This is not the worst of it.
Kiden, a young, blonde mutant girl, lays battered, bruised and beaten teenage on a wooden table. Iron shackles adorn her wrists and ankles. Blood trickles from her nose and comes to rest against the duct tape covering her mouth. Her one un-blackened eye and her IV are her only links to the cruel reality of the damp, tile-covered room around her. “No one loves you,” a voice says. “No one misses you. You’re a filthy girl. Dirty.”
An unknown speaker considers the severity of the word “worst” before using it loosely. The speaker has had years to contemplate the lows conferred by life, and through this contemplation reached the understanding that some things cannot be avoided; some lives must always end in pain. It doesn’t understand why. Fate shouldn’t be that simple. It should be easily malleable, even be breakable. One can only do so much with the variations it provides. “You are mine, little girl. I got you,” the other, audible voice continues. “I got you good.”
The speaker declares it would do anything to protect Kiden. This is my fault, it says.
Manhattan. 48 hours earlier…
Kiden gleefully digs through a dumpster in a dark alley in the city. After scouring through piles and piles of trash, she emerges with a treasure most beloved: a shattered snow globe dripping with vomit. “Perfect,” she says. Her friend Tatiana sidles up to the dumpster and sighs. Doesn’t Kiden have a job? Yeah, Kiden says as she tosses the snow globe to Tatiana and pulls herself out of the dumpster. Tatiana asks her why she collected this snow globe; Kiden answers it is a birthday present for Bobby. He’ll most definitely appreciate the vomit, Tatiana says. Kiden reminds her Bobby isn’t picky. Besides, she can wash off the vomit. Tatiana doubts she can wash away the smell.
Thinking back on her life thus far, Kiden remembers things haven’t always been this way. She used to have a real home, with parents and siblings. A few men with guns took all that away. Kiden followed the loss of her father with seven years of bad choices that led her to where she is today: drugs, parties, self-mutilation. Life is such a bitch, she says.
While she and Tatiana walk home, Kiden realizes she no longer dwells on the choices she has made. She used to, but learned it’s a big waste of time. The past, after all, is crap: useless, insubstantial crap. Life is meant to be lived in the moment. With this philosophy, one might be surprised to learn Kiden has friends; opening her heart to other people, after all, is the quickest way to get hurt. Happened plenty of times to me already, she thinks as she and her friend Tatiana climb the stairs to their floor. But I guess I’m a sucker.
They enter the apartment. Their friend Bobby Soul turns and greets them while trying to feed a spoonful of cereal to his catatonic younger brother. He and Lil’ Bro were just wondering where the two ladies went, he says. They joke around with him a bit: they were shopping, getting their nails done, spending their millions, etc. They got nothing for the boys, Bobby asks? He turns his attention back to Lil’ Bro and pleads with him to just take one bite. Can he take just one bite for his older brother?
Kiden, meanwhile, returns to her room and places the old snow globe in her hiding place. When she comes back to the kitchen, she asks Bobby how long he has been trying to feed Lil’ Bro. Thirty minutes, he answers. He knows his brother is hungry; maybe he is weary of this new brand of cereal. Kiden smiles and snatches the food-filled spoon out of Bobby’s hand. What’s on his agenda for the day, she asks? Astral possession? Temporary amnesia? Flexing some muscle for the mob? Bobby Soul jokingly reminds her the black Mafia doesn’t exist, and the white Mafia certainly doesn’t hire “boys” like him.
While Kiden teases Bobby, Lil’ Bro’s right eye suddenly glimmers a bright, emerald green. They likely don’t notice. Kiden takes a turn at spoon-feeding the stoic kid. She thinks he is cute, even though he has major head issues. Sometimes, she feels strange around Lil’ Bro, she admits. She feels like she knows him better than she should. She especially feels like he knows her way too well. Meanwhile, deep in Lil’ Bro’s eyes, far beyond Kiden’s perception, a shadowed man with glowing red eyes looks back at her.
Cameron Palmer returns home with groceries. Formerly their teacher, Ms. Palmer was the surrogate mother of students everywhere. Kiden still blames herself for almost getting the poor woman killed. She wonders if Ms. Palmer still holds it against her. Judging by her warm smile, it’s unlikely. She was just on her way to school, Cameron tells them, when she decided to stop in and make sure the kids were alive. Tatiana asks her if she got her old job back. Not quite, Ms. Palmer says. For now, she is subbing for other teachers. It’s a trial period. “If no one fires a gun…” she begins.
Kiden hides her face in shame. “You just had to bring that up,” she says.
Ms. Palmer ignores her. She might get to return to teaching soon, and as a teacher, it is her job to remind these kids they should be in school. Predictably, they grumble. Tatiana hopes Ms. Palmer isn’t suggesting home school. No, she says; she means real school. She wants them back in the classroom, where they belong. Kiden refuses; she has been punished enough in her life. Ms. Palmer reminds them of how young they are. Tatiana is only fifteen, and the other two, sixteen or seventeen, tops. They’re babies, she says. Sure, they’re hardened, dangerous, mutant criminals, but in the end they are still kids. They need to think of their futures. Kiden objects to being called a criminal; Ms. Palmer is just as much a criminal as her. Besides, she can’t go back to school; too many questions will be asked. Same here, Bobby Soul says. Plus, he needs to spend his time earning a living for him and his little brother.
Tatiana has a much simpler excuse. Everyone now knows she is a mutant, and with the Purifiers out there, it’s too dangerous to go back into public. Ms. Palmer begins to provide a counter-point, but Tatiana looks at her in horror. “No! They’ll kill me, Ms. Palmer. They would have before, if…if…” she says, trailing off. Ms. Palmer finally relents. However, if they insist on skipping school, they can at least catch up on their studies. She gives them a stack of course books, as well as information on how to obtain a GED. It’s the only way they’re getting out of here, she adds.
“Here’s not so bad,” says Kiden. Ms. Palmer scoffs and reminds her of her chronic dumpster-diving. It’s her art form, Kiden insists. That may be, Ms. Palmer says, but it isn’t her destiny. She has great things in her future. All of them do. They cannot settle for this slum life. Bobby jokingly asks the teacher if she plans on walking them to their destinies. She corrects him; she will drag them there kicking and screaming, if she has to.
Later, Kiden leaves to go to work. Having a job has removed some of the pressure from day-to-day living, she admits, although her boss hates it when she comes in late. So, she never does. Kiden steps off the curb right into the path of an absent-minded skateboarder. He yells for her to watch out right as he is ejected from his board. This sudden event triggers Kiden’s mutant ability. Time seems to freeze in that moment, capturing the skateboarder in mid-air.
Whenever she slows time, Kiden has trouble resisting the temptation to vanish. It would be so easy for her to disappear. After all, she has done it before. She takes the time to enjoy this serene moment. After ducking under the airborne skateboarder, she twirls her arms and dances through the stillness. Everything is quiet. She is but a ghost, dancing between raindrops. Hunger and fear do not exist in this world. There is nothing but beauty. Unfortunately, she now has people who depend on her. Responsibility: what an ugly word, she thinks. For now, however, it is better than the alternative. Kiden walks up to the door of her café and releases her grip on time.
Working at the café is easy enough. Kiden busses tables, washes dishes, and takes the trash out at the end of the night, among other things. She even has her mail delivered to that address, much to her boss’ chagrin. He brings her another letter at the end of the night. Kiden’s eyes widen as she looks at it. The letter, addressed to her mother Elizabeth Nixon, has been marked Moved, Not Forwardable. “Mom,” she says to herself, “…where’d you go?”
Nearby, unbeknownst to Kiden, a thuggish spectator in an S.U.V. films her anguish with a handheld camera.
One of the perks of working for Moe is that Kiden eats for free. In addition, he lets her take leftovers home to feed her friends. It’s nothing glamorous, but it’s preferable to eating out of the dumpster. Tonight, however, it matters not; it’s dinner night at Ms. Palmer’s place. Kiden admits she isn’t a spectacular cook, but she either makes a lot of food or orders pizza.
As the teenagers step off the city bus, Tatiana informs Bobby Soul her paycheck was a bit short this month. What are they going to do, she asks? Kiden asks what they’re talking about, to which Bobby replies they’re discussing rent. Specifically, how they are short for the month. Kiden seems shocked; according to her calculations, they should have enough! Regrettably, Bobby informs her that their landlord jacked the rent up a hundred bucks. Worse than that, he wants it in two days. Worst of all, he only applied the rate-hike to them; Bobby asked around and found out himself. Tatiana suggests they borrow the money from Cameron. Kiden refuses to ask. After all, Ms. Palmer is having a hard enough time paying her own rent. Somehow, they’ll figure it out, Bobby says as they enter Ms. Palmer’s building.
Suddenly, Kiden hears a familiar voice speak her name. Kiden. She hears it deep within her mind. Kiden. The last time she heard this voice, bad things happened. And, just like last time, she sees her father’s specter, this time descending from the ceiling. He chants her name. Kiden. Dad, she says? The ghost tells her to run. Run now.
Kiden’s jaw drops. Bobby and Tatiana open the door to Ms. Palmer’s apartment. Kiden drops her bag of food. Her eyes widen. She begs them to wait, but it’s too late: the open the door, and see that the apartment has been ravaged. Chaos, broken glass, scattered cotton, and strewn clothes adorn what once was a safe haven. Even more disturbing is the blood splattered around the entire apartment. Most foreboding of all, in the center of the wall, a happy photograph of Cameron Palmer, Bobby Soul, Lil’ Bro, Tatiana, and Kiden hangs, held in place by a butterfly knife stabbed right through Kiden’s eye.
This is going to be worse.