03 - She's A Maniac!

Lori was a little nervous as she walked the streets of Westside, but less so that she had been on her first day of jail. She was carrying a duffel bag that held all her possessions--which amounted to pretty much nothing since everything had been lost in the fire. It hadn't been hard to slip away from the social worker after getting out of jail. Lori didn't have a history of running away so the woman hadn't been on her guard. Lori hoped she didn't get into trouble over it.

She spotted some Maniacs. It was one thing to see them in prison looking like normal people, but here on the street dressed like something from a slasher movie was something different. She wished Pyro had given her an address or more specific information. Still, Lori felt a lot better about approaching the three guys lounging on the corner than she would have a month ago.

"Hey," she said with a greeting nod. "Any of you know Pyro? I'm trying to find her."

They seemed taken aback by her directness. One of them puffed up and said, "Aren't you scared, slag? You're in Maniac territory."

"Really?" She looked over his outfit of leather and spikes and his Hannibal Lecter mask. "I figured you guys were entertainment for kids' parties."

The other two guys snickered and the first one glared at her. "My psychiatrist used to tell me I was crazy. Until the voices told me to kill him." Lori tried unsuccessfully to suppress a smile.

"Lighten up, Francis," said one of the other Maniacs.

The masked Maniac whirled on him. "Stop calling me that," he whined. "It's Psycho."

The other guy shook his head. "Dude, seriously. You try too hard." He turned to Lori and jerked his thumb down the street. "She usually hangs around the basketball courts two blocks that way."

"Thanks." She turned to Francis. "Really, I was petrified. Nearly peed myself. Promise."

The other guys laughed. The helpful one said, "Yeah, you're definitely one of Pyro's friends."

As Lori walked away she felt good. She'd probably just made an enemy but also made two friends. More importantly, her voice hadn't quavered. She had stood up to guys who scared her and made one look foolish. As she walked through the slummy neighborhood she realized she was happier now than she had been in years. Maybe ever.

She found the basketball courts easily and looked out over the crowd of bizarrely-clad Maniacs looking for a familiar face. She asked one of the gang members and he pointed her towards a cluster of people. Lori approached them hesitantly, none of them looking familiar. Suddenly one of them jumped up and called out, "Lori! You came!"

Lori peered at her. "Pyro?" she asked uncertainly.

"Yeah, it's me. Do you like it?" She posed for effect. Her face was hidden by a leather scarecrow mask. She wore a tattered overcoat over a grungy plaid shirt and ratty jeans. She a pistol on her hip but Lori's eye was drawn to the axe on her back. She wondered if that was really blood on the edge.

"Scary as shit," Lori said hesitantly.

"Hey, it's just me under here. Come on there are some people I want you to meet. Hey, everyone. This is the one I was telling you about." She introduced Lori to several of the other gang members but she quickly got overwhelmed. Although they all dressed dramatically only a few had taken names like Pyro or Psycho. Most of them still used their old names, or at least names that sounded like normal names.

"You here to stay?" Pyro asked.

Lori shrugged. "If the offer's still open."

"Of course. Come one let's get you a room. Oh and there's someone else who wants to meet you."

"Who?"

"You'll see," Pyro said, grinning. At least Lori thought she was grinning. She couldn't see past the face of the scarecrow mask.

Pyro led her to one of the many ruined buildings in the area. She snorted. "Biselle crows about how miraculously the city was rebuilt after the Battle of Detroit. Maybe he should come down here into the slums and see how 'rebuilt' things are. Politicians. Useless. Kill 'em all I say."

Lori just laughed nervously. This was a side of Pyro she hadn't seen before.

"This is our headquarters. For now at least. We have to move it around sometimes as the cops or the other gangs find it. Come on, through here. Hey, Zoe! Here's that girl I was telling you about. Lori, this is Zoe Loft, leader of the Maniacs."

The woman was about thirty dressed in a military jacket, combat boots and fishnet stockings. Her hair was pulled into spikes and she had straps across her face in random patterns. She eyed Lori with a predatory look that made the girl distinctly uncomfortable. This was the first of the Maniacs Lori found herself really afraid of rather than just nervous around.

"Welcome to our little home, young one. Pyro has told me a lot about you. Especially about a little incident with a lighter."

Lori frowned, having no idea what she was talking about. Then it dawned on her. "What, that?" She looked at Pyro and then back at Zoe. "Pyro's making too much out of it. It was just some kind of air current or something."

"Show me," Zoe said.

Lori hesitated but this was clearly a woman you didn't say no to. She fished in her pocket and pulled out the lighter. She flicked it on. "I was just holding it like this."

"No," Pyro said. "You put your hand out like you were going to grab the flame. And you were staring into it. Your eyes were unfocused."

"Well, yeah but..."

"Do it," Zoe said.

Lori looked into the flame and relaxed her mind. There was something meditative about the flicker. She held out her hand and felt the heat. Nothing happened. She found herself a little afraid of what Zoe would do if she couldn't perform some kind of trick so she concentrated more intensely on the flame. It started to move. A tendril reached out towards her hand and brushed it. Lori was surprised and her concentration wavered. Suddenly she felt the heat and cried out. She dropped the lighter and the fire went out.

Zoe was giving her a smile that was anything but comforting. "Welcome to the Maniacs, child. I think you have a great future here."

Over the next couple of weeks Zoe pushed her to explore her power and slowly Lori was able to do more. It wasn't much--she could move a small flame around with gestures--but it was a start. The more she worked with fire, the more of a connection she felt and the more she was able to do. She became confident that with time she'd be able to do more.

Zoe didn't leave her much time to herself, driving her mercilessly to train and become stronger. However with what little time she got, Lori researched the concept of superpowers in the hope of understanding why she could do the things she could. Unfortunately she got few answers. It could be any number of things: mutation, psychic power, magic. She even wondered if she could be an alien. She had supposedly been orphaned when her parents were killed during the Battle of Detroit, and had owned a picture of them that had been lost in the house fire. However she knew nobody who claimed to have known them and for all she knew it was a story made up by someone to cover up her real identity.

She realized that "superpowers" was almost certainly an overstatement. Lots of people showed unusual abilities but weren't able to do more than little parlor tricks. That possibility made her nervous. Zoe expected great things from her and Lori was afraid of what might happen if she was disappointed.

Finally it was Pyro who got Zoe to give Lori some time off, convincing her that exhausting the girl would only weaken her. After all even body builders had to take days off to let their muscles grow stronger. Lori's first day off was spent on a Maniac makeover. She couldn't be part of the gang looking like her old self so she and Pyro set out to give her a new appearance. They played around with a lot of ideas until Lori was satisfied.

She eyed herself in the mirror, barely recognizing the girl looking back. Her hair stuck out from her skull in ropy spikes. Her face was hidden behind the makeup of a creepy clown. Her clothing was a mixture of torn denim, leather straps and lots of spikes. It looked like she'd cobbled together pieces of scrap metal from a junk yard, which in fact she had. She nodded approvingly. "I like it," she said.

"Me too," said Pyro.

"What about names?" Lori asked. "Do you think I should take another name?"

Pyro shrugged. "Up to you. Some people do. People on the run. Other reasons."

"What about you?"

Pyro shifted a bit. "I didn't like my old name."

"What was it?"

"Oh no. Maybe once we've been friends for about a hundred years, but nobody knows my real name now." Quickly she said, "Did you have another name in mind?"

"Well, yeah. I've been kind of thinking about it. My old name doesn't mean anything to me. I have no family or anything so I was thinking of starting fresh."

Pyro waited and then said, "So? What name did you want?"

Lori looked back into the mirror. "Cataclysm," she said.

"Cataclysm," Pyro repeated slowly. "Awesome! I love it!"

Cataclysm grinned at her reflection.