Piper Williams opened her eyes in the back of a fruit truck.

It took a moment to remember where she was, but the memory of crawling aboard earlier that day soon returned, along with the powerful scent of apples.

Ooh, lunch.

She took a second to grope in the dim light for her pack. When she found it, she took the time to load a half dozen of the bright, green-yellow fruit inside for later. Who knows when she'd get another free score? What with modern security, it was difficult to pull off a decent food grab without being noticed, even with the benefit of her mutation.

Clipping the leather straps of the old bag tightly closed, Piper reached out for another apple with a thinly muscled arm. Finding an unbruised fruit that met her standards, she bit into the waxy skin with ravenous satisfaction. She enjoyed the meal to it's fullest, not caring enough to wipe away the sweet-sour juice that dribbled down her chin. What was a little more dirt? She'd wash up at the next public washroom she found, and there wasn't much she'd be able to do until then. On the topic of grime, what town was she sucking this time around?

Not bothering to be quiet over the rumble of tires, Piper crawled over the sticky crates to the back of the trailer and pushed up the back door a few inches to peek underneath.

What met her gaze was a simple asphalt road, and a long strip of suburbanite shops and houses. There was a great lurch as the truck began to turn into a driveway, stopping at a great high wrought-iron fence.

She sighed in disappointment. She was hoping to stop downtown, but it seemed she'd have to walk. There was a quiet thunk and the scraping of metal, and she was standing on the sidewalk, watching the white-walled delivery truck roll up to the front door of a very large, well-decorated mansion. Gracing the front yard, twisting across a marble block in soft, curly-Q letters, was the proclaimation, "Proffessor Xaviers Acadamy for Gifted Youngsters", in large black letters.

Oh, joy. This sort of town. She groaned inwardly.

Posh mansions, private schools, upper-class suburbia… Panhandling is probably illegal here.

Still, she had been doing it for years, and was good at it by now. It was easier when she was little, though. People used to be eager to dish out free goods to a short, wide-eyed, lispy twelve-year old, but now that she was older, everyone who saw her at a street corner would assume she was a prostitute.

As if. No, thank-you, I'll stick to panhandling.

Over time, she'd learned that most of the downtown shoppers were girls or women, and they were usually much more sympathetic around cute young guys.

Soon after that little epiphany, her long tawny-grey hair was cut off and a costume was found, a pair of baggy green army pants and a loose grey sweater with the sleeves cut off at the elbows. After that, being flat-chested wasn't very concerning to her self-image.

A single-strapped scrappy leather bag, her last reminder of her past, was always slung over her arm. It contained all her worldly posessions. A jackknife, a box of pencils, a notebook, minor toiletries, a squashed box of band-aids, a sewing needle and yellow thread, an extra change of clothes. Anything else she needed was 'found'.

Piper shook her head, willing herself out of her trance. She had no time to daydream. There was money to be made.

A good hour later, the ground at her feet was littered with coins from the crowd that had gathered to watch her performance. Apples, up to seven of them, floated upwards and downwards to be plucked from the air with the greatest of ease. Children and women watched in awe as she juggled, absolutely mesmerized by the whimsical display. Sometimes she used rocks, or garbage, and on occasion the money people tossed for her to catch and work with, but today her tools were apples. A blushing teenage girl dropped a five-dollar bill, but Piper didn't notice. She was as transfixed as the crowd. She didn't even notice the money at her feet. It was a glorious escape. The juggling had nothing to do with her mutation. It wasn't something people had taught her. It wasn't something everyone else could do. To Piper, it was something unique, something that she and she alone could do, without cheating with powers or leaning on someone else as a crutch. As she juggled, her body took over, cutting her mind loose to drift. As it drifted and floated with the apples, she began to work her true powers. They would be needed to attract REAL attention.

Without thinking coherently, without using fully-formed ideas or words, she drew the crowd closer, as if pulling them all in with ethereal arms. To the passersby, she sent out a wave of feelings and picture-thoughts.

Calm, they said. Soothing, warm. Curled up under a blanket, rain on the roof. Fresh-baked bread. Listening to mommy read to you while you fall asleep. The smell of lilacs in the summer garden. A frog-pond in the sunset. Calafornia poppies.

Acting subconsciously, the shoppers and buisnessmen began to drift towards her, transfixed by the soothing thoughts and carefree memories provided by the twirling display of the apples.

Piper's misty eyes were blank, but behind them, she was just as entranced as the people watching.

She didn't even notice the tall, blond, razor-clawed Neanderthal of a man that had stopped in mid-snarl to watch her show.


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