First Day of School

“Hi,” I say, with the kids lined up sort of haphazardly in front of me. “I’m Travis – uh, Teke.”

“Hi, Teke,” all six of them chorus, like we’re in school or something.

I mean, I guess it kind of is school, but it’s still a little disconcerting.

“I’m Todd,” Gatling says, and I hold up a hand before he can continue.

“No real names,” I tell them, even though they’ve all heard it dozens, maybe hundreds of times before, except maybe the new kid.

I can tell you my real name,” Gatling says, with a smirk. “I’m official and everything.”

I try not to roll my eyes at him. “Either way, good practice not to. You’re not going to want to use real names out there, and the best way is not to use them in here.”

“Whatever, man,” Gatling says, looking me up and down. “What are you even here to teach?”

“Didn’t you hear?” I ask, not quite managing to stop the faux-innocence from pervading my voice, “Coach Domino retired. I’m in charge, now.”

Gatling scowls and crosses his arms.

“Alright,” I say, “basically we have a program to train your powers, and I’m going to guide you through all the steps so that –”

“We know this shit already,” Jailbait says. “Seriously, can we just get started?”

“I was introducing it for the benefit of your new teammate,” I tell her.

“Teammate,” Gatling scoffs. “What do we need with another little girl on the team? Let her learn as she goes, what’s the big deal?”

“Little girl,” FiendPuncher mutters, “and I did read the guidelines, anyway, it’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

I shrug and skip the introductory speech.

“I mean, you, you’re gonna let us fight, right?” Gatling says, “Coach Domino never let us fight, but I am ready to get out there.”

I succeed at not rolling my eyes yet again. “Uh, no.”

“Right, right,” Gatling says, “come on, who are we going after? Hex Key? The Maniacs? The Righteous Coalition?”

“Wow.” I stare at him. “Those are way bigger than you guys could take on, even if you were going to take on anything, which you’re not.”

“Oh, come on,” Gatling says, “we need to take down some criminals, am I right, people?”

FiendPuncher giggles. “Oh, wow, who are they? I’ve never heard of them?”

Gatling smirks and turns to her. “Well, Hex Key is basically the mafia –”

“Research on your own time,” I tell them, “we’re practicing now.”

“Ooh, I know,” Gatling says, “we could take out Black as Night.”

FiendPuncher crosses her arms without even getting tangled in the ends of her sleeves, and talks before I can get a word in. “Black as Night is not a criminal organization.”

“Oh, come on,” Gatling says, “everyone knows that they’re a bunch of violent thugs with no respect for the law who bribe their way out of trouble.”

Then she has him pinned to the floor, screaming “say it again, you racist fuck”, and everything is a blur of fists and blond curls.

I definitely don’t hesitate even a little in yanking her off of him. “No fighting.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Gatling says, pushing himself off the floor. I sigh in relief. At least she was pulling her punches – maybe I could’ve let her at it a little bit longer (no I couldn’t (well (no))).

He goes to shove her in retaliation, and I have to yank him back, too, holding my hands wide apart above my head so I can concentrate on not hurting them even as they struggle against the field. Well, Gatling’s struggling, anyway; FiendPuncher is floating with her arms crossed, but then, she can fly, so she must be used to it. I try to keep the boy away from the wall, as well as the other students, but he’s not exactly making it easy for me.

“No fighting,” I repeat to him.

He flips me off.

“Are we going to be mature enough to apologize and work together calmly,” I ask them, “or should I keep you up there?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Gatling says, holding his hands up.

FiendPuncher glares at me, but gives me a curt nod.

“Are we going to be mature enough not to call private investigators criminals?” I ask Gatling.

He flips me off again.

“How about you go sit in time out,” I tell him.

I can tell he’s about to say ‘make me’ when he reconsiders, and sits cross-legged, back up against the wall. “They never help,” he calls out, “they just let crimes happen.”

“Gatling, if you don’t want me to assign you reading, drop the subject,” I say. “They’re civilians; they’re not required to do anything for the government. They can investigate the crimes they want to.”

Gatling mouths the words after I say them, making faces when he thinks I’m not looking. I pretend not to see them. FiendPuncher flips him the bird with both her hands, waving them wildly. I pretend not to see them, either.

“Okay,” I say, “let’s do some warmups.”

Gatling continues to sit sullenly against the wall, but the others all drop to the floor to stretch, and with a wary glance around, FiendPuncher joins in, copying off her neighbors. She seems slightly more comfortable by the time they switch to situps, although by that point I’m doing the exercises with them instead of trying to correct their form. I keep an eye out for FiendPuncher, in case she’s never done this before, but she seems to know them as well as everyone else.

I keep an eye on Gatling, too, just in case, but he doesn’t jump out at any of the other kids at any point, just continues sitting by the wall, muttering to himself about how awful I am.

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New Guy

“Hello, new guy,” Sass says, plopping her tray down next to mine.

“Oh, hey,” I say, “I heard you were working on a film with some of my friends.”

“Oh, yeah?” she says, “been doing a little bit work, lately. They like to use the highlights in the background when I get interviewed.”

“Sounds fun,” I agree.

She shrugs. “Why, what did your friends say about me?”

I must make a face, because she immediately starts getting nervous. “Nothing bad,” I try to reassure her, “you just got referred to as ‘Sex Kitten’.”

“Oh, that,” she says, with a laugh, “hardly much worse than my actual code name, thank you. I’m sorry your friend is that guy.”

“She also called you ‘Katie Kate’,” I tell her, then wince.

“Oh, a lady that guy,” she says, “less common, no less irritating. And I actually like that made up name – not ‘sex kitten’, not ‘sassy kitten’ for that matter – better than my real one, you know.”

“Well, Ursula’s not exactly –” and then I break off.

She laughs again. “I know you read my file, Travis; I read yours, too.”

“If it makes you feel any better,” I say, “I didn’t pick the name ‘Teke’, either.”

“It really doesn’t,” she informs me. “You got the kidlets this afternoon?”

“Sure. First class. Ever, for one of them.” I stab a couple of string beans. “But she’s a white hat, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“Sure,” Sass says. “Nervous?”

“Nervous I’m going to make one of them cry,” I tell her. “I have no idea what to do with a crying kid. I just hand them back to their parents.”

Sass shakes her head at me. “What are you planning that’s going to make them cry, a live fire obstacle course?”

I laugh. “I think only half of them could handle that, but it includes the new kid – she’s got a shield. No. Just remembering my early training.”

“Why, did you cry?”

I waggle my hand, and she snickers. “Usually only once I got back to my dorm room. We had an ex-marine for an instructor.”

“Did he tell you to drop and give him twenty whenever you mouthed off, or is that just movies?” She unwraps a package of cookies and offers me one of them.

I pass on the cookies. “He made us run laps, mostly, but also pushups, situps – made me do TK reps sometimes – but we had the highest score in physical fitness on the West Coast.”

“Impressive,” she says. “I studied with MediTate, so I don’t know about physical training. Had to trial and error that one myself.”

“What, the self-help guru?” I look at her a little oddly for probably longer than is polite, because I saw him linked from her file, but all it said under training was ‘autodidact’.

“Well, he did train his telekinesis into letting him float,” she argues, “can you float?”

“I can not float,” I concede, with a tip of my head. “That would be cool.”

She grins. “Have you mastered the thing where you balance on something you can float? Because they might make you do it now that you have a costume and all.”

I groan. They really might.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” she adds hastily, “I’ll handle the PR, you teach our little scions.”

“Oh, hey,” I say, “you got a mess of a name off of TV. Uh, no offense.”

“None taken.” She shakes her head hard enough to dislodge her cat ears slightly. “That’s true.”

“I thought you might talk to Jailbait?” I say. “She’s going to have to pick a new one, and better something she’s picked than something that gets handed to her.”

“Fair enough.” Sass taps her chin. “She can be a little stubborn. I’ll have to see if I can’t adapt the lecture I usually give.”

“There’s a usual?” I ask.

She shrugs. “You know, they have me talking to schools all the time, telling kids to stay off the rooftops and in class. I tell them how to pick a name once they’re old enough.”

I half-grin at that.

“Or before,” she agrees. “Kids will be kids, though; not all of them take the lecture to heart.”

She tosses her tray, beckoning me to follow her. I get rid of my own lunch, trying to figure out what she wants. She takes me to Hunch’s office, and I figure he must have wanted to see me about team business, but he isn’t there when we get there. Instead, she stops by one of the several smaller desks propped around the room. I idly wonder whether one of them is mine; it’s not like they rearrange the room based on team makeup.

“Have you ever done a patrol before?” she asks, rummaging through files.

“Sure. I’ve been here for years,” I remind her.

“No, I meant a mask patrol,” she clarifies, yanking at something with a triumphant ‘ha’.

I think back. “Yeah, I went on two or three when I first started interning here. Get the feel of nighttime rooftop stalking and all.”

“Ooh,” she says, wincing, “it would’ve still been exciting for you, back then.”

I shrug.

She hands me a clipped together sheaf of papers. “Hat training, for your new recruit.”

“Oh. I printed off the official version already,” I tell her.

She rolls her eyes. “Yes, I did suppose you probably did. I’ve added some notes, because the official version is for shit, and I thought you could use the tips.”

I flip through. There are a lot of tips. “You got all this from the stoner?”

She chuckles into her fist. “He mostly only did for speeches, you know, and only to sound mysterious and otherworldly. And anyway, if Tate can do it….”

I nod.

She offers me her hand to shake. “Welcome to the team, Teke. Good luck with the kids.”

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Case file: Wordsmith – unlawful use of powers, burglary, harassment (Sassy Kitten) – memo

All agents are reminded that any reference to real information or events, including those that are currently a matter of public record, are to be vetted by the Department of Extranormal Perception and Prediction before posting, regardless of whether the information is posted from a verified account. Keep in mind that the method of presenting even common knowledge information may give away more than you intend.

Agents are additionally reminded that depicting, describing, asserting, or insinuating a sexual relationship between members of staff violates the code of conduct of this agency and may be subject to sexual harassment proceedings. No explicit sexual material may be posted through verified accounts. No assertions or insinuations of sexual contact may be posted through verified accounts without the submitted consent of all parties referenced. Works posted from verified accounts must contain a disclaimer referencing them as works of fiction.

Please familiarize yourself with new posting procedures. These will be in effect for all items posted, including fiction, essays, posts on message boards, etc., from home or work networks, by computer, tablet, phone, etc., for all members of staff. Procedures are as follows (remember: these are just a quick overview. Don’t forget to read the official regulations!):

  • Do not post to sites without a technopath-protected security seal. Preferentially trust sites with a Hollywood Hacker Free certification.
  • Do not post to sites where Wordsmith is known to have an entrenched presence. (For list of sites, see Appendix A)
  • Do not engage in conflicts of any kind with accounts claiming reality warping abilities, unless they can be definitively falsified.
  • Do report potential reality warpers.
  • Do not write stories about yourself.
  • Do not write stories about your close friends in first person.
  • Do not post anything without running it through the X-pass filters; these are available in a variety of programs that can be downloaded onto your devices. (See X-pass Filter List, as linked from the homepage – be sure to download mobile versions as well)
  • Do send items through a variety of sources first, such as emailing the document to yourself or a friend, copying and pasting it, obscuring its origin, etc.
  • Whenever possible, post from a public computer.
  • Do not post from the device of anyone who is mentioned or depicted in the item you are posting. If the person whose device you are using is not included, have them click through any dialog boxes for you.
  • Observe rules regarding Extranormal Fingerprints. When content may overlap with significant risk factors, be especially vigilant.
  • Consider installing Extranormal Fingerprint packages on any systems you use regularly.

Thank you for bearing with us during this change in policy. It may seem tedious, but the reduction in risk will be significant. Work systems may run slower as new security measures are installed. The next generation of phones released will work on an architecture that integrates these measures; for now, download all recommended apps. Anyone requiring a security suite for a home system may put in a request and should receive the installer no later than Friday. ($25 per network, $40 per computer, $35 per tablet or phone)

Additional suggestions for improvement of personal security are as follows (you should all remember these from the handbook):

  • If any of your friends or other acquaintances ‘have discovered’ the legal identity of any hero (including yourself), make sure they follow these procedures as well.
  • Replace coded security systems with biometric security systems whenever possible (additionally, don’t mention alarm codes or specific security systems in fictional works)
  • Get a dog. Dogs will be immune to most psychoactive effects, and may let you know when your behavior is being influenced even when you do not recognize it yourself. (Get a dog that doesn’t shed a lot, so you can bring it into the office. See Bring Your Dog to Work Day Petition)
  • Remember to lock your windows.
  • Set up power nullification fields wherever you can; preferably, at least a perimeter around your home. Setting up nullification fields near walls will prevent phasing; setting up nullification fields in view of security cameras will capture images of the invisible or unimageable. (Also remember to keep cuffs available; consider keeping injectors in case of emergency.)
  • Change within headquarters whenever possible. Change only in vetted locations.
  • Run bug sweeps. Regularly update your phone’s software.
  • Save the creepy notes and voicemails people send you.
  • If you feel someone may be following you, carry an image scrambler. These are available on request and will scramble any image with a focal point within a thousand feet. (May impact sensitive electronic equipment. Do not use in conjunction with any stealth fields.)
  • If you find works offensive, do not create parodies of them. No one will get it. They’ll only think you’re condoning the thing they did you didn’t like, and they’re usually not funny, anyway.
  • Carry your panic button.
  • Do not argue with people who say things about you, no matter how ridiculous, insulting, or sexist. Especially do not argue from verified accounts. It doesn’t matter how politely you phrase your request that they shut the hell up; verified government agents telling people not to say shit is perilously close to violating free speech, or at least they’ll claim it is. Can you not just downvote it and move on like everyone else does?

Anyone who has any information on the original content of the series of modified stories about Sassy Kitten, bring it to patterns. Anyone who’s noticed any patterns within these stories or within the larger fan community, bring it to patterns. Anyone who’s found an additional source of information about Wordsmith, including any participation in additional sites or threads, bring it to patterns.

Anyone who has anyone following, contacting, or making threats against them, bring it to security, and make sure you tell secret identities if you think you’ve been caught.

Also, let’s remember, people, tell someone if your security card goes missing, even just for a little while. Tell someone if your keys aren’t where you left them. Tell someone if you’re seeing an agent you don’t remember ever meeting before, or if everyone else seems to know someone you don’t. Tell someone if anyone tries to follow you into the building. Tell someone if you see anyone forgetting the name written on their ID card. Tell someone if people’s identities seem suspiciously themed.

I mean, come on, guys, we’ve all seen movies; I think we know what things are not okay to ignore during a security crisis.

Addendum: Yes, the fanart is creepy; everyone knows it’s creepy; please don’t start flame wars from verified accounts; it’s hell for PR.

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Coffee

I walk into the coffee shop half an hour late (but at least in real clothes) to find that Perry and Priscilla are already there, occupying a corner table and waving at me. Tony gives me a tiny salute and a grin, going to make my coffee.

Nice – if I’d been here on time I could’ve actually ordered something different for once.

I mean not that I probably would’ve, but Per could’ve at least texted me to ask what I wanted.

I wonder how much I can get away with talking about without mentioning the promotion, or, if I do, how I should bring it up. Because there are certain questions I’m very much not allowed to answer, and other ones I’m just not going to want to, and here are two prime candidates for asking those very questions. Case in point.

“Fox, tell me Katie Kate and Vicky Alice have a history,” Perry says, leaning forward and widening her eyes earnestly at me.

I bet this is how she gets people to sell her life rights. “What,” I say, smartly.

Priscilla rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “She means Sassy Kitten and Vector Analysis.”

“Oh my god.” I stare at Perry. “You’re not writing capeslash again, are you? Because, seriously, I’m not betaing anything else where you write weird shit about my friends having sex.”

“It’s so terribly, painfully sad that you don’t know their names,” she informs me.

“Yes, those are definitely their actual names, and I’m sure they’re ridiculously pleased to have such a devoted cult,” I say, “why the sudden interest?”

Perry grins. “I met Sex Kitten.”

“She’s never been called that a day in her life,” I explain.

Perry rolls her eyes, then gets cut off as Priscilla interjects, “she was an extra in the latest, they talked for all of ten minutes, and now, apparently Per’s in love.”

“Like you didn’t swoon the minute you laid eyes on her,” Perry mutters, with a pout.

“As far as I know, they don’t have a history, no,” I tell her. Only mildly sarcastically. “Also, I’ve never had any indication that Vector likes the ladies, so I wouldn’t bet on it.”

She leans back in her chair, tossing her hair out of her eyes. “Yeah, but you’ve never really been all that effective at telling what the ladies do or don’t like, have you?”

“I’d think she would’ve mentioned it sometime in the past five years,” I say.

Per suppresses a grin as she sips on her coffee. Priscilla and I pretty much roll our eyes in unison, because she’s obviously trying to get my goad at this point.

“What about Hunch?” she asks. “Are he and –”

“Happily and very monogamously married,” I say, and get up to get my own drink from Tony, who just laughs at me, and is absolutely no help at all, not even for stalling.

She tilts her head, and I have no better word than ‘shit-eating’ to describe the horrible way her mouth stretches across her smug face. “How is he in bed, Travis?”

“Still married,” I say, “has been since before we met, not liable to cheat on his wife, hasn’t ever as far as I know, and, by the way, still calls me ‘kid’, so I doubt there’s any feelings there.”

“Depends on what he’s into,” Priscilla mutters into her drink. “Maybe a little schoolgirl –”

I shoot her a glare. Then I shoot one at Perry for good measure.

“So, is your roommate still being an asshole?” Perry says, expression not changing one whit.

“Fuck you, Perry,” I say, reflexively, never mind that she’s dead on about exactly what’s bothering me right now, because once in a while it is a coincidence, and fuck her amateur detectiving.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Perry. We’ve been pretty much inseparable since we got over whatever shit went down in middle school (can you ever actually figure that stuff out after the fact?). That doesn’t mean she’s not even more of an asshole than Darren from time to time.

Priscilla frowns sympathetically at me, and I’m not sure if she’s being sarcastic. “I thought you’d solved that issue before he moved in? Whatever happens, though, remember, we’re here for you, hon.”

“I thought you were over it, too,” Perry murmurs. “Sorry, Fox, I didn’t realize there was still something going on with all that.”

“Yeah, well,” I say, “that makes all of us. But. You know. He’s stressed. Work stuff.”

“I know your job encourages douchebaggery, but it’s not exactly an excuse, is it?” Priscilla pats my hand. “Maybe the two of you should see a therapist.”

“Or we could beat him up for you,” Perry offers. “We can…talk…some sense into him.”

“Yes, I’m totally going to let you beat up Darren,” I agree. “Can you do Thursday, or when?”

“Fine, be that way,” Perry says, “talk things out like healthy, responsible adults. See if I care. Never end up on the big screen, I’ll tell you that for free.”

I give her a skeptical look. “What, but it’s high drama if you get in a fight with someone you never even liked in the first place?”

“We like Darren fine, sweetie,” Priscilla tells me.

I shift my skeptical look to her, and she shrugs. “Also, if I might remind you, he practices punching for a living, and you two occasionally go to stunt conferences.”

“I’ll get my epee,” Perry says, “he’s still not better at fencing than I am.”

“I think if you try to repeatedly whack him with a sword, he’s going to start fighting dirty,” I muse, although the mental image is pretty funny. Darren just looks so grumpy.

Priscilla shrugs. “We can put itching powder in his underwear.”

I wince slightly, and cross my legs.

“Fine,” Priscilla says, “we can put dye in his shampoo. Any number of juvenile pranks. I have nieces. I can call them.”

“They’re only a year apart and the younger one’s just starting middle school,” Perry explicates, “so you know they’ve got some heinous ideas banging around in there.”

“Yes, pranks will solve all the world’s problems,” I agree. “Let’s get a pan of warm water.”

Priscilla smirks. “Well, at least now we know what you’re into.”

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Team Meeting

Arsenal comes to get me, just a little bit late for lunch, knocking tentatively at my doorframe. “Hey, Agent Kuiper,” he calls out.

“You can call me Travis, you know,” I tell him, “everyone else does.”

He shrugs and laughs a little. “Sorry, Teach. Are you coming to lunch? We’re all waiting.”

I blink. I hadn’t realized I’d be meeting up with the team already, but I probably should’ve checked my schedule anyway. I feel a little silly for getting so caught up in lesson plans. I follow him down the hall, expecting to turn, but he veers off towards a meeting room instead of the mess. Of course he does. What’s a new team without a horrible meeting to start it off?

“Hi, Teke,” they all say, with varying degrees of derision for the name.

I manage to wave to them.

Hunch grins at me from the head of the table and slides over a sandwich. The slick plastic glides smoothly over the laminate in that slightly sickening way pre-packaged food always has going on. “Nice to finally have you on my team,” he says.

I like the fact that Hunch is team lead. I like the fact that Arsenal’s on the team, too, because at least I can look out for the kid. He is, by the way, entering his senior year of high school, even if he is eighteen – not college age at all. I wonder when school starts for him, or if he took today as a sick day just so he could come to the meeting. Any reason to skip school, I guess. And I know Sass in passing, at least (she’s friends with Apogee), although I don’t think we’ve said much more than ‘hi’. I don’t like the food, but you win some you lose some.

Boomerang I don’t know, but I did just read his file, so close enough. Stranglehold I’ve worked with a couple of times, although I don’t remember if we’ve ever had an actual conversation.  Bartok and Laces I’ve never met before, but I’ve heard good things.

Aside from Stranglehold and Sass, we’re all ranged fighters, though, (I mean, they’re fine with a gun, not SWAT certified, that I know of, but fine), not a great mix of powers, and Hunch being basically inherently a coordinator, and the hats working better alone. Not that we can’t all do hand to hand – I’ve seen Arsenal with knives, and staves, and even nunchuks that one time, which was pretty impressive, although he still prefers a baton. And he hasn’t even graduated yet. I really wonder whether that’s healthy for him, but I can only take him unarmed, so there’s that.

Okay, Boomerang may be a problem, but I’m sure he’ll learn.

Oh, fuck, I need to check if someone’s set up the kids’ karate instructor yet, or if I have to find one. I feel like there must be some that work for us. Maybe they work on contract.

Hunch is going over open cases , but at the moment, the only schedules we need to work around are Arsenal’s and mine, and I’m pretty much backup while we’re out investigating, plus not doing most of the research, so it doesn’t actually matter to me which cases we pick up. Also, I have no idea what’s been done for any of them, so it’s a little hard to follow along. He does bring up the Vivisection Killer, momentarily, but we’re playing hot potato with the FBI on that one, so I doubt it’ll fall to us, given that I have other things to do and Arsenal’s clearly too young to be here, goddamn.

Ugh, I hope the kids don’t think we’re going to go out and ‘fight crime’.

Boomerang keeps staring at me, but the rest of them are at least professional enough to wait until they go back to their desks to read everyone else’s file. Looking at his face, he’s even more excited about that prospect than Arsenal is. He was probably in the kids’ program, too, wherever he’s from; it wasn’t linked from his file, but I bet it will be in a week or two. His power shouldn’t be too hard to trace.

Or he’s just excited about fucking up bad guys. In which case, he will be in for a treat.

I wipe the sandwich grease off my fingers with one of those tiny napkins that falls apart as soon as you pick it up, and manage to get that little bit of congealed cheese out from under my fingernail. Someone passes me a soda, which would have been nice to wash that sandwich down with if anyone had bothered to mention we had any, thanks, and a bag of chips. Barbeque, so that’s one up on the usual meeting. Hunch is the best team lead.

Darren only likes pizza flavor, which is why his team hates him.

Boomerang’s glaring at Arsenal, now, and I wonder what provoked that, because I think I would’ve noticed if they’d been talking at each other, and the high schooler doesn’t even seem to notice, so it can’t be that. I think maybe he’s just realized that he’s the only one here who’s only on the on-call team and doesn’t have anything else to do. Maybe I’ll ask him to help tutor the kids; that’ll help him feel a little more adult.

On second thought, better not, not until he learns the safety guidelines. (Unless he really was attacked, in which case mea culpa and I feel bad for thinking that.)

But Hunch and Arsenal are on standby for SuperSWAT, and Bartok and Laces have Flight Crew, and Stranglehold and Sass do all the press work, and I’m training the kids.

I think it’s because he’s just realized Arsenal is (just barely) younger than he is but has a better handle on his weapons.

Ugh, note to self, stop having thoughts like that. Especially if you’re going to be talking to the kids, Travis, don’t you dare think they’re going to let that go.

The rest of the meeting goes on in such a way that I can mostly ignore it for some indeterminate length of time. We break for the gym and throw each other around a little bit (except for the Flight Crew, who aren’t suited up, so just spar with each other), and I’m tired enough that my TK’s erratic enough to be interesting. (Just unpredictable enough to trip up my teammates, not unpredictable enough to have Hunch sending me off to the shrink again.) I manage to throw Boomerang against the wall once, which feels a little better than it probably should’ve, but he stops giving me suspicious looks and actually hi-fives me on the way to the locker room, so, progress.

Of course, I did forget a change of clothes and now I have to wear logo sweats home if I want anything clean. Sweet spot between being able to trust Darren to bring spares and remembering that I’m going to have to change anyway instead of strapping armor on over what I’m wearing. I really hope I get in that habit soon and also that there’s still a change for me stashed in his locker.

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Paperwork

I rub my eyes, trying to figure out how I got to this file in the first place. It’s not like I started here, I know I didn’t, I was working on a way more minor case before I switched teams, which I sort of planned to check up on and probably have by now, and I know it’s been a bit of a confusing transition, but I would’ve noticed a connection like that.

Also, I think it turned out that Griff closed that case, anyway, or at least got a significant enough lead that it’s turned into a different case completely, but I couldn’t swear to it. I really should’ve taken something to sleep last night. I should try to take an early day, today, before the kids get in, because they’re more responsibility than they seem like they should be, you have to stop them from –

Oh, that’s right. Someone had injuries from his own powers, and they’re wondering whether it’s because he tangled with the wrong person or if he just dumbassed himself. I click back a few files. Right. Boomerang. He hasn’t been here long, only since the beginning of the summer, which makes a lot of sense considering he’s probably starting college any minute now.

And he wasn’t willing to explain what happened, which screams dumbass to me.

Oh, right. I was looking up my new teammates. That wasn’t what I was trying to do, but it’s the tangent I’ve been on, and it’s not like it necessarily needed not to happen.

I was trying to look up training techniques, that’s what I was doing.

I page back through my open files a little bit further, and there we are. Standard training regimen for all the most common powers, and even some of the interesting ones. I try to find the search tool, but they like to hide it even more deviously than usual when you’re trying to read through the really long documents, don’t they.

Six printouts later, I’m working up a lesson plan. Luckily, their files all mark down how far through the program they are, because a two year curriculum means two years at college level, and not whatever kids can get through at the distracted-by-moving-objects-and-too-dumb-to-remember-their-pseudonyms stage.

Also, they’re different ages, so they’re at different points on the plan.

Also, Jailbait’s into the advanced training, which I should have remembered, and I take a minute to print out a different set of pages for her. Actually, several, because she’s got a bit of a weird powerset, so what are you going to do about that. (Really weird, honestly.)

But that’s fine, because the rest is just basic schedules for ‘combat armor (flying)’ and ‘speed (time dilation)’ and ‘Standard Set A’ (why can’t they just label it the White Hat Complex, even the navy does) and ‘long range (physical projectiles)’ and ‘long range (miscellaneous)’.

Although it’s actually kind of annoying that there are a dozen different standard sets when they all break down into powers that are individually listed anyway.

I think I’ve figured out how I tripped over Klepto’s file, in any case.

I try to fill out all the information from the kids’ files into the spaces in the training plans at whatever stage the kids are supposed to be at. At least I have one student who’s going to be starting from scratch the same as I am, so I can’t possibly be skipping anything or reteaching anything there.

At some point, copying over lines and tracing out diagrams starts to become soothing, and I fall into the rhythm of it, going back to copy over all of the earlier information, just to familiarize myself with their programs since they started. It’s a good way to get to know my students, even though I’ve met most of them before, and I’m sure I’ll get to know them even better tomorrow afternoon, and I’m probably supposed to know what they have trouble with and power nuances and crap.

I file my first week’s lesson plan, but none of it takes place outside of the kids’ gym, anyway, so it’s not like I even have to book anything, and I doubt anyone checks for any other reason.

I mean, I’ve looked, and Coach Domino filled one out every week, even if most of them did just read ‘same old, same old’ after the first couple of months. I figure I better put in at least a token effort for at least that long (a little bit longer, just to be safe).

I wonder if the kids will like me.

I put in a request to the kitchens, too, because they’re going to be here directly after school. I always felt better after an afternoon snack, anyway, and public school lunches are way worse, so I’ve got to assume at least some of them will be even happier about it. (I don’t even have to wonder if Coach Domino used to do the same thing, because there’s a standardized button for me already. It’s even already set to six.)

See, look at me, parenting like a boss. Way to go, Travis.

Ugh, I feel like I should be setting up some way to help with their homework or something.

Okay, but what’s going to save their lives better, evasive maneuvering, or Greek? They can do their homework during lunchtime, like normal people.

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Case File: Klepto

Independent – Criminal – Large Group (Leader) – High Engagement Risk

‘Klepto’ a.k.a. ‘Corinth Patton’ a.k.a. ‘Alvin Broker’

Legal name(s) unknown

Caucasian male, blue eyes, brown hair, 5’10”-6’, 25-35 years

Active 10-15 years, San Salvador

First known appearance in or near Plantationsfield, AL (see incident report 27 for details) – 5 injured, 2 critically, using combination terrakinesis, touch paralysis, and speed

(see incident reports 28-33 and 35-41 for additional suspected and confirmed incidents prior to arrival in San Salvador)

First confirmed appearance San Salvador, prior to naming (see incident reports 1-2 for details) – 1 dead on scene, 2 in hospital, 7 critically injured, using combination precognition and thermomanipulation

(see incident reports 3-12 and 42-53 for activities prior to the foundation of PLC)

(see incident report 13 for first known use of handle ‘Klepto’)

 

Known powers: power mimicry, power immunity (passive, user within range), power nullification (area effect), power manipulation (when mimicking, including increased range, strength, flexibility, and control), enhanced senses (esp. hearing), enhanced physical fitness and/or reaction speed, invisibility/camouflage/diversion effect (either minor or context dependent), fear aura

Suspected powers: minor precognition or danger sense, empathy or minor telepathy or perception ability (emotional response), minor to moderate enhanced durability, moderate charisma or suggestion, minor shapeshifting or illusion

Klepto has a variable range; it is at least 20 meters, but has been known to extend well past that on occasion (it is possible he has a power enhancer within his entourage). He retains powers for 12-67 seconds after leaving range; most powers exhibit a linear fade in intensity. He usually only exhibits mimicry of the powers of one individual (with no limit to number of powers), but on several recorded occasions has simultaneously used powers from up to fourteen individuals actively; flexibility, strength, and aim suffered the more powers he used at once. It is unknown what causes this shift in ability. He is able to use an indeterminate number of powers passively, regardless of any powers he is actively mimicking. There is no indication that passive powers need belong to the same individual he mimics the active powers of, and in several cases it is unlikely that they did. There is no known limit to the number of abilities he can nullify at once, although he may have difficulty nullifying powers derived from alternate universes (this is unlikely to be related to quantity or other typical factors). (See: Chicago, Spiderbitch, Scarlet Woman) He has some control over his nullification effect, as judged from his allies’ ability to use powers within his area of effect.

Klepto’s range and strength with a mimicked power is usually identical to the original user’s, including most limitations, for up to half an hour of active use. His power manipulation must be applied consciously to each individual power, and will generally not be usable for the first 10-15 minutes with a new power. If he has copied the same power before (especially from the same individual), the time limit may not apply; the time limit will usually decrease with each subsequent use. Being in range of multiple powers overwhelms his ability to use power modification. Without it, his use of powers may be inconsistent and low-powered at first. It is recommended that all fights with Klepto be ended as quickly as possible as he becomes more capable with any given power over time.

 

Equipment: standard, small arms

Klepto can be expected to carry a standard array of supplies, including lockpicks, cuffs, ropes, etc. on his person. These appear consistent with his mass and size; if he has access to extradimensional space, it’s a very limited amount and the danger is negligible. He is usually carrying one or more small to medium knives. He may be carrying one or more guns; though he has exhibited the ability to use a variety of handguns, his range of accuracy is quite small and he has been shown to be easily distracted when using one in a fight. Larger arms have not been noted.

Be aware, however, that many of his associates do carry larger weapons and are generally much more proficient with them.

 

Current threat level: yellow (NSA: 17) (CIA: safe) (DEA: central, low priority) (ATF: C) (FBI: kidnapping, possible child trafficking erroneous, no cases) (ICE: kill+)

 

In case of incursion incident: yes, safe, standard compensation (See PLC report for additional details and list of resources available)

(See list of incursion involvements – 3)

 

Deaths directly attributable:

Confirmed: Murderhole, Jack and Jill, New Senate, Arachnophobia

(See list – Confirmed: civilians and non-mask personnel)

Attempted: Artemis (West Coast), Ultraviolet

Implicated in the deaths of Michael Sword, Positronica, Justice (San Salvador), Transect

(See list – Suspected: villains)

(See list – Suspected: identified victims)

(See list – Suspected: unidentified victims)

Implicated in the disappearance of John the Baptist (see: Glacier) (see: Aquamarine)

 

Currently in charge of ‘PLC’ (San Salvador Maniacs) (see PLC file for full report), he is one of the founding members and has been leading them since early in the formation of the group. Recruitment seems to be primarily targeted towards children and young teens, though older teens and adults are known to join. While previously suspected of kidnapping, no substantiated reports have been found; new recruits seem to be primarily runaways and the homeless. Klepto is known to recruit heavily personally, especially engineering scenarios where he appears to ‘save’ children, later asking them to work for him. He recruits heavily among children with powers.

Though the location of his compound has not yet been identified, due to his heavy use of travelers and other spatial coordinate obfuscating powers, preliminary reports indicate facilities for extremely regimented training in unarmed, armed, and powered combat, as well as with powered armor and flight simulators. Access to powered armor has been confirmed, with a strong possibility of unrestricted access to powered armor manufacturing. Access to aircraft has not been confirmed and no aircraft have yet been identified as affiliated with either Klepto or PLC.

No members are known to have defected or otherwise left the group. Traitors, including undercover operatives, are known to have been executed both on his orders and on the orders of mid to high ranking members of his organization.

(See list of deaths: ordered and collateral)

(See list of kidnappings) (erroneous)

(See list of additional crimes)

 

Known associates:

(See known members of PLC for a full list of members)

  • Commander Salamander (missing)
  • Brawn (San Salvador)
  • Via Appia
  • Road to Hell
  • Headshot (San Salvador)
  • Odin (unaffiliated)
  • Tiny (Retribution, waterfront north)
  • Faster Freddy (The Righteous Coalition)
  • Satyr (San Salvador Nymphs)
  • Mama M (The Righteous Coalition, Cabin 6)
  • Unknown astral projector or remote sensor
  • Unknown engineer, technopath, or technoperceptive
  • Unknown contact(s) within law enforcement or hacker(s)
  • Doctor Blueprints (neutralized) (classified)
  • Captain Damnit (inactive or deceased)
  • Arachnophobia (deceased)
  • Cape (PLC) (deceased)
  • Everyman (San Salvador) (deceased)
  • Hot Shit (Hex Key) (deceased)
  • Imaginarium (deceased)
  • Mercy Kill (San Salvador) (deceased)
  • Precog (A Brighter Shinier Future San Salvador) (deceased)
  • Wildcard (San Salvador) (deceased)

 

See also:

  • Alexander the Greatest
  • Hex Key
  • Retribution
  • The Righteous Coalition
  • San Salvador Nymphs

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There’s No Place Like Home

When I get home, I’m exhausted, and all I had to do was go over the preliminary paperwork. The amount of spaces intentionally left blank (except on Gatling’s forms, of course, so there I had the good fortune of writing the same five pieces of information over and over) makes me wonder why we bother writing anything down at all. I wonder how I’m going to deal with it if I actually have to fill out an incident report for one of them.

Maybe I can make the kids fill out their own. That’s got to be good practice, right?

No, not right, Travis, that is not sound practice at all. I massage my temple. Stop trying to pawn off your work on high schoolers just because there’s too much information missing, damn.

I check the fridge for leftovers, contemplating whether I want to eat this soon before bed. I know it’s not great for your digestion, but I’m still hungry – maybe just a little snack. Maybe something more filling than just a light snack, actually. Sighing, I compromise and heat up some microwave popcorn. As the microwave beeps, I hear the door open behind me.

Oddly enough, I’d assumed Darren was already here, and asleep. Not that reasonable, considering that I know what time it is, and he hasn’t been getting home by now for a while. Longer than I’ve spent at work outside of an emergency, though, and it feels later than it is. Maybe I’m overcompensating already for my schedule shifting later.

“Hey,” I say.

“Mm,” he says, tossing his bag on the couch.

“Did you eat?” I ask, “I can heat you up something, or –”

“I ate,” he says.

“Okay.” I munch on my popcorn. “Did you want to watch a movie, or something?”

He shakes his head and starts walking away.

“Where are you going?” I ask him, even though I know what his answer’s going to be.

“My room, Travis, where the hell do you think I’m going?” He shakes his head harder.

I sigh. “I think we should talk about –”

“No.” He crosses his arms.

“Really?” I say. “Just like that, just, ‘no’, we’re not going to talk about it?”

“The fuck is there to say, Trav?” He waves a hand. “What do you know, anyway? You’re always all helpful and charming and eager-beaver and everyone likes you no matter what.”

I blink twice before my mind catches up with my mouth. “You know, maybe if you’d ask for my advice, I could –”

“You think you know fucking everything, Fox?” Darren clenches a fist. “You’ve never exactly been helpful with office politics, have you? Less, now that you’ve switched sides.”

“That’s going well, by the way,” I say, “and how was your day?”

“I have to run an actual team, ‘Teke’, so sorry that you’re finding it overwhelming creating a schedule for people who aren’t even allowed to engage,” he says, and slams the door.

Which is worse than I expected, given that, as far as I could tell, his day went fine. Or, at least, the new guy didn’t seem to be giving him that much trouble. But not nearly as bad as it could’ve gone. I think we’re making progress. I sigh, finish my popcorn off, shower and drop into bed.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Darren says, leaning against the doorframe.

“It’s fine,” I say.

“Oh, fuck you, Travis, stop going all high road when I’m trying to apologize,” Darren snaps.

“Sorry,” I say, “go on.”

“I’m sorry I was shitty,” he says, and stops.

“Okay,” I tell him, “apology accepted. I take it related topics of conversation are still off the table? So, fine, let’s just forget about it.”

“I have an early morning,” Darren huffs, “briefing, you know. I won’t be here to make you breakfast and shit. So, you know, don’t freak out that I’m missing or anything.”

“You’re barely going to get four hours sleep,” I tell him.

He shrugs. “I don’t make the schedule. But I don’t have time for a heart to heart, either.”

“Alright,” I say. “Goodnight.”

He rolls his eyes at me and wanders back to the second bedroom.

I sleep fitfully, and most of it involves Arsenal shooting everyone I know. It’s actually more upsetting watching him kill the people I don’t like than the ones I do. He’s got that sort of stoic, for-the-greater-good expression on his face the whole time. I hold people still for him.

I wake up before my alarm and take another shower. As I pull on the uniform, I wonder whether there’s really a point to wearing it anymore. Anything official and I’m just going to have to change as soon as I get there. On the other hand, I don’t feel like being repeatedly stalled in traffic wearing floaty swirling bright purple, so there’s that.

Of course, I also wear briefs, because if I am going to have to change, I would prefer to be able to do it in my own underwear.

Darren’s long gone, but there’s half a box of muffins on the table with a sticky note apologizing again. Blueberry and pistachio. Well, at least I’m not going to have to listen to complaints about eating them upside-down. I peel the wrappers off and flip them over, and go to start the coffee. I’d like to make myself espresso, I really would, but I’m still pretty wiped, and drip will have to do.

At least I don’t have to deal with the kids yet. Yesterday should have been preliminaries, which means today they’re going through medical – unless it’s the other way around. The orientation could be today, I guess. I don’t know. It’s not like I joined the program until college, where vetting took a week and was significantly more thorough. And also they adjusted my class schedule, which, guaranteed, they don’t do with the high school kids.

Or possibly middle school, although technically speaking we’re supposed to hold an official position of ‘strongly discouraging’ that. The in-school programs don’t exactly handle combat capable powers that well, though. I had a hard enough time getting anything out of it; I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone trying to hide their primary power. Or for someone with a rare power.

Of course, you take public school programs and you end up with healers graduating barely knowing basic first aid. I am not opposed to middle schoolers signing up, not on principle. I just can’t say that in public. Still, better me actually trying to train them and not judging than someone who’s going to walk on eggshells until they’re definitely out of junior high.

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