Pick Your Poison

Catalyst 1.1

The bell rang, and with it came the varied forms of praise from the captives of the so-called teaching establishment Winslow High School. You won't be hearing that sort of praise from me.

Not that I like it here, god no, forbid the thought. It's just I prefer to be dead bored than utterly miserable.

I stood with a sigh from my too-small desk, smoothing my ratty old green 'Beer Me' Saint Patty's Day shirt to make sure it actually went below the waistband of my too-tight blue jeans. I swear I'll lose all this weight someday.

"Andrew, don't forget to actually do the homework assignment this time." I winced at being called out by Mr. Gladly, I swear I must be one of the few students he actually tries to teach for whatever reason.

"Yeah, sure. Got it Mr. G." I replied without any sincerity, because seriously, I have far more important things to do than write some stupid essay over the weekend. Regardless of how much I'd rather actually do the homework instead.

After I managed to squeeze through the crowd of gaggling students like a too-large round peg in a square hole, I made my way to my locker to drop my stuff off. On the way there, I moved to avoid what looked like yet another cruel verbal gang-up on that poor girl Taylor. I always felt so terrible just letting them torment her. We used to know each other when we were younger since our fathers were friends, but after dad died, we just naturally drifted apart. Didn't change the fact that it made me feel like even more of a total sack of crap for not even trying to help her.

It's not like I can even do anything, maybe get suspended if I kick Hess in the ass and run off? Who am I kidding? She's the track team star and she'd run me down faster than a motorbike.

I reached my locker, whacked it a few times to open the rusty thing, dang thing was jammed more often than not and I didn't bother with a lock. I tossed my whole backpack into the locker, using the cracked mirror I hung inside to vainly check if my long red hair was presentable, one of the few features I was proud of besides my green eyes. I was the lucky ginger who somehow avoided freckles, I thank mom's genes for that...and dad's genes for me still not having any peach fuzz at all.

"C'mon man, get a move on." An excessively baggy-clothed student hissed into my ear urgently, and I quickly breathed out a dejected sigh of resignation, slamming my locker shut and following the shorter guy who I never bothered to get to know. The fact he was considered average in height made my 6 foot height feel excessive as we waded through the crowds, across the campus from the busses, and towards a small service road that ran behind Winslow's gym and the backs of some small apartment buildings.

I didn't bother to speak as the scrawny dude walked forwards with his hands held out, as if feeling for a wall in the dark, and soon he came in contact with something unseen. He ran his hands over it until he found the handle and opened an invisible sliding van door, revealing the inside of a junker converted to a mini-bus, loaded to the brim with people of varied ages and races from our own age to upper-middle age. Of course, they were all wearing baggy and ratty clothes as well, some trying to have some light blue on them somewhere.

"Get in, we're almost late for the start of the shift." One of the men said grumpily. Not much of a surprise, considering the man had clearly lost some of his teeth to drug abuse. I climbed in casually, used to this sort of scenario after months of working with the Archer's Bridge Merchants, having been gang-pressed into the gang to resolve my mom's massive meth debt.

The door closed once the scrawny guy got in after me, and the driver began to move the invisible van with a familiarity that was both reassuring yet disturbing. "So what's the quota today?" I asked one of the gangers, who held up a cheap burner phone to look at something.

"About 10 pounds. We're low on supplies so Skidmark doesn't expect more than that today." What the thug didn't bother mentioning was that we were just one of many Merchant drug labs, and that the rest of the actual quota would be met regardless, we were just padding.

"10 Pounds?" I asked incredulously, getting grunts of agreement from my statement. "Even on a good day we can barely crank that much out." Our little meth lab wasn't very big, or well stocked, or equipped. We were lucky we had electric stoves and hotplates along with cheap general store measuring cups and coffee mugs, not to mention using cookie sheets for the crystallization process.

"What can I say? We gotta supply the dealers, they sell the product, and we get paid. Can't really afford to complain can we?" The oddly lucid man replied. He never told me his name, but I guess when you're in this sort of business, going without was better anyway.

"Yeah, whatever." I groaned as I leaned back into my seat, trying to ignore the windows since knowing I could see out of them, but nobody could see us at all always unnerved me. I sulked quietly, bracing myself to once again create more poison, to hurt more people, like my mother, just to keep her from being turned into a drug whore.

Soon enough, since Winslow was the last pickup for this rather unique vanpool, we reached the back alley of the lab which was situated on the edge of what the Merchants considered their territory, and where the Azn Bad Boys considered the start of their territory, even if the ABB said it all was theirs straight to the end of the Docks. This pretty much split the Slums of north Brockton Bay in half into what was loosely considered by the gangs and law enforcement to be the East and West slums, which got worse the further east you went, and therefore closer to the Docks and the Boat Graveyard, so the ABB were content to more-or-less leave the Merchants be, considering the area not profitable enough to do more than hassle them occasionally.

I got out last since my fat 333 pound butt was always made to sit alone in the back seat, in total about 10 of us got out, the driver staying in his seat to take the van back to one of Squealer's many motor pools for maintenance. I watched the sliding side door close and the invisible van to once more completely disappear from all senses. To think Skidmark has Squealer make so many of those, yet he never uses them as anything more than troop or cargo transport, idiot.

"Fatty, c'mon, you're on crystal cutting duty today." One of the thugs who man the place on a semi-permanent basis said as he was holding the back door, and I almost cheered up at hearing that. The chopping and drying portion of the meth recipe was the easiest and was almost fun. I was half on chop duty and half on measuring duty because since they knew I despised drugs, they also knew I wouldn't skim, or taste. "And don't forget the blanket this time."

Oh yeah, right, the so-called hazmat suit that some wiseguy made from liquid-proof bed sheets, rubber cleaning gloves, and a swimming mask with snorkel. Lovely. After one of the guys passed out from inhaling too much meth dust on chop duty, one of the overseers decided to jokingly make whoever was chopping wear the hot, sweaty, and heavy thing, since the poor schmuck had also been getting it in his system from skin contact over a long period of time.

Sorta like what happens when you make lemon bars, and you have to use your bare hands on the dough, the sugar sinks into your skin, gives you shakes, only meth is of course infinitely worse. I've gotta stop baking treats when I'm home….

I enter the lab, head to the chopping station up on the fourth floor of the butchered and nearly skeletal apartment building, and switched off with the guy who was doing it for the previous shift. If they're pulling multiple shifts, then Skidmark's looking to have a dump site set up somewhere, probably to stock up so the crew can get more ingredients together. When I asked the man I was relieving on the progress, he said they already had 4 pounds of dried crystal meth done, meaning the cooks wouldn't have to worry about not hitting quota before midnight.

That's good, I hate when Skidmark gets irritated. At least when he's pissed you know what he's going to do, irritated? That's a shot in the dark.

I donned the disgusting and residue-caked hazmat 'suit' and continued where the previous guy left off, chopping and drying the crystals continuously, as whoever was cooking had a batch coming down the hall for me to get to work on already. I got lost in it like I usually do, humming, dancing a bit. I hate what I'm doing on principal, but I have to cope somehow. It doesn't help that I'm a twitchy 14 year old with ADHD that can't afford to medicate, at least the tedium of this job was-.

"Fuck! FUCK! Everybody get out!" I heard echo up from downstairs, interrupting my haze of busywork, only to flinch and freeze at the sound of gunfire, and shattering glass from downstairs, something exploded shortly after, knocking me to my knees and making me drop my knife.

"Oh god…."

"ABB! Molotovs!" Someone screamed through the gunfire and shattering glass, and I bolted to my feet, my heart hammering in my ears as I fought down my panic.

Okay, okay. Calm down. Take off the suit, not only is it heavy it's highly flammable. Get to the back entrance, and duck into the storm drain system-when did it start raining?! I mentally screamed in horror at the sight of the sudden downpour, at least sudden to me, I knew it was going to rain but I didn't think it was going to be this much! I can barely see out the window, the storm drains will be absolutely flooded-!

Another explosion, the building rocked as I shucked off the suit as quick as possible. The ABB have lit the lab on fire. Meth lab, plus fire, equals death. I have to get out of here.

Through the rumbling of both the rapidly failing structure I was in, and the downpour of the rain that now came through to the forefront of my attention, I heard the gunfire petering out and moving away as I quickly sprinted down the stairwell to the third floor, where the cooking was done, and it was an inferno. I had to duck back into the stairwell in a panic, there was too much smoke and fire for me to just run through to the stairs on the other side.

A screech of tires told me someone just booked it out of here as I looked out the stairwell window, which was always jammed shut, but had a fire escape in the odd location thanks to how old the design of the apartment building was. I smashed the window with my worn boot. "Gah!" I grunted as a shard of glass cut through my jeans and into my right leg, making me hiss before I still used my injured leg to kick out more of the-

The fourth floor collapsed behind me, sending rubble, smoke, and more fire up the stairwell at me, practically searing my skin and choking me as I desperately broke more of the window to squeeze my fat ass through onto the rickety and ancient wrought iron fire escape.

I made a mistake.

The old thing, likely never having even been maintained since it was first installed, instantly began snapping from it's worn and weak mounts the moment my heavy mass jolted it. The top mounts snapped, the rusted bolts giving and the metal stairwell starting to screech as it bent away from the building.

I must've been high on adrenaline right now, because I knew I had never moved this fast before in my sedentary life, practically leaping down the escape to the third floor, which almost followed at the same speed as the fourth with the collapsing infrastructure giving it even less stability, and I practically jumped over the railing to slip backwards off the stairs onto the second floor of the fire escape next to the rusted-stuck drop-ladder. Fucking rain!

I hissed in pain from the back of my head hitting old ironwork and biting cold rain buffeting me, but I had no time to waste, the rest of the escape over me was already falling into the alley, about to drag the last of it and me with it to the ground, and I doubted I would survive who knows how much metal crashing on me.

I bolted to my feet, and ignored the cheap and now burning plywood cover of the second storey window, smashing through it with the full force of my bodyweight mere seconds before the failed emergency exit finished giving out, hitting the building across the alley with a resounding crash as well as to the ground in a deafening clatter of crumpling iron, almost sounding like glass.

"Aaah~!" The fire! It's searing my left arm! I quickly patted the injury from the burning plywood with my wet shirt and hand, before dashing downstairs. I instinctively bolted for the front door, even though there were some bodies of my dead 'coworkers' laying around with the fire spreading down here too. "No-no-no-no!" I screamed as the ceiling caved in over the door, and I skidded to a stop, about-facing to run out the back, and almost made it into the hallway leading to the back door before a gas line must've ruptured, igniting an explosion from upstairs and carried down the stairwell I had just came down from, blocking the whole hall with more fire, knocking me back from the concussive force and singeing me, drying my clothes some and practically evaporating the loose water on me.

I stared in horror, and disbelief, backing away into a bathroom that had been used to store ingredients, I futilely tried to turn on all the faucets, if I drench myself again I might be able to just run through the flames, but nothing came out besides an ancient groan and a rusty spittle, and I slowly sank to the floor.

This was it...wasn't it? I'm going to die here….

I sniffled, about to cry, starting to hyperventilate even though I knew I had to preserve as much oxygen as I could in any vain hope some firefighters or even Heroes might save me, but what then? I go to jail? Juvie? My life ruined before I can finish helping my mom?

Oh god my mom….

She'll be made a drug whore, I'm all she's got left! I can't die here! I can't! I've gotta-!

...What just happened? The last thing I remember was panicking, now I'm staring at the ceiling when I was sitting just a moment ago. I blinked, then coughed, the smoke was worse, the fire was getting closer. Oddly, I was calm. Not accepting this situation, no, not that, but I just couldn't...I can't explain it. I also can't explain this crazy idea I just got in my head.

I bolt to my feet, grabbed a bag of untreated marijuana from the linen closet of the bathroom, likely the stash of one of my now deceased comrades, a washcloth, some of the dirty spittle that had come from the sink from my attempt at getting water earlier, some of my snot, and a scraping of belly-button lint. I had no idea why, but I just...knew this would work.

I got the cloth as wet as I could with the faint damp from my clothes, mixed in the snot, lint, rusty discharge, and vigorously rubbed a marijuana stem into the disgusting mixture on the cloth, breathing onto it to keep it as humid as possible, until I had to back away and take a deep breath, then hold it.

I held up the stained cloth towards the door, and strode out into the fire, to see it rapidly snuff out when it got too close to me.

The bacteria from my belly button, rapidly mated with other bacteria and a stable plant culture had provided an unusually potent specimen that rapidly exchanged oxygen with carbon dioxide at a proliferant rate. However, this meant I couldn't breathe. I was starting to see darkness creep into my vision as my air-stealing concoction cleared the back door, and I moved out into the rain, letting the cloth drop and I let go of my breath before gasping in air as the water diluted the bacteria to manageable levels.

What did I just do? How did I do that? This makes no sense, except it does. I understand the process and how to repeat it, but such a recipe for something like that is complete and utter bullsh-. "Freeze!"

I bolted at the order, dashing for the purposely damaged and larger storm drain of the back alley, ducking behind the wreckage of the fire escape at the sound of gunfire while still moving, before I dove into a sideways roll, slipping my fat body through the large gap as I took another deep breath, holding my nose shut and closing my eyes, being submerged in a river-rapid that was so bitingly cold and fast I almost reflexively tried to gasp for air, but I sternly refused to let a bodily reaction get me killed after surviving so far.

I grunted and shivered in pain as I impacted walls, was dragged along smooth concrete so fast I could practically feel my skin being flayed open by the friction in spite of all the water, and just when I thought I was going to black out, I was spat out into a shifting, but mostly stable source of water. I swam up to the surface, gasping for more air when I breached it. My teeth chattered as hypothermia started to set in from the cold American north-east Atlantic waters being just that much colder since it was mid-October.

I shivered as I numbly forced myself to swim the short distance to a ladder on the side of the pier closest to me. Looks like the storm drain system spat me out over a mile and some distance east into the bay next to the Market district. I'm surprised I held my breath that long, but then again I always loved swimming, training my lung capacity really worked out for me in this case.

I'm cold, I'm in pain, but thankfully despite my adrenaline bleeding off, the numbness of the cold helped me ignore most of the pain of my injuries. However it was still raining like god turned over the mother of all buckets in the sky, and my house was definitely way too far to reach.

Great...looks like I'm reporting to Skidmark in person then, since his current hideout is barely a few streets over from here….