Chapter 1: Hard Choices
Penelope quivered as she stared tearfully. “This doesn’t make… it doesn’t make any kind of sense.” Her lip quivered and she refreshed the page hoping to see something different only to see the same thing. “I’ll be out on the street in less than a month… No one will touch me anymore… no one besides them…”
A single glance at Penelope made it easy to believe she was a superheroine. Her body was tight and toned. She still had curves, but her bare, smoothly muscled arms stood out just as loudly—if not more. Her short, curly brown hair hardly hurt, either.
“It’s all because of the way they set me up… and everyone who would have had my back, they’d threatened with the same treatment… no wonder they all caved, now that I’m experiencing what it’s like.” Penelope bit her lip, looking between two windows on her computer. One showed her growing debts, starting with large debts for collateral damage, and spiraling out into credit cards, student loans, her rent, and everything else that she could possibly owe. The other showed her bank account.
The wrong window had a positive number, and the other wrong window had a negative number.
“Ever since I refused to back down from exposing the criminal underbelly of the Salinas and Murillo empire… Ever since they were able to doctor that footage, capture the right angle, whatever it was to make it look like I willfully destroyed the supports of that building to stop a supervillain… The hero community abandoned me, my ID was public so no one will hire me…” Penelope sniffled. “My family won’t even return my calls. The only people who can get me out of this…”
She glanced across the room towards the table by her front door. A small wooden bowl held her keys. Beside it was a business card with a rose blossoming from the top of a Fleur-de-Lis.
She stiffened, glancing back to her computer, and then back to the business card.
“There’s no way I can accept their offer without losing all of my dignity, all of my pride, all of…” She looked around her apartment. It was startlingly empty. Everything that she could pawn was already sold off. Everything that she could sell to the few people who still wanted to support her or cared about washed-up heroine memorabilia was already gone.
To say she was living a Spartan lifestyle with only the necessities would overestimate her living situation.
Her costume was ripped and torn, and she could see it inside of the half-open closet nearby. She didn’t have any money to fix it, and the partnership she’d had that kept her wearing durable costumes had canceled on her months ago.
Some heroines in situations like hers, women who had once been the top of her field but tangled with the wrong business women, were able to crawl out of their holes and make a big stand to regain the love and trust of the public. With that, they were often able to claw their way back to a decent standard of living.
Penelope was fast, sturdy, and strong, and that was before considering her flight or her ability to see people’s emotions as an aura around them.
But no opportunities were coming up, and the last thing Penelope wanted to do was cross her fingers and hope on a horrible tragedy befalling the city. That was no way to live her life. It relied far too much on factors she couldn’t hope to control.
Even if the opportunity came and I pulled it off…? None of that would matter if Salinas and Murillo found some way to blame the whole thing on me, anyway. That’s exactly what would happen. Sighing, Penelope shut down her computer and half stumbled across the room to tug out her costume and shove it into her backpack. I don’t know why I thought that I could be different, that I could really make a change…
But I won’t let myself starve.
I won’t let myself be homeless, or chased out of some hard-to-reach abandoned building that only a flier could reach…
Throwing her backpack over one shoulder and then the other, Penelope closed the door behind her and didn’t even bother locking it. The only thing worth stealing would be the computer—and that was a hand-me-down that had barely served her needs effectively when it was first gifted to her by the tech heroine Administra before she’d severed ties completely.
She made her way outside, and looked out at the city around her. She wasn’t sure what she was hoping to see. A small ember burned inside of her, longing for some reward for all of the effort she’d put into making the world a better place.
Nothing of the sort presented itself.
Instead, her blue eyes fell upon a billboard with a rose blossoming out from the top of a Fleur-de-Lis with stylistic, bold text under it.
Salinas & Murillo.
If it’s starve on the street, become a supervillain, or sell myself to a pair of them…? Penelope choked out a pained laugh. If I do one of those… at least I won’t need to worry about anything anymore. I’ll just need to do what they want me to do. Hopefully that’s easier…
Looking in the distance towards the tallest building in the city, Penelope slumped lower as it loomed over everything. It cast a dark shadow over the surrounding buildings, just like the women in charge had cast a dark shadow over every aspect of her lives. There was a risk that they would refuse her, turn her down and toss her back out on the street, but Penelope didn’t think that was likely.
They were spiteful—incredibly spiteful—but she’d seen the ways they’d looked at her.
Even if they only wanted her for something as base as her body, they wouldn’t want to pass up an opportunity to acquire her.
They were business women.
Spite came after greed with women like them.