the severed sleeve of a red t-shirt. Triangular eye holes and a large opening for his nose and mouth had been cut out of it, and it was tied off under his chin to keep it tight. The rest of his costume consisted of a black t-shirt, a maroon zip-up hoodie, blue jeans, and a pair of old red canvas basketball shoes.
Henry didn’t say anything. He just stood there, hunched over at the entrance to the alley, clutching his injured digit to his belly, swaying like a canoe in a lake. He was drunk.
Without warning, the Rat lunged at him, grabbed him by his army coat, dragged him down the alley, scooped him up, and tossed him into an open dumpster with a thud that brought the lid down. “Don’t you dare come out of there until I’m gone,” Skyrat warned. “And if I catch you purse snatching again, I’ll sell you to the Surgeons of the Evil East!”
Henry kicked the inside of the dumpster in response.
Skyrat strutted back up the alley toward the pretty lady with his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, saying, “Sorry if I scared you, jumping out of nowhere like that, Miss. In situations like this, I have to act quick.”
She plucked her purse off of the sidewalk and struck a pose under the streetlight, arms crossed, quite reminiscent of the billboard behind her on the building across the street.
Our hero was oblivious to the similarity. “Are you okay?”
She looked him over as he stepped into the light. The hood cast his face in shadow. She responded, “What are you, a jerk?”
“I’m the Skyrat!” he said, lowering his hood. He was a young African American man. His mask was soaked in sweat and had some food stains on it. His hair, which had grown out since being closely cropped at the beginning of the summer, glistened in the streetlight. His smile was ear to ear. His eyes twinkled. An acute observer might have accused him of being smitten by the dark haired beauty in front of him.
“You’re a bully,” she said.
“But…” He straightened up, looking around for an observer to back him up. “He was going to mug you.” There was no one around to corroborate this story. Actually, besides a few random third shifters, drunks, and a couple of Brot cultists, there were very few people here.
“I wasn’t!” Henry’s voice echoed from inside the dumpster as he kicked it again.
Skyrat was flustered. He shifted his weight to one foot and then the other. Rain had begun falling lightly. “Henry takes purses all the time,” he assured her. “I’ve seen him do it. Twice.”
“I wouldn’t have let him take my purse, Skyman.” She glared at him. “I can take care of myself. I certainly don’t need some little boy to save me.” She wasn’t much older than him, a few years at most. She wore jeans and a black pea coat. Her face was kind of sparkly.
Lightning struck in Skyrat’s brain. “You look like Samantha Cyber!” he proclaimed, his smile returning.
He was a dumb kid, but she kind of liked him. “You think?” She looked up at the billboard behind her, then back to the Skyrat. On the billboard, the model sold diamonds with a look of mild disdain on her face. It was the same mask she was wearing now.
“Oh, my god,” he gasped. “You are Samantha Cyber!” Under her pea coat, she had cybernetic ribbons of chrome and lights slithering down her right arm. It was a medical necessity to mitigate nerve damage, but it gave her a unique, striking, commercially viable look.
Samantha sighed, turned, and walked away from the boy, knowing he would follow.
He did. “I just saved Samantha Cyber from a purse snatching!” His voice was pitched about an octave above normal. “So weird to see you human sized. I mean, because you’re so big on the billboard. Not that you're big. You’re small. You’re a teeny tiny little girl. Lady. Woman. I mean...”
“Stop following me.”
He didn’t. “I’ll walk you home. The Industrial District isn’t safe at night.”
“This is Green City. No place is safe at night in this toilet.”
“Yeah, but… You’re famous.” He stopped. “Why are you out here all by yourself so late?”
She stopped, calculating her response. “You’re famous too.” Somewhere, a cat in heat began screaming like a baby. Samantha could smell urine. “Why are you out here all by yourself?”
“I’m, uh, I’m not famous.” Skyrat blushed. “I’m infamous. There’s a difference.”
His smile was one of those contagious types. She fought the urge to show that she’d been infected by it. “No difference. Infamous sounds bad, but it can work out pretty well for you if you know how to use it.”
“Well, I mean, this is my, uh, this is my job. Being here is what I do.”
Something popped and echoed in the distance; maybe a gunshot, maybe a vehicle backfire. A Brot jaywalked just east of them. There was no one else around but the yelping cat and a vagrant, vomiting in a gutter. The rain was coming down harder now. “Let me walk you home. I don’t mind.” He put his hood back up.
She thought the boy was sweet and allowed him a smile. “I mind, Skyman.”
“Whatever. You can’t walk me home. I don’t like the idea of some kid knowing where my apartment is. You might tell your buddies, and then I’m gonna have a bunch of little boys swarming my apartment building, hounding the attendant for autographs and trying to peek at me in my underwear.”
He looked around again. Still no one helpful to be seen. “I would never…!”
“Of course you wouldn’t.”
In the distance, car tires squealed, stealing their attention from each other. Back to Samantha, Skyrat said, “Really. You can trust me. I’m a superhero.”
“I’ll tell you what.” She dug his sincerity. “Give me your phone number, and I’ll text you if I ever need a superhero.”
His eyes lit up. “Okay!” He started going through his pockets, pulling out mobile phones. She counted seven of them. “Here,” he said when he found the one he wanted. A vehicle was approaching; a poorly running gas-powered vehicle, coming fast by the sound of it. “Take this number.”
“You’re sure?” She took her own phone from her purse. “That’s the one?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I think I’ll put some music on it. You like For Algernon? Oh, and Star Biker has to go on here too. You ever play that?”
“What’s the number, Ratboy?”
“Skyrat.” He told her the number. She called it. “I can’t believe I have Samantha Cyber’s kwothing phone number!”
Her phone was returned to her purse. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
Headlights illuminated them as an old black full-sized van screeched around the corner and barreled past them, roaring like an injured brachiosaurus with a diesel engine. Swerving out of control, it became suddenly acquainted with the unyielding metal pole of a streetlight. The pole leaned in on the van in disapproval. Sparks spat from a busted light fixture. A hubcap went rolling off down the street. The cat made a demon noise. Samantha and Skyrat watched in disbelief as the truck backed up, beeping in warning.
Thudding, running footsteps like a kick drum drew their attention back to the corner from whence the van had appeared. The perpetrator of the drumming was impossibly big, nearly as big as the van. He wore a tight fitting muscle shirt, jeans, and a green luchador mask with two intertwining snakes on it. Bulging veins pulsed in his biceps and shoulders, and he was snarling like an animal.
Samantha stepped behind the Rat to hide, terrified, clutching onto the back of his hoodie. “What the kwot is that?”
Skyrat whispered, “Berserker...”