Greg spun to face the two capes, falling into a fighting stance, hammer gripped tightly in both of his hands. Damnit, Skidmark and Trainwreck, how did he not notice them arriving? If they'd attacked him instead of speaking... Fighting them wasn't a good option, Trainwreck was a heavier hitter than he was, and with Skidmark backing him up, well, it wasn't a fight that made him optimistic. He waited for one of the Merchant capes to make the first move, while scanning his surroundings for an escape route. His choices weren't good, the ceiling was too high for him to jump back out of the hole he'd entered through, and Skidmark and Trainwreck had entered through the warehouse entrance. Maybe he could try and break through one of the walls? Based on his bulk, Trainwreck probably couldn't run that quickly, so if Greg could just make it outside, he should be able to get away. Tensing up, Greg gauged some of the walls, checking for a place that looked less durable than its surroundings.
Skidmark interjected through Greg's line of thought. "Ha! Settle down, Asswipe. We're all civilized here, ain't we?" He laughed, a terrible choking wheeze. "I'm not gonna fuckin' hurtcha, long as you don't smack around one of my boys. Now, what wazzat about some repairs?" He folded his arms, looking impatient. Trainwreck shifted behind him, and the hairs on the back of Greg's neck began to rise. The situation wasn't good. Time for him to buy some time and try to think up a plan.
"...I had offered to rebuild this place, get it into better shape. I don't approve of drugs though, so I won't do anything to help you or them with that." No ideas were forthcoming, so he had to draw his line in the sand. Maybe he'd get a better opportunity if a fight actually started. Try to get Trainwreck to follow him through a narrow space maybe, and try to get around him?
"Approve?" Skidmark laughed again, this time even more uproariously than before. "Nobody fuckin' does, and that's a shitflinging shame innit? All of those high'n'mighty folk in the damn government spreadin' their views on drugs. You think a guy that got bitch slapped by life cares if takin' drugs might mean he doesn't make it to fuckin' sixty? It takes the scrotekickin' edge off of the world, they do, I know that for sure. But I don't care about that right now. You can rebuild this place. What wouldja need to do that?" Skidmark leered slightly, his teeth somehow managing to look worse. "I know what you're thinkin'. 'Why should I help ole Skids with anything? He's a villain!' And don't get me wrong, I am. But I'm also a businessman, see? If you ain't lyin', this could be a fuckin' great opportunity, for you, me, and every shitstomped sod in the Docks."
Greg's brain stalled, before he understood what he had just heard. "Wait, what? You want me to work for you? But I'm a hero!" Greg was trying to come up with more to add to his argument, but it all came back to that singular point.
Skidmark laughed again. God, that sound was grating on Greg's ears. "You say that like you can't do both, goatfucker! Dependin' on how this goes, the druggie biz might have just gotten a hell of a lot less profitable, at least, compared to some possible alternatives." He eyed Greg speculatively. "O'Course, I'm not making any promises now. First, I want a fuckin' demonstration. Here's my offer, and don't think I'm some pantyass negotiator, this is take it or leave it. This buildin'," He said, waving his arms around, as though trying to encompass the room, "will be a test case. Do your thing, whatever the fuck that is. If you can do what you say, then we can talk about some future dealings. Aight?" Skidmark didn't put out a hand for a handshake, which was good, because Greg wouldn't have touched him with a ten foot pole. Instead, he folded his spindly arms and looked at Greg expectantly.
Did he want to do this? This was Skidmark, one of the most despicable people in Brockton Bay. The Merchants had been ruining peoples' lives for years, profiting from the misery of the downtrodden. If Greg did go along with this, what would the consequences be? He couldn't know. On the other hand... The city had been going to hell for decades, and he'd just seen firsthand that the Merchants might not be so much a cause of the city's problems so much as an effect. If people fell into hard times and couldn't escape, they might well get slotted into something like the Merchants, because nobody else would help them. As for Skidmark supposedly running them further into the ground for money...
Looking at Skidmark, the man didn't give the feeling of being well off. His costume wasn't high quality. He didn't look fat, or even well fed. In fact, he looked a lot like most of the other people in the warehouse. Someone who lived day to day, making ends meet. Maybe this was just wishful thinking on Greg's part, trying to see something human in a monster, but he couldn't be sure. When it came down to it... He could take this chance. Hopefully, he wouldn't come to regret it.
Greg sighed. "Alright. I'll have to start with demolishing this place, and I'll use the materials I can salvage from that to start work on the replacement building. Don't be mistaken, this is not me joining the Merchants. I can't agree with everything you do. But this is something I can do, and I think these people need it. You'll let them stay here?" Greg looked at Skidmark harshly, and the man simply scoffed.
"Sure, whatever kid. This is just a test case, though, remember that. If you don't deliver, or if you're lyin'..." He trailed off, giving me a serious look. "Well, make sure it doesn't fuckin' come to that." He signaled to the crowd milling around uncertainly, causing them to file out of the warehouse, carrying out as much of the lab equipment as they could carry. Trainwreck stepped forward and gathered up the rest, and followed them out. Skidmark stayed for another moment. "Don't take too long about it asslips, I'm not the patient type." That said, he stepped outside as well, setting up watch in a fold out chair sitting in the bed of a large pickup truck, presumably that he and Trainwreck had used to reach the warehouse.
It looked like Greg would have an audience. Wonderful. He swallowed before taking a look around the building. What had he gotten himself into? First things first, he needed some sort of tool to take the place apart with. An iron sword and wooden hammer wouldn't cut it. He pulled out the workbench and considered the list of options he had. Bashing things with a hammer didn't seem like it would be his best option when it came to demolitions. Ideally, he wanted something similar to his shovel, as the dirt had vanished into his inventory as he had dug. Something similar for the building.
Maybe the Iron Pickaxe would do the job?
In short order, the building was half gone. The upper half, to be specific. Greg realized that taking out one side might not be the best plan about ten seconds in, and had proceeded with more care from that point on. Just as he'd hoped, sections of the building he disassembled with the pickaxe slid right into his inventory. However, there was another aspect of his power that had simultaneously surprised and delighted him.
He didn't need to touch things to take them apart.
Just as he'd been able to place the platforms on the ship from outside of his reach, all he had to do was point the pickaxe at something and focus on tearing it up for it to begin to vanish. He'd noticed when he had been swinging the pickaxe while thinking about another step of the construction effort that he hadn't actually been hitting a section that disappeared, and a quick bout of experimentation confirmed the revelation.
Not that he was sure of exactly how useful that was. But it was interesting! A fairly short amount of time later, Greg looked at the now vacant lot with a combination of pride and trepidation. He'd managed to demolish the building, yes. But now he was going to have to build a new one. He didn't have anything like a degree in architecture, or even a prior interest in the subject. How the hell was he qualified to build something?! Still, Skidmark was watching, and he had the faint feeling that while declining the man's offer when he'd made it was one thing, tearing apart his warehouse and then giving up would be worse. Besides, it wouldn't cost Greg much to try! This could be fun, honestly. He hadn't given construction much thought before today, hell, even with his little hideout beneath the shed, all he'd done was dig a hole. Something about the concept of actually constructing a building really resonated with him.
Moving his focus to his inventory, he considered his resources. He had a great deal of concrete, steel from the braces, and some sort of aluminum alloy from the actual wall plates, along with some odds and ends he had no idea what to do with, like the electrical wiring. None of the bulbs had been there, but he hadn't really expected that of a building this old in this part of town.
Now let's see, from what little he could recall from gleaned knowledge of construction, the first thing that had to be done was the laying of some sort of foundation. This usually involved... digging a hole? He was pretty sure about that. 70% certain, at least. Pulling out his shovel, he began to dig a rectangular hole in the ground. Depth of a few feet, about four, and since he was just making things up now, he was going to roll with it. He returned the shovel to his inventory and placed his focus on the concrete. He had a lot of it, but if this was at all similar to the platform, then it should be fairly simple.
Placing a smooth coating of concrete on the walls of hole was a mental excercise, and he had to pull back out the pickaxe whenever he made a mistake, but it worked. From there, it was like some sort of instinctual process. He found himself going into a slight trance state as he continued. Houses needed things like walls, obviously, and how to make those was obvious...
...Ceiling too, and he could make that pretty simply too... What was he doing again? He didn't know how to build a house, why was the world blurring a little?
He vaguely remembered going to the workbench and fashioning a door out of his still sizable stores of wood, but then it returned to the fuzzy shapes that he couldn't quite recognize.
By the time his awareness fully returned to him, there was a... structure, in front of him. It more closely resembled an apartment complex than a warehouse, now. He opened the front door, still in a slight daze, and began to explore the insides.
There were at least half a dozen rooms, including a dining room, living room and several bedrooms. He didn't remember making all this furniture. In fact... he looked into his inventory with a heavy heart, and his worries were confirmed. He barely had any wood left! He'd earned... well, obtained, that wood at no small price to himself. Trudging back through the front door, he was caught off guard by Skidmark.
"Gotta say, that's some pretty fuckin' good work! Brings all sorts of possibilities to mind. With that sort of power..." He looked the building up and down, hand on his chin, before glancing at Greg. "You look like shit, though. Whaddaya call yourself, kid?"
Greg paused, swaying a little. Cape name? Damn, he knew he'd forgotten something. Nothing really came to mind, so he picked something simple. "Builder, I guess."
Skidmark cackled slightly. "Simple, I can dig it! Anyhow, if you come back here tomorrow, or any point this week, really, you can get ahold of me by grabbing any of my boys. I'd definitely be willing to set up a more permanent arrangement, ya see. For now, though, I've got places to be. I've left Squealer alone too long as it is, gotta make sure she's still workin'." He stalked back to his truck, ratty cape billowing behind him. Some heroes could pull off a cape, but Skidmark wasn't among their number.
Greg walked off too, slightly unsteadily. At some point between the ex-warehouse and the bus, he had made a stop to change back into his normal clothes. It was fairly late when he got home, far later than he had meant to be out, and his mom hovered over him the moment he walked in the door. "Greg! Where have you been? I've been worried sick, you can't keep doing this, Greg! I know that your walks have been important to you recently, but at least leave me a note!" Greg was about to reply, though with what, he had no idea. Instead, he yawned, and his mom calmed down slightly, a slightly sympathetic look adorning her face. "We can talk about this tomorrow though, into bed with you!" He nodded slightly, before stumbling up the stairs to his room.
Falling into bed, he lay his head on his pillow. The day had been surreal. What had started out as what would have been his first day of crime fighting had somehow turned into a humanitarian effort, though he didn't really regret that. Whatever sort of bargain he might have made with Skidmark was what worried him. Either he was helping to defang the Merchants with some sort of economic force, or he was going to have to fight them pretty soon to avoid getting labelled a villain. He wanted to keep trying to piece apart the day and help it make sense, but the slightly dizzy feeling he'd had ever since his episode at the warehouse wasn't going away. Maybe he actually needed some sleep for once. Oh well, it wouldn't take any actual time, and it might make his head feel better. Closing his eyes, he tried to relax his mind as usual. Feeling the shift around him that generally signified his jump through the night to morning, he opened his eyes again. His headache was gone, now!
Then, he stopped short. His headache wasn't the only thing that was gone. He wasn't in his room anymore. He was lying on his back on a field of grass, a few trees dotting the landscape around him.
Where in the world was he?
Author Note: I've got mixed feelings on this chapter. I'm finally starting to get into the meat of things, though. Please, give me some feedback, comments, criticism, all that jazz. Sorry about the delay, Skidmark is HARD to write.